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Chapter Two
Lov opened the sack, selected a large turnip, wiping it clean with his hands, and took three bites one after the other. The Lester women stood in the yard and on the porch looking at Lov eat. Ellie May came from behind the chinaberry tree and sat down not far from Lov on a pine stump. Ada and the old grandmother were on the porch watching the turnip in Lov's hand become smaller and smaller with each bite. "Now, if Pearl was anything like Ellie May, she wouldn't act like she does," Lov said. "I'd have taken Ellie May at the start if it wasn't for that face of hers. But I knowed I couldn't sleep with no peace of mind at night with her in the bed with me, and knowing how it looked in the daylight. Pearl looks pretty, and she's a right smart piece to want to sleep with, but I just can't make her stay off of that durn pallet on the floor when night comes. You got to come down there and make her do like she ought to act, Jeeter. I been married to her near on to a whole year, and all that time I could just as well been shovelling coal at the chute night and day without ever going to my house. That ain't the way it was intended for it to be. A man has a right to want his wife to get in the bed when dark comes. I ain't never heard of a woman wanting to sleep on a durn pallet on the floor every night in the whole year. Pearl is queer that way." "By God and by Jesus, Dude," Jeeter said, "ain't you never going to stop bouncing that there ball against that there old house? You've clear about got all the weatherboards knocked off already. The durned old house is going to pitch over and fall to the ground some of these days if you don't stop doing that." Jeeter picked up the inner-tube again, and tried to make the patch stick to the rubber. The old automobile against which he was sitting was the last of his possessions. The year before, the cow had died, leaving him with the car. Up until that time he had had a way of boasting about his goods, but when the cow went, he did not even mention the car any more. He had begun to think that he was indeed a poor man. No longer was there anything. he could mortgage when the time came each spring to buy seed-cotton and guano; the automobile had been turned down at the junk yard in Augusta. But he still had wood to sell; it was the wiry blackjack that grew behind the house. He was trying now to patch the inner tube so he could haul a load of it to Augusta some time that week. Ada said all the meal was gone, and the meat, too. They had been living off of fat-back rinds several days already, and after they were gone, there would be nothing for them to eat. A load of blackjack would bring fifty or seventy-five cents in Augusta, if he could find a man who would buy it. When the old cow had died, Jeeter hauled the carcass to the fertilizer plant in Augusta and received two dollars and a quarter for it. After that, there was nothing left to sell but blackjack. "Quit chunking that durn ball at them there weatherboards, Dude," he said. "You don't never stop doing what I tell you. That ain't no way to treat your old Pa, Dude. You ought to sort of help me out, instead of always doing something contrary." "Aw, go to hell, you old dried-up clod," Dude said, throwing the ball at the side of the house with all his might and scooping up a fast grounder on the rebound. "Nobody asked you nothing ." The old grandmother, Jeeter's mother, crawled under the front porch for the old burlap sack, and went across the tobacco road towards the grove for some dead twigs. No one paid any attention to her. Wood for the kitchen stove and fireplace was never cut and hauled to the house; Jeeter would not do it, and he could not make Dude do that kind of work. Old Mother Lester knew there was no food for them to cook, and that it would be a waste of time for her to go after dead twigs and make a fire in the cook-stove; but she was hungry, and she was always hoping that God would provide for them if she made a fire in the kitchen at meal-time. Knowing that there were turnips in Lov's sack made her frantic with hunger. She could sometimes stand the pain of it in her stomach when she knew there was nothing to eat, but when Lov stood in full view taking turnips out of the sack, she could not bear the sight of seeing food no one would let her have. She hobbled across the road and over the old cotton field that had not been planted and cultivated in six or seven years. The field had grown up in broom-sedge at the start, and now the gnarled and sharp stubs of a new blackjack growth were beginning to cover the ground. She tripped and fell several times on her way to the grove of trees, and her clothes had been torn so many times before that the new tears in the skirt and jacket could not be distinguished from the older ones. The coat and shirt she wore had been torn into strips an: shreds by the briars and blackjack pricks in the thicket where she gathered up the dead twigs for firewood, and there never had been new clothes for her. Hobbling through the brown broomsedge, she looked like an old scarecrow, in her black rags. The February wind whistled through the strips of black cloth, whirling them about in the air until it looked as if she were shaking violently with palsy. Her stockings had been made by wrapping some of the longer of the black rags around her legs and tying the ends with knots. Her shoes were pieces of horse-collars cut into squares and tied around her feet with strings. She went after the dead twigs morning, noon, and night; when she returned to the house each time, she made a fire in the cook-stove and sat down to wait. Ada shifted the snuff stick to the other side of her mouth and looked longingly at Lov and his sack of turnips. She held the loose calico dress over her chest to keep out the cool February wind blowing under the roof of the porch. Everyone else was sitting or standing in the sunshine. Ellie May got down from the pine stump and sat on the ground. She moved closer and closer to Lov, sliding herself over the hard white sand. "Is you in mind to make a trade with them turnips?" Jeeter asked Lov, "I'm wanting turnips, God Himself only knows how bad." "I ain't trading turnips to nobody," he said. "Now, Lov, that ain't no way to talk. I ain't had a good turnip since a year ago this spring. All the turnips I've et has got them damn-blasted green-gutted worms in them. I sure would like to have some good turnips right now. Wormy ones like mine was ain't fit for a human." "Go over to Fuller and buy yourself some, then," he said, eating the last of his fourth turnip. "I went over there to get mine." "Now, Lov, ain't I always been good to you? That ain't no way for you to talk. You know I ain't got a penny to my name and no knowing where to get money. You got a good job and it pays you a heap of money. You ought to make a trade with me so I'll have something to eat and won't have to starve to death. You don't want to sit there and see me starve, do you, Lov?" "I don't make but a dollar a day at the chute. House rent takes up near about all of that, and eating, the rest of it." "Makes no difference, Lov. I ain't got a penny to my name, and you is." "I can't help that. The Lord looks at us with equal favor, they say. He gives me mine, and if you don't get yours, you better go talk to Him about it. It ain't none of my. troubles. I've got plenty of my own to worry about. Pearl won't never--" "Ain't you never going to stop chunking that durn ball against the house, Dude?" Jeeter shouted. "That noise near about splits my poor head wide open." Dude slammed his baseball against the loose weatherboards with all his might. Pieces of splintered pine fell over the yard, and rotten chunks dropped to the ground beside the house. Dude threw the ball harder each time, it seemed, and several times the ball almost went through the thin walls of the house. "Why don't you go somewheres and steal a sack of turnips?" Dude said. "You ain't fit for nothing else no more. You sit around here and cuss all the time about not having nothing to eat, and no turnips--why don't you go somewheres and steal yourself something? God ain't going to bring you nothing. He ain't going to drop no turnips down out of the sky. He ain't got no time to be wasted on fooling with you, if you wasn't so durn lazy you'd do something instead of cuss about it all the time." "My children all blame me because God sees fit to make me poverty-ridden, Lov," Jeeter said. "They and Ma is all the time cussing me because we ain't got nothing to eat. I ain't had nothing to do with it. It ain't my fault that Captain John shut down on giving us rations and snuff. It's his fault, Lov. I worked all my life for Captain John. I worked harder than any four of his niggers in the fields; then the first thing I knowed, he came down here one morning and says he can't be letting me be getting no more rations and snuff at the store. After that he sells all the mules and goes up to Augusta to live. I can't make no money, because there ain't nobody wanting work done. Nobody is taking on share-croppers, neither. Ain't no kind of work I can find to do for hire. I can't even raise me a crop of my own, because I ain't got no mule in the first place, and besides that, won't nobody let me have seed-cotton and guano on credit. Now I can't get no snuff and rations, excepting once in a while when I haul a load of wood up to Augusta. Captain John told the merchants in Fuller not to let me have no more snuff and rations on his credit, and I don't know where to get nothing. I'd raise a crop of my own on this land if I could get somebody to sign my guano-notes, but won't nobody do that for me, neither. That's what I'm wanting to do powerful strong right now. When the winter goes, and when it gets to be time to burn off broom-sedge in the fields and underbrush in the thickets, I sort of want to cry, I reckon it is. The smell of that sedge-smoke this time of year near about drives me crazy. Then pretty soon all the other farmers start plowing. That's what gets under my skin the worse. When the smell of that new earth turning over behind the plows strikes me, I get all weak and shaky. It's in my blood-burning broom-sedge and plowing in the ground this time of year. I did it for near about fifty years, and my Pa and his Pa before him was the same kind of men. Us Lester's sure like to stir the earth and make plants grow in it. I can't move off to the cotton mills like the rest of them do. The land has got a powerful hold on me. "This raft of women and children is all the time bellowing for snuff and rations, too. It don't make no difference that I ain't got nothing to buy it with--they want it just the same. I reckon, Lov, I'll just have to wait for the good Lord to provide. They tell me He takes care of His people, and I'm waiting for Him to take some notice of me. I don't reckon there's another man between here and Augusta who's as bad off as I is. And down the other way, neither, between here and McCoy. It looks like everybody has got goods and credit excepting me. I don't know why that is, because I always give the good Lord His due. Him and me has always been fair and square with each other. It's time for Him to take some notice of the fix I'm in. I don't know nothing else to do, except wait f or Him to take notice. It don't do me no good to try to beg snuff and rations, because ain't nobody going to give it to me. I've tried all over this part of the country, but don't nobody pay no attention to my requests. They say they ain't got nothing neither, but I can't see how that is. It don't look like everybody ought to be poverty-ridden just because they live on the land instead of going to the mills. If I've been a sinful man, I don't know what it is I've done. I don't seem to remember anything I done powerful sinful. It didn't used to be like it is now, either. I can recall a short time back when all the merchants in Fuller was tickled to give me credit, and I always had plenty of money to spend then, too. Cotton was selling upwards of thirty cents a pound, and nobody came around to collect debts. Then all of a sudden the merchants in Fuller wouldn't let me have no more goods on time, and pretty soon the sheriff comes and takes away near about every durn piece of goods I possessed. He took every durn thing I had, except that old automobile and the cow. He said the cow wasn't no good, because she wouldn't take no freshening, and the automobile tires was all wore out. "And now I can't get no credit, I can't hire out for pay, and nobody wants to take on share-croppers. If the good Lord don't start bringing me help pretty soon, it will be too late to help me with my troubles." Jeeter paused to see if Lov were listening. Lov had his head turned in another direction. He was looking at Ellie May now. She had at last got him to give her some attention. Ellie May was edging closer and closer to Lov. She was moving across the yard by raising her weight on her hands and feet and sliding herself over the hard white sand. She was smiling at Lov, and trying to make him take more notice of her. She could not wait any longer for him to come to her, so she was going to him. Her harelip was spread open across her upper teeth, making her mouth appear as though she had no upper lip at all. Men usually would have nothing to do with Ellie May; but she was eighteen now, and she was beginning to discover that it should be possible for her to get a man in spite of her appearance. "Ellie May's acting like your old hound used to do when he got the itch," Dude said to Jeeter. "Look at her scrape her bottom on the sand. That old hound used to make the same kind of sound Ellie May's making, too. It sounds just like a little pig squealing, don't it?" "By God and by Jesus, Lov, I want some good eating turnips," Jeeter said. "I ain't et nothing all winter but meal and fat-back, and I'm wanting turnips something powerful. All the ones I raised has got them damn-blasted green-gutted worms in them. Where'd you get them turnips at anyway, Lov? Maybe we could make a trade of some kind or another. I always treated you fair and square. You ought to give them to me, seeing as I ain't got none. I'll go down to your house the first thing in the morning and tell Pearl she's got to stop acting like she does. It's a durn shame for a gal to do the way she's treating you--I'll tell her she's got to let you have your rights with her. I never heard of a durn gal sleeping on a pallet on the floor when her husband has got a bed for her, nohow. Pearl won't keep that up after I tell her about it. That ain't no way to treat a man when he's gone to the bother of marrying. It's time she was knowing it, too. I'll go down there the first thing in the morning and tell her to get in the bed." Lov was paying no attention to Jeeter now. He was watching Ellie May slide across the yard towards him. When she came a little closer, he reached in the sack and took out another turnip, and began taking big bites out of it. He did not bother to wipe the sand from it this time. Ada shifted the snuff stick to the other side of her mouth again, and watched Ellie May and Lov with gaping jaw. Dude stood watching Ellie May too. "Ellie May's going to get herself full of sand if she don't stop doing that," Dude said. "Your old hound used never to keep it up that long at a time. He didn't squeal all the time neither, like she's doing." "By God and Jesus, Lov," Jeeter said, "I'm wanting turnips. I could come near about chewing up a whole croker sank between now and bedtime to-night"
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