Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

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mischief; you number eleven, nothing better to be expected, my boy;
you, number thirteen, must study hard and come to the next examination,
or it will go badly with you!"

Oyvind could bear it no longer; number one, to be sure, had not been
mentioned, but he had been standing all the time so that the
school-master could see him.

"School-master!" He did not hear. "School-master!" Oyvind had to
repeat this three times before it was heard. At last the school-master
looked at him.

"Number nine or ten, I do not remember which," said he, and turned to

"Who is number one, then?" inquired Hans, who was Oyvind's best friend.

"It is not you, curly-head!" said the school-master, rapping him over
the hand with a roll of paper.

"Who is it, then?" asked others. "Who is it? Yes; who is it?"

"He will find that out who has the number," replied the school-master,
sternly. He would have no more questions. "Now go home nicely,
children. Give thanks to your God and gladden your parents. Thank
your old school-master too; you would have been in a pretty fix if it
had not been for him."

They thanked him, laughed, and went their way jubilantly, for at this
moment when they were about to go home to their parents they all felt
happy. Only one remained behind, who could not at once find his books,
and who when he had found them sat down as if he must read them over

The school-master went up to him.

"Well, Oyvind, are you not going with the rest?"

There was no reply.

"Why do you open your books?"

"I want to find out what I answered wrong to-day."

"You answered nothing wrong."

Then Oyvind looked at him; tears filled his eyes, but he gazed intently
at the school-master, while one by one trickled down his cheeks, and
not a word did he say. The school-master sat down in front of him.

"Are you not glad that you passed?"

There was a quivering about the lips but no reply.

"Your mother and father will be very glad," said the school-master, and
looked at Oyvind.

The boy struggled hard to gain power of utterance, finally he asked in
low, broken tones, -

"Is it - because I - am a houseman's son that I only stand number nine or

"No doubt that was it," replied the school-master.

"Then it is of no use for me to work," said Oyvind, drearily, and all
his bright dreams vanished. Suddenly he raised his head, lifted his
right hand, and bringing it down on the table with all his might, flung
himself forward on his face and burst into passionate tears.

The school-master let him lie and weep, - weep as long as he would. It
lasted a long time, but the school-master waited until the weeping grew
more childlike. Then taking Oyvind's head in both hands, he raised it
and gazed into the tear-stained face.

"Do you believe that it is God who has been with you now," said he,
drawing the boy affectionately toward him.

Oyvind was still sobbing, but not so violently as before; his tears
flowed more calmly, but he neither dared look at him who questioned nor

"This, Oyvind, has been a well-merited recompense. You have not
studied from love of your religion, or of your parents; you have
studied from vanity."

There was silence in the room after every sentence the school-master
uttered. Oyvind felt his gaze resting on him, and he melted and grew
humble under it.

"With such wrath in your heart, you could not have come forward to make
a covenant with your God. Do you think you could, Oyvind?"

"No," the boy stammered, as well as he was able.

"And if you stood there with vain joy, over being number one, would you
not be coming forward with a sin?"

"Yes, I should," whispered Oyvind, and his lips quivered.

"You still love me, Oyvind?"

"Yes;" here he looked up for the first time.

"Then I will tell you that it was I who had you put down; for I am very
fond of you, Oyvind."

The other looked at him, blinked several times, and the tears rolled
down in rapid succession.

"You are not displeased with me for that?"

"No;" he looked up full in the school-master's face, although his voice
was choked.

"My dear child, I will stand by you as long as I live."

The school-master waited for Oyvind until the latter had gathered
together his books, then said that he would accompany him home. They
walked slowly along. At first Oyvind was silent and his struggle went
on, but gradually he gained his self-control. He was convinced that
what had occurred was the best thing that in any way could have
happened to him; and before he reached home, his belief in this had
become so strong that he gave thanks to his God, and told the
school-master so.

"Yes, now we can think of accomplishing something in life," said the
school-master, "instead of playing blind-man's buff, and chasing after
numbers. What do you say to the seminary?"

"Why, I should like very much to go there."

"Are you thinking of the agricultural school?"


"That is, without doubt, the best; it provides other openings than a
school-master's position."

"But how can I go there? I earnestly desire it, but I have not the

"Be industrious and good, and I dare say the means will be found."

Oyvind felt completely overwhelmed with gratitude. His eyes sparkled,
his breath came lightly, he glowed with that infinite love that bears
us along when we experience some unexpected kindness from a
fellow-creature. At such a moment, we fancy that our whole future will
be like wandering in the fresh mountain air; we are wafted along more
than we walk.

When they reached home both parents were within, and had been sitting
there in quiet expectation, although it was during working hours of a
busy time. The school-master entered first, Oyvind followed; both were

"Well?" said the father, laying aside a hymn-book, in which he had just
been reading a "Prayer for a Confirmation Candidate."

His mother stood by the hearth, not daring to say anything; she was
smiling, but her hand was trembling. Evidently she was expecting good
news, but did not wish to betray herself.

"I merely had to come to gladden you with the news, that he answered
every question put to him; and that the priest said, when Oyvind had
left him, that he had never had a more apt scholar."

"Is it possible!" said the mother, much affected.

"Well, that is good," said his father, clearing his throat unsteadily.

After it had been still for some time, the mother asked, softly, -

"What number will he have?"

"Number nine or ten," said the school-master, calmly.

The mother looked at the father; he first at her, then at Oyvind, and
said, -

"A houseman's son can expect no more."

Oyvind returned his gaze. Something rose up in his throat once more,
but he hastily forced himself to think of things that he loved, one by
one, until it was choked down again.

"Now I had better go," said the school-master, and nodding, turned

Both parents followed him as usual out on the door-step; here the
school-master took a quid of tobacco, and smiling said, -

"He will be number one, after all; but it is not worth while that he
should know anything about it until the day comes."

"No, no," said the father, and nodded.

"No, no," said the mother, and she nodded too; after which she grasped
the school-master's hand and added: "We thank you for all you do for

"Yes, you have our thanks," said the father, and the school-master
moved away.

They long stood there gazing after him.


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

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

"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

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

"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.


DEAR PARENTS, - We have to study much more now than at first, but
as I am less behind the others than I was, it is not so hard. I shall
change many things in father's place when I come home; for there is
much that is wrong there, and it is wonderful that it has prospered as
well as it has. But I shall make everything right, for I have learned
a great deal. I want to go to some place where I can put into practice
all I now know, and so I must look for a high position when I get
through here.
No one here considers Jon Hatlen as clever as he is thought to be
at home with us; but as he has a gard of his own, this does not concern
any one but himself.
Many who go from here get very high salaries, but they are paid so
well because ours is the best agricultural school in the country. Some
say the one in the next district is better, but this is by no means
true. There are two words here: one is called Theory, the other
Practice. It is well to have them both, for one is nothing without the
other; but still the latter is the better. Now the former means, to
understand the cause and principle of a work; the latter, to be able to
perform it: as, for instance, in regard to a quagmire; for there are
many who know what should be done with a quagmire and yet do it wrong,
because they are not able to put their knowledge into practice. Many,
on the other hand, are skillful in doing, but do not know what ought to
be done; and thus they too may make bad work of it, for there are many
kinds of quagmires. But we at the agricultural school learn both
words. The superintendent is so skillful that he has no equal. At the
last agricultural meeting for the whole country, he led in two
discussions, and the other superintendents had only one each, and upon
careful consideration his statements were always sustained. At the
meeting before the last, where he was not present, there was nothing
but idle talk. The lieutenant who teaches surveying was chosen by the
superintendent only on account of his ability, for the other schools
have no lieutenant. He is so clever that he was the best scholar at
the military academy.
The school-master asks if I go to church. Yes, of course I go to
church, for now the priest has an assistant, and his sermons fill all
the congregation with terror, and it is a pleasure to listen to him.
He belongs to the new religion they have in Christiania, and people
think him too strict, but it is good for them that he is so.
Just now we are studying much history, which we have not done
before, and it is curious to observe all that has happened in the
world, but especially in our country, for we have always won, except
when we have lost, and then we always had the smaller number. We now
have liberty; and no other nation has so much of it as we, except
America; but there they are not happy. Our freedom should be loved by
us above everything.
Now I will close for this time, for I have written a very long
letter. The school-master will read it, I suppose, and when he answers
for you, get him to tell me some news about one thing or another, for
he never does so of himself. But now accept hearty greetings from your
affectionate son,

DEAR PARENTS, - Now I must tell you that we have had examinations,
and that I stood 'excellent' in many things, and 'very good' in writing
and surveying, but 'good' in Norwegian composition. This comes, the
superintendent says, from my not having read enough, and he has made me
a present of some of Ole Vig's books, which are matchless, for I
understand everything in them. The superintendent is very kind to me,
and he tells us many things. Everything here is very inferior compared
with what they have abroad; we understand almost nothing, but learn
everything from the Scotch and Swiss, although horticulture we learn
from the Dutch. Many visit these countries. In Sweden, too, they are
much more clever than we, and there the superintendent himself has
been. I have been here now nearly a year, and I thought that I had
learned a great deal; but when I heard what those who passed the
examination knew, and considered that they would not amount to anything
either when they came into contact with foreigners, I became very
despondent. And then the soil here in Norway is so poor compared with
what it is abroad; it does not at all repay us for what we do with it.
Moreover, people will not learn from the experience of others; and even
if they would, and if the soil was much better, they really have not
the money to cultivate it. It is remarkable that things have prospered
as well as they have.
I am now in the highest class, and am to remain there a year
before I get through. But most of my companions have left and I long
for home. I feel alone, although I am not so by any means, but one has
such a strange feeling when one has been long absent. I once thought I
should become so much of a scholar here; but I am not making the
progress I anticipated.
What shall I do with myself when I leave here? First, of course,
I will come home; afterwards, I suppose, I will have to seek something
to do, but it must not be far away.
Farewell, now, dear parents! Give greetings to all who inquire
for me, and tell them that I have everything pleasant here but that now
I long to be at home again.
Your affectionate son,

DEAR SCHOOL-MASTER, - With this I ask if you will deliver the inclosed
letter and not speak of it to any one. And if you will not, then you
must burn it.

You will no doubt be much surprised at receiving a letter from me;

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