Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 966
"A Village Singer" begins with the wind in the trees; it's May in a small New England town, and the wind made "a loud murmur" in the leaves, which everyone took note of, because it meant that spring was here. Then the story zooms in on a church in the middle of its service; it zooms further in on a young woman in the choir. This is Alma Way, from the nearby town of East Derby, who has taken over the paid role of lead soprano after the church forced Candace Whitcomb into retirement after 40 years of singing and "much deliberation"—she was getting too old, and struggling to hit the high notes.
Candace didn't take this too well, and every time Alma begins a solo in a hymn, Candace drowns her out with her own parlor organ and her own singing, which is possible because she lives near the church. The entire congregation is aghast at her behavior, and Alma is affected almost to the point of silence, but she keeps singing, and afterward everyone offers their indignation to her at what happened, including the other singers; the old choir director, William Emmons, who also happened to have feelings for Candace; and the minister.
Alma accepts this outrage with grace and walks home from church with her lover, Wilson Ford. As they walked, "they did not look at each other's faces—they seemed to see each other without that." They had been together for ten years, but they had never married. The couple stops in front of Candace's house, and Wilson says that he will walk Alma home and come back to give her a talking-to. Alma, however, is sympathetic to Candace's situation, and she asks him not to. We learn here that Alma is also getting old—twice already Wilkins has told us that she had been pretty, but not so much anymore: "there was a prim, angular, old-maiden carriage about her narrow shoulders." Wilson does not see this, however, and still imagines her as a young and pretty youth.
We leave Alma and Wilson as they continue on to Wilson's house and take up with Mr. Pollard, the minister, as he goes to visit Candace and prevent her from pulling her stunt again. Candace is defensive from the moment the minister enters her home, and she has "a flexibility more resistant than rigor." Mr. Pollard says in polite, halting terms, as is his wont, that Candace was disturbing the church service with her singing; he was sure she didn't mean to do it, he says, and he was sure that she would feel awful about it. Here Candace surprises him: she declares she did mean to do it and that she was hurt and insulted, not by the fact that they no longer wanted her to sing in the choir, but by the manner in which they went about telling her. The choir had thrown her a surprise party, she says, with cake and oranges, and she had been flattered, for she had never had a surprise party before. However, they left her a large photo album when they left, and tucked inside was a letter that told her she was out of the choir. This was horribly two-faced in Candace's opinion, and she had been using the photo album as a footstool and vows to continue to sing her hymns on Sundays in retribution. The minister is just as old as Candace, and he can't understand her fire. He is disturbed by "the resolution and the ambition . . . raging over her whole self." He believes she...
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has gone mad and leaves her home more baffled than he was when he entered it.
Candace repeats her trick for the afternoon service, her resentment and her anger burning steadily inside her. Her voice is still fine, and that fire means that she will sing better than polite Alma ever could. Plus, Alma sang flat on a lot of notes. She leaves the organ feeling tired and red-cheeked. After the service, Wilson, who we learn is her nephew, comes storming into her house and demands she stop her revolution or else he'll throw her organ out the window and board the window up. Candace speaks to him heatedly and declares that she will write him out of her will, that he won't get a cent of her money or her house, and without either of those things there is no way he will be able to marry Alma. At this point, Wilson first begins to admit to himself that he doesn't have the means to marry on his own.
When Wilson leaves, we see Candace descend into sickness; at the same time, the forest a half-mile away catches fire. Candace misses the evening service and is sick for a week, with her "last sickness," as she says—she's the only one who thinks she won't recover. Finally, she asks her sister, Nancy Ford, to get the photo album and "brush it up a little." Sunday morning after the service, the minister comes to see her, and she asks his forgiveness for the way she behaved the week before. She also asks Nancy to get Alma and Wilson for her, and after the next service, they come to see the old woman in her bed. Candace tells Wilson that she hasn't changed her will and that he and Alma can live in her house when she's gone and have her things. Wilson cries, and Alma is moved.
Candace then asks Alma to sing "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" for her. Alma sings, and as Candace listens, "her face had a holy and radiant expression." When Alma is finished, the same expression remains on Candace's face as she tells the young woman, "You flatted a little on—soul."