“I trust you’ve all heard about the new governess?” Father sits at the head of the mahogany table with Tess and Maura on one side and me on the other. By rights I’m the lady of the house now and ought to sit at the foot, but I still think of it as Mother’s place.
Tess and Maura nod, and Father continues. “She’ll be arriving on Monday. I’ll stay until Thursday to see her settled, but then I’ll be traveling for several weeks. I may not be back until the Feast of All Saints.”
Tess drops her spoon with a clatter. “That’s more than a month! What about our Ovid?” They’ve been reading theMetamorphosestogether. It’s banned by the Brothers—too many strange gods and goings-on—but Father has a copy secreted away.
My heart sinks. After Mother died, after it became obvious that he would have no sons, Father started reading with Tess and teaching her the dead languages he loves. She gobbles up his lessons like a starving kitten, thrilled with any scraps of knowledge or leftover bits of affection he tosses her way.
Father gazes at an empty space on the wall. “I’m sorry to postpone our lessons.”
He isn’t, not truly. Maura’s right; all Father cares about anymore is his books and his business. Anger rises through me. Does he even notice how Tess adores him? He isn’t here to see how she mopes around the house after he leaves. It’s left to me to cheer her, to entertain her with magic lessons in the garden and impromptu theatricals. It’s always left to me.
“Will the governess teach us anything interesting?” Tess asks. “Or only stupid things like drawing and French?”
Father clears his throat. “Er—I imagine the latter. Your curriculum won’t include anything that hasn’t been approved by the Brotherhood. I know it’s not what you’re used to, but drawing and French—those are useful accomplishments for young ladies, Teresa.”
Tess sighs and fiddles with her spoon. She’s already fluent in French, Latin, and Greek. Father’s been promising to teach her German next. “Won’t you be lonely?” Maura goes to the sideboard and pours Father a glass of port from the crystal decanter. “Away from home so long?”
Father coughs. Has he been coughing more lately? He says it’s only the change of seasons, but his face is as tired as his eyes. “I’ll be quite busy. Meetings all day.”
“But wouldn’t you like company? Someone to take meals with?” Maura gives him a bright, wheedling smile. She looks very much like Mother when she smiles. “You’ve been working too hard. I could come and look after you. I’d love to see New London.”
Tess and I both swivel in our chairs. Maura has to know he’ll never agree to it. He doesn’t know what to do with us at home, much less in New London.
“No, no, I’m right as rain. And I wouldn’t have time to look after you properly. New London is no place for a young lady without a chaperone. It’s much better for you to stay here with your sisters.” Father takes a spoonful of soup, oblivious to the way Maura’s face falls. “Now, about this governess. Sister Elena comes very highly recommended by Mrs. Corbett. She was Regina’s governess.”
And Regina married very well. Father doesn’t say it, but it hangs in the air, heavy as the evening fog. Is that what he wants for us? Regina Corbett is a simpering ninny, and her husband is religious and rich and of good standing. He’s sure to be considered by the Brotherhood the next time they have an opening. There are always twelve members on the town council, ranging in age from ancient Brother Elliott, Brenna’s grandfather, down to Brother Malcolm, twenty and handsome, married just last fall.
Brother Ishida, the head of the council here, reports to the National Council in New London twice a year. Generally, however, the National Council does not involve itself in small-town affairs. They are more concerned with the looming threat of another war with Indo-China, which has settled the western half of America, or Spain, which has colonized the south. It’s Brother Ishida and the Chatham council that we have to be wary of. If they knew what we were, all their fatherly kindness would vanish in the blink of an eye. Young or old, they are united in their fervor to keep New England safe from witches.
I wouldn’t marry a member of the Brotherhood for all the money in the Brothers’ coffers.
“I remember Regina’s governess,” Maura says. She’s tearing her bread into bits instead of eating it. “She’s young. And very pretty.”
I search my memory but can’t come up with a face. We must have seen her at services, passed her occasionally in the street, but she was in town for only three months before Regina married.
“I met the other new member of the staff,” I announce. “Finn Belastra?”
“Ah, yes.” Father shakes his head. “I popped into the shop the other day and spoke with his mother. Marianne tells me the Brothers have been scaring half their customers away. Hoping to find something forbidden and shut them down, I expect. It’s a shame when it’s come to this, people afraid of books!”
Never mind people being afraid ofgirls. I interrupt him before he can get started. “Yes, but does Finn actually know how to garden?”
“He’s a very bright young man. Would have made a fine scholar,” Father says, which does not actually answer my question. He natters on about how Finn was supposed to go to university before his father died, and what a shame it is, and I’m sure Finn would be thrilled to know his mother’s been blabbing his business all over town.
I make polite replies as Father segues back into the importance of learning. I think he means to encourage us about the governess, but I’m the only one listening. Maura’s slipped a novel into her lap. Tess is amusing herself by making one of the candles on the wall sconce flicker. I give her a look, and she stops with a guilty smile. I shake my head and push my apple pie away, appetite lost.
After dinner, we’re free to do as we please. When Father’s away, occasionally we coax Mrs. O’Hare into joining us for games. Often we play at chess or draughts, though Tess is the reigning champion at both and Maura is a horrid loser. Tonight Father drifts back to his study. Maura climbs the stairs to her room with barely a word to anyone. That leaves Tess and me.
I follow my little sister into the sitting room. She settles at the piano, her fingers gliding gracefully over the keys. She’s the only one of us with enough patience to develop any real skill.
I kick off my slippers and lie on my back on the tufted cream sofa. Tess’s sonata washes over me. She used to play lively old folk ballads, and Maura would sing and play her mandolin. We’d push the furniture to the walls, and Mrs. O’Hare would come in and dance me around the room. The old songs were banned years ago, along with dancing and theater and anything else that smacks of the old days before the Brothers, when the witches were the ones in power. But the Brothers have become increasingly strict, and dancing isn’t worth the risk.
Tess’s fingers stutter and stop. “Are you still angry with me?” she asks.
“No. Yes.” If I don’t discipline her, who will? Father doesn’t know about the magic, and he mustn’t find out. Mother was convinced he wasn’t strong enough to handle it. She cited his weak chest, the cough that seems to leave him a little frailer each year. But it’s more than that, even if she couldn’t bring herself to say it outright. Father grumbles about the Brothers’ censorship and hides books in secret compartments all over the house, but that’s an easy sort of rebellion. I don’t think Mother believed he’d be strong enough to stand against them when it came to something that really mattered. Like us.