Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500
One morning, Anna is at her well fetching water when she sees her father coming down the road carrying a large sack. She does not think that he will begrudge her some help, so she calls to him. Anna learns that he has just come from digging two graves for Widow Brown and that she has paid him with pewter items from her house. In the coming days, Anna notices that her neighbors eye her strangely when she passes, and she hears that apparently her father has set himself up as a grave digger, requiring tremendous sums from people who have no other choice than to pay him to dig graves for their dead family members. When Anna tells her father that he disgraces their family, he spits at her and continues on to the tavern.
On Sundays, the villagers have taken up gathering at Cucklett Delf as the rector suggested, and all keep three yards from the next person, which they judge to be a safe distance to not spread any disease. Mompellion finds sweet words to offer the congregation, and his sermons combined with the beauty of the outdoors help ease the villagers’ sorrows. But Anna’s father, Joss, no longer attends the service, so Mompellion seeks him out at home. Mompellion tells Joss that he is taking advantage of his neighbors, but Joss just curses back at him. As the days pass, the villagers curse Joss Bont.
But then Joss Bont does something so vile that the villagers see fit to truly punish him. A man named Christopher Unwin is the last surviving member of his family of twelve. He had also come down with Plague, but had been in his sickbed for nearly two weeks, much longer than normal. All began to pray that he would survive the disease like Margaret Blackwell had. Anna and Mompellion pay Christopher a visit, and while there, they hear a spud hitting the earth outside—Joss Bont is already outside digging Christopher’s grave. Mompellion goes outside and fights off Joss, while Anna makes a meal for Christopher, who is looking better. The next morning, a bellowing is heard outside. Christopher is in the street with his head split open, and he is covered in mud. Joss tried to kill Christopher during the night before he threw him into the grave and covered him with a thin layer of dirt. The Barmester puts Joss on trial, and he is sentenced to be cleaved to the wall of the Unwin mine. Anna assumes that her stepmother, Aphra, will sneak to the mine that night to save Joss, but Aphra’s children all become sick with Plague, preventing her from going to the mine. Three days pass before anyone goes to retrieve Joss; by that time, animals have gotten to him and only half a corpse is left. Aphra buries Joss in a cairn right there in the mine, making a religious sign that Anna knows has nothing to do with God.