A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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The goat was tethered near the house, but Oyvind wandered off, with his eyes fixed on the cliff. The mother came and sat down beside him; he asked her to tell him stories about things that were far away, for now the goat was no longer enough to content him. So his mother told him how once everything could talk: the mountain talked to the brook, and the brook to the river, and the river to the sea, and the sea to the sky; he asked if the sky did not talk to any one, and was told that it talked to the clouds, and the clouds to the trees, the trees to the grass, the grass to the flies, the flies to the beasts, and the beasts to the children, but the children to grown people; and thus it continued until it had gone round in a circle, and neither knew where it had begun. Oyvind gazed at the cliff, the trees, the sea, and the sky, and he had never truly seen them before. The cat came out just then, and stretched itself out on the door-step, in the sunshine.

"What does the cat say?" asked Oyvind, and pointed.

The mother sang,—

"Evening sunshine softly is dying,
On the door-step lazy puss is lying.
'Two small mice,
Cream so thick and nice;
Four small bits of fish
Stole I from a dish;
Well-filled am I and sleek,
Am very languid and meek,'
Says the pussie."[1]

[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier's translation.]

Then the cock came strutting up with all the hens.

"What does the cock say?" asked Oyvind, clapping his hands.

The mother sang,—

"Mother-hen her wings now are sinking,
Chanticleer on one leg stands thinking:
'High, indeed,
You gray goose can speed;
Never, surely though, she
Clever as a cock can be.
Seek your shelter, hens, I pray,
Gone is the sun to his rest for to-day,'—
Says the rooster."[1]

[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier's translation.]

Two small birds sat singing on the gable.

"What are the birds saying?" asked Oyvind, and laughed.

"'Dear Lord, how pleasant is life,
For those who have neither toil nor strife,'—
Say the birds."[2]

—was the answer.

[Footnote 2: Translated by H.R.G.]

Thus he learned what all were saying, even to the ant crawling in the moss and the worm working in the bark.

The same summer his mother undertook to teach him to read. He had had books for a long time, and wondered how it would be when they, too, should begin to talk. Now the letters were transformed into beasts and birds and all living creatures; and soon they began to move about together, two and two; a stood resting beneath a tree called b, c came and joined it; but when three or four were grouped together they seemed to get angry with one another, and nothing would then go right. The farther he advanced the more completely he found himself forgetting what the letters were; he longest remembered a, which he liked best; it was a little black lamb and was on friendly terms with all the rest; but soon a, too, was forgotten, the books no longer contained stories, only lessons.

Then one day his mother came in and said to him,—

"To-morrow school begins again, and you are going with me up to the gard."

Oyvind had heard that school was a place where many boys played together, and he had nothing against that. He was greatly pleased; he had often been to the gard, but not when there was school there, and he walked faster than his mother up the hill-side, so eager was he. When they came to the house of the old people, who lived on their annuity, a loud buzzing, like that from the mill at home, met them, and he asked his mother what it was.

"It is the children reading," answered she, and he was delighted, for thus it was that he had read before he learned the letters.

On entering he saw so many children round a table that there could not be more at church; others sat on their dinner-pails along the wall, some stood in little knots about an arithmetic table; the school-master, an old, gray-haired man, sat on a stool by the hearth, filling his pipe. They all looked up when Oyvind and his mother came in, and the clatter ceased as if the mill-stream had been turned off. Every eye was fixed on the new-comers; the mother saluted the school-master, who returned her greeting.

"I have come here to bring a little boy who wants to learn to read," said the mother.

"What is the fellow's name?" inquired the school-master, fumbling down in his leathern pouch after tobacco.

"Oyvind," replied the mother, "he knows his letters and he can spell."

"You do not say so!" exclaimed the school-master. "Come here, you white-head!"

"Oyvind walked up to him, the school-master took him up on his knee and removed his cap.

"What a nice little boy!" said he, stroking the child's hair. Oyvind looked up into his eyes and laughed.

"Are you laughing at me!" The old man knit his brow, as he spoke.

"Yes, I am," replied Oyvind, with a merry peal of laughter.

Then the school-master laughed, too; the mother laughed; the children knew now that they had permission to laugh, and so they all laughed together.

With this Oyvind was initiated into school.

When he was to take his seat, all the scholars wished to make room for him; he on his part looked about for a long time; while the other children whispered and pointed, he turned in every direction, his cap in his hand, his book under his arm.

"Well, what now?" asked the school-master, who was again busied with his pipe.

Just as the boy was about turning toward the school-master, he espied, near the hearthstone close beside him, sitting on a little red-painted box, Marit with the many names; she had hidden her face behind both hands and sat peeping out at him.

"I will sit here!" cried Oyvind, promptly, and seizing a lunch-box he seated himself at her side. Now she raised the arm nearest him a little and peered at him from under her elbow; forthwith he, too, covered his face with both hands and looked at her from under his elbow. Thus they sat cutting up capers until she laughed, and then he laughed also; the other little folks noticed this, and they joined in the laughter; suddenly a voice which was frightfully strong, but which grew milder as it spoke, interposed with,—

"Silence, troll-children, wretches, chatter-boxes!—hush, and be good to me, sugar-pigs!"

It was the school-master, who had a habit of flaring up, but becoming good-natured again before he was through. Immediately there was quiet in the school, until the pepper grinders again began to go; they read aloud, each from his book; the most delicate trebles piped up, the rougher voices drumming louder and louder in order to gain the ascendency, and here and there one chimed in, louder than the others. In all his life Oyvind had never had such fun.

"Is it always so here?" he whispered to Marit.

"Yes, always," said she.

Later they had to go forward to the school-master and read; a little boy was afterwards appointed to teach them to read, and then they were allowed to go and sit quietly down again.

"I have a goat now myself," said Marit.

"Have you?"

"Yes, but it is not as pretty as yours."

"Why do you never come up to the cliff again?"

"Grandfather is afraid I might fall over."

"Why, it is not so very high."

"Grandfather will not let me, nevertheless."

"Mother knows a great many songs," said Oyvind.

"Grandfather does, too, I can tell you."

"Yes, but he does not know mother's songs."

"Grandfather knows one about a dance. Do you want to hear it?"

"Yes, very much."

"Well, then, come nearer this way, that the school-master may not see us."

He moved close to her, and then she recited a little snatch of a song, four or five times, until the boy learned it, and it was the first thing he learned at school.

"Dance!" cried the fiddle;
Its strings all were quaking,
The lensmand's son making
Spring up and say "Ho!"
"Stay!" called out Ola,
And tripped him up lightly;
The girls laughed out brightly,
The lensmand lay low.

"Hop!" said then Erik,
His heel upward flinging;
The beams fell to ringing,
The walls gave a shriek.
"Stop!" shouted Elling,
His collar then grasping,
And held him up, gasping:
"Why, you're far too weak!"

"Hey!" spoke up Rasmus,
Fair Randi then seizing;
"Come, give without teasing
That kiss. Oh! you know!"
"Nay!" answered Randi,
And boxing him smartly,
Dashed off, crying tartly:
"Take that now and go!"[1]

[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier's translation.]

"Up, youngsters!" cried the school-master; "this is the first day, so you shall be let off early; but first we must say a prayer and sing."

The whole school was now alive; the little folks jumped down from the benches, ran across the floor and all spoke at once.

"Silence, little gypsies, young rascals, yearlings!—be still and walk nicely across the floor, little children!" said the school-master, and they quietly took their places, after which the school-master stood in front of them and made a short prayer. Then they sang; the school-master started the tune, in a deep bass; all the children, folding their hands, joined in. Oyvind stood at the foot, near the door, with Marit, looking on; they also clasped their hands, but they could not sing.

This was the first day at school.

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