Gorgo, the Eagle

In the Mountain Glen

Far up among the mountains of Lapland there was an old eagle’s nest on a ledge which projected from a high cliff. The nest was made of dry twigs of pine and spruce, interlaced one with another until they formed a perfect network. Year by year the nest had been repaired and strengthened. It was about two metres wide, and nearly as high as a Laplander’s hut.

The cliff on which the eagle’s nest was situated towered above a big glen, which was inhabited in summer by a flock of wild geese, as it was an excellent refuge for them. It was so secluded between cliffs that not many knew of it, even among the Laplanders themselves.

In the heart of this glen there was a small, round lake in which was an abundance of food for the tiny goslings, and on the tufted lake shores which were covered with osier bushes and dwarfed birches the geese found fine nesting places.

In all ages eagles had lived on the mountain, and geese in the glen. Every year the former carried off a few of the latter, but they were very careful not to take so many that the wild geese would be afraid to remain in the glen. The geese, in their turn, found the eagles quite useful. They were robbers, to be sure, but they kept other robbers away.

Two years before Nils Holgersson travelled with the wild geese the old leader-goose, Akka from Kebnekaise, was standing at the foot of the mountain slope looking toward the eagle’s nest.

The eagles were in the habit of starting on their chase soon after sunrise; during the summers that Akka had lived in the glen she had watched every morning for their departure to find if they stopped in the glen to hunt, or if they flew beyond it to other hunting grounds.

She did not have to wait long before the two eagles left the ledge on the cliff. Stately and terror-striking they soared into the air. They directed their course toward the plain, and Akka breathed a sigh of relief.

The old leader-goose’s days of nesting and rearing of young were over, and during the summer she passed the time going from one goose range to another, giving counsel regarding the brooding and care of the young. Aside from this she kept an eye out not only for eagles but also for mountain fox and owls and all other enemies who were a menace to the wild geese and their young.

About noontime Akka began to watch for the eagles again. This she had done every day during all the summers that she had lived in the glen. She could tell at once by their flight if their hunt had been successful, and in that event she felt relieved for the safety of those who belonged to her. But on this particular day she had not seen the eagles return. “I must be getting old and stupid,” she thought, when she had waited a time for them. “The eagles have probably been home this long while.”

In the afternoon she looked toward the cliff again, expecting to see the eagles perched on the rocky ledge where they usually took their afternoon rest; toward evening, when they took their bath in the dale lake, she tried again to get sight of them, but failed. Again she bemoaned the fact that she was growing old. She was so accustomed to having the eagles on the mountain above her that she could not imagine the possibility of their not having returned.

The following morning Akka was awake in good season to watch for the eagles; but she did not see them. On the other hand, she heard in the morning stillness a cry that sounded both angry and plaintive, and it seemed to come from the eagles’ nest. “Can there possibly be anything amiss with the eagles?” she wondered. She spread her wings quickly, and rose so high that she could perfectly well look down into the nest.

There she saw neither of the eagles. There was no one in the nest save a little half-fledged eaglet who was screaming for food.

Akka sank down toward the eagles’ nest, slowly and reluctantly. It was a gruesome place to come to! It was plain what kind of robber folk lived there! In the nest and on the cliff ledge lay bleached bones, bloody feathers, pieces of skin, hares’ heads, birds’ beaks, and the tufted claws of grouse. The eaglet, who was lying in the midst of this, was repulsive to look upon, with his big, gaping bill, his awkward, down-clad body, and his undeveloped wings where the prospective quills stuck out like thorns.

At last Akka conquered her repugnance and alighted on the edge of the nest, at the same time glancing about her anxiously in every direction, for each second she expected to see the old eagles coming back.

“It is well that someone has come at last,” cried the baby eagle. “Fetch me some food at once!”

“Well, well, don’t be in such haste,” said Akka. “Tell me first where your father and mother are.”

“That’s what I should like to know myself. They went off yesterday morning and left me a lemming to live upon while they were away. You can believe that was eaten long ago. It’s a shame for mother to let me starve in this way!”

Akka began to think that the eagles had really been shot, and she reasoned that if she were to let the eaglet starve she might perhaps be rid of the whole robber tribe for all time. But it went very much against her not to succour a deserted young one so far as she could.

“Why do you sit there and stare?” snapped the eaglet. “Didn’t you hear me say I want food?”

Akka spread her wings and sank down to the little lake in the glen. A moment later she returned to the eagles’ nest with a salmon trout in her bill.

The eaglet flew into a temper when she dropped the fish in front of him.

“Do you think I can eat such stuff?” he shrieked, pushing it aside, and trying to strike Akka with his bill. “Fetch me a willow grouse or a lemming, do you hear?”

Akka stretched her head forward, and gave the eaglet a sharp nip in the neck. “Let me say to you,” remarked the old goose, “that if I’m to procure food for you, you must be satisfied with what I give you. Your father and mother are dead, and from them you can get no help; but if you want to lie here and starve to death while you wait for grouse and lemming, I shall not hinder you.”

When Akka had spoken her mind she promptly retired, and did not show her face in the eagles’ nest again for some time. But when she did return, the eaglet had eaten the fish, and when she dropped another in front of him he swallowed it at once, although it was plain that he found it very distasteful.

Akka had imposed upon herself a tedious task. The old eagles never appeared again, and she alone had to procure for the eaglet all the food he needed. She gave him fish and frogs and he did not seem to fare badly on this diet, but grew big and strong. He soon forgot his parents, the eagles, and fancied that Akka was his real mother. Akka, in turn, loved him as if he had been her own child. She tried to give him a good bringing up, and to cure him of his wildness and overbearing ways.

After a fortnight Akka observed that the time was approaching for her to moult and put on a new feather dress so as to be ready to fly. For a whole moon she would be unable to carry food to the baby eaglet, and he might starve to death.

So Akka said to him one day: “Gorgo, I can’t come to you any more with fish. Everything depends now upon your pluck⁠—which means can you dare to venture into the glen, so I can continue to procure food for you? You must choose between starvation and flying down to the glen, but that, too, may cost you your life.”

Without a second’s hesitation the eaglet stepped upon the edge of the nest. Barely taking the trouble to measure the distance to the bottom, he spread his tiny wings and started away. He rolled over and over in space, but nevertheless made enough use of his wings to reach the ground almost unhurt.

Down there in the glen Gorgo passed the summer in company with the little goslings, and was a good comrade for them. Since he regarded himself as a gosling, he tried to live as they lived; when they swam in the lake he followed them until he came near drowning. It was most embarrassing to him that he could not learn to swim, and he went to Akka and complained of his inability.

“Why can’t I swim like the others?” he asked.

“Your claws grew too hooked, and your toes too large while you were up there on the cliff,” Akka replied. “But you’ll make a fine bird all the same.”

The eaglet’s wings soon grew so large that they could carry him; but not until autumn, when the goslings learned to fly, did it dawn upon him that he could use them for flight. There came a proud time for him, for at this sport he was the peer of them all. His companions never stayed up in the air any longer than they had to, but he stayed there nearly the whole day, and practised the art of flying. So far it had not occurred to him that he was of another species than the geese, but he could not help noting a number of things that surprised him, and he questioned Akka constantly.

“Why do grouse and lemming run and hide when they see my shadow on the cliff?” he queried. “They don’t show such fear of the other goslings.”

“Your wings grew too big when you were on the cliff,” said Akka. “It is that which frightens the little wretches. But don’t be unhappy because of that. You’ll be a fine bird all the same.”

After the eagle had learned to fly, he taught himself to fish, and to catch frogs. But by and by he began to ponder this also.

“How does it happen that I live on fish and frogs?” he asked. “The other goslings don’t.”

“This is due to the fact that I had no other food to give you when you were on the cliff,” said Akka. “But don’t let that make you sad. You’ll be a fine bird all the same.”

When the wild geese began their autumn moving, Gorgo flew along with the flock, regarding himself all the while as one of them. The air was filled with birds who were on their way south, and there was great excitement among them when Akka appeared with an eagle in her train. The wild goose flock was continually surrounded by swarms of the curious who loudly expressed their astonishment. Akka bade them be silent, but it was impossible to stop so many wagging tongues.

“Why do they call me an eagle?” Gorgo asked repeatedly, growing more and more exasperated. “Can’t they see that I’m a wild goose? I’m no bird-eater who preys upon his kind. How dare they give me such an ugly name?”

One day they flew above a barn yard where many chickens walked on a dump heap and picked. “An eagle! An eagle!” shrieked the chickens, and started to run for shelter. But Gorgo, who had heard the eagles spoken of as savage criminals, could not control his anger. He snapped his wings together and shot down to the ground, striking his talons into one of the hens. “I’ll teach you, I will, that I’m no eagle!” he screamed furiously, and struck with his beak.

That instant he heard Akka call to him from the air, and rose obediently. The wild goose flew toward him and began to reprimand him. “What are you trying to do?” she cried, beating him with her bill. “Was it perhaps your intention to tear that poor hen to pieces?” But when the eagle took his punishment from the wild goose without a protest, there arose from the great bird throng around them a perfect storm of taunts and gibes. The eagle heard this, and turned toward Akka with flaming eyes, as though he would have liked to attack her. But he suddenly changed his mind, and with quick wing strokes bounded into the air, soaring so high that no call could reach him; and he sailed around up there as long as the wild geese saw him.

Two days later he appeared again in the wild goose flock.

“I know who I am,” he said to Akka. “Since I am an eagle, I must live as becomes an eagle; but I think that we can be friends all the same. You or any of yours I shall never attack.”

But Akka had set her heart on successfully training an eagle into a mild and harmless bird, and she could not tolerate his wanting to do as he chose.

“Do you think that I wish to be the friend of a bird-eater?” she asked. “Live as I have taught you to live, and you may travel with my flock as heretofore.”

Both were proud and stubborn, and neither of them would yield. It ended in Akka’s forbidding the eagle to show his face in her neighbourhood, and her anger toward him was so intense that no one dared speak his name in her presence.

After that Gorgo roamed around the country, alone and shunned, like all great robbers. He was often downhearted, and certainly longed many a time for the days when he thought himself a wild goose, and played with the merry goslings.

Among the animals he had a great reputation for courage. They used to say of him that he feared no one but his foster-mother, Akka. And they could also say of him that he never used violence against a wild goose.

In Captivity

Gorgo was only three years old, and had not as yet thought about marrying and procuring a home for himself, when he was captured one day by a hunter, and sold to the Skansen Zoölogical Garden, where there were already two eagles held captive in a cage built of iron bars and steel wires. The cage stood out in the open, and was so large that a couple of trees had easily been moved into it, and quite a large cairn was piled up in there. Notwithstanding all this, the birds were unhappy. They sat motionless on the same spot nearly all day. Their pretty, dark feather dresses became rough and lustreless, and their eyes were riveted with hopeless longing on the sky without.

During the first week of Gorgo’s captivity he was still awake and full of life, but later a heavy torpor came upon him. He perched himself on one spot, like the other eagles, and stared at vacancy. He no longer knew how the days passed.

One morning when Gorgo sat in his usual torpor, he heard someone call to him from below. He was so drowsy that he could barely rouse himself enough to lower his glance.

“Who is calling me?” he asked.

“Oh, Gorgo! Don’t you know me? It’s Thumbietot who used to fly around with the wild geese.”

“Is Akka also captured?” asked Gorgo in the tone of one who is trying to collect his thoughts after a long sleep.

“No; Akka, the white goosey-gander, and the whole flock are probably safe and sound up in Lapland at this season,” said the boy. “It’s only I who am a prisoner here.”

As the boy was speaking he noticed that Gorgo averted his glance, and began to stare into space again.

“Golden eagle!” cried the boy; “I have not forgotten that once you carried me back to the wild geese, and that you spared the white goosey-gander’s life! Tell me if I can be of any help to you!”

Gorgo scarcely raised his head. “Don’t disturb me, Thumbietot,” he yawned. “I’m sitting here dreaming that I am free, and am soaring away up among the clouds. I don’t want to be awake.”

“You must rouse yourself, and see what goes on around you,” the boy admonished, “or you will soon look as wretched as the other eagles.”

“I wish I were as they are! They are so lost in their dreams that nothing more can trouble them,” said the eagle.

When night came, and all three eagles were asleep, there was a light scraping on the steel wires stretched across the top of the cage. The two listless old captives did not allow themselves to be disturbed by the noise, but Gorgo awakened.

“Who’s there? Who is moving up on the roof?” he asked.

“It’s Thumbietot, Gorgo,” answered the boy. “I’m sitting here filing away at the steel wires so that you can escape.”

The eagle raised his head, and saw in the night light how the boy sat and filed the steel wires at the top of the cage. He felt hopeful for an instant, but soon discouragement got the upper hand.

“I’m a big bird, Thumbietot,” said Gorgo; “how can you ever manage to file away enough wires for me to come out? You’d better quit that, and leave me in peace.”

“Oh, go to sleep, and don’t bother about me!” said the boy. “I’ll not be through tonight nor tomorrow night, but I shall try to free you in time for here you’ll become a total wreck.”

Gorgo fell asleep. When he awoke the next morning he saw at a glance that a number of wires had been filed. That day he felt less drowsy than he had done in the past. He spread his wings, and fluttered from branch to branch to get the stiffness out of his joints.

One morning early, just as the first streak of sunlight made its appearance, Thumbietot awakened the eagle.

“Try now, Gorgo!” he whispered.

The eagle looked up. The boy had actually filed off so many wires that now there was a big hole in the wire netting. Gorgo flapped his wings and propelled himself upward. Twice he missed and fell back into the cage; but finally he succeeded in getting out.

With proud wing strokes he soared into the clouds. Little Thumbietot sat and gazed after him with a mournful expression. He wished that someone would come and give him his freedom too.

The boy was domiciled now at Skansen. He had become acquainted with all the animals there, and had made many friends among them. He had to admit that there was so much to see and learn there that it was not difficult for him to pass the time. To be sure his thoughts went forth every day to Morten Goosey-Gander and his other comrades, and he yearned for them. “If only I weren’t bound by my promise,” he thought, “I’d find some bird to take me to them!”

It may seem strange that Clement Larsson had not restored the boy’s liberty, but one must remember how excited the little fiddler had been when he left Skansen. The morning of his departure he had thought of setting out the midget’s food in a blue bowl, but, unluckily, he had been unable to find one. All the Skansen folk⁠—Lapps, peasant girls, artisans, and gardeners⁠—had come to bid him goodbye, and he had had no time to search for a blue bowl. It was time to start, and at the last moment he had to ask the old Laplander to help him.

“One of the tiny folk happens to be living here at Skansen,” said Clement, “and every morning I set out a little food for him. Will you do me the favour of taking these few coppers and purchasing a blue bowl with them? Put a little gruel and milk in it, and tomorrow morning set it out under the steps of Bollnäs cottage.”

The old Laplander looked surprised, but there was no time for Clement to explain further, as he had to be off to the railway station.

The Laplander went down to the zoölogical village to purchase the bowl. As he saw no blue one that he thought appropriate, he bought a white one, and this he conscientiously filled and set out every morning.

That was why the boy had not been released from his pledge. He knew that Clement had gone away, but he was not allowed to leave.

That night the boy longed more than ever for his freedom. This was because summer had come now in earnest. During his travels he had suffered much in cold and stormy weather, and when he first came to Skansen he had thought that perhaps it was just as well that he had been compelled to break the journey. He would have been frozen to death had he gone to Lapland in the month of May. But now it was warm; the earth was green-clad, birches and poplars were clothed in their satiny foliage, and the cherry trees⁠—in fact all the fruit trees⁠—were covered with blossoms. The berry bushes had green berries on their stems; the oaks had carefully unfolded their leaves, and peas, cabbages, and beans were growing in the vegetable garden at Skansen.

“Now it must be warm up in Lapland,” thought the boy. “I should like to be seated on Morten Goosey-Gander’s back on a fine morning like this! It would be great fun to ride around in the warm, still air, and look down at the ground, as it now lies decked with green grass, and embellished with pretty blossoms.”

He sat musing on this when the eagle suddenly swooped down from the sky, and perched beside the boy, on top of the cage.

“I wanted to try my wings to see if they were still good for anything,” said Gorgo. “You didn’t suppose that I meant to leave you here in captivity? Get up on my back, and I’ll take you to your comrades.”

“No, that’s impossible!” the boy answered. “I have pledged my word that I would stay here till I am liberated.”

“What sort of nonsense are you talking?” protested Gorgo. “In the first place they brought you here against your will; then they forced you to promise that you would remain here. Surely you must understand that such a promise one need not keep?”

“Oh, no, I must keep it,” said the boy. “I thank you all the same for your kind intention, but you can’t help me.”

“Oh, can’t I?” said Gorgo. “We’ll see about that!” In a twinkling he grasped Nils Holgersson in his big talons, and rose with him toward the skies, disappearing in a northerly direction.