Martin Andersen Nexø.

Ditte, daughter of Man online

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him back into bed.

"Now you must keep well under the bed clothes,
while I fetch fuel and make a fire," said she. He lay
watching her as she lit the stove and cleaned the room.
His brown eyes followed every one of her movements,
like a child's eyes they were — tender and full of trust-
fulness. She smiled at him and made a few remarks —
then he smiled faintly again ; but made no answer. And
soon she discovered that he had fallen asleep : big tears
still stood on his eyelashes.

She tip-toed to the bed and stood watching him, her
soul full of mingled gladness and grief. The sunken,
deathly white head rested quietly — almost too quietly,
— the face was turned upwards. In spite of the stubbly
beard, and the sickly sweat, it was still handsome,
though pinched. The traces of a smile lay over it —
the smile had been hers, but underneath it lay another
expression, which was not a reflection of anything from
without, but was there always. It must come from
within, deeper than perhaps he knew himself. What
was it which gnawed at, and tormented his lightsome,
good-natured heart from within, and drove him out
and on to his ruin? Ditte had not asked what ailed
him: there was no need. There were the traces of a


terrible orgy still upon him, his right hand bore signs
of having been badly bruised, and one eye was still
surrounded by a green and yellow halo. This was
gradually disappearing, so it must have taken place
about a month ago ! Yet he was still lying here ! Had
he received some internal injury? Was it Death itself
that he was fighting? Ditte's blood grew cold. She
stole quietly out, and asked a neighbor to listen and
hear if all went well with him. Then she went home
and packed her things and had them taken there.

A time of troubled happiness followed. Ditte ar-
ranging her work so that she could run home several
times a day and see to George, warm a little food for
him, and cheer him up a bit. She interested herself in
any political news to tell him, and bought halfpenny
papers for him. He loved reading, and had many fat
books — novels he had borrowed from some library or
other, and never managed to take back again. Ditte
did not like this carelessness; she was very exact about
always taking things back, if she had been obliged to
borrow at all. But it was too late, and the books came
in useful anyhow. Every time he had read them
through to the end, he began again at the beginning
— just as interested the next time — like a child !

Thus he passed the time, and was grateful for every
kindness shown him. He liked lying there, and ex-
pressed no wish to get up or go out. Ditte was not
elated at this; but took it as a proof of how ill he
was; when one cherished no illusions, one was not dis-
appointed. All the same a quiet hope lived within her
that all would yet be well.


She got up at three or four o'clock in the morning
and went round with papers for some hours, to have
time to be with him later in the day, and besides this
she took what she could get in the way of chance jobs.
It was pretty difficult to scrape together enough to
live on ; but George was delighted with everything as it
came. Ditte was quite struck to see how modest his
wants were at bottom, even the least little triviality
would always put him in a good temper.

"That is splendid," he said about everything. "And
only wait till I am up again!" he would add cheer-
fully. "Then things will go well. Then we shall both
of us be earning!"

In the evenings and on Sundays Ditte had more
time. Then she sat on the edge of his bed and they
learned to know each other better. She told him about
her little boy; she could not bear to have secrets from
him now that they lived together as man and wife. "I
shall get him back for you," he said confidently. "If
the foster parents refuse to give him up, I shall go to
the police."

Ditte had not much faith in that being of any use.
"The police — they are not there to help us!" she said.

"Yes, when poor folks are against poor folks, then
the police can be of use!" declared George.

His strength came slowly back, and he began to be
able to digest solid food, but Ditte had to be careful.
He threw it all up at the least provocation. "I have
always been like that, as long as I can remember!" he
said, and smiled at her fright. "I am squeamish,
you see !"


One day when she came home, he had got up: he
was sitting at the window looking at the new-fallen
snow. He looked pale and weak, still it was a step in
advance. "Do you know what I was sitting and think-
ing of?" he asked. "I was thinking of life. There is
no real sense in it — for an outsider to watch. Good
and evil now — as regards the one or the other! One
can be sorry that one injures or grieves another person;
but one can't avoid doing it. Perhaps one suffers
when something has to be — one's self most of all; but
one has to bear the blame for it! What sense is there
in that? or in the whole thing?"

Ditte laughed. "You are sitting up properly and
thinking!" she said, glad and proud to find how clever
he was. "But here is something different for you to
see. A roast chicken ! I got it from my old employers
— the Master of Hounds. They are so good: the old
gentleman says that no one has ever looked after Scott
as I did."

George cast a fleeting glance at the chicken. "I
don't know how it is, but food has never interested
me," said he thoughtfully. "Not in solid form!" he
added with a flash of dry humor.

"You have never cared over much for spirits either,"
answered Ditte eagerly, "it was only something that
went with all the rest. Do you know what I think it
was? Excitement! You longed for adventures!"

Now, however, he expressed no desire for change;
he liked the room best. In one way Ditte was glad
that he recovered so slowly. She knew where he was.

But one day she came home to find him vanished—


leaving no explanations. She stood forlornly gazing
at the deserted room. She held her arm pressed
against her breast. The whole night she sat up and
kept a light burning, and the next day she did not go
out to work — she could not. She sat pale and haggard
at the window, and stared down into the street, hoping
to see him turn up. If he should be lying helpless
somewhere or other ! In any case he would have
over-drawn his scanty stock of strength, and her whole
work would be wasted.

And towards evening he suddenly appeared at the
door holding her little Jens by the hand. "Just look
what I have for you — a fine boy, and delivered in a
perfectly finished condition. I bought him at the big
store," he said, and laughed with delight. "Look a
little pleased, can't you, my girl?" Ditte hardly could.
The tension and fear were over; but she could scarcely
be herself.

The boy was not at all pleased to see her — he was
rather frightened. On the other hand he clung to
George — naturally — every one went mad over him.
It was lucky, however, especially as he was the one
who would have the most to do with him. George had
been too venturesome, and had to keep his bed for
some days. So the boy sat In bed with him most of
the time, and George read one of the novels aloud to
him. It was a French love drama, about a married
man and his mistress, and the terror that possessed
them lest their intimacy should have consequences,

"Do you read that kind of thing to the boy?" asked
Ditte, "he doesn't understand a word of it."


"Yes — Jens understands it himself!" said the boy
quite offended; "afraid they should have a baby!"

"There! Hear him yourself!" George burst out
triumphantly, "He is a clever little chap : he has a good
head-piece." They were as like as two peas: and both
perfect children. It was a pleasure to Ditte to listen
tc them.

Thus a couple of weeks went by, and then a country
policeman came and fetched the boy home again.

"Of course I could go and pinch him once more,"
said George, "but the father stands behind him, and
the Old One himself couldn't get the better of the
police when they show that side. You had better adopt
a child yourself!"

"It's not at all the same thing," answered Ditte

"One loves children because they are children, and
not because one has been so unlucky that one's own
number has come up with a baby. Adopt one, and
then you get money with it into the bargain."

That would come in very useful ! George had begun
to go out and get a little casual work, but it did not
amount to much in the week. And there were no good
jobs going, — the winter was a dead time for painters.
"But then we should have to do the inspectors," said
Ditte. "We shouldn't get leave to have adopted chil-
dren here!"

"Inspectors!" George laughed. "Have you ever
heard of inspectors bothering about that? We nat-
urally cannot give the little one anything we haven't
got ourselves," he said seriously, "but it would be


devilishly amusing to have a chick in the nest. They
twitter so prettily."

So they took an adopted child, and pushed on
through the dark and cold season. It was poor fare
anyhow, but they were happy together, and the end of
the winter was in sight. George got on well, with one
small exception there was never anything the matter
with him. He went out one day: Ditte discovered that
her best tablecloth had disappeared. But he came
home early and went to bed. When he had fallen
asleep, she went through his pockets, and found the
pawn ticket, and put it away to redeem the cloth when
she had the money. She said nothing about it: it was
so little to make a fuss over. A day or two afterwards
he came of his own accord, and confessed. "I was
out on a spree!" he said, "it shan't happen again!"

Ditte was ready to believe him, the little one took up
most of his attention: he had no desire to go out in
the evening. "As far as I'm concerned, you may take
another," he said, while sitting and playing with
the child.

"It won't be necessary," said Ditte calmly, "for by
the summer we shall have one of our own."

"Then we will have a proper flat, in a good
quarter," he answered. "This is a perfect hole. And
as soon as I get work I want you to stay home. It's
pretty rotten when the wife has to go out and

Ditte had nothing to say against this, there was
enough to do at home. There was a possibility of his
being taken on to decorate a big building that was


being converted into a bank; the foreman on the job
had promised to see about getting him in. Ditte was
thankful at the prospect of better days; she was tired
and overstrained from having to rush from place to
place In her work.


IT was winter in the streets, and where the men
were working, and right inside the homes too;
Ditte could scarcely keep the window panes from
freezing over. When she wanted to see down into
the street, she had to breathe on them to thaw a hole.
She had put the baby to bed to keep him warm; for the
fuel had come to an end two days too soon — the cold
was so biting. What good was it that the sun was
mounting higher in the sky all the time if it could not
be seen. Snowflakes danced over the roofs — the air
was thick with them, they lay piled high in the streets.
All the windows in the quarter were frozen over —
others were as badly off as she — their fuel was finished.
And there were little breathing holes on their panes
too; they peeped out as she did. It was pay day for
them too. Thank God the week had only seven days 1
In their home it was not only pay day, but also the
day for paying the big bill. For a whole month they
had existed on board wages; to-day the balance was
to be made up and the profit divided. She knew it
would be a decent one, for George had worked hard.
On the table lay a long list of things they absolutely
had to have, and those they would like to have as well.
They had made it out together the evening before, and
it had grown long indeed. All the time George kepr



thinking of something absolutely necessary — a set of
furs for DItte, toys for the baby — always something
else for them ; he never thought of himself. To-day she
had gone through the list once more, and crossed out
most of the last part: there was quite enough to be
done with the money, and if there were a few cents
over, it would be all the better.

She stood there huddled In her shawl and kept a
sharp eye on the street. Directly she saw him coming
she would run down and meet him at the street door.
He should see how fond she was of him. She heard a
glad childish voice from the next door call: "Now I
can see Father!" Then they lit up; she could see the
thin shafts of light which fell into her room through
the chinks in the wall. One by one the dwellings
around her were all lit up. That meant that the hus-
band had come home, and they sat round the table and
portioned out the week's wage — for firing, food and
lottery ticket. DItte suddenly felt sick at heart; she
had forgotten to renew George's lottery ticket!

The street lay in darkness; but she remained stand-
ing there. When she really came to herself, it was too
late to look for George at the place where he worked.
All the same she put a shawl over her head, and went
down to the street. For two hours she went backwards
and forwards from one end of the short street to the
other, keeping an eye on every living thing. She dared
not turn the corner; he might be coming from the other
side. Figures loomed up out of the falling snow, and
disappeared into it again. They had a coating of
snow all down one side from top to toe. Any one of


them might be him; he must be on the way now I
Every time she gave it up and thought of going in, a
new snow-clad figure came within the circle of light
from a street lamp, and she ran towards it. "Is it
George?" asked a half-grown hussy who came over
from Helsingor Street, one of the night-hawks of the
quarter. *'You needn't wait for him! I met him in
there at New Harbour — he's up to no good !'* So she
went in and got into bed.

Next day she begged a basket of coke on credit from
the dealer and lit a fire. If he did come home, she
must be able to keep him — now that he was on the
loose. She made the place look comfortable and put
on a pretty dress: it was important to look nice when
he came; a sour face might drive him from the door
again. She sat and waited into the afternoon, then she
gave the child to a neighbor, while she ran down to
Castle Street where his sister lived, perhaps the
brother-in-law would know something, they were
fellow-workmen. When she came back, the neighbor
told her that he had been home — with a comrade.
They had eaten everything Ditte had in the larder.

So she rushed out again, at haphazard! She went
down to the New Harbour — absurd! It was yester-
day he had been there! She searched through dance
halls and workmen's clubs, he might be in one place
as well as another. The cold was frightful : it seemed
absolutely to freeze the marrow of one's bones, if one
stood still. If he should be lying out in it now ! Per-
haps he was lying behind some shed or paling, freezing
to death ! There were so many possibilities, so over-


whelmlngly many — it was hopeless to go on search-
ing! And perhaps he was sitting at home now, waiting
for her and wondering what had become of her. So
she rushed homeward in mad haste!

Then out once more ! There were all these public
houses and bars to search through — places she knew
he frequented, and all those others where it was possi-
ble that he had dropped in. And his comrades, fellow-
workmen — and the suspicious looking individuals she
knew he kept company with when he was in this state !
And his old sweethearts ! Ditte went to them too ; she
wept as she went from place to place in the old build-
ings, knocking at door after door; but it never occurred
to her to spare herself. He must be somewhere or
other, and it was all the same to her where, if only she
could find him. Despair and hope urged her on; when
she was near collapse, one or the other spurred her on
again. He had been to many of the places where she
called — she was on his track- — only too far behind!
All the inhabitants of the quarter knew of her search;
when she turned homewards, they came up to her
and gave her information which drove her out

On the morning of the third day she came staggering
through Helsingor Street, completely exhausted and
ready to drop. She was still searching, and was on
her way home to see if he had come back; but it was
purely mechanical; she had lost the power of feeling,
everything had come to a dead stop within her. In
one of the bad houses, a woman opened the window
and called out to her. She wore a flowered dressing


gown, and her abundant breasts hung over the

"Hey, you there! They have just fished a fellow
up an hour ago in New Harbour — like enough he
stumbled into the water in the darlc. You should go
and see if it is him! They towed him into the
Morgue." Then the window was slammed to.

Ditte went no further: she returned quietly home.
Now she had found him. She undressed and crept
into bed, dazed and half dead. And as she lay gazing
vacantly at the ceiling, numbed and utterly unable to
feel or think, there was a sudden movement within her.
It was a soft mysterious movement which slowly
stroked the inner skin of her stomach, and glided back
again, like a finger writing, and it was followed by two
dull, warning thuds. Ditte lifted her head from the
pillow and stared bewildered around her; then she
grasped the meaning of the secret signal from the
hidden being. It was as if a light had been lit, deep,
deep down in the darkness; it streamed suddenly in on
her with overwhelming might.

She burst into violent weeping.



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