Chapter 98 Summary
Before leaving for New Orleans, Tom Lea and Chicken George have to pick up a custom-made wagon for the trip. Tom Lea and the craftsman argue about the price, and then Tom and George drive the beautiful new buggy home, complete with its twelve crates for the chickens. On the ride home with the wagon, Chicken George contemplates his plan to have his firstborn son, Virgil, become Mingo’s replacement after Mingo’s health deteriorates to a certain point. George worries about the chance that Tom will try to bring in an outsider. George also wonders how he would ever convince his family, seeing how much all of them hate George’s absence so much.
Unfortunately, while Tom Lea and Chicken George are gone to get the new wagon, Mingo has a severe stroke and drags himself all the way from the gamecock area halfway to slave row to beg for help with the chickens. No one knows how to help Mingo or how to summon a doctor, so they just drag the old man back to Uncle Pompey’s bed. Kizzy and Miss Malizy run to tell Mrs. Lea and instruct little Virgil on how to feed the chickens; however, Mingo dies alone in the meantime. The women are the ones who dig the hole and bury Mingo (with Matilda reading some appropriate scripture passages).
The duo gets back to the Lea plantation, and they can tell something is dreadfully wrong. It’s Tom Lea’s wife who tells the two of them that Mingo has died. Chicken George flies into fits of grief for the man who was the closest thing he would ever have to a real father, the man who taught Chicken George everything he knows about chickens. Chicken George seeks to find comfort in his chickens, so he tries to make it back to them while avoiding the trail in the dust where Mingo dragged himself looking for help with the very same birds. Chicken George ambles down to the gamecock area to grieve for Mingo alone.
Almost as bad as Mingo’s death is the fact that Tom Lea has gotten discouraged about the cockfights in New Orleans. Tom Lea admits that everything has to be exactly right for them to go. Neither Tom nor George could stay behind to mind the other chickens, and no one else really knows how. Tom Lea cancels the famed trip to Louisiana. Chicken George is heartbroken, but says nothing but a simple “Yassuh.”