Legion of the Dead

Legion of the Dead by Paul Stewart

Book: Legion of the Dead by Paul Stewart Read Free Book Online
Authors: Paul Stewart
dirty lowdown graverobbers?’
    ‘Come on, boys,’ replied Lenny Dempster, gathering his gang around him. ‘Let’s put the new Emperor in the ground …’
    ‘What is the meaning of this?’ The imperious voice of the matron cut through the air like a hot knife through hog-fat. Behind her, the ranks of the nurses surveyed the chaotic scene impassively.
    Instantly, the gang members turned in her direction. The matron on the stairs towered above them, the flickering lamp in her hand casting shadows on her heaving bosom and round face.
    ‘Tobias McConnell,’ she boomed, ‘is that you?’
    The leader of the Ratcatchers swallowed and unclenched his fist sheepishly. He looked round. So did everyone else.
    ‘Yes, ma’am,’ he admitted.
    ‘I did not sit up half the night, nursing you through the bloody-croup as a baby, so that you could run amok in my hospital,’ she said, her unblinking eyes boring into his.
    ‘And you. Leonard Dempster. Two broken legs, wasn’t it?’ Her eyebrows knitted together. ‘What would your poor dear mother say?’
    ‘Dunno, ma’am,’ Lenny muttered. ‘Sorry, ma’am.’
    ‘Phoebus McManus! Maddox Murphy. Lawrence Patterson …’ One by one, sheshamed them all. ‘That I should live to see the day when you come back to St Jude’s, a place of healing, and display such disgraceful behaviour!’
    As cowed as whipped puppies, the gang members stared at their boots, their shoulders sloped and heads hanging. The matron crossed her arms.
    ‘My nurses shall dress your wounds and admit the more serious cases to our wards. The rest of you may leave … Now.’
    The nurses, including Lucy Partleby, sprang into action, efficiently assessing the injuries and treating them as the matron looked on. Meanwhile Thump, Lenny and the other uninjured gang members sloped out of the hospital, muttering under their breath. This clearly wasn’t the end of the matter.
    Looking down, I saw that I was still clutching the two tickets, and I scanned the hall in search of Lucy, who had yet to answer my question. What I saw banished all thoughtsof a romantic evening at the music hall from my mind.
    Striding across the hall was a young doctor, a wooden stethoscope in his hand. He wore a long black cape trimmed with ocelot fur and a swanky high hat with a dark-red band. As I watched him make his way through the crowd, Ada Gussage’s words from that nightmarish night came back to me.
    ‘He’s one of them graverobbers, I’d bet my last brass farthing on it …’

T he doctor strode towards the door, the metal tips to his boot heels clicking on the polished marble. I followed at a safe distance behind. As I emerged through the doorway, I looked down and saw him at the foot of the steps, climbing into an elegant two-wheeler that a hospital orderly had brought round from the carriage park.
    It was being pulled by a fine grey, and my gaze was drawn to the wealth of highly polished brasses which had been attached at the horse’s forehead, behind the ears and at the shoulders, with half a dozen more hanging from its martingale. Usually, these days, horsebrasses were mere decoration, but I knew that there were still those who believed the amulets could distract the ‘evil eye’.
    Pools of fuzzy light, thrown out by the two magnificent brass lamps which were fixed to the front of the carriage, spilled out over the pavement. The doctor tipped the orderly with a silver coin and climbed into the carriage. Taking the reins, he gave them a light twitch. The horse whinnied – two long plumes of mist pouring from its nostrils – and, with a lurch, trotted off briskly along the narrow road, the clopping of its hooves and clatter of the carriage wheels echoing back and forth between the buildings on either side.
    I gave chase, running down the steps of St Jude’s and off along the pavement until I spotted a conveniently positioned drainpipe that offered me a simple and unbroken climb to the rooftops. Thankfully, a

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