Diary of a Plague Doctor’s Wife by Heather R. Darsie 

Written by Heather R Darsie

Our heroine finds herself a sufficiently refined lady of marriageable age, living on a pleasant enough, modest country estate outside Marseille in the year 1619. 

March 6. Picking at my latest embroidery endeavor in the waning sun. Madame Callier, who is a handful of years older than me, plops into the chair across from me in the drawing room. Madame looking rather worse for the wear, I compliment her dress. I do not mean it. She says, ‘so nice to see you, sister dear.’ I nod and smile sweetly, while stabbing my embroidery. My sister-in-law insists she be called Madame. I must remember to ask my dear brother to address this. Madame takes out her far superior embroidery. I despair and abandon my project. 

March 7. After Sunday dinner with my brother Guillaume, Madame, Father, and Mother, I resume my embroidery with Madame and Mother in the drawing room. Mother is much worse with a needle, but Madame and I praise her endlessly. Madame fauns unexpectedly over my roses that look like red violets, Mother says it is time I marry. Madame squeals. Feign intense interest in violets and wait for the candles to burn too low. 

March 11. Mother and Madame take me into Marseille under the pretense of shaking off the winter cobwebs. Carriage ride pleasant, spells of sunshine, and green grass. Once arrived at Marseille, Mother and Madame make a beeline for the fashionable merchants. They declare that I need a new hat. I demur. Insist upon Hat with Large Feather, so I look my best. Unsure of why I need to look my best. Grow suspicious after I am taken to pick fabric which matches fashionable new hat with feather; excitement over new dress pushes away suspicion. 

Suspicion returns at supper, for which Father and Guillaume join us. Maid does her best to keep a straight face, much in contrast to mine own ability. Must remember to ask Maid how to keep a straight face. Father proudly announces that he found a ‘handsome, reputable young man’ who would make a darling son-in-law. Gertrude, the family parrot, squawks from her corner of the dining room. Maid pours everyone a touch more red Bordeaux. I am tempted to take the entire wine vessel from her. Engage in discourse with Father about Handsome, Reputable Young Man. Wonder if Gertrude and I could trade places. Eat delicious oval-shaped, almond financiers. Contemplate fate. 

Am pleased to find I can abandon my red violets under pretense of ‘making something special’ for Handsome, Reputable Young Man. Complete deception by continuing to pick at red violets; learn that Mother and Madame cannot discern one of my patterns from any other. Think this is best. 

March 15. Handsome, Reputable Young Man joins us for family dinner. Guillaume and Madame utterly incapable of allowing him to say anything. Father exclaims delight that HRYM finished his training to become a physician. Gertrude shouts and fluffs her feathers. 

Mother, Father, Madame, Guillaume, HRYM, and I go for a stroll after dinner. My new Hat with Large Feather will not stay pinned on my head. Struggle with hat throughout walk. HRYM seems unfazed. Men return to dining room to finish discussions. I go to bed. 

March 21. My engagement to HRYM, also known as Lazare Hilaire, is announced at parish church. I have mastered Hat with Large Feather, and it remains properly pinned to my head throughout the day of 

well-wishers from the village dropping by. Feel that HRYM is indeed handsome and reputable. Thank the stars for my good luck. 

April 7. Flurries of activity. Preparing for wedding ceremony in early May. 

May 3. Wedding ensues. HRYM remains charming. Father having cottage built behind the main house for us. Feel gratitude that I do not have to live with Mother and Father, and Guillaume and Madame. Insist that Gertrude comes with me. Lazare smiles sheepishly. Maid quite happy to be rid of Gertrude. 

May 6. Lazare and I disembark to Nice for sea air and honeymoon for a fortnight. 

May 7. Briefly debate whether the sea air at Nice will be any different than the sea air at Marseille. Assure myself that it will be. Immediately doubt myself upon arrival. 

May 10. Large fish market on the bay side of town smells too much like fish. 

May 15. Stroll around the castle grounds and cathedral. Sea air overall pleasant. Resume mental debate about whether it is different from the sea air at Marseille. Later discover that due to lack of proper hats, I gained more color from the sun than intended. Lazare seems not to notice. 

May 22. Return home to find cottage completed and furnished. Bedspread created by Madame and Mother hideous. Gertrude making contented parrot sounds. Help nowhere to be found. Lazare promises to right the situation. 

Dine with Mother, Father, Guillaume, and Madame at what is now the main house. Madame begins referring to the main house as ‘la Grande Maison’. Find this surprisingly reasonable and suitable. Dining room noticeably quieter without Gertrude. Maid seems much relieved. After dinner, realize that I need not pretend to do embroidery in the drawing room, and skip home to cottage. 

May 31. Trying day with the vegetable garden. Madame comes by to offer her advice, which is to say, tell me all she knows about gardening, which is almost nothing. Smile sweetly and nod. Give up gardening after the chickens offer their assistance, which is to say, peck away everything I planted. Hear a hen clucking from inside the cottage. Upon entering the cottage, learn that Gertrude is the clucking culprit. Go to the main house to ask for vegetables. 

Maid gives me a cheery greeting. Madame, since recovered from the strain of advising me as to my garden, is startled at the idea of me carrying my own basket of vegetables. Asks whether Lazare, or ‘Monsieur le Physicien’, as she insists upon calling him, has hired any help. Explain he is a country doctor, and has not gone to Marseille yet. Madame asks Maid to prepare a picnic basket for tomorrow, and further declares that the three Matrons of the Family shall go to Marseille tomorrow. Become uncomfortable at being now accurately described a matron. Nod and smile sweetly. 

Return to clucking parrot and await Lazare. 

June 1. Lazare returned late last night and seemed very preoccupied. Gertrude tried her best chicken impression for him. Lazare, usually of cheerful disposition, remained unamused. Seems serious. Poured Lazare a small glass of watered wine and offered candied rose petals, the one thing I learned to make. 

Madame of course horrified when she first discovered me years ago toiling away at stove to make candied rose petals. After consuming one, she declared them a worthy undertaking. I digress. 

Lazare’s agitation remains. Try to find out what was wrong, but he has no genuine comment. Was concerned about very ill patient he saw today, the next village over. I gently mention need of more help around the house, and planned escape of the Matrons of the Family to Marseille. Lazare smirks, teases me, then pulls out a medical tome to read. I read François d’Amboise. We go to bed. 

Lazare up early, takes merely water and a slice of bread at breakfast. Asks for me to decorate a length of cloth to put to his mouth when visiting patients ‘who have a cough’. Makes declaration that my embroidery, ‘is of the utmost refinement’, and that he would like to carry it on him. Gertrude, unimpressed with Lazare’s praise, rifles through her food dish. Note to self that parrots hold grudges. I nod and smile sweetly, even if my embroidery is on par with a girl half my age, which is to say, more or less an utter child. Swear to purchase fine threads in stately colors for Lazare’s pocket-cloth. Lazare leaves for work. 

Don Hat with Large Feather. Immediately trip over chicken upon leaving the cottage. Am thankful I wore a brown dress, and tactfully pin shawl around waist to cover the dirt. Upon reaching the Maison, Madame notices dirt immediately. Mother despairs that she raised me to be better than that. Maid keeps a straight face and fetches a small bowl of water to blot dress. Attempt largely unsuccessful. Mother praises my ingenuity in pinning the shawl just right around my waist. Madame huffs. We enter the carriage. 

Carriage ride splendid enough. I enjoy seeing road dappled with sunshine. Birds chirp merrily. Think that I must attract these birds to the cottage so Gertrude can improve her linguistic abilities beyond Parrot and Chicken. 

Arrive at Marseille. Admire the efficiency and vivacity of the city. Secure practical lady, Alice, as help. Alice agrees to come with the Matrons of the Family to find embroidery materials. Alice to move in by the end of next week. Things seem promising. 

June 6. Alice arrives earlier than expected. Lazare asks her series of health questions, seems satisfied by Alice’s responses. Find Lazare’s questioning mildly bizarre. Gertrude does her best to show Alice how talented and pretty a parrot she is. Alice shows delight. Unknown whether said delight was feigned; perhaps Alice learnt along the way that parrots hold grudges. Begin to believe that Alice was a better find than I imagined. Madame, Mother, and Maid all come by to bring sweet rolls, ostensibly. True motive comes out when they invite themselves to dinner on the 9th. Pray Alice is sufficiently prepared for the personalities that live in the Maison. 

June 9. Alice puts forth a masterful effort of chicken, vegetables, and sweets for dinner. Gertrude seems perturbed at the decline in garden’s chicken population. Pray that she did not see Alice do away with said chickens. Madame, Guillaume, and Father talk ceaselessly. Maid keeps a straight face and assists Alice. Mother occasionally asks about the pattern I am making for Lazare’s pocket-cloth. Asks to see it after dinner. I dodge the request, saying I wish it to be for his eyes first. In reality, I have not started the embroidery. Determine that my few weeks’ break from embroidery is at an end. Our guests leave at the last precipice of a decent hour. 

Lazare and I have quiet conversation in the front room. Gertrude can certainly overhear, but thankfully has not expanded her lexicon beyond Parrot and Chicken. Our secrets are safe with her. Alice is tidying up in the kitchen to the way back of the cottage. 

Lazare holds my hand and adopts a serious, though gentle, tone. Reinforces how eager he is for completion of pocket-cloth from dear wife, as he may be going to Mont Pellier in July to meet with an Eminent Physician. Asks that I enjoy as much country air and diversions as possible. Find this odd, as this is my usual behavior. His tone had a hint of being an order to it. He remarks ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have mint growing in the garden’. Make mental note for Alice to secure mint for the garden; feel relieved that I can trust Alice. Suggest game of cards. Lazare obliges. We go to bed. 

June 13. My embroidery skills remain sub-par. I create a blue and red blob with a circle of pink and green on the pocket-cloth. A border of darker greenery ensues. Lazare proclaims my attempt at a bluebird encircled by a wreath of pink roses to be admirable, claims that border looks just like ivy. Grow concerned that his eyesight is poor. Lazare carefully folds the pocket-cloth and declares that it shall accompany him to Mont Pellier. Wonder if Lazare will brandish said pocket-cloth in front of Eminent Physician. I shudder to myself. 

June 14. Alice and Maid go to Marseille in the rain. Alice returns in state of soaking wet, yet victorious. Mint plants secured in Marseille. Must ask her how she manages. 

June 16. Lazare decides to visit his parents on the way to Mont Pellier for meeting with Eminent Physician. Meeting sounds like it will be at the university for the region’s doctors. Seems reasonable. Alice swears to manage the cottage and see to my utmost comfort whilst Lazare is away. Lazare makes show of equipping pocket-cloth despite being in his traveling clothes. He remains to me my HRYM. I pack candied rose petals for him. Gertrude shoots daggers from her beady parrot eyes directly at Lazare, perhaps silently wishing for his destruction. Lazare and I go out front of the Maison, where I see him off on his horse. As I walk back to the cottage, pray Gertrude never learns to speak any form of Human. 

June 20. Madame drops in to see how I am getting on ‘alone’. Protest that I have Alice, Gertrude, and chickens. Madame tut-tuts. Direct Madame outside to show her how well my roses and mint plants are growing. Madame adopts an air of coolness. Has no retort for my good success with these two types of plant. Make mental note for next family dinner. 

June 30. Have felt nauseated the last couple-few days. Alice put me to bed. Maid and Alice come to check on me periodically. Mother declares, rather hysterically, that I have the Plague. Word gets to Lazare, who swiftly comes home from his parents’ and promptly declares that I do not have the Plague. 

July 3. It would seem Lazare and I are expecting. He sends for a seamstress from Marseille and a bolt of fabric for infant clothing. He states he must leave for Mont Pellier in the morning. We enjoy a happy, glowing evening by the fire. 

July 6. Seamstress arrives. She is rather unimpressed by Madame’s flourishes. Guillaume decides without consulting Mother, Father, or Maid that we should have a lovely family meal that evening at the Maison. Crisis ensues, as pantry is not properly stocked. Alice is espied by Gertrude as gathering up two of Gertrude’s chicken friends. Gertrude tries to reassure her friends in her very best Chicken. They are never seen again by Gertrude. 

Seamstress is surprisingly polished but gruff character. Admire this combination of traits. Go to bed full of chicken and pray I keep everything down come the morning. 

July 15. Receive affectionate letter from Lazare, who is enjoying the meeting at the university. Eminent Physician has the surname of de Lorme, of the de Lormes who serve the House of Bourbon. Everyone at the Maison suitably impressed that Lazare Hilaire, from the countryside around Marseille, can move in such circles. Lazare promises to be home next week, and draws a little bluebird next to his signature. I am sufficiently charmed by my HRYM. 

July 20. Lazare was treated with the grandiosity of a duke by my relations upon his return from Mont Pellier. Guillaume and Father spoke excitedly, asking every question they could conjure about our current King Louis XII, and his mercurial mother Marie de’Medici. Lazare weathers this line of questions well, using his gentle way to return the topic of discussion to Eminent Physician and other company. Guillaume and Father do not hear him. Lazare’s responses being less than satisfactory, Guillaume, Father, Madame, and Mother decide with their hive mind to gossip about the House of Bourbon. Seamstress raises her Eyebrow of Justice at them. This would cause most persons, and indeed all children, to cease any untoward behavior or conversations. Guillaume, Father, Madame, and Mother are impervious to Eyebrow of Justice. I determine to learn this technique from Seamstress for when the Petit Hilaire arrives. 

July 21. Lazare takes an interest in sachets to fend off bad air. Asks me if I believe I could add lavender and other herbs to the garden. I remark ‘the season is too far gone.’ Lazare sees the wisdom in this, and asks the reliable Alice to have some delivered. Alice offers to go to Marseille. Lazare states he wishes to have things delivered to us ‘for the time being,’ as I and the Petit Hilaire are ‘in need of companionship.’ This, per usual, seems reasonable. 

July 24. Seamstress asks whether I would like to embroider the coverlet for Petit Hilaire’s crib. I startle myself with my emotional state at Seamstress’ question, and swiftly declare that Petit Hilaire’s coverlet shall be my masterpiece. Receive the Eyebrow of Justice. I remain adamant. 

August 1. After a week of vomiting, I relent to Seamstress. Whilst sitting with me in the front room, she suggests I embroider the border, while she will embroider bluebirds and flowers on the coverlet. Fearing the superiority of her embroidered bluebirds, I wildly suggest that she embroider it with Gertrude- parrots. The Eyebrow of Justice begins to emerge, then is just as quickly put away. Seamstress says, ‘Please allow me to create a sampler from which you could choose a motif.’ Alice, who by this time has come into the front room with refreshments, declares it a ‘lovely idea.’ I am forced to acquiesce. Gertrude shouts her displeasure at what surely will be Seamstress’ poor choice in bird motifs. 

August 3. I am forced to reconcile my self-perception with the truth shown by Seamstress’ abilities. She wisely included rabbits in her sampler, and I choose these for the coverlet. 

August 4. Lazare comes home quite late and immediately consults a medical text. He does not come to bed until quite late. 

August 6. Lazare seems to temporarily be suffering from a bought of either insomnia or extreme industry. It is difficult to say. Am unsure of whether this is typical of physicians. I enjoy the extra space in our bed. 

August 10. Lazare goes into Marseille to meet with physician friends. I ask for at least lengths, if not a bolt, of fabric to address my growing waistline. Lazare returns that evening in a state of heightened excitement and chatter. He forgot the fabric. Seamstress will send for it right away. Lazare is mildly cryptic at dinner, declaring that there is another meeting in Mont Pellier next month which he ‘simply must attend.’ Next asks how my sachets are coming along. Seamstress fetches one from the other room, giving me credit for having made it. Perhaps Seamstress can stay on after Petit Hilaire arrives. Lazare is up late into the night again. 

August 13. Alice suggests that a small duck-and-fish pond be dug out back so that we have further food options once Petit Hilaire arrives in February or so. Lazare agrees. There is a creek nearby which can feed the pond and keep the water free from mosquitoes. 

August 14. Rough-looking men arrive to dig duck-and-fish-pond. Chickens are dismayed. Gertrude in hysterics. Alice, Seamstress, and I are forced up to the Maison throughout the duration of creating the pond. 

August 20. Duck pond was completed a couple days ago, and ducks brought in to stock said pond. 

Lazare packed several pieces of paper, sachets, the pocket-cloth, and other items before dashing off to Mont Pellier yesterday. He made me swear that I would stay on the family property while he was gone, and not send Alice or Seamstress to town. I tried not to show my alarm or confusion, nodded, and smiled sweetly. 

August 25. Discover that Gertrude has learned to speak Duck with alarming alacrity. Pray that she never learns Infant. 

September 15. A curious month of frenetic activity. Madame has decided that winter provisioning must start in earnest and goes to Marseille to order enough food to feed the King’s army. Alice suggests an additional cellar be dug behind the Maison. Maid finds this a good idea and convinces Father. Guillaume protests, until Madame makes a veiled threat about depriving him of his favorite foods all winter. 

Lazare returned from Mont Pellier for a few days, and was off again. Promises to be back at the weekend. This saddens me, but I remind myself that I have the company of Alice, Seamstress, and Gertrude, not to mention Madame, Mother, Father, Maid, and Guillaume. 

My vomiting has been replaced by crying for No Reason. I routinely burst into tears throughout the month. Seamstress has abandoned the Eyebrow of Justice for the time being, and we blame my mood swings on the joys of Petit Hilaire. 

September 19. Lazare returns home. He gives me a rather passionate embrace in front of Alice and Seamstress in the front room. Declares his eternal love for me before inquiring after how many herbs and flowers I can cull and dry for him. It is of medical importance. The Eyebrow of Justice briefly returns. Lazare whispers, ‘I have important matters to discuss with you this evening.’ I blush, then burst into tears. Gertrude tries to impress Lazare with her best Duck. Lazare praises Gertrude, extending the olive branch to her. Remains to be seen whether this is effective. 

September 20. Am concerned my husband has reached a state of madness. The Eminent Physician and company were discussing the latest in medical technology, specifically, how to address recurring bouts 

of Plague. Lazare assures me ‘there is nothing to worry about,’ and that this is merely ‘a precaution’ against future disease. Shows me a picture of bird-like masks. My tears ensue. Gertrude huffs majestically from the other room. 

September 22. Lazare departs once more for Mont Pellier. Gertrude cries in anguish at his departure. I join her. 

© Heather R Darsie & Tudors Dynasty