The Tale of Jemima Duck, continued
When she came out, the sandy whiskered gentleman was sitting on a log reading the newspaper–at least he had it spread out, but he was looking over the top of it.
He was so polite, that he seemed almost sorry to let Jemima go home for the night. He promised to take great care of her nest until she came back again next day.
He said he loved eggs and ducklings; he should be proud to see a fine nestful in his wood-shed.
Jemima Puddle-duck came every afternoon; she laid nine eggs in the nest. They were greeny white and very large. The foxy gentleman admired them immensely. He used to turn them over and count them when Jemima was not there.
At last Jemima told him that she intended to begin to sit next day–“and I will bring a bag of corn with me, so that I need never leave my nest until the eggs are hatched. They might catch cold,” said the conscientious Jemima.
“May I ask you to bring up some herbs from the farm-garden to make a savoury omelette? Sage and thyme, and mint and two onions, and some parsley. I will provide lard for the stuff–lard for the omelette,” said the hospitable gentleman with sandy whiskers.
Jemima Puddle-duck was a simpleton: not even the mention of sage and onions made her suspicious.
She went round the farm-garden, nibbling off snippets of all the different sorts of herbs that are used for stuffing roast duck. And she waddled into the kitchen, and got two onions out of a basket.
The collie-dog Kep met her coming out, “What are you doing with those onions? Where do you go every afternoon by yourself, Jemima Puddle-duck?”
Jemima was rather in awe of the collie; she told him the whole story. The collie listened, with his wise head on one side; he grinned when she described the polite gentleman with sandy whiskers.
He asked several questions about the wood, and about the exact position of the house and shed. Then he went out, and trotted down the village. He went to look for two fox-hound puppies who were out at walk with the butcher.
Jemima Puddle-duck went up the cart-road for the last time, on a sunny afternoon. She was rather burdened with bunches of herbs and two onions in a bag.
She flew over the wood, and alighted opposite the house of the bushy long-tailed gentleman.
He was sitting on a log; he sniffed the air, and kept glancing uneasily round the wood. When Jemima alighted he quite jumped.
“Come into the house as soon as you have looked at your eggs. Give me the herbs for the omelette. Be sharp!”
He was rather abrupt. Jemima Puddle-duck had never heard him speak like that. She felt surprised, and uncomfortable.
While she was inside she heard pattering feet round the back of the shed. Some one with a black nose sniffed at the bottom of the door, and then locked it. Jemima became much alarmed.
A moment afterwards there were most awful noises–barking, baying, growls and howls, squealing and groans. And nothing more was ever seen of that foxy-whiskered gentleman.
Presently Kep opened the door of the shed, and let out Jemima Puddle-duck.
Unfortunately the puppies rushed in and gobbled up all the eggs before he could stop them. He had a bite on his ear and both the puppies were limping. Jemima Puddle-duck was escorted home in tears on account of those eggs.
She laid some more in June, and she was permitted to keep them herself: but only four of them hatched. Jemima Puddle-duck said that it was because of her nerves; but she had always been a bad sitter.