This week, a short story, from early in the Fever Season, when the Rabbit Hole hadn’t been open long and nobody knew much about why folks were changing.
Fred Dobbins came in from the barley field at noon to find his wife loading a basket into the donkey-cart. Two wooden boxes full of jars and a cloth-wraped ham from the smokehouse had already been put in, and he could see a bag of flour on the kitchen table through the open doorway of the farmhouse.
“Long trip I ain’t been told of?” he asked, putting the end of the hoe down on the ground and leaning on it.
His wife heaved the basket into place and wiped her hands on her apron.
“Davy run over from th’ ‘Awkins place. Annie’s growin’, Fred.” A brief pause. “She’s growin’ ‘orns.”
Fred took a step forward. “No,” he said, his voice shaking. “Not the Fever. Not ‘ere, Maggie. Not ‘ere.”
She nodded once, grim. “Aye, Fred, it’s th’Lookin’ Glass. Ben’s been feedin’ ‘er everything in the ‘ouse but he can barely keep up, and they’re goin’ to run short, and he’s got coos needin’ milkin’.”
Fred caught at her arm as she tried to hurry back into the house. “You can’t mean t’go over there! An’ with all this?” He waved a hand at the cart. “What’ll we eat come winter?”
She shook off his hand. “Fred Dobbins, this’s our neighbor we’re speakin’ of now. Where’s your charity?”
He stepped into her way as she tried to resume her efforts. “But th’ Fever! Maggie, they still don’t know as t’how it spreads, an’ there’s been nobody down from th’city but th’post and th’dairy train since it began.”
She waved him off. “Fred,” in a warning tone, “if it was cholera you’d not think a moment. You’d be drivin’ me over there t’nurse th’family yourself. An’ there’s no cure for that, don’t you forget.”
“Aye, but –“
“But me no buts, Mr. Dobbins.” She went around him, into the kitchen, swung the sack of flour up onto her shoulder. “Someone’s got t’see Annie through this, and th’good Lord has seen fit that I got th’ news of it.”
Fred, at least, had the sense to get out of the doorway. “Again I’ll ask you, y’go feedin’ ‘er all this, what are any of us goin’ t’have come March?”
Maggie planted herself before him, fists on her hips. “Fred Dobbins, you’d leave a neighbor an’ a good friend t’starve out o’worry for your own stomach and you call yourself a Christian? Oh, th’vicar’s goin’ t’ave some words for you, you can bet your ‘at on that!”
Fred’s shoulders lumped. He sighed. Leaning the hoe against the house, he started down the steps to the root cellar. “I’ll bring up two pecks of tatties, y’think?”
“Best make it three,” Maggie said, her voice warming. “An’ ‘alf th’mince, I ‘ear fat an’ sweets ‘elp with th’growin’.”