The arrival in London of the Misses Enderwhild in June of 1820 caused a great stir of interest in Society. This was not due to any virtues of their persons, for though well enough to look at and boasting all the usual accomplishments, the two young ladies were hardly great beauties and would surely have been lost in the crush of a fashionable Season. Also a matter of much discussion was the fact that they were rich; the ladies were sole heirs to a fine estate in Gloucestershire and an untold fortune besides. Or perhaps it was too much told, for one person claimed it amounted to six-hundred guineas in a year and another said seven-hundred-fifty, and yet another swore that the elder, at least, would receive no less than a thousand guineas in a year once she was married.
But the fact which caused the greatest murmur of all was that the young ladies were to be chaperoned by Mrs Strange.
Upon her return to England in the summer of 1817, Arabella had found all her affaires in dreadful disarray. Despite the letters she had penned to her brother and every acquaintance she could think of, rumours still persisted that she had been murdered by her husband, who had gone mad as a result. Her brother Henry, while holding Jonathan blameless, still could scarcely bring himself to believe she was indeed alive until he had seen her with his own eyes; and as a result he had not trumpeted her return quite so diligently as he might have. Arabella returned to find that both her homes, in London and in Shropshire, had disappeared, and with them nearly all of her worldly goods. What money her husband had placed in banks had, after his disappearance, been argued over by a collection of potential heirs(1). Some of these relatives brought to court a case claiming that Arabella herself was an impostor and that, since Jonathan Strange's wife had died and been buried a year before in an honest church, no one claiming to be his widow should be allowed access to his funds.
1. There was considerable doubt at this time as to whether Mr Strange and Mr Norrell were dead or, as Arabella claimed, merely sojourning in fairy lands under the burden of a curse. Mr Strange's cousin Georgianna Pringle (née Erquistoune) claimed magical precedent to shew that the disappearance of a magician's house invariably signified that the magician in question was either dead or would never return to England, in which case his remaining goods should pass to his heirs. This question led many of the solicitors of Edinburgh and London to study magical history and magical law, which kept them occupied for some years. Eventually a counter-example was noted in the case of Dr Martin Pale, whose house was known to disappear every time he journeyed into Faerie and reappear a few days before his return, in time for the servants to put everything in order. The housekeeper supposedly remarked that there was never any accumulation of dust while the house was gone, but the hearths were reluctant to light again and many of the books and candlestick swopped places.
This left Arabella in a difficult situation. She felt that she had already imposed too much upon the charity of the Greysteels, who had altered all their travel plans to escort her safely to her home. She was particularly vexed with her brother and disinclined to share his home, but his income, while comfortable, would not support her in a London establishment where she might continue to pursue her legal concerns.
For some time she stayed in Hartley-square as a guest of Lady Pole, who still held her in fast friendship after their trials together. Lady Pole had returned from Yorkshire in good health, but still somewhat troubled and very cross with her husband -- not because he had sent her to a madhouse, which place she had found as congenial as any other, but because he had failed to realise that she was suffering under a fairy enchantment. Arabella pointed out that it was hardly to be expected that anyone would guess what she, and Lady Pole, and Stephen Black had all been entirely unable to speak about. Even Mr Strange had been confounded, despite being in a far better position to recognise the signs; and furthermore, Sir Walter had consulted with every expert that he could (including Mr Norrell, who was far more to blame than any one else) and had gotten no help. Sir Walter was properly contrite now, and accepted their reports of imprisonment in Lost Hope with no demur but some bemusement(2).
2. In some ways, the return of his wife's sanity had less effect on Sir Walter's daily existence than the disappearance of his trusted butler Stephen Black, which had thrown the entire serving staff into a dreadful uproar. If he had been disinclined to believe any part of Lady Pole's tale, he had only to cast his eyes on some of the remarkable items that had been found among Stephen's belongings. Many other rare, precious, and magical objects had presumably disappeared along with Stephen's room, which was no longer to be found in any part of the house although the other servants were certain there had been a door just there in the lower hall. Sir Walter continued to have difficulty in hiring and retaining a reliable butler for many years, due in part to the insistence of all the servants that the lower hall was now haunted.
Partly as a result of Arabella's intercessions, Sir Walter and Lady Pole enjoyed a rapprochement and gradually reawakened the tender feelings they had known shortly after their marriage. When, after a little more than two years, they found themselves expecting an addition to the household, Arabella felt that she could no longer impose. With many fond excuses, she left for Great Hitherden to live with her brother.
She found Henry's house, and his wife, and his company to be deadly-dull. He would not leave off lecturing her on all that was wrong or had been wrong with Jonathan and his magic. He managed nearly every day to imply that some how her false death and imprisonment in Faerie were her own fault, or perhaps Jonathan's fault, or her own again for marrying Jonathan, when Henry had thought it an excellent match at the time! He would not accept her assertion that Jonathan was not dead and would come back to her; he insisted on treating her as a widow rather than a lady whose husband was in a distant land on pressing business. He was certain that the odd hours she kept, walking about the house in the dead of night, were a sign of some lingering susceptibility to fairy influence; and he strongly urged that she should devote herself to the service of God and beg for His protection, even though she explained many times that fairies do not have any particular horror of the sacred and are, as a rule, quite indifferent about such matters.
She distracted herself from Henry's disheartening atmosphere by spending hours writing letters to every friend, relative, and acquaintance she could think of. One of these correspondents was John Segundus, who was nearly ready to publish a book about Jonathan's magical career(3) and had frequently asked for her input over the last few years while writing it.
3. The Life of Jonathan Strange, by John Segundus, pub. John Murray, London, 1820
John Segundus, who had known a certain genteel poverty for much of his own life, was moved by Arabella's plight. But there was very little that a single gentleman might do directly on behalf of a widowed or half-widowed lady without appearance of impropriety. He applied instead to his old benefactress, Mrs Lennox. That estimable lady had taken innumerable sad cases under her wing and in very short order she hit upon a solution to Arabella's difficulties.
Mrs Lennox knew of two young heiresses in the town of Grace Adieu in Gloucestershire who had no relatives to guide them along in life. The one distant cousin they had acquaintance with previously was a rake and a spendthrift who had gone off to parts unknown to escape his creditors. The girls had lived in near seclusion with only their governess as company, but earlier this very year the governess had run off(4). It was a very odd circumstance which caused some of the villagers to look askance at the two innocent young ladies, who now had no one at all to shew them how to go on in the world.
4. The people of the village suspected that she had eloped with a beau, but no two gossipers named the same person, and indeed, no man had gone missing from the village at the same time.
Mrs Lennox had offered to take the two young ladies herself to Bath and shew them about, but she was so busy with her various projects. Perhaps Mrs Strange, as a respectable widowed -- or half-widowed -- lady, could introduce them to society instead? It would give her a pleasant occupation, and of course living expenses would come from the Misses Enderwhild's generous portion.
It was a somewhat irregular proposition, and Arabella felt that she ought perhaps to refuse. She was only too aware of how easily scandal, however unfounded, might attach to any one connected in the most distant way to an event or person who had behaved oddly -- which, it must be admitted, her husband frequently had. But the prospect was most appealing, especially when Henry commenced another lecture on the advisability of her remarrying. And then again, she believed she might have made the acquaintance of the young ladies, or at least of their governess, some years ago when she visited Henry at the time that he was rector of Grace Adieu. It was a tenuous connexion, but enough to satisfy propriety. Arabella took up pen to send the two young ladies her offer of assistance.
In due course Arabella let a small house just round the corner from Grosvenor-square, quite fashionable for so late in the Season. She hired on household servants and two lady's maids, and visited drapers and milliners and dress-makers. She also found time to speak with her London solicitor and with John Murray the publisher concerning the upcoming publication of John Segundus' book and the re-publication of Jonathan Strange's own book, The History and Practice of English Magic, Volume I. She spoke to Lady Pole and several other respectable ladies of society, inquiring to what salons and dinners she might take her two charges in order to introduce them to Society while avoiding the worst crushes of fashionable balls. She was thus feeling quite pleased with herself and well-prepared to take up the role of chaperone before ever the two young ladies arrived.
The carriage which pulled up late on a fine day in June was elderly, but well-sprung. Arabella, having had ample experience of the stuffiness of carriages, was not in the least surprized when her charges emerged looking rather flushed in the face and fanning themselves anxiously. She hurried down the steps to greet them.
The elder Miss Enderwhild, named Ursula, was a tall young lady with a long face that bore a thoughtful countenance, and dark curls that served to emphasize the blueness of her eyes. Miss Flora was more traditionally built for an English lady, with a slender figure and a near-translucent complexion under wispy dark-gold hair; she had the sort of face that in later years might become pinched or prim, but at present it was still delicate and fine-featured.
"You must be exhausted from all your travels, poor dears!" Arabella exclaimed. "I've ordered a light dinner, nothing too heavy as I'm sure your stomachs must settle."
"Oh, la!" exclaimed Miss Flora with a toss of her head. "As to that, I'm sure we are quite well. But we shall be glad of a chance to sit on something that isn't moving, don't you agree, Bear?"
Miss Enderwhild raised an eyebrow. "I should be glad of an opportunity to stretch my legs, in fact," she said, with a glance up and down the street. It was crowded with horses and carriages, broughams and sprightly phaetons. The people who stepped along the margins had constantly to be on the watch for vehicles, other pedestrians, or unpleasant soil in their path. It was hardly promising for the stretching of any limb.
"Come in and I shall shew you the house," said Arabella, waving a footman to take charge of the baggage being unloaded from the carriage.
She took the girls through the house, aware that even a more generous London establishment than this would seem dreadfully narrow and dark to any one who had grown up in a large country manor. There were windows only at the front and back of the building, and in the rear they overlooked the stables and were hardly a source of fresh air. Arabella was glad she had given the larger bedroom at the front of the house to the two young ladies; the heat might be stifling in her own room, but she was rarely able to sleep at night in any case.
The ladies' eyes grew wide at the sight of the "light dinner" that Arabella had ordered; a Green-Pea Soup, Boeuf à la Jardinière, Boiled Leg of Lamb in a White Sauce, and a Vol-au-Vent of Strawberries and Cream. "Oh, this is nothing!" Arabella insisted. "At dinner parties you must ready yourselves for seven removes or more."
"That will suit me well enough," said Miss Enderwhild, and applied herself to the soup course. Indeed, she ate with an appetite, and her figure was not quite so willowy as her sister's.
Miss Flora sipped delicately at the soup. "I must say, the farmers may complain all they wish, but I'm very glad the weather was dry for our trip. I do so hate to be wet." She laughed, a little shrilly at first, but moderating to a musical trill as if she had practised. "Dear Bear says I'm like a cat, that way. But in truth I don't care for cats, or any animals at all, really."
"Bear?" said Arabella, looking between them.
"Because of my name, Ursula," said the elder sister. "Which I do beg you will use, madam -- and you also, Flory."
Flora looked as if she might have been moments from a childish gesture, but merely tossed her head artfully instead.
"And you must both call me Arabella, please." Arabella rest her spoon in the half-finished soup bowl by way of demonstrating moderation to the younger ladies, and turned to Ursula. "And do you also dislike the rain?"
"Oh no, she adores wild weather," Flora broke in. "The windier and foggier, the more she likes it. So did our governess, dear Miss Tobias. I suspect it has to do with the pastime they shared?"
"And what would that be?" asked Arabella.
Ursula's eyes flickered up at her, startlingly blue beneath the shadow of her curls. "Magic."
Later that evening, Arabella found herself unable to sleep. She had been troubled at nights ever since her release from enchantment, but the affliction had eased somewhat in past years. Now, whether because of the warm air or the odd conversation over dinner or the unaccustomed responsibility for her charges, she rose and cast a robe over her nightclothes and padded through the house. Her guests' room was still and silent, but a candle burned in the drawing room below.
Some one was sitting in the tall wing-backed chair that faced away from the doorway. As she stepped closer, Arabella could see Miss Enderwhild's curls bent over a book. This room had come furnished with a small collection of books on divers subjects, including Miss Austen's work and some of Lord Byron's less objectionable poetry, but the volume Ursula had chosen was one that Arabella had brought with her: the only surviving copy of the first edition of Jonathan Strange's History and Practice of English Magic. It was open to a page that Arabella had never liked to look at, the engraving created on Jonathan's instructions to depict the King's Roads.
Ursula's finger hovered just above the drawing. "I wonder who this figure could be," she said, quite calmly.
Arabella jumped; she had not realised the other lady knew she was there. "I'm sure I cannot imagine," she said, drawing her robe close with a shiver although the chill she felt was all within.
Ursula lifted her head to gaze at Arabella. "Did he never tell you?"
Arabella blinked. "He told me of his journey, the one pictured there. But he didn't recognise the other figure in the distance. It was too far away."
"So he did share his magic with you?"
Arabella moved slowly to the sopha on the opposite wall and sat, facing Ursula. "He never taught me magic, if that's what you wish to know. We never considered the possibility."
Arabella considered. "I cannot say that I did not know ladies could do magic, for he certainly told me stories of Maria Absalom and others. But it never occurred to me that I might be one such. I suppose I didn't think I had the talent for it."
Ursula watched her gravely for a few seconds, then looked down at the book again. "Flora does not feel magic. But Miss Tobias -- our governess -- always said that it was only a matter of paying attention to the small clues we are accustomed to ignore."
"I believe I know what you mean," said Arabella, who was beginning to feel a slight prickling on the side of her neck. "I have become more sensible of such small stirrings lately. But I never thought of it while Jonathan was al-- was with me. In any case, I suspect it would have confused us both dreadfully. How would we know when to be master and pupil, and when husband and wife?"
"Sooth, I wott ther be pleyn delyt, wyld magickes to shew ytwixt a housbande and wyfe!" said a high, rasping voice from the corner of the room.
Arabella spun around, but there was no one there. Only the mirror upon the mantel, reflecting Ursula... but no, the lady in the glass was not so young or so simply dressed as Ursula. She was a mature lady with hair pinned high and an odd-looking robe of gold and green draped over her shoulders and arms.
"Who..." began Arabella, her mouth going dry with apprehension. The lady did not look like a fairy, but she knew they had ways of disguising themselves, especially when appearing second-hand as in a mirror.
"This is my friend Catherine," said Ursula placidly. "She is kind enough to advise me from time to time."
"Ich hytte Cathyryne," said the lady in the mirror. "From Wynchestre y hele."
"Catherine of Winchester?" said Arabella, appalled. She turned to Ursula. "You summoned--?"
"I didn't ask, she offered," said Ursula, even as the lady said, "No ane micht calle mee!" and disappeared from the mirror, leaving only the drawing room and the single flickering candle in the glass.
Arabella shook her head in confusion. "Was this some doing of your governess, then?" She knew that magicians had once made a practise of summoning more experienced deceased sorcerors to aid them. Jonathan had even tried something of the sort once, but it hadn't succeeded half so well as this, and he had later given up on the method.
"In truth, she did first appear to Miss Tobias to instruct her. You see, Miss Tobias spent many years translating Catherine's writings from the Latin."
Arabella stirred. "Was her work published?" She knew how dearly Jonathan would have loved -- would still love, when she saw him next -- to read such a translation.
"No where that I know of. And Jane didn't summon Catherine; she merely stopped in on occasion, as if to visit. Flora didn't like it and said she was too hard to understand, but I spoke with her sometimes. Then, when Jane left, Catherine came by to let us know that she was all right."
"Miss Tobias was all right?" Arabella said, not sure that she was getting the story straight. She had understood that the girls' governess had run off with a man, and she had resolved the tread carefully upon the subject in case they were distressed by it.
"Yes, because she went traveling, you see." Ursula waved at the engraving in the book upon her knee. "Along the King's Roads."
Despite their eccentricities, the Misses Enderwhild had a flawless debut in Society. They went to a few of the smaller balls(5), where Flora complained of the heat and Ursula danced energetically, but never twice with the same gentleman. They attended a salon with music and poetry, where Ursula impressed a Doctor of Letters with her knowledge of Latin, but Flora laughingly said she could scarcely remember those lessons. They went to dinners where Ursula praised the cooks and scarcely glanced at her dinner-partners, while Flora made charming conversation with any one who came near. Where ever they went, any flaws in the ladies' faces or characters was happily overlooked by young gentlemen interested in their fortune.
5. Lady Pole, after her enchantment, could never abide musical gatherings of any sort; but Mrs Strange found, to the contrary, that an octet or other well-populated collection of musicians helped to dispel the melancholy music of pipe and fiddle that she still heard sometimes in the quietest stretches of the night. She thus found balls to be tolerable if wearying, but she steadfastly refused any request to dance, and she only watched the figures if one of her charges was upon the floor.
It was, of course, Arabella's task to ensure that the young ladies were not taken advantage of by some unscrupulous fortune-hunter. But she was also aware that financial need had provided a solid foundation for many a marriage in the past, so she was not opposed to this suitor or that solely on the basis of lack of money. She did try to find some better-funded young worthies who might consider her charges solely on their personal attractions; but it seemed that young men with no need to marry often lack the desire to marry as well, and therefore they were quite thin on the ground during a London Season.
There was one fellow in particular, a Mr Giles Briscott, whom Arabella found it hard to approve. He came of good family, but somewhat penniless; and while it was assuredly not his fault that a spendthrift uncle had ruined the family's fortunes, she did feel that there was something calculating in his eyes as he spoke to the young ladies. He had started by making up to Ursula, but when he found her conversation too obscure and laden with classical references, he turned instead to Flora. The younger sister was quite taken with his dashing good looks and the extravagant way he tied his cravat, and she was not disposed to listen to Arabella's cautions upon the matter.
A few weeks after their arrival in the City, Arabella and the young ladies attended a dinner hosted by Lady Pole. Although she had become somewhat less sensational in the last few years, Lady Pole's reluctance to attend most Society functions meant that there was still a great deal of curiosity about her; this, in addition to the presence of the two very rich young ladies, meant that her dinner would be quite well attended. Mr Briscott was to be there, having garnered an invitation before he excited Arabella's disapproval. Other eligible young gentlemen included Edward Purfois, Thomas Hethering, Sir Matthew Blount, and several others whom Arabella knew more or less well from the social rounds of the last weeks.
Arabella found herself seated for the meal between Jonathan's old friend Colonel Colquhoun Grant and Edward Purfois. The latter, she learned, was the younger brother of the Honorable Henry Purfois, who had stood as student to Jonathan for a while; but since this had been during Arabella's time in Faerie, she barely knew the older brother and was not very interested in answering the younger brother's eager questions concerning magic and when Jonathan would be returning. Colonel Grant, on the other hand, treated her with the odious solicitousness that she recognised from those who considered her to be Jonathan's widow.
Flora was seated between the unassuming Thomas Hethering and Captain Blythe-Stanley, who had been one of Wellington's aides-de-camp. Naturally, Flora gave much of her attention to the dashing young Captain and only addressed a few token remarks to her other dinner-mate. Ursula was left to depress the pretensions of Mr Briscott (Arabella, who had been disappointed that he was to attend at all, applauded this arrangement on Lady Pole's part) and to try to hold intelligible conversation with Sir Matthew Blount.
It was during the second remove, when Arabella was alternating between bites of her Crocquelettes de Languste and Fricasseed Duck, between Purfois's needling questions and Grant's cloying sympathy, when she became aware that conversation about the table was drawing downward and more and more people were turning toward one speaker. Ursula, usually oblique and soft-spoken, was addressing Sir Matthew in a clear, strong voice.
"...had no parents, and lived with her grandfather, who was old and enfeebled. She feared that this importunate suitor wished only to gain control of her grandfather's lands. So she disguised herself as an ugly old woman and mounted on a palfrey and rode from Winchester to York to beg an audience of the Raven King, that she might ask him what was in her suitor's true heart."
Arabella glanced to the foot of the table, where Lady Pole was sitting very upright and still. Lady Pole had told many stories such as this when she was under the enchantment that kept her from speaking clearly about her imprisonment in Faerie. Yet Ursula did not seem in any way distressed, or surprized by the words that came from her mouth; rather, the gleam in her blue eyes seemed almost triumphant, as if she had wished for a long time to speak of such matters and was now given voice.
Mr Briscott laughed unpleasantly. "I hardly think a great King would be concerned with a farm girl's marriage prospects!"
Ursula turned to face him calmly. "So thought many of the King's court, and moreover they found the story quite improbable coming from the mouth of an old crone. But the Raven King listened to her patiently, and then told her that he would shew her her suitor's true nature. But first she must bring him what he needed for the spell: a branch of mistle from the top of the tallest Oak tree in Britain; the antler of a white stag; and a dragon's scale."
Mr Briscott guffawed into his serving cloth.
"Naturally, she had many adventures while obtaining these items, and she thought many ill thoughts of the King as she struggled. Eventually she brought the items back to York and asked the King again to shew her the suitor's true intent. The King told her that the knowledge was already in her heart, and she realised that she had learnt the secret of the spell herself while climbing the tree and hunting the stag and seeking the dragon. She repudiated her false suitor and turned to the man whom her heart truly desired -- the King himself. Her disguise fell away and she was revealed to all in the court as a pretty young woman."
"Wherever did you hear such a tale?" asked Edward Purfois. "It isn't in Portishead(6)."
6. A Child's History of the Raven King, pub. Longman, London, 1807, engravings by Thomas Bewick.
Arabella held her breath, imagining that Ursula might say she had heard the story from the lady in the mirror; but Ursula merely said, "My governess taught it me. She made a study of the writings of Catherine of Winchester."
Purfois leaned quite rudely across the table toward her. "You are a magician!" he said as if he had discovered the most wonderful thing in the world.
Ursula nodded. "So was my governess."
"But this is marvelous!" Purfois looked at Arabella, and Lady Pole, and the rest of the table in appeal for agreement. "Is it not remarkable that there is so much magic about in England to-day, when there was so little only ten years ago? I am sure we have your husband to credit, madam," he added with a nod to Arabella.
"Oh no, it had nothing to do with Mr Strange," said Ursula, compounding her rudeness by speaking, in her turn, across the table. "Magic is always easier when an Englishman is King of a fairy land."
Lady Pole seemed appalled. Arabella pursed her lips tightly and gave Ursula a quelling look, and Flora hissed along the table at her sister, but it was too late; every one at the table was now fixed upon the subject of magic.
"What are you saying?" Colonel Grant demanded. "Has Mr Strange become a fairy King?"
"Oh, not him." Ursula shook her curls disgustedly, and Arabella suddenly remembered that the ladies she had met in Grace Adieu -- who had surely included the girls' governess -- held quite a low opinion of Jonathan, for some reason. "The other. The nameless slave who became the Black King."
"The Raven King," Arabella blurted, recognising some of the names. Then she pressed her lips together and glanced again at Lady Pole's scowl.
"Nor him. You met the man." Ursula looked from Arabella to Lady Pole. "He was with you in Faerie."
Arabella caught her breath as Lady Pole said in astonishment, "Stephen Black?"
"He became a King in Faerie and freed you both," said Ursula matter of factly. "Or so I heard it."
Arabella looked down at her plate to disguise her amazement. She recalled seeing Stephen Black in Lost Hope, but he had not spoken often with her or Lady Pole; more often it seemed he was trying to draw away the gentleman with the thistledown hair, to turn any ire away from the two ladies. Arabella had been vaguely aware that he was protecting them, but she had no idea that he had somehow loosened the bonds which tied her to the dismal brugh. She had always supposed it must have been Jonathan's doing.
"That is why there is magic again in England," Ursula continued, but at that moment she was interrupted by the arrival of the third remove.
When the platters were set out, Lady Pole turned to Colonel Grant and asked him in ringing tones his opinions of the policies of the new King -- of England, she added after a moment. This effectively diverted the conversation into safer political channels. Several of the gentlemen present had strong opinions on the subject, so conversation remained general until the end of the meal. Arabella began to be relieved, but then she noticed Mr Briscott casting sly looks in Flora's direction. She was sure that, separated by the length of the table as they were, the two could not speak privately with each other; but there was always the possibility of a note passed by a servant. And Ursula still had a mischievous quirk to her lips. Arabella began to feel harried as she tried to consider how to keep her charges in line.
When the last puddings, tarts, and confits had been consumed, Lady Pole led the ladies to the drawing-room and presided over the tea-tray. Feeling regretful, Arabella waved to the harpsichord and suggested that Ursula treat them to some of her lovely music. As she bent to pick up her tea, Arabella whispered to Lady Pole, "I am sorry, my dear; but at least it will keep her out of trouble!"
But Ursula smiled sweetly and turned to her sister. "Oh, Flora is far more talented on the harpsichord than I. Let us hear you, Flora!"
Arabella was torn. She knew that the gentlemen would be joining them before long, and music would keep Flora from a tête-à-tête with Mr Briscott. But what was Ursula now whispering in the corner with that flighty girl, Eglantine Wintertowne?
After a charming minuet which made Lady Pole look rather pinched, the gentlemen arrived in the door of the drawing-room. Arabella had the satisfaction of seeing Mr Briscott's smile falter when he perceived Flora seated at the harpsichord. Then Ursula stood and proposed that she would sing to her sister's accompaniment. Arabella raised her voice in approval of the idea, as it would keep both girls occupied. Too late she saw the odd smile on Ursula's lips as she stood beside the harpsichord.
"This is a very old song from Catherine of Winchester," said Ursula sweetly, "to reveal a man's true nature."
"Oh, Bear!" protested Flora, but her hands lifted and began to play as if of their own accord.
Ursula raised her voice in a high, eerie tune of which Arabella could pick out barely one word in three. It was the same agèd language that the lady in the mirror had used. Arabella felt prickling upon the back of her neck and knew that magic was being done, but she could not force her legs or arms to move in order to break the spell. She rolled her eyes toward Lady Pole and saw her sitting ramrod-straight and very pale behind her tea service. Arabella looked toward the gentlemen, who had arrayed themselves in polite ranks to hear the music...
They were no longer men. Every one of them had turned into some sort of animal.
After a moment, Arabella realised that she could still see the men standing quite stiffly in place, even as she did. They had not transformed into animals (which Jonathan had more than once assured her was a very rare and dangerous sort of magic), but each had the image of an animal superimposed in front of him. Sir Walter was a badger, looking rather startled and annoyed. Colonel Grant, to no one's surprize, was a fox. Edward Purfois was a clumsy puppy of some large and over-eager breed of dog, while Sir Matthew Blount had become an ass flicking its long ears uncertainly. Thomas Hethering was a neat black cat with a white bib not unlike a gentleman's neck-cloth, washing its face unconcernedly. Captain Blythe-Stanley was a pea-cock that appeared to be studying its showy plumage in the room's tall mirror. Mr Briscott was a very large mottled pink-and-black hog, rooting along the floor for something of interest.
Ursula's song stopped, but still Arabella was unable to move. "Look, Flory," said Ursula, with a touch upon her sister's shoulder.
Flora turned woodenly upon the music bench and looked at the men in their beastly array.
"You see what I was trying to tell you?" said Ursula gently.
Flora sniffed and burst into tears.
"There, there, you'll do well enough. You've a little bit of cat in your own soul, my dear." Ursula bent down and embraced her sister and kissed her cheek. Then she turned to Lady Pole. "Thank you for the most excellent dinner, and I apologise for causing such an uproar. Dear Arabella --" She smiled in a queer sad way. "You tried so hard to help us, and I do appreciate it for Flory's sake, but now I must be going. If I see your husband, I shall send word."
She faced the back wall of the room, lifted her skirts, and stepped up easily to the seat of one of the spindly-legged chairs. In the mirror that hung upon the wall, no drawing-room could be seen, but a swirl of shadows with two figures in it. One was the lady Arabella had seen in the mirror before, and the other, she thought, was one of the ladies she had met at Grace Adieu all those years ago. Ursula raised one hand lightly to the frame of the mirror, and then stepped into its surface as easily as if she were passing through the thinnest of curtains.
For a moment the shadows parted and Arabella saw the arched hallway, the passages leading off to either side, the span of a bridge ahead and misty lands beneath. A figure moved upon the bridge, and she thought for a moment that she recognised his walk...
Then it was gone, and only the drawing-room full of ladies and quite ordinary, un-bestial gentlemen remained.
The wedding in May 1821 of Miss Flora Enderwhild to Mr Thomas Hethering was a pretty affair, attended by a few dozen guests. Mrs Strange was there, and Lady Pole, and Mrs Field and Miss Parbringer from Flora's home. Another lady sat in the pews, though no one had seen her arrive. She had a most peculiar gown that looked almost as if it were made of ivy-leaves, and her dark curls stirred as if in a breeze that no one else felt.
When the bride caught sight of this strange lady, she ran forward and wept and embraced her. But the lady in the ivy dress urged her on toward the altar and her waiting groom.
After the ceremony was over, some of those in attendance witnessed Lady Pole and Mrs Strange standing a little ways aside, apparently disagreeing with one another quite vehemently. Lady Pole at last relented and released her grip on Mrs Strange's shoulder, but she raised a kerchief to her eye and looked away. Mrs Strange reached out to take the hand of the lady in the ivy dress; together they walked into the shadow between two rowan trees...