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OVER AND UNDER
WHEN Billy Woodchuck talked about leaving the army, Major Monkey became greatly excited. He muttered something under his breath about deserters, and shooting them at sunrise. And he strutted up to Billy Woodchuck and asked him what he meant by quitting the army without permission.
Though Billy Woodchuck hung his head, he insisted that he must go home. "I have an engagement," he explained, "to stand guard in the clover-patch, while my father and some other old gentlemen feast on clover-tops."
"Are they expecting an attack?" Major Monkey inquired, pricking up his ears.
"Of course not!" said Billy Woodchuck. "They're not expecting one, or they would stay safe at home. But you never can tell what old dog Spot is going to do. My father and his friends would be disappointed if I didn't come. They, would be angry, too. And just as likely, as not I'd be put to bed an hour before sunset. So I shall go home now, whether you give me leave or not."
"Then I'll give you leave – if that's the case," said Major Monkey. "I can't have anybody disobeying orders; so I'll give you leave. And I'll dismiss the army until to-morrow.... The last man over the fence will be shot at sunrise," he added. It seemed as if he was determined to shoot somebody, anyhow.
Well, everyone turned and ran like the wind. Naturally, nobody wanted to be last, after what Major Monkey had said. It looked, for a few moments, as if the whole army was going to cross the fence at the same instant. But Billy Woodchuck was so unlucky as to step into a hole. He fell head over heels. And by the time he had picked himself up and reached the fence all the rest were safe on the other side of it.
Things looked very dark for Billy Woodchuck – especially when Major Monkey grinned horribly at him between the rails and said:
"Too bad, my boy! But
this is war, you know.... Please don't forget the time! To-morrow, at
Major Monkey frightens Billy Woodchuck.
Billy Woodchuck's heart sank. He wished he had never joined the army. And then an idea came to him. It was such a simple one that it is a wonder he hadn't thought of it instantly. Instead of going over the fence, to everybody's surprise he squirmed under it. And everybody was vastly relieved. Even Major Monkey appeared to be delighted.
"I'm afraid" – he said with a smile – "I'm afraid we'll have to shoot the rest of the army at sunrise, for they went over the fence last."
But Mr. Crow spoke up and said: "Nonsense! The rest of us went over first!"
Major Monkey had to admit that that was true. And he showed plainly that he was disappointed. Although he did not look the least bit cruel, it was clear that he had looked forward to shooting – and the more the merrier.
"It's really a great
pity," he said, that we can't have a shot at somebody."