Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 2

(continued)

At last Moominmamma said solemnly: 'Thank you very much for your help, miss.' And Moomintroll bowed more deeply than he had ever done before, for the blue-haired girl was the most beautiful he had seen in all his life. 'Were you inside the tulip all the time?' asked the small creature, shyly. 'It's my house,' she said. 'You may call me Tulippa.'

And so they paddled slowly over to the other side of the swamp. Here the ferns were thick, and below them Moominmamma made a nest in the moss for them to sleep in. Moomintroll lay close to his mother, listening to the song of the frogs out on the swamp. The night was full of strange, desolate sounds, and it was a long time before he fell asleep.

Next morning Tulippa led the way for them, and her blue hair shone like the brightest ultra-violet lamp. The path climbed steeper and steeper, and at last the mountain rose straight up, so high that they could not see where it ended. 'I expect there's sunshine up there,' the small creature said, longingly. 'I'm so dreadfully cold.' 'So am I,' said Moomintroll. And then he sneezed. 'What did I tell you?' said his mother. 'Now you've got a cold. Please sit here while I make a fire.' And then she gathered together an enormous heap of dry branches and lit it with a spark from Tulippa's blue hair. They sat, all four of them, looking into the fire while Moominmamma told them stories. She told them about what it was like when she was young, when moomintrolls did not need to travel through fearsome forests and swamps in order to find a place to live in.

In those days they lived together with the house-trolls in the houses of human beings, mostly behind their stoves. 'Some of us still live there now,' said Moominmamma. 'But only where people still have stoves. We don't like central heating.'

'Did the people know we were there?' asked Moomintroll.

'Some of them did,' said his mother. 'They felt us mostly as a cold draught in the backs of their necks sometimes - when they were alone.'

'Tell us something about Moominpappa,' asked Moomintroll.

'He was an unusual Moomintroll,' said his mother, thoughtfully and sadly. 'He was always wanting to move, from one stove to the next. He was never happy where he was. And then he disappeared - took off with the Hattifatteners, those little wanderers.'

'What sort of folk are they?' asked the small creature.

'Little troll-creatures,' explained Moominmamma. 'They're mostly invisible. Sometimes they can be found under people's floors, and you can hear them pattering about in there when it's quiet in the evenings. But mostly they wander round the world, don't stay anywhere and don't care about anything. You can never tell if a Hattifattener is happy or angry, sad or surprised. I am sure that they have no feelings at all.'

'And is Moominpappa a Hattifattener now?' asked Moomintroll.

'No, of course not!' said his mother. 'Surely you realize that they simply tricked him into going along with them.'

'Imagine if we were to meet him one day!' said Tulippa. 'He'd be pleased, wouldn't he?'

'Of course,' said Moominmamma. 'But I don't expect we shall.' And then she cried. It sounded so sad that they all began to sob, and as they cried they began to think about a lot of other things that were sad, too, and that made them cry more and more. Tulippa's hair turned pale with sorrow and lost all its shine. When they had gone on like this for a good while, a stern voice suddenly rang out, saying: 'What are you howling for down there?' They stopped at once and looked around them in all directions, but could not discover who it was who was talking to them.

At the same time a rope-ladder came dangling down the rock face. High up there, an old gentleman stuck his head out through a door in the mountain. 'Well?' he shouted. 'Pardon me,' said Tulippa, curtseying. 'But you see, sir, it's really all very sad. Moominpappa has disappeared, and we're cold and can't get over this mountain to find the sunshine, and we haven't anywhere to live.'

'I see,' said the old gentleman. 'You'd better come up to my place, then. My sunshine is the finest you could imagine.'

It was quite hard to climb up the rope-ladder, especially for Moomintroll and his mother, as they had such short legs. 'Now you must dry your feet,' said the old gentleman, and drew the ladder up after them. Then he closed the door very carefully, so that nothing harmful could sneak inside. They all went up a moving staircase that carried them right inside the mountain. 'Are you sure this gentleman is to be trusted?' whispered the small creature. 'Remember, on your own heads be it.' And then he made himself as small as he could and hid behind Moominmamma. Then a bright light shone towards them, and the moving staircase took them straight into a wonderful landscape. The trees sparkled with colour and were full of fruits and flowers they had never seen before, and below them in the grass lay gleaming white patches of snow. 'Hurrah!' cried Moomintroll, and ran out to make a snowball. 'Be careful, it's cold!' called his mother. But when he ran his hands through the snow he noticed that it was not snow at all, but ice-cream. And the green grass that gave way under his feet was made of fine-spun sugar. Criss-cross over the meadows ran brooks of every colour, foaming and bubbling over the golden sand. 'Green lemonade!' cried the small creature, who had stooped down to drink. 'It's not water at all, it's lemonade!' Moominmamma went straight over to a brook that was completely white, since she had always been very fond of milk. (Most moomintrolls are, at least when they get a bit older.) Tulippa ran from tree to tree picking armfuls of chocolate creams and candies, and as soon as she had plucked one of the glowing fruits, another grew at once. They forgot their sorrows and ran further and further into the enchanted garden. The old gentleman slowly followed them and seemed very pleased by their amazement and admiration. 'I made all this myself,' he said. 'The sun, too.' And when they looked at the sun, they noticed that it really was not the real sun but a big lamp with fringes of gold paper. 'I see,' said the small creature, and was disappointed. 'I thought it was the real sun. Now I can see that it has a slightly peculiar light.'

(to be continued)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 1

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