Martin Andersen Nexø.

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came up to the window. "Is it nearly dinner-time?
I'm as hungry as a hunter!" said he.

And suddenly the whole gang were there, kicking
up a great commotion under the window.

"Something to eat, give us something to eat,
Or we'll knock the house down into the street."

They sang, and stamped and shook their fists at the
window. It was a perfect conspiracy. "Throw wa-
ter over them!" said the lady to Ditte. But at this
the whole troop ran away, screaming as if the devil
was at their heels. Down by the summer-house they
stopped and sang:

"Oh! Miss Man, you just dare
To throw water over us here."



And quite unexpectedly a head filled the upper panes of
the window. "A bodiless head!" shrieked both Ditte
and her mistress. It was only Frederick, the eldest
boy; he was hanging by the trellis work. "What is
there for dinner?" he asked, In his funny deep voice.

"Potatoes and burnt fat, Mr. Ghost! — and fried
masons' noses for dessert!" answered Mrs. Vang, with
a curtsey.

The boy let himself drop from the trellis, and
rushed through the garden. "I saw what we are go-
ing to have for dinner," he shouted.

Ditte laughed. "They are just like our boys at
home," said she. "They were always desperately hun-
gry when dinner-time came near."

Mrs. Vang nodded — she understood boys, and could
imagine the whole scene from DItte's description. "So
they came rushing up from the beach," said she. "Oh,
the glorious beach ! It must have been splendid all
the same, in spite of the poverty. Where there are
children there is no real poverty, is there?"

"If only there is something to stuff them with!" said
Ditte, wise beyond her years.

"Yes, — yes!" the lady roused herself. "Yes, it
would be awful if one had not enough!" she shud-
dered. — "Now run up and tidy yourself a little while
I warm the gravy, Miss Man. Then we will sit down
to dinner," said she quietly.

This time DItte did not drop what she had in her
hand, as she did the first day. Then she had asked:
"Am I to sit down with you to dinner?" In such an
astonished tone that the lady burst out laughing.


"Yes, of course," Mrs. Vang had answereu, as If it
were the most natural thing in the world.

Then she would rather have escaped; but now she
too thought that it was quite natural, although only
ten days had gone by. Mr. Vang had no appetite
when he knew that some one was sitting alone in the
kitchen munching her food, the lady said; and Ditte
understood this feeling. As a child when she came to
the "Crow's Nest" she had found it impossible to
take anything herself until she had seen that they were
all helped — the animals as well. No doubt she had
taken after Lars Peter in that. It was just the same
with him. At first, however, It was surprising to meet
any one else who was the same.

It was a little difficult the first few days. Now she
had got unaccustomed to sitting down with other peo-
ple: for years she had chewed her food alone. In the
corner by the sink. It was quite strange to sit and
eat In human society, and that too with her own em-
ployers. How stupid and awkward she was!

But no one seemed to notice her blushes and em-
barrassment. She and the lady took turns in fetch-
ing the things from the kitchen during the meal, and
the children at once made her join in the conversa-
tion. They put question after question relentlessly,
till she answered. "Why was there only one twin?
Why did she always speak North Sealand dialect?"

"Now you must let Miss Man have a little peace,"
said the mother. "There will be plenty of time to get
to know everything."


"Will she stay here always?" one of the small boys
immediately asked. And Inge looked mischievously
up from her plate. "Why are you called Miss Man?
You are a woman!" She was five and full of mis-

"That is because she would like to get married,"
said Frederick contemptuously. "Women always
■want to." Mrs. Vang smiled at her husband, who sat
feeding the two-year-old kiddie; he always had him on
his knee at meals.

"You must not make puns on the name 'Man,' "
said Mr. Vang, "for it is the oldest and the most wide-
spread family name here in this country. We should
have fared badly without the Mans. Once they owned
the whole land; but then a bad fairy came and be-
witched them all. He was called Stomach, because he
was nothing but stomach. But the Mans had a heart
for their weapon and device."

"Oh!" .said the children, with big eyes fixed on
Ditte. "So it is a fairy story, and about you. You
must be a fairy princess! What next? Did they
never get away from the bad fairy?"

"No, not yet. But when he eats right in to their
heart, then they will be free. For that will stick in
his wicked throat."

Ditte really felt a little like a fairy princess. Not
because there was less to do here — quite the contrary!
The Vangs had not too much money — they washed
at home, and made their own clothes, and every penny
was turned over twice. The children's clothes made


a great deal of work, they had to be worn as long as
possible, and yet look neat. The work basket was on
the table every evening. But this was a life in which
Ditte found herself at home. She knew the button
bag, where all the old buttons were, and where every-
thing one needed was to be found, and the bag for the
clean linen and woolen rags. She had unraveled old
stocking legs for darning wool before to-day, and once
more tasted the joy of making something out of noth-
ing, transformed by the help of some old cast-off thing.
She had missed the love of things as she had missed
the love of her fellow-beings. In this respect the one
was like the other — something once used and cast aside
when it was no longer worth keeping. People and
things — into the dust-bin with them when they could be
of no more use: when it did not pay to keep life in
them, and patch them up. It was delightful to be a
human being again — to be among human beings —
glorious to be the object of attentions, and be allowed
to bestow them.

There was enough to do from morning to night.
In the evening when the children were in bed, they
sat round the lamp with their darning and patching,
both Ditte and her mistress. Mrs. Vang was incredi-
bly clever with her fingers — Ditte could not hold a
candle to her. They sat each with her own thoughts :
Ditte was not much company in herself, and Mrs.
Vang, who was so happy and lively all day, grew quiet
in the evening like the birds. Ditte sat and drank in
the wonderfully peaceful silence which reigned in the
house, when the children slept and good hands worked


for them. And she forgot where she was, and dreamt
that she was at home in the sitting-room — the little
mother — with the little ones in bed, and the cares of
the day behind her, weary and thoughtful. Did Ditte
long for her troublesome childhood again? She laid
her head on her arm and wept gently.

"What is the matter with you?" Mrs. Vang took
her bead upon her shoulder. "What troubles you,

"Oh! you are too good to me," answered Ditte, sob-
bing and yet trying to smile.

Mrs. Vang laughed. "That Is not generally a rea-
son for crying."

"No, but I never played when I was a child — that
is so strange !"

Mrs. Vang looked questionlngly at her. She could
not follow her train of thought now.

"I ought to have come here long ago !" said Ditte,
and nestled up to her mistress.

And here she touched on precisely the thing that had
harmed her: she had been out a little too long, and
could have missed a good deal of it, without harm to
herself. It had had time to corrode her soul too
much. Just as she often said "Sir" and "Madam,"
without meaning to, instinctively — the Vangs had dis-
tinctly forbidden her to use such forms of politeness —
she would suddenly rouse herself up and be on her
guard. "Might It not be that they are so kind in
order to get more out of me?" some Inner self would
inquire, especially if she were tired. There was just
as much to do here as elsewhere, one had really never


time to get through one's work. The lady took her
full share in it all, and if one had to be up specially
early, she came up and called Ditte, cheerful and fresh;
as soon as her brisk step w^s heard on the stair, it
gave a glad color to the day. Work here was not
oppressive, however much there might be to do, it
Vv-as not piled up, because one of the parties had
sneaked out of her full share, neither was it despised,
there was nothing of the yoke about it.

Ditte had no longer the feeling that she had to bear
others' burdens. She had only reached bedrock in her
iinweariedness, through having abused it. She went
about tired out, and had to be set going again. She
often felt as if something inside her had broken and
wanted winding up. A look of surprise from the lady
was enough to ease her over the difficulty; but shame
and regret in her soul would set her right again. And
to excuse herself she accused others! That idea of
having her to table and downstairs with them In the
evening, was It not perhaps something they had
thought of to have more control over her, and to save,
— It was always wise to never reckon on anything un-
selfish on the others' part! Now and then she burned
with shame that she could be so suspicious — most of
all when she felt once more happy and contented with
her existence — then came regret. It was bewllderingly
difficult to find a solution — so long as it lasted, and
sometimes Ditte in desperation began to attack both
herself and others. Then Mrs. Vang had to speak
seriously to her till she became quiet.

But this was only a hasty mood. Her mind had


developed under the weight of burdens too heavy for
it, just as her body had done in her childhood. It
would take time to right itself entirely. She had
come out into the sunlight a little too hastily, and blun-
dered about, butting hither and thither. It was not a
graceful motion. But the new perfected nature was

Ditte developed and blossomed day by day, and the
spring drew nearer and nearer. Never before had
she known that the spring was such an incomprehensi-
bly lovely season. At home she had never noticed it
properly, and only welcomed it for the lightening of
her duties, when the youngsters could run out all day
long, and they had no longer to wonder where they
could get fuel from. Perhaps too the years of con-
finement within the barrack walls of the city had
opened her eyes. The meadows and she ran races
to see which should thaw first, hidden springs welled
up within her, then burst suddenly forth, singing in
silver-toned melody to the spring as they danced along.
So many mysterious and elusive things moved within
her, leaving in their train sweet melancholy or musical
mirth. The evenings deepened the sadness, and then
came the nights — the moonlit nights when sleep would
not come for the strange white light that transfigured
the whole room. Then one had to be careful that
the moonlight did not shine on one's face while sleep-
ing. Granny had told Ditte that this had cost many
a young girl her life's happiness, and Ditte still firmly
believed it.


And so the days glided on, each a little longer and
lighter than the preceding one — and a shade warmer.
In the garden something new happened every day,
now one bush burst into bloom, now another. The
children kept a sharp lookout, and came in with news,
and then every one had to go out to welcome the new
miracle, and Mr. Vang explained it. He knew the
name of every single plant In the garden, how it fed
and propagated, and nearly how it thought! Up In
his study all the walls were covered with bookshelves.
Ditte shuddered to think of all that he must have in his

But the sun mounted higher and higher. When It
had roused up the flowers and bushes, It took hold
of the great trees. And one day It reached the corner
of the house, and shone In on Ditte through the gable
window just as she was sitting at the table writing a
letter, and It threw a kiss on her cheek that was warm
and red before Its coming, rested a moment In the hair
round her smooth forehead, and then disappeared be-
hind the forest.

The lady came up with a letter. It was from a
young gardener who had a market garden near, and
had been several times to the house with things for
the garden: he wanted Ditte to go with him to a ball
at Lundehus Inn. "We must soon seriously think
about getting you away," said Mrs. Vang. "Things
can't go on like this. You turn the heads of all the
voung men round about. Before you came we could
hardly get the tradespeople to call, and now we have
scarcely time to do anything but run out and say:


'No, thanks! We don't want anything to-day.' Do
you know what people here have nicknamed you?
Miss Touch-me-not!"

Ditte blushed, and Mrs. Vang's clear laughter rang
out. Then Mr. Vang came over the drying loft from
his study. He put his head in at the door with a comic
expression of embarrassment. He had to stoop more
than usual to get his head under the lintel.

"Come in, come in," said Mrs. Vang, He came
warily in ; Ditte gave him a chair, and sat down on
the couch with the lady.

"It's really quite nice here," said he, looking round.
"But there are no books! Wouldn't you like some-
thing to read?"

"Yes — es !" Ditte hesitated, she was ashamed to
let him know that she never read. "Might I have
'Robinson Crusoe'?" she asked — she had dipped into
it downstairs with the children. She did not know
the names of any other books. But she was not happy
about it. She thought he would ask her to say pieces
of it by heart afterwards, and she had never been good
at learning by heart.

"You shall have something that is just as amusing,"
promised Mr. Vang. "But shan't we go out for a
walk, Marie?"

"I will stay with the children this evening, and Miss
Man can go with you," said Mrs. Vang.

They walked westwards towards the evening sky,
Vang, Frederick and Ditte. Vang was in the middle,
and talked — about some disturbance in Copenhagen :
Ditte thought he spoke wonderfully, she did not un-


derstand the half of it. But a higher world opened
to her through his quiet voice, a world where one was
far above questions of food and money and envious
backbiting. This was the existence Ditte had imag-
ined to belong to the upper classes, now she beheld her
idea realized, a life lived in beautiful thoughts — in
forbearance, and love to those in a lower station. God
sat up above and watched over us all with loving for-
bearance, and on the way up to Him, he had placed the
gentry — considerably nearer Himself than she and her
life — and in a purer, sweeter atmosphere. That
evening she felt that she was lifted up with them, and
wandered fully awakened in the poor man's dream-

"The poor will be able to sing: 'How beautiful is
the earth, and how glorious is God's Heaven !' That
IS, in reality, what the struggle is about," said Vang.

"Why do they drink, and make themselves still
more miserable?" asked Frederick, in his deep

"Because brandy is the only power that does them
justice. So they sing their song of praise through
that. It is not their fault if it sounds a little thick."

"Yes, Father said once : 'It must be splendid to think
real thoughts,' but then he had taken a drop," inter-
posed Ditte, "When he is sober, he does not dare to
think about existence; it is too sad, he says."

They both looked up into Vang's face as they walked
along on either side of him. The last rays of the set-
ting sun were reflected in his glasses. Frederick had
slipped his arm through his father's.


"Take Father's other arm !" he said to Ditte. "One
can walk better like that."

Ditte was completely happy. As they walked thus,
all three in a group, she might have been taken for
Frederick's elder sister, or Vang's wife. They
hummed a tune together, as they came down the hill
towards the house. "Through the fair kingdoms of
earth !"

Mrs, Vang stood at the garden gate. "You have
been a long time away!" said she, "and so many young
men have gone by this evening!"

"Yes," said Vang. "We must really see about get-
ting Miss Man engaged. She is a danger to all her

Ditte smiled — no, she would not marry.

But she was in love — only not with any man. It
was the spring that welled up in her, and filled her with
its vigor and luxuriance — without any definite object.


MRS. VANG did things in her own way. They
always dined at one o'clock in her house so as
to make things a little easier in the afternoon,
and often, when they stood in the kitchen cooking, she
would say: "The afternoon is the best time. You can
stay up in your room, and look after your own things
a bit." It almost seemed as if she understood that
Ditte too needed to be alone sometimes, and hold com-
munion with her own little circle.

So she went upstairs and pottered about, cleaned up,
and moved things about to see how they would look
in another position; and all this rested her thoroughly.
She could hear Mr. Vang moving about in his study
opposite, and went about very softly not to disturb
him. When he was writing, they all, without excep-
tion, went about on tip-toes, although he did not wish
them to — unexacting as he was. It came quite natu-
rally, when Mrs. Vang said, "Father is working!"
it was just as if she had put a spell on them. Only
the toddlers paid no heed to it, but came storming un-
abashed up the stairs to show father something won-
derful they had found — a stone or a rusty nail! The
mother came rushing after. "Children, children!"
she would cry in hushed tones, but Vang would come
out and take them into his room for a minute. As



his door opened a cloud of tobacco smoke floated over
the loft and penetrated to Ditte's room, just enough
to have a fascinating influence. It was, however, im-
possible to sit in his study : he sat enveloped in a cloud
of smoke.

*'Then he thinks he is in Heaven ! Otherwise he
cannot write !" observed Mrs. Vang jestingly. She was
always scolding him for smoking so much, but at the
same time liked him to smell of tobacco.

How clean and tidy it was here. The old iron
bedstead had white flounced hangings at the ends, so
that the iron did not show, and the wooden washstand
had white draperies; there were thick white curtains
in front of the window to draw across at night. Ditte
liked her room: one could see that from the shining
cleanliness in every corner, — everything smelt newly
starched and freshly scoured. Here she had let fall
the first tears of joy shed since she came to town —
in fact, since she had grown up. It was the day, now
some months ago, when Impoverished in soul, she had
entered it for the first time. The little, poorly fur-
nished room shone with friendliness, and in a vase by
the bedside stood flowers. It was the first time in
her life Ditte had been welcomed with flowers; they
stood there like a promise of sweet rest and pleasant
dreams. Since then she always saw to there being
flowers there; she picked them in the evening when she
went for a walk along the hedgerows, and they were
placed on the little table by the bedside. There they
should stand !

On the chest of drawers lay a big mussel shell Ditte


had once found on the beach down by the Hill Farm.
Except for this there was nothing to remind her of
the past. The photo of her little boy lay deep hidden
in a drawer; there was no need to leave that lying
about. It only led to questions, and when people knew
the truth, they would look down on her. Ditte could
not afford to have an upset here in this house, through
unnecessary candor. She scarcely missed the child it-
self any longer: now and then she longed for it, but
this longing no longer seemed like a tearing at her
heart, an unbearable desire clutching at her hands.
She had not been home for ages either, but Mrs. Vang
had promised her a fortnight's summer holiday; then
she really would go home and see them.

She had enough to do in developing. To the out-
ward eye, no change could be seen, but she grew in-
wardly, she was sowing seeds ! The town looked quite
different from here, the boundary line between town
and country, from what it had done when she was
down among all those barracks. Here one could sur-
vey both them and their inmates. That was no doubt
why Vang lived out here, to get a bird's-eye view ! He
called it the heart of the country. Ditte did not un-
derstand that — she thought of it rather as a big stom-
ach. — What a quantity of food it devoured as time
went on! Had not she herself nearly been swallowed
up by it? But out here in Villa Vang she quite liked
the town; they only went in for the day, looked at
the shops and made purchases. Or they went in to
the Zoological Gardens — the whole lot of them.

From her window she could see Frederiksborg Road,


which ran out into the country, and on either side of
it fields, farms, hedges and houses. The farmers were
plowing, the cattle grazing, and wayfarers tramped
along the highroad, each intent on his own business.
There were cornfields, and meadows and woods, and
one enormous market garden. The birds sang, now
rain fell, or the wind blew cold, and afterwards came
the sun and warmed it again. It was beautiful — and
wonderful, since God, the all-powerful, had created
it. But on the table in Ditte's room lay a little square
object — a book. Vang had written it, and it was not
easy to understand how people could possibly produce
such things; for when they were opened and one looked
at the printed pages, the world stepped forth in glow-
ing colors — a world one had never seen, and which
had never existed; but which one seemed to know quite
well — with towns and farms, fishing villages, and hu-
man beings with their joys and sorrows. Ditte thought
it was wonderful, that merely by glancing from the
window down upon the book she could call up an
entirely different world. It was magic! The mistress
said he had written a whole mass of books like that
one, and in his study he had many more, hundreds
of them, written by other people, and every one of
them different! Now she would take great care not
to make a noise when she went up to her room of an
evening. The spirits should not have to take flight
on her account. She knew now what was at stake.
Vang often sat up there nearly all night, and when
she woke she could see a ray of light stream over the
ceiling through the half-open door — for he kept the


door open to let out the tobacco smoke. He had to
smoke or he could do nothing! It was wonderful to
think that her master sat there and saw visions in the
blue smoke. And in the darkness the thought would
cross Ditte's mind whether if the Lord had not
created the Vv'orld, Vang could not? She was not
sure which would have been best! But at any rate
love was more beautiful in Vang's created world than
in our Lord's 1

Ditte sat reading, with her hands pressed over her
ears lest any unwarranted noise should intrude. It
disturbed her when she heard the rumble of wheels
from the road, at a place in the book where there
should be no carriages. In spite of this she dis-
tinctly heard her mistress call out, in a most surprised
voice: *'Why, that is Lars Peter!" and slam a door,
and run up the path in front of the house.

Ditte hurried downstairs. There they really were
on the road — Lars Peter, Sine and all the youngsters —
a good load! Mrs. Vang kissed Sine right on the lips.
"You must excuse me !" she said, and smiled, but I
have got to like you all so much — through Ditte." She
looked at them all, one after the other, with glisten-
ing eyes.

"Well, sTie hasn't said bad things of us behind our
backs, or put us to shame either !" said Lars Peter, in
high spirits. He leaned on the horse's crupper, as he
crawled out of the cart. "Good-day, my lass!" He
pinched Ditte's cheek and shook her gently. "It is
good to see you again !"


Then Frederick came rushing up, and little Inge,
and the boys, they came from all sides. And Vang
came hurrying from the back garden with the smallest
in his arms. "Gee-gee!" cried the baby; "gee-gee!"
and snorted till the foam stood on his chin.

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 20 of 23)