UNCLE Remus soon had the wagon loaded with corn, and he and the little boy started back home. The plantation road was not a good one to begin with, and the spring rains had not improved it. Consequently there were times when Uncle Remus deemed it prudent to get out of the wagon and walk. The horses were fat and strong, to be sure, but some of the small hills were very steep, so much so that the old darky had to guide the team first to the right and then to the left in order to overcome the sheer grade. In other words, he had to see-saw as he explained to the little boy. “Drive um straight up, an’ dey fall back,” he explained, “but on de see-saw dey fergits dat deyer gwine uphill.”
All this was Dutch to the little boy, who knew nothing about driving horses, but he had been well trained, and so he said, “Yes, that is so.” The last time that Uncle Remus had to vacate the driver’s seat in order to relieve the horses of his weight, he stumbled into a ditch that had been dug on the side of the road to prevent the rains from washing it into gullies. He recovered himself immediately, but not before he had startled a little rabbit, which ran on ahead of the horses for a considerable distance. Instinct came to its aid after a while, and it darted into the underbrush which grew profusely on both sides of the road.
Before the little rabbit disappeared, however, Uncle Remus had time to give utterance to a hunting halloo that aroused the echoes all around and made the little boy jump, for he was not used to this sort of thing. “I declar’ ter gracious ef it don’t put me in min’ er ol’ times--de times dey tell ’bout in de tales dat been handed down. Ef dat little rab had ’a’ been five times ez big ez he is, an’ twice ez young, I’d ’a’ thunk we’d done got back ter de days when my great-grandaddy’s great-grandaddy lived. You mayn’t b’lieve me, but ef you’ll count fum de time when my great-grandaddy’s great-grandaddy wuz born’d down ter dis minnit, you’ll fin’ dat youer lookin’ back on many a long year, an’ a mighty heap er Chris’mus-come-an’-gone.
“You may think dat deze times is de bes’; well, den, you kin have um ef you’ll des gi’ me de ol’ times when de nights wuz long an’ de days short, wid plenty er wood on de fire, an’ taters an’ ashcake in de embers. Han’ um here!” Uncle Remus held out his hand as if he thought the little chap had the old times and the ashcakes and the roasted potatoes in his pocket. “Den you ain’t got um,” he went on, as the child drew away and pretended to hold his pocket tight; “you ain’t got um, an’ you can’t git um. I done been had um, but I got ter nippy-nappin’ one night, an’ some un come ’long an’ tuck um--some nigger man, I speck, kaze dey wuz a big fat ’possum mixed up wid um, an’ a heap er yuther things liable fer ter make a nigger’s mouf water. Yasser! dey tuck um right away fum me, an’ I ain’t seed um sence; an’ maybe ef I wuz ter see um I wouldn’t know um.”
“Were the rabbits very large in old times?” inquired the little boy.
“Dey mought er been runts in de fambly,” replied Uncle Remus cautiously, “but fum all I kin hear fum dem what know’d, ol’ Brer Rabbit wuz a sight bigger dan any er de rabbits you see deze days.”
Uncle Remus paused to give the little boy an opportunity to make some comment, or ask such questions as occurred to him, as the other little boy had been so ready to do; but he said nothing. It seemed that his curiosity had been satisfied, and yet he wanted very much to hear a story such as Uncle Remus had been in the habit of telling his father when he was the little boy. But he had been so rigidly trained to silence in the presence of his elders that he hesitated about making his desires known.
The old negro, however, was so accustomed to anticipating the wants of children, especially those in whom he took an interest, that he knew perfectly well what the little boy wanted. The child’s attitude was expectant, even if his lips refused to give form to his thoughts. This sort of thing--the old negro could give it no name--was so new to Uncle Remus that he chuckled, and presently the chuckle developed into a hearty laugh.
The little boy regarded him with surprise. “Are you laughing at me, Uncle Remus?” he inquired, after some hesitation.
“Why, honey, what put dat idee in yo’ head? What I gwineter laugh at you fer? Ef you wuz a little bigger, I might laugh at you, des ter see how you’d take it. Ef you want me ter laugh at you, you’ll hatter do some growin’.”
“Grandmother says I’m a big boy,” said the child.
“Fer yo’ age an’ size, youer right smart chunk uv a boy,” assented Uncle Remus, “but you’ll hatter be lots bigger dan what you is ’fo’ I laugh at you. No, suh; I wuz gigglin’ at de way Brer Rabbit got away wid ol’ Brer Wolf endurin’ er de time when der chillun played tergedder; an’ dat little rabbit dat run ’cross de road put me in min’ un it. I bet ef I’d ’a’ been dar, I’d ’a’ done mo’ dan laugh--I’d ’a’ holler’d. Yasser, dey ain’t no two ways ’bout it--I’d ’a’ des flung back my head an’ ’a’ fetched a whoop dat you could ’a’ hearn fum here ter de big house. Dat’s what I’d ’a’ done.”
“It must have been very funny, then,” remarked the little boy.
Uncle Remus looked at the child with a serious face. Surely something must be wrong with him. And yet he was still expectant--expectant and patient. The old negro had never had dealings with such a youngster as this, and he was not in the habit of telling stories “des dry so,” as he put it; so he went at it in a new, but still a characteristic, way. “Ef yo’ pa had ’a’ been settin’ wha you settin’ he wouldn’t gi’ me no peace twel I tol’ ’im zackly what I wuz laughin’ ’bout; an’ he’d ’a’ pestered me wid his inquirements twel he foun’ out all about it. Does he pester you dat a-way, honey? Kaze ef he does, I’ll tell you de way ter fetch ’im up wid a roun’ turn; des tell ’im you gwineter tell his mammy on him, an’ I bet you he won’t pester you much atter dat.”
This tickled the little boy very much. The idea of asking his grandmother to make his father stop bothering him was so new and so ridiculous that he laughed unrestrainedly.
“De minnit dat little rab jumped out’n de bushes,” Uncle Remus went on, apparently paying no attention to the child’s laughter, “it put me in min’ er de time when ol’ Brer Rabbit had a lot er chillun an’ gran’chillun pirootin’ roun’ de neighborhoods whar he live at. Dey mought ’a’ not been any gran’chillun in de bunch, but dey wuz plenty er chillun, bofe young an’ ol’.
“Brer Rabbit ’ud move sometimes des like de folks does deze days, speshually up dar in ’Lantmatantarum, whar you come fum.” The little boy smiled at this new name for Atlanta, and snuggled a little closer to Uncle Remus, for the old man had, with this one word, entered the fields that belong to childhood. “He’d move, but mos’ allers he’d take a notion fer ter come back ter his ol’ home. Sometimes he hatter move, de yuther creeturs pursued atter ’im so close, but dey allers got de ragged en’ er de pursuin’, an’ dey wuz times when dey’d be right neighborly wid ’im.
“’Twuz ’bout de time dat Brer Wolf had kinder made up his min’ dat he can’t outdo Brer Rabbit, no way he kin fix it, an’ he say ter hisse’f dat he better let ’im ’lone twel he kin git ’im in a corner whar he can’t git out. So Brer Wolf, he live wid his fambly on one side de road, an’ Brer Rabbit live wid his fambly on de yuther side, not close nuff fer ter quoil ’bout de fence line, an’ yit close nuff fer der youngest chillun ter play tergedder whiles de ol’ folks wuz payin’ der Sunday calls.
“It went on an’ went on dis way twel it look like Brer Rabbit done fergit how ter play tricks on his neighbors an’ Brer Wolf done disremember’d dat he yever is try fer ter ketch Brer Rabbit fer meat fer his fambly. One Sunday in speshual, dey wuz mighty frien’ly. It wuz Brer Rabbit’s time fer ter call on Brer Wolf, an’ bofe un um wuz settin’ up in de porch des ez natchal ez life. Brer Rabbit wuz chawin’ his terbacker an’ spittin’ over de railin’ an’ Brer Wolf wuz grinnin’ ’bout ol’ times, an’ pickin’ his toofies, which dey look mighty white an’ sharp. Dey wuz settin’ up dar, dey wuz, des ez thick ez fleas on a dog’s back, an’ lookin’ like butter won’t melt in der mouf.
“An’ whiles dey wuz settin’ dar, little Wiley Wolf an’ Riley Rabbit wuz playin’ in de yard des like chillun will. Dey run an’ dey romped, dey frisk an’ dey frolic, dey jump an’ dey hump, dey hide an’ dey slide, an’ it look like dey had mo’ fun dan a mule kin pull in a waggin. Little Wiley Wolf, he’d run atter Riley Rabbit, an’ den Riley Rabbit ’ud run atter Wiley Wolf, an’ here dey had it up an’ down an’ roun’ an’ roun’, twel it look like dey’d run deyse’f ter death. ’Bout de time you’d think dey bleeze ter drap, one un um would holler out, ‘King’s Excuse!’ an’ in dem days, when you say dat, nobody can’t ketch you, it ain’t make no diffunce who, kaze ef dey dast ter lay han’s on you atter you say dat, dey could be tuck ter de place whar dey done der judgin’, an ef dey wa’n’t mighty sharp dey’d git put in jail.
“Now, whiles Wiley Wolf an’ Riley Rabbit wuz havin’ der fun, der daddies wuz bleeze ter hear de racket what dey make, an’ see de dus’ dey raise. Dey squealed an’ dey squalled, an’ ripped aroun’ twel you’d a thunk dey wuz a good size whirlywin’ blowin’ in de yard. Brer Rabbit chaw’d his terbacker right slow an’ shot one eye, an’ ol’ Brer Wolf lick his chops an’ grin. Brer Rabbit ’low, ‘De youngsters is gittin’ mighty familious,’ an’ ol Brer Wolf say, ‘Dey is indeedy, an’ I hope dey’ll keep it up. You know how we useter be, Brer Rabbit; we wuz constant a-playin’ tricks on one an’er, an’ it lookt like we wuz allers at outs. I hope de young uns’ll have better manners!’
“Dey sot dar, dey did, talkin’ ’bout ol’ times, twel de sun got low, an’ de visitin’ had ter be cut short. Brer Rabbit say dat he had ter cut some kindlin’ so his ol’ ’oman kin git supper, an’ Brer Wolf ’low dat he allers cut his kindlin’ on Sat’day so he kin have all Sunday ter hisse’f, an’ smoke his pipe in peace. He went a piece er de way wid Brer Rabbit, an’ Wiley Wolf, he come, too, an’ him an’ Riley Rabbit had all sorts uv a time atter dey got in de big road. Dey wuz bushes on bofe sides, an’ dey kep’ up der game er hide an’ seek des ez fur ez Brer Wolf went, but bimeby, he say he gone fur nuff, an’ he say he hope Brer Rabbit’ll come ag’in right soon, an’ let Riley come an’ play wid Wiley endurin’ er de week.
“Not ter be outdone, Brer Rabbit invite Brer Wolf fer ter come an’ see him, an’ likewise ter let Wiley come an’ play wid Riley. ‘Dey ain’t nothin’ but chillun,’ sezee, ‘an’ look like dey done tuck a likin’ ter one an’er.’
“On de way back home, Brer Wolf make a mighty strong talk ter Wiley. He say, ‘It’s mo’ dan likely dat de little Rab will come ter play wid you some day when dey ain’t nobody here, an’ when he do, I want you ter play de game er ridin’ in de bag.’ Wiley Wolf say he ain’t never hear tell er dat game, an’ ol’ Brer Wolf say it’s easy ez fallin’ off a log. ‘You git in de bag,’ sezee, ‘an’ let ’im haul you roun’ de yard, an’ den he’ll git in de bag fer you ter haul him ’roun’. What you wanter do is ter git ’im use ter de bag; you hear dat, don’t you? Git ’im use ter de bag.’
“So when little Riley come, de two un um had a great time er ridin’ in de bag; ’twuz des like ridin’ in a waggin, ’ceppin’ dat Riley Rabbit look like he ain’t got no mo’ sense dan ter haul little Wiley Wolf over de roughest groun’ he kin fin’, an’ when Wiley holler’d dat he hurt ’im, Riley ’ud say he won’t do it no mo’, but de nex’ chance he got, he’d do it ag’in.
“Well, dey had all sorts uv a time, an’ when Riley Rabbit went home, he up an’ tol’ um all what dey’d been a-playin’. Brer Rabbit ain’t say nothin’; he des sot dar, he did, an’ chaw his terbacker, an’ shot one eye. An’ when ol’ Brer Wolf come home dat night, Wiley tol’ ’im ’bout de good time dey’d had. Brer Wolf grin, he did, an’ lick his chops. He say, sezee, ‘Dey’s two parts ter dat game. When you git tired er ridin’ in de bag, you tie de bag.’ He went on, he did, an’ tol’ Wiley dat what he want ’im ter do is ter play ridin’ in de bag twel bofe got tired, an’ den play tyin’ de bag, an’ at de las’ he wuz ter tie de bag so little Riley Rabbit can’t git out, an’ den ter go ter bed an’ kiver up his head.
“So said, so done. Little Riley Rabbit come an’ played ridin’ in de bag, an’ den when dey got tired, dey played tyin’ de bag. ’Twuz mighty funny fer ter tie one an’er in de bag, an’ not know ef twuz gwineter be ontied. I dunner what would ’a’ happen ter little Riley Rab ef ol’ Brer Rabbit ain’t come along wid a big load er ’spicions. He call de little Rabbit ter de fence. He talk loud an’ he say dat he want ’im fer ter fetch a turn er kindlin’ when he start home, an’ den he say ter Riley, ‘Be tied in de bag once mo’, an’ den when Wiley gits in tie ’im in dar hard an’ fas’. Wet de string in yo’ mouf, an’ pull it des ez tight ez you kin. Den you come on home; yo’ mammy want you.’
“De las’ time Wiley Wolf got in de bag, little Riley tied it so tight dat he couldn’t ’a’ got it loose ef he’d ’a’ tried. He tied it tight, he did, an’ den he ’low, ‘I got ter go home fer ter git some kindlin’, an’ when I do dat, I’ll come back an’ play twel supper-time.’ But ef he yever is went back dar, I ain’t never hear talk un it.”
Uncle Remus closed his eyes apparently, but not so tight that he couldn’t watch the little boy. The youngster had been listening to the story too intently to ask questions, and now he sat silent waiting for Uncle Remus to finish. He waited and waited until he grew impatient, and then he raised his head. He still waited a few moments longer, but Uncle Remus to all appearances was nodding. “Uncle Remus,” he cried, “what became of Wiley Wolf?”
The old negro pretended to wake with a start. “Ain’t I hear some un talkin’?” He looked all around, and then his eye fell on the little boy. “Dar you is!” he exclaimed with a laugh. “I done been ter sleep an’ drempt dat I wuz eatin’ a slishe er tater custard ez big ez de waggin body.” The little boy repeated his question, whereupon Uncle Remus held up his hands with a gesture of astonishment. “Ain’t I tol’ you dat? Den I mus’ be gittin’ ol’ an’ wobbly. De fus’ thing when I git ter de house I’m gwineter be weighed fer ter see how ol’ I is. Now, whar wuz I at?”
“Wiley Wolf was in the bag,” the little boy answered.
“Ah-h-h! Right whar Riley Rab lef’ ’im. He wuz in de bag an’ dar he stayed twel ol’ Brer Wolf come fum whar he been workin’ in de fiel’--de creeturs wuz mos’ly farmers in dem days. He come back, he did, an’ he see de bag, an’ he know by de bulk un it dat dey wuz sump’n in it, an’ he ’uz so greedy dat his mouf fair dribbled. Now, den, when Wiley Wolf got in de bag, he wuz mighty tired. He’d been a-scufflin’ an a-rastlin’ twel he wuz plum’ wo’ out. He hear Riley Rab say he wuz comin’ back, an’ while he wuz waitin’, he drapt off ter sleep, an’ dar he wuz when his daddy come home--soun’ asleep.
“Ol’ Brer Wolf ain’t got but one idee, an’ dat wuz dat Riley Rab wuz in de bag, so he went ter de winder, an’ ax ef de pot wuz b’ilin’, an’ his ol’ ’oman say ’twuz. Wid dat, he pick up de bag, an’ fo’ you could bat yo’ eye, he had it soused in de pot.”
“In the boiling water!” exclaimed the child.
“Dat’s de way de tale runs,” replied Uncle Remus. “Ez dey gun it ter me, so I gin it to you.”