Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in July 2019 with all known ATU Classifications.

When Brother Rabbit Was King

ONE afternoon, while Uncle Remus was sitting in the sun, he felt so comfortable and thankful for all the blessings that he enjoyed, and for those that he had seen others enjoy, that he suddenly closed his eyes; and he had no sooner done so than he drifted across the dim and pleasant borderland that lies somewhere between sleeping and waking. He must have drifted back again immediately, for it seemed that he was not so fast asleep that he was unable to hear the sound of stealthy footsteps somewhere near him. Instantly he was on the alert, but still kept his eyes closed. He knew at once that the little boy was trying to surprise him. The lad had improved much in health since coming to the plantation, and with the growth of his strength had come a certain degree of boisterousness that his mother thought was somewhat unusual, but which his grandmother and Uncle Remus knew was the natural result of good health.

                By opening one eye a trifle, Uncle Remus could watch the youngster, who was creeping, Indian-like, upon him, and this gave the old negro an immense advantage, for just as the little boy was about to jump at him, Uncle Remus straightened himself in his chair and uttered a blood-curdling yell that would have alarmed a much larger and older person than the lad. As a matter of fact, the little fellow was almost paralyzed with fright, and for a moment or two could hardly get his breath.

                “Why, what in the world is the matter with you, Uncle Remus?” he asked as soon as he could speak.

                “Wuz dat you comin’ ’long dar, honey?” said Uncle Remus, by way of response. “Well, ef ’twuz, you kin des go up dar ter de big house an’ tell um all dat you saved my life, kaze dat what you done. Dey ain’t no tellin’ what would ’a’ happen ef you hadn’t ’a’ come creepin’ ’long an’ woke me up, kaze whiles I wuz dozin’ dar I wuz on a train, an’ de bullgine look like it wuz runnin’ away. ’Twant one er deze yer ’commydatin’ trains, kaze de man what tuck up de tickets say he wa’n’t in no hurry fer ter see how fur anybody gwine; dey wuz all boun’ fer de same place, an’ when dey got dar dey’d know it. De kyars wuz lined wid caliker, an’ de brakeman wuz made out’n straw. It went on, it did, an’ de bullgine run faster an’ faster twel it run so fast you couldn’t hear it toot fer brakes, an’ des ’bout de time dat eve’ything wuz a gittin’ smashed up, here you come an’ wokened me--an’ a mighty good thing, kaze ef I’d ’a’ stayed on dat train dey wouldn’t ’a’ been ’nough er me left fer de congergation ter sing a song over. I’m mighty thankful dat dey’s somebody got sense ’nough fer ter come ’long an’ skeer me out er my troubles.”

                This statement was intended to change the course of the little boy’s thoughts--to cause him to forget that he had been frightened--and it was quite successful, for he began to talk about dreams in general, telling some peculiar ones of his own, such as children have.

                “Talkin’ ’bout dreams,” remarked Uncle Remus, “it put me in min’ er de man what been sick off an’ on, an’ he hatter be mighty keerful er his eatin’. One night he had a dream. It seemed like dat somebody come ’long an’ gi’ him a great big hunk er ol’ time ginger-cake, an’ it smell so sweet an’ taste so good dat he e’t ’bout a poun’. He wuz eatin’ it in his sleep, but de dream wuz so natchal dat de nex’ mornin’ dey hatter sen’ fer de doctor, an’ ’twuz e’en ’bout all dey could do fer ter pull ’im thoo. De doctor gun ’im all de truck what he had in his saddle-bags, an’ ’low dat he b’lieve in his soul he’d hatter sen’ fer mo’, an’ den atter dat he tuck an’ lay down de law ter de man. He say dat whatsomever else he mought do, he better not eat no ginger-cakes in his dreams, kaze de next un ’ud be sho’ fer ter take ’im off spite er all de doctor truck in de roun’ worl’.”

                Then the little boy told of a dream he had had. It seems that he had slipped into the pantry, when no one was looking, and had taken a piece of apple-pie. It wasn’t stealing, he said, for he knew that if he asked his grandmother for a piece she would have given it to him; but he didn’t want to bother her while she was talking to the sewing-woman, and so he just went in the pantry and got it for himself. Perhaps he took a larger piece than his grandmother would have given him, but he had nothing to measure it by, and so he was compelled to guess how much she would have given him.

                “I boun’ you stretched yo’ guesser, honey,” said Uncle Remus dryly.

                The child admitted with a laugh that perhaps he had, and he was very sorry of it afterwards, for when he went to bed he dreamed that something scratched at his door and made such a fuss that he was obliged to get up and let it in. He didn’t wait to see what it was, but just flung the door open, and ran and jumped back in bed, pulling the cover over his head. In the dream he lay right still and listened. Everything was so quiet that he became curious, and finally ventured to look out from under the cover. Well, sir, the sight that he saw was enough, for between the door and the bed a big black dog was lying. He seemed to be very tired, for his tongue hung out long and red, and he was panting as though he had come a long way in a very short time.

                Uncle Remus groaned in sympathy. The black dog that gallops through a dream with his tongue hanging out was one of his familiars. “I know dat dog,” he said. “He got a bunch er white on de een’ er his tail, an’ his eyeballs look like dey green in de dark. You call him an’ he’ll growl, call him ag’in, an’ he’ll howl. I’d know dat dog ef I wuz ter see him in de daytime--I’d know him so well dat I’d run an’ ax somebody fer ter please, suh, wake me up, an’ do it mighty quick.”

                The little boy didn’t know anything about that; what he did know was that the dog in his dream, when he had rested himself, jumped up on the bed, and began to nose at the cover, and he seemed to get mad when he failed to pull it off the little boy. He tried and tried, and then he seized a corner of the counterpane, or the spread, or whatever you call it, and shook it with his teeth. When he grew tired of this, the little boy could hear him smelling all about over the bed, and then he knew the creature was hunting for the piece of apple-pie.

                Uncle Remus agreed with the child about this. “’Cordin’ ter my notion,” he said, “when folks slip ’roun’ an’ take dat what don’t b’long ter um er dat what dey oughtn’t ter have by good rights, de big black dog is sho’ ter come ’roun’ growlin’ an’ smellin’ atter dey goes ter bed. Dey ain’t no two ways ’bout dat. Dey may not know it, dey may be too sleepy fer ter see ’im in der dreams, but de dog’s dar. Mo’ dan dat, dogs will growl an’ smell ’roun’ ef deyer in dreams er outer dreams. Dey got in de habits er smellin’ ’way back yander in de days when ol’ Brer Rabbit had tooken de place er de King one time when de King wanter go off down de country fishin’.”

                The little boy seemed to be very much interested in this information, but while they were speaking of this curious habit that is common to dogs, a hound that had been raised on the place came into view. He was going at a gallop, as if he had important business to attend to, but when he had galloped past a large tree, he paused suddenly, and turned back to investigate it with his nose; and though he was entirely familiar with the tree, it seemed to be new to him now, for he smelled all around the trunk of it and was apparently much perplexed. Whatever information he received was sufficient to cause him to forget all about the business that had caused him to come galloping past the tree, for when his investigation had ended, he turned about and went back the way he had come.

                “Now, you see dat, don’t you?” exclaimed Uncle Remus, with some show of indignation. “Ain’t it des a little mo’ dan you wanter stan’? Here he come, gwine, I dunner whar, des a-gallin’-up like he done been sent fer. He come ter dat ar tree, he did, an’ went on by--spang by!--an’ den ’fo’ you kin bat yo’ eyeball, whiff, he turn roun’ an’ go ter smellin’ at de tree, des like he ain’t never seed it befo’; an’ he must ’a’ got some kind er news whar he smellin’ at, kaze atter he smell twel it look like he gwineter smell de bark clean off, he fergit all ’bout whar he gwine, an’ tuck his tail an’ go on back whar he come fum. Maybe you know sump’n ’bout it, honey--you an’ de balance er de white folks, but me--I’m bofe blin’ an’ deff when it come ter tellin’ you what de dog foun’ out. I may know what make ’im smell at de tree, but what news he got I never is ter tell you.”

                “Well, you know you said that dogs got in the habit of smelling away back yonder when old Brother Rabbit took the place of the King, who had gone fishing. I was wondering if that was a story.”

                “Wuz you, honey?” Uncle Remus asked with a pleased smile. “Well, you sho’ is got a dumplin’ eye fer de kinder tales what I tells. I b’lieve ef I wuz ter take one er dem ol’-time tales an’ skin it an’ drag de hide thoo de house an’ roun’ de lot--ef I wuz ter do dat, I b’lieve you’d open up on de trail same ez ol’ Louder follerin’ on atter Brer Possum; I sho’ does!”

                The child seemed to appreciate the compliment, and he laughed in a way that did the old negro a world of good. “I have found out one thing,” said the little boy with emphasis. “Whenever you are hinting at a story, you always look at me out of the corner of your eye, and there’s always a funny little wrinkle at the corner of your mouth.”

                “Well, suh!” exclaimed Uncle Remus, gleefully; “well, suh! an’ me a-settin’ right here an’ doin’ dat a-way ’fo’ yo’ face an’ eyes! I never would ’a’ ’speckted it. Peepin’ out de cornder er my eyeball, an’ a-wrinklin’ at de mouf! It look like I mus’ be gettin’ ol’ an’ fibble in de min’.” He chuckled as proudly as if some one had given him a piece of pound-cake of which he was very fond. But presently his chuckling ceased, and he leaned back in his chair with a serious air.

                “I dunno so mighty well ’bout all de yuther times you talkin’ ’bout, honey, but when I say what I did ’bout ol’ Brer Rabbit takin’ de place er der King, I sho’ had a tale in my min’. I say tale, but I dunner what you’ll say ’bout it; you kin name it atter you git it. Well, way back yander, mos’ ’fo’ de time when folks got in de habits er dreamin’ dreams, dey wuz a King an’ dish yer King king’d it over all un um what wuz dar, mo’ speshually de creeturs, kaze what folks dey wuz ain’t know nothin’ ’tall ’bout whedder dey need any kingin’ er not; look like dey didn’t count.

                “Well, dish yer King what I’m a-tellin’ you ’bout had purty well grow’d up at de business, and de time come when he got mighty tired er settin’ in one place an’ hol’in’ a crown on his head fer ter keep it fum fallin’ on de flo’. He say ter hisse’f dat he wanter git out an’ git de fresh a’r, an’ have some fun ’long wid dem what he been kingin’ over. He ’low dat he wanter fix it so dat he ain’t a-keerin’ whedder school keep er no, an’ he ax um all what de best thing he kin do. Well, one say one thing an’ de yuther say t’other, but bimeby some un um chipped in an’ say dat de best way ter have fun is ter go fishin’, an’ dis kinder hit de King right in de middle er his notions.

                “He jump up an’ crack his heels tergedder, he did, an’ he say dat dat’s what he been thinkin’ ’bout all de time. A-fishin’ it wuz an’ a-fishin’ he’d go, ef his life wuz spar’d twel he kin git ter de creek. An’, wid dat, dey wuz a mighty stirrin’ roun’ ’mongs’ dem what he wuz a-kingin’ over; some un um run off ter git fishin’-poles, an’ some run fer ter dig bait, an’ some run fer ter git de bottle, an’ dar dey had it--you’d ’a’ thunk dat all creation wuz gwine fishin’.”

                “Uncle Remus,” said the little boy, interrupting the old man, “what did they want with a bottle?”

                The old man looked at the child with a puzzled expression on his face. “De bottle?” he asked with a sigh. “I b’lieve I did say sump’n ’bout de bottle. I dunner whedder it ’uz a long white bottle er a chunky black un. Dem what handed de tale down ter me ain’t say what kinder one it wuz, an’ I’m fear’d ter say right short off dat it ’uz one er de yuther. We’ll des call it a plain, eve’yday bottle an’ let it go at dat.”

                “But what did they want with a bottle, Uncle Remus?” persisted the little boy.

                “You ain’t never been fishin’, is you honey? An’ you ain’t never see yo’ daddy go fishin’. All I know is dat whar dey’s any fishin’ gwine on, you’ll fin’ a bottle some’rs in de neighborhoods ef you’ll scratch about in de bushes. Well, de creeturs done like folks long ’fo’ folks got ter doin’ dat a-way, an’ when dish yer King went a-fishin’, he had ter have a bottle fer ter put de bait in.

                “When eve’ything got good an’ ready, an’ de King wuz ’bout ter start off, ol’ Brer Rabbit kinder hung his head on one side an’ set up a snigger. De King, he look ’stonish an’ den he ’low, ‘What’s de joke, ol’ frien’?’ ‘Well,’ sez ol’ Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘it look like ter me dat you ’bout ter go off an’ fergit sump’n. ’Tain’t none er my business, but I couldn’t he’p fum gigglin’.’ De King, he say, ‘Up an’ out wid it, ol’ frien’; le’s hear de wust dey is ter hear.’ Ol’ Brer Rabbit, he say, sezee, ‘I dunner ef it makes any diffunce, but who gwine ter do de kingin’ whiles you gone a-fishin’?’

                “Well, de King look like he wuz might’ly tuck back; he flung up bofe han’s an’ sot right flat in a cheer, an’ den he ’low, ‘I done got so dat I’m de fergittines’ creetur what live on top er de groun’; you may hunt high an’ low an’ you won’t never fin’ dem what kin beat me a-fergittin’. Here I wuz ’bout fer ter go off an’ leave de whole business at sixes an’ sev’ms.’ Ol’ Brer Rabbit, he say, sezee, ‘Oh, I speck dat would ’a’ been all right; dey ain’t likely ter be no harrycane, ner no fresh’ whiles you gone.’ De King, he ’low, ‘Dat ain’t de thing; here I wuz ’bout ter go off on a frolic an’ leave eve’ything fer ter look atter itse’f. What yo’ reckon folks would ’a’ said? I tell you now, dey ain’t no fun in bein’ a King, kaze yo’ time ain’t yo’ own, an’ you can’t turn roun’ widout skinnin’ yo’ shins on some by-law er ’nother. ’Fo’ I go, ef go I does, I got ter ’p’int somebody fer ter take my place an’ be King whiles I’m gone; an’ ef ’twant dat, it’d be sump’n’ else, an’ so dar you go year in an’ year out.’

                “He sot dar, he did, an’ study an’ study, an’ bimeby he say, sezee, ‘Brer Rabbit, s’posin’ you take my place whiles I’m gone? I’ll pay you well; all you got to do is ter set right flat in a cheer an’ make a dollar a day.’ Ol’ Brer Rabbit say dat would suit him mighty well, kaze he bleeze fer ter have some money so he kin buy his ol’ ’oman a caliker dress. Well, it ain’t take um long fer ter fix it all up, an’ so Brer Rabbit, he done de kingin’ whiles de King gone a-fishin’. He made de job a mighty easy one, kaze stidder settin’ up an’ hol’in’ de crown on his head, he tied some strings on it an’ fix it so it’d stay on his head widout hol’in’.

                “Well, when de King went a-fishin’, he went de back way, an’ he ain’t mo’ dan got out de gate twel ol’ Brer Rabbit hear a big rumpus in de front yard. He hear sump’n’ growlin’ an’ howlin’ an’ whinin’, an’ he ax what it wuz. Some er dem what wait on de King shuck der heads an’ say dat ef de King wuz dar he wouldn’t pay no ’tention ter de racket fer der longest; dey say dat de biggest kind er fuss ain’t ’sturb de King, kaze he’d des set right flat an’ wait fer some un ter come tell somebody what de rumpus is ’bout, an’ den dat yuther somebody would tell some un else, an’ maybe ’bout dinner-time de King would fin’ out what gwine on, when all he hatter do wuz ter look out de winder an’ see fer hisse’f.

                “When ol’ Brer Rabbit hear dat, he lay back ez well ez he kin wid dat ar crown on top er his head, an’ make out he takin’ a nap. Atter so long a time, word come dat Mr. Dog wuz out dar in de entry whar dey all hatter wait at, an’ he sont word dat he bleeze ter see de King. Ol’ Brer Rabbit, he sot dar, he did, an’ do like he studyin’, an’ atter so long a time, he tell um fer ter fetch Mr. Dog in an’ let him say what he got ter say. Well, Mr. Dog come creepin’ in, he did, an’ he look mighty ’umble-come-tumble. He wuz so po’ dat it look like you can see eve’y bone in his body an’ he wuz mangy lookin’. His head hung down, an’ he wuz kinder shiverin’ like he wuz col’. Brer Rabbit make out he tryin’ fer ter fix de crown on his head so it’ll set up straight, but all de time he wuz lookin’ at Mr. Dog fer ter see ef he know’d ’im--an’ sho’ ’nough, he did, kaze it uz de same Mr. Dog what done give him many a long chase.


                “Well, Mr. Dog, he stood dar wid his head hangin’ down an’ his tail ’tween his legs. Eve’ything wuz so still an’ sollum dat he ’gun ter git oneasy, an’ he look roun’ fer ter see ef dey’s any way fer ter git out widout runnin’ over somebody. Dey ain’t no way, an’ so Mr. Dog sorter wiggle de een’ er his tail fer ter show dat he ain’t mad, an’ he stood dar ’specktin’ dat eve’y minnit would be de nex’.

                “Bimeby, somebody say, ‘Who dat wanter see de King an’ what business is he got wid ’im?’ When Mr. Dog hear dat, de howl dat he sot up mought ’a’ been heern a mile er mo’. He up an’ ’low, he did, dat him an’ all his tribe, an’ mo’ speshually his kinnery, is been havin’ de wuss times dat anybody ever is hear tell un. He say dat whar dey use ter git meat, dey now gits bones, an’ mighty few er dem, an’ whar dey use ter be fat, dey now has ter lean up ag’in de fence, an’ lean mighty hard, ef dey wanter make a shadder. Mr. Dog had lots mo’ ter say, but de long an’ de short un it wuz dat him an’ his kinnery wa’n’t treated right.

                “Ol’ Brer Rabbit, which he playin’ King fer de day, he kinder study, an’ den he cle’r up his th’oat an’ look sollum. He ax ef dey’s any turkentime out dar in de back yard er in de cellar whar dey keep de harness grease, an’ when dey say dey speck dey’s a drap er two lef’, ol’ Brer Rabbit tell um fer ter fetch it in, an’ den he tell um ter git a poun’ er red pepper an’ mix it wid de turkentime. So said, so done. Dey grab Mr. Dog, an’ rub de turkentime an’ red pepper frum head ter heel, an’ when he holler dey run ’im out’n de place whar de kingin’ wuz done at.

                “Well, time went on, an’ one day follered an’er des like dey does now, an’ Mr. Dog ain’t never gone back home, whar his tribe an’ his kinnery wuz waitin’ fer ’im. Dey wait, an’ dey wait, an’ bimeby dey ’gun ter git oneasy. Den dey wait some mo’ but it git so dey can’t stan’ it no longer, an’ den a whole passel un um went ter de house whar dey do de kingin’ at, an’ make some inquirements ’bout Mr. Dog. Dem dat live at de King’s house up an’ tell um dat Mr. Dog done come an’ gone. Dey say he got what he come atter, an’ ef he ain’t gone back home dey dunner whar he is. Dey tol’ ’bout de po’ mouf he put up, an’ dey say dat dey gun ’im purty well all dat a gen’termun dog could ax fer.

                “De yuther dogs say dat Mr. Dog ain’t never come back home, an’ dem what live at de King’s house say dey mighty sorry fer ter hear sech bad news, an’ dey tell de dogs dat dey better hunt ’im up an’ fin’ out what he done wid dat what de king gi’ ’im. De dogs ax how dey gwineter know ’im when dey fin’ him, an’ dem at de King’s house say dey kin tell ’im by de smell, kaze dey put some turkentime an’ red pepper on ’im fer ter kill de fleas an’ kyo de bites. Well, sence dat day de yuther dogs been huntin’ fer de dog what went ter de King’s house; an’ how does dey hunt? ’Tain’t no needs fer ter tell you, honey, kaze you know pine-blank ez good ez I kin tell you. Sence dat day an’ hour dey been smellin’ fer ’im. Dey smells on de groun’ fer ter see ef he been ’long dar; dey smells de trees, de stumps, an’ de bushes, an’ when dey comes up wid an’er dog dat dey ain’t never seed befo’, dey smells him good fer ter see ef he got any red pepper an’ turkentime on ’im; an’ ef you’ll take notice dey sometimes smells at a bush er a stump, an’ der bristles will rise, an’ dey’ll paw de groun’ wid der fo’ feet, an’ likewise wid der behime feet, an’ growl like deyer mad. When dey do dat, dey er tellin’ you what dey gwineter do when dey git holt er dat dog what went to de King’s house an’ ain’t never come back. I may be wrong, but I’ll bet you a white ally ag’in’ a big long piece er mince-pie dat dey’ll be gwine on dat a-way when you git ter be ol’ ez I is.”

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: When Brother Rabbit Was King
Tale Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Book Title: Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation
Book Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1903
Country of Origin: United States
Classification: ATU 200B: Why Dogs Sniff at One Another

Back to Top