Short Story: Why Dilly Dallied

By Mavis Thorpe Clarke

Published in Argus Week-end Magazine, 4 February 1950

Here is an echo from Christmas - the tender tale of Mavis Thorpe Clarke and her duck....

Someone suggested that I should buy my Christmas duck a couple of months before Christmas. Much cheaper then, said my adviser, and, what's more, you've got it. No mad rush at the last minute, no being palmed off with a scraggy quack, that has waddled its fat off years ago.

It seemed a sensible thing to do, so I bought a duck. A nice white duck with spick and span feathers, a really graceful swan-like neck, and two small round blue eyes that looked at me with unblinking candour. Now, you can't have an animal around the place for two or three months and not give it a name, so I called, it Dilly.

At first Dilly was housed in a small wire-netted enclosure and did nothing but sit on her box all day and stare moodily out in the yard. Then, one day, someone left the pen door open and Dilly walked out. She never walked in again.

Dilly liked my garden, but it was quite a while before I woke up to that delightful habit of hers of sticking her long beak down into the newly turned earth and swallowing the wriggler before her beak even reached the surface again. At first I thought insects were her prey, and was rather annoyed when I discovered that it was my fat, beautiful diligent worms.

However, the next day Dilly squirmed herself a cosy little hole under an old piece of iron against the fence and laid a large egg. I felt sure that it was my particular brand of worm that was the cause 
of that egg. I don't specially like duck eggs, but she took such a cute maternal interest in them, and, as Christmas was only a few weeks off, I thought that I could possibly afford the worm diet until then.

Dilly roamed the yard, obviously scornful of the half dozen hens in my neighbour's fowl yard. She developed a habit of standing close, up to a hole in the fence and pecking the chooks if they came near. She palled up with my two cats, too, and when I called "Puss-puss-" she waddled across the yard almost as fast as they did. She drank milk from the same dish, at the same time, and ate their uncooked liver, pecked from under their very noses, with relish. The two cats began to look bleak and starved-looking and the worms in the garden noticeably fewer. But, as my original adviser remarked, what a lovely fat duck you're going to have for Christmas - she should be delicious after such a varied and succulent diet! At which I nodded.

Then came the morning when, speaking kindly to Dilly, as is my 
custom with animals, and telling her what a silly old goose she was, she came right up to me, bubbered most friendly like with her long beak and showed me her long white tongue in a most intimate manner. That sort of established a liaison between us. Every time I spoke, Dilly bubbered with her beak and showed me her tongue, proving beyond doubt that she understood everything I said to her. I find it most intriguing to be understood by an animal, and enjoyed a number of spare moments getting to know her better.

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Why Dilly Dallied Argus Week-end Magazine, 4 February 1950.

I enjoyed, too, her whole-hearted delight in having a bath in the bucket. By dipping her long beak to the bottom, blinking the water backwards over her neck and clucking her feathers, she gave a perfect imitation of a swan, having a bath in a lake, And to watch her sally forth on a wet day and puddle in the pool at the bottom of the garden was a joy.

But why do I speak of all this as past? This is the present. Christmas has come and gone and Dilly is still with me. Christmas Eve saw me scurrying in next door to beg one of their half-dozen layers - and, because it was a layer, did I have to pay for it!- but it was much easier than taking the axe to Dilly, who would fix, me unblinkingly, with those blue eyes.

I did think that p'raps l’d eat her next Christmas, but someone has just told me about a man who had a duck - who was like Dilly - who lived for 17 years - and I know Dilly is far stronger minded than I am and doesn't like even the look of the axe. So, I'm rather sorry for the cats, and I don't know what Dilly will say if the supply of worms doesn't last the 17 years.