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Chapter Seventeen
The next automobile trip Jeeter had planned after the return from Augusta was a journey over into Burke County to see Tom. From the things Jeeter had heard repeated by various men who had been in that section of the country, he knew Tom was a successful cross-tie contractor. Those men who had had business that took them close to the cross-tie camp came back to Fuller and told Jeeter that Tom was making more money than anybody else they knew. Jeeter was almost as proud of Tom as he was of Dude. Very little else was known about Tom Lester. That was one of the reasons why Jeeter wanted to go over there. He wanted to find out how much money Tom was making, first of all, and then he wanted to ask Tom to give him a little money every week. Bessie and Dude were not thinking of staying at home either while the new car was in running order. The trip to Augusta had not caused them to lose any of their enthusiasm for automobile travel any more than it had Jeeter. Springing the front axle, cracking the windshield, scarring the paint on the body, tearing holes in the upholstery, and parting with the spare tire and extra wheel were considered nothing more than the ordinary hazards of driving a car. The mashed front fender and broken rear spring had softened everybody's concern for the automobile. After their first accident, when Dude ran into the back end of the two-horse wagon near McCoy and killed the colored man, anything else that happened to the car would not matter so very much, anyway. Jeeter the next morning casually mentioned the fact that he would like very much to ride over to Burke County and see Tom. Dude was filling the radiator at the time, and he stopped to hear what Bessie was going to say. She said nothing, and Dude picked up the bucket again and filled the radiator to overflowing. Jeeter walked away, waiting for Bessie to make up her mind. He went toward the rear of the house as if he were going to get out of sight until she had time to make up her mind definitely whether she would go or not. Jeeter did not go so far away that he could not keep his eye on the car. Bessie was liable to do most anything when his back was turned, and he did not want them to slip off and leave him. "Jump in and let's go in a hurry, Dude," Bessie whispered excitedly, pushing him to the car. "Hurry, before your Pa sees us." Jeeter was standing by the well, looking out across the broom-sedge, and he did not know they were getting ready to leave him. When he heard Dude start the motor, he dashed for the automobile. By that time, Dude had got the gears engaged, and the car shot over the yard to the tobacco road. He had swung the front wheels sharply, making a circle around the chinaberry trees, and he bumped over a ditch without slackening speed. They were away in a few short seconds, long before Jeeter could run to the road. He stood looking after them. "Well, I never saw the likes of that," he said. "I don't know why they want to run off and leave me. I always treated Bessie fair and square. When a man gets old, folks seem to think that he don't care about riding around, and they go off and make him stay at home." He stood watching them until the car was out of sight. Ada and Ellie May stood on the porch looking at the disappearing car. They had come to the door the moment they heard the car start. Both of them wanted to go somewhere, too; they had not been allowed inside the new car since it was bought. Jeeter took a seat on the porch and sat down to wait for them to return. He was glum and silent the rest of the morning. When Ada told him to come into the kitchen at dinner time and eat some cheese and crackers, Jeeter did not move from his chair. Ada went back into the house without urging him to eat. There was so little food, she was glad he was not coming. The cheese and crackers that had been brought back from Augusta provided barely enough of a meal for one or two persons; and as he would not leave the porch, there would be more for her and Ellie May. It did not matter about the grandmother, because she was going to be given the cheese rinds and cracker crumbs that were left when they had finished. Jeeter always ate so fast that there was never time for anybody else to get his full share at any meal Jeeter ate as if it were the last time he would ever taste food again. Ada and Ellie May sat down to eat their meal, leaving Jeeter alone. Late that afternoon when Bessie and Dude returned home, Jeeter was still waiting for them on the porch. He got up as they approached, and followed the car to its place beside the chimney. He was as angry as ever, but he had forgotten about it momentarily. He was anxious to know if they had found Tom. "Did you see Tom?" he asked Bessie. "What was he doing? Did he send me some money?" Ada came to listen. The grandmother took her accustomed position behind a chinaberry tree, looking and listening. Ellie May came closer. "Tom ain't at all like he used to be when I knowed him better," Bessie said, shaking her head. "I don't know what's come over Tom." "Why?" Jeeter asked. "What did he do--what did he lay? Where's the money he sent me?" "Tom didn't send no money. He don't appear to be aiming to help you none. He's a wicked man, Tom is." "You ought to have taken me along, Bessie," Jeeter said. "I know Tom better than I do my own self. He was my special boy all along. Me and Tom got along all right together. The other children was always fighting with me, looks like now. But Torn never did. He was a fine boy when he was growing up." Bessie listened to Jeeter talk, but she did not want to stop and argue about going off and leaving him at home. It was all over now. The trip was finished, and they were back. "Why didn't you let me go along and see Tom?" she said. "Tom works about a hundred ox," Dude said. He was very much impressed by the large number of oxen his brother worked at the cross-tie camp. "I didn't know there was that many ox in the whole country." "When did Tom say he was coming over here to see me?" Jeeter asked. "Tom said he wasn't never coming over here again," Dude said. "He told me to tell you he was going to stay where he was at." "That sure don't sound like Tom talking," Jeeter said, shaking his head "Maybe he has to work so hard all the time that he can't get off." "Ain't that," Bessie said "Tom said just what Dude told you. Tom said he ain't never coming over here again. He don't want to." "That don't sound like Tom talking Me and Tom used to get along first-rate concerning everything. Me and him never had no difficulties like I was always having with my other children. They used to throw rocks at me and hit me over the head with sticks, but Tom never did. Tom was always a first-rate boy when I knowed him. Ain't no reason why he ought to change now, and be just like all the rest of them." "I told him how bad off you was, and his Ma, too," Bessie said. "I told him you didn't have no meal or meat in the house half the time, and that you can't farm and raise a crop no more, and Tom says for you and Ada to go to the county poor-farm and stay." "You made a mistake by telling Tom I wasn't going to farm no more. I'm going to raise me a big crop of cotton this year, if I can get hold of some seed-cotton and guano. The rest of what you told him is true and accurate, however. We is hungry pretty much of the time. That ain't no lie." "Well, that's what he said, anyway. He told me to tell you and Ada to go to the county poor-farm and stay." "That sure don't sound like Tom talking. Tom ain't never said nothing like that to me before. I can't see why he wants me and his Ma to go and live at the poor-farm. Looks like he would send me some money instead. I'm his daddy." "I don't reckon that makes no difference to Tom now," she said. "He's looking after his own self." "I wish I had my young age back again. I wouldn't beg of no man, not even my own son. But Tom ain't like he used to be. Looks like he would send me and his old Ma a little bit of money." "Tom said to tell you to go to hell, too," Dude told Jeeter. Bessie jumped forward, clutching Dude by the neck, and shook him until it looked as if his head would twist off and fall on the ground. She continued to shake him until he succeeded in escaping from her grasp. "You shouldn't have told Jeeter that," she shouted at Dude. "That's a wicked thing to say. I don't know nothing more sinful. The devil is trying to take you away from me so I can't make a preacher out of you." "Christ Almighty!" he shouted at her. "You come near killing me! I didn't say that--Tom said it. I was just telling him what Tom said. I didn't say it! You ought to keep off me. I didn't do nothing to you." "Praise the Lord," Bessie said. "You ain't never going to make a preacher if you talk like that. I thought you said you was going to stop your cussing. Why don't you quit it?" "I ain't going to say that no more," Dude pleaded. He remembered that the automobile belonged to her. "I wouldn't have said it that time if you hadn't hurt my neck shaking me so hard." Jeeter walked around the automobile, trying to recover from the shock of hearing what they told him Tom had said. He could not believe that Tom had developed into a man who would tell his father to go to hell. He knew Tom must have changed a great deal since he knew him. He stopped at the rear of the automobile and was looking at the rack where the spare tire and extra wheel had been, when he saw the great dent in the body. He stared at it until Dude and Bessie stopped talking. "You won't be fit to preach a sermon next Sunday if you cuss like that," she was saying. "Good folks don't want to have God send them sermons by cussing preachers." "I ain't going to say it no more. I ain't never going to cuss no more." Jeeter motioned to them to come to the back of the car. He pointed to the dent in the body. The centre of it had been knocked in about ten or twelve inches, dividing the body into two almost equal halves. "What done that?" he a............
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