[Transcriber's note: The inconsistent orthography of the original is retained in this etext.]
THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES of NILS
TRANSLATED FROM THE SWEDISH BY VELMA SWANSTON HOWARD
Akka from Kebnekaise
The Wonderful Journey of Nils
The Great Crane Dance on Kullaberg
In Rainy Weather
The Stairway with the Three Steps
By Ronneby River
The Trip to Oeland
Oeland's Southern Point
The Big Butterfly
Little Karl's Island
The Legend of Smaland
The Old Peasant Woman
From Taberg to Huskvarna
The Big Bird Lake
The Homespun Cloth
The Story of Karr and Grayskin
The Wind Witch
The Breaking Up of the Ice
Thumbietot and the Bears
Gorgo the Eagle
On Over Gaestrikland
A Day in Haelsingland
A Morning in Angermanland
Westbottom and Lapland
Osa, the Goose Girl, and Little Mats
With the Laplanders
Legends from Haerjedalen
Vermland and Dalsland
The Treasure on the Island
The Journey to Vemminghoeg
Home at Last
The Parting with the Wild Geese
_Some of the purely geographical matter in the Swedish original of the "Further Adventures of Nils" has been eliminated from the English version.
The author has rendered valuable assistance in cutting certain chapters and abridging others. Also, with the author's approval, cuts have been made where the descriptive matter was merely of local interest.
But the story itself is intact.
Sunday, March twentieth.
Once there was a boy. He was—let us say—something like fourteen years old; long and loose-jointed and towheaded. He wasn't good for much, that boy. His chief delight was to eat and sleep; and after that—he liked best to make mischief.
It was a Sunday morning and the boy's parents were getting ready to go to church. The boy sat on the edge of the table, in his shirt sleeves, and thought how lucky it was that both father and mother were going away, and the coast would be clear for a couple of hours. "Good! Now I can take down pop's gun and fire off a shot, without anybody's meddling interference," he said to himself.
But it was almost as if father should have guessed the boy's thoughts, for just as he was on the threshold—ready to start—he stopped short, and turned toward the boy. "Since you won't come to church with mother and me," he said, "the least you can do, is to read the service at home. Will you promise to do so?" "Yes," said the boy, "that I can do easy enough." And he thought, of course, that he wouldn't read any more than he felt like reading.
The boy thought that never had he seen his mother so persistent. In a second she was over by the shelf near the fireplace, and took down Luther's Commentary and laid it on the table, in front of the window—opened at the service for the day. She also opened the New Testament, and placed it beside the Commentary. Finally, she drew up the big arm-chair, which was bought at the parish auction the year before, and which, as a rule, no one but father was permitted to occupy.
The boy sat thinking that his mother was giving herself altogether too much trouble with this spread; for he had no intention of reading more than a page or so. But now, for the second time, it was almost as if his father were able to see right through him. He walked up to the boy, and said in a severe tone: "Now, remember, that you are to read carefully! For when we come back, I shall question you thoroughly; and if you have skipped a single page, it will not go well with you."
"The service is fourteen and a half pages long," said his mother, just as if she wanted to heap up the measure of his misfortune. "You'll have to sit down and begin the reading at once, if you expect to get through with it."
With that they departed. And as the boy stood in the doorway watching them, he thought that he had been caught in a trap. "There they go congratulating themselves, I suppose, in the belief that they've hit upon something so good that I'll be forced to sit and hang over the sermon the whole time that they are away," thought he.
But his father and mother were certainly not congratulating themselves upon anything of the sort; but, on the contrary, they were very much distressed. They were poor farmers, and their place was not much bigger than a garden-plot. When they first moved there, the place couldn't feed more than one pig and a pair of chickens; but they were uncommonly industrious and capable folk—and now they had both cows and geese. Things had turned out very well for them; and they would have gone to church that beautiful morning—satisfied and happy—if they hadn't had their son to think of. Father complained that he was dull and lazy; he had not cared to learn anything at school, and he was such an all-round good-for-nothing, that he could barely be made to tend geese. Mother did not deny that this was true; but she was most distressed because he was wild and bad; cruel to animals, and ill-willed toward human beings. "May God soften his hard heart, and give him a better disposition!" said the mother, "or else he will be a misfortune, both to himself and to us."
The boy stood for a long time and pondered whether he should read the service or not. Finally, he came to the conclusion that, this time, it was best to be obedient. He seated himself in the easy chair, and began to read. But when he had been rattling away in an undertone for a little while, this mumbling seemed to have a soothing effect upon him—and he began to nod.
It was the most beautiful weather outside! It was only the twentieth of March; but the boy lived in West Vemminghoeg Township, down in Southern Skane, where the spring was already in full swing. It was not as yet green, but it was fresh and budding. There was water in all the trenches, and the colt's-foot on the edge of the ditch was in bloom. All the weeds that grew in among the stones were brown and shiny. The beech-woods in the distance seemed to swell and grow thicker with every second. The skies were high—and a clear blue. The cottage door stood ajar, and the lark's trill could be heard in the room. The hens and geese pattered about in the yard, and the cows, who felt the spring air away in their stalls, lowed their approval every now and then.
The boy read and nodded and fought against drowsiness. "No! I don't want to fall asleep," thought he, "for then I'll not get through with this thing the whole forenoon."
But—somehow—he fell asleep.
He did not know whether he had slept a short while, or a long while; but he was awakened by hearing a slight noise back of him.
On the window-sill, facing the boy, stood a small looking-glass; and almost the entire cottage could be seen in this. As the boy raised his head, he happened to look in the glass; and then he saw that the cover to his mother's chest had been opened.
His mother owned a great, heavy, iron-bound oak chest, which she permitted no one but herself to open. Here she treasured all the things she had inherited from her mother, and of these she was especially careful. Here lay a couple of old-time peasant dresses, of red homespun cloth, with short bodice and plaited shirt, and a pearl-bedecked breast pin. There were starched white-linen head-dresses, and heavy silver ornaments and chains. Folks don't care to go about dressed like that in these days, and several times his mother had thought of getting rid of the old things; but somehow, she hadn't had the heart to do it.
Now the boy saw distinctly—in the glass—that the chest-lid was open. He could not understand how this had happened, for his mother had closed the chest before she went away. She never would have left that precious chest open when he was at home, alone.
He became low-spirited and apprehensive. He was afraid that a thief had sneaked his way into the cottage. He didn't dare to move; but sat still and stared into the looking-glass.
While he sat there and waited for the thief to make his appearance, he began to wonder what that dark shadow was which fell across the edge of the chest. He looked and looked—and did not want to believe his eyes. But the thing, which at first seemed shadowy, became more and more clear to him; and soon he saw that it was something real. It was no less a thing than an elf who sat there—astride the edge of the chest!
To be sure, the boy had heard stories about elves, but he had never dreamed that they were such tiny creatures. He was no taller than a hand's breadth—this one, who sat on the edge of the chest. He had an old, wrinkled and beardless face, and was dressed in a black frock coat, knee-breeches and a broad-brimmed black hat. He was very trim and smart, with his white laces about the throat and wrist-bands, his buckled shoes, and the bows on his garters. He had taken from the chest an embroidered piece, and sat and looked at the old-fashioned handiwork with such an air of veneration, that he did not observe the boy had awakened.
The boy was somewhat surprised to see the elf, but, on the other hand, he was not particularly frightened. It was impossible to be afraid of one who was so little. And since the elf was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he neither saw nor heard, the boy thought that it would be great fun to play a trick on him; to push him over into the chest and shut the lid on him, or something of that kind.
But the boy was not so courageous that he dared to touch the elf with his hands, instead he looked around the room for something to poke him with. He let his gaze wander from the sofa to the leaf-table; from the leaf-table to the fireplace. He looked at the kettles, then at the coffee-urn, which stood on a shelf, near the fireplace; on the water bucket near the door; and on the spoons and knives and forks and saucers and plates, which could be seen through the half-open cupboard door. He looked at his father's gun, which hung on the wall, beside the portrait of the Danish royal family, and on the geraniums and fuchsias, which blossomed in the window. And last, he caught sight of an old butterfly-snare that hung on the window frame. He had hardly set eyes on that butterfly-snare, before he reached over and snatched it and jumped up and swung it alongside the edge of the chest. He was himself astonished at the luck he had. He hardly knew how he had managed it—but he had actually snared the elf. The poor little chap lay, head downward, in the bottom of the long snare, and could not free himself.
The first moment the boy hadn't the least idea what he should do with his prize. He was only particular to swing the snare backward and forward; to prevent the elf from getting a foothold and clambering up.
The elf began to speak, and begged, oh! so pitifully, for his freedom. He had brought them good luck—these many years—he said, and deserved better treatment. Now, if the boy would set him free, he would give him an old coin, a silver spoon, and a gold penny, as big as the case on his father's silver watch.
The boy didn't think that this was much of an offer; but it so happened—that after he had gotten the elf in his power, he was afraid of him. He felt that he had entered into an agreement with something weird and uncanny; something which did not belong to his world, and he was only too glad to get rid of the horrid thing.
For this reason he agreed at once to the bargain, and held the snare still, so the elf could crawl out of it. But when the elf was almost out of the snare, the boy happened to think that he ought to have bargained for large estates, and all sorts of good things. He should at least have made this stipulation: that the elf must conjure the sermon into his head. "What a fool I was to let him go!" thought he, and began to shake the snare violently, so the elf would tumble down again.
But the instant the boy did this, he received such a stinging box on the ear, that he thought his head would fly in pieces. He was dashed—first against one wall, then against the other; he sank to the floor, and lay there—senseless.
When he awoke, he was alone in the cottage. The chest-lid was down, and the butterfly-snare hung in its usual place by the window. If he had not felt how the right cheek burned, from that box on the ear, he would have been tempted to believe the whole thing had been a dream. "At any rate, father and mother will be sure to insist that it was nothing else," thought he. "They are not likely to make any allowances for that old sermon, on account of the elf. It's best for me to get at that reading again," thought he.
But as he walked toward the table, he noticed something remarkable. It couldn't be possible that the cottage had grown. But why was he obliged to take so many more steps than usual to get to the table? And what was the matter with the chair? It looked no bigger than it did a while ago; but now he had to step on the rung first, and then clamber up in order to reach the seat. It was the same thing with the table. He could not look over the top without climbing to the arm of the chair.
"What in all the world is this?" said the boy. "I believe the elf has bewitched both the armchair and the table—and the whole cottage."
The Commentary lay on the table and, to all appearances, it was not changed; but there must have been something queer about that too, for he could not manage to read a single word of it, without actually standing right in the book itself.
He read a couple of lines, and then he chanced to look up. With that, his glance fell on the looking-glass; and then he cried aloud: "Look! There's another one!"
For in the glass he saw plainly a little, little creature who was dressed in a hood and leather breeches.
"Why, that one is dressed exactly like me!" said the boy, and clasped his hands in astonishment. But then he saw that the thing in the mirror did the same thing. Then he began to pull his hair and pinch his arms and swing round; and instantly he did the same thing after him; he, who was seen in the mirror.
The boy ran around the glass several times, to see if there wasn't a little man hidden behind it, but he found no one there; and then he began to shake with terror. For now he understood that the elf had bewitched him, and that the creature whose image he saw in the glass—was he, himself.
THE WILD GEESE
The boy simply could not make himself believe that he had been transformed into an elf. "It can't be anything but a dream—a queer fancy," thought he. "If I wait a few moments, I'll surely be turned back into a human being again."
He placed himself before the glass and closed his eyes. He opened them again after a couple of minutes, and then expected to find that it had all passed over—but it hadn't. He was—and remained—just as little. In other respects, he was the same as before. The thin, straw-coloured hair; the freckles across his nose; the patches on his leather breeches and the darns on his stockings, were all like themselves, with this exception—that they had become diminished.
No, it would do no good for him to stand still and wait, of this he was certain. He must try something else. And he thought the wisest thing that he could do was to try and find the elf, and make his peace with him.
And while he sought, he cried and prayed and promised everything he could think of. Nevermore would he break his word to anyone; never again would he be naughty; and never, never would he fall asleep again over the sermon. If he might only be a human being once more, he would be such a good and helpful and obedient boy. But no matter how much he promised—it did not help him the least little bit.
Suddenly he remembered that he had heard his mother say, all the tiny folk made their home in the cowsheds; and, at once, he concluded to go there, and see if he couldn't find the elf. It was a lucky thing that the cottage-door stood partly open, for he never could have reached the bolt and opened it; but now he slipped through without any difficulty.
When he came out in the hallway, he looked around for his wooden shoes; for in the house, to be sure, he had gone about in his stocking-feet. He wondered how he should manage with these big, clumsy wooden shoes; but just then, he saw a pair of tiny shoes on the doorstep. When he observed that the elf had been so thoughtful that he had also bewitched the wooden shoes, he was even more troubled. It was evidently his intention that this affliction should last a long time.
On the wooden board-walk in front of the cottage, hopped a gray sparrow. He had hardly set eyes on the boy before he called out: "Teetee! Teetee! Look at Nils goosey-boy! Look at Thumbietot! Look at Nils Holgersson Thumbietot!"
Instantly, both the geese and the chickens turned and stared at the boy; and then they set up a fearful cackling. "Cock-el-i-coo," crowed the rooster, "good enough for him! Cock-el-i-coo, he has pulled my comb." "Ka, ka, kada, serves him right!" cried the hens; and with that they kept up a continuous cackle. The geese got together in a tight group, stuck their heads together and asked: "Who can have done this? Who can have done this?"
But the strangest thing of all was, that the boy understood what they said. He was so astonished, that he stood there as if rooted to the doorstep, and listened. "It must be because I am changed into an elf," said he. "This is probably why I understand bird-talk."
He thought it was unbearable that the hens would not stop saying that it served him right. He threw a stone at them and shouted:
"Shut up, you pack!"
But it hadn't occurred to him before, that he was no longer the sort of boy the hens need fear. The whole henyard made a rush for him, and formed a ring around him; then they all cried at once: "Ka, ka, kada, served you right! Ka, ka, kada, served you right!"
The boy tried to get away, but the chickens ran after him and screamed, until he thought he'd lose his hearing. It is more than likely that he never could have gotten away from them, if the house cat hadn't come along just then. As soon as the chickens saw the cat, they quieted down and pretended to be thinking of nothing else than just to scratch in the earth for worms.
Immediately the boy ran up to the cat. "You dear pussy!" said he, "you must know all the corners and hiding places about here? You'll be a good little kitty and tell me where I can find the elf."
The cat did not reply at once. He seated himself, curled his tail into a graceful ring around his paws—and stared at the boy. It was a large black cat with one white spot on his chest. His fur lay sleek and soft, and shone in the sunlight. The claws were drawn in, and the eyes were a dull gray, with just a little narrow dark streak down the centre. The cat looked thoroughly good-natured and inoffensive.
"I know well enough where the elf lives," he said in a soft voice, "but that doesn't say that I'm going to tell you about it."
"Dear pussy, you must tell me where the elf lives!" said the boy. "Can't you see how he has bewitched me?"
The cat opened his eyes a little, so that the green wickedness began to shine forth. He spun round and purred with satisfaction before he replied. "Shall I perhaps help you because you have so often grabbed me by the tail?" he said at last.
Then the boy was furious and forgot entirely how little and helpless he was now. "Oh! I can pull your tail again, I can," said he, and ran toward the cat.
The next instant the cat was so changed that the boy could scarcely believe it was the same animal. Every separate hair on his body stood on end. The back was bent; the legs had become elongated; the claws scraped the ground; the tail had grown thick and short; the ears were laid back; the mouth was frothy; and the eyes were wide open and glistened like sparks of red fire.
The boy didn't want to let himself be scared by a cat, and he took a step forward. Then the cat made one spring and landed right on the boy; knocked him down and stood over him—his forepaws on his chest, and his jaws wide apart—over his throat.
The boy felt how the sharp claws sank through his vest and shirt and into his skin; and how the sharp eye-teeth tickled his throat. He shrieked for help, as loudly as he could, but no one came. He thought surely that his last hour had come. Then he felt that the cat drew in his claws and let go the hold on his throat.
"There!" he said, "that will do now. I'll let you go this time, for my mistress's sake. I only wanted you to know which one of us two has the power now."
With that the cat walked away—looking as smooth and pious as he did when he first appeared on the scene. The boy was so crestfallen that he didn't say a word, but only hurried to the cowhouse to look for the elf.
There were not more than three cows, all told. But when the boy came in, there was such a bellowing and such a kick-up, that one might easily have believed that there were at least thirty.
"Moo, moo, moo," bellowed Mayrose. "It is well there is such a thing as justice in this world."
"Moo, moo, moo," sang the three of them in unison. He couldn't hear what they said, for each one tried to out-bellow the others.
The boy wanted to ask after the elf, but he couldn't make himself heard because the cows were in full uproar. They carried on as they used to do when he let a strange dog in on them. They kicked with their hind legs, shook their necks, stretched their heads, and measured the distance with their horns.
"Come here, you!" said Mayrose, "and you'll get a kick that you won't forget in a hurry!"
"Come here," said Gold Lily, "and you shall dance on my horns!"
"Come here, and you shall taste how it felt when you threw your wooden shoes at me, as you did last summer!" bawled Star.
"Come here, and you shall be repaid for that wasp you let loose in my ear!" growled Gold Lily.
Mayrose was the oldest and the wisest of them, and she was the very maddest. "Come here!" said she, "that I may pay you back for the many times that you have jerked the milk pail away from your mother; and for all the snares you laid for her, when she came carrying the milk pails; and for all the tears when she has stood here and wept over you!"
The boy wanted to tell them how he regretted that he had been unkind to them; and that never, never—from now on—should he be anything but good, if they would only tell him where the elf was. But the cows didn't listen to him. They made such a racket that he began to fear one of them would succeed in breaking loose; and he thought that the best thing for him to do was to go quietly away from the cowhouse.
When he came out, he was thoroughly disheartened. He could understand that no one on the place wanted to help him find the elf. And little good would it do him, probably, if the elf were found.
He crawled up on the broad hedge which fenced in the farm, and which was overgrown with briers and lichen. There he sat down to think about how it would go with him, if he never became a human being again. When father and mother came home from church, there would be a surprise for them. Yes, a surprise—it would be all over the land; and people would come flocking from East Vemminghoeg, and from Torp, and from Skerup. The whole Vemminghoeg township would come to stare at him. Perhaps father and mother would take him with them, and show him at the market place in Kivik.
No, that was too horrible to think about. He would rather that no human being should ever see him again.
His unhappiness was simply frightful! No one in all the world was so unhappy as he. He was no longer a human being—but a freak.
Little by little he began to comprehend what it meant—to be no longer human. He was separated from everything now; he could no longer play with other boys, he could not take charge of the farm after his parents were gone; and certainly no girl would think of marrying him.
He sat and looked at his home. It was a little log house, which lay as if it had been crushed down to earth, under the high, sloping roof. The outhouses were also small; and the patches of ground were so narrow that a horse could barely turn around on them. But little and poor though the place was, it was much too good for him now. He couldn't ask for any better place than a hole under the stable floor.
It was wondrously beautiful weather! It budded, and it rippled, and it murmured, and it twittered—all around him. But he sat there with such a heavy sorrow. He should never be happy any more about anything.
Never had he seen the skies as blue as they were to-day. Birds of passage came on their travels. They came from foreign lands, and had travelled over the East sea, by way of Smygahuk, and were now on their way North. They were of many different kinds; but he was only familiar with the wild geese, who came flying in two long rows, which met at an angle.
Several flocks of wild geese had already flown by. They flew very high, still he could hear how they shrieked: "To the hills! Now we're off to the hills!"
When the wild geese saw the tame geese, who walked about the farm, they sank nearer the earth, and called: "Come along! Come along! We're off to the hills!"
The tame geese could not resist the temptation to raise their heads and listen, but they answered very sensibly: "We're pretty well off where we are. We're pretty well off where we are."
It was, as we have said, an uncommonly fine day, with an atmosphere that it must have been a real delight to fly in, so light and bracing. And with each new wild geese-flock that flew by, the tame geese became more and more unruly. A couple of times they flapped their wings, as if they had half a mind to fly along. But then an old mother-goose would always say to them: "Now don't be silly. Those creatures will have to suffer both hunger and cold."
There was a young gander whom the wild geese had fired with a passion for adventure. "If another flock comes this way, I'll follow them," said he.
Then there came a new flock, who shrieked like the others, and the young gander answered: "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I'm coming."
He spread his wings and raised himself into the air; but he was so unaccustomed to flying, that he fell to the ground again.
At any rate, the wild geese must have heard his call, for they turned and flew back slowly to see if he was coming.
"Wait, wait!" he cried, and made another attempt to fly.
All this the boy heard, where he lay on the hedge. "It would be a great pity," thought he, "if the big goosey-gander should go away. It would be a big loss to father and mother if he was gone when they came home from church."
When he thought of this, once again he entirely forgot that he was little and helpless. He took one leap right down into the goose-flock, and threw his arms around the neck of the goosey-gander. "Oh, no! You don't fly away this time, sir!" cried he.
But just about then, the gander was considering how he should go to work to raise himself from the ground. He couldn't stop to shake the boy off, hence he had to go along with him—up in the air.
They bore on toward the heights so rapidly, that the boy fairly gasped. Before he had time to think that he ought to let go his hold around the gander's neck, he was so high up that he would have been killed instantly, if he had fallen to the ground.
The only thing that he could do to make himself a little more comfortable, was to try and get upon the gander's back. And there he wriggled himself forthwith; but not without considerable trouble. And it was not an easy matter, either, to hold himself secure on the slippery back, between two swaying wings. He had to dig deep into feathers and down with both hands, to keep from tumbling to the ground.
THE BIG CHECKED CLOTH
The boy had grown so giddy that it was a long while before he came to himself. The winds howled and beat against him, and the rustle of feathers and swaying of wings sounded like a whole storm. Thirteen geese flew around him, flapping their wings and honking. They danced before his eyes and they buzzed in his ears. He didn't know whether they flew high or low, or in what direction they were travelling.
After a bit, he regained just enough sense to understand that he ought to find out where the geese were taking him. But this was not so easy, for he didn't know how he should ever muster up courage enough to look down. He was sure he'd faint if he attempted it.
The wild geese were not flying very high because the new travelling companion could not breathe in the very thinnest air. For his sake they also flew a little slower than usual.
At last the boy just made himself cast one glance down to earth. Then he thought that a great big rug lay spread beneath him, which was made up of an incredible number of large and small checks.
"Where in all the world am I now?" he wondered.
He saw nothing but check upon check. Some were broad and ran crosswise, and some were long and narrow—all over, there were angles and corners. Nothing was round, and nothing was crooked.
"What kind of a big, checked cloth is this that I'm looking down on?" said the boy to himself without expecting anyone to answer him.
But instantly the wild geese who flew about him called out: "Fields and meadows. Fields and meadows."
Then he understood that the big, checked cloth he was travelling over was the flat land of southern Sweden; and he began to comprehend why it looked so checked and multi-coloured. The bright green checks he recognised first; they were rye fields that had been sown in the fall, and had kept themselves green under the winter snows. The yellowish-gray checks were stubble-fields—the remains of the oat-crop which had grown there the summer before. The brownish ones were old clover meadows: and the black ones, deserted grazing lands or ploughed-up fallow pastures. The brown checks with the yellow edges were, undoubtedly, beech-tree forests; for in these you'll find the big trees which grow in the heart of the forest—naked in winter; while the little beech-trees, which grow along the borders, keep their dry, yellowed leaves way into the spring. There were also dark checks with gray centres: these were the large, built-up estates encircled by the small cottages with their blackening straw roofs, and their stone-divided land-plots. And then there were checks green in the middle with brown borders: these were the orchards, where the grass-carpets were already turning green, although the trees and bushes around them were still in their nude, brown bark.
The boy could not keep from laughing when he saw how checked everything looked.
But when the wild geese heard him laugh, they called out—kind o' reprovingly: "Fertile and good land. Fertile and good land."
The boy had already become serious. "To think that you can laugh; you, who have met with the most terrible misfortune that can possibly happen to a human being!" thought he. And for a moment he was pretty serious; but it wasn't long before he was laughing again.
Now that he had grown somewhat accustomed to the ride and the speed, so that he could think of something besides holding himself on the gander's back, he began to notice how full the air was of birds flying northward. And there was a shouting and a calling from flock to flock. "So you came over to-day?" shrieked some. "Yes," answered the geese. "How do you think the spring's getting on?" "Not a leaf on the trees and ice-cold water in the lakes," came back the answer.
When the geese flew over a place where they saw any tame, half-naked fowl, they shouted: "What's the name of this place? What's the name of this place?" Then the roosters cocked their heads and answered: "Its name's Lillgarde this year—the same as last year."
Most of the cottages were probably named after their owners—which is the custom in Skane. But instead of saying this is "Per Matssons," or "Ola Bossons," the roosters hit upon the kind of names which, to their way of thinking, were more appropriate. Those who lived on small farms, and belonged to poor cottagers, cried: "This place is called Grainscarce." And those who belonged to the poorest hut-dwellers screamed: "The name of this place is Little-to-eat, Little-to-eat, Little-to-eat."
The big, well-cared-for farms got high-sounding names from the roosters—such as Luckymeadows, Eggberga and Moneyville.
But the roosters on the great landed estates were too high and mighty to condescend to anything like jesting. One of them crowed and called out with such gusto that it sounded as if he wanted to be heard clear up to the sun: "This is Herr Dybeck's estate; the same this year as last year; this year as last year."
A little further on strutted one rooster who crowed: "This is Swanholm, surely all the world knows that!"
The boy observed that the geese did not fly straight forward; but zigzagged hither and thither over the whole South country, just as though they were glad to be in Skane again and wanted to pay their respects to every separate place.
They came to one place where there were a number of big, clumsy-looking buildings with great, tall chimneys, and all around these were a lot of smaller houses. "This is Jordberga Sugar Refinery," cried the roosters. The boy shuddered as he sat there on the goose's back. He ought to have recognised this place, for it was not very far from his home.
Here he had worked the year before as a watch boy; but, to be sure, nothing was exactly like itself when one saw it like that—from up above.
And think! Just think! Osa the goose girl and little Mats, who were his comrades last year! Indeed the boy would have been glad to know if they still were anywhere about here. Fancy what they would have said, had they suspected that he was flying over their heads!
Soon Jordberga was lost to sight, and they travelled towards Svedala and Skaber Lake and back again over Goerringe Cloister and Haeckeberga. The boy saw more of Skane in this one day than he had ever seen before—in all the years that he had lived.
Whenever the wild geese happened across any tame geese, they had the best fun! They flew forward very slowly and called down: "We're off to the hills. Are you coming along? Are you coming along?"
But the tame geese answered: "It's still winter in this country. You're out too soon. Fly back! Fly back!"
The wild geese lowered themselves that they might be heard a little better, and called: "Come along! We'll teach you how to fly and swim."
Then the tame geese got mad and wouldn't answer them with a single honk.
The wild geese sank themselves still lower—until they almost touched the ground—then, quick as lightning, they raised themselves, just as if they'd been terribly frightened. "Oh, oh, oh!" they exclaimed. "Those things were not geese. They were only sheep, they were only sheep."
The ones on the ground were beside themselves with rage and shrieked: "May you be shot, the whole lot o' you! The whole lot o' you!"
When the boy heard all this teasing he laughed. Then he remembered how badly things had gone with him, and he cried. But the next second, he was laughing again.
Never before had he ridden so fast; and to ride fast and recklessly—that he had always liked. And, of course, he had never dreamed that it could be as fresh and bracing as it was, up in the air; or that there rose from the earth such a fine scent of resin and soil. Nor had he ever dreamed what it could be like—to ride so high above the earth. It was just like flying away from sorrow and trouble and annoyances of every kind that could be thought of.
AKKA FROM KEBNEKAISE
The big tame goosey-gander that had followed them up in the air, felt very proud of being permitted to travel back and forth over the South country with the wild geese, and crack jokes with the tame birds. But in spite of his keen delight, he began to tire as the afternoon wore on. He tried to take deeper breaths and quicker wing-strokes, but even so he remained several goose-lengths behind the others.
When the wild geese who flew last, noticed that the tame one couldn't keep up with them, they began to call to the goose who rode in the centre of the angle and led the procession: "Akka from Kebnekaise! Akka from Kebnekaise!" "What do you want of me?" asked the leader. "The white one will be left behind; the white one will be left behind." "Tell him it's easier to fly fast than slow!" called the leader, and raced on as before.
The goosey-gander certainly tried to follow the advice, and increase his speed; but then he became so exhausted that he sank away down to the drooping willows that bordered the fields and meadows.
"Akka, Akka, Akka from Kebnekaise!" cried those who flew last and saw what a hard time he was having. "What do you want now?" asked the leader—and she sounded awfully angry. "The white one sinks to the earth; the white one sinks to the earth." "Tell him it's easier to fly high than low!" shouted the leader, and she didn't slow up the least little bit, but raced on as before.
The goosey-gander tried also to follow this advice; but when he wanted to raise himself, he became so winded that he almost burst his breast.
"Akka, Akka!" again cried those who flew last. "Can't you let me fly in peace?" asked the leader, and she sounded even madder than before.
"The white one is ready to collapse." "Tell him that he who has not the strength to fly with the flock, can go back home!" cried the leader. She certainly had no idea of decreasing her speed—but raced on as before.
"Oh! is that the way the wind blows," thought the goosey-gander. He understood at once that the wild geese had never intended to take him along up to Lapland. They had only lured him away from home in sport.
He felt thoroughly exasperated. To think that his strength should fail him now, so he wouldn't be able to show these tramps that even a tame goose was good for something! But the most provoking thing of all was that he had fallen in with Akka from Kebnekaise. Tame goose that he was, he had heard about a leader goose, named Akka, who was more than a hundred years old. She had such a big name that the best wild geese in the world followed her. But no one had such a contempt for tame geese as Akka and her flock, and gladly would he have shown them that he was their equal.
He flew slowly behind the rest, while he deliberated whether he should turn back or continue. Finally, the little creature that he carried on his back said: "Dear Morten Goosey-gander, you know well enough that it is simply impossible for you, who have never flown, to go with the wild geese all the way up to Lapland. Won't you turn back before you kill yourself?"
But the farmer's lad was about the worst thing the goosey-gander knew anything about, and as soon as it dawned on him that this puny creature actually believed that he couldn't make the trip, he decided to stick it out. "If you say another word about this, I'll drop you into the first ditch we ride over!" said he, and at the same time his fury gave him so much strength that he began to fly almost as well as any of the others.
It isn't likely that he could have kept this pace up very long, neither was it necessary; for, just then, the sun sank quickly; and at sunset the geese flew down, and before the boy and the goosey-gander knew what had happened, they stood on the shores of Vomb Lake.
"They probably intend that we shall spend the night here," thought the boy, and jumped down from the goose's back.
He stood on a narrow beach by a fair-sized lake. It was ugly to look upon, because it was almost entirely covered with an ice-crust that was blackened and uneven and full of cracks and holes—as spring ice generally is.
The ice was already breaking up. It was loose and floating and had a broad belt of dark, shiny water all around it; but there was still enough of it left to spread chill and winter terror over the place.
On the other side of the lake there appeared to be an open and light country, but where the geese had lighted there was a thick pine-growth. It looked as if the forest of firs and pines had the power to bind the winter to itself. Everywhere else the ground was bare; but beneath the sharp pine-branches lay snow that had been melting and freezing, melting and freezing, until it was hard as ice.
The boy thought he had struck an arctic wilderness, and he was so miserable that he wanted to scream. He was hungry too. He hadn't eaten a bite the whole day. But where should he find any food? Nothing eatable grew on either ground or tree in the month of March.
Yes, where was he to find food, and who would give him shelter, and who would fix his bed, and who would protect him from the wild beasts?
For now the sun was away and frost came from the lake, and darkness sank down from heaven, and terror stole forward on the twilight's trail, and in the forest it began to patter and rustle.
Now the good humour which the boy had felt when he was up in the air, was gone, and in his misery he looked around for his travelling companions. He had no one but them to cling to now.
Then he saw that the goosey-gander was having even a worse time of it than he. He was lying prostrate on the spot where he had alighted; and it looked as if he were ready to die. His neck lay flat against the ground, his eyes were closed, and his breathing sounded like a feeble hissing.
"Dear Morten Goosey-Gander," said the boy, "try to get a swallow of water! It isn't two steps to the lake."
But the goosey-gander didn't stir.
The boy had certainly been cruel to all animals, and to the goosey-gander in times gone by; but now he felt that the goosey-gander was the only comfort he had left, and he was dreadfully afraid of losing him.
At once the boy began to push and drag him, to get him into the water, but the goosey-gander was big and heavy, and it was mighty hard work for the boy; but at last he succeeded.
The goosey-gander got in head first. For an instant he lay motionless in the slime, but soon he poked up his head, shook the water from his eyes and sniffed. Then he swam, proudly, between reeds and seaweed.
The wild geese were in the lake before him. They had not looked around for either the goosey-gander or for his rider, but had made straight for the water. They had bathed and primped, and now they lay and gulped half-rotten pond-weed and water-clover.
The white goosey-gander had the good fortune to spy a perch. He grabbed it quickly, swam ashore with it, and laid it down in front of the boy. "Here's a thank you for helping me into the water," said he.
It was the first time the boy had heard a friendly word that day. He was so happy that he wanted to throw his arms around the goosey-gander's neck, but he refrained; and he was also thankful for the gift. At first he must have thought that it would be impossible to eat raw fish, and then he had a notion to try it.
He felt to see if he still had his sheath-knife with him; and, sure enough, there it hung—on the back button of his trousers, although it was so diminished that it was hardly as long as a match. Well, at any rate, it served to scale and cleanse fish with; and it wasn't long before the perch was eaten.
When the boy had satisfied his hunger, he felt a little ashamed because he had been able to eat a raw thing. "It's evident that I'm not a human being any longer, but a real elf," thought he.
While the boy ate, the goosey-gander stood silently beside him. But when he had swallowed the last bite, he said in a low voice: "It's a fact that we have run across a stuck-up goose folk who despise all tame birds."
"Yes, I've observed that," said the boy.
"What a triumph it would be for me if I could follow them clear up to Lapland, and show them that even a tame goose can do things!"
"Y-e-e-s," said the boy, and drawled it out because he didn't believe the goosey-gander could ever do it; yet he didn't wish to contradict him. "But I don't think I can get along all alone on such a journey," said the goosey-gander. "I'd like to ask if you couldn't come along and help me?" The boy, of course, hadn't expected anything but to return to his home as soon as possible, and he was so surprised that he hardly knew what he should reply. "I thought that we were enemies, you and I," said he. But this the goosey-gander seemed to have forgotten entirely. He only remembered that the boy had but just saved his life.
"I suppose I really ought to go home to father and mother," said the boy. "Oh! I'll get you back to them some time in the fall," said the goosey-gander. "I shall not leave you until I put you down on your own doorstep."
The boy thought it might be just as well for him if he escaped showing himself before his parents for a while. He was not disinclined to favour the scheme, and was just on the point of saying that he agreed to it—when they heard a loud rumbling behind them. It was the wild geese who had come up from the lake—all at one time—and stood shaking the water from their backs. After that they arranged themselves in a long row—with the leader-goose in the centre—and came toward them.
As the white goosey-gander sized up the wild geese, he felt ill at ease. He had expected that they should be more like tame geese, and that he should feel a closer kinship with them. They were much smaller than he, and none of them were white. They were all gray with a sprinkling of brown. He was almost afraid of their eyes. They were yellow, and shone as if a fire had been kindled back of them. The goosey-gander had always been taught that it was most fitting to move slowly and with a rolling motion, but these creatures did not walk—they half ran. He grew most alarmed, however, when he looked at their feet. These were large, and the soles were torn and ragged-looking. It was evident that the wild geese never questioned what they tramped upon. They took no by-paths. They were very neat and well cared for in other respects, but one could see by their feet that they were poor wilderness-folk.
The goosey-gander only had time to whisper to the boy: "Speak up quickly for yourself, but don't tell them who you are!"—before the geese were upon them.
When the wild geese had stopped in front of them, they curtsied with their necks many times, and the goosey-gander did likewise many more times. As soon as the ceremonies were over, the leader-goose said: "Now I presume we shall hear what kind of creatures you are."
"There isn't much to tell about me," said the goosey-gander. "I was born in Skanor last spring. In the fall I was sold to Holger Nilsson of West Vemminghoeg, and there I have lived ever since." "You don't seem to have any pedigree to boast of," said the leader-goose. "What is it, then, that makes you so high-minded that you wish to associate with wild geese?" "It may be because I want to show you wild geese that we tame ones may also be good for something," said the goosey-gander. "Yes, it would be well if you could show us that," said the leader-goose. "We have already observed how much you know about flying; but you are more skilled, perhaps, in other sports. Possibly you are strong in a swimming match?" "No, I can't boast that I am," said the goosey-gander. It seemed to him that the leader-goose had already made up her mind to send him home, so he didn't much care how he answered. "I never swam any farther than across a marl-ditch," he continued. "Then I presume you're a crack sprinter," said the goose. "I have never seen a tame goose run, nor have I ever done it myself," said the goosey-gander; and he made things appear much worse than they really were.
The big white one was sure now that the leader-goose would say that under no circumstances could they take him along. He was very much astonished when she said: "You answer questions courageously; and he who has courage can become a good travelling companion, even if he is ignorant in the beginning. What do you say to stopping with us for a couple of days, until we can see what you are good for?" "That suits me!" said the goosey-gander—and he was thoroughly happy.
Thereupon the leader-goose pointed with her bill and said: "But who is that you have with you? I've never seen anything like him before." "That's my comrade," said the goosey-gander. "He's been a goose-tender all his life. He'll be useful all right to take with us on the trip." "Yes, he may be all right for a tame goose," answered the wild one. "What do you call him?" "He has several names," said the goosey-gander—hesitantly, not knowing what he should hit upon in a hurry, for he didn't want to reveal the fact that the boy had a human name. "Oh! his name is Thumbietot," he said at last. "Does he belong to the elf family?" asked the leader-goose. "At what time do you wild geese usually retire?" said the goosey-gander quickly—trying to evade that last question. "My eyes close of their own accord about this time."
One could easily see that the goose who talked with the gander was very old. Her entire feather outfit was ice-gray, without any dark streaks. The head was larger, the legs coarser, and the feet were more worn than any of the others. The feathers were stiff; the shoulders knotty; the neck thin. All this was due to age. It was only upon the eyes that time had had no effect. They shone brighter—as if they were younger—than any of the others!
She turned, very haughtily, toward the goosey-gander. "Understand, Mr. Tame-goose, that I am Akka from Kebnekaise! And that the goose who flies nearest me—to the right—is Iksi from Vassijaure, and the one to the left, is Kaksi from Nuolja! Understand, also, that the second right-hand goose is Kolmi from Sarjektjakko, and the second, left, is Neljae from Svappavaara; and behind them fly Viisi from Oviksfjaellen and Kuusi from Sjangeli! And know that these, as well as the six goslings who fly last—three to the right, and three to the left—are all high mountain geese of the finest breed! You must not take us for land-lubbers who strike up a chance acquaintance with any and everyone! And you must not think that we permit anyone to share our quarters, that will not tell us who his ancestors were."
When Akka, the leader-goose, talked in this way, the boy stepped briskly forward. It had distressed him that the goosey-gander, who had spoken up so glibly for himself, should give such evasive answers when it concerned him. "I don't care to make a secret of who I am," said he. "My name is Nils Holgersson. I'm a farmer's son, and, until to-day, I have been a human being; but this morning—" He got no further. As soon as he had said that he was human the leader-goose staggered three steps backward, and the rest of them even farther back. They all extended their necks and hissed angrily at him.
"I have suspected this ever since I first saw you here on these shores," said Akka; "and now you can clear out of here at once. We tolerate no human beings among us."
"It isn't possible," said the goosey-gander, meditatively, "that you wild geese can be afraid of anyone who is so tiny! By to-morrow, of course, he'll turn back home. You can surely let him stay with us overnight. None of us can afford to let such a poor little creature wander off by himself in the night—among weasels and foxes!"
The wild goose came nearer. But it was evident that it was hard for her to master her fear. "I have been taught to fear everything in human shape—be it big or little," said she. "But if you will answer for this one, and swear that he will not harm us, he can stay with us to-night. But I don't believe our night quarters are suitable either for him or you, for we intend to roost on the broken ice out here."
She thought, of course, that the goosey-gander would be doubtful when he heard this, but he never let on. "She is pretty wise who knows how to choose such a safe bed," said he.
"You will be answerable for his return to his own to-morrow."
"Then I, too, will have to leave you," said the goosey-gander. "I have sworn that I would not forsake him."
"You are free to fly whither you will," said the leader-goose.
With this, she raised her wings and flew out over the ice and one after another the wild geese followed her.
The boy was very sad to think that his trip to Lapland would not come off, and, in the bargain, he was afraid of the chilly night quarters. "It will be worse and worse," said he. "In the first place, we'll freeze to death on the ice."
But the gander was in a good humour. "There's no danger," said he. "Only make haste, I beg of you, and gather together as much grass and litter as you can well carry."
When the boy had his arms full of dried grass, the goosey-gander grabbed him by the shirt-band, lifted him, and flew out on the ice, where the wild geese were already fast asleep, with their bills tucked under their wings.
"Now spread out the grass on the ice, so there'll be something to stand on, to keep me from freezing fast. You help me and I'll help you," said the goosey-gander.
This the boy did. And when he had finished, the goosey-gander picked him up, once again, by the shirt-band, and tucked him under his wing. "I think you'll lie snug and warm there," said the goosey-gander as he covered him with his wing.
The boy was so imbedded in down that he couldn't answer, and he was nice and comfy. Oh, but he was tired!—And in less than two winks he was fast asleep.
It is a fact that ice is always treacherous and not to be trusted. In the middle of the night the loosened ice-cake on Vomb Lake moved about, until one corner of it touched the shore. Now it happened that Mr. Smirre Fox, who lived at this time in Oevid Cloister Park—on the east side of the lake—caught a glimpse of that one corner, while he was out on his night chase. Smirre had seen the wild geese early in the evening, and hadn't dared to hope that he might get at one of them, but now he walked right out on the ice.
When Smirre was very near to the geese, his claws scraped the ice, and the geese awoke, flapped their wings, and prepared for flight. But Smirre was too quick for them. He darted forward as though he'd been shot; grabbed a goose by the wing, and ran toward land again.
But this night the wild geese were not alone on the ice, for they had a human being among them—little as he was. The boy had awakened when the goosey-gander spread his wings. He had tumbled down on the ice and was sitting there, dazed. He hadn't grasped the whys and wherefores of all this confusion, until he caught sight of a little long-legged dog who ran over the ice with a goose in his mouth.
In a minute the boy was after that dog, to try and take the goose away from him. He must have heard the goosey-gander call to him: "Have a care, Thumbietot! Have a care!" But the boy thought that such a little runt of a dog was nothing to be afraid of and he rushed ahead.
The wild goose that Smirre Fox tugged after him, heard the clatter as the boy's wooden shoes beat against the ice, and she could hardly believe her ears. "Does that infant think he can take me away from the fox?" she wondered. And in spite of her misery, she began to cackle right merrily, deep down in her windpipe. It was almost as if she had laughed.
"The first thing he knows, he'll fall through a crack in the ice," thought she.
But dark as the night was, the boy saw distinctly all the cracks and holes there were, and took daring leaps over them. This was because he had the elf's good eyesight now, and could see in the dark. He saw both lake and shore just as clearly as if it had been daylight.
Smirre Fox left the ice where it touched the shore. And just as he was working his way up to the land-edge, the boy shouted: "Drop that goose, you sneak!"
Smirre didn't know who was calling to him, and wasted no time in looking around, but increased his pace. The fox made straight for the forest and the boy followed him, with never a thought of the danger he was running. All he thought about was the contemptuous way in which he had been received by the wild geese; and he made up his mind to let them see that a human being was something higher than all else created.
He shouted, again and again, to that dog, to make him drop his game. "What kind of a dog are you, who can steal a whole goose and not feel ashamed of yourself? Drop her at once! or you'll see what a beating you'll get. Drop her, I say, or I'll tell your master how you behave!"
When Smirre Fox saw that he had been mistaken for a scary dog, he was so amused that he came near dropping the goose. Smirre was a great plunderer who wasn't satisfied with only hunting rats and pigeons in the fields, but he also ventured into the farmyards to steal chickens and geese. He knew that he was feared throughout the district; and anything as idiotic as this he had not heard since he was a baby.
The boy ran so fast that the thick beech-trees appeared to be running past him—backward, but he caught up with Smirre. Finally, he was so close to him that he got a hold on his tail. "Now I'll take the goose from you anyway," cried he, and held on as hard as ever he could, but he hadn't strength enough to stop Smirre. The fox dragged him along until the dry foliage whirled around him.
But now it began to dawn on Smirre how harmless the thing was that pursued him. He stopped short, put the goose on the ground, and stood on her with his forepaws, so she couldn't fly away. He was just about to bite off her neck—but then he couldn't resist the desire to tease the boy a little. "Hurry off and complain to the master, for now I'm going to bite the goose to death!" said he.
Certainly the one who was surprised when he saw what a pointed nose, and heard what a hoarse and angry voice that dog which he was pursuing had,—was the boy! But now he was so enraged because the fox had made fun of him, that he never thought of being frightened. He took a firmer hold on the tail, braced himself against a beech trunk; and just as the fox opened his jaws over the goose's throat, he pulled as hard as he could. Smirre was so astonished that he let himself be pulled backward a couple of steps—and the wild goose got away. She fluttered upward feebly and heavily. One wing was so badly wounded that she could barely use it. In addition to this, she could not see in the night darkness of the forest but was as helpless as the blind. Therefore she could in no way help the boy; so she groped her way through the branches and flew down to the lake again.
Then Smirre made a dash for the boy. "If I don't get the one, I shall certainly have the other," said he; and you could tell by his voice how mad he was. "Oh, don't you believe it!" said the boy, who was in the best of spirits because he had saved the goose. He held fast by the fox-tail, and swung with it—to one side—when the fox tried to catch him.
There was such a dance in that forest that the dry beech-leaves fairly flew! Smirre swung round and round, but the tail swung too; while the boy kept a tight grip on it, so the fox could not grab him.
The boy was so gay after his success that in the beginning, he laughed and made fun of the fox. But Smirre was persevering—as old hunters generally are—and the boy began to fear that he should be captured in the end. Then he caught sight of a little, young beech-tree that had shot up as slender as a rod, that it might soon reach the free air above the canopy of branches which the old beeches spread above it.
Quick as a flash, he let go of the fox-tail and climbed the beech tree. Smirre Fox was so excited that he continued to dance around after his tail.
"Don't bother with the dance any longer!" said the boy.
But Smirre couldn't endure the humiliation of his failure to get the better of such a little tot, so he lay down under the tree, that he might keep a close watch on him.
The boy didn't have any too good a time of it where he sat, astride a frail branch. The young beech did not, as yet, reach the high branch-canopy, so the boy couldn't get over to another tree, and he didn't dare to come down again. He was so cold and numb that he almost lost his hold around the branch; and he was dreadfully sleepy; but he didn't dare fall asleep for fear of tumbling down.
My! but it was dismal to sit in that way the whole night through, out in the forest! He never before understood the real meaning of "night." It was just as if the whole world had become petrified, and never could come to life again.
Then it commenced to dawn. The boy was glad that everything began to look like itself once more; although the chill was even sharper than it had been during the night.
Finally, when the sun got up, it wasn't yellow but red. The boy thought it looked as though it were angry and he wondered what it was angry about. Perhaps it was because the night had made it so cold and gloomy on earth, while the sun was away.
The sunbeams came down in great clusters, to see what the night had been up to. It could be seen how everything blushed—as if they all had guilty consciences. The clouds in the skies; the satiny beech-limbs; the little intertwined branches of the forest-canopy; the hoar-frost that covered the foliage on the ground—everything grew flushed and red. More and more sunbeams came bursting through space, and soon the night's terrors were driven away, and such a marvellous lot of living things came forward. The black woodpecker, with the red neck, began to hammer with its bill on the branch. The squirrel glided from his nest with a nut, and sat down on a branch and began to shell it. The starling came flying with a worm, and the bulfinch sang in the tree-top.
Then the boy understood that the sun had said to all these tiny creatures: "Wake up now, and come out of your nests! I'm here! Now you need be afraid of nothing."
The wild-goose call was heard from the lake, as they were preparing for flight; and soon all fourteen geese came flying through the forest. The boy tried to call to them, but they flew so high that his voice couldn't reach them. They probably believed the fox had eaten him up; and they didn't trouble themselves to look for him.
The boy came near crying with regret; but the sun stood up there—orange-coloured and happy—and put courage into the whole world. "It isn't worth while, Nils Holgersson, for you to be troubled about anything, as long as I'm here," said the sun.
Monday, March twenty-first.
Everything remained unchanged in the forest—about as long as it takes a goose to eat her breakfast. But just as the morning was verging on forenoon, a goose came flying, all by herself, under the thick tree-canopy. She groped her way hesitatingly, between the stems and branches, and flew very slowly. As soon as Smirre Fox saw her, he left his place under the beech tree, and sneaked up toward her. The wild goose didn't avoid the fox, but flew very close to him. Smirre made a high jump for her but he missed her; and the goose went on her way down to the lake.
It was not long before another goose came flying. She took the same route as the first one; and flew still lower and slower. She, too, flew close to Smirre Fox, and he made such a high spring for her, that his ears brushed her feet. But she, too, got away from him unhurt, and went her way toward the lake, silent as a shadow.
A little while passed and then there came another wild goose. She flew still slower and lower; and it seemed even more difficult for her to find her way between the beech-branches. Smirre made a powerful spring! He was within a hair's breadth of catching her; but that goose also managed to save herself.
Just after she had disappeared, came a fourth. She flew so slowly, and so badly, that Smirre Fox thought he could catch her without much effort, but he was afraid of failure now, and concluded to let her fly past—unmolested. She took the same direction the others had taken; and just as she was come right above Smirre, she sank down so far that he was tempted to jump for her. He jumped so high that he touched her with his tail. But she flung herself quickly to one side and saved her life.
Before Smirre got through panting, three more geese came flying in a row. They flew just like the rest, and Smirre made high springs for them all, but he did not succeed in catching any one of them.
After that came five geese; but these flew better than the others. And although it seemed as if they wanted to lure Smirre to jump, he withstood the temptation. After quite a long time came one single goose. It was the thirteenth. This one was so old that she was gray all over, without a dark speck anywhere on her body. She didn't appear to use one wing very well, but flew so wretchedly and crookedly, that she almost touched the ground. Smirre not only made a high leap for her, but he pursued her, running and jumping all the way down to the lake. But not even this time did he get anything for his trouble.
When the fourteenth goose came along, it looked very pretty because it was white. And as its great wings swayed, it glistened like a light, in the dark forest. When Smirre Fox saw this one, he mustered all his resources and jumped half-way up to the tree-canopy. But the white one flew by unhurt like the rest.
Now it was quiet for a moment under the beeches. It looked as if the whole wild-goose-flock had travelled past.
Suddenly Smirre remembered his prisoner and raised his eyes toward the young beech-tree. And just as he might have expected—the boy had disappeared.
But Smirre didn't have much time to think about him; for now the first goose came back again from the lake and flew slowly under the canopy. In spite of all his ill luck, Smirre was glad that she came back, and darted after her with a high leap. But he had been in too much of a hurry, and hadn't taken the time to calculate the distance, and he landed at one side of the goose. Then there came still another goose; then a third; a fourth; a fifth; and so on, until the angle closed in with the old ice-gray one, and the big white one. They all flew low and slow. Just as they swayed in the vicinity of Smirre Fox, they sank down—kind of inviting-like—for him to take them. Smirre ran after them and made leaps a couple of fathoms high—but he couldn't manage to get hold of a single one of them.
It was the most awful day that Smirre Fox had ever experienced. The wild geese kept on travelling over his head. They came and went—came and went. Great splendid geese who had eaten themselves fat on the German heaths and grain fields, swayed all day through the woods, and so close to him that he touched them many times; yet he was not permitted to appease his hunger with a single one of them.
The winter was hardly gone yet, and Smirre recalled nights and days when he had been forced to tramp around in idleness, with not so much as a hare to hunt, when the rats hid themselves under the frozen earth; and when the chickens were all shut up. But all the winter's hunger had not been as hard to endure as this day's miscalculations.
Smirre was no young fox. He had had the dogs after him many a time, and had heard the bullets whizz around his ears. He had lain in hiding, down in the lair, while the dachshunds crept into the crevices and all but found him. But all the anguish that Smirre Fox had been forced to suffer under this hot chase, was not to be compared with what he suffered every time that he missed one of the wild geese.
In the morning, when the play began, Smirre Fox had looked so stunning that the geese were amazed when they saw him. Smirre loved display. His coat was a brilliant red; his breast white; his nose black; and his tail was as bushy as a plume. But when the evening of this day was come, Smirre's coat hung in loose folds. He was bathed in sweat; his eyes were without lustre; his tongue hung far out from his gaping jaws; and froth oozed from his mouth.
In the afternoon Smirre was so exhausted that he grew delirious. He saw nothing before his eyes but flying geese. He made leaps for sun-spots which he saw on the ground; and for a poor little butterfly that had come out of his chrysalis too soon.
The wild geese flew and flew, unceasingly. All day long they continued to torment Smirre. They were not moved to pity because Smirre was done up, fevered, and out of his head. They continued without a let-up, although they understood that he hardly saw them, and that he jumped after their shadows.
When Smirre Fox sank down on a pile of dry leaves, weak and powerless and almost ready to give up the ghost, they stopped teasing him.
"Now you know, Mr. Fox, what happens to the one who dares to come near Akka of Kebnekaise!" they shouted in his ear; and with that they left him in peace.
THE WONDERFUL JOURNEY OF NILS
ON THE FARM
Thursday, March twenty-fourth.
Just at that time a thing happened in Skane which created a good deal of discussion and even got into the newspapers but which many believed to be a fable, because they had not been able to explain it.
It was about like this: A lady squirrel had been captured in the hazelbrush that grew on the shores of Vomb Lake, and was carried to a farmhouse close by. All the folks on the farm—both young and old—were delighted with the pretty creature with the bushy tail, the wise, inquisitive eyes, and the natty little feet. They intended to amuse themselves all summer by watching its nimble movements; its ingenious way of shelling nuts; and its droll play. They immediately put in order an old squirrel cage with a little green house and a wire-cylinder wheel. The little house, which had both doors and windows, the lady squirrel was to use as a dining room and bedroom. For this reason they placed therein a bed of leaves, a bowl of milk and some nuts. The cylinder wheel, on the other hand, she was to use as a play-house, where she could run and climb and swing round.
The people believed that they had arranged things very comfortably for the lady squirrel, and they were astonished because she didn't seem to be contented; but, instead, she sat there, downcast and moody, in a corner of her room. Every now and again, she would let out a shrill, agonised cry. She did not touch the food; and not once did she swing round on the wheel. "It's probably because she's frightened," said the farmer folk. "To-morrow, when she feels more at home, she will both eat and play."
Meanwhile, the women folk on the farm were making preparations for a feast; and just on that day when the lady squirrel had been captured, they were busy with an elaborate bake. They had had bad luck with something: either the dough wouldn't rise, or else they had been dilatory, for they were obliged to work long after dark.
Naturally there was a great deal of excitement and bustle in the kitchen, and probably no one there took time to think about the squirrel, or to wonder how she was getting on. But there was an old grandma in the house who was too aged to take a hand in the baking; this she herself understood, but just the same she did not relish the idea of being left out of the game. She felt rather downhearted; and for this reason she did not go to bed but seated herself by the sitting-room window and looked out.
They had opened the kitchen door on account of the heat; and through it a clear ray of light streamed out on the yard; and it became so well lighted out there that the old woman could see all the cracks and holes in the plastering on the wall opposite. She also saw the squirrel cage which hung just where the light fell clearest. And she noticed how the squirrel ran from her room to the wheel, and from the wheel to her room, all night long, without stopping an instant. She thought it was a strange sort of unrest that had come over the animal; but she believed, of course, that the strong light kept her awake.
Between the cow-house and the stable there was a broad, handsome carriage-gate; this too came within the light-radius. As the night wore on, the old grandma saw a tiny creature, no bigger than a hand's breadth, cautiously steal his way through the gate. He was dressed in leather breeches and wooden shoes like any other working man. The old grandma knew at once that it was the elf, and she was not the least bit frightened. She had always heard that the elf kept himself somewhere about the place, although she had never seen him before; and an elf, to be sure, brought good luck wherever he appeared.
As soon as the elf came into the stone-paved yard, he ran right up to the squirrel cage. And since it hung so high that he could not reach it, he went over to the store-house after a rod; placed it against the cage, and swung himself up—in the same way that a sailor climbs a rope. When he had reached the cage, he shook the door of the little green house as if he wanted to open it; but the old grandma didn't move; for she knew that the children had put a padlock on the door, as they feared that the boys on the neighbouring farms would try to steal the squirrel. The old woman saw that when the boy could not get the door open, the lady squirrel came out to the wire wheel. There they held a long conference together. And when the boy had listened to all that the imprisoned animal had to say to him, he slid down the rod to the ground, and ran out through the carriage-gate.
The old woman didn't expect to see anything more of the elf that night, nevertheless, she remained at the window. After a few moments had gone by, he returned. He was in such a hurry that it seemed to her as though his feet hardly touched the ground; and he rushed right up to the squirrel cage. The old woman, with her far-sighted eyes, saw him distinctly; and she also saw that he carried something in his hands; but what it was she couldn't imagine. The thing he carried in his left hand he laid down on the pavement; but that which he held in his right hand he took with him to the cage. He kicked so hard with his wooden shoes on the little window that the glass was broken. He poked in the thing which he held in his hand to the lady squirrel. Then he slid down again, and took up that which he had laid upon the ground, and climbed up to the cage with that also. The next instant he ran off again with such haste that the old woman could hardly follow him with her eyes.
But now it was the old grandma who could no longer sit still in the cottage; but who, very slowly, went out to the back yard and stationed herself in the shadow of the pump to await the elf's return. And there was one other who had also seen him and had become curious. This was the house cat. He crept along slyly and stopped close to the wall, just two steps away from the stream of light. They both stood and waited, long and patiently, on that chilly March night, and the old woman was just beginning to think about going in again, when she heard a clatter on the pavement, and saw that the little mite of an elf came trotting along once more, carrying a burden in each hand, as he had done before. That which he bore squealed and squirmed. And now a light dawned on the old grandma. She understood that the elf had hurried down to the hazel-grove and brought back the lady squirrel's babies; and that he was carrying them to her so they shouldn't starve to death.
The old grandma stood very still, so as not to disturb them; and it did not look as if the elf had noticed her. He was just going to lay one of the babies on the ground so that he could swing himself up to the cage with the other one—when he saw the house cat's green eyes glisten close beside him. He stood there, bewildered, with a young one in each hand.
He turned around and looked in all directions; then he became aware of the old grandma's presence. Then he did not hesitate long; but walked forward, stretched his arms as high as he could reach, for her to take one of the baby squirrels.
The old grandma did not wish to prove herself unworthy of the confidence, so she bent down and took the baby squirrel, and stood there and held it until the boy had swung himself up to the cage with the other one. Then he came back for the one he had entrusted to her care.
The next morning, when the farm folk had gathered together for breakfast, it was impossible for the old woman to refrain from telling them of what she had seen the night before. They all laughed at her, of course, and said that she had been only dreaming. There were no baby squirrels this early in the year.
But she was sure of her ground, and begged them to take a look into the squirrel cage and this they did. And there lay on the bed of leaves, four tiny half-naked, half blind baby squirrels, who were at least a couple of days old.
When the farmer himself saw the young ones, he said: "Be it as it may with this; but one thing is certain, we, on this farm, have behaved in such a manner that we are shamed before both animals and human beings." And, thereupon, he took the mother squirrel and all her young ones from the cage, and laid them in the old grandma's lap. "Go thou out to the hazel-grove with them," said he, "and let them have their freedom back again!"
It was this event that was so much talked about, and which even got into the newspapers, but which the majority would not credit because they were not able to explain how anything like that could have happened.
Saturday, March twenty-sixth.
Two days later, another strange thing happened. A flock of wild geese came flying one morning, and lit on a meadow down in Eastern Skane not very far from Vittskoevle manor. In the flock were thirteen wild geese, of the usual gray variety, and one white goosey-gander, who carried on his back a tiny lad dressed in yellow leather breeches, green vest, and a white woollen toboggan hood.
They were now very near the Eastern sea; and on the meadow where the geese had alighted the soil was sandy, as it usually is on the sea-coast. It looked as if, formerly, there had been flying sand in this vicinity which had to be held down; for in several directions large, planted pine-woods could be seen.
When the wild geese had been feeding a while, several children came along, and walked on the edge of the meadow. The goose who was on guard at once raised herself into the air with noisy wing-strokes, so the whole flock should hear that there was danger on foot. All the wild geese flew upward; but the white one trotted along on the ground unconcerned. When he saw the others fly he raised his head and called after them: "You needn't fly away from these! They are only a couple of children!"
The little creature who had been riding on his back, sat down upon a knoll on the outskirts of the wood and picked a pine-cone in pieces, that he might get at the seeds. The children were so close to him that he did not dare to run across the meadow to the white one. He concealed himself under a big, dry thistle-leaf, and at the same time gave a warning-cry. But the white one had evidently made up his mind not to let himself be scared. He walked along on the ground all the while; and not once did he look to see in what direction they were going.
Meanwhile, they turned from the path, walked across the field, getting nearer and nearer to the goosey-gander. When he finally did look up, they were right upon him. He was so dumfounded, and became so confused, he forgot that he could fly, and tried to get out of their reach by running. But the children followed, chasing him into a ditch, and there they caught him. The larger of the two stuck him under his arm and carried him off.
When the boy, who lay under the thistle-leaf saw this, he sprang up as if he wanted to take the goosey-gander away from them; then he must have remembered how little and powerless he was, for he threw himself on the knoll and beat upon the ground with his clenched fists.
The goosey-gander cried with all his might for help: "Thumbietot, come and help me! Oh, Thumbietot, come and help me!" The boy began to laugh in the midst of his distress. "Oh, yes! I'm just the right one to help anybody, I am!" said he.
Anyway he got up and followed the goosey-gander. "I can't help him," said he, "but I shall at least find out where they are taking him."
The children had a good start; but the boy had no difficulty in keeping them within sight until they came to a hollow where a brook gushed forth. But here he was obliged to run alongside of it for some little time, before he could find a place narrow enough for him to jump over.
When he came up from the hollow the children had disappeared. He could see their footprints on a narrow path which led to the woods, and these he continued to follow.
Soon he came to a cross-road. Here the children must have separated, for there were footprints in two directions. The boy looked now as if all hope had fled. Then he saw a little white down on a heather-knoll, and he understood that the goosey-gander had dropped this by the wayside to let him know in which direction he had been carried; and therefore he continued his search. He followed the children through the entire wood. The goosey-gander he did not see; but wherever he was likely to miss his way, lay a little white down to put him right.
The boy continued faithfully to follow the bits of down. They led him out of the wood, across a couple of meadows, up on a road, and finally through the entrance of a broad allee. At the end of the allee there were gables and towers of red tiling, decorated with bright borders and other ornamentations that glittered and shone. When the boy saw that this was some great manor, he thought he knew what had become of the goosey-gander. "No doubt the children have carried the goosey-gander to the manor and sold him there. By this time he's probably butchered," he said to himself. But he did not seem to be satisfied with anything less than proof positive, and with renewed courage he ran forward. He met no one in the allee—and that was well, for such as he are generally afraid of being seen by human beings.
The mansion which he came to was a splendid, old-time structure with four great wings which inclosed a courtyard. On the east wing, there was a high arch leading into the courtyard. This far the boy ran without hesitation, but when he got there he stopped. He dared not venture farther, but stood still and pondered what he should do now.
There he stood, with his finger on his nose, thinking, when he heard footsteps behind him; and as he turned around he saw a whole company march up the allee. In haste he stole behind a water-barrel which stood near the arch, and hid himself.
Those who came up were some twenty young men from a folk-high-school, out on a walking tour. They were accompanied by one of the instructors. When they were come as far as the arch, the teacher requested them to wait there a moment, while he went in and asked if they might see the old castle of Vittskoevle.
The newcomers were warm and tired; as if they had been on a long tramp. One of them was so thirsty that he went over to the water-barrel and stooped down to drink. He had a tin box such as botanists use hanging about his neck. He evidently thought that this was in his way, for he threw it down on the ground. With this, the lid flew open, and one could see that there were a few spring flowers in it.
The botanist's box dropped just in front of the boy; and he must have thought that here was his opportunity to get into the castle and find out what had become of the goosey-gander. He smuggled himself quickly into the box and concealed himself as well as he could under the anemones and colt's-foot.
He was hardly hidden before the young man picked the box up, hung it around his neck, and slammed down the cover.
Then the teacher came back, and said that they had been given permission to enter the castle. At first he conducted them no farther than the courtyard. There he stopped and began to talk to them about this ancient structure.
He called their attention to the first human beings who had inhabited this country, and who had been obliged to live in mountain-grottoes and earth-caves; in the dens of wild beasts, and in the brushwood; and that a very long period had elapsed before they learned to build themselves huts from the trunks of trees. And afterward how long had they not been forced to labour and struggle, before they had advanced from the log cabin, with its single room, to the building of a castle with a hundred rooms—like Vittskoevle!
It was about three hundred and fifty years ago that the rich and powerful built such castles for themselves, he said. It was very evident that Vittskoevle had been erected at a time when wars and robbers made it unsafe in Skane. All around the castle was a deep trench filled with water; and across this there had been a bridge in bygone days that could be hoisted up. Over the gate-arch there is, even to this day, a watch-tower; and all along the sides of the castle ran sentry-galleries, and in the corners stood towers with walls a metre thick. Yet the castle had not been erected in the most savage war time; for Jens Brahe, who built it, had also studied to make of it a beautiful and decorative ornament. If they could see the big, solid stone structure at Glimminge, which had been built only a generation earlier, they would readily see that Jans Holgersen Ulfstand, the builder, hadn't figured upon anything else—only to build big and strong and secure, without bestowing a thought upon making it beautiful and comfortable. If they visited such castles as Marsvinsholm, Snogeholm and Oevid's Cloister—which were erected a hundred years or so later—they would find that the times had become less warlike. The gentlemen who built these places, had not furnished them with fortifications; but had only taken pains to provide themselves with great, splendid dwelling houses.