The seven sows stood in shocked silence as the duck waddled away.
Then a black-and-white sheepdog came trotting across the orchard and approached the duck, tail wagging.
“Good morning, Damaris,” said the dog.
“It was a good morning, Rory,” said the duck,
“until just now. Those sows! They are so patronizing. They think that they're so intelligent and that the rest of us are fools. They need to be taught a lesson.”
Rory stared thoughtfully at the sows.
“You're right, Damaris,” he said. “I wouldn't mind wiping those smug smiles off their fat faces. I'll think of something.”
“I'm sure you will, Rory,” said Damaris.
“You're miles cleverer than them anyway. I should know. If it hadn't been for you, I'd just be an ordinary duck.”
An ordinary duck Damaris certainly was not. That is to say, she was not stupid and thoughtless and empty-headed as most ducks are. On the contrary, she was educated, and her teacher had been Rory. It had happened like this.
All sheepdogs are born with the instinct for herding things, and they begin as soon as they
can run around. Rory as a puppy had often come into the orchard, practicing his craft upon the chickens and ducks.
The hens squawked and flapped and ran out of his way, but the ducks were slower moving and tended, like sheep, to bunch together and, like sheep, to protest loudly at being forced to go this way and that. Usually they managed to make their way to the pond, where the puppy could not follow, but one morning he came upon a mother duck with a brood of baby ducklings, and Rory set himself to keep these little ones away from the water.
For some time he moved them here and there, while the duck quacked distractedly in the
background, but then a strange thing happened.
One of the ducklings flatly refused to move any farther. It simply sat down in the grass, seemingly unafraid of what must have appeared to it a very large animal, while the rest hurried off to join their mother.
The puppy sniffed at the duckling.
“What's the matter?” he said.
“The matter,” piped the duckling,”is that you're a big bully and I'm tired.”
“I was only practicing,” said Rory.
“Herding sheep. That's what I will be doing. When I'm grown up. I'm a sheepdog, you see. My name's Rory. What's yours?”
“Damaris,” said the duckling.
“That's a nice name,” said Rory.
Ducks were silly animals, he knew that, his mother had told him, but this one seemed quite sensible.
“Look, Damaris,” he said, “I'm sorry if I've upset you. Like I said, I have to practiceâitâ²s all part of my education.”
“Ed-u-cation?” said the duckling. “What does that mean?”
“Why, learning things, being taught things you wouldn't otherwise know.”
“Who teaches you?” asked Damaris.
“My mom. Doesn't your mom teach you?”
? Damaris thought.
She didn't teach me to swim. I did that on my own, and the same with walking and running and eating and speaking.
Yet here was this dog being taught things, like herding sheep.
I don't suppose I could do that, but all the same, it would be nice to have a properâwhat was it?âeducation. I wonderâcould Rory teach me?
And, indeed, that was how things turned out.
That first meeting between puppy and duckling led, as time went by, to a regular friendship between dog and duck.
Every day the young Rory would come and spend time with the young Damaris and pass on to his friend all the things that he had learned. And because dogsâand especially sheepdogsâ
are highly intelligent creatures, and perhaps because Rory was a particularly bright sheepdog, and certainly because Damaris was most anxious to learn about the world in a way no duck ever had before, teacher and pupil worked wonderfully well together.
One day, about a year after their first meeting, the two friends were chatting together out in the orchard.
Conversation was something they much enjoyed, something that was denied the other ducks, who only ever spoke to one another in monosyllables.
“Grub up” (when the farmer brought their food), “Nice day” (when it was pouring rain), and
such brief sentences were the limits of their conversational powers.
“In the matter of intelligence,” Damaris said, “to which creature on the farm would you give the highest marks?”
“Me,” he said.
“Dogs in general, you mean?”
“And the lowest?”
“Your lot, I suppose,” said Rory.
“Ah,” said Damaris. “So I am one of the stupidest creatures on the farm?”
Rory got to his feet, tail wagging.
“No, Damaris,” he said. “You're different.