"A White Heron" by Sarah Orne Jewett

Sylvia lives with her grandmother in the country; one day, a wayfaring stranger arrives and offers money in return for help finding an elusive and majestic bird.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. dilatory
    wasting time
    A little girl was driving home her cow, a plodding, dilatory, provoking creature in her behavior, but a valued companion for all that.
  2. consolation
    the comfort you feel when soothed in times of disappointment
    Sometimes in pleasant weather it was a consolation to look upon the cow's pranks as an intelligent attempt to play hide and seek, and as the child had no playmates she lent herself to this amusement with a good deal of zest.
  3. wary
    marked by keen caution and watchful prudence
    Though this chase had been so long that the wary animal herself had given an unusual signal of her whereabouts, Sylvia had only laughed when she came upon Mistress Moolly at the swamp-side, and urged her affectionately homeward with a twig of birch leaves.
  4. linger
    take one's time; proceed slowly
    Mrs. Tilley had chased the hornéd torment too many summer evenings herself to blame any one else for lingering, and was only thankful as she waited that she had Sylvia, nowadays, to give such valuable assistance.
  5. loiter
    linger, remain, or wait around for no apparent reason
    The good woman suspected that Sylvia loitered occasionally on her own account; there never was such a child for straying about out-of-doors since the world was made!
  6. wistful
    showing pensive sadness
    She thought often with wistful compassion of a wretched geranium that belonged to a town neighbor.
  7. discreet
    heedful of potential consequences
    Sylvia left the cow to whatever sad fate might await her, and stepped discreetly aside into the bushes, but she was just too late.
  8. gallant
    having or displaying great dignity or nobility
    "I have been hunting for some birds," the stranger said kindly, "and I have lost my way, and need a friend very much. Don't be afraid," he added gallantly.
  9. gravity
    a solemn and dignified feeling
    But Sylvia kept an awed silence; she knew by instinct that her grandmother did not comprehend the gravity of the situation.
    The Latin gravitas means "heaviness" and is the root of the English word gravity, the force of attraction between masses in the universe. In the example sentence, gravity refers to an emotional weight, the possible serious consequences of the arrival of a stranger with a gun.
  10. wayfarer
    a traveler going on a trip
    The young man stood his gun beside the door, and dropped a lumpy game-bag beside it; then he bade Mrs. Tilley good-evening, and repeated his wayfarer's story, and asked if he could have a night's lodging.
  11. hospitality
    kindness in welcoming guests or strangers
    "Dear sakes, yes," responded the hostess, whose long slumbering hospitality seemed to be easily awakened.
  12. proffer
    present for acceptance or rejection
    "You might fare better if you went out to the main road a mile or so, but you're welcome to what we've got. I'll milk right off, and you make yourself at home. You can sleep on husks or feathers," she proffered graciously.
  13. squalor
    sordid dirtiness
    The young man had known the horrors of its most primitive housekeeping, and the dreary squalor of that level of society which does not rebel at the companionship of hens.
  14. thrift
    extreme care in spending money
    This was the best thrift of an old-fashioned farmstead, though on such a small scale that it seemed like a hermitage.
  15. scant
    limit in quality or quantity
    Last winter she got the jay-birds to bangeing here, and I believe she'd 'a' scanted herself of her own meals to have plenty to throw out amongst 'em, if I hadn't kep' watch.
  16. demure
    shy or modest, often in a playful or provocative way
    "So Sylvy knows all about birds, does she?" he exclaimed, as he looked round at the little girl who sat, very demure but increasingly sleepy, in the moonlight.
  17. ornithologist
    a scientist who studies birds
    "Oh no, they're stuffed and preserved, dozens and dozens of them," said the ornithologist, "and I have shot or snared every one myself.
  18. divine
    perceive through some inexplicable perceptive powers
    Mrs. Tilley gave amazed attention to all this, but Sylvia still watched the toad, not divining, as she might have done at some calmer time, that the creature wished to get to its hole under the door-step, and was much hindered by the unusual spectators at that hour of the evening.
  19. elusive
    skillful at evading capture
    She grieved because the longed-for white heron was elusive, but she did not lead the guest, she only followed, and there was no such thing as speaking first.
  20. ponderous
    having great mass and weight and unwieldiness
    It was like a great main-mast to the voyaging earth; it must truly have been amazed that morning through all its ponderous frame as it felt this determined spark of human spirit wending its way from higher branch to branch.
  21. solitary
    lacking companions or companionship
    More than all the hawks, and bats, and moths, and even the sweet voiced thrushes, was the brave, beating heart of the solitary gray-eyed child.
  22. triumphant
    joyful and proud especially because of success
    Sylvia's face was like a pale star, if one had seen it from the ground, when the last thorny bough was past, and she stood trembling and tired but wholly triumphant, high in the tree-top.
  23. glorious
    having great beauty and splendor
    Yes, there was the sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and toward that glorious east flew two hawks with slow-moving pinions.
  24. giddy
    having or causing a whirling sensation; liable to falling
    Where was the white heron's nest in the sea of green branches, and was this wonderful sight and pageant of the world the only reward for having climbed to such a giddy height?
  25. consciousness
    an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself
    And wait! wait! do not move a foot or a finger, little girl, do not send an arrow of light and consciousness from your two eager eyes, for the heron has perched on a pine bough not far beyond yours, and cries back to his mate on the nest and plumes his feathers for the new day!
    The "arrow of light and consciousness" is an image that emphasizes both Sylvia's sharp eyesight of Sylvia and the danger of her discovery — since it could lead to a literal arrow (or bullet) being aimed at the heron.
  26. solemn
    dignified and somber in manner or character
    The child gives a long sigh a minute later when a company of shouting cat-birds comes also to the tree, and vexed by their fluttering and lawlessness the solemn heron goes away.
  27. waver
    move back and forth very rapidly
    She knows his secret now, the wild, light, slender bird that floats and wavers, and goes back like an arrow presently to his home in the green world beneath.
  28. perilous
    fraught with danger
    Then Sylvia, well satisfied, makes her perilous way down again, not daring to look far below the branch she stands on, ready to cry sometimes because her fingers ache and her lamed feet slip.
  29. rebuke
    censure severely or angrily
    But Sylvia does not speak after all, though the old grandmother fretfully rebukes her, and the young man's kind, appealing eyes are looking straight in her own.
  30. murmur
    a low continuous indistinct sound
    The murmur of the pine's green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.

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