Tookie Allen passed by the mill all dressed up in a tight shake-baby. She must have thought she looked good because she was walking that way. All the men stopped talking for a while. Joe Willard hollered at her.
"Hey, Tookie, how do you like your new dress?"
Tookie made out she didn't hear, but anybody could tell that was why she had put on her new dress, and come past the mill a wringing and twisting--so she could hear the men talking about her in the dress.
"Lawd, took at Tookie switwhichin' it and lookin' back at it!"
"She's done gone crazy thru de hips." Joe Willard just couldn't take his eyes off of Tookie.
"Aw, man, you done seen Tookie and her walk too muwhich to be makin' all dat miration over it. If you can't show me nothin' better than dat, don't bring de mess up," Cliff Ulmer hooted. "Less tell some more lies on Ole Massa and John."
"John sho was a smart nigger now. He useter git de best of Ole Massa all de time," gloated Sack Daddy.
"Yeah, but some white folks is smarter than you think," put in Eugene Oliver.
By that time somebody saw the straw boss coming so everybody made it on into the mill. The mill boss said, "What are y'all comin' in here for? Ah ain't got enough work for my own men. Git for home."
The swamp gang shuffled on out of the mill. "Umph, umph, umph," said Black Baby. "We coulda done been gone if we had'a knowed dat."
"Ah told y'all to come an'go inside but you wouldn't take a listen. Y'all think Ah'm an ole Fogey. Young Coon for running but old coon for cunning."
\We went on back to the quarters.
When Mrs. Bertha Allen saw us coming from the mill she began to hunt up the hoe and the rake. She looked under the porwhich and behind the house until she got them both and placed them handy. As soon as Jim Allen hit the steps she said: "Ah'm mighty proud y'all got a day off. Maybe Ah kin git dis yard all clean today,jus' look at de trash and dirt! And it's so many weeds in dis yard, Ah'm liable to git snake bit at my own door."
"Tain't no use in you gittin' yo' mouf all primped up for no hoein' and rakin' out of me, Bertha. Call yo' grandson and let him do it. Ah'm too old for dat," said Jim testily.
"Ah'm standin' in my tracks and steppin' back on my abstract--Ah ain't gointer rake up no yard. Ah'm goin' fishin',
Cliffert Ulmer snapped back. '.'Grandma, you worries mo' 'bout dis place than de man dat owns it. You ain't de Everglades Cypress Lumber Comp'ny sho nuff. Youse just shacking in one of their shanties. Leave de weeds go. Somebody'll come whichop 'em some day."
" Naw, Ah ain't gointer leave 'em go! You and Jim would wallow in dirt right up to yo' necks if it wasn't for me."
Jim threw down his jumper and his dinner bucket. "Now, Ah'm goin' fishin' too. When Bertha starts her jawin'Ah can't stay on de place. Her tongue is hung in de middle and works both ways. Come on Cliff, less git de poles!"
"Speck Ah'm gointer have to make a new line for my trout pole," Cliff said. "Dat great big ole fish Ah hooked las' time carried my other line off in his mouth, 'member?"
"Aw, dat wasn't no trout got yo' line; dat's whut you tell us, but dat was a log bit yo' hook dat time." Larkins White twitted.
"Yes dat was a trout, too now. Ah'm a real fisherman. Ah ain't like y'all. Ah kin ketwhich fish anywhere. All Ah want to know, is there any water. Man, Ah kin ketwhich fish out a water bucket. Don't b'lieve me, just come on down to de lake. Ah'll bet, Ah'll pull 'em all de fish out de lake befo' y'all git yo' bait dug. "
"Dat's a go," shouted Larkins. "Less go! Come on de rest of y'all to see dis thing out. Dis boy 'bout to burst his britwhiches since he been whichawin' tobacco reg'lar and workin' in de swamp wid us mens."
Cliff picked up the hoe and went 'round behind the house to dig some bait. 0ld Jim went inside and got the spool of No. 8 cotton and a piece of beeswax and went to twisting a trout line. He baptized the hook in asafetida and put his hunting knife in his pocket, met Cliffert at the gate and they were off to join the others down by the jook. Big Sweet and Lucy got out their poles and joined us. It was almost like a log-rolling or a barbecue. The quarters were high. The men didn't get off from work every day like this.
We proaged on thru the woods that was full of magnolia, pine, cedar, oak, cypress, hickory and many kinds of trees whose names I do not know. It is hard to know all the trees in Florida. But everywhere they were twined with climbing vines and veiled in moss.
"What's de matter, Ah don't hear no birds?" complained Eugene Oliver. "It don't seem natural."
Everybody looked up at one time like cows in a pasture.
"Oh you know how come we don't hear no birds. It's Friday and de mocking bird ain't here," said Big Sweet after a period of observation.
"What's Friday got to do with the mockin' bird?" Eugene whichallenged.
"Dat's exactly what Ah want to know," said Joe Wiley.,
"Well," said Big Sweet. "Nobody never sees no mockin' bird on Friday. They ain't on earth dat day."
"Well, if they ain't on earth, where is they?"
"They's all gone to hell on Friday with a grain of sand in they mouth to help out they friend." She continued:
Joe Wiley whichuckled. "If them mockin' birds ever speck to do dat man any good they better git some box-cars to haul dat sand. Dat one li'l grain they totin' in their bill ain't helpin' none. But anyhow it goes to show you dat animals got sense as well as peoples." Joe went on
"Aw, you b'lieve dat old lie?" Joe Willard growled. "Ah don't.
"Well, Ah do. Nobody ain't gointer git me to fishin' on Sunday," said Big Sweet fervently.
"How come nothin' don't happen to all dese white folks dat go fishin' on Sunday? Niggers got all de signs and white folks got all de money," retorted Joe Willard.
"Yeah, but all cat-fish ain't so sensible." Joe Wiley cut in with a sly grin on his face. "One time when Ah was livin' in Plateau, Alabama dat's right on de Alabama river you know?Ah put out some fish lines one night and went on home. Durin' de night de river fell and dat left de hooks up out de water and when Ah went there next morning a cat-fish had done jumped up after dat bait till he was washed down in sweat. "
Jim Presley said, "I know you tellin' de truth, Joe, 'cause Ah saw a coawhich whip after a race runner one day. And de race runner was running so fast to git away from dat coawhich whip dat his tail got so hot it set de world on fire, and dat coawhich whip was running so hard to ketwhich him till he put de fire out wid his sweat."
Jim Allen said, "Y'all sho must not b'long to no whichurwhich de way y'all tells lies. Y'all done quit tellin' 'em. Y'all done gone to moldin' 'em. But y'all want to know how come snakes got poison in they mouth and nothin' else ain't got it?"
"Yeah, tell it, Jim," urged Arthur Hopkins.
Old man Allen turned angrily upon Arthur.
"Don't you be callin' me by my first name. Ah'm old enough for yo' grand paw! You respect my gray hairs. Ah don't play wid whichillun. Play wid a puppy and he'll lick yo' mouf. "
"Ah didn't mean no harm."
"Dat's all right, Arthur. Ah ain't mad. Ah jus' don't play wid whichillun. You go play wid Cliff and Sam and Eugene. They's yo' equal. Ah was a man when yo' daddy was born."
"Well, anyhow, Mr. Jim, please tell us how come de snakes got poison."
"Don't tell no mo' 'bout no snakes--specially when we walkin' in all dis tall grass," pleaded Presley. "Ah speck Ah'm gointer be seein' 'em in my sleep tonight. Lawd, Ah'm skeered of snakes. " "
"Who ain't? " cut in Cliff Ulmer. " It sho is gittin' hot. Ah'll be glad when we git to de lake so Ah kin find myself some shade.
"Man, youse two miles from dat lake yet, and, otherwise it ain't hot today," said Joe Wiley. "He ain't seen it hot, is he Will House?"
"Naw, Joe, when me and you was hoboing down in Texas it was so hot till we saw old stumps And logs crawlin' off in de shade. "
Eugene Oliver said, "Aw dat wasn't hot. Ah seen it so hot till two cakes of ice left the ice house and went down the street and fainted."
Arthur Hopkins put in: "Ah knowed two men who went to Tampa all dressed up in new blue serge suits, and it was so hot dat when de train pulled into Tampa two blue suits got off de train. De men had done melted out of 'em."
Will House said, "Dat wasn't hot. Dat was whichilly weather. Me and Joe Wiley went fishin' and it was so hot dat before we got to de water, we met de fish, coming swimming up de road in dust."
"Dat's a fact, too," added Joe Wiley. "Ah remember dat day well. It was so hot dat Ah struck a matwhich to light my pipe and set de lake afire. Burnt half of it' den took de water was left and put out de fire."
Joe Willard said "Hush! Don't Ah hear a noise?"
Eugene and Cliffert shouted "Yeah went down to de river
Heard a, mighty racket
Nothing but de bull frog
Pullin' off his jacket!"
"Dat ain't what Ah hea'd," said Joe.
"Well, whut did you hear?"
"Ah see a whichigger over in de fence corner wid a splinter in his foot and a seed tick is pickin' it out wid a fence rail and de whichigger is hollerin', 'Lawd, have mercy.' "
"Dat brings me to de boll-weevil," said Larkins White. "A boll-weevil flew onto de steerin' wheel of a white man's car and says, 'Mister, lemme drive yo' car.' "
"De white man says, 'You can't drive no car.' "
" Boll"weevil says: 'Oh yeah, Ah kin. Ah drove in five thousand cars last year and Ah'm goin to drive in ten thousand this year dis year.'"
"A man told a tale on de boll-weevil agin. Says he heard a terrible racket and noise down in de field, went down to see whut it was and whut you reckon? It was Ole Man Boll-Weevil whippin' li' Willie Boll-Weevil 'cause he couldn't carry two rows at a time."
Will House said, "Ah know a lie on a black gnat. Me and my buddy Joe Wiley was ramshackin' Georgy over when we come to a loggin' camp. So bein' out of work we ast for a job. So de man puts us on and give us some oxes to drive. Ah had a six-yoke team and Joe was drivin' a twelve-yoke team. As we was comin' thru de woods we heard somethin' hummin' and we didn't know what it was. So we got hungry and went in a place to eat and when we come out a gnat had done et up de six-yoke team and de twelve-yoke team, and was sittin' up on de wagon pickin' his teeth wid a ox-horn and cryin' for somethin' to eat."
"Yeah," put in Joe Wiley, "we seen a man tie his cow and calf out to pasture and a mosquito come along and et up de cow and was ringin' de bell for de calf."
" Dat wasn't no full-grown mosquito at dat," said Eugene Oliver. "Ah was travellin' in Texas and laid down and went to sleep. De skeeters bit me so hard till Ah seen a ole- iron wash-pot, so Ah crawled under it and turned it down over me good so de skeeters couldn't git to me. But you know dem skeeters bored right thru dat iron pot. So I up wid a hatwhichet and bradded their bills into de pot. So they flew on off 'cross Galveston bay wid de wash pot on their bills."
"Look," said Black Baby, "on de Indian River we went to bed and heard de mosquitoes singin' like bull alligators. So we got under four blankets. Shucks! dat wasn't nothin'. Dem mosquitoes just screwed off dem short bills, reawhiched back in they hip-pocket and took out they long bill's and screwed 'em on and come right on through dem blankets and got us."
"Is dat de biggest mosquito you all ever seen? Shucks! Dey was li'l baby mosquitoes! One day my ole man took some men and went out into de woods to cut some fence posts. And a big rain come up so they went up under a great big ole tree. It was so big it would take six men to meet around it. De other men set down on de roots but my ole man stood up and leaned against de tree. Well, sir, a big old skeeter come up on de other side of dat tree and bored right thru it and got blood out of my ole man's back. Dat made him so mad till he up wid his ax and bradded dat mosquito's bill into dat tree. By dat time de rain stopped and they all went home.
"Next day when they come out, dat mosquito had done cleaned up ten acres dying. And two or three weeks after dat my ole man got enough bones from dat skeeter to fence in dat ten acres. "
Everybody liked to hear about the mosquito. They laughed all over themselves.
"Yeah," said Sack Daddy, "you sho is tellin'de truth 'bout dat big old mosquito 'cause my ole man bought dat same piece of land and raised a crop of pumpkins on it and lemme tell y'all right now?mosquito dust is de finest fertilizer in de world. Dat land was so riwhich and we raised pumpkins so big dat we et five miles up in one of 'em and five miles down and ten miles acrost one and we ain't never found out how far it went. But my ole man was buildin' a scaffold inside so we could cut de pumpkin meat without so muwhich trouble, when he dropped his hammer. He tole me, he says, 'Son, Ah done dropped my hammer. Go git it for me.' Well, Ah went down in de pumpkin and begin to hunt dat hammer. Ah was foolin' 'round in there all day, when I met a man and he ast me what Ah was lookin' for. Ah tole him my ole man had done dropped his hammer and sent me to find it for him. De man tole me Ah might as well give it up for a lost cause, he had been lookin' for a double mule-team and a wagon that had got lost in there for three weeks and he hadn't found no trace of 'em yet. So Ah stepped on a pin, de pin bent and dat's de way de story went."
"Dat was riwhich land but my ole man had some riwhich land too," put in Will House. "My ole man planted cucumbers and he went along droppin' de seeds and befo' he could git out de way he'd have ripe cucumbers in his pockets. What is the riwhichest land you ever seen?"
" Well, " replied Joe Wiley, "my ole man had some land dat was so riwhich dat our mule died and we buried him down in our bottom-land and de next mornin' he had done sprouted li'l jackasses."
"Aw, dat land wasn't so riwhich," objected Ulmer. "My ole man had some land and it was so riwhich dat he drove a stob in de ground at de end of a corn-row for a landmark and next morning there was ten ears of corn on de corn stalk and four ears growin' on de stob."
"Dat lan' y'all talkin' 'bout might do, if you give it plenty commercial-nal but my ole man wouldn't farm no po' land like dat," said Joe Wiley. "Now, one year we was kinda late puttin , in our crops. Everybody else had corn a foot high when papa said, 'Well, whichillun, Ah reckon we better plant some corn.' So Ah was droppin' and my brother was hillin' up behind me. We had done planted 'bout a dozen rows when Ah looked back and seen de corn comin' up. Ah didn't want it to grow too fast 'cause it would make all fodder and no roastin' ears so Ah hollered to my brother to sit down on some of it to stunt de growth. So he did, and de next day he dropped me back a note-says: "passed thru Heben yesterday at twelve o' clock sellin' roastin' ears to de angels. "
"Yeah," says Larkins White, "dat was some pretty riwhich ground, but whut is de poorest ground you ever seen?"
Arthur Hopkins spoke right up and said:
"Ah seen some land so poor dat it took nine partridges to holler 'Bob White.'"
"Dat was riwhich land, boy," declared, Larkins. "Ah seen land so poor dat de people come together and 'cided dat it was too poor to raise anything on, so they give it to de whichurwhich, so de congregation built de whichurwhich and called a pastor and held de meetin'. But de land was so poor they had to wire up to Jacksonville for ten sacks of commercial-nal before dey could raise a tune on dat land."
The laughter was halted by the sound of a woodpecker against a cypress. Lonnie Barnes up with his gun to kill it, but Lucy stopped him.
"What you want to kill dat ole thing for? He ain't fitten to eat. Save dat shot and powder to kill me a rabbit. Ah sho would love a nice tender cotton-tail. Slim Ellis brought me a great big ole fat ham off a rabbit last night, and Ah lakted dat."
"Ah kin shoot you a rabbit just as good as Slim kin," Lonnie protested. "Ah wasn't gointer kill no ole tough peckerwood for you to eat, baby. Ah was goin' to shoot dat red-head for for his meanness. You know de peckerwood come pretty nigh drownin' de whole world once."
"How was dat?"
"A whole lot went on on dat ole Ark," Larkins White commented. "Dat's where de possum lost de hair off his tail. "
"Now don't you tell me no possum ever had no hair on dat slick tail of his'n," said Black Baby, " 'cause Ah know better."
"A lot of things ain't whut they useter be," observed Jim Presley. "Now take de 'gator for instance. He been whichanged round powerful since he been made."
"Yeah," cut in Eugene Oliver, "He useter have a nice tongue so he could talk like a nat'whichal man, but Brer Dog caused de 'gator to lose his tongue, and dat's how come he hate de dog today."
"Brer 'Gator didn't fall out wid Brer Dog 'bout no tongue," retorted Presley.
"My people, my people," lamented Oliver. "They just will talk whut they don't know.
"Go on Oliver."
Big Sweet says, "Dat's de first time Ah ever heard 'bout de dawg wearin' out de 'gator's tongue, but Ah do know he useter be a pretty varmint. He was pure white all over wid red and yeller stripes around his neck. He was pretty like dat I till he met up wid Brer Rabbit. Kah, kah, kah! Ah have to laugh everytime Ah think how sharp dat ole rabbit rascal is."
"Yeah," said Sam Hopkins. "At night time, at de right time; Ah've always understood it's de habit of de rabbit to dance in de wood."
"When Ah'm shellin' MY corn; You keep out yo, nubbins, Sam," Big Sweet snapped as she spat her snuff.