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THE UGLY DUCKLING

from Types Of Children's Literature - Traditional





Hans Christian Andersen


It was glorious out in the country. It was summer, and the cornfields
were yellow, and the oats were green; the hay had been put
up in stacks in the green meadows, and the stork went about on his
long red legs, and chattered Egyptian, for this was the language he
had learned from his good mother. All around the fields and
meadows were great forests, and in the midst of these forests lay
deep lakes. Yes, it was really glorious out in the country. In the
midst of the sunshine there lay an old farm, surrounded by deep
canals, and from the wall down to the water grew great burdocks,
so high that the children could stand upright under the loftiest of
them. It was just as wild there as in the deepest wood. Here sat
a Duck upon her nest, for she had to hatch her young ones; but she
was almost tired out before the little ones came; and then she so
seldom had visitors. The other Ducks liked better to swim about in
the canals than to run up to sit down under a burdock and cackle
with her.

At last one eggshell after another burst open. "Piep! piep!" it
cried, and in all the eggs there were little creatures that stuck out
their heads.

"Rap! rap!" they said; and they all came rapping out as fast as
they could, looking all round them under the green leaves; and the
mother let them look as much as they chose, for green is good for
the eyes. "How wide the world is!" said the young ones, for they
certainly had much more room now than when they were in the eggs.

"Do you think this is all the world!" asked the mother. "That
extends far across the other side of the garden, quite into the parson's
field, but I have never been there yet. I hope you are all together,"
she continued, and stood up." No, I have not all. The largest egg
still lies there. How long is that to last? I am really tired of it."
And she sat down again.

"Well, how goes it?" asked an old Duck who had come to pay
her a visit.

"It lasts a long time with that one egg," said the Duck who sat
there. "It will not burst. Now, only look at the others; are they
not the prettiest ducks one could possibly see? They are all like
their father; the bad fellow never comes to see me."

"Let me see the egg which will not burst," said the old visitor.
"Believe me, it is a turkey's egg. I was once cheated in that way,
and had much anxiety and trouble with the young ones, for they
are afraid of the water. I could not get them to venture in. I
quacked and clucked, but it was of no use. Let me see the egg.
Yes, that's a turkey's egg. Let it lie there, and you teach the other
children to swim."

"I think I will sit on it a little longer," said the Duck. "I've sat
so long now that I can sit a few days more."

"Just as you please," said the old Duck; and she went away.

At last the great egg burst. "Piep! piep!" said the little one,
and crept forth. It was very large and very ugly. The Duck
looked at it.

"It's a very large duckling," said she; "none of the others look
like that; can it really be a turkey chick? Now we shall soon find
out. It must go into the water, even if I have to thrust it in myself."

The next day the weather was splendidly bright, and the sun
shone on all the green trees. The Mother Duck went down to the
water with all her little ones. Splash! she jumped into the water.
"Quack! quack!" she said, and then one duckling after another
plunged in. The water closed over their heads, but they came up
in an instant and swam capitally; their legs went of themselves, and
there they were, all in the water. The ugly gray Duckling swam
with them.

"No, it's not a turkey," said she; "look how well it can use its
legs, and how upright it holds itself. It is my own child! On the
whole it's quite pretty, if one looks at it rightly. Quack! quack!
come with me, and I'll lead you out into the great world, and
present you in the poultry yard; but keep close to me, so that no
one may tread on you; and take care of the cats!"

And so they came into the poultry yard. There was a terrible
riot going on there, for two families were quarreling about an eel's
head, and the cat got it after all.

"See, that's how it goes in the world!" said the Mother Duck;
and she whetted her beak, for she, too, wanted the eel's head. "Only
use your legs," she said. "See that you bustle about, and bow your
heads before the old Duck yonder. She's the grandest of all here;
she's of Spanish blood--that's why she's so fat; and do you see,
she has a red rag round her leg; that's something particularly
fine, and the greatest distinction a duck can enjoy; it signifies that
one does not want to lose her, and that she's to be recognized by
man and beast. Shake yourselves--don't turn in your toes: a well-brought-up
Duck turns its toes quite out, just like father and mother,
so! Now bend your necks and say 'Rap!'"

And they did so; but the other Ducks round about looked at them
and said quite boldly:

"Look there! now we're to have these hanging on, as if there were
not enough of us already! And--fie--! how that Duckling yonder
looks; we won't stand that!" And one Duck flew up immediately,
and bit it in the neck.

"Let it alone," said the mother; "it does no harm to any one."

"Yes, but it's too large and peculiar," said the Duck who had
bitten it; "and therefore it must be buffeted."

"Those are pretty children that the mother has there," said the
old Duck with the rag round her leg. "They're all pretty but that
one; that was a failure. I wish she could alter it."

"That cannot be done, my Lady," replied the Mother Duck. "It
is not pretty, but it has a really good disposition, and swims as well
as any other; I may even say it swims better. I think it will grow
up pretty, and become smaller in time; it has lain too long in the
egg, and therefore is not properly shaped." And then she pinched
it in the neck and smoothed its feathers. "Moreover, it is a drake,"
she said, "and therefore it is not of so much consequence. I think
he will be very strong; he makes his way already."

"The other ducklings are graceful enough," said the old Duck.
"Make yourself at home; and if you find an eel's head, you may
bring it me."

And now they were at home. But the poor Duckling which had
crept last out of the egg, and looked so ugly, was bitten and pushed
and jeered, as much by the Ducks as by the chickens.

"It is too big!" they all said. And the turkey-cock, who had
been born with spurs and therefore thought himself an emperor,
blew himself up like a ship in full sail and bore straight down upon
it; then he gobbled and grew quite red in the face. The poor
Duckling did not know where it should stand or walk; it was quite
melancholy, because it looked ugly and was scoffed at by the whole
yard.

So it went on the first day, and afterward it became worse and
worse. The poor Duckling was hunted about by every one; even
its brothers and sisters were quite angry with it, and said, "If the
cat would only catch you, you ugly creature!" And the mother
said, "If you were only far away!" And the Ducks bit it and the
chickens beat it, and the girl who had to feed the poultry kicked
at it with her foot.

Then it ran and flew over the fence, and the little birds in the
bushes flew up in fear.

"That is because I am so ugly!" thought the Duckling; and it
shut its eyes, but flew no further; thus it came out into the great
moor, where the Wild Ducks lived. Here it lay the whole night
long; and it was weary and downcast.

Toward morning the Wild Ducks flew up and looked at their new
companion.

"What sort of a one are you?" they asked; and the Duckling
turned in every direction, and bowed as well as it could. "You are
remarkably ugly!" said the Wild Ducks. "But that is very indifferent
to us, so long as you do not marry into our family."

Poor thing! It certainly did not think of marrying, and only
hoped to obtain leave to lie among the reeds and drink some of the
swamp water.

Thus it lay two whole days; then came thither two Wild Geese,
or, properly speaking, two wild ganders. It was not long since each
had crept out of an egg, and that's why they were so saucy.

"Listen, comrade," said one of them. "You're so ugly that I
like you. Will you go with us and become a bird of passage?
Near here, in another moor, there are a few sweet lovely wild geese,
all unmarried and all able to say 'Rap!' You've a chance of
making your fortune, ugly as you are!"

"Piff! paff!" resounded through the air; and the two ganders
fell down dead in the swamp, and the water became blood-red.
"Piff! paff!" it sounded again, and the whole flock of wild geese
rose up from the reeds. And then there was another report. A
great hunt was going on. The hunters were lying in wait all round
the moor and some were even sitting up in the branches of the
trees, which spread far over the reeds. The blue smoke rose up like
clouds among the dark trees, and was wafted far away across the
water; and the hunting dogs came--splash, splash!--into the
swamp, and the rushes and reeds bent down on every side. That
was a fright for the poor Duckling! It turned its head and put it
under its wing; but at that moment a frightful great dog stood close
by the Duckling. His tongue hung far out of his mouth and his
eyes gleamed horrible and ugly; he thrust out his nose close against
the Duckling, showed his sharp teeth, and--splash, splash!--on
he went without seizing it.

"Oh, heaven be thanked!" sighed the Duckling. "I am so ugly
that even the dog does not like to bite me!"

And so it lay quiet, while the shots rattled through the reeds and
gun after gun was fired. At last, late in the day, silence; but the
poor Duckling did not dare to rise up; it waited several hours before
it looked round, and then hastened away out of the moor as fast as it
could. It ran on over field and meadow; there was such a storm
raging that it was difficult to get from one place to another.

Toward evening the Duck came to a little miserable peasant's hut.
This hut was so dilapidated that it did not know on which side it
should fall; and that's why it remained standing. The storm whistled
round the Duckling in such a way that the poor creature was
obliged to sit down, to stand against it; and the tempest grew worse
and worse. Then the Duckling noticed that one of the hinges of the
door had given way, and the door hung so slanting that the Duckling
could slip through the crack into the room; and it did so.

Here lived an old woman, with her Tom Cat and her Hen. And the
Tom Cat, whom she called Sonnie, could arch his back and purr, he
could even give out sparks; but for that one had to stroke his fur
the wrong way. The Hen had quite little legs, and therefore she
was called Chickabiddy-short-shanks; she laid good eggs, and the
woman loved her as her own child.

In the morning the strange Duckling was at once noticed, and
the Tom Cat began to purr and the Hen to cluck.

"What's this?" said the woman, and looked all round; but she
could not see well, and therefore she thought the Duckling was a
fat duck that had strayed. "This is a rare prize," she said. "Now
I shall have duck's eggs. I hope it is not a drake. We must try
that."

And so the Duckling was admitted on trial for three weeks; but
no eggs came. And the Tom Cat was master of the house, and the
Hen was the lady, and they always said "We and the world!" for
they thought they were half the world, and by far the better half.
The Duckling thought one might have a different opinion, but the
Hen would not allow it.

"Can you lay eggs?" she asked.

"No."

"Then you'll have the goodness to hold your tongue."

And the Tom Cat said, "Can you curve your back, and purr, and
give out sparks?

"No."

"Then you cannot have any opinion of your own when sensible
people are speaking."

And the Duckling sat in a corner and was melancholy; then the
fresh air and the sunshine streamed in; and it was seized with such
a strange longing to swim on the water that it could not help telling
the Hen of it.

"What are you thinking of?" cried the Hen. "You have nothing
to do, that's why you have these fancies. Purr or lay eggs, and
they will pass over."

"But it is so charming to swim on the water!" said the Duckling,
"so refreshing to let it close above one's head, and to dive down
to the bottom."

"Yes, that must be a mighty pleasure truly," quoth the Hen. "I
fancy you must have gone crazy. Ask the Cat about it--he's the
cleverest animal I know--ask him if he likes to swim on the water,
or to dive down: I won't speak about myself. Ask our mistress,
the old woman; no one in the world's cleverer than she. Do you
think she has any desire to swim, and to let the water close above
her head?"

"You don't understand me," said the Duckling.

"We don't understand you? Then pray who is to understand
you? You surely don't pretend to be cleverer than the Tom Cat and
the old woman--I won't say anything of myself. Don't be conceited,
child, and be grateful for all the kindness you have received.
Did you not get into a warm room, and have you not fallen into
company from which you may learn something? But you are a
chatterer, and it is not pleasant to associate with you. You may
believe me, I speak for your good. I tell you disagreeable things,
and by that one may always know one's friends. Only take care
that you learn to lay eggs, or to purr and give out sparks!"

"I think I will go out into the wide world," said the Duckling.

"Yes, do go," replied the Hen.

And the Duckling went away. It swam on the water, and dived,
but it was slighted by every creature because of its ugliness.

Now came the autumn. The leaves in the forest turned yellow
and brown; the wind caught them so that they danced about, and up
in the air it was very cold. The clouds hung low, heavy with hail
and snowflakes, and on the fence stood the raven, crying, "Croak!
croak!" for mere cold; yes, it was enough to make one feel cold
to think of this. The poor little Duckling certainly had not a good
time. One evening--the sun was just setting in his beauty--there
came a whole flock of great handsome birds out of the bushes; they
were dazzlingly white, with long, flexible necks; they were swans.
They uttered a very peculiar cry, spread forth their glorious great
wings, and flew away from that cold region to warmer lands, to fair
open lakes. They mounted so high, so high! and the ugly little
Duckling felt quite strangely as it watched them. It turned round
and round in the water like a wheel, stretched out its neck toward
them, and uttered such a strange loud cry as frightened itself. Oh!
it could not forget those beautiful, happy birds; and as soon as it
could see them no longer, it dived down to the very bottom, and when
it came up again, it was quite beside itself. It knew not the name of
those birds, and knew not whither they were flying; but it loved them
more than it had ever loved any one. It was not at all envious of
them. How could it think of wishing to possess such loveliness as
they had? It would have been glad if only the ducks would have
endured its company--the poor ugly creature!

And the winter grew cold, very cold! The Duckling was forced
to swim about in the water, to prevent the surface from freezing
entirely; but every night the hole in which it swam about became
smaller and smaller. It froze so hard that the icy covering crackled
again; and the Duckling was obliged to use its legs continually to
prevent the hole from freezing up. At last it became exhausted,
and lay quite still, and thus froze fast into the ice.

Early in the morning a peasant came by, and when he saw what
had happened, he took his wooden shoe, broke the ice crust to pieces,
and carried the Duckling home to his wife. Then it came to itself
again. The children wanted to play with it; but the Duckling
thought they would do it an injury, and in its terror fluttered up
into the milk pan, so that the milk spurted down into the room. The
woman clasped her hands, at which the Duckling flew down into the
butter tub, and then into the meal barrel and out again. How it
looked then! The woman screamed, and struck at it with the fire
tongs; the children tumbled over one another, in their efforts to
catch the Duckling; and they laughed and screamed finely! Happily
the door stood open, and the poor creature was able to slip out
between the shrubs into the newly fallen snow; and there it lay quite
exhausted.

But it would be too melancholy if I were to tell all the misery
and care which the Duckling had to endure in the hard winter. It
lay out on the moor among the reeds, when the sun began to shine
again and the larks to sing; it was a beautiful spring.

Then all at once the Duckling could flap its wings; they beat the
air more strongly than before, and bore it strongly away; and before
it well knew how all this had happened, it found itself in a great
garden, where the elder trees smelt sweet, and bent their long green
branches down to the canal that wound through the region. Oh, here
it was so beautiful, such a gladness of spring! and from the thicket
came three glorious white swans; they rustled their wings, and swam
lightly on the water. The Duckling knew the splendid creatures,
and felt oppressed by a peculiar sadness.

"I will fly away to them, to the royal birds! and they will kill
me, because I, that am so ugly, dare to approach them. But it is of
no consequence! Better to be killed by _them_ than to be pursued
by ducks, and beaten by fowls, and pushed about by the girl who takes
care of the poultry yard, and to suffer hunger in winter!" And it
flew out into the water, and swam toward the beautiful swans: these
looked at it, and came sailing down upon it with outspread wings.
"Kill me!" said the poor creature, and bent its head down upon
the water, expecting nothing but death. But what was this that it
saw in the clear water? It beheld its own image--and, lo! it was
no longer a clumsy dark-gray bird, ugly and hateful to look at, but
--a swan.

It matters nothing if one was born in a duck yard, if one has only
lain in a swan's egg.

It felt quite glad at all the need and misfortune it had suffered,
now it realized its happiness in all the splendor that surrounded it.
And the great swans swam round it, and stroked it with their beaks.

Into the garden came little children, who threw bread and corn
into the water; the youngest cried, "There is a new one!" and the
other children shouted joyously, "Yes, a new one has arrived!"
And they clapped their hands and danced about, and ran to their
father and mother; and bread and cake were thrown into the water;
and they all said, "The new one is the most beautiful of all! so
young and handsome!" and the old swans bowed their heads before
him.

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 thought how he had been persecuted and despised; and
now he heard them saying that he was the most beautiful of all the
birds. Even the elder tree bent its branches straight down into the
water before him, and the sun shone warm and mild. Then his
wings rustled, he lifted his slender neck, and cried rejoicingly from
the depths of his heart:

"I never dreamed of so much happiness when I was still the
Ugly Duckling!"





Next: THE FLAX

Previous: THE HISTORY OF DICK WHITTINGTON AND HIS CAT



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