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

Why the Alligator's Back Is Rough

The night after the violent flirtation between Daddy Jack and 'Tildy, the latter coaxed and bribed the little boy to wait until she had finished her work about the house. After she had set things to rights in the dining-room and elsewhere, she took the child by the hand, and together they went to Uncle Remus's cabin. The old man was making a door-mat of shucks and grass and white-oak splits, and Daddy Jack was dozing in the corner.

"W'at I tell you, Brer Jack?" said Uncle Remus, as 'Tildy came in. "Dat gal atter you, mon!"

"Fer de Lord sake, Unk' Remus, don't start dat ole nigger. I done promise Miss Sally dat I won't kill 'im, en I like ter be good ez my word; but ef he come foolin' longer me I'm des nat'ally gwine ter onj'int 'im. Now you year me say de word."

But Daddy Jack made no demonstration. He sat with his eyes closed, and paid no attention to 'Tildy. After awhile the little boy grew restless, and presently he said:—

"Daddy Jack, you know you promised to tell me a story to-night."

"He wukkin' wid it now, honey," said Uncle Remus, soothingly. "Brer Jack," he continued, "wa'n't dey sump'n' n'er 'bout ole man Yalligater?"

"Hi!" exclaimed Daddy Jack, arousing himself, " 'e 'bout B'er 'Gater fer true. Oona no bin see da' B'er 'Gater?"

The child had seen one, but it was such a very little one he hardly knew whether to claim an acquaintance with Daddy Jack's 'Gater.

"Dem all sem," continued Daddy Jack. "Big mout', pop-eye, walk on 'e belly; 'e is bin got bump, bump, bump 'pon 'e bahk, bump, bump, bump 'pon 'e tail. 'E dife 'neat' de water, 'e do lif 'pon de lan'.

"One tam Dog is bin run B'er Rabbit, tel 'e do git tire; da' Dog is bin run 'im tel him ent mos' hab no bre't' in 'e body; 'e hide 'ese'f by de crik side. 'E come close 'pon B'er 'Gater, en B'er 'Gater, 'e do say:—

" 'Ki, B'er Rabbit! wut dis is mek you blow so? Wut mekky you' bre't' come so?'

" 'Eh-eh! B'er 'Gater, I hab bin come 'pon trouble. Dog, 'e do run un-a run me.'

" 'Wey you no fetch 'im 'long, B'er Rabbit? I is bin git fat on all da' trouble lak dem. I proud fer yeddy Dog bark, ef 'e is bin fetch-a me trouble lak dem.'

" 'Wait, B'er 'Gater! Trouble come bisitin' wey you lif; 'e mekky you' side puff; 'e mekky you' bre't' come so.'

" 'Gater, he do flup 'e tail un 'tretch 'ese'f, un lahff. 'E say:—

" 'I lak fer see dem trouble. Nuddin' no bodder me. I ketch-a dem swimp, I ketch-a dem crahb, I mekky my bed wey de sun shiŁn hot, un I do 'joy mese'f. I proud fer see dem trouble.'

" ''E come 'pon you, B'er 'Gater, wun you bin hab you' eye shed; 'e come 'pon you fum de turrer side. Ef 'e no come 'pon you in da' crik, dun 'e come 'pon you in da' broom-grass.'

" 'Dun I shekky um by de han', B'er Rabbit; I ahx um howdy.'

" 'Eh-eh, B'er 'Gater! you bin-a lahff at me; you no lahff wun dem trouble come. Dem trouble bin ketch-a you yit.'"

Daddy Jack paused to wipe his face. He had reported the dialogue between Brother Rabbit and Brother Alligator with considerable animation, and had illustrated it as he went along with many curious inflections of the voice, and many queer gestures of head and hands impossible to describe here, but which added picturesqueness to the story. After awhile he went on:—

"B'er Rabbit, 'e do blow un 'e do ketch urn bre't'. 'E pit one year wey Dog is bin-a bark; 'e pit one eye 'pon B'er 'Gater. 'E lissen, 'e look; 'e look, 'e lissen. 'E no yeddy Dog, un 'e comforts come back. Bumbye B'er 'Gater, 'e come drowsy; 'e do nod, nod, un 'e head sway down, tel ma'sh-grass tickle 'e nose, un 'e do cough sem lak 'e teer up da' crik by da' root. 'E no lak dis place fer sleep at, un 'e is crawl troo da' ma'sh 'pon dry lan'; 'e is mek fer da' broom-grass fiel'. 'E mek 'e bed wid 'e long tail, un 'e is 'tretch 'ese'f out at 'e lenk. 'E is shed 'e y-eye, un opun 'e mout', un tek 'e nap.

"B'er Rabbit, 'e do hol' 'e y-eye 'pon B'er 'Gater. Him talk no wud; him wallup 'e cud; him stan' still. B'er 'Gater, 'e do tek 'e nap; B'er Rabbit 'e do watch. Bum-bye, B'er 'Gater bre't', 'e do come loud; 'e is bin sno' hard!  'E dream lilly dream; 'e wuk 'e fut un shek 'e tail in 'e dream. B'er Rabbit wink 'e y-eye, un 'e do watch. B'er 'Gater, he do leaf 'e dream bahine, un 'e sleep soun'. B'er Rabbit watch lil, wait lil. Bumbye, 'e do go wey fier bu'n in da' stump, un 'e is fetch some. 'E say, 'Dis day I is mek you know dem trouble; I is mek you know dem well.' 'E hop 'roun' dey-dey, un 'e do light da' broom-grass; 'e bu'n, bu'n—bu'n, bu'n; 'e do bu'n smaht.

"B'er 'Gater, 'e is dream some mo' lilly dream. 'E do wuk 'e fut, 'e do shek 'e tail. Broom-grass bu'n, bu'n; B'er 'Gater dream. 'E dream da' sun is shiŁn' hot; 'e wom 'e back, 'e wom 'e belly; 'e wuk 'e fut, 'e shek 'e tail. Broom-grass bu'n high, 'e bu'n low; 'e bu'n smaht, 'e bu'n hot. Bumbye, B'er 'Gater is wek fum 'e dream; 'e smell-a da' smoke, 'e feel-a da' fier. 'E run dis way, 'e run turrer way; no diffran' wey 'e is run, dey da' smoke, dey da' fier. Bu'n, bu'n, bu'n!  B'er 'Gater lash 'e tail, un grine 'e toof. Bumbye, 'e do roll un holler:—

" 'Trouble, trouble, trouble! Trouble, trouble!' 

"B'er Rabbit, 'e is stan' pas' da' fier, un 'e do say:—

" 'Ki! B'er 'Gater! Wey you fer l'arn-a dis talk 'bout dem trouble?'

"B'er 'Gater, 'e lash 'e tail, 'e fair teer da' ye't, un 'e do holler:—

" 'Oh, ma Lord! Trouble! Trouble, trouble, trouble!'

" 'Shekky um by de han', B'er 'Gater. Ahx um howdy!'

" 'Ow, ma Lord! Trouble, trouble, trouble!'

" 'Lahff wit' dem trouble, B'er 'Gater, lahff wit' dem! Ahx dem is dey he'lt' bin well! You bin-a cry fer dey 'quaintun', B'er 'Gater; now you mus' beer wit' dem trouble!'

"B'er 'Gater come so mad, 'e mek dash troo da' broom-grass; 'e fair teer um down. 'E bin scatter da' fier wide 'part, un 'e do run un dife in da' crik fer squinch da' fier 'pon 'e bahk. 'E bahk swivel, 'e tail swivel wit' da' fier, un fum dat dey is bin stan' so. Bump, bump 'pon 'e tail; bump, bump 'pon 'e bahk, wey da' fier bu'n."

"Hit's des lak Brer Jack tell you, honey," said Uncle Remus, as Daddy Jack closed his eyes and relapsed into silence. "I done seed um wid my own eyes. En deyer mighty kuse creeturs, mon. Dey back is all ruffed up en down ter dis day en time, en mo'n dat, you ain't gwineter ketch Brer Rabbit rackin' 'roun' whar de Yallergaters is. En de Yallergaters deyse'f, w'en dey years any crackin' en rattlin' gwine on in de bushes, dey des makes a break fer de creek en splunges in."

"Enty!" exclaimed Daddy Jack, with momentary enthusiasm. " 'E do tu'n go da' bahnk, un dife 'neat' da' crik. 'E bin so wom wit' da' fier, 'e mek de crik go si-z-z-z!"

Here Daddy Jack looked around and smiled. His glance fell on 'Tildy, and he seemed suddenly to remember that he had failed to be as polite as circumstances demanded.

"Come-a set nex' em, lilly gal. I gwan tell you one tale."

"Come 'long, Pinx," said 'Tildy, tossing her head disdainfully, and taking the little boy by the hand. "Come 'long, Pinx; we better be gwine. I done say I won't kill dat ole nigger man. Yit ef he start atter me dis blessid night, I lay I roust de whole plantation. Come on, honey; less go."

The little boy was not anxious to go, but Uncle Remus seconded 'Tildy's suggestion.

"Better let dat gal mosey 'long, honey, 'kaze she mout start in fer ter cut up some 'er capers in yer, en I hate mighty bad ter bus' up dis yer axe-helve, w'ich I'm in needs un it eve'y hour er de day."

Whereupon the two old negroes were left sitting by the hearth.

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