The seventh renounced all he had meant to become in this world. Once he had thought that he would like to push on as far as being a king, once as far as general or priest; now that time was over. But even to the moment of his coming here he had thought of going to sea and becoming a captain; perhaps a pirate, and acquiring enormous riches; now he gave up first the riches, then the pirate, then the captain, then the mate; he paused at sailor, at the utmost boatswain; indeed, it was possible that he would not go to sea at all, but would take a houseman’s place on his father’s gard.
The eighth was more hopeful about his case but not certain, for even the aptest scholar was not certain. He thought of the clothes he was to be confirmed in, wondering what they would be used for if he did not pass. But if he passed he was going to town to get a broadcloth suit, and coming home again to dance at Christmas to the envy of all the boys and the astonishment of all the girls.
The ninth reckoned otherwise: he prepared a little account book with the Lord, in which he set down on one side, as it were, “Debit:” he must let me pass, and on the other “Credit:” then I will never tell any more lies, never tittle-tattle any more, always go to church, let the girls alone, and break myself of swearing.
The tenth, however, thought that if Ole Hansen had passed last year it would be more than unjust if he who had always done better at school, and, moreover, came of a better family, did not get through this year.
By his side sat the eleventh, who was wrestling with the most alarming plans of revenge in the event of his not being passed: either to burn down the school-house, or to run away from the parish and come back again as the denouncing judge of the priest and the whole school commission, but magnanimously allow mercy to take the place of justice. To begin with, he would take service at the house of the priest of the neighboring parish, and there stand number one next year, and answer so that the whole church would marvel.
But the twelfth sat alone under the clock, with both hands in his pockets, and looked mournfully out over the assemblage. No one here knew what a burden he bore, what a responsibility he had assumed. At home there was one who knew,—for he was betrothed. A large, long-legged spider was crawling over the floor and drew near his foot; he was in the habit of treading on this loathsome insect, but to-day he tenderly raised his foot that it might go in peace whither it would. His voice was as gentle as a collect, his eyes said incessantly that all men were good, his hands made a humble movement out of his pockets up to his hair to stroke it down more smoothly. If he could only glide gently through this dangerous needle’s eye, he would doubtless grow out again on the other side, chew tobacco, and announce his engagement.