“Cotton Bea, Cotton Bea.” Dorothy threw a blanket over her old mule. “Ol mule, me’n’you movin on. Yes, sir, da town man done sayd, ol Dorthty git yer mule an move along.” She spat a wad of tobacco on the ground. “Cotton Bea, Cotton Bea,” she almost sang as she loaded her goods. “De ain’t gonna llow no gypsies in der fine camp. Cotton Bea, Cotton Bea.”
Dorothy took the mule’s rope and pulled the beast toward the river. Cattle were being herded onto a barge. “Lookee der, ol Cotton Bea, we ride on down to Sint Louie wid tem cows, ol Cotton Bea.” Dorothy started pulling the mule onto the ramp.
“Hey, you, gypsy woman. Ain’t no boat’n wid dem cows. Yat, fer a penny ya can ride in dat manure barge.
Dorothy looked back at the manure boat. “Al’ gib ya da penny when we get to Sint Louie; would wanna waste a penny if it sink an I dee.” She pulled the reins and the mule followed her to the manure boat. “Ol Cotton Bea, we be ride’n stead a walk’n.”
“Be a two penny ride in Sint Louie.” The boatman returned to sorting cattle.
“Tain’t no matder, kind sur.”
Two steamboats guided the barges down the river. Dorothy settled the mule in a mostly dry area of the rear boat and leaned on the rail. With a slight jerk they were set afloat and pushed out into the stream. “Ya lookee up der Cotton Bea.” She pointed at the village she had recently been expelled from. “Dem folks all shiny and proper, jes lookee how those board building shine. Purty ain’t it, Cotton Bea?”
Dorothy patted the mule’s rump, scratched around in own patched coat and found a burned match stick to chew on. “Sure wish ah had me a utter chaw of bacca.”
Along the river they passed villages and camps. In the midday sun the white boards and tent sheets glistened.
“Dem da same dey tis, Cotton Bea.” She pointed with her match stick. “Days da sim, ol Cotton Bea, days da sim. De looka like a coin in pool, yes siree Cotton Bea. Ah cud raeh out and gramp’m and pit’m in da pokat, Cotton Bea. Mays be we git offa dis boat and goes and sees one of dem towns.”
The barges bumped and groaned around a bend in the river and the steamboats pushed against the sides to keep them in the current.
“We be walk’n down the middle of da shiny town, you an me Cotton Bea. We walk riech up to da church all shiny and white board, and I say, ‘Kin a gypsy woman res n pray a bit har?” She laughed. “An ya know wit de say ten Cotton Bea? De say get ye outta har gypsy woman.” She laughed and slapped the mule’s rear. Cotton Bea shifted with the slap. “Whoa Cotton Bea.”
Steamboat whistles rang out, indicating passing traffic on the river. “We be gittin close Cotton Bea. Sint Louie close by, ah kin smell da porkers fry’n. We be livin high in Sint Louie. Nobidy know da gypsy woman in Sint Louie.”
The barges clanked along a siding, and almost immediately ramps were put on the cattle boat and wranglers began moving the cattle up the steep incline. Dorothy and Cotton Bea found some piled up rubbish and stepped over the low rail onto the muddy embankment.
“Hey, woman.” The boatman stood at the bow holding out his cap. “Twas two penny we agreed on.”
Dorothy dug in her bag and then tossed the boatman two coins. “Twas worth da two penny, a fine ride for me and Cotton Bea.”
Just above the embankment was a new city for Dorothy and Cotton Bea. As the two climbed the narrow path folks could hear Dorothy’s voice singing above the din. “Cotton Bea, Cotton Bea, dis you an me, just movin’ on.”
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