By G. M. Allen © 1984
Issue: August, 1984
(When we left the story last month, Tressie, tired of looking after her younger brothers and sisters, had decided to elope with Nick. Although he was raised in a moonshining family, Tressie was sure he wouldn't go that way himself. As the story picks up this month, Nick has just come for Tressie and it is time to make the decision of a lifetime. Nick has just said, "Are you ready, Tress?")
"Yes, I reckon," Tress replied. Her mother wailed louder.
"Don't carry on so, Ma," Tressie begged her mother. Lutie and Dovie began crying and begging too. "Don't go, Tressie."
Suddenly little Les assaulted Nick, hammering him with both fists. "You can't take Tessie! You can't take Tessie!" he cried. Nick caught both his hands, laughing. Les got loose and came at him with the poker. Nick took it away, and Tressie picked up the angry child.
"I'll come back real soon, Les," she promised, then let him down, for he was wiping his nose and wet face on her neck.
Tressie picked up her bag of clothing and they walked through the door. As they went through the yard Tressie's ears rang with a chorus of six wailing voices, for now the baby had joined the others. Her heart lurched when she heard him, loudest of all. Going to get married was not nearly as simple of as much fun as she had imagined! But she would go through with it, anyway; might as well take keer of her own younguns as Ma's, if that happened so. Actually, she thought, I can manage children better than Ma can! They mind me better than her. That's why she thinks she can't do without me.
At the bend in the path she waved goodbye to the family who had come outside to watch her out of sight, but she could still hear them when she was almost to the road.
Lovely purple rhododendron and the flame azalea were blooming in the woods where the path joined a larger road. This was the best time of year to be married, Tressie thought, when everything was so pretty in bloom!
Out of sight of everyone, Nick took her hand, but did not offer to carry the bag of clothing. After walking about a mile, they came to another large patch of woods. Nick stopped at a path that led back far into the woods.
"You wait here, Tress," he said. "They's a feller that owes me some money and I got to see him and collect. I'll be about ten, fifteen minutes."
He disappeared into the woods.
At first Tressie was glad for a chance to sit down. She wanted to take off a shoe and see if she could find the briar that had been sticking her for the last quarter of a mile. Removing her shoe and sock, she searched carefully, but the briar seemed to be of the completely invisible type. After about thirty minutes, Tressie began to wonder why Nick took so long. Perhaps the fellow, whoever he was, didn't want to pay him and they had got into a fight! Or, maybe he had had to go on farther to find him.
Tressie thought of the cornpone she had been baking. They'd let it burn, no doubt. Why hadn't she had enough sense to eat before they started? She wondered if maybe they could get milk for the baby from the Barton's, then pay for it in butter when the cow came fresh. Maybe the cow would have a heifer calf, and Ma would let her have it to make a milk cow, she thought.
Ben Doran come by riding a mule. Seeing Tressie he stopped. "You need any help carrin' that poke o' stuff." he asked.
"No, much obliged. I can manage all right."
"I'd let you ride ahind me, but Old Boss, she don't carry double!"
"I wouldn't ride if she carried sixtuple!" Tressie retorted. She was embarrassed to have been seen waiting beside the road on her way to be married. Why in the name of sense was Nick taking so long? She decided to go a piece in the woods and see if she could see anything of him. She placed the sack over the fence, behind a clump of bushes. Then, walking quietly as a wood's Indian, she took the path Nick had taken. Deep into the wood she came to a place where the path seemed to disappear, but looking closely, she saw it had split and that there were three or four faint traces of passing in different directions. Now she smelled smoke, and chose a way to the right, wondering if she would get lost and wander around until Nick got out a searching party for her. She kept on until she realized she was at the top of a rock bluff. Hearing voices, she approached cautiously, and holding to a scraggly oak sapling, she peered over the edge. Then she dodged back, and on all fours, crept closer, until she could plainly hear what was being said. This was a "still" place, all right! There were several vessels setting around and something coppery could be glimpsed beyond some bushes. A small stream from a spring arose at the foot of the bluff and smoke was drifting up over the edge. Nick and Pete Haden were sitting on a log directly below, and as she watched, they turned up a jug, and each took a long drink.
"Thought ye said ye left Tressie waitin' at the road, and you-all had started to git married," Pete remarked.
"Yeah, but you got to get a woman used to waitin' on you early! If you don't you might end up havin' to wait on her," Nick drawled.
"She ain't as pretty as that Simmons girl you used to go with," Pete said.
"Well, she is a good worker, though. Helps her ma around the house and knows how to cook real good!"
Tressie backed away as silently as she had approached. So, Nick had been helping Pete make likker, that was why Pete owed him money! And the idea of him keeping her waiting on the way to get married, while he took his own good time! Tressie's anger boiled as she sped back through the woods.
When she reached the road she retrieved her bag, then kept on the same road a way until she came to the fork that led, not over the mountain to Nick's uncle's, but in the general direction of home. "When I get to Haskin's store, I'll take the trail over Chestnut Ridge, and on home," she decided. "Nick won't think to look for me in that direction. Ma and the kids are prob'ly standin' in the yard still squallin'!"
She arrived home, hot and weary, about four o'clock, still limping from the briar in her foot.
"I decided to come back," she said matter-of-factly. "You need help, Ma, with these younguns. When Pa gets home, I'll go to town and git me a job, maybe, in a store or something to git me some money. But now you got to have some help!"
Ma grabbed her and this time cried for joy. The children were jubilant.
"Nick come here again, said you'd give him the slip! When I told him you hadn't come back, he guessed he'd find you on the road over to his Uncle Mart's. He took off again in a hurry; seemed pretty worried!" Ma told her.
Tressie laughed. She hoped Nick would get enough of foot traveling as she had. She went into the kitchen, got a bowl of beans and a chunk of corn bread and began to eat. They had not let the bread burn the least bit, she was relieved to notice.
Sally Barton appeared at the door. She looked startled when Tressie came from the kitchen just then. "Word done got around that you had 'loped off with Nick Radford," she announced. "But here you are!"
"Yes, I 'loped," Tressie admitted, "but I 'loped in a circle and come back home, with a briar in my foot! I ain't goin' to be hitched to no durn moonshiner! I may be crazy, but I'm not crazy enough fer that!"