. Bone Fever
Friday, October 10th, The day of the fire
It was a quarter past seven when the sun first broke above the eastern horizon, a blazing maroon disk filtered through clouds of chimney soot, illuminating the streets and alleys in smouldering umber tones.
“Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning,” the driver of the two-horse lorry said aloud while en route eastward through the narrow cobbled streets of the old village of Clockhaven.
“What was that Jack?” spoke up the slim, dark-haired man by the name of Randall Flax, whose reclining posture on the bench beside the driver seemed to suggest he felt the day had started just a little too early.
“A saying of my old grandah’ is all,” replied the driver, a burly middle-aged labourer by the name of John Farquhar, whose years of bootlegging earned him the moniker, Whiskey Jack. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning sailors take warning.”
“He was a sailor?” Flax asked. “Your grandpa, I mean.”
“Indeed,” Whiskey Jack replied, eyes looking back through time. “From Port Hoffsin way he was.”
“Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning…” said Flax, repeating the words of Whiskey Jack. He narrowed his eyes a moment, trying to appraise what he could see of the earthy-red sky through the spaces between the buildings up ahead. “Good thing we ain’t sailors then, eh.”
“We stopping here?” asked Randall Flax as Whiskey Jack pulled up by the ramp and stairs leading to Market Square.
“I don’t fancy taking the lorry through the tunnel. It’s just a tad too narrow for my liking.” Jack explained. “You get halfway through then meet some dimwit trying to come through the other way rather than waiting his turn. That kind of road ignorance fires me into a right awful rage, let me tell you.”
Jack swung his legs over the side of the bench and hopped off the lorry. “We can carry her the rest of the way easy enough. It’s just through there and to the left, backing onto the Old Quarter.”
“Sweet bloody Builder I know where it is! You think I’m dense or what? Everybody knows where that place is,” said Flax. “But hold to for a sec would you? I need a smoke to calm my nerves before we carry on.”
“Better be quick about it then,” said Whiskey Jack, pulling out his watch to check the time. “We’re expected there for seven-thirty prompt.”
Flax took his pipe and a pinch of tobacco from his pouch, tamped it down, then lit it with a single wooden match. After a few contemplative puffs he joined Jack standing by the side of the lorry.
“Listen– I just want to say I feel a certain unease over what we’re doin’ here,” said Flax after spending a moment regarding the tiny mound hidden beneath an old woolen blanket.
“What do you mean, unease?” asked Jack, who chose that moment to clear his throat of some methylated tobacco-infused phlegm that he then spat upon the cobbles with audible excess.
“Takin’ this kid over to that place, you know,” said Flax while puffing away on his pipe.
“Church says she’s got bone fever, she needs a hospital.” Whiskey Jack shrugged his shoulders. “It’s for the child’s own well being.”
“That place to where we’re going ain’t no hospital,” scoffed Randall. “It’s a place for crazy rich kids. This one we got with us probably ain’t crazy and she certainly ain’t rich.”
“Calm yourself Randall. Nowhere else would have a kid with bone fever- ‘cept for the doctor here at this place. I know the gent personally too, I do handy work, odd jobs and such, for him and his little missus at their property on the west side.”
“I know the place, fancy yellow house up on the hill in Coronet Gardens.”
“That’s the place,” Whiskey Jack nodded. “The wife’s a mighty nice piece. She’s like a china doll, that Martha Foehammer, pretty as a picture. Had a baby last year, a boy if I recall.”
“What’s this Dr. Foehammer like?” asked Randall. “I hear tell there’s something off about him.”
“He’s a tad on the aloof side but he always pays well. You mark my words, Dr. Foehammer will take good care of this little one.”
“What kind of care? Ain’t nothin’ to be done for the bone fever but to wait it out.” said Flax, working himself up into a state of agitation. “I’m from Falun, I know all about the bone fever. She may live she may die – ain’t no doctor going to change that. Besides, look at her sleepin’ there. She don’t got no shakes nor rackets. She’s sleepin’ still as a corpse. My guess is she’s over the bone fever meanin’ she’s safe now.”
“But ain’t she going to be deformed?” said Whiskey Jack. “I heard the kids that survive are all gnome-like and such afterwards. What would a girl like that do with her life? Clean privies during the night shift I suppose.”
“You really know nothin’ do you? We’re takin’ a child to that place and she more ‘an likely don’t got nothin’ wrong with her other than she’s a little short is all. Half of my home town don’t stand more than five feet tall.” Flax stopped long enough to take a calming haul off his pipe. “What we’re about to do just ain’t right is what I’m trying to say.”
“So what if it ain’t right! What can we do about it? Will you take her? Great Builder man, you already got seven kids underfoot you can’t afford another mouth. And you know me – I hate kids, even if I could afford one.”
“Dammit!” Flax exclaimed. “Seven kids is exactly how I know what we’re doing is a crime. It’s only by using threats of the place where we’re takin’ this one to that keeps all of mine in line. Behave! I says to them, or it’s the Dunsany for you lot. I don’t never get no back-talk after that.”
“Shut-up!” Whiskey Jack hissed. “There ain’t no call for talk like that in public. What if someone were to overhear you?”
“So what if they do?” said Flax. “It’s been a couple of years at least since people been saying things ain’t right over there.” He then looked back into the wagon. “You wanna know something? I’m going to rouse her. We could say she woke up and run off.”
“Ain’t going to work. Look at her. She didn’t stir not once over all the cobbly bumps from the church to here. That one’s been given a little something to make sure she don’t wake up before we get to where we’re going.”
Whiskey Jack reached into the back of the lorry, gathered the ends of the blanket together, then with one arm grabbed the blanket as though it were a sack of potatoes and swung the sleeping child up over his shoulders. “By the Builder!” he said. “This one can’t be more than forty-five pounds.”
“Come on Jack,” Flax implored again, banging his pipe against the side of the lorry to empty it of ash. “Let’s just say she run off and give the church back what they paid us. Take her to my place. Agnes will look after her for a couple of days, then we’ll set her out on the street after she’s got a nice full belly and a new pair of mitts. She’d be a lot better off on the street than at this place. I mean, it ain’t even a real hospital.”
“Not a traditional hospital, agreed, but I assure you I am a real doctor.” The two delivery men, both caught unaware, spun to face a tall, well dressed man in his early thirties.
“Dr. Foehammer, sir,” said Whiskey Jack his neck and cheeks reddening as he adjusted the bundle atop his shoulders again. “I apologize on behalf of my partner here, you’ll have to forgive him. He’s a foreigner.”
“I ain’t no foreigner you bugger,” said Flax who removed his hat out of respect for the gentleman. “I’m from Falun. That ain’t more ‘an a two day ride from here.”
The young doctor regarded Randall Flax who shifted from foot to foot under Foehammer’s intense scrutiny. It was impossible to read what the doctor was thinking behind his emerald-eyed stare. Flax actually breathed a slight sigh of relief when the doctor’s focus shifted to the small bundle Whiskey Jack had hoisted up upon his shoulders.
“Gentlemen, I won’t detain you here and I would ask you not tarry until the charge has been delivered. I am going to stop in at the bakery before going to the office. My matron, Mrs. Chandler is awaiting your arrival. She will relieve you of the child on my behalf.”
“Yes sir,” the two men nodded in unison.
“Oh, Mr. Farquhar, before I forget,” Dr. Foehammer addressed Whiskey Jack, “wait for me in the lobby before you leave. I have a package I would like you to deliver to the Royal Oak over in Babbage. Martha’s cousin, one of the Faulkner girls, is getting married this afternoon and they’re having the reception at the Royal Oak at six.”
“I know it, the lorry’s half full with supplies I’m meant to deliver,” replied Whiskey Jack. “The Faulkner/Tripsa wedding is a big social affair, ain’t it? Father Moonwall is officiating the service himself.”
“It is a great overblown affair so it is only fitting he should officiate.” Dr. Foehammer said curtly. “Carry on gentlemen, I will be along shortly.”