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Chapter Fourteen
Dude and Sister Bessie came back at sunset. Dude was blowing the horn a mile away, when Jeeter first heard it, and he and Ada ran out to the road to watch them come. The horn made a pretty sound, Jeeter thought, and he liked the way Dude blew it. He was pressing the horn button and taking his finger off every few seconds, like the firemen who blew the engine whistles when they were leaving the coal chute. "That's Dude blowing the horn," Jeeter said. "Don't he blow it pretty, though? He always liked to blow the horn near about as much as he liked to drive an automobile. He used to cuss a lot because the horn on my car wouldn't make the least bit of a sound. The wires got pulled loose and I never had time to tie them up again." Ada stood in the road watching the shiny new car come nearer and nearer. It looked like a big black chariot, she said, running away from a cyclone. The dust blown up behind did look like the approach of a cyclone. "Ain't that the prettiest sight to see?" she said. "That's Dude driving it, and blowing the horn, too," he said. "It makes a pretty sound when it blows, don't it, Ada?" Jeeter was proud of his son. "I wish all my children was here to see it," Ada said. "Lizzie Belle used to like to look at automobiles, and ride in them, too, more than anybody I ever saw. Maybe she's got herself one now. I wish I knowed." Sister Bessie and Dude drove up slowly, and turned into the yard. Jeeter and Ada ran along beside the car until it stopped beside the chimney of the house. Ellie May saw everything from around the corner of the house. "How far a piece did you go riding?" Jeeter asked Bessie as she opened the door and stepped out on the ground. "You been gone clear the whole afternoon. Did you go to Augusta?" Bessie caught up the bottom of her skirt and began wiping off the dust. Ada and Ellie May were already at work on the other side of the car. The grandmother was thirty feet away, standing behind a chinaberry tree and looking around the trunk at the automobile. Dude sat un der the steering-wheel blowing the horn. "We went and we went till we went clear to McCoy," she said. "We just kept on going till we got there." "That's about thirty miles, ain't it?" Jeeter -asked excitedly. "Did you go clear that far and back?" "That's what we did," Dude said. "I ain't never been that far away from here before. It's a pretty country down that way, too." "Why didn't you go to Augusta?" Jeeter asked. "You went down to the crossroads and I thought sure you was going to Augusta." "We didn't go that way," Dude said, "we went the other way--toward McCoy. And we went clear to McCoy, too." Jeeter walked to the front of the car and looked at it. Dude climbed out and stopped blowing the horn for a while. "Praise the Lord," Jeeter said, "what went and done that?" He pointed to the right front fender and headlight. Everybody stopped dusting and gathered around the radiator. The fender was twisted and crumpled until it looked as if somebody had taken a sledge-hammer and tried to see how completely he could maul it. The right headlight had been knocked off. Only a piece of twisted iron and a small strand of insulated wire remained where it had been. The fender had been mashed back against the hood. "It was a wagon that done that," Dude said. "We was coming back from McCoy, and I was looking out at a big turpentine still, and then the first thing I knowed we was smashed smack into the back of a two-horse wagon." Bessie looked at the mashed fender and missing headlight, but she said nothing. She could hardly blame it on the devil this time, as she had been riding in the car herself when the accident occurred, but it seemed to her that God ought to have taken better care of it, especially after she had stopped and prayed about it when she bought the automobile that morning in Fuller. "It don't hurt the running of it none, though, does it?" Jeeter asked. "It runs like it was brand new yet," Dude said. "And the horn wasn't hurt none at all. It blows just as pretty as it did this morning." The fender had been crumpled beyond repair. It was lying against the hood of the car and, except for the jagged edges, it appeared as if it had been removed. Apparently nothing else, with the exception of the headlight, had been damaged; there were no dents in the body, and the wheels and axle seemed to stand straight and in line. The broken spring made the left rear end sag, however. "That don't hurt it none," Jeeter said. "Don't pay no attention to it, Bessie. Just leave it be, and you'll never know it was any different than it was when you got it brand new." "That's right," she said. "I ain't letting it worry me none, because it wasn't Dude's fault. He was looking at the big turpentine still alongside the road, and I was too, when the wagon got in our way. The nigger driving it ought to have had enough sense to get out of our way when he heard us coming." "Wasn't you blowing the horn then, Dude?" Jeeter said. "Not right then I wasn't, because I was looking at the big still. I never saw one that big nowhere before. It was almost as big as a corn-liquor still, only it wasn't as shiny-looking." "It's a shame to get the new car smashed up so soon already, though," Bessie said, going back and wiping off the dust. "It was brand new only a short time before noon, and now it's only sun-down." "It was that nigger," Dude said. "If he hadn't been asleep on the wagon it wouldn't have happened at all. He was plumb asleep till it woke him up and threw him out in the ditch." "He didn't get hurt much, did he?" Jeeter asked. "I don't know about that," Dude said. "When we drove off again, he was still lying in the ditch. The wagon turned over on him and mashed him. His eyes was wide open all the time, but I couldn't make him say nothing. He looked like he was dead." -"Niggers will get killed. Looks like there ain't no way to stop it." The sun had been down nearly a half an hour and the chill dampness of an early spring night settled over the ground. The grandmother had already gone into the house and got into bed. Ada went up on the porch, hugging her arms across her chest to keep warm, and Bessie started inside, too. Dude and Jeeter stood around the car until it was so dark they could not see it any longer, and then they too went inside. The glare of woods-fire soon began to light the sky on the horizons, and the smell of pine smoke filled the damp evening air. Fires were burning in all directions; some of them had been burning a week or longer, while others had been burning only since that afternoon. In the springy the farmers burned over all of their land. They said the fire would kill the boll-weevils. That was the reason they gave for burning the woods and fields, whenever anybody asked why they did not stop burning up young pine seedlings and standing timber. But the real reason was because everybody had always burned the woods and fields each spring, and they saw no cause for abandoning life-long habits. Burning fields and woods seemed to them to be as necessary as drilling guano in the cotton fields to make the plants yield a large crop. If the wood that was burned had been sawn into lumber or cut into firewood, instead of burning to ashes on the ground, there would have been something for them to sell. Boll weevils were never killed in any great numbers by the fire; the cotton plants had to be sprayed with poison in the summer, anyway. But everybody had always burned over the land each spring, and they continued if only for the reason that their fathers had done it. Jeeter always burned over his land, even though there was no reason in the world why he should do it; he never raised crops any more. This was why the land was bare of everything except broom-sedge and blackjack; the sedge grew anew each year, and the hottest fire could not hurt those tough scrub oaks. Inside the house the women gathered in the bedroom in the darkness and waited for Jeeter and Dude. The grandmother was already in bed, covered with her ragged quilts. Ellie May had gone out into the broom-sedge and had not yet returned. Bessie and Ada sat on the beds waiting. The three beds had always held all the Lester's, even when there were sometimes as many as eight or nine of them there. Occasionally, some had slept on pallets on the floor in summer, but in winter it was much warmer for every one in the beds. Now that all of the chi............
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