This here tale, what I had fresh in my mind, is got a song in it, and that's the reason I ain't been itching for to tell it; 'cause I ain't got the knack of singing what I used to have. When I was young, the old folks was always a-telling me that if I don't stop hollering so loud, I'd break my puckering string, and I expect that what the matter with me now. I done hollered so much, calling the hogs and the sheep, and one thing and another, that you can't expect me to tune up and sing just anywhere and any time.
When this tale was handed down to me — and that was too long ago to talk about — it seem like that some kind of hard feelings done sprung up 'twixt Mr. Man and old Brer Rabbit, some kind of dispute about garden peas, and goobers.
Mr. Man say that Brer Rabbit nipped off the tops time they get out of the ground good.
Mr. Rabbit, he allow, that them what Mr. Man miss ain't never come out of the ground.
Mr. Man say that may be so, but he tell Brer Rabbit to just look at the cabbages, where they nibbled.
Brer Rabbit allow, he did, that it might be the calfies of the big green worms, and he ask Mr. Man what needs do he have for to be nibbling at spindling greens like 'em, when he got a fine garden of his own.
Mr. Man say he'd a heap rather see that fine garden than to hear tell of it.
And so the dispute run on; one word calling for another, and there they had it till by and by both of 'em was trying for to say two words to the other's one. The upshot of it was that Mr. Man get so mad that he was red in the face, and he call his dogs, Ramboo, Bamboo, and Lamboo, and sicced 'em on Brer Rabbit; and you know mighty well that if they'd have been any partnership 'twixt 'em this siccing the dogs on would have bust it up.
Now, the dogs ain't got no better sense than to do the best they can. They track old Brer Rabbit, they trail him and they track him 'round and 'round and up and down, till by and by he say to hisself that if they don't kind of let up he sure will drop in his tracks. Whiles he loping long, with his tongue out and his tail off, he come to the big holler poplar by the cool spring. He went in, he did, and run up stairs and sat down in a chair, and panted like he'd been playing hop-and-go-fetch-it. He went up stairs, he did, and sat down in the big rocking-chair, and panted till he got kind of rested.
And all this time, Ramboo, Bamboo, and Lamboo was a-running 'round with their nose to the ground trying for to pick up the trail where they lost it at. They run here and they run there, they run hither and they run yon; but they can't find it, and by and by they dropped their tails and went on home. Brer Rabbit just might as well have took wings and flewed away, for all the dogs knowed.
Well, the dogs went on back home, and after so long a time, after Brer Rabbit done chew on his cud much as he want to, he come down, and went on about his business. And I tell you, hon, it was big business, too, if you'll believe me. He put out, he did, and he went, lippity-clippity, away off in the middle of the swamp, where old Mammy-Bammy Big-Money live at. He was going along mighty gaily before he got in sight of the house, but time he see that, he begun to get droopy, till, time he get to the gate — if there was a gate — he look like he been sick a month or more.
Weak as he look, he can holler, and he hailed and hailed till somebody helloed, and in he went. When he got in there, he look more droopy and puny than if he'd have had a spell of swamp fever. Mammy-Bammy Big-Money ask him what the matter, and he say he in deep trouble, and then he up and relate all the circumstance, about how Mr. Man been treating him, and Mammy-Bammy Big-Money shook her head and say that it look like to her that them kind of doings ain't much less than scandalous.
Hanging on the wall of the place was the hide of some kind of varmint — I don't know what. It had the head, the footsies, and the tail on. She took it down, and laid it on the floor, and then got a handful of salt and sprinkle it on the fire, a little at a time, singin',
Rise, skin, rise,
Open your big red eyes —
Sharpen your long, black claws,
and work your big strong jaws!
So said, so done, 'cause whiles the salt was a-snapping and a-cracking in the fire, the varmint hide begun to move, and stretch itself. Then it begun to roll and wallow on the floor and time the salt done all burn up, there it was, big as life and twice as natural, walking 'round and rubbing against old Mammy-Bammy Big-Money for all the world like a great, big, double-jointed wild-cat. Brer Rabbit give the varmint plenty of room, whenever it come his way. By and by, the old witch up and tell Brer Rabbit that he can go home now and rest in peace, 'cause it ain't going to be many long hours before Mr. Man will have all he can tend to without pestering with anybody else.
The hide had been hanging up so long, and was so hard and stiff, that the varmint had some trouble along at first. There was big hard wrinkles here and there, but it wasn't so mighty long before it all limbered up, and the critter, whatsomever the name might be, got so that it can rack 'round just as supple as any other critter.
Brer Rabbit went off home and went to bed, so that when night come he can be up and about, with both eyes open, and both ears ready for to hear a bug flying a mile off. When it was time for Brer Rabbit to get up and be a-moseying 'round for to see what there is for to be seed, Mr. Man was fixing for to go to bed. He got in there, he did, and the bed feel so satisfying that he fetch a grunt and a groan, and then, before you can say Billy Billups, with your mouth open, he was done gone, and every time he drawed a breath it sound like somebody was trying for to grind coffee.
Well, it went on this away, till some time enduring the night, and then, all at once, Mr. Man opened his eyes and find hisself wide awake, just like folks do when they get the idea that there's somebody in the room. He listen, and he listen, and by and by he hear something stirring about amongst the pots and the pans in the little room where he does his cooking at. He hear it and then he don't hear it; then he hear it, and it sound like there's something in there hunting for scraps of vittles.
So, out of the bed he slips, and slams the door too, which it done come open. He slams it, but not before the critter what's in there done gone out, all excepting the tail. He catch the tail when he slam the door, and off it come right smick-smack-smooth. The tail was wiggling so that he can't hardly pick it up, and when he do, he can't hardly hold it in his hand. He look at it, and he say to hisself that he ain't never is see no tail like that. He took and tuck it in the room where he sleep at, and uncovered the fire, and kindle it up, and all this time the tail what he had in his hand was giving him about as much as he can do for to hold it.
By and by, he put it down on the hearth, and put his foot on it, but it was a long tail and a strong tail, and it kept up a mighty wiggling and squirming, and it worked itself out so that it had some room, and then it begun to hit the man on the legs, and it hit so hard that it made him holler. Then he got mad, and he grab up the tail and flung it in the fire, spang in the middle of the red-hot embers. If you never see squirming you might have seed it then if you'd have been there. You know how lizard's tail'll jump, and do like they're alive long after they been knocked off — well, this here tail was lots more liver than what they is. It was a big strong tail, and it jump about so that it knock the ashes and the embers out on the hearth, and the onliest way that Mr. Man can keep it in the fire, is to hold it down with the tongs whiles he took the shovel and covered it with the live coals. It fried and shook, and shook and fried, till by and by it look like they wasn't nothing for to fry and shake.
Then Mr. Man went to bed again, after looking at the seven stars for to see what time it is, and he make up his mind he going to catch up the sleep what he done lost, but time he get to dozing good, he hear a mighty scratching and gnawing at the top of the door where they was a crack at.
He allow, "Who that?" and then he lay still and listen, and after while he hear something say and sing,
Taily-po! You know and I know
that I wants my Taily-po!
Over and under and through the door,
I'm a-coming for to get my Taily-po!
Mr. Man laid there in bed, and he ain't know what to do. The scratching and gnawing went on, till Mr. Man fairly shook and shivered; but by and by he thunk of his dogs, and he made so bold as to go to the back door and call 'em. "Here, Ramboo! Here, Bamboo! Here, Lamboo — here, here! Here, dogs, here!"
Well, the dogs ain't got no better sense than to come when they're called, and they come a-runnin'. Mr. Man sicced 'em 'round to the front of the house, and it seem like that when they got there, they took right after something, and off they went a-flying till they get plumb out of hearing.
Before they can get back home again, Mr. Man was just about to drop off to sleep when he hear the same scratching fuss, and this time it was at the back door, where they was a bigger crack. He ask who the name of goodness is that, and what does they want at this time of night, when all honest folks ought to be in bed. And no sooner is he ask this, than there come the answer.
Your name, I know, is Whaley-Joe,
and before I'm going to really go,
I'm pleased to have my Taily-po;
Give me that and I'll gaily go —
Taily-po! My Taily-po!
Mr. Man went out to the front and call the dogs, but they ain't there, and so they can't respond. There was Mr. Man, and somewheres not far off was the scratching and gnawing critter, crying out,
I know you know, and I know I know,
that all I wants is my Taily-po!
Mr. Man shut and barred the door, and went back to bed and pull the cover over his head, 'cause he don't know what more to do. He can't catch the critter in the the dark, without the help of the dogs, and the dogs done gone away off yonder. He got his head covered, but in spite of this he pleased to listen at the scratching, and gnawing, and growling, and he shake and shiver worse than he ever done.
Somehow or another, by tooth or toenail, the critter got in the house, and no sooner is he get in than he begun to ramble 'round hunting for his tail. He rambled, he did, and when anything got in his way, he'd hunch it over, and root it out of the way. Pans fell on the floor, — slam-bang-er-rang! — pots got turned over, and when they roll across the floor they sound like a young thunderstorm.
The man, he lay there, and shook and shiver'd. By and by the varmint come to the fireplace in the room where the man sleeping at. In them days, they wasn't no matches, not even theze here smiflicating kind, and folks had to cover up their fire if they expected to find any there the next morning; it was that, or walking a mile or more for to borrow a chunk.
Well, Mr. Man had covered his fire after he put the critter's tail in the embers; he had ashes on top of the embers, and the embers on top of the chunks and coals. The critter come up to the hearth, he did, and nosed 'round, and it seem like he smell something, 'cause he growled, and then he whined, and with that, he start to paw in the fire. The way he scratch and claw it up was a sin. The red-hot embers flewed out on the floor, the live coals followed um, and then out come their chunks, and wheresomever they hit a blaze sprung up. Some flewed on the bed, and some flewed clean over it. When the critter had clawed all the fire out, there was his tail all safe and sound, and he grabbed it up in his mouth, and went out of the house like there was something after him.
By that time the house was in a blaze, and not only the house, but the bed where Mr. Man was laying at. It was then getting close to daybreak, and when the other folks begun to wake up and stir 'round, they say, "Heyo! Some neighbor is burnin' off his new ground." Old Brer Rabbit, sitting in his rocking-chair, kind of wunk one eye, and say, "Humph! I 'clare to gracious if I don't smell smoke!" And Old Mammy-Bammy Big-Money, away off in the swamp, raise her head and say, "I smells meat a-fryin'!"