(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a remote farm in rural Virginia in the early part of the 1900’s, an almost totally deaf Mrs. Doggett calls to her daughter, Amarantha, who prefers being called Mary or Mare. It is spring, and Amarantha has finished some of the more laborious farm chores, milking the cows and feeding the pigs, when her fiancé, Ruby Herter, stops by with his horse and carriage to remind the young girl that she belongs to him. Just as Ruby Herter kisses his betrothed, they hear a car driving up to the farm with the news that someone who is believed to be a killer has escaped from Dayville Asylum.

Ruby Herter immediately joins the other young men in their search for the crazed murderer, as Mare secures the team of horses and runs down the road to tell Ruby’s father. Shortly after she returns to the farm, her mother calls her to come and meet a young man who has stopped to see her, and Mare is puzzled by his presence. On meeting her, the young man says, “That’s poetry . . . Amarantha in Carolina! That makes me happy!” Mare immediately realizes that this seemingly harmless looking young man is the escaped killer but does not want to alarm her deaf mother. She lures the young man away from her mother and then bolts into the forest. The young man easily catches up to her and begins wooing her in the words of the seventeenth century English Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace, quoting from one of Lovelace’s famous love lyrics, “To Amarantha, That She Would Dishevel Her Haire.” He not only identifies Mare as the Amarantha from Lovelace’s poem but also literalizes the words of the poem: “Do you know how beautiful you are, Amarantha, ’Amarantha sweet and fair?’” He suddenly reaches behind her and begins to unravel the meshes of her hairbraid, saying, “Braid no more that shining hair!” At that instant, Ruby and the other searchers capture him, tie him up, and take him to be locked up at the local courthouse. A neighbor tells Mare that the murderer’s name is Humble Jewett, and that he was a teacher in an academy school. Five years earlier, he attacked the...

(The entire section is 845 words.)