Authors: Stephanie Burgis
Tags: #Europe, #Juvenile Fiction, #Humorous Stories, #Fantasy & Magic, #Historical
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Stephanie Burgis Samphire
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
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The text for this book is set in Scala.
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A most improper magick / Stephanie Burgis.—1st ed.
p. cm.—(The unladylike adventures of Kat Stephenson; bk. 1)
Summary: In Regency England, when fourteen-year-old Kat discovers she has magical powers, she tries to use them to rescue her sister from marrying a man she does not love.
ISBN 978-1-4169-9447-3 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4169-9878-5 (eBook)
[1. Magic—Fiction. 2. Sisters—Fiction. 3. Family problems—Fiction.
4. Great Britain—History—George III, 1760–1820—Fiction.] I. Title.
, Whose love and faith
are the truest Kinds of magic I Know.
I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair
, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin.
I made it almost to the end of my front garden.
“Katherine Ann Stephenson!” My oldest sister Elissa’s outraged voice pinned me like a dagger as she threw open her bedroom window. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”
I froze, still holding my pack slung across my shoulder. I might be my family’s best chance of salvation, but there was no expecting either of my older sisters to understand that. If they’d trusted me in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to run away in the middle of the night, like a criminal.
The garden gate was only two feet ahead of me. If I hurried…
“I’m going to tell Papa!” Elissa hissed.
Behind her, I heard groggy, incoherent moans of outrage—my other sister, Angeline, waking up.
Elissa was the prissiest female ever to have been born. But Angeline was simply impossible. If they really did wake the whole household, and Papa came after me in the gig …
I’d planned to walk to the closest coaching inn, six miles away, and catch the dawn stagecoach to London. If Papa caught up with me first, the sad, disappointed looks I’d have to endure from him for weeks afterward would be unbearable. And the way Stepmama would gloat over my disgrace—
the second of our mother’s children to be a disappointment to the family …
I gritted my teeth together as I turned and trudged back toward the vicarage.
Angeline’s voice floated lazily through the open window. “What were you shouting about?”
“I was not shouting!” Elissa snapped. “Ladies never shout.”
“You could have fooled me,” said Angeline. “I thought the house must have been burning down.”
I pushed the side door open just in time to hear my brother, Charles, bellow, “Would everyone be quiet? Some of us are trying to sleep!”
“What? What?” My father’s reedy voice sounded from
his bedroom at the head of the stairs. “What’s going on out there?”
My stepmother’s voice overrode his. “For heaven’s sake, make them be quiet, George! It’s past midnight. You cannot let them constantly behave like hoydens. Be firm, for once!”
I groaned and closed the door behind me.
Like it or not, I was home.
I squeezed through the narrow kitchen and tiptoed up the rickety staircase that led to the second floor. When I was a little girl and Mama’s influence still lingered in the house, each of the stairs had whispered my name as I stepped onto them, and they never let me trip. Now, the only sound they made was the telltale creak of straining wood.
The door to Papa and Stepmama’s room swung open as I reached the head of the first flight of stairs, and I stopped, resigned.
“Kat?” Papa blinked out at me, peering through the darkness. He held a candle in his hand. “What’s amiss?”
“Nothing, Papa,” I said. “I just went downstairs for some milk.”
“Oh. Well.” He coughed and ran a hand over his faded nightcap. “Er, your stepmother is quite right. You should all be in bed and quiet at this hour.”
“Yes, Papa.” I hoisted the heavy sack higher on my shoulder. “I’m just going back to bed now.”
“Good, good. And the others?”
“I’ll tell them to be quiet,” I said. “Don’t worry.”
“Good girl.” He reached out to pat my shoulder. A frown crept across his face. “Ah … is something wrong, my dear?”
“I don’t mean to be critical, er, but your clothing seems … it appears … well, it does look a trifle unorthodox.”
I glanced down at the boy’s breeches, shirt, and coat that I wore. “I was too cold for a nightgown,” I said.
“But …” He frowned harder. “There’s something about your hair, I don’t quite know what—”
My stepmother’s voice cut him off. “Would you please stop talking and come back to bed, George? I cannot be expected to sleep with all this noise!”
“Ah. Right. Yes, of course.” Papa gave a quick nod and turned away. “Sleep well, Kat.”
“And you, sir.”
I tiptoed up the last five steps that led to the second-floor landing. The doors to Charles’s room and my sisters’ room were both closed. If I was very, very lucky …
I leaped toward the ladder that led up to the attic where I slept.
No such luck. The door to my sisters’ room jerked open.
“Come in here now!” Elissa said. I couldn’t make out her features in the darkness, but I could tell that she had her arms crossed.
“‘Ladies don’t cross their arms like common fishwives,’” I whispered, quoting one of Elissa’s own favorite maxims as I stalked past her into their room.
Elissa slammed the door behind her.
“Give us light, Angeline,” she said. “I want to see her face.”
Angeline was already lighting a candle. When the tinder finally caught and the candle lit, the sound of my sisters’ gasps filled the room.
I crossed my arms over my chest and glared right back at them.
“You—you—” Elissa couldn’t even speak. She collapsed onto her side of the bed, gasping and pressing one slender hand to her heart.
Angeline shook her head, smirking. “Well, that’s torn it.”
“Don’t use slang,” Elissa said. Being able to give one of her most common reproofs seemed to revive her spirits a little; the color came flooding back into her face. With her fair hair and pale skin, I could always tell her mood from her face, and right now, she was as horrified as I’d ever seen her. She took a deep, deep breath. “Katherine,” she said, in a voice that was nearly steady. “Would you care to explain yourself to us?”
“No,” I said. “I wouldn’t.” I lifted my chin, fighting for height. I was shorter than either of my sisters, a curse in situations like this.
“What is there to explain?” Angeline said. “It’s obvious. Kat’s finally decided to run off to the circus, where she belongs.”