The Ugly Duckling
What Became of the Duckling
When the fall of the year came, the leaves in the woods turned yellow and brown. The wind caught them and sent them dancing through the air. The clouds hung low, heavy with hail and snowflakes, and on the fence stood the raven, crying “Croak! Croak!” It was very cold. You could freeze fast if you stopped to think about it. The poor little Duckling did not have a good time.
One evening as the sun was going down there came a whole flock of handsome birds out of the bushes. They were shining white, with long, slender necks. They were swans. They gave a strange cry, spread their broad wings, and flew far away from that cold place to warmer lands and open waters in the south. They mounted high, high! And the Ugly Duckling had a strange feeling when he saw them.
He turned round and round in the water like a wheel, stretched out his neck, and gave a cry so high, so strange, that he himself was afraid as he heard it. When he could see them no longer he dived down to the bottom of the lake, and when he came up again he was still much excited. The Ugly Duckling could not forget those beautiful birds. He did not know what kind of birds they were, nor to what place they were flying. But he loved them more than he had ever loved anything. He did not envy them. How could he wish for such loveliness as they had? He would have been glad if even the ducks had let him stay with them—the poor Duckling!
The winter grew colder and colder. The Duckling had to swim about in the water to keep it from freezing over entirely. But every night the hole in which he swam became smaller and smaller. It was so cold that the water in which he swam about tinkled with ice, and the poor Duckling had to paddle all the time to keep the hole from closing up. At last he was too tired to move. He lay still and helpless and thus became frozen fast in the ice.
Early in the morning a peasant came by and found him there. He took his wooden shoe, broke the ice to pieces, and carried the Duckling home to his wife. The warmth of the house made the Duckling well again.
The children wanted to play with him, but he thought they wanted to hurt him, and he flew up into the milkpan, and the milk spilled over into the room. The woman screamed, and shook her hand in the air. That made the Duckling fly down into the tub where the butter was kept, and then into the meal barrel and out again. He had a little of everything on his feathers. The woman screamed, and struck at him with the fire tongs. The children tumbled over one another as they tried to catch him. They laughed and they screamed! It was well for the Duckling that the door stood open and he could slip out among the bushes in the newly fallen snow.
But it would be too sad to tell all the hardships that the Duckling had to bear through the long winter. He was out on the moor among the reeds when the sun began to shine and the larks sang again. It was spring.
Then the Duckling flapped his wings and found that they were stronger than ever before. They bore him easily up and away. And soon he found himself in a large garden, where the elder trees were in blossom and bent their long green branches down to the winding canal. It was so beautiful! The lilacs were sweet, and everything was fresh and springlike.
Suddenly from a thicket there came three large white swans. They rustled their wings and sat lightly on the water. The Duckling knew the birds and felt again that strange sadness.
“I will fly to them, to the royal birds! They will beat me because I am ugly. But it does not matter. Better to be killed by them than pecked by ducks, beaten by hens, pushed about by the poultry girl, and starved with hunger in the winter!”
He flew into the water and skimmed toward the beautiful birds. They looked at him, and came sailing down upon him with outstretched wings.
“Kill me!” said the Duckling. He bent his head down over the water and waited for them to come. But what did he see in the clear water? He saw himself, no longer a clumsy, dark-gray bird, ugly to look at, but—a swan!
It does not matter if you are born in a duck yard so long as you have lain in a swan’s egg.
The Duckling was not sorry for all the hard times he had had. Now he could enjoy all the brightness around him. The swans came up and stroked him with their beaks. The little children came running into the garden and threw bread and corn into the water.
“See, there is a new one!” the youngest child cried.
“Yes, a new swan has come!” the other children shouted. They clapped their hands and danced over the grass to their father and mother, and then ran back again and threw bread and cake into the water.
“The new one is the most beautiful swan of all,” they said.
Even the old swans bowed their heads before him.
But the Duckling was ashamed, and hid his head under his wings. He was so happy that he did not know what to do. And yet he was not proud, for a good heart is never proud. He remembered all the old, hard days, and now he heard them saying that he was the most beautiful of all beautiful birds. The lilacs bent their branches down into the water before him and the sun shone warm and mild. Then his wings rustled, he lifted his slender neck, and cried from the depths of his heart:
“I never even dreamed of so much happiness when I was the Ugly Duckling!”
From Andersen's Best Fairy Tales by Alice Corbin Henderson.Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1911.