THE UGLY DUCKLING 85
bravely on till he got to a small cottage, which seemed too tumbledown for the stones to hold together many hours longer. Even the door only hung upon one hinge, and as the only light in the room sprang from a tiny fire, the duckling edged himself cautiously in, and lay down, under a chair close to the broken door, from which he could get out if necessary. But no one seemed to see him or smell him; so he spent the rest of the night in peace.
Now in the cottage dwelt an old woman, her cat, and a hen; and it was really they, and not she, who were masters of the house. The old woman, who passed all her days in spinning yarn, which she sold at the nearest town, loved both the cat and the hen as her own children, and never contradicted them in any way; so it was their grace, and not hers, that the duckling would have to gain.
It was only next morning, when it grew light, that they noticed their visitor, who stood trembling before them, with his eye on the door ready to escape at any moment. They did not, however, appear very fierce, and the duckling became less afraid as they approached him.
'Can you lay eggs?' asked the hen. And the duckling answered meekly:
'No; I don't know how.' Upon which the hen turned her back, and the cat came forward.
'Can you ruffle your fur when you are angry, or purr when you are pleased?' said she And again the duckling had to admit that he could do nothing but swim, which did not seem of much use to anybody.
So the cat and the hen went straight off to the old woman, who was still in bed.
'Such a useless creature has taken refuge here,' they said. 'It calls itself a duckling; but it can neither lay eggs nor purr! What had we better do with it?'
'Keep it, to be sure!' replied the old woman briskly.