It is a truth universally accepted that well-bred members of Society are not beleaguered with magic.
For Elsabeth Dover and her sisters, that truth means living in a perpetual state of caution, never using their sorcerous gifts in public. Elsabeth chafes under the stricture, but never enough to risk the possibility of good marriages for her sisters...until she meets handsome, arrogant Fitzgerald Archer.
Elsabeth, attracted to Archer's wit and offended by his manner, strives to keep her youngest, impetuous sister's use of magic in check so that their eldest sister, Rosamund, might find happiness with Archer's wealthy friend Mr Webber, but when Elsa fails to keep young Leopoldina in line, Archer's disapproval of the family taint means an abrupt end to Rosamund's hopes, and leads to a terrible discovery about the price of magic.…
"MAGIC & MANNERS blends the best of Austen with Murphy's talents to create a captivating story."– Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of Edge of Night
"C.E. Murphy is that rare author who seems at ease writing in any subgenre, in any setting, in any time period."– David B. Coe, on MAGIC & MANNERS
"I always stay up too late reading C.E. Murphy, and I always enjoy every moment."– Lilith Saintcrow, on MAGIC & MANNERS
That each and every one of Mrs Dover's five daughters was afflicted with an inconvenient magic inherited from their father was no barrier to their impending nuptials: on this, Mrs Dover was determined.
"It has not," she said to her long-suffering husband for perhaps the six hundredth time in their marriage, "been the most desirable situation, but one must make do."
"One must," he agreed most amiably, and into that agreement a silence fell, for one had, in fact, made do, both in Mrs Dover's case and in Mr Dover's. She, unmarried at the age of twenty-three, had been obliged to accept the suitor who offered, and he, veritably in the grave at thirty-two and in want of heirs, had been minded to offer. There was no scandal attached, much to the dismay of the neighbouring gossips: Mrs Dover did not do in seven months what took a cow or countess nine, but instead gave birth to the first of many girls a stately and sedate fourteen months after marriage to Mr Dover.
Mr Dover had been, by all intelligence, an entirely suitable match: he had one thousand pounds a year and a quick humour which his wife had never fully learnt to appreciate. He was laconic in spirit and gentle with horses, and had a handsome leg and a fine nose. All in all, he ought to have been married long before Mrs Dover was obliged to accept him. It was the unspeakable question of magic that had forced (or permitted) him to remain unwed for so long.
Mrs Dover's mother, Mrs Hampshire, had wilfully seen nor heard anything of such rumours: no one in good society would. Certainly if Mr Dover was of that sort he had kept it quiet enough, with little more than his long-standing bachelorhood to hint at a family taint. Magic was the kind of thing that happened to someone else, to lesser persons or to those who had fallen from a higher station; it certainly did not appear unexplained in a family of good standing. Mr Dover had no mysterious deaths attached to him: he had not previously been married to a woman who then wasted away in a high tower, nor had his parents, siblings or other relatives disappeared under inexplicable circumstances. Certainly Mrs Dover the Elder was of exceedingly good breeding and, indeed, still alive when Mrs Hampshire oversaw the engagement of two (relatively) young persons to one another, while Mr Dover the Elder had died most respectably, at sea. Nor had Mr Dover the Younger any unexplained wards to care for, no suggestion of impropriety hanging over him in such a way. He was an eminently suitable young man for Mrs Hampshire's rapidly ageing daughter. The match was made, and Mrs Hampshire breathed a sigh of relief. It ought not have taken three years and twenty to marry Miss Hampshire off; she was very pretty, with blushing apple cheeks and wide light eyes beneath lemon-yellow hair that was indeed washed with lemon juice as often as possible to retain that soft bright colour. Mr Hampshire, her father, was a man of reasonable means, though much of his money had gone to buying the new Mrs Dover's brother a Captaincy, and little had been left over for the dowries of the two Hampshire girls. The elder Miss Hampshire had some few years earlier settled well, if not remarkably, with a merchant called Moore, and it was imagined that the younger Miss Hampshire, with her prettiness, would marry a little above herself.
By all lights it should have been an easy task, but Miss Hampshire, Mrs-Dover-to-be, possessed what an aunt charitably called a tongue tied in the middle and loose at both ends. She meant no harm at all, but it proved very difficult for Mrs Hampshire to seclude any potential bridegrooms from her daughter long enough for them to fall in love with her mien and fail to notice her chatter. Mr Dover was a blessing, and so if the church walkway was lined with freshly blooming spring flowers, or the trees were budding new green leaves under a gloriously warm sun on his wedding day, it certainly was no more than auspicious, and no one dared comment too loudly that it was the third of January, or that two nights earlier snow had fallen deeply enough to swallow horses' ankles as they trod down frozen winter roads.
Mrs Hampshire had never been certain whether the new Mrs Dover had fully understood the unlikelihood of the blooming weather that graced her wedding; she appeared simply to take it as her due, and Mrs Hampshire had returned home triumphant that her silly younger daughter was safely married.
The new Mrs Dover marked no complaints about a home where the tea remained mysteriously hot even after standing un- attended for hours, or where a warm breeze seemed to waft from the kitchen's roaring fires into all the coldest places in the halls. The laundry dried remarkably quickly, and stains never set in tablecloths; these were the unrealised advantages to marrying a man rumoured to have magic of his own. Mr Dover had more money than Mr Hampshire; perhaps it was the greater income which allowed grass to grow more greenly or the dogs to be particularly well mannered and disinclined to shedding.
This was a fantasy upon which Mrs Dover was permitted to dwell until her second daughter's third birthday, when an explosive sneeze from the child lit the tablecloth on fire, and only the quick calm hands of the oldest daughter kept the entire house from burning down. Even that might have been dismissible—the sneeze might have knocked a candle aside, the tablecloth might have been saved by doubling it and patting the fire out—but for the servants who were in the room at the time, and who most clearly saw what Mrs Dover denied. Rosamund, the eldest, patted the flames out with her bare hands, and left ice drippings on the wood beneath, and Elsabeth, the birthday girl, sneezed a second time for fun and dripped fire as if she were a little dragon, and not a girl at all.
Two of the servants gave notice and a third left in screams. Those who remained did so with forbearance, but the damage was done. By teatime, the story had been put around that the Dovers were infested with barbarous magic, when all good Englishmen had rejected such superstition and rot with the arrival of the Tudors upon the throne; by supper, each of Mrs Dover's appointments for the next week had returned her calling cards.
By morning, it could not be said a crowd had gathered outside the Dover's' London home, but there were more men, and with an uglier look to them, than would usually loiter in a finer part of town. The stories they told one another drifted through the Dover house windows, stories of plagues and desolation wrought by magicians, and stories of how those magic-users screamed when they were burned at the stake.
It was hardly three full days from Elsa's birthday that the Dovers retired to Mr Dover's modest country estate, where they could be forgotten about for a while. They left behind enough coin for the servants—even the one who had run from the house screaming—to reconsider the tales they might tell.
Mr Dover found it no burden at all to be well removed from Town, and Mrs Dover bore it with good humour, which was to say she spoke of the difficulties of country living with every breath, most particularly the difficulties of finding suitable hus-bands for five—five!—daughters whose dowries were modest at best, though certainly they all had lovely faces to make up for such moderate means.
"But," Mrs Dover burst out, as though they had not fallen into a brief and companionable silence, "but certainly there is no doubt that a single man of good fortune must be in want of a wife, and what can you imagine, Mr Dover, but that Newsbury Manor has been let at last!"
"I am sure I can hardly imagine such a thing," Mr Dover replied with usual good nature. He had his paper and his tea; nothing much could disturb him from these, and he had long since learnt to bend when the wind blew in, as it so often did in the form of Mrs Dover. She, for her part, had barely come through the door before making impetuous statements regarding the desirability or lack thereof of their daughters' situation, and only now wrested her hat from its perch atop her head to a spot on the table, where later she would scold a servant for having left it.
"Are you not the slightest bit curious about who might have let it?"
"Indeed, I am not, as Newsbury Manor is much too large for my liking. I could never wish to visit it myself, so am of no mind to know who has the poor taste to admire it."
"Oh! How cruel you are. But I will tell you, as I know that the welfare of your daughters is close to your heart despite your pretences to the contrary. It is indeed a young man of good fortune, as I have just had it from Mrs Langfield, a young man known to have at least three thousand pounds a year! At least, Mr Dover! Perhaps more!"
"Has this fortunate young man with poor taste in homes a name?"
Were she a bird settled against a cold north wind, Mrs Dover could not be more fluffed of feather. "His name is Mr Webber, and he is single! It is a great relief for our girls! You must go visit him at once, Mr Dover; I insist upon it. The very happiness of your daughters depends on it."
"My dear Mrs Dover, how can the happiness of five girls depend on a single man— other than their beloved papa, of course—"
"Oh!" Mrs Dover picked up her hat for the sole purpose of flinging it down again. "Surely you must understand I mean Mr Webber to marry one of them!"
"And has Mr Webber any awareness of these designs?"
Mrs Dover's feathers settled, and though the uncharitable might call her expression shrewish, it was in truth more measured, all silliness temporarily dismissed. This chance change in manner was perhaps what made the Dovers' marriage a happy one: beneath her frothy exterior, Mrs Dover was possessed of a fine enough mind when she was of the rare inclination to use it. Dry wit was a permissible weapon in a lady's armoury, and it was drily enough indeed that she spoke. "Does any man?"
The very corner of Mr Dover's mouth twitched. He applied himself to his tea and papers, and Mrs Dover, quite satisfied that she had made her mark, returned to her dithering ways. "Certainly he can have no mind of it at all if you do not visit him, Mr Dover! You must go at once."
Mr Dover folded his paper. "I shall go at this very moment."
"Not now!" said his lady in desperate exasperation. "For Heaven's sake, Mr Dover, Mr Webber has not yet even taken up residence at Newsbury Manor!"
"Then you are entirely too hasty, my dear, and I must insist that you sit down and take some tea. It is wonderfully warm and there is just enough honey to sweeten it. I am certain that when this young Mr Webber arrives, he will be most pleased to have you and our daughters visit him yourselves, and leave all such nonsense out of my incapable hands, as it seems I can hardly be trusted to know when I should or should not go." Mr Dover shook his papers out again and made no secret of watching Mrs Dover over their tops, none too secretly amused at the flush of colour in her cheeks, or at the way she struggled not to stamp an impatient foot.
"Certainly, we cannot visit until you have done so, Mr Dover!"
"Then none of us shall, and your tea is getting cold." That it would never get cold was not a point to be considered; in principle, tea grew cooler, and one made such comments because they were appropriate, not because they were necessarily truthful. "I shall write your eminent Mr Webber a note," Mr Dover conceded, "and indicate to him that he may marry whichever of my daughters he wishes. Certainly that should suffice for your needs, Mrs Dover. I shall," he concluded magnanimously, "put in a particularly good word for Elsabeth, who I dare say is the cleverest of the lot."
"You will do no such thing," Mrs Dover said, very nearly in despair. "Your fondness for Elsa is inexcusable. She is not half so pretty as Rosamund nor half so charming as Leopoldina, and she is certainly no better than the others. You cannot continue this way, Mr Dover; you have no consideration for my nerves."
"My dear lady, your nerves are my constant consideration, entangled as I have been with them for the past twenty years and some. You must have your tea now: I insist upon it, that your nerves might be settled and you might live to see a dozen more young men with three thousand a year or more come to the neighbourhood."
"There is no use at all in living to see it if you will not take it upon yourself to visit them. We shall have five daughters, old maids all, all for want of an introduction." Mrs Dover settled herself for tea at last, skirts sinking as if fluffed feathers finally gave way to dejection.
"I believe you see it all in the most unfavourable light possible. Rather, think of it as having five daughters to warm our hearts and home as we age," Mr Dover disagreed pleasantly. "You shall not be obliged to attend to my feeble and tiresome needs all on your own. Indeed, if we are very fortunate, Mrs Dover, not one of our girls will marry, and we shall live together in peace and comfort until the end of our days."