IMPTY-UMPTY AND THE BLACKSMITH
One time, not yesterday, nor the day before, but way back yonder in the days when folks knowed lots more and a heap less than what they knows now, there was a blacksmith what had his shop at the big cross-roads. It seem like that if folks was going anywhere or coming back they pleased to pass this here blacksmith shop. It ain't make no difference where they going, or where they coming from, the blacksmith and his shop was right spang on their road. Time and time again some of 'em set right flat on the ground and try for to figure out how and why it was that they'd have to pass this shop, no matter which way they started nor which way they come back. They figured and figured, but it ain't do 'em a grain of good. In the due time, they'd hear a whanging and a clanging, and when they'd look up, there was the shop, looking red inside on account the fire, and there was the bellows a-wheezing and a-snorting, and the big sledge hammer a-banging on the anvil, till it look like it'd bust it wide open. No difference what road they took they'd have to pass the shop, and if they pass the shop they'd have to see the red light a-shining and hear the sledge hammer a-banging.
The shop got so hot up in the daytime that it held the heat all night, and the blacksmith ain't been working there long before old Brer Rabbit find out that if he want to get warm and feel good all he had to do was to creep under the door and sit by the fire and nod. In them days folks had a better opinion of the critters than what they got now, and they was more familious with 'em than what they is now.
But the blacksmith was so big and strong that he set everybody another kind or pattern. He weren't scared of the biggest critter that come along, let 'em be rhinossy-hoss or hippoty-potamus.
As for Brer Rabbit, he weren't nowhere. He was lots bigger in them days than what he is now, but he weren't no match in muscle for the man what been slinging the sledge hammer — and so there it was, the blacksmith with big arms and strong legs, and old Brer Rabbit, with nothing but a long head and big ears.
Old Brer Rabbit had a mighty habit of sitting up late at night. He'd sit up so late, a-playing his pranks and a-cutting up his capers, that when he woke up the next morning he was even about as sleepy as he had been the night before; and there was times when he ain't wake up till he hear the blacksmith fumbling at the door. And more specially there was one time when the blacksmith walk right in on him and found him sitting up close to the place where the fire done been at. Instead of shooing Brer Rabbit away like he ought to have done if he ain't want him there, the blacksmith flung a hammer at him, and if it had've hit him they wouldn't've been enough of him left for to stop a hole in a chigger's house. But Brer Rabbit dodge the hammer, and went scooting to the briar patch where he born and bred at. He went out there, he did, and felt hisself all over for to see if he was all there, and then, when he find out that he was, he jump up and crack his heels together and wunk one eye like somebody done tell him a great secret.
He sat out there in the briar patch and study what he gonna do next, and along about that time who should come along that way but old man Billy Rickerson-Dickerson. Knowing Brer Rabbit long and well he stopped for to pass the time of day and ask the news, and he ain't been there long before Brer Rabbit told him many a long tale that nobody ain't never hear before. By the time he was ready for to sing out his so-long Brer Rabbit ask him if he'll do a favor for one of his old time friends, and Mr. Rickerson-Dickerson allow that he will.
"Well, then," says old Brer Rabbit, says he, "when you are passin' the blacksmith shop, just poke your head in the do', and say, 'Friend, you'll have company soon,' and the next passer-by you meet, tell 'em to do the same."
Well, sir, the word went round, and it wasn't long before everybody that come by the blacksmith shop had the same saying in their mouth — Friend, you'll have company soon — and this set the blacksmith to studying. He ask hisself what they all mean by that, and it got so after awhile that he'd put the hot iron on the anvil and let it get stone cold before he hit a lick with the hammer. He was so worried that he can't sleep at night, and the nigh neighbors wondered when they hear the bellows a-snorting and the hammer a-banging. They say to theyself that the blacksmith pleased to have a mighty heap of work to do, and they don't know where it all come from, nor who was having it done.
By and by, after so long a time, the neighbors got so that they'd drop in on him after supper and sit and talk and dodge sparks whiles the blacksmith run the bellows and swung the hammer. One night, the talk turned on the Old Boy and his belongings. The fire burnt so blue and the sparks flewed so far, that they can't help but think about the Bad Place, and with that, they pleased to think about old Impty-Umpty, the one what runs it. The blacksmith was monstrous busy, but he ain't so busy but what he can hear what they talking about. He blowed the bellows, and he hammered the red-hot iron, but he ain't lost none of their talk, specially when they begun to talk about old Impty-Umpty. He listened, he did, but he keep on a-making what he started for to make when he first got word that he was going to have company, and before they got through telling what they know'd about old Impty-Umpty, he done finish it. He set it up on the anvil and pushed all 'round with his tongs, and them what was sitting there sees that it was a box — a big iron box with the sides all welded together, and the top fixed so that he can weld that up tight the minute he got good and ready.
He turn the box all 'round and 'round, and then he wipe the sweat off of his forehead and grin. He allow, "There's a box what is a box; if anybody can beat it, let 'im do it. Everybody been tellin' me I'm going to have company soon, an' I 'spect it must be so. But they can't come 'fore I'm ready for 'em."
Then he ask 'em all how come they have to talk about old Impty-Umpty, and what do they know about him anyhow. This start the talk again, and if the Old Boy had've had any character they'd have ruined it right then and there. They say that there ain't but three things that he can't turn hisself into whilst he roaming 'round the world seeking whomsoever he might destroy; one was a hog, one was a monkey, and one was a cat.
The blacksmith laugh and say that if old Impty-Umpty is going to be the company they were talking about, well and good, 'cause he just as ready for him as what he is for anybody else. He ain't no sooner say this, than a tall black man stepped inside the door and bowed, with "Howdy, masters an' friends!"
They all looked at him up and down, and well they might, 'cause never in all their born days is they see anybody like that. He was black, but he ain't look like no black man. His eyes shined like a piece of glass in the moonlight. He had on a stove-pipe hat and a broadcloth suit, he was slim and slick and supple, and it seem like he was club-footed and double-jointed.
Well, he stood there smicking and smiling, and it look like that the more you look at him, the slicker he got. He allow, "Masters an' friends, you'll have to 'scuse me for comin' in so sudden like. I use to be a blacksmith myself, an' I never catches a glimpse of a forge an' a fire but what it seem like I'm a-pleased to stop in a minute if only for to warm my hands like this."
He held out his hands towards the live charcoals, and the fire sprung up just like it do when you are working the bellows for all she's worth. The flame burnt white, and then it burnt blue, and by and by it burnt right green, and all the time it got bigger and bigger, till it begun to wrap 'round the Black Man's hands just like snakes. Nobody ain't say a word; they ain't had no needs to; it took up all their time for to watch what the Black Man going to do next.
By and by, when he done warm his hands as much as he want to, he turn to the blacksmith and say, says he, "I hear you 'specting company soon."
The blacksmith he up and ask, "Who been tellin' you?"
The Black Man make answer, "Why, I seen old man Rickerson-Dickerson this mornin', an' he ain't mo' 'n told me howdy 'fore he allow that you 'spectin' company, an' soon's I hear that I told him for to sit down in the big rockin'-chair an' make hisself at home, an' off I put for to see who this company might be that was comin' to see you."
Now, all them neighbors what had come in to sit up with the blacksmith knowed mighty well that old man Rickerson-Dickerson had done been buried the day before, and it make 'em open their eyes when they hear the Black Man say that he had seed him that morning; and one old man, what had white hair, and was kind of shaky in the legs, up and ask, "Whereabouts is it you see him at?"
The Black Man say, "I seed him comin' down the road, an' he look like he was kind of cold, an' I asked him in for to warm by my fire. We had a little chat, an' then it was that he told me about how there was company 'spected at the cross-roads blacksmith shop."
The old man allow, "An' did he warm hisself?"
The Black Man flung back his head, and laugh till the smoke came out of his mouth. He say, "Mr. Rickerson-Dickerson sure did get warm, an' the reason I knows is 'cause I hear him say so hisself!" The old man shook his head and say, says he, that he reckon he better be poling on towards home, on accounts of the lateness of the hour.
That smoke came out of his mouth wasn't no natural smoke neither, 'cause it smell just like it do when you strike one of the old timey, smiflicating matches. It kind of give the neighbors a turn, and one by one they sneaked off home, till the first news you know, there weren't nobody left in the shop but the Black Man and the blacksmith, with old Brer Rabbit peeping through a crack.
The Black Man he say, says he, "I done had my eye on you, an' I like the way you do mighty well. You been working too hard an' too much, but you'll get over them kind of habits one of these long-come-shorts. I use to be a blacksmith myself, an' I'm afeared you go at it in a mighty round 'bout way. What does you want with a fire, an' what use is you got for that great big bellows, which you have to work yourself to pieces for to blow?
The blacksmith he allow, he did, that he pleased to have a fire, and the onliest way he can have one is to make the bellows blow its breath on it.
The Black Man, he say, says he, "There might've been a time when I had the same idea, but that time is done past an' gone. Let me show you how I does the business."
With that, he took up a plow tongue, held it close to his mouth, and blowed on it once or twice, and it got red-hot, and then took on a white heat, the kind they calls a welding heat. He put it on the anvil, and hit a lick or two with the hammer, and it come out the prettiest shovel plow you ever is lay your eyes on.
He held it out, but the blacksmith back off, he did, and allow, "Who the name of goodness is you anyhow?"
The Black Man frown when he hear the word "goodness" but he make answer, "Folks got a heap of different names for me, but I ain't no ways proud, an' so I responds to all of 'em."
The blacksmith say, says he, "I believe you ain't nobody but old Impty-Umpty."
"An' yet," says the Black Man, says he, "some calls me the Old Boy, an' then, again, they calls me Satan, an' I got worse soundin' names than that."
"They tells me," says the blacksmith, says he, "that there's three things you can't do," says he.
Old Impty-Umpty allow, "Be pleased for to homnyname 'em," says he.
"Well, sir," says the blacksmith, says he, "it talked 'round in the neighborhood that you can't change yo'self into a hog, nor a monkey, nor neither into a cat."
Old Impty-Umpty grinned and showed his sharp tooths, and then he leapt in the air with a little twist, and when he hit the ground again, he was in the resemblance of a hog, and he look so much like a hog that he went grunting all over the shop, and gobbling up every scrap of vittles he can find.
Then he lay down and wallowed like he was in a mud-hole, and got up a monkey. Well, Mr. Monk was more livelier than what the hog was, and he run up the wall, and got on the rafters, and sat there chattering and whistling just like a sure enough monkey.
He dropped from the rafters, and when he hit the ground, the monkey was a cat, not a great big one, but a little black one that you'd've been sorry for if you'd have seed it.
By that time the blacksmith had his iron box ready and sitting on the ground, and when the cat come close enough, he grabbed it by the back of the neck and soused it in the box, and slammed down the led and fastened it. Then he laugh and laugh, till it look like he ain't never going to get done laughing.
But old Brer Rabbit, with his eye to the crack, begun to get kind of unpatient, and he fetch the ground a whack with his behind foot. He hit so hard and so quick that you'd have thunk somebody was beating on the muffled drum.
Blacksmith say, says he, "Who that?"
Brer Rabbit respond, "I'm the man what you had in the box" — just so.
Blacksmith say, says he, "Go 'way! You can't fool me! Old Impty-Umpty in here where I put him at, an' he'll be impty-umptied before he's emptied. You hear me talkin'!"
Brer Rabbit say, says he, "Shake the box, man! Shake the box!"
And sure enough, when the blacksmith shake the box, he ain't hear nothing in there. He shake it again, and he don't hear nothing in there.
Well, this kind of thing ain't what he been expecting and he kind of scratch his head. He study and he study what he gonna do, and by and by he sat right flat on the ground and open the box for to see if it's empty of Impty-Umpty.
He open it, he did, and raise the lid and try to peep in, but he ain't see nothing. He raise it a little higher, and when he done that, a great big black bat flewed out of the box and hit him right spang in the face. He done his level best for to catch it; he struck at it with his hat, and slapped at it with his hand, but the bat done gone out of reach, and when the blacksmith look up, it was sailing round amongst the rafters, fliffing and fluffling, and gritting its toothies.
The bat flew'd 'round much as it want to, and then it made a dart for the door and was gone — done gone!
Well, time went on, and the day come when the blacksmith shop was shut up, and the blacksmith hisself was swapped from the cooling-board to the graveyard. From cooling-board to graveyard ain't such a mighty far ways, but I don't expect the blacksmith cared if it was long or short.
They tells me — I dunno if it's so or no; it might be just the hearsay — but they tells me that the blacksmith had occasion to go down there where Impty-Umpty live at; he might just've been passing by; leastways he went to Impty- Umpty's house and knock at the door.
He knock once and he knock twice, and then old Impty-Umpty holler and ask, "Who dat?"
Blacksmith say, says he,'''Tain't nobody but me."
Impty-Umpty allow, he did, "If you are that blacksmith what shut the cat up in a box, you can't come in this place," and then he call one of his little Impties, and say, "Go get him a chunk of fire an' let him start a sinner fact'ry of his own. He can't come in here."
Dat was all the far the tale could follow the blacksmith.