Home > By Year > Year 1 Alternative Tales
Year 1 has nine fairy tales scheduled throughout the 36-week year. The following are provided as an alternative for parents who have informed themselves about the use of fairy tales for children by reading our article Christians, Charlotte Mason, and Fairy Tales, but still choose not to expose their child to fairies, witches or magic (or who prefer to wait until their child is older.)
01 The Buckwheat by Hans Christian Andersen 02 The Six Sillies from The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang 03 There Is No Doubt About It by Hans Christian Andersen 04 The Simpleton and his Little Black Hen from The Wonder Clock by Howard and Katharine Pyle 05 The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen 06 How Two went into Partnership from The Wonder Clock by Howard and Katharine Pyle 07 The Wicked Prince by Hans Christian Andersen 08 How the Princess’s Pride was Broken from The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle 09 The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen
01 The Buckwheat by Hans Christian Andersen
Very often, after a violent thunder-storm, a field of buckwheat appears blackened and singed, as if a flame of fire had passed over it. The country people say that this appearance is caused by lightning; but I will tell you what the sparrow says, and the sparrow heard it from an old willow-tree which grew near a field of buckwheat, and is there still. It is a large venerable tree, though a little crippled by age. The trunk has been split, and out of the crevice grass and brambles grow. The tree bends for-ward slightly, and the branches hang quite down to the ground just like green hair. Corn grows in the surrounding fields, not only rye and barley, but oats,-pretty oats that, when ripe, look like a number of little golden canary-birds sitting on a bough. The corn has a smiling look and the heaviest and richest ears bend their heads low as if in pious humility. Once there was also a field of buckwheat, and this field was exactly opposite to old willow-tree. The buckwheat did not bend like the other grain, but erected its head proudly and stiffly on the stem. “I am as valuable as any other corn,” said he, “and I am much handsomer; my flowers are as beautiful as the bloom of the apple blossom, and it is a pleasure to look at us. Do you know of anything prettier than we are, you old willow-tree?”
And the willow-tree nodded his head, as if he would say, “Indeed I do.”
But the buckwheat spread itself out with pride, and said, “Stupid tree; he is so old that grass grows out of his body.”
There arose a very terrible storm. All the field-flowers folded their leaves together, or bowed their little heads, while the storm passed over them, but the buckwheat stood erect in its pride. “Bend your head as we do,” said the flowers.
“I have no occasion to do so,” replied the buckwheat.
“Bend your head as we do,” cried the ears of corn; “the angel of the storm is coming; his wings spread from the sky above to the earth beneath. He will strike you down before you can cry for mercy.”
“But I will not bend my head,” said the buckwheat.
“Close your flowers and bend your leaves,” said the old willow-tree. “Do not look at the lightning when the cloud bursts; even men cannot do that. In a flash of lightning heaven opens, and we can look in; but the sight will strike even human beings blind. What then must happen to us, who only grow out of the earth, and are so inferior to them, if we venture to do so?”
“Inferior, indeed!” said the buckwheat. “Now I intend to have a peep into heaven.” Proudly and boldly he looked up, while the lightning flashed across the sky as if the whole world were in flames.
When the dreadful storm had passed, the flowers and the corn raised their drooping heads in the pure still air, refreshed by the rain, but the buckwheat lay like a weed in the field, burnt to blackness by the lightning. The branches of the old willow-tree rustled in the wind, and large water-drops fell from his green leaves as if the old willow were weeping. Then the sparrows asked why he was weeping, when all around him seemed so cheerful. “See,” they said, “how the sun shines, and the clouds float in the blue sky. Do you not smell the sweet perfume from flower and bush? Wherefore do you weep, old willow-tree?” Then the willow told them of the haughty pride of the buckwheat, and of the punishment which followed in consequence.
This is the story told me by the sparrows one evening when I begged them to relate some tale to me.
02 The Six Sillies from The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang
Once upon a time there was a young girl who reached the age of thirty-seven without ever having had a lover, for she was so foolish that no one wanted to marry her.
One day, however, a young man arrived to pay his addresses to her, and her mother, beaming with joy, sent her daughter down to the cellar to draw a jug of beer.
As the girl never came back the mother went down to see what had become of her, and found her sitting on the stairs, her head in her hands, while by her side the beer was running all over the floor, as she had forgotten to close the tap. “What are you doing there?” asked the mother.
“I was thinking what I shall call my first child after I am married to that young man. All the names in the calendar are taken already.”
The mother sat down on the staircase beside her daughter and said, “I will think about it with you, my dear.”
The father who had stayed upstairs with the young man was surprised that neither his wife nor his daughter came back, and in his turn went down to look for them. He found them both sitting on the stairs, while beside them the beer was running all over the ground from the tap, which was wide open.
“What are you doing there? The beer is running all over the cellar.”
“We were thinking what we should call the children that our daughter will have when she marries that young man. All the names in the calendar are taken already.”
“Well,” said the father, “I will think about it with you.”
As neither mother nor daughter nor father came upstairs again, the lover grew impatient, and went down into the cellar to see what they could all be doing. He found them all three sitting on the stairs, while beside them the beer was running all over the ground from the tap, which was wide open.
“What in the world are you all doing that you don’t come upstairs, and that you let the beer run all over the cellar?”
“Yes, I know, my boy,” said the father, “but if you marry our daughter what shall you call your children? All the names in the calendar are taken.”
When the young man heard this answer he replied:
“Well! good-bye, I am going away. When I shall have found three people sillier than you I will come back and marry your daughter.”
So he continued his journey, and after walking a long way he reached an orchard. Then he saw some people knocking down walnuts, and trying to throw them into a cart with a fork.
“What are you doing there?” he asked.
“We want to load the cart with our walnuts, but we can’t manage to do it.”
The lover advised them to get a basket and to put the walnuts in it, so as to turn them into the cart.
“Well,” he said to himself, “I have already found someone more foolish than those three.”
So he went on his way, and by-and-by he came to a wood. There he saw a man who wanted to give his pig some acorns to eat, and was trying with all his might to make him climb up the oak-tree.
“What are you doing, my good man?” asked he.
“I want to make my pig eat some acorns, and I can’t get him to go up the tree.”
“If you were to climb up and shake down the acorns the pig would pick them up.”
“Oh, I never thought of that.”
“Here is the second idiot,” said the lover to himself.
Some way farther along the road he came upon a man who had never worn any trousers, and who was trying to put on a pair. So he had fastened them to a tree and was jumping with all his might up in the air so that he should hit the two legs of the trousers as he came down.
“It would be much better if you held them in your hands,” said the young man, “and then put your legs one after the other in each hole.”
“Dear me to be sure! You are sharper than I am, for that never occurred to me.”
And having found three people more foolish than his bride, or her father or her mother, the lover went back to marry the young lady.
And in course of time they had a great many children.
03 There Is No Doubt About It by Hans Christian Andersen
“That was a terrible affair!” said a hen, and in a quarter of the town, too, where it had not taken place. “That was a terrible affair in a hen-roost. I cannot sleep alone to-night. It is a good thing that many of us sit on the roost together.” And then she told a story that made the feathers on the other hens bristle up, and the cock’s comb fall. There was no doubt about it.
But we will begin at the beginning, and that is to be found in a hen-roost in another part of the town. The sun was setting, and the fowls were flying on to their roost; one hen, with white feathers and short legs, used to lay her eggs according to the regulations, and was, as a hen, respectable in every way. As she was flying upon the roost, she plucked herself with her beak, and a little feather came out.
“There it goes,” she said; “the more I pluck, the more beautiful do I get.” She said this merrily, for she was the best of the hens, and, moreover, as had been said, very respectable. With that she went to sleep.
It was dark all around, and hen sat close to hen, but the one who sat nearest to her merry neighbour did not sleep. She had heard and yet not heard, as we are often obliged to do in this world, in order to live at peace; but she could not keep it from her neighbour on the other side any longer. “Did you hear what was said? I mention no names, but there is a hen here who intends to pluck herself in order to look well. If I were a cock, I should despise her.”
Just over the fowls sat the owl, with father owl and the little owls. The family has sharp ears, and they all heard every word that their neighbour had said. They rolled their eyes, and mother owl, beating her wings, said: “Don’t listen to her! But I suppose you heard what was said? I heard it with my own ears, and one has to hear a great deal before they fall off. There is one among the fowls who has so far forgotten what is becoming to a hen that she plucks out all her feathers and lets the cock see it.”
“Prenez garde aux enfants!” said father owl; “children should not hear such things.”
“But I must tell our neighbour owl about it; she is such an estimable owl to talk to.” And with that she flew away.
“Too-whoo! Too-whoo!” they both hooted into the neighbour’s dove-cot to the doves inside. “Have you heard? Have you heard? Too-whoo! There is a hen who has plucked out all her feathers for the sake of the cock; she will freeze to death, if she is not frozen already. Too-whoo!”
“Where? where?” cooed the doves.
“In the neighbour’s yard. I have as good as seen it myself. It is almost unbecoming to tell the story, but there is no doubt about it.”
“Believe every word of what we tell you,” said the doves, and cooed down into their poultry-yard. “There is a hen-nay, some say that there are two-who have plucked out all their feathers, in order not to look like the others, and to attract the attention of the cock. It is a dangerous game, for one can easily catch cold and die from fever, and both of these are dead already.”
“Wake up! wake up!” crowed the cock, and flew upon his board. Sleep was still in his eyes, but yet he crowed out: “Three hens have died of their unfortunate love for a cock. They had plucked out all their feathers. It is a horrible story: I will not keep it to myself, but let it go farther.”
“Let it go farther,” shrieked the bats, and the hens clucked and the cocks crowed, “Let it go farther! Let it go farther!” In this way the story travelled from poultry-yard to poultry-yard, and at last came back to the place from which it had really started.
“Five hens,” it now ran, “have plucked out all their feathers to show which of them had grown leanest for love of the cock, and then they all pecked at each other till the blood ran down and they fell down dead, to the derision and shame of their family, and to the great loss of their owner.”
The hen who had lost the loose little feather naturally did not recognise her own story, and being a respectable hen, said: “I despise those fowls; but there are more of that kind. Such things ought not to be concealed, and I will do my best to get the story into the papers, so that it becomes known throughout the land; the hens have richly deserved it, and their family too.”
It got into the papers, it was printed; and there is no doubt about it, one little feather may easily grow into five hens.
04 The Simpleton and his Little Black Hen from The Wonder Clock by Howard and Katharine Pyle
There were three brothers left behind when the father died. The two elder, whose names were John and James, were as clever lads as ever ate pease with a fork.
As for the youngest, his name was Caspar, he had no more than enough sense to blow his potatoes when they were hot. Well, when they came to divide things up between themselves, John and James contrived to share all of the good things between them. As for Caspar, “why, the little black hen is enough for him,” says John and James, and that was all the butter he got from that churn.
“I’ll take the little black hen to the fair,” says Caspar, “and there I’ll sell her and buy me some eggs. I’ll set the eggs under the minister’s speckled hen, and then I’ll have more chicks. Then I’ll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and then I’ll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and after that I’ll be richer than Uncle Henry, who has two cows and a horse, and will marry my sweetheart into the bargain.” So off he went to the fair with the black hen under his arm, as he had promised himself to do.
“There goes a goose to the plucking,” says John and James, and then they turned no hairs grey by thinking any more about the case.
As for him, why, he went on and on until he came to the inn over the hill not far from the town, the host of which was no better than he should be, and that was the long and the short of it.
“Where do you go with the little black hen, Caspar?” says he.
“Oh,” says Caspar, “I take it to the fair to sell it and buy me some eggs. I’ll set the eggs under the minister’s speckled hen, and then I’ll have more chicks. Then I’ll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and then I’ll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and after that I’ll be richer than Uncle Henry, who has two cows and a horse, and will marry my sweetheart into the bargain.”
Prut! And why should Caspar take his hen to the fair? That was what the landlord said. It was a silly thing to tramp to the river for water before the well was dry at home. Why, the landlord had a friend over yonder who would give ten pennies to one that he could get at the fair for his black hen. Now, had Caspar ever heard tell of the little old gentleman who lived in the old willow-tree over yonder?
No, Caspar had never heard tell of him in all of his life. And there was no wonder in that, for no more had anybody else, and the landlord was only up to a bit of a trick to get the little black hen for himself.
But the landlord sucked in his lips-“tsch”-so! Well, that was a pity, for the little old gentleman had said, time and time again, that he would give a whole bagful of gold and silver money for just such a little black hen as the one that Caspar carried under his arm.
Dear, dear! How Caspar’s eyes did open at this, to be sure. Off he started for the willow-tree. “Here’s the little black hen,” said he, “and I’ll sell her for a bagful of gold and silver money.” But nobody answered him; and you may be sure of that, for there was nobody there.
“Well,” says Caspar, “I’ll just tie the hen to the tree here, and you may pay me to-morrow.” So he did as he had said, and off he marched. Then came the landlord and took the hen off home and had it for his supper; and there was an end of that business.
An end of that business? No, no; stop a bit, for we will not drive too fast down the hill. Listen: there was a wicked robber who had hidden a bag of gold and silver money in that very tree; but of that neither Caspar nor the landlord knew any more than the chick in the shell.
“Hi!” says Caspar, “it is the wise man who gets along in the world.” But there he was wrong for once in his life, Tommy Pfouce tells me.
“And did you sell your hen?” says John and James.
“Oh, yes; Caspar had done that.
And what had he got for it?
Oh, just a bag of gold and silver money, that was all. He would show it to them to-morrow, for he was to go and get it then from the old gentleman who lived in the willow-tree over yonder by the inn over the hill.
When John and James heard that they saw as plain as the nose on your face that Caspar had been bitten by the fool dog.
But Caspar never bothered his head about that; off he went the next day as grand as you please. Up he marched to the willow-tree, but never a soul did he find there; for why, there was nobody.
Rap! tap! tap! He knocked upon the tree as civil as a beggar at the kitchen door, but nobody said, “Come in!”
“Look,” says he, “we will have no dilly-dallying; I want my money and I will have it,” and he fetched a kick at the tree that made the bark fly. But he might as well have kicked my grandfather’s bedpost for all the good he had of it. “Oh, very well!” says he, and off he marched and brought the axe that stood back of the stable door.
Hui! how the chips flew! for Caspar was bound to get to the bottom of the business. So by and by the tree lay on the ground, and there was the bag of gold and silver money that the wicked robber had hidden. “So!” says Caspar, “better late than never!” and off he marched with it.
By and by whom should he meet but John and James. Bless me, how they stared! And did Caspar get all of that money for one little black hen?
Oh, yes; that he had.
And where did he get it?
Oh! the little old man in the willow-tree had paid it to him.
So, good! that was a fine thing, and it should be share and share alike among brothers; that was what John and James said, and Caspar did not say “No;” so down they all sat on the grass and began counting it out.
“This is mine,” said John.
“And this is mine,” said James.
“And this is mine,” said John.
“And this is mine,” said James.
“And where is mine?” says Caspar. But neither of the others thought of him because he was so simple.
Just then who should come along but the rogue of a landlord. “Hi! and where did you get all that?” says he.
“Oh,” says Caspar, “the little old man in the willow-tree paid it to me for my little black hen.”
Yes, yes, the landlord knew how much of that cake to eat. He was not to have the wool pulled over his eyes so easily. See, now, he knew very well that thieving had been done, and he would have them all up before the master mayor for it. So the upshot of the matter was that they had to take him in to share with them.
“This is mine,” says the landlord.
“And this is mine,” says John.
“And this is mine,” says James.
“And where do I come in?” says poor Caspar. But nobody thought of him because he was so simple.
Just then came along a company of soldiers-tramp! tramp! tramp!-and there they found them all sharing the money between them, except Caspar.
“Hi!” says the captain, “here are a lot of thieves, and no mistake!” and off he marched them to the king’s house, which was finer than any in our town, and as big as a church into the bargain.
And how had they come by all that money? that was what the king would like to know.
As for the three rogues, they sang a different tune now than they had whistled before.
“It’s none of mine, it’s his,” said the landlord, and he pointed to John.
“It’s none of mine, it’s his,” said John, and he pointed to James.
“It’s none of mine, it’s his,” said James, and he pointed to Caspar.
“And how did you get it?” says the king.
“Oh!” says Caspar, “the little old man in the willow-tree gave it to me for my little black hen;” and then he told the whole story without missing a single grain.
Beside the king sat the princess, who was so serious and solemn that she had never laughed once in all her life. So the king had said, time and time again, that whoever should make her laugh should have her for his wife. Now, when she heard Caspar’s story, and how he came in behind all the rest, so that he always had the pinching, like the tail of our cat in the crack of the door, she laughed like everything, for she could not help it. So there was the fat in the fire, for Caspar was not much to look at, and that was the truth. Dear, dear, what a stew the king was in, for he had no notion for Caspar as a son-in-law. So he began to think about striking a bargain. “Come,” says he to Caspar, “how much will you take to give up the princess instead of marrying her?”
Well, Caspar did not know how much a princess was worth. So he scratched his head and scratched his head, and by and by he said that he would be willing to take ten dollars and let the princess go.
At this the king boiled over into a mighty fume, like water into the fire. What! did Caspar think that ten dollars was a fit price for a princess!
Oh, Caspar had never done any business of this kind before. He had a sweetheart of his own at home, and if ten dollars was too much for the princess he would be willing to take five.
Sakes alive! what a rage the king was in! Why, I would not have stood in Caspar’s shoes just then-no, not for a hundred dollars. The king would have had him whipped right away, only just then he had some other business on hand. So he paid Caspar his five dollars, and told him that if he would come back the next day he should have all that his back could carry-meaning a whipping.
As for Caspar and his brothers and the rogue of a landlord, they thought that the king was talking about dollars. So when they had left the king’s house and had come out into the road again, the three rogues began to talk as smooth and as soft as though their words were buttered.
See, now, what did Caspar want with all that the king had promised him; that was what they said. If he would let them have it, they would give him all of their share of the money he had found in the willow-tree.
“Ah, yes,” says Caspar, “I am willing to do that. For,” says he to himself, “an apple in the pocket is worth three on the tree.” And there he was right for once in his life.
Well, the next day back they all tramped to the king’s house again to get what had been promised to Caspar.
So! Caspar had come back for the rest, had he?
Oh, yes, he had come back again; but the lord king must know that he had sold all that had been promised to him to these three lads for their share of the money he had found in the willow-tree over yonder.
“Yes,” says the landlord, “one part of what has been promised is mine.”
“And one part of it is mine,” says John.
“Stop a bit, brother,” says James; “remember, one part of it is mine too.”
At this the king could not help laughing, and that broke the back of his anger.
First of all he sent the landlord for his share, and if his back did not smart after he had it, why, it was not the fault of those who gave it to him. By and by he came back again, but he said nothing to the others of what had been given to him; but all the same he grinned as though he had been eating sour gooseberries. Then John went, and last of all James, and what they got satisfied them, I can tell you.
After that the king told Caspar that he might go into the other room and fill his pockets with money for what he had given up to the others; so he had the cool end of that bargain, and did not burn his fingers after all.
But the three rogues were not satisfied with this. No, indeed! Caspar should have his share of the smarting, see if he shouldn’t! So back they went to the king’s house one fine day, and said that Caspar had been talking about the lord king, and had said that he was no better than an old hunks. At this the king was awfully angry. And so off he sent the others to fetch Caspar along so that he might settle the score with him.
When the three came home, there was Caspar lying on a bench in the sun, for he could take the world easy now, because he was so rich.
“Come along, Caspar,” said they, “the king wants to see you over at his house yonder.”
Yes, yes, but there was too much hurrying in this business, for it was over-quick cooking that burned the broth. If Caspar was to go to the king’s house he would go in fitting style, so they would just have to wait till he found a horse, for he was not going to jog it afoot; that was what Caspar said.
“Yes,” says the landlord, “but sooner than you should lose time in the waiting, I will lend you my fine dapple-gray.”
But where was the bridle to come from? Caspar would have them know that he was not going to ride a horse to the king’s house without a good bridle over the nag’s ears.
Oh, John would lend him the new bridle that he bought in the town last week; so that was soon settled.
But how about the saddle?-that was what Caspar wanted to know-yes, how about the saddle? Did they think that he was going to ride up to the king’s house with his heels thumping against the horse’s ribs as though he were no better than a ploughman?
Oh, James would lend him a saddle if that was all he wanted.
So off they went, all four of them, to the king’s house.
There was the king, walking up and down, and fussing and fuming with anger till he was all of a heat.
“See, now,” says he, as soon as he saw Caspar, “what did you call me an old hunks for?”
“I didn’t call you an old hunks,” said Caspar.
“Yes, you did,” said the king.
“No, I didn’t,” said Caspar.
“Yes, you did,” said the king, “for these three lads told me so.”
“Prut!” said Caspar, “who would believe what they say? Why, they would just as fief tell you that this horse and saddle and bridle belong to them.”
“And so they do!” bawled the three rogues.
“See there, now,” said Caspar.
The king scratched his head, for here was a tangled knot, for certain. “Yes, yes,” said he, “these fellows are fooling either Caspar or me, and we are both in the same tub, for the matter of that. Take them away and whip them!” So it was done as he said, and that was all that they got for their trouble.
Wit and Luck are not always hatched in the same nest, says Tommy Pfouce, and maybe he is right about it, for Caspar married his sweetheart; and if she did not keep his money for him, and himself out of trouble, she would not have been worth speaking of, and I, for one, would never have told this story.
05 The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen
Once upon a time there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess; but she would have to be a real princess. He travelled all over the world to find one, but nowhere could he get what he wanted. There were princesses enough, but it was difficult to find out whether they were real ones. There was always something about them that was not as it should be. So he came home again and was sad, for he would have liked very much to have a real princess.
One evening a terrible storm came on; there was thunder and lightning, and the rain poured down in torrents. Suddenly a knocking was heard at the city gate, and the old king went to open it.
It was a princess standing out there in front of the gate. But, good gracious! what a sight the rain and the wind had made her look. The water ran down from her hair and clothes; it ran down into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. And yet she said that she was a real princess.
“Well, we’ll soon find that out,” thought the old queen. But she said nothing, went into the bed-room, took all the bedding off the bedstead, and laid a pea on the bottom; then she took twenty mattresses and laid them on the pea, and then twenty eider-down beds on top of the mattresses.
On this the princess had to lie all night. In the morning she was asked how she had slept.
“Oh, very badly!” said she. “I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!”
Now they knew that she was a real princess because she had felt the pea right through the twenty mattresses and the twenty eider-down beds.
Nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that.
So the prince took her for his wife, for now he knew that he had a real princess; and the pea was put in the museum, where it may still be seen, if no one has stolen it.
There, that is a true story.
06 How Two went into Partnership from The Wonder Clock by Howard and Katharine Pyle
This was the way of it. Uncle Bear had a pot of honey and a big cheese, but the Great Red Fox had nothing but his wits.
The fox was for going into partnership, for he says, says he, “a head full of wits is worth more than a pot of honey and a big cheese,” which was as true as gospel, only that wits cannot be shared in partnership among folks, like red herring and blue beans, or a pot of honey and a big cheese.
All the same, Uncle Bear was well enough satisfied, and so they went into partnership together, just as the Great Red Fox had said. As for the pot of honey and the big cheese, why, they were put away for a rainy day, and the wits were all that were to be used just now.
“Very well,” says the fox, “we’ll rattle them up a bit;” and so he did, and this was how.
He was hungry for the honey, was the Great Red Fox. “See, now,” said he, “I am sick to-day, and I will just go and see the Master Doctor over yonder.”
But it was not the doctor he went to; no, off he marched to the storehouse, and there he ate part of the honey. After that he laid out in the sun and toasted his skin, for that is pleasant after a great dinner.
By and by he went home again.
“Well,” says Uncle Bear, “and how do you feel now?”
“Oh, well enough,” says the Great Red Fox.
“And was the medicine bitter?” says Uncle Bear.
“Oh, no, it was good enough,” says the Great Red Fox.
“And how much did the doctor give you?” says Uncle Bear.
“Oh, about one part of a pot full,” says the Red Fox.
Dear, dear! thinks Uncle Bear, that is a great deal of medicine to take, for sure and certain.
Well, things went on as smoothly as though the wheels were greased, until by and by the fox grew hungry for a taste of honey again; and this time he had to go over yonder and see his aunt. Off he went to the storehouse, and there he ate all the honey he wanted, and then, after he had slept a bit in the sun, he went back home again.
“Well,” says Uncle Bear, “and did you see your aunt?”
“Oh, yes,” says the Great Red Fox, “I saw her.”
“And did she give you anything?” says Uncle Bear.
“Oh, yes, she gave me a trifle,” says the Great Red Fox.
“And what was it she gave you?” says Uncle Bear.
“Why, she gave me another part of a pot full, that was all,” says the Great Red Fox.
“Dear, dear! but that is a queer thing to give,” says Uncle Bear.
By and by the Great Red Fox was thinking of honey again, and now it was a christening he had to go to. Off he went to the pot of honey, and this time he finished it all and licked the pot into the bargain.
And had everything gone smoothly at the christening? That was what Uncle Bear wanted to know.
“Oh, smoothly enough,” says the Great Red Fox.
“And did they have a christening feast?” says Uncle Bear.
“Oh, yes, they had that,” says the Great Red Fox.
“And what did they have?” says Uncle Bear.
“Oh, everything that was in the pot,” says the Great Red Fox.
“Dear, dear,” says Uncle Bear, “but they must have been a hungry set at that christening.”
Well, one day Uncle Bear says, “We’ll have a feast and eat up the pot of honey and the big cheese, and we’ll ask Father Goat over to help us.”
That suited the Great Red Fox well enough, so off he went to the storehouse to fetch the pot of honey and the cheese; as for Uncle Bear he went to ask Father Goat to come and help them eat up the good things.
“See, now,” says the Great Red Fox to himself, “the pot of honey and the big cheese belong together, and it is a pity to part them.” So down he sat without more ado, and when he got up again the cheese was all inside of him.
When he came home again there was Father Goat toasting his toes at the fire and waiting for supper; and there was Uncle Bear on the back door-step sharpening the bread-knife.
“Hi!” says the Great Red Fox, “and what are you doing here, Father Goat?”
“I am just waiting for supper, and that is all,” says Father Goat.
“And where is Uncle Bear?” says the Great Red Fox.
“He is sharpening the bread-knife,” says Father Goat.
“Yes,” says the Great Red Fox, “and when he is through with that he is going to cut your tail off.”
Dear, dear! but Father Goat was in a great fright; that house was no place for him, and he could see that with one eye shut; off he marched, as though the ground was hot under him. As for the Great Red Fox, he went out to Uncle Bear, “That was a pretty body you asked to take supper with us,” says he; “here he has marched off with the pot of honey and the big cheese, and we may sit down and whistle over an empty table between us.”
When Uncle Bear heard this he did not tarry, I can tell you; up he got and off he went after Father Goat. “Stop! stop!” he bawled, “let me have a little at least.”
But Father Goat thought that Uncle Bear was speaking of his tail, for he knew nothing of the pot of honey and the big cheese; so he just knuckled down to it, and away he scampered till the gravel flew behind him.
And this was what came of that partnership; nothing was left but the wits that the Great Red Fox had brought into the business; for nobody could blame Father Goat for carrying the wits off with him, and one might guess that without the telling.
Now, as the pot of honey and big cheese were gone, something else must be looked up, for one cannot live on thin air, and that is the truth.
“See, now,” says the Great Red Fox, “Farmer John over yonder has a storehouse full of sausages and chitterlings and puddings, and all sort of good things. As nothing else is left of the partnership we’ll just churn our wits a bit, and see if we can make butter with them, as the saying goes;” that was what the Great Red Fox said, and it suited Uncle Bear as well as anything he ever heard; so off they marched arm in arm.
By and by they came to Farmer John’s house, and nobody was about, which was just what the two rogues wanted; and, yes, there was the storehouse as plain as the nose on your face, only the door was locked. Above was a little window just big enough for the Great Red Fox to creep into, though it was up ever so high. “Just give me a lift up through the window yonder,” says he to Uncle Bear, “and I will drop the good things out for you to catch.”
So Uncle Bear gave the Great Red Fox a leg up, and-pop!-and there he was in the storehouse like a mouse in the cheese-box.
As soon as he was safe among the good things he bawled out to Uncle Bear, “What shall it be first, sausages or puddings?”
“Hush! hush!” said Uncle Bear.
“Yes, yes,” bawled the Red Fox louder than ever, “only tell me which I shall take first, sausages or puddings?”
“Sh-h-h-h!” said Uncle Bear, “if you are making such a noise as that you will have them about our ears; take the first that comes and be quick about it.”
“Yes, yes,” bawled the fox as loud as he was able; “but one is just as handy as another, and you must tell me which I shall take first.”
But Uncle Bear got neither pudding nor sausage, for the Great Red Fox had made such a hubbub that Farmer John and his men came running, and three great dogs with them.
“Hi!” said they, “there is Uncle Bear after the sausages and puddings ;” and there was nothing for him to do but to lay foot to the ground as fast as he could. All the same, they caught him over the hill, and gave him such a drubbing that his bones ached for many a long day.
But the Great Red Fox only waited until all the others were well away on their own business, and then he filled a bag with the best he could lay his hands on, opened the door from the inside, and walked out as though it were from his own barn; for there was nobody to say “No” to him. He hid the good things away in a place of his own, and it was little of them that Uncle Bear smelt. After he had gathered all this, Master Fox came home, groaning as though he had had an awful drubbing; it would have moved a heart of stone to hear him.
“Dear, oh dear! what a drubbing I have had,” said he.
“And so have I,” said Uncle Bear, grinning over his sore bones as though cold weather were blowing snow in his teeth.
“See, now,” said the Great Red Fox, “this is what comes of going into partnership, and sharing one’s wits with another. If you had made your choice when I asked you, your butter would never have been spoiled in the churning.”
That was all the comfort Uncle Bear had, and cold enough it was too. All the same, he is not the first in the world who has lost his dinner, and had both the drubbing and the blame into the bargain.
But things do not last forever, and so by and by the good things from Farmer John’s storehouse gave out, and the Great Red Fox had nothing in the larder.
“Listen,” says he to Uncle Bear, “I saw them shaking the apple-trees at Farmer John’s to-day, and if you have a mind to try the wits that belong to us, we’ll go and bring a bagful apiece from the storehouse over yonder at the farm.”
Yes, that suited Uncle Bear well enough; so off they marched, each of them with an empty bag to fetch back the apples. By and by they came to the storehouse, and nobody was about. This time the door was not locked, so in the both of them went and began filling their bags with apples. The Great Red Fox tumbled them into his bag as fast as ever he could, taking them just as they came, good or bad; but Uncle Bear took his time about it and picked them all over, for since he had come there he was bound to get the best that were to be had.
So the upshot of the matter was that the Great Red Fox had his bag full before Uncle Bear had picked out half a score of good juicy apples.
“I’ll just peep out of the window yonder,” says the Great Red Fox, “and see if Farmer John is coming.” But in his sleeve he said to himself, “I’ll slip outside and turn the key of the door on Uncle Bear, for somebody will have to carry the blame of this, and his shoulders are broader and his skin tougher than mine; he will never be able to get out of that little window.” So up he jumped with his bag of apples, to do as he said.
But listen! A hasty man drinks hot broth. And so it was with the Great Red Fox, for up in the window they had set a trap to catch rats. But he knew nothing of that; out he jumped from the window-click! went the trap and caught him by the tail, and there he hung.
“Is Farmer John coming?” bawled Uncle Bear, by and by.
“Hush! hush!” said the Great Red Fox, for he was trying to get his tail out of the trap.
But the boot was on the other leg now. “Yes, yes,” bawled Uncle Bear, louder than before, “but tell me, is Farmer John coming?”
“Sh-h-h-h!” says the Great Red Fox.
“No, no,” bawled Uncle Bear, as loud as he could, “what I want to know is, is Farmer John coming?”
Yes, he was, for he had heard the hubbub, and here he was with a lot of his men and three great dogs.
“Oh, Farmer John,” bawled the Great Red Fox, “don’t touch me, I am not the thief. Yonder is Uncle Bear in the pantry, he is the one.”
Yes, yes, Farmer John knew how much of that cake to eat; here was the rogue of a fox caught in the trap, and the beating was ready for him. That was the long and the short of it.
When the Great Red Fox heard this, he pulled with all his might and main. Snap! went his tail and broke off close to his body, and away he scampered with Farmer John the men and the dogs close to his heels. But Uncle Bear filled his bag full of apples, and when all hands had gone racing away after the Great Red Fox, he walked quietly out of the door and off home.
And that is how the Great Red Fox lost his tail in the trap.
What is the meaning of all this? Why, here it is: When a rogue and another cracks a nut together, it is not often the rogue who breaks his teeth by trying to eat the hulls. And this too: But when one sets a trap for another, it is a toss of a copper whether or no it flies up and pinches his own fingers.
If there is anything more left in the dish you may scrape it for yourself.
07 The Wicked Prince by Hans Christian Andersen
There lived once upon a time a wicked prince whose heart and mind were set upon conquering all the countries of the world, and on frightening the people; he devastated their countries with fire and sword, and his soldiers trod down the crops in the fields and destroyed the peasants’ huts by fire, so that the flames licked the green leaves off the branches, and the fruit hung dried up on the singed black trees. Many a poor mother fled, her naked baby in her arms, behind the still smoking walls of her cottage; but also there the soldiers followed her, and when they found her, she served as new nourishment to their diabolical enjoyments; demons could not possibly have done worse things than these soldiers! The prince was of opinion that all this was right, and that it was only the natural course which things ought to take. His power increased day by day, his name was feared by all, and fortune favoured his deeds.
He brought enormous wealth home from the conquered towns, and gradually accumulated in his residence riches which could nowhere be equalled. He erected magnificent palaces, churches, and halls, and all who saw these splendid buildings and great treasures exclaimed admiringly: “What a mighty prince!” But they did not know what endless misery he had brought upon other countries, nor did they hear the sighs and lamentations which rose up from the débris of the destroyed cities.
The prince often looked with delight upon his gold and his magnificent edifices, and thought, like the crowd: “What a mighty prince! But I must have more-much more. No power on earth must equal mine, far less exceed it.”
He made war with all his neighbours, and defeated them. The conquered kings were chained up with golden fetters to his chariot when he drove through the streets of his city. These kings had to kneel at his and his courtiers’ feet when they sat at table, and live on the morsels which they left. At last the prince had his own statue erected on the public places and fixed on the royal palaces; nay, he even wished it to be placed in the churches, on the altars, but in this the priests opposed him, saying: “Prince, you are mighty indeed, but God’s power is much greater than yours; we dare not obey your orders.”
“Well,” said the prince. “Then I will conquer God too.” And in his haughtiness and foolish presumption he ordered a magnificent ship to be constructed, with which he could sail through the air; it was gorgeously fitted out and of many colours; like the tail of a peacock, it was covered with thousands of eyes, but each eye was the barrel of a gun. The prince sat in the centre of the ship, and had only to touch a spring in order to make thousands of bullets fly out in all directions, while the guns were at once loaded again. Hundreds of eagles were attached to this ship, and it rose with the swiftness of an arrow up towards the sun. The earth was soon left far below, and looked, with its mountains and woods, like a cornfield where the plough had made furrows which separated green meadows; soon it looked only like a map with indistinct lines upon it; and at last it entirely disappeared in mist and clouds. Higher and higher rose the eagles up into the air; then God sent one of his numberless angels against the ship. The wicked prince showered thousands of bullets upon him, but they rebounded from his shining wings and fell down like ordinary hailstones. One drop of blood, one single drop, came out of the white feathers of the angel’s wings and fell upon the ship in which the prince sat, burnt into it, and weighed upon it like thousands of hundredweights, dragging it rapidly down to the earth again; the strong wings of the eagles gave way, the wind roared round the prince’s head, and the clouds around-were they formed by the smoke rising up from the burnt cities?-took strange shapes, like crabs many, many miles long, which stretched their claws out after him, and rose up like enormous rocks, from which rolling masses dashed down, and became fire-spitting dragons.
The prince was lying half-dead in his ship, when it sank at last with a terrible shock into the branches of a large tree in the wood.
“I will conquer God!” said the prince. “I have sworn it: my will must be done!”
And he spent seven years in the construction of wonderful ships to sail through the air, and had darts cast from the hardest steel to break the walls of heaven with. He gathered warriors from all countries, so many that when they were placed side by side they covered the space of several miles. They entered the ships and the prince was approaching his own, when God sent a swarm of gnats-one swarm of little gnats. They buzzed round the prince and stung his face and hands; angrily he drew his sword and brandished it, but he only touched the air and did not hit the gnats. Then he ordered his servants to bring costly coverings and wrap him in them, that the gnats might no longer be able to reach him. The servants carried out his orders, but one single gnat had placed itself inside one of the coverings, crept into the prince’s ear and stung him. The place burnt like fire, and the poison entered into his blood. Mad with pain, he tore off the coverings and his clothes too, flinging them far away, and danced about before the eyes of his ferocious soldiers, who now mocked at him, the mad prince, who wished to make war with God, and was overcome by a single little gnat.
08 How the Princess’s Pride was Broken from The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle
There was a princess who was as pretty as a picture, and she was so proud of that that she would not so much as look at a body; all the same, there was no lack of lads who came a-wooing, and who would have liked nothing so much as to have had her for a sweetheart because she was so good-looking. But, no, she would have nothing to do with any of them; this one was too young and that one was too old; this one was too lean and that one was too fat; this one was too little and that one was too big; this one was too dark and that one was too fair. So there was never a white sheep in the whole flock, as one might say.
Now there was one came who was a king in his own country, and a fine one at that. The only blemish about him was a mole on his chin; apart from that he was as fresh as milk and rose leaves.
But when the princess saw him she burst out laughing; “Who would choose a specked apple from the basket?” said she; and that was all the cake the prince bought at that shop, for off he was packed.
But he was not for giving up, not he; he went and dressed himself up in rags and tatters; then back he came again, and not a soul knew him.
Rap! tap! rap!-he knocked at the door, and did they want a stout lad about the place?
Well, yes; they were wanting a gooseherd, and if he liked the place he might have it.
Oh, that fitted his wants like a silk stocking, and the next day he drove the geese up on the hill back of the king’s house, so that they might eat grass where it was fresh and green. By and by he took a golden ball out of his pocket and began tossing it up and catching it, and as he played with it the sun shone on it so that it dazzled one’s eyes to look at it.
The princess sat at her window, and it was not long before she saw it, I can tell you. Dear, dear, but it was a pretty one, the golden ball. The princess would like to have such a plaything, that she would; so she sent one of the maids out to ask whether the gooseherd had a mind to sell it.
Oh, yes, it was for sale, and cheap at that; the princess should have it for the kerchief which she wore about her neck.
Prut! but the lad was a saucy one; that was what the princess said. But, after all, a kerchief was only a kerchief; fetch the gooseherd over and she would give it to him, for she wanted the pretty golden ball for her own, and she would have it if it were to be had.
But, no; the gooseherd would not come at the princess’s bidding. If she wanted to buy the golden ball she must come up on the hill and pay him, for he was not going to leave his flock of geese, and have them waddling into the garden perhaps; that is what the gooseherd said. So the upshot of the matter was that the princess went out with her women, and gave the lad the kerchief up on the hill behind the hedge, and brought back the golden ball with her for her own.
As for the gooseherd he just tied the kerchief around his arm so that everybody might see it; and all the folks said, “Hi! that is the princess’s kerchief.”
The next day, when he drove his flock of geese up on the hill, he took a silver looking-glass and a golden comb out of his pocket and began to comb his hair, and you should have seen how the one and the other glistened in the sun.
It took the princess no longer to see the comb and the looking-glass than it had the golden ball, and then she must and would have them. So she sent one to find whether the lad was of a mind to sell them, for she thought that she had never seen anything so pretty in all of her life before.
“Yes,” said he, “I will sell them, but the princess must come up on the hill back of the hedge and give me the necklace she wears about her neck.”
The princess made a sour enough face at this, but, as the gooseherd would take nothing more nor less than what he had said, she and her maids had to tuck up their dresses and go up on the hill; there she paid him his price, and brought home the silver looking-glass and the golden comb.
The lad clasped the necklace about his throat, and, dear, dear, how all the folks did goggle and stare. “See,” said they, “the princess has been giving the gooseherd the necklace from about her own throat.”
The third day it was a new thing the gooseherd had, for he brought out a musical box with figures on it, dressed up, and looking for all the world like real little men and women. He turned the handle, and when the music played it was sweeter than drops of honey. And all the while the little men and women bowed to one another and went through with a dance, for all the world as though they knew what they were about, and were doing it with their own wits.
Good gracious! how the princess did wonder at the pretty musical box! She must and would have it at any price; but this time it was five-and-twenty kisses that the lad was wanting for his musical box, and he would take nothing more nor less than just that much for it. Moreover, she would have to come up on the hillside and give them to him, for he could not leave his geese even for five-and-twenty kisses.
But you should have seen what a stew the princess was in at this! Five-and-twenty kisses, indeed! And did the fellow think that it was for the likes of her to be kissing a poor gooseherd? He might keep his musical box if that was the price he asked for it; that was what she said.
As for the lad, he just played the music and played the music, and the more the princess heard and saw the more she wanted it. “After all,” said she, at last, “a kiss is only a kiss, and I will be none the poorer for giving one or two of them; I’ll just let him have them, since he will take nothing else.” So off she marched, with all of her maidens, to pay the gooseherd his price, though it was a sour face she made of it, and that is the truth.
Now, somebody had been buzzing in the king’s ear, and had told him that the gooseherd over yonder was wearing the princess’s kerchief and her golden necklace, and folks said she had given them to him of her own free will.
“What!” says the king, “is that so? her kerchief! golden necklace! we will have to look into this business.” So off he marched, with his little dog at his heels, to find out what he could about it. Up the hill he went to where the gooseherd watched his flock; and when he came near the hedge where the kissing was going on, he heard them counting-“Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three-” and he wondered what in the world they were all about. So he just peeped over the bushes, and there he saw the whole business.
Mercy on us! what a rage he was in! So; the princess would turn up her nose at folks as good as herself, would she? And here she was kissing the gooseherd back of the hedge. If he was the kind she liked she should have him for good and all.
So the minister was called in, and the princess and the gooseherd were married then and there, and that was the end of the business. Then off they were packed to shift for themselves in the wide world, for they were not to live at the king’s castle, and that was the long and the short of it.
But the lad did nothing but grumble and growl, and seemed as sore over his bargain as though he had been trying to trick a Jew. What did he want with a lass for a wife who could neither brew nor bake nor boil blue beans? That is what he said. All the same, they were hitched to the same plough, and there was nothing for it but to pull together the best they could. So off they packed, and the poor princess trudged after him and carried his bundle.
So they went on until they came to a poor, mean little hut. There she had to take off her fine clothes and put on rags and tatters; and that was the way she came home.
“Well,” said the gooseherd one day, “it’s not the good end of the bargain that I have had in marrying; all the same, one must make the best one can of a crooked stick when there is none other to be cut in the hedge. It is little or nothing you are fit for: but here is a basket of eggs, and you shall take them to the market and sell them.”
So off the poor princess went to the great town, and stood in the corner of the market with her eggs. By and by there came along a tipsy countryman-tramp! tramp! tramp! As for the basket of eggs, he minded them no more than so many green apples. Smash! and there they lay on the ground, and were fit for nothing but to patch broken promises, as we say in our town.
Then how the poor princess did wring her hands and cry and cry, for she was afraid to go home to her husband, because of the hard words he would be sure to fling at her. All the same, there was no other place for her to go; so back she went.
“There!” said he, “I always knew that you were good for nothing but to look at, and now I am more sure of it than ever. The china pitcher was never fit to send to the well, and it was a rainy day for me when I married such a left-handed wife;” that was what the gooseherd said. All the same, the princess should try again; this time she should take a basket of apples to the market to sell; for whatever happened she could not break them; so off she went again.
Well, by and by came a fellow driving swine, and there sat the princess in the way; that was bad luck for her, for over tumbled the basket, and the apples went rolling all about the street. When the drove had passed there was not a single apple to be seen, for the pigs had eaten every one of them. So there was nothing for the princess but to go home crying, with her apron to her eyes.
“Yes, yes,” said the gooseherd, “it is as plain as reading and writing and the nose on your face that you are just fit for nothing at all! All the same, we’ll make one more try to mend the crack in your luck. The king up in the castle yonder is married and is going to give a grand feast. They are wanting a body in the kitchen to draw the water and chop the wood; and you shall go and try your hand at that; and see, here is a basket; you shall take it along and bring home the kitchen scrapings for supper.”
So off went the princess to the castle kitchen, and there she drew the water and chopped the wood for the cook. After her work was done she begged so prettily for the kitchen scrapings that the cook filled her basket full of the leavings from the pots and the pans, for they were about having a grand dinner up-stairs and the king was going to bring home his wife that day.
By and by it was time for her to be going home, so she picked up her basket and off she went. Just outside stood two tall soldiers. “Halt!” said they. And was she the lass who had been chopping the wood and drawing the water for the cook that day? Yes? Then she must go along with them, for she was wanted up-stairs. No; it did no good for her to beg and to pray and to cry and to wring her hands, and it mattered nothing if her good man was waiting for her at home. She had been sent for, and she must go, willy-nilly. So she had only just time to fling her apron over her basket of kitchen scrapings, and off they marched her.
There sat the king on his golden throne, dressed all in splendid golden robes, and with a golden crown glittering upon his head. But the poor princess was so frightened that she neither looked at anything nor saw anything, but only stood there trembling.
“What have you under your apron?” said the king. But to this the princess could not answer a single word. Then somebody who stood near snatched away her apron, and there was the basket full of kitchen scrapings, and all the time the princess stood so heart-struck with shame that she saw nothing but the cracks in the floor.
But the king stepped down from his golden throne dressed all in his golden robes, just as he was, and took the princess by the hand. “And do you not know me?” said he; “look! I am the gooseherd.”
And so he was! She could see it easily enough now, but that made her more ashamed than ever.
And listen: the king had more to tell her yet. He was the tipsy countryman and had knocked over her basket of eggs himself, and more than that he was the swineherd who had driven his pigs over her basket of apples so that they were spilled on the ground. But the princess only bowed her head lower and lower, for her pride was broken.
“Come,” says the king, “you are my own sweetheart now;” and he kissed her on the cheek and seated her beside himself, and if the princess cried any more the king wiped away her tears with his own pocket-handkerchief. As for the poor and rough clothes in which she was dressed, he thought nothing of them, for they were nothing to him.
That is the end of this story, for everything ends aright in a story worth the telling.
But if the princess was proud and haughty before, she never was again and that is the plain truth, fresh from the churn and no hairs in it, and a lump of it is worth spreading your bread with, I can tell you.
09 The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen
It was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up in the meadows looked beautiful. The stork walking about on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian language, which he had learnt from his mother. The corn-fields and meadows were surrounded by large forests, in the midst of which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about in the country. In a sunny spot stood a pleasant old farm-house close by a deep river, and from the house down to the water side grew great burdock leaves, so high, that under the tallest of them a little child could stand upright. The spot was as wild as the centre of a thick wood. In this snug retreat sat a duck on her nest, watching for her young brood to hatch; she was beginning to get tired of her task, for the little ones were a long time coming out of their shells, and she seldom had any visitors. The other ducks liked much better to swim about in the river than to climb the slippery banks, and sit under a burdock leaf, to have a gossip with her. At length one shell cracked, and then another, and from each egg came a living creature that lifted its head and cried, “Peep, peep.” “Quack, quack,” said the mother, and then they all quacked as well as they could, and looked about them on every side at the large green leaves. Their mother allowed them to look as much as they liked, because green is good for the eyes. “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. Are you all out?” she continued, rising; “No, I declare, the largest egg lies there still. I wonder how long this is to last, I am quite tired of it;” and she seated herself again on the nest.
“Well, how are you getting on?” asked an old duck, who paid her a visit.
“One egg is not hatched yet,” said the duck, “it will not break. But just look at all the others, are they not the prettiest little ducklings you ever saw? They are the image of their father, who is so unkind, he never comes to see.”
“Let me see the egg that will not break,” said the duck; “I have no doubt it is a turkey’s egg. I was persuaded to hatch some once, and after all my care and trouble with the young ones, they were afraid of the water. I quacked and clucked, but all to no purpose. I could not get them to venture in. Let me look at the egg. Yes, that is a turkey’s egg; take my advice, leave it where it is and teach the other children to swim.”
“I think I will sit on it a little while longer,” said the duck; “as I have sat so long already, a few days will be nothing.”
“Please yourself,” said the old duck, and she went away.
At last the large egg broke, and a young one crept forth crying, “Peep, peep.” It was very large and ugly. The duck stared at it and exclaimed, “It is very large and not at all like the others. I wonder if it really is a turkey. We shall soon find it out, however when we go to the water. It must go in, if I have to push it myself.”
On the next day the weather was delightful, and the sun shone brightly on the green burdock leaves, so the mother duck took her young brood down to the water, and jumped in with a splash. “Quack, quack,” cried she, and one after another the little ducklings jumped in. The water closed over their heads, but they came up again in an instant, and swam about quite prettily with their legs paddling under them as easily as possible, and the ugly duckling was also in the water swimming with them.
“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. Quack, quack! come with me now, I will take you into grand society, and introduce you to the farmyard, but you must keep close to me or you may be trodden upon; and, above all, beware of the cat.”
When they reached the farmyard, there was a great disturbance, two families were fighting for an eel’s head, which, after all, was carried off by the cat. “See, children, that is the way of the world,” said the mother duck, whetting her beak, for she would have liked the eel’s head herself. “Come, now, use your legs, and let me see how well you can behave. You must bow your heads prettily to that old duck yonder; she is the highest born of them all, and has Spanish blood, therefore, she is well off. Don’t you see she has a red flag tied to her leg, which is something very grand, and a great honor for a duck; it shows that every one is anxious not to lose her, as she can be recognized both by man and beast. Come, now, don’t turn your toes, a well-bred duckling spreads his feet wide apart, just like his father and mother, in this way; now bend your neck, and say ‘quack.'”
The ducklings did as they were bid, but the other duck stared, and said, “Look, here comes another brood, as if there were not enough of us already! and what a queer looking object one of them is; we don’t want him here,” and then one flew out and bit him in the neck.
“Let him alone,” said the mother; “he is not doing any harm.”
“Yes, but he is so big and ugly,” said the spiteful duck, “and therefore he must be turned out.”
“The others are very pretty children,” said the old duck, with the rag on her leg, “all but that one; I wish his mother could improve him a little.”
“That is impossible, your grace,” replied the mother; “he is not pretty; but he has a very good disposition, and swims as well or even better than the others. I think he will grow up pretty, and perhaps be smaller; he has remained too long in the egg, and therefore his figure is not properly formed;” and then she stroked his neck and smoothed the feathers, saying, “It is a drake, and therefore not of so much consequence. I think he will grow up strong, and able to take care of himself.”
“The other ducklings are graceful enough,” said the old duck. “Now make yourself at home, and if you can find an eel’s head, you can bring it to me.”
And so they made themselves comfortable; but the poor duckling, who had crept out of his shell last of all, and looked so ugly, was bitten and pushed and made fun of, not only by the ducks, but by all the poultry. “He is too big,” they all said, and the turkey cock, who had been born into the world with spurs, and fancied himself really an emperor, puffed himself out like a vessel in full sail, and flew at the duckling, and became quite red in the head with passion, so 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 pecked him, the chickens beat him, and the girl who fed the poultry kicked him with her feet. So at last he ran away, frightening the little birds in the hedge as he flew over the palings.
“They are afraid of me because I am ugly,” he said. So he closed his eyes, and flew still farther, until he came out on a large moor, inhabited by wild ducks. Here he remained the whole night, feeling very tired and sorrowful.
In the morning, when the wild ducks rose in the air, they stared at their new comrade. “What sort of a duck are you?” they all said, coming round him.
He bowed to them, and was as polite as he could be, but he did not reply to their question. “You are exceedingly ugly,” said the wild ducks, “but that will not matter if you do not want to marry one of our family.”
Poor thing! he had no thoughts of marriage; all he wanted was permission to lie among the rushes, and drink some of the water on the moor. After he had been on the moor two days, there came two wild geese, or rather goslings, for they had not been out of the egg long, and were very saucy. “Listen, friend,” said one of them to the duckling, “you are so ugly, that we like you very well. Will you go with us, and become a bird of passage? Not far from here is another moor, in which there are some pretty wild geese, all unmarried. It is a chance for you to get a wife; you may be lucky, ugly as you are.”
“Pop, pop,” sounded in the air, and the two wild geese fell dead among the rushes, and the water was tinged with blood. “Pop, pop,” echoed far and wide in the distance, and whole flocks of wild geese rose up from the rushes. The sound continued from every direction, for the sportsmen surrounded the moor, and some were even seated on branches of trees, overlooking the rushes. The blue smoke from the guns rose like clouds over the dark trees, and as it floated away across the water, a number of sporting dogs bounded in among the rushes, which bent beneath them wherever they went. How they terrified the poor duckling! He turned away his head to hide it under his wing, and at the same moment a large terrible dog passed quite near him. His jaws were open, his tongue hung from his mouth, and his eyes glared fearfully. He thrust his nose close to the duckling, showing his sharp teeth, and then, “splash, splash,” he went into the water without touching him, “Oh,” sighed the duckling, “how thankful I am for being so ugly; even a dog will not bite me.” And so he lay quite still, while the shot rattled through the rushes, and gun after gun was fired over him. It was late in the day before all became quiet, but even then the poor young thing did not dare to move. He waited quietly for several hours, and then, after looking carefully around him, hastened away from the moor as fast as he could. He ran over field and meadow till a storm arose, and he could hardly struggle against it. Towards evening, he reached a poor little cottage that seemed ready to fall, and only remained standing because it could not decide on which side to fall first. The storm continued so violent, that the duckling could go no farther; he sat down by the cottage, and then he noticed that the door was not quite closed in consequence of one of the hinges having given way. There was therefore a narrow opening near the bottom large enough for him to slip through, which he did very quietly, and got a shelter for the night. A woman, a tom cat, and a hen lived in this cottage. The tom cat, whom the mistress called, “My little son,” was a great favorite; he could raise his back, and purr, and could even throw out sparks from his fur if it were stroked the wrong way. The hen had very short legs, so she was called “Chickie short legs.” She laid good eggs, and her mistress loved her as if she had been her own child. In the morning, the strange visitor was discovered, and the tom cat began to purr, and the hen to cluck.
“What is that noise about?” said the old woman, looking round the room, but her sight was not very good; therefore, when she saw the duckling she thought it must be a fat duck, that had strayed from home. “Oh what a prize!” she exclaimed, “I hope it is not a drake, for then I shall have some duck’s eggs. I must wait and see.” So the duckling was allowed to remain on trial for three weeks, but there were no eggs. Now the tom cat was the master of the house, and the hen was mistress, and they always said, “We and the world,” for they believed themselves to be half the world, and the better half too. The duckling thought that others might hold a different opinion on the subject, but the hen would not listen to such doubts. “Can you lay eggs?” she asked. “No.” “Then have the goodness to hold your tongue.” “Can you raise your back, or purr, or throw out sparks?” said the tom cat. “No.” “Then you have no right to express an opinion when sensible people are speaking.” So the duckling sat in a corner, feeling very low spirited, till the sunshine and the fresh air came into the room through the open door, and then he began to feel such a great longing for a swim on the water, that he could not help telling the hen.
“What an absurd idea,” said the hen. “You have nothing else to do, therefore you have foolish fancies. If you could purr or lay eggs, they would pass away.”
“But it is so delightful to swim about on the water,” said the duckling, “and so refreshing to feel it close over your head, while you dive down to the bottom.”
“Delightful, indeed!” said the hen, “why you must be crazy! Ask the cat, he is the cleverest animal I know, ask him how he would like to swim about on the water, or to dive under it, for I will not speak of my own opinion; ask our mistress, the old woman-there is no one in the world more clever than she is. Do you think she would like to swim, or to let the water close over her head?”
“You don’t understand me,” said the duckling.
“We don’t understand you? Who can understand you, I wonder? Do you consider yourself more clever than the cat, or the old woman? I will say nothing of myself. Don’t imagine such nonsense, child, and thank your good fortune that you have been received here. Are you not in a warm room, and in society from which you may learn something. But you are a chatterer, and your company is not very agreeable. Believe me, I speak only for your own good. I may tell you unpleasant truths, but that is a proof of my friendship. I advise you, therefore, to lay eggs, and learn to purr as quickly as possible.”
“I believe I must go out into the world again,” said the duckling.
“Yes, do,” said the hen. So the duckling left the cottage, and soon found water on which it could swim and dive, but was avoided by all other animals, because of its ugly appearance. Autumn came, and the leaves in the forest turned to orange and gold. then, as winter approached, the wind caught them as they fell and whirled them in the cold air. The clouds, heavy with hail and snow-flakes, hung low in the sky, and the raven stood on the ferns crying, “Croak, croak.” It made one shiver with cold to look at him. All this was very sad for the poor little duckling. One evening, just as the sun set amid radiant clouds, there came a large flock of beautiful birds out of the bushes. The duckling had never seen any like them before. They were swans, and they curved their graceful necks, while their soft plumage shown with dazzling whiteness. They uttered a singular cry, as they spread their glorious wings and flew away from those cold regions to warmer countries across the sea. As they mounted higher and higher in the air, the ugly little duckling felt quite a strange sensation as he watched them. He whirled himself in the water like a wheel, stretched out his neck towards them, and uttered a cry so strange that it frightened himself. Could he ever forget those beautiful, happy birds; and when at last they were out of his sight, he dived under the water, and rose again almost beside himself with excitement. He knew not the names of these birds, nor where they had flown, but he felt towards them as he had never felt for any other bird in the world. He was not envious of these beautiful creatures, but wished to be as lovely as they. Poor ugly creature, how gladly he would have lived even with the ducks had they only given him encouragement. The winter grew colder and colder; he was obliged to swim about on the water to keep it from freezing, but every night the space on which he swam became smaller and smaller. At length it froze so hard that the ice in the water crackled as he moved, and the duckling had to paddle with his legs as well as he could, to keep the space from closing up. He became exhausted at last, and lay still and helpless, frozen fast in the ice.
Early in the morning, a peasant, who was passing by, saw what had happened. He broke the ice in pieces with his wooden shoe, and carried the duckling home to his wife. The warmth revived the poor little creature; but when the children wanted to play with him, the duckling thought they would do him some harm; so he started up in terror, fluttered into the milk-pan, and splashed the milk about the room. Then the woman clapped her hands, which frightened him still more. He flew first into the butter-cask, then into the meal-tub, and out again. What a condition he was in! The woman screamed, and struck at him with the tongs; the children laughed and screamed, and tumbled over each other, in their efforts to catch him; but luckily he escaped. The door stood open; the poor creature could just manage to slip out among the bushes, and lie down quite exhausted in the newly fallen snow.
It would be very sad, were I to relate all the misery and privations which the poor little duckling endured during the hard winter; but when it had passed, he found himself lying one morning in a moor, amongst the rushes. He felt the warm sun shining, and heard the lark singing, and saw that all around was beautiful spring. Then the young bird felt that his wings were strong, as he flapped them against his sides, and rose high into the air. They bore him onwards, until he found himself in a large garden, before he well knew how it had happened. The apple-trees were in full blossom, and the fragrant elders bent their long green branches down to the stream which wound round a smooth lawn. Everything looked beautiful, in the freshness of early spring. From a thicket close by came three beautiful white swans, rustling their feathers, and swimming lightly over the smooth water. The duckling remembered the lovely birds, and felt more strangely unhappy than ever.
“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 to the water, and swam towards the beautiful swans. The moment they espied the stranger, they rushed to meet him with outstretched wings.
“Kill me,” said the poor bird; and he bent his head down to the surface of the water, and awaited death.
But what did he see in the clear stream below? His own image; no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan. To be born in a duck’s nest, in a farmyard, is of no consequence to a bird, if it is hatched from a swan’s egg. He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the new-comer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.
Into the garden presently came some little children, and threw bread and cake into the water.
“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.”
Then they threw more bread and cake into the water, and said, “The new one is the most beautiful of all; he is so young and pretty.” And the old swans bowed their heads before him.
Then he felt quite ashamed, and hid his head under his wing; for he did not know what to do, he was so happy, and yet not at all proud. He had been persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all the birds. Even the elder-tree bent down its bows into the water before him, and the sun shone warm and bright. Then he rustled his feathers, curved his slender neck, and cried joyfully, from the depths of his heart, “I never dreamed of such happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling.”