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APRIL 1837MAGE'S TUTTEROW, HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND
My God, Persy, you killed him!"
"I did not!" the Honorable Persephone Leland snapped back at her twin sister, Penelope, who was perched on the battered schoolroom table. She rubbed her damp palms on her apronthey still tingled, the way they usually did after she'd cast a spelland looked anxiously at her little brother, sprawled pale and motionless on the faded Turkish carpet in front of her. What would she say to Mama? "I seem to have killed Charles during lessons this morning" would probably not go over well as a conversation starter at lunch. She turned to her governess. "Oh, Ally, I did it just like the other times!"
Miss Allardyce had assigned them halting spells today. While Pen watched, Persy had stopped Charles in his tracks a dozen times with her command of repellere statim! But this time her spell's force had not only halted him but also knocked him over backward. She dropped to the floor and grabbed one of his limp hands. "Charles, please, are you all right?"
Miss Allardyce sighed. "Penelope, do not take the Lord's name in vain. A true lady is known by her conduct under trying circumstances. And Charles, get up before your sisters have hysterics. I know you're hoaxing us." She bent and gave one of his brown curls a sharp tug.
Persy exhaled in relief as her brother opened his eyes and gave her an impudent grin. "Got you, Persy." He sprang up and held out a hand to her. "Tell me you weren't just a little worried."
She was, but she'd never admit it to him, the little beast. Ignoring his hand, she scrambled to her feet and shook out the creases in her pink morning dress.
Honestly, why did Ally let Charles sit in on their magic classes when he was home from school on holidays? Yes, it was helpful to have someone on whom to practice spells like this one, and they couldn't very well ask any of the servants. Magic was not something one advertised, as Ally frequently reminded them. It was risky enough having their lessons in the schoolroom, but Ally had set up a warning spell at the end of the corridor in case the footman came up with more coal for the fireplace. Still, practicing on Charles was sometimes too much.
"I wasn't worried. In fact, I rather hoped I'd found a spell to knock you unconscious. It would have been terribly useful," she said, looking down her nose at him. He grinned again and stuck out his tongue at her.
"Persy," Ally chided. "Is that a commendable sentiment?"
"No, but it's an honest one." Persy collapsed on the yellow brocade sofa Mama had sent up here when it became too disreputable for the morning room. Between practicing that halting spell and the hour of object teleportation and manipulation before thatnot tomention Charles's shenanigansher head was starting to pound. Hard magic practice always did that to her. "I think I've had enough for one morning, please, Ally. It's Pen's turn."
Miss Allardyce frowned as she consulted the watch at the waist of her neat maroon dress. "You have another ten minutes scheduled"
Persy groaned and began to rise.
"but I shall excuse you for this morning." She bent over Persy and brushed her fingers across her forehead. "Better?" she added softly, belying her stern look.
"Yes, thank you." Persy closed her eyes and sighed. She would have to learn Ally's headache-curing spell one of these days.
Pen shook her head as she rolled up the sleeves of her dress. "You're such a goose, Persy. If you didn't stay up late every night reading Ally's spell books, you wouldn't get the megrims."
"But if I don't study them now, when will I be able to? We leave for London next week." Persy kept her eyes closed so that she wouldn't have to see Pen's face light up at the mention of London.
"I know." Pen's voice was dreamy. "I can't wait. Balls and parties and getting presented at court"
"and having to be polite to witless boys who talk only about clothes and boxing matches" Persy grimaced as she thought of it.
"and men with exquisite manners asking us to dance" Pen ignored her.
"and nasty mamas who scowl if you're asked to dance before their daughters are"
"and society beauties in the latest fashions"
"and boring conversation about who cut whom dead at Lady So-and-So's reception"
"and maybe finally seeing the princess." Pen finished triumphantly.
That stopped Persy dead. If she had to "come out"go to London and be presented to Queen Adelaide and attend balls and be a proper society miss looking for a husbandthen the least that should happen was that she get a glimpse of Princess Victoria. Ever since they'd learned that they shared the princess's May birthday, she and Pen had scoured the illustrated papers for pictures and snippets of information about the girl who would someday be queen of England. Imagine, someone just their ageand a girl, just like themas queen ... after so many decades of disreputable old men ruling the country, it was fascinating to contemplate.
"Do you think we ever will see her?" she couldn't help asking.
"Just think ... if she should become queen tomorrow." Pen's voice was breathless. "Then we'd be presented toto her!"
"Girls." Ally stepped forward, shaking her head but smiling. "That would presuppose the death of our present king, which is hardly kind or proper. And if Princess Victoria were to become queen before she turns eighteen, it is more likely that you'd be presented to her mother as the queen's regent."
"Oh." Pen sounded disappointed. "Well, it was just a thought. But maybe we will see her, just the same ... they say she's ever so tiny, but has the most beautiful blue eyes. Do you remember the sketch of her Grandmama sent us last year? I wonder how she wears her hair now? Do you think it's like that illustration we saw in"
Ally cleared her throat. "Might we continue with our lesson before the bell rings for luncheon? Charles, if you will ... Charles?"
A snoring sound issued from under the sofa. Persy started, and peered under its edge.
"I got bored and went to sleep while you talked about that girl stuff," he said, opening one blue eye and squinting at her.
Eleven-year-old boys. What else should she expect? Persy poked him. "Come on out, Chucklehead."
"Don't want to. I'm tired of getting pushed around while you practice magic on me. Why can't I learn too, Ally?" He rolled out from under the sofa and glared up at them. "I'm stuck going to rotten old Eton while you two have fun here doing spells all the time."
Ally shook her head at him. "I've told you, Charles. Boys your age don't usually have the capacity for magic. And in your family it has been the girls who possess it. Attending Eton is a privilege that only you, as a boy, can enjoy. Don't begrudge your sisters their education."
"You get to learn Greek," Persy said glumly. Oh, how she'd love to learn ancient Greek, and be able to read The Odyssey in Homer's own words.
Pen made a face at her and strolled to the ivy-shrouded window. "And fencing. Now that would be exciting. Come on, Chuckles. Let's get busy. It looks like the rain's finally stopped. After lunch you can go outside and play and not endure the torture of watching us anymore."
Crossing the dark-paneled hall on her way to the midday meal, Persy glanced up at the great family-tree mural painted on one wall. When twin girls were born to James Leland, thirteenth Viscount Atherston, and his wife, Lady Parthenope, it was reckonedthe joke of the season: no daughters had been born in the direct Leland line since King Henry created the title in the 1530s.
What few remembered after such a long time was that Leland women were known for their magical abilities. It was only thanks to Ally, whose mother had traced the histories of the magic-possessing families of England, that the Leland girls had learned to use their power.
Lord Atherston was a quiet, scholarly man who took great joy in finding two perfect classical names for his two tiny perfect daughters. Though Mama had told them that she'd protested, citing the tears she had shed in her early schoolroom years learning how to spell her own classically derived name, he was adamant.
And so the names Persephone and Penelope had duly been painted onto that wall, to be joined six years later by that of Charles Augustus, or Chuckles, as his sisters had christened him. Eventually Charles's name would be outlined in gold as the fourteenth viscount. Rather sooner, hers and Pen's would be joined by other names, names that belonged to eligible young twigs from other family trees.
Persy's mouth went dry at the thought. Why couldn't she stay a child forever, having magic lessons with Ally and sneaking books out of Papa's library to read and avoiding the agony of coming out and balls and meeting strangers? She shivered and averted her eyes from the wall as she followed Pen into the breakfast room.
Papa stood by the marble fireplace, toasting his backside and reading a small leather-bound volume of Virgil's Eclogues. Their mother, Lady Parthenope, as she was still calledshe had never quite been able to forget that she was a duke's eldest daughterstood by the window with Miss Allardyce, who always joined them for family meals.
Mama looked at the clock on the chimneypiece. "Where is your brother?"
"I don't know. He left the schoolroom before we did," said Persy. She did not add that he had done so in a temper, tired of Pen's spotty success at halting spells: After he'd been jerked back and forth half a dozen times as her spell faded in and out, he had fled.
"It is fortunate that he will return to Eton in two days," offered Ally. "He is getting restless. Shall I ring for him?" She turned toward the bellpull.
"No, no. Let him miss a course, and then we shall see if he pays attention to the bell next time," Mama replied as she took her seat at table. "James, dear?"
"Of course." Papa slipped a ribbon into his book and put it on the table next to him, where he kept glancing at it longingly as Harry the footman brought in a platter of cutlets, followed by Mrs. Groening, the housekeeper, with a bowl of beetroot salad.
"Girls," said Mama as Harry served her, "now that Easter is past we will be leaving for London to shop for your clothes. Mrs. Albee has done an adequate job on your daytime dresses, but of course your party and ball dresses must be made in town. On Wednesday Miss Allardyce will go up to London to help open the house and start seeing about your wardrobes. We shall follow along in a few days"
"But that means we'll miss lessons," Persy interjected.
Mama looked nettled. "Persephone dear, you would do well to put more effort into your dancing and less into Latin. I do not want you being called a bluestocking before you are even out."
Before Persy could open her mouth, Ally chimed in. "Mrs. Forrest was saying just last week at their party how well Persephone carriedherself while dancing. The vicar's wife agreed, and she is the daughter of a baronet and was presented at court."
"Did she? Well ..." Their mother picked up her fork again, mollified. "However, you must show me your court curtsies. I will get a sheet from Mrs. Groening after luncheon and see how well you can do them with a train." She looked again at the clock. "Now, where could that boy have got to?"
"He'll remember hot cutlets regretfully enough when he's on the coach back to Eton and has only cold bread and meat to eat," said Papa, helping himself to seconds at the sideboard. "When I was his age"
"Oh, dear," said Ally, rising and hurrying to the window. Mama rose too and gasped.
Just then Persy heard ita thin high wail, rather like the sound the enormous copper boiler in the kitchen made when Mrs. Groening was putting up marmalade. She and Pen rushed to the window after Ally.
The strange wail was coming from Charles, being carried up the terrace stairs by the head gardener. His brown curls were damp and matted with leaves, and his left arm had been hastily wrapped in what looked like the gardener's coat.
Mama was not a duke's daughter for nothing. After that one shocked intake of breath, she glidedalbeit quicklythrough the connecting door to the morning room, where doors to the terrace were open in the spring sunshine.
Persy and Pen exchanged anxious looks. Charles was a great boob sometimes, but if anything had happened to him ...
"Sit, girls, and finish your meal," Ally enjoined them. "Yourmother and I will deal with this. I rather doubt Charles will be returning to Eton anytime soon." She rang the housekeeper's bell vigorously and followed Mama into the next room.
"Ow! You're tugging too hard!" Pen squirmed in the chair before the looking glass.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. Just thinking." Persy made a face in the mirror over her sister's head and kept on brushing the wavy honey brown veil of hair. Pen's hair was so thick and beautiful. Brushing it out was always a soothing and absorbing task for Persy, but one that left her feeling vaguely unsatisfied with her own hair. Even if it were exactly the same color and texture as her sister's.
Ally chided her for thinking Pen prettier than she, but Persy couldn't help it. Maybe it was Pen's lively, outgoing nature that added that extra sparkle to her blue eyes and animation to her features. Whatever it was, Persy felt like a pale, washed-out version of her sister.
"Thinking about what? Chuckles?" Pen set down the book she'd been squinting at in the dim candlelight.
"About Charles, and other things. He told me while Mama was getting the poppy tincture that he'd climbed the ivy vine so that we'd think he was doing a hovering spell outside the schoolroom window. We weren't even in the schoolroom anymore, which he might have deduced if he'd looked at a clock. Watching us practice magic and not being able to do it himself bothers him. One plait or two?"
"One, please." Pen bowed her head and sighed as Persy started braiding. "And now Mama won't let him go back to Eton until his wrist heals. All she needs is a fretful boy to deal with while she'sgetting ready for our coming out. Really, Perse, we had more sense at two than he does at eleven."
"He's a boy. They don't learn sense until they're thirty. If then." Persy scowled at the thick braid forming under her fingers, then tied it off with a ribbon. Boys! And now they would have to go to London and deal with crowds of them.
"Stop frowning. It gives you wrinkles." Pen jumped up and pushed her down into the seat. "Anyway, we won't be doing lessons with Ally gone. Chuckles won't have to fret too much. Oh, Persy, London dresses! And Ally will be helping with them, so they're sure to be perfect."
"But then we have to go out and wear them in public."
"That would be the general idea," agreed Pen. She bent and put her face close to Persy's so that they were reflected side by side in the mirror. "Very well, Persephone Augusta Caroline. Tell me that you're not the least little bit interested in going to London. Swear it."
Persy shifted in her seat and averted her eyes. "Stop that. All right, I can't. I do like the thought of wearing pretty new gowns and being presented to the queen and seeingseeing everything. London. The streets and the shops and the people. The parties and balls and the people in their jewels being gossipy and fascinating. Even the princess, if we're lucky. I just wish I could be invisible while I do it. Don't you understand? When I'm at a party my mouth goes dry and all the scraps of conversation about the weather I've planned out beforehand vanish. And my gloves get damp because my hands are sweating, and I can't remember anyone's name even though they've just been introduced to me. And that's just at thelittle country parties we've been to. What will it be like at a London ball?"
"Hold still. You've a nasty knot here."
Persy gritted her teeth as the brush tugged at her hair. The scent of lavender oil drifted past her; Pen had drizzled a few drops onto her brush to help smooth out tangles. She closed her eyes and inhaled. She usually found the scent of lavender calming, but tonight it didn't seem to work.
"You know you can't stay here and hide forever," Pen said after a few more strokes of her brush. "Life is full of challenges, as Ally's always saying."
"Studying magic is a challenge too. It just happens to be a challenge that I'm not afraid of meeting."
"Then it's not much of a challenge, is it?"
"Oh, hush. You're not Ally. You can't get away with saying things like that. I've got an idea, Pen. You can go to London and come out for both of us. We're twins, after all. You'll do it beautifully. Then Papa can tell suitors, 'If you like this one, there is another just like her at home.' Or better yet, he can tell them I'm a frightful bluestocking, spend all my time with my nose in a book, and can only speak Latin, so they're best off forgetting about the other Leland twin."
Pen laughed and shook her head. "Shall I tell Papa that?"
"I was joking, goose. I know I don't have a choice. I'll just be dreadful at it and disappoint Mama sorely and be miserable for the rest of my life." Persy grimaced at her reflection.
"You won't be dreadful. You'll be fine. Besides, what would you do if you didn't go to London and come out?"
Would Pen laugh if she told her? "Oh, I don't know. Anything."She took a deep breath and spoke in a rush. "Be a teacher like Ally, and find children to teach in families that have a history of magic, like she did with us. Or go to a university and study. I'd love to do those things more than anything."
Pen shook her head. Persy could read the skepticism in her eyes. "Persy, that'sthat's very noble and everything, but it's not what we are. Papa's a viscount. Viscounts' daughters don't become governesses or scholars or anything. They marry men of their own class and have babies and run their husbands' houses. Now, stop looking so grim. It will be all right. We'll be doing London together, remember?"
"Are you two still talking about London?" Miss Allardyce, wearing a flannel night robe and an indulgent smile, came into the room.
Persy turned in her seat. "I wish I could come with you on Wednesday and visit your family's bookshop. That would give me something pleasant to look forward to."
"I promise to take you there when you arrive next week, if you are not too busy shopping." Ally took the brush from Pen and finished brushing Persy's hair. Persy saw her smile in the mirror become pensive. "I shall miss you, you know. I have enjoyed my years with you very much."
"But you'll only be gone a few days" Pen began, then stopped. "Oh. I'd not really thought about that."
Persy's melancholy deepened. She and Pen were about to take their places in society as adults. There would be no reason for Ally to remain as their governess once they were out. But Ally had been with them for ten years, since they were small. She was practically part of the family. What would they do without her?
"Just because we're coming out doesn't mean that we want you to leave us," she added, to fill in her sister's abashed silence.
"Thank you. However, your parents might find my continued presence superfluous." Ally put the brush down on the dressing table and plaited Persy's hair.
"But we're just now really getting good at magicat least, Persy is. I should have worked harder. I somehow never thought that you'd have to go away someday." Pen gave her a stricken look in the mirror.
"Not many young wives take their governesses with them when they marry," Ally teased gently. "How would you and Persy decide who got me? Or will you take a leaf from Solomon's book and divide me in two?"
"If anyone could manage that, it would be you," Persy said.
"Ah, if you think I am powerful, you should have met my grandmother. You read her grimoire, Persy. Couldn't you feel her power in it?"
"Yes, especially when the pages turned themselves to where they thought I should read," Persy agreed.
Ally nodded. "I doubt another witch of her time was as powerful as she."
"What about you today? How many witches are there in England who can do half of what you can?" Persy demanded.
"As the first tenet among witches is to conceal their powers, I could not say." Ally's voice was prim, but Persy caught the note of pleasure in it. "You would do well to remember that, especially as you enter society."
"We know," said Pen. "You've told us before."
"I shall say it again, and it will not be the last time. Consider it in this light. The last execution for witchcraft in Great Britainoccurred less than a hundred years ago. I know that sounds like a very long time ago at age seventeen"
"Almost eighteen," Pen reminded her.
"but in terms of how far the nation has come in overcoming superstition, it is no time at all. Most of the people who were executed as witches probably weren't witches at all, but that did not matter, did it?"
"But as you said, no one's been executed for witchcraft for a hundred years. I don't see what you're so worried about. We'll be careful," Pen protested.
"No one's been executed. But there are other ways to die, ones that do not involve bloodshed. Think about what would happen if it were to become known that you were witches. You wouldn't be burned at the stake, no. You might even find yourself popular with those who would try to manipulate you into using your power for their benefit. But the greater part of society would shun you. Carriages would speed up when they drove past your house, to avoid contamination. You would never be welcome at court. And all your suitors would vanish like fog at sunrise. It would not matter that you are both lovely, charming girls. The assumption would be that you are somehow evil."
Even Persy felt stricken at the picture Ally painted. "But we aren't evil."
"Of course you aren't. But in the face of popular perception, truth has little power. Do you see?"
Pen's face was pale, even by firelight. "Then I suppose it doesn't matter that I'm not very good at magic, since we can never use it," she said in a small voice.
"I didn't say that you couldn't use it. Listen to me, girls. So longas you keep it secret, you will be able to use it to accomplish good things, useful things."
Ally sighed. "I am not a seer, Persy. But your parents and I raised you to be moral, honest, upright women. Someday you will be able to use your magic in moral and honest ways. Until then, watch and wait. And keep your secret."
"Have you ever done anything great and good with your magic, Ally?" Persy leaned back against Ally's side. She remembered why she found the scent of lavender so comforting: Ally always smelled faintly of it.
There was a smile in Ally's voice. "I've taught you. Does that count? My grandmother once said to me what I just said to you. Becoming your governess was one way to do good. Maybe I will be able to do more someday. In the meanwhile, it was a more interesting prospect than marrying any of the young men who came calling at my father's shop."
Persy felt a faint flicker of envy. If only she had the option of going out to teach, rather than to dance and flirt and look for a husband ...
"Did young men really come to your family's shop to see you?" Pen asked.
"Yes." A faint pink suffused Ally's face and the corners of her mouth turned up. "They still do, though my sister has little patience for them, either. I simply never met a man who was more interesting to me than my profession as a teacher."
"Doubt I will, either," muttered Persy.
"But if you did" Pen began.
"Quite enough. I have left a list of spells for you to practice.When you arrive in town we can move on to new work. Penelope, your sister will be happy to help you with any that cause you trouble. And Persy" she hesitated.
"Do practice your dancing with your sister. I regret having had to fib to your mother about your dancing skills at luncheon today." She smiled and kissed them both good night, then took up her candle and glided from the room.
Text copyright © 2008 by Marissa Doyle