Martin Andersen Nexø.

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nag at me, — a draggled hen with a mad cat at her
heels! That is all that Is left of the glory of youth.
Yes, you can laugh at another poor creature, but you
can't give up a little share of your wealth. And yet
there are more left where that one came from, sweet
and shapely as you are."

So she prattled on; but DItte smiled no more. It
was much against her will she had giggled — in the
midst of her black despair, at the comic picture of the


hen and the cat. Against her will too she was helped
Into Lars Peter's big driving cape, to prevent her from
taking cold in her breasts, which could very easily
turn to cancer; — and resistlngly she let herself be
placed in the cart. "Come, kiss your baby for the
last time," said the crofter's wife, and held the boy
up to her, "and come soon again and see him." Ditte
tried to take him, but was not allowed to. The woman
went In with him, holding him tightly to her, as if she
would show that now he was hers.

They went slowly forward In the autumn cold; the
horse was old and tired and they had a heavy load.
Lars Peter had his hands full to keep him going.
DItte sat still as a miouse — not a muscle moved — her
eyes were fixed. She was exhausted, the wet wind blew
cold through her garments, grief gnawed at her heart.
The trees wept — the horse's coat dripped, Lars
Peter's hat and Ditte's own eyelashes. At the side of
the road loomed shadows in the fog, bushes, or cattle
grazing. Some one was singing, perhaps a herdsman,
or a laborer on the roots.

Why must we mortals weep
Through never-ending morrows?

Our eyes they are but twain,
And such a crowd of sorrows !

Ditte knew the song well, but she was not weeping,
why did he sing it then? She only sat under the bluff
and everything dripped and wept over her because
she had sinned. It was senseless, this continual drip-
ping, — why she had sinned only just to stop tears !
The grasses by the roadside were trodden down, and


Karl stepped out of the fog. "It was I who sang,"
he said, "but we made a mistake, the Judge of all and
L You are no child of sin — comfort me again. You
know our Lord said: 'Inasmuch as ye did it to one of
the least of these, ye did it unto me,' " So he went on
imploring her, but Ditte tore herself free and fled in

She woke with a start, they had stopped at the edge
of a wood. It was nearly dark. "The horse can do
no more, we must see about finding a shelter for the
night," said Lars Peter. It was close to Rudersdal
Inn; but they could not afford to put up there for the
night, so Lars Peter drove behind an old barn and
unharnessed. The horse had its nosebag and Lars
Peter's driving cape over it. They themselves crept
into the barn through the hatch and settled down in
the straw.

Lars Peter took out food and handed it to Ditte in
the darkness; there was an apple for her too, and all
the time he spoke comforting words to her. Ditte
could not eat; she needed only rest and oblivion. But
his quiet droning voice was pleasant to hear, if only she
was not obliged to answer. She had slept little the
last few nights with excitement and overwork, and now
she only wanted to sleep and forget it all : while he
chattered on, she fell asleep.

It was a restless night. Lars Peter did not get
much sleep. The milk set up congestion in Ditte's
breasts, and sorrow clutched at her heart: she lay
dreaming and whimpered after her boy. When it got
too much to bear, Lars Peter waked her up, and talked


kindly to her. "He is all right. Be sure he is asleep,"
said he.

"No, no, I know he is awake, and lies crying for me,
for the milk is flowing to my breasts," sobbed Ditte.

That was a strange thing to hear. Lars Peter was
quite at a loss to know what to say. "At any rate,
see that you take things sensibly," he said. "It is of no
use crying over spilt milk. And when you have got
on a bit, you can always fetch the boy. In the town
there is shelter for those who find it hard enough to get
it out here on the open land. Perhaps it won't be long
before we others come after you. And Karl is there,
anyhow, if you feel lonely."

Ditte was silent. She would not seek him out any-

In the latter part of the night the moon shone forth.
Ditte had pain all round her armpits, and could not
bear to lie still. They got up and went on their way
again. There were people on the road already, soli-
tary wayfarers, half drunk with sleep, going in the
same direction as themselves. "It is hiring day!" said
Lars Peter. "They are walking to town to go into
service or perhaps find casual work. I ought to have
done the same in my youth, and then perhaps I should
have looked very different to-day."

"But then you wouldn't have had us," exclaimed
Ditte, horrified.

Lars Peter looked at her uncomprehendingly. "No ?
— Well, that's true too," he exclaimed, "but for all
that, who knows?" No, that would have been too
curious, — all those meetings! Then chance would


have had to bring Sorine to the capital, and they should
have met each other naturally, and — But it is an im-
possible task to try to push about the pawns for Fate,
and the man who v/ould mix himself up in our Lord's
matters must have a good head. For his part, he only
knew that as far as Ditte and the others went, he would
not wish his life otherwise.

Soon the big road became lively. Carts with chests
of drawers and wardrobes perched up behind overtook
them, and foot passengers came on to the highway from
foot and field paths carrying knapsacks. It w-as just
daylight. "You can see you are not the only one who
wants to go in and try his luck," said Lars Peter

Ditte thought this had both a bad and good side.
"If only I can find a place," said she.

Lars Peter smiled. "If you took the whole surface
of Arre lake, Copenhagen could not be put down on it,"
he replied, "and people live over one another in many
layers." One could see that he had no very clear idea
of the capital.

"What do they do with the dirty water they have
washed up in?" asked Ditte. "For then they can't
throw it out of the kitchen door."

"No, are you crazy? Then people would get it on
their heads. It goes down to the ground through

Ditte was quite livened up now. The congestion in
the breasts was getting better, and all that lay behind
had to give way to the present. The capital towered
in front of them, — mystical in the morning fog, like an


endless forest of spires and cupolas, and factory chim-
neys, and from all the roads streamed in people going
to their daily work, — carts and provisions : butchers'
carts, milk carts, vegetable carts, and bakers' carts.
"Yes, they get plenty to eat in there," said Lars Peter,
and sighed. "A man has to live in there if he is to
get a share in the good things he helps to produce him-

Now they formed one link in the endless train of
vehicles, and suddenly the road changed into paved
streets, and there was a thunder of traffic. Ditte, quite
frightened, seized Lars Peter's arm, and pressed closely
to him. Clanging trams, shouting drivers, cyclists and
people who rushed into the middle of a whirlpool, and
came out safe on the other side, the whole whirled and
whirled together in an earsplitting uproar. And the
high houses bent over the crowds, as if they were giddy,
— no, she had to shut her eyes and shuddered all over.
She was not really afraid, only overwhelmed by all
these terrible things; she was sure they could never
come out safely. And suddenly they rumbled through
a gateway, and were in the courtyard of an inn in
Wester Street, which she knew quite well from Lars
Peter's description of his adventurous citv trio. Lars
Peter got her put to bed, then drove on to Company
Street where he was to deliver his charcoal.

And so his duty was accomplished, and he was in
the capital ! The horse stood in the stable before a
full manger, and Lars Peter stood outside the inn
door, and breathed in the air, with his head full of a
strange, empty feeling. Outside lay cares and trou-


bles and hard labor; here stood Lars Peter full of ex-
pectations. There were in fact only too many things
to choose among In here !

But first of all he had to feed the inner man; he
was frightfully hungry. He found an underground
eating-house and ordered a plate of hash, and a dram.
It was absolutely necessary to get the cold and fatigue
properly out of his limbs. And he was successful!
When Lars Peter came up into the street again, he was
a different being. It was true that all his surround-
ings had changed too. The sun shone, or was just
going to — and the lass's prospects seemed quite bril-
liant, when rightly considered. She was young and
clever with her hands, she had no further trouble with
her child, and it was so lucky that it was hiring day
into the bargain. Now, among all the vacant situa-
tions he must find one that just suited her, — where she
would get good wages, and be well treated, and her
personality develop. For, honestly speaking, Lars
Peter could find no match to the girl. For a few mo-
ments he pondered as to whether he should look in at
the Hauser Place cellar, where he had been helped
once before. Perhaps the Bandmaster — ? He had
worked miracles that time. In Lars Peter's memory
that trip had become both an adventure and something
of an event. But when he came to Hauser Place and
saw the steps leading down to the cellar, he stood still
all the same. He had been robbed of both his watch
and his pocketbook, however it had happened. He
stood meditating a little, then turned and crossed the
Coal Square into the old streets.


He liked walking here. Chandlers and ironmongers
alternated in the basement shops, and on the ground
floor on the pavement lay old lurr.ber which spoke
right to his heart. It would have been fine to have
had some of that on his cart once upon a time ! Oppo-
site the chandler's brooms lay in bundles, and here and
there stood a wheelbarrow with iron corners and all;
and there hung shining new wooden shoes on the wall.
Lars Peter would have loved to have a shop here.

In St. Peter's Street there was a big crowd before
a flight of steps that led right down on to the pave-
ment. These were folk of his own class, men with
their trousers stuffed into their boots, and women, who
one could see were accustomed to crawl about among
roots and potatoes. They stood staring ud at the hi?h
windows. ^'Servants' Agency," was painted on the
panes. Now and then one of the flock made a hasty
resolve and went up. One could almost think it had
something to do with going before the magistrate, they
all looked so faint-hearted.

Lars Peter went quickly up the stairs — he had been
to an office before, — he had! In the entry they stood
treading on one another's heels just like sheep. "What
the devil ! They can't eat one in there," he said, and
pushed by them. The big room Vv^as full of wet, steam-
ing people, who stood so close that they could scarcely
move. At the further end of the hall was a railing,
and behind it sat a girl clerk, and a man called the man-
aging clerk, — one on each side of a big desk. They
called them out one by one, by pointing at them with a
penholder, listened to their requirements, and sorted


them out into divisions. Some were let through the
railings and got in to see the chief himself, who stayed
in the room inside again. His staff called him "the
boss!" "He's a boss of human flesh and blood, that
fellow!" said Lars Peter, half to himself, and looked
round challengingly, but no one dared to laugh. Now
and then the chief appeared at the door and gave an
order. He was most horribly fat — so impossibly and
grotesquely fat! And he was dark, — he looked like a
proper black Satan, with the remains of a Roman nose
in the middle of his enormous swollen face, and bristles
coming out of a couple of nostrils that looked like the
tunnels down to hell. Lars Peter glanced both timidly
and angrily at him; although he had not the least quar-
rel with him; and every time he appeared discomfort
went through the flock. And it was not so strange
either, for he was a sort of God or half Satan, who
presided over their interests. It was said that he had
become a millionaire by dealing in human flesh. The ,
pretty young girls among them were taken into his own
ofl5ce, especially if they were Poles. He persuaded
them to go abroad, and they went to brothels in the big
cities far away out in the wide world.

Lars Peter was not quite sure how to begin. He
wanted something extra good for the lass, and for that
he would have to exhibit her unusually fine qualities,
but here among all this crowd he could not well sing
the song of praise he had on his lips. Then he saw
a paper notice fixed on the door of the agent's office.
"Girls who have just been confined, please apply to
Room B. Specially attractive offer." An idea came


to him, as he laboriously spelt it through, and went
slowly away, afraid that some one would connect his
departure with the placard. Then he took his life
in his hands, as one might say, and knocked at the sec-
ond door; he felt something of a criminal, he knew not
why. A lady nearly as stout as the agent opened the
door. She too had a crooked nose, and glared at him
like a parrot. "It is about a young girl!" he said.

"Yes, have you brought her?" asked the woman
sharply. "We don't take wet-nurses without seeing

"Oh, ah! Is it a wet-nurse? Well, I might have
guessed as much if I had used my wits a bit. What
are you paying, if I may make so bold as to ask?"

"We shall agree all right about the wages, if she is
healthy. But bring her here first," said the lady and
banged the door In his face.

Humph ! That was a real vixen ! A cheeky one
too! Lars Peter nearly got his nose jammed in the
door. He was quite pleased at having answered her
back so boldly, and trotted quickly down the street,
his round hat a trifle on the back of his head. He
had arranged things well — so far ! Only he didn't
quite like Ditte's going out as wet-nurse — as a milch
cow as you might say. There was always something
or other fishy about that. He had better go down
in a cellar restaurant and puzzle it out — a schnaps
cleared the brain so wonderfully, and made one see
things in their proper perspective.

When he came up again he was quite clear that the
lass would get an easy place with a proper wage for


giving a strange baby the milk which would otherwise
be wasted, — so that she had not given birth in vain.
And her own could drink from the bottle — it was only
the real fine aristocrats that kept another woman to
give their young ones the breast.

He walked firmly when he came in to Ditte's room,
and lifted his feet unusually high. "Now you can get
up, my girl, and see about getting dressed," said he, in
high spirits. "For here is a splendid place for you.
You will be a fine lady, and perhaps give the breast to
a little Count, if you can pass the examination. For
it is just as other folks buy a milch cow. But dang it
all! The grand folks want to know what they are
getting for their money!"

Yes, the lass could certainly pass the test. It was a
perfect pleasure to see how round and white her shoul-
der and breast had become. She had her mother's
fine skin; but was not nearly so freckled, and was bet-
ter proportioned. Her hair was reddish-gold and
shining, and when let down, reached far below her


*'nrvHERE'S a ring at the bell! There's a ring

J^ at the bell!"

Ditte heard the call out in the little scul-
lery off the kitchen, where she was tidying herself after
her dirty work was done. "There's a ring at the
bell!" she repeated in a startled voice, addressing the
nurse in the kitchen. Miss Petersen threw down what
she had in hand, and ran down the long corridor. A
few seconds later, she returned, breathless. "It was
the Countess," she ejaculated. "Do be quick. I have
showed her into the matron's office till you are ready."

Ditte scurried into her "show uniform." It was a
white, loosely fitting frock,with short sleeves, and a
low-cut neck, with a white cap, — and hurried in. When
the visitor was shown in she was sitting in a white
painted armchair, and the "Sister" stood over her,
washing the nipple of her bared breast with a wad of
sterilized cotton-wool dipped in boracic water from a
white bowl. The lower part of the walls of the big
ward was paneled with white painted wood, easy
enough to wash over, for about five feet up, and the
upper part of the walls and ceiling were lime-washed.
The ward was divided into three parts, — the show-
room — the girls called it among themselves! A few
white baby cots with pale rose-colored hangings and a



couple of white washstands completed the furniture of
the room. "Sister" spread a white napkin carefully
over Ditte's breast. "There!" said she with a sugary
smile. "Now I will fetch the baby !"

Not far from Ditte sat a young girl in deep mourn-
ing. Her eyelids were drooped pensively; but she
gazed at the latter through the lashes. Ditte well
knew that it was distinguished to look through your
eyelashes in that way, — nearly as distinguished as using
a lorgnette. But it looked a bit impertinent too, — to
look at people and size them up in that way! She
looked sweet too — and young, — scarcely older than
Ditte herself. She had a long, black veil hanging down
her back. That was to show that she was a widow,
and had been obliged to send her baby away from her,
— her milk had dried up from the vehemence of her
grief when she lost her dear husband — or some such
story. But she was not much of a widow — no more
than Ditte was — because she had never been married!
But she was a countess, and belonged to one of the
most aristocratic families in the land — and had had a
love affair with a groom. The other girls knew the
whole story — as a matter of fact they knew the history
of every baby in the home by heart, however compli-
cated it might be, and however carefully hushed up —
aha! they could always get on the track! Ditte could
not understand this affair with a groom. If she her-
self had to have a baby of her own free will, she would
choose a Count to b: the father of it ! Still, the young
Countess was pretty. Her face had still the pallor that
comes after childbirth, or was it perhaps her false step


that was the cause of it? The fine folks took such
things rather more to heart than others did. At any
rate, she showed some affection for her baby and vis-
ited it every week. So many others only came here to
get rid of theirs, and never showed their faces in the
place again.

It was longer than usual before the nurse came back
with the baby; there had certainly been something the
matter, — perhaps it was sore and had to be pow-
dered. Ditte had nothing to do — the thing she dis-
liked most of all — so she fell into a sad reverie. So
many sad thoughts came knocking at the door of her
heart when she had leisure. Suddenly she felt an arm
round her neck. 'yVnd how is your own little one?"
asked the young woman and laid her cheek against

It was a terrible question to ask Ditte. Her face
began to quiver and her lip to tremble. But fortu-
nately the nurse came back just then, "just look,
madam, isn't he a perfect little darling?" said she and
laid the baby in the young mother's arms. The mother
gazed adoringly at her little one, and then laid it on
Ditte's breast with an enigmatic expression.

Ditte did not feel in the least shy of the Countess,
she would have liked to have had a chat with her. In
a way they were companions in misfortune, though it
had smitten them in such different ways. But the nurse
was always in the room, walking to and fro. Every
minute she came up to them, and was all solicitude for
the baby. "Slowly," she would say; "do see that he
drinks slowly." But it was simply humbug; she was


really making secret signs to Ditte to take him from
the breast.

Ditte tried to make It seem as if he had let go of
the nipple himself. It went to her heart to do it; but
she dared not disobey. "He can't possibly have had
enough yet," interposed the girl mother, "he clings so
tightly to it. Wouldn't it be best to give him the
other breast too?"

"No. We really must not overfeed him," answered
the Sister. "He would only throw it all up again, and
would not thrive." She took him from the breast and
gave him to his mother, who laid him in his little bed.
The young Countess bent over the cot, and when she
raised her face again her eyes were full of tears. Ditte
felt a longing to throw her arms round her neck, and
beg her not to worry so about it; for she would see that
the boy had as much as he could drink. But just then
the young girl stretched out her hand to say good-by
and thanked them for being so good to her boy. She
slipped a dollar note into DItte's hand. The nurse
showed her out, and Ditte went into the inner room
and laid another child to the breast.

The nurse came back again. "Thank goodness that
visit of inspection is over! Let's hope she didn't
notice that we took the baby from the breast too

"It does seem a pity; he could have taken a lot
more!" said Ditte.

"Then he can finish off with pap !" declared the nurse.
"The others must have their turn too — there's no such
thing as rank and titles coming first in this house. But


it seems to me you are putting this baby to the othei
breast! Was the first one really emptied?"

Ditte nodded. She didn't like to have her breasts
drained quite dry. It gave her a backache.

"Are you quite sure? Just let me see !" The nurse
squeezed her breast. "We must be economical now.
Milk is so dear. — But didn't the Countess give you a

Reluctantly enough Ditte took the note from her
breast and gave it up. Miss Petersen went out of
the room, coming back soon afterwards with a little
small change. "Here you are! This is your share,"
said she. She was supposed to have gone to the ma-
tron with the tip, who divided it among the girls ac-
cording to their capabilities and length of service. But
it might very well be that she gave a little to the other
girls and kept the rest herself! Ditte was disap-
pointed, for when she was engaged golden visions of
lavish tipping had been held out to her, and she could
well do with a little. She was to get no pay until the
nine months of her contract had elapsed. Now she
understood the reasons only too well. It was to pre-
vent her from going off without notice. But she made
up her mind to tell the Countess what had become of
her tip.

"Don't you dare to babble about things here in the
clinic to any one, — not even among yourselves in the
kitchen !" said the nurse suddenly and sharply. Ditte
cowered away and whispered a timid "No!"

The bell rang, the nurse gave a little shriek and ran
to open the door. She was the matron's right hand


and it was her duty to answer it. The little shriek
was an imitation of the matron's manner; for she al-
ways gasped and pressed her hand to her heart when
the alarm bell rang. She had a weak heart! The
other women all had the same peculiarity. The fact
was that the flat itself was so low in the basement story
that the door-bell itself could not be heard, and was
connected with an alarm bell at the end of the long cor-
ridor, and when that began to ring it made such a din
that it jangled every nerve in one's body, and one sim-
ply had to scream, whether one would or no. And if
there was a baby on one's lap, he began to roar in

Except on these occasions there was not so much
crying as might have been expected. The matron had
some wonderful soothing syrup which was just the thing
for babies.

But there was always a rush of visitors. One per-
petual coming and going and ringing. What did all
these people really come for? Most of them were
closeted with the matron in her private room, which
was just inside the front door; so nobody caught a
glimpse of them. Sofia and Petra pretended they
knew what all these people came about, but would not
tell. "You're a greenhorn, my dear!" they said, and

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 15 of 23)