Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

crock of goat’s cheese. If Elsie needed soup, she was still alive! I grabbed the basket and ran like I was the boat, with the south wind at my back. The hospital smelled of old blood and of even older thatch on its huts’ roofs. This was where Ma had died, when an oyster cut went bad. This was where I’d tended Black Caesar. Now I panted up to the small isolation hut, where infectious cases were kept. I opened the door and there was Elsie on one of the bunks, the only patient, propped up on pillows — good ones Mrs Johnson must have brought her — her face too white and her body too still in the bed, but breathing so loudly I knew she was alive. Mrs Johnson sat on the chair next to her, bathing her forehead with a cloth that smelled of gum trees and lavender. And then I realised … ‘You shouldn’t be here!’ I said urgently to Mrs Johnson. If Elsie had typhus, Mrs Johnson could catch it. Typhus came to New South Wales on nearly every convict ship that arrived back then. People stayed away from the newcomers in case they caught their diseases.


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