Part 4 out of 9
Fifty crows surrounded him, with bills pointed toward him to guard him.
"Now perhaps I may hear, crows, what your purpose is in carrying me
off", said he. But he was hardly permitted to finish the sentence before
a big crow hissed at him: "Keep still! or I'll bore your eyes out."
It was evident that the crow meant what she said; and there was nothing
for the boy to do but obey. So he sat there and stared at the crows, and
the crows stared at him.
The longer he looked at them, the less he liked them. It was dreadful
how dusty and unkempt their feather dresses were--as though they knew
neither baths nor oiling. Their toes and claws were grimy with dried-in
mud, and the corners of their mouths were covered with food drippings.
These were very different birds from the wild geese--that he observed.
He thought they had a cruel, sneaky, watchful and bold appearance, just
like cut-throats and vagabonds.
"It is certainly a real robber-band that I've fallen in with," thought
Just then he heard the wild geese's call above him. "Where are you? Here
am I. Where are you? Here am I."
He understood that Akka and the others had gone out to search for him;
but before he could answer them the big crow who appeared to be the
leader of the band hissed in his ear: "Think of your eyes!" And there
was nothing else for him to do but to keep still.
The wild geese may not have known that he was so near them, but had just
happened, incidentally, to travel over this forest. He heard their call
a couple of times more, then it died away. "Well, now you'll have to get
along by yourself, Nils Holgersson," he said to himself. "Now you must
prove whether you have learned anything during these weeks in the open."
A moment later the crows gave the signal to break up; and since it was
still their intention, apparently, to carry him along in such a way that
one held on to his shirt-band, and one to a stocking, the boy said: "Is
there not one among you so strong that he can carry me on his back? You
have already travelled so badly with me that I feel as if I were in
pieces. Only let me ride! I'll not jump from the crow's back, that I
"Oh! you needn't think that we care how you have it," said the leader.
But now the largest of the crows--a dishevelled and uncouth one, who had
a white feather in his wing--came forward and said: "It would certainly
be best for all of us, Wind-Rush, if Thumbietot got there whole, rather
than half, and therefore, I shall carry him on my back." "If you can do
it, Fumle-Drumle, I have no objection," said Wind-Rush. "But don't lose
With this, much was already gained, and the boy actually felt pleased
again. "There is nothing to be gained by losing my grit because I have
been kidnapped by the crows," thought he. "I'll surely be able to manage
those poor little things."
The crows continued to fly southwest, over Smaland. It was a glorious
morning--sunny and calm; and the birds down on the earth were singing
their best love songs. In a high, dark forest sat the thrush himself
with drooping wings and swelling throat, and struck up tune after tune.
"How pretty you are! How pretty you are! How pretty you are!" sang he.
"No one is so pretty. No one is so pretty. No one is so pretty." As soon
as he had finished this song, he began it all over again.
But just then the boy rode over the forest; and when he had heard the
song a couple of times, and marked that the thrush knew no other, he put
both hands up to his mouth as a speaking trumpet, and called down:
"We've heard all this before. We've heard all this before." "Who is it?
Who is it? Who is it? Who makes fun of me?" asked the thrush, and tried
to catch a glimpse of the one who called. "It is Kidnapped-by-Crows who
makes fun of your song," answered the boy. At that, the crow-chief
turned his head and said: "Be careful of your eyes, Thumbietot!" But the
boy thought, "Oh! I don't care about that. I want to show you that I'm
not afraid of you!"
Farther and farther inland they travelled; and there were woods and
lakes everywhere. In a birch-grove sat the wood-dove on a naked branch,
and before him stood the lady-dove. He blew up his feathers, cocked his
head, raised and lowered his body, until the breast-feathers rattled
against the branch. All the while he cooed: "Thou, thou, thou art the
loveliest in all the forest. No one in the forest is so lovely as thou,
But up in the air the boy rode past, and when he heard Mr. Dove he
couldn't keep still. "Don't you believe him! Don't you believe him!"
"Who, who, who is it that lies about me?" cooed Mr. Dove, and tried to
get a sight of the one who shrieked at him. "It is Caught-by-Crows that
lies about you," replied the boy. Again Wind-Rush turned his head toward
the boy and commanded him to shut up, but Fumle-Drumle, who was carrying
him, said: "Let him chatter, then all the little birds will think that
we crows have become quick-witted and funny birds." "Oh! they're not
such fools, either," said Wind-Rush; but he liked the idea just the
same, for after that he let the boy call out as much as he liked.
They flew mostly over forests and woodlands, but there were churches and
parishes and little cabins in the outskirts of the forest. In one place
they saw a pretty old manor. It lay with the forest back of it, and the
sea in front of it; had red walls and a turreted roof; great sycamores
about the grounds, and big, thick gooseberry-bushes in the orchard. On
the top of the weathercock sat the starling, and sang so loud that every
note was heard by the wife, who sat on an egg in the heart of a pear
tree. "We have four pretty little eggs," sang the starling. "We have
four pretty little round eggs. We have the whole nest filled with fine
When the starling sang the song for the thousandth time, the boy rode
over the place. He put his hands up to his mouth, as a pipe, and called:
"The magpie will get them. The magpie will get them."
"Who is it that wants to frighten me?" asked the starling, and flapped
his wings uneasily. "It is Captured-by-Crows that frightens you," said
the boy. This time the crow-chief didn't attempt to hush him up.
Instead, both he and his flock were having so much fun that they cawed
The farther inland they came, the larger were the lakes, and the more
plentiful were the islands and points. And on a lake-shore stood a drake
and kowtowed before the duck. "I'll be true to you all the days of my
life. I'll be true to you all the days of my life," said the drake. "It
won't last until the summer's end," shrieked the boy. "Who are you?"
called the drake. "My name's Stolen-by-Crows," shrieked the boy.
At dinner time the crows lighted in a food-grove. They walked about and
procured food for themselves, but none of them thought about giving the
boy anything. Then Fumle-Drumle came riding up to the chief with a
dog-rose branch, with a few dried buds on it. "Here's something for you,
Wind-Rush," said he. "This is pretty food, and suitable for you."
Wind-Rush sniffed contemptuously. "Do you think that I want to eat old,
dry buds?" said he. "And I who thought that you would be pleased with
them!" said Fumle-Drumle; and threw away the dog-rose branch as if in
despair. But it fell right in front of the boy, and he wasn't slow about
grabbing it and eating until he was satisfied.
When the crows had eaten, they began to chatter. "What are you thinking
about, Wind-Rush? You are so quiet to-day," said one of them to the
leader. "I'm thinking that in this district there lived, once upon a
time, a hen, who was very fond of her mistress; and in order to really
please her, she went and laid a nest full of eggs, which she hid under
the store-house floor. The mistress of the house wondered, of course,
where the hen was keeping herself such a long time. She searched for
her, but did not find her. Can you guess, Longbill, who it was that
found her and the eggs?"
"I think I can guess it, Wind-Rush, but when you have told about this, I
will tell you something like it. Do you remember the big, black cat in
Hinneryd's parish house? She was dissatisfied because they always took
the new-born kittens from her, and drowned them. Just once did she
succeed in keeping them concealed, and that was when she had laid them
in a haystack, out doors. She was pretty well pleased with those young
kittens, but I believe that I got more pleasure out of them than she
Now they became so excited that they all talked at once. "What kind of
an accomplishment is that--to steal little kittens?" said one. "I once
chased a young hare who was almost full-grown. That meant to follow him
from covert to covert." He got no further before another took the words
from him. "It may be fun, perhaps, to annoy hens and cats, but I find it
still more remarkable that a crow can worry a human being. I once stole
a silver spoon--"
But now the boy thought he was too good to sit and listen to such
gabble. "Now listen to me, you crows!" said he. "I think you ought to
be ashamed of yourselves to talk about all your wickedness. I have lived
amongst wild geese for three weeks, and of them I have never heard or
seen anything but good. You must have a bad chief, since he permits you
to rob and murder in this way. You ought to begin to lead new lives, for
I can tell you that human beings have grown so tired of your wickedness
they are trying with all their might to root you out. And then there
will soon be an end of you."
When Wind-Rush and the crows heard this, they were so furious that they
intended to throw themselves upon him and tear him in pieces. But
Fumle-Drumle laughed and cawed, and stood in front of him. "Oh, no, no!"
said he, and seemed absolutely terrified. "What think you that Wind-Air
will say if you tear Thumbietot in pieces before he has gotten that
silver money for us?" "It has to be you, Fumle-Drumle, that's afraid of
women-folk," said Rush. But, at any rate, both he and the others left
Thumbietot in peace.
Shortly after that the crows went further. Until now the boy thought
that Smaland wasn't such a poor country as he had heard. Of course it
was woody and full of mountain-ridges, but alongside the islands and
lakes lay cultivated grounds, and any real desolation he hadn't come
upon. But the farther inland they came, the fewer were the villages and
cottages. Toward the last, he thought that he was riding over a
veritable wilderness where he saw nothing but swamps and heaths and
The sun had gone down, but it was still perfect daylight when the crows
reached the large heather-heath. Wind-Rush sent a crow on ahead, to say
that he had met with success; and when it was known, Wind-Air, with
several hundred crows from Crow-Ridge, flew to meet the arrivals. In the
midst of the deafening cawing which the crows emitted, Fumle-Drumle said
to the boy: "You have been so comical and so jolly during the trip that
I am really fond of you. Therefore I want to give you some good advice.
As soon as we light, you'll be requested to do a bit of work which may
seem very easy to you; but beware of doing it!"
Soon thereafter Fumle-Drumle put Nils Holgersson down in the bottom of
a sandpit. The boy flung himself down, rolled over, and lay there as
though he was simply done up with fatigue. Such a lot of crows fluttered
about him that the air rustled like a wind-storm, but he didn't look up.
"Thumbietot," said Wind-Rush, "get up now! You shall help us with a
matter which will be very easy for you."
The boy didn't move, but pretended to be asleep. Then Wind-Rush took him
by the arm, and dragged him over the sand to an earthen crock of
old-time make, that was standing in the pit. "Get up, Thumbietot," said
he, "and open this crock!" "Why can't you let me sleep?" said the boy.
"I'm too tired to do anything to-night. Wait until to-morrow!"
"Open the crock!" said Wind-Rush, shaking him. "How shall a poor little
child be able to open such a crock? Why, it's quite as large as I am
myself." "Open it!" commanded Wind-Rush once more, "or it will be a
sorry thing for you." The boy got up, tottered over to the crock,
fumbled the clasp, and let his arms fall. "I'm not usually so weak,"
said he. "If you will only let me sleep until morning, I think that I'll
be able to manage with that clasp."
But Wind-Rush was impatient, and he rushed forward and pinched the boy
in the leg. That sort of treatment the boy didn't care to suffer from a
crow. He jerked himself loose quickly, ran a couple of paces backward,
drew his knife from the sheath, and held it extended in front of him.
"You'd better be careful!" he cried to Wind-Rush.
This one too was so enraged that he didn't dodge the danger. He rushed
at the boy, just as though he'd been blind, and ran so straight against
the knife, that it entered through his eye into the head. The boy drew
the knife back quickly, but Wind-Rush only struck out with his wings,
then he fell down--dead.
"Wind-Rush is dead! The stranger has killed our chieftain, Wind-Rush!"
cried the nearest crows, and then there was a terrible uproar. Some
wailed, others cried for vengeance. They all ran or fluttered up to the
boy, with Fumle-Drumle in the lead. But he acted badly as usual. He only
fluttered and spread his wings over the boy, and prevented the others
from coming forward and running their bills into him.
The boy thought that things looked very bad for him now. He couldn't run
away from the crows, and there was no place where he could hide. Then he
happened to think of the earthen crock. He took a firm hold on the
clasp, and pulled it off. Then he hopped into the crock to hide in it.
But the crock was a poor hiding place, for it was nearly filled to the
brim with little, thin silver coins. The boy couldn't get far enough
down, so he stooped and began to throw out the coins.
Until now the crows had fluttered around him in a thick swarm and pecked
at him, but when he threw out the coins they immediately forgot their
thirst for vengeance, and hurried to gather the money. The boy threw out
handfuls of it, and all the crows--yes, even Wind-Air herself--picked
them up. And everyone who succeeded in picking up a coin ran off to the
nest with the utmost speed to conceal it.
When the boy had thrown out all the silver pennies from the crock he
glanced up. Not more than a single crow was left in the sandpit. That
was Fumle-Drumle, with the white feather in his wing; he who had carried
Thumbietot. "You have rendered me a greater service than you
understand," said the crow--with a very different voice, and a different
intonation than the one he had used heretofore--"and I want to save your
life. Sit down on my back, and I'll take you to a hiding place where you
can be secure for to-night. To-morrow, I'll arrange it so that you will
get back to the wild geese."
_Thursday, April fourteenth_.
The following morning when the boy awoke, he lay in a bed. When he saw
that he was in a house with four walls around him, and a roof over him,
he thought that he was at home. "I wonder if mother will come soon with
some coffee," he muttered to himself where he lay half-awake. Then he
remembered that he was in a deserted cabin on the crow-ridge, and that
Fumle-Drumle with the white feather had borne him there the night
The boy was sore all over after the journey he had made the day before,
and he thought it was lovely to lie still while he waited for
Fumle-Drumle who had promised to come and fetch him.
Curtains of checked cotton hung before the bed, and he drew them aside
to look out into the cabin. It dawned upon him instantly that he had
never seen the mate to a cabin like this. The walls consisted of nothing
but a couple of rows of logs; then the roof began. There was no interior
ceiling, so he could look clear up to the roof-tree. The cabin was so
small that it appeared to have been built rather for such as he than for
real people. However, the fireplace and chimney were so large, he
thought that he had never seen larger. The entrance door was in a
gable-wall at the side of the fireplace, and was so narrow that it was
more like a wicket than a door. In the other gable-wall he saw a low and
broad window with many panes. There was scarcely any movable furniture
in the cabin. The bench on one side, and the table under the window,
were also stationary--also the big bed where he lay, and the
The boy could not help wondering who owned the cabin, and why it was
deserted. It certainly looked as though the people who had lived there
expected to return. The coffee-urn and the gruel-pot stood on the
hearth, and there was some wood in the fireplace; the oven-rake and
baker's peel stood in a corner; the spinning wheel was raised on a
bench; on the shelf over the window lay oakum and flax, a couple of
skeins of yarn, a candle, and a bunch of matches.
Yes, it surely looked as if those who had lived there had intended to
come back. There were bed-clothes on the bed; and on the walls there
still hung long strips of cloth, upon which three riders named Kasper,
Melchior, and Baltasar were painted. The same horses and riders were
pictured many times. They rode around the whole cabin, and continued
their ride even up toward the joists.
But in the roof the boy saw something which brought him to his senses in
a jiffy. It was a couple of loaves of big bread-cakes that hung there
upon a spit. They looked old and mouldy, but it was bread all the same.
He gave them a knock with the oven-rake and one piece fell to the floor.
He ate, and stuffed his bag full. It was incredible how good bread was,
He looked around the cabin once more, to try and discover if there was
anything else which he might find useful to take along. "I may as well
take what I need, since no one else cares about it," thought he. But
most of the things were too big and heavy. The only things that he
could carry might be a few matches perhaps.
He clambered up on the table, and swung with the help of the curtains up
to the window-shelf. While he stood there and stuffed the matches into
his bag, the crow with the white feather came in through the window.
"Well here I am at last," said Fumle-Drumle as he lit on the table. "I
couldn't get here any sooner because we crows have elected a new
chieftain in Wind-Rush's place." "Whom have you chosen?" said the boy.
"Well, we have chosen one who will not permit robbery and injustice. We
have elected Garm Whitefeather, lately called Fumle-Drumle," answered
he, drawing himself up until he looked absolutely regal. "That was a
good choice," said the boy and congratulated him. "You may well wish me
luck," said Garm; then he told the boy about the time they had had with
Wind-Rush and Wind-Air.
During this recital the boy heard a voice outside the window which he
thought sounded familiar. "Is he here?"--inquired the fox. "Yes, he's
hidden in there," answered a crow-voice. "Be careful, Thumbietot!" cried
Garm. "Wind-Air stands without with that fox who wants to eat you." More
he didn't have time to say, for Smirre dashed against the window. The
old, rotten window-frame gave way, and the next second Smirre stood upon
the window-table. Garm Whitefeather, who didn't have time to fly away,
he killed instantly. Thereupon he jumped down to the floor, and looked
around for the boy. He tried to hide behind a big oakum-spiral, but
Smirre had already spied him, and was crouched for the final spring. The
cabin was so small, and so low, the boy understood that the fox could
reach him without the least difficulty. But just at that moment the boy
was not without weapons of defence. He struck a match quickly, touched
the curtains, and when they were in flames, he threw them down upon
Smirre Fox. When the fire enveloped the fox, he was seized with a mad
terror. He thought no more about the boy, but rushed wildly out of the
But it looked as if the boy had escaped one danger to throw himself into
a greater one. From the tuft of oakum which he had flung at Smirre the
fire had spread to the bed-hangings. He jumped down and tried to smother
it, but it blazed too quickly now. The cabin was soon filled with smoke,
and Smirre Fox, who had remained just outside the window, began to grasp
the state of affairs within. "Well, Thumbietot," he called out, "which
do you choose now: to be broiled alive in there, or to come out here to
me? Of course, I should prefer to have the pleasure of eating you; but
in whichever way death meets you it will be dear to me."
The boy could not think but what the fox was right, for the fire was
making rapid headway. The whole bed was now in a blaze, and smoke rose
from the floor; and along the painted wall-strips the fire crept from
rider to rider. The boy jumped up in the fireplace, and tried to open
the oven door, when he heard a key which turned around slowly in the
lock. It must be human beings coming. And in the dire extremity in which
he found himself, he was not afraid, but only glad. He was already on
the threshold when the door opened. He saw a couple of children facing
him; but how they looked when they saw the cabin in flames, he took no
time to find out; but rushed past them into the open.
He didn't dare run far. He knew, of course, that Smirre Fox lay in wait
for him, and he understood that he must remain near the children. He
turned round to see what sort of folk they were, but he hadn't looked at
them a second before he ran up to them and cried: "Oh, good-day, Osa
goose-girl! Oh, good-day, little Mats!"
For when the boy saw those children he forgot entirely where he was.
Crows and burning cabin and talking animals had vanished from his
memory. He was walking on a stubble-field, in West Vemminghoeg, tending a
goose-flock; and beside him, on the field, walked those same Smaland
children, with their geese. As soon as he saw them, he ran up on the
stone-hedge and shouted: "Oh, good-day, Osa goose-girl! Oh, good-day,
But when the children saw such a little creature coming up to them with
outstretched hands, they grabbed hold of each other, took a couple of
steps backward, and looked scared to death.
When the boy noticed their terror he woke up and remembered who he was.
And then it seemed to him that nothing worse could happen to him than
that those children should see how he had been bewitched. Shame and
grief because he was no longer a human being overpowered him. He turned
and fled. He knew not whither.
But a glad meeting awaited the boy when he came down to the heath. For
there, in the heather, he spied something white, and toward him came the
white goosey-gander, accompanied by Dunfin. When the white one saw the
boy running with such speed, he thought that dreadful fiends were
pursuing him. He flung him in all haste upon his back and flew off with
THE OLD PEASANT WOMAN
_Thursday, April fourteenth_.
Three tired wanderers were out in the late evening in search of a night
harbour. They travelled over a poor and desolate portion of northern
Smaland. But the sort of resting place which they wanted, they should
have been able to find; for they were no weaklings who asked for soft
beds or comfortable rooms. "If one of these long mountain-ridges had a
peak so high and steep that a fox couldn't in any way climb up to it,
then we should have a good sleeping-place," said one of them. "If a
single one of the big swamps was thawed out, and was so marshy and wet
that a fox wouldn't dare venture out on it, this, too, would be a right
good night harbour," said the second. "If the ice on one of the large
lakes we travel past were loose, so that a fox could not come out on
it, then we should have found just what we are seeking," said the third.
The worst of it was that when the sun had gone down, two of the
travellers became so sleepy that every second they were ready to fall to
the ground. The third one, who could keep himself awake, grew more and
more uneasy as night approached. "Then it was a misfortune that we came
to a land where lakes and swamps are frozen, so that a fox can get
around everywhere. In other places the ice has melted away; but now
we're well up in the very coldest Smaland, where spring has not as yet
arrived. I don't know how I shall ever manage to find a good
sleeping-place! Unless I find some spot that is well protected, Smirre
Fox will be upon us before morning."
He gazed in all directions, but he saw no shelter where he could lodge.
It was a dark and chilly night, with wind and drizzle. It grew more
terrible and disagreeable around him every second.
This may sound strange, perhaps, but the travellers didn't seem to have
the least desire to ask for house-room on any farm. They had already
passed many parishes without knocking at a single door. Little hillside
cabins on the outskirts of the forests, which all poor wanderers are
glad to run across, they took no notice of either. One might almost be
tempted to say they deserved to have a hard time of it, since they did
not seek help where it was to be had for the asking.
But finally, when it was so dark that there was scarcely a glimmer of
light left under the skies and the two who needed sleep journeyed on in
a kind of half-sleep, they happened into a farmyard which was a long way
off from all neighbours. And not only did it lie there desolate, but it
appeared to be uninhabited as well. No smoke rose from the chimney; no
light shone through the windows; no human being moved on the place. When
the one among the three who could keep awake, saw the place, he thought:
"Now come what may, we must try to get in here. Anything better we are
not likely to find."
Soon after that, all three stood in the house-yard. Two of them fell
asleep the instant they stood still, but the third looked about him
eagerly, to find where they could get under cover. It was not a small
farm. Beside the dwelling house and stable and smoke-house, there were
long ranges with granaries and storehouses and cattlesheds. But it all
looked awfully poor and dilapidated. The houses had gray, moss-grown,
leaning walls, which seemed ready to topple over. In the roofs were
yawning holes, and the doors hung aslant on broken hinges. It was
apparent that no one had taken the trouble to drive a nail into a wall
on this place for a long time.
Meanwhile, he who was awake had figured out which house was the cowshed.
He roused his travelling companions from their sleep, and conducted them
to the cowshed door. Luckily, this was not fastened with anything but a
hook, which he could easily push up with a rod. He heaved a sigh of
relief at the thought that they should soon be in safety. But when the
cowshed door swung open with a sharp creaking, he heard a cow begin to
bellow. "Are you coming at last, mistress?" said she. "I thought that
you didn't propose to give me any supper to-night."
The one who was awake stopped in the doorway, absolutely terrified when
he discovered that the cowshed was not empty. But he soon saw that there
was not more than one cow, and three or four chickens; and then he took
courage again. "We are three poor travellers who want to come in
somewhere, where no fox can assail us, and no human being capture us,"
said he. "We wonder if this can be a good place for us." "I cannot
believe but what it is," answered the cow. "To be sure the walls are
poor, but the fox does not walk through them as yet; and no one lives
here except an old peasant woman, who isn't at all likely to make a
captive of anyone. But who are you?" she continued, as she twisted in
her stall to get a sight of the newcomers. "I am Nils Holgersson from
Vemminghoeg, who has been transformed into an elf," replied the first of
the incomers, "and I have with me a tame goose, whom I generally ride,
and a gray goose." "Such rare guests have never before been within my
four walls," said the cow, "and you shall be welcome, although I would
have preferred that it had been my mistress, come to give me my supper."
The boy led the geese into the cowshed, which was rather large, and
placed them in an empty manger, where they fell asleep instantly. For
himself, he made a little bed of straw and expected that he, too, should
go to sleep at once.
But this was impossible, for the poor cow, who hadn't had her supper,
wasn't still an instant. She shook her flanks, moved around in the
stall, and complained of how hungry she was. The boy couldn't get a wink
of sleep, but lay there and lived over all the things that had happened
to him during these last days.
He thought of Osa, the goose-girl, and little Mats, whom he had
encountered so unexpectedly; and he fancied that the little cabin which
he had set on fire must have been their old home in Smaland. Now he
recalled that he had heard them speak of just such a cabin, and of the
big heather-heath which lay below it. Now Osa and Mats had wandered back
there to see their old home again, and then, when they had reached it,
it was in flames.
It was indeed a great sorrow which he had brought upon them, and it hurt
him very much. If he ever again became a human being, he would try to
compensate them for the damage and miscalculation.
Then his thoughts wandered to the crows. And when he thought of
Fumle-Drumle who had saved his life, and had met his own death so soon
after he had been elected chieftain, he was so distressed that tears
filled his eyes. He had had a pretty rough time of it these last few
days. But, anyway, it was a rare stroke of luck that the goosey-gander
and Dunfin had found him. The goosey-gander had said that as soon as the
geese discovered that Thumbietot had disappeared, they had asked all
the small animals in the forest about him. They soon learned that a
flock of Smaland crows had carried him off. But the crows were already
out of sight, and whither they had directed their course no one had been
able to say. That they might find the boy as soon as possible, Akka had
commanded the wild geese to start out--two and two--in different
directions, to search for him. But after a two days' hunt, whether or
not they had found him, they were to meet in northwestern Smaland on a
high mountain-top, which resembled an abrupt, chopped-off tower, and was
called Taberg. After Akka had given them the best directions, and
described carefully how they should find Taberg, they had separated.
The white goosey-gander had chosen Dunfin as travelling companion, and
they had flown about hither and thither with the greatest anxiety for
Thumbietot. During this ramble they had heard a thrush, who sat in a
tree-top, cry and wail that someone, who called himself
Kidnapped-by-Crows, had made fun of him. They had talked with the
thrush, and he had shown them in which direction that Kidnapped-by-Crows
had travelled. Afterward, they had met a dove-cock, a starling and a
drake; they had all wailed about a little culprit who had disturbed
their song, and who was named Caught-by-Crows, Captured-by-Crows, and
Stolen-by-Crows. In this way, they were enabled to trace Thumbietot all
the way to the heather-heath in Sonnerbo township.
As soon as the goosey-gander and Dunfin had found Thumbietot, they had
started toward the north, in order to reach Taberg. But it had been a
long road to travel, and the darkness was upon them before they had
sighted the mountain top. "If we only get there by to-morrow, surely all
our troubles will be over," thought the boy, and dug down into the straw
to have it warmer. All the while the cow fussed and fumed in the stall.
Then, all of a sudden, she began to talk to the boy. "Everything is
wrong with me," said the cow. "I am neither milked nor tended. I have no
night fodder in my manger, and no bed has been made under me. My
mistress came here at dusk, to put things in order for me, but she felt
so ill, that she had to go in soon again, and she has not returned."
"It's distressing that I should be little and powerless," said the boy.
"I don't believe that I am able to help you." "You can't make me believe
that you are powerless because you are little," said the cow. "All the
elves that I've ever heard of, were so strong that they could pull a
whole load of hay and strike a cow dead with one fist." The boy couldn't
help laughing at the cow. "They were a very different kind of elf from
me," said he. "But I'll loosen your halter and open the door for you, so
that you can go out and drink in one of the pools on the place, and then
I'll try to climb up to the hayloft and throw down some hay in your
manger." "Yes, that would be some help," said the cow.
The boy did as he had said; and when the cow stood with a full manger in
front of her, he thought that at last he should get some sleep. But he
had hardly crept down in the bed before she began, anew, to talk to him.
"You'll be clean put out with me if I ask you for one thing more," said
the cow. "Oh, no I won't, if it's only something that I'm able to do,"
said the boy. "Then I will ask you to go into the cabin, directly
opposite, and find out how my mistress is getting along. I fear some
misfortune has come to her." "No! I can't do that," said the boy. "I
dare not show myself before human beings." "'Surely you're not afraid of
an old and sick woman," said the cow. "But you do not need to go into
the cabin. Just stand outside the door and peep in through the crack!"
"Oh! if that is all you ask of me, I'll do it of course," said the boy.
With that he opened the cowshed door and went out in the yard. It was a
fearful night! Neither moon nor stars shone; the wind blew a gale, and
the rain came down in torrents. And the worst of all was that seven
great owls sat in a row on the eaves of the cabin. It was awful just to
hear them, where they sat and grumbled at the weather; but it was even
worse to think what would happen to him if one of them should set eyes
on him. That would be the last of him.
"Pity him who is little!" said the boy as he ventured out in the yard.
And he had a right to say this, for he was blown down twice before he
got to the house: once the wind swept him into a pool, which was so deep
that he came near drowning. But he got there nevertheless.
He clambered up a pair of steps, scrambled over a threshold, and came
into the hallway. The cabin door was closed, but down in one corner a
large piece had been cut away, that the cat might go in and out. It was
no difficulty whatever for the boy to see how things were in the cabin.
He had hardly cast a glance in there before he staggered back and turned
his head away. An old, gray-haired woman lay stretched out on the floor
within. She neither moved nor moaned; and her face shone strangely
white. It was as if an invisible moon had thrown a feeble light over it.
The boy remembered that when his grandfather had died, his face had also
become so strangely white-like. And he understood that the old woman who
lay on the cabin floor must be dead. Death had probably come to her so
suddenly that she didn't even have time to lie down on her bed.
As he thought of being alone with the dead in the middle of the dark
night, he was terribly afraid. He threw himself headlong down the steps,
and rushed back to the cowshed.
When he told the cow what he had seen in the cabin, she stopped eating.
"So my mistress is dead," said she. "Then it will soon be over for me
as well." "There will always be someone to look out for you," said the
boy comfortingly. "Ah! you don't know," said the cow, "that I am already
twice as old as a cow usually is before she is laid upon the
slaughter-bench. But then I do not care to live any longer, since she,
in there, can come no more to care for me."
She said nothing more for a while, but the boy observed, no doubt, that
she neither slept nor ate. It was not long before she began to speak
again. "Is she lying on the bare floor?" she asked. "She is," said the
boy. "She had a habit of coming out to the cowshed," she continued, "and
talking about everything that troubled her. I understood what she said,
although I could not answer her. These last few days she talked of how
afraid she was lest there would be no one with her when she died. She
was anxious for fear no one should close her eyes and fold her hands
across her breast, after she was dead. Perhaps you'll go in and do
this?" The boy hesitated. He remembered that when his grandfather had
died, mother had been very careful about putting everything to rights.
He knew this was something which had to be done. But, on the other hand,
he felt that he didn't care go to the dead, in the ghastly night. He
didn't say no; neither did he take a step toward the cowshed door. For a
couple of seconds the old cow was silent--just as if she had expected an
answer. But when the boy said nothing, she did not repeat her request.
Instead, she began to talk with him of her mistress.
There was much to tell, first and foremost, about all the children which
she had brought up. They had been in the cowshed every day, and in the
summer they had taken the cattle to pasture on the swamp and in the
groves, so the old cow knew all about them. They had been splendid, all
of them, and happy and industrious. A cow knew well enough what her
caretakers were good for.
There was also much to be said about the farm. It had not always been as
poor as it was now. It was very large--although the greater part of it
consisted of swamps and stony groves. There was not much room for
fields, but there was plenty of good fodder everywhere. At one time
there had been a cow for every stall in the cowshed; and the oxshed,
which was now empty, had at one time been filled with oxen. And then
there was life and gayety, both in cabin and cowhouse. When the mistress
opened the cowshed door she would hum and sing, and all the cows lowed
with gladness when they heard her coming.
But the good man had died when the children were so small that they
could not be of any assistance, and the mistress had to take charge of
the farm, and all the work and responsibility. She had been as strong as
a man, and had both ploughed and reaped. In the evenings, when she came
into the cowshed to milk, sometimes she was so tired that she wept. Then
she dashed away her tears, and was cheerful again. "It doesn't matter.
Good times are coming again for me too, if only my children grow up.
Yes, if they only grow up."
But as soon as the children were grown, a strange longing came over
them. They didn't want to stay at home, but went away to a strange
country. Their mother never got any help from them. A couple of her
children were married before they went away, and they had left their
children behind, in the old home. And now these children followed the
mistress in the cowshed, just as her own had done. They tended the cows,
and were fine, good folk. And, in the evenings, when the mistress was so
tired out that she could fall asleep in the middle of the milking, she
would rouse herself again to renewed courage by thinking of them. "Good
times are coming for me, too," said she--and shook off sleep--"when once
they are grown."
But when these children grew up, they went away to their parents in the
strange land. No one came back--no one stayed at home--the old mistress
was left alone on the farm.
Probably she had never asked them to remain with her. "Think you,
Roedlinna, that I would ask them to stay here with me, when they can go
out in the world and have things comfortable?" she would say as she
stood in the stall with the old cow. "Here in Smaland they have only
poverty to look forward to."
But when the last grandchild was gone, it was all up with the mistress.
All at once she became bent and gray, and tottered as she walked; as if
she no longer had the strength to move about. She stopped working. She
did not care to look after the farm, but let everything go to rack and
ruin. She didn't repair the houses; and she sold both the cows and the
oxen. The only one that she kept was the old cow who now talked with
Thumbietot. Her she let live because all the children had tended her.
She could have taken maids and farm-hands into her service, who would
have helped her with the work, but she couldn't bear to see strangers
around her, since her own had deserted her. Perhaps she was better
satisfied to let the farm go to ruin, since none of her children were
coming back to take it after she was gone. She did not mind that she
herself became poor, because she didn't value that which was only hers.
But she was troubled lest the children should find out how hard she had
it. "If only the children do not hear of this! If only the children do
not hear of this!" she sighed as she tottered through the cowhouse.
The children wrote constantly, and begged her to come out to them; but
this she did not wish. She didn't want to see the land that had taken
them from her. She was angry with it. "It's foolish of me, perhaps, that
I do not like that land which has been so good for them," said she. "But
I don't want to see it."
She never thought of anything but the children, and of this--that they
must needs have gone. When summer came, she led the cow out to graze in
the big swamp. All day she would sit on the edge of the swamp, her hands
in her lap; and on the way home she would say: "You see, Roedlinna, if
there had been large, rich fields here, in place of these barren swamps,
then there would have been no need for them to leave."
She could become furious with the swamp which spread out so big, and did
no good. She could sit and talk about how it was the swamp's fault that
the children had left her.
This last evening she had been more trembly and feeble than ever before.
She could not even do the milking. She had leaned against the manger
and talked about two strangers who had been to see her, and had asked if
they might buy the swamp. They wanted to drain it, and sow and raise
grain on it. This had made her both anxious and glad. "Do you hear,
Roedlinna," she had said, "do you hear they said that grain can grow on
the swamp? Now I shall write to the children to come home. Now they'll
not have to stay away any longer; for now they can get their bread here
at home." It was this that she had gone into the cabin to do--
The boy heard no more of what the old cow said. He had opened the
cowhouse door and gone across the yard, and in to the dead whom he had
but lately been so afraid of.
It was not so poor in the cabin as he had expected. It was well supplied
with the sort of things one generally finds among those who have
relatives in America. In a corner there was an American rocking chair;
on the table before the window lay a brocaded plush cover; there was a
pretty spread on the bed; on the walls, in carved-wood frames, hung the
photographs of the children and grandchildren who had gone away; on the
bureau stood high vases and a couple of candlesticks, with thick, spiral
candles in them.
The boy searched for a matchbox and lighted these candles, not because
he needed more light than he already had; but because he thought that
this was one way to honour the dead.
Then he went up to her, closed her eyes, folded her hands across her
breast, and stroked back the thin gray hair from her face.
He thought no more about being afraid of her. He was so deeply grieved
because she had been forced to live out her old age in loneliness and
longing. He, at least, would watch over her dead body this night.
He hunted up the psalm book, and seated himself to read a couple of
psalms in an undertone. But in the middle of the reading he
paused--because he had begun to think about his mother and father.
Think, that parents can long so for their children! This he had never
known. Think, that life can be as though it was over for them when the
children are away! Think, if those at home longed for him in the same
way that this old peasant woman had longed!
This thought made him happy, but he dared not believe in it. He had not
been such a one that anybody could long for him.
But what he had not been, perhaps he could become.
Round about him he saw the portraits of those who were away. They were
big, strong men and women with earnest faces. There were brides in long
veils, and gentlemen in fine clothes; and there were children with waved
hair and pretty white dresses. And he thought that they all stared
blindly into vacancy--and did not want to see.
"Poor you!" said the boy to the portraits. "Your mother is dead. You
cannot make reparation now, because you went away from her. But my
mother is living!"
Here he paused, and nodded and smiled to himself. "My mother is living,"
said he. "Both father and mother are living."
FROM TABERG TO HUSKVARNA
_Friday, April fifteenth_.
The boy sat awake nearly all night, but toward morning he fell asleep
and then he dreamed of his father and mother. He could hardly recognise
them. They had both grown gray, and had old and wrinkled faces. He asked
how this had come about, and they answered that they had aged so because
they had longed for him. He was both touched and astonished, for he had
never believed but what they were glad to be rid of him.
When the boy awoke the morning was come, with fine, clear weather.
First, he himself ate a bit of bread which he found in the cabin; then
he gave morning feed to both geese and cow, and opened the cowhouse door
so that the cow could go over to the nearest farm. When the cow came
along all by herself the neighbours would no doubt understand that
something was wrong with her mistress. They would hurry over to the
desolate farm to see how the old woman was getting along, and then they
would find her dead body and bury it.
The boy and the geese had barely raised themselves into the air, when
they caught a glimpse of a high mountain, with almost perpendicular
walls, and an abrupt, broken-off top; and they understood that this
must be Taberg. On the summit stood Akka, with Yksi and Kaksi, Kolmi and
Neljae, Viisi and Knusi, and all six goslings and waited for them. There
was a rejoicing, and a cackling, and a fluttering, and a calling which
no one can describe, when they saw that the goosey-gander and Dunfin had
succeeded in finding Thumbietot.
The woods grew pretty high up on Taberg's sides, but her highest peak
was barren; and from there one could look out in all directions. If one
gazed toward the east, or south, or west, then there was hardly anything
to be seen but a poor highland with dark spruce-trees, brown morasses,
ice-clad lakes, and bluish mountain-ridges. The boy couldn't keep from
thinking it was true that the one who had created this hadn't taken very
great pains with his work, but had thrown it together in a hurry. But if
one glanced to the north, it was altogether different. Here it looked as
if it had been worked out with the utmost care and affection. In this
direction one saw only beautiful mountains, soft valleys, and winding
rivers, all the way to the big Lake Vettern, which lay ice-free and
transparently clear, and shone as if it wasn't filled with water but
with blue light.
It was Vettern that made it so pretty to look toward the north, because
it looked as though a blue stream had risen up from the lake, and spread
itself over land also. Groves and hills and roofs, and the spires of
Joenkoeping City--which shimmered along Vettern's shores--lay enveloped in
pale blue which caressed the eye. If there were countries in heaven,
they, too, must be blue like this, thought the boy, and imagined that he
had gotten a faint idea of how it must look in Paradise.
Later in the day, when the geese continued their journey, they flew up
toward the blue valley. They were in holiday humour; shrieked and made
such a racket that no one who had ears could help hearing them.
This happened to be the first really fine spring day they had had in
this section. Until now, the spring had done its work under rain and
bluster; and now, when it had all of a sudden become fine weather, the
people were filled with such a longing after summer warmth and green
woods that they could hardly perform their tasks. And when the wild
geese rode by, high above the ground, cheerful and free, there wasn't
one who did not drop what he had in hand, and glance at them.
The first ones who saw the wild geese that day were miners on Taberg,
who were digging ore at the mouth of the mine. When they heard them
cackle, they paused in their drilling for ore, and one of them called to
the birds: "Where are you going? Where are you going?" The geese didn't
understand what he said, but the boy leaned forward over the goose-back,
and answered for them: "Where there is neither pick nor hammer." When
the miners heard the words, they thought it was their own longing that
made the goose-cackle sound like human speech. "Take us along with you!
Take us along with you!" they cried. "Not this year," shrieked the boy.
"Not this year."
The wild geese followed Taberg River down toward Monk Lake, and all the
while they made the same racket. Here, on the narrow land-strip between
Monk and Vettern lakes, lay Joenkoeping with its great factories. The wild
geese rode first over Monksjoe paper mills. The noon rest hour was just
over, and the big workmen were streaming down to the mill-gate. When
they heard the wild geese, they stopped a moment to listen to them.
"Where are you going? Where are you going?" called the workmen. The wild
geese understood nothing of what they said, but the boy answered for
them: "There, where there are neither machines nor steam-boxes." When
the workmen heard the answer, they believed it was their own longing
that made the goose-cackle sound like human speech. "Take us along with
you!" "Not this year," answered the boy. "Not this year."
Next, the geese rode over the well-known match factory, which lies on
the shores of Vettern--large as a fortress--and lifts its high chimneys
toward the sky. Not a soul moved out in the yards; but in a large hall
young working-women sat and filled match-boxes. They had opened a window
on account of the beautiful weather, and through it came the wild
geese's call. The one who sat nearest the window, leaned out with a
match-box in her hand, and cried: "Where are you going? Where are you
going?" "To that land where there is no need of either light or
matches," said the boy. The girl thought that what she had heard was
only goose-cackle; but since she thought she had distinguished a couple
of words, she called out in answer: "Take me along with you!" "Not this
year," replied the boy. "Not this year."
East of the factories rises Joenkoeping, on the most glorious spot that
any city can occupy. The narrow Vettern has high, steep sand-shores,
both on the eastern and western sides; but straight south, the
sand-walls are broken down, just as if to make room for a large gate,
through which one reaches the lake. And in the middle of the gate--with
mountains to the left, and mountains to the right, with Monk Lake behind
it, and Vettern in front of it--lies Joenkoeping.
The wild geese travelled forward over the long, narrow city, and behaved
themselves here just as they had done in the country. But in the city
there was no one who answered them. It was not to be expected that city
folks should stop out in the streets, and call to the wild geese.
The trip extended further along Vettern's shores; and after a little
they came to Sanna Sanitarium. Some of the patients had gone out on the
veranda to enjoy the spring air, and in this way they heard the
goose-cackle. "Where are you going?" asked one of them with such a
feeble voice that he was scarcely heard. "To that land where there is
neither sorrow nor sickness," answered the boy. "Take us along with
you!" said the sick ones. "Not this year," answered the boy. "Not this
When they had travelled still farther on, they came to Huskvarna. It lay
in a valley. The mountains around it were steep and beautifully formed.
A river rushed along the heights in long and narrow falls. Big workshops
and factories lay below the mountain walls; and scattered over the
valley-bottom were the workingmens' homes, encircled by little gardens;
and in the centre of the valley lay the schoolhouse. Just as the wild
geese came along, a bell rang, and a crowd of school children marched
out in line. They were so numerous that the whole schoolyard was filled
with them. "Where are you going? Where are you going?" the children
shouted when they heard the wild geese. "Where there are neither books
nor lessons to be found," answered the boy. "Take us along!" shrieked
the children. "Not this year, but next," cried the boy. "Not this year,
THE BIG BIRD LAKE
JARRO, THE WILD DUCK
On the eastern shore of Vettern lies Mount Omberg; east of Omberg lies
Dagmosse; east of Dagmosse lies Lake Takern. Around the whole of Takern
spreads the big, even Oestergoeta plain.
Takern is a pretty large lake and in olden times it must have been still
larger. But then the people thought it covered entirely too much of the
fertile plain, so they attempted to drain the water from it, that they
might sow and reap on the lake-bottom. But they did not succeed in
laying waste the entire lake--which had evidently been their
intention--therefore it still hides a lot of land. Since the draining
the lake has become so shallow that hardly at any point is it more than
a couple of metres deep. The shores have become marshy and muddy; and
out in the lake, little mud-islets stick up above the water's surface.
Now, there is one who loves to stand with his feet in the water, if he
can just keep his body and head in the air, and that is the reed. And it
cannot find a better place to grow upon, than the long, shallow Takern
shores, and around the little mud-islets. It thrives so well that it
grows taller than a man's height, and so thick that it is almost
impossible to push a boat through it. It forms a broad green enclosure
around the whole lake, so that it is only accessible in a few places
where the people have taken away the reeds.
But if the reeds shut the people out, they give, in return, shelter and
protection to many other things. In the reeds there are a lot of little
dams and canals with green, still water, where duckweed and pondweed run
to seed; and where gnat-eggs and blackfish and worms are hatched out in
uncountable masses. And all along the shores of these little dams and
canals, there are many well-concealed places, where seabirds hatch their
eggs, and bring up their young without being disturbed, either by
enemies or food worries.
An incredible number of birds live in the Takern reeds; and more and
more gather there every year, as it becomes known what a splendid abode
it is. The first who settled there were the wild ducks; and they still
live there by thousands. But they no longer own the entire lake, for
they have been obliged to share it with swans, grebes, coots, loons,
fen-ducks, and a lot of others.
Takern is certainly the largest and choicest bird lake in the whole
country; and the birds may count themselves lucky as long as they own
such a retreat. But it is uncertain just how long they will be in
control of reeds and mud-banks, for human beings cannot forget that the
lake extends over a considerable portion of good and fertile soil; and
every now and then the proposition to drain it comes up among them. And
if these propositions were carried out, the many thousands of
water-birds would be forced to move from this quarter.
At the time when Nils Holgersson travelled around with the wild geese,
there lived at Takern a wild duck named Jarro. He was a young bird, who
had only lived one summer, one fall, and a winter; now, it was his first
spring. He had just returned from South Africa, and had reached Takern
in such good season that the ice was still on the lake.
One evening, when he and the other young wild ducks played at racing
backward and forward over the lake, a hunter fired a couple of shots at
them, and Jarro was wounded in the breast. He thought he should die; but
in order that the one who had shot him shouldn't get him into his power,
he continued to fly as long as he possibly could. He didn't think
whither he was directing his course, but only struggled to get far
away. When his strength failed him, so that he could not fly any
farther, he was no longer on the lake. He had flown a bit inland, and
now he sank down before the entrance to one of the big farms which lie
along the shores of Takern.
A moment later a young farm-hand happened along. He saw Jarro, and came
and lifted him up. But Jarro, who asked for nothing but to be let die in
peace, gathered his last powers and nipped the farm-hand in the finger,
so he should let go of him.
Jarro didn't succeed in freeing himself. The encounter had this good in
it at any rate: the farm-hand noticed that the bird was alive. He
carried him very gently into the cottage, and showed him to the mistress
of the house--a young woman with a kindly face. At once she took Jarro
from the farm-hand, stroked him on the back and wiped away the blood
which trickled down through the neck-feathers. She looked him over very
carefully; and when she saw how pretty he was, with his dark-green,
shining head, his white neck-band, his brownish-red back, and his blue
wing-mirror, she must have thought that it was a pity for him to die.
She promptly put a basket in order, and tucked the bird into it.
All the while Jarro fluttered and struggled to get loose; but when he
understood that the people didn't intend to kill him, he settled down in
the basket with a sense of pleasure. Now it was evident how exhausted he
was from pain and loss of blood. The mistress carried the basket across
the floor to place it in the corner by the fireplace; but before she put
it down Jarro was already fast asleep.
In a little while Jarro was awakened by someone who nudged him gently.
When he opened his eyes he experienced such an awful shock that he
almost lost his senses. Now he was lost; for there stood _the_ one who
was more dangerous than either human beings or birds of prey. It was no
less a thing than Caesar himself--the long-haired dog--who nosed around
How pitifully scared had he not been last summer, when he was still a
little yellow-down duckling, every time it had sounded over the
reed-stems: "Caesar is coming! Caesar is coming!" When he had seen the
brown and white spotted dog with the teeth-filled jowls come wading
through the reeds, he had believed that he beheld death itself. He had
always hoped that he would never have to live through that moment when
he should meet Caesar face to face.
But, to his sorrow, he must have fallen down in the very yard where
Caesar lived, for there he stood right over him. "Who are you?" he
growled. "How did you get into the house? Don't you belong down among
the reed banks?"
It was with great difficulty that he gained the courage to answer.
"Don't be angry with me, Caesar, because I came into the house!" said
he. "It isn't my fault. I have been wounded by a gunshot. It was the
people themselves who laid me in this basket."
"Oho! so it's the folks themselves that have placed you here," said
Caesar. "Then it is surely their intention to cure you; although, for my
part, I think it would be wiser for them to eat you up, since you are in
their power. But, at any rate, you are tabooed in the house. You needn't
look so scared. Now, we're not down on Takern."
With that Caesar laid himself to sleep in front of the blazing log-fire.
As soon as Jarro understood that this terrible danger was past, extreme
lassitude came over him, and he fell asleep anew.
The next time Jarro awoke, he saw that a dish with grain and water stood
before him. He was still quite ill, but he felt hungry nevertheless, and
began to eat. When the mistress saw that he ate, she came up and petted
him, and looked pleased. After that, Jarro fell asleep again. For
several days he did nothing but eat and sleep.
One morning Jarro felt so well that he stepped from the basket and
wandered along the floor. But he hadn't gone very far before he keeled
over, and lay there. Then came Caesar, opened his big jaws and grabbed
him. Jarro believed, of course, that the dog was going to bite him to
death; but Caesar carried him back to the basket without harming him.
Because of this, Jarro acquired such a confidence in the dog Caesar,
that on his next walk in the cottage, he went over to the dog and lay
down beside him. Thereafter Caesar and he became good friends, and every
day, for several hours, Jarro lay and slept between Caesar's paws.
But an even greater affection than he felt for Caesar, did Jarro feel
toward his mistress. Of her he had not the least fear; but rubbed his
head against her hand when she came and fed him. Whenever she went out
of the cottage he sighed with regret; and when she came back he cried
welcome to her in his own language.
Jarro forgot entirely how afraid he had been of both dogs and humans in
other days. He thought now that they were gentle and kind, and he loved
them. He wished that he were well, so he could fly down to Takern and
tell the wild ducks that their enemies were not dangerous, and that they
need not fear them.
He had observed that the human beings, as well as Caesar, had calm eyes,
which it did one good to look into. The only one in the cottage whose
glance he did not care to meet, was Clawina, the house cat. She did him
no harm, either, but he couldn't place any confidence in her. Then, too,
she quarrelled with him constantly, because he loved human beings. "You
think they protect you because they are fond of you," said Clawina. "You
just wait until you are fat enough! Then they'll wring the neck off you.
I know them, I do."
Jarro, like all birds, had a tender and affectionate heart; and he was
unutterably distressed when he heard this. He couldn't imagine that his
mistress would wish to wring the neck off him, nor could he believe any
such thing of her son, the little boy who sat for hours beside his
basket, and babbled and chattered. He seemed to think that both of them
had the same love for him that he had for them.
One day, when Jarro and Caesar lay on the usual spot before the fire,
Clawina sat on the hearth and began to tease the wild duck.
"I wonder, Jarro, what you wild ducks will do next year, when Takern is
drained and turned into grain fields?" said Clawina. "What's that you
say, Clawina?" cried Jarro, and jumped up--scared through and through.
"I always forget, Jarro, that you do not understand human speech, like
Caesar and myself," answered the cat. "Or else you surely would have
heard how the men, who were here in the cottage yesterday, said that all
the water was going to be drained from Takern, and that next year the
lake-bottom would be as dry as a house-floor. And now I wonder where you
wild ducks will go." When Jarro heard this talk he was so furious that
he hissed like a snake. "You are just as mean as a common coot!" he
screamed at Clawina. "You only want to incite me against human beings. I
don't believe they want to do anything of the sort. They must know that
Takern is the wild ducks' property. Why should they make so many birds
homeless and unhappy? You have certainly hit upon all this to scare me.
I hope that you may be torn in pieces by Gorgo, the eagle! I hope that
my mistress will chop off your whiskers!"
But Jarro couldn't shut Clawina up with this outburst. "So you think I'm
lying," said she. "Ask Caesar, then! He was also in the house last
night. Caesar never lies."
"Caesar," said Jarro, "you understand human speech much better than
Clawina. Say that she hasn't heard aright! Think how it would be if the
people drained Takern, and changed the lake-bottom into fields! Then
there would be no more pondweed or duck-food for the grown wild ducks,
and no blackfish or worms or gnat-eggs for the ducklings. Then the
reed-banks would disappear--where now the ducklings conceal themselves
until they are able to fly. All ducks would be compelled to move away
from here and seek another home. But where shall they find a retreat
like Takern? Caesar, say that Clawina has not heard aright!"
It was extraordinary to watch Caesar's behaviour during this
conversation. He had been wide-awake the whole time before, but now,
when Jarro turned to him, he panted, laid his long nose on his forepaws,
and was sound asleep within the wink of an eyelid.
The cat looked down at Caesar with a knowing smile. "I believe that
Caesar doesn't care to answer you," she said to Jarro. "It is with him
as with all dogs; they will never acknowledge that humans can do any
wrong. But you can rely upon my word, at any rate. I shall tell you why
they wish to drain the lake just now. As long as you wild ducks still
had the power on Takern, they did not wish to drain it, for, at least,
they got some good out of you; but now, grebes and coots and other birds
who are no good as food, have infested nearly all the reed-banks, and
the people don't think they need let the lake remain on their account."
Jarro didn't trouble himself to answer Clawina, but raised his head, and
shouted in Caesar's ear: "Caesar! You know that on Takern there are
still so many ducks left that they fill the air like clouds. Say it
isn't true that human beings intend to make all of these homeless!"
Then Caesar sprang up with such a sudden outburst at Clawina that she
had to save herself by jumping up on a shelf. "I'll teach you to keep
quiet when I want to sleep," bawled Caesar. "Of course I know that there
is some talk about draining the lake this year. But there's been talk of
this many times before without anything coming of it. And that draining
business is a matter in which I take no stock whatever. For how would it
go with the game if Takern were laid waste. You're a donkey to gloat
over a thing like that. What will you and I have to amuse ourselves
with, when there are no more birds on Takern?"
_Sunday, April seventeenth_.
A couple of days later Jarro was so well that he could fly all about the
house. Then he was petted a good deal by the mistress, and the little
boy ran out in the yard and plucked the first grass-blades for him which
had sprung up. When the mistress caressed him, Jarro thought that,
although he was now so strong that he could fly down to Takern at any
time, he shouldn't care to be separated from the human beings. He had no
objection to remaining with them all his life.
But early one morning the mistress placed a halter, or noose, over
Jarro, which prevented him from using his wings, and then she turned him
over to the farm-hand who had found him in the yard. The farm-hand poked
him under his arm, and went down to Takern with him.
The ice had melted away while Jarro had been ill. The old, dry fall
leaves still stood along the shores and islets, but all the
water-growths had begun to take root down in the deep; and the green
stems had already reached the surface. And now nearly all the migratory
birds were at home. The curlews' hooked bills peeped out from the reeds.
The grebes glided about with new feather-collars around the neck; and
the jack-snipes were gathering straws for their nests.
The farm-hand got into a scow, laid Jarro in the bottom of the boat, and
began to pole himself out on the lake. Jarro, who had now accustomed
himself to expect only good of human beings, said to Caesar, who was
also in the party, that he was very grateful toward the farm-hand for
taking him out on the lake. But there was no need to keep him so closely
guarded, for he did not intend to fly away. To this Caesar made no
reply. He was very close-mouthed that morning.
The only thing which struck Jarro as being a bit peculiar was that the
farm-hand had taken his gun along. He couldn't believe that any of the
good folk in the cottage would want to shoot birds. And, beside, Caesar
had told him that the people didn't hunt at this time of the year. "It
is a prohibited time," he had said, "although this doesn't concern me,
The farm-hand went over to one of the little reed-enclosed mud-islets.
There he stepped from the boat, gathered some old reeds into a pile,
and lay down behind it. Jarro was permitted to wander around on the
ground, with the halter over his wings, and tethered to the boat, with a
Suddenly Jarro caught sight of some young ducks and drakes, in whose
company he had formerly raced backward and forward over the lake. They
were a long way off, but Jarro called them to him with a couple of loud
shouts. They responded, and a large and beautiful flock approached.
Before they got there, Jarro began to tell them about his marvellous
rescue, and of the kindness of human beings. Just then, two shots
sounded behind him. Three ducks sank down in the reeds--lifeless--and
Caesar bounced out and captured them.
Then Jarro understood. The human beings had only saved him that they
might use him as a decoy-duck. And they had also succeeded. Three ducks
had died on his account. He thought he should die of shame. He thought
that even his friend Caesar looked contemptuously at him; and when they
came home to the cottage, he didn't dare lie down and sleep beside the
The next morning Jarro was again taken out on the shallows. This time,
too, he saw some ducks. But when he observed that they flew toward him,
he called to them: "Away! Away! Be careful! Fly in another direction!
There's a hunter hidden behind the reed-pile. I'm only a decoy-bird!"
And he actually succeeded in preventing them from coming within shooting
Jarro had scarcely had time to taste of a grass-blade, so busy was he in
keeping watch. He called out his warning as soon as a bird drew nigh. He
even warned the grebes, although he detested them because they crowded
the ducks out of their best hiding-places. But he did not wish that any
bird should meet with misfortune on his account. And, thanks to Jarro's
vigilance, the farm-hand had to go home without firing off a single
Despite this fact, Caesar looked less displeased than on the previous
day; and when evening came he took Jarro in his mouth, carried him over
to the fireplace, and let him sleep between his forepaws.
Nevertheless Jarro was no longer contented in the cottage, but was
grievously unhappy. His heart suffered at the thought that humans never
had loved him. When the mistress, or the little boy, came forward to
caress him, he stuck his bill under his wing and pretended that he
For several days Jarro continued his distressful watch-service; and
already he was known all over Takern. Then it happened one morning,
while he called as usual: "Have a care, birds! Don't come near me! I'm
only a decoy-duck," that a grebe-nest came floating toward the shallows
where he was tied. This was nothing especially remarkable. It was a nest
from the year before; and since grebe-nests are built in such a way that
they can move on water like boats, it often happens that they drift out
toward the lake. Still Jarro stood there and stared at the nest, because
it came so straight toward the islet that it looked as though someone
had steered its course over the water.
As the nest came nearer, Jarro saw that a little human being--the
tiniest he had ever seen--sat in the nest and rowed it forward with a
pair of sticks. And this little human called to him: "Go as near the
water as you can, Jarro, and be ready to fly. You shall soon be freed."
A few seconds later the grebe-nest lay near land, but the little oarsman
did not leave it, but sat huddled up between branches and straw. Jarro
too held himself almost immovable. He was actually paralysed with fear
lest the rescuer should be discovered.
The next thing which occurred was that a flock of wild geese came along.
Then Jarro woke up to business, and warned them with loud shrieks; but
in spite of this they flew backward and forward over the shallows
several times. They held themselves so high that they were beyond
shooting distance; still the farm-hand let himself be tempted to fire a
couple of shots at them. These shots were hardly fired before the little
creature ran up on land, drew a tiny knife from its sheath, and, with a
couple of quick strokes, cut loose Jarro's halter. "Now fly away, Jarro,
before the man has time to load again!" cried he, while he himself ran
down to the grebe-nest and poled away from the shore.
The hunter had had his gaze fixed upon the geese, and hadn't observed
that Jarro had been freed; but Caesar had followed more carefully that
which happened; and just as Jarro raised his wings, he dashed forward
and grabbed him by the neck.
Jarro cried pitifully; and the boy who had freed him said quietly to
Caesar: "If you are just as honourable as you look, surely you cannot
wish to force a good bird to sit here and entice others into trouble."
When Caesar heard these words, he grinned viciously with his upper lip,
but the next second he dropped Jarro. "Fly, Jarro!" said he. "You are
certainly too good to be a decoy-duck. It wasn't for this that I wanted
to keep you here; but because it will be lonely in the cottage without
THE LOWERING OF THE LAKE
_Wednesday, April twentieth_.
It was indeed very lonely in the cottage without Jarro. The dog and the
cat found the time long, when they didn't have him to wrangle over; and
the housewife missed the glad quacking which he had indulged in every
time she entered the house. But the one who longed most for Jarro, was
the little boy, Per Ola. He was but three years old, and the only child;
and in all his life he had never had a playmate like Jarro. When he
heard that Jarro had gone back to Takern and the wild ducks, he couldn't
be satisfied with this, but thought constantly of how he should get him
Per Ola had talked a good deal with Jarro while he lay still in his
basket, and he was certain that the duck understood him. He begged his
mother to take him down to the lake that he might find Jarro, and
persuade him to come back to them. Mother wouldn't listen to this; but
the little one didn't give up his plan on that account.
The day after Jarro had disappeared, Per Ola was running about in the
yard. He played by himself as usual, but Caesar lay on the stoop; and
when mother let the boy out, she said: "Take care of Per Ola, Caesar!"
Now if all had been as usual, Caesar would also have obeyed the command,
and the boy would have been so well guarded that he couldn't have run
the least risk. But Caesar was not like himself these days. He knew that
the farmers who lived along Takern had held frequent conferences about
the lowering of the lake; and that they had almost settled the matter.
The ducks must leave, and Caesar should nevermore behold a glorious
chase. He was so preoccupied with thoughts of this misfortune, that he
did not remember to watch over Per Ola.
And the little one had scarcely been alone in the yard a minute, before
he realised that now the right moment was come to go down to Takern and
talk with Jarro. He opened a gate, and wandered down toward the lake on
the narrow path which ran along the banks. As long as he could be seen
from the house, he walked slowly; but afterward he increased his pace.
He was very much afraid that mother, or someone else, should call to him
that he couldn't go. He didn't wish to do anything naughty, only to
persuade Jarro to come home; but he felt that those at home would not
have approved of the undertaking.
When Per Ola came down to the lake-shore, he called Jarro several
times. Thereupon he stood for a long time and waited, but no Jarro
appeared. He saw several birds that resembled the wild duck, but they
flew by without noticing him, and he could understand that none among
them was the right one.
When Jarro didn't come to him, the little boy thought that it would be
easier to find him if he went out on the lake. There were several good
craft lying along the shore, but they were tied. The only one that lay
loose, and at liberty, was an old leaky scow which was so unfit that no
one thought of using it. But Per Ola scrambled up in it without caring
that the whole bottom was filled with water. He had not strength enough
to use the oars, but instead, he seated himself to swing and rock in the
scow. Certainly no grown person would have succeeded in moving a scow
out on Takern in that manner; but when the tide is high--and ill-luck to
the fore--little children have a marvellous faculty for getting out to
sea. Per Ola was soon riding around on Takern, and calling for Jarro.
When the old scow was rocked like this--out to sea--its Cracks opened
wider and wider, and the water actually streamed into it. Per Ola didn't
pay the slightest attention to this. He sat upon the little bench in
front and called to every bird he saw, and wondered why Jarro didn't
At last Jarro caught sight of Per Ola. He heard that someone called him
by the name which he had borne among human beings, and he understood
that the boy had gone out on Takern to search for him. Jarro was
unspeakably happy to find that one of the humans really loved him. He
shot down toward Per Ola, like an arrow, seated himself beside him, and
let him caress him. They were both very happy to see each other again.
But suddenly Jarro noticed the condition of the scow. It was half-filled
with water, and was almost ready to sink. Jarro tried to tell Per Ola
that he, who could neither fly nor swim, must try to get upon land; but
Per Ola didn't understand him. Then Jarro did not wait an instant, but
hurried away to get help.
Jarro came back in a little while, and carried on his back a tiny thing,
who was much smaller than Per Ola himself. If he hadn't been able to
talk and move, the boy would have believed that it was a doll.
Instantly, the little one ordered Per Ola to pick up a long, slender
pole that lay in the bottom of the scow, and try to pole it toward one
of the reed-islands. Per Ola obeyed him, and he and the tiny creature,
together, steered the scow. With a couple of strokes they were on a
little reed-encircled island, and now Per Ola was told that he must step
on land. And just the very moment that Per Ola set foot on land, the
scow was filled with water, and sank to the bottom. When Per Ola saw
this he was sure that father and mother would be very angry with him. He
would have started in to cry if he hadn't found something else to think
about soon; namely, a flock of big, gray birds, who lighted on the
island. The little midget took him up to them, and told him their names,
and what they said. And this was so funny that Per Ola forgot
Meanwhile the folks on the farm had discovered that the boy had
disappeared, and had started to search for him. They searched the
outhouses, looked in the well, and hunted through the cellar. Then they
went out into the highways and by-paths; wandered to the neighbouring
farm to find out if he had strayed over there, and searched for him also
down by Takern. But no matter how much they sought they did not find
Caesar, the dog, understood very well that the farmer-folk were looking
for Per Ola, but he did nothing to lead them on the right track;
instead, he lay still as though the matter didn't concern him.
Later in the day, Per Ola's footprints were discovered down by the
boat-landing. And then came the thought that the old, leaky scow was no
longer on the strand. Then one began to understand how the whole affair
had come about.
The farmer and his helpers immediately took out the boats and went in
search of the boy. They rowed around on Takern until way late in the
evening, without seeing the least shadow of him. They couldn't help
believing that the old scow had gone down, and that the little one lay
dead on the lake-bottom.
In the evening, Per Ola's mother hunted around on the strand. Everyone
else was convinced that the boy was drowned, but she could not bring
herself to believe this. She searched all the while. She searched
between reeds and bulrushes; tramped and tramped on the muddy shore,
never thinking of how deep her foot sank, and how wet she had become.
She was unspeakably desperate. Her heart ached in her breast. She did
not weep, but wrung her hands and called for her child in loud piercing
Round about her she heard swans' and ducks' and curlews' shrieks. She
thought that they followed her, and moaned and wailed--they too.
"Surely, they, too, must be in trouble, since they moan so," thought
she. Then she remembered: these were only birds that she heard complain.
They surely had no worries.
It was strange that they did not quiet down after sunset. But she heard
all these uncountable bird-throngs, which lived along Takern, send forth
cry upon cry. Several of them followed her wherever she went; others
came rustling past on light wings. All the air was filled with moans and
But the anguish which she herself was suffering, opened her heart. She
thought that she was not as far removed from all other living creatures
as people usually think. She understood much better than ever before,
how birds fared. They had their constant worries for home and children;
they, as she. There was surely not such a great difference between them
and her as she had heretofore believed.
Then she happened to think that it was as good as settled that these
thousands of swans and ducks and loons would lose their homes here by
Takern. "It will be very hard for them," she thought. "Where shall they
bring up their children now?"
She stood still and mused on this. It appeared to be an excellent and
agreeable accomplishment to change a lake into fields and meadows, but
let it be some other lake than Takern; some other lake, which was not
the home of so many thousand creatures.
She remembered how on the following day the proposition to lower the
lake was to be decided, and she wondered if this was why her little son
had been lost--just to-day.
Was it God's meaning that sorrow should come and open her heart--just
to-day--before it was too late to avert the cruel act?
She walked rapidly up to the house, and began to talk with her husband
about this. She spoke of the lake, and of the birds, and said that she
believed it was God's judgment on them both. And she soon found that he
was of the same opinion.
They already owned a large place, but if the lake-draining was carried
into effect, such a goodly portion of the lake-bottom would fall to
their share that their property would be nearly doubled. For this reason
they had been more eager for the undertaking than any of the other shore
owners. The others had been worried about expenses, and anxious lest the
draining should not prove any more successful this time than it was the
last. Per Ola's father knew in his heart that it was he who had
influenced them to undertake the work. He had exercised all his
eloquence, so that he might leave to his son a farm as large again as
his father had left to him.
He stood and pondered if God's hand was back of the fact that Takern had
taken his son from him on the day before he was to draw up the contract
to lay it waste. The wife didn't have to say many words to him, before
he answered: "It may be that God does not want us to interfere with His
order. I'll talk with the others about this to-morrow, and I think we'll
conclude that all may remain as it is."
While the farmer-folk were talking this over, Caesar lay before the
fire. He raised his head and listened very attentively. When he thought
that he was sure of the outcome, he walked up to the mistress, took her
by the skirt, and led her to the door. "But Caesar!" said she, and
wanted to break loose. "Do you know where Per Ola is?" she exclaimed.
Caesar barked joyfully, and threw himself against the door. She opened
it, and Caesar dashed down toward Takern. The mistress was so positive
he knew where Per Ola was, that she rushed after him. And no sooner had
they reached the shore than they heard a child's cry out on the lake.
Per Ola had had the best day of his life, in company with Thumbietot and
the birds; but now he had begun to cry because he was hungry and afraid
of the darkness. And he was glad when father and mother and Caesar came
_Friday, April twenty-second_.
One night when the boy lay and slept on an island in Takern, he was
awakened by oar-strokes. He had hardly gotten his eyes open before there
fell such a dazzling light on them that he began to blink.
At first he couldn't make out what it was that shone so brightly out
here on the lake; but he soon saw that a scow with a big burning torch
stuck up on a spike, aft, lay near the edge of the reeds. The red flame
from the torch was clearly reflected in the night-dark lake; and the
brilliant light must have lured the fish, for round about the flame in
the deep a mass of dark specks were seen, that moved continually, and
There were two old men in the scow. One sat at the oars, and the other
stood on a bench in the stern and held in his hand a short spear which
was coarsely barbed. The one who rowed was apparently a poor fisherman.
He was small, dried-up and weather-beaten, and wore a thin, threadbare
coat. One could see that he was so used to being out in all sorts of
weather that he didn't mind the cold. The other was well fed and well
dressed, and looked like a prosperous and self-complacent farmer.
"Now, stop!" said the farmer, when they were opposite the island where
the boy lay. At the same time he plunged the spear into the water. When
he drew it out again, a long, fine eel came with it.
"Look at that!" said he as he released the eel from the spear. "That was
one who was worth while. Now I think we have so many that we can turn
His comrade did not lift the oars, but sat and looked around. "It is
lovely out here on the lake to-night," said he. And so it was. It was
absolutely still, so that the entire water-surface lay in undisturbed
rest with the exception of the streak where the boat had gone forward.
This lay like a path of gold, and shimmered in the firelight. The sky
was clear and dark blue and thickly studded with stars. The shores were
hidden by the reed islands except toward the west. There Mount Omberg
loomed up high and dark, much more impressive than usual, and, cut away
a big, three-cornered piece of the vaulted heavens.
The other one turned his head to get the light out of his eyes, and
looked about him. "Yes, it is lovely here in Oestergylln," said he.
"Still the best thing about the province is not its beauty." "Then what
is it that's best?" asked the oarsman. "That it has always been a
respected and honoured province." "That may be true enough." "And then
this, that one knows it will always continue to be so." "But how in the
world can one know this?" said the one who sat at the oars.
The farmer straightened up where he stood and braced himself with the
spear. "There is an old story which has been handed down from father to
son in my family; and in it one learns what will happen to
Oestergoetland." "Then you may as well tell it to me," said the oarsman.
"We do not tell it to anyone and everyone, but I do not wish to keep it
a secret from an old comrade.
"At Ulvasa, here in Oestergoetland," he continued (and one could tell by
the tone of his voice that he talked of something which he had heard
from others, and knew by heart), "many, many years ago, there lived a
lady who had the gift of looking into the future, and telling people
what was going to happen to them--just as certainly and accurately as
though it had already occurred. For this she became widely noted; and it
is easy to understand that people would come to her, both from far and
near, to find out what they were going to pass through of good or evil.
"One day, when Ulvasa-lady sat in her hall and spun, as was customary in
former days, a poor peasant came into the room and seated himself on the
bench near the door.
"'I wonder what you are sitting and thinking about, dear lady,' said the
peasant after a little.
"'I am sitting and thinking about high and holy things,' answered she.
'Then it is not fitting, perhaps, that I ask you about something which
weighs on my heart,' said the peasant.
"'It is probably nothing else that weighs on your heart than that you
may reap much grain on your field. But I am accustomed to receive
communications from the Emperor about how it will go with his crown; and
from the Pope, about how it will go with his keys.' 'Such things cannot
be easy to answer,' said the peasant. 'I have also heard that no one
seems to go from here without being dissatisfied with what he has
"When the peasant said this, he saw that Ulvasa-lady bit her lip, and
moved higher up on the bench. 'So this is what you have heard about me,'
said she. 'Then you may as well tempt fortune by asking me about the
thing you wish to know; and you shall see if I can answer so that you
will be satisfied.'
"After this the peasant did not hesitate to state his errand. He said
that he had come to ask how it would go with Oestergoetland in the future.
There was nothing which was so dear to him as his native province, and
he felt that he should be happy until his dying day if he could get a
satisfactory reply to his query.
"'Oh! is that all you wish to know,' said the wise lady; 'then I think
that you will be content. For here where I now sit, I can tell you that
it will be like this with Oestergoetland: it will always have something to
boast of ahead of other provinces.'
"'Yes, that was a good answer, dear lady,' said the peasant, 'and now I
would be entirely at peace if I could only comprehend how such a thing
should be possible.'
"'Why should it not be possible?' said Ulvasa-lady. 'Don't you know that
Oestergoetland is already renowned? Or think you there is any place in
Sweden that can boast of owning, at the same time, two such cloisters as
the ones in Alvastra and Vreta, and such a beautiful cathedral as the
one in Linkoeping?'
"'That may be so,' said the peasant. 'But I'm an old man, and I know
that people's minds are changeable. I fear that there will come a time
when they won't want to give us any glory, either for Alvastra or Vreta
or for the cathedral.'
"'Herein you may be right,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but you need not doubt
prophecy on that account. I shall now build up a new cloister on
Vadstena, and that will become the most celebrated in the North. Thither
both the high and the lowly shall make pilgrimages, and all shall sing
the praises of the province because it has such a holy place within its
"The peasant replied that he was right glad to know this. But he also
knew, of course, that everything was perishable; and he wondered much
what would give distinction to the province, if Vadstena Cloister should
once fall into disrepute.
"'You are not easy to satisfy,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but surely I can see
so far ahead that I can tell you, before Vadstena Cloister shall have
lost its splendour, there will be a castle erected close by, which will
be the most magnificent of its period. Kings and dukes will be guests
there, and it shall be accounted an honour to the whole province, that
it owns such an ornament.'
"'This I am also glad to hear,' said the peasant. 'But I'm an old man,
and I know how it generally turns out with this world's glories. And if
the castle goes to ruin, I wonder much what there will be that can
attract the people's attention to this province.'
"'It's not a little that you want to know,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but,
certainly, I can look far enough into the future to see that there will
be life and movement in the forests around Finspang. I see how cabins
and smithies arise there, and I believe that the whole province shall
be renowned because iron will be moulded within its confines.'
"The peasant didn't deny that he was delighted to hear this. 'But if it
should go so badly that even Finspang's foundry went down in importance,
then it would hardly be possible that any new thing could arise of which
Oestergoetland might boast.'
"'You are not easy to please,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but I can see so far
into the future that I mark how, along the lake-shores, great
manors--large as castles--are built by gentlemen who have carried on
wars in foreign lands. I believe that the manors will bring the province
just as much honour as anything else that I have mentioned.'
"'But if there comes a time when no one lauds the great manors?'
insisted the peasant.
"'You need not be uneasy at all events,' said Ulvasa-lady. I see how
health-springs bubble on Medevi meadows, by Vaetter's shores. I believe
that the wells at Medevi will bring the land as much praise as you can
"'That is a mighty good thing to know,' said the peasant. 'But if there
comes a time when people will seek their health at other springs?'
"'You must not give yourself any anxiety on that account,' answered
Ulvasa-lady. I see how people dig and labour, from Motala to Mem. They
dig a canal right through the country, and then Oestergoetland's praise is
again on everyone's lips.'
"But, nevertheless, the peasant looked distraught.
"'I see that the rapids in Motala stream begin to draw wheels,' said
Ulvasa-lady--and now two bright red spots came to her cheeks, for she
began to be impatient--'I hear hammers resound in Motala, and looms
clatter in Norrkoeping.'
"'Yes, that's good to know,' said the peasant, 'but everything is
perishable, and I'm afraid that even this can be forgotten, and go into
"When the peasant was not satisfied even now, there was an end to the
lady's patience. 'You say that everything is perishable,' said she, 'but
now I shall still name something which will always be like itself; and
that is that such arrogant and pig-headed peasants as you will always
be found in this province--until the end of time.'
"Hardly had Ulvasa-lady said this before the peasant rose--happy and
satisfied--and thanked her for a good answer. Now, at last, he was
satisfied, he said.
"'Verily, I understand now how you look at it,' then said Ulvasa-lady.
"'Well, I look at it in this way, dear lady,' said the peasant, 'that
everything which kings and priests and noblemen and merchants build and
accomplish, can only endure for a few years. But when you tell me that
in Oestergoetland there will always be peasants who are honour-loving and
persevering, then I know also that it will be able to keep its ancient
glory. For it is only those who go bent under the eternal labour with
the soil, who can hold this land in good repute and honour--from one
time to another.'"
THE HOMESPUN CLOTH
_Saturday, April twenty-third_.
The boy rode forward--way up in the air. He had the great Oestergoetland
plain under him, and sat and counted the many white churches which
towered above the small leafy groves around them. It wasn't long before
he had counted fifty. After that he became confused and couldn't keep
track of the counting.
Nearly all the farms were built up with large, whitewashed two-story
houses, which looked so imposing that the boy couldn't help admiring
them. "There can't be any peasants in this land," he said to himself,
"since I do not see any peasant farms."
Immediately all the wild geese shrieked: "Here the peasants live like
gentlemen. Here the peasants live like gentlemen."
On the plains the ice and snow had disappeared, and the spring work had
begun. "What kind of long crabs are those that creep over the fields?"
asked the boy after a bit. "Ploughs and oxen. Ploughs and oxen,"
answered the wild geese.
The oxen moved so slowly down on the fields, that one could scarcely
perceive they were in motion, and the geese shouted to them: "You won't
get there before next year. You won't get there before next year." But
the oxen were equal to the occasion. They raised their muzzles in the
air and bellowed: "We do more good in an hour than such as you do in a
In a few places the ploughs were drawn by horses. They went along with
much more eagerness and haste than the oxen; but the geese couldn't keep
from teasing these either. "Ar'n't you ashamed to be doing ox-duty?"
cried the wild geese. "Ar'n't you ashamed yourselves to be doing lazy
man's duty?" the horses neighed back at them.
But while horses and oxen were at work in the fields, the stable ram
walked about in the barnyard. He was newly clipped and touchy, knocked
over the small boys, chased the shepherd dog into his kennel, and then
strutted about as though he alone were lord of the whole place. "Rammie,
rammie, what have you done with your wool?" asked the wild geese, who
rode by up in the air. "That I have sent to Drag's woollen mills in
Norrkoeping," replied the ram with a long, drawn-out bleat. "Rammie,
rammie, what have you done with your horns?" asked the geese. But any
horns the rammie had never possessed, to his sorrow, and one couldn't
offer him a greater insult than to ask after them. He ran around a long
time, and butted at the air, so furious was he.
On the country road came a man who drove a flock of Skane pigs that were
not more than a few weeks old, and were going to be sold up country.
They trotted along bravely, as little as they were, and kept close
together--as if they sought protection. "Nuff, nuff, nuff, we came away
too soon from father and mother. Nuff, nuff, nuff, how will it go with
us poor children?" said the little pigs. The wild geese didn't have the
heart to tease such poor little creatures. "It will be better for you
than you can ever believe," they cried as they flew past them.
The wild geese were never so merry as when they flew over a flat
country. Then they did not hurry themselves, but flew from farm to farm,
and joked with the tame animals.
As the boy rode over the plain, he happened to think of a legend which
he had heard a long time ago. He didn't remember it exactly, but it was
something about a petticoat--half of which was made of gold-woven
velvet, and half of gray homespun cloth. But the one who owned the
petticoat adorned the homespun cloth with such a lot of pearls and
precious stones that it looked richer and more gorgeous than the
He remembered this about the homespun cloth, as he looked down on
Oestergoetland, because it was made up of a large plain, which lay wedged
in between two mountainous forest-tracts--one to the north, the other to
the south. The two forest-heights lay there, a lovely blue, and
shimmered in the morning light, as if they were decked with golden
veils; and the plain, which simply spread out one winter-naked field
after another, was, in and of itself, prettier to look upon than gray
But the people must have been contented on the plain, because it was
generous and kind, and they had tried to decorate it in the best way
possible. High up--where the boy rode by--he thought that cities and
farms, churches and factories, castles and railway stations were
scattered over it, like large and small trinkets. It shone on the roofs,
and the window-panes glittered like jewels. Yellow country roads,
shining railway-tracks and blue canals ran along between the districts
like embroidered loops. Linkoeping lay around its cathedral like a
pearl-setting around a precious stone; and the gardens in the country
were like little brooches and buttons. There was not much regulation in
the pattern, but it was a display of grandeur which one could never tire
of looking at.
The geese had left Oeberg district, and travelled toward the east along
Goeta Canal. This was also getting itself ready for the summer. Workmen
laid canal-banks, and tarred the huge lock-gates. They were working
everywhere to receive spring fittingly, even in the cities. There,
masons and painters stood on scaffoldings and made fine the exteriors of
the houses while maids were cleaning the windows. Down at the harbour,
sailboats and steamers were being washed and dressed up.
At Norrkoeping the wild geese left the plain, and flew up toward
Kolmarden. For a time they had followed an old, hilly country road,
which wound around cliffs, and ran forward under wild
mountain-walls--when the boy suddenly let out a shriek. He had been
sitting and swinging his foot back and forth, and one of his wooden
shoes had slipped off.
"Goosey-gander, goosey-gander, I have dropped my shoe!" cried the boy.
The goosey-gander turned about and sank toward the ground; then the boy
saw that two children, who were walking along the road, had picked up
his shoe. "Goosey-gander, goosey-gander," screamed the boy excitedly,
"fly upward again! It is too late. I cannot get my shoe back again."
Down on the road stood Osa, the goose-girl, and her brother, little
Mats, looking at a tiny wooden shoe that had fallen from the skies.
Osa, the goose-girl, stood silent a long while, and pondered over the
find. At last she said, slowly and thoughtfully: "Do you remember,
little Mats, that when we went past Oevid Cloister, we heard that the
folks in a farmyard had seen an elf who was dressed in leather breeches,
and had wooden shoes on his feet, like any other working man? And do you
recollect when we came to Vittskoevle, a girl told us that she had seen a
Goa-Nisse with wooden shoes, who flew away on the back of a goose? And
when we ourselves came home to our cabin, little Mats, we saw a goblin
who was dressed in the same way, and who also straddled the back of a
goose--and flew away. Maybe it was the same one who rode along on his
goose up here in the air and dropped his wooden shoe."
"Yes, it must have been," said little Mats.
They turned the wooden shoe about and examined it carefully--for it
isn't every day that one happens across a Goa-Nisse's wooden shoe on the
"Wait, wait, little Mats!" said Osa, the goose-girl. "There is something
written on one side of it."
"Why, so there is! but they are such tiny letters."
"Let me see! It says--it says: 'Nils Holgersson from W. Vemminghoeg.'
That's the most wonderful thing I've ever heard!" said little Mats.
THE STORY OF KARR AND GRAYSKIN
About twelve years before Nils Holgersson started on his travels with
the wild geese there was a manufacturer at Kolmarden who wanted to be
rid of one of his dogs. He sent for his game-keeper and said to him that
it was impossible to keep the dog because he could not be broken of the
habit of chasing all the sheep and fowl he set eyes on, and he asked the
man to take the dog into the forest and shoot him.
The game-keeper slipped the leash on the dog to lead him to a spot in
the forest where all the superannuated dogs from the manor were shot and
buried. He was not a cruel man, but he was very glad to shoot that dog,
for he knew that sheep and chickens were not the only creatures he
hunted. Times without number he had gone into the forest and helped
himself to a hare or a grouse-chick.
The dog was a little black-and-tan setter. His name was Karr, and he was
so wise he understood all that was said.
As the game-keeper was leading him through the thickets, Karr knew only
too well what was in store for him. But this no one could have guessed
by his behaviour, for he neither hung his head nor dragged his tail, but
seemed as unconcerned as ever.
It was because they were in the forest that the dog was so careful not
to appear the least bit anxious.
There were great stretches of woodland on every side of the factory, and
this forest was famed both among animals and human beings because for
many, many years the owners had been so careful of it that they had
begrudged themselves even the trees needed for firewood. Nor had they
had the heart to thin or train them. The trees had been allowed to grow
as they pleased. Naturally a forest thus protected was a beloved refuge
for wild animals, which were to be found there in great numbers. Among
themselves they called it Liberty Forest, and regarded it as the best
retreat in the whole country.
As the dog was being led through the woods he thought of what a bugaboo
he had been to all the small animals and birds that lived there.
"Now, Karr, wouldn't they be happy in their lairs if they only knew what
was awaiting you?" he thought, but at the same time he wagged his tail
and barked cheerfully, so that no one should think that he was worried
"What fun would there have been in living had I not hunted
occasionally?" he reasoned. "Let him who will, regret; it's not going to
But the instant the dog said this, a singular change came over him. He
stretched his neck as though he had a mind to howl. He no longer trotted
alongside the game-keeper, but walked behind him. It was plain that he
had begun to think of something unpleasant.
It was early summer; the elk cows had just given birth to their young,
and, the night before, the dog had succeeded in parting from its mother
an elk calf not more than five days old, and had driven it down into the
marsh. There he had chased it back and forth over the knolls--not with
the idea of capturing it, but merely for the sport of seeing how he
could scare it. The elk cow knew that the marsh was bottomless so soon
after the thaw, and that it could not as yet hold up so large an animal
as herself, so she stood on the solid earth for the longest time,
watching! But when Karr kept chasing the calf farther and farther away,
she rushed out on the marsh, drove the dog off, took the calf with her,
and turned back toward firm land. Elk are more skilled than other
animals in traversing dangerous, marshy ground, and it seemed as if she
would reach solid land in safety; but when she was almost there a knoll
which she had stepped upon sank into the mire, and she went down with
it. She tried to rise, but could get no secure foothold, so she sank and
sank. Karr stood and looked on, not daring to move. When he saw that the
elk could not save herself, he ran away as fast as he could, for he had
begun to think of the beating he would get if it were discovered that he
had brought a mother elk to grief. He was so terrified that he dared not
pause for breath until he reached home.
It was this that the dog recalled; and it troubled him in a way very
different from the recollection of all his other misdeeds. This was
doubtless because he had not really meant to kill either the elk cow or
her calf, but had deprived them of life without wishing to do so.
"But maybe they are alive yet!" thought the dog. "They were not dead
when I ran away; perhaps they saved themselves."
He was seized with an irresistible longing to know for a certainty while
yet there was time for him to find out. He noticed that the game-keeper
did not have a firm hold on the leash; so he made a sudden spring, broke
loose, and dashed through the woods down to the marsh with such speed
that he was out of sight before the game-keeper had time to level his
There was nothing for the game-keeper to do but to rush after him. When
he got to the marsh he found the dog standing upon a knoll, howling with
all his might.
The man thought he had better find out the meaning of this, so he
dropped his gun and crawled out over the marsh on hands and knees. He
had not gone far when he saw an elk cow lying dead in the quagmire.
Close beside her lay a little calf. It was still alive, but so much
exhausted that it could not move. Karr was standing beside the calf, now
bending down and licking it, now howling shrilly for help.
The game-keeper raised the calf and began to drag it toward land. When
the dog understood that the calf would be saved he was wild with joy. He
jumped round and round the game-keeper, licking his hands and barking
The man carried the baby elk home and shut it up in a calf stall in the
cow shed. Then he got help to drag the mother elk from the marsh. Only
after this had been done did he remember that he was to shoot Karr. He
called the dog to him, and again took him into the forest.
The game-keeper walked straight on toward the dog's grave; but all the
while he seemed to be thinking deeply. Suddenly he turned and walked
toward the manor.
Karr had been trotting along quietly; but when the game-keeper turned
and started for home, he became anxious. The man must have discovered
that it was he that had caused the death of the elk, and now he was
going back to the manor to be thrashed before he was shot!
To be beaten was worse than all else! With that prospect Karr could no
longer keep up his spirits, but hung his head. When he came to the manor
he did not look up, but pretended that he knew no one there.
The master was standing on the stairs leading to the hall when the
game-keeper came forward.
"Where on earth did that dog come from?" he exclaimed. "Surely it can't
be Karr? He must be dead this long time!"
Then the man began to tell his master all about the mother elk, while
Karr made himself as little as he could, and crouched behind the
Much to his surprise the man had only praise for him. He said it was
plain the dog knew that the elk were in distress, and wished to save
"You may do as you like, but I can't shoot that dog!" declared the
Karr raised himself and pricked up his ears. He could hardly believe
that he heard aright. Although he did not want to show how anxious he
had been, he couldn't help whining a little. Could it be possible that