The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Part 8 out of 9
Osa and Mats were allowed to keep the room on condition that they would
tend the geese, as it was always hard to find children willing to do
that work. It turned out as the mother expected: they did maintain
themselves. The girl made candy, and the boy carved wooden toys, which
they sold at the farm houses. They had a talent for trading and soon
began buying eggs and butter from the farmers, which they sold to the
workers at the sugar refinery. Osa was the older, and, by the time she
was thirteen, she was as responsible as a grown woman. She was quiet and
serious, while Mats was lively and talkative. His sister used to say to
him that he could outcackle the geese.
When the children had been at Jordberga for two years, there was a
lecture given one evening at the schoolhouse. Evidently it was meant for
grown-ups, but the two Smaland children were in the audience. They did
not regard themselves as children, and few persons thought of them as
such. The lecturer talked about the dread disease called the White
Plague, which every year carried off so many people in Sweden. He spoke
very plainly and the children understood every word.
After the lecture they waited outside the schoolhouse. When the lecturer
came out they took hold of hands and walked gravely up to him, asking if
they might speak to him.
The stranger must have wondered at the two rosy, baby-faced children
standing there talking with an earnestness more in keeping with people
thrice their age; but he listened graciously to them. They related what
had happened in their home, and asked the lecturer if he thought their
mother and their sisters and brothers had died of the sickness he had
"Very likely," he answered. "It could hardly have been any other
If only the mother and father had known what the children learned that
evening, they might have protected themselves. If they had burned the
clothing of the vagabond woman; if they had scoured and aired the cabin
and had not used the old bedding, all whom the children mourned might
have been living yet. The lecturer said he could not say positively, but
he believed that none of their dear ones would have been sick had they
understood how to guard against the infection.
Osa and Mats waited awhile before putting the next question, for that
was the most important of all. It was not true then that the gipsy woman
had sent the sickness because they had befriended the one with whom she
was angry. It was not something special that had stricken only them. The
lecturer assured them that no person had the power to bring sickness
upon another in that way.
Thereupon the children thanked him and went to their room. They talked
until late that night.
The next day they gave notice that they could not tend geese another
year, but must go elsewhere. Where were they going? Why, to try to find
their father. They must tell him that their mother and the other
children had died of a common ailment and not something special brought
upon them by an angry person. They were very glad that they had found
out about this. Now it was their duty to tell their father of it, for
probably he was still trying to solve the mystery.
Osa and Mats set out for their old home on the heath. When they arrived
they were shocked to find the little cabin in flames. They went to the
parsonage and there they learned that a railroad workman had seen their
father at Malmberget, far up in Lapland. He had been working in a mine
and possibly was still there. When the clergyman heard that the children
wanted to go in search of their father he brought forth a map and showed
them how far it was to Malmberget and tried to dissuade them from making
the journey, but the children insisted that they must find their father.
He had left home believing something that was not true. They must find
him and tell him that it was all a mistake.
They did not want to spend their little savings buying railway tickets,
therefore they decided to go all the way on foot, which they never
regretted, as it proved to be a remarkably beautiful journey.
Before they were out of Smaland, they stopped at a farm house to buy
food. The housewife was a kind, motherly soul who took an interest in
the children. She asked them who they were and where they came from, and
they told her their story. "Dear, dear! Dear, dear!" she interpolated
time and again when they were speaking. Later she petted the children
and stuffed them with all kinds of goodies, for which she would not
accept a penny. When they rose to thank her and go, the woman asked them
to stop at her brother's farm in the next township. Of course the
children were delighted.
"Give him my greetings and tell him what has happened to you," said the
This the children did and were well treated. From every farm after that
it was always: "If you happen to go in such and such a direction, stop
there or there and tell them what has happened to you."
In every farm house to which they were sent there was always a
consumptive. So Osa and Mats went through the country unconsciously
teaching the people how to combat that dreadful disease.
Long, long ago, when the black plague was ravaging the country, 'twas
said that a boy and a girl were seen wandering from house to house. The
boy carried a rake, and if he stopped and raked in front of a house, it
meant that there many should die, but not all; for the rake has coarse
teeth and does not take everything with it. The girl carried a broom,
and if she came along and swept before a door, it meant that all who
lived within must die; for the broom is an implement that makes a clean
It seems quite remarkable that in our time two children should wander
through the land because of a cruel sickness. But these children did not
frighten people with the rake and the broom. They said rather: "We will
not content ourselves with merely raking the yard and sweeping the
floors, we will use mop and brush, water and soap. We will keep clean
inside and outside of the door and we ourselves will be clean in both
mind and body. In this way we will conquer the sickness."
One day, while still in Lapland, Akka took the boy to Malmberget, where
they discovered little Mats lying unconscious at the mouth of the pit.
He and Osa had arrived there a short time before. That morning he had
been roaming about, hoping to come across his father. He had ventured
too near the shaft and been hurt by flying rocks after the setting off
of a blast.
Thumbietot ran to the edge of the shaft and called down to the miners
that a little boy was injured.
Immediately a number of labourers came rushing up to little Mats. Two of
them carried him to the hut where he and Osa were staying. They did all
they could to save him, but it was too late.
Thumbietot felt so sorry for poor Osa. He wanted to help and comfort
her; but he knew that if he were to go to her now, he would only
frighten her--such as he was!
The night after the burial of little Mats, Osa straightway shut herself
in her hut.
She sat alone recalling, one after another, things her brother had said
and done. There was so much to think about that she did not go straight
to bed, but sat up most of the night. The more she thought of her
brother the more she realized how hard it would be to live without him.
At last she dropped her head on the table and wept.
"What shall I do now that little Mats is gone?" she sobbed.
It was far along toward morning and Osa, spent by the strain of her hard
day, finally fell asleep.
She dreamed that little Mats softly opened the door and stepped into the
"Osa, you must go and find father," he said.
"How can I when I don't even know where he is?" she replied in her
"Don't worry about that," returned little Mats in his usual, cheery way.
"I'll send some one to help you."
Just as Osa, the goose girl, dreamed that little Mats had said this,
there was a knock at the door. It was a real knock--not something she
heard in the dream, but she was so held by the dream that she could not
tell the real from the unreal. As she went on to open the door, she
"This must be the person little Mats promised to send me."
She was right, for it was Thumbietot come to talk to her about her
When he saw that she was not afraid of him, he told her in a few words
where her father was and how to reach him.
While he was speaking, Osa, the goose girl, gradually regained
consciousness; when he had finished she was wide awake.
Then she was so terrified at the thought of talking with an elf that she
could not say thank you or anything else, but quickly shut the door.
As she did that she thought she saw an expression of pain flash across
the elf's face, but she could not help what she did, for she was beside
herself with fright. She crept into bed as quickly as she could and drew
the covers over her head.
Although she was afraid of the elf, she had a feeling that he meant well
by her. So the next day she made haste to do as he had told her.
WITH THE LAPLANDERS
One afternoon in July it rained frightfully up around Lake Luossajaure.
The Laplanders, who lived mostly in the open during the summer, had
crawled under the tent and were squatting round the fire drinking
The new settlers on the east shore of the lake worked diligently to have
their homes in readiness before the severe Arctic winter set in. They
wondered at the Laplanders, who had lived in the far north for centuries
without even thinking that better protection was needed against cold and
storm than thin tent covering.
The Laplanders, on the other hand, wondered at the new settlers giving
themselves so much needless, hard work, when nothing more was necessary
to live comfortably than a few reindeer and a tent.
They only had to drive the poles into the ground and spread the covers
over them, and their abodes were ready. They did not have to trouble
themselves about decorating or furnishing. The principal thing was to
scatter some spruce twigs on the floor, spread a few skins, and hang the
big kettle, in which they cooked their reindeer meat, on a chain
suspended from the top of the tent poles.
While the Laplanders were chatting over their coffee cups, a row boat
coming from the Kiruna side pulled ashore at the Lapps' quarters.
A workman and a young girl, between thirteen and fourteen, stepped from
the boat. The girl was Osa. The Lapp dogs bounded down to them, barking
loudly, and a native poked his head out of the tent opening to see what
was going on.
He was glad when he saw the workman, for he was a friend of the
Laplanders--a kindly and sociable man, who could speak their native
tongue. The Lapp called to him to crawl under the tent.
"You're just in time, Soederberg!" he said. "The coffee pot is on the
fire. No one can do any work in this rain, so come in and tell us the
The workman went in, and, with much ado and amid a great deal of
laughter and joking, places were made for Soederberg and Osa, though the
tent was already crowded to the limit with natives. Osa understood none
of the conversation. She sat dumb and looked in wonderment at the kettle
and coffee pot; at the fire and smoke; at the Lapp men and Lapp women;
at the children and dogs; the walls and floor; the coffee cups and
tobacco pipes; the multi-coloured costumes and crude implements. All
this was new to her.
Suddenly she lowered her glance, conscious that every one in the tent
was looking at her. Soederberg must have said something about her, for
now both Lapp men and Lapp women took the short pipes from their mouths
and stared at her in open-eyed wonder and awe. The Laplander at her side
patted her shoulder and nodded, saying in Swedish, "bra, bra!" (good,
good!) A Lapp woman filled a cup to the brim with coffee and passed it
under difficulties, while a Lapp boy, who was about her own age,
wriggled and crawled between the squatters over to her.
Osa felt that Soederberg was telling the Laplanders that she had just
buried her little brother, Mats. She wished he would find out about her
The elf had said that he lived with the Lapps, who camped west of Lake
Luossajaure, and she had begged leave to ride up on a sand truck to seek
him, as no regular passenger trains came so far. Both labourers and
foremen had assisted her as best they could. An engineer had sent
Soederberg across the lake with her, as he spoke Lappish. She had hoped
to meet her father as soon as she arrived. Her glance wandered anxiously
from face to face, but she saw only natives. Her father was not there.
She noticed that the Lapps and the Swede, Soederberg, grew more and more
earnest as they talked among themselves. The Lapps shook their heads and
tapped their foreheads, as if they were speaking of some one that was
not quite right in his mind.
She became so uneasy that she could no longer endure the suspense and
asked Soederberg what the Laplanders knew of her father.
"They say he has gone fishing," said the workman. "They're not sure that
he can get back to the camp to-night; but as soon as the weather clears,
one of them will go in search of him."
Thereupon he turned to the Lapps and went on talking to them. He did not
wish to give Osa an opportunity to question him further about Jon
THE NEXT MORNING
Ola Serka himself, who was the most distinguished man among the Lapps,
had said that he would find Osa's father, but he appeared to be in no
haste and sat huddled outside the tent, thinking of Jon Esserson and
wondering how best to tell him of his daughter's arrival. It would
require diplomacy in order that Jon Esserson might not become alarmed
and flee. He was an odd sort of man who was afraid of children. He used
to say that the sight of them made him so melancholy that he could not
While Ola Serka deliberated, Osa, the goose girl, and Aslak, the young
Lapp boy who had stared so hard at her the night before, sat on the
ground in front of the tent and chatted.
Aslak had been to school and could speak Swedish. He was telling Osa
about the life of the "Samefolk," assuring her that they fared better
than other people.
Osa thought that they lived wretchedly, and told him so.
"You don't know what you are talking about!" said Aslak curtly. "Only
stop with us a week and you shall see that we are the happiest people on
"If I were to stop here a whole week, I should be choked by all the
smoke in the tent," Osa retorted.
"Don't say that!" protested the boy. "You know nothing of us. Let me
tell you something which will make you understand that the longer you
stay with us the more contented you will become."
Thereupon Aslak began to tell Osa how a sickness called "The Black
Plague" once raged throughout the land. He was not certain as to whether
it had swept through the real "Sameland," where they now were, but in
Jaemtland it had raged so brutally that among the Samefolk, who lived in
the forests and mountains there, all had died except a boy of fifteen.
Among the Swedes, who lived in the valleys, none was left but a girl,
who was also fifteen years old.
The boy and girl separately tramped the desolate country all winter in
search of other human beings. Finally, toward spring, the two met.
Aslak continued: "The Swedish girl begged the Lapp boy to accompany her
southward, where she could meet people of her own race. She did not wish
to tarry longer in Jaemtland, where there were only vacant homesteads.
I'll take you wherever you wish to go,' said the boy, 'but not before
winter. It's spring now, and my reindeer go westward toward the
mountains. You know that we who are of the Samefolk must go where our
reindeer take us.' The Swedish girl was the daughter of wealthy parents.
She was used to living under a roof, sleeping in a bed, and eating at a
table. She had always despised the poor mountaineers and thought that
those who lived under the open sky were most unfortunate; but she was
afraid to return to her home, where there were none but the dead. 'At
least let me go with you to the mountains,' she said to the boy, 'so
that I sha'n't have to tramp about here all alone and never hear the
sound of a human voice.'
"The boy willingly assented, so the girl went with the reindeer to the
"The herd yearned for the good pastures there, and every day tramped
long distances to feed on the moss. There was not time to pitch tents.
The children had to lie on the snowy ground and sleep when the reindeer
stopped to graze. The girl often sighed and complained of being so tired
that she must turn back to the valley. Nevertheless she went along to
avoid being left without human companionship.
"When they reached the highlands the boy pitched a tent for the girl on
a pretty hill that sloped toward a mountain brook.
"In the evening he lassoed and milked the reindeer, and gave the girl
milk to drink. He brought forth dried reindeer meat and reindeer cheese,
which his people had stowed away on the heights when they were there the
"Still the girl grumbled all the while, and was never satisfied. She
would eat neither reindeer meat nor reindeer cheese, nor would she drink
reindeer milk. She could not accustom herself to squatting in the tent
or to lying on the ground with only a reindeer skin and some spruce
twigs for a bed.
"The son of the mountains laughed at her woes and continued to treat her
"After a few days, the girl went up to the boy when he was milking and
asked if she might help him. She next undertook to make the fire under
the kettle, in which the reindeer meat was to be cooked, then to carry
water and to make cheese. So the time passed pleasantly. The weather was
mild and food was easily procured. Together they set snares for game,
fished for salmon-trout in the rapids and picked cloud-berries in the
"When the summer was gone, they moved farther down the mountains, where
pine and leaf forests meet. There they pitched their tent. They had to
work hard every day, but fared better, for food was even more plentiful
than in the summer because of the game.
"When the snow came and the lakes began to freeze, they drew farther
east toward the dense pine forests.
"As soon as the tent was up, the winter's work began. The boy taught the
girl to make twine from reindeer sinews, to treat skins, to make shoes
and clothing of hides, to make combs and tools of reindeer horn, to
travel on skis, and to drive a sledge drawn by reindeer.
"When they had lived through the dark winter and the sun began to shine
all day and most of the night, the boy said to the girl that now he
would accompany her southward, so that she might meet some of her own
"Then the girl looked at him astonished.
"'Why do you want to send me away?' she asked. 'Do you long to be alone
with your reindeer?'
"'I thought that you were the one that longed to get away?' said the
"'I have lived the life of the Samefolk almost a year now,' replied the
girl. I can't return to my people and live the shut-in life after having
wandered freely on mountains and in forests. Don't drive me away, but
let me stay here. Your way of living is better than ours.'
"The girl stayed with the boy for the rest of her life, and never again
did she long for the valleys. And you, Osa, if you were to stay with us
only a month, you could never again part from us."
With these words, Aslak, the Lapp boy, finished his story. Just then his
father, Ola Serka, took the pipe from his mouth and rose.
Old Ola understood more Swedish than he was willing to have any one
know, and he had overheard his son's remarks. While he was listening, it
had suddenly flashed on him how he should handle this delicate matter of
telling Jon Esserson that his daughter had come in search of him.
Ola Serka went down to Lake Luossajaure and had walked a short distance
along the strand, when he happened upon a man who sat on a rock fishing.
The fisherman was gray-haired and bent. His eyes blinked wearily and
there was something slack and helpless about him. He looked like a man
who had tried to carry a burden too heavy for him, or to solve a problem
too difficult for him, who had become broken and despondent over his
"You must have had luck with your fishing, Jon, since you've been at it
all night?" said the mountaineer in Lappish, as he approached.
The fisherman gave a start, then glanced up. The bait on his hook was
gone and not a fish lay on the strand beside him. He hastened to rebait
the hook and throw out the line. In the meantime the mountaineer
squatted on the grass beside him.
"There's a matter that I wanted to talk over with you," said Ola. "You
know that I had a little daughter who died last winter, and we have
always missed her in the tent."
"Yes, I know," said the fisherman abruptly, a cloud passing over his
face--as though he disliked being reminded of a dead child.
"It's not worth while to spend one's life grieving," said the Laplander.
"I suppose it isn't."
"Now I'm thinking of adopting another child. Don't you think it would be
a good idea?"
"That depends on the child, Ola."
"I will tell you what I know of the girl," said Ola. Then he told the
fisherman that around midsummer-time, two strange children--a boy and a
girl--had come to the mines to look for their father, but as their
father was away, they had stayed to await his return. While there, the
boy had been killed by a blast of rock.
Thereupon Ola gave a beautiful description of how brave the little girl
had been, and of how she had won the admiration and sympathy of
"Is that the girl you want to take into your tent?" asked the
"Yes," returned the Lapp. "When we heard her story we were all deeply
touched and said among ourselves that so good a sister would also make a
good daughter, and we hoped that she would come to us."
The fisherman sat quietly thinking a moment. It was plain that he
continued the conversation only to please his friend, the Lapp.
"I presume the girl is one of your race?"
"No," said Ola, "she doesn't belong to the Samefolk."
"Perhaps she's the daughter of some new settler and is accustomed to the
"No, she's from the far south," replied Ola, as if this was of small
The fisherman grew more interested.
"Then I don't believe that you can take her," he said. "It's doubtful if
she could stand living in a tent in winter, since she was not brought up
"She will find kind parents and kind brothers and sisters in the tent,"
insisted Ola Serka. "It's worse to be alone than to freeze."
The fisherman became more and more zealous to prevent the adoption. It
seemed as if he could not bear the thought of a child of Swedish parents
being taken in by Laplanders.
"You said just now that she had a father in the mine."
"He's dead," said the Lapp abruptly.
"I suppose you have thoroughly investigated this matter, Ola?"
"What's the use of going to all that trouble?" disdained the Lapp. "I
ought to know! Would the girl and her brother have been obliged to roam
about the country if they had a father living? Would two children have
been forced to care for themselves if they had a father? The girl
herself thinks he's alive, but I say that he must be dead."
The man with the tired eyes turned to Ola.
"What is the girl's name, Ola?" he asked.
The mountaineer thought awhile, then said:
"I can't remember it. I must ask her."
"Ask her! Is she already here?"
"She's down at the camp."
"What, Ola! Have you taken her in before knowing her father's wishes?"
"What do I care for her father! If he isn't dead, he's probably the kind
of man who cares nothing for his child. He may be glad to have another
take her in hand."
The fisherman threw down his rod and rose with an alertness in his
movements that bespoke new life.
"I don't think her father can be like other folk," continued the
mountaineer. "I dare say he is a man who is haunted by gloomy
forebodings and therefore can not work steadily. What kind of a father
would that be for the girl?"
While Ola was talking the fisherman started up the strand.
"Where are you going?" queried the Lapp.
"I'm going to have a look at your foster-daughter, Ola."
"Good!" said the Lapp. "Come along and meet her. I think you'll say
that she will be a good daughter to me."
The Swede rushed on so rapidly that the Laplander could hardly keep pace
After a moment Ola said to his companion:
"Now I recall that her name is Osa--this girl I'm adopting."
The other man only kept hurrying along and old Ola Serka was so well
pleased that he wanted to laugh aloud.
When they came in sight of the tents, Ola said a few words more.
"She came here to us Samefolk to find her father and not to become my
foster-child. But if she doesn't find him, I shall be glad to keep her
in my tent."
The fisherman hastened all the faster.
"I might have known that he would be alarmed when I threatened to take
his daughter into the Lapps' quarters," laughed Ola to himself.
When the man from Kiruna, who had brought Osa to the tent, turned back
later in the day, he had two people with him in the boat, who sat close
together, holding hands--as if they never again wanted to part.
They were Jon Esserson and his daughter. Both were unlike what they had
been a few hours earlier.
The father looked less bent and weary and his eyes were clear and good,
as if at last he had found the answer to that which had troubled him so
Osa, the goose girl, did not glance longingly about, for she had found
some one to care for her, and now she could be a child again.
THE FIRST TRAVELLING DAY
_Saturday, October first_.
The boy sat on the goosey-gander's back and rode up amongst the clouds.
Some thirty geese, in regular order, flew rapidly southward. There was a
rustling of feathers and the many wings beat the air so noisily that one
could scarcely hear one's own voice. Akka from Kebnekaise flew in the
lead; after her came Yksi and Kaksi, Kolme and Neljae, Viisi and Kuusi,
Morten Goosey-Gander and Dunfin. The six goslings which had accompanied
the flock the autumn before had now left to look after themselves.
Instead, the old geese were taking with them twenty-two goslings that
had grown up in the glen that summer. Eleven flew to the right, eleven
to the left; and they did their best to fly at even distances, like the
The poor youngsters had never before been on a long trip and at first
they had difficulty in keeping up with the rapid flight.
"Akka from Kebnekaise! Akka from Kebnekaise!" they cried in plaintive
"What's the matter?" said the leader-goose sharply.
"Our wings are tired of moving, our wings are tired of moving!" wailed
the young ones.
"The longer you keep it up, the better it will go," answered the
leader-goose, without slackening her speed. And she was quite right, for
when the goslings had flown two hours longer, they complained no more of
But in the mountain glen they had been in the habit of eating all day
long, and very soon they began to feel hungry.
"Akka, Akka, Akka from Kebnekaise!" wailed the goslings pitifully.
"What's the trouble now?" asked the leader-goose.
"We're so hungry, we can't fly any more!" whimpered the goslings. "We're
so hungry, we can't fly any more!"
"Wild geese must learn to eat air and drink wind," said the
leader-goose, and kept right on flying.
It actually seemed as if the young ones were learning to live on wind
and air, for when they had flown a little longer, they said nothing more
about being hungry.
The goose flock was still in the mountain regions, and the old geese
called out the names of all the peaks as they flew past, so that the
youngsters might learn them. When they had been calling out a while:
"This is Porsotjokko, this is Saerjaktjokko, this is Sulitelma," and so
on, the goslings became impatient again.
"Akka, Akka, Akka!" they shrieked in heart-rending tones.
"What's wrong?" said the leader-goose.
"We haven't room in our heads for any more of those awful names!"
shrieked the goslings.
"The more you put into your heads the more you can get into them,"
retorted the leader-goose, and continued to call out the queer names.
The boy sat thinking that it was about time the wild geese betook
themselves southward, for so much snow had fallen that the ground was
white as far as the eye could see. There was no use denying that it had
been rather disagreeable in the glen toward the last. Rain and fog had
succeeded each other without any relief, and even if it did clear up
once in a while, immediately frost set in. Berries and mushrooms, upon
which the boy had subsisted during the summer, were either frozen or
decayed. Finally he had been compelled to eat raw fish, which was
something he disliked. The days had grown short and the long evenings
and late mornings were rather tiresome for one who could not sleep the
whole time that the sun was away.
Now, at last, the goslings' wings had grown, so that the geese could
start for the south. The boy was so happy that he laughed and sang as he
rode on the goose's back. It was not only on account of the darkness and
cold that he longed to get away from Lapland; there were other reasons
The first weeks of his sojourn there the boy had not been the least bit
homesick. He thought he had never before seen such a glorious country.
The only worry he had had was to keep the mosquitoes from eating him up.
The boy had seen very little of the goosey-gander, because the big,
white gander thought only of his Dunfin and was unwilling to leave her
for a moment. On the other hand, Thumbietot had stuck to Akka and Gorgo,
the eagle, and the three of them had passed many happy hours together.
The two birds had taken him with them on long trips. He had stood on
snow-capped Mount Kebnekaise, had looked down at the glaciers and
visited many high cliffs seldom tramped by human feet. Akka had shown
him deep-hidden mountain dales and had let him peep into caves where
mother wolves brought up their young. He had also made the acquaintance
of the tame reindeer that grazed in herds along the shores of the
beautiful Torne Lake, and he had been down to the great falls and
brought greetings to the bears that lived thereabouts from their friends
and relatives in Westmanland.
Ever since he had seen Osa, the goose girl, he longed for the day when
he might go home with Morten Goosey-Gander and be a normal human being
once more. He wanted to be himself again, so that Osa would not be
afraid to talk to him and would not shut the door in his face.
Yes, indeed, he was glad that at last they were speeding southward. He
waved his cap and cheered when he saw the first pine forest. In the same
manner he greeted the first gray cabin, the first goat, the first cat,
and the first chicken.
They were continually meeting birds of passage, flying now in greater
flocks than in the spring.
"Where are you bound for, wild geese?" called the passing birds. "Where
are you bound for?"
"We, like yourselves, are going abroad," answered the geese.
"Those goslings of yours aren't ready to fly," screamed the others.
"They'll never cross the sea with those puny wings!"
Laplander and reindeer were also leaving the mountains. When the wild
geese sighted the reindeer, they circled down and called out:
"Thanks for your company this summer!"
"A pleasant journey to you and a welcome back!" returned the reindeer.
But when the bears saw the wild geese, they pointed them out to the cubs
"Just look at those geese; they are so afraid of a little cold they
don't dare to stay at home in winter."
But the old geese were ready with a retort and cried to their goslings:
"Look at those beasts that stay at home and sleep half the year rather
than go to the trouble of travelling south!"
Down in the pine forest the young grouse sat huddled together and gazed
longingly after the big bird flocks which, amid joy and merriment,
"When will our turn come?" they asked the mother grouse.
"You will have to stay at home with mamma and papa," she said.
LEGENDS FROM HAeRJEDALEN
_Tuesday, October fourth_.
The boy had had three days' travel in the rain and mist and longed for
some sheltered nook, where he might rest awhile.
At last the geese alighted to feed and ease their wings a bit. To his
great relief the boy saw an observation tower on a hill close by, and
dragged himself to it.
When he had climbed to the top of the tower he found a party of tourists
there, so he quickly crawled into a dark corner and was soon sound
When the boy awoke, he began to feel uneasy because the tourists
lingered so long in the tower telling stories. He thought they would
never go. Morten Goosey-Gander could not come for him while they were
there and he knew, of course, that the wild geese were in a hurry to
continue the journey. In the middle of a story he thought he heard
honking and the beating of wings, as if the geese were flying away, but
he did not dare to venture over to the balustrade to find out if it was
At last, when the tourists were gone, and the boy could crawl from his
hiding place, he saw no wild geese, and no Morten Goosey-Gander came to
fetch him. He called, "Here am I, where are you?" as loud as he could,
but his travelling companions did not appear. Not for a second did he
think they had deserted him; but he feared that they had met with some
mishap and was wondering what he should do to find them, when Bataki,
the raven, lit beside him.
The boy never dreamed that he should greet Bataki with such a glad
welcome as he now gave him.
"Dear Bataki," he burst forth. "How fortunate that you are here! Maybe
you know what has become of Morten Goosey-Gander and the wild geese?"
"I've just come with a greeting from them," replied the raven. "Akka saw
a hunter prowling about on the mountain and therefore dared not stay to
wait for you, but has gone on ahead. Get up on my back and you shall
soon be with your friends."
The boy quickly seated himself on the raven's back and Bataki would soon
have caught up with the geese had he not been hindered by a fog. It was
as if the morning sun had awakened it to life. Little light veils of
mist rose suddenly from the lake, from fields, and from the forest. They
thickened and spread with marvellous rapidity, and soon the entire
ground was hidden from sight by white, rolling mists.
Bataki flew along above the fog in clear air and sparkling sunshine, but
the wild geese must have circled down among the damp clouds, for it was
impossible to sight them. The boy and the raven called and shrieked, but
got no response.
"Well, this is a stroke of ill luck!" said Bataki finally. "But we know
that they are travelling toward the south, and of course I'll find them
as soon as the mist clears."
The boy was distressed at the thought of being parted from Morten
Goosey-Gander just now, when the geese were on the wing, and the big
white one might meet with all sorts of mishaps. After Thumbietot had
been sitting worrying for two hours or more, he remarked to himself
that, thus far, there had been no mishap, and it was not worth while to
Just then he heard a rooster crowing down on the ground, and instantly
he bent forward on the raven's back and called out:
"What's the name of the country I'm travelling over?"
"It's called Haerjedalen, Haerjedalen, Haerjedalen," crowed the rooster.
"How does it look down there where you are?" the boy asked.
"Cliffs in the west, woods in the east, broad valleys across the whole
country," replied the rooster.
"Thank you," cried the boy. "You give a clear account of it."
When they had travelled a little farther, he heard a crow cawing down in
"What kind of people live in this country?" shouted the boy.
"Good, thrifty peasants," answered the crow. "Good, thrifty peasants."
"What do they do?" asked the boy. "What do they do?"
"They raise cattle and fell forests," cawed the crow.
"Thanks," replied the boy. "You answer well."
A bit farther on he heard a human voice yodeling and singing down in the
"Is there any large city in this part of the country?" the boy asked.
"What--what--who is it that calls?" cried the human voice.
"Is there any large city in this region?" the boy repeated.
"I want to know who it is that calls," shouted the human voice.
"I might have known that I could get no information when I asked a human
being a civil question," the boy retorted.
It was not long before the mist went away as suddenly as it had come.
Then the boy saw a beautiful landscape, with high cliffs as in Jaemtland,
but there were no large, flourishing settlements on the mountain slopes.
The villages lay far apart, and the farms were small. Bataki followed
the stream southward till they came within sight of a village. There he
alighted in a stubble field and let the boy dismount.
"In the summer grain grew on this ground," said Bataki. "Look around and
see if you can't find something eatable."
The boy acted upon the suggestion and before long he found a blade of
wheat. As he picked out the grains and ate them, Bataki talked to him.
"Do you see that mountain towering directly south of us?" he asked.
"Yes, of course, I see it," said the boy.
"It is called Sonfjaellet," continued the raven; "you can imagine that
wolves were plentiful there once upon a time."
"It must have been an ideal place for wolves," said the boy.
"The people who lived here in the valley were frequently attacked by
them," remarked the raven.
"Perhaps you remember a good wolf story you could tell me?" said the
"I've been told that a long, long time ago the wolves from Sonfjaellet
are supposed to have waylaid a man who had gone out to peddle his
wares," began Bataki. "He was from Hede, a village a few miles down the
valley. It was winter time and the wolves made for him as he was driving
over the ice on Lake Ljusna. There were about nine or ten, and the man
from Hede had a poor old horse, so there was very little hope of his
"When the man heard the wolves howl and saw how many there were after
him, he lost his head, and it did not occur to him that he ought to dump
his casks and jugs out of the sledge, to lighten the load. He only
whipped up the horse and made the best speed he could, but he soon
observed that the wolves were gaining on him. The shores were desolate
and he was fourteen miles from the nearest farm. He thought that his
final hour had come, and was paralyzed with fear.
"While he sat there, terrified, he saw something move in the brush,
which had been set in the ice to mark out the road; and when he
discovered who it was that walked there, his fear grew more and more
"Wild beasts were not coming toward him, but a poor old woman, named
Finn-Malin, who was in the habit of roaming about on highways and
byways. She was a hunchback, and slightly lame, so he recognized her at
"The old woman was walking straight toward the wolves. The sledge had
hidden them from her view, and the man comprehended at once that, if he
were to drive on without warning her, she would walk right into the jaws
of the wild beasts, and while they were rending her, he would have time
enough to get away.
"The old woman walked slowly, bent over a cane. It was plain that she
was doomed if he did not help her, but even if he were to stop and take
her into the sledge, it was by no means certain that she would be safe.
More than likely the wolves would catch up with them, and he and she and
the horse would all be killed. He wondered if it were not better to
sacrifice one life in order that two might be spared--this flashed upon
him the minute he saw the old woman. He had also time to think how it
would be with him afterward--if perchance he might not regret that he
had not succoured her; or if people should some day learn of the meeting
and that he had not tried to help her. It was a terrible temptation.
"'I would rather not have seen her,' he said to himself.
"Just then the wolves howled savagely. The horse reared, plunged
forward, and dashed past the old beggar woman. She, too, had heard the
howling of the wolves, and, as the man from Hede drove by, he saw that
the old woman knew what awaited her. She stood motionless, her mouth
open for a cry, her arms stretched out for help. But she neither cried
nor tried to throw herself into the sledge. Something seemed to have
turned her to stone. 'It was I,' thought the man. 'I must have looked
like a demon as I passed.'
"He tried to feel satisfied, now that he was certain of escape; but at
that very moment his heart reproached him. Never before had he done a
dastardly thing, and he felt now that his whole life was blasted.
"'Let come what may,' he said, and reined in the horse, 'I cannot leave
her alone with the wolves!'
"It was with great difficulty that he got the horse to turn, but in the
end he managed it and promptly drove back to her.
"'Be quick and get into the sledge,' he said gruffly; for he was mad
with himself for not leaving the old woman to her fate.
"'You might stay at home once in awhile, you old hag!' he growled. 'Now
both my horse and I will come to grief on your account.'
"The old woman did not say a word, but the man from Hede was in no mood
to spare her.
"'The horse has already tramped thirty-five miles to-day, and the load
hasn't lightened any since you got up on it!' he grumbled, 'so that you
must understand he'll soon be exhausted.'
"The sledge runners crunched on the ice, but for all that he heard how
the wolves panted, and knew that the beasts were almost upon him.
"'It's all up with us!' he said. 'Much good it was, either to you or to
me, this attempt to save you, Finn-Malin!'
"Up to this point the old woman had been silent--like one who is
accustomed to take abuse--but now she said a few words.
"'I can't understand why you don't throw out your wares and lighten the
load. You can come back again to-morrow and gather them up.'
"The man realized that this was sound advice and was surprised that he
had not thought of it before. He tossed the reins to the old woman,
loosed the ropes that bound the casks, and pitched them out. The wolves
were right upon them, but now they stopped to examine that which was
thrown on the ice, and the travellers again had the start of them.
"'If this does not help you,' said the old woman, 'you understand, of
course, that I will give myself up to the wolves voluntarily, that you
"While she was speaking the man was trying to push a heavy brewer's vat
from the long sledge. As he tugged at this he paused, as if he could not
quite make up his mind to throw it out; but, in reality, his mind was
taken up with something altogether different.
"'Surely a man and a horse who have no infirmities need not let a feeble
old woman be devoured by wolves for their sakes!' he thought. 'There
must be some other way of salvation. Why, of course, there is! It's only
my stupidity that hinders me from finding the way.'
"Again he started to push the vat, then paused once more and burst out
"The old woman was alarmed and wondered if he had gone mad, but the man
from Hede was laughing at himself because he had been so stupid all the
while. It was the simplest thing in the world to save all three of them.
He could not imagine why he had not thought of it before.
"'Listen to what I say to you, Malin!' he said. 'It was splendid of you
to be willing to throw yourself to the wolves. But you won't have to do
that because I know how we can all three be helped without endangering
the life of any. Remember, whatever I may do, you are to sit still and
drive down to Linsaell. There you must waken the townspeople and tell
them that I'm alone out here on the ice, surrounded by wolves, and ask
them to come and help me.'
"The man waited until the wolves were almost upon the sledge. Then he
rolled out the big brewer's vat, jumped down, and crawled in under it.
"It was a huge vat, large enough to hold a whole Christmas brew. The
wolves pounced upon it and bit at the hoops, but the vat was too heavy
for them to move. They could not get at the man inside.
"He knew that he was safe and laughed at the wolves. After a bit he was
"'For the future, when I get into a tight place, I shall remember this
vat, and I shall bear in mind that I need never wrong either myself or
others, for there is always a third way out of a difficulty if only one
can hit upon it.'"
With this Bataki closed his narrative.
The boy noticed that the raven never spoke unless there was some special
meaning back of his words, and the longer he listened to him, the more
thoughtful he became.
"I wonder why you told me that story?" remarked the boy.
"I just happened to think of it as I stood here, gazing up at
Sonfjaellet," replied the raven.
Now they had travelled farther down Lake Ljusna and in an hour or so
they came to Kolsaett, close to the border of Haelsingland. Here the raven
alighted near a little hut that had no windows--only a shutter. From the
chimney rose sparks and smoke, and from within the sound of heavy
hammering was heard.
"Whenever I see this smithy," observed the raven, "I'm reminded that, in
former times, there were such skilled blacksmiths here in Haerjedalen,
more especially in this village--that they couldn't be matched in the
"Perhaps you also remember a story about them?" said the boy.
"Yes," returned Bataki, "I remember one about a smith from Haerjedalen
who once invited two other master blacksmiths--one from Dalecarlia and
one from Vermland--to compete with him at nail-making. The challenge was
accepted and the three blacksmiths met here at Kolsaett. The Dalecarlian
began. He forged a dozen nails, so even and smooth and sharp that they
couldn't be improved upon. After him came the Vermlander. He, too,
forged a dozen nails, which were quite perfect and, moreover, he
finished them in half the time that it took the Dalecarlian. When the
judges saw this they said to the Haerjedal smith that it wouldn't be
worth while for him to try, since he could not forge better than the
Dalecarlian or faster than the Vermlander.
"'I sha'n't give up! There must be still another way of excelling,'
insisted the Haerjedal smith.
"He placed the iron on the anvil without heating it at the forge; he
simply hammered it hot and forged nail after nail, without the use of
either anvil or bellows. None of the judges had ever seen a blacksmith
wield a hammer more masterfully, and the Haerjedal smith was proclaimed
the best in the land."
With these remarks Bataki subsided, and the boy grew even more
"I wonder what your purpose was in telling me that?" he queried.
"The story dropped into my mind when I saw the old smithy again," said
Bataki in an offhand manner.
The two travellers rose again into the air and the raven carried the boy
southward till they came to Lillhaerdal Parish, where he alighted on a
leafy mound at the top of a ridge.
"I wonder if you know upon what mound you are standing?" said Bataki.
The boy had to confess that he did not know.
"This is a grave," said Bataki. "Beneath this mound lies the first
settler in Haerjedalen."
"Perhaps you have a story to tell of him too?" said the boy.
"I haven't heard much about him, but I think he was a Norwegian. He had
served with a Norwegian king, got into his bad graces, and had to flee
"Later he went over to the Swedish king, who lived at Upsala, and took
service with him. But, after a time, he asked for the hand of the king's
sister in marriage, and when the king wouldn't give him such a high-born
bride, he eloped with her. By that time he had managed to get himself
into such disfavour that it wasn't safe for him to live either in Norway
or Sweden, and he did not wish to move to a foreign country. 'But there
must still be a course open to me,' he thought. With his servants and
treasures, he journeyed through Dalecarlia until he arrived in the
desolate forests beyond the outskirts of the province. There he settled,
built houses and broke up land. Thus, you see, he was the first man to
settle in this part of the country."
As the boy listened to the last story, he looked very serious.
"I wonder what your object is in telling me all this?" he repeated.
Bataki twisted and turned and screwed up his eyes, and it was some time
before he answered the boy.
"Since we are here alone," he said finally, "I shall take this
opportunity to question you regarding a certain matter.
"Have you ever tried to ascertain upon what terms the elf who
transformed you was to restore you to a normal human being?"
"The only stipulation I've heard anything about was that I should take
the white goosey-gander up to Lapland and bring him back to Skane, safe
"I thought as much," said Bataki; "for when last we met, you talked
confidently of there being nothing more contemptible than deceiving a
friend who trusts one. You'd better ask Akka about the terms. You know,
I dare say, that she was at your home and talked with the elf."
"Akka hasn't told me of this," said the boy wonderingly.
"She must have thought that it was best for you not to know just what
the elf _did_ say. Naturally she would rather help you than Morten
"It is singular, Bataki, that you always have a way of making me feel
unhappy and anxious," said the boy.
"I dare say it might seem so," continued the raven, "but this time I
believe that you will be grateful to me for telling you that the elf's
words were to this effect: You were to become a normal human being again
if you would bring back Morten Goosey-Gander that your mother might lay
him on the block and chop his head off."
The boy leaped up.
"That's only one of your base fabrications," he cried indignantly.
"You can ask Akka yourself," said Bataki. "I see her coming up there
with her whole flock. And don't forget what I have told you to-day.
There is usually a way out of all difficulties, if only one can find it.
I shall be interested to see what success you have."
VERMLAND AND DALSLAND
_Wednesday, October fifth_.
To-day the boy took advantage of the rest hour, when Akka was feeding
apart from the other wild geese, to ask her if that which Bataki had
related was true, and Akka could not deny it. The boy made the
leader-goose promise that she would not divulge the secret to Morten
Goosey-Gander. The big white gander was so brave and generous that he
might do something rash were he to learn of the elf's stipulations.
Later the boy sat on the goose-back, glum and silent, and hung his head.
He heard the wild geese call out to the goslings that now they were in
Dalarne, they could see Staedjan in the north, and that now they were
flying over Oesterdal River to Horrmund Lake and were coming to Vesterdal
River. But the boy did not care even to glance at all this.
"I shall probably travel around with wild geese the rest of my life," he
remarked to himself, "and I am likely to see more of this land than I
He was quite as indifferent when the wild geese called out to him that
now they had arrived in Vermland and that the stream they were following
southward was Klaraelven.
"I've seen so many rivers already," thought the boy, "why bother to look
at one more?"
Even had he been more eager for sight-seeing, there was not very much to
be seen, for northern Vermland is nothing but vast, monotonous forest
tracts, through which Klaraelven winds--narrow and rich in rapids. Here
and there one can see a charcoal kiln, a forest clearing, or a few low,
chimneyless huts, occupied by Finns. But the forest as a whole is so
extensive one might fancy it was far up in Lapland.
A LITTLE HOMESTEAD
_Thursday, October sixth_.
The wild geese followed Klaraelven as far as the big iron foundries at
Monk Fors. Then they proceeded westward to Fryksdalen. Before they got
to Lake Fryken it began to grow dusky, and they lit in a little wet
morass on a wooded hill. The morass was certainly a good night quarter
for the wild geese, but the boy thought it dismal and rough, and wished
for a better sleeping place. While he was still high in the air, he had
noticed that below the ridge lay a number of farms, and with great haste
he proceeded to seek them out.
They were farther away than he had fancied and several times he was
tempted to turn back. Presently the woods became less dense, and he came
to a road skirting the edge of the forest. From it branched a pretty
birch-bordered lane, which led down to a farm, and immediately he
hastened toward it.
First the boy entered a farm yard as large as a city marketplace and
enclosed by a long row of red houses. As he crossed the yard, he saw
another farm where the dwelling-house faced a gravel path and a wide
lawn. Back of the house there was a garden thick with foliage. The
dwelling itself was small and humble, but the garden was edged by a row
of exceedingly tall mountain-ash trees, so close together that they
formed a real wall around it. It appeared to the boy as if he were
coming into a great, high-vaulted chamber, with the lovely blue sky for
a ceiling. The mountain-ash were thick with clusters of red berries, the
grass plots were still green, of course, but that night there was a full
moon, and as the bright moonlight fell upon the grass it looked as white
No human being was in sight and the boy could wander freely wherever he
wished. When he was in the garden he saw something which almost put him
in good humour. He had climbed a mountain-ash to eat berries, but before
he could reach a cluster he caught sight of a barberry bush, which was
also full of berries. He slid along the ash branch and clambered up into
the barberry bush, but he was no sooner there than he discovered a
currant bush, on which still hung long red clusters. Next he saw that
the garden was full of gooseberries and raspberries and dog-rose bushes;
that there were cabbages and turnips in the vegetable beds and berries
on every bush, seeds on the herbs and grain-filled ears on every blade.
And there on the path--no, of course he could not mistake it--was a big
red apple which shone in the moonlight.
The boy sat down at the side of the path, with the big red apple in
front of him, and began cutting little pieces from it with his sheath
"It wouldn't be such a serious matter to be an elf all one's life if it
were always as easy to get good food as it is here," he thought.
He sat and mused as he ate, wondering finally if it would not be as well
for him to remain here and let the wild geese travel south without him.
"I don't know for the life of me how I can ever explain to Morten
Goosey-Gander that I cannot go home," thought he. "It would be better
were I to leave him altogether. I could gather provisions enough for the
winter, as well as the squirrels do, and if I were to live in a dark
corner of the stable or the cow shed, I shouldn't freeze to death."
Just as he was thinking this, he heard a light rustle over his head,
and a second later something which resembled a birch stump stood on the
ground beside him.
The stump twisted and turned, and two bright dots on top of it glowed
like coals of fire. It looked like some enchantment. However, the boy
soon remarked that the stump had a hooked beak and big feather wreaths
around its glowing eyes. Then he knew that this was no enchantment.
"It is a real pleasure to meet a living creature," remarked the boy.
"Perhaps you will be good enough to tell me the name of this place, Mrs.
Brown Owl, and what sort of folk live here."
That evening, as on all other evenings, the owl had perched on a rung of
the big ladder propped against the roof, from which she had looked down
toward the gravel walks and grass plots, watching for rats. Very much to
her surprise, not a single grayskin had appeared. She saw instead
something that looked like a human being, but much, much smaller, moving
about in the garden.
"That's the one who is scaring away the rats!" thought the owl. "What in
the world can it be? It's not a squirrel, nor a kitten, nor a weasel,"
she observed. "I suppose that a bird who has lived on an old place like
this as long as I have ought to know about everything in the world; but
this is beyond my comprehension," she concluded.
She had been staring at the object that moved on the gravel path until
her eyes burned. Finally curiosity got the better of her and she flew
down to the ground to have a closer view of the stranger.
When the boy began to speak, the owl bent forward and looked him up and
"He has neither claws nor horns," she remarked to herself, "yet who
knows but he may have a poisonous fang or some even more dangerous
weapon. I must try to find out what he passes for before I venture to
"The place is called Marbacka," said the owl, "and gentlefolk lived here
once upon a time. But you, yourself, who are you?"
"I think of moving in here," volunteered the boy without answering the
owl's question. "Would it be possible, do you think?"
"Oh, yes--but it's not much of a place now compared to what it was
once," said the owl. "You can weather it here I dare say. It all depends
upon what you expect to live on. Do you intend to take up the rat
"Oh, by no means!" declared the boy. "There is more fear of the rats
eating me than that I shall do them any harm."
"It can't be that he is as harmless as he says," thought the brown owl.
"All the same I believe I'll make an attempt...." She rose into the air,
and in a second her claws were fastened in Nils Holgersson's shoulder
and she was trying to hack at his eyes.
The boy shielded both eyes with one hand and tried to free himself with
the other, at the same time calling with all his might for help. He
realized that he was in deadly peril and thought that this time, surely,
it was all over with him!
Now I must tell you of a strange coincidence: The very year that Nils
Holgersson travelled with the wild geese there was a woman who thought
of writing a book about Sweden, which would be suitable for children to
read in the schools. She had thought of this from Christmas time until
the following autumn; but not a line of the book had she written. At
last she became so tired of the whole thing that she said to herself:
"You are not fitted for such work. Sit down and compose stories and
legends, as usual, and let another write this book, which has got to be
serious and instructive, and in which there must not be one untruthful
It was as good as settled that she would abandon the idea. But she
thought, very naturally, it would have been agreeable to write something
beautiful about Sweden, and it was hard for her to relinquish her work.
Finally, it occurred to her that maybe it was because she lived in a
city, with only gray streets and house walls around her, that she could
make no headway with the writing. Perhaps if she were to go into the
country, where she could see woods and fields, that it might go better.
She was from Vermland, and it was perfectly clear to her that she
wished to begin the book with that province. First of all she would
write about the place where she had grown up. It was a little homestead,
far removed from the great world, where many old-time habits and customs
were retained. She thought that it would be entertaining for children to
hear of the manifold duties which had succeeded one another the year
around. She wanted to tell them how they celebrated Christmas and New
Year and Easter and Midsummer Day in her home; what kind of house
furnishings they had; what the kitchen and larder were like, and how the
cow shed, stable, lodge, and bath house had looked. But when she was to
write about it the pen would not move. Why this was she could not in the
least understand; nevertheless it was so.
True, she remembered it all just as distinctly as if she were still
living in the midst of it. She argued with herself that since she was
going into the country anyway, perhaps she ought to make a little trip
to the old homestead that she might see it again before writing about
it. She had not been there in many years and did not think it half bad
to have a reason for the journey. In fact she had always longed to be
there, no matter in what part of the world she happened to be. She had
seen many places that were more pretentious and prettier. But nowhere
could she find such comfort and protection as in the home of her
It was not such an easy matter for her to go home as one might think,
for the estate had been sold to people she did not know. She felt, to be
sure, that they would receive her well, but she did not care to go to
the old place to sit and talk with strangers, for she wanted to recall
how it had been in times gone by. That was why she planned it so as to
arrive there late in the evening, when the day's work was done and the
people were indoors.
She had never imagined that it would be so wonderful to come home! As
she sat in the cart and drove toward the old homestead she fancied that
she was growing younger and younger every minute, and that soon she
would no longer be an oldish person with hair that was turning gray,
but a little girl in short skirts with a long flaxen braid. As she
recognized each farm along the road, she could not picture anything else
than that everything at home would be as in bygone days. Her father and
mother and brothers and sisters would be standing on the porch to
welcome her; the old housekeeper would run to the kitchen window to see
who was coming, and Nero and Freja and another dog or two would come
bounding and jumping up on her.
The nearer she approached the place the happier she felt. It was autumn,
which meant a busy time with a round of duties. It must have been all
these varying duties which prevented home from ever being monotonous.
All along the way the farmers were digging potatoes, and probably they
would be doing likewise at her home. That meant that they must begin
immediately to grate potatoes and make potato flour. The autumn had been
a mild one; she wondered if everything in the garden had already been
stored. The cabbages were still out, but perhaps the hops had been
picked, and all the apples.
It would be well if they were not having house cleaning at home. Autumn
fair time was drawing nigh, everywhere the cleaning and scouring had to
be done before the fair opened. That was regarded as a great event--more
especially by the servants. It was a pleasure to go into the kitchen on
Market Eve and see the newly scoured floor strewn with juniper twigs,
the whitewashed walls and the shining copper utensils which were
suspended from the ceiling.
Even after the fair festivities were over there would not be much of a
breathing spell, for then came the work on the flax. During dog days the
flax had been spread out on a meadow to mould. Now it was laid in the
old bath house, where the stove was lighted to dry it out. When it was
dry enough to handle all the women in the neighbourhood were called
together. They sat outside the bath house and picked the flax to pieces.
Then they beat it with swingles, to separate the fine white fibres from
the dry stems. As they worked, the women grew gray with dust; their hair
and clothing were covered with flax seed, but they did not seem to mind
it. All day the swingles pounded, and the chatter went on, so that when
one went near the old bath house it sounded as if a blustering storm had
broken loose there.
After the work with the flax, came the big hard-tack baking, the sheep
shearing, and the servants' moving time. In November there were busy
slaughter days, with salting of meats, sausage making, baking of blood
pudding, and candle steeping. The seamstress who used to make up their
homespun dresses had to come at this time, of course, and those were
always two pleasant weeks--when the women folk sat together and busied
themselves with sewing. The cobbler, who made shoes for the entire
household, sat working at the same time in the men-servants' quarters,
and one never tired of watching him as he cut the leather and soled and
heeled the shoes and put eyelets in the shoestring holes.
But the greatest rush came around Christmas time. Lucia Day--when the
housemaid went about dressed in white, with candles in her hair, and
served coffee to everybody at five in the morning--came as a sort of
reminder that for the next two weeks they could not count on much sleep.
For now they must brew the Christmas ale, steep the Christmas fish in
lye, and do their Christmas baking and Christmas scouring.
She was in the middle of the baking, with pans of Christmas buns and
cooky platters all around her, when the driver drew in the reins at the
end of the lane as she had requested. She started like one suddenly
awakened from a sound sleep. It was dismal for her who had just dreamed
herself surrounded by all her people to be sitting alone in the late
evening. As she stepped from the wagon and started to walk up the long
lane that she might come unobserved to her old home, she felt so keenly
the contrast between then and now that she would have preferred to turn
"Of what use is it to come here?" she sighed. "It can't be the same as
in the old days!"
On the other hand she felt that since she had travelled such a long
distance, she would see the place at all events, so continued to walk
on, although she was more depressed with every step that she took.
She had heard that it was very much changed; and it certainly was! But
she did not observe this now in the evening. She thought, rather, that
everything was quite the same. There was the pond, which in her youth
had been full of carp and where no one dared fish, because it was
father's wish that the carp should be left in peace. Over there were the
men-servants' quarters, the larder and barn, with the farm yard bell
over one gable and the weather-vane over the other. The house yard was
like a circular room, with no outlook in any direction, as it had been
in her father's time--for he had not the heart to cut down as much as a
She lingered in the shadow under the big mountain-ash at the entrance to
the farm, and stood looking about her. As she stood there a strange
thing happened; a flock of doves came and lit beside her.
She could hardly believe that they were real birds, for doves are not in
the habit of moving about after sundown. It must have been the beautiful
moonlight that had awakened these. They must have thought it was dawn
and flown from their dove-cotes, only to become confused, hardly knowing
where they were. When they saw a human being they flew over to her, as
if she would set them right.
There had been many flocks of doves at the manor when her parents lived
there, for the doves were among the creatures which her father had taken
under his special care. If one ever mentioned the killing of a dove, it
put him in a bad humour. She was pleased that the pretty birds had come
to meet her in the old home. Who could tell but the doves had flown out
in the night to show her they had not forgotten that once upon a time
they had a good home there.
Perhaps her father had sent his birds with a greeting to her, so that
she would not feel so sad and lonely when she came to her former home.
As she thought of this, there welled up within her such an intense
longing for the old times that her eyes filled with tears. Life had
been beautiful in this place. They had had weeks of work broken by many
holiday festivities. They had toiled hard all day, but at evening they
had gathered around the lamp and read Tegner and Runeberg, "_Fru"_
Lenngren and "_Mamsell"_ Bremer. They had cultivated grain, but also
roses and jasmine. They had spun flax, but had sung folk-songs as they
spun. They had worked hard at their history and grammar, but they had
also played theatre and written verses. They had stood at the kitchen
stove and prepared food, but had learned, also, to play the flute and
guitar, the violin and piano. They had planted cabbages and turnips,
peas and beans in one garden, but they had another full of apples and
pears and all kinds of berries. They had lived by themselves, and this
was why so many stories and legends were stowed away in their memories.
They had worn homespun clothes, but they had also been able to lead
care-free and independent lives.
"Nowhere else in the world do they know how to get so much out of life
as they did at one of these little homesteads in my childhood!" she
thought. "There was just enough work and just enough play, and every day
there was a joy. How I should love to come back here again! Now that I
have seen the place, it is hard to leave it."
Then she turned to the flock of doves and said to them--laughing at
herself all the while:
"Won't you fly to father and tell him that I long to come home? I have
wandered long enough in strange places. Ask him if he can't arrange it
so that I may soon turn back to my childhood's home."
The moment she had said this the flock of doves rose and flew away. She
tried to follow them with her eyes, but they vanished instantly. It was
as if the whole white company had dissolved in the shimmering air.
The doves had only just gone when she heard a couple of piercing cries
from the garden, and as she hastened thither she saw a singular sight.
There stood a tiny midget, no taller than a hand's breadth, struggling
with a brown owl. At first she was so astonished that she could not
move. But when the midget cried more and more pitifully, she stepped up
quickly and parted the fighters. The owl swung herself into a tree, but
the midget stood on the gravel path, without attempting either to hide
or to run away.
"Thanks for your help," he said. "But it was very stupid of you to let
the owl escape. I can't get away from here, because she is sitting up in
the tree watching me."
"It was thoughtless of me to let her go. But to make amends, can't I
accompany you to your home?" asked she who wrote stories, somewhat
surprised to think that in this unexpected fashion she had got into
conversation with one of the tiny folk. Still she was not so much
surprised after all. It was as if all the while she had been awaiting
some extraordinary experience, while she walked in the moonlight outside
her old home.
"The fact is, I had thought of stopping here over night," said the
midget. "If you will only show me a safe sleeping place, I shall not be
obliged to return to the forest before daybreak."
"Must I show you a place to sleep? Are you not at home here?"
"I understand that you take me for one of the tiny folk," said the
midget, "but I'm a human being, like yourself, although I have been
transformed by an elf."
"That is the most remarkable thing I have ever heard! Wouldn't you like
to tell me how you happened to get into such a plight?"
The boy did not mind telling her of his adventures, and, as the
narrative proceeded, she who listened to him grew more and more
astonished and happy.
"What luck to run across one who has travelled all over Sweden on the
back of a goose!" thought she. "Just this which he is relating I shall
write down in my book. Now I need worry no more over that matter. It was
well that I came home. To think that I should find such help as soon as
I came to the old place!"
Instantly another thought flashed into her mind. She had sent word to
her father by the doves that she longed for home, and almost immediately
she had received help in the matter she had pondered so long. Might not
this be the father's answer to her prayer?
THE TREASURE ON THE ISLAND
ON THEIR WAY TO THE SEA
_Friday, October seventh_.
From the very start of the autumn trip the wild geese had flown straight
south; but when they left Fryksdalen they veered in another direction,
travelling over western Vermland and Dalsland, toward Bohuslaen.
That was a jolly trip! The goslings were now so used to flying that they
complained no more of fatigue, and the boy was fast recovering his good
humour. He was glad that he had talked with a human being. He felt
encouraged when she said to him that if he were to continue doing good
to all whom he met, as heretofore, it could not end badly for him. She
was not able to tell him how to get back his natural form, but she had
given him a little hope and assurance, which inspired the boy to think
out a way to prevent the big white gander from going home.
"Do you know, Morten Goosey-Gander, that it will be rather monotonous
for us to stay at home all winter after having been on a trip like
this," he said, as they were flying far up in the air. "I'm sitting here
thinking that we ought to go abroad with the geese."
"Surely you are not in earnest!" said the goosey-gander. Since he had
proved to the wild geese his ability to travel with them all the way to
Lapland, he was perfectly satisfied to get back to the goose pen in
Holger Nilsson's cow shed.
The boy sat silently a while and gazed down on Vermland, where the birch
woods, leafy groves, and gardens were clad in red and yellow autumn
"I don't think I've ever seen the earth beneath us as lovely as it is
to-day!" he finally remarked. "The lakes are like blue satin bands.
Don't you think it would be a pity to settle down in West Vemminghoeg and
never see any more of the world?"
"I thought you wanted to go home to your mother and father and show them
what a splendid boy you had become?" said the goosey-gander.
All summer he had been dreaming of what a proud moment it would be for
him when he should alight in the house yard before Holger Nilsson's
cabin and show Dunfin and the six goslings to the geese and chickens,
the cows and the cat, and to Mother Holger Nilsson herself, so that he
was not very happy over the boy's proposal.
"Now, Morten Goosey-Gander, don't you think yourself that it would be
hard never to see anything more that is beautiful!" said the boy.
"I would rather see the fat grain fields of Soederslaett than these lean
hills," answered the goosey-gander. "But you must know very well that
if you really wish to continue the trip, I can't be parted from you."
"That is just the answer I had expected from you," said the boy, and his
voice betrayed that he was relieved of a great anxiety.
Later, when they travelled over Bohuslaen, the boy observed that the
mountain stretches were more continuous, the valleys were more like
little ravines blasted in the rock foundation, while the long lakes at
their base were as black as if they had come from the underworld. This,
too, was a glorious country, and as the boy saw it, with now a strip of
sun, now a shadow, he thought that there was something strange and wild
about it. He knew not why, but the idea came to him that once upon a
time there were many strong and brave heroes in these mystical regions
who had passed through many dangerous and daring adventures. The old
passion of wanting to share in all sorts of wonderful adventures awoke
"I might possibly miss not being in danger of my life at least once
every day or two," he thought. "Anyhow it's best to be content with
things as they are."
He did not speak of this idea to the big white gander, because the geese
were now flying over Bohuslaen with all the speed they could muster, and
the goosey-gander was puffing so hard that he would not have had the
strength to reply.
The sun was far down on the horizon, and disappeared every now and then
behind a hill; still the geese kept forging ahead.
Finally, in the west, they saw a shining strip of light, which grew
broader and broader with every wing stroke. Soon the sea spread before
them, milk white with a shimmer of rose red and sky blue, and when they
had circled past the coast cliffs they saw the sun again, as it hung
over the sea, big and red and ready to plunge into the waves.
As the boy gazed at the broad, endless sea and the red evening sun,
which had such a kindly glow that he dared to look straight at it, he
felt a sense of peace and calm penetrate his soul.
"It's not worth while to be sad, Nils Holgersson," said the Sun. "This
is a beautiful world to live in both for big and little. It is also good
to be free and happy, and to have a great dome of open sky above you."
THE GIFT OF THE WILD GEESE
The geese stood sleeping on a little rock islet just beyond Fjaellbacka.
When it drew on toward midnight, and the moon hung high in the heavens,
old Akka shook the sleepiness out of her eyes. After that she walked
around and awakened Yksi and Kaksi, Kolme and Neljae, Viisi and Kuusi,
and, last of all, she gave Thumbietot a nudge with her bill that
"What is it, Mother Akka?" he asked, springing up in alarm.
"Nothing serious," assured the leader-goose. "It's just this: we seven
who have been long together want to fly a short distance out to sea
to-night, and we wondered if you would care to come with us."
The boy knew that Akka would not have proposed this move had there not
been something important on foot, so he promptly seated himself on her
back. The flight was straight west. The wild geese first flew over a
belt of large and small islands near the coast, then over a broad
expanse of open sea, till they reached the large cluster known as the
Vaeder Islands. All of them were low and rocky, and in the moonlight one
could see that they were rather large.
Akka looked at one of the smallest islands and alighted there. It
consisted of a round, gray stone hill, with a wide cleft across it, into
which the sea had cast fine, white sea sand and a few shells.
As the boy slid from the goose's back he noticed something quite close
to him that looked like a jagged stone. But almost at once he saw that
it was a big vulture which had chosen the rock island for a night
harbour. Before the boy had time to wonder at the geese recklessly
alighting so near a dangerous enemy, the bird flew up to them and the
boy recognized Gorgo, the eagle.
Evidently Akka and Gorgo had arranged the meeting, for neither of them
was taken by surprise.
"This was good of you, Gorgo," said Akka. "I didn't expect that you
would be at the meeting place ahead of us. Have you been here long?"
"I came early in the evening," replied Gorgo. "But I fear that the only
praise I deserve is for keeping my appointment with you. I've not been
very successful in carrying out the orders you gave me."
"I'm sure, Gorgo, that you have done more than you care to admit,"
assured Akka. "But before you relate your experiences on the trip, I
shall ask Thumbietot to help me find something which is supposed to be
buried on this island."
The boy stood gazing admiringly at two beautiful shells, but when Akka
spoke his name, he glanced up.
"You must have wondered, Thumbietot, why we turned out of our course to
fly here to the West Sea," said Akka.
"To be frank, I did think it strange," answered the boy. "But I knew, of
course, that you always have some good reason for whatever you do."
"You have a good opinion of me," returned Akka, "but I almost fear you
will lose it now, for it's very probable that we have made this journey
"Many years ago it happened that two of the other old geese and myself
encountered frightful storms during a spring flight and were wind-driven
to this island. When we discovered that there was only open sea before
us, we feared we should be swept so far out that we should never find
our way back to land, so we lay down on the waves between these bare
cliffs, where the storm compelled us to remain for several days.
"We suffered terribly from hunger; once we ventured up to the cleft on
this island in search of food. We couldn't find a green blade, but we
saw a number of securely tied bags half buried in the sand. We hoped to
find grain in the bags and pulled and tugged at them till we tore the
cloth. However, no grain poured out, but shining gold pieces. For such
things we wild geese had no use, so we left them where they were. We
haven't thought of the find in all these years; but this autumn
something has come up to make us wish for gold.
"We do not know that the treasure is still here, but we have travelled
all this way to ask you to look into the matter."
With a shell in either hand the boy jumped down into the cleft and began
to scoop up the sand. He found no bags, but when he had made a deep hole
he heard the clink of metal and saw that he had come upon a gold piece.
Then he dug with his fingers and felt many coins in the sand. So he
hurried back to Akka.
"The bags have rotted and fallen apart," he exclaimed, "and the money
lies scattered all through the sand."
"That's well!" said Akka. "Now fill in the hole and smooth it over so no
one will notice the sand has been disturbed."
The boy did as he was told, but when he came up from the cleft he was
astonished to see that the wild geese were lined up, with Akka in the
lead, and were marching toward him with great solemnity.
The geese paused in front of him, and all bowed their heads many times,
looking so grave that he had to doff his cap and make an obeisance to
"The fact is," said Akka, "we old geese have been thinking that if
Thumbietot had been in the service of human beings and had done as much
for them as he has for us they would not let him go without rewarding
"I haven't helped you; it is you who have taken good care of me,"
returned the boy.
"We think also," continued Akka, "that when a human being has attended
us on a whole journey he shouldn't be allowed to leave us as poor as
when he came."
"I know that what I have learned this year with you is worth more to me
than gold or lands," said the boy.
"Since these gold coins have been lying unclaimed in the cleft all these
years, I think that you ought to have them," declared the wild goose.
"I thought you said something about needing this money yourselves,"
reminded the boy.
"We do need it, so as to be able to give you such recompense as will
make your mother and father think you have been working as a goose boy
with worthy people."
The boy turned half round and cast a glance toward the sea, then faced
about and looked straight into Akka's bright eyes.
"I think it strange, Mother Akka, that you turn me away from your
service like this and pay me off before I have given you notice," he
"As long as we wild geese remain in Sweden, I trust that you will stay
with us," said Akka. "I only wanted to show you where the treasure was
while we could get to it without going too far out of our course."
"All the same it looks as if you wished to be rid of me before I want to
go," argued Thumbietot. "After all the good times we have had together,
I think you ought to let me go abroad with you."
When the boy said this, Akka and the other wild geese stretched their
long necks straight up and stood a moment, with bills half open,
drinking in air.
"That is something I haven't thought about," said Akka, when she
recovered herself. "Before you decide to come with us, we had better
hear what Gorgo has to say. You may as well know that when we left
Lapland the agreement between Gorgo and myself was that he should travel
to your home down in Skane to try to make better terms for you with the
"That is true," affirmed Gorgo, "but as I have already told you, luck
was against me. I soon hunted up Holger Nilsson's croft and after
circling up and down over the place a couple of hours, I caught sight of
the elf, skulking along between the sheds.
"Immediately I swooped down upon him and flew off with him to a meadow
where we could talk together without interruption.
"I told him that I had been sent by Akka from Kebnekaise to ask if he
couldn't give Nils Holgersson easier terms.
"'I only wish I could!' he answered, 'for I have heard that he has
conducted himself well on the trip; but it is not in my power to do so.'
"Then I was wrathy and said that I would bore out his eyes unless he
"'You may do as you like,' he retorted, 'but as to Nils Holgersson, it
will turn out exactly as I have said. You can tell him from me that he
would do well to return soon with his goose, for matters on the farm are
in a bad shape. His father has had to forfeit a bond for his brother,
whom he trusted. He has bought a horse with borrowed money, and the
beast went lame the first time he drove it. Since then it has been of no
earthly use to him. Tell Nils Holgersson that his parents have had to
sell two of the cows and that they must give up the croft unless they
receive help from somewhere."
When the boy heard this he frowned and clenched his fists so hard that
the nails dug into his flesh.
"It is cruel of the elf to make the conditions so hard for me that I can
not go home and relieve my parents, but he sha'n't turn me into a
traitor to a friend! My father and mother are square and upright folk. I
know they would rather forfeit my help than have me come back to them
with a guilty conscience."
THE JOURNEY TO VEMMINGHOeG
_Thursday, November third_.
One day in the beginning of November the wild geese flew over Halland
Ridge and into Skane. For several weeks they had been resting on the
wide plains around Falkoeping. As many other wild goose flocks also
stopped there, the grown geese had had a pleasant time visiting with old
friends, and there had been all kinds of games and races between the
Nils Holgersson had not been happy over the delay in Westergoetland. He
had tried to keep a stout heart; but it was hard for him to reconcile
himself to his fate.
"If I were only well out of Skane and in some foreign land," he had
thought, "I should know for certain that I had nothing to hope for, and
would feel easier in my mind."
Finally, one morning, the geese started out and flew toward Halland.
In the beginning the boy took very little interest in that province. He
thought there was nothing new to be seen there. But when the wild geese
continued the journey farther south, along the narrow coast-lands, the
boy leaned over the goose's neck and did not take his glance from the
He saw the hills gradually disappear and the plain spread under him, at
the same time he noticed that the coast became less rugged, while the
group of islands beyond thinned and finally vanished and the broad, open
sea came clear up to firm land. Here there were no more forests: here
the plain was supreme. It spread all the way to the horizon. A land that
lay so exposed, with field upon field, reminded the boy of Skane. He
felt both happy and sad as he looked at it.
"I can't be very far from home," he thought.
Many times during the trip the goslings had asked the old geese:
"How does it look in foreign lands?"
"Wait, wait! You shall soon see," the old geese had answered.
When the wild geese had passed Halland Ridge and gone a distance into
Skane, Akka called out:
"Now look down! Look all around! It is like this in foreign lands."
Just then they flew over Soeder Ridge. The whole long range of hills was
clad in beech woods, and beautiful, turreted castles peeped out here and
Among the trees grazed roe-buck, and on the forest meadow romped the
hares. Hunters' horns sounded from the forests; the loud baying of dogs
could be heard all the way up to the wild geese. Broad avenues wound
through the trees and on these ladies and gentlemen were driving in
polished carriages or riding fine horses. At the foot of the ridge lay
Ring Lake with the ancient Bosjoe Cloister on a narrow peninsula.
"Does it look like this in foreign lands?" asked the goslings.
"It looks exactly like this wherever there are forest-clad ridges,"
replied Akka, "only one doesn't see many of them. Wait! You shall see
how it looks in general."
Akka led the geese farther south to the great Skane plain. There it
spread, with grain fields; with acres and acres of sugar beets, where
the beet-pickers were at work; with low whitewashed farm- and outhouses;
with numberless little white churches; with ugly, gray sugar refineries
and small villages near the railway stations. Little beech-encircled
meadow lakes, each of them adorned by its own stately manor, shimmered
here and there.
"Now look down! Look carefully!" called the leader-goose. "Thus it is in
foreign lands, from the Baltic coast all the way down to the high Alps.
Farther than that I have never travelled."
When the goslings had seen the plain, the leader-goose flew down the
Oeresund coast. Swampy meadows sloped gradually toward the sea. In some
places were high, steep banks, in others drift-sand fields, where the
sand lay heaped in banks and hills. Fishing hamlets stood all along the
coast, with long rows of low, uniform brick houses, with a lighthouse at
the edge of the breakwater, and brown fishing nets hanging in the drying
"Now look down! Look well! This is how it looks along the coasts in
After Akka had been flying about in this manner a long time she alighted
suddenly on a marsh in Vemminghoeg township and the boy could not help
thinking that she had travelled over Skane just to let him see that his
was a country which could compare favourably with any in the world. This
was unnecessary, for the boy was not thinking of whether the country was
rich or poor.
From the moment that he had seen the first willow grove his heart ached
HOME AT LAST
_Tuesday, November eighth_.
The atmosphere was dull and hazy. The wild geese had been feeding on the
big meadow around Skerup church and were having their noonday rest when
Akka came up to the boy.
"It looks as if we should have calm weather for awhile," she remarked,
"and I think we'll cross the Baltic to-morrow."
"Indeed!" said the boy abruptly, for his throat contracted so that he
could hardly speak. All along he had cherished the hope that he would be
released from the enchantment while he was still in Skane.
"We are quite near West Vemminghoeg now," said Akka, "and I thought that
perhaps you might like to go home for awhile. It may be some time before
you have another opportunity to see your people."
"Perhaps I had better not," said the boy hesitatingly, but something in
his voice betrayed that he was glad of Akka's proposal.
"If the goosey-gander remains with us, no harm can come to him," Akka
assured. "I think you had better find out how your parents are getting
along. You might be of some help to them, even if you're not a normal
"You are right, Mother Akka. I should have thought of that long ago,"
said the boy impulsively.
The next second he and the leader-goose were on their way to his home.
It was not long before Akka alighted behind the stone hedge encircling
the little farm.
"Strange how natural everything looks around here!" the boy remarked,
quickly clambering to the top of the hedge, so that he could look about.
"It seems to me only yesterday that I first saw you come flying through
"I wonder if your father has a gun," said Akka suddenly.
"You may be sure he has," returned the boy. "It was just the gun that
kept me at home that Sunday morning when I should have been at church."
"Then I don't dare to stand here and wait for you," said Akka. "You had
better meet us at Smygahoek early to-morrow morning, so that you may stay
at home over night."
"Oh, don't go yet, Mother Akka!" begged the boy, jumping from the hedge.
He could not tell just why it was, but he felt as if something would
happen, either to the wild goose or to himself, to prevent their future
"No doubt you see that I'm distressed because I cannot get back my
right form; but I want to say to you that I don't regret having gone
with you last spring," he added. "I would rather forfeit the chance of
ever being human again than to have missed that trip."
Akka breathed quickly before she answered.
"There's a little matter I should have mentioned to you before this, but
since you are not going back to your home for good, I thought there was
no hurry about it. Still it may as well be said now."
"You know very well that I am always glad to do your bidding," said the
"If you have learned anything at all from us, Thumbietot, you no longer
think that the humans should have the whole earth to themselves," said
the wild goose, solemnly. "Remember you have a large country and you can
easily afford to leave a few bare rocks, a few shallow lakes and swamps,
a few desolate cliffs and remote forests to us poor, dumb creatures,
where we can be allowed to live in peace. All my days I have been
hounded and hunted. It would be a comfort to know that there is a refuge
somewhere for one like me."
"Indeed, I should be glad to help if I could," said the boy, "but it's
not likely that I shall ever again have any influence among human
"Well, we're standing here talking as if we were never to meet again,"
said Akka, "but we shall see each other to-morrow, of course. Now I'll
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