He didn’t dare run far. He knew, of course, that Smirre Fox lay in wait for him, and he understood that he must remain near the children. He turned round to see what sort of folk they were, but he hadn’t looked at them a second before he ran up to them and cried: “Oh, good-day, Osa goose-girl! Oh, good-day, little Mats!”
For when the boy saw those children he forgot entirely where he was. Crows and burning cabin and talking animals had vanished from his memory. He was walking on a stubble-field, in West Vemminghoeg, tending a goose-flock; and beside him, on the field, walked those same Smaland children, with their geese. As soon as he saw them, he ran up on the stone-hedge and shouted: “Oh, good-day, Osa goose-girl! Oh, good-day, little Mats!”
But when the children saw such a little creature coming up to them with outstretched hands, they grabbed hold of each other, took a couple of steps backward, and looked scared to death.
When the boy noticed their terror he woke up and remembered who he was. And then it seemed to him that nothing worse could happen to him than that those children should see how he had been bewitched. Shame and grief because he was no longer a human being overpowered him. He turned and fled. He knew not whither.
But a glad meeting awaited the boy when he came down to the heath. For there, in the heather, he spied something white, and toward him came the white goosey-gander, accompanied by Dunfin. When the white one saw the boy running with such speed, he thought that dreadful fiends were pursuing him. He flung him in all haste upon his back and flew off with him.
THE OLD PEASANT WOMAN
Thursday, April fourteenth.
Three tired wanderers were out in the late evening in search of a night harbour. They travelled over a poor and desolate portion of northern Smaland. But the sort of resting place which they wanted, they should have been able to find; for they were no weaklings who asked for soft beds or comfortable rooms. “If one of these long mountain-ridges had a peak so high and steep that a fox couldn’t in any way climb up to it, then we should have a good sleeping-place,” said one of them. “If a single one of the big swamps was thawed out, and was so marshy and wet that a fox wouldn’t dare venture out on it, this, too, would be a right good night harbour,” said the second. “If the ice on one of the large lakes we travel past were loose, so that a fox could not come out on it, then we should have found just what we are seeking,” said the third.
The worst of it was that when the sun had gone down, two of the travellers became so sleepy that every second they were ready to fall to the ground. The third one, who could keep himself awake, grew more and more uneasy as night approached. “Then it was a misfortune that we came to a land where lakes and swamps are frozen, so that a fox can get around everywhere. In other places the ice has melted away; but now we’re well up in the very coldest Smaland, where spring has not as yet arrived. I don’t know how I shall ever manage to find a good sleeping-place! Unless I find some spot that is well protected, Smirre Fox will be upon us before morning.”