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The children, who had all gotten training in English from the time they were able to toddle, attended a local day school, and she listened with amusement as they chattered about their lessons and classmates in a mix of Hindustani and English. Their parents and grandfather listened to the babble with a tolerance no English parent (believing the rule that “children should be seen and not heard”) would ever understand.

The four children made enough chatter for twice their number, but Maya enjoyed their artless confidences. Ravi, the eldest boy, was enough like his grandfather Gupta already that the elder man was in the habit of taking Ravi with him on his trips to the market and other harmless errands. Ravi was eleven; his brothers Amal and Jagan nine and five respectively, and their adorable, large-eyed sister Suli was seven and just beginning the schooling that Jagan had already started.

When the young ones finally ran out of chatter, Maya caught the eyes of their parents. “The lady who called will be my client, and will send her friends,” she told them, and was rewarded with smiles and no little relief. “All will be well on that score.”

“Ha!” Gupta said, looking wise. “It is well, mem sahib. Your father, blessed be his memory, would be pleased.”

Privately Maya doubted that her father would have been pleased to learn that his daughter was the physician to music-hall singers and the kept mistresses of wealthy men, but she said nothing to Gupta on that score. Nigel Witherspoon, whether he was in the Christian Heaven that Maya had been brought up to believe in, or on Surya’s karmic wheel of reincarnation, was no longer in a position to judge what Maya did. And Maya saw nothing sinful in what she was doing. I am hardly in a position to judge them, after all, no matter what the vicar at the Fleet Clinic says. I will heal the sick and leave it to Christ to judge. And since He kept company with thieves and prostitutes, I doubt very much that He would so much as raise an eyebrow at what I am doing.

She turned her attention back to the conversation. Gopal was planning a celebratory dinner and required her to make some choices. Not all the dishes were from India—in fact, the party would have a rather eclectic mix of Indian, British, and French dishes, for Gopal was trading lessons in Indian cuisine for those in Continental cooking with an expatriate Parisian cook he had come to be acquainted with. For all I know, she realized with amusement, it might be the very own chef of a Member of Parliament!—No British household would eat as they were doing tonight, with everything on the low table at once, and everyone helping himself; Maya hadn’t actually had meals like this when her father was alive, at least not since she’d come out of the nursery. They’d always kept to proper manners, as absurd as that was with only three of them—later, two—at the long formal table, with servants attending and each course being removed as the next was brought in. But she’d begun dining with the others for comfort and company after he died, and kept on with it. Who was to see or care? Much better to have converted the dining room to a sick room; any seriously ill patient Maya wanted to keep an eye on would find she had excellent care here.

It would be a “she,” of course. Maya doubted she’d get any male patients. This part of London was hardly the abode of the respectable middle class, but those who lived here were not so desperate that they couldn’t make a choice in physicians. This wasn’t the neighborhood of the poorest of the poor—not the Fleet, not Cheapside, and dear God, not Whitechapel. This was barely the East End. On the other hand, you never know. The working-class poor who lived here were also pragmatic; a man might bend his stiff neck to take the help of a woman doctor…

Especially since I’m one of them, in a sense. But a man of this neighborhood would recover at home, tended by his own womenfolk. Only a woman needed to be kept here, lest she go back (or be driven back) to her wifely duties too soon.

The children finished their meal and ran up to the nursery. The other adults finished theirs and began to clean up. Maya took a cup of tea out with her to the conservatory, walking softly. All the other pets were asleep, but Nisha the owl was wide awake, and flew down, soundlessly, to perch on the back of a chair. A pigeon feather caught at the side of her beak told Maya that Nisha had already dined. Maya scratched her just under her beak and around her neck, a caress which the owl suffered for a moment before dipping her head and flying back up to her roost. Maya smiled; was there anything so soft as an owl’s feathers?

It was time to make the nightly rounds. Not for the first time, Maya wished that her mother had taught her some of the secrets of her own native magic, and the enchantments and protections that she had learned in her temple, before she died.

I cannot,” she had said, her eyes dark with distress, whenever Maya begged. “Yours is the magic of your father’s blood, not mine.”

And she had never had the chance to explain what that meant.

Maya gazed up at the blank, black glass of the conservatory roof before she left her sanctum to circle the interior walls of the house. Even if the sky had not been overcast, it was unlikely that she would be able to see more than the very brightest of stars and the moon. How she missed the skies of home, where the stars hung like jeweled lamps in an ebony dome!

All the magic Maya knew had been learned by covertly spying on her mother as the former priestess spun protections for her family, or cobbled together from street magic gleaned from the few genuine fakirs, then compounded from a mixture of instinct, guess, and trial and error. She had woven a web of street-charm protections over this house and its occupants; every night she strengthened them, going over them three times to replace where the erosions of time and this city weakened them.

Three times she walked through each room of the first floor, in the dim light coming from the gaslights outside, or the light from the hall, bolstering her charms. There was no sign that anything had put those protections to the test, but would she be able to tell if anything had just probed at them rather than trying to destroy them?

I don’t know…

With a determined shake of her head, she thrust away the doubt. This was not the time to worry about her abilities; doubt made magic weak. That much, at least, she knew.

Besides, now that she had completed her protections, the charms she worked next were the ones she was sure of. Prosperity on the surgery and office and the front door, health on the kitchen, peace on the house itself. She smiled to herself as she heard the children above in the nursery mute their quarrel over a game into an amiable disagreement. Not that her charm stopped all quarrels; it was most effective right after it was first cast, and like the protections, it eroded a little with time and stress. But it did make life easier on everyone living here, making everyone a little more inclined to forgive and sweetening tempers.

Now her last, and easiest, work of the evening. She returned to the conservatory and spent a little time on each and every plant, strengthening it, encouraging it to grow at a rate much faster than “normal,” and giving it the extra energy to do so. Once the trees, plants, and bushes were tall and strong enough to suit her, vigorous enough to cover the walls and give her the complete illusion of a tiny jungle, she would let them grow at their own pace. Until that time, she would use her own strength to build her sanctuary, the sanctuary she needed so desperately in this alien place.

It wearied her; it always did. When she was done, Nisha called her softly. She hooted at the owl comfortingly and blew out the candle-lamps as she left, so that the conservatory descended into the sweet, warm darkness her pets all loved.



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