It was a moonlight evening in Karlskrona⁠—calm and beautiful. But earlier in the day, there had been rain and wind; and the people must have thought that the bad weather still continued, for hardly one of them had ventured out on the streets.

While the city lay there so desolate, Akka, the wild goose, and her flock, came flying toward it over Vemmön and Pantarholmen. They were out in the late evening to seek a sleeping place on the islands. They couldn’t remain inland because they were disturbed by Smirre Fox wherever they lighted.

When the boy rode along high up in the air, and looked at the sea and the islands which spread themselves before him, he thought that everything appeared so strange and spook-like. The heavens were no longer blue, but encased him like a globe of green glass. The sea was milk-white, and as far as he could see rolled small white waves tipped with silver ripples. In the midst of all this white lay numerous little islets, absolutely coal black. Whether they were big or little, whether they were as even as meadows, or full of cliffs, they looked just as black. Even dwelling houses and churches and windmills, which at other times are white or red, were outlined in black against the green sky. The boy thought it was as if the Earth had been transformed, and he was come to another world.

He thought that just for this one night he wanted to be brave, and not afraid⁠—when he saw something that really frightened him. It was a high cliff island, which was covered with big, angular blocks; and between the blocks shone specks of bright, shining gold. He couldn’t keep from thinking of Maglestone, by Trolle-Ljungby, which the trolls sometimes raised upon high gold pillars; and he wondered if this was something like that.

But with the stones and the gold it might have gone fairly well, if such a lot of horrid things had not been lying all around the island. It looked like whales and sharks and other big sea-monsters. But the boy understood that it was the sea-trolls, who had gathered around the island and intended to crawl up on it, to fight with the land-trolls who lived there. And those on the land were probably afraid, for he saw how a big giant stood on the highest point of the island and raised his arms⁠—as if in despair over all the misfortune that should come to him and his island.

The boy was not a little terrified when he noticed that Akka began to descend right over that particular island! “No, for pity’s sake! We must not light there,” said he.

But the geese continued to descend, and soon the boy was astonished that he could have seen things so awry. In the first place, the big stone blocks were nothing but houses. The whole island was a city; and the shining gold specks were street lamps and lighted windowpanes. The giant, who stood highest up on the island, and raised his arms, was a church with two cross-towers; all the sea-trolls and monsters, which he thought he had seen, were boats and ships of every description, that lay anchored all around the island. On the side which lay toward the land were mostly rowboats and sailboats and small coast steamers; but on the side that faced the sea lay armour-clad battleships; some were broad, with very thick, slanting smokestacks; others were long and narrow, and so constructed that they could glide through the water like fishes.

Now what city might this be? That, the boy could figure out because he saw all the battleships. All his life he had loved ships, although he had had nothing to do with any, except the galleys which he had sailed in the road ditches. He knew very well that this city⁠—where so many battleships lay⁠—couldn’t be any place but Karlskrona.

The boy’s grandfather had been an old marine; and as long as he had lived, he had talked of Karlskrona every day; of the great warship dock, and of all the other things to be seen in that city. The boy felt perfectly at home, and he was glad that he should see all this of which he had heard so much.

But he only had a glimpse of the towers and fortifications which barred the entrance to the harbour, and the many buildings, and the shipyard⁠—before Akka came down on one of the flat church-towers.

This was a pretty safe place for those who wanted to get away from a fox, and the boy began to wonder if he couldn’t venture to crawl in under the goosey-gander’s wing for this one night. Yes, that he might safely do. It would do him good to get a little sleep. He should try to see a little more of the dock and the ships after it had grown light.

The boy himself thought it was strange that he could keep still and wait until the next morning to see the ships. He certainly had not slept five minutes before he slipped out from under the wing and slid down the lightning-rod and the waterspout all the way down to the ground.

Soon he stood on a big square which spread itself in front of the church. It was covered with round stones, and was just as difficult for him to travel over, as it is for big people to walk on a tufted meadow. Those who are accustomed to live in the open⁠—or way out in the country⁠—always feel uneasy when they come into a city, where the houses stand straight and forbidding, and the streets are open, so that everyone can see who goes there. And it happened in the same way with the boy. When he stood on the big Karlskrona square, and looked at the German church, and town hall, and the cathedral from which he had just descended, he couldn’t do anything but wish that he was back on the tower again with the geese.

It was a lucky thing that the square was entirely deserted. There wasn’t a human being about⁠—unless he counted a statue that stood on a high pedestal. The boy gazed long at the statue, which represented a big, brawny man in a three-cornered hat, long waistcoat, knee-breeches and coarse shoes, and wondered what kind of a one he was. He held a long stick in his hand, and he looked as if he would know how to make use of it, too⁠—for he had an awfully severe countenance, with a big, hooked nose and an ugly mouth.

“What is that long-lipped thing doing here?” said the boy at last. He had never felt so small and insignificant as he did that night. He tried to jolly himself up a bit by saying something audacious. Then he thought no more about the statue, but betook himself to a wide street which led down to the sea.

But the boy hadn’t gone far before he heard that someone was following him. Someone was walking behind him, who stamped on the stone pavement with heavy footsteps, and pounded on the ground with a hard stick. It sounded as if the bronze man up in the square had gone out for a promenade.

The boy listened after the steps, while he ran down the street, and he became more and more convinced that it was the bronze man. The ground trembled, and the houses shook. It couldn’t be anyone but he, who walked so heavily, and the boy grew panic-stricken when he thought of what he had just said to him. He did not dare to turn his head to find out if it really was he.

“Perhaps he is only out walking for recreation,” thought the boy. “Surely he can’t be offended with me for the words I spoke. They were not at all badly meant.”

Instead of going straight on, and trying to get down to the dock, the boy turned into a side street which led east. First and foremost, he wanted to get away from the one who tramped after him.

But the next instant he heard that the bronze man had switched off to the same street; and then the boy was so scared that he didn’t know what he would do with himself. And how hard it was to find any hiding places in a city where all the gates were closed! Then he saw on his right an old frame church, which lay a short distance away from the street in the centre of a large grove. Not an instant did he pause to consider, but rushed on toward the church. “If I can only get there, then I’ll surely be shielded from all harm,” thought he.

As he ran forward, he suddenly caught sight of a man who stood on a gravel path and beckoned to him. “There is certainly someone who will help me!” thought the boy; he became intensely happy, and hurried off in that direction. He was actually so frightened that the heart of him fairly thumped in his breast.

But when he came up to the man who stood on the edge of the gravel path, upon a low pedestal, he was absolutely thunderstruck. “Surely, it can’t have been that one who beckoned to me!” thought he; for he saw that the entire man was made of wood.

He stood there and stared at him. He was a thickset man on short legs, with a broad, ruddy countenance, shiny, black hair and full black beard. On his head he wore a wooden hat; on his body, a brown wooden coat; around his waist, a black wooden belt; on his legs he had wide wooden knee-breeches and wooden stockings; and on his feet black wooden shoes. He was newly painted and newly varnished, so that he glistened and shone in the moonlight. This undoubtedly had a good deal to do with giving him such a good-natured appearance, that the boy at once placed confidence in him.

In his left hand he held a wooden slate, and there the boy read:

Most humbly I beg you,
Though voice I may lack:
Come drop a penny, do;
But lift my hat!

Oh ho! the man was only a poor-box. The boy felt that he had been done. He had expected that this should be something really remarkable. And now he remembered that grandpa had also spoken of the wooden man, and said that all the children in Karlskrona were so fond of him. And that must have been true, for he, too, found it hard to part with the wooden man. He had something so old-timey about him, that one could well take him to be many hundred years old; and at the same time, he looked so strong and bold, and animated⁠—just as one might imagine that folks looked in olden times.

The boy had so much fun looking at the wooden man, that he entirely forgot the one from whom he was fleeing. But now he heard him. He turned from the street and came into the churchyard. He followed him here too! Where should the boy go?

Just then he saw the wooden man bend down to him and stretch forth his big, broad hand. It was impossible to believe anything but good of him; and with one jump, the boy stood in his hand. The wooden man lifted him to his hat⁠—and stuck him under it.

The boy was just hidden, and the wooden man had just gotten his arm in its right place again, when the bronze man stopped in front of him and banged the stick on the ground, so that the wooden man shook on his pedestal. Thereupon the bronze man said in a strong and resonant voice: “Who might this one be?”

The wooden man’s arm went up, so that it creaked in the old woodwork, and he touched his hat brim as he replied: “Rosenbom, by Your Majesty’s leave. Once upon a time boatswain on the man-of-war, Dristigheten; after completed service, sexton at the Admiral’s church⁠—and, lately, carved in wood and exhibited in the churchyard as a poor-box.”

The boy gave a start when he heard that the wooden man said “Your Majesty.” For now, when he thought about it, he knew that the statue on the square represented the one who had founded the city. It was probably no less an one than Charles the Eleventh himself, whom he had encountered.

“He gives a good account of himself,” said the bronze man. “Can he also tell me if he has seen a little brat who runs around in the city tonight? He’s an impudent rascal, if I get hold of him, I’ll teach him manners!” With that, he again pounded on the ground with his stick, and looked fearfully angry.

“By Your Majesty’s leave, I have seen him,” said the wooden man; and the boy was so scared that he commenced to shake where he sat under the hat and looked at the bronze man through a crack in the wood. But he calmed down when the wooden man continued: “Your Majesty is on the wrong track. That youngster certainly intended to run into the shipyard, and conceal himself there.”

“Does he say so, Rosenbom? Well then, don’t stand still on the pedestal any longer but come with me and help me find him. Four eyes are better than two, Rosenbom.”

But the wooden man answered in a doleful voice: “I would most humbly beg to be permitted to stay where I am. I look well and sleek because of the paint, but I’m old and mouldy, and cannot stand moving about.”

The bronze man was not one of those who liked to be contradicted. “What sort of notions are these? Come along, Rosenbom!” Then he raised his stick and gave the other one a resounding whack on the shoulder. “Does Rosenbom not see that he holds together?”

With that they broke off and walked forward on the streets of Karlskrona⁠—large and mighty⁠—until they came to a high gate, which led to the shipyard. Just outside and on guard walked one of the navy’s jack-tars, but the bronze man strutted past him and kicked the gate open without the jack-tar’s pretending to notice it.

As soon as they had gotten into the shipyard, they saw before them a wide, expansive harbor separated by pile-bridges. In the different harbour basins, lay the warships, which looked bigger, and more awe-inspiring close to, like this, than lately, when the boy had seen them from up above. “Then it wasn’t so crazy after all, to imagine that they were sea-trolls,” thought he.

“Where does Rosenbom think it most advisable for us to begin the search?” said the bronze man.

“Such an one as he could most easily conceal himself in the hall of models,” replied the wooden man.

On a narrow land-strip which stretched to the right from the gate, all along the harbour, lay ancient structures. The bronze man walked over to a building with low walls, small windows, and a conspicuous roof. He pounded on the door with his stick until it burst open; and tramped up a pair of worn-out steps. Soon they came into a large hall, which was filled with tackled and full-rigged little ships. The boy understood without being told, that these were models for the ships which had been built for the Swedish navy.

There were ships of many different varieties. There were old men-of-war, whose sides bristled with cannon, and which had high structures fore and aft, and their masts weighed down with a network of sails and ropes. There were small island-boats with rowing-benches along the sides; there were undecked cannon sloops and richly gilded frigates, which were models of the ones the kings had used on their travels. Finally, there were also the heavy, broad armour-plated ships with towers and cannon on deck⁠—such as are in use nowadays; and narrow, shining torpedo boats which resembled long, slender fishes.

When the boy was carried around among all this, he was awed. “Fancy that such big, splendid ships have been built here in Sweden!” he thought to himself.

He had plenty of time to see all that was to be seen in there; for when the bronze man saw the models, he forgot everything else. He examined them all, from the first to the last, and asked about them. And Rosenbom, the boatswain on the Dristigheten, told as much as he knew of the ships’ builders, and of those who had manned them; and of the fates they had met. He told them about Chapman and Puke and Trolle; of Hoagland and Svensksund⁠—all the way along until 1809⁠—after that he had not been there.

Both he and the bronze man had the most to say about the fine old wooden ships. The new battleships they didn’t exactly appear to understand.

“I can hear that Rosenbom doesn’t know anything about these newfangled things,” said the bronze man. “Therefore, let us go and look at something else; for this amuses me, Rosenbom.”

By this time he had entirely given up his search for the boy, who felt calm and secure where he sat in the wooden hat.

Thereupon both men wandered through the big establishment: sail-making shops, anchor smithy, machine and carpenter shops. They saw the mast sheers and the docks; the large magazines, the arsenal, the rope-bridge and the big discarded dock, which had been blasted in the rock. They went out upon the pile-bridges, where the naval vessels lay moored, stepped on board and examined them like two old sea-dogs; wondered; disapproved; approved; and became indignant.

The boy sat in safety under the wooden hat, and heard all about how they had laboured and struggled in this place, to equip the navies which had gone out from here. He heard how life and blood had been risked; how the last penny had been sacrificed to build the warships; how skilled men had strained all their powers, in order to perfect these ships which had been their fatherland’s safeguard. A couple of times the tears came to the boy’s eyes, as he heard all this.

And the very last, they went into an open court, where the galley models of old men-of-war were grouped; and a more remarkable sight the boy had never beheld; for these models had inconceivably powerful and terror-striking faces. They were big, fearless and savage: filled with the same proud spirit that had fitted out the great ships. They were from another time than his. He thought that he shrivelled up before them.

But when they came in here, the bronze man said to the wooden man: “Take off thy hat, Rosenbom, for those that stand here! They have all fought for the fatherland.”

And Rosenbom⁠—like the bronze man⁠—had forgotten why they had begun this tramp. Without thinking, he lifted the wooden hat from his head and shouted:

“I take off my hat to the one who chose the harbour and founded the shipyard and recreated the navy; to the monarch who has awakened all this into life!”

“Thanks, Rosenbom! That was well spoken. Rosenbom is a fine man. But what is this, Rosenbom?”

For there stood Nils Holgersson, right on the top of Rosenbom’s bald pate. He wasn’t afraid any longer; but raised his white toboggan hood, and shouted: “Hurrah for you, Longlip!”

The bronze man struck the ground hard with his stick; but the boy never learned what he had intended to do, for now the sun ran up, and, at the same time, both the bronze man and the wooden man vanished⁠—as if they had been made of mists. While he still stood and stared after them, the wild geese flew up from the church tower, and swayed back and forth over the city. Instantly they caught sight of Nils Holgersson; and then the big white one darted down from the sky and fetched him.