A Note from the Author, Iona Whishaw
While spending my days GOSHing at home [What does that mean? Find out here.], I got to wondering what Lane would do in 1947 if King’s Cove was struck by some illness. So I did a bit of research and was interested to learn several things: that, as a nurse in WW1, Eleanor would have had experience treating patients in the 1919 Influenza Pandemic; that the instructions for dealing with such an illness have hardly changed in the 100 years between the great flu and COVID-19; and that there was a rumour going around at the time of the 1919 flu that aspirin was bad and made things worse. With these things in mind, I decided to write up a fictional little snippet of what an outbreak might look like in King’s Cove.
Lane Winslow and the Outbreak at King’s Cove
The first news of trouble came, of course, from Eleanor Armstrong at the post office. Lane had popped over for the daily post after waving goodbye to Inspector Darling, her husband, who was off to the police station in Nelson.
“Poor Alice has a terrible fever. Reg is quite beside himself. He’s mopping her brow with a cold wet cloth and trying to feed her tea and broth,” Eleanor told her.
Lane noticed that Eleanor wasn’t leaning on the counter as she usually did when she had news to share, but was standing just close enough to push the mail across to Lane.
“Gosh. Has he called a doctor?”
“That’s the thing. They don’t answer,” Eleanor said. “What if everyone comes down with it? I remember the flu after the Great War. It didn’t care who it killed off.”
Lane frowned. “Let’s think a moment. You were a nursing sister in the Great War. What would you advise we do? I can still remember the signs all over the place in London: ‘Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases…use your handkerchief.’ ”
Eleanor shook her head. “A handkerchief wouldn’t have cut the mustard during the flu epidemic. But, it’s a start, I suppose. The one thing we always had trouble doing was getting people to understand how important something simple like proper hand washing was. If people can’t see the bacteria, they don’t believe it’s there.”
“We’re a tiny community. We should be able to get everyone to take basic precautions,” Lane said, thinking of instituting the telephone tree they had used once before when she herself had gone missing during that awful business of the skeleton being found in the Hugheses’ root cellar.
“Come into the kitchen. I’ll consult my medical book and we’ll come up with a plan.”
Inside, Alexandra the west highland terrier, oblivious to the dangers, jumped onto Lane’s lap and attempted to wash her face.
“Here it is,” said Eleanor. “Keep a distance from people, don’t shake hands, wear some sort of mask over mouth and nose…” At that moment the telephone rang. They listened. It was Lane’s, two longs and a short.
Angela, who had three small boys, sounded beside herself. “Oh, Lane! It’s just frightful! Philip has come down with a terrible fever. I’ve been bathing him in cold water but he’s so hot.”
Lane came back into the kitchen. “Poor Philip has it. I think they will have to close the school or all the children will be sick.”
Eleanor added it to the list. “It’s funny, during the flu it got around that people shouldn’t take aspirin because it would make them sicker. Utter nonsense, of course. It will help to bring down the fever. I wonder if everyone has a good supply of it?”
“Look,” said Lane. “Just in case this gets worse, you prepare a simple list of what everyone should do, and I’ll go to Bales’s store and buy enough aspirin for every household here, and warn him. And I’ll stop by the school and ask the teacher to send the children home, and to try to keep them apart while she’s telephoning their parents. If you can write up a very simple instruction sheet for everyone, I’ll take it and a large bottle of aspirin to everyone. Perhaps Kenny could call everyone and just tell them to sit tight while we do this?”
“If Philip has it, and Alice does, and they won’t have contacted each other, then it’s likely spreading quickly. I do hope it is not as virulent as the ’19 flu!”
And so Lane, with her mouth and nose covered tightly with a handkerchief, distributed aspirin and instructions to all the people in King’s Cove. Aside from the “What on earth do you think you’re got up as?” exclamation from old Gladys Hughes when she came to the door at Lane’s knock, it all went smoothly enough.
When Darling got home, Lane said, “No, no, don’t kiss me. You don’t know where I’ve been,” She ordered him into the bathroom to wash his hands and then took his temperature.
“What on earth is going on?” he asked, when he finally had in hand the one thing he wanted, a whisky.
Lane explained it all to him. “And no one is visiting anyone for any reason till it’s all over. If you come home with a fever, I’ll put you straight out in the barn. But I will give you aspirin and mop your brow. You can count on that.”
“Too kind. I saw an ambulance whiz by just before I came up the hill. Was that from here?”
“Yes. That was Alice. They finally got through to a doctor, and it looked bad enough for her to be hospitalized. She’s not in very good health, poor thing.”
Darling pulled back and looked at her. “And you are, I suppose, visiting everyone and their dog. I should put you in the barn. This must be heaven for a misanthrope like Robin Harris.”
“He’s delighted. Look, I’ve made a map to see if we can figure out how such disparate people as Alice and young Philip got it.” She held up a piece of paper with lines and names. “It worries me that it will become more general.” She settled back with her own whisky. “It’s really remarkable,” she said. “Eleanor’s medical book from her wartime nursing kit had such simple instructions. Cover your face, wash your hands repeatedly, and keep away from everyone else till the whole thing is over.”
“Good. Can you make sure you do that from now on?” said her husband fondly.
a note from the publisher
If you were caught off guard by the “husband” tag in reference to Darling, now’s the perfect chance to get caught up. The newest Lane Winslow Mystery, A Match Made for Murder, is coming soon!