Home at Last


The atmosphere was dull and hazy. The wild geese had been feeding on the big meadow around Skerup church and were having their noonday rest when Akka came up to the boy.

“It looks as if we should have calm weather for awhile,” she remarked, “and I think we’ll cross the Baltic tomorrow.”

“Indeed!” said the boy abruptly, for his throat contracted so that he could hardly speak. All along he had cherished the hope that he would be released from the enchantment while he was still in Skåne.

“We are quite near West Vemminghög now,” said Akka, “and I thought that perhaps you might like to go home for awhile. It may be some time before you have another opportunity to see your people.”

“Perhaps I had better not,” said the boy hesitatingly, but something in his voice betrayed that he was glad of Akka’s proposal.

“If the goosey-gander remains with us, no harm can come to him,” Akka assured. “I think you had better find out how your parents are getting along. You might be of some help to them, even if you’re not a normal boy.”

“You are right, Mother Akka. I should have thought of that long ago,” said the boy impulsively.

The next second he and the leader-goose were on their way to his home. It was not long before Akka alighted behind the stone hedge encircling the little farm.

“Strange how natural everything looks around here!” the boy remarked, quickly clambering to the top of the hedge, so that he could look about.

“It seems to me only yesterday that I first saw you come flying through the air.”

“I wonder if your father has a gun,” said Akka suddenly.

“You may be sure he has,” returned the boy. “It was just the gun that kept me at home that Sunday morning when I should have been at church.”

“Then I don’t dare to stand here and wait for you,” said Akka. “You had better meet us at Smygahök early tomorrow morning, so that you may stay at home over night.”

“Oh, don’t go yet, Mother Akka!” begged the boy, jumping from the hedge.

He could not tell just why it was, but he felt as if something would happen, either to the wild goose or to himself, to prevent their future meeting.

“No doubt you see that I’m distressed because I cannot get back my right form; but I want to say to you that I don’t regret having gone with you last spring,” he added. “I would rather forfeit the chance of ever being human again than to have missed that trip.”

Akka breathed quickly before she answered.

“There’s a little matter I should have mentioned to you before this, but since you are not going back to your home for good, I thought there was no hurry about it. Still it may as well be said now.”

“You know very well that I am always glad to do your bidding,” said the boy.

“If you have learned anything at all from us, Thumbietot, you no longer think that the humans should have the whole Earth to themselves,” said the wild goose, solemnly. “Remember you have a large country and you can easily afford to leave a few bare rocks, a few shallow lakes and swamps, a few desolate cliffs and remote forests to us poor, dumb creatures, where we can be allowed to live in peace. All my days I have been hounded and hunted. It would be a comfort to know that there is a refuge somewhere for one like me.”

“Indeed, I should be glad to help if I could,” said the boy, “but it’s not likely that I shall ever again have any influence among human beings.”

“Well, we’re standing here talking as if we were never to meet again,” said Akka, “but we shall see each other tomorrow, of course. Now I’ll return to my flock.”

She spread her wings and started to fly, but came back and stroked Thumbietot up and down with her bill before she flew away.

It was broad daylight, but no human being moved on the farm and the boy could go where he pleased. He hastened to the cow shed, because he knew that he could get the best information from the cows.

It looked rather barren in their shed. In the spring there had been three fine cows there, but now there was only one⁠—Mayrose. It was quite apparent that she yearned for her comrades. Her head drooped sadly, and she had hardly touched the feed in her crib.

“Good day, Mayrose!” said the boy, running fearlessly into her stall. “How are mother and father? How are the cat and the chickens? What has become of Star and Gold-Lily?”

When Mayrose heard the boy’s voice she started, and appeared as if she were going to gore him. But she was not so quick-tempered now as formerly, and took time to look well at Nils Holgersson.

He was just as little now as when he went away, and wore the same clothes; yet he was completely changed. The Nils Holgersson that went away in the spring had a heavy, slow gait, a drawling speech, and sleepy eyes. The one that had come back was lithe and alert, ready of speech, and had eyes that sparkled and danced. He had a confident bearing that commanded respect, little as he was. Although he himself did not look happy, he inspired happiness in others.

Moo!” bellowed Mayrose. “They told me that he was changed, but I couldn’t believe it. Welcome home, Nils Holgersson! Welcome home! This is the first glad moment I have known for ever so long!”

“Thank you, Mayrose!” said the boy, who was very happy to be so well received.

“Now tell me all about father and mother.”

“They have had nothing but hardship ever since you went away,” said Mayrose. “The horse has been a costly care all summer, for he has stood in the stable the whole time and not earned his feed. Your father is too softhearted to shoot him and he can’t sell him. It was on account of the horse that both Star and Gold-Lily had to be sold.”

There was something else the boy wanted badly to know, but he was diffident about asking the question point blank. Therefore he said:

“Mother must have felt very sorry when she discovered that Morten Goosey-Gander had flown?”

“She wouldn’t have worried much about Morten Goosey-Gander had she known the way he came to leave. She grieves most at the thought of her son having run away from home with a goosey-gander.”

“Does she really think that I stole the goosey-gander?” said the boy.

“What else could she think?”

“Father and mother must fancy that I’ve been roaming about the country, like a common tramp?”

“They think that you’ve gone to the dogs,” said Mayrose. “They have mourned you as one mourns the loss of the dearest thing on earth.”

As soon as the boy heard this, he rushed from the cow shed and down to the stable.

It was small, but clean and tidy. Everything showed that his father had tried to make the place comfortable for the new horse. In the stall stood a strong, fine animal that looked well fed and well cared for.

“Good day to you!” said the boy. “I have heard that there’s a sick horse in here. Surely it can’t be you, who look so healthy and strong.”

The horse turned his head and stared fixedly at the boy.

“Are you the son?” he queried. “I have heard many bad reports of him. But you have such a good face, I couldn’t believe that you were he, did I not know that he was transformed into an elf.”

“I know that I left a bad name behind me when I went away from the farm,” admitted Nils Holgersson. “My own mother thinks I am a thief. But what matters it⁠—I shan’t tarry here long. Meanwhile, I want to know what ails you.”

“Pity you’re not going to stay,” said the horse, “for I have the feeling that you and I might become good friends. I’ve got something in my foot⁠—the point of a knife, or something sharp⁠—that’s all that ails me. It has gone so far in that the doctor can’t find it, but it cuts so that I can’t walk. If you would only tell your father what’s wrong with me, I’m sure that he could help me. I should like to be of some use. I really feel ashamed to stand here and feed without doing any work.”

“It’s well that you have no real illness,” remarked Nils Holgersson. “I must attend to this at once, so that you will be all right again. You don’t mind if I do a little scratching on your hoof with my knife, do you?”

Nils Holgersson had just finished, when he heard the sound of voices. He opened the stable door a little and peeped out.

His father and mother were coming down the lane. It was easy to see that they were broken by many sorrows. His mother had many lines on her face and his father’s hair had turned gray. She was talking with him about getting a loan from her brother-in-law.

“No, I don’t want to borrow any more money,” his father said, as they were passing the stable. “There’s nothing quite so hard as being in debt. It would be better to sell the cabin.”

“If it were not for the boy, I shouldn’t mind selling it,” his mother demurred. “But what will become of him, if he returns some day, wretched and poor⁠—as he’s likely to be⁠—and we not here?”

“You’re right about that,” the father agreed. “But we shall have to ask the folks who take the place to receive him kindly and to let him know that he’s welcome back to us. We shan’t say a harsh word to him, no matter what he may be, shall we mother?”

“No, indeed! If I only had him again, so that I could be certain he is not starving and freezing on the highways, I’d ask nothing more!”

Then his father and mother went in, and the boy heard no more of their conversation.

He was happy and deeply moved when he knew that they loved him so dearly, although they believed he had gone astray. He longed to rush into their arms.

“But perhaps it would be an even greater sorrow were they to see me as I now am.”

While he stood there, hesitating, a cart drove up to the gate. The boy smothered a cry of surprise, for who should step from the cart and go into the house yard but Osa, the goose girl, and her father!

They walked hand in hand toward the cabin. When they were about halfway there, Osa stopped her father and said:

“Now remember, father, you are not to mention the wooden shoe or the geese or the little brownie who was so like Nils Holgersson that if it was not himself it must have had some connection with him.”

“Certainly not!” said Jon Esserson. “I shall only say that their son has been of great help to you on several occasions⁠—when you were trying to find me⁠—and that therefore we have come to ask if we can’t do them a service in return, since I’m a rich man now and have more than I need, thanks to the mine I discovered up in Lapland.”

“I know, father, that you can say the right thing in the right way,” Osa commended. “It is only that one particular thing that I don’t wish you to mention.”

They went into the cabin, and the boy would have liked to hear what they talked about in there; but he dared not venture near the house. It was not long before they came out again, and his father and mother accompanied them as far as the gate.

His parents were strangely happy. They appeared to have gained a new hold on life.

When the visitors were gone, father and mother lingered at the gate gazing after them.

“I don’t feel unhappy any longer, since I’ve heard so much that is good of our Nils,” said his mother.

“Perhaps he got more praise than he really deserved,” put in his father thoughtfully.

“Wasn’t it enough for you that they came here specially to say they wanted to help us because our Nils had served them in many ways? I think, father, that you should have accepted their offer.”

“No, mother, I don’t wish to accept money from anyone, either as a gift or a loan. In the first place I want to free myself from all debt, then we will work our way up again. We’re not so very old, are we, mother?” The father laughed heartily as he said this.

“I believe you think it will be fun to sell this place, upon which we have expended such a lot of time and hard work,” protested the mother.

“Oh, you know why I’m laughing,” the father retorted. “It was the thought of the boy’s having gone to the bad that weighed me down until I had no strength or courage left in me. Now that I know he still lives and has turned out well, you’ll see that Holger Nilsson has some grit left.”

The mother went in alone, and the boy made haste to hide in a corner, for his father walked into the stable. He went over to the horse and examined its hoof, as usual, to try to discover what was wrong with it.

“What’s this!” he cried, discovering some letters scratched on the hoof.

“Remove the sharp piece of iron from the foot,” he read and glanced around inquiringly. However, he ran his fingers along the under side of the hoof and looked at it carefully.

“I verily believe there is something sharp here!” he said.

While his father was busy with the horse and the boy sat huddled in a corner, it happened that other callers came to the farm.

The fact was that when Morten Goosey-Gander found himself so near his old home he simply could not resist the temptation of showing his wife and children to his old companions on the farm. So he took Dunfin and the goslings along, and made for home.

There was not a soul in the barn yard when the goosey-gander came along. He alighted, confidently walked all around the place, and showed Dunfin how luxuriously he had lived when he was a tame goose.

When they had viewed the entire farm, he noticed that the door of the cow shed was open.

“Look in here a moment,” he said, “then you will see how I lived in former days. It was very different from camping in swamps and morasses, as we do now.”

The goosey-gander stood in the doorway and looked into the cow shed.

“There’s not a soul in here,” he said. “Come along, Dunfin, and you shall see the goose pen. Don’t be afraid; there’s no danger.”

Forthwith the goosey-gander, Dunfin, and all six goslings waddled into the goose pen, to have a look at the elegance and comfort in which the big white gander had lived before he joined the wild geese.

“This is the way it used to be: here was my place and over there was the trough, which was always filled with oats and water,” explained the goosey-gander.

“Wait! there’s some fodder in it now.” With that he rushed to the trough and began to gobble up the oats.

But Dunfin was nervous.

“Let’s go out again!” she said.

“Only two more grains,” insisted the goosey-gander. The next second he let out a shriek and ran for the door, but it was too late! The door slammed, the mistress stood without and bolted it. They were locked in!

The father had removed a sharp piece of iron from the horse’s hoof and stood contentedly stroking the animal when the mother came running into the stable.

“Come, father, and see the capture I’ve made!”

“No, wait a minute!” said the father. “Look here, first. I have discovered what ailed the horse.”

“I believe our luck has turned,” said the mother. “Only fancy! the big white goosey-gander that disappeared last spring must have gone off with the wild geese. He has come back to us in company with seven wild geese. They walked straight into the goose pen, and I’ve shut them all in.”

“That’s extraordinary,” remarked the father. “But best of all is that we don’t have to think any more that our boy stole the goosey-gander when he went away.”

“You’re quite right, father,” she said. “But I’m afraid we’ll have to kill them tonight. In two days is Morten Gooseday8 and we must make haste if we expect to get them to market in time.”

“I think it would be outrageous to butcher the goosey-gander, now that he has returned to us with such a large family,” protested Holger Nilsson.

“If times were easier we’d let him live; but since we’re going to move from here, we can’t keep geese. Come along now and help me carry them into the kitchen,” urged the mother.

They went out together and in a few moments the boy saw his father coming along with Morten Goosey-Gander and Dunfin⁠—one under each arm. He and his wife went into the cabin.

The goosey-gander cried:

“Thumbietot, come and help me!”⁠—as he always did when in peril⁠—although he was not aware that the boy was at hand.

Nils Holgersson heard him, yet he lingered at the door of the cow shed.

He did not hesitate because he knew that it would be well for him if the goosey-gander were beheaded⁠—at that moment he did not even remember this⁠—but because he shrank from being seen by his parents.

“They have a hard enough time of it already,” he thought. “Must I bring them a new sorrow?”

But when the door closed on the goosey-gander, the boy was aroused.

He dashed across the house yard, sprang up on the boardwalk leading to the entrance door and ran into the hallway, where he kicked off his wooden shoes in the old accustomed way, and walked toward the door.

All the while it went so much against the grain to appear before his father and mother that he could not raise his hand to knock.

“But this concerns the life of the goosey-gander,” he said to himself⁠—“he who has been my best friend ever since I last stood here.”

In a twinkling the boy remembered all that he and the goosey-gander had suffered on icebound lakes and stormy seas and among wild beasts of prey. His heart swelled with gratitude; he conquered himself and knocked on the door.

“Is there someone who wishes to come in?” asked his father, opening the door.

“Mother, you shan’t touch the goosey-gander!” cried the boy.

Instantly both the goosey-gander and Dunfin, who lay on a bench with their feet tied, gave a cry of joy, so that he was sure they were alive.

Someone else gave a cry of joy⁠—his mother!

“My, but you have grown tall and handsome!” she exclaimed.

The boy had not entered the cabin, but was standing on the doorstep, like one who is not quite certain how he will be received.

“The Lord be praised that I have you back again!” said his mother, laughing and crying. “Come in, my boy! Come in!”

“Welcome!” added his father, and not another word could he utter.

But the boy still lingered at the threshold. He could not comprehend why they were so glad to see him⁠—such as he was. Then his mother came and put her arms around him and drew him into the room, and he knew that he was all right.

“Mother and father!” he cried. “I’m a big boy. I am a human being again!”