A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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The school-master had judged the boy correctly when he asked the priest to try whether Oyvind could bear to stand number one. During the three weeks which elapsed before the confirmation, he was with the boy every day. It is one thing for a young, tender soul to yield to an impression; what through faith it shall attain is another thing. Many dark hours fell upon Oyvind before he learned to choose the goal of his future from something better than ambition and defiance. Often in the midst of his work he lost his interest and stopped short: what was it all for, what would he gain by it?—and then presently he would remember the school-master, his words and his kindness; and this human medium forced him to rise up again every time he fell from a comprehension of his higher duty.

In those days while they were preparing at Pladsen for the confirmation, they were also preparing for Oyvind's departure for the agricultural school, for this was to take place the following day. Tailor and shoemaker were sitting in the family-room; the mother was baking in the kitchen, the father working at a chest. There was a great deal said about what Oyvind would cost his parents in the next two years; about his not being able to come home the first Christmas, perhaps not the second either, and how hard it would be to be parted so long. They spoke also of the love Oyvind should bear his parents who were willing to sacrifice themselves for their child's sake. Oyvind sat like one who had tried sailing out into the world on his own responsibility, but had been wrecked and was now picked up by kind people.

Such is the feeling that humility gives, and with it comes much more. As the great day drew near he dared call himself prepared, and also dared look forward with trustful resignation. Whenever Marit's image would present itself, he cautiously thrust it aside, although he felt a pang in so doing. He tried to gain practice in this, but never made any progress in strength; on the contrary, it was the pain that grew. Therefore he was weary the last evening, when, after a long self-examination, he prayed that the Lord would not put him to the test in this matter.

The school-master came as the day was drawing to a close. They all sat down together in the family-room, after washing and dressing themselves neat and clean, as was customary the evening before going to communion, or morning service. The mother was agitated, the father silent; parting was to follow the morrow's ceremony, and it was uncertain when they could all sit down together again. The school-master brought out the hymn-books, read the service, sang with the family, and afterwards said a short prayer, just as the words came into his mind.

These four people now sat together until late in the evening, the thoughts of each centering within; then they parted with the best wishes for the coming day and what it was to consecrate. Oyvind was obliged to admit, as he laid himself down, that he had never gone to bed so happy before; he gave this an interpretation of his own,—he understood it to mean: I have never before gone to bed feeling so resigned to God's will and so happy in it. Marit's face at once rose up before him again, and the last thing he was conscious of was that he lay and examined himself: not quite happy, not quite,—and that he answered: yes, quite; but again: not quite; yes, quite; no, not quite.

When he awoke he at once remembered the day, prayed, and felt strong, as one does in the morning. Since the summer, he had slept alone in the attic; now he rose, and put on his handsome new clothes, very carefully, for he had never owned such before. There was especially a round broadcloth jacket, which he had to examine over and over again before he became accustomed to it. He hung up a little looking-glass when he had adjusted his collar, and for the fourth time drew on his jacket. At sight of his own contented face, with the unusually light hair surrounding it, reflected and smiling in the glass, it occurred to him that this must certainly be vanity again. "Yes, but people must be well-dressed and tidy," he reasoned, drawing his face away from the glass, as if it were a sin to look in it. "To be sure, but not quite so delighted with themselves, for the sake of the matter." "No, certainly not, but the Lord must also like to have one care to look well." "That may be; but He would surely like it better to have you do so without taking so much notice of it yourself." "That is true; but it happens now because everything is so new." "Yes, but you must gradually lay the habit aside."—He caught himself carrying on such a self-examining conversation, now upon one theme, now upon another, so that not a sin should fall on the day and stain it; but at the same time he knew that he had other struggles to meet.

When he came down-stairs, his parents sat all dressed, waiting breakfast for him. He went up to them and taking their hands thanked them for the clothes, and received in return a "wear-them-out-with-good-health."[1] They sat down to table, prayed silently, and ate. The mother cleared the table, and carried in the lunch-box for the journey to church. The father put on his jacket, the mother fastened her kerchief; they took their hymn-books, locked up the house, and started. As soon as they had reached the upper road they met the church-faring people, driving and walking, the confirmation candidates scattered among them, and in one group and another white-haired grand-parents, who had felt moved to come out on this great occasion.

[Footnote 1: A common expression among the peasantry of Norway, meaning: "You are welcome."]

It was an autumn day without sunshine, as when the weather is about to change. Clouds gathered together and dispersed again; sometimes out of one great mass were formed twenty smaller ones, which sped across the sky with orders for a storm; but below, on the earth, it was still calm, the foliage hung lifeless, not a leaf stirring; the air was a trifle sultry; people carried their outer wraps with them but did not use them. An unusually large multitude had assembled round the church, which stood in an open space; but the confirmation children immediately went into the church in order to be arranged in their places before service began. Then it was that the school-master, in a blue broadcloth suit, frock coat, and knee-breeches, high shoes, stiff cravat, and a pipe protruding from his back coat pocket, came down towards them, nodded and smiled, tapped one on the shoulder, spoke a few words to another about answering loudly and distinctly, and meanwhile worked his way along to the poor-box, where Oyvind stood answering all the questions of his friend Hans in reference to his journey.

"Good-day, Oyvind. How fine you look to-day!" He took him by the jacket collar as if he wished to speak to him. "Listen. I believe everything good of you. I have been talking with the priest; you will be allowed to keep your place; go up to number one and answer distinctly!"

Oyvind looked up at him amazed; the school-master nodded; the boy took a few steps, stopped, a few steps more, stopped again: "Yes, it surely is so; he has spoken to the priest for me,"—and the boy walked swiftly up to his place.

"You are to be number one, after all," some one whispered to him.

"Yes," answered Oyvind, in a low voice, but did not feel quite sure yet whether he dared think so.

The assignment of places was over, the priest had come, the bells were ringing, and the people pouring into church. Then Oyvind saw Marit Heidegards just in front of him; she saw him too; but they were both so awed by the sacredness of the place that they dared not greet each other. He only noticed that she was dazzlingly beautiful and that her hair was uncovered; more he did not see. Oyvind, who for more than half a year had been building such great plans about standing opposite her, forgot, now that it had come to the point, both the place and her, and that he had in any way thought of them.

After all was ended the relatives and acquaintances came up to offer their congratulations; next came Oyvind's comrades to take leave of him, as they had heard that he was to depart the next day; then there came many little ones with whom he had coasted on the hill-sides and whom he had assisted at school, and who now could not help whimpering a little at parting. Last came the school-master, silently took Oyvind and his parents by the hands, and made a sign to start for home; he wanted to accompany them. The four were together once more, and this was to be the last evening. On the way home they met many others who took leave of Oyvind and wished him good luck; but they had no other conversation until they sat down together in the family-room.

The school-master tried to keep them in good spirits; the fact was now that the time had come they all shrank from the two long years of separation, for up to this time they had never been parted a single day; but none of them would acknowledge it. The later it grew the more dejected Oyvind became; he was forced to go out to recover his composure a little.

It was dusk now and there were strange sounds in the air. Oyvind remained standing on the door-step gazing upward. From the brow of the cliff he then heard his own name called, quite softly; it was no delusion, for it was repeated twice. He looked up and faintly distinguished a female form crouching between the trees and looking down.

"Who is it?" asked he.

"I hear you are going away," said a low voice, "so I had to come to you and say good-by, as you would not come to me."

"Dear me! Is that you, Marit? I shall come up to you."

"No, pray do not. I have waited so long, and if you come I should have to wait still longer; no one knows where I am and I must hurry home."

"It was kind of you to come," said he.

"I could not bear to have you leave so, Oyvind; we have known each other since we were children."

"Yes; we have."

"And now we have not spoken to each other for half a year."

"No; we have not."

"We parted so strangely, too, that time."

"We did. I think I must come up to you!"

"Oh, no! do not come! But tell me: you are not angry with me?"

"Goodness! how could you think so?"

"Good-by, then, Oyvind, and my thanks for all the happy times we have had together!"

"Wait, Marit!"

"Indeed I must go; they will miss me."

"Marit! Marit!"

"No, I dare not stay away any longer, Oyvind. Good-by."


Afterwards he moved about as in a dream, and answered very absently when he was addressed. This was ascribed to his journey, as was quite natural; and indeed it occupied his whole mind at the moment when the school-master took leave of him in the evening and put something into his hand, which he afterwards found to be a five-dollar bill. But later, when he went to bed, he thought not of the journey, but of the words which had come down from the brow of the cliff, and those that had been sent up again. As a child Marit was not allowed to come on the cliff, because her grandfather feared she might fall down. Perhaps she will come down some day, any way.

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