It was after dinner when Rafe found Mariana scrubbing the kitchen floor.
“Don’t we have a kitchen maid for that?” he asked.
She scowled up at him. “You do,” she said. “But she gets up at five, and I sent her to bed already. And I like to do it myself from time to time. It’s… a good thing to do.”
“Understood. Listen,” he said, dropping his voice and crouching down next to her on the floor. “I have a…well, a friend, and she needs your help.”
This time the glare was more heated. “Clean up your own messes, Rafe Greyson.”
He rocked back on his heels, and his face went through an entire series of expressions that started at baffled and ended at outraged indignation. “First off, I make a point of never making that kind of mess, as you so charmingly refer to it. Second, if I ever did, I would never… and third, you have entirely the wrong idea about me.” Rafe had no illusions about the fact that few of the working girls had very young children. In fact, the children they did have were often how they had gotten into that line of work at the King’s Head in the first place. It wasn’t hard to learn who in the tenements knew an abortionist of one kind or another. But only half of them had any real training, and even when they did, it was even more dangerous than a birth. And a birth in the rookeries was always a hazard.
He rubbed his face wearily. “Not that kind of friend, and not that kind of problem. Abbie is one of the girls who works at the Head, yes, but it’s her son. He’s very sick, and they don’t know what to do.”
Mariana said, “Get him a doctor, then.”
“Already have. The only one who would come to that part of town was worse than useless. They have a few hedge witches, but none of them can do what you can.” She hesitated, considering him. “Please, Mariana. He’s only five.”
She threw the rag in the bucket and stood up. “All right. But we’ll need your sister. And if this is some kind of ploy…”
His grin was more relief than guile, but he said, “Darling, if I want a woman in my bed, I just ask. Not that I’d kick you out if you showed up there, mind you, but I’m a busy man. I simply don’t have time for half the machinations you give me credit for.”
“Stop talking before I change my mind.”
“I’ll go get my things,” she said, arching her back to stretch the kinks out of her muscles. “But at this time of night, you’re paying for a carriage.”
Abbie and her little David shared a tiny flat with another woman and her small daughter. It was clean, but too crowded to be tidy, and it lacked more than a small window for ventilation. Mariana didn’t even blink at the state of the quarters, but it was all Willamina could do not to gape. She had driven past places like this before, but had never been inside. For that matter, she had read Dickens and Gaskell, but she was still shocked when confronted with the reality. Her brother watched her closely: he had almost balked at bringing her for just this reason, but after only a moment’s hesitation she was able to conceal her reaction.
The fact that Mariana quickly put her to work doubtlessly helped. When they arrived, the boy was croupy and his lips were beginning to turn blue against fever-red cheeks. Rafe took over distracting Abbie while Mariana briskly talked her pupil through the healing they were about to begin. She had hoped to avoid resorting to magic for a host of reasons, not least of which being that it was nearly ten o’clock and she was exhausted. But as soon as they had arrived she knew it was too late for anything else.
It was well into the morning hours before they had finished, and when Rafe finally carried Mariana down to the cab she didn’t even wake.
(“Thank god,” as he told Willamina, “or she’d likely have bitten something off.”)
When Mariana woke the next day, it was almost noon. And once she was fully awake, she was filled with a sense of dread.
She hadn’t been reluctant to help because of her irritation with the one doing the asking; she was, in fact, surprised he bothered to ask. When she met Willamina’s brother, she had written him off as another spoiled middle son with too much money and not enough responsibility. He was turning into a perpetual surprise, though, and she couldn’t decide if she liked it.
If Casmin had been there, it would have been necessary to refuse the request for help. The professor would have insisted, and reminded her of her orders. She was supposed to be invisible, unknown. Her very presence in London was risky, and drawing attention to this house was worse.
But he wasn’t there, and she never could refuse the little ones.
What came next, though? She knew what it would be. She knew the decisions she would have to make: who to help, who to turn away, what the cost would be. There was always a cost, and someone had to pay. The difficulty with being a witch is that to pick up the power means that you also have to pick up the responsibility for seeing that the price was paid.
It only took two days. She had just finished putting breakfast on the table when a frightened looking young girl came to the kitchen door. “Please, ma’am, it’s my mother… she’s been in labor 3 days, and the midwife has ‘bout given up.”
Well, she thought to herself as she grabbed the call bag she had packed the day before, at least Willamina would get a broad education.