A year after the events of the other stories, the narrator returns to Dunnet Landing. She arrives on the mail boat without advance notice, but Johnny Bowden happens to be at the pier, and he carries her luggage to Mrs. Todd’s house. The narrator notices that he has grown since she last saw him.
Other things have changed in Dunnet Landing as well. The month is May, and she has never visited so early in the year. The weather is nippy; the landscape is still barren from winter; her room at Mrs. Todd’s house has not been lived in for months. However, as she looks closer at the landscape, the narrator sees some flowers beginning to bloom, and recognizes that she is home.
Mrs. Todd is thrilled to see her, and reveals some wonderful news: her brother William is getting married to his longtime sweetheart, Esther Hight – the title character of “A Dunnet Shepherdhess.” At the moment, William is collecting Esther from her home, after which he will row her into town for the wedding. Mrs. Todd sets out some cake and wine for the happy couple. She mentions that the socially awkward William is anxious about the wedding, and the attention it will bring from others. The narrator goes on a walk, and then sits down with Mrs. Todd to wait for William and Esther.
While they wait, some old acquaintances visit Mrs. Todd, and ask some medical advice. After they leave, she admits that she does not like these people – they are cheapskates and only visit to get free medicine. Mrs. Todd only obliges them because she pities their sick, young daughter.
Mari’ Harris visits next, hoping to borrow a newspaper for her employer, Captain Littlepage. Although she inquires directly about William’s wedding, Mrs. Todd pretends not to know what she’s talking about – Littlepage’s housekeeper is, after all, her “arch enemy” (228).
More friends and acquaintances stop by, and it gradually becomes clear that they are all scrounging for information about the wedding. Mrs. Todd grouses that many of them come from prurient curiosity and not from genuine feeling. They spot William and Esther coming up the road, but the couple first stops to visit Mrs. Caplin.
Mrs. Caplin is not home, so they soon arrive at Mrs. Todd's house. Esther is carrying a white lamb - she later explains that its mother died just before being sold, and that she could not bear to leave the lamb to die. They hold a small reception-cum-wedding at Mrs. Todd’s house, and all of the villagers who had stopped by return to give their best wishes to the couple. That evening, William and Esther sail for Green Island with the lamb. Mrs. Todd and the narrator return to the house, hand in hand.
“William’s Wedding” resolves one of the overall plot’s central problems – William’s lonely existence, which his kind personality does not seem to warrant. After the foreboding tone and subtle social critique of the previous two stories, this optimistic coda reminds us that despite regional decay and human foibles, life in Dunnet Landing will go on as always, propelled by the forces of love and community.
Mrs. Todd’s special relationship with the narrator parallels the deep love and quiet companionship between William and Esther, although the former friendship is obviously not romantic. As the other villagers flit around town relatively quickly – consumed, as Mrs. Todd says, more by “cheap curiosity” than “real feelin’” – the narrator and Mrs. Todd stay steadfastly and quietly in one place (229). William and Esther are equally withdrawn from society, and their relationship is even longer and steadier: they have been courting for about forty years. These four individuals are capable of appreciating life in its present moment, and are not distracted by the promise of news or change.
The visitors from Black Island add a small amount of sensory and spiritual unpleasantness that tempers the cheer of the wedding. These visitors are associated with uncomfortable images and experiences. They literally come from a ‘Black Island,’ and Mrs. Todd explains that they are known for putting large amounts of salt in their butter to make it heavier. The anecdote conjures up images of distasteful food, which contrast with the appealing cake and wine that Mrs. Todd puts out for her brother and Esther. Considering how important food is as a motif throughout the Dunnet Landing stories, this description immediately establishes the personality of these people.
What, then, to make of the dark images and emotions that appear so often in the book’s otherwise positive depiction of Dunnet Landing? Like any other place, the village has faults, and Jewett may be trying to balance her portrayal – after all, Dunnet Landing is based on a real town. The sad or disturbing events – like Captain Littlepage’s story about the waiting-place, Abby's delusions, or the ghost in “The Foreigner” – do not drive the plot as they might in a conventional thriller or adventure story. No character attempts to investigate these events. Instead, they are merely a foil for the village’s slow, gentle lifestyle, adding a complexity and dimension where it might otherwise be lacking. The folks of Dunnet Landing take everything as it comes - from the frightening, sordid details, to the beauty of spring's thaw.
“William’s Wedding” serves as a coda to the rest of the text, then, by making this final statement about how life will persist for these people. Despite its brevity, it includes many of Jewett’s most important stylistic devices. For example, her focus remains on atmosphere and character, rather than on plot. She also continues to explore characters through subtle moments rather than explicit exposition. Finally, she continues to represent accents phonetically. Mrs. Todd and the other Dunnet characters drop many consonants, although the narrator does not. The most prominent example of this is the narrator’s pronunciation of the ‘a’ in Mari’ (or Maria) Harris’s name. Although she has bonded with the residents of Dunnet, the narrator’s dialect is a constant reminder of her status as an outsider, and indication that while she will eventually leave with a book about these people, they will endure.