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The White Duck

from The Yellow Fairy Book





Once upon a time a great and powerful King married a lovely
Princess. No couple were ever so happy; but before their
honeymoon was over they were forced to part, for the King had to
go on a warlike expedition to a far country, and leave his young
wife alone at home. Bitter were the tears she shed, while her
husband sought in vain to soothe her with words of comfort and
counsel, warning her, above all things, never to leave the
castle, to hold no intercourse with strangers, to beware of evil
counsellors, and especially to be on her guard against strange
women. And the Queen promised faithfully to obey her royal lord
and master in these four matters.

So when the King set out on his expedition she shut herself up
with her ladies in her own apartments, and spent her time in
spinning and weaving, and in thinking of her royal husband.
Often she was very sad and lonely, and it happened that one day
while she was seated at the window, letting salt tears drop on
her work, an old woman, a kind, homely-looking old body, stepped
up to the window, and, leaning upon her crutch, addressed the
Queen in friendly, flattering tones, saying:

'Why are you sad and cast down, fair Queen? You should not mope
all day in your rooms, but should come out into the green garden,
and hear the birds sing with joy among the trees, and see the
butterflies fluttering above the flowers, and hear the bees and
insects hum, and watch the sunbeams chase the dew-drops through
the rose-leaves and in the lily-cups. All the brightness outside
would help to drive away your cares, O Queen.'

For long the Queen resisted her coaxing words, remembering the
promise she had given the King, her husband; but at last she
thought to herself: After all, what harm would it do if I were
to go into the garden for a short time and enjoy myself among the
trees and flowers, and the singing birds and fluttering
butterflies and humming insects, and look at the dew-drops hiding
from the sunbeams in the hearts of the roses and lilies, and
wander about in the sunshine, instead of remaining all day in
this room? For she had no idea that the kind-looking old woman
leaning on her crutch was in reality a wicked witch, who envied
the Queen her good fortune, and was determined to ruin her. And
so, in all ignorance, the Queen followed her out into the garden
and listened to her smooth, flattering words. Now, in the middle
of the garden there was a pond of water, clear as crystal, and
the old woman said to the Queen:

'The day is so warm, and the sun's rays so scorching, that the
water in the pond looks very cool and inviting. Would you not
like to bathe in it, fair Queen?'

'No, I think not,' answered the Queen; but the next moment she
regretted her words, and thought to herself: Why shouldn't I
bathe in that cool, fresh water? No harm could come of it. And,
so saying, she slipped off her robes and stepped into the water.
But scarcely had her tender feet touched the cool ripples when
she felt a great shove on her shoulders, and the wicked witch had
pushed her into the deep water, exclaiming:

'Swim henceforth, White Duck!'

And the witch herself assumed the form of the Queen, and decked
herself out in the royal robes, and sat among the Court ladies,
awaiting the King's return. And suddenly the tramp of horses'
hoofs was heard, and the barking of dogs, and the witch hastened
forward to meet the royal carriages, and, throwing her arms round
the King's neck, kissed him. And in his great joy the King did
not know that the woman he held in his arms was not his own dear
wife, but a wicked witch.

In the meantime, outside the palace walls, the poor White Duck
swam up and down the pond; and near it laid three eggs, out of
which there came one morning two little fluffy ducklings and a
little ugly drake. And the White Duck brought the little
creatures up, and they paddled after her in the pond, and caught
gold-fish, and hopped upon the bank and waddled about, ruffling
their feathers and saying 'Quack, quack' as they strutted about
on the green banks of the pond. But their mother used to warn
them not to stray too far, telling them that a wicked witch lived
in the castle beyond the garden, adding, 'She has ruined me, and
she will do her best to ruin you.' But the young ones did not
listen to their mother, and, playing about the garden one day,
they strayed close up to the castle windows. The witch at once
recognised them by their smell, and ground her teeth with anger;
but she hid her feelings, and, pretending to be very kind she
called them to her and joked with them, and led them into a
beautiful room, where she gave them food to eat, and showed them
a soft cushion on which they might sleep. Then she left them and
went down into the palace kitchens, where she told the servants
to sharpen the knives, and to make a great fire ready, and hang a
large kettleful of water over it.

In the meantime the two little ducklings had fallen asleep, and
the little drake lay between them, covered up by their wings, to
be kept warm under their feathers. But the little drake could
not go to sleep, and as he lay there wide awake in the night he
heard the witch come to the door and say:

'Little ones, are you asleep?'

And the little drake answered for the other two:

'We cannot sleep, we wake and weep,
Sharp is the knife, to take our life;
The fire is hot, now boils the pot,
And so we wake, and lie and quake.'

'They are not asleep yet,' muttered the witch to herself; and she
walked up and down in the passage, and then came back to the
door, and said:

'Little ones, are you asleep?'

And again the little drake answered for his sisters:

'We cannot sleep, we wake and weep,
Sharp is the knife, to take our life;
The fire is hot, now boils the pot,
And so we wake, and lie and quake.'

'Just the same answer,' muttered the witch; 'I think I'll go in
and see.' So she opened the door gently, and seeing the two
little ducklings sound asleep, she there and then killed them.

The next morning the White Duck wandered round the pond in a
distracted manner, looking for her little ones; she called and
she searched, but could find no trace of them. And in her heart
she had a foreboding that evil had befallen them, and she
fluttered up out of the water and flew to the palace. And there,
laid out on the marble floor of the court, dead and stone cold,
were her three children. The White Duck threw herself upon them,
and, covering up their little bodies with her wings, she cried:

'Quack, quack--my little loves!
Quack, quack--my turtle-doves!
I brought you up with grief and pain,
And now before my eyes you're slain.

I gave you always of the best;
I kept you warm in my soft nest.
I loved and watched you day and night--
You were my joy, my one delight.'


The King heard the sad complaint of the White Duck, and called to
the witch: 'Wife, what a wonder is this? Listen to that White
Duck.'

But the witch answered, 'My dear husband, what do you mean?
There is nothing wonderful in a duck's quacking. Here, servants!
Chase that duck out of the courtyard.' But though the servants
chased and chevied, they could not get rid of the duck; for she
circled round and round, and always came back to the spot where
her children lay, crying:

'Quack, quack--my little loves!
Quack, quack--my turtle-doves!
The wicked witch your lives did take--
The wicked witch, the cunning snake.
First she stole my King away,
Then my children did she slay.
Changed me, from a happy wife,
To a duck for all my life.
Would I were the Queen again;
Would that you had never been slain.'

And as the King heard her words he began to suspect that he had
been deceived, and he called out to the servants, 'Catch that
duck, and bring it here.' But, though they ran to and fro, the
duck always fled past them, and would not let herself be caught.
So the King himself stepped down amongst them, and instantly the
duck fluttered down into his hands. And as he stroked her wings
she was changed into a beautiful woman, and he recognised his
dear wife. And she told him that a bottle would be found in her
nest in the garden, containing some drops from the spring of
healing. And it was brought to her; and the ducklings and little
drake were sprinkled with the water, and from the little dead
bodies three lovely children arose. And the King and Queen were
overjoyed when they saw their children, and they all lived
happily together in the beautiful palace. But the wicked witch
was taken by the King's command, and she came to no good end.





Next: The Witch And Her Servants

Previous: In The Land Of Souls



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