It must have been late in the afternoon one day at the end of August when Moomintroll and his mother arrived at the deepest part of the great forest. It was completely quiet, and so dim between the trees that it was as though twilight had already fallen. Here and there giant flowers grew, glowing with a peculiar light like flickering lamps, and furthest in among the shadows small, cold green points moved.
‘Glow-worms,’ said Moominmamma, but they had no time to stop and take a closer look at them. They were searching for a nice, warm place where they could build a house to crawl into when winter came. Moomins cannot stand the cold at all, so the house would have to be ready by October at the latest.
So they walked on, further and further into the silence and the darkness. Little by little, Moomintroll began to feel anxious, and he asked his mother if she thought there were any dangerous creatures in there. ‘Hardly,’ she said, ‘though we’d perhaps better go a little faster, anyway. But I hope we’re so small that we won’t be noticed if something dangerous should come along.’
Suddenly Moomintroll gripped his mother tightly by the arm. ‘Look!’ he said, so frightened that his tail stuck straight out. From the shadows behind a tree-trunk two eyes were staring at them. At first Moominmamma was frightened, too, but then she calmed down: ‘I think it’s a very small creature. Wait, and I’ll shine a light on it. Everything looks worse in the dark, you know.’
And she picked one of the big flower-lamps and shone it into the shadow. Then they saw that there really was a very small creature sitting there, and that it looked friendly and a little startled. ‘There, you see,’ said Moominmamma.
‘What are you?’ asked the small creature.
‘I’m a moomintroll,’ answered Moomintroll, who had got his courage back. ‘And this is my mother. I hope we didn’t disturb you.’ (You can see that his mother had taught him to be polite.)
‘That’s all right,’ said the small creature. ‘I was sitting there feeling very sad and was longing for company. Are you in a great hurry?’ ‘Yes,’ said Moominmamma. ‘You see, we’re looking for a nice, sunny place to build a house in. But perhaps you’d like to come with us?’ ‘Rather!’ said the small creature, leaping out towards them. ‘I’d got lost and thought I would never see the sun again!’
So they continued, all three of them, taking a large tulip with them to light the way. But around them the darkness was growing deeper and deeper, the flowers glowed more faintly beneath the trees, and eventually the very last one went out. In front of them gleamed a black stretch of water, and the air was heavy and cold. ‘How dreadful,’ said the small creature. ‘That’s the swamp. I don’t dare go there.’
‘Why is that?’ asked Moominmamma.
‘Oh, because that’s where the Great Serpent lives,’ said the small creature in a very low voice, looking about him in all directions.
‘Pah!’ said Moomintroll, wanting to show how brave he was. ‘We are so small that we probably won’t be noticed. How will we ever find the sunshine if we don’t dare to go across? Now come with us.’ ‘Perhaps a bit of the way,’ said the small creature. ‘But be careful. It’s for your account and risk.’
So they stepped as quietly as they could from tussock to tussock. The black mud bubbled and whispered all around them, but as long as the tulip lamp burned they felt calm. At one moment, Moomintroll slipped and nearly fell in, but his mother caught hold of him at the last moment.
‘We shall have to continue by boat,’ she said. ‘Now your feet are all wet. Why, you’ll catch cold.’ Then she got out a pair of dry socks for him from her handbag, and lifted him and the small creature up on to a big, round water-lily leaf. They all three stuck their tails in the water like paddles and then they steered straight out on to the swamp. Beneath them they glimpsed dark creatures that swam out and in between the roots of the trees, there was a splashing and a ducking, and the mist came stealing over them.Suddenly the small creature said: ‘I want to go home now!’ ‘Don’t be afraid, small creature,’ said Moomintroll in a quavering voice. ‘We’ll sing something cheerful and…’
At that very moment their tulip went out and it was completely dark. And from the darkness they heard a hissing, and felt the water-lily leaf swaying. ‘Quick, quick!’ cried Moominmamma. ‘The Great Serpent is coming!’
They stuck their tails in deeper, and paddled with all their might so that the water gushed at the prow. Now they could see the Serpent swimming behind them. It looked nasty, and its eyes were cruel and yellow.
They paddled as hard as they could, but it kept gaining on them, and was already opening its mouth, with its long, quivering tongue. Moomintroll put his hands in front of his eyes and cried: ‘Mamma!’ and then he waited to be eaten.
But nothing happened. Then he looked cautiously between his fingers. Something very remarkable had happened. Their tulip was glowing again, it had opened all its petals and in the midst of them stood a girl with bright blue hair that reached all the way down to her feet.
Brighter and brighter glowed the tulip. The Serpent began to blink, and suddenly it turned right round with an angry hissing and slid down into the mud.
Moomintroll, his mother and the small creature were so agitated and surprised that for a long time they were unable to say anything.
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.’