A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Previous Chapter Next Chapter


It was during the noonday rest; the people at the great Heidegards were sleeping, the hay was scattered over the meadows, the rakes were staked in the ground. Below the barn-bridge stood the hay sleds, the harness lay, taken off, beside them, and the horses were tethered at a little distance. With the exception of the latter and some hens that had strayed across the fields, not a living creature was visible on the whole plain.

There was a notch in the mountains above the gards, and through it the road led to the Heidegard saeters,—large, fertile mountain plains. A man was standing in this notch, taking a survey of the plain below, just as if he were watching for some one. Behind him lay a little mountain lake, from which flowed the brook which made this mountain pass; on either side of this lake ran cattle-paths, leading to the saeters, which could be seen in the distance. There floated toward him a shouting and a barking, cattle-bells tinkled among the mountain ridges; for the cows had straggled apart in search of water, and the dogs and herd-boys were vainly striving to drive them together. The cows came galloping along with the most absurd antics and involuntary plunges, and with short, mad bellowing, their tails held aloft, they rushed down into the water, where they came to a stand; every time they moved their heads the tinkling of their bells was heard across the lake. The dogs drank a little, but stayed behind on firm land; the herd-boys followed, and seated themselves on the warm, smooth hill-side. Here they drew forth their lunch boxes, exchanged with one another, bragged about their dogs, oxen, and the family they lived with, then undressed, and sprang into the water with the cows. The dogs persisted in not going in; but loitered lazily around, their heads hanging, with hot eyes and lolling tongues. Round about on the slopes not a bird was to be seen, not a sound was heard, save the prattling of children and the tinkling of bells; the heather was parched and dry, the sun blazed on the hill-sides, so that everything was scorched by its heat.

It was Oyvind who was sitting up there in the mid-day sun, waiting. He sat in his shirt-sleeves, close by the brook which flowed from the lake. No one yet appeared on the Heidegard plain, and he was gradually beginning to grow anxious when suddenly a large dog came walking with heavy steps out of a door in Nordistuen, followed by a girl in white sleeves. She tripped across the meadow toward the cliff; he felt a strong desire to shout down to her, but dared not. He took a careful survey of the gard to see if any one might come out and notice her, but there seemed to be no danger of detection, and several times he rose from impatience.

She arrived at last, following a path by the side of the brook, the dog a little in advance of her, snuffing the air, she catching hold of the low shrubs, and walking with more and more weary gait. Oyvind sprang downward; the dog growled and was hushed; but as soon as Marit saw Oyvind coming she sat down on a large stone, as red as blood, tired and overcome by the heat. He flung himself down on the stone by her side.

"Thank you for coming."

"What heat and what a distance! Have you been here long?"

"No. Since we are watched in the evening, we must make use of the noon. But after this I think we will not act so secretly, nor take so much trouble; it was just about this I wanted to speak to you."

"Not so secretly?"

"I know very well that all that is done secretly pleases you best; but to show courage pleases you also. To-day I have come to have a long talk with you, and now you must listen."

"Is it true that you are trying to be agriculturist for the district?"

"Yes, and I expect to succeed. In this I have a double purpose: first, to win a position for myself; but secondly, and chiefly, to accomplish something which your grandfather can see and understand. Luckily it chances that most of the Heidegard freeholders are young people who wish for improvements and desire help; they have money, too. So I shall begin among them. I shall regulate everything from their stables to their water-pipes; I shall give lectures and work; I shall fairly besiege the old man with good deeds."

"Those are brave words. What more, Oyvind?"

"Why, the rest simply concerns us two. You must not go away."

"Not if he orders it?"

"And keep nothing secret that concerns us two."

"Even if he torments me?"

"We gain more and defend ourselves better by allowing everything to be open. We must manage to be so constantly before the eyes of people, that they are constantly forced to talk about how fond we are of each other; so much the sooner will they wish that all may go well with us. You must not leave home. There is danger of gossip forcing its way between those who are parted. We pay no heed to any idle talk the first year, but we begin by degrees to believe in it the second. We two will meet once a week and laugh away the mischief people would like to make between us; we shall be able to meet occasionally at a dance, and keep step together until everything sings about us, while those who backbite us are sitting around. We shall meet at church and greet each other so that it may attract the attention of all those who wish us a hundred miles apart. If any one makes a song about us we will sit down together and try to get up one in answer to it; we must succeed if we assist each other. No one can harm us if we keep together, and thus show people that we keep together. All unhappy love belongs either to timid people, or weak people, or sick people, or calculating people, who keep waiting for some special opportunity, or cunning people, who, in the end, smart for their own cunning; or to sensuous people that do not care enough for each other to forget rank and distinction; they go and hide from sight, they send letters, they tremble at a word, and finally they mistake fear, that constant uneasiness and irritation in the blood, for love, become wretched and dissolve like sugar. Oh pshaw! if they truly loved each other they would have no fear; they would laugh, and would openly march to the church door, in the face of every smile and every word. I have read about it in books, and I have seen it for myself. That is a pitiful love which chooses a secret course. Love naturally begins in secresy because it begins in shyness; but it must live openly because it lives in joy. It is as when the leaves are changing; that which is to grow cannot conceal itself, and in every instance you see that all which is dry falls from the tree the moment the new leaves begin to sprout. He who gains love casts off all the old, dead rubbish he formerly clung to, the sap wells up and rushes onward; and should no one notice it then? Hey, my girl! they shall become happy at seeing us happy; two who are betrothed and remain true to each other confer a benefit on people, for they give them a poem which their children learn by heart to the shame of their unbelieving parents. I have read of many such cases; and some still live in the memory of the people of this parish, and those who relate these stories, and are moved by them, are the children of the very persons who once caused all the mischief. Yes, Marit, now we two will join hands, so; yes, and we will promise each other to cling together, so; yes, and now it will all come right. Hurrah!"

He was about to take hold of her head, but she turned it away and glided down off the stone.

He kept his seat; she came back, and leaning her arms on his knee, stood talking with him, looking up into his face.

"Listen, Oyvind; what if he is determined I shall leave home, how then?"

"Then you must say No, right out."

"Oh, dear! how would that be possible?"

"He cannot carry you out to the carriage."

"If he does not quite do that, he can force me in many other ways."

"That I do not believe; you owe obedience, to be sure, as long as it is not a sin; but it is also your duty to let him fully understand how hard it is for you to be obedient this time. I am sure he will change his mind when he sees this; now he thinks, like most people, that it is only childish nonsense. Prove to him that it is something more."

"He is not to be trifled with, I can assure you. He watches me like a tethered goat."

"But you tug at the tether several times a day."

"That is not true."

"Yes, you do; every time you think of me in secret you tug at it."

"Yes, in that way. But are you so very sure that I think often of you?"

"You would not be sitting here if you did not."

"Why, dear me! did you not send word for me to come?"

"But you came because your thoughts drove you here."

"Rather because the weather was so fine."

"You said a while ago that it was too warm."

"To go up hill, yes; but down again?"

"Why did you come up, then?"

"That I might run down again."

"Why did you not run down before this?"

"Because I had to rest."

"And talk with me about love?"

"It was an easy matter to give you the pleasure of listening."

"While the birds sang."

"And the others were sleeping."

"And the bells rang."

"In the shady grove."

Here they both saw Marit's grandfather come sauntering out into the yard, and go to the bell-rope to ring the farm people up. The people came slowly forth from the barns, sheds, and houses, moved sleepily toward their horses and rakes, scattered themselves over the meadow, and presently all was life and work again. Only the grandfather went in and out of the houses, and finally up on the highest barn-bridge and looked out. There came running up to him a little boy, whom he must have called. The boy, sure enough, started off in the direction of Pladsen. The grandfather, meanwhile, moved about the gard, often looking upward and having a suspicion, at least, that the black spot on the "giant rock" was Marit and Oyvind. Now for the second time Marit's great dog was the cause of trouble. He saw a strange horse drive in to the Heidegards, and believing himself to be only doing his duty, began to bark with all his might. They hushed the dog, but he had grown angry and would not be quiet; the grandfather stood below staring up. But matters grew still worse, for all the herd-boys' dogs heard with surprise the strange voice and came running up. When they saw that it was a large, wolf-like giant, all the stiff-haired Lapp-dogs gathered about him. Marit became so terrified that she ran away without saying farewell. Oyvind rushed into the midst of the fray, kicked and fought; but the dogs merely changed the field of battle, and then flew at one another again, with hideous howls and kicks; Oyvind after them again, and so it kept on until they had rolled over to the edge of the brook, when he once more came running up. The result of this was that they all tumbled together into the water, just at a place where it was quite deep, and there they parted, shame-faced. Thus ended this forest battle. Oyvind walked through the forest until he reached the parish road; but Marit met her grandfather up by the fence. This was the dog's fault.

"Where do you come from?"

"From the wood."

"What were you doing there?"

"Plucking berries."

"That is not true."

"No; neither is it."

"What were you doing, then?"

"I was talking with some one."

"Was it with the Pladsen boy?"


"Hear me now, Marit; to-morrow you leave home."


"Listen to me, Marit; I have but one single thing to say, only one: you shall go."

"You cannot lift me into the carriage."

"Indeed? Can I not?"

"No; because you will not."

"Will I not? Listen now, Marit, just for sport, you see, just for sport. I am going to tell you that I will crush the backbone of that worthless fellow of yours."

"No; you would not dare do so."

"I would not dare? Do you say I would not dare? Who should interfere?

"The school-master."

"School—school—school-master. Does he trouble his head about that fellow, do you think?"

"Yes; it is he who has kept him at the agricultural school."

"The school-master?"

"The school-master."

"Hearken now, Marit; I will have no more of this nonsense; you shall leave the parish. You only cause me sorrow and trouble; that was the way with your mother, too, only sorrow and trouble. I am an old man. I want to see you well provided for. I will not live in people's talk as a fool just for this matter. I only wish your own good; you should understand this, Marit. Soon I will be gone, and then you will be left alone. What would have become of your mother if it had not been for me? Listen, Marit; be sensible, pay heed to what I have to say. I only desire your own good."

"No, you do not."

"Indeed? What do I want, then?"

"To carry out your own will, that is what you want; but you do not ask about mine."

"And have you a will, you young sea-gull, you? Do you suppose you know what is for your good, you fool? I will give you a taste of the rod, I will, for all you are so big and tall. Listen now, Marit; let me talk kindly with you. You are not so bad at heart, but you have lost your senses. You must listen to me. I am an old and sensible man. We will talk kindly together a little; I have not done so remarkably well in the world as folks think; a poor bird on the wing could easily fly away with the little I have; your father handled it roughly, indeed he did. Let us care for ourselves in this world, it is the best thing we can do. It is all very well for the school-master to talk, for he has money himself; so has the priest;—let them preach. But with us who must slave for our daily bread, it is quite different. I am old. I know much. I have seen many things; love, you see, may do very well to talk about; yes, but it is not worth much. It may answer for priests and such folks, peasants must look at it in a different light. First food, you see, then God's Word, and then a little writing and arithmetic, and then a little love, if it happens to come in the way; but, by the Eternals! there is no use in beginning with love and ending with food. What can you say, now, Marit?"

"I do not know."

"You do not know what you ought to answer?"

"Yes, indeed, I know that."

"Well, then?"

"May I say it?"

"Yes; of course you may say it."

"I care a great deal for that love of mine."

He stood aghast for a moment, recalling a hundred similar conversations with similar results, then he shook his head, turned his back, and walked away.

He picked a quarrel with the housemen, abused the girls, beat the large dog, and almost frightened the life out of a little hen that had strayed into the field; but to Marit he said nothing.

That evening Marit was so happy when she went up-stairs to bed, that she opened the window, lay in the window-frame, looked out and sang. She had found a pretty little love-song, and it was that she sang.

"Lovest thou but me,
I will e'er love thee,
All my days on earth, so fondly;
Short were summer's days,
Now the flower decays,—
Comes again with spring, so kindly.

"What you said last year
Still rings in my ear,
As I all alone am sitting,
And your thoughts do try
In my heart to fly,—
Picture life in sunshine flitting.

Well I hear the boy,
Sighs behind the birches heaving.
I am in dismay,
Thou must show the way,
For the night her shroud is weaving.

"Flomma, lomma, hys,
Sang I of a kiss,
No, thou surely art mistaken.
Didst thou hear it, say?
Cast the thought away;
Look on me as one forsaken.

"Oh, good-night! good-night!
Dreams of eyes so bright,
Hold me now in soft embraces,
But that wily word,
Which thou thought'st unheard,
Leaves in me of love no traces.

"I my window close,
But in sweet repose
Songs from thee I hear returning;
Calling me they smile,
And my thoughts beguile,—
Must I e'er for thee be yearning?"

Return to the A Happy Boy Summary Return to the Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson