He thought sometimes that he heard a faint, girlish giggle, full of teasing provocation and suppressed glee, among the underbrush, and once he imagined that he saw a gleam of scarlet and gold vanish in a dense alder copse.
But very little good did that do him, when he could not fix the vision, talk with it face to face, and extort the fulfilment of the three regulation wishes.
"I am probably not good enough," thought Nils. "I know I am a selfish fellow, and cruel, too, some-times, to birds and beasts. I suppose she won't have anything to do with me, as long as she isn't satisfied with my behavior."
Then he tried hard to be kind and considerate; smiled at his little sister when she pulled his hair, patted Sultan, the dog, instead of kicking him, when he was in his way, and never complained or sulked when he was sent on errands late at night or in bad weather.
But, strange to say, though the Nixy's mysterious melody still sounded vaguely through the water's roar, and the Hulder seemed to titter behind the tree-trunks and vanish in the underbrush, a real, unmistakable view was never vouchsafed to Nils, and the three wishes which were to make his fortune he had no chance of propounding.
He had fully made up his mind what his wishes were to be, for he was determined not to be taken by surprise. He knew well the fate of those foolish persons in the fairy tales who offend their benevolent protectors by bouncing against them head foremost, as it were, with a greedy cry for wealth.
Nils was not going to be caught that way. He would ask first for wisdom--that was what all right-minded heroes did--then for good repute among men, and lastly--and here was the rub--lastly he was inclined to ask for a five-bladed knife, like the one the parson's Thorwald had got for a Christmas present.
But he had considerable misgiving about the expediency of this last wish. If he had a fair renown and wisdom, might he not be able to get along without a five-bladed pocket-knife? But no; there was no help for it. Without that five-bladed pocket-knife neither wisdom nor fame would satisfy him. It would be the drop of gall in his cup of joy.