Gradually the playground was deserted, as the rabbits slipped off one by one to hunt their supper. Now and then there was a scamper among the underbrush, and a high jump or two, with which some playful bunny enlivened his search for tender twigs; and at times one, more curious than the rest, came hopping along to sit erect a moment before the old log, and look to see if the strange animal were still there. But soon the old log was vacant too. Out in the swamp a disappointed owl sat on his lonely stub that lightning had blasted, and hooted that he was hungry. The moon looked down into the little clearing with its waving ferns and soft gray shadows, and saw nothing there to suggest that it was the rabbits’ nursery.
Down at the camp a new surprise was awaiting me. Br’er Rabbit was under the tent fly, tugging away at the salt bag which I had left there carelessly after curing a bearskin. While he was absorbed in getting it out from under the rubber blanket, I crept up on hands and knees, and stroked him once from ears to tail. He jumped straight up with a startled squeak, whirled in the air, and came down facing me. So we remained for a full moment, our faces scarcely two feet apart, looking into each other’s eyes. Then he thumped the earth soundly with his left hind foot, to show that he was not afraid, and scurried under the fly and through the brakes in a half circle to a bush at my heels, where he sat up straight in the shadow to watch me.
But I had seen enough for one night. I left a generous pinch of salt where he could find it easily, and crept in to sleep, leaving him to his own ample devices.
IV. A WILD DUCK.
The title will suggest to most boys a line across the autumn sky at sunset, with a bit of mystery about it; or else a dark triangle moving southward, high and swift, at Thanksgiving time. To a few, who know well the woods and fields about their homes, it may suggest a lonely little pond, with a dark bird rising swiftly, far out of reach, leaving the ripples playing among the sedges. To those accustomed to look sharply it will suggest five or six more birds, downy little fellows, hiding safe among roots and grasses, so still that one seldom suspects their presence. But the duck, like most game birds, loves solitude; the details of his life he keeps very closely to himself; and boys must be content with occasional glimpses.
This is especially true of the dusky duck, more generally known by the name black duck among hunters. He is indeed a wild duck, so wild that one must study him with a gun, and study him long before he knows much about him. An ordinary tramp with a field-glass and eyes wide open may give a rare, distant view of him; but only as one follows him as a sportsman winter after winter, meeting with much less of success than of discouragement, does he pick up many details of his personal life; for wildness is born in him, and