The Farmyard (childhood at home)

26 Mar


by Hans Christian Andersen

I’ve divided the story into three sections:

The farmyard (childhood at home)

He tries to conform (school and his peers)

The wilderness years (the rite of passage)

This is the first section.

It was so beautiful out in the country. It was summer. The oats were still green, but the wheat was turning yellow. Down in the meadow the grass had been cut and made into haystacks; and there the storks walked on their long red legs talking Egyptian, because that was the language they had been taught by their mothers. The fields were enclosed by woods, and hidden among them were little lakes and pools. Yes, it certainly was lovely out there in the country!

The old castle, with its deep moat surrounding it, lay bathed in sunshine. Between the heavy walls and the edge of the moat there was a narrow strip of land covered by a whole forest of burdock plants. Their leaves were large and some of the stalks were so tall that a child could stand upright under them and imagine that he was in the middle of the wild and lonesome woods. Here a duck had built her nest. While she sat waiting for the eggs to hatch, she felt a little sorry for herself because it was taking so long and hardly anybody came to visit her. The other ducks preferred swimming in the moat to sitting under a dock leaf and gossiping.

Finally the eggs began to crack. “Peep …Peep” they said one after another. The egg yolks had become alive and were sticking out their heads.

“Quack…Quack..” said their mother. “Look around you.”

And the ducklings did; they glanced at the green world about them, and that was what their mother wanted them to do, for green was good for their eyes.

“How big the world is!” piped the little ones, for they had much more space to move around in now than they had had inside the egg.

“Do you think that this is the whole world?” quacked their mother. “The world is much larger than this. It stretches as far as the minister’s wheat fields, though I have not been there … Are you all here?”  The duck got up and turned around to look at her nest. “Oh no, the biggest egg hasn’t hatched yet; and I’m so tired of sitting here! I wonder how long it will take?” she wailed, and sat down again.

“What’s new?” asked an old duck who had come visiting.

“One of the eggs is taking so long” complained the mother duck. “It won’t crack. But take a look at the others. They are the sweetest little ducklings you have ever seen; and every one of them looks exactly like their father. That scoundrel hasn’t come to visit me once.”

“Let me look at the egg that won’t hatch,” demanded the old duck. “I am sure that it’s a turkey egg! I was fooled that way once. You can’t imagine what it’s like. Turkeys are afraid of the water. I couldn’t get them to go into it. I quacked and I nipped them, but nothing helped. Let me see that egg! … Yes, it’s a turkey egg. Just let it lie there. You go and teach your young ones how to swim, that’s my advice.”

“I have sat on it so long that I guess I can sit a little longer, at least until they get the hay in.” replied the mother duck.

“Suit yourself.” said the older duck, and went on.

At last the big egg cracked too. “Peep … Peep” said the young one, and tumbled out. He was big and very ugly.

The mother duck looked at him. “He’s awfully big for his age,” she said. “He doesn’t look like any of the others. I wonder if he could be a turkey? Well, we shall soon see. Into the water he will go, even if I have to kick him to make him do it.”

The next day the weather was gloriously beautiful. The sun shone on the forest of burdock plants. The mother duck took her whole brood to the moat. “Quack … Quack..” she ordered.

One after the other, the little ducklings plunged into the water. For a moment their heads disappeared, but then they popped up again and the little ones floated like so many corks. Their legs knew what to do without being told. All of the new brood swam very nicely, even the ugly one.

“He is no turkey” mumbled the mother. “See how beautifully he uses his legs and how straight he holds his neck. He is my own child and, when you look closely at him, he’s quite handsome… Quack! Quack! Follow me and I’ll take you to the henyard and introduce you to everyone. But stay close to me, so that no one steps on you, and look out for the cat.”

They heard an awful noise when they arrived at the henyard. Two families of ducks had got into a fight over the head of an eel. Neither of them got it, for it was swiped by the cat.

“That is the way of the world,” said the mother duck, and licked her bill. She would have liked to have the eel’s head herself. “Walk nicely” she admonished them. “And remember to bow to the old duck over there. She has Spanish blood in her veins and is the most aristocratic fowl here. That is why she is so fat and has a red rag tied around one of her legs. That is the highest mark of distinction a duck can be given. It means so much that she will never be done away with; and all the other fowl and the human beings know who she is. Quack! Quack!… Don’t walk, waddle like well-brought-up ducklings. Keep your legs far apart, just as your mother and father have always done. Bow your heads and say, Quack!” And that was what the little ducklings did.

Other ducks gathered about them and said loudly, “What do we want that gang here for? Aren’t there enough of us already? Pooh! Look how ugly one of them is! He’s the last straw!” And one of the ducks flew over and bit the ugly duckling on the neck.

“Leave him alone!” shouted the mother. “He hasn’t done anyone any harm.”

“He’s big and he doesn’t look like everybody else!” replied the duck who had bitten him. “And that’s reason enough to beat him.”

“Very good-looking children you have,” remarked the duck with the red rag around one of her legs. “All of them are beautiful except one. He didn’t turn out very well. I wish you could make him over again.”

“That’s not possible, Your Grace,” answered the mother duck. “He may not be handsome, but he has a good character and swims as well as the others, if not a little better. Perhaps he will grow handsomer as he grows older and becomes a bit smaller. He was in the egg too long, and that is why he doesn’t have the right shape.” She smoothed his neck for a moment and then added, “Besides, he’s a drake; and it doesn’t matter so much what he looks like. He is strong and I am sure he will be able to take care of himself.”

“Well, the others are nice,” said the old duck. “Make yourself at home, and if you should find an eel’s head, you may bring it to me.”

And they were “at home.”

The poor little duckling, who had been the last to hatch and was so ugly, was bitten and pushed and made fun of both by the hens and by the other ducks. The turkey cock (who had been born with spurs on, and therefore thought he was an emperor) rustled his feathers as if he were a full-rigged ship under sail, and strutted up to the duckling. He gobbled so loudly at him that his own face got all red.

The poor little duckling did not know where to turn. How he grieved over his ugliness, and how sad he was! The poor creature was mocked and laughed at by the whole henyard.

That was the first day; and each day that followed was worse than the one before. The poor duckling was chased and mistreated by everyone, even his own sisters and brothers, who quacked again and again, “If only the cat would get you, you ugly thing!”

Even his mother said, “I wish you were far away.” The other ducks bit him and the hens pecked at him. The little girl who came to feed the fowls kicked him.

At last the duckling ran away. He flew over the tops of the bushes, frightening all the little birds so that they flew up into the air. “They, too, think I am ugly.” Thought the duckling, and closed his eyes – but he kept on running.

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