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THE UGLY DUCKLING
T was lovely summer weather in the country, and the
golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks in the
meadows looked beautiful. On a sunny slope stood a
pleasant old farmhouse, close by a deep river. Under
some big burdock leaves on the bank sat a suck on her
nest, waiting for her young brood to hatch; she was
beginning to get tired of her task, for the little ones
were a long time coming out of their shells.
At length one shell cracked, and then another, and from
each egg came a living creature that lifted its head
and cried, "Peep, peep." "Quack, quack," said the
mother, and then they all quacked as well as they
could, and looked about them on every side at the large
green leaves. Their mother allowed them to look as
much as they liked, because green is good for their
"How large the world is," said the young ducks, when
they found out how much more room they had now than
when they were inside the egg-shell.
"Do you imagine this is the whole world?" asked the
mother; "wait until you have seen the garden; it
stretches far beyond that to the parson's field, but I
have never ventured so far. Are you all out?" she
continued, rising; "no, I declare, the largest egg lies
there still. I wonder how long this is to last, I am
quite tired of it"; and she seated herself again on the
"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
 break. But just look at all the others, are they not
the prettiest ducklings you ever saw?"
"Let me see the egg that will not hatch," said the old
duck; "I have no doubt it is a turkey's egg. I was
persuaded to hatch some once and after all my care and
trouble with the young ones, they were afraid of the
water. I quacked and clucked, but all to no purpose.
I could not get them to venture in. Let me look at the
egg. Yes, that is a turkey's egg; take my advice,
leave it where it is, and teach the other children to
"I think I will sit on it a little while longer," said
the duck. "I have sat so long already, a few days will
"Please yourself," said the old duck, and she went
At last the large egg hatched, and a young one crept
forth crying, "Peep, peep." It was very large and
ugly. The duck stared at it, and exclaimed, "It is
very large and not like the others. I wonder if it
really is a turkey. We shall soon find out when we go
to the water. It must go in, if I have to push it in
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 t he water,
and jumped in with a little 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 swam with them.
"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 ugly after all if you
look at him properly. Quack, quack! come with me now,
I will take you to the farmyard, but you must keep
close to me, or you may be trodden upon; and, above
all, beware of the cat."
The ducklings did as they were bid, and, when they came
 to the yard, the other ducks stared and said, "Look,
here comes another brood, as if there were not enough
already! And what a queer looking object one of them
is; we don't want him here," and then one flew in and
bit him in the neck.
"Let him alone," said his mother; "he is not doing any
"Yes, but he is too big and ugly," said the spiteful
duck, "and therefore must be turned out."
They soon got to feel at home in the farmyard; but the
poor duckling that had crept out of its 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 th is world with spurs, and
fancied himself an emperor, puffed himself out and flew
at the duckling, and became quite red in the face 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
from day to day, till it got worse and worse. The poor
duckling was driven away by every one; even his
brothers and sisters were unkind to him, and would say:
"Ah, you ugly creature, I wish that cat would get
you," and his mother said she wished he had never been
born. The ducks pecked at him, the chickens beat him,
and the girl who fed the poultry kicked him. So at
last he went away, frightening the little birds in the
hedge as he flew over the palings.
"They are afraid of me because I am so 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
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 as polite to them as he could be,
but he did not reply to their question. "You are
exceedingly ugly," said the wild duck, "but that will
not matter if you do not marry into our family."
Poor thing! All he wanted was to stay among the
rushes, and find something to eat and drink.
After he had been on the moor two days, some men came
to shoot the birds there. How they terrified the poor
duckling! He hid himself among the reeds, and lay
quite still, when suddenly a dog came running by him,
and went to splash into the water without touching him.
"Oh," sighed the ducking, "how thankful I am for being
so ugly; even a dog will not bite me."
It was late in the day before all became quiet, but
even then the poor young thing did not dare to move.
He waited 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 until a
storm arose and he could hardly struggle against it.
Towards evening, he reached a poor little cottage, and
then he noticed that there was a hole near the bottom
of the door, large enough for him to slip through,
which he did very quietly and got shelter for the
A woman, a tom-cat, and an hen lived in this cottage.
The tom-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, and the tom-cat began to purr and the hen
"What is that noise about?" said the old woman, looking
around the room, but her sight was not very good;
 she saw the duckling, she thought it must be a fat duck
that had strayed away from home. "Oh, what a prize!"
she exclaimed, "I hope it is not s drake, for then I
will have some duck's 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 tom-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 the better half, too. The duckling thought
others might hold a different opinion, but then 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 sparks?" said the tom-cat. "Then you have no right
to express and opinion when sensible people are
speaking." So the duckling sat in a corner, feeling
very low-spirited, till the sunshine and fresh air came
into the room through the open door, and then he began
to feel such a 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, therefore you have foolish fancies. IF you
could purr or lay eggs, they would pass away."
"But it is delightful to swim about on the water," said
the duckling, "and so refreshing to feel it close over
your head, when 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 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 consider yourself more clever than the
cat, or the woman? I will say nothing of myself.
Don't imagine such nonsense, child, and thank your good
fortune that you have been 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 goof. 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
"Yes, do," said the hen. So the duckling left the
cottage, and soon found water on which he could swim
and dive, but he was avoided by all the other animals
because he was so ugly.
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 in the cold
air. The clouds, heavy with hail and snowflakes, 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
One evening, just as the sun had set, amid bright
clouds, there came a large flock of beautiful birds out
of the bushes. They 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.
As they mounted higher and higher in the air, the ugly
duckling felt 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 sight, he dived under the water, and rose again
almost beside himself with excitement. He knew not the
name of these birds, nor where they had flown, but he
felt towards them as he had never felt for any other
bird in the world. He was not envious of these
beautiful creatures, but he wished to be as lovely as
they. Poor ugly creature, how gladly he would have
lived even with the ducks, had they only 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 cracked 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. 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
 once more 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 knew well hot 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
"I will fly to these 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 t han pecked by the ducks, beaten by the
hens, pushed about by the girls who feeds the poultry,
or starved with hunger in the winter."
Then he flew to the water, and swam towards the
beautiful swans. They moment they espied the stranger,
they rushed to meet him with outstretched wings.
"Kill me," said the poor bird; and he bent his hear
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; and the great swans swam around the new-comer,
and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.
Into the garden, presently came some little children,
and they 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
 and clapping their hands, and shouting joyously.
"There is another swan come, a new one!"
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,
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 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 an ugly