On Over Gästrikland

The Precious Girdle


The eagle kept on flying until he was a long distance north of Stockholm. Then he sank to a wooded hillock where he relaxed his hold on the boy.

The instant Thumbietot was out of Gorgo’s clutches he started to run back to the city as fast as he could.

The eagle made a long swoop, caught up to the boy, and stopped him with his claw.

“Do you propose to go back to prison?” he demanded.

“That’s my affair. I can go where I like, for all of you!” retorted the boy, trying to get away. Thereupon the eagle gripped him with his strong talons, and rose in the air.

Now Gorgo circled over the entire province of Uppland and did not stop again until he came to the great waterfalls at Älvkarleby where he alighted on a rock in the middle of the rushing rapids below the roaring falls. Again he relaxed his hold on the captive.

The boy saw that here there was no chance of escape from the eagle. Above them the white scum wall of the waterfall came tumbling down, and round about the river rushed along in a mighty torrent. Thumbietot was very indignant to think that in this way he had been forced to become a promise-breaker. He turned his back to the eagle and would not speak to him.

Now that the bird had set the boy down in a place from which he could not run away, he told him confidentially that he had been brought up by Akka from Kebnekaise, and that he had quarrelled with his foster-mother.

“Now, Thumbietot, perhaps you understand why I wish to take you back to the wild geese,” he said. “I have heard that you are in great favour with Akka, and it was my purpose to ask you to make peace between us.”

As soon as the boy comprehended that the eagle had not carried him off in a spirit of contrariness, he felt kindly toward him.

“I should like very much to help you,” he returned, “but I am bound by my promise.” Thereupon he explained to the eagle how he had fallen into captivity and how Clement Larsson had left Skansen without setting him free.

Nevertheless the eagle would not relinquish his plan.

“Listen to me, Thumbietot,” he said. “My wings can carry you wherever you wish to go, and my eyes can search out whatever you wish to find. Tell me how the man looks who exacted this promise from you, and I will find him and take you to him. Then it is for you to do the rest.”

Thumbietot approved of the proposition.

“I can see, Gorgo, that you have had a wise bird like Akka for a foster-mother,” the boy remarked.

He gave a graphic description of Clement Larsson, and added that he had heard at Skansen that the little fiddler was from Hälsingland.

“We’ll search for him through the whole of Hälsingland⁠—from Ljungby to Mellansjö; from Great Mountain to Hornland,” said the eagle. “Tomorrow before sundown you shall have a talk with the man!”

“I fear you are promising more than you can perform,” doubted the boy.

“I should be a mighty poor eagle if I couldn’t do that much,” said Gorgo.

So when Gorgo and Thumbietot left Älvkarleby they were good friends, and the boy willingly took his mount for a ride on the eagle’s back. Thus he had an opportunity to see much of the country.

When clutched in the eagle’s talons he had seen nothing. Perhaps it was just as well, for in the forenoon he had travelled over Upsala, Österby’s big factories, the Dannemora Mine, and the ancient castle of Örbyhus, and he would have been sadly disappointed at not seeing them had he known of their proximity.

The eagle bore him speedily over Gästrikland. In the southern part of the province there was very little to tempt the eye. But as they flew northward, it began to be interesting.

“This country is clad in a spruce skirt and a gray-stone jacket,” thought the boy. “But around its waist it wears a girdle which has not its match in value, for it is embroidered with blue lakes and green groves. The great ironworks adorn it like a row of precious stones, and its buckle is a whole city with castles and cathedrals and great clusters of houses.”

When the travellers arrived in the northern forest region, Gorgo alighted on top of a mountain. As the boy dismounted, the eagle said:

“There’s game in this forest, and I can’t forget my late captivity and feel really free until I have gone a-hunting. You won’t mind my leaving you for a while?”

“No, of course, I won’t,” the boy assured him.

“You may go where you like if only you are back here by sundown,” said the eagle, as he flew off.

The boy sat on a stone gazing across the bare, rocky ground and the great forests round about.

He felt rather lonely. But soon he heard singing in the forest below, and saw something bright moving amongst the trees. Presently he saw a blue and yellow banner, and he knew by the songs and the merry chatter that it was being borne at the head of a procession. On it came, up the winding path; he wondered where it and those who followed it were going. He couldn’t believe that anybody would come up to such an ugly, desolate waste as the place where he sat. But the banner was nearing the forest border, and behind it marched many happy people for whom it had led the way. Suddenly there was life and movement all over the mountain plain; after that there was so much for the boy to see that he didn’t have a dull moment.

Forest Day

On the mountain’s broad back, where Gorgo left Thumbietot, there had been a forest fire ten years before. Since that time the charred trees had been felled and removed, and the great fire-swept area had begun to deck itself with green along the edges, where it skirted the healthy forest. However, the larger part of the top was still barren and appallingly desolate. Charred stumps, standing sentinel-like between the rock ledges, bore witness that once there had been a fine forest here; but no fresh roots sprang from the ground.

One day in the early summer all the children in the parish had assembled in front of the schoolhouse near the fire-swept mountain. Each child carried either a spade or a hoe on its shoulder, and a basket of food in its hand. As soon as all were assembled, they marched in a long procession toward the forest. The banner came first, with the teachers on either side of it; then followed a couple of foresters and a wagon load of pine shrubs and spruce seeds; then the children.

The procession did not pause in any of the birch groves near the settlements, but marched on deep into the forest. As it moved along, the foxes stuck their heads out of the lairs in astonishment, and wondered what kind of backwoods people these were. As they marched past old coal pits where charcoal kilns were fired every autumn, the cross-beaks twisted their hooked bills, and asked one another what kind of coalers these might be who were now thronging the forest.

Finally, the procession reached the big, burnt mountain plain. The rocks had been stripped of the fine twinflower creepers that once covered them; they had been robbed of the pretty silver moss and the attractive reindeer moss. Around the dark water gathered in clefts and hollows there was now no wood-sorrel. The little patches of soil in crevices and between stones were without ferns, without starflowers, without all the green and red and light and soft and soothing things which usually clothe the forest ground.

It was as if a bright light flashed upon the mountain when all the parish children covered it. Here again was something sweet and delicate; something fresh and rosy; something young and growing. Perhaps these children would bring to the poor abandoned forest a little new life.

When the children had rested and eaten their luncheon, they seized hoes and spades and began to work. The foresters showed them what to do. They set out shrub after shrub on every clear spot of earth they could find.

As they worked, they talked quite knowingly among themselves of how the little shrubs they were planting would bind the soil so that it could not get away, and of how new soil would form under the trees. By and by seeds would drop, and in a few years they would be picking both strawberries and raspberries where now there were only bare rocks. The little shrubs which they were planting would gradually become tall trees. Perhaps big houses and great splendid ships would be built from them!

If the children had not come here and planted while there was still a little soil in the clefts, all the earth would have been carried away by wind and water, and the mountain could never more have been clothed in green.

“It was well that we came,” said the children. “We were just in the nick of time!” They felt very important.

While they were working on the mountain, their parents were at home. By and by they began to wonder how the children were getting along. Of course it was only a joke about their planting a forest, but it might be amusing to see what they were trying to do.

So presently both fathers and mothers were on their way to the forest. When they came to the outlying stock farms they met some of their neighbours.

“Are you going to the fire-swept mountain?” they asked.

“That’s where we’re bound for.”

“To have a look at the children?”

“Yes, to see what they’re up to.”

“It’s only play, of course.”

“It isn’t likely that there will be many forest trees planted by the youngsters. We have brought the coffee pot along so that we can have something warm to drink, since we must stay there all day with only lunch-basket provisions.”

So the parents of the children went on up the mountain. At first they thought only of how pretty it looked to see all the rosy-cheeked little children scattered over the gray hills. Later, they observed how the children were working⁠—how some were setting out shrubs, while others were digging furrows and sowing seeds. Others again were pulling up heather to prevent its choking the young trees. They saw that the children took the work seriously and were so intent upon what they were doing that they scarcely had time to glance up.

The fathers and mothers stood for a moment and looked on; then they too began to pull up heather⁠—just for the fun of it. The children were the instructors, for they were already trained, and had to show their elders what to do.

Thus it happened that all the grownups who had come to watch the children took part in the work. Then, of course, it became greater fun than before. By and by the children had even more help. Other implements were needed, so a couple of long-legged boys were sent down to the village for spades and hoes. As they ran past the cabins, the stay-at-homes came out and asked: “What’s wrong? Has there been an accident?”

“No, indeed! But the whole parish is up on the fire-swept mountain planting a forest.”

“If the whole parish is there, we can’t stay at home!”

So party after party of peasants went crowding to the top of the burnt mountain. They stood a moment and looked on. The temptation to join the workers was irresistible.

“It’s a pleasure to sow one’s own acres in the spring, and to think of the grain that will spring up from the earth, but this work is even more alluring,” they thought.

Not only slender blades would come from that sowing, but mighty trees with tall trunks and sturdy branches. It meant giving birth not merely to a summer’s grain, but to many years’ growths. It meant the awakening hum of insects, the song of the thrush, the play of grouse and all kinds of life on the desolate mountain. Moreover, it was like raising a memorial for coming generations. They could have left a bare, treeless height as a heritage. Instead they were to leave a glorious forest.

Coming generations would know their forefathers had been a good and wise folk and they would remember them with reverence and gratitude.