THIS new little boy was intensely practical. He had imagination, but it was unaccompanied by any of the ancient illusions that make the memory of childhood so delightful. Young as he was he had a contempt for those who believed in Santa Claus. He believed only in things that his mother considered valid and vital, and his training had been of such a character as to leave out all the beautiful romances of childhood.
Thus when Uncle Remus mentioned something about Brother Rabbit’s laughing-place, he pictured it forth in his mind as a sure-enough place that the four-footed creatures had found necessary for their comfort and convenience. This way of looking at things was, in some measure, a great help; it cut off long explanations, and stopped many an embarrassing question.
On one occasion when the two were together, the little boy referred to Brother Rabbit’s laughing-place and talked about it in much the same way that he would have talked about Atlanta. If Uncle Remus was unprepared for such literalness he displayed no astonishment, and for all the child knew, he had talked the matter over with hundreds of other little boys.
“Uncle Remus,” said the lad, “when was the last time you went to Brother Rabbit’s laughing-place?”
“To tell you de trufe, honey, I dunno ez I ever been dar,” the old man responded.
“Now, I think that is very queer,” remarked the little boy.
Uncle Remus reflected a moment before committing himself. “I dunno ez I yever went right spang ter de place an’ put my han’ on it. I speck I could ’a’ gone dar wid mighty little trouble, but I wuz so use ter hearin’ ’bout it dat de idee er gwine dar ain’t never got in my head. It’s sorter like ol’ Mr. Grissom’s house. Dey say he lives in a quare little shanty not fur fum de mill. I know right whar de shanty is, yit I ain’t never been dar, an’ I ain’t never seed it.
“It’s de same way wid Brer Rabbit’s laughin’-place. Dem what tol’ me ’bout it had likely been dar, but I ain’t never had no ’casion fer ter go dar myse’f. Yit ef I could walk fifteen er sixty mile a day, like I useter, I boun’ you I could go right now an’ put my han’ on de place. Dey wuz one time--but dat’s a tale, an’, goodness knows, you done hear nuff tales er one kin’ an’ anudder fer ter make a hoss sick--dey ain’t no two ways ’bout dat.”
Uncle Remus paused and sighed, and then closed his eyes with a groan, as though he were sadly exercised in spirit; but his eyes were not shut so tight that he could not observe the face of the child. It was a prematurely grave little face that the old man saw and whether this was the result of the youngster’s environment, or his training, or his temperament, it would have been difficult to say. But there it was, the gravity that was only infrequently disturbed by laughter. Uncle Remus perhaps had seen more laughter in that little face than any one else. Occasionally the things that the child laughed at were those that would have convulsed other children, but more frequently, as it seemed, his smiles were the result of his own reflections and mental comparisons.
“I tell you what, honey,” said Uncle Remus, opening wide his eyes, “dat’s de ve’y thing you oughter have.”
“What is it?” the child inquired, though apparently he had no interest in the matter.
“What you want is a laughin’-place, whar you kin go an’ tickle yo’se’f an’ laugh whedder you wanter laugh er no. I boun’ ef you had a laughin’-place, you’d gain flesh, an’ when yo’ pa comes down fum ’Lantamatantarum, he wouldn’t skacely know you.”
“But I don’t want father not to know me,” the child answered. “If he didn’t know me, I should feel as if I were some one else.”
“Oh, he’d know you bimeby,” said Uncle Remus, “an’ he’d be all de gladder fer ter see you lookin’ like somebody.”
“Do I look like nobody?” asked the little boy.
“When you fust come down here,” Uncle Remus answered, “you look like nothin’ ’tall, but sence you been ramblin’ roun’ wid me, you done ’gun ter look like somebody--mos’ like um.”
“I reckon that’s because I have a laughing-place,” said the child. “You didn’t know I had one, did you? I have one, but you are the first person in the world that I have told about it.”
“Well, suh!” Uncle Remus exclaimed with well-feigned astonishment; “an’ you been settin’ here lis’nin’ at me, an’ all de time you got a laughin’-place er yo’ own! I never would ’a’ b’lieved it uv you. Wharbouts is dish yer place?”
“It is right here where you are,” said the little boy with a winning smile.
“Honey, you don’t tell me!” exclaimed the old man, looking all around. “Ef you kin see it, you see mo’ dan I does--dey ain’t no two ways ’bout dat.”
“Why, you are my laughing-place,” cried the little lad with an extraordinary burst of enthusiasm.
“Well, I thank my stars!” said Uncle Remus with emotion. “You sho’ does need ter laugh lots mo’ dan what you does. But what make you laugh at me, honey? Is my britches too big, er is I too big fer my britches? You neen’ter laugh at dis coat, kaze it’s one dat yo’ grandaddy useter have. It’s mighty nigh new, kaze I ain’t wo’d it mo’ dan ’lev’m year. It may look shiny in places, but when you see a coat look shiny, it’s a sign dat it’s des ez good ez new. You can’t laugh at my shoes, kaze I made um myse’f, an’ ef dey lack shape dat’s kaze I made um fer ter fit my rheumatism an’ my foots bofe.”
“Why, I never laughed at you!” exclaimed the child, blushing at the very idea. “I laugh at what you say, and at the stories you tell.”
“La, honey! You sho’ dunno nothin’; you oughter hearn me tell tales when I could tell um. I boun’ you’d ’a’ busted de buttons off’n yo’ whatchermacollums. Yo’ pa useter set right whar you er settin’ an’ laugh twel he can’t laugh no mo’. But dem wuz laughin’ times, an’ it look like dey ain’t never comin’ back. Dat ’uz ’fo’ eve’ybody wuz rushin’ roun’ trying fer ter git money what don’t b’long ter um by good rights.”
“I was thinking to myself,” remarked the child, “that if Brother Rabbit had a laughing-place I had a better one.”
“Honey, hush!” exclaimed Uncle Remus with a laugh. “You’ll have me gwine roun’ here wid my head in de a’r, an’ feelin’ so biggity dat I won’t look at my own se’f in de lookin’-glass. I ain’t too ol’ fer dat kinder talk ter sp’ile me.”
“Didn’t you say there was a tale about Brother Rabbit’s laughing-place?” inquired the little boy, when Uncle Remus ceased to admire himself.
“I dunner whedder you kin call it a tale,” replied the old man. “It’s mighty funny ’bout tales,” he went on. “Tell um ez you may an’ whence you may, some’ll say tain’t no tale, an’ den ag’in some’ll say dat it’s a fine tale. Dey ain’t no tellin’. Dat de reason I don’t like ter tell no tale ter grown folks, speshually ef dey er white folks. Dey’ll take it an’ put it by de side er some yuther tale what dey got in der min’ an’ dey’ll take on dat slonchidickler grin what allers say, ‘Go way, nigger man! You dunner what a tale is!’ An’ I don’t--I’ll say dat much fer ter keep some un else fum sayin’ it.
“Now, ’bout dat laughin’-place--it seem like dat one time de creeturs got ter ’sputin’ ’mongs’ deyselves ez ter which un kin laugh de loudest. One word fotch on an’er twel it look like dey wuz gwineter be a free fight, a rumpus an’ a riot. Dey show’d der claws an’ tushes, an’ shuck der horns, an’ rattle der hoof. Dey had der bristles up, an’ it look like der eyes wuz runnin’ blood, dey got so red.
“Des ’bout de time when it look like you can’t keep um ’part, little Miss Squinch Owl flew’d up a tree an’ ’low, ‘You all dunner what laughin’ is--ha-ha-ha-ha! You can’t laugh when you try ter laugh--ha-ha-ha-haha!’ De creeturs wuz ’stonisht. Here wuz a little fowl not much bigger dan a jay-bird laughin’ herse’f blin’ when dey wa’n’t a thing in de roun’ worl’ fer ter laugh at. Dey stop der quoilin’ atter dat an’ look at one an’er. Brer Bull say, ‘Is anybody ever hear de beat er dat? Who mought de lady be?’ Dey all say dey dunno, an’ dey got a mighty good reason fer der sesso, kaze Miss Squinch Owl, she flies at night wid de bats an’ de Betsey Bugs.
“Well, dey quit der quoilin’, de creeturs did, but dey still had der ’spute; de comin’ er Miss Squinch Owl ain’t settle dat. So dey ’gree dat dey’d meet some’rs when de wedder got better, an’ try der han’ at laughin’ fer ter see which un kin outdo de yuther.” Observing that the little boy was laughing very heartily, Uncle Remus paused long enough to inquire what had hit him on his funny-bone.
“I was laughing because you said the animals were going to meet an’ try their hand at laughing,” replied the lad when he could get breath enough to talk.
Uncle Remus regarded the child with a benevolent smile of admiration. “Youer long ways ahead er me--you sho’ is. Dey ain’t na’er n’er chap in de worl’ what’d ’a’ cotch on so quick. You put me in min’ er de peerch, what grab de bait ’fo’ it hit de water. Well, dat’s what de creeturs done. Dey say dey wuz gwineter make trial fer ter see which un is de out-laughin’est er de whole caboodle, an’ dey name de day, an’ all prommus fer ter be dar, ceppin’ Brer Rabbit, an’ he ’low dat he kin laugh well nuff fer ter suit hisse’f an’ his fambly, ’sides dat, he don’t keer ’bout laughin’ less’n dey’s sump’n fer ter laugh at. De yuther creeturs dey beg ’im fer ter come, but he shake his head an’ wiggle his mustache, an’ say dat when he wanter laugh, he got a laughin’-place fer ter go ter, whar he won’t be pestered by de balance er creation. He say he kin go dar an’ laugh his fill, an’ den go on ’bout his business, ef he got any business, an’ ef he ain’t got none, he kin go ter play.
“De yuther creeturs ain’t know what ter make er all dis, an’ dey wonder an’ wonder how Brer Rabbit kin have a laughin’-place an’ dey ain’t got none. When dey ax ’im ’bout it, he ’spon’, he did, dat he speck ’twuz des de diffunce ’twix one creetur an’ an’er. He ax um fer ter look at folks, how diffunt dey wuz, let ’lone de creeturs. One man ’d be rich an’ an’er man po’, an’ he ax how come dat.
“Well, suh, dey des natchally can’t tell ’im what make de diffunce ’twix folks no mo’ dan dey kin tell ’im de diffunce ’twix’ de creeturs. Dey wuz stumped; dey done fergit all ’bout de trial what wuz ter come off, but Brer Rabbit fotch um back ter it. He say dey ain’t no needs fer ter see which kin outdo all de balance un um in de laughin’ business, kaze anybody what got any sense know dat de donkey is a natchal laugher, same as Brer Coon is a natchal pacer.
“Brer B’ar look at Brer Wolf, an’ Brer Wolf look at Brer Fox, an’ den dey all look at one an’er. Brer Bull, he say, ‘Well, well, well!’ an’ den he groan; Brer B’ar say, ‘Who’d ’a’ thunk it?’ an’ den he growl; an’ Brer Wolf say ‘Gracious me!’ an’ den he howl. Atter dat, dey ain’t say much, kaze dey ain’t much fer ter say. Dey des stan’ roun’ an’ look kinder sheepish. Dey ain’t ’spute wid Brer Rabbit, dough dey’d ’a’ like ter ’a’ done it, but dey sot about an’ make marks in de san’ des like you see folks do when deyer tryin’ fer ter git der thinkin’ machine ter work.
“Well, suh, dar dey sot an’ dar dey stood. Dey ax Brer Rabbit how he know how ter fin’ his laughin’-place, an’ how he know it wuz a laughin’-place atter he got dar. He tap hisse’f on de head, he did, an’ ’low dat dey wuz a heap mo’ und’ his hat dan what you could git out wid a fine-toof comb. Den dey ax ef dey kin see his laughin’-place, an’ he say he’d take de idee ter bed wid ’im, an’ study ’pon it, but he kin say dis much right den, dat if he did let um see it, dey’d hatter go dar one at a time, an’ dey’d hatter do des like he say; ef dey don’t dey’ll git de notion dat it’s a cryin’-place.
“Dey ’gree ter dis, de creeturs did, an’ den Brer Rabbit say dat while deyer all der tergedder, dey better choosen ’mongs’ deyse’f which un uv um wuz gwine fus’, an’ he’d choosen de res’ when de time come. Dey jowered an’ jowered, an’ bimeby, dey hatter leave it all ter Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit, he put his han’ ter his head, an’ shot his eyeballs an’ do like he studyin’. He say ‘De mo’ I think ’bout who shill be de fus’ one, de mo’ I git de idee dat it oughter be Brer Fox. He been here long ez anybody, an’ he’s purty well thunk uv by de neighbors--I ain’t never hear nobody breave a breff ag’in ’im.’
“Dey all say dat dey had Brer Fox in min’ all de time, but somehow dey can’t come right out wid his name, an’ dey vow dat ef dey had ’greed on somebody, dat somebody would sho’ ’a’ been Brer Fox. Den, atter dat, ’twuz all plain sailin’. Brer Rabbit say he’d meet Brer Fox at sech an’ sech a place, at sech an’ sech a time, an’ atter dat dey wa’n’t no mo’ ter be said. De creeturs all went ter de place whar dey live at, an’ done des like dey allers done.
“Brer Rabbit make a soon start fer ter go ter de p’int whar he prommus ter met Brer Fox, but soon ez he wuz, Brer Fox wuz dar befo’ ’im. It seem like he wuz so much in de habits er bein’ outdone by Brer Rabbit dat he can’t do widout it. Brer Rabbit bow, he did, an’ pass de time er day wid Brer Fox, an’ ax ’im how his fambly wuz. Brer Fox say dey wuz peart ez kin be, an’ den he ’low dat he ready an’ a-waitin’ fer ter go an’ see dat great laughin’-place what Brer Rabbit been talkin’ ’bout.
“Brer Rabbit say dat suit him ter a gnat’s heel, an’ off dey put. Bimeby dey come ter one er deze here cle’r places dat you sometimes see in de middle uv a pine thicket. You may ax yo’se’f how come dey don’t no trees grow dar when dey’s trees all round, but you ain’t gwineter git no answer, an’ needer is dey anybody what kin tell you. Dey got dar, dey did, an’ den Brer Rabbit make a halt. Brer Fox ’low, ‘Is dis de place? I don’t feel no mo’ like laughin’ now dan I did ’fo’ I come.’
“Brer Rabbit, he say, ‘Des keep yo’ jacket on, Brer Fox; ef you git in too big a hurry it might come off. We done come mighty nigh ter de place, an’ ef you wan ter do some ol’ time laughin’, you’ll hatter do des like I tell you; ef you don’t wanter laugh, I’ll des show you de place, an’ we’ll go on back whar we come fum, kaze dis is one er de days dat I ain’t got much time ter was’e laughin’ er cryin’.’ Brer Fox ’low dat he ain’t so mighty greedy ter laugh, an’ wid dat, Brer Rabbit whirl roun’, he did, an’ make out he gwine on back whar he live at. Brer Fox holler at ’im; he say, ‘Come on back, Brer Rabbit; I’m des a-projickin’ wid you.’
“‘Ef you wanter projick, Brer Fox, you’ll hatter go home an’ projick wid dem what wanter be projicked wid. I ain’t here kaze I wanter be here. You ax me fer ter show you my laughin’-place, an’ I ’greed. I speck we better be gwine on back.’ Brer Fox say he come fer ter see Brer Rabbit’s laughin’-place, an’ he ain’t gwineter be satchify twel he see it. Brer Rabbit ’low dat ef dat de case, den he mus’ ac’ de gentermun all de way thoo, an’ quit his behavishness. Brer Fox say he’ll do de best he kin, an’ den Brer Rabbit show ’im a place whar de bamboo briars, an’ de blackberry bushes, an’ de honeysuckles done start ter come in de pine thicket, an’ can’t come no furder. ’Twa’n’t no thick place; ’twuz des whar de swamp at de foot er de hill peter’d out in tryin’ ter come ter dry lan’. De bushes an’ vines wuz thin an’ scanty, an’ ef dey could ’a’ talked dey’d ’a’ hollered loud fer water.
“Brer Rabbit show Brer Fox de place, an’ den tell ’im dat de game is fer ter run full tilt thoo de vines an’ bushes, an’ den run back, an’ thoo um ag’in an’ back, an’ he say he’d bet a plug er terbacker ’g’in a ginger cake dat by de time Brer Fox done dis he’d be dat tickled dat he can’t stan’ up fer laughin’. Brer Fox shuck his head; he ain’t nigh b’lieve it, but fer all dat, he make up his min’ fer ter do what Brer Rabbit say, spite er de fack dat his ol’ ’oman done tell im ’fo’ he lef’ home dat he better keep his eye open, kaze Brer Rabbit gwineter run a rig on ’im.
“He tuck a runnin’ start, he did, an’ he went thoo de bushes an’ de vines like he wuz runnin’ a race. He run an’ he come back a-runnin’, an’ he run back, an’ dat time he struck sump’n wid his head. He try ter dodge it, but he seed it too late, an’ he wuz gwine too fas’. He struck it, he did, an’ time he do dat, he fetched a howl dat you might ’a’ hearn a mile, an’ atter dat, he holler’d yap, yap, yap, an’ ouch, ouch, ouch, an’ yow, yow, yow, an’ whiles dis wuz gwine on Brer Rabbit wuz thumpin’ de ground wid his behime foot, an’ laughin’ fit ter kill. Brer Fox run roun’ an’ roun’, an’ kep’ on snappin’ at hisse’f an’ doin’ like he wuz tryin’ fer ter t’ar his hide off. He run, an’ he roll, an’ wallow, an’ holler, an’ fall, an’ squall twell it look like he wuz havin’ forty-lev’m duck fits.
“He got still atter while, but de mo’ stiller he got, de wuss he looked. His head wuz all swell up, an’ he look like he been run over in de road by a fo’-mule waggin. Brer Rabbit ’low, ‘I’m glad you had sech a good time, Brer Fox; I’ll hatter fetch you out ag’in. You sho’ done like you wuz havin’ fun.’ Brer Fox ain’t say a word; he wuz too mad fer ter talk. He des sot aroun’ an’ lick hisse’f an’ try ter git his ha’r straight. Brer Rabbit ’low, ‘You ripped aroun’ in dar twel I wuz skeer’d you wuz gwine ter hurt yo’se’f, an’ I b’lieve in my soul you done gone an’ bump yo’ head ag’in a tree, kaze it’s all swell up. You better go home, Brer Fox, an’ let yo’ ol’ ’oman poultice you up.’
“Brer Fox show his tushes, an’ say, ‘You said dis wuz a laughin’-place.’ Brer Rabbit ’low, ‘I said ’twuz my laughin’-place, an’ I’ll say it ag’in. What you reckon I been doin’ all dis time? Ain’t you hear me laughin’? An’ what you been doin’? I hear you makin’ a mighty fuss in dar, an’ I say ter myse’f dat Brer Fox is havin’ a mighty big time.’
“‘I let you know dat I ain’t been laughin’,’ sez Brer Fox, sezee.”
Uncle Remus paused, and waited to be questioned. “What was the matter with the Fox, if he wasn’t laughing?” the child asked after a thoughtful moment.
Uncle Remus flung his head back, and cried out in a sing-song tone,
“He run ter de Eas’ an he run ter de Wes’
An’ jammed his head in a hornet’s nes’!”