Martin Andersen Nexø.

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this afternoon, so I just wanted to say a word or two to
you — now I've got you together. You don't come to
meeting very often, and I don't blame you for it. I
guess you think you sleep better at home. And when
you're asleep you don't sin, the saying goes. But now
we've got you pretty fast; if the food won't keep you
here, the bottles'll manage It all right; you won't run
away from God's word to-day.

"But I suppose you think God's word ought to be
given you by a man of God, and your Idea Is that I'm a
hell of a fellow. There's mad Jakob going about aim-
ing at him with his loaded gun, you say to yourselves.
But I'll let you Into a secret; Jakob's gun won't go off —
there isn't any lock to it. I sold him the gun myself
when I heard he wanted to shoot me. You may just
as well make the profit as any one else, 1 thought, and
passed ofiF an old gun on him. That's the whole secret!
But I can tell you another story about a gun and a hell
of a fellow. One evening I was out duck-shooting here
to the south and I met Old Nick himself, he had horns
on his forehead and snorted fire out of his nostrils —
something very different from a poor misshapen Ogre.
I suppose you think he'd come to fetch me? Not a
bit of It — he only chatted about this, that and the other
— when he could take one of you and when he'd come
for another. 'What's that you've got there?' says he
and takes hold of my double-barrelled gun. 'That's a
tobacco pipe,' I say. He wanted to try how it smoked,
so I let him take both barrels In his mouth and fired.
But Old Nick sneezed and said, 'That's strong tobacco


you smoke.' Well, that's what I call a hell of a fellow
to stand fire. As for Jakob here, why, he paid for it
with his last small savings. If anybody deserves to be
called a hell of a fellow, it's me for not turning a hair
when I sold it him.

"But have you ever seen the Ogre turn a hair?
You've seen him take your daily bread with one hand
and give it you back with the other; you remembered
the one and forgot the other — and that's how it always
is. He might have kept his fingers to himself, you
think, what did he want with us? — Ah, what did I
want with you?

"I wanted to exploit you, and I did it as well as 1
could — as is the duty of man to exploit what lies to his
hand and make the earth subject to himself. You didn't
like it, but do you think the horse likes drawing the cart
or the sheep being sheared? They want their fodder,
but they don't want to do anything for it.

"Ah, but we're men, you think — or perhaps you
don't even think that? Scarcely, I should say — and
then can you expect others to think so? Man is made
in God's image, we are told. Do you think / was? — I
should guess God would rather be excused. That
makes you laugh — but if you are the ones that are made
in God's image, I should almost think it was worse.

"Get angry if you like. If I didn't know it was the
brandy that had put your bristles up, I could almost
respect you.

"Let me tell you one thing before I go, and don't
take offense at it — the Lord forgot something when he
created you. If he breathed the breath of life into you,


he must have done it at the wrong end, or else I don't
see how you could be so dull. You complained now and
then when the harness chafed you, but you settled down
to it; so you deserved nothing better. And don't
you think you liked your slavery after all? It's easier
to get your food chewed for you than to chew it your-
self. I've chewed for all of you; that's what my teeth
are for; but what have you done? There isn't one of
you that's got a bite in him. I've thought time and
again : how can they stand it — why don't they send you
to blazes? But you're always ready to lick the hand
that strikes you — there isn't a man among you — unless
it's Lars Peter, but he's too soft, he is; you can turn
him round if you get him by the heart.

"And now I'm going to thank you for what's past,
for I reckon we've finished with one another now.
You made it hard for me — ^by making it too easy. It
takes a man to drive a pair of horses, and he has to
look after the reins all the time, but with you — we've
only got to give you a push and you go on all your lives
— slow enough, to be sure. You're the tamest beasts of
burden I've ever had to deal with, one could drive you
with a broomstick. But what do you care? That's
where you've been able to beat me, you've won by your
sleepiness. Now I'm going to follow your example and
see if a little sleep won't do me good. Good luck to
you all!"

They were all pretty sheepish after the inn-keeper
had gone.

"That was a bit over the top," said Lars Peter sud-
denly — "he gave it us this time !"


That released the tension.

"Yes, he roughed you up a bit," said the Copen-
hageners. "But, my word, what a jaw that man's got!"

The sun was about to set; they were hanging about
waiting for the music to start dancing. Karl had fin-
ished his work; he and Ditte were walking and chatting
arm in arm near the scene of the feast. A lot of young
people had come in from the farms round about to get
a dance ; Lars Peter ran into Sine from the Hill Farm.

"So you haven't lost your blessed red cheeks yet," he
said gaily, "You're just the girl I want to hop round

The young people got impatient and sent some one
up to the inn to fetch the fiddler. He did not come back
and another one was sent. At last somebody came run-
ning down the hollow way, a young fellow from one of
the farms.

"There won't be any dance," he shouted open-
mouthed — "the Inn-keeper's shot himself! He took
both barrels In his mouth and pulled the trigger with
his big toe. His brains are scattered all over the

There was a shriek, a single short sharp scream;
Lars Peter knew the sound and started to run. Ditte
lay writhing In the grass — wailing; Karl was bending
over her. Lars Peter took her up in his arms and
carried her home.


DITTE lay on the top of the bed moaning with
closed eyes. Round about her they were run-
ning in and out, in and out. Now and then she
felt a cold sweaty trembling hand on her forehead —
it was Karl's.

"Go in to Mother," she whispered. "Oh — oh !" and
then she sent a long piercing shriek out into the summer
nigiit. Why were they all running about and tramping
so heavily — and why was she being tortured? Through
her half-closed eyelids she could see all that was going
on in the living-room. The women were running back-
wards and forwards in there, putting down one thing
and taking up another — and tramping. Her mother
would get no peace, poor woman. But Karl must be
sitting in there with her: it was silly of him to keep
coming in and out of the lying-in room, making a fool
of himself before all the women. He ought to be sit-
ting by her mother's bed, that's where he ought to be,
holding her hand, and seeing that she didn't get snuffed
out like a candle. Oh no! Ditte opened her mouth
wide. She did not hear her own shrieks, but she heard
every other sound : somebody running round the corner
in wooden shoes, somebody else bringing a chair Into
the room. It was the midwife's chair of the hamlet, she
knew it well from Lars Jensen's widow's cottage, where



it was kept. It was very broad and quite short in the
seat; the children had taken it for a bench.

"The rack," was what Lars Jensen's widow had
called it. She was present at every childbirth, though
she had never had any children of her own ; where the
rack went, she went too. There was her voice, just
over Ditte's head. "Come on, my girl," she said,
"we'll get it over in a jiffy."

Then they dragged her on to the rack and propped
her up. Her feet were put on the cross-bars and her
knees stretched right out till they rested against the
arms of the chair. They held her by the knees and
Lars Jensen's widow stood behind pressing her hips.

"There," she said, "now for it."

And Ditte set up a piercing shriek.

"That's right," they said, laughing, "they could hear
that right up at the Hill Farm."

Ditte couldn't understand; she had heard quite
plainly the little clock strike two in the middle of her
pangs — and why did they say the Hill Farm ?

"Now, then — here it comes again!" exclaimed Lars
Jensen's widow. And Ditte yielded as to a word of
command. Oh, but why were they torturing her?
What had she done? She cried to heaven in her woe,
groaning and wailing, crushed and maltreated by fright-
ful torments.

"This is the nasty part," the women said, laughing:
"you've got to pay for your pleasure."

Oh, but no, no, no ! The pleasure of sin, what was
it? What had she done but her duty, always her duty?
And now she was to be punished with the torments of


hell; they seized her with red-hot pincers and gave an-
other turn to the rack, and when she gnashed her teeth
and screamed like a wild beast they laughed and said,
"More still !" A thousand devils had hold of her, there
were flames before her eyes.

And suddenly it all vanishes and she hears Karl talk-
ing to her mother in his slow, drawling way, about life
here and the life hereafter; and she thinks with glad-
ness that it is a good thing he has come to live with
them, for now her mother has somebody who under-
stands her. She can talk to him; with him she seems to
slip away, farther and farther away..

But now her eyes see something beautiful, a new
light has come into them. And it is Karl who has
brought it.

And suddenly it comes back again; everything falls
upon her, she is crushed and mangled among fragments
of a collapsing world.

"There now!" says a voice; "we got over that very
nicely." A child's voice screams, and Ditte sinks quite
softly into an abyss.

When she woke again, the sun was shining in on
her and she lay in a white bed with hem-stitched sheets,
and there were white frills on her wrists and neck. Her
pale red hair lay over her night-dress; one of the
women had been brushing it and stood by with the
brush in her hand, saying:

"It's quite pretty after all, the girl's hair is; you
never noticed that before, because it was plaited."

The pleated border of the pillow stood out round
her head, and in her arm lay a little red object — a


human bundle. She looked at it with strange and indif-
ferent eyes, while Karl stood by the bed weeping with
joy about some meaningless thing or other.

"But you're alive !" he said.

Yes, of course she was alive ; what else should she be ?

Then Lars Peter came rushing in ; he had been at the
inn to ask them to have a trap ready — a matter of life
and death. He took the baby from her and held it up
to the light.

"Oh, what a lovely little sprig of humanity!" he said
with warmth and feeling in his voice. "You might let
me have him."

Then for the first time Ditte understood that it was
a real living child she had got, and she reached out for
the little one.



DITTE came out of the door of the "poor house"
with her baby in her arms. For a minute she
stood sniffing at the fresh air as if considering
things, then she ventured over the threshold, and took
her away towards the old pensioners' house. The
women came to their doors in all the cottages round
about. So she was visible once again ! Hussies who
had their babies on the wrong side of the blanket had
an easy time of it! Other women had to wait before
they showed their faces abroad until they had been
churched and cleansed from all defilement and the
smirch of sin at the Lord's altar. But of course those
low rag and bone folk were put above those who went
to church — and possibly it was only the marriage bed
that was defiled! People could almost believe it when
they saw how obstinately the hussy strove against lying
in it!

But it was interesting to see this child-mother, who,
as far back as they could remember, had dragjjed a
youngster about with her, now walking off with her
own — still half a child herself! It seemed as if she
had been obliged to get one of her own to keep her
hand in, when her brothers and sisters grew big. She
looked all right again too! Her hair stood out about
the little round head, and caught the light; her warm



blood tingled under the lightly freckled skin, still soft
and transparent after childbirth, and blossomed forth
into roses at the least provocation. The hussy — a
man's kisses and handling had in no way spoilt her
looks. It well became her to be a young mother !

But an absurd figure she cut too — the stuck-up chit !
Not only did she go and have a child, which was not
such a difficult thing to do after all; but she was in the
uncommon position of having a father for it! Then
why on earth wouldn't she marry him ? It was no doubt
Rasmus Olsen's Martha that began the infection, she
was in the habit of turning her claws on her beloved,
like a cat! The boy was now nearly a couple of
months ; it was none too soon to hold him over the font
— it never did to give the Evil One more of a hold on
a child than necessary. And so convenient too, to have
held the wedding and christening at the same time — a
double event, as you might say. But counsel and advice
were not wanted here! Inmates of "the poor house"
were quite grand people — they didn't need to borrow a
bag before they went a-begging.

It was really strange that the old couple continued to
patronize Ditte — they who were otherwise too select
to rub shoulders with other folks. You could almost
call it encouraging vice ! Yes, she had better cards In
her hand than most people, but did she as much as say
*'Thank you" for that? The only one In the house
vv^ho had liked Karl was the murderess Sorine; and no
sooner was she dead than he packed up and disap-
peared. As was only natural, no one ever heard
from him.


It was certainly a peculiar Idea to drive away a per-
son whom Fate had once for all marked out for one.
She could never be really free of him, however much
she might struggle and strive, — who had ever heard of
folk here on earth running away from their own? And
it had left proper traces on her too! He was a queer
fish though, of course — neither played cards nor
danced, and never went to a pub either. But then he
had other good points. At any rate he was a man,
right enough! And a farmer's son into the bargain!
It looked pretty bad for a penniless rag and bone
man's daughter, — a love-child at that, — to turn up
her nose at a farmer's son, — especially when she had
unloosened her girdle for him. Anybody else would
have thanked their God if the man had condescended
to them at all in such circumstances.

Ditte saw their heads clustered round about the
doors, and knew to a "T" what they were gossiping
about. But they could just talk! She knew her own
mind, and she had both her father and the old couple
in the "Gingerbread House" to back her up. The old
wife had called Lars Peter to her sick-bed, and laid
strict commands on him never to aggravate Ill-luck into
possible misery by letting Ditte marry Karl. How-
ever, there was no danger of It, for on that point Lars
Peter was just as crazy as the girl. If she didn't want
to go to the altar, he would be the very last to drag
her there. What she really had against Karl as mat-
ters now stood, he did not quite understand; but per-
haps it was something she had inherited from both So-
nne and himself. Neither of the two families had been


especially noted for their eagerness to run to the
church, — yet in spite of it, they had borne children with
God's blessing, had got on well together, and had bided,
faithfully side by side until the last. He forgot — now
as ever — that he was not really Ditte's father.

He did not feel any pride in her connection with a
farmer's son either. Karl was too effeminate for him,
and the farmer in him did not appeal to Lars Peter.
He had never been able to understand Sorine here with
her eternal ambition to rise to the farmer class. He
and his had nothing to thank the farmer class for; like
a strange sort of bird among the others his kin had
always been hated and persecuted for their dark rest-
less traits. They had got their own back when and
where they could, through generations, as hangmen,
witches and tramps. Folk hurled them forth into the
night — and they returned — in league with the unholy
Powers of Darkness. They always brought the spirit
of unrest into the peaceful countryside,* and with it laAV-
lessness and passion. People never knevv' where to
have them. They disturbed and robbed poultry-yards
and sheep-folds, brought knives into peaceful dance
gatherings, and now and then their raven locks made
even the most virtuous spouse waver in her allegiance.
For that alone they were cordially detested by the

That side of Lars Peter had burnt itself out long
ago — the comparatively small share of it that he had
inherited. It had passed with his youth and early man-
hood; since he had seen his wife and four children — all
that he held dear here on earth, lying wet and cold in a


row by the well side, he ran amuck no more. Yet there
had been a tinie later on — a senseless year or two as a
sailor, but it had glided out of his memory leaving
practically no trace. The only vestiges were the tend-
ency to vagabondage — which came to the surface again
in him. The farmers knew this characteristic of his and
placed him accordingly.

That did not matter, Lars Peter had no ambitions in
that quarter. In his eyes the farmer appeared a
creature most deserving of pity — a blind mole feeling
and knowing nothing outside of his own hole in the
earth. Despised and outcast though he was, he more
or less looked down on the whole farmer class.
No, he did not feel at all honored by such a con-

Kristian was now on a farm about three miles off
and helped with the work; he went to school from
there. And it was the same old story — they could
never get enough out of him. He never got time to
come home, and had to learn his lessons on the way
to school, and to run all the way too. Farmers were
all alike, at all times 1

Ditte did not expect Lars Peter to force her inclina-
tions; — he felt himself to be quite as much a grand-
father to an illegitimate brat, as possible father-in-law
to a farmer's son.

Ditte had got the old woman up while she made her
bed and washed and tidied her. Now she sat in the
cane chair by the bedside and gave her little one the
breast. The old woman lay on her back and dozed, she
was tired out after being got up. She had not much


strength left; only having her hair done or another
nightdress put on made her absolutely collapse. She
had not long to live, her life was ebbing day by day.
But she was gentle and mild and full of thoughtfulness
for others ; what would become of the old man when he
no longer had her?

Ditte was resting peacefully. Her mind was full of
vague questions that needed no answer. She was tired
and it was pleasant to sit thus half asleep and feel the
milk flowing into her breast and up to the nipple. The
boy was a perfect little glutton. ... It was all she
could do to keep him supplied with food. And the
least thing made her tired and sleepy. He drank with
long rhythmic gulps, and had a quaint meditative ex-
pression in his little eyeS' — rather like Karl when re-
ligiously inclined. So he himself lay and listened
for sounds.

The old woman opened her eyes. "How hard he
works," said she, smiling, "like a little pump !"

"He always takes it like that, when he really likes It.
He would like to suck it in through his ears too !"

"I shall never know what that feels like. The Lord
could not have thought us fitted to have children," said
the old woman.

"Very likely you were too tidy," answered Ditte
thoughtfully, "it wouldn't be amusing to be a child in a
house where you can't do this, and mustn't do that
either. But you wouldn't have had such a peaceful time
all the same."

The sick woman laughed heartily.

"Do you think so? But perhaps we shouldn't have


been so tidy if we had had children to bring a little
untidiness into our life. We would gladly have sacri-
ficed a little of the peacefulness."

"But they bring a lot of sorrow," said Ditte seri-
ously. "Look at father; how much trouble he has had
through me."

"I think he has had much joy too," answered the old
woman, and reached after her hand. "The sorrow you
have given him till now, I would gladly have borne for
the sake of a daughter, and I think father would say the
same. We have never had anything but each other,
and we must be thankful for that, even if we are a little
selfish and study our own comfort, and find our happi-
ness in having things nice."

Every minute the old man came slouching into the
room and sat down by the bed. He said nothing, but
held his v/ife's hand a moment. Then he suddenly let
go; went away and gazed meditatively at the clock and
slouched out again. Outside they could hear his steps
going constantly to and fro; it was wonderful what he
could find to be so busy about. "He's like that all the
time," said the woman, "so busy, so busy. He has no
time to sit with me, and yet he can't let me lie; so he
runs to and fro continually. He calls it making things
tidy, although everything has been in its place as long
back as I can call to mind. He can be up in the loft all
day long, messing about, and he has never finished; he
has the feeling that we shall soon leave here."

Ditte sat meditating a little. "Why do you always
say 'we'?" she asked at last.

The old lady looked uncomprehendingly at her.


"Yes, for people don't die both together, suddenly."

"Oh! Is that what you mean? You are surprised
that I always count Father in everything. But you
will come to understand it one day, for I hope that you
too will find one for whom you can wear yourself right
out, and come to dwell entirely in him. Perhaps our
life has not been of much use; we haven't done much
upon earth when looked at like that. If people really
live to labor and till the earth, we. shall go before our
Maker with empty hands. We have brought forth
nothing: on the contrary, we have consumed what
others have left to us. But we have been good to each
other and not thought of ourselves, but lived one for
the other. And it has been a beautiful thing to know
that you do not need to think about yourself, for an-
other will take all that trouble from you. He who can
confide his weal and woe to another is in good hands;
thus each one grows into the other's being and they
become inseparable. We have but little to say to each
other, for we think the same thoughts, and at night we
often dream the same dreams also."

"When I am asleep, I can feel if Povl or As have
kicked off the clothes," said Ditte seriously, "Then I
have no rest before I wake myself, and get up and
cover him again."

"Yes, you are a good lass ! We shall miss you, all
of us, that you may be sure."

"Sister Else will come every day and lend you a
hand; she is a clever girl for her age."

The old woman lay drumming her fingers on the
quilt. "Karl is not quite so bad as he is made out, so


far as one can judge," said she suddenly. "He has sent
money, you say?"

"But we don't Icnow where it comes from. He had
better stop writing. I have nothing against him — he is
really good and kind. But I can't bear to think of his
making love to me ; it makes me feel quite sick !"

"Perhaps that's your punishment because he didn't
misuse you from love. Sometimes when I look round
the world I think that we Vv/omen are there just for that,
and that it is better to be misused, as it is called, than to
live a barren life. We don't fall tc pieces when a man
takes hold of us as much as people cry out we do.
There's a lot of hypocrisy about and we women like to
make ourselves out more fragile than we are. 1 should
think you could be well rewarded for it all by living
your life at Karl's side; he is not an every-day person.
He has only started badly, but happiness can be built
up in so many ways. And now he cares for you, that
you may be sure of."

"But I don't care for him — not a bit," replied Ditte

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 13 of 23)