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The Great Plague
Written in 1875

by Charlotte Maria Tucker

Fools make a mock at sin.

Proverbs 14:2

“What a violent storm is raging!” said Thorn, the teacher, to his scholars, as, after having dismissed them at the close of the school hours, he found them clustering together in the porch, afraid of venturing forth into the pelting rain, pouring down in large, heavy drops, mingled with hail, which danced on the wet brown pavement. “Come back into the room, my children. It is better than standing there in the cold. Amuse yourselves as you like until the weather clears up, while I occupy myself with reading.”

The boys gladly availed themselves of the permission and began to play together in one part of the room, while the weary teacher sat down in another, rested his pale brow on his hand and tried, as far as the noise and talking would let him, to forget his fatigue in a book.

He soon, however, found it impossible not to hear what was passing. His eye rested, indeed, on the page, but his mind could not take in the sense of it. He loved his pupils too well to think that his care of them should end with the hours of study. He looked on the immortal beings committed to his charge as those for whom he must one day render an account to his God and theirs.

“No, we’re all tired of that!” cried the voice of Bat Nayland, as some well-known game was proposed. “I know something that will give us a deal more fun. Let’s play at the highwayman and the judge!”

“What’s that? What’s that?” cried a dozen young voices.

“Oh! it’s what I saw at the penny theater, about a clever thief robbing a judge. Only think—robbing a judge!” The last words were repeated around the room in various tones of amusement and surprise.

“Oh! you shall know all about it, but first we must arrange the parts. You, Pat, shall be the thief and I will be the judge—no, you shall be the judge and I the thief! He was interrupted by a burst of laughter.

“Be quiet, will you?—Who’ll be the policeman?”

“I! I!” cried several of the children, eager to join in the proposed play.

“Now, Sam, you shall be the fat landlady,”—there was another roar of merriment louder than before—“for you must know that the thief is to get drunk. That’s how he is to be taken by the policeman and he staggers here and there,”—Bat began to imitate the unsteady movements of an intoxicated man, amid the renewed mirth of the children—“and when they seize him, he calls out a great oath—you shall hear it all just as I heard it.”

“I hope not,” said Thorn, very quietly, raising his eyes from his book. The boys were quiet in a moment. They had almost forgotten the presence of their teacher.

“Why, sir, do you think that there is any harm?” said Bat Nayland, “It does not make us thieves to have a little fun about them.”

“It lessens your horror for their crime. And remember the words in the Bible, “Fools make a mock at sin.” Can you imagine any true child of God laughing at theft, drunkenness, and swearing?”

There was profound silence in the room.

“This is one cause, I believe, why penny theaters are one of the most fruitful sources of vice and ruin to those who attend them. Wickedness, instead of appearing hateful as it does in God’s Word, is made amusing and even sometimes attractive, and those who willingly place themselves in the way of being corrupted by such sights, only mock the Holy One when they pray, Lead us not into temptation.

“But,” continued the teacher, in a more cheerful tone, “if I have stopped your amusement in one way, it is but fair that I should contribute to it in another. I hear the rain still pattering without—what would you say to my telling you a story?”

“A story, a story!” repeated the scholars, forming in a little circle around their teacher, for where are the children to be found upon earth on whom that word does not act like a spell?

“It is now long, long ago,” commenced Thorn, “nearly two hundred years, since the fearful plague raged in London. Nothing which we have witnessed in these happier days can give an idea of the horrors of that time. It is said that nearly seventy thousand people perished of this awful malady. Some authors make the number even ninety thousand. The nearest relatives were afraid of each other. When an unfortunate being showed symptoms that the disease had seized him—the swelling under the arms, the pain in the throat, the black spots, which were signs of the plague—his very servants fled from him in terror, and unless someone was found to help the sufferer, from love even stronger than fear of death, he was left to perish alone, for the plague was fearfully infectious.

When a door was marked with a cross, the sign that the fearful scourge had entered the house, it was shunned by all but the driver of the dead-cart—that gloomy conveyance which moved slowly through the silent streets to carry away the bodies of those who had sunk beneath the terrible disease!”

“Was London ever in such a horrible state?” cried Bat Nayland, “It must have been a thousand times worse than the cholera!”

“What I have told you about it, I believe to be strictly true. I leave you all, however, to judge whether what I am about to relate can be so.”

“In a small house, at the time when the plague was raging, dwelt a widow with five young children. She loved them with the fondest, truest love. They were all that were left her in the world. From the first appearance of the plague in London, her heart had been full of painful anxiety—far less for herself than for them. Determined to take every human precaution to guard her little ones from danger, she forbade them to quit the house, which she only left herself in order to procure food, holding a handkerchief steeped in vinegar before her face, as far as possible to keep out infection. Her anxiety became yet more distressing when she saw one morning on the door of the very opposite house the fatal sign marked, and below it chalked the heart-touching words, ‘Lord, have mercy upon us!’

“That day the mother was compelled to go out for bread. She left her home with a very heavy heart, first looking earnestly upon all and each of her children, to see if they yet appeared healthy and well, repeating her command that none should stir out, and inwardly breathing a prayer that the Almighty would preserve them during her absence.

“As she returned with hurried steps towards her home, shuddering at the recollection of the sights of horror which she had seen in the course of her walk, with terror she observed her eldest son playing upon the very threshold of the infected house, and trying to imitate with a piece of chalk the dreadful signs upon the door.”

“The little idiot!”—“He must have been without his senses!”—“What did the poor mother do?” were the exclamations that burst from Thorn’s listeners.

“She could not speak, in the transport of her anger and grief. She seized him by the arm and dragged him into her own house, with feelings which only a mother can understand. She found her four other children assembled in her little parlor, amusing themselves by—would you believe it?—playing at catching the plague!”

“Oh, no, no!” cried the children at once. “You told us that we should judge whether the story were true and we are sure that this cannot be true.”

“And why not?” inquired the teacher.

“Because,” answered Bat, replying for the rest, “the plague was too horrible a thing to make a joke of. Just at the time when their mother was so anxious, when thousands were suffering so much around them—no, no, that would have been too bad. They could never have made game of the plague!”

“And yet, what were my pupils doing ten minutes ago, but making game of a far worse disease than the plague—the fatal disease of sin? Its spots are blacker, the pain it gives more terrible. Often has it caused the death of the body, and except where repented of and forsaken, the death, the endless death of the soul. Oh, my children! It may be your lot, as it was that mother’s, to be obliged to go out and meet the danger, for the Almighty may have seen good to place you in situations of great temptation, but if so, take every means of guarding your own hearts by faith, watchfulness, and prayer. But oh! never willfully throw yourselves into temptation—do not play upon the threshold of the infected house—do not trifle with the danger which it is possible to avoid, and when inclined to think lightly or speak lightly of that which brought ruin and death into the world, remember that fools make a mock at sin, but that to free us from its terrible disease and the fatal consequences which it brings, cost the Eternal Son of the Most High tears, blood, and even life itself!”

Fools make a mock at sin, but, oh!

God’s wiser children do not so.

They know too well the strife with sin,

How hard the battle is to win.

They laugh not at the wound within,

For they its danger know.

Oh, guide thy mirth by wisdom’s rules,

For sorrow ends the laugh of fools!

Fools make a mock at sin, but, oh!

Lost, guilty spirits do not so.

They know too well the price it cost.

They know through it that heaven was lost.

No drowning seaman, tempest-tost,

Jests as he sinks below!

Oh, guide thy mirth by wisdom’s rules,

For sorrow ends the laugh of fools!

Fools make a mock at sin, but, oh!

God’s holy angels do not so.

For they upon the Cross have gazed,

The Cross which sin, our sin, had raised,

And viewed, all wondering and amazed,

A Savior’s life-blood flow!

Then write these words thy heart within—

Fools, and fools only, mock at sin!

Edited by Pam Takahashi
Proofed by Deborah Gardner


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