Home  »  A Happy Boy  »  Chapter II

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

Chapter II

THE GOAT was tethered near the wall of the house, but Eyvind kept looking up the hill-side. His mother came out and sat by him; he wanted to hear tales about what was far away, for the goat was no longer enough for him. So he came to hear how once upon a time everything could talk: the mountain talked to the brook, and the brook to the river, to the sea, and the sea to the sky. Then he wanted to know whether the sky did not talk to anything; and the sky talked to the clouds, and the clouds to the trees, and the trees to the grass, the grass to the flies, the flies to the animals, the animals to the children, the children to the grown-up people; and so it went on until it got round in a circle, and no one knew who had begun. Eyvind looked at the mountain, the trees, the lake, the sky, and had never really seen them before. Just then the cat came out and laid herself on the flags in the sunshine.    1
  “What does the cat say?” asked Eyvind, pointing. His mother sang:
The evening sun sinks low in the skies
The cat lies lazily blinking her eyes.
    “Two little mice,
    Some cream—so nice—
    Four bits of fish
    I stole from a dish;
    I got all I desired,
    And I’m lazy and tired,”
        Says the cat.
  Then came the cock with all the hens.    3
  “What does the cock say?” asked Eyvind, clapping his hands.    4
  His mother sang:
Her wings the brood-hen sinks:
Stands on one leg the cock, and thinks:
    “The grey gander
    Will soar and wander,
    But he can never, heigh, heigh!
    Be half so clever as I!
In, in, ye hens, and get out of the way!
The sun has a holiday turn to-day.”
    Says the cock.
  Then two little birds sat and sang upon the ridge of the roof.    6
  “What are the birds saying?” asked Eyvind, laughing.
“Dear God, how sweet it is to live
For those who neither toil nor strive,”
    Say the birds.
  Thus she went through what all the animals said, right down to the ant which crawled through the moss, and the worm that ticked in the bark.    8
  That same summer, his mother began to teach him to read. He had long possessed books and thought a great deal about how it would be when they too began to talk. Now the letters turned into beasts, birds, and everything that existed. Soon they began to group themselves together two and two; a stood and rested under a tree called b, then c came and did the same; but when three or four came together it was as if they were angry with one another; they did not get on well at all. And the more he learned the more he forgot what they were. He remembered a the longest because he was fond of it; it was a little black lamb and was friends with all. But soon he forgot even a; the book no longer contained fairy tales, but only lessons.    9
  One day his mother came in and said to him:   10
  “To-morrow school begins again, and you are to go with me up to the school-house.”   11
  Eyvind had heard that school was a place where many boys played together, and he had no objection. On the contrary, he was much pleased; he had often been at the school-house, but never when school was going on, and he walked quicker than his mother up the hills, for he was eager. They entered the vestibule, and a great hum met them like that of the mill-house at home. He asked his mother what it was.   12
  “It’s the children reading,” she answered, and he was very glad to hear it, for that was how he had read before he knew his letters. When he went in there were so many children sitting round a table that even at church there were not more. Others sat on their dinner-boxes along the wall; some stood in groups around a blackboard; the schoolmaster, an old grey-haired man, sat on a stool by the fireplace filling his pipe. When Eyvind and his mother entered, they all looked up and the mill-hum stopped, as when the water is turned off. They all looked at the new-comers. Eyvind’s mother greeted the schoolmaster, who returned her salutation.   13
  “Here I come with a little boy who wants to learn to read,” said his mother.   14
  “What’s the young man’s name?” asked the schoolmaster, fumbling in his leather pouch for tobacco.   15
  “Eyvind,” said his mother. “He knows his letters and he can put them together.”   16
  “Ah, indeed!” said the schoolmaster, “come here, little white-head.”   17
  Eyvind went to him; the schoolmaster lifted him on his knee and took off his cap.   18
  “What a pretty little boy,” said he, and stroked his hair; Eyvind looked up into his eyes and laughed.   19
  “Is it at me you’re laughing?” he frowned.   20
  “Yes, of course it is,” answered Eyvind, and roared with laughter. Then the schoolmaster laughed too, the mother laughed, the children perceived that they might laugh as well, and so they all laughed together.   21
  And that was how Eyvind entered school.   22
  When he was to take his place they all wanted to make room for him; but he took a good look round first. They whispered and pointed; he turned around to every side with his cap in his hand, and his book under his arm.   23
  “Well, have you made up your mind?” asked the schoolmaster, still working away at his pipe. Just as the boy was turning to the schoolmaster, he saw close beside him, down by the hearth-stone, sitting on a little red box, Marit of the many names; she had hidden her face in her two hands and sat peeping out at him.   24
  “I will sit here,” said Eyvind resolutely, and, taking a box, he seated himself by her side.   25
  Now she lifted the arm that was next to him a little and looked at him under her elbow; he instantly covered his face too with both hands and looked at her under his elbow. So they sat behaving in this foolish way until she laughed, then he laughed, the children saw and laughed too: thereupon a terribly loud voice struck in, becoming milder by degrees however:   26
  “Be quiet you young trolls, urchins, imps! be quiet and good, my poppets!”   27
  It was the schoolmaster, who had a way of flying out, but calmed down again before he finished. The school became instantly quiet, until the pepper-mill began to go again and they read aloud each in his book; the trebles struck up in a high key, the deeper voices got sharper and sharper to keep in the ascendant, and now and then one or another gave a great whoop. In all his born days Eyvind had never had such fun.   28
  “Is it always like this, here?” he whispered to Marit.   29
  “Yes, just like this,” said she.   30
  By-and-by they had to go to the schoolmaster and read; a little boy was then set to learn with them, and then they were released and allowed to go back and sit quietly again.   31
  “I’ve got a goat too, now,” said Marit.   32
  “Have you?”   33
  “Yes; but he’s not so pretty as yours.”   34
  “Why have you never come up on the rock again?”   35
  “Grandfather is afraid I shall fall over.”   36
  “But it’s not very high.”   37
  “Grandfather won’t let me, all the same.”   38
  “Mother knows such a lot of songs,” said Eyvind.   39
  “So does grandfather, I can tell you.”   40
  “Yes; but he doesn’t know the ones mother knows.”   41
  “Grandfather knows one about a dance. Do you want to hear it?”   42
  “Yes, very much.”   43
  “Well, then, you must come farther over here that the schoolmaster mayn’t hear.”   44
  He moved along and then she repeated to him a little bit of a song, four or five times over, so that the boy learned it; and that was the first thing he learned at school.
“Dance,” shrieked the fiddle,
And squeaked with its string so
That up jumped the bailiff’s
  Son and cried “Ho!”
“Stop!” shouted Ola,
Stuck out his leg, so
It tripped up the bailiff,
  And all the girls laughed.
“Hop,” murmured Erik,
And leaped to the roof-tree,
Till all the beams cracked and
  The walls gave a scream.
“Stop!” shouted Elling,
Caught hold of his collar,
And lifted him high—“You’re
  As weak as a cat!”
“Hey!” called out Rasmus,
Caught Randi and spun her,
“Hurry and give me
  That kiss, don’t you know?”
“No,” answered Randi,
And boxed his ears soundly,
And slipped from his arm with
  “Take that for your pains!”
  “Up children!” cried the schoolmaster. “As this is our first day you shall go early; but first we must have prayers and a hymn.”   46
  At once a great racket sprang up in the school; they jumped on forms, ran about the room, and all talked at once.   47
  “Be quiet you young imps, you young scamps, you young ruffians; be quiet and walk across the room nicely; there’s good children!” said the schoolmaster, and they went quietly to their places and calmed down, whereupon the schoolmaster stood up before them and said a short prayer. Then they sang; the schoolmaster led in a strong bass, all the children standing with folded hands and singing with him. Eyvind stood lowest by the door with Marit and looked on; they, too, folded their hands, but they could not sing.   48
  That was his first day at school.   49