A Dutch Girl During Plague Times

 

I remember that we lived in one of the tall, dark houses in Amsterdam with their steep staircases, almost like ladders. I remember being lifted up for a big hug and kiss by my father as he was readying himsself to go off with the Dutch East India Company for a voyage of many years. My father was a man with a great appetite for adventure and the unknown. He spent many evenings before he left reassuring my mother that he loved her and would bring home riches beyond her imagination. She kept her council, but didn't attempt to dissuade him.

We got along pretty well for quite a while after he left, having been provided for by him before he went. We had three servants - one man to take care of the parts of house maintenance not covered by the women - and two female servants - one in the kitchen, the other a housemaid.

My mother and I were close, and learned to pass the time together quite pleasantly. She taught me to sew and to knit, to paint and to play the lute - she even taught me my letters, as well as reading to me. We were happy together, although we both missed the bluff, hearty presence of my father.

But then the plague came. At first it was only an incredible rumor, easily dismissed - but soon enough it became real to us in the news of the sudden illnesses of our neighbors on the street. We began seeing the plague wagons drawing up to houses close to our own. Then one morning we discovered that our servants - all three of them - had fled in the night, and we were alone.

Still, this was not a tragedy, but only an inconvenience. We managed to adapt pretty well, but soon realized we had to go out of the house to find food! We still had money to buy it, but no one to bring it to us or cook it.

Then one day I woke up and went down to the basement to join my mother there for breakfast - but she was not there! Alarmed, I ran upstairs again and entered her bedroom. She was in bed, and one look at her face told me that she had the plague! It was almost beyond recognition already. "Go away," she urged me. "I do not want you here." But I knew why she was saying that - she didn't want me to catch the disease. But I could not leave her, and did what I could, little as it was, to make her end less hideous!

But then it was over, and I was alone with her horrifying corpse, distorted beyond recognition by the disease. And then I felt the presence of the disease myself, and soon enough, died in horrible agony. I was only eight years old when I died.

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