One Saturday, in midsummer, Thore Pladsen rowed across the lake to meet his son, who was expected to arrive that afternoon from the agricultural school, where he had finished his course. The mother had hired women several days beforehand, and everything was scoured and clean. The bedroom had been put in order some time before, a stove had been set up, and there Oyvind was to be. To-day the mother carried in fresh greens, laid out clean linen, made up the bed, and all the while kept looking out to see if, perchance, any boat were coming across the lake. A plentiful table was spread in the house, and there was always something wanting, or flies to chase away, and the bedroom was dusty,—continually dusty. Still no boat came. The mother leaned against the window and looked across the waters; then she heard a step near at hand on the road, and turned her head. It was the school- master, who was coming slowly down the hill, supporting himself on a staff, for his hip troubled him. His intelligent eyes looked calm. He paused to rest, and nodded to her:—
"Not come yet?"
"No; I expect them every moment."
"Fine weather for haymaking, to-day."
"But warm for old folks to be walking."
The school-master looked at her, smiling,—
"Have any young folks been out to-day?"
"Yes; but are gone again."
"Yes, yes, to be sure; there will most likely be a meeting somewhere this evening."
"I presume there will be. Thore says they shall not meet in his house until they have the old man's consent."
"Right, quite right."
Presently the mother cried,—
"There! I think they are coming."
The school-master looked long in the distance.
"Yes, indeed! it is they."
The mother left the window, and he went into the house. After he had rested a little and taken something to drink, they proceeded down to the shore, while the boat darted toward them, making rapid headway, for both father and son were rowing. The oarsmen had thrown off their jackets, the waters whitened beneath their strokes; and so the boat soon drew near those who were waiting. Oyvind turned his head and looked up; he saw the two at the landing-place, and resting his oars, he shouted,—
"Good-day, mother! Good-day, school-master!"
"What a manly voice he has," said the mother, her face sparkling. "O dear, O dear! he is as fair as ever," she added.
The school-master drew in the boat. The father laid down his oars, Oyvind sprang past him and out of the boat, shook hands first with his mother, then with the school-master. He laughed and laughed again; and, quite contrary to the custom of peasants, immediately began to pour out a flood of words about the examination, the journey, the superintendent's certificate, and good offers; he inquired about the crops and his acquaintances, all save one. The father had paused to carry things up from the boat, but, wanting to hear, too, thought they might remain there for the present, and joined the others. And so they walked up toward the house, Oyvind laughing and talking, the mother laughing, too, for she was utterly at a loss to know what to say. The school-master moved slowly along at Oyvind's side, watching his old pupil closely; the father walked at a respectful distance. And thus they reached home. Oyvind was delighted with everything he saw: first because the house was painted, then because the mill was enlarged, then because the leaden windows had been taken out in the family-room and in the bed-chamber, and white glass had taken the place of green, and the window frames had been made larger. When he entered everything seemed astonishingly small, and not at all as he remembered it, but very cheerful. The clock cackled like a fat hen, the carved chairs almost seemed as if they would speak; he knew every dish on the table spread before him, the freshly white-washed hearth smiled welcome; the greens, decorating the walls, scattered about them their fragrance, the juniper, strewn over the floor, gave evidence of the festival.
They all sat down to the meal; but there was not much eaten, for Oyvind rattled away without ceasing. The others viewed him now more composedly, and observed in what respect he had altered, in what he remained unchanged; looked at what was entirely new about him, even to the blue broadcloth suit he wore. Once when he had been telling a long story about one of his companions and finally concluded, as there was a little pause, the father said,—
"I scarcely understand a word that you say, boy; you talk so very fast."
They all laughed heartily, and Oyvind not the least. He knew very well this was true, but it was not possible for him to speak more slowly. Everything new he had seen and learned, during his long absence from home, had so affected his imagination and understanding, and had so driven him out of his accustomed demeanor, that faculties which long had lain dormant were roused up, as it were, and his brain was in a state of constant activity. Moreover, they observed that he had a habit of arbitrarily taking up two or three words here and there, and repeating them again and again from sheer haste. He seemed to be stumbling over himself. Sometimes this appeared absurd, but then he laughed and it was forgotten. The school-master and the father sat watching to see if any of the old thoughtfulness was gone; but it did not seem so. Oyvind remembered everything, and was even the one to remind the others that the boat should be unloaded. He unpacked his clothes at once and hung them up, displayed his books, his watch, everything new, and all was well cared for, his mother said. He was exceedingly pleased with his little room. He would remain at home for the present, he said,—help with the hay-making, and study. Where he should go later he did not know; but it made not the least difference to him. He had acquired a briskness and vigor of thought which it did one good to see, and an animation in the expression of his feelings which is so refreshing to a person who the whole year through strives to repress his own. The school-master grew ten years younger.
"Now we have come so far with him," said he, beaming with satisfaction as he rose to go.
When the mother returned from waiting on him, as usual, to the door-step, she called Oyvind into the bedroom.
"Some one will be waiting for you at nine o'clock," whispered she.
"On the cliff."
Oyvind glanced at the clock; it was nearly nine. He could not wait in the house, but went out, clambered up the side of the cliff, paused on the top, and looked around. The house lay directly below; the bushes on the roof had grown large, all the young trees round about him had also grown, and he recognized every one of them. His eyes wandered down the road, which ran along the cliff, and was bordered by the forest on the other side. The road lay there, gray and solemn, but the forest was enlivened with varied foliage; the trees were tall and well grown. In the little bay lay a boat with unfurled sail; it was laden with planks and awaiting a breeze. Oyvind gazed across the water which had borne him away and home again. There it stretched before him, calm and smooth; some sea-birds flew over it, but made no noise, for it was late. His father came walking up from the mill, paused on the door-step, took a survey of all about him, as his son had done, then went down to the water to take the boat in for the night. The mother appeared at the side of the house, for she had been in the kitchen. She raised her eyes toward the cliff as she crossed the farm-yard with something for the hens, looked up again and began to hum. Oyvind sat down to wait. The underbrush was so dense that he could not see very far into the forest, but he listened to the slightest sound. For a long time he heard nothing but the birds that flew up and cheated him,—after a while a squirrel that was leaping from tree to tree. But at length there was a rustling farther off; it ceased a moment, and then began again. He rises, his heart throbs, the blood rushes to his head; then something breaks through the brushes close by him; but it is a large, shaggy dog, which, on seeing him, pauses on three legs without stirring. It is the dog from the Upper Heidegards, and close behind him another rustling is heard. The dog turns his head and wags his tail; now Marit appears.
A bush caught her dress; she turned to free it, and so she was standing when Oyvind saw her first. Her head was bare, her hair twisted up as girls usually wear it in every-day attire; she had on a thick plaid dress without sleeves, and nothing about the neck except a turned-down linen collar. She had just stolen away from work in the fields, and had not ventured on any change of dress. Now she looked up askance and smiled; her white teeth shone, her eyes sparkled beneath the half-closed lids. Thus she stood for a moment working with her fingers, and then she came forward, growing rosier and rosier with each step. He advanced to meet her, and took her hand between both of his. Her eyes were fixed on the ground, and so they stood.
"Thank you for all your letters," was the first thing he said; and when she looked up a little and laughed, he felt that she was the most roguish troll he could meet in a wood; but he was captured, and she, too, was evidently caught.
"How tall you have grown," said she, meaning something quite different.
She looked at him more and more, laughed more and more, and he laughed, too; but they said nothing. The dog had seated himself on the slope, and was surveying the gard. Thore observed the dog's head from the water, but could not for his life understand what it could be that was showing itself on the cliff above.
But the two had now let go of each other's hands and were beginning to talk a little. And when Oyvind was once under way he burst into such a rapid stream of words that Marit had to laugh at him.
"Yes, you see, this is the way it is when I am happy—truly happy, you see; and as soon as it was settled between us two, it seemed as if there burst open a lock within me—wide open, you see."
She laughed. Presently she said,—
"I know almost by heart all the letters you sent me."
"And I yours! But you always wrote such short ones."
"Because you always wanted them to be so long."
"And when I desired that we should write more about something, then you changed the subject."
"'I show to the best advantage when you see my tail,' said the hulder."
[Footnote 1: The hulder in the Norse folk-lore appears like a beautiful woman, and usually wears a blue petticoat and a white sword; but she unfortunately has a long tail, like a cow's, which she anxiously strives to conceal when she is among people. She is fond of cattle, particularly brindled, of which she possesses a beautiful and thriving stock. They are without horns. She was once at a merry-making, where every one was desirous of dancing with the handsome, strange damsel; but in the midst of the mirth a young man, who had just begun a dance with her, happened to cast his eye on her tail. Immediately guessing whom he had gotten for a partner, he was not a little terrified; but, collecting himself, and unwilling to betray her, he merely said to her when the dance was over: "Fair maid, you will lose your garter." She instantly vanished, but afterwards rewarded the silent and considerate youth with beautiful presents and a good breed of cattle. FAYE'S Traditions.—NOTE BY TRANSLATOR.]
"Ah! that is so. You have never told me how you got rid of Jon
"Laughed. Do not you know what it is to laugh?"
"Yes; I can laugh."
"Let me see!"
"Whoever beard of such a thing! Surely, I must have something to laugh at."
"I do not need that when I am happy."
"Are you happy now, Marit?"
"Pray, am I laughing now?"
"Yes; you are, indeed."
He took both her hands in his and clapped them together over and over again, gazing into her face. Here the dog began to growl, then his hair bristled and he fell to barking at something below, growing more and more savage, and finally quite furious. Marit sprang back in alarm; but Oyvind went forward and looked down. It was his father the dog was barking at. He was standing at the foot of the cliff with both hands in his pockets, gazing at the dog.
"Are you there, you two? What mad dog is that you have up there?"
"It is the dog from the Heidegards," answered Oyvind, somewhat embarrassed.
"How the deuce did it get up there?"
Now the mother had put her head out of the kitchen door, for she had heard the dreadful noise, and at once knew what it meant; and laughing, she said,—
"That dog is roaming about there every day, so there is nothing remarkable in it."
"Well, I must say it is a fierce dog."
"It will behave better if I stroke it," thought Oyvind, and he did so.
The dog stopped barking, but growled. The father walked away as though he knew nothing, and the two on the cliff were saved from discovery.
"It was all right this time," said Marit, as they drew near to each other again.
"Do you expect it to be worse hereafter?"
"I know one who will keep a close watch on us—that I do."
"But he shall do us no harm."
"Not the least."
"And you promise that?"
"Yes, I promise it, Oyvind."
"How beautiful you are, Marit!"
"So the fox said to the raven and got the cheese."
"I mean to have the cheese, too, I can assure you."
"You shall not have it."
"But I will take it."
She turned her head, but he did not take it.
"I can tell you one thing, Oyvind, though." She looked up sideways as she spoke.
"How homely you have grown!"
"Ah! you are going to give me the cheese, anyway; are you?"
"No, I am not," and she turned away again.
"Now I must go, Oyvind."
"I will go with you."
"But not beyond the woods; grandfather might see you."
"No, not beyond the woods. Dear me! are you running?"
"Why, we cannot walk side by side here."
"But this is not going together?"
"Catch me, then!"
She ran; he after her; and soon she was fast in the bushes, so that he overtook her.
"Have I caught you forever, Merit?" His hand was on her waist.
"I think so," said she, and laughed; but she was both flushed and serious.
"Well, now is the time," thought he, and he made a movement to kiss her; but she bent her head down under his arm, laughed, and ran away. She paused, though, by the last trees.
"And when shall we meet again?" whispered she.
"To-morrow, to-morrow!" he whispered in return.
"Good-by," and she ran on.
"Marit!" She stopped. "Say, was it not strange that we met first on the cliff?"
"Yes, it was." She ran on again.
Oyvind gazed long after her. The dog ran on before her, barking; Marit followed, quieting him. Oyvind turned, took off his cap and tossed it into the air, caught it, and threw it up again.
"Now I really think I am beginning to be happy," said the boy, and went singing homeward.