Thursday, April 5, 2012

Life During the Great Plague of 1666

Before I get into the Plague and life during it, I don't feel I gave enough justice to Joleene Naylor's Lucky Seven Award and I forgot her link.  So sorry, Joleene.  Here is her blog:  http://joleenenaylor.wordpress.com/  I encourage everyone to visit her blog.  Joleene has fast become one of my favorite authors.  She is amazing.

Those that I awarded the Sunshine Award and are authors, I also passed this award on to you:
The Desert Rocks
PK Hrezo
Scarlett Rains
Beth Muscat
The Life of a Novice Writer
Yesterday's Daughter

You go to page 77 of your manuscript/book and copy and paste your 7 lines from the 7th paragraph.

That taken care of, what brought up this subject is because I listed my lines.  Alas, of all lines, I've felt these to be stilted and in need of fixing, so I was rather embarrassed it fell to these.  It was a good thing though, because I realize I cannot keep putting the correction of these lines off any farther.

Two of my chapters in 'Always' deal with the Great Plague.  This was not the first time that England had been ravaged by this ugly and uncontrollable monster.  As I researched, I thought of what it must have been to live through this horror.  So many lives taken, how much sadness over the loss of loved ones?  How lost the doctors must have felt, not knowing what caused it and how to stop it.  The death toll was frightening, and loved ones dumped in those public pits?

The Bubonic Plague lives on today, but thankfully for antibiotics, it is curable.  Most commonly used are gentomyacin and streptomyacin.  Rodents still carry this disease, along with prairie dogs, lice, fleas, and chipmunks (among others).  Be careful when out in wildlands, and that includes many federal and state parks.

These two chapters are the dark parts of my book as my characters face the horrors of this unseen invader.  So, to make up for those awful passages last time, here is Chapter 4 from 'Always'.


Chapter Four
The Great Plague
     The Bubonic Plague reached England in 1348. It would continue to return with all its horror throughout the 17th century, with deaths reaching as high as 60 percent of the population in some areas.                            
     In the autumn of 1665, the Plague, now referred to as the Black Death, returned to the Isles and stayed into 1666.  As it had done before, it spread rapidly and left sorrow in its tracks.  The death rate averaged 75 percent, thus its name - The Great Plague.  The last major outbreak in the Isles, an estimated 100,000 had perished, before it ceased killing.     Four out of five people died within the first eight days.  Infected homes were boarded up, the survivors left inside to meet their doom. A red cross was painted on the doors of the condemned buildings with the words “Lord have mercy on us.”
Dead bodies were collected in the evenings, piled in carts, and transported outside cities and villages for quick burials in public pits.  Fires built with strong smelling materials such as pepper, hops, and frankincense burned ceaselessly in an effort to cleanse the air.  People were encouraged to smoke in the hopes smoking might save them.  
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     Edgar, exhausted, could do nothing except sit on the chair and wait.  His jacket lay on the floor.  His white dress shirt, with stains and sweat, clung to his chest. He had opened the door and window shutters, hoping for fresh ventilation, but the air in the stone cottage remained stifling.  The humidity from the upcoming storm was unbearable and he wished the rain would start soon and usher in fresh breezes. 
He held Lydia’s limp, grey hand as she lay on the bed in a pool of sweat.  He murmured soothing words to her while she moaned and coughed in pain, barely alive.  Soon his wife would leave him forever.
     With his left hand, Edgar cleared off the sweat from his forehead, nose and chin, and wiped it on his shirt.  Releasing Lydia’s hand, he dipped a rag in the bowl of silt water, wiped her face, shoulders, and arms; and moistened her mouth.  He smiled at her, but she didn’t recognize him.
     “Soon, my dear, you will see your parents and our twins.”
     “My fault.  My fault.  I caused this.  My fault,”  she murmured.
     “You did no wrong.  How could you know?”
     “Edmond, Emma, forgive me,”  she cried out hoarsely.
     “Darling, shh.  Allowing Edmond and Emma to walk to the printing office while you went to the orphanage did not cause the curse.” 
     Lydia grew silent.
     Edgar could only wait while her occasional cries for forgiveness cut through him.  He sat by her side as the hours ticked; she lay motionless and quiet. 
     When Healer Cliona arrived yesterday, she warned him to expect Lydia’s death within the next 24 hours unless they found fresh water.  Edgar wept.  Whether the tears he shed were for the ending of her suffering, or sadness for losing her, he did not know.
Lydia lived beyond her expected time.  He sat with her as much as he could, dozing off once in a while.  When she sighed, he would awaken, soothe her with soft murmurings, and wet her mouth.  He ached all over.  His throat burned.  The river ran low as a result of the draught, and they ran short of drinking water. What he could find he used for his wife, taking little for himself.
Lydia muttered, “Forgive me…” and became silent. 
“Remember this song?  Your favorite?”  Edgar hummed the tune softly.  “How I enjoy your enchanting voice.  I wish I could hear you sing again.”
     He dipped the rag in the basin and, holding her mouth open with one hand, he wet her dry tongue.  He ran the rag over her hair, mopping up some of the sweat.  She had not been bathed in days.  He tried to clean her; however, her cries of pain sliced through him, and he quit, afraid to distress her more.  She carried the stench of her affliction.  She smelled of sweat, of dirty clothes, vomit, and the herbs Healer Cliona used.  Lydia used to smell of jasmine.  Edgar lifted her handkerchief from his jacket pocket and inhaled the sweet fragrant scent.            
They were out of supplies, so Cliona shared her remaining staples.  She camped outside their door and kept a healing broth warm over a fire. 
No support came from the village.  They knew the plague lived at the cottage and dared not come near. 
Food no longer mattered.  Lydia could not swallow.  Edgar refused to eat while he watched his wife suffer on death’s bed.
     “Kek-kek caw.” 
Edgar looked through the tiny window.  On the barren tree, the sparrow hawk called to the evening.  “Kek-kek caw.”
“Take me to my God!”  Lydia screamed, and then she became silent once more.
“Kek-kek caw.  Kek-kek caw.  Kek-kek caw.” 
“Shoo.” He waved his hand at the bird. 
He had chased it away when they first arrived.  Lydia, conscious then, begged him to let the hawk stay.  He remembered their conversation, the last time she spoke coherently.
“The bird protects me from evil,” she had whispered.  “He says he is my friend and waits to lead me Home to God.”
“You are feverish, my darling.  Rest.  Forget that bird,”  Edgar had responded. 
     “Kek-kek caw,” sang the sparrow hawk.
The cawing grated on Edgar.  He feared the sparrow hawk lingered nearby because Lydia’s death drew near.   
God.  Where was God while the plague ravaged the Isles?  Where was God’s resolution when I begged Him to save Emma and Edmond?  Why did God not help Lydia when I prayed to Him to heal the love of my life?  I gave generously of my money when the Church asked.  Lydia sacrificed many hours at the orphanage.  We attended church every Sunday. God has turned away from the Isles, and God has turned His back on me and my family.
Edgar accepted Cliona’s offer in response to God’s perceived neglect.  The Church disapproved of these pagan healers. Edgar could be sentenced to prison or death for dealing with her.  Especially a man of his prominence.  If he lost Lydia, what care did he have for living?  God paid no attention.  The doctor did not dare approach the cottage.  Only the Celtic Healer Cliona came by, and her reward? Death at the hands of the soldiers.
“Kek-kek caw.”
“Your call pierces my soul.  Shout out then.  When I can bear no more pain, I too will die,” he cried to the bird.
  “God, why am I not sick?  Why did you take my twins?  Why must you nip my Lydia?”  he asked.
     Edgar rubbed Lydia’s hand.  She did not respond to his touch.  He sat in the chair and closed his eyes.  “Soon, my Sweet, you will see your God.”
     For days, Lydia screamed Edgar’s name, oblivious that he sat beside her.  He wished he didn’t have to watch his darling suffer.  Why can she not die quickly?  Why does God not call her Home?  Why is He letting her suffer?  Can you hear my pleadings, God?  Then I beg of you, release her from her pain.         
Tirelessly, he had answered her cries.  “I am with you, my Precious One.  Always.”  His words would calm her.  He repeated this phrase today with no reaction from her, until he voiced no more than a raspy whisper. 
     After screaming, she would lay back down, engulfed in silence and restless sleep.    Now, she did not move.  She hovered between her glorious Heaven and her tormented hell.
     Think about anything else, he willed his mind while rubbing his brow.
He went back to the day when he met Lydia.  Twelve years ago, he argued with his parents over marrying her.  Lydia’s family was nouveau riche and no nobility established in their line.  Yet she was well educated.  And divine.  Remarkably divine. Edgar ran into her on a street one day as he walked to meet his friends.  She was hurrying along, running errands for the orphanage.  Her fragrance stopped him.  When he looked into her eyes, it seemed he had always known her.  He knew then that he loved her and he ached for her with an intense passion from that moment on.
“Dear sir, please permit me to pass,”  she said. 
Edgar weakened at the sound of her voice and smiled.  “I will kindly let you pass, fair lady, if you invite me to dinner tonight.” 
“I am not acquainted with you, sir.  It is impolite of you to approach me like this.”  She looked insulted.
Edgar motioned for the nearest shopkeeper and whispered into the man’s ear.
“May I introduce you to Mr. Edgar Umbridge, Tax Collector for the King?” the man announced.  Edgar waved him back to his store.
“How do you do.  What a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”  Edgar removed his hat and bowed.
Embarrassed, she had curtseyed, “I am Lydia. The shopkeeper is my father.”  She waved at her dad.
Edgar grinned as he remembered their encounter.
Lydia moved to walk past.  He stepped in front of her, no matter which way she went.  She looked to her father for help.
“I need lower taxes, not higher, my daughter.  Do as he requests and invite him to our house.”
Lydia sighed.  Looking down, she asked, “I request you join us for dinner at our home on the corner of Sterling Street.”  She curtsied.
“Tonight?  Well, I must check my schedule,”  Edgar retorted.
Her face turned red.  “Dear sir,” she spoke softly, “you embarrass me.”
“Seven o’clock tonight?”  he remarked loudly.  “I am pleased to accept your invitation and meet your parents.”  He stood aside and Lydia swept past him and continued down the street.   
He knew they would marry.  He could not live without her; he needed her, always.  His affection for Lydia burned intensely.  His desire for her consumed him days and nights.  Now, his guilt for her pain etched down into his heart.  If we had not married, she would be free of this affliction.  How I argued with my parents.  I would marry Lydia and no one else, with or without their blessing.  When they finally agreed, our wedding day seemed like it would never arrive.  How exquisite my bride looked.  My passion for her overwhelmed me that day.  I loved her throughout our wedding night and the next day too.
 Edgar came back from his thoughts for a moment.  “Darling, remember the birth of our twins?  When I held them in my arms? A fatherly love swept through me to the depths of my soul. Their tiny hands and their eyes blue like yours awakened such deep feelings within me. How Edmond relished life and nature. He often came home with stray cats.  I never let him keep one.  What would have been the harm?  I should have let him.”  Edgar sighed deeply. 
“Such a smart child mystified with his environment.  I took pride in his writing talent.  Did I relate to you that Mr. Snyder was impressed with him and thanked me every time he spotted me for apprenticing Edmond to him?  And what of Emma’s temper?  Most stubborn for a young lady. She listened to Edmond though.”
Lydia struggled to draw a breath.  Edgar looked out the window.  “When my father died and then my mother a few months after him, I vowed to keep you and the children safe.  Instead, look what I’ve done. God has a wry sense of justice.  He is a vengeful God.”
“My God.  My God.  I want to come Home, Father.”  Lydia groaned.
“Save your energy, my Dearest.  I’m sorry to grieve you.”  Edgar wiped the sweat from her face and arms.  I will soon be a man without a family. 
After his Lydia died, his last remaining relative would be his older half-brother from his father’s first wife. Lewis and his family lived in Italy a portion of the year.  Even when Lewis came to England, he rarely spent time with Edgar.
     Lydia’s weeping broke his reverie.  Edgar wet her mouth and kissed her forehead.  He reminisced of the day when the children came home with a filthy dog they found in the street; a hunting dog who wandered into the city hungry and hurt.  They and Lydia begged to keep him and Edgar couldn’t refuse.  They named him Hunter.  Hunter favored Edgar, and Edgar looked forward to their walks.
     When I learned about the scourge, I let no one out except Hunter, still the children became ill.  If only I found out one day sooner.  Lydia and I comforted them the best we could.  When the doctor warned me our dog might be the carrier, I saw only one choice.  I needed to save my loved ones.
     “Hunter,” Edgar yelled, “forgive me my injustice to you.”  A chill swept over him. If we had had a cat instead, I would have left him outside.  The dog stayed indoors and I thought it cruel to leave him out.   
     Why didn’t I suggest I wanted to walk him?  Why did I tell them?  Why did I choose the backyard to hit him in the head with a rock?  I desperately believed they’d feel better.  I murdered them as sure as I killed Hunter.  At least I buried the dog.  My children received no such honor.
     Edgar wiped his wet face. I made many mistakes, which cost me the lives of those I love.
     “Dear Lydia, I am the one who needs to apologize.  How you and the children cried.  I chose wrongly, which caused the death of our children.  They were in torment throughout the night even though we held them and sang to them.  In the late morning they died.  I am sorry, Lydia.”  Edgar wiped his face.
     She gave no response. 
I am glad I had the foresight to gather the family papers and to write a letter to my brother.  I pray they are safe in Europe so the Umbridge line will continue.  The letter accounted for everything.  Edgar delivered it to a doctor he knew well.  The doctor gave him some medicine to ease the children’s pain, and let him know Lydia’s parents had succumbed.  He also informed Edgar that dogs and cats were no longer considered to be the carriers.
He sat in the chair in the cottage, his eyes moist, re- hearing his children’s screams from their room to save their precious dog.  He remembered Lydia’s cries for Hunter.  He could still hear the loud crack and Hunter’s whimper. Their pet moved no more. 
Edgar looked up.  “God, I will never own another dog.”
     The doctors held no hope for either Edgar or Lydia.  Confined to their home, Lydia mourned the children, her parents, and Hunter.  At nightfall, the men came.  He had no choice except to let them collect his children’s bodies, which were unceremoniously thrown on the pile of dead corpses and carted away to a public burial spot.  Edgar and Lydia had dressed them in their finest and kissed them one last time.  For what?  That cold loveless pit?
Edgar had grasped at his last chance to save his wife. He paid the men handsomely not to label the door, assuring them he and Lydia showed no symptoms.  He knew Lydia lay in bed, her underarm swollen and the onset of a fever.  They accepted the bribe, however he understood they would return the next day to board up the house and paint the red cross. 
Lydia’s voice interrupted Edgar’s musings.
“Forgive me, Edgar.”  She shivered.
“You need not ask forgiveness, Darling.  You weren’t the reason the illness spread.” He doubted she could hear him, nonetheless, he insisted she know she had no faults.  He soaked the rag and dripped water into her dry mouth.  “Rest, my darling.  Sleep.”   He blamed himself for the decision to hide out here.  He had hoped the fresh air and pristine water would support her health.
    “My sweet, do you remember how we got out of the city?  How we left out the back of the house? You wouldn’t leave without your Murano bowl Mother had given us as a wedding present.  I secured our bedroom door on my back.  We must have looked a sight walking down the streets late at night with me stooped over and packages dangling from me and you carrying your bowl.”  Edgar smiled at her.  “I must apologize for my packing in a hurry.  I brought such few medicines and foods, and one change of clothing.”
Lydia lay still, without a sound.
“It seemed a perfect plan,” he squeezed her hand slightly, “until your fever worsened.  I still waited to leave after dark.  I chose infected areas.  It gave us a better chance to escape.  Wailings and screams from those homes…”  Edgar choked on his words and bit his bottom lip. 
He inhaled and let it out slowly.  “Thick smoke loomed everywhere from the fires.  We made it to the river, though.  I floated the door and assisted you while you climbed on, covered you with your shawl, and surrounded you with packages. I pushed the door along the shoal to here.”
“The starry night guided us, Lydia, and I knew our dear children followed with us, watching over our safety.  You slept peacefully.  I prayed for your health, my darling.  Somewhere you dropped the bowl.”  Edgar swallowed with difficulty.  “We didn’t know the river was low.  I didn’t think the plague would reach here before us.” 
He stared out of the window.
“As you worsened, I promised if you got better, I would buy you every Murano glass item I could find.”
“Where…I…bowl?”  she muttered.
“Shh, my love.  It is safe.  No worries.”   
He remembered when they arrived, how he dragged the door out of the water.  He carried her inside and laid her on the bed.  He changed into his clean clothes, kissed her, and proceeded to the village.  As morning approached, he could see the outlines of the large rocks where he and Edmond fished in the summers.  He could see the oak trees lining the way to the village.
Village guards were at the entranceway. 
“I need to see the doctor,”  Edgar announced.
“Sorry, no in or out,”  declared one man.
“Mr. Umbridge, sir?”  asked the other man.
“It is I.  Hello Tom.  How is your family?”  Tom ran errands for the Umbridge’s when they stayed at the cottage.
“I lost them, sir, the five children and my wife too.”
“I am sorry to hear of your losses.  Tom, I need to see
the doctor.”
“I’ll fetch him, sir.  Wait there.”
Tom returned quickly with the doctor who refused to go to the cottage. 
“The church is full of sick people.  I can’t leave them.  I’ll give you what medicine I can, Mr. Umbridge.  I’m sorry.”  The doctor turned and walked away.
“Mr. Umbridge, sir,” said Tom.  “watch out for the soldiers.  They’re everywhere.  They tend to kill anyone on the roads.  Their job is to constrain them that’s sick from spreading it to others, but they don’t even ask.  No, sir, they don’t even ask.”
“Thank you, Tom.  I’ll be careful.”    
     Edgar walked towards the cottage, discouraged.  The Celtic Healer Cliona walked up beside him. 
Remembering her, he smiled.
     “You smell of death and the plague,” she had called.
     “Go away, senile old woman.  You cannot help.”
     “My herbs will ease her suffering.  I can perform a healing ritual.”
     “Your ways are superstitious and pagan.  The Church and God forbid them.”
     “God has not ordered me to quit healing others.  Has he told you I must not give comfort?”
     “Leave me alone, I say.  Trifle not in my affairs.  I deny your pagan practices.”
“You think I am a crazy woman.  You are the insane one not to let me save your wife.”
     Edgar walked with longer strides.  When he glanced back she was gone.
     Cliona had followed him at a distance and watched him enter the cottage.  She waited each day, knowing he would try to get the doctor’s help in the village and he would be gone at least an hour.  Once he left, she entered the house.  She gave Lydia a broth of herbs to drink and then performed a cleansing ritual.
     One day he returned earlier than usual.  When he entered the cottage, he spotted whiffs of smoke.  He heard chants and giggling.  Lydia’s giggles.  He ran to the bedroom.  Lydia sat up in bed, sipping a broth. Cliona danced and sang around the room with a bunch of smoking leaves in a basket.
     “Lydia, I was ecstatic the day you sat up in bed, looking better.  Then I knew Cliona could cure you.  She cared about you.  The odor of lemongrass still lingers in our room.  Can you smell it?  She and I became friends.  She came every day and you got better.  I knew you were going to live…until the water ran out.  She could no longer make broth.”
     He ran his fingers through his hair.    
     Crazy old woman.
     Edgar gazed down at Lydia.  It had been hours since she had stirred.  Cliona stated he would know when she died, when to bury his wife.  Her end seemed imminent since she could no longer draw enough breaths.  He kissed her lips gently.
He looked at her, held between worlds.  He wanted desperately to hold her in his arms; to feel her soft lips pressed against his, to hear her whisper, “I will love you always.” 
“Our wedding day ushered in a glorious beginning to our union.  Your death will be a tragic ending to it - so undeserved.”
     Edgar wiped the sweat from his face.  He desired a few minutes of badly needed sleep but refused his wish in order to be awake when Lydia died.  If he slept, he wouldn’t hear her cries, which pained him deep within. How he yearned to ease her misery.
Edgar leaned the back of his head on the wall behind him.  He had been sitting in the uncomfortable wooden chair for hours.  What to ponder about while he waited?  Cliona and her last hours.  And Tiny. 

Thank you for dropping by and reading this chapter.
LHR, my dear friends and PAWS for success. 

22 comments:

Sharon's Sunlit Memories said...

Its an event that left quite an indelible mark on our psyche I often think. Have you ever read 'Doomsday Book' by Connie Willis? I usually consider it the work of fiction that has made the biggest impact on me with such vivid characterisation set against the Plague.

Donna Yates said...

Sharon, thank you for your comment. I have never read that book, so it's on my list now. It was tough for my emotions to write 2 chapters on the struggles during that time. I cannot imagine writing an entire book about it.

Scarlett Rains, Author said...

Hi Donna. Just dropped by to say hello. Your chapter moved me to tears. So sad to think what that family, and others, endured. To kill a beloved dog, as your children begged you not to, only to find out it was not a carrier. That part, and several others, broke my heart.

Donna Yates said...

Scarlett, thank you for dropping by and for reading this chapter. It was indeed a difficult time.

Barbara said...

It’s truly terrifying to think about so many people dying in such a short space of time. I’ve just read your words with tears running down my face.

Donna Yates said...

Barbara, thank you for your comment. Although I hate to think I was responsible for tears, you have honored me as a writer by saying this. I think the real horror for me would be standing by, watching my loved ones suffer and die, and not being able to do one thing about it. Truly one of the greatest horrors of our history.

Scrollwork said...

This is heartbreaking, Donna. What do you do to release yourself from the emotions after you are done writing these chapters?

Donna Yates said...

Scrollwork, thank you for your comment. I put it aside and walk away, doing something else until I can get back to it. Kelly Hashway
in one of her latest posts, http://kellyhashway.blogspot.com/2012/04/feeling-of-ya-books.html also talked about the emotions a writer feels when working on the story.

Kelly Hashway said...

Aw, thanks for referring Scrollwork to my blog post, Donna. So sweet of you.

This setting you have certainly lends itself to great emotion. Nicely done!

Donna Yates said...

You're welcome, Kelly. Thank you for your comment.

Fairday Morrow said...

Donna- I also enjoyed this post and thought it was moving. I can't imagine living back then with so many illness that no one knew how to stop! I know we have our share now, but we have come along way with medicine.

Thanks for sharing!
~Jess

Donna Yates said...

Jess, thank you for commenting. Yes, I think it must have been a horrible time to live.

OneMommy said...

Your words pulled me in quickly - such a sad time in history!

Donna Yates said...

OneMommy, thank you for your comment. It was definitely a sad time.

Pk Hrezo said...

Plagues always trip me out... I'm fascinated at what so many have endured.
Thank you for the award, Donna!!

Donna Yates said...

PK, you deserved the award, and you're welcome. I'm amazed at human endurance during times like that. It is something to study the resiliency of people when stretched to their limits.

Christina Williams said...

Wow! It's so personal and detailed. Very well done.

Donna Yates said...

Christina, thank you for your comment. I so appreciate your words.

The Desert Rocks said...

Thanks for the award Donna. I got this one a couple of times in the last month and I'm trying not to get into blog hops and memes too much. I totally appreciate it though. I feel very honored!
My favorite number is 7 and have you tried Coke Zero?

Donna Yates said...

The Desert Rocks, thanks for your comment. I did try coke zero once, but it just tasted so awfully sweet.

Joleene Naylor said...

Thanks for the link :)

Oh my gosh! What a fantastically written chapter! It made me teary eyed more than once - especially the futility of his killing the dog. That was so human. loved it!!

Donna Yates said...

Joleene, thank you for your comment, and you are welcome. I'm thrilled that you, one of my fav authors, likes this chapter.