Talitha - Chapter 15

T a l i t h a

Chapter 15

   It was the opening day of school and Talitha was well prepared for it. She had moved to her mother's home, satisfied her baby could be in no better hands, and with her mind once made up she was determined to make the most of the next six months of school. That morning as Mrs. Sammons watched Talitha and John leave the gate to tread the path to school, she realized for the first time how well Talitha fitted in the role of schoolgirl, in spite of her twenty-one years.

   The walk to school of at least two miles along with John and some of the neighboring children, meeting the teacher for the first time, and many other happenings of the day proved as exciting for Talitha as it did for the children. The small one-room schoolhouse with its battered floors and seats carved with initials, having served the same purpose before the Civil War, had again opened its doors to the children of the Dry Bayou community, adding more memories to echo through its walls.

   Talitha immediately saw that Mr. Radford, the teacher, was as Grandma Berry had described him. He was not more than five feet two or three inches tall, his partly bald head slightly graying. He had keen brown eyes and a small black mustache. He had never, much as he desired it, weighed over a hundred pounds, and Talitha was certain he didn't look his age of thirty years.

   A small hand bell announced the opening of school, and when Mr. Radford had seated the pupils in their places according to age, he distributed pencils and paper and asked them to write their names. Those who could not write were required to come to his desk and give him their names. Talitha, realizing she could print much better than she could write, carefully printed, "Mrs. Talitha Davis," making sure the "Mrs." stood out prominently. She had no desire to have Mr. Radford think of her as a mere schoolgirl, just because she was smaller than many of the girls present who were much younger.

   The next morning Mr. Radford in calling the roll said, "John Sammons, Mary James," and so on; coming to Talitha's name, the last on the roll, in a lower voice and a more specific manner, then and always thereafter, he said, "Mrs. Davis."

   Two weeks of school days had gone by, with Talitha and her family happy, but not Levi. Since he had learned of Talitha's approaching school days he had been very unhappy over the situation, and now with his crop laid by, he was spending most of his leisure time hunting in the swamps. During this time no one in Talitha's family had seen him except Mrs. Sammons, and that only on one occasion when he had stopped by her home to see Clemmie and ask about Talitha. When another week had gone by and John had not yet seen Levi, was missing him and wondering about him, he asked his mother if she knew of his whereabouts.

   Talitha overheard John's conversation with his mother and she brought to mind the last time she had seen Levi.  It was on the Sunday night before school opened. They were sitting on the porch of her mother's home, and she recalled that Levi had pleaded with her not to go to school. He had insisted that she let him answer her question, then marry him, again forcing her to say, "This I ask no man, only the man I love and  hope to marry."

   It was a beautiful afternoon in early October when three o'clock marked the end of another school day. Talitha and John were walking home together amid the joy and laughter of the school children. Talitha, as usual, was hurrying to reach the turn in the road where she would turn northward to walk another mile or more to her mother's home, where the joy and laughter of her own little daughter would greet her. At the crossroads Talitha was surprised to see Levi and Clemmie waiting for her. Talitha, taking Clemmie in her arms, looked at Levi and wondered if it were possible, after all her efforts to explain it to him, he did not yet understand she was not in love with him. John, thinking two is company, three's a crowd, took Clemmie from her mother's arms and hurried on to catch up with the school children going his way, only for the amusement of Clemmie. Talitha walked along with Levi, telling him how delightful her school had been. Suddenly she realized he wasn't interested in anything she was saying when he said, "Talitha, it has been three weeks since I last saw you and in that time I've tried hard to forget you. Now I'm convinced this I can never do. Why won't you give me the right to love you?"

   As October advanced with frosty mornings and chilling nights, Levi, who well knew the persimmon trees where the 'possoms played, was seen more and more with the Sammons boys to plan another 'possom hunt. It was the twilight of evening and Levi and the boys were making ready for another few hours  in the woods. The howl of the dogs and the sound of the hunter's horns echoing through the dense swamps could be heard in the far distance. Talitha, with her  mother, was sitting on the porch steps watching the hunters take off. Leaving the gate Levi called to Talitha and said, "If I bring home a fat 'possom will you bake it with onions and invite me to dinner?" "Not onions, sweet potatoes," Talitha called back. "No, onions," Levi said, "and if you don't say it's the most delicious 'possom you've ever eaten, I'll give you the best hound dog in this whole country."

   On the following Sunday when Mrs. Sammons and her family had finished their noon meal with Levi as guest, they all admitted that 'possom baked with onions was delicious, except Mrs. Sammons, who said, "Make mine sweet potatoes, please." With all sitting around the dining table, Levi, leisurely finishing his cup of tea, said, "Mrs. Sammons, it's been a long time since I turned a cup for you to read, how about now? I would like to know when that daughter of yours is going to say yes."

   Talitha, quickly excusing herself, left the room; she knew her mother would tell Levi exactly what she saw lurking in the cup and she didn't care to be present when she did so. But she made sure she wasn't so far away that she couldn't hear what her mother had to say. Mrs. Sammons, turning the cup at all angles, said, "Well, young man, you might as well call off your hound. You will never get the deer (dear)." Levi, still not wanting to believe this, said, "Mrs. Sammons, are you sure you are seeing that right?" "Just as sure as a duck takes to water," Mrs. Sammons replied.

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