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THE UGLY LITTLE DUCK.
ONE fine summer's day in the country, a duck was sitting in her nest hatching her eggs; but of this important task she was almost tired, for scarcely a friend had paid her a visit. The other ducks were all swimming about in the pond, minding their own business, and did not want to gossip
At last, one egg cracked, then a second, then a third, and so on.
“Piep! piep!" went one, “Piep! piep! went another, until a dozen had cracked, and the little, downy brood popped their heads out of their narrow, brittle dwelling, as out a window. “Quack! quack !" said the mother, as the little ducklings bustled out as fast as they could, looking about them in great wonder. "How big the world is!” said the little ones.
Do you think that this is the whole world?" said the mother;
“oh, no; it stretches far away beyond the garden. But are you all here?” continued she, with true motherly care. “No, they are not all hatched yet,” added she; "the biggest egg lies there still! How long will this last ? I begin really to be quite tired."
However, she sat down on the nest again.
“Well! how are you to-day !” quacked a fussy old duck, who came to pay her respects. “Oh there is no end to hatching this one egg," grumbled the mother; “ the shell must be too hard for the duckling to break. But now you shall see the others. There is my pretty little family!"
the egg that will not break," chimed in the old duck; “ it's a turkey's egg, I'll be bound.
*** Show me
thing happened to me once, and I had a precious trouble with it, let me tell you. Yes, I am quite right, it is a turkey's egg ! So, get off your nest, and mind the others, as
like." “I shall sit a little longer,” said the mother.
“Oh! very well! that's none of my business," said the old duck, rising to leave; “but take my word for it, the changeling* will be a fine trouble to you.”
At last the great egg cracked. “Piep! piep!” cried the little terrified new comer, as he broke through the shell. Oh! how big, and how ugly he was ! The mother scarcely dared to look at him ; she knew not what to think of him. At last she exclaimed, in a puzzled tone, “This is certainly a curious young drake. It may turn out to be a turkey, but we shall give him a fair trial. Into the water he must go, even should I be obliged to push him in."
The next day was very beautiful, and the sun shone delightfully on the green fields. The mother duck left home, her whole family waddling about her. Splash ! she went into the water. “Quack ! quack!" she exclaimed, and one duck after the other followed her example; not one remained behind : even the ugly grey last-born swam merrily about with the rest.
“He is no turkey after all, and will not disgrace my family,” said the old duck. “ Really if one examines him closely he is good-looking enough after all. Quack, quack! now come all with me, and I will show you the world, and introduce you to the farm yard."
They soon reached the yard, but the other ducks viewed them with a sneering air, saying, “Here comes another brood; as if we were not plenty enough already. But see, what a fright that duckling is; he is not to be
* Changeling, the production of a strange bird, or other creature.
suffered among us.” At these words an impudent drake bit the poor duckling in the neck.
“ Leave him alone,” exclaimed his mother; "he doesn't harm any one."
“ Perhaps not,” replied the offending drake, “ but he is much too big for his age, and a beating will do him good.”
The mother smoothed his ruffled feathers, but the poor ugly-looking duckling was pecked at, pushed, and made fun of by both ducks and chickens. So the poor thing, knowing not where to stand or where to go, was quite cast down.
THE UGLY DUCKLING FORSAKES HIS HOME.
Thus the first day passed ; but every succeeding one was more and more full of trouble and annoyance. The duckling was hunted by all like a wild animal; even his brothers and sisters behaved very badly to him ; the hens pecked him, and the girl who fed the fowls pushed him roughly away.
Then he ran and flew over the palings, and away across the fields, until he at last alighted on a hedge. The little singing birds in the bushes flew away in dismay: “That is because I am so ugly,” thought the young duck, shutting
Nevertheless he continued his flight onwards till he reached a large marsh, where wild ducks flocked together. There he remained the whole night, sorrowful and tired to death. Early in the morning the wild ducks noticed their new comrade:
“ You are ugly enough, certainly,” said they ; “but that is no matter, if you do not marry into our family."
The poor outcast was safe enough on that score: he only wanted to be let alone; that
Bang, bang," sounded at this moment over them, and the spokesman lay dead on the water. “Bang, bang," it
went again, and whole flocks of wild geese rose out of the reeds. The sportsman beat about the marsh on all sides, and the dog dashed through the thick reeds.
It was a terrible fright for the poor ugly duckling when the fearful dog opened his jaws and showed his teeth ; but, splash, splash, he darted off, without troubling himself about the little duck, who sighed, “I am so ugly that even the dog won't touch me!” It was late in the afternoon before the noise was over, and only then the poor duckling dared to come out of his hiding-place; and you may be sure he made off from the terrible marsh as fast as he could.
Towards evening our runaway reached a poor peasant's hut, the rotten door of which had dropped from its hinges, so that a very welcome chink was left, through which he could slip into the room.
An old woman with her cat and hen were the only inhabitants; and they next morning discovered their strange unbidden guest.
" What is that?” said the dame, who, not seeing well, took the poor lean bird for a fat duck who had mistaken his way
in the dark. “Here is, indeed, a piece of good luck !” exclaimed she, overjoyed. “Now I can have a nice duck's egg for my breakfast. But," added she, "perhaps it is a drake, after all ! However, we shall see that in good time."
Well, there the youngster remained three weeks; but without laying any eggs.
At last, one morning, after a sleepless night, he felt himself seized with a longing to swim once more in the clear water. He could bear it no longer, and he spoke his wish to the hen.
“A mighty pleasure, truly !" scolded she. “You are certainly crazy ; ask the cat, who is wiser than I, if he likes swimming on the water ?” “ You do not understand me !" sighed the duck.
“Not understand you, indeed ! if we don't, who should, you ugly yellow beak !” exclaimed Madam Hen.
“I am determined I will wander out into the world," said the little drake, taking courage.
“ That you certainly should," answered the hen, uncivilly. And the poor duckling set off again on his travels ; but no sooner did any animal see him, than he was sure to be twitted with his ugliness.
THE RUNAWAY AT LAST FALLS ON HIS FEET. Autumn was now approaching; the leaves in the wood became yellow and brown; and, driven by the wind, danced about in mournful eddies. The weather was bleak and raw; and on the hedge sat the crow, and cried “Caw, caw," from sheer cold and want. The poor forsaken duckling was even worse off than he.
Then winter came on apace. In fact, it was so piercingly cold, that our duckling was forced to keep swimming about in the water for fear of being frozen. But every night the ring in which he swam became smaller and smaller; the top of the ice kept growing thicker and thicker. At last, he became so weary, that he was forced to remain fast frozen in the ice.
Early in the morning a peasant passed by; and seeing the unhappy bird, ventured on the ice, which he broke with his wooden shoe. He saved the half-dead creature, and carried him home to a warm fireside, where he quickly recovered. The children wished to play with him, but the young duckling, thinking they were bent on mischief, flew in his terror into an earthen milk-can, and splashed the milk all over the room.
The housewife shrieked and wrung her hands, so that the poor bird became more and more stupid, and flew into the churn, and thence into the meal barrel. The house