Читать онлайн "The Serpent's Shadow" автора Лэки Мерседес - RuLit - Страница 6

 
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This time Miss Smith nodded knowingly. “My cook lives in terror of me,” she replied with a real smile this time. “What of the shortness of breath?”

Don’t lace your corsets so tightly and exercise, my dear.

“As you are in the theater, I venture to guess you might find a Shakespearean coach who would give you fencing lessons; loosen your corsets or do without altogether for that hour, and put the same effort into it that he does. You might be surprised at how flexible fencing lessons can make one,” Maya told her instantly. “You might also consider dancing lessons every day; good, brisk ones, perhaps with the ballet. The same lessons that make them so graceful will do the same for you—”

“Fencing lessons are quite fashionable, are they not?” the young woman said, after a moment staring off into space in thought. “The theater director might be pleased to find I’m taking them, and he’s mentioned dancing class once or twice as well.”

Ah. Music hall, operetta, or popular theater, I think. She is probably playing theIngénueand theInnocent Maid.” And she wants to stay the Ingénue for as long as she can.

“Quite,” Maya reassured her. “Now wait one moment; I will go and fetch a prescription I think will please you better than any pill or patent medicine to ensure a perfect complexion.”

She rose and went to a very special cupboard which stood in the surgery office in place of one of the bookcases. From it, she brought out a carved sandalwood box, which she took to the desk, opening it to Miss Smith’s curious gaze. It contained six carved stone jars.

“These are from India, are they not?” Miss Smith asked, newly aroused interest causing her intense blue eyes to shine in a way that must have been irresistible to any man. “Like…” she began, then flushed, and put her hand in its red-silk glove to her lips.

“Like me, you were about to say?” Maya laughed. “Miss Smith, I cannot conceal my parentage, so I do not trouble to try. But because of my parentage…” She lowered her voice, and Miss Smith leaned forward eagerly. “Because my mother was of great learning in the ancient ways of her people, I have knowledge that is not accessible to those of this land. My mother’s people believe that female beauty is a thing to be cultivated and made to flourish, then preserved for as long as she lives. They do not believe that it is a sin to be lovely. I do not only supply physic internally, Miss Smith, I am prepared to supply it externally as well.”

Great good heavens, I sound like a patent medicine man! But Miss Smith took in the words with parted lips and shining eyes, and Maya continued in the same vein. “Here are my special balms and lotions, meant to enhance and preserve against the threats of cruel weather and the hand of time. I have an apothecary at my disposal. He compounds them under my strict supervision.”

She wrote down the name and address of the apothecary at the end of the street with whom she had set up her arrangement. She supplied the herbs, after a little preparation of her own, and he did the rest. There was more in those jars than just salves and balms; there was magic there, magic infused into the herbs with which they were made. It was not a magic that would ensnare a man’s mind and passion for all time (although she could, but would not, do that as well). This was the gentle magic of the earth, green magic, Maya’s own. It fed and nurtured, fed the generous instincts that were part of man or woman, creating a beauty that would not fade.

The young woman took out one of the jars, a gentle face cream compounded of aloe, rosewater, glycerin, and several healing herbs. She opened it gingerly and sniffed. Her face reflected her delight in the scent of roses that wafted up from the cream. “They are very effective, far more so than anything that you will have seen heretofore. See—here they are labeled, each for what it is for. You can leave off whatever you have been doing and use these preparations exclusively; I promise you will be very happy with the results. You may have these to try. When you are satisfied, you may have him make up more as you need them.” Getting her to stop taking those daily doses of arsenic will do a great deal to settle the rest of her problems.

She closed the box and pushed it over to her visitor, who picked it up. Miss Smith’s hands trembled only a little with eagerness. “These samples are included in your consultation fee,” Maya continued. “Now, I think that we should suit well as patient and physician, but what say you?”

Miss Smith replied with a real smile. “I shall be returning—and so will my friends.”

Once her visitor—her first patient—had gone, Maya cheerfully organized her notes under the name of Helen Smith—“Helen,” for Helen of Troy. If Miss Smith’s face failed to launch ships, it certainly had the power to create quite as much mischief as her namesake had. Subsequent patients would be filed under similarly fictional names, memorable only to Maya, so that if anyone should somehow gain access to her records, they would have no way of connecting real person to fictional identity. And the consultation fee of five whole shillings resided safely in Maya’s strongbox; a woman of Miss Smith’s profession might sometimes neglect her butcher’s and dressmaker’s bills, but dared not anger her physician, once she had found one who would not betray her.

A few more “Smiths,” and not only would the household prosper, Maya could spare time and medicines for others who needed them, but had no means to pay for them.

And we can pay our own butcher’s bills. Maya smiled, opened the heavy filing drawer in her desk, and filed Helen Smith’s history away in an empty slot. It would be time for supper soon, and she was definitely looking forward to sharing it with her household, with this much good news to tell them.

Since her father’s death, Maya no longer stood on ceremony with those others would call her servants. Yes, they performed tasks for her while she provided their incomes, food, and shelter, but without them, she would have been hard put to pursue the life she had chosen. Certainly, she could never have found English servants she could trust as she did her little family.

The single note of a gong vibrated through the house, telling her that supper was ready. She carefully turned out the electric light on her desk—a small miracle, one as marvelous as any magic of her own, to make light appear and vanish at the turn of a key! The sun had set while she played hostess to Miss Smith, and now the only light came from the corner gaslight out on the street. She shivered as she left the office, glancing out the window at the shiny, rain-drenched cobbles; it could have been ice that glazed them, and not water.

The noise and merriment in the small room just off the kitchen dispelled her shivers. The entire family, including the children, sat on the floor on cushions and carpets in the area that would have held a table for the servants in a proper English household. Maya took her place among them, and helped herself from the pots and plate of flat bread resting on a footed tray in the center of the group.

Why waste two rooms on dining, when there was small chance that she would ever play hostess to a meal for anyone outside her household? The former dining room was now an invalid’s room, a place for a seriously ill patient to stay until she was well enough to be discharged and taken to her own home. And this servants’ meal room was good enough for Maya; brightly lit, painted the same cream color of the walls of her old, beloved bungalow, redolent with saffron and spice, it was another small slice of the place she thought of as home.

     

 

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