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Chapter Nine
The sun had been up only half an hour when Bessie reached the Lester house on the morning after her sudden departure. She had said then that she was going home to ask God to let her marry Dude. Jeeter had not expected her to come back for several days. No one was in sight as she crossed the yard and ran through the front door calling Dude. "Dude--you Dude! Where is you, Dude?" she called. Jeeter was just getting out of bed when he first heard her; she ran into the bedroom while he sat on a chair pulling on his shoes. "What you want with Dude, Bessie?" he asked sleepily. "What do you want Dude for?" Bessie ran around the room looking into the beds. There were three beds in which all the Lester's slept. Ada and Jeeter used one of them, Ellie May and the grandmother another, and Dude slept alone. Ellie May sat up in bed, awakened by the disturbance, and rubbed her eyes. Bessie jerked back the quilts on Dude's bed, and ran into the next room where the roof had fallen in. It was the other bedroom, the room where most of the children had formerly slept, and it had been deserted because one section of the roof had rotted away. It was filled with plunder. Bessie came back and looked under Ada's bed. "What did you want with Dude this time of day, Bessie?" Jeeter asked. She still did not stop to answer Jeeter's questions. She ran through the kitchen calling Dude at the top of her voice. As soon as he could lace his shoes and put on his jumper, Jeeter followed her out into the backyard. His drooping black felt hat was on his head, because his hat was the first thing he put on in the morning and the last he took off at night. Dude was drawing a bucket of water at the well, and Bessie reached him before he could tip the bucket and get a drink. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his face excitedly. Dude fought back at first, but as soon as he saw it was Bessie he smiled at her and put his arms around her waist. Jeeter went closer and watched them. Presently Bessie took a side-comb from her head and began combing Dude's stiff black hair and smoothing it down with the palms of her hands. Dude's hair was coarse and bristly, and it stood straight on its ends no matter how much it was combed and brushed. Sometimes he could manage to make it lie down for a few minutes by sousing his head in a pan of water and then combing it hurriedly; but as soon as the water began to dry, the hair would stand straight up again as if it were attached to springs. Dude's hair was as wiry as hog-bristles. "I never seen a woman preacher carry-on over a young sapling like that before," Jeeter said. "What you want to do that to Dude for, Bessie? You and him is hugging and rubbing of the other just like you was yesterday on the front porch. Bessie smiled at Dude and Jeeter. She leaned against the well-stand and tucked up her hair. She had not waited that morning to pin it up. "Me and Dude is going to get married," she said. "The Lord told me to do it. I asked Him about it, and He said, 'Sister Bessie, Dude Lester is the man I want you to mate. Get up early in the morning and go up to the Lester place and marry Dude the first thing.' That's what He said to me last night, the very words I heard with my own ears while I was praying about it in bed. So when the sun came up, I got out of bed and ran up here as fast as I could, because the Lord don't like to be kept waiting for His plans to be carried out. He wants me to marry Dude right now." Dude looked around nervously as if he was thinking of trying to run off to the woods and hide. He had forgotten how anxious he had been to go home with Bessie the evening before when she first mentioned marriage. "You hear that, Dude?" Jeeter said. "What you think about doing it with 'Sister Bessie?" "Shucks," he said. "I couldn't do that." "Why can't you do that?" Jeeter demanded. "What's ailing you? Ain't you man enough yet?" "Maybe I is, and maybe I ain't. I'd be scared to do that with her." "Why Dude," his father said, "that ain't nothing to be afraid about. Bessie ain't going to hurt you. She knows how to treat you. Sister Bessie, there, has been married before. She's a widow-woman now. She knows all about how to treat men." "I wouldn't hurt you none, Dude," she said, putting her arm around his neck and drawing his arms tighter around her waist. "There ain't nothing to be scared of. I'm just like your sister, Ellie May, and your Ma. Women don't scare their menfolk's none. You'll like being married to me, because I know how to treat men fine." Ada elbowed her way past Jeeter and Dude. She had not waited to plait her hair when she heard what Bessie wanted. She stood beside Dude and Bessie, with her hair divided over the front of her shoulders, plaiting one side and tying a string around the end, and then beginning on the other braid. She was as excited as Bessie was. "Bessie," she said, "you'll have to make Dude wash his feet every once in a while, because if you don't he'll dirty-up your quilts. Sometimes he don't wash himself all winter long, and the quilts get that dirty you don't know how to go about the cleaning of them. Dude is just careless like his Paw. I had the hardest time learning him to wear his socks in the bed, because it was the only way I could keep the quilts clean. He would never wash himself. I reckon Dude is just going on the same way his Pa done, so maybe you had better make Dude wear his socks, too." Ellie May had come out of the house and was standing behind the chinaberry tree in order to hear and see what was taking place beside the well-stand. The grandmother was in the yard too; she was peering from behind the corner of the house lest any one should see her and make her go away. "Maybe you and Dude will help me get a stylish dress," Ada suggested shyly. "You and him know how bad I want a dress of the right length to die in. I've long ago give up waiting for Jeeter to get me one. He ain't going to do it in time." All of them stood by the well looking at each other. When Jeeter caught Dude's eye, Dude hung his head and looked at the ground. He did not know what to think about it. He wanted to get married, but he was afraid of Bessie. She was nearly twenty-five years older than he was. "Do you know what I'm going to do, Jeeter?" Bessie asked. "What?" Jeeter said. "I'm going to buy me a new automobile!" "A new automobile?" "A brand-new one. I'm going to Fuller right now and get it." "A brand-new one?" Jeeter said unbelievingly. "A sure-enough brand-new automobile?" Dude's mouth dropped open, and his eyes glistened. "What you going to buy it with, Bessie?" Jeeter asked. "Is you got money?" "I've got eight hundred dollars to pay for it with. My former husband left me that money when he died. He had it in insurance, and when he died I got it and put it in the bank in Augusta. I aimed to use it in carrying on the prayer and preaching my former husband used to like so much. I always did want a brand-new automobile." "When you going to buy a new automobile?" Jeeter asked. "Right now--to-day. I'm going over to Fuller and get it right now. Me and Dude's going to use it to travel all over the country preaching and praying." "Can I drive it?" Dude asked. "That's what I'm buying it for, Dude. I'm getting it for you to drive us around in when we take a notion to go somewheres." "When is you and Dude going to do all this riding around and praying and preaching?" Jeeter said. "Is you going to get married before or after?" "Right away,............
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