The Courting of Sister Wisby

by Sarah Orne Jewett

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

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 last four days. As a joke, some townspeople sent him to Sister Wisby to ask her for room and board. Though well enough off and standoffish too, Eliza surprisingly accepted Silas, soon “bawled and talked” alongside him during their church meetings, and actually “went a-courtin’ o’ him.” This led to a trial marriage in November, much to the neighbors’ annoyance. The two planned to make their relationship official in the springtime. However, they did not, and Eliza ejected him in April. Cruel neighbors, mainly boys, guffawed at his retreat. Because Eliza had boarded Silas free, she decided to call him back and have him repay her by doing some garden chores. Not only did they get married, but in time Eliza welcomed Silas’s pleasant daughter Phebe into their household. Silas took to drink. Eliza cared for him conscientiously but trusted him with nothing and willed most of her property to Phebe. Mrs. Goodsoe and the narrator finish their tasty peaches and, at the older woman’s suggestion, plant the pits in the pasture ground where they have been talking. She says that the pits will become trees in due time and, moreover, that she would like to be buried right there herself.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access