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Chapter Three
Jeeter's reiterated and insistent plea for turnips was having less and less effect upon Lov. He was not aware that any one was talking to him. He was interested only in Ellie May now. "Ellie May's straining for Lov, ain't she?" Dude said, nudging Jeeter with his foot. "She's liable to bust a gut if she don't look out." The inner-tube Jeeter was attempting to patch again was on the verge of falling into pieces. The tires themselves were in a condition even more rotten. And the Ford car, fourteen years old that year, appeared as if it would never stand together long enough for Jeeter to put the tire back on the wheel, much less last until it could be loaded with blackjack for a trip to Augusta. The touring-car's top had been missing for seven or eight years, and the one remaining fender was linked to the body with a piece of rusty baling wire. All the springs and horsehair had disappeared from the upholstery; the children had taken the seats apart to find out what was on the inside, and nobody had made an attempt to put them together again. The appearance of the automobile had not been improved by the dropping off of the radiator in the road somewhere several years before, and a rusty lard-can with a hole punched in the bottom was wired to the water pipe on top of the engine in its place. The lard-can failed to fill the need for a radiator, but it was much better than nothing. When Jeeter got ready to go somewhere, he filled the lard pail to overflowing, jumped in, and drove until the water splashed out and the engine locked up with heat. He would get out then and look for a creek so he could fill the pail again. The whole car was like that. Chickens had roasted on it, when there were chickens at the Lesters' to roost, and it was speckled like a guinea-hen. Now that there were no chickens on the place, no one had ever taken the trouble to wash it off. Jeeter had never thought of doing such a thing, and neither had any of the others. Ellie May had dragged herself from one end of the yard to the opposite side. She was now within reach of Lov where she sat by his sack of turnips. She was bolder, too, than she had ever been before, and she had Lov looking at her and undisturbed by the sight of her harelip. Ellie May's upper lip had an opening a quarter of an inch wide that divided one side of her mouth into unequal parts; the split came to an abrupt end almost under her left nostril. The upper gum was low, and because her gums were always fiery red, the opening in her lip made her look as if her mouth were bleeding profusely. Jeeter had been saying for fifteen years that he was going to have Ellie May's lip sewed together, but he had not yet got around to doing it. Dude picked up a piece of rotted weatherboard that had been knocked from the house and threw it at his father. He did not take his gaze from Ellie May and Lov, however. Their actions, and Ellie May's behavior, held him spellbound. "What you want now, Dude?" Jeeter said. "What's the matter with you--chunking weatherboarding at me like that?" "Ellie May's horsing," Dude said. Jeeter glanced across the yard where Lov and Ellie May were sitting close together. The trunk of a chinaberry tree partly obscured his view of all that was taking place, but he could see that she was sitting on Lov's outstretched legs, astride his knees, and that he was offering her a turnip from the sack beside him. "Ellie May's horsing, ain't she, Pa?" Dude said. "I reckon I done the wrong thing by marrying Pearl to Lov," Jeeter said. "Pearl just ain't made up to be Lov's woman. She don't take no interest in Lov's wants, and she don't give a cuss what nobody thinks about it. She ain't the kind of gal to be a wife to Lov. She's queer. I reckon somehow she Wants to be going to Augusta, like the other gals done. None of them ever was satisfied staying here. They ain't like me, because I think more of the land than I do about staying in a durn cotton mill. You can't smell no sedge fire up there, and when it comes time to break the land for planting, you feel sick inside but you don't know what's ailing you. People has told me about that spring sickness in the mills, I don't know how many times. But when a man stays on the land, he don't get to feeling like that this time of year, because he's right here to smell the smoke of burning broom-sedge and to feel the wind fresh off the plowed fields going down inside of his body. So instead of feeling sick and not knowing what's wrong down in his body, as it happens in the durn mills, out here on the land a man feels better than he ever did. The spring-time ain't going to let you fool it by hiding away inside a durn cotton mill. It knows you got to stay on the land to feel good. That's because humans made the mills. God made the land, but you don't see Him building durn cotton mills. That's how I know better than to go up there like the rest of them. I stay where God made a place for me." "Ellie May's acting like she was Lov's woman," Dude said. Ada shifted the weight of her body from one foot to the other. She was standing in the same place on the porch that she had been when Lov first came into the yard. She had been watching Lov and Ellie May for a long time without looking anywhere else. "Maybe God intended for it to be such," Jeeter said. "Maybe He knows more about it than us mortals do. God is a wise old somebody. You can't fool Him! He takes care of little details us humans never stop to think about. That's why I ain't leaving the land and going to Augusta to live in a durn cotton mill. He put me here, and He ain't never told me to get off and go up there. That's why I'm staying on the land. If I was to haul off and go to the mills, it might be hell to pay, coming and going. God might get mad because I done it and strike me dead. Or on the other hand, He might let me stay there until my natural death, but hound me all the time with little devilish things. That's the way He makes His punishment sometimes. He just lets us stay on, slow-like, and hound-. lag us very step, until we wish we was a long time dead and in the ground. That's why I ain't going to the mills with a big rush like all them other folks around Fuller did. They got up there and all of them has a mighty pain inside f or the land, but they can't come back. They got to stay now. That's what God's done to them for leaving the land. He's goin' to hound them every step they take until they die." "Look at that horsing Ellie Mae's doing!" Dude said. "That's horsing from way back yonder!" "By God and by Jesus, Lov," Jeeter shouted across the yard. "What about them there turnips? Has they got them damn-blasted green-gutted worms in them like mine had? I been wanting some goad eating turnips since way back last spring. If Captain John hadn't sold off all his mules and shut off letting me get guano on his credit, I could have raised me a whopping big mess of turnips this year. But when he sold the mules and moved to Augusta, he said he wasn't going to ruin himself by letting us tenants break him buying guano on his credit in Fuller. He said there wasn't no sense in trying to run a farm no more--fifty plows or one plow. He said he could make more money out of farming by not running plows. And that's why we ain't got no snuff and rations no more. Ada says she's just bound to have a little snuff now and then, because it sort of staves off hunger, and it does. Every time I sell a load of wood I get about a dozen jars of snuff, even if I ain't got the money to buy meal and meat, because snuff is something a man is just bound to have. When I has a sharp pain in the belly, I can take a little snuff and not feel hungry the rest of the day. Snuff is a powerful help to keep a man living. "But I couldn't raise no turnips this year. I didn't have no mule, and I didn't have no guano. Oh, I had a few measly little rows out there in the field, but a man can't run no farm unless he's got a mule to plow it with. A hoe ain't no good except to chop cotton with, and corn. Ain't no sense in trying to grow turnips with a hoe. I reckon that's why them damn-blasted green-gutted worms got in them turnips. I didn't have no mule to cultivate them with. That's why they was all wormy. "Have you been paying attention to what I was saying, Lov? You ain't never answered me about them turnips yet. I got a powerful gnawing in my belly for turnips. I reckon I like winter turnips just about as bad as a nigger likes watermelons. I can't see no difference between the two ways. Turnips is about the best eating! know about." Lov did not look up. He was saying something to Ellie May, and listening to what she was saying. Lov had always told Jeeter that he would never have anything to do with Ellie May because she had a harelip. At the time he had made a bargain with Jeeter about Pearl, he said he might consider taking Ellie May if Jeeter would take her to Augusta and get a doctor to sew up her mouth. Jeeter had thought the matter over thoroughly, and decided that it would be best to let Lov take Pearl, because the cost of sewing up the harelip would probably amount to more than he was getting out of the arrangement. Letting Lov take Pearl was then all clear profit to Jeeter, Lov had given him some quilts and nearly a gallon of cylinder oil, besides giving him all of a week's pay, which was seven dollars. The money was what Jeeter wanted more than anything else, but the other things were badly needed, too. Jeeter had been intending to take Ellie May to a doctor ever since she was three or four years old, so that when a man came to marry her there would be no drawbacks. But with first one thing and then another turning up every now and then, Jeeter had never been able to get around to it. Some day he would take her, though; he told himself that, every time he had occasion to think about it. At the time Lov had married Pearl, he said he liked Ellie May more than he did her, but that he did not want to have a wife with a harelip. He knew the Negroes would laugh at him. That was the summer before; several weeks before he had begun to like Pearl so much that he was doing everything he could think of to make her stop sleeping on a pallet on the floor. Pearl's long yellow curls hanging down her back, and her pale blue eyes, turned Lov's head. He thought there was not a more beautiful girl anywhere in the world. And for that matter, no man who had ever had the opportunity of seeing Pearl had ever gone away without thinking the same thing. It would have been impossible for her to dress herself, or even to disfigure herself, in a way that would make her plain or ordinary-looking. She became more beautiful day by day. But Lov's wishes were unheeded. Pearl, if it was possible, was more determined than ever by that time to keep away from him. And now that Ellie May had dragged herself all the way across the yard; and was now sitting on his legs, Lov was thinking only of Ellie May. Aside from her harelip, Ellie May was just as desirable as the next girl a man would find in the sand hill country surrounding the town of Fuller. Lov was fully aware of that. He had tried them all, white girls and black. "Lov ain't thinking about no turnips," Dude said, in reply to his father. "Lov's wanting to hang up with Ellie May. He don't care nothing about the way her face looks now--he ain't aiming to kiss her. Ain't nobody going to kiss her, but that ain't saying nobody wouldn't fool with her. I heard niggers talking about it not long ago down the road at the old sawmill. They said she could get all the men she wanted, if she would keep her face hid." "Quit chunking that there ball against the old house," Jeeter said angrily. "You'll have the wall worn clear in two, if you don't stop doing that all the time. The old house ain't going to stand up much longer, noway. The way you chunk that ball, it's going to pitch over and fall on the ground some of these days. I declare, I wish you had more sense than you got" The old grandmother came hobbling out of the field with the sack of dead twigs on her back. She shuffled her feet through the deep sand of the tobacco road, and scuffed them over the hard sand of the yard, looking neither to the right nor to the left. At the bottom of the front steps she dropped the load from her shoulder and sat down to rest a while before going to the kitchen. Her groans were louder than usual, as she began rubbing her sides. Sitting on the bottom step with her feet in the sand and her chest almost touching her sharp knees, she looked more than ever like a loosely tied bag of soiled black rags. She was unmindful of the people around her, and no one was more than passingly aware that she had been anywhere or had returned. If she had gone to the thicket and had not returned, no one would have known for several days that she was dead. Jeeter watched Lov from the corners of his eyes while he tried to make another patch stick to the cracked rubber inner tube. He had noticed that Lov was several yards from the sack of turnips, and he waited patiently while the distance grew more and more each minute. Lov had forgotten how important the safety of the turnips was. So long as Ellie May continued to tousle his hair with her hands he would forget that he had turnips. She made him forget everything. "What you reckon they're going to do next?" Dude said. "Maybe Lov's going to take her down to the coal chute and keep her there all day." Ada, who had been standing on the porch all that time as motionless as one of the uprights, suddenly pulled her dress tighter over her chest. The cool February wind was barely to be felt out in the sun, but on the porch and in the shade it went straight to the bones. Ada had been ill with pellagra for several years, and she had said she was always cold except in midsummer. "Lov's going to big her," Dude said. "He's getting ready to do it right now, too. Look at him crawl around--he acts like an old stud-horse. He ain't never let her get that close before. He said he wouldn't never get close enough to Ellie May to touch her with a stick, because he don't like the looks of her mouth. But he ain't paying no mind to it now, is he? I bet he don't even know she's got a slit-lip on her. If he does know it, he don't give a good goddam now." Several Negroes were coming up the road, walking towards Fuller. They were several hundred feet away when they first noticed the Lester's and Lov in the yard, but it was not until they were almost in front of the house that they noticed what Lov and Ellie May were doing in the farther side near a chinaberry tree. They stopped laughing and talking, and slowed down until they were almost standing still. Dude hollered at them, calling their names; but none of them spoke. They stopped and watched. "Howdy, Captain Lov," one of them said. Lov did not hear. The Lester's paid no more attention to the Negroes. Negroes passing the house were in the habit of looking at the Lester's, but very few of them ever had anything to say. Among themselves they talked about the Lester's, and laughed about them; they spoke to other white people, stopping at their houses to talk. Lov was one of the white persons with whom they liked to talk. Jeeter screwed the pump hose into the inner-tube valve and tried to work some air inside. The pump was rusty, the stem was bent, and the hose was cracked at the base so badly that air escaped before it ever had a chance to reach the valve. It would take Jeeter a week to pump thirty pounds of air into the tire at that rate. He could have put more air into the tires if he had attempted to blow them up with his mouth. "It looks like I ain't going to get started to Augusta with a load of wood before next week," he said. "I wish I had a mule. I could haul a load there near about every day if I had one. The last time I drove this automobile to Augusta every one of the durn tires went flat before I could get there and back. I reckon about the best thing to do is to fill them all full of hulls and ride that way. That's what a man told me to do, and I reckon he was just about right. These old inner-tubes and tires ain't much good no longer." The three Negroes went a few steps farther down the road and stopped again. They stayed within sight of the yard, waiting to see what Lov was doing. After he had not answered them the first time they spoke, they knew he did not want them to bother him again. Dude had thrown the baseball aside and had walked closer to Ellie May and Lov. He sat down on the ground close to them, and waited to see what they were going to do next. Lov had stopped eating turnips, and Ellie May had eaten only a part of one. "Them niggers don't believe Lov's going to," Dude said. "They said down at the old sawmill that wouldn't nobody fool with Ellie May, unless it was in the night time. I reckon Lov would say so himself, afterwards."
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