Martin Andersen Nexø.

Ditte, daughter of Man online

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bushes over her head were pearly gray with dewdrops.
If she moved ever so little, they rained down on her.
But she had no desire to move, only sat quite still,
wishing herself quieter yet under the ground. Big
drops hung on her eyelashes, as big as those swinging
from the tip of every low-hanging leaf. Now and
again one fell on her cheek, sometimes from a leaf,
sometimes from her own lashes; it was not easy to tell
which was which, and she did not even try. Only when
one fell right into her mouth, then she knew well
enough where it came from. She sat crouched up on
the edge of the bank, cross-legged and with her bare,
wet feet peeping out from under her skirt; blades of
grass stuck out between her toes, and the soles were
swollen and blistered with the wet. One hand she held
over her mouth, and bit her knuckles, and she sat staring



straight in front of her without even blinking. She
seemed as if turned to stone.

She felt a vibration, and heard steps down below in
the field — Karl's ! A little life awoke in her, and she
looked around. To her tearful glance everything
seemed broken, as if the whole world had smashed into
a thousand pieces. She raised her face and looked up
€Xf>ectantly. "Now he will take me in his arms, and
kiss me !" thought she, but did not change her position.

But Karl flung himself down beside her. They sat
awhile, each looking out into the mist, then his hand
sought hers among the grass. "Are you angry with
-»ne?" he asked.

She shook her head. "You could not help being so
unhappy," said she. She looked away from him and
her lip quivered.

Karl bent forward to try to meet her glance, but had
to give it up. "I have prayed all night to the Lord to
forgive my sin, and I believe He has done so," said
■he spiritlessly.

"Ah!" Ditte heard him speak, but the words did
not reach her inner consciousness. It was a matter of
such perfect indifference to her what he arranged with
the Lord.

"But if you like I will stand forth and confess the
whole to the Brethren," said he.

She turned hastily towards him; life and hope had
come into her expression again. "Do you think the
schoolmaster is coming here again?" She too could
confide in him.

"No, I meant the Brethren," he answered.


Well, as to that, he could do as he liked. It did not
concern her at all.

Shortly after he got up and went, and Ditte sat for-
lornly alone. He had not kissed her, and yet they be-
longed to each other, unhappily united in the common
bonds of what is called sin. She had already begun to
find qualities in him that she could not look up to, and
she needed to find something to admire in him to excuse
herself, needed to love him to account for what had
happened between them. He was no longer exclusively
the child needing her comfort. He had taken posses-
sion of her, so that she felt she could never get away
from him. And yet he went away, as if nothing but
disagreeable annoying things lay between them. Ditte
stared uncomprehendingly after him.

The day became darker yet. She could go and have
ever such a free, careless time, busy herself with dif-
ferent occupations, and sit and chatter with the day
laborer's children; but all the time that would be there
at the back of her mind, like a creature that had put the
Evil Eye on one. If she as much as smiled it could
reach out a black hand whenever it felt like it, and blot
the smile out. And sometimes it overwhelmed her al-
together. So there was no savor in life, all was black
and gloomy, and she had only one wish, — that she could
thrust away all that had happened and be as she had
been before; throw herself at some one's feet and
grovel there to beg forgiveness for her sin. It would
be a long time before she could win back her peace of
mind enough to creep back into her careless girlish
world of dreams again.


Ah, but it was difficult to stop up the gap in the fence
once broken down ! Ditte knew that from experience
out in the pastures, and could see that it was the same
here. She had taken the care of another upon her
shoulders, and in that there was nothing out of the way,
for as long as she could remember demands had been
made upon her mother instinct and fostering care. She
had had to devote all her strength to smoothing the
way for others, till helping them became a fixed habit.

Now, however, she would gladly have had a little
free time. It was summer, and the sunshine had
warmed Ditte's blood, and had hunted out all cares and
worries, and kindled a secret desire for life and enjoy-
ment. Every Saturday evening there was dancing,
sometimes at Sea Hill and sometimes at some other
farm, and Ditte was always there. It v/as the first
time she had been to real dances, and enjoyed them
thoroughly — just as happy to dance with one of her girl
friends as with a fellow. The dance itself was her de-
light and she would shut her eyes and let herself be
borne away into the whirling throng.

But it was not easy to avoid Karl : he used to lie con-
cealed somewhere outside the farm, and watch for her,
begging and praying her so earnestly not to go. Ditte
did not care a pin what he said about sin and that kind
of thing; but still it was hard to resist him now, so she
would turn round and go home to the farm. If only
he would have taken her for a walk. They might have
gone along the beach to the fishing hamlet, a road
where one never met any one. But he never thought of
such a thing.


She would humbug him by pretending to go to bed,
and steal out the other way. And when a dance hap-
pened to fall on one of the days he went to meeting
she was delighted.

Karl was really troublesome, the most trouble-
some person she had yet had to do with. He had
nothing better to do than hang about and keep
a jealous eye on her, and always wanted to know
where she was so as to be able to come to her
with his troubles. He was just a spoilt child who
would not be dictated to. He was sick at heart, tired
of himself, of his mother and of the whole world.
Ditte was the only one who could get him to smile and
hold up his head once more. She was proud of this
little success, and took no end of trouble with him,
tried to manage him and make the best of things for
both herself and him.

He never entered her little room again, not even by
day; he was afraid. But sometimes he came by night
and knocked softly at the door, and dead tired as she
was, she had to get up and dress.

"It hurts me so here !" he would say, putting both
hands to the back of his head. Then they would
steal through the hollow lane down to the beach, and
sit upon the big boulders, talking and listening to the
monotonous splash of the waves. He was not loqua-
cious, it was usually Ditte who chattered away. He
would listen intently till now and then a pious fit came
over him, and he would begin to reprove her. "You
are still so worldly !" was his usual reproach.

"Then you can just let me alone !" Ditte would re-


tort indignantly. And then each would go their
own way.

One Saturday evening there was the final dance of
the season at an inn half an hour's walk inland. The
long clear nights were over; it was the middle of Au-
gust, dark and windy at night, and the summer dances
were over for that year.

Ditte got leave to go and get ready as soon as the
supper things were washed up; Sine was so good
natured in sparing Ditte all she could and taking the
evening work herself. Ditte put on her new homespun
dress, never as yet worn, tied her plaits with a blue rib-
bon and wound them round her head. She wanted to
be smart that evening — and grown-up ! Luckily Karl
was at a meeting, but to be quite sure of avoiding him,
she took a field path which led behind the farm to the
village. She was happy and hummed a tune as she
walked along. It was true that a dark shadow still
clouded her mind, but it was like a bad tooth, that had
stopped aching. It did not hurt if only it was left alone.

The fun was at its height when she got there. The
musicians had not turned up, so they were playing
games with dancing in them, and singing their own
accompaniment. There were both young and old from
the farms, servants, and some lads from the workshops
in the village : the farmers never came to these dances,
they thought themselves above that. The dancers were
circling round singing: "See who is in the midst of the
ring!" Ditte sprang quickly into the ring, and took
hold of tvv'o hands; she found that she was between
two lads, but to-night she was neither timid nor bash-


ful — now she was grown up ! She sang out loud, and
waited anxiously to see if any of the fellows in the ring
would come and choose her: it was exciting and her
heart beat fast. Every one could judge from the num-
ber of times a girl was chosen, just how popular she
was. There were girls who went on dancing the whole
time, who scarcely got time to tie up their shoestrings!

It happened that Ditte was picked out immediately.
Perhaps it was just a lucky chance, but she beamed with
delight when she was brought back again to the ring.
This beaming delight, the glow in her eyes, her enjoy-
ment and sense of importance gave a new dignity to
her bearing as she danced on the grass and made her
seem beautiful. Every one could see it. Once again a
half grown girl had cast off her childish ways, and en-
tered the ranks of the maidens to compete for the apple
of beauty, to try and win it; all clustered round her
when the time came to take partners for the dance.

Was Ditte's head quite turned that evening? Per-
haps there were not nearly so many after her as she
herself imagined. But at all events she was among the
young girls who were invited into the inn to drink
coffee with the men.

When she came out again, it was quite dark. The
Innkeeper had hung a lamp from the gable window
which lit up the grass and they danced in that light.
There was a red-cheeked lad who had kept near her
the whole evening, but had not danced; now under
cover of the darkness he dared to come forward. Ditte
liked him; he had firm, warm hands that took hold of
hers without an afterthought, and his breath smelt of


youth, and of buttermilk, like a child's. But he was
bashful, and indulged in foolish antics in the dance to
carry off his embarrassment, so that the others stopped
dancing to laugh. "Now we will stop!" said Ditte,
laughing herself at his performance. He would not
let her go, but went on twirling her round, and suddenly
kissed her. Then he let go of her in alarm, and rushed
out of the light, into the dark, amid the laughter of the
others. They could hear him still running for a
long time.

Ditte stole away from the dance before it was fin-
ished, to escape being taken home by one of her part-
ners. She knew that the fellow who took a girl home
expected something from her in return, and she wanted
to be free and her own mistress. When she had gone
a short way the red-cheeked lad sprang up, as if he had
shot up from the ditch where he was lying, and came
to meet her.

"May 1 take you home to-night?" he asked, a little
uncertainly. "Yes, that you may," answered Ditte;
she was not afraid of him. They walked along si-
lently — it was his place to amuse her, but he only
walked along with his head turned away. Ditte liked
him well enough and would willingly have taken his

"May I — may I go home with you another evening
too?" he asked at last.

"I can't say now, but it's possible!" replied Ditte

"May I — may I tell any one else?"

No, Ditte did not like the idea of that. "They


would only talk nonsense and say we are sweethearts,'*
she answered.

"Will — will you give me a kiss then?" He stopped
and gazed intently at the ground.

Ditte kissed him quietly and thoughtfully. Then
they continued their way, holding each other's hands
now, but not speaking a word. At the farm Ditte
stopped. "Good-night !" she said.

"Good-night, then !" he answered. They stood for
a moment holding hands and then their lips met — they
kissed like two loving children. But the kiss lasted
too long and became too serious for them both, so
they suddenly left off and began blowing each in the
other's face, and laughing. Mogens turned round and
began to run. She could hear his quick trot for a
long time, and soon he broke out singing. Yes, Ditte
liked him well.

Karl was sitting on the chopping block outside her
door waiting. Ditte pretended not to hear or see
him, and made straight for her door; she wanted to
be free of his jeremiads for once. He came after
her. "You have been to a dance," he said

Ditte did not answer; It had nothing to do with him
where she had been. She stood with her hand on the

"I have been to a dance too. I have looked into
heaven, and seen God's little winged angels before
the Lamb at the foot of the throne. Will you come
down to the beach with me, and I will tell you about


No, Ditte was tired and wanted to go to bed; It
was too late.

"Will you answer me one thing?" he asked in deadly
earnest. "Is it I who has led you into sin?"

"I am not in sin," said Ditte, stamping her foot and
ready to cry. "Will you just let me alone, or I will
call your mother and tell her everything." He stood
staring uncomprehendingly for a moment, then turned
on his heel and went down to the beach.

Ditte lay awake with a conscience that pricked her.
But it was really no good, she would have to see about
getting rid of him. It was too stupid If she could
not even dance on account of Karl. Then she began
to think of Mogens, his happy trot sounded still in
her ears. It reminded her of Kristian, who could never
walk quietly either, but always galloped along.


IT was said of the son and heir at Hill Farm that
he was born with wrinkles in his forehead. "He
has inherited a heavy burden; it's wonderful he's
as good as he is!" they said. He was, in fact, a liv-
ing witness to the curse. But the brothers out in the
world had nothing the matter with them: they were
quite all right. And the people who worked on the
farm and stayed there any length of time came in for
a share of the curse in one way or another. That
was one of the curious ways of the inherited family
curse — it skipped over the family and fell upon
strangers. Sine was certainly a bit cracked too, red-
cheeked and fresh and frightened of all men-folk as
she was. Was it natural for a girl as pretty as she
was to show her claws directly a man appeared on the
scene and to take delight in nothing but her savings
bank book? Every one knew what a dissolute beast
Rasmus Rytter had become through being at the farm
all his days, and now the little lass had caught the evil
spirit too — in her own way! She had come running
half crazy to the village one night, and hammered on
a door like a wild hunted creature, and when cross-
questioned as to what ailed her, could give no explana-
tion. It was incomprehensible !

As to the Hill Farm, the trouble was that the same



race had lived in it too long, generation after genera-
tion. It was never properly cleared up and done up
anew. New blood there was in as far as they married
strangers and brought them home to the farm, and
now and again another person was smuggled into the
nest — the Hill Farm folk were never so very particu-
lar regarding the sanctity of the marriage bond. But
it was never cleared up any the more for that; the
farm lay just as it had always done, with all its old
traditions, these and the old stories, the old customs,
and the old habits Vv^ere handed down from generation
to generation both in dealing and in living by word
of mouth, diluted occasionally by the new incomers.
The walls were steeped in it, and the bedding that
had been also handed down from immemorial times
was heavy and noisome with it. A fire would have
worked wonders there, and one or two had tried to
give Providence a helping hand to get it cleaned up in
that way in the course of centuries, but it was always
in vain, the Hill Farm simply could not burn! The
same atmosphere, the same smell, the same sickly close-
ness continued to steep and infect all the air round
the farm, growing steadily worse as the decay went
on. Sickness and penury and shifty and crooked deal-
ings were good enough for them and carried on the
tradition of the family.

Karen had silver beakers dated 1756, and the tu-
berculosis germs in the old feather beds were enough in
themselves to turn the atmosphere In the farm house
to that of a century-old midden. Folk went about their
daily work amid the refuse of foregoing generations,


drew from it both their sustenance and their death.
Life vegetated upon a churchyard, where sweat, and
hard labor and crime formed the soil.

Ditte noticed the stupefying atmosphere. Her
home had happily been free of all that oppressiveness
of old things, they had their future ahead of them.
In spite of all adversities it gave existence a certain,
freshness to feel that it was the future that lay before
them, that they breathed in what one might call the
new time, where there had been no life as yet. The
rag and bone man's people had no inheritance to ex-
pect from either side, so they quickly set their fore-
bears to one side. And It became a good habit among
them in various ways to put a stroke through what
had happened and only concern themselves with the
future. Lars Peter always thought that it was stupid
to keep up old prejudices and old sicknesses, and said
as much when any one began to revive the past. They
had to do as the gipsies did when they made a roast
hare out of a stolen cat, — they first thrashed all the
cat-poison out of the cat into its tail, and then cut it

Ditte had a stout little heart where everyday adversi-
ties were concerned. These she could contend with
and get the best of. But here the darkness was the
worst, everything had deep fixed roots and was haunted
by the spirit of the past. She could understand Karl's
distress at his mother's goings-on; that was some-
thing one could discuss, and it was possible to drive
away this grief when one was lucky. But the con-
tinual gloom that hung over his mind, — his misery


over nothing at all, she could not grasp. And trying
to bring comfort here was like making a hole in the
sand to hold water, — it filled up just as quickly again
from the bottom. It was a quite impossible task to
keep up his spirits.

But she could not let him go either. She could not
prevent herself from thinking of him and worrying
over his conduct; that was her nature. Poor folks
were like little birds : existence for them readily shaped
Itself to that of the cuckoo young In the sparrow's
nest, whose whole daily business was to gape and gape
and stuff Its Insatiable beak. Whether Ditte would or
no, she had to bear the whole burden of a world she
had no part nor lot In, there was no way out of It. If
only he had been a little child ! Then she could have
taken him In her arms, played with him and talked,
nicely to him till he smiled and forgot It all.

So Ditte fought the fight for him whether she would
or no, and fought It so long that the Darkness closed
over her again. There was no love to bridge the gulf,
no caresses to form a bond between them : he only
sought her to find shelter against the darkness when
he was gloomy and despairing himself. And she could
think of no better way than to take him to her arms
again and comfort him as best she could. This was
not the time to think of herself and go on her guard
when another human being was unhappy. It was late
in the autumn when this happened again, and the same
night she rushed out to the village and hammered on
a door.

It was a terrible dilemma : they were not even sweet-


hearts in secret! She had only sacrificed herself —
offered more than she possessed, and despoiled her
breast of the feathery down to keep him warm. All
day long she went about in a maze, her heart full of
sorrow and wonder — remorse gnawed at her child's
mind. When she spoke seriously to Karl about it, the
same regret smote him also, and he began to weep and
accuse himself, and behave like a madman. Then she
had to try and calm him again. There was no way
out of it!

It became impossible to bear alone, and she wished
with all her heart that she had some one to confide
in. She could not dream of Sorine as a confident: and
Lars Peter had enough to trouble him — besides he was
a man ! Then there w^as the mistress. There were
times when Ditte thought she would die if she could
not tell some grown-up person about it; she could not
bear the burden alone !

When she related this feeling to Karl in her serious,
almost old-fashioned way, he became quite beside him-
self and behaved like a lunatic; his eyes started out of
his head with fright.

"You ought not to be so much afraid of your
mother," said Ditte, "it is her fault! But we will go
to her and tell her that she must be different, or she
will make us unhappy."

"Then 1 will go to the threshing floor and hang my-
self!" said he, threateningly.

For many days he kept away from her, neither did
he speak when they met at their work, but went about
with lips pressed firmly together as if he had sworn


a holy oath. But his glance met hers, beggin and
imploring, and Ditte understood and was silent. She
was sorry for him, he had no one to go to in his need.

So the autumn passed and the greater part of the
winter too, a hard and difficult time for her. There
were not many bright spots; just the visitors at the
house, and also the fact that Karen of the Hill Farm,
contrary to every one's expectations, had decided to
marry Johannes. Karl took this desperately to heart,
but Ditte was as pleased as a child. "You ought to
be glad too," she said to Karl to justify her delight,
"when they are sweethearting all the time !" Ditte
had never been to a wedding before and the date was
fixed for June.

Ditte was nearing her seventeenth birthday. These
seventeen summers had shown her the tough side of
existence. She had worked and slaved ever since she
was little, first for her small sister and brothers,
brought them up, and taken a mother's place towards
them. When she left home, she had borne the burden
of a grown-up person. That was over, — she could
straighten her back now.

And she had scarcely let the little ones down from
her lap, when she had to begin again on her own ac-
count. A new burden, heavier than anything she had
borne before, began to stir under her little ill-used

Other folks noticed it before she did herself, and
looked at her with curious eyes; but she went about
like a bewildered child and comprehended nothing of
it. Sine said nothing, but gazed sadly at her and


sighed: she spared her as much as possible in the work,
and Ditte giaessed why. Many things only corrobo-
rated the same terrible fact — a human being had
brought her nothing but pain to comfort himself and
now she was to have a child as a punishment into the

One day when she went into the brewery she was
overcome by violent sickness. Sine had to hold her
forehead, her frail body seemed about to break In two.
"Ah, poor little thing!" said Sine. "You had bet-
ter not have danced so much last summer. I thought
something like this would happen, you were so mad set
on going!"

"It has nothing to do with the dancing!" said Ditte
sobbing. Cold sweat stood on her forehead and upper

"Well, well, that has nothing to do with me! But
go and get on with your work now, so that the mis-
tress doesn't find out anything about it."

Ah, dancing, dancing! If only she could have
danced herself Into having a child ! She had heard a
story of a girl who had danced herself into having
one, and the expression had lingered in her memory
like a beautiful verse. No, she had never been afraid
to dance because of that! If she had to have children,
and Granny had prophesied that she would get them
easily, she would prefer to dance to get them.

She was a prey to despair and confusion : she thought
that everybody stared at her and behaved strangely,
almost rudely to her. Karl held himself aloof: how-
ever much she tried it was never possible to get a word

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Online LibraryMartin Andersen NexøDitte, daughter of Man → online text (page 9 of 23)