Sylvia’s relationship with the stranger is a strange mixture of companionship and rivalry. Sylvia is a shy child, and so she is afraid of the stranger at first, but after spending some time with him in nature, she comes to have a child-like crush on him. Jewett writes,
But as the day waned, Sylvia still watched the young man with loving admiration. She had never seen anybody so charming and delightful; the woman's heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love.
This passage shows that Sylvia has such strong admiration for the stranger that it could bud into Romantic love if she were not such a young child. Being so young and shy, she does not present herself as an equal companion to the stranger in how she behaves. As they traverse together, she does not start conversations with the stranger, but only answers them briefly, and she does not lead him through the forest—even though she could, for she is quite adept at wandering through nature and finding birds. Instead, she follows him. Sylvia seems compliant and useful to the stranger until the end when she refuses to give up the white heron.
At the end of the story, Jewett says that had she told, Sylvia “could have served and followed him and loved him as a dog loves.” The implication is that if Sylvia had demonstrated loyalty to the sportsman instead of to the white heron and her other bird friends, she might have lost the connection to nature that makes her part of it. She came from town, but since coming to the farm, she has become so part of the surrounding nature that her grandmother brags to the stranger of her intuitive connection to nature. She says, “There ain't a foot o' ground she don't know her way over, and the wild creaturs counts her one o' themselves. Squer'ls she'll tame to come an' feed right out o' her hands, and all sorts o' birds.” The story also uses description to make it seem as if she is a part of nature itself. Like nature, she is quiet. In the tree, she is at one moment a star, and the next a bird. As she watches from the tree top, “Sylvia felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds.” Sylvia admires the stranger, but cannot understand is how the stranger could kill the birds he professes to love, and in the end, because she is more like the birds than the stranger, she disappoints him by being loyal to nature and herself.