“Look there!” said Gorgo. “I think we’ve got him.”
He sank, and, to his great astonishment, the boy saw that the eagle was right. There indeed stood little Clement Larsson chopping wood.
Gorgo alighted on a pine tree in the thick woods a little away from the house.
“I have fulfilled my obligation,” said the eagle, with a proud toss of his head. “Now you must try and have a word with the man. I’ll perch here at the top of the thick pine and wait for you.”
The day’s work was done at the forest ranches, supper was over, and the peasants sat about and chatted. It was a long time since they had been in the forest of a summer’s night, and they seemed reluctant to go to bed and sleep. It was as light as day, and the dairymaids were busy with their needle-work. Ever and anon they raised their heads, looked toward the forest and smiled. “Now we are here again!” they said. The town, with its unrest, faded from their minds, and the forest, with its peaceful stillness, enfolded them. When at home they had wondered how they should ever be able to endure the loneliness of the woods; but once there, they felt that they were having their best time.
Many of the young girls and young men from neighbouring ranches had come to call upon them, so that there were quite a lot of folk seated on the grass before the cabins, but they did not find it easy to start conversation. The men were going home the next day, so the dairymaids gave them little commissions and bade them take greetings to their friends in the village. This was nearly all that had been said.
Suddenly the eldest of the dairy girls looked up from her work and said laughingly:
“There’s no need of our sitting here so silent to-night, for we have two story-tellers with us. One is Clement Larsson, who sits beside me, and the other is Bernhard from Sunnasjoe, who stands back there gazing toward Black’s Ridge. I think that we should ask each of them to tell us a story. To the one who entertains us the better I shall give the muffler I am knitting.”
This proposal won hearty applause. The two competitors offered lame excuses, naturally, but were quickly persuaded. Clement asked Bernhard to begin, and he did not object. He knew little of Clement Larsson, but assumed that he would come out with some story about ghosts and trolls. As he knew that people liked to listen to such things, he thought it best to choose something of the same sort.
“Some centuries ago,” he began, “a dean here in Delsbo township was riding through the dense forest on a New Year’s Eve. He was on horseback, dressed in fur coat and cap. On the pommel of his saddle hung a satchel in which he kept the communion service, the Prayer-book, and the clerical robe. He had been summoned on a parochial errand to a remote forest settlement, where he had talked with a sick person until late in the evening. Now he was on his way home, but feared that he should not get back to the rectory until after midnight.