“I WISH you’d tell me what you tote a hankcher fer,” remarked Uncle Remus, after he had reflected over the matter a little while.
“Why, to keep my mouth clean,” answered the little boy.
Uncle Remus looked at the lad, and shook his head doubtfully. “Uh-uh!” he exclaimed. “You can’t fool folks when dey git ez ol’ what I is. I been watchin’ you now mo’ days dan I kin count, an’ I ain’t never see yo’ mouf dirty ’nuff fer ter be wiped wid a hankcher. It’s allers clean--too clean ter suit me. Dar’s yo’ pa, now; when he wuz a little chap like you, his mouf useter git dirty in de mornin’ an’ stay dirty plum twel night. Dey wa’ sca’cely a day dat he didn’t look like he been playin’ wid de pigs in de stable lot. Ef he yever is tote a hankcher, he ain’t never show it ter me.”
“He carries one now,” remarked the little boy with something like a triumphant look on his face.
“Tooby sho’,” said Uncle Remus; “tooby sho’ he do. He start ter totin’ one when he tuck an’ tuck a notion fer ter go a-courtin’. It had his name in one cornder, an’ he useter sprinkle it wid stuff out’n a pepper-sauce bottle. It sho’ wuz rank, dat stuff wuz; it smell so sweet it make you fergit whar you live at. I take notice dat you ain’t got none on yone.”
“No; mother says that cologne or any kind of perfumery on your handkerchief makes you common.”
Uncle Remus leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and permitted a heartrending groan to issue from his lips. The little boy showed enough anxiety to ask him what the matter was. “Nothin’ much, honey; I wuz des tryin’ fer ter count how many diffunt kinder people dey is in dis big worl’, an’ ’fo’ I got mo’ dan half done wid my countin’, a pain struck me in my mizry, an’ I had ter break off.”
“I know what you mean,” said the child. “You think mother is queer; grandmother thinks so too.”
“How come you ter be so wise, honey?” Uncle Remus inquired, opening his eyes wide with astonishment.
“I know by the way you talk, and by the way grandmother looks sometimes,” answered the little boy.
Uncle Remus said nothing for some time. When he did speak, it was to lead the little boy to believe that he had been all the time engaged in thinking about something else. “Talkin’ er dirty folks,” he said, “you oughter seed yo’ pa when he wuz a little bit er chap. Dey wuz long days when you couldn’t tell ef he wuz black er white, he wuz dat dirty. He’d come out’n de big house in de mornin’ ez clean ez a new pin, an’ ’fo’ ten er-clock you couldn’t tell what kinder clof his cloze wuz made out’n. Many’s de day when I’ve seed ol’ Miss--dat’s yo’ great-gran’mammy--comb ’nuff trash out’n his head fer ter fill a basket.”
The little boy laughed at the picture that Uncle Remus drew of his father. “He’s very clean now,” said the lad loyally.
“Maybe he is an’ maybe he ain’t,” remarked Uncle Remus, suggesting a doubt. “Dat’s needer here ner dar. Is he any better off clean dan what he wuz when you couldn’t put yo’ han’s on ’im widout havin’ ter go an’ wash um? Yo’ gran’mammy useter call ’im a pig, an’ clean ez he may be now, I take notice dat he makes mo’ complaint er headache an’ de heartburn dan what he done when he wuz runnin’ roun’ here half-naked an’ full er mud. I hear tell dat some nights he can’t git no sleep, but when he wuz little like you--no, suh, I’ll not say dat, bekaze he wuz bigger dan what you is fum de time he kin toddle roun’ widout nobody he’pin’ him; but when he wuz ol’ ez you an’ twice ez big, dey ain’t narry night dat he can’t sleep--an’ not only all night, but half de day ef dey’d ’a’ let ’im. Dey ought ter let you run roun’ here like he done, an’ git dirty. Dey ain’t nothin’ mo’ wholesomer dan a peck er two er clean dirt on a little chap like you.”
There is no telling what comment the child would have made on this sincere tribute to clean dirt, for his attention was suddenly attracted to something that was gradually taking shape in the hands of Uncle Remus. At first it seemed to be hardly worthy of notice, for it had been only a thin piece of board. But now the one piece had become four pieces, two long and two short, and under the deft manipulations of Uncle Remus it soon assumed a boxlike shape.
The old man had reached the point of his work where silence was necessary to enable him to do it full justice. As he fitted the thin boards together, a whistling sound issued from his lips, as though he were letting off steam; but the singular noise was due to the fact that he was completely absorbed in his work. He continued to fit and trim, and trim and fit, until finally the little boy could no longer restrain his curiosity. “Uncle Remus, what are you making?” he asked plaintively.
“Larroes fer ter kech meddlers,” was the prompt and blunt reply.
“Well, what are larroes to catch meddlers?” the child insisted.
“Nothin’ much an’ sump’n mo’. Dicky, Dicky, killt a chicky, an’ fried it quicky, in de oven, like a sloven. Den ter his daddy’s Sunday hat, he tuck ’n’ hitched de ol’ black cat. Now what you reckon make him do dat? Ef you can’t tell me word fer word an’ spellin’ fer spellin’ we’ll go out an’ come in an’ take a walk.”
He rose, grunting as he did so, thus paying an unintentional tribute to the efficacy of age as the partner of rheumatic aches and stiff joints. “You hear me gruntin’,” he remarked--“well, dat’s bekaze I ain’t de chicky fried by Dicky, which he e’t ’nuff fer ter make ’im sicky.” As he went out the child took his hand, and went trotting along by his side, thus affording an interesting study for those who concern themselves with the extremes of life. Hand in hand the two went out into the fields, and thence into the great woods, where Uncle Remus, after searching about for some time, carefully deposited his oblong box, remarking: “Ef I don’t make no mistakes, dis ain’t so mighty fur fum de place whar de creeturs has der playgroun’, an’ dey ain’t no tellin’ but what one un um’ll creep in dar when deyer playin’ hidin’, an’ ef he do, he’ll sho’ be our meat.”
“Oh, it’s a trap!” exclaimed the little boy, his face lighting up with enthusiasm.
“An’ dey wa’n’t nobody here fer ter tell you!” Uncle Remus declared, astonishment in his tone. “Well, ef dat don’t bang my time, I ain’t no free nigger. Now, ef dat had ’a’ been yo’ pa at de same age, I’d ’a’ had ter tel ’im forty-lev’m times, an’ den he wouldn’t ’a’ b’lieved me twel he see sump’in in dar tryin’ fer ter git out. Den he’d say it wuz a trap, but not befo’. I ain’t blamin’ ’im,” Uncle Remus went on, “kaze ’tain’t eve’y chap dat kin tell a trap time he see it, an’ mo’ dan dat, traps don’ allers ketch what dey er sot fer.”
He paused, looked all around, and up in the sky, where fleecy clouds were floating lazily along, and in the tops of the trees, where the foliage was swaying gently in the breeze. Then he looked at the little boy. “Ef I ain’t gone an’ got los’,” he said, “ain’t so mighty fur fum de place whar Mr. Man, once ’pon a time--not yo’ time ner yit my time, but some time--tuck ’n’ sot a trap fer Brer Rabbit. In dem days, dey hadn’t l’arnt how to be kyarpenters, an’ dish yer trap what I’m tellin’ you ’bout wuz a great big contraption. Big ez Brer Rabbit wuz, it wuz lots too big fer him.
“Now, whiles Mr. Man wuz fixin’ up dis trap, Mr. Rabbit wa’n’t so mighty fur off. He hear de saw--er-rash! er-rash!--an’ he hear de hammer--bang, bang, bang!--an’ he ax hisse’f what all dis racket wuz ’bout. He see Mr. Man come out’n his yard totin’ sump’n, an’ he got furder off; he see Mr. Man comin’ todes de bushes, an’ he tuck ter de woods; he see ’im comin’ todes de woods, an’ he tuck ter de bushes. Mr. Man tote de trap so fur an’ no furder. He put it down, he did, an’ Brer Rabbit watch ’im; he put in de bait, an’ Brer Rabbit watch ’im; he fix de trigger, an’ still Brer Rabbit watch ’im. Mr. Man look at de trap an’ it satchify him. He look at it an’ laugh, an’ when he do dat, Brer Rabbit wunk one eye, an’ wiggle his mustache, an’ chaw his cud.
“An’ dat ain’t all he do, needer. He sot out in de bushes, he did, an’ study how ter git some game in de trap. He study so hard, an’ he got so errytated, dat he thumped his behime foot on de groun’ twel it soun’ like a cow dancin’ out dar in de bushes, but ’twant no cow, ner yit no calf--’twuz des Brer Rabbit studyin’. Atter so long a time, he put out down de road todes dat part er de country whar mos’ er de creeturs live at. Eve’y time he hear a fuss, he’d dodge in de bushes, kaze he wanter see who comin’. He keep on an’ he keep on, an’ bimeby he hear ol’ Brer Wolf trottin’ down de road.
“It so happen dat Brer Wolf wuz de ve’y one what Brer Rabbit wanter see. Dey was perlite ter one an’er, but dey wa’n’t no frien’ly feelin’ ’twixt um. Well, here come ol’ Brer Wolf, hongrier dan a chicken-hawk on a frosty mornin’, an’ ez he come up he see Brer Rabbit settin’ by de side er de road lookin’ like he done los’ all his fambly an’ his friends ter boot.
“Dey pass de time er day, an’ den Brer Wolf kinder grin an’ say, ‘Laws-a-massy, Brer Rabbit, what ail you? You look like you done had a spell er fever an’ ague; what de trouble?’ ‘Trouble, Brer Wolf? You ain’t never see no trouble twel you git whar I’m at. Maybe you wouldn’t min’ it like I does, kaze I ain’t usen ter it. But I boun’ you done seed me light-minded fer de las’ time. I’m done--I’m plum wo’ out,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. Dis make Brer Wolf open his eyes wide. He say, ‘Dis de fus time I ever is hear you talk dat a-way, Brer Rabbit; take yo’ time an’ tell me ’bout it. I ain’t had my brekkus yit, but dat don’t make no diffunce, long ez youer in trouble. I’ll he’p you out ef I kin, an’ mo’ dan dat, I’ll put some heart in de work.’ When he say dis, he grin an’ show his tushes, an’ Brer Rabbit kinder edge ’way fum ’im. He say, ‘Tell me de trouble, Brer Rabbit, an’ I’ll do my level bes’ fer ter he’p you out.’
“Wid dat, Brer Rabbit ’low dat Mr. Man done been hire him fer ter take keer er his truck patch, an’ keep out de minks, de mush-rats, an’ de weasels. He say dat he done so well settin’ up night atter night, when he des might ez well been in bed, dat Mr. Man prommus ’im sump’n extry ’sides de mess er greens what he gun ’im eve’y day. Atter so long a time, he say, Mr. Man ’low dat he gwineter make ’im a present uv a cradle so he kin rock de little Rabs ter sleep when dey cry. So said, so done, he say. Mr. Man make de cradle an’ tell Brer Rabbit he kin take it home wid’ im. He start out wid it, he say, but it got so heavy he hatter set it down in de woods, an’ dat’s de reason why Brer Wolf seed ’im settin’ down by de side er de road, lookin’ like he in deep trouble. Brer Wolf sot down, he did, an’ study, an’ bimeby he say he’d like mighty well fer ter have a cradle fer his chillun, long ez cradles wuz de style. Brer Rabbit say dey been de style fer de longest, an’ ez fer Brer Wolf wantin’ one, he say he kin have de one what Mr. Man make fer him, kaze it’s lots too big fer his chillun. ‘You know how folks is,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Dey try ter do what dey dunner how ter do, an’ dar’s der house bigger dan a barn, an’ dar’s de fence wid mo’ holes in it dan what dey is in a saine, an’ kaze dey have great big chillun dey got de idee dat eve’y cradle what dey make mus’ fit der own chillun. An’ dat’s how come I can’t tote de cradle what Mr. Man make fer me mo’ dan ten steps at a time.’
“Brer Wolf ax Brer Rabbit what he gwineter do fer a cradle, an’ Brer Rabbit ’low he kin manage fer ter git long wid de ol’ one twel he kin ’suade Mr. Man ter make ’im an’er one, an’ he don’t speck dat’ll be so mighty hard ter do. Brer Wolf can’t he’p but b’lieve dey’s some trick in it, an’ he say he ain’t see de ol’ cradle when las’ he wuz at Brer Rabbit house. Wid dat, Brer Rabbit bust out laughin’. He say, ‘Dat’s been so long back, Brer Wolf, dat I done fergit all ’bout it; ’sides dat, ef dey wuz a cradle dar, I boun’ you my ol’ ’oman got better sense dan ter set it in de parler, whar comp’ny comes; an’ he laugh so loud an’ long dat he make Brer Wolf right shame er himse’f.
“He ’low, ol’ Brer Wolf did, ‘Come on, Brer Rabbit, an’ show me whar de cradle is. Ef it’s too big fer yo’ chillun, it’ll des ’bout fit mine.’ An’ so off dey put ter whar Mr. Man done sot his trap. ’Twant so mighty long ’fo’ dey got whar dey wuz gwine, an’ Brer Rabbit say, ‘Brer Wolf, dar yo’ cradle, an’ may it do you mo’ good dan it’s yever done me!’ Brer Wolf walk all roun’ de trap an’ look at it like ’twuz live. Brer Rabbit thump one er his behime foots on de groun’ an’ Brer Wolf jump like some un done shot a gun right at ’im. Dis make Brer Rabbit laugh twel he can’t laugh no mo’. Brer Wolf, he say he kinder nervious ’bout dat time er de year, an’ de leas’ little bit er noise’ll make ’im jump. He ax how he gwineter git any purchis on de cradle, an’ Brer Rabbit say he’ll hatter git inside an’ walk wid it on his back, kaze dat de way he done done.
“Brer Wolf ax what all dem contraptions on de inside is, an’ Brer Rabbit ’spon’ dat dey er de rockers, an’ dey ain’t no needs fer ter be skeer’d un um, kaze dey ain’t nothin’ but plain wood. Brer Wolf say he ain’t ’zackly skeer’d, but he done got ter de p’int whar he know dat you better look ’fo’ you jump. Brer Rabbit ’low dat ef dey’s any jumpin’ fer ter be done, he de one ter do it, an’ he talk like he done fergit what dey come fer. Brer Wolf, he fool an’ fumble roun’, but bimeby he walk in de cradle, sprung de trigger, an’ dar he wuz! Brer Rabbit, he holler out, ‘Come on, Brer Wolf; des hump yo’se’f, an’ I’ll be wid you.’ But try ez he will an’ grunt ez he may, Brer Wolf can’t budge dat trap. Bimeby Brer Rabbit git tired er waitin’ an’ he say dat ef Brer Wolf ain’t gwineter come on he’s gwine home. He ’low dat a frien’ what say he gwineter he’p you, an’ den go in a cradle an’ drap off ter sleep, dat’s all he wanter know ’bout um; an’ wid dat he made fer de bushes, an’ he wa’n’t a minnit too soon, kaze here come Mr. Man fer ter see ef his trap had been sprung. He look, he did, an’ sho’ nuff, it ’uz sprung, an’ dey wuz sump’n in dar, too, kaze he kin hear it rustlin’ roun’ an’ kickin’ fer ter git out.
“Mr. Man look thoo de crack, an’ he see Brer Wolf, which he wuz so skeer’d twel his eye look right green. Mr. Man say, ‘Aha! I got you, is I?’ Brer Wolf say, ‘Who?’ Mr. Man laugh twel he can’t sca’cely talk, an’ still Brer Wolf say, ‘Who? Who you think you got?’ Mr. Man ’low, ‘I don’t think, I knows. Youer ol’ Brer Rabbit, dat’s who you is.’ Brer Wolf say, ‘Turn me outer here, an’ I’ll show you who I is.’ Mr. Man laugh fit ter kill. He ’low, ‘You neenter change yo’ voice; I’d know you ef I met you in de dark. Youer Brer Rabbit, dat’s who you is.’ Brer Wolf say, ‘I ain’t not; dat’s what I’m not!’
“Mr. Man look thoo de crack ag’in, an’ he see de short years. He ’low, ‘You done cut off yo’ long years, but still I knows you. Oh, yes! an’ you done sharpen yo’ mouf an’ put smut on it--but you can’t fool me.’ Brer Wolf say, ‘Nobody ain’t tryin’ fer ter fool you. Look at my fine long bushy tail.’ Mr. Man ’low, ‘You done tied an’er tail on behime you, but you can’t fool me. Oh, no, Brer Rabbit! You can’t fool me.’ Brer Wolf say, ‘Look at de ha’r on my back; do dat look like Brer Rabbit?’ Mr. Man ’low, ‘You done wallered in de red san’, but you can’t fool me.’
“Brer Wolf say, ‘Look at my long black legs; do dey look like Brer Rabbit?’ Mr. Man ’low, ‘You kin put an’er j’int in yo’ legs, an’ you kin smut um, but you can’t fool me.’ Brer Wolf say, ‘Look at my tushes; does dey look like Brer Rabbit?’ Mr. Man ’low, ‘You done got new toofies, but you can’t fool me.’ Brer Wolf say, ‘Look at my little eyes; does dey look like Brer Rabbit?’ Mr. Man ’low, ‘You kin squinch yo’ eyeballs, but you can’t fool me, Brer Rabbit.’ Brer Wolf squall out, ‘I ain’t not Brer Rabbit, an’ you better turn me out er dis place so I kin take hide an ha’r off ’n Brer Rabbit.’ Mr. Man say, ‘Ef bofe hide an’ ha’r wuz off, I’d know you, kaze ’tain’t in you fer ter fool me.’ An’ it hurt Brer Wolf feelin’s so bad fer Mr. Man ter ’spute his word, dat he bust out inter a big boo-boo, an’ dat’s ’bout all I know.”
“Did the man really and truly think that Brother Wolf was Brother Rabbit?” asked the little boy.
“When you pin me down dat a-way,” responded Uncle Remus, “I’m bleeze ter tell you dat I ain’t too certain an’ sho’ ’bout dat. De tale come down fum my great-grandaddy’s great-grandaddy; it come on down ter my daddy, an’ des ez he gun it ter me, des dat a-way I done gun it ter you.”