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

Chapter IV

OF Eyvind’s further development up to a year before his confirmation there is not much to tell. He read in the morning, worked in the day, and played in the evening.    1
  As he was of an unusually cheerful disposition, it was not long before the young people of the neighbourhood, in their playtime, were glad to be where he was. A long hill ran down to the cove in front of the farm, skirting the rock on the one side and the wood on the other, as already related; every fine evening and every Sunday, all the winter through, this was the chosen toboggan-slope of all the young sledgers of the village.    2
  Eyvind was lord of the slope and owned two sledges “Spanker” and “Galloper;” the latter he lent to larger parties, the former he steered himself with Marit on his lap. At this season, the first thing Eyvind did when he woke was to look out and see whether it was thawing; and if he saw a grey veil lying over the bushes on the other side of the cove, or if he heard the roof dripping, he was as slow over his dressing as if there was nothing to do that day. But if he awoke, especially on Sundays, to crackling cold and clear weather, best clothes and no work, only catechism or church in the forenoon, and then the whole afternoon and evening free, hurrah! then the boy jumped out of bed with one bound, dressed as if the house were on fire, and could scarcely eat any breakfast. The moment it was afternoon and the first boy came on his snow-shoes along the roadside, swinging his staff over his head and shouting so that the hills around the lake rang again, and then one came down the road on his sledge and then another and another—straightway off shot the boy on his “Spanker” down the whole length of the slope, landing amongst the late comers with a long, shrill shout, which was re-echoed from ridge to ridge along the cove, until it died away in the far distance. He would then look round for Marit, but when once she had come, he troubled no more about her.    3
  Then one Christmas came when the boy and the girl were both about sixteen or seventeen and were to be confirmed in the spring. On the fourth day of Christmas week there was a big party at the Upper Hill Farm where Marit lived with her grandparents, who had brought her up. They had promised her this party every year for three years, and at last, these holidays, they had to fulfil their promise. Eyvind was invited.    4
  It was a cloudy evening, not cold; no stars were to be seen; the morrow might bring rain. A drowsy breeze blew over the snow, which was swept clear in patches on the white uplands, while in other places it had formed deep drifts. Along by the roadside where no snow happened to lie there was a margin of slippery ice; it lay blue-black between the snow and the bare ground, and could be seen glimmering here and there as far as the eye could reach. On the mountainsides there had been snow-slips; their tracks were black and bare, while on each side of them the snow lay smooth and white, except where the birch-trees clustered together in dark patches. There was no water to be seen, but half-naked moors and bogs stretched up to riven and lowering mountains.    5
  The farms lay in large clusters in the midst of the level ground; in the dusk of the winter evening they looked like black masses from which light shot forth over the fields, now from one window, now from another; to judge by the lights there was a great deal going on inside. Young people, grown-up and half-grown up, flocked together from various quarters. Very few kept to the road; almost all, at any rate, left it when they drew near the farms, and slipped away, one behind the cowhouse, a pair under the store-house and so forth; while some rushed away behind the barn and howled like foxes, others answered farther off like cats. One stood behind the wash-house and barked like an old angry dog, who had broken his chain, until there was a general chase. The girls came marching along in large bands; they had a boys, mostly little boys, with them, who skirmished around them to show off. When one of the gangs of girls came near the house and one or other of the big boys caught sight of them, the girls scattered and fled into the passages or down the garden, and had to be dragged out and into the rooms one by one. Some were so extremely bashful that Marit had to be sent for, when she would come out and positively force them in. Sometimes one would come who had not been invited and whose intention it was not to go in, but only to look on, until in the end she would be persuaded just to have one single dance. Those guests whom she really cared for, Marit invited into a little room where the old people sat and smoked and grandmother did the honours; there they were kindly received and treated. Eyvind was not amongst the favoured ones, and he thought that rather strange.    6
  The best player of the village could not come till late, so they had meanwhile to manage with the old one, a cottager called Grey Knut. He knew four dances, two spring-dances, a halling 1 and an old, so-called Napoleon waltz; but he had been obliged gradually to turn the halling into a schottische by taking it in different time; and in the same way a springdance had to do duty as a polka-mazurka. He struck up, and the dancing began. Eyvind did not dare to join in at first, for there were too many grown-up people; but the half-grown ones soon banded together, pushed each other forward, drank a little strong ale to hearten them, and then Eyvind also joined in. The room grew very hot, the fun and the ale mounted to their heads.    7
  Marit danced more than any one else that evening, probably because the party was in her grandparents’ house, and so it happened that Eyvind often caught her eye, but she always danced with some one else. He wanted to dance with her himself, so he sat out one dance in order to run to her directly it ended, and this he did; but a tall, swarthy fellow with bushy hair pushed in front of him.    8
  “Get away, youngster,” cried he and gave Eyvind a shove, so that he nearly fell backwards over Marit. Never had such a thing happened to him, never had any one been other than kind to him, never had he been called “youngster” when he wanted to join in anything. He reddened to the roots of his hair, but said nothing, and drew back to where the new musician, just arrived, had taken his seat and was tuning up. There was silence amongst the crowd; they were waiting to hear the first loud note from “the right man.” He tuned and tried for a long time, but at length he struck up a spring-dance, the boys shouted and hopped, and pair by pair whirled into the circle. Eyvind looked at Marit dancing with the bushy-haired man, she laughed over the man’s shoulder so that her white teeth showed, and Eyvind, for the first time in his life, was aware of a strange, tingling pain in his breast.    9
  He looked at her again and again, and the more he looked the clearer it seemed to him that Marit was quite grown-up.   10
  “But it can’t be so,” thought he, “for she still goes sledging with us.”   11
  Grown-up she was though, and the bushy-haired man drew her down upon his lap after the dance was over; she broke loose from him, but remained sitting at his side.   12
  Eyvind looked at the man. He had on fine blue Sunday clothes, a blue-checked shirt and silk cravat. He had a small face, bold, blue eyes, a laughing, defiant mouth; he was handsome. Eyvind looked again, and at last he looked also at himself. He had got new trousers at Christmas, of which he was very proud, but now he saw that they were only grey frieze; his jacket was of the same stuff, but old and soiled, the knitted waistcoat of common yarn, lozenge-pattern, also old and with two bright buttons and one black one. He looked around him and thought that very few were so poorly dressed as he. Marit had on a black bodice of fine stuff, a silver brooch in her neckerchief and a folded silk handkerchief in her hand. On the back of her head she wore a little silk cap which was fastened under her chin with long ribbons. She was red and white; she laughed; the man talked with her and laughed too. Again the music struck up and again they stood up to dance. A comrade came and sat beside him.   13
  “Why aren’t you dancing, Eyvind?” said he, gently.   14
  “Oh, no,” said Eyvind, “do I look like it?”   15
  “Look like it,” said his comrade, but before he could get further Eyvind said:   16
  “Who is that in the blue clothes, dancing with Marit?”   17
  “That’s John Hatlen, who’s been away so long at the agricultural college; he’s going to take the farm now.”   18
  At that moment Marit and John sat down.   19
  “Who is that fair-haired boy sitting there beside the fiddler and staring at me?” asked John.   20
  Marit laughed and answered:   21
  “That’s the cottar’s son, down at the croft.”   22
  Of course Eyvind had always known he was a cottar’s son, but until now he had never felt it. He had a feeling as though his body had suddenly shrunk and he was shorter than all the others. To keep himself in heart, he had to try to think of everything that had hitherto made him happy and proud, from the sledging-times down to single words that had pleased him. As he thought, too, of his mother and father sitting at home and thinking that he was enjoying himself, he could scarcely help bursting into tears. All around him were laughing and joking, the fiddle boomed right in his ear. There came a moment when something black seemed to rise up before him, but then he remembered the school with all his comrades, and the schoolmaster who patted him on the back, and the minister who had given him a book at his last examination and said he was a clever boy; his father himself had sat and looked on and had smiled at him.   23
  “Be good now, Eyvind,” he seemed to hear the schoolmaster saying, and he felt as though he were a little boy again, sitting on his lap. “Good heavens, you know, there’s nothing to trouble about; at bottom everybody is good; it only seems as if they were not. We two will be clever fellows, Eyvind, just as clever as John Hatlen; we shall get just as good clothes, and dance with Marit in a bright room among hundreds of people, smiling and talking; then there’ll be a bridal pair standing before the minister, and I in the choir smiling across at you, and mother in the house, a big farm, twenty cows, three horses, and Marit good and kind, just as she was at school——”   24
  The dance ended and Eyvind saw Marit before him on a bench, John still by her side with his face close to hers; once more there came a great tingling pain in his breast, and he seemed to be saying to himself:   25
  “It’s true, after all, I am suffering.” At that moment Marit rose and came straight up to him. She bent down over him.   26
  “You mustn’t sit and glower at me like that,” said she; “can’t you see that people are noticing it? Take a partner and dance now.”   27
  He made no answer but looked at her, and in spite of himself his eyes filled with tears. She was just turning away when she noticed this and stopped; she suddenly flushed as red as fire, turned away and went to her seat, but immediately rose again and seated herself in another place. John at once followed her.   28
  Eyvind rose from the bench, went out amongst the people in the yard, seated himself under a pent-house roof, then wondered what he was doing there, got up and then sat down again, for might he not as well sit here as anywhere else? He did not care to go home nor yet to go indoors again; it was all one to him. He was in no state to reflect upon what had happened; he did not want to think about it. Neither did he care to think of the future; there was nothing that had any attraction for him.   29
  “What am I thinking of, after all?” he asked himself half-aloud, and hearing his own voice he thought:   30
  “So you can still speak—can you laugh?”   31
  He tried: yes, he could laugh; and then he went on laughing, loud, still louder; and then it seemed to him a great joke that he should be sitting there laughing all alone, and that made him laugh again. But his friend Hans, who had been sitting by his side indoors, now followed him out.   32
  “Why, what on earth are you laughing at?” he asked, stopping before the pent-house. Then Eyvind left off.   33
  Hans stood there as if waiting to see what would happen next; Eyvind rose, looked cautiously round and then said softly:   34
  “I’ll tell you why I always used to be so happy, Hans; it was because I never really cared for anybody. But from the day we care for somebody our happiness is over.” And he burst into tears.   35
  “Eyvind!” a voice whispered out in the yard, “Eyvind!” He stopped and listened.   36
  “Eyvind!” repeated the voice once more, a little louder. It must be the person he thought.   37
  “Yes,” answered he, also in a whisper, drying his eyes quickly and stepping forward. A girl softly crossed the yard.   38
  “Are you there?” she asked.   39
  “Yes,” he answered, and stood still.   40
  “Who is with you?”   41
  “It’s Hans.” Hans wanted to go.   42
  “No, no!” Eyvind begged of him.   43
  She now came close up to them, but slowly; it was Marit.   44
  “You went away so soon,” she said to Eyvind. He did not know what to answer. Thereupon she too became embarrassed; they were all three silent. Hans slipped quietly away and left the two standing there, not looking at each other and not moving. Then she whispered:   45
  “I’ve been going about all the evening with some Christmas sweeties in my pocket for you, Eyvind, but I couldn’t give them to you before.”   46
  She fished up some apples, a slice of town-baked cake and a little half-pint bottle, which she held out to him saying they were for him. Eyvind pocketed them.   47
  “Thanks,” he said, holding out his hand; 2 hers was warm, and he let it go at once as if he had burnt himself.   48
  “You have danced a great deal this evening.”   49
  “Yes, I have,” she answered, “but you haven’t danced much,” she added.   50
  “No, I haven’t,” answered he.   51
  “Why haven’t you?”   52
  “Oh——”   53
  “Eyvind!”   54
  “Yes.”   55
  “Why did you sit and look at me like that?”   56
  “Oh——” A pause.   57
  “Marit!”   58
  “Yes.”   59
  “Why didn’t you like my looking at you?”   60
  “There were such a lot of people there.”   61
  “You danced a great deal with John Hatlen this evening.”   62
  “Oh yes.”   63
  “He dances well.”   64
  “Do you think so?”   65
  “Don’t you think so?”   66
  “Oh yes.”   67
  “I don’t know how it is, but this evening I can’t bear you to dance with him, Marit.” He turned away; it had cost him an effort to say this.   68
  “I don’t understand you, Eyvind.”   69
  “I don’t understand it myself: it’s so stupid of me. Good-bye, Marit, I’m going now.”   70
  He made a step without looking round. Then she said as he moved away:   71
  “You’ve been seeing things wrongly to-night, Eyvind.” He stopped.   72
  “There’s one thing I haven’t seen wrongly and that is that you’re a grown-up girl.”   73
  This was not what she expected him to say, so she was silent; and at that moment she saw the light of a pipe right in front of her. It was her grandfather who had just come round the corner and was passing by. He stopped.   74
  “Oh you’re here are you, Marit?”   75
  “Yes.”   76
  “Who’s that you’re talking to?”   77
  “Eyvind.”   78
  “Who did you say?”   79
  “Eyvind Pladsen.”   80
  “Oh, the cottar’s boy at Pladsen: come in at once with me.”   81
Note 1.  The “spring-dance” and “halling” are characteristic peasant dances. [back]
Note 2.  It is the peasant custom to shake hands in thanking for a gift. [back]