The Wonderful Journey of Nils

On the Farm


Just at that time a thing happened in Skåne which created a good deal of discussion and even got into the newspapers but which many believed to be a fable, because they had not been able to explain it.

It was about like this: A lady squirrel had been captured in the hazelbrush that grew on the shores of Vomb Lake, and was carried to a farmhouse close by. All the folks on the farm⁠—both young and old⁠—were delighted with the pretty creature with the bushy tail, the wise, inquisitive eyes, and the natty little feet. They intended to amuse themselves all summer by watching its nimble movements; its ingenious way of shelling nuts; and its droll play. They immediately put in order an old squirrel cage with a little green house and a wire-cylinder wheel. The little house, which had both doors and windows, the lady squirrel was to use as a dining room and bedroom. For this reason they placed therein a bed of leaves, a bowl of milk and some nuts. The cylinder wheel, on the other hand, she was to use as a playhouse, where she could run and climb and swing round.

The people believed that they had arranged things very comfortably for the lady squirrel, and they were astonished because she didn’t seem to be contented; but, instead, she sat there, downcast and moody, in a corner of her room. Every now and again, she would let out a shrill, agonised cry. She did not touch the food; and not once did she swing round on the wheel. “It’s probably because she’s frightened,” said the farmer folk. “Tomorrow, when she feels more at home, she will both eat and play.”

Meanwhile, the women folk on the farm were making preparations for a feast; and just on that day when the lady squirrel had been captured, they were busy with an elaborate bake. They had had bad luck with something: either the dough wouldn’t rise, or else they had been dilatory, for they were obliged to work long after dark.

Naturally there was a great deal of excitement and bustle in the kitchen, and probably no one there took time to think about the squirrel, or to wonder how she was getting on. But there was an old grandma in the house who was too aged to take a hand in the baking; this she herself understood, but just the same she did not relish the idea of being left out of the game. She felt rather downhearted; and for this reason she did not go to bed but seated herself by the sitting-room window and looked out.

They had opened the kitchen door on account of the heat; and through it a clear ray of light streamed out on the yard; and it became so well lighted out there that the old woman could see all the cracks and holes in the plastering on the wall opposite. She also saw the squirrel cage which hung just where the light fell clearest. And she noticed how the squirrel ran from her room to the wheel, and from the wheel to her room, all night long, without stopping an instant. She thought it was a strange sort of unrest that had come over the animal; but she believed, of course, that the strong light kept her awake.

Between the cow-house and the stable there was a broad, handsome carriage-gate; this too came within the light-radius. As the night wore on, the old grandma saw a tiny creature, no bigger than a hand’s breadth, cautiously steal his way through the gate. He was dressed in leather breeches and wooden shoes like any other working man. The old grandma knew at once that it was the elf, and she was not the least bit frightened. She had always heard that the elf kept himself somewhere about the place, although she had never seen him before; and an elf, to be sure, brought good luck wherever he appeared.

As soon as the elf came into the stone-paved yard, he ran right up to the squirrel cage. And since it hung so high that he could not reach it, he went over to the storehouse after a rod; placed it against the cage, and swung himself up⁠—in the same way that a sailor climbs a rope. When he had reached the cage, he shook the door of the little green house as if he wanted to open it; but the old grandma didn’t move; for she knew that the children had put a padlock on the door, as they feared that the boys on the neighbouring farms would try to steal the squirrel. The old woman saw that when the boy could not get the door open, the lady squirrel came out to the wire wheel. There they held a long conference together. And when the boy had listened to all that the imprisoned animal had to say to him, he slid down the rod to the ground, and ran out through the carriage-gate.

The old woman didn’t expect to see anything more of the elf that night, nevertheless, she remained at the window. After a few moments had gone by, he returned. He was in such a hurry that it seemed to her as though his feet hardly touched the ground; and he rushed right up to the squirrel cage. The old woman, with her farsighted eyes, saw him distinctly; and she also saw that he carried something in his hands; but what it was she couldn’t imagine. The thing he carried in his left hand he laid down on the pavement; but that which he held in his right hand he took with him to the cage. He kicked so hard with his wooden shoes on the little window that the glass was broken. He poked in the thing which he held in his hand to the lady squirrel. Then he slid down again, and took up that which he had laid upon the ground, and climbed up to the cage with that also. The next instant he ran off again with such haste that the old woman could hardly follow him with her eyes.

But now it was the old grandma who could no longer sit still in the cottage; but who, very slowly, went out to the back yard and stationed herself in the shadow of the pump to await the elf’s return. And there was one other who had also seen him and had become curious. This was the house cat. He crept along slyly and stopped close to the wall, just two steps away from the stream of light. They both stood and waited, long and patiently, on that chilly March night, and the old woman was just beginning to think about going in again, when she heard a clatter on the pavement, and saw that the little mite of an elf came trotting along once more, carrying a burden in each hand, as he had done before. That which he bore squealed and squirmed. And now a light dawned on the old grandma. She understood that the elf had hurried down to the hazel-grove and brought back the lady squirrel’s babies; and that he was carrying them to her so they shouldn’t starve to death.

The old grandma stood very still, so as not to disturb them; and it did not look as if the elf had noticed her. He was just going to lay one of the babies on the ground so that he could swing himself up to the cage with the other one⁠—when he saw the house cat’s green eyes glisten close beside him. He stood there, bewildered, with a young one in each hand.

He turned around and looked in all directions; then he became aware of the old grandma’s presence. Then he did not hesitate long; but walked forward, stretched his arms as high as he could reach, for her to take one of the baby squirrels.

The old grandma did not wish to prove herself unworthy of the confidence, so she bent down and took the baby squirrel, and stood there and held it until the boy had swung himself up to the cage with the other one. Then he came back for the one he had entrusted to her care.

The next morning, when the farm folk had gathered together for breakfast, it was impossible for the old woman to refrain from telling them of what she had seen the night before. They all laughed at her, of course, and said that she had been only dreaming. There were no baby squirrels this early in the year.

But she was sure of her ground, and begged them to take a look into the squirrel cage and this they did. And there lay on the bed of leaves, four tiny half-naked, half blind baby squirrels, who were at least a couple of days old.

When the farmer himself saw the young ones, he said: “Be it as it may with this; but one thing is certain, we, on this farm, have behaved in such a manner that we are shamed before both animals and human beings.” And, thereupon, he took the mother squirrel and all her young ones from the cage, and laid them in the old grandma’s lap. “Go thou out to the hazel-grove with them,” said he, “and let them have their freedom back again!”

It was this event that was so much talked about, and which even got into the newspapers, but which the majority would not credit because they were not able to explain how anything like that could have happened.



Two days later, another strange thing happened. A flock of wild geese came flying one morning, and lit on a meadow down in Eastern Skåne not very far from Vittskövle manor. In the flock were thirteen wild geese, of the usual gray variety, and one white goosey-gander, who carried on his back a tiny lad dressed in yellow leather breeches, green vest, and a white woollen toboggan hood.

They were now very near the Eastern sea; and on the meadow where the geese had alighted the soil was sandy, as it usually is on the seacoast. It looked as if, formerly, there had been flying sand in this vicinity which had to be held down; for in several directions large, planted pine-woods could be seen.

When the wild geese had been feeding a while, several children came along, and walked on the edge of the meadow. The goose who was on guard at once raised herself into the air with noisy wing-strokes, so the whole flock should hear that there was danger on foot. All the wild geese flew upward; but the white one trotted along on the ground unconcerned. When he saw the others fly he raised his head and called after them: “You needn’t fly away from these! They are only a couple of children!”

The little creature, who had been riding on his back, sat down upon a knoll on the outskirts of the wood and picked a pine-cone in pieces, that he might get at the seeds. The children were so close to him that he did not dare to run across the meadow to the white one. He concealed himself under a big, dry thistle-leaf, and at the same time gave a warning-cry. But the white one had evidently made up his mind not to let himself be scared. He walked along on the ground all the while; and not once did he look to see in what direction they were going.

Meanwhile, they turned from the path, walked across the field, getting nearer and nearer to the goosey-gander. When he finally did look up, they were right upon him. He was so dumbfounded, and became so confused, he forgot that he could fly, and tried to get out of their reach by running. But the children followed, chasing him into a ditch, and there they caught him. The larger of the two stuck him under his arm and carried him off.

When the boy, who lay under the thistle-leaf, saw this, he sprang up as if he wanted to take the goosey-gander away from them; then he must have remembered how little and powerless he was, for he threw himself on the knoll and beat upon the ground with his clenched fists.

The goosey-gander cried with all his might for help: “Thumbietot, come and help me! Oh, Thumbietot, come and help me!”

The boy began to laugh in the midst of his distress. “Oh, yes! I’m just the right one to help anybody, I am!” said he.

Anyway he got up and followed the goosey-gander. “I can’t help him,” said he, “but I shall at least find out where they are taking him.”

The children had a good start; but the boy had no difficulty in keeping them within sight until they came to a hollow where a brook gushed forth. But here he was obliged to run alongside of it for some little time, before he could find a place narrow enough for him to jump over.

When he came up from the hollow the children had disappeared. He could see their footprints on a narrow path which led to the woods, and these he continued to follow.

Soon he came to a crossroad. Here the children must have separated, for there were footprints in two directions. The boy looked now as if all hope had fled. Then he saw a little white down on a heather-knoll, and he understood that the goosey-gander had dropped this by the wayside to let him know in which direction he had been carried; and therefore he continued his search. He followed the children through the entire wood. The goosey-gander he did not see; but wherever he was likely to miss his way, lay a little white down to put him right.

The boy continued faithfully to follow the bits of down. They led him out of the wood, across a couple of meadows, up on a road, and finally through the entrance of a broad allée. At the end of the allée there were gables and towers of red tiling, decorated with bright borders and other ornamentations that glittered and shone. When the boy saw that this was some great manor, he thought he knew what had become of the goosey-gander. “No doubt the children have carried the goosey-gander to the manor and sold him there. By this time he’s probably butchered,” he said to himself. But he did not seem to be satisfied with anything less than proof positive, and with renewed courage he ran forward. He met no one in the allée⁠—and that was well, for such as he are generally afraid of being seen by human beings.

The mansion which he came to was a splendid, old-time structure with four great wings which enclosed a courtyard. On the east wing, there was a high arch leading into the courtyard. This far the boy ran without hesitation, but when he got there he stopped. He dared not venture farther, but stood still and pondered what he should do now.

There he stood, with his finger on his nose, thinking, when he heard footsteps behind him; and as he turned around he saw a whole company march up the allée. In haste he stole behind a water-barrel which stood near the arch, and hid himself.

Those who came up were some twenty young men from a folk-high-school, out on a walking tour. They were accompanied by one of the instructors. When they were come as far as the arch, the teacher requested them to wait there a moment, while he went in and asked if they might see the old castle of Vittskövle.

The newcomers were warm and tired; as if they had been on a long tramp. One of them was so thirsty that he went over to the water-barrel and stooped down to drink. He had a tin box such as botanists use hanging about his neck. He evidently thought that this was in his way, for he threw it down on the ground. With this, the lid flew open, and one could see that there were a few spring flowers in it.

The botanist’s box dropped just in front of the boy; and he must have thought that here was his opportunity to get into the castle and find out what had become of the goosey-gander. He smuggled himself quickly into the box and concealed himself as well as he could under the anemones and colt’s-foot.

He was hardly hidden before the young man picked the box up, hung it around his neck, and slammed down the cover.

Then the teacher came back, and said that they had been given permission to enter the castle. At first he conducted them no farther than the courtyard. There he stopped and began to talk to them about this ancient structure.

He called their attention to the first human beings who had inhabited this country, and who had been obliged to live in mountain-grottoes and earth-caves; in the dens of wild beasts, and in the brushwood; and that a very long period had elapsed before they learned to build themselves huts from the trunks of trees. And afterward how long had they not been forced to labour and struggle, before they had advanced from the log cabin, with its single room, to the building of a castle with a hundred rooms⁠—like Vittskövle!

It was about three hundred and fifty years ago that the rich and powerful built such castles for themselves, he said. It was very evident that Vittskövle had been erected at a time when wars and robbers made it unsafe in Skåne. All around the castle was a deep trench filled with water; and across this there had been a bridge in bygone days that could be hoisted up. Over the gate-arch there is, even to this day, a watchtower; and all along the sides of the castle ran sentry-galleries, and in the corners stood towers with walls a metre thick. Yet the castle had not been erected in the most savage war time; for Jens Brahe, who built it, had also studied to make of it a beautiful and decorative ornament. If they could see the big, solid stone structure at Glimminge, which had been built only a generation earlier, they would readily see that Jans Holgersen Ulfstand, the builder, hadn’t figured upon anything else⁠—only to build big and strong and secure, without bestowing a thought upon making it beautiful and comfortable. If they visited such castles as Marsvinsholm, Snogeholm and Övid’s Cloister⁠—which were erected a hundred years or so later⁠—they would find that the times had become less warlike. The gentlemen who built these places, had not furnished them with fortifications; but had only taken pains to provide themselves with great, splendid dwelling houses.

The teacher talked at length⁠—and in detail; and the boy who lay shut up in the box was pretty impatient; but he must have lain very still, for the owner of the box hadn’t the least suspicion that he was carrying him along.

Finally the company went into the castle. But if the boy had hoped for a chance to crawl out of that box, he was deceived; for the student carried it upon him all the while, and the boy was obliged to accompany him through all the rooms. It was a tedious tramp. The teacher stopped every other minute to explain and instruct.

In one room he found an old fireplace, and before this he stopped to talk about the different kinds of fireplaces that had been used in the course of time. The first indoors fireplace had been a big, flat stone on the floor of the hut, with an opening in the roof which let in both wind and rain. The next had been a big stone hearth with no opening in the roof. This must have made the hut very warm, but it also filled it with soot and smoke. When Vittskövle was built, the people had advanced far enough to open the fireplace, which, at that time, had a wide chimney for the smoke; but it also took most of the warmth up in the air with it.

If that boy had ever in his life been cross and impatient, he was given a good lesson in patience that day. It must have been a whole hour now that he had lain perfectly still.

In the next room they came to, the teacher stopped before an old-time bed with its high canopy and rich curtains. Immediately he began to talk about the beds and bed places of olden days.

The teacher didn’t hurry himself; but then he did not know, of course, that a poor little creature lay shut up in a botanist’s box, and only waited for him to get through. When they came to a room with gilded leather hangings, he talked to them about how the people had dressed their walls and ceilings ever since the beginning of time. And when he came to an old family portrait, he told them all about the different changes in dress. And in the banquet halls he described ancient customs of celebrating weddings and funerals.

Thereupon, the teacher talked a little about the excellent men and women who had lived in the castle; about the old Brahes, and the old Barnekows; of Christian Barnekow, who had given his horse to the king to help him escape; of Margareta Ascheberg who had been married to Kjell Barnekow and who, when a widow, had managed the estates and the whole district for fifty-three years; of banker Hageman, a farmer’s son from Vittskövle, who had grown so rich that he had bought the entire estate; about the Stjernsvärds, who had given the people of Skåne better ploughs, which enabled them to discard the ridiculous old wooden ploughs that three oxen were hardly able to drag. During all this, the boy lay still. If he had ever been mischievous and shut the cellar door on his father or mother, he understood now how they had felt; for it was hours and hours before that teacher got through.

At last the teacher went out into the courtyard again. And there he discoursed upon the tireless labour of mankind to procure for themselves tools and weapons, clothes and houses and ornaments. He said that such an old castle as Vittskövle was a milepost on time’s highway. Here one could see how far the people had advanced three hundred and fifty years ago; and one could judge for oneself whether things had gone forward or backward since their time.

But this dissertation the boy escaped hearing; for the student who carried him was thirsty again, and stole into the kitchen to ask for a drink of water. When the boy was carried into the kitchen, he should have tried to look around for the goosey-gander. He had begun to move; and as he did this, he happened to press too hard against the lid⁠—and it flew open. As botanists’ box-lids are always flying open, the student thought no more about the matter but pressed it down again. Then the cook asked him if he had a snake in the box.

“No, I have only a few plants,” the student replied. “It was certainly something that moved there,” insisted the cook. The student threw back the lid to show her that she was mistaken. “See for yourself⁠—if⁠—”

But he got no further, for now the boy dared not stay in the box any longer, but with one bound he stood on the floor, and out he rushed. The maids hardly had time to see what it was that ran, but they hurried after it, nevertheless.

The teacher still stood and talked when he was interrupted by shrill cries. “Catch him, catch him!” shrieked those who had come from the kitchen; and all the young men raced after the boy, who glided away faster than a rat. They tried to intercept him at the gate, but it was not so easy to get a hold on such a little creature, so, luckily, he got out in the open.

The boy did not dare to run down toward the open allée, but turned in another direction. He rushed through the garden into the back yard. All the while the people raced after him, shrieking and laughing. The poor little thing ran as hard as ever he could to get out of their way; but still it looked as though the people would catch up with him.

As he rushed past a labourer’s cottage, he heard a goose cackle, and saw a white down lying on the doorstep. There, at last, was the goosey-gander! He had been on the wrong track before. He thought no more of housemaids and men, who were hounding him, but climbed up the steps⁠—and into the hallway. Farther he couldn’t come, for the door was locked. He heard how the goosey-gander cried and moaned inside, but he couldn’t get the door open. The hunters that were pursuing him came nearer and nearer, and, in the room, the goosey-gander cried more and more pitifully. In this direst of needs the boy finally plucked up courage and pounded on the door with all his might.

A child opened it, and the boy looked into the room. In the middle of the floor sat a woman who held the goosey-gander tight to clip his quill-feathers. It was her children who had found him, and she didn’t want to do him any harm. It was her intention to let him in among her own geese, had she only succeeded in clipping his wings so he couldn’t fly away. But a worse fate could hardly have happened to the goosey-gander, and he shrieked and moaned with all his might.

And a lucky thing it was that the woman hadn’t started the clipping sooner. Now only two quills had fallen under the shears’ when the door was opened⁠—and the boy stood on the doorsill. But a creature like that the woman had never seen before. She couldn’t believe anything else but that it was Goa-Nisse himself;3 and in her terror she dropped the shears, clasped her hands⁠—and forgot to hold on to the goosey-gander.

As soon as he felt himself freed, he ran toward the door. He didn’t give himself time to stop; but, as he ran past him, he grabbed the boy by the neckband and carried him along with him. On the stoop he spread his wings and flew up in the air; at the same time he made a graceful sweep with his neck and seated the boy on his smooth, downy back.

And off they flew⁠—while all Vittskövle stood and stared after them.

In Övid Cloister Park

All that day, when the wild geese played with the fox, the boy lay and slept in a deserted squirrel nest. When he awoke, along toward evening, he felt very uneasy. “Well, now I shall soon be sent home again! Then I’ll have to exhibit myself before father and mother,” thought he. But when he looked up and saw the wild geese, who lay and bathed in Vomb Lake⁠—not one of them said a word about his going. “They probably think the white one is too tired to travel home with me tonight,” thought the boy.

The next morning the geese were awake at daybreak, long before sunrise. Now the boy felt sure that he’d have to go home; but, curiously enough, both he and the white goosey-gander were permitted to follow the wild ones on their morning tour. The boy couldn’t comprehend the reason for the delay, but he figured it out in this way, that the wild geese did not care to send the goosey-gander on such a long journey until they had both eaten their fill. Come what might, he was only glad for every moment that should pass before he must face his parents.

The wild geese travelled over Övid’s Cloister estate which was situated in a beautiful park east of the lake, and looked very imposing with its great castle; its well planned court surrounded by low walls and pavilions; its fine old-time garden with covered arbours, streams and fountains; its wonderful trees, trimmed bushes, and its evenly mown lawns with their beds of beautiful spring flowers.

When the wild geese rode over the estate in the early morning hour there was no human being about. When they had carefully assured themselves of this, they lowered themselves toward the dog kennel, and shouted: “What kind of a little hut is this? What kind of a little hut is this?”

Instantly the dog came out of his kennel⁠—furiously angry⁠—and barked at the air.

“Do you call this a hut, you tramps! Can’t you see that this is a great stone castle? Can’t you see what fine terraces, and what a lot of pretty walls and windows and great doors it has, bow, wow, wow, wow? Don’t you see the grounds, can’t you see the garden, can’t you see the conservatories, can’t you see the marble statues? You call this a hut, do you? Do huts have parks with beech-groves and hazel-bushes and trailing vines and oak trees and firs and hunting-grounds filled with game, wow, wow, wow? Do you call this a hut? Have you seen huts with so many outhouses around them that they look like a whole village? You must know of a lot of huts that have their own church and their own parsonage; and that rule over the district and the peasant homes and the neighbouring farms and barracks, wow, wow, wow? Do you call this a hut? To this hut belong the richest possessions in Skåne, you beggars! You can’t see a bit of land, from where you hang in the clouds, that does not obey commands from this hut, wow, wow, wow!”

All this the dog managed to cry out in one breath; and the wild geese flew back and forth over the estate, and listened to him until he was winded. But then they cried: “What are you so mad about? We didn’t ask about the castle; we only wanted to know about your kennel, stupid!”

When the boy heard this joke, he laughed; then a thought stole in on him which at once made him serious. “Think how many of these amusing things you would hear, if you could go with the wild geese through the whole country, all the way up to Lapland!” said he to himself. “And just now, when you are in such a bad fix, a trip like that would be the best thing you could hit upon.”

The wild geese travelled to one of the wide fields, east of the estate, to eat grassroots, and they kept this up for hours. In the meantime, the boy wandered in the great park which bordered the field. He hunted up a beechnut grove and began to look up at the bushes, to see if a nut from last fall still hung there. But again and again the thought of the trip came over him, as he walked in the park. He pictured to himself what a fine time he would have if he went with the wild geese. To freeze and starve: that he believed he should have to do often enough; but as a recompense, he would escape both work and study.

As he walked there, the old gray leader-goose came up to him, and asked if he had found anything eatable. No, that he hadn’t, he replied, and then she tried to help him. She couldn’t find any nuts either, but she discovered a couple of dried blossoms that hung on a brier-bush. These the boy ate with a good relish. But he wondered what mother would say, if she knew that he had lived on raw fish and old winter-dried blossoms.

When the wild geese had finally eaten themselves full, they bore off toward the lake again, where they amused themselves with games until almost dinner time.

The wild geese challenged the white goosey-gander to take part in all kinds of sports. They had swimming races, running races, and flying races with him. The big tame one did his level best to hold his own, but the clever wild geese beat him every time. All the while, the boy sat on the goosey-gander’s back and encouraged him, and had as much fun as the rest. They laughed and screamed and cackled, and it was remarkable that the people on the estate didn’t hear them.

When the wild geese were tired of play, they flew out on the ice and rested for a couple of hours. The afternoon they spent in pretty much the same way as the forenoon. First, a couple of hours feeding, then bathing and play in the water near the ice-edge until sunset, when they immediately arranged themselves for sleep.

“This is just the life that suits me,” thought the boy when he crept in under the gander’s wing. “But tomorrow, I suppose I’ll be sent home.”

Before he fell asleep, he lay and thought that if he might go along with the wild geese, he would escape all scoldings because he was lazy. Then he could cut loose every day, and his only worry would be to get something to eat. But he needed so little nowadays; and there would always be a way to get that.

So he pictured the whole scene to himself; what he should see, and all the adventures that he would be in on. Yes, it would be something different from the wear and tear at home. “If I could only go with the wild geese on their travels, I shouldn’t grieve because I’d been transformed,” thought the boy.

He wasn’t afraid of anything⁠—except being sent home; but not even on Wednesday did the geese say anything to him about going. That day passed in the same way as Tuesday; and the boy grew more and more contented with the outdoor life. He thought that he had the lovely Övid Cloister park⁠—which was as large as a forest⁠—all to himself; and he wasn’t anxious to go back to the stuffy cabin and the little patch of ground there at home.

On Wednesday he believed that the wild geese thought of keeping him with them; but on Thursday he lost hope again.

Thursday began just like the other days; the geese fed on the broad meadows, and the boy hunted for food in the park. After a while Akka came to him, and asked if he had found anything to eat. No, he had not; and then she looked up a dry caraway herb, that had kept all its tiny seeds intact.

When the boy had eaten, Akka said that she thought he ran around in the park altogether too recklessly. She wondered if he knew how many enemies he had to guard against⁠—he, who was so little. No, he didn’t know anything at all about that. Then Akka began to enumerate them for him.

Whenever he walked in the park, she said, that he must look out for the fox and the marten; when he came to the shores of the lake, he must think of the otters; as he sat on the stone wall, he must not forget the weasels, who could creep through the smallest holes; and if he wished to lie down and sleep on a pile of leaves, he must first find out if the adders were not sleeping their winter sleep in the same pile. As soon as he came out in the open fields, he should keep an eye out for hawks and buzzards; for eagles and falcons that soared in the air. In the bramble-bush he could be captured by the sparrow-hawks; magpies and crows were found everywhere and in these he mustn’t place any too much confidence. As soon as it was dusk, he must keep his ears open and listen for the big owls, who flew along with such soundless wing-strokes that they could come right up to him before he was aware of their presence.

When the boy heard that there were so many who were after his life, he thought that it would be simply impossible for him to escape. He was not particularly afraid to die, but he didn’t like the idea of being eaten up, so he asked Akka what he should do to protect himself from the carnivorous animals.

Akka answered at once that the boy should try to get on good terms with all the small animals in the woods and fields: with the squirrel-folk, and the hare-family; with bullfinches and the titmice and woodpeckers and larks. If he made friends with them, they could warn him against dangers, find hiding places for him, and protect him.

But later in the day, when the boy tried to profit by this counsel, and turned to Sirle Squirrel4 to ask for his protection, it was evident that he did not care to help him. “You surely can’t expect anything from me, or the rest of the small animals!” said Sirle. “Don’t you think we know that you are Nils the goose boy, who tore down the swallow’s nest last year, crushed the starling’s eggs, threw baby crows in the marl-ditch, caught thrushes in snares, and put squirrels in cages? You just help yourself as well as you can; and you may be thankful that we do not form a league against you, and drive you back to your own kind!”

This was just the sort of answer the boy would not have let go unpunished, in the days when he was Nils the goose boy. But now he was only fearful lest the wild geese, too, had found out how wicked he could be. He had been so anxious for fear he wouldn’t be permitted to stay with the wild geese, that he hadn’t dared to get into the least little mischief since he joined their company. It was true that he didn’t have the power to do much harm now, but, little as he was, he could have destroyed many birds’ nests, and crushed many eggs, if he’d been in a mind to. Now he had been good. He hadn’t pulled a feather from a goose-wing, or given anyone a rude answer; and every morning when he called upon Akka he had always removed his cap and bowed.

All day Thursday he thought it was surely on account of his wickedness that the wild geese did not care to take him along up to Lapland. And in the evening, when he heard that Sirle Squirrel’s wife had been stolen, and her children were starving to death, he made up his mind to help them. And we have already been told how well he succeeded.

When the boy came into the park on Friday, he heard the bullfinches sing in every bush, of how Sirle Squirrel’s wife had been carried away from her children by cruel robbers, and how Nils, the goose boy, had risked his life among human beings, and taken the little squirrel children to her.

“And who is so honoured in Övid Cloister park now, as Thumbietot!” sang the bullfinch; “he, whom all feared when he was Nils the goose boy? Sirle Squirrel will give him nuts; the poor hares are going to play with him; the small wild animals will carry him on their backs, and fly away with him when Smirre Fox approaches. The titmice are going to warn him against the hawk, and the finches and larks will sing of his valour.”

The boy was absolutely certain that both Akka and the wild geese had heard all this. But still Friday passed and not one word did they say about his remaining with them.

Until Saturday the wild geese fed in the fields around Övid, undisturbed by Smirre Fox.

But on Saturday morning, when they came out in the meadows, he lay in wait for them, and chased them from one field to another, and they were not allowed to eat in peace. When Akka understood that he didn’t intend to leave them in peace, she came to a decision quickly, raised herself into the air and flew with her flock several miles away, over Färs’ plains and Linderödsosen’s hills. They did not stop before they had arrived in the district of Vittskövle.

But at Vittskövle the goosey-gander was stolen, and how it happened has already been related. If the boy had not used all his powers to help him he would never again have been found.

On Saturday evening, as the boy came back to Vomb Lake with the goosey-gander, he thought that he had done a good day’s work; and he speculated a good deal on what Akka and the wild geese would say to him. The wild geese were not at all sparing in their praises, but they did not say the word he was longing to hear.

Then Sunday came again. A whole week had gone by since the boy had been bewitched, and he was still just as little.

But he didn’t appear to be giving himself any extra worry on account of this thing. On Sunday afternoon he sat huddled together in a big, fluffy osier-bush, down by the lake, and blew on a reed-pipe. All around him there sat as many finches and bullfinches and starlings as the bush could well hold⁠—who sang songs which he tried to teach himself to play. But the boy was not at home in this art. He blew so false that the feathers raised themselves on the little music-masters and they shrieked and fluttered in their despair. The boy laughed so heartily at their excitement, that he dropped his pipe.

He began once again, and that went just as badly. Then all the little birds wailed: “Today you play worse than usual, Thumbietot! You don’t take one true note! Where are your thoughts, Thumbietot?”

“They are elsewhere,” said the boy⁠—and this was true. He sat there and pondered how long he would be allowed to remain with the wild geese; or if he should be sent home perhaps today.

Finally the boy threw down his pipe and jumped from the bush. He had seen Akka, and all the wild geese, coming toward him in a long row. They walked so uncommonly slow and dignified-like, that the boy immediately understood that now he should learn what they intended to do with him.

When they stopped at last, Akka said: “You may well have reason to wonder at me, Thumbietot, who have not said thanks to you for saving me from Smirre Fox. But I am one of those who would rather give thanks by deeds than words. I have sent word to the elf that bewitched you. At first he didn’t want to hear anything about curing you; but I have sent message upon message to him, and told him how well you have conducted yourself among us. He greets you, and says, that as soon as you turn back home, you shall be human again.”

But think of it! Just as happy as the boy had been when the wild geese began to speak, just that miserable was he when they had finished. He didn’t say a word, but turned away and wept.

“What in all the world is this?” said Akka. “It looks as though you had expected more of me than I have offered you.”

But the boy was thinking of the carefree days and the banter; and of adventure and freedom and travel, high above the Earth, that he should miss, and he actually bawled with grief. “I don’t want to be human,” said he. “I want to go with you to Lapland.”

“I’ll tell you something,” said Akka. “That elf is very touchy, and I’m afraid that if you do not accept his offer now, it will be difficult for you to coax him another time.”

It was a strange thing about that boy⁠—as long as he had lived, he had never cared for anyone. He had not cared for his father or mother; not for the school teacher; not for his schoolmates; nor for the boys in the neighbourhood. All that they had wished to have him do⁠—whether it had been work or play⁠—he had only thought tiresome. Therefore there was no one whom he missed or longed for.

The only ones that he had come anywhere near agreeing with, were Osa, the goose girl, and little Mats⁠—a couple of children who had tended geese in the fields, like himself. But he didn’t care particularly for them either. No, far from it! “I don’t want to be human,” bawled the boy. “I want to go with you to Lapland. That’s why I’ve been good for a whole week!”

“I don’t want to forbid you to come along with us as far as you like,” said Akka, “but think first if you wouldn’t rather go home again. A day may come when you will regret this.”

“No,” said the boy, “that’s nothing to regret. I have never been as well off as here with you.”

“Well then, let it be as you wish,” said Akka.

“Thanks!” said the boy, and he felt so happy that he had to cry for very joy⁠—just as he had cried before from sorrow.