From day to day the dog Karr went about with savage glee, thinking of the hour when he might venture to kill Helpless.
But the caterpillars, meanwhile, had spread over miles of pine woods. Not in one summer did the disease reach them all. Many lived to become pupas and moths.
Grayskin sent messages to his friend Karr by the birds of passage, to say that he was alive and faring well. But the birds told Karr confidentially that on several occasions Grayskin had been pursued by poachers, and that only with the greatest difficulty had he escaped.
Karr lived in a state of continual grief, yearning, and anxiety. Yet he had to wait two whole summers more before there was an end of the caterpillars!
Karr no sooner heard the game-keeper say that the forest was out of danger than he started on a hunt for Helpless. But when he was in the thick of the forest he made a frightful discovery: He could not hunt any more, he could not run, he could not track his enemy, and he could not see at all!
During the long years of waiting, old age had overtaken Karr. He had grown old without having noticed it. He had not the strength even to kill a water-snake. He was not able to save his friend Grayskin from his enemy.
One afternoon Akka from Kebnekaise and her flock alighted on the shore of a forest lake.
Spring was backward—as it always is in the mountain districts. Ice covered all the lake save a narrow strip next the land. The geese at once plunged into the water to bathe and hunt for food. In the morning Nils Holgersson had dropped one of his wooden shoes, so he went down by the elms and birches that grew along the shore, to look for something to bind around his foot.
The boy walked quite a distance before he found anything that he could use. He glanced about nervously, for he did not fancy being in the forest.
“Give me the plains and the lakes!” he thought. “There you can see what you are likely to meet. Now, if this were a grove of little birches, it would be well enough, for then the ground would be almost bare; but how people can like these wild, pathless forests is incomprehensible to me. If I owned this land I would chop down every tree.”
At last he caught sight of a piece of birch bark, and just as he was fitting it to his foot he heard a rustle behind him. He turned quickly. A snake darted from the brush straight toward him!
The snake was uncommonly long and thick, but the boy soon saw that it had a white spot on each cheek.
“Why, it’s only a water-snake,” he laughed; “it can’t harm me.”
But the next instant the snake gave him a powerful blow on the chest that knocked him down. The boy was on his feet in a second and running away, but the snake was after him! The ground was stony and scrubby; the boy could not proceed very fast; and the snake was close at his heels.