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The Spring Tune
One calm and cloudless evening, toward the end of April, Snufkin found himself far enough to the north to see still-unmelted patches of snow on the northern slopes.
He had been walking all day through undisturbed landscapes, listening to the cries of the birds also on their way northward, home from the South.
Walking had been easy, because his knapsack was nearly empty and he had no worries on his mind. He felt happy about the wood and the weather, and himself. Tomorrow and yesterday were both at a distance, and just at present the sun was shining brightly red between the birches, and the air was cool and soft.
“It’s the right evening for a tune,” Snufkin thought. A new tune, one part expectation, two parts spring sadness, and for the rest just the great delight of walking alone and liking it.
He had kept this tune under his hat for several days, but hadn’t quite dared to take it out yet. It had to grow into a kind of happy conviction. Then he would simply have to put his lips to the mouth-organ, and all the notes would jump instantly into their places.
If he released them too soon, they might get stuck crossways and make only a half-good tune, or he might lose them altogether and never be in the right mood to get hold of them again. Tunes are serious things, especially if they have to be jolly and sad at the same time.
But this evening Snufkin felt rather sure of his tune. It was there, waiting, nearly full-grown—and it was going to be the best he ever made.
Then, when he arrived in Moominvalley, he’d sit on the bridge rail and play it, and Moomintroll would say at once: “That’s a good one. Really a good one.”
Snufkin stopped in his tracks, feeling just a little bit uneasy. Yes, Moomintroll, always waiting and longing. Moomintroll, who sat at home, who waited for him and admired him, and who always told him: “Of course you have to feel free. Naturally you must go away. I do understand that you have to be alone at times.”
And all the while his eyes were black with disappointment and no one could help it.
“Oh, my, oh, my,” Snufkin said to himself and continued on his way.
“Oh, my, oh, my. He’s got such a lot of feelings, this Moomintroll. I won’t think of him now. He’s a splendid Moomin, but I don’t have to think of him now. Tonight I’m alone with my tune, and tonight isn’t tomorrow.”
In a little while Snufkin had managed to forget all about Moomintroll. He was sniffing around for a good place to camp in, and when he heard a brook a bit farther on in the wood he went toward the sound.
The last red ray of sunlight had vanished between the birches. Now came the spring twilight, slow and blue. All the wood was changed, and the white pillars of the birches went wandering farther and farther off in the blue dusk.
The brook was a good one.
It went rushing clear and brown over wads of last year’s leaves, through small tunnels of leftover ice, swerving through the green moss and throwing itself headlong down in a small waterfall on to a white-sand bottom. In places it droned sharp as a mosquito, then it tried to sound great and menacing, stopped, gurgled with a mouthful of melted snow, and laughed at it all.
Snufkin stood listening in the damp moss. “I must have the brook in my tune also,” he thought. “In the refrain, I think.”
A small stone suddenly came loose near the waterfall and raised the pitch of the brook a whole octave.
“Not bad,” Snufkin said admiringly. “That’s the way to do it. A sudden change, just in passing. I’ll have to find that brook a tune of its own.”
He took out his old saucepan and filled it from the waterfall. Then he went in under the firs to look for firewood. The ground was still wet from the spring thaw and the rains, and Snufkin had to crawl far under a brambly windfall to find any dry sticks. When he reached out, someone gave a sudden shout and flashed past him and off among the firs, still crying and squeaking all the way.
“Oh, yes,” Snufkin said. “Creeps and woodies everywhere. Funny how nervous they always seem to be. The smaller the jumpier.”
He found a dried stump and some sticks and built himself a good campfire by the brook. Snufkin was used to cooking his own dinner. He never cooked a dinner for other people if he could avoid it, nor did he care much for other people’s dinners. So many people insisted on talking when they had a meal.
Also they had a great liking for chairs and tables, and some of them used napkins. He even had heard of a Hemulen who changed his clothes everytime he was about to eat, but that was probably slander.
A little distractedly, Snufkin ate his meager soup while he rested his eyes on the green moss by the birches.
The tune was quite near at hand, easy to catch by the tail. But there was time enough to wait: it was hedged in and couldn’t get away. No, better to wash the dishes first, then light a pipe—and afterwards, when the campfire was burning down and the night creatures started calling for each other, then he’d have it.
Snufkin was washing his saucepan in the brook when he caught sight of the Creep. It was sitting on the far side below a tree root, looking at him. Its eyes were scared but very interested, following Snufkin’s every movement.
Two shy eyes under a mop of hair. Just the look people have who are never noticed.
Snufkin pretended that he hadn’t seen the Creep. He raked up his fire and cut himself some fir twigs to sit on. He took out his pipe and lit it. He puffed a few clouds of smoke toward the night sky and waited for the spring tune.
It didn’t come. Instead he felt the Creep’s eyes upon him. They watched everything he did, admiringly, and he began to feel uneasy once more. He clapped his paws together and shouted: “Shoo! Be off!”
At this the Creep slunk out from under the tree root—it was still on the other side of the brook—and said, very shyly: “I hope I haven’t scared you? I know who you are. You’re Snufkin.”
And then the Creep stepped straight into the water and started to wade across. The brook was rather too broad for it, and the water was ice-cold. A couple of times the Creep lost its foothold and tumbled over, but Snufkin was feeling so uneasy that he simply didn’t think of giving it a hand.
Finally a rather thin and miserable Creep crawled ashore and said with chattering teeth: “Hello, I’m so happy to meet you.”
“Hello,” Snufkin answered equally coldly.
“May I warm myself by your fire?” the Creep continued, its wet little face shining with happiness. “Just think of it, then I’ll be the Creep who has sat by Snufkin’s campfire. I’ll never forget that.”
The Creep edged closer, laid one paw on Snufkin’s knapsack, and solemnly whispered: “Is this where you keep the mouth-organ? Do you have it here?”
“Yes,” Snufkin said, rather crossly. His tune was lost, loneliness was gone, all was different. He clenched his teeth around the pipe-stem and stared in among the birches without really seeing them.
“Now, don’t mind me,” the Creep said innocently. “In case you’d like to play, I mean. You’d never guess how I long for a little music. I’ve never heard any. But I’ve heard about you. The hedgehog, and Toffle, and my mother, they’ve all told me … Toffle has even seen you, once! Yes, you can’t imagine … Nothing much ever happens here … But we dream lots and lots …”
“Well, what’s your name?” Snufkin asked. The evening was spoiled anyway, so he thought it easier to talk.
“I’m so small that I haven’t got a name,” the Creep said eagerly. “As a matter of fact, nobody’s even asked me about it before. And then I meet you, whom I’ve heard so much about and always longed to see, and the first thing you ask me is what my name is! Do you think … perhaps you might … I mean, would it be a lot of trouble for you to think up a name for me, a name that would be only mine and no one else could have it? Now, tonight?”
Snufkin mumbled something and pulled his hat over his eyes. Someone flew across the brook on long pointed wings and gave a long, sad cry among the trees: Yo-yooo, yo-ooo, tee-woo …
“You can’t ever be really free if you admire somebody too much,” Snufkin suddenly said. “I know.”
“I know you know everything,” the Little Creep prattled on, edging closer still. “I know you’ve seen everything. You’re right in everything you say, and I’ll always try to become as free as you are … So now you’re on your way to Moominvalley to have a rest and meet your friends … The hedgehog told me that Moomintroll starts waiting for you as soon as he wakes from winter sleep … Isn’t it a nice thing to know that someone’s longing for you and waiting and waiting to see you again?”
“I’m coming when it suits me!” Snufkin cried violently. “Perhaps I shan’t come at all. Perhaps I will go somewhere else.”
“Oh. Then he’ll be sad,” said the Creep.
Its fur was beginning to dry and becoming light brown and soft. It picked at the knapsack once again and asked cautiously: “Would you perhaps … you who have traveled so much … ?”
“No,” Snufkin said. And he thought angrily: “Why can’t they ever let my wanderings alone! Can’t they understand that I’ll talk it all to pieces if I have to tell about it. Then it’s gone, and when I try to remember what it really was like, I remember only my own story.”
There was a long silence, and the night bird cried again.
The Creep rose and said in a small voice: “Well, I must be off, I think. Cheerio.”
“Cheerio,” Snufkin said, fidgeting a little. “Listen. Er. That name you asked for. What about Teety-woo, for instance. Teety-woo, don’t you see, a light beginning, sort of, and a little sadness to round it off.”
The Little Creep stared at him with yellow eyes in the firelight. It thought its name over, tasted it, listened to it, crawled inside it, and finally turned its nose to the sky and softly howled its new name, so sadly and ecstatically that Snufkin felt a shiver along his back.
Then a brown tail disappeared in the brambles, and all was silent.
“Golly,” Snufkin said and kicked at an ember. He rapped out his pipe. Then he rose and shouted: “Hello! Come back.”
But the wood was silent. “Oh, well,” Snufkin thought. “You can’t always be friendly. It’s impossible; there isn’t the time. And at least this Creep has got a name.”
He sat down again and listened to the brook and the silence, and waited for his tune to come back. But it didn’t come. He knew at once that it had moved too far away to be caught. Perhaps he’d never catch it. The only thing he seemed to hear was the eager and shy voice of the Creep, talking and talking and talking.
Excerpted from Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson.
Copyright © 1962 by Tove Jansson.
Published in 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.