A few years ago, at Skansen⁠—the great park just outside of Stockholm where they have collected so many wonderful things⁠—there lived a little old man, named Clement Larsson. He was from Hälsingland and had come to Skansen with his fiddle to play folk dances and other old melodies. As a performer, he appeared mostly in the evening. During the day it was his business to sit on guard in one of the many pretty peasant cottages which have been moved to Skansen from all parts of the country.

In the beginning Clement thought that he fared better in his old age than he had ever dared dream; but after a time he began to dislike the place terribly, especially while he was on watch duty. It was all very well when visitors came into the cottage to look around, but some days Clement would sit for many hours all alone. Then he felt so homesick that he feared he would have to give up his place. He was very poor and knew that at home he would become a charge on the parish. Therefore he tried to hold out as long as he could, although he felt more unhappy from day to day.

One beautiful evening in the beginning of May Clement had been granted a few hours’ leave of absence. He was on his way down the steep hill leading out of Skansen, when he met an island fisherman coming along with his game bag. The fisherman was an active young man who came to Skansen with seafowl that he had managed to capture alive. Clement had met him before, many times.

The fisherman stopped Clement to ask if the superintendent at Skansen was at home. When Clement had replied, he, in turn, asked what choice thing the fisherman had in his bag. “You can see what I have,” the fisherman answered, “if in return you will give me an idea as to what I should ask for it.”

He held open the bag and Clement peeped into it once⁠—and again⁠—then quickly drew back a step or two. “Good gracious, Ashbjörn!” he exclaimed. “How did you catch that one?”

He remembered that when he was a child his mother used to talk of the tiny folk who lived under the cabin floor. He was not permitted to cry or to be naughty, lest he provoke these small people. After he was grown he believed his mother had made up these stories about the elves to make him behave himself. But it had been no invention of his mother’s, it seemed; for there, in Ashbjörn’s bag, lay one of the tiny folk.

There was a little of the terror natural to childhood left in Clement, and he felt a shudder run down his spinal column as he peeped into the bag. Ashbjörn saw that he was frightened and began to laugh; but Clement took the matter seriously. “Tell me, Ashbjörn, where you came across him?” he asked.

“You may be sure that I wasn’t lying in wait for him!” said Ashbjörn. “He came to me. I started out early this morning and took my rifle along into the boat. I had just poled away from the shore when I sighted some wild geese coming from the east, shrieking like mad. I sent them a shot, but hit none of them. Instead this creature came tumbling down into the water⁠—so close to the boat that I only had to put my hand out and pick him up.”

“I hope you didn’t shoot him, Ashbjörn?”

“Oh, no! He is well and sound; but when he came down, he was a little dazed at first, so I took advantage of that fact to wind the ends of two sail threads around his ankles and wrists, so that he couldn’t run away. ‘Ha! Here’s something for Skansen,’ I thought instantly.”

Clement grew strangely troubled as the fisherman talked. All that he had heard about the tiny folk in his childhood⁠—of their vindictiveness toward enemies and their benevolence toward friends⁠—came back to him. It had never gone well with those who had attempted to hold one of them captive.

“You should have let him go at once, Ashbjörn,” said Clement.

“I came precious near being forced to set him free,” returned the fisherman. “You may as well know, Clement, that the wild geese followed me all the way home, and they crisscrossed over the island the whole morning, honk-honking as if they wanted him back. Not only they, but the entire population⁠—sea gulls, sea swallows, and many others who are not worth a shot of powder, alighted on the island and made an awful racket. When I came out they fluttered about me until I had to turn back. My wife begged me to let him go, but I had made up my mind that he should come here to Skansen, so I placed one of the children’s dolls in the window, hid the midget in the bottom of my bag, and started away. The birds must have fancied that it was he who stood in the window, for they permitted me to leave without pursuing me.”

“Does it say anything?” asked Clement.

“Yes. At first he tried to call to the birds, but I wouldn’t have it and put a gag in his mouth.”

“Oh, Ashbjörn!” protested Clement. “How can you treat him so! Don’t you see that he is something supernatural!”

“I don’t know what he is,” said Ashbjörn calmly. “Let others consider that. I’m satisfied if only I can get a good sum for him. Now tell me, Clement, what you think the doctor at Skansen would give me.”

There was a long pause before Clement replied. He felt very sorry for the poor little chap. He actually imagined that his mother was standing beside him telling him that he must always be kind to the tiny folk.

“I have no idea what the doctor up there would care to give you, Ashbjörn,” he said finally. “But if you will leave him with me, I’ll pay you twenty kroner for him.”

Ashbjörn stared at the fiddler in amazement when he heard him name so large a sum. He thought that Clement believed the midget had some mysterious power and might be of service for him. He was by no means certain that the doctor would think him such a great find or would offer to pay so high a sum for him; so he accepted Clement’s proffer.

The fiddler poked his purchase into one of his wide pockets, turned back to Skansen, and went into a moss-covered hut, where there were neither visitors nor guards. He closed the door after him, took out the midget, who was still bound hand and foot and gagged, and laid him down gently on a bench.

“Now listen to what I say!” said Clement. “I know of course that such as you do not like to be seen of men, but prefer to go about and busy yourselves in your own way. Therefore I have decided to give you your liberty⁠—but only on condition that you will remain in this park until I permit you to leave. If you agree to this, nod your head three times.”

Clement gazed at the midget with confident expectation, but the latter did not move a muscle.

“You shall not fare badly,” continued Clement. “I’ll see to it that you are fed every day, and you will have so much to do there that the time will not seem long to you. But you mustn’t go elsewhere till I give you leave. Now we’ll agree as to a signal. So long as I set your food out in a white bowl you are to stay. When I set it out in a blue one you may go.”

Clement paused again, expecting the midget to give the sign of approval, but he did not stir.

“Very well,” said Clement, “then there’s no choice but to show you to the master of this place. Then you’ll be put in a glass case, and all the people in the big city of Stockholm will come and stare at you.”

This scared the midget, and he promptly gave the signal.

“That was right,” said Clement as he cut the cord that bound the midget’s hands. Then he hurried toward the door.

The boy unloosed the bands around his ankles and tore away the gag before thinking of anything else. When he turned to Clement to thank him, he had gone.

Just outside the door Clement met a handsome, noble-looking gentleman, who was on his way to a place close by from which there was a beautiful outlook. Clement could not recall having seen the stately old man before, but the latter must surely have noticed Clement sometime when he was playing the fiddle, because he stopped and spoke to him.

“Good day, Clement!” he said. “How do you do? You are not ill, are you? I think you have grown a bit thin of late.”

There was such an expression of kindliness about the old gentleman that Clement plucked up courage and told him of his homesickness.

“What!” exclaimed the old gentleman. “Are you homesick when you are in Stockholm? It can’t be possible!” He looked almost offended. Then he reflected that it was only an ignorant old peasant from Hälsingland that he talked with⁠—and so resumed his friendly attitude.

“Surely you have never heard how the city of Stockholm was founded? If you had, you would comprehend that your anxiety to get away is only a foolish fancy. Come with me to the bench over yonder and I will tell you something about Stockholm.”

When the old gentleman was seated on the bench he glanced down at the city, which spread in all its glory below him, and he drew a deep breath, as if he wished to drink in all the beauty of the landscape. Thereupon he turned to the fiddler.

“Look, Clement!” he said, and as he talked he traced with his cane a little map in the sand in front of them. “Here lies Uppland, and here, to the south, a point juts out, which is split up by a number of bays. And here we have Sörmland with another point, which is just as cut up and points straight north. Here, from the west, comes a lake filled with islands: It is Lake Mälar. From the east comes another body of water, which can barely squeeze in between the islands and islets. It is the East Sea. Here, Clement, where Uppland joins Sörmland and Mälaren joins the East Sea, comes a short river, in the centre of which lie four little islets that divide the river into several tributaries⁠—one of which is called Norriström but was formerly Stocksund.

“In the beginning these islets were common wooded islands, such as one finds in plenty on Lake Mälar even today, and for ages they were entirely uninhabited. They were well located between two bodies of water and two bodies of land; but this no one remarked. Year after year passed; people settled along Lake Mälar and in the archipelago, but these river islands attracted no settlers. Sometimes it happened that a seafarer put into port at one of them and pitched his tent for the night; but no one remained there long.

“One day a fisherman, who lived on Liding Island, out in Salt Fjord, steered his boat toward Lake Mälar, where he had such good luck with his fishing that he forgot to start for home in time. He got no farther than the four islets, and the best he could do was to land on one and wait until later in the night, when there would be bright moonlight.

“It was late summer and warm. The fisherman hauled his boat on land, lay down beside it, his head resting upon a stone, and fell asleep. When he awoke the moon had been up a long while. It hung right above him and shone with such splendour that it was like broad daylight.

“The man jumped to his feet and was about to push his boat into the water, when he saw a lot of black specks moving out in the stream. A school of seals was heading full speed for the island. When the fisherman saw that they intended to crawl up on land, he bent down for his spear, which he always took with him in the boat. But when he straightened up, he saw no seals. Instead, there stood on the strand the most beautiful young maidens, dressed in green, trailing satin robes, with pearl crowns upon their heads. The fisherman understood that these were mermaids who lived on desolate rock islands far out at sea and had assumed seal disguises in order to come up on land and enjoy the moonlight on the green islets.

“He laid down the spear very cautiously, and when the young maidens came up on the island to play, he stole behind and surveyed them. He had heard that sea-nymphs were so beautiful and fascinating that no one could see them and not be enchanted by their charms; and he had to admit that this was not too much to say of them.

“When he had stood for a while under the shadow of the trees and watched the dance, he went down to the strand, took one of the seal skins lying there, and hid it under a stone. Then he went back to his boat, lay down beside it, and pretended to be asleep.

“Presently he saw the young maidens trip down to the strand to don their seal skins. At first all was play and laughter, which was changed to weeping and wailing when one of the mermaids could not find her seal robe. Her companions ran up and down the strand and helped her search for it, but no trace could they find. While they were seeking they noticed that the sky was growing pale and the day was breaking, so they could tarry no longer, and they all swam away, leaving behind the one whose seal skin was missing. She sat on the strand and wept.

“The fisherman felt sorry for her, of course, but he forced himself to lie still till daybreak. Then he got up, pushed the boat into the water, and stepped into it to make it appear that he saw her by chance after he had lifted the oars.

“ ‘Who are you?’ he called out. ‘Are you shipwrecked?’

“She ran toward him and asked if he had seen her seal skin. The fisherman looked as if he did not know what she was talking about. She sat down again and wept. Then he determined to take her with him in the boat. ‘Come with me to my cottage,’ he commanded, ‘and my mother will take care of you. You can’t stay here on the island, where you have neither food nor shelter!’ He talked so convincingly that she was persuaded to step into his boat.

“Both the fisherman and his mother were very kind to the poor mermaid, and she seemed to be happy with them. She grew more contented every day and helped the older woman with her work, and was exactly like any other island lass⁠—only she was much prettier. One day the fisherman asked her if she would be his wife, and she did not object, but at once said yes.

“Preparations were made for the wedding. The mermaid dressed as a bride in her green, trailing robe with the shimmering pearl crown she had worn when the fisherman first saw her. There was neither church nor parson on the island at that time, so the bridal party seated themselves in the boats to row up to the first church they should find.

“The fisherman had the mermaid and his mother in his boat, and he rowed so well that he was far ahead of all the others. When he had come so far that he could see the islet in the river, where he won his bride, he could not help smiling.

“ ‘What are you smiling at?’ she asked.

“ ‘Oh, I’m thinking of that night when I hid your seal skin,’ answered the fisherman; for he felt so sure of her that he thought there was no longer any need for him to conceal anything.

“ ‘What are you saying?’ asked the bride, astonished. ‘Surely I have never possessed a seal skin!’ It appeared she had forgotten everything.

“ ‘Don’t you recollect how you danced with the mermaids?’ he asked.

“ ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said the bride. ‘I think that you must have dreamed a strange dream last night.’

“If I show you your seal skin, you’ll probably believe me!’ laughed the fisherman, promptly turning the boat toward the islet. They stepped ashore and he brought the seal skin out from under the stone where he had hidden it.

“But the instant the bride set eyes on the seal skin she grasped it and drew it over her head. It snuggled close to her⁠—as if there was life in it⁠—and immediately she threw herself into the stream.

“The bridegroom saw her swim away and plunged into the water after her; but he could not catch up to her. When he saw that he couldn’t stop her in any other way, in his grief he seized his spear and hurled it. He aimed better than he had intended, for the poor mermaid gave a piercing shriek and disappeared in the depths.

“The fisherman stood on the strand waiting for her to appear again. He observed that the water around him began to take on a soft sheen, a beauty that he had never seen before. It shimmered in pink and white, like the colour-play on the inside of sea shells.

“As the glittering water lapped the shores, the fisherman thought that they too were transformed. They began to blossom and waft their perfumes. A soft sheen spread over them and they also took on a beauty which they had never possessed before.

“He understood how all this had come to pass. For it is thus with mermaids: one who beholds them must needs find them more beautiful than anyone else, and the mermaid’s blood being mixed with the water that bathed the shores, her beauty was transferred to both. All who saw them must love them and yearn for them. This was their legacy from the mermaid.”

When the stately old gentleman had got thus far in his narrative he turned to Clement and looked at him. Clement nodded reverently but made no comment, as he did not wish to cause a break in the story.

“Now you must bear this in mind, Clement,” the old gentleman continued, with a roguish glint in his eyes. “From that time on people emigrated to the islands. At first only fishermen and peasants settled there, but others, too, were attracted to them. One day the king and his earl sailed up the stream. They started at once to talk of these islands, having observed they were so situated that every vessel that sailed toward Lake Mälar had to pass them. The earl suggested that there ought to be a lock put on the channel which could be opened or closed at will, to let in merchant vessels and shut out pirates.

“This idea was carried out,” said the old gentleman, as he rose and began to trace in the sand again with his cane. “On the largest of these islands the earl erected a fortress with a strong tower, which was called ‘Kärnan.’ And around the island a wall was built. Here, at the north and south ends of the wall, they made gates and placed strong towers over them. Across the other islands they built bridges; these were likewise equipped with high towers. Out in the water, round about, they put a wreath of piles with bars that could open and close, so that no vessel could sail past without permission.

“Therefore you see, Clement, the four islands which had lain so long unnoticed were soon strongly fortified. But this was not all, for the shores and the sound tempted people, and before long they came from all quarters to settle there. They built a church, which has since been called ‘Storkyrkan.’ Here it stands, near the castle. And here, within the walls, were the little huts the pioneers built for themselves. They were primitive, but they served their purpose. More was not needed at that time to make the place pass for a city. And the city was named Stockholm.

“There came a day, Clement, when the earl who had begun the work went to his final rest, and Stockholm was without a master builder. Monks called the Gray Friars came to the country. Stockholm attracted them. They asked permission to erect a monastery there, so the king gave them an island⁠—one of the smaller ones⁠—this one facing Lake Mälar. There they built, and the place was called Gray Friars’ Island. Other monks came, called the Black Friars. They, too, asked for right to build in Stockholm, near the south gate. On this, the larger of the islands north of the city, a ‘Holy Ghost House,’ or hospital, was built; while on the smaller one thrifty men put up a mill, and along the little islands close by the monks fished. As you know, there is only one island now, for the canal between the two has filled up; but it is still called Holy Ghost Island.

“And now, Clement, all the little wooded islands were dotted with houses, but still people kept streaming in; for these shores and waters have the power to draw people to them. Hither came pious women of the Order of Saint Clara and asked for ground to build upon. For them there was no choice but to settle on the north shore, at Norrmalm, as it is called. You may be sure that they were not over pleased with this location, for across Norrmalm ran a high ridge, and on that the city had its gallows hill, so that it was a detested spot. Nevertheless the Poor Clares erected their church and their convent on the strand below the ridge. After they were established there they soon found plenty of followers. Upon the ridge itself were built a hospital and a church, consecrated to Saint Goran, and just below the ridge a church was erected to Saint Jacob.

“And even at Södermalm, where the mountain rises perpendicularly from the strand, they began to build. There they raised a church to Saint Mary.

“But you must not think that only cloister folk moved to Stockholm! There were also many others⁠—principally German tradesmen and artisans. These were more skilled than the Swedes, and were well received. They settled within the walls of the city where they pulled down the wretched little cabins that stood there and built high, magnificent stone houses. But space was not plentiful within the walls, therefore they had to build the houses close together, with gables facing the narrow by-lanes. So you see, Clement, that Stockholm could attract people!”

At this point in the narrative another gentleman appeared and walked rapidly down the path toward the man who was talking to Clement, but he waved his hand, and the other remained at a distance. The dignified old gentleman still sat on the bench beside the fiddler.

“Now, Clement, you must render me a service,” he said. “I have no time to talk more with you, but I will send you a book about Stockholm and you must read it from cover to cover. I have, so to speak, laid the foundations of Stockholm for you. Study the rest out for yourself and learn how the city has thrived and changed. Read how the little, narrow, wall-enclosed city on the islands has spread into this great sea of houses below us. Read how, on the spot where the dark tower Kärnan once stood, the beautiful, light castle below us was erected and how the Gray Friars’ church has been turned into the burial place of the Swedish kings; read how islet after islet was built up with factories; how the ridge was lowered and the sound filled in; how the truck gardens at the south and north ends of the city have been converted into beautiful parks or built-up quarters; how the King’s private deer park has become the people’s favourite pleasure resort. You must make yourself at home here, Clement. This city does not belong exclusively to the Stockholmers. It belongs to you and to all Swedes.

“As you read about Stockholm, remember that I have spoken the truth, for the city has the power to draw everyone to it. First the King moved here, then the nobles built their palaces here, and then one after another was attracted to the place, so that now, as you see, Stockholm is not a city unto itself or for nearby districts; it has grown into a city for the whole kingdom.

“You know, Clement, that there are judicial courts in every parish throughout the land, but in Stockholm they have jurisdiction for the whole nation. You know that there are judges in every district court in the country, but at Stockholm there is only one court, to which all the others are accountable. You know that there are barracks and troops in every part of the land, but those at Stockholm command the whole army. Everywhere in the country you will find railroads, but the whole great national system is controlled and managed at Stockholm; here you will find the governing boards for the clergy, for teachers, for physicians, for bailiffs and jurors. This is the heart of your country, Clement. All the change you have in your pocket is coined here, and the postage stamps you stick on your letters are made here. There is something here for every Swede. Here no one need feel homesick, for here all Swedes are at home.

“And when you read of all that has been brought here to Stockholm, think too of the latest that the city has attracted to itself: these old-time peasant cottages here at Skansen; the old dances; the old costumes and house-furnishings; the musicians and storytellers. Everything good of the old times Stockholm has tempted here to Skansen to do it honour, that it may, in turn, stand before the people with renewed glory.

“But, first and last, remember as you read about Stockholm that you are to sit in this place. You must see how the waves sparkle in joyous play and how the shores shimmer with beauty. You will come under the spell of their witchery, Clement.”

The handsome old gentleman had raised his voice, so that it rang out strong and commanding, and his eyes shone. Then he rose, and, with a wave of his hand to Clement, walked away. Clement understood that the one who had been talking to him was a great man, and he bowed to him as low as he could.

The next day came a royal lackey with a big red book and a letter for Clement, and in the letter it said that the book was from the King.

After that the little old man, Clement Larsson, was lightheaded for several days, and it was impossible to get a sensible word out of him. When a week had gone by, he went to the superintendent and gave in his notice. He simply had to go home.

“Why must you go home? Can’t you learn to be content here?” asked the doctor.

“Oh, I’m contented here,” said Clement. “That matter troubles me no longer, but I must go home all the same.”

Clement was quite perturbed because the King had said that he should learn all about Stockholm and be happy there. But he could not rest until he had told everyone at home that the King had said those words to him. He could not renounce the idea of standing on the church knoll at home and telling high and low that the King had been so kind to him, that he had sat beside him on the bench, and had sent him a book, and had taken the time to talk to him⁠—a poor fiddler⁠—for a whole hour, in order to cure him of his homesickness. It was good to relate this to the Laplanders and Dalecarlian peasant girls at Skansen, but what was that compared to being able to tell of it at home?

Even if Clement were to end in the poorhouse, it wouldn’t be so hard after this. He was a totally different man from what he had been, and he would be respected and honoured in a very different way.

This new yearning took possession of Clement. He simply had to go up to the doctor and say that he must go home.