The countryside was lovely. It was summer. The wheat was golden and the oats were still green. The hay was stacked in the low-lying meadows. There lay great woods around the fields and meadows. There were deep lakes in the midst of the woods. In the sunniest spot stood an old mansion surrounded by a deep moat. Great leaves grew from the vines on the walls of the house right down to the water’s edge. Some of the leaves were so big that a child could use them as an umbrella.
In the depths of a forest a duck was sitting in her nest. Her little ducklings were about to be hatched.
At last one egg after another began to crack.” Cheep, cheep!” the ducklings said.” Quack, quack!” said the duck. ” How big the world is!” said all the young ones.
But the biggest egg was still there. And then she settled herself on the nest again.
“Well, how are you getting on?” said an old duck who came to pay her a visit.” This egg is taking such a long time,” answered the sitting duck.”
The shell will not crack, but the others are the finest ducklings. They are like their father.”
“let me look at the egg which won’t crack,” said the old duck.” You may be sitting on a turkey’s egg! I have been cheated like that once. Yes. it’s a turkey’s egg! You had better leave it alone and teach the other children to swim.”
“I will sit on it a little longer.”
At last the big egg cracked. How big and ugly the baby was! ” That is a very big duckling.” she said, ” None of the others look like that. Can he be a turkey’s chick? I will soon find out. I will make him go into water.”
The next day the mother duck with her family went down to the moat. She said, and one duckling jumped in after another.
The big ugly one swam about with them.” No, that is no turkey,” she said,” Quack, quack! Now come with me and I will take you into the world. Keep close to me all the time. Be careful of the cat!” The first day passed, and everything was fine.
Afterwards, matters grew worse and worse. The poor duckling was chased and harassed by all the ducklings because he was very ugly.The ducks bit him, the hens pecked him. and the girl who fed them kicked him aside. Then he ran off and soon came to a great marsh where the wild ducks lived.
He was so tired and miserable that he stayed there the whole night.
In the morning the wild ducks flew up to see their new friend.” You are very ugly,” said the wild ducks,” but that does not matter to us.” He stayed there two whole days . And then two wild geese came. Just at that moment the sound of “Bang! Bang!” was heard, and both the wild geese fell dead among the reeds.
It was a terrible shock to the poor duckling.
A big dog appeared close beside him. He showed his sharp teeth and went on without touching him.
“Oh, thank Heaven! I am so ugly that even the dog won’t bite me!” sighed the duckling.
In the evening he reached a little cottage where an old woman lived with her cat and her hen. Her eyesight was not good, and she thought the duckling was a fat duck. will be rich if I have duck eggs,” she said. So she took in the duckling for three weeks, but he laid no eggs.
The cat was the master of the house and the hen was the mistress.
“Can you lay eggs?” asked the hen.
“No,” answered the duckling.
“Then you had better go out into the wide world,” said the cat. So away went the duckling.
One evening the sun was just setting when a flock of beautiful large birds appeared out of the bushes.
The duckling thought,” I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”
They were dazzlingly white with long necks. They were swans. He did not know what the birds were.
The winter was so bitterly cold that the duckling swam about in the water to keep himself from freezing.
The sun began to shine warmly again. The larks were singing and beautiful spring had come. Then, all at once, the duckling raised his wings and they flapped with much greater strength than before. Before he knew it, he found himself in a large garden where the apple trees were in full blossom and long branches of lilacs overhung the shores of the lake.
Just in front of him he saw three beautiful white swans swimming towards him.
“I will fly to them and they will hack me to pieces because I am so ugly. But it doesn’t matter. I would rather be killed by them than be bitten by the ducks or pecked by the hens.” So he flew into the water and swam towards the swans. They saw him and darted towards him.
“Kill me! Oh, kill me!” said the poor duckling, and he waited for his death bowing his head towards the water.
But what did he see in the clear water? He was no longer a dark gray ugly bird. He was himself a swan!
Some children came into the garden with corn and pieces of bread, which they threw into the water.
The smallest child shouted with joy,” There is a new one.” The other children shouted, “Yes, a new one has come.”
He said to himself, ” I never dreamed that I could be so happy when I was the ugly duckling!”