Martin Andersen Nexø.

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nothing for him to do. The water had not yet left
the clayey parts and every moment the moist earth
pulled off one of her wooden shoes; she had to stand
on one leg while she drew it out. The ground held
the shoe tight in its greedy lips, and when at last
it let go, It did so with a deep sigh which made Ditte

She was in good spirits. It was jolly to get away
from the farm for a while, and the finest thing of all
was that there was light everywhere and no dark cor-
ners. For light was badly needed at home I


Rasmus Rytter's cabin lay at the far end of the com-
mon, a good way beyond the pasture. Water was
lying in the marshland where she used to take the cat-
tle; she had to go round along the edge of the fields.
But it was fun to look down and recognize her nests,
though the winter had pitilessly laid them bare; they
gave her a curious homelike feeling and made her long
still more for the summer.

Rasmus was not at home. His wife was messing
about the fireplace when Ditte came in; she was un-
kempt and still in her under-bodice, though it was near
noon. The place looked poor and dirty. "You
mustn't look at me," she said, pulling her bodice across
her bosom with her black hand. "There's such a lot
to do to put the house straight that I haven't had time
to see to myself yet." Well, Ditte saw how well the
house had been put straight! Things were all over
the place and the beds weren't even made yet.

In one of the beds lay a couple of children fighting;
their ages might be about six and seven. "Are they
ill?" asked Ditte.

"No, that they're not," answered the woman. "But
we haven't enough to give them all, so they have to
take ttirn and turn about in bed. It's been a down-
right cruel winter, it has."

Ditte had to stay and drink coffee. "If they hadn't
gone and lost the grease-stick for me you'd have had
a pancake to your coffee," said the woman, as she ran
about searching. "I'd promised the youngsters pan-
cakes for dinner to keep them quiet, and I'd got the
dough all mixed ready, I had; but then there was


nothing to grease the pan with. It's a funny thing,
though," she said, "I'm sure I saw the boys whacking
each other with it this morning before they went to
school." She ran to the back of the cabin and stayed
there a while, bustling about. "Here, you hold your
noise," she called to the youngsters in bed who were
howling. "I can't do any more than I can, can 1?"
Then she appeared from the other side with something
in her hand; it looked like a long dirty tallow candle
of the home-made kind. "Here it was after all — I
thought as much," she said, slamming the pan on to
the fire. She took the thing and passed the end of it
round the pan, which was slightly greased and began
to sputter a little.

"What is it?" asked Ditte, wondering. "Is it a

"That? — it's a boar's pizzle, that's what it is. It
always hangs here in the chimney, but this morning
the old man took it to grease his boots with, and then
the boys got hold of it."

"There isn't much grease in It," said Ditte, greatly
interested in the result; she would have liked to see
anybody that could stop those pancakes sticking to
the pan.

"No, It's getting a bit dry, it's from an old boar,
that's why. It's best for greasing backsides; the old
man always takes it when the youngsters want a whack-
ing. But sit you down now, the coffee's coming."

No, Ditte had to hurry off. "Or else I shall get a
scolding," she said. She didn't want any of those


"Oh, well. It was a good thing you came, for the
old man's getting so sour and don't know where to turn.
You can't put anything decent before him when there's
no earnings — and then you can be sure there's no peace
in the house. If we hadn't had a few herrings in the
barrel and some potatoes in the pit, we should have
been in a bad way. It's been a dirty winter for us here.
The weather's been sour, they're sour at the Hill Farm,
and he's sour himself — so how's he to look for anything
but sourness? It'll do me real good to get rid of him
for a bit."

The days grew long and light. Ditte was not al-
lowed to burn a candle in her little room, but now it was
light enough if the upper half-door was left open.
There was no window.

She had her little room in the oldest wing of the
buildings, which once — perhaps a couple of hundred
years ago — had been the dwelling-house. The stone
floor still remained from the time when it had been
used as a kitchen. The open chimney was still there
too, but was closed at the height of the ceiling by
straw laid on stakes; her bed stood in the chimney
opening as in an alcove — there was just room for it.
Above the bed there was still the toothed iron rod on
which the pot had hung. When it rained, ancient soot
used to pour down the wall by her pillow; the strong
smell reminded her of Granny and brought melancholy
dreams. It sometimes happened that mice gnawed
their way through the blocked chimney and fell on to
her quilt.


But Ditte was delighted with her den; it was the
first time in her life she had had a room of her own.
She had decorated it with an old wooden case, which
she had put up on end and spread a white cloth on top.
It served both for dressing-table and washing-stand.
And along the top of the open chimney she had fastened
a long blue valance with tassels which she had found
in the loft; it had once belonged to a four-post bed and
brightened up her alcove a great deal. On the dressing-
table stood a scrap of looking-glass.

Here she spent her happiest hours; whenever she
had any spare time she went off to her little room. It
had been pretty cold in winter with the open half-door,
but now it was all right. Then she would take out her
various treasures and handle them, laying down one
thing and taking up another, spreading it out and then
folding it neatly. She could do this over and over
again and it gave her heartfelt pleasure. There was a
piece of embroidery for which she had been praised by
the schoolmaster's wife while they were still living at
the Crow's Nest; an album in which some of her con-
firmation class had written their names, and a photo-
graph of the whole class. That was the only time she
had been photographed, and she still looked with the
same surprise and curiosity at the thin little girl who
was supposed to represent herself — the smallest of the
lot, and the ugliest, she thought. What she chiefly
wondered was whether she would ever look as nice as
the rest. She had no exaggerated opinion of her own
appearance, and what could have given her one? No-
body had ever said, What a pretty little girl ! about her.


And what was there to make her pretty? The blood
that circulated through her body was not exactly sweet-
ened in its passage through the heart; it found there a
mass of troubles and carried all their bitterness into
the rest of her frame, and on that she had to be nour-
ished. Her color was still bluish from it, and it was hard
to get rid of the thinness and boniness that resisted the
growing roundness of her figure. And her crookedness
stuck to her to the last; it had been well helped by the
severe winter work. Altogether the result was a mixed
one; she could not be called pretty yet!

But she was happy, she had never enjoyed the spring
so much as this year. And the sunlight made up for a
great deal. It just took her face and figure as they
were and made short work of all the angularities.
Sometimes she was quite a picture of sunshine and
smiles as she crossed the farmyard with the deep blue
sea of spring as a background. "Why, how happy you
look, my girl!" Sine exclaimed, laughing herself. "Is
it because you're going to take the cattle out?"

That is just how she looked on a day in the middle of
May when she started out with the cattle again. And
the beasts looked as she did. Their hair had grown
long in the course of the winter and they were thin too,
but the light and the wind played about them, and they
were full of friskiness. They kicked up their hind legs
in the maddest way as if they were trying to reach the
sun, and started off in a wild gallop across the fields
toward the Common. And Ditte followed them light
at heart.


THE first few days Ditte was out, she had taken
her lunch over to Rasmus Rytter's cabin, but
now the youngsters came to fetch it themselves
morning and afternoon. They came in a body and
were always there before she was; when they lay hud-
dled together in one of her nests, waiting for her.
They were as shy as young plovers and generally hid
when they saw any one coming; as soon as they had
got the food they darted off one after the other —
as though they were running away with something
stolen. When they had gone a little way they sat
down, each by himself, and began to devour it. She
had to be careful to divide it among them; it was
no use trusting one of them with another's share,
they were too hungry for that. They had not much on :
a ragged pair of breeches and perhaps something that
was meant to be a shirt as well; but they didn't want
much either in the summer weather. And they were
quick on their feet!

One day she set to work to scrub a little of the dirt
off them, but it was not a success. On the following
day they would not venture down to her, but lay up by
the hedge and watched her; as soon as she approached
they bolted. She held up the food for them to see, but
it was no good. Then she left it where they had been



and went back to the^marsh; and a little while after it
was gone. They were like chickens hatched out of the
way in some strawstack, half wild and full of suspicion;
there was no way of making up to them. But when
they were on their own ground they were quite different.
At home in the cabin they made a row all day long that
could be heard right across the Common — and their
mother's scolding voice trying to make itself heard
among them.

Their breeches hardly ever had any buttons, so that
they had to hold them up when they ran. This irri-
tated Ditte, and one day she caught one of them and
held him fast. "You won't get anything to eat till I've
sewed this on," she said, taking a button out of her
pocket. Then he submitted to the operation, stamping
his feet all the time, and as soon as she had wound the
thread round and snapped it off, he tore away — still
holding on to his breeches. "Let go, you stupid !" she
called out with a laugh. Then he let go, and when he
found they kept up of their own accord, he got quite
wild and rushed round her at a frantic pace, round
and round in the same narrow circle, leaning inwards
like a tethered foal. Ditte saw quite well that it was
done in her honor and followed him admiringly with
her eyes. "That's very fine," she cried. "That's very
nice of you. But you can't keep it up any longer, come
and take your food." Oh, yes, he could do another
round yet; and then came up to her puffing and received
his share. This time he didn't run off with it, but lay
down beside her and ate it.

That made the others stop and allow her to mend


their clothes. By degrees they gained confidence in her
— and before she knew where she was she had another
little family to take care of. It was no light job and it
gave her a feeling of satisfaction; Ditte had a way of
enjoying life when her hands were busy.

She got as far as making them let her wash them, and
that gave her something to do. The worst part of it
was their little heads; there was hardly anything to be
done with them. She would have to steal a little
paraffin and bring it out with her! —

One afternoon she soused their heads with paraffin;
she had to tell them stories about Big Klaus while she
did it, to make them stand still. When it was over they
stood with blinking eyes, looking as if they had fallen
into a strange world. *'Does it smart?" she asked with
a laugh.

"Yes. But they're not biting any more," they an-
swered in surprise.

"Now you may go home," she said.

They took no notice and sat down by her. "Tell us
some more," they asked.

"No, run away now. And then you shall hear som.e
more to-morrow."

"About Big Klaus?"

"Yes, and about Pers the cat, who could open doors
by himself." Then they shuffled off; but there wasn't
much hurry about it.

Ditte got the cattle together, and then undressed and
washed herself in a little pool that was hidden by
bushes. She lay on her stomach in the shallow tepid
water and played at swimming; when she raised herself


on her hands and lowered herself again, the water took
hold of her stomach and her firm little breasts with a
soft clucking sound. Her skin was not so grimy as last
summer. She sat up on the grassy bottom and scrubbed
herself to get the last of it off.

Then she sat on the dry bank, half dressed, and went
over her clothes; she had sewing things in a paper be-
side her. The cattle were feeding quietly, there was
time and leisure for her own occupations — clothes and
the rest, and that was what Ditte wanted now. She
was glad to be alone.

She sat humming to herself, half absorbed in her
work, happy and free from care. Scraps of thoughts
and impressions fluttered through her head and went
again without her seizing them; the warmth of the
earth rose from the thick carpet of moss and half-dry
grass and embraced her. She was growing as she sat.
There was a rumbling of wheels from the high road
and she listened to the distant sound — it was somebody
In a hurry. But she wouldn't trouble to get up and run
Into the meadow to see who it might be.

In the course of the afternoon Karl came down
across the fields from the farm, so there was some-
thing the matter at home. "He's there again," he said,
throwing himself down by her side — "they're half-
drunk already." He turned his face away.

"Then you'll clear out, I suppose?" asked Ditte with
a teasing smile. She couldn't understand how he could
stay hanging about at home.

"I told Mother 1 should, but she only says, Go on
then ! She doesn't care about me or anything else, as


long as she gets her way. But now I mean It — I've
packed up my things. I only wanted to say good-by
to you." He waited a little while. "Don't you care
either that I'm going away?" he asked, taking hold of
her plaits.

Ditte shook her head decisively. "No, just you go
and don't worry!" He had never made things any
easier for her,

"Haven't I behaved well to you, then? — haven't I,
Ditte?" he repeated, as she remained stubbornly silent.

"No," came her answer at last in a low voice. She
had tears in her eyes as she thought of all the times
when he ought to have taken her part against unjust
treatment, but did not do so.

Perhaps he had the same thoughts. "No, I know
that well enough," he said quietly — "for I was a cow-
ard. But now I'm not one any longer. From now on
I shall try to be a good and brave man."

"Yes, for now you have a real sorrow," said Ditte,
looking him in the face. She knew how hard it was to
leave home.

He gazed helplessly before him: "The worst of it
is that it's Mother — and then all that folks say about
us. They stare at one, and then put their heads to-
gether and whisper. People are disgusting — wicked
they are ! But we mustn't think that — we ought to love
our neighbors," he suddenly corrected himself.

"It's nothing to worry about, all that," said Ditte
encouragingly; "let people talk. As long as you know
you haven't done any wrong, what does it matter what
people say? You said yourself the other day that if


only one was at peace with God, it was all the same
what folks thought about one."

He leaned his head against her shoulder and sat with
closed eyes. "It is so hard to be strong in God," he
said quietly. *'If only one had Him by one's side instead
of within one — so that one could see Him." He was
absently passing his hand over her back, then all at
once he sat upright and looked at her searchingly. Her
bodice had slipped down over one shoulder — she had
not buttoned it properly; her shoulderblade stuck out
a little.

**What's that you have there ?" he asked, keeping his
hand on the spot.

"Oh, that comes from carrying my little brothers and
sister so much," she said, blushing and hastily covering
herself. "It's almost gone now," she added in a low
tone — with her face turned away from him.

"You need not be ashamed of it," he said, getting
up. "I'm not like some of them!"

No, Ditte was not ashamed for him — or afraid of
him either; he was only unhappy, nothing else. But she
was sorry he had noticed that crookedness, now that it
was almost gone. After that she always made an effort
to hold herself upright; she wanted to be straight in
the back and round in the breast like other girls.

The word sin always rang in her ears after her talks
with Karl. Was it sin to wish to be pretty — and was
it any use? Of course her father thought she was al-
ready. "You're getting quite a pretty girl," he said
every time she came home. But he was an interested
party; Ditte would not have minded hearing it from


other people as well. She wanted of course to be a
good girl above all else, but it could never do any harm
to be rather nice-looking too !

These were the thoughts she went about with — these
and others : she no longer flew from one thing to an-
other; Ditte had time to ponder. And that she had
learnt at last. While she washed in the pools, she dis-
covered herself inch by inch — without its giving her any
great pleasure at present. There were many faults to
be found!

But by many different paths her attention was di-
verted from the outward to the inward. One day she
established the fact that she had round knees — so she
would be kind to her husband ! That was in itself a mat-
ter of course, nobody could ever say she had been un-
kind to any one; but it was a fine thing to have a tangi-
ble proof of it. One by one she became conscious of dif-
ferent sides of her nature, and sometimes this made her
really glad. She did not suffer from false modesty;
existence was poor enough without her making it any
poorer. Here comparison of herself with others was
not exactly to her disadvantage — she thought she could
stand it on the whole. But then there was the unfortu-
nate circumstance that people paid most attention to
the outside.

But in looking into herself she found other things
which did not fill her with joy, but only with strange
wonder. And sometimes they m.ade her anxious.

The sun and the wind played with her, with marked
results. There was laughter in her now; it was, so to
speak, stored up in her nature and constantly made it-


self felt as a tickling sensation, a tendency to burst out
even at serious moments. But besides the laughter
something else flitted within her like a ghost, disquieting
thoughts, sensations she could not refer to anything she
knew. Day by day she came across words and actions
which caused some change within her. A hand had
thoughtlessly taken hold of her plaits — from that day
she was conscious of her hair; It felt like something
separate, a being that demanded attention. She had to
put her hand up to It, feel if it was tidy, lift It when It
lay too close to her head, or plait It again. And out of
gratitude for the attention she gave It, It began to grow
and got thicker and softer.

A growth was going on In Ditte. She had strange
sensations, now here, now there, as though sap was
flowing rapidly to one part of her body or another.
Sometimes she felt sore all over — and dizzy; it was
growing pains, Sine thought. All day long she could
sit quietly by herself, tracing these feelings; there was
unrest in her budding breasts. She heard the talk of
the grown-ups, their obscure allusions, and she listened
in a peculiar way; she saw the behavior of the men and
girls with each other in a new light. On Saturday eve-
nings they assembled at one of the farms farther inland
and danced out of doors to a concertina; and Ditte's
heart throbbed when she stood in her little room and
tidied herself to run over and look on. Once in a
while some young fellow would catch hold of her too.
She hit out at them, but did not get angry any more — •
only frightened.

Her mistress's affairs Interested her greatly. She


was beginning to understand one thing and another,
and guessed that within this strong peasant woman hid-
den forces were at work which would not bear the light
of day and had been held down for years, but now
broke loose irresistibly. Karen Bakkegaards was in the
dangerous transition, said Sine — a mystic word which
might mean a good deal. If she came in contact with
her mistress's clothes, a queer cold thrill ran through
her and there was a tingling at the roots of her hair.
Everything and everybody was dominated by this singu-
lar possession of Karen's, Sine and the farm hands —
and the son too, in his own way; a strange look came
into their eyes, they spoke in undertones and behaved
mysteriously with covert signs and glances. This weird,
oppressive feeling haunted the whole neighborhood;
people she had never seen before came up and began to
question her — and then pulled themselves up and talked
about ordinary things. It seemed to her that every-
body was watching the Hill Farm.

It cast its shadow far and wide. When people came
together and the Hill Farm was mentioned, the talk
never left it and the theme was always the same — love
in all its secret and fateful transformations. A curious
brightness came into their eyes and all hidden things
were dragged out. Every corner bred its mystery.

Ditte absorbed it all with eyes and ears till she got
into a state of nervous tension ; a purely physical terror
would possess her and distract her mind so that she
shuddered for no reason. One day when she sat out-
side the yard at her midday milking, she discovered her
own blood on the milking-stool. She turned dizzy; no


one had ever talked to her about what was to come, she
had had no mother to lead her gently into the mystery
of Life. Now she was flung into it with brutal sudden-
ness; its symbol, blood, was connected with so many
other horrors in her scared imagination. She staggered
indoors, white v/ith terror.

In the doorway she met Karl. He asked her what
was the matter and with some difficulty got so much out
of her that he could guess the cause of her alarm. He
smiled goodnaturedly, and that reassured her; it was
pretty nearly the first time she had seen him smile. But
then he turned serious. "You mustn't worry about
that," he said, stroking her cheek; "it only means that
you'll soon be a grown-up woman."

Ditte was honestly grateful for his consolation; she
was not sorry that he should be in her confidence over
this. To her he was not exactly a man, but a human
being, a helpless one, who had often had need of her
and now lent her a helping hand in return — it was so
natural. It made no difference to their relations beyond
this, that consolation was now mutual. She too had
some one to whom she could trustfully turn when things
went badly.


DITTE had just finished feeding the four little
chaps and it had gone off well. She had laid
out the meal on a little tuft and placed them
round it; they were to learn how to sit at table instead
of tearing about with a piece of bread in their hand.
And they were to learn to help themselves from a com-
mon dish without grudging each other — that was about
the hardest thing. They liked each to have his
own share which he could sit and gloat over greedily,
or, better still, sneak off with it and devour it by him-
self like a stray dog. Ditte forced them to sit still
and eat out of the same trough. If she gave one of
them a piece, the other three followed it with greedy
looks — their eyes were more on each other's food than
on their own. Then she was down on them again; she
could not bear envy. And their envy was still shown
even when they had had their fill; Ditte remembered
the truth of Granny's saying, that God satisfies the belly
before the eyes. "You must behave nicely like Povl
and Else and Kristian," she said. "They always share
with one another, when they have anything." And by

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 7 of 23)