A QUESTION OF NOURISHMENT.
“And how is he?” said Robert, as he came in from his day’s work, in every moment of which he had thought of his child. He spoke in a whisper to his wife, who met him in the narrow entry at the head of the stairs. And in a whisper she replied.
“He is certainly no worse,” said Mary: “the doctor says, maybe a shade better. At least,” she said, sitting on the lower step, and holding her husband’s hand, and still whispering,–“at least he said that the breathing seemed to him a shade easier, one lung seemed to him a little more free, and that it is now a question of time and nourishment.”
“Yes, nourishment,–and I own my heart sunk as he said so. Poor little thing, he loathes the slops, and I told the doctor so. I told him the struggle and fight to get them down his poor little throat gave him more flush and fever than any thing. And then he begged me not to try that again, asked if there were really nothing that the child would take, and suggested every thing so kindly. But the poor little thing, weak as he is, seems to rise up with supernatural strength against them all. I am not sure, though, but perhaps we may do something with the old milk and water: that is really my only hope now, and that is the reason I spoke to you so cheerfully.”
Then poor Mary explained more at length that Emily had brought in Dr. Cummings’s Manual about the use of milk with children, and that they had sent round to the Corlisses’, who always had good milk, and had set a pint according to the direction and formula,–and that though dear little Jamie had refused the groats and the barley, and I know not what else, that at six he had gladly taken all the watered milk they dared to give him, and that it now had rested on his stomach half an hour, so that she could not but hope that the tide had turned, only she hoped with trembling, because he had so steadily refused cow’s milk only the week before.
 Has the reader a delicate infant? Let him send for Dr. Cummings’s little book on Milk for Children.
This rapid review in her entry, of the bulletins of a day, is really the beginning of this Christmas story. No matter which day it was,–it was a little before Christmas, and one of the shortest days, but I have forgotten which. Enough that the baby, for he was a baby still, just entering his thirteenth month,–enough that he did relish the milk, so carefully measured and prepared, and hour by hour took his little dole of it as if it had come from his mother’s breast. Enough that three or four days went by so, the little thing lying so still on his back in his crib, his lips still so blue, and his skin of such deadly color against the white of his pillow, and that, twice a day, as Dr. Morton came in and felt his pulse, and listened to the panting, he smiled and looked pleased, and said, “We are getting on better than I dared expect.” Only every time he said, “Does he still relish the milk?” and every time was so pleased to know that he took to it still, and every day he added a teaspoonful or two to the hourly dole,–and so poor Mary’s heart was lifted day by day.
This lasted till St. Victoria’s day. Do you know which day that is? It is the second day before Christmas; and here, properly speaking, the story begins.
ST. VICTORIA’S DAY.
St. Victoria’s day the doctor was full two hours late. Mary was not anxious about this. She was beginning to feel bravely about the boy, and no longer counted the minutes till she could hear the door-bell ring. When he came he loitered in the entry below,–or she thought he did. He was long coming up stairs. And when he came in she saw that he was excited by something,–was really even then panting for breath.