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Boyhood in Norway(21)

2006-09-07 22:18

  BONNYBOY VI

  It was the morning after the disaster. The sun rose red and threatening, circled with a ring of fiery mist. People encamped upon the hill-side greeted each other as on the morn of resurrection. For many were found among the living who were being mourned as dead. Mothers hugged their children with tearful joy, thanking God that they had been spared; and husbands who had heard through the night the agonized cries of their drowning wives, finding them at dawn safe and sound, felt as if they had recovered them from the very gates of death. When all were counted, it was ascertained that but very few of the villagers had been overtaken by the flood. The timely warning had enabled all to save themselves, except some who in their eagerness to rescue their goods had lingered too long. Impoverished most of them were by the loss of their houses and cattle. The calamity was indeed overwhelming. But when they considered how much greater the disaster would have been if the flood had come upon them unheralded, they felt that they had cause for gratitude in the midst of their sorrow. And who was it that brought the tidings that snatched them from the jaws of death? Well, nobody knew. He rode too fast. And each was too much startled by the message to take note of the messenger. But who could he possibly have been? An angel from Heaven, perhaps sent by God in His mercy. That was indeed more than likely. The belief was at once accepted that the rescuer was an angel from heaven. But just then a lumberman stepped forward who had worked at the mill and said: "It was Bonnyboy, Grim Carpenter's son. I saw him jump on his gray colt."

  Bonnyboy, Grim Carpenter's son. It couldn't be possible. But the lumberman insisted that it was, and they had to believe him, though, of course, it was a disappointment. But where was Bonnyboy? He deserved thanks, surely. And, moreover, that gray colt was a valuable animal. It was to be hoped that it was not drowned.

  The water had now subsided, though it yet overflowed the banks; so that trees, bent and splintered by the terrific force of the flood, grew far out in the river. The foul dams had all been swept away, and the tawny torrent ran again with tumultuous rapids in its old channel. Of the mills scarcely a vestige was left except slight cavities in the banks, and a few twisted beams clinging to the rocks where they had stood. The ruins of the village, with jagged chimneys and broken walls, loomed out of a half-inundated meadow, through which erratic currents were sweeping. Here and there lay a dead cow or dog, and in the branches of a maple-tree the carcasses of two sheep were entangled. In this marshy field a stooping figure was seen wading about, as if in search of something. The water broke about his knees, and sometimes reached up to his waist. He stood like one dazed, and stared into the brown swirling torrent. Now he poked something with his boat-hook, now bent down and purled some dead thing out of a copse of shrubbery in which it had been caught. The sun rose higher in the sky, and the red vapors were scattered. But still the old man trudged wearily about, with the stony stare in his eyes, searching for him whom he had lost. One company after another now descended from the hill-sides, and from the high-lying farms which had not been reached by the flood came wagons with provisions and clothes, and men and women eager and anxious to help. They shouted to the old man in the submerged field, and asked what he was looking for. But he only shook his head, as if he did not understand.

  "Why, that is old Grim the carpenter," said someone. "Has anybody seen Bonnyboy?"

  But no one had seen Bonnyboy.

  "Do you want help?" they shouted to Grim; but they got no answer.

  Hour after hour old Grim trudged about in the chilly water searching for his son. Then, about noon, when he had worked his way far down the river, he caught sight of something which made his heart stand still. In a brown pool, in which a half-submerged willow-tree grew, he saw a large grayish shape which resembled a horse. He stretched out the boat-hook and rolled it over. Dumbly, fearlessly, he stood staring into the pool. There lay his son——there lay Bonnyboy stark and dead.

  The cold perspiration broke out upon Grim's brow, and his great breast labored. Slowly he stooped down, drew the dead body out of the water, and tenderly laid it across his knees. He stared into the sightless eyes, and murmuring a blessing, closed them. There was a large discolored spot on the forehead, as of a bruise. Grim laid his hand softly upon it, and stroked away the yellow tuft of hair.

  "My poor lad," he said, while the tears coursed down his wrinkled cheeks, "you had a weak head, but your heart, Bonnyboy——your heart was good."

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