Selma Lagerlöf.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils online

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had seen the horrid creatures, he began to tell her about the brave
black rats who, for years, had defended the castle. "But this night
Glimminge castle will fall into the gray rats' power," sighed the stork.

"And why just this night, Herr Ermenrich?" asked Akka.

"Well, because nearly all the black rats went over to Kullaberg last
night," said the stork, "since they had counted on all the rest of the
animals also hurrying there. But you see that the gray rats have stayed
at home; and now they are mustering to storm the castle to-night, when
it will be defended by only a few old creatures who are too feeble to go
over to Kullaberg. They'll probably accomplish their purpose. But I have
lived here in harmony with the black rats for so many years, that it
does not please me to live in a place inhabited by their enemies."

Akka understood now that the stork had become so enraged over the gray
rats' mode of action, that he had sought her out as an excuse to
complain about them. But after the manner of storks, he certainly had
done nothing to avert the disaster. "Have you sent word to the black
rats, Herr Ermenrich?" she asked. "No," replied the stork, "that
wouldn't be of any use. Before they can get back, the castle will be
taken." "You mustn't be so sure of that, Herr Ermenrich," said Akka. "I
know an old wild goose, I do, who will gladly prevent outrages of this
kind."

When Akka said this, the stork raised his head and stared at her. And it
was not surprising, for Akka had neither claws nor bill that were fit
for fighting; and, in the bargain, she was a day bird, and as soon as it
grew dark she fell helplessly asleep, while the rats did their fighting
at night.

But Akka had evidently made up her mind to help the black rats. She
called Iksi from Vassijaure, and ordered him to take the wild geese over
to Vonib Lake; and when the geese made excuses, she said
authoritatively: "I believe it will be best for us all that you obey me.
I must fly over to the big stone house, and if you follow me, the people
on the place will be sure to see us, and shoot us down. The only one
that I want to take with me on this trip is Thumbietot. He can be of
great service to me because he has good eyes, and can keep awake at
night."

The boy was in his most contrary mood that day. And when he heard what
Akka said, he raised himself to his full height and stepped forward, his
hands behind him and his nose in the air, and he intended to say that
he, most assuredly, did not wish to take a hand in the fight with gray
rats. She might look around for assistance elsewhere.

But the instant the boy was seen, the stork began to move. He had stood
before, as storks generally stand, with head bent downward and the bill
pressed against the neck. But now a gurgle was heard deep down in his
windpipe; as though he would have laughed. Quick as a flash, he lowered
the bill, grabbed the boy, and tossed him a couple of metres in the
air. This feat he performed seven times, while the boy shrieked and the
geese shouted: "What are you trying to do, Herr Ermenrich? That's not a
frog. That's a human being, Herr Ermenrich."

Finally the stork put the boy down entirely unhurt. Thereupon he said to
Akka, "I'll fly back to Glimminge castle now, mother Akka. All who live
there were very much worried when I left. You may be sure they'll be
very glad when I tell them that Akka, the wild goose, and Thumbietot,
the human elf, are on their way to rescue them." With that the stork
craned his neck, raised his wings, and darted off like an arrow when it
leaves a well-drawn bow. Akka understood that he was making fun of her,
but she didn't let it bother her. She waited until the boy had found his
wooden shoes, which the stork had shaken off; then she put him on her
back and followed the stork. On his own account, the boy made no
objection, and said not a word about not wanting to go along. He had
become so furious with the stork, that he actually sat and puffed. That
long, red-legged thing believed he was of no account just because he was
little; but he would show him what kind of a man Nils Holgersson from
West Vemminghög was.

A couple of moments later Akka stood in the storks' nest. It had a wheel
for foundation, and over this lay several grass-mats, and some twigs.
The nest was so old that many shrubs and plants had taken root up there;
and when the mother stork sat on her eggs in the round hole in the
middle of the nest, she not only had the beautiful outlook over a goodly
portion of Skåne to enjoy, but she had also the wild brier-blossoms and
house-leeks to look upon.

Both Akka and the boy saw immediately that something was going on here
which turned upside down the most regular order. On the edge of the
stork-nest sat two gray owls, an old, gray-streaked cat, and a dozen
old, decrepit rats with protruding teeth and watery eyes. They were not
exactly the sort of animals one usually finds living peaceably together.

Not one of them turned around to look at Akka, or to bid her welcome.
They thought of nothing except to sit and stare at some long, gray
lines, which came into sight here and there - on the winter-naked
meadows.

All the black rats were silent. One could see that they were in deep
despair, and probably knew that they could neither defend their own
lives nor the castle. The two owls sat and rolled their big eyes, and
twisted their great, encircling eyebrows, and talked in hollow,
ghost-like voices, about the awful cruelty of the gray rats, and that
they would have to move away from their nest, because they had heard it
said of them that they spared neither eggs nor baby birds. The old
gray-streaked cat was positive that the gray rats would bite him to
death, since they were coming into the castle in such great numbers, and
he scolded the black rats incessantly. "How could you be so idiotic as
to let your best fighters go away?" said he. "How could you trust the
gray rats? It is absolutely unpardonable!"

The twelve black rats did not say a word. But the stork, despite his
misery, could not refrain from teasing the cat. "Don't worry so, Monsie
house-cat!" said he. "Can't you see that mother Akka and Thumbietot have
come to save the castle? You can be certain that they'll succeed. Now I
must stand up to sleep - and I do so with the utmost calm. To-morrow,
when I awaken, there won't be a single gray rat in Glimminge castle."

The boy winked at Akka, and made a sign - as the stork stood upon the
very edge of the nest, with one leg drawn up, to sleep - that he wanted
to push him down to the ground; but Akka restrained him. She did not
seem to be the least bit angry. Instead, she said in a confident tone of
voice: "It would be pretty poor business if one who is as old as I am
could not manage to get out of worse difficulties than this. If only Mr.
and Mrs. Owl, who can stay awake all night, will fly off with a couple
of messages for me, I think that all will go well."

Both owls were willing. Then Akka bade the gentleman owl that he should
go and seek the black rats who had gone off, and counsel them to hurry
home immediately. The lady owl she sent to Flammea, the steeple-owl,
who lived in Lund cathedral, with a commission which was so secret that
Akka only dared to confide it to her in a whisper.

THE RAT CHARMER

It was getting on toward midnight when the gray rats after a diligent
search succeeded in finding an open air-hole in the cellar. This was
pretty high upon the wall; but the rats got up on one another's
shoulders, and it wasn't long before the most daring among them sat in
the air-hole, ready to force its way into Glimminge castle, outside
whose walls so many of its forebears had fallen.

The gray rat sat still for a moment in the hole, and waited for an
attack from within. The leader of the defenders was certainly away, but
she assumed that the black rats who were still in the castle wouldn't
surrender without a struggle. With thumping heart she listened for the
slightest sound, but everything remained quiet. Then the leader of the
gray rats plucked up courage and jumped down in the coal-black cellar.

One after another of the gray rats followed the leader. They all kept
very quiet; and all expected to be ambushed by the black rats. Not until
so many of them had crowded into the cellar that the floor couldn't hold
any more, did they venture farther.

Although they had never before been inside the building, they had no
difficulty in finding their way. They soon found the passages in the
walls which the black rats had used to get to the upper floors. Before
they began to clamber up these narrow and steep steps, they listened
again with great attention. They felt more frightened because the black
rats held themselves aloof in this way, than if they had met them in
open battle. They could hardly believe their luck when they reached the
first story without any mishaps.

Immediately upon their entrance the gray rats caught the scent of the
grain, which was stored in great bins on the floor. But it was not as
yet time for them to begin to enjoy their conquest. They searched first,
with the utmost caution, through the sombre, empty rooms. They ran up in
the fireplace, which stood on the floor in the old castle kitchen, and
they almost tumbled into the well, in the inner room. Not one of the
narrow peep-holes did they leave uninspected, but they found no black
rats. When this floor was wholly in their possession, they began, with
the same caution, to acquire the next. Then they had to venture on a
bold and dangerous climb through the walls, while, with breathless
anxiety, they awaited an assault from the enemy. And although they were
tempted by the most delicious odour from the grain bins, they forced
themselves most systematically to inspect the old-time warriors'
pillar-propped kitchen; their stone table, and fireplace; the deep
window-niches, and the hole in the floor - which in olden time had been
opened to pour down boiling pitch on the intruding enemy.

All this time the black rats were invisible. The gray ones groped their
way to the third story, and into the lord of the castle's great banquet
hall - which stood there cold and empty, like all the other rooms in the
old house. They even groped their way to the upper story, which had but
one big, barren room. The only place they did not think of exploring was
the big stork-nest on the roof - where, just at this time, the lady owl
awakened Akka, and informed her that Flammea, the steeple owl, had
granted her request, and had sent her the thing she wished for.

Since the gray rats had so conscientiously inspected the entire castle,
they felt at ease. They took it for granted that the black rats had
flown, and didn't intend to offer any resistance; and, with light
hearts, they ran up into the grain bins.

But the gray rats had hardly swallowed the first wheat-grains, before
the sound of a little shrill pipe was heard from the yard. The gray rats
raised their heads, listened anxiously, ran a few steps as if they
intended to leave the bin, then they turned back and began to eat once
more.

Again the pipe sounded a sharp and piercing note - and now something
wonderful happened. One rat, two rats - yes, a whole lot of rats left the
grain, jumped from the bins and hurried down cellar by the shortest cut,
to get out of the house. Still there were many gray rats left. These
thought of all the toil and trouble it had cost them to win Glimminge
castle, and they did not want to leave it. But again they caught the
tones from the pipe, and had to follow them. With wild excitement they
rushed up from the bins, slid down through the narrow holes in the
walls, and tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get out.

In the middle of the courtyard stood a tiny creature, who blew upon a
pipe. All round him he had a whole circle of rats who listened to him,
astonished and fascinated; and every moment brought more. Once he took
the pipe from his lips - only for a second - put his thumb to his nose and
wiggled his fingers at the gray rats; and then it looked as if they
wanted to throw themselves on him and bite him to death; but as soon as
he blew on his pipe they were in his power.

When the tiny creature had played all the gray rats out of Glimminge
castle, he began to wander slowly from the courtyard out on the highway;
and all the gray rats followed him, because the tones from that pipe
sounded so sweet to their ears that they could not resist them.

The tiny creature walked before them and charmed them along with him,
on the road to Vallby. He led them into all sorts of crooks and turns
and bends - on through hedges and down into ditches - and wherever he went
they had to follow. He blew continuously on his pipe, which appeared to
be made from an animal's horn, although the horn was so small that, in
our days, there were no animals from whose foreheads it could have been
broken. No one knew, either, who had made it. Flammea, the steeple-owl,
had found it in a niche, in Lund cathedral. She had shown it to Bataki,
the raven; and they had both figured out that this was the kind of horn
that was used in former times by those who wished to gain power over
rats and mice. But the raven was Akka's friend; and it was from him she
had learned that Flammea owned a treasure like this. And it was true
that the rats could not resist the pipe. The boy walked before them and
played as long as the starlight lasted - and all the while they followed
him. He played at daybreak; he played at sunrise; and the whole time the
entire procession of gray rats followed him, and were enticed farther
and farther away from the big grain loft at Glimminge castle.


THE GREAT CRANE DANCE ON KULLABERG


_Tuesday, March twenty-ninth_.

Although there are many magnificent buildings in Skåne, it must be
acknowledged that there's not one among them that has such pretty walls
as old Kullaberg.

Kullaberg is low and rather long. It is not by any means a big or
imposing mountain. On its broad summit you'll find woods and grain
fields, and one and another heather-heath. Here and there, round
heather-knolls and barren cliffs rise up. It is not especially pretty up
there. It looks a good deal like all the other upland places in Skåne.

He who walks along the path which runs across the middle of the
mountain, can't help feeling a little disappointed. Then he happens,
perhaps, to turn away from the path, and wanders off toward the
mountain's sides and looks down over the bluffs; and then, all at once,
he will discover so much that is worth seeing, he hardly knows how he'll
find time to take in the whole of it. For it happens that Kullaberg
does not stand on the land, with plains and valleys around it, like
other mountains; but it has plunged into the sea, as far out as it could
get. Not even the tiniest strip of land lies below the mountain to
protect it against the breakers; but these reach all the way up to the
mountain walls, and can polish and mould them to suit themselves. This
is why the walls stand there as richly ornamented as the sea and its
helpmeet, the wind, have been able to effect. You'll find steep ravines
that are deeply chiselled in the mountain's sides; and black crags that
have become smooth and shiny under the constant lashing of the winds.
There are solitary rock-columns that spring right up out of the water,
and dark grottoes with narrow entrances. There are barren, perpendicular
precipices, and soft, leaf-clad inclines. There are small points, and
small inlets, and small rolling stones that are rattlingly washed up and
down with every dashing breaker. There are majestic cliff-arches that
project over the water. There are sharp stones that are constantly
sprayed by a white foam; and others that mirror themselves in
unchangeable dark-green still water. There are giant troll-caverns
shaped in the rock, and great crevices that lure the wanderer to venture
into the mountain's depths - all the way to Kullman's Hollow.

And over and around all these cliffs and rocks crawl entangled tendrils
and weeds. Trees grow there also, but the wind's power is so great that
trees have to transform themselves into clinging vines, that they may
get a firm hold on the steep precipices. The oaks creep along on the
ground, while their foliage hangs over them like a low ceiling; and
long-limbed beeches stand in the ravines like great leaf-tents.

These remarkable mountain walls, with the blue sea beneath them, and the
clear penetrating air above them, is what makes Kullaberg so dear to the
people that great crowds of them haunt the place every day as long as
the summer lasts. But it is more difficult to tell what it is that makes
it so attractive to animals, that every year they gather there for a big
play-meeting. This is a custom that has been observed since time
immemorial; and one should have been there when the first sea-wave was
dashed into foam against the shore, to be able to explain just why
Kullaberg was chosen as a rendezvous, in preference to all other places.

When the meeting is to take place, the stags and roebucks and hares and
foxes and all the other four-footers make the journey to Kullaberg the
night before, so as not to be observed by the human beings. Just before
sunrise they all march up to the playground, which is a heather-heath on
the left side of the road, and not very far from the mountain's most
extreme point. The playground is inclosed on all sides by round knolls,
which conceal it from any and all who do not happen to come right upon
it. And in the month of March it is not at all likely that any
pedestrians will stray off up there. All the strangers who usually
stroll around on the rocks, and clamber up the mountain's sides the fall
storms have driven away these many months past. And the lighthouse
keeper out there on the point; the old fru on the mountain farm, and the
mountain peasant and his house-folk go their accustomed ways, and do not
run about on the desolate heather-fields.

When the four-footers have arrived on the playground, they take their
places on the round knolls. Each animal family keeps to itself, although
it is understood that, on a day like this, universal peace reigns, and
no one need fear attack. On this day a little hare might wander over to
the foxes' hill, without losing as much as one of his long ears. But
still the animals arrange themselves into separate groups. This is an
old custom.

After they have all taken their places, they begin to look around for
the birds. It is always beautiful weather on this day. The cranes are
good weather prophets, and would not call the animals together if they
expected rain. Although the air is clear, and nothing obstructs the
vision, the four-footers see no birds. This is strange. The sun stands
high in the heavens, and the birds should already be on their way.

But what the animals, on the other hand, observe, is one and another
little dark cloud that comes slowly forward over the plain. And look!
one of these clouds comes gradually along the coast of Öresund, and up
toward Kullaberg. When the cloud has come just over the playground it
stops, and, simultaneously, the entire cloud begins to ring and chirp,
as if it was made of nothing but tone. It rises and sinks, rises and
sinks, but all the while it rings and chirps. At last the whole cloud
falls down over a knoll - all at once - and the next instant the knoll is
entirely covered with gray larks, pretty red-white-gray bulfinches,
speckled starlings and greenish-yellow titmice.

Soon after that, another cloud comes over the plain. This stops over
every bit of land; over peasant cottage and palace; over towns and
cities; over farms and railway stations; over fishing hamlets and sugar
refineries. Every time it stops, it draws to itself a little whirling
column of gray dust-grains from the ground. In this way it grows and
grows. And at last, when it is all gathered up and heads for Kullaberg,
it is no longer a cloud but a whole mist, which is so big that it throws
a shadow on the ground all the way from Höganäs to Mölle. When it stops
over the playground it hides the sun; and for a long while it had to
rain gray sparrows on one of the knolls, before those who had been
flying in the innermost part of the mist could again catch a glimpse of
the daylight.

But still the biggest of these bird-clouds is the one which now appears.
This has been formed of birds who have travelled from every direction to
join it. It is dark bluish-gray, and no sun-ray can penetrate it. It is
full of the ghastliest noises, the most frightful shrieks, the grimmest
laughter, and most ill-luck-boding croaking! All on the playground are
glad when it finally resolves itself into a storm of fluttering and
croaking: of crows and jackdaws and rooks and ravens.

Thereupon not only clouds are seen in the heavens, but a variety of
stripes and figures. Then straight, dotted lines appear in the East and
Northeast. These are forest-birds from Göinge districts: black grouse
and wood grouse who come flying in long lines a couple of metres apart.
Swimming-birds that live around Måkläppen, just out of Falsterbo, now
come floating over Öresund in many extraordinary figures: in triangular
and long curves; in sharp hooks and semicircles.

To the great reunion held the year that Nils Holgersson travelled
around with the wild geese, came Akka and her flock - later than all the
others. And that was not to be wondered at, for Akka had to fly over the
whole of Skåne to get to Kullaberg. Beside, as soon as she awoke, she
had been obliged to go out and hunt for Thumbietot, who, for many hours,
had gone and played to the gray rats, and lured them far away from
Glimminge castle. Mr. Owl had returned with the news that the black rats
would be at home immediately after sunrise; and there was no longer any
danger in letting the steeple-owl's pipe be hushed, and to give the gray
rats the liberty to go where they pleased.

But it was not Akka who discovered the boy where he walked with his long
following, and quickly sank down over him and caught him with the bill
and swung into the air with him, but it was Herr Ermenrich, the stork!
For Herr Ermenrich had also gone out to look for him; and after he had
borne him up to the stork-nest, he begged his forgiveness for having
treated him with disrespect the evening before.

This pleased the boy immensely, and the stork and he became good
friends. Akka, too, showed him that she felt very kindly toward him; she
stroked her old head several times against his arms, and commended him
because he had helped those who were in trouble.

But this one must say to the boy's credit: that he did not want to
accept praise which he had not earned. "No, mother Akka," he said, "you
mustn't think that I lured the gray rats away to help the black ones. I
only wanted to show Herr Ermenrich that I was of some consequence."

He had hardly said this before Akka turned to the stork and asked if he
thought it was advisable to take Thumbietot along to Kullaberg. "I mean,
that we can rely on him as upon ourselves," said she. The stork at once
advised, most enthusiastically, that Thumbietot be permitted to come
along. "Certainly you shall take Thumbietot along to Kullaberg, mother
Akka," said he. "It is fortunate for us that we can repay him for all
that he has endured this night for our sakes. And since it still grieves
me to think that I did not conduct myself in a becoming manner toward
him the other evening, it is I who will carry him on my back - all the
way to the meeting place."

There isn't much that tastes better than to receive praise from those
who are themselves wise and capable; and the boy had certainly never
felt so happy as he did when the wild goose and the stork talked about
him in this way.

Thus the boy made the trip to Kullaberg, riding stork-back. Although he
knew that this was a great honour, it caused him much anxiety, for Herr
Ermenrich was a master flyer, and started off at a very different pace
from the wild geese. While Akka flew her straight way with even
wing-strokes, the stork amused himself by performing a lot of flying
tricks. Now he lay still in an immeasurable height, and floated in the
air without moving his wings, now he flung himself downward with such
sudden haste that it seemed as though he would fall to the ground,
helpless as a stone; now he had lots of fun flying all around Akka, in
great and small circles, like a whirlwind. The boy had never been on a
ride of this sort before; and although he sat there all the while in
terror, he had to acknowledge to himself that he had never before known



Online LibrarySelma LagerlöfThe Wonderful Adventures of Nils → online text (page 6 of 34)