Brer Rabbit's Cradle

“I wish you’d tell me what you tote a hankcher fer,” remarked Uncle Remus, after he had reflected over the matter a little while.

“Why, to keep my mouth clean,” answered the little boy. Uncle Remus looked at the lad, and shook his head doubtfuily. “Uh-uh!” he exclaimed. “You can’t fool folks when dey git ez ol’ ez what I is. I been watchin’ you now mo’ days dan I kin count, an’ I ain’t never see yo’ mouf dirty ’nuff fer ter be wiped wid a hankcher. It’s allers clean—too clean fer to suit me. Dar’s yo’ pa, now; when he wuz a little chap like you, his mouf useter git dirty in de mornin’ an’ stay dirty plum twel night. Dey wa’n’t sca’cely a day dat he didn’t look like he been playin’ wid de pigs in de stable lot. Ef he yever is tote a hankcher, he ain’t never show it ter me.”

“He carries one now,” remarked the little boy with something like a triumphant look on his face.

“Tooby sho’,” said Uncle Remus; “tooby sho’ he do. He start ter totin’ one when he tuck an’ tuck a notion fer ter go a-courtin’. It had his name in one cornder, an’ he useter sprinkle it wid stuff out’n a pepper- sauce bottle. It sho’ wuz rank, dat stuff wuz; it smell so sweet it make you fergit whar you live at. I take notice dat you ain’t got none on yone.”

“No; mother says that cologne or any kind of perfumery on your handkerchief makes you common.”

Uncle Remus leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and permitted a heartrending groan to issue from his lips. The little boy showed enough anxiety to ask him what the matter was. “Nothin’ much, honey; I wuz des tryin’ fer ter count how many diffunt kinder people dey is in dis big worl’, an’ ’fo’ I got mo’ dan half done wid my countin’, a pain struck me in my mizry, an’ I had ter break off.”

“I know what you mean,” said the child. “You think mother is queer; grandmother thinks so too.”

“How come you to be so wise, honey?” Uncle Remus inquired, opening his eyes wide with astonishment.

“I know by the way you talk, and by the way grandmother looks sometimes,” answered the little boy.

Uncle Remus said nothing for some time. When he did speak, it was to lead the little boy to believe that he had been all the time engaged in thinking about something else. “Talkin’ er dirty folks,” he said, “you oughter seed yo’ pa when he wuz a little bit er chap. Dey wuz long days when you couldn’t tell ef he wuz black er white, he wuz dat dirty. He’d come out’n de big house in de mornin’ ez clean ez a new pin, an’ ’fo’ ten er-clock you couldn’t tell what kinder clof his cloze wuz made out’n. Many’s de day when I’ve seed ol’ Miss—dat’s yo’ great-gran-mammy—comb ’nuff trash out’n his head fer ter fill a basket.”

The little boy laughed at the picture that Uncle Remus drew of his father. “He’s very clean, now,” said the lad loyally.

“Maybe he is an’ maybe he ain’t,” remarked Uncle Remus, suggesting a doubt. “Dat’s needer here ner dar. Is he any better off clean dan what he wuz when you couldn’t put yo’ han’s on ’im widout havin’ ter go an’ wash um? Yo’ gran’mammy useter call ’im a pig, an’ clean ez he may be now, I take notice dat he makes mo’ complaint er headache an’ de heartburn dan what he done when he wuz runnin’ roun’ here half-naked an’ full er mud. I hear tell dat some nights he can’t git no sleep, but when he wuz little like you—no, suh, I’ll not say dat, bekaze he wuz bigger dan what you is fum de time he kin toddle roun’ widout nobody he’pin’ him; but when he wuz ol’ ez you an’ twice ez big, dey ain’t narry night dat he can’t sleep—an’ not only all night, but half de day ef dey’d ’a’ let ’im. Ef dey’d let you run roun’ here like he done, an’ git dirty, you’d git big an’ strong ’fo’ you know it. Dey ain’t nothin’ mo’ wholesomer dan a peck er two er clean dirt on a little chap like you.”

There is no telling what comment the child would have made on this sincere tribute to clean dirt, for his attention was suddenly attracted to something that was gradually taking shape in the hands of Uncle Remus. At first it seemed to be hardly worthy of notice, for it had been only a thin piece of board. But

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