As he spoke, Death, a grisly skeleton, appeared and said to him: "What wouldst thou, Mortal? I heard thee call me."
"Please, sir," replied the woodcutter, "would you kindly help me to lift this faggot of sticks on to my shoulder?"
We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.
A poor unfurtunate, from day to day,
Call'd Death to take him from this world away.
"O Death," he said, "to me how fair thy form!
Come quick, and end for me life's cruel storm."
Death heard, and, with a ghastly grin,
Knock'd at his door, and enter'd in.
With horror shivering, and affright,
"Take out this object from my sight!"
The poor man loudly cried;
"Its dreadful looks I can't abide;
O stay him, stay him; let him come no nigher;
O Death! O Death! I pray thee to retire!"
A gentleman of note
In Rome, Mæcenas, somewhere wrote:
"Make me the poorest wretch that begs,
Sore, hungry, crippled clothed in rags,
In hopeless impotence of arms and legs;
Provided, after all, you give
The one sweet liberty to live:
I'll ask of Death no greater favour
Than just to stay away for ever."
A poor wood-chopper, with his fagot load,
Whom weight of years, as well as load, oppress'd,
Sore groaning in his smoky hut to rest,
Trudged wearily along his homeward road.
At last his wood upon the ground he throws,
And sits him down to think o'er all his woes.
To joy a stranger, since his hapless birth,
What poorer wretch upon this rolling earth?
No bread sometimes, and ne'er a moment's rest;
Wife, children, soldiers, landlords, public tax,
All wait the swinging of his old, worn axe,
And paint the veriest picture of a man unblest.
On Death he calls. Forthwith that monarch grim
Appears, and asks what he should do for him.
"Not much, indeed; a little help I lack
To put these fagots on my back."
Death ready stands all ills to cure;
But let us not his cure invite.
Than die, 'tis better to endure,
Is both a manly maxim and a right.
He grew tired, so he put down his bundle, and said: "Oh, if Death would only come!"
Death came, and said: "Here I am, what do you want?"
The Old Man was frightened, and said: "Lift up my bundle!
So his master knocked at de do'.
Said, "Who's dat?"
"Oh, de Lord sent his angel to take Toby home."
Toby said, "I say, can't de Lord take jokin'? Mo'ober, Toby's gone to de nex' neighbor, an' I don' know when he's gwine come back."
Every night he did that, people began to notice it: so some mischievous boys said that they would try his faith. One night they came to the old man's door, and waited until the old man began to pray. When he got to his old saying, one of them knocked on the door, -- bam, bam, bam! The old man stopped praying and listened, and no one said anything.
After a while he began again; and soon he said, "O Lord! please come and take poor Langton home out of his sufferings!"
One of the boys knocked on the door, -- blip, blip, blip!
The old man stopped again, and asked, "Who is that?"
One of them replied, "The Lord has come to take poor Langton home out of his sufferings."
The man jumped off his knees and blew the light out, then with a very excited voice exclaimed, "Langton has been dead and gone a fortnight!"
An' while he was prayin' to God to take him out de worl', "Who dere?"
"What God want?"
"Want po' Moses."
"Who?" he said.
"Moses hain't here, his wife here. His wife do as well."
"Come here, Moses, an' go to God."
Say, "Where my shoes?"
"You know where you shoes are. Dey under de bed dere."
"Where's my hat?"
"You know where you hat is. You go git it."
"O God! stan' one side! You so high, I can't go over you. You so wide, I can't go around you. You so low, I can't go under you. Stan' one side!"
Den he stood one side. Him an' God, what a race den dey had! An' he jumped over a high railin' fence, an' de fence fell on him.
An' he said, "Get off me, God, get off me!"
An' God never did get off.
"Ef dis yer axe wuz a yard longer, it ud be a cross cut saw, en den ef we had de lumber we could saw it up en build us a house," said the old man.
The Negro boy rolled his eyes and giggled, seeing which Uncle Remus bore so heavily on the axe that the grindstone could hardly be turned. The Negro boy ceased giggling, but he continued to roll his eyes.
"Turn it!" exclaimed the old man. "Turn it! Ef you don't turn it, I'll make you stan' dar plum twel night gwine thoo de motions. I'll make you do like de Negro man done when he got tired er work."
The old man stopped talking, but the grinding went on. After awhile, the little boy asked, "What did the man do when he got tired of work?"
"Dat's a tale, honey, en tellin' tales is playin'," replied Uncle Remus.
He wiped the blade of the axe on the palm of his hand, and tried the edge with his thumb.
"She won't shave," he said, by way of comment, "but I speck she'll do ter knock out kindlin'. Yit ef I had de time, I 'd like ter stan' here en see how long dish yer triflin' vilyun would roll dem eyes at me."
In a little while the axe was supposed to be sharp enough, and then, dismissing the Negro boy, Uncle Remus seated himself on one end of the frame that supported the grindstone, wiped his forehead on his coat sleeve, and proceeded to enjoy what he called a breathing spell.
"Dat ar Negro man you hear me talk about," he remarked:
Dat ar Negro man you hear me talk about wuz a-gittin' sorter ol', en he got so he ain't want ter work nohow you kin fix it. When folks hangs back fum work what dey bin set ter do, hit natchully makes bad matters wuss, en dat de way 't wuz with dish yer Negro man. He helt back, en he hung back, en den de white folks got fretted wid 'im en sot 'im a task. Gentermens! dat Negro man wuz mad.... He quoiled en he quoiled when he 'uz by his own lone se'f, en he quoiled when he 'uz wid tudder folks.
He got so mad dat he say he hope ole Gran'sir Death'll come take him off, en take his marster en de overseer 'long wid 'im. He talk so long en he talk so loud, dat de white folks hear what he say. Den de marster en de overseer make it up 'mongst deyse'f dat dey gwine ter play a prank on dat Negro man.
So den, one night, a leetle atter midnight, de marster got 'm a white counterpane, he did, en wrop hisse'f in it, en den he cut two eye-holes in a piller-case, en drawed it down over his head, en went down ter de house whar de Negro man stay. Negro man ain't gone ter bed. He been fryin' meat en bakin' ashcake, en he sot dar in de cheer noddin', wid grease in his mouf en big hunk er ashcake in his han'. De door wuz half-way open, en de fire burnin' low.
De marster walk in, he did, en sorter cle'r up his th'oat. Negro man ain't wake up. Ef he make any movement, it uz ter clinch de ashcake a leetle tighter. Den de marster knock on de door -- blim-blim-blim!
Negro man sorter fling his head back, but't wan't long 'fo' hit drapt forrerd ag'in, en he went on wid his noddin' like nothin' ain't happen. De marster knock some mo' -- blam-blam- blam!
Dis time de Negro wake up en roll his eye-balls roun'. He see de big white thing, en he skeered ter move. His han' shake so he tu'n de ashcake loose.
Negro man 'low, "Who dat?"
De marster say: "You call me, en I come."
Negro man say: "I ain't call you. What yo' name?"
Marster 'low, "Grandsir Death."
Negro man shake so he can't skacely set still. De col' sweat come out on 'im.
He 'low, "Marse Death, I ain't call you. Somebody been fool you."
De marster 'low, "I been hear you call me p'intedly. I listen at you ter-day, en yis-tiddy, en day 'fo' yis-tiddy. You say you want me ter take you en yo' marster en de overseer. Now I done come at yo' call."
Negro man shake wuss. He say: "Marse Death, go git de overseer fust. He lots bigger en fatter dan what I is. You'll like him de bes'. Please, suh, don't take me dis time, en I won't bodder you no mo' long ez I live."
De marster 'low, "I come f er de man dat call me! I'm in a hurry! Daylight mus'n't ketch me here. Come on!"
Well, suh, dat Negro man make a break for de winder, he did, en he went thoo it like a frog divin' in de mill pon'. He tuck ter de woods, en he 'uz gone mighty nigh a week. When he come back home he went ter work, en he work harder dan any er de res'. Somebody come 'long en try ter buy 'im, but his marster 'low he won't take lev'm hunder'd dollars for 'im, -- cash money, paid down in his han'!
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Revised May 7, 2022.