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"Bang! Bang! Bang! Not a feather spare! Kill! Kill! Kill! Wound and rip and tear!"
That is what the terrible guns roar from morning to night at Mrs. Quack and her friends as they fly on their long journey to their home in the far North. I don't wonder that she was terribly uneasy and nervous as she sat in the Smiling Pool talking to Peter Rabbit; do you?
"Yes," said she, continuing her story of her long journey from the sunny Southland where she had spent the winter, "the farther we got, the more there were of those terrible guns. It grew so bad that as well as Mr. Quack knew the places where we could find food, and no Duck that ever flew knew them better, he couldn't find one where we could feel perfectly sure that we were safe. The very safest-looking places sometimes were the most dangerous. If you saw a lot of Rabbits playing together on the Green Meadows, you would feel perfectly safe in joining them, wouldn't you?"
Peter nodded. "I certainly would," said he. "If it was safe for them it certainly would be safe for me."
"Well, that is just the way we felt when we saw a lot of Ducks swimming about on the edge of one of those feeding-places. We were tired, for we had flown a long distance, and we were hungry. It was still and peaceful there and not a thing to be seen that looked the least bit like danger. So we went straight in to join those Ducks, and then, just as we set our wings to drop down on the water among them, there was a terrible bang, bang, bang, bang! My heart almost stopped beating. Then how we did fly! When we were far out over the water where we could see that nothing was near us we stopped to rest, and there we found only half as many in our flock as there had been."
"Where were the others?" asked Peter, although he guessed.
"Killed or hurt by those terrible guns," replied Mrs. Quack sadly. "And that wasn't the worst of it. I told you that when we started each of us had a mate. Now we found that of those who had escaped, four had lost their mates. They were heartbroken. When it came time for us to move on, they wouldn't go. They said that if they did reach the nesting-place in the far North, they couldn't have nests or eggs or young because they had no mates, so what was the use? Besides, they hoped that if they waited around they might find their mates. They thought they might not have been killed, but just hurt, and might be able to get away from those hunters. So they left us and swam back towards that terrible place, calling for their lost mates, and it was the saddest sound. I know now just how they felt, for I have lost Mr. Quack, and that's why I'm here." Mrs. Quack drew a wing across her eyes to wipe away the tears.
"But what happened to those Ducks that were swimming about there and made you think it was safe?" asked Peter, with a puzzled look on his face.
"Nothing," replied Mrs. Quack. "They had been fastened out there in the water by the hunters so as to make us think it safe, and the terrible guns were fired at us and not at them. The hunters were hidden under grass, and that is why we didn't see them."
Peter blinked his eyes rapidly as if he were having hard work to believe what he had been told. "Why," said be at last, "I never heard of anything so dreadfully unfair in all my life! Do you mean to tell me that those hunters actually made other Ducks lead you into danger?"
"That's just what I mean," returned Mrs. Quack. "Those two-legged creatures don't know what fairness is. Why, some of them have learned our language and actually call us in where they can shoot us. Just think of that! They tell us in our own language that there is plenty to eat and all is safe, so that we will think that other Ducks are hidden and feeding there, and then when we go to join them, we are shot at! You ought to be mighty thankful, Peter Rabbit, that you are not a Duck."
"I am," replied Peter. He knew that not one of the meadow and forest people who were always trying to catch him would do a thing like that.
"It's all true," said Mrs. Quack, "and those hunters do other things just as unfair. Sometimes awful storms will come up, and we just have to find places where we can rest. Those hunters will hide near those places and shoot at us when we are so tired that we can hardly move a wing. It wouldn't be so bad if a hunter would be satisfied to kill just one Duck, just as Reddy Fox is, but he seems to want to kill every Duck. Foxes and Hawks and Owls catch a good many young Ducks, just as they do young Rabbits, but you know how we feel about that. They only hunt when they are hungry, and they hunt fairly. When, they have got enough to make a dinner, they stop. They keep our wits sharp. If we do not keep out of their way, it is our own fault. It is a kind of game--the game of life. I guess it is Old Mother Nature's way of keeping us wide-awake and sharpening our wits, and so making us better fitted to live.
"With these two-legged creatures with terrible guns, it is all different. We don't have any chance at all. If they hunted us as Reddy Fox does, tried to catch us themselves, it would be different. But their terrible guns kill when we are a long way off, and there isn't any way for us to know of the danger. And then, when one of them does kill a Duck, he isn't satisfied, but keeps on killing and killing and killing. I'm sure one would make him a dinner, if that is what he wants.
"And they often simply break the wings or otherwise terribly hurt the ones they shoot at, and then leave them to suffer, unable to take care of themselves. Oh, dear, I'm afraid that is what has happened to Mr. Quack."
Once more poor Mrs. Quack was quite overcome with her troubles and sorrows. Peter wished with all his heart that he could do something to comfort her, but of course he couldn't, so he just sat still and waited until she could tell him just what did happen to Mr. Quack.
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