Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

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Anna Frith used to love fall—the wood stacked near the door, the bales of hay gathered in the yard, the rumble of apples in the cellar bins. But this year, the wood and hay are scant, and the apples are marred with brown spots. A cart of apples has arrived at the rectory, and Anna slices one of the few good ones to take to the rector, who sits as he always does in his dim room. Three years before, the villagers had joked at how young the rector was, but now his face has grown haggard. Anna asks if he would like her to read to him, assuring him that his late wife Mrs. Mompellion taught her the skill. But the rector winces at the sound of his wife’s name, and tells Anna that he does not wish her to read today.

Anna leaves the rector and takes a few spotted apples out to his horse, Anteros. The stable is not very clean, and the great horse has not been much exercised since there is no one besides the rector who is either strong or skilled enough to handle him. Anteros takes the first apple, and when Anna reaches for a second, Anteros lifts his head and sprays apple juice while boxing the air. Anna goes back into the house, and she can hear the rector in his room above, pacing the floor. She retrieves his plate from outside the door—none of his food has been touched. She plans the next day to press all the apples for she cannot see anything go to waste. Besides, she can no longer stand the smell of rotting apples.

On the way home to her cottage, Anna often walks through the orchard, for there she imagines that she hears the voices of children and she can think of Sam Frith. He had asked her to marry him when she was just fifteen, and there was no reason to say no. Her father was a drunkard and her stepmother regarded her only as a pair of hands to do work about the house. Sam was a miner who owned his own mine and cottage. He had no children from his first wife, who had already passed away, and Anna quickly became pregnant and birthed two sons. She spent three good years with Sam, before the men showed up at her door telling her to hurry to the site. It took the men four days to dig Sam’s body out of the collapsed mine. Anna tended to his body the best she could.

Now when Anna enters her cottage, it is utterly silent and lonely. When there is tallow available, she reads until the lights cedes. In the morning, she tends to the cow, which she found one day wandering in the road. The cow had been so thin that Anna made it a point to fatten her up using the stores left in her neighbors’ cottages—after all, the dead do not need food. Anna leaves the cottage by the front door so that she might see one of her neighbors. The village is set on a steep flank of White Peak; it is a thin line of dwellings that includes the great Bradford Hall, large farms, and small cottages. A main road cuts through the village, but nowadays, the grass has overtaken the previously well-trodden path.

The following day, Anna returns to her work at the rectory, and Miss Elizabeth Bradford knocks on the door. Anna tries to tell Miss Bradford that the rector will see no one, but she insists, claiming that...

(This entire section contains 812 words.)

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her business is urgent. Miss Bradford pushes past Anna into the house. Anna goes to tell the rector, Mr. Mompellion, that Miss Bradford requires his counsel, but Mompellion tells Anna that he does not want to see anyone. Anna delivers this news, but Miss Bradford is unsatisfied and rushes up the stairs. Mompellion comes out of his room and stops her. He berates her and her family for having left the village when everyone else stayed. He tells her that during the past year, many people had needs and that the Bradford family chose not be around to help satisfy those needs. Then, he turns her away, and although she begins to cry, Mompellion will not be swayed. Anna feels sorry for Elizabeth, so she offers her some comfort. Once regaining her composure, Elizabeth struts from the house without even a simple offering of thanks.

Anna goes up to Mompellion’s room to check on him, and she picks up the Bible to read to him. He gets up from his chair and takes the book to read a different passage. Then he glares at Anna, drops the book, and grabs Anna’s arm. The pressure leaves a welt on her flesh, and Anna flees the house.


Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary