“You’ll like the place when you get there,” said Sam’s grandfather.
“I won’t,” Sam replied.
But Sam knew he had to go to the farm anyway. All Mrs Southerden’s students went. Besides, Grandpa had said it was going to be good for him.
“A city boy like you can learn a lot on a farm.” There is always fresh air and fresh eggs. I wish I could go myself. Remember, you’re coming back on Friday for my years. Let’s make a party.
Grandfather waved good-bye to him, and Sam watched him from his seat at the back of the truck until he couldn’t see him. It was going to be gone a whole week. He struggled not to cry.
The trip to Devon was a long one. The highways gave way to the highways, the highways to the highways. They were narrow grassy paths in between. Suddenly a huge house appeared, like a palace, surrounded by green fields and trees everywhere.
“We have reached Nethercott,” said Mrs Southerden, who was in the front of the truck. – What are you from now on?
– Farmers! Shouted the students in chorus.
And so it was. They rose at dawn to mow cows, feed horses, pigs, and calves. And the rams had to be fed too. This was all before breakfast, which consisted of hot porridge, scrambled eggs, and as many toast as they wanted.
There were stables to clean, chickens, ducks and geese to let go, eggs to fetch. There was also a bull, but it was not allowed to go to him, unless something happened.
Sam didn’t even have time to miss his grandfather. They worked all afternoon and could never finish their jobs. The cows had to be mung at the end of the day again, which was a huge hassle!
The little lambs were taken to the barns at night, the pigs were fed, the horses were treated, and the chickens, the ducks, and the geese were collected, in case the fox came around like a cow.
Sam worked hard, ate like a king, and slept soundly. The farmers were kind and smiling, especially the old gardener, who brought the vegetables to the kitchen. She had silver hair like Sam’s grandfather.
The boy was loving those days. Even when I had to clear stinky stables or remove stones from the fields so that corn could grow in the spring.
But best of all was when she was helping a little lamb to be born. When she brought him, hot and humid, from her mother into the cold air of the day. I watched him breathe for the first time, take the first steps, drink the first milk. I had so many things to tell my grandfather.
Only Lisa didn’t like what they were doing. Mrs Southerden called her “Mona Lisa”. He had been complaining all week: “My feet hurt.” “My back hurts.” “Is cold”.
On Tuesdays, it was market day. It was the first thing Sam didn’t like. At the auction site was a red-faced man who twisted the calves’ tails to make them move. He even kicked them and laughed nonstop.
The boy could not even look at him and decided to go to the ducks and chickens that huddled at the bottom of the cages. There was a duck, white as snow, that was right next to the wire of the cage and squawked at him. Sam touched his soft feathers with his finger.
– Out of here! Shouted the red-faced man. – You’re looking at my dinner!
And took the animal by its paws.
– Won’t eat it! Can not! Shouted Sam painfully.
– Do you have a better idea? Asked the laughing man.
Sam didn’t even think twice.
– I can buy it. I have two pounds, ”he said, taking all the money from his pocket.
– Done deal! Agreed the man.
He took the money and left the duckling in Sam’s arms. What would you do with him? What would you say Mrs Southerden? He quickly put it in his sports bag.
– No croaking, please! He whispered.
As he headed for Nethercott, he wondered what to do. He walked away from the others, as a precaution. There was only one place to hide it. In the garden hut. With a little luck and caution, no one would notice.
The duck looked around and seemed to like the place.
“You’ll need straw for your bed and food,” said the boy.
“And water,” said a voice behind him.
It was the old gardener.
– The ducks need water. Where did you get it?
– In the market. The owner was going to kill him.
“Here’s something that’s not right, is it?” I have sandwiches and milk. Do you think that’s enough?
They fed him together.
“It’s a male,” said the gardener. “Shall we call him Francis, as the famous navigator, Francis Drake?”
“No one knows I have it,” Sam said.
“You can count on me,” the old gardener promised.
For the rest of the week, the kids worked hard on Thursday and none suspected that Sam had a secret.
Last night they made a crackling fire and everyone sang songs and ate lots of sausages. The boy crept to the duck and the old gardener.
– What are you going to do with him?
Sam had been thinking about this all day.
“I’ll give it to my grandfather for a birthday present.” It’s seventy years tomorrow.
– So it’s my age. He’s a lucky man to have a grandson like you.
The next morning, the old gardener was waiting in the cabin. Together they put the duck in the bottom of Sam’s sports bag.
– Good luck! Wished the gardener.
Sam ran to the bus because he wanted to take the back seat, right in the corner. It was the safest place. If Francis quacked once, it was done. He waved at the gardener until he didn’t see him.
They stopped only once for lunch.
‘Everyone out of the bus,’ said Mrs Southerden.
Sam didn’t want to leave the bag in the truck, but Mrs Southerden forced it. When he had had lunch, he ran to his seat. But the “Mona Lisa” was already there.
“I heard croak,” he said. – You have a duck. I will tell everyone.
She ran to her teacher.
– Teacher, Sam has a duck in the bag!
At a glance Sam took Francis and put him inside his coat.
“Don’t be silly,” said Mrs Southerden. – You’ve been misbehaving all week. And now even make up stories. Come sit in front of the sick.
“But, Professor,” Lisa continued, “it’s true.” He really has a duck. Everyone looked at Sam, who shrugged and turned the sack inside out so everyone could see. Lisa opened and closed her mouth over and over like an aquarium fish. Sam smiled sweetly, but the drive home made it difficult to pass.
He was dead to see his grandfather. When they arrived, she hurried to the apartment steps. He forced his grandfather to sit with his eyes closed as he ran a bath for Francis. Then he called his grandfather.
– It’s for you, grandfather. Happy Birthday.
And she told him everything that had happened to the red-faced man at the market and the old gardener in Nethercott.
“It’s a loving duck,” said his grandfather, shaking his head. “But we can’t keep him on one floor.” Is not fair.
– Why not?
– Listen, Sam, a duck needs a pond. You need friends too, as you and I need. And you need freedom.
The grandson tried to persuade his grandfather all night. In vain.
“We’ll talk again tomorrow morning.” Now go to sleep.
The next morning, his grandfather woke him up early.
– What is up? Asked Sam.
“You’ll see,” said his grandfather.
They took Francis in the sports bag. The duck had its head out, but there was no one in the street.
– Where are we going? Asked Sam.
“You’ll see,” his grandfather said, a gleam in his eye.
They were walking through the park through the morning mist when Francis suddenly croaked. And soon many other ducks began to quack too. In front of him, Sam could see a large pond full of ducks swimming towards them. There were also geese, woodcocks and swans.
They ducked by the lake and put Francis in the water. He settled down, flapped his wings, shook his head, and went to his new friends.
– Well, what do you say? Grandfather asked Sam.
“I think we can come and feed him, can’t we?” Retorted Sam.
“Whenever you like,” Grandpa said. – Look at him, Sam. He is a very happy duck and I am also a very happy man. Michael Morpurgo Sam’s Duck London, Harper Collins, 1997 (Translation and Adaptation)