What Happens in Piccadilly by Chasity Bowlin

Prologue




N umber 114 Piccadilly was in a state of uproar. Servants ran to and fro, frantically shouting at one another while managing to get no work done at all. A child sat in the corridor and wept. Another sat dejectedly on the front steps and yet one more appeared to be hanging precariously from an upper floor window. Calliope St. James eyed the chaos before her for just a moment and battled the overwhelming desire to flee from whence she’d come. But the sad-faced little boy on the steps looked up at her then, and all thoughts of running were eradicated. He had the face of an angel. A fallen one, to be sure, but a dirty-faced angel nonetheless.

“There appears to be a bit of a commotion occurring. Would you like to tell me what happened?” she asked as she stopped in front of him.

“Who are you?” the boy asked.

“I was sent here by my employer to interview for the position of governess. I’m fairly certain I won’t do that now, but I can’t help but be curious as to what,” she waved a hand about, encompassing the child who now leaned even further out the window, “this is all about.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” the little boy said. “We’ll all be punished.”

“Likely. I’ll tell you what… I’ll walk inside with you, and then you’ll get your sister in from that window, and I think you have another sister somewhere in the madhouse beyond… the three of you will meet me in the drawing room and I will tell you all a story and we’ll try to stay out of the way while all this resolves,” Calliope offered. Looking up once more at the child whom a stiff breeze would knock to the ground from above, she tried to suppress a shiver of fear.

“You won’t punish us?”

“Why would I do that?” Calliope asked.

“Well, you’re a governess… that’s what they do,” the boy said.

“Oh, well, some governesses. Not me. And I’m not your governess, not yet, and likely not ever. But I’ve come all this way and it seems a bit of a waste not to even meet you all,” she said, as if the conversation and the situation were perfectly normal. The whole while, she was watching the little girl dangling above, preparing to throw herself bodily beneath the child should she actually fall.

He looked at her skeptically. “You promise?”

Calliope made an “X” over her heart with the tip of one finger. “Cross my heart. Now, run along inside, get your sisters… get the one off the window ledge first, though. I think perhaps that warrants a bit of urgency, don’t you?”

The little boy looked up, saw his sister and uttered a curse that stunned them both. He looked back at her. “Sorry.”

“I’m not your governess,” she said, and lifted her hands while shrugging elegantly. “Go get your sister and I’ll have the butler show me to the drawing room.”

“He won’t… no butler here no more. He run off with the last governess,” the boy said. “That’s why the whole house is arse over tits.”

Calliope’s mouth formed a slight “O” of surprise. “You really shouldn’t say those words to ladies,” she said softly.

“Arse or tits?” he asked.

“Either,” she replied evenly, softening the admonishment with a smile. “But under the circumstances, I can see where it’s an apt description. Run along, and I’ll let myself into the drawing room.”

The little boy nodded. “I like you. I hope you are our new governess. You’re not all missish and you don’t seem like a crier. Not like the last one. She cried all the bloody time.”

Calliope blinked as a child’s shoe landed in the flower bed just left of the steps. “No. No, I’m not much of one for tears. Your sister, sir. It’s growing increasingly more urgent I think.”

He glanced up once more, cursed again, and then loped into the house, leaving the door open wide. After a moment, the dangling child vanished from sight, back into the house, and Calliope followed at a more sedate pace. Entering the house, she found that there was, indeed, no butler. The footmen all appeared to be in a complete uproar, none of them knowing what to do as they no longer had a butler to direct them. Well, all but two of them. Those two seemed ready to come to blows over who was better suited to step into the position of butler now that their predecessor had apparently fled into the night, or in this case, the early afternoon, with the runaway governess.