Unc' Billy and Old Mrs. Possum
A LL the way home from school Peter Rabbit did his best to think who it could be who ate flesh, yet wasn't a member of the order of flesh eaters. Every few hops he would stop to think, but all his stopping and all his thinking were in vain, and when he started for school the next morning he was as puzzled as ever. On his way through the Green Forest he passed a certain tree. He was just past and no more when a familiar voice hailed him.
"Morning, Bre'r Rabbit," said the voice. "What's yo' hurry?" Peter stopped abruptly and looked up in that tree. There, peering down at him from a hole high up in the trunk, was a sharp, whitish-gray face, with a pair of twinkling black eyes.
"Hello, Unc' Billy," cried Peter. "How are you and Ol' Mrs. Possum?"
"Po'ly, Peter, Po'ly.
A sudden thought popped into Peter's head.
Unc' poked his head a little farther out and put his hand behind his ear as if he were a little hard of hearing. "What's that, Bre'r Rabbit? Am I a what?" he demanded.
"Are you a Carnivora?" repeated Peter.
"Ah reckons Ah might be if Ah knew what it was, but as long as Ah
don't, Ah reckons I ain't," retorted
But Peter wasn't listening. The fact is, Peter had started
"What do you know?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"I know who it is who eats flesh, yet doesn't belong to the order
of flesh eaters. It's
"Right you are," replied Old Mother Nature. "However did you find it out?"
"I didn't exactly find it out; I guessed it,"
replied Peter. "On
my way here I saw
"It is because he belongs to a group which has something which
makes them entirely different from all other animals, and for
this reason they have been given an order of their own," explained
Old Mother Nature. "They belong to the order of Marsupials,
which means pouched animals. It is because the mothers have big
pockets in which they carry their babies. Old
"Of course," exclaimed Peter. "I've seen those babies poking their heads out of that pocket. They look too funny for anything."
"The Opossums are the only Marsupials in this country," continued
Old Mother Nature. "Now have I made it quite clear why, although
they eat flesh,
Everybody nodded. Just then Chatterer the Red Squirrel shouted,
Sure enough, down the Lone Little Path came the Possum family, and a funny looking sight they were. Unc' Billy was whitish-gray, his face whiter than the rest of him. He looked as if he had just gotten out of bed and forgotten to brush his hair; it pointed every which way. His legs were dark, his feet black and his toes white. His ears were without any hair at all, and were black for the lower half, the rest being white. He had a long whitish tail without any hair on it. Altogether, with his sharp face and naked tail, he looked a great deal as though he might be a giant Rat.
But if Unc' Billy was a funny-looking fellow, Ol' Mrs. Possum was
even more funny-looking. She seemed to have heads and tails all
over her. You see, she had brought along her family, and Ol' Mrs.
Possum is one of those who believe in large families. There were
twelve youngsters, and they were exactly like their parents, only
small. They were clinging all over
"We—all done thought we'd come to school," explained
"I'm glad you did," replied Old Mother Nature. "You see, the rest of your friends here are a little curious about the Possum family."
Meanwhile Ol' Mrs. Possum was climbing a tree, and when she had reached a comfortable crotch the little Possums left her and began to play about in the tree. It was then that it appeared what handy things those naked little tails were. When the little Possums crawled out where the branches were small, they simply wrapped their tails around the twigs to keep from falling.
"My!" exclaimed Peter. "Those certainly are handy tails."
"Handiest tails ever was," declared Unc' Billy. "Don't know what Ah ever would do without mah tail."
"Suppose you climb a tree, Unc' Billy, and show your friends here how you manage to get the eggs from a nest that you cannot reach by crawling along the branch on which it is placed," said Old Mother Nature.
Unc' Billy grinned, and good-naturedly started up a tree. He crept
out on a branch that overhung another branch. Way out where the
branch was small crept
Old Mother Nature shook her head reprovingly. "Unc' Billy," said she, "you are a bad old rascal to steal eggs. What's more, it doesn't matter to you much whether you find eggs or young birds in a nest. It is a wonder that between you and Chatterer the Red Squirrel any of the birds succeed in raising families around here. Have you visited Farmer Brown's hen house lately?"
Unc' Billy shook his head. "Not lately," said he; "Ah done got a dreadful scare the last time Ah was up there, and Ah reckons Ah'll stay away from there for a while."
"What else do you eat?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Anything," replied Unc' Billy. "Ah reckons Ah ain't no ways particular—insects, roots, Frogs, Toads, small Snakes, Lizards, berries, fruits, nuts, young Rats and Mice, corn, any old meat that has been left lying around. Ah reckon Ah could find a meal most any time most anywhere."
"Do you always have as big a family as you have there?" asked Peter Rabbit.
"Not always," replied Unc' Billy. "But sometimes Mrs. Possum has to tote around a still bigger family. We believe in chillun and lots of them. We reckon on havin' two or three big families every year."
"Where is your home?" asked Johnny Chuck. "I know," said Peter Rabbit. "It's up in a big hollow tree."
Unc' Billy looked down at Peter.
"Are Possums found anywhere except around here?" inquired Happy Jack.
"Yes, indeed," replied Old Mother Nature. "They are found all down through the Sunny South, and in the warmer parts of the Middle West. Unc' Billy and his relatives are not fond of cold weather. They prefer to be where they can be reasonably warm all the year round.
"Some folks think Unc' Billy isn't smart, but those folks don't know Unc' Billy. He learned a long time ago that he can't run as fast as some others, so he has learned to depend on his wits in time of danger. What do you think he does?"
"I know," cried Peter; "I saw him do it once. Farmer Brown's boy surprised Unc' Billy, and Unc' Billy just fell right over dead."
"Pooh! That's a story, Peter Rabbit. How could Unc' Billy have fallen over dead and be alive up in that tree this very minute?" cried Happy Jack.
"I didn't mean he was really dead, but that he looked as if he
were dead," explained Peter. "And he did, too. He was the deadest
looking thing I ever saw. I thought he was dead myself. I was
watching from a bramble tangle where I was hiding, and I certainly
thought the life had been scared right out of
"Very good, Peter," said Old Mother Nature. "Some other smart
little people try that trick sometimes, but none of them can do
it as well as
"Splendid," cried all together and prepared to start for their homes.