The Pest Comes to Drumfyvie




Short story


Young adult

Historical era

15th century


Margaret Lyford-Pike


BBC Radio Scotland – ?


We Lived in Drumfyvie


A Burgess Builds His House


The Man-at-Arms

"The Pest Comes to Drumfyvie" is the sixth story in the 1975 collection We Lived in Drumfyvie, originally co-written with producer Margaret Lyford-Pike as episodes of an unidentified children's radioplay series.


Wattie Aiken, apprentice to his uncle Andrew the apothecary of Drumfyvie, narrates the plague year in Drumfyvie. Wattie is apprenticed to his uncle at thirteen after his father, a sailor out of Leith, goes down with his ship. Uncle Andrew is a wise and energetic man of medicine and finds Wattie's desire for occasional recreation with his fishing companion Christie Fleming exasperating.

After nearly three years of Wattie's apprenticeship, plague breaks out in Leith and Edinburgh. Drumfyvie closes its gates to any travellers from the city, but a vagabond turned out of Edinburgh returns to his mother's house in Drumfyvie and promptly dies of the plague. The Provost duly declares quarantine of the burgh. The townspeople are warned to stay indoors, keep the streets clean, and avoid public gatherings. Nevertheless, they begin to sicken and die.

Uncle Andrew, Wattie, and Master Simon the friar spend the summer fighting off the plague – attending the sick, mixing medicines, and enforcing hygiene measures. Uncle Andrew realises he can treat the disease by draining the characteristic swellings, and saves some patients that way. After Michaelmas, the epidemic begins to abate – but Christie is one of its last victims, and so is the Sheriff's young son. After returning from a night nursing the child through the worst of his fever, Wattie realises that Uncle Andrew has taken the infection. Uncle Andrew gives Drumfyvie into Wattie's safe-keeping, but Wattie, Simon, and the vagabond's mother nurse Andrew through the course of the disease. Uncle Andrew tells Wattie that he will make a good apothecary after all.


AD 1450 is given as the date of the story. As the year of the plague is said to be in the third year of Wattie's apprenticeship that began in 1440, 1450 would seem to be the date of the frame narration.

  • 1440, late summer: Aiken pere's ship sinks
  • 1443, just after Blackthorn Fair: plague in Edinburgh
  • 2 weeks later: plague in Drumfyvie
  • Summer: plague plague plague
  • Michaelmas: plague abates


  • Wattie Aiken, apprentice apothecary
  • Uncle Andrew, apothecary and barber-surgeon to Drumfyvie, "a great man in his way"
  • Sir Robert Maitland, Sheriff
  • Christie Fleming, the weaver's son, Wattie's friend
  • Marget, has a sore leg
  • Bailie Wishart, his bairns have worms
  • Solomon, a ginger tom
  • Tom Seton, acrobat and vagabond
  • Widow Seton, his mother, already immune
  • Master Simon, friar and parish priest
  • young Maitland, late taker of infection


  • Leith, Edinburgh
  • Drumfyvie
    • Fighting Cocks Lane
  • Hadlington