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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.
One evening—the sun was just setting in his beauty—there came a whole flock of great, handsome birds out of the bushes; they were dazzlingly white, with long flexible necks and shining feathers; they were swans. They uttered a peculiar cry, spread forth their glorious wings, and flew away from that cold region to warmer lands, to fair open lakes. They mounted so high, so high!
The ugly little Duckling felt quite strange as he watched them. He turned round and round in the water like a wheel, stretched out his neck toward them, and uttered such a strange, loud cry that he was frightened at himself, for he had never made such a sound before.
Oh! he could not forget those beautiful, happy birds; and as soon as he could see them no longer, he dived down to the very bottom, and when he came up again he was quite beside himself. He knew not the name of those birds, and knew not whither they were flying; but he loved them more than he had ever loved any one. He was not at all envious of them. How could he think of wishing to possess such loveliness as they had? He would have been glad if only the ducks would have endured his company—the poor, ugly creature!
And the winter came in earnest. It grew colder and colder. The Duckling was forced to swim about in the water, to prevent the surface from freezing entirely; but every night the hole in which he swam about became smaller and smaller. The Duckling was obliged to use his legs continually to prevent the hole from freezing up. At last he became exhausted, and lay quite still, and thus froze fast into the ice.
Early in the morning a peasant came by, and when he saw what had happened, he took his wooden shoe, broke the ice crust to pieces, and carried the Duckling home to his wife. The warm room soon brought him to again, and the children wanted to play with him.
The Duckling thought they would hurt him, and in his terror fluttered up into the milk-pan, so that the milk spurted down into the room. The woman clapped her hands, at which the Duckling flew down into the butter-tub, and then into the meal-barrel and out again. How he looked then!
The woman screamed and struck at him with the fire-tongs; the children tumbled over one another in their efforts to catch the Duckling, and they laughed till they cried! Happily, the door stood open, and the poor creature was able to slip out between the shrubs into the newly-fallen snow; and there he lay quite exhausted.
But it would be too sad if I were to tell all the misery and care which the Duckling had to endure in the hard winter. He lay out on the moor among the reeds, when the sun began to shine again and the larks to sing; it was a beautiful spring.
Then all at once the Duckling could flap his wings; they beat the air more strongly than before, and bore him quickly away; and before he well knew how all this had happened, he found himself in a great garden, where the elder trees smelt sweet, and bent their long green branches down to the canal that wound through the park.
Oh, here it was so beautiful, such a gladness of spring! and from the thicket came three glorious white swans that rustled their wings, and swam lightly on the water. The Duckling knew the splendid creatures, and felt oppressed by a peculiar sadness.
"I will fly away to them, to the royal birds! and they will kill me, because I, that am so ugly, dare
to approach them. But it is of no consequence! Better to be killed by them than to be pursued by ducks, and beaten by fowls, and pushed about by the girl who takes care of the poultry yard, and to suffer hunger in winter!"
And he flew out into the water, and swam toward the beautiful swans, who looked at him and came sailing down upon him with outspread wings.
"Kill me!" said the poor creature, and bent his head down upon the water, expecting nothing but death. But what was this that he saw in the clear water? He beheld his own image—and, lo! he was no longer a clumsy, dark-gray bird, ugly and hateful to look at, but—a beautiful, white swan!
It matters nothing if one is born in a duck yard, if one can only be hatched from a swan's eggl
He felt quite contented after all the misfortunes he had suffered, now that he realized his happiness in all the splendor that surrounded him. And the great swans swam round him, and stroked him with their beaks.
Into the garden came little children, who threw bread and corn into the water.
The youngest cried, "There is a new one!" and the other children shouted joyously, "Yes, a new one has arrived!"
They clapped their hands and danced about, and ran to their father and mother; and bread and cake were thrown into the water.
"The new one is the most beautiful of all! so young and handsome!" they said in chorus.
And the old swans bowed their heads before him!
Then he felt quite humble, and hid his head under his wing, for he had suffered too much to be proud. He did not know what to do; he was so happy and contented. He thought how he had been persecuted and despised; and now he heard them saying that he was the most beautiful of all the birds. Even the elder tree bent its branches straight down into the water before him, and the sun shone warm