Martin Andersen Nexø.

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for the first, she packed her things together one evening
and made off. She had to get home ! She got the
porter to help her down with her luggage while the
family were out. Fie took it to the Jensens' — out In
Adel Street.

Ditte was not surprised to find her father In bed


He had strained himself lifting the backboard of a
wagon, and was lying with a mustard plaster on his
loins; he could scarcely turn in bed. She was much
more surprised to find Sine from the Hill Farm there.
She nearly dropped her umbrella and muff, so startled
was she when she opened the back door and Sine stood
at the sink with her plump arms in the steaming wa-
ter, clad in apron and washing dress and wooden shoes,
with a calm industry as of one who feels thoroughly
at home. She was still rosy-cheeked and became more
so when she recognized Ditte. She greeted the latter
with some embarrassment, and kept out in the kitchen.
But Ditte did not feel called upon to ride the high

Lars Peter's face shone with delight when he saw
Ditte. She thought he looked bad, as well as pale
and troubled : it must have been a difficult time for
them. He did not seem to think It at all strange that
she had come at the end of the month, but was joy-
fully surprised. "You have grown a fine lady," said
he, and enveloped her whole form in a glance that
warmed Ditte to the heart's core. Ah, that was what
she stood in need of, to meet a glance that for once was
not criticizing, but only contained goodness towards

*'Yes, haven't you a fine daughter?" said Ditte, quite
pleased. "But where are the youngsters?"

They were out somewhere. Else and the two boys
were helping to pick herrings out of the meshes of the
nets, Kristian was at the farm. "If he is there still 1"
added Lars Peter slowly.


Ditte had to look at everything, and take in the old
familiar smell of it all. A nice clothes chest had been
set between the windows — it was Sine's. The lamp
with the blue glass shade that stood on the top, she
also recognized. "Else did not write and tell me you
were 111! Have you been so long?" she asked.

"Nearly a month! We did not want to frighten
you for no good, as It Is not dangerous. But It is
horribly painful — I can't turn myself In bed. We are
grateful to Sine."

"I had no Idea she was here."

"No, for you see — " Lars Peter stopped. "I had
just taken on some road-mending for the borough coun-^
cll, to earn a few pence, and it's danged heavy work to
get the back piece lifted out when one Is unloading.
Now, I've done worse things than that, but one day
I just doubled up, and fell on the side of the road and
couldn't move a step. They carried me home, and
when Sine heard how I lay here, she just thought —
For poor little Else couldn't manage it alone. I must
say she came like God's own angel, so if you would
be a little friendly to her — " He spoke in a hushed
voice. Sine came in with the coffee just then, but
looked at neither of them.

"I was just telling Ditte how good you are to all
of us," he said, and held out his hand. Sine glanced
hastily from one to the other, then went and sat at
the end of his settle-bed.

Ditte was not at all vexed about It, but felt that
the others thought she was, and could not find any-
thing to say. So she went up to Sine and kissed


her cheek. "I wished for that once I" she said

"No? Well, that's all right then !" said Lars Peter,
much relieved. "Let the others say and think what
they like."

Ditte thought the same. "But why don't you two
get married?" she asked, so suddenly that Sine burst
out laughing.

"We might just as well ask you the same question,"
said Lars Peter, and laughed too. "You are the most
likely one. I must get on my legs again first," he
went on, more seriously, when he saw that Ditte did
not like to be reminded of her past, "only grand folks
are married in bed. We had been 1:hinking of put-
ting the wedding and Kristian's confirmation together
— ■if he doesn't disappear first!"

"Has he gone wrong again?"

"Yes, he made off just lately. The parson had been
rather strict with him at the confirmation classes, and
so he started of^ to walk to Copenhagen. He meanf
to go and see you, and then to go to sea. It's not
a bad walk, that — thirty to thirty-five miles ! I had
to go after him — that was the time I couldn't find
you. I should never have got the boy either if 1
hadn't got the police to help me. A. bad job that

"You ought to let him go to sea when he is con-
firmed," said Ditte. "If I were a man, I should go
to sea, it's not worth while staying on the land."

Yes, Lars Peter had noticed that she was not satis-
fied with her circumstances in town. But Ditte would


not pursue the subject, so he let it drop. She was used
to bear her troubles alone, and that they let her do.
She could get out of them all right. She had become
a very pretty and determined lass for her twenty years,
and wore her clothes well. No one who saw her could
have thought that it was the rag and bone man's
daughter, the little wizened, crooked kiddie from the
"Crov/'s Nest" who stood there.

The next day Ditte had to go. She wanted to go
to Noddebo to see her child, and then into town to
find a new place before the first of the month. They
did not need her at home, and she did not want to be
out of work at home in the hamlet either. And there
were none of the inhabitants she cared for, now that
the old pensioner couple were dead. The house was
sold, and it was quite strange to see it and know that
strangers lived there. Povl and Rasmus got the old
nag out and drove her. She was refreshed by her
visit home, short as it .was, and enjoyed the drive with
the two lads.

But the meeting with her child was a bitter disap-
pointment. She had longed unreasonably for it, and
yet she felt with torture in her soul that as each month
went by she got further away from him. She had
neglected to follow his growth, and did not recognize
her little six-weeks-old baby in the dirty plump young-
ster that toddled about and said "Ga-ga!" and "Bo!"
to everything, and stuck out his tongue. And the
worst of all was that he was frightened of her. The
crofter's wife had to force him to go to her. "Jens
not afraid of the strange lady!" she said to him.


The words cut Ditte to the heart, she felt unwanted
as never before and hastened away from the place.
"He is my child for all that!" she repeated, as she
hurried towards Hillerod, where she was to take the
train to Copenhagen. "He is my child!" But there
was not much consolation in that. She had cut herself
off from the boy. That Karl often went out and saw
it did not make the case against her any better. She
had been a bad mother, who left her child to strangers
in order to have a good time herself, and now it was
brought home to her.

It was with no special pleasure that she again stood
in the capital. She was sick of it. She envied Sine,
who had now settled into her new life at home — she
had also belonged to just such a poor nest.

For a moment the thought of Karl crossed her
mind, but she pushed it from her.


WHEN the alarm went off at six o'clock In the
morning, DItte sat up In bed with a start,
still tired out from the fatigues of the day
before, and the many preceding ones.. Half asleep
she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, groped
for her clothes and nearly fell back among the pil-
lows again. But with a shiver she pulled herself to-
gether, threw off her nightdress, and began to wash in
the hand-basin.

Ah ! that brought the life back into her legs again.
Her heart leaped up at the touch of the old sponge,
seemed to turn round in the air, and began to beat
furiously. It swung like a great bell, and from all
sides her hidden powers came forth and took up their
rightful stations. It was just as if she became pos-
sessed, and Ditte was absolutely convinced of the truth
of what her grandmother had only hinted at, viz., that
each of us is full of living beings, both good and ill.
Her blood too surged through her veins in a living
flood, and enveloped her in its warmth. Ditte took
plenty of time to wash her body over with the big
sponge; she stretched one arm up in the air, and with
the other washed herself in the armpit, — where a little
cluster of rust-red hair grew in secret, hidden in its own
perfume, — then over her shoulders and back. The


white curved arm could reach over the whole body, so
flexible had she become, she had not been so in her
early 'teens, when her joints cracked and hurt her at
every movement not strictly necessary. Ditte had
certainly developed properly now, and she was glad
of it.

She had sat her glass on the washstand, and glanced
at her reflection in it, in all positions. There were no
more sharp knobs down her back now when she bent
forwards; it was all one soft curve. Whatever pose
she struck gave soft delicate lines, the hips were finely
modeled — likewise the shoulders, — the breasts round
and firm. They did not hang at all, and the nipples
had returned to their natural size again : Ditte was
glad of that: they looked like two pink raspberries half
buried in the dark halo round them, which melted into
the creamy splendor of breast and shoulder. The
brownish stains which had troubled Ditte greatly had
disappeared; the blood had purified them. The abdo-
men was firm again too, and well rounded; it seemed
to guard the untouched fruit — a pear with the calyx
upwards. The small mother o' pearl like cleft in the
layer of fat under the skin might easily have been over-
looked. She glanced at it as she bent forward to
wash her feet. And the birthmark on her thigh would
never disappear either: it had always filled her with
a mysterious wonder, family birthmark as it was ! She
stood balanced on one leg, leaning far over so that her
luxuriant hair fell over her shoulders, veiling her face
and dipping into the wash-basin. She spanned her
ankle with her fingers — the small bone was too thick,


— that came from the endless running about. This, and
a varicose vein beginning on one thigh, caused her seri-
ous disquietude.

Otherwise Ditte was satisfied with herself as far as
the outward appearance went. She knew that
she was well made and was glad of it. Why so?
Was there any one in whose eyes she wanted to
seem desirable? Or was there a lover about any-

But no, Ditte was simply not awakened yet! She
had had a child, and yet her breast was the abode of
chastity, her senses still slept, untouched by any warm
longings and dreams. She merely took the same pleas-
ure in herself that an artist takes in a beautiful crea-
tion of his own. Ditte had no sweetheart, and desired
none. All her feelings of that kind had had their vent
■ — now she was practically cold. Like a miser she hid
her treasures deep.

At a quarter to seven Ditte was downstairs. She
put the kettle on the gas ring for tea, and called the
children who had to go to school. While they dressed
she did the dining-room and cut the sandwiches for
their school lunch. They generally gathered round
her and pulled on their coats while she buttered the
bread, and then arose a struggle between duty and
predilection. It was a Government official's family
where Ditte was now in service, with a small income,
who had a struggle to keep up appearances — one of
the so-called "New Poor." It told upon the children;
they were always hungry. Ditte willingly gave them
all the food she could. It was so difficult to say "No"


to hungry youngsters; especially to the boys; they fol-
lowed her every movement with greedy eyes.

"I shall catch it from your mother!" she said.

*'0h! Do let her scold!" they pleaded. "You are
so good!" They really meant it, and were fond of
her. So Ditte had to bear the brunt when the
lady got up and came to see what there was for their
own lunch.

At eight o'clock the master got his coffee and morn-
ing paper before he went to the office. At nine o'clock
the mistress had hers in bed, and dozed for another
quarter of an hour. She had given birth to so many
children — four in all — and was not to tire herself by
getting up too early. Half an hour later she rang
again; she was ready to get up: Ditte laid out her
clothes and waited on her. While she dressed, she
made inquiries as to the progress of the morning's
work, and gave her orders for the day.

"Just fancy, you are not through yet !" she gener-
ally exclaimed. "You certainly come down far too

The morning was the worst time of the day. Relay
after relay of the family had to be waited on, and the
rooms done at the same time. It was nothing but
running to and fro between the rooms and the kitchen,
and in to the lady every time she rang. When Ditte
had cleaned the rooms from the dirt of the previous
day, and made them warm and comfortable, the lady
established herself there and she could get in to the
bedroom. When she had finished there it was time
to begin getting the lunch ready. But as a rule she


had to go into the rooms and do something or other
over again.

Ditte's present employers were well-bred people; they
never scolded at her or quarreled among themselves
either. They merely corrected her in their own quiet
passionless way, which often hurt more than angry
words. Anyhow Ditte wished that they would now
and then lose that quiet self-possession if in return they
would occasionally express satisfaction and gladness
with her. But they never thought of that.

She could not understand this continual dissatisfac-
tion. When she had removed the dirt and discomfort
of the previous day, and made the home comfortable
again for the family, she slipped out of the room with
the dirt, out into her kitchen, quite satisfied to think.
how nice she had made it for the others. Before she
disappeared she would cast a last searching glance over
the room, and felt th?at it was comfortable and fit to
live in. And shortly after the lady would ring, and
lead her from one object to another, dumbly pointing.
Good gracious, a speck of dust! So much was to be
done ! She might just as well have rung to say: "Ah!
how comfortable and warm it is here ! Thanks very
much, Kirstine."

What Ditte missed most of all was a little apprecia-
tion. In her world gratitude was a prominent charac-
teristic: folks were, if anything, too grateful. Their
very principle of existence lay in giving — and in be-
ing thankful that one had it to give. But here people
only accepted everything, and that so ungraciously, as
if it were a natural right. She had entered the house


overflowing with good-will, and was therefore well
equipped to serve others. From her earliest child-
hood it had always been impressed upon her how she
must conduct herself when the tim.e came to go out
into service. "Do so and so, and then you will be able
to stay a long time in one place." Now all that v/as
more or less effaced from her mind — the gentry no
longer appeared to her as exalted human beings,
almost superhuman in fact, for whose sake she
really existed — beings to serve whom was a mere

Now she was much wiser, without gaining any pre-
cise happiness from this wisdom. It was her nature
to serve her fellow-beings; it was part and parcel of
her inherent goodness, and yet she could not set limits
to it without feeling poorer in herself. But it was
necessary to be selfish if she was not to get worn out.
Other people would not take care of her; but let her
run till she dropped. These people had shown them-
selves to be just like her own class — neither worse nor
better, and when it came to the point, not better brought
up either. They had however one advantage — they
took everything for granted and were ungrateful into
the bargain. The poor folks said: "Now you must
really not do any more and wear yourself out for
my sake," and thanked those who did them a service.
If one worked for a poor man he always came and said :
"Now we will stop work for to-day!" But here she
could never do enough. "Can't you get up a little
earlier?" or "You can very well stay a little later this
evening." All one's strength belonged to them as a


matter of course. The one free evening in the week
was regarded almost as a theft.

And when the very best had been given, apprecia-
tion was but sparsely doled out. What Ditte had
stolen from her sleep or her free time — a special effort,
was also insufficient as a rule. They had expected still
more, or demanded this drain on her strength as a
daily event. Consideration for her health was not
of course to be expected, but in order not to be com-
pletely worn out, it was necessary to draw in one's
horns, and only do one's strict duty. It was good for
her physically that she found this out in time.

But it was not so good for the soul and heart! She
got rid of her swollen legs, but at the expense of some-
thing higher — she felt this herself and fretted over it.
At one time she had felt that the inner being was bet-
ter developed than the outer: now she knew that the
reverse was the case. She knew that she was a hand-
some girl, and was glad of it — if only she had been
as sure that she was a good one! But in order to
stand up for herself, she had to fight agairtst her own
best qualities.

So she learnt the despicable virtue called self-
preservation : she became slovenly, her mistresses said.
Ditte, who in her own world had scarcely ever seen
such a thing as laziness, got into slovenly v/ays. She
stipulated just how much work she was to do when
she took the place, and kept strictly to the agreement.
She tried to avoid places where there v/ere children,
and if forced to take one, made the condition that she
should have nothing to do with them. Otherwise she


would have her hands full both early and late. She
often felt sorry, but hardened her heart, lest it should
be used to her undoing.

The city had long since cured her of despondency
or lack of spirit. It had gone further and had de-
veloped a certain readiness to do battle that often
served to lay the storm when "bad weather" threat-
ened. She learnt this trick from washerwomen, who
were the bugbear of the ladies, but who well under-
stood how to hold their own.

She often thought of imitating her friends, who one
after the other slipped into factory work. From one
point of view they had a m.uch better time as servants,
— were sure of food and shelter, and got a fixed wage ;
but in spite of this they preferred factory work. Ditte
could quite understand it. The factory was cold and
gloomy and dusty — the sun seldom appeared within
its walls. But service was like being in the very heart
of existence, and yet feeling none of its warmth. The
more comfortable a home was, the more lonely one
felt — when one was not a dog! The girl in service
was like the virgin in the fairy-tale, who had to hold
the candle for the lovers — an abominable destiny!

DItte was not pleased at the direction her develop-
ment was taking, and often asked herself if it might
not be she who was unreasonable and took everything
in the wrong spirit. At any rate one was happiest
when one was able to submit to the conditions of a
menial position. Tars Peter had said when she was
going out to service after her confirmation, that a serv-


ant did best to have no opinions; and she would have
been happier if she had been able to keep strictly to
this all her days. The poor did best to be silent and
submissive !

But if she could not, what then? There was a
rebellious demon in her — she knew it only too well,
and he grew and waxed lusty and fat. One evening
on coming home she found that some one had been in
her room. The things on the chest of drawers had
been meddled with. This had happened before, but
Ditte could not stand it any longer now; she m.ust have
her room to herself — the one place in the world where
she reigned supreme. So a collision took place be-
tween the lady and herself and she gave notice.

One afternoon she was out looking for another
place. She found one that rather appealed to her. It
was with an old lady, the widow of a councilor. The
old lady repeated time after time: "So you have no
sweetheart!" "No!" answered Ditte, smiling, "I am
so afraid of having a strange man shut up in the flat —
I am all by myself, you see." They agreed as to the
wages and the work, Ditte had seen the flat and could
well undertake the work. "I should like to see your
references," said the lady. And suddenly the little
demon awoke in Ditte. "Yes, if I may see madam's
references," she returned. The old lady started back
as if a poisonous insect had stung her. "Girl ! What
are you saying?" she exclaimed. "Will you go straight
out of my house?"

Ditte knew afterwards that she had been a fool.
Naturally she and her like had to submit to cringing


proofs of good and honest behavior. The other class
needed no proofs — they were as they were, and the
others had to accommodate themselves to that state
of things. She would not go and look for any more
places — would not go into service again on any consid-
eration. She would be off with the whole thing, take
a room from the first of the month, and look for

One evening there were visitors. Every time Ditte
went into the room she caught a little of the conver-
sation. She was glad to find that as far as the ladies
were concerned it was never deeper than she could
well follow. And as to appearance — well, she had a
better neck than any one of them. If she were to
wear a low-cut dress she would certainly take the wind
out of the sails of the whole lot. And without this
advantage it sometimes happened that the gentlemen
neglected their ladies so far as to send her an apprecia-
tive glance.

"They are all alike at bottom. They belong to
quite a different world from ours," she heard one of
the ladies say once when she went in. Ditte recog-
nized the tone : they had got on to the servant question.
It would not be long now before her turn came. Right
enough ! when she next went in, the conversation
stopped suddenly, and the ladies looked criticizingly
at her. This was one of her most bitter experiences,
when she really grasped the fact that while she was
running to and fro doing her best, they were picking
her to pieces, making merry over her common manners,
and amusing the guests at her expense. Nothing had


made her feel so lonely and defenseless as this. She
could not defend herself, but was debarred from giving
her side of the question. She was an inarticulate be-
ing who had only to be dumb and do her work. They
patted dogs and excused nearly everything they did:
she was entirely unprotected. Gradually she came to
nourish the feeling that at bottom they hated her.
They accepted her work because that was unavoidable,
but she herself was superfluous. If they could have
dispensed with her person, and retained her useful
qualities, they would have done so. It was the same
to her ! Nobody could make a laughing-stock of her
any more now! But there were other things to say
about her. Well, they could say what they liked. She
no longer cared the least bit what they thought of

Yet she listened at the door, bitter of mood. She
heard the hostess say something, and a couple of vis-
itors laugh. Then a man's voice said : "Excuse me,
but I never discuss servants, either our own or others.
Our own is under the protection of my wife and my-
self, as long as she is with us, and I suppose the same
holds good in other houses." A warm feeling glowed
in Ditte's breast. She would gladly take service in
that house! Soon after the party broke up. Ditte's
eyes glistened her thanks when she helped him on with
his coat. She was so grateful, she could have kissed


MRS. VANG and Ditte stood In the kitchen cook-
ing; they had the window open, and the sun.
shone in and made long sunbeams of vapor
and steam. "Oh, how fresh the air smells!" cried
Mrs. Vang. "We are coming to the loveliest time
of the year."

Out in the garden Mr. Vang and the children were
making spring discoveries; they scraped manure and
dead leaves aside and shrieked in chorus whenever a
flower came in view. Now and then a little fellow

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 19 of 23)