Troubles for Cécile

Published in 2011; author Denise Lewis Patrick; illustrators Christine Kornacki and Cindy Salans Rosenheim


While posing for a portrait Armand is painting of her, Cécile overhears her mother and her aunt talking about yellow fever. Aunt Octavia is worried, but Mrs. Rey reassures her that only newcomers get it, and Octavia was born and raised in New Orleans. Cécile wonders why they're so worried. At first Armand won't elaborate, but she tells him how she and Marie-Grace saved Philip from potential slavery and he agrees that she's grown up a lot since he left for France. He tells her that some years diseases like yellow fever spread in epidemics, sickening thousands--and killing many people too. Cécile is sobered by this, but reasons that if their mother isn't worried, things will work out. But so many people are leaving New Orleans. Maybe there is cause for concern. 

Cécile tries to ask Aunt Octavia about it, but her aunt busies her with visiting different places to bring charitable gifts. They stop at Holy Trinity, where Marie-Grace tells Cécile that Philip is in Chicago. One of the orphans asks Cécile to tell a story, and she finds she enjoys entertaining the orphans and bringing a bit of happiness to their lives. Marie-Grace tells Cécile that some of them have only recently been orphaned when their parents died of yellow fever, and some of the children are sick themselves. She's relieved to learn that her friend already had yellow fever as a child. But so many others are in danger of catching the increasingly fatal illness.  

And then Armand faints while painting Cécile. Her world shatters when she hears the maid, Ellen, turn away a visitor because the house has yellow fever. Ellen and the housekeeper are so busy caring for Armand, as are Mrs. Rey and Aunt Octavia, that Cécile finds herself taking on some of the household tasks like playing with Réne and preparing food. She doesn't mind though. She'll do anything to help her brother.

A week later Armand hasn't improved. One of Cécile's friends, Monette, comes by with a care package. She and her father are delivering them all over the city. Cécile accompanies Monette to Holy Trinity, which seems to have doubled in population. Marie-Grace is there, and Cécile implores her to have her father see Armand. Marie-Grace promises to stay up as late as she needs to in order to deliver the message. That night at dinner, Cécile's mother comes down to announce that Armand is worse--and Ellen is sick, too. Just then Dr. Gardner arrives. He tends to Armand while Cécile sits up late with Ellen, who tells Cécile that her father calls her his sweet angel, his one daughter out of ten children--and she thinks she will soon be an angel for real. An angel free to not be a servant or a slave, free to fly. Suddenly, Ellen is wracked with pain. Cécile screams for Dr. Gardner who comes instantly, and Mathilde the housekeeper takes Cécile to another room. Cécile's mother comes in with the news that Armand's fever has broken. He's awake and alert and asking for food. But in the midst of this wonderful news, Dr. Gardner announces that Ellen has died.

Armand continues to grow stronger. Each time Cécile marvels with gratitude about her brother, the pain of losing Ellen intrudes. The Reys join New Orleans in attending a special mass at the cathedral to pray for an end to the epidemic. There, Cécile prays that Ellen has become an angel and is flying, free from any pain. Marie-Grace is at the cathedral too. She lights a candle for Mlle Océane, also sick with yellow fever. Cécile can't bear to think that her beloved teacher, engaged to Marie-Grace's uncle, might die. Staring at her Rosary beads, she confidently tells Marie-Grace that she's going make a beaded purse as a wedding present for Mlle Océane and Marie-Grace must help her. She will recover, and she will need a beautiful wedding present.

Looking Back

In 1840, New Orleans was the fourth-largest city in the United States, boasting a population of 102,000. The 1853 yellow fever epidemic sickened 30,000 and killed 10,000. It was one of the worst epidemics to strike an American city. So many people died that a new cemetery was built. No one knew that mosquitoes caused yellow fever or how to treat its more aggressive symptoms, and hospitals were so overflowed that a ballroom was converted to care for the sick. People tried anything they could think of. Every day, fires were built in hopes that the smoke would drive the disease away (and it might have blocked some mosquitoes, helping a bit). September 2, 1953 was declared a day of prayer and fasting. Finally in October, the disease had abated and life gradually returned to normal for those who had survived.


This book is dedicated to "all brave little girls who grow up to be strong women."

 Cécile's mother reassures her that her aunt is safe from yellow fever for having been born and raised in New Orleans, but what about Réne?

When Armand faints, Cécile tries to pray a Rosary but can't remember the words to the Hail Mary. The next day she sings "Ave Maria" to Armand...which is the Hail Mary in Latin, the language French comes from. Makes sense that she might forget momentarily in a time of crisis, but it seems like it should have been mentioned that she remembered the prayer later.

Cécile and Aunt Octavia make frequent visits to La Maison, a nursing home for elderly black women, where Cécile often performs monologues and skits.

Cécile's mother and aunt were orphaned when the former was a young woman and the latter still a girl. Sister Beatrice helped them through it. I wonder if it was a less wide-spread yellow fever epidemic.

No comments: