School: Penicuik High School, Midlothian
As he returned home that evening her last breath had long since escaped her rosy lips.
“Alice?” called the doctor as he returned home.
He smiled weakly as she poked her head around the corner.
“It’s Beatrice…she’s…she’s…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it.
“She’s what Papa?” she replied, with a quiver of dread in her voice.
He gazed down into her apprehensive eyes, and sighed.
“It’s the Black Death, isn’t it?” she ventured.
He was forced to look away, but this only confirmed her fears. There was an awful silence as it sank in.
“I’m going to see her,” she exclaimed suddenly.
“No,” he blurted. “I don’t want you going over there.”
Alice’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion before comprehension and rage flooded over her.
“What do you mean ‘no’?” she retorted. “Beatrice is my best friend and has been for as long as I can remember!”
“She’s the third Copperfield to die. They’ve been punished by God with this plague for a reason, and I don’t want you associating with them,” he explained forcefully.
“She’s not dead yet,” she whispered furiously. “And God has made a foolish mistake, Beatrice is the kindest, loveliest person I know!” She wasn’t wrong, Beatrice truly was a beautiful young woman, figuratively and literally, and the doctor knew this. However, he’d made up his mind to keep his beloved daughter safe from harm. No matter what that meant she thought of him.
“Go to church this instant!” he bellowed. “You must apologise to the Lord. Unless you wish the same fate that has befallen your friend for yourself as well?”
She glared at her father with a fire in her eyes, it was not on purpose, but it stung none the less. “Fine.” She huffed bitterly as she stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind her. But she did not go to church as her father believed. She ran full pelt in the opposite direction, towards the Copperfield house.
She timidly knocked on the door. It was soon opened by a rather dishevelled looking Mrs Copperfield.
She took one look at Alice and burst into tears. Alice wasn’t shocked, Bea was the last after her youngest, Molly and Francesca’s passing. However, she was still taken aback seeing such a usually formidable woman in this state.
“I’m so sorry!” sniffed Mrs Copperfield, trying to re-compose herself.
“No, don’t be sorry,” soothed Alice. “You can’t blame yourself. None of this is your fault.”
Mrs Copperfield sniffed and showed Alice a feeble smile before leaving her with Beatrice.
Alice slipped through the door and sat beside her on the bed gazing out the window. They sat in silence, not even looking at each other, simply appreciating that this may be the last time they ever spent together. They remained silent until Beatrice started coughing violently. Alice couldn’t stand seeing her like this so continued glaring out the window. Only once Bea had regained control of her breathing did she chance a look. She watched a solitary tear streaking down her cheek. Bea caught her staring so she turned away, ashamed, though not entirely sure why. Beatrice began to sob and consequently cough again. Alice could keep her back turned no longer so pulled her into a tight embrace.
“I don’t… want to… die this… way,” murmured Bea.
“I don’t want you to die at all,” said Alice dryly, her sense of humour coming out at the wrong time again.
However, Bea smiled. “Neither do I,” she replied truthfully and let out a faint giggle. Then immediately began coughing into her elbow again, this time so violently that blood spluttered onto her dress. Alice looked at it in horror. But refused to show Beatrice her concern.
“It’s awfully cold in here, isn’t it?” said Bea.
Alice forced her eyes away from the blood and nodded, despite not hearing the question. Beatrice looked at her sceptically and said, “I’ll put something warmer on.”
Although she mainly wanted to change to stop Alice from staring at the stain. Bea turned to face the wall and pulled her dress up over her head. But before she could put on another, Alice had grabbed her forearm and stared at the huge dark blotches under her skin. Beatrice pulled away, blushing.
“Oh…Bea…” whispered Alice.
“Is it bad?”
Alice hesitated then lifted her head and bowed it into a reluctant nod. The breath caught in her throat as she tried to speak.
“No,” said Beatrice suddenly. “You aren’t allowed to be sad.”
Alice looked up, her eyes gleaming with tears which she was determined not to cry.
“We both knew this would happen. I have always been sickly. I was never going to survive this Plague. It’s come on much quicker than Molly or Francesca’s, so…I probably won’t make it till morning. So, NO. I don’t want my last hours to be spent weeping and wailing.”
Alice was momentarily dumbstruck. She had always admired Bea’s bravery and constant optimism, even if it was the complete opposite of her pessimistic outlook.
After Bea’s speech, they reminisced until well after nightfall. Then the church bell rang.
“I have to go,” realised Alice. Her father believed her to be at church and would have expected her back by now. She looked apologetically at Bea, who nodded. And she was off.
That night Alice cried herself to sleep. And the next morning, awoke to large boils under her arms. Alice immediately knew what this meant and could think only of one thing to do.
I should have listened… done as you said. You were only trying to protect me.
I am neither brave nor afraid.
However, I am cowardly, and immensely sorry.
But it was inevitable, and without Bea I see no reason to continue.
I love you …Alice.
And when he returned home that evening her last breath had long since escaped her rosy lips.
His daughter lay dead on the floor in a pool of her own blood.