On a beautiful summer day in the country, the haystack piled upon the meadows, the green oats, and the golden corn looked stunning. The stork wandered about on his long red legs talking in the Egyptian language, which he had learned from his mother. The meadows and cornfields were enclosed by immense forests hiding deep pools.
Close by a river, in a bright spot stood a lovely old farmhouse. And down to the waterside grew a thick burdock in which sat a duck on her nest. She was waiting for her children to hatch. Although she was beginning to be a bit tired of just sitting on eggs, she knew it was worth the wait. The other ducks liked to come to visit her, sit under a burdock leaf, and gossip with her. First, one eggshell cracked, and then another. From each egg came a small duck that cried "Peep, peep". To each, the mother duck replied with "Quack, quack", and they all started quacking as much as they could. Since everything was new to them they were looking around themselves and were fascinated with big green leaves.
Mother duck allowed them to look at the leaves as much as they wanted because she thought that green is good for the baby's eyes. Young ducks were mesmerized by how large the world is, but the mother duck told them that the world is much bigger and to wait to see the garden.
"How large the world is," said the young ducks, when they found how much more room they now had than while they were inside the egg-shell. "Do you imagine this is the whole world?" asked the mother; "Wait till you have seen the garden; it stretches far beyond that to the parson's field, but I have never ventured to such a distance."
She was looking around asking if all ducks are out but noticed that the largest egg still lies uncracked. She was wondering how long it would last for this duckling to hatch as she was tired of it. She went back to her place sitting on a nest until the big egg hatched.
An old duck came to see the little ducklings and asked how she was doing and the mother duck said that one egg is still not hatched. She was looking at her ducklings and asked the old duck if these are not the prettiest little ducklings she has ever seen. They look a lot like their father who never visits them.
The old duck asked the mother duck to see the egg that will not break and that she thinks this is a turkey's egg. One time she was convinced that she found duck's eggs and after all her trouble and care, the little ducklings were afraid of the water and didn't know how to quack. but soon she realized these were little turkeys, not ducklings. She looked at the mother duck's egg and said that this is a turkey's egg and advised her to leave it and go and teach her hatched ducklings to swim.
She said she will sit on it a little while longer as she has sat so long already, and a few days will mean nothing to her. The old duck said she can please herself and left.
Soon, the bigger egg cracked, and a young one lurked crying "Peep, peep". Mother duck saw it was ugly and very large, not like all the other ducklings, and wondered if it really was a turkey. She concluded that soon she will find out, but now has to teach her young ones to swim.
The next day the weather was pleasant, and the sun was even more bright than the day before, so the mother duck took her ducklings down to the lake to teach them how to swim. As soon as she jumped into the water, little ducklings jumped in. The water was over their heads, but each swam prettily. The ugly duckling was also swimming in the water with them.
Seeing that the ugly duckling is swimming the mother duck thought that this can't be a turkey as it's swimming with other ducklings.
"Oh," said the mother, "that is not a turkey; how well he uses his legs, and how upright he holds himself! He is my own child, and he is not so very ugly after all if you look at him properly.
The mother duckling took their young ones to introduce them to the society, the farm animals but she warned them to keep close to her or they might be stamped upon and to watch themselves from the cat.
When they came to the yard, there was a great noise. Two families were fighting over some food that was, in the end, eaten by a cat. The mother duck told her ducklings that this is the world and to hurry so she can see how well they behave in society. She taught them to bow their heads as they were going to see the old duck. She had Spanish blood and was one of the most important animals here. She had a red flag on her leg which meant that she was important and that the farmer would be upset if he lost her. Mother duck called them to spread their feet wide and bow to the old duck.
The ducklings did as their mother told them, while other ducks in the yard stared. One of the ducks said that the young ones are coming as if there's not enough of them already, especially looking at the ugly duckling. The duck said that they don't need ugly ducklings here and bit him in the neck. But his mother protected him and told the duck to leave her little duckling alone.
The duck stated that her little duckling is big and ugly and that it must be turned out. The old duck said that she has beautiful children, except for that one ugly duckling. She requested his mother to improve him a little bit, but the mother duck told her that it can't be done as the young one already behaves well and swims better than the other ducklings.
The old duck said that the other ducklings are pretty enough and sent the mother duck and her children home.
But over time, all animals on the farm teased the ugly duckling and made fun of him saying he was too big and too ugly. The old turkey cock who thought of himself as the leader of the farm flew at the ugly duckling. He was so scared that he didn't know where to go. He was miserable and sad because he was mocked by the entire whole yard, even his brothers and sisters. In the end, her mother was also so miserable that she said she wished he had never been born.
"...that the poor little thing did not know where to go, and was quite miserable because he was so ugly and laughed at by the whole farmyard. So it went on from day to day till it got worse and worse. The poor duckling was driven about by every one; even his brothers and sisters were unkind to him, and would say, "Ah, you ugly creature, I wish the cat would get you," and his mother said she wished he had never been born."
The ducks bit him all the time while the chickens punched him as he was passing by, and the girl who took care of the poultry kicked him. He was so miserable he decided to run away.
"They are afraid of me because I am ugly," he said.
He flew far away from the farm until he came to the lake which he believed was a big mirror. He stayed there through the night feeling sorrowful and tired.
In the morning, he saw the wild ducks flying above him and asked them what sort of ducks they were. The wild ducks surrounded him and the ugly duckling bowed to them. They all said he was terribly ugly, but that it doesn't matter as long as he marries another duck.
They were pitying him as the duckling didn't know anything about marriage. All he wanted was permission to drink some water and lie among the rushes. After two days, came two wild geese who asked him if he would go with them to another moor with lots of pretty wild geese he could marry. If he's lucky enough, he'll find a wife.
Suddenly, they heard a loud sound, and two wild geese fell to the ground. The sound started coming from all directions as some sportsmen encircled the moor, with a few dogs bounded in among the rushes. The poor duckling was terrified.
He tried to hide his head under his wing when a large dog passed right near him. He saw big jaws open and eyes that flashed fearfully. He pushed his nose closer to the duckling, revealing his sharp teeth, and then turned around and went into the water without even hurting him. The ugly duckling was so thankful that the dog didn't bite him.
"Oh," sighed the duckling, "how thankful I am for being so ugly; even a dog will not bite me."
So he lay there still until he couldn't hear shots. It was late when all became quiet, but even then he didn't dare to move. He remained still and quiet for several hours, and then, after looking carefully around him, hurried away as fast as he could. He ran over the meadow and field until a storm started. He couldn't struggle against it, so he decided to look for shelter.
Finally, he reached a small cottage that seemed like it was going to crash any second, but as the storm continued, the duckling didn't have any place to go, so he sat down by the cottage. Soon, he saw that the cottage door was not fully closed and that there was a little opening near the bottom that was big enough for the duckling to slip through. He entered the little opening very quietly, so he got a safer shelter for the night.
In the cottage lived a woman, a hen, and a tom cat. The woman called the tom cat "my little son" as he was her favorite and the hen "chickie short legs" as it had very short legs. The woman loved her as she laid big eggs and didn't have any children so she considered a tom cat and a hen her children.
In the morning, they discovered the ugly visitor and the hen began to cluck, and the tom cat purred. The old woman asked what that noise was about. She looked around the room, but she couldn't see anything, so when she saw the duckling she thought it was a fat duck that had strayed from home.
She was happy as if she had won some prize and hoped it was not a drake, because then she'll have drake's eggs. So, she decided to wait and see. The duckling was allowed to stay for three weeks, but there were no eggs. Now the cat was the master of the house and the hen its mistress, and they always said, "We and the world," because they believed they were half the world and the better half. Duck thought others might have a different opinion on the subject, but the hen didn't want to hear such suspicions.
She asked him if he could lay eggs, but he said he couldn't. The hen told him he better has his mouth shut then. The cat asked him if he can raise his back, spin, or eject sparks, but the duckling said he can't and the cat told him he has no right to express an opinion when reasonable people speak. So the duck sat in the corner, feeling very faint, until the sun and fresh air entered the room through the open door, and then he began to feel such a great longing to bathe in the water, that he could not help telling the hen.
She told him it's an absurd idea as if he has nothing else to do, so he has stupid fantasies. The duckling said that it's so wonderful to swim in the water and so refreshing to feel it close to your head as he dives to the bottom. The hen told him he was mad and to ask the cat, as he is the smartest animal she knows. To ask him how he would like to swim in the water, or dive under it because she will not talk about her opinion; or to ask their mistress, the old woman - as there is no one in the world smarter than her.
The ugly duckling told the hen they don't understand him, but she asked who can understand him and if he considers himself smarter than a cat or an old woman. She won't say anything about herself, but that she won't tolerate such nonsense. He should be thankful for the happiness that he received here. She also asked him if he wasn't in a warm room, and in a company from which he can learn something. That he's nothing but a chatterbox and his company is not very pleasant. She can tell him embarrassing truths, but it is proof of her friendship, so she advised him to lay eggs and learn to spin as soon as possible.
The duck said he then had to go into the world again and the hen told him to do so. So the little duckling left their house and after some time found water where he could dive and swim, but all the other animals avoided him because of his ugly appearance.
Autumn came, and the leaves in the woods turned orange and gold. Then, as winter approached, the wind caught the leaves as they fell and spun them in the cold air. Clouds, heavy with hail and snowflakes, hung low in the sky, and a raven stood on a fern and cried "Croak, croak." It was all very sad for the poor little duckling.
One evening, just as the sun was setting in the shining clouds, a large flock of beautiful birds emerged from the bushes. The duck has never seen anything like them before. They were swans, and they bent their graceful necks, while their soft feathers showed a radiant whiteness. They spread their glorious wings and flew from those cold lands to warmer countries across the sea. As they rose higher and higher into the air, the ugly little duckling felt a rather strange feeling as he watched them. He spun in the water like a wheel, stretched his neck toward them, and let out such a strange scream that he frightened himself. When they finally disappeared from his sight, he dived under the water and rose again, almost beside himself with excitement.
He didn't know the names of these birds, nor where they flew, but he felt for them as he had never felt for any other bird in the world. He didn't envy them, but he wanted to be as beautiful as they were. Poor ugly creature, how he would have liked to live with ducks if only they had encouraged him. The winter was getting colder and colder; he had to swim in the water so as not to freeze, but every night the space where he swam became smaller and smaller. Eventually, it froze so hard that the ice in the water crackled as he moved, and the duck had to paddle with his feet as hard as he could so as not to close the space. He finally became exhausted, lying still and helpless, firmly frozen in the ice.
Early in the morning a peasant, who was passing by, saw what had happened. He broke the ice with his wooden shoe and took the duck home to his wife. The heat revived the poor little creature; but when the children wanted to play with him, they thought they would do him some harm; so he flinched in fright, flew to the milk jug, and sprayed the milk around the room. Then the woman clapped her hands, which scared him even more. First, he flew into the barrel of butter, then into the tub with the meal, and out again. He made such a mess. The woman screamed and hit him with pliers; the children laughed and rolled over each other, trying to catch him; but luckily he escaped.
It would be very sad to recount all the misery and destitution that the poor little duck suffered during the severe winter; but when he had passed, he found himself one morning lying in the swamp, among the rushes. He felt the warm sun shining, heard the lark singing, and noticed that a beautiful spring came.
Then the young duck felt his wings were so much stronger than before. He swung them and soared high into the air. His wings carried him on until he found himself in a large garden. The apples were in full bloom and everything looked beautiful, in the freshness of early spring. Three beautiful white swans emerged from the nearby rush, rustling their feathers and swimming slowly over the smooth water. The duck remembered the beautiful birds and felt strangely unhappy.
He decided he would fly to those royal birds and even though he thought they would kill him for being so ugly, he dared to approach them. He thought it's better to be killed than to be bitten by ducks, beaten by chickens, kicked by a girl who feeds poultry or starved in winter.
"I will fly to those royal birds," he exclaimed, "and they will kill me, because I am so ugly, and dare to approach them; but it does not matter: better be killed by them than pecked by the ducks, beaten by the hens, pushed about by the maiden who feeds the poultry, or starved with hunger in the winter."
Then he flew towards the beautiful swans. The moment they saw the stranger, they spread their wings to meet him.
He told them to kill him and bowed his head on the surface of the water as he was waiting for death.
But in the clear stream below he saw his own image. He was no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and unpleasant to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan. Now he felt happy that he had suffered sorrow and all the trouble, for it had enabled him to enjoy all the pleasures and happiness around him so much better; for the great swans swam round the newcomer and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.
Some small children immediately came to the garden and threw bread and cake into the water. A small boy rushed to his mother and father to tell them a new swan had arrived. Then they threw more bread and cakes into the water and said that the new one is the most beautiful of all as he is so young. The old swans also bowed their heads before the ugly duckling who was no longer ugly nor a duck.
"See," cried the youngest, "there is a new one;" and the rest were delighted, and ran to their father and mother, dancing and clapping their hands, and shouting joyously, "There is another swan come; a new one has arrived."
He was quite embarrassed and hid his head under his lap; because he didn't know what to do, he was so happy, and yet not at all proud. He was persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all swans. Even the elder in front of him bent its bows into the water, and the sun shone warm and bright.
He rustled his feathers, bent his slender neck, and joyfully cried out from the depths of his heart as he never dreamed of such happiness while he was an ugly duckling.
"I never dreamed of such happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling."