Why didn't Sylvia tell the stranger where the white heron's nest was?

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Sylvia doesn't tell the stranger where to find the heron's nest because she knows he'll kill the herons, and she doesn't want that to happen.

Sylvia is shown to have a great love for nature from childhood. She's so in tune with the area around her that it's simple for her to find the heron that the hunter has glimpsed. However, part of understanding nature is having respect for it. It pains Sylvia to think of the heron's fate if the hunter finds it.

He speaks of stuffed dead birds and assures her and her grandmother that he's shot every one of them. There's no ambiguity as to what the fate of the bird will be if the hunter finds it. Even though she's tempted to tell him once she locates the nest, Sarah Orne Jewett writes, "Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away."

Even though the hunter could improve Sylvia and her grandmother's lives, she can't make herself a party to the death of the heron by helping him find the nest.

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Sylvia loves animals and nature. Living with her grandmother in the woods, her main "valued companion" is a cow called Mistress Moolly. At the beginning of the story she talks how they both walk down the dark path as if they both experience the exact same feelings.

They were going away from whatever light there was, and striking deep into the woods, but their feet were familiar with the path, and it was no matter whether their eyes could see it or not.

As well as Mistress Moolly, the writer humanizes the birds who she say "good-night to each other in sleepy twitters", a hop toad who "wished to get to its hole under the door-step, and was much hindered by the unusual spectators" and even a great pine tree whose "mates were dead and gone long ago."

In comparison, she is in her grandmother's "afraid of folks." When the stranger first whistles to her for example she's scared because the whistle doesn't possess the friendliness of a bird's whistle, but the aggressiveness of a human. Or as she says "the enemy."

In the end she does enjoy the stranger's company, but is always uneasy that he has come to kill animals rather than befriend them. For that reason she can't tell the stranger where the heron is. It would be like handing over a friend to be murdered.

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Sylvia is at first afraid of the stranger, but as she walks with him through the forest she finds her “woman’s heart” responding to the exciting stranger.

She does intend to tell him where the heron’s nest is, stealing out especially to climb the great pine tree from which she believes she will see the nest. However, the experience of climbing the tree reminds her that she is ‘at one’ with nature; that she is as much part of the forest as the trees, animals, and the enigmatic white heron. She has been shocked to see the hunter shoot the birds he wants to “collect” and is dismayed by this cruelty, though her childish heart is quickly won over with  the gift of the knife. .Despite the offer of money, Sylvia chooses not to reveal the heron’s whereabouts. She is content to preserve its – and her- freedom.

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