Anna and Elinor try to nurse Mem, but she dies of her beating five days after Anys. Anna notes that with them dies the medical knowledge the town relied on to cure normal ailments and to prevent women from dying in childbirth.
By killing Mem, the town fundamentally harms itself and probably causes more people to die of the plague. However, the vacuum left by Mem and Anys will allow Anna to develop her own identity as a healer.
There is no official punishment for the murder; the justice of the peace won’t risk contagion by visiting the town and no jails will hold prisoners form Eyam. Instead, Mompellion makes the members of the mob attend church barefoot and wearing penitents’ robes. Anna notes that the plague’s growing death toll is evident through the empty pews in the church.
Eyam’s pariah status as a plague-stricken town means that the usual systems of justice no longer apply. The community has to find their own means to identify and punish criminals. As the religious leader, it falls on Mompellion to do so, although the punishment he inflicts is relatively light.
Anna is expecting a harsh sermon from Mompellion, since he’s been working diligently all week, as well as conferring with the old Puritan pastor, Thomas Stanley. Refusing to use the Anglican Book of Common Prayer after Charles II returned to England, Stanley had to leave his post and live on an isolated farm far from the village. Stanley, who is “uncommonly gentle for a Puritan” and Mompellion get along better than most members of the rival sects. Anna sees the transition between Stanley’s Puritanism and Mompellion’s Anglicanism as one of the few ways in which the great political events of the world touch the village life of Eyam.
Religious customs are presented as fixed and ordained by God. However, they have a lot to do with politics, as the clerical transition after the English Civil War shows. Mompellion and Stanley’s willingness to cooperate in a time of crisis is evidence of their progressivism. They’re both willing to form new conventions when the existing ones are inadequate to handle current problems.
In fact, Mompellion gives a charismatic sermon about God’s powerful love, saying that God sometimes requires people to “return this love to our fellow humans” by setting difficult tests. He says that the plague is evidence of God’s love, not his rage, and that God has singled out the village of Eyam to prove themselves and imitate the selflessness and bravery of Jesus. In order to pass the test, the villagers must agree to stay in the village until the plague has run its course, rather than trying to flee and bringing contagion to family or friends in other areas.
While he’s not a completely orthodox preacher, Mompellion is incredibly firm in his religious belief. For most of the novel he will insist on explaining the plague as the work of a benevolent God, because his entire belief system rests on the assumption that everything on earth happens according to a divine plan. For Mompellion, this one belief is what makes sense of everything that happens in the world and which propels him toward altruism and his strong sense of morality.
Mompellion outlines an elaborate plan to impose a voluntary quarantine on the village; supplies will be donated by neighboring towns and organized by the nearby Earl of Chatsworth, all of whom have a vested interest in preventing contagion. The entire village confers in the church, with Mompellion and Stanley making their case to individuals. Although some, Josiah and Aphra, reluctantly agree only because it seems they have no other option, eventually everyone acquiesces to the quarantine except the Bradfords, who quietly leave the church and begin to pack their things for an immediate escape.
The voluntary quarantine is a pivotal point of the novel. At face value, it’s an act of enormous altruism, and shows the community refusing to cave in to fear and paranoia. However, as Aphra points out, most people don’t have any choice but to accept the quarantine, because they’re too poor to travel or haven’t ever left Eyam before, while those with resources (i.e., the Bradfords) immediately escape. In this sense, the quarantine reinforces not only values like selflessness and charity but also trends of class privilege. Moreover, Mompellion’s rationale for the quarantine rests on the assumption that the plague is a test from God, and those who “pass” will be rewarded. As the novel progresses, this orthodox view of the plague as a divinely mandated event will be challenged.