Blue Vase

Trudy Lewis Click to

Trudy Lewis is the author of the short story collection The Bones of Garbo, winner of the Sandstone Prize in Short Fiction(Ohio State University Press).  Her work has appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Best American Short Stories, New Stories from the South, Fence and others.  Her first novel, Private Correspondences, won the William Goyen Prize (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press).  Trudy is currently Director of Writing at the University of Missouri. “Blue Vase” is based on historical accounts of the poet Lucy Larcom and her mentor John Greenleaf Whittier.  Research for this story was conducted at the Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Sopecial Collections at Wheaton College.


Lucy never came to Amesbury without checking its position on the mantle, secretly fearing that her poor offering would be relegated to a less conspicuous spot.  But there it was, still standing in a pure column of color, the blue vase she had given Mr. Whittier five years previous, when she won Amos Lawrence’s prize for her poem “Call to Kansas.” Set to the tune of “Nelly Bly,” the song became a popular rallying cry for pioneers settling Kansas for the Free Soil cause.  Though “Call” was far more polemical than the gentle pastoral verses Lucy published, with increasing regularity, in religious papers and ladies’ magazines, the $50 prize was the largest amount of money she had ever earned from her poetry, and the reprints in nearly every paper in the country represented a fame beyond her most extravagant dreams.

She considered it only right, then that she should pay tribute to her friend Whittier with some personal token in celebration of the victory.  After all, without his constant encouragement she would not have been able to continue writing at all.  She thought, with some pride, of her labor in the factory at Lowell, and her progression from doffer to rover without ever losing the rhythm of her vocation.  She recalled her travails in Looking Glass Prairie, the cramped cabin where she kept house for her sister’s family and the bare floor of the schoolhouse where she attempted to maintain order and syntax amid her rough rural pupils.  She remembered the heavy housework she had done in exchange for her education at Monticello Seminary and her current uncomfortable teaching position at Wheaton Academy, where she was forced to barter for each precious pearl of solitude and beg for the privilege to miss Sunday services to take a walk in the woods behind the school or catch the train to Boston.  Through all these circumstances, Whittier had written to her, encouraged her, recommended her work to various editors, and thoroughly revised every scrap of verse she had ever had the temerity to send him.  Even now, when she closed her eyes, she saw the dark marks of his corrections on a page of her overgrown lines.

The vase, doubled in the mirror over the mantle, drew her attention again and she stared with displeasure at the overblown roses that drooped over its rim.  Not only were they the wrong color, a garish pink, they were several days past their prime, with brown spots like the bruises in a spoiled apple. Who had placed them there only to be neglected? Perhaps it was Elizabeth, Whittier’s sister, who suffered from frequent debilitating headaches, and so might stay in her bed for several days on end, leaving the poet’s study in disarray.  At any rate, Lucy hoped it was Elizabeth and not some other, unknown presence.

Lucy removed the damp flowers, setting them in a folded page of newspaper that she retrieved from her handbag.  Then she lifted the vase from the mantle and examined it in the light. This small item, purchased from the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, had cost her five dollars, a full tithe of her prize.  Fashioned from glass as dark as ink, it had a rough seam running down one side and a raised design of diamonds over most of its surface. Looking closely, she could see that the glass itself was riddled with tiny swirls and air bubbles like the current of the Merrimack.   “Lacy glass,” they called it, and when she presented the gift to Whittier her poetic imagination substituted a “u” for the “a” so that she claimed to be granting him a present of Lucy Glass, through which the world would assume the happy appearance of a mountain landscape.

The gift was not merely a whim; it had a practical purpose as well.  Whittier’s color blindness prevented him from distinguishing between red and green, and, as a result, he missed much of nature’s beauty: the tongues of hibiscus in the summer, the firs profiled against the setting sun in winter, and the blazing maple leaves in the fall.  His palate was composed almost entirely of yellow and blue, and so Lucy, determined to give him the greatest pleasure from his limited range of perception, chose the blue vase, telling him to keep it filled with yellow flowers, their bright blooms standing out with conviction against the indigo glass.

Lucy loved to tease her friend about the irony of colorblindness in a man called “Greenleaf,” unable to make out the color of his coat, and so prevented from recognizing his own goodness.  In spite of his fame as a poet and his dignity as a Quaker, Whittier seemed to enjoy these jests, encouraging her humor at his expense.  Lucy was not insensitive to the honor. And yet, recently, when he invited her to address him by this family name, she could not bring herself to breach the last bit of distance between master and pupil.

She refilled the vase with water from a pitcher on the table and deposited the goldenrods she had brought as a house gift, trying not to brush the blooms with her fingers as she arranged the stalks into a graceful fan.  Nevertheless a dusting of pollen appeared on her gloves and her hand ran irresistibly to her throat, where she wore a black velvet ribbon to hide her disfigurement. Underneath, her neck was a welter of old raised scars and fresh red sores damp with discharge. The outbreak was now in full bloom, in spite of her careful diet and walking regime.

The term always took its toll and as she filled her grade book with marks and her notebooks with commentary on Aristotle and Wordsworth, she developed the usual symptoms of overwork: headaches, insomnia, and the reappearance of the scrofula that she first suffered as a girl in the mills at Lowell.  And something more came with the physical symptoms, a shrinking from all contact, as if she were unfit, with her tainted flesh, to share the company of her clean, privileged, and pampered pupils, who had no doubt never known a day of physical labor.  Some said the scrofula was caused by contagion, while others believed it was passed along from mother to child in the blood.  In either case, Lucy felt a scourge beyond the physical symptoms and considered the disease a mark of Cain barring her from all decent society.

But the Whittiers, with their quiet habits and gentle humor, always restored her to the human family.  She planned to stay at Amesbury for a full week, followed by a few days in Boston, where she would meet her old friend Harriet Robinson for a tour of the museums and keep a surreptitious appointment with a faith healer who claimed he could cure the scrofula with help from his contacts in the spirit world.  Of the three remedies, she wondered which would be the most effective.

She doubted it would be the meeting with Harriet. In the spring, Hattie’s four-year-old son had died of a fever, and Lucy, offering what poor comfort she could, wrote urging her friend to accept God’s mysterious will.  Harriet’s answer came back a blast of fury from the cold heart of grief.  If Lucy ever had the courage to bear a child herself, she would understand that God’s will was no match for a mother’s love.  Lucy could not think how to respond, she had not meant to give offense, but only, remembering the deaths of her many nieces and nephews, sought the gentlest and most conventional expression of sympathy.  Now, far from comforting her friend, she had given her an additional cause of suffering.

Well, she would have to isolate herself from even her friends if she wanted to protect them.  Whittier himself occasionally suffered from the vagaries of her moods, especially when she couldn’t suppress her resentment at his neglect.  What had it been—two months, three, since he sent her a proper letter and not merely a note making arrangements or revising her work?  Longing to see some scrap of his script, she moved to his desk to see what he was writing.  His work had shifted, in recent months, from abolitionist ballads to idylls of an earlier New England.  Now that the nation was finally roused to a fury over slavery, Liberty’s laureate felt relieved of a burden and freed to return to more intimate themes. She saw that this manuscript was a new poem about a town stilled by a snowfall.  The silence of nature seemed to descend upon the lines and weigh them down, like boughs heavy with snow.  It was a fine poem, full of quiet joy, and she felt her breath slowing to its rhythm.  In contrast to the ballads, ringing with the energy of outraged virtue, this one had a calming effect, slowing the blood in her veins and producing a distinctly sensual form of relaxation.

Did she dare turn over the page?  To read what was left out in the open was perhaps acceptable, but to touch and rearrange his papers would be to intrude. In spite of her moral scruples, she lifted the page and continued on to the next stanza.  In fact, she became so absorbed she did not hear the poet enter the room.

“Dost thou have any corrections, my friend?” His voice, deep and rich as the echo in a mountain pass, startled her with its intimacy.  “Thou must tell me.  For I know that thou would not otherwise disturb the privacy of my desk.”

She blushed, falling, as she generally did, into Quaker speech as she addressed him.  “I am very sorry to transgress thy privacy.  I fear I was Mesmerized by the beauty of thy poem.”

“I have gone past the summit of my days,” he said.  “And now I find my thoughts returning to my boyhood.”   Could it be that her friend was growing old?  He still had the same vigorous expression and restless intellect and yet he was no longer the spry walker he had been, preferring to stay behind, on treks in the White Mountains, to keep camp and tend the fire.  Looking at his face, she saw the white in his beard and the lines in his forehead. It was no wonder that he wanted to write about snow instead of blossoms.  If Whittier was no longer a man of middle age, Lucy herself was no longer a girl.  She had grown heavy in the service of her muse, and as she gained greater confidence in her verse, her body itself became coarse and clumsy.  She was now thirty-five years of age. How long could she remain a pupil?

“And what of thy work, dear Lucy?  Hast thou made any progress on the story?”
This was an old subject of conversation. After Lucy’s poem appeared to such fanfare, Whittier placed an announcement in The National Era, advertising a Western story to be published by Miss Lucy Larcom of “Call to Kansas” fame.  He wanted her to write a popular novel, one like The Lamplighter, which would bring more profit than her poetry and attract the attention she deserved.  Lucy was flattered by the proposition, but when he went so far as to announce the project in public as an accomplished fact, he placed her in a false position. Reading over the advertisement, she experienced a rare surge of anger, which she could never express to him, but remembered confiding to Harriet during a visit to the Athenaeum, as they stood in front of a stirring oil painting of a blue and orange storm at sea.  Now her head pulsed with annoyance and her throat stung under the velvet band.

“I have written a few more pages, but I fear the pace of the term has overtaken me.”

“My poor friend.  I am sorry to hear it.”

Lucy would as soon throw those pages in the fire as give them up for his perusal.  A woman without a story, whose life proceeded in strange starts and stops, interrupted, here and there, by the flowering of a short-lived joy or the passing of a flickering sorrow, she did not have the experience to produce a fully formed narrative.  She did, however, carry with her a small sheaf of poems she had written in the weeks since her last visit to Amesbury, and so she pulled them out of her satchel, as if to pacify him.  She felt, more and more, a yearning toward independence, a desire as strong as the need for sunlight or exercise. And yet, in her poverty, she believed that this ritual of correction was the only thing she had to offer the man who had become the dearest person in her life.  So, once again, she handed over her poor efforts for his inspection.

It was as if she had given him a rare treasure.  His worn face assumed a childlike greed as he weighed the stack of papers in his hand, rubbing the top sheet with satisfaction.  Then he lifted his pen from the inkstand and began to make corrections, dark and arbitrary as musical notations, even before he had finished the first stanza.  Reading the revised verse aloud, he marked out the time on his knee, stopping frequently to taste the flavor of a word on his tongue or substitute one rhyme for another.   Lucy sat stunned at his ability to manufacture verse on demand, as mechanically as a weaver producing cloth on a power loom.  In this small private room, the strength of his genius was on full display, and, sitting in its presence, she felt everything at once: shame and desire, pride and humility, anger and love.

Her words in his mouth represented the greatest intimacy to which she could ever aspire, and yet also the basest humiliation she would ever wish to experience, as he tore open the lines she had so carefully braided together and rewove them with a practiced craftsman’s skill.   She began to grow hot in the close room, and moved nearer to Whittier, away from the fire.  She could hardly bear the pressure of the ribbon on her neck, or the irritation of the open lesions.  He had reached “The Pestilence,” a poem she had written only few weeks ago, when the pressure of her disease forced her indoors and made the slightest human contact an unbearable act of violation.

Earth has been wrapped within a tainted zone,
A girdle poisoned with unwholesome dews.
But she was sick; this did her Guardian choose
To make his will for her quick healing known.

Hearing him read the lines, Lucy grew even warmer, feeling the dampness under her arms and behind her knees, and in fact in every place where her body had the misfortune to touch itself.  She longed for the purity of a corporeal being whose parts were never forced to meet in such cramped circumstances.

“’Unwholesome dews.’  Thou referest, I suppose, to the results of fever.”

“That is my intention,” she said, thinking also of the discharge from her wounds and of the flow from between her legs, grown darker over time.  She was herself frequently covered with dews of an unwholesome nature.

“Shouldst thou not say rather the sickly brine?”

“That would mar the rhyme, wouldn’t it?”

“From dews and choose thou might progress to ‘brine’ and ‘divine.’  Canst thou not hear the improvement?”

Lucy, flushed and tired as she was, tried to consider the case rationally.  No, “dews” was exactly what she meant, the moistness that came upon a body in the night, without consciousness or exertion, dampening all plans for improvement.

Whittier continued without waiting for Lucy’s reply, and she felt a prickle behind her ear as she heard her words altered to reflect his glory.  Staring at him, she saw the comic aspect of his posture he marked and tapped, tapped and read, his leg jiggling as if he were riding a fast horse.  He was a man of genius, yes, but she must be a fool to trust him with her whole being.

Just before he reached the final line, there was a disturbance at the door.  Lucy felt it as a wave more than a noise, the rising up of another presence in the room.  She tried to suppress her annoyance, because she assumed it was Elizabeth, who had been a better friend to her than Whittier himself, keeping up their correspondence when her brother could or would not.

But as she turned to greet the poet’s sister, she saw that it was another woman entirely who entered the room with curt step and a spirit of ownership.  Perhaps half a minute passed before Lucy was able to recognize the sharp unpleasant features, the large nose and excellent figure, the stylish green dress with its reptilian sheen, as the defining features of Gail Hamilton, an aspiring writer from the neighborhood.  Gail had, on several occasions, accompanied the Whittiers’ group to the White Mountains, where she insisted on entertaining the poet with passages from her brittle, witty letters to friends abroad.  Lucy was surprised that her friend took an interest in such worldly compositions, not to mention a woman of such frivolous charms.

She had never known Miss Hamilton to visit Amesbury before.  The woman was, as far as Lucy knew, still living in Washington and working as a governess for the publisher of The National Era.  What could she be doing here in Whittier’s study?  Perhaps she had been granted leave from her position to relay a message or undertake some secretarial task.  She certainly gave every appearance of playing an official role.
As Lucy watched, immobilized, Gail moved to the mantle and picked up the vase, tipping it toward her and touching the goldenrods with her light-colored gloves.  Miss Hamilton, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, would surely scorn the common goldenrod, not to mention the humble vessel.

“Our roses have faded, I see, and are now replaced with the flowers of the field.”
Whittier bristled, as if caught in an act of infidelity.  “Miss Larcom has arrived and brought the outdoors with her. Thou knowest Miss Hamilton, of course.”
Lucy nodded, making an effort to control the muscles of her face.  “We were together at the White Mountains,” she said, “When Miss Hamilton had the good sense to recommend The Afternoon of Unmarried Life to me.”

“Miss Larcom, whatever are you doing with yourself?  Still tucked away amid the green girls at Wheaton?”

Lucy was surprised at her own eagerness to defend the position she so disliked. “My pupils are quite satisfactory.  And I visit Boston whenever I can.”

“I’m amazed that the author of ‘Hannah Binding Shoes’ feels any need to roam.”

She referred to Lucy’s other great success, a ballad about a woman who grew old sitting by the window and waiting for her sweetheart to return from the sea.  While her marriage was delayed, Hannah supported herself by binding shoes, a common occupation in Lucy’s hometown, as stanza by stanza, she lost her beauty and increased her faith.  The poem appeared in The Crayon and The Knickerbocker simultaneously, just as Lucy despaired of receiving a reply from either magazine.  So instead of being paid for her efforts, she was rewarded with a public outcry against her brazen plagiarism of her own work.

Lucy hated to be reminded of the poem, even though it had been reprinted in several anthologies, memorized by old maids and schoolchildren, and universally praised.  She felt she would never escape the reputation Hannah earned for her, the image of a pitiable spinster waiting for a fulfillment that would never come.

“Oh, I meant to tell thee,” Whittier remarked. “Last month we had another pilgrim come to Amesbury to meet the author of ‘Hannah Binding Shoes.’  Thou wilt be happy to hear that I gave thee full credit and told the poor woman she must go and pay her tribute to you at Wheaton when she could.”

“What an honor it is to live the life of the pen!” Miss Hamilton interrupted.  “I don’t know if Mr. Whittier told you, but I’m thinking of writing a book.  My employer encouraged me to take a leave of absence to try my hand at some little story of my life in the provinces.  Mr. Whittier believes he will be able to interest Mr. Fields in publishing the full account.”
The same promise he had made to Lucy.  Her legs weakened beneath her, her knees locked, and she had to make an effort to remain standing.  So Miss Hamilton, who had never sullied herself by completing any piece of literary work or mailing a single manuscript out to editors, would publish a book before Lucy, who had labored over her poetry through every family tragedy and rude displacement, each menial occupation and painful rejection, since the age of fifteen.

She did not know how she managed to excuse herself and leave the room; only habit, she supposed, empowered her to find her way down the narrow hall to her accustomed chamber, where Elizabeth had left a spray of asters, a pitcher of fresh water, and a note explaining her absence due to her niece’s unexpected illness.  Miss Hamilton, she trusted, would serve as company in her stead, and she wished the two good ladies a lively exchange over their literary endeavors.  So Lucy was to spend the week with Miss Hamilton, hearing about her success as a governess, her powers over influential parties, her reputation as a correspondent, and her promise as a leading literary figure of her age.   Whittier himself appeared to bask in the presence of not one, but two pupils, and delighted in calling his guests into his study, where he read out their works in dramatic tones and corrected their phrases with a point of his finger and a flourish of his wrist.

Lucy was shocked by the enthusiasm with which he assumed Miss Hamilton’s style of speech, and the effeminate affected inflections of her voice.  As he read out her letters, his forehead narrowed, his nostrils expanded, and his dear severe lips pursed together in an alarming expression of sensuality.  What expression did he assume when reading Lucy’s work, she wondered, and, observing him closely, she thought she detected a subtler shift, a movement toward a child’s naïve piety.  Was this, then, his view of her?  If Miss Hamilton was the eternal female, was Lucy destined to be the perpetual child?  At her mature age, how long could she continue to inhabit the role? But if she dared to abandon it, would she retain any place at all in his imagination?

And as the week progressed, Lucy was stunned at the number and variety of Miss Hamilton’s costumes: a grebe fur hat and boa, an English riding habit, a Turkish robe.  And although she could not find a moment to engage Whittier in private conversation, she did have ample opportunity to observe every ornament in Miss Hamilton’s extensive collection: the Italian beads, the French brooch, the pearl necklace with the diamond clasp. These last, given to her as a Christmas gift from her pupils, came attached with a note from her employer, telling her that though she was without a doubt the finest governess he had ever known, he would be selfish to keep such sublime genius smothered in the bosom of his family.

As the days passed, Lucy’s anger grew and the condition of the skin at her throat worsened, until she was forced to cut a wider band of velvet, extended, above and below, with the lace from her petticoat and fastened together with an ivory earring which had lost its mate.  Miss Hamilton, apparently gifted with second sight along with all her other talents, paid particular compliments to this poor item, as if to draw attention to Lucy’s ailment.  Lucy found herself spending longer and longer periods in her room, so that she could loosen the ribbon and re-apply the lunar caustic recommended by her doctor.  The ointment smelled of lead and induced a heavy intoxication of despair.  She felt her courses coming on, somewhat sooner than expected, and that smell, too, reminded her of the impure and suppurating nature of her body.  It would be at least three months before she saw Whittier again, and she could not forgive herself for letting the precious days pass without enjoyment.

One evening, two days before her departure, she wandered out into the garden at sunset, simply to be free of the constant society.  Unable to bear the constriction of the ribbon any longer, she tore it from her neck and began to cry.  “Unwholesome dew,” indeed, she thought, regretting the self -pity that forced yet another unwanted substance from her poor, ruined body.  And yet, even as she reached the lowest point of her nature, the cool wind touched her wound and breathed on her ruined flesh. Then she felt her better self return, and, with it, the power to look outside her own misery and observe the desiccated stems of the few pumpkins left in the garden, their twisted vines arrayed like trailing script.

Beyond the wall, she saw a black coat and a tall hat, then the long legs of her host, and she moved to pull her shawl around her neck.

“My child,” he said, stooping to kiss the top of her head.  “I find thee troubled of late.  Have I done aught to offend thee?”

Lucy could not speak; her voice disappeared inside her damaged throat.  Instead, she set her hand in his and felt the warm rough texture, remembering how Whittier, too, had labored as a boy, chopping wood and husking corn, and how he still kept his hands busy with fire-tending and whittling.  He was not a man to scorn her as a lowly worker; he was not her enemy.  And yet, why did she feel it so, the removal of his approval, as if the very hair and nails were being torn from her body?

He lifted his hand from hers and pointed to the sunset, its pink layers folding into madder and lighting up the fir trees so they shone a vivid bottle green.  How did this sight appear to him, she wondered.  Was it merely a mass of undifferentiated color, or were the shades distorted, as if seen through tinted glass?  Oh, why had she, with her perfect vision, submitted to the judgment of a colorblind man?

“It will be time for sledding before I see thee next, and I do not wish to part with an obstruction between us.”

“You could visit me at Wheaton.” Lucy said, feeling a sliver of her former merriment return.  She realized, with some confusion, that she had dropped the “thou” she generally employed in conversation with her mentor and shivered, as if, by addressing him in this bare fashion, she acknowledged his naked humanity.

“I do not wish to disturb the orthodoxy of thy school with the plain coat and hard doctrine of a Quaker.”

Lucy laughed in spite of herself.  “I believe my colleagues will survive the shock of your stringent opinions and your crow’s robes.”  She had done it again.  This time, even Whittier appeared to notice, acknowledging the omission with a blink of his eye.

“Well, I may call on you, then, the next time I find myself in Norton.”  But Lucy knew that he would never visit her, but only send, as usual, a clever apology in rhymed couplets, excusing himself on account of his insomnia.

“I am sorry I have not been myself,” she said. “The season does not agree with me.”

Here she breathed in to suppress her tears and found herself sneezing instead, doing no favors to her appearance.  He handed her his handkerchief and looked away, allowing her a space of privacy in which to regain her composure.

“Thou art coming to the end of it,” he said, laying his hand on hers.  “And soon thou wilt be a contented jolly bachelor like Elizabeth and myself.”

Her heart squeezed tight, some negligible beast, a muskrat or squirrel, attempting to hide itself in a space too small for its dimensions.  Surely, she was still too young to be discarded as a potential mate.  Even if she did not want to marry, she could not stand to be excluded from the possibility.

“Thou must not underestimate the consolations of the single state.”

Was he confining her to a life of solitude?  At what age had he resolved to live a single life?  And when did he determine this same fate for his sister as well, so that he was not deprived of a hearthside companion? Did he have any right to limit her in this way?  Did he have the right to limit Elizabeth?

She felt the shawl scratch at her throat and the tastes of lead and iron fill her mouth with the unpleasant flavor of her own unworthiness.  Who was she to doubt the intentions of her mentor?

Just at this juncture, Lucy saw Gail Hamilton pass by the window and pull open the shade.  She wore an organza veil over her dark hair and her shapely arms were bare to the shoulder.  Surely she didn’t plan to wear an evening gown to supper in the Whittier’s humble home? After adjusting the curtain, Miss Hamilton allowed her hand to rest on the sash, watching her own flesh in fascination as she slid several bright enamel bracelets up and down her slender arm.  The sight bathed Lucy in jealousy: to be able to display her body and not disguise it.  To enjoy the luxury of stretching her limbs and exercising her intellect.  And yet Miss Hamilton was not a beauty or a genius either.  She was merely a confident if unpleasant woman making the most of her gifts.

“I may find a husband yet,” Lucy said.  “To judge from the romantic rumors surrounding me at Wheaton.”

“They marry thee off to the local beaus, do they?  And dost thou consider them congenial?”

“I have been spoiled by the company of one who agrees with me most.”

Whittier blinked again, caught off guard by the compliment.  “Thou findest Miss Hamilton somewhat garrulous, I fear.”

“She does not suffer from shyness.”

“We have known her family for some time, and she is a good woman, underneath it all, who has shown great forbearance for that rough breed at Washington.”

“And so you will turn her into an authoress?”

Whittier picked up a stick from the garden and began to whittle it, slicing away the bark to reveal the pale wood underneath, rich and moist as the meat of a turkey.  “I may do so, if she has the will.”

“You are very generous with your encouragement,” Lucy said. “I myself, well, I hardly know how I would have continued on without it.”

“Thou wert always a fine girl.  I never had any doubts of thee.”

The compliment, sweet as salve on her wounded flesh, came too late, and Lucy drew the shawl more tightly around her neck and shoulders.

“I must tell thee,” she said.  “I have decided to give up my Western story.”

Whittier looked up from his work.  “Oh?”  He continued whittling, but turned his head slightly, in a listening posture, so that she understood he was allowing her to speak, if she wished, at length.

“And I think I must refrain from sending you my work, at least for a time, so I can begin to sort out my mistakes for myself.”

“Well,” he said.  “Thou must be the judge.”

They sat in silence, then, until the sunset dwindled into a single line of orange on the horizon and Miss Hamilton called them in to supper.  Lucy could not go directly into the dining room, with its rich smells, but slipped into the study, where the blue vase sat on the mantle, its bright stalks of goldenrod going to seed.  A part of her would always remain with Whittier, she knew, and perhaps the best of her, the hopeful girl who thought the Merrimack was made of verses and believed her own poor efforts could be transformed, by the metered motion of the mill wheel, into purest gold.  But she could not allow that young woman, with her childish enthusiasm, to choke out the true poet she might become.  She lifted the flowers from the vase and threw them, with some force, into the fire, watching as the stems took light and the blooms blackened in the blaze.  After a moment’s thought, she pulled the velvet band from her pocket and, removing the ivory earring, dropped that into the fire as well, ridding herself of the last reminder of Miss Hamilton’s unwelcome compliments.  The vase remained cool in her hands, and as she turned it, she felt, in its raised and regular pattern, factory-made like herself, the shape of some new story offering up its form.


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