“Something’s wrong with her eyes”
“Mother,” called Mercy Crosby. “Come look at little baby Fanny. Do you think there’s something wrong with her eyes?”
Mercy’s mother came in from the kitchen. She studied the tiny baby in Mercy’s arms. “They do look peculiar, Mercy,” she admitted. “Red and weepy. It’s not right.” She reached out to take the baby in her own strong arms. “There, there, little Fanny,” she whispered. “We’ll trust the Lord to take care of these eyes.”
Mercy didn’t look like much more than a girl herself, but she was Fanny’s mama. She and her husband lived with Mercy’s parents and their family. In New York in 1820, that’s what many families did.
The days passed. Mercy and her mother could tell that the tiny baby definitely had an infection in her eyes. Fanny cried so much that her crying kept the family awake at night.
“I don’t know what to do for her!” Mercy said wearily. “The doctor has been away so long!”
“Yes,” said Theda, Mercy’s fifteen-year-old sister, “And there’s no way to know when he’s coming back.”
John Crosby, Mercy’s husband, said, “I heard today that there is a man staying with the Hopkins family. I think he said he was a doctor. Perhaps he can help.”
“Oh, please,” said Mercy. “Find him, and get some help.”
“I’ll go!” said Mercy’s brother, nine-year-old Joseph. “I can run over there fast. It’s only four miles or so.”
“Well, you just wait till morning, son,” said Joseph’s father. “If you go now, it will be dark before you get back.”
So, early in the morning, Joseph headed out. When he returned, he was on a horse behind a stranger. “Are you a doctor, sir?” Mercy asked doubtfully.
“Yes, I am,” replied the stranger. “I’ve had much success over in Greene County. I can help all kinds of infections. I use a special mustard plaster.” He pulled different mysterious bottles and tools out of his big black bag.
Mercy held Fanny a little closer. “A mustard plaster, sir?” Mercy asked. “Won’t that hurt her eyes?”
The stranger chuckled. “Now, now,” he said. “You just leave it to me.” He mixed things from several dark bottles. Then he held up an awful smelling, brownish glop.
“Now,” said the stranger, “let me see that baby.” He reached out for little Fanny. Her eyes looked red and crusted, even when they were closed. “I’ll just smear some of this on each eye . . .” As he did so, the tiny baby jumped. Then she began to scream.
The stranger had to shout over Fanny’s cries. “This will draw out the infection,” he told Mercy. Quickly he gathered his equipment and began to pack his bags.
Mercy’s thin face was white with fright. “Are you sure it won’t hurt her?”
“It will be fine, just fine.” The stranger picked up his hat. “You just wait and see.”
“How long should we leave it on?” Mercy shouted.
“Wipe it off in the morning.” The man picked up his bag and was out the door.
Late that night Mercy’s mother returned from helping a sick woman. When she got inside, she told Mercy, “I could hear Fanny’s screams from far down the road.”
“Oh, Mother!” Mercy cried. “We’re all just sick with worry.” Mercy’s face was red from weeping. She told her mama the story of the visiting “doctor.”
Mercy saw her mother’s lips set in a grim line, as she went to get a cloth without a word. Then Mercy watched her gently wipe Fanny’s eyes. Under her breath she muttered things that Mercy couldn’t quite hear.