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Chapter Eight
There was nothing Jeeter could find to do in the sand hills that would pay him even a few cents a day for his labor. There were no farmers within twenty miles who hired help, because practically all of them were in Jeeter's condition, some of them in an even worse one; nor were there any lumber mills or turpentine stills anywhere near the tobacco road that would employ him. The only job in the surrounding country was the one at the coal chute, and Lov had held it since the Augusta and Georgia Southern Railroad was first built. Even if Jeeter could have taken the job away from Lov, the work would have been too hard for him to do. Filling the big iron scoops all day long and rolling them to the edge of the structure where they were dumped into the engine tenders, required a strong back and stronger arms. Lov could do the work, because he had become accustomed to doing it. For Jeeter to attempt such hard labor in the weakened condition he was in would have been foolish even if the railroad would have hired him. The hope that he would find Tom was Jeeter's sustaining strength. Behind his hopeful belief that Tom would give him some money lay his fear of dying without a suit of clothes to be buried in. He had developed a growing horror of dying in overalls. Ada, too, talked a lot about getting clothes to die in. She wanted a silk dress, and it mattered little to her whether the color was red or black, so long as it was stylish in length. Ada had a dress she had been keeping several years to die in, but she was constantly worried for fear that the dress might not be of the correct length. One year it was stylish to have dresses one length, and the next year they were mysteriously lengthened or shortened several inches. It had been impossible for her to keep up with the changes; consequently, even though she had a dress put away, she still tried to make Jeeter promise to buy her a new one that would be in style and in keeping with the times when she should die. Ada believed she would die almost any day. She was usually surprised to wake up in the morning and discover that she was still alive. The pellagra that was slowly squeezing the life from her emaciated body was a lingering death. The old grandmother had pellagra, too, but somehow she would not die. Her frail body struggled day after day with the disease; but except for the slow withering of her skin and flesh no one was able to say when she would die. She weighed only seventy-two pounds now; once she had been a large woman, and she had weighed two hundred pounds twenty years before. Jeeter was angry with her because she persisted in living, and he would not let her have any food when he could keep her from eating. However, she had learned how to find her own means of sustenance, such as it was. How she did it, no one knew. Sometimes she would boil leaves and roots, at other times she would eat wild grass and flowers in the fields. Jeeter had already given implicit instructions regarding his own burial. He had impressed upon both Ada and Lov the importance and necessity of carrying out his plans. He expected to outlive Ada; but in case he should be killed in his automobile, he had made her promise to buy him a suit of clothes. If that was impossible, she was to go to Fuller and ask some of the merchants to give her an old suit for him. Lov, too, had had to swear that he would see that Jeeter was buried in a suit of clothes instead of in overalls. But there was another thing connected with his death that was of equal importance. Jeeter had a horror of rats. That was strange, because he had lived with them around him all his life, and he knew their ways almost as well as he did those of men. His reason for hating rats was because of an incident that had happened when his father died while Jeeter was a young man. The old Lester had died in the same house Jeeter now occupied, and he was buried on the following day. That night, while Jeeter and the other men were sitting up with the body, some one had suggested that they all go to Fuller and get some Coca-Colas and tobacco. They were to sit up all night, and they had felt the need of something to drink and something to smoke. As all of the men, including Jeeter, had wanted to go to Fuller, they had put the body in the corn-crib and locked the door. The crib was the only place on the farm where anything could be locked up and found intact later. Negroes and white men had a habit of coming by the Lester house during the night and carrying away anything that had been left unprotected. None of the doors of the house had locks on them, but the crib door did have a lock. The men had placed the body inside, locked the door and put the key away, and had driven to Fuller for the Coca-Colas and tobacco. They returned to the house about three or four hours later. As soon as the mules were unhitched from the buggies and tied to the wagon wheels for the rest of the night, the men unlocked the crib door, lifted out the wooden box, and carried it back into the house. The remainder of the night was spent in watching the casket, drinking Coca-Cola's, and smoking and chewing tobacco. The following afternoon at the funeral, just as the casket was about to be lowered into the grave, the top was lifted off in order that the family and friends might take a last look at the deceased. The lid was turned back and just as it was fully open, a large corn-crib rat jumped out and disappeared in the woods. Nobody knew how the rat had got inside until someone found a hole in the bottom of the wooden box where the rat had gnawed through while it was locked in the crib. One by one the people filed past the casket, and each time it became the next person's turn to look at the body, a strange look came over his face. Some of the women giggled, and the men grinned at each other. Jeeter ran to the side of the box and saw what had happened. The rat had eaten away nearly all of the left side of his father's face and neck. Jeeter closed the lid and had the box lowered into the grave immediately. He had never forgotten that day. Now that the time was coming when he would soon die, Jeeter had become more insistent than ever that his body was not to be put into a corn-crib or left where the rats could reach it. Lov had promised faithfully to see that the rats did not get to him before he was buried. "You've got to swear to me you won't let me be left in the box where the rats can get me," Jeeter had said dozens of times. "I declare before the good Lord, Lov, that ain't a fit way to treat the dead. I've regretted my own father's circumstances every day since that happened, and I declare before the Lord, I sure don't want that thing to happen to me when I'm dead and can't do nothing about it." "You don't need to worry none," Lov had said. "I'll dig a hole and put you in it right after you're gone. I won't wait for the next day, even. I'll put you in the ground the same hour you die, almost. I'll take care of your body. Don't you worry none." "Just don't put the coffin in that durn corn-crib, Lov, no matter what else you do. There ain't no rats staying in there now since I ain't had corn in it for nearly five years, but they take trips back here every once in a while from the place they're staying at now just to make sure there. ain't been no corn put in it. Before they left they et up mule collars and everything else they could get hold of, they was that mad at me for not putting corn in there for them.' I used to bust them on the head with sticks, but that didn't stop them from coming back every once in a while. I was in there not so long ago. getting me some corn cobs and one of them bit my leg before I could get out. They have sure got it in good and heavy for me, because I don't put no corn in there for them to eat up." Ada, too, had promised Jeeter to see that his body would not be left exposed to the rats that he hated so much. But Jeeter did not worry her as much as he did Lov, because he believed he would out-live her by several years. Ada herself looked as if she might die before Jeeter did. Her teeth had all dropped out; she had dipped snuff since she was e............
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