Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689
The villagers smile at each other in honor and appreciation of the “common grace” that their decision to quarantine themselves has brought upon them. Arriving home, Anna is caught unaware by Maggie Cantwell, the Bradfords’ cook, who is pacing outside the cottage. Having to serve, Maggie had not been at the church when the rector delivered the decree. Now, she is livid because the Bradfords have barred her—and all their other servants—from employment and lodging in the house. Anna offers for Maggie to come inside, but Maggie, no disrespect intended, will not enter the cottage that is known as the Plague cottage. Maggie cannot believe what has happened, for now she has nowhere to go. Anna agrees to help Maggie retrieve the rest of her things from the Bradford home, and when the two arrive, the house is abuzz. The Bradfords order their servants to help them pack their belongings for their escape to Oxfordshire yet simultaneously tell them that they must vacate the premises within the hour. Mrs. Bradford’s handmaid Jane cries and begs the family to take her with them, but the Bradfords refuse, turning all away.
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Then, Michael Mompellion arrives riding Anteros, and he storms into the house, demanding to see Colonel Bradford. The colonel has been in his study writing a good-bye letter to the rector, and Mompellion warns him of the risk that he is taking by leaving. However, Colonel Bradford cares nothing of the risk to others and insists that he must protect his own family. The two exchange stiff words and arguments, and in the end, Colonel Bradford states that as long as he has a choice, he will leave the village. Mompellion declares that God’s punishment on him will be worse than Plague.
The Bradfords’ carriage passes through the village unscathed, leaving in its wake all the house’s servants to be taken in by the other families in the village. Only Brand and Maggie decide to try their luck finding their families in Bakewell.
The villagers must now learn to live in their “wide green prison,” and when the snow melts, there is no traffic in the streets as there would normally be. The rector’s letters to the earl have worked—the lone carter approaching the village stops until he receives the signal, and then he drops off the provisions and takes the coins from the vinegar-filled hole. He collects the lists of requested items and the names of the dead to send forth the news. The carter yells to them, “God have mercy on your goodness!” The rector sees that everyone looks downcast, so he tries to uplift their spirits by calling their attention to the fact that those in other villages appreciate their sacrifice and that God will reward them for it.
Mrs. Mompellion meets the rector and Anna upon their return to the rectory, and she tells Anna that they must assist Randoll Daniel’s young wife, Mary, in childbirth. Anna fears the task, however, having watched her own mother die after a barber-surgeon used a thatcher’s hook to fish out her stillborn sister. But Anna consents, and the two go to the Daniels’ cottage. Attending to Mary, Anna cannot feel the baby’s skull at the top of the birth canal, so she encourages Mary to walk upright to better the baby’s position. After a few hours of walking, Anna settles Mary to see what progress has been made. The birth canal is open, but soft flesh is at the opening. Mrs. Mompellion tells Anna to use her “mother-hands” to guide the child, so Anna slips her hand into Mary’s birth canal to reposition the baby. Mary screams, but Anna remains steady. A few minutes later, Mary births the Daniels’ son, and he lets out a howl. Anna feels joy at having assisted a life into the world, but she laments the fact that she will have to return to her barren cottage alone. Before leaving, she finds a vial of poppy in Mrs. Mompellion’s whisket, and she hides it deep within the sleeve of her dress.