Chapter XV. The Hunt for Mr. Quack

In spite of her hopelessness in regard to Mr. Quack, there is no doubt that Mrs. Quack felt better that night after she had eaten the corn left among the rushes of the Smiling Pool by Farmer Brown's boy. Now she had that very comfortable feeling that goes with a full stomach, she could think better. As the Black Shadows crept across the Smiling Pool, she turned over in her mind Sammy Jay's plan for helping her the next day. The more she thought about it, the better it seemed, and she began to feel a little ashamed that she had not appeared more grateful to Sammy when he told her. At the time she had been tired and hungry and discouraged. Now she was beginning to feel rested, and she was no longer hungry. These things made all the difference in the world. As she thought over Sammy's plan, she began to feel a little hope, and when at last she put her head under her wing to go to sleep, she had made up her mind that the plan was worth trying, and that she would do her part.

Bright and early the next morning, Sammy Jay and Blacky the Crow were in the Big Hickory-tree near the Smiling Pool ready to start for the Big River to hunt for Mr. Quack. Peter Rabbit had been so afraid that he would miss something that he had stayed near the Smiling Pool all night, so he was on hand to see the start.

It had been agreed that Mrs. Quack was to go to a certain place on the Big River and then swim up as far as she thought it would be of any use. She was to stay in the middle of the river, where she would be quite safe from hunters with terrible guns, and where also these same hunters would be sure to see her and so not be tempted to shoot at Blacky the Crow if he happened to fly over them. You see, they would hope that Mrs. Quack would swim in near enough to be shot and so would not risk frightening her by shooting at Blacky.

When Mrs. Quack had finished her breakfast, she started for the Big River, and her stout wings moved so swiftly that they made a whistling sound. Sammy Jay and Blacky the Crow followed her, but though they flew as fast as they could, Mrs. Quack had reached the Big River before they had gone half the way. When they did get there, they saw Mrs. Quack out in the middle, swimming about and watching for them. Blacky flew across the river and pretended to be hunting for food along the farther bank, just as every hunter knows he often does. Sammy Jay did the same thing on the other bank.

Mrs. Quack swam slowly up the Big River, keeping in the middle, and Blacky and Sammy followed along up the two banks, all the time using their sharp eyes for all they were worth to find Mr. Quack hiding among the broken-down rushes or under the bushes in the water, for the Big River had overflowed its banks, and in some places bushes and trees were in the water.

Now Sammy Jay dearly loves to hunt for things. Whenever he knows that one of his neighbors in the Green Forest has hidden something, he likes to hunt for it. It isn't so much that he wants what has been hidden, as it is that he wants to feel he is smart enough to find it. When he does find it, he usually steals it, I'm sorry to say. But it is the fun of hunting that Sammy enjoys most. So now Sammy thoroughly enjoyed hunting for Mr. Quack. He peered into every likely hiding-place and became so interested that he quite forgot about the hunters who might be waiting along the bank.

So it happened that he didn't see a boat drawn in among the bushes until he was right over it. Sitting in it was a man with a terrible gun, very intently watching Mrs. Quack out in the middle of the Big River. Sammy was so startled that before he thought he opened his mouth and screamed "Thief! thief! thief!" at the top of his lungs, and flew away with all his might. Mrs. Quack heard his scream and understood just what it meant.

A little later Blacky the Crow discovered another hunter hiding behind the bushes on his side. "Caw! caw! caw!" shouted Blacky, flying out over the water far enough to be safe from that terrible gun he could see.

"Quack! quack!" replied Mrs. Quack, which meant that she understood. And so the hunt went on without a sign of poor Mr. Quack.