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IN THE DUCK-YARD

 

A DUCK arrived from PortugalSome said from Spainbut that's all the sameShe was called the Portugueseand laid eggsand was killed and cookedand that was her careerBut the ducklings which crept forth from her eggs were afterwards also called Portugueseand there is something in thatNowof the whole family there was only one left in the duck-yarda yard to which the chickens had access likewiseand where the cook strutted about with infinite pride

He annoys me with his loud crowing!”observed the Portuguese Duck.“But he is a handsome birdthere's no denying thatthough he is not a drakeHe ought to moderate himselfbut that's an art which shows superior breedinglike that possessed by the little singing birds over in the lime trees in the neighbour's gardenHow charmingly they singThere's something quite pretty in their warblingI call it PortugalIf I had only such a little singing birdId be a mother to himkind and goodfor that's in my bloodmy Portuguese blood!”

And while she was still speakinga little Singing Bird came head over heels from the roof into the yardThe cat was behind himbut the Bird escaped with a broken wingand came tumbling into the yard

That's just like the catthe villain!”said the Portuguese Duck.“I remember him when I had children of my ownThat such a creature should be allowed to liveand to wander about upon the roofsI don't think they do such things in Portugal!”

And she pitied the little Singing Birdand the other Ducks who were not of Portuguese descent pitied him too

Poor little creature!”they saidas one after another came up.“We certainly can't sing,”they said,“but we have an internal feeling for songor something of the kindwithin us we can feel thatthough we don't talk of it.”

But I can talk of it,”said the Portuguese Duck;“and I'll do something for the little fellowfor that's my duty!”And she stepped into the water-troughand beat her wings upon the water so heartilythat the little Singing Bird was almost drowned by the bath he gotbut the Duck meant it kindly.“That's a good deed,”she said:“the others may take example by it.”

Piep!”said the little Birdone of his wings was brokenand he found it difficult to shake himselfbut he quite understood that the bath was kindly meant.“You are very kind-heartedmadam,”he saidbut he did not wish for a second bath

I have never thought about my heart,”continued the Portuguese Duck,“but I know this muchthat I love all my fellow creatures except the catbut nobody can expect me to love himfor he ate up two of my ducklingsBut pray make yourself at homefor one can make oneself comfortableI myself am from a strange countryas you may see from my bearing and from my feathery dressMy drake is a native of these partshe's not of my racebut for all that I'm not proudIf anyone here in the yard can under-stand youI may assert that I am that person.”

She's quite full of Portulak,”said a little common Duckwho was wittyand all the other common Ducks considered the word Portulak quite a good jokefor it sounded like Portugaland they nudged each other and saidRapp!”It was too wittyAnd all the other Ducks now began to notice the little Singing Bird

The Portuguese has certainly a greater command of language,”they said.“For our partwe don't care to fill our beaks with such long wordsbut our sympathy is just as greatIf we don't do anything for youwe do not say any-thing about itand we think that the best thing we can do.”

You have a lovely voice,”said one of the oldest.“It must be a great satisfaction to be able to give so much pleasure as you are able to impartI certainly am no great judge of your songand consequently I keep my beak shutand even that is better than talking nonsense to youas others do.“

Don't plague him so,”interposed the Portuguese Duck:“he requires rest and nursingLittle Singing Birdshall I splash you again?”

OhnoPray let me be dry!” he begged

The water cure is the only thing that helps me,”quoth the Portuguese.“Amusement is beneficial tooThe neighbouring fowls will soon come to pay their visitThere are two Cochin-Chinas among themThey wear feathers on their legsare well educatedand have been brought from afarthat raises them in my regard.”

And the Fowls cameand the Cock cametoday he was polite enough to abstain from being rude.”

You are a true Singing Bird,”he said,“and you do as much with your little voice as can possibly be done with itBut one requires a little more shrillnessthat every hearer may hear that one is a male.”

The two Chinese stood quite enchanted with the ap-pearance of the Singing BirdHe looked very much rum-pled after his bathso that he seemed to them to have quite the appearance of a little Cochin-China fowl

He's charming,”they criedand began a conversation with himspeaking in whispersand using the most aristocratic Chinese dialect

We are of your race,”they continued.“The Duckseven the Portugueseare swimming birdsas you cannot fail to have noticedYou do not know us yetvery few know usor give themselves the trouble to make our acquaintancenot even any of the fowlsthough we are born to sit on a higher perch than most of the restBut that does not disturb uswe quietly pursue our path amid the otherswhose principles are certainly not oursbut we look at things on the favourable sideand only speak of what is goodthough it is difficult sometimes to find something when nothing existsExcept us two and the Cook there's no one in the whole poultry-yard who is at once talented and politeIt cannot even be said of the in-habitants of the duck-yardWe warn youlittle Singing Birddon't trust that one yonder with the short tail feathersfor she's cunningThe pied one therewith the crooked stripes on her wingsis a strife-seekerand lets nobody have the last wordthough she's always in the wrongThe fat duck yonder speaks evil of everyoneand that's against our principlesif we have nothing good to tellwe should hold our beaksThe Portuguese is the only one who has any educationand with whom one can associ-atebut she is passionateand talks too much about Portugal.”

What a lot those two Chinese have to whisper,”whispered one Duck to her friend.“They annoy meI have never spoken to them.”

Now the Drake came upHe thought the little Singing Bird was a sparrow

WellI don't understand the difference,”he said;“and indeed it's all the same thingHe's only a play-thingand if one has themwhyone has them.”

Don't attach any value to what he says,”the Portuguese whispered.“He's very respectable in business mattersand with him business takes precedence of every-thingBut now I shall lie down for a restOne owes that to oneselfthat one may be nice and fat when one is to be embalmed with apples and prunes.”

And accordingly she lay down in the sunand winked with one eyeand she lay very comfortablyand she felt very comfortableand she slept very comfortably

The little Singing Bird busied himself with his broken wingAt last he lay down tooclose to his protectressthe sun shone warm and brightand he had found a very good place

But the neighbour's fowls went about scratching up the earthandto tell the truththey had paid the visit simply and solely to find food for themselvesThe Chinese were the first to leave the duck-yardand the other fowls soon followed themThe witty little Duck said of the Portuguese that the old lady would soon be in her second ducklinghoodAt this the other Ducks laughed and cackled aloud.“Second ducklinghood,”they said;“that is too wit-ty!”and then they repeated the former joke about Portulakand declared that it was vastly amusingAnd then they lay down

They had been lying asleep for some timewhen suddenly something was thrown into the yard for them to eatIt came down with such a thwackthat the whole company started up from sleep and clapped their wingsThe Portuguese awoke tooand threw herself over on the other sidepressing the little Singing Bird very hard as she did so

Piep!”he cried;“you trod very hard upon memadam.”

Wellwhy do you lie in my way?”the Duck retort-ed.“You must not be so touchyI have nerves of my ownbut yet I never called outPiep!’”

Don't be angry,”said the little Bird;“thepiepcame out of my beak unawares.”

The Portuguese did not listen to himbut began eating as fast as she couldand made a good mealWhen this was endedand she lay down againthe little Bird came upand wanted to be amiableand sang

Tilly-lilly lee

Of your dear heart

I'll sing so oft

As far and wide I flee.”

Now I want to rest after my dinner,”said the Portuguese.“You must conform to the rules of the house while you're hereI want to sleep now.”

The little Singing Bird was quite taken abackfor he had meant it kindlyWhen Madam afterwards awokehe stood before her again with a little corn that he had foundand laid it at her feetbut as she had not slept wellshe was naturally in a very bad humour

Give that to a chicken!”she said,“and don't be always standing in my way.”

Why are you angry with me?”replied the little Singing Bird.“What have I done?”

Done?”repeated the Portuguese Duck:“your mode of expression is not exactly genteela fact to which I must call your attention.”

Yesterday it was sunshine here,”said the little Bird,“but today it's cloudy and grey.”

You don't know much about the weatherI fancy,”retorted the Portuguese.“The day is not done yetDon't stand there looking so stupid.”

But you are looking at me just as the wicked eyes looked when I fell into the yard yesterday.”

Impertinent creature!”exclaimed the Portuguese Duck,“would you compare me with the catthat beast of preyThere's not a drop of malicious blood in meI've taken your partand will teach you good manners.”

And so sayingshe bit off the Singing Bird's headand he lay dead on the ground

Nowwhat's the meaning of thisshe said,“could he not bear even thatThen certainly he was not made for this worldI've been like a mother to himI know thatfor I've a good heart.”

Then the neighbour's Cock stuck his head into the Yardand crowed with steam-engine power

You'll kill me with your crowing!” she cried.“It is all your faultHe's lost his headand I am very near losing mine.”

There's not much lying where he fell!”observed the Cock

Speak of him with respect,” retorted the Portuguese Duck,“for he had songmannersand educationHe was affectionate and softand that's as good in animals as in your so-called human beings.”

And all the Ducks came crowding round the little dead Singing BirdDucks have strong passionswhether they feel envy or pityand as there was nothing here to envypity manifested itselfeven in the two Chinese

We shall never get such a singing bird againhe was almost a Chinese,”they whisperedand they wept with a mighty clucking soundand all the fowls clucked toobut the Ducks went about with the redder eyes

We've hearts of our own,”they said;“nobody can deny that.”

Hearts!”repeated the Portuguese,“yesthat we havealmost as much as in Portugal.”

Let us think of getting something to satisfy our hunger,”said the Drake,“for that's the most important pointIf one of our toys is brokenwhywe have plenty more!”

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