The Flood

The Swans

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There was a terrible storm raging in the district north of Lake Mälar, which lasted several days. The sky was a dull gray, the wind whistled, and the rain beat. Both people and animals knew the spring could not be ushered in with anything short of this; nevertheless they thought it unbearable.

After it had been raining for a whole day, the snowdrifts in the pine forests began to melt in earnest, and the spring brooks grew lively. All the pools on the farms, the standing water in the ditches, the water that oozed between the tufts in marshes and swamps⁠—all were in motion and tried to find their way to creeks, that they might be borne along to the sea.

The creeks rushed as fast as possible down to the rivers, and the rivers did their utmost to carry the water to Lake Mälar.

All the lakes and rivers in Uppland and the mining district quickly threw off their ice covers on one and the same day, so that the creeks filled with ice-floes which rose clear up to their banks.

Swollen as they were, they emptied into Lake Mälar, and it was not long before the lake had taken in as much water as it could well hold. Down by the outlet was a raging torrent. Norrström is a narrow channel, and it could not let out the water quickly enough. Besides, there was a strong easterly wind that lashed against the land, obstructing the stream when it tried to carry the fresh water into the East Sea. Since the rivers kept running to Mälaren with more water than it could dispose of, there was nothing for the big lake to do but overflow its banks.

It rose very slowly, as if reluctant to injure its beautiful shores; but as they were mostly low and gradually sloping, it was not long before the water had flooded several acres of land, and that was enough to create the greatest alarm.

Lake Mälar is unique in its way, being made up of a succession of narrow fjords, bays, and inlets. In no place does it spread into a storm centre, but seems to have been created only for pleasure trips, yachting tours, and fishing. Nowhere does it present barren, desolate, windswept shores. It looks as if it never thought that its shores could hold anything but country seats, summer villas, manors, and amusement resorts. But, because it usually presents a very agreeable and friendly appearance, there is all the more havoc whenever it happens to drop its smiling expression in the spring, and show that it can be serious.

At that critical time Smirre Fox happened to come sneaking through a birch grove just north of Lake Mälar. As usual, he was thinking of Thumbietot and the wild geese, and wondering how he should ever find them again. He had lost all track of them.

As he stole cautiously along, more discouraged than usual, he caught sight of Agar, the carrier-pigeon, who had perched herself on a birch branch.

“My, but I’m in luck to run across you, Agar!” exclaimed Smirre. “Maybe you can tell me where Akka from Kebnekaise and her flock hold forth nowadays?”

“It’s quite possible that I know where they are,” Agar hinted, “but I’m not likely to tell you!”

“Please yourself!” retorted Smirre. “Nevertheless, you can take a message that I have for them. You probably know the present condition of Lake Mälar? There’s a great overflow down there and all the swans who live in Hjälsta Bay are about to see their nests, with all their eggs, destroyed. Daylight, the swan-king, has heard of the midget who travels with the wild geese and knows a remedy for every ill. He has sent me to ask Akka if she will bring Thumbietot down to Hjälsta Bay.”

“I dare say I can convey your message,” Agar replied, “but I can’t understand how the little boy will be able to help the swans.”

“Nor do I,” said Smirre, “but he can do almost everything, it seems.”

“It’s surprising to me that Daylight should send his messages by a fox,” Agar remarked.

“Well, we’re not exactly what you’d call good friends,” said Smirre smoothly, “but in an emergency like this we must help each other. Perhaps it would be just as well not to tell Akka that you got the message from a fox. Between you and me, she’s inclined to be a little suspicious.”

The safest refuge for waterfowl in the whole Mälar district is Hjälsta Bay. It has low shores, shallow water and is also covered with reeds.

It is by no means as large as Lake Tåkern, but nevertheless Hjälsta is a good retreat for birds, since it has long been forbidden territory to hunters.

It is the home of a great many swans, and the owner of the old castle nearby has prohibited all shooting on the bay, so that they might be unmolested.

As soon as Akka received word that the swans needed her help, she hastened down to Hjälsta Bay. She arrived with her flock one evening and saw at a glance that there had been a great disaster. The big swans’ nests had been torn away, and the strong wind was driving them down the bay. Some had already fallen apart, two or three had capsized, and the eggs lay at the bottom of the lake.

When Akka alighted on the bay, all the swans living there were gathered near the eastern shore, where they were protected from the wind.

Although they had suffered much by the flood, they were too proud to let anyone see it.

“It is useless to cry,” they said. “There are plenty of root-fibres and stems here; we can soon build new nests.”

None had thought of asking a stranger to help them, and the swans had no idea that Smirre Fox had sent for the wild geese!

There were several hundred swans resting on the water. They had placed themselves according to rank and station. The young and inexperienced were farthest out, the old and wise nearer the middle of the group, and right in the centre sat Daylight, the swan-king, and Snow-White, the swan-queen, who were older than any of the others and regarded the rest of the swans as their children.

The geese alighted on the west shore of the bay; but when Akka saw where the swans were, she swam toward them at once. She was very much surprised at their having sent for her, but she regarded it as an honour and did not wish to lose a moment in coming to their aid.

As Akka approached the swans she paused to see if the geese who followed her swam in a straight line, and at even distances apart.

“Now, swim along quickly!” she ordered. “Don’t stare at the swans as if you had never before seen anything beautiful, and don’t mind what they may say to you!”

This was not the first time that Akka had called on the aristocratic swans. They had always received her in a manner befitting a great traveller like herself.

But still she did not like the idea of swimming in among them. She never felt so gray and insignificant as when she happened upon swans. One or another of them was sure to drop a remark about “common gray-feathers” and “poor folk.” But it is always best to take no notice of such things.

This time everything passed off uncommonly well. The swans politely made way for the wild geese, who swam forward through a kind of passageway, which formed an avenue bordered by shimmering, white birds.

It was a beautiful sight to watch them as they spread their wings, like sails, to appear well before the strangers. They refrained from making comments, which rather surprised Akka.

Evidently Daylight had noted their misbehaviour in the past and had told the swans that they must conduct themselves in a proper manner⁠—so thought the leader-goose.

But just as the swans were making an effort to observe the rules of etiquette, they caught sight of the goosey-gander, who swam last in the long goose-line. Then there was a murmur of disapproval, even of threats, among the swans, and at once there was an end to their good deportment!

“What’s this?” shrieked one. “Do the wild geese intend to dress up in white feathers?”

“They needn’t think that will make swans of them,” cried another.

They began shrieking⁠—one louder than another⁠—in their strong, resonant voices. It was impossible to explain that a tame goosey-gander had come with the wild geese.

“That must be the goose-king himself coming along,” they said tauntingly. “There’s no limit to their audacity!”

“That’s no goose, it’s only a tame duck.”

The big white gander remembered Akka’s admonition to pay no attention, no matter what he might hear. He kept quiet and swam ahead as fast he could, but it did no good. The swans became more and more impertinent.

“What kind of a frog does he carry on his back?” asked one. “They must think we don’t see it’s a frog because it is dressed like a human being.”

The swans, who but a moment before had been resting in such perfect order, now swam up and down excitedly. All tried to crowd forward to get a glimpse of the white wild goose.

“That white goosey-gander ought to be ashamed to come here and parade before swans!”

“He’s probably as gray as the rest of them. He has only been in a flour barrel at some farm house!”

Akka had just come up to Daylight and was about to ask him what kind of help he wanted of her, when the swan-king noticed the uproar among the swans.

“What do I see? Haven’t I taught you to be polite to strangers?” he said with a frown.

Snow-White, the swan-queen, swam out to restore order among her subjects, and again Daylight turned to Akka.

Presently Snow-White came back, appearing greatly agitated.

“Can’t you keep them quiet?” shouted Daylight.

“There’s a white wild goose over there,” answered Snow-White. “Is it not shameful? I don’t wonder they are furious!”

“A white wild goose?” scoffed Daylight. “That’s too ridiculous! There can’t be such a thing. You must be mistaken.”

The crowds around Morten Goosey-Gander grew larger and larger. Akka and the other wild geese tried to swim over to him, but were jostled hither and thither and could not get to him.

The old swan-king, who was the strongest among them, swam off quickly, pushed all the others aside, and made his way over to the big white gander. But when he saw that there really was a white goose on the water, he was just as indignant as the rest.

He hissed with rage, flew straight at Morten Goosey-Gander and tore out a few feathers.

“I’ll teach you a lesson, wild goose,” he shrieked, “so that you’ll not come again to the swans, togged out in this way!”

“Fly, Morten Goosey-Gander! Fly, fly!” cried Akka, for she knew that otherwise the swans would pull out every feather the goosey-gander had.

“Fly, fly!” screamed Thumbietot, too.

But the goosey-gander was so hedged in by the swans that he had not room enough to spread his wings. All around him the swans stretched their long necks, opened their strong bills, and plucked his feathers.

Morten Goosey-Gander defended himself as best he could, by striking and biting. The wild geese also began to fight the swans.

It was obvious how this would have ended had the geese not received help quite unexpectedly.

A red-tail noticed that they were being roughly treated by the swans. Instantly he cried out the shrill call that little birds use when they need help to drive off a hawk or a falcon.

Three calls had barely sounded when all the little birds in the vicinity came shooting down to Hjälsta Bay, as if on wings of lightning.

These delicate little creatures swooped down upon the swans, screeched in their ears, and obstructed their view with the flutter of their tiny wings. They made them dizzy with their fluttering and drove them to distraction with their cries of “Shame, shame, swans!”

The attack of the small birds lasted but a moment. When they were gone and the swans came to their senses, they saw that the geese had risen and flown over to the other end of the bay.

The New Watchdog

There was this at least to be said in the swans’ favour⁠—when they saw that the wild geese had escaped, they were too proud to chase them. Moreover, the geese could stand on a clump of reeds with perfect composure, and sleep.

Nils Holgersson was too hungry to sleep.

“It is necessary for me to get something to eat,” he said.

At that time, when all kinds of things were floating on the water, it was not difficult for a little boy like Nils Holgersson to find a craft. He did not stop to deliberate, but hopped down on a stump that had drifted in amongst the reeds. Then he picked up a little stick and began to pole toward shore.

Just as he was landing, he heard a splash in the water. He stopped short. First he saw a lady swan asleep in her big nest quite close to him, then he noticed that a fox had taken a few steps into the water and was sneaking up to the swan’s nest.

“Hi, hi, hi! Get up, get up!” cried the boy, beating the water with his stick.

The lady swan rose, but not so quickly but that the fox could have pounced upon her had he cared to. However, he refrained and instead hurried straight toward the boy.

Thumbietot saw the fox coming and ran for his life.

Wide stretches of meadow land spread before him. He saw no tree that he could climb, no hole where he might hide; he just had to keep running.

The boy was a good runner, but it stands to reason that he could not race with a fox!

Not far from the bay there were a number of little cabins, with candle lights shining through the windows. Naturally the boy ran in that direction, but he realized that long before he could reach the nearest cabin the fox would catch up to him.

Once the fox was so close that it looked as if the boy would surely be his prey, but Nils quickly sprang aside and turned back toward the bay. By that move the fox lost time, and before he could reach the boy the latter had run up to two men who were on their way home from work.

The men were tired and sleepy; they had noticed neither boy nor fox, although both had been running right in front of them. Nor did the boy ask help of the men; he was content to walk close beside them.

“Surely the fox won’t venture to come up to the men,” he thought.

But presently the fox came pattering along. He probably counted on the men taking him for a dog, for he went straight up to them.

“Whose dog can that be sneaking around here?” queried one. “He looks as though he were ready to bite.”

The other paused and glanced back.

“Go along with you!” he said, and gave the fox a kick that sent it to the opposite side of the road. “What are you doing here?”

After that the fox kept at a safe distance, but followed all the while.

Presently the men reached a cabin and entered it. The boy intended to go in with them; but when he got to the stoop he saw a big, shaggy watchdog rush out from his kennel to greet his master. Suddenly the boy changed his mind and remained out in the open.

“Listen, watchdog!” whispered the boy as soon as the men had shut the door. “I wonder if you would like to help me catch a fox tonight?”

The dog had poor eyesight and had become irritable and cranky from being chained.

“What, I catch a fox?” he barked angrily. “Who are you that makes fun of me? You just come within my reach and I’ll teach you not to fool with me!”

“You needn’t think that I’m afraid to come near you!” said the boy, running up to the dog.

When the dog saw him he was so astonished that he could not speak.

“I’m the one they call Thumbietot, who travels with the wild geese,” said the boy, introducing himself. “Haven’t you heard of me?”

“I believe the sparrows have twittered a little about you,” the dog returned. “They say that you have done wonderful things for one of your size.”

“I’ve been rather lucky up to the present,” admitted the boy. “But now it’s all up with me unless you help me! There’s a fox at my heels. He’s lying in wait for me around the corner.”

“Don’t you suppose I can smell him?” retorted the dog. “But we’ll soon be rid of him!” With that the dog sprang as far as the chain would allow, barking and growling for ever so long. “Now I don’t think he will show his face again tonight!” said the dog.

“It will take something besides a fine bark to scare that fox!” the boy remarked. “He’ll soon be here again, and that is precisely what I wish, for I have set my heart on your catching him.”

“Are you poking fun at me now?” asked the dog.

“Only come with me into your kennel, and I’ll tell you what to do.”

The boy and the watchdog crept into the kennel and crouched there, whispering.

By and by the fox stuck his nose out from his hiding place. When all was quiet he crept along cautiously. He scented the boy all the way to the kennel, but halted at a safe distance and sat down to think of some way to coax him out.

Suddenly the watchdog poked his head out and growled at him:

“Go away, or I’ll catch you!”

“I’ll sit here as long as I please for all of you!” defied the fox.

“Go away!” repeated the dog threateningly, “or there will be no more hunting for you after tonight.”

But the fox only grinned and did not move an inch.

“I know how far your chain can reach,” he said.

“I have warned you twice,” said the dog, coming out from his kennel. “Now blame yourself!”

With that the dog sprang at the fox and caught him without the least effort, for he was loose. The boy had unbuckled his collar.

There was a hot struggle, but it was soon over. The dog was the victor. The fox lay on the ground and dared not move.

“Don’t stir or I’ll kill you!” snarled the dog. Then he took the fox by the scruff of the neck and dragged him to the kennel. There the boy was ready with the chain. He placed the dog collar around the neck of the fox, tightening it so that he was securely chained. During all this the fox had to lie still, for he was afraid to move.

“Now, Smirre Fox, I hope you’ll make a good watchdog,” laughed the boy when he had finished.