Fairy tales and stories (Andersen, Tegner)/The Ugly Duckling

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For other English-language translations of this work, see The Ugly Duckling.
A duck siting on her nest to hatch her little ducklings.
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IT was beautiful out in the country, for it was summer-time. The corn was yellow, the oats green; the hay had been made up into ricks down in the green meadows, where the stork was walking about on his long red legs and talking away in Egyptian, for that was the language he had learned from his mother. Round about the corn-fields and meadows were large woods, and in the middle of the woods were deep lakes. Oh, it was indeed beautiful out in the country!

In the midst of the sunny landscape lay an old manor-house with a deep moat around it, and between the wall and the water grew large burdocks, which had attained such a height that little children could stand upright under the tallest of them. It was just as wild there as in the depths of the wood. A duck was sitting on her nest to hatch her little ducklings, but she was almost getting tired of it, for it took such a long time, and she

seldom received any visitors. The other ducks preferred swimming about in the moat to climbing up and sitting under a burdock gabbling to her. At last one egg after another began to crack, and "Peep! peep!" said the little ducklings; all the yolks had become living creatures and were popping out their heads.

"Quack! quack!" said the duck, and away they rushed as fast as they could, looking about them on all sides under the green leaves; their mother let them look around as much as they liked, for green is good for the eyes.

"How big the world is!" said all the young ones, for they had now more space to move about in than when they lay in the egg. "Do you think this is the whole world?" said the mother. "It stretches far away on the other side of the garden, right up to the parson's field, though I have never been there. I hope you are all here," she said, as she stood up. "No, I haven't got you all; the biggest egg is still there. How long is this going to last? I am getting tired of it." And so she settled down again.

"Well, how are you getting on?" said an old duck, who came to pay a visit.

"This egg takes such a long time!" said the duck on the nest; "it won't break! But now you must look at the others. They are the finest ducklings I have seen. They are all like their father, the wretch! He never comes to see me."

"Let me see the egg that won't break," said the old duck. "You'll find it is a turkey's egg. That was the way I was once deceived, and I had a lot of worry and anxiety with those youngsters, for they are afraid of the water. I may tell you, I could not get them to take to it. I quacked and snapped, but it was all of no use. Let me see the egg; yes, it's a turkey egg! Leave it, and teach your other children to swim."

"I'll sit on it just a little longer," said the duck. "I have now been sitting on it so long that 1 may as well go on for some days longer."

"Just as you like," said the old duck, and away she went.

At last the large egg broke. "Peep! peep!" said the youngster as he rolled out of the shell; he was very big and ugly. The duck looked at him: "You are a terribly big duckling, to be sure," she said; "none of the others look like you. I wonder if it is a young turkey, after all. Well, we shall soon find that out. Into the water he shall go, even if I have to push him in myself."

The next day the weather was most beautiful; the sun was shining upon all the green burdocks. The mother of the ducklings went down to the moat with all her little ones. Splash! and into the water she jumped. "Quack, quack!" she called out, and in the ducklings jumped, one after



the other. The water closed over their heads, but the next moment they came up again and were swimming about most beautifully, their legs going of themselves. They were all in the water; even the ugly gray youngster was swimming about with them.

"No, he is not a turkey," she said; "look how well he uses his legs, and how erect he carries himself He is one of my own ducklings. He is not so ugly, after all, when you look at him properly. Quack, quack! Come along with me and I will take you all out into the world and present you in the duck-yard; but keep close to me, so that no one shall tread upon you, and beware of the cat!"

"And then they came into the duck-yard, where there was a terrible noise; two families were fighting over the head of an eel, which the cat got, after all.


"Ah, just look! that's the way of the world," said the mother, licking her beak, for she would have liked to have the eel's head herself.

"Now use your legs," she said; "just try and make haste and bow your heads to the old duck yonder. She is the grandest of them all here. She is of Spanish blood; that is why she is so fat, and you see she has a red rag round her leg. That's something particularly fine and the greatest distinction that any duck can get; it means that they don't want to lose her. Be quick! don't turn in your toes! A well-bred duckling places his legs well apart from each other, just like your father and mother. Now then. Just like this. Now bow with your neck and say. Quack!"

And this they did; but the other ducks round about looked at them and said quite loudly: "Hem! Now we shall have to put up with that riff-raff as well. Just as if there were not enough of us already: and, fie! what an ugly duckling! We sha'n't stand him!" And a duck flew right at him and bit him in the neck.

"Leave him alone," said the mother; "he won't hurt anybody."

"No, but he is too big, and is so different from the others," said the duck who had bitten the duckling; "and therefore he must be pecked."

"These are pretty children of yours," said the old duck with the rag

round her leg; "all of them are pretty, except that one; he has not turned out a success. I wish you would try again."

"That can't be done, your grace," said the mother of the duckling. "He is not pretty, but he is very good-natured, and swims as beautifully as any of the others, and even a little better, I venture to say. I think he will grew pretty, or in time he may grow smaller. He has been lying too long in the egg, and that's why he hasn't got a proper figure." And she nipped him in the neck, and smartened up his downy coat a bit with her beak. "Besides, he is a drake," she said; "and so it doesn't matter much. I think he'11 be a strong bird, and that he'11 manage to get on in the world."

"The other ducklings are very nice," said the old duck; "now just make yourselves at home, and if you find an eel's head, you may bring it to me."

And so they made themselves quite at home.


But the poor duckling who had come out of his shell last of all and looked so ugly was bitten, pushed, and jeered at both by the ducks and the fowls. "He is too big," they all said; and the turkey-cock, who was born with spurs and therefore believed he was an emperor, puffed himself out like a vessel in full sail, went straight for him, and began gobbling till he grew quite red in the face. The poor duckling did not know which way to turn or go; he felt very miserable because he was so ugly and was the laughing-stock of the whole duck-yard.

In this way the first day passed, and afterward things got worse and

worse. The poor duckling was chased by them all. Even his brothers and sisters behaved badly to him, and were always saying: "If the cat would only catch you, you ugly fright!" And the mother wished him far away, while the ducks snapped at him, and the fowls pecked at him, and the girl who fed the poultry kicked him with her foot.

So he ran away and flew over the hedge. The little birds among the bushes flew up in great fright. "That's because I am so ugly," thought the duckling, and shut his eyes; but he ran and ran till he came out on the great marsh where the wild ducks lived. Here he remained the whole night, he was so very tired and miserable.

In the morning the wild ducks flew up and then saw their new comrade. "Who are you?" they asked. The duckling turned round in all directions, and bowed to them the best he could.

"You are terribly ugly," said the wild ducks, "but that is all the same to us, so long as you do not marry into our family."

Poor thing, he was not likely to think of getting married! If he could only be allowed to lie among the rushes and drink a little of the marsh water!

There he remained for two whole days; then there came two wild geese, or, rather, wild ganders, for they were two male birds. It could not have been long since they came out of the egg, and that's why they were so frisky.


"Just listen, comrade," said they. "You are so ugly that we are almost inclined to like you. Will you come along with us and be a bird of passage? Close by, in another marsh, there are some sweet, darling wild geese, all of them spinsters, who can say, 'Quack!' You may be able to make your fortune there, ugly as you are."

"Pop! pop!" was heard just above them at this moment, and both the wild ganders fell down dead among the rushes, and colored the water red. "Pop! pop!" was heard again, and whole flocks of wild geese flew up from the rushes and then there were more reports. A great shooting party had arrived on the spot, and the sportsmen were lying all over the moor; some were even sitting in the

trees which stretched out their branches far over the rushes. The blue smoke floated in the air like clouds between the dark trees, and extended far over the water; the dogs bounded right into the mud, splash, splash! Rushes and reeds swayed to and fro in all directions; the poor duckling was in a terrible fright; he turned his head to put it under his wing, when suddenly a terrible big dog, with his tongue hanging far out of his mouth and his eyes glaring wildly, stood right in front of him; he thrust his open jaws right against the duckling, showing his sharp teeth, when, splash! off he went without touching him.

"Thank Heaven," said the duckling, "1 am so ugly that even the dog does not care to touch me."

And so he lay quite still, while the shots were whistling through the rushes and report after report went off.

It was late in the day before everything became quiet, but the poor youngster did not as yet venture to move; he still waited for some hours before he looked around him, and then he hurried off from the moor as fast as he could. He ran across fields and meadows in the face of such a wind that he had great difficulty in getting on.

Toward evening he came to a poor little farm-house; it was in such a miserable state that it did not know to what side it would tumble down, and therefore it remained standing. The wind blew so hard against the duckling that he was obliged to sit down to keep up against it, but it grew worse and worse. He then noticed that one of the hinges of the door had given way, and that in consequence the door hung in such a slanting position that he was able to slip through the opening into the room, which he did.

In this house lived an old woman with a cat and a hen. The cat, which she called Sonny, could raise his back and purr, and his coat would even bristle with sparks, but then one had to stroke him the wrong way. The hen had quite small, short legs, and was therefore called Henny Shortlegs; she laid good eggs, and the woman loved her as if she were her own child.

In the morning they at once noticed the stranger duckling, and the cat began to purr and the hen to cluck.

"What's this?" said the woman, looking around her; but she could not see well, and so she believed the duckling was a fat duck that had lost her way.

"Why, what a rare catch!" she said; "I can now get duck's eggs, if only it isn't a drake. I must find out."

And so the duckling was taken on trial for three weeks, but there came no eggs. The cat was the master of the house and the hen was the mistress, and they always used to say, "We and the world," for they believed that they were one half of it, and by far the better half. The duckling thought it might be possible to hold a different opinion, but the hen would not stand that.



"Can you lay eggs?" she asked.


"Well, you must hold your tongue, then."

And the cat asked: "Can you raise your back, or purr, or make sparks?"


"Well, then, you mustn't have any opinion when sensible folk are talking."

And the duckling sat in a corner, very much dispirited. He began thinking about the fresh air and the sunshine, and got such a wonderful longing to be floating on the water that at last he could not help telling it to the hen.


"What is the matter with you?" she asked. "You have nothing to do, and that's why you get such silly ideas. Lay eggs, or purr, and they will pass away."

"But it is so delightful to swim about in the water!" said the duckling; "so delightful to get in over your head and dive down to the bottom."

"That must be a great pleasure, indeed!" said the hen. "You must be going mad! Ask the cat — he is the wisest creature I know — if he likes to float on the water, or dive under it, to say nothing of myself. Just ask our mistress, the old woman, who is wiser than any other person in the world. Do you think she would like to float about and get the water over her head?"

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

"Well, if we don't understand you, who is likely to understand you? I don't suppose you think that you are wiser than the cat or the old woman, not to speak of myself? Don't be conceited, child, and be thankful to Heaven for all the kindness you have received. Have you not got a warm room, and nice company, where you can learn something? But are a chatterer, and it isn't pleasant to be in your company. Believe me, I only speak for your own good. I say unpleasant things to you, but by that you may know your true friends. Now just set about laying eggs and learning to purr or make sparks!"

"I think I'll go out into the wide world," said the duckling.

"Yes, do by all means," said the hen.

And off went the duckling; he swam about on the water and he dived, but he was shunned by all other creatures on account of his ugliness.

Autumn was now setting in; the leaves of the forest were turning yellow and brown, and the wind caught them up and set them dancing and whirling about.

The air was turning cold and the clouds hung heavily laden with hail and snow. On the fence sat the raven and cawed, "Caw! caw!" from sheer cold. It made one shiver at the mere thought of it; the poor duckling was indeed in bad straits.

One evening, as the sun was setting in all its beauty, a whole Hock of large beautiful birds came out of the bushes; the duckling had never seen such lovely birds before. They were dazzlingly white, with long, curved necks; they were swans. They uttered quite a strange sound, and spreading out their splendid broad wings, they flew away from those cold regions to warmer climes, to the open lakes; they mounted higher and higher, and a feeling of sadness came over the ugly little duckling; he turned round and round in the water like a wheel, stretched his neck high up in the air after them, and uttered a cry so loud and strange that he became frightened at it himself. Oh! could he ever forget these beautiful, happy birds? As soon as they were out of sight he dived straight down to the bottom, and when he came up again he was quite beside himself. He did not know what the birds were called, or whither they were dying, but still he loved them as he had never loved anything before; he was not at all envious of them; how could he think of wishing for such beauty for himself? He would have been quite happy if only the ducks would have allowed him to remain with them; poor, ugly little thing!

And the winter was growing cold — oh, so cold! The duckling had to swim about in the water to prevent it from being frozen over; but every night the opening in which he was swimming grew smaller and smaller. It was freezing so hard that the ice creaked and cracked; the duckling had to keep his legs constantly moving so that the hole should not close up. At last he became exhausted; he lay quite still, and soon became frozen in the ice.

Early in the morning a peasant came by and saw him; he went out on the ice and broke it in pieces with his wooden shoe, and carried the duckling home to his wife. There he came to himself again.

The children wanted to play with him, but the duckling thought they would hurt him, and rushed in a great fright straight into the milk-bowl, so that the milk splashed all over the room. The woman screamed and held up her hands when the duckling flew into the trough where the butter was kept, and then into the flour-barrel and out of it again. What a sight he was! The woman screamed and tried to hit him with

the fire-tongs, and the children tumbled against one another in trying to catch the duckling, while they laughed and screamed. It was lucky that the door stood open; he slipped out and rushed in among the bushes in the new-fallen snow, and here he lay down almost insensible.

But it would be too sad to tell you about all the sufferings and misery he had to endure during the severe winter. He was lying among the rushes on the marsh when the sun again began to send forth its warm rays; the larks were singing, and everything around told of a beautiful spring.


Then all at once he lifted his wings; they beat the air more strongly than before and carried him rapidly away, and before he knew of it he found himself in a large garden where the apple-trees were in bloom, and where the fragrant lilacs were hanging on their long green boughs right down to the winding canals. Oh, how lovely everything looked in the freshness of the spring! And out of the thicket right in front of the duckling came three beautiful white swans; they rustled with their feathers as they gracefully floated past on the water. The duckling recognized the beautiful creatures and was seized with a strange fit of sadness.

"I will fly over to these royal birds and they will kill me because I, who am so ugly, dare to approach them. But I do not care! It is better to be killed by them than to be snapped at by the ducks, pecked by the hens, kicked by the girl who looks after the poultry-yard, and to suffer hardships in the winter." And he jumped into the water and swam toward the beautiful swans. As soon as they saw him they rushed at him with rustling wings.

"Only kill me!" said the poor creature as he bent his head down against the surface of the water, waiting for death — but what did he see in the clear water? He saw under him his own image in the water, but

he was no longer a clumsy dark-grayish bird, ugly and hideous to behold, but a beautiful swan!

It matters but little to be born in the duck-yard when one comes from a swan's egg!

He felt extremely happy at having gone through all the sufferings and hardships he had endured; now he fully understood his good fortune, and all the loveliness he saw around him. The big swans swam round him and stroked him with their beaks.

Some little children came into the garden and threw bread and corn into the water. The youngest of them cried out:

"There is a new one!" and the other children shouted for joy. "Yes, a new one has come!" and they clapped their hands and danced about, and ran to fetch their father and mother. Bread and cakes were thrown into the water, and they all said: "The new one is the prettiest! so young and so beautiful!" and the old swans bowed their heads to him.

He felt quite bashful, and hid his head under his wings ; he did not know what to do; he was extremely happy, but not at all proud, for a good heart is never proud. He was thinking how he had been persecuted and despised, and now he heard all say that he was the most beautiful of all beautiful birds. And the lilac-trees bent their branches right into the water to him, and the sun shone so warm and so pleasantly. Then he rustled his feathers and curved his graceful neck, and with joy he shouted: "So much happiness I did not dream of when I was an ugly duckling!"

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