Home  »  A Happy Boy  »  Chapter I

Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910). A Happy Boy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter I

HE was called Eyvind, and he cried when he was born. But as soon as he could sit up on his mother’s knee he laughed; and when they lighted the candle at evening, he laughed till the place rang again, but cried when he could not get to it.    1
  “This boy will be something out of the common,” said his mother.    2
  A bare rock frowned over the house where he was born, but it was not high; fir and birch trees looked down from its brow, and the wild cherry strewed blossoms on the roof. A little goat which belonged to Eyvind roamed about the roof; he had to be kept up there lest he should stray, and Eyvind carried leaves and grass up to him. One fine day the goat hopped over and away up the rock; he went straight ahead and came to a place where he had never been before. Eyvind could not see the goat when he came out after tea, and thought at once of the fox. He got hot all over, looked about, and called: “Goatie-goatie, and goatie-wee!”    3
  “Ba-a-a-a!” said the goat up on the hillside, looking down with his head on one side.    4
  But a little girl was kneeling beside the goat.    5
  ‘Is he your goat?” she asked.    6
  Eyvind stood with open mouth and eyes, and thrust both hands into the pockets of his little breeches.    7
  “Who are you?” he asked.    8
  “I am Marit, mother’s baby, father’s mouse, little fairy in the house, grand-daughter of Ole Nordistuen of the hill-farms, four years old in autumn, two days after the first frost-nights, I am!”    9
  “Are you though?” said he, drawing a long breath, for he had not ventured to breathe whilst she was speaking.   10
  “Is he your goat?” asked the girl again.   11
  “Yes,” said he, looking up.   12
  “I’ve taken such a fancy to the goat. Will you not give him to me?”   13
  “No, indeed, I won’t.”   14
  She lay kicking her legs about and looking down at him, and then she said: “If I were to give you a butter-cake for the goat, mightn’t I have him then?”   15
  Eyvind belonged to poor folks; he had eaten butter-cake only once in his life, that was when grandfather came to see them, and he had never tasted the like before nor since. He looked up at the girl.   16
  “Let me see the cake first,” said he. Without waiting to be asked twice, she showed him a large cake which she held in her hand.   17
  “Here it is!” said she, and threw it down.   18
  “Oh, it’s all gone to pieces,” said the boy, and he carefully gathered up every bit. He couldn’t help just tasting the smallest, and it was so good that he had to taste one bit more; and before the knew what he was about he had eaten up the whole cake.   19
  “Now the goat is mine,” said the girl.   20
  The boy stopped short with the last bit in his mouth, the girl lay and laughed, the goat with his white breast and dark fleece stood by her, looking down sideways.   21
  “Couldn’t you wait a bit?” begged the boy; his heart began to throb within him. Then the girl laughed yet more and started up to her knees.   22
  “No, no, the goat is mine,” said she, and flung her arms about its neck; then she loosed a garter and made a halter of it. Eyvind stood and looked on. She rose and began to drag the goat; it would not go with her but stretched its neck down towards Eyvind. “Ba-a-a-a!” it said.   23
  But she caught hold of its fleece with one hand, pulled at the garter with the other, and said prettily:   24
  “Come goatie dear, you shall come indoors and eat out of mother’s nice dish and out of my apron,” and then she sang:
    Come, goat, to your sire,
    Come, calf, from the byre;
    Come, pussy, that mews
    In your snowy-white shoes;
    Come, ducklings so yellow,
    Come, chickens so small,
    Each soft little fellow
    That can’t run at all;
    Come, sweet doves of mine,
    With your feathers so fine!
    The turf’s wet with dew,
    But the sun warms it through.
It is early, right early, in summer-time still,
But call on the autumn, and hurry it will.
  The boy was left alone. He had played with the goat ever since it was born in the winter, and it had never occurred to him that it could be lost; but now it was done all in a moment, and he was never to see it again.   26
  His mother came singing up from the waterside with some vessels she had been scouring; she saw the boy sitting crying, with his legs under him in the grass, and went to him.   27
  “What are you crying for?”   28
  “Oh, the goat, the goat!”   29
  “Well, where is the goat?” asked his mother looking up on the roof.   30
  “He’ll never come back,” said the boy.   31
  “Why, what has happened to him?”   32
  He would not confess at once.   33
  “Has the fox taken him?”   34
  “Oh, I wish it were the fox!”   35
  “Are you out of your senses?” said his mother. “What has become of the goat?”   36
  “Oh, oh, oh!—I’ve been so unlucky—I’ve sold him for a butter-cake!”   37
  Even as he said the words he realised what it was to sell the goat for a butter-cake; he had not thought of it before. His mother said:   38
  “What do you suppose the little goat thinks of you, since you could go and sell him for a butter-cake?”   39
  The boy himself thought of it, and realised very clearly that he could never be happy again in this world, nor even with God in heaven, he thought afterwards.   40
  He was so heart-broken that he resolved within himself never again to do anything wrong, neither to cut the thread on the distaff, nor to let the ewes out of the fold, nor to go down to the lake alone. He fell asleep there where he lay and dreamt that the goat had gone to heaven.   41
  There sat Our Lord with a long beard, just as He was in the catechism, and the goat stood eating the leaves of a shining tree; but Eyvind sat on the roof alone and could not get up to him.   42
  At that moment something wet poked right into his ear; he started up.   43
  “Ba-a-a-a!” said a voice; and there was the goat come back.   44
  “Oh, you’ve come back!   45
  He jumped up, took hold of his two forelegs and danced with him like a brother; he pulled his beard, and he was just going to take him right in to his mother, when he heard something behind him and saw the girl sitting on the grass just by his side. Now he understood it all, and he let go his hold of the goat.   46
  “Is it you that have come with him?” She sat tearing up grass with her hand and said:   47
  “I wasn’t allowed to keep him; grandfather is sitting up there waiting.”   48
  As the boy stood looking at her he heard a sharp voice up on the road calling:   49
  “Well!”   50
  Then she remembered what she had to do. She rose and went up to Eyvind, laid one earth-stained hand in his and said:   51
  “Forgive me!”   52
  Then her resolution failed her, and she threw her arms round the goat and wept.   53
  “I think you had better keep the goat,” said Eyvind, looking away.   54
  “Be quick now!” said the grandfather up on the slope. And Marit rose and walked up after him with dragging feet.   55
  “You’ve forgotten your garter!” Eyvind called after her. She turned and looked first at the garter and then at him. At last she formed a great resolution and said with a thick voice:   56
  “You can keep that.”   57
  He went up to her and took her hand. “I thank you,” said he.   58
  “Oh that’s nothing to thank me for,” she answered, heaved a prodigiously deep sigh, and went on her way.   59
  He sat down on the grass again with the goat at his side; but he somehow did not care for it so much as before.   60