The Orange Fairy Book HTML version

The Ugly Duckling
It was summer in the land of Denmark, and though for most of the year the
country looks flat and ugly, it was beautiful now. The wheat was yellow, the oats
were green, the hay was dry and delicious to roll in, and from the old ruined
house which nobody lived in, down to the edge of the canal, was a forest of great
burdocks, so tall that a whole family of children might have dwelt in them and
never have been found out.
It was under these burdocks that a duck had built herself a warm nest, and was
not sitting all day on six pretty eggs. Five of them were white, but the sixth, which
was larger than the others, was of an ugly grey colour. The duck was always
puzzled about that egg, and how it came to be so different from the rest. Other
birds might have thought that when the duck went down in the morning and
evening to the water to stretch her legs in a good swim, some lazy mother might
have been on the watch, and have popped her egg into the nest. But ducks are
not clever at all, and are not quick at counting, so this duck did not worry herself
about the matter, but just took care that the big egg should be as warm as the
This was the first set of eggs that the duck had ever laid, and, to begin with, she
was very pleased and proud, and laughed at the other mothers, who were always
neglecting their duties to gossip with each other or to take little extra swims
besides the two in the morning and evening that were necessary for health. But
at length she grew tired of sitting there all day. 'Surely eggs take longer hatching
than they did,' she said to herself; and she pined for a little amusement also. Still,
she knew that if she left her eggs and the ducklings in them to die none of her
friends would ever speak to her again; so there she stayed, only getting off the
eggs several times a day to see if the shells were cracking--which may have
been the very reason why they did not crack sooner.
She had looked at the eggs at least a hundred and fifty times, when, to her joy,
she saw a tiny crack on two of them, and scrambling back to the nest she drew
the eggs closer the one to the other, and never moved for the whole of that day.
Next morning she was rewarded by noticing cracks in the whole five eggs, and
by midday two little yellow heads were poking out from the shells. This
encouraged her so much that, after breaking the shells with her bill, so that the
little creatures could get free of them, she sat steadily for a whole night upon the
nest, and before the sun arose the five white eggs were empty, and ten pairs of
eyes were gazing out upon the green world.
Now the duck had been carefully brought up, and did not like dirt, and, besides,
broken shells are not at all comfortable things to sit or walk upon; so she pushed
the rest out over the side, and felt delighted to have some company to talk to till
the big egg hatched. But day after day went on, and the big egg showed no signs
of cracking, and the duck grew more and more impatient, and began to wish to
consult her husband, who never came.