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Boyhood in Norway(18)

2006-09-07 22:18

  BONNYBOY III

  When Bonnyboy had been confirmed, the question again rose what was to become of him. He was now a tall young fellow, red-checked, broad-shouldered, and strong, and rather nice-looking. A slow, good-natured smile spread over his face when anyone spoke to him, and he had a way of flinging his head back, when the tuft of yellow hair which usually hung down over his forehead obscured his sight. Most people liked him, even though they laughed at him behind his back; but to his face nobody laughed, because his strength inspired respect. Nor did he know what fear was when he was roused; but that was probably, as people thought, because he did not know much of anything. At any rate, on a certain occasion he showed that there was a limit to his good-nature, and when that limit was reached, he was not as harmless a fellow as he looked.

  On the neighboring farm of Gimlehaug there was a wedding to which Grim and his son were invited. On the afternoon of the second wedding day——for peasant weddings in Norway are often celebrated for three days——a notorious bully named Ola Klemmerud took it into his head to have some sport with the big good-natured simpleton. So, by way of pleasantry, he pulled the tuft of hair which hung down upon Bonnyboy's forehead.

  "Don't do that," said Bonnyboy.

  Ola Klemmerud chuckled, and the next time he passed Bonnyboy, pinched his ear.

  "If you do that again I sha'n't like you," cried Bonnyboy.

  The innocence of that remark made the people laugh, and the bully, seeing that their sympathy was on his side, was encouraged to continue his teasing. Taking a few dancing steps across the floor, he managed to touch Bonnyboy's nose with the toe of his boot, which feat again was rewarded with a burst of laughter. The poor lad quietly blew his nose, wiped the perspiration off his brow with a red handkerchief, and said, "Don't make me mad, Ola, or I might hurt you."

  This speech struck the company as being immensely funny, and they laughed till the tears ran down their cheeks. At this moment Grim entered, and perceived at once that Ola Klemmerud was amusing the company at his son's expense. He grew hot about his ears, clinched his teeth, and stared challengingly at the bully. The latter began to feel uncomfortable, but he could not stop at this point without turning the laugh against himself, and that he had not the courage to do. So in order to avoid rousing the father's wrath, and yet preserving his own dignity, he went over to Bonnyboy, rumpled his hair with both his hands, and tweaked his nose. This appeared such innocent sport, according to his notion, that no rational creature could take offence at it. But Grim, whose sense of humor was probably defective, failed to see it in that light.

  "Let the boy alone," he thundered.

  "Well, don't bite my head off, old man," replied Ola. "I haven't hurt your fool of a boy. I have only been joking with him."

  "I don't think you are troubled with overmuch wit yourself, judging by the style of your jokes," was Grim's cool retort.

  The company, who plainly saw that Ola was trying to wriggle out of his difficulty, but were anxious not to lose an exciting scene, screamed with laughter again; but this time at the bully's expense. The blood mounted to his head, and his anger got the better of his natural cowardice. Instead of sneaking off, as he had intended, he wheeled about on his heel and stood for a moment irresolute, clinching his fist in his pocket.

  "Why don't you take your lunkhead of a son home to his mother, if he isn't bright enough to understand fun!" he shouted.

  "Now let me see if you are bright enough to understand the same kind of fun," cried Grim. Whereupon he knocked off Ola's cap, rumpled his hair, and gave his nose such a pull that it was a wonder it did not come off.

  The bully, taken by surprise, tumbled a step backward, but recovering himself, struck Grim in the face with his clinched fist. At this moment. Bonnyboy, who had scarcely taken in the situation; jumped up and screamed, "Sit down, Ola Klemmerud, sit down!"

  The effect of this abrupt exclamation was so comical, that people nearly fell from their benches as they writhed and roared with laughter.

  Bonnyboy, who had risen to go to his father's assistance, paused in astonishment in the middle of the floor. He could not comprehend, poor boy, why everything he said provoked such uncontrollable mirth. He surely had no intention of being funny.

  So, taken aback a little, he repeated to himself, half wonderingly, with an abrupt pause after each word, "Sit——down——Ola——Klemmerud——sit——down!"

  But Ola Klemmerud, instead of sitting down, hit Grim repeatedly about the face and head, and it was evident that the elder man, in spite of his strength, was not a match for him in alertness. This dawned presently upon Bonnyboy's slow comprehension, and his good-natured smile gave way to a flush of excitement. He took two long strides across the floor, pushed his father gently aside, and stood facing his antagonist. He repeated once more his invitation to sit down; to which the latter responded with a slap which made the sparks dance before Bonnyboy's eyes. Now Bonnyboy became really angry. Instead of returning the slap, he seized his enemy with a sudden and mighty grab by both his shoulders, lifted him up as if he were a bag of hay, and put him down on a chair with such force that it broke into splinters under him.

  "Will you now sit down?" said Bonnyboy.

  Nobody laughed this time, and the bully, not daring to rise, remained seated on the floor among the ruins of the chair. Thereupon, with imperturbable composure, Bonnyboy turned to his father, brushed off his coat with his hands and smoothed his disordered hair. "Now let us go home, father," he said, and taking the old man's arm he walked out of the room. But hardly had he crossed the threshold before the astonished company broke into cheering.

  "Good for you, Bonnyboy!" "Well done, Bonnyboy!" "You are a bully boy, Bonnyboy!" they cried after him.

  But Bonnyboy strode calmly along, quite unconscious of his triumph, and only happy to have gotten his father out of the room safe and sound. For a good while they walked on in silence. Then, when the effect of the excitement had begun to wear away, Grim stopped in the path, gazed admiringly at his son, and said, "Well, Bonnyboy, you are a queer fellow."

  "Oh, yes," answered Bonnyboy, blushing with embarrassment (for though he did not comprehend the remark, he felt the approving gaze); "but then, you know, I asked him to sit down, and he wouldn't."

  "Bless your innocent heart!" murmured his father, as he gazed at Bonnyboy's honest face with a mingling of affection and pity.

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