THE next time the little boy sought Uncle Remus out, he found the old man unusually cheerful and good-humoured. His rheumatism had ceased to trouble him, and he was even disposed to be boisterous. He was singing when the little boy got near the cabin, and the child paused on the outside to listen to the vigorous but mellow voice of the old man, as it rose and fell with the burden of the curiously plaintive song--a senseless affair so far as the words were concerned, but sung to a melody almost thrilling in its sweetness:
"Han' me down my walkin'-cane
(Hey my Lily! go down de road!),
Yo' true lover gone down de lane
(Hey my Lily! go down de road!)."
The quick ear of Uncle Remus, however, had detected the presence of the little boy, and he allowed his song to run into a recitation of nonsense, of which the following, if it be rapidly spoken, will give a faint idea:
"Ole M'er Jackson, fines' confraction, fell down sta'rs fer to git satisfaction; big Bill Fray, he rule de day, eve'ything he call fer come one, two by three. Gwine 'long one day, met Johnny Huby, ax him grine nine yards er steel fer me, tole me w'ich he couldn't; den I hist 'im over Hickerson Dickerson's barn-doors; knock 'im ninety-nine miles under water, w'en he rise, he rise in Pike straddle un a hanspike, en I lef' 'im dar smokin' er de hornpipe, Juba reda seda breda. Aunt Kate at de gate; I want to eat, she fry de meat en gimme skin, w'ich I fling it back agin. Juba!"
All this, rattled off at a rapid rate and with apparent seriousness, was calculated to puzzle the little boy, and he slipped into his accustomed seat with an expression of awed bewilderment upon his face.
"Hit's all des dat away, honey," continued the old man, with the air of one who had just given an important piece of information. "En w'en you bin cas'n shadders long ez de ole nigger, den you'll fine out who's w'ich, en w'ich's who."
The little boy made no response. He was in thorough sympathy with all the whims and humors of the old man, and his capacity for enjoying them was large enough to include even those he could not understand. Uncle Remus was finishing an axe-handle, and upon these occasions it was his custom to allow the child to hold one end while he applied sand-paper to the other. These relations were pretty soon established, to the mutual satisfaction of the parties most interested, and the old man continued his remarks, but this time not at random:
"W'en I see deze yer swell-head folks like dat 'oman w'at come en tell yo' ma 'bout you chunkin' at her chilluns, w'ich yo' ma make Mars John strop you, hit make my mine run back to ole Brer B'ar. Ole Brer B'ar, he got de swell-headedness hisse'f, en ef der wuz enny swinkin', hit swunk too late fer ter he'p ole Brer B'ar. Leas'ways dat's w'at dey tells me, en I ain't never yearn it 'sputed."
"Was the Bear's head sure enough swelled, Uncle Remus?"
"Now you talkin', honey!" exclaimed the old man.
"Goodness! what made it swell?"
This was Uncle Remus's cue. Applying the sand-paper to the axe-helve with gentle vigor, he began.
"One time when Brer Rabbit wuz gwine lopin' home fum a frolic w'at dey bin havin' up at Miss Meadows's, who should he happin up wid but ole Brer B'ar. Co'se, atter w'at done pass 'twix um dey wa'n't no good feelin's 'tween Brer Rabbit en ole Brer B'ar, but Brer Rabbit, he wanter save his manners, en so he holler out:
"'Heyo, Brer B'ar! how you come on? I ain't seed you in a coon's age. How all down at yo' house? How Miss Brune en Miss Brindle?"
"Who was that, Uncle Remus?" the little boy interrupted.
"Miss Brune en Miss Brindle? Miss Brune wuz Brer B'ar's ole 'oman, en Miss Brindle wuz his gal. Dat w'at dey call um in dem days. So den Brer Rabbit, he ax him howdy, he did, en Brer B'ar, he 'spon' dat he wuz mighty po'ly, en dey amble 'long, dey did, sorter familious like, but Brer Rabbit, he keep one eye on Brer B'ar, en Brer B'ar, he study how he gwine nab Brer Rabbit. Las' Brer Rabbit, he up'n say, sezee:
"'Brer B'ar, I speck I got some bizness cut out fer you,' sezee.
"'What dat, Brer Rabbit?' sez Brer B'ar, sezee.
"'W'iles I wuz cleanin' up my new-groun' day 'fo' yistiddy,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, 'I come 'cross wunner deze yer ole time bee- trees. Hit start holler at de bottom, en stay holler plum der de top, en de honey's des natchully oozin' out, en ef you'll drap yo' 'gagements en go longer me,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, 'you'll git a bait dat'll las' you en yo' fambly twel de middle er nex' mont',' sezee.
"Brer B'ar say he much oblije en he bleeve he'll go long, en wid dat dey put out fer Brer Rabbit's new-groun', w'ich 'twa'n't so mighty fur. Leas'ways, dey got dar atter w'ile. Ole Brer B'ar, he 'low dat he kin smell de honey. Brer Rabbit, he 'low dat he kin see de honey-koam. Brer B'ar, he 'low dat he can hear de bees a zoonin'. Dey stan' 'roun' en talk biggity, dey did, twel bimeby Brer Rabbit, he up'n say, sezee:
"'You do de clim'in', Brer B'ar, en I'll do de rushin' 'roun'; you clim' up ter de hole, en I'll take dis yer pine pole en shove de honey up whar you kin git 'er,' sezee.
"Ole Brer B'ar, he spit on his han's en skint up de tree, en jam his head in de hole, en sho nuff, Brer Rabbit, he grab de pine pole, en de way he stir up dem bees wuz sinful--dat's w'at it wuz. Hit wuz sinful. En de bees dey swawm'd on Brer B'ar's head, twel 'fo' he could take it out'n de hole hit wuz done swell up bigger dan dat dinner-pot, en dar he swung, en ole Brer Rabbit, he dance 'roun' en sing:
"Tree stan' high, but honey mighty sweet--
Watch dem bees wid stingers on der feet.'
"But dar ole Brer B'ar hung, en ef his head ain't swunk, I speck he hangin' dar yit--dat w'at I speck."