The stricken look of his countenance gave me to know it was more serious than a simple illness. I waited as I watched Rupert gather his words. Lenora put a hand to my shoulder and squeezed. “I fear we have a greater devil than Abercrombie aboard. Innis is out of his mind with fever.” Rupert looked down at the floor and swallowed. “He has the black vomit. I fear it be yellow jack.”
These words pounded a stake into my heart. I got up and went to the infirmary. Four now lay abed in that small space. One look at Innis left no question of his state and the dark doom that befell all of us. He lay screaming that his limbs had been set afire as the blood ran from his gums. I had seen the same delirium when my mother took ill. Her skin, too, had had the same sallow cast as Innis’. She had died within a week. “Yellow jack.” I closed my eyes against the evil of the words.
“Yellow jack?” Lenora still stood behind me, her face gone pale. I thought to tell her to go; I needed her to be gone from this place of death.
I put my hand to her shoulder and steered her toward the cabin. “Aye, the yellow fever. ’Twas in Rio these past months. Some four hundred souls perished and yet it worsens. ’Tis the scourge of
the southern climes.”
She stopped to look at me, her eyes grown wide. “Surely there is something we can do.”
“Nay, love. Naught but pray. I fear ’tis too late for poor Innis.” I wished now I had opiates aboard. That vile black substance could be put to good use in easing pain in such a hopeless case as the crewman’s.
Tears ran down Lenora’s cheeks. She had more kindness for the men than they deserved. “We must be strong, mon amie.” I said, brushing the tear from her cheek.
“Aye, so we must.” She dabbed her tears with a handkerchief and went to sit by Maurice, who moaned lightly in his sleep. She took the boy’s hand. “Find me a cloth and some cool water. We must
bring his fever down.”
“You cannot stay here.” My voice came out as a demand. I wanted to stow her safe away in our cabin. It would not comfort me to leave her here among the sick. I was still learning her then, and had not yet come to understand the fullness of my wife’s compassion. Nor the strength of her will. She took a bucket of cold water from Rupert and dunked a cloth into it. “The crew is sick. You have but a handful to get us to port. You have no second mate to attend to the sick.” She wrung the cloth and placed it on Maurice’s brow. “You need all hands.” With this she held out her lovely, snow white fingers to me. “Including these two.”
I took her dear hands into my own. “I cannot leave you among disease and ruffians. Please, Lenora.”
She put those sweet fingers to my mouth. “Maurice is sick. You care for the boy and so do I. I do not mind being needed. All the men here are sick and in need of care.”
“My sweet girl, I wish the world were as kind as you make it out to be.” My heart swelled at her conviction. I wanted to lay her in the berth and love her with all the tenderness she deserved. I did not
want to leave her here. Yet, what choice had I?
“The world is as kind as you make it to be, Anton.”