If you’ve read the stories in A Very Austen Christmas anthology (and if you haven’t, why NOT?) an accidental theme in three of them was illness and its ability to bring people together. Not to be outdone, I present to you a story I wrote years ago with the same theme: The Little Particulars of the Circumstance
In the course of the original Persuasion, Frederick Wentworth goes to Uppercross Cottage looking for Louisa and Henrietta. Instead, he finds himself alone with Anne Elliot. He then rescues her from the naughty antics of little Walter. In this version, the apothecary, Mr Robinson, has come to check on the injured little Charles and in a twist of the story, declares a quarantine! When Anne and Frederick are forced to stay alone together in one room, with a sick child to care for, will they overcome their pride and anger? This story combines a little bit of “Outbreak!” with a lot of “It Happened One Night.” Happy ending included at no charge.
One morning, very soon after the dinner at the Musgroves, at which Anne had not been present, Captain Wentworth walked into the drawing room at the Cottage, where were herself, Mr Robinson the apothecary, and the little invalid, Charles, who was lying on the sofa.
The surprise of finding himself almost alone with Anne Elliot deprived of his manners of the usual composure: he started, and could only say, “I beg your pardon. I thought the Miss Musgroves had been here—Mrs Musgrove told me I could find them here,” before he walked to the window to recollect himself and feel how he ought to behave.
“They are upstairs with my sister—they will be down in a few moments, I dare say.”
He continued at the window; and after calmly and politely saying, “I hope the little boy is better,” was silent.
Anne turned back to Mr Robinson, the apothecary, who had come to check on the young patient.
The man glanced towards Captain Wentworth. “As I was saying before the interruption, the boy’s spine is undamaged and he is doing well enough in his recovery. I am heartened that my instructions have been carried out with such scrupulous attention.” He removed his glasses and put them in his breast pocket. “It is not always the case when I make recommendations here.”
Anne suspected her sister’s delicate health made it necessary for Mr Robinson to make rather a lot of calls to the Cottage, but she doubted Mary did more than enjoy the notice, with no intentions of following his orders. Mr Robinson once again looked over his little patient. He frowned and pulled up the boy’s shirt. “How long did you say this rash had been evident?”
She came closer. “As I said before, I saw it last evening. It is more acute this morning. I think it may be—”
Robinson grunted and sighed heavily. He put on his glasses and began to carelessly prod and turn the boy this way and that. Anne was appalled that he wholly disregarded Charles’s sharp cries. He touched a place or two, and then looked over the tops of the spectacles. “You say it is more intense?” Anne nodded. “Was this rash on him the other day?”
“No. I am not sure when it appeared, but I saw it yesterday evening, around seven.”
He opened a small notebook and flipped through a few pages. He sighed again. “There is a pocket of fever in Crewkherne. It became evident just a week or so ago. There is fear it is smallpox.”
“The place looked positively asleep when I came through.” Wentworth glanced towards the others.
Robinson turned and looked over his glasses at the Captain. “Come through Crewkherne did you? When did you arrive?”