THE day that the little boy got permission to go to mill with Uncle Remus was to be long remembered. It was a bran new experience to the city-bred child, and he enjoyed it to the utmost. It is true that Uncle Remus didn’t go to mill in the old-fashioned way, but even if the little chap had known of the old-fashioned way, his enjoyment would not have been less. Instead of throwing a bag of corn on the back of a horse, and perching himself on top in an uneasy and a precarious position, Uncle Remus placed the corn in a spring wagon, helped the little boy to climb into the seat, clucked to the horse, and went along as smoothly and as rapidly as though they were going to town.
Everything was new to the lad--the road, the scenery, the mill, and the big mill-pond, and, best of all, Uncle Remus allowed him to enjoy himself in his own way when they came to the end of their journey. He was such a cautious and timid child, having little or none of the spirit of adventure that is supposed to dominate the young, that the old negro was sure he would come to no harm. Instead of wandering about, and going to places where he had no business to go, the little boy sat where he could see the water flowing over the big dam. He had never seen such a sight before, and the water seemed to him to have a personality of its own--a personality with both purpose and feeling.
The river was not a very large one, but it was large enough to be impressive when its waters fell and tumbled over the big dam. The little boy watched the tumbling water as it fell over the dam and tossed itself into foam on the rocks below; he watched it so long, and he sat so still that he was able to see things that a noisier youngster would have missed altogether. He saw a big bull-frog creep warily from the water, and wipe his mouth and eyes with one of his fore legs and he saw the same frog edge himself softly toward a white butterfly that was flitting about near the edge of the stream. He saw the frog lean forward, and then the butterfly vanished. It seemed like a piece of magic. The child knew that the frog had caught the butterfly, but how? The fluttering insect was more than a foot from the frog when it disappeared, and he was sure that the frog had neither jumped nor snapped at the butterfly. What he saw, he saw as plainly as you can see your hand in the light of day.
And he saw another sight too that is not given to every one to see. While he was watching the tumbling water, and wondering where it all came from and where it was going, he thought he saw swift-moving shadows flitting from the water below up and into the mill-pond above. He never would have been able to discover just what the shadows were if one of them had not paused a moment while half-way to the top of the falling water. It poised itself for one brief instant, as a humming-bird poises over a flower, but during that fraction of time the little boy was able to see that what he thought was a shadow was really a fish going from the water below to the mill-pond above. The child could hardly believe his eyes, and for a little while it seemed that the whole world was turned topsy-turvy, especially as the shadows continued to flit from the water below to the mill-pond above.
And he was still more puzzled when he reported the strange fact to Uncle Remus, for the old negro took the information as a matter of course. With him the phenomenon was almost as old as his experience. The only explanation that he could give of it was that the fish--or some kinds of fish, and he didn’t know rightly what kind it was--had a habit of falling from the bottom of the falls to the top. The most that he knew was that it was a fact, and that it was occurring every day in the year when the fish were running. It was certainly wonderful, as in fact everything would be wonderful if it were not so familiar.
“We ain’t got but one way er lookin’ at things,” remarked Uncle Remus, “an’ ef you’ll b’lieve me, honey, it’s a mighty one-sided way. Ef you could git on a perch some’rs an’ see things like dey reely is, an’ not like dey seem ter us, I be boun’ you’d hol’ yo’ breff an’ shet yo’ eyes.”
The old man, without intending it, was going too deep into a deep subject for the child to follow him, and so the latter told him about the bull-frog and the butterfly. The statement seemed to call up pleasing reminiscences, for Uncle Remus laughed in a very hearty way. And when his laughing had subsided, he continued to chuckle until the little boy wondered what the source of his amusement could be. Finally he asked the old negro point blank what had caused him to laugh at such a rate.
“Yo’ pa would ’a’ know’d,” Uncle Remus replied, and then he grew solemn again and sighed heavily. For a little while he seemed to be listening to the clatter of the mill, but, finally, he turned to the little boy. “An’ so you done made de ’quaintance er ol’ Brer Bull-Frog? Is you take notice whedder he had a tail er no?”
“Why, of course he didn’t have a tail!” exclaimed the child. “Neither toad-frogs nor bull-frogs have tails. I thought everybody knew that.”
“Oh, well, ef dat de way you feel ’bout um, ’tain’t no use fer ter pester wid um. It done got so now dat folks don’t b’lieve nothin’ but what dey kin see, an’ mo’ dan half un um won’t b’lieve what dey see less ’n dey kin feel un it too. But dat ain’t de way wid dem what’s ol’ ’nough fer ter know. Ef I’d ’a’ tol’ you ’bout de fishes swimmin’ ag’in fallin’ water, you wouldn’t ’a’ b’lieved me, would you? No, you wouldn’t--an’ yit, dar ’twuz right ’fo’ yo’ face an’ eyes. Dar dey wuz a-skeetin’ fum de bottom er de dam right up in de mill-pon’, an’ you settin’ dar lookin’ at um. S’posin’ you wuz ter say dat you won’t b’lieve um less’n you kin feel um; does you speck de fish gwineter hang dar in de fallin’ water an’ wait twel you kin wade ’cross de slipp’y rocks an’ put yo’ han’ on um? Did you look right close fer ter see ef de bull-frog what you seed is got a tail er no?”
The little boy admitted that he had not. He knew as well as anybody that no kind of a frog has a tail, unless it is the Texas frog, which is only a horned lizard, for he saw one once in Atlanta, and it was nothing but a rusty-back lizard with a horn on his head.
“I ain’t ’sputin’ what you say, honey,” said Uncle Remus, “but de creetur what you seed mought ’a’ been a frog an’ you not know it. One thing I does know is dat in times gone by de bull-frog had a tail, kaze I hear de ol’ folks sesso, an’ mo’ dan dat, dey know’d des how he los’ it--de whar, an’ de when, an’ de which-away. Fer all I know it wuz right here at dish yer identual mill-pon’. I ain’t gwine inter court an’ make no affledave on it, but ef anybody wuz ter walk up an’ p’int der finger at me, an’ say dat dis is de place whar ol’ Brer Bull-Frog lose his tail, I’d up an’ ’low, ‘Yasser, it mus’ be de place, kaze it look might’ly like de place what I been hear tell ’bout.’ An’ den I’d shet my eyes an’ see ef I can’t git it straight in my dream.”
Uncle Remus paused, and pretended to be counting a handful of red grains of corn that he had found somewhere in the mill. Seeing that he showed no disposition to tell how Brother Bull-Frog had lost his tail, the little boy reminded him of it. But the old man laughed. “Ef Brer Bull-Frog ain’t never had no tail,” he said, “how de name er goodness he gwineter lose um? Ef he yever is had a tail, why den dat’s a gray hoss uv an’er color. Dey’s a tale ’bout ’im havin’ a tail an’ losin’ it, but how kin dey be a tale when dey ain’t no tail?”
Well, the little boy didn’t know at all, and he looked so disconsolate and so confused that the old negro relented. “Now, den,” he remarked, “ef ol’ Brer Bull-Frog had a tail an’ he ain’t got none now, dey must ’a’ been sump’n happen. In dem times--de times what all deze tales tells you ’bout--Brer Bull-Frog stayed in an’ aroun’ still water des like he do now. De bad col’ dat he had in dem days, he’s got it yit--de same pop-eyes, an’ de same bal’ head. Den, ez now, dey wa’n’t a bunch er ha’r on it dat you could pull out wid a pa’r er tweezers. Ez he bellers now, des dat a-way he bellered den, mo’ speshually at night. An’ talk ’bout settin’ up late--why, ol’ Brer Bull-Frog could beat dem what fust got in de habits er settin’ up late.
“Dey’s one thing dat you’ll hatter gi’ ’im credit fer, an’ dat wuz keepin’ his face an’ han’s clean, an’ in takin’ keer er his cloze. Nobody, not even his mammy, had ter patch his britches er tack buttons on his coat. See ’im whar you may an’ when you mought, he wuz allers lookin’ spick an’ span des like he done come right out’n a ban’-box. You know what de riddle say ’bout ’im; when he stan’ up he sets down, an’ when he walks he hops. He’d ’a’ been mighty well thunk un, ef it hadn’t but ’a’ been fer his habits. He holler so much at night dat de yuther creeturs can’t git no sleep. He’d holler an’ holler, an’ ’bout de time you think he bleeze ter be ’shame’ er hollerin’ so much, he’d up an’ holler ag’in. It got so dat de creeturs hatter go ’way off some’rs ef dey wanter git any sleep, an’ it seem like dey can’t git so fur off but what Brer Bull-Frog would wake um up time dey git ter dozin’ good.
“He’d raise up an’ ’low, ‘Here I is! Here I is! Wharbouts is you? Wharbouts is you? Come along! Come along!’ It ’uz des dat a-way de whole blessed night, an’ de yuther creeturs, dey say dat it sholy was a shame dat anybody would set right flat-footed an’ ruin der good name. Look like he pestered ev’ybody but ol’ Brer Rabbit, an’ de reason dat he liked it wuz kaze it worried de yuther creeturs. He’d set an’ lissen, ol’ Brer Rabbit would, an’ den he’d laugh fit ter kill kaze he ain’t a-keerin’ whedder er no he git any sleep er not. Ef dey’s anybody what kin set up twel de las’ day in de mornin’ an’ not git red-eyed an’ heavy-headed, it’s ol’ Brer Rabbit. When he wanter sleep, he’d des shet one eye an’ sleep, an’ when he wanter stay ’wake, he’d des open bofe eyes, an’ dar he wuz wid all his foots under ’im, an’ a-chawin’ his terbacker same ez ef dey wa’n’t no Brer Bull-Frog in de whole Nunited State er Georgy.
“It went on dis way fer I dunner how long--ol’ Brer Bull-Frog a-bellerin’ all night long an’ keepin’ de yuther creeturs ’wake, an’ Brer Rabbit a-laughin’. But, bimeby, de time come when Brer Rabbit hatter lay in some mo’ calamus root, ag’in de time when ’twould be too col’ fer ter dig it, an’ when he went fer ter hunt fer it, his way led ’im down todes de mill-pon’ whar Brer Bull-Frog live at. Dey wuz calamus root a-plenty down dar, an’ Brer Rabbit, atter lookin’ de groun’ over, promise hisse’f dat he’d fetch a basket de nex’ time he come, an’ make one trip do fer two. He ain’t been down dar long ’fo’ he had a good chance fer ter hear Brer Bull-Frog at close range. He hear him, he did, an’ he shake his head an’ say dat a mighty little bit er dat music would go a long ways, kaze dey ain’t nobody what kin stan’ flat-footed an’ say dat Brer Bull-Frog is a better singer dan de mockin’-bird.
“Well, whiles Brer Rabbit wuz pirootin’ roun’ fer ter see what mought be seed, he git de idee dat he kin hear thunder way off yander. He lissen ag’in, an’ he hear Brer Bull-Frog mumblin’ an’ grumblin’ ter hisse’f, an’ he must ’a’ had a mighty bad col’, kaze his talk soun’ des like a bummil-eye bee been kotch in a sugar-barrel an’ can’t git out. An’ dat creetur must ’a’ know’d dat Brer Rabbit wuz down in dem neighborhoods, kaze, atter while, he ’gun to talk louder, an’ yit mo’ louder. He say, ‘Whar you gwine? Whar you gwine?’ an’ den, ‘Don’t go too fur--don’t go too fur!’ an’, atter so long a time, ‘Come back--come back! Come back soon!’ Brer Rabbit, he sot dar, he did, an’ work his nose an’ wiggle his mouf, an’ wait fer ter see what gwineter happen nex’.
“Whiles Brer Rabbit settin’ dar, Brer Bull-Frog fall ter mumblin’ ag’in an’ it look like he ’bout ter drap off ter sleep, but bimeby he talk louder, ‘Be my frien’--be my frien’! Oh, be my frien’!’ Brer Rabbit wunk one eye an’ smole a smile, kaze he done hear a heap er talk like dat. He wipe his face an’ eyes wid his pocket-hankcher, an’ sot so still dat you’d ’a’ thunk he wa’n’t nothin’ but a chunk er wood. But Brer Bull-Frog, he know’d how ter stay still hisse’f, an’ he ain’t so much ez bubble a bubble. But atter whiles, when Brer Rabbit can’t stay still no mo’, he got up fum whar he wuz settin’ at an’ mosied out by de mill-race whar de grass is fresh an’ de trees is green.
“Brer Bull-Frog holla, ‘Jug-er-rum--jug-er-rum! Wade in here--I’ll gi’ you some!’ Now dey ain’t nothin’ dat ol’ Brer Rabbit like better dan a little bit er dram fer de stomach-ache, an’ his mouf ’gun ter water right den an’ dar. He went a little closer ter de mill-pon’, an’ Brer Bull-Frog keep on a-talkin’ ’bout de jug er rum, an’ what he gwine do ef Brer Rabbit will wade in dar. He look at de water, an’ it look mighty col’; he look ag’in an’ it look mighty deep. It say, ‘Lap-lap!’ an’ it look like it’s a-creepin’ higher. Brer Rabbit drawed back wid a shiver, an’ he wish mighty much dat he’d ’a’ fotch his overcoat.
“Brer Bull-Frog say, ‘Knee deep--knee deep! Wade in--wade in!’ an’ he make de water bubble des like he takin’ a dram. Den an’ dar, sump’n n’er happen, an’ how it come ter happen Brer Rabbit never kin tell; but he peeped in de pon’ fer ter see ef he kin ketch a glimp er de jug, an’ in he went--kerchug! He ain’t never know whedder he fall in, er slip in, er ef he was pushed in, but dar he wuz! He come mighty nigh not gittin out; but he scramble an’ he scuffle twel he git back ter de bank whar he kin clim’ out, an’ he stood dar, he did, an’ kinder shuck hisse’f, kaze he mighty glad fer ter fin’ dat he’s in de worl’ once mo’. He know’d dat a leetle mo’ an’ he’d ’a’ been gone fer good, kaze when he drapped in, er jumped in, er fell in, he wuz over his head an’ years, an’ he hatter do a sight er kickin’ an’ scufflin’ an’ swallerin’ water ’fo’ he kin git whar he kin grab de grass on de bank.
“He sneeze an’ snoze, an’ wheeze an’ whoze, twel it look like he’d drown right whar he wuz stan’in’ any way you kin fix it. He say ter hisse’f dat he ain’t never gwineter git de tas’e er river water outer his mouf an’ nose, an’ he wonder how in de worl’ dat plain water kin be so watery. Ol’ Brer Bull-Frog, he laugh like a bull in de pastur’, an’ Brer Rabbit gi’ a sidelong look dat oughter tol’ ’im ez much ez a map kin tell one er deze yer school scholars. Brer Rabbit look at ’im, but he ain’t say narry a word. He des shuck hisse’f once mo’, an’ put out fer home whar he kin set in front er de fire an’ git dry.
“Atter dat day, Brer Rabbit riz mighty soon an’ went ter bed late, an’ he watch Brer Bull-Frog so close dat dey wa’n’t nothin’ he kin do but what Brer Rabbit know ’bout it time it ’uz done; an’ one thing he know’d better dan all--he know’d dat when de winter time come Brer Bull-Frog would have ter pack up his duds an’ move over in de bog whar de water don’t git friz up. Dat much he know’d, an’ when dat time come, he laid off fer ter make Brer Bull-Frog’s journey, short ez it wuz, ez full er hap’nin’s ez de day when de ol’ cow went dry. He tuck an’ move his bed an’ board ter de big holler poplar, not fur fum de mill-pon’, an’ dar he stayed an’ keep one eye on Brer Bull-Frog bofe night an’ day. He ain’t lose no flesh whiles he waitin’, kaze he ain’t one er deze yer kin’ what mopes an’ gits sollumcolly; he wuz all de time betwixt a grin an’ a giggle.
“He know’d mighty well--none better--dat time goes by turns in deze low groun’s, an’ he wait fer de day when Brer Bull-Frog gwineter move his belongin’s fum pon’ ter bog. An’ bimeby dat time come, an’ when it come, Brer Bull-Frog is done fergit off’n his mind all ’bout Brer Rabbit an’ his splashification. He rig hisse’f out in his Sunday best, an’ he look kerscrumptious ter dem what like dat kinder doin’s. He had on a little sojer hat wid green an’ white speckles all over it, an’ a long green coat, an’ satin britches, an’ a white silk wescut, an’ shoes wid silver buckles. Mo’ dan dat, he had a green umbrell, fer ter keep fum havin’ freckles, an’ his long spotted tail wuz done up in de umbrell kivver so dat it won’t drag on de groun’.”
Uncle Remus paused to see what the little boy would say to this last statement, but the child’s training prevented the asking of many questions, and so he only laughed at the idea of a frog with a tail, and the tail done up in the cover of a green umbrella. The laughter of the youngster was hearty enough to satisfy the old negro, and he went on with the story.
“Whiles all dis gwine on, honey, you better b’lieve dat Brer Rabbit wa’n’t so mighty fur fum dar. When Brer Bull-Frog come out an’ start fer ter promenade ter de bog, Brer Rabbit show hisse’f an’ make like he skeered. He broke an’ run, an’ den he stop fer ter see what ’tis--an’ den he run a leetle ways an’ stop ag’in, an’ he keep on dodgin’ an’ runnin’ twel he fool Brer Bull-Frog inter b’lievin’ dat he wuz skeer’d mighty nigh ter death.
“You know how folks does when dey git de idee dat somebody’s ’fear’d un um--ef you don’t you’ll fin’ out long ’fo’ yo’ whiskers gits ter hangin’ to yo’ knees. When folks take up dis idee, dey gits biggity, an’ dey ain’t no stayin’ in de same country wid um.
“Well, Brer Bull-Frog, he git de idee dat Brer Rabbit wuz ’fear’d un ’im, an’ he shuck his umbrell like he mad, an’ he beller: ‘Whar my gun?’ Brer Rabbit flung up bofe han’s like he wuz skeer’d er gittin’ a load er shot in his vitals, an’ den he broke an’ run ez hard ez he kin. Brer Bull-Frog holler out, ‘Come yer, you vilyun, an’ le’ me gi’ you de frailin’ what I done promise you!’ but ol’ Brer Rabbit, he keep on a-gwine. Brer Bull-Frog went hoppin’ atter, but he ain’t make much headway, kaze all de time he wuz hoppin’ he wuz tryin’ to strut.
“’Twuz e’en about ez much ez Brer Rabbit kin do fer ter keep fum laughin’, but he led Brer Bull-Frog ter de holler poplar, whar he had his hatchet hid. Ez he went in, he ’low, ‘You can’t git me!’ He went in, he did, an’ out he popped on t’er side. By dat time Brer Bull-Frog wuz mighty certain an’ sho dat Brer Rabbit wuz skeer’d ez he kin be, an’ inter de holler he went, widout so much ez takin’ de trouble ter shet up his umbrell. When he got in de holler, in co’se he ain’t see hide ner ha’r er Brer Rabbit, an’ he beller out, ‘Whar is you? You may hide, but I’ll fin’ you, an’ when I does--when I does!’ He ain’t say all he wanter say, kaze by dat time Brer Rabbit wuz lammin’ on de tree wid his hatchet. He hit it some mighty heavy whacks, an’ Brer Bull-Frog git de idee dat somebody wuz cuttin’ it down.
“Dis kinder skeer’d ’im, kaze he know dat ef de tree fell while he in de holler, it’d be all-night Isom wid him. But when he make a move fer ter turn roun’ in dar fer ter come out, Brer Rabbit run roun’ ter whar he wuz, an’ chop his tail off right smick-smack-smoove.”
The veteran story-teller paused, and looked at the clouds that were gathering in the sky. “’Twouldn’t ’stonish me none,” he remarked dryly, “ef we wuz ter have some fallin’ wedder.”
“But, Uncle Remus, what happened when Brother Rabbit cut off the Bull-Frog’s tail?” inquired the little boy.
The old man sighed heavily, and looked around, as if he were hunting for some way of escape. “Why, honey, when de Frog tail wuz cut off, it stayed off, but dey tells me dat it kep’ on a wigglin’ plum twel de sun went down. Dis much I does know, dat sence dat day, none er de Frog fambly has been troubled wid tails. Ef you don’t believe me you kin ketch um an’ see.”