Öland’s Southern Point

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On the most southerly part of Öland lies a royal demesne, which is called Ottenby. It is a rather large estate which extends from shore to shore, straight across the island; and it is remarkable because it has always been a haunt for large bird-companies. In the seventeenth century, when the kings used to go over to Öland to hunt, the entire estate was nothing but a deer park. In the eighteenth century there was a stud there, where blooded racehorses were bred; and a sheep farm, where several hundred sheep were maintained. In our days you’ll find neither blooded horses nor sheep at Ottenby. In place of them live great herds of young horses, which are to be used by the cavalry.

In all the land there is certainly no place that could be a better abode for animals. Along the extreme eastern shore lies the old sheep meadow, which is a mile and a half long, and the largest meadow in all Öland, where animals can graze and play and run about, as free as if they were in a wilderness. And there you will find the celebrated Ottenby grove with the hundred-year-old oaks, which give shade from the sun, and shelter from the severe Öland winds. And we must not forget the long Ottenby wall, which stretches from shore to shore, and separates Ottenby from the rest of the island, so that the animals may know how far the old royal demesne extends, and be careful about getting in on other ground, where they are not so well protected.

You’ll find plenty of tame animals at Ottenby, but that isn’t all. One could almost believe that the wild ones also felt that on an old crown property both the wild and the tame ones can count upon shelter and protection⁠—since they venture there in such great numbers.

Besides, there are still a few stags of the old descent left; and burrow-ducks and partridges love to live there, and it offers a resting place, in the spring and late summer, for thousands of migratory birds. Above all, it is the swampy eastern shore below the sheep meadow, where the migratory birds alight, to rest and feed.

When the wild geese and Nils Holgersson had finally found their way to Öland, they came down, like all the rest, on the shore near the sheep meadow. The mist lay thick over the island, just as it had over the sea. But still the boy was amazed at all the birds which he discerned, only on the little narrow stretch of shore which he could see.

It was a low sand-shore with stones and pools, and a lot of cast-up seaweed. If the boy had been permitted to choose, it isn’t likely that he would have thought of alighting there; but the birds probably looked upon this as a veritable paradise. Ducks and geese walked about and fed on the meadow; nearer the water, ran snipe, and other coast-birds. The loons lay in the sea and fished, but the life and movement was upon the long seaweed banks along the coast. There the birds stood side by side close together and picked grub-worms⁠—which must have been found there in limitless quantities for it was very evident that there was never any complaint over a lack of food.

The great majority were going to travel farther, and had only alighted to take a short rest; and as soon as the leader of a flock thought that his comrades had recovered themselves sufficiently he said, “If you are ready now, we may as well move on.”

“No, wait, wait! We haven’t had anything like enough,” said the followers.

“You surely don’t believe that I intend to let you eat so much that you will not be able to move?” said the leader, and flapped his wings and started off. Along the outermost seaweed banks lay a flock of swans. They didn’t bother about going on land, but rested themselves by lying and rocking on the water. Now and then they dived down with their necks and brought up food from the sea-bottom. When they had gotten hold of anything very good, they indulged in loud shouts that sounded like trumpet calls.

When the boy heard that there were swans on the shoals, he hurried out to the seaweed banks. He had never before seen wild swans at close range. He had luck on his side, so that he got close up to them.

The boy was not the only one who had heard the swans. Both the wild geese and the gray geese and the loons swam out between the banks, laid themselves in a ring around the swans and stared at them. The swans ruffled their feathers, raised their wings like sails, and lifted their necks high in the air. Occasionally one and another of them swam up to a goose, or a great loon, or a diving-duck, and said a few words. And then it appeared as though the one addressed hardly dared raise his bill to reply.

But then there was a little loon⁠—a tiny mischievous baggage⁠—who couldn’t stand all this ceremony. He dived suddenly, and disappeared under the water’s edge. Soon after that, one of the swans let out a scream, and swam off so quickly that the water foamed. Then he stopped and began to look majestic once more. But soon, another one shrieked in the same way as the first one, and then a third.

The little loon wasn’t able to stay under water any longer, but appeared on the water’s edge, little and black and venomous. The swans rushed toward him; but when they saw what a poor little thing it was, they turned abruptly⁠—as if they considered themselves too good to quarrel with him. Then the little loon dived again, and pinched their feet. It certainly must have hurt; and the worst of it was, that they could not maintain their dignity. At once they took a decided stand. They began to beat the air with their wings so that it thundered; came forward a bit⁠—as though they were running on the water⁠—got wind under their wings, and raised themselves.

When the swans were gone they were greatly missed; and those who had lately been amused by the little loon’s antics scolded him for his thoughtlessness.

The boy walked toward land again. There he stationed himself to see how the pool-snipe played. They resembled small storks; like these, they had little bodies, long legs and necks, and light, swaying movements; only they were not gray, but brown. They stood in a long row on the shore where it was washed by waves. As soon as a wave rolled in, the whole row ran backward; as soon as it receded, they followed it. And they kept this up for hours.

The showiest of all the birds were the burrow-ducks. They were undoubtedly related to the ordinary ducks; for, like these, they too had a thickset body, broad bill, and webbed feet; but they were much more elaborately gotten up. The feather dress, itself, was white; around their necks they wore a broad gold band; the wing-mirror shone in green, red, and black; and the wing-edges were black, and the head was dark green and shimmered like satin.

As soon as any of these appeared on the shore, the others said: “Now, just look at those things! They know how to tog themselves out.”

“If they were not so conspicuous, they wouldn’t have to dig their nests in the earth, but could lay above ground, like anyone else,” said a brown mallard-duck. “They may try as much as they please, still they’ll never get anywhere with such noses,” said a gray goose. And this was actually true. The burrow-ducks had a big knob on the base of the bill, which spoiled their appearance.

Close to the shore, seagulls and sea-swallows moved forward on the water and fished. “What kind of fish are you catching?” asked a wild goose.

“It’s a stickleback. It’s Öland stickleback. It’s the best stickleback in the world,” said a gull. “Won’t you taste of it?” And he flew up to the goose, with his mouth full of the little fishes, and wanted to give her some.

“Ugh! Do you think that I eat such filth?” said the wild goose.

The next morning it was just as cloudy. The wild geese walked about on the meadow and fed; but the boy had gone to the seashore to gather mussels. There were plenty of them; and when he thought that the next day, perhaps, they would be in some place where they couldn’t get any food at all, he concluded that he would try to make himself a little bag, which he could fill with mussels. He found an old sedge on the meadow, which was strong and tough; and out of this he began to braid a knapsack. He worked at this for several hours, but he was well satisfied with it when it was finished.

At dinner time all the wild geese came running and asked him if he had seen anything of the white goosey-gander. “No, he has not been with me,” said the boy.

“We had him with us all along until just lately,” said Akka, “but now we no longer know where he’s to be found.”

The boy jumped up, and was terribly frightened. He asked if any fox or eagle had put in an appearance, or if any human being had been seen in the neighbourhood. But no one had noticed anything dangerous. The goosey-gander had probably lost his way in the mist.

But it was just as great a misfortune for the boy, in whatever way the white one had been lost, and he started off immediately to hunt for him. The mist shielded him, so that he could run wherever he wished without being seen, but it also prevented him from seeing. He ran southward along the shore⁠—all the way down to the lighthouse and the mist cannon on the island’s extreme point. It was the same bird confusion everywhere, but no goosey-gander. He ventured over to Ottenby estate, and he searched every one of the old, hollow oaks in Ottenby grove, but he saw no trace of the goosey-gander.

He searched until it began to grow dark. Then he had to turn back again to the eastern shore. He walked with heavy steps, and was fearfully blue. He didn’t know what would become of him if he couldn’t find the goosey-gander. There was no one whom he could spare less.

But when he wandered over the sheep meadow, what was that big, white thing that came toward him in the mist if it wasn’t the goosey-gander? He was all right, and very glad that, at last, he had been able to find his way back to the others. The mist had made him so dizzy, he said, that he had wandered around on the big meadow all day long. The boy threw his arms around his neck, for very joy, and begged him to take care of himself, and not wander away from the others. And he promised, positively, that he never would do this again. No, never again.

But the next morning, when the boy went down to the beach and hunted for mussels, the geese came running and asked if he had seen the goosey-gander. No, of course he hadn’t. “Well, then the goosey-gander was lost again. He had gone astray in the mist, just as he had done the day before.”

The boy ran off in great terror and began to search. He found one place where the Ottenby wall was so tumble-down that he could climb over it. Later, he went about, first on the shore which gradually widened and became so large that there was room for fields and meadows and farms⁠—then up on the flat highland, which lay in the middle of the island, and where there were no buildings except windmills, and where the turf was so thin that the white cement shone under it.

Meanwhile, he could not find the goosey-gander; and as it drew on toward evening, and the boy must return to the beach, he couldn’t believe anything but that his travelling companion was lost. He was so depressed, he did not know what to do with himself.

He had just climbed over the wall again when he heard a stone crash down close beside him. As he turned to see what it was, he thought that he could distinguish something that moved on a stone pile which lay close to the wall. He stole nearer, and saw the goosey-gander come trudging wearily over the stone pile, with several long fibres in his mouth. The goosey-gander didn’t see the boy, and the boy did not call to him, but thought it advisable to find out first why the goosey-gander time and again disappeared in this manner.

And he soon learned the reason for it. Up in the stone pile lay a young gray goose, who cried with joy when the goosey-gander came. The boy crept near, so that he heard what they said; then he found out that the gray goose had been wounded in one wing, so that she could not fly, and that her flock had travelled away from her, and left her alone. She had been near death’s door with hunger, when the white goosey-gander had heard her call, the other day, and had sought her out. Ever since, he had been carrying food to her. They had both hoped that she would be well before they left the island, but, as yet, she could neither fly nor walk. She was very much worried over this, but he comforted her with the thought that he shouldn’t travel for a long time. At last he bade her good night, and promised to come the next day.

The boy let the goosey-gander go; and as soon as he was gone, he stole, in turn, up to the stone heap. He was angry because he had been deceived, and now he wanted to say to that gray goose that the goosey-gander was his property. He was going to take the boy up to Lapland, and there would be no talk of his staying here on her account. But now, when he saw the young gray goose close to, he understood, not only why the goosey-gander had gone and carried food to her for two days, but also why he had not wished to mention that he had helped her. She had the prettiest little head; her feather-dress was like soft satin, and the eyes were mild and pleading.

When she saw the boy, she wanted to run away; but the left wing was out of joint and dragged on the ground, so that it interfered with her movements.

“You mustn’t be afraid of me,” said the boy, and didn’t look nearly so angry as he had intended to appear. “I’m Thumbietot, Morten Goosey-gander’s comrade,” he continued. Then he stood there, and didn’t know what he wanted to say.

Occasionally one finds something among animals which makes one wonder what sort of creatures they really are. One is almost afraid that they may be transformed human beings. It was something like this with the gray goose. As soon as Thumbietot said who he was, she lowered her neck and head very charmingly before him, and said in a voice that was so pretty that he couldn’t believe it was a goose who spoke: “I am very glad that you have come here to help me. The white goosey-gander has told me that no one is as wise and as good as you.”

She said this with such dignity, that the boy grew really embarrassed. “This surely can’t be any bird,” thought he. “It is certainly some bewitched princess.”

He was filled with a desire to help her, and ran his hand under the feathers, and felt along the wing-bone. The bone was not broken, but there was something wrong with the joint. He got his finger down into the empty cavity. “Be careful, now!” he said; and got a firm grip on the bone-pipe and fitted it into the place where it ought to be. He did it very quickly and well, considering it was the first time that he had attempted anything of the sort. But it must have hurt very much, for the poor young goose uttered a single shrill cry, and then sank down among the stones without showing a sign of life.

The boy was terribly frightened. He had only wished to help her, and now she was dead. He made a big jump from the stone pile, and ran away. He thought it was as though he had murdered a human being.

The next morning it was clear and free from mist, and Akka said that now they should continue their travels. All the others were willing to go, but the white goosey-gander made excuses. The boy understood well enough that he didn’t care to leave the gray goose. Akka did not listen to him, but started off.

The boy jumped up on the goosey-gander’s back, and the white one followed the flock⁠—albeit slowly and unwillingly. The boy was mighty glad that they could fly away from the island. He was conscience-stricken on account of the gray goose, and had not cared to tell the goosey-gander how it had turned out when he had tried to cure her. It would probably be best if Morten goosey-gander never found out about this, he thought, though he wondered, at the same time, how the white one had the heart to leave the gray goose.

But suddenly the goosey-gander turned. The thought of the young gray goose had overpowered him. It could go as it would with the Lapland trip: he couldn’t go with the others when he knew that she lay alone and ill, and would starve to death.

With a few wing-strokes he was over the stone pile; but then, there lay no young gray goose between the stones. “Dunfin! Dunfin! Where art thou?” called the goosey-gander.

“The fox has probably been here and taken her,” thought the boy. But at that moment he heard a pretty voice answer the goosey-gander. “Here am I, goosey-gander; here am I! I have only been taking a morning bath.” And up from the water came the little gray goose⁠—fresh and in good trim⁠—and told how Thumbietot had pulled her wing into place, and that she was entirely well, and ready to follow them on the journey.

The drops of water lay like pearl-dew on her shimmery satin-like feathers, and Thumbietot thought once again that she was a real little princess.