I resolved not to write to you too hastily- I would like that you are settled within the house and getting into a sort of routine first, but alas! I could not stay my pen a moment longer. It has only been five days since we parted, and I miss you all so terribly. Were it not for the shop, I would join you posthaste, but until Mr. Adams and I can get the business in a safe state of affairs, I dare not leave.
Has the house been well looked-after? I hope Miss Grimes had not sat on the dusting and fussing while we’ve been in the city. Do remind her to call after Mr. Durbin. Last time we went to the country, I do recall the hedges were in desperate need of trimming. I cannot imagine them now, growing long in the summer heat!
How are the children? Enjoying the country air? Do set Albert upon going outside. I believe the city life may be hard on his poor health and the air out there may do him some good. Anne, I’m sure, is already making trouble in the gardens. That girl does enjoy her mischief! As much as I am surprised to admit, I do miss them running about underfoot. The house seems so empty when I return home each night.
My mother has taken to delivering a meal to me each night, to remind me to eat. I’ve told her countless times to stay indoors if she won’t be bothered to go to the country. They have a beautiful home, not two miles from ours in the hills, that she has refused to go to. Father is partly the problem- he believes as his grandfather survived the Black Death that he must be immune to whatever this new illness might be. He is steadfast in his resolve; he will not be chased from his home by a silly cold. While I avoid argument, I do admit to somewhat hearing his point of view. Very few have died of this new illness, and it has yet to spread out of the outskirts. Perhaps it was an overabundance of caution that had me send you and the children away.
Whatever the course of this may be, I do think I will get the shop into a settled state and join you. There are still a great many orders, but we have stopped accepting new ones and should be done fulfilling within a fortnight. Surely then, even if this new illness has burned out, we might use the time to holiday and recoup our faculties for another year. I do miss our strolls through the gardens.
Dearest love, do not think, through this whole letter of missing and wishing, that I might not miss you. I miss you the most, with such a fervor that I have taken to carrying the cameo of your visage you had made for my birthday in my breast pocket at all times. It is like a small piece of you near my heart, always.
I look forward to when the house is not so empty and my heart is full again. When we are reunited, I swear upon Heaven and Earth, we shall not be parted again, but for Death.
All of my love,
My Darling Joanna,
What an exquisite drawing by sweet Anne! Her hand is much like her mother’s. If you’ve time, I’d long to see a drawing you might put together. Anything will do- ask Anne, she seems to have some ideas for subjects!
I am glad to hear of Albert’s improving disposition. What great joy it is, to think of my son running out in the lawn, cheeks rosy and vibrant! Such joyous news you send me, yet I have none to send in return. In fact, this city seems to have grown more dismal with each day. While it pains me to be away from you, I am glad you all are safe and happy away from here.
The illness has spread to several neighborhoods. The deaths seem delayed, as now they are pouring in. The burial lists pinned to the church doors each morning grow longer and longer. Some whisper that it is a plague. Even my father has quieted his boasts of family immunity.
Mr. Adams and I made the decision that, since many of our workers come from some of the neighborhoods worst hit, we shall run the shop ourselves until we leave. It has made the task longer, with only two sets of hands instead of seven, but it is safer. We’ve made a promise to each other not to dine out and to avoid the markets and take from our stock instead. The deliveries to any of the neighborhoods in the thick of it have been forestalled. We await one shipment of grain two towns to the west, and then we might be able to close out within a night. The delivery is scheduled for two days from now. Perhaps, in those two days, I might convince my mother to leave the city after all.
You are still the forefront of my thoughts and dreams, Joanna. Every night I lay in bed, listening to the quiet house and the candles flickering at my bedside, and think of the next time we shall be together. I hope I have not upset you overmuch with the news relayed above- be assured, I am staying home and having no social calls unless it is with Mr. Adams or my parents. It is dreadfully boring, but soon I will leave the city and be with you, my dear. Pluck a bouquet for my arrival, five days hence. Then, I swear, I shall be with you.
All my heart,
You send frightening news. Not one day ago I sent you my letter and already you tell me that the local constable is closing the town’s doors to city-folk? On what grounds? Surely, those living in the outer neighborhoods would not have the means to travel so far, and without work! Regardless, I shall do as you ask. When I hire a coach, I will come by night so there might be no one to see me pass.
To tell the truth of it, I may have taken a coach in the darkness in any case. There are many that now walk the streets, pale and red-eyed. They hide it with scarves and hats, in the summer heat no less, shielding their pale skin from the sunlight. I begin to wonder if the illness hasn’t spread much further than the rumors say. I still don’t know the half of what the illness entails, with so many wild tales floating about. Mr. Adams relayed a fantastical story of a man whose skin turned black in the sun. We agree that it must be exaggerated, most likely some forms of sores much like the Black Death. More believable information seems to point to fatigue, loss of color, chills, and irritable eyes. How this kills a man, I am unsure, but the burial list continues to grow.
Mr. Adams has heard great news, though- a new doctor is in town and has been said to have great luck with the disease in the neighborhood in which it originated. Should anything befall any acquaintance, we do believe he can be hired to help with great ease. We’ve yet to get the man’s name, but the streets are buzzing about him. I shall get to the bottom of it and keep his name with me at all times.
My mother has stopped coming over to bring me dinner. She left me a letter, explaining that, for my father’s health, she feels it best for her to stay inside until they leave for the country. They plan on leaving tomorrow and I am happy for it. God in Heaven knows how I’ve grown worried. The lists at the church weigh on my mind like my father’s old age already had begun to.
The shop is nearly set. By the time this letter reaches you, we will have been delivered our grain and be taking the rest our supplies with us when we leave for the country. That way, should the city devolve in our absence, we may worry but little about looters.
Pray, dear heart, take solace in my coming arrival. When we are a family once more, we shall embrace and forget our troubles. Much love to the children.
I apologize in advance for my handwriting. Much haste is needed- there are rumors the city is closing its gates. I’ve squared away the shop with Mr. Adams and am in the process of hiring a coach for myself and my parents. Have Miss Grimes ready the guest bedroom. They will not be with us long, I assure you, but fleeing from a city by night on such short notice will fray my poor mother’s nerves.
May this be the last letter before we are together again, my dear.
Guilt in not writing you for two long days has eaten me away, but I know not what to write. I bear only horror with my pen, horror I wish to spare you from. Alas, I must warn you that I shall not be joining you any time soon. The city gates are closed and well-guarded. The whole of the city is in quarantine.
Our plan went well, the last I wrote you. Mr. Adams and I said our goodbyes, I hired a coach, and, until I set foot at my father’s threshold, all seemed well. Then my poor mother opened the door. She appeared to have been crying. I asked her in a fright what might be wrong and she related to me that my father had been feeling quite out of sorts. Feverish. Chilled. His eyes so bloodshot he could barely open them. A strange aversion to the sun. It was the plague.
I took her hand to comfort her and told her to stay at his bedside. I immediately rang Mr. Adams, who hadn’t yet departed, to get the name of that doctor. I was determined to at least send the doctor and then leave alone. Horrible, I know, but you haven’t seen the city, Joanna. It is not a place anyone wishes to stay any longer. Few people walk the streets in the day. Those that do are skittish, hiding in the shade and hugging the walls of the buildings. There is no life here any longer. Escape is self-preservation.
Mr. Adams readily supplied me the name. I set about finding the good Doctor Reed and managed to find him fairly quickly on our side of town. That confirmed my suspicions that the plague has spread further than was advertised- and, I must admit, upon the sight of the doctor, a jolt of fear ran up my spine. Whether it was the implications for our side of town or the man himself, I still am not sure. Perhaps it was revulsion about the task at hand that set me ill at ease. Regardless, I asked for his help and he followed me back to my father’s.
After he went in and assured me he would take very good care, I embraced my mother once more and ran for home. The coach was waiting and night was falling. I packed hurriedly and locked our door just as the lamps were starting to be lit. The coachman drove like mad once we were on our way, barreling through the streets. I do think he wanted to escape the city as well.
Unhappily, when we arrived the gates were closed. No amount of bribery, begging, or threatening worked. I stood at that gate refusing to back down for a good hour. Not all of what I said is honorable, I’m loathe to admit, so I will omit it here. Finally, a gun was pointed. The coachman drove me home.
My dearest Joanna, I have walked to every gate and found the same, both day and night. Now, reality sinking in, I have holed myself up into the house in preparation of a long, hot summer inside. I am not ashamed to say I’ve cried, thinking of you and the children. Until now, the pain was so unbearable, I could not lift the pen.
Now, I write you in fear. I cannot seem to get warm. I sit in the sun in our study in a coat and blanket, shivering. I am afraid. Afraid that my mother may have given me the plague without realizing.
Pray for me.
I have not left the house. I watch the few people in the streets every day from above, looking for signs of the return of life and find none. It is quiet. It is lonely.
From the window, I dropped a penny to a boy passing below to go check on my parents. He returned saying there was no answer. I paid him another penny to find the Doctor. Perhaps he will bring news, but I do not have much hope. They are old, my wife. Old and stubborn. If what I am going through is half of what they might’ve experienced at the hands of the plague, I dare not think of how they might’ve suffered.
Yes, I know. I hear you in my head now. You are telling me not to give up hope, not to write them off as dead before the clergy alerts me. But I know. I feel it. I feel it in every shiver, in every body ache. Their souls cry out behind my heavy eyelids. They are gone, Joanna. God knows. Maybe Mr. Adams, too. Or the boy I just sent off. Or Doctor Reed.
I must leave off. There is a ringing at the door.
Doctor Reed has just visited. He would not say a word about my parents, saying my condition is too fragile for any kind of news. I did not think myself so weak, but I am so very cold. And the sunlight brings no comfort any longer. Only pain.
He will begin his treatments on me immediately, starting with a blood-letting tonight. There are to be a few rounds of blood-letting over the course of three days and then an elixir he has concocted. Not everyone survives, he says, but younger people tend to receive it best. He still revolts me in some manner I cannot describe, but he gives me hope, Joanna. Hope that I might see you again. Hope to see Anne in a drawing room as a young lady, hope to see Albert as a dashing young man learning my trade.
I love you so dearly, Joanna. Should this be the last letter, do know that I shall wait for you in Heaven. You will make such a beautiful angel one day.
All of my love and heart,
Day three of the blood-letting with no signs of improevment. Feels like suckign the life out of me. All over neck.
Lawyers won’t- (incoherent) living will.
Everything to you. Take care of the children.
My sweet flower and love of my life, Joanna,
I apologize deeply for my last letter. Blood-letting does not lend itself to clear thinking. Neither does panic lead to rationality! I have been sorely confused over the last few weeks and would like to set the record straight.
The plague is much overblown! After a few blood-letting sessions and the wonderful elixir provided by the fantastic Doctor Reed, I am better than new, in fact, much improved for it! Why I thought he was an unpleasant man is beyond me- everything shines clearer in the light of the moon, they say, and why shouldn’t it? Quite a man, and he has set my head on straight about the entire plague.
As I’ve recovered and taken in enough juicy meals, he allowed me to know about my parents! They were very proper, refusing to enter the door at first until I explicitly invited them in, but it is all in good fun. They are in better health than I have ever seen and Doctor Reed says their recovery will extend their lives well past their seventies. Wonderful news, my dear, is it not?
As it is, I find the doors of the city still closed, even at night. The guard seems to thin out every night, though, and we do believe we’ll be able to get them open within a few days. It would please me greatly should you and the children come back to stay at the house. Doctor Reed says if you undergo the treatment before catching the plague, you will become immune from most diseases in the future. A brave claim, but, knowing him, one I believe.
Please, dearest heart, make haste back for the city. We shall open the gates just for you and sing our greetings from the rooftops. Doctor Reed is eager to meet you, after all I’ve relayed about you and the children to him. He looks forward to making your acquaintance and I, for one, am looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with your soft lips and warm neck.
I swear, no plague shall ever part us again. Our family will be whole, from here into eternity, never to be separated again.
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Vampires! I liked the way the story was told, through letters. It reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a historical fiction novel about the occupation of Guernsey after World War II. Very well put together, I was guessing as to what the plague really about as soon as Fitzwilliam mentioned the aversion to the sun, loved all the little details!