(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

While walking one August day in a sunny pasture, the female narrator encounters Mrs. Goodsoe, her old friend, gathering a medicinal herb called mullein. They sit, eat some peaches the narrator has brought along, and chat. Mrs. Goodsoe needs little prompting as she reminisces garrulously. First, she mentions Mrs. Peck, a widow who had two daughters. One of them was forsaken by a “rovin’” boyfriend; the other married Jim Heron, the first Irishman ever seen in the region. Remembering Heron reminds Mrs. Goodsoe of Mrs. Jerry Foss, a hard-scrabble widow whose three children suddenly died of scarlet fever in a single horrifying week. She fell into a stony anguish until Heron was summoned. He played magically soothing music on his fiddle, and charmed the distraught mother into tears, a gentle sleep.

The narrator uproots some goldthread, a bitter herb that Mrs. Goodsoe recalls Eliza Wisby savored so often that it “puckered her disposition.” Mrs. Goodsoe proceeds to tell Eliza Wisby’s story. It seems that Silas Brimblecom, a back-country farmer, was easily persuaded by an itinerant preacher to leave his wife in favor of an evidently beckoning “spirit bride.” Angelic enough but no housekeeper, this creature soon died. Silas returned to his flesh-and-blood wife, a forgiving homebody. Then she died. He joined the recently established Christian Baptist church, was promoted to country deacon, and came to town to attend a church assembly scheduled to...

(The entire section is 437 words.)