Читать онлайн "The Serpent's Shadow" автора Лэки Мерседес - RuLit - Страница 2


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Charity work would scarcely allow her to earn much of a living, which was why most male physicians wouldn’t even consider it. She would not tell him what else she had in mind to augment her income.

He brightened a little at that. Probably because I won’t be a threat to the practices of any of the young male physicians, who have wives with the proper attitudes to support, she thought, amused in spite of her resentment. She suppressed the desire to sniff, as her nose tickled a little.

“Far be it from me to become an impediment to someone who wishes to devote herself to the welfare of the poor,” he replied with ponderous piety, and removed a document from beneath the results of her examinations, signing it quickly. He passed it to her over the desk; she received it in those black-gloved hands—black, for she was still in mourning for her father, and though Society might forgive the occasional breach of strict mourning in a young white woman, it would never do so for her. The year of formal mourning was not yet up, and in the interest of economy, she had already decided to prolong it as long as she could. Mourning colors gave her a certain safety. Even a brute would not offer too much insult to a woman in mourning, even if she was a half-breed.

That paper was her medical certification, giving her the authority to practice medicine, and the right to practice surgery here in this hospital, admit patients, and treat them here.

“Congratulations, Doctor Witherspoon,” he continued. “And may I repeat that the results of your examinations are remarkable, including those in surgery. I dare say your skills are equally outstanding.”

“Thank you very much, Doctor,” she replied with feigned meekness and gratitude; he swelled with self-importance, mistaking it for the genuine emotion. “I hope I will succeed in surpassing your expectations.”

She rose. He did the same. She extended her right hand; he pressed it once in token of farewell, released it quickly, then immediately seated himself as she turned to leave. She was not important enough for him to remain standing until after she was gone, nor worthy of his time to be given a heartier handshake or more of his attention.

She closed the door of the office behind her, carefully and quietly, then smiled—this time with real warmth—at the doctor’s receptionist and secretary, a young man with thin, blond hair, who had sincerely wished her good luck on her way in. She met his questioning blue eyes, and held up her signed certification in a gesture of triumph. The young man nodded vigorously, clasped both hands above his head in an athlete’s gesture of victory, and gave a silent cheer. Maya’s companion, a plump, animated woman three years her junior, who was seated in one of two chairs for visitors placed in this stuffy little reception room, was a trifle less circumspect.

“Oh, Maya! Well done!” Amelia Drew said aloud, leaping up from her chair to embrace her friend. Maya kissed her proffered cheek, waved cheerfully at the secretary, and guided Amelia out the door and into the hospital corridor before Amelia said anything that Doctor Clayton-Smythe might overhear and interpret as unflattering.

Nurses in nun-like uniforms hurried past, carrying trays and basins. Young men, medical students all, arrayed in their medical black, strode through the corridor like the would-be kings they all were.

Maya closed the reception-chamber door behind Amelia, and Amelia cast off any pretense of restraint, skipping like a schoolgirl. “You did it! You got the old crustacean to bend and give you your certification!”

“Not a crustacean, my dear. That was a fat, grumpy walrus on his very own sacred spot of beach.” Maya’s grimace betrayed her distaste. “It was a narrower thing than I care to think about.” She stepped around an elderly charwoman scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees, bundled in so many layers of clothing her true shape could not be determined.

Amelia dodged a medical student on the run—probably late for a surgery. “But your marks were so good. And the letters from the other doctors at Royal Free Hospital—”

“I wasn’t entirely certain of success, even with the highest of examination results,” she replied, as they traversed the polished oak of the corridor, the starched frills of their petticoats rustling around their booted ankles. Amelia’s costume, severe, and plain, was identical to Maya’s but of dove-gray rather than stark black. Amelia was in the midst of her own medical education. Fortunately, both her parents were as supportive of her ambition as Maya’s had been. Unfortunately, this gave young Amelia a distorted view of the prejudices of the majority of the male population of her land.

“I don’t think I convinced him until I told him that I intended to practice among the poor.” Maya smiled again, then laughed, thinking what shock the poor mummified man would have felt had she told him the entire truth.

“There’s no harm in intentions, is there?” Amelia giggled. “And if there are those besides the poor who decide to ask for your services, well, that has nothing to do with your intentions.”

“True enough,” Maya laughed. “But can you imagine what he would have said if he had known what I really planned to do?” Now that she was up and moving, warmth and life had returned to her feet, at least.

And now that the ordeal was over and her victory laurels were firmly in her hands, she was feeling celebratory and just a little reckless.

Amelia was the only person outside Maya’s household who knew what Maya intended, and even she blushed a brilliant scarlet as they moved side by side across the echoing foyer, heels clicking smartly on the tiles. “I daren’t even guess,” Amelia murmured, fanning her scarlet cheeks to cool them.

Just before they reached the doors giving out onto the street, Maya’s fingers moved surreptitiously, and she murmured a few words that Amelia did not hear. She sensed a thin breath of energy wafting upward from the well of strength within her, and as they stepped out into the weather, the rain ceased for a moment.

“Well! There’s more luck!” Amelia exclaimed as the clouds parted a little, letting a glimpse of blue peek through. She raised her hand imperiously, signaling their need for transportation. There was always a great coming and going of cabs here, both horse-drawn and motorized, and they procured a hansom without any difficulty whatsoever. Maya climbed in and gave her address to the driver through the little hatch above. It shut with a snap, and Amelia joined her.

It was, as she had specified with her tiny exercise of magic, a clean cab: no mud or worse on the floor, no cigar ash anywhere. And just as they settled themselves within the shelter of their conveyance and pulled their skirts well in, away from possible mud splashes, the rain began again. The cab moved off into a thin curtain of gray, the poor horse’s ears signaling his dislike of the wet.

This was just as Maya had intended. It didn’t do to change anything with magic, not if one wanted to remain undetected; one could only arrange. In this case, the break in the clouds that would have occurred a little later, and a few blocks away, happened above them and at the time they left the building, and closed again as soon as they were in shelter. And the cab was in good repair, the driver neither drunk nor mean spirited.

The precious certificate, now folded and safely inside Maya’s handbag, rested beneath her hands on her lap. Amelia made small talk to which Maya responded with half of her attention. London, from within the partial enclosure of the hansom, was an assault on the senses of a very different sort than the heart of Delhi. In place of the scent—no, call it what it was, the stench—of hot, baked earth, dust, sweat, and dung, the smell of London enveloped them in damp, mold and mildew, wet wool, wet horse, smoke, stagnant water, the acrid tang of motor exhaust, a hint of sewage and horse droppings, and the river smell of the Thames. Harsher, deeper voices than the rapid twitter of her peoples’ myriad tongues fell upon the ear. There was no bawl of livestock, only the clatter of wheels and hooves on cobblestones, neighing, the jingle of harness, and the alien noise of a motorcar or ‘bus. And, of course, the atmosphere, so cheerless, so cold…



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