Chapter V. Peter Learns More of Mrs. Quack's Troubles




   It often happens when we know
      The troubles that our friends pass through,      
   Our own seem very small indeed;
      You'll always find that this is true.

"My, you must have felt glad when you reached your winter home!" exclaimed Peter Rabbit when Mrs. Quack finished the account of her long, terrible journey from her summer home in the far Northland to her winter home in the far Southland.

"I did," replied Mrs. Quack, "but all the time I couldn't forget those to whom terrible things had happened on the way down, and then, too, I kept dreading the long journey back."

"I don't see why you didn't stay right there. I would have," said Peter, nodding his head with an air of great wisdom.

"Not if you were I," replied Mrs. Quack. "In the first place it isn't a proper place in which to bring up young Ducks and make them strong and healthy. In the second place there are more dangers down there for young Ducks than up in the far Northland. In the third place there isn't room for all the Ducks to nest properly. And lastly there is a great longing for our real home, which Old Mother Nature has put in our hearts and which just makes us go. We couldn't be happy if we didn't."

"Is the journey back as bad as the journey down?" asked Peter.

"Worse, very much worse," replied Mrs. Quack sadly. "You can see for yourself just how bad it is, for here I am all alone." Tears filled Mrs. Quack's eyes. "It is almost too terrible to talk about," she continued after a minute. "You see, for one thing, food isn't as plentiful as it is in the fall, and we just have to go wherever it is to be found. Those two-legged creatures know where those feeding-grounds are just as well as we do, and they hide there with their terrible guns just as they did when we were coming south. But it is much worse now, very much worse. You see, when we were going the other way, if we found them at one place we could go on to another, but when we are going north we cannot always do that. We cannot go any faster than Jack Frost does. Sometimes we are driven out of a place by the bang, bang of the terrible guns and go on, only to find that we have caught up with Jack Frost, and that the ponds and the rivers are still covered with ice. Then there is nothing to do but to turn back to where those terrible guns are waiting for us. We just have to do it."

Mrs. Quack stopped and shivered. "It seems to me I have heard nothing but the noise of those terrible guns ever since we started," said she. "I haven't had a good square meal for days and days, nor a good rest. That is what makes me so dreadfully nervous. Sometimes, when we had been driven from place to place until we had caught up with Jack Frost, there would be nothing but ice excepting in small places in a river where the water runs too swiftly to freeze. We would just have to drop into one of these to rest a little, because we had flown so far that our wings ached as if they would drop off. Then just as we would think we were safe for a little while, there would come the bang of a terrible gun. Then we would have to fly again as long as we could, and finally come back to the same place because there was no other place where we could go. Then we would have to do it all over again until night came. Sometimes I think that those men with terrible guns must hate us and want to kill every one of us. If they didn't, they would have a little bit of pity. They simply haven't any hearts at all."

"It does seem so," agreed Peter. "But wait until you know Farmer Brown's boy! He's got a heart!" he added brightly.

"I don't want to know him," retorted Mrs. Quack. "If he comes near here, you'll see me leave in a hurry. I wouldn't trust one of them, not one minute. You don't think he will come, do you?"

Peter sat up and looked across the Green Meadows, and his heart sank. "He's coming now, but I'm sure he won't hurt you, Mrs. Quack," said he.

But Mrs. Quack wouldn't wait to see. With a hasty promise to come back when the way was clear, she jumped into the air and on swift wings disappeared towards the Big River.



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