“You’ll have to have me instead,” she said to the crowd. “Who’s next?”
“But I want to talk to you, Lettie!” one of the farmers’ sons yelled.
“Talk to Carrie,” Lettie said. “I want to talk to my sister.” Nobody really seemed to mind. They jostled Sophie along to the end of the counter, where Lettie held up a flap and beckoned, and told her not to keep Lettie all day. When Sophie had edged through the flap, Lettie seized her wrist and dragged her into the back of the shop, to a room surrounded by rack upon wooden rack, each one filled with rows of cakes. Lettie pulled forward two stools. “Sit down,” she said. She looked in the nearest rack, in an absentminded way, and handed Sophie a cream cake out of it. “You may need this,” she said.
Sophie sank onto the stool, breathing the rich smell of cake and feeling a little tearful. “Oh, Lettie!” she said. “I am so glad to see you!”
“Yes, and I’m glad you’re sitting down,” said Lettie. “You see, I’m not Lettie, I’m Martha.”
In which Sophie is compelled to seek her fortune.
What?” Sophie stared at the girl on the stool opposite her. She looked just like Lettie. She was wearing Lettie’s second-best blue dress, a wonderful blue that suited her perfectly. She had Lettie’s dark hair and blue eyes.
“I am Martha,” said her sister. “Who did you catch cutting up Lettie’s silk drawers? I never told Lettie that. Did you?”
“No,” said Sophie, quite stunned. She could see it was Martha now. There was Martha’s tilt to Lettie’s head, and Martha’s way of clasping her hands round her knees with her thumbs twiddling. “Why?”
“I’ve been dreading you coming to see me,” Martha said, “because I knew I’d have to tell you. It’s a relief now I have. Promise you won’t tell anyone. I know you won’t tell if you promise. You’re so honorable.”
“I promise,” Sophie said, “But why? How?”
“Lettie and I arranged it,” Martha said, twiddling her thumbs, “because Lettie wanted to learn witchcraft and I didn’t. Lettie’s got brains, and she wants a future where she can use them—only try telling that to Mother! Mother’s too jealous of Lettie even to admit she has brains!”
Sophie could not believe Fanny was like that, but she let it pass. “But what about you?”
“Eat your cake,” said Martha. “It’s good. Oh, yes, I can be clever too. It only took me two weeks at Mrs. Fairfax’s to find the spell we’re using. I got up at night and read her books secretly, and it was easy really. Then I asked if I could visit my family and Mrs. Fairfax said yes. She’s a dear. She thought I was homesick. So I took the spell and cam
e here, and Lettie went back to Mrs. Fairfax pretending to be me. The difficult part was the first week, when I didn’t know all the things I was supposed to know. It was awful. But I discovered that people like me—they do, you know, if you like them—and then it was all right. And Mrs. Fairfax hasn’t kicked Lettie out, so I suppose she managed too.”
Sophie chomped at cake she was not really tasting. “But what made you want to do this?”
Martha rocked on her stool, grinning all over Lettie’s face, twirling her thumbs in a happy pink whirl. “I want to get married and have ten children.”
“You’re not old enough!” said Sophie.
“Not quite,” Martha agreed. “But you can see I’ve got to start quite soon in order to fit ten children in. And this way gives me time to wait and see if the person I want likes me for being me. The spell’s going to wear off gradually, and I shall get more and more like myself, you see.”
Sophie was so astonished that she finished her cake without noticing what kind it had been. “Why ten children?”
“Because that’s how many I want,” said Martha.
“I never knew!”
“Well, it wasn’t much good going on about it when you were so busy backing Mother up about me making my fortune,” Martha said. “You thought Mother meant it. I did too, until Father died and I saw she was just trying to get rid of us—putting Lettie where she was bound to meet a lot of men and get married off, and sending me as far away as she could! I was so angry I thought, Why not? And I spoke to Lettie and she was just as angry and we fixed it up. We’re fine now. But we both feel bad about you. You’re far too clever and nice to be stuck in that shop for the rest of your life. We talked about it, but we couldn’t see what to do.”
“I’m all right,” Sophie protested. “Just a bit dull.”
“All right?” Martha exclaimed. “Yes, you prove you’re all right by not coming near here for months, and then turning up in a frightful gray dress and shawl, looking as if even I scare you! What’s Mother been doing to you?”
“Nothing,” Sophie said uncomfortably. “We’ve been rather busy. You shouldn’t talk about Fanny that way, Martha. She is your mother.”
“Yes, and I’m enough like her to understand her,” Martha retorted. “That’s why she sent me so far away, or tried to. Mother knows you don’t have to be unkind to someone in order to exploit them. She knows how dutiful you are. She knows you have this thing about being a failure because you’re only the eldest. She’s managed you perfectly and got you slaving away for her. I bet she doesn’t pay you.”
“I’m still an apprentice,” Sophie protested.
“So am I, but I get a wage. The Cesaris know I’m worth it,” said Martha. “That hat shop is making a mint these days, and all because of you! You made that green hat that makes the Mayor’s wife look like a stunning schoolgirl, didn’t you?”