Martin Andersen Nexø.

Ditte, daughter of Man online

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They meant to go on into the town at once : the
horse was tired and needed stabling. Lars Peter had
hoped that Ditte could get the day free and go with
them. But there was no question of that. Mrs. Vang
declared they must go in and get something to eat —
then they could always make other plans: and Vang
said the same.

Lars Peter stood gazing at the ground, and dug
his hands into his greatcoat pockets, while Ditte and
Mrs. Vang pulled at him, one on each side. It looked
as if he was searching for something; but he was merely
embarrassed and wished to gain time.

"What do you say, Mother?" he asked thought-
fully. But Sine would do nothing but smile ; there
were deep dimples in her red cheeks. When Lars
Peter let himself be carried off, Povl and Rasmus
busied themselves with the harness and cart. They
had grown into big boys since Ditte left home : they
were two regular rascals !

Then Lars Peter had to go up to Vang's study to
have a cigar. There was no smoking downstairs for
the children's sake. He was quite stupefied at the
sight of so many books. "Can you ever read them
all through?" he asked doubtfully.

Vang had to admit that there were many of them
he had not read, and probably never would. "I have


never been much of a scholar for reading," said Lars
Peter, "it doesa't go well with out-of-doors work — I
get so sleepy when 1 come in and sit me down. But
I should just fancy that it might be the same with
books as with folks — them that one knows one comes
to like and to try to draw the best out of them. For
all that it must be powerful tiresome work to sit there
and write a fair hand. Dang me if any one should
get me to do it, even if I could."

"No, you are quite right: it's not amusing," said
Vang seriously. "I would gladly change with you,
and drive along the highway. But I feel there is
something in me that I must get written down — which
perhaps no one else can write. And it is but seldom
that people look at the matter so sensibly as you; the
greater number envy one."

Then the women came up with the coffee; they drank
it on the little balcony outside Vang's study. "This
is a great honor for you, Lars Peter," said Mrs. Vang
right out, "for no strangers are allowed up here. But
we like you so much. You don't know how much we
have talked about you and the children, and of the
life down there In the village." She grew quite

"And I can darned well like you — next to my own
little wife naturally," returned Lars Peter. "You are
a real fine lady ! But how the devil, I nearly said right
out when I came, could you have known that it was
me? The lass couldn't have photographed us all for
you to see !"

"My wife has second-sight!" said Vang, looking


teasingly at her. "But you must have the same if you
can see that she Is a fine lady. For no one else has
noticed that up to now. She doesn't do much either
to show that she is a commander's daughter."

"You are quite annoyed about that!" said Mrs.

Vang, stroking her husband's hair. "But you must

excuse me if I disappear for a moment. Ditte can

very well stay up here for a bit." She made a sign

o her husband, who followed her to the study.

"1 don't believe they have any money," whispered
Ditte to her father, "and they are so worried about
it: and don't know what to do."

"But we really haven't come to put them out: we
only wished to have a look at you." Lars Peter was
quite alarmed.

"They have talked so often about your coming here
— I do think they will be so sorry if you go away now.
Have you any money. Father?"

"You can be sure I have, my lass !" exclaimed Lars
Peter, quite relieved. "That's jolly lucky. WeVe
just drawn some of Sine's money, we wanted to see
about something while we were in town." He took a
hundred-crown note from his pocketbook and gave it
to her, — the book was quite bulging with money, as
Ditte noticed with pride. "Yes, isn't It a wealthy
mother we have got?" Lars Peter glanced fondly at
Sine. "But we are not going to waste it, you un-
derstand. That Is to be the beginning of a business.
Now how will you arrange it with your master and
mistress here?"

"I'll run down myself to the grocer," said Ditte.


"May I spend it all? For then I can pay what we

"She's grown into a splendid girl, don't you think
so?" remarked Lars Peter when she had gone.

"That she always was!" said Sine. "She deserves
a good husband."

"One like me, eh?" laughed Lars Peter. "Yes, but
I was a little bit afraid she was beginning to be a fine

Mrs. Vang came out to them. The girl must have
told her about the money after all, for she came and
stood behind his chair and took him by the shoulders.
She did not say a word, but thoughtfully ruffled the
hair on the nape of his neck; then suddenly she bent
over, and kissed him on the big bald spot on the crown
of his head.

"Good Lord, where have the kiddies got to?" cried
Lars Peter to distract her thoughts. He was afraid
she was going to begin to thank him.

"They are down in the back garden with ours,"
said Mrs. Vang. "You should just see what they can
do together! Povl and Rasmus are teaching ours to
dig holes. It is a pity that Kristian couldn't come

"What, do you know about Kristian too? No —
he's out in service properly now. But it could very
well happen that he came running in one day all the
same. He has a liking for a life on the road."

"He hasn't exactly caught it from strangers!" an-
swered Mrs. Vang, laughing.

"No," said Lars Peter, scratching his head, "no,


that's possible enough !" And then it came out that
they had not left home that day, but were out on a
tour of several days, and had food with them in the
cart, and a self-cooker. They halted at the edge of a
wood, and cooked dinner. Last night they had slept
at a crofter's place in Noddebo.

"That must be glorious!" said the lady. "How I
should like to go on such a trip with you 1" Her eyes

"Oh, we can easily arrange that. You have only
to go straight on along the road. But of course you
must have a natural talent for it, and take things as
you find them."

"We can! Beth my husband and I! We are
obliged to do that — in our present position," she
added, smiling.

"Yes, I wondered to see that you were such a grand
woman!" said Lars Peter, "but now 1 can hear it bet-
ter still, it is always those who have too little for
their own, Vv^ho have their hearts in the right place.
But where is the cart?" He sprang up quite startled.

Mrs. Vang laughed. "My husband and Frederick
have driven It over to the inn. We think it better for
you to stay here to-night than to go oli looking for
lodgings in the town. We can put you up very well,
if only you will take us as we are."

Of course they could ! Lars Peter for his part
could very well hang on from a hatpeg and sleep any-
how; he ihanked God he could always sleep like a'
top. "But there's no sense in putting you all out like


Then Ditte and Else came in with a big basket of
things between them, and Vang came along the road.
Lars Peter went out to meet him over the fields, he
wanted to look round about him a little. Sine pre-
ferred to stay at home with the women. "I am won-
dering why the dickens it is that the land on this side
of the road is so well farmed, and so bad on the other,"
said he to Vang as they met.

"That's because there has been a lot of speculating
over the one on this side," answered Vang. "If any
lawyer just glances at a field, it looks as if the devil
himself had breathed on it, and nothing will grow
there any more."

They walked over the fields together. Lars Peter
had thought that Vang was a strange reserved fellow,
not nearly so lively and talkative as his wife, and fan«
cied that perhaps he felt himself to be above them.
But it was rather that he let the others chatter on, while
he was taking notes of it all, for when he was alone
with one he was talkative enough, and there was sense
in all he said. He seemed to have a knowledge of
conditions in all classes, and did not spare any of
them much — which sentiment Lars Peter fuliy
agreed with. He had not much respect for the great.
"It is we who do their thinking for them," he said,
right out.

Lars Peter was quite sure that he and his worked for
the great; it was a conception that was slowly coming
to birth in his mind; but this was something quite new
to him.

"Yes, when you supply the head, and we others bring


the hands, there is nothing much that they provide
themselves," said he, laughing.

"Yes, there remains the stomach" replied Vang
gravely. It was strange to hear such a distinguished
man utter such a word; but it was true that in still deep
waters grew the strangest plants.

Up on the balcony of the villa they could see people
waving and calling to them. They must go back for

A festive table was spread In the dining-room, a
long table with flowers and wine. Vang drew an old
high-backed oaken chair with twisted legs to the end
of the table — his own place. "You are to sit here,
Lars Peter," said he, looking at him with filial admira-

It was quite a high seat of honor. Lars Peter was
quite overcome when he sat down. "No one has ever
made such a fuss over me before," said he quietly.

It was a regular feast. The children were all jum-
bled up together; they were in riotous spirits, and
gabbled and laughed at one another. But Vang liked
it so. "Mealtimes are the children's hours!" he said.

Lars Peter noticed that Vang ate his dinner with
the youngest child on his knee. "Yes, the food tastes
better to me when I have him," said Vang.

"Why, it's just the same with you, Father!" said
Ditte, and looked lovingly from one to the other; roses
blossomed in her cheeks for sheer gladness.

"Yes, it's the same with me !" answered Lars Peter,
looking quite envious. "I should rather think so!
But now there's no one at home to sit on my knee any


more. The youngsters say they are too big. But
Mother has promised me one at Christmas — if I will
give up chewing!"

Sine grew redder and redder.

"Good gracious, we are thirteen at table !" she ex-
claimed, with comic fright. Every one laughed, both
grown-ups and children; it came so suddenly.

"Yes, Mother is superstitious," said Lars Peter.
"That, thank God, 1 have never been."

"That's the mark of the race." Vang lifted his
glass and nodded to him. "You have never been
afraid of the Dark Powers, and therefore you have
always been persecuted. A toast to those who are
not superstitious — to the believers ! We will have
faith in our fellows, — not in ghosts and devils." Mrs.
Vang also took up her glass.

"It is because you live in the future that you are so
crazy over children !" she said to her husband. "And
therefore we will drink good luck to Sine."

"This evening we'll go to Tivoli," said Vang.
"All we .2:rown-ups."

"Ah !" said Frederick cheekily, "then I shall go with
you !"

Mrs. Vang laughed: it seemed as if she was tickled
the whole time, for all day she had laughed at noth-
ing at all. "We must see about getting some one to
look after the children," she said, reflecting.

"T will see after them," said Else. "I am really too
tired to go In with you."

"You, child!" exclaimed Mrs. Vang, astonished.

"She has looked after the home for a couple of


years, quite alone I" Lars Peter informed them,

"Now listen to my plan," said the lady. "This
evening we grown-ups will go to Tivoli. To-morrow
Ditte and her parents and all the children — ours as
well — shall go to the Zoo, and see the town a little.
Then you must come back here and have a late din-
ner, sleep the night here, and wait to drive home till
the day after to-morrow. So you have a long day
before you!"

*T11 be hanged if 1 don't go to the Zoo with
them !" said Vang. "The very idea !" He looked
quite Injured.

"Then I won't be done out of it either," declared
Mrs. Vang. "But it will be a very late dinner; you
will have to put up with that I"


IT was really and truly summer at last. The heat
was so great that you could see It moving in waves.
They lay low along the ground, and shimmered be-
fore one's eyes. Only the children seemed unaffected
by the warmth. They lay in groups on the lawn,
munching gooseberries and currants, and chattering.
It was so funny how they came one on the heels of
the other — little steps and stairs — with just one year
between each.

Frederick had cycled to the Sound to bathe.
Mrs. Vang and Ditte sat on the veranda under
Vang's study sewing. They could hear Vang walk-
ing about upstairs: he came out and knocked his pipe
out on the balustrade of the balcony, and went in
again. The two women sat silent, they were listen-
ing to his movements. He could go on like that the
whole day, fiddling with first one thing, then another,
and even talking to them, and yet be attending to his
work all the time! It seemed to evolve within him,
untouched by his surroundings; but they could see by
his eyes that he was Vv'orklng: they resembled those
of a sleep-walker. In this state his Interest could not
be aroused by anything. Mrs. Vang laughingly called
It "hamram."

They were making a summer dress for Ditte of



flowered muslin, which the lady had picked up at a sale
for a bargain. They wore low shoes and bare legs on
account of the heat. "In this way we shall save our
stockings," said Mrs. Vang. It was her idea.

'*The tradespeople!" Ditte was not altogether
comfortable about it.

"Fine lady!" said Mrs. Vang teasingly. "What
do we care about them! Besides they will think we
have flesh-colored stockings on. It is elegant nowa-
days to look as if we had bare legs!"

Vang came out on the balcony, and knocked out his
briar again.

"Please, not on our work!" called his wife up to

"Oh ! I beg pardon." He bent far over the balus-
trade to see them, and then came down. "Here you
sit like two sisters," said he. "Two good and beau-
tiful sisters! But neither of you is thinking of this
tall man. Is there to be no tea to-day? It is so

Ditte threw down her sewing and sprang up.

"I must be getting dotty," cried she, and ran off to
the kitchen.

"Or else you are in love," cried Mrs. Vang after
her, archly.

"What a child! — But how prettilv she goes dream-
ing about. One could almost fall head over ears in
love with her!"

"I should, if I were a man!" declared Mrs. Vang


Ditte called from the kitchen door: "Children, chil-
dren, tea or gooseberry fool?"

"Gooseberry fool!" they answered. "But it must
have the skins in it."

"Then run to the summer house," her voice rang
full and clear in the open air. Then she came in with
the tea.

"How do you like our new stockings?" The lady
stretched out one leg. "You might have noticed them
yourself. See, they are silk."

"They are pretty enough!" said Vang, "but deucedly
dear in the long run." The two women burst out

"You numskull! And yet people credit poets

Vang bent her head backwards and looked down
into her face. "What do they accuse poets of, and
what has that to do with me?" asked he.

"Perhaps you are no poet then !"

"I am a live human being — just that. But it's
enough. All really live human beings are poets too."

"I'm lively enough — ^but a poet!"

"You are a chatterbox — and talk frightful non-
sense." He kissed both her eyes. Then he went

"He can't bear to be called a poet," said Mrs. Vang
disconsolately. "He hates Art and artists, as per-
haps you have noticed. He calls them hair-dressers.
He tries to speak the unvarnished truth. W^ould you
believe that could be so difficult? But he. says we are


all of us entangled in shams: we must go and learn,
from the peasantry."

''From us!" exclaimed Ditte, horrified. "But we
know nothing at all about poetry."

^'Perhaps that is just the reason. I don't know
exactly. Vang is so quiet about everything: one would
never think he was an agitator, would you? But they
are keeping an eye on him, believe me. They would
like to catch him out, if only they could. At present
he is keeping silent as much as he can — but one day
— when an opportunity comes! Then they will take
him from me, Ditte !"

"What, only because he stands up for the poor?"
Ditte could not understand it: she gazed uncompre-
hendingly in front of her.

Mrs. Vang nodded. "That is the Future ! Either
they will throw their rags off themselves, or else the
rich will have to wear the same. And if anything
happens, he will join them— that I am sure of. Oh,
Ditte! there is nothing in the world I could not give
up for him!" She bowed her head and buried her
face In her arms.

"What pretty arms she has!" thought Ditte, "and
how pretty and good she is!" She stood over her,
tenderly stroking the thick black hair, longing to com-
fort the grief which she could not understand. Then
one of the children came running up to show some-
thing, and Mrs. Vang smiled and was herself again.

Every minute one or other of them came up. The
little girl caught lady-birds, held them out on her
finger-tip and sang to them, till they suddenly split like


a dried bean, unfolded hidden wings and flew away.
The baby toddled up with a fat pink rainwater worm,
which wriggled in his chubby, grimy fist. "Tastes
good !" said he. But he was careful enough not to put
it in his mouth. He was only trying it on to see if he
could get his mother or Ditte to cry out in horror.
"You rogue, will you be off with you, and not tease
us!" said Mrs. Vang threateningly. Ditte sat and
heard nothing. She had fallen into a reverie. She
sat and thought about the poverty of her own child-
hood — how they had suffered and striven without get-
ting much more forward. It had seemed as if a
gnome came in the night and devoured all that they
had gathered together during the day. That there
should be any one willing to stand forth and speak
the truth — they could not do it for themselves.
Prison! She shuddered; filled with horror, and yet
with an unforgetable admiration.

"Shall we go indoors and try it on?" she heard the
lady say.

They went into the room where she and the chil-
dren slept, and stood In front of the glass. DItte
slipped off her dress, her white arms gleamed in the
afternoon sunlight; her cheeks glowed. In her eyes lin-
gered traces of what she had heard. Ditte stood with
her arms stretched out on either side while Mrs. Vang
tacked something.

"You are for all the world like a fairy princess
being dressed for the fairy tale," said Mrs. Vang, and
turned her round like a top. "It hangs well, but you
have a good figure for showing clothes off. Now run.


upstairs and let my husband see you. You must see
Ditte. She looks so nice !" she called up the stairs.

Vang had the door open for coolness. Ditte came
in, glowing red with joy and bashfulness.

"Aha! How pretty and smart you look!" said he,
looking admiringly at her youthful figure. "You must
be lifted up !" He took her round the waist with both
hands and lifted her up to the ceiling. "Now you
must give us chocolate !" he said merrily.

Ditte gazed down into his face, intoxicated with his
strength and it all. His glasses shone, and behind
them, as behind window panes, deep in his eyes, Ditte
herself beheld the loneliness of prison. She slipped
down into his arms, pressed her mouth against his
with closed eyes, and ran downstairs.

Ditte never knew if it were she who kissed Van^,
or he who kissed her; but she knew all the more clearly
that she did not wish it undone. She desired nothing
in the world changed — everything around seemed
steeped in the same warmth and sweetness, the gleam-
ing love of everything. Day was a miracle, an intoxi-
cation and a dream, and night was no less. She ooened
her eyes In the happy certainty of a day filled with
gladness, and shut them In the evening with her soul
filled to overflowing with wondrous rich expectation.
She embraced everything, and everything embraced her
in return.

Ditte had had a child, but had never given herself
to any man. Her mother-instinct and self-forgetful-
ness had often enough been In demand, but never her


passion; that had been allowed to slumber. Now the
strong man had come and awakened it, sought for her
heart, not to give her more burdens to bear, but to
wake her to beautiful idle play. Her soul had long
been softly humming to itself, now her blood too began
to sing. She felt as if there were throngs of beings
singing within her — one endless, festal, bridal
train, and her heart frolicked about in sym-
pathy. It was like a bewildered bird: she had often
to press her hand over her breast before she could fall

She gave herself to Love's passionate might without
scruple or reserve. There was no room for calcula-
tion in her feelings — she loved Vang, and he loved her
in return — she cared for naught else. She became
fonder than ever of the children, and nourished
a boundless affection for Mrs. Vang. Sometimes
the thought would cross her mind: did Mrs. Vang sus-
pect anything? It would happen that Mrs. Vang
would stroke her cheek with a glance as if to say: I
know more than you think, when Ditte came home late
in the evening, and Vang had fetched her from the
last tram. And one day Ditte came in with a big
nosegay of field flowers for Vang's room. Then Mrs.
Vang laid her hands around his neck and said : "It's
all right for you, having two people to make things
comfortable for you !"

Mrs. Vang's warm hands were always patting and
stroking those she loved, when she talked to them,
emphasizing or mollifying her words. The problem
crossed Ditte's mind and passed away again: Mrs.


Vang had never been kinder or more affectionate —
they were on the most sisterly terms. Ditte was not
jealous of Mrs. Vang.

Ditte was only afraid that Vang might change In
his relations with his wife; but he remained exactly
the same good and quiet husband. He was quiet, al-
most gentler than before; but a comforting strength
radiated from his whole being that impressed them all.
It was difficult to understand how he could be so con-
tentious with regard to the world. Here at home there
was never a dissonance.

This was a time full of happiness for Ditte, at first
careless happiness, but after one morning seeing her
mistress's tear-stained eyes — a despairing happiness.
Perhaps it was only something in her own inner con-
sciousness that had suggested the notion, her evil con-
science which still half slumbered. At any rate it made
her stop and think. But she went on just the same,
though the happiness was not quite the same. It had
lost something of its first freshness by being caught
and examined; it left a bitter taste — the bitter-sweet of
sin. She could be the most light-hearted creature on
earth, and then suddenly clouds and shadows would
come, who knows from where, and fill all life with pain
and guilty sweetness. By turns she wept or rejoiced;
was ashamed or felt pride — pride in being loved by a
man who was so big and clever and who had so sweet
a wife.

When she did not reflect, she went about in a blissful
state, half dreaming, as if seeing the world through
half-closed eyes. But, when she was forced to consider


whither she was v/ending, she shuddered and grew cold
with horror. There was always something new which
she had not considered before that raised its head.
She was nourishing not alone love, but a guilty love !
Not because she had freely given herself without the
bond of wedlock; but because it was to a married man.
Nothing was so shameful for a young girl as to have a
connection with a married man, and this was just what
she was doing. If they got to know it at home she
could never show her face in the parish again; they
would forgive her for the baby; but not for that. Lars
Peter would not be able to go on living there, and the
children, poor things, would have mud enough thrown
at them.

Ditte kept these sufferings to herself — it was only
her happiness that she shared with others. They grew
none the lighter for that; but on the contrary had op-
portunity to grow and multiply in her loneliness. If

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 21 of 23)