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How Brave Walter Hunted Wolves

from The Lilac Fairy Book





A little back from the high road there stands a house which is
called 'Hemgard.' Perhaps you remember the two beautiful mountain
ash trees by the reddish-brown palings, and the high gate, and
the garden with the beautiful barberry bushes which are always
the first to become grown in spring, and which in summer are
weighed down with their beautiful berries.

Behind the garden there is a hedge with tall aspens which rustle
in the morning wind, behind the hedge is a road, behind the road
is a wood, and behind the wood the wide world.

But on the other side of the garden there is a lake, and beyond
the lake is a village, and all around stretch meadows and fields,
now yellow, now green.

In the pretty house, which has white window-frames, a neat porch
and clean steps, which are always strewn with finely-cut juniper
leaves, Walter's parents live. His brother Frederick, his sister
Lotta, old Lena, Jonah, Caro and Bravo, Putte and Murre, and
Kuckeliku.

Caro lives in the dog house, Bravo in the stable, Putte with the
stableman, Murre a little here and a little there, and Kuckeliku
lives in the hen house, that is his kingdom.

Walter is six years old, and he must soon begin to go to school.
He cannot read yet, but he can do many other things. He can turn
cartwheels, stand on his head, ride see-saw, throw snowballs,
play ball, crow like a cock, eat bread and butter and drink sour
milk, tear his trousers, wear holes in his elbows, break the
crockery in pieces, throw balls through the windowpanes, draw old
men on important papers, walk over the flower-beds, eat himself
sick with gooseberries, and be well after a whipping. For the
rest he has a good heart but a bad memory, and forgets his
father's and his mother's admonitions, and so often gets into
trouble and meets with adventures, as you shall hear, but first
of all I must tell you how brave he was and how he hunted wolves.

Once in the spring, a little before Midsummer, Walter heard that
there were a great many wolves in the wood, and that pleased him.
He was wonderfully brave when he was in the midst of his
companions or at home with his brothers and sister, then he used
often to say 'One wolf is nothing, there ought to be at least
four.'

When he wrestled with Klas Bogenstrom or Frithiof Waderfelt and
struck them in the back, he would say 'That is what I shall do to
a wolf!' and when he shot arrows at Jonas and they rattled
against his sheepskin coat he would say: 'That is how I should
shoot you if you were a wolf!'

Indeed, some thought that the brave boy boasted a little; but one
must indeed believe him since he said so himself. So Jonas and
Lena used to say of him 'Look, there goes Walter, who shoots the
wolves.' And other boys and girls would say 'Look, there goes
brave Walter, who is brave enough to fight with four.'

There was no one so fully convinced of this as Walter himself,
and one day he prepared himself for a real wolf hunt. He took
with him his drum, which had holes in one end since the time he
had climbed up on it to reach a cluster of rowan berries, and his
tin sabre, which was a little broken, because he had with
incredible courage fought his way through a whole unfriendly army
of gooseberry bushes.

He did not forget to arm himself quite to the teeth with his pop-
gun, his bow, and his air-pistol. He had a burnt cork in his
pocket to blacken his moustache, and a red cock's feather to put
in his cap to make himself look fierce. He had besides in his
trouser pocket a clasp knife with a bone handle, to cut off the
ears of the wolves as soon as he had killed them, for he thought
it would be cruel to do that while they were still living.

It was such a good thing that Jonas was going with corn to the
mill, for Walter got a seat on the load, while Caro ran barking
beside them. As soon as they came to the wood Walter looked
cautiously around him to see perchance there was a wolf in the
bushes, and he did not omit to ask Jonas if wolves were afraid of
a drum. 'Of course they are' (that is understood) said Jonas.
Thereupon Walter began to beat his drum with all his might while
they were going through the wood.

When they came to the mill Walter immediately asked if there had
been any wolves in the neighbourhood lately.

'Alas! yes,' said the miller, 'last night the wolves have eaten
our fattest ram there by the kiln not far from here.'

'Ah!' said Walter, 'do you think that there were many?'

'We don't know,' answered the miller.

'Oh, it is all the same,' said Walter. 'I only asked so that I
should know if I should take Jonas with me.

'I could manage very well alone with three, but if there were
more, I might not have time to kill them all before they ran
away.'

'In Walter's place I should go quite alone, it is more manly,'
said Jonas.

'No, it is better for you to come too,' said Walter. 'Perhaps
there are many.'

'No, I have not time,' said Jonas, 'and besides, there are sure
not to be more than three. Walter can manage them very well
alone.'

'Yes,' said Walter, 'certainly I could; but, you see, Jonas, it
might happen that one of them might bite me in the back, and I
should have more trouble in killing them. If I only knew that
there were not more than two I should not mind, for them I should
take one in each hand and give them a good shaking, like Susanna
once shook me.'

'I certainly think that there will not be more than two,' said
Jonas, 'there are never more than two when they slay children and
rams; Walter can very well shake them without me.'

'But, you see, Jonas,' said Walter, 'if there are two, it might
still happen that one of them escapes and bites me in the leg,
for you see I am not so strong in the left hand as in the right.
You can very well come with me, and take a good stick in case
there are really two. Look, if there is only one, I shall take
him so with both my hands and thrown him living on to his back,
and he can kick as much as he likes, I shall hold him fast.'

'Now, when I really think over the thing,' said Jonas, 'I am
almost sure there will not be more than one. What would two do
with one ram? There will certainly not be more than one.'

'But you should come with me all the same, Jonas,' said Walter.
'You see I can very well manage one, but I am not quite
accustomed to wolves yet, and he might tear holes in my new
trousers.'

'Well, just listen,' said Jonas, 'I am beginning to think that
Walter is not so brave as people say. First of all Walter would
fight against four, and then against three, then two, and then
one, and now Walter wants help with one. Such a thing must never
be; what would people say? Perhaps they would think that Walter
is a coward?'

'That's a lie,' said Walter, 'I am not at all frightened, but it
is more amusing when there are two. I only want someone who will
see how I strike the wolf and how the dust flies out of his
skin.'

'Well, then, Walter can take the miller's little Lisa with him.
She can sit on a stone and look on,' said Jonas.

'No, she would certainly be frightened,' said Walter, 'and how
would it do for a girl to go wolf-hunting? Come with me, Jonas,
and you shall have the skin, and I will be content with the ears
and the tail.'

'No, thank you,' said Jonas, 'Walter can keep the skin for
himself. Now I see quite well that he is frightened. Fie, shame
on him!'

This touched Walter's pride very near. 'I shall show that I am
not frightened,' he said; and so he took his drum, sabre, cock's
feather, clasp-knife, pop-gun and air-pistol, and went off quite
alone to the wood to hunt wolves.

It was a beautiful evening, and the birds were singing in all the
branches. Walter went very slowly and cautiously. At every step
he looked all round him to see if perchance there was anything
lurking behind the stones. He quite thought something moved away
there in the ditch. Perhaps it was a wolf. 'It is better for me
to beat the drum a little before I go there,' thought Walter.

Br-r-r, so he began to beat his drum. Then something moved again.
Caw! caw! a crow flew up from the ditch. Walter immediately
regained courage. 'It was well I took my drum with me,' he
thought, and went straight on with courageous steps. Very soon he
came quite close to the kiln, where the wolves had killed the
ram. But the nearer he came the more dreadful he thought the kiln
looked. It was so gray and old. Who knew how many wolves there
might be hidden there? Perhaps the very ones which killed the ram
were still sitting there in a corner. Yes, it was not at all safe
here, and there were no other people to be seen in the
neighbourhood. It would be horrible to be eaten up here in the
daylight, thought Walter to himself; and the more he thought
about it the uglier and grayer the old kiln looked, and the more
horrible and dreadful it seemed to become the food of wolves.

'Shall I go back and say that I struck one wolf and it escaped?'
thought Walter. 'Fie!' said his conscience, 'Do you not remember
that a lie is one of the worst sins, both in the sight of God and
man? If you tell a lie to-day and say you struck a wolf, to-
morrow surely it will eat you up.'

'No, I will go to the kiln,' thought Walter, and so he went. But
he did not go quite near. He went only so near that he could see
the ram's blood which coloured the grass red, and some tufts of
wool which the wolves had torn from the back of the poor animal.

It looked so dreadful.

'I wonder what the ram thought when they ate him up,' thought
Walter to himself; and just then a cold shiver ran through him
from his collar right down to his boots.

'It is better for me to beat the drum,' he thought to himself
again, and so he began to beat it. But it sounded horrid, and an
echo came out from the kiln that seemed almost like the howl of a
wolf. The drumsticks stiffened in Walter's hands, and he thought
now they are coming. ...!

Yes, sure enough, just then a shaggy, reddish-brown wolf's head
looked out from under the kiln!

What did Walter do now? Yes, the brave Walter who alone could
manage four, threw his drum far away, took to his heels and ran,
and ran as fast as he could back to the mill.

But, alas! the wolf ran after him. Walter looked back; the wolf
was quicker than he and only a few steps behind him. Then Walter
ran faster. But fear got the better of him, he neither heard nor
saw anything more. He ran over sticks, stones and ditches; he
lost drum-sticks, sabre, bow, and air-pistol, and in his terrible
hurry he tripped over a tuft of grass. There he lay, and the wolf
jumped on to him. ...

It was a gruesome tale! Now you may well believe that it was all
over with Walter and all his adventures. That would have been a
pity. But do not be surprised if it was not quite so bad as that,
for the wolf was quite a friendly one. He certainly jumped on to
Walter, but he only shook his coat and rubbed his nose against
his face; and Walter shrieked. Yes, he shrieked terribly!

Happily Jonas heard his cry of distress, for Walter was quite
near the mill now, and he ran and helped him up.

'What has happened?' he asked. 'Why did Walter scream so
terribly?'

'A wolf! A wolf!' cried Walter, and that was all he could say.

'Where is the wolf?' said Jonas. 'I don't see any wolf.'

'Take care, he is here, he has bitten me to death,' groaned
Walter.

Then Jonas began to laugh; yes, he laughed so that he nearly
burst his skin belt.

Well, well, was that the wolf? Was that the wolf which Walter was
to take by the neck and shake and throw down on its back, no
matter how much it struggled? Just look a little closer at him:
he is your old friend, your own good old Caro. I quite expect he
found a leg of the ram in the kiln. When Walter beat his drum,
Caro crept out, and when Walter ran away, Caro ran after him, as
he so often does when Walter wants to romp and play.

'Down, Caro! you ought to be rather ashamed to have put such a
great hero to flight!'

Walter got up feeling very foolish.

'Down, Caro!' he said, both relieved and annoyed.

'It was only a dog, then if it had been a wolf I certainly should
have killed him. ...'

'If Walter would listen to my advice, and boast a little less,
and do a little more,' said Jonas, consolingly. 'Walter is not a
coward, is he?'

'I! You shall see, Jonas, when we next meet a bear. You see I
like so much better to fight with bears.'

'Indeed!' laughed Jonas. 'Are you at it again?

'Dear Walter, remember that it is only cowards who boast; a
really brave man never talks of his bravery.'

From Z. Topelius.





Next: The King Of The Waterfalls

Previous: A Lost Paradise



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