A deadly visitor


The beautiful marble gleams in the orange-coloured light as it rolls across the floorboards. Four pairs of eyes watch it intently as it rolls aimlessly, slicing through the other marbles as it bounces off them and spins around, twisting and turning as it does so. Everybody holds their breaths, even me, for the final outcome and when it does come, the tense atmosphere collapses as Matthew and Peter break out into an uproar. Mother Martha and I sigh tiredly. I sit on my favourite wooden rocking chair with my mother Martha, our gaze drifting back to our knitting after holding our breath for a few apprehensive seconds of the game. I rock back and forth on her chair as mother explains how to knit a scarf using different balls of wool. After a while I sigh again; it’s very hard to concentrate when I have two little loud brothers squabbling over a pointless marble game.                                                                                                                                                              
“Be quiet, Peter!” I hear Matthew groan. “I am white. My white marble has hit exactly thirteen of your black ones. Your black marble’s only hit seven of my white ones. Thirteen of yours and seven of mine are out. Now we play round three.” He blew his fringe by sticking his bottom lip out and blowing. “Simple!”  I block my ears as a reply echoes out.                                “That’s unfair!” Peter wails. “I am not playing! Mother he’s cheating!” And, within that mother and I both sigh again and she goes up to them and tells them to be quiet and gives Peter and hug and…                                                                                       THUD, THUD!                                                                                                                                                                                 My heart thuds in my chest at the sudden sound. Then a though strikes me and I calm down. It must be father back from a long day of work in the farm. I glance at mother, Matthew and Peter. I smile. The two are still debating over the game whilst mother is trying relentlessly to get things settled.                                                                                                                             “Why don’t you two play a different game instead then,” she says gently. “Like the wooden train track your father bought you two the other day.”  I just about hear groans of reply as I go to open the heavy wooden door.                                                       “But it’s old and tattered…”                                                                                                                                                             “Mother, that’s boring…”                                                                                                                                                                 A face looks at me after I open the door. It is father standing in the doorway. He’s got dirt smeared in patches around his face and clothes. His boots are old and tattered and I can just about notice that the soles of his boots are wearing off and when he takes his big boots of that his skin is coarse and some of it is slowly peeling away. I shudder as I see the pale pink skin sitting beneath the peeled off skin. As he comes in, he takes a seat on my rocking chair and rocks back and forth. He sees my two brothers and gives them a wink as if saying ‘hello’. But behind his cheerfulness I catch some nervousness. Matthew winks back but Peter doesn’t seem to notice. He’s sitting on mother’s lap, eating pottage made from the little pieces of lamb that mother had saved and a few vegetables. I smile as I see Peter’s mouth full with the food and bits of vegetable spread across his face. It doesn’t really matter I tell myself; he’s only six. Father suddenly says something which makes me and mother jump. He takes us into a corner of the room, the wooden floorboards creaking beneath our feet, and tells us something really very bad.                                                                                                                                                                                                          “You know Farmer Joe,” he begins. Mother Martha nods. I don’t know who he is so mother tells me that he’s a farmer living down the road, a friend of father’s. Then I nod too. “He told me this morning while we were working on the farm that the plague has spread out into London again.” Mother gasps and cups her hands around her mouth. Her eyes are round and fearful. I don’t know what’s going on and so mother tells me that it’s a deadly disease that killed her parents in 1636 when she was a baby. But when I tell her that it’s 1665 now, she tells me to listen and be quiet. She tells me that there are two types. One of them is caused by fleas and rodents and it’s when big lumps appear all around your body, some the size of an apple. She says it’s called the Bubonic Plague and it’s very deadly indeed. It kills people in a matter of days.  She tries to tell me the other type called the Pneumonic plague but I refuse.                                                                                                                       Now I gasp too.                                                                                                                                                                                 It’s dinner time and it is bread and cheese again with small beer for a drink. No one’s speaking around the table. There’s this kind of eerie silence around the room. It’s never ever been this quiet. Peter can’t stand the quietness so he’s kicking Matthew under the table to provoke him into saying something. Matthew’s quiet too. He knows something’s up.                                     After dinner I lay a linen sheet down and settle down to rest with Peter and Matthew beside me. Mother and father are wide awake. I see their eyes wide open, their minds whirling in thoughts. We’re all squashed in one room. This is our living room, our dining room, our bedroom and even Matthew and Peter’s playroom. It’s the room I love most of all because it acts like mostly everything to us. It’s where we do almost everything. It’s the centre of our everyday lives. I look left and I see our tiny kitchen, just big enough to fit a few cooking pots, a little stove and a small larder. And as I peer ahead of me, I see a tiny privy where a large pot is kept to excrete our waste. I think about how fortunate I am to at least have a place to live unlike those poor beggars on the streets. Suddenly, I feel deeply sorry for them. I look around me and spot mother and father still wide awake. I try to close my eyes in order to sleep and finally I do. Before I know it I’m whisked off into a world of fantasy.

Shafts of light are streaming in through the window just enough to awake me from my fantastical dream. I yawn as I spot mother chivvying Matthew and Peter up to get ready for their Petty school. As she tells me to get up, I gently take my hand in hers and tell her not to send Matthew and Peter to school because of the outbreak of the plague. She sighs.                                 “I know, my dear Catherine,” she tells me softly, her voice quietening down to a whisper. “But your father has told me that the plague has taken place in the west of London, far away from London. It says it in the newspapers too. It will surely not affect Matty and Peter.” I give her an uncertain look. She sighs again. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. Just remember not to tell your brothers anything about this.” I open my mouth to protest but then close it again. I have a feeling mother is right. She’s always right.
As my brothers head off to Petty school where they learn basic numbers and words, I help mother sort out the things in the larder and then go off to practice my sewing and knitting the way mother always does. I manage to finish off the scarf mother half-finished yesterday and I proudly go and show mother. She hugs me and kisses me gently on the cheek. She tells me that it can be a present for Matthew on his birthday and I give her a smile and tell her that it is a wonderful idea.  Then, mother teaches me how to make pottage and I realise that cooking is just as fun as knitting, sewing and playing. She teaches me how to cut the vegetables up using a small knife and how to make the soup bit of the pottage. After it’s cooked completely, she lets me taste a little. It feels like heaven as the warm soup trickles down my throat and it warms up my body, making me fall into an ecstasy into a dream-like world…                                                                                                                                               THUD! THUD! THUD! The sudden sound shatters my trance like a piece of glass. Mother notices me startle and laughs and then goes to get the door. I stare at the pan at the bowl of pottage and start slurping some more down my throat, totally oblivious of what was going on at the front door. Then suddenly, I hear screams and I run desperately towards mother, the bowl of half-filled pottage still clutched in my hand. Then I see it. The exact thing I was fearing of since yesterday. My bowl drops to the ground in a crash as my eyes meet my fate. There before me is father lying there with a pool of blood around him. I drop to my knees and shake father and take hold of his hand and find father wheezing heavily. I see Farmer Joe behind him, his linen shirt dyed in red blood. Mother is screaming and other people are beginning to crowd round our tiny home. They are gasping, gossiping and some are even running away at the sight. Mother desperately orders Farmer Joe to go and find a barber-surgeon as they were called. Farmer Joe does as he is told and within seconds a man arrives inside with his whole body covered up. He tells us that we all had to move away to avoid the disease spreading. Everyone backs away as mother and I run to Farmer Joe’s home as he lives nearby. I can feel my heart booming in my chest mainly because of the terror, fear and nervousness of what has happened. Tears are rolling down my mother’s cheeks and mine as we sit there in their hallway in anticipation. After a few hours, Matthew and Peter return from school, tears flooding down their cheeks. Mother tells me that father has caught the Pneumonic plague and Matthew overhears. She says through tears that the plague must have arrived earlier into the east side of London than predicted. Matthew tells us the fact that he had noticed father coughing up blood in the night and then he begins to cry. I immediately find myself screaming at Matthew.                                                                    “Why didn’t you tell any of us, then?” I yell. He begins to sob.                                                                                                      “I thought it was just a thing that everybody did when they were old like father,” He cries. “I didn’t realise then that he was coughing up blood.” I turn to mother but I see that she isn’t there. I tell Matty and Peter to stay here until I go and get her but they refuse. I pick Peter up and take him into my arms. Matthew squeezes my hand tightly. We walk towards our home and I see the door open. I gasp. Mother is in there, lying against father, resting her arms on father’s chest. I decide to go in even though I’m not allowed to but the doctor comes out instead. What I hear almost makes me faint.                                                  “Your father is dead,” he says, his voice sharp and piercing. “Your mother died of shock.” And within that the three of us stood there, heartbroken, terrified. Alone in the open world.    

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