The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Part 3 out of 9
terror-striking faces. They were big, fearless and savage: filled with
the same proud spirit that had fitted out the great ships. They were
from another time than his. He thought that he shrivelled up before
But when they came in here, the bronze man said to the wooden man:
"Take off thy hat, Rosenbom, for those that stand here! They have all
fought for the fatherland."
And Rosenbom--like the bronze man--had forgotten why they had begun this
tramp. Without thinking, he lifted the wooden hat from his head and
"I take off my hat to the one who chose the harbour and founded the
shipyard and recreated the navy; to the monarch who has awakened all
this into life!"
"Thanks, Rosenbom! That was well spoken. Rosenbom is a fine man. But
what is this, Rosenbom?"
For there stood Nils Holgersson, right on the top of Rosenbom's bald
pate. He wasn't afraid any longer; but raised his white toboggan hood,
and shouted: "Hurrah for you, Longlip!"
The bronze man struck the ground hard with his stick; but the boy never
learned what he had intended to do for now the sun ran up, and, at the
same time, both the bronze man and the wooden man vanished--as if they
had been made of mists. While he still stood and stared after them, the
wild geese flew up from the church tower, and swayed back and forth over
the city. Instantly they caught sight of Nils Holgersson; and then the
big white one darted down from the sky and fetched him.
THE TRIP TO OeLAND
_Sunday, April third_.
The wild geese went out on a wooded island to feed. There they happened
to run across a few gray geese, who were surprised to see them--since
they knew very well that their kinsmen, the wild geese, usually travel
over the interior of the country.
They were curious and inquisitive, and wouldn't be satisfied with less
than that the wild geese should tell them all about the persecution
which they had to endure from Smirre Fox. When they had finished, a
gray goose, who appeared to be as old and as wise as Akka herself, said:
"It was a great misfortune for you that Smirre Fox was declared an
outlaw in his own land. He'll be sure to keep his word, and follow you
all the way up to Lapland. If I were in your place, I shouldn't travel
north over Smaland, but would take the outside route over Oeland instead,
so that he'll be thrown off the track entirely. To really mislead him,
you must remain for a couple of days on Oeland's southern point. There
you'll find lots of food and lots of company. I don't believe you'll
regret it, if you go over there."
It was certainly very sensible advice, and the wild geese concluded to
follow it. As soon as they had eaten all they could hold, they started
on the trip to Oeland. None of them had ever been there before, but the
gray goose had given them excellent directions. They only had to travel
direct south until they came to a large bird-track, which extended all
along the Blekinge coast. All the birds who had winter residences by the
West sea, and who now intended to travel to Finland and Russia, flew
forward there--and, in passing, they were always in the habit of
stopping at Oeland to rest. The wild geese would have no trouble in
That day it was perfectly still and warm--like a summer's day--the best
weather in the world for a sea trip. The only grave thing about it was
that it was not quite clear, for the sky was gray and veiled. Here and
there were enormous mist-clouds which hung way down to the sea's outer
edge, and obstructed the view.
When the travellers had gotten away from the wooded island, the sea
spread itself so smooth and mirror-like, that the boy as he looked down
thought the water had disappeared. There was no longer any earth under
him. He had nothing but mist and sky around him. He grew very dizzy, and
held himself tight on the goose-back, more frightened than when he sat
there for the first time. It seemed as though he couldn't possibly hold
on; he must fall in some direction.
It was even worse when they reached the big bird-track, of which the
gray goose had spoken. Actually, there came flock after flock flying in
exactly the same direction. They seemed to follow a fixed route. There
were ducks and gray geese, surf-scoters and guillemots, loons and
pin-tail ducks and mergansers and grebes and oyster-catchers and
sea-grouse. But now, when the boy leaned forward, and looked in the
direction where the sea ought to lie, he saw the whole bird procession
reflected in the water. But he was so dizzy that he didn't understand
how this had come about: he thought that the whole bird procession flew
with their bellies upside down. Still he didn't wonder at this so much,
for he did not himself know which was up, and which was down.
The birds were tired out and impatient to get on. None of them shrieked
or said a funny thing, and this made everything seem peculiarly unreal.
"Think, if we have travelled away from the earth!" he said to himself.
"Think, if we are on our way up to heaven!"
He saw nothing but mists and birds around him, and began to look upon it
as reasonable that they were travelling heaven-ward. He was glad, and
wondered what he should see up there. The dizziness passed all at once.
He was so exceedingly happy at the thought that he was on his way to
heaven and was leaving this earth.
Just about then he heard a couple of loud shots, and saw two white
There was a sudden awakening, and an unrest among the birds. "Hunters!
Hunters!" they cried. "Fly high! Fly away!"
Then the boy saw, finally, that they were travelling all the while over
the sea-coast, and that they certainly were not in heaven. In a long row
lay small boats filled with hunters, who fired shot upon shot. The
nearest bird-flocks hadn't noticed them in time. They had flown too low.
Several dark bodies sank down toward the sea; and for every one that
fell, there arose cries of anguish from the living.
It was strange for one who had but lately believed himself in heaven, to
wake up suddenly to such fear and lamentation. Akka shot toward the
heights as fast as she could, and the flock followed with the greatest
possible speed. The wild geese got safely out of the way, but the boy
couldn't get over his amazement. "To think that anyone could wish to
shoot upon such as Akka and Yksi and Kaksi and the goosey-gander and the
others! Human beings had no conception of what they did."
So it bore on again, in the still air, and everything was as quiet as
heretofore--with the exception that some of the tired birds called out
every now and then: "Are we not there soon? Are you sure we're on the
right track?" Hereupon, those who flew in the centre answered: "We are
flying straight to Oeland; straight to Oeland."
The gray geese were tired out, and the loons flew around them. "Don't be
in such a rush!" cried the ducks. "You'll eat up all the food before we
get there." "Oh! there'll be enough for both you and us," answered the
Before they had gotten so far that they saw Oeland, there came a light
wind against them. It brought with it something that resembled immense
clouds of white smoke--just as if there was a big fire somewhere.
When the birds saw the first white spiral haze, they became uneasy and
increased their speed. But that which resembled smoke blew thicker and
thicker, and at last it enveloped them altogether. They smelled no
smoke; and the smoke was not dark and dry, but white and damp. Suddenly
the boy understood that it was nothing but a mist.
When the mist became so thick that one couldn't see a goose-length
ahead, the birds began to carry on like real lunatics. All these, who
before had travelled forward in such perfect order, began to play in the
mist. They flew hither and thither, to entice one another astray. "Be
careful!" they cried. "You're only travelling round and round. Turn
back, for pity's sake! You'll never get to Oeland in this way."
They all knew perfectly well where the island was, but they did their
best to lead each other astray. "Look at those wagtails!" rang out in
the mist. "They are going back toward the North Sea!" "Have a care, wild
geese!" shrieked someone from another direction. "If you continue like
this, you'll get clear up to Ruegen."
There was, of course, no danger that the birds who were accustomed to
travel here would permit themselves to be lured in a wrong direction.
But the ones who had a hard time of it were the wild geese. The jesters
observed that they were uncertain as to the way, and did all they could
to confuse them.
"Where do you intend to go, good people?" called a swan. He came right
up to Akka, and looked sympathetic and serious.
"We shall travel to Oeland; but we have never been there before," said
Akka. She thought that this was a bird to be trusted.
"It's too bad," said the swan. "They have lured you in the wrong
direction. You're on the road to Blekinge. Now come with me, and I'll
put you right!"
And so he flew off with them; and when he had taken them so far away
from the track that they heard no calls, he disappeared in the mist.
They flew around for a while at random. They had barely succeeded in
finding the birds again, when a duck approached them. "It's best that
you lie down on the water until the mist clears," said the duck. "It is
evident that you are not accustomed to look out for yourselves on
Those rogues succeeded in making Akka's head swim. As near as the boy
could make out, the wild geese flew round and round for a long time.
"Be careful! Can't you see that you are flying up and down?" shouted a
loon as he rushed by. The boy positively clutched the goosey-gander
around the neck. This was something which he had feared for a long time.
No one can tell when they would have arrived, if they hadn't heard a
rolling and muffled sound in the distance.
Then Akka craned her neck, snapped hard with her wings, and rushed on at
full speed. Now she had something to go by. The gray goose had told her
not to light on Oeland's southern point, because there was a cannon
there, which the people used to shoot the mist with. Now she knew the
way, and now no one in the world should lead her astray again.
OeLAND'S SOUTHERN POINT
_April third to sixth_.
On the most southerly part of Oeland lies a royal demesne, which is
called Ottenby. It is a rather large estate which extends from shore to
shore, straight across the island; and it is remarkable because it has
always been a haunt for large bird-companies. In the seventeenth
century, when the kings used to go over to Oeland to hunt, the entire
estate was nothing but a deer park. In the eighteenth century there was
a stud there, where blooded race-horses were bred; and a sheep farm,
where several hundred sheep were maintained. In our days you'll find
neither blooded horses nor sheep at Ottenby. In place of them live
great herds of young horses, which are to be used by the cavalry.
In all the land there is certainly no place that could be a better abode
for animals. Along the extreme eastern shore lies the old sheep meadow,
which is a mile and a half long, and the largest meadow in all Oeland,
where animals can graze and play and run about, as free as if they were
in a wilderness. And there you will find the celebrated Ottenby grove
with the hundred-year-old oaks, which give shade from the sun, and
shelter from the severe Oeland winds. And we must not forget the long
Ottenby wall, which stretches from shore to shore, and separates Ottenby
from the rest of the island, so that the animals may know how far the
old royal demesne extends, and be careful about getting in on other
ground, where they are not so well protected.
You'll find plenty of tame animals at Ottenby, but that isn't all. One
could almost believe that the wild ones also felt that on an old crown
property both the wild and the tame ones can count upon shelter and
protection--since they venture there in such great numbers.
Besides, there are still a few stags of the old descent left; and
burrow-ducks and partridges love to live there, and it offers a resting
place, in the spring and late summer, for thousands of migratory birds.
Above all, it is the swampy eastern shore below the sheep meadow, where
the migratory birds alight, to rest and feed.
When the wild geese and Nils Holgersson had finally found their way to
Oeland, they came down, like all the rest, on the shore near the sheep
meadow. The mist lay thick over the island, just as it had over the sea.
But still the boy was amazed at all the birds which he discerned, only
on the little narrow stretch of shore which he could see.
It was a low sand-shore with stones and pools, and a lot of cast-up
sea-weed. If the boy had been permitted to choose, it isn't likely that
he would have thought of alighting there; but the birds probably looked
upon this as a veritable paradise. Ducks and geese walked about and fed
on the meadow; nearer the water, ran snipe, and other coast-birds. The
loons lay in the sea and fished, but the life and movement was upon the
long sea-weed banks along the coast. There the birds stood side by side
close together and picked grub-worms--which must have been found there
in limitless quantities for it was very evident that there was never any
complaint over a lack of food.
The great majority were going to travel farther, and had only alighted
to take a short rest; and as soon as the leader of a flock thought that
his comrades had recovered themselves sufficiently he said, "If you are
ready now, we may as well move on."
"No, wait, wait! We haven't had anything like enough," said the
"You surely don't believe that I intend to let you eat so much that you
will not be able to move?" said the leader, and flapped his wings and
started off. Along the outermost sea-weed banks lay a flock of swans.
They didn't bother about going on land, but rested themselves by lying
and rocking on the water. Now and then they dived down with their necks
and brought up food from the sea-bottom. When they had gotten hold of
anything very good, they indulged in loud shouts that sounded like
When the boy heard that there were swans on the shoals, he hurried out
to the sea-weed banks. He had never before seen wild swans at close
range. He had luck on his side, so that he got close up to them.
The boy was not the only one who had heard the swans. Both the wild
geese and the gray geese and the loons swam out between the banks, laid
themselves in a ring around the swans and stared at them. The swans
ruffled their feathers, raised their wings like sails, and lifted their
necks high in the air. Occasionally one and another of them swam up to a
goose, or a great loon, or a diving-duck, and said a few words. And then
it appeared as though the one addressed hardly dared raise his bill to
But then there was a little loon--a tiny mischievous baggage--who
couldn't stand all this ceremony. He dived suddenly, and disappeared
under the water's edge. Soon after that, one of the swans let out a
scream, and swam off so quickly that the water foamed. Then he stopped
and began to look majestic once more. But soon, another one shrieked in
the same way as the first one, and then a third.
The little loon wasn't able to stay under water any longer, but appeared
on the water's edge, little and black and venomous. The swans rushed
toward him; but when they saw what a poor little thing it was, they
turned abruptly--as if they considered themselves too good to quarrel
with him. Then the little loon dived again, and pinched their feet. It
certainly must have hurt; and the worst of it was, that they could not
maintain their dignity. At once they took a decided stand. They began to
beat the air with their wings so that it thundered; came forward a
bit--as though they were running on the water--got wind under their
wings, and raised themselves.
When the swans were gone they were greatly missed; and those who had
lately been amused by the little loon's antics scolded him for his
The boy walked toward land again. There he stationed himself to see how
the pool-snipe played. They resembled small storks; like these, they had
little bodies, long legs and necks, and light, swaying movements; only
they were not gray, but brown. They stood in a long row on the shore
where it was washed by waves. As soon as a wave rolled in, the whole row
ran backward; as soon as it receded, they followed it. And they kept
this up for hours.
The showiest of all the birds were the burrow-ducks. They were
undoubtedly related to the ordinary ducks; for, like these, they too had
a thick-set body, broad bill, and webbed feet; but they were much more
elaborately gotten up. The feather dress, itself, was white; around
their necks they wore a broad gold band; the wing-mirror shone in green,
red, and black; and the wing-edges were black, and the head was dark
green and shimmered like satin.
As soon as any of these appeared on the shore, the others said: "Now,
just look at those things! They know how to tog themselves out." "If
they were not so conspicuous, they wouldn't have to dig their nests in
the earth, but could lay above ground, like anyone else," said a brown
mallard-duck. "They may try as much as they please, still they'll never
get anywhere with such noses," said a gray goose. And this was actually
true. The burrow-ducks had a big knob on the base of the bill, which
spoiled their appearance.
Close to the shore, sea-gulls and sea-swallows moved forward on the
water and fished. "What kind of fish are you catching?" asked a wild
goose. "It's a stickleback. It's Oeland stickleback. It's the best
stickleback in the world," said a gull. "Won't you taste of it?" And he
flew up to the goose, with his mouth full of the little fishes, and
wanted to give her some. "Ugh! Do you think that I eat such filth?" said
the wild goose.
The next morning it was just as cloudy. The wild geese walked about on
the meadow and fed; but the boy had gone to the seashore to gather
mussels. There were plenty of them; and when he thought that the next
day, perhaps, they would be in some place where they couldn't get any
food at all, he concluded that he would try to make himself a little
bag, which he could fill with mussels. He found an old sedge on the
meadow, which was strong and tough; and out of this he began to braid a
knapsack. He worked at this for several hours, but he was well satisfied
with it when it was finished.
At dinner time all the wild geese came running and asked him if he had
seen anything of the white goosey-gander. "No, he has not been with me,"
said the boy. "We had him with us all along until just lately," said
Akka, "but now we no longer know where he's to be found."
The boy jumped up, and was terribly frightened. He asked if any fox or
eagle had put in an appearance, or if any human being had been seen in
the neighbourhood. But no one had noticed anything dangerous. The
goosey-gander had probably lost his way in the mist.
But it was just as great a misfortune for the boy, in whatever way the
white one had been lost, and he started off immediately to hunt for him.
The mist shielded him, so that he could run wherever he wished without
being seen, but it also prevented him from seeing. He ran southward
along the shore--all the way down to the lighthouse and the mist cannon
on the island's extreme point. It was the same bird confusion
everywhere, but no goosey-gander. He ventured over to Ottenby estate,
and he searched every one of the old, hollow oaks in Ottenby grove, but
he saw no trace of the goosey-gander.
He searched until it began to grow dark. Then he had to turn back again
to the eastern shore. He walked with heavy steps, and was fearfully
blue. He didn't know what would become of him if he couldn't find the
goosey-gander. There was no one whom he could spare less.
But when he wandered over the sheep meadow, what was that big, white
thing that came toward him in the mist if it wasn't the goosey-gander?
He was all right, and very glad that, at last, he had been able to find
his way back to the others. The mist had made him so dizzy, he said,
that he had wandered around on the big meadow all day long. The boy
threw his arms around his neck, for very joy, and begged him to take
care of himself, and not wander away from the others. And he promised,
positively, that he never would do this again. No, never again.
But the next morning, when the boy went down to the beach and hunted for
mussels, the geese came running and asked if he had seen the
goosey-gander. No, of course he hadn't. "Well, then the goosey-gander
was lost again. He had gone astray in the mist, just as he had done the
The boy ran off in great terror and began to search. He found one place
where the Ottenby wall was so tumble-down that he could climb over it.
Later, he went about, first on the shore which gradually widened and
became so large that there was room for fields and meadows and
farms--then up on the flat highland, which lay in the middle of the
island, and where there were no buildings except windmills, and where
the turf was so thin that the white cement shone under it.
Meanwhile, he could not find the goosey-gander; and as it drew on toward
evening, and the boy must return to the beach, he couldn't believe
anything but that his travelling companion was lost. He was so
depressed, he did not know what to do with himself.
He had just climbed over the wall again when he heard a stone crash down
close beside him. As he turned to see what it was, he thought that he
could distinguish something that moved on a stone pile which lay close
to the wall. He stole nearer, and saw the goosey-gander come trudging
wearily over the stone pile, with several long fibres in his mouth. The
goosey-gander didn't see the boy, and the boy did not call to him, but
thought it advisable to find out first why the goosey-gander time and
again disappeared in this manner.
And he soon learned the reason for it. Up in the stone pile lay a young
gray goose, who cried with joy when the goosey-gander came. The boy
crept near, so that he heard what they said; then he found out that the
gray goose had been wounded in one wing, so that she could not fly, and
that her flock had travelled away from her, and left her alone. She had
been near death's door with hunger, when the white goosey-gander had
heard her call, the other day, and had sought her out. Ever since, he
had been carrying food to her. They had both hoped that she would be
well before they left the island, but, as yet, she could neither fly nor
walk. She was very much worried over this, but he comforted her with the
thought that he shouldn't travel for a long time. At last he bade her
good-night, and promised to come the next day.
The boy let the goosey-gander go; and as soon as he was gone, he stole,
in turn, up to the stone heap. He was angry because he had been
deceived, and now he wanted to say to that gray goose that the
goosey-gander was his property. He was going to take the boy up to
Lapland, and there would be no talk of his staying here on her account.
But now, when he saw the young gray goose close to, he understood, not
only why the goosey-gander had gone and carried food to her for two
days, but also why he had not wished to mention that he had helped her.
She had the prettiest little head; her feather-dress was like soft
satin, and the eyes were mild and pleading.
When she saw the boy, she wanted to run away; but the left wing was out
of joint and dragged on the ground, so that it interfered with her
"You mustn't be afraid of me," said the boy, and didn't look nearly so
angry as he had intended to appear. "I'm Thumbietot, Morten
Goosey-gander's comrade," he continued. Then he stood there, and didn't
know what he wanted to say.
Occasionally one finds something among animals which makes one wonder
what sort of creatures they really are. One is almost afraid that they
may be transformed human beings. It was something like this with the
gray goose. As soon as Thumbietot said who he was, she lowered her neck
and head very charmingly before him, and said in a voice that was so
pretty that he couldn't believe it was a goose who spoke: "I am very
glad that you have come here to help me. The white goosey-gander has
told me that no one is as wise and as good as you."
She said this with such dignity, that the boy grew really embarrassed.
"This surely can't be any bird," thought he. "It is certainly some
He was filled with a desire to help her, and ran his hand under the
feathers, and felt along the wing-bone. The bone was not broken, but
there was something wrong with the joint. He got his finger down into
the empty cavity. "Be careful, now!" he said; and got a firm grip on the
bone-pipe and fitted it into the place where it ought to be. He did it
very quickly and well, considering it was the first time that he had
attempted anything of the sort. But it must have hurt very much, for the
poor young goose uttered a single shrill cry, and then sank down among
the stones without showing a sign of life.
The boy was terribly frightened. He had only wished to help her, and now
she was dead. He made a big jump from the stone pile, and ran away. He
thought it was as though he had murdered a human being.
The next morning it was clear and free from mist, and Akka said that now
they should continue their travels. All the others were willing to go,
but the white goosey-gander made excuses. The boy understood well enough
that he didn't care to leave the gray goose. Akka did not listen to him,
but started off.
The boy jumped up on the goosey-gander's back, and the white one
followed the flock--albeit slowly and unwillingly. The boy was mighty
glad that they could fly away from the island. He was conscience-stricken
on account of the gray goose, and had not cared to tell the goosey-gander
how it had turned out when he had tried to cure her. It would probably be
best if Morten goosey-gander never found out about this, he thought,
though he wondered, at the same time, how the white one had the heart to
leave the gray goose.
But suddenly the goosey-gander turned. The thought of the young gray
goose had overpowered him. It could go as it would with the Lapland
trip: he couldn't go with the others when he knew that she lay alone and
ill, and would starve to death.
With a few wing-strokes he was over the stone pile; but then, there lay
no young gray goose between the stones. "Dunfin! Dunfin! Where art
thou?" called the goosey-gander.
"The fox has probably been here and taken her," thought the boy. But at
that moment he heard a pretty voice answer the goosey-gander. "Here am
I, goosey-gander; here am I! I have only been taking a morning bath."
And up from the water came the little gray goose--fresh and in good
trim--and told how Thumbietot had pulled her wing into place, and that
she was entirely well, and ready to follow them on the journey.
The drops of water lay like pearl-dew on her shimmery satin-like
feathers, and Thumbietot thought once again that she was a real little
THE BIG BUTTERFLY
_Wednesday, April sixth_.
The geese travelled alongside the coast of the long island, which lay
distinctly visible under them. The boy felt happy and light of heart
during the trip. He was just as pleased and well satisfied as he had
been glum and depressed the day before, when he roamed around down on
the island, and hunted for the goosey-gander.
He saw now that the interior of the island consisted of a barren high
plain, with a wreath of fertile land along the coast; and he began to
comprehend the meaning of something which he had heard the other
He had just seated himself to rest a bit by one of the many windmills on
the highland, when a couple of shepherds came along with the dogs beside
them, and a large herd of sheep in their train. The boy had not been
afraid because he was well concealed under the windmill stairs. But as
it turned out, the shepherds came and seated themselves on the same
stairway, and then there was nothing for him to do but to keep perfectly
One of the shepherds was young, and looked about as folks do mostly; the
other was an old queer one. His body was large and knotty, but the head
was small, and the face had sensitive and delicate features. It appeared
as though the body and head didn't want to fit together at all.
One moment he sat silent and gazed into the mist, with an unutterably
weary expression. Then he began to talk to his companion. Then the other
one took out some bread and cheese from his knapsack, to eat his evening
meal. He answered scarcely anything, but listened very patiently, just
as if he were thinking: "I might as well give you the pleasure of
letting you chatter a while."
"Now I shall tell you something, Eric," said the old shepherd. "I have
figured out that in former days, when both human beings and animals were
much larger than they are now, that the butterflies, too, must have been
uncommonly large. And once there was a butterfly that was many miles
long, and had wings as wide as seas. Those wings were blue, and shone
like silver, and so gorgeous that, when the butterfly was out flying,
all the other animals stood still and stared at it. It had this
drawback, however, that it was too large. The wings had hard work to
carry it. But probably all would have gone very well, if the butterfly
had been wise enough to remain on the hillside. But it wasn't; it
ventured out over the East sea. And it hadn't gotten very far before the
storm came along and began to tear at its wings. Well, it's easy to
understand, Eric, how things would go when the East sea storm commenced
to wrestle with frail butterfly-wings. It wasn't long before they were
torn away and scattered; and then, of course, the poor butterfly fell
into the sea. At first it was tossed backward and forward on the
billows, and then it was stranded upon a few cliff-foundations outside
of Smaland. And there it lay--as large and long as it was.
"Now I think, Eric, that if the butterfly had dropped on land, it would
soon have rotted and fallen apart. But since it fell into the sea, it
was soaked through and through with lime, and became as hard as a stone.
You know, of course, that we have found stones on the shore which were
nothing but petrified worms. Now I believe that it went the same way
with the big butterfly-body. I believe that it turned where it lay into
a long, narrow mountain out in the East sea. Don't you?"
He paused for a reply, and the other one nodded to him. "Go on, so I may
hear what you are driving at," said he.
"And mark you, Eric, that this very Oeland, upon which you and I live, is
nothing else than the old butterfly-body. If one only thinks about it,
one can observe that the island is a butterfly. Toward the north, the
slender fore-body and the round head can be seen, and toward the south,
one sees the back-body--which first broadens out, and then narrows to a
Here he paused once more and looked at his companion rather anxiously to
see how he would take this assertion. But the young man kept on eating
with the utmost calm, and nodded to him to continue.
"As soon as the butterfly had been changed into a limestone rock, many
different kinds of seeds of herbs and trees came travelling with the
winds, and wanted to take root on it. It was a long time before anything
but sedge could grow there. Then came sheep sorrel, and the rock-rose
and thorn-brush. But even to-day there is not so much growth on Alvaret,
that the mountain is well covered, but it shines through here and there.
And no one can think of ploughing and sowing up here, where the
earth-crust is so thin. But if you will admit that Alvaret and the
strongholds around it, are made of the butterfly-body, then you may well
have the right to question where that land which lies beneath the
strongholds came from."
"Yes, it is just that," said he who was eating. "That I should indeed
like to know."
"Well, you must remember that Oeland has lain in the sea for a good many
years, and in the course of time all the things which tumble around with
the waves--sea-weed and sand and clams--have gathered around it, and
remained lying there. And then, stone and gravel have fallen down from
both the eastern and western strongholds. In this way the island has
acquired broad shores, where grain and flowers and trees can grow.
"Up here, on the hard butterfly-back, only sheep and cows and little
horses go about. Only lapwings and plover live here, and there are no
buildings except windmills and a few stone huts, where we shepherds
crawl in. But down on the coast lie big villages and churches and
parishes and fishing hamlets and a whole city."
He looked questioningly at the other one. This one had finished his
meal, and was tying the food-sack together. "I wonder where you will end
with all this," said he.
"It is only this that I want to know," said the shepherd, as he lowered
his voice so that he almost whispered the words, and looked into the
mist with his small eyes, which appeared to be worn out from spying
after all that which does not exist. "Only this I want to know: if the
peasants who live on the built-up farms beneath the strongholds, or the
fishermen who take the small herring from the sea, or the merchants in
Borgholm, or the bathing guests who come here every summer, or the
tourists who wander around in Borgholm's old castle ruin, or the
sportsmen who come here in the fall to hunt partridges, or the painters
who sit here on Alvaret and paint the sheep and windmills--I should like
to know if any of them understand that this island has been a butterfly
which flew about with great shimmery wings."
"Ah!" said the young shepherd, suddenly. "It should have occurred to
some of them, as they sat on the edge of the stronghold of an evening,
and heard the nightingales trill in the groves below them, and looked
over Kalmar Sound, that this island could not have come into existence
in the same way as the others."
"I want to ask," said the old one, "if no one has had the desire to give
wings to the windmills--so large that they could reach to heaven, so
large that they could lift the whole island out of the sea and let it
fly like a butterfly among butterflies."
"It may be possible that there is something in what you say," said the
young one; "for on summer nights, when the heavens widen and open over
the island, I have sometimes thought that it was as if it wanted to
raise itself from the sea, and fly away."
But when the old one had finally gotten the young one to talk, he didn't
listen to him very much. "I would like to know," the old one said in a
low tone, "if anyone can explain why one feels such a longing up here on
Alvaret. I have felt it every day of my life; and I think it preys upon
each and every one who must go about here. I want to know if no one else
has understood that all this wistfulness is caused by the fact that the
whole island is a butterfly that longs for its wings."
LITTLE KARL'S ISLAND
_Friday, April eighth_.
The wild geese had spent the night on Oeland's northern point, and were
now on their way to the continent. A strong south wind blew over Kalmar
Sound, and they had been thrown northward. Still they worked their way
toward land with good speed. But when they were nearing the first
islands a powerful rumbling was heard, as if a lot of strong-winged
birds had come flying; and the water under them, all at once, became
perfectly black. Akka drew in her wings so suddenly that she almost
stood still in the air. Thereupon, she lowered herself to light on the
edge of the sea. But before the geese had reached the water, the west
storm caught up with them. Already, it drove before it fogs, salt scum
and small birds; it also snatched with it the wild geese, threw them on
end, and cast them toward the sea.
It was a rough storm. The wild geese tried to turn back, time and again,
but they couldn't do it and were driven out toward the East sea. The
storm had already blown them past Oeland, and the sea lay before
them--empty and desolate. There was nothing for them to do but to keep
out of the water.
When Akka observed that they were unable to turn back she thought that
it was needless to let the storm drive them over the entire East sea.
Therefore she sank down to the water. Now the sea was raging, and
increased in violence with every second. The sea-green billows rolled
forward, with seething foam on their crests. Each one surged higher than
the other. It was as though they raced with each other, to see which
could foam the wildest. But the wild geese were not afraid of the
swells. On the contrary, this seemed to afford them much pleasure. They
did not strain themselves with swimming, but lay and let themselves be
washed up with the wave-crests, and down in the water-dales, and had
just as much fun as children in a swing. Their only anxiety was that the
flock should be separated. The few land-birds who drove by, up in the
storm, cried with envy: "There is no danger for you who can swim."
But the wild geese were certainly not out of all danger. In the first
place, the rocking made them helplessly sleepy. They wished continually
to turn their heads backward, poke their bills under their wings, and go
to sleep. Nothing can be more dangerous than to fall asleep in this way;
and Akka called out all the while: "Don't go to sleep, wild geese! He
that falls asleep will get away from the flock. He that gets away from
the flock is lost."
Despite all attempts at resistance one after another fell asleep; and
Akka herself came pretty near dozing off, when she suddenly saw
something round and dark rise on the top of a wave. "Seals! Seals!
Seals!" cried Akka in a high, shrill voice, and raised herself up in the
air with resounding wing-strokes. It was just at the crucial moment.
Before the last wild goose had time to come up from the water, the seals
were so close to her that they made a grab for her feet.
Then the wild geese were once more up in the storm which drove them
before it out to sea. No rest did it allow either itself or the wild
geese; and no land did they see--only desolate sea.
They lit on the water again, as soon as they dared venture. But when
they had rocked upon the waves for a while, they became sleepy again.
And when they fell asleep, the seals came swimming. If old Akka had not
been so wakeful, not one of them would have escaped.
All day the storm raged; and it caused fearful havoc among the crowds of
little birds, which at this time of year were migrating. Some were
driven from their course to foreign lands, where they died of
starvation; others became so exhausted that they sank down in the sea
and were drowned. Many were crushed against the cliff-walls, and many
became a prey for the seals.
The storm continued all day, and, at last, Akka began to wonder if she
and her flock would perish. They were now dead tired, and nowhere did
they see any place where they might rest. Toward evening she no longer
dared to lie down on the sea, because now it filled up all of a sudden
with large ice-cakes, which struck against each other, and she feared
they should be crushed between these. A couple of times the wild geese
tried to stand on the ice-crust; but one time the wild storm swept them
into the water; another time, the merciless seals came creeping up on
At sundown the wild geese were once more up in the air. They flew
on--fearful for the night. The darkness seemed to come upon them much
too quickly this night--which was so full of dangers.
It was terrible that they, as yet, saw no land. How would it go with
them if they were forced to stay out on the sea all night? They would
either be crushed between the ice-cakes or devoured by seals or
separated by the storm.
The heavens were cloud-bedecked, the moon hid itself, and the darkness
came quickly. At the same time all nature was filled with a horror which
caused the most courageous hearts to quail. Distressed bird-travellers'
cries had sounded over the sea all day long, without anyone having paid
the slightest attention to them; but now, when one no longer saw who it
was that uttered them, they seemed mournful and terrifying. Down on the
sea, the ice-drifts crashed against each other with a loud rumbling
noise. The seals tuned up their wild hunting songs. It was as though
heaven and earth were, about to clash.
The boy sat for a moment and looked down into the sea. Suddenly he
thought that it began to roar louder than ever. He looked up. Right in
front of him--only a couple of metres away--stood a rugged and bare
mountain-wall. At its base the waves dashed into a foaming spray. The
wild geese flew straight toward the cliff, and the boy did not see how
they could avoid being dashed to pieces against it. Hardly had he
wondered that Akka hadn't seen the danger in time, when they were over
by the mountain. Then he also noticed that in front of them was the
half-round entrance to a grotto. Into this the geese steered; and the
next moment they were safe.
The first thing the wild geese thought of--before they gave themselves
time to rejoice over their safety--was to see if all their comrades were
also harboured. Yes, there were Akka, Iksi, Kolmi, Nelja, Viisi, Knusi,
all the six goslings, the goosey-gander, Dunfin and Thumbietot; but
Kaksi from Nuolja, the first left-hand goose, was missing--and no one
knew anything about her fate.
When the wild geese discovered that no one but Kaksi had been separated
from the flock, they took the matter lightly. Kaksi was old and wise.
She knew all their byways and their habits, and she, of course, would
know how to find her way back to them.
Then the wild geese began to look around in the cave. Enough daylight
came in through the opening, so that they could see the grotto was both
deep and wide. They were delighted to think they had found such a fine
night harbour, when one of them caught sight of some shining, green
dots, which glittered in a dark corner. "These are eyes!" cried Akka.
"There are big animals in here." They rushed toward the opening, but
Thumbietot called to them: "There is nothing to run away from! It's only
a few sheep who are lying alongside the grotto wall."
When the wild geese had accustomed themselves to the dim daylight in the
grotto, they saw the sheep very distinctly. The grown-up ones might be
about as many as there were geese; but beside these there were a few
little lambs. An old ram with long, twisted horns appeared to be the
most lordly one of the flock. The wild geese went up to him with much
bowing and scraping. "Well met in the wilderness!" they greeted, but the
big ram lay still, and did not speak a word of welcome.
Then the wild geese thought that the sheep were displeased because they
had taken shelter in their grotto. "It is perhaps not permissible that
we have come in here?" said Akka. "But we cannot help it, for we are
wind-driven. We have wandered about in the storm all day, and it would
be very good to be allowed to stop here to-night." After that a long
time passed before any of the sheep answered with words; but, on the
other hand, it could be heard distinctly that a pair of them heaved deep
sighs. Akka knew, to be sure, that sheep are always shy and peculiar;
but these seemed to have no idea of how they should conduct themselves.
Finally an old ewe, who had a long and pathetic face and a doleful
voice, said: "There isn't one among us that refuses to let you stay; but
this is a house of mourning, and we cannot receive guests as we did in
former days." "You needn't worry about anything of that sort," said
Akka. "If you knew what we have endured this day, you would surely
understand that we are satisfied if we only get a safe spot to sleep
When Akka said this, the old ewe raised herself. "I believe that it
would be better for you to fly about in the worst storm than to stop
here. But, at least, you shall not go from here before we have had the
privilege of offering you the best hospitality which the house affords."
She conducted them to a hollow in the ground, which was filled with
water. Beside it lay a pile of bait and husks and chaff; and she bade
them make the most of these. "We have had a severe snow-winter this
year, on the island," she said. "The peasants who own us came out to us
with hay and oaten straw, so we shouldn't starve to death. And this
trash is all there is left of the good cheer."
The geese rushed to the food instantly. They thought that they had fared
well, and were in their best humour. They must have observed, of course,
that the sheep were anxious; but they knew how easily scared sheep
generally are, and didn't believe there was any actual danger on foot.
As soon as they had eaten, they intended to stand up to sleep as usual.
But then the big ram got up, and walked over to them. The geese thought
that they had never seen a sheep with such big and coarse horns. In
other respects, also, he was noticeable. He had a high, rolling
forehead, intelligent eyes, and a good bearing--as though he were a
proud and courageous animal.
"I cannot assume the responsibility of letting you geese remain, without
telling you that it is unsafe here," said he. "We cannot receive night
guests just now." At last Akka began to comprehend that this was
serious. "We shall go away, since you really wish it," said she. "But
won't you tell us first, what it is that troubles you? We know nothing
about it. We do not even know where we are." "This is Little Karl's
Island!" said the ram. "It lies outside of Gottland, and only sheep and
seabirds live here." "Perhaps you are wild sheep?" said Akka. "We're not
far removed from it," replied the ram. "We have nothing to do with human
beings. It's an old agreement between us and some peasants on a farm in
Gottland, that they shall supply us with fodder in case we have
snow-winter; and as a recompense they are permitted to take away those
of us who become superfluous. The island is small, so it cannot feed
very many of us. But otherwise we take care of ourselves all the year
round, and we do not live in houses with doors and locks, but we reside
in grottoes like these."
"Do you stay out here in the winter as well?" asked Akka, surprised. "We
do," answered the ram. "We have good fodder up here on the mountain, all
the year around." "I think it sounds as if you might have it better than
other sheep," said Akka. "But what is the misfortune that has befallen
you?" "It was bitter cold last winter. The sea froze, and then three
foxes came over here on the ice, and here they have been ever since.
Otherwise, there are no dangerous animals here on the island." "Oh, oh!
do foxes dare to attack such as you?" "Oh, no! not during the day; then
I can protect myself and mine," said the ram, shaking his horns. "But
they sneak upon us at night when we sleep in the grottoes. We try to
keep awake, but one must sleep some of the time; and then they come upon
us. They have already killed every sheep in the other grottoes, and
there were herds that were just as large as mine."
"It isn't pleasant to tell that we are so helpless," said the old ewe.
"We cannot help ourselves any better than if we were tame sheep." "Do
you think that they will come here to-night?" asked Akka. "There is
nothing else in store for us," answered the old ewe. "They were here
last night, and stole a lamb from us. They'll be sure to come again, as
long as there are any of us alive. This is what they have done in the
other places." "But if they are allowed to keep this up, you'll become
entirely exterminated," said Akka. "Oh! it won't be long before it is
all over with the sheep on Little Karl's Island," said the ewe.
Akka stood there hesitatingly. It was not pleasant, by any means, to
venture out in the storm again, and it wasn't good to remain in a house
where such guests were expected. When she had pondered a while, she
turned to Thumbietot. "I wonder if you will help us, as you have done so
many times before," said she. Yes, that he would like to do, he replied.
"It is a pity for you not to get any sleep!" said the wild goose, "but I
wonder if you are able to keep awake until the foxes come, and then to
awaken us, so we may fly away." The boy was so very glad of this--for
anything was better than to go out in the storm again--so he promised
to keep awake. He went down to the grotto opening, crawled in behind a
stone, that he might be shielded from the storm, and sat down to watch.
When the boy had been sitting there a while, the storm seemed to abate.
The sky grew clear, and the moonlight began to play on the waves. The
boy stepped to the opening to look out. The grotto was rather high up on
the mountain. A narrow path led to it. It was probably here that he must
await the foxes.
As yet he saw no foxes; but, on the other hand, there was something
which, for the moment, terrified him much more. On the land-strip below
the mountain stood some giants, or other stone-trolls--or perhaps they
were actual human beings. At first he thought that he was dreaming, but
now he was positive that he had not fallen asleep. He saw the big men so
distinctly that it couldn't be an illusion. Some of them stood on the
land-strip, and others right on the mountain just as if they intended to
climb it. Some had big, thick heads; others had no heads at all. Some
were one-armed, and some had humps both before and behind. He had never
seen anything so extraordinary.
The boy stood and worked himself into a state of panic because of those
trolls, so that he almost forgot to keep his eye peeled for the foxes.
But now he heard a claw scrape against a stone. He saw three foxes
coming up the steep; and as soon as he knew that he had something real
to deal with, he was calm again, and not the least bit scared. It struck
him that it was a pity to awaken only the geese, and to leave the sheep
to their fate. He thought he would like to arrange things some other
He ran quickly to the other end of the grotto, shook the big ram's horns
until he awoke, and, at the same time, swung himself upon his back. "Get
up, sheep, and well try to frighten the foxes a bit!" said the boy.
He had tried to be as quiet as possible, but the foxes must have heard
some noise; for when they came up to the mouth of the grotto they
stopped and deliberated. "It was certainly someone in there that
moved," said one. "I wonder if they are awake." "Oh, go ahead, you!"
said another. "At all events, they can't do anything to us."
When they came farther in, in the grotto, they stopped and sniffed. "Who
shall we take to-night?" whispered the one who went first. "To-night we
will take the big ram," said the last. "After that, we'll have easy work
with the rest."
The boy sat on the old ram's back and saw how they sneaked along. "Now
butt straight forward!" whispered the boy. The ram butted, and the first
fox was thrust--top over tail--back to the opening. "Now butt to the
left!" said the boy, and turned the big ram's head in that direction.
The ram measured a terrific assault that caught the second fox in the
side. He rolled around several times before he got to his feet again and
made his escape. The boy had wished that the third one, too, might have
gotten a bump, but this one had already gone.
"Now I think that they've had enough for to-night," said the boy. "I
think so too," said the big ram. "Now lie down on my back, and creep
into the wool! You deserve to have it warm and comfortable, after all
the wind and storm that you have been out in."
The next day the big ram went around with the boy on his back, and
showed him the island. It consisted of a single massive mountain. It was
like a large house with perpendicular walls and a flat roof. First the
ram walked up on the mountain-roof and showed the boy the good grazing
lands there, and he had to admit that the island seemed to be especially
created for sheep. There wasn't much else than sheep-sorrel and such
little spicy growths as sheep are fond of that grew on the mountain.
But indeed there was something beside sheep fodder to look at, for one
who had gotten well up on the steep. To begin with, the largest part of
the sea--which now lay blue and sunlit, and rolled forward in glittering
swells--was visible. Only upon one and another point, did the foam spray
up. To the east lay Gottland, with even and long-stretched coast; and to
the southwest lay Great Karl's Island, which was built on the same plan
as the little island. When the ram walked to the very edge of the
mountain roof, so the boy could look down the mountain walls, he noticed
that they were simply filled with birds' nests; and in the blue sea
beneath him, lay surf-scoters and eider-ducks and kittiwakes and
guillemots and razor-bills--so pretty and peaceful--busying themselves
with fishing for small herring.
"This is really a favoured land," said the boy. "You live in a pretty
place, you sheep." "Oh, yes! it's pretty enough here," said the big ram.
It was as if he wished to add something; but he did not, only sighed.
"If you go about here alone you must look out for the crevices which run
all around the mountain," he continued after a little. And this was a
good warning, for there were deep and broad crevices in several places.
The largest of them was called Hell's Hole. That crevice was many
fathoms deep and nearly one fathom wide. "If anyone fell down there, it
would certainly be the last of him," said the big ram. The boy thought
it sounded as if he had a special meaning in what he said.
Then he conducted the boy down to the narrow strip of shore. Now he
could see those giants which had frightened him the night before, at
close range. They were nothing but tall rock-pillars. The big ram called
them "cliffs." The boy couldn't see enough of them. He thought that if
there had ever been any trolls who had turned into stone they ought to
look just like that.
Although it was pretty down on the shore, the boy liked it still better
on the mountain height. It was ghastly down here; for everywhere they
came across dead sheep. It was here that the foxes had held their
orgies. He saw skeletons whose flesh had been eaten, and bodies that
were half-eaten, and others which they had scarcely tasted, but had
allowed to lie untouched. It was heart-rending to see how the wild
beasts had thrown themselves upon the sheep just for sport--just to
hunt them and tear them to death.
The big ram did not pause in front of the dead, but walked by them in
silence. But the boy, meanwhile, could not help seeing all the horror.
Then the big ram went up on the mountain height again; but when he was
there he stopped and said: "If someone who is capable and wise could see
all the misery which prevails here, he surely would not be able to rest
until these foxes had been punished." "The foxes must live, too," said
the boy. "Yes," said the big ram, "those who do not tear in pieces more
animals than they need for their sustenance, they may as well live. But
these are felons." "The peasants who own the island ought to come here
and help you," insisted the boy. "They have rowed over a number of
times," replied the ram, "but the foxes always hid themselves in the
grottoes and crevices, so they could not get near them, to shoot them."
"You surely cannot mean, father, that a poor little creature like me
should be able to get at them, when neither you nor the peasants have
succeeded in getting the better of them." "He that is little and spry
can put many things to rights," said the big ram.
They talked no more about this, and the boy went over and seated himself
among the wild geese who fed on the highland. Although he had not cared
to show his feelings before the ram, he was very sad on the sheep's
account, and he would have been glad to help them. "I can at least talk
with Akka and Morten goosey-gander about the matter," thought he.
"Perhaps they can help me with a good suggestion."
A little later the white goosey-gander took the boy on his back and went
over the mountain plain, and in the direction of Hell's Hole at that.
He wandered, care-free, on the open mountain roof--apparently
unconscious of how large and white he was. He didn't seek protection
behind tufts, or any other protuberances, but went straight ahead. It
was strange that he was not more careful, for it was apparent that he
had fared badly in yesterday's storm. He limped on his right leg, and
the left wing hung and dragged as if it might be broken.
He acted as if there were no danger, pecked at a grass-blade here and
another there, and did not look about him in any direction. The boy lay
stretched out full length on the goose-back, and looked up toward the
blue sky. He was so accustomed to riding now, that he could both stand
and lie down on the goose-back.
When the goosey-gander and the boy were so care-free, they did not
observe, of course, that the three foxes had come up on the mountain
And the foxes, who knew that it was well-nigh impossible to take the
life of a goose on an open plain, thought at first that they wouldn't
chase after the goosey-gander. But as they had nothing else to do, they
finally sneaked down on one of the long passes, and tried to steal up to
him. They went about it so cautiously that the goosey-gander couldn't
see a shadow of them.
They were not far off when the goosey-gander made an attempt to raise
himself into the air. He spread his wings, but he did not succeed in
lifting himself. When the foxes seemed to grasp the fact that he
couldn't fly, they hurried forward with greater eagerness than before.
They no longer concealed themselves in the cleft, but came up on the
highland. They hurried as fast as they could, behind tufts and hollows,
and came nearer and nearer the goosey-gander--without his seeming to
notice that he was being hunted. At last the foxes were so near that
they could make the final leap. Simultaneously, all three threw
themselves with one long jump at the goosey-gander.
But still at the last moment he must have noticed something, for he ran
out of the way, so the foxes missed him. This, at any rate, didn't mean
very much, for the goosey-gander only had a couple of metres headway,
and, in the bargain, he limped. Anyway, the poor thing ran ahead as fast
as he could.
The boy sat upon the goose-back--backward--and shrieked and called to
the foxes. "You have eaten yourselves too fat on mutton, foxes. You
can't catch up with a goose even." He teased them so that they became
crazed with rage and thought only of rushing forward.
The white one ran right straight to the big cleft. When he was there, he
made one stroke with his wings, and got over. Just then the foxes were
almost upon him.
The goosey-gander hurried on with the same haste as before, even after
he had gotten across Hell's Hole. But he had hardly been running two
metres before the boy patted him on the neck, and said: "Now you can
At that instant they heard a number of wild howls behind them, and a
scraping of claws, and heavy falls. But of the foxes they saw nothing
The next morning the lighthouse keeper on Great Karl's Island found a
bit of bark poked under the entrance-door, and on it had been cut, in
slanting, angular letters: "The foxes on the little island have fallen
down into Hell's Hole. Take care of them!"
And this the lighthouse keeper did, too.
THE CITY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA
_Saturday, April ninth_.
It was a calm and clear night. The wild geese did not trouble themselves
to seek shelter in any of the grottoes, but stood and slept upon the
mountain top; and the boy had lain down in the short, dry grass beside
It was bright moonlight that night; so bright that it was difficult for
the boy to go to sleep. He lay there and thought about just how long he
had been away from home; and he figured out that it was three weeks
since he had started on the trip. At the same time he remembered that
this was Easter-eve.
"It is to-night that all the witches come home from Blakulla," thought
he, and laughed to himself. For he was just a little afraid of both the
sea-nymph and the elf, but he didn't believe in witches the least little
If there had been any witches out that night, he should have seen them,
to be sure. It was so light in the heavens that not the tiniest black
speck could move in the air without his seeing it.
While the boy lay there with his nose in the air and thought about this,
his eye rested on something lovely! The moon's disc was whole and round,
and rather high, and over it a big bird came flying. He did not fly past
the moon, but he moved just as though he might have flown out from it.
The bird looked black against the light background, and the wings
extended from one rim of the disc to the other. He flew on, evenly, in
the same direction, and the boy thought that he was painted on the
moon's disc. The body was small, the neck long and slender, the legs
hung down, long and thin. It couldn't be anything but a stork.
A couple of seconds later Herr Ermenrich, the stork, lit beside the boy.
He bent down and poked him with his bill to awaken him.
Instantly the boy sat up. "I'm not asleep, Herr Ermenrich," he said.
"How does it happen that you are out in the middle of the night, and how
is everything at Glimminge castle? Do you want to speak with mother
"It's too light to sleep to-night," answered Herr Ermenrich. "Therefore
I concluded to travel over here to Karl's Island and hunt you up, friend
Thumbietot. I learned from the seamew that you were spending the night
here. I have not as yet moved over to Glimminge castle, but am still
living at Pommern."
The boy was simply overjoyed to think that Herr Ermenrich had sought him
out. They chatted about all sorts of things, like old friends. At last
the stork asked the boy if he wouldn't like to go out riding for a while
on this beautiful night.
Oh, yes! that the boy wanted to do, if the stork would manage it so that
he got back to the wild geese before sunrise. This he promised, so off
Again Herr Ermenrich flew straight toward the moon. They rose and rose;
the sea sank deep down, but the flight went so light and easy that it
seemed almost as if the boy lay still in the air.
When Herr Ermenrich began to descend, the boy thought that the flight
had lasted an unreasonably short time.
They landed on a desolate bit of seashore, which was covered with fine,
even sand. All along the coast ran a row of flying-sand drifts, with
lyme-grass on their tops. They were not very high, but they prevented
the boy from seeing any of the island.
Herr Ermenrich stood on a sand-hill, drew up one leg and bent his head
backward, so he could stick his bill under the wing. "You can roam
around on the shore for a while," he said to Thumbietot, "while I rest
myself. But don't go so far away but what you can find your way back to
To start with, the boy intended to climb a sand-hill and see how the
land behind it looked. But when he had walked a couple of paces, he
stubbed the toe of his wooden shoe against something hard. He stooped
down, and saw that a small copper coin lay on the sand, and was so worn
with verdigris that it was almost transparent. It was so poor that he
didn't even bother to pick it up, but only kicked it out of the way.
But when he straightened himself up once more he was perfectly
astounded, for two paces away from him stood a high, dark wall with a
big, turreted gate.
The moment before, when the boy bent down, the sea lay there--shimmering
and smooth, while now it was hidden by a long wall with towers and
battlements. Directly in front of him, where before there had been only
a few sea-weed banks, the big gate of the wall opened.
The boy probably understood that it was a spectre-play of some sort; but
this was nothing to be afraid of, thought he. It wasn't any dangerous
trolls, or any other evil--such as he always dreaded to encounter at
night. Both the wall and the gate were so beautifully constructed that
he only desired to see what there might be back of them. "I must find
out what this can be," thought he, and went in through the gate.
In the deep archway there were guards, dressed in brocaded and purred
suits, with long-handled spears beside them, who sat and threw dice.
They thought only of the game, and took no notice of the boy who hurried
past them quickly.
Just within the gate he found an open space, paved with large, even
stone blocks. All around this were high and magnificent buildings; and
between these opened long, narrow streets. On the square--facing the
gate--it fairly swarmed with human beings. The men wore long,
fur-trimmed capes over satin suits; plume-bedecked hats sat obliquely on
their heads; on their chests hung superb chains. They were all so
regally gotten up that the whole lot of them might have been kings.
The women went about in high head-dresses and long robes with
tight-fitting sleeves. They, too, were beautifully dressed, but their
splendour was not to be compared with that of the men.
This was exactly like the old story-book which mother took from the
chest--only once--and showed to him. The boy simply couldn't believe his
But that which was even more wonderful to look upon than either the men
or the women, was the city itself. Every house was built in such a way
that a gable faced the street. And the gables were so highly ornamented,
that one could believe they wished to compete with each other as to
which one could show the most beautiful decorations.
When one suddenly sees so much that is new, he cannot manage to treasure
it all in his memory. But at least the boy could recall that he had seen
stairway gables on the various landings, which bore images of the Christ
and his Apostles; gables, where there were images in niche after niche
all along the wall; gables that were inlaid with multi-coloured bits of
glass, and gables that were striped and checked with white and black
marble. As the boy admired all this, a sudden sense of haste came over
him. "Anything like this my eyes have never seen before. Anything like
this, they would never see again," he said to himself. And he began to
run in toward the city--up one street, and down another.
The streets were straight and narrow, but not empty and gloomy, as they
were in the cities with which he was familiar. There were people
everywhere. Old women sat by their open doors and spun without a
spinning-wheel--only with the help of a shuttle. The merchants' shops
were like market-stalls--opening on the street. All the hand-workers did
their work out of doors. In one place they were boiling crude oil; in
another tanning hides; in a third there was a long rope-walk.
If only the boy had had time enough he could have learned how to make
all sorts of things. Here he saw how armourers hammered out thin
breast-plates; how turners tended their irons; how the shoemakers soled
soft, red shoes; how the gold-wire drawers twisted gold thread, and how
the weavers inserted silver and gold into their weaving.
But the boy did not have the time to stay. He just rushed on, so that he
could manage to see as much as possible before it would all vanish
The high wall ran all around the city and shut it in, as a hedge shuts
in a field. He saw it at the end of every street--gable-ornamented and
crenelated. On the top of the wall walked warriors in shining armour;
and when he had run from one end of the city to the other, he came to
still another gate in the wall. Outside of this lay the sea and
harbour. The boy saw olden-time ships, with rowing-benches straight
across, and high structures fore and aft. Some lay and took on cargo,
others were just casting anchor. Carriers and merchants hurried around
each other. All over, it was life and bustle.
But not even here did he seem to have the time to linger. He rushed into
the city again; and now he came up to the big square. There stood the
cathedral with its three high towers and deep vaulted arches filled with
images. The walls had been so highly decorated by sculptors that there
was not a stone without its own special ornamentation. And what a
magnificent display of gilded crosses and gold-trimmed altars and
priests in golden vestments, shimmered through the open gate! Directly
opposite the church there was a house with a notched roof and a single
slender, sky-high tower. That was probably the courthouse. And between
the courthouse and the cathedral, all around the square, stood the
beautiful gabled houses with their multiplicity of adornments.
The boy had run himself both warm and tired. He thought that now he had
seen the most remarkable things, and therefore he began to walk more
leisurely. The street which he had turned into now was surely the one
where the inhabitants purchased their fine clothing. He saw crowds of
people standing before the little stalls where the merchants spread
brocades, stiff satins, heavy gold cloth, shimmery velvet, delicate
veiling, and laces as sheer as a spider's web.
Before, when the boy ran so fast, no one had paid any attention to him.
The people must have thought that it was only a little gray rat that
darted by them. But now, when he walked down the street, very slowly,
one of the salesmen caught sight of him, and began to beckon to him.
At first the boy was uneasy and wanted to hurry out of the way, but the
salesman only beckoned and smiled, and spread out on the counter a
lovely piece of satin damask as if he wanted to tempt him.
The boy shook his head. "I will never be so rich that I can buy even a
metre of that cloth," thought he.
But now they had caught sight of him in every stall, all along the
street. Wherever he looked stood a salesman and beckoned to him. They
left their costly wares, and thought only of him. He saw how they
hurried into the most hidden corner of the stall to fetch the best that
they had to sell, and how their hands trembled with eagerness and haste
as they laid it upon the counter.
When the boy continued to go on, one of the merchants jumped over the
counter, caught hold of him, and spread before him silver cloth and
woven tapestries, which shone with brilliant colours.
The boy couldn't do anything but laugh at him. The salesman certainly
must understand that a poor little creature like him couldn't buy such
things. He stood still and held out his two empty hands, so they would
understand that he had nothing and let him go in peace.
But the merchant raised a finger and nodded and pushed the whole pile of
beautiful things over to him.
"Can he mean that he will sell all this for a gold piece?" wondered the
The merchant brought out a tiny worn and poor coin--the smallest that
one could see--and showed it to him. And he was so eager to sell that
he increased his pile with a pair of large, heavy, silver goblets.
Then the boy began to dig down in his pockets. He knew, of course, that
he didn't possess a single coin, but he couldn't help feeling for it.
All the other merchants stood still and tried to see how the sale would
come off, and when they observed that the boy began to search in his
pockets, they flung themselves over the counters, filled their hands
full of gold and silver ornaments, and offered them to him. And they all
showed him that what they asked in payment was just one little penny.
But the boy turned both vest and breeches pockets inside out, so they
should see that he owned nothing. Then tears filled the eyes of all
these regal merchants, who were so much richer than he. At last he was
moved because they looked so distressed, and he pondered if he could not
in some way help them. And then he happened to think of the rusty coin,
which he had but lately seen on the strand.
He started to run down the street, and luck was with him so that he came
to the self-same gate which he had happened upon first. He dashed
through it, and commenced to search for the little green copper penny
which lay on the strand a while ago.
He found it too, very promptly; but when he had picked it up, and wanted
to run back to the city with it--he saw only the sea before him. No city
wall, no gate, no sentinels, no streets, no houses could now be
seen--only the sea.
The boy couldn't help that the tears came to his eyes. He had believed
in the beginning, that that which he saw was nothing but an
hallucination, but this he had already forgotten. He only thought about
how pretty everything was. He felt a genuine, deep sorrow because the
city had vanished.
That moment Herr Ermenrich awoke, and came up to him. But he didn't hear
him, and the stork had to poke the boy with his bill to attract
attention to himself. "I believe that you stand here and sleep just as I
do," said Herr Ermenrich.
"Oh, Herr Ermenrich!" said the boy. "What was that city which stood
here just now?"
"Have you seen a city?" said the stork. "You have slept and dreamt, as I
"No! I have not dreamt," said Thumbietot, and he told the stork all that
he had experienced.
Then Herr Ermenrich said: "For my part, Thumbietot, I believe that you
fell asleep here on the strand and dreamed all this.
"But I will not conceal from you that Bataki, the raven, who is the most
learned of all birds, once told me that in former times there was a city
on this shore, called Vineta. It was so rich and so fortunate, that no
city has ever been more glorious; but its inhabitants, unluckily, gave
themselves up to arrogance and love of display. As a punishment for
this, says Bataki, the city of Vineta was overtaken by a flood, and sank
into the sea. But its inhabitants cannot die, neither is their city
destroyed. And one night in every hundred years, it rises in all its
splendour up from the sea, and remains on the surface just one hour."
"Yes, it must be so," said Thumbietot, "for this I have seen."
"But when the hour is up, it sinks again into the sea, if, during that
time, no merchant in Vineta has sold anything to a single living
creature. If you, Thumbietot, only had had an ever so tiny coin, to pay
the merchants, Vineta might have remained up here on the shore; and its
people could have lived and died like other human beings."
"Herr Ermenrich," said the boy, "now I understand why you came and
fetched me in the middle of the night. It was because you believed that
I should be able to save the old city. I am so sorry it didn't turn out
as you wished, Herr Ermenrich."
He covered his face with his hands and wept. It wasn't easy to say which
one looked the more disconsolate--the boy, or Herr Ermenrich.
THE LIVING CITY
_Monday, April eleventh_.
On the afternoon of Easter Monday, the wild geese and Thumbietot were on
the wing. They travelled over Gottland.
The large island lay smooth and even beneath them. The ground was
checked just as it was in Skane and there were many churches and farms.
But there was this difference, however, that there were more leafy
meadows between the fields here, and then the farms were not built up
with small houses. And there were no large manors with ancient
The wild geese had taken the route over Gottland on account of
Thumbietot. He had been altogether unlike himself for two days, and
hadn't spoken a cheerful word. This was because he had thought of
nothing but that city which had appeared to him in such a strange way.
He had never seen anything so magnificent and royal, and he could not be
reconciled with himself for having failed to save it. Usually he was not
chicken-hearted, but now he actually grieved for the beautiful buildings
and the stately people.
Both Akka and the goosey-gander tried to convince Thumbietot that he had
been the victim of a dream, or an hallucination, but the boy wouldn't
listen to anything of that sort. He was so positive that he had really
seen what he had seen, that no one could move him from this conviction.
He went about so disconsolate that his travelling companions became
uneasy for him.
Just as the boy was the most depressed, old Kaksi came back to the
flock. She had been blown toward Gottland, and had been compelled to
travel over the whole island before she had learned through some crows
that her comrades were on Little Karl's Island. When Kaksi found out
what was wrong with Thumbietot, she said impulsively:
"If Thumbietot is grieving over an old city, we'll soon be able to
comfort him. Just come along, and I'll take you to a place that I saw
yesterday! You will not need to be distressed very long."
Thereupon the geese had taken farewell of the sheep, and were on their
way to the place which Kaksi wished to show Thumbietot. As blue as he
was, he couldn't keep from looking at the land over which he travelled,
He thought it looked as though the whole island had in the beginning
been just such a high, steep cliff as Karl's Island--though much bigger
of course. But afterward, it had in some way been flattened out. Someone
had taken a big rolling-pin and rolled over it, as if it had been a lump
of dough. Not that the island had become altogether flat and even, like
a bread-cake, for it wasn't like that. While they had travelled along
the coast, he had seen white lime walls with grottoes and crags, in
several directions; but in most of the places they were levelled, and
sank inconspicuously down toward the sea.
In Gottland they had a pleasant and peaceful holiday afternoon. It
turned out to be mild spring weather; the trees had large buds; spring
blossoms dressed the ground in the leafy meadows; the poplars' long,
thin pendants swayed; and in the little gardens, which one finds around
every cottage, the gooseberry bushes were green.
The warmth and the spring-budding had tempted the people out into the
gardens and roads, and wherever a number of them were gathered together
they were playing. It was not the children alone who played, but the
grown-ups also. They were throwing stones at a given point, and they
threw balls in the air with such exact aim that they almost touched the
wild geese. It looked cheerful and pleasant to see big folks at play;
and the boy certainly would have enjoyed it, if he had been able to
forget his grief because he had failed to save the city.
Anyway, he had to admit that this was a lovely trip. There was so much
singing and sound in the air. Little children played ring games, and
sang as they played. The Salvation Army was out. He saw a lot of people
dressed in black and red--sitting upon a wooded hill, playing on guitars
and brass instruments. On one road came a great crowd of people. They
were Good Templars who had been on a pleasure trip. He recognized them
by the big banners with the gold inscriptions which waved above them.
They sang song after song as long as he could hear them.
After that the boy could never think of Gottland without thinking of the
games and songs at the same time.
He had been sitting and looking down for a long while; but now he
happened to raise his eyes. No one can describe his amazement. Before he
was aware of it, the wild geese had left the interior of the island and
gone westward--toward the sea-coast. Now the wide, blue sea lay before
him. However, it was not the sea that was remarkable, but a city which
appeared on the sea-shore.
The boy came from the east, and the sun had just begun to go down in the
west. When he came nearer the city, its walls and towers and high,
gabled houses and churches stood there, perfectly black, against the
light evening sky. He couldn't see therefore what it really looked like,
and for a couple of moments he believed that this city was just as
beautiful as the one he had seen on Easter night.
When he got right up to it, he saw that it was both like and unlike that
city from the bottom of the sea. There was the same contrast between
them, as there is between a man whom one sees arrayed in purple and
jewels one day, and on another day one sees him dressed in rags.
Yes, this city had probably, once upon a time, been like the one which
he sat and thought about. This one, also, was enclosed by a wall with
towers and gates. But the towers in this city, which had been allowed to
remain on land, were roofless, hollow and empty. The gates were without
doors; sentinels and warriors had disappeared. All the glittering
splendour was gone. There was nothing left but the naked, gray stone
When the boy came farther into the city, he saw that the larger part of
it was made up of small, low houses; but here and there were still a few
high gabled houses and a few cathedrals, which were from the olden time.
The walls of the gabled houses were whitewashed, and entirely without
ornamentation; but because the boy had so lately seen the buried city,
he seemed to understand how they had been decorated: some with statues,
and others with black and white marble. And it was the same with the old
cathedrals; the majority of them were roofless with bare interiors. The
window openings were empty, the floors were grass-grown, and ivy
clambered along the walls. But now he knew how they had looked at one
time; that they had been covered with images and paintings; that the
chancel had had trimmed altars and gilded crosses, and that their
priests had moved about, arrayed in gold vestments.
The boy saw also the narrow streets, which were almost deserted on
holiday afternoons. He knew, he did, what a stream of stately people had
once upon a time sauntered about on them. He knew that they had been
like large workshops--filled with all sorts of workmen.
But that which Nils Holgersson did not see was, that the city--even
to-day--was both beautiful and remarkable. He saw neither the cheery
cottages on the side streets, with their black walls, and white bows and
red pelargoniums behind the shining window-panes, nor the many pretty
gardens and avenues, nor the beauty in the weed-clad ruins. His eyes
were so filled with the preceding glory, that he could not see anything
good in the present.
The wild geese flew back and forth over the city a couple of times, so
that Thumbietot might see everything. Finally they sank down on the
grass-grown floor of a cathedral ruin to spend the night.
When they had arranged themselves for sleep, Thumbietot was still awake
and looked up through the open arches, to the pale pink evening sky.
When he had been sitting there a while, he thought he didn't want to
grieve any more because he couldn't save the buried city.
No, that he didn't want to do, now that he had seen this one. If that
city, which he had seen, had not sunk into the sea again, then it would
perhaps become as dilapidated as this one in a little while. Perhaps it
could not have withstood time and decay, but would have stood there with
roofless churches and bare houses and desolate, empty streets--just like
this one. Then it was better that it should remain in all its glory down
in the deep.
"It was best that it happened as it happened," thought he. "If I had the
power to save the city, I don't believe that I should care to do it."
Then he no longer grieved over that matter.
And there are probably many among the young who think in the same way.
But when people are old, and have become accustomed to being satisfied
with little, then they are more happy over the Visby that exists, than
over a magnificent Vineta at the bottom of the sea.
THE LEGEND OF SMALAND
_Tuesday, April twelfth_.
The wild geese had made a good trip over the sea, and had lighted in
Tjust Township, in northern Smaland. That township didn't seem able to
make up its mind whether it wanted to be land or sea. Fiords ran in
everywhere, and cut the land up into islands and peninsulas and points
and capes. The sea was so forceful that the only things which could hold
themselves above it were hills and mountains. All the lowlands were
hidden away under the water exterior.
It was evening when the wild geese came in from the sea; and the land
with the little hills lay prettily between the shimmering fiords. Here
and there, on the islands, the boy saw cabins and cottages; and the
farther inland he came, the bigger and better became the dwelling
houses. Finally, they grew into large, white manors. Along the shores
there was generally a border of trees; and within this lay field-plots,
and on the tops of the little hills there were trees again. He could not
help but think of Blekinge. Here again was a place where land and sea
met, in such a pretty and peaceful sort of way, just as if they tried to
show each other the best and loveliest which they possessed.
The wild geese alighted upon a limestone island a good way in on
Goose-fiord. With the first glance at the shore they observed that
spring had made rapid strides while they had been away on the islands.
The big, fine trees were not as yet leaf-clad, but the ground under them
was brocaded with white anemones, gagea, and blue anemones.
When the wild geese saw the flower-carpet they feared that they had
lingered too long in the southern part of the country. Akka said
instantly that there was no time in which to hunt up any of the stopping
places in Smaland. By the next morning they must travel northward, over
The boy should then see nothing of Smaland, and this grieved him. He had
heard more about Smaland than he had about any other province, and he
had longed to see it with his own eyes.
The summer before, when he had served as goose-boy with a farmer in the
neighbourhood of Jordberga, he had met a pair of Smaland children,
almost every day, who also tended geese. These children had irritated
him terribly with their Smaland.
It wasn't fair to say that Osa, the goose-girl, had annoyed him. She was
much too wise for that. But the one who could be aggravating with a
vengeance was her brother, little Mats.
"Have you heard, Nils Goose-boy, how it went when Smaland and Skane were
created?" he would ask, and if Nils Holgersson said no, he began
immediately to relate the old joke-legend.
"Well, it was at that time when our Lord was creating the world. While
he was doing his best work, Saint Peter came walking by. He stopped and
looked on, and then he asked if it was hard to do. 'Well, it isn't
exactly easy,' said our Lord. Saint Peter stood there a little longer,
and when he noticed how easy it was to lay out one landscape after
another, he too wanted to try his hand at it. 'Perhaps you need to rest
yourself a little,' said Saint Peter, 'I could attend to the work in
the meantime for you.' But this our Lord did not wish. 'I do not know if
you are so much at home in this art that I can trust you to take hold
where I leave off,' he answered. Then Saint Peter was angry, and said
that he believed he could create just as fine countries as our Lord
"It happened that our Lord was just then creating Smaland. It wasn't
even half-ready but it looked as though it would be an indescribably
pretty and fertile land. It was difficult for our Lord to say no to
Saint Peter, and aside from this, he thought very likely that a thing so
well begun no one could spoil. Therefore he said: If you like, we will
prove which one of us two understands this sort of work the better. You,
who are only a novice, shall go on with this which I have begun, and I
will create a new land.' To this Saint Peter agreed at once; and so they
went to work--each one in his place.
"Our Lord moved southward a bit, and there he undertook to create Skane.
It wasn't long before he was through with it, and soon he asked if Saint
Peter had finished, and would come and look at his work. 'I had mine
ready long ago,' said Saint Peter; and from the sound of his voice it
could be heard how pleased he was with what he had accomplished.
"When Saint Peter saw Skane, he had to acknowledge that there was
nothing but good to be said of that land. It was a fertile land and easy
to cultivate, with wide plains wherever one looked, and hardly a sign of
hills. It was evident that our Lord had really contemplated making it
such that people should feel at home there. 'Yes, this is a good
country,' said Saint Peter, 'but I think that mine is better.' 'Then
we'll take a look at it,' said our Lord.
"The land was already finished in the north and east when Saint Peter
began the work, but the southern and western parts; and the whole
interior, he had created all by himself. Now when our Lord came up
there, where Saint Peter had been at work, he was so horrified that he
stopped short and exclaimed: 'What on earth have you been doing with
this land, Saint Peter?'
"Saint Peter, too, stood and looked around--perfectly astonished. He
had had the idea that nothing could be so good for a land as a great
deal of warmth. Therefore he had gathered together an enormous mass of
stones and mountains, and erected a highland, and this he had done so
that it should be near the sun, and receive much help from the sun's
heat. Over the stone-heaps he had spread a thin layer of soil, and then
he had thought that everything was well arranged.
"But while he was down in Skane, a couple of heavy showers had come up,
and more was not needed to show what his work amounted to. When our
Lord came to inspect the land, all the soil had been washed away, and
the naked mountain foundation shone forth all over. Where it was about
the best, lay clay and heavy gravel over the rocks, but it looked so
poor that it was easy to understand that hardly anything except spruce
and juniper and moss and heather could grow there. But what there was
plenty of was water. It had filled up all the clefts in the mountain;
and lakes and rivers and brooks; these one saw everywhere, to say
nothing of swamps and morasses, which spread over large tracts. And the
most exasperating thing of all was, that while some tracts had too much
water, it was so scarce in others, that whole fields lay like dry moors,
where sand and earth whirled up in clouds with the least little breeze.
"'What can have been your meaning in creating such a land as this?' said
our Lord. Saint Peter made excuses, and declared he had wished to build
up a land so high that it should have plenty of warmth from the sun.
'But then you will also get much of the night chill,' said our Lord,
'for that too comes from heaven. I am very much afraid the little that
can grow here will freeze.'
"This, to be sure, Saint Peter hadn't thought about.
"'Yes, here it will be a poor and frost-bound land,' said our Lord, 'it
can't be helped.'"
When little Mats had gotten this far in his story, Osa, the goose-girl,
protested: "I cannot bear, little Mats, to hear you say that it is so
miserable in Smaland," said she. "You forget entirely how much good soil
there is there. Only think of Moere district, by Kalmar Sound! I wonder
where you'll find a richer grain region. There are fields upon fields,
just like here in Skane. The soil is so good that I cannot imagine
anything that couldn't grow there."
"I can't help that," said little Mats. "I'm only relating what others
have said before."
"And I have heard many say that there is not a more beautiful coast land
than Tjust. Think of the bays and islets, and the manors, and the
groves!" said Osa. "Yes, that's true enough," little Mats admitted. "And
don't you remember," continued Osa, "the school teacher said that such
a lively and picturesque district as that bit of Smaland which lies
south of Lake Vettern is not to be found in all Sweden? Think of the
beautiful sea and the yellow coast-mountains, and of Grenna and
Joenkoeping, with its match factory, and think of Huskvarna, and all the
big establishments there!" "Yes, that's true enough," said little Mats
once again. "And think of Visingsoe, little Mats, with the ruins and the
oak forests and the legends! Think of the valley through which Eman
flows, with all the villages and flour-mills and sawmills, and the
carpenter shops!" "Yes, that is true enough," said little Mats, and
All of a sudden he had looked up. "Now we are pretty stupid," said he.
"All this, of course, lies in our Lord's Smaland, in that part of the
land which was already finished when Saint Peter undertook the job. It's
only natural that it should be pretty and fine there. But in Saint
Peter's Smaland it looks as it says in the legend. And it wasn't
surprising that our Lord was distressed when he saw it," continued
little Mats, as he took up the thread of his story again. "Saint Peter
didn't lose his courage, at all events, but tried to comfort our Lord.
'Don't be so grieved over this!' said he. 'Only wait until I have
created people who can till the swamps and break up fields from the
"That was the end of our Lord's patience--and he said: 'No! you can go
down to Skane and make the Skaninge, but the Smalander I will create
myself.' And so our Lord created the Smalander, and made him
quick-witted and contented and happy and thrifty and enterprising and
capable, that he might be able to get his livelihood in his poor
Then little Mats was silent; and if Nils Holgersson had also kept still,
all would have gone well; but he couldn't possibly refrain from asking
how Saint Peter had succeeded in creating the Skaninge.
"Well, what do you think yourself?" said little Mats, and looked so
scornful that Nils Holgersson threw himself upon him, to thrash him. But
Mats was only a little tot, and Osa, the goose-girl, who was a year
older than he, ran forward instantly to help him. Good-natured though
she was, she sprang like a lion as soon as anyone touched her brother.
And Nils Holgersson did not care to fight a girl, but turned his back,
and didn't look at those Smaland children for the rest of the day.
THE EARTHEN CROCK
In the southwest corner of Smaland lies a township called Sonnerbo. It
is a rather smooth and even country. And one who sees it in winter, when
it is covered with snow, cannot imagine that there is anything under the
snow but garden-plots, rye-fields and clover-meadows as is generally the
case in flat countries. But, in the beginning of April when the snow
finally melts away in Sonnerbo, it is apparent that that which lies
hidden under it is only dry, sandy heaths, bare rocks, and big, marshy
swamps. There are fields here and there, to be sure, but they are so
small that they are scarcely worth mentioning; and one also finds a few
little red or gray farmhouses hidden away in some beech-coppice--almost
as if they were afraid to show themselves.
Where Sonnerbo township touches the boundaries of Halland, there is a
sandy heath which is so far-reaching that he who stands upon one edge of
it cannot look across to the other. Nothing except heather grows on the
heath, and it wouldn't be easy either to coax other growths to thrive
there. To start with one would have to uproot the heather; for it is
thus with heather: although it has only a little shrunken root, small
shrunken branches, and dry, shrunken leaves it fancies that it's a tree.
Therefore it acts just like real trees--spreads itself out in forest
fashion over wide areas; holds together faithfully, and causes all
foreign growths that wish to crowd in upon its territory to die out.
The only place on the heath where the heather is not all-powerful, is a
low, stony ridge which passes over it. There you'll find juniper bushes,
mountain ash, and a few large, fine oaks. At the time when Nils
Holgersson travelled around with the wild geese, a little cabin stood
there, with a bit of cleared ground around it. But the people who had
lived there at one time, had, for some reason or other, moved away. The
little cabin was empty, and the ground lay unused.
When the tenants left the cabin they closed the damper, fastened the
window-hooks, and locked the door. But no one had thought of the broken
window-pane which was only stuffed with a rag. After the showers of a
couple of summers, the rag had moulded and shrunk, and, finally, a crow
had succeeded in poking it out.
The ridge on the heather-heath was really not as desolate as one might
think, for it was inhabited by a large crow-folk. Naturally, the crows
did not live there all the year round. They moved to foreign lands in
the winter; in the autumn they travelled from one grain-field to another
all over Goetaland, and picked grain; during the summer, they spread
themselves over the farms in Sonnerbo township, and lived upon eggs and
berries and birdlings; but every spring, when nesting time came, they
came back to the heather-heath.
The one who had poked the rag from the window was a crow-cock named Garm
Whitefeather; but he was never called anything but Fumle or Drumle, or
out and out Fumle-Drumle, because he always acted awkwardly and
stupidly, and wasn't good for anything except to make fun of.
Fumle-Drumle was bigger and stronger than any of the other crows, but
that didn't help him in the least; he was--and remained--a butt for
ridicule. And it didn't profit him, either, that he came from very good
stock. If everything had gone smoothly, he should have been leader for
the whole flock, because this honour had, from time immemorial, belonged
to the oldest Whitefeather. But long before Fumle-Drumle was born, the
power had gone from his family, and was now wielded by a cruel wild
crow, named Wind-Rush.
This transference of power was due to the fact that the crows on
crow-ridge desired to change their manner of living. Possibly there are
many who think that everything in the shape of crow lives in the same
way; but this is not so. There are entire crow-folk who lead honourable
lives--that is to say, they only eat grain, worms, caterpillars, and
dead animals; and there are others who lead a regular bandit's life, who
throw themselves upon baby-hares and small birds, and plunder every
single bird's nest they set eyes on.
The ancient Whitefeathers had been strict and temperate; and as long as
they had led the flock, the crows had been compelled to conduct
themselves in such a way that other birds could speak no ill of them.
But the crows were numerous, and poverty was great among them. They
didn't care to go the whole length of living a strictly moral life, so
they rebelled against the Whitefeathers, and gave the power to
Wind-Rush, who was the worst nest-plunderer and robber that could be
imagined--if his wife, Wind-Air, wasn't worse still. Under their
government the crows had begun to lead such a life that now they were
more feared than pigeon-hawks and leech-owls.
Naturally, Fumle-Drumle had nothing to say in the flock. The crows were
all of the opinion that he did not in the least take after his
forefathers, and that he wouldn't suit as a leader. No one would have
mentioned him, if he hadn't constantly committed fresh blunders. A few,
who were quite sensible, sometimes said perhaps it was lucky for
Fumle-Drumle that he was such a bungling idiot, otherwise Wind-Rush and
Wind-Air would hardly have allowed him--who was of the old chieftain
stock--to remain with the flock.
Now, on the other hand, they were rather friendly toward him, and
willingly took him along with them on their hunting expeditions. There
all could observe how much more skilful and daring they were than he.
None of the crows knew that it was Fumle-Drumle who had pecked the rag
out of the window; and had they known of this, they would have been very
much astonished. Such a thing as daring to approach a human being's
dwelling, they had never believed of him. He kept the thing to himself
very carefully; and he had his own good reasons for it. Wind-Rush always
treated him well in the daytime, and when the others were around; but
one very dark night, when the comrades sat on the night branch, he was
attacked by a couple of crows and nearly murdered. After that he moved
every night, after dark, from his usual sleeping quarters into the empty
Now one afternoon, when the crows had put their nests in order on
crow-ridge, they happened upon a remarkable find. Wind-Rush,
Fumle-Drumle, and a couple of others had flown down into a big hollow in
one corner of the heath. The hollow was nothing but a gravel-pit, but
the crows could not be satisfied with such a simple explanation; they
flew down in it continually, and turned every single sand-grain to get
at the reason why human beings had digged it. While the crows were
pottering around down there, a mass of gravel fell from one side. They
rushed up to it, and had the good fortune to find amongst the fallen
stones and stubble--a large earthen crock, which was locked with a
wooden clasp! Naturally they wanted to know if there was anything in it,
and they tried both to peck holes in the crock, and to bend up the
clasp, but they had no success.
They stood perfectly helpless and examined the crock, when they heard
someone say: "Shall I come down and assist you crows?" They glanced up
quickly. On the edge of the hollow sat a fox and blinked down at them.
He was one of the prettiest foxes--both in colour and form--that they
had ever seen. The only fault with him was that he had lost an ear.
"If you desire to do us a service," said Wind-Rush, "we shall not say
nay." At the same time, both he and the others flew up from the hollow.
Then the fox jumped down in their place, bit at the jar, and pulled at
the lock--but he couldn't open it either.
"Can you make out what there is in it?" said Wind-Rush. The fox rolled
the jar back and forth, and listened attentively. "It must be silver
money," said he.
This was more than the crows had expected. "Do you think it can be
silver?" said they, and their eyes were ready to pop out of their heads
with greed; for remarkable as it may sound, there is nothing in the
world which crows love as much as silver money.
"Hear how it rattles!" said the fox and rolled the crock around once
more. "Only I can't understand how we shall get at it." "That will
surely be impossible," said the crows. The fox stood and rubbed his head
against his left leg, and pondered. Now perhaps he might succeed, with
the help of the crows, in becoming master of that little imp who always
eluded him. "Oh! I know someone who could open the crock for you," said
the fox. "Then tell us! Tell us!" cried the crows; and they were so
excited that they tumbled down into the pit. "That I will do, if you'll
first promise me that you will agree to my terms," said he.
Then the fox told the crows about Thumbietot, and said that if they
could bring him to the heath he would open the crock for them. But in
payment for this counsel, he demanded that they should deliver
Thumbietot to him, as soon as he had gotten the silver money for them.
The crows had no reason to spare Thumbietot, so agreed to the compact at
once. It was easy enough to agree to this; but it was harder to find out
where Thumbietot and the wild geese were stopping.
Wind-Rush himself travelled away with fifty crows, and said that he
should soon return. But one day after another passed without the crows
on crow-ridge seeing a shadow of him.
KIDNAPPED BY CROWS
_Wednesday, April thirteenth_.
The wild geese were up at daybreak, so they should have time to get
themselves a bite of food before starting out on the journey toward
Oestergoetland. The island in Goosefiord, where they had slept, was small
and barren, but in the water all around it were growths which they could
eat their fill upon. It was worse for the boy, however. He couldn't
manage to find anything eatable.
As he stood there hungry and drowsy, and looked around in all
directions, his glance fell upon a pair of squirrels, who played upon
the wooded point, directly opposite the rock island. He wondered if the
squirrels still had any of their winter supplies left, and asked the
white goosey-gander to take him over to the point, that he might beg
them for a couple of hazelnuts.
Instantly the white one swam across the sound with him; but as luck
would have it the squirrels had so much fun chasing each other from tree
to tree, that they didn't bother about listening to the boy. They drew
farther into the grove. He hurried after them, and was soon out of the
goosey-gander's sight--who stayed behind and waited on the shore.
The boy waded forward between some white anemone-stems--which were so
high they reached to his chin--when he felt that someone caught hold of
him from behind, and tried to lift him up. He turned round and saw that
a crow had grabbed him by the shirt-band. He tried to break loose, but
before this was possible, another crow ran up, gripped him by the
stocking, and knocked him over.
If Nils Holgersson had immediately cried for help, the white
goosey-gander certainly would have been able to save him; but the boy
probably thought that he could protect himself, unaided, against a
couple of crows. He kicked and struck out, but the crows didn't let go
their hold, and they soon succeeded in raising themselves into the air
with him. To make matters worse, they flew so recklessly that his head
struck against a branch. He received a hard knock over the head, it grew
black before his eyes, and he lost consciousness.
When he opened his eyes once more, he found himself high above the
ground. He regained his senses slowly; at first he knew neither where he
was, nor what he saw. When he glanced down, he saw that under him was
spread a tremendously big woolly carpet, which was woven in greens and
reds, and in large irregular patterns. The carpet was very thick and
fine, but he thought it was a pity that it had been so badly used. It
was actually ragged; long tears ran through it; in some places large
pieces were torn away. And the strangest of all was that it appeared to
be spread over a mirror floor; for under the holes and tears in the
carpet shone bright and glittering glass.
The next thing the boy observed was that the sun unrolled itself in the
heavens. Instantly, the mirror-glass under the holes and tears in the
carpet began to shimmer in red and gold. It looked very gorgeous, and
the boy was delighted with the pretty colour-scheme, although he didn't
exactly understand what it was that he saw. But now the crows descended,
and he saw at once that the big carpet under him was the earth, which
was dressed in green and brown cone-trees and naked leaf-trees, and that
the holes and tears were shining fiords and little lakes.
He remembered that the first time he had travelled up in the air, he
had thought that the earth in Skane looked like a piece of checked
cloth. But this country which resembled a torn carpet--what might this
He began to ask himself a lot of questions. Why wasn't he sitting on the
goosey-gander's back? Why did a great swarm of crows fly around him? And
why was he being pulled and knocked hither and thither so that he was
about to break to pieces?
Then, all at once, the whole thing dawned on him. He had been kidnapped
by a couple of crows. The white goosey-gander was still on the shore,
waiting, and to-day the wild geese were going to travel to Oestergoetland.
He was being carried southwest; this he understood because the sun's
disc was behind him. The big forest-carpet which lay beneath him was
"What will become of the goosey-gander now, when I cannot look after
him?" thought the boy, and began to call to the crows to take him back
to the wild geese instantly. He wasn't at all uneasy on his own account.
He believed that they were carrying him off simply in a spirit of
The crows didn't pay the slightest attention to his exhortations, but
flew on as fast as they could. After a bit, one of them flapped his
wings in a manner which meant: "Look out! Danger!" Soon thereafter they
came down in a spruce forest, pushed their way between prickly branches
to the ground, and put the boy down under a thick spruce, where he was
so well concealed that not even a falcon could have sighted him.
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