The Portuguese Duck
A duck once arrived from Portugal, but there were some who said she came from Spain, which is almost the same thing. At all events, she was called the УPortuguese,Ф and she laid eggs, was killed, and cooked, and there was an end of her. But the ducklings which crept forth from the eggs were also called УPortuguese,Ф and about that there may be some question. But of all the family one only remained in the duckyard, which may be called a farmyard, as the chickens were admitted, and the cock strutted about in a very hostile manner. УHe annoys me with his loud crowing,Ф said the Portuguese duck; Уbut, still, heТs a handsome bird, thereТs no denying that, although heТs not a drake. He ought to moderate his voice, like those little birds who are singing in the lime-trees over there in our neighborТs garden, but that is an art only acquired in polite society. How sweetly they sing there; it is quite a pleasure to listen to them! I call it Portuguese singing. If I had only such a little singing-bird, IТd be kind and good as a mother to him, for itТs in my nature, in my Portuguese blood.Ф
While she was speaking, one of the little singing-birds came tumbling head over heels from the roof into the yard. The cat was after him, but he had escaped from her with a broken wing, and so came tumbling into the yard. УThatТs just like the cat, sheТs a villain,Ф said the Portuguese duck. УI remember her ways when I had children of my own. How can such a creature be allowed to live, and wander about upon the roofs. I donТt think they allow such things in Portugal.Ф She pitied the little singing-bird, and so did all the other ducks who were not Portuguese.
УPoor little creature!Ф they said, one after another, as they came up. УWe canТt sing, certainly; but we have a sounding-board, or something of the kind, within us; we can feel that, though we donТt talk about it.Ф
УBut I can talk,Ф said the Portuguese duck; Уand IТll do something for the little fellow; itТs my duty;Ф and she stepped into the water-trough, and beat her wings upon the water so strongly that the bird was nearly drowned by a shower-bath; but the duck meant it kindly. УThat is a good deed,Ф she said; УI hope the others will take example by it.Ф
УTweet, tweet!Ф said the little bird, for one of his wings being broken, he found it difficult to shake himself; but he quite understood that the bath was meant kindly, and he said, УYou are very kind-hearted, madam;Ф but he did not wish for a second bath.
УI have never thought about my heart,Ф replied the Portuguese duck, Уbut I know that I love all my fellow-creatures, except the cat, and nobody can expect me to love her, for she ate up two of my ducklings. But pray make yourself at home; it is easy to make oneТs self comfortable. I am myself from a foreign country, as you may see by my feathery dress. My drake is a native of these parts; heТs not of my race; but I am not proud on that account. If any one here can understand you, I may say positively I am that person.Ф
УSheТs quite full of СPortulak,ТФ said a little common duck, who was witty. All the common ducks considered the word УPortulakФ a good joke, for it sounded like Portugal. They nudged each other, and said, УQuack! that was witty!Ф
Then the other ducks began to notice the little bird. УThe Portuguese had certainly a great flow of language,Ф they said to the little bird. УFor our part we donТt care to fill our beaks with such long words, but we sympathize with you quite as much. If we donТt do anything else, we can walk about with you everywhere, and we think that is the best thing we can do.Ф
УYou have a lovely voice,Ф said one of the eldest ducks; Уit must be great satisfaction to you to be able to give so much pleasure as you do. I am certainly no judge of your singing so I keep my beak shut, which is better than talking nonsense, as others do.Ф
УDonТt plague him so,Ф interposed the Portuguese duck; Уhe requires rest and nursing. My little singing-bird do you wish me to prepare another bath for you?Ф
УOh, no! no! pray let me dry,Ф implored the little bird.
УThe water-cure is the only remedy for me, when I am not well,Ф said the Portuguese. УAmusement, too, is very beneficial. The fowls from the neighborhood will soon be here to pay you a visit. There are two Cochin Chinese amongst them; they wear feathers on their legs, and are well educated. They have been brought from a great distance, and consequently I treat them with greater respect than I do the others.Ф
Then the fowls arrived, and the cock was polite enough to-day to keep from being rude. УYou are a real songster,Ф he said, Уyou do as much with your little voice as it is possible to do; but there requires more noise and shrillness in any one who wishes it to be known who he is.Ф
The two Chinese were quite enchanted with the appearance of the singing-bird. His feathers had been much ruffled by his bath, so that he seemed to them quite like a tiny Chinese fowl. УHeТs charming,Ф they said to each other, and began a conversation with him in whispers, using the most aristocratic Chinese dialect: УWe are of the same race as yourself,Ф they said. УThe ducks, even the Portuguese, are all aquatic birds, as you must have noticed. You do not know us yet,Чvery few know us, or give themselves the trouble to make our acquaintance, not even any of the fowls, though we are born to occupy a higher grade in society than most of them. But that does not disturb us, we quietly go on in our own way among the rest, whose ideas are certainly not ours; for we look at the bright side of things, and only speak what is good, although that is sometimes very difficult to find where none exists. Except ourselves and the cock there is not one in the yard who can be called talented or polite. It cannot even be said of the ducks, and we warn you, little bird, not to trust that one yonder, with the short tail feathers, for she is cunning; that curiously marked one, with the crooked stripes on her wings, is a mischief-maker, and never lets any one have the last word, though she is always in the wrong. That fat duck yonder speaks evil of every one, and that is against our principles. If we have nothing good to tell, we close our beaks. The Portuguese is the only one who has had any education, and with whom we can associate, but she is passionate, and talks too much about СPortugal.ТФ
УI wonder what those two Chinese are whispering about,Ф whispered one duck to another; Уthey are always doing it, and it annoys me. We never speak to them.Ф
Now the drake came up, and he thought the little singing-bird was a sparrow. УWell, I donТt understand the difference,Ф he said; Уit appears to me all the same. HeТs only a plaything, and if people will have playthings, why let them, I say.Ф
УDonТt take any notice of what he says,Ф whispered the Portuguese; УheТs very well in matters of business, and with him business is placed before everything. But now I shall lie down and have a little rest. It is a duty we owe to ourselves that we may be nice and fat when we come to be embalmed with sage and onions and apples.Ф So she laid herself down in the sun and winked with one eye; she had a very comfortable place, and felt so comfortable that she fell asleep. The little singing-bird busied himself for some time with his broken wing, and at last he lay down, too, quite close to his protectress. The sun shone warm and bright, and he found out that it was a very good place. But the fowls of the neighborhood were all awake, and, to tell the truth, they had paid a visit to the duckyard, simply and solely to find food for themselves. The Chinese were the first to leave, and the other fowls soon followed them.
The witty little duck said of the Portuguese, that the old lady was getting quite a Уdoting ducky,Ф All the other ducks laughed at this. УDoting ducky,Ф they whispered. УOh, thatТs too Сwitty!ТФ And then they repeated the former joke about УPortulak,Ф and declared it was most amusing. Then they all lay down to have a nap.
They had been lying asleep for some time, when suddenly something was thrown into the yard for them to eat. It came down with such a bang, that the whole company started up and clapped their wings. The Portuguese awoke too, and rushed over to the other side: in so doing she trod upon the little singing-bird.
УTweet,Ф he cried; Уyou trod very hard upon me, madam.Ф
УWell, then, why do you lie in my way?Ф she retorted, Уyou must not be so touchy. I have nerves of my own, but I do not cry Сtweet.ТФ
УDonТt be angry,Ф said the little bird; Уthe СtweetТ slipped out of my beak unawares.Ф
The Portuguese did not listen to him, but began eating as fast as she could, and made a good meal. When she had finished, she lay down again, and the little bird, who wished to be amiable, began to sing,Ч
УChirp and twitter,
The dew-drops glitter,
In the hours of sunny spring,
IТll sing my best,
Till I go to rest,
With my head behind my wing.Ф
УNow I want rest after my dinner,Ф said the Portuguese; Уyou must conform to the rules of the house while you are here. I want to sleep now.Ф
The little bird was quite taken aback, for he meant it kindly. When madam awoke afterwards, there he stood before her with a little corn he had found, and laid it at her feet; but as she had not slept well, she was naturally in a bad temper. УGive that to a chicken,Ф she said, Уand donТt be always standing in my way.Ф
УWhy are you angry with me?Ф replied the little singing-bird, Уwhat have I done?Ф
УDone!Ф repeated the Portuguese duck, Уyour mode of expressing yourself is not very polite. I must call your attention to that fact.Ф
УIt was sunshine here yesterday,Ф said the little bird, Уbut to-day it is cloudy and the air is close.Ф
УYou know very little about the weather, I fancy,Ф she retorted, Уthe day is not over yet. DonТt stand there, looking so stupid.Ф
УBut you are looking at me just as the wicked eyes looked when I fell into the yard yesterday.Ф
УImpertinent creature!Ф exclaimed the Portuguese duck: Уwould you compare me with the catЧthat beast of prey? ThereТs not a drop of malicious blood in me. IТve taken your part, and now IТll teach you better manners.Ф So saying, she made a bite at the little singing-birdТs head, and he fell dead on the ground. УNow whatever is the meaning of this?Ф she said; Уcould he not bear even such a little peck as I gave him? Then certainly he was not made for this world. IТve been like a mother to him, I know that, for IТve a good heart.Ф
Then the cock from the neighboring yard stuck his head in, and crowed with steam-engine power.
УYouТll kill me with your crowing,Ф she cried, УitТs all your fault. HeТs lost his life, and IТm very near losing mine.Ф
УThereТs not much of him lying there,Ф observed the cock.
УSpeak of him with respect,Ф said the Portuguese duck, Уfor he had manners and education, and he could sing. He was affectionate and gentle, and that is as rare a quality in animals as in those who call themselves human beings.Ф
Then all the ducks came crowding round the little dead bird. Ducks have strong passions, whether they feel envy or pity. There was nothing to envy here, so they all showed a great deal of pity, even the two Chinese. УWe shall never have another singing-bird again amongst us; he was almost a Chinese,Ф they whispered, and then they wept with such a noisy, clucking sound, that all the other fowls clucked too, but the ducks went about with redder eyes afterwards. УWe have hearts of our own,Ф they said, Уnobody can deny that.Ф
УHearts!Ф repeated the Portuguese, Уindeed you have, almost as tender as the ducks in Portugal.Ф
УLet us think of getting something to satisfy our hunger,Ф said the drake, УthatТs the most important business. If one of our toys is broken, why we have plenty more.Ф