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As a child, on the Red River plantation where he was born, Little Augie was not required to chop cotton or work in the rice swamp like the other boys of his age. He was considered too frail for hard labor. Instead it became his duty to mind the cows when they grazed in the clover fields and to lead the horses to the watering-place.
Augie lived with his grown sister, Leah, in the same quarters in which he had been born shortly after the 'Mancipation and in which his old dead mammy had been a slave. He was a thin, undersized boy, smaller for his years than any other child on the place, and he had round pop-eyes. But he enjoyed a certain prestige among the black youngsters, and older folks as well, because of the legend that he was lucky, a legend that had attended him since birth, due to a mysterious veil with which he had entered the world.
Set apart from his mates by these circumstances, Little Augie soon grew to be miserable. In his heart he felt inferior to the strong, healthy children who worked alongside the grown-ups in the fields. He became timid in the presence of unfamiliar people and fell into the habit of stuttering when he tried to talk.
Sometimes, to amuse himself, Augie would follow the men out to plow the fields and then ride thehorses home for them in the evening. It pleased him to sit on the back of the old lead mare and watch the other animals string along behind. It made him feel good to be directing the procession, shouting at the tired critters and giving the orders to start and stop. So, as he grew older, Augie spent more and more time with the animals. He became a competent rider. Curiously, he did not feel timid when he was riding or managing a fine horse; he felt big. And he loved horses for that reason.
Augie had also one other diversion. He liked to watch the river boats that came puffing around the bend and past the plantation now and again. Especially was he fascinated by the P. T. Blain that came on alternate Wednesdays, because it was the one that stopped at the tiny wooden landing in sight of the quarters. Augie had never been on hand to see it dock, but he had often watched it from the big barn gate where, sitting on the top-piece, he could see everything plainly -- the rousters loading and unloading barrels, the old white captain with the mutton-chop whiskers, and the black loafers standing along the plank in the sunshine.
One spring morning, however, his chance came. A young heifer that Augie was about to stake in the clover field suddenly kicked up her heels and started down toward the river, the chain and stake dangling behind. Augie had to follow her till she became tired of running before he could get his hands on the chain, and when he did he realized that he was a long way from home. Returning, he saw a crowd of folks at the landing, and his heart leapt. It had not occurred to him that the day was the second Wednesday, but there was the P. T. Blain splashing and booming against the piles.
Augie climbed a stack of boxes and sat with the heifer's chain across his arm. He was speechless with pleasure. Wouldn't he like to ride in a boat like that! Folks said it went to New Orleans, but that was not important. He could not imagine such a boat going anywhere that was not infinitely desirable.
The rousters worked rapidly. A loud-mouthed crew, they drew the attention of several oily-faced young women who stood by, giggling. It was a sight to watch those half-clothed men at their work; ascending and descending the plank, their movements suggested cats. The fine elastic muscles slipped loosely under their skin and their moist bronze shoulders glowed like metal. When they were finished they promptly went aboard and withdrew the plank.
The captain looked down at Augie and the heifer from the little upper deck. The P. T. Blain was about to push off. Augie called to him:
"High there, Mistah Steamboat Man!"
"He-o, bubba," the captain said pleasantly.
Augie felt all the loafers on the landing looking up and taking notice when the captain spoke. The steamboat man had high-balled Little Augie! From that day his destiny was determined.
All through the lazy summer months that followed, Augie had visions of sailing away on the river boat, going some place down the line, maybe to New Orleans. He was convinced that he could never be a rouster, so that was not in his mind. He only wanted to travel. But the chances were slim and the urge wore off as the hot weather passed.
The next spring, however, it returned stronger than ever. Warm days came early. The road became dry and dusty, and the dust powdered the young blossoming trees. Augie watched for the regular coming and going of the freshly painted P. T. Blain. Each time he heard its whistle he would climb the gate and talk to himself till it pulled away.
"O Mistah Steamboat Man! Take me 'way from heah. I got de itchin' feet. Take me 'way away."
A small red rooster, a pet of the quarters, sat beside him on the cross-piece. Of the two sitting there, one seemed about as discontented as the other, but only Augie complained -- even to himself.
"Gonna leave you heah one o' dese days, Red Man," Augie said to his companion. "Gonna leave you heah, an' it might be soon."
That spring the mornings were diamond-bright. The fields, rippling and undulating with daisies, seemed to flow down to the river. In the cool dewy grass a glossy crooked-horned cow stood knee deep, tethered to a stake. A short distance away a young star-faced mare grazed with her dappled colt. Black men, naked to the waist, could be seen working small skiffs along the farther edge of the water.
One morning when he had finished his chores, Augie was lying in the deep wet grass, watching a host of blackbirds in a flowering plum tree, when suddenly a familiar sound, like the lowing of a gigantic steer in the swamp, rose near the horizon. The colt, amazed and trembling, whimpered and drew nearer its mother.
"Well, dog ma cats!" Augie exclaimed. He had lost the days again, and the P. T. Blain had slipped up on him. He jumped to his feet, forgetting the animals he was minding, and ran down the grassy slope. Climbing a rail fence, he got on the road and hurried along, his bare feet kicking up a white cloud of dust.
A score of idle niggers were on the landing when Augie got there. But they were not too soon; presently the clean white boat rounded the bend and came into full view, its enormous side-wheel splashing handsomely. A few minutes later it banged against the creaking piles of the landing and the rousters dropped the plank.
Augie stood apart in his miserable rags while the crew did its work. The captain, coming to the deck, noticed him.
"He-o, bubba," he called in his amused voice.
"Howdy, Mistah Steamboat Man," Augie answered.
Nobody paid any more attention to Augie. But, miraculously, when the P. T. Blain pulled off, the youngster was aboard. He was down in the hold, sitting on a pile of wood, his eyes round with fear and happiness. An echo of his own words, his own wish, kept going through his mind:
"Take me 'way from heah, Mistah Steamboat Man. Take me 'way away."
Copyright 1931 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
Excerpted from God Sends Sunday by Arna Bontemps Copyright © 2005 by Arna Bontemps. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted June 6, 2009
This was an interesting book. It gave you an idea of how life was in the 1800s. I try to read any book I come across from an author who was a part of the Harlem Renissence. At times the dialog was kind of difficult, but you must remember the writing style was quite different during that time. Once you get pass that you can acutually get into the book. It was an easy reader because the print was large and the book wasn't that long. It was short and sweet.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.