Lady With the Lamp
by James L. Choron
Once again, WOTS extends many thanks to James for this contribution and the many he had made in the past. please visit his web site as well.
It was the winter of 1919, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode rough shod over the frozen, yet smoking remains of the fallen Tsar's vast empire. Vladimir Lenin's fledgling socialist government, recently moved to Moscow, from St. Petersburg was locked in the grip of a life and death struggle with the remnants of Monarchists, in the form of the "White" Army and their foreign allies. Civil War wracked the land. Along with war, came starvation and pestilence on a scale that was unheard of. On top of all this, it was a particularly "bad" winter. Now, in Russia, "bad" does not mean "cold". The winter was not particularly cold, by Russian standards, and therein lay the problem. The temperature rose and fell like a roller coaster that year. relatively warm one day and bitterly cold the next. It was, what the old people called. Flu weather. and the Flu. the vast worldwide epidemic of Spanish Influenza. descended on Russia with a force that was beyond human comprehension.
It was as though Almighty God was raining his vengence on a country already gone mad. They called it the "Three Day Plague". If the person afflicted did not show signs of improvement within three days of onset. if the fever that often reached 105 degrees, did not break, and the accompanying convulsions cease, it was a certainty that the patient would die before the fourth sunrise. Over two million Russians entered eternity in this manner.
Novgorod, one of the oldest cities in Russia, located approximately 100 miles north of Moscow, was hit hard. Within the space of a week, half of the cities population of 15,000 were either dead or dying. There were so many sick that there were none fit to bury the dead. Doctors, already in short supply, were felled like trees under the blows of a woodsman's axe. Nurses were nonexistent, and the nuns, from the convent on the outskirts of the city, who usually performed such duties, were too busy taking care of their own to worry about others. Sisters of Charity they might well be, but. charity began. at least in this time of trial. at home.
Even if all this had not been the case, in the winter of 1919, there was precious little that anyone could do. The doctors were helpless. This was a time before the advent of antibiotics. before common over the counter remedies could more or less control common flu. and three generations before vaccination would almost eliminate the threat forever. The most that could be done was to sit with the sick and see that they took in fluids and stayed bundled against the chill, and hope, or pray that the fever would break. Into this grim specter of suffering, a single woman walked unafraid. The Countess Ordovski. the Lady with the Lantern.
Now, contrary to popular myth in the West, and certainly contrary to the current "nostalgia" craze sweeping certain aspects of Russian society, the Russian Aristocracy was not particularly well-loved at the time of the October Revolution. at least not among the common people. If they had been, there wouldn't have been a revolution, now would there? However, to every rule there is an exception, and the Countess Ordovski was the point of fact.
Alone, and unafraid, this gallant woman took control of the night. the worst time for those suffering from the deadly epidemic. Unthinking of her own health and well being, she was "The Lady with the Lamp", as she went from house to house, sometimes wading through snow drifts up to her waist, to bring comfort, if not aid, to the suffering. No one was too high in society to warrant her care. no one too low. She visited them all. trudging through the snow. a lantern in her hand and a milk can filled with hot cabbage soup. the best she could offer. strapped to her frail back.
For three long weeks the epidemic raged in Novogorod. Finally, as suddenly as it came, it began to abate, but only after a frightful toll in death, blood and destruction. Over half of the population was dead.
As life returned to normal, some of those who recovered began to remember the Countess. the "Aristocrat". the "Lady with the Lamp". No one had seen her since the sickness passed. but that was not unusual. Ever since the Revolution, she had pretty much kept to herself. While she was well thought of by the community, her late husband had been one of the causes of the Revolution. at least in the Novogorod Region. No one had mourned when he had been arrested and summarily shot as an "Enemy of the People and the Soviet State". Not even the Countess, some had noticed.
In any case, a delegation from the City Soviet was dispatched to the apartment that she now inhabited in the vast, sprawling mansion that had once been her home. Repeated knocks on the door brought no response. Finally, the Russian respect for privacy gave way to concern, and the door was forced open. There, before the startled eyes of the Committee, lying on her bed as if asleep, was the dead body of the Countess Ordovski. She was fully dressed, and on the floor besside her bed was a battered old milk can with a length of rope throught the handles forming a makeshift shoulder strap. She was stiff, and the body had begun to discolor, in spite of the sub-freezing temperature in the room. It was obvious from the condition of the body that she had died rather early on in the epidemic. She had been dead for at least a month...
James Choron is a featured contributor to this WorldOfTheStrange website.
Contributions include: !Is Ufology Dead?, King Bird Fifty, The Tunguska Incident - An Overview, School Days, In a Class By Herself, Dawn at the Alamo, Three Times A Hero, Lady With the Lamp, The Little Girl in the Garden
Website: http://wintersteel.homestead.com/home.html (dead link)
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