The passenger cabin was filled with refugees, grateful to finally be returning home. His sister slept against his shoulder, her forehead flecked with sweat. Thankfully not from the immolation of fever, but rather the stuffy heat of the train car.
As the train rattled onward, he looked out the window. The open country passing by was starting to look more and more familiar. They weren’t far now.
His thoughts drifted to their father. To him bribing the station agent so his children could have the last seats on the last train, their hasty, panicked good-byes and then the impenetrable, crushing silence that followed on the heels of quarantine.
They had both written letters. It was how they passed the time at first, until his sister’s questions about home became too much to bare. Sometime he’d hope that they’d gotten through, even though he knew the post had not run in Memphis since before they’d left.
Shifting against his shoulder, his sister mumbled something in her sleep. He brushed a damp bit of hair back from her face. Then closed his eyes, and allowed himself another hope.
That their father would be waiting at the station to welcome them home.
The yellow fever outbreaks of 1878 emptied out the city. Nearly two-thirds of the population evacuated in August when the disease first struck. Of those that remained, eighty percent would fall ill, and more than a quarter would die. The combination and the mass exodus from the city, along with the return of the fever the following summer, caused the state to revoke Memphis’s city charter. Which it would not regain for a dozen years.