Plantation Stories by Grace MacGowan Cooke

I.—MRS. PRAIRIE-DOG’S BOARDERS

Texas is a near-by land to the dwellers in the Southern States. Many of the poorer white people go there to mend their fortunes; and not a few of them come back from its plains, homesick for the mountains, and with these fortunes unmended. Daddy Laban, the half-breed, son of an Indian father and a negro mother, who sometimes visited Broadlands plantation, had been a wanderer; and his travels had carried him as far afield as the plains of southwestern Texas. The Randolph children liked, almost better than any others, the stories he brought home from these extensive travels.

“De prairie-dog a mighty cur’ous somebody,” he began one day, when they asked him for a tale. “Hit lives in de ground, more samer dan a ground-hog. But dey ain’t come out for wood nor water; an’ some folks thinks dey goes plumb down to de springs what feeds wells. I has knowed dem what say dey go fur enough down to find a place to warm dey hands—but dat ain’t de tale I’m tellin’.

“A long time ago, dey was a prairie-dog what was left a widder, an’ she had a big fambly to keep up. ‘Oh, landy!’ she say to dem dat come to visit her in her ’fliction, ‘what I gwine do to feed my chillen?’

“De most o’ de varmints tell Miz. Prairie-Dog dat de onliest way for her to git along was to keep boarders. ‘You got a good home, an’ you is a good manager,’ dey say; ‘you bound to do well wid a boardin’-house.’

“Well, Miz. Prairie-Dog done sent out de runners to run, de fliers to fly, de crawlers to crawl, an’ tell each an’ every dat she sot up a boardin’-house. She say she got room for one crawler and one flier, an’ dat she could take in a whole passel o’ runners.

“Well, now you knows a flier ’s a bird—or hit mought be a bat. Ef you was lookin’ for little folks, hit mought be a butterfly. Miz. Prairie-Dog ain’t find no fliers what wants to live un’neath de ground. But crawlers—bugs an’ worms an’ sich-like—dey mostly does live un’neath de ground, anyhow, an’ de fust pusson what come seekin’ house-room with Miz. Prairie-Dog was Brother Rattlesnake.

“‘I dest been flooded out o’ my own house,’ Mr. Rattlesnake say; ‘an’ I like to look at your rooms an’ see ef dey suits me.’

“‘I show you de rooms,’ Miz. Prairie-Dog tell ’im. ‘I bound you gwine like ’em. I got room for one crawler, an’ you could be him; but—’

“Miz. Prairie-Dog look at her chillen. She ain’t say no more—dest look at dem prairie-dog gals an’ boys, an’ say no more.

“Mr. Rattlesnake ain’t like bein’ called a crawler so very well; but he looks at dem rooms, an’ ’low he’ll take ’em. Miz. Prairie-Dog got somethin’ on her mind, an’ ’fore de snake git away dat somethin’ come out. ‘I’s shore an’ certain dat you an’ me can git along,’ she say, ‘ef—ef—ef you vow an’ promish not to bite my chillen. I’ll have yo’ meals reg’lar, so dat you won’t be tempted.’

“Old Mr. Rattlesnake’ powerful high-tempered—yas, law, he sho’ a mighty quick somebody on de trigger. Zip! he go off, dest like dat—zip! Br-r-r! ‘Tempted!’ he hiss at de prairie-dog woman. He look at dem prairie-dog boys an’ gals what been makin’ mud cakes all mornin’ (an’ dest about as dirty as you-all is after you do de same). ‘Tempted,’ he say. ‘I should hope not.’

“For, mind you, Brother Rattlesnake is a genterman, an’ belongs to de quality. He feels hisself a heap too biggity to bite prairie-dogs. So dat turned out all right.

“De next what come to Miz. Prairie-Dog was a flier.”

“A bird?” asked Patricia Randolph.

“Yes, little mistis,” returned the old Indian.  “One dese-hyer little, round, brown squinch-owls, what allers quakes an’ quivers in dey speech an’ walk. ‘I gits so dizzy—izzy—wizzy! up in de top o’ de trees,’ de little brown owl say, as she swivel an’ shake. ‘An’ I wanted to git me a home down on de ground, so dat I could be sure, an’ double sure, dat I wouldn’t fall. But dey is dem dat says ef I was down on de ground I might fall down a hole. Dat make me want to live in yo’ house. Hit’s down in de ground, ain’t hit? Ef I git down in yo’ house dey hain’t no place for me to fall off of, an’ fall down to, is dey?’ she ax.

 

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 “i wanted to git me a home down on de ground, so dat i could be sure, an’ double sure, dat i wouldn’t fall,” says miz. brown owl

 

“Miz. Prairie-Dog been in de way o’ fallin’ down-stairs all her life; dat de onliest way she ever go inter her house—she fling up her hands an’ laugh as you pass her by, and she drap back in de hole. But she tell de little brown owl dat dey ain’t no place you could fall ef you go to de bottom eend o’ her house. So, what wid a flier an’ a crawler, an’ de oldest prairie-dog boy workin’ out, she manage to make tongue and buckle meet. I’s went by a many a prairie-dog hole an’ seen de owl an’ de rattlesnake what boards wid Miz. Prairie-Dog. Ef you was to go to Texas you’d see de same. But nobody in dat neck o’ woods ever knowed how dese folks come to live in one house.”

“Who told you, Daddy Laban?” asked Pate Randolph.

“My Injun gran’mammy,” returned the old man. “She told me a many a tale, when I lived wid my daddy’s people on de Cherokee Res’vation. Sometime I gwine tell you ’bout de little fawn what her daddy ketched for her when she ’s a little gal. But run home now, honey chillens, or yo’ mammy done think Daddy Laban stole you an’ carried you plumb away.”

II.—SONNY BUNNY RABBIT’S GRANNY

Of all the animal stories which America, the nurse-girl, told to the children of Broadlands plantation, they liked best those about Sonny Bunny Rabbit.

“You listen now, Marse Pate an’ Miss Patty an’ my baby child, an’ I gwine tell you de best tale yit, ’bout de rabbit,” she said, one lazy summer afternoon when they were tired of playing marbles with china-berries.

“You see, de fox he mighty hongry all de time for rabbit meat; yit, at de same time, he ’fraid to buck up ’gainst a old rabbit, an’ he always pesterin’ after de young ones.

“Sonny Bunny Rabbit’ granny was sick, an’ Sonny Bunny Rabbit’ mammy want to send her a mess o’ sallet. She put it in a poke, an’ hang de poke round de little rabbit boy’s neck.

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 “‘whar you puttin’ out for? an’ who all is you
gwine see on t’ other side de hill?’” ax mr. fox

 

“‘Now, my son,’ she says, ‘you tote dis sallet to yo’ granny, an’ don’t stop to play wid none o’ dey critters in de Big Woods.’

“‘Yassum, mammy,’ say Sonny Bunny Rabbit.

“‘Don’t you pass de time o’ day wid no foxes,’ say Mammy Rabbit.

“‘Yassum, mammy,’ say Sonny Bunny Rabbit.

“Dest as he was passin’ some thick chinkapin bushes, up hop a big red fox an’ told him howdy.

“‘Howdy,’ say Sonny Bunny Rabbit. He ain’t study ’bout what his mammy tell him now. He ’bleege to stop an’ make a miration at bein’ noticed by sech a fine pusson as Mr. Fox. ‘Hit’s a fine day—an’ mighty growin’ weather, Mr. Fox.’

“‘Hit am dat,’ say de fox. ‘Yaas, suh, hit sho’ly am dat. An’ whar you puttin’ out for, ef I mought ax?’ he say, mighty slick an’ easy.

“Now right dar,” said America, impressively, “am whar dat little rabbit boy fergit his teachin’. He act like he ain’t know nothin’—an ain’t know dat right good. ’Stead o’ sayin’,  ‘I’s gwine whar I’s gwine—an’ dat’s whar I’s gwine,’ he answer right back: ‘Dest ’cross de hill, suh. Won’t you walk wid me, suh? Proud to have yo’ company, suh.’

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 “‘come back hyer, you rabbit trash, an’ he’p me
out o’ dis trouble!’” he holler

 

“‘An’ who-all is you gwine see on t’ other side de hill?’ ax Mr. Fox.

“‘My granny,’ answer Sonny Bunny Rabbit. ‘I totin’ dis sallet to her.’

“‘Is yo’ granny big?’ ax de fox. ‘Is yo’ granny old?’ he say. ‘Is yo’ granny mighty pore? Is yo’ granny tough?’ An’ he ain’t been nigh so slick an’ sof’ an’ easy any mo’ by dis time—he gittin’ mighty hongry an’ greedy.

“Right den an dere Sonny Bunny Rabbit wake up. Yaas, law! He come to he senses. He know mighty well an’ good dat a pusson de size o’ Mr. Fox ain’t got no reason to ax ef he granny tough, less’n he want to git he teef in her. By dat he recomember what his mammy done told him. He look all ’bout. He ain’t see no he’p nowhars. Den hit come in Sonny Bunny Rabbit’ mind dat de boys on de farm done sot a trap down by de pastur’ fence. Ef he kin git Mr. Fox to jump inter dat trap, his life done save.

“‘Oh, my granny mighty big,’ he say; ‘but dat ’s ’ca’se she so fat she cain’t run. She hain’t so mighty old, but she sleep all de time; an’ I ain’t know is she tough or not—you dest better come on an’ find out,’ he holler. Den he start off on er long, keen jump.

“Sonny Bunny Rabbit run as hard as he could. De fox run after, most nippin’ his heels. Sonny Bunny Rabbit run by de place whar de fox-trap done sot, an’ all kivered wid leaves an’ trash, an’ dar he le’p high in the air—an’ over it. Mr. Fox ain’t know dey ary trap in de grass; an’, blam! he stuck he foot squar’ in it!

“‘Oh-ow-ow! Hi-hi-hi! Hi-yi! Yi-yi-yi!’ bark de fox. ‘Come back hyer, you rabbit trash, an’ he’p me out o’ dis trouble!’ he holler.

“‘Dat ain’t no trouble,’ say Sonny Bunny Rabbit, jumping high in de grass. ‘Dat my granny, what I done told you ’bout. Ain’t I say she so fat she cain’t run? She dest love company so powerful well, dat I ’spect she holdin’ on to you to hear you talk.’

“An’ de fox talk,” America giggled, as she looked about on her small audience.


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 mr. snowbird spends christmas day
with br’er rabbit