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Boyhood in Norway(19)

2006-09-07 22:18

  BONNYBOY IV

  When Bonnyboy was twenty years old his father gave up, once for all, his attempt to make a carpenter of him. A number of saw-mills had been built during the last years along the river down in the valley, and the old rapids had been broken up into a succession of mill-dams, one above the other. At one of these saw-mills Bonnyboy sought work, and was engaged with many others as a mill hand. His business was to roll the logs on to the little trucks that ran on rails, and to push them up to the saws, where they were taken in charge by another set of men, who fastened and watched them while they were cut up into planks. Very little art was, indeed, required for this simple task; but strength was required, and of this Bonnyboy had enough and to spare. He worked with a will from early morn till dewy eve, and was happy in the thought that he had at last found something that he could do. It made the simple-hearted fellow proud to observe that he was actually gaining his father's regard; or, at all events, softening the disappointment which, in a vague way, he knew that his dulness must have caused him. If, occasionally, he was hurt by a rolling log, he never let any one know it; but even though his foot was a mass of agony every time he stepped on it, he would march along as stiffly as a soldier. It was as if he felt his father's eye upon him long before he saw him.

  There was a curious kind of sympathy between them which expressed itself, on the father's part, in a need to be near his son. But he feared to avow any such weakness, knowing that Bonnyboy would interpret it as distrust of his ability to take care of himself, and a desire to help him if he got into trouble. Grim, therefore, invented all kinds of transparent pretexts for paying visits to the saw-mills. And when he saw Bonnyboy, conscious that his eye was resting upon him, swinging his axe so that the chips flew about his ears, and the perspiration rained from his brow, a dim anxiety often took possession of him, though he could give no reason for it. That big brawny fellow, with the frame of a man and the brain of a child, with his guileless face and his guileless heart, strangely moved his compassion. There was something almost beautiful about him, his father thought; but he could not have told what it was; nor would he probably have found any one else that shared his opinion. That frank and genial gaze of Bonnyboy's, which expressed goodness of heart but nothing else, seemed to Grim an "open sesame" to all hearts; and that unawakened something which goes so well with childhood, but not with adult age, filled him with tenderness and a vague anxiety. "My poor lad," he would murmur to himself, as he caught sight of Bonnyboy's big perspiring face, with the yellow tuft of hair hanging down over his forehead, "clever you are not; but you have that which the cleverest of us often lack."

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