Chapter XII. What Did Happen to Mr. Quack

"When did you last see Mr. Quack?" asked Jerry Muskrat, who had been listening while Mrs. Quack told Peter Rabbit about her terrible journey.

"Early yesterday morning," replied Mrs. Quack, the tears once more filling her eyes. "We had reached the Big River over there, just six of us out of the big flock that had started from the sunny Southland. How we got as far as that I don't know. But we did, and neither Mr. Quack nor I had lost a feather from those terrible guns that had banged at us all the way up and that had killed so many of our friends.

"We were flying up the Big River, and everything seemed perfectly safe. We were in a hurry, and when we came to a bend in the Big River, we flew quite close to shore, so as not to have to go way out and around. That was where Mr. Quack made a mistake. Even the smartest people will make mistakes sometimes, you know."

Peter Rabbit nodded, "I know," said he. "I've made them myself." And then he wondered why Jerry Muskrat laughed right out.

"Yes," continued Mrs. Quack, "that is where Mr. Quack made a mistake, a great mistake. I suppose that because not a single gun had been fired at us that morning he thought perhaps there were no hunters on the Big River. So to save time he led us close to shore. And then it happened. There was a bang, bang of a terrible gun, and down fell Mr. Quack just as we had seen so many fall before. It was awful. There was Mr. Quack flying in front of me on swift, strong wings, and there never was a swifter, stronger flier or a handsomer Duck than Mr. Quack, and then all in the wink of an eye he was tumbling helplessly down, down to the water below, and I was flying on alone, for the other Ducks turned off, and I don't know what became of them. I couldn't stop to see what became of Mr. Quack, because if I had, that terrible gun would have killed me. So I kept on a little way and then turned and went back, only I kept out in the middle of the Big River. I dropped down on the water and swam about, calling and calling, but I didn't get any answer, and so I don't know what has become of Mr. Quack. I am afraid he was killed, and if he was, I wish I had been killed myself."

Here Mrs. Quack choked up so that she couldn't say another word. Peter's own eyes were full of tears as he tried to comfort her. "Perhaps," said he, "Mr. Quack wasn't killed and is hiding somewhere along the Big River. I don't know why I feel so, but I feel sure that he wasn't killed, and that you will find him yet."

"That's why I've waited instead of going on," replied Mrs. Quack between sobs, "though it wouldn't have been of any use to go on without my dear mate. I'm going back to the Big River now to look for him. The trouble is, I don't dare go near the shore, and if he is alive, he probably is hiding somewhere among the rushes along the banks. I think I'll be going along now, but I'll be back to-night if nothing happens to me. You folks who can always stay at home have a great deal to be thankful for."

"It's lucky for me that Mrs. Peter wasn't here to hear her say that," said Peter, as he and Jerry Muskrat watched Mrs. Quack fly swiftly towards the Big River. "Mrs. Peter is forever worrying and scolding because I don't stay in the dear Old Briar-patch. If she had heard Mrs. Quack say that, I never would have heard the last of it. I wish there was something we could do for Mrs. Quack. I'm going back to the dear Old Briar-patch to think it over, and I guess the sooner I start the better, for that looks to me like Reddy Fox over there, and he's headed this way."

So off for home started Peter, lipperty-lipperty-lip, as fast as he could go, and all the way there he was turning over in his mind what Mrs. Quack had told him and trying to think of some way to help her.