The Story of Karr and Grayskin


About twelve years before Nils Holgersson started on his travels with the wild geese there was a manufacturer at Kolmården who wanted to be rid of one of his dogs. He sent for his gamekeeper and said to him that it was impossible to keep the dog because he could not be broken of the habit of chasing all the sheep and fowl he set eyes on, and he asked the man to take the dog into the forest and shoot him.

The gamekeeper slipped the leash on the dog to lead him to a spot in the forest where all the superannuated dogs from the manor were shot and buried. He was not a cruel man, but he was very glad to shoot that dog, for he knew that sheep and chickens were not the only creatures he hunted. Times without number he had gone into the forest and helped himself to a hare or a grouse-chick.

The dog was a little black-and-tan setter. His name was Karr, and he was so wise he understood all that was said.

As the gamekeeper was leading him through the thickets, Karr knew only too well what was in store for him. But this no one could have guessed by his behaviour, for he neither hung his head nor dragged his tail, but seemed as unconcerned as ever.

It was because they were in the forest that the dog was so careful not to appear the least bit anxious.

There were great stretches of woodland on every side of the factory, and this forest was famed both among animals and human beings because for many, many years the owners had been so careful of it that they had begrudged themselves even the trees needed for firewood. Nor had they had the heart to thin or train them. The trees had been allowed to grow as they pleased. Naturally a forest thus protected was a beloved refuge for wild animals, which were to be found there in great numbers. Among themselves they called it Liberty Forest, and regarded it as the best retreat in the whole country.

As the dog was being led through the woods he thought of what a bugaboo he had been to all the small animals and birds that lived there.

“Now, Karr, wouldn’t they be happy in their lairs if they only knew what was awaiting you?” he thought, but at the same time he wagged his tail and barked cheerfully, so that no one should think that he was worried or depressed.

“What fun would there have been in living had I not hunted occasionally?” he reasoned. “Let him who will, regret; it’s not going to be Karr!”

But the instant the dog said this, a singular change came over him. He stretched his neck as though he had a mind to howl. He no longer trotted alongside the gamekeeper, but walked behind him. It was plain that he had begun to think of something unpleasant.

It was early summer; the elk cows had just given birth to their young, and, the night before, the dog had succeeded in parting from its mother an elk calf not more than five days old, and had driven it down into the marsh. There he had chased it back and forth over the knolls⁠—not with the idea of capturing it, but merely for the sport of seeing how he could scare it. The elk cow knew that the marsh was bottomless so soon after the thaw, and that it could not as yet hold up so large an animal as herself, so she stood on the solid earth for the longest time, watching! But when Karr kept chasing the calf farther and farther away, she rushed out on the marsh, drove the dog off, took the calf with her, and turned back toward firm land. Elk are more skilled than other animals in traversing dangerous, marshy ground, and it seemed as if she would reach solid land in safety; but when she was almost there a knoll which she had stepped upon sank into the mire, and she went down with it. She tried to rise, but could get no secure foothold, so she sank and sank. Karr stood and looked on, not daring to move. When he saw that the elk could not save herself, he ran away as fast as he could, for he had begun to think of the beating he would get if it were discovered that he had brought a mother elk to grief. He was so terrified that he dared not pause for breath until he reached home.

It was this that the dog recalled; and it troubled him in a way very different from the recollection of all his other misdeeds. This was doubtless because he had not really meant to kill either the elk cow or her calf, but had deprived them of life without wishing to do so.

“But maybe they are alive yet!” thought the dog. “They were not dead when I ran away; perhaps they saved themselves.”

He was seized with an irresistible longing to know for a certainty while yet there was time for him to find out. He noticed that the gamekeeper did not have a firm hold on the leash; so he made a sudden spring, broke loose, and dashed through the woods down to the marsh with such speed that he was out of sight before the gamekeeper had time to level his gun.

There was nothing for the gamekeeper to do but to rush after him. When he got to the marsh he found the dog standing upon a knoll, howling with all his might.

The man thought he had better find out the meaning of this, so he dropped his gun and crawled out over the marsh on hands and knees. He had not gone far when he saw an elk cow lying dead in the quagmire. Close beside her lay a little calf. It was still alive, but so much exhausted that it could not move. Karr was standing beside the calf, now bending down and licking it, now howling shrilly for help.

The gamekeeper raised the calf and began to drag it toward land. When the dog understood that the calf would be saved he was wild with joy. He jumped round and round the gamekeeper, licking his hands and barking with delight.

The man carried the baby elk home and shut it up in a calf stall in the cow shed. Then he got help to drag the mother elk from the marsh. Only after this had been done did he remember that he was to shoot Karr. He called the dog to him, and again took him into the forest.

The gamekeeper walked straight on toward the dog’s grave; but all the while he seemed to be thinking deeply. Suddenly he turned and walked toward the manor.

Karr had been trotting along quietly; but when the gamekeeper turned and started for home, he became anxious. The man must have discovered that it was he that had caused the death of the elk, and now he was going back to the manor to be thrashed before he was shot!

To be beaten was worse than all else! With that prospect Karr could no longer keep up his spirits, but hung his head. When he came to the manor he did not look up, but pretended that he knew no one there.

The master was standing on the stairs leading to the hall when the gamekeeper came forward.

“Where on earth did that dog come from?” he exclaimed. “Surely it can’t be Karr? He must be dead this long time!”

Then the man began to tell his master all about the mother elk, while Karr made himself as little as he could, and crouched behind the gamekeeper’s legs.

Much to his surprise the man had only praise for him. He said it was plain the dog knew that the elk were in distress, and wished to save them.

“You may do as you like, but I can’t shoot that dog!” declared the gamekeeper.

Karr raised himself and pricked up his ears. He could hardly believe that he heard aright. Although he did not want to show how anxious he had been, he couldn’t help whining a little. Could it be possible that his life was to be spared simply because he had felt uneasy about the elk?

The master thought that Karr had conducted himself well, but as he did not want the dog, he could not decide at once what should be done with him.

“If you will take charge of him and answer for his good behaviour in the future, he may as well live,” he said, finally.

This the gamekeeper was only too glad to do, and that was how Karr came to move to the gamekeeper’s lodge.

Grayskin’s Flight

From the day that Karr went to live with the gamekeeper he abandoned entirely his forbidden chase in the forest. This was due not only to his having been thoroughly frightened, but also to the fact that he did not wish to make the gamekeeper angry at him. Ever since his new master saved his life the dog loved him above everything else. He thought only of following him and watching over him. If he left the house, Karr would run ahead to make sure that the way was clear, and if he sat at home, Karr would lie before the door and keep a close watch on everyone who came and went.

When all was quiet at the lodge, when no footsteps were heard on the road, and the gamekeeper was working in his garden, Karr would amuse himself playing with the baby elk.

At first the dog had no desire to leave his master even for a moment. Since he accompanied him everywhere, he went with him to the cow shed. When he gave the elk calf its milk, the dog would sit outside the stall and gaze at it. The gamekeeper called the calf Grayskin because he thought it did not merit a prettier name, and Karr agreed with him on that point.

Every time the dog looked at it he thought that he had never seen anything so ugly and misshapen as the baby elk, with its long, shambly legs, which hung down from the body like loose stilts. The head was large, old, and wrinkled, and it always drooped to one side. The skin lay in tucks and folds, as if the animal had put on a coat that had not been made for him. Always doleful and discontented, curiously enough he jumped up every time Karr appeared as if glad to see him.

The elk calf became less hopeful from day to day, did not grow any, and at last he could not even rise when he saw Karr. Then the dog jumped up into the crib to greet him, and thereupon a light kindled in the eyes of the poor creature⁠—as if a cherished longing were fulfilled.

After that Karr visited the elk calf every day, and spent many hours with him, licking his coat, playing and racing with him, till he taught him a little of everything a forest animal should know.

It was remarkable that, from the time Karr began to visit the elk calf in his stall, the latter seemed more contented, and began to grow. After he was fairly started, he grew so rapidly that in a couple of weeks the stall could no longer hold him, and he had to be moved into a grove.

When he had been in the grove two months his legs were so long that he could step over the fence whenever he wished. Then the lord of the manor gave the gamekeeper permission to put up a higher fence and to allow him more space. Here the elk lived for several years, and grew up into a strong and handsome animal. Karr kept him company as often as he could; but now it was no longer through pity, for a great friendship had sprung up between the two. The elk was always inclined to be melancholy, listless, and, indifferent, but Karr knew how to make him playful and happy.

Grayskin had lived for five summers on the gamekeeper’s place, when his owner received a letter from a zoölogical garden abroad asking if the elk might be purchased.

The master was pleased with the proposal, the gamekeeper was distressed, but had not the power to say no; so it was decided that the elk should be sold. Karr soon discovered what was in the air and ran over to the elk to have a chat with him. The dog was very much distressed at the thought of losing his friend, but the elk took the matter calmly, and seemed neither glad nor sorry.

“Do you think of letting them send you away without offering resistance?” asked Karr.

“What good would it do to resist?” asked Grayskin. “I should prefer to remain where I am, naturally, but if I’ve been sold, I shall have to go, of course.”

Karr looked at Grayskin and measured him with his eyes. It was apparent that the elk was not yet full grown. He did not have the broad antlers, high hump, and long mane of the mature elk; but he certainly had strength enough to fight for his freedom.

“One can see that he has been in captivity all his life,” thought Karr, but said nothing.

Karr left and did not return to the grove till long past midnight. By that time he knew Grayskin would be awake and eating his breakfast.

“Of course you are doing right, Grayskin, in letting them take you away,” remarked Karr, who appeared now to be calm and satisfied. “You will be a prisoner in a large park and will have no responsibilities. It seems a pity that you must leave here without having seen the forest. You know your ancestors have a saying that ‘the elk are one with the forest.’ But you haven’t even been in a forest!”

Grayskin glanced up from the clover which he stood munching.

“Indeed, I should love to see the forest, but how am I to get over the fence?” he said with his usual apathy.

“Oh, that is difficult for one who has such short legs!” said Karr.

The elk glanced slyly at the dog, who jumped the fence many times a day⁠—little as he was.

He walked over to the fence, and with one spring he was on the other side, without knowing how it happened.

Then Karr and Grayskin went into the forest. It was a beautiful moonlight night in late summer; but in among the trees it was dark, and the elk walked along slowly.

“Perhaps we had better turn back,” said Karr. “You, who have never before tramped the wild forest, might easily break your legs.” Grayskin moved more rapidly and with more courage.

Karr conducted the elk to a part of the forest where the pines grew so thickly that no wind could penetrate them.

“It is here that your kind are in the habit of seeking shelter from cold and storm,” said Karr. “Here they stand under the open skies all winter. But you will fare much better where you are going, for you will stand in a shed, with a roof over your head, like an ox.”

Grayskin made no comment, but stood quietly and drank in the strong, piney air.

“Have you anything more to show me, or have I now seen the whole forest?” he asked.

Then Karr went with him to a big marsh, and showed him clods and quagmire.

“Over this marsh the elk take flight when they are in peril,” said Karr. “I don’t know how they manage it, but, large and heavy as they are, they can walk here without sinking. Of course you couldn’t hold yourself up on such dangerous ground, but then there is no occasion for you to do so, for you will never be hounded by hunters.”

Grayskin made no retort, but with a leap he was out on the marsh, and happy when he felt how the clods rocked under him. He dashed across the marsh, and came back again to Karr, without having stepped into a mudhole.

“Have we seen the whole forest now?” he asked.

“No, not yet,” said Karr.

He next conducted the elk to the skirt of the forest, where fine oaks, lindens, and aspens grew.

“Here your kind eat leaves and bark, which they consider the choicest of food; but you will probably get better fare abroad.”

Grayskin was astonished when he saw the enormous leaf-trees spreading like a great canopy above him. He ate both oak leaves and aspen bark.

“These taste deliciously bitter and good!” he remarked. “Better than clover!”

“Then wasn’t it well that you should taste them once?” said the dog.

Thereupon he took the elk down to a little forest lake. The water was as smooth as a mirror, and reflected the shores, which were veiled in thin, light mists. When Grayskin saw the lake he stood entranced.

“What is this, Karr?” he asked.

It was the first time that he had seen a lake.

“It’s a large body of water⁠—a lake,” said Karr. “Your people swim across it from shore to shore. One could hardly expect you to be familiar with this; but at least you should go in and take a swim!”

Karr, himself, plunged into the water for a swim. Grayskin stayed back on the shore for some little time, but finally followed. He grew breathless with delight as the cool water stole soothingly around his body. He wanted it over his back, too, so went farther out. Then he felt that the water could hold him up, and began to swim. He swam all around Karr, ducking and snorting, perfectly at home in the water.

When they were on shore again, the dog asked if they had not better go home now.

“It’s a long time until morning,” observed Grayskin, “so we can tramp around in the forest a little longer.”

They went again into the pine wood. Presently they came to an open glade illuminated by the moonlight, where grass and flowers shimmered beneath the dew. Some large animals were grazing on this forest meadow⁠—an elk bull, several elk cows and a number of elk calves. When Grayskin caught sight of them he stopped short. He hardly glanced at the cows or the young ones, but stared at the old bull, which had broad antlers with many taglets, a high hump, and a long-haired fur piece hanging down from his throat.

“What kind of an animal is that?” asked Grayskin in wonderment.

“He is called Antler-Crown,” said Karr, “and he is your kinsman. One of these days you, too, will have broad antlers, like those, and just such a mane; and if you were to remain in the forest, very likely you, also, would have a herd to lead.”

“If he is my kinsman, I must go closer and have a look at him,” said Grayskin. “I never dreamed that an animal could be so stately!”

Grayskin walked over to the elk, but almost immediately he came back to Karr, who had remained at the edge of the clearing.

“You were not very well received, were you?” said Karr.

“I told him that this was the first time I had run across any of my kinsmen, and asked if I might walk with them on their meadow. But they drove me back, threatening me with their antlers.”

“You did right to retreat,” said Karr. “A young elk bull with only a taglet crown must be careful about fighting with an old elk. Another would have disgraced his name in the whole forest by retreating without resistance, but such things needn’t worry you who are going to move to a foreign land.”

Karr had barely finished speaking when Grayskin turned and walked down to the meadow. The old elk came toward him, and instantly they began to fight. Their antlers met and clashed, and Grayskin was driven backward over the whole meadow. Apparently he did not know how to make use of his strength; but when he came to the edge of the forest, he planted his feet on the ground, pushed hard with his antlers, and began to force Antler-Crown back.

Grayskin fought quietly, while Antler-Crown puffed and snorted. The old elk, in his turn, was now being forced backward over the meadow. Suddenly a loud crash was heard! A taglet in the old elk’s antlers had snapped. He tore himself loose, and dashed into the forest.

Karr was still standing at the forest border when Grayskin came along.

“Now that you have seen what there is in the forest,” said Karr, “will you come home with me?”

“Yes, it’s about time,” observed the elk.

Both were silent on the way home. Karr sighed several times, as if he was disappointed about something; but Grayskin stepped along⁠—his head in the air⁠—and seemed delighted over the adventure. He walked ahead unhesitatingly until they came to the enclosure. There he paused. He looked in at the narrow pen where he had lived up till now; saw the beaten ground, the stale fodder, the little trough where he had drunk water, and the dark shed in which he had slept.

“The elk are one with the forest!” he cried. Then he threw back his head, so that his neck rested against his back, and rushed wildly into the woods.

Helpless, the Water-Snake

In a pine thicket in the heart of Liberty Forest, every year, in the month of August, there appeared a few grayish-white moths of the kind which are called nun moths. They were small and few in number, and scarcely anyone noticed them. When they had fluttered about in the depth of the forest a couple of nights, they laid a few thousand eggs on the branches of trees; and shortly afterward dropped lifeless to the ground.

When spring came, little prickly caterpillars crawled out from the eggs and began to eat the pine needles. They had good appetites, but they never seemed to do the trees any serious harm, because they were hotly pursued by birds. It was seldom that more than a few hundred caterpillars escaped the pursuers.

The poor things that lived to be full grown crawled up on the branches, spun white webs around themselves, and sat for a couple of weeks as motionless pupae. During this period, as a rule, more than half of them were abducted. If a hundred nun moths came forth in August, winged and perfect, it was reckoned a good year for them.

This sort of uncertain and obscure existence did the moths lead for many years in Liberty Forest. There were no insect folk in the whole country that were so scarce, and they would have remained quite harmless and powerless had they not, most unexpectedly, received a helper.

This fact has some connection with Grayskin’s flight from the gamekeeper’s paddock. Grayskin roamed the forest that he might become more familiar with the place. Late in the afternoon he happened to squeeze through some thickets behind a clearing where the soil was muddy and slimy, and in the centre of it was a murky pool. This open space was encircled by tall pines almost bare from age and miasmic air. Grayskin was displeased with the place and would have left it at once had he not caught sight of some bright green calla leaves which grew near the pool.

As he bent his head toward the calla stalks, he happened to disturb a big black snake, which lay sleeping under them. Grayskin had heard Karr speak of the poisonous adders that were to be found in the forest. So, when the snake raised its head, shot out its tongue and hissed at him, he thought he had encountered an awfully dangerous reptile. He was terrified and, raising his foot, he struck so hard with his hoof that he crushed the snake’s head. Then, away he ran in hot haste!

As soon as Grayskin had gone, another snake, just as long and as black as the first, came up from the pool. It crawled over to the dead one, and licked the poor, crushed-in head.

“Can it be true that you are dead, old Harmless?” hissed the snake. “We two have lived together so many years; we two have been so happy with each other, and have fared so well here in the swamp, that we have lived to be older than all the other water-snakes in the forest! This is the worst sorrow that could have befallen me!”

The snake was so brokenhearted that his long body writhed as if it had been wounded. Even the frogs, who lived in constant fear of him, were sorry for him.

“What a wicked creature he must be to murder a poor water-snake that cannot defend itself!” hissed the snake. “He certainly deserves a severe punishment. As sure as my name is Helpless and I’m the oldest water-snake in the whole forest, I’ll be avenged! I shall not rest until that elk lies as dead on the ground as my poor old snake-wife.”

When the snake had made this vow he curled up into a hoop and began to ponder. One can hardly imagine anything that would be more difficult for a poor water-snake than to wreak vengeance upon a big, strong elk; and old Helpless pondered day and night without finding any solution.

One night, as he lay there with his vengeance-thoughts, he heard a slight rustle over his head. He glanced up and saw a few light nun moths playing in among the trees.

He followed them with his eyes a long while; then began to hiss loudly to himself, apparently pleased with the thought that had occurred to him⁠—then he fell asleep.

The next morning the water-snake went over to see Crawlie, the adder, who lived in a stony and hilly part of Liberty Forest. He told him all about the death of the old water-snake, and begged that he who could deal such deadly thrusts would undertake the work of vengeance. But Crawlie was not exactly disposed to go to war with an elk.

“If I were to attack an elk,” said the adder, “he would instantly kill me. Old Harmless is dead and gone, and we can’t bring her back to life, so why should I rush into danger on her account?”

When the water-snake got this reply he raised his head a whole foot from the ground, and hissed furiously:

“Vish vash! Vish vash!” he said. “It’s a pity that you, who have been blessed with such weapons of defence, should be so cowardly that you don’t dare use them!”

When the adder heard this, he, too, got angry.

“Crawl away, old Helpless!” he hissed. “The poison is in my fangs, but I would rather spare one who is said to be my kinsman.”

But the water-snake did not move from the spot, and for a long time the snakes lay there hissing abusive epithets at each other.

When Crawlie was so angry that he couldn’t hiss, but could only dart his tongue out, the water-snake changed the subject, and began to talk in a very different tone.

“I had still another errand, Crawlie,” he said, lowering his voice to a mild whisper. “But now I suppose you are so angry that you wouldn’t care to help me?”

“If you don’t ask anything foolish of me, I shall certainly be at your service.”

“In the pine trees down by the swamp live a moth folk that fly around all night.”

“I know all about them,” remarked Crawlie. “What’s up with them now?”

“They are the smallest insect family in the forest,” said Helpless, “and the most harmless, since the caterpillars content themselves with gnawing only pine needles.”

“Yes, I know,” said Crawlie.

“I’m afraid those moths will soon be exterminated,” sighed the water-snake. “There are so many who pick off the caterpillars in the spring.”

Now Crawlie began to understand that the water-snake wanted the caterpillars for his own purpose, and he answered pleasantly:

“Do you wish me to say to the owls that they are to leave those pine tree worms in peace?”

“Yes, it would be well if you who have some authority in the forest should do this,” said Helpless.

“I might also drop a good word for the pine needle pickers among the thrushes?” volunteered the adder. “I will gladly serve you when you do not demand anything unreasonable.”

“Now you have given me a good promise, Crawlie,” said Helpless, “and I’m glad that I came to you.”

The Nun Moths

One morning⁠—several years later⁠—Karr lay asleep on the porch. It was in the early summer, the season of light nights, and it was as bright as day, although the sun was not yet up. Karr was awakened by someone calling his name.

“Is it you, Grayskin?” he asked, for he was accustomed to the elk’s nightly visits. Again he heard the call; then he recognized Grayskin’s voice, and hastened in the direction of the sound.

Karr heard the elk’s footfalls in the distance, as he dashed into the thickest pine wood, and straight through the brush, following no trodden path. Karr could not catch up with him, and he had great difficulty in even following the trail. “Karr, Karr!” came the cry, and the voice was certainly Grayskin’s, although it had a ring now which the dog had never heard before.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” the dog responded. “Where are you?”

“Karr, Karr! Don’t you see how it falls and falls?” said Grayskin.

Then Karr noticed that the pine needles kept dropping and dropping from the trees, like a steady fall of rain.

“Yes, I see how it falls,” he cried, and ran far into the forest in search of the elk.

Grayskin kept running through the thickets, while Karr was about to lose the trail again.

“Karr, Karr!” roared Grayskin; “can’t you scent that peculiar odour in the forest?”

Karr stopped and sniffed.

He had not thought of it before, but now he remarked that the pines sent forth a much stronger odour than usual.

“Yes, I catch the scent,” he said. He did not stop long enough to find out the cause of it, but hurried on after Grayskin.

The elk ran ahead with such speed that the dog could not catch up with him.

“Karr, Karr!” he called; “can’t you hear the crunching on the pines?” Now his tone was so plaintive it would have melted a stone.

Karr paused to listen. He heard a faint but distinct “tap, tap,” on the trees. It sounded like the ticking of a watch.

“Yes, I hear how it ticks,” cried Karr, and ran no farther. He understood that the elk did not want him to follow, but to take notice of something that was happening in the forest.

Karr was standing beneath the drooping branches of a great pine. He looked carefully at it; the needles moved. He went closer and saw a mass of grayish-white caterpillars creeping along the branches, gnawing off the needles. Every branch was covered with them. The crunch, crunch in the trees came from the working of their busy little jaws. Gnawed-off needles fell to the ground in a continuous shower, and from the poor pines there came such a strong odour that the dog suffered from it.

“What can be the meaning of this?” wondered Karr. “It’s too bad about the pretty trees! Soon they’ll have no beauty left.”

He walked from tree to tree, trying with his poor eyesight to see if all was well with them.

“There’s a pine they haven’t touched,” he thought. But they had taken possession of it, too. “And here’s a birch⁠—no, this also! The gamekeeper will not be pleased with this,” observed Karr.

He ran deeper into the thickets, to learn how far the destruction had spread. Wherever he went, he heard the same ticking; scented the same odour; saw the same needle rain. There was no need of his pausing to investigate. He understood it all by these signs. The little caterpillars were everywhere. The whole forest was being ravaged by them!

All of a sudden he came to a tract where there was no odour, and where all was still.

“Here’s the end of their domain,” thought the dog, as he paused and glanced about.

But here it was even worse; for the caterpillars had already done their work, and the trees were needleless. They were like the dead. The only thing that covered them was a network of ragged threads, which the caterpillars had spun to use as roads and bridges.

In there, among the dying trees, Grayskin stood waiting for Karr.

He was not alone. With him were four old elk⁠—the most respected in the forest. Karr knew them: They were Crooked-Back, who was a small elk, but had a larger hump than the others; Antler-Crown, who was the most dignified of the elk; Rough-Mane, with the thick coat; and an old long-legged one, who, up till the autumn before, when he got a bullet in his thigh, had been terribly hot-tempered and quarrelsome.

“What in the world is happening to the forest?” Karr asked when he came up to the elk. They stood with lowered heads, far protruding upper lips, and looked puzzled.

“No one can tell,” answered Grayskin. “This insect family used to be the least hurtful of any in the forest, and never before have they done any damage. But these last few years they have been multiplying so fast that now it appears as if the entire forest would be destroyed.”

“Yes, it looks bad,” Karr agreed, “but I see that the wisest animals in the forest have come together to hold a consultation. Perhaps you have already found some remedy?”

When the dog said this, Crooked-Back solemnly raised his heavy head, pricked up his long ears, and spoke:

“We have summoned you hither, Karr, that we may learn if the humans know of this desolation.”

“No,” said Karr, “no human being ever comes thus far into the forest when it’s not hunting time. They know nothing of this misfortune.”

Then Antler-Crown said:

“We who have lived long in the forest do not think that we can fight this insect pest all by ourselves.”

“After this there will be no peace in the forest!” put in Rough-Mane.

“But we can’t let the whole Liberty Forest go to rack and ruin!” protested Big-and-Strong. “We’ll have to consult the humans; there is no alternative.”

Karr understood that the elk had difficulty in expressing what they wished to say, and he tried to help them.

“Perhaps you want me to let the people know the conditions here?” he suggested.

All the old elk nodded their heads.

“It’s most unfortunate that we are obliged to ask help of human beings, but we have no choice.”

A moment later Karr was on his way home. As he ran ahead, deeply distressed over all that he had heard and seen, a big black water-snake approached them.

“Well met in the forest!” hissed the water-snake.

“Well met again!” snarled Karr, and rushed by without stopping.

The snake turned and tried to catch up to him.

“Perhaps that creature also, is worried about the forest,” thought Karr, and waited.

Immediately the snake began to talk about the great disaster.

“There will be an end of peace and quiet in the forest when human beings are called hither,” said the snake.

“I’m afraid there will,” the dog agreed; “but the oldest forest dwellers know what they’re about!” he added.

“I think I know a better plan,” said the snake, “if I can get the reward I wish.”

“Are you not the one whom everyone around here calls old Helpless?” said the dog, sneeringly.

“I’m an old inhabitant of the forest,” said the snake, “and I know how to get rid of such plagues.”

“If you clear the forest of that pest, I feel sure you can have anything you ask for,” said Karr.

The snake did not respond to this until he had crawled under a tree stump, where he was well protected. Then he said:

“Tell Grayskin that if he will leave Liberty Forest forever, and go far north, where no oak tree grows, I will send sickness and death to all the creeping things that gnaw the pines and spruces!”

“What’s that you say?” asked Karr, bristling up. “What harm has Grayskin ever done you?”

“He has slain the one whom I loved best,” the snake declared, “and I want to be avenged.”

Before the snake had finished speaking, Karr made a dash for him; but the reptile lay safely hidden under the tree stump.

“Stay where you are!” Karr concluded. “We’ll manage to drive out the caterpillars without your help.”

The Big War of the Moths

The following spring, as Karr was dashing through the forest one morning, he heard someone behind him calling: “Karr! Karr!”

He turned and saw an old fox standing outside his lair.

“You must tell me if the humans are doing anything for the forest,” said the fox.

“Yes, you may be sure they are!” said Karr. “They are working as hard as they can.”

“They have killed off all my kinsfolk, and they’ll be killing me next,” protested the fox. “But they shall be pardoned for that if only they save the forest.”

That year Karr never ran into the woods without some animal’s asking if the humans could save the forest. It was not easy for the dog to answer; the people themselves were not certain that they could conquer the moths. But considering how feared and hated old Kolmården had always been, it was remarkable that every day more than a hundred men went there, to work. They cleared away the underbrush. They felled dead trees, lopped off branches from the live ones so that the caterpillars could not easily crawl from tree to tree; they also dug wide trenches around the ravaged parts and put up lime-washed fences to keep them out of new territory. Then they painted rings of lime around the trunks of trees to prevent the caterpillars leaving those they had already stripped. The idea was to force them to remain where they were until they starved to death.

The people worked with the forest until far into the spring. They were hopeful, and could hardly wait for the caterpillars to come out from their eggs, feeling certain that they had shut them in so effectually that most of them would die of starvation.

But in the early summer the caterpillars came out, more numerous than ever.

They were everywhere! They crawled on the country roads, on fences, on the walls of the cabins. They wandered outside the confines of Liberty Forest to other parts of Kolmården.

“They won’t stop till all our forests are destroyed!” sighed the people, who were in great despair, and could not enter the forest without weeping.

Karr was so sick of the sight of all these creeping, gnawing things that he could hardly bear to step outside the door. But one day he felt that he must go and find out how Grayskin was getting on. He took the shortest cut to the elk’s haunts, and hurried along⁠—his nose close to the earth. When he came to the tree stump where he had met Helpless the year before, the snake was still there, and called to him:

“Have you told Grayskin what I said to you when last we met?” asked the water-snake.

Karr only growled and tried to get at him.

“If you haven’t told him, by all means do so!” insisted the snake. “You must see that the humans know of no cure for this plague.”

“Neither do you!” retorted the dog, and ran on.

Karr found Grayskin, but the elk was so low-spirited that he scarcely greeted the dog. He began at once to talk of the forest.

“I don’t know what I wouldn’t give if this misery were only at an end!” he said.

“Now I shall tell you that ’tis said you could save the forest.” Then Karr delivered the water-snake’s message.

“If anyone but Helpless had promised this, I should immediately go into exile,” declared the elk. “But how can a poor water-snake have the power to work such a miracle?”

“Of course it’s only a bluff,” said Karr. “Water-snakes always like to pretend that they know more than other creatures.”

When Karr was ready to go home, Grayskin accompanied him part of the way. Presently Karr heard a thrush, perched on a pine top, cry:

“There goes Grayskin, who has destroyed the forest! There goes Grayskin, who has destroyed the forest!”

Karr thought that he had not heard correctly, but the next moment a hare came darting across the path. When the hare saw them, he stopped, flapped his ears, and screamed:

“Here comes Grayskin, who has destroyed the forest!” Then he ran as fast as he could.

“What do they mean by that?” asked Karr.

“I really don’t know,” said Grayskin. “I think that the small forest animals are displeased with me because I was the one who proposed that we should ask help of human beings. When the underbrush was cut down, all their lairs and hiding places were destroyed.”

They walked on together a while longer, and Karr heard the same cry coming from all directions:

“There goes Grayskin, who has destroyed the forest!”

Grayskin pretended not to hear it; but Karr understood why the elk was so downhearted.

“I say, Grayskin, what does the water-snake mean by saying you killed the one he loved best?”

“How can I tell?” said Grayskin. “You know very well that I never kill anything.”

Shortly after that they met the four old elk⁠—Crooked-Back, Antler-Crown, Rough-Mane, and Big-and-Strong, who were coming along slowly, one after the other.

“Well met in the forest!” called Grayskin.

“Well met in turn!” answered the elk.

“We were just looking for you, Grayskin, to consult with you about the forest.”

“The fact is,” began Crooked-Back, “we have been informed that a crime has been committed here, and that the whole forest is being destroyed because the criminal has not been punished.”

“What kind of a crime was it?”

“Someone killed a harmless creature that he couldn’t eat. Such an act is accounted a crime in Liberty Forest.”

“Who could have done such a cowardly thing?” wondered Grayskin.

“They say that an elk did it, and we were just going to ask if you knew who it was.”

“No,” said Grayskin, “I have never heard of an elk killing a harmless creature.”

Grayskin parted from the four old elk, and went on with Karr. He was silent and walked with lowered head. They happened to pass Crawlie, the adder, who lay on his shelf of rock.

“There goes Grayskin, who has destroyed the whole forest!” hissed Crawlie, like all the rest.

By that time Grayskin’s patience was exhausted. He walked up to the snake, and raised a forefoot.

“Do you think of crushing me as you crushed the old water-snake?” hissed Crawlie.

“Did I kill a water-snake?” asked Grayskin, astonished.

“The first day you were in the forest you killed the wife of poor old Helpless,” said Crawlie.

Grayskin turned quickly from the adder, and continued his walk with Karr. Suddenly he stopped.

“Karr, it was I who committed that crime! I killed a harmless creature; therefore it is on my account that the forest is being destroyed.”

“What are you saying?” Karr interrupted.

“You may tell the water-snake, Helpless, that Grayskin goes into exile tonight!”

“That I shall never tell him!” protested Karr. “The Far North is a dangerous country for elk.”

“Do you think that I wish to remain here, when I have caused a disaster like this?” protested Grayskin.

“Don’t be rash! Sleep over it before you do anything!”

“It was you who taught me that the elk are one with the forest,” said Grayskin, and so saying he parted from Karr.

The dog went home alone; but this talk with Grayskin troubled him, and the next morning he returned to the forest to seek him, but Grayskin was not to be found, and the dog did not search long for him. He realized that the elk had taken the snake at his word, and had gone into exile.

On his walk home Karr was too unhappy for words! He could not understand why Grayskin should allow that wretch of a water-snake to trick him away. He had never heard of such folly! “What power can that old Helpless have?”

As Karr walked along, his mind full of these thoughts, he happened to see the gamekeeper, who stood pointing up at a tree.

“What are you looking at?” asked a man who stood beside him.

“Sickness has come among the caterpillars,” observed the gamekeeper.

Karr was astonished, but he was even more angered at the snake’s having the power to keep his word. Grayskin would have to stay away a long long time, for, of course, that water-snake would never die.

At the very height of his grief a thought came to Karr which comforted him a little.

“Perhaps the water-snake won’t live so long, after all!” he thought. “Surely he cannot always lie protected under a tree root. As soon as he has cleaned out the caterpillars, I know someone who is going to bite his head off!”

It was true that an illness had made its appearance among the caterpillars. The first summer it did not spread much. It had only just broken out when it was time for the larvae to turn into pupae. From the latter came millions of moths. They flew around in the trees like a blinding snowstorm, and laid countless numbers of eggs. An even greater destruction was prophesied for the following year.

The destruction came not only to the forest, but also to the caterpillars. The sickness spread quickly from forest to forest. The sick caterpillars stopped eating, crawled up to the branches of the trees, and died there.

There was great rejoicing among the people when they saw them die, but there was even greater rejoicing among the forest animals.

From day to day the dog Karr went about with savage glee, thinking of the hour when he might venture to kill Helpless.

But the caterpillars, meanwhile, had spread over miles of pine woods. Not in one summer did the disease reach them all. Many lived to become pupas and moths.

Grayskin sent messages to his friend Karr by the birds of passage, to say that he was alive and faring well. But the birds told Karr confidentially that on several occasions Grayskin had been pursued by poachers, and that only with the greatest difficulty had he escaped.

Karr lived in a state of continual grief, yearning, and anxiety. Yet he had to wait two whole summers more before there was an end of the caterpillars!

Karr no sooner heard the gamekeeper say that the forest was out of danger than he started on a hunt for Helpless. But when he was in the thick of the forest he made a frightful discovery: He could not hunt any more, he could not run, he could not track his enemy, and he could not see at all!

During the long years of waiting, old age had overtaken Karr. He had grown old without having noticed it. He had not the strength even to kill a water-snake. He was not able to save his friend Grayskin from his enemy.


One afternoon Akka from Kebnekaise and her flock alighted on the shore of a forest lake.

Spring was backward⁠—as it always is in the mountain districts. Ice covered all the lake save a narrow strip next the land. The geese at once plunged into the water to bathe and hunt for food. In the morning Nils Holgersson had dropped one of his wooden shoes, so he went down by the elms and birches that grew along the shore, to look for something to bind around his foot.

The boy walked quite a distance before he found anything that he could use. He glanced about nervously, for he did not fancy being in the forest.

“Give me the plains and the lakes!” he thought. “There you can see what you are likely to meet. Now, if this were a grove of little birches, it would be well enough, for then the ground would be almost bare; but how people can like these wild, pathless forests is incomprehensible to me. If I owned this land I would chop down every tree.”

At last he caught sight of a piece of birch bark, and just as he was fitting it to his foot he heard a rustle behind him. He turned quickly. A snake darted from the brush straight toward him!

The snake was uncommonly long and thick, but the boy soon saw that it had a white spot on each cheek.

“Why, it’s only a water-snake,” he laughed; “it can’t harm me.”

But the next instant the snake gave him a powerful blow on the chest that knocked him down. The boy was on his feet in a second and running away, but the snake was after him! The ground was stony and scrubby; the boy could not proceed very fast; and the snake was close at his heels.

Then the boy saw a big rock in front of him, and began to scale it.

“I do hope the snake can’t follow me here!” he thought, but he had no sooner reached the top of the rock than he saw that the snake was following him.

Quite close to the boy, on a narrow ledge at the top of the rock, lay a round stone as large as a man’s head. As the snake came closer, the boy ran behind the stone, and gave it a push. It rolled right down on the snake, drawing it along to the ground, where it landed on its head.

“That stone did its work well!” thought the boy with a sigh of relief, as he saw the snake squirm a little, and then lie perfectly still.

“I don’t think I’ve been in greater peril on the whole journey,” he said.

He had hardly recovered from the shock when he heard a rustle above him, and saw a bird circling through the air to light on the ground right beside the snake. The bird was like a crow in size and form, but was dressed in a pretty coat of shiny black feathers.

The boy cautiously retreated into a crevice of the rock. His adventure in being kidnapped by crows was still fresh in his memory, and he did not care to show himself when there was no need of it.

The bird strode back and forth beside the snake’s body, and turned it over with his beak. Finally he spread his wings and began to shriek in earsplitting tones:

“It is certainly Helpless, the water-snake, that lies dead here!” Once more he walked the length of the snake; then he stood in a deep study, and scratched his neck with his foot.

“It isn’t possible that there can be two such big snakes in the forest,” he pondered. “It must surely be Helpless!”

He was just going to thrust his beak into the snake, but suddenly checked himself.

“You mustn’t be a numbskull, Bataki!” he remarked to himself. “Surely you cannot be thinking of eating the snake until you have called Karr! He wouldn’t believe that Helpless was dead unless he could see it with his own eyes.”

The boy tried to keep quiet, but the bird was so ludicrously solemn, as he stalked back and forth chattering to himself, that he had to laugh.

The bird heard him, and, with a flap of his wings, he was up on the rock. The boy rose quickly and walked toward him.

“Are you not the one who is called Bataki, the raven? and are you not a friend of Akka from Kebnekaise?” asked the boy.

The bird regarded him intently; then nodded three times.

“Surely, you’re not the little chap who flies around with the wild geese, and whom they call Thumbietot?”

“Oh, you’re not so far out of the way,” said the boy.

“What luck that I should have run across you! Perhaps you can tell me who killed this water-snake?”

“The stone which I rolled down on him killed him,” replied the boy, and related how the whole thing happened.

“That was cleverly done for one who is as tiny as you are!” said the raven. “I have a friend in these parts who will be glad to know that this snake has been killed, and I should like to render you a service in return.”

“Then tell me why you are glad the water-snake is dead,” responded the boy.

“It’s a long story,” said the raven; “you wouldn’t have the patience to listen to it.”

But the boy insisted that he had, and then the raven told him the whole story about Karr and Grayskin and Helpless, the water-snake. When he had finished, the boy sat quietly for a moment, looking straight ahead. Then he spoke:

“I seem to like the forest better since hearing this. I wonder if there is anything left of the old Liberty Forest.”

“Most of it has been destroyed,” said Bataki. “The trees look as if they had passed through a fire. They’ll have to be cleared away, and it will take many years before the forest will be what it once was.”

“That snake deserved his death!” declared the boy. “But I wonder if it could be possible that he was so wise he could send sickness to the caterpillars?”

“Perhaps he knew that they frequently became sick in that way,” intimated Bataki.

“Yes, that may be; but all the same, I must say that he was a very wily snake.”

The boy stopped talking because he saw the raven was not listening to him, but sitting with gaze averted. “Hark!” he said. “Karr is in the vicinity. Won’t he be happy when he sees that Helpless is dead!”

The boy turned his head in the direction of the sound.

“He’s talking with the wild geese,” he said.

“Oh, you may be sure that he has dragged himself down to the strand to get the latest news about Grayskin!”

Both the boy and the raven jumped to the ground, and hastened down to the shore. All the geese had come out of the lake, and stood talking with an old dog, who was so weak and decrepit that it seemed as if he might drop dead at any moment.

“There’s Karr,” said Bataki to the boy. “Let him hear first what the wild geese have to say to him; later we shall tell him that the water-snake is dead.”

Presently they heard Akka talking to Karr.

“It happened last year while we were making our usual spring trip,” remarked the leader-goose. “We started out one morning⁠—Yksi, Kaksi, and I, and we flew over the great boundary forests between Dalecarlia and Hälsingland. Under us we, saw only thick pine forests. The snow was still deep among the trees, and the creeks were mostly frozen.

“Suddenly we noticed three poachers down in the forest! They were on skis, had dogs in leash, carried knives in their belts, but had no guns.

“As there was a hard crust on the snow, they did not bother to take the winding forest paths, but skied straight ahead. Apparently they knew very well where they must go to find what they were seeking.

“We wild geese flew on, high up in the air, so that the whole forest under us was visible. When we sighted the poachers we wanted to find out where the game was, so we circled up and down, peering through the trees. Then, in a dense thicket, we saw something that looked like big, moss-covered rocks, but couldn’t be rocks, for there was no snow on them.

“We shot down, suddenly, and lit in the centre of the thicket. The three rocks moved. They were three elk⁠—a bull and two cows⁠—resting in the bleak forest.

“When we alighted, the elk bull rose and came toward us. He was the most superb animal we had ever seen. When he saw that it was only some poor wild geese that had awakened him, he lay down again.

“ ‘No, old granddaddy, you mustn’t go back to sleep!’ I cried. ‘Flee as fast as you can! There are poachers in the forest, and they are bound for this very deer fold.’

“ ‘Thank you, goose mother!’ said the elk. He seemed to be dropping to sleep while he was speaking. ‘But surely you must know that we elk are under the protection of the law at this time of the year. Those poachers are probably out for fox,’ he yawned.

“ ‘There are plenty of fox trails in the forest, but the poachers are not looking for them. Believe me, old granddaddy! They know that you are lying here, and are coming to attack you. They have no guns with them⁠—only spears and knives⁠—for they dare not fire a shot at this season.’

“The elk bull lay there calmly, but the elk cows seemed to feel uneasy.

“ ‘It may be as the geese say,’ they remarked, beginning to bestir themselves.

“ ‘You just lie down!’ said the elk bull. ‘There are no poachers coming here; of that you may be certain.’

“There was nothing more to be done, so we wild geese rose again into the air. But we continued to circle over the place, to see how it would turn out for the elk.

“We had hardly reached our regular flying altitude, when we saw the elk bull come out from the thicket. He sniffed the air a little, then walked straight toward the poachers. As he strode along he stepped upon dry twigs that crackled noisily. A big barren marsh lay just beyond him. Thither he went and took his stand in the middle, where there was nothing to hide him from view.

“There he stood until the poachers emerged from the woods. Then he turned and fled in the opposite direction. The poachers let loose the dogs, and they themselves skied after him at full speed.

“The elk threw back his head and loped as fast as he could. He kicked up snow until it flew like a blizzard about him. Both dogs and men were left far behind. Then the elk stopped, as if to await their approach. When they were within sight he dashed ahead again. We understood that he was purposely tempting the hunters away from the place where the cows were. We thought it brave of him to face danger himself, in order that those who were dear to him might be left in safety. None of us wanted to leave the place until we had seen how all this was to end.

“Thus the chase continued for two hours or more. We wondered that the poachers went to the trouble of pursuing the elk when they were not armed with rifles. They couldn’t have thought that they could succeed in tiring out a runner like him!

“Then we noticed that the elk no longer ran so rapidly. He stepped on the snow more carefully, and every time he lifted his feet, blood could be seen in his tracks.

“We understood why the poachers had been so persistent! They had counted on help from the snow. The elk was heavy, and with every step he sank to the bottom of the drift. The hard crust on the snow was scraping his legs. It scraped away the fur, and tore out pieces of flesh, so that he was in torture every time he put his foot down.

“The poachers and the dogs, who were so light that the ice crust could hold their weight, pursued him all the while. He ran on and on⁠—his steps becoming more and more uncertain and faltering. He gasped for breath. Not only did he suffer intense pain, but he was also exhausted from wading through the deep snowdrifts.

“At last he lost all patience. He paused to let poachers and dogs come upon him, and was ready to fight them. As he stood there waiting, he glanced upward. When he saw us wild geese circling above him, he cried out:

“ ‘Stay here, wild geese, until all is over! And the next time you fly over Kolmården, look up Karr, and ask him if he doesn’t think that his friend Grayskin has met with a happy end?’ ”

When Akka had gone so far in her story the old dog rose and walked nearer to her.

“Grayskin led a good life,” he said. “He understands me. He knows that I’m a brave dog, and that I shall be glad to hear that he had a happy end. Now tell me how⁠—”

He raised his tail and threw back his head, as if to give himself a bold and proud bearing⁠—then he collapsed.

“Karr! Karr!” called a man’s voice from the forest.

The old dog rose obediently.

“My master is calling me,” he said, “and I must not tarry longer. I just saw him load his gun. Now we two are going into the forest for the last time.

“Many thanks, wild goose! I know everything that I need know to die content!”