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The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerloef

Part 9 out of 9

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return to my flock."

She spread her wings and started to fly, but came back and stroked
Thumbietot up and down with her bill before she flew away.

It was broad daylight, but no human being moved on the farm and the boy
could go where he pleased. He hastened to the cow shed, because he knew
that he could get the best information from the cows.

It looked rather barren in their shed. In the spring there had been
three fine cows there, but now there was only one--Mayrose. It was quite
apparent that she yearned for her comrades. Her head drooped sadly, and
she had hardly touched the feed in her crib.

"Good day, Mayrose!" said the boy, running fearlessly into her stall.

"How are mother and father? How are the cat and the chickens? What has
become of Star and Gold-Lily?"

When Mayrose heard the boy's voice she started, and appeared as if she
were going to gore him. But she was not so quick-tempered now as
formerly, and took time to look well at Nils Holgersson.

He was just as little now as when he went away, and wore the same
clothes; yet he was completely changed. The Nils Holgersson that went
away in the spring had a heavy, slow gait, a drawling speech, and sleepy
eyes. The one that had come back was lithe and alert, ready of speech,
and had eyes that sparkled and danced. He had a confident bearing that
commanded respect, little as he was. Although he himself did not look
happy, he inspired happiness in others.

"Moo!" bellowed Mayrose. "They told me that he was changed, but I
couldn't believe it. Welcome home, Nils Holgersson! Welcome home! This
is the first glad moment I have known for ever so long!"

"Thank you, Mayrose!" said the boy, who was very happy to be so well

"Now tell me all about father and mother."

"They have had nothing but hardship ever since you went away," said
Mayrose. "The horse has been a costly care all summer, for he has stood
in the stable the whole time and not earned his feed. Your father is too
soft-hearted to shoot him and he can't sell him. It was on account of
the horse that both Star and Gold-Lily had to be sold."

There was something else the boy wanted badly to know, but he was
diffident about asking the question point blank. Therefore he said:

"Mother must have felt very sorry when she discovered that Morten
Goosey-Gander had flown?"

"She wouldn't have worried much about Morten Goosey-Gander had she
known the way he came to leave. She grieves most at the thought of her
son having run away from home with a goosey-gander."

"Does she really think that I _stole_ the goosey-gander?" said the boy.

"What else could she think?"

"Father and mother must fancy that I've been roaming about the country,
like a common tramp?"

"They think that you've gone to the dogs," said Mayrose. "They have
mourned you as one mourns the loss of the dearest thing on earth."

As soon as the boy heard this, he rushed from the cow shed and down to
the stable.

It was small, but clean and tidy. Everything showed that his father had
tried to make the place comfortable for the new horse. In the stall
stood a strong, fine animal that looked well fed and well cared for.

"Good day to you!" said the boy. "I have heard that there's a sick horse
in here. Surely it can't be you, who look so healthy and strong."

The horse turned his head and stared fixedly at the boy.

"Are you the son?" he queried. "I have heard many bad reports of him.
But you have such a good face, I couldn't believe that you were he, did
I not know that he was transformed into an elf."

"I know that I left a bad name behind me when I went away from the
farm," admitted Nils Holgersson. "My own mother thinks I am a thief. But
what matters it--I sha'n't tarry here long. Meanwhile, I want to know
what ails you."

"Pity you're not going to stay," said the horse, "for I have the feeling
that you and I might become good friends. I've got something in my
foot--the point of a knife, or something sharp--that's all that ails me.
It has gone so far in that the doctor can't find it, but it cuts so that
I can't walk. If you would only tell your father what's wrong with me,
I'm sure that he could help me. I should like to be of some use. I
really feel ashamed to stand here and feed without doing any work."

"It's well that you have no real illness," remarked Nils Holgersson. "I
must attend to this at once, so that you will be all right again. You
don't mind if I do a little scratching on your hoof with my knife, do

Nils Holgersson had just finished, when he heard the sound of voices. He
opened the stable door a little and peeped out.

His father and mother were coming down the lane. It was easy to see that
they were broken by many sorrows. His mother had many lines on her face
and his father's hair had turned gray. She was talking with him about
getting a loan from her brother-in-law.

"No, I don't want to borrow any more money," his father said, as they
were passing the stable. "There's nothing quite so hard as being in
debt. It would be better to sell the cabin."

"If it were not for the boy, I shouldn't mind selling it," his mother
demurred. "But what will become of him, if he returns some day, wretched
and poor--as he's likely to be--and we not here?"

"You're right about that," the father agreed. "But we shall have to ask
the folks who take the place to receive him kindly and to let him know
that he's welcome back to us. We sha'n't say a harsh word to him, no
matter what he may be, shall we mother?"

"No, indeed! If I only had him again, so that I could be certain he is
not starving and freezing on the highways, I'd ask nothing more!"

Then his father and mother went in, and the boy heard no more of their

He was happy and deeply moved when he knew that they loved him so
dearly, although they believed he had gone astray. He longed to rush
into their arms.

"But perhaps it would be an even greater sorrow were they to see me as I
now am."

While he stood there, hesitating, a cart drove up to the gate. The boy
smothered a cry of surprise, for who should step from the cart and go
into the house yard but Osa, the goose girl, and her father!

They walked hand in hand toward the cabin. When they were about half
way there, Osa stopped her father and said:

"Now remember, father, you are not to mention the wooden shoe or the
geese or the little brownie who was so like Nils Holgersson that if it
was not himself it must have had some connection with him."

"Certainly not!" said Jon Esserson. "I shall only say that their son has
been of great help to you on several occasions--when you were trying to
find me--and that therefore we have come to ask if we can't do them a
service in return, since I'm a rich man now and have more than I need,
thanks to the mine I discovered up in Lapland."

"I know, father, that you can say the right thing in the right way," Osa
commended. "It is only that one particular thing that I don't wish you
to mention."

They went into the cabin, and the boy would have liked to hear what they
talked about in there; but he dared not venture near the house. It was
not long before they came out again, and his father and mother
accompanied them as far as the gate.

His parents were strangely happy. They appeared to have gained a new
hold on life.

When the visitors were gone, father and mother lingered at the gate
gazing after them.

"I don't feel unhappy any longer, since I've heard so much that is good
of our Nils," said his mother.

"Perhaps he got more praise than he really deserved," put in his father

"Wasn't it enough for you that they came here specially to say they
wanted to help us because our Nils had served them in many ways? I
think, father, that you should have accepted their offer."

"No, mother, I don't wish to accept money from any one, either as a gift
or a loan. In the first place I want to free myself from all debt, then
we will work our way up again. We're not so very old, are we, mother?"
The father laughed heartily as he said this.

"I believe you think it will be fun to sell this place, upon which we
have expended such a lot of time and hard work," protested the mother.

"Oh, you know why I'm laughing," the father retorted. "It was the
thought of the boy's having gone to the bad that weighed me down until I
had no strength or courage left in me. Now that I know he still lives
and has turned out well, you'll see that Holger Nilsson has some grit

The mother went in alone, and the boy made haste to hide in a corner,
for his father walked into the stable. He went over to the horse and
examined its hoof, as usual, to try to discover what was wrong with it.

"What's this!" he cried, discovering some letters scratched on the

"Remove the sharp piece of iron from the foot," he read and glanced
around inquiringly. However, he ran his fingers along the under side of
the hoof and looked at it carefully.

"I verily believe there is something sharp here!" he said.

While his father was busy with the horse and the boy sat huddled in a
corner, it happened that other callers came to the farm.

The fact was that when Morten Goosey-Gander found himself so near his
old home he simply could not resist the temptation of showing his wife
and children to his old companions on the farm. So he took Dunfin and
the goslings along, and made for home.

There was not a soul in the barn yard when the goosey-gander came along.
He alighted, confidently walked all around the place, and showed Dunfin
how luxuriously he had lived when he was a tame goose.

When they had viewed the entire farm, he noticed that the door of the
cow shed was open.

"Look in here a moment," he said, "then you will see how I lived in
former days. It was very different from camping in swamps and morasses,
as we do now."

The goosey-gander stood in the doorway and looked into the cow shed.

"There's not a soul in here," he said. "Come along, Dunfin, and you
shall see the goose pen. Don't be afraid; there's no danger."

Forthwith the goosey-gander, Dunfin, and all six goslings waddled into
the goose pen, to have a look at the elegance and comfort in which the
big white gander had lived before he joined the wild geese.

"This is the way it used to be: here was my place and over there was the
trough, which was always filled with oats and water," explained the

"Wait! there's some fodder in it now." With that he rushed to the trough
and began to gobble up the oats.

But Dunfin was nervous.

"Let's go out again!" she said.

"Only two more grains," insisted the goosey-gander. The next second he
let out a shriek and ran for the door, but it was too late! The door
slammed, the mistress stood without and bolted it. They were locked in!

The father had removed a sharp piece of iron from the horse's hoof and
stood contentedly stroking the animal when the mother came running into
the stable.

"Come, father, and see the capture I've made!"

"No, wait a minute!" said the father. "Look here, first. I have
discovered what ailed the horse."

"I believe our luck has turned," said the mother. "Only fancy! the big
white goosey-gander that disappeared last spring must have gone off with
the wild geese. He has come back to us in company with seven wild geese.
They walked straight into the goose pen, and I've shut them all in."

"That's extraordinary," remarked the father. "But best of all is that we
don't have to think any more that our boy stole the goosey-gander when
he went away."

"You're quite right, father," she said. "But I'm afraid we'll have to
kill them to-night. In two days is Morten Gooseday[1] and we must make
haste if we expect to get them to market in time."

[Footnote 1: In Sweden the 10th of November is called Morten Gooseday
and corresponds to the American Thanksgiving Day.]

"I think it would be outrageous to butcher the goosey-gander, now that
he has returned to us with such a large family," protested Holger

"If times were easier we'd let him live; but since we're going to move
from here, we can't keep geese. Come along now and help me carry them
into the kitchen," urged the mother.

They went out together and in a few moments the boy saw his father
coming along with Morten Goosey-Gander and Dunfin--one under each arm.
He and his wife went into the cabin.

The goosey-gander cried:

"Thumbietot, come and help me!"--as he always did when in
peril--although he was not aware that the boy was at hand.

Nils Holgersson heard him, yet he lingered at the door of the cow shed.

He did not hesitate because he knew that it would be well for him if the
goosey-gander were beheaded--at that moment he did not even remember
this--but because he shrank from being seen by his parents.

"They have a hard enough time of it already," he thought. "Must I bring
them a new sorrow?"

But when the door closed on the goosey-gander, the boy was aroused.

He dashed across the house yard, sprang up on the board-walk leading to
the entrance door and ran into the hallway, where he kicked off his
wooden shoes in the old accustomed way, and walked toward the door.

All the while it went so much against the grain to appear before his
father and mother that he could not raise his hand to knock.

"But this concerns the life of the goosey-gander," he said to
himself--"he who has been my best friend ever since I last stood here."

In a twinkling the boy remembered all that he and the goosey-gander had
suffered on ice-bound lakes and stormy seas and among wild beasts of
prey. His heart swelled with gratitude; he conquered himself and knocked
on the door.

"Is there some one who wishes to come in?" asked his father, opening the

"Mother, you sha'n't touch the goosey-gander!" cried the boy.

Instantly both the goosey-gander and Dunfin, who lay on a bench with
their feet tied, gave a cry of joy, so that he was sure they were alive.

Some one else gave a cry of joy--his _mother_!

"My, but you have grown tall and handsome!" she exclaimed.

The boy had not entered the cabin, but was standing on the doorstep,
like one who is not quite certain how he will be received.

"The Lord be praised that I have you back again!" said his mother,
laughing and crying. "Come in, my boy! Come in!"

"Welcome!" added his father, and not another word could he utter.

But the boy still lingered at the threshold. He could not comprehend why
they were so glad to see him--such as he was. Then his mother came and
put her arms around him and drew him into the room, and he knew that he
was all right.

"Mother and father!" he cried. "I'm a big boy. I am a human being


_Wednesday, November ninth_.

The boy arose before dawn and wandered down to the coast. He was
standing alone on the strand east of Smyge fishing hamlet before
sunrise. He had already been in the pen with Morten Goosey-Gander to try
to rouse him, but the big white gander had no desire to leave home. He
did not say a word, but only stuck his bill under his wing and went to
sleep again.

To all appearances the weather promised to be almost as perfect as it
had been that spring day when the wild geese came to Skane. There was
hardly a ripple on the water; the air was still and the boy thought of
the good passage the geese would have. He himself was as yet in a kind
of daze--sometimes thinking he was an elf, sometimes a human being. When
he saw a stone hedge alongside the road, he was afraid to go farther
until he had made sure that no wild animal or vulture lurked behind it.
Very soon he laughed to himself and rejoiced because he was big and
strong and did not have to be afraid of anything.

When he reached the coast he stationed himself, big as he was, at the
very edge of the strand, so that the wild geese could see him.

It was a busy day for the birds of passage. Bird calls sounded on the
air continuously. The boy smiled as he thought that no one but himself
understood what the birds were saying to one another. Presently wild
geese came flying; one big flock following another.

"Just so it's not my geese that are going away without bidding me
farewell," he thought. He wanted so much to tell them how everything had
turned out, and to show them that he was no longer an elf but a human

There came a flock that flew faster and cackled louder than the others,
and something told him that this must be _the_ flock, but now he was not
quite so sure about it as he would have been the day before.

The flock slackened its flight and circled up and down along the coast.

The boy knew it was the right one, but he could not understand why the
geese did not come straight down to him. They could not avoid seeing him
where he stood. He tried to give a call that would bring them down to
him, but only think! his tongue would not obey him. He could not make
the right sound! He heard Akka's calls, but did not understand what she

"What can this mean? Have the wild geese changed their language?" he

He waved his cap to them and ran along the shore calling.

"Here am I, where are you?"

But this seemed only to frighten the geese. They rose and flew farther
out to sea. At last he understood. They did not know that he was human,
had not recognized him. He could not call them to him because human
beings can not speak the language of birds. He could not speak their
language, nor could he understand it.

Although the boy was very glad to be released from the enchantment,
still he thought it hard that because of this he should be parted from
his old comrades.

He sat down on the sands and buried his face in his hands. What was the
use of his gazing after them any more?

Presently he heard the rustle of wings. Old mother Akka had found it
hard to fly away from Thumbietot, and turned back, and now that the boy
sat quite still she ventured to fly nearer to him. Suddenly something
must have told her who he was, for she lit close beside him.

Nils gave a cry of joy and took old Akka in his arms. The other wild
geese crowded round him and stroked him with their bills. They cackled
and chattered and wished him all kinds of good luck, and he, too, talked
to them and thanked them for the wonderful journey which he had been
privileged to make in their company.

All at once the wild geese became strangely quiet and withdrew from him,
as if to say:

"Alas! he is a man. He does not understand us: we do not understand

Then the boy rose and went over to Akka; he stroked her and patted her.
He did the same to Yksi and Kaksi, Kolme and Neljae, Viisi and Kuusi--the
old birds who had been his companions from the very start.

After that he walked farther up the strand. He knew perfectly well that
the sorrows of the birds do not last long, and he wanted to part with
them while they were still sad at losing him.

As he crossed the shore meadows he turned and watched the many flocks of
birds that were flying over the sea. All were shrieking their coaxing
calls--only one goose flock flew silently on as long as he could follow
it with his eyes. The wedge was perfect, the speed good, and the wing
strokes strong and certain.

The boy felt such a yearning for his departing comrades that he almost
wished he were Thumbietot again and could travel over land and sea with
a flock of wild geese.


The final _e_ is sounded in Skane, Sirle, Gripe, etc.

The _a_ in Skane and Smaland is pronounced like _o_ in ore.

_j_ is like the English _y_. Nuolja, Oviksfjaellen, Sjangeli, Jarro,
etc., should sound as if they were spelled like this: Nuolya,
Oviksfyellen, Syang [one syllable] elee, Yarro, etc.

_g_, when followed by _e, i, y, ae, oe_, is also like _y_. Example, Goeta
is pronounced Yoeta.

When _g_ is followed by _a, o, u_, or _a_, it is hard, as in go.

_k_ in Norrkoeping, Linkoeping, Kivik (pronounced Cheeveek), etc., is like
_ch_ in cheer.

_k_ is hard when it precedes _a, o, u_, or _a_. Example, Kaksi, Kolmi,

_ae_ is pronounced like _ae_ in fare. Example, Faers.

There is no sound in the English language which corresponds to the
Swedish _oe_. It is like the French _eu_ in jeu.

Gripe is pronounced Greep-e.

In Sirle, the first syllable has the same sound as _sir_, in sirup.

The names which Miss Lagerloef has given to the animals are descriptive.

Smirre Fox, is cunning fox.

Sirle Squirrel, is graceful, or nimble squirrel.

Gripe Otter, means grabbing or clutching otter.

Mons is a pet name applied to cats; like our tommy or pussy. Monsie
house-cat is equivalent to Tommy house-cat.

Marten gaskarl (Morten Goosie-gander) is a pet name for a tame gander,
just as we use Dickie-bird for a pet bird.

Fru is the Swedish for Mrs. This title is usually applied to gentlewomen
only. The author has used this meaning of "fru."

A Goa-Nisse is an elf-king, and corresponds to the English Puck or Robin


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