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Dr Jacob Smythe is eighty-five years old and was born in – and still lives in – number 8 Rutland Square East on the north side of Dublin. The love of Jacob’s life married another man and he vowed to never marry but he did not take a vow of chastity and fathered at least four children with his patients over the years.
Jacob practised medicine until 1883 when Dr Will Fitzgerald’s father John put pressure on him to retire. Also a retired doctor, John is now editor of the Journal of Irish Medicine and gave Jacob a position there making sure the elderly gentleman does as little as possible.
When John notices Jacob’s memory is fading fast, he brings him to Will for assessment. Will examines and questions Jacob and agrees with his father that senility is setting in at a rapid rate. Right up until he retired from medicine, Jacob had a penchant for all too freely dispensing laudanum tinctures to ladies. They included Will’s mother Sarah who became dependent on it for a time so she will be angry that Jacob is now one of Will’s patients but with just two elderly servants, Jacob needs to employ a nurse as soon as possible and a doctor must oversee his care.
With Jacob incapable of working anymore and with just £200 in cash stored in a box on the floor of his wardrobe, how can Will’s fees be paid, a nurse be employed and the butler and cook-housekeeper be kept in their positions and out of the workhouse? Where can the considerable and urgently needed money be found?
Dublin, Ireland, October 1885. The fragile peace within the Fitzgerald family is threatened when Dr Jacob Smythe becomes one of Will’s patients, angering his mother. But in attending to the elderly gentleman’s needs, Will inadvertently reunites Sarah with an old adversary and Isobel discovers she and Dr Smythe have an unexpected and tragic connection.
When Alfie receives a card on his twenty-ninth birthday, the recognisable handwriting and cryptic message shatters his hard-won personal contentment. Has a figure hoped long gone from his life returned to Dublin to wreak a cruel mischief on all those who banished him? Is Alfie’s ambition of becoming a doctor about to be derailed when he has less than a year left at Trinity College?
Read an excerpt from Chapter One…
On Wednesday morning, three responses were delivered to the practice house and on Friday afternoon following their house calls, Will and Barbara sat down in her parlour on the second floor with eight letters and went through them.
“I think we can narrow them down to these two,” he said, laying a hand on top of them. “The other six applicants have experience with ladies only and it’s my guess they are applying through necessity only and not a with a genuine willingness to attend to a gentleman.”
“I agree and out of the two, I would choose Mrs Darby,” Barbara replied. “Unlike Miss O’Keefe, Mrs Darby may not be a trained nurse with qualifications but she certainly has experience. My only concern is her age.”
Will picked up Mrs Darby’s letter and read the pertinent paragraphs again.
I am a native of Dublin who recently returned from forty-one years in the United States of America. I was a Union Army nurse during the Civil War and afterwards, I nursed my husband who suffered a shotgun wound to the head and never regained his full mental faculties. My husband died in May, hence my decision to return to Ireland.
I am sixty-three years old and in excellent health. I am willing to be engaged as a nurse and I can also housekeep if required. I will be found kind and attentive and very useful in the gentleman’s home.
“Even if Dr Smythe doesn’t engage Mrs Darby, I’d very much like to meet her.”
“So would I, Will.”
“I’ll go and see my father and we’ll pass these two letters to Dr Smythe and discuss them with him. Thank you for this, Barbara.”
“Not at all,” she replied. “Have you told your mother that Dr Smythe is now one of your patients?” she asked and he shook his head. Like a coward, he’d been putting it off. “You really should tell her.”
“I know. I’ll call on her this evening.”
His father was leaving the offices of the Journal of Irish Medicine when Will turned onto Hume Street ten minutes later.
“Ah, Will. Were there many responses?”
“Eight but Barbara and I have whittled them down to these two,” he said, passing the letters to his father. “Read them over dinner and I’ll call to number 67 when I’ve eaten and we’ll go and see Dr Smythe. I must also tell Mother that Dr Smythe is now one of my patients – simply as a courtesy,” he added. “Nothing more.”
“Did you find the box of money?” he inquired and his father nodded.
“It contained two hundred and twenty pounds, eight shillings and sixpence. Seven pounds went straight to Mrs Macallister to pay outstanding debts to the butcher and the coalman.”
“When were wages last paid to the Macallisters?”
“Two months ago so I gave them five pounds each. Will, Jacob can’t afford to pay a nurse any more than thirty pounds per annum. I wish it were more but I must eke out Jacob’s saving while he and I decide which items of furniture and which paintings must be sold.”
“Do whatever needs to be done,” he said and his father nodded.
Isobel was coming down the stairs when he closed number 30’s front door behind him and hung his hat on the stand.
“This evening, Father and I will call on Dr Smythe so he can choose from the two most suitable applicants,” he said, placing his medical bag on the hall table and kissing her lips. “So I must eat and run, I’m afraid.”
“You’re meeting your father at number 67?” she asked and he nodded as he unbuttoned his overcoat, shrugged it off and hung it up beside his hat. “In that case, I’ll come with you and spend the evening with your mother. I hope you’re hungry. Mrs Dillon has made the most enormous steak and kidney pie.”
“Good.” She took his hand and led him into the breakfast room.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Tess, one of his parents’ house-parlourmaids, admitted them to number 67 Merrion Square and showed them into the morning room.
“Isobel and Will.” His ageless mother put a periodical to one side, got up from the sofa and kissed their cheeks. “Is there something wrong?”
“No, not at all,” he replied. “Father and I are calling on Dr Smythe and, rather than sitting at home alone, Isobel has come to spend the evening with you.”
“Dr Smythe.” His mother tensed and sat down again. “You and your father?”
“Father brought a medical concern he had with Dr Smythe to my attention and, as a result, Dr Smythe is now one of my patients. I am informing you, Mother, as a courtesy.”
“I see,” she replied shortly.
“I don’t know how long we’ll be.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Isobel said and he nodded to her and his mother then returned to the hall where his father was shrugging on his overcoat.
“Mother now knows Dr Smythe is a patient of mine,” he said and his father simply nodded, lifted his hat down from the stand and they left the house in search of a cab.
“Mrs Darby sounds intriguing,” his father said, handing the two letters to him as a cab stopped for them on the corner of Merrion Square South and Merrion Street Upper.
“Yes, she does,” Will replied. “Number 8 Rutland Square, please,” he instructed the cabman before climbing inside after his father. “Out of the two, she would be my choice to meet and interview but, of course, it’s up to Dr Smythe.”
Macallister admitted them to the house, brought them upstairs and announced them. The drawing room was very masculine and contained a huge brown leather sofa and two wingback armchairs similar to those found in a gentleman’s club plus numerous side tables, a bookcase and a writing desk and a table at each of the windows. A fire was blazing in the hearth and Dr Smythe got up from one of the armchairs which stood on either side of the fireplace and shook their hands.
“Doctors Fitzgerald – come in and sit down. According to Macallister, my memory is behaving itself today. Would you like a drink? Whiskey? Brandy?”
“Thank you but no,” Will replied and held up the letters. “I have brought two responses to the advertisement for you to read and consider.”
Dr Smythe took the letters, sat in his armchair and gestured for them to take a seat. Will chose the sofa, well away from the fireplace, while his father went to the second armchair and they waited for Dr Smythe to read both letters.
“This applicant – no,” he announced and before Will could stop him, dropped one of the letters into the fire. “But I would be most obliged if you could request that Mrs Darby attends for an interview here.”
“Her age and lack of nursing qualifications don’t concern you?” Will asked.
“Edward,” Dr Smythe replied and Will heard his father shuffle in his armchair making the leather squeak. “I once had a patient who fought in that war. He was shot in the knee. The wound turned gangrenous and the leg had to come off. He told me the army nurses saw things no woman should ever see and did things no woman should ever do. So I want to meet Mrs Darby.” Getting up, he lifted Will’s hand and slapped the letter onto his palm. “At her earliest convenience.”
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