The Adventures of Unc’ Billy Possum
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Thornton Waldo Burgess was an American conservationist and author of children's stories. Burgess loved the beauty of nature and its living creatures so much that he wrote about them for 50 years in books and his newspaper column, Bedtime Stories. He was sometimes known as the Bedtime Story-Man. The Adventures of Unc’ Billy Possum was published in 1914.

The Adventures of Unc’ Billy Possum

Thornton W. Burgess

Reddy fox sprang up as if some one had stuck a pin into him. Reddy fox sprang up as if some one had stuck a pin into him.

Unc’ Billy Possum Is Caught

THE Green Meadows were thrown into great excitement late one afternoon, just as the black shadows came creeping down from the Purple Hills. Reddy Fox brought the news, and when he told it he grinned as if he enjoyed it and was glad of it.

“Old Billy Possum is dead. I know it because I saw Farmer Brown’s boy carrying him home by the tail,” said Reddy. “So you see he wasn’t so smart as you thought he was,” he added maliciously.

No one really believed Reddy Fox, for every one knows that he seldom tells the truth, but when Jimmy Skunk came mournfully down the Crooked Little Path and said that it was true, they had to believe it. Then everybody began to talk about Unc’ Billy and say nice things about him and tell how much they had enjoyed having him live in the Green Forest since he came up from “Ol’ Virginny.” That is, everybody but Reddy Fox said so. Reddy said that it served Unc’ Billy right, because he was of no account, anyway. Then everybody began to hoot and hiss at Reddy until he was glad enough to slink away.

And while they were all saying such nice things about him, Unc’ Billy Possum was having an exciting adventure. For once he had been too bold. He had gone up to Farmer Brown’s hen-house before dark. Jimmy Skunk had tried to stop him, but he had heeded Jimmy Skunk not at all. He had said that he was hungry and wanted an egg, and he couldn’t wait till dark to get it. So off he had started, for Unc’ Billy Possum is very headstrong and obstinate.

He had reached the hen-house and slipped inside without being seen. The nests were full of eggs, and soon Unc’ Billy was enjoying his feast so that he forgot to keep watch. Suddenly the door opened, and in stepped Farmer Brown’s boy to get some eggs for supper. There was no time to run. Unc’ Billy just dropped right down in his tracks as if he were dead.

When Farmer Brown’s boy saw him, he didn’t know what to make of him, for he had never seen Unc’ Billy before.

“Well, well, I wonder what happened to this fellow,” said Farmer Brown’s boy, turning Unc’ Billy over with the toe of one foot. “He certainly is dead enough, whatever killed him. I wonder what he was doing in here.”

Then he saw some egg on Unc’ Billy’s lips. “Ho! ho!” shouted Farmer Brown’s boy. “So you are the thief who has been getting my eggs!” And picking up Unc’ Billy by the tail, he started with him for the house.

As they passed the woodpile, he tossed Unc’ Billy on the chopping-block while he gathered an armful of kindlings to take to the house. When he turned to pick up Unc’ Billy again, Unc’ Billy wasn’t there.

Farmer Brown’s boy dropped his wood and hunted everywhere, but not a trace of Unc’ Billy could he find.

Reddy Fox Thinks He Sees a Ghost

REDDY FOX came down the Lone Little Path through the Green Forest on his way to the Green Meadows. He had brushed his red coat until it shone. His white waistcoat was spotless, and he carried his big tail high in the air, that it might not become soiled. Reddy was feeling as fine as he looked. He would have liked to sing, but every time he tried his voice cracked, and he was afraid that some one would hear him and laugh at him. If there is one thing that Reddy Fox dislikes more than another, it is being laughed at.

Reddy chuckled at his thoughts, and what do you think he was thinking about? Why, about how he had seen Farmer Brown’s boy carrying off Unc’ Billy Possum by the tail the afternoon before. He knew how Farmer Brown’s boy had caught Unc’ Billy in the hen-house, and with his own eyes he had seen Unc’ Billy carried off. Of course Unc’ Billy was dead. There could be no doubt about it. And Reddy was glad of it. Yes, Sir, Reddy was glad of it. Unc’ Billy Possum had made altogether too many friends in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows, and he had made Reddy the laughing-stock of them all by the way he had dared Reddy to meet Bowser the Hound, and actually had waited for Bowser while Reddy ran away.

Reddy remembered that Unc’ Billy’s hollow tree was not far away. He would go over that way, just to have another look at it. So over he went. There stood the old hollow tree, and half way up was the door out of which Unc’ Billy used to look down on him and grin. It was Reddy’s turn to grin now. Presently he sat down with his back against the foot of the tree, crossed his legs, looked this way and that way to make sure that no one was about, and then in a dreadfully cracked voice he began to sing:

“Ol’ Bill Possum, he’s gone before!
Ol’ Bill Possum, he is no more!
Bill was a scamp, Sir;
Bill was a thief!
Bill stole an egg, Sir;
Bill came to grief.
Ol’ Bill Possum, it served him right;
And he is no more, for he died last night.”

“Very good, Sah, very good. Ah cert’nly am obliged to yo’all for yo’ serenade,” said a voice that seemed to come out of the tree at Reddy’s back.

Reddy Fox sprang up as if some one had stuck a pin into him. Every hair stood on end, as he looked up at Unc’ Billy’s doorway. Then his teeth began to chatter with fright. Looking out of Unc’ Billy’s doorway and grinning down at him was something that looked for all the world like Unc’ Billy himself.

“It must be his ghost!” said Reddy, and tucking his tail between his legs, he started up the Crooked Little Path as fast as his legs could take him.

Reddy never once looked back. If he had, he might have seen Unc’ Billy Possum climb down from the hollow tree and shake hands with Jimmy Skunk, who had just come along.

“How did Ah do it? Why, Ah just pretended Ah was daid, when Farmer Brown’s boy caught me,” explained Unc’ Billy. “Of course he’ wouldn’t kill a daid Possum. So when he tossed me down on the chopping-block and turned his back, Ah just naturally came to life again, and here Ah am.”

Unc’ Billy Possum grinned broader than ever, and Jimmy Skunk grinned, too.

Unc’ Billy Possum Sends for His Family

THE news that Unc’ Billy Possum wasn’t dead at all but was back in his hollow tree in the Green Forest soon spread through all the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows. Everybody hastened to pay their respects, that is everybody but Reddy Fox. Unc’ Billy and his partner, Jimmy Skunk, told every one who called how Reddy Fox had thought that Unc’ Billy was a ghost and had been frightened almost to death, so that he ran away as fast as his legs could take him. Unc’ Billy grinned as he told how Reddy had sat under the hollow tree and tried to sing because he was so glad that Unc’ Billy was dead, and all the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows laughed until their sides ached when in a funny, cracked voice Unc’ Billy sang the song for them.

Thereafter whenever one of them caught sight of Reddy Fox at a safe distance, he would shout:

“Ol’ Bill Possum, he’s gone before!
Ol’ Bill Possum, he is no more!”

It got so that Reddy never came down on the Green Meadows in the daytime, and at night he avoided meeting any one if possible, even his old friend, Bobby Coon. And of course Reddy Fox hated Unc’ Billy Possum more than ever.

But Unc’ Billy didn’t care, not he! He knew that all the rest of the little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows thought him the smartest of them all, because of the way in which he had fooled Bowser the Hound and Farmer Brown’s boy. He liked his neighbors, he liked the Green Forest, and so he made up his mind that this was the place for him to stay.

But in spite of all his friends, Unc’ Billy was lonesome. The longer he stayed, the more lonesome he grew, Unc’ Billy wanted his family, whom he had left way down in “Ol’ Virginny.” Finally he told Jimmy Skunk all about it, and for once Unc’ Billy had forgotten how to grin. Yes, Sir, Unc’ Billy had forgotten how to grin. Instead he just wept, wept great big tears of lonesomeness.

“Ah reckon Ah’ll have to go back to Ol’ Virginny, Ah cert’nly do,” said Unc’ Billy Possum.

Jimmy Skunk grew very thoughtful. Since he and Unc’ Billy Possum had been in partnership, Jimmy had had more eggs to eat than ever before in his whole life. Now Unc’ Billy was talking about going away. Jimmy thought very hard. Then he had a bright idea.

“Why not send for your family to come here and live in the Green Forest, Uncle Billy?” he asked.

Unc’ Billy stopped crying. His two little eyes looked up sharply. “How do yo’all reckon Ah can send word?” he asked.

Jimmy scratched his head. “There’s Mr. Skimmer the Swallow; he’s fixing to go South. Perhaps he’ll take the message to your family,” said he.

“The very thing!” cried Unc’ Billy Possum, wiping his eyes. “Ah thanks yo’, Sah. Ah does, indeed. Ah’ll see Mistah Skimmer at once.”

And without another word Unc’ Billy Possum started down the Crooked Little Path for the Green Meadows to look for Skimmer the Swallow.

Bobby Coon Enters the Wrong House

AFTER Unc’ Billy Possum had arranged with Skimmer the Swallow, who was going South, to take a message to his family in “Ol’ Virginny,” telling them to come and join him in the Green Forest, he at once began to make preparations to receive them. Unc’ Billy isn’t any too fond of work. He had a lot rather that some one else should do the work for him, and he is smart enough to fix it so that usually some one else does.

But getting ready to receive his family was different. No one else could arrange things to suit him. This was Unc’ Billy’s own job, and he tended right to it every minute of the day. First of all he had to clean house. He had been keeping bachelor’s hall so long in the big hollow tree that things were not very tidy. So Unc’ Billy cleaned house, and while he worked he whistled and sang. Peter Rabbit, passing that way, overheard Unc’ Billy singing:

“Mah ol’ woman is away down Souf —
Come along! Come along!
Ain’t nothin’ sharper than the tongue in her mouf —
Come along! Come along!
She once was pretty, but she ain’t no mo’,
But she cooks mah meals an’ she sweeps mah flo’;
She darns mah stockings an’ she mends mah coat,
An’ she knows jes’ how mah chillun fer to tote —
Come along! Come along!

“Mah pickaninnies am a-headin’ dis way —
Come along! Come along!
Daddy am a-watchin’ fo’ ‘em day by day —
Come along! Come along!
Mah ol’ haid aches when Ah thinks ob de noise
De’s boun’ to be wid dem gals an’ boys,
But Ah doan care if it busts in two
If de good Lord brings dem chillun troo —
Come along! Come along!”

Every little while Unc’ Billy Possum would sit down to rest, for he wasn’t used to so much real work. But finally he got his house clean and made as comfortable as possible, and about that time he began to think how good an egg would taste. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted that egg.

“It’s no use talking, Ah just naturally has to have that egg,” said Unc’ Billy to himself, and off he started for Farmer Brown’s.

Now Unc’ Billy was hardly out of sight when along came Bobby Coon. Bobby Coon was absent-minded, or else he was so sleepy that he didn’t know what he was doing, for Bobby Coon had been out all night. Anyway, when he reached Unc’ Billy Possum’s hollow tree, he began to climb up it just as if it were his own. He looked in at Unc’ Billy’s door. There was the most comfortable bed that he had seen for a long time. He looked this way and he looked that way. Nobody was in sight. Then he looked in at Unc’ Billy’s door once more. That bed certainly did look soft and comfortable. Bobby Coon chuckled to himself.

“I believe I’ll just see if that bed is as comfortable as it looks,” said he.

And two minutes later Bobby Coon was curled up fast asleep in Unc’ Billy Possum’s bed.

Bobby Coon Is Waked Up

“Dey’s a-coming, dey’s a-coming, dey’s a-coming mighty soon.
But dey can’t come soon enuff fo’ me!
Dey’s a-coming, dey’s a-coming at de turning ob de moon,
Whar Ah waits in mah ol’ holler tree!”

UNC’ BILLY POSSUM was singing to himself, as he slowly trudged home from Farmer Brown’s hen-house. He was feeling very good, very good indeed, was Unc’ Billy Possum. No one appreciates strictly fresh eggs more than Unc’ Billy does, and he had found more than he could eat waiting for him in Farmer Brown’s hen-house. Now his stomach was full, his house had been cleaned and put to rights, ready for his family when they should arrive from “Ol’ Virginny,” and he had nothing to do but wait for them. So he trudged along and sang in a funny, cracked voice.

Presently he came to his big hollow tree and started to climb up to the door of his house. Half way up he broke off short in the middle of his song and sat down on a convenient branch. He put one ear against the trunk of the tree and listened. Then he put the other ear against the tree and listened. There certainly was a funny noise, and it seemed to come from right inside his hollow tree. Unc’ Billy turned and looked up at his doorway, scratching his head thoughtfully with one hand.

“Mah goodness!” said Unc’ Billy, “it cert’nly sounds like there was somebody in mah house!”

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