Mary and Dick arrive at the farm the night after their wedding. Mary has told herself that she will “get close to nature,” although she actually far prefers the city to the countryside. However, she is looking forward to married life, and is not worried about her and Dick’s poverty, which does not seem real to her. When they arrive at the farm, Mary stares at the house in the moonlight; it looks “shut and dark and stuffy.” She begins to walk away from the house and toward a group of trees, before a bird’s squawk frightens her and she runs back.
From the first moment Mary steps on the farm, it is clear that she does not belong there. She feigns an interest in nature, yet her reaction to the bird’s squawk shows that she actually finds the natural world repugnant and frightening. Furthermore, while she supposedly does not care about Dick’s poverty, as soon as she confronts evidence of this poverty in the form of the small, stuffy house, she is repelled by it.
Inside the house, Dick refills a lamp with paraffin, and Mary feels sick from the smell. She knows Dick is worried that she’ll be disappointed, so she smiles at him, and he says he’ll make them some tea. While he is gone, Mary looks at two pictures on Dick’s wall: one of a woman (taken from a chocolate box) and the other of a child (ripped from a calendar). Dick returns and takes the pictures down, claiming he hasn’t looked at them in years. Mary is newly aware of Dick’s intense loneliness, but feels that she won’t be able to be what he wants.
As with her previous existence in town, Mary is living in a state of denial about the reality around her. At the same time, Dick engages in a false pretense of happiness and ease, pretending that he isn’t nervous about Mary’s arrival and that he wasn’t lonely in the years before they got married.
The pictures lie on the floor until Dick crumples them up and throws them into the corner; there doesn’t appear to be a trash can in the room. Dick shyly suggests that they can put up new pictures, and Mary feels protective of him. He tells her that it is her “job now” to pour the tea, which she does. Dick explains that he built the house himself. There is no door between the rooms, only a curtain that had been embroidered by Mrs. Slatter. As Dick is talking, Mary suddenly feels that she has been transported back to her childhood home, and in a panic she suggests that they go into the bedroom. Dick has bought a large, “proper old-fashioned bed,” which he equates with “happiness itself.”
Mary and Dick cautiously move into their new roles (in which Mary, as the woman, is supposed to attend to domestic duties like pouring tea), and they seem hopeful despite the sparse setting. However, Mary’s sudden memory of her childhood connects her marriage to the misery of her past, marring the sense of a new beginning that comes with her new life with Dick.
Seeing Mary’s look of unhappiness, Dick leaves her to undress, and as he is undressing himself he feels ashamed and guilty for having married her. They have sex, and afterward Mary thinks that it wasn’t so bad, although it also “meant nothing” to her. Dick, meanwhile, continues to feel guilty about marrying her—yet perhaps this in fact makes him a good match for her. Mary falls asleep holding Dick’s hand.
Dick and Mary’s first night together is rather moving; it reveals the vulnerability of both characters, and suggests that there may be a way in which this vulnerability will provide them with the capacity to care for one another. Both Dick and Mary are imperfect people who have suffered from isolation and loneliness, yet now have a chance to overcome this through building a life together. At the same time, Dick’s ongoing guilt foreshadows the fact that Mary’s contentment in their marriage will not last.