The arrival of the negroes from the River place added greatly to the enthusiasm with which the Christmas holidays were anticipated on the Home place, and the air was filled with laughter day and night. Uncle Remus appeared to be very busy, though there was really nothing to be done except to walk around and scold at everybody and everything, in a good-humored way, and this the old man could do to perfection.
The night before Christmas eve, however, the little boy saw a light in Uncle Remus's cabin, and he interpreted it as in some sort a signal of invitation. He found the old man sitting by the fire and talking to himself:—
"Ef Mars John and Miss Sally 'specks me fer ter keep all deze yer niggers straight deyer gwine ter be diserp'inted,—dat dey is. Ef dey wuz 'lev'm Remuses 't would n't make no diffunce, let 'long one po' ole cripple creetur lak me. Dey ain't done no damage yit, but I boun' you by termorrer night dey'll tu'n loose en tu'n de whole place upside down, en t'ar it up by de roots, en den atter hit's all done gone en done, yer'll come Miss Sally a-layin' it all at ole Remus do'. Nigger ain't got much chance in deze yer low-groun's, mo' speshually w'en dey gits ole en cripple lak I is."
"What are they going to do to-morrow night, Uncle Remus?" the little boy inquired.
"Now w'at make you ax dat, honey?" exclaimed the old man, in a grieved tone. "You knows mighty well how dey done las' year en de year 'fo' dat. Dey tuck'n cut up 'roun' yer wuss'n ef dey 'uz wil' creeturs, en termorrer night dey'll be a-hollin' en whoopin' en singin' en dancin' 'fo' it git dark good. I wish w'en you go up ter de big house you be so good ez ter tell Miss Sally dat ef she want any peace er min' she better git off'n de place en stay off twel atter deze yer niggers git dey fill er Chris'mus. Goodness knows, she can't 'speck a ole cripple nigger lak me fer ter ketch holt en keep all deze yer niggers straight."
Uncle Remus would have kept up his vague complaints, but right in the midst of them Daddy Jack stuck his head in at the door, and said:—
"Oona bin fix da' 'Tildy gal shoe. Me come fer git dem shoe; me come fer pay you fer fix dem shoe."
Uncle Remus looked at the grinning old African in astonishment. Then suddenly the truth dawned upon him and he broke into a loud laugh. Finally he said:—
"Come in, Brer Jack! Come right 'long in. I'm sorter po'ly myse'f, yit I'll make out ter make you welcome. Dey wuz a quarter dollar gwine inter my britches-pocket on de 'count er dem ar shoes, but ef youer gwine ter pay fer um 't won't be but a sev'mpunce."
Somehow or other Daddy Jack failed to relish Uncle Remus's tone and manner, and he replied, with some display of irritation:
"Shuh-shuh! Me no come in no'n 't all. Me no pay you se'mpunce. Me come fer pay you fer dem shoe; me come fer tek um 'way fum dey-dey."
"I dunno 'bout dat, Brer Jack, I dunno 'bout dat. De las' time I year you en 'Tildy gwine on, she wuz 'pun de p'ints er knockin' yo' brains out. Now den, s'pozen I whirls in en gins you de shoes, en den 'Tildy come 'long en ax me 'bout um, w'at I gwine say ter 'Tildy?"
"Me pay you fer dem shoe," said Daddy Jack, seeing the necessity of argument, "un me tek um wey da lil 'Tildy gal bin stay. She tell me fer come git-a dem shoe."
"Well, den, yer dey is," said Uncle Remus, sighing deeply as he handed Daddy Jack the shoes. "Yer dey is, en youer mo' dan welcome, dat you is. But spite er dat, dis yer quarter you flingin' 'way on um would er done you a sight mo' good dan w'at dem shoes is."
This philosophy was altogether lost upon Daddy Jack, who took the shoes and shuffled out with a grunt of satisfaction. He had scarcely got out of hearing before 'Tildy pushed the door open and came in. She hesitated a moment, and then, seeing that Uncle Remus paid no attention to her, she sat down and picked at her fingers with an air quite in contrast to her usual "uppishness," as Uncle Remus called it.
"Unk Remus," she said, after awhile, in a subdued tone, "is dat old Affikin nigger bin yer atter dem ar shoes?"
"Yas, chile," replied Uncle Remus, with a long-drawn sigh, "he done bin yer en got um en gone. Yas, honey, he done got um en gone; done come en pay fer 'm, en got um en gone. I sez, sez I, dat I wish you all mighty well, en he tuck'n tuck de shoes en put. Yas, chile, he done got um en gone."
Something in Uncle Remus's sympathetic and soothing tone seemed to exasperate 'Tildy. She dropped her hands in her lap, straightened herself up and exclaimed:—
"Yas, I'm is gwine ter marry dat ole nigger an' I don't keer who knows it. Miss Sally say she don't keer, en t'er folks may keer ef dey wanter, en much good der keerin' 'll do um."
'Tildy evidently expected Uncle Remus to make some characteristic comment, for she sat and watched him with her lips firmly pressed together and her eyelids half-closed,—an attitude of defiance significant enough when seen, but difficult to describe. But the old man made no response to the challenge. He seemed to be very busy. Presently 'Tildy went on:—
"Somebody bleedz to take keer er dat ole nigger, en I dunner who gwine ter do it ef I don't. Somebody bleedz ter look atter 'im. Good win' come 'long hit 'ud in about blow 'im 'way ef dey wa'n't somebody close 'roun' fer ter take keer un 'im. Let 'lone dat, I ain't gwineter have dat ole nigger man f'ever 'n 'ternally trottin' atter me. I tell you de Lord's trufe, Unk Remus," continued 'Tildy, growing confidential, "I ain't had no peace er min' sence dat ole nigger man come on dis place. He des bin a-pacin' at my heels de whole blessed time, en I bleedz ter marry 'im fer git rid un 'im."
"Well," said Uncle Remus, "hit don't s'prize me. You marry en den youer des lak Brer Fox wid he bag. You know w'at you put in it, but you dunner w'at you got in it."
'Tildy flounced out without waiting for an explanation, but the mention of Brother Fox attracted the attention of the little boy, and he wanted to know what was in the bag, how it came to be there, and all about it.
"Now, den," said Uncle Remus, "hit's a tale, en a mighty long tale at dat, but I'll des hatter cut it short, 'kaze termorrer night you'll wanter be a-settin' up lis'nen at de kyar'n's on er dem ar niggers, w'ich I b'leeve in my soul dey done los' all de sense dey ever bin bornded wid.
"One time Brer Fox wuz gwine on down de big road, en he look ahead en he see ole Brer Tarrypin makin' he way on todes home. Brer Fox 'low dis a mighty good time fer ter nab ole Brer Tarrypin, en no sooner is he thunk it dan he put out back home, w'ich 't wa'n't but a little ways, en he git 'im a bag. He come back, he did, en he run up behime ole Brer Tarrypin en flip 'im in de bag en sling de bag 'cross he back en go gallin'-up back home.
"Brer Tarrypin, he holler, but 't ain't do no good, he rip en he r'ar, but 't ain't do no good. Brer Fox des keep on a-gwine, en 't wa'n't long 'fo' he had ole Brer Tarrypin slung up in de cornder in de bag, en de bag tied un hard en fas'.
"But w'iles all dis gwine on," exclaimed Uncle Remus, employing the tone and manner of some country preacher he had heard, "whar wuz ole Brer Rabbit? Yasser—dats it, whar wuz he? En mo'n dat, w'at you 'speck he 'uz doin' en whar you reckon he wer' gwine? Dat's de way ter talk it; whar'bouts wuz he?"
The old man brought his right hand down upon his knee with a thump that jarred the tin-plate and cups on the mantel-shelf, and then looked around with a severe frown to see what the chairs and the work-bench, and the walls and the rafters, had to say in response to his remarkable argument. He sat thus in a waiting attitude a moment, and then, finding that no response came from anything or anybody, his brow gradually cleared, and a smile of mingled pride and satisfaction spread over his face, as he continued in a more natural tone:—
"Youk'n b'leeve me er not b'leeve des ez youer min' ter, but dat ar long-year creetur—dat ar hoppity-skippity—dat ar up-en-down-en-sailin'-'roun' Brer Rabbit, w'ich you bin year me call he name 'fo' dis, he wa'n't so mighty fur off w'iles Brer Fox gwine 'long wid dat ar bag slung 'cross he back. Let 'lone dat, Brer Rabbit 'uz settin' right dar in de bushes by de side er de road, en w'ence he see Brer Fox go trottin' by, he ax hisse'f w'at is it dat creetur got in dat ar bag.
"He ax hisse'f, he did, but he dunno. He wunder en he wunder, yit de mo' he wunder de mo' he dunno. Brer Fox, he go trottin' by, en Brer Rabbit, he sot in de bushes en wunder. Bimeby he 'low ter hisse'f, he did, dat Brer Fox ain't got no business fer ter be trottin' 'long down de road, totin' doin's w'ich yuther folks dunner w'at dey is, en he 'low dat dey won't be no great harm done ef he take atter Brer Fox en fine out w'at he got in dat ar bag.
"Wid dat, Brer Rabbit, he put out. He ain't got no bag fer ter tote, en he pick up he foots mighty peart. Mo'n dat, he tuck'n tuck a nigh-cut, en by de time Brer Fox git home, Brer Rabbit done had time fer ter go 'roun' by de watermillion-patch en do some er he devilment, en den atter dat he tuck'n sot down in de bushes whar he kin see Brer Fox w'en he come home.
"Bimeby yer come Brer Fox wid de bag slung 'cross he back. He onlatch de do', he did, en he go in en sling Brer Tarrypin down in de cornder, en set down front er de h'ath fer ter res' hisse'f."
Here Uncle Remus paused to laugh in anticipation of what was to follow.
"Brer Fox ain't mo'n lit he pipe," the old man continued, after a tantalizing pause, " 'fo' Brer Rabbit stick he head in de do' en holler:—
"Brer Fox! O Brer Fox! You better take yo' walkin'-cane en run down yan. Comin' 'long des now I year a mighty fuss, en I look 'roun' en dar wuz a whole passel er folks in yo' watermillion-patch des a-tromplin' 'roun' en a-t'arin' down. I holler'd at um, but dey ain't pay no 'tention ter little man lak I is. Make 'a'se, Brer Fox! make 'a'se! Git yo' cane en run down dar. I'd go wid you myse'f, but my ole 'oman ailin' en I bleedz ter be makin' my way todes home. You better make 'a'se, Brer Fox, ef you wanter git de good er yo' watermillions. Run, Brer Fox! run!'
"Wid dat Brer Rabbit dart back in de bushes, en Brer Fox drap he pipe en grab he walkin'-cane en put out fer he watermillion-patch, w'ich 't wer' down on de branch; en no sooner is he gone dan ole Brer Rabbit come out de bushes en make he way in de house.
"He go so easy dat he ain't make no fuss; he look 'roun' en dar wuz de bag in de cornder. He kotch holt er de bag en sorter feel un it, en time he do dis, he year sump'n' holler:—
" 'Ow! Go 'way! Lem me 'lone! Tu'n me loose! Ow!'
"Brer Rabbit jump back 'stonish'd. Den 'fo' you kin wink yo' eye-ball, Brer Rabbit slap hisse'f on de leg en break out in a laugh. Den he up'n 'low:—
" 'Ef I ain't make no mistakes, dat ar kinder fuss kin come fum nobody in de roun' worl' but ole Brer Tarrypin.'
"Brer Tarrypin, he holler, sezee: 'Ain't dat Brer Rabbit?'
" 'De same,' sezee.
" 'Den whirl in en tu'n me out. Meal dus' in my th'oat, grit in my eye, en I ain't kin git my breff, skacely. Tu'n me out, Brer Rabbit.'
"Brer Tarrypin talk lak somebody down in a well. Brer Rabbit, he holler back:—
" 'Youer lots smarter dan w'at I is, Brer Tarrypin—lots smarter. Youer smarter en pearter. Peart ez I come yer, you is ahead er me. I know how you git in de bag, but I dunner how de name er goodness you tie yo'se'f up in dar, dat I don't.'
"Brer Tarrypin try ter splain, but Brer Rabbit keep on laughin', en he laugh twel he git he fill er laughin'; en den he tuck'n ontie de bag en take Brer Tarrypin out en tote 'im 'way off in de woods. Den, w'en he done dis, Brer Rabbit tuck'n run off en git a great big hornet-nes' w'at he see w'en he comin' long—"
"A hornet's nest, Uncle Remus?" exclaimed the little boy, in amazement.
"Tooby sho', honey. 'T ain't bin a mont' sence I brung you a great big hornet-nes', en yer you is axin' dat. Brer Rabbit tuck'n slap he han' 'cross de little hole whar de hornets goes in at, en dar he had um. Den he tuck'n tuck it ter Brer Fox house, en put it in de bag whar Brer Tarrypin bin.
"He put de hornet-nes' in dar," continued Uncle Remus, lowering his voice, and becoming very grave, "en den he tie up de bag des lak he fine it. Yit 'fo' he put de bag back in de cornder, w'at do dat creetur do? I ain't settin' yer," said the old man, seizing his chair with both hands, as if by that means to emphasize the illustration, "I ain't settin' yer ef dat ar creetur ain't grab dat bag en slam it down 'g'in de flo', en hit it 'g'in de side er de house twel he git dem ar hornets all stirred up, en den he put de bag back in de cornder, en go out in de bushes ter whar Brer Tarrypin waitin', en den bofe un um sot out dar en wait fer ter see w'at de upshot gwine ter be.
"Bimeby, yer come Brer Fox back fum he watermillion-patch en he look lak he mighty mad. He strak he cane down 'pun de groun', en do lak he gwine take he revengeance out'n po' ole Brer Tarrypin. He went in de do', Brer Fox did, en shot it atter 'im. Brer Rabbit en Brer Tarrypin lissen', but dey ain't year nothin'.
"But bimeby, fus' news you know, dey year de mos' owdashus racket, tooby sho'. Seem lak, fum whar Brer Rabbit en Brer Tarrypin settin' dat dey 'uz a whole passel er cows runnin' 'roun' in Brer Fox house. Dey year de cheers a-fallin', en de table turnin' over, en de crock'ry breakin', en den de do' flew'd open, en out come Brer Fox, a-squallin' lak de Ole Boy wuz atter 'im. En sech a sight ez dem t'er creeturs seed den en dar ain't never bin seed befo' ner sence.
"Dem ar hornets des swarmed on top er Brer Fox. 'Lev'm dozen un um 'ud hit at one time, en look lak dat ar creetur bleedz ter fine out fer hisse'f w'at pain en suffin' is. Dey bit 'im en dey stung 'im, en fur ez Brer Rabbit en Brer Tarrypin kin year 'im, dem hornets 'uz des a-nailin' 'im. Gentermens! dey gun 'im binjer!
"Brer Rabbit en Brer Tarrypin, dey sot dar, dey did, en dey laugh en laugh, twel bimeby, Brer Rabbit roll over en grab he stomach, en holler:—
" 'Don't, Brer Tarrypin! don't! One giggle mo' en you'll hatter tote me.'
"En dat ain't all," said Uncle Remus, raising his voice. "I know a little chap w'ich ef he set up yer 'sputin' 'longer me en de t'er creeturs, he won't have much fun termorrer night."
The hint was sufficient, and the little boy ran out laughing.