But when these children grew up, they went away to their parents in the strange land. No one came back—no one stayed at home—the old mistress was left alone on the farm.
Probably she had never asked them to remain with her. "Think you, Roedlinna, that I would ask them to stay here with me, when they can go out in the world and have things comfortable?" she would say as she stood in the stall with the old cow. "Here in Smaland they have only poverty to look forward to."
But when the last grandchild was gone, it was all up with the mistress. All at once she became bent and gray, and tottered as she walked; as if she no longer had the strength to move about. She stopped working. She did not care to look after the farm, but let everything go to rack and ruin. She didn't repair the houses; and she sold both the cows and the oxen. The only one that she kept was the old cow who now talked with Thumbietot. Her she let live because all the children had tended her.
She could have taken maids and farm-hands into her service, who would have helped her with the work, but she couldn't bear to see strangers around her, since her own had deserted her. Perhaps she was better satisfied to let the farm go to ruin, since none of her children were coming back to take it after she was gone. She did not mind that she herself became poor, because she didn't value that which was only hers. But she was troubled lest the children should find out how hard she had it. "If only the children do not hear of this! If only the children do not hear of this!" she sighed as she tottered through the cowhouse.
The children wrote constantly, and begged her to come out to them; but this she did not wish. She didn't want to see the land that had taken them from her. She was angry with it. "It's foolish of me, perhaps, that I do not like that land which has been so good for them," said she. "But I don't want to see it."
She never thought of anything but the children, and of this—that they must needs have gone. When summer came, she led the cow out to graze in the big swamp. All day she would sit on the edge of the swamp, her hands in her lap; and on the way home she would say: "You see, Roedlinna, if there had been large, rich fields here, in place of these barren swamps, then there would have been no need for them to leave."
She could become furious with the swamp which spread out so big, and did no good. She could sit and talk about how it was the swamp's fault that the children had left her.
This last evening she had been more trembly and feeble than ever before. She could not even do the milking. She had leaned against the manger and talked about two strangers who had been to see her, and had asked if they might buy the swamp. They wanted to drain it, and sow and raise grain on it. This had made her both anxious and glad. "Do you hear, Roedlinna," she had said, "do you hear they said that grain can grow on the swamp? Now I shall write to the children to come home. Now they'll not have to stay away any longer; for now they can get their bread here at home." It was this that she had gone into the cabin to do—
The boy heard no more of what the old cow said. He had opened the cowhouse door and gone across the yard, and in to the dead whom he had but lately been so afraid of.
It was not so poor in the cabin as he had expected. It was well supplied with the sort of things one generally finds among those who have relatives in America. In a corner there was an American rocking chair; on the table before the window lay a brocaded plush cover; there was a pretty spread on the bed; on the walls, in carved-wood frames, hung the photographs of the children and grandchildren who had gone away; on the bureau stood high vases and a couple of candlesticks, with thick, spiral candles in them.
The boy searched for a matchbox and lighted these candles, not because he needed more light than he already had; but because he thought that this was one way to honour the dead.
Then he went up to her, closed her eyes, folded her hands across her breast, and stroked back the thin gray hair from her face.
He thought no more about being afraid of her. He was so deeply grieved because she had been forced to live out her old age in loneliness and longing. He, at least, would watch over her dead body this night.
He hunted up the psalm book, and seated himself to read a couple of psalms in an undertone. But in the middle of the reading he paused—because he had begun to think about his mother and father.
Think, that parents can long so for their children! This he had never known. Think, that life can be as though it was over for them when the children are away! Think, if those at home longed for him in the same way that this old peasant woman had longed!
This thought made him happy, but he dared not believe in it. He had not been such a one that anybody could long for him.
But what he had not been, perhaps he could become.
Round about him he saw the portraits of those who were away. They were big, strong men and women with earnest faces. There were brides in long veils, and gentlemen in fine clothes; and there were children with waved hair and pretty white dresses. And he thought that they all stared blindly into vacancy—and did not want to see.
"Poor you!" said the boy to the portraits. "Your mother is dead. You cannot make reparation now, because you went away from her. But my mother is living!"
Here he paused, and nodded and smiled to himself. "My mother is living," said he. "Both father and mother are living."
FROM TABERG TO HUSKVARNA
Friday, April fifteenth.
The boy sat awake nearly all night, but toward morning he fell asleep and then he dreamed of his father and mother. He could hardly recognise them. They had both grown gray, and had old and wrinkled faces. He asked how this had come about, and they answered that they had aged so because they had longed for him. He was both touched and astonished, for he had never believed but what they were glad to be rid of him.
When the boy awoke the morning was come, with fine, clear weather. First, he himself ate a bit of bread which he found in the cabin; then he gave morning feed to both geese and cow, and opened the cowhouse door so that the cow could go over to the nearest farm. When the cow came along all by herself the neighbours would no doubt understand that something was wrong with her mistress. They would hurry over to the desolate farm to see how the old woman was getting along, and then they would find her dead body and bury it.
The boy and the geese had barely raised themselves into the air, when they caught a glimpse of a high mountain, with almost perpendicular walls, and an abrupt, broken-off top; and they understood that this must be Taberg. On the summit stood Akka, with Yksi and Kaksi, Kolmi and Neljae, Viisi and Knusi, and all six goslings and waited for them. There was a rejoicing, and a cackling, and a fluttering, and a calling which no one can describe, when they saw that the goosey-gander and Dunfin had succeeded in finding Thumbietot.
The woods grew pretty high up on Taberg's sides, but her highest peak was barren; and from there one could look out in all directions. If one gazed toward the east, or south, or west, then there was hardly anything to be seen but a poor highland with dark spruce-trees, brown morasses, ice-clad lakes, and bluish mountain-ridges. The boy couldn't keep from thinking it was true that the one who had created this hadn't taken very great pains with his work, but had thrown it together in a hurry. But if one glanced to the north, it was altogether different. Here it looked as if it had been worked out with the utmost care and affection. In this direction one saw only beautiful mountains, soft valleys, and winding rivers, all the way to the big Lake Vettern, which lay ice-free and transparently clear, and shone as if it wasn't filled with water but with blue light.
It was Vettern that made it so pretty to look toward the north, because it looked as though a blue stream had risen up from the lake, and spread itself over land also. Groves and hills and roofs, and the spires of Joenkoeping City—which shimmered along Vettern's shores—lay enveloped in pale blue which caressed the eye. If there were countries in heaven, they, too, must be blue like this, thought the boy, and imagined that he had gotten a faint idea of how it must look in Paradise.
Later in the day, when the geese continued their journey, they flew up toward the blue valley. They were in holiday humour; shrieked and made such a racket that no one who had ears could help hearing them.
This happened to be the first really fine spring day they had had in this section. Until now, the spring had done its work under rain and bluster; and now, when it had all of a sudden become fine weather, the people were filled with such a longing after summer warmth and green woods that they could hardly perform their tasks. And when the wild geese rode by, high above the ground, cheerful and free, there wasn't one who did not drop what he had in hand, and glance at them.
The first ones who saw the wild geese that day were miners on Taberg, who were digging ore at the mouth of the mine. When they heard them cackle, they paused in their drilling for ore, and one of them called to the birds: "Where are you going? Where are you going?" The geese didn't understand what he said, but the boy leaned forward over the goose-back, and answered for them: "Where there is neither pick nor hammer." When the miners heard the words, they thought it was their own longing that made the goose-cackle sound like human speech. "Take us along with you! Take us along with you!" they cried. "Not this year," shrieked the boy. "Not this year."
The wild geese followed Taberg River down toward Monk Lake, and all the while they made the same racket. Here, on the narrow land-strip between Monk and Vettern lakes, lay Joenkoeping with its great factories. The wild geese rode first over Monksjoe paper mills. The noon rest hour was just over, and the big workmen were streaming down to the mill-gate. When they heard the wild geese, they stopped a moment to listen to them. "Where are you going? Where are you going?" called the workmen. The wild geese understood nothing of what they said, but the boy answered for them: "There, where there are neither machines nor steam-boxes." When the workmen heard the answer, they believed it was their own longing that made the goose-cackle sound like human speech. "Take us along with you!" "Not this year," answered the boy. "Not this year."
Next, the geese rode over the well-known match factory, which lies on the shores of Vettern—large as a fortress—and lifts its high chimneys toward the sky. Not a soul moved out in the yards; but in a large hall young working-women sat and filled match-boxes. They had opened a window on account of the beautiful weather, and through it came the wild geese's call. The one who sat nearest the window, leaned out with a match-box in her hand, and cried: "Where are you going? Where are you going?" "To that land where there is no need of either light or matches," said the boy. The girl thought that what she had heard was only goose-cackle; but since she thought she had distinguished a couple of words, she called out in answer: "Take me along with you!" "Not this year," replied the boy. "Not this year."
East of the factories rises Joenkoeping, on the most glorious spot that any city can occupy. The narrow Vettern has high, steep sand-shores, both on the eastern and western sides; but straight south, the sand-walls are broken down, just as if to make room for a large gate, through which one reaches the lake. And in the middle of the gate—with mountains to the left, and mountains to the right, with Monk Lake behind it, and Vettern in front of it—lies Joenkoeping.
The wild geese travelled forward over the long, narrow city, and behaved themselves here just as they had done in the country. But in the city there was no one who answered them. It was not to be expected that city folks should stop out in the streets, and call to the wild geese.
The trip extended further along Vettern's shores; and after a little they came to Sanna Sanitarium. Some of the patients had gone out on the veranda to enjoy the spring air, and in this way they heard the goose-cackle. "Where are you going?" asked one of them with such a feeble voice that he was scarcely heard. "To that land where there is neither sorrow nor sickness," answered the boy. "Take us along with you!" said the sick ones. "Not this year," answered the boy. "Not this year."
When they had travelled still farther on, they came to Huskvarna. It lay in a valley. The mountains around it were steep and beautifully formed. A river rushed along the heights in long and narrow falls. Big workshops and factories lay below the mountain walls; and scattered over the valley-bottom were the workingmens' homes, encircled by little gardens; and in the centre of the valley lay the schoolhouse. Just as the wild geese came along, a bell rang, and a crowd of school children marched out in line. They were so numerous that the whole schoolyard was filled with them. "Where are you going? Where are you going?" the children shouted when they heard the wild geese. "Where there are neither books nor lessons to be found," answered the boy. "Take us along!" shrieked the children. "Not this year, but next," cried the boy. "Not this year, but next."
THE BIG BIRD LAKE
JARRO, THE WILD DUCK
On the eastern shore of Vettern lies Mount Omberg; east of Omberg lies Dagmosse; east of Dagmosse lies Lake Takern. Around the whole of Takern spreads the big, even Oestergoeta plain.
Takern is a pretty large lake and in olden times it must have been still larger. But then the people thought it covered entirely too much of the fertile plain, so they attempted to drain the water from it, that they might sow and reap on the lake-bottom. But they did not succeed in laying waste the entire lake—which had evidently been their intention—therefore it still hides a lot of land. Since the draining the lake has become so shallow that hardly at any point is it more than a couple of metres deep. The shores have become marshy and muddy; and out in the lake, little mud-islets stick up above the water's surface.
Now, there is one who loves to stand with his feet in the water, if he can just keep his body and head in the air, and that is the reed. And it cannot find a better place to grow upon, than the long, shallow Takern shores, and around the little mud-islets. It thrives so well that it grows taller than a man's height, and so thick that it is almost impossible to push a boat through it. It forms a broad green enclosure around the whole lake, so that it is only accessible in a few places where the people have taken away the reeds.
But if the reeds shut the people out, they give, in return, shelter and protection to many other things. In the reeds there are a lot of little dams and canals with green, still water, where duckweed and pondweed run to seed; and where gnat-eggs and blackfish and worms are hatched out in uncountable masses. And all along the shores of these little dams and canals, there are many well-concealed places, where seabirds hatch their eggs, and bring up their young without being disturbed, either by enemies or food worries.
An incredible number of birds live in the Takern reeds; and more and more gather there every year, as it becomes known what a splendid abode it is. The first who settled there were the wild ducks; and they still live there by thousands. But they no longer own the entire lake, for they have been obliged to share it with swans, grebes, coots, loons, fen-ducks, and a lot of others.
Takern is certainly the largest and choicest bird lake in the whole country; and the birds may count themselves lucky as long as they own such a retreat. But it is uncertain just how long they will be in control of reeds and mud-banks, for human beings cannot forget that the lake extends over a considerable portion of good and fertile soil; and every now and then the proposition to drain it comes up among them. And if these propositions were carried out, the many thousands of water-birds would be forced to move from this quarter.
At the time when Nils Holgersson travelled around with the wild geese, there lived at Takern a wild duck named Jarro. He was a young bird, who had only lived one summer, one fall, and a winter; now, it was his first spring. He had just returned from South Africa, and had reached Takern in such good season that the ice was still on the lake.
One evening, when he and the other young wild ducks played at racing backward and forward over the lake, a hunter fired a couple of shots at them, and Jarro was wounded in the breast. He thought he should die; but in order that the one who had shot him shouldn't get him into his power, he continued to fly as long as he possibly could. He didn't think whither he was directing his course, but only struggled to get far away. When his strength failed him, so that he could not fly any farther, he was no longer on the lake. He had flown a bit inland, and now he sank down before the entrance to one of the big farms which lie along the shores of Takern.
A moment later a young farm-hand happened along. He saw Jarro, and came and lifted him up. But Jarro, who asked for nothing but to be let die in peace, gathered his last powers and nipped the farm-hand in the finger, so he should let go of him.
Jarro didn't succeed in freeing himself. The encounter had this good in it at any rate: the farm-hand noticed that the bird was alive. He carried him very gently into the cottage, and showed him to the mistress of the house—a young woman with a kindly face. At once she took Jarro from the farm-hand, stroked him on the back and wiped away the blood which trickled down through the neck-feathers. She looked him over very carefully; and when she saw how pretty he was, with his dark-green, shining head, his white neck-band, his brownish-red back, and his blue wing-mirror, she must have thought that it was a pity for him to die. She promptly put a basket in order, and tucked the bird into it.
All the while Jarro fluttered and struggled to get loose; but when he understood that the people didn't intend to kill him, he settled down in the basket with a sense of pleasure. Now it was evident how exhausted he was from pain and loss of blood. The mistress carried the basket across the floor to place it in the corner by the fireplace; but before she put it down Jarro was already fast asleep.
In a little while Jarro was awakened by someone who nudged him gently. When he opened his eyes he experienced such an awful shock that he almost lost his senses. Now he was lost; for there stood the one who was more dangerous than either human beings or birds of prey. It was no less a thing than Caesar himself—the long-haired dog—who nosed around him inquisitively.
How pitifully scared had he not been last summer, when he was still a little yellow-down duckling, every time it had sounded over the reed-stems: "Caesar is coming! Caesar is coming!" When he had seen the brown and white spotted dog with the teeth-filled jowls come wading through the reeds, he had believed that he beheld death itself. He had always hoped that he would never have to live through that moment when he should meet Caesar face to face.
But, to his sorrow, he must have fallen down in the very yard where Caesar lived, for there he stood right over him. "Who are you?" he growled. "How did you get into the house? Don't you belong down among the reed banks?"
It was with great difficulty that he gained the courage to answer. "Don't be angry with me, Caesar, because I came into the house!" said he. "It isn't my fault. I have been wounded by a gunshot. It was the people themselves who laid me in this basket."
"Oho! so it's the folks themselves that have placed you here," said Caesar. "Then it is surely their intention to cure you; although, for my part, I think it would be wiser for them to eat you up, since you are in their power. But, at any rate, you are tabooed in the house. You needn't look so scared. Now, we're not down on Takern."
With that Caesar laid himself to sleep in front of the blazing log-fire. As soon as Jarro understood that this terrible danger was past, extreme lassitude came over him, and he fell asleep anew.
The next time Jarro awoke, he saw that a dish with grain and water stood before him. He was still quite ill, but he felt hungry nevertheless, and began to eat. When the mistress saw that he ate, she came up and petted him, and looked pleased. After that, Jarro fell asleep again. For several days he did nothing but eat and sleep.
One morning Jarro felt so well that he stepped from the basket and wandered along the floor. But he hadn't gone very far before he keeled over, and lay there. Then came Caesar, opened his big jaws and grabbed him. Jarro believed, of course, that the dog was going to bite him to death; but Caesar carried him back to the basket without harming him. Because of this, Jarro acquired such a confidence in the dog Caesar, that on his next walk in the cottage, he went over to the dog and lay down beside him. Thereafter Caesar and he became good friends, and every day, for several hours, Jarro lay and slept between Caesar's paws.
But an even greater affection than he felt for Caesar, did Jarro feel toward his mistress. Of her he had not the least fear; but rubbed his head against her hand when she came and fed him. Whenever she went out of the cottage he sighed with regret; and when she came back he cried welcome to her in his own language.
Jarro forgot entirely how afraid he had been of both dogs and humans in other days. He thought now that they were gentle and kind, and he loved them. He wished that he were well, so he could fly down to Takern and tell the wild ducks that their enemies were not dangerous, and that they need not fear them.
He had observed that the human beings, as well as Caesar, had calm eyes, which it did one good to look into. The only one in the cottage whose glance he did not care to meet, was Clawina, the house cat. She did him no harm, either, but he couldn't place any confidence in her. Then, too, she quarrelled with him constantly, because he loved human beings. "You think they protect you because they are fond of you," said Clawina. "You just wait until you are fat enough! Then they'll wring the neck off you. I know them, I do."
Jarro, like all birds, had a tender and affectionate heart; and he was unutterably distressed when he heard this. He couldn't imagine that his mistress would wish to wring the neck off him, nor could he believe any such thing of her son, the little boy who sat for hours beside his basket, and babbled and chattered. He seemed to think that both of them had the same love for him that he had for them.
One day, when Jarro and Caesar lay on the usual spot before the fire, Clawina sat on the hearth and began to tease the wild duck.
"I wonder, Jarro, what you wild ducks will do next year, when Takern is drained and turned into grain fields?" said Clawina. "What's that you say, Clawina?" cried Jarro, and jumped up—scared through and through. "I always forget, Jarro, that you do not understand human speech, like Caesar and myself," answered the cat. "Or else you surely would have heard how the men, who were here in the cottage yesterday, said that all the water was going to be drained from Takern, and that next year the lake-bottom would be as dry as a house-floor. And now I wonder where you wild ducks will go." When Jarro heard this talk he was so furious that he hissed like a snake. "You are just as mean as a common coot!" he screamed at Clawina. "You only want to incite me against human beings. I don't believe they want to do anything of the sort. They must know that Takern is the wild ducks' property. Why should they make so many birds homeless and unhappy? You have certainly hit upon all this to scare me. I hope that you may be torn in pieces by Gorgo, the eagle! I hope that my mistress will chop off your whiskers!"
But Jarro couldn't shut Clawina up with this outburst. "So you think I'm lying," said she. "Ask Caesar, then! He was also in the house last night. Caesar never lies."
"Caesar," said Jarro, "you understand human speech much better than Clawina. Say that she hasn't heard aright! Think how it would be if the people drained Takern, and changed the lake-bottom into fields! Then there would be no more pondweed or duck-food for the grown wild ducks, and no blackfish or worms or gnat-eggs for the ducklings. Then the reed-banks would disappear—where now the ducklings conceal themselves until they are able to fly. All ducks would be compelled to move away from here and seek another home. But where shall they find a retreat like Takern? Caesar, say that Clawina has not heard aright!"
It was extraordinary to watch Caesar's behaviour during this conversation. He had been wide-awake the whole time before, but now, when Jarro turned to him, he panted, laid his long nose on his forepaws, and was sound asleep within the wink of an eyelid.
The cat looked down at Caesar with a knowing smile. "I believe that Caesar doesn't care to answer you," she said to Jarro. "It is with him as with all dogs; they will never acknowledge that humans can do any wrong. But you can rely upon my word, at any rate. I shall tell you why they wish to drain the lake just now. As long as you wild ducks still had the power on Takern, they did not wish to drain it, for, at least, they got some good out of you; but now, grebes and coots and other birds who are no good as food, have infested nearly all the reed-banks, and the people don't think they need let the lake remain on their account."
Jarro didn't trouble himself to answer Clawina, but raised his head, and shouted in Caesar's ear: "Caesar! You know that on Takern there are still so many ducks left that they fill the air like clouds. Say it isn't true that human beings intend to make all of these homeless!"
Then Caesar sprang up with such a sudden outburst at Clawina that she had to save herself by jumping up on a shelf. "I'll teach you to keep quiet when I want to sleep," bawled Caesar. "Of course I know that there is some talk about draining the lake this year. But there's been talk of this many times before without anything coming of it. And that draining business is a matter in which I take no stock whatever. For how would it go with the game if Takern were laid waste. You're a donkey to gloat over a thing like that. What will you and I have to amuse ourselves with, when there are no more birds on Takern?"
Sunday, April seventeenth.
A couple of days later Jarro was so well that he could fly all about the house. Then he was petted a good deal by the mistress, and the little boy ran out in the yard and plucked the first grass-blades for him which had sprung up. When the mistress caressed him, Jarro thought that, although he was now so strong that he could fly down to Takern at any time, he shouldn't care to be separated from the human beings. He had no objection to remaining with them all his life.
But early one morning the mistress placed a halter, or noose, over Jarro, which prevented him from using his wings, and then she turned him over to the farm-hand who had found him in the yard. The farm-hand poked him under his arm, and went down to Takern with him.
The ice had melted away while Jarro had been ill. The old, dry fall leaves still stood along the shores and islets, but all the water-growths had begun to take root down in the deep; and the green stems had already reached the surface. And now nearly all the migratory birds were at home. The curlews' hooked bills peeped out from the reeds. The grebes glided about with new feather-collars around the neck; and the jack-snipes were gathering straws for their nests.
The farm-hand got into a scow, laid Jarro in the bottom of the boat, and began to pole himself out on the lake. Jarro, who had now accustomed himself to expect only good of human beings, said to Caesar, who was also in the party, that he was very grateful toward the farm-hand for taking him out on the lake. But there was no need to keep him so closely guarded, for he did not intend to fly away. To this Caesar made no reply. He was very close-mouthed that morning.
The only thing which struck Jarro as being a bit peculiar was that the farm-hand had taken his gun along. He couldn't believe that any of the good folk in the cottage would want to shoot birds. And, beside, Caesar had told him that the people didn't hunt at this time of the year. "It is a prohibited time," he had said, "although this doesn't concern me, of course."
The farm-hand went over to one of the little reed-enclosed mud-islets. There he stepped from the boat, gathered some old reeds into a pile, and lay down behind it. Jarro was permitted to wander around on the ground, with the halter over his wings, and tethered to the boat, with a long string.
Suddenly Jarro caught sight of some young ducks and drakes, in whose company he had formerly raced backward and forward over the lake. They were a long way off, but Jarro called them to him with a couple of loud shouts. They responded, and a large and beautiful flock approached. Before they got there, Jarro began to tell them about his marvellous rescue, and of the kindness of human beings. Just then, two shots sounded behind him. Three ducks sank down in the reeds—lifeless—and Caesar bounced out and captured them.
Then Jarro understood. The human beings had only saved him that they might use him as a decoy-duck. And they had also succeeded. Three ducks had died on his account. He thought he should die of shame. He thought that even his friend Caesar looked contemptuously at him; and when they came home to the cottage, he didn't dare lie down and sleep beside the dog.
The next morning Jarro was again taken out on the shallows. This time, too, he saw some ducks. But when he observed that they flew toward him, he called to them: "Away! Away! Be careful! Fly in another direction! There's a hunter hidden behind the reed-pile. I'm only a decoy-bird!" And he actually succeeded in preventing them from coming within shooting distance.
Jarro had scarcely had time to taste of a grass-blade, so busy was he in keeping watch. He called out his warning as soon as a bird drew nigh. He even warned the grebes, although he detested them because they crowded the ducks out of their best hiding-places. But he did not wish that any bird should meet with misfortune on his account. And, thanks to Jarro's vigilance, the farm-hand had to go home without firing off a single shot.
Despite this fact, Caesar looked less displeased than on the previous day; and when evening came he took Jarro in his mouth, carried him over to the fireplace, and let him sleep between his forepaws.
Nevertheless Jarro was no longer contented in the cottage, but was grievously unhappy. His heart suffered at the thought that humans never had loved him. When the mistress, or the little boy, came forward to caress him, he stuck his bill under his wing and pretended that he slept.
For several days Jarro continued his distressful watch-service; and already he was known all over Takern. Then it happened one morning, while he called as usual: "Have a care, birds! Don't come near me! I'm only a decoy-duck," that a grebe-nest came floating toward the shallows where he was tied. This was nothing especially remarkable. It was a nest from the year before; and since grebe-nests are built in such a way that they can move on water like boats, it often happens that they drift out toward the lake. Still Jarro stood there and stared at the nest, because it came so straight toward the islet that it looked as though someone had steered its course over the water.
As the nest came nearer, Jarro saw that a little human being—the tiniest he had ever seen—sat in the nest and rowed it forward with a pair of sticks. And this little human called to him: "Go as near the water as you can, Jarro, and be ready to fly. You shall soon be freed."
A few seconds later the grebe-nest lay near land, but the little oarsman did not leave it, but sat huddled up between branches and straw. Jarro too held himself almost immovable. He was actually paralysed with fear lest the rescuer should be discovered.
The next thing which occurred was that a flock of wild geese came along. Then Jarro woke up to business, and warned them with loud shrieks; but in spite of this they flew backward and forward over the shallows several times. They held themselves so high that they were beyond shooting distance; still the farm-hand let himself be tempted to fire a couple of shots at them. These shots were hardly fired before the little creature ran up on land, drew a tiny knife from its sheath, and, with a couple of quick strokes, cut loose Jarro's halter. "Now fly away, Jarro, before the man has time to load again!" cried he, while he himself ran down to the grebe-nest and poled away from the shore.
The hunter had had his gaze fixed upon the geese, and hadn't observed that Jarro had been freed; but Caesar had followed more carefully that which happened; and just as Jarro raised his wings, he dashed forward and grabbed him by the neck.
Jarro cried pitifully; and the boy who had freed him said quietly to Caesar: "If you are just as honourable as you look, surely you cannot wish to force a good bird to sit here and entice others into trouble."
When Caesar heard these words, he grinned viciously with his upper lip, but the next second he dropped Jarro. "Fly, Jarro!" said he. "You are certainly too good to be a decoy-duck. It wasn't for this that I wanted to keep you here; but because it will be lonely in the cottage without you."
THE LOWERING OF THE LAKE
Wednesday, April twentieth.
It was indeed very lonely in the cottage without Jarro. The dog and the cat found the time long, when they didn't have him to wrangle over; and the housewife missed the glad quacking which he had indulged in every time she entered the house. But the one who longed most for Jarro, was the little boy, Per Ola. He was but three years old, and the only child; and in all his life he had never had a playmate like Jarro. When he heard that Jarro had gone back to Takern and the wild ducks, he couldn't be satisfied with this, but thought constantly of how he should get him back again.
Per Ola had talked a good deal with Jarro while he lay still in his basket, and he was certain that the duck understood him. He begged his mother to take him down to the lake that he might find Jarro, and persuade him to come back to them. Mother wouldn't listen to this; but the little one didn't give up his plan on that account.
The day after Jarro had disappeared, Per Ola was running about in the yard. He played by himself as usual, but Caesar lay on the stoop; and when mother let the boy out, she said: "Take care of Per Ola, Caesar!"
Now if all had been as usual, Caesar would also have obeyed the command, and the boy would have been so well guarded that he couldn't have run the least risk. But Caesar was not like himself these days. He knew that the farmers who lived along Takern had held frequent conferences about the lowering of the lake; and that they had almost settled the matter. The ducks must leave, and Caesar should nevermore behold a glorious chase. He was so preoccupied with thoughts of this misfortune, that he did not remember to watch over Per Ola.
And the little one had scarcely been alone in the yard a minute, before he realised that now the right moment was come to go down to Takern and talk with Jarro. He opened a gate, and wandered down toward the lake on the narrow path which ran along the banks. As long as he could be seen from the house, he walked slowly; but afterward he increased his pace. He was very much afraid that mother, or someone else, should call to him that he couldn't go. He didn't wish to do anything naughty, only to persuade Jarro to come home; but he felt that those at home would not have approved of the undertaking.
When Per Ola came down to the lake-shore, he called Jarro several times. Thereupon he stood for a long time and waited, but no Jarro appeared. He saw several birds that resembled the wild duck, but they flew by without noticing him, and he could understand that none among them was the right one.
When Jarro didn't come to him, the little boy thought that it would be easier to find him if he went out on the lake. There were several good craft lying along the shore, but they were tied. The only one that lay loose, and at liberty, was an old leaky scow which was so unfit that no one thought of using it. But Per Ola scrambled up in it without caring that the whole bottom was filled with water. He had not strength enough to use the oars, but instead, he seated himself to swing and rock in the scow. Certainly no grown person would have succeeded in moving a scow out on Takern in that manner; but when the tide is high—and ill-luck to the fore—little children have a marvellous faculty for getting out to sea. Per Ola was soon riding around on Takern, and calling for Jarro.
When the old scow was rocked like this—out to sea—its Cracks opened wider and wider, and the water actually streamed into it. Per Ola didn't pay the slightest attention to this. He sat upon the little bench in front and called to every bird he saw, and wondered why Jarro didn't appear.
At last Jarro caught sight of Per Ola. He heard that someone called him by the name which he had borne among human beings, and he understood that the boy had gone out on Takern to search for him. Jarro was unspeakably happy to find that one of the humans really loved him. He shot down toward Per Ola, like an arrow, seated himself beside him, and let him caress him. They were both very happy to see each other again. But suddenly Jarro noticed the condition of the scow. It was half-filled with water, and was almost ready to sink. Jarro tried to tell Per Ola that he, who could neither fly nor swim, must try to get upon land; but Per Ola didn't understand him. Then Jarro did not wait an instant, but hurried away to get help.
Jarro came back in a little while, and carried on his back a tiny thing, who was much smaller than Per Ola himself. If he hadn't been able to talk and move, the boy would have believed that it was a doll. Instantly, the little one ordered Per Ola to pick up a long, slender pole that lay in the bottom of the scow, and try to pole it toward one of the reed-islands. Per Ola obeyed him, and he and the tiny creature, together, steered the scow. With a couple of strokes they were on a little reed-encircled island, and now Per Ola was told that he must step on land. And just the very moment that Per Ola set foot on land, the scow was filled with water, and sank to the bottom. When Per Ola saw this he was sure that father and mother would be very angry with him. He would have started in to cry if he hadn't found something else to think about soon; namely, a flock of big, gray birds, who lighted on the island. The little midget took him up to them, and told him their names, and what they said. And this was so funny that Per Ola forgot everything else.
Meanwhile the folks on the farm had discovered that the boy had disappeared, and had started to search for him. They searched the outhouses, looked in the well, and hunted through the cellar. Then they went out into the highways and by-paths; wandered to the neighbouring farm to find out if he had strayed over there, and searched for him also down by Takern. But no matter how much they sought they did not find him.
Caesar, the dog, understood very well that the farmer-folk were looking for Per Ola, but he did nothing to lead them on the right track; instead, he lay still as though the matter didn't concern him.
Later in the day, Per Ola's footprints were discovered down by the boat-landing. And then came the thought that the old, leaky scow was no longer on the strand. Then one began to understand how the whole affair had come about.
The farmer and his helpers immediately took out the boats and went in search of the boy. They rowed around on Takern until way late in the evening, without seeing the least shadow of him. They couldn't help believing that the old scow had gone down, and that the little one lay dead on the lake-bottom.
In the evening, Per Ola's mother hunted around on the strand. Everyone else was convinced that the boy was drowned, but she could not bring herself to believe this. She searched all the while. She searched between reeds and bulrushes; tramped and tramped on the muddy shore, never thinking of how deep her foot sank, and how wet she had become. She was unspeakably desperate. Her heart ached in her breast. She did not weep, but wrung her hands and called for her child in loud piercing tones.
Round about her she heard swans' and ducks' and curlews' shrieks. She thought that they followed her, and moaned and wailed—they too. "Surely, they, too, must be in trouble, since they moan so," thought she. Then she remembered: these were only birds that she heard complain. They surely had no worries.
It was strange that they did not quiet down after sunset. But she heard all these uncountable bird-throngs, which lived along Takern, send forth cry upon cry. Several of them followed her wherever she went; others came rustling past on light wings. All the air was filled with moans and lamentations.
But the anguish which she herself was suffering, opened her heart. She thought that she was not as far removed from all other living creatures as people usually think. She understood much better than ever before, how birds fared. They had their constant worries for home and children; they, as she. There was surely not such a great difference between them and her as she had heretofore believed.
Then she happened to think that it was as good as settled that these thousands of swans and ducks and loons would lose their homes here by Takern. "It will be very hard for them," she thought. "Where shall they bring up their children now?"
She stood still and mused on this. It appeared to be an excellent and agreeable accomplishment to change a lake into fields and meadows, but let it be some other lake than Takern; some other lake, which was not the home of so many thousand creatures.
She remembered how on the following day the proposition to lower the lake was to be decided, and she wondered if this was why her little son had been lost—just to-day.
Was it God's meaning that sorrow should come and open her heart—just to-day—before it was too late to avert the cruel act?
She walked rapidly up to the house, and began to talk with her husband about this. She spoke of the lake, and of the birds, and said that she believed it was God's judgment on them both. And she soon found that he was of the same opinion.
They already owned a large place, but if the lake-draining was carried into effect, such a goodly portion of the lake-bottom would fall to their share that their property would be nearly doubled. For this reason they had been more eager for the undertaking than any of the other shore owners. The others had been worried about expenses, and anxious lest the draining should not prove any more successful this time than it was the last. Per Ola's father knew in his heart that it was he who had influenced them to undertake the work. He had exercised all his eloquence, so that he might leave to his son a farm as large again as his father had left to him.
He stood and pondered if God's hand was back of the fact that Takern had taken his son from him on the day before he was to draw up the contract to lay it waste. The wife didn't have to say many words to him, before he answered: "It may be that God does not want us to interfere with His order. I'll talk with the others about this to-morrow, and I think we'll conclude that all may remain as it is."
While the farmer-folk were talking this over, Caesar lay before the fire. He raised his head and listened very attentively. When he thought that he was sure of the outcome, he walked up to the mistress, took her by the skirt, and led her to the door. "But Caesar!" said she, and wanted to break loose. "Do you know where Per Ola is?" she exclaimed. Caesar barked joyfully, and threw himself against the door. She opened it, and Caesar dashed down toward Takern. The mistress was so positive he knew where Per Ola was, that she rushed after him. And no sooner had they reached the shore than they heard a child's cry out on the lake.
Per Ola had had the best day of his life, in company with Thumbietot and the birds; but now he had begun to cry because he was hungry and afraid of the darkness. And he was glad when father and mother and Caesar came for him.
Friday, April twenty-second.
One night when the boy lay and slept on an island in Takern, he was awakened by oar-strokes. He had hardly gotten his eyes open before there fell such a dazzling light on them that he began to blink.
At first he couldn't make out what it was that shone so brightly out here on the lake; but he soon saw that a scow with a big burning torch stuck up on a spike, aft, lay near the edge of the reeds. The red flame from the torch was clearly reflected in the night-dark lake; and the brilliant light must have lured the fish, for round about the flame in the deep a mass of dark specks were seen, that moved continually, and changed places.
There were two old men in the scow. One sat at the oars, and the other stood on a bench in the stern and held in his hand a short spear which was coarsely barbed. The one who rowed was apparently a poor fisherman. He was small, dried-up and weather-beaten, and wore a thin, threadbare coat. One could see that he was so used to being out in all sorts of weather that he didn't mind the cold. The other was well fed and well dressed, and looked like a prosperous and self-complacent farmer.
"Now, stop!" said the farmer, when they were opposite the island where the boy lay. At the same time he plunged the spear into the water. When he drew it out again, a long, fine eel came with it.
"Look at that!" said he as he released the eel from the spear. "That was one who was worth while. Now I think we have so many that we can turn back."
His comrade did not lift the oars, but sat and looked around. "It is lovely out here on the lake to-night," said he. And so it was. It was absolutely still, so that the entire water-surface lay in undisturbed rest with the exception of the streak where the boat had gone forward. This lay like a path of gold, and shimmered in the firelight. The sky was clear and dark blue and thickly studded with stars. The shores were hidden by the reed islands except toward the west. There Mount Omberg loomed up high and dark, much more impressive than usual, and, cut away a big, three-cornered piece of the vaulted heavens.
The other one turned his head to get the light out of his eyes, and looked about him. "Yes, it is lovely here in Oestergylln," said he. "Still the best thing about the province is not its beauty." "Then what is it that's best?" asked the oarsman. "That it has always been a respected and honoured province." "That may be true enough." "And then this, that one knows it will always continue to be so." "But how in the world can one know this?" said the one who sat at the oars.
The farmer straightened up where he stood and braced himself with the spear. "There is an old story which has been handed down from father to son in my family; and in it one learns what will happen to Oestergoetland." "Then you may as well tell it to me," said the oarsman. "We do not tell it to anyone and everyone, but I do not wish to keep it a secret from an old comrade.
"At Ulvasa, here in Oestergoetland," he continued (and one could tell by the tone of his voice that he talked of something which he had heard from others, and knew by heart), "many, many years ago, there lived a lady who had the gift of looking into the future, and telling people what was going to happen to them—just as certainly and accurately as though it had already occurred. For this she became widely noted; and it is easy to understand that people would come to her, both from far and near, to find out what they were going to pass through of good or evil.
"One day, when Ulvasa-lady sat in her hall and spun, as was customary in former days, a poor peasant came into the room and seated himself on the bench near the door.
"'I wonder what you are sitting and thinking about, dear lady,' said the peasant after a little.
"'I am sitting and thinking about high and holy things,' answered she. 'Then it is not fitting, perhaps, that I ask you about something which weighs on my heart,' said the peasant.
"'It is probably nothing else that weighs on your heart than that you may reap much grain on your field. But I am accustomed to receive communications from the Emperor about how it will go with his crown; and from the Pope, about how it will go with his keys.' 'Such things cannot be easy to answer,' said the peasant. 'I have also heard that no one seems to go from here without being dissatisfied with what he has heard.'
"When the peasant said this, he saw that Ulvasa-lady bit her lip, and moved higher up on the bench. 'So this is what you have heard about me,' said she. 'Then you may as well tempt fortune by asking me about the thing you wish to know; and you shall see if I can answer so that you will be satisfied.'
"After this the peasant did not hesitate to state his errand. He said that he had come to ask how it would go with Oestergoetland in the future. There was nothing which was so dear to him as his native province, and he felt that he should be happy until his dying day if he could get a satisfactory reply to his query.
"'Oh! is that all you wish to know,' said the wise lady; 'then I think that you will be content. For here where I now sit, I can tell you that it will be like this with Oestergoetland: it will always have something to boast of ahead of other provinces.'
"'Yes, that was a good answer, dear lady,' said the peasant, 'and now I would be entirely at peace if I could only comprehend how such a thing should be possible.'
"'Why should it not be possible?' said Ulvasa-lady. 'Don't you know that Oestergoetland is already renowned? Or think you there is any place in Sweden that can boast of owning, at the same time, two such cloisters as the ones in Alvastra and Vreta, and such a beautiful cathedral as the one in Linkoeping?'
"'That may be so,' said the peasant. 'But I'm an old man, and I know that people's minds are changeable. I fear that there will come a time when they won't want to give us any glory, either for Alvastra or Vreta or for the cathedral.'
"'Herein you may be right,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but you need not doubt prophecy on that account. I shall now build up a new cloister on Vadstena, and that will become the most celebrated in the North. Thither both the high and the lowly shall make pilgrimages, and all shall sing the praises of the province because it has such a holy place within its confines.'
"The peasant replied that he was right glad to know this. But he also knew, of course, that everything was perishable; and he wondered much what would give distinction to the province, if Vadstena Cloister should once fall into disrepute.
"'You are not easy to satisfy,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but surely I can see so far ahead that I can tell you, before Vadstena Cloister shall have lost its splendour, there will be a castle erected close by, which will be the most magnificent of its period. Kings and dukes will be guests there, and it shall be accounted an honour to the whole province, that it owns such an ornament.'
"'This I am also glad to hear,' said the peasant. 'But I'm an old man, and I know how it generally turns out with this world's glories. And if the castle goes to ruin, I wonder much what there will be that can attract the people's attention to this province.'
"'It's not a little that you want to know,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but, certainly, I can look far enough into the future to see that there will be life and movement in the forests around Finspang. I see how cabins and smithies arise there, and I believe that the whole province shall be renowned because iron will be moulded within its confines.'
"The peasant didn't deny that he was delighted to hear this. 'But if it should go so badly that even Finspang's foundry went down in importance, then it would hardly be possible that any new thing could arise of which Oestergoetland might boast.'
"'You are not easy to please,' said Ulvasa-lady, 'but I can see so far into the future that I mark how, along the lake-shores, great manors—large as castles—are built by gentlemen who have carried on wars in foreign lands. I believe that the manors will bring the province just as much honour as anything else that I have mentioned.'
"'But if there comes a time when no one lauds the great manors?' insisted the peasant.
"'You need not be uneasy at all events,' said Ulvasa-lady. I see how health-springs bubble on Medevi meadows, by Vaetter's shores. I believe that the wells at Medevi will bring the land as much praise as you can desire.'
"'That is a mighty good thing to know,' said the peasant. 'But if there comes a time when people will seek their health at other springs?'
"'You must not give yourself any anxiety on that account,' answered Ulvasa-lady. I see how people dig and labour, from Motala to Mem. They dig a canal right through the country, and then Oestergoetland's praise is again on everyone's lips.'
"But, nevertheless, the peasant looked distraught.
"'I see that the rapids in Motala stream begin to draw wheels,' said Ulvasa-lady—and now two bright red spots came to her cheeks, for she began to be impatient—'I hear hammers resound in Motala, and looms clatter in Norrkoeping.'
"'Yes, that's good to know,' said the peasant, 'but everything is perishable, and I'm afraid that even this can be forgotten, and go into oblivion.'
"When the peasant was not satisfied even now, there was an end to the lady's patience. 'You say that everything is perishable,' said she, 'but now I shall still name something which will always be like itself; and that is that such arrogant and pig-headed peasants as you will always be found in this province—until the end of time.'
"Hardly had Ulvasa-lady said this before the peasant rose—happy and satisfied—and thanked her for a good answer. Now, at last, he was satisfied, he said.
"'Verily, I understand now how you look at it,' then said Ulvasa-lady.
"'Well, I look at it in this way, dear lady,' said the peasant, 'that everything which kings and priests and noblemen and merchants build and accomplish, can only endure for a few years. But when you tell me that in Oestergoetland there will always be peasants who are honour-loving and persevering, then I know also that it will be able to keep its ancient glory. For it is only those who go bent under the eternal labour with the soil, who can hold this land in good repute and honour—from one time to another.'"
THE HOMESPUN CLOTH
Saturday, April twenty-third.
The boy rode forward—way up in the air. He had the great Oestergoetland plain under him, and sat and counted the many white churches which towered above the small leafy groves around them. It wasn't long before he had counted fifty. After that he became confused and couldn't keep track of the counting.
Nearly all the farms were built up with large, whitewashed two-story houses, which looked so imposing that the boy couldn't help admiring them. "There can't be any peasants in this land," he said to himself, "since I do not see any peasant farms."
Immediately all the wild geese shrieked: "Here the peasants live like gentlemen. Here the peasants live like gentlemen."
On the plains the ice and snow had disappeared, and the spring work had begun. "What kind of long crabs are those that creep over the fields?" asked the boy after a bit. "Ploughs and oxen. Ploughs and oxen," answered the wild geese.
The oxen moved so slowly down on the fields, that one could scarcely perceive they were in motion, and the geese shouted to them: "You won't get there before next year. You won't get there before next year." But the oxen were equal to the occasion. They raised their muzzles in the air and bellowed: "We do more good in an hour than such as you do in a whole lifetime."
In a few places the ploughs were drawn by horses. They went along with much more eagerness and haste than the oxen; but the geese couldn't keep from teasing these either. "Ar'n't you ashamed to be doing ox-duty?" cried the wild geese. "Ar'n't you ashamed yourselves to be doing lazy man's duty?" the horses neighed back at them.
But while horses and oxen were at work in the fields, the stable ram walked about in the barnyard. He was newly clipped and touchy, knocked over the small boys, chased the shepherd dog into his kennel, and then strutted about as though he alone were lord of the whole place. "Rammie, rammie, what have you done with your wool?" asked the wild geese, who rode by up in the air. "That I have sent to Drag's woollen mills in Norrkoeping," replied the ram with a long, drawn-out bleat. "Rammie, rammie, what have you done with your horns?" asked the geese. But any horns the rammie had never possessed, to his sorrow, and one couldn't offer him a greater insult than to ask after them. He ran around a long time, and butted at the air, so furious was he.
On the country road came a man who drove a flock of Skane pigs that were not more than a few weeks old, and were going to be sold up country. They trotted along bravely, as little as they were, and kept close together—as if they sought protection. "Nuff, nuff, nuff, we came away too soon from father and mother. Nuff, nuff, nuff, how will it go with us poor children?" said the little pigs. The wild geese didn't have the heart to tease such poor little creatures. "It will be better for you than you can ever believe," they cried as they flew past them.
The wild geese were never so merry as when they flew over a flat country. Then they did not hurry themselves, but flew from farm to farm, and joked with the tame animals.
As the boy rode over the plain, he happened to think of a legend which he had heard a long time ago. He didn't remember it exactly, but it was something about a petticoat—half of which was made of gold-woven velvet, and half of gray homespun cloth. But the one who owned the petticoat adorned the homespun cloth with such a lot of pearls and precious stones that it looked richer and more gorgeous than the gold-cloth.
He remembered this about the homespun cloth, as he looked down on Oestergoetland, because it was made up of a large plain, which lay wedged in between two mountainous forest-tracts—one to the north, the other to the south. The two forest-heights lay there, a lovely blue, and shimmered in the morning light, as if they were decked with golden veils; and the plain, which simply spread out one winter-naked field after another, was, in and of itself, prettier to look upon than gray homespun.
But the people must have been contented on the plain, because it was generous and kind, and they had tried to decorate it in the best way possible. High up—where the boy rode by—he thought that cities and farms, churches and factories, castles and railway stations were scattered over it, like large and small trinkets. It shone on the roofs, and the window-panes glittered like jewels. Yellow country roads, shining railway-tracks and blue canals ran along between the districts like embroidered loops. Linkoeping lay around its cathedral like a pearl-setting around a precious stone; and the gardens in the country were like little brooches and buttons. There was not much regulation in the pattern, but it was a display of grandeur which one could never tire of looking at.
The geese had left Oeberg district, and travelled toward the east along Goeta Canal. This was also getting itself ready for the summer. Workmen laid canal-banks, and tarred the huge lock-gates. They were working everywhere to receive spring fittingly, even in the cities. There, masons and painters stood on scaffoldings and made fine the exteriors of the houses while maids were cleaning the windows. Down at the harbour, sailboats and steamers were being washed and dressed up.
At Norrkoeping the wild geese left the plain, and flew up toward Kolmarden. For a time they had followed an old, hilly country road, which wound around cliffs, and ran forward under wild mountain-walls—when the boy suddenly let out a shriek. He had been sitting and swinging his foot back and forth, and one of his wooden shoes had slipped off.
"Goosey-gander, goosey-gander, I have dropped my shoe!" cried the boy. The goosey-gander turned about and sank toward the ground; then the boy saw that two children, who were walking along the road, had picked up his shoe. "Goosey-gander, goosey-gander," screamed the boy excitedly, "fly upward again! It is too late. I cannot get my shoe back again."
Down on the road stood Osa, the goose-girl, and her brother, little Mats, looking at a tiny wooden shoe that had fallen from the skies.
Osa, the goose-girl, stood silent a long while, and pondered over the find. At last she said, slowly and thoughtfully: "Do you remember, little Mats, that when we went past Oevid Cloister, we heard that the folks in a farmyard had seen an elf who was dressed in leather breeches, and had wooden shoes on his feet, like any other working man? And do you recollect when we came to Vittskoevle, a girl told us that she had seen a Goa-Nisse with wooden shoes, who flew away on the back of a goose? And when we ourselves came home to our cabin, little Mats, we saw a goblin who was dressed in the same way, and who also straddled the back of a goose—and flew away. Maybe it was the same one who rode along on his goose up here in the air and dropped his wooden shoe."
"Yes, it must have been," said little Mats.
They turned the wooden shoe about and examined it carefully—for it isn't every day that one happens across a Goa-Nisse's wooden shoe on the highway.
"Wait, wait, little Mats!" said Osa, the goose-girl. "There is something written on one side of it."
"Why, so there is! but they are such tiny letters."
"Let me see! It says—it says: 'Nils Holgersson from W. Vemminghoeg.' That's the most wonderful thing I've ever heard!" said little Mats.
THE STORY OF KARR AND GRAYSKIN
About twelve years before Nils Holgersson started on his travels with the wild geese there was a manufacturer at Kolmarden who wanted to be rid of one of his dogs. He sent for his game-keeper and said to him that it was impossible to keep the dog because he could not be broken of the habit of chasing all the sheep and fowl he set eyes on, and he asked the man to take the dog into the forest and shoot him.
The game-keeper slipped the leash on the dog to lead him to a spot in the forest where all the superannuated dogs from the manor were shot and buried. He was not a cruel man, but he was very glad to shoot that dog, for he knew that sheep and chickens were not the only creatures he hunted. Times without number he had gone into the forest and helped himself to a hare or a grouse-chick.
The dog was a little black-and-tan setter. His name was Karr, and he was so wise he understood all that was said.
As the game-keeper was leading him through the thickets, Karr knew only too well what was in store for him. But this no one could have guessed by his behaviour, for he neither hung his head nor dragged his tail, but seemed as unconcerned as ever.
It was because they were in the forest that the dog was so careful not to appear the least bit anxious.
There were great stretches of woodland on every side of the factory, and this forest was famed both among animals and human beings because for many, many years the owners had been so careful of it that they had begrudged themselves even the trees needed for firewood. Nor had they had the heart to thin or train them. The trees had been allowed to grow as they pleased. Naturally a forest thus protected was a beloved refuge for wild animals, which were to be found there in great numbers. Among themselves they called it Liberty Forest, and regarded it as the best retreat in the whole country.
As the dog was being led through the woods he thought of what a bugaboo he had been to all the small animals and birds that lived there.
"Now, Karr, wouldn't they be happy in their lairs if they only knew what was awaiting you?" he thought, but at the same time he wagged his tail and barked cheerfully, so that no one should think that he was worried or depressed.
"What fun would there have been in living had I not hunted occasionally?" he reasoned. "Let him who will, regret; it's not going to be Karr!"
But the instant the dog said this, a singular change came over him. He stretched his neck as though he had a mind to howl. He no longer trotted alongside the game-keeper, but walked behind him. It was plain that he had begun to think of something unpleasant.
It was early summer; the elk cows had just given birth to their young, and, the night before, the dog had succeeded in parting from its mother an elk calf not more than five days old, and had driven it down into the marsh. There he had chased it back and forth over the knolls—not with the idea of capturing it, but merely for the sport of seeing how he could scare it. The elk cow knew that the marsh was bottomless so soon after the thaw, and that it could not as yet hold up so large an animal as herself, so she stood on the solid earth for the longest time, watching! But when Karr kept chasing the calf farther and farther away, she rushed out on the marsh, drove the dog off, took the calf with her, and turned back toward firm land. Elk are more skilled than other animals in traversing dangerous, marshy ground, and it seemed as if she would reach solid land in safety; but when she was almost there a knoll which she had stepped upon sank into the mire, and she went down with it. She tried to rise, but could get no secure foothold, so she sank and sank. Karr stood and looked on, not daring to move. When he saw that the elk could not save herself, he ran away as fast as he could, for he had begun to think of the beating he would get if it were discovered that he had brought a mother elk to grief. He was so terrified that he dared not pause for breath until he reached home.
It was this that the dog recalled; and it troubled him in a way very different from the recollection of all his other misdeeds. This was doubtless because he had not really meant to kill either the elk cow or her calf, but had deprived them of life without wishing to do so.
"But maybe they are alive yet!" thought the dog. "They were not dead when I ran away; perhaps they saved themselves."
He was seized with an irresistible longing to know for a certainty while yet there was time for him to find out. He noticed that the game-keeper did not have a firm hold on the leash; so he made a sudden spring, broke loose, and dashed through the woods down to the marsh with such speed that he was out of sight before the game-keeper had time to level his gun.
There was nothing for the game-keeper to do but to rush after him. When he got to the marsh he found the dog standing upon a knoll, howling with all his might.
The man thought he had better find out the meaning of this, so he dropped his gun and crawled out over the marsh on hands and knees. He had not gone far when he saw an elk cow lying dead in the quagmire. Close beside her lay a little calf. It was still alive, but so much exhausted that it could not move. Karr was standing beside the calf, now bending down and licking it, now howling shrilly for help.
The game-keeper raised the calf and began to drag it toward land. When the dog understood that the calf would be saved he was wild with joy. He jumped round and round the game-keeper, licking his hands and barking with delight.
The man carried the baby elk home and shut it up in a calf stall in the cow shed. Then he got help to drag the mother elk from the marsh. Only after this had been done did he remember that he was to shoot Karr. He called the dog to him, and again took him into the forest.
The game-keeper walked straight on toward the dog's grave; but all the while he seemed to be thinking deeply. Suddenly he turned and walked toward the manor.
Karr had been trotting along quietly; but when the game-keeper turned and started for home, he became anxious. The man must have discovered that it was he that had caused the death of the elk, and now he was going back to the manor to be thrashed before he was shot!
To be beaten was worse than all else! With that prospect Karr could no longer keep up his spirits, but hung his head. When he came to the manor he did not look up, but pretended that he knew no one there.
The master was standing on the stairs leading to the hall when the game-keeper came forward.
"Where on earth did that dog come from?" he exclaimed. "Surely it can't be Karr? He must be dead this long time!"
Then the man began to tell his master all about the mother elk, while Karr made himself as little as he could, and crouched behind the game-keeper's legs.
Much to his surprise the man had only praise for him. He said it was plain the dog knew that the elk were in distress, and wished to save them.
"You may do as you like, but I can't shoot that dog!" declared the game-keeper.
Karr raised himself and pricked up his ears. He could hardly believe that he heard aright. Although he did not want to show how anxious he had been, he couldn't help whining a little. Could it be possible that his life was to be spared simply because he had felt uneasy about the elk?
The master thought that Karr had conducted himself well, but as he did not want the dog, he could not decide at once what should be done with him.
"If you will take charge of him and answer for his good behaviour in the future, he may as well live," he said, finally.
This the game-keeper was only too glad to do, and that was how Karr came to move to the game-keeper's lodge.
From the day that Karr went to live with the game-keeper he abandoned entirely his forbidden chase in the forest. This was due not only to his having been thoroughly frightened, but also to the fact that he did not wish to make the game-keeper angry at him. Ever since his new master saved his life the dog loved him above everything else. He thought only of following him and watching over him. If he left the house, Karr would run ahead to make sure that the way was clear, and if he sat at home, Karr would lie before the door and keep a close watch on every one who came and went.
When all was quiet at the lodge, when no footsteps were heard on the road, and the game-keeper was working in his garden, Karr would amuse himself playing with the baby elk.
At first the dog had no desire to leave his master even for a moment. Since he accompanied him everywhere, he went with him to the cow shed. When he gave the elk calf its milk, the dog would sit outside the stall and gaze at it. The game-keeper called the calf Grayskin because he thought it did not merit a prettier name, and Karr agreed with him on that point.
Every time the dog looked at it he thought that he had never seen anything so ugly and misshapen as the baby elk, with its long, shambly legs, which hung down from the body like loose stilts. The head was large, old, and wrinkled, and it always drooped to one side. The skin lay in tucks and folds, as if the animal had put on a coat that had not been made for him. Always doleful and discontented, curiously enough he jumped up every time Karr appeared as if glad to see him.
The elk calf became less hopeful from day to day, did not grow any, and at last he could not even rise when he saw Karr. Then the dog jumped up into the crib to greet him, and thereupon a light kindled in the eyes of the poor creature—as if a cherished longing were fulfilled.
After that Karr visited the elk calf every day, and spent many hours with him, licking his coat, playing and racing with him, till he taught him a little of everything a forest animal should know.
It was remarkable that, from the time Karr began to visit the elk calf in his stall, the latter seemed more contented, and began to grow. After he was fairly started, he grew so rapidly that in a couple of weeks the stall could no longer hold him, and he had to be moved into a grove.
When he had been in the grove two months his legs were so long that he could step over the fence whenever he wished. Then the lord of the manor gave the game-keeper permission to put up a higher fence and to allow him more space. Here the elk lived for several years, and grew up into a strong and handsome animal. Karr kept him company as often as he could; but now it was no longer through pity, for a great friendship had sprung up between the two. The elk was always inclined to be melancholy, listless, and, indifferent, but Karr knew how to make him playful and happy.
Grayskin had lived for five summers on the game-keeper's place, when his owner received a letter from a zooelogical garden abroad asking if the elk might be purchased.
The master was pleased with the proposal, the game-keeper was distressed, but had not the power to say no; so it was decided that the elk should be sold. Karr soon discovered what was in the air and ran over to the elk to have a chat with him. The dog was very much distressed at the thought of losing his friend, but the elk took the matter calmly, and seemed neither glad nor sorry.
"Do you think of letting them send you away without offering resistance?" asked Karr.
"What good would it do to resist?" asked Grayskin. "I should prefer to remain where I am, naturally, but if I've been sold, I shall have to go, of course."
Karr looked at Grayskin and measured him with his eyes. It was apparent that the elk was not yet full grown. He did not have the broad antlers, high hump, and long mane of the mature elk; but he certainly had strength enough to fight for his freedom.
"One can see that he has been in captivity all his life," thought Karr, but said nothing.
Karr left and did not return to the grove till long past midnight. By that time he knew Grayskin would be awake and eating his breakfast.
"Of course you are doing right, Grayskin, in letting them take you away," remarked Karr, who appeared now to be calm and satisfied. "You will be a prisoner in a large park and will have no responsibilities. It seems a pity that you must leave here without having seen the forest. You know your ancestors have a saying that 'the elk are one with the forest.' But you haven't even been in a forest!"
Grayskin glanced up from the clover which he stood munching.
"Indeed, I should love to see the forest, but how am I to get over the fence?" he said with his usual apathy.
"Oh, that is difficult for one who has such short legs!" said Karr.
The elk glanced slyly at the dog, who jumped the fence many times a day—little as he was.
He walked over to the fence, and with one spring he was on the other side, without knowing how it happened.
Then Karr and Grayskin went into the forest. It was a beautiful moonlight night in late summer; but in among the trees it was dark, and the elk walked along slowly.
"Perhaps we had better turn back," said Karr. "You, who have never before tramped the wild forest, might easily break your legs." Grayskin moved more rapidly and with more courage.
Karr conducted the elk to a part of the forest where the pines grew so thickly that no wind could penetrate them.
"It is here that your kind are in the habit of seeking shelter from cold and storm," said Karr. "Here they stand under the open skies all winter. But you will fare much better where you are going, for you will stand in a shed, with a roof over your head, like an ox."
Grayskin made no comment, but stood quietly and drank in the strong, piney air.
"Have you anything more to show me, or have I now seen the whole forest?" he asked.
Then Karr went with him to a big marsh, and showed him clods and quagmire.
"Over this marsh the elk take flight when they are in peril," said Karr. "I don't know how they manage it, but, large and heavy as they are, they can walk here without sinking. Of course you couldn't hold yourself up on such dangerous ground, but then there is no occasion for you to do so, for you will never be hounded by hunters."
Grayskin made no retort, but with a leap he was out on the marsh, and happy when he felt how the clods rocked under him. He dashed across the marsh, and came back again to Karr, without having stepped into a mudhole.
"Have we seen the whole forest now?" he asked.
"No, not yet," said Karr.
He next conducted the elk to the skirt of the forest, where fine oaks, lindens, and aspens grew.
"Here your kind eat leaves and bark, which they consider the choicest of food; but you will probably get better fare abroad."
Grayskin was astonished when he saw the enormous leaf-trees spreading like a great canopy above him. He ate both oak leaves and aspen bark.
"These taste deliciously bitter and good!" he remarked. "Better than clover!"
"Then wasn't it well that you should taste them once?" said the dog.
Thereupon he took the elk down to a little forest lake. The water was as smooth as a mirror, and reflected the shores, which were veiled in thin, light mists. When Grayskin saw the lake he stood entranced.
"What is this, Karr?" he asked.
It was the first time that he had seen a lake.
"It's a large body of water—a lake," said Karr. "Your people swim across it from shore to shore. One could hardly expect you to be familiar with this; but at least you should go in and take a swim!"
Karr, himself, plunged into the water for a swim. Grayskin stayed back on the shore for some little time, but finally followed. He grew breathless with delight as the cool water stole soothingly around his body. He wanted it over his back, too, so went farther out. Then he felt that the water could hold him up, and began to swim. He swam all around Karr, ducking and snorting, perfectly at home in the water.
When they were on shore again, the dog asked if they had not better go home now.
"It's a long time until morning," observed Grayskin, "so we can tramp around in the forest a little longer."
They went again into the pine wood. Presently they came to an open glade illuminated by the moonlight, where grass and flowers shimmered beneath the dew. Some large animals were grazing on this forest meadow—an elk bull, several elk cows and a number of elk calves. When Grayskin caught sight of them he stopped short. He hardly glanced at the cows or the young ones, but stared at the old bull, which had broad antlers with many taglets, a high hump, and a long-haired fur piece hanging down from his throat.
"What kind of an animal is that?" asked Grayskin in wonderment.
"He is called Antler-Crown," said Karr, "and he is your kinsman. One of these days you, too, will have broad antlers, like those, and just such a mane; and if you were to remain in the forest, very likely you, also, would have a herd to lead."
"If he is my kinsman, I must go closer and have a look at him," said Grayskin. "I never dreamed that an animal could be so stately!"
Grayskin walked over to the elk, but almost immediately he came back to Karr, who had remained at the edge of the clearing.
"You were not very well received, were you?" said Karr.
"I told him that this was the first time I had run across any of my kinsmen, and asked if I might walk with them on their meadow. But they drove me back, threatening me with their antlers."
"You did right to retreat," said Karr. "A young elk bull with only a taglet crown must be careful about fighting with an old elk. Another would have disgraced his name in the whole forest by retreating without resistance, but such things needn't worry you who are going to move to a foreign land."
Karr had barely finished speaking when Grayskin turned and walked down to the meadow. The old elk came toward him, and instantly they began to fight. Their antlers met and clashed, and Grayskin was driven backward over the whole meadow. Apparently he did not know how to make use of his strength; but when he came to the edge of the forest, he planted his feet on the ground, pushed hard with his antlers, and began to force Antler-Crown back.
Grayskin fought quietly, while Antler-Crown puffed and snorted. The old elk, in his turn, was now being forced backward over the meadow. Suddenly a loud crash was heard! A taglet in the old elk's antlers had snapped. He tore himself loose, and dashed into the forest.
Karr was still standing at the forest border when Grayskin came along.
"Now that you have seen what there is in the forest," said Karr, "will you come home with me?"
"Yes, it's about time," observed the elk.
Both were silent on the way home. Karr sighed several times, as if he was disappointed about something; but Grayskin stepped along—his head in the air—and seemed delighted over the adventure. He walked ahead unhesitatingly until they came to the enclosure. There he paused. He looked in at the narrow pen where he had lived up till now; saw the beaten ground, the stale fodder, the little trough where he had drunk water, and the dark shed in which he had slept.
"The elk are one with the forest!" he cried. Then he threw back his head, so that his neck rested against his back, and rushed wildly into the woods.
HELPLESS, THE WATER-SNAKE
In a pine thicket in the heart of Liberty Forest, every year, in the month of August, there appeared a few grayish-white moths of the kind which are called nun moths. They were small and few in number, and scarcely any one noticed them. When they had fluttered about in the depth of the forest a couple of nights, they laid a few thousand eggs on the branches of trees; and shortly afterward dropped lifeless to the ground.
When spring came, little prickly caterpillars crawled out from the eggs and began to eat the pine needles. They had good appetites, but they never seemed to do the trees any serious harm, because they were hotly pursued by birds. It was seldom that more than a few hundred caterpillars escaped the pursuers.
The poor things that lived to be full grown crawled up on the branches, spun white webs around themselves, and sat for a couple of weeks as motionless pupae. During this period, as a rule, more than half of them were abducted. If a hundred nun moths came forth in August, winged and perfect, it was reckoned a good year for them.
This sort of uncertain and obscure existence did the moths lead for many years in Liberty Forest. There were no insect folk in the whole country that were so scarce, and they would have remained quite harmless and powerless had they not, most unexpectedly, received a helper.
This fact has some connection with Grayskin's flight from the game-keeper's paddock. Grayskin roamed the forest that he might become more familiar with the place. Late in the afternoon he happened to squeeze through some thickets behind a clearing where the soil was muddy and slimy, and in the centre of it was a murky pool. This open space was encircled by tall pines almost bare from age and miasmic air. Grayskin was displeased with the place and would have left it at once had he not caught sight of some bright green calla leaves which grew near the pool.
As he bent his head toward the calla stalks, he happened to disturb a big black snake, which lay sleeping under them. Grayskin had heard Karr speak of the poisonous adders that were to be found in the forest. So, when the snake raised its head, shot out its tongue and hissed at him, he thought he had encountered an awfully dangerous reptile. He was terrified and, raising his foot, he struck so hard with his hoof that he crushed the snake's head. Then, away he ran in hot haste!
As soon as Grayskin had gone, another snake, just as long and as black as the first, came up from the pool. It crawled over to the dead one, and licked the poor, crushed-in head.
"Can it be true that you are dead, old Harmless?" hissed the snake. "We two have lived together so many years; we two have been so happy with each other, and have fared so well here in the swamp, that we have lived to be older than all the other water-snakes in the forest! This is the worst sorrow that could have befallen me!"
The snake was so broken-hearted that his long body writhed as if it had been wounded. Even the frogs, who lived in constant fear of him, were sorry for him.
"What a wicked creature he must be to murder a poor water-snake that cannot defend itself!" hissed the snake. "He certainly deserves a severe punishment. As sure as my name is Helpless and I'm the oldest water-snake in the whole forest, I'll be avenged! I shall not rest until that elk lies as dead on the ground as my poor old snake-wife."
When the snake had made this vow he curled up into a hoop and began to ponder. One can hardly imagine anything that would be more difficult for a poor water-snake than to wreak vengeance upon a big, strong elk; and old Helpless pondered day and night without finding any solution.
One night, as he lay there with his vengeance-thoughts, he heard a slight rustle over his head. He glanced up and saw a few light nun moths playing in among the trees.
He followed them with his eyes a long while; then began to hiss loudly to himself, apparently pleased with the thought that had occurred to him—then he fell asleep.
The next morning the water-snake went over to see Crawlie, the adder, who lived in a stony and hilly part of Liberty Forest. He told him all about the death of the old water-snake, and begged that he who could deal such deadly thrusts would undertake the work of vengeance. But Crawlie was not exactly disposed to go to war with an elk.