Summary of “The Thunder of His Voice”
Even after George’s gruesome death, George's customers still visit Anna’s home to retrieve the dresses that he was working on. The first customer is Anys. When Anna gives Anys George’s advice to burn the vivid scarlet, Anys scoffs at the idea. Anna mentions that none of the other customers would burn their dresses, either. However, she herself takes George's advice and burns the beautiful green dress that is her only reminder of him.
Anna begins to wonder about George and Anys’s relationship, though, so Anna walks to the Gowdies' cottage. She remembers when Anys first appeared the village to live with her aunt Mem. Anna and the other children then made fun of Anys for her indifference to religion and her obsession with plants and herbs. However, even the young Anna noticed that Anys was always healthy and strong while other children were sickly. But Anys didn’t hold grudges against her peers. Instead, she played an important role as a physician and midwife along with Mem.
Once Anna reaches Anys, Anys admits happily that she and George were having a sexual affair. Anna becomes jealous of the two, but Anys states that George was never interested in her romantically. Instead, she affirms that George was interested in Anna and wanted to eventually marry her. Anna questions Anys, asking why she wouldn’t have married George instead, and Anys laughs and says that she will not be bound to any one man by marriage. She enjoys her freedom and refuses to give it up to anyone. Anna contemplates the differences between herself and Anys, how she is forever devoted to her family; in contrast, the beautiful Anys is free to do whatever she chooses without giving much thought to how it affects her family.
Anna leaves and goes to work at the Bradford household, where she is required to serve at an upscale dinner party. The Bradfords are all in attendance, as are both Mompellions. While Anna is serving, Elinor happens to ask how Anna is doing. Anna can see the Colonel’s shocked face, so she quickly leaves before he gets angry. There is also a man from London who explains that the plague is spreading through the city. Anna thinks about George and how he died. She also notices that Michael is warily listening to the descriptions of the symptoms, and she knows that George is on his mind as well. Colonel Bradford mentions that if the plague were to strike the village, he would leave immediately with his family. Michael argues with him, saying that it would be more noble to stay behind and tend to the poor and sick.
Summary of “Rat-fall”
To enjoy the beautiful fall weather, Anna takes her two sons Jamie and Tom to the river. On their way, they notice that one of their ewes is giving birth. Anna takes charge and helps with the birth before finishing her trip to the river. While there, Anna is engrossed with the scenery when Michael suddenly appears, a Bible in his hand. He is friendly and begins reciting a Bible verse to her. He also plays with Jamie in the creek before leaving the family alone.
During a heavy flea infestation, a friend of Anna’s finds her own son Edward and Anna's son Jamie playing with dead rats. That night, Edward becomes ill with a high fever. A visiting surgeon tries to use leeches to cure Edward and balance his body out again, but the boy gets worse. As the surgeon is leaving, Anna approaches and asks if Edward’s sickness might be the plague. The surgeon is shocked that a woman would try to undermine his diagnosis, but Anna recites George’s symptoms, which correspond to Edward’s. The surgeon leaves and tells Anna that he refuses to come back if the plague is in fact present. The next morning, Edward dies. Anna's youngest son Tom dies soon after.
The differences between Anna and Anys are highlighted in “The Thunder of His Voice.” Anys's sensual scarlet dress is starkly contrasted with the fresh green dress that belonged to Anna. After all, Anys stands out in crowds. Her beauty seems unrivaled, and she sleeps with any man she wants. She sees the world as hers to enjoy, and she doesn’t want to be bridled down by marriage or a relationship with a single man.
In contrast, Anna was married as a teenager and had two children soon after. Even after her husband died, she was bound to Jamie and Tom: she worked two jobs to give them a good life. Now that she is making her own money, she has more autonomy than the married women in the village. But whenever she compares her life to Anys’s, she can't help but feel jealous of Anys’s lack of responsibilities.
Anys possesses more than sexual freedom, though. She has what most women weren’t allowed to have in her era, a scientific education. Hers was not formal: instead, she relied on plants and herbal remedies in order to determine prevention and cures. When Anna discusses how the children made fun on Anys when they were younger, her remarks show how odd it was for women to be interested in scientific pursuits. However, not many complained about Mem and Anys when they midwifed or provided a last line of defense against an illness. The Gowdies call their medical work “physick,” though their processes and remedies work as well as the more accepted medicine that doctors and surgeons brought from the larger cities.
Later, by portraying the Bradfords' dinner party, Brooks presents a juxtaposition between the Gowdies' earthy cottage and the Bradfords' mansion, which called for dozens of servants and housekeepers. At the dinner party, the strictly hierarchical relationship between the wealthy Colonel Bradford and his servants becomes evident when he expresses shock that Elinor shows Anna a form of kindness. He is confused as to why someone of Elinor’s stature would offer hired help any sort of affection.
To the Bradfords, though, everyone is expendable. The Colonel refuses to stay and help the people who have helped and served him for years. Instead, he is only concerned about himself and his progeny. He proudly admits that he has the means to leave the village in case the plague strikes, as though it is an accomplishment to leave a poor village to fend for itself. Michael refuses to let the Colonel get off lightly, though. He stands up to the Colonel and questions the Colonel’s choices because his concern is for the villagers.
At this point in the novel, the plague is beginning to spread to the villagers and can no longer be considered an isolated problem. There are a few ways that the plague might have been spread through the village. The first is that the bacteria might have tainted the bolts of fabric that George used to make the dresses: after all, he warned the women to burn these garments. Instead, they carried the bacteria with them across the town when they brought their dresses home.
Historically, though, the plague was transmitted by flea infestation. While many people blamed rats, the rats most likely carried the fleas. Although George Viccars himself was most likely killed through contact with the bolts of fabric that he received from London, the two boys Edward and Jamie were playing with dead rats and were thus susceptible to the fleas. Their cases were most likely caused by the two biological instigators. Regardless, Anna still feels guilty about not burning all the dresses when she had the chance.