Oeyvind and Marit

by Björnsterne Björnsen

Oeyvind was his name. A low barren cliff overhung the house in which he was born; fir and birch looked down on the roof, and wild-cherry strewed flowers over it. Upon this roof there walked about a little goat, which belonged to Oeyvind. He was kept there that he might not go astray; and Oeyvind carried leaves and grass up to him. One fine day the goat leaped down, and—away to the cliff; he went straight up, and came where he never had been before. Oeyvind did not see him when he came out after dinner, and thought immediately of the fox. He grew hot all over, looked around about, and called, "Killy-killy-killy-goat!"

"Bay-ay-ay," said the goat, from the brow of the hill, as he cocked his head on one side and looked down.

But at the side of the goat there kneeled a little girl.

"Is it yours, this goat?" she asked.

Oeyvind stood with eyes and mouth wide open, thrust both hands into the breeches he had on, and asked, "Who are you?"

"I am Marit, mother's little one, father's fiddle, the elf in the house, grand-daughter of Ole Nordistuen of the Heide farms, four years old in the autumn, two days after the frost nights, I!"

"Are you really?" he said, and drew a long breath, which he had not dared to do so long as she was speaking.

"Is it yours, this goat?" asked the girl again.

"Ye-es," he said, and looked up.

"I have taken such a fancy to the goat. You will not give it to me?"

"No, that I won't."

She lay kicking her legs, and looking down at him, and then she said, "But if I give you a butter-cake for the goat, can I have him then?"

Oeyvind came of poor people, and had eaten butter-cake only once in his life, that was when grandpapa came there, and anything like it he had never eaten before nor since. He looked up at the girl. "Let me see the butter-cake first," said he.

She was not long about it, took out a large cake, which she held in her hand. "Here it is," she said, and threw it down.

"Ow, it went to pieces," said the boy. He gathered up every bit with the utmost care; he could not help tasting the very smallest, and that was so good, he had to taste another, and, before he knew it himself, he had eaten up the whole cake.

"Now the goat is mine," said the girl. The boy stopped with the last bit in his mouth, the girl lay and laughed, and the goat stood by her side, with white breast and dark brown hair, looking sideways down.

"Could you not wait a little while?" begged the boy; his heart began to beat. Then the girl laughed still more, and got up quickly on her knees.

"No, the goat is mine," she said, and threw her arms round its neck, loosened one of her garters, and fastened it round. Oeyvind looked up. She got up, and began pulling at the goat; it would not follow, and twisted its neck downwards to where Oeyvind stood. "Bay-ay-ay," it said. But she took hold of its hair with one hand, pulled the string with the other, and said gently, "Come, goat, and you shall go into the room and eat out of mother's dish and my apron." And then she sung,—

"Come, boy's goat,
Come, mother's calf,
Come, mewing cat
In snow-white shoes.
Come, yellow ducks,
Come out of your hiding-place;
Come, little chickens,
Who can hardly go;
Come, my doves
With soft feathers;
See, the grass is wet,
But the sun does you good;
And early, early is it in summer,
But call for the autumn, and it will come."

There stood the boy.

He had taken care of the goat since the winter before, when it was born, and he had never imagined he could lose it; but now it was done in a moment, and he should never see it again.

His mother came up humming from the beach, with wooden pans which she had scoured: she saw the boy sitting with his legs crossed under him on the grass, crying, and she went up to him.

"What are you crying about?"

"O, the goat, the goat!"

"Yes; where is the goat?" asked his mother, looking up at the roof.

"It will never come back again," said the boy.

"Dear me! how could that happen?"

He would not confess immediately.

"Has the fox taken it?"

"Ah, if it only were the fox!"

"Are you crazy?" said his mother; "what has become of the goat?"

"Oh-h-h—I happened to—to—to sell it for a cake!"

As soon as he had uttered the word, he understood what it was to sell the goat for a cake; he had not thought of it before. His mother said,—

"What do you suppose the little goat thinks of you, when you could sell him for a cake?"

And the boy thought about it, and felt sure that he could never again be happy in this world, and not even in heaven, he thought afterwards. He felt so sorry, that he promised himself never again to do anything wrong, never to cut the thread on the spinning-wheel, nor let the goats out, nor go down to the sea alone. He fell asleep where he lay, and dreamed about the goat, that it had gone to Heaven; our Lord sat there with a great beard as in the catechism, and the goat stood eating the leaves off a shining tree; but Oeyvind sat alone on the roof, and could not come up.

Suddenly there came something wet close up to his ear, and he started up. "Bay-ay-ay!" it said; and it was the goat, who had come back again.

"What! have you got back?" He jumped up, took it by the two fore-legs, and danced with it as if it were a brother; he pulled its beard, and he was just going in to his mother with it, when he heard some one behind him, and, looking, saw the girl sitting on the greensward by his side. Now he understood it all, and let go the goat.

"Is it you, who have come with it?"

She sat, tearing the grass up with her hands, and said,—

"They would not let me keep it; grandfather is sitting up there, waiting."

While the boy stood looking at her, he heard a sharp voice from the road above call out, "Now!"

Then she remembered what she was to do; she rose, went over to Oeyvind, put one of her muddy hands into his, and, turning her face away, said,—

"I beg your pardon!"

But then her courage was all gone; she threw herself over the goat, and wept.

"I think you had better keep the goat," said Oeyvind, looking the other way.

"Come, make haste!" said grandpapa, up on the hill; and Marit rose, and walked with reluctant feet upwards.

"You are forgetting your garter," Oeyvind called after her. She turned round, and looked first at the garter and then at him. At last she came to a great resolution, and said, in a choked voice,—

"You may keep that."

He went over to her, and, taking her hand, said,—

"Thank you!"

"O, nothing to thank for!" she answered, but drew a long sigh, and walked on.

He sat down on the grass again. The goat walked about near him, but he was no longer so pleased with it as before.


The goat was fastened to the wall; but Oeyvind walked about, looking up at the cliff. His mother came out, and sat down by his side; he wanted to hear stories about what was far away, for now the goat no longer satisfied him. So she told him how once every thing could talk: the mountain talked to the stream, and the stream to the river, the river to the sea, and the sea to the sky; but then he asked if the sky did not talk to any one; and the sky talked to the clouds, the clouds to the trees, the trees to the grass, the grass to the flies, the flies to the animals, the animals to the children, the children to the grown-up people; and so it went on, until it had gone round, and no one could tell where it had begun. Oeyvind looked at the mountain, the trees, the sky, and had never really seen them before. The cat came out at that moment, and lay down on the stone before the door in the sunshine.

"What does the cat say?" asked Oeyvind, pointing. His mother sang,—

"At evening softly shines the sun,
The cat lies lazy on the stone.
Two small mice,
Cream thick and nice,
Four bits of fish,
I stole behind a dish,
And am so lazy and tired,
Because so well I have fared,"

says the cat.

But then came the cock, with all the hens. "What does the cock say?" asked Oeyvind, clapping his hands together. His mother sang,—

"The mother-hen her wings doth sink,
The cock stands on one leg to think:
That gray goose
Steers high her course;
But sure am I that never she
As clever as a cock can be.
Run in, you hens, keep under the roof to-day,
For the sun has got leave to stay away,"

says the cock.

But the little birds were sitting on the ridge-pole, singing. "What do the birds say?" asked Oeyvind, laughing.

"Dear Lord, how pleasant is life,
For those who have neither toil nor strife,"

say the birds.

And she told him what they all said, down to the ant, who crawled in the moss, and the worm who worked in the bark.

That same summer, his mother began to teach him to read. He had owned books a long time, and often wondered how it would seem when they also began to talk. Now the letters turned into animals, birds, and everything else; but soon they began to walk together, two and two; a stood and rested under a tree, which was called b; then came e, and did the same; but when three or four came together, it seemed as if they were angry with each other, for it would not go right. And the farther along he came, the more he forgot what they were: he remembered longest a, which he liked best; it was a little black lamb, and was friends with everybody; but soon he forgot a also: the book had no more stories, nothing but lessons.

One day his mother came in, and said to him,—

"To-morrow school begins, and then you are going up to the farm with me."

Oeyvind had heard that school was a place where many boys played together; and he had no objection. Indeed, he was much pleased. He had often been at the farm, but never when there was school there; and now he was so anxious to get there, he walked faster than his mother up over the hills. As they came up to the neighboring house, a tremendous buzzing, like that from the water-mill at home, met their ears; and he asked his mother what it was.

"That is the children reading," she answered; and he was much pleased, for that was the way he used to read, before he knew the letters. When he came in, there sat as many children round a table as he had ever seen at church; others were sitting on their luncheon-boxes, which were ranged round the walls; some stood in small groups round a large printed card; the schoolmaster, an old gray-haired man, was sitting on a stool by the chimney-corner, filling his pipe. They all looked up as Oeyvind and his mother entered, and the mill-hum ceased as if the water had suddenly been turned off. All looked at the new-comers; the mother bowed to the schoolmaster, who returned her greeting.

"Here I bring a little boy who wants to learn to read," said his mother.

"What is the fellow's name?" said the schoolmaster, diving down into his pouch after tobacco.

"Oeyvind," said his mother; "he knows his letters, and can put them together."

"Is it possible!" said the schoolmaster; "come here, you Whitehead!"

Oeyvind went over to him: the schoolmaster took him on his lap, and raised his cap.

"What a nice little boy!" said he, and stroked his hair. Oeyvind looked up into his eyes, and laughed.

"Is it at me you are laughing?" asked he, with a frown.

"Yes, it is," answered Oeyvind, and roared with laughter. At that the schoolmaster laughed, Oeyvind's mother laughed; the children understood that they also were allowed to laugh, and so they all laughed together.

So Oeyvind became one of the scholars.

As he was going to find his seat, they all wanted to make room for him. He looked round a long time, while they whispered and pointed; he turned round on all sides, with his cap in his hand and his book under his arm.

"Now, what are you going to do?" asked the schoolmaster, who was busy with his pipe again. Just as the boy is going to turn round to the schoolmaster, he sees close beside him, sitting down by the hearthstone on a little red painted tub, Marit, of the many names; she had covered her face with both hands, and sat peeping at him through her fingers.

"I shall sit here," said Oeyvind, quickly, taking a tub and seating himself at her side. Then she raised a little the arm nearest him, and looked at him from under her elbow; immediately he also hid his face with both hands, and looked at her from under his elbow. So they sat, keeping up the sport, until she laughed, then he laughed too; the children had seen it, and laughed with them; at that, there rung out in a fearfully strong voice, which, however, grew milder at every pause,—

"Silence! you young scoundrels, you rascals, you little good-for-nothings! keep still, and be good to me, you sugar-pigs."

That was the schoolmaster, whose custom it was to boil up, but calm down again before he had finished. It grew quiet immediately in the school, until the water-wheels again began to go; every one read aloud from his book, the sharpest trebles piped up, the rougher voices drummed louder and louder to get the preponderance; here and there one shouted in above the others, and Oeyvind had never had such fun in all his life.

"Is it always like this here?" whispered he to Marit.

"Yes, just like this," she said.

Afterwards, they had to go up to the schoolmaster, and read; and then a little boy was called to read, so that they were allowed to go and sit down quietly again.

"I have got a goat now, too," said she.

"Have you?"

"Yes; but it is not so pretty as yours."

"Why don't you come oftener up on the cliff?"

"Grandpapa is afraid I shall fall over."

"But it is not so very high."

"Grandpapa won't let me, for all that."

"Mother knows so many songs," said he.

"Grandpapa does, too, you can believe."

"Yes; but he does not know what mother does."

"Grandpapa knows one about a dance. Would you like to hear it?"

"Yes, very much."

"Well, then, you must come farther over here, so that the schoolmaster may not hear."

He changed his place, and then she recited a little piece of a song three or four times over, so that the boy learned it, and that was the first he learned at school.

"Up with you, youngsters!" called out the schoolmaster. "This is the first day, so you shall be dismissed early; but first we must say a prayer, and sing."

Instantly, all was life in the school; they jumped down from the benches, sprung over the floor, and talked into each other's mouths.

"Silence! you young torments, you little beggars, you noisy boys! be quiet, and walk softly across the floor, little children," said the schoolmaster; and now they walked quietly, and took their places; after which the schoolmaster went in front of them, and made a short prayer. Then they sung. The schoolmaster began in a deep bass; all the children stood with folded hands, and joined in. Oeyvind stood farthest down by the door with Marit, and looked on; they also folded their hands, but they could not sing.

That was the first day at school.