The little boy sat watching Uncle Remus sharpen his shoe-knife. The old man's head moved in sympathy with his hands, and he mumbled fragments of a song. Occasionally he would feel of the edge of the blade with his thumb, and then begin to sharpen it again. The comical appearance of the venerable darkey finally had its effect upon the child, for suddenly he broke into a hearty peal of laughter; whereupon Uncle Remus stopped shaking his head and singing his mumbly-song, and assumed a very dignified attitude. Then he drew a long, deep breath, and said:—
" 'Wen folks git ole en stricken wid de palsy, dey mus' 'speck ter be laff'd at. Goodness knows, I bin use ter dat sence de day my whiskers 'gun to bleach."
"Why, I was n't laughing at you, Uncle Remus; I declare I was n't," cried the little boy. "I thought maybe you might be doing your head like Brother Rabbit did when he was fixing to cut his meat."
Uncle Remus's seriousness was immediately driven away by a broad and appreciative grin.
"Now, dat de way ter talk, honey, en I boun' you wa'n't fur wrong, n'er, 'kaze fer all dey'll tell you dat Brer Rabbit make he livin' 'long er nibblin' at grass en greens, hit 't wa'n't dat a-way in dem days, 'kaze I got in my 'membunce right now de 'casion whar Brer Rabbit is tuck'n e't meat."
The little boy had learned that it was not best to make any display of impatience, and so he waited quietly while Uncle Remus busied himself with arranging the tools on his shoe-bench. Presently the old man began:—
"Hit so happen dat one day Brer Rabbit meet up wid Brer Fox, en w'en dey 'quire atter der corporosity, dey fine out dat bofe un um mighty po'ly. Brer Fox, he 'low, he do, dat he monst'us hongry, en Brer Rabbit he 'spon' dat he got a mighty hankerin' atter vittles hisse'f. Bimeby dey look up de big road, en dey see Mr. Man comin' 'long wid a great big hunk er beef und' he arm. Brer Fox he up 'n 'low, he did, dat he lak mighty well fer ter git a tas'e er dat, en Brer Rabbit he 'low dat de sight er dat nice meat all lineded wid taller is nuff fer ter run a body 'stracted.
"Mr. Man he come en he come 'long. Brer Rabbit en Brer Fox dey look en dey look at 'im. Dey wink der eye en der mouf water. Brer Rabbit he 'low he bleedz ter git some er dat meat. Brer Fox he 'spon', he did, dat it look mighty fur off ter him. Den Brer Rabbit tell Brer Fox fer ter foller 'long atter 'im in hailin' distuns, en wid dat he put out, he did, en 't wa'nt long 'fo' he kotch up wid Mr. Man.
"Dey pass de time er day, en den dey went joggin' 'long de road same lak dey 'uz gwine 'pun a journey. Brer Rabbit he keep on snuffin' de a'r. Mr. Man up'n ax 'im is he got a bad cole, en Brer Rabbit 'spon' dat he smell sump'n' w'ich it don't smell like ripe peaches. Bimeby, Brer Rabbit 'gun to hoi' he nose, he did, en atter w'ile he sing out:—
" 'Gracious en de goodness, Mr. Man! hit's dat meat er yone. Phew! Whar'bouts is you pick up dat meat at?'
"Dis make Mr. Man feel sorter 'shame' hisse'f, en ter make marters wuss, yer come a great big green fly a-zoonin' 'roun'. Brer Rabbit he git way off on t'er side er de road, en he keep on hol'in' he nose. Mr. Man, he look sorter sheepish, he did, en dey ain't gone fur 'fo' he put de meat down on de side er de road, en he tuck'n ax Brer Rabbit w'at dey gwine do 'bout it. Brer Rabbit he 'low, he did:—
" 'I year tell in my time dat ef you take'n drag a piece er meat thoo' de dus' hit'll fetch back hits freshness. I ain't no superspicious man myse'f,' sezee, 'en I ain't got no 'speunce wid no sech doin's, but dem w'at tell me say dey done try it. Yit I knows dis,' says Brer Rabbit, sezee,—'I knows dat 't ain't gwine do no harm, 'kaze de grit w'at gits on de meat kin be wash off,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.
" 'I ain't got no string,' sez Mr. Man, sezee.
"Brer Rabbit laff hearty, but still he hol' he nose.
" 'Time you bin in de bushes long ez I is, you won't miss strings,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.
"Wid dat Brer Rabbit lipt out, en he ain't gone long 'fo' he come hoppin' back wid a whole passel er bamboo vines all tied tergedder. Mr. Man, he 'low:—
" 'Dat line mighty long.'
"Brer Rabbit he 'low:—
" 'Tooby sho', you want de win' fer ter git 'twix' you en dat meat.'
"Den Mr. Man tuck'n tied de bamboo line ter de meat. Brer Rabbit he broke off a 'simmon bush, he did, en 'low dat he'd stay behime en keep de flies off. Mr. Man he go on befo' en drag de meat, en Brer Rabbit he stay behime, he did, en take keer un it."
Here Uncle Remus was compelled to pause and laugh before he could proceed with the story.
"En he is take keer un it, mon—dat he is. He tuck'n git 'im a rock, en w'iles Mr. Man gwine 'long bidout lookin' back, he ondo de meat en tie de rock ter de bamboo line, en w'en Brer Fox foller on, sho' nuff, dar lay de meat. Mr. Man, he drug de rock, he did, en Brer Rabbit he keep de flies off, twel atter dey gone on right smart piece, en den w'en Mr. Man look 'roun', whar wuz ole man Rabbit?
"Bless yo' soul, Brer Rabbit done gone back en jine Brer Fox, en he wuz des in time, at dat, 'kaze little mo' en Brer Fox would 'a' done bin outer sight en yearin'. En so dat de way Brer Rabbit git Mr. Man meat."
The little boy reflected a little, and then said:—
"Uncle Remus, was n't that stealing?"
"Well, I tell you 'bout dat, honey," responded the old man, with the air of one who is willing to compromise. "In dem days de creeturs bleedz ter look out fer deyse'f, mo' speshually dem w'at ain't got hawn en huff. Brer Rabbit ain't got no hawn en huff, en he bleedz ter be he own lawyer."
Just then the little boy heard his father's buggy rattling down the avenue, and he ran out into the darkness to meet it. After he was gone, Uncle Remus sat a long time rubbing his hands and looking serious. Finally he leaned back in his chair, and exclaimed:—
"Dat little chap gittin' too much fer ole Remus—dat he is!"