A Great and Terrible Beauty

Page 50

"Sarah clasped my hands. 'It's only to bring us the power we need. We will bind the spirit to us, make it do our bidding. Don't worry so, Mary. We will be its masters, not the other way around, and once the Order sees what we can do, what power we hold by ourselves, they'll have to let me stay. We'll be together forever.'

"This next part I shuddered to speak aloud. 'What will it require?'

"Sarah stroked my cheek lovingly. 'A small sacrifice, nothing

more. A grass snake or a sparrow, perhaps. She will tell us. Sleep now, Mary. And tomorrow, we shall make our plans.'

"Oh, diary, my heart feels much misgiving about this endeavor. But what can I do? Sarah is my dearest friend in all the world. I cannot go on without her. And perhaps she is right. Perhaps, if we keep our hearts strong and pure, we can bend the creature to our will, using it only for the best intentions."

Pippa is nearly breathless. "Well, there's a fine place to leave off."

"Yes, the plot thickens," Felicity says. "In fact, it may be congealing."

Everyone shares a giggle except me. The passage has left me uneasy. Or it could be the heat. It's unseasonably warm for September. The air inside the caves is sticky, and I've begun to sweat beneath my corset.

"Do you suppose Mother Elena could tell us our futures?" Ann muses.

I can't help it. At the thought of Gypsies, my eyes find Felicity's. She gives me a piercing glare as if I'm betraying her with this quick look.

"I'm not sure that Mother Elena could tell us the day of the week," Felicity says.

"I have the most marvelous idea," Pippa trills, and suddenly, I know we're in for it. "Let's see if we can make our own magic."

"I'm game," Felicity says. "Who else wants to commune with the other world?"

Pippa sits on Felicity's right, their gloved hands intertwined. Ann plops down next to Pippa. The hair on the back of my neck stands up.

"I don't think this is a good idea," I begin, realizing at once that it sounds cowardly.

"Are you afraid we'll turn you into a frog?" Felicity pats the ground beside her. There's no getting around it. I'm going to have to join the circle. Reluctantly, I take my seat and join hands with Ann and Felicity.

Pippa has the giggles again. "What do we say to get started?"

"We'll go around in a circle and each add something," Felicity instructs. "I'll start. O great spirits of the Order. We are your daughters. Speak to us now. Tell us your secrets."

"Come to us, O daughters of Sappho." Pippa dissolves into laughter.

"We don't know that they're Sapphists," Felicity says, annoyed. "If we're going to do this, let's do it right."

Chastened, Pippa says softly, "Come to us now in this place."

"We beseech you," Ann adds.

It's quiet. They're waiting for me.

"All right," I say, sighing and rolling my eyes. "But I do this against my better judgment, and I'd best not hear these words come back to haunt me as private little jokes later." I close my eyes and concentrate on Ann's heavy, congested breathing, willing my mind to stay blank. "Sarah Rees- Toome and Mary Dowd. Wherever you are in this world, show yourselves. You are welcome here."

There's nothing but the sound of water trickling along the cave's walls. No spirits. No visions. I don't know whether to be relieved or a little disappointed in my lack of power.

I do not get the chance to ponder this dilemma for long. The air sparkles with random bursts of light. Suddenly, it's as if the cave is on fire, flames leaping up, so hot I can't catch my breath.

"No!" Using all my strength, I break the circle and find myself back in the cave while Pippa, Ann, and Felicity look at me, stunned.

"Gemma, what's the matter?" Ann asks, breathing hard.

I'm panting.

"Oh, my. I think someone got a wee bit frightened," Felicity says.

"I suppose that's it," I say, sinking to the floor. My arms feel heavy, but I'm relieved that nothing has happened.

"It's a curious thing, though," Pippa says. "But I could swear I felt a sort of tingling for a moment."

"So did I," Felicity says in wonder.

Ann nods. "And I."

They all look at me. My heart's beating so hard I fear it will leap from my chest. I force a calm I don't feel into my words. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Felicity puts the tip of her hair in her mouth, moistens it with her tongue. "You didn't feel anything at all?"

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