“What for?” I temporized, feebly.
“To keep the moths out of them, of course,” replied the Captain with fine sarcasm. “Do you mean to tell me that you can sit still and do nothing after seeing all those ducks this afternoon? You’re a fine sportsman! Brace up!”
“Let me finish this excellent cigar,” I pleaded. “You gave it to me.”
To this he assented. Carrie went back to the piano. The lights were dim. Mrs. Kitty went on finishing her crochet work or whatever it was. Nobody said anything for a long time. The Captain was busy in the gun room with one of the ranch foremen.
But this could not last, and at length I was haled forth to work.
The crisp, sharp air beneath the frosty stars, after the tepid air within, awakened me like the shock of cold water. Redmond was awaiting us with a lantern. By the horse block lay the mass of something indeterminate which I presently saw to be sacks full of something knobby.
“I have six sacks of wooden decoys,” said Redmond, “with weights all on them.”
The Captain nodded and passed on. We made our way down past the grape arbour, opened the high door leading into chickenville, and stopped at the border of the little pond. On its surface floated a hundred or so tame ducks of all descriptions. By means of clods of earth we woke them up. They came ashore and waddled without objection to a little inclosure. We followed them and shut the gate.
One after another the Captain indicated those he wished to take with him on the morrow. Redmond caught them, inserted them in gunny sacks, two to the sack. They made no great objection to being caught. One or two youngsters flopped and flapped about, and had to be chased into a corner. In general, however, they accepted the situation philosophically, and snuggled down contentedly in their sacks.
“They are used to it,” the Captain explained. “Most of these Rouen ducks are old hands at the business; they know what to expect.”
He was very particular as to the colouring of the individuals he selected. A single white feather was sufficient to cause the rejection of a female; and even when the colour scheme was otherwise perfect, too light a shade proved undesired.
“I don’t know just why it is,” said he, “but the wild ducks are a lot more particular about the live decoys than about the wooden. A wooden decoy can be all knocked to pieces, faded and generally disreputable, but it does well enough; but a live decoy must look the part absolutely. That gives us six apiece; I think it will be enough.”
Redmond took charge of our capture. We left him with the lantern, stowing away the decoys, live and inanimate, in the Invigorator. Within fifteen minutes thereafter I was sleeping the sleep of the moderately tired and the fully fed.