One evening, the sun was just setting in with true splendor when a flock of beautiful large birds appeared out of the bushes. The duckling had never seen anything so beautiful. They were dazzlingly white with long waving necks. They were swans and uttering a peculiar cry. They spread out their magnificent broad wings and flew away from the cold regions toward warmer lands and open seas.
They mounted so high, so very high, and the ugly little duckling became strangely uneasy. He circled around and around in the water like a wheel,craning his neck out into the air after them. Then he uttered the shriek so piercing and so strange that he was quite frightened by himself. Oh, he could not forget those beautiful birds, those happy birds and as soon as they were out of sight. He ducked right down to the bottom and when he came up again, he was quite beside himself. He did not know what the birds were or whered they flew. But all the same, he was more drawn towards them than he had ever been by any creatures before. He did not envy them in the least. How could it occur to him even to wish to be such a marvelous beauty? He wouldnt be thankful if only the ducks would have tolerated him among them, the poor ugly creature.
Early in the morning, a peasant came along and saw him, he went out onto the ice and hammered a hole in it with his heavy wooden shoe, and carried the duckling home to his wife. There, it soon revived. The children wanted to play with it. But the duckling thought they were going to ill use him and rushed in and he frightened to the milk-pan, and the milk spurted out all over the room. The woman shrieked and threw up her hands. Then it flew to the butter-cask and down into the meal-tub and out again. Oh, just imagine what it looked like by this time. The woman screamed and tried to hit it with the tongs, and the children tumbled over one another in trying to catch it, and they screamed with laughter.
By good luck, the door stood open and the duckling flew out among the bushes and the new fallen snow. And it lay there, thoroughly exhausted, but it would be too sad to mention all the privation and misery had to go through during that hard winter. When the sun began to shine warmly again, the duckling was in a marsh, lying among the rushes. The larks were singing, and the beautiful spring had come. Then all at once, it raised its wings and they flapped with much greater strength than before and bore him off vigorously. Before he knew where he was, he found himself in a large garden with the apple trees were in full blossom. And the air was scentedly with lilacs, the long branches of which overhung the indented shores of the lake. Oh, the spring freshness was so delicious. Just in front of him, he saw three beautiful white swans advancing towards him from a thicket. With rustling feathers, they swam lightly over the water. The duckling recognized the majestic birds, and he was overcome by a strange melancholy.
I will fly to them, the royal birds, and they will hack me to pieces because I who am so ugly venture to approach them. But it wont matter. Better to be killed by them than be snacked up by the ducks,pecked by the hens, or spurned by the hen wife, or suffer so much misery in the winter. So he flew into the water and swam towards the stately swans. They saw him and darted toward him with ruffled feathers. Kill me, oh, kill me. said the poor creature. And bowing his head towards the water, he awaited his death. But what did he see? Reflected in the transparent water, he saw below him his own image, but he was no longer a clumsy dark gray bird, ugly and ungainly. He was himself, a swan.