Nan had more or less resigned herself to a boring day spent reading a treatises on the risks of flu in the elderly, when the first whispers of smallpox began to circulate through the medical university. Knowing well that the attending doctors often took students along on the rarer cases, Nan at once picked up her pencil and began to take notes with renewed zeal, hoping that her hard work would catch somebody’s attention.
“It’s been a long time since somebody in Concord got it, isn’t that right Nan?” whispered Tommy, who was sitting besides her. He looked proud of himself, for he rarely knew the details of any illness in Concord or anywhere else, and Nan had to fight the urge to shake him for daring to open his mouth.
“Nobody in our lifetime. Hush now.”
“Wouldn’t be caught dead messing with something like that. Gives me the shivers.”
“How’d somebody end up with that anyway? We’re all vaccinated against it as children, with cowpox scabs, yeah?”
“They haven’t used cowpox scabs for years. They aren’t half so effective as using the disease itself. And antivaccinationist theories are more and more in style amongst the rich. Some children develop cold symptoms after being inoculated, and it seems certain fashionable parties would rather protect their children from a headache and a stuffy nose than keep them from the worst disease of this century.”
Nan had been whispering to Tommy from behind her medical papers, and she put them down upon the table with an impassioned thump, glaring at them with a look that the boy next to her had sometimes seen directed towards him when she was in a particularly foul mood.
“You look like you want to wring some antivacinationist necks,” Tommy pointed out with a smile that struck Nan as absurd, given what they were talking about.
“Tommy,” another one of the boys that studied with them ran up, placing a hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “Morrison wants to see you. Asked for you expressly. Be a friend and see if you can’t get me in on this too?”
Tommy nodded, looking dazed.
“I’d rather wring your neck,” said Nan, as the boy bounded off, “How unfair!”
A moment later though, and Nan softened, seeing that Tommy had gone pale.
“You’re not afraid are you?” She asked, more gently.
“Absolutely not,” Tommy answered, a little too quickly. “No chance of getting it, so what’s there to be afraid of?”
“You had to leave when we were dissecting that pig last week,” Nan pointed out.
“That’s only because your hands were all bloody and it looked terrible. No chance of that this time, since you’re not even invited.”
Nan turned back to her papers with a huff.
Ten minutes later, and Tommy still hadn’t left. He simply sat still. Nan couldn’t tell if he was watching her or staring off into space, but she hoped it was the later.
“You’ll be fine,” she said with a sigh, for no matter what else, he was her friend, and she knew it was the right thing to do. “Try not to worry. It will be over before you know it, and perhaps you’ll even learn something. The only way I won’t forgive you is if you don’t tell me all about it when you get back.”
Tommy smiled, and then beamed.
“I’ll do better than that,” he said. “Just you watch.”
Tommy was in Morison’s office for what felt like an inordinately long time, and when he came back out he was still grinning all over his face.
“Come on then,” he said, pulling Nan to his feet. “I just spent the last half hour convincing him that I couldn’t possibly come along if you didn’t come too, and now we’ve only got a minute to get ready else he’ll leave us both behind.”
“I’m already prepared,” said Nan, whose medical things were always in order, unlike Tommy who always ended up with all of his potions and tools scattered throughout his desk, or in the wrong bag, or forgotten at home.
“I can’t find my laudanum, you think I’ll need it?” Asked Tommy, who true to form, was rummaging through his pockets.
“Just gather up everything else, and I’ll get one of the other students to lend you some. Is there anything else that you need? Tell me now, we can’t waste time.”
“Everything else is here.”
With that Nan ran off, determined that she would get supplies from somebody, even knowing that they would surely be jealous of this chance she and Tommy had been given.
“Bandages, Nan!” Tommy called after her. “Don’t know where I left them, but they aren’t here.”
Some minutes later, and they were ready to set off.
Nan kept quiet, listening to Doctor Morrison describe the case for them as they walked. The illness had descended upon one of the richest families in Concord -- in that, Nan was grimly satisfied, for it meant that she had been correct; Now that vaccination was being given freely to the poor, they could be counted on never to contract smallpox, for they knew enough of hardship to avoid it when they could. The family had presumably contracted it during their trip to Europe, and now the father and the two children were very ill indeed, and the mother was likely to follow.
Nan took all of this in excitedly, until she noticed that Tommy was staring at her.
“You’re very happy with me, aren’t you Nan?” He asked with that hope that worried her more than the worst illness.
It was terrible. He knew her so very well, and he’d presented this chance to her the same way other boys presented the girls that they pursued with flowers are chocolates, and fool that she was, she’d accepted.
“You’re the one most in need of a cure,” Nan whispered back. Had Morrison not been present, she might have lectured him on his romantic notions, for Tommy had been clear from the start about what he wanted from her, and she’d been honest with him about what she couldn’t give from the point she’d outgrown their childhood games of engagement onward.
Nan just hoped there was a way to bring their game to a finish without losing a friend.