Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Joel Chandler Harris

Aunt Tempy's Story

The little boy observed that Aunt Tempy was very much interested in Daddy Jack's story. She made no remarks while the old African was telling it, but she was busily engaged in measuring imaginary quilt patterns on her apron with her thumb and forefinger,—a sure sign that her interest had been aroused. When Daddy Jack had concluded—when, with a swift, sweeping gesture of his wrinkled hand, he cut the cord and allowed Brother Wolf to perish ignominiously—Aunt Tempy drew a long breath, and said:—

"Dat ar tale come 'cross me des like a dream. Hit put me in mine er one w'at I year w'en I wuz little bit er gal. Look like I kin see myse'f right now, settin' flat down on de h'ath lis'nin' at ole Unk Monk. You know'd ole Unk Monk, Brer Remus. You bleeze ter know'd 'im. Up dar in Ferginny. I 'clar' ter goodness, it make me feel right foolish. Brer Remus, I des know you know'd Unk Monk."

For the first time in many a day the little boy saw Uncle Remus in a serious mood. He leaned forward in his chair, shook his head sadly, as he gazed into the fire.

"Ah, Lord, Sis Tempy!" he exclaimed sorrowfully, "don't less we all go foolin' 'roun' 'mungs' dem ole times. De bes' kinder bread gits sour. W'at's yistiddy wid us wuz 'fo' de worl' begun wid dish yer chile. Dat's de way I looks at it."

"Dat's de Lord's trufe, Brer Remus," exclaimed Aunt Tempy with unction, "un I mighty glad you call me ter myse'f. Little mo' un I'd er sot right yer un 'a' gone 'way back to Ferginny, un all on 'count er dat ar tale w'at I year long time ago."

"What tale was that, Aunt Tempy?" asked the little boy.

"Eh-eh, honey!" replied Aunt Tempy, with a display of genuine bashfulness; "eh-eh, honey! I 'fraid you all 'll set up dar un laugh me outer de house. I ain't dast ter tell no tale 'long side er Brer Remus un Daddy Jack yer. I 'fraid I git it all mix up."

The child manifested such genuine disappointment that Aunt Tempy relented a little.

"Ef you all laugh, now," she said, with a threatening air, "I'm des gwine ter pick up en git right out er dish yer place. Dey ain't ter be no laughin', 'kaze de tale w'at I year in Ferginny ain't no laughin' tale."

With this understanding Aunt Tempy adjusted her head-handkerchief, looked around rather sheepishly, as Uncle Remus declared afterwards in confidence to the little boy, and began:—

"Well, den, in de times w'en Brer Rabbit un Brer Fox live in de same settlement wid one er 'n'er, de season's tuck'n come wrong. De wedder got hot un den a long dry drouth sot in, un it seem like dat de nat'al leaf on de trees wuz gwine ter tu'n ter powder."

Aunt Tempy emphasized her statements by little backward and forward movements of her head, and the little boy would have laughed, but a warning glance from Uncle Remus prevented him.

"De leaf on de trees look like dey gwine ter tu'n ter powder, un de groun' look like it done bin cookt. All de truck w'at de creeturs plant wuz all parched up, un dey wa'n't no crops made nowhars. Dey dunner w'at ter do. Dey run dis a-way, dey run dat a-way; yit w'en dey quit runnin' dey dunner whar dey bread comin' frun. Dis de way it look ter Brer Fox, un so one day w'en he got a mighty hankerin' atter sumpin' sorter joosy, he meet Brer Rabbit in de lane, un he ax um, sezee:—

" 'Brer Rabbit, whar'bouts our bread comin' frun?'

"Brer Rabbit, he bow, he did, un answer, sezee:—

" 'Look like it mought be comin' frun nowhar,' sezee."

"You see dat, honey!" exclaimed Uncle Remus, condescending to give the story the benefit of his patronage; "You see dat! Brer Rabbit wuz allus a-waitin' a chance fer ter crack he jokes."

"Yas, Lord!" Aunt Tempy continued, with considerable more animation; "he joke, un joke, but bimeby, he ain't feel like no mo' jokin', un den he up'n say, sezee, dat him un Brer Fox better start out'n take der fammerlies wid um ter town un swap um off for some fresh-groun' meal; un Brer Fox say, sezee, dat dat look mighty fa'r un squar', un den dey tuck'n make dey 'greements.

"Brer Fox wuz ter s'ply de waggin un team, un he promise dat he gwine ter ketch he fammerly un tie um hard un fast wid a red twine string. Brer Rabbit he say, sezee, dat he gwine ter ketch he fammerly un tie um all, un meet Brer Fox at de fork er de road.

"Sho' 'nuff, soon in de mawnin', w'en Brer Fox draw up wid he waggin, he holler 'Wo!' un Brer Rabbit he tuck'n holler back, 'Wo yo'se'f!' un den Brer Fox know dey 'uz all dar. Brer Fox, he tuck'n sot up on de seat, un all er he fammerly, dey wuz a-layin' under de seat. Brer Rabbit, he tuck'n put all he fammerly in de behime een' er de waggin, un he say, sezee, dat he 'speck he better set back dar twel dey git sorter usen ter dey surrounderlings, un den Brer Fox crack he whip, un off dey wen' toze town. Brer Fox, he holler ev'y once in a w'ile, sezee:—

" 'No noddin' back dar, Brer Rabbit!'

"Brer Rabbit he holler back, sezee:—

" 'Brer Fox, you miss de ruts en de rocks, un I'll miss de noddin'.'

"But all dat time, bless yo' soul! Brer Rabbit wuz settin' dar ontyin' he ole 'oman un he childun, w'ich dey wuz sev'm uv um. W'en he git um all ontie, Brer Rabbit, he tuck'n h'ist hisse'f on de seat 'long er Brer Fox, un dey sot dar un talk un laugh 'bout de all-sorts er times dey gwine ter have w'en dey git de co'n meal. Brer Fox sez, sezee, he gwine ter bake hoecake; Brer Rabbit sez, sezee, he gwine ter make ashcake.

"Des 'bout dis time one er Brer Rabbit's childun raise hisse'f up easy un hop out de waggin. Miss Fox, she sing out:—

" 'One frun sev'm

Don't leave 'lev'm.'

"Brer Fox hunch he ole 'oman wid he foot fer ter make 'er keep still. Bimeby 'n'er little Rabbit pop up un hop out. Miss Fox say, se' she:—

" 'One frun six

Leaves me less kicks.'

"Brer Fox go on talkin' ter Brer Rabbit, un Brer Rabbit go on talkin' ter Brer Fox, un 't wa'n't so mighty long 'fo' all Brer Rabbit fammerly done pop up un dive out de waggin, un ev'y time one 'ud go Miss Fox she 'ud fit it like she did de yuthers."

"What did she say, Aunt Tempy?" asked the little boy, who was interested in the rhymes.

"Des lemme see—

" 'One frun five

Leaves four alive;

" 'One frun four

Leaves th'ee un no mo';

" 'One frun th'ee

Leaves two ter go free;

" 'One frun one,

Un all done gone.'"

"What did Brother Rabbit do then?" inquired the little boy. "Better ax w'at Brer Fox do," replied Aunt Tempy, pleased with the effect of her rhymes. "Brer Fox look 'roun' atter w'ile, un w'en he see dat all Brer Rabbit fammerly done gone, he lean back un holler 'Wo!' un den he say, sezee:—

" 'In de name er goodness, Brer Rabbit! whar all yo' folks?'

"Brer Rabbit look 'roun', un den he make like he cryin'. He des fa'rly boo-hoo'd, un he say, sezee:—

" 'Dar now, Brer Fox! I des know'd dat ef I put my po' little childuns in dar wid yo' folks dey'd git e't up. I des know'd it!'

"Ole Miss Fox, she des vow she ain't totch Brer Rabbit fammerly. But Brer Fox, he bin wantin' a piece un um all de way, un he begrudge um so dat he git mighty mad wid he ole 'oman un de childuns, un he say, sezee:—

" 'You kin des make de most er dat, 'kaze I'm a-gwine ter bid you good riddance dis ve'y day'; un, sho' nuff, Brer Fox tuck'n tuck he whole fammerly ter town un trade um off fer co'n.

"Brer Rabbit wuz wid 'em, des ez big ez life un twice ez natchul. Dey start back, dey did, un w'en dey git four er five mile out er town, hit come 'cross Brer Fox min' dat he done come away un lef' a plug er terbacker in de sto', en he say he bleeze ter go back atter it.

"Brer Rabbit, he say, sezee, dat he'll stay en take keer er de waggin, w'ile Brer Fox kin run back un git he terbacker. Soon ez Brer Fox git out er sight, Brer Rabbit laid de hosses under line un lash un drove de waggin home, un put de hosses in he own stable, un de co'n in de smoke-house, un de waggin in de barn, un den he put some co'n in he pocket, un cut de hosses tails off, un went back up de road twel he come ter a quog-mire, un in dat he stick de tails un wait fer Brer Fox.

"Atter w'ile yer he come, un den Brer Rabbit gun ter holler un pull at de tails. He say, sezee:—

" 'Run yer, Brer Fox! run yer! Youer des in time ef you ain't too late. Run yer, Brer Fox! run yer!'

"Brer Fox, he run'd en juk Brer Rabbit away, un say, sezee:—

" 'Git out de way, Brer Rabbit! You too little! Git out de way, un let a man ketch holt.'

"Brer Fox tuck holt," continued Aunt Tempy, endeavoring to keep from laughing, "un he fetch'd one big pull, un I let you know dat 'uz de onliest pull he make, 'kaze de tails come out un he tu'n a back summerset. He jump up, he did, en 'gun ter grabble in de quog-mire des ez hard ez he kin.

"Brer Rabbit, he stan' by, un drop some co'n in onbeknowns' ter Brer Fox, un dis make 'im grabble wuss un wuss, un he grabble so hard un he grabble so long dat 't wa'n't long 'fo' he fall down dead, un so dat 'uz de las' er ole Brer Fox in dat day un time."

As Aunt Tempy paused, Uncle Remus adjusted his spectacles and looked at her admiringly. Then he laughed heartily.

"I declar', Sis Tempy," he said, after a while, "you gives tongue same ez a lawyer. You'll hatter jine in wid us some mo'."

Aunt Tempy closed her eyes and dropped her head on one side.

"Don't git me started, Brer Remus," she said, after a pause; " 'kaze ef you does you'll hatter set up yer long pas' yo' bedtime."

"I b'leeve you, Sis Tempy, dat I does!" exclaimed the old man, with the air of one who has made a pleasing discovery.