Selma Lagerlöf.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils online

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yellows. The houses were white, as if built of light, and the windows
and spires sparkled like fire. All things floated on the water as

The geese were travelling straight east. They flew over factories and
workshops; then over mansions edging the shores. Steamboats and tugs
swarmed on the water; but now they came from the east and were steaming
westward toward the city.

The wild geese flew on, but instead of the narrow Mälar fiords and the
little islands, broader waters and larger islands spread under them. At
last the land was left behind and seen no more.

They flew still farther out, where they found no more large inhabited
islands - only numberless little rock islands were scattered on the
water. Now the fiords were not crowded by the land. The sea lay before
them, vast and limitless.

Here the wild geese alighted on a cliff island, and as soon as their
feet touched the ground the boy turned to Dunfin.

"What city did we fly over just now?" he asked.

"I don't know what human beings have named it," said Dunfin. "We gray
geese call it the 'City that Floats on the Water'."


Dunfin had two sisters, Prettywing and Goldeye. They were strong and
intelligent birds, but they did not have such a soft and shiny feather
dress as Dunfin, nor did they have her sweet and gentle disposition.
From the time they had been little, yellow goslings, their parents and
relatives and even the old fisherman had plainly shown them that they
thought more of Dunfin than of them. Therefore the sisters had always
hated her.

When the wild geese landed on the cliff island, Prettywing and Goldeye
were feeding on a bit of grass close to the strand, and immediately
caught sight of the strangers.

"See, Sister Goldeye, what fine-looking geese have come to our island!"
exclaimed Prettywing, "I have rarely seen such graceful birds. Do you
notice that they have a white goosey-gander among them? Did you ever set
eyes on a handsomer bird? One could almost take him for a swan!"

Goldeye agreed with her sister that these were certainly very
distinguished strangers that had come to the island, but suddenly she
broke off and called: "Sister Prettywing! Oh, Sister Prettywing! Don't
you see whom they bring with them?"

Prettywing also caught sight of Dunfin and was so astounded that she
stood for a long time with her bill wide open, and only hissed.

"It can't be possible that it is she! How did she manage to get in with
people of that class? Why, we left her at Öland to freeze and starve."

"The worse of it is she will tattle to father and mother that we flew
so close to her that we knocked her wing out of joint," said Goldeye.
"You'll see that it will end in our being driven from the island!"

"We have nothing but trouble in store for us, now that that young one
has come back!" snapped Prettywing. "Still I think it would be best for
us to appear as pleased as possible over her return. She is so stupid
that perhaps she didn't even notice that we gave her a push on purpose."

While Prettywing and Goldeye were talking in this strain, the wild geese
had been standing on the strand, pluming their feathers after the
flight. Now they marched in a long line up the rocky shore to the cleft
where Dunfin's parents usually stopped.

Dunfin's parents were good folk. They had lived on the island longer
than any one else, and it was their habit to counsel and aid all
newcomers. They too had seen the geese approach, but they had not
recognized Dunfin in the flock.

"It is strange to see wild geese land on this island," remarked the
goose-master. "It is a fine flock - that one can see by their flight."

"But it won't be easy to find pasturage for so many," said the
goose-wife, who was gentle and sweet-tempered, like Dunfin.

When Akka came marching with her company, Dunfin's parents went out to
meet her and welcome her to the island. Dunfin flew from her place at
the end of the line and lit between her parents.

"Mother and father, I'm here at last!" she cried joyously. "Don't you
know Dunfin?"

At first the old goose-parents could not quite make out what they saw,
but when they recognized Dunfin they were absurdly happy, of course.

While the wild geese and Morten Goosey-Gander and Dunfin were chattering
excitedly, trying to tell how she had been rescued, Prettywing and
Goldeye came running. They cried "_welcome"_ and pretended to be so
happy because Dunfin was at home that she was deeply moved.

The wild geese fared well on the island and decided not to travel
farther until the following morning. After a while the sisters asked
Dunfin if she would come with them and see the places where they
intended to build their nests. She promptly accompanied them, and saw
that they had picked out secluded and well protected nesting places.

"Now where will you settle down, Dunfin?" they asked.

"I? Why I don't intend to remain on the island," she said. "I'm going
with the wild geese up to Lapland."

"What a pity that you must leave us!" said the sisters.

"I should have been very glad to remain here with father and mother and
you," said Dunfin, "had I not promised the big, white - "

"What!" shrieked Prettywing. "Are you to have the handsome
goosey-gander? Then it is - " But here Goldeye gave her a sharp nudge,
and she stopped short.

The two cruel sisters had much to talk about all the afternoon. They
were furious because Dunfin had a suitor like the white goosey-gander.
They themselves had suitors, but theirs were only common gray geese,
and, since they had seen Morten Goosey-Gander, they thought them so
homely and low-bred that they did not wish even to look at them.

"This will grieve me to death!" whimpered Goldeye. "If at least it had
been you, Sister Prettywing, who had captured him!"

"I would rather see him dead than to go about here the entire summer
thinking of Dunfin's capturing a white goosey-gander!" pouted

However, the sisters continued to appear very friendly toward Dunfin,
and in the afternoon Goldeye took Dunfin with her, that she might see
the one she thought of marrying.

"He's not as attractive as the one you will have," said Goldeye. "But to
make up for it, one can be certain that he is what he is."

"What do you mean, Goldeye?" questioned Dunfin. At first Goldeye would
not explain what she had meant, but at last she came out with it.

"We have never seen a white goose travel with wild geese," said the
sister, "and we wonder if he can be bewitched."

"You are very stupid," retorted Dunfin indignantly. "He is a tame goose,
of course."

"He brings with him one who is bewitched," said Goldeye, "and, under the
circumstances, he too must be bewitched. Are you not afraid that he may
be a black cormorant?" She was a good talker and succeeded in
frightening Dunfin thoroughly.

"You don't mean what you are saying," pleaded the little gray goose.
"You only wish to frighten me!"

"I wish what is for your good, Dunfin," said Goldeye. "I can't imagine
anything worse than for you to fly away with a black cormorant! But now
I shall tell you something - try to persuade him to eat some of the roots
I have gathered here. If he is bewitched, it will be apparent at once.
If he is not, he will remain as he is."

The boy was sitting amongst the wild geese, listening to Akka and the
old goose-master, when Dunfin came flying up to him. "Thumbietot,
Thumbietot!" she cried. "Morten Goosey-Gander is dying! I have killed

"Let me get up on your back, Dunfin, and take me to him!" Away they
flew, and Akka and the other wild geese followed them. When they got to
the goosey-gander, he was lying prostrate on the ground. He could not
utter a word - only gasped for breath.

"Tickle him under the gorge and slap him on the back!" commanded Akka.
The boy did so and presently the big, white gander coughed up a large,
white root, which had stuck in his gorge. "Have you been eating of
these?" asked Akka, pointing to some roots that lay on the ground.

"Yes," groaned the goosey-gander.

"Then it was well they stuck in your throat," said Akka, "for they are
poisonous. Had you swallowed them, you certainly should have died."

"Dunfin bade me eat them," said the goosey-gander.

"My sister gave them to me," protested Dunfin, and she told everything.

"You must beware of those sisters of yours, Dunfin!" warned Akka, "for
they wish you no good, depend upon it!"

But Dunfin was so constituted that she could not think evil of any one
and, a moment later, when Prettywing asked her to come and meet her
intended, she went with her immediately.

"Oh, he isn't as handsome as yours," said the sister, "but he's much
more courageous and daring!"

"How do you know he is?" challenged Dunfin.

"For some time past there has been weeping and wailing amongst the sea
gulls and wild ducks on the island. Every morning at daybreak a strange
bird of prey comes and carries off one of them."

"What kind of a bird is it?" asked Dunfin.

"We don't know," replied the sister. "One of his kind has never before
been seen on the island, and, strange to say, he has never attacked one
of us geese. But now my intended has made up his mind to challenge him
to-morrow morning, and drive him away."

"Oh, I hope he'll succeed!" said Dunfin.

"I hardly think he will," returned the sister. "If my goosey-gander were
as big and strong as yours, I should have hope."

"Do you wish me to ask Morten Goosey-Gander to meet the strange bird?"
asked Dunfin.

"Indeed, I do!" exclaimed Prettywing excitedly. "You couldn't render me
a greater service."

The next morning the goosey-gander was up before the sun. He stationed
himself on the highest point of the island and peered in all directions.
Presently he saw a big, dark bird coming from the west. His wings were
exceedingly large, and it was easy to tell that he was an eagle. The
goosey-gander had not expected a more dangerous adversary than an owl,
and how he understood that he could not escape this encounter with his
life. But it did not occur to him to avoid a struggle with a bird who
was many times stronger than himself.

The great bird swooped down on a sea gull and dug his talons into it.
Before the eagle could spread his wings, Morten Goosey-Gander rushed up
to him. "Drop that!" he shouted, "and don't come here again or you'll
have me to deal with!" "What kind of a lunatic are you?" said the eagle.
"It's lucky for you that I never fight with geese, or you would soon be
done for!"

Morten Goosey-Gander thought the eagle considered himself too good to
fight with him and flew at him, incensed, biting him on the throat and
beating him with his wings. This, naturally, the eagle would not
tolerate and he began to fight, but not with his full strength.

The boy lay sleeping in the quarters where Akka and the other wild geese
slept, when Dunfin called: "Thumbietot, Thumbietot! Morten Goosey-Gander
is being torn to pieces by an eagle."

"Let me get up on your back, Dunfin, and take me to him!" said the boy.

When they arrived on the scene Morten Goosey-Gander was badly torn, and
bleeding, but he was still fighting. The boy could not battle with the
eagle; all that he could do was to seek more efficient help.

"Hurry, Dunfin, and call Akka and the wild geese!" he cried. The instant
he said that, the eagle flew back and stopped fighting.

"Who's speaking of Akka?" he asked. He saw Thumbietot and heard the wild
geese honking, so he spread his wings.

"Tell Akka I never expected to run across her or any of her flock out
here in the sea!" he said, and soared away in a rapid and graceful

"That is the self-same eagle who once brought me back to the wild
geese," the boy remarked, gazing after the bird in astonishment.

The geese had decided to leave the island at dawn, but first they wanted
to feed awhile. As they walked about and nibbled, a mountain duck came
up to Dunfin.

"I have a message for you from your sisters," said the duck. "They dare
not show themselves among the wild geese, but they asked me to remind
you not to leave the island without calling on the old fisherman."

"That's so!" exclaimed Dunfin, but she was so frightened now that she
would not go alone, and asked the goosey-gander and Thumbietot to
accompany her to the hut.

The door was open, so Dunfin entered, but the others remained outside.
After a moment they heard Akka give the signal to start, and called
Dunfin. A gray goose came out and flew with the wild geese away from the

They had travelled quite a distance along the archipelago when the boy
began to wonder at the goose who accompanied them. Dunfin always flew
lightly and noiselessly, but this one laboured with heavy and noisy
wing-strokes. "We are in the wrong company. It is Prettywing that
follows us!"

The boy had barely spoken when the goose uttered such an ugly and angry
shriek that all knew who she was. Akka and the others turned to her, but
the gray goose did not fly away at once. Instead she bumped against the
big goosey-gander, snatched Thumbietot, and flew off with him in her

There was a wild chase over the archipelago. Prettywing flew fast, but
the wild geese were close behind her, and there was no chance for her to

Suddenly they saw a puff of smoke rise up from the sea, and heard an
explosion. In their excitement they had not noticed that they were
directly above a boat in which a lone fisherman was seated.

However, none of the geese was hurt; but just there, above the boat,
Prettywing opened her bill and dropped Thumbietot into the sea.



A few years ago, at Skansen - the great park just outside of Stockholm
where they have collected so many wonderful things - there lived a little
old man, named Clement Larsson. He was from Hälsingland and had come to
Skansen with his fiddle to play folk dances and other old melodies. As a
performer, he appeared mostly in the evening. During the day it was his
business to sit on guard in one of the many pretty peasant cottages
which have been moved to Skansen from all parts of the country.

In the beginning Clement thought that he fared better in his old age
than he had ever dared dream; but after a time he began to dislike the
place terribly, especially while he was on watch duty. It was all very
well when visitors came into the cottage to look around, but some days
Clement would sit for many hours all alone. Then he felt so homesick
that he feared he would have to give up his place. He was very poor and
knew that at home he would become a charge on the parish. Therefore he
tried to hold out as long as he could, although he felt more unhappy
from day to day.

One beautiful evening in the beginning of May Clement had been granted a
few hours' leave of absence. He was on his way down the steep hill
leading out of Skansen, when he met an island fisherman coming along
with his game bag. The fisherman was an active young man who came to
Skansen with seafowl that he had managed to capture alive. Clement had
met him before, many times.

The fisherman stopped Clement to ask if the superintendent at Skansen
was at home. When Clement had replied, he, in turn, asked what choice
thing the fisherman had in his bag. "You can see what I have," the
fisherman answered, "if in return you will give me an idea as to what I
should ask for it."

He held open the bag and Clement peeped into it once - and again - then
quickly drew back a step or two. "Good gracious, Ashbjörn!" he
exclaimed. "How did you catch that one?"

He remembered that when he was a child his mother used to talk of the
tiny folk who lived under the cabin floor. He was not permitted to cry
or to be naughty, lest he provoke these small people. After he was grown
he believed his mother had made up these stories about the elves to make
him behave himself. But it had been no invention of his mother's, it
seemed; for there, in Ashbjörn's bag, lay one of the tiny folk.

There was a little of the terror natural to childhood left in Clement,
and he felt a shudder run down his spinal column as he peeped into the
bag. Ashbjörn saw that he was frightened and began to laugh; but
Clement took the matter seriously. "Tell me, Ashbjörn, where you came
across him?" he asked. "You may be sure that I wasn't lying in wait for
him!" said Ashbjörn. "He came to me. I started out early this morning
and took my rifle along into the boat. I had just poled away from the
shore when I sighted some wild geese coming from the east, shrieking
like mad. I sent them a shot, but hit none of them. Instead this
creature came tumbling down into the water - so close to the boat that I
only had to put my hand out and pick him up."

"I hope you didn't shoot him, Ashbjörn?"

"Oh, no! He is well and sound; but when he came down, he was a little
dazed at first, so I took advantage of that fact to wind the ends of two
sail threads around his ankles and wrists, so that he couldn't run away.
'Ha! Here's something for Skansen,' I thought instantly."

Clement grew strangely troubled as the fisherman talked. All that he had
heard about the tiny folk in his childhood - of their vindictiveness
toward enemies and their benevolence toward friends - came back to him.
It had never gone well with those who had attempted to hold one of them

"You should have let him go at once, Ashbjörn," said Clement.

"I came precious near being forced to set him free," returned the
fisherman. "You may as well know, Clement, that the wild geese followed
me all the way home, and they criss-crossed over the island the whole
morning, honk-honking as if they wanted him back. Not only they, but the
entire population - sea gulls, sea swallows, and many others who are not
worth a shot of powder, alighted on the island and made an awful racket.
When I came out they fluttered about me until I had to turn back. My
wife begged me to let him go, but I had made up my mind that he should
come here to Skansen, so I placed one of the children's dolls in the
window, hid the midget in the bottom of my bag, and started away. The
birds must have fancied that it was he who stood in the window, for they
permitted me to leave without pursuing me."

"Does it say anything?" asked Clement.

"Yes. At first he tried to call to the birds, but I wouldn't have it and
put a gag in his mouth."

"Oh, Ashbjörn!" protested Clement. "How can you treat him so! Don't you
see that he is something supernatural!"

"I don't know what he is," said Ashbjörn calmly. "Let others consider
that. I'm satisfied if only I can get a good sum for him. Now tell me,
Clement, what you think the doctor at Skansen would give me."

There was a long pause before Clement replied. He felt very sorry for
the poor little chap. He actually imagined that his mother was standing
beside him telling him that he must always be kind to the tiny folk.

"I have no idea what the doctor up there would care to give you,
Ashbjörn," he said finally. "But if you will leave him with me, I'll pay
you twenty kroner for him."

Ashbjörn stared at the fiddler in amazement when he heard him name so
large a sum. He thought that Clement believed the midget had some
mysterious power and might be of service for him. He was by no means
certain that the doctor would think him such a great find or would offer
to pay so high a sum for him; so he accepted Clement's proffer.

The fiddler poked his purchase into one of his wide pockets, turned back
to Skansen, and went into a moss-covered hut, where there were neither
visitors nor guards. He closed the door after him, took out the midget,
who was still bound hand and foot and gagged, and laid him down gently
on a bench.

"Now listen to what I say!" said Clement. "I know of course that such as
you do not like to be seen of men, but prefer to go about and busy
yourselves in your own way. Therefore I have decided to give you your
liberty - but only on condition that you will remain in this park until I
permit you to leave. If you agree to this, nod your head three times."

Clement gazed at the midget with confident expectation, but the latter
did not move a muscle.

"You shall not fare badly," continued Clement. "I'll see to it that you
are fed every day, and you will have so much to do there that the time
will not seem long to you. But you mustn't go elsewhere till I give you
leave. Now we'll agree as to a signal. So long as I set your food out in
a white bowl you are to stay. When I set it out in a blue one you may

Clement paused again, expecting the midget to give the sign of approval,
but he did not stir.

"Very well," said Clement, "then there's no choice but to show you to
the master of this place. Then you'll be put in a glass case, and all
the people in the big city of Stockholm will come and stare at you."

This scared the midget, and he promptly gave the signal.

"That was right," said Clement as he cut the cord that bound the
midget's hands. Then he hurried toward the door.

The boy unloosed the bands around his ankles and tore away the gag
before thinking of anything else. When he turned to Clement to thank
him, he had gone.

Just outside the door Clement met a handsome, noble-looking gentleman,
who was on his way to a place close by from which there was a beautiful
outlook. Clement could not recall having seen the stately old man
before, but the latter must surely have noticed Clement sometime when he
was playing the fiddle, because he stopped and spoke to him.

"Good day, Clement!" he said. "How do you do? You are not ill, are you?
I think you have grown a bit thin of late."

There was such an expression of kindliness about the old gentleman that
Clement plucked up courage and told him of his homesickness.

"What!" exclaimed the old gentleman. "Are you homesick when you are in
Stockholm? It can't be possible!" He looked almost offended. Then he
reflected that it was only an ignorant old peasant from Hälsingland that
he talked with - and so resumed his friendly attitude.

"Surely you have never heard how the city of Stockholm was founded? If
you had, you would comprehend that your anxiety to get away is only a
foolish fancy. Come with me to the bench over yonder and I will tell you
something about Stockholm."

When the old gentleman was seated on the bench he glanced down at the
city, which spread in all its glory below him, and he drew a deep
breath, as if he wished to drink in all the beauty of the landscape.
Thereupon he turned to the fiddler.

"Look, Clement!" he said, and as he talked he traced with his cane a
little map in the sand in front of them. "Here lies Uppland, and here,
to the south, a point juts out, which is split up by a number of bays.
And here we have Sörmland with another point, which is just as cut up
and points straight north. Here, from the west, comes a lake filled with
islands: It is Lake Mälar. From the east comes another body of water,
which can barely squeeze in between the islands and islets. It is the
East Sea. Here, Clement, where Uppland joins Sörmland and Mälaren joins
the East Sea, comes a short river, in the centre of which lie four
little islets that divide the river into several tributaries - one of
which is called Norriström but was formerly Stocksund.

"In the beginning these islets were common wooded islands, such as one
finds in plenty on Lake Mälar even to-day, and for ages they were
entirely uninhabited. They were well located between two bodies of water
and two bodies of land; but this no one remarked. Year after year
passed; people settled along Lake Mälar and in the archipelago, but
these river islands attracted no settlers. Sometimes it happened that a
seafarer put into port at one of them and pitched his tent for the
night; but no one remained there long.

"One day a fisherman, who lived on Liding Island, out in Salt Fiord,
steered his boat toward Lake Mälar, where he had such good luck with his
fishing that he forgot to start for home in time. He got no farther than
the four islets, and the best he could do was to land on one and wait
until later in the night, when there would be bright moonlight.

"It was late summer and warm. The fisherman hauled his boat on land, lay
down beside it, his head resting upon a stone, and fell asleep. When he
awoke the moon had been up a long while. It hung right above him and
shone with such splendour that it was like broad daylight.

"The man jumped to his feet and was about to push his boat into the
water, when he saw a lot of black specks moving out in the stream. A
school of seals was heading full speed for the island. When the

Online LibrarySelma LagerlöfThe Wonderful Adventures of Nils → online text (page 24 of 34)