Home  »  A Happy Boy  »  Chapter XI

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

Chapter XI

IT was the middle of the dinner-hour. The people were sleeping at the big Hill Farm; the hay lay tossed about the meadows just as they had left it, and the rakes were stuck in the ground. Down by the barn-bridge stood the hay-sledges, the harness was heaped on one side, and the horses were tethered a little way off. Except the horses, and a few hens which had strayed into the field, there was not a living creature to be seen on the whole plain.    1
  In the mountain above the farms there was a gap, through which the road passed to the Hill Farm sæters, on the great, grassy mountain meadows. On this day a man stood in the gap, and looked down over the plain, as if he were expecting somebody. Behind him lay a little mountain lake, from which flowed the beck that formed the ravine. Around this lake, on both sides, cattle-paths led up towards the sæters, which he could see in the far distance. There was a shouting and barking away beyond him, bells tinkled along the hillsides, for the cows were hurrying to seek the water, while the dogs and herd-boys tried to collect them, but in vain.    2
  The cows came tearing along with the most wonderful antics, made leaps where the ground was rough, and ran, with short and fierce bellowings and their tails in the air, right down into the water, where they remained standing. Their bells chimed over the surface of the lake every time they moved their heads. The dogs drank a little, but remained on dry land. The herd-boys followed, and seated themselves on the warm, smooth rock. Here they took out their provisions, exchanged with each other, bragged about their dogs, their oxen, and their people at home. They presently undressed, and jumped into the water beside the cows. The dogs would not come into the water, but poked lazily about with drooping heads, hot eyes, and tongues hanging out on one side. On the surrounding leas no bird was to be seen; no sound was heard but the youngster’s chatter and the tinkling of the bells. The heather was withered and burnt up. The sun shone bakingly on the expanses of the rock, so that everything was suffocatingly hot.    3
  It was Eyvind who sat up here in the midday sun, and waited. He sat in his shirt-sleeves close by the beck that flowed out of the lake. No one was as yet to be seen on the Hill Farm plain, and he was beginning to be a little afraid, when suddenly a large dog came heavily out of a door at Nordistuen, and after it a girl with white sleeves. She ran over the grassy hillocks towards the mountain. He wanted very much to shout to her, but he dared not. He watched the house attentively to see whether any one should chance to come out and notice her; but she was sheltered from view. He, too, lost sight of her, and rose several times in his impatience to watch for her coming.    4
  At last she came, working her way up along the bed of the stream, the dog, a little in front, sniffing the air, she holding by the bushes, and with ever-wearier pace. Eyvind ran down; the dog growled and was hushed, and directly Marit saw him she sat down on a large stone, her face all flushed, wearied and overcome by the heat. He swung himself up on the stone beside her.    5
  “Thank you for coming!”    6
  “What heat, and what a road! Have you been waiting long?”    7
  “No. Since they watch us in the evening we must use the dinner-hour. But I think that henceforward we oughtn’t to be so secret and take so much trouble: that’s just what I wanted to talk to you about.”    8
  “Not secret?”    9
  “I know things please you best when there’s a touch of mystery about them; but to show courage pleases you too. I have a lot to say to you to-day, and you must listen.”   10
  “Is it true that you are trying for the post of District Inspector?”   11
  “Yes; and I shall get it too. I have a double object in that: first, to make a position for myself, and after that, and more especially, to accomplish something that your grandfather can see and appreciate. It’s a lucky thing that most of the owners of the Hill Farms are young people who want improvements and are seeking help; they have money, too. So I shall begin there. I will look after everything, from their cowhouses to their irrigation-channels. I shall give lectures and keep things going. I shall, so to speak, besiege the old man with good work.”   12
  “That’s bravely spoken. Go on, Eyvind.”   13
  “Well, the rest concerns us two. You mustn’t go away——”   14
  “But if he orders me to?”   15
  “Nor keep anything secret about yourself and me.”   16
  “But if he persecutes me?”   17
  “We shall produce more effect and make our position better by letting everything be open. We should make a point of being so much under people’s eyes that they can’t help talking of how we love each other; they will wish us well all the more. You must not go away. When people are apart there is always a danger of gossip coming between them. For the first year we should not believe anything, but in the second year we might gradually begin to believe a little. We two will meet once a week, and laugh away all the mischief they will try to make between us. We shall be able to meet at dances, and foot it so that it rings again, whilst our backbiters sit around and look on. We shall meet at the church, and greet each other in the sight of all those who wish us a hundred miles apart. If any one makes up a song about us, we will lay our heads together, and try to make up one in answer; we’re sure to manage it if we help each other. No one can hurt us if we hold together, and let people see that we do. Unhappy lovers are always either timid people or weak people, or unhealthy people, or calculating people who wait for a certain opportunity; or crafty people who at last burn their fingers with their own cunning, or ease-loving people who don’t care enough about each other to forget differences of wealth and station. They go and hide themselves, and send letters, and tremble at a word; and this terror, this perpetual unrest and pricking in the blood they come at last to take for love; they are unhappy and melt away like sugar. Pooh! If they really loved each other they would not be afraid, they would laugh; in every smile and every work, people should see the church-door looming ahead. I’ve read about it in books, and I’ve seen it too: it’s a poor sort of love that goes the back way. It must begin in secrecy because it begins in timidity, but it must live in openness because it lives in joy. It is like the changing of the leaves: those that are to grow cannot hide themselves, and you see how all the dry leaves hanging to the trees fall off the moment the sprouting begins. He to whom love comes lets drop whatever old, dead rubbish he may have clung to; when the sap starts and throbs, do you think no one is to notice it? Ha, girl, they’ll be happy at seeing us happy! Two lovers who hold out against the world do people a positive service, for they give them a poem which their children learn by heart to shame the unbelieving parents. I have read of so many such cases, and some of them live, too, in the mouths of the people hereabouts; and it’s precisely the children of those who once caused all the trouble that now tell the stories, and are moved by them. Yes, Marit, we two will shake hands upon it—like that, yes—and promise each other to hold together, and you’ll see all will come right. Hurrah!” He wanted to put his arm round her neck but she turned her head, and slipped down from the stone.   18
  He remained sitting, and she came back, and with her arms upon his knee she stood and talked to him, looking up in his face.   19
  “Tell me now, Eyvind, if he’s determined to send me away, what then?”   20
  “Then you must say no, straight out.”   21
  “Is that possible, dear?”   22
  “He can’t very well carry you out, and put you in the carriage.”   23
  “If he doesn’t exactly do that, he can compel me in many other ways.”   24
  “I don’t think so. Of course you owe him obedience so long as it’s no sin; but you owe it to him also to let him understand how hard it is for you to be obedient in this matter. I think he’ll come to his senses when he sees that; at present he thinks, like most people, that it’s only child’s play. Show him it is something more.”   25
  “He isn’t easy to manage, I can tell you. He keeps me like a tethered goat.”   26
  “But you slip your tether many times a day.”   27
  “No. I don’t.”   28
  “Yes; every time you secretly think of me you slip it.”   29
  “Yes, that way. But are you so sure that I think so often of you?”   30
  “You wouldn’t be here else.”   31
  “My dear, didn’t you send me a message to come?”   32
  “But you came because your thoughts drove you.”   33
  “Say rather because the weather was so beautiful.”   34
  “You said just now that it was too hot.”   35
  “To go up hill, yes; but down again!”   36
  “Then why did you come up?”   37
  “So as to run down again.”   38
  “Why haven’t you run down already?”   39
  “Because I had to rest.”   40
  “And talk with me of love.”   41
  “There was no reason why I shouldn’t give you the pleasure of listening to you.”   42
  “Whilst the birds were singing”—“and the folk slept sound”—“and the bells were ringing”—“in the woods around.”   43
  Here they both saw Marit’s grandfather come stumping out into the yard and go to the bell-rope to ring the people up. The people dragged themselves out of the barns, sheds and rooms, went sleepily to the horses and rakes, dispersed over the fields, and in a few minutes all was life and work once more.   44
  The grandfather, left alone, went from one house into another and at last up on the highest barn-bridge to look out. A little boy came running to him, he had probably called him. The boy, as they foresaw, set off in the direction of Pladsen, the grandfather meanwhile searching round the farm; and as he often looked upwards he seemed at least to have some suspicion that the black speck up on the Big Stone must be Marit and Eyvind. A second time Marit’s big dog must needs make mischief. He saw a strange horse drive into the Hill Farm, and fancying himself on active service as watchdog, he began to bark with all his might. They tried to hush him, but he had got angry and would not leave off, the grandfather meanwhile standing below and staring straight up into the air. But matters grew worse and worse, for all the herd-boys’ dogs were astonished to hear the strange voice and ran to the spot. When they saw that it was a great wolf-like giant, all the straight-haired, Finnish dogs set upon him. Marit was so frightened that she ran away without any leave-taking; Eyvind rushed into the thick of the fray and kicked and belaboured, but they only shifted their battle-ground and then met again with horrible howls. He dashed after them again, and so it went on until they waltzed themselves down to the edge of the beck. Then he ran at them, and the consequence was that they all rolled down into the water just at a place where it was nice and deep. This parted them at last and they slunk away ashamed; and so ended the battle. Eyvind went through the wood till he struck the by-road; but Marit met her grandfather up at the farm fence; and for this she had her dog to thank.   45
  “Where have you come from?”   46
  “From the wood.”   47
  “What were you doing there?”   48
  “Gathering berries.”   49
  “That’s not true.”   50
  “No; it isn’t true.”   51
  “What were you doing then?”   52
  “I was talking to some one.”   53
  “Was it to that Pladsen boy?”   54
  “Yes.”   55
  “Look here now, Marit, to-morrow you go away.”   56
  “No.”   57
  “I tell you, Marit, you have just got to make up your mind to it—you shall go away.”   58
  “You can’t lift me into the carriage.”   59
  “No? can’t I?”   60
  “No, because you won’t.”   61
  “Won’t I? Now look here, Marit, just for the fun of the thing, just for fun I tell you, I’ll thrash that beggar-boy of yours within an inch of his life.”   62
  “No, you wouldn’t dare to.”   63
  “Wouldn’t dare to? Do you say I wouldn’t dare to? Who would do anything to me? Who, eh?”   64
  “The schoolmaster.”   65
  “The schoo—school—schoolmaster? Do you suppose he bothers himself about him?”   66
  “Yes; it was he who kept him at the Agricultural College.”   67
  “The schoolmaster?”   68
  “The schoolmaster.”   69
  “Look here Marit, I won’t have these goings-on; you shall go out of the place. You bring me nothing but trouble and grief; it was the same with your mother before you, nothing but trouble and grief. I am an old man; I want to see you well provided for; I won’t be the laughing-stock of the district when I am dead and gone, on your account. I’m only thinking of your own good; you ought to thank me for that, Marit: It will soon be all over with me, and then you’ll be left alone. What would have become of your mother if I hadn’t been there to help her? Be sensible now, Marit, and attend to what I say. I’m thinking only of your own good.”   70
  “No, you’re not.”   71
  “Indeed? What am I thinking of, then?”   72
  “You want simply to have your own way, that’s what you want; and you never trouble about what I want.”   73
  “So you’re to have a will of your own, are you, madam? Of course you understand what’s best for you, you fool! I’ll give you a taste of my stick; that’s what I’ll do, for all you’re so big and bouncing. Look here now, Marit, let me talk sense to you. You’re not such a fool at bottom, but you’ve got a bee in your bonnet. You must listen to me. I am an old man, and I know what’s what. I want you to see reason. I’m not so well off as people think; a pennyless ne’er-do-well would soon run through the little I have; your father made a big hole in it, he did. Let us take care of ourselves in this world; there’s nothing else for it. It’s all very well for the schoolmaster to talk, he has money of his own; so has the minister; they can afford to preach, they can. But we, who must toil for our living, with us it’s another matter. I am old, I know a great deal, I have seen many things. Love, you know, love’s all very well to talk about, yes, but it’s worth mighty little; it’s good enough for ministers and the like; peasants must take things in another way. First food, you see, then God’s Word, and then a little writing and reckoning, and then a little love if it happens so; but curse me if it’s any use to begin with love and end with food. What do you answer to that, Marit?”   74
  “I don’t know.”   75
  “You don’t know what you ought to answer?”   76
  “Yes, I know that.”   77
  “Well, then?”   78
  “Shall I say it?”   79
  “Yes, say it, of course.”   80
  “My whole heart is in this love.”   81
  He stood a moment dismayed, then remembered a hundred similar conversations with a similar issue, shook his head, turned his back on her and walked away.   82
  He descended upon the labourers, abused the girls, thrashed the big dog, and nearly frightened the life out of a little hen which had strayed into the field, albeit to her he said nothing.   83
  That night when she went up to bed Marit was so happy that she opened the windows, leant on the window-sill, looked out and sang. She had got hold of a delicate little love-song and she sang it:
        Art thou fond of me?
        I’ll be fond of thee
All the years of life we live together.
        Summer may slip away,
        The grassy fields decay,
But memory holds the sports of sweet spring weather.
        What you said last year.
        Aye murmurs in my ear,
Like a caged bird fluttering in my bosom:
        Sits and shakes its wings,
        Twitters there and sings,
Waiting till the sunshine wakes the blossom.
        Hearest thou me so,
Boy behind the sheltering hedge of birches?
        The woods will flicker past,
        The dusk is falling fast,
Canst find the way for which my blind foot searches?
        I shut my window wide,
        What do you want beside?
The sounds come back through evening’s tender gloaming;
        With laughing, beckoning notes,
        Their music towards me floats.
What wilt thou? Ah, how sweet a night for roaming.