Talitha - Chapter 17

T a l i t h a

Chapter 17

   The next few weeks found Talitha answering roll call at school evey morning. During this time she noticed no change in Mr. Radford. Only the teacher now found time to sit with her on the schoolhouse steps each noon hour, weather permitting, while the children played back and forth. Talitha kept busy at this time counting stitches, knitting a jacket for her baby. Her conversation with Mr. Radford usually drifted from the children at play to the farmers in the community and the crops in general. Talitha didn't see any harm in his sitting with her and she accepted it as being permissible. In fact, everything was running satisfactorily, as far as Talitha knew, until one day when Mr. Radford borrowed her speller to hear her spelling class. On returning her book he said, "Mrs. Davis, you will find the copy for your homework in your speller."

   That night, when she had made ready for another hour and more of study, she saw for the first time the copy Mr. Radford had placed in her speller. The sentence read, "Summer brings the aroma of hay fields." Underneath, Mr. Radford had written in bold letters, "May I visit you Sunday afternoon in your home?" Her first impulse was to be angry, but remembering the sleepless night she had only recently passed, and still determined to let nothing interfere with her schooling, she quickly made up her mind to ignore the incident. In order to forget it all she immediately began her homework, first making the required copies and then making sure she could spell correctly each word the sentence contained, one of Mr. Radford's steadfast rules.

   Noon of the following day found Talitha on the school steps basking in the sun of a brisk day. Mr. Radford, seating himself beside her, noticed the small garment was nearing completion and said, "Knit one, purl two. This brings back memories of my childhood days when I stood at my mother's knees, watching her knitting stockings and socks for the family. Often she would gaze into my eyes and say, "Knit one, purl two, every stitch a stitch of love for you.

   In the course of the conversation Talitha was careful not to say anything that might lead Mr. Radford to mention the episode of yesterday. With the passing of the day and no comment from him in reference to the note he had written on her homework copy, she went home feeling all was well. But later one afternoon at dismissal Talitha did not notice that Mr. Radford filed out behind the last pupil and quickly locked the door. She was startled to find him walking by her side. At the parting of the ways, Mr. Radford said, "Mrs. Davis, why would you object to my visiting you in your home?" "Mr. Radford, I'm sure I've never objected to anyone visiting my home, but aren't you forgetting I'm your pupil?" Talitha said, catching up with John who was waiting for her some distance ahead. At their meeting John said, "It's damn strange to me why Bob Radford wants to walk to the crossroads with you."

   It was strange, Talitha herself had thought, and stranger still when she recalled hearing Grandma Berry tell how Mr. Radford grew up on a plantation in Georgia with many slaves at his beck and call, and how he was educated in the higher schools of learning, tutors often coming into his home to teach the children of the family. Then to think of herself as being reared a poor girl without an education. Yes, it was indeed strange to both Talitha and John as they discussed it over and over, slowly walking toward their home.

   By now the farmers in the community had finished gathering their crops. Mrs. Sammons had sold all her cotton and, knowing there were to be only a few more weeks of free schooling, had put the money aside for Talitha's tuition at the subscription school, in accordance with her promise. It still pleased her to see Talitha's continued interest in school.

   Again, the fall months brought increased business at the store, especially on Saturdays. Talitha was spending each Saturday there as was her custom. Since she was now living much farther away from the store than at Polly's home, her hours at the store were shorter, Jason insisting she leave soon enough to reach home before sundown.

   Jason had commented to both Talitha and her mother on how she had improved in her handwriting. Talitha herself was pleased with the progress she had made in school and was confident that another three months of schooling would make it possible for her to relieve Jason at the store, if only for a day or two.

   Now that Talitha was at the store only on Saturdays, one could easily guess Levi could be found there also. He liked to sit around on the benches on the store porch with some of the old-timers, telling tall tales and swapping homemade twist, also to pass a few words with Talitha if he could catch her not busy.

   One Saturday evening when Talitha was preparing to leave the store she was conscious of Levi watching her,. No sooner had she stepped out the store door than Levi was there to assist her down the porch steps, and with a chuckle he said, "Strange you would want me to walk you home and the sun hasn't yet set." Talitha knew he was only teasing, yet she didn't appreciate his remark. Somewhat vexed she started reprehending him, in a much higher tone than she was accustomed to speaking, and assuring him no one had asked him to walk her home. Continuing in her irritated manner she said, "I'm sure I know every step of the way to my home, and if you don't hinder me I'll reach there before sundown." Levi could see his teasing had made her angry, and in wishing to change the subject, he said, "By the way, Mr. Jason told me he would be going to Grand Lake in a few days to meet the boat to pick up some merchandise. He asked me to drive him. Of course, you will be going also?" "No," Talitha said, "I've not planned to go, I need to be in school much more." "Why are you so interested in going to school?" Levi asked. "Only for the sake of my baby" Talitha replied.

   Walking along together, Levi was pleased to talk to Talitha of his bumper cotton crop and tell her of his plans to buy a small tract of land on the farm known as the Bragg plantation. "Where the grove of cottonwood trees stands near the house," he said, "the ones you have always admired." Talitha felt she knew what he was leading up to say, and while she was trying to find words to express her feelings Levi said, "I understand you are planning to attend subscription school," "Yes," Talitha said, "these are my only plans at present."

   As they walked the open road toward her home Levi said, "Won't you let me answer your question if one must?" Yes, thought Talitha, the man I marry must answer my question, and to my satisfaction. With this and many more thoughts running through her mind, they had walked a considerable part of the way with neither speaking a word. Suddenly Talitha collected her thoughts sufficient to realize Levi had asked her a question, the same question he had asked her before---the question she had no desire to have him answer. Then, noticing the glow of the sunset, Talitha said, "Isn't the sunset beautiful?" Without pausing for an answer she continued, "But to me there is one thing more beautiful," "What could it be?" Levi asked. "A true friendship," she said. "Let's keep ours that way."

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Charlotte Curlee Ramsey
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