“Marryhim?” Father would never remarry.
“Widowers remarry, Cate. Especially widowers with three daughters. Happens all the time in my books. She’d make a devil of a stepmother, wouldn’t she?”
Maura scoots over to make room for me. We both peer out at Mrs. Corbett dubiously.
“I don’t think Father seems the slightest bit interested,” I announce.
“Of course he’s not. Father’s not interested in anything besides his books and his business. He’s never even here. We’d be the ones stuck with her. Like with this governess.” Maura wrinkles her nose.
I wait for the explosion forthcoming. Tess and I, we’re watercolors compared with the rich oil painting that is Maura, with her flame-bright hair and a temperament to match. She’s impetuous. Intractable. Easily infuriated.
“It might not be so bad. Perhaps a governess could liven things up a bit,” she says finally.
I jump up, staring at her as though she’s grown another head. “You want a governess? Living right here? I suggest you might practice your piano and you take my head off, but you’d welcome some stranger whose sole job is to boss us?”
“Well, I’m sick of you doing it,” Maura mutters. “I’m fifteen now, Cate. I don’t need you watching out for me anymore. I’m not a baby like Tess. Even Tessisn’t a baby, not really.”
I pick up the blue velvet slippers she’s tossed helter-skelter by the bedside. “I know that.”
“Do you? You don’t act like it.” Maura snarls something under her breath, and the slipper in my hand is suddenly a spider. It starts to crawl across my wrist and up my arm. I freeze, but only for a moment.
I’m not a weak, squeamish girl, afraid of things that scurry through the dark.
Maura cured me of that. My magic became evident from the age of eleven, but hers didn’t manifest until she was twelve, and then it exploded overnight. She was dizzy with it. After Mother died, she was impossible. We were in mourning—we seldom went out except to services—but she wasn’t cautious enough at home by half. I lived in terror that one of the servants would catch her—or, Lord forbid, Father. We quarreled constantly about her carelessness. After our rows, hideous ghosts popped out of my closet; spiders crawled through my bed and wove webs in my hair. Snakes wrapped around my ankles, licking at my feet with forked tongues.
I learned to think my way out of such things quickly. And to never, ever show my fear. Mother taught us that a witch’s power is all in your mind. We can’t change matter, only how people see things, and—in very rare cases—how they remember them.
“Commuto,” I say, and the spider turns back to a slipper. I toss it into a pile with the others by her wardrobe.
“Aren’t you bored silly, Cate? I know I am. If I didn’t have my novels, I’d throw myself right in the river.” Maura’s eyes snap as she stands and stretches, the fabric pulling tight through the bodice. She needs new dresses to fit her new curves. “What life do we have here, wandering around the house like ghosts? Don’t you ever cravemore?”
Do I? It’s been years since I’ve let myself consider what I want. It hardly matters. I didn’t want Mother to die; I didn’t want Father to turn into a shadow of his old self; I didn’t want the responsibility of policing my sisters. I certainly never wanted to be a witch in the first place.
The universe has yet to take my wishes under consideration.
Maura still thinks she can bend the world to her will. She’ll learn.
A memory floats up—running through the garden, chased by a towheaded boy with mischievous green eyes. Letting him catch me and tickle me until I was breathless. The way he looked at me, his sunburned forehead nearly touching mine, his body pressing me into the grass. How he laughed and rolled away, his cheeks as red as Maura’s hair, and it was suddenly evident that we were too old to play such games.
I bite my lip—an unladylike habit, I know, and one that Tess has picked up from me. “What is it you want to do? What am I stopping you from— afternoon teas at Mrs. Ishida’s? Shopping with Rose Collier and Cristina Winfield?”
“No. I don’t know. Perhaps!” Maura begins to pace.
Good Lord. If those sound like attractive options, she’s lonelier than I ever dreamed. “No one is stopping you from making friends. You could invite the girls from town over for tea whenever you like.”
“As if they would come! They barely know us and we dress like ragamuffins. Besides, you’re the oldest, you’d have to host, and you’d rather be a hermit.”
I sink onto Maura’s bed, smoothing the yellow coverlet that Mother sewed during one of her long convalescences. Maura’s right; I wouldn’t enjoy making odious small talk with the simpering town girls. But I would do it. For her. To keep us safe. “Is that really what you want?”
She spins the old globe Father gave her for her last birthday. “I don’t know. I want more than what we’ve got now, I know that. We have to start thinking of our futures, don’t we? How are we supposed to find anyone to marry us if we never leave the house?”
“You make us sound like shut-ins,” I argue. “We go out.”
“To services and piano lessons.” Maura spins the globe faster, until it becomes a blue-green blur of places we’ll never see. “It’s all well and good for you. You’ll marry Paul and have his babies and live next door forever. How you won’t die of boredom, I don’t know, but at least it’s settled. What about me?”
I ignore the jibe. “It’s hardly settled. He hasn’t bothered to come home and visit me once.” I arrange her pillows in a neat row, fluffing them with more force than necessary. “Maybe he’s fallen in love with some city girl.”
“He has not.” Maura gives me a wry smile. “We’d have heard. Mrs. McLeod would have told everyone in town.”
Mr. McLeod is an invalid, confined to his bed, and Paul is his mother’s only child and her delight. Her cosseting drives him to distraction. It surprised me at first, him going off to university. His marks in school were never good; Father had to give him extra tutoring. Now I suspect he just wanted to escape that dreary house. Still, it’s no excuse not to visit. He hasn’t been home in four years. Not even for Christmas. Not even for Mother’s funeral.
“Well, you’ll find out next week, won’t you?” Maura stands before the looking glass, running Mother’s old tortoiseshell comb through her curls. “Are you nervous?”
“No,” I lie. “It’s just Paul. Besides, I’m mad at him.”
“Well, you’ll have to get over that. It’s not as though you have a line of men queuing up outside to marry you.” Maura appraises me, sprawled across her bed in disarray. “You ought to get the governess to order you a new dress. Something fashionable. You can’t let him see you like that.”
“Paul wouldn’t care.” Would he? The boy I grew up with wouldn’t.
I ought to put my pride aside and try to please him. That’s what a good, practical girl would do.
“Look at yourself.” Maura tugs me up to stand next to her. My hair’s falling out of its braid and there’s an ink stain on my sleeve. But even at my best, I can’t compare with her. Maura’s always been the family beauty. My hair is straight and blond with the barest hint of red, not gorgeous bright curls like hers, and my eyes are dull gray like Father’s. Worse, my pointed chin hints at stubbornness. It’s an ill-kept secret, though—one you’d uncover by talking to me for five minutes.
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