The Duckling Who Didn't Know What To Do
"Q UACK! Quack!" called the Duck who had been sitting on her nest so long. "My first egg is cracked, and I can see the broad yellow bill of my eldest child. Ah! Now I can see his downy white head." The Drake heard her and quacked the news to every one around, and flapped his wings, and preened his feathers, for was not this the first Duckling ever hatched on the farm?
The Drake had not been there long himself. It was only a few days before the Duck began sitting that she and her five sisters had come with him to this place. It had not taken them long to become acquainted with the other farmyard people, and all had been kind to them. The Geese had rather put on airs, at first, because they were bigger and had longer legs, but the Ducks and Drake were too wise to notice this in any way, and before long the Geese were as friendly as possible. They would have shown the Ducks the way to the water if it had been necessary, but it was not, for the Ducks always know without being told just where to find it. They know, and they do not know why they know. It is one of the things that are.
Now that the first Duckling had chipped the shell, everybody wanted to see him, and there was soon a crowd of fowls around the nest watching him free himself from it. The Drake stood by, as proud as a Peacock. "I think he looks much like his mother," said he.
"Yes, yes," cackled all the Hens. "The same broad yellow bill, the same short yellow legs, and the same webbed feet."
The mother Duck smiled. "He looks more like me now than he will by and by," she said, "for when his feathers grow and cover the down, he will have a stiff little one curled up on his back like the Drake's. And really, except for the curled feather, his father and I look very much alike."
"That is so," said the Black Spanish Cock. "You do
look alike; the same white
feathers, the same broad breast, the same strong wings,
the same pointed tail, the
same long neck, the same sweet expression around the
bill!" That was just like the
Black Spanish Cock. He always said something pleasant
about people when he could,
and it was much better than saying unpleasant things.
Indeed, he was the most
polite fowl in the
Then the Duckling's five aunts pushed their way through the crowd to the nest under the edge of the strawstack. "Have you noticed what fine large feet he has?" said one of them. "That is like his mother's people. See what a strong web is between the three long toes on each foot! He will be a good swimmer. The one toe that points backward is small, to be sure, but he does not need that in swimming. That is only to make waddling easier."
"Yes, yes," "A fine web," and "Very large feet," cried the fowls around the nest, but most of them didn't care so much about the size of his feet as the Ducks did. Large feet are always useful, you know, yet nobody needs them so badly as Geese and Ducks. The Geese were off swimming, and so could not see the Duckling when first he came out of the shell.
"Tap-tap, tap-tap," sounded inside another shell, and they knew that there would soon be a second damp little Duckling beside the first. The visitors could not stay to see this one come out, and they went away for a time. The eldest Duckling had supposed that this was life, to have people around saying, "How bright he is!" "What fine legs!" or "He has a beautiful bill!" And now that they all walked away and his mother was looking after the Duckling who was just breaking her shell, he didn't like it—he didn't like it at all.
Still, it was much better so. If he had had no brothers and sisters, he would have been a lonely little fellow; besides, he would have had his own way nearly all the time, and that is likely to make any Duckling selfish. Then, too, if all the other fowls had petted him and given him the best of everything, he would have become vain. Truly, it was a good thing for him not to be the only child, and he soon learned to think so.
After there were two Ducklings, a third one came, and a fourth, and a fifth, and so on until, when the broken shells were cleared away and the mother had counted bills, she could call to the Drake and her sisters, "Nine Ducklings hatched, and there were only nine eggs in the nest."
"Then come to the brook," said the Drake, "and let the
children have a bath. I have
been swimming a great many times
"I couldn't help it," said the mother Duck. "I couldn't leave the nest to take him swimming until the rest were ready to go. I am doing the best I can."
"I didn't mean to find fault," said the Drake, "and I suppose you couldn't get away, but we know that Ducklings should be taught to bathe often, and there is nothing like beginning in time."
"I might have taken some of them to the brook," said one of the aunts. The mother straightened her neck and held her head very high, while she answered, "You? You are very kind, but what do you know about bringing up Ducklings?"
Now the aunt might have said, "I know just about as much as you do," for it was the young mother's first brood, yet she kept still. She thought, "I may hatch Ducklings of my own some day, and then I suppose I shall want to care for them myself."
"Wait," said the Drake, as they reached the brook.
"Let us wait and see what the
children will do." The words were hardly out of his
when—flutter—splash—splash!—there were nine
The Dorking Cock stood on the bank. "Who taught them to swim?" said he.
"Nobody," answered their mother proudly. "They knew without being told. That is the way a Duck takes to water." And she gave a dainty lurch and was among her brood.
"Well!" exclaimed the Dorking Cock. "I thought the little Dorkings were as bright as children could be, but they didn't know as much as that. I must tell them." He stalked off, talking under his breath.
"They know more than that," said the Drake. "Did you see how they ran ahead of us when we stopped to talk? They knew where to find water as soon as they were out of the shell. Still, the Cock might not have believed that if I had told him."
They had a good swim, and then all stood on the bank and dried themselves. This they did by squeezing the water out of their down with their bills. The Drake, the mother Duck, the five aunts, and the nine Ducklings all stood as tall and straight as they could, and turned and twisted their long necks, and flapped their wings, and squeezed their down, and murmured to each other. And their father didn't tell the little ones how, and their mother didn't tell them how, and their five aunts didn't tell them how, but they knew without being told.
The Ducklings grew fast, and made friends of all the farmyard people. Early every morning they went to the brook. They learned to follow the brook to the river, and here were wonderful things to be seen. There was plenty to eat, too, in the soft mud under the water, and it was easy enough to dive to it, or to reach down their long necks while only their pointed tails and part of their body could be seen above the water. Not that they ate the mud. They kept only the food that they found in it, and then let the mud slip out between the rough edges of their bills. They swam and ate all day, and slept all night, and were dutiful Ducklings who minded their mother, so it was not strange that they were plump and happy.
At last there came a morning when the eldest Duckling could not go to the brook with the others. A Weasel had bitten him in the night, and if it had not been for his mother and the Drake, would have carried him away. The rest had to go in swimming, and his lame leg would not let him waddle as far as the brook, or swim after he got there.
"I don't know what to do," he said to his mother. "I can't swim and I can't waddle far, and I've eaten so much already that I can't eat anything more for a long, long time."
"You might play with the little Shanghais," said his mother.
"They run around too much," he replied. "I can't keep up with them."
"Then why not lie near the corn crib and visit with the Mice?"
"Oh, they don't like the things that I like, and it isn't any fun."
"How would it suit you to watch the Peacock for a while?"
"I'm tired of watching the Peacock."
"Then," said the mother, "you must help somebody else.
You are old enough to think
of such things now, and you must remember this wise
saying: 'When you don't know
what to do, help
"Whom can I help?" said the lame Duckling. "People can all do things for themselves."
"There is the Blind Horse," answered his mother. "He
"Quack!" said the Duckling. "I will go to see him." He waddled slowly away, stopping now and then to rest, and shaking his little pointed tail from side to side as Ducks do. The Blind Horse was grazing in the pasture alone.
"I've come to see you, sir," said the Duckling. "Shall I be in your way?"
The Blind Horse looked much pleased. "I think from your voice that you must be one of the young Ducks," said he. "I shall be very glad to have you visit me, only you must be careful to keep away from my feet, for I can't see, and I might step on you."
"I'll be careful," said the Duckling. "I can't waddle much anyway this morning, because my leg hurts me so."
"Why, I'm sorry you are lame," said the Horse. "What is the matter?"
"A Weasel bit me in the night, sir. But it doesn't hurt so much as it did before I came to see you. Perhaps the pasture is a better place for lame legs than the farmyard." He didn't know that it was because he was trying to make somebody else happy that he felt so much better, yet that was the reason.
The Blind Horse and the Duckling became very fond of each other and had a fine time. The Horse told stories of his Colthood, and of the things he had seen in his travels before he became blind. And the Duckling told him what the other farmyard people were doing, and about the soft, fleecy clouds that drifted across the blue sky. When the mother Duck came to look for him, the little fellow was much surprised. "Didn't you go to the brook?" he asked.
"Yes," said his mother, with a smile. "We have been there all the morning. Don't you see how high the sun is?"
"Why-ee!" said the Duckling. "I didn't think I had been here long at all. We've been having the nicest time. And I'm coming again, am I not?" He asked this question of the Blind Horse.
"I wish you would come often," answered the Blind
Horse. "You have given me a very
The mother Duck and her son waddled off together. "How is your leg?" said she.
"I forgot all about it until I began to walk," answered the Duckling. "Isn't that queer?"
"Not at all," said his mother. "It was because you
were making somebody else happy.
'When you don't know what to do, help