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The Ugly Duckling

H. C. Andersen fairy tale Once there lived a duck family on an old farm somewhere. Mother Duck had been sitting on a clutch of new eggs, and one morning the eggs hatched. Out popped six chirpy ducklings. But one egg was bigger than the rest, and it didn't hatch. Mother Duck couldn't recall laying that one egg. But now - TOCK! TOCK! - a little one was pecking inside his shell.

"Did I count the eggs? - and wrongly?" Mother Duck wondered. But then the last egg hatched and she forgot to think about it for a few days or so. For out came a strange-looking baby bird with grey feathers. "They should be yellow," thought the concerned Mother Duck. The ducklings grew quickly, and all along Mother Duck had a hidden worry.

"How can this grey-feathered duckling can be one of mine!" she said to herself, shaking her head as she looked at her last born. Well, the grey baby bird didn't look as pretty to her as the rest of them. Since he ate far more than the other little ones, he was outgrowing them. And besides, he swam just as well as the rest, so she didn't worry about him too much. That's for sure.

The days went by one by one. The tall guy got more and more nervous and unhappy. The ducklings he was attached to, didn't want to play with him. They said and showed in many tactless ways that the big gay was so clumsy and strove to laugh at him. In the end he felt sad and alone, even though Mother Duck did her best to console him.

"Poor little guy!" she would say. "Are you so different?" That made the ugly duckling feel worse. He wept secretly at night, thinking nobody wanted him. And the truth is the ducks did what they could to hurt him after that.

"Nobody likes me, every duckling teases me! I am different?"

One day at sunrise he ran away from the farmyard. He wandered through overgrown fields, often frightening the little birds who lived there, because a bigger one appeared.

He stopped at a pond and began to question the herons he found there:

"Do you know of any ducklings with grey feathers like mine?"

Everyone shook their heads and didn't like to be intruded upon.

"We don't know," they whistled and said. The little bird did not lose heart, however, and kept on making inquiries. He went to another pond, where a pair of large geese gave him the same answer. What's more, they warned him:

" It's dangerous here. Don't stay. Go away at once. There are men with thunderous sticks around!"

The duckling felt sorry he had ever left the farmyard.

Then one day his waggly travels took him near an old countrywoman's cottage. Her eyesight was poor. Thinking he was a stray goose, she caught him.

"I'll put this in a hutch. I hope it's a female and lays plenty of eggs!" said the old woman. The ugly duckling laid not a single egg. The hen frightened him often:

"Wait - if you don't lay eggs, the old woman will wring your neck and pop you into the pot!"

The poor young bird was so scared that he lost his appetite, though the old woman kept stuffing him with food and grumbling: "If you won't lay eggs, at least get plump!"

"Dear me!" moaned the little fellow. "I came around just because I hoped someone would love me!"

Then one night, finding the hutch door left open for once, he ran away. Once again he was perfectly alone. He fled as far away as he could. At dawn he found himself in a thick bed of reeds.

"If nobody wants me, I'll hid here for a really long while," he thought to himself.

There was plenty a food, so the duckling began to feel a little happier, even though he was all alone. And one day at sunrise he saw a flight of long-necked birds wing overhead. They were white and large, with yellow beaks and splendid wings, and they were heading towards the south.

"If only I could look like them, just for a day!" said the bold little one. He admired their style.

Winter came and the water in the reed bed froze. The poor little guy left this home to seek food in the snow. After a little dropped exhausted to the ground. But a farmer found him and put him in his big jacket pocket.

"I'll take him home to my children. They'll look after him. Poor thing, he's frozen!" The young bird was showered with kindness at the farmer's house. Thus he was able to survive the icy cold winter.

However, by springtime, he had grown so big that it was awkward to have him in the kitchen house. The farmer's wife easily got angry with him if he flapped his wings when the children toyed with him indoors. Often she took him to the barn when things like that happened. Then one day the farmer decided:

"I'll set him free by the pond!"

There the young bird saw himself mirrored in the water after a long winter that had done him good.

"How I've changed! I can hardly recognise myself," he shouted.

OY The flight of swans winged north again and glided on to the same old pond. When the duckling saw them, he understood deep inside he was one of them. After the first encounter, where he still was prepared for hisses, name-calling and biting by others, they soon made friends.

"We're all swans!" they said, warmly. "Have you been living here through the winter?"

"It's a long story," replied the young swan, still much surprised. Now he swam majestically with his fellows. One day he heard children on the river bank shout:

"Look at that handsome young swan! The finest of them all!"


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