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The Goose Herd From Bramstrup by Carl Nielsen

Translated By W. Glyn Jones

I must have been eight or nine years old. Every morning I used to go over to the manor house at a very early hour and drive a great flock of geese down to some ponds a considerable distance away. As we approached the water the geese all flew or ran headlong into it; they raced around, dived and flapped their wings, and the air was filled with their loud cackles of delight. I had never seen a large flock of geese before, so you can imagine how very surprised and upset I was on the first day, when, although I had been told to keep the geese together, I found it absolutely impossible to do so, as the ponds were old peat-diggings separated by reeds and rushes. I could not possibly take my stick and jump into the water after them, or I should have sunk to the bottom. To my great relief they soon calmed down and gradually gathered together in the biggest pond. Since this scene was repeated every morning, it was not long before I learned to watch it without excitement—but I had other troubles. It was a terribly lonely spot, depressing in the extreme, and the arrival of evening and the hour when I should be able to go home, was something I often longed for in my dejection. It is impossible to describe how boring it was, and my only real distraction consisted in eating my sandwiches twice a day and in looking at my home-made sundial to see how long it was to evening. So one day my mother gave me a little bag to hang around my neck and said I could while away the time now by collecting goose feathers for her to use to stuff pillows and eiderdowns. I thought this great fun. When the geese came on land or lay down in the grass I would stand and watch whether they were preening their feathers so that I could find something for my bag. Once, however, I almost had an accident and was punished pretty hard for being too enthusiastic. It was one day when a fresh wind was blowing. All of a sudden I saw four or five goose feathers sailing across the water like tiny ships and drifting right into the side of a peat trench. I examined all the banks of the ponds and discovered the sides facing the wind were lined with feathers. Strange to say, they were not wet; most of them were bent in the shape of a boat. I soon had my bag around my neck and nearly filled it. Finally I saw quite a cluster of beautiful white feathers floating on the water, but they were so far out that only with the greatest exertion could I reach them; I hoped, however, that the wind would help me, and in a way it did, too. Now and then a feather would sail past me, but so quickly that I had to make a sudden grab at it. This game went on for some time, but then I fell head first into the water, bag and all, and as the trench had steep sides and I could not swim, my situation seemed fairly dangerous. I was very much afraid of drowning. Then I managed to get hold of some cat's- tails and found myself standing on a narrow strip of earth between two trenches; for some time I carefully maintained my position on this, and then gingerly made my way across to some long grass which was growing under the water; up to my neck in water I could wade from that to another part of the bank. Now I took off my wet clothes and hung them up on some bushes in the sun and wind, but I was most concerned about my feathers, which were also saturated. However, I spread them out to dry in a sunny place which was fairly well sheltered from the wind; but I had not realised that of course they would become lighter as they dried, and when I came back an hour later to have a look at them, they had all blown away. It was a sad day, but there were many more like it. When the shocks had been carried from the corn-fields to the barns, I was told to drive the geese out to the stubble so that they could pick the fallen ears of corn. It was dreary work to walk about for a whole day on these great, bare patches, and I began to long for the ponds again. There I could at least find a piece of willow and cut myself a flute; I could often see something crawling about on the beds of the ponds or hear the splash of a frog hopping out; why, once a stork had come along and settled near to where I was lying, and I had held my breath until I had nearly burst so as not to disturb it. Or I might be lucky enough to imprison a couple of sticklebacks and pretend they were my cows which I had to look after in the cattle-shed. During the last few days at the ponds I had also come across a little striped fly which, in the full blaze of the sun, had hovered right in front of my face, vibrating like a steel spring; then, like a flash of lightning, it darted to one side, and there it hovered again. It wanted something of me; it was so gay, but I could never catch it, although I wanted no more than anything else. It was not to be seen in the fields, and now that I was walking about on the stiff, uninteresting stubble I remembered the ponds as a whole world rich in interest—a world which I now missed. Here and there near the entrance to the stubble fields a pile of rakings had been dropped, and I gathered them together, so that even now I could lie down and make myself fairly comfortable. One day when I was lying on my back looking at the clouds I heard something cry up in the air. It was a flock of wild geese or swans flying over us towards the west. Immediately my geese began to screech as if they were mad; they stretched out their necks and began to fly. I jumped up and ran after them, but they flew away over a big hedge and finally disappeared quite out of sight. I ran over to the hedge as fast as my legs would carry me, but failed to get through it. I burst into tears, and was just about to run to Bramstrup to fetch help when my eyes, which were scanning the hedge to find an opening, fell upon a gate at the opposite end of the field. I was down there in a flash, but it was locked. So I scrambled over and finally found the geese some distance away. They were still very restless, cackling and chattering, and I could not bring them together again. After some time, however, I managed to drive them up to the gate, but only then did the real difficulty begin.—I had been hoping that they would go through the openings in the gate of their own accord, but for a long time my hopes were not realised. Finally, however, a couple of the youngest tumbled through; an odd few of the others followed them, but once or twice it happened that one of them stuck half-way; and when I went to help them they screeched as though possessed, and the flock scattered again, so that I had to start all over again. At last I had most of them on the other side of the gate, but it was out of the question to persuade the gander and the older ones to squeeze through the opening at the bottom. Again I wept and wished I had them all together in one place, no matter where. Finally I discovered that an opening could be made in the hedge by cutting away some hawthorn twigs on the outside of the gate-posts. At last I persuaded the gander and some of the old geese to go through, but I had to take one of them by force, and it rewarded me by bespattering my clothes with mud, so that I looked a dreadful sight.—And yet, believe me, these troubles and tears contain for me some of the poetry of Heaven and of earth.

 
 
 

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