Predicament by Katherine Sherwood Bonner McDowell
IT was the funniest thing that I ever saw in my life. Cruikshank
would have gloried in it. I wish I had him here to illustrate that
scene with the spirited vigor that only his dancing pencil gives.
It was in Kentucky that it happened—that pleasant land of
blue-grass, and tobacco, and fine stock, and white-teethed girls.
Mabel, my sister, had married Dick Hucklestone, and they had begun life
in great contentment and a little three-roomed house scarcely big
enough to hold the bridal presents. But they were happy, hearty,
healthy. They had two cows, ice-cream every day, a charming baby, and
Uncle Brimmer. Who shall say that their cup was not full? Indeed, they
thought it full before Uncle Brimmer added himself thereto—a very
ponderous rose-leaf. He was one of our old family servants, who fondly
believed that Miss Mabel and her young husband would never be able to
get on without him. He walked all the way from Mississippi to Kentucky,
with his things tied up in a meal sack, and presented himself before
Mabel, announcing affably that he had come to “stay on.”
“But I haven't any place for you, Uncle Brimmer,” said Mabel,
divided between hospitality and embarrassment.
“Lor', honey, you kin jes tuck me aroun' anywhar. I don't
take up no room.”
Mabel looked thoughtfully upon the big, brown, gray- whiskered old
negro, whose proportions were those of a Hercules, and shook her head.
“You are not a Tom Thumb, Uncle Brimmer.”
“No, ma'am,” said he, submissively, “but I've got his sperit.
Couldn't I sleep in de kitchen, honey?” he went on, with insinuating
“No, indeed!” cried our young house-keeper. “I put my foot down on
anybody sleeping in the kitchen.”
Aunt Patsey, the cook, stood by, balancing a pan of flour on her
head, one fat hand on her hip. I suspected her of a personal interest
in the matter, and indeed she afterward acknowledged that she thought
Uncle Brimmer's coming would prove a “blessin' to her feet.” Those feet
of hers had been saved many steps through the service of her
ten-year-old daughter, Nancy Palmira Kate—called Nanky Pal for short.
But of late Nanky's services had been called into requisition as a
nurse, and Aunt Patsey, who was fat and scant o' breath, thought she
had too much to do; and so she viewed with evident delight the stalwart
proportions of our good-natured giant from the South.
“Dar's de lof', Miss Mabel,” she suggested.
“It is too small, and is cluttered up with things already.”
“Oh, sho, chile, afar ain't nothin' in dat lof' 'cep' de 'taters,
an' de peppers, an' de dried apples, an' some strings o' terbacker, an'
de broken plough, an' some odds an' ends o' de chiller's, an Lucy
Crittenden's pups. Lor', afar ain't nothin ter speak of in de lof'.”
“He can't get in at the window,” said Mabel, shifting her ground.
“Lemme try,” said Uncle Brimmer.
The kitchen was a small log-cabin, some distance from the house—
“in good hollerin' reach,” to quote Aunt Patsey. Above it was a low
room, or loft, crowded with the miscellaneous articles enumerated. The
only way of getting into it was from the outside. A ladder against the
side of the cabin admitted one, through a little window, no larger, I
am sure, than that of a railway coach, into this storehouse of
treasures. Nanky Pal, who was as slim as a snake, was usually selected
to fetch and carry through the small aperture. But Uncle Brimmer!
“I'm pretty sho' I kin do it,” he said, squinting up one eye, as he
took off his coat and prepared to try.
We stood in the door-way as he cautiously went up the ladder; and
after an exciting moment he pushed himself through the window, and,
turning, smiled triumphantly.
This settled the matter. A cot bed was procured for Uncle Brimmer,
and he soon became the main-stay of the family. Cheerfully avoiding all
the work possible; indifferently as an ostrich eating all he could find
in cupboards or highways; grimly playing hobgoblin for baby; gayly
twanging his banjo on moonlight nights—memory recalls thee, with a
smile, Uncle Brimmer! I can close my eyes now and recall him, big,
shapeless, indistinct in the semi-darkness, as he sat under the
“Wish I wuz in Tennessee,
A-settin' in my cheer,
Jug o' whiskey by my side,
An' arms aroun' my dear!”
This was his favorite. Who shall doubt that it expressed to him all
the poetry, romance, passion, of life?
After a time Uncle Brimmer fell ill, and we sent for a doctor.
Dr. Trattles Jex was the medical man of our county. He lived in
Middleburn, seven miles away, and he came trotting over on a great bay
horse, with a pair of saddle-bags hanging
like Gilpin's bottles, one on either side. He looked as diminutive
as a monkey perched on the tall horse's back, and indeed he was “a wee
bit pawky body,” as was said of Tommy Moore. But, bless me! he was as
pompous and self-important as though he had found the place to stand
on, and could move the world with his little lever. A red handkerchief
carefully pinned across his chest showed that he had lungs and a
mother. His boots were polished to the last degree. His pink and
beardless face betrayed his youth; and his voice—ah, his voice!—
what a treasure it would have been could he have let it out to
masqueraders! Whether it was just changing from that of youth to that
of a man, or whether, like reading and writing, it “came by nature,” I
can't tell. One instant it was deep and bass, the next, squeaking and
soprano. No even tenor about that voice!
He held out his hand, with, “GOOD-MORNING, Mrs. Hucklestone.
I hope THE BABY HAS NOT HAD an attack?“
I popped into the dining-room to giggle, but little well-bred Mabel
did not even smile.
“Oh no!” she cried; “it is Uncle Brimmer.”
The doctor offered to see him at once. Mabel got up to lead the way.
Up to this moment I warrant it had not struck her as anything
out-of-the-way that she must invite Dr. Jex to climb a ladder and crawl
through a window to get at his patient. But as she looked at him,
speckless, spotless, gloved, scented, curled, then at the ladder
leaning against the wall in a disreputable, rickety sort of way, a
sense of incongruity seemed borne in on her soul. To add to her
distress and my hilarity, we saw that Uncle Brimmer had hung out of the
window some mysterious under-rigging that he wore. Long, red, and
ragged, it “flaunted in the breeze” as picturesquely as the American
flag on a Fourth of July.
“I am afraid, doctor, it will be a little awkward,” faltered Mabel;
“Uncle Brimmer is up there;” and she waved her lily hand.
“An' you'll have ter climb de ladder,” put in Nanky Pal, with a
I thought the little doctor gasped; but he recovered himself
gallantly, and said:
“AS A BOY I HAVE CLIMBED trees, and THINK I CAN ASCEND A l
adder as a man;” and he smiled heroically.
We watched him. He was encumbered by the saddle-bags, but he managed
very well, and had nearly reached the top, when suddenly Uncle
Brimmer's head and shoulders protruded, giving him the look of a snail
half out of its shell.
“Here's my pulse, doctor,” he cried, blandly, extending his bared
arm. “ 'Tain't no place for you up here. An' here's my tongue.” Then
out went his tongue for Dr. Jex's inspection.
The doctor settled himself on a rung of the ladder, quite willing to
be met half-way. Professional inquiries began, when
“A deep sound struck like a rising knell.”
“Good gracious!” exclaimed Mabel; “what is that?”
Nanky Pal sprung up, with distended eyes, almost letting the baby
“Nearer, clearer, deadlier than before.”
“Sakes alive, Miss Mabel!” cried Nanky, “ole Mr. Simmons's bull's
done broke loose!”
She was right. A moment more, and in rushed the splendid, angry
beast, bellowing, pawing the ground, shaking his evil, lowered head as
if the devil were contradicting him.
Dr. Jex turned a scared face. My lord Bull caught sight of the
fluttering red rags, and charged the side of the house. And I give you
my word, the next instant the ladder was knocked from under the
doctor's feet, and he was clinging frantically round the neck of Uncle
“Pull him in, Uncle Brimmer—pull him in!” shrieked Mabel, dancing
“I can't, honey—I can't,” gasped the choking giant; “I'm stuck.
“Hold me UP!” cried the doctor. “SEND FOR help!“
Uncle Brimmer seized him by the arm-pits. The saddlebags went
clattering down, and about the head of Master Bull a cloud of quinine,
calomel, Dover's and divers other powders and pills, broke in blinding
“Aunt Patsey, go for Mr. Hucklestone at once!” called Mabel.
Aunt Patsey looked cautiously out from the kitchen door. “Yer don't
ketch me in de yard wid ole Simmons's bull,” she said, with
“Then I shall send Nanky Pal.”
“If Nanky Pal goes outen dat house I'll break every bone in her
Then Mabel began to beg: “Aunt Patsey, let her go, please. I'll give
you a whole bagful of quilt pieces, and my ruby rep polonaise that you
begged me for yesterday.”
Aunt Patsey's head came out a little farther. “An' what else?”
“And a ruffled pillow-sham,” said Mabel, almost in tears, “and some
white sugar, and I'll make you a hat—and that's all. Now.“
“I reckon cat's about as much as de chile is wuth,” said the
philosophic mother. “Let her go.”
“Fly! fly!” cried Mabel.
“I ain't skeered,” said Nanky. “I ain't dat sort. Mammy ain't
nuther. She wuz jes waitin' ter see how much you'd give.”
Nanky's bare legs scudded swiftly across the yard. The bull took no
notice of her. He was still stamping and bellowing under that window.
Uncle Brimmer and the doctor clung together, and only a convulsive kick
now and then testified to the little man's agony.
“Suppose Uncle Brimmer should let go?” I suggested, in a hollow
“Oh, hush!” cried Mabel. “The doctor's blood would be on our heads.”
“Or the bull's horns.”
It was not far to the tobacco field, and in an incredibly short time
brother John came riding in, followed by half a dozen stout negroes.
With some delightful play that gave one quite an idea of a Spanish
bull-fight, his lordship was captured, and our little doctor was
assisted to the house.
Gone was the glory of Dr. Trattles Jex. His coat was torn, his knees
grimy, his hands scratched, and he looked—yes—as if he had been
“Can you ever forgive us?” said Mabel, piteously. She hovered about
him like a little mother. She made him drink two glasses of wine; she
mended his coat; she asked him if he would not like to kiss the baby.
And finally a wan smile shone in the countenance of Dr. Jex. For me, I
felt my face purpling, and leaving him to Mabel, I fled with brother
John to the smoke-house, where we—roared.
Uncle Brimmer got well, and went in to see the doctor. He returned
with a new cravat, a cane, and several smart articles of attire, from
which we inferred that, in those trying moments when he supported the
suspended doctor, that little gentleman had offered many inducements
for him to hold fast. When questioned he responded chiefly with a
cavernous and mysterious smile, only saying:
“Master Dr. Jex is a gentleman; starch in or starch out, he's de
And brother John, who is somewhat acquainted with slang, said, with
a great laugh, “Well, old man, you had a bully chance to judge, so you
must be right.”