Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497
Snow blows into the village burying Anna’s lost sheep; she finds them frozen in a snow-drift, huddled together on an outcrop rock. More people in the village die of Plague including Grace Hamilton, whose two children are left sickening after her death. Mr. Mompellion holds a funeral for Anys, but Mem cannot be in attendance because she has developed a severe cough from having nearly drowned in the flooded mine. Elinor Mompellion cares for Mem in the rectory. Over the next few days, Mem’s breath becomes increasingly shallow until the time when she takes her last breath. The law does nothing to punish those who caused the deaths of Anys and Mem—the justice of the peace from Bakewell does not want to enter the stricken village. Thus, the villagers must make their peace by asking forgiveness through prayer at the church.
Mr. Mompellion holds a meeting with Thomas Stanley, a Puritan man who used to run the church. When the Book of Common Prayer was taken up by the village, Mr. Stanley quit the church saying that he could not in good conscience accept the rites of the new religion. Shortly after his leaving the church in protest, a law was passed ordering all dissenting clergy to move to a house at least five miles from the church so that they would not cause any differences of opinion among parishioners. Mr. Stanley complied and took residence on the farm of the Billingses, a nonconformist family who live on a high, outlying plot of land. On Sunday, it becomes clear why Mr. Mompellion has sought out Mr. Stanley. In his sermon, the rector discusses love for fellow humans, the sacrifice of life for love, and the terrible nature of Plague. He says that God has chosen their village for this great trial and that they must accept the test as a gift from God. He says that he knows that some of the villagers have the means to flee, but he asks them to put aside those means so that they might stay in the village. He asks that they all undergo voluntary besiegement so that the Plague remains quarantined in their village. The rector has written to the earl at Chasterworth House to ask for aid and provisions, and the earl has agreed to provide food, fuel, and medicine for the villagers from his own purse. Carters would bring these provisions to the Boundary Stone at the edge of the village—anyone wishing to make additional purchases could do so by leaving coins in holes filled with vinegar to wash away any Plague seeds. The rector asks the villagers to reflect on this proposition before making a decision. Mr. Stanley moves about the room talking with those who are unconvinced about remaining together in the village. In the end, all decide to stay except the Bradfords, who have snuck out of the church to return to their Hall to pack and flee to Oxfordshire.