A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Previous Chapter


Several years have passed since the last scene.

It is well on in the autumn. The school-master comes walking up to Nordistuen, opens the outer door, finds no one at home, opens another, finds no one at home; and thus he keeps on until he reaches the innermost room in the long building. There Ole Nordistuen is sitting alone, by the side of his bed, his eyes fixed on his hands.

The school-master salutes him, and receives a greeting in return; he finds a stool, and seats himself in front of Ole.

"You have sent for me," he says.

"I have."

The school-master takes a fresh quid of tobacco, glances around the room, picks up a book that is lying on the bench, and turns over the leaves.

"What did you want of me?"

"I was just sitting here thinking it over."

The school-master gives himself plenty of time, searches for his spectacles in order to read the title of the book, wipes them and puts them on.

"You are growing old, now, Ole."

"Yes, it was about that I wanted to talk with you. I am tottering downward; I will soon rest in the grave."

"You must see to it that you rest well there, Ole."

He closes the book and sits looking at the binding.

"That is a good book you are holding in your hands."

"It is not bad. How often have you gone beyond the cover, Ole?"

"Why, of late, I"—

The school-master lays aside the book and puts away his spectacles.

"Things are not going as you wish to have them, Ole?"

"They have not done so as far back as I can remember."

"Ah, so it was with me for a long time. I lived at variance with a good friend, and wanted him to come to me, and all the while I was unhappy. At last I took it into my head to go to him, and since then all has been well with me."

Ole looks up and says nothing.

The school-master: "How do you think the gard is doing, Ole?"

"Failing, like myself."

"Who shall have it when you are gone?"

"That is what I do not know, and it is that, too, which troubles me."

"Your neighbors are doing well now, Ole."

"Yes, they have that agriculturist to help them."

The school-master turned unconcernedly toward the window: "You should have help,—you, too, Ole. You cannot walk much, and you know very little of the new ways of management."

Ole: "I do not suppose there is any one who would help me."

"Have you asked for it?"

Ole is silent.

The school-master: "I myself dealt just so with the Lord for a long time. 'You are not kind to me,' I said to Him. 'Have you prayed me to be so?' asked He. No; I had not done so. Then I prayed, and since then all has been truly well with me."

Ole is silent; but now the school-master, too, is silent.

Finally Ole says:—

"I have a grandchild; she knows what would please me before I am taken away, but she does not do it."

The school-master smiles.

"Possibly it would not please her?"

Ole makes no reply.

The school-master: "There are many things which trouble you; but as far as I can understand they all concern the gard."

Ole says, quietly,—

"It has been handed down for many generations, and the soil is good. All that father after father has toiled for lies in it; but now it does not thrive. Nor do I know who shall drive in when I am driven out. It will not be one of the family."

"Your granddaughter will preserve the family."

"But how can he who takes her take the gard? That is what I want to know before I die. You have no time to lose, Baard, either for me or for the gard."

They were both silent; at last the school-master says,—

"Shall we walk out and take a look at the gard in this fine weather?"

"Yes; let us do so. I have work-people on the slope; they are gathering leaves, but they do not work except when I am watching them."

He totters off after his large cap and staff, and says, meanwhile,—

"They do not seem to like to work for me; I cannot understand it."

When they were once out and turning the corner of the house, he paused.

"Just look here. No order: the wood flung about, the axe not even stuck in the block."

He stooped with difficulty, picked up the axe, and drove it in fast.

"Here you see a skin that has fallen down; but has any one hung it up again?"

He did it himself.

"And the store-house; do you think the ladder is carried away?"

He set it aside. He paused, and looking at the school-master, said,—

"This is the way it is every single day."

As they proceeded upward they heard a merry song from the slopes.

"Why, they are singing over their work," said the school-master.

"That is little Knut Ostistuen who is singing; he is helping his father gather leaves. Over yonder my people are working; you will not find them singing."

"That is not one of the parish songs, is it?"

"No, it is not."

"Oyvind Pladsen has been much in Ostistuen; perhaps that is one of the songs he has introduced into the parish, for there is always singing where he is."

There was no reply to this.

The field they were crossing was not in good condition; it required attention. The school-master commented on this, and then Ole stopped.

"It is not in my power to do more," said he, quite pathetically. "Hired work-people without attention cost too much. But it is hard to walk over such a field, I can assure you."

As their conversation now turned on the size of the gard, and what portion of it most needed cultivation, they decided to go up the slope that they might have a view of the whole. When they at length had reached a high elevation, and could take it all in, the old man became moved.

"Indeed, I should not like to leave it so. We have labored hard down there, both I and those who went before me, but there is nothing to show for it."

A song rang out directly over their heads, but with the peculiar shrilling of a boy's voice when it is poured out with all its might. They were not far from the tree in whose top was perched little Knut Ostistuen, gathering leaves for his father, and they were compelled to listen to the boy:—

"When on mountain peaks you hie,
'Mid green slopes to tarry,
In your scrip pray no more tie,
Than you well can carry.
Take no hindrances along
To the crystal fountains;
Drown them in a cheerful song,
Send them down the mountains.

"Birds there greet you from the trees,
Gossip seeks the valley;
Purer, sweeter grows the breeze,
As you upward sally.
Fill your lungs, and onward rove,
Ever gayly singing,
Childhood's memories, heath and grove,
Rosy-hued, are bringing.

"Pause the shady groves among,
Hear yon mighty roaring,
Solitude's majestic song
Upward far is soaring.
All the world's distraction comes
When there rolls a pebble;
Each forgotten duty hums
In the brooklet's treble.

"Pray, while overhead, dear heart,
Anxious mem'ries hover;
Then go on: the better part
You'll above discover.
Who hath chosen Christ as guide,
Daniel and Moses,
Finds contentment far and wide,
And in peace reposes."[1]

[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier's translation.]

Ole had sat down and covered his face with his hands.

"Here I will talk with you," said the school-master, and seated himself by his side.

Down at Pladsen, Oyvind had just returned home from a somewhat long journey, the post-boy was still at the door, as the horse was resting. Although Oyvind now had a good income as agriculturist of the district, he still lived in his little room down at Pladsen, and helped his parents every spare moment. Pladsen was cultivated from one end to the other, but it was so small that Oyvind called it "mother's toy-farm," for it was she, in particular, who saw to the farming.

He had changed his clothes, his father had come in from the mill, white with meal, and had also dressed. They just stood talking about taking a short walk before supper, when the mother came in quite pale.

"Here are singular strangers coming up to the house; oh dear! look out!"

Both men turned to the window, and Oyvind was the first to exclaim:—

"It is the school-master, and—yes, I almost believe—why, certainly it is he!"

"Yes, it is old Ole Nordistuen," said Thore, moving away from the window that he might not be seen; for the two were already near the door.

Just as Oyvind was leaving the window he caught the school-master's eye, Baard smiled, and cast a glance back at old Ole, who was laboring along with his staff in small, short steps, one foot being constantly raised higher than the other. Outside the school-master was heard to say, "He has recently returned home, I suppose," and Ole to exclaim twice over, "Well, well!"

They remained a long time quiet in the passage. The mother had crept up to the corner where the milk-shelf was; Oyvind had assumed his favorite position, that is, he leaned with his back against the large table, with his face toward the door; his father was sitting near him. At length there came a knock at the door, and in stepped the school-master, who drew off his hat, afterward Ole, who pulled off his cap, and then turned to shut the door. It took him a long time to do so; he was evidently embarrassed. Thore rising, asked them to be seated; they sat down, side by side, on the bench in front of the window. Thore took his seat again.

And the wooing proceeded as shall now be told.

The school-master: "We are having fine weather this autumn, after all."

Thore: "It has been mending of late."

"It is likely to remain pleasant, now that the wind is over in that quarter."

"Are you through with your harvesting up yonder?"

"Not yet; Ole Nordistuen here, whom, perhaps, you know, would like very much to have help from you, Oyvind, if there is nothing else in the way."

Oyvind: "If help is desired, I shall do what I can."

"Well, there is no great hurry. The gard is not doing well, he thinks, and he believes what is wanting is the right kind of tillage and superintendence."

Oyvind: "I am so little at home."

The school-master looks at Ole. The latter feels that he must now rush into the fire; he clears his throat a couple of times, and begins hastily and shortly,—

"It was—it is—yes. What I meant was that you should be in a certain way established—that you should—yes—be the same as at home up yonder with us,—be there, when you were not away."

"Many thanks for the offer, but I should rather remain where I now live."

Ole looks at the school-master, who says,—

"Ole's brain seems to be in a whirl to-day. The fact is he has been here once before, and the recollection of that makes his words get all confused."

Ole, quickly: "That is it, yes; I ran a madman's race. I strove against the girl until the tree split. But let by-gones be by-gones; the wind, not the snow, beats down the grain; the rain-brook does not tear up large stones; snow does not lie long on the ground in May; it is not the thunder that kills people."

They all four laugh; the school-master says:

"Ole means that he does not want you to remember that time any longer; nor you, either, Thore."

Ole looks at them, uncertain whether he dare begin again.

Then Thore says,—

"The briar takes hold with many teeth, but causes no wound. In me there are certainly no thorns left."

Ole: "I did not know the boy then. Now I see that what he sows thrives; the harvest answers to the promise of the spring; there is money in his finger-tips, and I should like to get hold of him."

Oyvind looks at the father, he at the mother, she from them to the school-master, and then all three at the latter.

"Ole thinks that he has a large gard"—

Ole breaks in: "A large gard, but badly managed. I can do no more. I am old, and my legs refuse to run the errands of my head. But it will pay to take hold up yonder."

"The largest gard in the parish, and that by a great deal," interrupts the school-master.

"The largest gard in the parish; that is just the misfortune; shoes that are too large fall off; it is a fine thing to have a good gun, but one should be able to lift it." Then turning quickly towards Oyvind, "Would you be willing to lend a hand to it?"

"Do you mean for me to be gard overseer?"

"Precisely—yes; you should have the gard."

"I should have the gard?"

"Just so—yes: then you could manage it."


"You will not?"

"Why, of course, I will."

"Yes, yes, yes, yes; then it is decided, as the hen said when she flew into the water."


Ole looks puzzled at the school-master.

"Oyvind is asking, I suppose, whether he shall have Marit, to."

Ole, abruptly: "Marit in the bargain; Marit in the bargain!"

Then Oyvind burst out laughing, and jumped right up; all three laughed with him. Oyvind rubbed his hands, paced the floor, and kept repeating again and again: "Marit in the bargain! Marit in the bargain!" Thore gave a deep chuckle, the mother in the corner kept her eyes fastened on her son until they filled with tears.

Ole, in great excitement: "What do you think of the gard?"

"Magnificent land!"

"Magnificent land; is it not?"

"No pasture equal to it!"

"No pasture equal to it! Something can be done with it?"

"It will become the best gard in the district!"

"It will become the best gard in the district! Do you think so? Do you mean that?"

"As surely as I am standing here!"

"There, is not that just what I have said?"

They both talked equally fast, and fitted together like the cogs of two wheels.

"But money, you see, money? I have no money."

"We will get on slowly without money; but get on we shall!"

"We shall get on! Of course we will! But if we had money, it would go faster you say?"

"Many times faster."

"Many times? We ought to have money! Yes, yes; a man can chew who has not all his teeth; he who drives with oxen will get on, too."

The mother stood blinking at Thore, who gave her many quick side glances as he sat swaying his body to and fro, and stroking his knees with his hands. The school-master also winked at him. Thore's lips parted, he coughed a little, and made an effort to speak; but Ole and Oyvind both kept on talking in an uninterrupted stream, laughed and kept up such a clatter that no one else could be heard.

"You must be quiet for a little while, Thore has something he wants to say," puts in the school-master.

They pause and look at Thore, who finally begins, in a low tone:—

"It has so happened that we have had a mill on our place. Of late it has turned out that we have had two. These mills have always brought in a few shillings during the year; but neither my father nor I have used any of these shillings except while Oyvind was away. The school-master has managed them, and he says they have prospered well where they are; but now it is best that Oyvind should take them for Nordistuen."

The mother stood in a corner, shrinking away into almost nothing, as she gazed with sparkling eyes at Thore, who looked very grave, and had an almost stupid expression on his face. Ole Nordistuen sat nearly opposite him, with wide-gaping mouth. Oyvind was the first to rouse from his astonishment, and burst out,—

"Does it not seem as if good luck went with me!"

With this he crossed the floor to his father, and gave him a slap on the shoulder that rang through the room. "You, father!" cried he, and rubbing his hands together he continued his walk.

"How much money might it be?" finally asked Ole, in a low tone, of the school-master.

"It is not so little."

"Some hundreds?"

"Rather more."

"Rather more? Oyvind, rather more! Lord help us, what a gard it will be!"

He got up, laughing aloud.

"I must go with you up to Marit," says Oyvind. "We can use the conveyance that is standing outside, then it will not take long."

"Yes, at once! at once! Do you, too, want everything done with haste?"

"Yes, with haste and wrong."

"With haste and wrong! Just the way it was with me when I was young, precisely."

"Here is your cap and staff; now I am going to drive you away."

"You are going to drive me away, ha—ha—ha! But you are coming with me; are you not? You are coming with me? All the rest of you come along, too; we must sit together this evening as long as the coals are alive. Come along!"

They promised that they would come. Oyvind helped Ole into the conveyance, and they drove off to Nordistuen. The large dog was not the only one up there who was surprised when Ole Nordistuen came driving into the gard with Oyvind Pladsen. While Oyvind was helping Ole out of the conveyance, and servants and laborers were gaping at them, Marit came out in the passage to see what the dog kept barking at; but paused, as if suddenly bewitched, turned fiery red, and ran in. Old Ole, meanwhile, shouted so tremendously for her when he got into the house that she had to come forward again.

"Go and make yourself trim, girl; here is the one who is to have the gard!"

"Is that true?" she cries, involuntarily, and so loud that the words rang through the room.

"Yes; it is true!" replies Oyvind, clapping his hands.

At this she swings round on her toe, flings away what she has in her hand, and runs out; but Oyvind follows her.

Soon came the school-master, and Thore and his wife. The old man had ordered candles put on the table, which he had had spread with a white cloth. Wine and beer were offered, and Ole kept going round himself, lifting his feet even higher than usual; but the right foot always higher than the left.

Before this little tale ends, it may be told that five weeks later Oyvind and Marit were united in the parish church. The school-master himself led the singing on the occasion, for the assistant chorister was ill. His voice was broken now, for he was old; but it seemed to Oyvind that it did the heart good to hear him. When the young man had given Marit his hand, and was leading her to the altar, the school-master nodded at him from the chancel, just as Oyvind had seen him do, in fancy, when sitting sorrowfully at that dance long ago. Oyvind nodded back while tears welled up to his eyes.

These tears at the dance were the forerunners of those at the wedding.
Between them lay Oyvind's faith and his work.

Here endeth the story of A HAPPY BOY.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.