"Miss Tempy's Watchers" is a subtle, quiet story in which much of the action happens within the characters, rather than around them. The watchers, Mrs. Crowe and Sarah Ann Binson, are the deceased Miss Tempy's oldest friends, who have come to hold watch over her body on the night before her funeral. These women do not have much of a connection to each other except through Miss Tempy, but as the story progresses, they begin to trust and appreciate one another as friends in their own right.
The story begins with the two women seated in Miss Tempy's kitchen, making conversation. They share anecdotes about Miss Tempy which reflect the dead woman's kindness and her role in the community. Both Mrs. Crowe and Sarah Ann greatly admired Miss Tempy's gentle, generous nature, and find themselves trying to emulate Miss Tempy in their behavior. They allow themselves to be vulnerable to each other, admitting to their shortcomings and fears, and encouraging one another to follow Miss Tempy's example from now on. Mrs. Crowe confesses that she is a stingy, impatient person who only gets the benefit of the doubt in their community because she is so wealthy. She feels humbled by Miss Tempy's goodness—humble enough to admit that she is not the best person she could be. Sarah Ann is not wealthy, and so her "sharp-set" personality gets much shorter shrift from the community, but as Mrs. Crowe comes to realize, Sarah Ann is a good, kind person under her prickly exterior.
Toward the small hours of the morning, the women decide to look in on Miss Tempy where her body is lying in her bedroom upstairs. This is the climax of the story, for the bond Mrs. Crowe has begun to forge with Sarah Ann is tested by the discomfort of facing up to Miss Tempy's death. After all, the two of them are simply mutual friends of Miss Tempy's, and their bonding is a result of being her "watchers" for the night. A moment of sharp discomfort occasioned by looking at a dead body might wreck the fragile friendship Mrs. Crowe and Sarah Ann are starting to build. This is particularly possible on Mrs. Crowe's side, as she greatly fears death and is almost unable to look at Miss Tempy's face when Sarah Ann pulls back the sheet. Her fears are somewhat allayed by Miss Tempy's peaceful appearance:
"Seems to me she looks pleasanter and pleasanter," whispered Sarah Ann Binson impulsively, as they gazed at the white face with its wonderful smile.
And Sarah Ann, who appreciates that this moment has been difficult for Mrs. Crowe, seeks to soothe her by relating the last thing Miss Tempy told her before she passed away:
“I’d never like to forgit almost those last words Tempy spoke plain to me,” she said gently, like the comforter she truly was.” . . . [says] she, looking at me real meanin’, ‘I’m only a-gettin’ sleepier and sleepier; that’s all there is,’ says she, and smiled up at me kind of wishful, and shut her eyes. I knew well enough all she meant. She’d been lookin’ out for a chance to tell me, and I don’ know ‘s she ever said much afterwards.”
This little story genuinely comforts Mrs. Crowe, who takes heart from hearing that Miss Tempy felt dying to be a simple, painless process. The crisis which briefly strained Mrs. Crowe's newfound friendship with Sarah Ann is over, and their friendship is now confirmed by having shared that strain.