Martin Andersen Nexø.

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degrees they learned their lesson. The big ones didn't
run away from the little ones any more, but held them
nicely by the hand — at any rate as long as she could
keep an eye on them !



She stood up on the slope looking after them as they
trotted off home again. There were often quarrels
among them, but then they turned their heads involun-
tarily and stole a glance behind them; and as soon as
they saw that she was still standing there, they took
hands again. She laughed. "Oh, yes, I can see you!"
she nodded.

Ditte was lost in her thoughts of them when she
heard a strangely familiar sound from the direction of
the high road. A sight met her eyes coming over the top
of the hill and moving down towards her — -a cart jolt-
ing along with a big fantastic creature in the shafts, a
bag of bones in the likeness of a horse. It staggered
cautiously on with its huge shaggy feet, which looked
like worn-out brooms sweeping up the dust of the road,
and the vehicle came creaking behind. It went from
one side of the road to the other, and in the cart sat a
big figure huddled together, flicking automatically with
a long, thin stick.

Ditte jumped with joy and ran across the stubble
fields on her bare feet as if out of her senses. Lars
Peter raised his head at her call, and Big Klaus im-
perceptibly came to a standstill.

"Is that you, my girl?" he said with a smile —
strangely serious. "You see, I've got to go to town to
fetch Mother."

"But then you're going the wrong way!" Ditte gave
a ringing laugh. It was too comic that her father should
mistake the direction, when he knew the roads better
than any one else. "You're only going further and
further away!"


"Yes, 1 know that well enough. But the thing is that
Big Klaus can't possibly manage the drive — he's turned
forty now." Lars Peter gave a melancholy smile.
*'And so I came out to try and borrow another horse,
only I don't know where to turn to for it — we hardly
know anybody. I suppose it's no use coming to you?"

Ditte thought not. Karen Bakkegaards was so spite-
ful to everybody.

"There's just the chance that this affair with Jo-
hannes might have made her a bit more friendly."

No, she didn't think so at all — quite the contrary.
"You'd have done better to try at Sands Farm," she
said, "I'm sure there's somebody there who'd be glad
to lend you a horse."

"Yes, I dare say they've changed their minds about
us now we're gone. 1 don't know — somehow I had the
Hill Farm in my head; but I dare say you're right.
Only it's a shame that Big Klaus has had the drive for

Yes, there was no mistake about it, he had changed
since she last saw him. He fell asleep as he stood, with
his head hanging down. Ditte plucked some grass from
the ditch for him, but he wouldn't even smell It.

"It's harder and harder for him to feed," said Lars
Peter. "The best thing for him would be to be knocked
on the head."

He was so quiet himself to-day — there was some-
thing almost solemn in his manner; it must be because
he was going to fetch Sorine. He seemed lost in a
dream while Ditte was petting Big Klaus and trying to
put a little life into him. "Well — it's time we turned


round and went inland," he said at last, picking up the
reins. "You'll look in at home when you get a

Ditte nodded. She could do no more, in the state in
which he was.

"It's a funny kind of war your mistress is carrying
on," he said, when he had got the horse started again.

"How do you mean?" asked Ditte with interest. She
was walking alongside, holding on to the body of the

"Well, she's helping to spread scandals about herself.
It's a strange form of amusement; one would think she
had enough to keep her busy as it was. But she treats
you all right, eh ?"

Oh, yes, Ditte had nothing to complain of.

"But cut away now back to your beasts, before any-
body sees you've left them. You know what farm-
ers are like, they lend each other a hand at getting us
into trouble." He gently took her hand off the

Then Ditte let go, against her will, and ran back
across the fields; she turned round every moment and
waved; but her father was already plunged in his own
thoughts again; he did not see.

No, to tell the truth Ditte was not inclined to go
home and make a fuss over her mother's return. She
had caused her and all of them many tears and much
shame; Ditte thought she had got over it, but some of
it was still left deep down in her, and now all the old
thoughts came up to the surface again. It was her
mother's fault that they were despised and treated as


outcasts — the criminal's family ! No, she had no great
desire to go home and see her again.

But that no longer settled the question. Before, yes
— then it could simply be thrust aside by so many other
things that were more important, but now it forced its
own way into the foreground. She could not always
stay away from home — that alone gave her something
to think of. Her mother was no longer safely shut up
in prison, but had come home and would take charge of
things again. How would she set about it, and how
would she behave to the children? These were serious
questions which gave Ditte no peace.

And then an entirely new thought occurred to her —
that she was wicked and unjust. This came upon her
quite suddenly in connection with the word sin, which
haunted her thoughts after her talks with Karl; she
had never regarded her relations with her mother from
that point of view before. She was forced to think oi
her father, of his solemn seriousness when she met him
on the road, and his melancholy tenderness in all that
concerned Serine; and she could not help comparing
him with herself. There was nothing in Lars Peter's
example that taught her to hit one who was down. For
the first time she understood the extent of her father's
conciliatory spirit, and she was ashamed. How much
he had suffered through Serine! And yet he kept his
home ready to receive her, had preserved it for years
as a sanctuary where she could take refuge. — One day
she fell to longing for home and the feeling was so
strong that it made her cry.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Karl when she


came home in the middle of the day, red and tear-

"I want so much to go home," she said.

"Then run off after dinner, "he said — "I'll look after
the cattle. She's not at home, she's gone to town." He
didn't like saying "Mother" now.

Sorine was standing in the kitchen washing up when
Ditte came. Her freckled arms were shockingly thin
and her hands were strangely clumsy, as though she
had never washed up before. Her cheeks were hollow,
pale and patchy, and her face did not reflect the light.
She glared at Ditte with the eyes of a stranger — like
a frightened animal, Ditte thought — then dried herself
on her apron and reached out a clammy hand. Ditte
took it v/ithout looking at her.

They stood facing each other for a while, not know-
ing what to do. Ditte's heart softened and she was
ready to cry; if her mother had made the slightest ad-
vance she could have thrown herself into her arms.
But Sorine did not stir. "Father and the children are
down at the harbor," she said at last, in a voice that
had neither warmth nor tone in it. Ditte went down
there, glad of the chance to get away.

Lars Peter was standing in the hold of the decked
boat, cleaning up; the children sat on the wharf. He
pulled himself up through the hatch and came ashore.
"It was uncommon nice of you to come down home,"
he said with glad emotion, giving her his hand.

"Oh, there's nothing to thank me for," said
Ditte with a wry face; she was ready to burst


out crying, suddenly overwhelmed by the way he
took it.

"Oh yes, it was good of you — for you had no call to
do it," he said, putting his arm round her shoulder.
"Anybody would have understood if you had kept
away. Have you said how d'ye do to Mother?"

Ditte nodded. She was not yet quite sure of herself;
if she had opened her mouth to answer, it might have
been too much for her. And she was not going to howl
any more — not at any price ! It was only children who
cried — and half-grown girls !

Lars Peter sat down on a bollard and pulled off his
long wooden-soled boots; they reached up over the
thighs and it wasn't done without some groaning.
"We're beginning to get stiff," he said, wincing — "and
then there's this pain in the joints. It's either old age
coming on or else it means that one can't stand the

"Well, what do you think about Mother?" he asked
as they sauntered up. "She's a little strange to it all
yet," he continued as Ditte did not answer — "but you
can't wonder at that — after being shut up all those
years. She must have been glad to see you. — Well,
perhaps you couldn't notice it, she don't quite know how
to find words for it yet. But one can see well enough
that she has warm feelings for us all the same. Thank
God we've got her home again ! And now you'll be a
little kind to her, won't you? — she wants it; folks here
don't look at her very friendly. They'd rather she'd
stayed where she was — so we've got to see and be a
bit good to her."


Sonne had the coffee ready. Lars Peter took It as a
kindness and looked at her gratefully, he was in a good
humor. She went about silently looking after
them, like a stranger, almost like a ghost; an
impenetrable atmosphere separated her from the
others. The children had not yet got accustomed to
her; that could be seen in their eyes, which followed
every one of her movements suspiciously. And she
herself had a sort of look of having fallen unawares
from a world where everybody was quite differently
constructed. Ditte wondered whether she saw and
heard anything at all of what went on around her;
even her eyes did not disclose whether she followed
their talk. It was not easy to guess what she thought
about it all.

Towards evening Ditte had to leave again; Lars
Peter went along the road with her. "Don't you think
Mother's changed?" he asked when they had got be-
yond the sandhills.

"She looks poorly," Ditte answered, avoiding the
question; she was not sure that Serine had grown any
more affection from being shut up.

"Yes, the air in there has pulled her down. But In
her nature too she's different — she doesn't scold
any more."

"What does she say to things in the hamlet here — ■
the innkeeper and all that? And to our selling the
Crow's Nest?"

"Well, what does she say? She really doesn't say
anything, but goes about silently from morning till
night. And she won't sleep in the room with the rest


of us — she's shy of company now. It's difficult to get
her out of doors too, she'll only go out in the evening.
All the same it seems to me that she's more contented —
with me too."

"What about the neighbors?" asked Ditte.

"Ah, the neighbors, they give the house a wide
berth. And the children come running up and stare in
at the door — I don't know if it's the parents that send
them. If they catch sight of Mother, they rush away
squalling as if the devil was after them. That doesn't
help her to get settled down again."

"They think she's got a mark branded on her fore-
head," Ditte explained. She had believed it herself and
was surprised to find it was not so. "Has nobody
asked you out?" she asked.

"No, not yet. But some day we shall see one or an-
other of them come in to say good-day — when they've
got used to the situation. There's more than one that
would like to do it, but they daren't because of the

Lars Peter looked at Ditte in expectation of her con-
firming this hope, but she said nothing. And her silence
was equal to many words; she didn't look at the pros-
pect very brightly.

"I'm a little afraid myself that it won't work," he
began again; "but then, we'll just have to find another
place. The world's big enough, and after all there's
nothing to boast of here. We shan't miss much by
moving. Only it's a shame that one has had to put up
with being fleeced of everything; it won't be easy to
begin again from the beginning."


"But won't you get your money back when we go?'*

"Oh no. The innkeeper's not the man to give up
anything when once he's laid his dead hand on it.
Especially now, when he's said to be in difficulties

"The innkeeper? With all his money?"

"Yes, it staggers you — and plenty more too, I expect.
No, the truth is, he owes money to the banks and such
like; it's all borrowed, they say. That's why he's not
building the hotel, the banks won't lend him the money.
We thought he owned the whole place, but far from it.
They say he's hard put to it to meet his bills; last
quarter day they even expected him to go smash. And
that explains why he's hard on others."

"Then what pleasure can he get out of it all? He
might just as well have let us keep what was ours."

"No, I shouldn't think there was much pleasure to
be got that way; but it must answer to something in his
nature. Just now the brisling is pretty thick off the
shore here; so thick that you can take them up by the
bucketful. It's the mackerel that's driving them in;
they're out there in shoals, eating their way through
the crowd and pushing them on. And beyond them
again there's the seal and the porpoise eating up the
mackerel and driving them in. That's the way it does
here too, 1 should think; he sweats us, and others sweat
him and the likes of him again. I'd like to know
whether there's anybody higher up that eats

"It's quite strange," said Ditte. She had never
imagined any one above the innkeeper.


"Ah, strange It is! You might say it's one devil
ruling another. But it does one good to think that
when all's said and done, he's no better off than the rest
of us. It looks as if there was a scrap of justice in
it, small though it may be."


WHEN Ditte got home, the yard was full
of strangers. Karl stood outside in the
meadow, looking out as if he expected her.
"It's a good thing you're back," he said feverishly.
''Mother's come home — with a whole party. She's so
mad about your running away without leave."

"But I did nothing of the sort," Ditte objected in

*'No, but that's what she thinks. Hurry up now by
the back way into the scullery and get to work, and
then perhaps she won't notice. Or else she'll do noth-
ing but scold." He was quite nervous.

"But why didn't you say you'd given me leave to run
home?" asked Ditte.

"I didn't dare to, because — " he stood shifting his
feet, foolish and miserable.

Ditte went in through the gate and across the yard,
she didn't like back ways. If she was in for a rowing,
she would just take it. — Sine was busy. "Thank good-
ness you've come and can lend a hand," she said; "I'm
pretty near out of my wits. But you can thank your
stars you weren't here an hour ago ; the mistress was so
wild that she promised to thrash you. And of course
that skunk Karl must keep his mouth shut about giving
you leave to go."



"Oh, he — " Ditte curled her upper lip in scorn.
"But let her just try beating me, and I'll kick her shins
with my wooden shoes."

"Goodness, child, are you crazy? — why her legs are
full of varicose veins 1 Suppose you kicked a hole in
them and she bled to death." Sine was quite

"Well, what then? I shouldn't care," said Ditte.

Ditte was put to wash up. She was angry with her
mistress for wanting to thrash her, with Karl for leav-
ing her in the lurch, with the children at the village for
not leaving her mother alone — with everything. She
rattled the things unnecessarily as she washed them,
and might easily smash something; Sine had to tell her
to keep quiet. But the girl heard nothing; she had
taken a regular fit, little bit of a thing as she was — it
was quite funny! Sine had to take her firmly by the
arm before she would behave. "Ugh, I'm so wild!"
she said.

Sine laughed aloud. "Then somebody else has more
reason to be wild ! They come running out into the
kitchen one after the other, giving orders — and they
have some cheek. One would think the mistress had
taken leave of her senses. She generally lets you know
who gives the orders in this house."

All the same Karl was the one Ditte was angriest
with. He wouldn't come indoors, but walked about the
yard, calling out that he protested, found one job after
another to do — and looked wretched. When he was
quite sure nobody saw him, he shook his fist at the
.parlor windows. Yes, he was the right one to clench


his fists ! Ditte felt inclined to go out and ask him if
he'd like to borrow a petticoat.

No, there was something wrong with the mistress
to-day. She came out into the kitchen, red in the face
and with her skirts tucked up; her hair was in disorder
and stuck up like a stallion's mane. Johannes came
running after her, and this matronly woman, old
enough to be a grandmother, romped with him like any
giddy wench. It didn't suit her. She must have been
drinking freely — she didn't see Ditte at all.

Directly afterwards Karl appeared at the scullery
door — he had been just outside in the dusk and had
seen it all. He made a sign to Ditte. "You mustn't
laugh at it," he begged them — "I can't bear it!" He
looked pitiable. — Ditte forgot her anger in an instant.
"No, we won't," she said, touching his hand. "It isn't
anything to laugh at either. But you go to bed now —
then you'll forget it all."

He went outside again and began walking up and
down under the lighted windows, like a sick dog. Ditte
saw him there every time she ran to the pump for
water — and threw him a word as she passed. Once
she put her pail down and ran up to him. "Go to bed,
do you hear?" she said, taking his arm and trying to
prevail upon him.

"I can't," he answered, half crying, "Mother said
I was to stay up and put the horses in."

"Pooh! let them do that themselves. You're not
their slave."

"I daren't; Mother would be in such a rage. — Oh,


I'm such a wretched coward — I daren't do anything."

Ditte pressed his hand to let him know she bore him
no ill will, and ran off.

At about eleven o'clock Sine sent her to bed. "You
must be dead tired after your long walk," she said.
"And you were up early this morning too — off with
you now !" She made short work of Ditte's protests
by pushing her out of the kitchen.

Yes, Ditte was tired, sure enough, so tired that she
was on the point of collapsing. She stood hesitating
for a moment in the dark scullery — out in the yard Karl
was walking about in his wretchedness, he might be in
need of a kind word. But what if he came In with her
and sat on the edge of her bed and talked — ^that hap-
pened sometimes when he was in low spirits and wanted
consolation. Ditte was too tired to talk; the thought
of having to keep awake any longer positively made
her feel sick. For once selfishness triumphed; she sacri-
ficed another's need to her own and stole by the back
way over to her little room.

Ditte sat for a while on the edge of the bed with her
eyes shut. The powerful impressions of the day were
working in her — and her tiredness; she was so dead
beat that she reeled. Then she pulled herself together
with a jerk, slipped out of her clothes in a second and
jumped into bed. It was good to get Into the cool bed-
clothes and lose one's self, fairly sink in a luxury of
tiredness. As soon as she had put her cheek on the
pillow and turned her thoughts to something nice, she
would be off.


As your thoughts are, so are your dreams, Granny
used to say. And Ditte wanted to dream of something
pretty — and wake with her mind full of vague sweet-
ness after dreams that only lasted as long as the fleeting
shreds of morning mist, vanishing before the light of
day. At this time she used often to dream about the
prince who was to come and take her away to his
father's castle — as Granny had foretold in the spinning-
song. In the daytime there were no princes — at any
rate not for a poor girl like Ditte; but at night the
prince really existed and came and asked her hand of
Granny. That was just the splendid thing about
dreams, that they took you and lifted you up into the
light, so that you could see everything from above.
But they were not free from troubles all the same, for
he didn't think she was pretty. "No, because the most
beautiful thing about her is inside," said Granny — "she
has a heart of gold."

"Gold?'.' said the prince, opening his eyes wide.
"Let me see !" Then Granny opened and showed him
Ditte's heart. "But we don't like doing it," she said;
"it might easily get dusty."

And the prince was pleased — for he knew all about
gold. He took her by the hand and sang a verse of
Granny's song:

"And if it's for a little child she's cried her poor eyes

Spin, spin away; and spin, spin away!
Then she shall sit in state with servants all about,

Falderille, falderille, ray, ray, ray!"


"But that's about Granny herself," said Ditte in
despair, letting go his hand — -for she was annoyed
about it.

"That doesn't matter," said Granny, joining their
hands again — "just you take him. My turn will come
all in good time. And the song was made for both
of us."

Ditte opened her eyes in the dark and felt to her
great joy that she really had a warm hand in hers.
Somebody was sitting on the edge of her bed and feel-
ing for her face. "Is that you, Karl?" she asked — not
a bit afraid but a trifle disappointed.

"Now they've gone, that crew!" he said. "They
were drunk and made a fearful noise. 1 don't under-
stand how you could sleep with it going on. They
wanted to give me two crowns for a tip because I put
the horses in; but I'm not going to take their dirty
money. I told them they could give it back to those
they'd cheated out of it. And they very nearly hit me
for that."

"That was the right thing to tell them," said Ditte
laughing. "They well deserved it."

But Karl was not in a mood to join in her laughter.
He sat in the dark holding her hand, but said nothing;
Ditte could feel how his sad thoughts gnawed and
gnawed within him. "Now you're not to think about
it any more," she said — "it doesn't make things any
better. It's only stupid to be sorry all the time."

^'She wasn't out there when they went," he said ab-
sently, apparently not having heard what she had been
saying. "Perhaps she simply couldn't come out."


"Why, what do you mean?" asked Ditte, suddenly
becoming anxious.

"Oh — she keeps pace with them when they're drink-
ing, you see. It's likely enough she — " His head
sank on her breast and he shook with heavy sobs.

Ditte threw her arms round his neck, stroked his
hair and said comforting things to him, as if he were a
little child. "There, there, be a man now," she said.
And when her consolation failed, she made room for
him by her side and took his head on her breast.
"Now you're going to be sensible like a man," she said.
"Why need you worry about anything? you can go
away and leave it all behind." Her child's heart beat
against his cheek, laden with sympathy.

By degrees she calmed him down; they lay talking
together in undertones, quite happily — and suddenly
began to laugh when they found they had their heads
under the bedclothes and were whispering. That took
away the last of Karl's melancholy; he began to tickle
her and got quite lively. "You mustn't do that or I
shall scream," she said seriously, trying to find his

Her kiss quieted him; and all at once he seized her
in his arms and drew her violently to him. Ditte de-
fended herself, but had to yield to the strength of his
embrace; she felt so weak all over.

"Now you're hurting me," she said, and began
to cry.


DITTE sat under the high bank at the edge of
the field, and tried to shield herself from the
Scotch mist. The cattle grazed down below.
They were for the most part hidden by the thick fleecy
mist, but she could hear them munching through the
fog: they did not care to go far away from her in
such weather.

The animals' coats were dripping, and the bramble

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 8 of 23)