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

Chapter XII

SOME years have passed since the last scene.    1
  It is late autumn; the schoolmaster comes up to Nordistuen, opens the outer door, finds no one at home; opens another, finds no one at home; goes on and on to the innermost room of the long building, and there sits Ole Nordistuen alone by the bed, looking at his hands.    2
  They exchange greetings; the schoolmaster takes a stool and seats himself opposite Ole.    3
  “You sent for me,” he says.    4
  “Yes, I did.”    5
  The schoolmaster takes a fresh quid, looks around the room, takes up a book which is lying on the bench and turns over the leaves.    6
  “What was it you wanted to say to me?”    7
  “I am just thinking about it.”    8
  The schoolmaster is very leisurely in his movements, takes out his spectacles to read the title of the book, polishes them, and puts them on.    9
  “You’re getting old now, Ole.”   10
  “Yes, it was about that I wanted to speak to you. I am going downhill; I shall soon be bedridden.”   11
  “Then you must see to it that you lie easy, Ole.” He shuts the book and sits looking at the binding.   12
  “That’s a good book that you have in your hands.”   13
  “It’s not bad; have you often got beyond the cover, Ole?”   14
  “Yes, just lately, I’ve——”   15
  The schoolmaster lays down the book and puts by his spectacles.   16
  “Things are not just as you would wish with you now, Ole?”   17
  “They haven’t been for as far back as I can remember.”   18
  “Oh, for a long time it was the same with me. I fell out with a good friend, and waited for him to come to me, and all that time I was unhappy. Then I contrived to go to him and then it was all right.”   19
  Ole looks up and is silent.   20
  The schoolmaster: “How is the farm getting on, Ole?”   21
  “It’s going downhill, like myself.”   22
  “Who is to take it when you are gone?”   23
  “That’s just what I don’t know; and that’s what’s worrying me.”   24
  “Your neighbours are getting on well, Ole.”   25
  “Yes, they have that Inspector of Agriculture to help them.   26
  The schoolmaster, turning indifferently towards the window: “You ought to have help too, Ole. You can’t get about much, and you’re not up in the new methods.”   27
  Ole: “There’s no one that would be willing to help me.”   28
  “Have you asked any one?”   29
  Ole is silent.   30
  The schoolmaster: “I was like that, too, with our Lord for a long time. ‘Thou art not kind to me,’ I said to him. “Have you asked me to be?’ he replied. No, I had not; so then I prayed to him and since then all has been well with me.”   31
  Ole is silent, and the schoolmaster too is silent now.   32
  At last Ole says:   33
  “I have a grandchild; she knows what would make me happy before I go, but she doesn’t do it.”   34
  The schoolmaster smiles.   35
  “Perhaps it would not make her happy?”   36
  Ole is silent.   37
  The schoolmaster: “There are many things that are worrying you, but so far as I can make out they are all in the end connected with the farm.”   38
  Ole says quietly: “It has passed from father to son through many generations and it’s good land. All the labour of my fathers, man after man, lies in the soil; but now it does not bear. And when they drive me away I don’t know who is to drive in. There is no one of the family.”   39
  “Your granddaughter will keep up the family.”   40
  “But he who takes her, how will he take the farm? That’s what I want to know before I lie down. There’s no time to be lost, Baard, either for me or for the farm.”   41
  They are both silent; then the schoolmaster says: “Shall we go out a bit and have a look at the farm in this fine weather?”   42
  “Yes, let us; I have workpeople upon the slopes, they are gathering in the leaves; but they don’t work except just when I have my eye on them.”   43
  He shambles about to get his big cap and his stick, and says meanwhile: “They don’t seem to like working for me; I don’t understand it.”   44
  When they had got out and were turning the corner of the house he stopped.   45
  “Here, do you see? No order: the wood scattered all about; the axe not stuck into the chopping-block;” he stooped with difficulty, lifted it and struck it firmly in. “There you see a trap that has fallen down, but no one has picked it up.” He did it himself. “And here, the storehouse. Do you think the steps have been taken away?” He moved them aside. Then he stopped, looked at the schoolmaster and said: “And that’s how things go every day.”   46
  As they went upwards they heard a merry song from the uplands.   47
  “Come now, they’re singing at their work,” said the schoolmaster.   48
  “That’s little Knut Ostistuen who is singing; he’s gathering leaves for his father. My people are working over there; you may be sure they’re not singing.”   49
  “That song doesn’t belong to these parts, does it?”   50
  “No, so I can hear.”   51
  “Eyvind Pladsen has been over at Ostistuen a great deal; perhaps it’s one of the songs he brought into the parish; there’s plenty of singing where he is.”   52
  To this there was no answer. The field they were crossing was not in good order; it had been neglected. The schoolmaster remarked upon it and Ole stopped.   53
  “I haven’t the strength to do more,” said he, almost with tears. “Strange workpeople with no one to look after them come too expensive. But I can tell you it’s hard to go over fields in this state.”   54
  As the talk now fell upon the size of the farm and what parts stood most in need of cultivation, they decided to go up on the slopes and look over the whole of it. When at last they had reached a high spot where they had a good view, the old man was moved.   55
  “I am very loth to go and leave it like this. We have worked down there, I and my fathers, but it doesn’t show much sign of it.”   56
  A song burst forth right over their heads with the peculiar piercingness of a boy’s voice when he sings with all his might. They were not far from the tree in whose top little Knut Ostistuen sat pulling leaves for his father, and they had to listen to the boy:
When you tread the mountain-path
  With a scrip to tarry,
Put no more within its fold
  Than you well can carry.
Never drag the valley’s cares,
  Up steep precipices;
Hurl them in a joyous song,
  Down the wild abysses.
Birds shall greet you from the bough
  The hamlet sounds grow shyer,
The air becomes more pure and sweet
  Ever as you climb higher.
Fill your happy breast, and sing,
  And as your old life closes,
From every bush dear childlike thoughts
  Will nod with cheeks like roses.
If you pause, and listen well,
  With ear attuned to wonder,
The mighty song of solitude
  Will fill the void like thunder;
Even a rivulet’s hurrying course,
  Even a stone down stealing,
Will bring neglected duty by
  As with an organ’s pealing.
Quake, but plead, thou timorous soul,
  Amidst thy memories shield thee;
Go on and up, the better part
  The topmost peak shall yield thee.
There, as of yore, with Jesus Christ,
  Elias walks, and Moses:
In such a blest ecstatic sight
  Thy toilsome journey closes.
  Ole had sat down and hidden his face in his hands.   58
  “I will talk to you here,” said the schoolmaster, and sat down beside him.   59
  Down at Pladsen Eyvind had just come home from a longish journey; the post-chaise was still at the door, whilst the horse rested. Although Eyvind was now making a good income as District Inspector, he still lived in his little room down at Pladsen, and gave a helping hand between whiles. Pladsen was under cultivation from one end to the other, but it was so small that Eyvind called the whole of it Mother’s Doll Farm; for it was she who specially looked after the farming.   60
  He had just changed his clothes; his father had come in all white and floury from the mill, and had also changed. They were talking of going for a little walk before supper, when the mother came in quite pale.   61
  “Here are strange visitors coming. Just look!”   62
  Both men went to the window, and it was Eyvind who first exclaimed: “That’s the schoolmaster, and—why, I declare, yes, it’s really he!”   63
  “Yes, it’s old Ole Nordistuen,” said Thore turning from the window so as not to be seen, for the two were already coming up to the house.   64
  As he left the window Eyvind caught the schoolmaster’s eye. Baard smiled, and looked back at old Ole, who was plodding along the road with his stick, taking his usual short steps, and always lifting one leg a little higher than the other. The schoolmaster was heard to say outside:   65
  “He has just come home.”   66
  And Ole said twice: “Well, well!”   67
  They stood a long time silent in the passage. The mother had crept over to the corner where the milk-shelf was; Eyvind was in his favourite position, with his back against the large table and his face towards the door; his father sat beside him. At last there was a knock, and in walked the schoolmaster and took off his hat; then Ole, and took off his cap; after which he turned to close the door. He was slow in turning, and was obviously embarrassed. Thore rose, and asked them to come in and sit down. They seated themselves side on the bench by the window. Thore sat down again.   68
  And the wooing went on as follows:   69
  The schoolmaster: “We’ve got fine weather this autumn after all.”   70
  Thore: “It has settled now at last.”   71
  “It will be settled for some time, too, since the wind has gone over to that quarter.”   72
  “Have you finished harvesting up yonder?”   73
  “No; Ole Nordistuen here, whom I daresay you know, would be glad of your help, Eyvind, if it’s not inconvenient.”   74
  Eyvind: “If it is desired I will do what I can.”   75
  “You see it’s not mere momentary help he means. He thinks the farm is not getting on very well, and he thinks that it’s method and supervision that’s wanting.”   76
  Eyvind: “I’m so much from home.”   77
  The schoolmaster looks at Ole. Feeling that he must now put in his oar, Ole clears his throat a time or two, and begins quickly and shortly:   78
  “The idea was—it is—yes—the idea is that you should, in a manner of speaking—that you should make your home up there with us—be there when you aren’t out.”   79
  “Many thanks for the offer, but I prefer to live where I live now.”   80
  Ole looks at the schoolmaster, who says: “You see Ole’s a little confused to-day. The thing is that he came here once before, and the remembrance of that puts his words out of order.”   81
  Ole, quickly: “That’s it, yes. I behaved like an old fool. I tugged against the girl so long that our life went to splinters. But let bygones be bygones; the wind breaks down the grain, but not the breeze; rain-driblets do not loosen big stones; snow in May does not lie long; it is not the thunder that strikes people dead.”   82
  They all four laughed. The schoolmaster says: “Ole means that you must not think of it any more; nor you either, Thore.”   83
  Ole looks at them, and does not know whether he dares begin again. Then Thore says: “Briars scratch with many teeth but don’t make deep wounds. There are certainly no thorns left sticking in me.”   84
  Ole: “I didn’t know the boy then. Now I see that what he sows grows; autumn answers to spring; he has money in his finger-ends, and I should like to get hold of him.”   85
  Eyvind looks at his father, then at his mother; she looks from them at the schoolmaster, and then they all look at him.   86
  “Ole means that he has a large farm——”   87
  Ole interrupts: “A large farm, but ill managed. I can do no more. I am old, and my legs won’t run my head’s errands. But it would be worth any one’s while to put his shoulder to the wheel up there.”   88
  “The largest farm, by far, in the district,” the schoolmaster put in.   89
  “The largest farm in the district, that’s just the difficulty; shoes that are too big fall off; it’s well to have a good gun, but you must be able to lift it.” Turning quickly to Eyvind: “You could give us a hand, couldn’t you?”   90
  “You want me to be manager?”   91
  “Exactly, yes; you would have the farm.”   92
  “I should have the farm?”   93
  “Exactly, yes; then you would manage it.”   94
  “But——”   95
  “Don’t you want to?”   96
  “Of course I do.”   97
  “Well, well, then that’s settled, as the hen said when she flew across the lake.”   98
  “But——”   99
  Ole looks in surprise at the schoolmaster.  100
  “Eyvind wants to know if he’s to have Marit too?”  101
  Ole quickly: “Marit into the bargain, Marit into the bargain!”  102
  Then Eyvind burst out laughing, and jumped up from his seat, the other three laughing with him. Eyvind rubbed his hands and went up and down repeating incessantly: “Marit into the bargain, Marit into the bargain!”  103
  Thore laughed with a deep chuckle, and the mother up in the corner kept her eyes fixed on her son until they filled with tears.  104
  Ole, very anxiously: “What do you think of the farm?”  105
  “Splendid land!”  106
  “Splendid land, isn’t it?”  107
  “Capital pasturage!”  108
  “Capital pasturage! It’ll do, won’t it?”  109
  “It shall be the best farm in the country.”  110
  “The best farm in the country! Do you think so? Do you mean it?”  111
  “As sure as I stand here!”  112
  “Now isn’t that just what I said?”  113
  They both talked equally fast, and fitted in with each other like a pair of cog-wheels.  114
  “But money, you see, money? I have no money.  115
  “It goes slowly without money, but still it goes.”  116
  “It goes! yes, of course it goes. But if we had money it would go quicker, wouldn’t it?”  117
  “Ever so much quicker.”  118
  “Ever so much? If only we had money! Well, well; one can chew even if one hasn’t all one’s teeth; though you only drive oxen you get in at last.”  119
  The mother was making signs to Thore, who looked at her sideways, quickly and often, as he sat rocking his body and stroking his knees with his hands; the schoolmaster blinked at him. Thore had his mouth open, cleared his throat a little and tried to speak; but Ole and Eyvind answered each other so incessantly, and laughed and made such a noise, that no one could get a word in edgewise.  120
  “Please be quiet a bit; Thore has something he wants to say,” the schoolmaster puts in; they stop and look at Thore.  121
  He begins at last quite softly: “It’s been like this: here at Pladsen we have had a mill; latterly it has been so that we have had two. These mills have always brought in a trifle in the course of the year, but neither my father nor I ever used any of the money, except that time when Eyvind was away. The schoolmaster has invested it for me, and he says it has thriven well where it is; but now it will be best for you, Eyvind, to have it for Nordistuen.”  122
  The mother stood over in the corner, and made herself quite small whilst with sparkling joy she gazed at Thore, who was very serious and looked almost stupid; Ole Nordistuen sat opposite him with his mouth agape. Eyvind was the first to recover from his astonishment and exclaiming: “Doesn’t luck follow me!” he went across the room to his father, and slapped him on the shoulder so that it rang again.  123
  “Father!” said he, rubbed his hands and continued to pace the room.  124
  “How much money might there be?” asked Ole at last, but softly, of the schoolmaster.  125
  “It’s not so little.”  126
  “A few hundreds?”  127
  “A little more.”  128
  “A little more?—a little more, Eyvind! God bless me, what a farm we shall make of it!” He rose and laughed heartily.  129
  “I must come up with you to Marit,” says Eyvind; “we can take the post-chaise that is standing outside, we shall get there quicker.”  130
  “Yes, quick, quick! Do you, too, want to have everything quick?”  131
  “Yes, quick as quick can be!”  132
  “Quick as quick can be! Exactly like me when I was young, exactly!”  133
  “Here’s your hat and stick; now I’m going to show you the door!”  134
  “You show me the door, ha, ha! but you’re coming too, aren’t you? you’re coming? And you others too; we must sit together this evening, so long as there’s a spark in the stove; come along!”  135
  They promised, Eyvind helped him into the chaise and they drove off up to Nordistuen. Up there the big dog was not the only one to be astonished when Ole Nordistuen drove into the yard with Eyvind Pladsen. Whilst Eyvind helped him out of the chaise and servants and hired folk stood gaping at them, Marit came out into the passage to see why the dog kept on barking so, but she stopped as if spell-bound, flushed all red and ran in again. Old Ole, however, shouted so loud for her when he came into the house, that she had to come forward again.  136
  “Go and tidy yourself, girl: here is he who is to have the farm!”  137
  “Is that true?’ said she, in a ringing voice, without knowing what she said.  138
  “Yes, it is true,” answered Eyvind and claps his hands; whereupon she swings round on her toes, throws what she is holding in her hands far from her, and runs out—but Eyvind runs after her.  139
  Shortly after, the schoolmaster, Thore and his wife arrived; the old man had candles on the table which was covered with a white cloth; wine and ale were produced, and he himself went round continually, lifting his legs higher even than usual, but always lifting the right foot higher than the left.  140
  Before this little tale ends it may be stated that five weeks later Eyvind and Marit were married in the parish church. The schoolmaster himself led the singing that day as his assistant was ill. His voice was cracked now, for he was old; but Eyvind thought it did one good to hear him. And when he had given his hand to Marit and led her up to the altar, the schoolmaster nodded to him from the choir just as Eyvind had seen him do when he was sorrowfully watching that dance; he nodded back, whilst tears rose to his eyes.  141
  Those tears at the dance were the prelude to these; and between them lay his faith and his work.  142
  Here ends the story of a Happy Boy.  143