“You miserable hounds!” he roared.
With a wise premonition they decamped.
“I’m going to clean out the whole bandylegged tribe!” threatened the Captain for the fiftieth time in the month. “I won’t have them on the ranch!”
That was seven years ago. They are still there—they and numerous descendants.[G]
We washed up and came down stairs. All at once it proved to be drowsy time. The dark had fallen and the lamps were lit. A new fire crackled in the fireplace, anticipating the chill that was already descending. Carrie played the piano in the other room. The General snorted over something in his city paper. Mrs. Kitty had disappeared on household business. Pete and Pup, having been mistaken one for the other by some innocent bystander, gloomed and glowered under chairs.
Both the Captain and myself made some sort of a pretence of reading the papers. It was only a pretence. The grateful warmth, the soothing crackling of the fire, the distant music—and, possibly, our state of starvation—lulled us to a half doze. From this we were aroused by an announcement of dinner.
We had soup and various affairs of that sort; and there was brought on a huge and baronial roast, from which the Captain promptly proceeded to slice generous allowances. With it came vegetables. They were all cooked in cream; not milk, but rich top cream thick enough to cut with a knife. I began to see why all the house servants were plump. Also there were jellies, and little fat hot rolls, and strange pickled products of the soil. I was good and hungry; and I ate thereof.
The plates were removed. I settled back with a sigh of repletion——
The door opened to admit the waitress bearing a huge platter on which reposed, side by side, five ducks. That meant a whole one apiece! To my feeble protest the family turned indignantly.
“Of course you must eat your duck!” Mrs. Kitty settled the whole question at last.
So I ate my duck. It was a very good duck; as indeed it should have been, for it was fattened on Egyptian corn, hung the exact number of days, and cooked by Charley. It had a little spout of celery down which I could pour the abundant juice from its inside; and it was flanked right and left respectively by a piece of lemon liberally sprinkled with red pepper and sundry crisp slabs of fried hominy. Every night of the shooting season each member of the household had “his duck.” Later I was shown the screened room wherein hung the game, each dated by a little tag.
After I had made way with most of my duck, and other things, and had had my coffee, and had lighted a cigar, I was entirely willing to sink back to disgraceful ease. But the Captain suddenly developed an inexcusable and fiendish energy.
“No, you don’t,” said he. “You come with me and Redmond and get out the decoys.”