How I, Lucia Dacre, came to write this history, at
the time that I with
my sister was lodged in A deserted house in London, when the great
plague was at its height; which was in the months of July and August,
Anno sixteen hundred and sixty-five.
Now that my sister and myself are in such a strange melancholy case, and I enforced to spend many hours daily in idleness, I find the time hang very heavy; for I cannot, like Althea, entertain any longer the hopes that brought us hither. She continues daily to make great exertions in pursuing them, but does not often admit my help; and, being afraid that I may fall into mere desperation, I have bethought me how to amuse some hours daily by setting down the manner of our present troubles and the beginnings that led to them. May I live to write of their happy end! but my fears are very great, and almost forbid me to pray thus.
Having thus resolved how to beguile the heavy time, I began spying about for paper and pens and ink; and finding in a kind of lumber room a great many sheets of coarse paper, I stitched them together; then with much trembling I peeped into the study of the late poor master of the house, and there found a bundle of quills and some ink; and, leaving money in his desk to the full value of the things I took, I carried my writing-tools into the great front parlour, and set myself to the work.
Now while I sat considering how to begin, Althea comes softly behind me, and, looking over my shoulder, asks me what I would be at; and when I told her, ‘What, child,’ says she, ’art going to turn historian? Thy spirits are more settled than mine, if thou canst sit quietly down to such work, with sights like these daily before thine eyes,’ pointing with her hand to the window. Now I had pulled the table into a corner well out of sight from the street, wishing not to be discerned; for as yet but one knows of our being hidden in this house, and we would fain keep it a secret still. But rising and following with my eyes her pointing hand, I could behold a sight common enough, but too dismal to be looked on without fresh apprehension each time: in the middle of the street, which is quite grown with grass, a horse and cart standing, no driver in sight near it, and the cart as we too well knew being that which goes round daily to take away such as die of the Plague, though as it then stood we could not discern if any dead person lay in it.
‘It is waiting for our neighbour next door,’ says Althea. ’As I stood by an open casement up-stairs I plainly heard the family bemoaning themselves because the master is dead; I heard also how they are devising to get away unobserved in the early morning, and escape to some place of safety in the country. How sayest thou, Lucy? were it not well for thee to go also in their company?’