Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551
Freeman's short story begins with Old Woman Magoun declaring that the bridge in Barry's Ford will be built by summer.
We learn that Old Woman Magoun is a highly respected citizen of the hamlet of Barry's Ford. It's her resilience and strong influence that inspire the men to build the bridge. Her friend, Sally Jinks, expresses her surprise that men have to drink and chew tobacco to get anything accomplished.
Meanwhile, Old Woman Macoun is filled with contempt at the men in her town. She especially loathes Nelson Barry, her son, who lives with his half-witted sister, Isabel.
Nelson's daughter, Lily Barry, lives with her (Old Woman Macoun). The older woman is especially protective of her granddaughter and never allows her to go to the village store. This is because Nelson and a host of degenerate men often frequent the place.
As for Lily, she is nearly fourteen and has an innocent beauty that impresses everyone who sees her. Sally Jinks maintains that Old Woman Magoun is far too protective of her granddaughter, but the older woman ignores her criticism.
One day, while preparing a pig roast for the men (as a reward for finishing the bridge), Old Woman Magoun runs out of salt. Sally Jinks suggests sending Lily. The older woman is initially dismayed at the suggestion but soon relents.
Lily heads to the store, with her rag doll slung across her shoulders. On the way to the store, she is approached by a strange, handsome man. He chats Lily up but makes her feel uncomfortable.
At the store, Lily sees her father Nelson Barry, who speaks to her and exclaims at her beauty. He sends her home with candy, which distresses Old Woman Magoun. Not long after, Nelson Barry heads over to the Magoun home to speak to his mother. He demands custody of Lily and tells Old Woman Magoun that he will come for Lily in a week. During their conversation, Nelson also lets on that Jim Willis (his ne'er-do-well associate) is the man who spoke to Lily on her way to the store.
Upon hearing this, Old Woman Magoun accuses Nelson of losing at cards to Jim Willis and offering up Lily as payment for his loss.
Distressed at her son's behavior, the old lady heads over to speak to Lawyer Mason in Greenham, a few miles across the bridge. Her intention is to ask him to adopt Lily.
Along the way to Greenham, Lily and Old Woman Magoun comes across a stone wall overgrown with blackberry vines and next to it, a deadly nightshade plant with gorgeous berries. Lily asks to partake of the colorful berries but her grandmother demurs.
Later, on the way home, Old Woman Magoun says nothing when Lily does eat the berries from the poisonous nightshade plant. Her plan for saving Lily in tatters (for Lawyer Mason refuses to adopt the girl), Old Woman Magoun submits bitterly to fate.
When Nelson Barry comes for Lily, he finds her dead. Old Woman Magoun blames the sour apples and milk Lily ate at the lawyer's home for the young girl's death. No one is the wiser, but Old Woman Magoun never forgets her granddaughter. Whenever she heads over to Greenham to sell her garden vegetables, she always carries Lily's old rag doll with her.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 672
Old Woman Magoun is a poor but powerful citizen of the small hamlet of Barry’s Ford, as can be seen when she influences the men of the village to build a bridge across the Barry River. A hard worker herself, she has little respect for men or for their dependence on alcohol and tobacco. As she explains to her friend Sally Jinks, “I’ve worked all my life and never done nuther.”
Old Woman Magoun has lived alone with her granddaughter Lily Barry since the death of Lily’s mother a week after Lily was born, nearly fourteen years ago. Lily’s father is Nelson Barry, who lives with his half-witted sister, Isabel, but spends most of his time at the village store leading the “shiftless” element of the village. He has taken no interest in his daughter in the past, and local rumor has questioned whether Lily is legitimately his daughter, as Old Woman Magoun claims.
As the story opens, Old Woman Magoun and Sally Jinks are preparing roast pig for the men building the bridge. Because she is tired, Old Woman Magoun sends Lily to the store for some salt. Lily is youthful for her age, still carrying a rag doll wherever she goes, and her grandmother has kept her from the store whenever possible in the past. On this trip, Lily is joined by a handsome man who takes her hand and asks her about her family. At first Lily likes the attention, but when he asks her age she becomes wary and pulls her hand away.
At the store, Lily sees her father, who uncharacteristically talks to her and buys her candy. He clearly knows the handsome man, who is Jim Willis. When she returns home with the candy, Lily is questioned closely by her grandmother, who is very upset by what she learns and sends Lily to her room. “When be you goin’ to let that girl grow up?” Sally asks her before the workmen come in for their dinner.
After Lily and the men have been fed and Lily is sleeping, Old Woman Magoun is interrupted by a visit from Nelson Barry. He announces that he is ready to claim Lily and to take her to live with him and Isabel. When he mentions the name of Jim Willis, Old Woman Magoun guesses that he has lost to Jim at cards and is claiming Lily to pay the debt. Barry’s embarrassed reaction to her explanation convinces her, but he reminds her that he can take what he wants. He promises to return in a week for Lily.
The next morning, Old Woman Magoun and Lily walk to Greenham, three miles across the bridge, so that the grandmother can speak to Lawyer Mason. Along the way Lily admires some berries, part of which are blackberries and part of which are poisonous nightshade. “You can’t have any now,” Old Woman Magoun explains as they go on.
While her grandmother speaks with the lawyer, his wife entertains Lily with sour apples and milk. Old Woman Magoun admonishes her for upsetting Lily’s stomach. After they leave, Lawyer Mason reveals that the grandmother offered Lily for adoption, but though his wife is grieving for a lost daughter he is not willing to adopt Nelson Barry’s child.
As they walk home, Lily once more admires the berries, and her grandmother stops long enough for Lily to eat some of them. Before they reach home Lily feels the effects of the poison and sickens steadily. When Sally Jinks visits, however, Lily blames the sour apples and milk, and the rumor spreads even to Barry and Willis. As Lily worsens, her grandmother describes for her the beauties of her future with her mother in Heaven, and by the time Barry comes to take her away, Lily is beyond help. After Lily’s death, Old Woman Magoun continues to work hard but begins to carry Lily’s rag doll whenever she crosses the bridge to sell her goods in Greenham.
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