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looked mysterious. But this time it was only the
agent at the registry office. Ditte recognized his heavy
step in the corridor, and heard the nurse's giggles.
Whenever he saw an opportunity he was ready with a
pinch — fat pig that he was !

Well, that meant that the matron was going out with


the agent for the evening, and would leave Miss Peter-
sen in charge. And scarcely were they out of the
house before the nurse called the girls and said: "I am
just going out for a few minutes, so you will see after
things while I am away. But be sure you stay down
here the whole time. Remember it is a great respon-
sibility to be left in charge." — "Yes, we will do that!"
they answered glibly, and as soon as she was gone they
flew up to their room and began to dress. So Ditte
was obliged to go down and open the street door for
them, — and then she was alone with the whole on her
shoulders. Not only had she to look after the babies;
but there was a big tub full of napkins to wash, and
a patient to see to; the latter lay in the inner ward,
and had come six months too soon! But that was
always the way of things — everything was put upon her
— Ditte — everything! She was now fed up with the
whole business, and her chief wish was to pack up and
get away as quietly as she could.

Ditte had already had many experiences without
drawing the usual conclusions from them. She took
the buffetings of Fate for what they were worth, and
never thought of fathering them on any one else — not
even on the people who had called them down on her
devoted head. She was by nature exceedingly long-
suffering; it was her chief virtue; things had to come
to a pretty pass before she began to criticize and try
to correct them.

But here her good-nature was too far imposed upon;
she was neither stupid nor foolishly kind — when it came
to the point. She had borne a child, and say what you


will, in her class that was nothing uncommon. She
had also been obliged to part with it to strangers; but
that was also in the usual run of things. All this was
the common lot of the poor, and might be said to come
under the law of Nature. But that dainty ladies
should also make a slip, and bear children out of the
marriage-bed — real ladies, not just farmers' daughters,
for she knew of several cases among these, — well, that
was something she had never as much as dreamed of!
But they managed it quite all right; they came to the
clinic and were operated on for some trumped-up mal-
ady, — just like the landowner's daughter that was
here when Ditte came. — Her people related how she
had fallen downstairs and fractured the coccyx;
she lay there in bed and made a joke of the
whole matter.

No, Ditte did not take things on trust any longer,
and began to put two and two together. Her expe-
rience in the maternity home threw light on many a
mysterious happening in her past. She had crept be-
hind the scenes once for all, and seen many things in a
totally new light. She perceived that the upper classes
were no better than her own class; that was merely a
delusion. While these fine ladies were lying here,
screaming in the birthpangs, they were supposed to be
either attending courses in Copenhagen or on a jour-
ney to Paris. Aha ! The bitter pill followed the
sweet taste in their case also; the midwife had used
that expression to her; but it applied to them still

She was so much the wiser now. But something


still worried her. Her conception of upper and lower
was distorted and her sense of justice shaken. She
could reconcile it with the justice of things to give up
her child as a punishment for her sin, and also that
both she and it must suffer to help those who had not
so sinned; but why her milk should be taken from
her own child and given to those who were equally
"children of sin" : that was indeed an enigma to

One evening when they were all up In their room,
she tried to talk to Sofia and Petra about it. But they
only laughed at her and turned the whole thing into
a farce. "Are you crazy?" asked Sofia. "Why should
they be better than us? They have money; that's the
most important thing! Do you think that any young
girl, who was in the family way, would put up with the
gibes of the street boys, and the old people's abuse, and
all the rest of it, if she could find a way out of it?
Many a time when I went down the street I only
longed to bewitch some one to take what I was carry-
ing off me. Men think nothing of leaving you in the
lurch — but we have to stick it out, and must be glad
to get even such a hole as this is. Justice is all hum-
bug, and you can just say I said so !"

Whatever might be said about Justice, Ditte's duty
was absolutely clear. But it was hard to nurse strange
children and let them drain her life's strength from
her, while thinking of her own that lay and wept among
strangers and had to be content with a dummy teat and
a bottle.

Ditte brooded over this and fretted after her baby;


every time she laid a child to her breast, her longing
broke out anew. She was bitterly disappointed too;
everything was so utterly different from what had been
promised to Lars Peter and herself when she was en-
gaged. They had understood that she was to be wet-
nurse in an aristocratic household where the lady was
too delicate and too refined to nurse her own baby.
She was to have her uniform free, and always go about
clad in white. And here she was ! "A milch-cow on a
baby farm!"

Sofia had nicknamed her thus. Ditte did not like
it, but employed the expression herself when she felt
most bitter; in order to revenge herself on everything
and everybody. The white uniform was only worn
when visitors were there; otherwise it was one round
of dirty work, and nursing the babies in between times.
There were no free evenings either, and they were all
three engaged on the condition that they were to have
no really free time during their period of service. The
matron said it was to avoid the risk of bringing infec-
tion into the clinic; but Sofia and Petra declared it was
to prevent them talkng of the condition of things there
outside. Every afternoon the nurse took two of them
for a walk, while the third looked after the clinic under
the watchful eye of the matron; so they all got fresh
air at least,

Sofia and Petra went on their little jaunts the nights
Ditte was in charge; and she had to be on the lookout,
and downstairs, to let them in when they made a signal.
Ditte thought them rather cheeky, and they often made
fun of her country ways, but op the whole they were


good-natured and helpful to her, and she got on well
with them. But neither of them ever thought of tak-
ing her out. They thought there was not enough go
in her I



*'"¥" ITTLE darlings! They shall have sunshine I'*
I J said the matron, and pushed the children's cots
over to the window, where a few weak rays
fell on the floor. Yes, it would be called sunshine
there, and when the window was opened, and the gas-
works opposite wafted their perfumed clouds of smoke
into the room, it was called fresh air.

Ditte and Mrs. Bram were at home alone. Petra
and Sofia had gone for their walk with the nurse. Ditte
went hither and thither, arranging things and giving an
eye to the babies. Mrs. Bram leant back in an arm-
chair, and babbled incessantly. There was not more
work than Ditte could well do; the children were only
four in number just then, and they were certainly not
accustomed to being spoiled. One had just died, and
a couple had disappeared for a time — to be boarded
out somewhere or other. "Oh no, we have sometimes
had as many as twenty here," said Mrs. Bram, "things
have been rather at a standstill lately — we have had
one or two little accidents — and people are so suspi-
cious." She looked confidingly at Ditte.

She had eyes just like a dog — nice faithful dog's eyes,
that never expressed either anger or any other feel-
ing. Fear alone sometimes shone in them. Her figure
was shapeless and flabby; the skin of her hands loose



and hanging. Ditte liked her well enough, and could
never see what the other girls found so bad in her.
She had asthma, and wheezed when she drew a deep
breath — and was always dressed in a black silk dress,
and looked so simple and worried, as if she understood
nothing at all.

"Dear, sweet little angels !" she said. "My fiance
sometimes scolds me for not giving up my work here
at the clinic. You know, don't you, that the registry
agent is my fiance? We are only spending money,
he says, and really one gets no thanks for all one's
trouble. But when the legal time of separation is up,
we are going to the South of Europe to live — the air
there is so good for asthma. Yes, we shall get mar-
ried first. You know, don't you, that one has to wait
three years before one can get leave to marry again?
Ah, yes! That is lest there should be something on
the way from the first marriage."

"Something on the way? Three years?" Ditte
could scarcely restrain a smile.

"Oh, well! One knows well enough that people
can't always keep away from each other, because they
are separated. Oh, yes! Dear little things!"

There was a ring at the door. Mrs. Bram had to
clutch at her heart. It startled her so that she could
scarcely rise.

Ditte tip-toed into the "showroom" and listened at
the wall of the matron's office. She heard young
voices, a man's voice a little hushed — talking for a
long time, and a girl's voice, which now and then broke
into the discussion with sobs. But she could distin-


j^ish few or no words. "But can't you take it away?*'
said the manly voice out loud. "Oh, do, do ! Only
help me !" said the woman's voice, and broke into bit-
ter weeping. Then there was silence and Ditte tip-
toed back again.

Shortly after they came into the "showroom."
Ditte could see them through the open door — a very
young woman, so pale, so pale, whose eyes were red-
rimmed with tears, and a man a little older in a frock-
coat. He looked like a priest or a curate.

"Yes, you can't have this room," said the matron,
"for the sweet little babies sleep here; but you shall
have a quiet sunny room."

"Yes, yes," sniffed the young girl; "yes, yes!" Her
friend held her hand, as if to protect her against ail

"And nothing will ever come out — is that certain?"
asked he.

"You can make your mind easy about that," an-
swered the matron. "We are still as the grave here.
But you must let us know in good time when you
are coming; we are always full up."

When the matron came in, Ditte was standing in
the long dark corridor near the kitchen door. "May
I go for a few minutes?" she asked. She rushed up
the backstairs to her room, threw herself down on her
bed, buried her face in the pillow and shuddered. The
whole thing was so horrible — ^the poor tor^Jred girl,
and the man who had held her hand! — and herself! —
she could not bear it! She lay there in tearless grief
from sympathy for the unhappy girl who was going


through so much mental agony, and also from self-pity
that she had had no one to hold her hand. And a
deep longing arose in her for all that she had lefj
behind, — father and brothers and sister, — and her
child, her own little child. Oh, how horrible life was!
She could not weep one tear, — only shudder inwardly.
"Take it away ! Take it away !" reechoed again and
again, in her ears. And a new horror that had slum-
bered in her heart came suddenly to light. Her granny
had often hinted to her when a child that it was a
good thing that they had not succeeded in preventing
little Ditte from coming into the world after all.
''What would a poor devil like me have done, if 1
hadn't had you to comfort me?" she would burst out
suddenly, and begin to weep tears half of gratitude, half
of fear. Ditte could distinctly remember how myste-
rious it all had sounded when they talked of preventing
her from coming into the world.

She had fancied something like the kitchen door be-
ing shut on her so that she couldn't get in to Granny;
but would have to stand in the night outside and weep.
But was it anything of this sort ? Had they really tried
to prevent her from coming into the world after all?
Ditte felt cold all over at this thought. She was ille-
gitimate too, and poor as well — for her and her like
there v/ere no maternity homes. They could only just
take it away, or put up with the evil consequences.

The bell over the bed rang loud and long. Ditte
jumped up and hurried down to her work.

It was not amusing, and yet after this discovery she
could not but feel a secret delight that they had not


succeeded in keeping her out of existence. What
would Lars Peter and the small sister and brothers have
done without her? And only think if she had nevei;
seen the light of day I For Ditte was by no means
tired of life.

But she wept a good deal in secret. Tears welled
up in her every time she laid one of the strange chil-
dren to her breast. She had to restrain them then;
but they came back again and again when she was
alone. It eased her to cry, — cleared some of the dark-
ness from her soul.

Sometimes too she felt a sudden hate or rather ran-
cor against the women who shook their own children
from them, and yet took hers from her. But it would
have needed a hard heart to nourish a spite when she
had one of the little helpless things in her arms, — a
harder heart than Ditte had ever possessed.

It was more difficult than Ditte had imagined to get
accustomed to town life. She had never felt so lonely
as here where there were people in plenty; and then
there were no animals, not even a cat to come and rub
her back against you and beg for a dainty morsel. The
days were dark and gray in more senses than one;
nearly all the winter they had to have a light in the
kitchen, even in the middle of the day. From the
windows were nothing but gray house-fronts, water-
pipes, and an endless sea of roofs and chimneys. Yet
there were streets like gardens of light with glowing
shops, where all the glories of the world were exposed
to view. Ditte had heard of them long before she


came here, and had herself seen them In dreams. But
she would have liked to see them with her fleshly eyes
too, and perhaps go in and buy in them. She would
buy toys for her brothers and sister, and when her term
of service was up and she got her wages, then — This
was her chief solace in every need, — so many wonderful
things would happen when she got her wages.

"You!" scoffed Sofia. "You will never get any
wages. You are too stupidly good for that. Do you
think we shall be allowed to go here and wear out our
strength and lose our color, and get wages into the
bargain ? Now I will tell you what will happen. They
will make it as hot as hell for me, hoping that I shall
get so sick of it that I shan't be able to stick it out,
and go off before my time is up, and so lose my wages.
Do you think I can't see their little game? No, trust
me ! Here I have been and stuck it out for eight
months, and so I can do the same for the ninth. And
if they try me too far — " She shook her head threat-

"Yes, but what can you do ? They have both might
and right on their side." Ditte v/as thinking of the
Hill Farm.

"I shall just ask for my wages, and threaten to re-
port them. Perhaps they wouldn't be so delighted at
that. Yes, I should ask for my full wages and per-
haps board-wages as well. My sweetheart says I
should. The very idea !"

It was not very long before Sofia came into conflict
with her mistress for good and all. There was no
doubt about her being put upon, — especially by the


nurse; every day she heaped reproaches on ner for
having no milk any longer. It came to a climax at last
— Sofia flung the things on the floor and demanded
to know what was the meaning of it all. If they
;wanted her to go, then she would do so at once.

The Sister called the others to witness such goings
on, and refused to give her a penny. But an hour
afterwards came a ring at the door, and there stood
Sofia and her sweetheart; and the matron was obliged
to put the best face on the matter and ask them into
her office.

And shortly after Sofia came marching into the
*'showroom" with arms akimbo, exulting and trium-
phant. "I suppose I've a right to say a proper good-by
to the other girls !" said she and waved a two-hundred-
crown note. It was awfully thrilling! Ditte grew hot
and cold: she could never have believed that a poor girl
like that could ride the high horse over her mistress.

"It's because she knows a lot too much about the rot-
ten goings-on here," said Petra phlegmatically.

As no other girl came in her place, Ditte and Petra
had to look after the four children; Ditte being the
last to give birth had the chief onus of it on her shoul-
ders. Fortunately there were no new patients either.
Petra suggested that they might be getting ready to
close the clinic.

"They are awfully afraid of Sofia — she knew too
much!" she said.

What could it be that Sofia and Petra both knew
so much about; but of which she was stiU in ignorance?
She could well see that a great deal — nay, most of what


went on, was not right. "The dear babies!" they
would exclaim. "The sweet little darlings!" But in
reality for all that concerned the children's welfare
they were cold and calculating, and they did not care
an atom for them. But there must be something else,
some mysterious horror that Ditte lacked ability to
grasp, all untutored as she was — she felt it must be so.
She had dark intuitions of this terror, but missed their
significance. No one felt well in the home; patients
tried to get up and away as quickly as possible. A
deep mysterious secrecy brooded over it, and shrouded
the inmates in gloom. The Sister and Mrs. Bram were
always irritable, and in a state of nervous excitement.
And then this mysterious coming and going. Most
of it took place in the evening — women bringing and
fetching babies, — veiled ladies accompanied by gentle-

There was always some fresh surprise for Ditte.
Babies disappeared as If caught up to Heaven — no
doubt they were sent away to be boarded out;
and others appeared to have rained down from
Heaven into the very cradles! One baby would be
lying there in the morning when Ditte came down —
quite a different child from the one that had lain there
the night before when she went up to bed.

Sometimes indeed they pretended it was the same
one; but DItte was not to be taken in, — each child had
its own special little way of taking the breast. Some-
times, too, a baby died. Whenever that happened
Ditte was genuinely grieved; it seemed so sad to see
the little waxen baby figure lying there like a snuffed


out candle. She had a shuddering dread of death.
Sofia and Petra were not so much In love with exist-
ence. "Perhaps it is better off than we after all!"
they often said. "It has missed many a sorrow!"

Sometimes a baby disappeared for a day or two,
and then as suddenly reappeared. It was always said
to have been at the children's hospital for examination.
But Ditte knew better now. It had been lent out for
some lawsuit concerning paternity or inheritance, where
there was something fishy. If all went well, the ma-
tron got half of what was going.

"She is really disgusting!" said Ditte. "To do such
things for money!"

"She's an awful fool!" declared Petra, "for she
doesn't ever get the money herself, the agent takes
every penny of it. He owns the business and makes
up to her only to get her completely under his thumb."
Petra would jabber away, but at a certain point she
always stopped and would say no more. She was a
child of the slums, and had learnt to keep a quiet
tongue in her head when it was to her advantage to
do so.

Ditte had resolved to make off on the first oppor-
tunity. She could bear it no longer. She sat up in
her attic, and wrote to Lars Peter trying to excuse
herself. It was regarded as a crime to run away from
service in her family, and she knew it would upset him
a lot. It was late at night and she was dead beat.
Her pen would make blots, and she could not remem-
ber if "washing" was spelt with or without an "h."


Petra came up just then. "Oh, the little angels!
Oh, the dear sweet little angels !" she mimicked as she
crossed the room and flung herself on the bed.

"Have you just come up without leave ? Aren't you
in charge?" asked Ditte. "Have they gone out?"

"No, the matron said I might go up and sleep, and
she would look after things."

"That's funny! What does it mean?"

"That I'm not wanted down below. Ugh, how
beastly it all is!" She lay making grimaces.

"Why are you so odd, and why do you lie there
pulling faces?"

"What business is it of yours ? You attend to your
love-letter," answered Petra, and turned her face to
the wall. A second later she sprang up. "Now I am
going to bed, and the devil take the whole lot of them !"
said she and began to undress.

Ditte struggled on. She was never much of a
scholar and the little she had learnt was forgotten.
"How do you make a capital 'D' ?" she asked.

"Do you think I know? Just make a flourish. He
will understand it all right."

"I'm writing hom.e," said Ditte. "And I have no

"A baby and no sweetheart! You're a nice one!
The other way on is better fun." Then she fell asleep.

Ditte sealed up her envelope, and hid it under the
tablecloth till there was an opportunity of posting it.
She could not give it to the nurse, for then she knew
it would never be posted. She lay awhile thinking of
her new breast baby, a sweet little girl with golden


curls whom she had already begun to love. It was
the proper time to feed her now ; but she dared not go
down uncalled. They would ring soon enough when
they wanted her.

When she came down next morning there was a
strange smell in the place. The nurse was decorating
a little coffin. The matron came out, and walked to
and fro, sniffing into her pocket-handkerchief. "Oh,
the poor, poor little angel !" she moaned. The doctor,
a friend of theirs, was already there writing out a
death certificate. It was Ditte's new breast-baby that
had died. She lay looking so lovely with a halo of
golden curls round the baby face. Her eyes were
only half shut, as if no one was to know she was peep-
ing at Ditte. It was too heart-breaking for words.

Ditte laid a trembling hand on the baby's head, and
bent down to kiss it farewell. No one was looking;
she might quite well kiss it. The nurse was pouring
out a glass of port for the doctor. "So early in the
morning!" she heard him say in husky tones as he
drank. His hand was shaky.

And Ditte's hand shook as well. Under the baby's
curls, buried deep in the fontanelle, she had felt the
head of a large pin. She gave one shriek and fell
senseless to the ground.

That evening she fled from the place. Petra helped
her down to the front door with her iew goods and
chattels and gave her the address of a family in Adel
Street, a laborer called Jensen, where she could take

The following day Petra turned up herself — she had


also made off. "You can't imagine how glad they
were when you hooked it," said she. "They've saved
your wages. If I were you, I would go and ask for
them, and threaten them with the police. T did!"

But Ditte would not hear of setting foot in that
hell again — not for all the money in the world.


DITTE spent the night with Petra's friends, they
were working people who lived in one of the
oldest houses in Adel Street at the back of
the courtyard, all crowded together Into one room. She
had seldom or never seen a smaller or more dilapidated
dwelling place. The little room was divided into two
compartments — one corner was partitioned off to serve
as a kitchen, and was not larger than an ordinary sized
table. On the other side of the room was a sort of
recess where the husband and wife slept, with Petra's
little baby, which she had put out to nurse there, be-
tween them. Their own two children had beds made
up on chairs, and as a great favor Ditte was allowed

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 16 of 23)