Martin Andersen Nexø.

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cheeks, attending to her work and living on her un-
happy love. If anybody touched upon that or took
any other liberties with her, she was quite ready to
show her teeth.

Great preparations were made for Christmas in the
way of slaughtering and baking. But no Christmas
g-uests came of their own accord, and those who were
invited, refused. "They won't run the risk of meeting
the dealer and his cronies," Sine thought. "For there's
no other reason why they should stay away this year
more than any other — and they've never found fault
with our Christmas dinners." She was almost offended
on the farm's behalf. Their mistress was In a bad
temper all this time; she scolded constantly, and said
spiteful and disparaging things about everybody. She
wanted to revenge herself. But Ditte was the one who
felt least of her Ill-temper; It was part of her powerful
nature never to take the line which lay easiest. Karen


had a name for hitting those who were most likely
to hit back.

One day between Christmas and New Year's the
postman came round to the Hill Farm; they took no pa-
pers, so his visits were few and far between. There was
a letter for the mistress. She went up to her bedroom
with it, for It was always a serious business to
get a letter. When she came back she was in a good

"We're going to have some Christmas visitors to-
day," she said to the two girls in the scullery; "so I
think we'll have roast pigeon."

Karl had to go and catch the pigeons in the coops;
Karen wrung their necks herself, as she stood and gave
her orders. She took them slowly out of the bag, one
by one; closed her big coarse hands round the flut-
tering bird, as though enjoying the agonized beating
of Its heart. "You're so nice and soft and warm, in
a minute you'll be dead," she said, as she held Its beak
up to her mouth and wetted it with her spittle. Then
she cautiously passed her thumb and middle finger over
its body till she came right up under the wings — and
gave a sudden squeeze, with a peculiar expression of
enjoyment. She held the gasping bird at arm's length
and watched It Intently; the beak opened wider and
wider, the eyes were extinguished under the milk-white
rims, and all at once the bird's head fell to one side
like a broken flower. It was an ugly sight. But
Karen, with a laugh, flung the dead bird on the kitchen
table to the girls. "There, that one's lost Its breath;
now you can take off Its garment of innocence," she


said, reaching down into the bag for the next — she was
In great good hiamor.

In the course of the afternoon they arrived, in two
carriages ! They were a noisy lot, hats on the baclcs of
their heads and cigar in mouth, which they didn't even
take out when they shouted or swore. Johannes was
the most rakish of them all, and swaggered as if he
owned the place. They were dealers and other riff-raff
from the capital, where he was living now — the sort
of people who scared every living thing across the ditch
and into the fields when they came into the country.
As soon as they were seen tearing along the road,
people at the farms hurried indoors, as though they
did not want even to be seen by such company. There
they stood looking timidly out from behind windows
and shutters and thinking all sorts of things.

Sine had enough to do in the kitchen, so Karl had to
help with the evening milking. He was sulky and ill-
humored; there wasn't a word to be got out of him.
Ditte tried time after time, but in vain. She hated
keeping silent, if there was anything on earth she
needed, it was talk. She would make him answer.

"Is it true that you went to a dance the other night?"
she said. "They say you did."

"Who says so?" he asked angrily. Now she had
got him at last !

"Somebody — I shan't say who," she answered teas-

"Then you can just tell them it's a lie." Karl for-
got himself, as a rule he never used such strong lan-


"Why, there's no harm in it — Oh, of course, you
think it's sinful to dance ! If only I could go to a ball,
a really swell ball !" Ditte began to hum a tune.

"You ought not to wish that; such places are full
of sin."

"Oh, you and your sin — you say that about every-
thing. You're a regular saint ! I suppose you'll say
it's sin to eat next? — Are you going to meeting again
this evening?" Ditte regretted having teased him and
turned the conversation to his affairs to make amends.

"Yes, if I can get off. Will you come?"

No, Ditte wouldn't. She had been once or twice,
but had had enough. She didn't like being treated as
a child of sin by all these self-righteous people, who
were so pious that they couldn't hold their heads
straight — even worse than the psalm-smiters at the inn-
keeper's meetings at home. What did it concern her
what her mother had done? But they treated her like
a brand snatched from the burning.

"It isn't any good," she said.

Karl did not answer, he never pressed her. For a
while nothing was heard but the milk streaming into
the pails. Then came a noise from the farmhouse.

"Listen to them shouting and yelling," he said bit-
terly — "they take pride in their disgrace!" It was
his mother he was thinking of — Ditte knew that well
enough. "But at New Year's I'm going to leave; I
won't stay and look on at all this !" He always said
that, but he could never bring himself to it.

"Well, but they never touch one another," Ditte
demurred — "they don't even kiss." She said it to con-


sole him, but not without a hope of getting him to tell
her something.

"Oh, you don't understand — you're only a child!"
he exclaimed in despair.

"You always say that, all of you!" Ditte answered,
slightly offended. She could not understand what this
mysterious something was that she was not allowed to
know. "Was it that about her changing clothes with
him the other day at the hotel at Frederiksværk?"

"Oh, there are so many things — and one is as nasty
■as the other." He stopped suddenly and Ditte noticed
a swelling in his throat. She left her work and went
up to him, stood in the dusk of the cowshed and took
him by the shoulders. She knew by experience the
soothing influence of touch. But with him it had the
opposite effect and he began to sob. "You ought to
get your brothers to come home and speak to her,"
she said quietly, laying her cheek against his hair.

"They will never come home any more," he answered
and pushed her away.

Ditte stood still for a moment. Then she heard
Rasmus out in the yard and hurried back to her

At half-past nine Karen Bakkegaards began to yawn
and scratch her legs, which were covered with varicose
veins; this was the sign for breaking-up. Ditte made
haste to get across the yard before the lamp was put
out in the living-room. She was not really afraid of
the dark, but here at the Hill Farm the darkness was
alive, something uncanny lurked in every corner. The


sea roared at the foot of the ravine and sent a biting
chill up into the open farmyard; it was as if some one
took hold of her under her clothes with icy fingers.
She slipped in quickly and shut the door; one, two, three
— she was out of her clothes and under the heavy old

The bed was ice-cold when she got into it; she drew
up her knees under htr shift right up to her chin, and
her teeth chattered for a while until the worst of the
cold had gone off. But it was some time before she
got the quilts warmed through; until then she could
not fall asleep, but lay thinking — about the folks at
home and her mother in prison, about money and
clothes, about what had happened — and what would
happen in the future. For a brief moment her thoughts
dwelt on Granny, but passed to something else; Granny
was beginning to fade into the background of Ditte's
mind. On the other hand, her mother came up oftener
now; it was as though she appeared and claimed her
thoughts; Ditte could see her clearly and had to occupy
herself with her, whether she wanted to or not. She
was very unwilling, and was glad when she found her
thoughts slipping away somewhere else. But one had to
be careful and pretend one didn't know anything about
it. As soon as one thought: Ah, now my thougrhts are
going away from Mother! — then at once they dragged
her back again. They came and went as they pleased,
vag;uer and vaguer by degrees as she got warm and
sleep approached. For a moment they dwelt on Big
Klaus, standing a4: home chewing comfortably in his
stable at the Crow's Nest; the next, they were at the


new hotel that was to be built at the hamlet — and they
just brushed past Karl on the way to sleep.

Karl was as far as possible from being Ditte's hero;
the man she was to admire would have to be quite dif-
ferent. It was his being such an unfortunate wretch
that stirred her feelings; he was always tormenting
himself, and she was sorry for him. It was enough
to make one weep to see him shambling about, home-
less and an orphan in his own home ; and to Ditte com-
passion was a summons to help. She was only too
willing to bear others' burdens, but cudgeled her little
brains In vain to find a remedy for his condition, and
yet she could not give it up. He would have to go
far away, to that pleasant brother of his, and help him
to keep school. He would have hard work to make
himself respected, but he had such a nice voice for sing-
ing hymns !

She herself would go into service in the capital and
— lying half asleep — she imagined she was there al-
ready. It was the schoolmaster himself she was keep-
ing house for, and she was just bringing him his coffee
during the morning playtime. He gave her a cheerful
smile, for she had made fresh cakes with the coffee
as a surprise. "YouVe a good little housekeeper," he
said, stroking her hair. DItte was going to curtsey,
but at that moment one of her legs gave a jerk and
she woke up. That was what Granny used to call a
sleep warning. *'Then vou ought to listen, because
you're wanted for something," she had said. And DItte
lay still and listened, raising her head and holding
her breath.


Outside the door she heard a miowing that sounded
like a pitiful appeal. It's Puss, she thought; he's cold
and wants to come in — or perhaps he can't find any-
thing better to do. "Go into the barn and catch mice,
Puss !" she called out towards the door. But the cat
only miowed louder and scratched at the door. She
jumped up and opened it, and the wind and snow blew
in on her. But Puss was not inclined to hurry; it was
always his way to dawdle when he ought not to; she
had to take him by the scruff of his neck and haul him
in. She hurried back to bed, and the cat jumped up on
her pillow and stood arching its back close to her face.
"Come down into bed, you silly!" she said, lifting
up the quilt. But Puss plumped down on to the floor
again and went back to the door, where she could see
his eyes shining in the dark; he stood there miowing.
She had to get up and let him out again — and then,
there was trouble outside.

Ditte could not make out what was the matter with
the stupid thing to-night; and then all at once it oc-
curred to her that he had not had his evening milk —
she had forgotten it! It was a pretty bad blunder to
forget that — she couldn't understand what she had been
thinking of. And it was hard luck — fearfully hard
luck on Puss, who had to go and catch mice all night.
If mousers didn't get their fresh milk, they let you
know it ! To-morrow he should have a double quan-
tity and she would be really good to him.

But Ditte was not to be let off so cheaply. Puss
stayed outside miowing, and the noise grew more and
more aggressive. She had neglected a creature en-


trusted to her care; there was no getting over that.
The cat was out there crying pitiably over it — she had
not been kind to it !

Ditte got out of bed and put on her wooden shoes;
she took hold of the door-latch, but hesitated; she was
trembling with cold and beginning to cry. Outside the
wind howled and it was pitch-dark; she opened the
door a little way at a time; the storm beat upon the
old buildings and shook the doors and shutters — there
was a moaning and giving way everyv/here. Suddenly
some one snatched the door from her and threw it
open against the wall; she screamed and ran across the
yard; she knew it must be the wind, but was frightened
all the same.

She left her wooden shoes on the doorstep of the
scullery and stole in; felt her way to the bowl and the
milk-pail, while the cat rubbed itself against her bare
leg — which gave her a feeling of security. She filled
its bowl by dipping It in the pail; it was a dirty thing
to do, but she couldn't help It. "Come along, Puss,"
she whispered, and went out again.

She stepped off the doorstep carefully so as not to
spill the milk, and tried to get her bearings in the dark;
she was smarting with the cold and fright sent shivers
up and down her back — gave her. a tickling feelilng right
up to the roots of her hair. And suddenly she
stopped, stiff with terror; before her stood a dark
form which she could just make out in the darkness.
Ditte was going to scream and drop the bowl, but saw
just in time that it was the pump. That made her quite
courageous and she went In the direction of the barn-


door; the cat's milk bowl was placed In the barn at
night — to make him stay there.

As she was going to open the barn-door, she remem-
bered the suicide, and terror seized on her again, came
over her like a gust of wind. She wanted to run away,
but then Puss's milk would have been spilt; she stood
for a moment quite still with the bowl in both her
hands — paralyzed. Then she leaned firmly against
the barn-door, so that nobody might come out and
take her, while she put the bowl down in the

When she stood up again, there was a light in the
southern end of the farmhouse, where her mistress had
her bedroom. Ditte became quite calm again on seeing
it — and a little curious too; she had plenty of time now,
though she was so cold that her teeth were chattering.
Karen appeared in the pantry door with a flickering
candle in her hand; she was in her shift and had her
hair twisted up in a cloth. She went through all the
front rooms, slow and listless in her movements, hold-
ing the candle in front of her, and in the other hand
something or other — a knife, perhaps. So she must
have felt hungry and come down to cut herself a bit of
cold mutton !

In the living-room she stopped and lifted up what
she had in her hand; Ditte saw that it was a rope and
was again a prey to every kind of terror. She went
backwards across the yard, with little sobs such as a
frightened dog makes at night, for she could not turn
her back on that vision. Karen came through the scul-
lery and appeared In the scullery door; there she stood


feeling her way with her foot and staring out into the
night. The candle flared up and went out.

How Ditte got to bed, she didn't know; she lay-
crouched together deep dov/n under the quilt and shiv-
ered. She wished she could fall asleep and get away
from all this terror, and then wake up in the morning
and find that none of it had happened. Sometimes
things turned out like that.

When she came out next morning, the bowl was lying
In the snow by the barn-door and by the side of it was
a rope; there were the prints of big bare feet in the
snow. But Karen herself was in the scullery scolding
— thank God.



**AT^ HERE'S no pleasure In life here at the Hill
I Farm — it's enough to get on your nerves,"
Sine would say at times. And yet she was
the one who seemed to get on best, plump and even-
tempered as she was.

It was just as if the darkness was heavier and the
cold sharper here than anywhere else; all troublesome
things became harder to deal with, more saturated with
their own essence. At times the darkness might be so
black that Ditte would scarcely venture out in it; at
every instant it was trying to knock her feet from under
her, with strange noises and one thing or another.
Nowhere else had she been afraid of the dark, but here
she would get into such a state that she dared not go
into the barn without a lantern for fear of Karl's fa-
ther who had hanged himself in there. In the ordinary
way she faced it boldly enough. But there were times
when the foul air condensed — it had something to do
with Karen Bakkegaards' disorderly life — and when
the whole place seemed haunted. Karl was the one
who felt it most; there were some days when nothing
would make him take a piece of rope in his hand. But
it affected them all. The old bedclothes, that had been
handed down perhaps for a hundred years, always had
a strange smell; and when the weird fit was upon the



farm, this smell wove itself into Ditte's dreams and
filled them with terror. The stench of tobacco and
sickness given off by the old bed-ticking drew her with
it into the bedroom where the consumptive man lay
hanging over the side of the bed, coughing and cough-
ing with red foam on his lips. On the edge of the bed
sat a stout woman puffing smoke in his face — and laugh-
ing when it really took effect; and down on the floor
lay a little boy drawing pictures in the red stuff with
his fingers. Then she woke with a shriek, struck a
match, though it was strictly forbidden, and calmed
down again.

That was how the feeling condensed at times. But
she shook it off again; after all it was something that
came from outside herself.

With Karl it was another matter; he lived under the
curse itself and he never shook off anything. Sine
thought he would have to be prepared to face all sorts
of things. "He has his father's nature," she said.

At any rate there was nothing of his mother in him,
anybody could scare him out of his life. All the more
remarkable was it that in one particular way he as-
serted himself strongly enough — nobody could make
him budge an inch. He would not touch tobacco and
marked his disapproval of his mother's sinful ways by
associating more and more with the goody-goody folks.
And when she started boozing with Johannes and his
cronies, he joined a total abstinence society. That was
his protest — as though he would make amends for his
mother's transgressions one by one.

But when it came to defending himself he was no


good; if she taunted him with his piety he said noth-
ing. "Yes, you're just of an age to be running after
petticoats," she said jeeringly, alluding to his going off
to prayer meetings — and said it so that the others could
hear. He took no notice and went on as before. It
was just as little use forbidding him. She would set
him to work at something or other to prevent his get-
ting away; but when the time of the meeting arrived,
he ran off just the same. In other things he trembled
like a dog before his mother, but in this he only feared

Ditte would not have minded if he had shown a
little courage in other ways as well; for instance, if he
had acted as a buffer for her and Sine when their mis-
tress was unreasonable. But then he always slunk

Karen got more and more unreasonable and was apt
to bully them and find fault with everything; perhaps
it was because she was full of the thought of marriage
— pining for young flesh, thought Sine. At any rate it
brought bitterness and ill-will into the work, and the
sour atmosphere plagued Ditte most of all — it was
everywhere and could not be shaken off.

As far as could be seen she had not suffered at
all; no light-hearted carolings had been silenced; out-
wardly she had always been seriousness itself. But
she had a spirit of her own deep down in her nature,
a quiet, gentle spirit whose usual expression was th?
plucky way in which she tackled every kind of work.
Through this she had saved her joy in life, the expres-
sion of which in games had been denied her by cir-


cumstances; and it was this that had made her so suc-
cessful at home. The generosity of her nature had
made it possible to preserve the sisterly relationship to
the little ones and still to get them to obey. It had
not always been easy; good intentions often had to
take the form of harshness in order to obtain the de-
sired effect. But she managed it, thanks to her in-
domitable spirit, which seldom rang out with its own
note, but which gave the tone to all she did. And
she succeeded in inspiring the others with her good-
will, and thus took off the edge of the harshness.

She had been obliged to smack them at first, in order
to assert herself; but she succeeded in getting beyond
that before the punishment had had time to lead to
bitterness either in herself or in the others. When pun-
ishment was needed — usually for the children's own
sake — she taught herself to give it in the same way
as Granny used with her. If they got their clothes in
a mess, they were made to feel it plainly enough —
they were put to bed and there was no more play for
them until their things were clean again. The pun-
ishment followed naturally from the fault; it was the
dirtiness that took its revenge, not she. "Now you see,
if you'd been careful, it wouldn't have happened," she
would say Innocently enough. She could even appear
as the rescuing angel and win their gratitude for putting
things right for them.

Thus she had had to find her way as best she could
and had arrived at a belief in the essential justice of
things — and this had helped her to govern her little
world so well. Disorder was the result of a lack of


interest in one's work, or a sour temper; she hated it
instinctively and was firmly convinced that it brought
its own punishment. If you sneaked out of anything
it was bound to come back on you; that had always
been so as long as she could remember — in its earliest
and simplest form when she wetted her clothes. Now
of course existence was far more complicated, but it
held good all the same — you simply had no peace.
It might be when you had put on stockings with holes
in them in the morning — and had a horrid feeling all
day; or when you forgot to give Puss his evening milk
and had to get up in the middle of the night and fetch
it — because, if not, you couldn't fall asleep but thought
you heard him miowing the whole time.

Ditte was a splendid little worker. If she hadn't
many other pleasures, she knew the pleasure of work,
and enjoyed it as the heart's reward for its goodness.
Her hands were rough and scrubby, her voice was harsh
and unlovely; she had no other way of showing the
good in her than in her work. There she expanded,
like a modest but useful flower. There was nothing
gaudy about it all — a little good-natured diligent thing,
that only wished to bloom for others.

But here no one gave her any credit for that. They
were not fond of work, but looked on it as a nuisance,
tackled it against their will and did no more than they
could damned well help. That was why everything
was all over the place. Ditte felt that it was all due
to their not being fond of one another. There was no
comradeship among the Hill Farm people. And Uncle
Johannes was not going to make things better. He


only brought quarreling and ill-will — she knew that
from the Crow's Nest.

She had seen enough of men and women this time
and longed to get back to the pasture. She pined for
the spring and watched intently for the signs of its
coming, was glad when the first of the snow slipped
off the roof facing south, and still gladder when the
first tufts of grass showed up amidst the snow of the
meadow like a shaggy back. It was the earth slowly
heaving itself out of its winter sleep. The water bus-
tled everywhere, first making ponds, then trickling on;
the waters of spring sang their song day and night
and came bubbling out of the wet earth. Signs of
growth appeared; one day the ground was like rising
dough to the feet. And above it sang the larks.

On a day like this she tramped over the meadows
to the common. She was to go and ask Rasmus Rytter
to come the next day: the spring plowing was to be-
gin. He had not been at the farm since they had
finished threshing a month before; there had been

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 6 of 23)