Martin Andersen Nexø.

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hastily. "He is so silly."

The old woman patted her hand. "Yes, yes, now
you have your boy, so there is no reason to waste any
more tears on the matter. But when you come out into
the world you will find that men are often silly, and
that Karl is not just like them. Now let us see if you
can look out for yourself when you meet them in their
fine clothes. And now you had better go, for I want to
rest a little."

"Shan't 1 get the supper ready first?"

"No, Father can do that all right. He must have a


little to be busy with. But let me kiss your boy
properly, before you go away with him."

Ditte laid the child in the old woman's arms. "It is
strange that such a little being seems to say more to
us than one who has a long life behind him. And it
has never thought a single thought yet, and smells all
over of milk. Life comes to you clean and appetizing
when you have a baby, and yet we hear that man is
born in sin. It is difficult to understand. But go now
before he begins to scream. And good luck and happi-
ness be with you both."

"I will come back again and say a proper 'good-bye*
before I start," said Ditte and bent over the bed to take
the boy.

"No, let this rather be our 'good-bye'; it is so hard
to part. And I will tell you now, child, that I thank
God for having met you. You have made father and me
richer; it is due to you that we have come to believe in
the world again." She had taken Ditte by the cheek.
"Father says you have a heart of gold. May you get
on all right in the world with that ! Think a little of
yourself as well; one is obliged to in a world where
most of us only think of ourselves." She kissed her
once more and pushed her away, Ditte did not under-
stand much of these words; but she grasped the gravity
of the farewell, and cried a little on the homeward
way. The old woman had been as a mother to her in
that difficult time; the best and dearest of mothers!
And now she was treading the same path that Granny
had trod — there where neither tears nor appeals could
reach her. Who would keep Ditte's spirits up now and


tell her, that in spite of everything that had happened,
she was a good little woman?

Lars Peter had pulled up just outside the house and
was busied in unharnessing. He had got hold of some
old harness — just then for hire, and was driving about
hawking herrings again. Old rubbish which he had
gathered up in his rounds of the farms, lay at the back
of the cart. He had stabled the horse and cart in
Widow Doriom's deserted rooms, and grazed the horse
in the hollows of the dunes. Now there was no inn-
keeper to come spying and forbid him these poverty-
stricken expedients.

"What is the matter?" he asked; alarmed at Ditte's
tear-stained face; "there is nothing wrong with the
baby, is there?"

"I have been over to the old people," said Ditte and
hurried in to get out of further explanations. She could
not bear to think of it, much less to speak of it. She
gave the baby to Else and began to warm her father's
supper. He was always very hungry when he came
home from his rounds. It was not like the old days,
when there was a good deal of food about on the farms.
Now they had become stingy. Everything had to be
sold and turned into money.

Ditte could not understand who bought all the food
the farmers produced: anyhow not much of it came
their way ! She had put a little bit of pork into the fish
pie which had been set aside for Father from dinner,
and that bit of pork had its own strange history. Kris-
tian had saved it from his own food up at the farm or
how else had he come into possession of it? He had


passed it on to Else at school to take home with her; it
was so long since Father had tasted pork. Yes, what
a long time it was since they had had pork in the house !
And how like Kristian to think of it! Ditte peered
anxiously out while she was stirring the frying-pan.
Now the two ravenous boys would naturally smell the
po - k, and come hurrying up, wolfishly hungry. Ah,
vi ell ! Away, shadows ! Let the sun shine !

"Well, I have found a home for the boy," said her
father in a low voice when he had finished his meal and
got his pipe filled. It was with a middle-aged childless
couple; Lars Peter thought the little fellow would be
well off there; the man was a crofter at Noddebo.
"Are you just as determined to go to the city?" he
asked. "Couldn't you think of going to one of
the smaller towns — Frederiksværk, for example, — or
Hillerod? Then you would be nearer the child, — and
us too." No, Ditte wanted to go to Copenhagen. Out
here every one said: "Oh, the rag and bone man's
lass, the one with the illegitimate child!" But there
there would be no one who knew anything about the
matter, so she would be taken on her own merits, and
Ditte promised herself that she would soon be looked
up to. It had gone badly enough for a long time, but
up there were many opportunities for those who really
wanted work, and Ditte was very determined to give
her fate a helping hand.

"Yes, If only I had a little money!" said Lars Peter
with a sigh. "Then I could have gone Into town with
you, and begun a little ironmongery business, or else
got hold of a little land." Lars Peter had quite for-


gotten the troubles he had endured in the "Crow's
Nest." Now he would have had no objection to begin-
ning the old life again, — half on the land, and half on
the road.

It was not worth while staying In the hamlet. Things
got still worse after the innkeeper's death. The in-
habitants were unaccustomed to think or do business
for themselves, and wandered aimlessly about. There
was no method in anything. The boat and tackle could
not be kept up like this, and food was hardly to be got.
They had no connection for selling their catch to — the
innkeeper had always seen to that. In order to make
things a little better, Lars Peter took to the road again,
and began to hawk herrings. He was not at all dis-
pleased at the change. It brought food to the house,
and it made his blood run a little faster again. Truth
to tell, he had had enough of the fishing, which brought
in its train little food in the larder, but cold in the limbs
and many night-watches. His fingers itched to begin
something new, in a new place, — to try another way of
making a living. But the money! "If he had to come
to grief, what satisfaction had he in laying hands on my
little all?" he asked, for certainly the twentieth

But Ditte did not encourage him in this vagabond-
age; it had become worse and worse for them, every
time he had broken off with the old life: here at least
they had a roof over their heads. "No, you try to
work off a little of the debt," she said wisely, "think
what Mother's illness and funeral have cost!" Yes,
Lars Peter remembered it well enough; but what the


devil did that matter? Other people had cheated him
out of all his!

No, Ditte did not think one could run away from
one's debts. "We can't go away from the old couple
either — they have no one but us. Sister must go there
every day and give them a helping hand. And when I
begin to get on in the capital, then I will help to get the
whole cleared off, and we can leave here like respec-
table people. In town the wages are high."

"Yes, perhaps you are right. But it would have been
splendid if only we could have gone into the town alto-
gether. There one could begin all over again."

Yes, that was just it. Ditte wanted to go in quite
alone — unhampered by past and origin and everything
that could hold a girl down — be she ever so capable and
clever, — and see if she could get on. There must be
something good in store for her too. Granny had al-
ways maintained it, and in her own heart it lay buried
deep like a glowing promise; often shrunk into the
smallest compass, but never quite destroyed. Luck
came in so many strange ways; but one must oneself
hold out a hand. And Ditte did not intend to disap-
point those at home, even if she got on well. It was
not for her own sake that she was going.


THE last day before the uprooting was a busy
time for Ditte. All the clothes in the house had
to be gone through once more — and it was no
light task. Although they had had nothing new since
they came to the hamlet, but steadfastly wore out rem-
nants of their better days in the "Crow's Nest," there
was more and more to deal with. Heaps of old rags
seemed to collect from year to year, one never quite got
to the bottom of them. They were hard enough on
their clothes, the lads, both Povl and the twin Rasmus,
whom they could not find it in their hearts to get rid of.
Kristian would wear out everything they put on him.
It had been Ditte's care to get everything turned and
twisted so that it could be serviceable again. Most of
the clothes had been made for them by Sorine in the
"Crow's Nest," out of old, cast-off clothing which Lars
Peter had brought home in the rag bags. Now they
were literally falling to pieces, and Ditte had to take
one patch to sew on another patch. Every evening
when the children were in bed she could begin at once.
How Else would get on with this was her greatest
worry, and now she sat working at it, far into the
night, so that the child should not be overwhelmed in
rags. She sewed the remains of two pairs of breeches
into one pair, patched and strengthened. Else was



capable enough for her ten years, quite clever at house-
keeping, but she wasn't quite accustomed to darning
and sewing yet, — she was too little.

And so the end of October was here, — it was dawn.
Lars Peter stood at the door with a load of autumn her-
rings to be delivered to a big farmer at Noddebo; from
there he had undertaken to carry a load of charcoal to
the capital. In this v/ay he got the lass and her baby
respectably moved and earned a modest penny, at the
same time, which would come in useful. The parting
was soon over. The two boys already lay out in the
wet sand by the gable wall, and built castles, although
it was hardly light enough to see yet. They rushed
out to their play as soon as they came out of their
beds, and it was nearly impossible to get them in in the
evening, so engrossed were they in their task. They
had scarcely time to give her a handshake, to say
"good-bye," and were deep in their sand-hole again;
they never thought of turning their heads to see the cart
drive off. Else waved, but smiled all the time, — now
she was to be mistress of the house, and have no one
over her. Ditte noticed both of these incidents — she
had been as a mother to them and done everything for
them in her power.

She sat quite still fretting over it. Lost in reflection,
and totting it ail up against them, she never heard Lars
Peter's small talk about the countryside and the
weather. She had seen that they did not care about her
any more, it would be a good time before she let them
hear from her and then perhaps they would begin to
behave differently to her. Her eyelids hung heavy, and


now and then she loosened the shawl and felt the baby
to see that he was well wrapped up against the morn-
ing cold.

"Is he warm and comfortable ?" Lars Peter turned to
her and discovered that tears hung on her eyelashes.

"You must remember that the boy will be well looked
after," he said comfortingly, "and at Christmas you
must get a holiday and come back and see him, and
us as well."

"Oh ! It's not that," said Ditte, beginning to sob,
"it is the children. They didn't care a bit when I
left them."

"Is that all?" Lars Peter smiled good-humoredly.
"The other day I overheard Povl ask Else if she
thought I should soon die, and then he could have my
long boots. Children are all alike — out of sight, out
of mind! But they care for you all the same, even if
they have been a little less friendly lately, on account of
this business here. They have had to hear many a bad
word for your sake, you must remember."

Lars Peter was in his kindly mood of old. The vi-
brations of his droning voice seemed to fill her with a
sense of comfort. Ditte had not seen him like this for
a long time, not since she had gone out driving with
him as a child. It was the country road that worked
the magic, and that was his rightful place, — sitting on
a cart. Naturally it was not Big Klaus he had between
the shafts; but he had already got the horse into his
own steady jog-trot. And Ditte could see that the
horse was fond of its master,

"What the devil is that?" Lars Peter suddenly ex-


claimed. Kristian had suddenly popped out of a thorn-
bush by the wayside just in front of them, with his cap
over his eyes, like a highwayman. He stood in the
middle of the road and aimed at the cart with a stick.

"Stop!" he cried, and laughed all over, — the rascal!
He had his satchel over his arm. "May I drive with
you?" he asked, dancing in front of the cart, "only a
little way; I want so much to go part of the way with

"But you have to go to school, you rascal!" Lars
Peter tried to look angry.

Kristian stood there looking like a criminal with
downcast eyes. He had forgotten all about that, al-
though the school satchel hung over his arm as a re-
minder. But that was Kristian all over; there was only
room for one idea at a time in his noddle, "Now it's
too late," he said in an unhappy voice, "1 should only
get a flogging if I went now."

Lars Peter looked doubtfully at Ditte for support;
she was always ready to pounce on him for playing
truant. But this now was something she did not like to
sit m judgment uoon — she looked everywhere else.

Kristian took in the situation at a glance, and was
up on the seat. Before many minutes had passed he
had got the whip and reins from his father. He han-
dled the tackle all right; the horse livened up under his
hands and trotted quicker. It could not resist young
blood either. Ditte sat and sunned herself contentedly.
What did she care if Kristian played truant to-day?
He was a good boy — ^the one she loved best of the
whole family, and the one too who had caused her the


most trouble. He clung to her on that account, risked
thrashings both in school and at the farm, only to say
"good-bye." "I shall send you something from town,
perhaps a driving whip," she said.

Kristian's eyes glistened. "And one day I will come
In and visit you ; I could run the whole way quite well,"
he promised her.

"You just dare to try !" cried Ditte, frightened. "You
won't do it, promise me that." Kristian promised her
readily, good boy that he was; but If he could keep to it,
when the fit came over him was another matter. Now
he had to get down; It could not go on like this. "You
■will have to run ten miles, you rascal !" said his father.
Bah ! Kristian did not count ten miles any distance —
he had gone on longer trips — longer than it was wise
to talk about. Lars Peter had to lift him forcibly over
the side of the cart and let him drop Into the road. He
stood for a long time gazing after them, then at last he
turned round and began to run. Ditte followed him
with her eyes until he disappeared. "He is a good
boy," she said half exaisingly.

"Yes, but he Is difficult. I am afraid that he will
have trouble through life."

Ditte did not answer; perhaps sh-e had not heard it
at all. She was quite strange and unlike herself to-day.
She avoided meeting his eyes, and gazed heavily before
her, and yet It could be seen that she saw nothing. Lars
Peter understood what it was, although she tried to
show nothing. What was the good of making a fuss
over what could not be altered. But It was unlucky all
the same that she sat and shut herself up In these sad


thoughts. It would have been better to have given
free vent to her sorrow and made an end of it. Lars.
Peter tried to help her several times by getting her
to talk; he did not hold with that; it was like turning
the knife in the wound to make a slaughtered beast
bleed. But it had to be done. And every time she just
smiled a pale weary smile. It was nasty rough weather,
and several times on the wav he drew up in a sheltered
spot to let her nurse the baby a little. Wh'le she sat
at the edge of the wood and gave the little one the
breast, he walked to and fro, and tried to make them
comfortable, or stood and amused himself bv watching
the baby's small fists groping over the mother's breast
while it drank.

"It is hard after all for such a little kiddy never to be
able to warm his nose on a pap any more," he ejacu-

Ditte looked up quickly. For a moment it seemed
as if all the floodgates would ooen and her grief gush
forth, but she took herself in hand, and smiled her pale
smile once more.

It was dinner time when thev reached their desti-
nation and got the herrings delivered and the char-
coal loaded up. When thev came down to the
crofter's place the wife stood in the road on the look-
out; she was well up in the fifties, stout vet bustling.
"I thought as how you'd soon be here," she said, and
bade them welcome. "And you are just in time for
dinner." The husband went a bit up into the rootfield,
and fussed about there, he came limping towards them,
bent and worn.


**So that is the lass," he said, and held out a clay-
stained fist. "She has been early enough about the
business — she is only a child herself." Ditte got red
and turned her head away.

"Never you mind what that silly old fellow says,"
broke in the woman. "He has always been one of
those to give plenty of tongue. But it has never gone
beyond talk, or else we shouldn't have had to take a
stranger's child to give us a little support in our old

"The pair of us must be at fault there," said the
man coolly, beginning to scrape the clay from his hands
with a stick. "And as far as that goes, folks get the
children that the Lord meant them to have."

"Pooh !" The woman sniffed scornfully. "It is
the man who becrets children — if he is able to." She
looked quite furious as she stood there with the baby
in her arms. It was an old sore reopened.

"Down at the hamlet we often say that the hussies
come running with the babies that the mothers won't
have," said Lars Peter, trying pleasantly to stop the

"So I have something to look forward to," answered
the woman, smiling. "I must look to the lass I haven't
got! But seriously speaking, it is the same here as
everywhere else. Some get none and others too much
of the good things of life. — Well, well, come in and
get something inside you. You must want it after
your long ride." She was not so bad-tempered after
all as she seemed at first.

In the corner by the cold stove sat a shriveled old


man staring vacantly in front of him. It was not
easy to say if he understood anything at all; he did
not move when they came in, but muttered and shuffled
his wooden shoes to and fro on the floor. He shook
all over as if he had the palsy.

*'Here is something for you to do, Father," the
woman screamed into his ear, and showed him the
bundle. But he did not understand. "Just so, just
so," he mumbled, clapped his withered thighs with the
palms of his hands and shuffled. The woman gave
up trying to make him take the baby and gave it to
Ditte again. "He will soon have it," she said.

"I should think he's a little queer, isn't he?" said
Lars Peter.

"Yes, it is time and eternity that worry him; he
can't make the long years pass. He can't think, he's
too silly for that, and can scarcely see or hear, so he
sits and always treads with his feet to pass the" time
and jabbers nonsense. But now we think that this
will be the saving of him, for it will probably be he
who has to look after the baby. We others have our
own work to see after."

"The Lord has forgotten him," the man put in;
"He never remembers that the poor have to live and
often He forgets to see to it that we can die." He
tightened his mouth like a miser.

"Let him alone for that time that remains to him,"
said the woman sharply. "He does not eat much
bread. And he doesn't have an amusing time — poor

"Amusing! Amusing!" The man made a grimace.


"Do others have an amusing time either? If you
want an amusing time, you must be able to pay for

There they were at the bone of contention again.
Lars Peter was not pleased to think that perhaps he
had put the baby in a house where there was quarrel-
ing. "There has always been more to eat up than
to bring forth," he said soothingly, — and It would be
easy to make a living if one had only old people and
children to pay for. But It seems as If we poor folk
have the devil at our backs, and therefore can't get on,
however much we try."

The husband and wife exchanged glances. "If we
have the devil at our backs, then the Lord has
put him there for our good — and so we must bear
him to the end of our lives," said the wife after
a pause.

"Perhaps so," answered Lars Peter. "We can't
be quite sure of that, for the Lord gets the blame for
so much that really ought to be laid on the devil's
shoulders. The innkeeper down in the fishing hamlet
tried to get us to believe that It was on the Lord's ac-
count that he bullied us; but dang me If the devil didn't
come and fetch him all the same. No, we poor folks
must look to ourselves both for what harms, and what
helps us up, and see that we hang together. And so
I say 'Thank you' to you for taking the youngster.
You won't be rich out of the money you get, but at
any rate I will see to It that it is paid at the right time.
It will be four crowns on the first of each month, and
six for the Christmas month. And two crans of her-


rings at harvest time. They are at their fattest then,
and I will see that you are not cheated."

*'No, we shan't get rich by what we get from it —
dear as everything is now," said the wife, "but we
had thought the boy would be a little support to us in
our old age as a reward for taking him."

Ditte took no part in the conversation, but every
time the talk fell on her baby, a shudder went through

"Yes, yes," said Lars Peter. "Let us see how things
go for a bit. It is never wise for either of the parties
to bind themselves too hard and fast."

"That was our idea. We meant to adopt the child,
so that no one should know it was anything but our

Ditte began suddenly to cry outright — not only to
weep, but to utter piercing screams which cut one to
the heart. The crofter couple were so startled that
they dropped their knives and forks, and even the old
grandfather waked up for a moment. "Aren't you
ashamed of yourself, lass?" cried Lars Peter, and took
her in his arms. "You mustn't take my baby from
me," she shouted. "You mustn't take my baby from
me!" She was quite beside herself.

Well, they passed it off as well as they could, and
began to talk of something else. And as soon as the
meal was finished the men went out to harness the
horse.« Ditte laid her baby to the breast — for the
last time. She was unhappy. "Let it take all it can
get; drain your breasts quite empty," said the woman.
"And here is some warm oil to smear them with to


ease the swelling a little when next the milk comes.
Yes, you may stare, and think how can I know that; but
another woman can have been young once too, and
easily deceived and have had to give her child to
strangers. Such is Life!"

Ditte began to cry again. "You mustn't take my
child from me I" she wailed.

"But how you do take on ! Who says any one is
taking your child from you? There are children
enough to be had, and you can come and fetch it your-
self when you want to. Now you had better put on
your things, for I hear the cart coming. We will bind
up the breasts, so that they won't get flabby and hang-
ing; but will be round and firm; so that you will look
like a maid again. You have a fine skin, child," she
continued, talking all the time she helped her. "You
have the breast of a princess. The man who could
lay his head here had no hard bed! Ah, yes, youth
and beauty are tender plants. Another woman has
also been young once and fitted to bring the wildest
rascal to rest on her bosom, and where is all that now?
Now I have only this crazy old fellow to come and

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