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“It is too big!” they all said. And the turkey cock, who had been born with spurs, and therefore thought himself an emperor, blew himself up like a ship in full sail, and bore straight down upon it; then he gobbled, and grew quite red in the face. The poor Duckling did not know where he should stand or walk; he was quite sad because he looked ugly and was scoffed at by the whole yard.
So it went on the first day; and afterward it became worse and worse. The poor Duckling was hunted about by every one; even his brothers and sisters were quite angry with him, and said, “If the cat would only catch you, you ugly creature!” And the mother said, “If you were only far away!” And the ducks bit him, and the chickens beat him, and the girl who had to feed the poultry kicked at him with her foot.
Then he ran and flew over the fence, and the little birds in the bushes flew up in fear.
“That is because I am so ugly!” thought the Duckling; and he shut his eyes, but flew no farther; thus he came out into the great marsh where the wild ducks lived. Here he lay the whole night long, and he was weary and downcast.
Toward morning the wild ducks flew up, and looked at their new companion.
“What sort of a one are you?” they asked; and the Duckling turned in every direction, and bowed as well as he could. “You are remarkably ugly!" said the wild ducks. “But that makes no difference to us, so long as you do not marry into our family.”
Poor thing! He certainly did not think of marrying, and only hoped to obtain leave to lie among the reeds and drink some of the swamp water.
Thus he lay two whole days; then came thither two wild geese, or, properly speaking, two wild ganders. It was not long since each had crept out of an egg, and that's why they were so saucy.
“Listen, comrade,” said one of them. “You're so ugly that I like you. Will you go with us, and become a bird of passage? Near here, in another marsh, there are a few lovely wild geese, all unmarried, and all able to say 'Honk! You've a chance of making your fortune, ugly as you are!"
“Crack! crack!” resounded through the air; and the two ganders fell down dead in the swamp, and the water became blood-red. “Crack! bang!” it sounded again, and whole flocks of wild geese rose up from the reeds. And then there was another report. A great hunt was going on. The hunters were lying in wait all round the marsh, and some were even sitting up in the branches of the trees, which spread far over the reeds. The blue smoke rose up like clouds among the dark trees, and was wafted far away across the water; and the hunting dogs came—splash, splash -into the swamp, and the rushes and the reeds bent down on every side.
That was a fright for the poor Duckling! He turned his head, and put it under his wing; but at that moment a frightful great dog stood close by the Duckling. His tongue hung far out of his mouth, and his eyes gleamed horrible and ugly; he thrust out his nose close against the Duckling, showed his sharp teeth, and-splash, splash!-on he went without seizing him.
“Oh, Heaven be thanked !” sighed the Duckling. “I'm so ugly that even the dog does not like to bite
And so he lay quite quiet, while the shots rattled through the reeds, and gun after gun was fired. At last, late in the day, silence was restored; but the poor Duckling did not dare to rise up; he waited several hours before he looked round, and then hastened away out of the marsh as fast as he could. He ran on over field and meadow; there was such a storm raging that it was difficult to get from one place to another.
Toward evening the Duck came to a little, miserable peasant's hut. This hut was so dilapidated that it did not know on which side it should fall; and that's why it remained standing. The storm whistled round the Duckling in such a way that the poor creature was obliged to sit down, and the tempest grew worse and worse. Then the Duckling noticed that one of the hinges of the door had given way, and the door hung so slanting that the Duckling could slip through the crack into the room; and he did so.
Here lived a woman, with her Cat and her Hen. And the Cat, whom she called Little Son, could arch his back and purr, and could even give out sparks; but for that, one had to stroke his fur the wrong way. The Hen had quite little, short legs, and therefore she was called Chickabiddy-Shortlegs. She laid good eggs, and the woman loved her as her own child.
In the morning the strange Duckling was at once noticed, and the Cat began to purr, and the Hen to cluck.
“What's this?” said the woman, and looked all round; but she could not see well, and therefore she thought the Duckling was a fat duck that had
strayed. “This is a rare prize," she said. "Now I shall have duck's eggs. I hope it is not a drake. We must try that.”
And so the Duckling was admitted on trial for three weeks; but no eggs came. And the Cat was master of the house, and the Hen was the lady, and they always said, “We and the world!” for they thought they were half the world, and by far the better half. The Duckling thought one might have a different opinion, but the Hen would not allow it.
“Can you lay eggs?" she asked. “No.” “Then you'll have the goodness to hold your
And the Cat said, “Can you curve your back, and purr, and give out sparks?”
“Then please keep still when sensible people are speaking.”
And the Duckling sat in a corner and was melancholy; then the fresh air and the sunshine streamed in; and he was seized with such a strange longing to swim on the water, that he could not help telling the Hen of it.
"What are you thinking of?” cried the Hen. “You have nothing to do, that's why you have these fancies. Purr or lay eggs, and they will pass over.”
"But it is so charming to swim on the water!” said the Duckling; “so refreshing to let it close over one's head, and to dive down to the bottom.”
“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 over 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 old woman-I won't say anything of myself. Don't be conceited, child, and be grateful 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 the Duckling went away. He swam on the water, and dived, but he was slighted by every creature because of his 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 snowflakes, and on the fence stood the raven, crying “Croak! croak!” for mere cold. Yes, it is enough to make one feel cold to think of this. The poor little Duckling certainly had a sorry time.