(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 672 words.)