A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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The next morning, when Oyvind opened his eyes, it was from a long, refreshing sleep and happy dreams. Marit had been lying on the cliff, throwing leaves down on him; he had caught them and tossed them back again, so they had gone up and down in a thousand colors and forms; the sun was shining, and the whole cliff glittered beneath its rays. On awaking Oyvind looked around to find them all gone; then he remembered the day before, and the burning, cruel pain in his heart began at once. "This, I shall never be rid of again," thought he; and there came over him a feeling of indifference, as though his whole future had dropped away from him.

"Why, you have slept a long time," said his mother, who sat beside him spinning. "Get up now and eat your breakfast; your father is already in the forest cutting wood."

Her voice seemed to help him; he rose with a little more courage. His mother was no doubt thinking of her own dancing days, for she sat singing to the sound of the spinning-wheel, while he dressed himself and ate his breakfast. Her humming finally made him rise from the table and go to the window; the same dullness and depression he had felt before took possession of him now, and he was forced to rouse himself, and think of work. The weather had changed, there had come a little frost into the air, so that what yesterday had threatened to fall in rain, to-day came down as sleet. Oyvind put on his snow-socks, a fur cap, his sailor's jacket and mittens, said farewell, and started off, with his axe on his shoulder.

Snow fell slowly, in great, wet flakes; he toiled up over the coasting hill, in order to turn into the forest on the left. Never before, winter or summer, had he climbed this hill without recalling something that made him happy, or to which he was looking forward. Now it was a dull, weary walk. He slipped in the damp snow, his knees were stiff, either from the party yesterday or from his low spirits; he felt that it was all over with the coasting-hill for that year, and with it, forever. He longed for something different as he threaded his way in among the tree-trunks, where the snow fell softly. A frightened ptarmigan screamed and fluttered a few yards away, but everything else stood as if awaiting a word which never was spoken. But what his aspirations were, he did not distinctly know, only they concerned nothing at home, nothing abroad, neither pleasure nor work; but rather something far above, soaring upward like a song. Soon all became concentrated in one defined desire, and this was to be confirmed in the spring, and on that occasion to be number one. His heart beat wildly as he thought of it, and before he could yet hear his father's axe in the quivering little trees, this wish throbbed within him with more intensity than anything he had known in all his life.

His father, as usual, did not have much to say to him; they chopped away together and both dragged the wood into heaps. Now and then they chanced to meet, and on one such occasion Oyvind remarked, in a melancholy tone, "A houseman has to work very hard."

"He as well as others," said the father, as he spit in the palm of his hand and took up the axe again.

When the tree was felled and the father had drawn it up to the pile,
Oyvind said,—

"If you were a gardman you would not have to work so hard."

"Oh! then there would doubtless be other things to distress us," and he grasped his axe with both hands.

The mother came up with dinner for them; they sat down. The mother was in high spirits, she sat humming and beating time with her feet.

"What are you going to make of yourself when you are grown up, Oyvind?" said she, suddenly.

"For a houseman's son, there are not many openings," he replied.

"The school-master says you must go to the seminary," said she.

"Can people go there free?" inquired Oyvind.

"The school-fund pays," answered the father, who was eating.

"Would you like to go?" asked the mother.

"I should like to learn something, but not to become a school-master."

They were all silent for a time. The mother hummed again and gazed before her; but Oyvind went off and sat down by himself.

"We do not actually need to borrow of the school-fund," said the mother, when the boy was gone.

Her husband looked at her.

"Such poor folks as we?"

"It does not please me, Thore, to have you always passing yourself off for poor when you are not so."

They both stole glances down after the boy to find out if he could hear. The father looked sharply at his wife.

"You talk as though you were very wise."

She laughed.

"It is just the same as not thanking God that things have prospered with us," said she, growing serious.

"We can surely thank Him without wearing silver buttons," observed the father.

"Yes, but to let Oyvind go to the dance, dressed as he was yesterday, is not thanking Him either."

"Oyvind is a houseman's son."

"That is no reason why he should not wear suitable clothes when we can afford it."

"Talk about it so he can hear it himself!"

"He does not hear it; but I should like to have him do so," said she, and looked bravely at her husband, who was gloomy, and laid down his spoon to take his pipe.

"Such a poor houseman's place as we have!" said he.

"I have to laugh at you, always talking about the place, as you are.
Why do you never speak of the mills?"

"Oh! you and the mills. I believe you cannot bear to hear them go."

"Yes, I can, thank God! might they but go night and day!"

"They have stood still now, since before Christmas."

"Folks do not grind here about Christmas time."

"They grind when there is water; but since there has been a mill at New
Stream, we have fared badly here."

"The school-master did not say so to-day."

"I shall get a more discreet fellow than the school-master to manage our money."

"Yes, he ought least of all to talk with your own wife."

Thore made no reply to this; he had just lit his pipe, and now, leaning up against a bundle of fagots, he let his eyes wander, first from his wife, then from his son, and fixed them on an old crow's-nest which hung, half overturned, from a fir-branch above.

Oyvind sat by himself with the future stretching before him like a long, smooth sheet of ice, across which for the first time he found himself sweeping onward from shore to shore. That poverty hemmed him in on every side, he felt, but for that reason his whole mind was bent on breaking through it. From Marit it had undoubtedly parted him forever; he regarded her as half engaged to Jon Hatlen; but he had determined to vie with him and her through the entire race of life. Never again to be rebuffed as he had been yesterday, and in view of this to keep out of the way until he made something of himself, and then, with the aid of Almighty God, to continue to be something, —occupied all his thoughts, and there arose within his soul not a single doubt of his success. He had a dim idea that through study he would get on best; to what goal it would lead he must consider later.

There was coasting in the evening; the children came to the hill, but Oyvind was not with them. He sat reading by the fire-place, feeling that he had not a moment to lose. The children waited a long time; at length, one and another became impatient, approached the house, and laying their faces against the window-pane shouted in; but Oyvind pretended not to hear them. Others came, and evening after evening they lingered about outside, in great surprise; but Oyvind turned his back to them and went on reading, striving faithfully to gather the meaning of the words. Afterwards he heard that Marit was not there either. He read with a diligence which even his father was forced to say went too far. He became grave; his face, which had been so round and soft, grew thinner and sharper, his eye more stern; he rarely sang, and never played; the right time never seemed to come. When the temptation to do so beset him, he felt as if some one whispered, "later, later!" and always "later!" The children slid, shouted, and laughed a while as of old, but when they failed to entice him out either through his own love of coasting, or by shouting to him with their faces pressed against the window-pane, they gradually fell away, found other playgrounds, and soon the hill was deserted.

But the school-master soon noticed that this was not the old Oyvind who read because it was his turn, and played because it was a necessity. He often talked with him, coaxed and admonished him; but he did not succeed in finding his way to the boy's heart so easily as in days of old. He spoke also with the parents, the result of the conference being that he came down one Sunday evening, late in the winter, and said, after he had sat a while,—

"Come now, Oyvind, let us go out; I want to have a talk with you."

Oyvind put on his things and went with him. They wended their way up toward the Heidegards; a brisk conversation was kept up, but about nothing in particular; when they drew near the gards the school-master turned aside in the direction of one that lay in the centre, and when they had advanced a little farther, shouting and merriment met them.

"What is going on here?" asked Oyvind.

"There is a dance here," said the school-master; "shall we not go in?"


"Will you not take part in a dance, boy?"

"No; not yet."

"Not yet? When, then?"

Oyvind did not answer.

"What do you mean by yet?"

As the youth did not answer, the school-master said,—

"Come, now, no such nonsense."

"No, I will not go."

He was very decided and at the same time agitated.

"The idea of your own school-master standing here and begging you to go to a dance."

There was a long pause.

"Is there any one in there whom you are afraid to see?"

"I am sure I cannot tell who may be in there."

"But is there likely to be any one?"

Oyvind was silent. Then the school-master walked straight up to him, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said,—

"Are you afraid to see Marit?"

Oyvind looked down; his breathing became heavy and quick.

"Tell me, Oyvind, my boy?"

Oyvind made no reply.

"You are perhaps ashamed to confess it since you are not yet confirmed; but tell me, nevertheless, my dear Oyvind, and you shall not regret it."

Oyvind raised his eyes but could not speak the word, and let his gaze wander away.

"You are not happy, either, of late. Does she care more for any one else than for you?"

Oyvind was still silent, and the school-master, feeling slightly hurt, turned away from him. They retraced their steps.

After they had walked a long distance, the school-master paused long enough for Oyvind to come up to his side.

"I presume you are very anxious to be confirmed," said he.


"What do you think of doing afterwards?"

"I should like to go to the seminary."

"And then become a school-master?"


"You do not think that is great enough?"

Oyvind made no reply. Again they walked on for some distance.

"When you have been through the seminary, what will you do?"

"I have not fairly considered that."

"If you had money, I dare say you would like to buy yourself a gard?"

"Yes, but keep the mills."

"Then you had better enter the agricultural school."

"Do pupils learn as much there as at the seminary?"

"Oh, no! but they learn what they can make use of later."

"Do they get numbers there too?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I should like to be a good scholar."

"That you can surely be without a number."

They walked on in silence again until they saw Pladsen; a light shone from the house, the cliff hanging over it was black now in the winter evening; the lake below was covered with smooth, glittering ice, but there was no snow on the forest skirting the silent bay; the moon sailed overhead, mirroring the forest trees in the ice.

"It is beautiful here at Pladsen," said the school-master.

There were times when Oyvind could see these things with the same eyes with which he looked when his mother told him nursery tales, or with the vision he had when he coasted on the hill-side, and this was one of those times,—all lay exalted and purified before him.

"Yes, it is beautiful," said he, but he sighed.

"Your father has found everything he wanted in this home; you, too, might be contented here."

The joyous aspect of the spot suddenly disappeared. The school-master stood as if awaiting an answer; receiving none, he shook his head and entered the house with Oyvind. He sat a while with the family, but was rather silent than talkative, whereupon the others too became silent. When he took his leave, both husband and wife followed him outside of the door; it seemed as if both expected him to say something. Meanwhile, they stood gazing up into the night.

"It has grown so unusually quiet here," finally said the mother, "since the children have gone away with their sports."

"Nor have you a child in the house any longer, either," said the school-master.

The mother knew what he meant.

"Oyvind has not been happy of late," said she.

"Ah, no! he who is ambitious never is happy,"—and he gazed up with an old man's calmness into God's peaceful heavens above.

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