Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation | Annotated Tale

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Night Before Christmas, The

THE day and the night before Christmas were full of pleasure for the little boy. There was pleasure in the big house, and pleasure in the humble cabins in the quarters. The peculiar manner in which the negroes celebrated the beginning of the holidays was familiar to the child's experience, but strange to his appreciation, and he enjoyed everything he saw and heard with the ready delight of his years,--a delight, which, in this instance, had been trained and sharpened, if the expression may be used, in the small world over which Uncle Remus presided.

               The little boy had a special invitation to be present at the marriage of Daddy Jack and 'Tildy, and he went, accompanied by Uncle Remus and Aunt Tempy. It seemed to be a very curious affair, but its incongruities made small impression upon the mind of the child.

               'Tildy wore a white dress and had a wreath of artificial flowers in her hair. Daddy Jack wore a high hat, which he persisted in keeping on his head during the ceremony, and a coat the tails of which nearly dragged the floor. His bright little eyes glistened triumphantly, and he grinned and bowed to everybody again and again. After it was all over, the guests partook of cake baked by Aunt Tempy, and persimmon beer brewed by Uncle Remus.

               It seemed, however, that 'Tildy was not perfectly happy; for, in response to a question asked by Aunt Tempy, she said:

               "Yes'm, I'm gwine down de country 'long wid my ole man, an' I lay ef eve'ything don't go right, I'm gwineter pick up en come right back."

               "No-no!" exclaimed Daddy Jack, "'e no come bahck no'n 't all. 'E bin stay dey-dey wit' 'e nice ole-a màn."

               "You put yo' pennunce in dat!" said 'Tildy, scornfully. "Dey aint nobody kin hol' me w'en I takes a notion, 'cep'n hit 's Miss Sally; en, goodness knows, Miss Sally aint gwine ter be down dar."

               "Who Miss Sally gwine put in de house?" Aunt Tempy asked.

               "Humph!" exclaimed 'Tildy, scornfully, "Miss Sally say she gwine take dat ar Darkess [1] nigger en put 'er in my place. An' a mighty nice mess Darkess gwine ter make un it! Much she know 'bout waitin' on w'ite folks! Many's en many's de time Miss Sally'll set down in 'er rockin'-cheer en wish fer 'Tildy--many's de time."

               This was 'Tildy's grievance,--the idea that some one could be found to fill her place; and it is a grievance with which people of greater importance than the humble negro house-girl are more or less familiar.

               But the preparations for the holidays went on in spite of 'Tildy's grievance. A large platform, used for sunning wheat and seed cotton, was arranged by the negroes for their dance, and several wagon-loads of resinous pine--known as lightwood--were placed around about it in little heaps, so that the occasion might lack no element of brilliancy.

               At nightfall the heaps of lightwood were set on fire, and the little boy, who was waiting impatiently for Uncle Remus to come for him, could hear the negroes singing, dancing, and laughing. He was just ready to cry when he heard the voice of his venerable partner.

               "Is dey a'er passenger anywhar's 'roun' yer fer Thumptown? De stage done ready en de hosses a-prancin'. Ef dey's a'er passenger 'roun' yer, I lay he des better be makin' ready fer ter go."

               The old man walked up to the back piazza as he spoke, held out his strong arms, and the little boy jumped into them with an exclamation of delight. The child's mother gave Uncle Remus a shawl to wrap around the child, and this shawl was the cause of considerable trouble, for the youngster persisted in wrapping it around the old man's head, and so blinding him that there was danger of his falling. Finally, he put the little boy down, took off his hat, raised his right hand, and said:

               "Now, den, I bin a-beggin' un you fer ter quit yo' 'haveishness des long ez I'm a-gwinter, en I aint gwine beg you no mo', 'kaze I'm des teetotally wo' out wid beggin', en de mo' I begs de wuss you gits. Now I'm done! You des go yo' ways en I'll go mine, en my way lays right spang back ter de big house whar Miss Sally is. Dat 's whar I'm a-gwine!"

               Uncle Remus started to the house with an exaggerated vigor of movement comical to behold; but, however comical it may have been, it had its effect. The little boy ran after him, caught him by the hand, and made him stop.

               "Now, Uncle Remus, please don't go back. I was just playing."

               Uncle Remus's anger was all pretence, but he managed to make it very impressive.

               "My playin' days done gone too long ter talk 'bout. When I plays, I plays wid wuk, dat w'at I plays wid."

               "Well," said the child, who had tactics of his own, "if I can't play with you, I don't know who I am to play with."

               This touched Uncle Remus in a very tender spot. He stopped in the path, took off his spectacles, wiped the glasses on his coat-tail, and said very emphatically:

               "Now den, honey, des lissen at me. How de name er goodness kin you call dat playin', w'ich er little mo' en I'd er fell down on top er my head, en broke my neck en yone too?"

               The child promised that he would be very good, and Uncle Remus picked him up, and the two made their way to where the negroes had congregated. They were greeted with cries of "Dar's Unk Remus!" "Howdy, Unk Remus!" "Yer dey is!" "Ole man Remus don't sing; but w'en he do sing--gentermens! des go 'way!"

               All this and much more, so that when Uncle Remus had placed the little boy upon a corner of the platform, and made him comfortable, he straightened himself with a laugh and cried out:

               "Howdy, boys! howdy all! I des come up fer ter jine in wid you fer one 'roun' fer de sakes er ole times, ef no mo'."

               "I boun' fer Unk Remus!" some one said. "Now des hush en let Unk Remus 'lone!" exclaimed another.

               The figure of the old man, as he stood smiling upon the crowd of negroes, was picturesque in the extreme. He seemed to be taller than all the rest; and, notwithstanding his venerable appearance, he moved and spoke with all the vigor of youth. He had always exercised authority over his fellow-servants. He had been the captain of the corn-pile, the stoutest at the log-rolling, the swiftest with the hoe, the neatest with the plough, and the plantation hands still looked upon him as their leader.

               Some negro from the River place had brought a fiddle, and, though it was a very feeble one, its screeching seemed to annoy Uncle Remus.

               "Put up dat ar fiddle!" he exclaimed, waving his hand. "Des put 'er up; she sets my toof on aidje. Put 'er up en les go back ter ole times. Dey aint no room fer no fiddle 'roun' yer, 'kaze w'en you gits me started dat ar fiddle won't be nowhars."

               "Dat 's so," said the man with the fiddle, and the irritating instrument was laid aside.

               "Now, den," Uncle Remus went on, "dey's a little chap yer dat you'll all come ter know mighty well one er deze odd-come-shorts, en dish yer little chap aint got so mighty long fer ter set up 'long wid us. Dat bein' de case we oughter take 'n put de bes' foot fo'mus' fer ter commence wid."

               "You lead, Unk Remus! You des lead en we'll foller."

               Thereupon the old man called to the best singers among the negroes and made them stand near him. Then he raised his right hand to his ear and stood perfectly still. The little boy thought he was listening for something, but presently Uncle Remus began to slap himself gently with his left hand, first upon the leg and then upon the breast. The other negroes kept time to this by a gentle motion of their feet, and finally, when the thump--thump--thump of this movement had regulated itself to suit the old man's fancy, he broke out with what may be called a Christmas dance song.

               His voice was strong, and powerful, and sweet, and its range was as astonishing as its volume. More than this, the melody to which he tuned it, and which was caught up by a hundred voices almost as sweet and as powerful as his own, was charged with a mysterious and pathetic tenderness.

               The fine company of men and women at the big house--men and women who had made the tour of all the capitals of Europe--listened with swelling hearts and with tears in their eyes as the song rose and fell upon the air--at one moment a tempest of melody, at another a heart-breaking strain breathed softly and sweetly to the gentle winds. The song that the little boy and the fine company heard was something like this--ridiculous enough when put in cold type, but powerful and thrilling when joined to the melody with which the negroes had invested it:


Hit 's a mighty fur ways up de Far'well Lane,
My honey, my love!
You may ax Mister Crow, you may ax Mr. Crane,                   
My honey, my love!
Dey'll make you a bow, en dey'll tell you de same,     
My honey, my love!
Hit 's a mighty fur ways fer to go in de night,
My honey, my love!     
My honey, my love, my heart's delight--
My honey, my love!

Mister Mink, he creep twel he wake up de snipe,                   
My honey, my love!
Mister Bull-Frog holler, Come-a-light my pipe ,                   
My honey, my love!
En de Pa'tridge ax, Aint yo' peas ripe?
My honey, my love!     
Better not walk erlong dar much atter night,
My honey, my love!
My honey, my love, my heart's delight--                   
My honey, my love!

De Bully-Bat fly mighty close ter de groun',                   
My honey, my love!
Mister Fox, he coax 'er, Do come down!                 
My honey, my love!
Mister Coon, he rack all 'roun' en 'roun',    
My honey, my love!
In de darkes' night, oh, de nigger, he's a sight!       
My honey, my love!
My honey, my love, my heart's delight--
My honey, my love!

Oh, flee, Miss Nancy, flee ter my knee,                   
My honey, my love!
'Lev'm big fat coons lives in one tree,                   
My honey, my love!
Oh, ladies all, won't you marry me?
My honey, my love!     
Tu'n lef', tu'n right, we 'ull dance all night,
My honey, my love!
My honey, my love, my heart's delight--                   
My honey, my love!

De big Owl holler en cry fer his mate,                   
My honey, my love!
Oh, don't stay long! Oh, don't stay late!                   
My honey, my love!
Hit aint so mighty fur ter de Good-by Gate,  
My honey, my love!
Whar we all got ter go w'en we sing out de night,      
My honey, my love!
My honey, my love, my heart's delight--
My honey, my love!

               After a while the song was done, and other songs were sung; but it was not long before Uncle Remus discovered that the little boy was fast asleep. The old man took the child in his arms and carried him to the big house, singing softly in his ear all the way; and somehow or other the song seemed to melt and mingle in the youngster's dreams. He thought he was floating in the air, while somewhere near all the negroes were singing, Uncle Remus's voice above all the rest; and then, after he had found a resting-place upon a soft warm bank of clouds, he thought he heard the songs renewed. They grew fainter and fainter in his dreams until at last (it seemed) Uncle Remus leaned over him and sang




[1]: Dorcas.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Night Before Christmas, The
Tale Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Book Title: Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation
Book Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1883
Country of Origin: United States
Classification: unclassified

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