Star Cursed - Page 41/73

“O’Shea’s faction argues that they do. He claims that any stronghold of feminine learning is a bastion of wickedness. A source of potential rebellion.”

I give a mischievous grin. “Well, he’s not wrong in that.”

“His faction believes there should be no exceptions, no exemptions, and that the Brotherhood should have more control over the daily workings of the Sisterhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s on the agenda for the Head Council meeting.”

I laugh in disbelief. “How? What do they mean to do, move a man in to run the place?”

Finn adjusts his glasses again. “That’s exactly what they mean to do. O’Shea thinks a Brother ought to be made headmaster. That if the girls there must be educated, a man ought to oversee the curriculum.”

I utter a few very unladylike words. “We’d have to modify his memory every other day! He’d turn into a vegetable.”

“Or we’d have to study nothing more taxing than watercolors and Scriptures and French,” Tess huffs.

“Not French. Now that French ladies have the vote, it’s been forbidden, lest our impressionable girls find the language a gateway to immorality.” Finn’s mouth twitches as though he wants to laugh. “Brennan, another member of the Head Council, is opposing O’Shea. He’s a good sort. Has three daughters of his own, which I daresay makes a difference.”

“I find it hard to believe that any member of the Brotherhood is a good sort,” I grumble. Finn flinches, shifting his weight on the bench, and I wish I could stuff the words back down my throat. What is wrong with me today? “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you, obviously. I know you don’t want to be there.”

“I can’t be the first man who joined to protect his family.” Finn stares down at the engraved silver ring on his right ring finger. “It’s easier to stay silent than to have your values questioned—your dedication to the Brothers and to the Lord himself.”

“That’s cowardice. If there are as many as you say, they could change things by speaking up!” I hiss. A few yards away, two pigtailed girls play with dolls on a bench while their mother pushes a pram around the duck pond.

“Then I’m a coward myself. I was there the day the new measures were debated. I didn’t have a vote yet, but I could have argued against them. Perhaps I could have made a difference.” Finn’s voice is rich with self-loathing.

“No. You couldn’t risk calling attention to yourself! That’s different,” I insist, putting my hand over his. I don’t even think of who might see us—I only want to comfort him, to atone for my reckless words.

Finn slides his hand away. “It’s not. These men are husbands and fathers and brothers, too. I believe there will come a time when they do speak up.”

“That’s grand, but how bad will things have to get for us before they rouse themselves?” I shift away from him on the cold marble. “What will it take? The Brothers are murdering innocent girls as we speak!”

“And what are you doing about it?” The question feels like a slap—an echo of all of Maura’s criticisms. “You’re powerful, Cate. The Sisterhood together must be incredibly strong, and yet you’re just—biding your time. I’m not blaming you, but—”

“It sounds as if you are. What are we meant to do without giving ourselves away?” I demand. “It’s not as simple as just speaking up. Not for women.”

Finn frowns. “I know that. I don’t want you putting yourself at risk, Lord knows—but if everyone felt that way, how would we ever move forward?”

We stare at each other in melancholy quiet. It’s our first—not fight, not exactly. But the first time we’ve seen something big so differently. Is it up to me to act? It is so much easier to put the blame solely on the Brothers’ hateful policies. I know he has a point, logically; I know the Brotherhood cannot consist entirely of hateful, smarmy hypocrites like Brother Ishida who would deny their own daughters. But I can’t reconcile that logic with the fear I’ve felt for them my entire life.

Is that how most people feel about witches?

Tess stands, head cocked. “What’s all that noise?”

I’ve been so preoccupied with our argument I hadn’t even noticed, but now I hear the shouts coming from Richmond Square, the steady roar of voices chanting in unison.

I can’t make out the words, but whenever a crowd assembles, it’s rarely good for girls like us.

Tess is already hurrying down the muddy path toward the front of the park.

“Tess, wait!” I cry, chasing after her. I’m practically running, my boots sliding in the mud, hardly conscious of Finn scrambling after me. Once I get past the trees, I can see the crowd gathered in Richmond Square, spilling over into the cobbled street that runs in front of the cathedral itself, pressing up against its wide marble steps. It’s not dozens of people shouting. It’s hundreds. Maybe thousands.

There are more people assembled here than I’ve ever seen in my life.

Are they burning more than books this time?

Tess has stopped, wide-eyed, at the very edge of the crowd.

“Let our women work! Let our women work!” The people chant it, over and over. Some hold brightly painted wooden signs proclaiming LET OUR WOMEN WORK and WOMEN’S WAGES HELP FEED FAMILIES and OUR FAMILIES ARE HUNGRY. The crowd is mostly working-class: men in patched trousers or the new blue jeans, shirtsleeves rolled up to their elbows, wearing caps and muddy work boots. Some of them sling mugs of cider in the air as they shout. There are a few women in the crowd, shouting alongside their husbands: “Let us work!”

Dozens of people clutch printed pamphlets. A passing man crumples one in his fist and drops it, and I snatch it as it flutters toward the ground. There’s a cartoon of two thin, big-eyed children with empty plates looking pleadingly at their mother, who sits knitting in her rocker. In the next panel, two fat men in dark cloaks gorge themselves on a rich feast of ham hocks and chicken legs and cake. The caption says simply Let Our Women Work! Come to Richmond Square and protest the Brothers’ new measure against women’s employment. Our families go hungry while our women sit idle.

“I don’t think we ought to be here,” Finn says over my shoulder.

“I’ve never seen a protest before,” I breathe. “This is splendid!”

“I’m not certain there’s ever been a protest before. Not against the Brotherhood, anyhow,” Tess says. Her gray eyes meet mine, and I know what we’re both thinking. There were protests against the Daughters of Persephone. I’ve read about them. That was how it started.

A burly man with a slouchy corduroy cap approaches us. “Come to join us, Brother?”

“We were just leaving,” Finn insists, grabbing my elbow.

The man hands him a leaflet. “Stay. You should see what people think of your new laws.”

“It’s not my law. I believe in women’s right to work,” Finn declares.

“Voted against it, did you?” Finn hesitates, and the burly man laughs. “And why would you? You sit back and get rich off our tithes, while our families starve. Easy enough to think about morals when you’re well-fed.”