The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Part 7 out of 9
in Akka's forbidding the eagle to show his face in her neighbourhood,
and her anger toward him was so intense that no one dared speak his name
in her presence.
After that Gorgo roamed around the country, alone and shunned, like all
great robbers. He was often downhearted, and certainly longed many a
time for the days when he thought himself a wild goose, and played with
the merry goslings.
Among the animals he had a great reputation for courage. They used to
say of him that he feared no one but his foster-mother, Akka. And they
could also say of him that he never used violence against a wild goose.
Gorgo was only three years old, and had not as yet thought about
marrying and procuring a home for himself, when he was captured one day
by a hunter, and sold to the Skansen Zooelogical Garden, where there were
already two eagles held captive in a cage built of iron bars and steel
wires. The cage stood out in the open, and was so large that a couple of
trees had easily been moved into it, and quite a large cairn was piled
up in there. Notwithstanding all this, the birds were unhappy. They sat
motionless on the same spot nearly all day. Their pretty, dark feather
dresses became rough and lustreless, and their eyes were riveted with
hopeless longing on the sky without.
During the first week of Gorgo's captivity he was still awake and full
of life, but later a heavy torpor came upon him. He perched himself on
one spot, like the other eagles, and stared at vacancy. He no longer
knew how the days passed.
One morning when Gorgo sat in his usual torpor, he heard some one call
to him from below. He was so drowsy that he could barely rouse himself
enough to lower his glance.
"Who is calling me?" he asked.
"Oh, Gorgo! Don't you know me? It's Thumbietot who used to fly around
with the wild geese."
"Is Akka also captured?" asked Gorgo in the tone of one who is trying to
collect his thoughts after a long sleep.
"No; Akka, the white goosey-gander, and the whole flock are probably
safe and sound up in Lapland at this season," said the boy. "It's only I
who am a prisoner here."
As the boy was speaking he noticed that Gorgo averted his glance, and
began to stare into space again.
"Golden eagle!" cried the boy; "I have not forgotten that once you
carried me back to the wild geese, and that you spared the white
goosey-gander's life! Tell me if I can be of any help to you!"
Gorgo scarcely raised his head. "Don't disturb me, Thumbietot," he
yawned. "I'm sitting here dreaming that I am free, and am soaring away
up among the clouds. I don't want to be awake."
"You must rouse yourself, and see what goes on around you," the boy
admonished, "or you will soon look as wretched as the other eagles."
"I wish I were as they are! They are so lost in their dreams that
nothing more can trouble them," said the eagle.
When night came, and all three eagles were asleep, there was a light
scraping on the steel wires stretched across the top of the cage. The
two listless old captives did not allow themselves to be disturbed by
the noise, but Gorgo awakened.
"Who's there? Who is moving up on the roof?" he asked.
"It's Thumbietot, Gorgo," answered the boy. "I'm sitting here filing
away at the steel wires so that you can escape."
The eagle raised his head, and saw in the night light how the boy sat
and filed the steel wires at the top of the cage. He felt hopeful for an
instant, but soon discouragement got the upper hand.
"I'm a big bird, Thumbietot," said Gorgo; "how can you ever manage to
file away enough wires for me to come out? You'd better quit that, and
leave me in peace."
"Oh, go to sleep, and don't bother about me!" said the boy. "I'll not be
through to-night nor to-morrow night, but I shall try to free you in
time for here you'll become a total wreck."
Gorgo fell asleep. When he awoke the next morning he saw at a glance
that a number of wires had been filed. That day he felt less drowsy than
he had done in the past. He spread his wings, and fluttered from branch
to branch to get the stiffness out of his joints.
One morning early, just as the first streak of sunlight made its
appearance, Thumbietot awakened the eagle.
"Try now, Gorgo!" he whispered.
The eagle looked up. The boy had actually filed off so many wires that
now there was a big hole in the wire netting. Gorgo flapped his wings
and propelled himself upward. Twice he missed and fell back into the
cage; but finally he succeeded in getting out.
With proud wing strokes he soared into the clouds. Little Thumbietot sat
and gazed after him with a mournful expression. He wished that some one
would come and give him his freedom too.
The boy was domiciled now at Skansen. He had become acquainted with all
the animals there, and had made many friends among them. He had to admit
that there was so much to see and learn there that it was not difficult
for him to pass the time. To be sure his thoughts went forth every day
to Morten Goosey-Gander and his other comrades, and he yearned for them.
"If only I weren't bound by my promise," he thought, "I'd find some bird
to take me to them!"
It may seem strange that Clement Larsson had not restored the boy's
liberty, but one must remember how excited the little fiddler had been
when he left Skansen. The morning of his departure he had thought of
setting out the midget's food in a blue bowl, but, unluckily, he had
been unable to find one. All the Skansen folk--Lapps, peasant girls,
artisans, and gardeners--had come to bid him good-bye, and he had had no
time to search for a blue bowl. It was time to start, and at the last
moment he had to ask the old Laplander to help him.
"One of the tiny folk happens to be living here at Skansen," said
Clement, "and every morning I set out a little food for him. Will you do
me the favour of taking these few coppers and purchasing a blue bowl
with them? Put a little gruel and milk in it, and to-morrow morning set
it out under the steps of Bollnaes cottage."
The old Laplander looked surprised, but there was no time for Clement to
explain further, as he had to be off to the railway station.
The Laplander went down to the zooelogical village to purchase the bowl.
As he saw no blue one that he thought appropriate, he bought a white
one, and this he conscientiously filled and set out every morning.
That was why the boy had not been released from his pledge. He knew that
Clement had gone away, but _he_ was not allowed to leave.
That night the boy longed more than ever for his freedom. This was
because summer had come now in earnest. During his travels he had
suffered much in cold and stormy weather, and when he first came to
Skansen he had thought that perhaps it was just as well that he had been
compelled to break the journey. He would have been frozen to death had
he gone to Lapland in the month of May. But now it was warm; the earth
was green-clad, birches and poplars were clothed in their satiny
foliage, and the cherry trees--in fact all the fruit trees--were covered
with blossoms. The berry bushes had green berries on their stems; the
oaks had carefully unfolded their leaves, and peas, cabbages, and beans
were growing in the vegetable garden at Skansen.
"Now it must be warm up in Lapland," thought the boy. "I should like to
be seated on Morten Goosey-Gander's back on a fine morning like this! It
would be great fun to ride around in the warm, still air, and look down
at the ground, as it now lies decked with green grass, and embellished
with pretty blossoms."
He sat musing on this when the eagle suddenly swooped down from the sky,
and perched beside the boy, on top of the cage.
"I wanted to try my wings to see if they were still good for anything,"
said Gorgo. "You didn't suppose that I meant to leave you here in
captivity? Get up on my back, and I'll take you to your comrades."
"No, that's impossible!" the boy answered. "I have pledged my word that
I would stay here till I am liberated."
"What sort of nonsense are you talking?" protested Gorgo. "In the first
place they brought you here against your will; then they forced you to
promise that you would remain here. Surely you must understand that such
a promise one need not keep?"
"Oh, no, I must keep it," said the boy. "I thank you all the same for
your kind intention, but you can't help me."
"Oh, can't I?" said Gorgo. "We'll see about that!" In a twinkling he
grasped Nils Holgersson in his big talons, and rose with him toward the
skies, disappearing in a northerly direction.
ON OVER GAeSTRIKLAND
THE PRECIOUS GIRDLE
_Wednesday, June fifteenth_.
The eagle kept on flying until he was a long distance north of
Stockholm. Then he sank to a wooded hillock where he relaxed his hold on
The instant Thumbietot was out of Gorgo's clutches he started to run
back to the city as fast as he could.
The eagle made a long swoop, caught up to the boy, and stopped him with
"Do you propose to go back to prison?" he demanded.
"That's my affair. I can go where I like, for all of you!" retorted the
boy, trying to get away. Thereupon the eagle gripped him with his strong
talons, and rose in the air.
Now Gorgo circled over the entire province of Uppland and did not stop
again until he came to the great water-falls at Aelvkarleby where he
alighted on a rock in the middle of the rushing rapids below the roaring
falls. Again he relaxed his hold on the captive.
The boy saw that here there was no chance of escape from the eagle.
Above them the white scum wall of the water-fall came tumbling down, and
round about the river rushed along in a mighty torrent. Thumbietot was
very indignant to think that in this way he had been forced to become a
promise-breaker. He turned his back to the eagle and would not speak to
Now that the bird had set the boy down in a place from which he could
not run away, he told him confidentially that he had been brought up by
Akka from Kebnekaise, and that he had quarrelled with his foster-mother.
"Now, Thumbietot, perhaps you understand why I wish to take you back to
the wild geese," he said. "I have heard that you are in great favour
with Akka, and it was my purpose to ask you to make peace between us."
As soon as the boy comprehended that the eagle had not carried him off
in a spirit of contrariness, he felt kindly toward him.
"I should like very much to help you," he returned, "but I am bound by
my promise." Thereupon he explained to the eagle how he had fallen into
captivity and how Clement Larsson had left Skansen without setting him
Nevertheless the eagle would not relinquish his plan.
"Listen to me, Thumbietot," he said. "My wings can carry you wherever
you wish to go, and my eyes can search out whatever you wish to find.
Tell me how the man looks who exacted this promise from you, and I will
find him and take you to him. Then it is for you to do the rest."
Thumbietot approved of the proposition.
"I can see, Gorgo, that you have had a wise bird like Akka for a
foster-mother," the boy remarked.
He gave a graphic description of Clement Larsson, and added that he had
heard at Skansen that the little fiddler was from Haelsingland.
"We'll search for him through the whole of Haelsingland--from Ljungby to
Mellansjoe; from Great Mountain to Hornland," said the eagle. "To-morrow
before sundown you shall have a talk with the man!"
"I fear you are promising more than you can perform," doubted the boy.
"I should be a mighty poor eagle if I couldn't do that much," said
So when Gorgo and Thumbietot left Aelvkarleby they were good friends, and
the boy willingly took his mount for a ride on the eagle's back. Thus he
had an opportunity to see much of the country.
When clutched in the eagle's talons he had seen nothing. Perhaps it was
just as well, for in the forenoon he had travelled over Upsala,
Oesterby's big factories, the Dannemora Mine, and the ancient castle of
Oerbyhus, and he would have been sadly disappointed at not seeing them
had he known of their proximity.
The eagle bore him speedily over Gaestrikland. In the southern part of
the province there was very little to tempt the eye. But as they flew
northward, it began to be interesting.
"This country is clad in a spruce skirt and a gray-stone jacket,"
thought the boy. "But around its waist it wears a girdle which has not
its match in value, for it is embroidered with blue lakes and green
groves. The great ironworks adorn it like a row of precious stones, and
its buckle is a whole city with castles and cathedrals and great
clusters of houses."
When the travellers arrived in the northern forest region, Gorgo
alighted on top of a mountain. As the boy dismounted, the eagle said:
"There's game in this forest, and I can't forget my late captivity and
feel really free until I have gone a-hunting. You won't mind my leaving
you for a while?"
"No, of course, I won't," the boy assured him.
"You may go where you like if only you are back here by sundown," said
the eagle, as he flew off.
The boy sat on a stone gazing across the bare, rocky ground and the
great forests round about.
He felt rather lonely. But soon he heard singing in the forest below,
and saw something bright moving amongst the trees. Presently he saw a
blue and yellow banner, and he knew by the songs and the merry chatter
that it was being borne at the head of a procession. On it came, up the
winding path; he wondered where it and those who followed it were going.
He couldn't believe that anybody would come up to such an ugly, desolate
waste as the place where he sat. But the banner was nearing the forest
border, and behind it marched many happy people for whom it had led the
way. Suddenly there was life and movement all over the mountain plain;
after that there was so much for the boy to see that he didn't have a
On the mountain's broad back, where Gorgo left Thumbietot, there had
been a forest fire ten years before. Since that time the charred trees
had been felled and removed, and the great fire-swept area had begun to
deck itself with green along the edges, where it skirted the healthy
forest. However, the larger part of the top was still barren and
appallingly desolate. Charred stumps, standing sentinel-like between the
rock ledges, bore witness that once there had been a fine forest here;
but no fresh roots sprang from the ground.
One day in the early summer all the children in the parish had assembled
in front of the schoolhouse near the fire-swept mountain. Each child
carried either a spade or a hoe on its shoulder, and a basket of food in
its hand. As soon as all were assembled, they marched in a long
procession toward the forest. The banner came first, with the teachers
on either side of it; then followed a couple of foresters and a wagon
load of pine shrubs and spruce seeds; then the children.
The procession did not pause in any of the birch groves near the
settlements, but marched on deep into the forest. As it moved along, the
foxes stuck their heads out of the lairs in astonishment, and wondered
what kind of backwoods people these were. As they marched past old coal
pits where charcoal kilns were fired every autumn, the cross-beaks
twisted their hooked bills, and asked one another what kind of coalers
these might be who were now thronging the forest.
Finally, the procession reached the big, burnt mountain plain. The rocks
had been stripped of the fine twin-flower creepers that once covered
them; they had been robbed of the pretty silver moss and the attractive
reindeer moss. Around the dark water gathered in clefts and hollows
there was now no wood-sorrel. The little patches of soil in crevices and
between stones were without ferns, without star-flowers, without all the
green and red and light and soft and soothing things which usually
clothe the forest ground.
It was as if a bright light flashed upon the mountain when all the
parish children covered it. Here again was something sweet and delicate;
something fresh and rosy; something young and growing. Perhaps these
children would bring to the poor abandoned forest a little new life.
When the children had rested and eaten their luncheon, they seized hoes
and spades and began to work. The foresters showed them what to do. They
set out shrub after shrub on every clear spot of earth they could find.
As they worked, they talked quite knowingly among themselves of how the
little shrubs they were planting would bind the soil so that it could
not get away, and of how new soil would form under the trees. By and by
seeds would drop, and in a few years they would be picking both
strawberries and raspberries where now there were only bare rocks. The
little shrubs which they were planting would gradually become tall
trees. Perhaps big houses and great splendid ships would be built from
If the children had not come here and planted while there was still a
little soil in the clefts, all the earth would have been carried away by
wind and water, and the mountain could never more have been clothed in
"It was well that we came," said the children. "We were just in the nick
of time!" They felt very important.
While they were working on the mountain, their parents were at home. By
and by they began to wonder how the children were getting along. Of
course it was only a joke about their planting a forest, but it might be
amusing to see what they were trying to do.
So presently both fathers and mothers were on their way to the forest.
When they came to the outlying stock farms they met some of their
"Are you going to the fire-swept mountain?" they asked.
"That's where we're bound for."
"To have a look at the children?"
"Yes, to see what they're up to."
"It's only play, of course."
"It isn't likely that there will be many forest trees planted by the
youngsters. We have brought the coffee pot along so that we can have
something warm to drink, since we must stay there all day with only
So the parents of the children went on up the mountain. At first they
thought only of how pretty it looked to see all the rosy-cheeked little
children scattered over the gray hills. Later, they observed how the
children were working--how some were setting out shrubs, while others
were digging furrows and sowing seeds. Others again were pulling up
heather to prevent its choking the young trees. They saw that the
children took the work seriously and were so intent upon what they were
doing that they scarcely had time to glance up.
The fathers and mothers stood for a moment and looked on; then they too
began to pull up heather--just for the fun of it. The children were the
instructors, for they were already trained, and had to show their elders
what to do.
Thus it happened that all the grown-ups who had come to watch the
children took part in the work. Then, of course, it became greater fun
than before. By and by the children had even more help. Other implements
were needed, so a couple of long-legged boys were sent down to the
village for spades and hoes. As they ran past the cabins, the
stay-at-homes came out and asked: "What's wrong? Has there been an
"No, indeed! But the whole parish is up on the fire-swept mountain
planting a forest."
"If the whole parish is there, we can't stay at home!"
So party after party of peasants went crowding to the top of the burnt
mountain. They stood a moment and looked on. The temptation to join the
workers was irresistible.
"It's a pleasure to sow one's own acres in the spring, and to think of
the grain that will spring up from the earth, but this work is even more
alluring," they thought.
Not only slender blades would come from that sowing, but mighty trees
with tall trunks and sturdy branches. It meant giving birth not merely
to a summer's grain, but to many years' growths. It meant the awakening
hum of insects, the song of the thrush, the play of grouse and all kinds
of life on the desolate mountain. Moreover, it was like raising a
memorial for coming generations. They could have left a bare, treeless
height as a heritage. Instead they were to leave a glorious forest.
Coming generations would know their forefathers had been a good and wise
folk and they would remember them with reverence and gratitude.
A DAY IN HAeLSINGLAND
A LARGE GREEN LEAF
_Thursday, June sixteenth_.
The following day the boy travelled over Haelsingland. It spread beneath
him with new, pale-green shoots on the pine trees, new birch leaves in
the groves, new green grass in the meadows, and sprouting grain in the
fields. It was a mountainous country, but directly through it ran a
broad, light valley from either side of which branched other
valleys--some short and narrow, some broad and long.
"This land resembles a leaf," thought the boy, "for it's as green as a
leaf, and the valleys subdivide it in about the same way as the veins of
a leaf are foliated."
The branch valleys, like the main one, were filled with lakes, rivers,
farms, and villages. They snuggled, light and smiling, between the dark
mountains until they were gradually squeezed together by the hills.
There they were so narrow that they could not hold more than a little
On the high land between the valleys there were pine forests which had
no even ground to grow upon. There were mountains standing all about,
and the forest covered the whole, like a woolly hide stretched over a
It was a picturesque country to look down upon, and the boy saw a good
deal of it, because the eagle was trying to find the old fiddler,
Clement Larsson, and flew from ravine to ravine looking for him.
A little later in the morning there was life and movement on every farm.
The doors of the cattle sheds were thrown wide open and the cows were
let out. They were prettily coloured, small, supple and sprightly, and
so sure-footed that they made the most comic leaps and bounds. After
them came the calves and sheep, and it was plainly to be seen that they,
too, were in the best of spirits.
It grew livelier every moment in the farm yards. A couple of young girls
with knapsacks on their backs walked among the cattle; a boy with a long
switch kept the sheep together, and a little dog ran in and out among
the cows, barking at the ones that tried to gore him. The farmer hitched
a horse to a cart loaded with tubs of butter, boxes of cheese, and all
kinds of eatables. The people laughed and chattered. They and the beasts
were alike merry--as if looking forward to a day of real pleasure.
A moment later all were on their way to the forest. One of the girls
walked in the lead and coaxed the cattle with pretty, musical calls. The
animals followed in a long line. The shepherd boy and the sheep-dog ran
hither and thither, to see that no creature turned from the right
course; and last came the farmer and his hired man. They walked beside
the cart to prevent its being upset, for the road they followed was a
narrow, stony forest path.
It may have been the custom for all the peasants in Haelsingland to send
their cattle into the forests on the same day--or perhaps it only
happened so that year; at any rate the boy saw how processions of happy
people and cattle wandered out from every valley and every farm and
rushed into the lonely forest, filling it with life. From the depths of
the dense woods the boy heard the shepherd maidens' songs and the tinkle
of the cow bells. Many of the processions had long and difficult roads
to travel; and the boy saw how they tramped through marshes, how they
had to take roundabout ways to get past windfalls, and how, time and
again, the carts bumped against stones and turned over with all their
contents. But the people met all the obstacles with jokes and laughter.
In the afternoon they came to a cleared space where cattle sheds and a
couple of rude cabins had been built. The cows mooed with delight as
they tramped on the luscious green grass in the yards between the
cabins, and at once began grazing. The peasants, with merry chatter and
banter, carried water and wood and all that had been brought in the
carts into the larger cabin. Presently smoke rose from the chimney and
then the dairymaids, the shepherd boy, and the men squatted upon a flat
rock and ate their supper.
Gorgo, the eagle, was certain that he should find Clement Larsson among
those who were off for the forest. Whenever he saw a stock farm
procession, he sank down and scrutinized it with his sharp eyes; but
hour after hour passed without his finding the one he sought.
After much circling around, toward evening they came to a stony and
desolate tract east of the great main valley. There the boy saw another
outlying stock farm under him. The people and the cattle had arrived.
The men were splitting wood, and the dairymaids were milking the cows.
"Look there!" said Gorgo. "I think we've got him."
He sank, and, to his great astonishment, the boy saw that the eagle was
right. There indeed stood little Clement Larsson chopping wood.
Gorgo alighted on a pine tree in the thick woods a little away from the
"I have fulfilled my obligation," said the eagle, with a proud toss of
his head. "Now you must try and have a word with the man. I'll perch
here at the top of the thick pine and wait for you."
THE ANIMALS' NEW YEAR'S EVE
The day's work was done at the forest ranches, supper was over, and the
peasants sat about and chatted. It was a long time since they had been
in the forest of a summer's night, and they seemed reluctant to go to
bed and sleep. It was as light as day, and the dairymaids were busy with
their needle-work. Ever and anon they raised their heads, looked toward
the forest and smiled. "Now we are here again!" they said. The town,
with its unrest, faded from their minds, and the forest, with its
peaceful stillness, enfolded them. When at home they had wondered how
they should ever be able to endure the loneliness of the woods; but
once there, they felt that they were having their best time.
Many of the young girls and young men from neighbouring ranches had come
to call upon them, so that there were quite a lot of folk seated on the
grass before the cabins, but they did not find it easy to start
conversation. The men were going home the next day, so the dairymaids
gave them little commissions and bade them take greetings to their
friends in the village. This was nearly all that had been said.
Suddenly the eldest of the dairy girls looked up from her work and said
"There's no need of our sitting here so silent to-night, for we have two
story-tellers with us. One is Clement Larsson, who sits beside me, and
the other is Bernhard from Sunnasjoe, who stands back there gazing toward
Black's Ridge. I think that we should ask each of them to tell us a
story. To the one who entertains us the better I shall give the muffler
I am knitting."
This proposal won hearty applause. The two competitors offered lame
excuses, naturally, but were quickly persuaded. Clement asked Bernhard
to begin, and he did not object. He knew little of Clement Larsson, but
assumed that he would come out with some story about ghosts and trolls.
As he knew that people liked to listen to such things, he thought it
best to choose something of the same sort.
"Some centuries ago," he began, "a dean here in Delsbo township was
riding through the dense forest on a New Year's Eve. He was on
horseback, dressed in fur coat and cap. On the pommel of his saddle hung
a satchel in which he kept the communion service, the Prayer-book, and
the clerical robe. He had been summoned on a parochial errand to a
remote forest settlement, where he had talked with a sick person until
late in the evening. Now he was on his way home, but feared that he
should not get back to the rectory until after midnight.
"As he had to sit in the saddle when he should have been at home in his
bed, he was glad it was not a rough night. The weather was mild, the air
still and the skies overcast. Behind the clouds hung a full round moon
which gave some light, although it was out of sight. But for that faint
light it would have been impossible for him to distinguish paths from
fields, for that was a snowless winter, and all things had the same
"The horse the dean rode was one he prized very highly. He was strong
and sturdy, and quite as wise as a human being. He could find his way
home from any place in the township. The dean had observed this on
several occasions, and he relied upon it with such a sense of security
that he never troubled himself to think where he was going when he rode
that horse. So he came along now in the gray night, through the
bewildering forest, with the reins dangling and his thoughts far away.
"He was thinking of the sermon he had to preach on the morrow, and of
much else besides, and it was a long time before it occurred to him to
notice how far along he was on his homeward way. When he did glance up,
he saw that the forest was as dense about him as at the beginning, and
he was somewhat surprised, for he had ridden so long that he should have
come to the inhabited portion of the township.
"Delsbo was about the same then as now. The church and parsonage and all
the large farms and villages were at the northern end of the township,
while at the southern part there were only forests and mountains. The
dean saw that he was still in the unpopulated district and knew that he
was in the southern part and must ride to the north to get home. There
were no stars, nor was there a moon to guide him; but he was a man who
had the four cardinal points in his head. He had the positive feeling
that he was travelling southward, or possibly eastward.
"He intended to turn the horse at once, but hesitated. The animal had
never strayed, and it did not seem likely that he would do so now. It
was more likely that the dean was mistaken. He had been far away in
thought and had not looked at the road. So he let the horse continue in
the same direction, and again lost himself in his reverie.
"Suddenly a big branch struck him and almost swept him off the horse.
Then he realized that he must find out where he was.
"He glanced down and saw that he was riding over a soft marsh, where
there was no beaten path. The horse trotted along at a brisk pace and
showed no uncertainty. Again the dean was positive that he was going in
the wrong direction, and now he did not hesitate to interfere. He seized
the reins and turned the horse about, guiding him back to the roadway.
No sooner was he there than he turned again and made straight for the
"The dean was certain that he was going wrong, but because the beast was
so persistent he thought that probably he was trying to find a better
road, and let him go along.
"The horse did very well, although he had no path to follow. If a
precipice obstructed his way, he climbed it as nimbly as a goat, and
later, when they had to descend, he bunched his hoofs and slid down the
"'May he only find his way home before church hour!' thought the dean.
'I wonder how the Delsbo folk would take it if I were not at my church
"He did not have to brood over this long, for soon he came to a place
that was familiar to him. It was a little creek where he had fished the
summer before. Now he saw it was as he had feared--he was in the depths
of the forest, and the horse was plodding along in a south-easterly
direction. He seemed determined to carry the dean as far from church and
rectory as he could.
"The clergyman dismounted. He could not let the horse carry him into the
wilderness. He must go home. And, since the animal persisted in going in
the wrong direction, he decided to walk and lead him until they came to
more familiar roads. The dean wound the reins around his arm and began
to walk. It was not an easy matter to tramp through the forest in a
heavy fur coat; but the dean was strong and hardy and had little fear of
"The horse, meanwhile, caused him fresh anxiety. He would not follow but
planted his hoofs firmly on the ground.
"At last the dean was angry. He had never beaten that horse, nor did he
wish to do so now. Instead, he threw down the reins and walked away.
"'We may as well part company here, since you want to go your own way,'
"He had not taken more than two steps before the horse came after him,
took a cautious grip on his coat sleeve and stopped him. The dean turned
and looked the horse straight in the eyes, as if to search out why he
behaved so strangely.
"Afterward the dean could not quite understand how this was possible,
but it is certain that, dark as it was, he plainly saw the horse's face
and read it like that of a human being. He realized that the animal was
in a terrible state of apprehension and fear. He gave his master a look
that was both imploring and reproachful.
"'I have served you day after day and done your bidding,' he seemed to
say. 'Will you not follow me this one night?'
"The dean was touched by the appeal in the animal's eyes. It was clear
that the horse needed his help to-night, in one way or another. Being a
man through and through, the dean promptly determined to follow him.
Without further delay he sprang into the saddle. 'Go on!' he said. 'I
will not desert you since you want me. No one shall say of the dean in
Delsbo that he refused to accompany any creature who was in trouble.'
"He let the horse go as he wished and thought only of keeping his seat.
It proved to be a hazardous and troublesome journey--uphill most of the
way. The forest was so thick that he could not see two feet ahead, but
it appeared to him that they were ascending a high mountain. The horse
climbed perilous steeps. Had the dean been guiding, he should not have
thought of riding over such ground.
"'Surely you don't intend to go up to Black's Ridge, do you?' laughed
the dean, who knew that was one of the highest peaks in Haelsingland.
"During the ride he discovered that he and the horse were not the only
ones who were out that night. He heard stones roll down and branches
crackle, as if animals were breaking their way through the forest. He
remembered that wolves were plentiful in that section and wondered if
the horse wished to lead him to an encounter with wild beasts.
"They mounted up and up, and the higher they went the more scattered
were the trees. At last they rode on almost bare highland, where the
dean could look in every direction. He gazed out over immeasurable
tracts of land, which went up and down in mountains and valleys covered
with sombre forests. It was so dark that he had difficulty in seeing any
orderly arrangement; but presently he could make out where he was.
"'Why of course it's Black's Ridge that I've come to!' he remarked to
himself. 'It can't be any other mountain, for there, in the west, I see
Jarv Island, and to the east the sea glitters around Ag Island. Toward
the north also I see something shiny. It must be Dellen. In the depths
below me I see white smoke from Nian Falls. Yes, I'm up on Black's
Ridge. What an adventure!'
"When they were at the summit the horse stopped behind a thick pine, as
if to hide. The dean bent forward and pushed aside the branches, that he
might have an unobstructed view.
"The mountain's bald plate confronted him. It was not empty and
desolate, as he had anticipated. In the middle of the open space was an
immense boulder around which many wild beasts had gathered. Apparently
they were holding a conclave of some sort.
"Near to the big rock he saw bears, so firmly and heavily built that
they seemed like fur-clad blocks of stone. They were lying down and
their little eyes blinked impatiently; it was obvious that they had come
from their winter sleep to attend court, and that they could hardly keep
awake. Behind them, in tight rows, were hundreds of wolves. They were
not sleepy, for wolves are more alert in winter than in summer. They sat
upon their haunches, like dogs, whipping the ground with their tails and
panting--their tongues lolling far out of their jaws. Behind the wolves
the lynx skulked, stiff-legged and clumsy, like misshapen cats. They
were loath to be among the other beasts, and hissed and spat when one
came near them. The row back of the lynx was occupied by the wolverines,
with dog faces and bear coats. They were not happy on the ground, and
they stamped their pads impatiently, longing to get into the trees.
Behind them, covering the entire space to the forest border, leaped the
foxes, the weasels, and the martens. These were small and perfectly
formed, but they looked even more savage and bloodthirsty than the
"All this the dean plainly saw, for the whole place was illuminated.
Upon the huge rock at the centre was the Wood-nymph, who held in her
hand a pine torch which burned in a big red flame. The Nymph was as tall
as the tallest tree in the forest. She wore a spruce-brush mantle and
had spruce-cone hair. She stood very still, her face turned toward the
forest. She was watching and listening.
"The dean saw everything as plain as plain could be, but his
astonishment was so great that he tried to combat it, and would not
believe the evidence of his own eyes.
"'Such things cannot possibly happen!' he thought. 'I have ridden much
too long in the bleak forest. This is only an optical illusion.'
"Nevertheless he gave the closest attention to the spectacle, and
wondered what was about to be done.
"He hadn't long to wait before he caught the sound of a familiar bell,
coming from the depths of the forest, and the next moment he heard
footfalls and crackling of branches--as when many animals break through
"A big herd of cattle was climbing the mountain. They came through the
forest in the order in which they had marched to the mountain ranches.
First came the bell cow followed by the bull, then the other cows and
the calves. The sheep, closely herded, followed. After them came the
goats, and last were the horses and colts. The sheep-dog trotted along
beside the sheep; but neither shepherd nor shepherdess attended them.
"The dean thought it heart-rending to see the tame animals coming
straight toward the wild beasts. He would gladly have blocked their way
and called 'Halt!' but he understood that it was not within human power
to stop the march of the cattle on this night; therefore he made no
"The domestic animals were in a state of torment over that which they
had to face. If it happened to be the bell cow's turn, she advanced with
drooping head and faltering step. The goats had no desire either to play
or to butt. The horses tried to bear up bravely, but their bodies were
all of a quiver with fright. The most pathetic of all was the sheep-dog.
He kept his tail between his legs and crawled on the ground.
"The bell cow led the procession all the way up to the Wood-nymph, who
stood on the boulder at the top of the mountain. The cow walked around
the rock and then turned toward the forest without any of the wild
beasts touching her. In the same way all the cattle walked unmolested
past the wild beasts.
"As the creatures filed past, the dean saw the Wood-nymph lower her pine
torch over one and another of them.
"Every time this occurred the beasts of prey broke into loud, exultant
roars--particularly when it was lowered over a cow or some other large
creature. The animal that saw the torch turning toward it uttered a
piercing shriek, as if it had received a knife thrust in its flesh,
while the entire herd to which it belonged bellowed their lamentations.
"Then the dean began to comprehend the meaning of what he saw. Surely he
had heard that the animals in Delsbo assembled on Black's Ridge every
New Year's Eve, that the Wood-nymph might mark out which among the tame
beasts would that year be prey for the wild beasts. The dean pitied the
poor creatures that were at the mercy of savage beasts, when in reality
they should have no master but man.
"The leading herd had only just left when another bell tinkled, and the
cattle from another farm tramped to the mountain top. These came in the
same order as the first and marched past the Wood-nymph, who stood
there, stern and solemn, indicating animal after animal for death.
"Herd upon herd followed, without a break in the line of procession.
Some were so small that they included only one cow and a few sheep;
others consisted of only a pair of goats. It was apparent that these
were from very humble homes, but they too were compelled to pass in
"The dean thought of the Delsbo farmers, who had so much love for their
beasts. 'Did they but know of it, surely they would not allow a
repetition of this!' he thought. 'They would risk their own lives rather
than let their cattle wander amongst bears and wolves, to be doomed by
"The last herd to appear was the one from the rectory farm. The dean
heard the sound of the familiar bell a long way off. The horse, too,
must have heard it, for he began to shake in every limb, and was bathed
"'So it is your turn now to pass before the Wood-nymph to receive your
sentence,' the dean said to the horse. 'Don't be afraid! Now I know why
you brought me here, and I shall not leave you.'
"The fine cattle from the parsonage farm emerged from the forest and
marched to the Wood-nymph and the wild beasts. Last in the line was the
horse that had brought his master to Black's Ridge. The dean did not
leave the saddle, but let the animal take him to the Wood-nymph.
"He had neither knife nor gun for his defence, but he had taken out the
Prayer-book and sat pressing it to his heart as he exposed himself to
battle against evil.
"At first it appeared as if none had observed him. The dean's cattle
filed past the Wood-nymph in the same order as the others had done. She
did not wave the torch toward any of these, but as soon as the
intelligent horse stepped forward, she made a movement to mark him for
"Instantly the dean held up the Prayer-book, and the torchlight fell
upon the cross on its cover. The Wood-nymph uttered a loud, shrill cry
and let the torch drop from her hand.
"Immediately the flame was extinguished. In the sudden transition from
light to darkness the dean saw nothing, nor did he hear anything. About
him reigned the profound stillness of a wilderness in winter.
"Then the dark clouds parted, and through the opening stepped the full
round moon to shed its light upon the ground. The dean saw that he and
the horse were alone on the summit of Black's Ridge. Not one of the many
wild beasts was there. The ground had not been trampled by the herds
that had passed over it; but the dean himself sat with his Prayer-book
before him, while the horse under him stood trembling and foaming.
"By the time the dean reached home he no longer knew whether or not it
had been a dream, a vision, or reality--this that he had seen; but he
took it as a warning to him to remember the poor creatures who were at
the mercy of wild beasts. He preached so powerfully to the Delsbo
peasants that in his day all the wolves and bears were exterminated from
that section of the country, although they may have returned since his
Here Bernhard ended his story. He received praise from all sides and it
seemed to be a foregone conclusion that he would get the prize. The
majority thought it almost a pity that Clement had to compete with him.
But Clement, undaunted, began:
"One day, while I was living at Skansen, just outside of Stockholm, and
longing for home--" Then he told about the tiny midget he had ransomed
so that he would not have to be confined in a cage, to be stared at by
all the people. He told, also, that no sooner had he performed this act
of mercy than he was rewarded for it. He talked and talked, and the
astonishment of his hearers grew greater and greater; but when he came
to the royal lackey and the beautiful book, all the dairymaids dropped
their needle-work and sat staring at Clement in open-eyed wonder at his
As soon as Clement had finished, the eldest of the dairymaids announced
that he should have the muffler.
"Bernhard related only things that happened to another, but Clement has
himself been the hero of a true story, which I consider far more
In this all concurred. They regarded Clement with very different eyes
after hearing that he had talked with the King, and the little fiddler
was afraid to show how proud he felt. But at the very height of his
elation some one asked him what had become of the midget.
"I had no time to set out the blue bowl for him myself," said Clement,
"so I asked the old Laplander to do it. What has become of him since
then I don't know."
No sooner had he spoken than a little pine cone came along and struck
him on the nose. It did not drop from a tree, and none of the peasants
had thrown it. It was simply impossible to tell whence it had come.
"Aha, Clement!" winked the dairymaid, "it appears as if the tiny folk
were listening to us. You should not have left it to another to set out
that blue bowl!"
_Friday, June seventeenth_.
The boy and the eagle were out bright and early the next morning. Gorgo
hoped that he would get far up into West Bothnia that day. As luck would
have it, he heard the boy remark to himself that in a country like the
one through which they were now travelling it must be impossible for
people to live.
The land which spread below them was Southern Medelpad. When the eagle
heard the boy's remark, he replied:
"Up here they have forests for fields."
The boy thought of the contrast between the light, golden-rye fields
with their delicate blades that spring up in one summer, and the dark
spruce forest with its solid trees which took many years to ripen for
"One who has to get his livelihood from such a field must have a deal of
patience!" he observed.
Nothing more was said until they came to a place where the forest had
been cleared, and the ground was covered with stumps and lopped-off
branches. As they flew over this ground, the eagle heard the boy mutter
to himself that it was a mighty ugly and poverty-stricken place.
"This field was cleared last winter," said the eagle.
The boy thought of the harvesters at home, who rode on their reaping
machines on fine summer mornings, and in a short time mowed a large
field. But the forest field was harvested in winter. The lumbermen went
out in the wilderness when the snow was deep, and the cold most severe.
It was tedious work to fell even one tree, and to hew down a forest such
as this they must have been out in the open many weeks.
"They have to be hardy men to mow a field of this kind," he said.
When the eagle had taken two more wing strokes, they sighted a log cabin
at the edge of the clearing. It had no windows and only two loose boards
for a door. The roof had been covered with bark and twigs, but now it
was gaping, and the boy could see that inside the cabin there were only
a few big stones to serve as a fireplace, and two board benches. When
they were above the cabin the eagle suspected that the boy was wondering
who could have lived in such a wretched hut as that.
"The reapers who mowed the forest field lived there," the eagle said.
The boy remembered how the reapers in his home had returned from their
day's work, cheerful and happy, and how the best his mother had in the
larder was always spread for them; while here, after the arduous work of
the day, they must rest on hard benches in a cabin that was worse than
an outhouse. And what they had to eat he could not imagine.
"I wonder if there are any harvest festivals for these labourers?" he
A little farther on they saw below them a wretchedly bad road winding
through the forest. It was narrow and zigzag, hilly and stony, and cut
up by brooks in many places. As they flew over it the eagle knew that
the boy was wondering what was carted over a road like that.
"Over this road the harvest was conveyed to the stack," the eagle said.
The boy recalled what fun they had at home when the harvest wagons
drawn by two sturdy horses, carried the grain from the field. The man
who drove sat proudly on top of the load; the horses danced and pricked
up their ears, while the village children, who were allowed to climb
upon the sheaves, sat there laughing and shrieking, half-pleased,
half-frightened. But here the great logs were drawn up and down steep
hills; here the poor horses must be worked to their limit, and the
driver must often be in peril. "I'm afraid there has been very little
cheer along this road," the boy observed.
The eagle flew on with powerful wing strokes, and soon they came to a
river bank covered with logs, chips, and bark. The eagle perceived that
the boy wondered why it looked so littered up down there.
"Here the harvest has been stacked," the eagle told him.
The boy thought of how the grain stacks in his part of the country were
piled up close to the farms, as if they were their greatest ornaments,
while here the harvest was borne to a desolate river strand, and left
"I wonder if any one out in this wilderness counts his stacks, and
compares them with his neighbour's?" he said.
A little later they came to Ljungen, a river which glides through a
broad valley. Immediately everything was so changed that they might well
think they had come to another country. The dark spruce forest had
stopped on the inclines above the valley, and the slopes were clad in
light-stemmed birches and aspens. The valley was so broad that in many
places the river widened into lakes. Along the shores lay a large
As they soared above the valley the eagle realized that the boy was
wondering if the fields and meadows here could provide a livelihood for
so many people.
"Here live the reapers who mow the forest fields," the eagle said.
The boy was thinking of the lowly cabins and the hedged-in farms down in
Skane when he exclaimed:
"Why, here the peasants live in real manors. It looks as if it might be
worth one's while to work in the forest!"
The eagle had intended to travel straight north, but when he had flown
out over the river he understood that the boy wondered who handled the
timber after it was stacked on the river bank.
The boy recollected how careful they had been at home never to let a
grain be wasted, while here were great rafts of logs floating down the
river, uncared for. He could not believe that more than half of the logs
ever reached their destination. Many were floating in midstream, and for
them all went smoothly; others moved close to the shore, bumping against
points of land, and some were left behind in the still waters of the
creeks. On the lakes there were so many logs that they covered the
entire surface of the water. These appeared to be lodged for an
indefinite period. At the bridges they stuck; in the falls they were
bunched, then they were pyramided and broken in two; afterward, in the
rapids, they were blocked by the stones and massed into great heaps.
"I wonder how long it takes for the logs to get to the mill?" said the
The eagle continued his slow flight down River Ljungen. Over many places
he paused in the air on outspread wings, that the boy might see how this
kind of harvest work was done.
Presently they came to a place where the loggers were at work. The eagle
marked that the boy wondered what they were doing.
"They are the ones who take care of all the belated harvest," the eagle
The boy remembered the perfect ease with which his people at home had
driven their grain to the mill. Here the men ran alongside the shores
with long boat-hooks, and with toil and effort urged the logs along.
They waded out in the river and were soaked from top to toe. They jumped
from stone to stone far out into the rapids, and they tramped on the
rolling log heaps as calmly as though they were on flat ground. They
were daring and resolute men.
"As I watch this, I'm reminded of the iron-moulders in the mining
districts, who juggle with fire as if it were perfectly harmless,"
remarked the boy. "These loggers play with water as if they were its
masters. They seem to have subjugated it so that it dare not harm them."
Gradually they neared the mouth of the river, and Bothnia Bay was beyond
them. Gorgo flew no farther straight ahead, but went northward along the
coast. Before they had travelled very far they saw a lumber camp as
large as a small city. While the eagle circled back and forth above it,
he heard the boy remark that this place looked interesting.
"Here you have the great lumber camp called Svartvik," the eagle said.
The boy thought of the mill at home, which stood peacefully embedded in
foliage, and moved its wings very slowly. This mill, where they grind
the forest harvest, stood on the water.
The mill pond was crowded with logs. One by one the helpers seized them
with their cant-hooks, crowded them into the chutes and hurried them
along to the whirling saws. What happened to the logs inside, the boy
could not see, but he heard loud buzzing and roaring, and from the other
end of the house small cars ran out, loaded with white planks. The cars
ran on shining tracks down to the lumber yard, where the planks were
piled in rows, forming streets--like blocks of houses in a city. In one
place they were building new piles; in another they were pulling down
old ones. These were carried aboard two large vessels which lay waiting
for cargo. The place was alive with workmen, and in the woods, back of
the yard, they had their homes.
"They'll soon manage to saw up all the forests in Medelpad the way they
work here," said the boy.
The eagle moved his wings just a little, and carried the boy above
another large camp, very much like the first, with the mill, yard,
wharf, and the homes of the workmen.
"This is called Kukikenborg," the eagle said.
He flapped his wings slowly, flew past two big lumber camps, and
approached a large city. When the eagle heard the boy ask the name of
it, he cried; "This is Sundsvall, the manor of the lumber districts."
The boy remembered the cities of Skane, which looked so old and gray and
solemn; while here in the bleak North the city of Sundsvall faced a
beautiful bay, and looked young and happy and beaming. There was
something odd about the city when one saw it from above, for in the
middle stood a cluster of tall stone structures which looked so imposing
that their match was hardly to be found in Stockholm. Around the stone
buildings there was a large open space, then came a wreath of frame
houses which looked pretty and cosy in their little gardens; but they
seemed to be conscious of the fact that they were very much poorer than
the stone houses, and dared not venture into their neighbourhood.
"This must be both a wealthy and powerful city," remarked the boy. "Can
it be possible that the poor forest soil is the source of all this?"
The eagle flapped his wings again, and went over to Aln Island, which
lies opposite Sundsvall. The boy was greatly surprised to see all the
sawmills that decked the shores. On Aln Island they stood, one next
another, and on the mainland opposite were mill upon mill, lumber yard
upon lumber yard. He counted forty, at least, but believed there were
"How wonderful it all looks from up here!" he marvelled. "So much life
and activity I have not seen in any place save this on the whole trip.
It is a great country that we have! Wherever I go, there is always
something new for people to live upon."
A MORNING IN ANGERMANLAND
_Saturday, June eighteenth_.
Next morning, when the eagle had flown some distance into Angermanland,
he remarked that to-day he was the one who was hungry, and must find
something to eat! He set the boy down in an enormous pine on a high
mountain ridge, and away he flew.
The boy found a comfortable seat in a cleft branch from which he could
look down over Angermanland. It was a glorious morning! The sunshine
gilded the treetops; a soft breeze played in the pine needles; the
sweetest fragrance was wafted through the forest; a beautiful landscape
spread before him; and the boy himself was happy and care-free. He felt
that no one could be better off.
He had a perfect outlook in every direction. The country west of him was
all peaks and table-land, and the farther away they were, the higher and
wilder they looked. To the east there were also many peaks, but these
sank lower and lower toward the sea, where the land became perfectly
flat. Everywhere he saw shining rivers and brooks which were having a
troublesome journey with rapids and falls so long as they ran between
mountains, but spread out clear and broad as they neared the shore of
the coast. Bothnia Bay was dotted with islands and notched with points,
but farther out was open, blue water, like a summer sky.
When the boy had had enough of the landscape he unloosed his knapsack,
took out a morsel of fine white bread, and began to eat.
"I don't think I've ever tasted such good bread," said he. "And how much
I have left! There's enough to last me for a couple of days." As he
munched he thought of how he had come by the bread.
"It must be because I got it in such a nice way that it tastes so good
to me," he said.
The golden eagle had left Medelpad the evening before. He had hardly
crossed the border into Angermanland when the boy caught a glimpse of a
fertile valley and a river, which surpassed anything of the kind he had
As the boy glanced down at the rich valley, he complained of feeling
hungry. He had had no food for two whole days, he said, and now he was
famished. Gorgo did not wish to have it said that the boy had fared
worse in his company than when he travelled with the wild geese, so he
slackened his speed.
"Why haven't you spoken of this before?" he asked. "You shall have all
the food you want. There's no need of your starving when you have an
eagle for a travelling companion."
Just then the eagle sighted a farmer who was sowing a field near the
river strand. The man carried the seeds in a basket suspended from his
neck, and each time that it was emptied he refilled it from a seed sack
which stood at the end of the furrow. The eagle reasoned it out that the
sack must be filled with the best food that the boy could wish for, so
he darted toward it. But before the bird could get there a terrible
clamour arose about him. Sparrows, crows, and swallows came rushing up
with wild shrieks, thinking that the eagle meant to swoop down upon some
"Away, away, robber! Away, away, bird-killer!" they cried. They made
such a racket that it attracted the farmer, who came running, so that
Gorgo had to flee, and the boy got no seed.
The small birds behaved in the most extraordinary manner. Not only did
they force the eagle to flee, they pursued him a long distance down the
valley, and everywhere the people heard their cries. Women came out and
clapped their hands so that it sounded like a volley of musketry, and
the men rushed out with rifles.
The same thing was repeated every time the eagle swept toward the
ground. The boy abandoned the hope that the eagle could procure any food
for him. It had never occurred to him before that Gorgo was so much
hated. He almost pitied him.
In a little while they came to a homestead where the housewife had just
been baking. She had set a platter of sugared buns in the back yard to
cool and was standing beside it, watching, so that the cat and dog
should not steal the buns.
The eagle circled down to the yard, but dared not alight right under the
eyes of the peasant woman. He flew up and down, irresolute; twice he
came down as far as the chimney, then rose again.
The peasant woman noticed the eagle. She raised her head and followed
him with her glance.
"How peculiarly he acts!" she remarked. "I believe he wants one of my
She was a beautiful woman, tall and fair, with a cheery, open
countenance. Laughing heartily, she took a bun from the platter, and
held it above her head.
"If you want it, come and take it!" she challenged.
While the eagle did not understand her language, he knew at once that
she was offering him the bun. With lightning speed, he swooped to the
bread, snatched it, and flew toward the heights.
When the boy saw the eagle snatch the bread he wept for joy--not because
he would escape suffering hunger for a few days, but because he was
touched by the peasant woman's sharing her bread with a savage bird of
Where he now sat on the pine branch he could recall at will the tall,
fair woman as she stood in the yard and held up the bread.
She must have known that the large bird was a golden eagle--a plunderer,
who was usually welcomed with loud shots; doubtless she had also seen
the queer changeling he bore on his back. But she had not thought of
what they were. As soon as she understood that they were hungry, she
shared her good bread with them.
"If I ever become human again," thought the boy, "I shall look up the
pretty woman who lives near the great river, and thank her for her
kindness to us."
THE FOREST FIRE
While the boy was still at his breakfast he smelled a faint odour of
smoke coming from the north. He turned and saw a tiny spiral, white as a
mist, rise from a forest ridge--not from the one nearest him, but from
the one beyond it. It looked strange to see smoke in the wild forest,
but it might be that a mountain stock farm lay over yonder, and the
women were boiling their morning coffee.
It was remarkable the way that smoke increased and spread! It could not
come from a ranch, but perhaps there were charcoal kilns in the forest.
The smoke increased every moment. Now it curled over the whole mountain
top. It was not possible that so much smoke could come from a charcoal
kiln. There must be a conflagration of some sort, for many birds flew
over to the nearest ridge. Hawks, grouse, and other birds, who were so
small that it was impossible to recognize them at such a distance, fled
from the fire.
The tiny white spiral of smoke grew to a thick white cloud which rolled
over the edge of the ridge and sank toward the valley. Sparks and flakes
of soot shot up from the clouds, and here and there one could see a red
flame in the smoke. A big fire was raging over there, but what was
burning? Surely there was no large farm hidden in the forest.
The source of such a fire must be more than a farm. Now the smoke came
not only from the ridge, but from the valley below it, which the boy
could not see, because the next ridge obstructed his view. Great clouds
of smoke ascended; the forest itself was burning!
It was difficult for him to grasp the idea that the fresh, green pines
could burn. If it really were the forest that was burning, perhaps the
fire might spread all the way over to him. It seemed improbable; but he
wished the eagle would soon return. It would be best to be away from
this. The mere smell of the smoke which he drew in with every breath was
All at once he heard a terrible crackling and sputtering. It came from
the ridge nearest him. There, on the highest point, stood a tall pine
like the one in which he sat. A moment before it had been a gorgeous red
in the morning light. Now all the needles flashed, and the pine caught
fire. Never before had it looked so beautiful! But this was the last
time it could exhibit any beauty, for the pine was the first tree on the
ridge to burn. It was impossible to tell how the flames had reached it.
Had the fire flown on red wings, or crawled along the ground like a
snake? It was not easy to say, but there it was at all events. The great
pine burned like a birch stem.
Ah, look! Now smoke curled up in many places on the ridge. The forest
fire was both bird and snake. It could fly in the air over wide
stretches, or steal along the ground. The whole ridge was ablaze!
There was a hasty flight of birds that circled up through the smoke like
big flakes of soot. They flew across the valley and came to the ridge
where the boy sat. A horned owl perched beside him, and on a branch just
above him a hen hawk alighted. These would have been dangerous
neighbours at any other time, but now they did not even glance in his
direction--only stared at the fire. Probably they could not make out
what was wrong with the forest. A marten ran up the pine to the tip of a
branch, and looked at the burning heights. Close beside the marten sat a
squirrel, but they did not appear to notice each other.
Now the fire came rushing down the slope, hissing and roaring like a
tornado. Through the smoke one could see the flames dart from tree to
tree. Before a branch caught fire it was first enveloped in a thin veil
of smoke, then all the needles grew red at one time, and it began to
crackle and blaze.
In the glen below ran a little brook, bordered by elms and small
birches. It appeared as if the flames would halt there. Leafy trees are
not so ready to take fire as fir trees. The fire did pause as if before
a gate that could stop it. It glowed and crackled and tried to leap
across the brook to the pine woods on the other side, but could not
For a short time the fire was thus restrained, then it shot a long
flame over to the large, dry pine that stood on the slope, and this was
soon ablaze. The fire had crossed the brook! The heat was so intense
that every tree on the mountain was ready to burn. With the roar and
rush of the maddest storm and the wildest torrent the forest fire flew
over to the ridge.
Then the hawk and the owl rose and the marten dashed down the tree. In a
few seconds more the fire would reach the top of the pine, and the boy,
too, would have to be moving. It was not easy to slide down the long,
straight pine trunk. He took as firm a hold of it as he could, and slid
in long stretches between the knotty branches; finally he tumbled
headlong to the ground. He had no time to find out if he was hurt--only
to hurry away. The fire raced down the pine like a raging tempest; the
ground under his feet was hot and smouldering. On either side of him ran
a lynx and an adder, and right beside the snake fluttered a mother
grouse who was hurrying along with her little downy chicks.
When the refugees descended the mountain to the glen they met people
fighting the fire. They had been there for some time, but the boy had
been gazing so intently in the direction of the fire that he had not
noticed them before.
In this glen there was a brook, bordered by a row of leaf trees, and
back of these trees the people worked. They felled the fir trees nearest
the elms, dipped water from the brook and poured it over the ground,
washing away heather and myrtle to prevent the fire from stealing up to
the birch brush.
They, too, thought only of the fire which was now rushing toward them.
The fleeing animals ran in and out among the men's feet, without
attracting attention. No one struck at the adder or tried to catch the
mother grouse as she ran back and forth with her little peeping
birdlings. They did not even bother about Thumbietot. In their hands
they held great, charred pine branches which had dropped into the brook,
and it appeared as if they intended to challenge the fire with these
weapons. There were not many men, and it was strange to see them stand
there, ready to fight, when all other living creatures were fleeing.
As the fire came roaring and rushing down the slope with its intolerable
heat and suffocating smoke, ready to hurl itself over brook and
leaf-tree wall in order to reach the opposite shore without having to
pause, the people drew back at first as if unable to withstand it; but
they did not flee far before they turned back.
The conflagration raged with savage force, sparks poured like a rain of
fire over the leaf trees, and long tongues of flame shot hissingly out
from the smoke, as if the forest on the other side were sucking them in.
But the leaf-tree wall was an obstruction behind which the men worked.
When the ground began to smoulder they brought water in their vessels
and dampened it. When a tree became wreathed in smoke they felled it at
once, threw it down and put out the flames. Where the fire crept along
the heather, they beat it with the wet pine branches and smothered it.
The smoke was so dense that it enveloped everything. One could not
possibly see how the battle was going, but it was easy enough to
understand that it was a hard fight, and that several times the fire
came near penetrating farther.
But think! After a while the loud roar of the flames decreased, and the
smoke cleared. By that time the leaf trees had lost all their foliage,
the ground under them was charred, the faces of the men were blackened
by smoke and dripping with sweat; but the forest fire was conquered. It
had ceased to flame up. Soft white smoke crept along the ground, and
from it peeped out a lot of black stumps. This was all there was left of
the beautiful forest!
The boy scrambled up on a rock, so that he might see how the fire had
been quenched. But now that the forest was saved, his peril began. The
owl and the hawk simultaneously turned their eyes toward him. Just then
he heard a familiar voice calling to him.
Gorgo, the golden eagle, came sweeping through the forest, and soon the
boy was soaring among the clouds--rescued from every peril.
WESTBOTTOM AND LAPLAND
THE FIVE SCOUTS
Once, at Skansen, the boy had sat under the steps at Bollnaes cottage and
had overheard Clement Larsson and the old Laplander talk about Norrland.
Both agreed that it was the most beautiful part of Sweden. Clement
thought that the southern part was the best, while the Laplander
favoured the northern part.
As they argued, it became plain that Clement had never been farther
north than Haernoesand. The Laplander laughed at him for speaking with
such assurance of places that he had never seen.
"I think I shall have to tell you a story, Clement, to give you some
idea of Lapland, since you have not seen it," volunteered the Laplander.
"It shall not be said of me that I refuse to listen to a story,"
retorted Clement, and the old Laplander began:
"It once happened that the birds who lived down in Sweden, south of the
great Sameland, thought that they were overcrowded there and suggested
"They came together to consider the matter. The young and eager birds
wished to start at once, but the older and wiser ones passed a
resolution to send scouts to explore the new country.
"'Let each of the five great bird families send out a scout,' said the
old and wise birds, 'to learn if there is room for us all up there--food
and hiding places.'
"Five intelligent and capable birds were immediately appointed by the
five great bird families.
"The forest birds selected a grouse, the field birds a lark, the sea
birds a gull, the fresh-water birds a loon, and the cliff birds a snow
"When the five chosen ones were ready to start, the grouse, who was the
largest and most commanding, said:
"'There are great stretches of land ahead. If we travel together, it
will be long before we cover all the territory that we must explore. If,
on the other hand, we travel singly--each one exploring his special
portion of the country--the whole business can be accomplished in a few
"The other scouts thought the suggestion a good one, and agreed to act
"It was decided that the grouse should explore the midlands. The lark
was to travel to the eastward, the sea gull still farther east, where
the land bordered on the sea, while the loon should fly over the
territory west of the midlands, and the snow sparrow to the extreme
"In accordance with this plan, the five birds flew over the whole
Northland. Then they turned back and told the assembly of birds what
they had discovered.
"The gull, who had travelled along the sea-coast, spoke first.
"'The North is a fine country,' he said. 'The sounds are full of fish,
and there are points and islands without number. Most of these are
uninhabited, and the birds will find plenty of room there. The humans
do a little fishing and sailing in the sounds, but not enough to disturb
the birds. If the sea birds follow my advice, they will move north
"When the gull had finished, the lark, who had explored the land back
from the coast, spoke:
"'I don't know what the gull means by his islands and points,' said the
lark. I have travelled only over great fields and flowery meadows. I
have never before seen a country crossed by some large streams. Their
shores are dotted with homesteads, and at the mouth of the rivers are
cities; but for the most part the country is very desolate. If the field
birds follow my advice, they will move north immediately.'
"After the lark came the grouse, who had flown over the midlands.
"'I know neither what the lark means with his meadows nor the gull with
his islands and points,' said he. 'I have seen only pine forests on this
whole trip. There are also many rushing streams and great stretches of
moss-grown swamp land; but all that is not river or swamp is forest. If
the forest birds follow my advice, they will move north immediately.'
"After the grouse came the loon, who had explored the borderland to the
"I don't know what the grouse means by his forests, nor do I know where
the eyes of the lark and the gull could have been,' remarked the loon.
There's hardly any land up there--only big lakes. Between beautiful
shores glisten clear, blue mountain lakes, which pour into roaring
water-falls. If the fresh-water birds follow my advice, they will move
"The last speaker was the snow sparrow, who had flown along the western
"'I don't know what the loon means by his lakes, nor do I know what
countries the grouse, the lark, and the gull can have seen,' he said. 'I
found one vast mountainous region up north. I didn't run across any
fields or any pine forests, but peak after peak and highlands. I have
seen ice fields and snow and mountain brooks, with water as white as
milk. No farmers nor cattle nor homesteads have I seen, but only Lapps
and reindeer and huts met my eyes. If the cliff birds follow my advice,
they will move north immediately.'
"When the five scouts had presented their reports to the assembly, they
began to call one another liars, and were ready to fly at each other to
prove the truth of their arguments.
"But the old and wise birds who had sent them out, listened to their
accounts with joy, and calmed their fighting propensities.
"'You mustn't quarrel among yourselves,' they said. 'We understand from
your reports that up north there are large mountain tracts, a big lake
region, great forest lands, a wide plain, and a big group of islands.
This is more than we have expected--more than many a mighty kingdom can
boast within its borders.'"
THE MOVING LANDSCAPE
_Saturday, June eighteenth_.
The boy had been reminded of the old Laplander's story because he
himself was now travelling over the country of which he had spoken. The
eagle told him that the expanse of coast which spread beneath them was
Westbottom, and that the blue ridges far to the west were in Lapland.
Only to be once more seated comfortably on Gorgo's back, after all that
he had suffered during the forest fire, was a pleasure. Besides, they
were having a fine trip. The flight was so easy that at times it seemed
as if they were standing still in the air. The eagle beat and beat his
wings, without appearing to move from the spot; on the other hand,
everything under them seemed in motion. The whole earth and all things
on it moved slowly southward. The forests, the fields, the fences, the
rivers, the cities, the islands, the sawmills--all were on the march.
The boy wondered whither they were bound. Had they grown tired of
standing so far north, and wished to move toward the south?
Amid all the objects in motion there was only one that stood still: that
was a railway train. It stood directly under them, for it was with the
train as with Gorgo--it could not move from the spot. The locomotive
sent forth smoke and sparks. The clatter of the wheels could be heard
all the way up to the boy, but the train did not seem to move. The
forests rushed by; the flag station rushed by; fences and telegraph
poles rushed by; but the train stood still. A broad river with a long
bridge came toward it, but the river and the bridge glided along under
the train with perfect ease. Finally a railway station appeared. The
station master stood on the platform with his red flag, and moved slowly
toward the train.
When he waved his little flag, the locomotive belched even darker smoke
curls than before, and whistled mournfully because it had to stand
still. All of a sudden it began to move toward the south, like
The boy saw all the coach doors open and the passengers step out while
both cars and people were moving southward.
He glanced away from the earth and tried to look straight ahead. Staring
at the queer railway train had made him dizzy; but after he had gazed
for a moment at a little white cloud, he was tired of that and looked
down again--thinking all the while that the eagle and himself were quite
still and that everything else was travelling on south. Fancy! Suppose
the grain field just then running along under him--which must have been
newly sown for he had seen a green blade on it--were to travel all the
way down to Skane where the rye was in full bloom at this season!
Up here the pine forests were different: the trees were bare, the
branches short and the needles were almost black. Many trees were bald
at the top and looked sickly. If a forest like that were to journey down
to Kolmarden and see a real forest, how inferior it would feel!
The gardens which he now saw had some pretty bushes, but no fruit trees
or lindens or chestnut trees--only mountain ash and birch. There were
some vegetable beds, but they were not as yet hoed or planted.
"If such an apology for a garden were to come trailing into Soermland,
the province of gardens, wouldn't it think itself a poor wilderness by
Imagine an immense plain like the one now gliding beneath him, coming
under the very eyes of the poor Smaland peasants! They would hurry away
from their meagre garden plots and stony fields, to begin plowing and
There was one thing, however, of which this Northland had more than
other lands, and that was light. Night must have set in, for the cranes
stood sleeping on the morass; but it was as light as day. The sun had
not travelled southward, like every other thing. Instead, it had gone so
far north that it shone in the boy's face. To all appearance, it had no
notion of setting that night.
If this light and this sun were only shining on West Vemmenhoeg! It would
suit the boy's father and mother to a dot to have a working day that
lasted twenty-four hours.
_Sunday, June nineteenth_.
The boy raised his head and looked around, perfectly bewildered. It was
mighty queer! Here he lay sleeping in some place where he had not been
before. No, he had never seen this glen nor the mountains round about;
and never had he noticed such puny and shrunken birches as those under
which he now lay.
Where was the eagle? The boy could see no sign of him. Gorgo must have
deserted him. Well, here was another adventure!
The boy lay down again, closed his eyes, and tried to recall the
circumstances under which he had dropped to sleep.
He remembered that as long as he was travelling over Westbottom he had
fancied that the eagle and he were at a standstill in the air, and that
the land under them was moving southward. As the eagle turned northwest,
the wind had come from that side, and again he had felt a current of
air, so that the land below had stopped moving and he had noticed that
the eagle was bearing him onward with terrific speed.
"Now we are flying into Lapland," Gorgo had said, and the boy had bent
forward, so that he might see the country of which he had heard so much.
But he had felt rather disappointed at not seeing anything but great
tracts of forest land and wide marshes. Forest followed marsh and marsh
followed forest. The monotony of the whole finally made him so sleepy
that he had nearly dropped to the ground.
He said to the eagle that he could not stay on his back another minute,
but must sleep awhile. Gorgo had promptly swooped to the ground, where
the boy had dropped down on a moss tuft. Then Gorgo put a talon around
him and soared into the air with him again.
"Go to sleep, Thumbietot!" he cried. "The sunshine keeps me awake and I
want to continue the journey."
Although the boy hung in this uncomfortable position, he actually dozed
He dreamed that he was on a broad road in southern Sweden, hurrying
along as fast as his little legs could carry him. He was not alone, many
wayfarers were tramping in the same direction. Close beside him marched
grain-filled rye blades, blossoming corn flowers, and yellow daisies.
Heavily laden apple trees went puffing along, followed by vine-covered
bean stalks, big clusters of white daisies, and masses of berry bushes.
Tall beeches and oaks and lindens strolled leisurely in the middle of
the road, their branches swaying, and they stepped aside for none.
Between the boy's tiny feet darted the little flowers--wild strawberry
blossoms, white anemones, clover, and forget-me-nots. At first he
thought that only the vegetable family was on the march, but presently
he saw that animals and people accompanied them. The insects were
buzzing around advancing bushes, the fishes were swimming in moving
ditches, the birds were singing in strolling trees. Both tame and wild
beasts were racing, and amongst all this people moved along--some with
spades and scythes, others with axes, and others, again, with fishing
The procession marched with gladness and gayety, and he did not wonder
at that when he saw who was leading it. It was nothing less than the Sun
itself that rolled on like a great shining head with hair of many-hued
rays and a countenance beaming with merriment and kindliness!
"Forward, march!" it kept calling out. "None need feel anxious whilst I
am here. Forward, march!"
"I wonder where the Sun wants to take us to?" remarked the boy. A rye
blade that walked beside him heard him, and immediately answered:
"He wants to take us up to Lapland to fight the Ice Witch."
Presently the boy noticed that some of the travellers hesitated, slowed
up, and finally stood quite still. He saw that the tall beech tree
stopped, and that the roebuck and the wheat blade tarried by the
wayside, likewise the blackberry bush, the little yellow buttercup, the
chestnut tree, and the grouse.
He glanced about him and tried to reason out why so many stopped. Then
he discovered that they were no longer in southern Sweden. The march had
been so rapid that they were already in Svealand.
Up there the oak began to move more cautiously. It paused awhile to
consider, took a few faltering steps, then came to a standstill.
"Why doesn't the oak come along?" asked the boy.
"It's afraid of the Ice Witch," said a fair young birch that tripped
along so boldly and cheerfully that it was a joy to watch it. The crowd
hurried on as before. In a short time they were in Norrland, and now it
mattered not how much the Sun cried and coaxed--the apple tree stopped,
the cherry tree stopped, the rye blade stopped!
The boy turned to them and asked:
"Why don't you come along? Why do you desert the Sun?"
"We dare not! We're afraid of the Ice Witch, who lives in Lapland," they
The boy comprehended that they were far north, as the procession grew
thinner and thinner. The rye blade, the barley, the wild strawberry, the
blueberry bush, the pea stalk, the currant bush had come along as far as
this. The elk and the domestic cow had been walking side by side, but
now they stopped. The Sun no doubt would have been almost deserted if
new followers had not happened along. Osier bushes and a lot of brushy
vegetation joined the procession. Laps and reindeer, mountain owl and
mountain fox and willow grouse followed.
Then the boy heard something coming toward them. He saw great rivers and
creeks sweeping along with terrible force.
"Why are they in such a hurry?" he asked.
"They are running away from the Ice Witch, who lives up in the
All of a sudden the boy saw before him a high, dark, turreted wall.
Instantly the Sun turned its beaming face toward this wall and flooded
it with light. Then it became apparent that it was no wall, but the most
glorious mountains, which loomed up--one behind another. Their peaks
were rose-coloured in the sunlight, their slopes azure and gold-tinted.
"Onward, onward!" urged the Sun as it climbed the steep cliffs. "There's
no danger so long as I am with you."
But half way up, the bold young birch deserted--also the sturdy pine and
the persistent spruce, and there, too, the Laplander, and the willow
brush deserted. At last, when the Sun reached the top, there was no one
but the little tot, Nils Holgersson, who had followed it.
The Sun rolled into a cave, where the walls were bedecked with ice, and
Nils Holgersson wanted to follow, but farther than the opening of the
cave he dared not venture, for in there he saw something dreadful.
Far back in the cave sat an old witch with an ice body, hair of icicles,
and a mantle of snow!
At her feet lay three black wolves, who rose and opened their jaws when
the Sun approached. From the mouth of one came a piercing cold, from the
second a blustering north wind, and from the third came impenetrable
"That must be the Ice Witch and her tribe," thought the boy.
He understood that now was the time for him to flee, but he was so
curious to see the outcome of the meeting between the Sun and the Ice
Witch that he tarried.
The Ice Witch did not move--only turned her hideous face toward the Sun.
This continued for a short time. It appeared to the boy that the witch
was beginning to sigh and tremble. Her snow mantle fell, and the three
ferocious wolves howled less savagely.
Suddenly the Sun cried:
"Now my time is up!" and rolled out of the cave.
Then the Ice Witch let loose her three wolves. Instantly the North Wind,
Cold, and Darkness rushed from the cave and began to chase the Sun.
"Drive him out! Drive him back!" shrieked the Ice Witch. "Chase him so
far that he can never come back! Teach him that Lapland is MINE!"
But Nils Holgersson felt so unhappy when he saw that the Sun was to be
driven from Lapland that he awakened with a cry. When he recovered his
senses, he found himself at the bottom of a ravine.
But where was Gorgo? How was he to find out where he himself was?
He arose and looked all around him. Then he happened to glance upward
and saw a peculiar structure of pine twigs and branches that stood on a
"That must be one of those eagle nests that Gorgo--" But this was as far
as he got. He tore off his cap, waved it in the air, and cheered.
Now he understood where Gorgo had brought him. This was the very glen
where the wild geese lived in summer, and just above it was the eagles'
HE HAD ARRIVED!
He would meet Morten Goosey-Gander and Akka and all the other comrades
in a few moments. Hurrah!
All was still in the glen. The sun had not yet stepped above the cliffs,
and Nils Holgersson knew that it was too early in the morning for the
geese to be awake.
The boy walked along leisurely and searched for his friends. Before he
had gone very far, he paused with a smile, for he saw such a pretty
sight. A wild goose was sleeping in a neat little nest, and beside her
stood her goosey-gander. He too, slept, but it was obvious that he had
stationed himself thus near her that he might be on hand in the possible
event of danger.
The boy went on without disturbing them and peeped into the willow brush
that covered the ground. It was not long before he spied another goose
couple. These were strangers, not of his flock, but he was so happy that
he began to hum--just because he had come across wild geese.
He peeped into another bit of brushwood. There at last he saw two that
It was certainly Neljae that was nesting there, and the goosey-gander
who stood beside her was surely Kolme. Why, of course! The boy had a
good mind to awaken them, but he let them sleep on, and walked away.
In the next brush he saw Viisi and Kuusi, and not far from them he found
Yksi and Kaksi. All four were asleep, and the boy passed by without
disturbing them. As he approached the next brush, he thought he saw
something white shimmering among the bushes, and the heart of him
thumped with joy. Yes, it was as he expected. In there sat the dainty
Dunfin on an egg-filled nest. Beside her stood her white goosey-gander.
Although he slept, it was easy to see how proud he was to watch over his
wife up here among the Lapland mountains. The boy did not care to waken
the goosey-gander, so he walked on.
He had to seek a long time before he came across any more wild geese.
Finally, he saw on a little hillock something that resembled a small,
gray moss tuft, and he knew that there was Akka from Kebnekaise. She
stood, wide awake, looking about as if she were keeping watch over the
"Good morning, Mother Akka!" said the boy. "Please don't waken the other
geese yet awhile, for I wish to speak with you in private."
The old leader-goose came rushing down the hill and up to the boy.
First she seized hold of him and shook him, then she stroked him with
her bill before she shook him again. But she did not say a word, since
he asked her not to waken the others.
Thumbietot kissed old Mother Akka on both cheeks, then he told her how
he had been carried off to Skansen and held captive there.
"Now I must tell you that Smirre Fox, short of an ear, sat imprisoned in
the foxes' cage at Skansen," said the boy. "Although he was very mean to
us, I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. There were many other foxes
in the cage; and they seemed quite contented there, but Smirre sat all
the while looking dejected, longing for liberty.
"I made many good friends at Skansen, and I learned one day from the
Lapp dog that a man had come to Skansen to buy foxes. He was from some
island far out in the ocean. All the foxes had been exterminated there,
and the rats were about to get the better of the inhabitants, so they
wished the foxes back again.
"As soon as I learned of this, I went to Smirre's cage and said to him:
"'To-morrow some men are coming here to get a pair of foxes. Don't hide,
Smirre, but keep well in the foreground and see to it that you are
chosen. Then you'll be free again.'
"He followed my suggestion, and now he is running at large on the
island. What say you to this, Mother Akka? If you had been in my place,
would you not have done likewise?"
"You have acted in a way that makes me wish I had done that myself,"
said the leader-goose proudly.
"It's a relief to know that you approve," said the boy. "Now there is
one thing more I wish to ask you about:
"One day I happened to see Gorgo, the eagle--the one that fought with
Morten Goosey-Gander--a prisoner at Skansen. He was in the eagles' cage
and looked pitifully forlorn. I was thinking of filing down the wire
roof over him and letting him out, but I also thought of his being a
dangerous robber and bird-eater, and wondered if I should be doing right
in letting loose such a plunderer, and if it were not better, perhaps,
to let him stay where he was. What say you, Mother Akka? Was it right
to think thus?"
"No, it was not right!" retorted Akka. "Say what you will about the
eagles, they are proud birds and greater lovers of freedom than all
others. It is not right to keep them in captivity. Do you know what I
would suggest? This: that, as soon as you are well rested, we two make
the trip together to the big bird prison, and liberate Gorgo."
"That is just the word I was expecting from you, Mother Akka," returned
the boy eagerly.
"There are those who say that you no longer have any love in your heart
for the one you reared so tenderly, because he lives as eagles must
live. But I know now that it isn't true. And now I want to see if
Morten Goosey-Gander is awake.
"Meanwhile, if you wish to say a 'thank you' to the one who brought me
here to you, I think you'll find him up there on the cliff ledge, where
once you found a helpless eaglet."
OSA, THE GOOSE GIRL, AND LITTLE MATS
The year that Nils Holgersson travelled with the wild geese everybody
was talking about two little children, a boy and a girl, who tramped
through the country. They were from Sunnerbo township, in Smaland, and
had once lived with their parents and four brothers and sisters in a
little cabin on the heath.
While the two children, Osa and Mats, were still small, a poor, homeless
woman came to their cabin one night and begged for shelter. Although the
place could hardly hold the family, she was taken in and the mother
spread a bed for her on the floor. In the night she coughed so hard that
the children fancied the house shook. By morning she was too ill to
continue her wanderings. The children's father and mother were as kind
to her as could be. They gave up their bed to her and slept on the
floor, while the father went to the doctor and brought her medicine.
The first few days the sick woman behaved like a savage; she demanded
constant attention and never uttered a word of thanks. Later she became
more subdued and finally begged to be carried out to the heath and left
there to die.
When her hosts would not hear of this, she told them that the last few
years she had roamed about with a band of gipsies. She herself was not
of gipsy blood, but was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer. She had run
away from home and gone with the nomads. She believed that a gipsy woman
who was angry at her had brought this sickness upon her. Nor was that
all: The gipsy woman had also cursed her, saying that all who took her
under their roof or were kind to her should suffer a like fate. She
believed this, and therefore begged them to cast her out of the house
and never to see her again. She did not want to bring misfortune down
upon such good people. But the peasants refused to do her bidding. It
was quite possible that they were alarmed, but they were not the kind of
folk who could turn out a poor, sick person.
Soon after that she died, and then along came the misfortunes. Before,
there had never been anything but happiness in that cabin. Its inmates
were poor, yet not so very poor. The father was a maker of weavers'
combs, and mother and children helped him with the work. Father made the
frames, mother and the older children did the binding, while the smaller
ones planed the teeth and cut them out. They worked from morning until
night, but the time passed pleasantly, especially when father talked of
the days when he travelled about in foreign lands and sold weavers'
combs. Father was so jolly that sometimes mother and the children would
laugh until their sides ached at his funny quips and jokes.
The weeks following the death of the poor vagabond woman lingered in the
minds of the children like a horrible nightmare. They knew not if the
time had been long or short, but they remembered that they were always
having funerals at home. One after another they lost their brothers and
sisters. At last it was very still and sad in the cabin.
The mother kept up some measure of courage, but the father was not a bit
like himself. He could no longer work nor jest, but sat from morning
till night, his head buried in his hands, and only brooded.
Once--that was after the third burial--the father had broken out into
wild talk, which frightened the children. He said that he could not
understand why such misfortunes should come upon them. They had done a
kindly thing in helping the sick woman. Could it be true, then, that the
evil in this world was more powerful than the good?
The mother tried to reason with him, but she was unable to soothe him.
A few days later the eldest was stricken. She had always been the
father's favourite, so when he realized that she, too, must go, he fled
from all the misery. The mother never said anything, but she thought it
was best for him to be away, as she feared that he might lose his
reason. He had brooded too long over this one idea: that God had allowed
a wicked person to bring about so much evil.
After the father went away they became very poor. For awhile he sent
them money, but afterward things must have gone badly with him, for no
The day of the eldest daughter's burial the mother closed the cabin and
left home with the two remaining children, Osa and Mats. She went down
to Skane to work in the beet fields, and found a place at the Jordberga
sugar refinery. She was a good worker and had a cheerful and generous
nature. Everybody liked her. Many were astonished because she could be
so calm after all that she had passed through, but the mother was very
strong and patient. When any one spoke to her of her two sturdy
children, she only said: "I shall soon lose them also," without a quaver
in her voice or a tear in her eye. She had accustomed herself to expect
But it did not turn out as she feared. Instead, the sickness came upon
herself. She had gone to Skane in the beginning of summer; before autumn
she was gone, and the children were left alone.
While their mother was ill she had often said to the children they must
remember that she never regretted having let the sick woman stop with
them. It was not hard to die when one had done right, she said, for then
one could go with a clear conscience.
Before the mother passed away, she tried to make some provision for her
children. She asked the people with whom she lived to let them remain in
the room which she had occupied. If the children only had a shelter they
would not become a burden to any one. She knew that they could take care
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