Gateway to the Classics: Nights with Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris
Nights with Uncle Remus by  Joel Chandler Harris

African Jack

Usually, the little boy, who regarded himself as Uncle Remus's partner, was not at all pleased when he found the old man entertaining, in his simple way, any of his colored friends; but he was secretly delighted when he called one night and found Daddy Jack sitting by Uncle Remus's hearth. Daddy Jack was an object of curiosity to older people than the little boy. He was a genuine African, and for that reason he was known as African Jack, though the child had been taught to call him Daddy Jack. He was brought to Georgia in a slave-ship when he was about twenty years old, and remained upon one of the sea-islands for several years. Finally, he fell into the hands of the family of which Uncle Remus's little partner was the youngest representative, and became the trusted foreman of a plantation, in the southern part of Georgia, known as the Walthall Place. Once every year he was in the habit of visiting the Home Place in Middle Georgia, and it was during one of these annual visits that the little boy found him in Uncle Remus's cabin.

Daddy Jack appeared to be quite a hundred years old, but he was probably not more than eighty. He was a little, dried-up old man, whose weazened, dwarfish appearance, while it was calculated to inspire awe in the minds of the superstitious, was not without its pathetic suggestions. The child had been told that the old African was a wizard, a conjurer, and a snake-charmer; but he was not afraid, for, in any event,—conjuration, witchcraft, or what not,—he was assured of the protection of Uncle Remus.

As the little boy entered the cabin Uncle Remus smiled and nodded pleasantly, and made a place for him on a little stool upon which had been piled the odds and ends of work. Daddy Jack paid no attention to the child; his thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.

"Go en shake han's, honey, en tell Daddy Jack howdy. He lak good chilluns." Then to Daddy Jack: "Brer Jack, dish yer de chap w'at I bin tellin' you 'bout."

The little boy did as he was bid, but Daddy Jack grunted ungraciously and made no response to the salutation. He was evidently not fond of children. Uncle Remus glanced curiously at the dwarfed and withered figure, and spoke a little more emphatically:—

"Brer Jack, ef you take good look at dis chap, I lay you'll see mo'n you speck ter see. You'll see sump'n' dat'll make you grunt wusser dan you grunted deze many long year. Go up dar, honey, whar Daddy Jack kin see you."

The child went shyly up to the old African and stood at his knee. The sorrows and perplexities of nearly a hundred years lay between them; and now, as always, the baffled eyes of age gazed into the Sphinx-like face of youth, as if by this means to unravel the mysteries of the past and solve the problems of the future.

Daddy Jack took the plump, rosy hands of the little boy in his black, withered ones, and gazed into his face so long and steadily, and with such curious earnestness, that the child did n't know whether to laugh or cry. Presently the old African flung his hands to his head, and rocked his body from side to side, moaning and mumbling, and talking to himself, while the tears ran down his face like rain.

"Ole Missy! Ole Missy! 'E come back! I bin shum dey-dey, I bin shum de night! I bin yeddy 'e v'ice, I bin yeddy de sign!"

"Ah-yi!" exclaimed Uncle Remus, into whose arms the little boy had fled; "I des know'd dat 'ud fetch 'im. Hit's bin manys de long days sence Brer Jack seed Ole Miss, yit ef he ain't seed 'er dat whack, den I ain't settin' yer."

After a while Daddy Jack ceased his rocking, and his moaning, and his crying, and sat gazing wistfully into the fireplace. Whatever he saw there fixed his attention, for Uncle Remus spoke to him several times without receiving a response. Presently, however, Daddy Jack exclaimed with characteristic but laughable irrelevance:—

"I no lakky dem gal wut is bin-a stan' pidjin-toe. Wun 'e fetch pail er water on 'e head, water churray, churray. I no lakky dem gal wut tie 'e wool up wit' string; mekky him stan' ugly fer true. I bin ahx da' 'Tildy gal fer marry me, un 'e no crack 'im bre't' fer mek answer 'cep' 'e bre'k out un lahf by me werry face. Da' gal do holler un lahf un stomp 'e fut dey-dey, un dun I shum done gone pidjin-toe. Oona bin know da' 'Tildy gal?"

"I bin a-knowin' dat gal," said Uncle Remus, grimly regarding the old African; "I bin a-knowin' dat gal now gwine on sence she 'uz knee-high ter one er deze yer puddle-ducks; en I bin noticin' lately dat she mighty likely nigger."

"Enty!" exclaimed Daddy Jack, enthusiastically, "I did bin mek up ter da' lilly gal troo t'ick un t'in. I bin fetch 'im one fine 'possum, un mo' ez one, two, free peck-a taty, un bumbye I bin fetch 'im one bag pop-co'n. Wun I bin do dat, I is fley 'roun' da' lilly gal so long tam, un I yeddy 'im talk wit' turrer gal. 'E do say: 'Daddy Jack fine ole man fer true.' Dun I is bin talk: 'Oona no call-a me Daddy Jack wun dem preacher man come fer marry we.' Dun da' lilly gal t'row 'e head back; 'e squeal lak filly in canebrake."

The little boy understood this rapidly spoken lingo perfectly well, but he would have laughed anyhow, for there was more than a suggestion of the comic in the shrewd seriousness that seemed to focus itself in Daddy Jack's pinched and wrinkled face.

"She tuck de truck w'at you tuck'n fotch 'er," said Uncle Remus, with the air of one carefully and deliberately laying the basis of a judicial opinion, "en den w'en you sail in en talk bizness, den she up en gun you de flat un 'er foot en de back un 'er han', en den, atter dat, she tuck'n laff en make spote un you."

"Enty!" assented Daddy Jack, admiringly.

"Well, den, Brer Jack, youer mighty ole, en yit hit seem lak youer mighty young; kaze a man w'at ain't got no mo' speunce wid wimmen folks dan w'at you is neenter creep 'roun' yer callin' deyse'f ole. Dem kinder folks ain't ole nuff, let 'lone bein' too ole. W'en de gal tuck'n laff, Brer Jack, w'at 'uz yo' nex' move?" demanded Uncle Remus, looking down upon the shrivelled old man with an air of superiority.

Daddy Jack shut his shrewd little eyes tightly and held them so, as if by that means to recall all the details of the flirtation. Then he said:—

"Da' lilly gal is bin tek dem t'ing. 'E is bin say, 'T'anky, t'anky.' Him eaty da' 'possum, him eaty da' pop-co'n, him roas'n da' taty. 'E do say, 'T'anky, t'anky!' Wun I talk marry, 'e is bin ris 'e v'ice un squeal lak lilly pig stuck in 'e t'roat. 'E do holler: 'Hi, Daddy Jack! wut is noung gal gwan do wit' so ole man lak dis?' Un I is bin say: 'Wut noung gal gwan do wit' ole Chris'mus' cep' 'e do 'joy 'ese'f?' Un da' lil gal 'e do lahff un flut 'ese'f way fum dey-dey."

"I know'd a nigger one time," said Uncle Remus, after pondering a moment, "w'at tuck a notion dat he want a bait er 'simmons, en de mo' w'at de notion tuck 'im de mo' w'at he want um, en bimeby, hit look lak he des nat'ally erbleedz ter have um. He want de 'simmons, en dar dey is in de tree. He mouf water, en dar hang de 'simmons. Now, den, w'at do dat nigger do? W'en you en me en dish yer chile yer wants 'simmons, we goes out en shakes de tree, en ef deyer good en ripe, down dey comes, en ef deyer good en green, dar dey stays. But dish yer yuther nigger, he too smart fer dat. He des tuck'n tuck he stan' und' de tree, en he open he mouf, he did, en wait fer de 'simmons fer ter drap in dar. Dey ain't none drap in yit," continued Uncle Remus, gently knocking the cold ashes out of his pipe; "en w'at's mo', dey ain't none gwine ter drap in dar. Dat des 'zackly de way wid Brer Jack yer, 'bout marryin'; he stan' dar, he do, en he hol' bofe han's wide open en he 'speck de gal gwine ter drap right spang in um. Man want gal, he des got ter grab 'er—dat's w'at. Dey may squall en dey may flutter, but flutter'n' en squallin' ain't done no damage yit ez I knows un, en 't ain't gwine ter. Young chaps kin make great 'miration 'bout gals, but w'en dey gits ole ez I is, dey ull know dat folks is folks, en w'en it come ter bein' folks, de wimmen ain gut none de 'vantage er de men. Now dat's des de plain up en down tale I'm a-tellin' un you."

This deliverance from so respectable an authority seemed to please Daddy Jack immensely. He rubbed his withered hands together, smacked his lips and chuckled. After a few restless movements he got up and went shuffling to the door, his quick, short steps causing Uncle Remus to remark:—

"De gal w'at git ole Brer Jack 'ull git a natchul pacer, sho'. He move mo' one-sideder dan ole Zip Coon, w'ich he rack up de branch all night long wid he nose p'int lak he gwine 'cross."

While the little boy was endeavoring to get Uncle Remus to explain the nature of Daddy Jack's grievances, muffled laughter was heard outside, and almost immediately 'Tildy rushed in the door. 'Tildy flung herself upon the floor and rolled and laughed until, apparently, she could laugh no more. Then she seemed to grow severely angry. She arose from the floor and flopped herself down in a chair, and glared at Uncle Remus with indignation in her eyes. As soon as she could control her inflamed feelings, she cried:—

"Wat is I done ter you, Unk' Remus? 'Fo' de Lord, ef anybody wuz ter come en tole me dat you gwine ter put de Ole Boy in dat ole Affikin nigger head, I would n't er b'leeved um—dat I would n't. Unk' Remus, w'at is I done ter you?"

Uncle Remus made no direct response; but he leaned over, reached out his hand, and picked up an unfinished axe-helve that stood in the corner. Then he took the little boy by the arm, and pushed him out of the way, saying in his gentlest and most persuasive tone:—

"Stan' sorter 'roun' dar, honey, 'kaze w'en de splinters 'gin ter fly, I want you ter be out'n de way. Miss Sally never gimme 'er fergivance in de roun' worl' ef you 'uz ter git hurted on account er de frazzlin' er dish yer piece er timber."

Uncle Remus's movements and remarks had a wonderful effect on 'Tildy. Her anger disappeared, her eyes lost their malignant expression, and her voice fell to a conversational tone.

"Now, Unk' Remus, you ought n't ter do me dat a-way, 'kaze I ain't done nothin' ter you. I 'uz settin' up yon' in Aunt Tempy house, des now, runnin' on wid Riah, en yer come dat ole Affikin Jack en say you say he kin marry me ef he ketch me, en he try ter put he arm 'roun' me en kiss me."

'Tildy tossed her head and puckered her mouth at the bare remembrance of it.

"W'at wud did you gin Brer Jack?" inquired Uncle Remus, not without asperity.

"W'at I gwine tell him?" exclaimed 'Tildy disdainfully. "I des tuck'n up en tole 'im he foolin' wid de wrong nigger."

'Tildy would have continued her narration, but just at that moment the shuffling of feet was heard outside, and Daddy Jack came in, puffing and blowing and smiling. Evidently he had been hunting for 'Tildy in every house in the negro quarter.

"Hi!" he exclaimed, "lil gal, 'e bin skeet sem lak ma'sh hen. 'E no run no mo'."

"Pick 'er up, Brer Jack," exclaimed Uncle Remus; "she's yone."

'Tildy was angry as well as frightened. She would have fled, but Daddy Jack stood near the door.

"Look yer, nigger man!" she exclaimed, "ef you come slobbun 'roun' me, I'll take one er deze yer dog-iŁns en brain you wid it. I ain't gwine ter have no web-foot nigger follerin' atter me. Now you des come!—I ain't feard er yo' cunjun. Unk' Remus, ef you got any intruss in dat ole Affikin ape, you better make 'im lemme 'lone. G'way fum yer now!"

All this time Daddy Jack was slowly approaching 'Tildy, bowing and smiling, and looking quite dandified, as Uncle Remus afterward said. Just as the old African was about to lay hands upon 'Tildy, she made a rush for the door. The movement was so unexpected that Daddy Jack was upset. He fell upon Uncle Remus's shoe-bench, and then rolled off on the floor, where he lay clutching at the air, and talking so rapidly that nobody could understand a word he said. Uncle Remus lifted him to his feet, with much dignity, and it soon became apparent that he was neither hurt nor angry. The little boy laughed immoderately, and he was still laughing when 'Tildy put her head in the door and exclaimed:—

"Unk' Remus, I ain't kilt dat ole nigger, is I? 'Kaze ef I got ter go ter de gallus, I want to go dar fer sump'n' n'er bigger'n dat."

Uncle Remus disdained to make any reply, but Daddy Jack chuckled and patted himself on the knee as he cried:—

"Come 'long, lilly gal! come 'long! I no mad. I fall down dey fer laff. Come 'long, lilly gal, come 'long."

'Tildy went on laughing loudly and talking to herself. After awhile Uncle Remus said:—

"Honey, I 'speck Miss Sally lookin' und' de bed en axin' whar you is. You better leak out fum yer now, en by dis time termorrer night I'll git Brer Jack all primed up, en he'll whirl in en tell you a tale."

Daddy Jack nodded assent, and the little boy ran laughing to the "big house."

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