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keeps me in spirits," he used to say; and then Karen
laughed in a way that folks never forgot.

This was not a pleasant home for the boys to grow
up in, and it almost came as a relief to them when,


one winter's morning, they found their father hanging
in the barn. So they were fatherless and the farm
had no master. And a widow's bed strikes rather
colder than a marriage bed — even if they lie back to
back; Karen would have been quite ready to marry
again, especially if she could thereby have got a little
more money for the farm.

But nobody was quite bold enough to take the place
of the suicide; and so it was that she had to struggle
with everything and with her three sons too. This
didn't improve her temper, and as the sons grew up
and wanted to have a say, she got on worse and worse
with them. So they began to leave home ; the eldest
studied for a teacher and now had a school near the
capital; the second took a place as a farm hand. If
he had to obey others, he said, then he preferred to
be under strangers.

People thought it a strange thing to say. Was there
anything more natural for a son than to submit to his
mother and obey her — if he was fond of her, of course.
But, whatever may have been the reason, the sons at
the Hill Farm had no liking for their mother. Only
the youngest, Karl, stayed at home, not because he liked
it any better than the others, but because he hadn't
the power to shake himself free of his mother's rule.
He was a poor creature, ready to cry if you looked at
him. He never laughed, but always went about with a
look of weariness and guilt. It was whispered thut his
mother had an unnatural power over him, and thar it
was remorse for this that sat heavy on him and drove
him to the prayer meetings.


Ditte had sharp ears — she heard everything that
was said. A lot of it she didn't understand, but she
interpreted it in her own way, and together with the
daily life it made up an oppressive feeling which was
always hanging over her. Nothing was comfortable
at the Hill Farm; they all kept their thoughts to them-
selves and there was no room for sharing any joy.
The mistress blamed the sea for it, that cursed sea;
when she had had a drop too much she would come
out into the farmyard and let herself go about it. But
her son thought that God had turned his face away
from the farm. Sine alone was rosy-cheeked and un-
concerned and went about her work without bothering;
and Ditte liked her company best.

With her mistress she didn't know how to get on.
She offered her a genuine, natural respect, since her
mistress was the providence from whom everything,
good as well as evil, was derived; hers was the hand
that chastened and that graciously provided food. And
Karen was generous about food— as a good farm wife
should be ; she was always going about with a carving-
knife in her hand, and there were big grease-stains on
her protruding stomach. She was greedy herself and
did not grudge the others their food. This made up
for a good deal; the Hill Farm had a name for a good
larder. But there were so many other odors given
off by her powerful frame which turned Ditte's head
and made her shudder.

Ditte had been taught that she ought not only to do
her duty by those whose bread she ate, but also to be
fond of them. She did her duty to the full, but it was


not in her to be fond of her mistress. Even when she
sat out in the meadows eating her good lunch, she could
not get so far as that. She felt that she was in a way
disloyal and was sorry about it.


DITTE had finished her knitting, and had emp-
tied her basket, although *it was not near the
lunch hour; but it passed the time — and time
was heavy on her hands. It was the loneliness that
was so difficult to get through; she didn't care about
playing and wasn't made for it either — not now, at any
rate, and the beasts were no company. She was in-
terested in them as far as her duty went, took care
that they didn't do any damage or come to any harm
themselves, and she was fond of them In a way. She
showed it especially when some young calf or other
had got hurt, by chafing Itself against the wire fence
or by a scratch from the horns of one of the older
beasts. Then she was really busy and could not do
enough as long as there was need. But she never got
intimate with them; cows were cows and sheep were
sheep — just like nature In general; a thing one took for
granted. Their affairs only concerned her so far as
they were part of her daily work; they might be funny
enough at times — the beasts — ^but she didn't see so
very much In them.

Ditte was a sociable little body; she liked to hear
a couple of voices chattering all the time, and one of
them had to be her own. It was at least as amusing
to talk one's self as to listen — if only one had some-



body to talk to. She sat up at the top end of the field
looking out over the landscape, sick at heart of tedium
and longing. 'Tf only something would happen, some-
thing really amusing!" she thought, and repeated it
aloud again and again, as though to fill the void. And
suddenly she was silent, stretching forward. She
would not believe her eyes and shut them tight; but
when she opened them, there it was again. Far away
down the highroad a boy came running; he turned into
the meadows, shouting and making signs. He had his
bag of school-books over his shoulder! Ditte was too
much taken aback to run and meet him, but sat where
she was and burst out crying, she was so happy.

Kristian threw himself down on the grass at her feet,
said nothing but just lay panting. "You've played
truant," said Ditte as soon as she had collected her-
self — trying to look severe. But she couldn't hit the
right tone; to-day she was more inclined to be grate-
ful to the runaway. And the rascal put out his tongue
for an answer. Nor did he make any reply to all the
questions she asked, but lay getting his breath, with
the black soles of his bare feet sticking up in the air.
They had all kinds of marks on them; there was a
deep cut in one heel, most likely from a piece of
glass he had trodden on. Ditte examined the wound,
which was black with dirt. "You must have a rag
on that," she said, pressing It slightly; "or else it'll

"Pooh — it's only something I did yesterday when I
ran home from school, it's healed already. I only run
on my toes!"


He was on his feet again; he had not come to lie
down and be lazy. He took a rapid survey of the
ground. "Let's go down there," he said, pointing to
the marsh; it was not exciting up here.

Ditte showed him her hiding-place in the bushes.
"That's fun," Kristian admitted; "but the entrance
ought to be hidden, so that nobody can find the nest —
or else there isn't anything in it. That's the way every
bird does, you know." Well, Ditte was not a bird
and didn't want to hide; she was only thinking about
the sun and the wind. But Kristian showed her how
to intertwine the branches so that the entrance could
not be seen at all. "Then you can play at being some
one who has done something and has to hide," he said.
Ditte looked at h'm in surprise ; she could not make out
what pleasure there could be in that.

But how crazy he was about everything, that boy.
Even in the quiet, passive cows he saw something new.
Ditte's mind had never found much to feed upon in
these meadows, but Kristian looked at everything in
wonder — as though it had just dropped from the sky
and wasn't all familiar and a matter of course.

The little pools made him quite beside himself. The
first thing to be done was to make a bridge over to one
of the many tufts — islands, he called them. This was
done with the help of a couple of poles and some birch
twigs; Ditte had to find the materials. In this way
you could connect all the islands with one another and
travel right round the world.

"This is fine !" he said, and repeated it so often that
Ditte was quite irritated at last.


"I think It's nicer at home," she said.

"That's because you're a silly," Kristian answered.
"But you can come home and stay there instead of

He had never talked to her like this before; but
here she was so decidedly insignificant that all her self-
respect had vanished. No, she would not have minded
changing places, but of course it was no l se thinking
about it.

"Where do you gat your dinner?" asked Kristian
suddenly In the middle of their play.

Ditte was struck dumb and stared at him for a mo-
ment; then she started to run up the hill. "Come on,
hurry !" she cried. When It was getting on for noon
she had to keep an eye on the old mill from the fields
above, but to-day she had forgotten all about it. Oh,
but the shutter v/as not thrown open yet.

"That's a rotten signal," said Kristian; "when you're
down there with the cows you can't see the mill. Why
don't they make some sound — for you're within hear-
ing all the time?"

"Make a sound?" Ditte looked at him stupidly.

"Yes, hammer on something, of course."

They sat there watching the shutter. Kristian had
calmed down now and could answer questions sensibly;
Ditte's expression was all curiosity. "Has anybody
had babies at the village?" she asked, watching his lips

"Yes, Martha !" Kristian answered, nodding.

"That's not true, Kristian — you're telling me lies!"
Ditte counted up and saw that It wouldn't do.


"Well, but she's going to — Lars Jensen's widow says
so. I heard her say it myself!"

Pooh — Ditte looked disappointed — was that all I.
"Hasn't anything at all happened since I came away?"
she asked, "Who is Johanne keeping company with?
With Anton, I suppose? Anybody could see that it
wouldn't last very long with Peter."

That stupid Kristian didn't know anything about it.
On the other hand he could tell her that the village had
got a new kind of sea-going decked boat, with a proper
forecastle to sleep in. But that didn't interest Ditte.

Did little Povl ask after her much? Lars Jensen's
widow was good to him, wasn't she ? Kristian said yes
to both questions at once. He wouldn't separate them,
because then he would have had to explain that Lars
Jensen's widow was not with them at all, and that
would have been too longwinded. — But why hadn't
Kristian got his lunch in his bag? — the questions came
thick and fast now. Kristian had eaten up his lunch
on the way out; there was nothing strange about that
— nothing new, at any rate. But he preferred to tell
her that he had dropped it as he ran — it sounded bet-
ter and made a good excuse for being hungry. And
hungry he was — as hungry as a house — as hungry as
from here to the hamlet! Why on earth didn't they
throw open that shutter?

Ditte's eyes went over him searchingly. His hair
wanted cutting, but she could manage that in the after-
noon with her work scissors. And his jacket ought to
have been let out in the sleeves — now it was too late.
It was easy to see that things were left to take care


of themselves. Anyhow he was looking bonny — his
cheeks were no thinner. And he seemed pleased too,
she noticed that with satisfaction.

"Oh, and the Ogre's wife's dead," he said casually.

Ditte gave a start. "The innkeeper's wife? Why
didn't you tell me that long ago?"

"Oh, I suppose I forgot it. You can't remember

Ditte began a regular cross-examination, but at that
moment the shutter was thrown open at the mill.
*'There," she said, rising to her feet; "now you can
stay here and mind the cows while I run home to din-
ner. Then I shan't have to take them with me."

Kristian stared at her dumbfounded. "Mayn't I
come too?" he asked, ready to cry.

"No, that wouldn't do at all. It would look as if
you were hungry and had come just to get something
to eat."

"But so I have." Kristian was not at all willing
to stand on ceremony.

"I dare say — but it won't do to show it," Ditte ex-
plained decisively. "But if you're sensible I shan't
be long — and I'll put something in my pocket for you."

So Kristian had to be patient. He lay on his stom-
ach and thrust his fist into his mouth to stave off his
hunger, which had become quite unconscionable since
there was food in the offing. And Ditte shot off home
to the farm.

Karen Bakkegaards had been out to open the shutter
herself. She saw the child running up without her
cows and stayed outside the yard waiting for her.


"What's the matter with you to-day?" she asked with
a sneer. "Are you off your head, or are you so starved
that you hadn't time to bring the cows up?"

Ditte's face flushed like fire. "My brother's out
there," she said. "So I thought 1 needn't — "

"Oh, and is he built that way that he don't have
to have any food? I suppose you're not so well ofE
at home that you can bring your own food with you?
Well, he needn't have it if he don't like it."

"He can quite well wait till he gets home," Ditte
wanted to say, but burst out crying instead. It had
been hard enough to sacrifice Kristian to appearances;
she knew his appetite and what a bad hand he was
at going without his food for long at a time. And
now all she had done was to tread on her mistress's
corns — that was all she got out of being well behaved.
"He is so terribly hungry," she said in the midst of
her sobs.

"A nice fuss to make about things — silly brats ! But
I suppose that's good manners, not to say when you're
hungry — poorhouse manners, that is!" Karen kept
on scolding till they reached the house.

But she didn't really mean it. Ditte was let off her
midday duties and was allowed to run off with some
food for her brother as soon as she had finished; and
it was a pretty good basket she had with her. "If he
leaves anything, he can take it home with him," said
Karen. "You don't live too well at home, do you?"

Karen Bakkegaards was nothing of a softy; this was
the first time she had had a kindly thought for Ditte's
home. She was not very indulgent towards poverty;


it was people's own fault If they were poor. But as we
know she was free with her food.

After Kristian's visit Ditte calmed down more. All
the fancied ills and misfortunes that her timid imagina-
tion had conjured up when thinking of her home were
blown away by the wind of reality. She had had a
real live greeting from home — Kristian, out at elbows
as usual and the same old vagabond. This last was
not altogether good; she was worried about his always
yielding to the truant impulse and she kept an eye on
the road. But In her heart she hoped soon to see him
running here again.


THE only one Ditte could stand up to was the
son. With the others she did not count as a
person, but only as a piece of household goods.
If over some hard job she complained of backache,
her mistress only said: "Your back — pooh! Why you
haven't anything but a row of bones !" And the others
were like that too; they could make use of one, but
they didn't take one seriously. Sine perhaps could see
the child in her and was patient with her; but Ditte
would rather have been treated like a grown-up.

With Karl it was another thing. He was seventeen
and his face looked as cheerful as an undertaker's. He
dragged his feet as if they had lead in them, and seemed
as if his heart was broken already. Ditte could see
well enough there was something or other that trou-
bled him, but that was no reason for going about like
a man who was going to be hanged. She had lots of
worries of her own and it wasn't always easy to find
a way out of them; but that didn't make her hang her
head all the time.

It was too comic to watch how careful he was to
shuffle aside if anything came in his way. Ditte could
not resist the temptation of planting herself in his
path to tease him, she went for him whenever she
could. If she met him with a bucket of water, she



would spill some quite accidentally over his feet; and
if she had made his bed, you may be sure there was
something wrong with it. Either the bottom of it
would fall out, or else she had slipped something into
it so that he couldn't stop scratching himself and had
to get up and shake out the sheets in the middle of the

Ditte had found one on whom she could revenge her-
self in a good-natured way for all she had to submit
to; and she availed herself of it to the full. Karl put
up with her teasing and behaved almost as if he didn't
notice it. It made no difference in his behavior to her,
either one way or the other. Ditte wouldn't have
minded if he had got wild and landed her one on the
ear; but the most he could do was to loolc unhappy.

The other two sons seldom came home. Ditte had
seen one of them — the teacher — once at the farm; the
other — the farm hand — had not been home at all dur-
ing the summer.

At midday one Saturday just before harvest the
teacher came on a visit. When Ditte came dawdling
home he was standing out in the yard, bareheaded and
erect and looking cheerful — a bright contrast to all
the rest. He and his mother had either had a tiff al-
ready or were very near it; you could feel that in the
air. He stood looking out to sea, as though quite taken
up by the view; his mother busied herself at the pump
with the pans and things and threw him challenging
glances. When any of the others came near she
screened her eyes with her hand in imitation of her
son's attitude of gazing. He saw it but took no notice.


"Well, what do you make of It? Perhaps you can
tell us what they're going to have for dinner in
Sweden?" Ditte heard her mistress say.

"Sweden is not in that direction, mother," he an-
swered with a laugh. "You'll have to go round to the
other side."

"You don't say so — how clever you are ! But what
are you staring at then?"

"Oh, I think the sea is shining so gaily to-day," he
said teasingly. "No farm in the country is so beauti-
fully situated. The only pity is that it's like pearls be-
fore swine." And he laughed heartily.

"Is there something shining, did you say?" She
came right up to him and stood looking out from his
position, putting on a stupidly innocent expression.
*'Yes, you're right — now I can see it; blame me If It
don't shine like cat's dirt in the moonlight! Oh, but
it's lovely! Good Lord Almighty!" And she clapped
her thighs with delight. "Why didn't they think of it
and put the farm right out in the sea — the old people;
then we shouldn't have had to worry about food or
drink! But p'raps we'd better go In now and feed —
those of us that can't live on the sight of a lot of silly
water." She turned and went in; her son followed her

To-day Rasmus Rytter was good enough not to come
out with any of his dirty stories; he sat with his head
In his plate and his hand shook a little. Even Karen
Bakkegaards herself was half afraid of her son; she
was not so loud and free-and-easy as usual. The son
talked all the time in a bright and cheerful way, told


amusing stories from the capital and laughed at them,
not a bit put out when the others didn't join in. Karl,
of course, never laughed, and Rasmus Rytter and the
mistress only when there was something smutty in it.
As for Sine, nothing ever took hold of her, neither fun
nor sadness; and it would have loolced pretty strange
if the youngster had tried to put a word in. But there
was nothing to stop her fixing her eyes on the teacher,
and she did so all through the meal. When he spoke
the room brightened up, and Ditte thought she could
breathe there much more freely to-day. It was easy
to see that he had to do with children and understood
their way of thinking.

"Have you any brothers and sisters?" he turned sud-
denly to Ditte. She blushed in her awkwardness, for she
was not used to any one addressing her at table. When
he heard that she had not been home yet, he became
serious. "That's not right of you," he turned to his
mother straight away.

"Oh, she ain't got nothing to complain about here,"
the woman answered, trying to shut him up.

"I'm not even sure that it's in accordance with the
law to keep a newly confirmed child away from her
home a whole summer," he continued. "At any rate
it's not just."

"You needn't come teaching me the law — nor what's
right and just neither," Kareu answered, rising angrily
from the table.

But they must have talked it over privately after-
wards, mother and son, for as soon as Ditte had fin-
ished her midday work, her mistress came and told her


she might run home for a bit if she liked, the cattle
could stay in the paddock.

"You're free till to-morrow evening — understand
that!" the teacher called after her. Karen Bakke-
gaards made some objection or other, but Ditte didn't
hear it. She was well on the way.

She hadn't been so happy and light of foot the whole
summer. She was going home ! Not only that, but she
was going to sleep at home — a whole night ! She kept
repeating it to herself as she darted away — a whole
night! That had been the worst of all — never to sleep
under her father's roof, never to be able to tuck in the
little ones and listen to their quiet, reliant breathing.

Sister Else was washing up when Ditte dashed into
the kitchen, making her drop a plate in her fright. She
had to stand on a stool to reach the sink, but was al-
ready quite a good little housewife; Ditte had a look at
her washing-up and praised it. The little girl flushed
with delight at her praise.

Lars Peter appeared from the garret, looking half-
asleep. "Hullo, is that you, my girl !" he said joyously.
"I thought I heard your voice." Ditte threw her arms
round his neck and nearly knocked him down.

"Well, well — let a man get properly awake first," he
said smiling and putting out his arms to steady himself.
"This daytime sleep isn't worth what you get at night
^after all. It seems to cling about your head so."

Here Povl came rushing in from the harbor; some
of the other children had told him that Big Sister had
come home. "Have you got something for me?" he
cried, before he was inside the door.


No, Ditte really hadn't anything — what was it to be ?

"You know you promised me that when you went
into service you would spend a whole crown on some-
thing for me," the boy said reproachfully. Well, it
must have been something she had promised him
lightly, just to keep him quiet. At any rate she couldn't
recall it.

"But I'll really remember it next time," she said
seriously, confirming her promise by a look.

"Yes, it doesn't do to promise the little ones anything
thoughtlessly," said Lars Peter. "They have a better
memory than the rest of us."

"I know, you say you'll give us things, but you never
do it," Povl chimed in.

"Where's Kristian?" asked Ditte, taking the disap-
pointed youngster on her lap.

"Kristian — he's at work; he's quite a man now," said
her father. "He's been working for the innkeeper all
the summer."

"He never said anything to me about that when he
came to see me."

"What — has he been to see you? I never heard about
that. Did you, children?" Lars Peter was quite

Yes, Sister Else knew about it. Kristian had confided
in her — since she was now mistress of the house.

"You haven't said anything to me about it," said her
father reprovingly.

"No, and why should she?" Ditte broke in bravely
— "if Kristian had told it as a secret. Does he get any-
thing for it?"


Lars Peter laughed. "The innkeeper isn't a man to
give money if he can help it — he's better at taking it,
he is. But the lad gets his food, and it's time he learned
to do something and obey orders. It isn't so easy to
keep an eye on him always, when you have to go to sea
at night and get your sleep in the daytime. Have you
heard that the innkeeper's wife's dead?"

Yes, Kristian had told her that. What did she
die of?

H'm, well — Lars Peter glanced at the little ones.
"You can go out and play for a bit, children," he said.
The two little ones slowly dragged themselves out of
the door, looking very aggrieved. "Well, you see, they
wanted so much to have a child — and when you come
to think of it, it's a very sad story. For even supposing
people are bad — and it's no disparagement to say the

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 3 of 23)