EYVIND grew and became an active boy: at school he was amongst the first, and he was capable at his work at home. That was because at home he was fond of his mother and at school he was fond of his master. His father he saw but little, for he was either away fishing or else he was looking after their mill, where half the parish had their grinding done.
The thing which most influenced his mind during these years was the schoolmasters history, which his mother told him one evening as they sat by the fire. It ran through all his books, it underlay every word the schoolmaster said; he felt it in the air of the schoolroom when all was quiet. It filled him with obedience and respect, and gave him a quicker apprehension, as it were, of all that was taught him. This was the story:
Baard was the schoolmasters name and he had a brother called Anders. They were very fond of each other; both enlisted, lived in town together, and were together in the war, when they both became corporals and served in the same company. When, after the war, they came home again, everybody thought them two stalwart fellows. Then their father died. He had a good deal of loose property which was difficult to divide evenly, so they said to each other that they would not fall out about it, but would put up the things to auction so that each could buy what he wished and then they would share the proceeds. So said so done. But their father possessed a large gold watch which was widely renowned, for it was the only gold watch people in those parts had ever seen. When this watch was put up many rich people tried for it, until the brothers, too, began to bid; then the others gave way. Now Baard expected Anders to let him get the watch, and Anders expected the same of Baard; each made his bid in turn to prove the other, and they looked across at each other whilst they bid. When the watch had got up to twenty dollars Baard felt it was not nice of his brother to bid against him, and kept on bidding until it got towards thirty dollars. As Anders still did not give in, it seemed to Baard that Anders neither remembered how good he had been to him, nor yet that he was the eldest. The watch got over thirty dollars, and Anders still kept on. Then Baard ran the watch up to forty dollars in one bid, and no longer looked at his brother. It was very quiet in the auction-room; only the bailiff quietly repeated the figures. Anders thought as he stood there that if Baard could afford to give forty dollars he could too, and if Baard grudged him the watch he would have to take it; so out-bid him. This seemed to Baard the greatest slight that had ever been put upon him; he bid fifty dollars, quite softly. A great many people were standing round, and Anders thought he must not let his brother thus put him to shame in everybodys hearing, so he bid over him. Then Baard laughed: A hundred dollars and my brotherhood into the bargain, said he; turned, and went out of the room. Some one presently came out to him whilst he was busy saddling the horse he had bought just before.
The moment Baard heard this a sort of remorse fell upon him; he thought of his brother and not of the watch. The saddle was on, but he paused with his hand on the horses back, uncertain whether he should start. Then a lot of people came out, Anders amongst them; and so soon as he saw his brother standing there by the saddled horse not knowing what was in Baards mind, he called out to him:
In the first year of Anders marriage the only cow he possessed was found dead by the north wall of the house, where it was tethered; and nobody could make out what it had died of. Several misfortunes followed, and he went down in the world; but the worst was when in mid-winter his barn was burnt with all that was in it; nobody knew how the fire broke out.
With Baard things had gone in this wise. So soon as he heard that his brother was in distress his heart melted towards him, but pride kept him back. He felt himself much drawn towards the church, and there he formed good resolutions, but he had not the strength to carry them out. He often set forth and came within sight of the house, but now some one came out of the door, now there was a stranger there, or Anders was out chopping wood; so that there was always something in the way. One Sunday in midwinter, however, he was once more at church and Anders was there too. Baard saw him; he had grown pale and thin, he wore the same clothes as when they were together, but now they were old and ragged. During the sermon he looked up at the pastor, and it seemed to Baard that he was kind and gentle. He remembered their childhood and what a good boy he was. Baard himself took the Sacrament that day, and he made the solemn promise before his God that, come what might, he would be reconciled to his brother. This purpose penetrated his soul just as he drank the wine, and when he rose he intended to go straight over and sit down beside him, but some one was sitting in the way and his brother did not look up. After service there were still difficulties: there were too many people about; his brothers wife was walking by his side and he did not know her. He thought it would be best to go to his house and have a serious talk with him. When evening came he did so. He went right up to the door and listened, but then he heard his own name mentioned. It was the woman who spoke.
For a long time nothing more was said. Baard perspired as he stood there, although it was a cold evening. The woman inside was busy over a pot that bubbled and hissed on the fire, an infant cried now and then, and Anders rocked the cradle.
Let us talk of something else, answered Anders. He rose soon after to go to the door. Baard had to hide himself in the woodshed, and Anders came to that very place to fetch an armful of wood. Baard stood in the corner and saw him distinctly; he had taken off his wretched church-clothes and had on the uniform in which he had come home from the war, just like Baards. The brothers had promised each other never to wear these uniforms, but to leave them as heirlooms in the family. Anders was now patched and worn out, his strong, well-developed body appeared as if wrapped in a bundle of rags, and just then Baard could hear the gold watch ticking in his own pocket. Anders went to the place where the faggots lay; instead of immediately stooping to load himself, he stopped, leaned back against a pile of wood and looked out at the sky, which was clear and glittering with stars. Then he heaved a sigh and said:
Wellwellwellmy God, my God! As long as Baard lived he heard those words. He wanted to step forward and greet him, but just then Anders coughed and it sounded so harsh. That was enough to check him. Anders took his armful of wood and brushed by Baard so closely that the twigs scratched his face and made it smart.
He stood motionless on the same spot for quite ten minutes, and might have stood much longer had it not been that after so much strong emotion he was seized with a shivering fit that shook him from head to foot. Then he went out: he acknowledged frankly to himself that he was too cowardly to go in, so he now formed another plan. Out of a cinder-box which stood in the corner he had just left, he took some pieces of coal, found a splinter of resinous wood, went up into the barn, closed the door after him and struck a light. When he had got the wood lighted he looked for the peg upon which Anders hung his lantern when he came out in the early morning to thresh. Baard took off his gold watch and hung it on the peg, then extinguished his splinter and went away. He felt his heart so lightened that he ran over the snow like a young boy.
This so overpowered him that all that day he sat like a sick person, took down his psalm-book and sang, so that the people in the house thought there must be something wrong with him. But in the evening he went out; it was bright moonlight. He went to his brothers farm, poked about on the site of the fireand found, sure enough, a little lump of gold. It was the watch, melted down.
A little girl had seen him scraping among the ashes on the site of the fire; some boys, on their way to a dance, had noticed him on the Sunday evening going down towards Anders farm; the people at home had told how strangely he had behaved on the Monday; and as everyone knew that he and his brother were bitter enemies, the matter was reported to the authorities and an inquiry set on foot. No one could prove anything against him, but suspicion clung to him. Reconciliation with his brother was now more impossible than ever.
Afterwards he heard how people had seen him go down to the buildings on the evening of the fire, and although nothing was brought to light by the inquiry, he was firmly convinced that Baard was the culprit. They met at the inquiry; Baard in his good clothes, Anders in his rags. As Anders entered, Baard looked over at him with such beseeching eyes that Anders felt the look in his very marrow.
At last, late one evening, a poor woman came into the little room in which Baard lodged, and asked him to come out a little way with her. He knew it was his brothers wife. Baard at once understood upon what errand she had come; he turned as white as death, put on his things, and went with her without speaking a word. A faint glimmer of light came from Anders window, and they made for the gleam; for there was no path over the snow. When Baard stood once more in the passage he was met by a strange odour, which turned him sick. They went in. A little child was sitting on the hearth eating coal; its face was black all over, but it looked up, and laughed with white teeth. It was his brothers child. In the bed, with all kinds of clothes over him, lay Anders, wasted, with high, transparent forehead, looking with hollow eyes at his brother. Baards knees trembled beneath him; he sat down on the foot of the bed and burst into a violent fit of weeping. The sick man looked at him immovably and was silent. At last he told his wife to go out, but Baard motioned her to stay,and now the two brothers began to talk together. They explained themselves from the day of their bidding for the watch right down to the moment of their present meeting. Baard concluded by taking out the lump of gold which he always carried about him, and each now confessed to the other that in all these years he had not felt happy for a single day. Anders did not say much for he was not able, but Baard sat at his bedside all through his illness.
What the brothers had said to each other as Baard sat by the bed made its way out through the walls and the night, and became known to every one in the village, and no one was more highly esteemed than Baard. Every one paid respect to him as they would to one who has had great sorrow and found joy again, or as to one who has been long absent. Baard was comforted by the friendliness which surrounded him, and devoted himself to the service of God. He wanted some occupation, he said, and so the old corporal took to teaching school. What he instilled into the children first and last was love; and he practised it himself, so that the little ones were devoted to him as a playfellow and father, all in one.
This, then, was the story of the old schoolmaster, and it took such a hold on Eyvinds mind that it became to him at once a religion and an education. The schoolmaster appeared to him almost a supernatural being, although he sat there so sociably and pretended to scold them. Not to know a lesson for him was impossible, and if he got a smile or a pat on the head after saying it he felt a glow of happiness for a whole day.
It always made the deepest impression on the children when the schoolmaster, before singing, would make a little speech; and at least once every week he used to read them a few verses about brotherly love. When he read the first of these verses there was always a quiver in his voice, although he had read it again and again for twenty or thirty years; it ran thus: