Chapters 14-15 Summary
The next morning, Crispin awakes to a dense fog. He continues walking up the road until he sees a person ahead. He stops, afraid that this stranger means to harm him. After watching and waiting for some time, Crispin realizes that the stranger is a dead body swinging from a gallows.
Crispin approaches the corpse and stares at it in disgust. The body is rotting, and crows have been eating the flesh. The tongue is hanging out, covered in mold, and one of the eyes is missing. A sign is stuck to the body with an arrow. Crispin cannot read, so he does not know what the words say.
Crispin kneels down and prays. Then, for a long time, he continues kneeling and just thinks. He does not know whether the man at the gallows was killed by criminals or by agents of the law. He wonders if the appearance of the body is a sign from God, or perhaps a signal that he, Crispin, has died and traveled to the gates of Hell.
After some time, Crispin realizes that he no longer wants to die. Although he cannot fathom why, the gruesome sight of a swinging corpse has awakened his desire to live. He prays to God for a sign about which way to go. When none comes, Crispin chooses a path that is dimly lit by the sun.
Crispin continues walking all day long, occasionally drinking from streams but always failing to find anything to eat. He reminds himself that he has gone hungry many times, and that he has not died yet. This does not help his discomfort, but it does help him feel resolve to go on. He begins to worry about the fact that he has not yet met a single living soul.
Eventually Crispin comes to a village. It is obviously smaller than Stromwell, but still, his first reaction is to hope that his journey is finished. But as he gets closer, he sees that the houses are all falling down. There are no animals in the meadows, and the fields are fallow. Crispin fears at first that he is witnessing something supernatural, but eventually he realizes that the village must have been destroyed by the Plague. Although he was not yet born when the Plague came, his mother and many others are old enough to have witnessed it. At the time, Stromwell’s population fell by about half. Many people died, and many others fled to the cities. This small village must have been destroyed completely.
Although he is afraid, Crispin is desperate to find some food. He goes into a cottage and sees a skeleton holding a cross. He knows that the skeleton was once a person who died of Plague, but it scares him anyway. He crosses himself and decides to return to the road. At that moment, he hears a voice, singing.