The Ugly Duckling

How the Duckling Was Treated at Home

The next day the sun shone brightly on the green burdock leaves. The Mother Duck took all her family down to the canal. She jumped in with a splash!

“Quack! Quack!” she said, and one after another the ducklings fell into the canal. The water closed over their heads, but in an instant they came to the top. Then they swam off bravely, for their legs went of themselves. They were all in the water. Even the ugly gray Duckling swam with them.

“No, it’s not a turkey,” said the Mother Duck. “See how well he uses his legs, how straight he holds himself. It is my own child! He is really not so ugly if you look at him carefully. Quack! Quack! Come with me now, and I’ll take you out into the world and show you to the duck yard. Keep close to me all the time, so that no one may step on you, and look out for the cats.”

They found a row going on in the duck yard. Two families were fighting over an eel’s head. But the cat got it after all.

“See, that’s the way it goes in the world!” said the Mother Duck. And she whetted her beak, for she too had wanted the eel’s head.

“Use your legs,” she said, “and bustle about! Be sure to bow to the Old Duck over there. She is the highest born here. She is of Spanish blood—that’s why she’s so fat. And do you see that piece of red rag around her leg? That is the greatest mark of honor a duck can have. It means that they are anxious not to lose her, and that she will be noticed by men as well as animals. Hurry! Hurry! Don’t turn in your toes! A well-bred duckling turns its toes out, like father and mother—so! Now bend your necks and say ‘Quack!’”

They did as they were told; but the other ducks stared at them and said, “Look there! Now we’re to have this crowd, too, as if there were not enough of us already! And oh, look at that Duckling yonder! We won’t stand that!”

And one duck flew at him and bit him in the neck.

“Let him alone,” said the mother. “He is not doing any one any harm.”

“Yes, but he’s too large and odd,” said the duck who had bitten him. “He must be kept down.”

“These are pretty children,” said the Old Duck with the rag around her leg. “They’re all pretty but that one. That is unlucky. I wish that one could be born over again.”

“That cannot be done, my lady,” said the Mother Duck. “He is not pretty, but he has a good temper and swims as well as, even better than, the others. Perhaps he will improve in looks as time goes on. He lay too long in the shell, and therefore he has not quite the right shape.” She pinched him in the neck and smoothed his feathers. “Besides, he is a drake,” she said, “and so it will not matter much. I think he will be strong. He makes his way already.”

“The other ducklings are graceful enough,” said the Old Duck. “Make yourself at home. If you find an eel’s head, you may bring it to me.”

So they were at home. But the poor Duckling who had crept last out of the shell, and who had been born ugly, was bitten and pushed and made fun of by ducks and by chickens.

“He is too big!” they all said.

The Turkey Cock, who had been born with spurs, and so thought himself an emperor, blew himself up, like a ship in full sail, and bore straight down upon him. Then he gobbled and grew so red in the face that the poor Duckling did not know where to stand or to walk. He was unhappy because of the ugliness that made him the sport of the whole duck yard.

Day after day it grew worse and worse. The Duckling was driven about by every one. Even his brothers and sisters were angry with him and said, “I wish the cat would get you, you ugly creature!”

The ducks bit him, the chickens beat him, and the girl who had to feed the poultry kicked at him with her foot.

From Andersen's Best Fairy Tales by Alice Corbin Henderson.
Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1911.

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