Eric Flint: Grantville Gazette.Volume XIII

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    Grantville Gazette.Volume XIII
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Grantville Gazette.Volume XIII: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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"Ms. Miller!" A sweetly gawky-looking boy whose weight hadn't caught up with his latest growth spurt interrupted her. "Ms. Miller, where is the mother duck?"

Pam stepped closer to the still waters. The ducklings were huddled together beside a clump of marsh grass. They were strangely quiet and weren't engaged in their usual search for food. Pam scanned the shore for the wood duck hen; she was nowhere to be seen.

"That's odd." Pam looked back at the silent ducklings. There were only eight of them-the day before there had been ten.

Pam saw Gerbald, who seemed to possess an uncanny sixth sense when it came to trouble, was already coming down the hillside toward the group; a flash of blue as well trained eyes scanned the terrain from the shade of his monstrous hat's floppy brim.

Pam turned back to her group of students. "Well kids, it is a bit unusual for a mother duck to leave her babies unattended, but not unheard of. She may just be out looking for food and thought they would be safe here. Now is a good chance for you to get out your sketchbooks and get a picture drawn of them while they are sitting still." Pam flashed a quick concerned look to their teacher who returned a subtle nod. Message received, good teachers have an instinct for trouble. The teacher quickly went about getting the notebooks deployed and the students distracted with work. Pam walked casually but quickly to Gerbald who had moved quietly along the shore toward the inlet's mouth, his gaze alternating between the muddy ground and the vicinity.

"Gerbald, the mother duck and some of her ducklings are missing. I have a bad feeling about it… Maybe a fox?"

"Pam, I am looking for tracks. If they are here I will find." They didn't discuss the subject much but Pam knew that Gerbald had extensive hunting experience. As a former professional soldier there was no doubt a good many of his meals had come from the region's many forests. Gerbald was a very savvy woodsman. Born and raised in West Virginia, Pam was no stranger to the hunter's art. She had even brought down a buck herself on a hunting trip with her uncles and cousins back in her teens. She hadn't burst into tears as so many do, she had established too tough an exterior for that, especially in front of her boy cousins; but she hadn't relished the experience one bit either, and felt some regret at the sight of the death she had made. She accepted her family's praise, ate the venison, enjoyed the taste; but once was enough. Hunting was all right and a fact of life-within reason.

"Not… a fox." Gerbald said quietly as he peered into the rushes. Gently he extracted a duck's pinion feather from a clump of stalks; her heart sinking Pam saw that it was a female wood duck's. Gerbald used it to point at the damp ground.

"There-a boot print in the mud. There-more feathers. The bird, it struggled. Here-this is where they tied the snare; you see the marks." Pam nodded solemnly at the dead branch, some of the rotting bark had peeled away when the twine was untied. She felt a great surge of emotion building in her, a potent mix of grief and rage. No time for it, she could get upset later but not now, not in front of the kids.

"Which way did they go, Gerbald?" Her voice was even and hard as an iron rail.

"Up the hill, but the tracks are not clear. I am not sure how many, maybe two or more. This was only some hours ago." Pam peered up at the steep formerly West Virginian hill, into the shadows beneath sugar maples, beech and yellow birch trees. She nodded slowly.

"All right. They're for later." Squaring her shoulders Pam marched back to the young teenagers. They stopped their talk, sensing that something was wrong from her face's stony set.

Mrs. Antoni looked very worried. "Pam? Is everything okay?"

"No, I'm afraid its not." Pam considered for a moment softening the story but decided against it. They're old enough, they should be told. "The mother wood duck is dead. She has been killed by hunters. Human hunters." A distressed murmur went through the group. Pam looked at the huddled mass of ducklings in the shallows. There was no escaping what came next, as much as she hated to remove a wild thing from its habitat she had no choice. It was unlikely that the two missing ducklings were taken by the hunters, they had probably fallen victim to a crow or some other opportunist-a baby duck alone would make an easy snack for a variety of creatures.

"What we have here now is an endangered species. These may be the only transplanted wood ducks in the whole Ring of Fire. I'd like very much to save them and I need your help."

A murmur of excitement went through the group-"Of course we will help!" It was unanimous. Pam smiled a little at their youthful good will. These are good kids. I'm glad I am here, doing these things. Pam rarely thought of her life before the Ring of Fire anymore. After her divorce she had disappeared into a glass bottle world comprised of her tiny house and secluded back garden. Seeing herself standing in front of a bunch of people, even if they were mostly kids, and being the one in charge, the one who knew what to do-she never would have expected this… or how much she liked it.

"All right. Here is the plan. Now that they have no mother we need to catch them and take care of them until they are older. Boys, I'd like to ask you to take off your shirts and give them to the girls." This couldn't help but produce a few giggles. Pam had to have a chuckle herself, despite the tragic nature of the situation. "Well, we aren't going to do it the other way!" Everyone snickered now and Mrs. Antoni gave her an alarmed look. "Girls, you are going to be the catchers, I think you'll be gentler than the boys, ja?" One of the girls in the group, and it sounded like a down-timer accent muttered "Duh!" Yes, we are also having a marvelous influence on this century's youth!

"You boys are going to roll up your pant legs and wade out into the lake from over there." She pointed a few meters down the shoreline toward the main lake where they wouldn't disturb the ducklings too soon. "Be careful, it drops off pretty sharp about six yards out. I want you to slowly make a half-circle around the ducklings so they can't swim away in any direction-if they try to go past you I need you to grab them with your hands! They are very fragile so you must be careful; it's easy to injure them.

"Girls, you are going to make the other half of the circle along the shore. Crouch low and have the boy's shirts ready. When I give the signal the boys are going to start making noise and will move towards the shore. That's going to drive the ducklings up onto the grass where you can drop the shirts over them. Once you have a duckling caught under your shirt hold it there and I'll come get it to put in my bag here." Pam quickly emptied the contents of her rucksack onto the ground, she could fit most of it in her coat pockets for the trip back, and it would make a nice safe container for their fuzzy little captives. "Does everyone understand? Stacey and Gerbald, you stay back a ways-if the girls miss any then it's up to you to grab them." The teacher gave her a determined nod and Gerbald had developed an exceedingly wry smile.

"Yes, ma'am," he drawled in his best West Virginian; obviously he had been practicing.

Marshaling her troops in a loud stage whisper Pam directed the boys out into the water. Good Lord, I hope no one drowns on my watch! They moved surprisingly quietly, lanky young teen herons stalking through the reeds. The cluster of ducklings had begun to peep softly, looking around nervously, their instincts told them something was up. Pam got the girls crouched in their circle, shirts spread wide between their hands, ready to make the catch. 'Operation Duck-lift' is a go! The excitement of the rescue operation had lifted Pam's spirits quite a bit. She might as well enjoy the fun now and ask questions later about why this had happened and what she was going to do about it.

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