Mrs. Prairie Dog’s Boarders

★ Mrs. Prairie Dog’s Boarders Story :

Texas is a near-by land to the dwellers in the Southern States. Many of the poorer white people go there to mend their fortunes; and not a few of them come back from its plains, homesick for the mountains, and with these fortunes unmended. Daddy Laban, the half-breed, son of an Indian father and a negro mother, who sometimes visited Broadlands plantation, had been a wanderer; and his travels had carried him as far afield as the plains of southwestern Texas. The Randolph children liked, almost better than any others, the stories he brought home from these extensive travels.

“De prairie-dog a mighty cur’ous somebody,” he began one day, when they asked him for a tale. “Hit lives in de ground, more samer dan a ground-hog. But dey ain’t come out for wood nor water; an’ some folks thinks dey goes plumb down to de springs what feeds wells. I has knowed dem what say dey go fur enough down to find a place to warm dey hands–but dat ain’t de tale I’m tellin’.

“A long time ago, dey was a prairie-dog what was left a widder, an’ she had a big fambly to keep up. ‘Oh, landy!’ she say to dem dat come to visit her in her ‘fliction, ‘what I gwine do to feed my chillen?’

“De most o’ de varmints tell Miz. Prairie-Dog dat de onliest way for her to git along was to keep boarders. ‘You got a good home, an’ you is a good manager,’ dey say; ‘you bound to do well wid a boardin’-house.’

“Well, Miz. Prairie-Dog done sent out de runners to run, de fliers to fly, de crawlers to crawl, an’ tell each an’ every dat she sot up a boardin’-house. She say she got room for one crawler and one flier, an’ dat she could take in a whole passel o’ runners.

“Well, now you knows a flier ‘s a bird–or hit mought be a bat. Ef you was lookin’ for little folks, hit mought be a butterfly. Miz. Prairie-Dog ain’t find no fliers what wants to live un’neath de ground. But crawlers–bugs an’ worms an’ sich-like–dey mostly does live un’neath de ground, anyhow, an’ de fust pusson what come seekin’ house-room with Miz. Prairie-Dog was Brother Rattlesnake.

“‘I dest been flooded out o’ my own house,’ Mr. Rattlesnake say; ‘an’ I like to look at your rooms an’ see ef dey suits me.’

“‘I show you de rooms,’ Miz. Prairie-Dog tell ‘im. ‘I bound you gwine like ’em. I got room for one crawler, an’ you could be him; but–‘

“Miz. Prairie-Dog look at her chillen. She ain’t say no more–dest look at dem prairie-dog gals an’ boys, an’ say no more.

“Mr. Rattlesnake ain’t like bein’ called a crawler so very well; but he looks at dem rooms, an’ ‘low he’ll take ’em. Miz. Prairie-Dog got somethin’ on her mind, an’ ‘fore de snake git away dat somethin’ come out. ‘I’s shore an’ certain dat you an’ me can git along,’ she say, ‘ef–ef–ef you vow an’ promish not to bite my chillen. I’ll have yo’ meals reg’lar, so dat you won’t be tempted.’

“Old Mr. Rattlesnake’ powerful high-tempered–yas, law, he sho’ a mighty quick somebody on de trigger. Zip! he go off, dest like dat–zip! Br-r-r! ‘Tempted!’ he hiss at de prairie-dog woman. He look at dem prairie-dog boys an’ gals what been makin’ mud cakes all mornin’ (an’ dest about as dirty as you-all is after you do de same). ‘Tempted,’ he say. ‘I should hope not.’

“For, mind you, Brother Rattlesnake is a genterman, an’ belongs to de quality. He feels hisself a heap too biggity to bite prairie-dogs. So dat turned out all right.

“De next what come to Miz. Prairie-Dog was a flier.”

“A bird?” asked Patricia Randolph.

“Yes, little mistis,” returned the old Indian. “One dese-hyer little, round, brown squinch-owls, what allers quakes an’ quivers in dey speech an’ walk. ‘I gits so dizzy–izzy–wizzy! up in de top o’ de trees,’ de little brown owl say, as she swivel an’ shake. ‘An’ I wanted to git me a home down on de ground, so dat I could be sure, an’ double sure, dat I wouldn’t fall. But dey is dem dat says ef I was down on de ground I might fall down a hole. Dat make me want to live in yo’ house. Hit’s down in de ground, ain’t hit? Ef I git down in yo’ house dey hain’t no place for me to fall off of, an’ fall down to, is dey?’ she ax.

“Miz. Prairie-Dog been in de way o’ fallin’ down-stairs all her life; dat de onliest way she ever go inter her house–she fling up her hands an’ laugh as you pass her by, and she drap back in de hole. But she tell de little brown owl dat dey ain’t no place you could fall ef you go to de bottom eend o’ her house. So, what wid a flier an’ a crawler, an’ de oldest prairie-dog boy workin’ out, she manage to make tongue and buckle meet. I’s went by a many a prairie-dog hole an’ seen de owl an’ de rattlesnake what boards wid Miz. Prairie-Dog. Ef you was to go to Texas you’d see de same. But nobody in dat neck o’ woods ever knowed how dese folks come to live in one house.”

“Who told you, Daddy Laban?” asked Pate Randolph.

“My Injun gran’mammy,” returned the old man. “She told me a many a tale, when I lived wid my daddy’s people on de Cherokee Res’vation. Sometime I gwine tell you ’bout de little fawn what her daddy ketched for her when she ‘s a little gal. But run home now, honey chillens, or yo’ mammy done think Daddy Laban stole you an’ carried you plumb away.”

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