Martin Andersen Nexø.

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to sleep on the high backed sofa, one of their most
cherished possessions. It was covered with red plush,
and smelt of moldy stuffing; they were paying for it on
the instalment system. Everything else in the place
smelt of mold and decay. It was a rotten old hole,
and between the wainscoting and the sunken floor was
a gap of several inches. Every evening the remains of
the day's food had to be hidden between two plates to
prevent the rats eating it in the night.

As Ditte was helping the two little girls to dress in
the morning they could not find a garter; the rats had
pulled It half under the wainscoting. "Yes, this is how



we poor must live 1" said the young wife, who was
dressing by the window. "This is the wonderful life
we strive after in our youth — lice in the hair and rats
under the floor! Yes, indeed, if I had the luck to be
in your place, I would try and go back to the country
before it was too late. At least one has room to
move there. But naturally I am talking to deaf

She was indeed! Ditte had no thought of going
home, and being laughed at for a failure.

The woman went with Ditte to one of the big news-
paper offices where the advertisements were spread out
in the window to see if she could get a place. "You
won't get a really decent one now," she said. "But
you had better take what you can get for the present.
For when the gentry change out of the proper time, it
is seldom a good place."

Ditte fixed on an offer from a young married couple
— an officer^s family. The wages were very low; but
in compensation the girl was to be "treated as one of
the family.'* That appealed to her. — "I'm so lonely
up here," she said.

Mrs. Jensen was less enthusiastic. "I always pre-
ferred high wages to being well treated," she said.
*'The special consideration one has to sacrifice money
for is not worth having. We know what being 'one
of the family' means. Do pigs ever get into a palace
except to be eaten?"

No, perhaps not; but Ditte was not in a position to
pick and choose, and after all she was not to be fixed
up for life, They went up to AA Boulevard to see


about the place, and Ditte was engaged and entered
upon her duties on the spot.

So that trouble was over; she could begin afresh.
There was a baby boy of five or six months in the
house. There had been nothing about him in the ad-
vertisement, and the lady had not mentioned him
either; perhaps she preferred Ditte to make the dis-
covery unaided. Truth to tell, Ditte had had about
enough of babies by now; she would not have objected
to a little more freedom. But it was too late to change
now. And the place seemed easy enough; — a small
flat, and the lieutenant was out on his rounds of the
forts a lot. And the lady helped in all the work

The young wife was a great chatterbox, and Ditte
soon learned that her father kept a shop in the prov-
incial town where the lieutenant had been quartered,
and that he often sent his daughter hampers to help
towards the housekeeping. "But for goodness' sake
don't ever let my husband know that; his honor as an
officer forbids him to accept any such material help,
and I am supposed to be able to keep house on what
he gives me. Of course he thinks me much more won-
derful than I am, and naturally I let him go on think-
ing so! Do you like soldiers? I think his uniform is
one of the handsomest I ever saw; and you should just
see how my husband sets it off!"

Truly Ditte's wages were not large: fifteen crowns a
month. "We can't afford more," said the lady, "for
officers are so badly paid. My husband says things
have always been like that. They have to sacrifice


their very lifeblood for their country, and get small
thanks for it in return. But then of course we have
the honor of it!" In compensation for the smallness
of the salary, Ditte was treated as one of the family;
she slept on a couch in the dining-room and had the
baby with her all night.

"We have absolutely no servant's room to the flat,"
said the lady, "and so my husband says if the girl has
to sleep in the dining-room, then she really must be
regarded as one of the family, and have the baby at
night. — He can't bear having the baby in the bedroom !
It prevents him from feeling newly married any more
he thinks. But you don't mind a bit, do you? — And it
shows our confidence in you! Besides you will learn a
lot. That has always to be taken into consideration
with regard to pay. In all the other trades one has to
pay to be apprenticed; but a servant girl is paid while
she is learning."

Thus she prattled on while they worked about the
house. She was a plump little thing, with fat rosy
cheeks, and was sweet and natural and friendly, but
she was certainly not capable. Ditte really thought
she was a terrible muddler. Just when Ditte was wash-
ing the floor she would have to leave her work to take
the baby out. "He is to be a soldier, and so he must
be a lot in the open air," the mistress would say, "1
will finish your work for you." But when Ditte came
back nothing was done all the same; the young wife
only flitted about from one thing to another. She was
no cook either. Every day they had either sausage or
rissoles bought ready made. "My husband ought


really to have been here to-day" the lady used to say as
they were having dinner. "He appreciates good food
so much!"

Ditte became quite curious to see him; if he was like
her mistress's descriptions he must be funny, thought
she. Life was new to her, and she made mental pic-
tures of everything beforehand. She had never seen
a lieutenant in the flesh, and now that she had got a
master who was a real live one, who offered his life-
blood for his country, her childish imagination built up
a wonderful picture of a warlike giant with imposing
presence and a great sword grasped in both hands.
And his nostrils would be dilated with warlike ardor.
*'My husband Is so fiery!" her mistress had murmured
in a burst of confidence one day.

It was indeed a disappointment, when a fortnight
later he came back from the camp. Ditte's new master
was a slim neat little man with a thin fair mustache of
the kind that out in the country would be said to be in
need of manuring. He had a parting back and front,
which he could never get accurate enough, and wore a
long parade sword which was always getting between
his legs. He wore corsets — a thing which so tickled
Ditte's sense of humor that she would wake up in the
middle of the night and giggle over it — and he used to
scream out quite hysterically if anything went wrong.
He cursed and swore frightfully too if every little thing
was not in apple-pie order for his toilet; and his
little wife would burst into floods of tears and become
utterly prostrated at such times. But as soon as he
was out of the door, she would smile again. "The


lieutenant has such a hasty temper," she would say.
"That is because he has always to go for those stupid

Of course it was something to belong to the family;
but Ditte longed for a place, however small, that she
could call her own, — a hole under the stairs even, where
she could sit on her bed with folded hands, and indulge
in a few moments reverie; — weep a few tears for her
baby, her home, and be herself! A feeling of desire
stirred within her, to live her own life, and mix with
other young people of her own class. The other ser-
vant girls in the building had their free evenings, and
their young men who fetched them at the street door,
and with whom they went to dances and other places
of amusement. Ditte wanted to go out too; but the
lady v/as firm here. "We are responsible for you,"
said she. "You surely don't want to run about the
streets of an evening?" Ditte could not see what was
so very reprehensible in being out in the evening with
other young folks : it was quite out of the question in
the daytime for her. But in her mistress's eyes it was
something degrading, "running about the streets" she
called it. A decent respectable girl would not so lower
herself; but would stay quietly at home of an evening.
Quite scandalized she described how another family in
the building had found their servant girls having
visitors to coffee up in their room — men visitors too !
And besides that the coffee had been filched from their
employers. " f ou may be glad that ive look, after
you !" said she.

But there was an end to that when the lieutenant


came home, for they were out nearly every evening. If
by chance there came an evening when they were at
home she never knew of it till the last minute, when
it was too late to plan anything. So she either went to
the Jensen's in Adel Street or wandered about the
streets for a couple of hours bored to death.

"Get another place!" said Mrs. Jensen, "there are
plenty of places vacant on the first."

"I haven't given notice !" answered Ditte.

"Just make off!"

No, she wouldn't do that. She was too sorry for
her mistress. She was so helpless and quite nice
and sweet !

"No, you are not one of those girls who just go off
— that one can be sure of !" the lady said one day,
while they were washing up. She must have scented
some such idea in the air. "I am glad I got you ! I
always wanted a country girl. No, I don't like the
Copenhagen girls who don't care for being in service
except where everything is done in style. They must
have their own room with a stove, and two courses at
dinner with dessert, and a free evening every week.
The lieutenant says they should just be under him for
a week or two. He would teach them something! —
How glad I am that you like children ! Nearly all
the girls we have had have made off before their time
was up. Except the last! — My husband turned her
out of doors. Now do you really think it could hurt
any one to look after the baby in the evening? He just
sleeps, — and he is company too! But do you know
what she did? My husband and I are sometimes out


in the evening, and so she used to sit at home with the
baby, or at least we thought so. But we couldn't under-
stand why the baby was so pale. But one evening we
came home from a ball before it was over, because I
didn't feel well, and as we came along the street my
husband said : 'Surely that is Clara just in front of us
with a hussar and pushing a baby carriage !' 'What
nonsense,' said I ! Clara has no baby. Besides she is
at home looking after the boy! But it was her all the
same. With our little baby out in the street at twelve
o'clock at night."

The lady's eyes filled with tears, "My husband
gave her a tremendous talking to, and we found out
that for nearly a fortnight she had taken the baby out
secretly and put him in the cloak-room while she danced
with her hussar. Isn't it frightful that any one can be
so heartless to a poor little innocent child? And all
for the sake of dancing!" She pressed her handker-
chief to her eyes. Suddenly she flung down what she
had in hand, rushed into the sitting-room and flung
open the window: the clang of an alarm bell floated
up from the Boulevard. She called out to Ditte :
"That is the salvage corps ! What can have hap-
pened? I always put on a pair of buttoned up knickers
when I go out, and take a visiting card in my purse.
Just in case anything should happen!"

One day Ditte had a great joy — she received a photo
of her little boy. The farmer had taken him to church
and taken the opportunity of getting him photographed
as well. They wrote that he had been baptized Jens
after the husband, and was healthy and lively; but


cried rather a lot. He wanted something to gnaw at
all the time. Ditte laughed when she read this. Yes,
he was a real, little greedy monkey. That one could
see from the photo: he was so fat! She was a little
surprised that they had chosen a name without consult-
ing her, and named him after a stranger too; but he
did look so nice sitting there in the middle of a land-
scape with pillars and palms, waving his fat little arms.
And how nicely they dressed him!

Now how pleasant it would have been to have had
her own room and a chest of drawers where she could
put it up. Then every now and then she would glance
at him and be cheered up. Ditte laid the photo in her
bosom a couple of days; but fancied that it began to
fade from the warmth of her body. So she put it on
the sideboard in the dining-room. But one afternoon
when she came home from her walk with the boy it
had gone.

"Oh, the picture!" exclaimed her mistress, —
"That is a sad story! When my husband came and
found it, he was awfully annoyed. In fact, he was just
going to put it into the fire when I rescued it. What-
ever made you think of putting it there?"

She fetched it from a drawer. It had got a little
scraped, and Ditte's eyes filled with tears. "He looks
so sweet," said the lady to comfort her. "Is it your
little brother?"

"No, it is my own child," Ditte managed to say.

"Oh, I beg your pardon; it is a pity!" The young
wife patted her cheek. "You mustn't mind. I will buy
you a nice frame for it. Do you know, my baby came


too soon also," said she with tears in her eyes, "You
can just fancy what a terrible time I had, being with
child, and not knowing if Adolph would marry me or
not. Poor little thing!" and she kissed Ditte and
smiled in a friendly way through her tears.

This moved Ditte so that she could not find it in her
heart to give notice. But she was so tired. It is true
that there was not so much to be done, but what did
that matter if one was always tired? At night she
slept with one hand on the cradle to rock it if a whim-
per came from the little one. The lieutenant could not
bear to be disturbed.

Ditte had had quite enough of children now. It
had come quite naturally to this pass. She tended a
child she did not care two pins about for the first time
in her life — she could nearly have wished it ill luck.
She looked after it, because it was her duty, turned it
as if it were a package, got up at night to give it a
bottle, and knew within herself that if it lay dead in
the morning, like one of the little angels in the mater-
nity home, she would not have cared two straws.

On the last day of the month Ditte sat and counted
her wages over and over again. Her employers had
g;one out. She got up and took out the old knapsack in
Avhich she kept her things from under the couch, and
began unpacking them and arranging them on the
dining-room table, as she often did when she was
bored. But suddenly she tossed them all back into the
knapsack, warmed a bottle and gave it to the baby, put
on her old shabby clothes and fed. She rushed down
the stairs as if possessed. When she got into the


street she felt in despair over the little baby left in the
lurch, and the whole business. She would not go back,
and yet could not go away. So she sat on a bench in
the Boulevard, and now and then went into the back-
yard to hear if the baby cried. Perhaps the lamp
might be smoking, — perhaps fire might have broken
out, or something else awful happened. But
not until she saw her employers coming home did she
hurry away to Adel Street and knock the Jensens up.



THE alarm rang violently. Louise, the cook,
tumbled out of bed and called Ditte. This not
succeeding, she began to shake her again and
again; but she could hardly bring her back to con-
sciousness. Even when she had been got up to sitting
on the edge of the bed, she was full of sleep, and
swayed to and fro. "There she goes ! Lying down
again, 'pon my soul!" cried the cook, and seized the
water-jug. The sound of the jug scraping on the edge
of the basin, and the prospect of getting a cold douche
down her back waked Ditte properly. "Oh, how tired,
how tired I am !" she groaned and her face contracted.
"Now that's right! Get your things on quickly," said
the cook. "We will have a really good cup of coffee.
Then you'll feel better."

"The coffee is locked up," Ditte answered dolefully.

"Pooh! Locked up! Do you think I'm an idiot?"
Louise turned her broad back to her. "I took out
enough for the whole week last night. It would have
been crazy to do anything else. Ugh ! stingy over a
few grains of coffee ! And flinging heaps of money
away evening after evening over their grand parties!
What do you think a party like last night costs? But
thank God it doesn't matter what it costs. And shall I



go and scrimp and save to make it up again? Not
much ! We're bound to have what we need ! The
other day the Queen of the Fete — that's a new name
they gave the mistress when they toasted her the other
night — well, she came in to me and said, as she began
picking the bones of a roast of beef out of the waste
bucket, 'You must wash them well, Louise, and use
them for soup. Bones make excellent soup !' Now I
can't abide the mistresses in the kitchen; they only
muddle up everything. 'Who is that soup for?' I
asked. 'For all of us,' she answered sharp enough, 'but
if you think you can't eat it, Louise, we must make
something special for you.' 'Then I will see after the
making of it myself, thank you,' says I, and so she got
what for. She hasn't a bit of idea of cooking. Most
of 'em haven't. They stir up something or other with
a bit of pickled cucumber — some red and yellow mess,
— and call it Italian salad. And then, if you please,
they make out that they have cooked the whole supper
themselves, and there they sit like pussycats, purring
and praising one another. 'You are indeed a great
artist in the culinary art, Mrs. Director!' 'Umph!'
says I, 'if the guests had to eat what the mistress can
toss up, they would soon stop coming here.' "

Louise gossiped on while she sat and bound up her
legs which were swollen and full of varicose veins.
Then she put on her dress and hurried down. Ditte
followed at her heels. "Give me a hand to-day, only
for a little," she begged.

Ditte had already several times experienced that
"day after" which so often followed parties at the


director's. She was no longer quite so green, although
she shuddered when she came Into the room the morn-
ing after such a party. Ash-trays stood everywhere, —
on what-nots, tables, and on the upholstered furni-
ture, — each one a perfect midden of cigar and cigarette
ends and burnt matches and ash. Bottles and glasses
stood in sticky rings of wine, the hangings and furni-
ture smelt of stale tobacco, and it seemed Impossible
to know where to begin the cleaning. The first time
she gave it up, and fled sobbing to the cook, who had
to come in and put her in the way of it. It had to be
handled rightly, or else one only trampled in the dirt
and made it more of a pig-sty than ever. No, indeed,
a broom and wet sand could be of no use here. Then,
Louise scolded her, because she had taken the place
without knowing anything about the work — and helped
her afterwards. And Ditte, in her gratitude, bought
something for her out of the tips she had got the eve-
ning before, — a silk handkerchief, or anything else she
could think of.

It was only too true that she had "bettered herself*
by means of a white lie. "If you are asked whether you
can do this or that," Mrs. Jensen had said, "just say
'yes.' When you are properly settled, you'll leara
it soon enough." So when the lady had asked if she
had been a parlor-maid before, she had answered "yes,'*
— not with much assurance certainly, yet it was a "yes"
all the same. So it was Important to learn it all very
quickly, so that it might look only as if one was strange
to the place at first, and Ditte made progress. But she
had to puzzle it all out alone with the hints that Louise


gave her. The lady lay in bed till late in the morning
and didn't put her in the way of things at all, only
scolded when it was badly done. "You may be glad
of that," said the cook, "if she had been a woman who
looked after her things, you would have been turned
out long ago."

This was not very comforting, but Ditte slaved on
Indefatigably, and tried to get into harmony with her
new world. It was indeed a new world — from the
thick carpets on the floors, which could neither stand
water nor wet cloths, but must be cleaned with tea
leaves, — to the chandelier of cut glass, which she was
always in danger of pulling down, and the many ex-
pensive things which were set everywhere like so many
traps for her.

She took her life in her hands as she moved among
them, and the frequent parties with their consequent
night vigils did not make things any easier. She and
Louise had to be up and wait, often till the early morn-
ing, and sit yawning in the kitchen, listening to the
noise from the rooms. Between one and two the mas-
ter used certainly to come out and say they could go to
bed if they liked, but for all that they stayed up until
the guests were gone to help them with their things.
Generally these former were in a good humor and
lavish with their money. Ditte, who was young and
looked smart, got the most tips, although Louise had
had the most trouble ; but so it always is in this world.
And they divided the spoils afterwards.

"Just you take what they give you, and stop being
stuck up," said Louise. "And if they ask you if you c?.n


change; just say 'no.' A note is not at all too much
when you have been slaving all night for it. But don't
kick up a fuss if any one gives you a little pinch. Men
are like that, when they have had a little drop. If
they think they get more for their money that way, it's
all the same to me — for a fiver or a tenner, I don't
mind a blue finger mark on my hips. Sometimes one
gets worse than that for nothing at all; and Mother
always said: 'You have to get your food where you
can find it.' "

The tips kept Ditte up. She hid them in her bosom,
and could feel them rustling against her skin, while
she slaved away to get things In order again. At half
past seven the Director came down from the first floor,
and by then the dining-room had to be aired and warm
and tidy. However long the party had lasted he was
up early and was fresh enough the day after. Nothing
upset him. He had his own room upstairs and never
went to that side of the house where his wife was; he
had a mistress In the town. Ditte did not understand
It at all. Here were people who had plenty of every-
thing, and who never needed to take thought as to
where the next was to come from. They had only to
live their life of gaiety and splendor, and yet they were
not happy!

Shortly after the lady rang. "Has the Director
gone?" she would ask, and then Ditte brought her the
remains of the evening's festivity on a big tray, — wine
and whisky bottles with the leavings In them and half
emptied glasses. She would have the whole lot put
down by her bed, and lay and poured the leavings into


decanters. But the heel-taps in the glasses she drank;
Louise declared it was the taste of tobacco and mus-
tache she smacked her lips over; she was depraved in
such things.

She had a big airy bedroom looking out on the gar-
den with heavy gilded furniture, and hundreds of cut
glass bottles and glass boxes and china jars. They
were all beauty shop articles, and she had electric curl-
ing tongs and all the appliances for face massage. But
she was none the handsomer for that! The reddish
hair on the forehead bristled and looked like singed
flax, and on the nape of the neck and in the scalp you
could see the smears of auburn hair dye. The black
pencilling round her eyes was smudged, and the red on.
her lips and cheeks as well. Ditte knew only too well
what the "Queen of the Fete" looked like when she
had got all her war-paint scraped off. When there
was nothing left in the bottles Louise advised Ditte
to put some in, as it meant being free of the mistress
most of the morning, for which Ditte was not sorry.

She got a good deal of scolding, especially at first,
and went about with beating heart, waiting for the
entrance of the lady. There was enough to grumble
at, that she knew well, even if she was long past the
stage when she used a washleather and duster to the
oil paintings, Ditte was not stupid. But there were

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 17 of 23)