Brer Rabbit: The Calamus Root

The title of this story in Joel Chandler Harris's book is "Uncle Remus Initiates the Little Boy," but I've changed the title here to indicate just what the Brer Rabbit story is about, and I've left out the back-and-forth between Uncle Remus and the little white boy that frames the story. If you listen to the audio version of the story, you will hear the Uncle Remus part that opens and closes the story, and you can also see the Uncle Remus part in the book online: Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings.

Unlike Brer Rabbit, who is an actual folktale character, Uncle Remus is a product of Harris's imagination, a surrogate storyteller he used in place of the many African-American storytellers in Georgia from whom he collected the Brer Rabbit tales. I've chosen to keep the focus on Brer Rabbit and omit the Uncle Remus material here, following the same strategy used by Julius Lester in his marvelous collection of Uncle Remus stories: Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales. In addition to omitting the Uncle Remus character, Lester retells the stories in a more standard English that is easier to read than the dialect in Harris' books, but I've left the dialect just as Harris wrote it.

To help you get used to the dialect, here is the first paragraph of the story written out with standard English spelling, but with the grammar unaltered:

By and by, one day, after Brer Fox been doing all that he could for to catch Brer Rabbit, and Brer Rabbit being doing all he could for to keep him from it, Brer Fox say to hisself that he'd put up a game on Brer Rabbit, and he ain't more than got the words out of his mouth until Brer Rabbit came a'loping up the big road, looking just as plump and as fat and as sassy as a Morgan horse in a barley-patch.

This story is part of the Brer Rabbit unit. Story source: Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris (1881).

The Calamus Root
Bimeby, one day, atter Brer Fox bin doin' all dat he could fer ter ketch Brer Rabbit, en Brer Rabbit bein' doin' all he could fer ter keep 'im fum it, Brer Fox say to hisse'f dat he'd put up a game on Brer Rabbit, en he ain't mo'n got de wuds out'n his mouf twel Brer Rabbit came a lopin' up de big road, lookin' des ez plump, en ez fat, en ez sassy ez a Moggin hoss in a barley-patch.

"Hol' on dar, Brer Rabbit," sez Brer Fox, sezee.

"I ain't got time, Brer Fox," sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, sorter mendin' his licks.

"I wanter have some confab wid you, Brer Rabbit," sez Brer Fox, sezee.

"All right, Brer Fox, but you better holler fum whar you stan'. I'm monstus full er fleas dis mawnin'," sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.

"I seed Brer B'ar yistdiddy," sez Brer Fox, sezee, "en he sorter rake me over de coals kaze you en me ain't make frens en live naberly, en I tole 'im dat I'd see you."

Den Brer Rabbit scratch one year wid his off hinefoot sorter jub'usly, en den he ups en sez, sezee: "All a settin', Brer Fox. Spose'n you drap roun' ter-morrer en take dinner wid me. We ain't got no great doin's at our house, but I speck de ole 'oman en de chilluns kin sorter scramble roun' en git up sump'n fer ter stay yo' stummick."

"I'm 'gree'ble, Brer Rabbit," sez Brer Fox, sezee.

"Den I'll 'pen' on you," sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.

Nex' day, Mr. Rabbit an' Miss Rabbit got up soom, 'fo' day, en raided on a gyarden like Miss Sally's out dar, en got some cabbiges, en some roas'n—years, en some sparrer-grass, en dey fix up a smashin' dinner.

Bimeby one er de little Rabbits, playin' out in de back-yard, come runnin' in hollerin', "Oh, ma! oh, ma! I seed Mr. Fox a comin'!"

En den Brer Rabbit he tuck de chilluns by der years en make um set down, en den him and Miss Rabbit sorter dally roun' waitin' for Brer Fox. En dey keep on waitin' for Brer Fox. En dey keep on waitin', but no Brer Fox ain't come.

Atter 'while Brer Rabbit goes to de do', easy like, en peep out, en dar, stickin' fum behime de cornder, wuz de tip-een' er Brer Fox tail. Den Brer Rabbit shot de do' en sot down, en put his paws behime his years en begin fer ter sing:

De place wharbouts you spill de grease,
Right dar you er boun' ter slide,
An' whar you fin' a bunch er ha'r,
You'll sholy fine de hide.

Nex' day, Brer Fox sont word by Mr. Mink, en skuze hisse'f kaze he wuz too sick fer ter come, en he ax Brer Rabbit fer ter come en take dinner wid him, en Brer Rabbit say he wuz 'gree'ble.

Bimeby, w'en de shadders wuz at der shortes', Brer Rabbit he sorter brush up en sa'nter down ter Brer Fox's house, en w'en he got dar, he hear somebody groanin', en he look in de do' an dar he see Brer Fox settin' up in a rockin'-cheer all wrop up wid flannil, en he look mighty weak.

Brer Rabbit look all roun', he did, but he ain't see no dinner. De dish-pan wuz settin' on de table, en close by wuz a kyarvin' knife.

"Look like you gwineter have chicken fer dinner, Brer Fox," sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.

"Yes, Brer Rabbit, dey er nice, en fresh, en tender," sez Brer Fox, sezee.

Den Brer Rabbit sorter pull his mustarsh, en say: "You ain't got no calamus root, is you, Brer Fox? I done got so now dat I can't eat no chicken 'ceppin she's seasoned up wid calamus root."

En wid dat Brer Rabbit lipt out er de do' and dodge 'mong the bushes, en sot dar watchin' for Brer Fox; en he ain't watch long, nudder, kaze Brer Fox flung off de flannil en crope out er de house en got whar he could cloze in on Brer Rabbit, en bimeby Brer Rabbit holler out: "Oh, Brer Fox! I'll des put yo' calamus root out yer on dish yer stump. Better come git it while hit's fresh," and wid dat Brer Rabbit gallop off home.

En Brer Fox ain't never kotch 'im yit, en w'at's mo', honey, he ain't gwineter.

(700 words)

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