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When at last her eyes felt heavy, and she had to stifle yawns, she put the ball back into its cotton nest, closed the box, and prepared for bed. Once into her nightgown and about to go to sleep, she opened the door to her room just a crack, so that Charan and the mongooses could roam about at will. Sia and Singhe would slip in and out of her bedroom at least five or six times during the night as they patrolled; so far all they had found was a few mice, and once, a rat, but they dispatched those just as readily as a snake. And she would probably find Charan curled up with her when she woke.

Tomorrow is my day at Fleet Clinic, she reminded herself, with a sense of anticipation. No more assisting, or nursing; she was a full physician now, and she might even have a surgical case! At the least, there would be a broken limb or two, perhaps a delivery, maybe a burn case—

Not too much enthusiasm, her conscience warned, as she got into bed and turned out the light. You might enjoy practicing your art, but remember that this is going to be at the expense of someone else’s misfortune, Doctor Witherspoon.

You’re right, she acknowledged the little voice with a twinge. But

No buts, her conscience retorted, pleased with an easy victory.

As soon as her conscience turned its back on her, well satisfied with itself, she stuck out a metaphorical tongue at it like a naughty child and ran away to hide in sleep before it could catch her.

Chapter Three

THE birds looked down on Maya and her guest with curiosity—all but Rajah, the peacock, who gazed at her with hopes of a biscuit from her plate. The mongooses were curled up around Maya’s feet, hidden by the flounce of her skirt, and Charan sat primly in a third chair next to his mistress. This was the first time that anyone other than the “family” had been in the conservatory since the last of the workmen left, and all of the pets were intensely interested in the newcomer. Maya handed a cup of tea across the tiny table to Amelia, who looked around her with a lively expression of interest. She had expressed approval of the office, envy of the surgery, and proclaimed that words failed her when it came to the conservatory. Since Maya’s certification, Amelia had not only become more of a friend, Maya had gotten the distinct feeling that she was someone who could be trusted utterly. In fact, it seemed to her more and more often that Amelia was someone that Maya had known. Surya, of course, would have said with that certainty that she had, that Amelia and Maya had been sisters or bosom friends or even mother and daughter in some long-ago time. Maya wondered what Amelia’s reaction would be to that. She no longer thought Amelia would be confused; her friend’s mind was too broad, too quick to apprehend a new idea for her to be puzzled by the idea of reincarnation.

She’d probably just nod and accept it, even if she didn’t entirely understand what I meant by it.

“This is a little Eden, and I cannot get over how polite your pets are!” Amelia exclaimed, handing Charan a plain biscuit in answer to his pitiful face and outstretched hand. Charan took it, bobbed his head once, and ran across the pavement to one of his favorite perches and began nibbling it at the edge, turning it around and around in his clever hands to preserve its shape. “I can see why you wanted this place. I wouldn’t have thought I could find a spot so peaceful just off a busy street.”

It’s a good thing she doesn’t know anything about tropical plants, though, or she would never have believed my blithe explanation of how fast they grow.

“I know children that aren’t as well-behaved as your pets,” Amelia continued with a smile. “Perhaps you ought to set yourself up as a deportment teacher as well as a doctor!”

“I suppose you could thank my mother for that, not me. They were hers originally,” Maya told her, crumbling another biscuit for Rajah, who bowed his head graciously to accept the offering from her hand.

Amelia hesitated, then replied, cautiously, “You’ve never told me much about her. She must have been a remarkable woman…”

Maya had already decided that this tea party would be a good time to open up further to her friend and see what came of it. She was tired of having no one to talk to except her household, most of whom really didn’t understand half of what she told them. Granted, she wouldn’t be able to tell Amelia about her magic—but it would be good to have a close friend near her own age and with most of the same interests.

So Maya laughed a little. “Remarkable? That’s a rather pale word for my mother, considering that she defied her family, friends, and religion to marry my father, then continued to defy his people by being his very visible wife, rather than hiding away in his house and pretending she didn’t exist.”

“Oh, my—that must have put the fur up on the back of the old cats.” Amelia put her hand up to her mouth, not quite hiding a smile, her cheeks turning very pink, but not from embarrassment. Amelia took an unhallowed glee in “tweaking the tails of the old cats.” She was deeply involved in women’s suffrage, and any time there was a prank played that showed up the antisuffragists for the fools they were, it was certain that Amelia had a hand in it. “Good for her! I just hope they didn’t make her life a misery.”

“Oh, the ‘old cats’ rule Colonial society with an iron rod in India,” Maya sighed. “They managed to shut us out of the Club doings, the dances, and the rest of it. But love will break out, old cats notwithstanding, and there still aren’t that many English women in the Raj. There are a good many native wives now, and by no means are they all the wives of Private Tommys. Mother wasn’t alone, and neither was I; we had our own dances and club to go to and amusements—and our polo team beat theirs three times out of four.”

Though most of the other women donned corsets and bustles, and tried to be more English than the exiles, talking about a home they’d never seen and weren’t likely to, trying to pretend the world they left behind didn’t exist. They’d even adopt English names, for heaven’s sake!

“Ah,” Amelia nodded wisely. “The Eurasians. I’ve read some little about them; I think they must be very brave people, when it all comes down to it. It’s hard to defy society and manage to be happy at the same time. Are they all as handsome as you?”

Now it was Maya’s turn to cover her lips, her cheeks flushing hotly. “Good heavens, Amelia, what a thing to say!”

“Well, are they?” The first thing that had attracted Maya to her friend was her artless candor, and it seemed that Amelia was determined to exercise that trait to the fullest today. Amelia waved her hand vaguely as she elaborated her question. “I mean, I’ve always heard it said that children of—I mean—when you have parents of two different races—and the male students at Royal Free—”

Amelia fumbled to a halt, finally realizing that she might have overstepped herself, but Maya laughed, fanning her cheeks to cool them, and over her head the parrot echoed her laugh. “I suppose, but it hardly matters,” she said with great candor herself. “No gentleman who wishes to rise in the colonial ranks would ever marry a woman of mixed race, and as for the Eurasian men—well! They certainly need not apply to the mama of an English girl!”

Amelia flushed, but her eyes sparkled. “I’ve half a mind to go find out for myself, once I’ve been certified,” she said with her chin raised defiantly. “Since no proper gentleman would ever marry a female doctor either! I want to be a doctor and a wife and mother, and I rather doubt I’m going to find that possible here. Perhaps someone whose parents have already flouted custom would find himself better able to do the same.”



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