THE DAYS OF REAL SPORT: WHY IS A DUCK?
By w. R. Mac'ilrath
YOU see, it was this way: John, Rocks, Bad Eye and myself were sitting on the top rail of a stake-and-rider fence and pondering the imponderables, and trying to figure out what it was that made the planets go round and what would happen if one collided with the earth we are on? And if a gun were made strong enough to fire a bullet through the center of the sun, would it melt on the way through? And did the whale really swallow Jonah? And if so, was it the tobacco in Jonah's pocket that caused it to again discard him on a nice, dry beach? And if a man had springs in his legs like a flea, wouldn't he make a humdinger of a foot racer?
Just as someone sprung one about "if . a hen could lay eggs as rapidly as a Maxim gun could fire and you had to pour cold water on her to keep her from setting herself afire" — but this "nut" never got to draw his conclusion, whatever it was, if there was any. It probably would have been something about how rich the owner of the said hen would be in an honr and ten minutes if his water supply was unfailing — for just then the top rail broke and the school of Socrates was precipitated into some high burdock and the valuable train of thought was lost.
As we arose straightway up out of the burdock a lone duck was seen going south as if he knew exactly where he was going and what for; for he was working his propellers and rudder with admirable speed and clock-like precision, and he tarried not on his way.
Then arose the question which is at least as old as the Parker Gun Factory, "Why.is a duck?" The school of Socrates could not agree although the members had at least one reason apiece if not more.
The argument waxed eloquent and warm, and in the last half, just before the whistle, Bad Eye assured the rest of the bunch of the ancient school of freethinkers that, collectively, they didn't know a duck from a buzzard, but if they would "just foller" him he would "show them" to their utter and complete satisfaction, not only what a duck was for, "but what it was made out of, by !"
The almost feminine modesty and reticence of the rest of us prevented us from replying almost in wrath to Bad Eye's derogatory remarks about us. But Rocks, who is Bad Eye's literal twin, and whom some unkind person named with a hard nickname, spoke substantially as follows or words to that effect : "Why you bloomin' skunk catcher, you! A duck would have to be both blind and sick to let you kill it. I'm goin' to get a duck and tame it for you, some time, so you can kill one. We'll foller ye, alright, alright, by !!"
Rocks had spoken the thought of us all.
A few days later it rained like everything, and "nothin" was doin'," and mallards began to come in and light in the shallow water and feed, and puddle about and wiggle their tails and gabble their duck talk. It was all mutually understood that somebody "had to be showed," and each man loaded his ancient artillery and betook himself into the whence where were the ducks. I carried the renowned Prima Donna, a shotgun so named because it was a high-reacher with fours in the right and little lead slugs, that I had cut and rolled with a board, in the left. Both on top of three fingers of black powder. "Humph," said I to myself, "I'll kill 'em stone dead at 80 yards."
Bad Eye had the only modern artillery in the crowd, a Winchester pump of the hammer type. He took great pleasure in comparing his repeating cannon to our antediluvian weapons and was irrationally sarcastic in doing it. He claimed if he wanted to kill a duck a little farther than usual all he had to do was to push on the stock a little. Also, he impolitely called us "buzzard hunters," and kept saying we couldn't tell a duck from a buzzard (which was not so) and kept it up for about an hour. This repeated indecency got on our nerves, almost, for we were a pretty high-strung bunch and didn't just take everything, if we did take that.
While he was talking, Bad Eye led the way to the famous duck lake, out from behind the high buck-brush of which proceeded the gabbling of animated duckdom. There was shallow water and high weed around the short side of the buck-brush which made it exceedingly difficult to proceed with cat-like caution, as it were.
Presently, Bad Eye spied a small dead tree leaning upward at an angle of about 60 degrees and out over the lake. Bad Eye's alert mind at once perceived that if he could get up this tree high enough he could see over into the duck world beyond the brush. Forthwith he mounted himself straightway up into the tree and proceeded knowingly toward the top, saying: "Fellers, if I skeer 'em you shoot 'em." Which advice was appropriate for the occasion. As there were no other trees thereabout to ascend up into, we, unfortunate "buzzard hunters," had to remain glued in the mud that attached itself to us with an exceeding great gluishness, and remained so attached. In the midst of these preparations to shoot the ducks that were in the lake, John wanted a place to sit down. (Always there is one alien spirit. Why is it?). The rest of the "buzzard contingent" waited patiently standing while Bad Eye climbed up into the dead tree.
At last Bad Eye arose to that height whereat he could see some of the ducks. "There are millions of them," asserted Bad Eye. We implored him almost with tears in our eyes to shoot and let us suffer the ignominy of remaining duckless. But Bad Eye had his gun fast between the tree and his knee and he couldn't let go with either hand. So Our entreaties returned to us void. Likewise, John had to cough, which stopped the duck talk of the national duck convention going on just a moment before on the other side of the buckbrush. And all the ducks, Bad Eye said afterward, sat with their necks very straight up in the air and still as painted ducks on a painted mud hole. Bad Eye said that for a couple of hours he never drew a breath after that cough, and the rest oi the "buzzard contingent" registered, each man, a solemn vow, to himself, that he would shoot John on the spot if he did it again. Why does anybody want to sit down for anyhow, where there is no place to sit down? Somebody tell me.
"Bad Eye," said Rocks, "for heaven's sake, don't skeer 'em," just as though it was Bad Eye that coughed.
Bad Eye looked so bad, then, that murder would have been like eating ice cream for him, but he dar'sent say anything, did Bad Eye.
N-o-o-o-o Bad Eye didn't sk-e-e-e-er-r-r 'em! How could he ? How could such a thing be possible? Wasn't he going to show us what a duck was made out off Gentle and confiding reader, must the truth be known? Buzzard hunters ! Ugh! — Pop!
The duck convention opened like a shaky market. Our stock was on the rise again. We had a narrow escape.
Bad Eye had his'best eye riveted upon a limb above his head about the size of a broom handle. He hardened his heart and putting his conscience behind him set out for it. Oh, alas, alas, that he ever did it! Why did he do it ?
The Buzzardites could not wring their hands and implore him not to do it. Bad Eye was possessed of a resolute soul, and had not the Buzzardites coughed, and talked out loud, and wanted to sit down where there was no place to sit down? So, like Belshazzar at the feast, he proceeded on his wicked way; even the handwriting was on the wall. N-o-o-o-o! He didn't sk-e-e-e-r-r 'em!
At last his hand was upon the coveted limb. Now was the time. He could worm himself up — up — ever so easy. We held our breath. Oh, dear! If anything happened! Oh, it was unthinkable. Bad Eye had his knee upon the limb and his eye rested upon a lake full of ducks — for an instant, and then?
Then, a mallard drake away out in the middle of the lake (that had no business being there anyhow) that was not near so close as some of the other ducks, arose with a mighty napping of his wings and splashing of water and with a vociferous squawking likened to the popping off of a railroad yard full of steam engines.
After that, we don't remember, very clearly, what just did happen. But we know one duck got up first. (Oh, how I would like to shoot him, even today, for it! He had no right to get up that way, and if he did "have to go," why didn't he leave quietly like a well-bred duck should do? Somebody tell me?). In making his get-away he spiralled right over past Bad Eye and the rest of us. (I know his intentions were to alarm the other ducks, that's what he did it for). He must have disconcerted Bad Eye, for Bad Eye let his gun slip out from between his legs and it descended down upon and splashed into the water with a tremendous splash and sank and remained thereafter sunk.
At once pandemonium let loose in the tree top. Gentle reader, let us not
dwell upon the awful words that Bad Eye spoke in his desperation. He was vociferous beyond the comprehension of ordinary men and "talked in tongues." He sprang upon that limb and tore his hair and jumped up and down, and he saw green and yellow streaks before his eyes.
The ducks in a mighty body arose as of one mind and filled the air with their bodies and the noise of their flying and squawking, and the noise and confusion thereof was astounding so that no words can describe it. And "they were all getting away" was the thought of each one of us. It was heartbreaking to see so many ducks get away.
And in the midst thereof, while Bad Eye tore his hair and jumped up and down on the limb of the dead tree, the limb broke and he was precipitated straightway downward into the water of the lake and splashed therein with a terrific splash even more so than his gun before him, and he straightway sank like unto the gun, and his last estate was worse than the first.
But he did not remain sunk, but came out on the bank where were those who were killing ducks "hand over fist." And the words that he spake with his mouth were unprintable in a nice magazine like this, for red was the color of the streaks he now saw before his eyes as the ducks came down around him.
Rocks aimed for two crossing each other with each barrel but only got one with the second shot. John had a single barrel breech-loader and he loaded and fired this as fast as he could and he fired where the ducks seemed thickest to him, and at all ranges.
I fired my right early in the action and got a drake, the mate to the one that started the thing. (I am morally sure I killed him because he looked like the one that started it and let all those ducks get away). Then I waited for a bunch to thicken up like a swarm of bees to use the slugs in the left. When the ducks in the atmosphere seemed to be of about the right consistency I aimed at the thickest spot and let go, and Prima Donna kicked me as I hope never to be kicked again, for I had forgotten and put the load of slugs in on top of a big load of shot. For a moment I envied Bad Eye his estate. And the ducks "rained down," but my shoulder hurt terribly and Prima Donna was let fall, and fell, and sank and remained sunk.
After a little the ducks thinned out but John continued to fire at all ranges, from 20 yards to 125. One little duck came over alone very high up in the blue and was working his propellers as though to get a "hot box" when "Janas" "c-u-t do-w-n" on him and he turned over away up there where he didn't look bigger than a bumble-bee and came down straight as a plummet and fell right close to us. It was about the prettiest duck shot I ever saw, but John blew the smoke out of the barrel of his gun and nonchalantly shoved another shell into the breech and tried very hard to look unconcerned as though he did such things every day as a matter of course.
Then we proceeded to gather the dead, wading out into the lake and seeking in the buck-brush. And lo! and behold, while we hunted, a duck fell from the sky into our midst. Upon examination we found he had a single head wound; in all probability from one of the slugs — for it tore a great hole in his bill just in front of his face very close up.
Bad Eye prospected in the waist-deep water for his gun until he found it, and great was the rejoicing upon the part of the "Buzzardites" when it was found; for they heaped showers of compliments upon Bad Eye and praised him to his face, and paid felicitations to him who would not reply in kind and cursed them openly for their kind interest in him. They even offered to let him carry some of their ducks, seeing he had none, that passers-by might not see that he was devoid of ducks. To which Bad Eye arose up in his wrath and told the "Buzzardites" to "Go to H — !!!"
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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