. The Rectory on the Telford
The church rectory was a large, well-maintained house that had been in place on the south bank of the Telford inlet since before the fall of the empire. It was an old wooden structure that belonged not just to another century but another era. Its odd style and large, immaculately gardened property stood in stark contrast to the overcrowded working class neighbourhood that had grown up around it.
Standing by his study window on the second floor, Brother Juris Pizzaro had an unobstructed view across to the more opulent north shore. “The chimney for the cable ferry needs cleaning,” he said to the acolyte seated at the table beside him. Though it was his natural manner of speaking, the brother’s tone often left people with the impression he felt himself above the common fray. “How very like Mr. Shaw to disregard common courtesy. Look at all that soot soiling the clothes of his passengers. No wonder people choose to walk to the bridge.”
The boy of about fifteen, an experienced scribe, said nothing in reply. The brother was simply making an observation and would not be expecting a response. The worn, old floors creaked as Brother Pizarro took a step away from the window and squinted down at the page of script.
“Would you mind reading back to me what has been dictated thus far, Tobias,” said Pizarro.
“From the beginning, Brother?” the boy asked.
“Skip the preamble,” said Pizarro. “Begin with: Whatever personal opinions you might hold regarding the sinking of the foreign ship Mont Blanc…”
“Whatever personal opinions you might hold regarding the the sinking of the foreign ship Mont Blanc, it will be the official position of the church— “ the boy stopped abruptly and looked as though he were trying to swallow several time in rapid succession.
“What’s wrong?” asked Pizzaro, noting at once the sudden pallor of the boy’s complexion. “Are you ill?”
“I don’t know brother,” Tobias replied. “I suddenly feel a little light-headed.”
“How much of the barley soup did you have for lunch—one or two bowls?” asked Pizzaro with a note of concern.
“Just one, Brother, I never take more,” replied the young scribe. “But I don’t feel it is hunger.”
“Come here by the light of the window,” Pizzaro said. Tobias rose and stood before the cleric. “Tip your head back,” Pizzaro said as he noted a slight clouding of the scribe’s eyes. The brother reached over with his thumb and peeled down the boy’s lower eyelid; first the right then the left. “You feel feverish.” Pizzaro paused. Something had changed in young Tobias’s eye— as though his senses had suddenly fled. The fit of apoplexy came with little warning. It was by reflex alone that Brother Pizzaro was able to catch the boy in time to prevent his head from hitting the corner of the desk.
A moment later Tobias lay on the floor, his body turned to the side, convulsing with a seizure.
“How many?” Father Moonwall asked, turning from the door to the junior dormitory. Brother Pizzaro closed the door with barely a click.
“Twenty-six,” replied Pizzaro. “All of them under under the age of sixteen.”
“Twenty-six!” Father Moonwall exclaimed. Even in the dim light of the dormitory hallway Pizzaro could see Moonwall’s ruddy complexion framed by a wild tangle of untamable hair. The church father, already dressed in his formal robes for the wedding at the Royal Oak rubbed the back of his neck and took a deep, audible breath of concern. He had a deep almost manic look about him as he met Brother Pizarro’s eye. “These fitful attacks are continuing?”
“Intermittently,” replied Pizzaro. “I have timed them all. There appears to be no pattern.”
“The child from Falun; this is the same illness?”
“That would be the logical assumption.” Brother Pizzaro nodded.
“This doesn’t make sense, Juris,” said Father Moonwall. “From my understanding this doesn’t seem to be bone fever.”
“Not much is known of that illness, but I concur with that observation,” said Brother Pizzaro. “What troubles me most is the suddenness with which it has attacked these children. I am concerned. The fever has still not peaked.”
“I’ll have a wagon sent over to Jacob Perkins’s ice factory,” said Father Moonwall. “Watch them closely. If it continues to worsen send for Foehammer.” Father Moonwall turned abruptly to depart, then just as abruptly halted his retreat. “But Juris,” he turned to face Pizarro, raising his index finger to make a point. “Do not send any more children to Clockhaven.”