“Come on, Evelyn. You have to do better…” In the silence and emptiness of the house I had taken to speaking aloud to myself. This time the words twisted a lock in my heart and sobs poured from me, buckets of grief that had been buried deep.
Anne had finally cried herself to sleep and the loneliness had crept in on the wings of a cricket that sat chirping somewhere by the hearth.
I wanted it to die but I could not find it.
After the stress and anxiety and days without feeding, my breasts had become empty sacks and no amount of suckling could bring the milk back to its previous plenty.
Anne, having survived the infection, was slowly starving to death it seemed. She screamed and fussed, her thin little arms beating against my chest as she wailed, more irritable by the day.
I began scouring books for suggestions of what to feed an infant. She was too young yet for any table food.
Her right arm had been saved but the infection had left her ring and little fingers curved under grotesquely, like a claw. She could not move them.
Each day I tried to straighten the fingers out, hoping that someday she would regain use. I did not want them to become frozen stiff and unbending as I had seen of the injured limbs of soldiers in the Crimea.
I am losing hope.
God had left our house along with the Reverend Drummond, and with them the maid and housekeeper. There were whispers about that I was a witch, that no one should have, could have, done what I had done. Hiring new staff became impossible and people around town went so far as to cross to the other side of the road when they saw me coming.
As a consequence, no wet nurse would agree to hire.
Don’t you see that you are all conspiring to kill her!?!??!
There was no choice but to attempt to bring her up by hand but this was fraught with hazards.
Some recipes insisted on gelatin and arrowroot and varying amounts of cream, though no logical reasoning for such was presented.
I opted for simplicity, the use of fresh cows milk diluted with an equal quantity of barley water and a teaspoon of added sugar. As spring broke into summer, I knew diarrheal illness lurked. It was impossible to use milk from only one cow as we did not live in the country. What was delivered made the trek of miles in the back of a creaky wooden cart. Runny stools with subsequent death was a hazard to spoon fed infants in warmer months and to combat that, I began to include a bit of beef suet as the books suggested.
Scrofula was also a constant fear. The books instructed not boil the milk before use but I scrubbed the feeding cups and mouth pieces as thoroughly as I could, all the while praying that no further ill would befall her.
Remember, God, if she dies…
Some color came back to her little cheeks but Anne continued to fuss, angry with each sip and spoonful so I made a pap of stale bread, milk sugar, and beer and began to give her that with a weak beef tea that seemed to sate her. She was not particularly happy to be eating from a pap boat but she liked it better than the bottles and truthfully it was much easier to clean.
Feedings became an all consuming ritual as procuring supplies and the preparation and clean up were labor intensive. It became my religion.
Her curled under fingers did not improve despite my work with them. I fashioned a contraption with two forks and blocks of wood to hold her fingers open and left it on for days at a time, but the fingers did not stay that way once it was removed. When she swung her arm at me, the wooden and metal bits caused great pain… I abandoned the idea.
And so on this night as I fell into a fitful, exhausted sleep, I dreamed of a beautiful woman dressed all in red.