THE UGLY DUCKLING
IT was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up in the meadows looked beautiful. The stork walking about on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian language, which he had learnt from his mother.
The corn-fields and meadows were surrounded by large
forests, in the midstof which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about
"Well, how are you getting on?" asked an old
duck, who paid her a visit.
"One egg is not hatched yet," said the duck,
"it will not break.
But just look at all the others, are they not the
prettiest little ducklings you ever saw? They are the image of their father, who is so
unkind, he never comes to see."
"Let me see the egg that will not break," said
the duck; "I have no doubt it is a turkey's egg. I was persuaded to hatch some once,
"I think I will sit on it a little while
longer," said the duck;
"Please yourself," said the old duck, and she
At last the large egg broke, and a young one crept forth
"Peep, peep." It was very large and ugly. The
duck stared at it and
On the next day the weather was delightful, and the sun
shone brightly on the green burdock leaves, so the mother duck took her young brood down
to the water, and jumped in with a splash. "Quack, quack," cried she, and one
after another the little ducklings jumped in. The water closed over their heads, but they
came up again in an instant, and swam about quite prettily with their legs paddling under
them as easily as possible, and the ugly duckling was also in the water swimming with
"Oh," said the mother, "that is not a
turkey; how well he uses his legs, and how upright he holds himself! He is my own child,
and he is not so very ugly after all if you look at him properly. Quack, quack! come with
me now, I will take you into grand society, and introduce you to the farmyard, but you
must keep close to me or you may be trodden upon; and, above all, beware of the cat."
When they reached the farmyard, there was a great
The ducklings did as they were bid, but the other duck
stared, and said, "Look, here comes another brood, as if there were not enough of us
already! and what a queer looking object one of them is; we don't want him here," and
then one flew out and bit him in the neck.
"Let him alone," said the mother; "he is
not doing any harm."
"Yes, but he is so big and ugly," said the
spiteful duck "and therefore he must be turned out."
"The others are very pretty children," said the
old duck, with the rag on her leg, "all but that one; I wish his mother could improve
him a little."
"That is impossible, your grace," replied the
mother; "he is not pretty; but he has a very good disposition, and swims as well or
even better than the others. I think he will grow up pretty, and perhaps be smaller; he
has remained too long in the egg, and therefore his figure is not properly formed;"
and then she stroked his neck and smoothed the feathers, saying, "It is a drake, and
therefore not of so much consequence. I think he will grow up strong, and able to take
care of himself."
"The other ducklings are graceful enough," said
the old duck. "Now
And so they made themselves comfortable; but the poor
duckling, who had crept out of his shell last of all, and looked so ugly, was bitten and
pushed and made fun of, not only by the ducks, but by all the poultry. "He is too
big," they all said, and the turkey cock, who had been born into the world with
spurs, and fancied himself really an emperor, puffed himself out like a vessel in full
sail, and flew at the duckling, and became quite red in the head with passion, so that the
poor little thing did not know where to go, and was quite miserable because he was so ugly
and laughed at by the whole farmyard. So it went on from day to day till it got worse and
worse. The poor duckling was driven about by every one; even his brothers and sisters were
unkind to him, and would say, "Ah, you ugly creature, I wish the cat would get
you," and his mother said she wished he had never been born. The ducks pecked him,
the chickens beat him, and the girl who fed the poultry kicked him with her feet. So at
last he ran away, frightening the little birds in the hedge as he flew over the palings.
"They are afraid of me because I am ugly," he
said. So he closed his eyes, and flew still farther, until he came out on a large moor,
inhabited by wild ducks. Here he remained the whole night, feeling very tired and
In the morning, when the wild ducks rose in the air, they
stared at their new comrade. "What sort of a duck are you?" they all said,
coming round him.
He bowed to them, and was as polite as he could be, but
he did not reply to their question. "You are exceedingly ugly," said the wild
ducks, "but that will not matter if you do not want to marry one of our family."
Poor thing! he had no thoughts of marriage; all he wanted
"Pop, pop," sounded in the air, and the two
wild geese fell dead among the rushes, and the water was tinged with blood. "Pop,
pop," echoed far and wide in the distance, and whole flocks of wild geese rose up
from the rushes. The sound continued from every direction, for the sportsmen surrounded
the moor, and some were even seated on
He ran over field and meadow till a storm arose, and he could hardly struggle against it. Towards evening, he reached a poor little cottage that seemed ready to fall, and only remained standing because it could not decide on which side to fall first. The storm continued so violent, that the duckling could go no farther; he sat down by the cottage, and then he noticed that the door was not quite closed in consequence of one of the hinges having given way. There was therefore a narrow opening near the bottom large enough for him to slip through, which he did very quietly, and got a shelter for the night.
A woman, a tom cat, and a hen lived in this cottage. The
tom cat, whom the mistress called, "My little son," was a great favorite; he
"What is that noise about?" said the old woman,
"Oh what a prize!" she exclaimed, "I hope
it is not a drake, for
Now the tom cat was the master of the house, and the hen was mistress, and they always said, "We and the world," for they believed themselves to be half the world, and the better half too. The duckling thought that others might hold a different opinion on the subject, but the hen would not listen to such doubts.
"Can you lay eggs?" she asked. "No." "Then have the goodness to hold your tongue."
"Can you raise your back, or purr, or throw out
So the duckling sat in a corner, feeling very low
spirited, till the sunshine and the fresh air came into the room through the open door,
and then he began to feel such a great longing for a swim on the water, that he could not
help telling the hen.
"What an absurd idea," said the hen. "You
have nothing else to do,
"But it is so delightful to swim about on the
water," said the duckling, "and so refreshing to feel it close over your head,
while you dive down to the bottom."
"Delightful, indeed!" said the hen, "why
you must be crazy! Ask the cat, he is the cleverest animal I know, ask him how he would
like to swim about on the water, or to dive under it, for I will not speak of my own
opinion; ask our mistress, the old woman-- there is no one in the world more clever than
she is. Do you think she would like to swim, or to let the water close over her
"You don't understand me," said the duckling.
"We don't understand you? Who can understand you, I
wonder? Do you
"I believe I must go out into the world again,"
said the duckling.
"Yes, do," said the hen. So the duckling left the cottage, and soon found water on which it could swim and dive, but was avoided by all other animals, because of its ugly appearance.
Autumn came, andthe leaves in the forest turned to orange and gold. then, as winter approached, the wind caught them as they fell and whirled them in the cold air. The clouds, heavy with hail and snow-flakes, hung low in the sky, and the raven stood on the ferns crying, "Croak, croak." It made one shiver with cold to look at him. All this was very sad for the poor little duckling.
One evening, just as the sun set amid radiant clouds,
there came a large flock of beautiful birds out of the bushes. The duckling had never seen
any like them before. They were swans, and they curved their graceful necks, while their
soft plumage shown with dazzling whiteness. They uttered a singular cry, as they spread
their glorious wings and flew away from those cold regions to warmer countries across the
sea. As they mounted higher and higher in the air, the ugly little duckling felt quite a
strange sensation as he watched them. He whirled himself in the water like a wheel,
stretched out his neck towards them, and uttered a cry so strange that it frightened
himself. Could he ever forget those beautiful, happy birds; and when at last they were out
of his sight,
The winter grew colder and colder; he was obliged to swim
about on the water to keep it from freezing, but every night the space on which he swam
became smaller and smaller. At length it froze so hard that the ice in the water crackled
as he moved, and the duckling had to paddle with his legs as well as he could, to keep the
space from closing up. He became exhausted at last, and lay still and helpless, frozen
fast in the ice.
Early in the morning, a peasant, who was passing by, saw
what had happened. He broke the ice in pieces with his wooden shoe, and carried the
duckling home to his wife. The warmth revived the poor little creature; but when the
children wanted to play with him, the duckling thought they would do him some harm; so he
started up in terror, fluttered into the milk-pan, and splashed the milk about the room.
Then the woman clapped her hands, which frightened him still more. He flew first into the
butter-cask, then into the meal-tub, and out again. What a condition he was in! The woman
screamed, and struck at him with the tongs; the children laughed and screamed, and tumbled
over each other, in their efforts to catch him; but luckily he escaped. The door stood
open; the poor creature could just manage to slip out among the bushes, and lie down quite
exhausted in the newly fallen snow.
It would be very sad, were I to relate all the misery and
privations which the poor little duckling endured during the hard winter; but when it had
passed, he found himself lying one morning in a moor, amongst the rushes. He felt the warm
sun shining, and heard the lark singing, and saw that all around was beautiful spring.
Then the young bird felt that his wings were strong, as he flapped them against his sides,
and rose high into the air. They bore him onwards, until he found himself in a large
garden, before he well knew how it had happened. The apple-trees were in full blossom, and
the fragrant elders bent their long green branches down to the stream which wound round a
smooth lawn. Everything looked beautiful, in the freshness of early spring. From a thicket
close by came three beautiful white swans, rustling their feathers, and swimming lightly
over the smooth water. The duckling remembered the lovely birds, and felt more strangely
unhappy than ever.
"I will fly to those royal birds," he
exclaimed, "and they will kill me, because I am so ugly, and dare to approach them;
but it does not matter: better be killed by them than pecked by the ducks, beaten by the
hens, pushed about by the maiden who feeds the poultry, or starved with hunger in the
Then he flew to the water, and swam towards the beautiful
"Kill me," said the poor bird; and he bent his
head down to the surface of the water, and awaited death.
But what did he see in the clear stream below? His own
Into the garden presently came some little children, and
threw bread and cake into the water.
"See," cried the youngest, "there is a new
one;" and the rest were
Then they threw more bread and cake into the water, and
Then he felt quite ashamed, and hid his head under his
wing; for he did not know what to do, he was so happy, and yet not at all proud. He had
been persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most
beautiful of all the birds. Even the elder-tree bent down its bows into the water before
him, and the sun shone warm and bright. Then he rustled his feathers, curved his slender
neck, and cried joyfully, from the depths of his heart, "I never dreamed of such
happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling."