An Unwanted Gift by Mary Irvine
The pedlar had pushed the heavy hand-cart all the way from London. He was more used to a pack on his back but not this time. The cart was laden with the wonderful bolts of woollen cloth he had bought at a bargain price.
He passed many villages on his journey but refused to sell the cloth. He was saving it for his favourite, most lucrative village. Winter was bleak in these parts. Clothes made from his wool would offer some comfort. The bales had become slightly damp from the heavy morning dew. No matter – they would soon dry out.
He shielded his eyes against the blazing late Summer sun. Another hour and he would be there.
The villagers gathered to greet the Pedlar. The woollen cloth was quickly sold. His was a popular visit, especially amongst the women-folk stocking up on the essential minutiae of their lives, needles, pins, thread. Maybe, if their menfolk allowed, buy a new comb or some tiny frivolous adornment. The pedlar flirted with the women. He gave one a length of brightly coloured ribbon, not the youngest or the prettiest but the one he thought needed some joy in her life. She blushed and he returned her smile with a twinkle of promise in his eye.
He had often thought this would be a good place to settle but the call of the road was strong. The next day he moved on, the handcart now much lighter.
Stopping in the village of Eyam, George Viccars opened the one length of cloth he had not sold. It was still sodden. He shook it several times to dry it out. Small insects emerged and flew away – except for one which landed on his arm. It bit George before following its brothers.
In Sept. 1665 a pedlar brought bales of damp wool to Eyam in Derbyshire. Plague carrying fleas were in the wool. In June 1666, when the disease had ravaged the village the decision was taken to quarantine the village to prevent the disease spreading. Some two hundred and sixty people are thought to have died.
Mary Irvine, June, 2020
(Thank you to Villager Jim for the use of his photograph: https://www.facebook.com/VillagerJim/)
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