Tilly Overton, a spindly, wrinkled, old woman, who wore black and carried a black umbrella spied her way around the courthouse square of the town of Preston each morning purveying and seeking tidbits of information and gossip.

This morning Doc Nehring, visiting with Bill, the undertaker, at his furniture store-funeral parlor, watched her birding her way along the street pecking seeds of gossip from each passer by.

“Bill, here comes Tilly,” Doc said. Let’s play a trick on her.  I’ll get on the slab in the embalming room.  You cover me up me up with a sheet.”  

Tilly always stopped by to inquire of Bill on the well-being of the local citizenry.  By the time Tilly toddled in, Bill had busied himself among the furniture.  Her ankle length, black dress billowed from her hips and swished the furniture as she edged her way through the aisles toward him. . 

“Good morning, Mr. Heitner.”  Tilly’s  voice scraped across her vocal chords like an overworked reed on a clarinet.  “Did anyone take a walk with the Lord last night?” she asked.  Bill folded his hands, lowered his head and spoke in his somber undertakers voice.

“Poor old Doc Nehring passed away,” he said.  Tilly plucked a black hankie from the pocket of her dress.

“Oh that’s so sad,” she said remorsefully, dabbing at her eyes with the hankie.  “Could I have a last look at him?” she asked.

“I guess that would be alright,” Bill said,  “He’s out back.”  He ushered Tilly to the slab in the embalming room and reverently removed the sheet from Doc’s face.  Tilly, looked at the doctor, clutched her umbrella in folded hands and stood in silent prayer for a moment.

“I expect in many ways, he may have been a good man,” she creaked. ” But I knew that drinking and carousing throughout the night would bring him to an early grave.” 

Doc’s belly, suppressing  laughter, began to shake.  Just in time, he raised his arms to ward off the blows to his head from Tilly’s umbrella.  Bill was laughing so hard he was no help at all.


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