He who fancies that Ysaetter-Kaisa is dead and gone may as well hear what occurred in Naerke the year that Nils Holgersson travelled over that part of the country. Then let him tell what he thinks about it.
Wednesday, April twenty-seventh.
It was the day before the big Cattle Fair at Oerebro; it rained in torrents and people thought: “This is exactly as in Ysaetter-Kaisa’s time! At fairs she used to be more prankish than usual. It was quite in her line to arrange a downpour like this on a market eve.”
As the day wore on, the rain increased, and toward evening came regular cloud-bursts. The roads were like bottomless swamps. The farmers who had started from home with their cattle early in the morning, that they might arrive at a seasonable hour, fared badly. Cows and oxen were so tired they could hardly move, and many of the poor beasts dropped down in the middle of the road, to show that they were too exhausted to go any farther. All who lived along the roadside had to open their doors to the market-bound travellers, and harbour them as best they could. Farm houses, barns, and sheds were soon crowded to their limit.
Meanwhile, those who could struggle along toward the inn did so; but when they arrived they wished they had stopped at some cabin along the road. All the cribs in the barn and all the stalls in the stable were already occupied. There was no other choice than to let horses and cattle stand out in the rain. Their masters could barely manage to get under cover.
The crush and mud and slush in the barn yard were frightful! Some of the animals were standing in puddles and could not even lie down. There were thoughtful masters, of course, who procured straw for their animals to lie on, and spread blankets over them; but there were those, also, who sat in the inn, drinking and gambling, entirely forgetful of the dumb creatures which they should have protected.
The boy and the wild geese had come to a little wooded island in Hjaelmar Lake that evening. The island was separated from the main land by a narrow and shallow stream, and at low tide one could pass over it dry-shod.
It rained just as hard on the island as it did everywhere else. The boy could not sleep for the water that kept dripping down on him. Finally he got up and began to walk. He fancied that he felt the rain less when he moved about.
He had hardly circled the island, when he heard a splashing in the stream. Presently he saw a solitary horse tramping among the trees. Never in all his life had he seen such a wreck of a horse! He was broken-winded and stiff-kneed and so thin that every rib could be seen under the hide. He bore neither harness nor saddle—only an old bridle, from which dangled a half-rotted rope-end. Obviously he had had no difficulty in breaking loose.
The horse walked straight toward the spot where the wild geese were sleeping. The boy was afraid that he would step on them.