IT was evening. All the fowls in the barn-yard were gathered together to discuss the events of the day, and the prospects for the morrow. In the middle stood the old Shanghai cock, and all listened respectfully to him, for he had had great experiences, and had once broken his leg in a rat-trap, and had it bound up with a piece of red Turkey cotton.
"To-morrow," he said, "is the day when the snails come out of their houses for the yearly house-cleaning. On a bank, about half a mile from here, there is a colony of them, thousands and thousands. If I were younger, and had not broken my leg, I should certainly go and get some. The white snails are the most tender and juicy, and if any of the rest of you go, I should be much obliged if you would bring me a few."
"Do you hear that?" said Mrs. Speckle to her children. "If you will be good chickens, I will take you to-morrow morning to get some snails."
"I shall also take my children," remarked Dame Duck. "Shall we go together, neighbor Speckle?"
Mrs. Speckle drew herself up, and said, haughtily, "I cannot allow my children to walk with ducks. Though I wish to be civil to every one in the barn-yard, ma'am, you must perceive that you belong to a very different set from the one in which I move," and, chuckling to her brood, she walked off, leaving pour Dame Duck to recover from her surprise as best she might.
By the time the ducklings were ready to start, their mother found that Mrs. Speckle and her family had departed an hour before.
"Oh!" cried the ducklings, "will they eat all the snails before we get there?"
"I trust not," replied their mother. "The old Shanghai said there were thousands upon thousands of snails, and you know chicks can't eat as fast as we can, owing to their bills."
"Quack!" said the ducklings. "But let us hurry, dear mother, for we are all very hungry," and they waddled away as fast as they could go.
At first the sun shone brightly, and the ducks suffered much from the beat; but after a while a great, soft, purple cloud came drifting across the sky. Soon it covered the heavens, and the rain began to fall, in drops at first, then faster and faster, till at length it poured down in torrents, so that the road was covered with water.
"Quack! quack! quacky!" cried the ducklings. "Isn't this delightful? quack! look at the puddles! quack! They are deep enough to swim in. Was there ever such a beautiful day?" and they paddled about in high glee.
Presently Dame Duck heard a confused and mournful clucking and peeping, and looking about her she spied Mrs. Speckle and her brood huddled together under a burdock leaf, and looking very wretched indeed. She was about to pass by with a civil greeting, but Mrs. Speckle cried:
"O neighbor Duck! neighbor Duck! do you think this dreadful deluge will last long, or is it only a shower?"
"Can't say, I'm sure!" replied Dame Duck. "It looks like a good steady rain; the best possible thing for the country."
The unhappy hen made no reply, and Dame Duck, who was really very good natured, added, more kindly,
"Surely, Airs. Speckle, you are not afraid of a pleasant summer rain like this? It will do your little ones good to run about in it, and you yourself will find it most pleasant and cooling to the feet, I assure you."
But the hen shook her head, murmuring something about rheumatism and neuralgia; so Dame Duck, calling to her children, walked cheerily on.
In fact, poor Mrs. Speckle was destined to have no snail-hunt that day. Even when the rain stopped, as it did after a time, she was no better off: for she had not led her dripping chickens more than a hundred yards forward, before they came to a broad, swift stream, which flowed between them and the mud-bank, where they saw the ducks gobbling snails as fast as their bills could open and shut. There was nothing to do but turn round and go home, for neither mother nor chickens could swim a stroke.
Cross, tired, and hungry, Mrs. Speckle and her family reached the barn-yard at last, and took refuge in their own coop, too much vexed and distressed to speak to any one. They heard the joyous quacking which announced the return of the duck family, but they did not care to look out.
Worn out with fatigue, Mrs. Speckle was just dropping into a doze, when suddenly something cool and green was placed under her bill. It was a leaf-basket; and it was filled with snails, plump, white, and delicious.
"Quack," said the good duck. "Mrs. Speckle, ma'am, here is a little relish for your supper; and remember that, after all, there may be some good in neighbors who are not in your set."
How Two Looked at a Shower
A Fictional Short Story by
Agnes Taylor Ketchum & Ida M. Jorgensen