Produced by David S. Miller
A HAPPY BOY
TRANSLATED FROM THE NORSE
RASMUS B. ANDERSON
The present edition of Bjornstjerne Bjornson’s works is published by special arrangement with the author. Mr. Bjornson has designated Prof. Rasmus B. Anderson as his American translator, cooperates with him, and revises each work before it is translated, thus giving his personal attention to this edition.
“A Happy Boy” was written in 1859 and 1860. It is, in my estimation, Bjornson’s best story of peasant life. In it the author has succeeded in drawing the characters with _remarkable distinctness_, while his profound psychological insight, his perfectly artless simplicity of style, and his thorough sympathy with the hero and his surroundings are nowhere more apparent. This view is sustained by the great popularity of “A Happy Boy” throughout Scandinavia.
It is proper to add, that in the present edition of Bjornson’s stories, previous translations have been consulted, and that in this manner a few happy words and phrases have been found and adopted.
This volume will be followed by “The Fisher Maiden,” in which Bjornson makes a new departure, and exhibits his powers in a somewhat different vein of story-telling.
RASMUS B. ANDERSON.
ASGARD, MADISON, WISCONSIN,
A HAPPY BOY.
His name was Oyvind, and he cried when he was born. But no sooner did he sit up on his mother’s lap than he laughed, and when the candle was lit in the evening the room rang with his laughter, but he cried when he was not allowed to reach it.
“Something remarkable will come of that boy!” said the mother.
A barren cliff, not a very high one, though, overhung the house where he was born; fir and birch looked down upon the roof, the bird-cherry strewed flowers over it. And on the roof was a little goat belonging to Oyvind; it was kept there that it might not wander away, and Oyvind bore leaves and grass up to it. One fine day the goat leaped down and was off to the cliff; it went straight up and soon stood where it had never been before. Oyvind did not see the goat when he came out in the afternoon, and thought at once of the fox. He grew hot all over, and gazing about him, cried,–
“Ba-a-a-a!” answered the goat, from the brow of the hill, putting its head on one side and peering down.
At the side of the goat there was kneeling a little girl.
“Is this goat yours?” asked she.
Oyvind opened wide his mouth and eyes, thrust both hands into his pants and said,–
“Who are you?”
“I am Marit, mother’s young one, father’s fiddle, the hulder of the house, granddaughter to Ola Nordistuen of the Heidegards, four years old in the autumn, two days after the frost nights–I am!”
“Is that who you are?” cried he, drawing a long breath, for he had not ventured to take one while she was speaking.
“Is this goat yours?” she again inquired.
“Ye-es!” replied he, raising his eyes.
“I have taken such a liking to the goat;–you will not give it to me?”
“No, indeed I will not.”
She lay kicking up her heels and staring down at him, and presently she said: “But if I give you a twisted bun for the goat, can I have it then?”
Oyvind was the son of poor people; he had tasted twisted bun only once in his life, that was when grandfather came to his house, and he had never eaten anything equal to it before or since. He fixed his eyes on the girl.
“Let me see the bun first?” said he.
She was not slow in producing a large twisted bun that she held in her hand.
“Here it is!” cried she, and tossed it down to him.
“Oh! it broke in pieces!” exclaimed the boy, picking up every fragment with the utmost care. He could not help tasting of the very smallest morsel, and it was so good that he had to try another piece, and before he knew it himself he had devoured the whole bun.
“Now the goat belongs to me,” said the girl.
The boy paused with the last morsel in his mouth; the girl lay there laughing, and the goat stood by her side, with its white breast and shining brown hair, giving sidelong glances down.
“Could you not wait a while,” begged the boy,–his heart beginning to throb. Then the girl laughed more than ever, and hurriedly got up on her knees.
“No, the goat is mine,” said she, and threw her arms about it, then loosening one of her garters she fastened it around its neck. Oyvind watched her. She rose to her feet and began to tug at the goat; it would not go along with her, and stretched its neck over the edge of the cliff toward Oyvind.
“Ba-a-a-a!” said the goat.
Then the little girl took hold of its hair with one hand, pulled at the garter with the other, and said prettily: “Come, now, goat, you shall go into the sitting-room and eat from mother’s dish and my apron.”
And then she sang,–
“Come, boy’s pretty goatie,
Come, calf, my delight,
Come here, mewing pussie,
In shoes snowy white,
Yellow ducks, from your shelter, Come forth, helter-skelter.
Come, doves, ever beaming,
With soft feathers gleaming!
The grass is still wet,
But sun ‘t will soon get;
Now call, though early ‘t is in the summer, And autumn will be the new-comer.”
[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier’s translation.]
There the boy stood.
He had taken care of the goat ever since winter, when it was born, and it had never occurred to him that he could lose it; but now it was gone in an instant, and he would never see it again.
The mother came trolling up from the beach, with some wooden pails she had been scouring; she saw the boy sitting on the grass, with his legs crossed under him, crying, and went to him.
“What makes you cry?”
“Oh, my goat–my goat!”
“Why, where is the goat?” asked the mother, glancing up at the roof.
“It will never come back any more,” said the boy.
“Dear me! how can _that_ be?”
Oyvind would not confess at once.
“Has the fox carried it off?”
“Oh, I wish it were the fox!”
“You must have lost your senses!” cried the mother. “What has become of the goat?”
“Oh–oh–oh! I was so unlucky. I sold it for a twisted bun!”
The moment he uttered the words he realized what it was to sell the goat for a bun; he had not thought about it before. The mother said,–
“What do you imagine the little goat thinks of you now, since you were willing to sell it for a twisted bun?”
The boy reflected upon this himself, and felt perfectly sure that he never could know happiness more in _this_ world–nor in heaven either, he thought, afterwards.
He was so overwhelmed with sorrow that he promised himself that he would never do anything wrong again,–neither cut the cord of the spinning-wheel, nor let the sheep loose, nor go down to the sea alone. He fell asleep lying there, and he dreamed that the goat had reached heaven. There the Lord was sitting, with a long beard, as in the Catechism, and the goat stood munching at the leaves of a shining tree; but Oyvind sat alone on the roof, and, could get no higher. Then something wet was thrust right against his ear, and he started up. “Ba-a-a-a!” he heard, and it was the goat that had returned to him.
“What! have you come back again?” With these words he sprang up, seized it by the two fore-legs, and danced about with it as if it were a brother. He pulled it by the beard, and was on the point of going in to his mother with it, when he heard some one behind him, and saw the little girl sitting on the greensward beside him. Now he understood the whole thing, and he let go of the goat.
“Is it you who have brought the goat?”
She sat tearing up the grass with her hands, and said, “I was not allowed to keep it; grandfather is up there waiting.”
While the boy stood staring at her, a sharp voice from the road above called, “Well!”
Then she remembered what she had to do: she rose, walked up to Oyvind, thrust one of her dirt-covered hands into his, and, turning her face away, said, “I beg your pardon.”
But then her courage forsook her, and, flinging herself on the goat, she burst into tears.
“I believe you had better keep the goat,” faltered Oyvind, looking away.
“Make haste, now!” said her grandfather, from the hill; and Marit got up and walked, with hesitating feet, upward.
“You have forgotten your garter,” Oyvind shouted after her. She turned and bestowed a glance, first on the garter, then on him. Finally she formed a great resolve, and replied, in a choked voice, “You may keep it.”
He walked up to her, took her by the hand, and said, “I thank you!”
“Oh, there is nothing to thank me for,” she answered, and, drawing a piteous sigh, went on.
Oyvind sat down on the grass again, the goat roaming about near him; but he was no longer as happy with it as before.
The goat was tethered near the house, but Oyvind wandered off, with his eyes fixed on the cliff. The mother came and sat down beside him; he asked her to tell him stories about things that were far away, for now the goat was no longer enough to content him. So his mother told him how once everything could talk: the mountain talked to the brook, and the brook to the river, and the river to the sea, and the sea to the sky; he asked if the sky did not talk to any one, and was told that it talked to the clouds, and the clouds to the trees, the trees to the grass, the grass to the flies, the flies to the beasts, and the beasts to the children, but the children to grown people; and thus it continued until it had gone round in a circle, and neither knew where it had begun. Oyvind gazed at the cliff, the trees, the sea, and the sky, and he had never truly seen them before. The cat came out just then, and stretched itself out on the door-step, in the sunshine.
“What does the cat say?” asked Oyvind, and pointed.
The mother sang,–
“Evening sunshine softly is dying, On the door-step lazy puss is lying.
‘Two small mice,
Cream so thick and nice;
Four small bits of fish
Stole I from a dish;
Well-filled am I and sleek,
Am very languid and meek,’
Says the pussie.”
[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier’s translation.]
Then the cock came strutting up with all the hens.
“What does the cock say?” asked Oyvind, clapping his hands.
The mother sang,–
“Mother-hen her wings now are sinking, Chanticleer on one leg stands thinking: ‘High, indeed,
You gray goose can speed;
Never, surely though, she
Clever as a cock can be.
Seek your shelter, hens, I pray, Gone is the sun to his rest for to-day,’– Says the rooster.”
[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier’s translation.]
Two small birds sat singing on the gable.
“What are the birds saying?” asked Oyvind, and laughed.
“‘Dear Lord, how pleasant is life,
For those who have neither toil nor strife,’– Say the birds.”
–was the answer.
[Footnote 2: Translated by H.R.G.]
Thus he learned what all were saying, even to the ant crawling in the moss and the worm working in the bark.
The same summer his mother undertook to teach him to read. He had had books for a long time, and wondered how it would be when they, too, should begin to talk. Now the letters were transformed into beasts and birds and all living creatures; and soon they began to move about together, two and two; _a_ stood resting beneath a tree called _b_, _c_ came and joined it; but when three or four were grouped together they seemed to get angry with one another, and nothing would then go right. The farther he advanced the more completely he found himself forgetting what the letters were; he longest remembered _a_, which he liked best; it was a little black lamb and was on friendly terms with all the rest; but soon _a_, too, was forgotten, the books no longer contained stories, only lessons.
Then one day his mother came in and said to him,–
“To-morrow school begins again, and you are going with me up to the gard.”
Oyvind had heard that school was a place where many boys played together, and he had nothing against that. He was greatly pleased; he had often been to the gard, but not when there was school there, and he walked faster than his mother up the hill-side, so eager was he. When they came to the house of the old people, who lived on their annuity, a loud buzzing, like that from the mill at home, met them, and he asked his mother what it was.
“It is the children reading,” answered she, and he was delighted, for thus it was that he had read before he learned the letters.
On entering he saw so many children round a table that there could not be more at church; others sat on their dinner-pails along the wall, some stood in little knots about an arithmetic table; the school-master, an old, gray-haired man, sat on a stool by the hearth, filling his pipe. They all looked up when Oyvind and his mother came in, and the clatter ceased as if the mill-stream had been turned off. Every eye was fixed on the new-comers; the mother saluted the school-master, who returned her greeting.
“I have come here to bring a little boy who wants to learn to read,” said the mother.
“What is the fellow’s name?” inquired the school-master, fumbling down in his leathern pouch after tobacco.
“Oyvind,” replied the mother, “he knows his letters and he can spell.”
“You do not say so!” exclaimed the school-master. “Come here, you white-head!”
“Oyvind walked up to him, the school-master took him up on his knee and removed his cap.
“What a nice little boy!” said he, stroking the child’s hair. Oyvind looked up into his eyes and laughed.
“Are you laughing at me!” The old man knit his brow, as he spoke.
“Yes, I am,” replied Oyvind, with a merry peal of laughter.
Then the school-master laughed, too; the mother laughed; the children knew now that they had permission to laugh, and so they all laughed together.
With this Oyvind was initiated into school.
When he was to take his seat, all the scholars wished to make room for him; he on his part looked about for a long time; while the other children whispered and pointed, he turned in every direction, his cap in his hand, his book under his arm.
“Well, what now?” asked the school-master, who was again busied with his pipe.
Just as the boy was about turning toward the school-master, he espied, near the hearthstone close beside him, sitting on a little red-painted box, Marit with the many names; she had hidden her face behind both hands and sat peeping out at him.
“I will sit here!” cried Oyvind, promptly, and seizing a lunch-box he seated himself at her side. Now she raised the arm nearest him a little and peered at him from under her elbow; forthwith he, too, covered his face with both hands and looked at her from under his elbow. Thus they sat cutting up capers until she laughed, and then he laughed also; the other little folks noticed this, and they joined in the laughter; suddenly a voice which was frightfully strong, but which grew milder as it spoke, interposed with,–
“Silence, troll-children, wretches, chatter-boxes!–hush, and be good to me, sugar-pigs!”
It was the school-master, who had a habit of flaring up, but becoming good-natured again before he was through. Immediately there was quiet in the school, until the pepper grinders again began to go; they read aloud, each from his book; the most delicate trebles piped up, the rougher voices drumming louder and louder in order to gain the ascendency, and here and there one chimed in, louder than the others. In all his life Oyvind had never had such fun.
“Is it always so here?” he whispered to Marit.
“Yes, always,” said she.
Later they had to go forward to the school-master and read; a little boy was afterwards appointed to teach them to read, and then they were allowed to go and sit quietly down again.
“I have a goat now myself,” said Marit.
“Yes, but it is not as pretty as yours.”
“Why do you never come up to the cliff again?”
“Grandfather is afraid I might fall over.”
“Why, it is not so very high.”
“Grandfather will not let me, nevertheless.”
“Mother knows a great many songs,” said Oyvind.
“Grandfather does, too, I can tell you.”
“Yes, but he does not know mother’s songs.”
“Grandfather knows one about a dance. Do you want to hear it?”
“Yes, very much.”
“Well, then, come nearer this way, that the school-master may not see us.”
He moved close to her, and then she recited a little snatch of a song, four or five times, until the boy learned it, and it was the first thing he learned at school.
“Dance!” cried the fiddle;
Its strings all were quaking,
The lensmand’s son making
Spring up and say “Ho!”
“Stay!” called out Ola,
And tripped him up lightly;
The girls laughed out brightly,
The lensmand lay low.
“Hop!” said then Erik,
His heel upward flinging;
The beams fell to ringing,
The walls gave a shriek.
“Stop!” shouted Elling,
His collar then grasping,
And held him up, gasping:
“Why, you’re far too weak!”
“Hey!” spoke up Rasmus,
Fair Randi then seizing;
“Come, give without teasing
That kiss. Oh! you know!”
“Nay!” answered Randi,
And boxing him smartly,
Dashed off, crying tartly:
“Take that now and go!”
[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier’s translation.]
“Up, youngsters!” cried the school-master; “this is the first day, so you shall be let off early; but first we must say a prayer and sing.”
The whole school was now alive; the little folks jumped down from the benches, ran across the floor and all spoke at once.
“Silence, little gypsies, young rascals, yearlings!–be still and walk nicely across the floor, little children!” said the school-master, and they quietly took their places, after which the school-master stood in front of them and made a short prayer. Then they sang; the school-master started the tune, in a deep bass; all the children, folding their hands, joined in. Oyvind stood at the foot, near the door, with Marit, looking on; they also clasped their hands, but they could not sing.
This was the first day at school.
Oyvind grew and became a clever boy; he was among the first scholars at school, and at home he was faithful in all his tasks. This was because at home he loved his mother and at school the school-master; he saw but little of his father, who was always either off fishing or was attending to the mill, where half the parish had their grinding done.
What had the most influence on his mind in these days was the school-master’s history, which his mother related to him one evening as they sat by the hearth. It sank into his books, it thrust itself beneath every word the school-master spoke, it lurked in the school-room when all was still. It caused him to be obedient and reverent, and to have an easier apprehension as it were of everything that was taught him.
The history ran thus:–
The school-master’s name was Baard, and he once had a brother whose name was Anders. They thought a great deal of each other; they both enlisted; they lived together in the town, and took part in the war, both being made corporals, and serving in the same company. On their return home after the war, every one thought they were two splendid fellows. Now their father died; he had a good deal of personal property, which was not easy to divide, but the brothers decided, in order that this should be no cause of disagreement between them, to put the things up at auction, so that each might buy what he wanted, and the proceeds could be divided between them. No sooner said than done. Their father had owned a large gold watch, which had a wide-spread fame, because it was the only gold watch people in that part of the country had seen, and when it was put up many a rich man tried to get it until the two brothers began to take part in the bidding; then the rest ceased. Now, Baard expected Anders to let him have the watch, and Anders expected the same of Baard; each bid in his turn to put the other to the test, and they looked hard at each other while bidding. When the watch had been run up to twenty dollars, it seemed to Baard that his brother was not acting rightly, and he continued to bid until he got it almost up to thirty; as Anders kept on, it struck Baard that his brother could not remember how kind he had always been to him, nor that he was the elder of the two, and the watch went up to over thirty dollars. Anders still kept on. Then Baard suddenly bid forty dollars, and ceased to look at his brother. It grew very still in the auction-room, the voice of the lensmand one was heard calmly naming the price. Anders, standing there, thought if Baard could afford to give forty dollars he could also, and if Baard grudged him the watch, he might as well take it. He bid higher. This Baard felt to be the greatest disgrace that had ever befallen him; he bid fifty dollars, in a very low tone. Many people stood around, and Anders did not see how his brother could so mock at him in the hearing of all; he bid higher. At length Baard laughed.
“A hundred dollars and my brotherly affection in the bargain,” said he, and turning left the room. A little later, some one came out to him, just as he was engaged in saddling the horse he had bought a short time before.
“The watch is yours,” said the man; “Anders has withdrawn.”
The moment Baard heard this there passed through him a feeling of compunction; he thought of his brother, and not of the watch. The horse was saddled, but Baard paused with his hand on its back, uncertain whether to ride away or no. Now many people came out, among them Anders, who when he saw his brother standing beside the saddled horse, not knowing what Baard was reflecting on, shouted out to him:–
“Thank you for the watch, Baard! You will not see it run the day your brother treads on your heels.”
“Nor the day I ride to the gard again,” replied Baard, his face very white, swinging himself into the saddle.
Neither of them ever again set foot in the house where they had lived with their father.
A short time after, Anders married into a houseman’s family; but Baard was not invited to the wedding, nor was he even at church. The first year of Anders’ marriage the only cow he owned was found dead beyond the north side of the house, where it was tethered, and no one could find out what had killed it. Several misfortunes followed, and he kept going downhill; but the worst of all was when his barn, with all that it contained, burned down in the middle of the winter; no one knew how the fire had originated.
“This has been done by some one who wishes me ill,” said Anders,–and he wept that night. He was now a poor man and had lost all ambition for work.
The next evening Baard appeared in his room. Anders was in bed when he entered, but sprang directly up.
“What do you want here?” he cried, then stood silent, staring fixedly at his brother.
Baard waited a little before he answered,–
“I wish to offer you help, Anders; things are going badly for you.”
“I am faring as you meant I should, Baard! Go, I am not sure that I can control myself.”
“You mistake, Anders; I repent”–
“Go, Baard, or God be merciful to us both!”
Baard fell back a few steps, and with quivering voice he murmured,–
“If you want the watch you shall have it.”
“Go, Baard!” shrieked the other, and Baard left, not daring to linger longer.
Now with Baard it had been as follows: As soon as he had heard of his brother’s misfortunes, his heart melted; but pride held him back. He felt impelled to go to church, and there he made good resolves, but he was not able to carry them out. Often he got far enough to see Anders’ house; but now some one came out of the door; now there was a stranger there; again Anders was outside chopping wood, so there was always something in the way. But one Sunday, late in the winter, he went to church again, and Anders was there too. Baard saw him; he had grown pale and thin; he wore the same clothes as in former days when the brothers were constant companions, but now they were old and patched. During the sermon Anders kept his eyes fixed on the priest, and Baard thought he looked good and kind; he remembered their childhood and what a good boy Anders had been. Baard went to communion that day, and he made a solemn vow to his God that he would be reconciled with his brother whatever might happen. This determination passed through his soul while he was drinking the wine, and when he rose he wanted to go right to him and sit down beside him; but some one was in the way and Anders did not look up. After service, too, there was something in the way; there were too many people; Anders’ wife was walking at his side, and Baard was not acquainted with her; he concluded that it would be best to go to his brother’s house and have a serious talk with him. When evening came he set forth. He went straight to the sitting-room door and listened, then he heard his name spoken; it was by the wife.
“He took the sacrament to-day,” said she; “he surely thought of you.”
“No; he did not think of me,” said Anders. “I know him; he thinks only of himself.”
For a long time there was silence; the sweat poured from Baard as he stood there, although it was a cold evening. The wife inside was busied with a kettle that crackled and hissed on the hearth; a little infant cried now and then, and Anders rocked it. At last the wife spoke these few words:–
“I believe you both think of each other without being willing to admit it.”
“Let us talk of something else,” replied Anders.
After a while he got up and moved towards the door. Baard was forced to hide in the wood-shed; but to that very place Anders came to get an armful of wood. Baard stood in the corner and saw him distinctly; he had put off his threadbare Sunday clothes and wore the uniform he had brought home with him from the war, the match to Baard’s, and which he had promised his brother never to touch but to leave for an heirloom, Baard having given him a similar promise. Anders’ uniform was now patched and worn; his strong, well-built frame was encased, as it were, in a bundle of rags; and, at the same time, Baard heard the gold watch ticking in his own pocket. Anders walked to where the fagots lay; instead of stooping at once to pick them up, he paused, leaned back against the wood-pile and gazed up at the sky, which glittered brightly with stars. Then he drew a sigh and muttered,–
“Yes–yes–yes;–O Lord! O Lord!”
As long as Baard lived he heard these words. He wanted to step forward, but just then his brother coughed, and it seemed so difficult, more was not required to hold him back. Anders took up his armful of wood, and brushed past Baard, coming so close to him that the twigs struck his face, making it smart.
For fully ten minutes he stood as if riveted to the spot, and it is doubtful when he would have left, had he not, after his great emotion, been seized with a shivering fit that shook him through and through. Then he moved away; he frankly confessed to himself that he was too cowardly to go in, and so he now formed a new plan. From an ash-box which stood in the corner he had just left, he took some bits of charcoal, found a resinous pine-splint, went up to the barn, closed the door and struck a light. When he had lit the pine-splint, he held it up to find the wooden peg where Anders hung his lantern when he came early in the morning to thresh. Baard took his gold watch and hung it on the peg, blew out his light and left; and then he felt so relieved that he bounded over the snow like a young boy.
The next day he heard that the barn had burned to the ground during the night. No doubt sparks had fallen from the torch that had lit him while he was hanging up his watch.
This so overwhelmed him that he kept his room all day like a sick man, brought out his hymn-book, and sang until the people in the house thought he had gone mad. But in the evening he went out; it was bright moonlight. He walked to his brother’s place, dug in the ground where the fire had been, and found, as he had expected, a little melted lump of gold. It was the watch.
It was with this in his tightly closed hand that he went in to his brother, imploring peace, and was about to explain everything.
A little girl had seen him digging in the ashes, some boys on their way to a dance had noticed him going down toward the place the preceding Sunday evening; the people in the house where he lived testified how curiously he had acted on Monday, and as every one knew that he and his brother were bitter enemies, information was given and a suit instituted.
No one could prove anything against Baard, but suspicion rested on him. Less than ever, now, did he feel able to approach his brother.
Anders had thought of Baard when the barn was burned, but had spoken of it to no one. When he saw him enter his room, the following evening, pale and excited, he immediately thought: “Now he is smitten with remorse, but for such a terrible crime against his brother he shall have no forgiveness.” Afterwards he heard how people had seen Baard go down to the barn the evening of the fire, and, although nothing was brought to light at the trial, Anders firmly believed his brother to be guilty.
They met at the trial; Baard in his good clothes, Anders in his patched ones. Baard looked at his brother as he entered, and his eyes wore so piteous an expression of entreaty that Anders felt it in the inmost depths of his heart. “He does not want me to say anything,” thought Anders, and when he was asked if he suspected his brother of the deed, he said loudly and decidedly, “No!”
Anders took to hard drinking from that day, and was soon far on the road to ruin. Still worse was it with Baard; although he did not drink, he was scarcely to be recognized by those who had known him before.
Late one evening a poor woman entered the little room Baard rented, and begged him to accompany her a short distance. He knew her: it was his brother’s wife. Baard understood forthwith what her errand was; he grew deathly pale, dressed himself, and went with her without a word. There was a glimmer of light from Anders’ window, it twinkled and disappeared, and they were guided by this light, for there was no path across the snow. When Baard stood once more in the passage, a strange odor met him which made him feel ill. They entered. A little child stood by the fireplace eating charcoal; its whole face was black, but as it looked up and laughed it displayed white teeth,–it was the brother’s child.
There on the bed, with a heap of clothes thrown over him, lay Anders, emaciated, with smooth, high forehead, and with his hollow eyes fixed on his brother. Baard’s knees trembled; he sat down at the foot of the bed and burst into a violent fit of weeping. The sick man looked at him intently and said nothing. At length he asked his wife to go out, but Baard made a sign to her to remain; and now these two brothers began to talk together. They accounted for everything from the day they had bid for the watch up to the present moment. Baard concluded by producing the lump of gold he always carried about him, and it now became manifest to the brothers that in all these years neither had known a happy day.
Anders did not say much, for he was not able to do so, but Baard watched by his bed as long as he was ill.
“Now I am perfectly well,” said Anders one morning on waking. “Now, my brother, we will live long together, and never leave each other, just as in the old days.”
But that day he died.
Baard took charge of the wife and the child, and they fared well from that time. What the brothers had talked of together by the bed, burst through the walls and the night, and was soon known to all the people in the parish, and Baard became the most respected man among them. He was honored as one who had known great sorrow and found happiness again, or as one who had been absent for a very long time. Baard grew inwardly strong through all this friendliness about him; he became a truly pious man, and wanted to be useful, he said, and so the old corporal took to teaching school. What he impressed upon the children, first and last, was love, and he practiced it himself, so that the children clung to him as to a playmate and father in one.
Such was the history of the school-master, and so deeply did it root itself in Oyvind’s mind that it became both religion and education for him. The school-master grew to be almost a supernatural being in his eyes, although he sat there so sociably, grumbling at the scholars. Not to know every lesson for him was impossible, and if Oyvind got a smile or a pat on his head after he had recited, he felt warm and happy for a whole day.
It always made the deepest impression on the children when the old school-master sometimes before singing made a little speech to them, and at least once a week read aloud some verses about loving one’s neighbor. When he read the first of those verses, his voice always trembled, although he had been reading it now some twenty or thirty years. It ran thus:–
“Love thy neighbor with Christian zeal! Crush him not with an iron heel,
Though he in dust be prostrated! Love’s all powerful, quickening hand
Guides, forever, with magic wand All that it has created.”
But when he had recited the whole poem and had paused a little, he would cry, and his eyes would twinkle,–
“Up, small trolls! and go nicely home without any noise,–go quietly, that I may only hear good of you, little toddlers!”
But when they were making the most noise in hunting up their books and dinner-pails, he shouted above it all,–
“Come again to-morrow, as soon as it is light, or I will give you a thrashing. Come again in good season, little girls and boys, and then we will be industrious.”
Of Oyvind’s further progress until a year before confirmation there is not much to report. He studied in the morning, worked through the day, and played in the evening.
As he had an unusually sprightly disposition, it was not long before the neighboring children fell into the habit of resorting in their playtime to where he was to be found. A large hill sloped down to the bay in front of the place, bordered by the cliff on one side and the wood on the other, as before described; and all winter long, on pleasant evenings and on Sundays, this served as coasting-ground for the parish young folks. Oyvind was master of the hill, and he owned two sleds, “Fleet-foot” and “Idler;” the latter he loaned out to larger parties, the former he managed himself, holding Marit on his lap.
The first thing Oyvind did in those days on awaking, was to look out and see whether it was thawing, and if it was gray and lowering over the bushes beyond the bay, or if he heard a dripping from the roof, he was long about dressing, as though there were nothing to be accomplished that day. But if he awoke, especially on a Sunday, to crisp, frosty, clear weather, to his best clothes and no work, only catechism or church in the morning, with the whole afternoon and evening free–heigh! then the boy made one spring out of bed, donned his clothes in a hurry as if for a fire, and could scarcely eat a mouthful. As soon as afternoon had come, and the first boy on skees drew in sight along the road-side, swinging his guide-pole above his head and shouting so that echoes resounded through the mountain-ridges about the lake; and then another on the road on a sled, and still another and another,–off started Oyvind with “Fleet-foot,” bounded down the hill, and stopped among the last-comers, with a long, ringing shout that pealed from ridge to ridge all along the bay, and died away in the far distance.
Then he would look round for Marit, but when she had come he payed no further attention to her.
At last there came a Christmas, when Oyvind and Marit might be about sixteen or seventeen, and were both to be confirmed in the spring. The fourth day after Christmas there was a party at the upper Heidegards, at Marit’s grandparents’, by whom she had been brought up, and who had been promising her this party for three years, and now at last had to give it during the holidays. Oyvind was invited to it.
It was a somewhat cloudy evening but not cold; no stars could be seen; the next day must surely bring rain. There blew a sleepy wind over the snow, which was swept away here and there on the white Heidefields; elsewhere it had drifted. Along the part of the road where there was but little snow, were smooth sheets of ice of a blue-black hue, lying between the snow and the bare field, and glittering in patches as far as the eye could reach. Along the mountain-sides there had been avalanches; it was dark and bare in their track, but on either side light and snow-clad, except where the forest birch-trees put their heads together and made dark shadows. No water was visible, but half-naked heaths and bogs lay under the deeply-fissured, melancholy mountains. Gards were spread in thick clusters in the centre of the plain; in the gloom of the winter evening they resembled black clumps, from which light shot out over the fields, now from one window, now from another; from these lights it might be judged that those within were busy.
Young people, grown-up and half-grown-up, were flocking together from diverse directions; only a few of them came by the road, the others had left it at least when they approached the gards, and stole onward, one behind the stable, a couple near the store-house, some stayed for a long time behind the barn, screaming like foxes, others answered from afar like cats; one stood behind the smoke-house, barking like a cross old dog whose upper notes were cracked; and at last all joined in a general chase. The girls came sauntering along in large groups, having a few boys, mostly small ones, with them, who had gathered about them on the road in order to appear like young men. When such a bevy of girls arrived at the gard and one or two of the grown youths saw them, the girls parted, flew into the passages or down in the garden, and had to be dragged thence into the house, one by one. Some were so excessively bashful that Marit had to be sent for, and then she came out and insisted upon their entering. Sometimes, too, there appeared one who had had no invitation and who had by no means intended to go in, coming only to look on, until perhaps she might have a chance just to take one single dance. Those whom Marit liked well she invited into a small chamber, where her grandfather sat smoking his pipe, and her grandmother was walking about. The old people offered them something to drink and spoke kindly to them. Oyvind was not among those invited in, and this seemed to him rather strange.
The best fiddler of the parish could not come until later, so meanwhile they had to content themselves with the old one, a houseman, who went by the name of Gray-Knut. He knew four dances; as follows: two spring dances, a halling, and an old dance, called the Napoleon waltz; but gradually he had been compelled to transform the halling into a schottishe by altering the accent, and in the same manner a spring dance had to become a polka-mazurka. He now struck up and the dancing began. Oyvind did not dare join in at once, for there were too many grown folks here; but the half-grown-up ones soon united, thrust one another forward, drank a little strong ale to strengthen their courage, and then Oyvind came forward with them. The room grew warm to them; merriment and ale mounted to their heads. Marit was on the floor most of the time that evening, no doubt because the party was at her grandparents’; and this led Oyvind to look frequently at her; but she was always dancing with others. He longed to dance with her himself, and so he sat through one dance, in order to be able to hasten to her side the moment it was ended; and he did so, but a tall, swarthy fellow, with thick hair, threw himself in his way.
“Back, youngster!” he shouted, and gave Oyvind a push that nearly made him fall backwards over Marit.
Never before had such a thing occurred to Oyvind; never had any one been otherwise than kind to him; never had he been called “youngster” when he wanted to take part; he blushed crimson, but said nothing, and drew back to the place where the new fiddler, who had just arrived, had taken his seat and was tuning his instrument. There was silence in the crowd, every one was waiting to hear the first vigorous tones from “the chief fiddler.” He tried his instrument and kept on tuning; this lasted a long time; but finally he began with a spring dance, the boys shouted and leaped, couple after couple coming into the circle. Oyvind watched Marit dancing with the thick-haired man; she laughed over the man’s shoulder and her white teeth glistened. Oyvind felt a strange, sharp pain in his heart for the first time in his life.
He looked longer and longer at her, but however it might be, it seemed to him that Marit was now a young maiden. “It cannot be so, though,” thought he, “for she still takes part with the rest of us in our coasting.” But grown-up she was, nevertheless, and after the dance was ended, the dark-haired man pulled her down on his lap; she tore herself away, but still she sat down beside him.
Oyvind’s eyes turned to the man, who wore a fine blue broadcloth suit, blue checked shirt, and a soft silk neckerchief; he had a small face, vigorous blue eyes, a laughing, defiant mouth. He was handsome. Oyvind looked more and more intently, finally scanned himself also; he had had new trousers for Christmas, which he had taken much delight in, but now he saw that they were only gray wadmal; his jacket was of the same material, but old and dark; his vest, of checked homespun, was also old, and had two bright buttons and a black one. He glanced around him and it seemed to him that very few were so poorly clad as he. Marit wore a black, close-fitting dress of a fine material, a silver brooch in her neckerchief and had a folded silk handkerchief in her hand. On the back of her head was perched a little black silk cap, which was tied under the chin with a broad, striped silk ribbon. She was fair and had rosy cheeks, and she was laughing; the man was talking to her and was laughing too. The fiddler started another tune, and the dancing was about to begin again. A comrade came and sat down beside Oyvind.
“Why are you not dancing, Oyvind? ” he asked pleasantly.
“Dear me!” said Oyvind, “I do not look fit.”
“Do not look fit?” cried his comrade; but before he could say more, Oyvind inquired,–
“Who is that in the blue broadcloth suit, dancing with Marit?”
“That is Jon Hatlen, he who has been away so long at an agricultural school and is now to take the gard.”
At that moment Marit and Jon sat down.
“Who is that boy with light hair sitting yonder by the fiddler, staring at me?” asked Jon.
Then Marit laughed and said,–
“He is the son of the houseman at Pladsen.”
Oyvind had always known that he was a houseman’s son; but until now he had never realized it. It made him feel so very little, smaller than all the rest; in order to keep up he had to try and think of all that hitherto had made him happy and proud, from the coasting hill to each kind word. He thought, too, of his mother and his father, who were now sitting at home and thinking that he was having a good time, and he could scarcely hold back his tears. Around him all were laughing and joking, the fiddle rang right into his ear, it was a moment in which something black seemed to rise up before him, but then he remembered the school with all his companions, and the school-master who patted him, and the priest who at the last examination had given him a book and told him he was a clever boy. His father himself had sat by listening and had smiled on him.
“Be good now, dear Oyvind,” he thought the heard the school-master say, taking him on his lap, as when he was a child. “Dear me! it all matters so little, and in fact all people are kind; it merely seems as if they were not. We two will be clever, Oyvind, just as clever as Jon Hatlen; we shall yet have good clothes, and dance with Marit in a light room, with a hundred people in it; we will smile and talk together; there will be a bride and bridegroom, a priest, and I will be in the choir smiling upon you, and mother will be at home, and there will be a large gard with twenty cows, three horses, and Marit as good and kind as at school.”
The dancing ceased. Oyvind saw Marit on the bench in front of him, and Jon by her side with his face close up to hers; again there came that great burning pain in his breast, and he seemed to be saying to himself: “It is true, I am suffering.”
Just then Marit rose, and she came straight to him. She stooped over him.
“You must not sit there staring so fixedly at me,” said she; “you might know that people are noticing it. Take some one now and join the dancers.”
He made no reply, but he could not keep back the tears that welled up to his eyes as he looked at her. Marit had already risen to go when she saw this, and paused; suddenly she grew as red as fire, turned and went back to her place, but having arrived there she turned again and took another seat. Jon followed her forthwith.
Oyvind got up from the bench, passed through the crowd, out in the grounds, sat down on a porch, and then, not knowing what he wanted there rose, but sat down again, thinking he might just as well sit there as anywhere else. He did not care about going home, nor did he desire to go in again, it was all one to him. He was not capable of considering what had happened; he did not want to think of it; neither did he wish to think of the future, for there was nothing to which he looked forward.
“But what, then, is it I am thinking of?” he queried, half aloud, and when he had heard his own voice, he thought: “You can still speak, can you laugh?” And then he tried it; yes, he could laugh, and so he laughed loud, still louder, and then it occurred to him that it was very amusing to be sitting laughing here all by himself, and he laughed again. But Hans, the comrade who had been sitting beside him, came out after him.
“Good gracious, what are you laughing at?” he asked, pausing in front of the porch. At this Oyvind was silent.
Hans remained standing, as if waiting to see what further might happen. Oyvind got up, looked cautiously about him and said in a low tone,–
“Now Hans, I will tell you why I have been so happy before: it was because I did not really love any one; from the day we love some one, we cease to be happy,” and he burst into tears.
“Oyvind!” a voice whispered out in the court; “Oyvind!” He paused and listened. “Oyvind,” was repeated once more, a little louder. “It must be she,” he thought.
“Yes,” he answered, also in a whisper; and hastily wiping his eyes he came forward.
A woman stole softly across the gard.
[Transcriber’s Note: The above sentence should read, “A woman stole softly across the yard.” In other early translations, the words “yard” and “court-yard” are used here. “Gard” in this case is apparently a typo. The use of the word, “gard” throughout the rest of this story refers to “farm.”]
“Are you there?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered, standing still.
“Who is with you?”
But Hans wanted to go.
“No, no!” besought Oyvind.
She slowly drew near them, and it was Marit.
“You left so soon,” said she to Oyvind.
He knew not what to reply; thereupon Marit, too, became embarrassed, and all three were silent. But Hans gradually managed to steal away. The two remained behind, neither looking at each other, nor stirring. Finally Marit whispered:–
“I have been keeping some Christmas goodies in my pocket for you, Oyvind, the whole evening, but I have had no chance to give them to you before.”
She drew forth some apples, a slice of a cake from town, and a little half pint bottle, which she thrust into his hand, and said he might keep. Oyvind took them.
“Thank you!” said he, holding out his hand; hers was warm, and he dropped it at once as if it had burned him.
“You have danced a good deal this evening,” he murmured.
“Yes, I have,” she replied, “but _you_ have not danced much,” she added.
“I have not,” he rejoined.
“Why did you not dance?”
“Why did you sit looking at me so?”
“Why did you dislike having me look at you?”
“There were so many people.”
“You danced a great deal with Jon Hatlen this evening.”
“He dances well.”
“Do you think so?”
“Oh, yes. I do not know how it is, but this evening I could not bear to have you dance with him, Marit.”
He turned away,–it had cost him something to say this.
“I do not understand you, Oyvind.”
“Nor do I understand myself; it is very stupid of me. Good-by, Marit; I will go now.”
He made a step forward without looking round. Then she called after him.
“You make a mistake about what you saw.”
“That you have already become a maiden is no mistake.”
He did not say what she had expected, therefore she was silent; but at that moment she saw the light from a pipe right in front of her. It was her grandfather, who had just turned the corner and was coming that way. He stood still.
“Is it here you are, Marit?”
“With whom are you talking?”
“Whom did you say?”
“Oh! the son of the houseman at Pladsen. Come at once and go in with me.”
The next morning, when Oyvind opened his eyes, it was from a long, refreshing sleep and happy dreams. Marit had been lying on the cliff, throwing leaves down on him; he had caught them and tossed them back again, so they had gone up and down in a thousand colors and forms; the sun was shining, and the whole cliff glittered beneath its rays. On awaking Oyvind looked around to find them all gone; then he remembered the day before, and the burning, cruel pain in his heart began at once. “This, I shall never be rid of again,” thought he; and there came over him a feeling of indifference, as though his whole future had dropped away from him.
“Why, you have slept a long time,” said his mother, who sat beside him spinning. “Get up now and eat your breakfast; your father is already in the forest cutting wood.”
Her voice seemed to help him; he rose with a little more courage. His mother was no doubt thinking of her own dancing days, for she sat singing to the sound of the spinning-wheel, while he dressed himself and ate his breakfast. Her humming finally made him rise from the table and go to the window; the same dullness and depression he had felt before took possession of him now, and he was forced to rouse himself, and think of work. The weather had changed, there had come a little frost into the air, so that what yesterday had threatened to fall in rain, to-day came down as sleet. Oyvind put on his snow-socks, a fur cap, his sailor’s jacket and mittens, said farewell, and started off, with his axe on his shoulder.
Snow fell slowly, in great, wet flakes; he toiled up over the coasting hill, in order to turn into the forest on the left. Never before, winter or summer, had he climbed this hill without recalling something that made him happy, or to which he was looking forward. Now it was a dull, weary walk. He slipped in the damp snow, his knees were stiff, either from the party yesterday or from his low spirits; he felt that it was all over with the coasting-hill for that year, and with it, forever. He longed for something different as he threaded his way in among the tree-trunks, where the snow fell softly. A frightened ptarmigan screamed and fluttered a few yards away, but everything else stood as if awaiting a word which never was spoken. But what his aspirations were, he did not distinctly know, only they concerned nothing at home, nothing abroad, neither pleasure nor work; but rather something far above, soaring upward like a song. Soon all became concentrated in one defined desire, and this was to be confirmed in the spring, and on that occasion to be number one. His heart beat wildly as he thought of it, and before he could yet hear his father’s axe in the quivering little trees, this wish throbbed within him with more intensity than anything he had known in all his life.
His father, as usual, did not have much to say to him; they chopped away together and both dragged the wood into heaps. Now and then they chanced to meet, and on one such occasion Oyvind remarked, in a melancholy tone, “A houseman has to work very hard.”
“He as well as others,” said the father, as he spit in the palm of his hand and took up the axe again.
When the tree was felled and the father had drawn it up to the pile, Oyvind said,–
“If you were a gardman you would not have to work so hard.”
“Oh! then there would doubtless be other things to distress us,” and he grasped his axe with both hands.
The mother came up with dinner for them; they sat down. The mother was in high spirits, she sat humming and beating time with her feet.
“What are you going to make of yourself when you are grown up, Oyvind?” said she, suddenly.
“For a houseman’s son, there are not many openings,” he replied.
“The school-master says you must go to the seminary,” said she.
“Can people go there free?” inquired Oyvind.
“The school-fund pays,” answered the father, who was eating.
“Would you like to go?” asked the mother.
“I should like to learn something, but not to become a school-master.”
They were all silent for a time. The mother hummed again and gazed before her; but Oyvind went off and sat down by himself.
“We do not actually need to borrow of the school-fund,” said the mother, when the boy was gone.
Her husband looked at her.
“Such poor folks as we?”
“It does not please me, Thore, to have you always passing yourself off for poor when you are not so.”
They both stole glances down after the boy to find out if he could hear. The father looked sharply at his wife.
“You talk as though you were very wise.”
“It is just the same as not thanking God that things have prospered with us,” said she, growing serious.
“We can surely thank Him without wearing silver buttons,” observed the father.
“Yes, but to let Oyvind go to the dance, dressed as he was yesterday, is not thanking Him either.”
“Oyvind is a houseman’s son.”
“That is no reason why he should not wear suitable clothes when we can afford it.”
“Talk about it so he can hear it himself!”
“He does not hear it; but I should like to have him do so,” said she, and looked bravely at her husband, who was gloomy, and laid down his spoon to take his pipe.
“Such a poor houseman’s place as we have!” said he.
“I have to laugh at you, always talking about the place, as you are. Why do you never speak of the mills?”
“Oh! you and the mills. I believe you cannot bear to hear them go.”
“Yes, I can, thank God! might they but go night and day!”
“They have stood still now, since before Christmas.”
“Folks do not grind here about Christmas time.”
“They grind when there is water; but since there has been a mill at New Stream, we have fared badly here.”
“The school-master did not say so to-day.”
“I shall get a more discreet fellow than the school-master to manage our money.”
“Yes, he ought least of all to talk with your own wife.”
Thore made no reply to this; he had just lit his pipe, and now, leaning up against a bundle of fagots, he let his eyes wander, first from his wife, then from his son, and fixed them on an old crow’s-nest which hung, half overturned, from a fir-branch above.
Oyvind sat by himself with the future stretching before him like a long, smooth sheet of ice, across which for the first time he found himself sweeping onward from shore to shore. That poverty hemmed him in on every side, he felt, but for that reason his whole mind was bent on breaking through it. From Marit it had undoubtedly parted him forever; he regarded her as half engaged to Jon Hatlen; but he had determined to vie with him and her through the entire race of life. Never again to be rebuffed as he had been yesterday, and in view of this to keep out of the way until he made something of himself, and then, with the aid of Almighty God, to continue to be something, –occupied all his thoughts, and there arose within his soul not a single doubt of his success. He had a dim idea that through study he would get on best; to what goal it would lead he must consider later.
There was coasting in the evening; the children came to the hill, but Oyvind was not with them. He sat reading by the fire-place, feeling that he had not a moment to lose. The children waited a long time; at length, one and another became impatient, approached the house, and laying their faces against the window-pane shouted in; but Oyvind pretended not to hear them. Others came, and evening after evening they lingered about outside, in great surprise; but Oyvind turned his back to them and went on reading, striving faithfully to gather the meaning of the words. Afterwards he heard that Marit was not there either. He read with a diligence which even his father was forced to say went too far. He became grave; his face, which had been so round and soft, grew thinner and sharper, his eye more stern; he rarely sang, and never played; the right time never seemed to come. When the temptation to do so beset him, he felt as if some one whispered, “later, later!” and always “later!” The children slid, shouted, and laughed a while as of old, but when they failed to entice him out either through his own love of coasting, or by shouting to him with their faces pressed against the window-pane, they gradually fell away, found other playgrounds, and soon the hill was deserted.
But the school-master soon noticed that this was not the old Oyvind who read because it was his turn, and played because it was a necessity. He often talked with him, coaxed and admonished him; but he did not succeed in finding his way to the boy’s heart so easily as in days of old. He spoke also with the parents, the result of the conference being that he came down one Sunday evening, late in the winter, and said, after he had sat a while,–
“Come now, Oyvind, let us go out; I want to have a talk with you.”
Oyvind put on his things and went with him. They wended their way up toward the Heidegards; a brisk conversation was kept up, but about nothing in particular; when they drew near the gards the school-master turned aside in the direction of one that lay in the centre, and when they had advanced a little farther, shouting and merriment met them.
“What is going on here?” asked Oyvind.
“There is a dance here,” said the school-master; “shall we not go in?”
“Will you not take part in a dance, boy?”
“No; not yet.”
“Not yet? When, then?”
Oyvind did not answer.
“What do you mean by _yet_?”
As the youth did not answer, the school-master said,–
“Come, now, no such nonsense.”
“No, I will not go.”
He was very decided and at the same time agitated.
“The idea of your own school-master standing here and begging you to go to a dance.”
There was a long pause.
“Is there any one in there whom you are afraid to see?”
“I am sure I cannot tell who may be in there.”
“But is there likely to be any one?”
Oyvind was silent. Then the school-master walked straight up to him, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said,–
“Are you afraid to see Marit?”
Oyvind looked down; his breathing became heavy and quick.
“Tell me, Oyvind, my boy?”
Oyvind made no reply.
“You are perhaps ashamed to confess it since you are not yet confirmed; but tell me, nevertheless, my dear Oyvind, and you shall not regret it.”
Oyvind raised his eyes but could not speak the word, and let his gaze wander away.
“You are not happy, either, of late. Does she care more for any one else than for you?”
Oyvind was still silent, and the school-master, feeling slightly hurt, turned away from him. They retraced their steps.
After they had walked a long distance, the school-master paused long enough for Oyvind to come up to his side.
“I presume you are very anxious to be confirmed,” said he.
“What do you think of doing afterwards?”
“I should like to go to the seminary.”
“And then become a school-master?”
“You do not think that is great enough?”
Oyvind made no reply. Again they walked on for some distance.
“When you have been through the seminary, what will you do?”
“I have not fairly considered that.”
“If you had money, I dare say you would like to buy yourself a gard?”
“Yes, but keep the mills.”
“Then you had better enter the agricultural school.”
“Do pupils learn as much there as at the seminary?”
“Oh, no! but they learn what they can make use of later.”
“Do they get numbers there too?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I should like to be a good scholar.”
“That you can surely be without a number.”
They walked on in silence again until they saw Pladsen; a light shone from the house, the cliff hanging over it was black now in the winter evening; the lake below was covered with smooth, glittering ice, but there was no snow on the forest skirting the silent bay; the moon sailed overhead, mirroring the forest trees in the ice.
“It is beautiful here at Pladsen,” said the school-master.
There were times when Oyvind could see these things with the same eyes with which he looked when his mother told him nursery tales, or with the vision he had when he coasted on the hill-side, and this was one of those times,–all lay exalted and purified before him.
“Yes, it is beautiful,” said he, but he sighed.
“Your father has found everything he wanted in this home; you, too, might be contented here.”
The joyous aspect of the spot suddenly disappeared. The school-master stood as if awaiting an answer; receiving none, he shook his head and entered the house with Oyvind. He sat a while with the family, but was rather silent than talkative, whereupon the others too became silent. When he took his leave, both husband and wife followed him outside of the door; it seemed as if both expected him to say something. Meanwhile, they stood gazing up into the night.
“It has grown so unusually quiet here,” finally said the mother, “since the children have gone away with their sports.”
“Nor have you a _child_ in the house any longer, either,” said the school-master.
The mother knew what he meant.
“Oyvind has not been happy of late,” said she.
“Ah, no! he who is ambitious never is happy,”–and he gazed up with an old man’s calmness into God’s peaceful heavens above.
Half a year later–in the autumn it was (the confirmation had been postponed until then)–the candidates for confirmation of the main parish sat in the parsonage servant’s hall, waiting examination, among them was Oyvind Pladsen and Marit Heidegards. Marit had just come down from the priest, from whom she had received a handsome book and much praise; she laughed and chatted with her girl friends on all sides and glanced around among the boys. Marit was a full-grown girl, easy and frank in her whole address, and the boys as well as the girls knew that Jon Hatlen, the best match in the parish, was courting her,–well might she be happy as she sat there. Down by the door stood some girls and boys who had not passed; they were crying, while Marit and her friends were laughing; among them was a little boy in his father’s boots and his mother’s Sunday kerchief.
“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” sobbed he, “I dare not go home again.”
And this overcame those who had not yet been up with the power of sympathy; there was a universal silence. Anxiety filled their throats and eyes; they could not see distinctly, neither could they swallow; and this they felt a continual desire to do.
One sat reckoning over how much he knew; and although but a few hours before he had discovered that he knew everything, now he found out just as confidently that he knew nothing, not even how to read in a book.
Another summed up the list of his sins, from the time he was large enough to remember until now, and he decided that it would not be at all remarkable if the Lord decreed that he should be rejected.
A third sat taking note of all things about him: if the clock which was about to strike did not make its first stroke before he could count twenty, he would pass; if the person he heard in the passage proved to be the gard-boy Lars, he would pass; if the great rain-drop, working its way down over the pane, came as far as the moulding of the window, he would pass. The final and decisive proof was to be if he succeeded in twisting his right foot about the left,–and this it was quite impossible for him to do.
A fourth was convinced in his own mind that if he was only questioned about Joseph in Bible history and about baptism in the Catechism, or about Saul, or about domestic duties, or about Jesus, or about the Commandments, or–he still sat rehearsing when he was called.
A fifth had taken a special fancy to the Sermon on the Mount; he had dreamed about the Sermon on the Mount; he was sure of being questioned on the Sermon on the Mount; he kept repeating the Sermon on the Mount to himself; he had to go out doors and read over the Sermon on the Mount–when he was called up to be examined on the great and the small prophets.
A sixth thought of the priest who was an excellent man and knew his father so well; he thought, too, of the school-master, who had such a kindly face, and of God who was all goodness and mercy, and who had aided so many before both Jacob and Joseph; and then he remembered that his mother and brothers and sisters were at home praying for him, which surely must help.
The seventh renounced all he had meant to become in this world. Once he had thought that he would like to push on as far as being a king, once as far as general or priest; now that time was over. But even to the moment of his coming here he had thought of going to sea and becoming a captain; perhaps a pirate, and acquiring enormous riches; now he gave up first the riches, then the pirate, then the captain, then the mate; he paused at sailor, at the utmost boatswain; indeed, it was possible that he would not go to sea at all, but would take a houseman’s place on his father’s gard.
The eighth was more hopeful about his case but not certain, for even the aptest scholar was not certain. He thought of the clothes he was to be confirmed in, wondering what they would be used for if he did not pass. But if he passed he was going to town to get a broadcloth suit, and coming home again to dance at Christmas to the envy of all the boys and the astonishment of all the girls.
The ninth reckoned otherwise: he prepared a little account book with the Lord, in which he set down on one side, as it were, “Debit:” he must let me pass, and on the other “Credit:” then I will never tell any more lies, never tittle-tattle any more, always go to church, let the girls alone, and break myself of swearing.
The tenth, however, thought that if Ole Hansen had passed last year it would be more than unjust if he who had always done better at school, and, moreover, came of a better family, did not get through this year.
By his side sat the eleventh, who was wrestling with the most alarming plans of revenge in the event of his not being passed: either to burn down the school-house, or to run away from the parish and come back again as the denouncing judge of the priest and the whole school commission, but magnanimously allow mercy to take the place of justice. To begin with, he would take service at the house of the priest of the neighboring parish, and there stand number one next year, and answer so that the whole church would marvel.
But the twelfth sat alone under the clock, with both hands in his pockets, and looked mournfully out over the assemblage. No one here knew what a burden he bore, what a responsibility he had assumed. At home there was one who knew,–for he was betrothed. A large, long-legged spider was crawling over the floor and drew near his foot; he was in the habit of treading on this loathsome insect, but to-day he tenderly raised his foot that it might go in peace whither it would. His voice was as gentle as a collect, his eyes said incessantly that all men were good, his hands made a humble movement out of his pockets up to his hair to stroke it down more smoothly. If he could only glide gently through this dangerous needle’s eye, he would doubtless grow out again on the other side, chew tobacco, and announce his engagement.
And down on a low stool with his legs drawn up under him, sat the anxious thirteenth; his little flashing eyes sped round the room three times each second, and through the passionate, obstinate head stormed in motley confusion the combined thoughts of the other twelve: from the mightiest hope to the most crushing doubt, from the most humble resolves to the most devastating plans of revenge; and, meanwhile, he had eaten up all the loose flesh on his right thumb, and was busied now with his nails, sending large pieces across the floor.
Oyvind sat by the window, he had been upstairs and had answered everything that had been asked him; but the priest had not said anything, neither had the school-master. For more than half a year he had been considering what they both would say when they came to know how hard he had toiled, and he felt now deeply disappointed as well as wounded. There sat Marit, who for far less exertion and knowledge had received both encouragement and reward; it was just in order to stand high in her eyes that he had striven, and now she smilingly won what he had labored with so much self-denial to attain. Her laughter and joking burned into his soul, the freedom with which she moved about pained him. He had carefully avoided speaking with her since that evening, it would take years, he thought; but the sight of her sitting there so happy and superior, weighed him to the ground, and all his proud determinations drooped like leaves after a rain.
He strove gradually to shake off his depression. Everything depended on whether he became number one to-day, and for this he was waiting. It was the school-master’s wont to linger a little after the rest with the priest to arrange about the order of the young people, and afterwards to go down and report the result; it was, to be sure, not the final decision, merely what the priest and he had for the present agreed upon. The conversation became livelier after a considerable number had been examined and passed; but now the ambitious ones plainly distinguished themselves from the happy ones; the latter left as soon as they found company, in order to announce their good fortune to their parents, or they waited for the sake of others who were not yet ready; the former, on the contrary, grew more and more silent and their eyes were fixed in suspense on the door.
At length the children were all through, the last had come down, and so the school-master must now be talking with the priest. Oyvind glanced at Marit; she was just as happy as before, but she remained in her seat, whether waiting for her own pleasure or for some one else, he knew not. How pretty Marit had become! He had never seen so dazzlingly lovely a complexion; her nose was slightly turned up, and a dainty smile played about the mouth. She kept her eyes partially closed when not looking directly at any one, but for that reason her gaze always had unsuspected power when it did come; and, as though she wished herself to add that she meant nothing by this, she half smiled at the same moment. Her hair was rather dark than light, but it was wavy and crept far over the brow on either side, so that, together with the half closed eyes, it gave the face a hidden expression that one could never weary of studying. It never seemed quite sure whom it was she was looking for when she was sitting alone and among others, nor what she really had in mind when she turned to speak to any one, for she took back immediately, as it were, what she gave. “Under all this Jon Hatlen is hidden, I suppose,” thought Oyvind, but still stared constantly at her.
Now came the school-master. All left their places and stormed about him.
“What number am I?”–“And I?”–“And I–I?”
“Hush! you overgrown young ones! No uproar here! Be quiet and you shall hear about it, children.” He looked slowly around. “You are number two,” said he to a boy with blue eyes, who was gazing up at him most beseechingly; and the boy danced out of the circle. “You are number three,” he tapped a red-haired, active little fellow who stood tugging at his jacket. “You are number five; you number eight,” and so on. Here he caught sight of Marit. “You are number one of the girls,”–she blushed crimson over face and neck, but tried to smile. “You are number twelve; you have been lazy, you rogue, and full of mischief; you number eleven, nothing better to be expected, my boy; you, number thirteen, must study hard and come to the next examination, or it will go badly with you!”
Oyvind could bear it no longer; number one, to be sure, had not been mentioned, but he had been standing all the time so that the school-master could see him.
“School-master!” He did not hear. “School-master!” Oyvind had to repeat this three times before it was heard. At last the school-master looked at him.
“Number nine or ten, I do not remember which,” said he, and turned to another.
“Who is number one, then?” inquired Hans, who was Oyvind’s best friend.
“It is not you, curly-head!” said the school-master, rapping him over the hand with a roll of paper.
“Who is it, then?” asked others. “Who is it? Yes; who is it?”
“He will find that out who has the number,” replied the school-master, sternly. He would have no more questions. “Now go home nicely, children. Give thanks to your God and gladden your parents. Thank your old school-master too; you would have been in a pretty fix if it had not been for him.”
They thanked him, laughed, and went their way jubilantly, for at this moment when they were about to go home to their parents they all felt happy. Only one remained behind, who could not at once find his books, and who when he had found them sat down as if he must read them over again.
The school-master went up to him.
“Well, Oyvind, are you not going with the rest?”
There was no reply.
“Why do you open your books?”
“I want to find out what I answered wrong to-day.”
“You answered nothing wrong.”
Then Oyvind looked at him; tears filled his eyes, but he gazed intently at the school-master, while one by one trickled down his cheeks, and not a word did he say. The school-master sat down in front of him.
“Are you not glad that you passed?”
There was a quivering about the lips but no reply.
“Your mother and father will be very glad,” said the school-master, and looked at Oyvind.
The boy struggled hard to gain power of utterance, finally he asked in low, broken tones,–
“Is it–because I–am a houseman’s son that I only stand number nine or ten?”
“No doubt that was it,” replied the school-master.
“Then it is of no use for me to work,” said Oyvind, drearily, and all his bright dreams vanished. Suddenly he raised his head, lifted his right hand, and bringing it down on the table with all his might, flung himself forward on his face and burst into passionate tears.
The school-master let him lie and weep,–weep as long as he would. It lasted a long time, but the school-master waited until the weeping grew more childlike. Then taking Oyvind’s head in both hands, he raised it and gazed into the tear-stained face.
“Do you believe that it is God who has been with you now,” said he, drawing the boy affectionately toward him.
Oyvind was still sobbing, but not so violently as before; his tears flowed more calmly, but he neither dared look at him who questioned nor answer.
“This, Oyvind, has been a well-merited recompense. You have not studied from love of your religion, or of your parents; you have studied from vanity.”
There was silence in the room after every sentence the school-master uttered. Oyvind felt his gaze resting on him, and he melted and grew humble under it.
“With such wrath in your heart, you could not have come forward to make a covenant with your God. Do you think you could, Oyvind?”
“No,” the boy stammered, as well as he was able.
“And if you stood there with vain joy, over being number one, would you not be coming forward with a sin?”
“Yes, I should,” whispered Oyvind, and his lips quivered.
“You still love me, Oyvind?”
“Yes;” here he looked up for the first time.
“Then I will tell you that it was I who had you put down; for I am very fond of you, Oyvind.”
The other looked at him, blinked several times, and the tears rolled down in rapid succession.
“You are not displeased with me for that?”
“No;” he looked up full in the school-master’s face, although his voice was choked.
“My dear child, I will stand by you as long as I live.”
The school-master waited for Oyvind until the latter had gathered together his books, then said that he would accompany him home. They walked slowly along. At first Oyvind was silent and his struggle went on, but gradually he gained his self-control. He was convinced that what had occurred was the best thing that in any way could have happened to him; and before he reached home, his belief in this had become so strong that he gave thanks to his God, and told the school-master so.
“Yes, now we can think of accomplishing something in life,” said the school-master, “instead of playing blind-man’s buff, and chasing after numbers. What do you say to the seminary?”
“Why, I should like very much to go there.”
“Are you thinking of the agricultural school?”
“That is, without doubt, the best; it provides other openings than a school-master’s position.”
“But how can I go there? I earnestly desire it, but I have not the means.”
“Be industrious and good, and I dare say the means will be found.”
Oyvind felt completely overwhelmed with gratitude. His eyes sparkled, his breath came lightly, he glowed with that infinite love that bears us along when we experience some unexpected kindness from a fellow-creature. At such a moment, we fancy that our whole future will be like wandering in the fresh mountain air; we are wafted along more than we walk.
When they reached home both parents were within, and had been sitting there in quiet expectation, although it was during working hours of a busy time. The school-master entered first, Oyvind followed; both were smiling.
“Well?” said the father, laying aside a hymn-book, in which he had just been reading a “Prayer for a Confirmation Candidate.”
His mother stood by the hearth, not daring to say anything; she was smiling, but her hand was trembling. Evidently she was expecting good news, but did not wish to betray herself.
“I merely had to come to gladden you with the news, that he answered every question put to him; and that the priest said, when Oyvind had left him, that he had never had a more apt scholar.”
“Is it possible!” said the mother, much affected.
“Well, that is good,” said his father, clearing his throat unsteadily.
After it had been still for some time, the mother asked, softly,–
“What number will he have?”
“Number nine or ten,” said the school-master, calmly.
The mother looked at the father; he first at her, then at Oyvind, and said,–
“A houseman’s son can expect no more.”
Oyvind returned his gaze. Something rose up in his throat once more, but he hastily forced himself to think of things that he loved, one by one, until it was choked down again.
“Now I had better go,” said the school-master, and nodding, turned away.
Both parents followed him as usual out on the door-step; here the school-master took a quid of tobacco, and smiling said,–
“He will be number one, after all; but it is not worth while that he should know anything about it until the day comes.”
“No, no,” said the father, and nodded.
“No, no,” said the mother, and she nodded too; after which she grasped the school-master’s hand and added: “We thank you for all you do for him.”
“Yes, you have our thanks,” said the father, and the school-master moved away.
They long stood there gazing after him.
The school-master had judged the boy correctly when he asked the priest to try whether Oyvind could bear to stand number one. During the three weeks which elapsed before the confirmation, he was with the boy every day. It is one thing for a young, tender soul to yield to an impression; what through faith it shall attain is another thing. Many dark hours fell upon Oyvind before he learned to choose the goal of his future from something better than ambition and defiance. Often in the midst of his work he lost his interest and stopped short: what was it all for, what would he gain by it?–and then presently he would remember the school-master, his words and his kindness; and this human medium forced him to rise up again every time he fell from a comprehension of his higher duty.
In those days while they were preparing at Pladsen for the confirmation, they were also preparing for Oyvind’s departure for the agricultural school, for this was to take place the following day. Tailor and shoemaker were sitting in the family-room; the mother was baking in the kitchen, the father working at a chest. There was a great deal said about what Oyvind would cost his parents in the next two years; about his not being able to come home the first Christmas, perhaps not the second either, and how hard it would be to be parted so long. They spoke also of the love Oyvind should bear his parents who were willing to sacrifice themselves for their child’s sake. Oyvind sat like one who had tried sailing out into the world on his own responsibility, but had been wrecked and was now picked up by kind people.
Such is the feeling that humility gives, and with it comes much more. As the great day drew near he dared call himself prepared, and also dared look forward with trustful resignation. Whenever Marit’s image would present itself, he cautiously thrust it aside, although he felt a pang in so doing. He tried to gain practice in this, but never made any progress in strength; on the contrary, it was the pain that grew. Therefore he was weary the last evening, when, after a long self-examination, he prayed that the Lord would not put him to the test in this matter.
The school-master came as the day was drawing to a close. They all sat down together in the family-room, after washing and dressing themselves neat and clean, as was customary the evening before going to communion, or morning service. The mother was agitated, the father silent; parting was to follow the morrow’s ceremony, and it was uncertain when they could all sit down together again. The school-master brought out the hymn-books, read the service, sang with the family, and afterwards said a short prayer, just as the words came into his mind.
These four people now sat together until late in the evening, the thoughts of each centering within; then they parted with the best wishes for the coming day and what it was to consecrate. Oyvind was obliged to admit, as he laid himself down, that he had never gone to bed so happy before; he gave this an interpretation of his own,–he understood it to mean: I have never before gone to bed feeling so resigned to God’s will and so happy in it. Marit’s face at once rose up before him again, and the last thing he was conscious of was that he lay and examined himself: not quite happy, not quite,–and that he answered: yes, quite; but again: not quite; yes, quite; no, not quite.
When he awoke he at once remembered the day, prayed, and felt strong, as one does in the morning. Since the summer, he had slept alone in