Holding Their Breath

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A snippet from THE WOLF AND THE LAMB, First Book in the Berkeley Series


That same winter at Berkeley, Fitz fell ill. Initially, it was feared he had contracted smallpox, but the symptoms presently revealed themselves consistent with scarlet fever. Mary spent hours upon her knees in the Minster under the watchful eye of Mr Davis, pleading that God would stay his hand. Under Dr Jenner’s care, the crisis passed. The parents breathed again.
   “Thank God it wasn’t smallpox,” said the doctor. “It leaves a legacy for life if the patient is lucky enough to survive.”
   “And how do your experiments progress?” asked his lordship.
   “After many trials, my lord, I have concluded there is an optimal stage in the cowpox disease when the lymph can be relied upon to bestow full protection against smallpox. It is a delicate balance, as so much of nature.”
  “Most interesting.”
  “I have spent half my life puzzling over this terrible affliction and shall publish my enquiry if tests prove efficacious.”
   “Won’t it be necessary to inoculate some poor chub?” asked Berkeley.
   “Oh yes, indeed. It cannot be avoided. First with the cow vaccine, then with smallpox itself!”
   “And who’s going to volunteer for that?”
   An offer had already been made by a town family, named Phipps, of their eight year old son, James. They appeared to have every faith in the doctor and his painstaking research. On May 14th, 1796, the child was injected with lymph from the hands of an infected dairymaid, Sarah Knight Nelmes. He developed mild signs of cowpox which soon disappeared. Six weeks later, Jenner, with burning anxiety and fervent prayer, gave the boy a shot of the deadly disease. Wildly exultant, he recorded that the subject remained in the rudest of health.
   James Phipps grew up to be a vigorous labourer in the Cotswolds, marrying a youthful widow and becoming father to a generation who succeeded in bettering their lot. He lived for sixty-six years.





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Jenner's lancet




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The Chantry, Berkeley, Gloucestershire, Edward Jenner's home from 1785 - 1823