Читать онлайн "The Serpent's Shadow" автора Лэки Мерседес - RuLit - Страница 10

 
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Maya sobered at once. “Your talent and training would be welcome in India,” she said earnestly. “Half the English doctors of the male persuasion are so ham-handed they kill more female patients than they save, even here; good Western medicine is a rare thing there. You would be a godsend.”

“And what about the gentlemen?” Amelia asked, dimpling.

Why, when she’s animated, her whole face just comes to life! She’ll never be pretty, but she’s not going to turn into a dull lump of dough, either, as she gets older.

“I’m not sure what to say,” Maya began hesitantly. “I can tell you that many quite eligible Eurasian gentlemen would pay you honorable court. For that matter, so would many eligible British officers and officials, though you might have to sift through quite a few toads to find the frog prince that will allow his wife to be herself.” She paused, tapping one finger on her cheek, thinking, as Amelia cast her eyes upward at that last phrase.

Amelia persisted. “Anxious mommas have been sending spinster daughters out to India for decades to look for husbands, haven’t they? And they do seem to find them there.” She sighed and regarded her cup of tea pensively. “Today, at the Fleet, Doctor Stevens said that I have a real gift for handling babies and children and asked if I would mind being put on that duty on a permanent basis. I said yes, of course, that I’d enjoy that; and that it’s a shame and a sin that no one has ever worked out medicine for children, that there’s no specialty in children’s medicine.”

“And Doctor Stevens said—?”

Amelia laughed. “You know she would agree with me! Especially after that row she got into with Browning, and him trying to claim children don’t feel pain! So we agreed, and it started me thinking that I’d like to have some of my own.” A wistful expression crept over Amelia’s face. “But—find a husband who’d accept that I’m a doctor with duties equal to his? Not in London. Not in all of England, I would think. Perhaps in Canada or America, but if I’m going to go abroad, I’d rather be among people who speak an English I can understand.”

Maya stirred her tea. “I really don’t know if you could find a suitor who would accept that you are a doctor as well as his wife. India makes some men more flexible in their views, but it makes others more rigid. And you might find yourself alternately appalled and enraged by the way that native women are treated, even by their own men.”

“I’m alternately appalled and enraged by the way British women are treated by their own men,” Amelia replied crisply. “Could I set up a private practice there? Is there enough need for one?”

“You’d have paying patients enough,” Maya admitted, and took a sip of tea. “The Army surgeons are for the most part completely unsuited to treating women, and the military wives and daughters would be glad enough for a lady to confide in. There are high-caste women who cannot see a male physician by law and custom, though their lords and husbands are enlightened enough to value Western medicine, and those would pay you well indeed.”

“Hmm. Pay we certainly don’t find here, do we? Well, all but you, that is, and there aren’t too many of us bold enough to take your course.” Amelia tilted her head to the side. “Speaking of which, how is your practice?”

“I believe I’m seeing every dancer, actress, and singer within walking distance of this office,” Maya told her, not troubling to conceal her amusement. “Not to mention that I’m starting to attend to the kept women and mistresses of—I presume—our lawyers, brokers, and merchants.” She said it without a blush. Amelia giggled, but her cheeks were red. “It probably won’t surprise you to know that I am introducing them all to the benefits of… hmm… limited births.”

“Good,” Amelia said with emphasis. “It will trickle down to their servants, and from there into the street. If I see one more woman at the Fleet with nothing more wrong with her than being worn to death with birth after birth—”

She snapped her mouth shut, but at Maya’s nod of agreement, relaxed. “You should know that I share your opinion, dear,” Maya said quietly. “Even though we’ve never discussed it before at length, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I make a point to educate my female patients at the Fleet—” She paused, and sighed. “The trouble is, of course, that begetting children costs nothing, but preventing them doesn’t.”

“Sadly true.” Amelia echoed her sigh, then took another scone, with an air of changing the subject. “So why did you leave India? I can tell that you are homesick, more often than not, and what you’ve told me about needing lady doctors there goes for you as much as for me. And look at what you’ve done here! It’s India in miniature, surely.”

Maya bent to add more tea and sugar to her cup, and gave Charan a second biscuit. “Not quite. The native ladies won’t see me, at least not the high-caste ones; I’m half-caste, and they are as prejudiced against my mixed blood as any bigot here.”

“And being treated by our Colonial ladies as something a little below the invisible fellow who swings the punkah-fan rather than as a doctor would not be to my taste either,” Amelia filled in, with a grimace of distaste, and Maya nodded, pleased at her quick understanding.

“It wasn’t so bad when my parents were alive, but when I was alone, it got rather worse. My mother died in a cholera epidemic, despite all we could do for her, my father and I,” she said slowly. Was there something more to that than just a virulent disease? she wondered, as Amelia expressed her sympathies. Father never considered that—but Father didn’t believe in magic either. And when Mother wasn’t there to protect us anymore

Surya had made enemies when she wedded a white man. There were as many Indians who felt she had committed the greatest and most heinous sin by marrying out of her race and caste as there were English who felt the same. More, actually—and at least one of them was a magician with powers equal to Surya’s; a magician who wasn’t averse to using those powers to take revenge on Surya, the man who had married her, and the daughter they had produced.

“My father didn’t live long after she died,” Maya continued, tight-lipped. “He was bitten by a snake. In our own bungalow.”

Amelia’s cup clattered in her saucer, and she hastily put it down on the tea trolley. Her eyes were wide, and she extended her hand to Maya in automatic sympathy. “Oh, Maya! Dear Lord—I cannot imagine—were you there? Was it a cobra?”

Maya shook her head. “He might have survived a cobra bite; this was a krait, a tiny little thing, no bigger than this.” She held her hands out, about a foot apart. “They are far, far deadlier than the largest cobra. It was in his boot; he was dead in minutes. Some people said that Mother’s death had affected him so badly that he forgot to take ordinary precautions—”

But I’m sure, sure, that he would never have forgotten to shake out his boots. Never. And Sia and Singhe would never have missed a snake in the bungalow, unless some magic had been worked to keep them from scenting it. Surya had tried to warn her daughter in her last hours, but by then she had been so delirious with fever that all she could manage was disjointed phrases. “Shivani,” was the only name that Maya had recognized; Surya had been terrified of “the serpent’s shadow,” and that alone should have warned Maya to beware of snakes. But she had been prostrate with grief, and thinking not at all.

That had been no ordinary krait that killed her father, Maya was certain of it; that was when she had known she had to escape if she wanted to live. And despite her grief, her loss, she did want to live!

     

 

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