Talitha - Chapter 20

T a l i t h a

Chapter 20

   Subscription school opened on schedule on a Monday morning following the closing of free school the Friday before. Mr. Radford, hopeful that Talitha might attend, was disappointed when John was the only one of the Sammons family present.

   Tuesday morning when Mr. Radford called the roll, with Talitha still not present, he said, "John, does Mrs. Davis plan to be with us this term of school?" He was still hoping circumstances would make it possible for her to do so.

   Talitha, proud of the progress she had made in school, and realizing she was now far more capable of lending Jason a hand at the store, was planning to spend more time there.

   Levi, apparently the only one happy that Talitha's school days were over, was now more than ever insisting she marry him, and Talitha was still saying no. But it was hard for him to take no for an answer, sincerely believing he one day might win her love. One evening, when seeing her home from the store, Levi said, "Next week I plan to buy those acres where the cottonwood trees stand. Won't you let me answer your question and then promise to marry me?" True, Talitha had admired the cottonwood trees that stood on a plot on the Bragg plantation, but she was positive she had no desire to live there among their beautiful foliage with Levi.

   Talitha kept busy at the store as the days passed, still confident that soon she would take over her business, especially since she was studying along with John each night.

   It was a brisk evening in early December. A new moon was sailing high in a sky of stars. Mrs. Sammons had gone to her bedroom to rock Clemmie to sleep and to drink in the beauty of the moon that she could plainly see through her window. Mingled with the tones of a lullaby she could faintly hear the sound of a hunter's horn and the constant howl of a dog. As the sounds came nearer and nearer she had guessed it. It was Levi with his prize hound. Then she understood why the boys had hurried through their chores. There was another 'possum hunt in the making.

   As Levi came through the gate he saw her through a half-open door sitting in her bedroom. Making his way to her and seating himself near he said, "Mrs. Sammons, can you think of anything better than a fat 'possum baked with onions?" "Make mine with sweet potatoes, please," Mrs. Sammons said. As they continued the conversation Levi told Mrs. Sammons of his plan to spend the next few days hunting in the swamps, then of the tract of land he would be buying soon. To make her better understand the exact spot, he said, "The tract where the cottonwood trees grow near the house. All I will need then is the woman I love to make me happy." Levi added.

   "Young man," Mrs. Sammons said, "you may be planning to spend the next few days in the swamp and you may need the woman you love to make you happy. This, I don't know. But there's one thing I do know," continued Mrs. Sammons. "Have you noticed the new moon tonight? You can well hand your horn on its point. I know my grandmother would say, "Hunter, hand your horn up, pull up an easy chair, you can now whistle your favorite tune, it's going to rain."

   John's school days were proving far better than he first anticipated without Talitha. The only ordeal was, he was becoming weary of being a note bearer for Mr. Radford. Since the beginning of subscription school there had scarcely been a Thursday that Mr. Radford didn't hand John a note and say, "Please see that Mrs. Davis receives this." Talitha and John, having read each note together, had come to know the contents of the notes before opening them. Mr. Radford was only asking permission to see her the following Sunday. John was to deliver a reply the following morning. Mr. Radford had also come to know that Talitha's reply would be: "A previous engagement keeps me from seeing you Sunday."

   December brought bitter cold and snow. With Christmas just around the corner, the Sammons boys were making sure there would be plenty of hams, sausage and spare ribs for the holidays, while Mrs. Sammons and Talitha were filling the shelves with cakes, pies and other goodies. The young people of the community were making plans for a square dance at the schoolhouse previous to Christmas Eve. "Everybody a lassie" had been the slogan in the past, and the same held true for this occasion. Sure, Mr. Radford was planning to attend the dance. There wasn't anything he liked better than to put his best foot forward on a dance floor, and of course he wanted a "lassie." There were several girls he could have asked to be his lassie, but it seemed if no one suited his fancy but Talitha.

   With school dismissed for the holidays, John was not available as his note bearer. But in due time, Mr. Radford saddled Fiddle and headed straight for the store, where he knew he would find Talitha. He planned to ask her for a dance date. Yes, Talitha too wanted to attend the dance, but was it wise to date Mr. Radford? Talitha, excusing herself to wait on a customer, pondered. She recalled that only recently he had walked home with her, but she didn't really consider this a date, and now that it was generally known she was no longer a pupil of Mr. Radford's, she knew of no reason why she should not give him this dance date. Finally, Talitha accepted Mr. Radford as her date for the dance.

   Time passed and Talitha made plans for her first date with Mr. Radford, as she termed it. Naturally, she wanted to look her prettiest and with this in mind she would not settle for anything but a new dress. She remembered Mr. Radford had once admired a red dress she wore to school, declaring it was very becoming. So---a red it must be. With no suitable material at the store, she tried to make up her mind to accept a piece with a red predominating. But no, a solid red it must be.

   The ground was covered with snow and Talitha thought it would be unwise to travel some miles to the nearest store just for some red material, and probably not find what she wanted. Finally she decided upon a plan. She, along with John, plodded through the deep snow to a red oak tree in the swamps not too far away. Here they chipped bark from the trunk of the tree. Talitha later plunged the bark into a pot of boiling water, adding copperas to set the color. When the white material she had chosen became the shade of red she wanted, she was satisfied. Soon she was sewing, determined to have a new red dress for the Christmas dance.

   Talitha and her mother, sewing into the late hours, soon had the basque fitted waist shaping up to Talitha's small figure along with the skirt of dozens and dozens of tiny ruffles from the waist down, to be fitted over at least three full petticoats.

   When the dress was finished, all but the hem, Talitha stood before the mirror turning round and round, while her mother made sure the hem was level and within two inches of the floor. Mrs. Sammons, often glancing at her daughter in the mirror, realized for the first time how pretty she would look on the dance floor. But not until the night of the dance did she speak her mind. She was helping Talitha dress, and placing the last pin in a large black bow sash, she stepped aside for a better view of her daughter and said, "Another Christmas doll! I'm sure there's none more beautiful."

   Mr. Radford announced himself when he paused at the doorsteps to shake the snow from his shoes. Talitha answered his knock at the door. Stepping inside he couldn't help but survey the figure before him, and as he later said, he was never more enchanted. He well knew she was the girl he wanted to linger in his dreams. Clasping her hand, Mr. Radford noticed her blush made the blue of her eyes sparkle all the more. Speaking to Mrs. Sammons,who was seated near, Mr. Radford said, My mother always said nothing is more beautiful than beauty itself."

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Charlotte Curlee Ramsey
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