Monday, 5 December 2011

The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling

It was a beautiful summer, the wheat was yellow,
the oats were green, and the hay was dry. From
the old ruined house which nobody lived in, down
to the edge of the canal, was a forest of great
burdocks.It was under these burdocks that a duck
had built herself a warm nest, and was sitting all
day on six pretty eggs.Five of them were white,
but the sixth, which waslarger than the others,
was of an ugly grey colour. The duck was always
puzzled about that egg, and how it came to be so
different from the rest.

She had looked at the eggs at least a hundred
and fifty times, when, to her joy, she saw a tiny
crack on two of them. Next morning she was
rewarded by noticing cracks in the whole five
eggs, and by midday two little yellow heads
were poking out from the shells. This encouraged
her so much that, after breaking the shells with
her bill, so that the little creatures could get free
of them, she sat steadily for a whole night upon
the nest, and before the sun arose the five white
eggs were empty.

She waited now for the big egg to hatch. But day after
day went on, and the big egg showed no signs of
cracking, and the duck grew more and more impatient.
When she woke with the first steaks of light she felt
something stirring under her. Yes, there it was at last.
There was no denying it was ugly, even the mother
was forced to admit that to herself, though she only
said it was 'large' and 'strong.'
'You won't need any teaching when you are once in
the water,' she told him, with a glance of surprise at
the dull brown which covered his back.

On the next day the weather was beautiful, and the
sun shone brightly on the green burdock leaves, so
the mother duck took her little ducklings down to
the water, and jumped in with a splash. 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 was also in the water swimming
with them.

Later, the mother duck took her ducklings to the
farmyard to introduce them to a very old duck lady,
who was treated with great respect by all the fowls.
When they reached there, their mother told them:
'You must go up and bow low before that old lady”.
The little ducks did so, and the old lady was quite
pleased with them; but the rest of the ducks looked
on discontentedly, and said to each other:
' Did you ever see anything quite as ugly as that
great tall creature? He is a disgrace to any brood.’
And one of them ran to the big duckling and bit
his neck.
Even the turkey-cock, who was so big, never
passed him without mocking words, and his
brothers and sisters soon became as rude and
unkind as the rest.

At last he could bear it no longer, and one night,
when the ducks and hens were asleep, he stole
away through an open door, and scrambled on
by the bank of the canal, till he reached a wide
grassy moor, full of soft marshy places where
the reeds grew. But he soon found himself in
the middle of a hunting and the gun shots scared
him very much. He met a huge creature on four
legs, which he afterwards knew to be a dog,
who stood and gazed at him with a long red
tongue hanging out of his mouth. The duckling
grew cold with terror, and tried to hide his head
beneath his little wings; but the dog snuffed at
him and passed on.
'I am too ugly even for a dog to eat,' said he to
himself. 'Well, that is a great mercy.' And he curled himself up in the soft grass till the shots
died away in the distance.

When all had been quiet for a long time, he
marched on till he got to a small cottage. The
duckling went in, and lay down under a chair.
But no one seemed to see him or smell him; so
he spent the rest of the night in peace.
Now in the cottage dwelt an old woman, her cat,
and a hen. It was only next morning, when it
grew light, that they noticed their visitor, who
stood trembling before them, with his eye on the
door ready to escape at any moment. They did
not, however, appear very fierce, and the duckling
became less afraid as they approached him.

'Can you lay eggs?' asked the hen. And the duckling
answered meekly:

'No; I don't know how.' Upon which the hen turned her back, and the cat came forward.

'Can you ruffle your fur when you are angry, or purr when you are pleased?' said she. And
again the duckling had to admit that he could do nothing but swim, which did not seem of
much use to anybody.

So the duckling remained for three weeks, and shared the food of the cat and the hen;
but when the sun came out, and the air grew soft, the duckling wanted to have a swim,
so he left the cottage.
He could not help a thrill of joy when he was out in the air and water once more, and
cared little for the rude glances of the creatures he met.

For a while he was quite happy and content;
but soon the winter came on, and snow began
to fall, and everything to grow very wet and
And every morning it grew colder and colder,
and the duckling was never warm at all; and
at last, after one bitter night, his legs moved
so slowly that the ice crept closer and closer
, and when the morning light broke he was
caught fast, as in a trap; and soon his senses
went from him.
But, by good fortune, a man was crossing the
river and saw in a moment what had happened.
He went and stamped so hard on the ice that it
broke, and then he picked up the duckling and
took it to his children, but he wouldn’t stay and
ran away.
He was very miserable the whole winter, but by-and-by things grew better when the spring
came. When he stood up, he felt different, somehow. His body seemed larger, and his wings
stronger and he could even fly.

He fluttered slowly to the ground and paused for
a few minutes and while he was gazing about him,
there walked slowly by a flock of some beautiful
birds. Fascinated, he watched them one by one step
into the canal, and float quietly upon the waters.
'I will follow them,' said the duckling to himself;
'ugly though I am, I would rather be killed by them
than suffer all I have suffered from cold and hunger,
and from the ducks and fowls who should have
treated me kindly.' And flying quickly down to the
water, he swam after them as fast as he could.

When they saw him coming, some of the younger
ones swam out to meet him with cries of welcome,
which again the duckling hardly understood. He
approached and turning to one of the older birds,
he said: 'If I am to die, I would rather you should kill me. I don't know why I was ever hatched,
for I am too ugly to live.' And as he spoke, he bowed his head and looked down into the water.

Reflected in the still pool he saw many white shapes, with long necks and golden bills, and,
without thinking, he looked for the dull grey body and the awkward skinny neck. But no
such thing was there. Instead, he beheld beneath him a beautiful white swan!

'The new one is the best of all,' said the children when they came down to feed the swans
with biscuit and cake. 'His feathers are whiter and his beak more shiny than the rest.' And
when he heard that, the duckling thought that it was worth while having
undergone all the persecution and loneliness that he had passed through, as otherwise he
would have never known what it was to be really happy.