Read The Ghost of Tillie Jean Cassaway Online

Authors: Ellen Harvey Showell

The Ghost of Tillie Jean Cassaway (9 page)


The rain had stopped and the sun was shining through the clouds. Morton Craig had sought the shelter of an overhanging rock on a cliff during the downpour, but when the rain let up, had continued his chase of the boy and girl. He'd figured rightly where they'd head.

“You hear me, girl? Do I have to come in after you?” he hollered.

Granny Barbour peeked out the door and saw the man standing among the trees about thirty feet from the house, holding the gun low but level. She opened the door further and stepped out. “Put that gun down, Morton Craig, and come talk like you was civilized!”

The man had not expected to see a woman in the Cassaway place—certainly not Nellie Barbour, whom he'd known since he was a boy.

“What the Hell!” he said. “What are you doin' here, Nellie?”

“Don't swear in front of the children,” she called. “Didn't know you had a young'un with you!”

The man lowered his gun and slowly came forward. He stopped a couple of yards from the door and muttered, so the woman could hardly hear him, “I come to take her back home.”

“She says her name is Tillie Jean Cassaway,” said Granny. “That's the name of a child that drowned.”

The man grew red in the face. “Ain't none of your business what she's called,” he said. “Send her out here.”

“I ain't goin' to do that, and don't raise that gun! You want to be arrested for threatening an old woman and children with firearms?”

He stared at her with anger.

“Come on in and talk like a peaceable man,” she said.

“I'll talk out here.”

Granny told Tillie Jean to stay inside, then stepped closer to the man. “Morton?” she said, peering up at his face as though not certain it was he. “Living alone too much has made you lose good sense, I believe. What's all this about?”

The man only said, “That girl belongs with me. I don't want nothing to happen to her.”

“She's all right,” said the woman. “Willy is her friend. Hilary too. She says she don't want to go back to your place.”

“He shot her dog!” Hilary called out.

“It warn't her dog,” said the man. “It was Tillie Jean's.…”

“Tillie Jean's dog?” questioned Granny. “Then she isn't Tillie Jean?”

Just then the door burst open and the red-haired girl ran out. She stopped in front of the man, holding out the sides of her skirt, and said in a high-pitched, excited voice, “See, it just fits me! It was made for me! I am Tillie Jean!” She turned and ran toward the hill that was between them and the river.

“Hey, come back here!” yelled Morton Craig.

Hilary ran after her while Willy hobbled to the door. The two girls scrambled up the hillside, Tillie Jean ahead. They disappeared down the other side. Hilary followed the girl to the river and screamed at her as she waded out into the water, “Tillie Jean, come back!”

“Tillie Jean is drowned!” called the girl.

“Then whoever you are, come back!”

Hilary reached the girl and pulled her back toward the shore.

“Let me go!” she was screaming. “Let me go!”

Morton Craig had reached the edge of the water and called, “Bring her back here, she's gone out of her mind!”

Hilary took the girl's hand and said, “I don't know what your name is, but you're my friend. Remember when we pretended to be Indian princesses? Well, maybe you were just pretending to be Tillie Jean. That don't mean you are. You're you. Come on now.”

Sobbing, the girl went back with Hilary and the man to the Cassaway place where Granny and Willy were waiting.

“Morton Craig, tell that girl she ain't Tillie Jean Cassaway. You can see she's mixed up in her mind, poor thing,” said Granny.

“Little girl,” said the man, looking at the child, “You ain't Tillie Jean Cassaway. Remember, we just decided you was to tell any kids what seen you that you was Tillie Jean, so's folks would think the kids was foolin' when they told about seeing you, or think they was seeing ghosts. Your real name is Ann Turner.”

“Ann!” exclaimed Hilary. “Hi, Ann!”

They were all standing around the back stoop of the Cassaway house while Morton Craig told the story of why Ann Turner had become “the ghost of Tillie Jean Cassaway.” The child was wringing wet again, but Granny Barbour did not have the heart to make her wear another of the drowned girl's dresses, and anyway the sun was out again and soon she'd be dry.

He began, “I never married, never had children, never wanted any. Most kids are afraid of me, cause I made it plain I don't want nobody messing around my property. But that little girl, Tillie Jean Cassaway, she never was afraid. She came over that old bridge all by herself, and she'd follow me around asking all sorts of questions. At first I tried to shoo her away, make her go home. She'd go, but be back the next day, calling for me. It was like she didn't have no friends, no one to play with.”

“That family kept to themselves, it's true,” said Granny.

He continued. “I never was good at getting along with people, mostly I just like to be left alone. But days that Tillie didn't come, I'd look for her. She helped me with the chickens and the pigs … sometimes I took her home in the boat, oh, she loved that. So, when she … when the accident happened … when she was drowned, I missed her more than I ever missed any other human being.”

He paused and seemed to be thinking about what he'd said, and how strange it was. Granny said, “It's a terrible pity. She was so young.”

Morton Craig continued, “Then one day I came out of the house and this other little girl was standing in front of my door, holding a book and nothing else. She wouldn't talk, or say who she was, not for a long time, and she wouldn't go away. So I called her Tillie. It was like she come to take Tillie's place.”

“Where did she come from?” asked Granny.

“Off Couger Mountain, I found out.”

“Lordy, by herself?”

“Yeah. She was an orphan, run away from the folks she was staying with. They had a lot of kids, she had no place to sleep, didn't get enough to eat.”

“There are some mighty poor families up there,” said Granny. “I know there's young'uns go lack.”

“Yes. Well, I fed her and told her she could stay with me if she kept away from other people. A man come asking about her, one of the family she'd been staying with. He told me who she was. He said he never knew her pa, he'd been gone a long time, but her mother was taken sick two years ago and died, and they took her in. I told him to go on, leave her alone, I'd take care of her. He left and never come back.”

“You called her Tillie Jean, just like she was the other girl!” exclaimed Hilary.

“You had her afraid to even talk to me,” said Granny.

“She thought anybody'd see her, they'd lock her up!” said Hilary.

The man said, “I thought if folks found out about her, they'd take her away, put her in an orphan home and make her go to school! I had to keep people from knowing she was with me. I told her to call herself Tillie Jean now, that she was like a child that come from the grave.”

“Of course she must go to school,” said Granny. “She got a right to learn, like other children, no matter where she comes from.”

“I never seen no good in schoolin',” said the man. “Anyway, why'd she come to my place, if it warn't meant? I took care of her, bought her clothes and patent leather shoes, just like she wanted. She belongs with me!”

“Well, she can stay with you but still go to school,” said Granny. “She ain't no different from other young'uns. Seems right smart, I'd say. Hilary here can help her catch up.”

“Yes, and they've got a special reading class at school. She can go to that.” said Hilary. “Willy had to take it last year.”

Ann Turner came and stood in front of the man and asked, “Why did you shoot my dog?”

“He's a mean dog and running wild … gets in fights with other dogs around and chases people,” he answered.

“He ain't mean,” said the girl. “I brung him food and water and he licked me.”

“He sure protects you,” said Willy. “He nearly got me when he thought I was after you.”

“Maybe he needs special teaching, too,” said Hilary. “And a home.”

“Well, I didn't really hit him, did I?” asked the man.

“You hurt his leg!” cried Hilary. “He's with Babe now. Mrs. Larson is feeding him!”

“And as for
, Morton Craig, what was you doing coming after this girl with a gun?” asked Granny Barbour.

“I didn't know who that boy was,” he said. “I been pestered by boys, breaking my windows, stealin' my chickens. I thought she'd got in bad hands. What was he doing on my property?” He sounded angry again.

Willy began to tell how he had thought the girl was going to get in trouble and tried to stop her, and had ended up going upstairs to see her book. While they were talking, the red-haired girl slipped back into the room with the blue door.


Ann Turner had been very mixed up. Sometimes she thought of her past life as that of the girl buried near the garden, while the others, her mother, the people on Couger Mountain, were of another world. Sometimes she even thought she remembered things that had happened to Tillie Jean, how she had played with her doll and loved her dog.

No one had followed her to the room. She was alone. She stood looking at the bucket that was in the center of the floor, holding water from the rain. She looked at the doll, but looked away again. She did not like its eyes. They seemed to be staring at her. The doll looked as though it wanted to talk, but could not. Ann's eyes were drawn back to the water in the bucket. A pale face looked back at her. She put her head down closer to see better, but the face disappeared. She drew her head back and saw the face again.
Let me out! Let me out!
Ann could hear no words, yet these words were ringing in her head.
Please! Let me come back. Why did you send me away?

Ann stood unable to move, afraid. She did not want to be Tillie Jean any more!

She looked around but saw only the doll with round, staring eyes.

“No!” she said. “I'm Ann Turner! You're dead!”

Water fell from the doll's eyes.

“Don't cry!” The girl glanced about and, seeing a handkerchief on the floor, picked it up to wipe the doll's face. She jumped back in horror when she uncovered the cold, still body of the dead bird. She looked back at the doll. It's arm was up, fingers beckoning. The eyes bore into hers.


The girl held her hands over her ears. “No!” she choked. She tried to look away from the doll but could not. She took a step toward it, moaned, and stepped back. Her feet touched something. Tearing her eyes from the doll, she looked down and saw her book. Stooping, she picked it up and held it and for a moment could see nothing. Then a film seemed to melt slowly from her eyes and she remembered clearly her mother and Couger Mountain and who she was. She sighed deeply and let tears roll down her face.

A little later Hilary, coming to look for her new friend, saw her standing in front of the window, holding the book. She said, “Ann, Granny said you could spend the night with her. We can lend you some dry clothes and things until you get some more. Do you want to come with us?”

The girl was silent so long that Hilary thought she might not want to come. “You want to bring the doll?” Hilary asked.

Ann looked at the doll. The eyes that before had seemed to look at her were now vacant. “No,” she said. “It's just an old broken doll that belonged to Tillie Jean. She's gone now. It might as well be buried down there with her.”

“What's that?” asked Hilary, pointing to the stiff body of the blackbird.

“It's a poor dead bird. Ought to be buried, too.”

“I'll help you,” said Hilary.

“Might as well bury these clothes, too,” said Granny Barbour when she found out what they planned to do. “They're all full of mildew anyway.” Ann had put her own things back on, saying, “I don't want to wear her dress no more.”

They all went down to the grave, with Willy holding on to Granny and Hilary. He thought about the thumping noise he had heard coming from the room with the blue door, and of the bird, and knew what had happened.

Using sticks, they dug a hole in the wet earth. They placed Tillie Jean's doll, her clothes, and the bird in it and covered them up with dirt, rocks, and leaves.

“Now we can forget about Tillie Jean Cassaway's ghost,” said Granny Barbour. “The child is gone and some day we'll all be where she is, in the spirit. Meanwhile, we can all be thankful we got our own lives to live.”

“Amen,” said Morton Craig.

“Amen,” echoed Willy and Hilary.

“Amen,” whispered Ann, watching a blackbird circling idly in the sky.

“Morton, won't you let this girl come home with us for a little visit?” asked Granny.

“Ann, you want to go with them?” he asked.

“I think so,” she said.

“Well, go then.” He turned and started walking away, then stopped and called out, “That old dog … I guess, if you want, he could stay with us, if you come back.”

“No,” said Ann. “He was Tillie Jean's dog. Let Babe keep him.” As the man turned away, she called, “If I come back, can Hilary and Willy come visit?”

“I reckon.” He turned to look at her.

“Can I go to school?”

“I reckon, if you want.”

“Can I take the kittens for pets?”

“I reckon.”

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