Julia Quinn

What Happens in London

The second book in the Bevelstoke series, 2009

For Gloria, Stan, Katie, Rafa, and Matt.

I don’t have in-laws. I only have family.

And also for Paul,

even though he has all the dominant genes.


By the age of twelve, Harry Valentine possessed two bits of knowledge that made him rather unlike other boys of his class in England of the early nineteenth century.

The first was his complete and absolute fluency in the languages of Russian and French. There was little mystery surrounding this talent; his grandmother, the extremely aristocratic and opinionated Olga Petrova Obolenskiy Dell, had come to reside with the Valentine family four months after Harry’s birth.

Olga loathed the English language. In her (frequently expressed) judgment, there was nothing in this world that needed to be said that could not be expressed in Russian or French.

As to why she had gone and married an Englishman, she never could quite explain.

“Probably because it needs explaining in English,” Harry’s sister Anne had muttered.

Harry just shrugged and smiled (as any proper brother would) when this got her ears boxed. Grandmere might disdain English, but she could understand it perfectly, and her ears were sharper than a hound’s. Muttering anything-in any language-was a bad idea when she was in the schoolroom. Doing so in English was incredibly foolish. Doing so in English whilst suggesting that French or Russian was not adequate for the verbal task at hand…

In all honesty, Harry was surprised Anne hadn’t been paddled.

But Anne loathed Russian with the same intensity Grandmere reserved for English. It was too much work, she complained, and French was almost as difficult. Anne had been five when Grandmere had arrived, and her English was far too entrenched for anything else to gain an equal footing.

Harry, on the other hand, was happy to speak in whichever language was spoken to him. English was for everyday, French was elegance, and Russian became the language of drama and excitement. Russia was big. It was cold. And above all, it was great.

Peter the Great, Catherine the Great-Harry had been weaned on their stories.

“Bah!” Olga had scoffed, more than once, when Harry’s tutor had attempted to teach him English history. “Who is this Ethelred the Unready? The Unready? What kind of country allows their rulers to be unready?”

“Queen Elizabeth was great,” Harry pointed out.

Olga was unimpressed. “Do they call her Elizabeth the Great? Or the Great Queen? No, they do not. They call her the Virgin Queen, as if that is anything to be proud of.”

It was at this point that the tutor’s ears grew very red, which Harry found quite curious.

“She,” Olga continued, with all possible ice, “was not a great queen. She didn’t even give her country a proper heir to the throne.”

“Most scholars of history agree that it was wise for the queen to avoid marriage,” the tutor said. “She needed to give the appearance of being without influence, and…”

His voice trailed off. Harry was not surprised. Grandmere had turned to him with one of her razor-sharp, rather eaglish stares. Harry did not know anyone who could continue speaking through one of those.

“You are a stupid little man,” she pronounced, then turned her back on him entirely. She fired him the next day, then taught Harry herself until they were able to find a new tutor.

It wasn’t precisely Olga’s place to hire and fire educators for the Valentine children, who by then numbered three. (Little Edward had been added to the nursery when Harry was seven.) But no one else was likely to involve themselves in the matter. Harry’s mother, Katarina Dell Valentine, never argued with her mother, and as for his father…well…

That had rather a lot to do with the second bit of uncommon knowledge tumbling around Harry Valentine’s twelve-year-old brain.

Harry’s father, Sir Lionel Valentine, was a drunk.

This was not the uncommon knowledge. Everyone knew that Sir Lionel drank more than he ought. There was no hiding it. Sir Lionel stumbled and tripped (on his words and his feet), he laughed when no one else did, and, unfortunately for the two housemaids (and the two carpets in Sir Lionel’s study), there was a reason the alcohol had not caused his body to grow fat.

And so Harry became proficient in the task of cleaning up vomit.

It started when he was ten. He probably would have left the mess where it lay, except that he had been trying to ask his father for a bit of pocket money, and he’d made the mistake of doing so too late in the evening. Sir Lionel had already partaken of his afternoon brandy, his early-evening nip, his wine with supper, his port immediately following, and was now back to his favorite, the aforementioned brandy, smuggled in from France. Harry was quite certain that he had spoken in complete (English) sentences when he made his request for funds, but his father just stared at him, blinking several times as if he couldn’t quite comprehend what his son was talking about, and then promptly threw up on Harry’s shoes.

So Harry really couldn’t avoid the mess.

After that there seemed to be no going back. It happened again a week later, although not directly on his feet, and then a month after that. By the time Harry was twelve, any other young child would have lost count of the number of times he’d cleaned up after his father, but he had always been a precise sort of boy, and once he’d begun his accounting, it was difficult to stop.

Most people would have probably lost count around seven. This was, Harry knew from his extensive reading on logic and arithmetic, the largest number that most people could visually appreciate. Put seven dots on a page, and most people can take a quick glance and declare, “Seven.” Switch to eight, and the majority of humanity was lost.

Harry could do up to twenty-one.

So it was no surprise, that after fifteen cleanings, Harry knew exactly how many times he’d found his father stumbling through the hall, or passed out on the floor, or aiming (badly) at a chamber pot. And then, once he’d reached twenty, the issue became somewhat academic, and he had to keep track.

It had to be academic. If it wasn’t academic, then it would be something else, and he might find himself crying himself to sleep instead of merely staring at the ceiling as he said, “Forty-six, but with a radius quite a bit smaller than last Tuesday. Probably didn’t have much for supper tonight.”

Harry’s mother had long since decided to ignore the situation entirely, and she could most often be found in her gardens, tending to the exotic rose varieties her mother had brought over from Russia so many years earlier. Anne had informed him that she planned to marry and “be gone from this hellhole” the moment she turned seventeen.

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