Westbottom and Lapland

The Five Scouts

Once, at Skansen, the boy had sat under the steps at Bollnäs cottage and had overheard Clement Larsson and the old Laplander talk about Norrland. Both agreed that it was the most beautiful part of Sweden. Clement thought that the southern part was the best, while the Laplander favoured the northern part.

As they argued, it became plain that Clement had never been farther north than Härnösand. The Laplander laughed at him for speaking with such assurance of places that he had never seen.

“I think I shall have to tell you a story, Clement, to give you some idea of Lapland, since you have not seen it,” volunteered the Laplander.

“It shall not be said of me that I refuse to listen to a story,” retorted Clement, and the old Laplander began:

“It once happened that the birds who lived down in Sweden, south of the great Samiland, thought that they were overcrowded there and suggested moving northward.

“They came together to consider the matter. The young and eager birds wished to start at once, but the older and wiser ones passed a resolution to send scouts to explore the new country.

“ ‘Let each of the five great bird families send out a scout,’ said the old and wise birds, ‘to learn if there is room for us all up there⁠—food and hiding places.’

“Five intelligent and capable birds were immediately appointed by the five great bird families.

“The forest birds selected a grouse, the field birds a lark, the sea birds a gull, the freshwater birds a loon, and the cliff birds a snow sparrow.

“When the five chosen ones were ready to start, the grouse, who was the largest and most commanding, said:

“ ‘There are great stretches of land ahead. If we travel together, it will be long before we cover all the territory that we must explore. If, on the other hand, we travel singly⁠—each one exploring his special portion of the country⁠—the whole business can be accomplished in a few days.’

“The other scouts thought the suggestion a good one, and agreed to act upon it.

“It was decided that the grouse should explore the midlands. The lark was to travel to the eastward, the sea gull still farther east, where the land bordered on the sea, while the loon should fly over the territory west of the midlands, and the snow sparrow to the extreme west.

“In accordance with this plan, the five birds flew over the whole Northland. Then they turned back and told the assembly of birds what they had discovered.

“The gull, who had travelled along the seacoast, spoke first.

“ ‘The North is a fine country,’ he said. ‘The sounds are full of fish, and there are points and islands without number. Most of these are uninhabited, and the birds will find plenty of room there. The humans do a little fishing and sailing in the sounds, but not enough to disturb the birds. If the sea birds follow my advice, they will move north immediately.’

“When the gull had finished, the lark, who had explored the land back from the coast, spoke:

“ ‘I don’t know what the gull means by his islands and points,’ said the lark. I have travelled only over great fields and flowery meadows. I have never before seen a country crossed by some large streams. Their shores are dotted with homesteads, and at the mouth of the rivers are cities; but for the most part the country is very desolate. If the field birds follow my advice, they will move north immediately.’

“After the lark came the grouse, who had flown over the midlands.

“ ‘I know neither what the lark means with his meadows nor the gull with his islands and points,’ said he. ‘I have seen only pine forests on this whole trip. There are also many rushing streams and great stretches of moss-grown swamp land; but all that is not river or swamp is forest. If the forest birds follow my advice, they will move north immediately.’

“After the grouse came the loon, who had explored the borderland to the west.

“I don’t know what the grouse means by his forests, nor do I know where the eyes of the lark and the gull could have been,’ remarked the loon. ‘There’s hardly any land up there⁠—only big lakes. Between beautiful shores glisten clear, blue mountain lakes, which pour into roaring waterfalls. If the freshwater birds follow my advice, they will move north immediately.’

“The last speaker was the snow sparrow, who had flown along the western boundary.

“ ‘I don’t know what the loon means by his lakes, nor do I know what countries the grouse, the lark, and the gull can have seen,’ he said. ‘I found one vast mountainous region up north. I didn’t run across any fields or any pine forests, but peak after peak and highlands. I have seen ice fields and snow and mountain brooks, with water as white as milk. No farmers nor cattle nor homesteads have I seen, but only Lapps and reindeer and huts met my eyes. If the cliff birds follow my advice, they will move north immediately.’

“When the five scouts had presented their reports to the assembly, they began to call one another liars, and were ready to fly at each other to prove the truth of their arguments.

“But the old and wise birds who had sent them out, listened to their accounts with joy, and calmed their fighting propensities.

“ ‘You mustn’t quarrel among yourselves,’ they said. ‘We understand from your reports that up north there are large mountain tracts, a big lake region, great forest lands, a wide plain, and a big group of islands. This is more than we have expected⁠—more than many a mighty kingdom can boast within its borders.’ ”

The Moving Landscape


The boy had been reminded of the old Laplander’s story because he himself was now travelling over the country of which he had spoken. The eagle told him that the expanse of coast which spread beneath them was Westbottom, and that the blue ridges far to the west were in Lapland.

Only to be once more seated comfortably on Gorgo’s back, after all that he had suffered during the forest fire, was a pleasure. Besides, they were having a fine trip. The flight was so easy that at times it seemed as if they were standing still in the air. The eagle beat and beat his wings, without appearing to move from the spot; on the other hand, everything under them seemed in motion. The whole Earth and all things on it moved slowly southward. The forests, the fields, the fences, the rivers, the cities, the islands, the sawmills⁠—all were on the march. The boy wondered whither they were bound. Had they grown tired of standing so far north, and wished to move toward the south?

Amid all the objects in motion there was only one that stood still: that was a railway train. It stood directly under them, for it was with the train as with Gorgo⁠—it could not move from the spot. The locomotive sent forth smoke and sparks. The clatter of the wheels could be heard all the way up to the boy, but the train did not seem to move. The forests rushed by; the flag station rushed by; fences and telegraph poles rushed by; but the train stood still. A broad river with a long bridge came toward it, but the river and the bridge glided along under the train with perfect ease. Finally a railway station appeared. The station master stood on the platform with his red flag, and moved slowly toward the train.

When he waved his little flag, the locomotive belched even darker smoke curls than before, and whistled mournfully because it had to stand still. All of a sudden it began to move toward the south, like everything else.

The boy saw all the coach doors open and the passengers step out while both cars and people were moving southward.

He glanced away from the earth and tried to look straight ahead. Staring at the queer railway train had made him dizzy; but after he had gazed for a moment at a little white cloud, he was tired of that and looked down again⁠—thinking all the while that the eagle and himself were quite still and that everything else was travelling on south. Fancy! Suppose the grain field just then running along under him⁠—which must have been newly sown for he had seen a green blade on it⁠—were to travel all the way down to Skåne where the rye was in full bloom at this season!

Up here the pine forests were different: the trees were bare, the branches short and the needles were almost black. Many trees were bald at the top and looked sickly. If a forest like that were to journey down to Kolmården and see a real forest, how inferior it would feel!

The gardens which he now saw had some pretty bushes, but no fruit trees or lindens or chestnut trees⁠—only mountain ash and birch. There were some vegetable beds, but they were not as yet hoed or planted.

“If such an apology for a garden were to come trailing into Sörmland, the province of gardens, wouldn’t it think itself a poor wilderness by comparison?”

Imagine an immense plain like the one now gliding beneath him, coming under the very eyes of the poor Småland peasants! They would hurry away from their meagre garden plots and stony fields, to begin plowing and sowing.

There was one thing, however, of which this Northland had more than other lands, and that was light. Night must have set in, for the cranes stood sleeping on the morass; but it was as light as day. The sun had not travelled southward, like every other thing. Instead, it had gone so far north that it shone in the boy’s face. To all appearance, it had no notion of setting that night.

If this light and this sun were only shining on West Vemmenhög! It would suit the boy’s father and mother to a dot to have a working day that lasted twenty-four hours.


The boy raised his head and looked around, perfectly bewildered. It was mighty queer! Here he lay sleeping in some place where he had not been before. No, he had never seen this glen nor the mountains round about; and never had he noticed such puny and shrunken birches as those under which he now lay.

Where was the eagle? The boy could see no sign of him. Gorgo must have deserted him. Well, here was another adventure!

The boy lay down again, closed his eyes, and tried to recall the circumstances under which he had dropped to sleep.

He remembered that as long as he was travelling over Westbottom he had fancied that the eagle and he were at a standstill in the air, and that the land under them was moving southward. As the eagle turned northwest, the wind had come from that side, and again he had felt a current of air, so that the land below had stopped moving and he had noticed that the eagle was bearing him onward with terrific speed.

“Now we are flying into Lapland,” Gorgo had said, and the boy had bent forward, so that he might see the country of which he had heard so much.

But he had felt rather disappointed at not seeing anything but great tracts of forest land and wide marshes. Forest followed marsh and marsh followed forest. The monotony of the whole finally made him so sleepy that he had nearly dropped to the ground.

He said to the eagle that he could not stay on his back another minute, but must sleep awhile. Gorgo had promptly swooped to the ground, where the boy had dropped down on a moss tuft. Then Gorgo put a talon around him and soared into the air with him again.

“Go to sleep, Thumbietot!” he cried. “The sunshine keeps me awake and I want to continue the journey.”

Although the boy hung in this uncomfortable position, he actually dozed and dreamed.

He dreamed that he was on a broad road in southern Sweden, hurrying along as fast as his little legs could carry him. He was not alone, many wayfarers were tramping in the same direction. Close beside him marched grain-filled rye blades, blossoming corn flowers, and yellow daisies. Heavily laden apple trees went puffing along, followed by vine-covered bean stalks, big clusters of white daisies, and masses of berry bushes. Tall beeches and oaks and lindens strolled leisurely in the middle of the road, their branches swaying, and they stepped aside for none. Between the boy’s tiny feet darted the little flowers⁠—wild strawberry blossoms, white anemones, clover, and forget-me-nots. At first he thought that only the vegetable family was on the march, but presently he saw that animals and people accompanied them. The insects were buzzing around advancing bushes, the fishes were swimming in moving ditches, the birds were singing in strolling trees. Both tame and wild beasts were racing, and amongst all this people moved along⁠—some with spades and scythes, others with axes, and others, again, with fishing nets.

The procession marched with gladness and gayety, and he did not wonder at that when he saw who was leading it. It was nothing less than the Sun itself that rolled on like a great shining head with hair of many-hued rays and a countenance beaming with merriment and kindliness!

“Forward, march!” it kept calling out. “None need feel anxious whilst I am here. Forward, march!”

“I wonder where the Sun wants to take us to?” remarked the boy. A rye blade that walked beside him heard him, and immediately answered:

“He wants to take us up to Lapland to fight the Ice Witch.”

Presently the boy noticed that some of the travellers hesitated, slowed up, and finally stood quite still. He saw that the tall beech tree stopped, and that the roebuck and the wheat blade tarried by the wayside, likewise the blackberry bush, the little yellow buttercup, the chestnut tree, and the grouse.

He glanced about him and tried to reason out why so many stopped. Then he discovered that they were no longer in southern Sweden. The march had been so rapid that they were already in Svealand.

Up there the oak began to move more cautiously. It paused awhile to consider, took a few faltering steps, then came to a standstill.

“Why doesn’t the oak come along?” asked the boy.

“It’s afraid of the Ice Witch,” said a fair young birch that tripped along so boldly and cheerfully that it was a joy to watch it. The crowd hurried on as before. In a short time they were in Norrland, and now it mattered not how much the Sun cried and coaxed⁠—the apple tree stopped, the cherry tree stopped, the rye blade stopped!

The boy turned to them and asked:

“Why don’t you come along? Why do you desert the Sun?”

“We dare not! We’re afraid of the Ice Witch, who lives in Lapland,” they answered.

The boy comprehended that they were far north, as the procession grew thinner and thinner. The rye blade, the barley, the wild strawberry, the blueberry bush, the pea stalk, the currant bush had come along as far as this. The elk and the domestic cow had been walking side by side, but now they stopped. The Sun no doubt would have been almost deserted if new followers had not happened along. Osier bushes and a lot of brushy vegetation joined the procession. Laps and reindeer, mountain owl and mountain fox and willow grouse followed.

Then the boy heard something coming toward them. He saw great rivers and creeks sweeping along with terrible force.

“Why are they in such a hurry?” he asked.

“They are running away from the Ice Witch, who lives up in the mountains.”

All of a sudden the boy saw before him a high, dark, turreted wall. Instantly the Sun turned its beaming face toward this wall and flooded it with light. Then it became apparent that it was no wall, but the most glorious mountains, which loomed up⁠—one behind another. Their peaks were rose-coloured in the sunlight, their slopes azure and gold-tinted.

“Onward, onward!” urged the Sun as it climbed the steep cliffs. “There’s no danger so long as I am with you.”

But halfway up, the bold young birch deserted⁠—also the sturdy pine and the persistent spruce, and there, too, the Laplander, and the willow brush deserted. At last, when the Sun reached the top, there was no one but the little tot, Nils Holgersson, who had followed it.

The Sun rolled into a cave, where the walls were bedecked with ice, and Nils Holgersson wanted to follow, but farther than the opening of the cave he dared not venture, for in there he saw something dreadful.

Far back in the cave sat an old witch with an ice body, hair of icicles, and a mantle of snow!

At her feet lay three black wolves, who rose and opened their jaws when the Sun approached. From the mouth of one came a piercing cold, from the second a blustering north wind, and from the third came impenetrable darkness.

“That must be the Ice Witch and her tribe,” thought the boy.

He understood that now was the time for him to flee, but he was so curious to see the outcome of the meeting between the Sun and the Ice Witch that he tarried.

The Ice Witch did not move⁠—only turned her hideous face toward the Sun. This continued for a short time. It appeared to the boy that the witch was beginning to sigh and tremble. Her snow mantle fell, and the three ferocious wolves howled less savagely.

Suddenly the Sun cried:

“Now my time is up!” and rolled out of the cave.

Then the Ice Witch let loose her three wolves. Instantly the North Wind, Cold, and Darkness rushed from the cave and began to chase the Sun.

“Drive him out! Drive him back!” shrieked the Ice Witch. “Chase him so far that he can never come back! Teach him that Lapland is mine!”

But Nils Holgersson felt so unhappy when he saw that the Sun was to be driven from Lapland that he awakened with a cry. When he recovered his senses, he found himself at the bottom of a ravine.

But where was Gorgo? How was he to find out where he himself was?

He arose and looked all around him. Then he happened to glance upward and saw a peculiar structure of pine twigs and branches that stood on a cliff-ledge.

“That must be one of those eagle nests that Gorgo⁠—” But this was as far as he got. He tore off his cap, waved it in the air, and cheered.

Now he understood where Gorgo had brought him. This was the very glen where the wild geese lived in summer, and just above it was the eagles’ cliff.

He had arrived!

He would meet Morten Goosey-Gander and Akka and all the other comrades in a few moments. Hurrah!

The Meeting

All was still in the glen. The sun had not yet stepped above the cliffs, and Nils Holgersson knew that it was too early in the morning for the geese to be awake.

The boy walked along leisurely and searched for his friends. Before he had gone very far, he paused with a smile, for he saw such a pretty sight. A wild goose was sleeping in a neat little nest, and beside her stood her goosey-gander. He too, slept, but it was obvious that he had stationed himself thus near her that he might be on hand in the possible event of danger.

The boy went on without disturbing them and peeped into the willow brush that covered the ground. It was not long before he spied another goose couple. These were strangers, not of his flock, but he was so happy that he began to hum⁠—just because he had come across wild geese.

He peeped into another bit of brushwood. There at last he saw two that were familiar.

It was certainly Neljä that was nesting there, and the goosey-gander who stood beside her was surely Kolme. Why, of course! The boy had a good mind to awaken them, but he let them sleep on, and walked away.

In the next brush he saw Viisi and Kuusi, and not far from them he found Yksi and Kaksi. All four were asleep, and the boy passed by without disturbing them. As he approached the next brush, he thought he saw something white shimmering among the bushes, and the heart of him thumped with joy. Yes, it was as he expected. In there sat the dainty Dunfin on an egg-filled nest. Beside her stood her white goosey-gander. Although he slept, it was easy to see how proud he was to watch over his wife up here among the Lapland mountains. The boy did not care to waken the goosey-gander, so he walked on.

He had to seek a long time before he came across any more wild geese. Finally, he saw on a little hillock something that resembled a small, gray moss tuft, and he knew that there was Akka from Kebnekaise. She stood, wide awake, looking about as if she were keeping watch over the whole glen.

“Good morning, Mother Akka!” said the boy. “Please don’t waken the other geese yet awhile, for I wish to speak with you in private.”

The old leader-goose came rushing down the hill and up to the boy.

First she seized hold of him and shook him, then she stroked him with her bill before she shook him again. But she did not say a word, since he asked her not to waken the others.

Thumbietot kissed old Mother Akka on both cheeks, then he told her how he had been carried off to Skansen and held captive there.

“Now I must tell you that Smirre Fox, short of an ear, sat imprisoned in the foxes’ cage at Skansen,” said the boy. “Although he was very mean to us, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. There were many other foxes in the cage; and they seemed quite contented there, but Smirre sat all the while looking dejected, longing for liberty.

“I made many good friends at Skansen, and I learned one day from the Lapp dog that a man had come to Skansen to buy foxes. He was from some island far out in the ocean. All the foxes had been exterminated there, and the rats were about to get the better of the inhabitants, so they wished the foxes back again.

“As soon as I learned of this, I went to Smirre’s cage and said to him:

“ ‘Tomorrow some men are coming here to get a pair of foxes. Don’t hide, Smirre, but keep well in the foreground and see to it that you are chosen. Then you’ll be free again.’

“He followed my suggestion, and now he is running at large on the island. What say you to this, Mother Akka? If you had been in my place, would you not have done likewise?”

“You have acted in a way that makes me wish I had done that myself,” said the leader-goose proudly.

“It’s a relief to know that you approve,” said the boy. “Now there is one thing more I wish to ask you about:

“One day I happened to see Gorgo, the eagle⁠—the one that fought with Morten Goosey-Gander⁠—a prisoner at Skansen. He was in the eagles’ cage and looked pitifully forlorn. I was thinking of filing down the wire roof over him and letting him out, but I also thought of his being a dangerous robber and bird-eater, and wondered if I should be doing right in letting loose such a plunderer, and if it were not better, perhaps, to let him stay where he was. What say you, Mother Akka? Was it right to think thus?”

“No, it was not right!” retorted Akka. “Say what you will about the eagles, they are proud birds and greater lovers of freedom than all others. It is not right to keep them in captivity. Do you know what I would suggest? This: that, as soon as you are well rested, we two make the trip together to the big bird prison, and liberate Gorgo.”

“That is just the word I was expecting from you, Mother Akka,” returned the boy eagerly.

“There are those who say that you no longer have any love in your heart for the one you reared so tenderly, because he lives as eagles must live. But I know now that it isn’t true. And now I want to see if Morten Goosey-Gander is awake.

“Meanwhile, if you wish to say a ‘thank you’ to the one who brought me here to you, I think you’ll find him up there on the cliff ledge, where once you found a helpless eaglet.”