The Tale of Mr Billworth

Mr Billworth, a pretentious young duck, is about to have his world turned upside down and dunked in a pond.

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1. The Tale of Mr Billworth

Mr Stockington Billworth was a solitary creature. At only 11 months old he had “escaped the rabble and noise of the family home”, as he always liked to put it, and become the proud owner of a beautiful piece of property in a wonderfully affluent area of London called Kensington. He took great pride in the estate agent’s description of his new home as ‘state of the art’ and ‘complete with all the modern conveniences’ - he even had his very own bulrush garden. He had no pesky pondmates leaving dirty twigs about the place, no annoying neighbours squawking into the night, and he hadn’t seen a tadpole in six months, two weeks and three days.

At this point, dear reader, it may be helpful to explain that Mr Billworth was, in fact, a duck.

But not just any duck. He was a modern duck, a cosmopolitan duck. Twenty minutes was set aside every morning to groom his feathers into the glossiest green before he went to work, and then – and this was his favourite part – he would take no part in the old fashioned style of working from home. Oh no, Mr Billworth was a commuter.

Every morning at precisely 9:42am, Mr Billworth would spread his wings, flap up over the rushes, and then soar for approximately 4 minutes and 49 seconds until he reached the great stone steps of London’s Natural History Museum. This would then give him 3 minutes and 11 seconds to straighten out any feathers skewed by the journey, do a few quick warm-ups he had learned from a highly respected (and very expensive) fitness duck, and settle down in his favourite spot, before the Great Torrent of Tourists arrived, and the working day began.

Now, as you may have guessed, duck work is a little different from human work. There’s none of this sitting in front of a computer and typing the day away – imagine trying such a thing with only wings and no fingers! – instead Mr Billworth spent 8 hours a day eating bread, pizza, croissants, and anything else the Great Torrent of Tourists threw his way. Furthermore, he had no colleagues. The Natural History Museum was his spot, and his spot alone. And of this fact he was excessively proud.

So this was the life of Stockington Billworth: groom, commute, eat, commute, revel in the peace and quiet of his pond, sleep, repeat. Day in, day out, this was his routine, each activity fitting neatly into a rigid schedule. And that was just the way he liked it.

So imagine his dismay when something changed.

Picture, if you would, a beautiful June day. The sun had already begun warming the brown stone of the museum steps, and the air had a faint scent of roses and lavender as it swept Mr Billworth round the corner. He was looking especially radiant today, the deep green gloss of his handsome head glinting in the warm light as he… nearly crashed into Mr Waterhouse’s pterodactyl. (By the way, Mr Waterhouse didn’t have a pet pterodactyl, you know they’re far too big to keep in a cage in your bedroom, and they don’t take too well to collars and leads. In fact, the pterodactyl was made of terracotta – like a plant pot – and Mr Waterhouse was the man who designed the museum. Far less exciting I know, but I’m afraid you can’t have everything, that would make you spoilt. Anyway, back to the story: Mr Billworth had just realised…)

There was another duck in his spot.

A brown duck. A lady duck.

He recomposed himself, gave a dirty look to the Pterodactyl (who seemed to look awfully smug for a creature who was stuck half way up a museum wall all day), then glided gracefully down to meet the enemy.

“Oh, hello!” She squeaked brightly, “I was wondering where the others must be. This is such a lovely spot, I just knew it had to have some regulars. I could feel it in the tip of my left foot. You know, I have a sort of sixth sense about these things. Oh! I haven’t introduced myself! I’m Colvetta Cannerton, what’s your name?”
Still in a state of shock, and a little overwhelmed by the way her pretty, girlish eyes seemed absolutely fixed on his, Mr Billworth only just managed to croak out, “Billworth, Stockington Billworth”
“Oh! Billworth! I knew a Billworth! Maybe you’re related. Great guy, fantastic sense of humour. I think his name was Malcom. Or maybe Michael. Oh no, no, I know, it was…”
“This is my spot!” Mr Billworth suddenly exclaimed.
“Fyssissmasport? No, I’m pretty sure it began with an M”
“No! This – is – my – SPOT! I work here! Just me! Alone! Never, in all my years as an honest, hard-working duck have I ever been so rudely trespassed upon.”
Colvetta ruffled her feathers in awkward confusion “Well, I’m very sorry but I don’t really see what the problem is. It’s a very large set of stairs, I thought I could just pop myself over at the other end-”
“No! I live in the nearest pond to here, therefore I have the right to this space.”
“Oh, come on now, that’s not a real rule. And besides, you can’t be the only duck living in an entire pond!”
“I am! It’s my pond, and this is my spot. Now flap off you- you- honking goose!”
Colvetta reared up to her full 16 inches, the feathers on her already curvaceous chest puffing up in indignation. “What did you call me?”
“You heard me,” Mr Billworth’s voice trembled with anger (and a little nervousness – but don’t tell), “a honking goose.”
“Well then, Mr Stockington Billworth, if that’s the way you want to play it, then fine.” Her black eyes flashed intelligently at him “I’m not going anywhere.”

He couldn’t believe his ears. ‘Not going anywhere’? How was he supposed to get anything done with such an odious little upstart quacking at his heels all day? Who did she think she was with her pretty dark eyes and her squeaky little voice? His face was burning, his stomach felt hollow and he could feel his bill beginning to tremble. He had never felt this way before. He felt… he felt… utterly inconvenienced!

And so, with a defiant snort, Colvetta tossed her head, waddled over to the other end of the steps and quacked at a little boy. The boy immediately bellowed something in Human, and tossed her a particularly sumptuous-looking morsel of Danish pastry. At this, the young duck turned those beady eyes back to Mr Billworth, and set him with a defiant stare as she munched, carelessly flicking crumbs into her golden feathers. Mr Billworth was disgusted. Mr Billworth didn’t like to be disgusted. This was war.

Hours slugged on by, and yet she persisted, her sickly sweet little quacks for food drilling into Mr Billworth’s brain like an over-zealous cuckoo. The contemptible creature could spot a sandwich-clad child at 50 paces, while he was left nursing his headache over scraps of peculiar flavoured popcorn dropped by bearded men in button-up shirts who’d forgotten their socks. At one point he’d lucked out as a young woman accidently dropped the entire bottom layer of bread from her artisan sandwich. But, as he turned to gloat, his eyes landed upon Colvetta guzzling an entire waffle. A waffle! They never got waffles around here! Anger bubbled up inside him. If this carried on, stern words would have to be had.

Ten to six. The Great Torrent of Tourists was heading out of the museum, and Mr Billworth was running over his strongly worded speech in preparation for its debut, and hopefully final, performance. He was just praising himself for a particularly witty and metaphorical piece of rhetoric, when, suddenly, ‘Flap! Flap!’. He looked over in alarm, half expecting to see Colvetta dive-bombing a toddler (“the ruthless crow”), but was instead surprised to see her – no, could it be? – flying away? She was! She was actually leaving! Oh, Glory be. Peace and quiet at last. He gave a celebratory flap of his wings and quacked triumphantly, before contentedly waddling up to a young family, tail feathers shaking, ready to complete a long day’s hard work with one last crust (or three – providing there was no baby dribble on any of them).

Belly full and heart soaring, Mr Billworth flew home in a cloud of self-adoration. He’d always known he was a somewhat superior duck. He had the breeding, and the constitution, nothing like that dirty, common, little creature – a shame really, she could probably look quite nice if she only preened herself with a little more care. But, oh, why bother himself with another thought of her? He was free of her, free to enjoy the peace and solitude of his-

“I must say, you do have good taste, this place is lovely!”

No. Please, great lord duck and all that’s muddy, let it not be…

A speckled head popped up out of the rushes.

“Shame about the lack of tadpoles though. I love tadpoles! Don’t you think they’re just adorable? With those wiggly little tails…” Mr Billworth could hardly quack.
“What are you doing in MY POND?” he managed to honk out.
“Well, you know, I’ve been looking for a new place” she squeaked as she paddled over “and this’ll do just fine. Eh, pondie?”
“I am not your ‘pondie’! I am a direct descendant of the great Malcolm Billworth of Kew Gardens, one of the most respected ducks of all time, and one with royal connections – you know, he received a gift of wholemeal crumbs from Prince Albert himself - ergo, I shall not be reduced to a ‘pondie’! Look, you, if you don’t leave this pond in the next 5 seconds I’ll- I’ll-“
“What? Look, I don’t see what your problem with having a pondmate is. Every other duck enjoys it!”
“Well I’m not every other duck, I was hatched in Richmond. Now leave.”
“Ok”
“Really?”
“Oh yes, you’re actually pretty irritating. I just have one condition.”
“And that would be?”
“You apologise for being so rude to me earlier”
“Not a chance! I owe you nothing. You are nothing but a mere trespasser.”
Colvetta briefly ducked her head below the surface of the water, then, with a contented sigh, shook the droplets off, right into Mr Billworth’s face “Well then. Looks like I’m staying.”

And stay she did. All evening she quacked and splashed, and she had the most unorthodox way of cleaning her feathers, ruffling them around into the most unearthly mess. Mr Billworth, trying to escape aggravation, decided it was probably best to take an early night, but he was so stressed by the whole experience, that he couldn’t get to sleep for hours (which was a tragedy in itself, as he always had exactly 7.75 hours of sleep every night, the perfect amount for optimal eye-shine). And, when he finally did, his dreams were plagued by images of waffles with wings, flitting around his head and dropping crumbs all over him.

And so, after a truly awful night’s sleep, Mr Billworth woke early, all ready to have another argument, only to find that Colvetta was gone. But he was not so foolish to be jumping for joy just yet. Instead, he was suspicious.

He only spent a miniscule 18 minutes on his preening this morning, he was so anxious to get to the museum.  All the while his head was jumping from horrific possibility to extremely horrific possibility. He was prepared for the worst – at least, he thought he was. But nothing could have prepared him for the sight that met him upon arrival at the museum.

She was building a nest.

Mr Billworth nearly crashed right back into the pterodactyl, he was so shocked. Why was she building a nest? Please don’t say… she couldn’t be having… not… CHILDREN? She couldn’t have children, they were messy, and noisy, and they had fathers (This latter made him angriest of all, though he couldn’t for the life of him explain way. Obviously the stress was affecting his ability to think logically.) His blood was boiling, and his wings shook. There was nothing for it, he had to confront her, had to ask her if it was really true…

“Oh no! Of course not!”
“But you’re building a nest!”
“Well spotted, dear.”
“Well what’s it for, then?”
“Oh, you’ll see.”

And within a few hours Mr Billworth did see. Well actually he had seen about a hundred times. Maybe even two hundred, no, three hundred times (this latter may have been a mild exaggeration): Every scrap of food was going to Colvetta. Under the false impression that the odious creature was sitting on eggs, caring for fluffy little mess-monsters, humans who didn’t even have food with them were going out of their way to buy and bring her pieces of bread, whereas Mr Billworth hadn’t eaten a scrap all day. He was starving. But who would feed him when there was a ‘young mother’ only a few feet away? It was the dirtiest trick he had ever had the misfortune to hear of. He had known Colvetta was grubby and annoying, he’d even, to an extent, been able to reconcile himself with her awful stubbornness and lack of sound reason; but a straight out liar? And the worst part was, the humans fell for it, over, and over, and over again.

By two o’clock he was more furious than he’d ever been in his entire life.

By four, his blood sugar was so low he wanted to eat the nest from right underneath her dirty, two-faced feathers.

And by six, he was at the end of his tether.

“Alright, that’s it, I have had enough!”
“Full already? I don’t remember seeing you eating much” She was mocking him! The cheek!
“You know what I mean! Don’t try acting dumb with me, I know your game. Now why can’t you just leave me alone?”
“You know what you have to do if you want me gone.” To never have to see her lying face again?
“Fine! Alright! You win! I’m sorry! There, happy now?”
“Yes, thank you, Stockington. It’s been a pleasure working with you. But before I go, would you like a snack?” And she nudged her behind up out of the nest to reveal an absolutely glorious stash of all things carbohydrate. It appeared to almost glow with bready wonder.
“How, in the name of all things muddy, did you get all that?”
“It’s amazing, the things a nest can do”
“And you’re really going to give me some? Just like that?”
“Well, no. But for one small favour, I’ll let you have half of this, every day.”
“Every day?” His eyes narrowed with suspicion “What would the favour be?”
“You let me continue to work on these steps.”
“And why on earth would I agree to that?” Mr Billworth squawked with indignation.
“You’ve seen what I can do – you’d be getting far more food, even than before we met.” Mr Billworth’s head was reeling. His stomach groaned at him and his usual ability to make mental graphs and charts was seemingly eluding him. True, she had pulled a dirty trick, but he had to admit it was clever, something he thought was quite surprising in such a pretty duck… but oh how she’d irritated him, and lied and…
And then his empty tummy spoke for him.
“Ok, fine! Although at this rate you may as well just stay in the pond.” He added in a grumpy underquack.
“Really? Oh thanks Stockington! I knew you’d come around. I’ll head out and locate us some tadpoles straight after work.”
“Wait… what?”

 

*                                                                                      *                                                                                     *

 

“Stockington, stop preening and get a move on!”
“But it’s only 9:33!”
“Yes but the little ones will need longer, their wings are still growing. Now come on!”
“Mum! Millie keeps pulling my new feather!” Chimed in a high-pitched snort of a voice.
Stockington observed his reflection in the water before him. He couldn’t remember the last time his feathers had had a real glow to them. He was dishevelled, tired. But he didn’t actually mind. Yes, reader, you saw that correctly. It’s not often that a real-life, genuine miracle occurs on this earth, but this was one of them: Mr Stockington Billworth had changed. His hatred of Colvetta had mysteriously turned into an affection he couldn’t explain, and next thing he knew he was up all night mashing up pond weed for ducklings. For the first time in his life he was actually indulging in the company of others on a regular basis. And he had never been happier.


And so, as the young family rise up into the air, wings flapping and beaks quacking, on their way to the children’s first day of work, we can take joy in the fact that the days of vanity and selfishness are all behind them-

“Dad! Millie ruffled my feathers! Right, that’s it, I want my own pond!”

Ok, maybe not completely behind them.

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