A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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Of Oyvind's further progress until a year before confirmation there is not much to report. He studied in the morning, worked through the day, and played in the evening.

As he had an unusually sprightly disposition, it was not long before the neighboring children fell into the habit of resorting in their playtime to where he was to be found. A large hill sloped down to the bay in front of the place, bordered by the cliff on one side and the wood on the other, as before described; and all winter long, on pleasant evenings and on Sundays, this served as coasting-ground for the parish young folks. Oyvind was master of the hill, and he owned two sleds, "Fleet-foot" and "Idler;" the latter he loaned out to larger parties, the former he managed himself, holding Marit on his lap.

The first thing Oyvind did in those days on awaking, was to look out and see whether it was thawing, and if it was gray and lowering over the bushes beyond the bay, or if he heard a dripping from the roof, he was long about dressing, as though there were nothing to be accomplished that day. But if he awoke, especially on a Sunday, to crisp, frosty, clear weather, to his best clothes and no work, only catechism or church in the morning, with the whole afternoon and evening free—heigh! then the boy made one spring out of bed, donned his clothes in a hurry as if for a fire, and could scarcely eat a mouthful. As soon as afternoon had come, and the first boy on skees drew in sight along the road-side, swinging his guide-pole above his head and shouting so that echoes resounded through the mountain-ridges about the lake; and then another on the road on a sled, and still another and another,—off started Oyvind with "Fleet-foot," bounded down the hill, and stopped among the last-comers, with a long, ringing shout that pealed from ridge to ridge all along the bay, and died away in the far distance.

Then he would look round for Marit, but when she had come he payed no further attention to her.

At last there came a Christmas, when Oyvind and Marit might be about sixteen or seventeen, and were both to be confirmed in the spring. The fourth day after Christmas there was a party at the upper Heidegards, at Marit's grandparents', by whom she had been brought up, and who had been promising her this party for three years, and now at last had to give it during the holidays. Oyvind was invited to it.

It was a somewhat cloudy evening but not cold; no stars could be seen; the next day must surely bring rain. There blew a sleepy wind over the snow, which was swept away here and there on the white Heidefields; elsewhere it had drifted. Along the part of the road where there was but little snow, were smooth sheets of ice of a blue-black hue, lying between the snow and the bare field, and glittering in patches as far as the eye could reach. Along the mountain-sides there had been avalanches; it was dark and bare in their track, but on either side light and snow-clad, except where the forest birch-trees put their heads together and made dark shadows. No water was visible, but half-naked heaths and bogs lay under the deeply-fissured, melancholy mountains. Gards were spread in thick clusters in the centre of the plain; in the gloom of the winter evening they resembled black clumps, from which light shot out over the fields, now from one window, now from another; from these lights it might be judged that those within were busy.

Young people, grown-up and half-grown-up, were flocking together from diverse directions; only a few of them came by the road, the others had left it at least when they approached the gards, and stole onward, one behind the stable, a couple near the store-house, some stayed for a long time behind the barn, screaming like foxes, others answered from afar like cats; one stood behind the smoke-house, barking like a cross old dog whose upper notes were cracked; and at last all joined in a general chase. The girls came sauntering along in large groups, having a few boys, mostly small ones, with them, who had gathered about them on the road in order to appear like young men. When such a bevy of girls arrived at the gard and one or two of the grown youths saw them, the girls parted, flew into the passages or down in the garden, and had to be dragged thence into the house, one by one. Some were so excessively bashful that Marit had to be sent for, and then she came out and insisted upon their entering. Sometimes, too, there appeared one who had had no invitation and who had by no means intended to go in, coming only to look on, until perhaps she might have a chance just to take one single dance. Those whom Marit liked well she invited into a small chamber, where her grandfather sat smoking his pipe, and her grandmother was walking about. The old people offered them something to drink and spoke kindly to them. Oyvind was not among those invited in, and this seemed to him rather strange.

The best fiddler of the parish could not come until later, so meanwhile they had to content themselves with the old one, a houseman, who went by the name of Gray-Knut. He knew four dances; as follows: two spring dances, a halling, and an old dance, called the Napoleon waltz; but gradually he had been compelled to transform the halling into a schottishe by altering the accent, and in the same manner a spring dance had to become a polka-mazurka. He now struck up and the dancing began. Oyvind did not dare join in at once, for there were too many grown folks here; but the half-grown-up ones soon united, thrust one another forward, drank a little strong ale to strengthen their courage, and then Oyvind came forward with them. The room grew warm to them; merriment and ale mounted to their heads. Marit was on the floor most of the time that evening, no doubt because the party was at her grandparents'; and this led Oyvind to look frequently at her; but she was always dancing with others. He longed to dance with her himself, and so he sat through one dance, in order to be able to hasten to her side the moment it was ended; and he did so, but a tall, swarthy fellow, with thick hair, threw himself in his way.

"Back, youngster!" he shouted, and gave Oyvind a push that nearly made him fall backwards over Marit.

Never before had such a thing occurred to Oyvind; never had any one been otherwise than kind to him; never had he been called "youngster" when he wanted to take part; he blushed crimson, but said nothing, and drew back to the place where the new fiddler, who had just arrived, had taken his seat and was tuning his instrument. There was silence in the crowd, every one was waiting to hear the first vigorous tones from "the chief fiddler." He tried his instrument and kept on tuning; this lasted a long time; but finally he began with a spring dance, the boys shouted and leaped, couple after couple coming into the circle. Oyvind watched Marit dancing with the thick-haired man; she laughed over the man's shoulder and her white teeth glistened. Oyvind felt a strange, sharp pain in his heart for the first time in his life.

He looked longer and longer at her, but however it might be, it seemed to him that Marit was now a young maiden. "It cannot be so, though," thought he, "for she still takes part with the rest of us in our coasting." But grown-up she was, nevertheless, and after the dance was ended, the dark-haired man pulled her down on his lap; she tore herself away, but still she sat down beside him.

Oyvind's eyes turned to the man, who wore a fine blue broadcloth suit, blue checked shirt, and a soft silk neckerchief; he had a small face, vigorous blue eyes, a laughing, defiant mouth. He was handsome. Oyvind looked more and more intently, finally scanned himself also; he had had new trousers for Christmas, which he had taken much delight in, but now he saw that they were only gray wadmal; his jacket was of the same material, but old and dark; his vest, of checked homespun, was also old, and had two bright buttons and a black one. He glanced around him and it seemed to him that very few were so poorly clad as he. Marit wore a black, close-fitting dress of a fine material, a silver brooch in her neckerchief and had a folded silk handkerchief in her hand. On the back of her head was perched a little black silk cap, which was tied under the chin with a broad, striped silk ribbon. She was fair and had rosy cheeks, and she was laughing; the man was talking to her and was laughing too. The fiddler started another tune, and the dancing was about to begin again. A comrade came and sat down beside Oyvind.

"Why are you not dancing, Oyvind? " he asked pleasantly.

"Dear me!" said Oyvind, "I do not look fit."

"Do not look fit?" cried his comrade; but before he could say more,
Oyvind inquired,—

"Who is that in the blue broadcloth suit, dancing with Marit?"

"That is Jon Hatlen, he who has been away so long at an agricultural school and is now to take the gard."

At that moment Marit and Jon sat down.

"Who is that boy with light hair sitting yonder by the fiddler, staring at me?" asked Jon.

Then Marit laughed and said,—

"He is the son of the houseman at Pladsen."

Oyvind had always known that he was a houseman's son; but until now he had never realized it. It made him feel so very little, smaller than all the rest; in order to keep up he had to try and think of all that hitherto had made him happy and proud, from the coasting hill to each kind word. He thought, too, of his mother and his father, who were now sitting at home and thinking that he was having a good time, and he could scarcely hold back his tears. Around him all were laughing and joking, the fiddle rang right into his ear, it was a moment in which something black seemed to rise up before him, but then he remembered the school with all his companions, and the school-master who patted him, and the priest who at the last examination had given him a book and told him he was a clever boy. His father himself had sat by listening and had smiled on him.

"Be good now, dear Oyvind," he thought he heard the school-master say, taking him on his lap, as when he was a child. "Dear me! it all matters so little, and in fact all people are kind; it merely seems as if they were not. We two will be clever, Oyvind, just as clever as Jon Hatlen; we shall yet have good clothes, and dance with Marit in a light room, with a hundred people in it; we will smile and talk together; there will be a bride and bridegroom, a priest, and I will be in the choir smiling upon you, and mother will be at home, and there will be a large gard with twenty cows, three horses, and Marit as good and kind as at school."

The dancing ceased. Oyvind saw Marit on the bench in front of him, and Jon by her side with his face close up to hers; again there came that great burning pain in his breast, and he seemed to be saying to himself: "It is true, I am suffering."

Just then Marit rose, and she came straight to him. She stooped over him.

"You must not sit there staring so fixedly at me," said she; "you might know that people are noticing it. Take some one now and join the dancers."

He made no reply, but he could not keep back the tears that welled up to his eyes as he looked at her. Marit had already risen to go when she saw this, and paused; suddenly she grew as red as fire, turned and went back to her place, but having arrived there she turned again and took another seat. Jon followed her forthwith.

Oyvind got up from the bench, passed through the crowd, out in the grounds, sat down on a porch, and then, not knowing what he wanted there rose, but sat down again, thinking he might just as well sit there as anywhere else. He did not care about going home, nor did he desire to go in again, it was all one to him. He was not capable of considering what had happened; he did not want to think of it; neither did he wish to think of the future, for there was nothing to which he looked forward.

"But what, then, is it I am thinking of?" he queried, half aloud, and when he had heard his own voice, he thought: "You can still speak, can you laugh?" And then he tried it; yes, he could laugh, and so he laughed loud, still louder, and then it occurred to him that it was very amusing to be sitting laughing here all by himself, and he laughed again. But Hans, the comrade who had been sitting beside him, came out after him.

"Good gracious, what are you laughing at?" he asked, pausing in front of the porch. At this Oyvind was silent.

Hans remained standing, as if waiting to see what further might happen.
Oyvind got up, looked cautiously about him and said in a low tone,—

"Now Hans, I will tell you why I have been so happy before: it was because I did not really love any one; from the day we love some one, we cease to be happy," and he burst into tears.

"Oyvind!" a voice whispered out in the court; "Oyvind!" He paused and listened. "Oyvind," was repeated once more, a little louder. "It must be she," he thought.

"Yes," he answered, also in a whisper; and hastily wiping his eyes he came forward.

A woman stole softly across the gard.

[Transcriber's Note: The above sentence should read, "A woman stole softly across the yard." In other early translations, the words "yard" and "court-yard" are used here. "Gard" in this case is apparently a typo. The use of the word, "gard" throughout the rest of this story refers to "farm."]

"Are you there?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered, standing still.

"Who is with you?"


But Hans wanted to go.

"No, no!" besought Oyvind.

She slowly drew near them, and it was Marit.

"You left so soon," said she to Oyvind.

He knew not what to reply; thereupon Marit, too, became embarrassed,
and all three were silent. But Hans gradually managed to steal away.
The two remained behind, neither looking at each other, nor stirring.
Finally Marit whispered:—

"I have been keeping some Christmas goodies in my pocket for you, Oyvind, the whole evening, but I have had no chance to give them to you before."

She drew forth some apples, a slice of a cake from town, and a little half pint bottle, which she thrust into his hand, and said he might keep. Oyvind took them.

"Thank you!" said he, holding out his hand; hers was warm, and he dropped it at once as if it had burned him.

"You have danced a good deal this evening," he murmured.

"Yes, I have," she replied, "but you have not danced much," she added.

"I have not," he rejoined.

"Why did you not dance?"




"Why did you sit looking at me so?"



"Why did you dislike having me look at you?"

"There were so many people."

"You danced a great deal with Jon Hatlen this evening."

"I did."

"He dances well."

"Do you think so?"

"Oh, yes. I do not know how it is, but this evening I could not bear to have you dance with him, Marit."

He turned away,—it had cost him something to say this.

"I do not understand you, Oyvind."

"Nor do I understand myself; it is very stupid of me. Good-by, Marit;
I will go now."

He made a step forward without looking round. Then she called after him.

"You make a mistake about what you saw."

He stopped.

"That you have already become a maiden is no mistake."

He did not say what she had expected, therefore she was silent; but at that moment she saw the light from a pipe right in front of her. It was her grandfather, who had just turned the corner and was coming that way. He stood still.

"Is it here you are, Marit?"


"With whom are you talking?"

"With Oyvind."

"Whom did you say?"

"Oyvind Pladsen."

"Oh! the son of the houseman at Pladsen. Come at once and go in with me."

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