Again they heard the geese shrieking above them, and again, amid the geese-cackle, they distinguished a few words:
“Stand where you are! Stand where you are!”
The children did not say a word to each other, but obeyed and stood still. Soon after that the ice-floes floated together, so that they could cross the gap. Then they took hold of hands again and ran. They were afraid not only of the peril, but of the mysterious help that had come to them.
Soon they had to stop again, and immediately the sound of the voice reached them.
“Straight ahead, straight ahead!” it said.
This leading continued for about half an hour; by that time they had reached Ljunger Point, where they left the ice and waded to shore. They were still terribly frightened, even though they were on firm land. They did not stop to look back at the lake—where the waves were pitching the ice-floes faster and faster—but ran on. When they had gone a short distance along the point, Osa paused suddenly.
“Wait here, little Mats,” she said; “I have forgotten something.”
Osa, the goose girl, went down to the strand again, where she stopped to rummage in her bag. Finally she fished out a little wooden shoe, which she placed on a stone where it could be plainly seen. Then she ran to little Mats without once looking back.
But the instant her back was turned, a big white goose shot down from the sky, like a streak of lightning, snatched the wooden shoe, and flew away with it.
Thursday, April twenty-eighth.
When the wild geese and Thumbietot had helped Osa, the goose girl, and little Mats across the ice, they flew into Westmanland, where they alighted in a grain field to feed and rest.
A strong west wind blew almost the entire day on which the wild geese travelled over the mining districts, and as soon as they attempted to direct their course northward they were buffeted toward the east. Now, Akka thought that Smirre Fox was at large in the eastern part of the province; therefore she would not fly in that direction, but turned back, time and again, struggling westward with great difficulty. At this rate the wild geese advanced very slowly, and late in the afternoon they were still in the Westmanland mining districts. Toward evening the wind abated suddenly, and the tired travellers hoped that they would have an interval of easy flight before sundown. Then along came a violent gust of wind, which tossed the geese before it, like balls, and the boy, who was sitting comfortably, with no thought of peril, was lifted from the goose’s back and hurled into space.
Little and light as he was, he could not fall straight to the ground in such a wind; so at first he was carried along with it, drifting down slowly and spasmodically, as a leaf falls from a tree.