In Rainy Weather


It was the first rainy day of the trip. As long as the wild geese had remained in the vicinity of Vomb Lake, they had had beautiful weather; but on the day when they set out to travel farther north, it began to rain, and for several hours the boy had to sit on the goose-back, soaking wet, and shivering with the cold.

In the morning when they started, it had been clear and mild. The wild geese had flown high up in the air⁠—evenly, and without haste⁠—with Akka at the head maintaining strict discipline, and the rest in two oblique lines back of her. They had not taken the time to shout any witty sarcasms to the animals on the ground; but, as it was simply impossible for them to keep perfectly silent, they sang out continually⁠—in rhythm with the wing-strokes⁠—their usual coaxing call: “Where are you? Here am I. Where are you? Here am I.”

They all took part in this persistent calling, and only stopped, now and then, to show the goosey-gander the landmarks they were travelling over. The places on this route included Linderödsosen’s dry hills, Ovesholm’s manor, Christianstad’s church steeple, Bäckaskog’s royal castle on the narrow isthmus between Oppmann’s lake and Ivö’s lake, Ryss mountain’s steep precipice.

It had been a monotonous trip, and when the rain-clouds made their appearance the boy thought it was a real diversion. In the old days, when he had only seen a rain-cloud from below, he had imagined that they were gray and disagreeable; but it was a very different thing to be up amongst them. Now he saw distinctly that the clouds were enormous carts, which drove through the heavens with sky-high loads. Some of them were piled up with huge, gray sacks, some with barrels; some were so large that they could hold a whole lake; and a few were filled with big utensils and bottles which were piled up to an immense height. And when so many of them had driven forward that they filled the whole sky, it appeared as though someone had given a signal, for all at once, water commenced to pour down over the earth, from utensils, barrels, bottles and sacks.

Just as the first spring-showers pattered against the ground, there arose such shouts of joy from all the small birds in groves and pastures, that the whole air rang with them and the boy leaped high where he sat. “Now we’ll have rain. Rain gives us spring; spring gives us flowers and green leaves; green leaves and flowers give us worms and insects; worms and insects give us food; and plentiful and good food is the best thing there is,” sang the birds.

The wild geese, too, were glad of the rain which came to awaken the growing things from their long sleep, and to drive holes in the ice-roofs on the lakes. They were not able to keep up that seriousness any longer, but began to send merry calls over the neighbourhood.

When they flew over the big potato patches, which are so plentiful in the country around Christianstad⁠—and which still lay bare and black⁠—they screamed: “Wake up and be useful! Here comes something that will awaken you. You have idled long enough now.”

When they saw people who hurried to get out of the rain, they reproved them saying: “What are you in such a hurry about? Can’t you see that it’s raining rye-loaves and cookies?”

It was a big, thick mist that moved northward briskly, and followed close upon the geese. They seemed to think that they dragged the mist along with them; and, just now, when they saw great orchards beneath them, they called out proudly: “Here we come with anemones; here we come with roses; here we come with apple blossoms and cherry buds; here we come with peas and beans and turnips and cabbages. He who wills can take them. He who wills can take them.”

Thus it had sounded while the first showers fell, and when all were still glad of the rain. But when it continued to fall the whole afternoon, the wild geese grew impatient, and cried to the thirsty forests around Ivös lake: “Haven’t you got enough yet? Haven’t you got enough yet?”

The heavens were growing grayer and grayer and the sun hid itself so well that one couldn’t imagine where it was. The rain fell faster and faster, and beat harder and harder against the wings, as it tried to find its way between the oily outside feathers, into their skins. The earth was hidden by fogs; lakes, mountains, and woods floated together in an indistinct maze, and the landmarks could not be distinguished. The flight became slower and slower; the joyful cries were hushed; and the boy felt the cold more and more keenly.

But still he had kept up his courage as long as he had ridden through the air. And in the afternoon, when they had lighted under a little stunted pine, in the middle of a large morass, where all was wet, and all was cold; where some knolls were covered with snow, and others stood up naked in a puddle of half-melted ice-water, even then, he had not felt discouraged, but ran about in fine spirits, and hunted for cranberries and frozen whortleberries. But then came evening, and darkness sank down on them so close, that not even such eyes as the boy’s could see through it; and all the wilderness became so strangely grim and awful. The boy lay tucked in under the goosey-gander’s wing, but could not sleep because he was cold and wet. He heard such a lot of rustling and rattling and stealthy steps and menacing voices, that he was terror-stricken and didn’t know where he should go. He must go somewhere, where there was light and heat, if he wasn’t going to be entirely scared to death.

“If I should venture where there are human beings, just for this night?” thought the boy. “Only so I could sit by a fire for a moment, and get a little food. I could go back to the wild geese before sunrise.”

He crept from under the wing and slid down to the ground. He didn’t awaken either the goosey-gander or any of the other geese, but stole, silently and unobserved, through the morass.

He didn’t know exactly where on earth he was: if he was in Skåne, in Småland, or in Blekinge. But just before he had gotten down in the morass, he had caught a glimpse of a large village, and thither he directed his steps. It wasn’t long, either, before he discovered a road; and soon he was on the village street, which was long, and had planted trees on both sides, and was bordered with garden after garden.

The boy had come to one of the big cathedral towns, which are so common on the uplands, but can hardly be seen at all down in the plain.

The houses were of wood, and very prettily constructed. Most of them had gables and fronts, edged with carved mouldings, and glass doors, with here and there a coloured pane, opening on verandas. The walls were painted in light oil-colours; the doors and window-frames shone in blues and greens, and even in reds. While the boy walked about and viewed the houses, he could hear, all the way out to the road, how the people who sat in the warm cottages chattered and laughed. The words he could not distinguish, but he thought it was just lovely to hear human voices. “I wonder what they would say if I knocked and begged to be let in,” thought he.

This was, of course, what he had intended to do all along, but now that he saw the lighted windows, his fear of the darkness was gone. Instead, he felt again that shyness which always came over him now when he was near human beings. “I’ll take a look around the town for a while longer,” thought he, “before I ask anyone to take me in.”

On one house there was a balcony. And just as the boy walked by, the doors were thrown open, and a yellow light streamed through the fine, sheer curtains. Then a pretty young fru came out on the balcony and leaned over the railing. “It’s raining; now we shall soon have spring,” said she. When the boy saw her he felt a strange anxiety. It was as though he wanted to weep. For the first time he was a bit uneasy because he had shut himself out from the human kind.

Shortly after that he walked by a shop. Outside the shop stood a red corn-drill. He stopped and looked at it; and finally crawled up to the driver’s place, and seated himself. When he had got there, he smacked with his lips and pretended that he sat and drove. He thought what fun it would be to be permitted to drive such a pretty machine over a grainfield. For a moment he forgot what he was like now; then he remembered it, and jumped down quickly from the machine. Then a greater unrest came over him. After all, human beings were very wonderful and clever.

He walked by the post-office, and then he thought of all the newspapers which came every day, with news from all the four corners of the earth. He saw the apothecary’s shop and the doctor’s home, and he thought about the power of human beings, which was so great that they were able to battle with sickness and death. He came to the church. Then he thought how human beings had built it, that they might hear about another world than the one in which they lived, of God and the resurrection and eternal life. And the longer he walked there, the better he liked human beings.

It is so with children that they never think any farther ahead than the length of their noses. That which lies nearest them, they want promptly, without caring what it may cost them. Nils Holgersson had not understood what he was losing when he chose to remain an elf; but now he began to be dreadfully afraid that, perhaps, he should never again get back to his right form.

How in all the world should he go to work in order to become human? This he wanted, oh! so much, to know.

He crawled up on a doorstep, and seated himself in the pouring rain and meditated. He sat there one whole hour⁠—two whole hours, and he thought so hard that his forehead lay in furrows; but he was none the wiser. It seemed as though the thoughts only rolled round and round in his head. The longer he sat there, the more impossible it seemed to him to find any solution.

“This thing is certainly much too difficult for one who has learned as little as I have,” he thought at last. “It will probably wind up by my having to go back among human beings after all. I must ask the minister and the doctor and the schoolmaster and others who are learned, and may know a cure for such things.”

This he concluded that he would do at once, and shook himself⁠—for he was as wet as a dog that has been in a water-pool.

Just about then he saw that a big owl came flying along, and alighted on one of the trees that bordered the village street. The next instant a lady owl, who sat under the cornice of the house, began to call out: “Kivitt, Kivitt! Are you at home again, Mr. Gray Owl? What kind of a time did you have abroad?”

“Thank you, Lady Brown Owl. I had a very comfortable time,” said the gray owl. “Has anything out of the ordinary happened here at home during my absence?”

“Not here in Blekinge, Mr. Gray Owl; but in Skåne a marvellous thing has happened! A boy has been transformed by an elf into a goblin no bigger than a squirrel; and since then he has gone to Lapland with a tame goose.”

“That’s a remarkable bit of news, a remarkable bit of news. Can he never be human again, Lady Brown Owl? Can he never be human again?”

“That’s a secret, Mr. Gray Owl; but you shall hear it just the same. The elf has said that if the boy watches over the goosey-gander, so that he comes home safe and sound, and⁠—”

“What more, Lady Brown Owl? What more? What more?”

“Fly with me up to the church tower, Mr. Gray Owl, and you shall hear the whole story! I fear there may be someone listening down here in the street.”

With that, the owls flew their way; but the boy flung his cap in the air, and shouted: “If I only watch over the goosey-gander, so that he gets back safe and sound, then I shall become a human being again. Hurrah! Hurrah! Then I shall become a human being again!”

He shouted “hurrah” until it was strange that they did not hear him in the houses⁠—but they didn’t, and he hurried back to the wild geese, out in the wet morass, as fast as his legs could carry him.