It matters nothing if one is born in a duck-yard, if one has only lain in a swan’s egg.
— Hans Christian Andersen, “The Ugly Duckling”
(It’s Christmas Eve. The baker’s lame youngest son is sent by his cruel mother to the woods to gather kindling. There he finds a little duck)
* * * * *
When he entered the bakery with a partial load of pine boughs and a small shivering duck to show for his time in the woods, his mother shrieked her dismay. “At least we shall make a meal of the duck,” she said, and made to take the duck from him, but the boy clasped the little duck to him with both hands and limped back from his mother’s reach.
“You shall not!” he cried. “I plucked her for the ice, and I mean to save her.”
His mother shook her head, but the family had food aplenty for that night, and many nights to come. “Try and save her then,” she allowed. “But if she dies, it’s the stewpot for her, and no mistake.”
The baker and his elder sons exchanged grins and chuckles at her threat, for they knew well: once the youngest had the care of anything, be it a rosebush or a kitten or a pot of soup, it could not help but thrive, and he had taken a particular interest in this duck.