Nancy Byrd Turner Poems >>

Oh, such a funny August house--
  It really was like a zoo,
  For animals roamed in all the rooms
  (Even a kangaroo);
  Such sociable, smiling, friendly beasts!
  As soon as the travelers came,
  They hurried out with extended paws,
  Announcing, each, his name.

"Why, how in the world did they learn to talk?" the young visitors cried.
"Did they go to school, J. M.?"

By that time the various animals, having performed their duties as hosts,
had scampered off to play again, and so they were out of hearing.

"Did they go to school?" the children repeated.

The Journeying Man shook his head and made answer:--

  "The birds and beasts don't go to school;
  I guess 't would make them mad to;
  They wouldn't pass an hour in class.
  But just suppose they had to!
  How funny it would be to see
  The desks all full of scholars,
  With fins and claws and hoofs and paws,
  Skin coats and brown fur collars!

  "How strange 't would seem to happen by
  And hear the teacher saying,
  'The kitty-cat geography
  Must be kept in from playing;
  And once again I tell you plain
  That I shall give a rapping
  To the very next first-reader owl
  That I discover napping.'

  "The crabs would write in copy-books,
  Such crawly, scrawly letters;
  The bees would have a spelling-bee
  And buzz among their betters;
  And monkeys chatter French and squeak
  In Greek the live-long day,
  To scare the class of infant lambs,
  Who only know B-A.

  "They'd send giraffes up to the board
  To figure slowly, each,
  Problems in higher branches
  That they could never reach.
  And here and there and everywhere,
  No matter who played fool,
  They'd straightway clap a paper cap
  Upon the youngest mule.

  "A looker-on might feel, perhaps,
  A little consternation,
  To see the bear philosophy
  Arise for recitation;
  And pupils all, and teacher, too,
  Would pale a bit, perchance,
  When the elephants came up to do
  Their calisthenics dance!"

"But," Amos persisted, "if they don't go to school, then how on earth did
they learn how to talk?"

"I taught them, to be sure," said a hoarse voice overhead.

The children looked up, startled, and were astonished to see that the
voice came, apparently, from a long-tailed green parrot, with a hooked
beak and round, solemn eyes.

"They come from all parts of the world," the parrot resumed, "for me to
teach them. Of course, you needn't call it a school if you don't want to."

He whistled shrilly, and the birds and beasts came scampering back and
stood round in a respectful circle. The children tried to talk to them,
but they looked bashful and would not say a word.

"Perhaps they'd like to hear some rhymes," J. M. suggested. "Go ahead,
Amos and Ann."

"My _stars_!" said Ann, and Amos added: "How in the world can I start off
quite suddenly--"

Just then a cuckoo rushed out from a clock somewhere and cuckooed eleven
times, and the twelfth time Amos said:--

  "Quite suddenly, a speckled trout
   Down in the swift, clear river
  Began to bustle all about,
   His fishy chin a-quiver.

  "He raised so big a foam and fuss
   The fishes all assembled.
  Why, at a hippopotamus
   He'd scarcely so have trembled!

  "'What ails you?' asked a brother trout.
   'What's wrong?' inquired a minnow.
  'Alas! We're all invited out,'
   He shivered, 'to a dinner!'

  "They cried, 'Why, that's a jolly plan!
   Who asked us out to dine?'
  'Oh!' sobbed the trout, 'a fisherman,
   He just dropped me a line!'"

When the poem was finished, the parrot cried, "Hear! Hear!" and clapped
his wings excitedly, and a little raccoon laughed so loud that he had to
be sent away in disgrace.

"Now, Ann," said J. M., "give us a poem about your cat."

"Not a wild cat, I hope," put in the parrot hastily. "That kind of a cat
has such bad manners--far, far worse than the raccoon's--that it is not
allowed round here at all. If it's a polite kind of a cat, go on, Miss;
not otherwise."

Little Ann was very red in the face. "But I can't go on," she said. She
intended to say also, "There's nothing to go on with," but just as she
said "There's," a little nickel clock called five very clearly, and she
remarked, instead:--

  "There's the snow-white cat, the pearl-gray cat,
   The brindle and the brown,
  The cat with stripes around himself,
   The cat striped up and down,
  The plaid cat and the buff cat,
   The tan, the tortoise-shell,
  The bluish sort, the reddish sort--
   More tints than I can tell.
  But the finest of the whole fine lot
   (There's no disputing that)
  Is the jet-black chap with one white spot--
   And that's our kind of cat.

  "The tiny cat is cunning,
   The long, lean cat is fleet,
  The nimble one is made for fun,
   The fluff-ball one is sweet,
  The Persian pussy's splendid,
   The Maltese kitty, too,
  But the special kind I have in mind
   Is best of all the crew.
  He's not too quick and frisky,
   Nor is he slow and fat;
  He's soft and warm and fits my arm,
   And he's our kind of cat!"

Ann's recitation was well received. The parrot said he was very familiar
with the kitty kind of cat--in fact, had instructed a good many of them.

Amos remarked that, with so many beasts coming to learn, the place would
soon be filled to overflowing.

"Oh, no," said the parrot. "The same train that brings in a crowd takes a
crowd away."

"_Train?_" Amos repeated, his eyes round with curiosity.

"To be sure--train," the parrot answered. "You don't mean to tell me you
never heard of the Wild Beast Limited?"

Then he preened his feathers with pride and chanted the song of the Wild
Beast Limited.

  "The Wild Beast Limited pulls out
   With bustle and with fuss.
  It's hard to seat the porcupine
   And hippopotamus.

  "The ants demand a special coach
   If one ant-eater goes;
  The dormouse wants a sleeping car;
   The chickens shun the crows;

  "The camel will not stir a peg
   Until his fill he's drunk;
  The elephant is loud and cross
   Until he checks his trunk;

  "The tortoise always comes too late;
   The hare a day ahead.
  I'd hate to be the engineer
   Of the Wild Beast Limited."