UNCLE Remus had observed a disposition on the part of the little boy to experiment somewhat with his elders. The child had come down to the plantation from the city such a model youngster that those who took an interest in his behavior, and who were themselves living the free and easy life possible only in the country places, were inclined to believe that he had been unduly repressed. This was particularly the case with the little fellow’s grandmother, who was aided and abetted by Uncle Remus himself, with the result that the youngster was allowed liberties he had never had before. The child, as might be supposed, was quick to take advantage of such a situation, and was all the time trying to see how far he could go before the limits of his privileges--new and inviting so far as he was concerned--would be reached. They stretched very much farther on the plantation than they would have done in the city, as was natural and proper, but the child, with that adventurous spirit common to boys, was inclined to push them still farther than they had ever yet gone; and he soon lost the most obvious characteristics of a model lad.
Little by little he had pushed his liberties, the mother hesitating to bring him to task for fear of offending the grandmother, whose guest she was, and the grandmother not daring to interfere, for the reason that it was at her suggestion, implied rather than direct, that the mother had relaxed her somewhat rigid discipline. It was natural, under the circumstances, that the little fellow should become somewhat wilful and obstinate, and he bade fair to develop that spirit of disobedience that will make the brightest child ugly and discontented.
Uncle Remus, as has been said, observed all these symptoms, and while he had been the first to deplore the system that seemed to take all the individuality out of the little fellow, he soon became painfully aware that something would have to be done to renew the discipline that had been so efficacious when the mother was where she felt free to exercise her whole influence.
“You ain’t sick, is you, honey?” the old man inquired one day in an insinuating tone. “Kaze ef you is, you better run back ter de house an’ let de white folks dose you up. Yo’ mammy knows des ’zackly de kinder physic you need, an’ how much, an’ ef I ain’t mighty much mistooken, ’twon’t be so mighty long ’fo’ she’ll take you in han’.” The child looked up quickly to see whether Uncle Remus was in earnest, but he could find nothing in that solemn countenance that at all resembled playfulness. “You may be well,” the old man went on, “but dey’s one thing certain an’ sho’--you don’t look like you did when you come ter we-all’s house, an’ you don’t do like you done. You may look at me ef you wanter, but I’m a-tellin’ you de fatal trufe, kaze you ain’t no mo’ de same chil’ what useter ’ten’ ter his own business all day an’ night--you ain’t no mo’ de same chil’ dan I’m dat ol’ hen out dar. I ’low’d I mought be mistooken, but I hear yo’ granny an’ yo’ mammy talkin’ t’er night atter you done gone ter bed, an’ de talk dat dey talked sho’ did open my eyes, kaze I never spected fer ter hear talk like dat.”
For a long time the little boy said nothing, but finally he inquired what Uncle Remus had heard. “I ain’t no eavesdrapper,” the old man replied, “but I hear ’nough fer ter last me whiles you stay wid us. I dunner how long dat’ll be, but I don’t speck it’ll be long. Now des look at you! Dar you is fumblin’ wid my shoe knife, an’ mos’ ’fo’ you know it one een’ er yo’ finger will be down dar on de flo’, an’ you’ll be a-squallin’ like somebody done killt you. Put it right back whar you got it fum. Why n’t you put it down when I ax you?--an’ don’t scatter my pegs! Put down dat awl! You’ll stob yo’se’f right in de vitals, an’ den Miss Sally will blame me. Laws-a-massy! take yo’ han’ outer dat peg box! You’ll git um all over de flo’, an’ dey’ll drap thoo de cracks. I be boun’ ef I take my foot in my han’, an’ go up yan’ an’ tell yo’ mammy how good you is, she’ll make you take off yo’ cloze an’ go ter bed--dat’s des ’zackly what she’ll do. An’ dar you is foolin’ wid my fillin’s!--an’, bless gracious, ef you ain’t settin’ right flat-footed on my shoemaker’s wax, an’ it right saft! I’ll hatter ax yo’ mammy ter please’m not let you come down here no mo’ twel de day you start home!”
“I think you are very cross,” complained the child. “I never heard you talk that way before. And grandmother is getting so she isn’t as nice as she used to be.”
“Ah-yi!” exclaimed Uncle Remus in a triumphant tone. “I know’d it! you done got so dat you won’t do a blessed thing dat anybody ax you ter do. You done got a new name, an’ ’tain’t so new but what I can put bofe han’s behime one, an’ shet my eyes an’ call it out. Eve’ybody on de place know what ’tis, an’ I hear de ol’ red rooster callin’ it out de yuther day when you wuz chunkin’ at ’im.” At once the little boy manifested interest in what the old negro was saying, and when he looked up, curiosity shone in his eyes. “What did the rooster say my name is, Uncle Remus?”
“Why, when you wuz atter him, he flew’d up on de lot fence, an’ he ’low, ‘Mr. Hardhead! Mr. Hardhead!’ an’ dat sho’ is yo’ name. You kin squirm, an’ frown, an’ twis’, but dat rooster is sho’ got yo’ name down fine. Ef he’d ’a’ des named you once, maybe folks would ’a’ fergot it off’n der min’, but he call de name twice des ez plain ez he kin speak, an’ dar you sets wid Mr. Hardhead writ on you des ez plain ez ef de rooster had a put it on you wid a paint-brush. You can’t rub it off an’ you can’t walk roun’ it.”
“But what must I do, Uncle Remus?”
“Des set still a minnit, an’ try ter be good. It may th’ow you in a high fever fer ter keep yo’ han’s outer my things, er it may gi’ you a agur fer ter be like you useter be, but it’ll pay you in de long run; it mos’ sholy will.”
“Well, if you want me to be quiet,” said the child, “you’ll have to tell me a tale.”
“Ef you sit still too long, honey, I’m afeard de creeturs on de plantation will git de idee dat sump’n done happen. Dar’s de ol’ sow--you ain’t run her roun’ de place in de last ten minnits er sech a matter; an’ dar’s de calf, an’ de chickens, an’ de Guinny hens, an’ de ol’ gray gooses--dey’ll git de idee dat you done broke yo’ leg er yo’ arm; an’ dey’ll be fixin’ up fer ter have a frolic if dey miss you fer longer dan fifteen minnits an’ a half. How you gwineter have any fun ef you set an’ lissen ter a tale stidder chunkin’ an’ runnin’ de creeturs? I mos’ know you er ailin’ an’ by good rights de doctor oughter come an’ look at you.”
The little boy laughed uneasily. He was not the first that had been sobered by the irony of Uncle Remus, which, crude though it was, was much more effective than downright quarreling. “Yasser!” Uncle Remus repeated, “de doctor oughter come an’ look at you--an’ when I say doctor, I mean doctor, an’ not one er deze yer kin’ what goes roun’ wid a whole passel er pills what ain’t bigger dan a gnat’s heart. What you want is a great big double-j’inted doctor wid a big black beard an’ specks on, what’ll fill you full er de rankest kin’ er physic. Ez you look now, you put me in min’ er de ’oman an’ de dinner-pot; dey ain’t no two ways ’bout dat.”
“If it is a tale, please tell it, Uncle Remus,” said the little boy.
“Oh, it sho is a tale all right!” exclaimed the old man, “but you ain’t no mo’ got time fer ter hear it dan de birds in de tree. You’d hatter set still an’ lissen, an’ dat ’ud put you out a whole lot, kaze dar’s de chickens ter be chunked, an’ de pigs ter be crippled an’ a whole lot er yuther things fer ter be did, an’ dey ain’t nobody else in de roun’ worl’ dat kin do it ez good ez you kin. Well, you kin git up an’ mosey long ef you wanter, but I’m gwineter tell dish yer tale ef I hatter r’ar my head back an’ shet my eyeballs an’ tell it ter myse’f fer ter see ef I done fergit it off’n my min’.
“Well, once ’pon a time--it mought ’a’ been in de year One fer all I know--dey wuz a ’oman dat live in a little cabin in de woods not so mighty fur fum water. Now, dis ’oman an’ dis cabin mought ’a’ been in de Nunited State er Georgy, er dey mought ’a’ been in de Nunited State er Yallerbammer--you kin put um whar you please des like I does. But at one place er de yuther, an’ at one time er nuther, dis ’oman live dar des like I’m a-tellin’ you. She live dar, she did, an’ fus’ an’ las’ dey wuz a mighty heap er talk about her. Some say she wuz black, some say she wuz mighty nigh white, an’ some say she wa’n’t ez black ez she mought be; but dem what know’d, dey say she wuz nine parts Injun an’ one part human, an’ I speck dat’s des ez close ter trufe ez we kin git in dis kinder wedder ef we gwineter keep cool.
“Fum all I kin hear--an’ I been keepin’ bofe years wide open, she wuz a monstus busy ’oman, kaze it wuz de talk ’mongst de neighbors dat she done a heap er things what she ain’t got no business ter do. She had a mighty bad temper, an’ her tongue wuz a-runnin’ fum mornin’ twel night. Folks say dat ’twuz long an’ loud an’ mighty well hung. Dey lissen an’ shake der head, an’ atter while word went roun’ dat de ’oman done killt her daughter. Ez ter dat, I ain’t never is hear de rights un it; she mought, an’ den ag’in she moughtn’t--dey ain’t no tellin’--but dey wuz one thing certain an’ sho’ she done so quare, dat folks say she cut up des like a Friday-born fool.
“Her ol’ man, he done de best dat he could. He went ’long an’ ten’ ter his own business, an’ when her tongue ’gun ter clack, he sot down an’ made fish-baskets, an’ ax-helves. But dat ain’t make no diffunce ter de ’oman, kaze she wuz one deze yer kin’ what could quoil all day whedder dey wuz anybody fer ter quoil at er not. She quoiled an’ she quoiled. De man, he ain’t say nothin’ but dis des make her quoil de mo’. He split up kin’lin’ an’ chopped up wood, an’ still she quoil’; he fotch home meal an’ he fotch home meat, but still she quoil’. An’ she ’fuse fer ter cook what he want her to cook; she wuz hard-headed des like you, an’ she’d have her own way ef she died fer it.
“Ef de man, he say, ‘Please ’m cook me some grits,’ she’d whirl in an’ bile greens; ef he ax fer fried meat, she’d bake him a hoe-cake er corn bread. Ef he want roas’ tater she’d bile him a mess er beans, an’ all de time, she’d be givin’ ’im de wuss kinder sass. Oh, she wuz a honey! An’ when it come ter low-down meanness, she wuz rank an’ ripe. She’d take de sparrer-grass what he fotch, an’ kindle de fire wid it. She’d burn de spar’-ribs an’ scorch de tripe, an’ she’d do eve’y kinder way but de right way, an’ dat she wouldn’t do, not ter save yo’ life.
“Well, dis went on an’ went on, an’ de man ain’t make no complaints; he des watch an’ wait an’ pray. But atter so long a time, he see dat dat ain’t gwine ter do no good, an’ he tuck an’ change his plans. He spit in de ashes, he did, an’ he make a cross-mark, an’ turn roun’ twice so he kin face de sunrise. Den he shuck a gourd-vine flower over de pot, an’ sump’n tol’ ’im fer ter take his res’ an’ wait twel de moon come up. All dis time de ’oman, she wuz a quoilin’, but bimeby, she went on ’bout her business, an’ de man had some peace; but not fer long. He ain’t no more dan had time fer ter put some thunderwood buds an’ some calamus-root in de pot, dan here she come, an’ she come a-quoilin’. She come in she did, an’ she slam things roun’ des like you slams de gate.
“Atter kickin’ up a rippet, an’ makin’ de place hot ez she kin, de ’oman made a big fire un’ de pot, an’ flew’d roun’ dar des like she tryin’ fer ter cook a sho’ ’nough supper. She made some dumplin’s an’ flung um in de pot; den she put in some peas an’ big pods er red pepper, an’ on top er all she flung a sheep’s head. De man, he sot dar, an’ look straight at de cross-mark what he done made in de ashes. Atterwhile, he ’gun to smell de calamus-root a-cookin’ an’ he know’d by dat, dat sump’n wuz gwineter happen.
“De pot, it biled, an’ biled, an’ fus’ news you know, de sheep’s head ’gun ter butt de dumplin’s out, an’ de peas, dey flew’d out an’ rattled on de flo’ like a bag er bullets done busted. De ’oman, she run fer ter see what de matter is, an’ when she got close ter de pot de steam fum de thunderwood hit her in de face an’ eyes an’ come mighty nigh takin’ her breff away. Dis kinder stumped ’er fer a minnit, but she had a temper big ’nough fer ter drag a bull down, an’ all she had ter do when she lose her breff wuz ter fling her han’s in de a’r an’ fetch a snort, an’ dar she wuz.
“She moughter been mad befo’, but dis time she wuz mighty nigh plum’ crazy. She look at de pot, an’ she look at her ol’ man; she shot her eyeballs an’ clinched her han’s; she yerked off her head-hankcher, an’ pulled her ha’r loose fum de wroppin’-strings; she stomped her foot, an’ smashed her toofies tergedder.
“She railed at de pot; she ’low, ‘What ail you, you black Dickunce? I b’lieve youer de own brer ter de Ol’ Boy! You been foolin’ wid me fer de longest, an’ I ain’t gwine ter put up wid it! I’m gwineter tame you down!’ Wid dat, she flung off de homespun sack what she been w’arin’ an’ run outer de house an’ got de ax.
“Her ol’ man say, ‘Whar you gwine, honey?’ She ’low, ‘I’m a gwine whar I’m a gwine, dat’s whar I’m a gwine!’ De man, he ain’t spon’ ter dat kinder talk, an’ de ’oman, she went out in back yard fer ter hunt fer de ax. Look like she gwineter keep on gittin’ in trouble, kaze de ax wuz on top er de wood what de man done pile up out dar. It wuz layin’ up dar, de ax wuz, des ez slanchendicklar ez you please, but time it see her comin’----”
“But, Uncle Remus!” the child exclaimed, “how could the ax see her?”
The old negro looked at the little boy with an expression of amazed pity on his face. He looked all around the room and then raised his eyes to the rafters, where a long cobweb was swaying slowly in a breeze so light that nothing else would respond to its invitation. Then he sighed and closed his eyes. “I wish yo’ pa wuz here right now, I mos’ sholy does--yo’ pa, what useter set right whar youer settin’! You done been raised in town whar dey can’t tell a ax fum a wheelbarrer. Ax ain’t got no eye! Well, whoever is hear de beat er dat! Ef anybody else is got dat idee, I’ll be much erbleege ef you’ll show um ter me. Here you is mighty nigh big ’nough fer eat raw tater widout havin’ de doctor called in, an’ a-settin’ dar sayin’ dat axes ain’t got no eyes. Well, you ax yo’ gran’ma when you go back ter de house an’ see what she say.
“Now, le’ me see; wharbouts wuz I at? Oh, yes! De ax wuz on top er woodpile, an’ when it seed de ’oman comin’, it des turned loose an’ slip down on de yuther side. It wa’n’t tryin’ fer ter show off, like I’ve seed some folks ’fo’ now; it des turned loose eve’ything an’ fell down on de yuther side er de woodpile. An’ whiles de ’oman wuz gwin roun’ atter it, de ax, it clum back on top er de woodpile an’ fell off on t’er side. Dem what handed de tale down ter me ain’t say how long de ’oman an’ de ax keep dis up, but ef a ax is got eyes, it ain’t got but one leg, an’ it must not ’a’ been so mighty long ’fo’ de ’oman cotch up wid it--an’ when she did she wuz so mad dat she could ’a’ bit a railroad track in two, ef dey’d ’a’ been one anywhar’s roun’ dar.
“Well, she got de ax, an’ it look like she wuz madder dan ever. De man, he say, ‘Better let de pot ’lone, honey; ef you don’t you’ll sholy wish you hadder.’ De ’oman, she squall out, ‘I’ll let you ’lone ef you fool wid me, an’ ef I do you won’t never pester nobody no mo’.’ Man, he say, ‘I’m a-tellin’ you de trufe, honey, an’ dis may be de las’ chance you’ll git ter hear it.’
“De ’oman raise de ax like she gwineter hit de man, an’ den it look like she tuck a n’er notion, an’ she start todes de pot. De man, he ’low, ‘You better hear me, honey! You better drap de ax an’ go out doors an’ cool yo’se’f off, honey!’ It seem like he wuz a mighty saf’-spoken man, wid nice feelin’s fer all. De ’oman, she say, ‘Don’t you dast ter honey me--ef you does I’ll brain you stidder de pot!’ De man smole a long smile an’ shuck his head; he say, ‘All de same, honey, you better pay ’tention ter deze las’ words I’m a-tellin’ you!’
“But de ’oman, she des keep right on. She’d ’a’ gone faster dan what she did, but it look like de ax got heavier eve’y step she tuck--heavier an’ heavier. An’ it look like de house got bigger--bigger an’ bigger; an’ it seem like de do’ got wider--wider an’ wider! She moughter seed all dis, an’ I speck she did, but she des keep right on, shakin’ de ax, an’ moufin’ ter herse’f. De man, he holler once mo’ an’ fer de las’ time, ‘Don’t let ol’ Nick fool you, honey, ef you does, he sho will git you!’
“But she keep on an’ keep on, an’ de house got bigger an’ de do’ got wider. De pot see her comin’, an’ it got fum a-straddle er de fire, whar it had been settin’ at, an’ skipped out’ de do’ an’ out in de yard.” Uncle Remus paused to see what effect this statement would have on the child, but save the shadow of a smile hovering around his mouth, the youngster gave no indication of unbelief. “De ’oman,” said Uncle Remus, with a chuckle that was repressed before it developed into a laugh, “look like she ’stonish’, but her temper kep’ hot, an’ she run out atter de pot wid de ax ez high ez she kin hol’ it; but de pot keep on gwine, skippin’ long on three legs faster dan de ’oman kin run on two; an’ de ax kep’ on gittin’ heavier an’ heavier, twel, bimeby, de ’oman hatter drap it. Den she lit out atter de pot like she wuz runnin’ a foot-race, but fast ez she run, de pot run faster.
“De chase led right inter de woods an’ down de spring branch, an’ away over yander beyan’ de creek. De pot went so fast an’ it went so fur dat atter while de ’oman ’gun ter git weak. But de temper she had helt ’er up fer de longest, an’ mo’ dan dat, eve’y time she’d sorter slack up, de pot would dance an’ caper roun’ on its three legs, an’ do like it’s givin’ her a dar’--an’ she keep a-gwine twel she can’t hardly go no furder.
“De man he stayed at de house, but de ’oman an’ de pot ain’t git so fur but what he kin hear um scufflin’ an scramblin’ roun’ in de bushes, an’ he set dar, he did, an’ look like he right sorry fer anybody what’s ez hard-headed ez de ’oman. But she look like she bleeze ter ketch dat pot. She say ter herse’f dat folks will never git done talkin’ ’bout her ef she let herse’f be outdone by a ol’ dinner-pot what been in de fambly yever sence dey been any fambly.
“So she keep on, twel she tripped up on a vine er de bamboo brier, an’ down she come! It seem like de pot seed her, an’ stidder runnin’ fum ’er, here it come a-runnin’ right at ’er wid a chunk er red fire. Oh, you kin laugh, honey, an’ look like you don’t b’lieve me, but dat ain’t make no diffunce, kaze de trufe ain’t never been hurted yit by dem what ain’t b’lieve it. I dunner whar de chunk er fire come fum, an’ I dunner how de dinner-pot come ter have motion, but dar ’tis in de tale--take it er leave it, des ez you bleeze.
“Well, suh, when de ’oman fell, de pot made at her wid a chunk er red fire. De ’oman see it comin’, an’ she set up a squall dat moughter been heard a mile. She jump up, she did, but it seem like she wuz so weak an’ tired dat she can’t stan’ on her foots, an’ she start fer ter fall ag’in, but de dinner-pot wuz dar fer ter ketch ’er when she fell. An’ dat wuz de last dat anybody yever is see er de hard-headed ’oman. Leas’ ways, she ain’t never come back ter de house whar de man wuz settin’ at.
“De pot? Well, de way dey got it in de tale is dat de pot des laugh twel it hatter hol’ its sides fer ter keep fum crackin’ open. It come a-hoppin’ an’ a-skippin’ up de spring paff. It hopped along, it did, twel it come ter de house, an’ it made a runnin’ jump in de do’. Den it wash its face, an’ scrape de mud off’n it foots, an’ wiped off de grease what de ’oman been too lazy fer ter clean off. Den it went ter de fireplace, an’ kinder spraddle out so it’ll fit de bricks what been put dar fer it ter set on.
“De man watch all dis, but he ain’t say nothin’. Atter while he hear a mighty bilin’ an’ bubblin’ an’ when he went ter look fer ter see what de matter, he see his supper cookin’ an’ atter so long a time, he fish it out an’ eat it. He eat in peace, an’ atter dat he allers had peace. An’ when you wanter be hard-headed, an’ have yo’ own way, you better b’ar in min’ de ’oman an’ de dinner-pot.”