A White Heron
Young Sylvia is content with her move to the farm with her grandmother away from the busy town life. She is returning home with her cow, dawdling and enjoying the natural environment when a whistle disturbs her peace. Sylvia is surprised, then wary, when a stranger approaches. He is lost, and asks if Sylvia knows where he can get food and shelter. With trepidation, she takes the suspected ‘enemy’ to her grandmother, who welcomes him and makes him comfortable. Impressed at the neat home and excellent food, he reveals he is keen to track down a white heron. He traps and shoots birds to collect them, which is at odds with Sylvia’s love of the birds and animals around her. After the gift of a knife and the offer of money, Sylvia is driven to search for the heron’s location to pass on to the hunter. However, after climbing the great pine tree that takes her close to the birds, Sylvia is compelled to keep the secret of the heron’s whereabouts so the hunter’s collection remains incomplete.
The Gray Man
A mysterious strange appears to take over a derelict farm, believed haunted by the community and it was regarded with ‘unexplained foreboding’. The man has ‘peculiar’ clothes and an ‘unusual pallor’. He is initially speculated to be an escaped criminal, but after a period of wariness, and the man’s attempts to be friendly, he is a little more accepted. The gray man is happy to share his wisdom and advice in a wide range of areas. He is so knowledgeable that the people begin to see his intelligence as ‘supernatural’.
Despite his social contributions, the fact that the gray man never smiles becomes disturbing to the community. Children shrink from him, and he is dismissed from a wedding as his presence suggests ‘a strange foreboding’. He was visited only occasionally, and tales of hid unusual powers began again.
He leaves as war breaks out, and his final sighting is believed to be on the battlefield, where he appears to be ‘Death himself.’
John Finch is desolate after the bank has failed and the family farm is in debt. He has not prospered as a farmer, though he and his wife have invested in the education of their daughter Polly, who has aspirations of being a teacher. Polly too has bad news, that she has lost out on the last available teaching post. John Finch is weakened by the experience, and Polly decides to work on the farm to support her family. She rejects the help of her former beau Jerry Winton, but does accept the advice and loans of the old doctor who is admiring of her drive and industry. Inspired by the tale of Mrs. Wall’s female cousin, Farmer Allen, Polly decides to put her heart and soul into the farm. She is very successful, getting the family out of debt by the end of the summer and gaining the greater treasure of self-pride and accomplishment.
Jerry Lane takes himself to Ann Lloyd’s house as he has decided to court her. Ann Lloyd is a woman seemingly past ‘youth and love affairs,’ but she is excited and delighted at Jerry’s advances. She agrees to marry the ‘shiftless and vacillating’ Lane, even though she demonstrates ‘the foolishness of an elderly bride.’ She dresses in ‘plain wedding clothes’ and has the makings of ‘a capable wife’. Ann enjoys caring for Jerry, but his idleness and complaining make both of them relieved when he returns to sea in an attempt to earn some money. When the news reaches her that Jerry’s ship has sunk she is saddened, but then content with her widow status. She becomes more benevolent and kind within the community, and this pleasanter side makes her former adversary, Mr. Elton, somewhat retrained in the news that Jerry did not die at sea, but jumped ship and took up with a new wife in another town. Ann is driven to search for him to reveal his secret, but when she sees his young partner and new child she feels she should not break another’
The Dulham Ladies
Miss Dobin and Miss Lucinda belong to a dying breed of well-bred ladies, though they are somewhat ridiculed by others in the village. They live by the codes and rules of civilised society as upheld by their mother, Madam Dobin. They stay at home until their father, dreary Reverend Dobin, dies. Then they try to emerge in to current society with their values and outlook seriously out of date. They decide to update their appearance as they have lost their hair, and they are convinced by a smooth talking French wigmaker to take two gaudy hairpieces or ‘frizzes’. Arrogant and affected, they ignore the offer to return the ridiculous accessories made by their maid. They still believe that they are educating the community in to the latest fashions of the town, even though they are at least forty years behind the times.
A Business Man
John Craven is an ageing businessman, successful in terms of money but bereft of love and humanity. After an illness, he is convinced to give up some of his business interests to his son, and when his wife dies after their trip to Europe, he is pushed to giving up altogether. With nothing to do, and his family too busy to spend time with him, Craven happens upon a small haberdashery shop, newly opened, and its jolly proprietor, William Chellis. Mr. Chellis is kind and attentive to the elderly man, as is his fiancée. He is grateful of ‘Mr. Brown’ helping with advice and then partnership in the business. John Craven enjoys seeing Chellis’ business and relationship flourish, and he leaves a codicil to his will giving them five thousand dollars. Craven feels that he has been made richer in his final months by the gratitude and care of the Chellises, and he began to appreciate that there is more than money required to bring wealth to the soul.
Mary and Martha
Mary and Martha are two sisters with complementary but different characters: gentle Mary and practical Martha. Their tailoring work has declined with the increased availability of readymade clothes, and their hand sewing and domestic skills are becoming increasingly inadequate to provide for them, especially during the winter months when their little house outside the village is sometimes cut off.
As Thanksgiving approaches, Mary suggests that they invite their cousin to celebrate with them. There has been a family rift since their childhood, and Martha is initially unhappy with the idea. However, she relents and writes to invite their cousin John. Martha applies herself to the practical arrangements of the dinner whilst Mary listens to John tell of his bereavement. The dinner is a success, and the family is united again. As John goes to leave, Martha notes that his coat needs mending and sets to work straight away. This prompts John to ask if they have a sewing machine. They are delighted to accept the offer of his wife’s machine as this will help them earn money through the difficult times ahead.