Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Bliss and Other Stories


page 48


Pat came swinging along ; in his hand he held a little tomahawk that winked in the sun.

" Come with me," he said to the children, " and I'll show you how the kings of Ireland chop the head off a duck."

They drew back—they didn't believe him, and besides, the Trout boys had never seen Pat before.

" Come on now," he coaxed, smiling and holding out his hand to Kezia.

"Is it a real duck's head ? One from the paddock ? "

" It is," said Pat. She put her hand in his hard dry one, and he stuck the tomahawk in his belt and held out the other to Rags. He loved little children.

" I'd better keep hold of Snooker's head if there's going to be any blood about," said Pip, " because the sight of blood makes him awfully wild." He ran ahead dragging Snooker by the handkerchief.

" Do you think we ought to go ? " whispered Isabel. " We haven't asked or anything. Have we?"

At the bottom of the orchard a gate was set in the paling fence. On the other side a steep bank led down to a bridge that spanned the creek, and once up the bank on the other side you were on the fringe of the paddocks. A little old stable in the first paddock had been turned into a fowl house. The fowls had strayed far away across the paddock page 49down to a dumping ground in a hollow, but the ducks kept close to that part of the creek that flowed under the bridge.

Tall bushes overhung the stream with red leaves and yellow flowers and clusters of blackberries. At some places the stream was wide and shallow, but at others it tumbled into deep little pools with foam at the edges and quivering bubbles. It was in these pools that the big white ducks had made themselves at home, swimming and guzzling along the weedy banks.

Up and down they swam, preening their dazzling breasts, and other ducks with the same dazzling breasts and yellow bills swam upside down with them.

" There is the little Irish navy," said Pat, " and look at the old admiral there with the green neck and the grand little flagstaff on his tail."

He pulled a handful of grain from his pocket and began to walk towards the fowl-house, lazy, his straw hat with the broken crown pulled over his eyes.

" Lid. Lid—lid—lid—lid——" he called.

" Qua. Qua—qua—qua—qua——" answered

the ducks, making for land, and flapping and scrambling up the bank they streamed after him in a long waddling line. He coaxed them, pretending to throw the grain, shaking it in his hands and calling to them until they swept round him in a white ring.

page 50

From far away the fowls heard the clamour and they too came running across the paddock, their heads thrust forward, their wings spread, turning in their feet in the silly way fowls run and scolding as they came.

Then Pat scattered the grain and the greedy ducks began to gobble. Quickly he stooped, seized two, one under each arm, and strode across to the children. Their darting heads and round eyes frightened the children—all except Pip.

" Come on, sillies," he cried, " they can't bite. They haven't any teeth. They've only got those two little holes in their beaks for breathing through."

" Will you hold one while I finish with the other ?" asked Pat. Pip let go of Snooker. " Won't I ? Won't I ? Give us one. I don't mind how much he kicks."

He nearly sobbed with delight when Pat gave the white lump into his arms.

There was an old stump beside the door of the fowl-house. Pat grabbed the duck by the legs, laid it flat across the stump, and almost at the same moment down came the little tomahawk and the duck's head flew off the stump. Up the blood spurted over the white feathers and over his hand.

When the children saw the blood they were frightened no longer. They crowded round him and began to scream. Even Isabel leaped about crying : " The blood ! The blood ! " Pip forgot all about his cluck. He simply threw it away from page 51 him and shouted, " I saw it. I saw it," and jumped round the wood block.

Rags, with cheeks as white as paper, ran up to the little head, put out a finger as if he wanted to touch it, shrank back again and then again put out a finger. He was shivering all over.

Even Lottie, frightened little Lottie, began to laugh and pointed at the duck and shrieked: " Look, Kezia, look."

" Watch it! " shouted Pat. He put down the body and it began to waddle—with only a long spurt of blood where the head had been ; it began to pad away without a sound towards the steep bank that led to the stream. . . . That was the crowning wonder.

" Do you see that ? Do you see that ? " yelled Pip. He ran among the little girls tugging at their pinafores.

" It's like a little engine. It's like a funny little railway engine," squealed Isabel.

But Kezia suddenly rushed at Pat and flung her arms round his legs and butted her head as hard as she could against his knees.

" Put head back ! Put head back ! " she screamed.

When he stooped to move her she would not let go or take her head away. She held on as hard as she could and sobbed : " Head back ! Head back ! " until it sounded like a loud strange hiccup.

" It's stopped. It's tumbled over. It's dead," said Pip.

page 52

Pat dragged Kezia up into his arms. Her sun-bonnet had fallen back, but she would not let him look at her face. No, she pressed her face into a bone in his shoulder and clasped her arms round his neck.

The children stopped screaming as suddenly as they had begun. They stood round the dead duck. Rags was not frightened of the head any more. He knelt down and stroked it, now.

" I don't think the head is quite dead yet," he said. " Do you think it would keep alive if I gave it something to drink ? "

But Pip got very cross : " Bah ! You baby." He whistled to Snooker and went off.

When Isabel went up to Lottie, Lottie snatched away.

" What are you always touching me for, Isabel ? "

" There now," said Pat to Kezia. " There's the grand little girl."

She put up her hands and touched his ears. She felt something. Slowly she raised her quivering face and looked. Pat wore little round gold earrings. She never knew that men wore ear-rings. She was very much surprised.

" Do they come on and off ? " she asked huskily.