A Plague Upon Your House
June 25th, 1831
It was a mercy that Sunday last was my afternoon off, and that I was able to go and fetch young Tom Tuttle from his parent’s house – for on Monday it burnt to the ground!
I was not surprised in the least, for Tessa Tuttle and, for that matter, Bert Tuttle too, was full of common sense and a sense of duty towards their fellows. Bert was wont to give this as his reason for joining with the other Gentlemen to outwit the Excise men, when he’d a drink taken. But he was such a gay, blithe sort of fellow I think me it was just for the adventure and the excitement that he had joined with them.
Howsomever, had Tessa notified the authorities of his death, or had a quack or magistrate examined his body; not just she, but the whole of Brighthelmstone would have been in an uproar! And the truth – that Bert had just returned from foreign parts – would have been sure to come out, and both Tessa and Tommy would have been in a prodigious pickle.
But I had heard the cough, and seen the hectic spots of colour on the lass’s face the night before and knew full well when I left with her son, that Tessa would not be up to the job of digging her husband’s grave herself. Knew too the way her mind was working when she did importune me to carry her son away from the little house hard-by the hill.
For there were no doubt in my mind, nor in Tessa Tuttle’s neither, I warrant, what the nature of the illness was that her man had brought home with him. It were, sure enough, the plague.
I hope to god that, by the time you be a-reading of this journal, the Blood Death, or the Black Death, or whatever name it is then called, will be defeated.
I, in fact, had thought it was gone forever, for never in my own lifetime had I encountered it. But one look at the body of Fred Tuttle, and the tell-tale stains showing through Tessa Tuttle’s bodice, told me instinctively what this illness was.
Then why, I expect you wonder, did I take young Tom with me? Was I not acting in an irresponsible manner by vowing to take care of a boy who would surely spread around the miasma which clung to him from his father’s body?
But no, I was convinced I was acting aright: - for Tessa Tuttle, upon the journey, had told me her son had lain by his father’s side for 3 long days both when it was quick and when it was dead. Yet his forehead was cool, he had no marks upon him, and he showed none of the signs which would have presented were he ill.
For The Plague be capricious: and while it might infect an entire household and send it to an early grave, so too could it mark out one or two whom it distained to touch and who, though one wonders why, escaped its deadly touch. Such a one, I quickly decided, was Tom Tuttle.
Which is not to say that I did not spend all the long night a-worriting and a-fretting that I were mistook; and that the responsibility for hundreds of deaths in Brighton would land squarely upon my shoulders.
So, I imagine, had poor Tessa Tuttle been a-thinking all the live-long day and throughout the long dark night. I imagine too that, had she slept at all or not, that, came the morn and her eyes would have corroborated what her heart already knew: she was about to embark upon a journey to meet up again with her husband and would be there ere sundown.
I should further imagine that, in this household, and knowing the occupation of Fred, there would ever be a nice bottle of fine French brand in the cupboard; and this, I would think, did she drink at the table, before lying down next to her husband. Whether she struggled with her tinder box, or dipped a candle into the fire matters not: Tessa Tuttle knew full well that the cleansing power of fire would shield her and Fred from discovery, censor judgements and, most of all, cleanse anything which might have contained the killing miasma which now infected the cottage.
But it were a double-blow for poor Timmy Tuttle who stared, blank and uncomprehending at first, into the eyes of they who brought the tidings of the terrible ‘accident’ which had claimed both his parents lives as they lay sleeping peacefully in their beds. For a moment I was sure that, in his unthinking sorrow, he would blurt out the fact that his father was already dead - and indeed he did open his mouth while I shuddered to think of what was to come. But, with the merest flick of an eye in my direction, he began to cry for his mamma and papa – and never spoke another word.
So that, I hope and pray, be the end of it. Tessa told me that Fred had sailed back from the Continent by himself and, upon landing, had come up to the cottage immediately and speaking to no-one. Thus he had left no trail here in England – though as to what happened and who he saw while away, we shall never know.
I have put both the Tuttles to the back of my mind now, for I cannot afford to dwell upon the subject and still perform my duties. So now I bend over my kitchen table, kneading the bread most ferocious, and wondering what on earth we are going to do further for young Tommy Tuttle.