Martin Andersen Nexø.

Ditte, daughter of Man online

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I Among Strangers 3

II Homesickness 14

III Ditte's Mistress 28

IV A Welcome Visitor 38

V Ditte Visits Home 46

VI The Maid with the Rosy Cheeks . 69

VII Winter Darkness 80

VIII Winter Runs Its Tedious Course . 96

IX A Summer Day 107

X SoRiNE Comes Home 117

XI Ditte Consoles a Fellow-Creature 128

XII Summer Is Brief 135

XIII The Heart . . . . . .145

XIV The End OF Big Klaus . . . .157
XV Home Again 167

XVI The Son From the Hill Farm . .175

XVII Ditte Basks in THE Sun . . .186

XVIII The Feast 194

XIX ***** 207


XX V7hy Doesn*t the Lass Get

Married? 213

XXI Out IN the Wide World . . . 227

















The Maternity Home .... 248

The Angels 259

Ditte Makes One of the Family . 271
Ditte Is Promoted to the Rank

OF Parlor-Maid 282

Homeless! 293

Karl's Face 299

Ditte's Day 310

Spring 321

Good Days 333

Ditte Plucks Roses .... 347

The Dog 359

George and Ditte 369

The Reckoning 381




"'^K^T'OU won't be altogether among strangers
I either," Lars Peter had said by way of com-
fort, the evening before Ditte was to go off to
her first place. "The Hill Farm woman was called
Man before she was married; her grandfather and old
Soren Man's father must have been sort of half-
cousins. It's a bit distant of course — and perhaps
you'd better not make any remark about it — wait and
see if they come forward. It's always a mistake to
claim relations above you."

It was indeed distant — no doubt about that; and
he only mentioned it as a sort of consolation — for want
of something better. Lars Peter knew only too well
what relationship is worth when you're the under-dog.
And Ditte wasn't such a fool either.

All the same her father's words helped her along
the last and hardest bit of the road out. It was no
light thing to have to tramp to her first place, with no
companion of any kind. Ditte's heart was in her
mouth when she thought of the new life she was go-
ing to — how would she manage it? And the farm
people — how would they receive her? Perhaps too
there would be a big dog who v/ould drive her off,
so that she couldn't get into the farm at all, but would



have to wait in the road till somebody happened to
come. Then of course she would be scolded for com-
ing too late. Oh no, she would get in all right, but
which door was she to go to — the scullery or the fine
front door? And was she to say, I am the new little
girl? No; she must mind and say Good day first, or
else they would think her badly brought up, and that
would reflect on her home.

It wasn't at all easy, and here her father's com-
forting words stood her in good stead. When you
were one of the family — though it might be distant —
it was another thing; then you came half on a visit,
as it were ! The thought gave her a firmer foothold
at once, and Ditte wouldn't have been surprised to hear
her new mistress cry in astonishment, Well, is that
Ditte ! You take after our side of the family, you do
indeed !

When Ditte presently stood in the Hill Farm scul-
lery with her bundle under her arm, the reality pre-
sented itself rather differently. She had no chance of
saying anything, for Karen, the mistress of the house,
just looked her up and down with a dissatisfied air and
said : "So you're the rag and bone man's eldest? You're
a bit undersized for your age, aren't you? Put you
down to a bit of work and we shall lose sight of you

Nothing was said about relationship, and Ditte was
not surprised either! now she was once here she could
afford to look realities in the face. Perhaps the farm
people here simply knew nothing about the relation-
ship; there are so many poor people that it isn't easy


to remember all about them! At any rate Ditte was
illegitimate and so didn't count.

For that matter it was quite correct about the re-
lationship, but, as Lars Peter had said, it was a bit
distant. A son from the Naze Farm had got tired
of the drudgery at home and had gone northwestward
along the coast until he found this place and settled
down. Probably this happened at a time when the
Mans still got most of their living from the sea. At
all events the farm was badly placed for agriculture —
right out among the dunes where nothing could grow.
It was built at the upper end of a fold in the sloping
cliffs — as though with the object of hiding it from the
land side; it had no view of its own fields or of the
country behind them. Coming from the land, one
scarcely noticed that there was a farm here. On the
other hand, there was more than enough to be seen
of the sea; the three-winged farm buildings lay open
on that side, with their two arms conspicuously stretch-
ing out as though to embrace as much of the sea as
came in view at the bottom of the ravine. There must
have been a reason for this at one time; now at any
rate it was a topsy-turvy state of things. From the
windows of the living room, where according to the
laws of nature one ought to be able to keep an eye
on man and beast, there was always the sea and noth-
ing else in sight; from the cold, exposed farmyard it
was the same. Outside boats glided casually by, ap-
pearing from behind one corner of the cliff and van-
ishing again behind the other; ships passed by far
out, whose voyage none could guess; in clear weather


a blue bank loomed far away — land nobody knew or
cared to learn anything about. There was other
land near by, which it was more profitable to think

At one time, then, there had been an object and a
use for this; from these windows they could keep an
eye on boat and nets — and on strange craft. In the
course of time many a skipper had anchored off here
at night and had sold part of his cargo of com to
the Mans on the hill; and a few of them had come
here against their will. In those days there was a good
reason for the mill too, which now stood in ruins above
the farm buildings as a sort of monument to the fool-
ishness of the Hill Farm people. Nobody but a luna-
tic could have built the mill; for who would think of
driving right out to the seashore to get his corn

"Go to the Hill Farm mill, it can grind sand into
corn," was the derisive comment when anybody pro-
posed to do something really mad. But he who first
gave rise to the saying was not altogether out of bis
senses for all that. His back soon began to be bent
by dragging the heavy sacks from the beach up to the
mill at dead of night, and his face showed ugly traces
of his secret work. People were afraid of him. But
he amassed the dollars that the family could afterwards
spend. And he bought the land that became the Hill
Farm fields, and started farming — chiefly, no doubt,
to prevent questions being asked about all the corn
ground at his mill.

But the sea is so uncertain, and — somehow or other


— people grew more honest by degrees. Little by
little farming became the family's means of liveli-

Now they were farmers and nothing else. The earth
clung heavily to their wooden shoes, they wanted to
feel the firm ground under them, it made them giddy
to look at the rolling sea and they hated its wide ex-
panse. They never went down to the shore if they
could help it; the days were long past when they had
any business there; it was quite enough to have the sea
always staring them in the face. It lay there flaunting
its aggravating uselessness; it couldn't grow anything
and it only sent them chilly showers. If only that
fourth wing had been built! A proper farmyard was
square and closed in, that was the order of nature.
But here from the cradle to the grave they had to stare
at a gaping void, with the constant feeling of being on
the point of slipping out into the unknown. The farm-
yard was like a tilted sieve : if anything started rolling
it kept on till it reached the beach. And then some-
body had to go down to the detested water's edge and
bring the thing up again.

The people of the farm had to admit that in the long
run it is not a good thing to be shut off from one's own
belongings and kept constantly face to face with some-
thing one cannot bear the sight of. That outlook had
the same effect on them as the walls of his cell on a
convict and made them unbalanced and unruly. There
were many disorderly fellows among them, and the
farm kept gossip busy. This again contributed to their
feeling of isolation.


But they didn't altogether let things slide, the owners
of the Hill Farm. Any one of them might now and
again bring his fist down on the table with an oath
that now the gap should be closed with a new wing, or
the whole shanty moved up to the top of the hill. Then
he would have the horse put in, to set about it at once
— and come back from the town with a skinful. This
went on regularly from father to son: the cramped
daily life — and the violent excesses in one way or an-
other. When the Hill Farm folks let themselves go,
they always took a stride that split their breeches — so
people used to say.

Apart from this the heritage was nothing to speak
of. There was less and less to take over, and when
Karen came into it, every one knew that her share was
more vices than dollars. She had had to raise a new
loan on the farm simply to keep her eldest son at
the seminary.

No, the only heritage they could be sure of was
the crazy turn that showed up in all the Hill Farm
people. And the strangest thing about this inheritance
was that it was catching: strangers who married into
the family got just as queer in the head as the people
of the place. On the other hand, it wore off with those
of the children who left home early enough; they grad-
ually became like other people; and the casual off-
shoots round about, they also turned out well. So It
was a queer twist that stuck to the place itself — a sort
of curse maybe. It had the property of destroying
initiative; the Hill Farm people did not care to begin
anything new or to keep up the old either, but let every-


thing go to the dogs. "The farm is going to be moved
anyhow," they said, "so what's the use of it?"

Now there was a widow in possession, a pretty sharp
woman for looking after things — according to Hill
Farm ways, of course — but otherwise a weird sort of
creature that nobody could make out. She was a good
deal talked about, and the better part of the family
kept her at a distance. For money there was none,
and it didn't add to one's reputation either to be seen
about with her. She revenged herself on them by as-
sociating beneath her.

Pride was not one of Karen's faults — nobody could
say that of her. She made friends with crofters and
horse-dealers and was not afraid of going to the la-
borers' wives' birthday coffee parties on the Common.
So it is quite possible she had no idea that she was re-
lated to the rag and bone man. She hadn't much fam-
ily feeling; it was never very strong among the Mans;
they had been too long on the earth and had become
too numerous for that. They only kept count of those
who stood higher in the world or who had something
to leave.

The connection between the Naze and the Hill Farm
had worn rather thin in course of time. They did not
visit each other, but met at intervals of years at wed-
dings and funerals — just enough to know who was alive
and who was dead. When the sea had devoured so
much of the Naze Farm that it degenerated into a small
holding and no inheritance could any longer be ex-
pected from that quarter, even this kind of connection
ceased of its own accord. Nobody thought of invit-


ing crofters to anything; at the most their presence
might be tolerated at a funeral. The Hill Farm people
no longer had eyes for the quarter from whence they
had come.

It was somewhat different with the inhabitants of
the Naze cottage. They had their reasons for holding
on and had managed in a difficult and roundabout fash-
ion to find out what went on at the Farm over here —
though they were not a penny the better off for it.
Soren and Maren never forgot that they had farmer
relations out here; that was their weak point, and
they used to boast about it when things went too hard
with them. Not that they really expected anything;
early in life they had both reached the point where
they gave up looking for gifts of fortune.

All the same there were plenty of instances of a hun-
dred dollars or even more than that falling straight
into the laps of poor people. Granny knew all about
such happenings, far beyond the borders of the par-
ish, and time after time she would recount them to
Ditte. It was a queer feeling to be rolling in good
fortune like this — and then to know that she herself
would never have any chance. "You'll never get a
prize, Ditte," said Granny; "for you are illegitimate,
and they don't inherit." "Then they don't have to
inherit all the bad things either," Ditte answered with
a derisive nod; she had early learnt how to console her-
self. But Granny was not quite so sure about that as
she was about the other thing.

Well, Ditte didn't mind about not being an heiress —
she would get on all right just the same. Perhaps she


Would marry somebody with lots of money — a poor
fellow whom she had accepted for love and nothing
else. And then, when she had said Yes, he would
throw off his shabby old greatcoat and appear in fine
clothes. ^'My father is rich enough for us both!" he
would say; "I only wanted to find out if you loved
me for my own sake." Or perhaps she would find
something on the road, a purse with lots of money
in it — which nobody had lost, so that she would not
have to give it up to the police. — There were plenty
of other ways besides inheriting. . . .

Whether the Hill Farm people were aware of the
relationship or not — at any rate they didn't give any
sign of it but insisted that the new little girl should
make herself useful. And after all this was no sur-
prise to Ditte. Any one would have to be pretty low
down in the world to come up to one of the rag and
bone man's family and say. We're related, you and L
All the same it was a secret satisfaction to know that
she had relations above her — it gave her something
tangible in the direction of her longings. There was
a beaten track to fortune, others of her family had gone
along it before her.

For the present, at all events, the farm was no dis-
appointment to her. Ditte was not troubled by the
atmosphere of gossip and bad repute; and there was
just enough excitement in it to keep her childish spirit
from losing its buoyancy. Ditte had promised her-
self a great deal in her new world, so much that she
shuddered to plunge into it. And for the present she
had no reason to feel that she had been cheated; here


were dark riddles enough. The darkness here seemed
to come to life about one, sometimes it positively caught
one by the legs.

But the daylight had also Its story. They kept a
cask of meat here as at the "Crow's Nest," only much
bigger; you didn't have to run out and buy something
for every meal. There were hens here who went and
laid their eggs in all sorts of impossible places; pigs
that stood stretching up all day long with their feet
in the trough — which was always empty no matter how
much you poured into it; there were young calves whose
eyes turned to strange blue lights in the twilight of
the cowshed, when they were allowed to lick one's hand.
Ditte recognized it all with an odd kind of gladness;
it gave her the same sensation below the heart as when
hot tallow from the candle ran over her fingers. The
milk-strainer was hung up to dry on the scullery door-
post, and such implements as the scythe-sharpener and
the hoe were thrust into the eaves of the outhouses.
The ax stuck fast in the block, so fast that it could
hardly be jerked out, and the scythes hung in the big
hawthorn outside the farmyard, with the sharp blades
against the trunk — all these precautions lest children
should come to any harm.

This was the "Crow's Nest" over again, only much
bigger. Even Pers the cat had his absolute double
here — a regular sluggard who lay all day long on a
warm stone basking in the sun. But at night nobody
saw him, except the rats and mice. His likeness to
Pers was positively uncanny, and he was just as affec-
tionate with her. It was almost as if they had known


each other always, and if she had not known better . . .
but then she had herself seen the innkeeper pounce on
Pers with his huge goblin's claws and shove him into
a sack — for stealing his fish. First he gave the sack
a couple of whacks against the stone quay and then
hove It into the harbor — and there were stones in the
sack. It wasn't even certain that Pers had stolen the
innkeeper's fine plaice : Fore-and-Aft Jakob was prowl-
ing about close by and was. by no means so foolish as
they made out. At any rate the "Ogre" need not have
left his basket on the ground. But Pers had to die
— in spite of the children's tears. And now it almost
seemed as if he had risen from the grave. Even in
his wild appetite for fish he was as like the real Pers
as two peas. Every morning he went down to the
beach and jumped out on to one of the rocks. There
he lay in wait for flounders and other small fish that
kept in the shallow water, and when they came near
enough he slipped a paw under them and pulled them
up on to the rock. It was funny to watch the strug-
gle between his fear of water and his dainty appetite
and how it made him shiver all over. That was all
the fish he got, for they never ate fish at the Hill Farm.
They thought it gave you tapeworm.


EVERY morning about four Ditte woke up at the
sound of shambling footsteps on the cobble-
stones leading to the door of her little room.
This was the middle-aged day-laborer, who always
called her when he came in the morning. Ditte didn't
like him; his mouth was always dirty — with chewing
tobacco and bad language, and they said he was not
good to his wife and children. She was out of
bed in a second. "I am up!" she shouted, hanging
on to the door-bolt with all her weight. If she
was not before him, he would push the upper half-
door wide open and stand there grinning, with his
dirty mouth gaping wide and showing his black

As soon as she heard him go up to the house again^
she let go of the bolt and slipped into her thin clothes,
with her heart beating wildly against her gray shift,
while she stood plaiting her hair and gazing out at
the day through the open half-door. She held one of
the plaits in her mouth while her fingers were busy
with the other, blinking out towards the sea, where
daybreak lay sparkling with a thousand fires. The
strong morning air streamed In on her from every side,
a strange blending of fragrance, light and freshness,
and flowed through her from t^e roots of her hair



to the tips of her toes. It made her sneeze and drop
the plait out of her mouth.

Then she was out on the cobblestones, with her hair
combed straight and two thin plaits hanging down her
back, rather blue with the cold and wide awake. She
was like a bird that suddenly shoots out of the dark-
ness under the bushes and is struck flat by the light.
She stole a glance up at the house — and suddenly
started off round the corner.

**Now I'm hanged if the lass isn't off to the sea
again," said the laborer, who was sitting in the kitchen
munching his breakfast. "She must be quite mad about
that water; one would think she had fishes' blood in

"Well, let her," answered the servant girl — "it don't
hurt anybody. Neither the mistress nor the son is
up yet."

Ditte shot away on her bare feet through the sharp
wet bent-grass, right out to the high cliff where she
had the sea spread out beneath her, in a marvelous rose-
colored calm or gray and lashed into foam, according
to the weather. Which it might be didn't matter, Ditte
didn't care about the sea, not a bit. It had never done
her any good; it had filled Granddad with rheumatism
and had brought uneasiness into Granny's life and her
own too. But there was this about it, that it washed
the fishing hamlet too; it was the same water in both
places and you could have sailed there, if the Hill
Farm had had a boat. Ditte didn't mind what the sea
looked like; it had eaten up the land at the Naze Farm
and made them poor, and in stormy weather it had


shaken Granny's cottage and sent its spray right up to
its windows. She knew of pleasanter things. But if
she was lucky, she might be in time to see the boats
returning from their night's fishing. The distance was
too great for her to distinguish one from another; but
her father's boat was among them and she was sure
he would be looking out in her direction. She chose
one of them for his and followed it till it disap-
peared behind the Naze, where the fishing hamlet
lay hidden.

This kind of nonsense was not to the taste of Karen
of the Hill Farm, and at first she had tried to put a
stop to it. But as it was no use and the girl was well-
behaved and willing in other ways, she explained it
as a sort of craze and gave up fighting against it. The
child's father and grandfather and perhaps many more
generations had been seafaring men, so the attraction
was not to be wondered at.

Except in this one matter Ditte was not good at
asserting herself; Lars Peter's fear that she might be
too determined in standing up for her rights aid so
make difficulties for herself proved to be quite un-
founded. Ditte's bravery did not take this form; she
was governed by one feeling only — a desire to suit her-
self to her surroundings and above all to her mistress,
and to do her duty as well as she was able. An angry
word or look was enough to plunge her into black de-
spair and make her feel the most wretched creature on

Ditte was not one of those who want a thing said
twice; as a rule she knew what to do without being


told. She came from the lowest depths — and was
therefore in the habit of doing more than might rightly
be asked of her; there is often a fatal connection be-
tween the two things. From her birth it had been
only too forcibly brought home to her that she had
to serve others; everything in her existence accorded
with this state of things, and she had a positive yearn-
ing to make herself useful. If she neglected anything
it was never intentional.

And now she was even going to get wages for her
work — she was grown up ! For the present she was
engaged to mind the cows and sheep and for the sum-
mer she was to have homespun for a dress, a pair of
wooden shoes, a pound of wool, a holland shift — and
five crowns in cash if she worked well. The innkeeper
had settled it all for them and got his fee for the

She did not spare herself, and by the time she drove
the cows on to the Common, late in the forenoon, she
was already tired. She had been up with the sun and
had helped to milk and get the breakfast for the farm
hands, had scoured pans and pails and run after one
thing and another. They were everlastingly whistling
and calling for the "little girl"; she had to save every-
body's legs.

But on the Common she could make up for it by
taking things easily — only she had to be careful not
to fall asleep. The Common was a wide, low-lying
tract behind the high coast-line; the underground wa-
ter which could not escape into the sea collected here.
Originally it had all been a lake, which had become


overgrown in course of time ; when the cows moved over
the pasture it set up a wavy motion which often spread
far on either side. Grass and rushes alternated with
swamp and low clumps of birch, aspen and alder where
the ground rose; each little group of trees was en-
circled by its wreath of heather. The center of the
little thicket was high and dry, arid here Ditte made

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 1 of 23)