Read an Excerpt
The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack
By THORNTON W. BURGESS, Harrison Cady
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Peter Rabbit Becomes Acquainted with Mrs. Quack
Make a new acquaintance every time you can; You'll find it interesting and a very helpful plan.
IT MEANS MORE knowledge. You cannot meet any one without learning something from him if you keep your ears open and your eyes open. Every one is at least a little different from every one else, and the more people you know, the more you may learn. Peter Rabbit knows this, and that is one reason he always is so eager to find out about other people. He had left Jimmy Skunk and Bobby Coon in the Green Forest and had headed for the Smiling Pool to see if Grandfather Frog was awake yet. He had no idea of meeting a stranger there, and so you can imagine just how surprised he was when he got in sight of the Smiling Pool to see some one whom he never had seen before swimming about there. He knew right away who it was. He knew that it was Mrs. Quack the Duck, because he had often heard about her. And then, too, it was very clear from her looks that she was a cousin of the ducks he had seen in Farmer Brown's dooryard. The difference was that while they were big and white and stupid-looking, Mrs. Quack was smaller, brown, very trim, and looked anything but stupid.
Peter was so surprised to see her in the Smiling Pool that he almost forgot to be polite. I am afraid he stared in a very impolite way as he hurried to the edge of the bank. "I suppose," said Peter, "that you are Mrs. Quack, but I never expected to see you unless I should go over to the Big River, and that is a place I never have visited and hardly expect to because it is too far from the dear Old Briar-patch. You are Mrs. Quack, aren't you?"
"Yes," replied Mrs. Quack, "and you must be Peter Rabbit. I've heard of you very often." All the time Mrs. Quack was swimming back and forth and in little circles in the most uneasy way.
"I hope you've heard nothing but good of me," replied Peter.
Mrs. Quack stopped her uneasy swimming for a minute and almost smiled as she looked at Peter. "The worst I have heard is that you are very curious about other people's affairs," said she.
Peter looked a wee, wee bit foolish, and then he laughed right out. "I guess that is true enough," said he. "I like to learn all I can, and how can I learn without being curious? I'm curious right now. I'm wondering what brings you to the Smiling Pool when you never have been here before. It is the last place in the world I ever expected to find you."
"That's why I'm here," replied Mrs. Quack. "I hope others feel the same way. I came here because I just had to find some place where people wouldn't expect to find me and so wouldn't come looking for me. Little Joe Otter saw me yesterday on the Big River and told me of this place, and so, because I just had to go somewhere, I came here."
Peter's eyes opened very wide with surprise. "Why," he exclaimed, "I should think you would be perfectly safe on the Big River! I don't see how any harm can possibly come to you out there."
The words were no sooner out of Peter's mouth than a faint bang sounded from way off towards the Big River. Mrs. Quack gave a great start and half lifted her wings as if to fly. But she thought better of it, and then Peter saw that she was trembling all over.
"Did you hear that?" she asked in a faint voice.
Peter nodded. "That was a gun, a terrible gun, but it was a long way from here," said he.
"It was over on the Big River," said Mrs. Quack. "That's why it isn't safe for me over there. That's why I just had to find some other place. Oh, dear, the very sound of a gun sets me to shaking and makes my heart feel as if it would stop beating. Are you sure I am perfectly safe here?"
"Perfectly," spoke up Jerry Muskrat, who had been listening from the top of the Big Rock, where he was lunching on a clam, "unless you are not smart enough to keep out of the clutches of Reddy Fox or Old Man Coyote or Hooty the Owl or Redtail the Hawk."
"I'm not afraid of them," declared Mrs. Quack. "It's those two-legged creatures with terrible guns I'm afraid of," and she began to swim about more uneasily than ever.CHAPTER 2
Mrs. Quack Is Distrustful
JERRY MUSKRAT THINKS there is no place in the world like the Smiling Pool. So, for the matter of that, does Grandfather Frog and also Spotty the Turtle. You see, they have spent their lives there and know little about the rest of the Great World. When Mrs. Quack explained that all she feared was that a two-legged creature with a terrible gun might find her there, Jerry Muskrat hastened to tell her that she had nothing to worry about on that account.
"No one hunts here now that Farmer Brown's boy has put away his terrible gun," explained Jerry. "There was a time when he used to hunt here and set traps, which are worse than terrible guns, but that was long ago, before he knew any better."
"Who is Farmer Brown's boy?" demanded Mrs. Quack, looking more anxious than ever. "Is he one of those two-legged creatures?"
"Yes," said Peter Rabbit, who had been listening with all his ears, "but he is the best friend we Quaddies have got. He is such a good friend that he ought to be a Quaddy himself. Why, this last winter he fed some of us when food was scarce, and he saved Mrs. Grouse when she was caught in a snare, which you know is a kind of trap. He won't let any harm come to you here, Mrs. Quack."
"I wouldn't trust him, not for one single little minute," declared Mrs. Quack. "I wouldn't trust one of those two-legged creatures, not one. You say he fed some of you last winter, but that doesn't mean anything good. Do you know what I've known these two-legged creatures to do?"
"What?" demanded Peter and Jerry together.
"I've known them to scatter food where we Ducks would be sure to find it and to take the greatest care that nothing should frighten us while we were eating. And then, after we had got in the habit of feeding in that particular place and had grown to feel perfectly safe there, they have hidden close by until a lot of us were feeding together and then fired their terrible guns and killed a lot of my friends and dreadfully hurt a lot more. I wouldn't trust one of them, not one!"
"Oh, how dreadful!" cried Peter, looking quite as shocked as he felt. Then he added eagerly, "But our Farmer Brown's boy wouldn't do anything like that. You haven't the least thing to fear from him."
"Perhaps not," said Mrs. Quack, shaking her head doubtfully, "but I wouldn't trust him. I wouldn't trust him as far off as I could see him. The Smiling Pool is a very nice place, although it is dreadfully small, but if Farmer Brown's boy is likely to come over here, I guess I better look for some other place, though goodness knows where I will find one where I will feel perfectly safe."
"You are safe right here, if you have sense enough to stay here," declared Jerry Muskrat rather testily. "Don't you suppose Peter and I know what we are talking about?"
"I wish I could believe so," returned Mrs. Quack sadly, "but if you had been through what I've been through, and suffered what I've suffered, you wouldn't believe any place safe, and you certainly wouldn't trust one of those two-legged creatures. Why, for weeks they haven't given me a chance to get a square meal, and—and—I don't know what has become of Mr. Quack, and I'm all alone!" There was a little sob in her voice and tears in her eyes.
"Tell us all about it," begged Peter. "Perhaps we can help you."CHAPTER 3
Mrs. Quack Tells About Her Home
"IT'S A LONG story," said Mrs. Quack, shaking the tears from her eyes, "and I hardly know where to begin."
"Begin at the beginning," said Jerry Muskrat. "Your home is somewhere way up in the Northland where Honker the Goose lives, isn't it?"
Mrs. Quack nodded. "I wish I were there this very minute," she replied, the tears coming again. "But sometimes I doubt if ever I'll get there again. You folks who don't have to leave your homes every year don't know how well off you are or how much you have to be thankful for."
"I never could understand what people want to leave their homes for, anyway," declared Peter.
"We don't leave because we want to, but because we have to," replied Mrs. Quack, "and we go back just as soon as we can. What would you do if you couldn't find a single thing to eat?"
"I guess I'd starve," replied Peter simply.
"I guess you would, and that is just what we would do, if we didn't take the long journey south when Jack Frost freezes everything tight up there where my home is," returned Mrs. Quack. "He comes earlier up there and stays twice as long as he does here, and makes ten times as much ice and snow. We get most of our food in the water or in the mud under the water, as of course you know, and when the water is frozen, there isn't a scrap of anything we can get to eat. We just have to come south. It isn't because we want to, but because we must! There is nothing else for us to do."
"Then I don't see what you want to make your home in such a place for," said practical Peter. "I should think you would make it where you can live all the year around."
"I was born up there, and I love it just as you love the dear Old Briarpatch," replied Mrs. Quack simply. "It is home, and there is no place like home. Besides, it is a very beautiful and a very wonderful place in summer. There is everything that Ducks and Geese love. We have all we want of the food we love best. Everywhere is shallow water with tall grass growing in it."
"Huh!" interrupted Peter, "I wouldn't think much of a place like that."
"That's because you don't know what is good," snapped Jerry Muskrat. "It would suit me," he added, with shining eyes.
"There are the dearest little islands just made for safe nesting-places," continued Mrs. Quack, without heeding the interruptions. "And the days are long, and it is easy to hide, and there is nothing to fear, for two-legged creatures with terrible guns never come there."
"If there is nothing to fear, why do you care about places to hide?" demanded Peter.
"Well, of course, we have enemies, just as you do here, but they are natural enemies,— Foxes and Minks and Hawks and Owls," explained Mrs. Quack. "Of course, we have to watch out for them and have places where we can hide from them, but it is our wits against their wits, and it is our own fault if we get caught. That is perfectly fair, so we don't mind that. It is only men who are not fair. They don't know what fairness is."
Peter nodded that he understood, and Mrs. Quack went on. "Last summer Mr. Quack and I had our nest on the dearest little island, and no one found it. First we had twelve eggs, and then twelve of the dearest babies you ever saw."
"Maybe," said Peter doubtfully, thinking of his own babies.
"They grew so fast that by the time the cold weather came, they were as big as their father and mother," continued Mrs. Quack. "And they were smart, too. They had learned how to take care of themselves just as well as I could. I certainly was proud of that family. But now I don't know where one of them is."
Mrs. Quack suddenly choked up with grief, and Peter Rabbit politely turned his head away.CHAPTER 4
Mrs. Quack Continues Her Story
WHEN MRS. QUACK told of her twelve children and how she didn't know where one of them was, Peter Rabbit and Jerry Muskrat knew just how badly she was feeling, and they turned their heads away and pretended that they didn't see her tears. In a few minutes she bravely went on with her story.
"When Jack Frost came and we knew it was time to begin the long journey, Mr. Quack and myself and our twelve children joined with some other Duck families, and with Mr. Quack in the lead, we started for our winter home, which really isn't a home but just a place to stay. For a while we had nothing much to fear. We would fly by day and at night rest in some quiet lake or pond or on some river, with the Great Woods all about us or sometimes great marshes. Perhaps you don't know what marshes are. If the Green Meadows here had little streams of water running every which way through them, and the ground was all soft and muddy and full of water, and the grass grew tall, they would be marshes."
Jerry Muskrat's eyes sparkled. "I would like a place like that!" he exclaimed.
"You certainly would," replied Mrs. Quack. "We always find lots of your relatives in such places."
"Marshes must be something like swamps," ventured Peter Rabbit, who had been thinking the matter over.
"Very much the same, only with grass and rushes in place of trees and bushes," replied Mrs. Quack. "There is plenty to eat and the loveliest hiding-places. In some of these we stayed days at a time. In fact, we stayed until Jack Frost came to drive us out. Then as we flew, we began to see the homes of these terrible two-legged creatures called men, and from that time on we never knew a minute of peace, excepting when we were flying high in the air or far out over the water. If we could have just kept flying all the time or never had to go near the shore, we would have been all right. But we had to eat."
"Of course," said Peter. "Everybody has to eat."
"And we had to rest," said Mrs. Quack.
"Certainly," said Peter. "Everybody has to do that."
"And to eat we had to go in close to shore where the water was not at all deep, because it is only in such places that we can get food," continued Mrs. Quack. "It takes a lot of strength to fly as we fly, and strength requires plenty of food. Mr. Quack knew all the best feeding-places, for he had made the long journey several times, so every day he would lead the way to one of these. He always chose the wildest and most lonely looking places he could find, as far as possible from the homes of men, but even then he was never careless. He would lead us around back and forth over the place he had chosen, and we would all look with all our might for signs of danger. If we saw none, we would drop down a little nearer and a little nearer. But with all our watchfulness, we never could be sure, absolutely sure, that all was safe. Sometimes those terrible two-legged creatures would be hiding in the very middle of the wildest, most lonely looking marshes. They would be covered with grass so that we couldn't see them. Then, as we flew over them, would come the bang, bang, bang, bang of terrible guns, and always some of our flock would drop. We would have to leave them behind, for we knew if we wanted to live we must get beyond the reach of those terrible guns. So we would fly our hardest. It was awful, just simply awful!"
Mrs. Quack paused and shuddered, and Peter Rabbit and Jerry Muskrat shuddered in sympathy.
"Sometimes we would have to try three or four feeding-places before we found one where there were no terrible guns. And when we did find one, we would be so tired and frightened that we couldn't enjoy our food, and we didn't dare to sleep without some one on watch all the time. It was like that every day. The farther we got, the worse it became. Our flock grew smaller and smaller. Those who escaped the terrible guns would be so frightened that they would forget to follow their leader and would fly in different directions and later perhaps join other flocks. So it was that when at last we reached the place in the sunny Southland for which we had started, Mr. Quack and I were alone. What became of our twelve children I don't know. I am afraid the terrible guns killed some. I hope some joined other flocks and escaped, but I don't know."
"I hope they did too," said Peter.CHAPTER 5
Peter Learns More of Mrs. Quack's Troubles
It often happens when we know
The troubles that our friends pass through,
Our own seem very small indeed;
You'll always find that this is true.
"MY, YOU MUST have felt glad when you reached your winter home!" exclaimed Peter Rabbit when Mrs. Quack finished the account of her long, terrible journey from her summer home in the far Northland to her winter home in the far Southland.
"I did," replied Mrs. Quack, "but all the time I couldn't forget those to whom terrible things had happened on the way down, and then, too, I kept dreading the long journey back."
"I don't see why you didn't stay right there. I would have," said Peter, nodding his head with an air of great wisdom.
"Not if you were I," replied Mrs. Quack. "In the first place it isn't a proper place in which to bring up young Ducks and make them strong and healthy. In the second place there are more dangers down there for young Ducks than up in the far Northland. In the third place there isn't room for all the Ducks to nest properly. And lastly there is a great longing for our real home, which Old Mother Nature has put in our hearts and which just makes us go. We couldn't be happy if we didn't."
"Is the journey back as bad as the journey down?" asked Peter.
Excerpted from The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack by THORNTON W. BURGESS, Harrison Cady. Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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