Read The Ghost of Tillie Jean Cassaway Online

Authors: Ellen Harvey Showell

The Ghost of Tillie Jean Cassaway (7 page)

“Don't worry,” said Willy. “My sister Hilary has some things she can loan you, if need be.”

Peering through the thick growth of trees and bushes and vines, Willy scanned the river for sign of the man. He saw him about fifty yards upstream, rowing across. “We'd better git,” he said. “He's coming fast.” They began running toward the abandoned house.

“I'm gonna find Robert!” said the girl, taking off in another direction.

“Wait!” called Willy. “Come with me now, you can find him later!” But she kept running. Willy went after her.

She seemed to know just where she was going and it was hard for Willy to keep her in sight as she scrambled over logs. It seemed as though the branches she pushed aside sprang back deliberately to hide her, let her get away. Willy lost his usual caution and stumbled over a fallen tree. He jumped up but his leg buckled under him and he cried out in pain. The girl was out of sight. Willy sat and rubbed his ankle, then slowly and painfully made his way to the house in the ravine, still carrying the book.

As he limped and stumbled along, comforting himself by eating blackberries that grew along the way, he heard the rasping voice of Morton Craig calling from the river, “Tillie Jean! Come back where you belong!”

CHAPTER TEN

Granny Barbour was all ready to go berry picking when Hilary got to her place that morning. The woman wore a pair of men's coveralls much too big for her and a man's work-shirt. Her wrinkled face was almost hidden by a straw hat.

Hilary said, “You look like a scarecrow!”

“Keeps me from gittin' scratched,” said her grandmother. “I brought some gloves for both of us.”

They drove along the tracks and turned up Holmans Hollow Road as before, but this time Granny drove right on past the Moffit sisters and the Larsons and all the other houses in the hollow and kept right on going as the deeply grooved, yellow dirt road wound up the mountain.

“How far does it go?” asked Hilary, shouting in order to be heard over the noise of the truck. Her bottom was getting sore from bouncing up and down on the torn plastic seat.

“Ain't been over here for years, reckon I can find the lane,” Granny shouted back. “Can't be much further, this road don't go on much more.”

Soon she slowed and turned into what looked like the bushes. The truck went down a steep hill in the high grass, then made a sharp turn and proceeded along what Granny insisted was the lane to the Cassaway place. Hilary thought Granny had flipped. They twisted and turned for nearly a mile, bouncing over deep ruts, a couple of times driving right through shallow, rocky creeks.

Then they were going down, down into a deep place in the hills. The sun had gone behind a cloud and Hilary had the feeling, as it grew darker around her, that they had arrived at a place where the sun didn't shine.

“Why would anybody live back here?” she asked.

“There's some right nice little places back in these hollows, or used to be,” answered her grandmother. “Trouble is nobody's kept this road up and people don't like to be so shut off. I suspect some young folks will take it over before long. They like to pioneer these days. We're winding back toward the river, you know.”

“Granny, if it rains we might not be able to get out.

“I thought of that. Road's getting worse all along. We better park here and walk the rest of the way.”

Their buckets in hand, Granny and Hilary began walking toward the Cassaway place. But just as they were in sight of the house, they saw the blackberries—great bushes loaded with fat, moist berries. Delighted, they both set in picking, working their way toward the house.

“Oh, it's windy,” shouted Hilary, holding on to her straw hat.

“We better work fast, we don't want to get caught in a downpour,” called Granny from a little distance.

Some of the bushes were so thick that they had to fight their way into them to get the berries toward the center which, naturally, looked like the biggest and best. The small, wiry, well-covered woman was good at this. Hilary, not quite so well-clothed, had a more difficult time and tended to go from one berry-laden bush to another, getting the easy ones. She had covered the bottom of her bucket and then some when she heard someone calling.

“Robert!”

Hilary stood still. A chill ran up her spine.

“Robeert!” the voice called again, this time fairly close.

Hilary put down her bucket, pushed through the bushes to the top of a grassy rise and looked around. Then she saw her.

It was Tillie Jean, the ghost or the girl—whatever she was. She did not see Hilary, but kept walking toward her, calling out that name, “Robeeeert!”

Hilary did not move. The ghost girl was within five feet of her before she saw Hilary and stopped. They stared at each other.

“You're.…” Hilary had to clear her throat. “You're Tillie Jean Cassaway?”

The girl started to turn away.

“Wait!” said Hilary. “Please.”

The girl stopped and slowly turned back. Hilary went to her.

“My name is Hilary,” she said. “My brother calls me Hil.”

The girl looked up suddenly at Hilary's face and smiled, wrinkling her nose. Then she frowned and, looking at Hilary's old, faded shirt and dirty sneakers, said, “You don't need to give me no shoes.”

“What?”

“It's okay. I'm looking for my dog. He got shot and run away.”

“Oh, I hope he's not hurt bad.”

“Me, too. I gotta find him.”

“I'll help.”

“Let's go this way. Roooooooobeeeeert!”

“Rooooobeeeeert!” called Hilary, too, as she followed the girl through the grown-over, hilly pastureland and into the woods beyond.

Hilary could hardly believe she was actually with the mysterious creature. As they followed paths invisible to Hilary through the brush, she felt as though she had somehow gotten passage to a new world, that she was going to learn secrets.

The clouds overhead were moving rapidly. Occasionally the sun shone brightly through, only to be eclipsed moments later. The air felt cool and Hilary was sure she felt a raindrop. Soon they were surrounded by trees. They went more slowly and stopped calling and were quiet.

They came to a huge rock that was nearly flat on top and was covered with dark green moss and tiny, delicate plants.

“Oh, it's pretty,” whispered Hilary. “Like a garden.”

“Me and Robert used to play here,” said the girl. “Look.” She led Hilary around to the other side of the rock, which projected out, making a small cave. On the ground was a bed of pine needles.

“Oh,” said Hilary. “You could sleep here!”

“Yep,” said the girl, sitting down on the dry, brown needles and stretching out. “Try it.”

Hilary stretched out beside her. They lay quietly for awhile, listening to the birds' occasional twittering and to the other sounds of the woods. From some distance they could hear the steady, musical journey of the river.

“People say Tillie Jean Cassaway died in the river,” said Hilary.

“Yep.”

“Is your name Tillie Jean?”

“I reckon.”

“Well, I know you're not that Tillie Jean. I mean you're not a ghost.”

The girl remained silent for awhile, then said, “That boy was nice.”

“Who?”

“He said he had a sister, Hilary; he calls her ‘Hil.'”

Hilary sat up. “Where did you see my brother?”

“At that old house where the kittens are. He scared me at first, but he don't no more. We ran away from Mr. Craig.”

The girl told Hilary about what happened in the abandoned house and afterward. Hilary kept giggling and made her tell three times about picking up Willy's foot and screaming.

“I really screamed loud,” said the girl. “But then I warn't scared no more.”

“I could lie here all day,” Hilary said, stretching out again, looking up at the cloudy sky through the tree branches and leaves. Her companion lay back again, too.

“Let's pretend,” said Hilary. “You and me are Indian princesses. We died and all the animals in the forest come to look at us because they loved us.”

They lay quietly for several minutes, hardly breathing, arms straight to their sides, eyes closed. Hilary moved only to spread her dark pigtails out beside her head. Tillie Jean's long, tangled red hair lay covering half her face.

A deer which had been hiding in a thicket some distance away could not hold its curiosity, but came and looked at the two small creatures, then silently went away.

“We're not really dead,” said Tillie Jean. “When it rains, we wake up.” She thought she felt a raindrop on her face.

“Listen,” said Hilary. “Someone's coming. I hear him talking.”

“It's Babe,” said Tillie Jean. “He's talking to himself.”

They listened as the voice grew nearer. “Babe want friend,” he was saying. “Babe find Tillie Jean.”

“Over here, Babe,” called the girls, who had jumped up.

Babe came running through the woods toward them, stopping when he saw Hilary.

“It's okay, Babe,” said Tillie Jean. “Hilary's my friend, too.”

“Come!” said Babe, turning back the direction he'd come and jerking his arm. “Dog hurt!”

“Oh, you've found Robert!” exclaimed Tillie Jean. “Show me where he is!”

“I show you!” said the child-man. He ran back the way he had come, the girls following. They pushed through the thick woods for several minutes, following no path that Hilary could see. She was completely lost, and stayed as close to her new, strange friend as she could. In fact, when Tillie Jean stopped, Hilary bumped into her, lost her footing and sat down hard amidst a clump of ferns. When she looked up she saw that they were at the back of a small wooden shed. Lying panting against the wall with happy eyes and wagging tail was a large brown dog. It tried to get up as Tillie Jean came toward it, but lay back down, whimpering and licking its right hind leg.

Tillie Jean stooped to examine the wound. The dog lay still and patient as she touched it gently. “He might have killed you!” she muttered.

“Blood!” shouted Babe. “Blood!” He pointed at red spatters on the grass around the dog. Hilary started to come forward, but the dog growled and she stepped back.

“Don't mind Hilary,” said Tillie Jean. “She likes you. Don't you, Hilary?”

“Uh, sure,” said Hilary. “But it probably takes him awhile to get friendly.”

“Yeah, you better stay back. He bites some people.” Tillie Jean began talking softly to the dog. “You'll be all right, Robert. Just stay here and rest. You'll be all right.”

Babe put his face next to the dog's and the dog licked his cheeks. “He love me,” said Babe.

Hilary looked around and saw a house beyond the shed and a garden. She realized it was the Larson place.

“Babe,” she said, “Go tell your mother the dog is hurt. She'll know what to do.”

Babe was off and running, delighted with the idea. “Get Mom!” he hollered as he ran. “Me get Mom!”

Tillie Jean looked at Hilary with alarm. “Why did you do that?”

“Don't worry, Mrs. Larson is a nice lady,” Hilary reassured her. “She'll help him get well.”

“She might not like him!” said Tillie Jean. “She might chase him away!”

“We'll see.… Here she comes!”

Tillie Jean began shaking. “I can't let her see me! She'll put me away!” She ran into the woods. Hilary ran after her.

“Wait, Tillie Jean, we can hide and watch. She won't see you!”

Tillie Jean dropped to the ground behind a tree and peered over the high weeds at Babe and Mrs. Larson coming up the slope toward the shed. Hilary stooped beside her.

“Dog hurt!” Babe was saying. “Tillie Jean's dog!”

“My gracious, the poor thing. What's the matter with him? Why, it's Robert, that poor drowned Tillie Jean Cassaway's dog. They say it hangs around by her grave.”

The dog began growling at the approach of the strange woman.

“Don't get too close, Babe, he might bite. But he don't look hurt too bad. I'll get him some water and food and he'll probably be up and about soon. We'd best get him in the shed … look at that sky … it's going to pour!”

A clap of thunder almost drowned out her words. The rain began pattering on the dry leaves and grass and on the rusty tin roof of the shed.

Hilary put her face up to feel the full effect of the breeze and wetness. “See,” she whispered, “I told you she was nice. Will Robert let her put him in the shed?”

“Babe can do it,” said Tillie Jean.

“Granny will be mad, I've got to go to the Cassaway place … I'm supposed to be picking blackberries! Come with me!”

“No! I don't want to see your Granny.”

“But I don't know the way! I'll never get back. Granny will be so worried. Please?”

“I'll show you the way but I don't want to see nobody.”

The girls seemed oblivious to the rain until a bolt of lightning followed by a terrific clap of thunder made them grab hold of each other. It poured.

“Hurry!” said Hilary, running into the woods.

“This way!” cried Tillie Jean. Although leaves and branches of the trees provided some protection from the rain, the girls were soon soaked. But they plunged ahead and disappeared into the glistening, darkening deepness of the woods.

Babe forgot about them in the excitement of getting the dog into the shelter of the wood shed, which he managed with ease, to the surprise of his mother.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Granny Barbour was fit to be tied. Hilary had just skeedadled! What had gotten into her, running off like that? The woman's voice was hoarse from calling. Only when the rain began falling in earnest did she give up her searching and calling and rush to the shelter of the Cassaway place.

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