Chapter Seventy-One: A Pox Upon You

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The waiting room was cold. I shivered, pulling the wrap around me tighter.

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.”

“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.

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