Chapter X. How Mr. and Mrs. Quack Started North
 

Peter Rabbit was eager to help Mrs. Quack in her trouble, though he hadn't the least idea how he could help and neither had she. How any one who dislikes water as Peter does could help one who lives on the water all the time was more than either one of them could see. And yet without knowing it, Peter was helping Mrs. Quack. He was giving her his sympathy, and sympathy often helps others a great deal more than we even guess. It sometimes is a very good plan to tell your troubles to some one who will listen with sympathy. It was so with Mrs. Quack. She had kept her troubles locked in her own heart so long that it did her good to pour them all out to Peter.

"Mr. Quack and I spent a very comfortable winter way down in the sunny Southland," said she with a far-away look. "It was very warm and nice down there, and there were a great many other Ducks spending the winter with us. The place where we were was far from the homes of men, and it was only once in a long while that we had to watch out for terrible guns. Of course, we had to have our wits with us all the time, because there are Hawks and Owls and Minks down there just as there are up here, but any Duck who can't keep out of their way deserves to furnish one of them a dinner.

"Then there was another fellow we had to watch out for, a queer fellow whom we never see anywhere but down there. It was never safe to swim too near an old log floating in the water or lying on the bank, because it might suddenly open a great mouth and swallow one of us whole."

"What's that?" Peter Rabbit leaned forward and stared at Mrs. Quack with his eyes popping right out. "What's that?" he repeated. "How can an old log have a mouth?"

Mrs. Quack just had to smile, Peter was so in earnest and looked so astonished.

"Of course," said she, "no really truly log has a mouth or is alive, but this queer fellow I was speaking of looks so much like an old log floating in the water unless you look at him very sharply, that many a heedless young Duck has discovered the difference when it was too late. Then, too, he will swim under water and come up underneath and seize you without any warning. He has the biggest mouth I've ever seen, with terrible-looking teeth, and could swallow me whole."

By this time Peter's eyes looked as if they would fall out of his head. "What is his name?" whispered Peter.

"It's Old Ally the 'Gator," replied Mrs. Quack. "Some folks call him Alligator and some just 'Gator, but we call him Old Ally. He's a very interesting old fellow. Some time perhaps I'll tell you more about him. Mr. Quack and I kept out of his reach, you may be sure. We lived quietly and tried to get in as good condition as possible for the long journey back to our home in the North. When it was time to start, a lot of us got together, just as we did when we came down from the North, only this time the young Ducks felt themselves quite grown up. In fact, before we started there was a great deal of love-making, and each one chose a mate. That was a very happy time, a very happy time indeed, but it was a sad time too for us older Ducks, because we knew what dreadful things were likely to happen on the long journey. It is hard enough to lose father or mother or brother or sister, but it is worse to lose a dear mate."

Mrs. Quack's eyes suddenly filled with tears again. "Oh, dear," she sobbed, "I wish I knew what became of Mr. Quack."

Peter said nothing, but looked the sympathy he felt. Presently Mrs. Quack went on with her story. "We had a splendid big flock when we started, made up wholly of pairs, each pair dreaming of the home they would build when they reached the far North. Mr. Quack was the leader as usual, and I flew right behind him. We hadn't gone far before we began to hear the terrible guns, and the farther we went, the worse they got. Mr. Quack led us to the safest feeding and resting grounds he knew of, and for a time our flock escaped the terrible guns. But the farther we went, the more guns there were." Mrs. Quack paused and Peter waited.