Start with the Prologue.
Then, move on to Chapter One.
You will find the link to the next chapter at the end of each section.
If given the choice of living as a young woman without an arm, I would choose dying.
What would my daughter wish? Would she choose life at all costs if she could speak?
I had the dubious benefit of knowledge of the world as it was. She would long to be loved but it would always remain unrequited. She would be unable to work or to support herself and how long would my fortune last? There were no relatives upon whom she could rely if something were to happen to me.
To amputate her arm would mean consigning her to utter, lifelong isolation. I could not do that.
Yet, I was not willing to give her up. If she died, I died.
We would fight, she and I.
I needed to gather the coneflowers I had seen growing in Mrs. Fenuiel’s garden. I was surprised when I recognized them, tall and pink, as I thought they only grew in America.
“Oh, those?” She shrugged when I asked about them. “The seed was a gift, sent from an old American friend years ago. I keep meaning to rip them out.” She shook her wrinkled, old head. “I hate that woman now.”
Get all of them!” I ordered, calling after the young maid as she left out the door. Mrs. Fenuiel would not mind, I was certain.
They did not grow as tall as those back home had, the more rainy climate likely did not agree with them. Still, they would serve their purpose I hoped. The pale pink flowers, stems, and roots were for an antiseptic paste I had seen used by the midwives back home as a child. Typically it was made from dried plants but we did not have that kind of time.
I set about readying what I would need.
A knife from the kitchen.
Linen torn into strips for bandages.
I laid Anne on blankets on the kitchen work table, exposing her red and bloated little arm. The older housekeeper held it still in case she moved. Quickly, I cut into the flesh over the site of the inoculation.
I wanted to finish this before the young girl returned with the flowers. She had a gentle spirit and was not cut out for such things. The housekeeper herself was looking pale.
I cut deeper, my hands shaking. Anne stirred slightly as a cloud of foul smelling purulence mixed with blood poured forth. Thankfully she did not scream.
I could not bear it if she had screamed.
I expressed as much of the pus as I could out of the small incision using my fingertips, then rinsed the area with warm water.
Once the maid returned with a large basket of the coneflowers, I rinsed several of them and ground them into a runny paste with the mortar and pestle. Scooping several spoonfuls out, I wrapped it into a wide strip of linen and laid it across her arm, binding it firmly into place, careful to not cut off the circulation.
Warm compresses were laid over that and changed out every 30 minutes as I held Anne in the rocking chair in the drawing room.
Fight like with like… heat for heat.
Every six hours I would change out the coneflower paste. Why six hours? I did not know. It felt right somehow.
In the heat of the moment I had not thought ahead. “Just pull them all!” I had said. Now as I sat waiting, hoping for my miracle, I considered how to store the flowers between paste preparations. Put them in water? Hang them from the kitchen rafters to dry? Leave them to wilt on the counter?
Hang them. Hang them all.
Even though she was not interested, I expressed milk from my aching, engorged breasts a few drops at a time into her mouth.
Two days of this.
Finally the maid could take no more and sent again for the Reverend Drummond, intending that he should give comfort in my daughter’s passing. He had been here once before two days ago, shortly after I cut open the abscess in her arm.
He had not offered peace.
He now entered the room and passed his hat and coat to the weary looking housekeeper, his boots clumping on the wooden floor loudly enough that I woke from a fitful dozing slumber.
Anne also stirred. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at me as if she knew that I was her mother.
Ignoring the fact that a man of God was also in the room, I bared a breast and smiled as she latched on.
My heart sang.
I looked up at the Reverend, full of joy.
He was scowling down at me, hate in his eyes.
“I.. I am sorry for exposing myself.” I stammered. But I did not mean it. My daughter came first. She needed fluids and sustenance.
“Either you brought the favor of the Lord down upon her and saved her life through a miracle or you called upon power from another, more sinister being.” The Reverend’s eyes narrowed. “I doubt your faith is such that it brought about a divine miracle.”
Truth be told, if the devil had shown up on my doorstep and asked for my soul in return for her life I would have given it for her gladly.
But he had not.
Nor had God.
I had saved her.
“Get out of my house,” I said.
At first everything seemed fine. I peeked under the dressing on Anne’s arm periodically while she was sleeping and it appeared to be healing well. She smiled and played and ate, giggling at my silly faces.
After a few days, redness developed.
I tried not to worry too much. After all, I had been told that she would develop a sore. This must be it.
The following day it did not go away.
The next day the redness and swelling was worse.
The day after that she started with fever and would wail if anyone touched her.
Should I be worried? I did not want to seem like a fool.
Midday I could take it no longer. I sent a message to the doctor, telling him what was occurring. I sealed the note on stationary and sent it by way of the maid.
The message back was brief and barely legible. I squinted at it, turning in the light to make it out:
Please understand that these reactions are normal and merely a part of the process.
I could not read the signature scrawled across the bottom.
I tried to calm myself down. We were expected at his office the day after next to have the pox measured and a certificate of immunity completed. Surely we could wait.
I made and applied warm compresses, afraid to do much more than that.
Still, the next day it worsened further. Anne refused to take the breast. She was a hot coal in my arms, listless and disengaged.
I called for a carriage and carried her, whimpering, to the man’s clinic insisting that he examine the arm.
I was made to wait as several other people came and went: A laborer with a hand wound, bleeding. An old, stooped woman who walked with a cane and a limp who led a small, disheveled girl of about four. I could not tell which of the two was the patient.
Finally, he beckoned. I followed.
He was exasperated but could see that I would not be turned away. I unwrapped the blankets and pulled back the sleeve of the gown. Anne stirred slightly, eyes fluttering but not opening.
The redness was streaking, extending now almost to her shoulder.
His face blanched as he rushed to cover the swollen, bloated arm again.
“What?” I asked. Admittedly, I was somewhat relieved that I was not simply histrionic, that I was correct to believe something was not right.
“That is bad. Very bad.” He took a step back.
“Well?” I waited. “Bad, how?”
He ran a hand through his hair and shifted uncomfortably. My heart began pounding.
Had I waited too long, then?
“She is very ill. I am sorry.” He sighed. “This happened to the young boy vaccinated before her.”
“What do you mean? Which boy? He is fine now, isn’t he?” I could feel my voice rising.
He shook his head and took another step back.
“She might be saved but I doubt you want to do what it would require.” He paused. “There are some things worse than death.”
“She is going to die? You did this to her, you bastard!” I stepped toward him, speaking through my clenched teeth. “You did this to her, now fix her…” My voice caught and turned into a sob.
He winced and took a deep breath.
“We need to amputate her arm.”
At that moment I was suddenly back in the Crimea, holding down soldiers’ arms and legs feeling the vibrations from the saw as it chewed through bone, the weight of the severed limb.
I looked down at Anne’s feverish face and saw her almost grown up, lovely in a ball gown. I could hear the music start as she turned gracefully, exposing the fact that she had only one arm.
And I knew.
Anne played with her fingers in her mouth. I pulled the blanket over her better in case she was also catching a draft. She looked up at my face and giggled.
Was I truly cold or was the shaking merely nerves?
The day before I had run into Reverend Drummond again outside the meat market. He nodded, touching the brim of his hat as he passed. I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him aside. At first his eyes registered shock that I had touched him.
“So sorry,” I mumbled. “Why didn’t you tell me that I needed to vaccinate and register?”
“I assumed you already knew.” I could tell that was a lie, his fingers tapped across his lips. A clergyman lying. I wanted to laugh. He paused for a moment, as if weighing whether or not to give voice to his remaining thoughts. Deciding to continue on, he lowered his voice. “I am not sure we should be trying to change God’s will. If God wills someone to have smallpox, who are we to try to step in and change that path? We are not God.”
Mrs. Finueil had not been helpful, either. She had lost a first husband and two children to smallpox but she did not look favorably upon the issues of vaccination.
“There is mixing of the blood of the races.” She gripped the sides of her armchair, her knuckles turning whiter than they already were. “The lymph used is mixed across races. Do you want colored blood being given to your child? It is deplorable.” She had scowled at me. “Don’t you do that to your precious baby!”
And when I had sent for two physicians to come to the house to vaccinate, they had both refused. They refused to vaccinate. Could they do that?
I shivered again.
A door opened and I looked up. A woman was ushered out, drying her eyes with a delicate lace handkerchief. She sniffled and avoided eye contact. I felt that I needed to hug her, offer a condolence of some sort. I wrestled with the urge.
It was not my place, was it?
Then she was gone. The bell at the door tinkled merrily as the door opened and closed behind her.
A throat was cleared. I turned.
The doctor was staring at me. He beckoned silently with his hand, indicating I was to follow him.
I settled myself onto a hard wooden bench in the exam room, propping the cooing Anne up against my chest.
“What brings you in today, Madame?”
Anne squirmed in my lap, drool gurgling from around her fingers. “I understand that my child is required by law to be vaccinated.”
“Ah, yes. You are a bit late on that point, aren’t you?” He looked at Anne and then smiled at me. “We can remedy that in a jiffy.”
“Wait. First, I have questions.”
“No need for questions. This is the best for the infant. You want to be a good mother, don’t you?”
He did not wait for an answer.
You don’t understand, do you? She is my everything. If I lose her, I lose myself…
He began rummaging through a drawer, gray head bent. Not finding what he was looking for, he moved on to another, and then another.
“Ah, wait. I remember.” He stood and walked over to a cabinet against the far wall. He returned with a long ivory instrument with four sharp prongs on one end and a blade on the other. There was dried blood on the prongs.
“Just hold her bare arm out straight for me.” He sat down on a stool opposite me and held up the instrument.
“Shouldn’t that be cleaned?”
He looked down at it, puzzled. “Oh, no. That is the lymph we will be using on him.”
“Her. I beg your pardon.” He reached for her hand and pulled it from her mouth, shoving the sleeve of her little gown up high, exposing a bare forearm. She tried to pull it back but he held tight. She looked up at me, startled.
“This will just take a second.”
I watched in horror as he drew X’s on her arm, the blood welling up and then smeared as he rubbed it in. Ann’s screams of pain and terror were deafening and tears streamed down her face. The doctor tied a bit of cotton bandage to her arm and instructed me to not disturb it for a few days.
“She’ll be fine. It doesn’t really hurt all that much.” He patted her on the head and let out a great belly laugh. “You will have to bring her back so that I can measure the pustule. If it is not big enough we will have to repeat the inoculation before I can give you the required certificate.”
I tried to console her by rocking my body back and forth gently, her snotty face pressed against my chest as I fought back the urge to slap the man before me.
How dare he treat this in such a cold, calloused manner!
We were ushered out through the waiting room as I fought back tears myself.
Another woman sat on a chair with her son, a boy of about five years of age, sitting on her lap. His feverish eyes were wide as they followed the wailing baby in my arms out the door. He was no doubt terrified of what horrors lurked in that place.
As the door jingled closed I could hear a wet cough that clearly belonged to the boy. I prayed silently that he would recover.
The shopkeeper at the millinery shop was a middle aged woman with greying black hair and an extra wide double chin peeking out from the tightly wrapped black shawl about her neck. She stared at me with a single eyebrow raised.
“Registered?” Confusion and some degree of panic washed over me. Was there a rule or law I had broken? “How?”
The woman rolled her eyes. Yes. I saw her do it! She had not been terribly friendly to me and I had wondered about her…
It had not occurred to me, though, that I was required to register. Surely they would just know? From the midwife? From the Reverend after the christening?
No. I suppose not.
“How?” I asked again.
“At the registrars. You register at the registrars.” She spoke slowly, enunciating carefully. “That will be two pounds twenty.” As I dug for the correct change, she added, “You probably don’t know then that you will have to show proof of vaccination.”
“Vaccination?” I lost count of the money and sighed, starting again.
I paid for my purchase, a new dark blue silk bonnet trimmed in velvet, and travelled home as quickly as I could. My breasts felt heavy, I knew it was time to feed.
On my arrival at the cottage I was greeted by a cooing, giggling baby girl who was obviously delighted to see her mother. I took her from the maid and sniffed her white capped head. Heaven.
Three months old, today.
I put little Anne to my breast. I winced as the sudden sensation of pins and needles signified the let down of milk. Fists balled tight, she slurped greedily, her eyes blinking as they watched me closely.
Smallpox vaccination. I had not even entertained the idea of her ever contracting smallpox. She could, though, couldn’t she? She would be forever disfigured, scarred for life with pockmarks over her face and entire body… if she lived through it.
The vaccination was required? Since when? Was it safe?
By the time Anne was finished with the second breast, she was dozing peacefully. I placed her in the cradle by the fire and went in search of the housekeeper.
I found her in the kitchen head bowed over a chicken carcass, readying it for roasting for dinner. She was deftly wrapping the legs with twine but looked up when I entered.
“Did you know that I needed to vaccinate Anne and register her?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She waited silently, not sure if she should keep working.
“I will need to see a doctor to vaccinate her?”
“Well, you could see one of the public vaccinators but I wouldn’t go and do that.” She went back to the twine and whispered, “They kill people.”
“What? They kill people?”
She tied off the knot. “Oh, miss, I knew of a baby whose arm rotted off when they took him to the public vaccinator and another who died with convulsions eight days later.”
“What do they do?” All of my medical training had been on the battlefields of the Crimea. I had no knowledge of smallpox vaccination practices.
“Oh, ma’am, it’s terrible! They cut the arm and inject lymph from another person into it. Such screaming.” She shook her head disapprovingly.
She tossed the bird into a roasting pan after rubbing it with salt and pepper and sprigs of rosemary and slid it into the oven. The heavy metal door slammed loudly.
Wiping her hands on her apron, she turned back to me.
“It’s the law, though. Bless those fools who think they know better than us folks.”
At that precise moment Anne began wailing.
“Here, you should give her another dose of this.” The maid handed over a large brown bottle. It read:
Atkinson & Barker’s Royal Infants’ Preservative
It is no misnomer Cordial! —no stupefactive, deadly narcotic! —but a veritable preservative of Infants!
I turned the bottle of dark liquid to read the ingredients. None were listed.
“How long have you been giving this to her?”
“Almost a month now, three times a day.” She grinned proudly then busied herself with some potatoes in a pail.
I left the bottle on the table as I left to console the sobbing child, resolving to ask the druggist about the ingredients next time I was in his shop. If that was why she stopped fussing so suddenly back then, I just might be a believer.