THE railway rattled and roared and swung
With jolting carriage and bumping trucks.
The sun, like a billiard red ball, hung
In the Western sky: and the tireless tongue
Of the wild-eyed man in the corner told
This terrible tale of the days of old,
And the party that ought to have kept the ducks.
“Well, it ain’t all joy bein’ on the land
With an overdraft that’d knock you flat;
And the rabbits have pretty well took command;
But the hardest thing for a man to stand
Is the feller who says ‘Well, I told you so!
You should ha’ done this way, don’t you know!’—
I could lay a bait for a man like that.
“The grasshoppers struck us in ninety-one
And what they leave—well, it ain’t de luxe.
But a growlin’ fault-findin’ son of a gun
Who’d lent some money to stock our run—
I said they’d eaten what grass we had—
Says he, ‘Your management’s very bad;
You had a right to have kept some ducks!’
“To have kept some ducks! And the place was white!
Wherever you went you had to tread
On grasshoppers guzzlin’ day and night;
And then with a swoosh they rose in flight,
If you didn’t look out for yourself they’d fly
Like bullets into your open eye
And knock it out of the back of your head.
“There isn’t a turkey or goose or swan,
Or a duck that quacks, or a hen that clucks,
Can make a difference on a run
When a grasshopper plague has once begun;
‘If you’d finance us,’ I says, ‘I’d buy
Ten thousand emus and have a try;
The job,’ I says, ’is too big for ducks!
“‘You must fetch a duck when you come to stay;
A great big duck—a Muscovy toff—
Ready and fit,’ I says, ‘for the fray;
And if the grasshoppers come our way
You turn your duck into the Lucerne patch,
And I’d be ready to make a match
That the grasshoppers eat his feathers off!’
“He came to visit us by and by,
And it just so happened one day in spring
A kind of a cloud came over the sky—
A wall of grasshoppers nine miles high,
And nine miles thick, and nine hundred wide,
Flyin’ in regiments, side by side,
And eatin’ up every living thing.
“All day long, like a shower of rain,
You’d hear ’em smackin’ against the wall,
Tap, tap, tap, on the window pane,
And they’d rise and jump at the house again
Till their crippled carcasses piled outside.
But what did it matter if thousands died—
A million wouldn’t be missed at all.
“We were drinkin’ grasshoppers—so to speak—
Till we skimmed their carcasses off the spring;
And they fell so thick in the station creek
They choked the waterholes all the week.
There was scarcely room for a trout to rise,
And they’d only take artificial flies—
They got so sick of the real thing.
“An Arctic snowstorm was beat to rags
When the hoppers rose for their morning flight
With the flapping noise like a million flags:
And the kitchen chimney was stuffed with bags
For they’d fall right into the fire, and fry
Till the cook sat down and began to cry—
And never a duck or fowl in sight!
“We strolled across to the railroad track—
Under a cover beneath some trucks,
I sees a feather and hears a quack;
I stoops and I pulls the tarpaulin back—
Every duck in the place was there,
No good to them was the open air.
‘Mister,’ I says, ‘There’s your blanky ducks!’ “