Authors: Jessica Spotswood
Tags: #Love & Romance, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Contemporary, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Romance, #Siblings, #General
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CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 20
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Born wicked / Jessica Spotswood. p. cm.—(The Cahill witch chronicles ; ) Summary: In an alternate New England of 1900, where the Brotherhood dominates and controls society, sixteen-year-old Cate Cahill has struggled since her mother’s death to keep secret that she and her younger sisters are witches, but when a governess arrives from the Sisterhood, everything changes.
[1. Witches—Fiction. 2. Sisters—Fiction. 3. Governesses—Fiction. 4. Familylife—New England—Fiction. 5. New England—History—20th century—Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.S7643Bor 2012 [Fic]—dc23 2011026818
ISBN : 978-1-101-55992-5
OUR MOTHER WAS A WITCH, TOO, but she hid it better.
I miss her.
Not a single day goes by that I don’t wish for her guidance. Especially about my sisters.
Tess runs ahead of me, heading for the rose garden—our sanctuary, our one safe place. Her slippers slide on the cobblestones, the hood of her
gray cloak falling to reveal blond curls. I glance back at the house. It’s against the Brothers’ strictures for girls to go out of doors uncloaked, and running isn’t considered ladylike. But we’re concealed from the house by tall hedges. Tess is safe.
She waits ahead, kicking at the dead leaves beneath a maple. “I hate autumn,” she complains, biting at her lip with pearly teeth. “It feels so sad.”
“I like it.” There’s something invigorating in the crisp September air, the searing blue skies, the interplay of orange and scarlet and gold. The Brotherhood would probably ban autumn if they could. It’s too beautiful. Too sensuous.
Tess points to the clematis climbing up the trellis. Their petals are brown and crumbling, their tired heads bowing toward the ground.
“See, everything’s dying,” she says mournfully.
I realize what she intends a scant second before she acts.
“Tess!” I shriek.
I’m too late. She squints her gray eyes, and a moment later, it’s summer.
Tess is an advanced caster for twelve—much more advanced than I was at her age. The deadheads spring up, whole and white and luscious. The oaks sprout new green leaves. Magnificent peonies and lilies sway toward the sun, glorying in their resurrection.
“Teresa Elizabeth Cahill,” I hiss. “You put that back.”
She smiles winsomely, skipping ahead to smell the fragrant orange daylilies. “Just for a few minutes. It’s prettier this way.”
“Tess.” My tone doesn’t brook any argument.
“What good is all this, anyway, if we can’t use it to make things more beautiful?”
As far as I can tell, “all this” is good for precious little. I ignore Tess’s question. “Now. Before Mrs. O’Hare or John comes outside.”
Tess mumbles a
spell under her breath. I assume that’s for my benefit. Unlike me, she doesn’t need to speak aloud to cast.
The clematises’ flowers droop on their vine; the leaves crunch beneath our feet; the impatiens fall to pieces. Tess doesn’t look happy about it, but at least she listens to me. That’s more than I can say for Maura.
Footsteps strike the cobblestones behind us. It’s a man’s quick, heavy stride. I whip around to face the intruder. Tess moves closer, and I resist the urge to put my arm around her. She’s small for her age, but I’d keep her this way forever if I could. An odd, pretty child is safer than an odd, pretty woman.
John O’Hare, our coachman and jack-of-all-trades, lumbers around the hedge. “Your father’s wanting you, Miss Cate,” he huffs, his bearded cheeks red. “In the study.”
I smile politely, tucking an errant strand of hair beneath my hood. “Thank you.”
I wait until he’s gone. Then I turn, tugging Tess’s cape up over her curls, bending to brush the dust from her ragged lace hems. My heart is pounding. If he had come two minutes earlier—if it had been Father, or the Brothers paying an unexpected call—how would we have explained this corner of the garden springing back to life?
We couldn’t have. It was magic, plain and simple.
“Best to see what Father wants.” I try to sound cheerful, but the unexpected summons makes me uneasy. He’s only been back from New London for a few days. Does he mean to leave us again so soon? His time at home gets shorter every year.
Tess looks longingly down the cobblestone path toward the rose garden. “No practicing today, then?”
“After that display? No.” I shake my head. “You know better.”
“No one could see us from the house, Cate. We were behind the hedges. We’d have heard them, like we heard John coming.”
I frown at her. “No magic outdoors except in the rose garden. That’s what Mother taught me. She made the rules to keep us safe.”
“I suppose,” Tess sighs. Her thin shoulders slump, and I hate that I’ve taken this small happiness away from her. When I was her age, I liked to run through the gardens, and I suppose I was careless with my magic, too. But I had Mother to look out for me. Now I have to play mother for Tess and Maura, and ignore the wild girl that still bangs in my heart, begging to be let out.
I lead the way back to the house, and we troop through the kitchen door, hanging our cloaks on the wooden pegs inside. Mrs. O’Hare is bent over a bubbling pot of her dreadful fish chowder, humming a snippet of an old church song, her curly gray head bobbing in time to the music. She smiles and gestures toward a pile of carrots on the table. Tess washes up and sets right to work chopping. She loves bustling around the kitchen, dicing and mixing and measuring. It’s not proper for girls of our station, but Mrs. O’Hare gave up on proper a long time ago with us.
The heavy oak door to Father’s study is slightly ajar. I can glimpse Father at his desk, shoulders rounded in exhaustion, as though what he’d like the very most is a nap. But there’s a stack of thick leather-bound volumes on his desk, and I have no doubt that when our business here is concluded, he’ll go right back to them. And when he finishes those, there are dozens more on the shelves ready to take their place. He is a businessman, yes—but a scholar first and foremost.
I rap on the door and wait for permission to enter. “John said you wanted to speak with me?”
“Come in, Cate. Mrs. Corbett and I thought you should have a say in our new venture, since it affects you girls.” Father gestures toward the corner of the room, where Mrs. Corbett sits like a fat spider on the plush red sofa, spinning her helpful little schemes.
“New venture?” I echo, striding up to his desk. Mrs. Corbett had precious little interest in us before Mother died, but she’s been full of neighborly advice ever since. Her last suggestion was to send me off to a convent school run by the Sisters. I had to compel Father and modify his memory so he wouldn’t make me go. He only remembers deciding it wasn’t wise to send me away, not so soon after losing Mother.
Invading his mind is the wickedest thing I’ve ever done. But it was necessary. How could I keep my promise to look after my sisters if I was in New London? It’s a two-day journey.
“I think—that is, Mrs. Corbett suggested—” Father hems and haws but eventually gets to the point. “A governess! It would be just the thing.”
I jut my chin at him. “For what?”
Father’s thin face flushes. “For your education. I’m going back to New London next week, and I’ll be gone most of the autumn. That’s too long for you girls to be away from your lessons.”
My heart sinks. Hours snatched here and there to correct our French pronunciation and Latin translations are the only time we get with him anymore. Now we won’t even have that. I learned not to count on Father years ago, but Tess hasn’t. She’ll be heartbroken.
I brush dust from the lamp at the corner of his desk. “Maura and I can teach Tess while you’re gone. I don’t mind.”
Father tactfully refrains from pointing out that Tess’s Latin is worlds better than my own. “If that were the only—that is to say—you’re sixteen now, Cate, and—” He looks helplessly at Mrs. Corbett, who is only too pleased to jump in.
“There is more to a young lady’s education than foreign languages. A governess could give you girls a bit of polish,” she asserts, eyeing me up and down.
I clench my hands into fists. I know how I look: a high-necked navy frock unadorned with any frills or frippery, the scuffed boots I wear to work in the garden, hair plaited neatly down my back. It doesn’t do me any favors. But it’s better to be thought dowdy than to attract too much attention.
“We have our piano lessons in town every week,” I remind Father.
Mrs. Corbett smirks, her eyes disappearing into the fat folds of her face. “I believe your father was thinking about more than piano lessons, dear.”
I should lower my eyes like a good girl, but I don’t. That sugary, overly familiar “dear” sets my teeth on edge. I square my shoulders and lift my chin and stare right into her beady little hazel eyes. “Such as?”
“May I be frank with you, Miss Cate?”
“Please.” My voice is syrupy steel.
“You’re of an age to be thinking about your future now, yours and Miss Maura’s. Your intention ceremony is coming up soon. It won’t be long before you’ll have to make your choice: marry and raise a family, Lord willing, or join the Sisterhood.”
I fiddle with the gold tassels on the lamp shade, a flush rising on my cheeks. “I’m well aware of my choices.” As if I could forget. It feels like I spend half my days batting the fear away, refusing to let the rising panic consume me.
“Well, you may not be aware that you girls are getting a reputation. As—eccentrics. Bluestockings. Miss Maura more so than you—she’s always got her nose in a book, doesn’t she? Always popping in and out of that bookshop. You two don’t go visiting or receive callers. It’s understandable, without any mother to guide you—” Mrs. Corbett looks sadly at Father. “But regrettable. I thought it my neighborly duty to tell your father what I’ve been hearing.”
Of course she did, the snooping, meddlesome—
she said. Have the old cows in town been gossiping about us? What if the Brotherhood has heard? Father’s a Latin scholar of some renown, and he’s respected by the Brothers. Before Mother died, before he inherited his uncle’s shipping business in New London, he taught at the boys’ school in town. But that’s not enough to place his daughters above suspicion. These days, no one is above suspicion.
I thought keeping us secluded would be safer. Perhaps I’ve been going about it all wrong.
My face falls, but Father takes my silence for assent. “Mrs. Corbett knows of a young lady who would do. She’s fluent in French—painting, music —” His voice drones on, but I stop listening. Our governess will excel in all the pretty, useless things young ladies of our station are expected to embrace.
And she’ll be living here. Right here in the house.
I grit my teeth. “Have you already retained her, then?”
“Sister Elena will be here Monday morning.” Mrs. Corbett smiles.
Sister? It’s worse than I thought. The Sisters are the feminine arm of the Brotherhood, only without any power: they do not preside over legal disputes, or create addendums to the morality codes, or judge the cases of girls accused of witchery. They live isolated in convents in the cities and dedicate their lives in service to the Lord, educating girls in their elite boarding schools, occasionally serving as governesses. I’ve never met a member of the order before, but I’ve seen them passing through town in their closed carriages, dressed all in black. They always look pinched and joyless. Mrs. Corbett’s daughter Regina had a Sister for her governess before she married.
Is that Father’s intention? Does this governess specialize in marrying off hopeless girls, like Maura and me?
I turn to Father, accusations on my lips. He wanted my input, did he? He’s already made his decision! Or had it made for him by someone else.
He sees the anger on my face and droops like the poor clematis flowers in the garden.
Blast. I can’t argue with him; since Mother died, there isn’t enough of him left to argue with.
“If the decision’s already been made, we shall make the best of it. I’m sure she’ll be lovely. Thank you for thinking of us, Father.” I give him my most charming smile, full of daughterly devotion. See? I can be sweet as Tess’s strawberry pie when I want.
Father smiles back uncertainly. “You’re welcome. I only want what’s best for you girls. Would you like to tell your sisters the news, or shall I tell them at dinner?”
why he summoned me. He never intended to ask my opinion. It was only a pretense because he doesn’t have the courage to tell them himself! This way, when Maura throws a tantrum and Tess sulks, he’ll be able to comfort himself with
Cate agreed it was for the best.
As if I had any real say in the matter.
“No, no. I’ll tell them.” Better they’re rude to me than to Father. “I’ll be off to do that now. Good day, Mrs. Corbett.”
Mrs. Corbett brushes invisible lint from her heavy wool skirt. “Good day, Miss Cate.”
I curtsy and close the door behind me, cursing her black soul. She has no notion of the peril she’s just put us in.