XX. HOW MR. RABBIT SAVED HIS MEAT
“One time,” said Uncle Remus, whetting his knife slowly and thoughtfully on the palm of his hand, and gazing reflectively in the fire—“one time Brer Wolf—”
“Why, Uncle Remus!” the little boy broke in, “I thought you said the Rabbit scalded the Wolf to death a long time ago.”
The old man was fairly caught and he knew it; but this made little difference to him. A frown gathered on his usually serene brow as he turned his gaze upon the child—a frown in which both scorn and indignation were visible. Then all at once he seemed to regain control of himself. The frown was chased away by a look of Christian resignation.
“Dar now! W’at I tell you?” he exclaimed as if addressing a witness concealed under the bed. “Ain’t I done tole you so? Bless grashus! ef chilluns ain’t gittin’ so dey knows mo’n ole fokes, en dey’ll ’spute longer you en ‘spute longer you, ceppin’ der ma call um, w’ich I speck ’twon’t be long ‘fo’ she will, en den Ill set yere by de chimbly-cornder en git some peace er mine. W’en ole Miss wuz livin’,” continued the old man, still addressing some imaginary person, ’hit ’uz mo’n enny her chilluns ’ud dast ter do ter come ‘sputin’ longer me, en Mars John’ll tell you de same enny day you ax ’im.”
“Well, Uncle Remus, you know you said the Rabbit poured hot water on the Wolf and killed him,” said the little boy.
The old man pretended not to hear. He was engaged in searching among some scraps of leather under his chair, and kept on talking to the imaginary person. Finally, he found and drew forth a nicely plaited whip-thong with a red snapper all waxed and knotted.
“I wuz fixin’ up a w’ip fer a little chap,” he continued, with a sigh, “but, bless grashus! ‘fo’ I kin git ’er done de little chap done grow’d up twel he know mo’n I duz.”
The child’s eyes filled with tears and his lips began to quiver, but he said nothing; whereupon Uncle Remus immediately melted.
“I ‘clar’ to goodness,” he said, reaching out and taking the little boy tenderly by the hand, “ef you ain’t de ve’y spit en image er ole Miss w’en I brung ‘er de las’ news er de war. Hit’s des like skeerin’ up a ghos’ w’at you ain’t fear’d un.”
Then there was a pause, the old man patting the little child’s hand caressingly.
“You ain’t mad, is you, honey?” Uncle Remus asked finally, “kaze ef you is, I’m gwine out yere en butt my head ‘gin de do’ jam’.”
But the little boy wasn’t mad. Uncle Remus had conquered him and he had conquered Uncle Remus in pretty much the same way before. But it was some time before Uncle Remus would go on with the story. He had to be coaxed. At last, however, he settled himself back in the chair and began: