The Legend of Småland


The wild geese had made a good trip over the sea, and had lighted in Tjust Township, in northern Småland. That township didn’t seem able to make up its mind whether it wanted to be land or sea. Fjords ran in everywhere, and cut the land up into islands and peninsulas and points and capes. The sea was so forceful that the only things which could hold themselves above it were hills and mountains. All the lowlands were hidden away under the water exterior.

It was evening when the wild geese came in from the sea; and the land with the little hills lay prettily between the shimmering fjords. Here and there, on the islands, the boy saw cabins and cottages; and the farther inland he came, the bigger and better became the dwelling houses. Finally, they grew into large, white manors. Along the shores there was generally a border of trees; and within this lay field-plots, and on the tops of the little hills there were trees again. He could not help but think of Blekinge. Here again was a place where land and sea met, in such a pretty and peaceful sort of way, just as if they tried to show each other the best and loveliest which they possessed.

The wild geese alighted upon a limestone island a good way in on Goose-fjord. With the first glance at the shore they observed that spring had made rapid strides while they had been away on the islands. The big, fine trees were not as yet leaf-clad, but the ground under them was brocaded with white anemones, gagea, and blue anemones.

When the wild geese saw the flower-carpet they feared that they had lingered too long in the southern part of the country. Akka said instantly that there was no time in which to hunt up any of the stopping places in Småland. By the next morning they must travel northward, over Östergötland.

The boy should then see nothing of Småland, and this grieved him. He had heard more about Småland than he had about any other province, and he had longed to see it with his own eyes.

The summer before, when he had served as goose-boy with a farmer in the neighbourhood of Jordberga, he had met a pair of Småland children, almost every day, who also tended geese. These children had irritated him terribly with their Småland.

It wasn’t fair to say that Osa, the goose-girl, had annoyed him. She was much too wise for that. But the one who could be aggravating with a vengeance was her brother, little Mats.

“Have you heard, Nils Goose-boy, how it went when Småland and Skåne were created?” he would ask, and if Nils Holgersson said no, he began immediately to relate the old joke-legend.

“Well, it was at that time when our Lord was creating the world. While he was doing his best work, Saint Peter came walking by. He stopped and looked on, and then he asked if it was hard to do. ‘Well, it isn’t exactly easy,’ said our Lord. Saint Peter stood there a little longer, and when he noticed how easy it was to lay out one landscape after another, he too wanted to try his hand at it. ‘Perhaps you need to rest yourself a little,’ said Saint Peter, ‘I could attend to the work in the meantime for you.’ But this our Lord did not wish. ‘I do not know if you are so much at home in this art that I can trust you to take hold where I leave off,’ he answered. Then Saint Peter was angry, and said that he believed he could create just as fine countries as our Lord himself.

“It happened that our Lord was just then creating Småland. It wasn’t even half-ready but it looked as though it would be an indescribably pretty and fertile land. It was difficult for our Lord to say no to Saint Peter, and aside from this, he thought very likely that a thing so well begun no one could spoil. Therefore he said: ‘If you like, we will prove which one of us two understands this sort of work the better. You, who are only a novice, shall go on with this which I have begun, and I will create a new land.’ To this Saint Peter agreed at once; and so they went to work⁠—each one in his place.

“Our Lord moved southward a bit, and there he undertook to create Skåne. It wasn’t long before he was through with it, and soon he asked if Saint Peter had finished, and would come and look at his work. ‘I had mine ready long ago,’ said Saint Peter; and from the sound of his voice it could be heard how pleased he was with what he had accomplished.

“When Saint Peter saw Skåne, he had to acknowledge that there was nothing but good to be said of that land. It was a fertile land and easy to cultivate, with wide plains wherever one looked, and hardly a sign of hills. It was evident that our Lord had really contemplated making it such that people should feel at home there. ‘Yes, this is a good country,’ said Saint Peter, ‘but I think that mine is better.’ ‘Then we’ll take a look at it,’ said our Lord.

“The land was already finished in the north and east when Saint Peter began the work, but the southern and western parts; and the whole interior, he had created all by himself. Now when our Lord came up there, where Saint Peter had been at work, he was so horrified that he stopped short and exclaimed: ‘What on earth have you been doing with this land, Saint Peter?’

“Saint Peter, too, stood and looked around⁠—perfectly astonished. He had had the idea that nothing could be so good for a land as a great deal of warmth. Therefore he had gathered together an enormous mass of stones and mountains, and erected a highland, and this he had done so that it should be near the sun, and receive much help from the sun’s heat. Over the stone-heaps he had spread a thin layer of soil, and then he had thought that everything was well arranged.

“But while he was down in Skåne, a couple of heavy showers had come up, and more was not needed to show what his work amounted to. When our Lord came to inspect the land, all the soil had been washed away, and the naked mountain foundation shone forth all over. Where it was about the best, lay clay and heavy gravel over the rocks, but it looked so poor that it was easy to understand that hardly anything except spruce and juniper and moss and heather could grow there. But what there was plenty of was water. It had filled up all the clefts in the mountain; and lakes and rivers and brooks; these one saw everywhere, to say nothing of swamps and morasses, which spread over large tracts. And the most exasperating thing of all was, that while some tracts had too much water, it was so scarce in others, that whole fields lay like dry moors, where sand and earth whirled up in clouds with the least little breeze.

“ ‘What can have been your meaning in creating such a land as this?’ said our Lord. Saint Peter made excuses, and declared he had wished to build up a land so high that it should have plenty of warmth from the sun. ‘But then you will also get much of the night chill,’ said our Lord, ‘for that too comes from heaven. I am very much afraid the little that can grow here will freeze.’

“This, to be sure, Saint Peter hadn’t thought about.

“ ‘Yes, here it will be a poor and frost-bound land,’ said our Lord, ‘it can’t be helped.’ ”

When little Mats had gotten this far in his story, Osa, the goose-girl, protested: “I cannot bear, little Mats, to hear you say that it is so miserable in Småland,” said she. “You forget entirely how much good soil there is there. Only think of Möre district, by Kalmar Sound! I wonder where you’ll find a richer grain region. There are fields upon fields, just like here in Skåne. The soil is so good that I cannot imagine anything that couldn’t grow there.”

“I can’t help that,” said little Mats. “I’m only relating what others have said before.”

“And I have heard many say that there is not a more beautiful coast land than Tjust. Think of the bays and islets, and the manors, and the groves!” said Osa.

“Yes, that’s true enough,” little Mats admitted.

“And don’t you remember,” continued Osa, “the school teacher said that such a lively and picturesque district as that bit of Småland which lies south of Lake Vettern is not to be found in all Sweden? Think of the beautiful sea and the yellow coast-mountains, and of Grenna and Jönköping, with its match factory, and think of Huskvarna, and all the big establishments there!”

“Yes, that’s true enough,” said little Mats once again.

“And think of Visingsö, little Mats, with the ruins and the oak forests and the legends! Think of the valley through which Emån flows, with all the villages and flour-mills and sawmills, and the carpenter shops!”

“Yes, that is true enough,” said little Mats, and looked troubled.

All of a sudden he had looked up. “Now we are pretty stupid,” said he. “All this, of course, lies in our Lord’s Småland, in that part of the land which was already finished when Saint Peter undertook the job. It’s only natural that it should be pretty and fine there. But in Saint Peter’s Småland it looks as it says in the legend. And it wasn’t surprising that our Lord was distressed when he saw it,” continued little Mats, as he took up the thread of his story again. “Saint Peter didn’t lose his courage, at all events, but tried to comfort our Lord. ‘Don’t be so grieved over this!’ said he. ‘Only wait until I have created people who can till the swamps and break up fields from the stone hills.’

“That was the end of our Lord’s patience⁠—and he said: ‘No! you can go down to Skåne and make the Skåninge, but the Smålander I will create myself.’ And so our Lord created the Smålander, and made him quick-witted and contented and happy and thrifty and enterprising and capable, that he might be able to get his livelihood in his poor country.”

Then little Mats was silent; and if Nils Holgersson had also kept still, all would have gone well; but he couldn’t possibly refrain from asking how Saint Peter had succeeded in creating the Skåninge.

“Well, what do you think yourself?” said little Mats, and looked so scornful that Nils Holgersson threw himself upon him, to thrash him. But Mats was only a little tot, and Osa, the goose-girl, who was a year older than he, ran forward instantly to help him. Good-natured though she was, she sprang like a lion as soon as anyone touched her brother. And Nils Holgersson did not care to fight a girl, but turned his back, and didn’t look at those Småland children for the rest of the day.