That Dear Duck by Anonymous
Farmer Jones, looking
down at them over the top bar
of the gate,
'you may come and play in the
field for a bit; only mind, there is
to be no chasing the sheep or hens,
or throwing stones at the ducks,
or it will be the last time you
children get leave to come into my
'We won't do any mischief, sir,'
said Peggy earnestly, as she tried
to make the bundle she carried sit
upright, and look something like a
baby, instead of cuddling up like a
shapeless lump on her shoulder.
'Very well, then, in you go.'
The farmer held the gate open
till the five children and two babies
had filed sedately through; then he
dropped the bar into the socket, and
tramped away down the dusty lane.
The sheep were away at the far
side, and did not take the trouble
to glance up at the intruders. The
hens were clucking busily on a piece
of bare ground beyond the barn.
Down in the lowest corner of the
field was a shallow pond, where
a plump mother duck and half a
dozen downy ducklings were sailing
placidly about. They were
new-comers comparatively, and the
children greeted them with shouts of
'Why can't babies swim about
and do things, instead of always
crying and going to sleep?' asked
Tommy, eyeing his small twin
brothers with great dissatisfaction,
as they sat in a row on a fallen
tree-trunk. 'I'd rather have young
ducks any day; they've twice as
'See that one eating up my bread
and butter!' cried Jack; 'he's
something like a duck. I wish Farmer
Jones would give him to me.'
'I'm quite sure he wouldn't,' said
Peggy sharply; 'ducks are
dreadfully dear things: mother's said so
lots of times.'
Jack didn't answer; he was
leaning over the tree trunk, throwing
tiny bits of crusts to the duckling,
who was doing his best to choke
himself with them. Soon after, the
duckling came round in front of the
trunk where they were sitting; and
it was the funniest little object, with
its stumpy wings, and a big yellow
bill that opened and shut like a
pair of scissors.
There were five more swimming
about beside their mother; there
might be dozens more in the
farmyard, while they had nothing of
their own. A sharp little duck like
that would be as good as a dog
to play with. Jack had watched
it with longing eyes; he was
certain the farmer would never miss
it, if he were to take it home for a
little while—only a little while; he
could easily bring it back again,
and it wouldn't be one bit the
The others played on with the
daisies and the butterflies; the
babies sucked their thumbs and
fell asleep in their small nurses'
arms; the little duck forgot his
mother and his brothers and sisters,
and strayed farther and farther
away after the crumbs, till presently
two small brown hands pounced
down, and he found himself a
'Quack! quack!' called the
mother duck, missing the wanderer.
'Quack! quack!' cried the little duck.
Peggy and Bessy looked round.
'Why, what are you doing, Jack?
Didn't Farmer Jones say you
weren't to tease the ducks?'
'Who is teasing the ducks?'
demanded Jack, in a tone of injured
innocence. 'I'm going to take it
home for a bit, and teach it a lot of
'You'd better leave it alone!'
cried Peggy, in alarm; 'it would be
'It would be nothing of the
kind. I'm not going to keep
the duck. Girls haven't a bit of
sense; they're just made to go
'I don't ever tell tales,' returned
Peggy, with dignity. 'Did I ever
tell who it was left the gate open
when the pigs got in that day?'
'Well, don't tell tales this time
either,' was Jack's only acknowledgment.
'We'd better be going now,
before anybody comes.'
Jack was the biggest boy, and
liked his own way. Moreover, he
generally made the rest like it too.
Peggy and Bessy uneasily got up
from their seat, and back the
procession went across the green grass
and daisies, Jack carrying the duck
inside his jacket, where it quacked
loudly, and made the company look
round anxiously, for fear of stray
'What will mother say when she
sees it?' suggested Tommy, as they
slunk along the lane.
'Mother is not going to see it,'
returned Jack; 'it's going into the
wood-shed. I'll make it a nice
house there, all to itself—better
than it had at the farm by a long way.'
So instead of going straight into
the house, the party repaired to the
wood-shed at the end of the garden,
where the duck was carefully fenced
in behind some boards, and supplied
with the remainder of the crusts for
'He'll go off to sleep in a bit,'
said Jack, with a sigh of relief.
'Now we'll go in; and mind, you're
not to say anything about it.'
It was easy for Jack to say that,
but it wasn't by any means so easy
to do it. Every minute or two
somebody would begin to say
something bearing upon the subject, and
break off short in sudden alarm.
Every time there was a moment's
silence, they would be listening for
faint quacks from the wood-shed,
and somehow it befell that there
came no further opportunity of
visiting the prisoner that evening;
for it was Saturday,—the great
festival of the bath-tub,—and by the
time the whole seven had gone
through the performance, it was too
late for anything but bed.
Never mind; to-morrow would
be Sunday, and Jack promised
himself a lovely time with his dear
cluck. He would slip a piece of
bread into his pocket at breakfast;
there was a noble ditch not very far
off, where nobody ever went, and
he would take it there for a swim.
Jack took a last look through the
curtainless window at the shed roof,
and went to bed brimful of plans
for to-morrow and the duck.
Ah, if that duck had but known
or understood the joys that lay
before him! But he didn't; he was
only a poor solitary baby duck,
taken away from his mother and his
home, and left all alone in a cold,
strange place, and the night was
very long and very bleak, and his
little body ached with cold and
hunger, and he quacked and quacked
till his throat grew sore, and the
quacks wouldn't come any longer,
and at last, just as it was beginning
to grow grey morning, he feebly
curled up his yellow toes, and rolled
over on his back—and died!
'Tommy, come down the garden,
and mind nobody sees you,' whispered
Jack, after breakfast. 'We'll
take that duck to the ditch, and
have some fun. Hurry up!'
The two raced down to the
wood-shed; all was quiet enough
inside. Jack looked round in some
astonishment. 'He must be fast
asleep yet; I thought he'd have
been quacking like anything for
Tommy was peering into the
corner. He got up suddenly with
a startled face.
'Jack,' he said solemnly, 'I do
believe he's gone and died! See
how he's lying.'
Jack had him up in his arms in
an instant. He did not know much
about dead ducks, but the first
touch of the little body, that had
been so soft and warm the night
before, sent a cold chill right
through him. He looked down at
it for a minute in speechless dismay,
and then he burst out into a perfect
storm of sobs.
'Let's go and tell mother,' said
Tommy, beginning to cry too; and
off they went.
But even mother could not bring
the little duck back to life. She
quietly put it into a basket, and
told Jack to take it up to Farmer
Jones, and tell him all about his
Tommy went with him for company,
and the pair felt exactly as if
they were going to a funeral; and
certainly no funeral they had ever
seen went half so slowly, and with
so many halts and pauses. Sooner
or later, however, they had to
get there, and Jack had to falter
out his confession as best he
'It was because it was such a
dear little duck that Jack wanted it,'
explained Tommy valiantly, when
Jack got to the end. 'We didn't
mean to hurt it.'
The farmer listened in grim
silence. 'Perhaps not,' he said;
'but I can't have you in my fields
again: you'll have to be content
with the lane for the rest of the
summer, so I'm thinking you'll find
it's been a dear duck for you more
ways than one.'
'Mother was quite right,' said
Jack, as they trudged back down
that dusty lane; 'ducks are
dreadfully dear things!'