London, The Age of Invention, late April 1897
“You’re the very spawn of Satan and I’ll not have you darken this door ever again.”
Finley Jayne jumped as the door was slammed in her face, leaving her standing alone in the small, damp flagstone square that acted as the servants’ entrance to the town house.
She’d been fired—well and good—by Mrs. Brown, the housekeeper. Normally being called the spawn of Satan would upset Finley, but lately she’d begun to wonder if the sentiment wasn’t true. This was, after all, the second job she’d been let go from.
At least the old crone could have let her collect her things.
Just like in a stage-comedy, the back door opened once more and Finley’s carpetbag sailed out of the dim interior. She caught it before it could strike her in the face.
“Oy!,” she cried, but the door slammed shut again—and this time Mrs. Brown locked it from the inside. She heard the tumblers fall into place as the bitter old woman turned the wheel engaging the mechanism which could only be opened once again by a punch card.
Mrs. Brown had taken Finley’s punch card from her room before firing her.
Of all the bloody rotten luck. Tossed out without a reference for something that wasn’t even her fault. She hadn’t been the one to slap young master Fenton hard enough to make him cry when he tried to take a fourth biscuit from the tea tray. That had been the governess—Miss Clarke—who had a particular habit of striking small children.
Miss Clarke slapped the boy, and then Finley punched Miss Clarke.
How was she to know the woman’s teeth were so brittle that they’d fall out? They’d certainly been healthy enough to cut Finley’s knuckles. And not having much experience with violence, how was she to know that “normal” girls weren’t supposed to have the strength to send a full-grown woman, three stone heavier than herself, flying backward several feet?
As she lowered her bag to her side and walked toward the stairs to the street, Finley had to be serious long enough to realize that she hadn’t been fired for striking the governess—Mrs. Brown struck the maids all the time. She’d been fired because there was something wrong with her.
She wasn’t right. Was it the work of the devil? She didn’t feel evil. Even when that darkness came over her and made her do the things she shouldn’t do, it didn’t feel wrong or bad. And she wasn’t going to apologize for knocking Miss Clarke on her fat behind when the older woman had brought a child to tears.
The memory of it made her grit her teeth as she climbed the cracked and crumbling stairs. Even the smells and sounds of Mayfair didn’t dent her anger. And now she had to walk through Grosvenor Square with hair frizzy from working a steam press all morning. If she’d known she’d get sacked she would have hit the cow harder.
She stopped two steps from the street. This was exactly what was wrong with her. She’d be thinking—could be about nothing in particular—and she’d have a dark thought, like hitting someone, or saying something true, but cruel. But unlike regular people, sometimes she couldn’t help but give in to temptation.
Perhaps it was the devil, after all.
Just like that, her anger receded, leaving a ball of fear and dread in her belly so cold and hard it felt like lead. She was unemployed in a city where good jobs for a girl were scarce, and without a reference.
She was, as her stepfather would often say when he thought she couldn’t hear, “buggered.”
The thought of her parents only brought her mood down lower. How was she going to explain to them that she’d lost her position because she couldn’t control herself? They didn’t know about these strange incidents. When she was younger they were so infrequent she barely gave them a thought, but they started getting worse shortly after she got her first monthly, and now happened regularly enough—and without warning—that oftentimes she wasn’t even aware anything had happened until it was far too late.
She couldn’t tell her parents the complete truth, but she had to tell them something. As of today she had no place to stay, and proud as she was, even she wasn’t foolish enough to spend the night on the street.
There were things far more dangerous than her in London.
Her mother made hot chocolate.
Finley smiled guiltily at the steaming mug. She knew it would taste like heaven, even when the toast she dunked in it left a buttery haze on top. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Nonsense,” her mother, Mary, countered, taking a seat at the table. She had her own mug, as well. “We haven’t done this for a long time.”
It really hadn’t been that long, but sometimes it felt like years since she’d left home. “I’m sorry to intrude upon you like this.”
Her mother’s warm hand closed over one of hers. “Dearest, this is your home, and it always will be. You could never intrude upon Silas and me.”
Finley stared down at the scarred, yet polished tabletop. Her mother and Silas weren’t poor, but they weren’t wealthy, either. The bookshop they ran did a solid business, but life would be easier for both of them without the burden of an extra body to clothe and feed.
If only she hadn’t hit Miss Clarke. If only she could bring herself to feel badly for it. She didn’t. She felt badly for being here, leeching off her parents, but she didn’t feel one ounce of remorse for what she had done—only the consequences of it.
“You’ll find a new position,” her mother added, giving her hand a squeeze. “And they’ll be glad to have you. Only next time, try to keep your mouth closed.”