The Portuguese Duck by Hans Christian Andersen
A DUCK once arrived from Portugal. There were some who said she came
from Spain, but that is almost the same thing. At all events, she was
called the Portuguese duck, and she laid eggs, was killed and cooked,
and that was the end of her.
The ducklings which crept forth from her eggs were also called
Portuguese ducks, and about that there may be some question. But of all
the family only one remained in the duck yard, which may be called a
farmyard, since the chickens were admitted to it and the cock strutted
about in a very hostile manner.
He annoys me with his loud crowing, said the Portuguese duck, but
still, he's a handsome bird, there's no denying that, even if he is not
a duck. He ought to moderate his voice, like those little birds who are
singing in the lime trees over there in our neighbor's gardenbut that
is an art only acquired in polite society. How sweetly they sing there;
it is quite a pleasure to listen to them! I call it Portuguese singing.
If I only had such a little singing bird, I'd be as kind and good to
him as a mother, for it's in my Portuguese nature.
While she was speaking, one of the little singing birds came
tumbling head over heels from the roof into the yard. The cat was after
him, but he had escaped from her with a broken wing and so came
fluttering into the yard. That's just like the cat; she's a villain,
said the Portuguese duck. I remember her ways when I had children of
my own. How can such a creature be allowed to live and wander about
upon the roofs? I don't think they allow such things in Portugal.
She pitied the little singing bird, and so did all the other ducks,
who were not Portuguese.
Poor little creature! they said, one after another, as they came
up. We can't sing, certainly; but we have a sounding board, or
something of the kind, within us, though we don't talk about it.
But I can talk, said the Portuguese duck. I'll do something for
the little fellow; it's my duty. So she stepped into the watering
trough and beat her wings upon the water so strongly that the little
bird was nearly drowned. But the duck meant it kindly. That is a good
deed, she said; I hope the others will take example from it.
Tweet, tweet! said the little bird. One of his wings was broken
and he found it difficult to shake himself, but he quite understood
that the bath was meant kindly, so he said, You are very kind-hearted,
madam. But he did not wish for a second bath.
I have never thought about my heart, replied the Portuguese duck;
but I know that I love all my fellow creatures, except the cat, and
nobody can expect me to love her, for she ate up two of my ducklings.
But pray make yourself at home; it is easy to make oneself comfortable.
I myself am from a foreign country, as you may see by my bearing and my
feathery dress. My husband is a native of these parts; he's not of my
race, but I am not proud on that account. If any one here can
understand you, I may say positively that I am that person.
She's quite full of portulak, said a little common duck,
who was witty. All the common ducks considered the word portulak a
good joke, for it sounded like Portugal. They nudged each other and
said, Quack! that was witty!
Then the other ducks began to notice the newcomer. The Portuguese
has certainly a great flow of language, they said to the little bird.
For our part, we don't care to fill our beaks with such long words,
but we sympathize with you quite as much. If we don't do anything else,
we can walk about with you everywhere; that is the best we can do.
You have a lovely voice, said one of the eldest ducks; it must be
a great satisfaction to you to be able to give as much pleasure as you
do. I am certainly no judge of your singing, so I keep my beak shut,
which is better than talking nonsense as others do.
Don't plague him so, interrupted the Portuguese duck; he requires
rest and nursing. My little singing bird, do you wish me to prepare
another bath for you?
Oh, no! no! pray let me be dry, implored the little bird.
The water cure is the only remedy for me when I am not well, said
the Portuguese. Amusement, too, is very beneficial. The fowls from the
neighborhood will soon be here to pay you a visit. There are two
Cochin-Chinese among them; they wear feathers on their legs and are
well educated. They have been brought from a great distance, and
consequently I treat them with greater respect than I do the others.
Then the fowls arrived, and the cock was polite enough to keep from
being rude. You are a real songster, he said, and you do as much
with your little voice as it is possible to do; but more noise and
shrillness is necessary if one wishes others to know who he is.
The two Chinese were quite enchanted with the appearance of the
singing bird. His feathers had been much ruffled by his bath, so that
he seemed to them quite like a tiny Chinese fowl. He's charming, they
said to each other, and began a conversation with him in whispers,
using the most aristocratic Chinese dialect.
We are of the same race as yourself, they said. The ducks, even
the Portuguese, are all aquatic birds, as you must have noticed. You do
not know us yetvery few, even of the fowls, know us or give
themselves the trouble to make our acquaintance, though we were born to
occupy a higher position in society than most of them. But that does
not disturb us; we quietly go our way among them. Their ideas are
certainly not ours, for we look at the bright side of things and only
speak of what is good, although that is sometimes difficult to find
where none exists. Except ourselves and the cock, there is not one in
the yard who can be called talented or polite. It cannot be said even
of the ducks, and we warn you, little bird, not to trust that one
yonder, with the short tail feathers, for she is cunning. Then the
curiously marked one, with the crooked stripes on her wings, is a
mischief-maker and never lets any one have the last word, though she is
always in the wrong. The fat duck yonder speaks evil of every one, and
that is against our principles; if we have nothing good to tell, we
close our beaks. The Portuguese is the only one who has had any
education and with whom we can associate, but she is passionate and
talks too much about Portugal.
I wonder what those two Chinese are whispering about, whispered
one duck to another. They are always doing it, and it annoys me. We
never speak to them.
Now the drake came up, and he thought the little singing bird was a
sparrow. Well, I don't understand the difference, he said; it
appears to me all the same. He's only a plaything, and if people will
have playthings, why let them, I say.
Don't take any notice of what he says, whispered the Portuguese;
he is very well in matters of business, and with him business is
first. Now I shall lie down and have a little rest. It is a duty we owe
to ourselves, so that we shall be nice and fat when we come to be
embalmed with sage and onions and apples.
So she laid herself down in the sun and winked with one eye. She had
a very comfortable place and felt so at ease that she fell asleep. The
little singing bird busied himself for some time with his broken wing,
and at last he too lay down, quite close to his protectress. The sun
shone warm and bright, and he found it a very good place. But the fowls
of the neighborhood were all awake, and, to tell the truth, they had
paid a visit to the duck yard solely to find food for themselves. The
Chinese were the first to leave, and the other fowls soon followed
The witty little duck said of the Portuguese that the old lady was
getting to be quite a doting ducky. All the other ducks laughed at
this. 'Doting ducky,' they whispered; oh, that's too witty! Then
they repeated the joke about portulak and declared it was most
amusing. After that they all lay down to have a nap.
They had been lying asleep for quite a while, when suddenly
something was thrown into the yard for them to eat. It came down with
such a bang that the whole company started up and clapped their wings.
The Portuguese awoke, too, and rushed over to the other side of the
yard. In doing this she trod upon the little singing bird.
Tweet, he cried; you trod very hard upon me, madam.
Well, then, why do you lie in my way? she retorted. You must not
be so touchy. I have nerves of my own, but I do not cry 'Tweet.'
Don't be angry, said the little bird; the 'Tweet' slipped out of
my beak before I knew it.
The Portuguese did not listen to him, but began eating as fast as
she could, and made a good meal. When she had finished she lay down
again, and the little bird, who wished to be amiable, began to sing:
Chirp and twitter,
The dewdrops glitter,
In the hours of sunny spring;
I'll sing my best,
Till I go to rest,
With my head behind my wing.
Now I want rest after my dinner, said the Portuguese. You must
conform to the rules of the place while you are here. I want to sleep
The little bird was quite taken aback, for he meant it kindly. When
madam awoke afterwards, there he stood before her with a little corn he
had found, and laid it at her feet; but as she had not slept well, she
was naturally in a bad temper. Give that to a chicken, she said, and
don't be always standing in my way.
Why are you angry with me? replied the little singing bird; what
have I done?
Done! repeated the Portuguese duck; your mode of expressing
yourself is not very polite. I must call your attention to that fact.
There was sunshine here yesterday, said the little bird, but
to-day it is cloudy and the air is heavy.
You know very little about the weather, I fancy, she retorted;
the day is not over yet. Don't stand there looking so stupid.
But you are looking at me just as the wicked eyes looked when I
fell into the yard yesterday.
Impertinent creature! exclaimed the Portuguese duck. Would you
compare me with the catthat beast of prey? There's not a drop of
malicious blood in me. I've taken your part, and now I'll teach you
better manners. So saying, she made a bite at the little
singing-bird's head, and he fell to the ground dead. Now whatever is
the meaning of this? she said. Could he not bear even such a little
peck as I gave him? Then, certainly, he was not made for this world.
I've been like a mother to him, I know that, for I've a good heart.
Then the cock from the neighboring yard stuck his head in and crowed
with steam-engine power.
You'll kill me with your crowing, she cried. It's all your fault.
He's lost his life, and I'm very near losing mine.
There's not much of him lying there, observed the cock.
Speak of him with respect, said the Portuguese duck, for he had
manners and education, and he could sing. He was affectionate and
gentle, and those are as rare qualities in animals as in those who call
themselves human beings.
Then all the ducks came crowding round the little dead bird. Ducks
have strong passions, whether they feel envy or pity. There was nothing
to envy here, so they all showed a great deal of pity. So also did the
two Chinese. We shall never again have such a singing bird among us;
he was almost a Chinese, they whispered, and then they wept with such
a noisy, clucking sound that all the other fowls clucked too. But the
ducks went about with redder eyes afterwards. We have hearts of our
own, they said; nobody can deny that.
Hearts! repeated the Portuguese. Indeed you havealmost as
tender as the ducks in Portugal.
Let us think of getting something to satisfy our hunger, said the
drake; that's the most important business. If one of our toys is
broken, why, we have plenty more.