Annise Green's antecedents were unexceptional. Her mother was a state priestess of Hekat of the Crossroads (1) her father was what is commonly called a 'decayed gentleman', that is a member of a formerly prominent family whose patrimony has been divided so many times as to provide a bare subsistence to the latest generation.
Mr. and the Reverend Mrs. Green's means had been sufficient to support themselves in reasonable comfort and provide a lady's education for their two daughters, which was perhaps unfortunate. Music, singing, modern and ancient languages, drawing and painting don't really fit one to earn a living in a place like Ankh-Morpork. Now that the two girls were grown to woman's estate the question of how they would keep themselves had become acute.
Marie, the elder, had enjoyed some success with her watercolors but her younger sister, Annise, knew that her own works were not up to standard. In fact she much preferred literary to artistic pursuits. Her ambition was to be an author but one couldn't make a living out of one's pen - at least not at first. Thus she resolved, over cries of dismay from parents and sister, to go as a governess. This proved easier said than done.
Annise might been quite prepared to resign herself to the genteel slavery of governessing but prospective employers, however impressed they'd been by her list of accomplishments, tended to change their minds abruptly after the first interview. Annise was barely eighteen and shy to the point of paralysis. After a half hour or so of painful attempts at conversation parents invariably decided that their little darlings would eat this timid creature alive and sent her away as kindly as possible.
It was all very depressing.
Annise didn't feel shy inside her head. In fact she'd always regarded herself as quite a strong and determined character and was astonished and dismayed at the timid, shrinking figure she cut in the outside world. Her parents were perfectly happy that she should remain at home but Annise wasn't about to waste her youth as an idle 'lady' playing the harpsicord and keeping a sentimental diary until a suitor came to take her away from all that. For one thing lack of looks and fortune made it very unlikely she'd ever have a suitor! Certainly young men were not exactly beating their way to the Green's humble door.
The advertisement shouted by the Town Crier in Five Ways Square, where the Green's had their abode, seemed almost too good to be true: "Wanted: A governess for three children between the ages of seven and four! Standard grammar and arithmetic required. Modern languages, principally Klatchian, desired! Salary fifty dollars a year with room and board! Apply number eleven Brookless Lane!"
Annise's eyes sparkled. "Did you hear that, mamma? Fifty a year, what a fortune!"
The Reverend Mrs. Green was less sanguine. "Oh my dear, for that money they'll have their pick of the best the Guild has to offer."
"But how many can offer Klatchian and Uberwaldese as well as Quirmian?" Annise demanded. "Oh, mamma, it costs nothing to try!"
"Just don't get your hopes up too high, little Annise," sighed Mrs. Green.
Annise set out on the long walk across the city from Five Ways on the Morpork side of the river to Brookless Lane below the Tump in Old Ankh. It was a cold and dreary Sektober day with a bitter wind whistling down the streets and an icy mist rising from the sluggish river. Annise arrived at her destination half perished with cold and was hard put to get a coherent sentence from between chattering teeth to the footman who answered the door. Not that he seemed to require any explanation for her presence.
"Come in, Miss, right this minute!" he exclaimed, literally pulling her into the house. "Great Offler but you could have caught your death in that thin coat! There's a fire in breakfast room, Miss, right through here -" he opened a series of doors pausing to shout down a staircase, "Mrs. Puddles! We need something hot in the breakfast room fast!" Then he was pouring coal on a sinking fire, tugging off Annise's coat and pushing her into a comfortable chair pulled so close to the hearth as to threaten combustion. "Let me have those boots too. Lordy, Miss, your feet are soaked. Put them up on the fender here and I'll go fetch the Missis." With those words he vanished, taking coat and boots with him.
Annise huddled in the warm, dripping gently on the carpet, too dazed to think. A lady appeared. "Oh my, Alf wasn't exaggerating a mite was he? You poor child, however did you get into such a state?"
Annise didn't get a chance to answer, assuming she could have collected her wits sufficiently to do so. A maid whisked in carrying a tray with buttered toast and a steaming cup of bullion. "Just the thing," said the lady. "Well done Mrs. Puddles. Trot upstairs, Ruby, and ask Violet for a wrap and some slippers. Now, dear, let's get these wet things off you before you take a chill."
In slightly longer than a trice Annise found herself sipping hot bullion out of a fine porcelain cup wrapped in a swansdown dressing gown, dry feet tucked into fleece lined slippers.
The lady settled herself into the easy chair opposite and Annise finally had time to notice that she was tall, thin and rather severe in expression with a quantity of dark mouse hair and sharp grayish eyes. "Now then, I am Mrs. Hobbs, my dear. And would I be right in assuming that you are come regarding the governess spot?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Annise, warm inside and out and feeling astonishingly comfortable after her kindly, if whirlwind, welcome. Her bag was by her chair. She opened it and fished out her diploma from Miss Mimsey's School for Young Ladies (2) and her certificates from Signior Sinistre and Frau Gnadiga. The last seemed to impress Mrs. Hobbs.
"Uberwaldese and Klatchian! Teachers of Latanian and Quirmian are easily come by but those two are hard to find - and much more useful these days. Especially for those in trade like Mr. Hobbs and myself. I'm not interested in ornamental 'accomplishments' such as music and drawing, Miss Green -"
Annise actually dared to interrupt. "Oh, Mrs. Hobbs, they are so much more than that! Art ennobles the soul and music enriches the heart. They are very important indeed to a well rounded, cultivated person."
Mrs. Hobbs' smiled. "Well, dear, I haven't a particle of cultivation - as I'm sure you can tell - and I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. However Mr. Hobbs can and I suppose it's just possible that the children take after him rather than me in that respect. If you feel so strongly about it...I see you play the harpsicord, guitar and flute? Well we already have the first upstairs in the salon but you'll have to buy the other two for us. As for the drawing, well I have yet to see the child who objects to messing about with charcoal or watercolors. You are welcome to teach them to do better than scribble and dab if you care to try."
It took a moment for the implications of this to penetrate Annise's consciousness. "You mean...you mean I'm hired?" she ventured, almost disbelievingly.
"Most certainly if you will accept," Mrs. Hobbs said briskly. She was, as Annise was to learn, a lady of quick decision. "The three eldest will be your pupils. With their little brother and the new baby they are simply too much for me to handle alone, besides languages are best learned young aren't they?" She shook her head sadly. "They're willful, mischievous little beasts I'm afraid. But not vicious at all, thank the gods. Tom, the eldest, will try to manage you as he does his sisters. Serrie is a demanding creature and wants a lot of attention, and I'm afraid the two of them have poor Sammie rather cowed, meaning she breaks out at the most inconvenient times." Mrs. Hobbs was ringing the bell as she gave this very unfavorable description of her offspring. The footman appeared. "Alf, please tell Captain Tom and his band of brigands that their mother desires them to temporarily resume the character of children in order to meet their new governess. And please see they wash off all the soot as we don't want to frighten Miss Green away."
"Yes'm." Alf grinned and vanished.
"Now," said Mrs. Hobbs. "Please don't think we mean to inflict the little monsters on you 24/8. We want you to stay after all! We keep early hours here, is 7.30 too early for your breakfast?"
"Not at all," Annise assured her quickly. The Greens habitually breakfasted at eight but Annise was generally up an hour or so before that, reading.
"Good. Lessons right after breakfast then, ending with elevenses followed by play time for the children and recovery time for you. Then lunch and another school period till teatime. After that you may have your evening to yourself. We have supper at eight and the children go to bed right after - or before if they've exercised their notable talent for creating catastrophe. Is all that satisfactory?"
"Y-yes," Annise said, a little nervously. The hours were remarkably easy but Mrs. Hobbs was making her prospective pupils sound very formidable indeed. Annise was thus, genuinely startled when the door opened to admit three perfectly normal, well mannered children.
Tom was a tall boy of seven, bright eyed and fair haired with a fine crop of freckles across his comically upturned nose. The elder girl, Serena called Serrie, was a well grown five year old, dark like her mother, with a permanently out-thrust underlip. Four year old Sammie was as flaxen haired as her brother with big, melting blue eyes.
"- And this is Miss Green who is going to teach you languages and art," Mrs. Hobbs finished. "See that you work hard and mind her. I will not have you leading her the kind of life you lead Mum and Dad. If they give you any trouble at all, Miss Green you are authorized to give them a swat or send them to their rooms," the lady bent an awful look on her offspring. "And if she ever has to do either you'll catch it again from me! Understood?"
"Yes'm," chorused the children. Annise, thoroughly taken aback herself, had to admit that they seemed quite unalarmed by these dark threats.
"Please, Miss, do you know Klatchian?" the boy asked eagerly. Adding proudly, "I already know lots of words!"
"Which you will not repeat to Miss Green and forget directly!" ordered his mother. "No more than I deserve for letting his father take him down to the docks," she added aside to Annise. "Now, if Miss Green has finished her soup," Annise had, "you may take her upstairs and show her the library and her bedroom."
The library proved to be a noble apartment, lined with oak paneling and books, with deep green curtained window seats, capacious leather armchairs, a large and expensive model of the disc in one corner and long, baize covered table in the middle of the Klatchian carpet. It also showed evidence of being well used, somewhat to Annise's surprise given Mrs. Hobb's unashamed philistinism (3). There were deep dents in the seats of the armchairs, books and pamphlets plentifully supplied with bookmarks everywhere, and an open desk spilling forth yet more paper in a corner. The simulacrum of a city formed of bottles and vases and other glassware adorned the center table, its glittering streets peopled with lead soldiers and clothespin dolls.
"That's the great city of Verdopolis on the Lost Continent," (4) young Tom advised her gravely. "I am the Mighty Ymmot, it's patron god."
"And I am the goddess Aneres," said little Serrie, "that's my temple there, with the great glass dome." She pointed to an inverted punchbowl.
"I'm the goddess Athnamas," Sammie said sadly. "But I'm too little to have a temple."
"Nor does Hekat," Annise was inspired to say. "But she is a powerful goddess all the same."
"Lord Stoneface, the Patrician, is preparing a war against Agatea," said Tom.
Serrie frowned ferociously, "But the High Priestess of Aneres will stop it if she can!"
"Oh, yes she can! The Aneresians are quite half the population!"
"Then there'll be a civil war!"
"No!" Sammie pushed her way between her siblings. "Don't break the city again!"
Tom calmed down and patted his little sister reassuringly. "Don't worry, Holy Athnamas, we remember what Mum said about broken glass."
"We'll have huge fires instead," Serrie suggested, inspired. "That'll be fun."
"Mummy won't let us -"
"Not real fire, silly," the elder sister interrupted. "Pretend fire."
Tom's face lit in delight. "The streets will run with melted glass mingling with the blood of the citizens!"
Oh dear. Annise was quite taken aback by this evidence of juvenile blood thirst. "Perhaps you will show me my room, now?" she ventured.
This proved to be the size of the Green's front parlor, prettily and comfortably furnished as a combined bed/sitting room in soft hues of blue and fawn. It was fine, yet not so fine as to embarrass or intimidate its proposed habitant.
"The girl's room is through here," young Tom said, throwing open a door to show a pretty little green and white nursery beyond. "And mine is next door."
A gingham gowned and aproned maid appeared with Annise's dress and coat, dry and pressed and neatly folded, in one hand and her clean and polished boots in the other. "Here are your things, Miss," the girl announced. "And Missis asks that you come back downstairs as soon as is convenient, if you please."
"This is, Pansy, the second floor maid," said Tom.
"That's right, Miss, I'm to look after you," the girl agreed. "Now clear out you lot so Miss can get dressed."
1. Hekat is the goddess the goddess of the waning moon, (the Crone in the Druidic trinity) and guardian of crossroads, places of magic even in towns and cities with far less of the stuff than Ankh-Morpork. Hekat is thus the object of a state supported cult intended to keep her happy, an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. She is also patroness of stray cats and dogs.
2. Readers of Robert Heinlein's 'Starman Jones' will recognize this as the name of the finishing school attended by the heroine, Eldreth Coburn.
3. The Philistines are a desert tribe on the border of Ephebe. Outraged by the more socially minded philosophers attempts to civilize them they have dedicated themselves to destroying books and paintings and other evidences of high culture whenever and wherever possible.
4. So, how many people know where 'Verdopolis' comes from, not to mention the title and concept for this story? See next chapter for answer.