IT WAS not often that Uncle Remus had to search for the boys who had, in the course of a very long life, fallen under his influence. On the contrary, he had sometimes to plan to get rid of them when he had work of importance to do; but now, here he was in his old age searching all about for a little chap who wasn’t as big as a pound of soap after a hard day’s washing, as the old man had said more than once.
The child had promised to go with Uncle Remus to fetch a wagon-load of corn that had been placed under shelter in a distant part of the plantation, and though the appointed hour had arrived, and the carriage-horses had been hitched to the wagon, he had failed to put in an appearance.
Uncle Remus had asked the nurse, a mulatto woman from the city, where the child was, and the only reply she deigned to make was that he was all right. This nurse had been offended by Uncle Remus, who, on more than one occasion, had sent her about her business when he wanted the little boy to himself. She resented this and lost no opportunity to show her contempt.
All his other resources failing, Uncle Remus went to the big house and asked his Miss Sally. She, being the child’s grandmother, was presumed to know his whereabouts; but Miss Sally was not in a very good humor. She sent word that she was very busy, and didn’t want to be bothered; but before Uncle Remus could retire, after the message had been delivered, she relented. “What is it now?” she inquired, coming to the door.
“I wuz des huntin’ fer de little chap,” Uncle Remus replied, “an’ I ’lowed maybe you’d know whar he wuz at. We wuz gwine fer ter haul a load er corn, but he ain’t showed up.”
“Well, I made him some molasses candy--something I shouldn’t have done--and he has been put in jail because he wiped his mouth on his coat-sleeve.”
“In jail, ma’am?” Uncle Remus asked, astonishment written on his face.
“He might as well be in jail; he’s in the parlor.”
“Wid de winders all down? He’ll stifle in dar.”
The grandmother went into the house too indignant to inform Uncle Remus that she had sent the house-girl to open the windows under the pretense of dusting and cleaning. The old man was somewhat doubtful as to how he should proceed. He knew that in a case of this kind, Miss Sally could not help him. She had set herself to win over the young wife of her son, and she knew that she would cease to be the child’s grandmother and become the mother-in-law the moment her views clashed with those of the lad’s mother--and we all know from the newspapers what a terrible thing a mother-in-law is.
Knowing that he would have to act alone, Uncle Remus proceeded very cautiously. He went around into the front yard, and saw that all the parlor windows were up and the curtains looped back, something that had never happened before in his experience. To his mind the parlor was a dungeon, and a very dark one at that, and he chuckled when he saw the sunshine freely admitted, with no fear that it would injure the carpet. If one little bit of a boy could cause such a change in immemorial custom, what would two little boys be able to do? With these and similar homely thoughts in his mind, Uncle Remus cut short his chuckle and began to sing about little Crickety Cricket, who lives in the thicket.
Naturally, this song attracted the attention of the little lad, who had exhausted whatever interest there had been in an album, and was now beginning to realize that he was a prisoner. He stuck his head out of the window, and regarded the old man rather ruefully. “I couldn’t go with you after the corn, Uncle Remus; mother said I was too naughty.”
“I ain’t been atter no corn, honey; I hear tell er yo’ gwines on, an’ I felt too bad fer ter go atter de corn; but de waggin’s all ready an’ a-waitin’. Dey ain’t no hurry ’bout dat corn. Ef you can’t go ter-day, maybe you kin go ter-morrer, er ef not, den some yuther day. Dey ain’t nobody hankerin’ atter corn but de ol’ gray mule, an’ he’d hanker an’ whicker fer it ef you wuz ter feed ’im a waggin-load three times a day. How come you ter be so bad dat yo’ ma hatter shet you up in dat dungeon? What you been doin’?”
“Mother said I was very naughty and made me come in here,” the little lad replied.
“I bet you ef dey had ’a’ put yo’ pa in der, dey wouldn’t ’a’ been no pennaner lef’, an’ de kyarpit would ’a’ looked like it been throo a harrycane. Dey shet ’im up in a room once, an’ dey wuz a clock in it, an’ he tuck ’n tuck dat clock ter pieces fer ter see what make it run. ’Twan’t no big clock, needer, but yo’ pa got nuff wheels out er dat clock fer ter fill a peck medjur, an’ when dey sont it ter town fer ter have it mended, de clock man say he know mighty well dat all dem wheels ain’t come outer dat clock. He mended it all right, but he had nuff wheels an’ whirligigs left over fer ter make a n’er clock.”
“There’s a clock in here,” said the little boy, “but it’s in a glass case.”
“Don’t pester it, honey, kaze it’s yo’ granma’s, an’ ’twant yo’ granma dat had you shot up in dar. No, suh, not her--never in de roun’ worl’.”
The little prisoner sighed, but said nothing. He was not a talkative chap; he had been taught that it is impolite to ask questions, and as a child’s conversation must necessarily be made up of questions, he had little to say. Uncle Remus found a rake leaning against the chimney. This he took and examined critically, and found that one of the teeth was broken out. “Now, I wonder who could ’a’ done dat!” he exclaimed. “Sholy nobody wouldn’t ’a’ come ’long an’ knock de toof out des fer fun. Ef de times wuz diffunt, I’d say dat a cricket hauled off an’ kicked it out wid one er his behime legs. But times done change; dey done change so dat when I turn my head an’ look back’erds, I hatter ketch my breff I gits so skeer’d. Dey done been sech a change dat de crickets ain’t dast ter kick sence ol’ Grandaddy Cricket had his great kickin’ match. I laid off fer ter tell you ’bout it when we wuz gwine atter dat load er corn dat’s waitin’ fer us; but stidder gwine atter corn, here you is settin’ in de parlor countin’ out yo’ money.” Uncle Remus came close to the window and looked in. “Ol’ Miss useter keep de Bible on de table dar--yasser! dar ’tis, de same ol’ Bible dat’s been in de fambly sence de year one. You better git it down, honey, an’ read dat ar piece ’bout de projickin’ son, kaze ef dey shet you up in de parlor now, dey’ll hatter put you in jail time youer ten year ol’.”
This remark was intended for the ear of the young mother, who had come into the front yard searching for roses. Uncle Remus had seen her from the corner of his eye, and he determined to talk so she could hear and understand.
“But what will they put me in jail for?” the child asked.
“What dey put you in dar fer? Kaze you wipe yo’ mouf on yo’ sleeve. Well, when you git a little bigger, you’ll say ter yo’se’f, ‘Dey shet me in de parlor fer nothin’, an’ now I’ll see ef dey ’ll put me in jail fer sump’n’; an’ den you’ll make a mouf at de gov’ner up dar in Atlanta--I know right whar his house is--an’ dey’ll slap you in jail an’ never ax yo’ name ner whar you come fum. Dat’s de way dey does in dat town, kaze I done been dar an’ see der carryin’s on.”
“I believe I’ll try it when I go back home,” said the little lad.
“Co’se you will,” Uncle Remus assented, “an’ you’ll be glad fer ter git in jail atter bein’ in a parlor what de sun ain’t shine in sence de war. You come down here fer ter git strong an’ well, an’ here you is in de dampest room in de house. You’ll git well--oh, yes! I see you well right now, speshually atter you done had de croup an’ de pneumony, an’ de browncreeturs.”
“There’s mother,” said the little boy under his breath.
“I wish ’twuz yo’ daddy!” Uncle Remus replied. “I’d gi’ ’im a piece er my min’ ez long ez a waggin tongue.”
But the young mother never heard this remark. She had felt she was doing wrong when she banished the child to the parlor for a trivial fault, and now she made haste to undo it. She ran into the house and released the little boy, and told him to run to play. “Thank you, mother,” he said courteously, and then when he disappeared, what should the young mother do but cry?
The child, however, was very far from crying. He ran around to the front yard just in time to meet Uncle Remus as he came out. He seized the old darky’s hand and went skipping along by his side. “You put me in min’ er ol’ Grandaddy Cricket ’bout de time he had his big kickin’ match. He sho wuz lively.”
“That was just what I was going to ask you about,” said the child enthusiastically, for his instinct told him that Uncle Remus’s remarks about Grandaddy Cricket were intended to lead up to a story. When they had both climbed into the wagon, and were well on their way to the Wood Lot, where the surplus corn had been temporarily stored, the old man, after some preliminaries, such as looking in his hat to see if he had lost his hankcher, as he called it, and inquiring of the horses if they knew where they were going and what they were going after, suddenly turned to the child with a question: “Ain’t I hear you ax me ’bout sump’n n’er, honey? I’m gittin’ so ol’ an’ wobbly dat it seem like I’m deaf, yit ef anybody wuz ter call me ter dinner, I speck I could hear um a mile off ef dey so much ez whispered it.”
“Yes,” the child replied. “It was about old Grandaddy Cricket. I thought maybe you knew something about him.”
“Who? Me, honey? Why, my great-grandaddy’s great-grandaddy live nex’ door ter whar ol’ Grandaddy Cricket live at. Folks is lots littler now dan what dey wuz in dem days, an’ likewize de creeturs, an’ de creepin’ an’ crawlin’ things. My grandaddy say dat his great-grandaddy would make two men like him, an’ my grandaddy wuz a monst’us big man, dey ain’t no two ways ’bout dat. It seems like dat folks is swunk up. My grandaddy’s great-grandaddy say it’s kaze dey done quit eatin’ raw meat.
“I can’t tell you ’bout dat myself, but my great-grandaddy’s great-great-grandaddy could eat a whole steer in two days, horn an’ huff, an’ dem what tol’ me ain’t make no brags ’bout it; dey done like dey’d seen it happen nine times a mont’ off an’ on fer forty year er mo’. Well, den,” Uncle Remus went on, looking at the little chap to see if he was swallowing the story with a good digestion--“well, den, dat bein’ de case, it stan’s ter reason dat de creeturs an’ de crawlin’ an’ creepin’ things wuz lots bigger dan what dey is now. Dey had bigger houses, ef dey had any ’tall, an’ ef dey had bigger houses dey must ’a’ had bigger chimbleys.
“So den, all dat bein’ settle’, I’m gwine tell yo’ ’bout ol’ Grandaddy Cricket. He must ’a’ been a grandaddy long ’bout de time dat my great-grandaddy’s great-grandaddy wuz workin’ for his great-grandaddy. Howsomever dat mought be, ol’ Grandaddy Cricket wuz on han’, an’ fum all I hear he wuz bigger dan a middlin’-size goat. All endurin’ er de hot weather, he’d stay out in de woods wid his fife an’ his fiddle, an’ I speck he had great times. One day he’d fiddle fer de fishes fer ter dance, an’ de nex’ he’d l’arn de young birds how ter whistle wid his fife. Day in an’ day out he frolicked an’ had his fun, but bimeby de weather ’gun ter git cool an’ de days ’gun ter git shorter, an’ ol’ Grandaddy Cricket hatter keep his han’s in his pockets fum soon in de mornin’ twel ten o’clock. An’ ’long ’bout de time when de sun start down hill, he’d hatter put his fiddle under his arm an’ his fife in his side-pocket.
“Dis wuz bad nuff, but wuss come. It got so col’ dat Grandaddy Cricket can’t skacely walk twel de sun wuz shinin’ right over ’im. Mo’ dan dat, he ’gun ter git hongry and stay hongry. Ef yu’d ’a’ seed ’im in de hot weather, fiddlin’ an’ dancin’, an’ fifin’ an’ prancin’, you’d ’a’ thunk dat he had a stack er vittles put by ez big ez de barn back yander; but bimeby it got so cold dat he know sump’n got ter be done. He know sump’n got ter be done, but how er when he couldn’t ’a’ tol’ you ef it had ’a’ been de las’ ac’. He went ’long, creepin’ an’ crawlin’ fum post ter pillar, an’ he ’membered de days when he went wid a hop, skip an’ a jump, but he wuz too col’ fer ter cry.
“He crope along, tryin’ ter keep on de sunny side er de worl’, twel bimeby, one day he seed smoke a-risin’ way off yander, an’ he know’d mighty well dat whar der’s smoke dey bleeze ter be fire. He crope an’ he crawled, an’ bimeby he come close nuff ter de smoke fer ter see dat it wuz comin’ out’n a chimbley dat’d been built on one ’een uv a house. ’Twant like de houses what you see up yander in Atlanty, kaze ’twuz made out er logs, an’ de chink ’twix’ de logs wuz stopped up wid red clay. De chimbley wuz made out’n sticks an’ stones an’ mud.
“Grandaddy Cricket wuz forty-lev’m times bigger dan what his fambly is deze days, but he wan’t so big dat he couldn’t crawl un’ de house, kaze ’twuz propped up on pillars. So un’ de house he went an’ scrouge close ter de chimbley fer ter see ef he can’t git some er de warmf, but, bless you, it ’uz stone col’. Ef it had ’a’ been like de chimbleys is deze days, ol’ Grandaddy Cricket would ’a’ friz stiff, but ’twuz plain, eve’yday mud plastered on some sticks laid crossways. ’Twuz hard fer ol’ Grandaddy Cricket fer ter work his way inter de chimbley, but harder fer ter stay out ’n de col’--so he sot in ter work. He gnyawed an’ he sawed, he scratched an’ he clawed, he pushed an’ he gouged, an’ he shoved an’ he scrouged, twel, bimeby, he got whar he could feel some er de warmf er de fire, an’ ’twant long ’fo’ he wuz feelin’ fine. He snickered ter hisse’f when he hear de win’ whistlin’ roun’ de cornders, an’ blowin’ des like it come right fresh fum de place whar de ice-bugs live at.”
The little boy laughed and placed his hand caressingly on Uncle Remus’s knee. “You mean ice-bergs, Uncle Remus,” he said.
“Nigh ez I kin ’member,” replied the old darky, with affected dignity, “ice-bugs is what I meant. I tell you dat p’intedly. What I know ’bout ice-berrigs?”
The little lad eyed the old darky curiously, but said nothing more for some time. Uncle Remus regarded him from the corner of his eye and smiled, for this was a little chap whose ways he was yet to understand. Finally, he took up the thread of his story. “It’s des like I tell you, honey; he ain’t no sooner git thawed out dan he ’gun ter feel good. Dey wuz some cracks an’ crannies in de h’ath er de fireplace, an’ when de chillun eat der mush an’ milk, some er de crum’s ’ud sift thoo de h’ath. Ol’ Grandaddy Cricket smelt um, an’ felt um, an’ helt um, an’ atter dat you couldn’t make ’im b’lieve dat he wan’t in hog-heav’m.
“De place whar he wuz at wa’n’t roomy nuff fer fiddlin’, but he tuck out his fife an’ ’gun ter play on it, an’ ev’y time he hear a noise he’d cut de chune short. He’d blow a little an’ den break off, but take de day ez it come, he put in a right smart lot er fifin’. When night come, an’ ev’ything wuz dark down dar whar he wuz at, he des turned hisse’f loose. De chillun in de house, dey des lis’en an’ laugh, but dey daddy shake his head an’ look sour. Dey wan’t no crickets in de country whar he come fum, an’ he wan’t usen ter um. But de mammy er de chillun ain’t pay no ’tention ter de fifin’; she des went on ’bout her business like dey ain’t no cricket in de roun’ worl’. Ol’ Grandaddy Cricket he fifed an’ fifed des like he wuz doin’ it fer pay. He played de chillun off ter bed an’ played um ter sleep; he played twel de ol’ man got ter nid-nid-noddin’ by de fire; he played twel dey all went ter bed ’cep’ de mammy, an’ he played whiles she sot by de h’ath, an’ dremp ’bout de times when she wuz a gal--de ol’ times dat make de gran’-chillun feel so funny when dey hear tell ’bout um.
“Night atter night de fifin’ went on, an’ bimeby de man ’gun ter git tired. De ’oman, she say dat de crickets brung good luck, but de man, he say he’d druther have mo’ luck an’ less fifin’. So he holler down thoo de crack in de h’ath, an’ tell ol’ Grandaddy Cricket fer ter hush his fuss er change his chune. But de fifin’ went on. De man holler down an’ say dat ef de fifin’ don’t stop, he gwine ter pour b’ilin’ water on de fifer. Ol’ Grandaddy Cricket holler back:
“‘Hot water will turn me brown,
An’ den I’ll kick yo’ chimbley down.’
“De man, he grin, he did, an’ den he put de kittle on de fire an’ kep’ it dar twel de water ’gun ter b’ile, an’ den, whiles de fifin’ wuz at de loudest, he tuck de kittle an’ tilted it so de scaldin’ water will run down thoo de cracks, an’ den de fust thing he know’d he ain’t know nothin’, kaze de water weakened de clay an’ de h’ath fell in an’ ol’ Grandaddy Cricket sot in ter kickin’ an’ de chimbley come down, it did, an’ bury de man, an’ when dey got ’im out, he wuz one-eyed an’ splay-footed.
“De ’oman an’ de chillun ain’t skacely know ’im. Dey hatter ax ’im his name, an’ whar he come fum, an’ how ol’ he wuz; an’ atter he satchified um dat he wuz de same man what been livin’ dar all de time, de ’oman say, ‘Ain’t I tell you dat crickets fetch good luck?’ An’ de man, he ’low, ‘Does you call dis good luck?’”
“What became of the cricket?” asked the little boy, after a long pause, during which Uncle Remus appeared to be thinking about other things.
“Oh!” exclaimed the old darky. “Dat’s so! I ain’t tol’ you, is I? Well, ol’ Grandaddy Cricket kicked so hard, an’ kicked so high, dat he onj’inted bofe his legs, an’ when he crawled out fum de chimbley, his elbows wuz whar his knees oughter be at.”
“But it was cold weather,” suggested the little boy. “Where did he go when he kicked the chimney down?”
Uncle Remus smiled as he took another chew of tobacco. “Dey wa’n’t but one thing he could do,” he replied; “he went on ter nex’ house an’ got in de chimbley an’ he been livin’ in chimbleys off an’ on down ter dis day an’ time.”