The Homespun Cloth


The boy rode forward⁠—way up in the air. He had the great Östergötland plain under him, and sat and counted the many white churches which towered above the small leafy groves around them. It wasn’t long before he had counted fifty. After that he became confused and couldn’t keep track of the counting.

Nearly all the farms were built up with large, whitewashed two-story houses, which looked so imposing that the boy couldn’t help admiring them. “There can’t be any peasants in this land,” he said to himself, “since I do not see any peasant farms.”

Immediately all the wild geese shrieked: “Here the peasants live like gentlemen. Here the peasants live like gentlemen.”

On the plains the ice and snow had disappeared, and the spring work had begun. “What kind of long crabs are those that creep over the fields?” asked the boy after a bit.

“Ploughs and oxen. Ploughs and oxen,” answered the wild geese.

The oxen moved so slowly down on the fields, that one could scarcely perceive they were in motion, and the geese shouted to them: “You won’t get there before next year. You won’t get there before next year.” But the oxen were equal to the occasion. They raised their muzzles in the air and bellowed: “We do more good in an hour than such as you do in a whole lifetime.”

In a few places the ploughs were drawn by horses. They went along with much more eagerness and haste than the oxen; but the geese couldn’t keep from teasing these either. “Ar’n’t you ashamed to be doing ox-duty?” cried the wild geese. “Ar’n’t you ashamed yourselves to be doing lazy man’s duty?” the horses neighed back at them.

But while horses and oxen were at work in the fields, the stable ram walked about in the barnyard. He was newly clipped and touchy, knocked over the small boys, chased the shepherd dog into his kennel, and then strutted about as though he alone were lord of the whole place. “Rammie, rammie, what have you done with your wool?” asked the wild geese, who rode by up in the air.

“That I have sent to Drag’s woollen mills in Norrköping,” replied the ram with a long, drawn-out bleat.

“Rammie, rammie, what have you done with your horns?” asked the geese. But any horns the rammie had never possessed, to his sorrow, and one couldn’t offer him a greater insult than to ask after them. He ran around a long time, and butted at the air, so furious was he.

On the country road came a man who drove a flock of Skåne pigs that were not more than a few weeks old, and were going to be sold up country. They trotted along bravely, as little as they were, and kept close together⁠—as if they sought protection. “Nuff, nuff, nuff, we came away too soon from father and mother. Nuff, nuff, nuff, how will it go with us poor children?” said the little pigs. The wild geese didn’t have the heart to tease such poor little creatures. “It will be better for you than you can ever believe,” they cried as they flew past them.

The wild geese were never so merry as when they flew over a flat country. Then they did not hurry themselves, but flew from farm to farm, and joked with the tame animals.

As the boy rode over the plain, he happened to think of a legend which he had heard a long time ago. He didn’t remember it exactly, but it was something about a petticoat⁠—half of which was made of gold-woven velvet, and half of gray homespun cloth. But the one who owned the petticoat adorned the homespun cloth with such a lot of pearls and precious stones that it looked richer and more gorgeous than the gold-cloth.

He remembered this about the homespun cloth, as he looked down on Östergötland, because it was made up of a large plain, which lay wedged in between two mountainous forest-tracts⁠—one to the north, the other to the south. The two forest-heights lay there, a lovely blue, and shimmered in the morning light, as if they were decked with golden veils; and the plain, which simply spread out one winter-naked field after another, was, in and of itself, prettier to look upon than gray homespun.

But the people must have been contented on the plain, because it was generous and kind, and they had tried to decorate it in the best way possible. High up⁠—where the boy rode by⁠—he thought that cities and farms, churches and factories, castles and railway stations were scattered over it, like large and small trinkets. It shone on the roofs, and the windowpanes glittered like jewels. Yellow country roads, shining railway-tracks and blue canals ran along between the districts like embroidered loops. Linköping lay around its cathedral like a pearl-setting around a precious stone; and the gardens in the country were like little brooches and buttons. There was not much regulation in the pattern, but it was a display of grandeur which one could never tire of looking at.

The geese had left Öberg district, and travelled toward the east along Göta Canal. This was also getting itself ready for the summer. Workmen laid canal-banks, and tarred the huge lock-gates. They were working everywhere to receive spring fittingly, even in the cities. There, masons and painters stood on scaffoldings and made fine the exteriors of the houses while maids were cleaning the windows. Down at the harbour, sailboats and steamers were being washed and dressed up.

At Norrköping the wild geese left the plain, and flew up toward Kolmården. For a time they had followed an old, hilly country road, which wound around cliffs, and ran forward under wild mountain-walls⁠—when the boy suddenly let out a shriek. He had been sitting and swinging his foot back and forth, and one of his wooden shoes had slipped off.

“Goosey-gander, goosey-gander, I have dropped my shoe!” cried the boy. The goosey-gander turned about and sank toward the ground; then the boy saw that two children, who were walking along the road, had picked up his shoe. “Goosey-gander, goosey-gander,” screamed the boy excitedly, “fly upward again! It is too late. I cannot get my shoe back again.”

Down on the road stood Osa, the goose-girl, and her brother, little Mats, looking at a tiny wooden shoe that had fallen from the skies.

Osa, the goose-girl, stood silent a long while, and pondered over the find. At last she said, slowly and thoughtfully: “Do you remember, little Mats, that when we went past Övid Cloister, we heard that the folks in a farmyard had seen an elf who was dressed in leather breeches, and had wooden shoes on his feet, like any other working man? And do you recollect when we came to Vittskövle, a girl told us that she had seen a Goa-Nisse with wooden shoes, who flew away on the back of a goose? And when we ourselves came home to our cabin, little Mats, we saw a goblin who was dressed in the same way, and who also straddled the back of a goose⁠—and flew away. Maybe it was the same one who rode along on his goose up here in the air and dropped his wooden shoe.”

“Yes, it must have been,” said little Mats.

They turned the wooden shoe about and examined it carefully⁠—for it isn’t every day that one happens across a Goa-Nisse’s wooden shoe on the highway.

“Wait, wait, little Mats!” said Osa, the goose-girl. “There is something written on one side of it.”

“Why, so there is! but they are such tiny letters.”

“Let me see! It says⁠—it says: ‘Nils Holgersson from W. Vemminghög.’ That’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard!” said little Mats.