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The ugly duckling.
Start of Story
"Then will you hold your tongue!"
And the Cat said, "Can you curve your back, and purr, and give out
"Then you will please have no opinion of your own when sensible folks
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
"What are you thinking of?" cried the Hen. "You have nothing to do,
that's why you have these fancies. Lay eggs, or purr, and they will pass
"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
"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 is 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 Cat and the woman--I won't say
anything of myself. Don't be conceited, child, and thank your Maker 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 true 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 so 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 snow-flakes, 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 Duckling felt quite strangely as it watched them. It turned round
and round in the water like a wheel, stretched out its neck towards
them, and uttered such a strange loud cry as frightened itself. Oh! it
could not forget those beautiful, happy birds; and so 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 wanted to
hurt it, 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 they
screamed!--well it was that the door stood open, and the poor creature
was able to slip out between the shrubs into the newly-fallen
snow--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 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
"I will fly away to them, to the royal birds, and they will beat me,
because I, that am so ugly, dare to come near them. But it is all the
same. 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 towards 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 is 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 realised its happiness in all the splendour 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; and 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 wings, 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 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 the Ugly Duckling!"