THE SCHOOLMASTER had gone on the right track when he advised the minister to put Eyvinds fitness to the test. During the three weeks which elapsed before the confirmation he was with the boy every day. It is one thing for a young and tender soul to receive an impression, and another thing to retain it steadfastly. Many dark hours fell upon the boy before he learnt to take the measure of his future by better standards than those of vanity and display. Every now and then, in the very midst of his work, his pleasure in it would slip away from him. To what end? he would think, what shall I gain? and then a moment afterwards he would remember the schoolmasters words and his kindness; but he needed this human stand-by to help him up again every time he fell away from the sense of his higher duty.
During those days preparations were going on at Pladsen not only for the confirmation, but also for Eyvinds departure to the Agricultural College, which was to take place the day after. The tailor and shoemaker were in the house, his mother was baking in the kitchen, his father was making a chest for him. There was a great deal of talk about how much he would cost them in two years; about his not being able to come home the first Christmas, perhaps not even the second; about the love he must feel for his parents who were willing to make such an effort for their childs sake. Eyvind sat there like one who had put out to sea on his own account but had capsized and was now taken up by kindly people.
Such a feeling conduces to humility, and with that comes much besides. As the great day drew near, he ventured to call himself prepared and to look forward with trustful devotion. Every time the image of Marit tried to mingle in his thoughts he put it resolutely aside, but felt pain in doing so. He tried to practise doing this, but never grew stronger; on the contrary, it was the pain that grew. He was tired, therefore, the last evening when, after a long self-examination, he prayed that Our Lord might not put him to this test.
The schoolmaster came in as the evening wore on. They gathered in the sitting-room after they had all washed and tidied themselves, according to custom the evening before one is to go to communion. The mother was agitated, the father silent; parting lay beyond to-morrows ceremony, and it was uncertain when they would all sit together again. The schoolmaster took out the psalm-books, they had prayers and sang, and afterwards he said a little prayer just as the words occurred to him.
These four persons sat together until the evening grew very late and thought turned inwards upon itself; then they parted with the best wishes for the coming day and the compact it was to seal. Eyvind had to own as he lay down that never had he gone to bed so happy; and by that, as he now interpreted it, he meant: Never have I lain down so submissive to Gods will and so happy in it. Marits face at once came to haunt him again; and the last thing he was conscious of was lying there saying to himself: Not quite happy, not quite, and then answering: Yes I am, quite, and then again: Not quite.Yes, quite.No, not quite.
Since the summer, he had slept by himself in the loft; he now got up and put on his handsome new clothes carefully, for he had never had the like before. There was, in particular, a short jacket which he had to touch a great many times before he got used to it. He got a little mirror when he had put on his collar, and for the fourth time put on his coat. As he now saw his own delighted face, set in extraordinarily fair hair, smiling out at him from the glass, it struck him that this, again, was doubtless vanity. Well, but people must be well-dressed and clean, answered he, while he drew back from the mirror as though it were a sin to look in it. Certainly, but not quite so happy about it. No, but Our Lord must surely be pleased that one should like to look nice. That may be, but He would like it better if you did so without being so much taken up about it.
Yes, but then by degrees you must leave it off. He found himself carrying on such self-examining dialogues in his own mind, now on one subject, now on another, in order that no sin should fall upon the day and stain it, but he knew, too, that more than that was needed.
They seated themselves at table, said a silent grace, and ate. The mother cleared the table and brought in the provision-box in preparation for church. The father put on his coat, the mother pinned her kerchief, they took their hymnbooks, locked up the house and set off. When they got upon the upper road they found it thronged with church-going folk, driving and walking, with confirmation candidates amongst them, and in more than one group white-haired grandparents, determined to make this one last appearance.
It was an autumn day without sunshinesuch as portends a change of weather. Clouds gathered and parted again, sometimes a great assemblage would break up into twenty smaller ones which rushed away bearing orders for a storm; but down on the earth it was as yet still, the leaves hung lifeless, not even quivering, the air was rather close; the people carried cloaks but did not use them. An unusually large crowd had assembled round the high-lying church, but the young people who were to be confirmed went straight in to be settled in their places before service began. Then it was that the schoolmaster, in blue clothes, tail-coat and knee-breeches, high boots, stiff collar, and his pipe sticking out of his tail-pocket, came down the church, nodded and smiled, slapped one on the shoulder, spoke a few words to another, reminding him to answer loud and clear, and so made his way over to the poor-box, where Eyvind; how stood answering all his friend Hanss questions with reference to his journey.
Good morning, Eyvind; how fine we are to-day,he took him by the coat-collar as if he wanted to speak to him. Listen; I think alls well with you. Ive just been speaking to the minister: you are to take your place, go up to Number One, and answer distinctly!
Eyvind looked up at him astonished; the schoolmaster nodded, the boy moved a few steps, stopped, a few more steps and stopped again. Yes, its really so, he has spoken for me to the minister; and the boy went up quickly.
The marshalling was completed, the minister arrived, the bell rang, and the people came streaming in. Then Eyvind saw Marit of the Hill Farms standing just opposite him. She looked at him, too, but both were so impressed by the sacredness of the place that they dared not greet each other. He saw only that she was dazzlingly beautiful and was bareheaded; more than that he did not see. Eyvind who, for more than six months, had been nursing such great designs of standing opposite her, now that it had come to the point forgot both her and the placeforgot that he had ever thought of them.
When it was all over, kinsfolk and friends came to offer their congratulations; then his comrades came to bid him good-bye, as they had heard that he was to go away next day; and then came a lot of little ones with whom he had sledged on the hills and whom he had helped at school, and some even shed a tear or two at leave-taking. Last came the schoolmaster and shook hands silently with him and his parents and made a sign to go,he would come with them. They four were together again, and this evening was to be the last. On the way there were many more who bade him good-bye and wished him luck, but they did not speak amongst themselves until they were sitting indoors at home.
The schoolmaster tried to keep up their courage; it was evident that now it had come to the point, they were all three dreading the long two years separation, seeing that hitherto they had not been parted for a single day; but none of them would own it. As the hours went on, the more heart-sick did Eyvind become; he had to go out at last to calm himself a little.
It was dusk now and there was a strange soughing in the wind; he stood on the doorstep and looked up. Then, from the edge of the rock he heard his own name softly called; it was no delusion, for it was twice repeated. He looked up and made out that a girl was sitting crouched amongst the trees and looking down.
After that he moved as if in a dream, and answered at random when they spoke to him. They put it down to his going away and thought it only natural; and indeed that was what was in his mind when the schoolmaster took leave at night, and put something into his hand which he afterwards found to be a five-dollar note.
But later on, when he went to bed, it was not of his going away he was thinking, but of the words which had come down from the edge of the rock and of those which had gone up again. As a child she had not been allowed to come to the edge because her grandfather was afraid she might fall over. Perhaps she would one day come over all the same!