This Duchess of Mine Page 41

“We have a maid just for ironing?”

“Several,” his valet said, kneeling to help him slip on his boots. “Her Grace, naturally, has some three personal maids, as well as a laundry maid who works only with her garments.”

“Half of London,” Elijah marveled, “toiling away simply to keep two people adequately dressed.”

Vickery was holding his wig. Elijah looked at it with distaste. “The Duke of Villiers never wears a wig,” he pointed out.

“Never. His Grace sets his own fashion.” Vickery’s voice was reverent.

Elijah sighed. He wore his hair extremely short to accommodate a wig, and he had to admit that after so many years, he hardly noticed it anymore. He popped it on his head and accepted a walking stick.

“We have no time to break your fast,” Villiers told him, when Elijah joined him downstairs.

“Just where are we going?” Elijah asked, taking his hat from Fowle.

But Villiers waited until they were in the carriage. “I’ve made an appointment with the best man for hearts,” he said, rapping on the door to signal his coachman to take off.

For a moment Elijah thought confusedly about breakfast meats, then the penny dropped. “My heart?”

“You’re obviously not bothering to deal with these unpleasantries yourself,” Villiers remarked. “I find myself constrained to play the role of nursemaid. And it doesn’t suit my personality.”

“Presumptuous of you,” Elijah observed, keeping his temper.

“A truly presumptuous friend would tell your wife,” Villiers said. His voice was so oiled and cold that he could have been speaking to his worst enemy.

“She knows.”

“Ah. That explains a great deal about the last few days.”

“Your interference is quite unnecessary,” Elijah said.

“You shouldn’t have saved my life, as my valet believes you to have done. Then we’d both be rid of each other.”

“You are charming in the morning.”

“This is not morning,” Villiers retorted. “This is the tail end of the night.”

“You haven’t been to bed?” Elijah peered at him. Villiers appeared immaculately groomed. His hair was tied back in its usual velvet ribbon, and there wasn’t a crease on his neck cloth.

A small smile played around Villiers’s mouth. “I was entertaining a lady.”

“Not the marquise?”

“Louise was in no state to be entertained by anyone.”

“Louise?” Elijah repeated, at a loss for a moment.

“The Marquise de Perthuis,” Villiers said, sighing.

“I don’t need to see a doctor, for hearts or otherwise,” Elijah said flatly.

“Did you faint yesterday?”

“Not for three days,” Elijah replied. “Perhaps it will all go away.”

“And pigs will fly, etcetera,” Villiers said with a wave of his hand. “People have accused you of many things, but never of cowardice.”

Elijah digested that. “There’s no point.”

“It may well be that he’ll tell you that you have a rare fainting illness, and cure it on the spot.”

Elijah snorted. “My father died of a defective heart, and mine is going the same direction.”

Villiers’s face grew so forbidding that Elijah didn’t continue. “In that case,” he said coolly, “you will do your wife the favor of tidying up your affairs. Perhaps we could have your coffin measured this afternoon, since you are so determined to die in the near future.”

“My affairs are in order,” Elijah said icily.

“Have you updated your will?” Villiers paused, then added deliberately, “In the event that you have no heir, of course.”

Elijah felt his heart, stupid defective instrument that it was, give a great thump.

Villiers continued, ruthless to the end. “Who is to put your affairs in order if you die intestate? Not I.”

Elijah’s only reply was unprintable but heartfelt.

“The same to you,” Villiers said serenely, and then they kept silence until they reached the doctor’s offices.

Dr. Chalus was large-headed and bald. His wig sat on top of a stack of books; more books cluttered the floor and all the chairs. His offices were hung with blood-purple curtains, as if he didn’t see enough of the color during the day, and they smelled distinctly of cabbage.

Villiers strolled in and after one pained glance focused on the doctor’s shiny pate.

“Do sit down,” the doctor said, not bothering to look up. His servant paled, moved closer and repeated shrilly:

“The Duke of Villiers and the Duke of Beaumont. Two dukes are here to consult with you.”

Dr. Chalus hummed, deep in his throat, and finally looked up. His eyes were bloodshot and tired, and for the first time, Elijah felt a bit of hope. The doctor looked like a man working as hard to cure hearts as he himself was to cure the ills of English governance.

“Your Graces,” he said, looking singularly unimpressed by their presence in his office. “What can I do for you?”

By fifteen minutes later, though, it was clear that Chalus was having no more luck solving heart problems than Elijah had had in the House of Lords. “Your heart is beating irregularly,” he said. “I can hear it clearly. At the moment it is quite fast.”

“What can you do for it?” Elijah asked, already knowing the answer. The doctor’s eyes were far too sympathetic for his liking.

“I have had small successes here and there,” he told them. “I am working on a medicine that will force urination when a patient has dropsy. I believe the swelling we call dropsy indicates the heart is about to give out. But your ankles are quite normal.”

Elijah nodded.

“From the sound of your heart, you may have a spasmodic defect, something wrong on the right side. Which is unusual: generally one hears problems with the left side. That may explain…”

Dr. Chalus’s voice died away and he looked as if he were listening to an argument only he could hear.

Villiers cleared his throat.

The doctor shook himself. “Your heartbeat is tumultuous, but you are perplexingly free of some of the symptoms I would expect. Perhaps a structural defect on the right side would explain why you are not suffering from dropsy. I would love to know…”

“How could you determine it?” Elijah asked.

Chalus shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Then how do you gain your knowledge?”

“Through autopsy of the dead,” the doctor said, backing away to his desk. “And for the most part, those patients who are wealthy enough to realize that they should see me are not inclined to allow me to examine their bodies after death.”

Elijah nodded. He had no such inclination himself.

“You have no idea how frustrating the study of medicine can be. The only bodies I am able to examine are those of criminals. And when a man has been hanged, it is readily obvious why and how he died. That is not helpful in the study of hearts. You’d be surprised,” he said, turning to include Villiers in the conversation, “how infrequently criminals suffer from dropsy.”

“I can imagine,” Villiers said.

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