Croaker Crow Tries His Hand at Teaching
"I SAY," observed Croaker Crow, settling down in the dead tree close beside old Amberorbs Owl, "how's the Marsh Realm school progressing, Mr. Wiseboy?"
Amberorbs ruffled his feathers and hooted dismally.
"Poorly, very poorly," he answered. "I never thought there could be so many spoiled and wayward children in the bird and animal world. I've just about given up trying to manage them."
"But I'm sure you have one well behaved pupil in my little Sammy," Croaker said. "His mother claims he is the best boy-crow that ever was."
"Well," sighed the teacher, "I'll say this. If Sammy is the best boy-crow that ever was, it doesn't say very much for the others. He's by far the most mischievous pupil I've got."
"Dear me," croaked Mr. Crow, "you surprise me."
"You mean," corrected the learned and wise one, "I astonish you. You're too alert to let anything surprise you. Tell me," he asked, twisting about and turning his full-moon eyes on the black Croaker, "did you ever know a mother in Marsh Realm who didn't believe that her boy was the best boy that ever lived?"
"I'm sure my mother never thought that of me," returned Croaker thoughtfully.
"Oh yes, she did."
"Well, I can't remember her showing any indication of it, then. She always punished me thoroughly for any misdemeanors I committed."
"How about the time you crowded your brother and sister out of the elm-tree nest, hoping Loper Mink or Creamy Weasel would get them and you would fall heir to their portion of the food your father and mother brought in?" asked Amberorbs, watching him closely.
Croaker shuffled uneasily on his perch, and muttered something beneath his breath.
"Old Man Turtle has been telling you things," he complained. "I do wish he would stop stirring up unpleasant recollections."
"And how about the time you robbed the teal's nest in the marsh meadow?" Amberorbs persisted.
"Oh, I suppose I was somewhat thoughtless—as a boy," admitted Croaker reluctantly. "But what if I were? I've grown out of it. You can't say that I crowd my brother and sister out of the home nest now, can you?"
"Humph!" exclaimed Amberorbs, "nor rob the nests of other birds, either, I suppose?"
"Only occasionally," answered Croaker. "But tell me, teacher," he cried, strutting up and down the limb and twisting his glossy body so that the last rays of the setting sun made it glitter like polished ebony, "what makes you say the marsh children are hard to manage? I'm sure you can't understand the little dears. If you had brought up as many families as I have, you would know how to handle boys and girls, I tell you."
"Oh, indeed," said Mr. Owl dryly. "Supposing you show me how, then. School will open in a few minutes. How would you like to take charge of the class this evening?"
"Why, I would be delighted," cried the conceited and vain Croaker. "Nothing would give me greater pleasure. I'll be glad to show you how to manage the boys and girls."
As he spoke, from the air and marsh trails came trooping the pupils, in twos and threes, with their lunch baskets, laughing and chatting and enjoying life as all healthy boys and girls should.
Fat little Billy Muskrat and his sister Lucy marched hand in hand, glancing apprehensively over their shoulders occasionally to see that Tommy Mink and Jimmy Weasel were not too close behind. The four children of Mr. and Mrs. Bullfrog came next, singing as they swung their dinner pails:
Tabbybar Swamp-Coon, close behind the frog children, sang the song, too, keeping time with his barred tail and pointing his sharp nose toward the sky.
Next came the family of Merry Eyes Fox, four little roly-poly puppies named Dick, Alice, Ben and Mary, with "Stilt" Crane, Nosy Bittern, the Blackbird children and the Wren little folks flapping their aerial way just above them. Almost as far as eye could see there were bird and animal little folk coming to school.
At last they were all there and assembled in a big half-circle before the dead tree.
Amberorbs tapped his pointer on a limb, and immediately the whispering, tittering and nudging among the pupils ceased.
"Boys and girls," said the teacher, putting on his spectacles and frowning above them at the upturned faces, "you will please observe that we have a visitor with us this evening. Mr. Crow, whom you all know and respect, will conduct the school during this period. I trust each of you will do his and her best to answer any questions in geography, arithmetic or history correctly and so uphold the credit of—WHAT?"
The teacher fairly shouted the last word.
"The Dead Tree School," answered the young voices in hearty unison.
"Correct. The Dead Tree School," beamed the teacher.
He bowed to the visitor. "Mr. Crow, the class is yours."
Croaker smiled down at the children and winked his black eyes in order to set them at their ease. Ever since the Marsh Realm School had opened, he had hoped to have the opportunity of showing the parents that they had made a mistake in selecting Amberorbs Owl for teacher instead of himself. And now that opportunity was his.
"Boys and girls," he addressed the pupils in his most winning manner, "can any one here tell me what is the finest body of water in the world?"
"A pond, sir," answered the pupils in unison.
"Good. And what is the finest color in the world?"
"Red," answered Dicky Fox, promptly.
"Next boy," said Croaker.
"Grey," answered Tabbybar Swamp-Coon.
Croaker shook his head. "Supposing you try, Nosy," he nodded to the little bittern.
"Brown," answered Nosy.
"Brown is a very nice color," said Croaker, "but it's not the nicest. Sammy Crow, what do you say?"
He twisted his head sidewise and peered down at his own little son.
"Black," croaked Sammy.
"Correct," beamed Croaker. "Black. Please remember that, boys and girls. The finest color in the world is black.
"Now then, a question or two in Geography.
"Lucy Muskrat, will you please define the boundaries of Marsh Realm for me?"
Little Lucy, who was nibbling a juicy pond-lily apple, almost strangled on a mouthful, as she rose to her feet.
"On the north by Round Water Bay; on the south by Pine Forest and Erin Lake; on the east by Sunrise Hardwoods and on the west by Sunset Islands."
"Excellent!" cried Croaker approvingly. "Now a question or two in Arithmetic.
"Tommy Mink, suppose I were to divide six mice between you, Jimmy Weasel and Solemn Owl. I give you two and Jimmy three. How many mice would Solemn have for his share?"
Tommy Mink sat silent. So did Jimmy Weasel. Solemn alone seemed interested in the question.
"Well, Tommy," urged Croaker, "can't you answer that simple question?"
Little Tommy humped his back angrily.
"Can't you, Jimmy?" asked the teacher, turning to the boy weasel.
"Yes, sir," answered Jimmy hesitatingly, "but I don't like to, sir."
"Oh come, come," urged Croaker, "please do not hesitate. How many mice would Solemn Owl have as his share?"
"All of 'em," blurted out Jimmy Weasel indignantly.
"All of them?" asked the teacher in surprise. "Tut, tut! Jimmy, you must think a little more clearly than that. I give Tommy two and you three, how do you make out then that Solemn would have all six?"
"Well, you see, sir," answered Jimmy, "while Tommy and me was quarrelin' over me having been given one more than him, Solemn would go to work and clean up on the whole six. That's the way he always does."
"Haw, haw, haw!" chuckled old Amberorbs Owl.
Croaker threw him an indignant look and proceeded.
"Now then, boys and
Croaker turned to the school-master.
"Now, Amberorbs, what does this mean?" he asked in surprise.
The owl pointed to the evening star which had just blinked up above Sunset Islands.
"Recess," he explained. "The pupils will have five
minutes play; then we will call them in and you can
Mr. Crow shook his head. "I've had quite enough of teaching, thanks," he croaked. "It's a wonder you ever stand those young imps. I'm going to go while the going's good."
And springing to wing, he flew heavily away across the marsh. Night held the kingdom of Marsh Realm softly cradled in her arms. Low-swinging stars probed the mists and painted the water splashes with soft radiance. A full moon rose above the point and all the dwellers of the marsh awoke to their new day. Softly the reeds swished a song. The great stillness deepened into a hush that only the dwellers of their own beautiful world knew as a triumphant melody. The grey waste grew to beauty. A kingdom crowned in silver and gold, it called its little people to the night trails.