The Plague-Omen

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    A peasant, having lost his wife and children by the plague, fled from his desolate hut and sought refuge in the forest.

    He wandered about the whole day; towards evening he made a hut of branches, lit a fire, and being tired soon fell asleep. It was already past midnight when he was awakened by a great noise. He jumped up and listened. He could hear, at a distance, merry songs, accompanied by the music of drums and pipes. He was greatly surprised at these rejoicings, especially when he remembered that the Plague was depopulating the country.

    The music approached, and the terror-stricken peasant saw Homen[1] advancing through a wide road. “Homen” consisted of a number of spectres of the most extraordinary shapes and kinds. In the midst of them was a high, black waggon, on the top of which sat the Plague. The ghastly company increased at every step; for almost everything they met on the road changed into a spectre and followed the rest.

    The peasant’s fire was nearly out,—there remained only a good sized, half-burnt stem. As soon as Homen approached, the fire-brand stood up, spread out two arms from its sides, and the red embers changed into two shining eyes. It joined at once the train of the Plague, and began also to sing.

    The peasant was thunderstruck. Almost beside himself with terror, he seized his axe and tried to strike the nearest spectre; but the axe fell from his hands, and was immediately changed into the shape of a tall woman. She shook her dark hair before his eyes, joined the throng, and began also to sing.

    Homen passed on; the astonished peasant saw how trees, bushes, even owls, and other night birds, assumed various forms, and swelled the horrible company—the dreadful harbinger of wide-spread death. He fell senseless on the ground.

    In the morning, when the warm sun awakened him, he found that all he had brought with him was broken to pieces: his goods spoiled, his clothes torn. He knew at once that it was nothing else than Homen who had done him so much injury; and thanking Heaven that at least his life was spared, he went further on in search of food and shelter.

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