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  • SECTION 1 - THE BOY

  • THE ELF

  • Sunday, March twentieth. Once there was a boy.

  • He was--let us say--something like fourteen years old; long and loose-jointed and

  • towheaded.

  • He wasn't good for much, that boy. His chief delight was to eat and sleep; and

  • after that--he liked best to make mischief. It was a Sunday morning and the boy's

  • parents were getting ready to go to church.

  • The boy sat on the edge of the table, in his shirt sleeves, and thought how lucky it

  • was that both father and mother were going away, and the coast would be clear for a

  • couple of hours.

  • "Good! Now I can take down pop's gun and fire off a shot, without anybody's meddling

  • interference," he said to himself.

  • But it was almost as if father should have guessed the boy's thoughts, for just as he

  • was on the threshold--ready to start--he stopped short, and turned toward the boy.

  • "Since you won't come to church with mother and me," he said, "the least you can do, is

  • to read the service at home. Will you promise to do so?"

  • "Yes," said the boy, "that I can do easy enough."

  • And he thought, of course, that he wouldn't read any more than he felt like reading.

  • The boy thought that never had he seen his mother so persistent.

  • In a second she was over by the shelf near the fireplace, and took down Luther's

  • Commentary and laid it on the table, in front of the window--opened at the service

  • for the day.

  • She also opened the New Testament, and placed it beside the Commentary.

  • Finally, she drew up the big arm-chair, which was bought at the parish auction the

  • year before, and which, as a rule, no one but father was permitted to occupy.

  • The boy sat thinking that his mother was giving herself altogether too much trouble

  • with this spread; for he had no intention of reading more than a page or so.

  • But now, for the second time, it was almost as if his father were able to see right

  • through him.

  • He walked up to the boy, and said in a severe tone: "Now, remember, that you are

  • to read carefully!

  • For when we come back, I shall question you thoroughly; and if you have skipped a

  • single page, it will not go well with you."

  • "The service is fourteen and a half pages long," said his mother, just as if she

  • wanted to heap up the measure of his misfortune.

  • "You'll have to sit down and begin the reading at once, if you expect to get

  • through with it." With that they departed.

  • And as the boy stood in the doorway watching them, he thought that he had been

  • caught in a trap.

  • "There they go congratulating themselves, I suppose, in the belief that they've hit

  • upon something so good that I'll be forced to sit and hang over the sermon the whole

  • time that they are away," thought he.

  • But his father and mother were certainly not congratulating themselves upon anything

  • of the sort; but, on the contrary, they were very much distressed.

  • They were poor farmers, and their place was not much bigger than a garden-plot.

  • When they first moved there, the place couldn't feed more than one pig and a pair

  • of chickens; but they were uncommonly industrious and capable folk--and now they

  • had both cows and geese.

  • Things had turned out very well for them; and they would have gone to church that

  • beautiful morning--satisfied and happy--if they hadn't had their son to think of.

  • Father complained that he was dull and lazy; he had not cared to learn anything at

  • school, and he was such an all-round good- for-nothing, that he could barely be made

  • to tend geese.

  • Mother did not deny that this was true; but she was most distressed because he was wild

  • and bad; cruel to animals, and ill-willed toward human beings.

  • "May God soften his hard heart, and give him a better disposition!" said the mother,

  • "or else he will be a misfortune, both to himself and to us."

  • The boy stood for a long time and pondered whether he should read the service or not.

  • Finally, he came to the conclusion that, this time, it was best to be obedient.

  • He seated himself in the easy chair, and began to read.

  • But when he had been rattling away in an undertone for a little while, this mumbling

  • seemed to have a soothing effect upon him-- and he began to nod.

  • It was the most beautiful weather outside!

  • It was only the twentieth of March; but the boy lived in West Vemminghög Township, down

  • in Southern Skane, where the spring was already in full swing.

  • It was not as yet green, but it was fresh and budding.

  • There was water in all the trenches, and the colt's-foot on the edge of the ditch

  • was in bloom.

  • All the weeds that grew in among the stones were brown and shiny.

  • The beech-woods in the distance seemed to swell and grow thicker with every second.

  • The skies were high--and a clear blue.

  • The cottage door stood ajar, and the lark's trill could be heard in the room.

  • The hens and geese pattered about in the yard, and the cows, who felt the spring air

  • away in their stalls, lowed their approval every now and then.

  • The boy read and nodded and fought against drowsiness.

  • "No! I don't want to fall asleep," thought he, "for then I'll not get through with

  • this thing the whole forenoon."

  • But--somehow--he fell asleep. He did not know whether he had slept a

  • short while, or a long while; but he was awakened by hearing a slight noise back of

  • him.

  • On the window-sill, facing the boy, stood a small looking-glass; and almost the entire

  • cottage could be seen in this.

  • As the boy raised his head, he happened to look in the glass; and then he saw that the

  • cover to his mother's chest had been opened.

  • His mother owned a great, heavy, iron-bound oak chest, which she permitted no one but

  • herself to open.

  • Here she treasured all the things she had inherited from her mother, and of these she

  • was especially careful.

  • Here lay a couple of old-time peasant dresses, of red homespun cloth, with short

  • bodice and plaited shirt, and a pearl- bedecked breast pin.

  • There were starched white-linen head- dresses, and heavy silver ornaments and

  • chains.

  • Folks don't care to go about dressed like that in these days, and several times his

  • mother had thought of getting rid of the old things; but somehow, she hadn't had the

  • heart to do it.

  • Now the boy saw distinctly--in the glass-- that the chest-lid was open.

  • He could not understand how this had happened, for his mother had closed the

  • chest before she went away.

  • She never would have left that precious chest open when he was at home, alone.

  • He became low-spirited and apprehensive. He was afraid that a thief had sneaked his

  • way into the cottage.

  • He didn't dare to move; but sat still and stared into the looking-glass.

  • While he sat there and waited for the thief to make his appearance, he began to wonder

  • what that dark shadow was which fell across the edge of the chest.

  • He looked and looked--and did not want to believe his eyes.

  • But the thing, which at first seemed shadowy, became more and more clear to him;

  • and soon he saw that it was something real.

  • It was no less a thing than an elf who sat there--astride the edge of the chest!

  • To be sure, the boy had heard stories about elves, but he had never dreamed that they

  • were such tiny creatures.

  • He was no taller than a hand's breadth-- this one, who sat on the edge of the chest.

  • He had an old, wrinkled and beardless face, and was dressed in a black frock coat,

  • knee-breeches and a broad-brimmed black hat.

  • He was very trim and smart, with his white laces about the throat and wrist-bands, his

  • buckled shoes, and the bows on his garters.

  • He had taken from the chest an embroidered piece, and sat and looked at the old-

  • fashioned handiwork with such an air of veneration, that he did not observe the boy

  • had awakened.

  • The boy was somewhat surprised to see the elf, but, on the other hand, he was not

  • particularly frightened. It was impossible to be afraid of one who

  • was so little.

  • And since the elf was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he neither saw nor heard,

  • the boy thought that it would be great fun to play a trick on him; to push him over

  • into the chest and shut the lid on him, or something of that kind.

  • But the boy was not so courageous that he dared to touch the elf with his hands,

  • instead he looked around the room for something to poke him with.

  • He let his gaze wander from the sofa to the leaf-table; from the leaf-table to the

  • fireplace.

  • He looked at the kettles, then at the coffee-urn, which stood on a shelf, near

  • the fireplace; on the water bucket near the door; and on the spoons and knives and

  • forks and saucers and plates, which could

  • be seen through the half-open cupboard door.

  • He looked at his father's gun, which hung on the wall, beside the portrait of the

  • Danish royal family, and on the geraniums and fuchsias, which blossomed in the

  • window.

  • And last, he caught sight of an old butterfly-snare that hung on the window

  • frame.

  • He had hardly set eyes on that butterfly- snare, before he reached over and snatched

  • it and jumped up and swung it alongside the edge of the chest.

  • He was himself astonished at the luck he had.

  • He hardly knew how he had managed it--but he had actually snared the elf.

  • The poor little chap lay, head downward, in the bottom of the long snare, and could not

  • free himself. The first moment the boy hadn't the least

  • idea what he should do with his prize.

  • He was only particular to swing the snare backward and forward; to prevent the elf

  • from getting a foothold and clambering up. The elf began to speak, and begged, oh! so

  • pitifully, for his freedom.

  • He had brought them good luck--these many years--he said, and deserved better

  • treatment.

  • Now, if the boy would set him free, he would give him an old coin, a silver spoon,

  • and a gold penny, as big as the case on his father's silver watch.

  • The boy didn't think that this was much of an offer; but it so happened--that after he

  • had gotten the elf in his power, he was afraid of him.

  • He felt that he had entered into an agreement with something weird and uncanny;

  • something which did not belong to his world, and he was only too glad to get rid

  • of the horrid thing.

  • For this reason he agreed at once to the bargain, and held the snare still, so the

  • elf could crawl out of it.

  • But when the elf was almost out of the snare, the boy happened to think that he

  • ought to have bargained for large estates, and all sorts of good things.

  • He should at least have made this stipulation: that the elf must conjure the

  • sermon into his head.

  • "What a fool I was to let him go!" thought he, and began to shake the snare violently,

  • so the elf would tumble down again.

  • But the instant the boy did this, he received such a stinging box on the ear,

  • that he thought his head would fly in pieces.

  • He was dashed--first against one wall, then against the other; he sank to the floor,

  • and lay there--senseless. When he awoke, he was alone in the cottage.

  • The chest-lid was down, and the butterfly- snare hung in its usual place by the

  • window.

  • If he had not felt how the right cheek burned, from that box on the ear, he would

  • have been tempted to believe the whole thing had been a dream.

  • "At any rate, father and mother will be sure to insist that it was nothing else,"

  • thought he. "They are not likely to make any allowances

  • for that old sermon, on account of the elf.

  • It's best for me to get at that reading again," thought he.

  • But as he walked toward the table, he noticed something remarkable.

  • It couldn't be possible that the cottage had grown.

  • But why was he obliged to take so many more steps than usual to get to the table?

  • And what was the matter with the chair?

  • It looked no bigger than it did a while ago; but now he had to step on the rung

  • first, and then clamber up in order to reach the seat.

  • It was the same thing with the table.

  • He could not look over the top without climbing to the arm of the chair.

  • "What in all the world is this?" said the boy.

  • "I believe the elf has bewitched both the armchair and the table--and the whole

  • cottage."

  • The Commentary lay on the table and, to all appearances, it was not changed; but there

  • must have been something queer about that too, for he could not manage to read a

  • single word of it, without actually standing right in the book itself.

  • He read a couple of lines, and then he chanced to look up.

  • With that, his glance fell on the looking- glass; and then he cried aloud: "Look!

  • There's another one!"

  • For in the glass he saw plainly a little, little creature who was dressed in a hood

  • and leather breeches.

  • "Why, that one is dressed exactly like me!" said the boy, and clasped his hands in

  • astonishment. But then he saw that the thing in the

  • mirror did the same thing.

  • Then he began to pull his hair and pinch his arms and swing round; and instantly he

  • did the same thing after him; he, who was seen in the mirror.

  • The boy ran around the glass several times, to see if there wasn't a little man hidden

  • behind it, but he found no one there; and then he began to shake with terror.

  • For now he understood that the elf had bewitched him, and that the creature whose

  • image he saw in the glass--was he, himself.

  • THE WILD GEESE

  • The boy simply could not make himself believe that he had been transformed into

  • an elf. "It can't be anything but a dream--a queer

  • fancy," thought he.

  • "If I wait a few moments, I'll surely be turned back into a human being again."

  • He placed himself before the glass and closed his eyes.

  • He opened them again after a couple of minutes, and then expected to find that it

  • had all passed over--but it hadn't. He was--and remained--just as little.

  • In other respects, he was the same as before.

  • The thin, straw-coloured hair; the freckles across his nose; the patches on his leather

  • breeches and the darns on his stockings, were all like themselves, with this

  • exception--that they had become diminished.

  • No, it would do no good for him to stand still and wait, of this he was certain.

  • He must try something else.

  • And he thought the wisest thing that he could do was to try and find the elf, and

  • make his peace with him. And while he sought, he cried and prayed

  • and promised everything he could think of.

  • Nevermore would he break his word to anyone; never again would he be naughty;

  • and never, never would he fall asleep again over the sermon.

  • If he might only be a human being once more, he would be such a good and helpful

  • and obedient boy. But no matter how much he promised--it did

  • not help him the least little bit.

  • Suddenly he remembered that he had heard his mother say, all the tiny folk made

  • their home in the cowsheds; and, at once, he concluded to go there, and see if he

  • couldn't find the elf.

  • It was a lucky thing that the cottage-door stood partly open, for he never could have

  • reached the bolt and opened it; but now he slipped through without any difficulty.

  • When he came out