Fiction > Harvard Classics > Björnstjerne Björnson > A Happy Boy > Chapter V
Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910).  A Happy Boy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Chapter V
WHEN Eyvind opened his eyes next morning it was from a long, refreshing sleep and happy dreams. Marit had lain on the rock and thrown down leaves at him; he had caught them and thrown them up again; they went up and down in a thousand colours and figures; the sun shone on them, and the whole rock sparkled. As he awoke he looked round, expecting still to see the picture of his dream; then he recollected the previous day, and immediately the same tingling, bitter pain in his breast began again.   1
  “I suppose I shall never be quit of it,” thought he, and he felt unstrung, as if his whole future had slipped away from him.   2
  “You’ve slept a long time,” said his mother, who was sitting beside him spinning. “Up now, and have something to eat; your father is off to the wood already, felling timber.”   3
  His mother’s voice seemed to help him, he got up with a little more courage. No doubt his mother was thinking of her own dancing-days, for she sat humming to herself as she span, whilst he dressed and ate his breakfast. To hide his face from her he had to rise from table and go to the window. The same weariness and oppression had come over him again, and he had to pull himself together and think of setting to work.   4
  The weather had changed, the air had turned a little colder, so that what yesterday threatened to fall as rain, fell to-day as wet snow. He put on snow-socks, a fur cap, a sailor’s jacket and mittens, said good-bye, and went off with his axe on his shoulder.   5
  The snow fell slowly in large, wet flakes; he struggled up the sledging slope, and turning to the left at the top, entered the wood. Never before, winter or summer, had he climbed that hill without remembering something that made him happy, or that he longed for. Now it was a dead, heavy tramp; he slipped in the wet snow; his knees were stiff either from yesterday’s dancing or from his general depression. He felt now that it was all over with sledge-running for that year, and that meant for ever. He longed for something else as he went in amongst the tree-trunks where the snow fell silently; a scared ptarmigan shrieked and flapped its wings a few yards ahead of him; otherwise everything stood as though waiting for a word that was never spoken. But what it was that he yearned for he did not distinctly know, only it was not at home, nor yet abroad, it was not merriment nor yet work; it was something high up in the air, soaring like a song. Presently it resolved itself into a definite wish, and that was to be confirmed in the spring, and to take the first place in the confirmation-class. His heart beat fast as he thought of it, and even before he could hear his father’s axe in the trembling underwood, this wish had taken a stronger hold of him than anything since he was born.   6
  His father, as usual, did not say much to him; they hewed each by himself and collected the wood into heaps. Now and then they would meet, and on one of these occasions Eyvind remarked gloomily:   7
  “A cottar has a hard time of it.”   8
  “Not worse than other people,” said his father, spitting in his hands and taking up his axe. When the tree was felled and his father dragged it up into the pile, Eyvind said:   9
  “If you had a farm of your own you wouldn’t have to toil like that.”  10
  “Oh, then there would be other burdens to bear,” and he tugged with all his strength.  11
  The mother came up with their dinner, and they sat down. The mother was cheerfull; she sat and hummed, keeping time by tapping one shoe against the other.  12
  “What are you going to be, now you’re getting big, Eyvind?” said she suddenly.  13
  “A cottar’s son hasn’t much choice,” he answered.  14
  “The schoolmaster says you must go to the training-college,” said she.  15
  “Can you go there for nothing?” asked Eyvind.  16
  “The schoolmaster will pay your fees,” said his father, as he ate.  17
  “Would you like to go?” asked his mother.  18
  “I should like to learn, but not to be a schoolmaster.”  19
  They were all silent for a moment; she began humming again and looked straight before her. But Eyvind went off and sat down by himself.  20
  “We don’t exactly need to borrow from the school-fund,” said she when the boy had gone. Her husband looked at her.  21
  “Poor folks like us?”  22
  “I don’t like your constantly giving yourself out for a poor man when you’re not one.”  23
  They both glanced at the boy to see whether he was within hearing. Then the husband looked sharply at his wife.  24
  “You’re talking of what you don’t understand.” She laughed.  25
  “It’s like not thanking God that things have gone well with us,” said she, becoming serious.  26
  “We can surely thank him without putting silver buttons on our coats,” said the father.  27
  “Yes, but not by letting Eyvind go as he did to the dance yesterday.”  28
  “Eyvind is a cottar’s son.”  29
  “That’s right—talk so that he can hear.”  30
  “He doesn’t hear; but I shouldn’t be sorry if he did,” said she, looking boldly at her husband who was frowning, and put down his spoon to take up his pipe.  31
  “Such a wretched holding as we have,” said he.  32
  “I can’t help laughing at you, always talking about the holding. Why do you never say anything about the mills?”  33
  “Oh, you and your mills! I believe you can’t bear to hear them going.”  34
  “Oh, I love it, thank goodness! I wish they were going night and day.”  35
  “They’ve been standing now since before Christmas.”  36
  “People don’t have their corn ground in Christmas week.”  37
  “They have it ground whenever there’s water; but since they got a mill at Nyström, things have been very slack.”  38
  “The schoolmaster didn’t say so to-day.”  39
  “I shall get a closer fellow than the schoolmaster to manage our money.”  40
  “Yes, your own wife is the last person he ought to speak to.”  41
  Thore did not answer this, he had just got his pipe lighted; he leant up against a bundle of faggots and shifted his gaze, first from his wife, then from his son, until at last he fixed it upon an old crow’s nest which hung all askew on a fir-branch a little way off.  42
  Eyvind sat by himself, with the future stretching before him like a long, clear sheet of ice, over which, for the first time, he let his fancy sweep him away from the one shore right to the other. He felt that poverty barred the way on all sides, but for that very reason all his thoughts were bent upon overcoming it. From Marit it had no doubt parted him for ever; he regarded her as almost promised to John Hatlen; but his whole mind was set upon making life a race with him and her. In order not to be elbowed aside again as he was yesterday, he would hold aloof until he had made his way; and that, with God’s help, he would make his way, it never entered his head to doubt. He had a dim feeling that his best plan was to stick to his books; to what end they should lead he must find out later.  43
  The snow was fit for sledging in the evening, the children came to the slope, but not Eyvind. He sat by the fire and read, and had not a moment to spare. The children waited for a long time; at last some of them got impatient, came up and put their faces against the window-panes and called in, but he made as though he did not hear. Others came, and evening after evening they hung about outside in great surprise; but he turned his back on them and read, and fought faithfully to grasp the meaning. He afterwards heard that Marit did not come either. He studied with such diligence that even his father could not but think he was overdoing it. He grew very grave; his face, which had been so round and soft, became thinner, sharper, and his eye harder. He seldom sang, and never played; he never seemed to have time enough. When temptation came upon him, it seemed as though some one whispered: “By-and-by, by-and-by!” and always “by-and-by!” For some time the children ran on their snow shoes, and shouted and laughed as before, but as they could not tempt him out to them either by the merry sounds of their sledging or by calling in to him with their faces against the window, they gradually kept away; they found other playgrounds, and soon the slope was deserted.  44
  But the schoolmaster soon noticed that it was not the old Eyvind who learnt his lessons as a matter of course, and played as a matter of necessity. He often talked with him and tried to draw him out; but he could not get at the boy’s heart so easily as in the old days. He also talked to his parents, and, having taken counsel with them, he came down one Sunday evening late in the winter and said, when he had sat for some time:  45
  “Come along, Eyvind, let us go out a little; I want to have a talk with you.”  46
  Eyvind put on his things and went with him. They happened to take the direction of the Hill Farms, conversing freely on indifferent subjects. When they drew near the farms, the schoolmaster turned off towards one which lay in the middle, and as they advanced they heard shouts and sounds of merriment proceeding from it.  47
  “What’s going on here?” asked Eyvind.  48
  “A dance,” said the schoolmaster, “shall we not go in?”  49
  “No.”  50
  “Won’t you join in a dance, my boy?”  51
  “No, not yet.”  52
  “Not yet? When, then?”  53
  He did not answer.  54
  “What do you mean by yet?”  55
  As the boy still made no answer the schoolmaster said:  56
  “Come now, no nonsense.”  57
  “No, I’m not going in!”  58
  He was very determined and agitated besides.  59
  “Strange that your old schoolmaster should have to stand here and entreat you to go to a dance!”  60
  There was a long silence.  61
  “Is there some one in there whom you’re afraid to see?”  62
  “How should I know who is there?”  63
  “But there might be some one?”  64
  Eyvind was silent.  65
  Then the schoolmaster went close up to him and laid his hand on his shoulder.  66
  “Are you afraid of seeing Marit?”  67
  Eyvind looked to the ground, and his breathing became heavy and short.  68
  “Tell me, Eyvind.”  69
  Eyvind was silent.  70
  “I daresay you don’t like to own it, since you’re not confirmed; but tell me all the same, my dear Eyvind, and you sha’n’t repent it.”  71
  Eyvind looked up, but could not get out a word, and had to look away again.  72
  “I could see you hadn’t been happy lately; does she care more for others than for you?”  73
  As Eyvind did not answer even now, the schoolmaster felt rather hurt and turned from him. They walked homewards.  74
  When they had gone a good way, the schoolmaster stopped to let Eyvind overtake him.  75
  “I suppose you’re longing to be confirmed,” said he.  76
  “Yes.”  77
  “What do you mean to do afterwards?”  78
  “I should like to go to the training-college.”  79
  “And be a schoolmaster?”  80
  “No.”  81
  “You’re above that, eh?”  82
  Eyvin was silent  83
  Then the schoolmaster went close up to him and laid his hand on his shoulder.  84
  “Are you afraid of seeing Marit?”  85
  Eyvind looked to the ground, and his breathing became heavy and short.  86
  “Tell me, Eyvind.”  87
  Eyvind was silent.  88
  “I daresay you don’t like to own it, since you’re not confirmed; but tell me all the same, my dear Eyvind, and you sha’n’t repent it.”  89
  Eyvind looked up, but could not get out a word, and had to look away again.  90
  “I could see you hadn’t been happy lately; does she care more for others than for you?”  91
  As Eyvind did not answer even now, the schoolmaster felt rather hurt and turned from him. They walked homewards.  92
  When they had gone a good way, the schoolmaster stopped to let Eyvind overtake him.  93
  “I suppose you’re longing to be confirmed,” said he.  94
  “Yes.”  95
  “What do you mean to do afterwards?”  96
  “I should like to go to the training-college.”  97
  “And be a schoolmaster?”  98
  “No.”  99
  “You’re above that, eh?” 100
  Eyvind was silent. They again went on a good way. 101
  “When you’ve been to the training-college, what then?” 102
  “I haven’t really thought about that.” 103
  “If you had money I suppose you’d like to buy a farm?” 104
  “Yes, but keep the mills.” 105
  “Then it would be better for you to go to the School of Agriculture.” 106
  “Do they learn as much there as at the training-college?” 107
  “Oh no, but they learn what’s going to be of use to them afterwards.” 108
  “Can you take honours there, too?” 109
  “Why do you ask?” 110
  “I should like to learn things thoroughly.” 111
  “That you can do without taking honours.” 112
  They walked on again in silence till they saw Pladsen; a light shone out from the sitting-room, the rock loomed darkly in the winter night, the lake lay below covered with smooth, sparkling ice, the wood, with no snow on it, encircled the still cove; the moon shone out and mirrored the wood in the ice. 113
  “It is beautiful here at Pladsen,” said the schoolmaster. Eyvind could sometimes see it with the same eyes as when his mother told fairy-tales, or with the vision he had when he raced down the hill on his sledge: so he saw it now; everything seemed elevated and clear. 114
  “Yes, it is beautiful here,” he said, but sighed as he spoke. 115
  “Your father has been contented with the holding; couldn’t you be contented here too?” 116
  The happy vision of the place all at once vanished. The schoolmaster stood as though waiting for an answer; receiving none, he shook his head, and they went indoors. He sat there awhile with them, but had very little to say, so that the others became silent too. When he said good-bye, both husband and wife went outside the door with him; they seemed to expect him to say something. Meanwhile they all three stood looking up at the evening sky. 117
  “It seems so unnaturally quiet here,” said the mother at length, “since the children have gone elsewhere to play.” 118
  “And you have no longer a child in the house,” said the schoolmaster. 119
  The mother understood what he meant. 120
  “Eyvind is not happy of late,” said she. 121
  “Oh no, he who is ambitious is not happy.” 122
  He looked with an old man’s peace up into God’s silent sky. 123



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