Home > The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4)(15)

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4)(15)
Author: Kerrigan Byrne

She shook her head. “I’ve already had it.”

“Still … Bring me Dr. Fowler, I’ll demand he find someone else.”

Imogen made a gesture of helplessness, touched by his concern for her. “I’m afraid you’ll have to take it up with the queen, as she only just left.”

“The queen, you say? Well, doesn’t that just take the bright spot out of my week?” He visibly deflated, then seemed to come to a decision. “Why don’t you visit me anyway? There’s no cure for old age, or for what I’ve contracted. What’s typhus when there’s art to be discussed?”

Imogen’s heart tugged at the note of loneliness in his voice. “Dear Lord Anstruther, you know I would never put any of my patients in danger, least of all my favorite.” She attempted to charm him.

He snorted. “You’ll take one look at Trenwyth and change your mind about that, my dear, typhus or no. Handsome as the devil and afflicted with a similar set of morals, that’s Trenwyth.”

Struck by sudden curiosity, Imogen lowered herself to the edge of his bed. “You knew—know him well?”

“Watched the Talmage children grow, Sarah and I did.” Sarah, his wife, had been gone a long fifteen years, and still the man pined for her. “She was particularly fond of Collin,” he recalled. “Lad would pop over for a peppermint whenever she was in the garden and tarry round her skirts, that is, until he started chasing skirts of his own. A bit starving for female affection, if you ask me. Mother was a cold fish, God rest her soul.”

Imogen smiled. “He was a good boy, then?”

“Cole? Good? Not at all! But my Sarah always did have a soft spot for us rakes and ne’er-do-wells.” His eyes sparkled at her. “We never did have children, I suppose she enjoyed her time with the boy. Even wept a bit when he went into Her Majesty’s Service. She was mighty proud of him.”

“They say he contracted the disease in the Indies,” Imogen prompted, drinking in every detail.

True to his nature, Anstruther took the bait. “My valet, Cheever, got his hands on an American paper,” he bragged. “Januarius MacGahan wrote that he witnessed a man fitting Trenwyth’s description fighting like the very devil during the April Uprising in Bulgaria. Claims to have seen him dragged off by the Ottomans, he did.”

“But … the Ottomans deny that the April Uprising even happened,” Imogen speculated. “Surely they would have killed Trenwyth if he was witness to it, wouldn’t they?”

“Perhaps not if he’s a royal.” He shrugged. “Maybe they were paid his weight in gold for ransom.” The excitement and the conversation had the earl dissolving into a fit of coughs. The cancer was now in his lungs and there was naught to be done but make him comfortable. Only God knew when it would take him.

Checking her watch, Imogen stood. “I’ll send Gwen in with a compress and your tonic,” she said, hoping her bright tone would smother the grief already welling in her chest. “I vow to bring you my rendering just as soon as … as I can.

“Give us a kiss then.” He offered his cheek, and she complied. His skin was cool, dry, and thin beneath her lips.

“And take good care our boy Trenwyth,” Anstruther admonished. “Does the realm no good to lose that entire family. They are among the few noble families that deserved that designation.”

“As are you, my lord.”

* * *

Imogen stood in front of the closed door to Trenwyth’s room paralyzed by indecision. Dr. Longhurst’s voice filtered through the wall as he labored over the duke, likely assisted by a male orderly, and Imogen thanked her stars that she had more time to stall.

She burned to see Trenwyth for herself. And she dreaded it.

A delicately pretty, fair-haired nurse bustled past her with an armful of linen that, by the smell, had more on them than merely blood. If the girl was going to the laundry, she’d be passing right by Gwen’s station. Imogen struggled to remember her name, as the nurse had only recently been hired. She knew they’d been introduced, but this nurse worked on the third floor in the more crowded wards. Her name started with an M, didn’t it? Maggie, Mary …

“Molly,” she remembered aloud. “Your name is Molly, am I right?”

Startled, the girl whirled in surprise, and dropped the linens. “Look what you made me do!” Her brashness, as much as her accent, pegged her as being born no farther south than Yorkshire. She knelt to carefully gather up the linens, her face scrunched in a grimace of disgust. “If these stain the carpets, I’ll be sure that you clean them, not I. Though why they put carpets in a hospital where blood is the least despicable of the substances that might stain them, I’ll never guess. Some idiot toff wot thinks he knows something likely demanded it beneath his lofty feet. And don’t we always have to cow to what they say?”

Imogen blinked, taken aback by the woman’s vitriolic outburst.

“I—I do apologize, let me help.” She started for the bundle, but was shooed away.

“Stay where you are,” Molly demanded. “I’ll not be getting typhus along with a reprimand should the Dragon come by.”

Imogen softened a bit for the girl, who must have had a run-in with Brenda Gibby, the head nurse of the fourth floor. In truth, Imogen feared the woman dubbed “the Dragon” more than she did Ezio del Toro, and that fear was mighty.

“I haven’t been in His Grace’s room yet, you’re not in any danger of contracting—”

   
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