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′s Ford because one time the Barry family was the most important in the place; and Ford because 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 at 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 mighty 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.
However, that afternoon she departed from her usual custom and sent Lily to the store.
She came in from the kitchen, whither she had been to baste the roasting pig. “There′s no use talkin′,” said she, “I′ve got to have some more salt. I′ve jest used the very last I had to dredge over that pig. I′ve got to go to the store.”
Sally Jinks looked at Lily. “Why don′t you send her?” she asked.
Old Woman Magoun gazed irresolutely at the girl. She was herself very tired. It did not seem to her that she could drag herself up the dusty hill to the store. She glanced with covert resentment at Sally Jinks. She thought that she might offer to go. But Sally Jinks said again, “Why don′t you let her go?” and looked with a languid eye at Lily holding her doll on the stone.
Lily was watching the men at work on the bridge, with her childish delight in a spectacle of any kind, when her grandmother addressed her.
“Guess I′ll let you go down to the store an′ git some salt, Lily,” said she.
The girl turned uncomprehending eyes upon her grandmother at the sound of her voice. She had been filled with one of the innocent reveries of childhood. Lily had in her the making of an artist or a poet. Her prolonged childhood went to prove it, and also her retrospective eyes, as clear and blue as blue light itself, which seemed to see past all that she looked upon. She had not come of the old Barry family for nothing. The best of the strain was in her, along with the splendid stanchness in humble lines which she had acquired from her grandmother.
“Put on your hat,” said Old Woman Magoun; “the sun is hot and you might git a headache.” She called the girl to her, and put back the shower of fair curls under the rubber band which confined the hat. She gave Lily some money, and watched her knot it into a corner of her little cotton handkerchief. “Be careful you don′t lose it,” said she, “and don′t stop to talk to anybody, for I am in a hurry for that salt. Of course, if anybody speaks to you answer them polite, and then come right along.”
Lily started, her pocket handkerchief weighted with the small silver dangling from one hand, and her rag doll carried over her shoulder like a baby. The absurd travesty of a face peeped forth from Lily′s yellow curls. Sally Jinks looked after her with a sniff.
“She ain′t goin′ to carry that rag doll to the store?” said she.
“She likes to,” replied Old Woman Magoun, in a half-shamed yet defiantly extenuating voice.
“Some girls at her age is thinkin′ about beaux instead of rag dolls,” said Sally Jinks.
The grandmother bristled, “Lily ain′t big nor old for her age,” said she. “I ain′t in any hurry to have her git married. She ain′t none too strong.”
“She′s got a good color,” said Sally Jinks. She was crocheting white cotton lace, making her thick fingers fly. She really knew how to do scarcely anything except to crochet that coarse lace; somehow her heavy brain or her fingers had mastered that.
“I know she′s got a beautiful color,” replied Old Woman Magoun, with an odd mixture of pride and anxiety, “but it comes an′ goes.”
“I′ve heard that was a bad sign,” remarked Sally Jinks, loosening some thread from her spool.
“Yes, it is,” said the grandmother. “She′s nothin′ but a baby, though she′s quicker than most to learn.”
Lily Barry went on her way to the store. She was clad in a scanty short frock of blue cotton; her hat was tipped back, forming an oval frame for her innocent face. She was very small, and walked like a child, with the clap-clap of little feet of babyhood. She might have been considered, from her looks, under ten.
Presently she heard footsteps behind her; she turned around a little timidly to see who was coming. When she saw a handsome well-dressed man, she felt reassured. The man came alongside and glanced down carelessly at first; then his look deepened. He smiled, and Lily saw he was very handsome indeed, and that his smile was not only reassuring but wonderfully sweet and compelling.
“Well, little one,” said the man, “where are you bound, you and your dolly?”
“I am going to the store to buy some salt for grandma,” replied Lily, in her sweet treble. She looked up in the man′s face, and he fairly started at the revelation of its innocent beauty. He regulated his pace by hers, and the two went on together. The man did not speak again at once. Lily kept glancing timidly up at him, and every time that she did so the man smiled and her confidence increased. Presently when the man′s hand grasped her little childish one hanging by her side, she felt a complete trust in him. Then she smiled up at him. She felt glad that this nice man had come along, for just here the road was lonely.
After a while the man spoke. “What is your name, little one?” he asked, caressingly.
The man started. “What is your father′s name?”
“Nelson Barry,” replied Lily.
The man whistled. “Is your mother dead?”
“How old are you, my dear?”
“Fourteen,” replied Lily.
The man looked at her with surprise. “As old as that?”
Lily suddenly shrank from the man. She could not have told why. She pulled her little hand from his, and he let it go with no remonstrance. She clasped both her arms around her rag doll, in order that her hand should not be free for him to grasp again.
She walked a little farther away from the man, and he looked amused.
“You still play with your doll?” he said, in a soft voice.
“Yes, sir,” replied Lily. She quickened her pace and reached the store.
When Lily entered the store, Hiram Gates, the owner, was behind the counter. The only man besides in the store was Nelson Barry. He sat tipping his chair back against the wall; he was half asleep, and his handsome face was bristling with a beard of several days′ growth and darkly flushed. He opened his eyes when Lily entered, the strange man following. He brought his chair down on all fours, and he looked at the man - not noticing Lily at all - with a look compounded of defiance and uneasiness.
“Hullo, Jim!” he said.
“Hullo, old man!” returned the stranger.
Lily went over to the counter and asked for the salt, in her pretty little voice. When she had paid for it and was crossing the store, Nelson Barry was on his feet.
“Well, how are you, Lily? It is Lily, isn′t it?” he said.
“Yes, sir,” replied Lily, faintly.
Her father bent down and, for the first time in her life, kissed her, and the whiskey odor of his breath came into her face.
Lily involuntarily started, and shrank away from him. Then she rubbed her mouth violently with her little cotton handkerchief, which she held gathered up with the rag doll.
“Damn it all! I believe she is afraid of me,” said Nelson Barry, in a thick voice.
“Looks a little like it,” said the other man, laughing.
“It′s that damned old woman,” said Nelson Barry. Then he smiled again at Lily. “I didn′t know what a pretty little daughter I was blessed with,” said he, and he softly stroked Lily′s pink cheek under her hat.
Now Lily did not shrink from him. Hereditary instincts and nature itself were asserting themselves in the child′s innocent, receptive breast.
Nelson Barry looked curiously at Lily. “How old are you, anyway, child?” he asked.
“I′ll be fourteen in September,” replied Lily.
“But you still play with your doll?” said Barry, laughing kindly down at her.
Lily hugged her doll more tightly, in spite of her father′s kind voice. “Yes, sir,” she replied.
Nelson glanced across at some glass jars filled with sticks of candy. “See here, little Lily, do you like candy?” said he.
“Wait a minute.”
Lily waited while her father went over to the counter. Soon he returned with a package of the candy.
“I don′t see how you are going to carry so much,” he said, smiling. “Suppose you throw away your doll?”
Lily gazed at her father and hugged the doll tightly, and there was all at once in the child′s expression something mature. It became the reproach of a woman. Nelson′s face sobered.
“Oh, it′s all right, Lily,” he said; “keep your doll. Here, I guess you can carry this candy under your arm.”
Lily could not resist the candy. She obeyed Nelson′s instructions for carrying it, and left the store laden. The two men also left, and walked in the opposite direction, talking busily.
When Lily reached home, her grandmother, who was watching for her, spied at once the package of candy.
“What′s that?” she asked, sharply.
“My father gave it to me,” answered Lily, in a faltering voice. Sally regarded her with something like alertness.
“Where did you see him?”
“In the store.”
“He gave you this candy?”
“What did he say?”
“He asked me how old I was, and -”
“I don′t know,” replied Lily; and it really seemed to her that she did not know, she was so frightened and bewildered by it all, and, more than anything else, by her grandmother′s face as she questioned her.
Old Woman Magoun′s face was that of one upon whom a long-anticipated blow had fallen. Sally Jinks gazed at her with a sort of stupid alarm.
Old Woman Magoun continued to gaze at her grandchild with that look of terrible solicitude, as if she saw the girl in the clutch of a tiger. “You can′t remember what else he said?” she asked, fiercely, and the child began to whimper softly.
“No, ma′am,” she sobbed. “I - don′t know, and -”
“And what? Answer me.”
“There was another man there. A real handsome man.”
“Did he speak to you?” asked Old Woman Magoun.
“Yes, ma′am; he walked along with me a piece,” confessed Lily, with a sob of terror and bewilderment.
“What did he say to you?” asked Old Woman Magoun, with a sort of despair.
Lily told, in her little, faltering, frightened voice, all of the conversation which she could recall. It sounded harmless enough, but the look of the realization of a long-expected blow never left her grandmother′s face.
The sun was getting low, and the bridge was nearing completion. Soon the workmen would be crowding into the cabin for their promised supper. There became visible in the distance, far up the road, the heavily plodding figure of another woman who had agreed to come and help. Old Woman Magoun turned again to Lily.
“You go right upstairs to your own chamber now,” said she.
“Good land! ain′t you goin′ to let that poor child stay up and see the fun?” said Sally Jinks.
“You jest mind your own business,” said Old Woman Magoun, forcibly, and Sally Jinks shrank. “You go right up there now, Lily,” said the grandmother, in a softer tone, “and grandma will bring you up a nice plate of supper.”
“When be you goin′ to let that girl grow up?” asked Sally Jinks when Lily had disappeared.
“She′ll grow up in the Lord′s good time,” replied Old Woman Magoun, and there was in her voice something both sad and threatening. Sally Jinks again shrank a little.
Soon the workmen came flocking noisily into the house. Old Woman Magoun and her two helpers served the bountiful supper. Most of the men had drunk as much as, and more than, was good for them, and Old Woman Magoun had stipulated that there was to be no drinking of anything except coffee during supper.
“I′ll git you as good a meal as I know how,” she said, “but if I see ary one of you drinkin′ a drop, I′ll run you all out. If you want anything to drink, you can go up to the store afterward. That′s the place for you to go to, if you′ve got to make hogs of yourselves. I ain′t goin′ to have no hogs in my house.”
Old Woman Magoun was implicitly obeyed. She had a curious authority over most people when she chose to exercise it. When the supper was in full swing, she quietly stole upstairs and carried some food to Lily. She found the girl, with the rag doll in her arms, crouching by the window in her little rocking-chair - a relic of her infancy, which she still used.
“What a noise they are makin′, grandma!” she said, in a terrified whisper, as her grandmother placed the plate before her on a chair.
“They′ve ′most all of ′em been drinkin′. They air a passel of hogs,” replied the old woman.
“Is the man that was with - with my father down there?” asked Lily, in a timid fashion. Then she fairly cowered before the look in her grandmother′s eyes.
“No, he ain′t, and what′s more, he never will be down there if I can help it,” said Old Woman Magoun, in a fierce whisper. “I know who he is. They can′t cheat me. He′s one of them Willises - that family the Barrys married into. They′re worse than the Barrys, ef they have got money. Eat your supper, and put him out of your mind, child.”
It was after Lily was asleep, when Old Woman Magoun was alone, clearing away her supper dishes, that Lily′s father came. The door was closed, and he knocked, and the old woman knew at once who was there. The sound of that knock meant as much to her as the whir of a bomb to the defender of a fortress. She opened the door, and Nelson Barry stood there.
“Good evening, Mrs. Magoun,” he said.
Old Woman Magoun stood before him, filling up the doorway with her firm bulk.
“Good evening, Mrs. Magoun,” said Nelson Barry again.
“I ain′t got no time to waste,” replied the old woman, harshly. “I′ve got my supper dishes to clean up after them men.”
She stood there and looked at him as she might have looked at a rebellious animal which she was trying to tame. The man laughed.
“It′s no use,” said he. “You know me of old. No human being can turn me from my way when I am once started in it. You may as well let me come in.”
Old Woman Magoun entered the house, and Barry followed her.
Barry began without any preface. “Where is the child?” asked he.
“Upstairs. She has gone to bed.”
“She goes to bed early.”
“Children ought to,” returned the old woman, polishing a plate.
Barry laughed. “You are keeping her a child a long while,” he remarked, in a soft voice which had a sting in it.
“She is a child,” returned the old woman, defiantly.
“Her mother was only three years older when Lily was born.”
The old woman made a sudden motion toward the man which seemed fairly menacing. Then she turned again to her dish washing.
“I want her,” said Barry.
“You can′t have her,” replied the old woman, in a still stern voice.
“I don′t see how you can help yourself. You have always acknowledged that she was my child.”
The old woman continued her task, but her strong back heaved. Barry regarded her with an entirely pitiless expression.
“I am going to have the girl, that is the long and short of it,” he said, “and it is for her best good, too. You are a fool, or you would see it.”
“Her best good?” muttered the old woman.
“Yes, her best good. What are you going to do with her, anyway? The girl is a beauty, and almost a woman grown, although you try to make out that she is a baby. You can′t live forever.”
“The Lord will take care of her,” replied the old woman, and again she turned and faced him, and her expression was that of a prophetess.
“Very well, let Him,” said Barry, easily. “All the same I′m going to have her, and I tell you it is for her best good. Jim Willis saw her this afternoon, and -”
Old Woman Magoun looked at him. “Jim Willis!” she fairly shrieked.
“Well, what of it?”
“One of them Willises!” repeated the old woman, and this time her voice was thick. It seemed almost as if she were stricken with paralysis. She did not enunciate clearly.
The man shrank a little. “Now what is the need of your making such a fuss?” he said. “I will take her, and Isabel will look out for her.”
“Your half-witted sister?” said Old Woman Magoun.
“Yes, my half-witted sister. She knows more than you think.”
“Perhaps. Well, a knowledge of evil is a useful thing. How are you going to avoid evil if you don′t know what it is like? My sister and I will take care of my daughter.”
The old woman continued to look at the man, but his eyes never fell. Suddenly her gaze grew inconceivably keen. It was as if she saw through all externals.
“I know what it is!” she cried. “You have been playing cards and you lost, and this is the way you will pay him.”
Then the man′s face reddened, and he swore under his breath.
“Oh, my God!” said the old woman; and she really spoke with her eyes aloft as if addressing something outside of them both. Then she turned again to her dish washing.
The man cast a dogged look at her back. “Well, there is no use talking. I have made up my mind,” said he, “and you know me and what that means. I am going to have the girl.”
“When?” said the old woman, without turning around.
“Well, I am willing to give you a week. Put her clothes in good order before she comes.”
The old woman made no reply. She continued washing dishes. She even handled them so carefully they did not rattle.
“You understand,” said Barry. “Have her ready a week from today.”
“Yes,” said Old Woman Magoun, “I understand.”
Nelson Barry, going up the mountain road, reflected that Old Woman Magoun had a strong character, that she understood much better than her sex in general the futility of withstanding the inevitable.
“Well,” he said to Jim Willis when he reached home, “the old woman did not make such a fuss as I expected.”
“Are you going to have the girl?”
“Yes; a week from today. Look here, Jim; you′ve got to stick to your promise.”
“All right,” said Willis. “Go you one better.”
The two were playing at cards in the old parlor, once magnificent, now squalid, of the Barry house. Isabel, the half-witted sister, entered, bringing some glasses on a tray. She had learned with her feeble intellect some tricks, like a dog. One of them was the mixing of sundry drinks. She set the tray on a little stand near the two men, and watched them with her silly simper.
“Clear out now and go to bed,” her brother said to her, and she obeyed.
Early the next morning Old Woman Magoun went up to Lily′s little sleeping chamber, and watched her a second as she lay asleep, with her yellow locks spread over the pillow. Then she spoke. “Lily,” said she - “Lily, wake up. I am going to Greenham across the new bridge, and you can go with me.”
Lily immediately sat up in bed and smiled at her grandmother. Her eyes were still misty, but the light of awakening was in them.
“Get right up,” said the old woman. “You can wear your new dress if you want to.”
Lily gurgled with pleasure like a baby. “And my new hat?” said she.
“I don′t care.”
Old Woman Magoun and Lily started for Greenham before Barry′s Ford, which kept late hours, was fairly awake. It was three miles to Greenham. The old woman said that, since the horse was a little lame, they would walk. It was a beautiful morning, with a diamond radiance of dew over everything. Her grandmother had curled Lily′s hair more punctiliously than usual. The little face peeped like a rose out of two rows of golden spirals. Lily wore her new muslin dress with a pink sash, and her best hat of a fine white straw trimmed with a wreath of rosebuds; also the neatest black openwork stockings and pretty shoes. She even had white cotton gloves. When they set out, the old, heavily stepping woman, in her black gown and cape and bonnet, looked down at the little pink fluttering figure. Her face was full of the tenderest love and admiration, and yet there was something terrible about it. They crossed the new bridge - a primitive structure built of logs in a slovenly fashion. Old Woman Magoun pointed to a gap.
“Jest see that,” said she. “That′s the way men work.”
“Men ain′t very nice, be they?” said Lily, in her sweet little voice.
“No, they ain′t, take them all together,” replied her grandmother.
“That man that walked to the store with me was nicer than some, I guess,” Lily said, in a wishful fashion. Her grandmother reached down and took the child′s hand in its small cotton glove. “You hurt me, holding my hand so tight,” Lily said presently, in a deprecatory little voice.
The old woman loosened her grasp. “Grandma didn′t know how tight she was holding your hand,” said she. “She wouldn′t hurt you for nothin′, except it was to save your life, or somethin′ like that.” She spoke with an undertone of tremendous meaning which the girl was too childish to grasp. They walked along the country road. Just before they reached Greenham they passed a stone wall overgrown with blackberry vines, and, an unusual thing in that vicinity, a lusty spread of deadly nightshade full of berries.
“Those berries look good to eat, grandma,” Lily said.
At that instant the old woman′s face became something terrible to see. “You can′t have any now,” she said, and hurried Lily along.
“They look real nice,” said Lily.
When they reached Greenham, Old Woman Magoun took her way straight to the most pretentious house there, the residence of the lawyer, whose name was Mason. Old Woman Magoun bade Lily wait in the yard for a few moments, and Lily ventured to seat herself on a bench beneath an oak tree; then she watched with some wonder her grandmother enter the lawyer′s office door at the right of the house. Presently the lawyer′s wife came out and spoke to Lily under the tree. She had in her hand a little tray containing a plate of cake, a glass of milk, and an early apple. She spoke very kindly to Lily; she even kissed her, and offered her the tray of refreshments, which Lily accepted gratefully. She sat eating, with Mrs. Mason watching her, when Old Woman Magoun came out of the lawyer′s office with a ghastly face.
“What are you eatin′?” she asked Lily, sharply. “Is that a sour apple?”
“I thought she might be hungry,” said the lawyer′s wife, with loving, melancholy eyes upon the girl.
Lily had almost finished the apple. “It′s real sour, but I like it; it′s real nice, grandma,” she said.
“You ain′t been drinkin′ milk with a sour apple?”
“It was real nice milk, grandma.”
“You ought never to have drunk milk and eat a sour apple,” said her grandmother. “Your stomach was all out of order this mornin′, an′ sour apples and milk is always apt to hurt anybody.”
“I don′t know but they are,” Mrs. Mason said, apologetically, as she stood on the green lawn with her lavender muslin sweeping around her. “I am real sorry, Mrs. Magoun. I ought to have thought. Let me get some soda for her.”
“Soda never agrees with her,” replied the old woman, in a harsh voice. “Come,” she said to Lily, “it′s time we were goin′ home.”
After Lily and her grandmother had disappeared down the road, Lawyer Mason came out of his office and joined his wife, who had seated herself on the bench beneath the tree. She was idle, and her face wore the expression of those who review joys forever past. She had lost a little girl, her only child, years ago, and her husband always knew when she was thinking about her. Lawyer Mason looked older than his wife; he had a dry, shrewd, slightly one-sided face.
“What do you think, Maria?” he said. “That old woman came to me with the most pressing entreaty to adopt that little girl.”
“She is a beautiful little girl,” said Mrs. Mason, in a slightly husky voice.
“Yes, she is a pretty child,” assented the lawyer, looking pityingly at his wife; “but it is out of the question, my dear. Adopting a child is a serious measure, and in this case a child who comes from Barry′s Ford!”
“But the grandmother seems a very good woman,” said Mrs. Mason.
“I rather think she is. I never heard a word against her. But the father! No, Maria, we cannot take a child with Barry blood in her veins. The stock has run out; it is vitiated physically and morally. It won′t do, my dear.”
“Her grandmother had her dressed up as pretty as a little girl could be,” said Mrs. Mason, and this time the tears welled into her faithful, wistful eyes.
“Well, we can′t help that,” said the lawyer, as he went back to his office.
Old Woman Magoun and Lily returned, going slowly along the road to Barry′s Ford. When they came to the stone wall where the blackberry vines and the deadly nightshade grew, Lily said she was tired, and asked if she could not sit down for a few minutes. The strange look on her grandmother′s face had deepened. Now and then Lily glanced at her and had a feeling as if she were looking at a stranger.
“Yes, you can set down if you want to,” said Old Woman Magoun, deeply and harshly.
Lily started and looked at her, as if to make sure that it was her grandmother who spoke. Then she sat down on a stone which was comparatively free of the vines.
“Ain′t you goin′ to set down, grandma?” Lily asked, timidly.
“No; I don′t want to get into that mess,” replied her grandmother. “I ain′t tired. I′ll stand here.”
Lily sat still; her delicate little face was flushed with heat. She extended her tiny feet in her best shoes and gazed at them. “My shoes are all over dust,” said she.
“It will brush off,” said her grandmother, still in that strange voice.
Lily looked around. An elm tree in the field behind her cast a spray of branches over her head; a little cool puff of wind came on her face. She gazed at the low mountains on the horizon, in the midst of which she lived, and she sighed, for no reason that she knew. She began idly picking at the blackberry vines; there were no berries on them; then she put her little fingers on the berries of the deadly nightshade. “These look like nice berries,” she said.
Old Woman Magoun, standing stiff and straight in the road, said nothing.
“They look good to eat,” said Lily.
Old Woman Magoun still said nothing, but she looked up into the ineffable blue of the sky, over which spread at intervals great white clouds shaped like wings.
Lily picked some of the deadly nightshade berries and ate them. “Why, they are real sweet,” said she. “They are nice.” She picked some more and ate them.
Presently her grandmother spoke. “Come,” she said, “it is time we were going. I guess you have set long enough.”
Lily was still eating the berries when she slipped down from the wall and followed her grandmother obediently up the road.
Before they reached home, Lily complained of being very thirsty. She stopped and made a little cup of a leaf and drank long at a mountain brook. “I am dreadful dry, but it hurts me to swallow,” she said to her grandmother when she stopped drinking and joined the old woman waiting for her in the road. Her grandmother′s face seemed strangely dim to her. She took hold of Lily′s hand as they went on. “My stomach burns,” said Lily, presently. “I want some more water.”
“There is another brook a little farther on,” said Old Woman Magoun, in a dull voice.
When they reached that brook, Lily stopped and drank again, but she whimpered a little over her difficulty in swallowing. “My stomach burns, too,” she said, walking on, “and my throat is so dry, grandma.” Old Woman Magoun held Lily′s hand more tightly. “You hurt me, holding my hand so tight, grandma,” said Lily, looking up at her grandmother, whose face she seemed to see through a mist, and the old woman loosened her grasp.
When at last they reached home, Lily was very ill. Old Woman Magoun put her on her own bed in the little bedroom out of the kitchen. Lily lay there and moaned, and Sally Jinks came in.
“Why, what ails her?” she asked. “She looks feverish.”
Lily unexpectedly answered for herself. “I ate some sour apples and drank some milk,” she moaned.
“Sour apples and milk are dreadful apt to hurt anybody,” said Sally Jinks. She told several people on her way home that Old Woman Magoun was dreadful careless to let Lily eat such things.
Meanwhile Lily grew worse. She suffered cruelly from the burning in her stomach, the vertigo, and the deadly nausea. “I am so sick, I am so sick, grandma,” she kept moaning. She could no longer see her grandmother as she bent over her, but she could hear her talk.
Old Woman Magoun talked as Lily had never heard her talk before, as nobody had ever heard her talk before. She spoke from the depths of her soul; her voice was as tender as the coo of a dove, and it was grand and exalted. “You′ll feel better very soon, little Lily,” said she.
“I am so sick, grandma.”
“You will feel better very soon, and then -”
“I am sick.”
“You shall go to a beautiful place.”
“You shall go to a beautiful place,” the old woman went on.
“Where?” asked Lily, groping feebly with her cold little hands. Then she moaned again.
“A beautiful place, where the flowers grow tall.”
“What color? Oh, grandma, I am so sick.”
“A blue color,” replied the old woman. Blue was Lily′s favorite color. “A beautiful blue color, and as tall as your knees, and the flowers always stay there, and they never fade.”
“Not if you pick them, grandma? Oh!”
“No, not if you pick them; they never fade, and they are so sweet you can smell them a mile off; and there are birds that sing, and all the roads have gold stones in them, and the stone walls are made of gold.”
“Like the ring grandpa gave you? I am so sick, grandma.”
“Yes, gold like that. And all the houses are built of silver and gold, and the people all have wings, so when they get tired walking they can fly, and -”
“I am so sick, grandma.”
“And all the dolls are alive,” said Old Woman Magoun. “Dolls like yours can run, and talk, and love you back again.”
Lily had her poor old rag doll in bed with her, clasped close to her agonized little heart. She tried very hard with her eyes, whose pupils were so dilated that they looked black, to see her grandmother′s face when she said that, but she could not. “It is dark,” she moaned, feebly.
“There where you are going it is always light,” said the grandmother, “and the commonest things shine like that breastpin Mrs. Lawyer Mason had on today.”
Lily moaned pitifully, and said something incoherent. Delirium was commencing. Presently she sat straight up in bed and raved; but even then her grandmother′s wonderful compelling voice had an influence over her.
“You will come to a gate with all the colors of the rainbow,” said her grandmother; “and it will open, and you will go right in and walk up the gold street, and cross the field where the blue flowers come up to your knees, until you find your mother, and she will take you home where you are going to live. She has a little white room all ready for you, white curtains at the windows, and a little white looking-glass, and when you look in it you will see -”
“What will I see? I am so sick, grandma.”
“You will see a face like yours, only it′s an angel′s; and there will be a little white bed, and you can lay down an′ rest.”
“Won′t I be sick, grandma?” asked Lily. Then she moaned and babbled wildly, although she seemed to understand through it all what her grandmother said.
“No, you will never be sick any more. Talkin′ about sickness won′t mean anything to you.”
It continued. Lily talked on wildly, and her grandmother′s great voice of soothing never ceased, until the child fell into a deep sleep, or what resembled sleep; but she lay stiffly in that sleep, and a candle flashed before her eyes made no impression on them.
Then it was that Nelson Barry came. Jim Willis waited outside the door. When Nelson entered he found Old Woman Magoun on her knees beside the bed, weeping with dry eyes and a might of agony which fairly shook Nelson Barry, the degenerate of a fine old race.
“Is she sick?” he asked, in a hushed voice.
Old Woman Magoun gave another terrible sob, which sounded like the gasp of one dying.
“Sally Jinks said that Lily was sick from eating milk and sour apples,” said Barry, in a tremulous voice. “I remember that her mother was very sick once from eating them.”
Lily lay still, and her grandmother on her knees shook with her terrible sobs.
Suddenly Nelson Barry started. “I guess I had better go to Greenham for a doctor if she′s as bad as that,” he said. He went close to the bed and looked at the sick child. He gave a great start. Then he felt of her hands and reached down under the bedclothes for her little feet. “Her hands and feet are like ice,” he cried out. “Good God! why didn′t you send for some one - for me - before? Why, she′s dying; she′s almost gone!”
Barry rushed out and spoke to Jim Willis, who turned pale and came in and stood by the bedside.
“She′s almost gone,” he said, in a hushed whisper.
“There′s no use going for the doctor; she′d be dead before he got here,” said Nelson, and he stood regarding the passing child with a strange, sad face - unutterably sad, because of his incapability of the truest sadness.
“Poor little thing, she′s past suffering, anyhow,” said the other man, and his own face also was sad with a puzzled, mystified sadness.
Lily died that night. There was quite a commotion in Barry′s Ford until after the funeral, it was all so sudden, and then everything went on as usual. Old Woman Magoun continued to live as she had done before. She supported herself by the produce of her tiny farm; she was very industrious, but people said that she was a trifle touched, since every time she went over the log bridge with her eggs or her garden vegetables to sell in Greenham, she carried with her, as one might have carried an infant, Lily′s old rag doll.