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Archie P. McKishnie

Amberorbs Owl

M R. BULLFROG was so cheered up after his chat with Old Man Turtle that he decided to call on Amberorbs Owl, who was usually to be found this time of the night either hunting his supper along the pond or sitting in a small dead tree.

Tonight, strange to say, strain his eyes as he would, Mr. Bullfrog could discern nothing of the wise old bird.

"Now I wonder what's happened to him?" murmured Goggle Eyes. "Perhaps Long-Neck Crane has coaxed him over with him to spy on the woods folk. It isn't like Amberorbs to go gallivanting off when there's such a fine moon to hunt by. Maybe I'd better call him."

Goggle Eyes swam to shore and, by aid of a friendly reed, stood up on his hind legs.

"Hello, Amberorbs!" he called in his deep bass voice. "Where are you? A friend has come to call on you."

"Who, who?" responded a muffled voice so close at hand that Mr. Bullfrog turned a back somersault into the water.

As he came up to the surface Amberorbs Owl parted the rushes and stood looking down at him. His round head with its little ear-like tufts of feathers was twisted sidewise, and his short, hooked beak snapped angrily.

"Gracious, Amberorbs!" cried Mr. Bullfrog, shaking the water from his nose, "whatever is the matter? Your head is all skewhaw."

"It's no more skewhaw than it feels," returned Amberorbs crossly. "I should have known better than do it."

"Do what?" Goggle Eyes was very curious.

"Why, you see, it's like this," explained Amberorbs. "I was sitting in my tree yonder about half an hour ago, when along came Flychaser Nighthawk and his wife and family.

" 'We've got a new game,' Flychaser called down to me. 'It's called cross-tag. Watch us play it.'

"I said I would be glad to, and they started flying about my tree in a circle. I got so interested watching them, I forgot that I was twisting my head round and round. You know, Goggle Eyes, I never move my body, but just my neck. The way I get the twists out of my neck is to fly up into the air and let my body unwind."

"Yes," cried Goggle Eyes, "I've seen you do that."

"Well," said Amberorbs, "you should have seen me tonight, then. I'll bet my neck had a hundred twists in it. When I flew up, my body started whirling like a bubble in a whirlpool. It made me so dizzy I flopped right down in the rushes. I was just coming to my senses when I heard you call."

"You'll have to be more careful," warned Goggle Eyes. "Some night Merry Eyes Fox or Ruffy Lynx will find you in one of those dizzy spells and gobble you up."

"Either of them would find me a pretty tough meal, I'm thinking," muttered Amberorbs.

"Say," croaked Goggle Eyes, "it would be much easier for you to unwind your head than your body, wouldn't it?"

"Perhaps," answered Amberorbs, "but not nearly so safe. You see, I have a number of enemies who hope, sometime, to take me unawares. If my head spun round and round instead of my body, I wouldn't be able to keep a look-out for White-Scalp Eagle or that old killer, Loper Mink, or any of those night hunters who would like to catch me off my guard. So that dear old mammy of yours and mine—"

"Mammy Nature, you mean," nodded Goggle Eyes.

"Yes. She has so built me that I simply can't unwind my neck head-first—"

"The way I dive," put in Goggle Eyes.

"That way, exactly. I've got to unwind my body. And while I'm doing that, I can keep these big yellow eyes of mine open for danger."

"It's no wonder you're considered the wisest bird in all Marsh Realm," said Goggle Eyes admiringly. "At the next meeting of our Mutual Protection and Truce Council, I'm going to nominate you for our new president."

"I don't care a hoot what you do," blinked Amberorbs, "but you might as well save your time there. I wouldn't stand a chance of winning the election. Every one of the Muskrats, the Black Ducks, the Grey Ducks and the Teal Ducks would vote against me.

"But why should they?" asked Goggle Eyes.

"Because, if I were president of the Council, they would have to do as I bid them," answered Amberorbs. "And supposing I bid them build their nests in the thick rushes, instead of away out in the water-wastes where no self-respecting owl can hunt without running risk of drowning; what do you suppose they would say to that?"

"I'm sure I can't guess," croaked Goggle Eyes.

"Why," snorted Amberorbs, "they would say I was feathering my own nest, wouldn't they?"

"But," cried Goggle Eyes, "you do  feather your own nest, don't you? Nobody else does it for you, surely?"

"You are indeed stupid," sighed the owl. "Can't you see that the wild ducks would believe I was directing them to build where I could get a chance at their young?"

"But of course you wouldn't be doing it for that reason!" exclaimed Goggle Eyes, staring hard and tilting his head to catch the answer.

Amberorbs chuckled. "You say you consider me a pretty wise old bird, Goggle Eyes. I am.  I'm just a little too wise to answer that question."

He flopped from the marsh into his tree and winked one eye solemnly at the moon.


Amberorbs, the Owl

"You've got one good friend in Marsh Realm besides myself, anyway," cried Mr. Bullfrog cheeringly, thinking perhaps he had hurt Amberorbs' feelings by his tactless question.

"Who, who?" asked the owl, peering down at him.

"Old Man Turtle," Goggle Eyes answered promptly.

Amberorbs hunched himself and blinked slowly as though considering.

"If you or Old Man Turtle were my true friends," he spoke in muffled tones, as though weeping, "would you dig down in the bog when the summer's ended and sleep securely all winter, leaving me to stand the cold and snow and face starvation all alone?"

"Dear me," cried Mr. Bullfrog, "we've got to do what Mammy Nature commands us to do, haven't we?"

"Maybe so," grumbled Amberorbs. "But I simply want you to see that you're nothing more than fair-weather friends to me. You don't consider me any more than do the Snipe, the Woodcock, the Crane, or any of the other birds who fly away South when the bog hardens and the clouds spit snow."

"Well then," exclaimed Goggle Eyes, "why don't you burrow down in the muck with Old Man Turtle and myself, or fly away South with the other birds?"

"Perhaps it's because I'm too wise," answered the owl.

Suddenly Goggle Eyes gave a startled leap and landed sprawling in the rushes.

"My gracious!" he shivered, "there's a small island floating right towards us down the centre of the pond!"

"It's Old Man Turtle," said Amberorbs. "I've been watching him for some time. Something unusual must have happened to bring that lazy fellow this far from home."

Old Man Turtle swam close to the shore and poked up his head.

"Hello, old cat-face!" he greeted the huddled owl. "Seen anything of that bass singer, Goggle Eyes? Oh, there you are!" he cried, catching sight of Mr. Bullfrog. "A nice chase you've led me. What made you leave my pond to‑night before I had asked my riddle?" he demanded.

"Why—why—" stammered Goggle Eyes, "I didn't know you wished to ask me a riddle. Please tell it now, won't you?"

"Certainly not," said Old Man Turtle indignantly. "But I'll ask you and Amberorbs another, now I'm here."

"You can't ask me any riddle I can't answer," puffed the owl. "I'm a wise bird."

"All right," grinned Old Man Turtle, "maybe you can answer this: When is a wild duck only a part of a wild duck?"

Amberorbs winked and blinked, and thought and thought. Goggle Eyes put his hands to his head and rocked backward and forward, striving to think of an answer.

Old Man Turtle waited, chuckling deep down in his merry old heart.

"I'll have to give it up," confessed Goggle Eyes, at last.

"Me, too," hooted Amberorbs. "When is a wild duck only a part of a wild duck, then, Mr. Know-so-much Turtle?"

"Why," yawned Old Man Turtle, "when it's a‑wing,  of course."

"Oh, get out, both of you!" scolded Amberorbs. "It's almost daylight and I'm getting sleepy."

"Come on, Goggle Eyes," laughed Old Man Turtle. "Jump on my back. I'll carry you the full length of the pond, and you can sing to me as we make the home trip."

"What'll it be?" asked Goggle Eyes, climbing aboard the moss-grown shell of his friend.

"Something original, please," suggested the turtle.

So as they passed slowly down the long, moon-flooded pond, Goggle Eyes, who was something of a poet and composer, sang this song:

"Old Man Turtle and Goggle Eyes Frog

Went for a ride in the watery bog;

The big moon winked and fireflies blinked—

And Old Grouch Owl he thinked and thinked—

Says he, 'Although I'm as fit as a fiddle—

I just can't answer Mossback's riddle.' "