Ring Around a Rosies...
None of them knew how they had ended up in this strange place, surrounded by water on all sides and in a constant state of moving and bobbing. They didn’t seem to mind though, the near endless supply of food from storage and the warm straw stolen from the sailor’s beds made an adequate living situation. After all, rats didn’t need much in order to thrive. Many of the rats had come from different places most had lived in port cities and were accustom to the coming and going of ships. The rats on this ship had come from all over. Each stop that the ship made some rats would get off, and often, new rats would hop on. If there was enough food, they could all get along.
This trade ship had come from the Black Sea and was sailing towards Europe. While in the Black Sea as the sailors were loading up their cargo several rats snuck aboard which was customary. However, some of these rats didn’t seem right to the others. They smelled of sickness and looked disheveled. They were itching constantly. They had ended up passing relatively quickly, the ship hadn’t even set sail yet by the death of the new rats.
The death of the sickly rats didn’t faze the old rats. More food for themselves had been the long mentality. They did not realize that the new rats had died but they had left something behind. Once the ship set sail the sickness had spread very fast among the remaining rats. The fleas that were once feeding on the sickly rats had jumped off their dead hosts and onto the other rats in the colony.
Fleas gravitate toward hair and warmth. City or ship made no difference to fleas. They lived their entire lives feasting on the blood of animals. The one condition they have is that the animal needs to be alive and warm-blooded in order to drink blood which is their only nutritional source. Once the fleas no longer had use of their dead host, they would simply jump onto another rat, or sailor.
The fleas that had bitten the sick rats now had the diseased blood inside of them. The fleas were left unaffected by this strange disease that had affected the rats. So, when rats kept dying, the fleas kept on moving to the next food source, the sailors.
The sailors were not as lucky as the fleas. Once the fleas who contained the diseased rat blood bit into the sailor’s skin there was not much a sailor could do. The bacteria transferred quickly and effectively from the rat to the sailor. The sailors would first have sudden onset of fever, headache, and chills. Often, their lymph nodes would become tender right away and soon become inflamed as the bacteria was growing a multiplying in the lymph node. Eventually in the gravely sick the lymph nodes would break open and ooze blood and pus. Not only did the fleas who bit infected rats transfer the disease to the sailors but contact with the secretions of an infected person or rat could carrier the disease.
The cramped living quarters of the sailors did nothing to slow down the spread. At this point in the journey most of the rats had died, and the sailors were falling fast. It seemed that every other day another sailor would die. They stacked the bodies in the bottom of boat. By the times they finally arrived at Messina most of the sailors had died. The few that were left were in awful shape. They limped off the boat and collapsed on the docks. The bustling port took notice and they drew a crowd. The fleas from the sailors moved on and found new hosts to affect. After the excitement of the day all the people who were at the port went home to their families. With them they brought the fleas from the diseased ship. Within 2 to 6 days people across the city suddenly became unwell. Stuck with fever, chills, and headaches.
The following week a woman named Clara who lived in East London received an ominous letter from her brother who was working on the port that day.
I was at the docks bringing in new shipments when a ship came in. The ship stunk of death and carried the bodies of many sailors. I have never seen anything so horrible in my life. Clara, ever since then there has been a dark sickness in the air. I have seen what happened to the men who suffered the disease prior. People who have fallen ill have turned sickly pale. They cough blood and have hideous sores on their skin. The ship brought a curse on the whole country Clara. I do believe that this will be the death of us all.
In any case. I write with the hope that you and Edward are safe and healthy. I found myself wondering if you had visited our mother recently. I haven’t spoken to her in many years and I have great regret for all the time I didn’t visit her. I suppose I may never find the answers to my question. Honestly Clara, I do believe I will have passed by the time this letter has reached you. Meaning these are my last words to you. I want you to remember that I always loved you and I wish I could have been there to see you and Ed get married.
Before Clara had the opportunity to send a letter back to her beloved brother the news reached her that he had died from the mysterious disease. She was in disbelief by the short amount of time it had taken her brother to fall ill and parish from his ailments.
As the disease spread city to city Clara was fearful of it more each day. In a drastic measure she risked it all too leave the heavily populated city of London. She went with her new husband and left the rest of her family behind. They travelled long and far and were careful to avoid cities which had been infected. They kept going until the came across a small farming community that had seemed to be untouched by the black death. While Clara and Ed settled down and made a new life away from the city. News once again came to her that both her parents had not been able to fight the disease. They were both dead.
"Black Death." History, https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/black-death.
“The Black Death.” BBC, 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z7r7hyc/revision/1.
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