Title: Second Summer
Rating G-- But there is a very sick small child
Word Count 515
He shut the door against the wind.
The little front room was dim, and smelled already of sickness. Their bed sat in an alcove. He felt his lip quirk. The houses of the great had stairs, servants. Here everything was to hand at least. He was just as glad of no stairs. They had fetched him from bed, and he was tired.
“Have you other children?” His voice felt sharp and too loud in the little room. They had sought him, but he was no less an intruder for it.
“Just the one, Sir. My ma has her-- we didn't want her to take it, or to see...”
The man bent his head, his voice struggled, held.
“You did right--” John Hornblower moderated his tone.
“My wife Sir.” The woman came up from her chair, ungainly. Her middle swollen, six months gone, John Hornblower guessed.
She dipped a curtsy. Her hands over her mouth. She did not look long away from the bed.
Start them with easy questions, that was the way.
John Hornblower reached out, pushed back the child's hair. The little face was sharp, pale, strangely adult looking. The skin was tight, and dry with fever. They had waited long. It would have been better to find him sweating.
“How old is he?”
“He'll be three in September, Sir. We were--” She sobbed briefly, “We were weaning him.” She looked down, her voice broke. Here was her guilt. “My milk went.”
“Hmm.” No surprise there. The mother was strong enough looking, but thin.
“But he didn't understand-- and he didn't like the cup, and he thought he had done something wrong. He cried, but we made him- “
“Weaning is a dangerous time.”
Useless to say that. Everyone who had walked a churchyard knew that. But they nodded at him, like puppets, as if he had said something wise.
“When did the purging begin?”
“Yesterday. There is-- there is blood in it.”
“And vomiting, and fever.”
One more question.
“What is his name?”
“John, sir. We-- we call him Johnny.”
The little eyes opened.
“Hullo Johnny.” Dr Hornblower smiled.
The little eyes were slits of blue, unfocused. The child took no notice of the stranger at his bedside. That was bad, but Dr Hornblower had seen this before. He had a few tricks of his own.
“A cup of water,” He said
“Aye, water. No milk for now.”
So they began. It would be a long night.
The transition from the breast to the cup was a dangerous time. Before we got the fridge, before Pasteur, many children died of gastroenteritis. They were especially vulnerable in the second summer of life. They were still small, but often no longer on the breast.
Doctor H is going to do his best, but he does not have much to work with.