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

Chapter X

ONE afternoon later in the summer, as the mother and a maid were raking up the hay, and the father and Eyvind were carrying it home, a little barefooted, bareheaded boy came hopping down the hill and across the field to Eyvind, to whom he handed a note.    1
  “You run well!” said Eyvind.    2
  “I am paid for it,” answered the boy. No answer was required, he said, so he made his way back again over the rock; for there was some one on the road, he explained, whom he did not want to meet. Eyvind opened the note with some trouble, for it was first folded in a strip—then folded again, then sealed and tied up.    3
  Its contents were:
  “He is on his way; but it is slow work. Run into the wood and hide yourself.
  “No, I’ll be hanged if I hide,” thought Eyvind, looking defiantly up the hill. It was not long before an old man came in sight at the top of the hill; he rested, walked a little way, then rested again; both Thore and his wife stopped to look at him. Thore presently smiled; his wife, on the contrary, changed colour.    5
  “Do you know him?”    6
  “Yes, one couldn’t easily mistake him.”    7
  The father and son resumed their hay-carrying, but the latter managed it so that they were always one behind the other. The old man on the hill drew slowly nearer, like a heavy sou-wester. He was very tall and rather stout; his legs were weak, and he walked foot by foot leaning heavily on a staff. He soon came so near that they could see him distinctly; he stopped, took off his cap and wiped his head with his handkerchief. He was bald right to the crown of his head; had a round, puckered face, small, glistening, blinking eyes and bushy eyebrows; he had not lost a single tooth. When he spoke it was in a sharp, barking voice which hopped as if over gravel and stones; but every now and then it would dwell with great satisfaction upon the letter “r,” rolling it out, as it seemed, for yards, and at the same time jumping from one key to another. In his younger days he had been well known as a cheerful but hot-tempered man; in his old age, contrarieties of many sorts had made him passionate and suspicious.    8
  Thore and his son had crossed and recrossed the meadow several times before Ole came up with them; they both knew quite well that he came for no good, therefore it seemed all the funnier that he could not get at them. They had both to appear quite serious and to speak very softly; but when this went on and on indefinitely the situation became irresistibly comic. A mere shred of a phrase that comes in aptly is enough, under such circumstances, to set people off; especially if there happens to be some danger in laughing. When at last the old man was only a few yards away, but seemed unable to get nearer, Eyvind said drily and softly:    9
  “What a heavy load he must be carrying!” and it needed no more.   10
  “You’re surely out of your senses,” whispered the father, although he was himself laughing.   11
  “H’m, h’m!” coughed Ole, on the hillside.   12
  “He’s tuning up!” whispered Thore.   13
  Eyvind fell on his knees before the haycock, buried his head in it and laughed. His father also bent down.   14
  “Let’s get into the barn,” whispered he, taking an armful of hay and marching away with it; Eyvind took up a small bundle and ran after him, bent double with laughter, and threw himself down in a convulsion as soon as he got into the barn. The father was a serious man, but if anybody set him off laughing he began with a gurgling, then came longer but broken trills until they flowed together in one roar, after which came wave upon wave with an ever-increasing backdraught. Now he was fairly set off; while the son lay on the floor, the father stood over him, and they both went into peals of laughter. They were subject every now and then to such hysterical fits; but “this one came at the wrong time,” said the father. At last they did not know what would come of it, for the old man must by this time have got to the farm.   15
  “I am not going out,” said the father, “I have no business with him.”   16
  “Well, then, I sha’n’t go either,” answered Eyvind.   17
  “H’m, h’m!” was heard just outside the barn-wall. The father shook his finger at the boy.   18
  “Will you get out with you?”   19
  “Yes, if you go first.”   20
  “No, off with you!”   21
  “You go first!” And they brushed each other down and went solemnly forth. When they had crossed the bridge 1 they saw Ole standing facing the kitchen door as if considering; he was holding his cap in the hand with which he held his staff, wiping the sweat off his bald head with his handkerchief, and at the same time ruffling up the bristles behind his ears and on his neck, so that they stuck out like spikes. Eyvind kept behind his father, who had therefore to bear the first brunt; and to get it over he said with stupendous solemnity:   22
  “This is a long way for a man of your years to come.”   23
  Ole turned round, looked keenly at him, and put his cap on straight before he answered: “Yes, you’re right there!”   24
  “You must be tired; won’t you come in?”   25
  “Oh, I can rest where I am; my errand is not a long one.”   26
  Some one was peeping from the kitchen door; between her and Thore stood old Ole with the peak of his cap over his eyes; for the cap was too large now that his hair was gone. He had thus to throw his head very far back in order to see clearly; he held his staff pressed against his side when he was not gesticulating, and his one gesture was to throw his arm half out from him and hold it motionless as though guarding his dignity.   27
  “Is that your son standing behind you?” he began, in a resolute voice.   28
  “They say so.”   29
  “He is called Eyvind, isn’t he?”   30
  “Yes, they call him Eyvind.”   31
  “He has been at one of these farming-schools down south?”   32
  “Yes, I don’t say he hasn’t.”   33
  “Well, my girl, my granddaughter Marit, she has gone mad lately.”   34
  “I am sorry to hear it.”   35
  “Really?”   36
  “She won’t have anything to do with any of the farmers’ sons who offer themselves.”   37
  “Indeed!”   38
  “They say he’s turned her head: yes, that fellow, your son Eyvind.”   39
  “The devil he has!”   40
  “Look here, I don’t like people running off with horses when I turn them out to pasture, and I don’t like people running off with my daughters either, when I let them go to a dance; I don’t like it at all.”   41
  “No, of course not.”   42
  “I can’t go after them; I am old, I can’t look after them.”   43
  “No—no, no—no!”   44
  “I like things kept in order, you know—the chopping-block to stand there and the axe to lie there, and the knife there; and here they’re to sweep and here they’re to throw out the rubbish, not at the door, but over in the corner, precisely there and nowhere else. So, when I say to her: not him, but him! then him it must be and not him!”   45
  “No doubt.”   46
  “But it isn’t so. For three years she has said no, and for three years things have been amiss between us. This is bad; and it’s he that’s to blame for it all; and I tell him before you, his father, that it’s no use, he must put a stop to it.”   47
  “Well, well.”   48
  Ole looked a moment at Thore, then he said, “You answer shortly.”   49
  “I’ve nothing more to say.”   50
  Here Eyvind could not help laughing, although he was in no laughing mood. But with cheerful people fear ever borders on laughter, and now he felt an impulse to laugh.   51
  “What are you laughing at?” asked Ole, shortly and sharply.   52
  “I——?”   53
  “Are you laughing at me?”   54
  “God forbid!” but his own answer made him want to laugh more.   55
  Ole saw this and became furious. Both Thore and Eyvind tried to patch it up by putting on serious faces and inviting him to go indoors; but the accumulated wrath of three years was seeking an outlet, and was not to be stopped.   56
  “You mustn’t think you’re going to make a fool of me,” he began; “I am here to do my duty; I am looking to my grandchild’s happiness as I understand it, and the laughter of a young puppy is not going to hinder me. One doesn’t bring up girls to dump them down on the first cottar’s holding that offers, and one doesn’t manage a farm for forty years to hand over everything to the first fellow that makes a fool of a girl. My daughter went and moped and carried on till she got herself married to a vagabond, and he drank them both to ruin, and I had to take the child and pay the piper; but curse me if my granddaughter is to go the same road! As sure as I am Ole Nordistuen of the Hill Farms, I tell you the minister shall sooner call the banns for the fairy folk up on the Nordal forest than he shall speak such names from the pulpit as Marit’s and yours, you jackanapes! Are you to go and scare proper suitors away from the farm, forsooth? Just you show your face there, my man, and you’ll travel down the hill again in a way you won’t relish. You giggling imp, you! Do you suppose I don’t know what you’re thinking of, you and she? You’re thinking that old Ole Nordistuen will soon turn up his toes in the churchyard, and then you’ll trip away to the altar together! No, I’ve lived sixty-six years now, and I’ll show you, boy, that I’ll live till you’re both mighty sick of it! And, what’s more, you can hang about the house till all’s blue and you won’t see so much as the sole of her foot, for I’ll send her out of the district; I’ll send her where she’ll be safe, so that you can flutter around like a laughing joy and marry the rain and the north wind. And now I’ve nothing more to say to you; but you, his father, you know my mind, and if you wish him well you’ll make him bend the river in the way it’s got to run; I warn it off my ground.”   57
  He turned away with short, quick steps, lifting his right foot a little more strongly than the left, and muttering to himself.   58
  Complete seriousness had fallen upon those he left behind; a foreboding of evil had mingled itself with their joking and laughter, and a blank pause followed as after a shock of terror. The mother, who had heard all from the kitchen door, looked anxiously at Eyvind with tears in her eyes; but she would not make things harder for him by saying a single word.   59
  They all went indoors in silence, and the father, seating himself by the window, looked after Ole with a very serious countenance. Eyvind watched intently his slightest change of expression; for did not the future of the young people almost depend upon his first words? If Thore added his refusal to that of Ole, they could scarcely hope to get over it. His thoughts ran apprehensively from obstacle to obstacle; for a moment he saw only poverty, opposition, misunderstanding and wounded self-respect, and every resource he could think of seemed destined to fail him. His uneasiness was increased by his mother’s standing there with her hand on the latch of the kitchen door, uncertain whether she had courage to stay in and await the upshot, and by her at last losing heart and slipping out. Eyvind looked steadily at his father, who, it seemed, was never going to look round; nor did the son venture to speak, for he understood that the thing must be fully thought out. But presently his soul had run its course of anxiety and regained its firmness. “After all,” he thought within himself as he looked at his father’s knitted brow, “God alone can part us.” And just at this moment something happened. Thore heaved a long sigh, rose, looked into the room and met his son’s gaze. He stopped and looked long at him.   60
  “I should be best pleased if you gave her up, for one ought not to beg or bully oneself forward in the world. But if you won’t give her up, tell me when you’ve made up your mind, and perhaps I may be able to help you.”   61
  He went to his work and his son went with him.   62
  By the evening Eyvind had his plan complete: he would try for the post of District Inspector of Agriculture, and would beg the Principal of the College and the Schoolmaster to help him. “Then, if she holds out, with God’s help I will win her through my work.”   63
  He waited in vain for Marit that evening, but as he waited he sang his favorite song:
Lift thy head, brave lad, for token
That, if past-time hopes be broken,
New ones sparkle in an eye,
That takes light from God on high.
Lift thy head, and gaze around thee,
Something new hath sought and found thee;
Something that with myriad voice
Bids the heart in thee rejoice.
Lift thy head; for harps are ringing,
Footsteps dancing, voices singing,
And the vault of heaven so blue,
Is thine own soul beaming through.
Lift thy head, and sing unchidden!
Spring disdains the winds frost-ridden;
When the sap is rich and clear
Burgeoning shoots will greet the year.
Lift thy head, baptized for ever
In the flood of hope’s bright river,
That across the gleaming world
Like a rainbow is unfurled.
Note 1.  An inclined place for driving hay-carts up into the barn. [back]