The Country of the Pointed Firs
The novella and related stories are told by an anonymous female narrator who travels one summer to the village of Dunnet Landing to work on an unspecified writing project. Dunnet is located on the coast of Maine and its main industry is shipping, although this industry has been in decline for several decades. The narrator boards with Mrs. Almira Todd, a widow who makes and sells herbal medicine. Mrs. Todd becomes the narrator's closest friend and guide to the village.
The narrator uses a vacant schoolhouse for her office. One day, she watches a funeral procession from there. The funeral is for Mrs. Begg, a respected village matron. On his way home from the funeral, the shy and eccentric Captain Littlepage stops by. He tells the narrator stories about his time as a sea captain. One of these is a story he heard from an old colleague, Gaffet, who claims to have seen a supernatural town while sailing in the Arctic. Gaffet speculated that this town was a 'waiting-place' between this life and the afterlife.
Mrs. Todd brings the narrator to meet her mother, Mrs. Blackett. Mrs. Blackett lives with her middle-aged son, William Blackett, on Green Island, off Dunnet Landing's coast. Despite being over ninety, Mrs. Blackett is warm and sprightly. Her son, William, is extremely shy, but he warms to the narrator and takes her to a ridge with a spectacular view of the island.
A few weeks later, Mrs. Todd and her friend Susan Fosdick tell the narrator the story of Joanna Todd, a hermit who lived on the remote Shell-Heap Island. Joanna renounced human society after her fiancé abandoned her, although people from Dunnet would occasionally check in and leave supplies for her. Although her neighbors never understood her decision, they continued to love Joanna and she became something of a village mascot. When she died, many people attended her funeral. Later, the narrator convinces Captain Bowden to take her to visit Joanna's grave, which appears to be a well-trafficked pilgrimage site.
Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Blackett, and the narrator attend the Bowden family reunion together. The Bowden family is one of the largest in the Dunnet Landing area. (Mrs. Blackett is a Bowden, although she changed her name when she married.) The narrator meets a number of quirky characters, including Sant Bowden, a mentally unstable shoemaker who always wanted to join the military but could not because of his disability. She also sees Sarah Jane Blackett and Mari' Harris, two women for whom Mrs. Todd has a strange antipathy. (Her ill feelings toward Sarah Jane are never explained, although Mari' is unpopular in the village because she is perceived as lazy in her housekeeping for Captain Littlepage.) The narrator greatly enjoys the cheerful gathering, and admires the Bowden family's unassuming dignity.
The narrator meets Elijah Tilley, an unsociable widower. When he invites the narrator to visit his house, she realizes that Elijah does not socialize much because his grief for his wife, who died eight years before, remains very fresh. He tells her several stories about his wife. When the narrator tells Mrs. Todd about her visit, she speaks of him with a touch of derision.
At the end of the summer, Mrs. Todd escorts the narrator to the port, and she returns home.
A Dunnet Shepherdess
The "related stories" seem to take place during the same summer as the novella, with the exception of the final story, which occurs about a year later.
One morning, William stops at Mrs. Todd's house on his way to go fishing in the countryside. Mrs. Todd gives him some pennyroyal lotion to prevent mosquito bites. Although William initially leaves alone, he doubles back and invites the narrator to join him. They fish and eat a picnic lunch in silence, and then William brings her to visit the elderly Thankful Hight and her daughter Esther, who owns a flock of sheep and spends all her time caring for them. When they arrive, William leaves to find Esther in her pastures, and the narrator is left alone for several hours with the intimidating Thankful. The women ultimately warm to each other, and talk for hours about Thankful's difficult life.
The narrator eventually finds William and Esther talking alone outside. Although she is initially annoyed at being left alone for so long with Thankful, she is touched when she realizes that William and Esther are in love. When Thankful greets her daughter, it becomes apparent that she has been truly grateful for the narrator's company. The narrator and William leave happily.
On a stormy night, Mrs. Todd promises to tell the narrator a 'ghost story.' She relates the story of Mrs. Captain Tolland, a Frenchwoman who moved to Dunnet when Mrs. Todd was a young woman. Captain John Tolland met her when his ship stopped in Kingston, Jamaica. The woman's children and first husband had died in a yellow fever epidemic, and so she had to work as a singer and guitarist in pubs to make ends meet. Captain Tolland and his colleagues took pity on her and brought her home to Dunnet Landing. On the way home, Captain Tolland and the woman (whose first name we never learn) fell in love, and they married upon arrival.
Mrs. Captain Tolland had trouble adjusting to life in Dunnet. Shortly after she moved there, she danced at a church singalong, not realizing that this would offend the villagers' religious sensibilities. Many of her neighbors felt uncomfortable interacting with her because she was so foreign. However, Mrs. Blackett made a point of reaching out to Mrs. Captain Tolland, and insisted that Mrs. Todd do the same. Eventually, Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Tolland became friendly, although Mrs. Captain Tolland remained lonely when her husband was away at sea.
Captain Tolland eventually died at sea. Mrs. Todd and her uncle, Captain Bowden, brought the news to Mrs. Tolland, who was pathetically celebrating her feast-day alone at the time. Mrs. Captain Tolland grew ill with shock and grief, during which time Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Begg cared for her. Mrs. Todd even sent for a Catholic priest from a neighboring area as Mrs. Tolland grew worse. However, their care was not enough to save her, and she died a few months after her husband.
Shortly before Mrs. Captain Tolland passed away, Mrs. Todd saw a ghostly apparition in the foreigner's bedroom. Mrs. Tolland explained that the apparition was her own mother, come to see her into the afterlife.
The Queen's Twin
Mrs. Todd brings the narrator to visit Abby Martin, an elderly woman who lives alone in a remote inland neighborhood. The beautiful and dignified Abby was born on the same day as Queen Victoria, and because of this and other similarities, she considers herself to be 'the queen's twin.' She collects pictures of Victoria, and is very knowledgeable about England.
When the visitors arrive, Abby tells the narrator about the time she accompanied her husband, a ship's accountant, to England, where she saw the Queen in a procession. This trip only made her feel more bonded to the queen. Abby also recounts a sad story about a time she deluded herself into thinking the queen was coming to visit her. She decorated the house and cooked a splendid supper, only to eventually realize that no one was coming. However, just as she began to feel overwhelmed by loneliness, an old cousin stopped by and helped Abby eat the supper.
After a short visit, the narrator and Mrs. Todd return home.
The year after the events in the other stories, the narrator returns to Dunnet Landing. It is May, and she is disappointed by the chilly weather and relative lack of greenery. However, when she arrives at Mrs. Todd's house, her landlady has wonderful news: William Blackett is getting married to Esther, his love interest from "A Dunnet Shepherdess." Many people stop by Mrs. Todd's house throughout the day to try and get news about the wedding. However, Mrs. Todd is sensitive to her brother's shyness, and does not give them any information. Eventually, William and Esther arrive and hold a small ceremony and reception there. Although Esther has sold most of her flock, she brings a small orphan lamb with her to keep as pet. After the wedding, Esther and William sail to Green Island together, and the narrator is left alone with Mrs. Todd.