Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » If It Wasn’t for Tillie

If It Wasn’t for Tillie

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 21, 2011

From the Juvenile Instructor, October 1910 –

“If It Wasn’t for Tillie”

by Annie Malin

Jed Brown set his tin pail on the ground and put the largest berry in his mouth meditatively. There was a thoughtful look upon his freckled face as he swallowed the delicious morsel, and then he calmly helped himself to another.

“If it wasn’t for Tillie,” he said to a fat toad which hopped into view at that instant, “I’d not pick another one this morning.”

The toad stopped and looked at the boy for a moment and then, with a solemn blink, hopped away.

Jed picked up a stone and with steady aim sent it in the direction of the toad, but as soon as the missile left his hand he watched it anxiously until he saw it strike the ground without touching its intended victim.

“There,” the boy said, ruefully. “I just knew I’d forget. Tillie says it is wrong to hurt any dumb creature, and if there’s anything dumber than a toad I’ve never seen it.”

After a short pause the boy resumed his task, picking rapidly and in silence. The next time he spoke his remark was addressed to a father robin which hd alighted on a branch of the old cherry tree near by and which now sat looking at the boy as if wondering if he could trust himself nearer.

“Tillie,” said Jed, “has got more sense than the whole family put together.”

“Chirp, chirp,” answered father robin, and then he flew to the ground, after which he selected a nice fat worm for the breakfast of young master robin and flew away to the nest where his family awaited him impatiently.

Jed watched the bird wistfully.

“If I had a good pair of wings,” he said, “I’d fly clear to the city of New York – no more chores on a farm for me.”

Then his face softened again as he said: “If it wasn’t for Tillie.”

“But what’s the use of talking?” he went on, “here I am and all I can do is to work and do the best I can until I’m a man; but when I am,” he finished, resolutely, “well, I just bet I’ll be one.”

Anyone looking in the determined little face would have known he meant every word.

“That toad tends to his business and cleans up the insects in the strawberry patch, and the robin looks out for his family, which is his business, and I’ll look out for Tillie first, for that’s my business, I reckon, and after that –” and the boy drew himself up – “I’ll look out for myself, that is if dad never comes back.”

At the last words the boy’s chin quivered, and he hastily drew one dirty hand across his eyes, and began to whistle, for Jed had a boy’s hatred of tears.

“Good morning, young man,” said a cheerful voice, and Jed looked up to find a well-dressed stranger leaning over the fence.

Jed could easily see that he was a city man, and also that he was a sportsman, for he carried a rod and basket, and the boy rose from his task to look him over critically.

“Can you tell me the best place for a day’s sport?” he asked pleasantly, as the boy approached the fence.

“Yes, sir,” he answered, unhesitatingly, “I reckon I know every hole in the stream, and if it wasn’t for the berries I’d soon take you there.”

“Can’t you shirk for once?” asked the man, looking at his new acquaintance keenly.

“No, sir, I can’t,” said Jed firmly. ‘I don’t shirk for any one, and I promised to have the berries up to Mrs. Ball’s boarding house by seven o’clock. I’ll have to hurry, too,’ and Jed took a lingering look at the beautiful new rod as he turned away.

“Do you fish often?” questioned the stranger.

“Yes, sir,” was the reply. “When it ain’t berries it’s fish and when it ain’t fish it’s berries.”

“And it ain’t fish this morning,” said the man, smiling.

“No,” said Jed regretfully, “it’s berries.”

“Well, I’ll make a bargain with you,” the stranger said. “I’ll help you finish the berries and give you a dollar besides if you will spend the rest of the morning with me fishing.”

Jed smiled broadly, for he was a born fisherman, as the stranger could see, then as he looked at the tall figure he said warningly. “It’ll make your bach ache, sir.”

The man laughed. “So you think I can’t do my share,” he said, and with the words, he leaped over the fence in a manner which made Jed’s eyes open, and removing his coat was soon picking in a way to make him fear for his own reputation.

So he went to work with a will, and in listening to his new friend’s conversation he was surprised to find the time pass so rapidly away that they had soon reached the end of the long rows.

“What next?” asked the man, and Jed explained that he had to leave them at the boarding house after they had been measured.

“I won’t be long at the house,” he said, “and I can leave them at Mrs. Ball’s as we go.”

“That’s a great boy,” mused Dr. Gordon, as he watched him go quickly down the lane, “and honest, too, I’ll be bound, as well as ambitious. I feel quite interested in him.”

In a few minutes he was rejoined by his young guide, who said, “I was most afraid I’d have to stay home to do an errand, and if it hadn’t been for Tillie, I couldn’t have come yet. She offered to do it for me after her own work was done.”

“Good for Tillie!” said Dr. Gordon, energetically.

Making their way rapidly to the stream they were soon busy, the doctor with his fine new rod and Jed with the long willow cut from a clump growing be4side the stream, with which rod he proved himself an expert.

By the time the sun began to grow warm the doctor called a halt and insisted upon Jed sharing the lunch with which he had prepared himself, and as they sat there in the pleasant shade, he succeeded in drawing the boy out until he knew about as much of his history as he himself knew, which was very little.

“Then you are not satisfied to remain here, Jed?” he asked.

“No, sir,” was the quick reply. “I want to go where I can learn something; I want to learn to be a doctor.”

“Indeed,’ asked Dr. Gordon, interestedly, ‘and why?”

“Why, because,” responded Jed, “my father was a doctor. I know that he was, for I have a book which my mother used to read, and written in the front is, ‘Dr. J.V. Brown,’ and besides,” he went on, “she used to speak of him to Mrs. Jackson as “the doctor.”

‘You see, I was only a baby when she brought me to Mrs. Jackson’s, and father was to come after a while, and he never came, and after a few months mother died. she wasn’t very strong, and then Mrs. Jackson waited for him to come for me, and at last we gave him up and she kept me until she died, and then Mrs. Allen took me to work for her, and here I am.”

Dr. Gordon was all attention now, watching every expression of the boy’s face as he talked, and when he paused he asked: “How old are you, now, Jed?”

“‘Most thirteen, sir,” was the reply, and the doctor’s face, if Jed had been watching it, at that moment, showed still stronger interest.

There was a short silence, each busy with his own thoughts, then the man asked, “Why don’t you leave the farm, my boy?”

“I would have left long ago if it wasn’t for Tillie,” he said, slowly.

Dr. Gordon handed Jed the promised dollar, as he expressed himself satisfied with his morning’s sport. “We must try it again,” he said, as the boy took the money.

Jed took the money in his hand, then said gravely:

“Well, Mister, you have been real nice to me, and I wouldn’t take the money, if it wasn’t for Tillie.”

As Dr. Gordon leaned forward to pick up his basket of fish, he said: “Well, Jed, you have repeated those words eleven times or more this morning; now tell me who in the world is Tillie, and what has she to do with your taking the money?”

“Tillie!” ejaculated the boy, “why, she’s just Tillie.”

The doctor laughed at the reply, and then Jed said, earnestly:

“When you see the girl that’s been as good as a mother to me, mending my overalls and shirts and things, cutting my hair and saving me an extra piece of pie or cake, sitting up when my tooth aches, bathing my head when it aches, telling stories in the evening, teaching me to read and write and talk, on long winter evenings, and talking to me of my mother when neither of us even remember her – well, sir, that’s Tillie.”

Dr. Gordon whistled as the boy stopped to breathe.

“I don’t wonder you think a whole lot of Tillie,” he said, ‘if she’s all that.”

“She’s more than all that,” said the boy.

“But about the dollar, my boy,” asked the man, “what has that to do with Tillie?”

‘Well,” said the boy, hesitatingly, “that’s my secret, but,” the clear eyes were searching the man’s face, “I like you, Mister, and I want to know something.”

“Well, Jed, what can I do for you?” asked Dr. Gordon, as the boy paused.

“Well, it’s like this, sir: Tillie is pretty as a picture, and good as an angel, but she’s cross-eyed, and sometimes I know she cries about it and once some rough boys made fun of her, and I wasn’t big enough to thrash them, but I just made up my mind that I’d save every cent I could earn, and sometime I’d just say to her, ‘Tillie, you’ve done an awful lot for me, and now I can do something to pay you for it,’ and then, you see, she’d know that I really do ‘preciate what she’s done. Now, can you tell me, if it costs very much up there in New York to straighten eyes? I’ve got thirteen dollars and seventy-five cents hid away besides this,” and he looked at the shining piece in his hand, “and I want to do it right. Do you know the best doctor up there?”

“Jed,” said Dr. Gordon, “you are a mighty good friend to have, and I want you for my friend – here’s my hand on it,” and the two gravely shook hands.

Then the man took a card from his pocket and the boy read wonderingly: “Dr. A.C. Gordon, Eye Specialist.”

“Gee,” he exclaimed, in a voice quivering with excitement, “are you a real doctor?”

“I believe so,” was the amused reply, “but maybe not the very best, but I want to go home with you to make the acquaintance of Tillie.”

Dr. Gordon found that young lady in Mrs. Allen’s kitchen. She was a tall, slender girl of eighteen or twenty, with a sweet, refined face and gentle manner, and Jed’s love for her was not to be wondered at when she smiled. Her eyes were beautifully blue and bright, but dreadfully crossed.

“Oh, Tillie!” cried Jed, as soon as he could speak, “This is Dr. Gordon, and he’s going to fix your eyes for you,” and the boy fairly danced with excitement, “and I’m going to pay for it,” he went on. “I’ve been saving the money.”

“Why, Jed,” said Tillie, “you dear boy. I’ve been saving up to have it done myself. I couldn’t take your money, dear.”

Just then Mrs. Allen called Jed sharply and while he was absent from the room, Dr. Gordon said, simply:

“Let him pay for the operation, please, Miss Tillie; his heart is set on it, and it would be too bad to deprive him of such a great happiness.”

So when the operation was performed and found to be successful, the bill for fourteen dollars and seventy-five cents was handed to Jed, and after paying it with the hoarded earnings, he was given the receipt in full for services rendered.

Jed never forgot the look on Tillie’s face as she kissed him, and Dr. Gordon privately envied the boy, as he watched them, and though as the doctor had suspected, when Jed told him his story by the stream that morning, when they were fishing, the boy proved to be related to him, and afterwards went to the city to live with him and learn the profession, Jed never experienced more joy than when he looked in Tillie’s eyes, so beautiful and straight, and then at the precious receipt.

And Tillie? – well, they do say that she also will soon go to the city to live, but then that is supposed to be a secret. Be that as it may, there is great excitement in the beautiful home where Jed lives, and many are the consultations held between him and his beloved friend, Dr. Gordon, and if you were listening, you would often hear a name mentioned which sounds like Tillie.



  1. There’s something Jed-i about this… I’m your Father, Luke… plus an orphan boy with his sights set higher than the labor to which he’s been set, going to marry an older woman who had compassion on him as a child.

    Well, Lucas never did say his stuff was original.

    Comment by Coffinberry — March 21, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

  2. This is a sweet story. I wonder how much of a discount the doctor gave Jed. According to an inflation calculator, Jed had saved $300-$350 in today’s money.

    Comment by kew — March 21, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  3. I’ll have to repeat what kew said: what a sweet story. It pairs well with your other post today.

    Some of the details are period specific: “She was a tall, slender girl of eighteen or twenty, with a sweet, refined face and gentle manner…” It seems very similar in style to the L.M. Montgomery books (Anne of Green Gables, 1908, etc.) that were being published at the same time.

    Comment by Researcher — March 21, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  4. kew, thanks for figuring out the inflation factor!

    I am so relieved that this one ended (so well) in just one sitting. As I went down the page I was waiting for the organ music to start and wondering what suspenseful event was about to occur.

    Comment by ellen — March 21, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  5. The last time we had an Annie Malin story (Tommy’s Thanksgiving), Coffinberry recognized her name as the same as the author of “God Our Father, Hear Us Pray.” I’ve done some checking since then and can confirm that she is the same woman: Annie Pinnock Malin (1863-1935). She wrote quite a few stories for the LDS magazines, and some poetry besides her hymn. There’s this, for instance:


    He came to earth, our Prophet dear,
    The holy gospel to restore;
    He came, and angels hovered near,
    Appearing to him o’er and o’er.
    The Lord had sent him from the skies
    A heavenly mission to fulfill;
    He came to find the sacred prize
    Hid in Cumorah’s lonely hill.

    He came, and Saints rose up to hear
    The heavenly message he had brought;
    The world will yet his name revere,
    And will accept the truths he taught.
    He boldly strove God’s word to teach,
    And to obey his full command,
    To every nation it shall reach,
    And firm and mighty it shall stand.

    Then let the Saints of latter days
    Unfurl his standard to the world,
    The highest tribute to him raise
    Till hate and envy down are hurled.
    The Savior died that we might live,
    The Prophet died to prove his worth;
    Both love and reverence we will give,
    And bless the day of Joseph’s birth.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 21, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

  6. Coffinberry, it’s funny to me that you assume it’s Jed that Tillie is going to marry. :) I think it’s the doctor. Jed was only thirteen when the story started and I don’t see enough time passing and it was perfectly normal back then for an older, established man to marry a young woman.

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — March 21, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

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