The Ugly Duckling
It was the tired hour of noon. It was so hot, and the farm was like an oven. Only the sparrows were twittering in the shade of the neem trees. Everything else was quiet and peaceful. Even the farmer was asleep.
However, a mother duck was not sleeping by the pond’s side. She was busy sitting on her eggs, which should hatch at any moment.
At last, she heard tap, tap, tap inside the shells. The tapping grew louder, and soon four pretty little ducklings came out.
Just as mother-duck was about to get off her nest, she noticed one egg still left.
“Oh well,” she sighed. “I will have to wait until this one hatch.”
On the pond, all the other ducks and their young were swimming around, enjoying the cool water. But the mother duck was still waiting for that last egg to hatch. “Oh! Do hurry up,” she kept telling it.
Hours later, the egg broke, and out emerged the ugliest duckling you ever saw. So brown and ungainly.
The next day mother duck led her brood into the pond to learn how to swim.
‘Quack, quack, quack,” she said, asking her little ones to follow her as she got into the water. In went, the four ducklings, followed by the ugly duckling.
After the swim, the mother- duck took her little ones to show them to her friends.
The big turkey shook her head in disapproval, saying, “How ugly this one is.”
“But he swims wonderfully well,” mother-duck said. Though secretly, she was rather ashamed of the ugly duckling.
The other animals in the farmyard jeered at the ugly duckling, and even his brothers and sisters pecked at him when the mother duck was not looking.
That night the ugly duckling cried himself to sleep. When he awoke, the stars were still shining. So, dreading another day of jeering and pecking, the nasty duckling waddled away from the farm, along the road to the marshes, and hid in the tall reeds.
Bang! bang! Bang! The ugly duckling nearly jumped out of his feathers. What was going on? Poking his head out of the reeds, he saw two men with smoking guns in their hands.
Bang! Another wild duck fell into the water. Throughout the day, bullets whistled over the head of the poor duckling. “Of all places,” cried the duckling, “Why did I choose this one!”
Finally, silence descended. The hunters had departed, and now, it was pretty safe for the ugly duckling to find a more peaceful refuge.
Carefully looking around, the ugly duckling made off across the marsh, swimming through channels with thick reeds on either side, sometimes waddling through sticky mud. There seemed no end to the journey. Then, as the sun set, the duckling saw a hut nearby.
Tired, hungry, and so frightened, the poor little duckling decided to go to the hut to seek shelter for the night.
The older woman who lived in the hut was poor but kind. Taking pity on the ugly duckling, she let him eat along with her cat and chicken and made a bed of straw for him by the fire.
But the cat and the chicken were unkind to the duckling, so again, he took to the road.
Soon he came to a big wood, and there he found lovely ponds and a river where he could swim to his heart’s content. He was so ugly no other bird or animal would be friendly, but he was pretty happy to be on his own and spent all the summer in this idyllic spot.
Winter came with its icy winds and perishing cold. One evening, shivering with the cold, the ugly duckling saw a flock of noble swans fly overhead. How graceful they looked, and oh! If only he could be like them.
As the winter got more severe, the duckling would undoubtedly have died if a kindly farmer had not taken pity on him. The farmer put the duckling inside his coat and took him home. The warmth of the fire in the farmhouse and the kindness of the farmer’s wife saved his life. The children made him their pet, and the ugly duckling found happiness for the first time in his life.
He stayed on the farm. The duckling felt something swelling his little heart throughout the winter and when spring came. He felt a new power in his wings, which told him he could fly for miles and miles without tiring.
Spreading his wings, the duckling rose into the sky and flew on and on until he saw a lake beneath him and, with a graceful dive, descended on the water. Three lovely swans glided up to him as he was preening his feathers. How he wished he could be like them. In his mind, he wondered if it was worth living to be an ugly duckling.
He felt sure the swans would make fun of his ugliness. But they seemed to like him as they circled him, giving friendly clucks. He felt pretty shy and hung his head.
But wait! Who was this beautiful bird reflected in the water? Someone with a long neck and white plumage just like the swans about him. Could it be…? Yes, it was his reflection. He was a swan.
He was so happy he spun round and round in the water, flapping his giant wings from which rose water sprays made a rainbow in the spring sun.
Soon the news spread around about the new swan. Sparrows perched on the branches of trees twittered their praises; wild ducks swam by in silent admiration, and geese honked their good wishes as they flew overhead.
But the ugly duckling, now a swan, did not boast of the new beauty bestowed upon him. He knew it was foolish to be vain, but his past sufferings made his new happiness all the sweeter.