I thoroughly enjoy reading Beatrix Potter stories to my children at bedtime. I think I may enjoy it more than they do.
Night before last as I read The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck I suddenly found that I related to Jemima in a way I’d never realized before. I was the duck.
So, here is my own own rendering of the tale as I saw myself in it:
What a funny sight it is to see a brood of ducklings with a hen! –Listen to the story of ANFL Puddle-duck, who was annoyed because her mother would not let her raise her own children. Her mother, Bonnie Puddle-duck, was perfectly willing to leave the raising to someone else–“I have not the patience to raise a child for 18 years; and no more have you, ANFL. You would let them go cold; you know you would!”
“I wish to raise my own children; I will raise them all by myself,” quacked ANFL Puddle-duck.
She tried to hide her children; but they were always found and carried off. ANFL Puddle-duck became quite desperate. She determined to make a nest right away from the crazy, abusive farm.
She set off on a fine spring afternoon along the cartroad that leads over the hill. She was wearing a short, black skirt with her “dressy” flannel shirt. When she reached the top of the hill, she saw a wood in the distance. She thought that it looked a safe quiet spot.
ANFL Puddle-duck was not much in the habit of flying. She ran downhill a few yards flapping her flannel shirt, and then she jumped off into the air. She flew beautifully when she had got a good start. She skimmed along over the tree tops until she saw an open place in the middle of the wood, where the trees and brushwood had been cleared.
ANFL alighted rather heavily, and began to wiggle walk about in search of a convenient dry nesting-place. She rather fancied a tree-stump amongst some tall fox-gloves.
But–seated upon the stump, she was startled to find a shabbily dressed gentleman reading a weightlifting magazine. He had big ears and sandy coloured whiskers.
“Quack?” said ANFL Puddle-duck, with her flannel draped hip cocked to one side–“Quack?”
The gentleman raised his eyes above his magazine and looked curiously at ANFL–“Madam, have you lost your way?” said he. He had a big, round bottom which he was sitting upon, as the stump was some-what damp. ANFL thought him mighty humble and handsome. She explained that she had not lost her way, but that she was trying to find a convenient dry nesting-place.
“Ah! Is that so? Indeed!” said the gentleman with sandy whiskers, looking curiously at ANFL. He rolled up his magazine, and put it in the back of his sweat pants.
ANFL complained of her mother, the superfluous hen.
“Indeed! How interesting! I wish I could meet with that fowl. I would teach it to mind its own business!”
“But as to a nest–there is no difficulty: I have a comfortable shack. No, my dear madam, you will be in nobody’s way. You may sit there as long as you like,” said the big bottomed gentleman.
He led the way to a very retired, dismal looking house amongst the fox-gloves. It was built of rotten wood and old pallets, and there were two broken windows and a cracked chimney.
“This is my summer residence; you would not find my earth–my winter house–so convenient,” said the hospitable gentleman.
There was a tumble-down shack at the back of the house, made of scrap lumber. The gentleman opened the door, and showed ANFL in. The shack was almost quite full of other women’s things–it was almost suffocating; but it was comfortable and very soft.
ANFL Puddle-duck was rather surprised to find such a vast quantity of other women’s things. But it was very comfortable; and she made a nest without any trouble at all.
When she came out the sandy whiskered gentleman was sitting on a weight bench reading his magazine–at least he had it opened, but he was looking over the top of it.
He was so polite, that he seemed almost sorry to let ANFL go home for the night. He promised to take great care of her nest until she came back again the next day. He said he loved children; he should be proud to see a fine nestful in his shack.
ANFL Puddle-duck came every afternoon; she laid seven eggs in the nest. They were creamy white and quite large. The foxy gentleman admired them immensely. He used to turn them over and beat them though when ANFL was not there.
At last ANFL told him that she intended to begin to sit the next day–“and I will work from home to pay your bills, so that I need never leave my nest until my children are grown. They might catch cold.” said the conscientious ANFL.
“Madam, I beg you not to trouble yourself with a job; I will provide. But before you commence your tedious sitting, I intend to give you a treat. Let us have a dinner party all to ourselves.”
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.
ANFL 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 wiggle walked into the kitchen, and got two onions out of a basket.
The violence advocate, Kep, a collie-dog, met her coming out, “What are you doing with those onions?” Where do you go every afternoon by yourself, ANFL Puddle-duck?”
ANFL was rather in awe of the collie; she told her the whole story. She listened, with her wise head on one side; she grinned when she described the polite gentleman with sandy whiskers. She asked several questions about the wood, and about the exact position of the house and shack.
Then she went out, and trotted down the village. She went to look for two fox hound puppies, courthouse dogs, who were out at walk with the butcher.
ANFL 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 big bottomed gentleman.
He was sitting on a picnic table; he sniffed the air, and kept glancing uneasily round the wood. When ANFL alighted he quite jumped.
“Come into the house! Give me the herbs and all your money! Be sharp!” He was rather abrupt. ANFL 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 shack. Some one with a black nose sniffed at the bottom of the door, and then locked it.
ANFL became much alarmed.
A moment afterwards there were most awful noises–barking, baying, growls and howls, squealing and groans. ANFL wished that nothing more would ever be seen of that foxy whiskered gentleman.
Presently Kep opened the door of the shack, and let out ANFL Puddle-duck.
Unfortunately, the puppies rushed in and gobbled up all the children before she could stop them.
Kep had a bite on her ear and both of the puppies were limping.
ANFL Puddle-duck was escorted home in tears on account of those children.
They were awarded to her in September. She was permitted to keep them herself except for visitations with the foxy whiskered gentleman. Not all of the children hatched into healthy adults.
ANFL Puddle-duck said that the problem was because of her nerves; but she had always been a bad judge of character.