The villagers are celebrating the harvest. They are so busy drinking and eating that they forget to appoint their harvest queen. Groggily awakening the next morning, they spot two fires. One is green wood burning in the distance, a signal that some new family is establishing itself. The other is the master’s resented dovecote and the stables. Someone has set fire to the dovecote, and the fire has spread.
The novel’s narrator, Walter, noticed three young men return the night before with a load of hallucinogenic mushrooms and a dried puffball. He knows there is no use for the puffball except to spread a fire. Still, he decides to say nothing.
After the fire is out, Walter notices how the men he believes guilty behave over-helpfully to Master Kent and insist that the newcomers must have set it. So, the master and some of the villagers go off to see them.
Walter has injured his hand in the fire, so he stays home. But he soon hears how the villagers caved in the roof of the hovel so that it injured the young woman inside and how the master sentenced her two companions to a week in the stocks.
For some reason I felt dread from the onset of this novel, and this feeling was not wrong. Although the villagers have already started trouble by not confessing their actions, much worse is to come. For kind Master Kent has lost his property through an entailment to his wife’s cousin, a ruthless and cruel young man who is only interested in enclosing the common land and putting it to sheep. Now that he is master, it is up to him to mete out justice when the next incident happens.
Although Walt’s main fault is inaction, he soon finds himself being treated like a stranger again, for he came to the village long ago as a servant to Master Kent. Soon the village he loved is unrecognizable.
This novel is masterfully written, about how greed and ignorance can destroy a community. It is a dark and twisty tale.