And the foxes, who knew that it was well-nigh impossible to take the life of a goose on an open plain, thought at first that they wouldn’t chase after the goosey-gander. But as they had nothing else to do, they finally sneaked down on one of the long passes, and tried to steal up to him. They went about it so cautiously that the goosey-gander couldn’t see a shadow of them.
They were not far off when the goosey-gander made an attempt to raise himself into the air. He spread his wings, but he did not succeed in lifting himself. When the foxes seemed to grasp the fact that he couldn’t fly, they hurried forward with greater eagerness than before. They no longer concealed themselves in the cleft, but came up on the highland. They hurried as fast as they could, behind tufts and hollows, and came nearer and nearer the goosey-gander—without his seeming to notice that he was being hunted. At last the foxes were so near that they could make the final leap. Simultaneously, all three threw themselves with one long jump at the goosey-gander.
But still at the last moment he must have noticed something, for he ran out of the way, so the foxes missed him. This, at any rate, didn’t mean very much, for the goosey-gander only had a couple of metres headway, and, in the bargain, he limped. Anyway, the poor thing ran ahead as fast as he could.
The boy sat upon the goose-back—backward—and shrieked and called to the foxes. “You have eaten yourselves too fat on mutton, foxes. You can’t catch up with a goose even.” He teased them so that they became crazed with rage and thought only of rushing forward.
The white one ran right straight to the big cleft. When he was there, he made one stroke with his wings, and got over. Just then the foxes were almost upon him.
The goosey-gander hurried on with the same haste as before, even after he had gotten across Hell’s Hole. But he had hardly been running two metres before the boy patted him on the neck, and said: “Now you can stop, goosey-gander.”
At that instant they heard a number of wild howls behind them, and a scraping of claws, and heavy falls. But of the foxes they saw nothing more.
The next morning the lighthouse keeper on Great Karl’s Island found a bit of bark poked under the entrance-door, and on it had been cut, in slanting, angular letters: “The foxes on the little island have fallen down into Hell’s Hole. Take care of them!”
And this the lighthouse keeper did, too.
THE CITY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA
Saturday, April ninth.
It was a calm and clear night. The wild geese did not trouble themselves to seek shelter in any of the grottoes, but stood and slept upon the mountain top; and the boy had lain down in the short, dry grass beside the geese.
It was bright moonlight that night; so bright that it was difficult for the boy to go to sleep. He lay there and thought about just how long he had been away from home; and he figured out that it was three weeks since he had started on the trip. At the same time he remembered that this was Easter-eve.