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Nicole Cavalier
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Shop helper, former pickpocket
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[align=right]13-th of October 1719[/align]

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There had been enough deaths for the quarantine to be declared a couple of days ago. The town looks deserted, with all the residents who had the opportunity to leave to the countryside doing so. The beautiful mansions have their shutters up and gates padlocked, their well-kept lawns and gardens having weeds grown wildly.

As if the illness couldn’t catch them from behind if they run away! I think it is rather stupid to do. When God wants you back, there is no bargain that can save you. If you still have days left, you’ll overcome the illness or not catch it.

The market place is silent, almost abandoned, with closed shops, locked houses and empty streets. But those who are alive and hadn’t run away, still have to eat and live. Like us, for example, and prices went extremely high. Some of them have also to care for their sick ones. And poorer people are starving because they can’t afford the prices increasing every day.

Sick people are everywhere, sometimes getting dizzy with the first rising of the fever and looking for support, or some fallen.

The ghostlike patrol carriage of the Board of Guardians is running through the town, collecting the ones who fell ill and feverish at the corners of the streets. Another carriage, driven by strong black slaves, is collecting the dead ones.

I hate the plague doctors, and by listening to the people’s discussions I know why the Board of Guardians is using them for fighting all epidemics. They are, in fact, doctors without many clientele or their apprentices, monks who have some medical knowledge, brave barber-surgeons (most often their journeymen though). People say that quadroons and mulatto leaf doctors are among them too. Possible. But Madame Celestine is not among them, she has another call to which she has persuaded Madame Lucia too.

The wide-brimmed black hat worn close to the head identifies as doctors, but it also shields somehow from infection, covering what the bird mask doesn’t. And said birdmask is always filled with the aromatic herbs, camphor and spices they buy from us, countering the miasmas which cause illness. The leather breeches and the waxed, long, black overcoat also protects against the illness, making anything slide over and not remain. And those wooden canes… I think they and the beak masks are what frighten me the most… if not the imminence of death they are announcing.

They are everywhere, bad omens announcing impending death, with their eerie clothing and masks, this is why I hate them, even if they are our most faithful customers now. They and the people who remained, and to whom we sold most of our camphor and spices. People have started all kind of rumours about some of the plague doctors, and I refuse to think about it, may God have mercy of us!

Madame Celestine told us to drink only tea, to wash our hands often, to burn aromatic plants and incenses in the home, to sleep in clean beds, to do laundry more often than usual and to wear camphor balls at our necks. We are doing it, all of us, but Madame Lucia is endangering herself by helping Madame Celestine with her tent hospital, which is needed because the nuns’ run one is not enough. Maybe this is something God would take into account at the Great Judgment.

And if the illness is going to take me too… be God’s will done. I wouldn’t mind joining Maman, Papa and my brother Pierre, whom I hardly remember from my childhood, somewhere where, as Pere Dominique read at the funeral, ”there is no sadness, nor a sigh” and people aren’t sick and hungry anymore.

The only one who would miss me and regret me would be Madame Lucia, as she needs someone who can write and calculate properly in order to have a successful shop. Well, as successful as it can be, which means, like most shops here in the market place, to earn the daily bread.

But maybe all four of us – baby Alphonse included – will succeed to survive the quarantine, if God allows us. We are praying together each night.
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