Harvey Witlow, the higgler, is driving his cart along a road on a remote moor. (A higgler is an itinerant dealer who buys poultry and dairy products from farms and supplies them with small items from the shops in town.) He has recently been discharged from the army and is meeting with little success in his business. His financial situation is getting worse, but it is generally expected in his village that he will marry Sophy Dawson, the daughter of a gamekeeper. Although they are not formally engaged, Sophy clearly expects the marriage to take place soon.
Just when Harvey is wishing that his affairs will “take a turn,” he comes to the neatly maintained and obviously prosperous farm owned by Elizabeth Sadgrove. After some brief negotiations with Mrs. Sadgrove, he buys fifteen score eggs and some pullets from her. It is evident that the hoped-for turn for the better has occurred. Mrs. Sadgrove, a widow, also has a beautiful red-haired daughter named Mary, who has “the hands of a lady.” Although Mary says almost nothing to the higgler, she appears to be impressed by him. For his part, Harvey momentarily forgets everything.
Harvey begins to call regularly at Mrs. Sadgrove’s farm, and his business flourishes. He discovers that Mrs. Sadgrove, who has the reputation of driving a hard bargain, is quite well-to-do. Mary has attended a “seminary for gentlefolks’ females,” and her superior education seems to have spoiled her for the work for a farm. When, for example, she goes out, heavily veiled, to collect a swarm of bees into a hive, her movements are tentative and ineffectual; Harvey, without protective clothing, comes to her rescue and confidently collects the swarm. Harvey is attracted to Mary but is puzzled by her quietness in his presence. They spend an entire day in the orchard, where Harvey is picking cherries and Mary is walking back and forth with a clapper to frighten away the birds, but she never speaks to him. On the occasions when Harvey takes tea with the Sadgroves, her responses to his conversational overtures are brief and confused. Harvey wonders if there is anything wrong with her.
Harvey’s doubts are increased when Mrs. Sadgrove invites him to have Sunday dinner with them. He dresses gallantly, putting a pink rose, which he plans to give to Mary, in his buttonhole. During dinner, he talks volubly about his war experiences, but Mary says almost nothing. After the meal, Mary withdraws and Mrs. Sadgrove invites Harvey to take a walk in the meadow. To his consternation, she asks if he has a sweetheart and then pointedly says that she wants to see Mary married before she dies. She estimates the worth of her farm at three...
(The entire section is 1098 words.)