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

Spirits, Seen and Unseen

It was not many nights before the same company was gathered in Uncle Remus's cabin,—Daddy Jack, Aunt Tempy, and the little boy. The conversation took a turn that thrilled the child with mingled fear and curiosity. Uncle Remus had inquired as to the state of Aunt Tempy's health, when the latter came in, and her response was:—

"I feelin' mighty creepy, Brer Remus, sho'. Look like I bleedz ter hunt comp'ny. W'en I come 'long down I felt dat skittish twel ef a leaf had blow'd 'crost de paff, I'd 'a' des about drapt in my tracks."

"How come dat, Sis Tempy?" Uncle Remus inquired.

"You know dat little gal er Riah's? Well, I 'uz settin' up dar in my house 'w'ile ergo, w'en, bless gracious! fus' news I know, I year dat chile talkin' in the yuther room. I 'low ter myse'f, she ain't talkin' ter Riah, 'kaze Riah ain't come yit, un den I crope up, dar wuz de chile settin' right flat in de middle er de flo', laffin' un talkin' un makin' motions like she see somebody in de cornder. I des stood dar un watch 'er, un I ain't a livin' human ef she don't do like dey 'uz somebody er n'er in dar wid 'er. She ax um fer ter stay on dey own side, un den, w'en it seem like dey come todes 'er, den she say she gwine git a switch un drive um back. Hit make me feel so cole un kuse dat I des tuck'n come 'way fum dar, un ef dey's sump'n' n'er dar, hit'll be dem un Riah fer't."

" 'E do talk wid ghos'; 'e is bin larf wit' harnt," exclaimed Daddy Jack.

"I 'speck dat's 'bout de upshot un it," said Uncle Remus. "Dey tells me dat w'ence you year chilluns talkin' en gwine on periently wid deyse'f, der er bleedz ter see ha'nts."

The little boy moved his stool closer to his venerable partner. Daddy Jack roused himself.

"Oona no bin-a see dem ghos'? Oona no bin-a see dem harnt? Hi! I is bin-a see plenty ghos'; I no 'fraid dem; I is bin-a punch dem 'way wit' me cane. I is bin-a shoo dem 'pon dey own siŽd da' road. Dem is bin walk w'en da' moon stan' low; den I is bin shum. Oona no walk wit' me dun. 'E berry bahd. Oona call, dey no answer. Wun dey call, hol' you' mout' shet. 'E berry bahd fer mek answer, wun da' harnt holler. Dem call-a you 'way fum dis lan'. I yeddy dem call; I shetty me y-eye, I shekkey me head.

"Wun I is bin noung mahn, me der go fer git water, un wun I der dip piggin 'neat' da' crik, I yeddy v'ice fer call me—'Jahck! O Jahck!'  I stan', I lissen, I yeddy de v'ice—'Jahck! Jahck! O Jahck!'  I t'ink 'e bin Titty Ann; I ahx um:—

"Wey you bin call-a me, Titty Ann?' Titty Ann 'tretch 'e y-eye big:—

" 'I no bin-a call. Dead ghos' is bin-a call. Dem harnt do call-a you.'

"Dun I rise me y-eye, un I is bin shum gwan by sundown; 'e is bin gwan bahckwud. I tell Titty Ann fer look at we nuncle, gwan bahckwud by sundown. Titty Ann pit 'e two han' 'pon me y-eyes, en 'e do bline me. 'E say I bin-a see one dead ghos'."

"What then, Daddy Jack?" asked the little boy, as the old African paused.

"Ki! nuff dun. 'Kaze bumbye, so long tam, folks come fetch-a we nuncle 'tretch out. 'E is bin-a tek wit' da' hecup; 'e t'row 'e head dis way; 'e t'row 'e head dat way." Daddy Jack comically suited the action to the word. " 'E is bin tek-a da' hecup; da' hecup is bin tek um—da' cramp is bin fetch um. I is bin see mo' dead ghos', but me no spot um lak dis."

"I boun' you is," said Uncle Remus. "Dey tells me, Brer Jack," he continued, "dat w'en you meets up wid one er deze ha'nts, ef you'll take'n tu'n yo' coat wrong-sud-outerds, dey won't use no time in makin' der disappearance."

"Hey!" exclaimed Daddy Jack, "tu'n coat no fer skeer dead ghos'. 'E skeer dem Jack-me-Lantun. One tam I is bin-a mek me way troo t'ick swamp. I do come hot, I do come cole. I feel-a me bahck quake; me bre't' come fahs'. I look; me ent see nuttin'; I lissen; me ent yeddy nuttin'. I look, dey de Jack-me-Lantun mekkin 'e way troo de bush; 'e comin' stret by me. 'E light bin-a flick-flicker; 'e git close un close. I yent kin stan' dis; one foot git heffy, da' heer 'pon me head lif' up. Da' Jack-me-Lantun, 'e git-a high, 'e git-a low, 'e come close. Dun I t'ink I bin-a yeddy ole folks talk tu'n you' coat-sleef  wun da' Jack-me-Lantun is bin run you. I pull, I twis', I yerk at dem jacket; 'e yent come. 'E is bin grow on me bahck. Jack-me-Lantun fly close. I say me pray 'pon da' jacket; 'e is bin-a yerk loose; da' sleef 'e do tu'n. Jack-me-Lantun, 'e see dis, 'e lif' up, 'e say 'Phew!'  'E done gone! Oona no walk in da' swamp 'cep' you is keer you' coat 'cross da' arm. Enty!"

"Dat w'at make me say," remarked Aunt Tempy, with a little shiver, "dat 'oman like me, w'at ain't w'ar no jacket, ain't got no business traipsin' un trollopin' 'roun' thoo the woods atter dark."

"You mout tu'n yo' head-hankcher, Sis Tempy," said Uncle Remus, reassuringly, "en ef dat ain't do no good den you kin whirl in en gin um leg-bail."

"I year tell," continued Aunt Tempy, vouchsafing no reply to Uncle Remus, "dat dish yer Jacky-ma-Lantun is a sho' nuff sperit. Sperits ain't gwine to walk un walk less'n dey got sump'n' n'er on der min', un I year tell dat dish yer Jacky-ma-Lantun is 'casioned by a man w'at got kilt. Folks kilt 'im un tuck his money, un now his ha'nt done gone un got a light fer ter hunt up whar his money is. Mighty kuse ef folks kin hone atter money w'en dey done gone. I dunner w'at he wanter be ramblin' 'roun' wid a light w'en he done dead. Ef anybody got any hard feelin's 'gin' me, I want um ter take it out w'ile deyer in de flesh; w'en dey come a-ha'ntin' me, den I'm done—I'm des done."

"Are witches spirits?" the little boy asked.

The inquiry was not especially directed at Daddy Jack, but Daddy Jack was proud of his reputation as a witch, and he undertook to reply.

"None 't all. Witch, 'e no dead ghos'—'e life folks, wey you shekky han' wit'. Oona witch mebbe; how you is kin tell?"

Here Daddy Jack turned his sharp little eyes upon the child. The latter moved closer to Uncle Remus, and said he hoped to goodness he was n't a witch.

"How you is kin tell diffran 'cep' you bin fer try um?" continued Daddy Jack. " 'E good t'ing fer be witch; 'e mek-a dem folks fred. 'E mek-a dem fred; 'e mek-a dem hol' da' bre't', wun dey is bin-a come by you' place."

"In de name er de Lord, Daddy Jack, how kin folks tell wh'er dey er witches er no?" asked Aunt Tempy.

"Oo! 'e easy nuff. Wun da' moon is shiŁn low, wet-a you' han' wit' da' pot-licker grease; rub noung heifer 'pon 'e nose; git 'pon 'e bahck. Mus' hol' um by 'e year; mus' go gallop, gallop down da' lane, tel 'e do come 'cross one-a big gully. Mus' holler, 'Double, double, double up! double, double, double up!'  Heifer jump, oona witch; heifer no jump, oona no witch."

"Did you ever ride a heifer, Daddy Jack?" asked the little boy.

"Mo' tam es dem," replied the old negro, holding up the crooked fingers of one withered hand.

"Did—did she jump across the big gully?"

The child's voice had dropped to an awed whisper, and there was a glint of malicious mischief in Daddy Jack's shrewd eyes, as he looked up at Uncle Remus. He got his cue. Uncle Remus groaned heavily and shook his head.

"Hoo!" exclaimed Daddy Jack, "wun I is bin-a tell all, dey no mo' fer tell. Mus' kip some fer da' Sunday. Lilly b'y no fred dem witch; 'e no bodder lilly b'y. Witch, 'e no rassel wit' 'e ebry-day 'quaintan'; 'e do go pars 'e own place."

It was certainly reassuring for the child to be told that witches did n't trouble little boys, and that they committed their depredations outside of their own neighborhood.

"I is bin-a yeddy dem talk 'bout ole witch. 'E do leaf 'e skin wey 'e is sta't fum. Man bin-a come pars by; 'e is fine dem skin. 'E say:—

" 'Ki! 'E one green skin; I fix fer dry um.'

"Man hang um by da' fier. Skin, 'e do swink, i' do swivel. Bumbye 'e do smell-a bahd; man, 'e hol' 'e nose. 'E do wait. Skin swink, skin stink, skin swivel. 'E do git so bahd, man pitch um in da' ya'd. 'E wait; 'e is wait, 'e is lissen. Bumbye, 'e yeddy da' witch come. Witch, e' do sharp' 'e claw on-a da' fence; 'e is snap 'e jaw—flick! flick! flick!  'E come-a hunt fer him skin. 'E fine um. 'E trey um on dis way; 'e no fit. 'E trey um on dat way; 'e no fit. 'E trey um on turrer way; 'e no fit. 'E pit um 'pon 'e head; skin 'e no fit. 'E pit um 'pon 'e foot; skin 'e no fit. 'E cuss, 'e sweer; skin 'e no fit. 'E cut 'e caper; skin 'e no fit. Bumbye 'e holler:—

" ''Tiss-a me, Skin! wey you no know me? Skin, 'tiss-a me! wey you no know me?'

"Skin, 'e no talk nuttin' 'tall. Witch 'e do jump, 'e do holler; ŗ mek no diffran. Skin 'e talk nuttin' 'tall. Man, 'e tekky to'ch, 'e look in ya'd. 'E see big blahck Woolf lay by da' skin. E toof show; 'e y-eye shiŁn. Man drife um 'way; 'e is come bahck. Man bu'n da' skin; 'e is bin-a come bahck no mo'."

The little boy asked no more questions. He sat silent while the others talked, and then went to the door and looked out. It was very dark, and he returned to his stool with a troubled countenance.

"Des wait a little minnit, honey," said Uncle Remus, dropping his hand caressingly on the child's shoulder. "I bleedz ter go up dar ter de big house fer ter see Mars John, en I'll take you 'long fer comp'ny."

And so, after a while, the old man and the little boy went hand in hand up the path.

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