The ugly duckling


Le vilain petit canard

It was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up i 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 mids of which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about in the country. In a sunny spot stood a pleasan old farm-house close by a deep river, and from the house down to the water side grew great burdock leaves, s high, that under the tallest of them a little child could stand upright. The spot was as wild as the centre of a thic wood. In this snug retreat sat a duck on her nest, watching for her young brood to hatch; she was beginning to ge tired of her task, for the little ones were a long time coming out of their shells, and she seldom had any visitors. Th other ducks liked much better to swim about in the river than to climb the slippery banks, and sit under a burdoc 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.


"Then have the goodness to hold your tongue."

"Can you raise your back, or purr, or throw out sparks?" said the tom cat.


"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."
Comme il faisait bon dans la campagne! C'était l'été.

Les blés étaient dorés, l'avoine verte, les foins coupés embaumaient, ramassés en tas dans les prairies, et une cigogne marchait sur ses jambes rouges, si fines et si longues et claquait du bec en égyptien (sa mère lui avait appris cette langue-là). Au-delà, des champs et des prairies s'étendaient, puis la forêt aux grands arbres, aux lacs profonds.

En plein soleil, un vieux château s'élevait entouré de fossés, et au pied des murs poussaient des bardanes aux larges feuilles, si hautes que les petits enfants pouvaient se tenir tout debout sous elles. L'endroit était aussi sauvage qu'une épaisse forêt, et c'est là qu'une cane s'était installée pour couver. Elle commençait à s'ennuyer beaucoup. C'était bien long et les visites étaient rares les autres canards préféraient nager dans les fossés plutôt que de s'installer sous les feuilles pour caqueter avec elle. Enfin, un oeuf après l'autre craqua. " Pip, pip ," tous les jaunes d'oeufs étaient vivants et sortaient la tête.

Coin, coin, dit la cane, et les petits se dégageaient de la coquille et regardaient de tous côtés sous les feuilles vertes. La mère les laissait ouvrir leurs yeux très grands, car le vert est bon pour les yeux. Comme le monde est grand, disaient les petits. Ils avaient bien sûr beaucoup plus de place que dans l'oeuf. Croyez-vous que c'est là tout le grand monde? dit leur mère, il s'étend bien loin, de l'autre côté du jardin, jusqu'au champ du pasteur - mais je n'y suis jamais allée. " Etes-vous bien là, tous? " Elle se dressa. " Non, le plus grand oeuf est encore tout entier. Combien de temps va-t-il encore falloir couver? J'en ai par-dessus la tête. "

Et elle se recoucha dessus. Eh bien! comment ça va? demanda une vieille cane qui venait enfin rendre visite. Ça dure et ça dure, avec ce dernier oeuf qui ne veut pas se briser. Mais regardez les autres, je n'ai jamais vu des canetons plus ravissants. Ils ressemblent tous à leur père, ce coquin, qui ne vient même pas me voir. Montre-moi cet oeuf qui ne veut pas craquer, dit la vieille. C'est, sans doute, un oeuf de dinde, j'y ai été prise moi aussi une fois, et j'ai eu bien du mal avec celui-là. Il avait peur de l'eau et je ne pouvais pas obtenir qu'il y aille. J'avais beau courir et crier. Fais-moi voir. Oui, c'est un oeuf de dinde, sûrement. Laisse-le et apprends aux autres enfants à nager. Je veux tout de même le couver encore un peu, dit la mère.

Maintenant que j'y suis depuis longtemps. Fais comme tu veux, dit la vieille, et elle s'en alla. Enfin, l'oeuf se brisa. Pip, pip, dit le petit en roulant dehors. Il était si grand et si laid que la cane étonnée, le regarda. En voilà un énorme caneton, dit-elle, aucun des autres ne lui ressemble. Et si c'était un dindonneau, eh bien, nous allons savoir ça au plus vite. Le lendemain, il faisait un temps splendide. La cane avec toute la famille S'approcha du fossé. Plouf! elle sauta dans l'eau. Coin! coin! commanda-t-elle, et les canetons plongèrent l'un après l'autre, même l'affreux gros gris.

Non, ce n'est pas un dindonneau, s'exclama la mère.Voyez comme il sait se servir de ses pattes et comme il se tient droit. C'est mon petit à moi. Il est même beau quand on le regarde bien. Coin! coin: venez avec moi, je vous conduirai dans le monde et vous présenterai à la cour des canards. Mais tenez- vous toujours près de moi pour qu'on ne vous marche pas dessus, et méfiez-vous du chat. Ils arrivèrent à l'étang des canards où régnait un effroyable vacarme. Deux familles se disputaient une tête d'anguille.

Ce fut le chat qui l'attrapa. Ainsi va le monde! dit la cane en se pourléchant le bec. Elle aussi aurait volontiers mangé la tête d'anguille. Jouez des pattes et tâchez de vous dépêcher et courbez le cou devant la vieille cane, là-bas, elle est la plus importante de nous tous. Elle est de sang espagnol, c'est pourquoi elle est si grosse. Vous voyez qu'elle a un chiffon rouge à la patte, c'est la plus haute distinction pour un canard. Cela signifie qu'on ne veut pas la manger et que chacun doit y prendre garde. Ne mettez pas les pattes en dedans, un caneton bien élevé nage les pattes en dehors comme père et mère. Maintenant, courbez le cou et faites coin!

Les petits obéissaient, mais les canards autour d'eux les regardaient et s'exclamaient à haute voix: Encore une famille de plus, comme si nous n'étions pas déjà assez. Et il y en a un vraiment affreux, celui-là nous n'en voulons pas. Une cane se précipita sur lui et le mordit au cou. Laissez le tranquille, dit la mère. Il ne fait de mal à personne. Non, mais il est trop grand et mal venu. Il a besoin d'être rossé. Elle a de beaux enfants, cette mère! dit la vieille cane au chiffon rouge, tous beaux, à part celui-là: il n'est guère réussi. Si on pouvait seulement recommencer les enfants ratés! Ce n'est pas possible,

Votre Grâce, dit la mère des canetons; il n'est pas beau mais il est très intelligent et il nage bien, aussi bien que les autres, mieux même. J'espère qu'en grandissant il embellira et qu'avec le temps il sera très présentable. Elle lui arracha quelques plumes du cou, puis le lissa: Du reste, c'est un mâle, alors la beauté n'a pas tant d'importance. Les autres sont adorables, dit la vieille. Vous êtes chez vous, et si vous trouvez une tête d'anguille, vous pourrez me l'apporter. Cependant, le pauvre caneton, trop grand, trop laid, était la risée de tous. Les canards et même les poules le bousculaient.

Le dindon - né avec des éperons - et qui se croyait un empereur, gonflait ses plumes comme des voiles. Il se précipitait sur lui en poussant des glouglous de colère. Le pauvre caneton ne savait où se fourrer. La fille de basse-cour lui donnait des coups de pied. Ses frères et soeurs, eux-mêmes, lui criaient: Si seulement le chat pouvait te prendre, phénomène! Et sa mère:

Si seulement tu étais bien loin d'ici! C'en était trop! Le malheureux, d'un grand effort s'envola par- dessus la haie, les petits oiseaux dans les buissons se sauvaient à tire d'aile. "Je suis si laid que je leur fais peur," pensa-t-il en fermant les yeux. Il courut tout de même jusqu'au grand marais où vivaient les canards sauvages. Il tombait de fatigue et de chagrin et resta là toute la nuit. Au matin, les canards en voyant ce nouveau camarade s'écrièrent: Qu'est-ce que c'est que celui-là? Notre ami se tournait de droite et de gauche, et saluait tant qu'il pouvait. Tu es affreux, lui dirent les canards sauvages, mais cela nous est bien égal pourvu que tu n'épouses personne de notre famille.

Il ne songeait guère à se marier, le pauvre! Si seulement on lui permettait de coucher dans les roseaux et de boire l'eau du marais. Il resta là deux jours. Vinrent deux oies sauvages, deux jars plutôt, car c'étaient des mâles, il n'y avait pas longtemps qu'ils étaient sortis de l'oeuf et ils étaient très désinvoltes. Ecoute, camarade, dirent-ils, tu es laid, mais tu nous plais. Veux-tu venir avec nous et devenir oiseau migrateur? Dans un marais à côté il y a quelques charmantes oiselles sauvages, toutes demoiselles bien capables de dire coin, coin (oui, oui), et laid comme tu es, je parie que tu leur plairas. Au même instant, il entendit Pif! Paf!, les deux jars tombèrent raides morts dans les roseaux, l'eau devint rouge de leur sang.

Toute la troupe s'égailla et les fusils claquèrent de nouveau. Des chasseurs passaient, ils cernèrent le marais, il y en avait même grimpés dans les arbres. Les chiens de chasse couraient dans la vase. Platch! Platch! Les roseaux volaient de tous côtés; le pauvre caneton, épouvanté, essayait de cacher sa tête sous son aile quand il vit un immense chien terrifiant, la langue pendante, les yeux étincelants. Son museau, ses dents pointues étaient déjà prêts à le saisir quand - Klap! il partit sans le toucher. Oh! Dieu merci! je suis si laid que même le chien ne veut pas me mordre.

Il se tint tout tranquille pendant que les plombs sifflaient et que les coups de fusils claquaient. Le calme ne revint qu'au milieu du jour, mais le pauvre n'osait pas se lever, il attendit encore de longues heures, puis quittant le marais il courut à travers les champs et les prés, malgré le vent qui l'empêchait presque d'avancer. Vers le soir, il atteignit une pauvre masure paysanne, si misérable qu'elle ne savait pas elle-même de quel côté elle avait envie de tomber, alors elle restait debout provisoirement. Le vent sifflait si fort qu'il fallait au caneton s'asseoir sur sa queue pour lui résister.

Il s'aperçut tout à coup que l'un des gonds de la porte était arraché, ce qui laissait un petit espace au travers duquel il était possible de se glisser dans la cabane. C'est ce qu'il fit. Une vieille paysanne habitait là, avec son chat et sa poule. Le chat pouvait faire le gros dos et ronronner. Il jetait même des étincelles si on le caressait à rebrousse-poil. La poule avait les pattes toutes courtes, elle pondait bien et la femme les aimait tous les deux comme ses enfants. Au matin, ils remarquèrent l'inconnu. Le chat fit "chum" et la poule fit "cotcotcot ." Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça! dit la femme. Elle n'y voyait pas très clair et crut que c'était une grosse cane égarée. " Bonne affaire, pensa-t-elle, je vais avoir des oeufs de cane.

Pourvu que ce ne soit pas un mâle. Nous verrons bien. " Le caneton resta à l'essai, mais on s'aperçut très vite qu'il ne pondait aucun oeuf. Le chat était le maître de la maison et la poule la maîtresse. Ils disaient: " Nous et le monde ," ils pensaient bien en être la moitié, du monde, et la meilleure. Le caneton était d'un autre avis, mais la poule ne supportait pas la contradiction. Sais-tu pondre? demandait-elle. Non. Alors, tais-toi. Et le chat disait: Sais-tu faire le gros dos, ronronner? Non. Alors, n'émets pas des opinions absurdes quand les gens raisonnables parlent. Le caneton, dans son coin, était de mauvaise humeur; il avait une telle nostalgie d'air frais, de soleil, une telle envie de glisser sur l'eau. Il ne put s'empêcher d'en parler à la poule.

Qu'est-ce qui te prend, répondit-elle. Tu n'as rien à faire, alors tu te montes la tête. Tu n'as qu'à pondre ou à ronronner, et cela te passera. C'est si délicieux de glisser sur l'eau, dit le caneton, si exquis quand elle vous passe par-dessus la tête et de plonger jusqu'au fond! En voilà un plaisir, dit la poule. Tu es complètement fou. Demande au chat, qui est l'être le plus intelligent que je connaisse, s'il aime glisser sur l'eau ou plonger la tête dedans. Je ne parle même pas de moi. Demande à notre hôtesse, la vieille paysanne. Il n'y a pas plus intelligent. Crois-tu qu'elle a envie de nager et d'avoir de l'eau par-dessus la tête?

Vous ne me comprenez pas, soupirait le caneton. Alors, si nous ne te comprenons pas, qui est-ce qui te comprendra! Tu ne vas tout de même pas croire que tu es plus malin que le chat ou la femme ... ou moi-même! Remercie plutôt le ciel de ce qu'on a fait pour toi. N'es-tu pas là dans une chambre bien chaude avec des gens capables de t'apprendre quelque chose? Mais tu n'es qu'un vaurien, et il n'y a aucun plaisir à te fréquenter. Remarque que je te veux du bien et si je te dis des choses désagréables, c'est que je suis ton amie. Essaie un peu de pondre ou de ronronner! Je crois que je vais me sauver dans le vaste monde, avoua le caneton. Eh bien! vas-y donc. Il s'en alla.

L'automne vint, les feuilles dans la forêt passèrent du jaune au brun, le vent les faisait voler de tous côtés. L'air était froid, les nuages lourds de grêle et de neige, dans les haies nues les corbeaux croassaient kré! kru! krà! oui, il y avait de quoi grelotter. Le pauvre caneton n'était guère heureux. Un soir, au soleil couchant, un grand vol d'oiseaux sortit des buissons. Jamais le caneton n'en avait vu de si beaux, d'une blancheur si immaculée, avec de longs cous ondulants. Ils ouvraient leurs larges ailes et s'envolaient loin des contrées glacées vers le midi, vers les pays plus chauds, vers la mer ouverte.

Ils volaient si haut, si haut, que le caneton en fut impressionné; il tournait sur l'eau comme une roue, tendait le cou vers le ciel ... il poussa un cri si étrange et si puissant que lui- même en fut effrayé. Jamais il ne pourrait oublier ces oiseaux merveilleux! Lorsqu'ils furent hors de sa vue, il plongea jusqu'au fond de l'eau et quand il remonta à la surface, il était comme hors de lui-même. Il ne savait pas le nom de ces oiseaux ni où ils s'envolaient, mais il les aimait comme il n'avait jamais aimé personne. Il ne les enviait pas, comment aurait-il rêvé de leur ressembler...

L'hiver fut froid, terriblement froid. Il lui fallait nager constamment pour empêcher l'eau de geler autour de lui. Mais, chaque nuit, le trou où il nageait devenait de plus en plus petit. La glace craquait, il avait beau remuer ses pattes, à la fin, épuisé, il resta pris dans la glace. Au matin, un paysan qui passait le vit, il brisa la glace de son sabot et porta le caneton à la maison où sa femme le ranima. Les enfants voulaient jouer avec lui, mais lui croyait qu'ils voulaient lui faire du mal, il s'élança droit dans la terrine de lait éclaboussant toute la pièce; la femme criait et levait les bras au ciel. Alors, il vola dans la baratte où était le beurre et, de là, dans le tonneau à farine. La paysanne le poursuivait avec des pincettes; les enfants se bousculaient pour l'attraper... et ils riaient ... et ils criaient. Heureusement, la porte était ouverte!

Il se précipita sous les buissons, dans la neige molle, et il y resta anéanti. Il serait trop triste de raconter tous les malheurs et les peines qu'il dut endurer en ce long hiver. Pourtant, un jour enfin, le soleil se leva, déjà chaud, et se mit à briller. C'était le printemps. Alors, soudain, il éleva ses ailes qui bruirent et le soulevèrent, et avant qu'il pût s'en rendre compte, il se trouva dans un grand jardin plein de pommiers en fleurs. Là, les lilas embaumaient et leurs longues branches vertes tombaient jusqu'aux fossés. Comme il faisait bon et printanier! Et voilà que, devant lui, sortant des fourrés trois superbes cygnes blancs s'avançaient. Il ébouriffaient leurs plumes et nageaient si légèrement, et il reconnaissait les beaux oiseaux blancs.

Une étrange mélancolie s'empara de lui. Je vais voler jusqu'à eux et ils me battront à mort, moi si laid, d'avoir l'audace de les approcher! Mais tant pis, plutôt mourir par eux que pincé par les canards, piqué par les poules ou par les coups de pied des filles de basse-cour! Il s'élança dans l'eau et nagea vers ces cygnes pleins de noblesse. A son étonnement, ceux-ci, en le voyant, se dirigèrent vers lui. Tuez-moi, dit le pauvre caneton en inclinant la tête vers la surface des eaux. Et il attendit la mort. Mais alors, qu'est-ce qu'il vit, se reflétant sous lui, dans l'eau claire? C'était sa propre image, non plus comme un vilain gros oiseau gris et lourdaud ... il était devenu un cygne!!!

Car il n'y a aucune importance à être né parmi les canards si on a été couvé dans un oeuf de cygne! Il ne regrettait pas le temps des misères et des épreuves puisqu'elles devaient le conduire vers un tel bonheur! Les grands cygnes blancs nageaient autour de lui et le caressaient de leur bec. Quelques enfants approchaient, jetant du pain et des graines. Le plus petit S'écria: - Oh! il y en a un nouveau. Et tous les enfants de s'exclamer et de battre des mains et de danser en appelant père et mère. On lança du pain et des gâteaux dans l'eau. Tous disaient:

" Le nouveau est le plus beau, si jeune et si gracieux. " Les vieux cygnes s'inclinaient devant lui. Il était tout confus, notre petit canard, et cachait sa tête sous l'aile, il ne savait lui-même pourquoi. Il était trop heureux, pas du tout orgueilleux pourtant, car un grand coeur ne connaît pas l'orgueil. Il pensait combien il avait été pourchassé et haï alors qu'il était le même qu'aujourd'hui où on le déclarait le plus beau de tous! Les lilas embaumaient dans la verdure, le chaud soleil étincelait. Alors il gonfla ses plumes, leva vers le ciel son col flexible et de tout son coeur comblé il cria: "Aurais-je pu rêver semblable félicité quand je n'étais que le vilain petit canard!

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