Read Clever Duck Online

Authors: Dick King-Smith

Clever Duck (4 page)

 
But just how prosecuted they were about to be, the General and his followers were yet to realize.
Beset by their troubled stomachs, the sows turned in at the gateway. Beyond, they could see, was a large and well-mown field with, at its far end, a single-storied wooden building in front of which a lot of people were sitting in deck chairs.
In the middle of the field were a number of other people all dressed in white.
As the pigs drew nearer, they could see one of these white-clad people appear to throw an object at another, who struck at it with a kind of wooden cudgel. The spectators began to clap, and there were cries of “Good shot!” and “Well hit!” while the umpire at the bowler's end prepared to signal what looked like a certain four-pointer. But before the ball could reach the boundary, it reached the General, who fielded it
neatly in his great jaws and started thoughtfully to chew it. Meanwhile, the sows began to root about in the well-kept grass, plowing their way purposefully toward the pitch, while the shocked players stood as though turned to stone.
All eyes were on the pigs. No one noticed a brown-and-white duck circling overhead.
Then pandemonium broke loose as both the Muddlehampton First XI, who were fielding, and the two visiting batsmen sprang into action. The visitors led the charge, brandishing their bats, while with them ran six of the fielders, each
waving a hastily uprooted wicket pole, while the rest of the cricketers, plus the two umpires, rushed to join the fray.
The General and his wives galloped wildly about, squealing their dismay and leaving behind them in their fright much evidence of their recent unwise feasting.
Smack!
went the bats on fat bottoms.
Crack!
went the stumps on broad backs, while several of the pursuing cricketers slipped and fell, adding a quite new color to their snowy flannels. Until at last the invaders were driven out, and the match abandoned.
Muddlehampton's scorer was a stickler for the truth, and solemnly he wrote in his scorebook,
Pigs stopped play.
Mr. Crook
Damaris had not yet returned to the farm after the scene on the cricket ground. She was a fairminded bird, and as annoying as she had thought the pigs in the past, she began to feel sorry for them as they hurried off, now sore outside as well as inside.
I must keep an eye on them
for as long as I can,
she thought.
Perhaps someone else will give them a home.
And, shortly, someone else did.
Among the spectators at the cricket match was a local livestock dealer called Crook, a name, some said, that suited him well, for some of his deals were a trifle shady.
As the General and his wives retreated, squealing, before the onslaught of bat and wicket pole, Mr. Crook wasted no time but slipped behind the pavilion and out of the grounds, making his hasty way across the fields to his yard, a little distance beyond the village. Thus it was that the angry sows (for by now each blamed the General for her bellyaches and her bruises) and their defeated leader heard a familiar and most welcome sound.
“Pig! Pig! Pig! Pig!” crooned Mr. Crook, appearing in the lane before them, rattling a bucket, and the General and his wives eagerly followed. In through a gate they went, across a yard, and into a pen.
As Mr. Crook closed the lower part of the stout door behind them and bolted it, he heard a quacking, and looking up, he saw a brown-and-white duck flying around.
He thought nothing of it, for he was too busy reckoning in his head what a Large White boar and seven sows might fetch. He leaned on the half door and addressed them.
“You lot can stop here,” he said, “till the fuss
has died down, and if your owner should come looking, I'll just say I was keeping you safe for him. Then, after a while, I'll take you to market, not the local one, but a good way away. Easiest money I've made in a long time. Now then, it looks to me as if you've been eating summat you shouldn't. Starvation's the best cure for that sort of trouble, so no grub for you lot for a bit.” And off he went.
Once he was out of sight, Damaris flew down
to the pen. It isn't easy for ducks to perch like chickens, but the top of the half door was quite wide, and she managed to balance on it. Inside, there was a babble of noise, and it was plain to Damaris, listening, that the General was no longer in command.
“Now look what you've gotten us into,” said one sow.
“First you walk the legs off us!”
“Then you let us eat all those sugar-beet tops!”
“And we get the trots!”
“Then we get beaten black and blue with clubs and sticks!”
“And finish up in this poky little hole!”
“With nothing to eat!”
“Ladies! Ladies! Please!” The boar snorted, but they took no notice of him.
“Calls himself a general,” someone said. “A general disaster, he is!”
Not until the rumpus had died down did the sows notice Damaris perching on the half door.
“Begorra,” said Mrs. O‘Bese, “isn't that the duck that knew the meaning of ‘ignoramus'? She's a clever duck, that one is.”
“Thank you,” said Damaris.
She rather liked Mrs. O'Bese, she suddenly realized. Her heart, Damaris felt, was warmer than those of the others.
“Isn't it the lucky duck you are,” went on Mrs. O'Bese. “You can just fly home tonight. I wish I could. I wish we were all back home, well fed and housed in our old paddock, free to roam around and root about in the fresh air, instead of being stuck in this prison.”
And a secure prison it looked to be. The floor was of concrete, and the strong wooden door, which opened inward, was faced with a large sheet of tin. No pig would ever be able to force it open.
 
 
“I'm beginning to feel sorry for them,” Damaris said to Rory the next morning, when she had told him all that had happened.
“I don't care about the pigs,” said Rory, “but I'm beginning to feel sorry for the farmer. He's worried stiff, you can see it, driving about all over the place, every minute he can spare, looking for them.”
“What are we to do?” said Damaris.
“We're going to have to tell the farmer where they are.”
“Oh, yes, and just how do we do that?”
Just then there came a shrill whistle.
“Here we go,” said Rory. “You think of something, Damaris. If anyone can, you can.”
Luvaduck
, thought Damaris,
I′m not
that
clever
.
 
 
The farmer and his wife were sitting at breakfast the next morning.
“Where are you going to look today, Jim?” asked the farmer's wife.
“Don't really know, Emma,” said the farmer. “I've been everywhere—Muddlehampton, Muddlebury, Muddlechester, Upper Muddle, Lower Muddle.”
At that moment they heard a tapping noise, and there, sitting on the windowsill outside and banging on the pane with her bill, was a brown-and-white duck.

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