A Country Girl Summary
by Mary Hood

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A Country Girl Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A pair of Florida tourists stops in the small rural community of Rydal to enjoy the scenery. The man takes photographs while his wife paints a picture, which she gives to a barefoot young country girl named Elizabeth, who sings and plays a guitar. In return, Elizabeth sings a song for the tourists, who view her as a bit of local color—a part of the scenery. As the couple leaves the town, the man says “Country Girl,” as he thinks of the caption for his slide.

Paul Montgomery, a reporter for a Sunday magazine, comes to Rydal to write an article on the life and works of a local writer named Corra Harris, who has been dead for several years. He arrives as members of the Inglish family gather for their annual reunion. Women busily prepare the food that they will serve on paper plates placed on picnic tables resting on sawhorses and covered with sheets.

Elizabeth is making potato salad when Montgomery appears in the kitchen looking for Cleveland Inglish, whom he wants to interview because the man once worked for Harris. Because Cleveland is not there, Elizabeth offers to show him Harris’s writing studio. She leads him down a path thick with blackberry brambles and blueberries, past gardens blooming with geraniums, Shasta daisies, and hollyhocks. With everyone else gone fishing, the studio is locked, but Elizabeth and Montgomery look at Harris’s workroom through the windows. As they look at stacks of yellow paper and a dry ink well, Elizabeth thinks the place is sad because it looks as though its objects are waiting for their owner to return. When Montgomery asks her if she has read any of Harris’s books, she replies, “After sixteen they caint make you.”

Back at the Inglish family gathering, Elizabeth introduces Montgomery to her Uncle Cleveland, who invites him to stay for the meal. Montgomery listens to the conversation but does not learn much about Harris. As he leaves for his motel, he promises to return with his camera and questions about Harris.

More members of the family arrive—aunts, uncles, cousins, and children, as well as dogs—and they take their customary stations around a beech tree and engage in small talk. Johnny Calhoun, a forty-year-old yarn manufacturer, arrives and is invited to join the party, although he is not a family member. He is a handsome man who enjoys the ladies. When Jeff’s wife, Patty, runs to welcome him with a kiss, Johnny and everyone else laughs.

Elizabeth stands near a group of children, hoping to avoid being asked to sing. From the time she was young she has vowed that she will “never love but one man.” So far she has not fallen for anyone but feels that her family is watching her to see if she has made a fool of herself yet. After slipping away from the group, she walks to a tree, where she lies down. Johnny follows her and gives her a present, a small music box. He is paying attention to her now just as he has done to a different girl each summer. As Elizabeth listens to the music box, she asks herself, “Johnny?” She then smokes a cigarette, waits, and decides, “Johnny.”

Montgomery also leaves the main group and sets off with his camera to take pictures and look for Elizabeth. He is startled to find Johnny and Elizabeth lying together under the tree. Johnny nonchalantly says that they will return to the picnic, as Montgomery clutches his camera to his pounding chest and jogs off. Back at the reunion, only Patty, Jeff’s wife, seems to notice that Elizabeth and Johnny are missing.

Several weeks after Montgomery’s article on Harris is published, more tourists begin stopping in Rydal looking for her gravesite. The story ends with the image of Elizabeth sitting on the porch, guitar in hand, absorbed in reverie. Some strangers think she is blind, others think she is a fool.