The Ugly Duckling

: Hans Andersens Fairy Tales

IT was so beautiful in the country. It was the summer time. The wheat

fields were golden, the oats were green, and the hay stood in great

stacks in the green meadows. The stork paraded about among them on his

long red legs, chattering away in Egyptian, the language he had learned

from his lady mother.

All around the meadows and cornfields grew thick woods, and in the midst

of the forest was a deep lake. Y
s, it was beautiful, it was delightful

in the country.

In a sunny spot stood a pleasant old farmhouse circled all about with

deep canals; and from the walls down to the water's edge grew great

burdocks, so high that under the tallest of them a little child might

stand upright. The spot was as wild as if it had been in the very

center of the thick wood.

In this snug retreat sat a duck upon her nest, watching for her young

brood to hatch; but the pleasure she had felt at first was almost gone;

she had begun to think it a wearisome task, for the little ones were so

long coming out of their shells, and she seldom had visitors. The other

ducks liked much better to swim about in the canals than to climb the

slippery banks and sit under the burdock leaves to have a gossip with

her. It was a long time to stay so much by herself.

At length, however, one shell cracked, and soon another, and from each

came a living creature that lifted its head and cried "Peep, peep."

"Quack, quack!" said the mother; and then they all tried to say it, too,

as well as they could, while they looked all about them on every side at

the tall green leaves. Their mother allowed them to look about as much

as they liked, because green is good for the eyes.

"What a great world it is, to be sure," said the little ones, when they

found how much more room they had than when they were in the eggshell.

"Is this all the world, do you imagine?" said the mother. "Wait till you

have seen the garden. Far beyond that it stretches down to the pastor's

field, though I have never ventured to such a distance. Are you all

out?" she continued, rising to look. "No, not all; the largest egg lies

there yet, I declare. I wonder how long this business is to last. I'm

really beginning to be tired of it;" but for all that she sat down


"Well, and how are you to-day?" quacked an old duck who came to pay her

a visit.

"There's one egg that takes a deal of hatching. The shell is hard and

will not break," said the fond mother, who sat still upon her nest. "But

just look at the others. Have I not a pretty family? Are they not the

prettiest little ducklings you ever saw? They are the image of their

father--the good for naught! He never comes to see me."

"Let me see the egg that will not break," said the old duck. "I've no

doubt it's a Guinea fowl's egg. The same thing happened to me once, and

a deal of trouble it gave me, for the young ones are afraid of the

water. I quacked and clucked, but all to no purpose. Let me take a look

at it. Yes, I am right; it's a Guinea fowl, upon my word; so take my

advice and leave it where it is. Come to the water and teach the other

children to swim."

"I think I will sit a little while longer," said the mother. "I have sat

so long, a day or two more won't matter."

"Very well, please yourself," said the old duck, rising; and she went


* * * * *

At last the great egg broke, and the latest bird cried "Peep, peep," as

he crept forth from the shell. How big and ugly he was! The mother duck

stared at him and did not know what to think. "Really," she said, "this

is an enormous duckling, and it is not at all like any of the others. I

wonder if he will turn out to be a Guinea fowl. Well, we shall see when

we get to the water--for into the water he must go, even if I have to

push him in myself."

On the next day the weather was delightful. The sun shone brightly on

the green burdock leaves, and the mother duck took her whole family

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; their legs went of their own accord; and the ugly gray-coat

was also in the water, swimming with them.

"Oh," said the mother, "that is not a Guinea fowl. See how well he uses

his legs, and how erect 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 wretched riot going on; two

families were fighting for an eel's head, which, after all, was carried

off by the cat. "See, children, that is the way of the world," said the

mother duck, whetting her beak, for she would have liked the eel's head

herself. "Come, now, use your legs, and let me see how well you can

behave. You must bow your heads prettily to that old duck yonder; she is

the highest born of them all and has Spanish blood; therefore she is

well off. Don't you see she has a red rag tied to her leg, which is

something very grand and a great honor for a duck; it shows that every

one is anxious not to lose her, and that she is to be noticed by both

man and beast. Come, now, don't turn in your toes; a well-bred duckling

spreads his feet wide apart, just like his father and mother, in this

way; now bend your necks and say 'Quack!'"

The ducklings did as they were bade, but the other ducks stared, and

said, "Look, here comes another brood--as if there were not enough of us

already! And bless me, 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. He's a perfect fright," said the

spiteful duck, "and therefore he must be turned out. A little biting

will do him good."

"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 smooth him up a bit;

he is really ill-favored."

"That is impossible, your grace," replied the mother. "He is not pretty,

but he has a very good disposition and swims as well as the others or

even better. 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


"The other ducklings are graceful enough," said the old duck. "Now make

yourself at home, and if you find an eel's head you can bring it to me."

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. He

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

as to be laughed at by the whole farmyard.

So it went on from day to day; 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 had been heard to say she wished he had never been

born. The ducks pecked him, the chickens beat him, and the girl who fed

the poultry pushed 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 because I am so ugly," he said. So he flew still

farther, until he came out on a large moor inhabited by wild ducks. Here

he remained the whole night, feeling very sorrowful.

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 was permission

to lie among the rushes and drink some of the water on the moor. After

he had been on the moor two days, there came two wild geese, or rather

goslings, for they had not been out of the egg long, which accounts for

their impertinence. "Listen, friend," said one of them to the duckling;

"you are so ugly that we like you very well. Will you go with us and

become a bird of passage? Not far from here is another moor, in which

there are some wild geese, all of them unmarried. It is a chance for you

to get a wife. You may make your fortune, ugly as you are."

"Bang, bang," sounded in the air, and the two wild geese fell dead

among the rushes, and the water was tinged with blood. "Bang, bang,"

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 branches of trees, overlooking

the rushes. The blue smoke from the guns rose like clouds over the dark

trees, and as it floated away across the water, a number of sporting

dogs bounded in among the rushes, which bent beneath them wherever they

went. How they terrified the poor duckling! He turned away his head to

hide it under his wing, and at the same moment a large, terrible dog

passed quite near him. His jaws were open, his tongue hung from his

mouth, and his eyes glared fearfully. He thrust his nose close to the

duckling, showing his sharp teeth, and then "splash, splash," he went

into the water, without touching him.

"Oh," sighed the duckling, "how thankful I am for being so ugly; even a

dog will not bite me."

And so he lay quite still, while the shot rattled through the rushes,

and gun after gun was fired over him. It was late in the day before all

became quiet, but even then the poor young thing did not dare to move.

He waited quietly for several hours and then, after looking carefully

around him, hastened away from the moor as fast as he could. 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 seemed to remain 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. Here, in this cottage, lived a woman, a

cat, and a hen. The cat, whom his mistress called "My little son," was a

great favorite; he could raise his back, and purr, and could even throw

out sparks from his fur if it were stroked the wrong way. The hen had

very short legs, so she was called "Chickie Short-legs." She laid good

eggs, and her mistress loved her as if she had been her own child. In

the morning the strange visitor was discovered; the cat began to purr

and the hen to cluck.

"What is that noise about?" said the old woman, looking around the room.

But her sight was not very good; therefore when she saw the duckling she

thought it must be a fat duck that had strayed from home. "Oh, what a

prize!" she exclaimed. "I hope it is not a drake, for then I shall have

some ducks' eggs. I must wait and see."

So the duckling was allowed to remain on trial for three weeks; but

there were no eggs.

Now the cat was the master of the house, and the hen was the mistress;

and they always said, "We and the world," for they believed themselves

to be half the world, and by far 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 cease

talking." "Can you raise your back, or purr, or throw out sparks?" said

the cat. "No." "Then you have no right to express an opinion when

sensible people are speaking." So the duckling sat in a corner, feeling

very low-spirited; but when the sunshine and the fresh air came into the

room through the open door, he began to feel such a great longing for a

swim that he could not help speaking of it.

"What an absurd idea!" said the hen. "You have nothing else to do;

therefore you have foolish fancies. If you could purr or lay eggs, they

would pass away."

"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! it must be a queer sort of pleasure," 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 relish swimming and letting the water close over her


"I see you don't understand me," said the duckling.

"We don't understand you? Who can understand you, I wonder? Do you

consider yourself more clever than the cat or the old woman?--I will say

nothing of myself. Don't imagine such nonsense, child, and thank your

good fortune that you have been so well received here. Are you not in a

warm room and in society from which you may learn something? But you are

a chatterer, and your company is not very agreeable. Believe me, I speak

only for your good. I may tell you unpleasant truths, but that is a

proof of my friendship. I advise you, therefore, to lay eggs and learn

to purr as quickly as possible."

"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 he was avoided by all other

animals because of his ugly appearance.

Autumn came, and the leaves in the forest turned to orange and gold;

then, as winter approached, the wind caught them as they fell and

whirled them into the cold air. The clouds, heavy with hail and

snowflakes, hung low in the sky, and the raven stood among the reeds,

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 was setting 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 shone 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. They

mounted higher and higher in the air, and the ugly little duckling had 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 even himself. Could he ever forget those

beautiful, happy birds! And when at last they were out of his sight, he

dived under the water and rose again almost beside himself with

excitement. He knew not the names of these birds nor where they had

flown, but he felt towards them as he had never felt towards any other

bird in the world.

He was not envious of these beautiful creatures; it never occurred to

him to wish to be as lovely as they. Poor ugly creature, how gladly he

would have lived even with the ducks, had they only treated him kindly

and given him encouragement.

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


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, before he well knew how it had happened, he found himself in a

large garden. 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 saw these lovely birds and felt more strangely unhappy than


"I will fly to these royal birds," he exclaimed, "and they will kill me

because, ugly as I am, I 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 winter."

Then he flew to the water and swam towards the beautiful swans. The

moment they espied the stranger they rushed to meet him with

outstretched wings.

"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 image--no longer

a dark-gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and

beautiful swan.

To be born in a duck's nest in a farmyard is of no consequence to a bird

if it is hatched from a swan's egg. He now felt glad at having suffered

sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all

the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round

the newcomer and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.

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

delighted, and ran to their father and mother, dancing and clapping

their hands and shouting joyously, "There is another swan come; a new

one has arrived."

Then they threw more bread and cake into the water and said, "The new

one is the most beautiful of all, he is so young and pretty." 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--yet he was 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 boughs 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 the despised ugly duckling."