The Golden Duck
Source: Fairy Tales From All Nations
Deep in the bosom of a wood once stood a little cottage, inhabited by
a poor widow. Her name was Jutta, and she had formerly lived in easy
circumstances, but through various misfortunes, without any fault of
her own, she had fallen into poverty.
By the labour of her hands she with difficulty contrived to support
herself, her daughter Adelheid, and the two children of her departed
brother, Henry and Emma. The children, who were good and pious,
especially Henry and Emma, did their utmost to assist her by their
diligence: the girls spun, and the boy helped the old woman to
cultivate the garden, and tended the sheep, whose milk formed the
principal part of their daily sustenance.
One evening they were all sitting together in the little cottage,
whilst a tremendous storm raged without. The rain poured down in
torrents, and flash after flash of lightning followed the thunder,
which broke over the mountains, and seemed as if it would never cease.
The old woman had just sung to the children the song of the
water-sprite who danced with a young maiden till he drew her down into
the abyss, when suddenly they heard a tap at the door. The startled
children huddled close together, but the mother took courage and
opened it, when a soft female voice begged her to give shelter to a
traveller who had been overtaken in the forest by the storm.
The stranger was an elderly woman of a noble and dignified appearance,
but so kind and friendly in her manner that all were anxious to show
her some attention. Whilst the widow was regretting that her poverty
did not allow her to receive such a guest in a more worthy manner,
Henry lighted the fire, and Emma was anxious to kill her favourite
pigeons for her supper, but the lady would not permit this, and took
only a little milk.
The following morning, when Jutta and the children awoke, they were
not a little astonished at beholding, instead of the aged woman who
had entered the hut the night before, a youthful one of superhuman
beauty, arrayed in a magnificent dress which sparkled with diamonds.
"Know," said the stranger to the widow, "that you yesterday received
into your dwelling no mortal, but a fairy; I always try those mortals
whom I desire to benefit, and you have stood the trial. To little Emma
I am especially beholden, because she would yesterday have killed for
my supper what she most values, her pigeons. For this she shall be
gifted. Whenever she weeps, either for joy or sorrow, pearls instead
of tears shall drop from her eyes, and the hairs she combs from her
head shall turn into threads of pure gold. But beware that no ray of
sun ever shine upon her uncovered countenance, for then a great
misfortune will befall her; from henceforth never let her go into the
open air without being covered with a veil."
The beneficent fairy having thus spoken, vanished; but Jutta, who was
desirous to prove the truth of her words, hastily spread a large cloth
on the ground, placed the little maiden on it, and commenced combing
her long fair locks. Immediately the hairs that fell on the cloth
became threads of gold, and when the old woman told the child how rich
and grand she might now become, and what pretty toys she might buy,
she wept for joy, and the most beautiful pearls rolled from her eyes
upon the linen cloth.
The next day the old woman betook herself to the nearest town, sold
the pearls and the threads of gold, and bought a fine veil, without
which Emma was never suffered to leave the house. She often combed the
child's hair several times in the day, telling her all the time the
prettiest tales, which drew from her eyes abundance of tears, either
of pleasure or compassion, so that in a short time Jutta possessed a
considerable treasure in gold and pearls.
At first she sold her treasures to Jews, and received but little for
them, as they believed the goods were stolen. By and by, however, when
she had become possessed of a small landed estate in the district, she
traded with jewellers and goldsmiths, who paid her according to the
value of her goods, and so at length she collected a very considerable
Meanwhile Adelheid and Emma grew into young women. But the increasing
wealth of the old woman, whom her neighbours had formerly known to be
in such straitened circumstances, and who knew not how she had
acquired her riches, gave occasion for envious tongues to utter many
an evil speech against her. Still further were their curiosity and
ill-nature excited by the singular circumstance that Emma always went
about veiled, and under these circumstances, what could be more
natural than that the greater part of them were ready to swear without
hesitation that old Jutta was a vile witch, and ought to be burned?
Now although these evil speeches were unable to do the widow any real
injury, still she was not a little vexed and annoyed when they reached
her ears, or when she perceived that she was looked upon with
suspicious and wondering looks; and finding it impossible by obliging
and friendly conduct, or even by conferring benefits, to win the
hearts of her neighbours, or to stop their calumnies, she preferred to
abandon altogether the place where she had been known in indifferent
circumstances, and to go far away, where her riches would not excite
suspicions against her. She therefore resolved to sell her estate, and
to take up her residence in the city of Prague. In order, however, not
to be too precipitate, she first sent thither her nephew, Henry, that
she might become a little acquainted with their future residence,
before removing from the former one.
So Henry went to the Bohemian capital, and, as he was a personable
youth, had good manners, and was richly provided with money by his
aunt, so that he could live in as good style as any of the nobles of
the land, he soon became on friendly terms with numerous counts and
other illustrious persons. Judging by his personal appearance and
expenditure they took him for one of their own station; nay, one of
them, a young count, became his confidential friend, and, as wine
often unlocks the secrets of the heart, it happened one day that Henry
let out the whole secret concerning his sister, quite forgetting at
the moment his aunt's strict prohibition ever to reveal it.
When the count heard so much of the extraordinary understanding, good
heart, sweetness, and beauty of the young maiden who was possessed of
such wonderful gifts, his heart at once glowed with love for her, and
he said with great warmth:--
"I myself possess a domain of such great value, that I am in no need
of the riches of another; but I have ever desired to have a wife
distinguished above all others for her beauty, virtue, and other rare
gifts; therefore I offer my hand to your sister, and I swear to you
that I will do all in my power that I may call so wonderful a maiden
Henry perceived his indiscretion now that it was too late, and he
could not withstand the earnest entreaties of his friend to obtain for
him the hand of his sister. In order, indeed, to lose no time, the
count immediately caused to be constructed an entirely closed and
well-covered carriage in which to transport Emma to him, without her
being exposed to a breath of air.
Surprising as was his proposal, it was so honourable a one, that,
after a few minutes' reflection, Emma could not think of refusing such
an illustrious and amiable young man as Henry described the count to
be. The brother, therefore, hastened back with the news of her
consent, and the count immediately went to his residence, in order to
make preparations for the reception of his bride, and for a
magnificent bridal entertainment.
During the interval, Emma, accompanied by her mother and Adelheid,
began her journey, and when they had proceeded about half-way, they
came to a great forest. The heat was oppressive, and Emma happened to
draw aside her veil, just as Jutta, in order to look after the
attendants whom the count had sent to escort his bride on the journey,
thoughtlessly opened the door of the carriage. No sooner did a sunbeam
shine on the maiden, than she was suddenly transformed into a golden
duck, flew out of the carriage, and vanished from the sight of her
As soon as the old woman had recovered from her first alarm, she was
greatly troubled how to escape the wrath of the count. They had still
to traverse a considerable portion of the forest. So she sent the
servants who had not perceived the occurrence, under some pretext, to
a village at some distance, and during their absence she covered her
own daughter with Emma's veil. On their return they found the old
woman in the greatest distress; she wrung her hands, and related with
well simulated despair, that having gone with her daughter only a few
steps from the carriage, armed men had surprised them, and carried off
The count's servants, deceived by the despairing words and gestures of
the old woman, searched the forest, in hopes of tracing the robbers,
but as was to be expected, without success. Meanwhile Jutta instructed
her daughter in the part she was to play, in order that she in Emma's
place might become the count's wife. And as she feared she might not
be able to conceal the cheat from Henry, she desired the servants not
to go through Prague, but to take the direct road to the count's
When they arrived, Jutta descended alone from the carriage, carefully
closed it again, and besought the count, that until her niece had
entirely recovered from the fatigue of the journey, he would permit
them both to occupy a chamber from which all daylight could be
excluded, and she forbade at first any visit from the bridegroom.
Impatient as the latter was to see his bride, he yet submitted to this
delay which the old woman so earnestly requested of him. The most
splendid apartments were now thrown open to the mother and daughter,
and the most inner chamber of the suite was so hung with curtains that
no daylight could penetrate. In this room dwelt Jutta with her
daughter, and even Henry, who came to visit his supposed sister, was,
under pretext of her being indisposed, not allowed to enter. As his
aunt, however, provided him with plenty of money, and the merry life
in Prague pleased him better than the retirement of the country, he
soon returned thither.
The count, whom Jutta put off from day to day under various pretexts
from visiting his bride, at length lost patience, and would not be
longer withheld by the gold and pearls which Jutta continually brought
him; he forced his way into the chamber, and clasped Adelheid in his
Although the count could not but remark that Adelheid in no degree
corresponded to the description her brother had given of her, he was
still prepared to fulfil his word, and was therefore married, though
with the greatest privacy, to the false bride. Very shortly, he became
aware that neither her heart nor mind possessed the excellence that
had been represented to him; and in consequence of this discovery,
when he next met his brother-in-law, he overwhelmed him with
reproaches. The contemptuous expressions which the count used
respecting his bride, whom Henry had only known as the loveliest and
most amiable maiden in all Bohemia, so incensed Henry, that he forgot
all the consideration due to the rich and powerful man, and the count,
who, besides this, believed himself to have been deceived by Henry,
caused him to be seized, brought to his castle, and thrown into a deep
The wife of the count, who was also most severely punished for the
crime in which she had taken part, overwhelmed her mother with the
bitterest reproaches. More than once she was on the point of
confessing the fraud to her husband, but he drove her from him, and
would not listen to her.
Whilst these women were thus suffering for their crime, Henry sat in
his dungeon, hopeless of ever recovering his freedom, or of being able
to take vengeance on him who had so unjustly treated him; when one
day, as he lay in despair, a sweet voice reached him, which sang a
song he had often listened to when his sister Emma used to sing it in
The youth, who distinctly recognised his sister's voice, uttered her
name, and on looking upwards, he saw, by the light of the moon, a duck
fluttering before him, whose feathers were of gold, and whose neck was
adorned by a costly row of pearls.
Then said the golden duck to the astonished youth, "I am thy sister
Emma, who, transformed into a golden duck, fly about without a home."
She then related to her brother what had occurred during the journey,
and the deception her aunt had been guilty of. As she thus recounted
her unhappy fate, which constrained her to fly about unprotected, her
life exposed to the snares of the hunters, whilst her beloved brother
was languishing in prison, she wept abundantly; and the tears rolled
about the tower as costly pearls, and golden feathers fell from her,
and glittered on the dark ground.
The brother and sister pitied and tried to console each other. Henry
especially lamented his talkativeness, which had brought all this
misfortune upon them. At day-break the duck flew away, after promising
to visit her brother every night.
After this intercourse had lasted some time, one night she did not
make her appearance, which threw poor Henry into the greatest anxiety,
for he feared she might, for the sake of her precious feathers, have
been caught, or perhaps even killed. Then, for the first time, the
door of his prison was opened; the count's superintendent entered,
announced that he was free, and conducted him to the very same
apartments which he had occupied in happier days.
Before Henry could recover from his surprise, the count himself
entered, tenderly embraced him, and besought his forgiveness for all
the suffering that had been inflicted on him.
The warder of the tower, it appeared, had remarked the golden duck,
and heard with astonishment how she spoke with a human voice, and
conversed with the prisoner; all of which he had disclosed to the
count. The count thus discovered, by listening in secret to their
conversation, the fraud which had imposed the false bride upon him
instead of the true and beautiful one. Vain, however, were his efforts
the following night to get the golden duck into his power; she escaped
from all the attendants who endeavoured to catch her; and snares and
nets and all the artifices they practised, and all the pains they
took, were of no avail.
Then the count entreated the intercession of the brother. Since his
hard fate had robbed him of such an amiable wife, he besought her at
least in her present form to inhabit his castle. It was possible that
his grief, his love, might move the offended fairy to restore her to
her former shape.
Henry freely forgave the count, and promised to make his request known
to his sister the next time she should visit him. Before, however, the
duck's next visit, Adelheid expired, for the reproaches of her
husband, and her own grief and remorse, had brought her to the grave.
As soon as she was dead, the count banished Jutta to a remote place
and forbade her ever to appear in his presence again. With Henry he
lived on his former friendly terms.
Both lived in hopes of the reappearance of the golden duck. Long did
they wait in vain, and they began to fear that the endeavours of the
count to catch her had scared her from the place for ever, when one
afternoon, as Henry was sitting alone in the dining-hall, she flew in
at the window, and began gathering up the scattered crumbs on the
table. How great was the brother's joy! He addressed her by the
tenderest names, stroked her golden feathers, and inquired why she had
remained so long absent.
Then Emma complained of the efforts to catch her, which the count's
servants had made, and threatened never to return should such he
repeated. The entreaty which Henry made in the count's name that she
would dwell in the castle she decidedly rejected; and as she heard a
noise in the adjoining chamber, she hastily flew away.
For a long time the youth hesitated whether he should tell the count
of his sister's visit; as, however, he knew the strong affection of
his friend, and feared he might not refrain from fresh attempts
against the liberty of the golden duck, he resolved to say nothing
about it. But the count had seen the duck fly past, and when Henry
said nothing about it, he conceived mistrust of him, and laid a new
plan to get possession of her.
The following morning, when Emma flew into her brother's chamber, the
window was suddenly closed, the count having fastened a cord to it
from above, and in a few moments he entered the room thinking he had
now made sure of the much-desired prize. But the duck fluttered about,
and made her exit through the keyhole.
Henry was much distressed, for he feared that he should now see his
beloved sister no more, and heaped reproaches on the astonished count,
who returned them to him so liberally, that they separated in mutual
disgust, and Henry resolved to quit the city and wander through the
One day after he had long travelled he found himself in a thick fir
wood, when suddenly a female form of great dignity stood before him,
in whom Henry at once recognised the fairy who had so richly gifted
"Wherefore," said she, with a reproachful look, "didst thou leave the
castle at the time when thy sister's ill fortune, of which thou wert
the cause, was beginning to turn to good? Hasten back immediately,
confirm the count in the remorse for his profligate life which is now
awakening in him, and the golden duck will then be released from her
enchantment. And not only shall she retain the wonderful gifts she has
hitherto possessed, but thenceforth she shall no longer have to fear
air and sun-light."
The fairy disappeared, and Henry returned full of hope to the castle.
On his way thither he met several of the count's servants, who told
him their lord had sent them out with commands not to return until
they found him. For they added, since Henry's departure had left the
count so lonely and forsaken, he had fallen sick through sorrow and
longing after his friend.
When Henry entered the count's chamber, he found him lying on his bed
really ill and unhappy. He comforted him with the fairy's promise, and
the count solemnly vowed that he would never more return to his wild
and sinful mode of life.
Scarcely had he uttered this solemn vow, when the window flew open of
itself, the golden duck flew into the chamber, and, perching on the
bed-post, said, "The period of my trials is completed. I may now
return to my former figure and remain with you for ever."
Then the golden feathers dropped from her body; the long beak rounded
into mouth and chin, above which gazed a pair of lovely eyes; before
they could look round, a wondrously beautiful maiden stood before
them, magnificently habited, and her joy at being re-united to her
brother and her bridegroom drew the purest pearls from her eyes.
At the sight of her the count felt himself at once cured of his
illness, and, a few days after, the nuptial feast was celebrated with
all the pomp and magnificence befitting the high station and great
wealth of the count.
Previous: The Glass Hatchet