There were at least a dozen tents devoted to the Cholera. There was a small tent occupied by a single woman who sat at a desk with several piles of brochures. Looking closely, I could see the brochures were advertising for the Medical Societies, one stack for each of the five Societies.
“Hello,” said the woman at the table. “How are you today?”
“Just fine,” I said. “I was just wondering what this tent was about.”
“It’s a resource for people of the Kenton neighborhood,” she replied. “The Medical Societies want to make sure that the people are aware of the choices they have to treat or prevent the Cholera. They sponsored this tent and offered these free brochures. If someone needs their services, these are brief summaries of the Medical Philosophies and how to contact them.”
“Very nice,” I said.
“Is there a Cholera victim who needs our help?” she asked.
“No. But do you mind if I take a brochure?”
“Of course not.”
I took one of each and, after thanking the woman, continued walking around the Market. The brochures contained the same information in the newspaper advertisements. I did find some early tomatoes and cucumbers for dinner. There were also tents from many of the Guild members offering treatments and preventatives for the Cholera.
Therapeutic touch to realign and support the body’s natural vibrational state to resist the Cholera. And where, evidently, the patient was not touched.
Dry needling, where thin needles were placed in the skin to support the body’s resistance to the Cholera. It is most certainly not acupuncture; the provider emphasized repeatedly. I hoped they had good lawyers; the Eastern Philosophers would not let dry needling continue without an expensive legal battle.
There were many offering nutritional supplements and foods to support the body’s defenses against the Cholera. None of the offered treatments appeared to contain similar ingredients. I asked several just what it was they were supporting and how, and each had a different, albeit vague, response. None had a cause of the Cholera or knew what, exactly, their product was supporting. “You know, support,” said one, vigorously waving his hands to emphasize support, as if that made the explanation clear. I could not determine which, if any, could actually affect the Cholera. To judge from the price, I was certain these supplements were supporting a healthy bank balance.
Several tents offered jugs of natural, pure Kenton pump water, some with extra ingredients: silver added by one provider; another one that made the water more acidic, another more alkaline; yet another having altered the vibrational frequency of the water. I asked what that meant. It appeared water vibrated like a guitar string and the purveyors could alter the tone of the sting. How they applied a capo to water was vague. All these interventions were to support the body to prevent or treat the Cholera. I wondered what would happen if I drank all that water at once. I knew it would cure thirst, but would they cancel each other out?
Support was a nebulous concept, not even rising to the level of a sling, which would at least support a fractured arm. There was a lot of support provided by these interventions, as if the Cholera were a hernia and they offered a truss. Offering support allowed them to avoid saying their product was intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and, they hoped, avoid the legal wrath of the Medical Societies. It usually worked.
I walked back to the foot of Paul and again leaned against the statue. It was a pleasant, quiet part of the city, busy and prosperous but without the hectic feel of downtown. There seemed to be fewer people out and about than I would expect for such a nice day. I read the brochures while I waited.
I heard someone clear their throat and turned to see another person with pamphlets.
“Hello,” I said. “May I help you?”
He thrust out a piece of paper at me which I accepted, and asked, “Do you believe in the Lord?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Why?”
“The Bible. It contains the cure for the Cholera. As Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” And as Revelations says, “To the thirsty, I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” And does not Ezekiel say, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities?”
“The cure for all disease flows from our Lord Jesus Christ and manifests in the healing power of holy water. Join us Sunday, be immersed in the water, drink water, and be cured. Amen.”
As he walked off, I read the pamphlet.
By this holy water and by your Precious Blood, wash away all my sins, O Lord.
This Sunday be cured of the Cholera with the Blessings of our Lord and Savior.
The Cause of the Cholera is known: separation of humanity from the Divine source of health and healing
Be Healed in Holy Water
Baptism and Healing
Sunday. Sunset. Kenton Park.
The Water’s Edge
The Followers of Christ
I did not expect that. Faith healing had, to my knowledge, been on the decline in the Empire. Or was it? As I thought about it, I realized I really did not pay any attention to that aspect of society. It’s not as if I went to church. Maybe faith healing was popular. I made a note to make it to the event—perhaps a Pub field trip?
I walked back to Paul to find Kerri waiting for me.
“Nice day?” she said.
“The best. See?” I held up a bag. “Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Can’t beat that. Too bad we have to spoil it with work. Where do we stand? What do we have to do this afternoon?”
She held up a sheaf of papers. “This.”
“Let’s get to it.”
The day was much like my time with Susan. We went from house to apartment, checking on families who had been in quarantine for at least three days to see if they were over their illness. I asked questions and filled out my forms.
Most were in the recovery phase of their illness, tired but well. Kerri double-checked that everything was up to code with quarantine.
My forms filled with the same information as last time—nothing unusual in any of the households. No one had any observations that helped in determining the cause of the Cholera. There seemed to be no commonality. The Cholera seemed to come out of nowhere, for no reason, ran its course, and left the household. A few families had contact with other Cholera households, but most did not. There was no food or drink commonalities except for the standard diet of meat and potatoes.
I was starting to wonder if Portland was the dullest city in the Crown. No one seemed to do anything besides the routine of the working world. Or maybe it was Kenton. It was a mostly working-class part of town, so I suspect the inhabitants did not have much money to spend on extras. Many lived from wage packet to wage packet.
There seemed to be no patterns in the treatments or preventatives. Looking at the questionnaires, I saw the usual hodgepodge of interventions by the Societies, with a few Guild therapies thrown in. I hoped someone could find something of value in this mess because I sure could not.
The last household was the hardest, a family of five. We knocked on the door only to find that everyone, but the mother had succumbed to the Cholera the day before.
When the quarantine had started, only the father had been ill, but he died two days later, and on the same day, all three children had sickened and died in less than twenty-four hours.
Laid out on the floor were four bodies, arranged from the youngest, about two years old, to the father. Still, pale, with tight skin, all were in their Sunday best, ready for burial. Their mother and wife had collapsed in exhaustion and grief in the bedroom.
The room was spotlessly clean and silent, not even the buzz of a fly. I had seen the occasional death during the outbreak, and even a few clusters like the first day, but never a room full of dead children. Lives and futures lost to the Cholera, and the mother doubtless would never be the same.
I looked at the row of corpses. I felt like it was my doing and my ball of guilt and anxiety grew.
It was somehow more horrible than any of the other deaths I had witnessed. I had, I realized, a certain fatalism. It was the Cholera. We did not know what caused it, how it spread, or how to prevent or treat it. So, people would die. Lots of people would die. That is the way of the world. These bodies caused a shift in my perspective. The feeling that I was not doing everything in my power to halt the Cholera increased.
I could not let this continue to happen if there were anything, anything, I could do to prevent it. Consequences be damned. I had a big stone to turn over; I did not care what would crawl out. If the French could help with a new Natural Philosophy, the Methode Empirique, I needed to follow it. Somehow.
It was the last house, and Kerri and I separated, both feeling oppressed and saddened by the deaths.
When I returned to the office, Cassandra was just leaving the cubby room.
“Back to the sisters,” she said, “And no, I have nothing to report. But the sisters say they are almost ready.”
I handed her the day’s forms. “Add that to the pile,” I said. “And tell the sisters to hurry if they can. People are dying. Children are dying. We need the Cholera to stop.”
“I will,” said Cassandra. “But we are working our butts off. It is the UKM that is slow.”
“I understand. It has been a tough day and it has me feeling down.”
“I see that,” she said. “Hang on. The hussars will be to the rescue any day now.”
“I hope so,” I said.
I looked at slots on the wall. They revealed the same story: more cases, more deaths, and the Cholera spreading further south and west. We were rapidly getting behind, and I was not optimistic that we could ever catch up. It seems all we were going to do was count the dead and quarantine the living while the Medical Societies grew richer. Answers and solutions seemed as out of reach as ever.
I went back to my office to check on any message while I was out, and to my surprise, Mary Walker was there, looking anxious. Not a good look for her.
“Mary,” I said. “What an unexpected pleasure. What brings you by?”
She smiled grimly. “Close the door.”
I did. “What’s wrong?”
“Trouble,” she said.
“This.” She handed me an envelope. I looked inside, and it contained a copy of the Mesmer report I had given her. “I think everyone is gone from this office but you and me, and I think I was not followed here. I think. But after you left, I read part of this report and then put it in my safe. My safe. To which only I know the combination. A secure place.
“The next morning, I went to work, but when I returned, I think my room had been searched. The changes were subtle, but everything appeared to have been moved and then put back almost to where it had been before. I pay attention to details. It is part of being a surgeon and I have an eidetic memory. It was obvious to me that everything had been ever so slightly moved. And my safe? I always set the dial to the month of the year when I am done. It should have been on 6. It was at 7.
“The Crown, or someone, searched my room. I suspect they opened my safe, or at least tried. They know. And if they know, that means they could act. Ruin my life. Take my job. Leave me with nothing. I have heard it happen before to those who cross the Crown. And I do not want it to be me. At least not without a good reason.”
There was a long pause while I considered.
“How sure are you that someone was in your room and moved things about? Do you have people who clean your rooms?”
There was a pause.
“Well, yes, and she came today.”
“So how do you know it wasn’t the house cleaner?”
There was another pause.
“Because everything was moved and put back slightly off kilter. The house cleaner has never done that before.”
“Have you looked before?”
“Well, no. But the safe. Off by a number. The house cleaner does not have access to my safe.”
“There is that,” I said. “But there could be simpler explanations, like you were preoccupied and failed to set the dial with your usual routine.”
Mary did not look convinced. “I suppose this could all be my imagination. I suppose.” She shook her head.
“I keep thinking someone is following me,” I said. “Convinced of it. But I will be damned if I can catch someone in the act. Just paranoia on my part. I think.” I paused. “I hope.”
I told her about my discussions with Bosworth. “So, while I can say we were are being spied on, the powers that be are interested in what we are doing. I think that if we are discreet and do not rub the Crown’s nose in the Continental aspects of the investigation, they will leave us alone. As long as we solve the mystery of the Cholera.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?” she demanded when I had finished.
“Honestly, it never even occurred to me that you or the rest of us were at risk. Naive, I realize. But with the tsunami of Cholera, I haven’t had much time to think beyond the next hour.”
She nodded in understanding.
“But,” I amended, “I do not want to put you or the others at risk. What do you want me to do?”
“I am going to assume the worst case, despite your suggestions otherwise. Keep the report. I don’t want a copy. I read it and have it committed to memory. I don’t want incriminating evidence in my house. I do not want to lose my livelihood over this.”
“OK, Mary,” I said. “No problem. I would not ask you to do anything you think is dangerous.”
“And the Order,” she continued. “We have to be very careful. There is more than you and me who can get into trouble from this. I don’t know what to do, except I am going to mention it to those of the Order who are looking into the Cholera to tread lightly. They will get the hint. The Crown has its eye on us right now. Deru kugi wa utareru. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
“True,” I replied, “But if you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub.”
“Mary,” I continued. “The Cholera is rapidly getting out of control. The Crown does nothing except the quarantine. It relies on the Medical Societies for prevention and treatment, and they only help those who can pay, and I am convinced that they are all worthless. All of them. I suspect that the answer lies in a Continental approach to Natural Philosophy. Understanding the Cholera will be found in the techniques of the French. The ideas in the Mesmer Report are only the beginning.”
She looked at me and shook her head, lips tight. “Jordan,” she said. “I wish you the best. I really do. But we have to be careful. I don’t think I have what it takes to fight an invisible enemy with the power to discover the combination of my safe.”
“If they did,” I said.
“If they did,” Mary agreed. “But if they did? Then what else do they know? And will the Crown use that information against us? Give me an enemy I can grapple with, not some wraith.”
“I understand,” I said. “And I appreciate your letting others in the Order know that they might be under the eye of the Crown.”
She nodded. “Thank you for understanding. If I can be of help in any way in combating the Cholera, ask. I will be there for you. But the skills of a surgeon are not what is required at the moment. And unless I can truly be of benefit, I will not be involved. I don’t have what it takes. Be careful. I am sorry.”
And with that, she turned and left without a goodbye.
I sat for a long time as the sun set and the gas streetlights were lit, thinking about what Mary said and the potential ramifications for me, the Cholera, the Order, and the people of Portland.
I had two options. I could stop my current approach of trying to apply the Méthode Empirique to the Cholera, and more would die. Or I could hope a miracle occurred, and I solved the mystery of the Cholera before the Crown decided I needed to be squashed for fraternization with the enemy.
Good luck with that. Long ago I realized there were usually no good answers in Public Hygiene and in life. It was a matter of deciding what the least bad answer was. Continuing my investigations with the Rational Method seemed the least bad answer to the question of what was next.
I stood up and went home for the night.