Sunday, July 3, 2011

"From the Diary of Mrs. Hattie Isabelle Lewison, 1902" by Stephen R. Wilson









February 17. Cold, but no new snow today. Little Isabelle seems to be eating more and I can just start to see one little tooth breaking in on her top gum. She’ll be eating solids with us in no time! Nat was disturbed that the Ballister boy didn’t bring Mr. C’s hides out today. Nat’s already paid Mr. C. for ten of them, he says, and he is in a hurry to get started on them. He wants to have all of them tanned and more by the time the first spring traders come through. “I’ll have to go the Carroll’s farm tomorrow and check with him, if he doesn’t send them tomorrow,” Nat said. “Well, that’s good,” says I. “We can go through town and stop at the grocers and I can visit with Jessie while you talk to Mr. C. It’s been a month since I’ve seen her!”

February 18. We were awoken early this morning by Mr. Carroll himself, yelling for Nat to come out onto the lane. “What’s wrong?” I asked. The noise at that early hour had startled me so. Nat looked out the window and said he didn’t know. As Isabelle was already awake and crying, Nat yelled out for Mr. C. to come up to the house, but Mr. C. refused. He said he’d better stay on the lane so Nat went out to talk to him. I looked out the window and tried to quiet Isabelle. When Nat walked out of the house, Mr. C. was coughing so hard, I thought he was like to vomit. Nat tried to go to him, but Mr. C. held up his hand, warding him back. Mr. C. finished his episode, wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, and said, “Don’t come any closer. I’m terrible sick, Nat. Everyone in town and round about is. A lot of people have already died…” He made a choking sound then and started to cry a little. “My own Jessie’s gone,” he said. I immediately felt as if I’d walked behind a horse and been kicked in the stomach when he said that. My own best friend, Jessie, was dead, and I had never even known she was sick. The winter snow had kept us from going to see anyone for so long. “Dr. Allred was one of the first to pass,” Mr. C. continued. “Rev. Lloyd’s left town. There’s not hardly anyone left who can care for all the people who are sick now. Everyone’s too weak and sick themselves. I just came to tell you and your Mrs. to stay out here or else maybe go on down to Marysville for a while, if you can. Just don’t go into town.” “David…” Nat said in sympathy to Mr. C., but then Mr. C. turned and started walking back down the lane. “Don’t come into town until someone sends word,” he warned. “I’ll come if I can.”
Nat and I were in a state of melancholy all that morning. Mr. C. had informed us that people had died, but he had neglected to tell us who, except for dear Jessie. Nat and I feared that the whole town was dead or would be within another week. At noon, Nat suddenly said, “I’m going into town. Someone needs to take care of all those sick people and David said there was no one left to do it.” “You’ll die,” I protested, rising out of my chair and attaching myself to him. But he peeled my arms off and said, “It’s the Christian thing to do, Hattie. I can’t let those people suffer alone. Not everyone gets sick. I have a reasonably strong constitution. I may not take it.” “I’m going with you,” I said. But he answered, “No, you have to take care of our little Isabelle. I’ll come tonight like Mr. C. did and talk to you from the lane.” He put on his coat and boots then and went out and I didn’t try to stop him again as I knew he had his mind made up.
In the evening, I looked out and saw a large cloud of smoke rising up from the Carroll farm. I would have thought that living in a tannery for the past four years would have made me immune to such things, but the smell of that smoke was so strong and sickening that I thought I was like to suffocate from it. It was like no odor my nose has ever encountered before.

February 19. At midnight, I heard Nat calling for me outside the house. I opened the window and he told me everyone he had seen. There were many dead and many more who were dying. Almost everyone had either taken ill or had left town to escape it. He had loaded the dead onto Mr. Abbott’s wagon and taken them to Mr. C.’s farm to burn. I understood then that that was the fire I had seen. He said Mr. C. had cursed him for a fool when he saw him, but was glad for his company. Nat said they talked for a while and he made Mr. C. some soup, but he couldn’t keep it down. Then Nat left and returned to some of the other homes with the sick folk left in them and tried his best to comfort them and even brought them medicine from Dr. Lloyd’s house, but ultimately feared that none of them would recover. “The children are the worst,” Nat wept. “I burnt so many of them on the fire today. I can’t imagine our little Isabelle dying like that.” I cried too and then he charged me, “Keep her safe, Hattie.” And then he was gone, returning to Mr. C.’s for the night.

February 20. I set out a couple of pots of soup for Nat to carry into town with him tonight. He said he was grateful, but that I’d better not do it again as he didn’t know how I was to be resupplied on food myself. He assured me that he was still well, but informed me that Mr. C. had died an hour before.

February 25. Nat’s been tending the sick for a week now. The fires continue every day, smaller than the first as Nat’s only burning a couple of bodies at a time, as soon as soon as the people pass. He still visits every night. I’m beginning to run out of food in the house, but Nat fears to bring me any from town. “It’s contaminated,” he says. “It won’t do me any harm since I’m with the sick all day anyway, but you and Isabelle are like as not to be infected by it.” I may have to take a trip down to Marysville soon, after all. I pray that everyone is well there.

March 1. Nat is still well. There aren’t very many left who are sick in town. Most everyone has already passed. Nat says that once everyone has gone, he can wait a week or two and then return home if he’s still well. He thinks he may have gone in after the disease had already lost is virulence. As for Isabelle and I, we are well, but I’ve eaten just about all there is in the house. I told Nat that we’d pack up and head to Marysville tomorrow morning.

March 3. Returned home late this evening from Marysville. Stayed with cousin Louise and she assures me that everyone there is well. Isabelle and I are restocked and have a welcome refuge to which we can return if we have need.

March 4. Isabelle awoke with such a high fever this morning. I fear we should have gone to Marysville at the start and avoided any risk of infection. Are we being contaminated by the smoke of Nat’s almost daily fires?

March 5. I fear Isabelle is dreadfully sick. She has only slept and cried all day. Nat has stayed outside on the lane since this morning, keeping watch with us in the only way he can, and refusing to go back into town until he knows that Isabelle will be well. If our poor daughter does have the disease, then I’m sure that I am infected too. I almost wish I were. At least then Nat could come back inside and we could comfort each other.

March 6. Praise God! Little Isabelle’s fever has broke and she is returning to her old, happy self!
         The fire tonight was larger than it’s been in a week. Nat says there are less than ten people left in town.

  March 11. Allmonde town is dead. Nat admits he is not feeling well, but attributes it to exhaustion and grief. He vows to wait outside in the lane for two full weeks and then to return to us. I thank you, God, for keeping Isabelle and I and Nat protected for these three long weeks. May You keep and care for all those who have passed on to their final home.

March 12. Nat camped outside all day and I threw him some bread and a piece of roast for his supper. If anyone would have seen us tossing our food like that, they would have found it quite hilarious. Nat and I really did have such a good laugh about it.

March 13. Nat doesn’t feel well again. He says that he is sore and that it comes from sleeping in the lane, but I think neither one of us believe it. He started coughing a little tonight and I can hear him even now trying to stifle it. God, I pray You spare him from this sickness. He tried so hard to comfort the other sufferers. Don’t let him die now.

March 16. Nat woke up this morning, coughing and more pale than I’ve ever seen him. He said he was going back into town to find a bed and that I probably wouldn’t hear from him until he had recovered. He instructed me to return to Marysville until he came for me and I promised him that I would, though I had no intention of doing so.

March 20. Mr. Williams, the trader, came today. He said he had read a notice at the edge of town warning people away, but saw by the date that it was probably safe for him to enter, it being so long since the quarantine began. He found the town deserted except for one man. My Nat was out on the Carroll farm, alone and dead in Mr. C.’s own bed. He had written me a letter that Mr. Williams now delivered.
“Mr. Nathan Lewison, to Mrs. Hattie Isabelle Lewison, Finder’s Lane, Allmonde Town.
“My dear Hattie, how I wish you were here with me now to lay a cool cloth on my forehead or to make me some of your clear broth soup. But I couldn’t risk infecting you and little Isabelle. Nor could I bear the thought of you seeing me like this. Forgive me for wanting to spare you that pain, dear Hattie. I know now that I will never recover and that I am consigned to take my place with my friend, Mr. C. and the rest of our friends in Allmonde town. I hope that you will not grieve overly much, dear Hattie. Remember that little Isabelle is still counting on you to be a good little mother to her. Go to live in Marysville, my dear, as I fear it will be a long time before you have many neighbors here in Allmonde town again. Know that it has been my esteemed privilege to have known and been married to you for these last four years.
Your loving husband always,
Nat.”

March 22. Arrived at cousin Louise’s today. James says he will set out tomorrow morning with the wagon to retrieve our possessions from Finder’s Lane.

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