Read Clever Duck Online

Authors: Dick King-Smith

Clever Duck (6 page)

Something clicked in Damaris's unusually large brain.
Here was a way to communicate with the farmer!
Not by word of mouth—she couldn't speak to him.
Not by her actions—she had tried flying away and calling to him to follow, but in vain.
But how about a pictorial message? Show him the picture!
“Rory,” she said, “look in here.″
Rory peered into the box.
“It's a picture of a pig,” he said.
“Yes. Can you get it out?”
Damaris stood to one side as the sheepdog put his head into the box and carefully picked up the magazine in his mouth.
“Put it on the floor, pig upward,” she said.
He did.
“Now, do you see what I'm getting at?”
“No.”
“Listen then.”
Rory listened as Damaris explained her idea.
Then he said, “Brilliant! But are they clever enough to get the message?”
“You got it,” said Damaris, “and they're supposed to be more intelligent than any dog.”
“Or even a pig.”
“And certainly any duck.”
“Except one,” said Rory proudly.
The farmer's wife came into the kitchen.
“Go on, Rory,” quacked Damaris softly.
Rory began to bark excitedly. He bounced around beside the
Pig Breeders' Gazette
, putting a paw on the picture, scratching at it, pointing his muzzle at it, doing everything in his power to get the woman to look at it.
She did.
“What's the matter, Rory?” she said.
The farmer came in.
“What's the matter with Rory?” he said.
“He's trying to tell us something.”
At that moment Damaris joined in. She could not flap her wings because of the bandaging, but she quacked as loudly as she could. The farmer's wife lifted her out of the cardboard box and put her down on the floor beside the magazine, and Damaris began to tap with her bill upon the picture of the Supreme Champion Large White.
“She's trying to tell us something, too,” she said. “About our pigs, it must be.”
“There you go again, Emma,” the farmer said. “Trying to tell me that these two know where the pigs are.”
“Remember what you said, Jim. ‘Animals know things we couldn't know.' Those were your very words.”
“Yes, but I was talking about a dog like Rory. There's no such thing as a clever duck, not outside of a children's storybook.”
Market Day
“Anyway,” said the farmer, “I'd best be off on my usual search. I must have looked in almost every field in this valley. Someone must have them shut up somewhere.”
“You're just taking Tess?” his wife said.
“Yes.”
But as he went out of the kitchen, Rory followed, and at his heels came Damaris, waddling as fast as she could.
The farmer's wife went to the front door to see them off. The dogs had, as usual, jumped up into the bed of the truck. Damaris was standing waiting by the passenger door.
“You'll have to take her, Jim,” the farmer's wife said.
“She won't be able to see anything, she's too short.”
“You'll just have to stop every so often and lift her out and let her have a look around. If she quacks and Rory barks, like they've just been doing, I reckon you're getting warm. Try all the villages in turn.”
Some time after the pickup truck had gone off down the farm road, a cattle truck drove into Mr.
Crook's yard. It was market day in a distant town, and the dealer reckoned he had waited long enough.
Whoever owns these pigs
, he said to himself,
must have given up hope by now
.
Meanwhile the farmer had driven in turn to the villages of Muddlebury, Muddlechester, Upper Muddle, and Lower Muddle. Near each he had stopped and, feeling foolish, had lifted Damaris out. But she had made no sound. Each time, Rory had barked, but Damaris remained silent.
The dog barks at the smell of pigs, any pigs,
the
farmer thought,
but will the duck only quack at the right pigs? What am I saying? The duck knows more than the dog? I'm beginning to believe it.
In a lane outside Muddlehampton, not far from the river Muddle, he stopped and lifted Damaris out once more.
Immediately she began to quack loudly and to struggle wildly in his arms. Hearing her, Rory let out a volley of barks, and Tess, of course, joined in.
“What's all that racket, boss?” said the hauler to Mr. Crook as they raised the tailgate behind the pigs and clamped it shut. And at that moment, they saw a pickup truck come to a stop in the yard gateway, blocking it.
From it jumped a man holding in his arms a
bandaged duck and followed by two sheepdogs. The dogs were barking and growling, the duck was quacking madly, and the man, who looked angry, walked up to Mr. Crook and said, “What have you got in the truck?”
“Mind your own business,” said the dealer.
“It is my business,” said the farmer. “You've got a pedigree Large White boar and seven sows in there, haven't you?”
The hauler's jaw dropped.
“Here,” he said, “how did you know that?”
“There's something else I know too,” said the farmer.
He took a notebook out of his pocket.
“Now then,” he said to the dealer,”here are all the numbers on the ear tags of these pigs. Let's have a look and see if they match, shall we?”
Mr. Crook knew when he was beaten.
“Hang on a minute,” he said to his hauler, and he took the farmer across the yard to his office.
“Am I pleased to see you, sir!” he said. “I've been keeping those pigs safe, hoping someone would claim them. Couldn't afford to keep them any longer, you know—eating me out of house and home. Just loading them up to send to a friend of mine who's got a bit of rough ground …”
“Don't bother spinning me a cock-and-bull
story about it,” said the farmer. “I know the dates of the markets. I'll tell you where you're sending them, and that's straight to my farm. You'll pay the haulage, of course.”
“They've cost me a lot already,” said Mr. Crook sullenly.
“And they'd have earned you a nice lot, too, if I hadn't turned up,” said the farmer.
“How did you know where to come?”
The farmer looked at the dealer.
Then he looked at Damaris.
Then he looked at a shotgun, propped in the corner of the office.
Then he suddenly knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what had happened.
“The duck told me,” he said. “I'll send you the vet's bill.”
Mr. Crook mopped his face with a large spotted handkerchief. “No need for us to say anything to anybody else about all this business, is there, sir?” he said.
“No need at all,” said the farmer. “And I'll tell the duck to keep quiet about it too.”

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