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Old Woman Magoun
by [?]

The hamlet of Barry’s Ford is situated in a sort of high valley among the mountains. Below it the hills lie in moveless curves like a petrified ocean; above it they rise in green-cresting waves which never break. It is Barry’sFord because at one time the Barry family was the most important in the place; and Fordbecause just at the beginning of the hamlet the little turbulent Barry River is fordable. There is, however, now a rude bridge across the river.

Old Woman Magoun was largely instrumental in bringing the bridge to pass. She haunted the miserable little grocery, wherein whiskey and hands of tobacco were the most salient features of the stock in trade, and she talked much. She would elbow herself into the midst of a knot of idlers and talk.

“That bridge ought to be built this very summer,” said Old Woman Magoun. She spread her strong arms like wings, and sent the loafers, half laughing, half angry, flying in every direction.”If I were a man,” said she, “I’d go out this very minute and lay the fust log. If I were a passel of lazy men layin’ round, I’d start up for once in my life, I would.”The men cowered visibly–all except Nelson Barry; he swore under his breath and strode over to the counter.

Old Woman Magoun looked after him majestically.”You can cuss all you want to, Nelson Barry,” said she; “I ain’t afraid of you. I don’t expect you to lay ary log of the bridge, but I’m goin’ to have it built this very summer.”She did. The weakness of the masculine element in Barry’s Ford was laid low before such strenuous feminine assertion.

Old Woman Magoun and some other women planned a treat–two sucking pigs, and pies, and sweet cake–for a reward after the bridge should be finished. They even viewed leniently the increased consumption of ardent spirits.

“It seems queer to me,” Old Woman Magoun said to Sally Jinks, “that men can’t do nothin’ without havin’ to drink and chew to keep their sperits up. Lord!I’ve worked all my life and never done nuther.”

“Men is different,” said Sally Jinks.

“Yes, they be,” assented Old Woman Magoun, with open contempt.

The two women sat on a bench in front of Old Woman Magoun’s house, and little Lily Barry, her granddaughter, sat holding her doll on a small mossy stone near by. From where they sat they could see the men at work on the new bridge. It was the last day of the work.

Lily clasped her doll–a poor old rag thing–close to her childish bosom, like a little mother, and her face, round which curled her long yellow hair, was fixed upon the men at work. Little Lily had never been allowed to run with the other children of Barry’s Ford. Her grandmother had taught her everything she knew–which was not much, but tending at least to a certain measure of spiritual growth–for she, as it were, poured the goodness of her own soul into this little receptive vase of another. Lily was firmly grounded in her knowledge that it was wrong to lie or steal or disobey her grandmother. She had also learned that one should be very industrious. It was seldom that Lily sat idly holding her doll-baby, but this was a holiday because of the bridge. She looked only a child, although she was nearly fourteen; her mother had been married at sixteen. That is, Old Woman Magoun said that her daughter, Lily’s mother, had married at sixteen; there had been rumors, but no one had dared openly gainsay the old woman. She said that her daughter had married Nelson Barry, and he had deserted her. She had lived in her mother’s house, and Lily had been born there, and she had died when the baby was only a week old. Lily’s father, Nelson Barry, was the fairly dangerous degenerate of a good old family. Nelson’s father before him had been bad. He was now the last of the family, with the exception of a sister of feeble intellect, with whom he lived in the old Barry house. He was a middle-aged man, still handsome. The shiftless population of Barry’s Ford looked up to him as to an evil deity. They wondered how Old Woman Magoun dared brave him as she did. But Old Woman Magoun had within her a might sense of reliance upon herself as being on the right track in the midst of a maze of evil, which gave her courage. Nelson Barry had manifested no interest whatever in his daughter. Lily seldom saw her father. She did not often go to the store which was his favorite haunt. Her grandmother took care that she should not do so.