A French Tar-Baby
In the time when there were hobgoblins and fairies, Brother Goat and Brother Rabbit lived in the same neighborhood, not far from each other.Proud of his long beard and sharp horns, Brother Goat looked on Brother Rabbit with disdain. He would hardly speak to Brother Rabbit when he met him, and his greatest pleasure was to make his little neighbor the victim of his tricks and practical jokes.
For instance, he would say: “Brother Rabbit, here is Mr. Fox,” and this would cause Brother Rabbit to run away as hard as he could. Again he would say: “Brother Rabbit, here is Mr. Wolf,” and poor Brother Rabbit would shake and tremble with fear. Sometimes he would cry out: “Brother Rabbit, here is Mr. Tiger,” and then Brother Rabbit would shudder and think that his last hour had come.
Tired of this miserable existence, Brother Rabbit tried to think of some means by which he could change his powerful and terrible neighbor into a friend. After a time he thought he had discovered a way to make Brother Goat his friend, and so he invited him to dinner.
Brother Goat was quick to accept the invitation. The dinner was a fine affair, and there was an abundance of good eating. A great many different dishes were served. Brother Goat licked his mouth and shook his long beard with satisfaction. He had never before been present at such a feast.
“Well, my friend,” exclaimed Brother Rabbit, when the dessert was brought in, “how do you like your dinner?” “I could certainly wish for nothing better,” replied Brother Goat, rubbing the tips of his horns against the back of his chair; “but my throat is very dry and a little water would hurt neither the dinner nor me.”
“Gracious!” said Brother Rabbit, “I have neither wine-cellar nor water. I am not in the habit of drinking while I am eating.”
“Neither have I any water, Brother Rabbit,” said Brother Goat. “But I have an idea! If you will go with me over yonder by the big poplar, we will dig a well.”
“No, Brother Goat,” said Brother Rabbit, who hoped to revenge himself—”no, I do not care to dig a well. At daybreak I drink the dew from the cups of the flowers, and in the heat of the day I milk the cows and drink the cream.”
“Well and good,” said Brother Goat. “Alone I will dig the well, and alone I will drink out of it.”
“Success to you, Brother Goat,” said Brother Rabbit.
“Thank you kindly, Brother Rabbit.”
Brother Goat then went to the foot of the big poplar and began to dig his well. He dug with his forefeet and with his horns, and the well got deeper and deeper. Soon the water began to bubble up and the well was finished, and then Brother Goat made haste to quench his thirst. He was in such a hurry that his beard got in the water, but he drank and drank until he had his fill.
Brother Rabbit, who had followed him at a little distance, hid himself behind a bush and laughed heartily. He said to himself: “What an innocent creature you are!”
The next day, when Brother Goat, with his big beard and sharp horns, returned to his well to get some water, he saw the tracks of Brother Rabbit in the soft earth. This put him to thinking. He sat down, pulled his beard, scratched his head, and tapped himself on the forehead.
“My friend,” he exclaimed after a while, “I will catch you yet.”
Then he ran and got his tools (for Brother Goat was something of a carpenter in those days) and made a large doll out of laurel wood. When the doll was finished, he spread tar on it here and there, on the right and on the left, and up and down. He smeared it all over with the sticky stuff, until it was as black as a Guinea negro.
This finished, Brother Goat waited quietly until evening. At sunset he placed the tarred doll near the well, and ran and hid himself behind the trees and bushes. The moon had just risen, and the heavens twinkled with millions of little star-torches.
Brother Rabbit, who was waiting in his house, believed that the time had come for him to get some water, so he took his bucket and went to Brother Goat’s well. On the way he was very much afraid that something would catch him. He trembled when the wind shook the leaves of the trees. He would go a little distance and then stop and listen; he hid here behind a stone, and there behind a tuft of grass.
At last he arrived at the well, and there he saw the little negro. He stopped and looked at it with astonishment. Then he drew back a little way, advanced again, drew back, advanced a little, and stopped once more.
“What can that be?” he said to himself. He listened, with his long ears pointed forward, but the trees could not talk, and the bushes were dumb. He winked his eyes and lowered his head: “Hey, friend! Who are you?” he asked.
The tar-doll didn’t move. Brother Rabbit went up a little closer, and asked again: “Who are you?”
The tar-doll said nothing. Brother Rabbit breathed more at ease. Then he went to the brink of the well, but when he looked in the water the tar-doll seemed to look in too. He could see her reflection in the water. This made Brother Rabbit so mad that he grew red in the face.
“See here!” he exclaimed, “If you look in this well I’ll give you a rap on the nose!”
Brother Rabbit leaned over the brink of the well, and saw the tar- doll smiling at him in the water. He raised his right hand and hit her—bam! His hand stuck.
“What’s this?” exclaimed Brother Rabbit. “Turn me loose, imp of Satan! If you do not, I will rap you on the eye with my other hand.”
Then he hit her—bim! The left hand stuck also. Then Brother Rabbit raised his right foot, saying:
“Mark me well, little Congo! Do you see this foot? I will kick you in the stomach if you do not turn me loose this instant.”
No sooner said than done. Brother Rabbit let fly his right foot— vip! The foot stuck, and he raised the other. “Do you see this foot?” he exclaimed. “If I hit you with it, you will think a thunderbolt has struck you.”Then he kicked her with the left foot, and it also stuck like the other, and Brother Rabbit held fast his Guinea negro.
“Watch out, now!” he cried. “I’ve already butted a great many people with my head. If I butt you in your ugly face I’ll knock it into a jelly. Turn me loose! Oho! You don’t answer?” Bap!
“Guinea girl!” exclaimed Brother Rabbit, “Are you dead? Gracious goodness! How my head does stick!”
When the sun rose, Brother Goat went to his well to find out something about Brother Rabbit. The result was beyond his expectations.
“Hey, little rogue, big rogue!” exclaimed Brother Goat. “Hey, Brother Rabbit! What are you doing there? I thought you drank the dew from the cups of the flowers, or milk from the cows. Aha, Brother Rabbit! I will punish you for stealing my water.”
“I am your friend,” said Brother Rabbit; “don’t kill me.”
“Thief, thief!” cried Brother Goat, and then he ran quickly into the woods, gathered up a pile of dry limbs, and made a great fire. He took Brother Rabbit from the tar-doll, and prepared to burn him alive. As he was passing a thicket of brambles with Brother Rabbit on his shoulders, Brother Goat met his daughter Beledie, who was walking about in the fields.
“Where are you going, Papa, muffled up with such a burden? Come and eat the fresh grass with me, and throw wicked Brother Rabbit in the brambles.”
Cunning Brother Rabbit raised his long ears and pretended to be very much frightened.
“Oh, no, Brother Goat!” he cried. “Don’t throw me in the brambles. They will tear my flesh, put out my eyes, and pierce my heart. Oh, I pray you, rather throw me in the fire.”
“Aha, little rogue, big rogue! Aha, Brother Rabbit!” exclaimed Brother Goat, exultingly, “You don’t like the brambles? Well, then, go and laugh in them,” and he threw Brother Rabbit in without a feeling of pity. Brother Rabbit fell in the brambles, leaped to his feet, and began to laugh.
“Ha-ha-ha! Brother Goat, what a simpleton you are!—ha-ha-ha! A better bed I never had! In these brambles I was born!”
Brother Goat was in despair, but he could not help himself. Brother Rabbit was safe.
A long beard is not always a sign of intelligence.
A French Tar-Baby was written by Joel Chandler Harris.
The text is from Project Gutenberg . The pictures are from The Library of Congress . This is a repost.