Tilde was walking home from the store, a box of salt, sugar, and two cans of butterbeans in her arms. It was about half past four and the sun had been hidden all day, for it was the first of fall and it felt sort of raw. The temperature wasn't that low, it was just the humidity and that North North West wind that made it so. She was singing and thinking of how much fun it had been shooting marbles during noon recess at school. Every body knows girls can't shoot marbles, and when they say it, she just grins.
Two hundred sixty two, and two steelies she'd won at recess, and oh my how mad the boys had been for she had beaten them fair and square, Coupled with the fact that after she'd won she had put up fifty against their steelies and had won that, too. And her shooting with that old blue chipped shooter of hers. That thing had stuck like a steelie, and yet it was large enough so it was easy to shoot. Shucks she'd never learned how to shoot with a steelie.
As she walked along with the sack of groceries she kept feeling in her right jacket pocket, feeling around all those marbles. Heck she had 187 and three steelies. Tomorrow she would win a hundred or more, for after school there was always a big game out by the Barber Shop.
All at once she sensed something behind her. Oh gosh it is a long ways home and those boys will whomp me and take their marbles back. Then Ma will whomp me for getting my school dress all dirty, and maybe even torn. She wanted to look back, and yet she did not. How close were they, how many of them were there? She was antsy and started walking faster. Shucks, boy this would ruin her day.
Finally she saw a pile of biscuit-size rocks, so she thought, here I will grab some rocks and start chunking them, and maybe I will get lucky and hit a couple and scare them off. Gosh if I don't then they will whomp me good, and then ma will also whomp me.
She reached the little pile of rocks, sat her grocery sack down, picked up two rocks, and was ready to throw them, when she just froze. For there walking down the road leading an old sway back mule was the Reverend Parsnip. The Reverend was totally oblivious to the world for he was either practicing a sermon or quoting scriptures, she decided.
She let the rocks drop from her hands and then picked up her grocery sack, slinging it over her right shoulder this time.
"Howdy Reverend Parsnip?" She hollered, wakeing the pastor from his quiet revelry. "If you got some roller skates for that old mule, then she could sleep as you lead her home." Heck everybody laughed about his old mule, even though it was the best garden plower in the village.
"Tilde, what you doing? oh I see, you've been to the store. Anything good for dinner in that sack, cause me and Roscoe surely are hungry?"
"Naw Ma is making baked tomatoes and spoon bread, cause Pa had to go to old Doc Parker over in Meadowview this morning and he is a hurting." Tilde liked to talk with the Rev cause he treated her like a woman, and not a ten year old.
"Reckon I will just stop off and say a prayer with your Pappy since it is on my way home. Heck let me have that sack. Old roscoe won't mind it at all." The reverend took the sack and tied it to Roscoe's harness. "Tilde I certainly don't care for these type days, but shucks at least old Roscoe and I don't get over heated."
"Reverend Parsnip, how long have you had Roscoe anyhow?" Tilde was an inquisitive tyke. "Mister Calandar said roscoe was older than Methuselah." Then she grinned for a sharp wit and nearly as sharp tongue Tilde did have.
All at once Tilde looked back and there was the three she beat at marbles. They were walking fast and they surely did have fire and determination in their eyes.
"Want my marbles back Tilde, want them right now, "Bros said as he held out his hand.
"Yeah, you cheated us and took our marbles," Frank mumbled as he stuck out his hand.
"And I want mine too," Clif stammered, "Want mine too." Clifford was not very smart and his folks had money, so whatever, well nearly whatever, he wanted he got.
The Rev stopped, looked first at Tilde then at the three boys; the three were all Methodists and it seemed like they were always in trouble. Whereas the Rev was a hardshell Baptist, as was Tilde. "Them's serious words boy how did Tilde cheat you?"
Bros the biggest boy looked at the Rev and said, "Taint none of your business old man, either she gives me the marbles or I will whomp her good."
"Yeah and I will help him," Frank added.
"Tilde what happened?" The Rev spoke in a slow even voice.
"After school I wanted to play and they said girls can't shoot marbles. So I said I would put up doubles, twice what they put in, and I would not use a steelie just this old blue agate." She held it up. "I won their marbles and their steelies. Heck they used hunchies, and set-ups, and I couldn't use either." She looked the rev in the eye as she spoke.
"This true boys," The rev ask?
"She cheated, cause how else could she have won if she had not cheated?" Bros said.
The Rev looked at the boys, then Tilde, and back to the boys. "How many marbles you boys got?"
They turned and talked, "Thirty two." Bros replied.
"OK Bros, Frank and Clif, here is how we settle it. You put up your thirty two and Tilde will put up her 96, and I will be her partner and we will shoot for them. Whomever wins gets all the other's marbles, fair enough? I shoot first OK?"
The boys looked at the Rev and smiling, shook their head, "Sure Rev sure."
Tilde thought we'll lose them this way and I won't get a whomping, "Ok Rev," she said, and she began to count them out.
The Rev moved over into the other side of the Barrow pit, picked up a piece of wood he found on the ground and drew a big circle. "This size OK with you gentlemen?"
One hundred twenty eight Marbles were placed in the ring and the Rev startled them by unzipping his bib pocket and pulling out a clear shooter. "Had this since I was a boy," he said.
His first shot just hit at the edge of the clump and stuck. Then Bros shot and scattered a few, followed by Frank who nearly got one but really broke up the clump.
Finally Clif shot and got one, then on his second shot he missed them all. And Now it was Tilde's turn.
Tilde looked and walked around the ring. Then she finally knelt and shot. One came out of the ring and she stuck, and fifty-five marbles later, she missed.
The Rev was smiling for it was his shot, and he did the same. He shot at the clump to break them and got three. He stuck in the middle and cleaned the ring. The three boys looked at the Rev and then looked at Tilde. They shook their heads, for how could they say the Rev had cheated? The Rev put the marbles in his old black suit jacket pocket and carefully polished his shooter, which he dropped in his bib pocket. "Thanks boys for the game, see you later."
The boys turned and started walking away, their heads drooping.
"Bros, wait a minute," Tilde hollered.
They turned. "What you want Tilde?" Bros asked.
"I won fair and square today right?" She asked.
"Yes Tilde you did," Bros mumbled.
"Here are fifty for each of you so we can shoot again tomorrow, OK?" She handed each boy some of her marbles.
"Yeah, OK, thanks Tilde, but tomorrow I aim to win all you have." Bros grinned and walked away.
The Rev went over and got Roscoe's lead rope, for old Roscoe had been enjoying the green grass over next to the fence. "That was a good deed you did just now," he said to Tilde. "I guess the next thing I should teach you is how to back your shooter up when you shoot."
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