The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Part 2 out of 9
he came out in the open fields, he should keep an eye out for hawks and
buzzards; for eagles and falcons that soared in the air. In the
bramble-bush he could be captured by the sparrow-hawks; magpies and
crows were found everywhere and in these he mustn't place any too much
confidence. As soon as it was dusk, he must keep his ears open and
listen for the big owls, who flew along with such soundless wing-strokes
that they could come right up to him before he was aware of their
When the boy heard that there were so many who were after his life, he
thought that it would be simply impossible for him to escape. He was not
particularly afraid to die, but he didn't like the idea of being eaten
up, so he asked Akka what he should do to protect himself from the
Akka answered at once that the boy should try to get on good terms with
all the small animals in the woods and fields: with the squirrel-folk,
and the hare-family; with bullfinches and the titmice and woodpeckers
and larks. If he made friends with them, they could warn him against
dangers, find hiding places for him, and protect him.
But later in the day, when the boy tried to profit by this counsel, and
turned to Sirle Squirrel to ask for his protection, it was evident that
he did not care to help him. "You surely can't expect anything from me,
or the rest of the small animals!" said Sirle. "Don't you think we know
that you are Nils the goose boy, who tore down the swallow's nest last
year, crushed the starling's eggs, threw baby crows in the marl-ditch,
caught thrushes in snares, and put squirrels in cages? You just help
yourself as well as you can; and you may be thankful that we do not form
a league against you, and drive you back to your own kind!"
This was just the sort of answer the boy would not have let go
unpunished, in the days when he was Nils the goose boy. But now he was
only fearful lest the wild geese, too, had found out how wicked he could
be. He had been so anxious for fear he wouldn't be permitted to stay
with the wild geese, that he hadn't dared to get into the least little
mischief since he joined their company. It was true that he didn't have
the power to do much harm now, but, little as he was, he could have
destroyed many birds' nests, and crushed many eggs, if he'd been in a
mind to. Now he had been good. He hadn't pulled a feather from a
goose-wing, or given anyone a rude answer; and every morning when he
called upon Akka he had always removed his cap and bowed.
All day Thursday he thought it was surely on account of his wickedness
that the wild geese did not care to take him along up to Lapland. And in
the evening, when he heard that Sirle Squirrel's wife had been stolen,
and her children were starving to death, he made up his mind to help
them. And we have already been told how well he succeeded.
When the boy came into the park on Friday, he heard the bulfinches sing
in every bush, of how Sirle Squirrel's wife had been carried away from
her children by cruel robbers, and how Nils, the goose boy, had risked
his life among human beings, and taken the little squirrel children to
"And who is so honoured in Oevid Cloister park now, as Thumbietot!" sang
the bullfinch; "he, whom all feared when he was Nils the goose boy?
Sirle Squirrel will give him nuts; the poor hares are going to play with
him; the small wild animals will carry him on their backs, and fly away
with him when Smirre Fox approaches. The titmice are going to warn him
against the hawk, and the finches and larks will sing of his valour."
The boy was absolutely certain that both Akka and the wild geese had
heard all this. But still Friday passed and not one word did they say
about his remaining with them.
Until Saturday the wild geese fed in the fields around Oevid, undisturbed
by Smirre Fox.
But on Saturday morning, when they came out in the meadows, he lay in
wait for them, and chased them from one field to another, and they were
not allowed to eat in peace. When Akka understood that he didn't intend
to leave them in peace, she came to a decision quickly, raised herself
into the air and flew with her flock several miles away, over Faers'
plains and Linderoedsosen's hills. They did not stop before they had
arrived in the district of Vittskoevle.
But at Vittskoevle the goosey-gander was stolen, and how it happened has
already been related. If the boy had not used all his powers to help him
he would never again have been found.
On Saturday evening, as the boy came back to Vomb Lake with the
goosey-gander, he thought that he had done a good day's work; and he
speculated a good deal on what Akka and the wild geese would say to him.
The wild geese were not at all sparing in their praises, but they did
not say the word he was longing to hear.
Then Sunday came again. A whole week had gone by since the boy had been
bewitched, and he was still just as little.
But he didn't appear to be giving himself any extra worry on account of
this thing. On Sunday afternoon he sat huddled together in a big, fluffy
osier-bush, down by the lake, and blew on a reed-pipe. All around him
there sat as many finches and bullfinches and starlings as the bush
could well hold--who sang songs which he tried to teach himself to play.
But the boy was not at home in this art. He blew so false that the
feathers raised themselves on the little music-masters and they shrieked
and fluttered in their despair. The boy laughed so heartily at their
excitement, that he dropped his pipe.
He began once again, and that went just as badly. Then all the little
birds wailed: "To-day you play worse than usual, Thumbietot! You don't
take one true note! Where are your thoughts, Thumbietot?"
"They are elsewhere," said the boy--and this was true. He sat there and
pondered how long he would be allowed to remain with the wild geese; or
if he should be sent home perhaps to-day.
Finally the boy threw down his pipe and jumped from the bush. He had
seen Akka, and all the wild geese, coming toward him in a long row. They
walked so uncommonly slow and dignified-like, that the boy immediately
understood that now he should learn what they intended to do with him.
When they stopped at last, Akka said: "You may well have reason to
wonder at me, Thumbietot, who have not said thanks to you for saving me
from Smirre Fox. But I am one of those who would rather give thanks by
deeds than words. I have sent word to the elf that bewitched you. At
first he didn't want to hear anything about curing you; but I have sent
message upon message to him, and told him how well you have conducted
yourself among us. He greets you, and says, that as soon as you turn
back home, you shall be human again."
But think of it! Just as happy as the boy had been when the wild geese
began to speak, just that miserable was he when they had finished. He
didn't say a word, but turned away and wept.
"What in all the world is this?" said Akka. "It looks as though you had
expected more of me than I have offered you."
But the boy was thinking of the care-free days and the banter; and of
adventure and freedom and travel, high above the earth, that he should
miss, and he actually bawled with grief. "I don't want to be human,"
said he. "I want to go with you to Lapland." "I'll tell you something,"
said Akka. "That elf is very touchy, and I'm afraid that if you do not
accept his offer now, it will be difficult for you to coax him another
It was a strange thing about that boy--as long as he had lived, he had
never cared for anyone. He had not cared for his father or mother; not
for the school teacher; not for his school-mates; nor for the boys in
the neighbourhood. All that they had wished to have him do--whether it
had been work or play--he had only thought tiresome. Therefore there was
no one whom he missed or longed for.
The only ones that he had come anywhere near agreeing with, were Osa,
the goose girl, and little Mats--a couple of children who had tended
geese in the fields, like himself. But he didn't care particularly for
them either. No, far from it! "I don't want to be human," bawled the
boy. "I want to go with you to Lapland. That's why I've been good for a
whole week!" "I don't want to forbid you to come along with us as far as
you like," said Akka, "but think first if you wouldn't rather go home
again. A day may come when you will regret this."
"No," said the boy, "that's nothing to regret. I have never been as well
off as here with you."
"Well then, let it be as you wish," said Akka.
"Thanks!" said the boy, and he felt so happy that he had to cry for very
joy--just as he had cried before from sorrow.
BLACK RATS AND GRAY RATS
In south-eastern Skane--not far from the sea there is an old castle
called Glimminge. It is a big and substantial stone house; and can be
seen over the plain for miles around. It is not more than four stories
high; but it is so ponderous that an ordinary farmhouse, which stands on
the same estate, looks like a little children's playhouse in comparison.
The big stone house has such thick ceilings and partitions that there is
scarcely room in its interior for anything but the thick walls. The
stairs are narrow, the entrances small; and the rooms few. That the
walls might retain their strength, there are only the fewest number of
windows in the upper stories, and none at all are found in the lower
ones. In the old war times, the people were just as glad that they could
shut themselves up in a strong and massive house like this, as one is
nowadays to be able to creep into furs in a snapping cold winter. But
when the time of peace came, they did not care to live in the dark and
cold stone halls of the old castle any longer. They have long since
deserted the big Glimminge castle, and moved into dwelling places where
the light and air can penetrate.
At the time when Nils Holgersson wandered around with the wild geese,
there were no human beings in Glimminge castle; but for all that, it was
not without inhabitants. Every summer there lived a stork couple in a
large nest on the roof. In a nest in the attic lived a pair of gray
owls; in the secret passages hung bats; in the kitchen oven lived an old
cat; and down in the cellar there were hundreds of old black rats.
Rats are not held in very high esteem by other animals; but the black
rats at Glimminge castle were an exception. They were always mentioned
with respect, because they had shown great valour in battle with their
enemies; and much endurance under the great misfortunes which had
befallen their kind. They nominally belong to a rat-folk who, at one
time, had been very numerous and powerful, but who were now dying out.
During a long period of time, the black rats owned Skane and the whole
country. They were found in every cellar; in every attic; in larders and
cowhouses and barns; in breweries and flour-mills; in churches and
castles; in every man-constructed building. But now they were banished
from all this--and were almost exterminated. Only in one and another old
and secluded place could one run across a few of them; and nowhere were
they to be found in such large numbers as in Glimminge castle.
When an animal folk die out, it is generally the human kind who are the
cause of it; but that was not the case in this instance. The people had
certainly struggled with the black rats, but they had not been able to
do them any harm worth mentioning. Those who had conquered them were an
animal folk of their own kind, who were called gray rats.
These gray rats had not lived in the land since time immemorial, like
the black rats, but descended from a couple of poor immigrants who
landed in Malmoe from a Libyan sloop about a hundred years ago. They were
homeless, starved-out wretches who stuck close to the harbour, swam
among the piles under the bridges, and ate refuse that was thrown in the
water. They never ventured into the city, which was owned by the black
But gradually, as the gray rats increased in number they grew bolder.
At first they moved over to some waste places and condemned old houses
which the black rats had abandoned. They hunted their food in gutters
and dirt heaps, and made the most of all the rubbish that the black rats
did not deign to take care of. They were hardy, contented and fearless;
and within a few years they had become so powerful that they undertook
to drive the black rats out of Malmoe. They took from them attics,
cellars and storerooms, starved them out or bit them to death for they
were not at all afraid of fighting.
When Malmoe was captured, they marched forward in small and large
companies to conquer the whole country. It is almost impossible to
comprehend why the black rats did not muster themselves into a great,
united war-expedition to exterminate the gray rats, while these were
still few in numbers. But the black rats were so certain of their power
that they could not believe it possible for them to lose it. They sat
still on their estates, and in the meantime the gray rats took from them
farm after farm, city after city. They were starved out, forced out,
rooted out. In Skane they had not been able to maintain themselves in a
single place except Glimminge castle.
The old castle had such secure walls and such few rat passages led
through these, that the black rats had managed to protect themselves,
and to prevent the gray rats from crowding in. Night after night, year
after year, the struggle had continued between the aggressors and the
defenders; but the black rats had kept faithful watch, and had fought
with the utmost contempt for death, and, thanks to the fine old house,
they had always conquered.
It will have to be acknowledged that as long as the black rats were in
power they were as much shunned by all other living creatures as the
gray rats are in our day--and for just cause; they had thrown themselves
upon poor, fettered prisoners, and tortured them; they had ravished the
dead; they had stolen the last turnip from the cellars of the poor;
bitten off the feet of sleeping geese; robbed eggs and chicks from the
hens; and committed a thousand depredations. But since they had come to
grief, all this seemed to have been forgotten; and no one could help but
marvel at the last of a race that had held out so long against its
The gray rats that lived in the courtyard at Glimminge and in the
vicinity, kept up a continuous warfare and tried to watch out for every
possible chance to capture the castle. One would fancy that they should
have allowed the little company of black rats to occupy Glimminge castle
in peace, since they themselves had acquired all the rest of the
country; but you may be sure this thought never occurred to them. They
were wont to say that it was a point of honour with them to conquer the
black rats at some time or other. But those who were acquainted with the
gray rats must have known that it was because the human kind used
Glimminge castle as a grain store-house that the gray ones could not
rest before they had taken possession of the place.
_Monday, March twenty-eighth_.
Early one morning the wild geese who stood and slept on the ice in Vomb
Lake were awakened by long calls from the air. "Trirop, Trirop!" it
sounded, "Trianut, the crane, sends greetings to Akka, the wild goose,
and her flock. To-morrow will be the day of the great crane dance on
Akka raised her head and answered at once: "Greetings and thanks!
Greetings and thanks!"
With that, the cranes flew farther; and the wild geese heard them for a
long while--where they travelled and called out over every field, and
every wooded hill: "Trianut sends greetings. To-morrow will be the day
of the great crane dance on Kullaberg."
The wild geese were very happy over this invitation. "You're in luck,"
they said to the white goosey-gander, "to be permitted to attend the
great crane dance on Kullaberg!" "Is it then so remarkable to see cranes
dance?" asked the goosey-gander. "It is something that you have never
even dreamed about!" replied the wild geese.
"Now we must think out what we shall do with Thumbietot to-morrow--so
that no harm can come to him, while we run over to Kullaberg," said
Akka. "Thumbietot shall not be left alone!" said the goosey-gander. "If
the cranes won't let him see their dance, then I'll stay with him."
"No human being has ever been permitted to attend the Animal's Congress,
at Kullaberg," said Akka, "and I shouldn't dare to take Thumbietot
along. But We'll discuss this more at length later in the day. Now we
must first and foremost think about getting something to eat."
With that Akka gave the signal to adjourn. On this day she also sought
her feeding-place a good distance away, on Smirre Fox's account, and she
didn't alight until she came to the swampy meadows a little south of
All that day the boy sat on the shores of a little pond, and blew on
reed-pipes. He was out of sorts because he shouldn't see the crane
dance, and he just couldn't say a word, either to the goosey-gander, or
to any of the others.
It was pretty hard that Akka should still doubt him. When a boy had
given up being human, just to travel around with a few wild geese, they
surely ought to understand that he had no desire to betray them. Then,
too, they ought to understand that when he had renounced so much to
follow them, it was their duty to let him see all the wonders they could
"I'll have to speak my mind right out to them," thought he. But hour
after hour passed, still he hadn't come round to it. It may sound
remarkable--but the boy had actually acquired a kind of respect for the
old leader-goose. He felt that it was not easy to pit his will against
On one side of the swampy meadow, where the wild geese fed, there was a
broad stone hedge. Toward evening when the boy finally raised his head,
to speak to Akka, his glance happened to rest on this hedge. He uttered
a little cry of surprise, and all the wild geese instantly looked up,
and stared in the same direction. At first, both the geese and the boy
thought that all the round, gray stones in the hedge had acquired legs,
and were starting on a run; but soon they saw that it was a company of
rats who ran over it. They moved very rapidly, and ran forward, tightly
packed, line upon line, and were so numerous that, for some time, they
covered the entire stone hedge.
The boy had been afraid of rats, even when he was a big, strong human
being. Then what must his feelings be now, when he was so tiny that two
or three of them could overpower him? One shudder after another
travelled down his spinal column as he stood and stared at them.
But strangely enough, the wild geese seemed to feel the same aversion
toward the rats that he did. They did not speak to them; and when they
were gone, they shook themselves as if their feathers had been
"Such a lot of gray rats abroad!" said Iksi from Vassipaure. "That's not
a good omen."
The boy intended to take advantage of this opportunity to say to Akka
that he thought she ought to let him go with them to Kullaberg, but he
was prevented anew, for all of a sudden a big bird came down in the
midst of the geese.
One could believe, when one looked at this bird, that he had borrowed
body, neck and head from a little white goose. But in addition to this,
he had procured for himself large black wings, long red legs, and a
thick bill, which was too large for the little head, and weighed it down
until it gave him a sad and worried look.
Akka at once straightened out the folds of her wings, and curtsied many
times as she approached the stork. She wasn't specially surprised to see
him in Skane so early in the spring, because she knew that the male
storks are in the habit of coming in good season to take a look at the
nest, and see that it hasn't been damaged during the winter, before the
female storks go to the trouble of flying over the East sea. But she
wondered very much what it might signify that he sought her out, since
storks prefer to associate with members of their own family.
"I can hardly believe that there is anything wrong with your house, Herr
Ermenrich," said Akka.
It was apparent now that it is true what they say: a stork can seldom
open his bill without complaining. But what made the thing he said sound
even more doleful was that it was difficult for him to speak out. He
stood for a long time and only clattered with his bill; afterward he
spoke in a hoarse and feeble voice. He complained about everything: the
nest--which was situated at the very top of the roof-tree at Glimminge
castle--had been totally destroyed by winter storms; and no food could
he get any more in Skane. The people of Skane were appropriating all his
possessions. They dug out his marshes and laid waste his swamps. He
intended to move away from this country, and never return to it again.
While the stork grumbled, Akka, the wild goose who had neither home nor
protection, could not help thinking to herself: "If I had things as
comfortable as you have, Herr Ermenrich, I should be above complaining.
You have remained a free and wild bird; and still you stand so well with
human beings that no one will fire a shot at you, or steal an egg from
your nest." But all this she kept to herself. To the stork she only
remarked, that she couldn't believe he would be willing to move from a
house where storks had resided ever since it was built.
Then the stork suddenly asked the geese if they had seen the gray rats
who were marching toward Glimminge castle. When Akka replied that she
had seen the horrid creatures, he began to tell her about the brave
black rats who, for years, had defended the castle. "But this night
Glimminge castle will fall into the gray rats' power," sighed the stork.
"And why just this night, Herr Ermenrich?" asked Akka.
"Well, because nearly all the black rats went over to Kullaberg last
night," said the stork, "since they had counted on all the rest of the
animals also hurrying there. But you see that the gray rats have stayed
at home; and now they are mustering to storm the castle to-night, when
it will be defended by only a few old creatures who are too feeble to go
over to Kullaberg. They'll probably accomplish their purpose. But I have
lived here in harmony with the black rats for so many years, that it
does not please me to live in a place inhabited by their enemies."
Akka understood now that the stork had become so enraged over the gray
rats' mode of action, that he had sought her out as an excuse to
complain about them. But after the manner of storks, he certainly had
done nothing to avert the disaster. "Have you sent word to the black
rats, Herr Ermenrich?" she asked. "No," replied the stork, "that
wouldn't be of any use. Before they can get back, the castle will be
taken." "You mustn't be so sure of that, Herr Ermenrich," said Akka. "I
know an old wild goose, I do, who will gladly prevent outrages of this
When Akka said this, the stork raised his head and stared at her. And it
was not surprising, for Akka had neither claws nor bill that were fit
for fighting; and, in the bargain, she was a day bird, and as soon as it
grew dark she fell helplessly asleep, while the rats did their fighting
But Akka had evidently made up her mind to help the black rats. She
called Iksi from Vassijaure, and ordered him to take the wild geese over
to Vonib Lake; and when the geese made excuses, she said
authoritatively: "I believe it will be best for us all that you obey me.
I must fly over to the big stone house, and if you follow me, the people
on the place will be sure to see us, and shoot us down. The only one
that I want to take with me on this trip is Thumbietot. He can be of
great service to me because he has good eyes, and can keep awake at
The boy was in his most contrary mood that day. And when he heard what
Akka said, he raised himself to his full height and stepped forward, his
hands behind him and his nose in the air, and he intended to say that
he, most assuredly, did not wish to take a hand in the fight with gray
rats. She might look around for assistance elsewhere.
But the instant the boy was seen, the stork began to move. He had stood
before, as storks generally stand, with head bent downward and the bill
pressed against the neck. But now a gurgle was heard deep down in his
windpipe; as though he would have laughed. Quick as a flash, he lowered
the bill, grabbed the boy, and tossed him a couple of metres in the
air. This feat he performed seven times, while the boy shrieked and the
geese shouted: "What are you trying to do, Herr Ermenrich? That's not a
frog. That's a human being, Herr Ermenrich."
Finally the stork put the boy down entirely unhurt. Thereupon he said to
Akka, "I'll fly back to Glimminge castle now, mother Akka. All who live
there were very much worried when I left. You may be sure they'll be
very glad when I tell them that Akka, the wild goose, and Thumbietot,
the human elf, are on their way to rescue them." With that the stork
craned his neck, raised his wings, and darted off like an arrow when it
leaves a well-drawn bow. Akka understood that he was making fun of her,
but she didn't let it bother her. She waited until the boy had found his
wooden shoes, which the stork had shaken off; then she put him on her
back and followed the stork. On his own account, the boy made no
objection, and said not a word about not wanting to go along. He had
become so furious with the stork, that he actually sat and puffed. That
long, red-legged thing believed he was of no account just because he was
little; but he would show him what kind of a man Nils Holgersson from
West Vemminghoeg was.
A couple of moments later Akka stood in the storks' nest. It had a wheel
for foundation, and over this lay several grass-mats, and some twigs.
The nest was so old that many shrubs and plants had taken root up there;
and when the mother stork sat on her eggs in the round hole in the
middle of the nest, she not only had the beautiful outlook over a goodly
portion of Skane to enjoy, but she had also the wild brier-blossoms and
house-leeks to look upon.
Both Akka and the boy saw immediately that something was going on here
which turned upside down the most regular order. On the edge of the
stork-nest sat two gray owls, an old, gray-streaked cat, and a dozen
old, decrepit rats with protruding teeth and watery eyes. They were not
exactly the sort of animals one usually finds living peaceably together.
Not one of them turned around to look at Akka, or to bid her welcome.
They thought of nothing except to sit and stare at some long, gray
lines, which came into sight here and there--on the winter-naked
All the black rats were silent. One could see that they were in deep
despair, and probably knew that they could neither defend their own
lives nor the castle. The two owls sat and rolled their big eyes, and
twisted their great, encircling eyebrows, and talked in hollow,
ghost-like voices, about the awful cruelty of the gray rats, and that
they would have to move away from their nest, because they had heard it
said of them that they spared neither eggs nor baby birds. The old
gray-streaked cat was positive that the gray rats would bite him to
death, since they were coming into the castle in such great numbers, and
he scolded the black rats incessantly. "How could you be so idiotic as
to let your best fighters go away?" said he. "How could you trust the
gray rats? It is absolutely unpardonable!"
The twelve black rats did not say a word. But the stork, despite his
misery, could not refrain from teasing the cat. "Don't worry so, Monsie
house-cat!" said he. "Can't you see that mother Akka and Thumbietot have
come to save the castle? You can be certain that they'll succeed. Now I
must stand up to sleep--and I do so with the utmost calm. To-morrow,
when I awaken, there won't be a single gray rat in Glimminge castle."
The boy winked at Akka, and made a sign--as the stork stood upon the
very edge of the nest, with one leg drawn up, to sleep--that he wanted
to push him down to the ground; but Akka restrained him. She did not
seem to be the least bit angry. Instead, she said in a confident tone of
voice: "It would be pretty poor business if one who is as old as I am
could not manage to get out of worse difficulties than this. If only Mr.
and Mrs. Owl, who can stay awake all night, will fly off with a couple
of messages for me, I think that all will go well."
Both owls were willing. Then Akka bade the gentleman owl that he should
go and seek the black rats who had gone off, and counsel them to hurry
home immediately. The lady owl she sent to Flammea, the steeple-owl,
who lived in Lund cathedral, with a commission which was so secret that
Akka only dared to confide it to her in a whisper.
THE RAT CHARMER
It was getting on toward midnight when the gray rats after a diligent
search succeeded in finding an open air-hole in the cellar. This was
pretty high upon the wall; but the rats got up on one another's
shoulders, and it wasn't long before the most daring among them sat in
the air-hole, ready to force its way into Glimminge castle, outside
whose walls so many of its forebears had fallen.
The gray rat sat still for a moment in the hole, and waited for an
attack from within. The leader of the defenders was certainly away, but
she assumed that the black rats who were still in the castle wouldn't
surrender without a struggle. With thumping heart she listened for the
slightest sound, but everything remained quiet. Then the leader of the
gray rats plucked up courage and jumped down in the coal-black cellar.
One after another of the gray rats followed the leader. They all kept
very quiet; and all expected to be ambushed by the black rats. Not until
so many of them had crowded into the cellar that the floor couldn't hold
any more, did they venture farther.
Although they had never before been inside the building, they had no
difficulty in finding their way. They soon found the passages in the
walls which the black rats had used to get to the upper floors. Before
they began to clamber up these narrow and steep steps, they listened
again with great attention. They felt more frightened because the black
rats held themselves aloof in this way, than if they had met them in
open battle. They could hardly believe their luck when they reached the
first story without any mishaps.
Immediately upon their entrance the gray rats caught the scent of the
grain, which was stored in great bins on the floor. But it was not as
yet time for them to begin to enjoy their conquest. They searched first,
with the utmost caution, through the sombre, empty rooms. They ran up in
the fireplace, which stood on the floor in the old castle kitchen, and
they almost tumbled into the well, in the inner room. Not one of the
narrow peep-holes did they leave uninspected, but they found no black
rats. When this floor was wholly in their possession, they began, with
the same caution, to acquire the next. Then they had to venture on a
bold and dangerous climb through the walls, while, with breathless
anxiety, they awaited an assault from the enemy. And although they were
tempted by the most delicious odour from the grain bins, they forced
themselves most systematically to inspect the old-time warriors'
pillar-propped kitchen; their stone table, and fireplace; the deep
window-niches, and the hole in the floor--which in olden time had been
opened to pour down boiling pitch on the intruding enemy.
All this time the black rats were invisible. The gray ones groped their
way to the third story, and into the lord of the castle's great banquet
hall--which stood there cold and empty, like all the other rooms in the
old house. They even groped their way to the upper story, which had but
one big, barren room. The only place they did not think of exploring was
the big stork-nest on the roof--where, just at this time, the lady owl
awakened Akka, and informed her that Flammea, the steeple owl, had
granted her request, and had sent her the thing she wished for.
Since the gray rats had so conscientiously inspected the entire castle,
they felt at ease. They took it for granted that the black rats had
flown, and didn't intend to offer any resistance; and, with light
hearts, they ran up into the grain bins.
But the gray rats had hardly swallowed the first wheat-grains, before
the sound of a little shrill pipe was heard from the yard. The gray rats
raised their heads, listened anxiously, ran a few steps as if they
intended to leave the bin, then they turned back and began to eat once
Again the pipe sounded a sharp and piercing note--and now something
wonderful happened. One rat, two rats--yes, a whole lot of rats left the
grain, jumped from the bins and hurried down cellar by the shortest cut,
to get out of the house. Still there were many gray rats left. These
thought of all the toil and trouble it had cost them to win Glimminge
castle, and they did not want to leave it. But again they caught the
tones from the pipe, and had to follow them. With wild excitement they
rushed up from the bins, slid down through the narrow holes in the
walls, and tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get out.
In the middle of the courtyard stood a tiny creature, who blew upon a
pipe. All round him he had a whole circle of rats who listened to him,
astonished and fascinated; and every moment brought more. Once he took
the pipe from his lips--only for a second--put his thumb to his nose and
wiggled his fingers at the gray rats; and then it looked as if they
wanted to throw themselves on him and bite him to death; but as soon as
he blew on his pipe they were in his power.
When the tiny creature had played all the gray rats out of Glimminge
castle, he began to wander slowly from the courtyard out on the highway;
and all the gray rats followed him, because the tones from that pipe
sounded so sweet to their ears that they could not resist them.
The tiny creature walked before them and charmed them along with him,
on the road to Vallby. He led them into all sorts of crooks and turns
and bends--on through hedges and down into ditches--and wherever he went
they had to follow. He blew continuously on his pipe, which appeared to
be made from an animal's horn, although the horn was so small that, in
our days, there were no animals from whose foreheads it could have been
broken. No one knew, either, who had made it. Flammea, the steeple-owl,
had found it in a niche, in Lund cathedral. She had shown it to Bataki,
the raven; and they had both figured out that this was the kind of horn
that was used in former times by those who wished to gain power over
rats and mice. But the raven was Akka's friend; and it was from him she
had learned that Flammea owned a treasure like this. And it was true
that the rats could not resist the pipe. The boy walked before them and
played as long as the starlight lasted--and all the while they followed
him. He played at daybreak; he played at sunrise; and the whole time the
entire procession of gray rats followed him, and were enticed farther
and farther away from the big grain loft at Glimminge castle.
THE GREAT CRANE DANCE ON KULLABERG
_Tuesday, March twenty-ninth_.
Although there are many magnificent buildings in Skane, it must be
acknowledged that there's not one among them that has such pretty walls
as old Kullaberg.
Kullaberg is low and rather long. It is not by any means a big or
imposing mountain. On its broad summit you'll find woods and grain
fields, and one and another heather-heath. Here and there, round
heather-knolls and barren cliffs rise up. It is not especially pretty up
there. It looks a good deal like all the other upland places in Skane.
He who walks along the path which runs across the middle of the
mountain, can't help feeling a little disappointed. Then he happens,
perhaps, to turn away from the path, and wanders off toward the
mountain's sides and looks down over the bluffs; and then, all at once,
he will discover so much that is worth seeing, he hardly knows how he'll
find time to take in the whole of it. For it happens that Kullaberg
does not stand on the land, with plains and valleys around it, like
other mountains; but it has plunged into the sea, as far out as it could
get. Not even the tiniest strip of land lies below the mountain to
protect it against the breakers; but these reach all the way up to the
mountain walls, and can polish and mould them to suit themselves. This
is why the walls stand there as richly ornamented as the sea and its
helpmeet, the wind, have been able to effect. You'll find steep ravines
that are deeply chiselled in the mountain's sides; and black crags that
have become smooth and shiny under the constant lashing of the winds.
There are solitary rock-columns that spring right up out of the water,
and dark grottoes with narrow entrances. There are barren, perpendicular
precipices, and soft, leaf-clad inclines. There are small points, and
small inlets, and small rolling stones that are rattlingly washed up and
down with every dashing breaker. There are majestic cliff-arches that
project over the water. There are sharp stones that are constantly
sprayed by a white foam; and others that mirror themselves in
unchangeable dark-green still water. There are giant troll-caverns
shaped in the rock, and great crevices that lure the wanderer to venture
into the mountain's depths--all the way to Kullman's Hollow.
And over and around all these cliffs and rocks crawl entangled tendrils
and weeds. Trees grow there also, but the wind's power is so great that
trees have to transform themselves into clinging vines, that they may
get a firm hold on the steep precipices. The oaks creep along on the
ground, while their foliage hangs over them like a low ceiling; and
long-limbed beeches stand in the ravines like great leaf-tents.
These remarkable mountain walls, with the blue sea beneath them, and the
clear penetrating air above them, is what makes Kullaberg so dear to the
people that great crowds of them haunt the place every day as long as
the summer lasts. But it is more difficult to tell what it is that makes
it so attractive to animals, that every year they gather there for a big
play-meeting. This is a custom that has been observed since time
immemorial; and one should have been there when the first sea-wave was
dashed into foam against the shore, to be able to explain just why
Kullaberg was chosen as a rendezvous, in preference to all other places.
When the meeting is to take place, the stags and roebucks and hares and
foxes and all the other four-footers make the journey to Kullaberg the
night before, so as not to be observed by the human beings. Just before
sunrise they all march up to the playground, which is a heather-heath on
the left side of the road, and not very far from the mountain's most
extreme point. The playground is inclosed on all sides by round knolls,
which conceal it from any and all who do not happen to come right upon
it. And in the month of March it is not at all likely that any
pedestrians will stray off up there. All the strangers who usually
stroll around on the rocks, and clamber up the mountain's sides the fall
storms have driven away these many months past. And the lighthouse
keeper out there on the point; the old fru on the mountain farm, and the
mountain peasant and his house-folk go their accustomed ways, and do not
run about on the desolate heather-fields.
When the four-footers have arrived on the playground, they take their
places on the round knolls. Each animal family keeps to itself, although
it is understood that, on a day like this, universal peace reigns, and
no one need fear attack. On this day a little hare might wander over to
the foxes' hill, without losing as much as one of his long ears. But
still the animals arrange themselves into separate groups. This is an
After they have all taken their places, they begin to look around for
the birds. It is always beautiful weather on this day. The cranes are
good weather prophets, and would not call the animals together if they
expected rain. Although the air is clear, and nothing obstructs the
vision, the four-footers see no birds. This is strange. The sun stands
high in the heavens, and the birds should already be on their way.
But what the animals, on the other hand, observe, is one and another
little dark cloud that comes slowly forward over the plain. And look!
one of these clouds comes gradually along the coast of Oeresund, and up
toward Kullaberg. When the cloud has come just over the playground it
stops, and, simultaneously, the entire cloud begins to ring and chirp,
as if it was made of nothing but tone. It rises and sinks, rises and
sinks, but all the while it rings and chirps. At last the whole cloud
falls down over a knoll--all at once--and the next instant the knoll is
entirely covered with gray larks, pretty red-white-gray bulfinches,
speckled starlings and greenish-yellow titmice.
Soon after that, another cloud comes over the plain. This stops over
every bit of land; over peasant cottage and palace; over towns and
cities; over farms and railway stations; over fishing hamlets and sugar
refineries. Every time it stops, it draws to itself a little whirling
column of gray dust-grains from the ground. In this way it grows and
grows. And at last, when it is all gathered up and heads for Kullaberg,
it is no longer a cloud but a whole mist, which is so big that it throws
a shadow on the ground all the way from Hoeganaes to Moelle. When it stops
over the playground it hides the sun; and for a long while it had to
rain gray sparrows on one of the knolls, before those who had been
flying in the innermost part of the mist could again catch a glimpse of
But still the biggest of these bird-clouds is the one which now appears.
This has been formed of birds who have travelled from every direction to
join it. It is dark bluish-gray, and no sun-ray can penetrate it. It is
full of the ghastliest noises, the most frightful shrieks, the grimmest
laughter, and most ill-luck-boding croaking! All on the playground are
glad when it finally resolves itself into a storm of fluttering and
croaking: of crows and jackdaws and rooks and ravens.
Thereupon not only clouds are seen in the heavens, but a variety of
stripes and figures. Then straight, dotted lines appear in the East and
Northeast. These are forest-birds from Goeinge districts: black grouse
and wood grouse who come flying in long lines a couple of metres apart.
Swimming-birds that live around Maklaeppen, just out of Falsterbo, now
come floating over Oeresund in many extraordinary figures: in triangular
and long curves; in sharp hooks and semicircles.
To the great reunion held the year that Nils Holgersson travelled
around with the wild geese, came Akka and her flock--later than all the
others. And that was not to be wondered at, for Akka had to fly over the
whole of Skane to get to Kullaberg. Beside, as soon as she awoke, she
had been obliged to go out and hunt for Thumbietot, who, for many hours,
had gone and played to the gray rats, and lured them far away from
Glimminge castle. Mr. Owl had returned with the news that the black rats
would be at home immediately after sunrise; and there was no longer any
danger in letting the steeple-owl's pipe be hushed, and to give the gray
rats the liberty to go where they pleased.
But it was not Akka who discovered the boy where he walked with his long
following, and quickly sank down over him and caught him with the bill
and swung into the air with him, but it was Herr Ermenrich, the stork!
For Herr Ermenrich had also gone out to look for him; and after he had
borne him up to the stork-nest, he begged his forgiveness for having
treated him with disrespect the evening before.
This pleased the boy immensely, and the stork and he became good
friends. Akka, too, showed him that she felt very kindly toward him; she
stroked her old head several times against his arms, and commended him
because he had helped those who were in trouble.
But this one must say to the boy's credit: that he did not want to
accept praise which he had not earned. "No, mother Akka," he said, "you
mustn't think that I lured the gray rats away to help the black ones. I
only wanted to show Herr Ermenrich that I was of some consequence."
He had hardly said this before Akka turned to the stork and asked if he
thought it was advisable to take Thumbietot along to Kullaberg. "I mean,
that we can rely on him as upon ourselves," said she. The stork at once
advised, most enthusiastically, that Thumbietot be permitted to come
along. "Certainly you shall take Thumbietot along to Kullaberg, mother
Akka," said he. "It is fortunate for us that we can repay him for all
that he has endured this night for our sakes. And since it still grieves
me to think that I did not conduct myself in a becoming manner toward
him the other evening, it is I who will carry him on my back--all the
way to the meeting place."
There isn't much that tastes better than to receive praise from those
who are themselves wise and capable; and the boy had certainly never
felt so happy as he did when the wild goose and the stork talked about
him in this way.
Thus the boy made the trip to Kullaberg, riding stork-back. Although he
knew that this was a great honour, it caused him much anxiety, for Herr
Ermenrich was a master flyer, and started off at a very different pace
from the wild geese. While Akka flew her straight way with even
wing-strokes, the stork amused himself by performing a lot of flying
tricks. Now he lay still in an immeasurable height, and floated in the
air without moving his wings, now he flung himself downward with such
sudden haste that it seemed as though he would fall to the ground,
helpless as a stone; now he had lots of fun flying all around Akka, in
great and small circles, like a whirlwind. The boy had never been on a
ride of this sort before; and although he sat there all the while in
terror, he had to acknowledge to himself that he had never before known
what a good flight meant.
Only a single pause was made during the journey, and that was at Vomb
Lake when Akka joined her travelling companions, and called to them that
the gray rats had been vanquished. After that, the travellers flew
straight to Kullaberg.
There they descended to the knoll reserved for the wild geese; and as
the boy let his glance wander from knoll to knoll, he saw on one of them
the many-pointed antlers of the stags; and on another, the gray herons'
neck-crests. One knoll was red with foxes, one was gray with rats; one
was covered with black ravens who shrieked continually, one with larks
who simply couldn't keep still, but kept on throwing themselves in the
air and singing for very joy.
Just as it has ever been the custom on Kullaberg, it was the crows who
began the day's games and frolics with their flying-dance. They divided
themselves into two flocks, that flew toward each other, met, turned,
and began all over again. This dance had many repetitions, and appeared
to the spectators who were not familiar with the dance as altogether too
monotonous. The crows were very proud of their dance, but all the others
were glad when it was over. It appeared to the animals about as gloomy
and meaningless as the winter-storms' play with the snow-flakes. It
depressed them to watch it, and they waited eagerly for something that
should give them a little pleasure.
They did not have to wait in vain, either; for as soon as the crows had
finished, the hares came running. They dashed forward in a long row,
without any apparent order. In some of the figures, one single hare
came; in others, they ran three and four abreast. They had all raised
themselves on two legs, and they rushed forward with such rapidity that
their long ears swayed in all directions. As they ran, they spun round,
made high leaps and beat their forepaws against their hind-paws so that
they rattled. Some performed a long succession of somersaults, others
doubled themselves up and rolled over like wheels; one stood on one leg
and swung round; one walked upon his forepaws. There was no regulation
whatever, but there was much that was droll in the hares' play; and the
many animals who stood and watched them began to breathe faster. Now it
was spring; joy and rapture were advancing. Winter was over; summer was
coming. Soon it was only play to live.
When the hares had romped themselves out, it was the great forest birds'
turn to perform. Hundreds of wood-grouse in shining dark-brown array,
and with bright red eyebrows, flung themselves up into a great oak that
stood in the centre of the playground. The one who sat upon the topmost
branch fluffed up his feathers, lowered his wings, and lifted his tail
so that the white covert-feathers were seen. Thereupon he stretched his
neck and sent forth a couple of deep notes from his thick throat.
"Tjack, tjack, tjack," it sounded. More than this he could not utter. It
only gurgled a few times way down in the throat. Then he closed his eyes
and whispered: "Sis, sis, sis. Hear how pretty! Sis, sis, sis." At the
same time he fell into such an ecstasy that he no longer knew what was
going on around him.
While the first wood grouse was sissing, the three nearest--under
him--began to sing; and before they had finished their song, the ten who
sat lower down joined in; and thus it continued from branch to branch,
until the entire hundred grouse sang and gurgled and sissed. They all
fell into the same ecstasy during their song, and this affected the
other animals like a contagious transport. Lately the blood had flowed
lightly and agreeably; now it began to grow heavy and hot. "Yes, this is
surely spring," thought all the animal folk. "Winter chill has vanished.
The fires of spring burn over the earth."
When the black grouse saw that the brown grouse were having such
success, they could no longer keep quiet. As there was no tree for them
to light on, they rushed down on the playground, where the heather stood
so high that only their beautifully turned tail-feathers and their
thick bills were visible--and they began to sing: "Orr, orr, orr."
Just as the black grouse began to compete with the brown grouse,
something unprecedented happened. While all the animals thought of
nothing but the grouse-game, a fox stole slowly over to the wild geese's
knoll. He glided very cautiously, and came way up on the knoll before
anyone noticed him. Suddenly a goose caught sight of him; and as she
could not believe that a fox had sneaked in among the geese for any good
purpose, she began to cry: "Have a care, wild geese! Have a care!" The
fox struck her across the throat--mostly, perhaps, because he wanted to
make her keep quiet--but the wild geese had already heard the cry and
they all raised themselves in the air. And when they had flown up, the
animals saw Smirre Fox standing on the wild geese's knoll, with a dead
goose in his mouth.
But because he had in this way broken the play-day's peace, such a
punishment was meted out to Smirre Fox that, for the rest of his days,
he must regret he had not been able to control his thirst for revenge,
but had attempted to approach Akka and her flock in this manner.
He was immediately surrounded by a crowd of foxes, and doomed in
accordance with an old custom, which demands that whosoever disturbs the
peace on the great play-day, must go into exile. Not a fox wished to
lighten the sentence, since they all knew that the instant they
attempted anything of the sort, they would be driven from the
playground, and would nevermore be permitted to enter it. Banishment was
pronounced upon Smirre without opposition. He was forbidden to remain in
Skane. He was banished from wife and kindred; from hunting grounds,
home, resting places and retreats, which he had hitherto owned; and he
must tempt fortune in foreign lands. So that all foxes in Skane should
know that Smirre was outlawed in the district, the oldest of the foxes
bit off his right earlap. As soon as this was done, all the young foxes
began to yowl from blood-thirst, and threw themselves on Smirre. For him
there was no alternative except to take flight; and with all the young
foxes in hot pursuit, he rushed away from Kullaberg.
All this happened while black grouse and brown grouse were going on with
their games. But these birds lose themselves so completely in their
song, that they neither hear nor see. Nor had they permitted themselves
to be disturbed.
The forest birds' contest was barely over, before the stags from
Haeckeberga came forward to show their wrestling game. There were several
pairs of stags who fought at the same time. They rushed at each other
with tremendous force, struck their antlers dashingly together, so that
their points were entangled; and tried to force each other backward. The
heather-heaths were torn up beneath their hoofs; the breath came like
smoke from their nostrils; out of their throats strained hideous
bellowings, and the froth oozed down on their shoulders.
On the knolls round about there was breathless silence while the skilled
stag-wrestlers clinched. In all the animals new emotions were awakened.
Each and all felt courageous and, strong; enlivened by returning powers;
born again with the spring; sprightly, and ready for all kinds of
adventures. They felt no enmity toward each other, although, everywhere,
wings were lifted, neck-feathers raised and claws sharpened. If the
stags from Haeckeberga had continued another instant, a wild struggle
would have arisen on the knolls, for all had been gripped with a burning
desire to show that they too were full of life because the winter's
impotence was over and strength surged through their bodies.
But the stags stopped wrestling just at the right moment, and instantly
a whisper went from knoll to knoll: "The cranes are coming!"
And then came the gray, dusk-clad birds with plumes in their wings, and
red feather-ornaments on their necks. The big birds with their tall
legs, their slender throats, their small heads, came gliding down the
knoll with an abandon that was full of mystery. As they glided forward
they swung round--half flying, half dancing. With wings gracefully
lifted, they moved with an inconceivable rapidity. There was something
marvellous and strange about their dance. It was as though gray shadows
had played a game which the eye could scarcely follow. It was as if
they had learned it from the mists that hover over desolate morasses.
There was witchcraft in it. All those who had never before been on
Kullaberg understood why the whole meeting took its name from the
crane's dance. There was wildness in it; but yet the feeling which it
awakened was a delicious longing. No one thought any more about
struggling. Instead, both the winged and those who had no wings, all
wanted to raise themselves eternally, lift themselves above the clouds,
seek that which was hidden beyond them, leave the oppressive body that
dragged them down to earth and soar away toward the infinite.
Such longing after the unattainable, after the hidden mysteries back of
this life, the animals felt only once a year; and this was on the day
when they beheld the great crane dance.
IN RAINY WEATHER
_Wednesday, March thirtieth_.
It was the first rainy day of the trip. As long as the wild geese had
remained in the vicinity of Vomb Lake, they had had beautiful weather;
but on the day when they set out to travel farther north, it began to
rain, and for several hours the boy had to sit on the goose-back,
soaking wet, and shivering with the cold.
In the morning when they started, it had been clear and mild. The wild
geese had flown high up in the air--evenly, and without haste--with Akka
at the head maintaining strict discipline, and the rest in two oblique
lines back of her. They had not taken the time to shout any witty
sarcasms to the animals on the ground; but, as it was simply impossible
for them to keep perfectly silent, they sang out continually--in rhythm
with the wing-strokes--their usual coaxing call: "Where are you? Here
am I. Where are you? Here am I."
They all took part in this persistent calling, and only stopped, now and
then, to show the goosey-gander the landmarks they were travelling over.
The places on this route included Linderoedsosen's dry hills, Ovesholm's
manor, Christianstad's church steeple, Baeckaskog's royal castle on the
narrow isthmus between Oppmann's lake and Ivoe's lake, Ryss mountain's
It had been a monotonous trip, and when the rain-clouds made their
appearance the boy thought it was a real diversion. In the old days,
when he had only seen a rain-cloud from below, he had imagined that they
were gray and disagreeable; but it was a very different thing to be up
amongst them. Now he saw distinctly that the clouds were enormous carts,
which drove through the heavens with sky-high loads. Some of them were
piled up with huge, gray sacks, some with barrels; some were so large
that they could hold a whole lake; and a few were filled with big
utensils and bottles which were piled up to an immense height. And when
so many of them had driven forward that they filled the whole sky, it
appeared as though someone had given a signal, for all at once, water
commenced to pour down over the earth, from utensils, barrels, bottles
Just as the first spring-showers pattered against the ground, there
arose such shouts of joy from all the small birds in groves and
pastures, that the whole air rang with them and the boy leaped high
where he sat. "Now we'll have rain. Rain gives us spring; spring gives
us flowers and green leaves; green leaves and flowers give us worms and
insects; worms and insects give us food; and plentiful and good food is
the best thing there is," sang the birds.
The wild geese, too, were glad of the rain which came to awaken the
growing things from their long sleep, and to drive holes in the
ice-roofs on the lakes. They were not able to keep up that seriousness
any longer, but began to send merry calls over the neighbourhood.
When they flew over the big potato patches, which are so plentiful in
the country around Christianstad--and which still lay bare and
black--they screamed: "Wake up and be useful! Here comes something that
will awaken you. You have idled long enough now."
When they saw people who hurried to get out of the rain, they reproved
them saying: "What are you in such a hurry about? Can't you see that
it's raining rye-loaves and cookies?"
It was a big, thick mist that moved northward briskly, and followed
close upon the geese. They seemed to think that they dragged the mist
along with them; and, just now, when they saw great orchards beneath
them, they called out proudly: "Here we come with anemones; here we come
with roses; here we come with apple blossoms and cherry buds; here we
come with peas and beans and turnips and cabbages. He who wills can take
them. He who wills can take them."
Thus it had sounded while the first showers fell, and when all were
still glad of the rain. But when it continued to fall the whole
afternoon, the wild geese grew impatient, and cried to the thirsty
forests around Ivoes lake: "Haven't you got enough yet? Haven't you got
The heavens were growing grayer and grayer and the sun hid itself so
well that one couldn't imagine where it was. The rain fell faster and
faster, and beat harder and harder against the wings, as it tried to
find its way between the oily outside feathers, into their skins. The
earth was hidden by fogs; lakes, mountains, and woods floated together
in an indistinct maze, and the landmarks could not be distinguished. The
flight became slower and slower; the joyful cries were hushed; and the
boy felt the cold more and more keenly.
But still he had kept up his courage as long as he had ridden through
the air. And in the afternoon, when they had lighted under a little
stunted pine, in the middle of a large morass, where all was wet, and
all was cold; where some knolls were covered with snow, and others stood
up naked in a puddle of half-melted ice-water, even then, he had not
felt discouraged, but ran about in fine spirits, and hunted for
cranberries and frozen whortleberries. But then came evening, and
darkness sank down on them so close, that not even such eyes as the
boy's could see through it; and all the wilderness became so strangely
grim and awful. The boy lay tucked in under the goosey-gander's wing,
but could not sleep because he was cold and wet. He heard such a lot of
rustling and rattling and stealthy steps and menacing voices, that he
was terror-stricken and didn't know where he should go. He must go
somewhere, where there was light and heat, if he wasn't going to be
entirely scared to death.
"If I should venture where there are human beings, just for this night?"
thought the boy. "Only so I could sit by a fire for a moment, and get a
little food. I could go back to the wild geese before sunrise."
He crept from under the wing and slid down to the ground. He didn't
awaken either the goosey-gander or any of the other geese, but stole,
silently and unobserved, through the morass.
He didn't know exactly where on earth he was: if he was in Skane, in
Smaland, or in Blekinge. But just before he had gotten down in the
morass, he had caught a glimpse of a large village, and thither he
directed his steps. It wasn't long, either, before he discovered a road;
and soon he was on the village street, which was long, and had planted
trees on both sides, and was bordered with garden after garden.
The boy had come to one of the big cathedral towns, which are so common
on the uplands, but can hardly be seen at all down in the plain.
The houses were of wood, and very prettily constructed. Most of them had
gables and fronts, edged with carved mouldings, and glass doors, with
here and there a coloured pane, opening on verandas. The walls were
painted in light oil-colours; the doors and window-frames shone in blues
and greens, and even in reds. While the boy walked about and viewed the
houses, he could hear, all the way out to the road, how the people who
sat in the warm cottages chattered and laughed. The words he could not
distinguish, but he thought it was just lovely to hear human voices. "I
wonder what they would say if I knocked and begged to be let in,"
This was, of course, what he had intended to do all along, but now that
he saw the lighted windows, his fear of the darkness was gone. Instead,
he felt again that shyness which always came over him now when he was
near human beings. "I'll take a look around the town for a while
longer," thought he, "before I ask anyone to take me in."
On one house there was a balcony. And just as the boy walked by, the
doors were thrown open, and a yellow light streamed through the fine,
sheer curtains. Then a pretty young fru came out on the balcony and
leaned over the railing. "It's raining; now we shall soon have spring,"
said she. When the boy saw her he felt a strange anxiety. It was as
though he wanted to weep. For the first time he was a bit uneasy because
he had shut himself out from the human kind.
Shortly after that he walked by a shop. Outside the shop stood a red
corn-drill. He stopped and looked at it; and finally crawled up to the
driver's place, and seated himself. When he had got there, he smacked
with his lips and pretended that he sat and drove. He thought what fun
it would be to be permitted to drive such a pretty machine over a
grainfield. For a moment he forgot what he was like now; then he
remembered it, and jumped down quickly from the machine. Then a greater
unrest came over him. After all, human beings were very wonderful and
He walked by the post-office, and then he thought of all the newspapers
which came every day, with news from all the four corners of the earth.
He saw the apothecary's shop and the doctor's home, and he thought about
the power of human beings, which was so great that they were able to
battle with sickness and death. He came to the church. Then he thought
how human beings had built it, that they might hear about another world
than the one in which they lived, of God and the resurrection and
eternal life. And the longer he walked there, the better he liked human
It is so with children that they never think any farther ahead than the
length of their noses. That which lies nearest them, they want
promptly, without caring what it may cost them. Nils Holgersson had not
understood what he was losing when he chose to remain an elf; but now he
began to be dreadfully afraid that, perhaps, he should never again get
back to his right form.
How in all the world should he go to work in order to become human? This
he wanted, oh! so much, to know.
He crawled up on a doorstep, and seated himself in the pouring rain and
meditated. He sat there one whole hour--two whole hours, and he thought
so hard that his forehead lay in furrows; but he was none the wiser. It
seemed as though the thoughts only rolled round and round in his head.
The longer he sat there, the more impossible it seemed to him to find
"This thing is certainly much too difficult for one who has learned as
little as I have," he thought at last. "It will probably wind up by my
having to go back among human beings after all. I must ask the minister
and the doctor and the schoolmaster and others who are learned, and may
know a cure for such things."
This he concluded that he would do at once, and shook himself--for he
was as wet as a dog that has been in a water-pool.
Just about then he saw that a big owl came flying along, and alighted on
one of the trees that bordered the village street. The next instant a
lady owl, who sat under the cornice of the house, began to call out:
"Kivitt, Kivitt! Are you at home again, Mr. Gray Owl? What kind of a
time did you have abroad?"
"Thank you, Lady Brown Owl. I had a very comfortable time," said the
gray owl. "Has anything out of the ordinary happened here at home during
"Not here in Blekinge, Mr. Gray Owl; but in Skane a marvellous thing has
happened! A boy has been transformed by an elf into a goblin no bigger
than a squirrel; and since then he has gone to Lapland with a tame
"That's a remarkable bit of news, a remarkable bit of news. Can he never
be human again, Lady Brown Owl? Can he never be human again?"
"That's a secret, Mr. Gray Owl; but you shall hear it just the same.
The elf has said that if the boy watches over the goosey-gander, so that
he comes home safe and sound, and--"
"What more, Lady Brown Owl? What more? What more?"
"Fly with me up to the church tower, Mr. Gray Owl, and you shall hear
the whole story! I fear there may be someone listening down here in the
street." With that, the owls flew their way; but the boy flung his cap
in the air, and shouted: "If I only watch over the goosey-gander, so
that he gets back safe and sound, then I shall become a human being
again. Hurrah! Hurrah! Then I shall become a human being again!"
He shouted "hurrah" until it was strange that they did not hear him in
the houses--but they didn't, and he hurried back to the wild geese, out
in the wet morass, as fast as his legs could carry him.
THE STAIRWAY WITH THE THREE STEPS
_Thursday, March thirty-first_.
The following day the wild geese intended to travel northward through
Allbo district, in Smaland. They sent Iksi and Kaksi to spy out the
land. But when they returned, they said that all the water was frozen,
and all the land was snow-covered. "We may as well remain where we are,"
said the wild geese. "We cannot travel over a country where there is
neither water nor food." "If we remain where we are, we may have to wait
here until the next moon," said Akka. "It is better to go eastward,
through Blekinge, and see if we can't get to Smaland by way of Moere,
which lies near the coast, and has an early spring."
Thus the boy came to ride over Blekinge the next day. Now, that it was
light again, he was in a merry mood once more, and could not comprehend
what had come over him the night before. He certainly didn't want to
give up the journey and the outdoor life now.
There lay a thick fog over Blekinge. The boy couldn't see how it looked
out there. "I wonder if it is a good, or a poor country that I'm riding
over," thought he, and tried to search his memory for the things which
he had heard about the country at school. But at the same time he knew
well enough that this was useless, as he had never been in the habit of
studying his lessons.
At once the boy saw the whole school before him. The children sat by the
little desks and raised their hands; the teacher sat in the lectern and
looked displeased; and he himself stood before the map and should answer
some question about Blekinge, but he hadn't a word to say. The
schoolmaster's face grew darker and darker for every second that passed,
and the boy thought the teacher was more particular that they should
know their geography, than anything else. Now he came down from the
lectern, took the pointer from the boy, and sent him back to his seat.
"This won't end well," the boy thought then.
But the schoolmaster had gone over to a window, and had stood there for
a moment and looked out, and then he had whistled to himself once. Then
he had gone up into the lectern and said that he would tell them
something about Blekinge. And that which he then talked about had been
so amusing that the boy had listened. When he only stopped and thought
for a moment, he remembered every word.
"Smaland is a tall house with spruce trees on the roof," said the
teacher, "and leading up to it is a broad stairway with three big steps;
and this stairway is called Blekinge. It is a stairway that is well
constructed. It stretches forty-two miles along the frontage of Smaland
house, and anyone who wishes to go all the way down to the East sea, by
way of the stairs, has twenty-four miles to wander.
"A good long time must have elapsed since the stairway was
built. Both days and years have gone by since the steps were hewn from
gray stones and laid down--evenly and smoothly--for a convenient track
between Smaland and the East sea.
"Since the stairway is so old, one can, of course, understand that it
doesn't look just the same now, as it did when it was new. I don't know
how much they troubled themselves about such matters at that time; but
big as it was, no broom could have kept it clean. After a couple of
years, moss and lichen began to grow on it. In the autumn dry leaves and
dry grass blew down over it; and in the spring it was piled up with
falling stones and gravel. And as all these things were left there to
mould, they finally gathered so much soil on the steps that not only
herbs and grass, but even bushes and trees could take root there.
"But, at the same time, a great disparity has arisen between the three
steps. The topmost step, which lies nearest Smaland, is mostly covered
with poor soil and small stones, and no trees except birches and
bird-cherry and spruce--which can stand the cold on the heights, and are
satisfied with little--can thrive up there. One understands best how
poor and dry it is there, when one sees how small the field-plots are,
that are ploughed up from the forest lands; and how many little cabins
the people build for themselves; and how far it is between the churches.
But on the middle step there is better soil, and it does not lie bound
down under such severe cold, either. This one can see at a glance, since
the trees are both higher and of finer quality. There you'll find maple
and oak and linden and weeping-birch and hazel trees growing, but no
cone-trees to speak of. And it is still more noticeable because of the
amount of cultivated land that you will find there; and also because the
people have built themselves great and beautiful houses. On the middle
step, there are many churches, with large towns around them; and in
every way it makes a better and finer appearance than the top step.
"But the very lowest step is the best of all. It is covered with good
rich soil; and, where it lies and bathes in the sea, it hasn't the
slightest feeling of the Smaland chill. Beeches and chestnut
and walnut trees thrive down here; and they grow so big that they tower
above the church-roofs. Here lie also the largest grain-fields; but the
people have not only timber and farming to live upon, but they are also
occupied with fishing and trading and seafaring. For this reason you
will find the most costly residences and the prettiest churches here;
and the parishes have developed into villages and cities.
"But this is not all that is said of the three steps. For one must
realise that when it rains on the roof of the big Smaland house, or when
the snow melts up there, the water has to go somewhere; and then,
naturally, a lot of it is spilled over the big stairway. In the
beginning it probably oozed over the whole stairway, big as it was; then
cracks appeared in it, and, gradually, the water has accustomed itself
to flow alongside of it, in well dug-out grooves. And water is water,
whatever one does with it. It never has any rest. In one place it cuts
and files away, and in another it adds to. Those grooves it has dug into
vales, and the walls of the vales it has decked with soil; and bushes
and trees and vines have clung to them ever since--so thick, and in such
profusion, that they almost hide the stream of water that winds its way
down there in the deep. But when the streams come to the landings between
the steps, they throw themselves headlong over them; this is why the
water comes with such a seething rush, that it gathers strength with
which to move mill-wheels and machinery--these, too, have sprung up by
"But this does not tell all that is said of the land with the three
steps. It must also be told that up in the big house in Smaland there
lived once upon a time a giant, who had grown very old. And it fatigued
him in his extreme age, to be forced to walk down that long stairway in
order to catch salmon from the sea. To him it seemed much more suitable
that the salmon should come up to him, where he lived.
"Therefore, he went up on the roof of his great house; and there he
stood and threw stones down into the East sea. He threw them with such
force that they flew over the whole of Blekinge and dropped into the
sea. And when the stones came down, the salmon got so scared that they
came up from the sea and fled toward the Blekinge streams; ran through
the rapids; flung themselves with high leaps over the waterfalls, and
"How true this is, one can see by the number of islands and points that
lie along the coast of Blekinge, and which are nothing in the world but
the big stones that the giant threw.
"One can also tell because the salmon always go up in the Blekinge
streams and work their way up through rapids and still water, all the
way to Smaland.
"That giant is worthy of great thanks and much honour from the Blekinge
people; for salmon in the streams, and stone-cutting on the island--that
means work which gives food to many of them even to this day."
BY RONNEBY RIVER
_Friday, April first_.
Neither the wild geese nor Smirre Fox had believed that they should ever
run across each other after they had left Skane. But now it turned out
so that the wild geese happened to take the route over Blekinge and
thither Smirre Fox had also gone.
So far he had kept himself in the northern parts of the province; and
since he had not as yet seen any manor parks, or hunting grounds filled
with game and dainty young deer, he was more disgruntled than he could
One afternoon, when Smirre tramped around in the desolate forest
district of Mellanbygden, not far from Ronneby River, he saw a flock of
wild geese fly through the air. Instantly he observed that one of the
geese was white and then he knew, of course, with whom he had to deal.
Smirre began immediately to hunt the geese--just as much for the
pleasure of getting a good square meal, as for the desire to be avenged
for all the humiliation that they had heaped upon him. He saw that they
flew eastward until they came to Ronneby River. Then they changed their
course, and followed the river toward the south. He understood that they
intended to seek a sleeping-place along the river-banks, and he thought
that he should be able to get hold of a pair of them without much
trouble. But when Smirre finally discovered the place where the wild
geese had taken refuge, he observed they had chosen such a
well-protected spot, that he couldn't get near.
Ronneby River isn't any big or important body of water; nevertheless, it
is just as much talked of, for the sake of its pretty shores. At several
points it forces its way forward between steep mountain-walls that stand
upright out of the water, and are entirely overgrown with honeysuckle
and bird-cherry, mountain-ash and osier; and there isn't much that can
be more delightful than to row out on the little dark river on a
pleasant summer day, and look upward on all the soft green that fastens
itself to the rugged mountain-sides.
But now, when the wild geese and Smirre came to the river, it was cold
and blustery spring-winter; all the trees were nude, and there was
probably no one who thought the least little bit about whether the shore
was ugly or pretty. The wild geese thanked their good fortune that they
had found a sand-strip large enough for them to stand upon, on a steep
mountain wall. In front of them rushed the river, which was strong and
violent in the snow-melting time; behind them they had an impassable
mountain rock wall, and overhanging branches screened them. They
couldn't have it better.
The geese were asleep instantly; but the boy couldn't get a wink of
sleep. As soon as the sun had disappeared he was seized with a fear of
the darkness, and a wilderness-terror, and he longed for human beings.
Where he lay--tucked in under the goose-wing--he could see nothing, and
only hear a little; and he thought if any harm came to the
goosey-gander, he couldn't save him.
Noises and rustlings were heard from all directions, and he grew so
uneasy that he had to creep from under the wing and seat himself on the
ground, beside the goose.
Long-sighted Smirre stood on the mountain's summit and looked down upon
the wild geese. "You may as well give this pursuit up first as last," he
said to himself. "You can't climb such a steep mountain; you can't swim
in such a wild torrent; and there isn't the tiniest strip of land below
the mountain which leads to the sleeping-place. Those geese are too wise
for you. Don't ever bother yourself again to hunt them!"
But Smirre, like all foxes, had found it hard to give up an undertaking
already begun, and so he lay down on the extremest point of the mountain
edge, and did not take his eyes off the wild geese. While he lay and
watched them, he thought of all the harm they had done him. Yes, it was
their fault that he had been driven from Skane, and had been obliged to
move to poverty-stricken Blekinge. He worked himself up to such a pitch,
as he lay there, that he wished the wild geese were dead, even if he,
himself, should not have the satisfaction of eating them.
When Smirre's resentment had reached this height, he heard rasping in a
large pine that grew close to him, and saw a squirrel come down from the
tree, hotly pursued by a marten. Neither of them noticed Smirre; and he
sat quietly and watched the chase, which went from tree to tree. He
looked at the squirrel, who moved among the branches as lightly as
though he'd been able to fly. He looked at the marten, who was not as
skilled at climbing as the squirrel, but who still ran up and along the
branches just as securely as if they had been even paths in the forest.
"If I could only climb half as well as either of them," thought the fox,
"those things down there wouldn't sleep in peace very long!"
As soon as the squirrel had been captured, and the chase was ended,
Smirre walked over to the marten, but stopped two steps away from him,
to signify that he did not wish to cheat him of his prey. He greeted the
marten in a very friendly manner, and wished him good luck with his
catch. Smirre chose his words well--as foxes always do. The marten, on
the contrary, who, with his long and slender body, his fine head, his
soft skin, and his light brown neck-piece, looked like a little marvel
of beauty--but in reality was nothing but a crude forest dweller--hardly
answered him. "It surprises me," said Smirre, "that such a fine hunter
as you are should be satisfied with chasing squirrels when there is much
better game within reach." Here he paused; but when the marten only
grinned impudently at him, he continued: "Can it be possible that you
haven't seen the wild geese that stand under the mountain wall? or are
you not a good enough climber to get down to them?"
This time he had no need to wait for an answer. The marten rushed up to
him with back bent, and every separate hair on end. "Have you seen wild
geese?" he hissed. "Where are they? Tell me instantly, or I'll bite your
neck off!" "No! you must remember that I'm twice your size--so be a
little polite. I ask nothing better than to show you the wild geese."
The next instant the marten was on his way down the steep; and while
Smirre sat and watched how he swung his snake-like body from branch to
branch, he thought: "That pretty tree-hunter has the wickedest heart in
all the forest. I believe that the wild geese will have me to thank for
a bloody awakening."
But just as Smirre was waiting to hear the geese's death-rattle, he saw
the marten tumble from branch to branch--and plump into the river so the
water splashed high. Soon thereafter, wings beat loudly and strongly and
all the geese went up in a hurried flight.
Smirre intended to hurry after the geese, but he was so curious to know
how they had been saved, that he sat there until the marten came
clambering up. That poor thing was soaked in mud, and stopped every now
and then to rub his head with his forepaws. "Now wasn't that just what I
thought--that you were a booby, and would go and tumble into the river?"
said Smirre, contemptuously.
"I haven't acted boobyishly. You don't need to scold me," said the
marten. "I sat--all ready--on one of the lowest branches and thought how
I should manage to tear a whole lot of geese to pieces, when a little
creature, no bigger than a squirrel, jumped up and threw a stone at my
head with such force, that I fell into the water; and before I had time
to pick myself up--"
The marten didn't have to say any more. He had no audience. Smirre was
already a long way off in pursuit of the wild geese.
In the meantime Akka had flown southward in search of a new
sleeping-place. There was still a little daylight; and, beside, the
half-moon stood high in the heavens, so that she could see a little.
Luckily, she was well acquainted in these parts, because it had
happened more than once that she had been wind-driven to Blekinge when
she travelled over the East sea in the spring.
She followed the river as long as she saw it winding through the
moon-lit landscape like a black, shining snake. In this way she came way
down to Djupafors--where the river first hides itself in an underground
channel--and then clear and transparent, as though it were made of
glass, rushes down in a narrow cleft, and breaks into bits against its
bottom in glittering drops and flying foam. Below the white falls lay a
few stones, between which the water rushed away in a wild torrent
cataract. Here mother Akka alighted. This was another good
sleeping-place--especially this late in the evening, when no human
beings moved about. At sunset the geese would hardly have been able to
camp there, for Djupafors does not lie in any wilderness. On one side of
the falls is a paper factory; on the other--which is steep, and
tree-grown--is Djupadal's park, where people are always strolling about
on the steep and slippery paths to enjoy the wild stream's rushing
movement down in the ravine.
It was about the same here as at the former place; none of the
travellers thought the least little bit that they had come to a pretty
and well-known place. They thought rather that it was ghastly and
dangerous to stand and sleep on slippery, wet stones, in the middle of a
rumbling waterfall. But they had to be content, if only they were
protected from carnivorous animals.
The geese fell asleep instantly, while the boy could find no rest in
sleep, but sat beside them that he might watch over the goosey-gander.
After a while, Smirre came running along the river-shore. He spied the
geese immediately where they stood out in the foaming whirlpools, and
understood that he couldn't get at them here, either. Still he couldn't
make up his mind to abandon them, but seated himself on the shore and
looked at them. He felt very much humbled, and thought that his entire
reputation as a hunter was at stake.
All of a sudden, he saw an otter come creeping up from the falls with a
fish in his mouth. Smirre approached him but stopped within two steps of
him, to show him that he didn't wish to take his game from him.
"You're a remarkable one, who can content yourself with catching a fish,
while the stones are covered with geese!" said Smirre. He was so eager,
that he hadn't taken the time to arrange his words as carefully as he
was wont to do. The otter didn't turn his head once in the direction of
the river. He was a vagabond--like all otters--and had fished many times
by Vomb Lake, and probably knew Smirre Fox. "I know very well how you
act when you want to coax away a salmon-trout, Smirre," said he.
"Oh! is it you, Gripe?" said Smirre, and was delighted; for he knew that
this particular otter was a quick and accomplished swimmer. "I don't
wonder that you do not care to look at the wild geese, since you can't
manage to get out to them." But the otter, who had swimming-webs between
his toes, and a stiff tail--which was as good as an oar--and a skin that
was water-proof, didn't wish to have it said of him that there was a
waterfall that he wasn't able to manage. He turned toward the stream;
and as soon as he caught sight of the wild geese, he threw the fish
away, and rushed down the steep shore and into the river.
If it had been a little later in the spring, so that the nightingales in
Djupafors had been at home, they would have sung for many a day of
Gripe's struggle with the rapid. For the otter was thrust back by the
waves many times, and carried down river; but he fought his way steadily
up again. He swam forward in still water; he crawled over stones, and
gradually came nearer the wild geese. It was a perilous trip, which
might well have earned the right to be sung by the nightingales.
Smirre followed the otter's course with his eyes as well as he could. At
last he saw that the otter was in the act of climbing up to the wild
geese. But just then it shrieked shrill and wild. The otter tumbled
backward into the water, and dashed away as if he had been a blind
kitten. An instant later, there was a great crackling of geese's wings.
They raised themselves and flew away to find another sleeping-place.
The otter soon came on land. He said nothing, but commenced to lick one
of his forepaws. When Smirre sneered at him because he hadn't succeeded,
he broke out: "It was not the fault of my swimming-art, Smirre. I had
raced all the way over to the geese, and was about to climb up to them,
when a tiny creature came running, and jabbed me in the foot with some
sharp iron. It hurt so, I lost my footing, and then the current took
He didn't have to say any more. Smirre was already far away on his way
to the wild geese.
Once again Akka and her flock had to take a night fly. Fortunately, the
moon had not gone down; and with the aid of its light, she succeeded in
finding another of those sleeping-places which she knew in that
neighbourhood. Again she followed the shining river toward the south.
Over Djupadal's manor, and over Ronneby's dark roofs and white
waterfalls she swayed forward without alighting. But a little south of
the city and not far from the sea, lies Ronneby health-spring, with its
bath house and spring house; with its big hotel and summer cottages for
the spring's guests. All these stand empty and desolate in winter--which
the birds know perfectly well; and many are the bird-companies who seek
shelter on the deserted buildings' balustrades and balconies during hard
Here the wild geese lit on a balcony, and, as usual, they fell asleep at
once. The boy, on the contrary, could not sleep because he hadn't cared
to creep in under the goosey-gander's wing.
The balcony faced south, so the boy had an outlook over the sea. And
since he could not sleep, he sat there and saw how pretty it looked when
sea and land meet, here in Blekinge.
You see that sea and land can meet in many different ways. In many
places the land comes down toward the sea with flat, tufted meadows, and
the sea meets the land with flying sand, which piles up in mounds and
drifts. It appears as though they both disliked each other so much that
they only wished to show the poorest they possessed. But it can also
happen that, when the land comes toward the sea, it raises a wall of
hills in front of it--as though the sea were something dangerous. When
the land does this, the sea comes up to it with fiery wrath, and beats
and roars and lashes against the rocks, and looks as if it would tear
the land-hill to pieces.
But in Blekinge it is altogether different when sea and land meet. There
the land breaks itself up into points and islands and islets; and the
sea divides itself into fiords and bays and sounds; and it is, perhaps,
this which makes it look as if they must meet in happiness and harmony.
Think now first and foremost of the sea! Far out it lies desolate and
empty and big, and has nothing else to do but to roll its gray billows.
When it comes toward the land, it happens across the first obstacle.
This it immediately overpowers; tears away everything green, and makes
it as gray as itself. Then it meets still another obstacle. With this it
does the same thing. And still another. Yes, the same thing happens to
this also. It is stripped and plundered, as if it had fallen into
robbers' hands. Then the obstacles come nearer and nearer together, and
then the sea must understand that the land sends toward it her littlest
children, in order to move it to pity. It also becomes more friendly the
farther in it comes; rolls its waves less high; moderates its storms;
lets the green things stay in cracks and crevices; separates itself into
small sounds and inlets, and becomes at last so harmless in the land,
that little boats dare venture out on it. It certainly cannot recognise
itself--so mild and friendly has it grown.
And then think of the hillside! It lies uniform, and looks the same
almost everywhere. It consists of flat grain-fields, with one and
another birch-grove between them; or else of long stretches of forest
ranges. It appears as if it had thought about nothing but grain and
turnips and potatoes and spruce and pine. Then comes a sea-fiord that
cuts far into it. It doesn't mind that, but borders it with birch and
alder, just as if it was an ordinary fresh-water lake. Then still
another wave comes driving in. Nor does the hillside bother itself about
cringing to this, but it, too, gets the same covering as the first one.
Then the fiords begin to broaden and separate, they break up fields and
woods and then the hillside cannot help but notice them. "I believe it
is the sea itself that is coming," says the hillside, and then it begins
to adorn itself. It wreathes itself with blossoms, travels up and down
in hills and throws islands into the sea. It no longer cares about pines
and spruces, but casts them off like old every day clothes, and parades
later with big oaks and lindens and chestnuts, and with blossoming leafy
bowers, and becomes as gorgeous as a manor-park. And when it meets the
sea, it is so changed that it doesn't know itself. All this one cannot
see very well until summertime; but, at any rate, the boy observed how
mild and friendly nature was; and he began to feel calmer than he had
been before, that night. Then, suddenly, he heard a sharp and ugly yowl
from the bath-house park; and when he stood up he saw, in the white
moonlight, a fox standing on the pavement under the balcony. For Smirre
had followed the wild geese once more. But when he had found the place
where they were quartered, he had understood that it was impossible to
get at them in any way; then he had not been able to keep from yowling
When the fox yowled in this manner, old Akka, the leader-goose, was
awakened. Although she could see nothing, she thought she recognised the
voice. "Is it you who are out to-night, Smirre?" said she. "Yes," said
Smirre, "it is I; and I want to ask what you geese think of the night
that I have given you?"
"Do you mean to say that it is you who have sent the marten and otter
against us?" asked Akka. "A good turn shouldn't be denied," said Smirre.
"You once played the goose-game with me, now I have begun to play the
fox-game with you; and I'm not inclined to let up on it so long as a
single one of you still lives even if I have to follow you the world
"You, Smirre, ought at least to think whether it is right for you, who
are weaponed with both teeth and claws, to hound us in this way; we, who
are without defence," said Akka.
Smirre thought that Akka sounded scared, and he said quickly: "If you,
Akka, will take that Thumbietot--who has so often opposed me--and throw
him down to me, I'll promise to make peace with you. Then I'll never
more pursue you or any of yours." "I'm not going to give you
Thumbietot," said Akka. "From the youngest of us to the oldest, we would
willingly give our lives for his sake!" "Since you're so fond of him,"
said Smirre, "I'll promise you that he shall be the first among you that
I will wreak vengeance upon."
Akka said no more, and after Smirre had sent up a few more yowls, all
was still. The boy lay all the while awake. Now it was Akka's words to
the fox that prevented him from sleeping. Never had he dreamed that he
should hear anything so great as that anyone was willing to risk life
for his sake. From that moment, it could no longer be said of Nils
Holgersson that he did not care for anyone.
_Saturday, April second_.
It was a moonlight evening in Karlskrona--calm and beautiful. But
earlier in the day, there had been rain and wind; and the people must
have thought that the bad weather still continued, for hardly one of
them had ventured out on the streets.
While the city lay there so desolate, Akka, the wild goose, and her
flock, came flying toward it over Vemmoen and Pantarholmen. They were out
in the late evening to seek a sleeping place on the islands. They
couldn't remain inland because they were disturbed by Smirre Fox
wherever they lighted.
When the boy rode along high up in the air, and looked at the sea and
the islands which spread themselves before him, he thought that
everything appeared so strange and spook-like. The heavens were no
longer blue, but encased him like a globe of green glass. The sea was
milk-white, and as far as he could see rolled small white waves tipped
with silver ripples. In the midst of all this white lay numerous little
islets, absolutely coal black. Whether they were big or little, whether
they were as even as meadows, or full of cliffs, they looked just as
black. Even dwelling houses and churches and windmills, which at other
times are white or red, were outlined in black against the green sky.
The boy thought it was as if the earth had been transformed, and he was
come to another world.
He thought that just for this one night he wanted to be brave, and not
afraid--when he saw something that really frightened him. It was a high
cliff island, which was covered with big, angular blocks; and between
the blocks shone specks of bright, shining gold. He couldn't keep from
thinking of Maglestone, by Trolle-Ljungby, which the trolls sometimes
raised upon high gold pillars; and he wondered if this was something
But with the stones and the gold it might have gone fairly well, if such
a lot of horrid things had not been lying all around the island. It
looked like whales and sharks and other big sea-monsters. But the boy
understood that it was the sea-trolls, who had gathered around the
island and intended to crawl up on it, to fight with the land-trolls who
lived there. And those on the land were probably afraid, for he saw how
a big giant stood on the highest point of the island and raised his
arms--as if in despair over all the misfortune that should come to him
and his island.
The boy was not a little terrified when he noticed that Akka began to
descend right over that particular island! "No, for pity's sake! We
must not light there," said he.
But the geese continued to descend, and soon the boy was astonished that
he could have seen things so awry. In the first place, the big stone
blocks were nothing but houses. The whole island was a city; and the
shining gold specks were street lamps and lighted window-panes. The
giant, who stood highest up on the island, and raised his arms, was a
church with two cross-towers; all the sea-trolls and monsters, which he
thought he had seen, were boats and ships of every description, that lay
anchored all around the island. On the side which lay toward the land
were mostly row-boats and sailboats and small coast steamers; but on the
side that faced the sea lay armour-clad battleships; some were broad,
with very thick, slanting smokestacks; others were long and narrow, and
so constructed that they could glide through the water like fishes.
Now what city might this be? That, the boy could figure out because he
saw all the battleships. All his life he had loved ships, although he
had had nothing to do with any, except the galleys which he had sailed
in the road ditches. He knew very well that this city--where so many
battleships lay--couldn't be any place but Karlskrona.
The boy's grandfather had been an old marine; and as long as he had
lived, he had talked of Karlskrona every day; of the great warship dock,
and of all the other things to be seen in that city. The boy felt
perfectly at home, and he was glad that he should see all this of which
he had heard so much.
But he only had a glimpse of the towers and fortifications which barred
the entrance to the harbour, and the many buildings, and the
shipyard--before Akka came down on one of the flat church-towers.
This was a pretty safe place for those who wanted to get away from a
fox, and the boy began to wonder if he couldn't venture to crawl in
under the goosey-gander's wing for this one night. Yes, that he might
safely do. It would do him good to get a little sleep. He should try to
see a little more of the dock and the ships after it had grown light.
The boy himself thought it was strange that he could keep still and wait
until the next morning to see the ships. He certainly had not slept five
minutes before he slipped out from under the wing and slid down the
lightning-rod and the waterspout all the way down to the ground.
Soon he stood on a big square which spread itself in front of the
church. It was covered with round stones, and was just as difficult for
him to travel over, as it is for big people to walk on a tufted meadow.
Those who are accustomed to live in the open--or way out in the
country--always feel uneasy when they come into a city, where the houses
stand straight and forbidding, and the streets are open, so that
everyone can see who goes there. And it happened in the same way with
the boy. When he stood on the big Karlskrona square, and looked at the
German church, and town hall, and the cathedral from which he had just
descended, he couldn't do anything but wish that he was back on the
tower again with the geese.
It was a lucky thing that the square was entirely deserted. There wasn't
a human being about--unless he counted a statue that stood on a high
pedestal. The boy gazed long at the statue, which represented a big,
brawny man in a three-cornered hat, long waistcoat, knee-breeches and
coarse shoes, and wondered what kind of a one he was. He held a long
stick in his hand, and he looked as if he would know how to make use of
it, too--for he had an awfully severe countenance, with a big, hooked
nose and an ugly mouth.
"What is that long-lipped thing doing here?" said the boy at last. He
had never felt so small and insignificant as he did that night. He tried
to jolly himself up a bit by saying something audacious. Then he thought
no more about the statue, but betook himself to a wide street which led
down to the sea.
But the boy hadn't gone far before he heard that someone was following
him. Someone was walking behind him, who stamped on the stone pavement
with heavy footsteps, and pounded on the ground with a hard stick. It
sounded as if the bronze man up in the square had gone out for a
The boy listened after the steps, while he ran down the street, and he
became more and more convinced that it was the bronze man. The ground
trembled, and the houses shook. It couldn't be anyone but he, who walked
so heavily, and the boy grew panic-stricken when he thought of what he
had just said to him. He did not dare to turn his head to find out if it
really was he.
"Perhaps he is only out walking for recreation," thought the boy.
"Surely he can't be offended with me for the words I spoke. They were
not at all badly meant."
Instead of going straight on, and trying to get down to the dock, the
boy turned into a side street which led east. First and foremost, he
wanted to get away from the one who tramped after him.
But the next instant he heard that the bronze man had switched off to
the same street; and then the boy was so scared that he didn't know what
he would do with himself. And how hard it was to find any hiding places
in a city where all the gates were closed! Then he saw on his right an
old frame church, which lay a short distance away from the street in the
centre of a large grove. Not an instant did he pause to consider, but
rushed on toward the church. "If I can only get there, then I'll surely
be shielded from all harm," thought he.
As he ran forward, he suddenly caught sight of a man who stood on a
gravel path and beckoned to him. "There is certainly someone who will
help me!" thought the boy; he became intensely happy, and hurried off in
that direction. He was actually so frightened that the heart of him
fairly thumped in his breast.
But when he came up to the man who stood on the edge of the gravel path,
upon a low pedestal, he was absolutely thunderstruck. "Surely, it can't
have been that one who beckoned to me!" thought he; for he saw that the
entire man was made of wood.
He stood there and stared at him. He was a thick-set man on short legs,
with a broad, ruddy countenance, shiny, black hair and full black beard.
On his head he wore a wooden hat; on his body, a brown wooden coat;
around his waist, a black wooden belt; on his legs he had wide wooden
knee-breeches and wooden stockings; and on his feet black wooden shoes.
He was newly painted and newly varnished, so that he glistened and shone
in the moonlight. This undoubtedly had a good deal to do with giving him
such a good-natured appearance, that the boy at once placed confidence
In his left hand he held a wooden slate, and there the boy read:
_Most humbly I beg you,
Though voice I may lack:
Come drop a penny, do;
But lift my hat!_
Oh ho! the man was only a poor-box. The boy felt that he had been done.
He had expected that this should be something really remarkable. And now
he remembered that grandpa had also spoken of the wooden man, and said
that all the children in Karlskrona were so fond of him. And that must
have been true, for he, too, found it hard to part with the wooden man.
He had something so old-timy about him, that one could well take him to
be many hundred years old; and at the same time, he looked so strong and
bold, and animated--just as one might imagine that folks looked in olden
The boy had so much fun looking at the wooden man, that he entirely
forgot the one from whom he was fleeing. But now he heard him. He turned
from the street and came into the churchyard. He followed him here too!
Where should the boy go?
Just then he saw the wooden man bend down to him and stretch forth his
big, broad hand. It was impossible to believe anything but good of him;
and with one jump, the boy stood in his hand. The wooden man lifted him
to his hat--and stuck him under it.
The boy was just hidden, and the wooden man had just gotten his arm in
its right place again, when the bronze man stopped in front of him and
banged the stick on the ground, so that the wooden man shook on his
pedestal. Thereupon the bronze man said in a strong and resonant voice:
"Who might this one be?"
The wooden man's arm went up, so that it creaked in the old woodwork,
and he touched his hat brim as he replied: "Rosenbom, by Your Majesty's
leave. Once upon a time boatswain on the man-of-war, _Dristigheten_;
after completed service, sexton at the Admiral's church--and, lately,
carved in wood and exhibited in the churchyard as a poor-box."
The boy gave a start when he heard that the wooden man said "Your
Majesty." For now, when he thought about it, he knew that the statue on
the square represented the one who had founded the city. It was probably
no less an one than Charles the Eleventh himself, whom he had
"He gives a good account of himself," said the bronze man. "Can he also
tell me if he has seen a little brat who runs around in the city
to-night? He's an impudent rascal, if I get hold of him, I'll teach him
manners!" With that, he again pounded on the ground with his stick, and
looked fearfully angry.
"By Your Majesty's leave, I have seen him," said the wooden man; and the
boy was so scared that he commenced to shake where he sat under the hat
and looked at the bronze man through a crack in the wood. But he calmed
down when the wooden man continued: "Your Majesty is on the wrong track.
That youngster certainly intended to run into the shipyard, and conceal
"Does he say so, Rosenbom? Well then, don't stand still on the pedestal
any longer but come with me and help me find him. Four eyes are better
than two, Rosenbom."
But the wooden man answered in a doleful voice: "I would most humbly beg
to be permitted to stay where I am. I look well and sleek because of the
paint, but I'm old and mouldy, and cannot stand moving about."
The bronze man was not one of those who liked to be contradicted. "What
sort of notions are these? Come along, Rosenbom!" Then he raised his
stick and gave the other one a resounding whack on the shoulder. "Does
Rosenbom not see that he holds together?"
With that they broke off and walked forward on the streets of
Karlskrona--large and mighty--until they came to a high gate, which led
to the shipyard. Just outside and on guard walked one of the navy's
jack-tars, but the bronze man strutted past him and kicked the gate open
without the jack-tar's pretending to notice it.
As soon as they had gotten into the shipyard, they saw before them a
wide, expansive harbor separated by pile-bridges. In the different
harbour basins, lay the warships, which looked bigger, and more
awe-inspiring close to, like this, than lately, when the boy had seen
them from up above. "Then it wasn't so crazy after all, to imagine that
they were sea-trolls," thought he.
"Where does Rosenbom think it most advisable for us to begin the
search?" said the bronze man.
"Such an one as he could most easily conceal himself in the hall of
models," replied the wooden man.
On a narrow land-strip which stretched to the right from the gate, all
along the harbour, lay ancient structures. The bronze man walked over to
a building with low walls, small windows, and a conspicuous roof. He
pounded on the door with his stick until it burst open; and tramped up a
pair of worn-out steps. Soon they came into a large hall, which was
filled with tackled and full-rigged little ships. The boy understood
without being told, that these were models for the ships which had been
built for the Swedish navy.
There were ships of many different varieties. There were old men-of-war,
whose sides bristled with cannon, and which had high structures fore and
aft, and their masts weighed down with a network of sails and ropes.
There were small island-boats with rowing-benches along the sides; there
were undecked cannon sloops and richly gilded frigates, which were
models of the ones the kings had used on their travels. Finally, there
were also the heavy, broad armour-plated ships with towers and cannon
on deck--such as are in use nowadays; and narrow, shining torpedo boats
which resembled long, slender fishes.
When the boy was carried around among all this, he was awed. "Fancy that
such big, splendid ships have been built here in Sweden!" he thought to
He had plenty of time to see all that was to be seen in there; for when
the bronze man saw the models, he forgot everything else. He examined
them all, from the first to the last, and asked about them. And
Rosenbom, the boatswain on the _Dristigheten_, told as much as he knew
of the ships' builders, and of those who had manned them; and of the
fates they had met. He told them about Chapman and Puke and Trolle; of
Hoagland and Svensksund--all the way along until 1809--after that he had
not been there.
Both he and the bronze man had the most to say about the fine old wooden
ships. The new battleships they didn't exactly appear to understand.
"I can hear that Rosenbom doesn't know anything about these new-fangled
things," said the bronze man. "Therefore, let us go and look at
something else; for this amuses me, Rosenbom."
By this time he had entirely given up his search for the boy, who felt
calm and secure where he sat in the wooden hat.
Thereupon both men wandered through the big establishment: sail-making
shops, anchor smithy, machine and carpenter shops. They saw the mast
sheers and the docks; the large magazines, the arsenal, the rope-bridge
and the big discarded dock, which had been blasted in the rock. They
went out upon the pile-bridges, where the naval vessels lay moored,
stepped on board and examined them like two old sea-dogs; wondered;
disapproved; approved; and became indignant.
The boy sat in safety under the wooden hat, and heard all about how they
had laboured and struggled in this place, to equip the navies which had
gone out from here. He heard how life and blood had been risked; how the
last penny had been sacrificed to build the warships; how skilled men
had strained all their powers, in order to perfect these ships which
had been their fatherland's safeguard. A couple of times the tears came
to the boy's eyes, as he heard all this.
And the very last, they went into an open court, where the galley models
of old men-of-war were grouped; and a more remarkable sight the boy had
never beheld; for these models had inconceivably powerful and
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