What is a summary of "A White Heron"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A "local color" story, "A White Heron" by Sarah Orne Jewett is a tale of a young girl whose love for nature conflicts with her infatuation with a young man. Sylvia has been rescued from the crowded manufacturing town where she had been "[A]fraid of folks," her grandmother says. One evening as she brings in the cow for milking, Sylvia is startled by the sound of a whistle. Sylvia tries to hide in the brush, but the "enemy" discovers her and asks how far it is to the road. He explains that he has lost his way and would like to spend the night at Sylvia's house, so she reluctantly leads the way.

Once they arrive home, Sylvia's grandmother is very hospitable, and the young man enjoys her quaint talk and wholesome supper. Enjoying having a listener, Mrs. Tilley explains that Sylvey knows her way around in the woods and the "wild creaturs counts her one o'themselves. Squer'ls she'll tame to come an' feed right out o' her hands, and all sorts o' birds." Eagerly, the guest asks,

"So Sylvey knows all about birds, does she? I am making a collection of birds myself."

When Mrs. Tilley inquires if he cages them, the young ornithologist explains that he stuffs them. He tells he that he is after a white heron which he has seen. When he describes it, Sylvia' s heart gives "a wild beat." Then, she hears the ornithologist offer ten dollars to anybody who could show him the white heron's nest. When she hears this offer of money, Syvia thinks of what she could buy with that money.

The next day, Sylvia and the young sportsman meander through the woods. While she does not comprehend why he kills the birds he professes to like, she yet watches him with "loving admiration." That night she cannot sleep for imagining how she will climb the lone pine that the woodcutters had left where she has seen the herons. Before daybreak she hurries out to find the tree. Once in the woods, Sylvia climbs the oak that has a branch that chafes the pine tree. She makes the passage from one tree to the next; she climbs the pine higher and higher.

The old pine must have loved his new dependent. ...Sylvia's face was like a pale star and ...she felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds.

Sylvia looks down and spots the heron, and wonders what the young man will say to her when she tells him how to reach the heron. As she approaches home, Sylvia realizes Mrs. Tilley has been calling for her, and the ornithologist waits beside her. As his "kind, appealing eyes are looking straight in her own," Syvia thinks of how he can give them money now, at a time that they are poor. "No! She must keep silence!" Something prevents her from talking; she cannot give away the heron's life."