'Rosey Dawn' Sample
Chapter One: Coming to America
The red dawn rose swiftly over the brisk open sea, breathing the salty mist into her horizon. The crystal waters sparkled in the sun’s delight as seagulls flew overhead. An ocean liner cut through the deep blue sea on her way to New York City. The S.S. Teutonic was a lovely girl in her day: the ocean flyer. She stretched nearly six hundred feet and topped off at twenty knots. The nine year old consisted of three passenger decks. Her top deck was reserved for the wealthiest passengers, able to accommodate three hundred. The middle deck was for the middle class and the bottom deck was for poor immigrants and lower class. Each of those decks held one hundred ninety and one thousand, respectively. The Teutonic was the first armed merchant cruiser. They were in their fourteenth day of the voyage from Liverpool and America was nigh. The passengers had grown weary of sea travel, longing for the sturdy comfort of land. A young lad looked out from the Promenade deck, hoping to observe a whale, yet finding nothing but endless waters.
“Father, I should like to go down to the third deck and look around.”
“Nonsense. No Prescott would dare mingle with lower breeds. You’d do well to remember that, son.”
“Why do we have to move to America, father?” His daughter questioned him. “All of my friends are in London.”
“It’s just time for a fresh start, Rosey Dawn. It’s 1898. America is the place where everyone will start over and be successful in business.”
“But, we’re already rather wealthy, father. We’re one of the few families on this ship who can afford to stay in first class.”
“I know; but that money came from your grandfather. I need to make my own way, Rosey Dawn, and America is the place.”
She nodded, still longing for her room in London.
Her brother skipped around the deck, anxiously, “Father, are we there yet?”
“Be patient, son. The best things come when we are patient.”
“He’s right, lad.”
An elderly man in his mid-sixties entered the family conversation without invitation. He had a grayish beard and thick sideburns. His hat tilted ever so slightly to the left as did the pipe in his mouth. His smile was as bright as the young boy’s, whose hair he rubbed. He had a kind word for every passenger he encountered.
“Mister, are you the captain?” Young Issachar smiled up at him.
“Aye, my boy; Captain Henry Parsell at your service.”
“Wow! A real captain. Is this your first ship?”
“Oh, no, my boy. I’ve had lots of ocean liners: the Tropic, Gaelic, Oceanic, Adriatic, Coptic, Ionic, Britannic, and this lovely lady. She’s my darling. I call her the ocean flyer. Isn’t she grand?”
“Yes, sir,” he nodded, still grinning.
“I always search throughout the ship for my favorite passenger and I believe I’ve found him. How would you like to be my second in command?”
“Aye, aye, captain!”
“I give all of my seconds these,” he pulled out a silver coin. “Have you ever heard of a two-headed coin?” He gave it to Issachar.
“This one has two ships, father!”
“Remember what your father said about patience, son? Look at that.” He pointed toward the horizon.
“What is that?” Issachar’s eyes brightened.
“They call her the Statue of Liberty. That means we’re almost there.”
“What’s a Statue of Liberty?”
“She’s the prettiest little lady you’ll ever see, present company excluded. She stands high over the Atlantic Coast, waving ships into her harbor. A gift from the French she was, mate.”
“I’m Walter Prescott, Captain Parsell,” he extended his hand and Henry shook it.
“Pleasure to meet you, sir. You have lovely children.”
Captain Parsell made his way around the deck to the other passengers. A young woman holding her belly joined Walter and the kids.
“How are you feeling, Mary?”
“Not well. I hate being at sea.”
“It’ll be over soon. There’s the Statue of Liberty.”
“Thank goodness, Walt.”
Walter Prescott was the eldest son of William and Bess Prescott, formerly Hughes. He had quite a few younger siblings: Henry, George, Leonard, Margaret, and Rosemary, who died in 1884. William had inherited a small fortune from his parents before turning it into a large sum through various business endeavors and real estate. The Hughes family hadn’t had much money, but Bess had loved William as a young child as he had loved her. It took only four years after his daughter’s death until William gave up the ghost. Bess passed away two months prior to their departure to America, prompting Walter to flee the dreadful memories of London.
Walter’s wife, Mary, was the daughter of one of his father’s business partners, Ferdinand Winthrop and his wife, Gwendolyn. Mary originally lived in Canterbury before the family moved to London in her eighth year of life. Mary loved her children dearly. She and Rosemary were especially closely woven souls.
The Prescotts had two children. Issachar was their four year old son, whom his sister and mother referred to as Izzy. He was an eager and rambunctious lad, as most are at that age. His sister was the lovely, high-spirited Rosemary Isabella Prescott. Most called her Rosey, but her father called her Rosey Dawn because the sky was such a crimson red the morning of her birth. She was eleven years old at this point, still in the stage of innocence and youthful ignorance. She made a funny face at her brother, who couldn’t contain his laughter.
“At least in America, we’ll be rid of those Huguenots,” Walt examined the outline of Lady Liberty.
“What’s a Huguenot, father?”
“They’re French protestants, son. They relocated to England long ago.”
“I understand there are some in the American colonies,” Mary informed him.
“I should hope not; and they’re called states now, darling.”
“Father, look at how beautiful the statue is against that red backdrop. God has fashioned it so beautifully to contrast them with one another and magnify the beauty of each.”
“Nonsense! There’s no such thing as God,” Walter snapped.
“How can you say that, father?” Rosemary’s eyes displayed such disappointment.
“Where was God when my sister drowned and washed up on the rocks?”
“It was just her time, Walter,” Mary stroked his shoulder.
“She was seven. It shouldn’t ever be a seven year old’s time.”
“But it was, father,” Rosey smiled. “She’s in a peaceful place now where no one can hurt her.”
“Nonsense. How can you believe such superstition?”
There wasn’t much more talk amongst them as the Teutonic pulled into the harbor. Then, it happened. She collided with another ship, the Berlin. The passengers were terrified that they were going to go down in the New York Harbor.
The captain reassured them, “Relax, everyone. It’s only a minor bump. She barely even scratched her paint job. We’ll ease on in and then everyone can unload. Welcome to America.”
The Prescotts spent the rest of the day in New York before commencing on their journey to Charleston, South Carolina in Walter’s brand new buggy. The three-day ride was a rough one for the little lady and her brood. Rosemary spent the voyage admiring the landscape and natural beauty of her new country. Issachar dozed off with his head on her lap. She loved her brother so very much. It was early in the evening when they rolled into the city.
Charleston, formerly Charles Town, is a large coastal city of South Carolina, located where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers converge. Named for King Charles II of England, it seemed like an excellent place for Walt and his family to settle. Due to a massive earthquake that occurred in August of 1886, the city was partaking in a massive rebuilding. This made it an ideal place for Walt to start his lumber company. They passed by the recently constructed courthouse and post office, as well as the William Enston Home for the elderly. Oh, what I would give to have seen that marvelous colonial town that looked out across the wide open Atlantic. There was no rowdy city noise, at least not until the saloon opened. You could clearly hear the iron shoes of those bay Clydesdales clopping down the main street. As they rode through town, Walter inquired of a certain street where he could meet a Mr. Cartwright, pertaining to the purchase of a house. They were directed to his office and discovered him outside, asleep in his rocking chair. The sound of the horses aroused him to his feet.
“Are you Mr. Cartwright?”
“Yes, sir; Daniel Cartwright.”
“I’m Walter Prescott. I contacted you by letter about purchasing a home here in Charleston.”
“Ah, yes. Hold your horses. Allow me to retrieve my hat, Mr. Prescott.”
Mary moved to the back with her children as Daniel hopped up front.
“If you’d allow me to drive, Mr. Prescott; I’m sure it would make this much easier.”
Walt gave him the reins. A couple of drunken men stumbled out of the saloon and stopped in front of them.
“Move, you loaded schmucks! Out of the way with you.” With that, he gave his tongue a click and the reins a tug, causing the horses to dash into action. The two men leapt out of the way as the buggy rolled between them. “There’s the saloon, there, if you ever fancy a bit of hooch.”
“That’s what we call alcohol.”
“Okay. What’s that store there?”
“That’s the general store, sir. You can get just about anything you need there: cloth, cookware, food, supplies, and farm equipment. If they don’t have it, they can order it for you. Takes six to eight weeks. If you need a letter mailed, you just passed the post office right back there. It’s barely two years old. Right over there is Doc Shepherd’s place. He’s got the herbs, ointments, and medicines for what ails you. If you have an itch to serve the Lord, we have plenty of churches, there’s one right down that dirt road on your left. There’s a Negro church across town, but I don’t suppose you’d fancy going there. Though I must say, they sing up a storm in that church. Perhaps, you’ll have servants that may want to go.”
“We won’t be attending any of your church services, Mr. Cartwright.”
“To each his own.”
“Did I hear you say there’s a church down that way, sir?” Rosemary poked her head up front.
“Yes, little lady.”
“I said, we won’t be attending, Rosey Dawn. Is that clear?” Rosemary rolled her eyes. “Is that clear?”
“Yes, father,” she sat back in frustration. Mary touched Rosey’s hand slightly to let her know she sympathized with her.
“I have one house back in that direction, but it’s a bit raggedy for a distinguished family like yours. I have three houses right up here: two on the main road and one out in the woods by Old Man Shelby’s Creek.”
“We’d prefer the main road.”
“Excellent. You probably wouldn’t have liked it out there anyway. I’m always catching teenagers mugging.”
“Kissing and such. Say, Mr. Prescott, you have quite the accent. Where are ya’ll from again?”
“London, England, sir.”
“The mother country. So, what brings you to South Carolina?”
“What business are you looking to get into, Mr. Prescott?”
“Lumber. I’m going to open up saw mills all over the country; starting in Charleston.”
“I’m sure the town folk will appreciate the extra jobs. Well, here’s the first house, Mr. Prescott. She’s got a porch that wraps clear around. Two stories, four bedrooms on top, indoor bathhouse. On the first floor: kitchen, dining room, and living room. Come on; I’ll show her to you.”
Everyone jumped out of the wagon and entered the building. She was a lovely house, lived in previously by a moderately wealthy family who had moved to Philadelphia. It still looked brand new. The family loved it.
“I presume it has no electricity, Mr. Cartwright. What are the chances of having it installed?”
“It’d take a while to get someone out this way…and the cost would be astounding.”
“Money is of no consequence, Mr. Cartwright. The question is can you make it happen or should I seek someone else?”
“No, sir. I’m your man, Mr. Prescott. I’ll send out telegrams as soon as I get back to the office. Even if I have to kidnap old Thomas Edison himself; it’ll get done.”
“In that case, we’ll take it.”
Cartwright gave him the key, “You can come down to the office anytime this week to sign the papers. Welcome to your new digs. That’s what the kids call their houses these days. Digs? I don’t get it. Maybe you understand it, little lady.”
Rosemary smiled and nodded.
“I’ll warn you ahead of time, there’s a beggar by the name of One-Hand Joe on account of he lost his right one to a bear trap when he was a kid. He’s a windbag and a live wire.”
“Excuse me?” Walt was unfamiliar with the vernacular.
“That means he talks too much and is overly energetic. Be careful or he’ll beg you right out of house and home.”
“Okay. I’ll come by your office in the morning to finish the paperwork.”
“Alright, Mr. Prescott,” he extended his hand. “Welcome to Charleston.”
It took nearly a year and quite a bit of money, but Cartwright got the electricity for their house. By that time, the Prescotts had picked up the slang of the era and began to fit in well. Mary lost her son in childbirth and it took the family a few months to recover. The overwhelming presence of Huguenots bothered Walter. But other than that, life was grand. It was 1899 and Walt had sawmills in Charleston; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia. With the success of his business, he found less and less time to care for his duties around the house. One Saturday evening, he stood on the porch smoking fresh tobacco in his pipe when a young Negro passed by.
“Excuse me; might I have a word, mister?”
“Poinsetta. I’m in need of an errand boy; someone to cut grass, pick up items from the store, and such. Might I inquire as to whether you have any sons?”
“No, sir; I only have a young daughter, barely a year old.”
“I’m searching for a trustworthy, hard-working young boy who can fix things, perform yard work, and the like. I’ll pay him well.”
“I believe I know the perfect person, sir. He’s my cousin and he’s thirteen. He can do and fix anything and he’s got a sturdy reputation.”
“He sounds remarkable. Can you send him over this way Monday morning at seven? Tell him Mr. Prescott would like to talk business with him.”
“Yes, sir,” he left Walt to his pipe.
Life was great for the Prescotts in Charleston. Walt brought work to the people and they brought wealth to him. Mary found friends and everyone adored their children, especially Rosemary. She was a breath of fresh air wherever she went, except the one place that she wanted to go the most.
Sunday morning came with the new dawn and the Prescott family did the usual. Walt slept on the porch with a copy of ‘Moby Dick’ on his lap. Mary sat inside sewing new curtains with the cloth that she had purchased from the general store. Issachar played in the back yard with his invisible friend and brother, Thomas Prescott. But Rosemary tiptoed out of the house and down the porch steps past her slumbering father. She walked up the road a ways and started to turn down the path to where most of the white churches were located. But, something told her to march on to the other side of town. She stood at the edge of a field and listened to the magnificent sound echoing over the daffodils. Rosemary found herself inching closer and closer until she was staring through a window.
Common sense told her to stay right there, but the melody in her heart said, press on. Rosey found herself opening the door of the little one room whitewashed church. Nearly every head turned in unison as the young white girl appeared at their doorway. No one stopped singing, but she could see the shock in their eyes. The preacher motioned for her to come on in and find a seat, letting the congregation know with this gesture that color doesn’t matter in his congregation or to God. Rosemary found a wooden chair in the back and beamed as wide as she could at the uplifting hymns. They seemed to sing forever and she loved it. Two boys came around with straw baskets and people dropped money in them. When one of the boys got to Rosemary, she dropped a dime into his basket. He smiled down at her and she smiled into his eyes. During the remainder of the service, they would glance at each other, grin, and then look away.
The minister preached about the roles of parents and children in the homes. But Rosemary heard nothing and saw nothing, only the eyes of the young man and the flutter of her own heart. When the preacher was finished, the congregation partook of the Lord’s Supper. Rosemary partook of the young man’s glimmering smile. When they were done, the song leader returned and they sang more songs. Rosemary attempted to sing with them, never looking away from his direction. She could have gone on like that forever. She thought to herself; if Heaven is anything like this, then Lord take me now. She couldn’t figure out why the boy’s countenance altered or why he suddenly looked down toward the floor until she felt a sharp pain in her scalp. Someone was pulling her by the ponytail. Walter Prescott lifted her up out of the chair and led her to the door. He jerked her roughly through those daffodils, occasionally causing her to stumble and fall. He lifted her up by the waist and set her down in the buggy, forcefully. He jumped in with her and started the Clydesdales back towards home.
“I thought I made myself clear, long ago; we won’t be attending any church services. That we includes you, Rosemary,” he usually only called her by her given name when he was upset. “You’re on thin ice, young lady. I don’t want you worshipping God at all, especially with those people.”
“What’s the matter with those people?”
“Nothing, if they keep their place and we keep ours.”
“Their place? Our place? We were worshipping God, father. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, except there is no God.”
“I believe there is and that I have the right to worship him.”
“Not as long as you’re in my house. When you get your own place, then you can do whatever you please. That place gave me the willies.”
“Gee, isn’t that just ducky. I thought we left the king back in England.”
“I’m just trying to save you from disappointment, Rosey Dawn. Don’t you see that?”
“Life is full of disappointments. God gives them to us to learn lessons and grow.”
“You sound like your grandmother, right now. My mother believed in all of that superstitious mess, even through your Aunt Rosemary’s death. I just don’t have that kind of faith in something I can’t see or hear.”
“But you can see and hear him. Haven’t you ever listened to God whistle a breeze through your hair on a late summer’s eve? Haven’t you seen the clouds block the sun, even though you can’t hold them in your grasp? It’s no accident that we are the perfect distance from the sun, father. If there’s no God, then who created all of this…all of us?”
“I don’t know,” Walt pulled on the reins as the Clydesdales halted to a stop, “but it can’t be what you say.”
“It has to be. It must be. Otherwise, what are we doing here? I just hope that when I go through my darkest trial that my faith will endure.”
“What made you pick that church out of all the churches in Charleston?”
“All the others preach about the soul, father. But in there, I could feel their souls pouring out in song and praise.”
“I apologize for handling you so roughly.”
“I forgive you, father, for you knew not what you were doing.”
“Thank you, Rosey Dawn. Let’s get in here. Your mother’s got lunch cooking.”
They hopped out of the buggy.
“Father, I’m sorry I ran off like that this morning. I know that I’m supposed to obey my father and mother. I regret sneaking off.”
“I forgive you; just don’t you run off like that again without asking.”
“So, does that mean I can attend church next Sunday?”
“No, but you can stay in your room all of next week as punishment.”
'Devil Town' Sample
1ST Peter 5:14
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
“What you want, man?”
“Not you!” Jeb turned tail. “They’s a rat under here; pert near the size of a wallamelon. So, scoot!”
They zipped out from under the porch.
“What about that fifty cent piece, Jeb?”
“Fo’get it, let’s go befo’ we late for work.”
Jebediah Jenkins was the youngest, now only, blood son of Mercy Jenkins. Everyone and anyone who knew him around Hattiesburg called him Jeb, except his mother, of course. Jeb had just celebrated his twenty-third birthday a few weeks earlier. He was about as thin as a sheet of notebook paper, but fairly tough. What you might call ‘pound for pound’ resilient. Jebediah was struggling, just like all others in his predicament, with being broke and black in Mississippi. It didn’t help matters much that it was the summer of 1964, a scorching hot one. Since he was eleven, Jeb and his good buddy had worked for Mr. Robertson, normally at the Robertson Lumber Company. But, as of a late, they’d been banished to his sweet potato farms. It wasn’t a whole lot of money, but it was enough to help him and his mother survive. That’s how it was in those times.
Hattiesburg, Mississippi is located in Forrest County, founded by William H. Hardy, its first lumber man. It was named after his wife, Hattie. It was, in its heyday, the center of the lumber and railroad industries and the reason why it was called ‘Hub City’. It sits right on the fork of the Leaf and Bouie Rivers, making it ideal for fishermen. The Illinois Central Railroad ran northwest and southeast through Hattiesburg. Sometimes, a man just wanted to jump in an empty car and go some place, any place else.
“Jeb, why’s we don’t jest skip out on ole man Hugh and take ourselves fishin’?”
“I gots three good reasons. One, I needs the money. Two, you needs the money. And three, if’n we don’t show up, Mr. Robertson will be happy to fire us. Real happy!”
“A’ight, I guess I can stands it, one more day. ‘Specially since they’s lettin’ us off the next two Saturdays. Guess we can go fishin’ tomorrow mornin’. Did they say why we’s gone be off?”
“Well, I heared tell that the Robertson’s is goin’ out of town fo’ sumthin’; Southern Mississippi Singin’ Convention, I think.”
“Nah,” Rat stopped to look around. “Prob’ly a cover fo’ sumthin’ else.” Rat rubbed his head. “Did you feel sumthin’, Jeb?”
Jeb pushed him, “Watch out!”
Robert Earl Clark was the absolute best friend of Jebediah. They’d been close buddies since the Clarks had moved there from Tallahatchie in 1947. Everyone called him Rat. No one in town knew why he was called that, except his mother, Ms. Ola Mae Clark. He was the youngest of the five Clark boys, but the only one in Hattiesburg. His other brothers had moved back to their home town. He was a bit of a bad influence on Jeb; at least Ms. Jenkins thought as much.
“What was that?” Rat sat up.
“Look up yonda…in that moss-draped oak.” About three sets of limbs up, hung a little boy from his legs. “James, you come off’n out of that tree, right now, so’s I can whoop you good!”
Rat felt around the dirt-gravel road, “I’ll teach you to throw walnuts at me!” He picked up one and chunked it as hard as he could, missing him by a good ten feet. “Come down so’s I can bust you in the mouth, one good time!”
“Come and git me!”
Rat started to climb up the tree, but Jeb grabbed him, “No, we gone be late!”
“Kid, you got yo’self a run of luck, today. But, I’ll see you later.”
They walked on down the path. So, when they looked to have gone far enough, James began to climb down. As he hung from a limb, ready to drop; a dirt clump hit him in the back of the head. He fell, face first, to the dirt and gravel below.
“Ha, ha! I final got that lil’ runt. Right smack on the head,” Rat doubled over, nearly busting a gut with laughter.
James sat up, tears spilling out of the corners of his eyes. “I’m gone tell Mama Jenkins on both of ya’lls.” He ran inside, still bawling.
“What ya’ do that fo’, Rat? Now, I’s gotta get yelled at when I get home.”
“Why, I the one that throwed it?”
“Yeah, but you won’t be in shoutin’ distance; I will. Ever’time you does sumthin’; I gets in trouble. Come on; we almost there.”
Jeb and Rat darted up the dirt hill to the pickup spot. If you don’t know about the pickup spot; it’s the place in Hattiesburg where old man Hugh sends his men to pick up the colored boys for their day’s work of eighty-five cents an hour, well below minimum wage. But, eighty-five is a lot better than zero. Here at the pickup spot, you are either assigned to the Robertson Lumber Company or the Robertson Sweet Potato Farm. The farms were located next to the Robertson estate, while the lumber company was on the outskirts of town. If you didn’t make it in time, you didn’t get to work that day. Nobody could afford to miss a day of work.
“See you boys made it on time today,” Foreman Jim turned around and smiled his big, half toothless grin. Foreman Jim handled all the assigning and handed out the pay at week’s end. He pocketed many a negro’s hard earned dollars, especially if they couldn’t count. He didn’t care for Jeb because he knew how to figure up his own pay. He never was able to cheat Jeb or Rat. “Jenkins; Clark; potato farm.”
“Man, why you always send Jeb and me to dig taters?” Rat climbed into the back of a truck. “Is it cause we always catch you digging in yo’ taters?” The boys got a chuckle out of that one.
“Alright, funny man,” Jim walked over to the tailgate. “You and Jenkins will lose a nickel an hour for that wise crack.”
“What’d I do?” Jeb hollered. “How come you dockin’ me?”
“Cause you two are thick as thieves. Figure you both should share in it.”
“Bull,” Jeb muttered under his breath.
The farm trucks lugged along the dusty, half-dirt, half-gravel roads until they turned into the paved ones that you hit on that side of town. The lumber trucks went the opposite direction. Each truck carried about twenty colored boys to their destinations. The farm trucks pulled up to a large manor. Jeb was still fuming about losing that hourly nickel. After a twelve hour day, they’d each be short sixty whole cents, quite a bit of money for black people in 1964.
“I oughta take that sixty cents outta yo’ hide,” Jeb whispered to Rat as they unloaded.
“Relax, buddy,” Rat dusted off his shirt, “I gots a plan to get us back our money, plus some. All I ask is my sixty cents back, plus two extra dollars.”
“I on’t know. Yo’ schemes always backfire on me. Even if’n I get the money; I’ll prob’ly regret it.”
“You always say that…and like a dummy, I always do. What the heck; if it makes our money back, then a’ight.”
“What’s the plan?”
“I’ll tell you when it’s time. Jest trust me.” Jeb sighed. “Man, it’s already so hot today. Gots to be over a hundred; and not a tree in sight. That’s why I wanted to work the lumber detail. It’s gonna be another scorcher.” Rat wiped his forehead with a dingy rag that he kept in his back pocket.
“Yep. But, they’s one good thing ‘bout workin’ the farm. The view is heavenly.” Jeb laughed. “Get it, I said…”
“I get it, Jeb. Trust me; I get it.”
They walked down with the others to be issued their tools. The Robertson Sweet Potato Farm was one of the largest in Mississippi, trailing only the Vardaman farms. They were an integral part of the newly founded Mississippi Sweet Potato Council. All total, the estate covered some eighty plus acres. The mansion, assembled on said estate, included some thirty-six rooms, many of which were as yet, undiscovered. But, houses, for people with such large levels of currency, are not designed for efficiency. They are for display. Jeb and Rat worked the garden as they admired the splendid edifice.
“Man, Rat; wouldn’t you like to lives in a place like that?”
“I guess. Reckon a body’d get lost looking fo’ a place to piss.”
“Reckon so,” Jeb laughed. “Still, be nice though. Better than sittin’ in a freezin’ cold outhouse in January or a burnin’ hot one in August.”
“You gots that right. Will you look at that?”
A beautiful young white girl peeked out of her curtains, and then yanked them open. She opened her sliding door and walked out onto the upstairs veranda, just outside of her bedroom. She was wearing a scantily thin, red and white bathing suit that was noticed by every worker, black or white, boss or picker. She turned around to grab something, exposing her long blond hair, among other things, that raced all the way down to her size twenty-five waist. Her remaining measurements were the ones that really made the men act like giddy school boys. She walked as though she didn’t take steps, merely gliding from one place to the next. She tossed a wave, which every employee took to be directed at him, personally. She became a lust that all of them wanted; no, needed. She was picturesque; vivacious; the lone ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary twelve hour day of monotonous work. She was their own personal …Bathsheba.
“Man, what I wouldn’t give fo’ a piece of that,” Jeb leaned on his potato planter.
“You better get back to work fo’ ole man Hugh come out here and dock some mo’ off’n yo’ pay or even fire you. He might even send that there supernegro, Mongo, to straighten you out. Besides, she ain’t all that.”
“She worth ten of the girls on our block.”
“You betta not let them hear you say that. Lessin’ you want them to help Mr. Robertson hang you from a knobby-kneed Cypress."
“Whateva, man. I got my rights.”
“So did Emmitt Till and you saw how they did him. Mr. Hub say he was livin’ over in Money at that time. Who ever heared of gettin’ kilt for a little thing as a whistle?”
Jebediah ignored his buddy’s comments and gazed back toward the balcony, where his heart’s desire continued to sunbathe. She peeked under her sunglasses to see if he was still looking. What they didn’t realize was that someone was looking at both of them.
“Flint! Get over here!”
“Yes, father.” He jogged over.
“We got us two niggers out in the field that’s looking at my house too much and working too little. Go out there and teach those jiggaboos a lesson. Take Mongo with you. I’m gonna make your sister put some dad gum clothes on!”
Flint got Mongo and whisked over toward Jeb and Rat.
“Man, Rat; I’m tellin’ you, they is sumthin’ ‘bout that there girl. She’s beautiful. She’s lovely. She’s, well…heavenly.”
“Don’t look now, Jeb. Here comes our money-making plan.”
Jeb looked down as Flint’s father snatched his daughter back into her room. Flint and Mongo were upon them, by the time Jeb’s eyes caught hold of them.
Flint Robertson was the oldest child, and only son of Hugh and Charity Robertson. He ran the sweet potato farm under the watchful eye of his father. He shunned a college education for the security of inheriting his father’s ample dynasty. He was the handsome, devilish sort, racing around town in his fancy sports cars, living it up with young damsels, and partying out his uttermost desires. He had the world at his feet and let everyone know as much.
“Well, well; if it ain’t Quimbo and Sambo. Whay’s Uncle Tom?” Flint said in his slave voice.
“Standin’ right next to you, boss,” Jeb grinned.
“Actually, if’n you two had read the book, you’d know that it was really Quimbo and Sambo who was the sellouts,” Rat corrected Flint.
“Well, excuse me, college boy. Now, what are you two porch monkeys looking at my house for? You see something up there you want to get your dirty nigger hands on?”
“No, sir,” Jeb started working furiously.
“What if we did see sumthin’ that we liked? What would you do ‘bout it?” Rat spat on the ground.
“Why, I suppose I’d have to beat the black off of you!”
“You?” Rat scoffed. “Why, this big over-stuffed, swole-neck, house nigga here couldn’t beat my little buddy here. Much less you.”
“What!?” Jeb showed his concern.
“Is that so?” Flint sized Jeb up.
“Thassa fact, Mr. Flint. In fact, we’s willin’ to wager double or nuthin’ our day’s pay on my pal here, winnin’ the fight.”
“Now, wait a minute!” Jeb could barely get his two cents in.
“We’ll take that bet!” Flint shook Rat’s hand. “Five minutes from now, your friend here fights Mongo. My father built me a boxing ring out back. Straight boxing rules, except no rounds. Fight continues until one of you can’t get up any more. Mongo, if you lose, no pay for today.”
“I will kill him!”
“What’s the matter, sis?” Gracie popped her head in the door.
“Daddy treats me like a child. Just because I was parading around in front of the workers, he yelled at me.”
“I see you looking at the workers, Heavenly, especially the colored ones. What do you like about them so much?”
“I don’t know,” Heavenly smiled, gazing out the window. “Have you ever seen them shirtless? So brown; so rugged. There’s something about those forbidden fruits that drives me crazy!”
Heavenly Robertson was the oldest daughter and middle child of the three. Hugh arrived at her unusual name because it was the first word that came to mind when he saw her. She was fully aware that she was the twenty-two year old divine princess of Hattiesburg; the darling beauty of a generation of Robertson women. Many thought she was promiscuous, but she was far more selective than folks gave her credit for. Heavenly floated over to the window when she heard the commotion.
They walked along to the back of the Robertson mansion.
“Are you crazy, Rat? I can’t beat that big gorilla of a man! Look at him!”
Rat urged him on, “I thought Flint would fight you, hisself. I once see’d you whoop a guy twice yo’ size and age when you was only twelve. You can take him. You is Kid Slick!!”
“Kid who? Kid Slick?”
“Yeah, I know he’s bigger, stronger, and part hippo. But you’s Kid Slick; wiry, quick, lean, and deceivingly strong. Just use your brains and outwit him. Be…well…slick.”
Mongo was, perhaps, the biggest natural specimen of a beast to never lift weights. No one knew much more about him. He had no parents that anyone in town knew of. Mongo was merely ten years old when he arrived in Hattiesburg in 1953, though he had the body of a twenty-five year old heavyweight boxer. By 1964, he had grown to two heavyweights. Though he never stood on any man’s scales (none could have weighed him), he was at least four hundred pounds of rawhide and muscle. No one had seen any two men come close to whooping him, even when he was ten. Now, he would face a man who was a lightweight at best.
“How is it you always get me in fixes like this?”
“Practice, I guess,” Rat laughed.
Jeb was not amused, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?”
“Me?” Rat slipped on Jeb’s gloves. “Why, I’d bust out his teef; I’d dent his chest; I’d… Well,” he slipped a mouthpiece into Jeb’s mouth, “I s’pose I’d do what any man your size with even a tenth of a brain would do.”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?” Jeb asked as Rat pushed him toward the center of the ring.
“Easy,” Rat smiled, “run!”