Martin Andersen Nexø.

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herself comfortable in cozy nests of dry rushes spread
over broken brushwood, and she brought flowers and
last year's bullrushes — and thousand-year-old mussel-
shells which showed up gleaming white in the coal-
black mole-casts. By standing on the tips of her toes
she could look over the top of the foliage and keep
an eye on the cattle — it was all on such a small scale
that she could make herself quite snug.

Here and there were peat-cuttings. The pits with
their black edges and the dark bog-water reminded her
of sorrow and death — of earth thrown upon a black
coffin — and intruded brutally upon the delicate, care-
free shimmer of sunshine and plant-life and humming
insects. They gave a note of capricious insecurity to
all existence. One might go about here humming to
one's self — and suddenly burst out crying, without its
seeming absurd. And that might be just as well now
and then.

There was plenty to play with and Ditte busied her-
self to the best of her ability. Her nests were full
of promising things which she came across while driv-
ing the cattle — speckled bird's eggs, pretty feathers, a
dead mole with the softest of skins. But playing with
all these treasures was not quite in her line ; she couldn't


make up any story about them, hadn't the necessary
imagination. She had never had time to play, and so
the sources of it had dried up within her. The days
were long gone by when Granny had only to paint a face
on one of Soren Man's old wooden shoes and put a cloth
round it for Ditte to find a playmate at once. From
those days she was separated by a long and toilsome

So she just sat and looked at the things, put one down
and took up another — and was tired of it. Her mis-
tress had given her some knitting to take out; she was
to knit so many rows. She usually knitted twice as
much as she need have done, but still it did not help
her to kill time — she was too quick with her fingers.
And then her thoughts came upon her — her sad

Loneliness and the longing for home lay heavily upon
her — especially at first, and she often cried the hours
away. She missed her father and her younger broth-
ers and sisters, and all the little things she had to do
for them. Her head was all too full of worries, there
was always something that troubled her — had Povl's
wooden shoes been mended before they had gone too
far? — did Sister Else still get enough to eat? She
was so fond of dawdling over her food and chatter-
ing away the time, especially in the morning. And then
all of a sudden it was schooltime and she had to leave
everything and run! She often left her lunch behind
her and they always had to watch her. And her fa-
ther — was there anybody to look after him? Did he
get his beer boiling hot when he came back freezing


after his night at sea? And were his sea clothes prop-
erly hung up to dry?

Ditte could not help thinking of all these things —
and all in vain; her powerlessness made her cry. A
holiday was not to be thought of: who would look
after the cows and do all the work that was waiting
for her when she brought them home towards evening?
And she never had a message from home. So she
always imagined the worst — her father was drowned,
or one of the children was ill and wanted nursing. Her
little heart bled all in vain.

When her loneliness and longing oppressed her she
could not bear to stay on the low ground among the
bushes, but had to go up to the fields above, where she
had a view of the cottages across the Common, the
mill by the farm — and above all the high road ! There
were always people going along it; if she was lucky she
might recognize somebody from the neighborhood of
the fishing hamlet. And then it was just as if some
one had given her a kindly thought — it brought her
comfort. Was it God, perhaps?

In Ditte's world they did not altogether believe in
God, but left the question open. The life of a poor
man did not exactly furnish any obvious proof of his
existence; if there was a God, he kept pretty much to
the grand folks. And it was always they who trotted
him out and used his name when they wanted to do
the poor people down. That was the way Granny
had looked at it — and Lars Peter: the only two Ditte
had any reason to trust fully. At any rate it was no
use turning to him with one's troubles; experience


showed that sufficiently clearly. Of course the par-
son said you ought to cast all your sorrows upon the
Lord, but at the same time he gravely warned you
against giving him the blame for your misery.

But Ditte felt instinctively compelled to turn her
face up towards the light, especially when any unex-
pected good thing happened to her. For the bad things
one blamed one's self — since they were not to be
avoided; but one had to have somewhere to turn in
one's gratitude. And so it came to be Heaven, after
all. Anyhow Granny was up there, for she was in
Heaven, there couldn't be any doubt about that, hnå
so, perhaps, she would have to find room there for God
too — for Granny's sake! Ditte thought a great deal
about Granny at this time, and sometimes even called
to her aloud. She felt the need of one, at any rate,
who could see how sorrowful she was.

One day, when she was lying in her most unhappy
mood, Granny suddenly stood bending over her.
"Come now, little Ditte," she said, "we're going to
fly home to the hamlet." "But you haven't any wings,"
said Ditte, crying worse than ever, for Granny was
more humpbacked than before. "That doesn't mat-
ter, child, we'll just draw our legs well up under us —
right up under our skirts I" And then they really flew,
up over the hills and down through the dales; when
they came too near the ground, they just drew their
legs still higher up under their skirts. And all of a
sudden they were over the hamlet; Lars Peter stood
below with a big net ready to catch them. "Ditte !"
he called out.


Ditte woke and jumped up in a fright; somebody
was calling to her from the fields above. It was Karl,
the son at the Hill Farm, and he was driving the cows
out of the corn. She was paralyzed with fright and
hadn't even the sense to run and help him. Then he
came slowly down towards her; he always dragged his
feet heavily when he walked, as if he was tired of
everything. "You must have fallen asleep," he said
— with a touch of sarcasm. Then he noticed that she
had been crying and looked at her seriously; but said

Ditte was ashamed of having cried and slept, and
hastily wiped the tears from her face. Not that she
was afraid of him; he was an inoffensive young man of
seventeen — a comical age for a fellow, she thought. It
was difficult to take him seriously, although he was the
son and therefore the real master of the farm; well,
he didn't expect it either, but only wanted to be left
in peace. He went to prayer meetings, perhaps she
could ask him . . . ? Ditte did not altogether like
Granny's not having any wings.

"Do you think old women get into Heaven?" she
asked, turning half away; it was a silly sort of ques-
tion to ask all the same.

"I'm sure I don't know," he answered slowly. "I
suppose it depends on what they have been like." He
stared in front of him with a look of profound reflec-
tion, as though it had to be thought out thoroughly, so
as not to do any one an injustice.

Well, Granny had been good — better than anybody
could say. So if that was all it depended on . . .


He stood a while staring at the same spot and pon-
dering. "We must not judge — either one way or the
other," he said with a deep sigh.

Ditte burst out laughing; he looked so comic when
he sighed.

"It's nothing to laugh at," he said, and went away

A little way off he stopped. "You may be glad it
wasn't Mother who came and found the cows in the
corn," he said.

"Why, aren't you going to tell your mother?" Ditte
asked in astonishment — it had never occurred to her
that she would get off free.

"No, why should I?"

Well, why? Why indeed? — "But the farm is to be
yours," It suddenly struck her.

"Well — yes!" He smiled a little at the Idea — ^to
Ditte's great surprise. She had never thought he

She stood looking after him and quite forgot all
her own troubles. He walked like an old man — or
one born under a curse. He couldn't have had much
joy In life — It was said that his mother still used to
beat him. And far worse things than that were said !
DItte shuddered — she refused to think about It all.

But it wasn't always so easy to escape It. The
women from the Common would find an excuse to come
across and question her, apparently about quite Inno-
cent things. And when they had got an answer, they
nodded and pursed their Ups — as though they had
heard the most terrible things confirmed. But DItte


was not inclined to gossip about the people she served;
she determined to keep guard on her tongue.

One day she sat watching the road, in the hope of
catching sight of some acquaintance. A couple came
driving past, a farmer and his wife — no doubt going
to town to do some shopping. They beckoned to her
and pulled up; she did not know them, but ran up all
the same.

Had she seen a one-horse trap go by, with a big
bay mare — a good while ago? She hadn't? Where
did she belong? Weren't those the Hill Farm cattle
she was minding? — they thought they knew them. —
They fed you well there, didn't they? — or was it only
so-so? — How was it now — the farm belonged to a
widow, didn't it? Yes, now they remembered, Karen
Bakkegaards ^ she was called, and she lost her hus-
band about ten years ago — what a sad thing! But
she didn't break her heart over it, not she. — Wasn't
there a son of hers at the farm — and a regular day-
laborer? — yes, of course, it was Rasmus Rytter from
the Common here. Did he sleep at the farm? — oh, he
went home at night. But perhaps he stayed some-
times — when there was a lot of work to be done?

They questioned her by turns and Ditte answered
in all good faith. But when the woman wanted to
know about the arrangements indoors and asked where
Karen Bakkegaards had her bedroom and whether
she slept alone in the house, Ditte pricked up her ears.
Something in the woman's face told her that she had
made a fool of herself again, a regular silly fool. Sud-

^ Bakkegaard = Hill Farm.


denly she left the cart and dashed off into the meadow;
then turned round and made faces at them, boiling
with rage. "You're nothing but a pair of dirty liars!"
she screamed hoarsely. "And you must be nasty your-
selves, or you wouldn't be such gossipmongers I" The
farmer threatened her with his whip and made as
though he would jump out of the cart. But Ditte
ran, up along the bank and across the fields. When
she got to the marshland she lay down and recovered
her breath and was quite terrified at what she had
done. Supposing they came after her ! Farmers were
not the sort to trifle with, they always had the law on
their side. Perhaps they would go straight to the
authorities and complain about her when they got to

She couldn't get rid of this thought, it kept work-
ing in her and filled her with dismay. Who was there
to help her, in her terribly forsaken state? There
was nothing for it — she must go home !

It had happened to Ditte before that she had had
to leave everything and rush off across the fields. Then
she was like one possessed, so that she didn't even think
of taking the road, but ran straight across country.
Presently something or other stopped her — she ran
into a swamp or was caught among thorns; her bare
feet were bleeding and there were great rents in her
dress. The fit had passed off and she had to pay for
it; she crept back feeling very small and set herself to
bathe her wounded feet and mend her dress — thank-
ful that the damage was no worse.

After one of these desperate races she had peace.


Her ungovernable homesickness had worked itself out,
and as she sat on the edge of the swamp with her sore
feet in the water, sewing at her dress, everything sank
within her. All her rebelliousness slipped away and left
a little woman filled with the sweet languor that comes
of a good cry. For a little while she need think of
nothing and could abandon herself freely to her own
concerns. She sat marveling at herself, and examined
her legs, one of which had a birthmark high up on the
thigh, and her slender sunburnt arms. Sun and wind
had tanned her all over through her thin clothes. But
she didn't like her color and stretched herself in the
shallow, tepid water to wash the moldiness away. It
had collected on her skin like old shadows.

Below her navel ran a dark stripe which she re-
membered of old, for Granny had noticed it when Ditte
was little and had prophesied that she would be apt
to have children and lots of them. But under her
armpits there was a little reddish curly hair, and that
was new and exciting. Ditte took her growing breasts
in her hands and was quite proud to find how heavy they
were already — especially when she bent forward. But
then her back didn't please her, the action made a
whole row of knobs stand out on it. She would have
given something to be able to see herself from behind,
to know whether her back was still crooked.

Suddenly she would be seized by a fear that some-
body might come or that somebody might be spying
on her from the fields above. She snatched her clothes
and fled shrieking into the bushes to dress herself.

There was nothing much to spy upon, after all — a


loose-limbed figure that belonged neither to a child nor
to a grown-up girl and certainly had no power of re-
flecting the daylight in a warm glow ! Ditte was
scarcely destined to turn the head of any man. The
most beautiful thing about her was still her heart —
and that is not in demand. Nature has therefore
wisely ordained that it shall be hidden well out of the


KAREN BAKKEGAARDS and Ditte were in the
scullery after dinner mixing rye-meal and plas-
ter of Paris for the rats; all the others were
taking their midday nap, the servant girl Sine too.
Karen stood stirring the dry mixture together; she was
heavy in her movements, and every time she changed
her position her body gave off a strong smell which hurt
Ditte's nose and made her shudder. The mixture was
put up in little paper packets, which Ditte then placed
in the worst rat-holes in the barn and threshing-floor —
there were plenty of them. The farm was still, with
a stillness that made one sleepy; Ditte had been up
early and could have lain down on the stone floor and
dropped off to sleep.

"There" — her mistress gave her the last packets in
her apron. "When they've got through all that they're
not likely to ask for any more."

"Is it very poisonous?" asked Ditte.

"Poisonous — no, it's the most harmless stuff in the
world, as far as that goes. But when the rats have
had their fill of it, they have to go straight off and
drink — for it's dry eating, you see. And as soon as
the water gets to the plaster it turns it stiff. Just like
a lump of stone in their bellies — that's how it's



Ditte gave a little horrified moan. "Oh, but it must
be a frightful death," she said.

Karen swayed from side to side in annoyance.
"Pooh! — why should it be? The main thing is to
get rid of the vermin, so it doesn't matter how it's
done. There are many kinds of death, and they all
lead the same way. . . . When is it you're expecting
your mother to come out?"

The question took Ditte by surprise and hurt her
— chiefly perhaps on account of th; line of thought
it betrayed. "It will be a little while yet," she whis-

"Do you think she got hold of the money?" Karen
went on; she was in a talkative mood to-day.

Ditte didn't know. She would have liked best to
have held her tongue ; that was what she generally
did when any one questioned her about the crime, but
her mistress had to be answered. "Granny had it on
her," she said quietly.

"Yes, stupid fool! She ought to have put it in the
savings bank and not sat hatching it. Then you'd
have had it now — for it was to come to you. And
there'd have been much more of it too." Karen reck-
oned it up. "Five hundred dollars it would have come
to now — a thousand crowns! A lot of money for a
poor girl like you, when you came to get married. The
Sands Farm people must have had a fair bit — that's
where it came from, wasn't it?"

Ditte was longing to slip out; the subject tortured
her, and the acrid smell — of sweat and other things —
that surrounded her mistress, took away her breath.


She felt giddy and faint standing close to this stout
female, whose tread was so heavy and who took such
a firm grasp of everything — she felt like some tiny
creature that might at any moment be trodden upon in-
advertently. "Shall I drive the cows out now?" she
asked, making for the duor.

Karen glanced at the grandfather's clock in the next
room. "Yes, you run off now — but call Rasmus Rytter

That was the worst thing Ditte could be asked to
do. She was terrified of Rasmus, and it was impos-
sible to wake him. They used to say it was a trick
of his — he slept so soundly just to make the girls come
right up to him. Sine came out of her room behind
the scullery and Ditte looked beseechingly at her, but
the girl was scarcely awake yet and did not under-
stand. "Cut off with you; what are you waiting for?"
said the mistress.

Ditte crossed the yard slowly and hesitatingly and
began calling through the open barn-door; Karen
Bakkegaards stood at the scullery-door watching her
movements attentively. "Look at the silly girl," she
said in annoyance; "I'm blessed if she don't think she
can bring the man to life with shouting."

"She's afraid of him," said Sine with reluctance;
she didn't like this business.

"Afraid — pooh! I'll teach her to give herself airs!
— You've got to climb right up to him in the hay
and give him a shake; but take care he don't pull off
your cherub's wings," she cried derisively.

Ditte was still standing at the barn-door; she glanced


doubtfully from the dark barn to her mistress and
back again. "Shall I have to come and help you?"
Karen called. Then at last she slipped inside, but it
was evident that she was just hiding.

Karen fumbled with her wooden shoes; she was so
wild that she couldn't get into them. Now she'd give
the girl a lesson ! But Sine was already across the
yard. "Just you get the cows out and clear off, I'll
call him," she said, and pushed Ditte out of the barn
on the other side. Her mistress was in no very gra-
cious mood when she came back: Such nonsense; the
idea of having to put up with the likes of that. You
got nothing but hysterical nincompoops nowadays, who
shrieked if they saw an earwig. It did them good to
learn something in time — girls of that sort! But Sine
was used to this and took no notice ; her mistress might
keep on as long as she liked, she was bound to get tired
sooner or later.

And this time Karen came to a full stop fairly soon.
Suddenly they heard the rumbling of a cart; it came
down over the hill at a tremendous pace, swung into
the yard and up to the front door without drawing
rein. The driver pulled up with a jerk and cracked his
whip gaily; he was a dealer. "Is there anything for
sale to-day?" he called to Karen Baldcegaards, who was
standing at the scullery-door putting on her wooden

"Yes, we have a fat calf," she replied, coming for-

Ditte caught a glimpse of the visitor as she let the
cows out of the shed, but she would have known him


by the noise he made — nobody else drove like that.
It was Uncle Johannes, and he was in a stiff hat and
a fine brown dust-coat — a regular town outfit. He was
not doing so badly, anyhow !

Ditte knew something of what it meant to be talked
about. Her people had never been able to get away
from it, the shadow followed them wherever they went.
"Ah, that's the rag and bone man's girl — the folks who
used to be at Sands Farm," people would say, and put
such a lot into the expression. Then they knew all
about it and the gossip was well started — about Maren
the witch, and Sorine Man's crime, and the dog butcher.
Ditte knew it all only too well; it was easy enough
to see when people were talking about you. As a rule
they didn't take any trouble to hide it.

And you may be sure they didn't leave anything
out. The rag and bone man's family had to answer
for a good deal more than could justly be laid at their
door, and much more than they cared about. No-
body grudged them anything in this way. Rumors,
which nobody would answer for and nobody really
believed in either, cropped up casually, went their round
and disappeared again — and every one took a delight
in passing them on. It seemed as if the injustice peo-
ple had done to the rag and bone man were the cause
of their hatred. Perhaps they wanted to find an ac-
ceptable excuse for their ill-feeling towards the fam-
ily and quieted their evil conscience by inventing every
possible bad thing about them; in his tireless struggle
against the light man is wont to look for the source


of evil outside himself. In any case Lars Peter and
his belongings were pariahs, once and for all; they were
to be bullied to make up for their ill-success. In this
case there was no need to keep very close to the truth —
for we know that reality surpasses the wildest imagi-
nation. Besides the family were entitled to put all
evil reports to shame by their conduct.

They used this right to the best of their ability, with
industry, orderly behavior and fair dealing. It had
often been difficult enough to adapt one's self to exist-
ence without giving public opinion a handle against one;
and Ditte could not understand how other people could
be so indifferent about what was said of them. Her
mistress was also talked about; but she took no trouble
to shame the gossips, not she. She was not humbled
by what they said, but rather looked down on other
people; she laughed at what they said and did exactly
as she pleased. Ditte did not understand this con-
tempt for everything decent and nice; it must be what
was meant by taking pride in one's disgrace.

Although Karen Bakkegaards had been a widow for
some ten years, her married life was still constantly
talked about. She had been a good and attractive girl
when young, and there was nothing against the man
she married either; it could even be said that he was a
God-fearing man. But, whatever the reason may have
been, whether they did not suit each other, or other
forces were at work — her marriage left her quite a
different woman from her former self. Some thought
that the marriage had been like an ill-assorted pair of
horses, each of them good in single harness, and that


they had spoilt each other. Others stuck to it that
there was bad blood in the family, and that it came
out when she had reached the right age. It wasn't the
first time one had seen first-rate girls turn into crazy
scolds when they had a house and home to look after.
At any rate they hated each other as only man and
wife can hate, and they poisoned each other's existence
whenever they had the chance. And at this game she
came out best. For the farm was hers, so she could
easily make him feel that he hadn't brought anything
into it. And she didn't mind letting him know what
a pauper he was when everybody could hear it. They
had three sons all the same, so there must have been
moments now and then when they were not altogether
cat and dog. But they can't have been so very

After they had been married some years he got con-
sumption — from not being able to get even with her,
some said, while others had it that she had intention-
ally given him damp sheets to sleep in. Whether from
regret or some other reason, she bought brandy and
sweet punch to give him pluck with the beasts, and
drank with him herself to make him take more. And
she succeeded, too, in killing the consumption, but the
man was a wreck. To begin with he had never been
able to touch strong drink, and now he always went
about fuddled. "My wife's so fond of me that she

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 2 of 23)