Home  »  A Happy Boy  »  Chapter IX

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

Chapter IX

ONE midsummer Saturday Thore Pladsen rowed across the lake to fetch his son, who was to arrive that afternoon from the Agricultural College where he had now completed his course. His mother had had women in to help her for several days beforehand, and everything was clean and scoured. Eyvind’s room had long been in readiness, a stove had been put in and there he was to live. To-day the mother had strewn fresh sprigs on the floor, put out clean linen for use and arranged the bed, looking out now and then to see if any boat were coming across the lake. Downstairs there was a great table spread, and always some finishing touch to be given, or flies to be chased away; and in the best room there was always something that needed dusting. No boat yet; she leant against the window frame and looked out. Then she heard a step close beside her on the road and she turned her head; it was the schoolmaster coming slowly down, leaning on a stick, for his hip was troublesome. His shrewd eyes looked calmly around; he stopped and rested on his stick and nodded to her.    1
  “Not come yet?”    2
  “No, I expect them every minute.”    3
  “Good weather for the hay.”    4
  “But hot walking for old people.”    5
  The schoolmaster looked smilingly at her.    6
  “Have young people been out to-day?”    7
  “Yes, they have, but they’ve gone again.”    8
  “Of course, yes; they’re to meet this evening somewhere I suppose.”    9
  “Yes, no doubt; Thore says they sha’n’t meet in his house until they have the old people’s consent.”   10
  “Right, right!”   11
  Presently the mother cried:   12
  “There they come, I really believe!”   13
  The schoolmaster looked far over the lake.   14
  “Yes, that’s they!” She left the window and he entered the house. When he had rested a little and had something to drink, they went down to the lake whilst the boat scudded swiftly towards them, for both father and son were rowing. The rowers had thrown off their coats, and the water foamed under the oars so that the boat was quickly abreast of them. Eyvind turned his head and looked up, and catching sight of those two at the landing-place, rested on his oars and called out:   15
  “Good-day, mother; good-day, schoolmaster.”   16
  “What a grown-up voice he has got,” said the mother, her face shining. “Oh, look, look, he’s just as fair as ever!” she added.   17
  The schoolmaster fended off the boat, the father shipped his oars; Eyvind sprang past him ashore, and gave his hand first to his mother and then to the schoolmaster. He laughed and laughed again, and, quite against the peasants’ custom, related at once in a stream of words all about his examinations, his journey, the principal’s certificate and kind offers. He asked about the year’s crops, and all acquaintances, save one. The father set about unloading the boat, but, wanting to hear also, thought this could stand over, and went with the others. So they turned homewards, Eyvind laughing and pouring forth his news, the mother laughing too, for she did not know what to say. The schoolmaster limped slowly along beside them, and looked shrewdly at him; his father walked modestly a little farther off. And so they reached home. He was delighted with all he saw; first that the house had been painted, then that the mill had been added to, then that the leaden windows had been taken out of the downstairs room. and white glass put in instead of green, and the window-frames enlarged. When he went indoors everything was strangely smaller than he remembered it, but so cheerful. The clock clucked like a fat hen; the cut-away chairbacks seemed almost as if they could speak; he knew every cup upon the table; the fireplace smiled a whitewashed welcome; branches were stuck all along the walls, and gave off fragrance; juniper sprigs were strewn on the floor in token of holiday. They sat down to eat, but there was not much eaten, for they talked without intermission. Each one now examined him more at leisure, noticed differences and likenesses, and observed what was entirely new about him, even to the blue Sunday clothes he was wearing. Once, when he had told a long story about one of his fine comrades and had at last finished, there was a little pause, and his father said:   18
  “I can scarcely understand a word of what you say, boy; you talk so frightfully fast.”   19
  They all burst out laughing, Eyvind as much as any of them. He knew quite well that it was true, but it was impossible for him to speak more slowly. All the new things he had seen and learnt in his long absence had so seized upon his imagination and intelligence, and so shaken him out of the rut of custom, that powers which had long lain dormant had, so to speak, started out of their sleep, and his head was incessantly working. And they noted, too, that he had a trick of repeating a word or two here and there without any reason, repeating it over and over again from sheer hurry; it seemed as though he tripped over himself. Sometimes it was comical, and then he laughed, and it was forgotten. The father and the schoolmaster sat and watched whether his thoughtfulness had worn away, but it did not appear so. He remembered everything; he it was who reminded them that the boat must be unloaded. He unpacked his things immediately and hung them up, showed them his books, his watch, and all his new possessions, and they were well taken care of, his mother said. He was extremely delighted with his little room; he wanted to remain at home to begin with, he said, to help with the haymaking, and to study. Where he would go afterwards he did not know, but it was all the same to him. He had acquired a rapidity and strength of thought which was refreshing, and a vivacity in expressing his feelings which was so good to those who, the whole year round, had been studiously repressing theirs. It made the schoolmaster ten years younger.   20
  “Well, we’ve got so far with him,” said he beaming, as he rose to go.   21
  When the mother came in after the usual parting word on the doorstep, she called Eyvind into the best room.   22
  “Some one will be expecting you at nine o’clock,” whispered she.   23
  “Where?”   24
  “Up on the rock.”   25
  Eyvind looked at the clock; it was getting on for nine. He would not wait indoors, but went out, climbed up the rock, stopped, and looked down. The roof of the house lay close underneath; the bushes on the roof had grown larger; all the young trees round where he stood had grown, too, and he knew every one. He looked down over the road which skirted the rock, with the wood on the other side. The road lay grey and solemn, but the wood was clothed in all sorts of foliage; the trees were tall and straight. In the little bay lay a vessel with flapping sails; she was laden with planks, and waiting for a wind. He looked across the water which had borne him forth and back. It lay still and shining. A few sea-birds were hovering over, but without cries, for it was late. His father came out of the mill, stopped at the doorsteps, looked out like his son, then went down to the water to see after the boat for the night. His mother came out from a side door leading from the kitchen. She looked up towards the rock as she crossed the yard with food for the fowls, and again looked up, humming to herself. He sat down to wait. The brushwood grew thick so that he could not see far in, but he listened for the slightest sound. For a long time he heard nothing but birds, which flew up and disappeared, and now a squirrel jumping from one tree into another. But at last, a long way off, there comes a crackling sound; it stops a moment, then crackles again. He rises; his heart beats, and the blood rushes to his head. Something comes breaking through the bushes close at hand. But it is a large shaggy dog that comes and looks up at him, stands still on three legs, and does not move. It is the dog from Upper Hill Farm; and close behind him there is a crackling again. The dog turns his head and wags his tail. And here is Marit.   26
  A bush had caught her dress; she turned to disengage herself, and so she stood when he first saw her. She was bareheaded and had her hair rolled up according to the everyday fashion of girls; she had on a stout, checked bodice without sleeves, nothing on her neck but the turned down linen collar; she had stolen away from working in the field and had not dared to make herself fine. Now she looked up sideways and smiled; her white teeth and half-closed eyes shone; she stood thus a moment disentangling herself, then she came on, and got redder and redder at every step. He went to meet her, and took her hand in both his; she looked down, and so they stood.   27
  “Thanks for all your letters,” was the first thing he said, and when she looked up a little at that, and laughed, he felt that she was the most roguish fairy he could possibly have met in a wood; but he was embarrassed, and she no less.   28
  “How tall you have grown!” said she, but she meant something quite different. She looked at him more and more, and laughed more and more, and so did he; but they said nothing. The dog had seated himself on the edge of the rock, and was looking down at the house; Thore noticed the dog’s head from the water below, and could not for the life of him imagine what it was that showed up on the rock.   29
  But the two had let go each other’s hands, and began by degrees to talk. And when he had once begun, Eyvind soon talked so fast that she could not but laugh at him.   30
  “Yes, you know, that’s when I am happy, really happy you know; and when it was all right between us two, it was just as if a lock had burst open inside me, burst open you know.”   31
  She laughed. Presently she said:   32
  “I know all the letters you sent me almost by heart.” “So do I yours! But you always wrote such short ones.” “Because you always wanted them long.” “And when I wanted you to write more about anything, you always chopped round and away from it.” “I look best when you see my back,” said the witch. “But, by-the-bye, you never told me how you got rid of John Hatlen.” “I laughed.” “What?” “Laughed; don’t you know what it is to laugh?” “Oh yes, I can laugh!” “Let me see!” “What an idea! I must have something to laugh at.” “I don’t need that when I’m happy.” “Are you happy now, Marit?”   33
  “Am I laughing now?”   34
  “Yes, that you are!” He took both her hands and struck them together—clap, clap!—whilst he looked at her.   35
  At this moment the dog began to growl, then all his hair bristled up, then he began to bark at something right below; he got angrier and angrier until at last he was beside himself with rage. Marit started back alarmed, but Eyvind stepped forward and looked down. It was at his father that the dog was barking; he was standing right under the rock with both hands in his pockets, looking up at the dog.   36
  “Are you up there too? What mad dog is that you’ve got up there?”   37
  “It’s a dog from the Hill Farms,” answered Eyvind, somewhat abashed.   38
  “How the devil did he get up there?”   39
  But the mother, hearing the horrible noise, had looked out at the kitchen window, and understood the situation; so she laughed and said: “That dog comes here every day, so there’s nothing to be surprised at.”   40
  “It’s a ferocious dog.”   41
  “He’ll be better if he’s patted.” said Eyvind, and he patted him; the dog left off barking but continued to growl. The father went unsuspectingly away, and the two were saved from discovery.   42
  “That was one time,” said Marit as they met again.   43
  “Do you mean it’ll be worse another time?”   44
  “I know some one who will keep a sharp eye on us.”   45
  “Your grandfather?”   46
  “Exactly.”   47
  “But he can’t do us any harm.”   48
  “Not a bit.”   49
  “You promise me that?”   50
  “Yes, I promise you that, Eyvind.”   51
  “How lovely you are, Marit!”   52
  “That’s what the fox said to the crow, and got the cheese.”   53
  “I want the cheese too, I promise you!”   54
  “But you won’t get it.”   55
  “I shall take it.”   56
  She turned her head, and he did not take it.   57
  “I’ll tell you something, Eyvind,” she looked up sideways.   58
  “Well?”   59
  “How ill-mannered you’ve grown!”   60
  “You’ll give me the cheese all the same.”   61
  “No, I won’t;” she turned away again. “I must go now, Eyvind.”   62
  “I am coming with you.”   63
  “But not beyond the wood; grandfather would see you.”   64
  “No, not beyond the wood. Why, how you’re running, dear.”   65
  “We can’t walk side by side here.”   66
  “But this isn’t being together.”   67
  “Catch me, then!”   68
  She ran, he ran after her, and her dress was soon caught so that he overtook her.   69
  “Have I taken you now for always, Marit?” He had his arm round her waist.   70
  “I think so,” she said softly, and laughed, but flushed red, and was instantly serious again. Well, now’s the time, thought he, and he tried to kiss her, but she ducked her head down under his arm, laughed and ran away. But she stopped at the last trees.   71
  “When shall we meet again?” she whispered.   72
  “To-morrow, to-morrow!” he whispered back.   73
  “Yes, to-morrow!”   74
  “Good-bye,” and she ran off.   75
  “Marit!”   76
  She stopped.   77
  “Wasn’t it strange that we met first upon the rock?”   78
  “Yes, wasn’t it?” and she ran on again.   79
  He looked long after her; the dog ran on in front, barking up at her, and she after, hushing him.   80
  He turned round, took off his cap and tossed it in the air, caught it and tossed it up again.   81
  “Now, I really believe I am beginning to be happy,” said the boy; and he sang as he went homewards.   82