ONE afternoon later in the summer, as the mother and a maid were raking up the hay, and the father and Eyvind were carrying it home, a little barefooted, bareheaded boy came hopping down the hill and across the field to Eyvind, to whom he handed a note.
I am paid for it, answered the boy. No answer was required, he said, so he made his way back again over the rock; for there was some one on the road, he explained, whom he did not want to meet. Eyvind opened the note with some trouble, for it was first folded in a stripthen folded again, then sealed and tied up.
No, Ill be hanged if I hide, thought Eyvind, looking defiantly up the hill. It was not long before an old man came in sight at the top of the hill; he rested, walked a little way, then rested again; both Thore and his wife stopped to look at him. Thore presently smiled; his wife, on the contrary, changed colour.
The father and son resumed their hay-carrying, but the latter managed it so that they were always one behind the other. The old man on the hill drew slowly nearer, like a heavy sou-wester. He was very tall and rather stout; his legs were weak, and he walked foot by foot leaning heavily on a staff. He soon came so near that they could see him distinctly; he stopped, took off his cap and wiped his head with his handkerchief. He was bald right to the crown of his head; had a round, puckered face, small, glistening, blinking eyes and bushy eyebrows; he had not lost a single tooth. When he spoke it was in a sharp, barking voice which hopped as if over gravel and stones; but every now and then it would dwell with great satisfaction upon the letter r, rolling it out, as it seemed, for yards, and at the same time jumping from one key to another. In his younger days he had been well known as a cheerful but hot-tempered man; in his old age, contrarieties of many sorts had made him passionate and suspicious.
Thore and his son had crossed and recrossed the meadow several times before Ole came up with them; they both knew quite well that he came for no good, therefore it seemed all the funnier that he could not get at them. They had both to appear quite serious and to speak very softly; but when this went on and on indefinitely the situation became irresistibly comic. A mere shred of a phrase that comes in aptly is enough, under such circumstances, to set people off; especially if there happens to be some danger in laughing. When at last the old man was only a few yards away, but seemed unable to get nearer, Eyvind said drily and softly:
Lets get into the barn, whispered he, taking an armful of hay and marching away with it; Eyvind took up a small bundle and ran after him, bent double with laughter, and threw himself down in a convulsion as soon as he got into the barn. The father was a serious man, but if anybody set him off laughing he began with a gurgling, then came longer but broken trills until they flowed together in one roar, after which came wave upon wave with an ever-increasing backdraught. Now he was fairly set off; while the son lay on the floor, the father stood over him, and they both went into peals of laughter. They were subject every now and then to such hysterical fits; but this one came at the wrong time, said the father. At last they did not know what would come of it, for the old man must by this time have got to the farm.
You go first! And they brushed each other down and went solemnly forth. When they had crossed the bridge1 they saw Ole standing facing the kitchen door as if considering; he was holding his cap in the hand with which he held his staff, wiping the sweat off his bald head with his handkerchief, and at the same time ruffling up the bristles behind his ears and on his neck, so that they stuck out like spikes. Eyvind kept behind his father, who had therefore to bear the first brunt; and to get it over he said with stupendous solemnity:
Some one was peeping from the kitchen door; between her and Thore stood old Ole with the peak of his cap over his eyes; for the cap was too large now that his hair was gone. He had thus to throw his head very far back in order to see clearly; he held his staff pressed against his side when he was not gesticulating, and his one gesture was to throw his arm half out from him and hold it motionless as though guarding his dignity.
Look here, I dont like people running off with horses when I turn them out to pasture, and I dont like people running off with my daughters either, when I let them go to a dance; I dont like it at all.
I like things kept in order, you knowthe chopping-block to stand there and the axe to lie there, and the knife there; and here theyre to sweep and here theyre to throw out the rubbish, not at the door, but over in the corner, precisely there and nowhere else. So, when I say to her: not him, but him! then him it must be and not him!
But it isnt so. For three years she has said no, and for three years things have been amiss between us. This is bad; and its he thats to blame for it all; and I tell him before you, his father, that its no use, he must put a stop to it.
Ole saw this and became furious. Both Thore and Eyvind tried to patch it up by putting on serious faces and inviting him to go indoors; but the accumulated wrath of three years was seeking an outlet, and was not to be stopped.
You mustnt think youre going to make a fool of me, he began; I am here to do my duty; I am looking to my grandchilds happiness as I understand it, and the laughter of a young puppy is not going to hinder me. One doesnt bring up girls to dump them down on the first cottars holding that offers, and one doesnt manage a farm for forty years to hand over everything to the first fellow that makes a fool of a girl. My daughter went and moped and carried on till she got herself married to a vagabond, and he drank them both to ruin, and I had to take the child and pay the piper; but curse me if my granddaughter is to go the same road! As sure as I am Ole Nordistuen of the Hill Farms, I tell you the minister shall sooner call the banns for the fairy folk up on the Nordal forest than he shall speak such names from the pulpit as Marits and yours, you jackanapes! Are you to go and scare proper suitors away from the farm, forsooth? Just you show your face there, my man, and youll travel down the hill again in a way you wont relish. You giggling imp, you! Do you suppose I dont know what youre thinking of, you and she? Youre thinking that old Ole Nordistuen will soon turn up his toes in the churchyard, and then youll trip away to the altar together! No, Ive lived sixty-six years now, and Ill show you, boy, that Ill live till youre both mighty sick of it! And, whats more, you can hang about the house till alls blue and you wont see so much as the sole of her foot, for Ill send her out of the district; Ill send her where shell be safe, so that you can flutter around like a laughing joy and marry the rain and the north wind. And now Ive nothing more to say to you; but you, his father, you know my mind, and if you wish him well youll make him bend the river in the way its got to run; I warn it off my ground.
Complete seriousness had fallen upon those he left behind; a foreboding of evil had mingled itself with their joking and laughter, and a blank pause followed as after a shock of terror. The mother, who had heard all from the kitchen door, looked anxiously at Eyvind with tears in her eyes; but she would not make things harder for him by saying a single word.
They all went indoors in silence, and the father, seating himself by the window, looked after Ole with a very serious countenance. Eyvind watched intently his slightest change of expression; for did not the future of the young people almost depend upon his first words? If Thore added his refusal to that of Ole, they could scarcely hope to get over it. His thoughts ran apprehensively from obstacle to obstacle; for a moment he saw only poverty, opposition, misunderstanding and wounded self-respect, and every resource he could think of seemed destined to fail him. His uneasiness was increased by his mothers standing there with her hand on the latch of the kitchen door, uncertain whether she had courage to stay in and await the upshot, and by her at last losing heart and slipping out. Eyvind looked steadily at his father, who, it seemed, was never going to look round; nor did the son venture to speak, for he understood that the thing must be fully thought out. But presently his soul had run its course of anxiety and regained its firmness. After all, he thought within himself as he looked at his fathers knitted brow, God alone can part us. And just at this moment something happened. Thore heaved a long sigh, rose, looked into the room and met his sons gaze. He stopped and looked long at him.
I should be best pleased if you gave her up, for one ought not to beg or bully oneself forward in the world. But if you wont give her up, tell me when youve made up your mind, and perhaps I may be able to help you.
By the evening Eyvind had his plan complete: he would try for the post of District Inspector of Agriculture, and would beg the Principal of the College and the Schoolmaster to help him. Then, if she holds out, with Gods help I will win her through my work.