The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Selma Lagerloef

Part 5 out of 9

his life was to be spared simply because he had felt uneasy about the

The master thought that Karr had conducted himself well, but as he did
not want the dog, he could not decide at once what should be done with

"If you will take charge of him and answer for his good behaviour in the
future, he may as well live," he said, finally.

This the game-keeper was only too glad to do, and that was how Karr came
to move to the game-keeper's lodge.


From the day that Karr went to live with the game-keeper he abandoned
entirely his forbidden chase in the forest. This was due not only to his
having been thoroughly frightened, but also to the fact that he did not
wish to make the game-keeper angry at him. Ever since his new master
saved his life the dog loved him above everything else. He thought only
of following him and watching over him. If he left the house, Karr would
run ahead to make sure that the way was clear, and if he sat at home,
Karr would lie before the door and keep a close watch on every one who
came and went.

When all was quiet at the lodge, when no footsteps were heard on the
road, and the game-keeper was working in his garden, Karr would amuse
himself playing with the baby elk.

At first the dog had no desire to leave his master even for a moment.
Since he accompanied him everywhere, he went with him to the cow shed.
When he gave the elk calf its milk, the dog would sit outside the stall
and gaze at it. The game-keeper called the calf Grayskin because he
thought it did not merit a prettier name, and Karr agreed with him on
that point.

Every time the dog looked at it he thought that he had never seen
anything so ugly and misshapen as the baby elk, with its long, shambly
legs, which hung down from the body like loose stilts. The head was
large, old, and wrinkled, and it always drooped to one side. The skin
lay in tucks and folds, as if the animal had put on a coat that had not
been made for him. Always doleful and discontented, curiously enough he
jumped up every time Karr appeared as if glad to see him.

The elk calf became less hopeful from day to day, did not grow any, and
at last he could not even rise when he saw Karr. Then the dog jumped up
into the crib to greet him, and thereupon a light kindled in the eyes of
the poor creature--as if a cherished longing were fulfilled.

After that Karr visited the elk calf every day, and spent many hours
with him, licking his coat, playing and racing with him, till he taught
him a little of everything a forest animal should know.

It was remarkable that, from the time Karr began to visit the elk calf
in his stall, the latter seemed more contented, and began to grow. After
he was fairly started, he grew so rapidly that in a couple of weeks the
stall could no longer hold him, and he had to be moved into a grove.

When he had been in the grove two months his legs were so long that he
could step over the fence whenever he wished. Then the lord of the manor
gave the game-keeper permission to put up a higher fence and to allow
him more space. Here the elk lived for several years, and grew up into a
strong and handsome animal. Karr kept him company as often as he could;
but now it was no longer through pity, for a great friendship had sprung
up between the two. The elk was always inclined to be melancholy,
listless, and, indifferent, but Karr knew how to make him playful and

Grayskin had lived for five summers on the game-keeper's place, when his
owner received a letter from a zooelogical garden abroad asking if the
elk might be purchased.

The master was pleased with the proposal, the game-keeper was
distressed, but had not the power to say no; so it was decided that the
elk should be sold. Karr soon discovered what was in the air and ran
over to the elk to have a chat with him. The dog was very much
distressed at the thought of losing his friend, but the elk took the
matter calmly, and seemed neither glad nor sorry.

"Do you think of letting them send you away without offering
resistance?" asked Karr.

"What good would it do to resist?" asked Grayskin. "I should prefer to
remain where I am, naturally, but if I've been sold, I shall have to go,
of course."

Karr looked at Grayskin and measured him with his eyes. It was apparent
that the elk was not yet full grown. He did not have the broad antlers,
high hump, and long mane of the mature elk; but he certainly had
strength enough to fight for his freedom.

"One can see that he has been in captivity all his life," thought Karr,
but said nothing.

Karr left and did not return to the grove till long past midnight. By
that time he knew Grayskin would be awake and eating his breakfast.

"Of course you are doing right, Grayskin, in letting them take you
away," remarked Karr, who appeared now to be calm and satisfied. "You
will be a prisoner in a large park and will have no responsibilities. It
seems a pity that you must leave here without having seen the forest.
You know your ancestors have a saying that 'the elk are one with the
forest.' But you haven't even been in a forest!"

Grayskin glanced up from the clover which he stood munching.

"Indeed, I should love to see the forest, but how am I to get over the
fence?" he said with his usual apathy.

"Oh, that is difficult for one who has such short legs!" said Karr.

The elk glanced slyly at the dog, who jumped the fence many times a
day--little as he was.

He walked over to the fence, and with one spring he was on the other
side, without knowing how it happened.

Then Karr and Grayskin went into the forest. It was a beautiful
moonlight night in late summer; but in among the trees it was dark, and
the elk walked along slowly.

"Perhaps we had better turn back," said Karr. "You, who have never
before tramped the wild forest, might easily break your legs." Grayskin
moved more rapidly and with more courage.

Karr conducted the elk to a part of the forest where the pines grew so
thickly that no wind could penetrate them.

"It is here that your kind are in the habit of seeking shelter from cold
and storm," said Karr. "Here they stand under the open skies all winter.
But you will fare much better where you are going, for you will stand in
a shed, with a roof over your head, like an ox."

Grayskin made no comment, but stood quietly and drank in the strong,
piney air.

"Have you anything more to show me, or have I now seen the whole
forest?" he asked.

Then Karr went with him to a big marsh, and showed him clods and

"Over this marsh the elk take flight when they are in peril," said Karr.
"I don't know how they manage it, but, large and heavy as they are, they
can walk here without sinking. Of course you couldn't hold yourself up
on such dangerous ground, but then there is no occasion for you to do
so, for you will never be hounded by hunters."

Grayskin made no retort, but with a leap he was out on the marsh, and
happy when he felt how the clods rocked under him. He dashed across the
marsh, and came back again to Karr, without having stepped into a

"Have we seen the whole forest now?" he asked.

"No, not yet," said Karr.

He next conducted the elk to the skirt of the forest, where fine oaks,
lindens, and aspens grew.

"Here your kind eat leaves and bark, which they consider the choicest
of food; but you will probably get better fare abroad."

Grayskin was astonished when he saw the enormous leaf-trees spreading
like a great canopy above him. He ate both oak leaves and aspen bark.

"These taste deliciously bitter and good!" he remarked. "Better than

"Then wasn't it well that you should taste them once?" said the dog.

Thereupon he took the elk down to a little forest lake. The water was as
smooth as a mirror, and reflected the shores, which were veiled in thin,
light mists. When Grayskin saw the lake he stood entranced.

"What is this, Karr?" he asked.

It was the first time that he had seen a lake.

"It's a large body of water--a lake," said Karr. "Your people swim
across it from shore to shore. One could hardly expect you to be
familiar with this; but at least you should go in and take a swim!"

Karr, himself, plunged into the water for a swim. Grayskin stayed back
on the shore for some little time, but finally followed. He grew
breathless with delight as the cool water stole soothingly around his
body. He wanted it over his back, too, so went farther out. Then he felt
that the water could hold him up, and began to swim. He swam all around
Karr, ducking and snorting, perfectly at home in the water.

When they were on shore again, the dog asked if they had not better go
home now.

"It's a long time until morning," observed Grayskin, "so we can tramp
around in the forest a little longer."

They went again into the pine wood. Presently they came to an open glade
illuminated by the moonlight, where grass and flowers shimmered beneath
the dew. Some large animals were grazing on this forest meadow--an elk
bull, several elk cows and a number of elk calves. When Grayskin caught
sight of them he stopped short. He hardly glanced at the cows or the
young ones, but stared at the old bull, which had broad antlers with
many taglets, a high hump, and a long-haired fur piece hanging down from
his throat.

"What kind of an animal is that?" asked Grayskin in wonderment.

"He is called Antler-Crown," said Karr, "and he is your kinsman. One of
these days you, too, will have broad antlers, like those, and just such
a mane; and if you were to remain in the forest, very likely you, also,
would have a herd to lead."

"If he is my kinsman, I must go closer and have a look at him," said
Grayskin. "I never dreamed that an animal could be so stately!"

Grayskin walked over to the elk, but almost immediately he came back to
Karr, who had remained at the edge of the clearing.

"You were not very well received, were you?" said Karr.

"I told him that this was the first time I had run across any of my
kinsmen, and asked if I might walk with them on their meadow. But they
drove me back, threatening me with their antlers."

"You did right to retreat," said Karr. "A young elk bull with only a
taglet crown must be careful about fighting with an old elk. Another
would have disgraced his name in the whole forest by retreating without
resistance, but such things needn't worry you who are going to move to a
foreign land."

Karr had barely finished speaking when Grayskin turned and walked down
to the meadow. The old elk came toward him, and instantly they began to
fight. Their antlers met and clashed, and Grayskin was driven backward
over the whole meadow. Apparently he did not know how to make use of his
strength; but when he came to the edge of the forest, he planted his
feet on the ground, pushed hard with his antlers, and began to force
Antler-Crown back.

Grayskin fought quietly, while Antler-Crown puffed and snorted. The old
elk, in his turn, was now being forced backward over the meadow.
Suddenly a loud crash was heard! A taglet in the old elk's antlers had
snapped. He tore himself loose, and dashed into the forest.

Karr was still standing at the forest border when Grayskin came along.

"Now that you have seen what there is in the forest," said Karr, "will
you come home with me?"

"Yes, it's about time," observed the elk.

Both were silent on the way home. Karr sighed several times, as if he
was disappointed about something; but Grayskin stepped along--his head
in the air--and seemed delighted over the adventure. He walked ahead
unhesitatingly until they came to the enclosure. There he paused. He
looked in at the narrow pen where he had lived up till now; saw the
beaten ground, the stale fodder, the little trough where he had drunk
water, and the dark shed in which he had slept.

"The elk are one with the forest!" he cried. Then he threw back his
head, so that his neck rested against his back, and rushed wildly into
the woods.


In a pine thicket in the heart of Liberty Forest, every year, in the
month of August, there appeared a few grayish-white moths of the kind
which are called nun moths. They were small and few in number, and
scarcely any one noticed them. When they had fluttered about in the
depth of the forest a couple of nights, they laid a few thousand eggs on
the branches of trees; and shortly afterward dropped lifeless to the

When spring came, little prickly caterpillars crawled out from the eggs
and began to eat the pine needles. They had good appetites, but they
never seemed to do the trees any serious harm, because they were hotly
pursued by birds. It was seldom that more than a few hundred
caterpillars escaped the pursuers.

The poor things that lived to be full grown crawled up on the branches,
spun white webs around themselves, and sat for a couple of weeks as
motionless pupae. During this period, as a rule, more than half of them
were abducted. If a hundred nun moths came forth in August, winged and
perfect, it was reckoned a good year for them.

This sort of uncertain and obscure existence did the moths lead for many
years in Liberty Forest. There were no insect folk in the whole country
that were so scarce, and they would have remained quite harmless and
powerless had they not, most unexpectedly, received a helper.

This fact has some connection with Grayskin's flight from the
game-keeper's paddock. Grayskin roamed the forest that he might become
more familiar with the place. Late in the afternoon he happened to
squeeze through some thickets behind a clearing where the soil was muddy
and slimy, and in the centre of it was a murky pool. This open space was
encircled by tall pines almost bare from age and miasmic air. Grayskin
was displeased with the place and would have left it at once had he not
caught sight of some bright green calla leaves which grew near the pool.

As he bent his head toward the calla stalks, he happened to disturb a
big black snake, which lay sleeping under them. Grayskin had heard Karr
speak of the poisonous adders that were to be found in the forest. So,
when the snake raised its head, shot out its tongue and hissed at him,
he thought he had encountered an awfully dangerous reptile. He was
terrified and, raising his foot, he struck so hard with his hoof that he
crushed the snake's head. Then, away he ran in hot haste!

As soon as Grayskin had gone, another snake, just as long and as black
as the first, came up from the pool. It crawled over to the dead one,
and licked the poor, crushed-in head.

"Can it be true that you are dead, old Harmless?" hissed the snake. "We
two have lived together so many years; we two have been so happy with
each other, and have fared so well here in the swamp, that we have lived
to be older than all the other water-snakes in the forest! This is the
worst sorrow that could have befallen me!"

The snake was so broken-hearted that his long body writhed as if it had
been wounded. Even the frogs, who lived in constant fear of him, were
sorry for him.

"What a wicked creature he must be to murder a poor water-snake that
cannot defend itself!" hissed the snake. "He certainly deserves a severe
punishment. As sure as my name is Helpless and I'm the oldest
water-snake in the whole forest, I'll be avenged! I shall not rest until
that elk lies as dead on the ground as my poor old snake-wife."

When the snake had made this vow he curled up into a hoop and began to
ponder. One can hardly imagine anything that would be more difficult for
a poor water-snake than to wreak vengeance upon a big, strong elk; and
old Helpless pondered day and night without finding any solution.

One night, as he lay there with his vengeance-thoughts, he heard a
slight rustle over his head. He glanced up and saw a few light nun moths
playing in among the trees.

He followed them with his eyes a long while; then began to hiss loudly
to himself, apparently pleased with the thought that had occurred to
him--then he fell asleep.

The next morning the water-snake went over to see Crawlie, the adder,
who lived in a stony and hilly part of Liberty Forest. He told him all
about the death of the old water-snake, and begged that he who could
deal such deadly thrusts would undertake the work of vengeance. But
Crawlie was not exactly disposed to go to war with an elk.

"If I were to attack an elk," said the adder, "he would instantly kill
me. Old Harmless is dead and gone, and we can't bring her back to life,
so why should I rush into danger on her account?"

When the water-snake got this reply he raised his head a whole foot from
the ground, and hissed furiously:

"Vish vash! Vish vash!" he said. "It's a pity that you, who have been
blessed with such weapons of defence, should be so cowardly that you
don't dare use them!"

When the adder heard this, he, too, got angry.

"Crawl away, old Helpless!" he hissed. "The poison is in my fangs, but I
would rather spare one who is said to be my kinsman."

But the water-snake did not move from the spot, and for a long time the
snakes lay there hissing abusive epithets at each other.

When Crawlie was so angry that he couldn't hiss, but could only dart his
tongue out, the water-snake changed the subject, and began to talk in a
very different tone.

"I had still another errand, Crawlie," he said, lowering his voice to a
mild whisper. "But now I suppose you are so angry that you wouldn't care
to help me?"

"If you don't ask anything foolish of me, I shall certainly be at your

"In the pine trees down by the swamp live a moth folk that fly around
all night."

"I know all about them," remarked Crawlie. "What's up with them now?"

"They are the smallest insect family in the forest," said Helpless, "and
the most harmless, since the caterpillars content themselves with
gnawing only pine needles."

"Yes, I know," said Crawlie.

"I'm afraid those moths, will soon be exterminated," sighed the
water-snake. "There are so many who pick off the caterpillars in the

Now Crawlie began to understand that the water-snake wanted the
caterpillars for his own purpose, and he answered pleasantly:

"Do you wish me to say to the owls that they are to leave those pine
tree worms in peace?"

"Yes, it would be well if you who have some authority in the forest
should do this," said Helpless.

"I might also drop a good word for the pine needle pickers among the
thrushes?" volunteered the adder. "I will gladly serve you when you do
not demand anything unreasonable."

"Now you have given me a good promise, Crawlie," said Helpless, "and I'm
glad that I came to you."


One morning--several years later--Karr lay asleep on the porch. It was
in the early summer, the season of light nights, and it was as bright as
day, although the sun was not yet up. Karr was awakened by some one
calling his name.

"Is it you, Grayskin?" he asked, for he was accustomed to the elk's
nightly visits. Again he heard the call; then he recognized Grayskin's
voice, and hastened in the direction of the sound.

Karr heard the elk's footfalls in the distance, as he dashed into the
thickest pine wood, and straight through the brush, following no trodden
path. Karr could not catch up with him, and he had great difficulty in
even following the trail. "Karr, Karri" came the cry, and the voice was
certainly Grayskin's, although it had a ring now which the dog had never
heard before.

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" the dog responded. "Where are you?"

"Karr, Karr! Don't you see how it falls and falls?" said Grayskin.

Then Karr noticed that the pine needles kept dropping and dropping from
the trees, like a steady fall of rain.

"Yes, I see how it falls," he cried, and ran far into the forest in
search of the elk.

Grayskin kept running through the thickets, while Karr was about to lose
the trail again.

"Karr, Karr!" roared Grayskin; "can't you scent that peculiar odour in
the forest?"

Karr stopped and sniffed.

He had not thought of it before, but now he remarked that the pines sent
forth a much stronger odour than usual.

"Yes, I catch the scent," he said. He did not stop long enough to find
out the cause of it, but hurried on after Grayskin.

The elk ran ahead with such speed that the dog could not catch up with

"Karr, Karr!" he called; "can't you hear the crunching on the pines?"
Now his tone was so plaintive it would have melted a stone.

Karr paused to listen. He heard a faint but distinct "tap, tap," on the
trees. It sounded like the ticking of a watch.

"Yes, I hear how it ticks," cried Karr, and ran no farther. He
understood that the elk did not want him to follow, but to take notice
of something that was happening in the forest.

Karr was standing beneath the drooping branches of a great pine. He
looked carefully at it; the needles moved. He went closer and saw a mass
of grayish-white caterpillars creeping along the branches, gnawing off
the needles. Every branch was covered with them. The crunch, crunch in
the trees came from the working of their busy little jaws. Gnawed-off
needles fell to the ground in a continuous shower, and from the poor
pines there came such a strong odour that the dog suffered from it.

"What can be the meaning of this?" wondered Karr. "It's too bad about
the pretty trees! Soon they'll have no beauty left."

He walked from tree to tree, trying with his poor eyesight to see if all
was well with them.

"There's a pine they haven't touched," he thought. But they had taken
possession of it, too. "And here's a birch--no, this also! The
game-keeper will not be pleased with this," observed Karr.

He ran deeper into the thickets, to learn how far the destruction had
spread. Wherever he went, he heard the same ticking; scented the same
odour; saw the same needle rain. There was no need of his pausing to
investigate. He understood it all by these signs. The little
caterpillars were everywhere. The whole forest was being ravaged by

All of a sudden he came to a tract where there was no odour, and where
all was still.

"Here's the end of their domain," thought the dog, as he paused and
glanced about.

But here it was even worse; for the caterpillars had already done their
work, and the trees were needleless. They were like the dead. The only
thing that covered them was a network of ragged threads, which the
caterpillars had spun to use as roads and bridges.

In there, among the dying trees, Grayskin stood waiting for Karr.

He was not alone. With him were four old elk--the most respected in the
forest. Karr knew them: They were Crooked-Back, who was a small elk, but
had a larger hump than the others; Antler-Crown, who was the most
dignified of the elk; Rough-Mane, with the thick coat; and an old
long-legged one, who, up till the autumn before, when he got a bullet in
his thigh, had been terribly hot-tempered and quarrelsome.

"What in the world is happening to the forest?" Karr asked when he came
up to the elk. They stood with lowered heads, far protruding upper lips,
and looked puzzled.

"No one can tell," answered Grayskin. "This insect family used to be the
least hurtful of any in the forest, and never before have they done any
damage. But these last few years they have been multiplying so fast that
now it appears as if the entire forest would be destroyed."

"Yes, it looks bad," Karr agreed, "but I see that the wisest animals in
the forest have come together to hold a consultation. Perhaps you have
already found some remedy?"

When the dog said this, Crooked-Back solemnly raised his heavy head,
pricked up his long ears, and spoke:

"We have summoned you hither, Karr, that we may learn if the humans know
of this desolation."

"No," said Karr, "no human being ever comes thus far into the forest
when it's not hunting time. They know nothing of this misfortune."

Then Antler-Crown said:

"We who have lived long in the forest do not think that we can fight
this insect pest all by ourselves."

"After this there will be no peace in the forest!" put in Rough-Mane.

"But we can't let the whole Liberty Forest go to rack and ruin!"
protested Big-and-Strong. "We'll have to consult the humans; there is no

Karr understood that the elk had difficulty in expressing what they
wished to say, and he tried to help them.

"Perhaps you want me to let the people know the conditions here?" he

All the old elk nodded their heads.

"It's most unfortunate that we are obliged to ask help of human beings,
but we have no choice."

A moment later Karr was on his way home. As he ran ahead, deeply
distressed over all that he had heard and seen, a big black water-snake
approached them.

"Well met in the forest!" hissed the water-snake.

"Well met again!" snarled Karr, and rushed by without stopping.

The snake turned and tried to catch up to him.

"Perhaps that creature also, is worried about the forest," thought Karr,
and waited.

Immediately the snake began to talk about the great disaster.

"There will be an end of peace and quiet in the forest when human beings
are called hither," said the snake.

"I'm afraid there will," the dog agreed; "but the oldest forest dwellers
know what they're about!" he added.

"I think I know a better plan," said the snake, "if I can get the reward
I wish."

"Are you not the one whom every one around here calls old Helpless?"
said the dog, sneeringly.

"I'm an old inhabitant of the forest," said the snake, "and I know how
to get rid of such plagues."

"If you clear the forest of that pest, I feel sure you can have anything
you ask for," said Karr.

The snake did not respond to this until he had crawled under a tree
stump, where he was well protected. Then he said:

"Tell Grayskin that if he will leave Liberty Forest forever, and go far
north, where no oak tree grows, I will send sickness and death to all
the creeping things that gnaw the pines and spruces!"

"What's that you say?" asked Karr, bristling up. "What harm has Grayskin
ever done you?"

"He has slain the one whom I loved best," the snake declared, "and I
want to be avenged."

Before the snake had finished speaking, Karr made a dash for him; but
the reptile lay safely hidden under the tree stump.

"Stay where you are!" Karr concluded. "We'll manage to drive out the
caterpillars without your help."


The following spring, as Karr was dashing through the forest one
morning, he heard some one behind him calling: "Karr! Karr!"

He turned and saw an old fox standing outside his lair.

"You must tell me if the humans are doing anything for the forest," said
the fox.

"Yes, you may be sure they are!" said Karr. "They are working as hard as
they can."

"They have killed off all my kinsfolk, and they'll be killing me next,"
protested the fox. "But they shall be pardoned for that if only they
save the forest."

That year Karr never ran into the woods without some animal's asking if
the humans could save the forest. It was not easy for the dog to answer;
the people themselves were not certain that they could conquer the
moths. But considering how feared and hated old Kolmarden had always
been, it was remarkable that every day more than a hundred men went
there, to work. They cleared away the underbrush. They felled dead
trees, lopped off branches from the live ones so that the caterpillars
could not easily crawl from tree to tree; they also dug wide trenches
around the ravaged parts and put up lime-washed fences to keep them out
of new territory. Then they painted rings of lime around the trunks of
trees to prevent the caterpillars leaving those they had already
stripped. The idea was to force them to remain where they were until
they starved to death.

The people worked with the forest until far into the spring. They were
hopeful, and could hardly wait for the caterpillars to come out from
their eggs, feeling certain that they had shut them in so effectually
that most of them would die of starvation.

But in the early summer the caterpillars came out, more numerous than

They were everywhere! They crawled on the country roads, on fences, on
the walls of the cabins. They wandered outside the confines of Liberty
Forest to other parts of Kolmarden.

"They won't stop till all our forests are destroyed!" sighed the people,
who were in great despair, and could not enter the forest without

Karr was so sick of the sight of all these creeping, gnawing things that
he could hardly bear to step outside the door. But one day he felt that
he must go and find out how Grayskin was getting on. He took the
shortest cut to the elk's haunts, and hurried along--his nose close to
the earth. When he came to the tree stump where he had met Helpless the
year before, the snake was still there, and called to him:

"Have you told Grayskin what I said to you when last we met?" asked the

Karr only growled and tried to get at him.

"If you haven't told him, by all means do so!" insisted the snake. "You
must see that the humans know of no cure for this plague."

"Neither do you!" retorted the dog, and ran on.

Karr found Grayskin, but the elk was so low-spirited that he scarcely
greeted the dog. He began at once to talk of the forest.

"I don't know what I wouldn't give if this misery were only at an end!"
he said.

"Now I shall tell you that 'tis said you could save the forest." Then
Karr delivered the water-snake's message.

"If any one but Helpless had promised this, I should immediately go into
exile," declared the elk. "But how can a poor water-snake have the power
to work such a miracle?"

"Of course it's only a bluff," said Karr. "Water-snakes always like to
pretend that they know more than other creatures."

When Karr was ready to go home, Grayskin accompanied him part of the
way. Presently Karr heard a thrush, perched on a pine top, cry:

"There goes Grayskin, who has destroyed the forest! There goes Grayskin,
who has destroyed the forest!"

Karr thought that he had not heard correctly, but the next moment a hare
came darting across the path. When the hare saw them, he stopped,
flapped his ears, and screamed:

"Here comes Grayskin, who has destroyed the forest!" Then he ran as fast
as he could.

"What do they mean by that?" asked Karr.

"I really don't know," said Grayskin. "I think that the small forest
animals are displeased with me because I was the one who proposed that
we should ask help of human beings. When the underbrush was cut down,
all their lairs and hiding places were destroyed."

They walked on together a while longer, and Karr heard the same cry
coming from all directions:

"There goes Grayskin, who has destroyed the forest!"

Grayskin pretended not to hear it; but Karr understood why the elk was
so downhearted.

"I say, Grayskin, what does the water-snake mean by saying you killed
the one he loved best?"

"How can I tell?" said Grayskin. "You know very well that I never kill

Shortly after that they met the four old elk--Crooked-Back,
Antler-Crown, Rough-Mane, and Big-and-Strong, who were coming along
slowly, one after the other.

"Well met in the forest!" called Grayskin.

"Well met in turn!" answered the elk.

"We were just looking for you, Grayskin, to consult with you about the

"The fact is," began Crooked-Back, "we have been informed that a crime
has been committed here, and that the whole forest is being destroyed
because the criminal has not been punished."

"What kind of a crime was it?"

"Some one killed a harmless creature that he couldn't eat. Such an act
is accounted a crime in Liberty Forest."

"Who could have done such a cowardly thing?" wondered Grayskin.

"They say that an elk did it, and we were just going to ask if you knew
who it was."

"No," said Grayskin, "I have never heard of an elk killing a harmless

Grayskin parted from the four old elk, and went on with Karr. He was
silent and walked with lowered head. They happened to pass Crawlie, the
adder, who lay on his shelf of rock.

"There goes Grayskin, who has destroyed the whole forest!" hissed
Crawlie, like all the rest.

By that time Grayskin's patience was exhausted. He walked up to the
snake, and raised a forefoot.

"Do you think of crushing me as you crushed the old water-snake?" hissed

"Did I kill a water-snake?" asked Grayskin, astonished.

"The first day you were in the forest you killed the wife of poor old
Helpless," said Crawlie.

Grayskin turned quickly from the adder, and continued his walk with
Karr. Suddenly he stopped.

"Karr, it was I who committed that crime! I killed a harmless creature;
therefore it is on my account that the forest is being destroyed."

"What are you saying?" Karr interrupted.

"You may tell the water-snake, Helpless, that Grayskin goes into exile

"That I shall never tell him!" protested Karr. "The Far North is a
dangerous country for elk."

"Do you think that I wish to remain here, when I have caused a disaster
like this?" protested Grayskin.

"Don't be rash! Sleep over it before you do anything!"

"It was you who taught me that the elk are one with the forest," said
Grayskin, and so saying he parted from Karr.

The dog went home alone; but this talk with Grayskin troubled him, and
the next morning he returned to the forest to seek him, but Grayskin was
not to be found, and the dog did not search long for him. He realized
that the elk had taken the snake at his word, and had gone into exile.

On his walk home Karr was too unhappy for words! He could not understand
why Grayskin should allow that wretch of a water-snake to trick him
away. He had never heard of such folly! "What power can that old
Helpless have?"

As Karr walked along, his mind full of these thoughts, he happened to
see the game-keeper, who stood pointing up at a tree.

"What are you looking at?" asked a man who stood beside him.

"Sickness has come among the caterpillars," observed the game-keeper.

Karr was astonished, but he was even more angered at the snake's having
the power to keep his word. Grayskin would have to stay away a long long
time, for, of course, that water-snake would never die.

At the very height of his grief a thought came to Karr which comforted
him a little.

"Perhaps the water-snake won't live so long, after all!" he thought.
"Surely he cannot always lie protected under a tree root. As soon as he
has cleaned out the caterpillars, I know some one who is going to bite
his head off!"

It was true that an illness had made its appearance among the
caterpillars. The first summer it did not spread much. It had only just
broken out when it was time for the larvae to turn into pupae. From the
latter came millions of moths. They flew around in the trees like a
blinding snowstorm, and laid countless numbers of eggs. An even greater
destruction was prophesied for the following year.

The destruction came not only to the forest, but also to the
caterpillars. The sickness spread quickly from forest to forest. The
sick caterpillars stopped eating, crawled up to the branches of the
trees, and died there.

There was great rejoicing among the people when they saw them die, but
there was even greater rejoicing among the forest animals.

From day to day the dog Karr went about with savage glee, thinking of
the hour when he might venture to kill Helpless.

But the caterpillars, meanwhile, had spread over miles of pine woods.
Not in one summer did the disease reach them all. Many lived to become
pupas and moths.

Grayskin sent messages to his friend Karr by the birds of passage, to
say that he was alive and faring well. But the birds told Karr
confidentially that on several occasions Grayskin had been pursued by
poachers, and that only with the greatest difficulty had he escaped.

Karr lived in a state of continual grief, yearning, and anxiety. Yet he
had to wait two whole summers more before there was an end of the

Karr no sooner heard the game-keeper say that the forest was out of
danger than he started on a hunt for Helpless. But when he was in the
thick of the forest he made a frightful discovery: He could not hunt any
more, he could not run, he could not track his enemy, and he could not
see at all!

During the long years of waiting, old age had overtaken Karr. He had
grown old without having noticed it. He had not the strength even to
kill a water-snake. He was not able to save his friend Grayskin from his


One afternoon Akka from Kebnekaise and her flock alighted on the shore
of a forest lake.

Spring was backward--as it always is in the mountain districts. Ice
covered all the lake save a narrow strip next the land. The geese at
once plunged into the water to bathe and hunt for food. In the morning
Nils Holgersson had dropped one of his wooden shoes, so he went down by
the elms and birches that grew along the shore, to look for something to
bind around his foot.

The boy walked quite a distance before he found anything that he could
use. He glanced about nervously, for he did not fancy being in the

"Give me the plains and the lakes!" he thought. "There you can see what
you are likely to meet. Now, if this were a grove of little birches, it
would be well enough, for then the ground would be almost bare; but how
people can like these wild, pathless forests is incomprehensible to me.
If I owned this land I would chop down every tree."

At last he caught sight of a piece of birch bark, and just as he was
fitting it to his foot he heard a rustle behind him. He turned quickly.
A snake darted from the brush straight toward him!

The snake was uncommonly long and thick, but the boy soon saw that it
had a white spot on each cheek.

"Why, it's only a water-snake," he laughed; "it can't harm me."

But the next instant the snake gave him a powerful blow on the chest
that knocked him down. The boy was on his feet in a second and running
away, but the snake was after him! The ground was stony and scrubby; the
boy could not proceed very fast; and the snake was close at his heels.

Then the boy saw a big rock in front of him, and began to scale it.

"I do hope the snake can't follow me here!" he thought, but he had no
sooner reached the top of the rock than he saw that the snake was
following him.

Quite close to the boy, on a narrow ledge at the top of the rock, lay a
round stone as large as a man's head. As the snake came closer, the boy
ran behind the stone, and gave it a push. It rolled right down on the
snake, drawing it along to the ground, where it landed on its head.

"That stone did its work well!" thought the boy with a sigh of relief,
as he saw the snake squirm a little, and then lie perfectly still.

"I don't think I've been in greater peril on the whole journey," he

He had hardly recovered from the shock when he heard a rustle above him,
and saw a bird circling through the air to light on the ground right
beside the snake. The bird was like a crow in size and form, but was
dressed in a pretty coat of shiny black feathers.

The boy cautiously retreated into a crevice of the rock. His adventure
in being kidnapped by crows was still fresh in his memory, and he did
not care to show himself when there was no need of it.

The bird strode back and forth beside the snake's body, and turned it
over with his beak. Finally he spread his wings and began to shriek in
ear-splitting tones:

"It is certainly Helpless, the water-snake, that lies dead here!" Once
more he walked the length of the snake; then he stood in a deep study,
and scratched his neck with his foot.

"It isn't possible that there can be two such big snakes in the forest,"
he pondered. "It must surely be Helpless!"

He was just going to thrust his beak into the snake, but suddenly
checked himself.

"You mustn't be a numbskull, Bataki!" he remarked to himself. "Surely
you cannot be thinking of eating the snake until you have called Karr!
He wouldn't believe that Helpless was dead unless he could see it with
his own eyes."

The boy tried to keep quiet, but the bird was so ludicrously solemn, as
he stalked back and forth chattering to himself, that he had to laugh.

The bird heard him, and, with a flap of his wings, he was up on the
rock. The boy rose quickly and walked toward him.

"Are you not the one who is called Bataki, the raven? and are you not a
friend of Akka from Kebnekaise?" asked the boy.

The bird regarded him intently; then nodded three times.

"Surely, you're not the little chap who flies around with the wild
geese, and whom they call Thumbietot?"

"Oh, you're not so far out of the way," said the boy.

"What luck that I should have run across you! Perhaps you can tell me
who killed this water-snake?"

"The stone which I rolled down on him killed him," replied the boy, and
related how the whole thing happened.

"That was cleverly done for one who is as tiny as you are!" said the
raven. "I have a friend in these parts who will be glad to know that
this snake has been killed, and I should like to render you a service in

"Then tell me why you are glad the water-snake is dead," responded the

"It's a long story," said the raven; "you wouldn't have the patience to
listen to it."

But the boy insisted that he had, and then the raven told him the whole
story about Karr and Grayskin and Helpless, the water-snake. When he had
finished, the boy sat quietly for a moment, looking straight ahead. Then
he spoke:

"I seem to like the forest better since hearing this. I wonder if there
is anything left of the old Liberty Forest."'

"Most of it has been destroyed," said Bataki. "The trees look as if they
had passed through a fire. They'll have to be cleared away, and it will
take many years before the forest will be what it once was."

"That snake deserved his death!" declared the boy. "But I wonder if it
could be possible that he was so wise he could send sickness to the

"Perhaps he knew that they frequently became sick in that way,"
intimated Bataki.

"Yes, that may be; but all the same, I must say that he was a very wily

The boy stopped talking because he saw the raven was not listening to
him, but sitting with gaze averted. "Hark!" he said. "Karr is in the
vicinity. Won't he be happy when he sees that Helpless is dead!"

The boy turned his head in the direction of the sound.

"He's talking with the wild geese," he said.

"Oh, you may be sure that he has dragged himself down to the strand to
get the latest news about Grayskin!"

Both the boy and the raven jumped to the ground, and hastened down to
the shore. All the geese had come out of the lake, and stood talking
with an old dog, who was so weak and decrepit that it seemed as if he
might drop dead at any moment.

"There's Karr," said Bataki to the boy. "Let him hear first what the
wild geese have to say to him; later we shall tell him that the
water-snake is dead."

Presently they heard Akka talking to Karr.

"It happened last year while we were making our usual spring trip,"
remarked the leader-goose. "We started out one morning--Yksi, Kaksi, and
I, and we flew over the great boundary forests between Dalecarlia and
Haelsingland. Under us we, saw only thick pine forests. The snow was
still deep among the trees, and the creeks were mostly frozen.

"Suddenly we noticed three poachers down in the forest! They were on
skis, had dogs in leash, carried knives in their belts, but had no guns.

"As there was a hard crust on the snow, they did not bother to take the
winding forest paths, but skied straight ahead. Apparently they knew
very well where they must go to find what they were seeking.

"We wild geese flew on, high up in the air, so that the whole forest
under us was visible. When we sighted the poachers we wanted to find out
where the game was, so we circled up and down, peering through the
trees. Then, in a dense thicket, we saw something that looked like big,
moss-covered rocks, but couldn't be rocks, for there was no snow on

"We shot down, suddenly, and lit in the centre of the thicket. The three
rocks moved. They were three elk--a bull and two cows--resting in the
bleak forest.

"When we alighted, the elk bull rose and came toward us. He was the
most superb animal we had ever seen. When he saw that it was only some
poor wild geese that had awakened him, he lay down again.

"'No, old granddaddy, you mustn't go back to sleep!' I cried. 'Flee as
fast as you can! There are poachers in the forest, and they are bound
for this very deer fold.'

"'Thank you, goose mother!' said the elk. He seemed to be dropping to
sleep while he was speaking. 'But surely you must know that we elk are
under the protection of the law at this time of the year. Those poachers
are probably out for fox,' he yawned.

"'There are plenty of fox trails in the forest, but the poachers are not
looking for them. Believe me, old granddaddy! They know that you are
lying here, and are coming to attack you. They have no guns with
them--only spears and knives--for they dare not fire a shot at this

"The elk bull lay there calmly, but the elk cows seemed to feel uneasy.

"'It may be as the geese say,' they remarked, beginning to bestir

"'You just lie down!' said the elk bull. 'There are no poachers coming
here; of that you may be certain.'

"There was nothing more to be done, so we wild geese rose again into the
air. But we continued to circle over the place, to see how it would turn
out for the elk.

"We had hardly reached our regular flying altitude, when we saw the elk
bull come out from the thicket. He sniffed the air a little, then walked
straight toward the poachers. As he strode along he stepped upon dry
twigs that crackled noisily. A big barren marsh lay just beyond him.
Thither he went and took his stand in the middle, where there was
nothing to hide him from view.

"There he stood until the poachers emerged from the woods. Then he
turned and fled in the opposite direction. The poachers let loose the
dogs, and they themselves skied after him at full speed.

"The elk threw back his head and loped as fast as he could. He kicked up
snow until it flew like a blizzard about him. Both dogs and men were
left far behind. Then the elk stopped, as if to await their approach.
When they were within sight he dashed ahead again. We understood that he
was purposely tempting the hunters away from the place where the cows
were. We thought it brave of him to face danger himself, in order that
those who were dear to him might be left in safety. None of us wanted to
leave the place until we had seen how all this was to end.

"Thus the chase continued for two hours or more. We wondered that the
poachers went to the trouble of pursuing the elk when they were not
armed with rifles. They couldn't have thought that they could succeed in
tiring out a runner like him!

"Then we noticed that the elk no longer ran so rapidly. He stepped on
the snow more carefully, and every time he lifted his feet, blood could
be seen in his tracks.

"We understood why the poachers had been so persistent! They had
counted on help from the snow. The elk was heavy, and with every step he
sank to the bottom of the drift. The hard crust on the snow was scraping
his legs. It scraped away the fur, and tore out pieces of flesh, so that
he was in torture every time he put his foot down.

"The poachers and the dogs, who were so light that the ice crust could
hold their weight, pursued him all the while. He ran on and on--his
steps becoming more and more uncertain and faltering. He gasped for
breath. Not only did he suffer intense pain, but he was also exhausted
from wading through the deep snowdrifts.

"At last he lost all patience. He paused to let poachers and dogs come
upon him, and was ready to fight them. As he stood there waiting, he
glanced upward. When he saw us wild geese circling above him, he cried

"'Stay here, wild geese, until all is over! And the next time you fly
over Kolmarden, look up Karr, and ask him if he doesn't think that his
friend Grayskin has met with a happy end?'"

When Akka had gone so far in her story the old dog rose and walked
nearer to her.

"Grayskin led a good life," he said. "He understands me. He knows that
I'm a brave dog, and that I shall be glad to hear that he had a happy
end. Now tell me how--"

He raised his tail and threw back his head, as if to give himself a bold
and proud bearing--then he collapsed.

"Karr! Karr!" called a man's voice from the forest.

The old dog rose obediently.

"My master is calling me," he said, "and I must not tarry longer. I just
saw him load his gun. Now we two are going into the forest for the last

"Many thanks, wild goose! I know everything that I need know to die



In bygone days there was something in Naerke the like of which was not to
be found elsewhere: it was a witch, named Ysaetter-Kaisa.

The name Kaisa had been given her because she had a good deal to do with
wind and storm--and these wind witches are always so called. The surname
was added because she was supposed to have come from Ysaetter swamp in
Asker parish.

It seemed as though her real abode must have been at Asker; but she used
also to appear at other places. Nowhere in all Naerke could one be sure
of not meeting her.

She was no dark, mournful witch, but gay and frolicsome; and what she
loved most of all was a gale of wind. As soon as there was wind enough,
off she would fly to the Naerke plain for a good dance. On days when a
whirlwind swept the plain, Ysaetter-Kaisa had fun! She would stand right
in the wind and spin round, her long hair flying up among the clouds and
the long trail of her robe sweeping the ground, like a dust cloud, while
the whole plain lay spread out under her, like a ballroom floor.

Of a morning Ysaetter-Kaisa would sit up in some tall pine at the top of
a precipice, and look across the plain. If it happened to be winter and
she saw many teams on the roads she hurriedly blew up a blizzard, piling
the drifts so high that people could barely get back to their homes by
evening. If it chanced to be summer and good harvest weather,
Ysaetter-Kaisa would sit quietly until the first hayricks had been
loaded, then down she would come with a couple of heavy showers, which
put an end to the work for that day.

It was only too true that she seldom thought of anything else than
raising mischief. The charcoal burners up in the Kil mountains hardly
dared take a cat-nap, for as soon as she saw an unwatched kiln, she
stole up and blew on it until it began to burn in a great flame. If the
metal drivers from Laxa and Svarta were out late of an evening,
Ysaetter-Kaisa would veil the roads and the country round about in such
dark clouds that both men and horses lost their way and drove the heavy
trucks down into swamps and morasses.

If, on a summer's day, the dean's wife at Glanshammar had spread the tea
table in the garden and along would come a gust of wind that lifted the
cloth from the table and turned over cups and saucers, they knew who had
raised the mischief! If the mayor of Oerebro's hat blew off, so that he
had to run across the whole square after it; if the wash on the line
blew away and got covered with dirt, or if the smoke poured into the
cabins and seemed unable to find its way out through the chimney, it was
easy enough to guess who was out making merry!

Although Ysaetter-Kaisa was fond of all sorts of tantalizing games, there
was nothing really bad about her. One could see that she was hardest on
those who were quarrelsome, stingy, or wicked; while honest folk and
poor little children she would take under her wing. Old people say of
her that, once, when Asker church was burning, Ysaetter-Kaisa swept
through the air, lit amid fire and smoke on the church roof, and averted
the disaster.

All the same the Naerke folk were often rather tired of Ysaetter-Kaisa,
but she never tired of playing her tricks on them. As she sat on the
edge of a cloud and looked down upon Naerke, which rested so peacefully
and comfortably beneath her, she must have thought: "The inhabitants
would fare much too well if I were not in existence. They would grow
sleepy and dull. There must be some one like myself to rouse them and
keep them in good spirits."

Then she would laugh wildly and, chattering like a magpie, would rush
off, dancing and spinning from one end of the plain to the other. When a
Naerke man saw her come dragging her dust trail over the plain, he could
not help smiling. Provoking and tiresome she certainly was, but she had
a merry spirit. It was just as refreshing for the peasants to meet
Ysaetter-Kaisa as it was for the plain to be lashed by the windstorm.

Nowadays 'tis said that Ysaetter-Kaisa is dead and gone, like all other
witches, but this one can hardly believe. It is as if some one were to
come and tell you that henceforth the air would always be still on the
plain, and the wind would never more dance across it with blustering
breezes and drenching showers.

He who fancies that Ysaetter-Kaisa is dead and gone may as well hear what
occurred in Naerke the year that Nils Holgersson travelled over that part
of the country. Then let him tell what he thinks about it.


_Wednesday, April twenty-seventh_.

It was the day before the big Cattle Fair at Oerebro; it rained in
torrents and people thought: "This is exactly as in Ysaetter-Kaisa's
time! At fairs she used to be more prankish than usual. It was quite in
her line to arrange a downpour like this on a market eve."

As the day wore on, the rain increased, and toward evening came regular
cloud-bursts. The roads were like bottomless swamps. The farmers who had
started from home with their cattle early in the morning, that they
might arrive at a seasonable hour, fared badly. Cows and oxen were so
tired they could hardly move, and many of the poor beasts dropped down
in the middle of the road, to show that they were too exhausted to go
any farther. All who lived along the roadside had to open their doors to
the market-bound travellers, and harbour them as best they could. Farm
houses, barns, and sheds were soon crowded to their limit.

Meanwhile, those who could struggle along toward the inn did so; but
when they arrived they wished they had stopped at some cabin along the
road. All the cribs in the barn and all the stalls in the stable were
already occupied. There was no other choice than to let horses and
cattle stand out in the rain. Their masters could barely manage to get
under cover.

The crush and mud and slush in the barn yard were frightful! Some of the
animals were standing in puddles and could not even lie down. There were
thoughtful masters, of course, who procured straw for their animals to
lie on, and spread blankets over them; but there were those, also, who
sat in the inn, drinking and gambling, entirely forgetful of the dumb
creatures which they should have protected.

The boy and the wild geese had come to a little wooded island in Hjaelmar
Lake that evening. The island was separated from the main land by a
narrow and shallow stream, and at low tide one could pass over it

It rained just as hard on the island as it did everywhere else. The boy
could not sleep for the water that kept dripping down on him. Finally he
got up and began to walk. He fancied that he felt the rain less when he
moved about.

He had hardly circled the island, when he heard a splashing in the
stream. Presently he saw a solitary horse tramping among the trees.
Never in all his life had he seen such a wreck of a horse! He was
broken-winded and stiff-kneed and so thin that every rib could be seen
under the hide. He bore neither harness nor saddle--only an old bridle,
from which dangled a half-rotted rope-end. Obviously he had had no
difficulty in breaking loose.

The horse walked straight toward the spot where the wild geese were
sleeping. The boy was afraid that he would step on them.

"Where are you going? Feel your ground!" shouted the boy.

"Oh, there you are!" exclaimed the horse. "I've walked miles to meet

"Have you heard of me?" asked the boy, astonished.

"I've got ears, even if I am old! There are many who talk of you

As he spoke, the horse bent his head that he might see better, and the
boy noticed that he had a small head, beautiful eyes, and a soft,
sensitive nose.

"He must have been a good horse at the start, though he has come to
grief in his old age," he thought.

"I wish you would come with me and help me with something," pleaded the

The boy thought it would be embarrassing to accompany a creature who
looked so wretched, and excused himself on account of the bad weather.

"You'll be no worse off on my back than you are lying here," said the
horse. "But perhaps you don't dare to go with an old tramp of a horse
like me."

"Certainly I dare!" said the boy.

"Then wake the geese, so that we can arrange with them where they shall
come for you to-morrow," said the horse.

The boy was soon seated on the animal's back. The old nag trotted along
better than he had thought possible. It was a long ride in the rain and
darkness before they halted near a large inn, where everything looked
terribly uninviting! The wheel tracks were so deep in the road that the
boy feared he might drown should he fall down into them. Alongside the
fence, which enclosed the yard, some thirty or forty horses and cattle
were tied, with no protection against the rain, and in the yard were
wagons piled with packing cases, where sheep, calves, hogs, and chickens
were shut in.

The horse walked over to the fence and stationed himself. The boy
remained seated upon his back, and, with his good night eyes, plainly
saw how badly the animals fared.

"How do you happen to be standing out here in the rain?" he asked.

"We're on our way to a fair at Oerebro, but we were obliged to put up
here on account of the rain. This is an inn; but so many travellers have
already arrived that there's no room for us in the barns."

The boy made no reply, but sat quietly looking about him. Not many of
the animals were asleep, and on all sides he heard complaints and
indignant protests. They had reason enough for grumbling, for the
weather was even worse than it had been earlier in the day. A freezing
wind had begun to blow, and the rain which came beating down on them
was turning to snow. It was easy enough to understand what the horse
wanted the boy to help him with.

"Do you see that fine farm yard directly opposite the inn?" remarked the

"Yes, I see it," answered the boy, "and I can't comprehend why they
haven't tried to find shelter for all of you in there. They are already
full, perhaps?"

"No, there are no strangers in that place," said the horse. "The people
who live on that farm are so stingy and selfish that it would be useless
for any one to ask them for harbour."

"If that's the case, I suppose you'll have to stand where you are."

"I was born and raised on that farm," said the horse; "I know that there
is a large barn and a big cow shed, with many empty stalls and mangers,
and I was wondering if you couldn't manage in some way or other to get
us in over there."

"I don't think I could venture--" hesitated the boy. But he felt so
sorry for the poor beasts that he wanted at least to try.

He ran into the strange barn yard and saw at once that all the outhouses
were locked and the keys gone. He stood there, puzzled and helpless,
when aid came to him from an unexpected source. A gust of wind came
sweeping along with terrific force and flung open a shed door right in
front of him.

The boy was not long in getting back to the horse.

"It isn't possible to get into the barn or the cow house," he said, "but
there's a big, empty hay shed that they have forgotten to bolt. I can
lead you into that."

"Thank you!" said the horse. "It will seem good to sleep once more on
familiar ground. It's the only happiness I can expect in this life."

Meanwhile, at the flourishing farm opposite the inn, the family sat up
much later than usual that evening.

The master of the place was a man of thirty-five, tall and dignified,
with a handsome but melancholy face. During the day he had been out in
the rain and had got wet, like every one else, and at supper he asked
his old mother, who was still mistress of the place, to light a fire on
the hearth that he might dry his clothes. The mother kindled a feeble
blaze--for in that house they were not wasteful with wood--and the
master hung his coat on the back of a chair, and placed it before the
fire. With one foot on top of the andiron and a hand resting on his
knee, he stood gazing into the embers. Thus he stood for two whole
hours, making no move other than to cast a log on the fire now and then.

The mistress removed the supper things and turned down his bed for the
night before she went to her own room and seated herself. At intervals
she came to the door and looked wonderingly at her son.

"It's nothing, mother. I'm only thinking," he said.

His thoughts were on something that had occurred shortly before: When he
passed the inn a horse dealer had asked him if he would not like to
purchase a horse, and had shown him an old nag so weather-beaten that he
asked the dealer if he took him for a fool, since he wished to palm off
such a played-out beast on him.

"Oh, no!" said the horse dealer. "I only thought that, inasmuch as the
horse once belonged to you, you might wish to give him a comfortable
home in his old age; he has need of it."

Then he looked at the horse and recognized it as one which he himself
had raised and broken in; but it did not occur to him to purchase such
an old and useless creature on that account. No, indeed! He was not one
who squandered his money.

All the same, the sight of the horse had awakened many, memories--and it
was the memories that kept him awake.

That horse had been a fine animal. His father had let him tend it from
the start. He had broken it in and had loved it above everything else.
His father had complained that he used to feed it too well, and often he
had been obliged to steal out and smuggle oats to it.

Once, when he ventured to talk with his father about letting him buy a
broadcloth suit, or having the cart painted, his father stood as if
petrified, and he thought the old man would have a stroke. He tried to
make his father understand that, when he had a fine horse to drive, he
should look presentable himself.

The father made no reply, but two days later he took the horse to Oerebro
and sold it.

It was cruel of him. But it was plain that his father had feared that
this horse might lead him into vanity and extravagance. And now, so long
afterward, he had to admit that his father was right. A horse like that
surely would have been a temptation. At first he had grieved terribly
over his loss. Many a time he had gone down to Oerebro, just to stand on
a street corner and see the horse pass by, or to steal into the stable
and give him a lump of sugar. He thought: "If I ever get the farm, the
first thing I do will be to buy back my horse."

Now his father was gone and he himself had been master for two years,
but he had not made a move toward buying the horse. He had not thought
of him for ever so long, until to-night.

It was strange that he should have forgotten the beast so entirely!

His father had been a very headstrong, domineering man. When his son was
grown and the two had worked together, the father had gained absolute
power over him. The boy had come to think that everything his father did
was right, and, after he became the master, he only tried to do exactly
as his father would have done.

He knew, of course, that folk said his father was stingy; but it was
well to keep a tight hold on one's purse and not throw away money
needlessly. The goods one has received should not be wasted. It was
better to live on a debt-free place and be called stingy, than to carry
heavy mortgages, like other farm owners.

He had gone so far in his mind when he was called back by a strange
sound. It was as if a shrill, mocking voice were repeating his thoughts:
"It's better to keep a firm hold on one's purse and be called stingy,
than to be in debt, like other farm owners."

It sounded as if some one was trying to make sport of his wisdom and he
was about to lose his temper, when he realized that it was all a
mistake. The wind was beginning to rage, and he had been standing there
getting so sleepy that he mistook the howling of the wind in the chimney
for human speech.

He glanced up at the wall clock, which just then struck eleven.

"It's time that you were in bed," he remarked to himself. Then he
remembered that he had not yet gone the rounds of the farm yard, as it
was his custom to do every night, to make sure that all doors were
closed and all lights extinguished. This was something he had never
neglected since he became master. He drew on his coat and went out in
the storm.

He found everything as it should be, save that the door to the empty hay
shed had been blown open by the wind. He stepped inside for the key,
locked the shed door and put the key into his coat pocket. Then he went
back to the house, removed his coat, and hung it before the fire. Even
now he did not retire, but began pacing the floor. The storm without,
with its biting wind and snow-blended rain, was terrible, and his old
horse was standing in this storm without so much as a blanket to protect
him! He should at least have given his old friend a roof over his head,
since he had come such a long distance.

At the inn across the way the boy heard an old wall clock strike eleven
times. Just then he was untying the animals to lead them to the shed in
the farm yard opposite. It took some time to rouse them and get them
into line. When all were ready, they marched in a long procession into
the stingy farmer's yard, with the boy as their guide. While the boy had
been assembling them, the farmer had gone the rounds of the farm yard
and locked the hay shed, so that when the animals came along the door
was closed. The boy stood there dismayed. He could not let the creatures
stand out there! He must go into the house and find the key.

"Keep them quiet out here while I go in and fetch the key!" he said to
the old horse, and off he ran.

On the path right in front of the house he paused to think out how he
should get inside. As he stood there he noticed two little wanderers
coming down the road, who stopped before the inn.

The boy saw at once that they were two little girls, and ran toward

"Come now, Britta Maja!" said one, "you mustn't cry any more. Now we are
at the inn. Here they will surely take us in."

The girl had but just said this when the boy called to her:

"No, you mustn't try to get in there. It is simply impossible. But at
the farm house opposite there are no guests. Go there instead."

The little girls heard the words distinctly, though they could not see
the one who spoke to them. They did not wonder much at that, however,
for the night was as black as pitch. The larger of the girls promptly

"We don't care to enter that place, because those who live there are
stingy and cruel. It is their fault that we two must go out on the
highways and beg."

"That may be so," said the boy, "but all the same you should go there.
You shall see that it will be well for you."

"We can try, but it is doubtful that they will even let us enter,"
observed the two little girls as they walked up to the house and

The master was standing by the fire thinking of the horse when he heard
the knocking. He stepped to the door to see what was up, thinking all
the while that he would not let himself be tempted into admitting any
wayfarer. As he fumbled the lock, a gust of wind came along, wrenched
the door from his hand and swung it open. To close it, he had to step
out on the porch, and, when he stepped back into the house, the two
little girls were standing within.

They were two poor beggar girls, ragged, dirty, and starving--two little
tots bent under the burden of their beggar's packs, which were as large
as themselves.

"Who are you that go prowling about at this hour of the night?" said the
master gruffly.

The two children did not answer immediately, but first removed their
packs. Then they walked up to the man and stretched forth their tiny
hands in greeting.

"We are Anna and Britta Maja from the Engaerd," said the elder, "and we
were going to ask for a night's lodging."

He did not take the outstretched hands and was just about to drive out
the beggar children, when a fresh recollection faced him. Engaerd--was
not that a little cabin where a poor widow with five children had lived?
The widow had owed his father a few hundred kroner and in order to get
back his money he had sold her cabin. After that the widow, with her
three eldest children, went to Norrland to seek employment, and the two
youngest became a charge on the parish.

As he called this to mind he grew bitter. He knew that his father had
been severely censured for squeezing out that money, which by right
belonged to him.

"What are you doing nowadays?" he asked in a cross tone. "Didn't the
board of charities take charge of you? Why do you roam around and beg?"

"It's not our fault," replied the larger girl. "The people with whom we
are living have sent us out to beg."

"Well, your packs are filled," the farmer observed, "so you can't
complain. Now you'd better take out some of the food you have with you
and eat your fill, for here you'll get no food, as all the women folk
are in bed. Later you may lie down in the corner by the hearth, so you
won't have to freeze."

He waved his hand, as if to ward them off, and his eyes took on a hard
look. He was thankful that he had had a father who had been careful of
his property. Otherwise, he might perhaps have been forced in childhood
to run about and beg, as these children now did.

No sooner had he thought this out to the end than the shrill, mocking
voice he had heard once before that evening repeated it, word for word.

He listened, and at once understood that it was nothing--only the wind
roaring in the chimney. But the queer thing about it was, when the wind
repeated his thoughts, they seemed so strangely stupid and hard and

The children meanwhile had stretched themselves, side by side, on the
floor. They were not quiet, but lay there muttering.

"Do be still, won't you?" he growled, for he was in such an irritable
mood that he could have beaten them.

But the mumbling continued, and again he called for silence.

"When mother went away," piped a clear little voice, "she made me
promise that every night I would say my evening prayer. I must do this,
and Britta Maja too. As soon as we have said 'God who cares for little
children--' we'll be quiet."

The master sat quite still while the little ones said their prayers,
then he rose and began pacing back and forth, back and forth, wringing
his hands all the while, as though he had met with some great sorrow.

"The horse driven out and wrecked, these two children turned into road
beggars--both father's doings! Perhaps father did not do right after
all?" he thought.

He sat down again and buried his head in his hands. Suddenly his lips
began to quiver and into his eyes came tears, which he hastily wiped
away. Fresh tears came, and he was just as prompt to brush these away;
but it was useless, for more followed.

When his mother stepped into the room, he swung his chair quickly and
turned his back to her. She must have noticed something unusual, for she
stood quietly behind him a long while, as if waiting for him to speak.
She realized how difficult it always is for men to talk of the things
they feel most deeply. She must help him of course.

From her bedroom she had observed all that had taken place in the living
room, so that she did not have to ask questions. She walked very softly
over to the two sleeping children, lifted them, and bore them to her own
bed. Then she went back to her son.

"Lars," she said, as if she did not see that he was weeping, "you had
better let me keep these children."

"What, mother?" he gasped, trying to smother the sobs.

"I have been suffering for years--ever since father took the cabin from
their mother, and so have you."

"Yes, but--"

"I want to keep them here and make something of them; they are too good
to beg."

He could not speak, for now the tears were beyond his control; but he
took his old mother's withered hand and patted it.

Then he jumped up, as if something had frightened him.

"What would father have said of this?"

"Father had his day at ruling," retorted the mother. "Now it is your
day. As long as father lived we had to obey him. Now is the time to show
what you are."

Her son was so astonished that he ceased crying.

"But I have just shown what I am!" he returned.

"No, you haven't," protested the mother. "You only try to be like him.
Father experienced hard times, which made him fear poverty. He believed
that he had to think of himself first. But you have never had any
difficulties that should make you hard. You have more than you need, and
it would be unnatural of you not to think of others."

When the two little girls entered the house the boy slipped in behind
them and secreted himself in a dark corner. He had not been there long
before he caught a glimpse of the shed key, which the farmer had thrust
into his coat pocket.

"When the master of the house drives the children out, I'll take the key
and ran," he thought.

But the children were not driven out and the boy crouched in the corner,
not knowing what he should do next.

The mother talked long with her son, and while she was speaking he
stopped weeping. Gradually his features softened; he looked like another
person. All the while he was stroking the wasted old hand.

"Now we may as well retire," said the old lady when she saw that he was
calm again.

"No," he said, suddenly rising, "I cannot retire yet. There's a stranger
without whom I must shelter to-night!"

He said nothing further, but quickly drew on his coat, lit the lantern
and went out. There were the same wind and chill without, but as he
stepped to the porch he began to sing softly. He wondered if the horse
would know him, and if he would be glad to come back to his old stable.

As he crossed the house yard he heard a door slam.

"That shed door has blown open again," he thought, and went over to
close it.

A moment later he stood by the shed and was just going to shut the door,
when he heard a rustling within.

The boy, who had watched his opportunity, had run directly to the shed,
where he left the animals, but they were no longer out in the rain: A
strong wind had long since thrown open the door and helped them to get a
roof over their heads. The patter which the master heard was occasioned
by the boy running into the shed.

By the light of the lantern the man could see into the shed. The whole
floor was covered with sleeping cattle. There was no human being to be
seen; the animals were not bound, but were lying, here and there, in the

He was enraged at the intrusion and began storming and shrieking to
rouse the sleepers and drive them out. But the creatures lay still and
would not let themselves be disturbed. The only one that rose was an old
horse that came slowly toward him.

All of a sudden the man became silent. He recognized the beast by its
gait. He raised the lantern, and the horse came over and laid its head
on his shoulder. The master patted and stroked it.

"My old horsy, my old horsy!" he said. "What have they done to you? Yes,
dear, I'll buy you back. You'll never again have to leave this place.
You shall do whatever you like, horsy mine! Those whom you have brought
with you may remain here, but you shall come with me to the stable. Now
I can give you all the oats you are able to eat, without having to
smuggle them. And you're not all used up, either! The handsomest horse
on the church knoll--that's what you shall be once more! There, there!
There, there!"


_Thursday, April twenty-eighth_.

The following day the weather was clear and beautiful. There was a
strong west wind; people were glad of that, for it dried up the roads,
which had been soaked by the heavy rains of the day before.

Early in the morning the two Smaland children, Osa, the goose girl, and
little Mats, were out on the highway leading from Soermland to Naerke. The
road ran alongside the southern shore of Hjaelmar Lake and the children
were walking along looking at the ice, which covered the greater part of
it. The morning sun darted its clear rays upon the ice, which did not
look dark and forbidding, like most spring ice, but sparkled temptingly.
As far as they could see, the ice was firm and dry. The rain had run
down into cracks and hollows, or been absorbed by the ice itself. The
children saw only the sound ice.

Osa, the goose girl, and little Mats were on their way North, and they
could not help thinking of all the steps they would be saved if they
could cut straight across the lake instead of going around it. They
knew, to be sure, that spring ice is treacherous, but this looked
perfectly secure. They could see that it was several inches thick near
the shore. They saw a path which they might follow, and the opposite
shore appeared to be so near that they ought to be able to get there in
an hour.

"Come, let's try!" said little Mats. "If we only look before us, so that
we don't go down into some hole, we can do it."

So they went out on the lake. The ice was not very slippery, but rather
easy to walk upon. There was more water on it than they expected to see,
and here and there were cracks, where the water purled up. One had to
watch out for such places; but that was easy to do in broad daylight,
with the sun shining.

The children advanced rapidly, and talked only of how sensible they were
to have gone out on the ice instead of tramping the slushy road.

When they had been walking a while they came to Vin Island, where an old
woman had sighted them from her window. She rushed from her cabin, waved
them back, and shouted something which they could not hear. They
understood perfectly well that she was warning them not to come any
farther; but they thought there was no immediate danger. It would be
stupid for them to leave the ice when all was going so well!

Therefore they went on past Vin Island and had a stretch of seven miles
of ice ahead of them.

Out there was so much water that the children were obliged to take
roundabout ways; but that was sport to them. They vied with each other
as to which could find the soundest ice. They were neither tired nor
hungry. The whole day was before them, and they laughed at each obstacle
they met.

Now and then they cast a glance ahead at the farther shore. It still
appeared far away, although they had been walking a good hour. They were
rather surprised that the lake was so broad.

"The shore seems to be moving farther away from us," little Mats

Out there the children were not protected against the wind, which was
becoming stronger and stronger every minute, and was pressing their
clothing so close to their bodies that they could hardly go on. The cold
wind was the first disagreeable thing they had met with on the journey.

But the amazing part of it was that the wind came sweeping along with a
loud roar--as if it brought with it the noise of a large mill or
factory, though nothing of the kind was to be found out there on the
ice. They had walked to the west of the big island, Valen; now they
thought they were nearing the north shore. Suddenly the wind began to
blow more and more, while the loud roaring increased so rapidly that
they began to feel uneasy.

All at once it occurred to them that the roar was caused by the foaming
and rushing of the waves breaking against a shore. Even this seemed
improbable, since the lake was still covered with ice.

At all events, they paused and looked about. They noticed far in the
west a white bank which stretched clear across the lake. At first they
thought it was a snowbank alongside a road. Later they realized it was
the foam-capped waves dashing against the ice! They took hold of hands
and ran without saying a word. Open sea lay beyond in the west, and
suddenly the streak of foam appeared to be moving eastward. They
wondered if the ice was going to break all over. What was going to
happen? They felt now that they were in great danger.

All at once it seemed as if the ice under their feet rose--rose and
sank, as if some one from below were pushing it. Presently they heard a
hollow boom, and then there were cracks in the ice all around them. The
children could see how they crept along under the ice-covering.

The next moment all was still, then the rising and sinking began again.
Thereupon the cracks began to widen into crevices through which the
water bubbled up. By and by the crevices became gaps. Soon after that
the ice was divided into large floes.

"Osa," said little Mats, "this must be the breaking up of the ice!"

"Why, so it is, little Mats," said Osa, "but as yet we can get to land.
Run for your life!"

As a matter of fact, the wind and waves had a good deal of work to do
yet to clear the ice from the lake. The hardest part was done when the
ice-cake burst into pieces, but all these pieces must be broken and
hurled against each other, to be crushed, worn down, and dissolved.
There was still a great deal of hard and sound ice left, which formed
large, unbroken surfaces.

The greatest danger for the children lay in the fact that they had no
general view of the ice. They did not see the places where the gaps were
so wide that they could not possibly jump over them, nor did they know
where to find any floes that would hold them, so they wandered aimlessly
back and forth, going farther out on the lake instead of nearer land. At
last, confused and terrified, they stood still and wept.

Then a flock of wild geese in rapid flight came rushing by. They
shrieked loudly and sharply; but the strange thing was that above the
geese-cackle the little children heard these words:

"You must go to the right, the right, the right!" They began at once to
follow the advice; but before long they were again standing irresolute,
facing another broad gap.

Again they heard the geese shrieking above them, and again, amid the
geese-cackle, they distinguished a few words:

"Stand where you are! Stand where you are!"

The children did not say a word to each other, but obeyed and stood
still. Soon after that the ice-floes floated together, so that they
could cross the gap. Then they took hold of hands again and ran. They
were afraid not only of the peril, but of the mysterious help that had
come to them.

Soon they had to stop again, and immediately the sound of the voice
reached them.

"Straight ahead, straight ahead!" it said.

This leading continued for about half an hour; by that time they had
reached Ljunger Point, where they left the ice and waded to shore. They
were still terribly frightened, even though they were on firm land. They
did not stop to look back at the lake--where the waves were pitching the
ice-floes faster and faster--but ran on. When they had gone a short
distance along the point, Osa paused suddenly.

"Wait here, little Mats," she said; "I have forgotten something."

Osa, the goose girl, went down to the strand again, where she stopped to
rummage in her bag. Finally she fished out a little wooden shoe, which
she placed on a stone where it could be plainly seen. Then she ran to
little Mats without once looking back.

But the instant her back was turned, a big white goose shot down from
the sky, like a streak of lightning, snatched the wooden shoe, and flew
away with it.



_Thursday, April twenty-eighth_.

When the wild geese and Thumbietot had helped Osa, the goose girl, and
little Mats across the ice, they flew into Westmanland, where they
alighted in a grain field to feed and rest.

A strong west wind blew almost the entire day on which the wild geese
travelled over the mining districts, and as soon as they attempted to
direct their course northward they were buffeted toward the east. Now,
Akka thought that Smirre Fox was at large in the eastern part of the
province; therefore she would not fly in that direction, but turned
back, time and again, struggling westward with great difficulty. At this
rate the wild geese advanced very slowly, and late in the afternoon they
were still in the Westmanland mining districts. Toward evening the wind
abated suddenly, and the tired travellers hoped that they would have an
interval of easy flight before sundown. Then along came a violent gust
of wind, which tossed the geese before it, like balls, and the boy, who
was sitting comfortably, with no thought of peril, was lifted from the
goose's back and hurled into space.

Little and light as he was, he could not fall straight to the ground in
such a wind; so at first he was carried along with it, drifting down
slowly and spasmodically, as a leaf falls from a tree.

"Why, this isn't so bad!" thought the boy as he fell. "I'm tumbling as
easily as if I were only a scrap of paper. Morten Goosey-Gander will
doubtless hurry along and pick me up."

The first thing the boy did when he landed was to tear off his cap and
wave it, so that the big white gander should see where he was.

"Here am I, where are you? Here am I, where are you?" he called, and was
rather surprised that Morten Goosey-Gander was not already at his side.

But the big white gander was not to be seen, nor was the wild goose
flock outlined against the sky. It had entirely disappeared.

He thought this rather singular, but he was neither worried nor
frightened. Not for a second did it occur to him that folk like Akka and
Morten Goosey-Gander would abandon him. The unexpected gust of wind had
probably borne them along with it. As soon as they could manage to turn,
they would surely come back and fetch him.

But what was this? Where on earth was he anyway? He had been standing
gazing toward the sky for some sign of the geese, but now he happened to
glance about him. He had not come down on even ground, but had dropped
into a deep, wide mountain cave--or whatever it might be. It was as
large as a church, with almost perpendicular walls on all four sides,
and with no roof at all. On the ground were some huge rocks, between
which moss and lignon-brush and dwarfed birches grew. Here and there in
the wall were projections, from which swung rickety ladders. At one side
there was a dark passage, which apparently led far into the mountain.

The boy had not been travelling over the mining districts a whole day
for nothing. He comprehended at once that the big cleft had been made by
the men who had mined ore in this place.

"I must try and climb back to earth again," he thought, "otherwise I
fear that my companions won't find me!"

He was about to go over to the wall when some one seized him from
behind, and he heard a gruff voice growl in his ear: "Who are you?"

The boy turned quickly, and, in the confusion of the moment, he thought
he was facing a huge rock, covered with brownish moss. Then he noticed
that the rock had broad paws to walk with, a head, two eyes, and a
growling mouth.

He could not pull himself together to answer, nor did the big beast
appear to expect it of him, for it knocked him down, rolled him back and
forth with its paws, and nosed him. It seemed just about ready to
swallow him, when it changed its mind and called:

"Brumme and Mulle, come here, you cubs, and you shall have something
good to eat!"

A pair of frowzy cubs, as uncertain on their feet and as woolly as
puppies, came tumbling along.

"What have you got, Mamma Bear? May we see, oh, may we see?" shrieked
the cubs excitedly.

"Oho! so I've fallen in with bears," thought the boy to himself. "Now
Smirre Fox won't have to trouble himself further to chase after me!"

The mother bear pushed the boy along to the cubs. One of them nabbed him
quickly and ran off with him; but he did not bite hard. He was playful
and wanted to amuse himself awhile with Thumbietot before eating him.
The other cub was after the first one to snatch the boy for himself, and
as he lumbered along he managed to tumble straight down on the head of
the one that carried the boy. So the two cubs rolled over each other,
biting, clawing, and snarling.

During the tussle the boy got loose, ran over to the wall, and started
to scale it. Then both cubs scurried after him, and, nimbly scaling the
cliff, they caught up with him and tossed him down on the moss, like a

"Now I know how a poor little mousie fares when it falls into the cat's
claws," thought the boy.

He made several attempts to get away. He ran deep down into the old
tunnel and hid behind the rocks and climbed the birches, but the cubs
hunted him out, go where he would. The instant they caught him they let
him go, so that he could run away again and they should have the fun of
recapturing him.

At last the boy got so sick and tired of it all that he threw himself
down on the ground.

"Run away," growled the cubs, "or we'll eat you up!"


Back to Full Books