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Martin Andersen Nexö

 

DITTE: GIRL ALIVE!

BY
MARTIN ANDERSON NEXOe

_Translated from the Danish_

NEW YORK
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1920
BY
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

 

 

CONTENTS

PART I

CHAPTER PAGE

I DITTE'S FAMILY TREE 3

II BEFORE THE BIRTH 10

III A CHILD IS BORN 22

IV DITTE'S FIRST STEP 26

V GRANDFATHER STRIKES OUT AFRESH 33

VI THE DEATH OF SOeREN MAN 39

VII THE WIDOW AND THE FATHERLESS 47

VIII WISE MAREN 52

IX DITTE VISITS FAIRYLAND 69

X DITTE GETS A FATHER 79

XI THE NEW FATHER 87

XII THE RAG AND BONE MAN 103

XIII DITTE HAS A VISION 115

XIV AT HOME WITH MOTHER 124

XV RAIN AND SUNSHINE 138

XVI POOR GRANNY 144

XVII WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY 151

XVIII THE RAVEN FLIES BY NIGHT 163

XIX ILL LUCK FOLLOWS THE RAVEN'S CALL 172

 

PART II

CHAPTER PAGE

I MORNING AT THE CROW'S NEST 183

II THE HIGHROAD 192

III LARS PETER SEEKS THE KING 203

IV LITTLE MOTHER DITTE 219

V THE LITTLE VAGABOND 230

VI THE KNIFE-GRINDER 239

VII THE SAUSAGE-MAKER 250

VIII THE LAST OF THE CROW'S NEST 267

IX A DEATH 284

X THE NEW WORLD 291

XI GINGERBREAD HOUSE 303

XII DAILY TROUBLES 311

XIII DITTE'S CONFIRMATION 320

 

 

PART I

 

CHAPTER I

DITTE'S FAMILY TREE

It has always been considered a sign of good birth to be able to
count one's ancestors for centuries back. In consequence of this,
Ditte Child o' Man stood at the top of the tree. She belonged to one
of the largest families in the country, the family of Man.

No genealogical chart exists, nor would it be easy to work it out;
its branches are as the sands of the sea, and from it all other
generations can be traced. Here it cropped out as time went on--then
twined back when its strength was spent and its part played out. The
Man family is in a way as the mighty ocean, from which the waves
mount lightly towards the skies, only to retreat in a sullen flow.

According to tradition, the first mother of the family is said to
have been a field worker who, by resting on the cultivated ground,
became pregnant and brought forth a son. And it was this son who
founded the numerous and hardy family for whom all things prospered.
The most peculiar characteristic of the Man family in him was that
everything he touched became full of life and throve.

This boy for a long time bore the marks of the clinging earth, but
he outgrew it and became an able worker of the field; with him began
the cultivation of the land. That he had no father gave him much
food for thought, and became the great and everlasting problem of
his life. In his leisure he created a whole religion out of it.

He could hold his own when it came to blows; in his work there was
no one to equal him, but his wife had him well in hand. The name Man
is said to have originated in his having one day, when she had
driven him forth by her sharp tongue, sworn threateningly that he
was master in his own house, "master" being equivalent to "man."
Several of the male members of this family have since found it hard
to bow their pride before their women folk.

A branch of the family settled down on the desert coast up near the
Cattegat, and this was the beginning of the hamlet. It was in those
times when forest and swamp still made the country impassable, and
the sea was used as a highway. The reefs are still there on which
the men landed from the boats, carrying women and children ashore;
by day and by night white seagulls take turns to mark the place--and
have done so through centuries.

This branch had in a marked degree the typical characteristics of
the family: two eyes--and a nose in the middle of their faces; one
mouth which could both kiss and bite, and a pair of fists which they
could make good use of. In addition to this the family was alike in
that most of its members were better than their circumstances. One
could recognize the Man family anywhere by their bad qualities being
traceable to definite causes, while for the good in them there was
no explanation at all: it was inbred.

It was a desolate spot they had settled upon, but they took it as it
was, and gave themselves up patiently to the struggle for existence,
built huts, chopped wood and made ditches. They were contented and
hardy, and had the Man's insatiable desire to overcome difficulties;
for them there was no bitterness in work, and before long the result
of their labors could be seen. But keep the profit of their work
they could not; they allowed others to have the spending of it, and
thus it came about, that in spite of their industry they remained as
poor as ever.

Over a century ago, before the north part of the coast was
discovered by the land folk, the place still consisted of a cluster
of hunch-backed, mildewed huts, which might well have been the
originals, and on the whole resembled a very ancient hamlet. The
beach was strewn with tools and drawn-up boats. The water in the
little bay stank of castaway fish, catfish and others which, on
account of their singular appearance, were supposed to be possessed
of devils, and therefore not eaten.

A quarter of an hour's walk from the hamlet, out on the point, lived
Soeren Man. In his young days he had roamed the seas like all the
others, but according to custom had later on settled himself down
as a fisherman. Otherwise, he was really more of a peasant and
belonged to that branch of the family which had devoted itself to
the soil, and for this had won much respect. Soeren Man was the son
of a farmer, but on reaching man's estate, he married a fisher girl
and gave himself up to fishing together with agriculture--exactly as
the first peasant in the family had done.

The land was poor, two or three acres of downs where a few sheep
struggled for their food, and this was all that remained of a large
farm which had once been there, and where now seagulls flocked
screaming over the white surf. The rest had been devoured by the
ocean.

It was Soeren's, and more particularly Maren's foolish pride that his
forefathers had owned a farm. It had been there sure enough three or
four generations back; with a fairly good ground, a clay bank
jutting out into the sea. A strong four-winged house, built of
oak--taken from wrecks--could be seen from afar, a picture of
strength. But then suddenly the ocean began to creep in. Three
generations, one after the other, were forced to shift the farm
further back to prevent its falling into the sea, and to make the
moving easier, each time a wing was left behind; there was, of
course, no necessity for so much house-room, when the land was eaten
by the sea. All that now remained was the heavy-beamed old
dwelling-house which had prudently been placed on the landward side
of the road, and a few sandhills.

Here the sea no longer encroached. Now the best had gone, with the
lands of Man, it was satiated and took its costly food elsewhere;
here, indeed, it gave back again, throwing sand up on to the land,
which formed a broad beach in front of the slope, and on windy days
would drift, covering the rest of the field. Under the thin
straggling downs could still be traced the remains of old plowland,
broken off crudely on the slope, and of old wheeltracks running
outwards and disappearing abruptly in the blue sky over the sea.

For many years, after stormy nights with the sea at high tide, it
had been the Man's invariable custom each morning to find out how
much had again been taken by the sea; burrowing animals hastened the
destruction; and it happened that whole pieces of field with their
crops would suddenly go; down in the muttering ocean it lay, and on
it the mark of harrow and plow and the green reflection of winter
crops over it.

It told on a man to be witness of the inevitable. For each time a
piece of their land was taken by the sea with all their toil and
daily bread on its back, they themselves declined. For every fathom
that the ocean stole nearer to the threshold of their home, nibbling
at their good earth, their status and courage grew correspondingly
less.

For a long time they struggled against it, and clung to the land
until necessity drove them back to the sea. Soeren was the first to
give himself entirely up to it: he took his wife from the hamlet and
became a fisherman. But they were none the better for it. Maren
could never forget that her Soeren belonged to a family who had owned
a farm; and so it was with the children. The sons cared little for
the sea, it was in them to struggle with the land and therefore they
sought work on farms and became day-laborers and ditchers, and as
soon as they saved sufficient money, emigrated to America. Four sons
were farming over there. They were seldom heard of, misfortune
seemed to have worn out their feeling of relationship. The daughters
went out to service, and after a time Soeren and Maren lost sight of
them, too. Only the youngest, Soerine, stayed at home longer than was
usual with poor folks' children. She was not particularly strong,
and her parents thought a great deal of her--as being the only one
they had left.

It had been a long business for Soeren's ancestors to work themselves
up from the sea to the ownership of cultivated land; it had taken
several generations to build up the farm on the Naze. But the
journey down hill was as usual more rapid, and to Soeren was left the
worst part of all when he inherited; not only acres but possessions
had gone; nothing was left now but a poor man's remains.

The end was in many ways like the beginning. Soeren was like the
original man in this also, that he too was amphibious. He understood
everything, farming, fishing and handicraft. But he was not sharp
enough to do more than just earn a bare living, there was never
anything to spare. This was the difference between the ascent and
the descent. Moreover, he--like so many of the family--found it
difficult to attend to his own business.

It was a race which allowed others to gather the first-fruits of
their labors. It was said of them that they were just like sheep,
the more the wool was clipped, the thicker it grew. The downfall had
not made Soeren any more capable of standing up for himself.

When the weather was too stormy for him to go to sea, and there was
nothing to do on his little homestead, he sat at home and patched
seaboots for his friends down in the hamlet. But he seldom got paid
for it. "Leave it till next time," said they. And Soeren had nothing
much to say against this arrangement, it was to him just as good as
a savings bank. "Then one has something for one's old days," said
he. Maren and the girl were always scolding him for this, but Soeren
in this as in everything else, did not amend his ways. He knew well
enough what women were; they never put by for a rainy day.

 

 


CHAPTER II

BEFORE THE BIRTH

The children were now out of their care--that is to say, all the
eight of them. Soeren and Maren were now no longer young. The wear
and tear of time and toil began to be felt; and it would have been
good to have had something as a stand-by. Soerine, the youngest, was
as far as that goes, also out of their care, in that she was grown
up and ought long ago to have been pushed out of the nest; but there
was a reason for her still remaining at home supported by her old
parents.

She was very much spoiled, this girl--as the youngest can easily be;
she was delicate and bashful with strangers. But, as Maren thought,
when one has given so many children to the world, it was pleasant to
keep one of them for themselves; nests without young ones soon
become cold. Soeren in the main thought just the same, even if he did
grumble and argue that one woman in the house was more than enough.
They were equally fond of children. And hearing so seldom from the
others they clung more closely to the last one. So Soerine remained
at home and only occasionally took outside work in the hamlet or at
the nearest farms behind the downs. She was supposed to be a pretty
girl, and against this Soeren had nothing to say: but what he could
see was that she did not thrive, her red hair stood like a flame
round her clear, slightly freckled forehead, her limbs were fragile,
and strength in her there was none. When speaking to people she
could not meet their eyes, her own wandered anxiously away.

The young boys from the hamlet came wooing over the downs and hung
round the hut--preferably on the warm nights; but she hid herself
and was afraid of them.

"She takes after the bad side of the family," said Soeren, when he
saw how tightly she kept her window closed.

"She takes after the fine side," said the mother then. "Just you
wait and see, she will marry a gentleman's son."

"Fool," growled Soeren angrily and went his way: "to fill both her
own and the girl's head with such rubbish!"

He was fond enough of Maren, but her intellect had never won his
respect. As the children grew up and did wrong in one way or
another, Soeren always said: "What a fool the child is--it takes
after its mother." And Maren, as years went on, bore patiently with
this; she knew quite as well as Soeren that it was not intellect that
counted.

Two or three times in the week, Soerine went up town with a load of
fish and brought goods home again. It was a long way to walk, and
part of the road went through a pine wood where it was dark in the
evening and tramps hung about.

"Oh, trash," said Soeren, "the girl may just as well try a little of
everything, it will make a woman of her."

But Maren wished to shelter her child, as long as she could. And so
she arranged it in this way, that her daughter could drive home in
the cart from Sands farm which was then carrying grain for the
brewery.

The arrangement was good, inasmuch as Soerine need no longer go in
fear of tramps, and all that a timid young girl might encounter;
but, on the other hand, it did not answer Maren's expectations. Far
from having taken any harm from the long walks, it was now proved
what good they had done her. She became even more delicate than
before, and dainty about her food.

This agreed well with the girl's otherwise gentle manners. In spite
of the trouble it gave her, this new phase was a comfort to Maren.
It took the last remaining doubt from her heart: it was now
irrevocably settled. Soerine was a gentlefolks' child, not by birth,
of course--for Maren knew well enough who was father and who mother
to the girl, whatever Soeren might have thought--but by gift of
grace. It did happen that such were found in a poor man's cradle,
and they were always supposed to bring joy to their parents.
Herrings and potatoes, flounders and potatoes and a little bacon in
between--this was no fare for what one might call a young lady.
Maren made little delicacies for her, and when Soeren saw it, he
spat as if he had something nasty in his mouth and went his way.

But, after all one can be too fastidious, and when at last the girl
could not keep down even an omelet, it was too much of a good thing
for Maren. She took her daughter up to a wise woman who lived on the
common. Three times did she try her skill on Soerine, with no avail.
So Soeren had to borrow a horse and cart and drove them in to the
homeopathist. He did it very unwillingly. Not because he did not
care for the girl, and it might be possible, as Maren said, that as
she slept, an animal or evil spirit might have found its way into
her mouth and now prevented the food from going down. Such things
had been heard of before. But actually to make fools of themselves
on this account--rushing off with horse and cart to the doctor just
as the gentry did, and make themselves, too, the laughing stock of
the whole hamlet, when a draught of tansy would have the same
effect--this was what Soeren could not put up with.

But, of course, although the daily affairs were settled by Soeren
Man, there were occasions when Maren insisted on having her
way--more so when it seriously affected _her_ offspring. Then she
could--as with witchcraft--suddenly forget her good behavior, brush
aside Soeren's arguments as endless nonsense, and would stand there
like a stone wall which one could neither climb over, nor get round.
Afterwards he would be sorry that the magic word which should have
brought Maren down from her high and mightiness, failed him at the
critical moment. For she _was_ a fool--especially when it affected
her offspring. But, whether right or wrong, when she had her great
moments, fate spoke through her mouth, and Soeren was wise enough to
remain silent.

This time it certainly seemed as if Maren was in the right; for the
cure which the homeopathist prescribed, effervescent powder and
sweet milk, had a wonderful effect. Soerine throve and grew fat, so
that it was a pleasure to see her.

There can be too much of a good thing, and Soeren Man, who had to
provide the food, was the first to think of this. Soerine and her
mother talked much together and wondered what the illness could be,
could it be this or could it be that? There was a great to-do and
much talking with their heads together; but, as soon as Soeren
appeared, they became silent.

He had become quite unreasonable, going about muttering and
swearing. As though it was not hard enough already, especially for
the poor girl! He had no patience with a sick person, beggar that he
was; and one day it broke out from him with bitterness and rage:
"She must be--it can be nothing else."

But like a tiger, Maren was upon him.

"What are you talking about, you old stupid? Have _you_ borne eight
children, or has the girl told you what's amiss? A sin and a shame
it is to let her hear such talk; but now it is done, you might just
as well ask her yourself. Answer your father, Soerine--is it true,
what he says?"

Soerine sat drooping by the fireplace, suffering and scared. "Then it
would be like the Virgin Mary," she whispered, without looking up.
And suddenly sank down, sobbing.

"There, you can see yourself, what a blockhead you are," said Maren
harshly. "The girl is as pure as an unborn child. And here you come,
making all this racket in the house, while the child, perhaps, may
be on the point of death."

Soeren Man bowed his head, and hurried out on to the downs. Ugh! it
was just like thunder overhead. Blockhead she had called him--for
the first time in the whole of their life together; he would have
liked to have forced that word home again and that, at once, before
it stuck to him. But to face a mad, old wife and a howling girl--no,
he kept out of it.

Soeren Man was an obstinate fellow; when once he got a thing into his
three-cornered head, nothing could hammer it out again. He said
nothing, but went about with a face which said: "Ay, best not to
come to words with women folk!" Maren, however, did not
misunderstand him. Well, as long as he kept it to himself. There was
the girl torturing herself, drinking petroleum, and eating soft soap
as if she were mad, because she had heard it was good for internal
weakness. It was too bad; it was adding insult to injury to be
jeered at--by her own father too.

At that time he was as little at home as possible, and Maren had
no objection as it kept him and his angry glare out of their way.
When not at sea, he lounged about doing odd jobs, or sat gossiping
high up on the downs, from where one could keep an eye on every
boat going out or coming in. Generally, he was allowed to go in
peace, but when Soerine was worse than usual, Maren would come
running--piteous to see in her motherly anxiety--and beg him to
take the girl in to town to be examined before it was too late.
Then he would fall into a passion and shout--not caring who might
hear: "Confound you, you old nuisance--have you had eight children
yourself and still can't see what ails the girl?"

Before long he would repent, for it was impossible to do without
house and home altogether; but immediately he put his foot inside
the door the trouble began. What was he to do? He had to let off
steam, to prevent himself from going mad altogether with all this
woman's quibbling. Whatever the result might be, he was tempted to
stand on the highest hill and shout his opinion over the whole
hamlet, just for the pleasure of getting his own back.

One day, as he was sitting on the shore weighting the net, Maren
came flying over the downs: "Now, you had better send for the
doctor," said she, "or the girl will slip through our fingers. She's
taking on so, it's terrible to hear."

Soeren also had himself heard moans from the hut; he was beside
himself with anger and flung a pebble at her. "Confound you, are you
deaf too, that you cannot hear what that sound means?" shouted he.
"See and get hold of a midwife--and that at once; or I'll teach
you."

When Maren saw him rise, she turned round and ran home again. Soeren
shrugged his shoulders and fetched the midwife himself. He stayed
outside the hut the whole afternoon without going in, and when it
was evening he went down to the inn. It was a place within which he
seldom set his foot; there was not sufficient money for that; if
house and home should have what was due to it. With unaccustomed
shaking hand he turned the handle, opened the door with a jerk and
stood with an uncertain air in the doorway.

"So, that was it, after all," said he with miserable bravado. And he
repeated the same sentence over and over again the whole evening,
until it was time to stumble home.

Maren was out on the down waiting for him; when she saw the state he
was in, she burst into tears. "So, that was----" he began, with a
look which should have been full of withering scorn--but suddenly he
stopped. Maren's tears moved him strangely deep down under
everything else; he had to put his arms round her neck and join in
her tears.

The two old people sat on the down holding each other until their
tears were spent. Already considerable evil had fallen in the path
of this new being; now fell the first tears.

When they had got home and busied themselves with mother and child
and had gone to rest in the big double bed, Maren felt for Soeren's
hand. So she had always fallen asleep in their young days, and now
it was as if something of the sweetness of their young days rose up
in her again--was it really owing to the little lovechild's sudden
appearance, or what?

"Now, perhaps, you'll agree 'twas as I told you all along," said
Soeren, just as they were falling asleep.

"Ay, 'twas so," said Maren. "But how it could come about ... for men
folk...."

"Oh, shut up with that nonsense," said Soeren, and they went to
sleep.

* * * * *

So Maren eventually had to give in. "Though," as Soeren said, "like
as not one fine day she'd swear the girl had never had a child."
Womenfolk! Ugh! there was no persuading them.

Anyhow, Maren was too clever to deny what even a blind man could see
with a stick; and it was ever so much easier for her to admit the
hard truth; in spite of the girl's innocent tears and solemn
assurances, there was a man in the case all the same, and he
moreover, the farmer's son. It was the son of the owner of Sands
farm, whom Soerine had driven home with from the town--in fear of the
dark forest.

"Ay, you managed it finely--keeping the girl away from vagabonds,"
said Soeren, looking out of the corners of his eyes towards the new
arrival.

"Rubbish! A farmer's son is better than a vagabond, anyway,"
answered Maren proudly.

After all it was she who was right; had she not always said there
was refinement in Soerine? There was blue blood in the girl!

One day, Soeren had to put on his best clothes and off he went to
Sands farm.

"'Twas with child she was, after all," said he, going straight to
the point. "'Tis just born."

"Oh, is it," said the farmer's son who stood with his father on the
thrashing-floor shaking out some straw. "Well, that's as it may be!"

"Ay, but she says you're the father."

"Oh, does she! Can she prove it, I'd like to know."

"She can take her oath on it, she can. So you had better marry the
girl."

The farmer's son shouted with laughter.

"Oh, you laugh, do you?" Soeren picked up a hayfork and made for the
lad, who hid behind the threshing-machine, livid with fear.

"Look here," the boy's father broke in: "Don't you think we two old
ones had better go outside and talk the matter over? Young folk
nowadays are foolish. Whatever the boy's share in the matter may be,
I don't believe he'll marry her," began he, as they were outside.

"That he shall, though," answered Soeren, threateningly.

"Look you, the one thing to compel him is the law--and that she will
not take, if I know anything about her. But, I'll not say but he
might help the girl to a proper marriage--will you take two hundred
crowns once and for all?"

Soeren thought in his own mind that it was a large sum of money for a
poor babe, and hurried to close the bargain in case the farmer might
draw back.

"But, no gossip, mind you, now. No big talk about relationship and
that kind of thing," said the farmer as he followed Soeren out of the
gate. "The child must take the girl's name--and no claim on us."

"No, of course not!" said Soeren, eager to be off. He had got the two
hundred crowns in his inner pocket, and was afraid the farmer might
demand them back again.

"I'll send you down a paper one of these days and get your receipt
for the money," said the farmer. "It is best to have it fixed up all
right and legal."

He said the word "legal" with such emphasis and familiarity that
Soeren was more than a little startled.

"Yes, yes," was all Soeren said and slipped into the porch with his
cap between his hands. It was not often he took his hat off to any
one, but the two hundred crowns had given him respect for the
farmer. The people of Sands farm were a race who, if they did break
down their neighbor's fence, always made good the damage they had
done.

Soeren started off and ran over the fields. The money was more than
he and Maren had ever before possessed. All he had to do now was to
lay out the notes in front of her so as to make a show that she
might be impressed. For Maren had fixed her mind on the farmer's
son.

 

CHAPTER III

A CHILD IS BORN

There are a milliard and a half of stars in the heavens, and--as far
as we know--a milliard and a half of human beings on the earth.
Exactly the same number of both! One would almost think the old
saying was right,--that every human being was born under his own
star. In hundreds of costly observatories all over the world, on
plain and mountain, talented scientists are adjusting the finest
instruments and peering out into the heavens. They watch and take
photographic plates, their whole life taken up with the one idea: to
make themselves immortal with having discovered a new star. Another
celestial body--added to the milliard and a half already moving
gracefully round.

Every second a human soul is born into the world. A new flame is
lit, a star which perhaps may come to shine with unusual beauty,
which in any case has its own unseen spectrum. A new being, fated,
perhaps, to bestow genius, perhaps beauty around it, kisses the
earth; the unseen becomes flesh and blood. No human being is a
repetition of another, nor is any ever reproduced; each new being is
like a comet which only once in all eternity touches the path of
the earth, and for a brief time takes its luminous way over it--a
phosphorescent body between two eternities of darkness. No doubt
there is joy amongst human beings for every newly lit soul! And, no
doubt they will stand round the cradle with questioning eyes,
wondering what this new one will bring forth.

Alas, a human being is no star, bringing fame to him who discovers
and records it! More often, it is a parasite which comes upon
peaceful and unsuspecting people, sneaking itself into the
world--through months of purgatory. God help it, if into the bargain
it has not its papers in order.

Soerine's little one had bravely pushed itself into the light of day,
surmounting all obstacles, denial, tears and preventatives, as a
salmon springs against the stream. Now she lay in the daylight, red
and wrinkled, trying to soften all hearts.

The whole of the community had done with her, she was a parasite and
nothing else. A newly born human being is a figure in the
transaction which implies proper marriage and settling down, and the
next step which means a cradle and perambulator and--as it grows
up--an engagement ring, marriage and children again. Much of this
procedure is upset when a child like Soerine's little one is vulgar
enough to allow itself to be born without marriage.

She was from the very first treated accordingly, without maudlin
consideration for her tender helplessness. "Born out of wedlock"
was entered on her certificate of birth which the midwife handed to
the schoolmaster when she had helped the little one into the world,
and the same was noted on the baptismal certificate. It was as if
they all, the midwife, the schoolmaster and the parson, leaders of
the community, in righteous vengeance were striking the babe with
all their might. What matter if the little soul were begotten by the
son of a farmer, when he refused to acknowledge it, and bought
himself out of the marriage? A nuisance she was, and a blot on the
industrious orderly community.

She was just as much of an inconvenience to her mother as to all the
others. When Soerine was up and about again, she announced that she
might just as well go out to service as all her sisters had done.
Her fear of strangers had quite disappeared: she took a place a
little further inland. The child remained with the grandparents.

No one in the wide world cared for the little one, not even the old
people for that matter. But all the same Maren went up into the
attic and brought out an old wooden cradle which had for many years
been used for yarn and all kinds of lumber; Soeren put new rockers,
and once more Maren's old, swollen legs had to accustom themselves
to rocking a cradle again.

A blot the little one was to her grandparents too--perhaps, when all
is said and done, on them alone. They had promised themselves such
great things of the girl--and there lay their hopes--an illegitimate
child in the cradle! It was brought home to them by the women
running to Maren, saying: "Well, how do you like having little ones
again in your old days?" And by the other fishermen when Soeren Man
came to the harbor or the inn. His old comrades poked fun at him
good-naturedly and said: "All very well for him--strong as a young
man and all, Soeren, you ought to stand treat all round."

But it had to be borne--and, after all, it could be got over. And
the child was--when one got one's hand in again--a little creature
who recalled so much that otherwise belonged to the past. It was
just as if one had her oneself--in a way she brought youth to the
house.

It was utterly impossible not to care for such a helpless little
creature.

 

CHAPTER IV

DITTE'S FIRST STEP

Strange how often one bears the child while another cares for it.
For old Maren it was not easy to be a mother again, much as her
heart was in it. The girl herself had got over all difficulties, and
was right away in service in another county; and here was the babe
left behind screaming.

Maren attended to it as well as she could, procured good milk and
gave it soaked bread and sugar, and did all she could to make up for
its mother.

Her daughter she could not make out at all. Soerine rarely came home,
and preferably in the evening when no one could see her; the child
she appeared not to care for at all. She had grown strong and erect,
not in the least like the slender, freckled girl who could stand
next to nothing. Her blood had thickened and her manners were
decided; though that, of course, has happened before,--an ailing
woman transformed by having a child, as one might say, released from
witchcraft.

Ditte herself did not seem to miss a mother's tender care: she grew
well in spite of the artificial food, and soon became so big that
she could keep wooden shoes on her small feet, and, with the help
of old Soeren's hand, walk on the downs. And then she was well looked
after.

However, at times things would go badly. For Maren had quite enough
of her own work to do, which could not be neglected, and the little
one was everywhere. And difficult it was suddenly to throw up what
one had in hand--letting the milk boil over and the porridge
burn--for the sake of running after the little one. Maren took a
pride in her housework and found it hard at times to choose between
the two. Then, God preserve her: the little one had to take her
chance.

Ditte took it as it came and could be thankful that she was with her
grandparents. She was an inquisitive little being, eager to meddle
with everything; and a miracle it was that the firewood did not fall
down. Hundreds of times in the day did she get into scrapes,
heedless and thoughtless as she was. She would rush out, and lucky
it was if there was anything to step on, otherwise she would have
fallen down. Her little head was full of bruises, and she could
never learn to look after herself in spite of all the knocks she
got. It was too bad to be whipped into the bargain! When the hurt
was very bad, Grandfather had to blow it, or Granny put the cold
blade of the bread-knife on the bruise to make it well again.

"Better now," said she, turning a smiling face towards her granny;
the tears still hanging on the long lashes, and her cheeks
gradually becoming roughened by them.

"Yes, dear," answered Maren. "But, Girlie must take care."

This was her name in those days, and a real little girlie she was,
square and funny. It was impossible to be angry with her, although
at times she could make it somewhat difficult for the old ones. Her
little head would not accept the fact that there were things one was
not allowed to do; immediately she got an idea, her small hands
acted upon it. "She's no forethought," said Soeren significantly,
"she's a woman. Wonder if a little rap over the fingers after all
wouldn't----"

But Maren ignored this. Took the child inside with her and
explained, perhaps for the hundredth time, that Girlie must not do
so. And one day she had a narrow escape. Ditte had been up to
mischief as usual in her careless way. But when she had finished,
she offered her little pouting mouth to the two old ones: "Kiss me
then--and say 'beg pardon'," said she.

And who could resist her?

"Now, perhaps, you'll say that she can't be taught what's right and
wrong?" said Maren.

Soeren laughed: "Ay, she first does the thing, and waits till after
to think if it's right or wrong. She'll be a true woman, right
enough."

At one time Ditte got into the habit of pulling down and breaking
things. She always had her little snub nose into everything, and
being too small to see what was on the table, she pulled it down
instead. Soeren had to get a drill and learn to mend earthenware to
make up for the worst of her depredations. A great many things fell
over Ditte without alarming her in the least.

"She'll neither break nor bend--she's a woman all over," said Soeren,
inwardly rather proud of her power of endurance. But Maren had to be
ever on the watch, and was in daily fear for the things and the
child herself.

One day Ditte spilled a basin of hot milk over herself and was badly
scalded; that cured her of inquisitiveness. Maren put her to bed and
treated her burns with egg-oil and slices of new potato; and it was
some time before Ditte was herself again. But when she was again
about, there was not so much as a scar to be seen. This accident
made Maren famous as a curer of burns and people sought her help for
their injuries. "You're a wise one," said they, and gave her bacon
or fish by way of thanks. "But 'tis not to be wondered at, after
all."

The allusion to the fact that her mother had been a "wise woman" did
not please Maren at all. But the bacon and the herrings came to an
empty cupboard, and--as Soeren said: "Beggars cannot be choosers and
must swallow their pride with their food."

Ditte shot up like a young plant, day by day putting forth new
leaves. She was no sooner in the midst of one difficult situation,
and her troubled grandparents, putting their heads together, had
decided to take strong measures, than she was out of it again and
into something else. It was just like sailing over a flat
bottom--thought Soeren--passing away under one and making room for
something new. The old ones could not help wondering if they
themselves and their children had ever been like this. They had
never thought of it before, having had little time to spend on their
offspring beyond what was strictly necessary; the one had quite
enough to do in procuring food and the other in keeping the home
together. But now they could not _help_ thinking; however much they
had to do, and they marveled much over many things.

"'Tis strange how a bit of a child can open a body's eyes, for all
one's old. Ay, there's a lot to learn," said Maren.

"Stupid," said Soeren. From his tone it could be gathered that he
himself had been thinking the same.

Ditte was indeed full of character. Little as she had had to
inherit, she nevertheless was richly endowed; her first smile
brought joy; her feeble tears, sorrow. A gift she was, born out of
emptiness, thrown up on the beach for the wornout old couple. No one
had done anything to deserve her,--on the contrary, all had done
their utmost to put her out of existence. Notwithstanding, there she
lay one day with blinking eyes, blue and innocent as the skies of
heaven. Anxiety she brought from the very beginning, many footsteps
had trodden round her cradle, and questioning thoughts surrounded
her sleep. It was even more exciting when she began to take notice;
when only a week old she knew their faces, and at three she laughed
to Soeren. He was quite foolish that day and in the evening had to go
down to the tap-room to tell them all about it. Had any one ever
known such a child? She could laugh already! And when she first
began to understand play, it was difficult to tear oneself
away--particularly for Soeren. Every other moment he had to go in and
caress her with his crooked fingers. Nothing was so delightful as to
have the room filled with her gurgling, and Maren had to chase him
away from the cradle, at least twenty times a day. And when she took
her first toddling steps!--that little helpless, illegitimate child
who had come defiantly into existence, and who, in return for life
brightened the days of the two old wornout people. It had become
pleasant once more to wake in the morning to a new day: life was
worth living again.

Her stumbling, slow walk was in itself a pleasure; and the
contemplative gravity with which she crossed the doorstep, both
hands full, trotted down the road--straight on as if there was
nothing behind her, and with drooping head--was altogether
irresistible. Then Maren would slink out round the corner and beckon
to Soeren to make haste and come, and Soeren would throw down his ax
and come racing over the grass of the downs with his tongue between
his lips. "Heaven only knows what she is up to now," said he, and
the two crept after her down the road. When she had wandered a
little distance, in deep thought, she would suddenly realize her
loneliness, and begin to howl, a picture of misery, left alone and
forsaken. Then the two old people would appear on the scene, and she
would throw herself into their arms overjoyed at finding them again.

Then quite suddenly she got over it--the idea that things were gone
forever if she lost sight of them for a moment. She began to look
out and up into people's faces: hitherto, she had only seen the feet
of those who came within her horizon. One day she actually went off
by herself, having caught sight of the houses down in the hamlet.
They had to look after her more seriously now that the outside world
had tempted her.

"We're not enough for her, seems like," said Soeren despondently,
"got a fancy for the unknown already."

It was the first time she had turned away from them, and Soeren
recognized in that something of what he had experienced before, and
for a moment a feeling of loneliness came over him. But Maren, wise
as she had grown since the coming of the little one, again found a
way. She threw her kerchief over her head and went down to the
hamlet with Ditte, to let her play with other children.

 

CHAPTER V

GRANDFATHER STRIKES OUT AFRESH

All that Soeren possessed--with the exception of the house--was a
third share in a boat and gear. He had already, before Ditte came
into the world, let out his part of the boat to a young fisher boy
from the hamlet, who having no money to buy a share in a boat repaid
Soeren with half of his catch. It was not much, but he and Maren had
frugal habits, and as to Soeren, she occasionally went out to work
and helped to make ends meet. They just managed to scrape along with
their sixth share of the catch, and such odd jobs as Soeren could do
at home.

Once again there was a little one to feed and clothe. For the
present, of course, Ditte's requirements were small, but her advent
had opened out new prospects. It was no good now to be content with
toiling the time away, until one's last resting-place was reached,
patiently thinking the hut would pay for the burial. It was not
sufficient to wear out old clothes, eat dried fish, and keep out of
the workhouse until they were well under the ground. Soeren and Maren
were now no longer at the end of things, there was one in the cradle
who demanded everything from the beginning, and spurred them on to
new efforts. It would never do to let their infirmity grow upon them
or allow themselves to become pensioners on what a sixth share of a
boat might happen to bring home. Duty called for a new start.

The old days had left their mark on them both. They came into line
with the little one, even her childish cries under the low ceiling
carried the old couple a quarter of a century back, to the days when
the weight of years was not yet felt, and they could do their work
with ease. And once there, the way to still earlier days was not so
far--to that beautiful time when tiredness was unknown, and Soeren
after a hard day's work would walk miles over the common, to where
Maren was in service, stay with her until dawn, and then walk miles
back home again, to be the first man at work.

Inevitably they were young again! Had they not a little one in the
house? A little pouting mouth was screaming and grunting for milk.
Soeren came out of his old man's habit, and turned his gaze once more
towards the sea and sky. He took back his share in the boat and went
to sea again.

Things went tolerably well to begin with. It was summer time when
Ditte had pushed him back to his old occupation again; it was as if
she had really given the old people a second youth. But it was hard
to keep up with the others, in taking an oar and pulling up nets by
the hour. Moreover in the autumn when the herrings were deeper in
the sea, the nets went right down, and were often caught by the
heavy undertow, Soeren had not strength to draw them up like the
other men, and had to put up with the offer of lighter work. This
was humiliating; and even more humiliating was it to break down from
night watches in the cold, when he knew how strong he had been in
days gone by.

Soeren turned to the memories of old days for support, that he might
assert himself over the others. Far and wide he told tales of his
youth, to all who would listen.

In those days implements were poor, and clothes were thin, and the
winter was harder than now. There was ice everywhere, and in order
to obtain food they had to trail over the ice with their gear on a
wooden sledge right out to the great channel, and chop holes to fish
through. Woollen underclothing was unknown, and oilskins were things
none could afford; a pair of thick leather trousers were worn--with
stockings and wooden shoes. Often one fell in--and worked on in wet
clothes, which were frozen so stiff that it was impossible to draw
them off.

To Soeren it was a consolation to dwell upon all this, when he had to
give up such strenuous work as the rowing over to the Swedish coast,
before he could get a good catch. There he would sit in the stern
feeling small and useless, talking away and fidgeting with the sails
in spite of the lack of wind. His partners, toiling with the heavy
oars, hardly listened to him. It was all true enough, they knew
that from their fathers, but it gained nothing in being repeated by
Soeren's toothless mouth. His boasting did not make the boat any
lighter to pull; old Soeren was like a stone in the net.

Maren was probably the only one, who at her own expense could afford
to give a helping hand. She saw how easily he became tired, try as
he would to hide it from her--and she made up her mind to trust in
Providence for food. It was hard for him to turn out in the middle
of the night, his old limbs were as heavy as lead, and Maren had to
help him up in bed.

"'Tis rough tonight!" said she, "stay at home and rest." And the
next night she would persuade him again, with another excuse. She
took care not to suggest that he should give up the sea entirely;
Soeren was stubborn and proud. Could she only keep him at home from
time to time, the question would soon be decided by his partners.

So Soeren remained at home first one day and then another; Maren
said that he was ill. He fell easily into the trap, and when this
had gone on for some little time, his partners got tired of it,
and forced him to sell his part of the boat and implements. Now
that he was driven to remain at home, he grumbled and scolded, but
settled down to it after a while. He busied himself with odd jobs,
patched oilskins and mended wooden shoes for the fishermen and
became quite brisk again. Maren could feel the improvement, when
he good-naturedly began to chaff her again as before.

He was happiest out on the downs, with Ditte holding his hand,
looking after the sheep. Soeren could hardly do without the little
one; when she was not holding his hand, he felt like a cripple
without his staff. Was it not he whom she had chosen for her first
smile, when but three weeks old! And when only four or five months
old dropped her comforter and turned her head on hearing his
tottering steps.

"'Tis all very well for you," said Maren half annoyed. "'Tis you she
plays with, while I've the looking after and feeding of her; and
that's another thing." But in her heart she did not grudge him first
place with the little one; after all he was the man--and needed a
little happiness.

There was no one who understood Ditte as did her grandfather. They
two could entertain each other by the hour. They spoke about sheep
and ships and trees, which Ditte did not like, because they stood
and made the wind blow. Soeren explained to her that it was God who
made the wind blow--so that the fishermen need not toil with their
oars so much. Trees on the contrary did no work at all and as a
punishment God had chained them to the spot.

"What does God look like?" asked Ditte. The question staggered
Soeren. There he had lived a long life and always professed the
religion taught him in childhood; at times when things looked dark,
he had even called upon God; nevertheless, it had never occurred to
him to consider what the good God really looked like. And here he
was confounded by the words of a little child, exactly as in the
Bible.

"God?" began Soeren hesitating on the word, to gain time. "Well, He's
both His hands full, He has. And even so it seems to us others, that
at times He's taken more upon Himself than He can do--and that's
what He looks like!"

And so Ditte was satisfied.

To begin with Soeren talked most, and the child listened. But soon it
was she who led the conversation, and the old man who listened
entranced. Everything his girlie said was simply wonderful, and all
of it worth repetition, if only he could remember it. Soeren
remembered a good deal, but was annoyed with himself when some of it
escaped his memory.

"Never knew such a child," said he to Maren, when they came in from
their walk. "She's different from our girls somehow."

"Well, you see she's the child of a farmer's son," answered Maren,
who had never got over the greatest disappointment of her life, and
eagerly caught at anything that might soften it.

But Soeren laughed scornfully and said: "You're a fool, Maren, and
that's all about it."

 

 

CHAPTER VI

THE DEATH OF SOeREN MAN

One day Soeren came crawling on all fours over the doorstep. Once
inside, he stumbled to his feet and moved with great difficulty
towards the fireplace, where he clung with both hands to the
mantelpiece, swaying to and fro and groaning pitifully the while. He
collapsed just as Maren came in from the kitchen, she ran to him,
got off his clothes and put him to bed.

"Seems like I'm done for now," said Soeren, when he had rested a
little.

"What's wrong with you, Soeren?" asked Maren anxiously.

"'Tis naught but something's given inside," said Soeren sullenly.

He refused to say more, but Maren got out of him afterwards that it
had happened when drawing the tethering-peg out of the ground.
Usually it was loose enough. But today it was firm as a rock, as if
some one was holding it down in the earth. Soeren put the
tethering-rope round his neck and pulled with all his might, it did
give way; but at the same time something seemed to break inside him.
Everything went dark, and a big black hole appeared in the earth.

Maren gazed at him with terror. "Was 't square?" asked she.

Soeren thought it was square.

"And what of Girlie?" asked Maren suddenly.

She had disappeared when Soeren fainted.

Maren ran out on the hills with anxious eyes. She found Ditte
playing in the midst of a patch of wild pansies, fortunately Maren
could find no hole in the ground. But the old rotten rope had
parted. Soeren, unsteady on his feet, had probably fallen backwards
and hurt himself. Maren knotted the rope together again and went
towards the little one. "Come along, dearie," said she, "we'll go
home and make a nice cup of coffee for Grandad." But suddenly she
stood transfixed. Was it not a cross the child had plaited of grass,
and set among the pansies? Quietly Maren took the child by the hand
and went in. Now she knew.

Soeren stayed in bed. There was no outward hurt to be seen, but he
showed no inclination to get up. He hardly slept at all, but lay all
day long gazing at the ceiling, and fumbling with the bedclothes.

Now and then he groaned, and Maren would hurry to his side. "What
ails you, Soeren, can't you tell me?" said she earnestly.

"Ails me? Nothing ails me, Maren, but death," answered Soeren. Maren
would have liked to try her own remedies on him, but might just as
well spare her arts for a better occasion; Soeren had seen a black
hole in the ground; there was no cure for that.

So matters stood. Maren knew as well as he, that this was the end;
but she was a sturdy nature, and never liked to give in. She would
have wrestled with God himself for Soeren, had there been anything
definite to fight about. But he was fading away, and for this there
was no cure; though if only the poison could be got out of his
blood, he might even yet be strong again.

"Maybe 'tis bleeding you want."

But Soeren refused to be bled. "Folks die quickly enough without,"
said he, incredulous as he had always been. Maren was silent and
went back to her work with a sigh. Soeren never did believe in
anything, he was just as unbelieving as he had been in his young
days--if only God would not be too hard on him.

At first Soeren longed to have the child with him always, and every
other minute Maren had to bring her to the bedside. The little one
did not like to sit quietly on a chair beside Grandad's bed, and as
soon as she saw a chance of escape, off she would run. This was
hardest of all to Soeren, he felt alone and forsaken, all was
blackness and despair.

Before long, however, he lost all interest in the child, as he did
in everything else. His mind began to wander from the present back
to bygone days; Maren knew well what it meant. He went further and
still further back to his youth and childhood. Strange it was how
much he could remember things which otherwise had been forgotten.
And it was not rambling nonsense that he talked, but all true
enough; people older than he who came from the hamlet to visit him
confirmed it, and wondered at hearing him speak of events that must
have happened when he was but two or three years old. Soeren forgot
the latter years of his life, indeed he might never have lived them
so completely had they faded from his mind.

This saddened Maren. They had lived a long life, and gone through so
much together, and how much more pleasant it would have been, if
they could have talked of the past together once more before they
parted. But Soeren would not listen, when it came to their mutual
memories. No, the garden on the old farm--where Soeren lived when
five years old--that he could remember! Where this tree stood, and
that--and what kind of fruit it bore.

And when he had gone as far back as he could remember, his mind
would wander forward again, and in his delirium he would rave of his
days as a shepherd boy or sailor boy and heaven knows what.

In his uneasy dreams he mixed up all his experiences, the travels of
his youth, his work and difficulties. At one minute he would be on
the sea furling sail in the storm, the next he would struggle with
the ground. Maren who stood over him listened with terror to all
that he toiled with; he seemed to be taking his life in one long
stride. Many were the tribulations he had been through, and of which
she now heard for the first time. When his mind cleared once more,
he would be worn out with beads of perspiration standing on his
forehead.

His old partners came to see him, and then they went through it
again--Soeren _had_ to talk of old times. He could only say a few
words, weak as he was; but then the others would continue. Maren
begged them not to speak too much, as it made him restless, and he
would struggle with it in his dreams.

It was worst when he imagined himself on the old farm; pitiful to
see how he fought against the sea's greedy advance, clutching the
bedclothes with his wasted fingers. It was a wearisome leave-taking
with existence, as wearisome as existence itself had been to him.

One day when Maren had been to the village shop, Ditte ran out
screaming, as she came back. "Grandad's dead!" she burst out
sobbing. Soeren lay bruised and senseless across the doorstep to the
kitchen. He had been up on the big chest, meddling with the hands of
the clock. Maren dragged him to bed and bathed his wounds, and when
it was done he lay quietly following her movements with his eyes.
Now and then he would ask in a low voice what the time was, and from
this Maren knew that he was nearing his end.

On the morning of the day he died he was altogether changed again.
It was as if he had come home to take a last farewell of everybody
and everything; he was weak but quite in his senses. There was so
much he wanted to touch upon once again. His talk jumped from one
thing to another and he seemed quite happy. For the first time for
many months he could sit on the edge of the bed drinking his morning
coffee, chatting to Maren whenever she came near. He was exactly
like a big child, and Maren could not but put his old head to hers
and caress it. "You've worn well, Soeren," said she, stroking his
hair--"your hair's as soft as when we were young."

Soeren fell back, and lay with her hand in his, gazing silently at
her with worship in his faded eyes. "Maren, would you let down your
hair for me?" he whispered bashfully at last. The words came with
some difficulty.

"Nay, but what nonsense!" said Maren, hiding her face against his
chest; "we're old now, you know, dear."

"Let down your hair for me!" whispered he, persisting, and tried
with shaking fingers to loosen it himself. Maren remembered an
evening long ago, an evening behind a drawn-up boat on the beach,
and with sobs she loosened her gray hair and let it fall down over
Soeren's head, so that it hid their faces. "It's long and thick," he
whispered softly, "enough to hide us both." The words came as an
echo from their bygone youth.

"Nay, nay," said Maren, crying, "it's gray and thin and rough. But
how fond you were of it once."

With closed eyes Soeren lay holding Maren's hand. There was much to
do in the kitchen, and she tried again and again to draw her hand
away, but he opened his eyes each time, so she sat down, letting
the things look after themselves, and there she was with the tears
running down her furrowed face, while her thoughts ran on. She and
Soeren had lived happily together; they had had their quarrels, but
if anything serious happened, they always faced it together; neither
of them had lived and worked for themselves only. It was so strange
that they were now to be separated, Maren could not understand it.
Why could they not be taken together? Where Soeren went, Maren felt
she too should be. Perhaps in the place where he was going he needed
no one to mend his clothes and to see that he kept his feet dry, but
at least they might have walked hand in hand in the Garden of Eden.
They had often talked about going into the country to see what was
hidden behind the big forest. But it never came to anything, as one
thing or another always kept Maren at home. How beautiful it would
have been to go with Soeren now; Maren would willingly have made the
journey with him, to see what was on the other side--had it not been
for Ditte. A child had always kept her back, and thus it was now.
Maren's own time was not yet; she must wait, letting Soeren go alone.

Soeren now slept more quietly, and she drew her hand gently out of
his. But as soon as she rose, he opened his eyes, gazing at Maren's
loosened hair and tear-stained face.

"Don't cry, Maren," said he, "you and Ditte'll get on all right.
But do this for me, put up your hair as you did at our wedding, will
you, Maren?"

"But I can't do it myself, Soeren," answered the old woman,
overwhelmed and beginning to cry again. But Soeren held to his point.

Then Maren gave in, and as she could not leave Soeren alone for long,
she ran as fast as she could to the hamlet, where one of the women
dressed her thin gray hair in bridal fashion. On her return she
found Soeren restless, but he soon calmed down; he looked at her a
long time, as she sat crying by the bed with his hand in hers. He
was breathing with much difficulty.

Then suddenly he spoke in a stronger voice than he had done for many
days.

"We've shared good and bad together, Maren--and now it's over. Will
you be true to me for the time you have left?" He rose on his elbow,
looking earnestly into her face.

Maren dried her bleared eyes, and looked faithfully into his. "Ay,"
she said slowly and firmly--"no one else has ever been in my thought
nor ever shall be. 'Tis Christ Himself I take as a witness, you can
trust me, Soeren."

Soeren then fell back with closed eyes, and after a while his hand
slipped out of hers.

 

CHAPTER VII

THE WIDOW AND THE FATHERLESS

After Soeren's death there were hard days in store for the two in the
hut on the Naze. Feeble as he had been, yet he had always earned
something, and had indeed been their sheet anchor. They were now
alone, with no man to work for them. Not only had Maren to make
things go as far as possible, but she had to find the money as well.
This was a task she had never done before.

All they had once received for their share in the boat and its
fittings had gone too; and the funeral took what was left. Their
affairs could be settled by every one, and at the time of Soeren's
death there was much multiplying and subtracting in the homes round
about on Maren's behalf. But to one question there was no answer;
what had become of the two hundred crowns paid for Ditte for once
and for all? Ay, where had they gone? The two old people had bought
nothing new at that time, and Soeren had firmly refused to invest in
a new kind of fishing-net--an invention tried in other places and
said to be a great success. Indeed, there were cases where the net
had paid for itself in a single night. However, Soeren would not, and
as so much money never came twice to the hamlet in one generation,
they carried on with their old implements as usual.

The money had certainly not been used, nor had it been eaten up,
that was understood. The two old folk had lived exactly as before,
and it would have been known if the money had gone up through the
chimney. There was no other explanation, than that Maren had put it
by; probably as something for Ditte to fall back upon, when the two
old ones had gone.

There was a great deal of talking in the homes, mostly of how Maren
and Ditte were to live. But with that, their interest stopped. She
had grown-up children of her own, who were her nearest, and ought to
look after her affairs. One or two of them turned up at the funeral,
more to see if there was anything to be had, and as soon as Soeren
was well underground they left, practically vanishing without
leaving a trace, and with no invitation to Maren, who indeed hardly
found out where they lived. Well, Maren was not sorry to see the
last of them. She knew, in some measure, the object of her
children's homecoming; and for all she cared they might never tread
that way again--if only she might keep Ditte. Henceforth they were
the only two in the world.

"They might at least have given you a helping hand," said the women
of the hamlet--"after all, you're their mother."

"Nay, why so," said Maren. They had used her as a pathway to
existence--and it had not always been easy; perhaps they did not
thank her for their being here on earth, since they thought they
owed her nothing. One mother can care for eight children if
necessary, but has any one ever heard of eight children caring for
one mother? No, Maren was thankful they kept away, and did not come
poking round their old home.

She tried to sell the hut and the allotment in order to provide
means, but as no buyers offered for either, she let the hut to a
workman and his family, only keeping one room and an end of the
kitchen for herself. After settling this she studded her own and the
child's wooden shoes with heavy nails. She brought forth Soeren's old
stick, wrapped herself and the little one well up--and wandered out
into the country.

Day after day, in all weathers, they would set out in the early
morning, visiting huts and farms. Maren knew fairly well for whom
Soeren had worked, and it was quite time they paid their debts. She
never asked directly for the money, but would stand just inside the
door with the child in front of her, rattling a big leather purse
such as fisher folk used, and drone:

"God bless your work and your food--one and all for sure! Times is
hard--ay, money's scarce--ay, 'tis dear to live, and folks get old!
And all's to be bought--fat and meat and bread, ay, every
scrap!--faith, an old wife needs the money!"

Although Maren only asked for what was her due, it was called
begging, when she went on this errand, and she and the child were
treated accordingly. They often stood waiting in the scullery or
just inside the living room, while every one ran to and fro to their
work without appearing to notice them. People must be taught their
proper place, and nothing is so good as letting them stand waiting,
and that without any reason. If they are not crushed by this,
something must be wrong.

Maren felt the slight, and the smart went deep; but in no way shook
her purpose--inwardly she was furious, though too wise to show it,
and, old as she was, quietly added experience to experience. Perhaps
after all it was the child who made it easier for her to submit to
circumstances. So that was how she was treated when she needed help!
But when they themselves needed help, it was a different matter;
they were not too proud to ask _her_ advice. Then they would hurry
down to her, often in the middle of the night, knocking at the
window with the handle of a whip; she _must_ come, and that at once.

Maren was not stupid, and could perfectly well put two and two
together, only neglecting what she had no use for. As long as Soeren
was by her side and held the reins, she had kept in the background,
knowing that one master in the house was quite enough; and only on
special occasions--when something of importance was at stake--would
she lend a guiding hand, preferably so unostentatiously that Soeren
never noticed it.

Blockhead, he used to call her--right up to his illness. About a
week before his death they had spoken of the future, and Soeren had
comforted Maren by saying: "'Twill all be right for you, Maren--if
but you weren't such a blockhead."

For the first time Maren had protested against this, and Soeren, as
was his wont, referred to the case of Soerine: "Ay, and did you see
what was wrong with the girl, what all saw who set eyes on her? And
was it not yourself that fed her with soft soap and paraffin?"

"Maybe 'twas," answered Maren, unmoved.

Soeren looked at her with surprise: well to be sure--but behind her
look of innocence gleamed something which staggered him for once.
"Ay, ay," said he. "Ay, ay! 'twas nigh jail that time."

Maren good-naturedly blinked her heavy eyelids. "'Tis too good some
folks are to be put there," answered she.

Soeren felt as if cold water were running down his back; here had he
lived with Maren by his side for forty-five years, and never taken
her for anything else but a good-natured blockhead--and he had
nearly gone to his grave with that opinion. And perhaps after all it
was she who had mastered him, and that by seeming a fool herself.

 

CHAPTER VIII

WISE MAREN

The heavy waves crashed on the shore. Large wet flakes of snow
hurled themselves on bushes and grass; what was not caught by the
high cliffs was frozen to ice in the air and chased before the
storm.

The sea was foaming. The skies were all one great dark gray whirl,
with the roaring breakers beneath. It was as if the abyss itself
threw out its inexhaustible flood of cold and wickedness. Endlessly
it mounted from the great deep; dense to battle against, and as fire
of hell to breathe.

Two clumsy figures worked their way forward over the sandhills, an
old grandmother holding a little girl by the hand. They were so
muffled up, that they could hardly be distinguished in the thick
haze.

Their movements were followed by watchful eyes, in the huts on the
hills women stood with faces pressed flat against the window-panes!
"'Tis wise Maren battling against the storm," they told the old and
the sick within. And all who could, crawled to the window. They must
see for themselves.

"'Tis proper weather for witches to be out," said youth, and
laughed. "But where is her broomstick?"

The old ones shook their heads. Maren ought not to be made fun of;
she had the _Gift_ and did much good. Maybe that once or twice she
had misused her talents--but who would not have done the same in her
place? On a day like this she would be full of power; it would have
been wise to consult her.

The two outside kept to the path that ran along the edge of the
steep cliff, hollowed out in many places by the sea. Beneath them
thundered the surf, water and air and sand in one yellow ferment,
and over it seagulls and other sea birds, shrieking and whipping the
air with their wings. When a wave broke they would swoop down and
come up again with food in their beaks--some fish left stunned by
the waves to roll about in the foam.

It seemed foolish of the two keeping just inside the edge of the
cliff, against which the storm was throwing itself with all its
might, to fall down well inland. The old woman and the child clung
to each other, gasping for breath.

At one place the path went through a thicket of thorns, bent inland
by the strong sea wind, and here they took shelter from the storm to
regain their breath. Ditte whimpered, she was tired and hungry.

"Be a big girl," said the old one, "we'll soon be home now." She
drew the child towards her under the shawl, with shaking hands
brushing the snow from her hair, and blowing her frozen fingers.
"Ay, just big," she said encouragingly, "and you'll get cakes and
nice hot coffee when we get home. I've the coffee beans in the
bag--ah, just smell!"

Granny opened the bag, which she had fastened round her waist
underneath her shawl. Into it went all that she was given, food and
other odds and ends.

The little one poked her nose down into the bag, but was not
comforted at once.

"We've nothing to warm it with," said she sulkily.

"And haven't we then? Granny was on the beach last night, and saw
the old boat, she did. But Ditte was in the land of Nod, and never
knew."

"Is there more firewood?"

"Hush, child, the coastguard might hear us. He's long ears--and the
Magistrate pays him for keeping poor folks from getting warm. That's
why he himself takes all that's washed ashore."

"But you're not frightened of him, Granny, you're a witch and can
send him away."

"Ay, ay, of course Granny can--and more too, if he doesn't behave.
She'll strike him down with rheumatism, so that he can't move, and
have to send for wise Maren to rub his back. Ah me, old Granny's
legs are full of water, and aches and pains in every limb; a horrid
witch they call her, ay--and a thieving woman too! But there must be
some of both when an old worn woman has to feed two mouths; and you
may be glad that Granny's the witch she is. None but she cares for
you--and lazy, no folks shall ever call her that. She's
two-and-seventy years now, and 'tis for others her hands have toiled
all along. But never a hand that's lifted to help old Maren."

They sat well sheltered, and soon Ditte became sleepy, and they
started out again. "We'll fall asleep if we don't, and then the
black man'll come and take us," said Granny as she tied her shawl
round the little one.

"Who's the black man?" Ditte stopped, clinging to her grandmother
from very excitement.

"The black man lives in the churchyard under the ground. 'Tis he who
lets out the graves to the dead folks, and he likes to have a full
house."

Ditte had no wish to go down and live with a black man, and tripped
briskly along hand in hand with the old one. The path now ran
straight inland, and the wind was at their back--the storm had
abated somewhat.

When they came to the Sand farm, she refused to go further. "Let's
go in there and ask for something," said she, dragging her
grandmother. "I'm so hungry."

"Lord--are you mad, child! We daren't set foot inside there."

"Then I'll go alone," declared Ditte firmly. She let go her granny's
hand and ran towards the entrance. When there, however, she
hesitated. "And why daren't we go in there?" she shouted back.

Maren came and took her hand again: "Because your own father might
come and drive us away with a whip," said she slowly. "Come now and
be a good girl."

"Are you afraid of him?" asked the little one persistently. She was
not accustomed to seeing her granny turned aside for anything.

Afraid, indeed no--the times were too bad for that! Poor people must
be prepared to face all evils and accept them too. And why should
they go out of their way to avoid the Sand farm as if it were holy
ground. If he did not care to take the chance of seeing his own
offspring occasionally, he could move his farm elsewhere. They two
had done nothing to be shamed into running away, that was true
enough. Perhaps there was some ulterior motive behind the child's
obstinacy? Maren was not the one to oppose Providence--still less if
it lent her a helping hand.

"Well, come then!" said she, pushing the gate open. "They can but
eat us."

They went through the deep porch which served as wood and tool house
as well. At one side turf was piled neatly up right to the beams.
Apparently they had no thought of being cold throughout the winter.
Maren looked at the familiar surroundings as they crossed the yard
towards the scullery. Once in her young days she had been in service
here--for the sake of being nearer the home of her childhood and
Soeren. It was some years ago, that! The grandfather of the present
young farmer reigned then--a real Tartar who begrudged his servant
both food and sleep. But he made money! The old farmer, who died
about the same time as Soeren, was young then, and went with stocking
feet under the servants' windows! He and Soeren cared nought for each
other! Maren had not been here since--Soeren would not allow it. And
he himself never set foot inside, since that dreary visit about
Soerine. A promise was a promise.

But now it was _so_ long ago, and two hundred crowns could not last
forever. Soeren was dead, and Maren saw things differently in her old
days. Cold and hardship raised her passion, as never before, against
those sitting sheltered inside, who had no need to go hunting about
like a dog in all weathers, and against those who for a short-lived
joy threw years of heavy burden on poor old shoulders. Why had she
waited so long in presenting his offspring to the farmer? Perhaps
they were longing for it. And why should not the little one have her
own way? Perhaps it was the will of Providence, speaking through
her, in her obstinate desire to enter her father's house.

All the same, Maren's conscience was not quite clear while standing
with Ditte beside her, waiting for some one to come. The farmer
apparently was out, and for that she was thankful. She could hear
the servant milking in the shed, they would hardly have a man at
this time of the year.

The cracked millstone still lay in front of the door, and in the
middle of the floor was a large flat tombstone with ornaments in the
corners, the inscription quite worn away.

A young woman came from the inner rooms. Maren had not seen her
before. She was better dressed than the young wives of the
neighborhood, and had a kind face and gentle manners. She asked them
into the living room, took off their shawls, which she hung by the
fire to dry. She then made them sit down and gave them food and
drink, speaking kindly to them all the while; to Ditte in
particular, which softened Maren's heart.

"And where do you come from?" asked she, seating herself beside
them.

"Ay, where do folk come from?" answered Maren mumblingly. "Where's
there room for poor people like us? Some have plenty--and for all
that go where they have no right to be; others the Lord's given
naught but a corner in the churchyard. But you don't belong to these
parts, since you ask."

No, the young woman came from Falster; her voice grew tender as she
spoke of her birthplace.

"Is't far from here?" said Maren, glancing at her.

"Yes, it takes a whole day by train and by coach, and from the town
too!"

"Has it come to that, that the men of the Sand farm must travel by
train to find wives for themselves? But the hamlet is good enough
for sweethearts."

The young woman looked uncertainly at her. "We met each other at the
Continuation School," said she.

"Well, well, has he been to Continuation School too? Ay, 'tis fine
all must be nowadays. Anyway, 'twas time he got settled."

The young woman flushed. "You speak so strangely," said she.

"Belike you'll tell me how an old wife should speak? 'Tis strange
indeed that a father sits sheltered at home while his little one
runs barefoot and begs."

"What do you mean?" whispered the young woman anxiously!

"What the Lord and every one knows, but no-one's told you. Look you
at the child _there_--faces don't tell lies, she's the image of her
father. If all was fair, 'twould be my daughter sitting here in your
stead--ay, and no hunger and cold for me."

As she spoke, Maren sucked a ham bone. She had no teeth, and the fat
ran down over her chin and hands.

The young woman took out her handkerchief. "Let me help you,
mother," said she, gently drying her face. She was white to the
lips, and her hands shook.

Maren allowed herself to be cared for. Her sunken mouth was set and
hard. Suddenly she grasped the young woman by the hips with her
earth-stained hands. "'Tis light and pure!" she mumbled, making
signs over her. "In childbirth 'twill go badly with you." The woman
swayed in her hands and fell to the ground without a sound; little
Ditte began to scream.

Maren was so terrified by the consequence of her act, that she never
thought of offering help. She tore down the shawls from the fire and
ran out, dragging the child after her. It was not until they reached
the last house in the hamlet, the lifeboat shed, that she stopped to
wrap themselves up.

Ditte still shook. "Did you kill her?" asked she.

The old woman started, alarmed at the word. "Nay, but of course not.
'Tis nothing to prate about: come along home," said she harshly,
pushing the child. Ditte was unaccustomed to be spoken to in this
manner, and she hurried along.

The house was cold as they entered it, and Maren put the little one
straight to bed. Then having gathered sticks for the fire, she put
on water for the coffee, talking to herself all the while. "Ugh,
just so; but who's to blame? The innocent must suffer, to make the
guilty speak."

"What did you say, Granny?" asked Ditte from the alcove.

"'Twas only I'm thinking your father'll soon find his way down here
after this."

A trap came hurrying through the dark and stopped outside. In burst
the owner of the Sand farm. There was no good in store for them; his
face was red with anger and he started abusing them almost before he
got inside the door. Maren had her head well wrapped up against the
cold, and pretended to hear nothing. "Well, well, you're a sight for
sore eyes," said she, smilingly inviting him in.

"Don't suppose that I've come to make a fuss of you, you crafty old
hag!" stormed Anders Olsen in his thin cracked voice. "No, I've come
to fetch you, I have, and that at once. So you'd better come!"
seizing her by the arm.

Maren wrenched herself out of his grasp. "What's wrong with you?"
asked she, staring at him in amazement.

"Wrong with me?--you dare to ask that, you old witch, you. Haven't
you been up to the farm this afternoon--dragging the brat with you?
though you were bought and paid to keep off the premises. Made
trouble you have, you old hag, and bewitched my wife, so she's dazed
with pain. But I'll drag you to justice and have you burned at the
stake, you old devil!" He foamed at the mouth and shook his clenched
fist in her face.

"So you order folks to be burnt, do you?" said Maren scornfully.
"Then you'd best light up and stoke up for yourself as well.
Seemingly you've taken more on your back than you can carry."

"What do you mean by that?" hissed the farmer, gesticulating, as if
prepared at any moment to pounce upon Maren and drag her to the
trap. "Maybe it's a lie, that you've been to the farm and scared my
wife?" He went threateningly round her, but without touching her.
"What have you to do with my back?" shouted he loudly, with fear in
his eyes. "D'you want to bewitch me too, what?"

"'Tis nothing with your back I've to do, or yourself either. But all
can see that the miser's cake'll be eaten, ay, even by crow and
raven if need be. Keep your strength for your young wife--you might
overstrain yourself on an old witch like me. And where'd she be
then, eh?"

Anders Olsen had come with the intention of throwing the old witch
into the trap and taking her home with him--by fair means or
foul--so that she could undo her magic on the spot. And there he sat
on the woodbox, his cap between his hands, a pitiful sight. Maren
had judged him aright, there was nothing manly about him, he fought
with words instead of fists. The men of the Sand farm were a poor
breed, petty and grasping. This one was already bald, the muscles of
his neck stood sharply out, and his mouth was like a tightly shut
purse. It was no enviable position to be his wife; the miser was
already uppermost in him! Already he was shivering with cold down
his back--having forgotten his fear for his wife in his thought for
himself.

Maren put a cup of coffee on the kitchen table, then sat down
herself on the steps leading to the attic with a cracked cup
between her fingers. "Just you drink it up," said she, as he
hesitated--"there's no-one here that'll harm you and yours."

"But you've been home and made mischief," he mumbled, stretching
out his hand for the cup; he seemed equally afraid of drinking or
leaving the coffee.

"We've been at the farm we two, 'tis true enough. The bad storm
drove us in, 'twas sore against our will." Maren spoke placidly and
with forbearance. "And as to your wife, belike it made her ill, and
couldn't bear to hear what a man she's got. A kind and good woman
she is--miles too good for you. She gave us nought but the best,
while you're just longing to burn us. Ay, ay, 'twould be plenty warm
enough then! For here 'tis cold, and there's no-one to bring a load
of peat to the house."

"Maybe you'd like _me_ to bring you a load?" snapped the farmer,
closing his mouth like a trap.

"The child's yours for all that; she's cold and hungry, work as I
may."

"Well, she was paid for once and for all."

"Ay, 'twas easy enough for you! Let your own offspring want; 'tis
the only child, we'll hope, the Lord'll trust you with."

The farmer started, as if awakened to his senses. "Cast off your
spell from my wife!" he shouted, striking the table with his hands.

"I've nought against your wife. But just you see, if the Lord'll put
a child in your care. 'Tis not likely to me."

"You leave the Lord alone--and cast off the spell," he whispered
hoarsely, making for the old woman, "or I'll throttle you, old witch
that you are." He was gray in the face, and his thin, crooked
fingers clutched the air.

"Have a care, your own child lies abed and can hear you." Maren
pushed open the door to the inner room. "D'you hear that, Ditte,
your father's going to throttle me."

Anders Olsen turned away from her and went towards the door. He
stood a moment fumbling with the door handle, as if not knowing what
he did; then came back, and sank down on the woodbox, gazing at the
clay floor. He looked uncommonly old and had always done so ever
since his childhood, it was said people of the Sand farm were always
born toothless.

Maren came and placed herself in front of him. "Maybe you're
thinking of the son your wife should bear? And maybe seeing him
already running by your side in the fields, just like a little foal,
and learning to hold the plow. Ay! many a one's no son to save for,
but enjoys putting by for all that. And often 'tis a close-fisted
father has a spendthrift son; belike 'tis the Lord punishing them
for their greedy ways. You may fight on till you break up--like many
another one. Or sell the farm to strangers, when there's no more
work in you--and shift in to the town to a fine little house! For
folks with money there's many a way!"

The farmer lifted his head. "Cast off your spell from my wife," he
said beseechingly, "and I'll make it worth your while."

"On the Sand farm we'll never set foot again, neither me nor the
child. But you can send your wife down here--'tis no harm she'll
come to, but don't forget if good's to come of it, on a load of peat
she must ride!"

Early next morning the pretty young wife from the Sand farm, could
be seen driving through the hamlet seated on top of a swinging
cartload of peat. Apparently the farmer did not care to be seen with
his wife like this, for he himself was not there; a lad drove the
cart. Many wondered where they were going, and with their faces
against the window-panes watched them pass. From one or another hut,
with no outlook, a woman would come throwing a shawl over her head
as she hurried towards the Naze. As the lad carried the peat into
Maren's woodshed, and the farmer's wife unpacked eggs, ham, cakes,
butter and many other good things on the table in the little sitting
room, they came streaming past, staring through the window--visiting
the people in the other part of the house with one or other foolish
excuse. Maren knew quite well why they came, but it did not worry
her any longer. She was accustomed to people keeping an eye on her
and using her neighbors as a spying ground.

A few days afterwards the news ran round the neighborhood that the
farmer had begun to take notice of his illegitimate child--not
altogether with a good will perhaps. Maren was supposed to have had
a hand in the arrangement. No-one understood her long patience with
him; especially as she had right on her side. But now it would seem
she had tired of it and had begun casting spells over the farmer's
young wife--first charmed a child into her, and then away again,
according to her will. Some declared Ditte was used for this
purpose--by conjuring her backwards, right back to her unborn days,
so that the child was obliged to seek a mother, and it was because
of this she never grew properly. Ditte was extraordinarily small for
her age, for all she was never really ill. Probably she was not
allowed to grow as she should do, or she would be too big to will
away to nothing.

There was much to be said both for and against having such as wise
Maren in the district. That she was a witch was well known; but as
they went she was in the main a good woman. She never used her
talents in the service of the Devil, that is as far as any one
knew--and she was kind to the poor; curing many a one without taking
payment for it. And as to the farmer of the Sand farm, he only got
what he deserved.

Maren's fame was established after this. People have short memories,
when it is to their own advantage, and Anders Olsen was seldom
generous to them. There would be long intervals in between his
visits, then suddenly he would take to coming often. The men of the
Sand farm had always been plagued by witchcraft. They might be
working in the fields, and bending down to pick up a stone or a
weed, when all of a sudden some unseen deviltry would strike them
with such excruciating pains in the back, that they could not
straighten themselves, and had to crawl home on all fours. There
they would lie groaning for weeks, suffering greatly from doing
nothing, and treated by cupping, leeches and good advice, till one
day the pain would disappear as quickly as it had come. They
themselves put it down to the evil eye of women, who perhaps felt
themselves ignored and took their revenge in this mean fashion;
others thought it was a punishment from Heaven for having too fat a
back. At all events this was their weak spot, and whenever the
farmer felt a twinge of pain in his back he would hurry to
propitiate wise Maren.

This was not sufficient to live on, but her fame increased, and with
it her circle of patients.

Maren herself never understood why she had become so famous; but she
accepted the fact as it was, and turned it to the best account she
could. She took up one thing or another of what she remembered from
her childhood of her mother's good advice--and left the rest to look
after itself; generally she was guided by circumstances as to what
to say and do.

Maren had heard so often that she was a witch, and occasionally
believed it herself. Other times she would marvel at people's
stupidity. But she always thought with a sigh of the days when Soeren
still lived and she was nothing more than his "blockhead"--those
were happy days.

Now she was lonely. Soeren lay under the ground, and every one else
avoided her like the plague, when they did not require her services.
Others met and enjoyed a gossip, but no one thought of running in to
Maren for a cup of coffee. Even her neighbors kept themselves
carefully away, though they often required a helping hand and got it
too. She had but one living friend, who looked to her with
confidence and who was not afraid of her--Ditte.

It was a sad and sorry task to be a wise woman--only more so as it
was not her own choice; but it gave her a livelihood.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IX

DITTE VISITS FAIRYLAND

Ditte was now big enough to venture out alone, and would often run
away from home, without making Maren uneasy. She needed some one to
play with, and sought for playmates in the hamlet and the huts at
the edge of the forest. But the parents would call their children in
when they saw her coming. Eventually the children themselves learned
to beware of her; they would throw stones at her when she came near,
and shout nicknames: bastard and witch's brat. Then she tried
children in other places and met the same fate; at last it dawned
upon her that she stood apart. She was not even sure of the children
at home; just as she was playing with them on the sandhills, making
necklaces and rings of small blue scabious, the mother would run out
and tear the children away.

She had to learn to play alone and be content with the society of
the things around her; which she did. Ditte quickly invested her
playthings with life; sticks and stones were all given a part and
they were wonderfully easy to manage. Almost too well behaved, and
Ditte herself sometimes had to put a little naughtiness into them;
or they would be too dull. There was an old wornout wooden shoe of
Soeren's; Maren had painted a face on it and given it an old shawl as
a dress. In Ditte's world it took the part of a boy--a rascal of a
boy--always up to mischief and in some scrape or other. It was
constantly breaking things, and every minute Ditte had to punish it
and give it a good whipping.

One day she was sitting outside in the sun busily engaged in
scolding this naughty boy of a doll, in a voice deep with motherly
sorrow and annoyance. Maren, who stood inside the kitchen door
cleaning herrings, listened with amusement. "If you do it once
more," said the child, "we'll take you up to the old witch, and
she'll eat you all up."

Maren came quickly out. "Who says that?" asked she, her furrowed
face quivering.

"The Bogie-man says it," said Ditte cheerfully.

"Rubbish, child, be serious. Who's taught you that? Tell me at
once."

Ditte tried hard to be solemn. "Bogie-doggie said it--tomorrow!"
bubbling over with mirth.

No-one could get the better of her; she was bored, and just invented
any nonsense that came into her head. Maren gave it up and returned
to her work quietly and in deep thought.

She stood crying over her herrings, with the salt tears dropping
down into the pickle. She often cried of late, over herself and over
the world in general; the people treated her as if she were
infected with the plague, poisoning the air round her with their
meanness and hate, while as far as she knew she had always helped
them to the best of her ability. They did not hesitate in asking her
advice when in trouble, though at the same time they would blame
_her_ for having brought it upon them--calling her every name they
could think of when she had gone. Even the child's _innocent_ lips
called her a witch.

Since Soeren's death sorrow and tears had reddened Maren's eyes with
inflammation and turned her eyelids, but her neighbors only took it
as another sign of her hardened witchcraft. Her sight was failing
too, and she often had to depend upon Ditte's young eyes; and then
it would happen that the child took advantage of the opportunity and
played pranks.

Ditte was not bad--she was neither bad nor good. She was simply a
little creature, whose temperament required change. And so little
happened in her world, that she seized on whatever offered to
prevent herself from being bored to death.

One day something did happen! From one of the big farms, lying at
the other side of the common, with woods bounding the sandhills,
Maren had received permission to gather sticks in the wood every
Tuesday. There was not much heat in them, but they were good enough
for making a cup of coffee.

These Tuesdays were made into picnics. They took their meals with
them, which they enjoyed in some pleasant spot, preferably by the
edge of the lake, and Ditte would sit on the wheelbarrow on both
journeys. When they had got their load, they would pick berries
or--in the autumn--crab-apples and sloes, which were afterwards
cooked in the oven.

Now Granny was ill, having cried so much that she could no longer
see--which Ditte quite understood--but the extraordinary part of it
was that the water seemed to have gone to her legs, so that she
could not stand on them. The little one had to trudge all alone to
the forest for the sticks. It was a long way, but to make up for it,
the forest was full of interest. Now she could go right in, where
otherwise she was not allowed to go, because Granny was afraid of
getting lost, and always kept to the outskirts. There were singing
birds in there, their twittering sounded wonderful under the green
trees, the air was like green water with rays of light in it, and it
hummed and seethed in the darkness under the bushes.

Ditte was not afraid, though it must be admitted she occasionally
shivered. Every other minute she stopped to listen, and when a dry
stick snapped, she started, thrilled with excitement. She was not
bored here, her little body was brimming over with the wonder of it;
each step brought her fresh experiences full of unknown solemnity.
Suddenly it would jump out at her with a frightful: pshaw!--exactly
as the fire did when Granny poured paraffin over it--and she would
hurry away, as quickly as her small feet would carry her, until she
came to an opening in the wood.

On one of these flights she came to a wide river, with trees bending
over it. It was like a wide stream of greenness flowing down, and
Ditte stood transfixed, in breathless wonder. The green of the river
she quickly grasped, for this was the color poured down on all
trees--and the river here was the end of the world. Over on the
other side the Lord lived; if she looked very hard she could just
catch a glimpse of his gray bearded face in a thicket of thorns. But
how was all this greenness made?

She ran for some distance along the edge of the river, watching it,
until she was stopped by two ladies, so beautiful that she had never
seen anything like them before. Though there was no rain, and they
were walking under the trees in the shadow, they held parasols, on
which the sun gleamed through the green leaves, looking like glowing
coins raining down on to their parasols. They kneeled in front of
Ditte as if she were a little princess, lifting her bare feet and
peeping under the soles, as they questioned her.

Well, her name was Ditte. Ditte Mischief and Ditte Goodgirl--and
Ditte child o' Man!

The ladies looked at each other and laughed, and asked her where she
lived.

In Granny's house, of course.

"What Granny?" asked the stupid ladies again.

Ditte stamped her little bare foot on the grass:

"Oh, Granny! that's blind sometimes 'cos she cries so much. Ditte's
own Granny."

Then they pretended to be much wiser, and asked her to go home with
them for a little while. Ditte gave her little hand trustingly to
one of them and trotted along; she did not mind seeing if they lived
on the other side of the river--with the Lord. Then it would be
angels she had met.

They went along the river; Ditte, impatient with excitement, thought
it would never end. At last they came to a footbridge, arched across
the river. At the end of the bridge was a barred gate with railings
on each side, which it was impossible to climb over or under. The
ladies opened the gate with a key and carefully locked it again, and
Ditte found herself in a most beautiful garden. By the path stood
lovely flowers in clusters, red and blue, swaying their pretty
heads; and on low bushes were delicious large red berries such as
she had never tasted before.

Ditte knew at once that this was Paradise. She threw herself against
one of the ladies, her mouth red with the juice of the berries,
looking up at her with an unfathomable expression in her dark blue
eyes and said: "Am I dead now?"

The ladies laughed and took her into the house, through beautiful
rooms where one walked on thick soft shawls with one's boots on. In
the innermost room a little lady was sitting in an armchair. She was
white-haired and wrinkled and had spectacles on her nose; and wore
a white nightcap in spite of it being the middle of the day. "This
is our Granny!" said one of the ladies.

"Grandmother, look, we have caught a little wood goblin," they
shouted into the old lady's ear. Just think, this Granny was
deaf--her own was only blind.

Ditte went round peeping inquisitively into the different rooms.
"Where's the Lord?" asked she suddenly.

"What is the child saying?" exclaimed one of the ladies. But the one
who had taken Ditte by the hand, drew the little one towards her and
said: "The Lord does not live here, he lives up in Heaven. She
thinks this is Paradise," she added, turning to her sister.

It worried them to see her running about barefooted, and they
carefully examined her feet, fearing she might have been bitten by
some creeping thing in the wood. "Why does not the child wear
boots?" said the old lady. Her head shook so funnily when she spoke,
all the white curls bobbed--just like bluebells.

Ditte had no boots.

"Good Heavens! do you hear that, Grandmother, the child has no
boots. Have you nothing at all to put on your feet?"

"Bogie-man," burst out Ditte, laughing roguishly.

She was tired now of answering all their questions. However, they
dragged out of her that she had a pair of wooden shoes, which were
being kept for winter.

"Then with the help of God she shall have a pair of my cloth ones,"
said the old lady. "Give her a pair, Asta; and take a fairly good
pair."

"Certainly, Grandmother," answered one of the young women--the one
Ditte liked best.

So Ditte was put into the cloth boots. Then she was given different
kinds of food, such as she had never tasted before, and did not care
for either; she kept to the bread, being most familiar with
that--greatly to the astonishment of the three women.

"She is fastidious," said one of the young ladies.

"It can hardly be called that, when she prefers bread to anything
else," answered Miss Asta eagerly. "But she is evidently accustomed
to very plain food, and yet see how healthy she is." She drew the
little one to her and kissed her.

"Let her take it home with her," said the old lady, "such children
of nature never eat in captivity. My husband once captured a little
wild monkey down on the Gold Coast, but was obliged to let it go
again because it refused to eat."

Then Ditte was given the food packed into a pretty little basket of
red and white straw; a Leghorn hat was put upon her head, and a
large red bow adorned her breast. She enjoyed all this very
much--but suddenly, remembering her Granny, wanted to go home. She
stood pulling the door handle, and they had to let this amusing
little wood goblin out again. Hurriedly a few strawberries were put
into the basket, and off she disappeared into the wood.

"I hope she can find her way back again," said Miss Asta looking
after her with dreaming eyes.

Ditte certainly found her way home. It was fortunate that in her
longing to be there, she entirely forgot what was in the basket.
Otherwise old Maren would have gone to her grave without ever having
tasted strawberries.

After that Ditte often ran deep into the forest, in the hope that
the adventure would repeat itself. It had been a wonderful
experience, the most wonderful in her life. Old Maren encouraged her
too. "You just go right into the thicket," she said. "Naught can
harm you, for you're a Sunday child. And when you get to the charmed
house, you must ask for a pair of cloth boots for me too. Say that
old Granny has water in her legs and can hardly bear shoes on her
feet."

The river was easily found, but she did not meet the beautiful
ladies again, and the footbridge with the gate had disappeared.
There were woods on the other side of the river just as on this, the
Lord's face she could no longer find either, look as she might;
Fairyland was no more.

"You'll see, 'twas naught but a dream," said old Maren.

"But, Granny, the strawberries," answered Ditte.

Ay, the strawberries--that was true enough! Maren had eaten some of
them herself, and she had never tasted anything so delicious either.
Twenty times bigger than wild strawberries, and satisfying too--so
unlike other berries, which only upset one.

"The dream goblin, who took you to Fairyland, gave you those so that
other folks might taste them too," said the old one at last.

And with this explanation they were satisfied.

 

CHAPTER X

DITTE GETS A FATHER

On getting up one morning, Maren found her tenants had gone, they
had moved in the middle of the night. "The Devil has been and
fetched them," she said cheerfully. She was not at all sorry that
they had vanished; they were a sour and quarrelsome family! But the
worst of it was that they owed her twelve weeks' rent--twelve
crowns--which was all she had to meet the winter with.

Maren put up a notice and waited for new tenants, but none offered
themselves; the old ones had spread the rumor that the house was
haunted.

Maren felt the loss of the rent so much more as she had given up her
profession. She would no longer be a wise woman, it was impossible
to bear the curse. "Go to those who are wiser, and leave me in
peace," she answered, when they came for advice or to fetch her, and
they had to go away with their object unaccomplished, and soon it
was said that Maren had lost her witchcraft.

Yes, her strength diminished, her sight was almost gone, and her
legs refused to carry her. She spun and knitted for people and took
to begging again, Ditte leading her from farm to farm. They were
weary journeys; the old woman always complaining and leaning heavily
on the child's shoulder. Ditte could not understand it at all, the
flowers in the ditches and a hundred other things called her, she
longed to shake off the leaden arm and run about alone, Granny's
everlasting wailing filled her with a hopeless loathing. Then a
mischievous thought would seize her. "I can't find the way, Granny,"
she would suddenly declare, refusing to go a step further, or she
would slip away, hiding herself nearby. Maren scolded and threatened
for a while, but as it had no effect, she would sit down on the edge
of the ditch crying; this softened Ditte and she would hurry back,
putting her arms around her grandmother's neck. Thus they cried
together, in sorrow over the miserable world and joy at having found
each other again.

A little way inland lived a baker, who gave them a loaf of bread
every week. The child was sent for it when Maren was ill in bed.
Ditte was hungry, and this was a great temptation, so she always ran
the whole way home to keep the tempter at bay; when she succeeded in
bringing the bread back untouched, she and her Granny were equally
proud. But it sometimes happened that the pangs of hunger were too
strong, and she would tear out the crump from the side of the warm
bread as she ran. It was not meant to be seen, and for that reason
she took it from the side of the bread--just a little, but before
she knew what had happened the whole loaf was hollowed out. Then she
would be furious, at herself and Granny and everything.

"Here's the bread, Granny," she would say in an offhand voice,
throwing the bread on the table.

"Thank you, dear, is it new?"

"Yes, Granny," and Ditte disappeared.

Thereupon the old woman would sit gnawing the crust with her sore
gums, all the while grumbling at the child. Wicked girl--she should
be whipped. She should be turned out, to the workhouse.

To their minds there was nothing worse than the workhouse; in all
their existence, it had been as a sword over their heads, and when
brought forth by Maren, Ditte would come out from her hiding-place,
crying and begging for pardon. The old woman would cry too, and the
one would soothe the other, until both were comforted.

"Ay, ay, 'tis hard to live," old Maren would say. "If you'd but had
a father--one worth having. Maybe you'd have got the thrashings all
folks need, and poor old Granny'd have lived with you instead of
begging her food!"

Maren had barely finished speaking, when a cart with a bony old nag
in the shafts stopped outside on the road. A big stooping man with
tousled hair and beard sprang down from the cart, threw the reins
over the back of the nag, and came towards the house. He looked like
a coalheaver.

"He's selling herrings," said Ditte, who was kneeling on a stool by
the window. "Shall I let him in?"

"Ay, just open the door."

Ditte unbolted the door, and the man came staggering in. He wore
heavy wooden boots, into which his trousers were pushed; and each
step he took rang through the room, which was too low for him to
stand upright in. He stood looking round just inside the door; Ditte
had taken refuge behind Granny's spinning wheel. He came towards the
living room, holding out his hand.

Ditte burst into laughter at his confusion when the old woman did
not accept it. "Why, Granny's blind!" she said, bubbling over with
mirth.

"Oh, that's it? Then it's hardly to be expected that you could see,"
he said, taking the old woman's hand. "Well, I'm your son-in-law,
there's news for you." His voice rang with good-humor.

Maren quickly raised her head. "Which of the girls is it?" asked
she.

"The mother of this young one," answered he, aiming at Ditte with
his big battered hat. "It's not what you might call legal yet; we've
done without the parson till he's needed--so much comes afore that.
But a house and a home we've got, though poor it may be. We live a
good seven miles inland on the other side of the common--on the
_sand_--folks call it the 'Crow's Nest'!"

"And what's your name?" asked Maren again.

"Lars Peter Hansen, I was christened."

The old woman considered for a while, then shook her head. "I've
never heard of you."

"My father was called the hangman. Maybe you know me now?"

"Ay, 'tis a known name--if not of the best."

"Folks can't always choose their own names, or character either, and
must just be satisfied with a clear conscience. But as I was passing
I thought I'd just look in and see you. When we're having the parson
to give us his blessing, Soerine and me, I'll come with the trap and
fetch the two of you to church. That's if you don't care to move
down to us at once--seems like that would be best."

"Did Soerine send the message?" asked Maren suspiciously.

Lars Peter Hansen mumbled something, which might be taken for either
yes or no.

"Ay, I thought so, you hit on it yourself, and thanks to you for
your kindness; but we'd better stay where we are. Though we'd like
to go to the wedding. 'Tis eight children I've brought into the
world, and nigh all married now, but I've never been asked to a
wedding afore." Maren became thoughtful. "And what's your trade?"
she asked soon after.

"I hawk herrings--and anything else to be got. Buy rags and bones
too when folks have any."

"You can hardly make much at that--for folks wear their rags as long
as there's a thread left--and there's few better off than that. Or
maybe they're more well-to-do in other places?"

"Nay, 'tis the same there as here, clothes worn out to the last
thread, and bones used until they crumble," answered the man with a
laugh. "But a living's to be made."

"Ay, that's so, food's to be got from somewhere! But you must be
hungry? 'Tisn't much we've got to offer you, though we can manage a
cup of coffee, if that's good enough--Ditte, run along to the baker
and tell him what you've done to the bread, and that we've got
company. Maybe he'll scold you and give you another--if he doesn't,
we'll have to go without next week. But tell the truth. Hurry up
now--and don't pull out the crump."

With lingering feet Ditte went out of the door. It was a hard
punishment, and she hung back in the hope that Granny would relent
and let her off fetching the bread. Pull out the crump--no, never
again, today or as long as she lived. Her ears burned with shame at
the thought that her new father should know her misdeeds, the baker
too would know what a wicked girl she was to Granny. She would not
tell an untruth, for Granny always said to clear oneself with a lie
was like cutting thistles: cut off the head of one and half a dozen
will spring up in its place. Ditte knew from experience that lies
always came back on one with redoubled trouble; consequently she had
made up her little mind, that it did not pay to avoid the truth.

Lars Peter Hansen sat by the window gazing after the child, who
loitered along the road, and as she suddenly began to run, he turned
to the old woman, asking: "Can you manage her?"

"Ay, she's good enough," said Maren from the kitchen, fumbling with
the sticks in trying to light the fire. "I've no one better to lean
on--and don't want it either. But she's a child, and I'm old and
troublesome--so the one makes up for the other. The foal will kick
backwards, and the old horse will stand. But 'tis dull to spend
one's childhood with one that's old and weak and all."

Ditte was breathless when she reached the baker's, so quickly had
she run in order to get back as soon as possible to the big stooping
man with the good-natured growl.

"Now I've got a father, just like other children," she shouted
breathlessly. "He's at home with Granny--and he's got a horse and
cart."

"Nay, is that so?" said they, opening their eyes, "and what's his
name?"

"He's called the rag and bone man!" answered Ditte proudly.

And they knew him here! Ditte saw them exchange glances.

"Then you belong to a grand family," said the baker's wife, laying
the loaf of bread on the counter--without realizing that the child
had already had her weekly loaf, so taken up was she with the news.

And Ditte, who was even more so, seized the bread and ran. Not until
she was halfway home did she remember what she ought to have
confessed; it was too late then.

Before Lars Peter Hansen left, he presented them with a dozen
herrings, and repeated his promise of coming to fetch them to the
wedding.

 

CHAPTER XI

THE NEW FATHER

When Ditte was six months old, she had the bad habit of putting
things into her mouth--everything went that way. This was the proof
whether they could be eaten or not.

Ditte laughed when Granny told about it, because she was so much
wiser now. There were things one could not eat and yet get pleasure
from, and other things which could be eaten, but gave more enjoyment
if one left them alone, content in the thought of how they would
taste if----Then one hugged oneself with delight at keeping it so
much longer. "You're foolish," said Granny, "eat it up before it
goes bad!" But Ditte understood how to put by. She would dream over
one or other thing she had got: a red apple, for instance, she would
press to her cheek and mouth and kiss. Or she would hide it and go
about thinking of it with silent devotion. Should she return and
find it spoiled, well, in imagination she had eaten it over and over
again. This was beyond Granny; her helplessness had made her greedy,
and she could never get enough to eat; now it was she who put
everything into her mouth.

But then they had watched the child, for fear she should eat
something which might harm her. More so Soeren. "Not into your
mouth!" he often said. Whereupon the child would gaze at him, take
the thing out of her own mouth and try to put it into his. Was it an
attempt to get an accomplice, or did the little one think it was
because he himself wanted to suck the thing, that he forbade her?
Soeren was never quite clear on this point.

At all events, Ditte had learned at an early age to reckon with
other people's selfishness. If they gave good advice or corrected
her, it was not so much out of consideration for her as for their
own ends. Should she meet the bigger girls on the road, and happen
to have an apple in her hand, they would say to her: "Fling that
horrible apple away, or you'll get worms!" But Ditte no longer threw
the apple away; she had found out that they only picked it up as
soon as she had gone, to eat it themselves. Things were not what
they appeared to be, more often than not there was something behind
what one saw and heard.

Some people declared, that things really meant for one were put
behind a back--a stick, for instance; it was always wise to be on
the watch.

With Granny naturally it was not like this. She was simply Granny
through all their ups and downs, and one need never beware of her.
She was only more whining than she used to be, and could no longer
earn their living. Ditte had to bear the greatest share of the
burden, and was already capable of getting necessities for the
house; she knew when the farmers were killing or churning, and would
stand barefooted begging for a little for Granny. "Why don't you get
poor relief?" said some, but gave all the same; the needy must not
be turned away from one's door, if one's food were to be blessed.
But under these new conditions it was impossible to have any respect
for Granny, who was treated more as a spoiled child, and often
corrected and then comforted.

"Ay, 'tis all very well for you," said the old woman--"you've got
sight and good legs, the whole world's afore you. But I've only the
grave to look forward to."

"Do you want to die?" asked Ditte, "and go to old Grandfather
Soeren?"

Indeed, no, Granny did not wish to die. But she could not help
thinking of the grave; it drew her and yet frightened her. Her tired
limbs were never really rested, and a long, long sleep under the
green by Soeren's side was a tempting thought, if only one could be
sure of not feeling the cold. Yes, and that the child was looked
after, of course.

"Then I'll go over to my new father," declared Ditte whenever it was
spoken of. Granny need have no fear for her. "But do you think
Grandfather Soeren's still there?"

Yes, that was what old Maren was not quite sure of herself. She
could so well imagine the grave as the end of everything, and rest
peacefully with that thought; oh! the blissfulness of laying one's
tired head where no carts could be heard, and to be free for all
eternity from aches and pains and troubles, and only rest. Perhaps
this would not be allowed--there was so much talking: the parson
said one thing and the lay preacher another. Soeren might not be
there any longer, and she would have to search for him till she
found him, which would be difficult enough if after death he had
been transformed to youth again. Soeren had been wild and dissipated.
Where he was, Maren must also be, there was no doubt about that. But
she preferred to have it arranged so that she could have a long rest
by Soeren's side, as a reward for all those weary years.

"Then I'll go to my new father!" repeated Ditte. This had become her
refrain.

"Ay, just as ye like!" answered Maren harshly. She did not like the
child taking the subject so calmly.

But Ditte needed some one who could secure her future. Granny was no
good, she was too old and helpless, and she was a woman. There ought
to be a man! And now she had found him. She lay down to sleep behind
Granny with a new feeling now; she had a real father, just like
other children, one who was married to her mother, and in addition
possessed a horse and cart. The bald young owner of the Sand farm,
who was so thin and mean that he froze everybody near him, she never
took to, he was too cold for that. But the rag and bone man had
taken her on his knee and shouted in her ear with his big blustering
voice. They might shout "brat" after her as much as they liked, for
all she cared. She had a father taller than any of theirs, he had to
bend his head when he stood under the beams in Granny's sitting
room.

The outlook was so much better now, one fell asleep feeling richer
and woke again--not disappointed as when one had dreamt--but with a
feeling of security. Such a father was much better to depend upon,
than an old blind Granny, who was nothing but a bundle of rags.
Every night when Granny undressed, Ditte was equally astonished at
seeing her take off skirt after skirt, getting thinner and thinner
until, as if by witchcraft, nothing was left of the fat grandmother
but a skeleton, a withered little crone, who wheezed like the leaky
bellows by the fireplace.

They looked forward to the day when the new father would come and
fetch them to the wedding. Then of course it would be in a grand
carriage--the other one was only a cart. It would happen when they
were most wearied with life, not knowing where to turn for food or
coffee. Suddenly they would hear the cheerful crack of a whip
outside, and there he would stand, saluting with his whip, the
rascal; and as they got into the carriage, he would sit at attention
with his whip--like the coachman on the estate.

Maren, poor soul, had never seen a carriage at her door; she was
almost more excited than the child, and described it all to her.
"And little I thought any carriage would ever come for me, but the
one that took me to the churchyard," she would say each time. "But
your mother, she always had a weakness for what is grand."

There had come excitement into their poor lives. Ditte was no longer
bored, and did not have to invent mischief to keep her little mind
occupied. She had also developed a certain feeling of responsibility
towards her grandmother, now that she was dependent on her--they got
on much better together. "You're very good to your old Granny,
child," Maren would often say, and then they would cry over each
other without knowing why.

The little wide-awake girl now had to be eyes for Granny as well,
and old Maren had to learn to see things through Ditte. And as soon
as she got used to it and put implicit faith in the child, all went
well. Whenever Ditte was tempted to make fun, Maren had only to say:
"You're not playing tricks, are you, child?" and she would
immediately stop. She was intelligent and quick, and Maren could
wish for no better eyes than hers, failing the use of her own. There
she would sit fumbling and turning her sightless eyes towards every
sound without discovering what it could be. But thanks to Ditte she
was able by degrees to take up part of her old life again.

Perhaps after all she missed the skies more than anything else. The
weather had always played a great part in Maren's life; not so much
the weather that was, as that to come. This was the fishergirl in
her; she took after her mother--and her mother again--from the time
she began to take notice she would peer at the skies early and late.
Everything was governed by them, even their food from day to day,
and when they were dark--it cleared the table once and for all by
taking the bread-winner. The sky was the first thing her eyes sought
for in the morning, and the last to dwell upon at night. "There'll
be a storm in the night," she would say, as she came in, or: "It'll
be a good day for fishing tomorrow!" Ditte never understood how she
knew this.

Maren seldom went out now, so it did not matter to her what the
weather was, but she was still as much interested in it. "What's the
sky like?" she would often ask. Ditte would run out and peer
anxiously at the skies, very much taken up with her commission.

"'Tis red," she announced on her return, "and there's a man riding
over it on a wet, wet horse. Is it going to rain then?"

"Is the sun going down into a sack?" asked Granny. Ditte ran out
again to see.

"There's no sun at all," she came in and announced with excitement.

But Granny shook her head, there was nothing to be made of the
child's explanation; she was too imaginative.

"Have you seen the cat eat grass today?" asked Maren after a short
silence.

No, Ditte had not seen it do that. But it had jumped after flies.

Maren considered for a while. Well, well, it probably meant nothing
good. "Go and see if there are stars under the coffee kettle," said
she.

Ditte lifted the heavy copper kettle from the fire--yes, there were
stars of fire in the soot, they swarmed over the bottom of the
kettle in a glittering mass.

"Then it'll be stormy," said Granny relieved. "I've felt it for days
in my bones." Should there be a storm, Maren always remembered to
say: "Now, you see, I was right." And Ditte wondered over her
Granny's wisdom.

"Is that why folks call you 'wise Maren'?" asked she.

"Ay, that's it. But it doesn't need much to be wiser than the
others--if only one has sight. For folks are stupid--most of them."

Lars Peter Hansen they neither saw nor heard of for nearly a year.
When people drove past, who they thought might come from his
locality, they would make inquiries; but were never much wiser for
all they heard. At last they began to wonder whether he really did
exist; it was surely not a dream like the fairy-house in the wood?

And then one day he actually stood at the door. He did not exactly
crack his whip--a long hazel-stick with a piece of string at the
end--but he tried to do it, and the old nag answered by throwing
back its head and whinnying. It was the same cart as before, but a
seat with a green upholstered back, from which the stuffing
protruded, had been put on. His big battered hat was the same too,
it was shiny from age and full of dust, and with bits of straw and
spiders' webs in the dents. From underneath it his tousled hair
showed, so covered with dust and burrs and other things that the
birds of the air might be tempted to build their nests in it.

"Now, what do you say to a little drive today?" he shouted gaily, as
he tramped in. "I've brought fine weather with me, what?"

He might easily do that, for even yesterday Granny had seen to it
that the weather should be fine, although she knew nothing of this.
Last evening she touched the dew on the window-pane with her hand
and had said: "There's dew for the morning sun to sparkle on."

Lars Peter Hansen had to wait, while Ditte lit the fire and made
coffee for him. "What a clever girl you are," he burst out, as she
put it in front of him, "you must have a kiss." He took her in his
arms and kissed her; Ditte put her face against his rough cheek and
did not speak a word. Suddenly he realized his cheek was wet, and
turned her face toward his. "Have I hurt you?" he asked alarmed, and
put her down.

"Nay, never a bit," said the old woman. "The child has been looking
forward to a kiss from her father, and now it has come to
pass--little as it is. You let her have her cry out; childish tears
only wet the cheeks."

But Lars Peter Hansen went into the peat shed, where he found Ditte
sobbing. Gently raising her, he dried her cheeks with his checked
handkerchief, which looked as if it had been out many times before
today.

"We'll be friends sure enough, we two--we'll be friends sure
enough," he repeated soothingly. His deep voice comforted the child,
she took his hand and followed him back again.

Granny, who was very fond of coffee, though she would never say so,
had seized the opportunity to take an extra cup while they were out.
In her haste to pour it out, some had been spilt on the table, and
now she was trying to wipe it up in the hope it might not be seen.
Ditte helped her to take off her apron, and washed her skirt with a
wet cloth, so that it should not leave a mark; she looked quite
motherly. She herself would have no coffee, she was so overwhelmed
with happiness, that she could not eat.

Then the old woman was well wrapped up, and Lars Peter lifted them
into the cart. Granny was put on the seat by his side, while Ditte,
who was to have sat on the fodder-bag at the back, placed herself at
their feet, for company. Lars took up the reins, pulled them
tightly, and loosened them again; having done this several times,
the old nag started with a jerk, which almost upset their balance,
and off they went into the country.

It was glorious sunshine. Straight ahead the rolling downs lay
bathed in it--and beyond, the country with forest and hill. It all
looked so different from the cart, than when walking with bare feet
along the road; all seemed to curtsey to Ditte, hills and forests
and everything. She was not used to driving, and this was the first
time she had driven in state and looked down on things. All those
dreary hills that on other days stretched so heavily and
monotonously in front of her, and had often been too much for her
small feet, today lay down and said: "Yes, Ditte, you may drive over
us with pleasure!" Granny did not share in all this, but she could
feel the sun on her old back and was quite in holiday mood.

The old nag took its own time, and Lars Peter Hansen had no
objection. He sat the whole time lightly touching it with his whip,
a habit of his, and one without which the horse could not proceed.
Should he stop for one moment, while pointing with his whip at the
landscape, it would toss its head with impatience and look
back--greatly to Ditte's enjoyment.

"Can't it gallop at all?" asked she, propping herself up between his
knees.

"Rather, just you wait and see!" answered Lars Peter Hansen proudly.
He pulled in the reins, but the nag only stopped, turned round, and
looked at him with astonishment. For each lash of the whip, it threw
up its tail and sawed the air with its head. Ditte's little body
tingled with enjoyment.

"'Tisn't in the mood today," said Lars Peter Hansen, when he had at
last got it into its old trot again. "It thinks it's a fraud to
expect it to gallop, when it's been taking such long paces all the
time."

"Did it say that?" asked Ditte, her eyes traveling from the one to
the other.

"That's what it's supposed to mean. It's not far wrong."

Long paces it certainly did take--about that there was no
mistake--but never two of equal length, and the cart was rolling in
a zigzag all the time. What a funny horse it was. It looked as if it
was made of odd parts, so bony and misshapen was it. No two parts
matched, and its limbs groaned and creaked with every movement.

They drove past the big estate, where the squire lived, over the
common, and still further out into the country which Granny had
never seen before.

"But you can't see it now either," corrected Ditte pedantically.

"Oh, you always want to split hairs, 'course I can see it! When I
hear you two speak, I see everything quite plainly. 'Tis a gift of
God, to live through all this in my old days. But I smell something
sweet, what is it?"

"Maybe 'tis the fresh water, Granny," said Lars Peter. "Two or three
miles down to the left is the big lake. Granny has a sharp nose for
anything that's wet." He chuckled over his little joke.

"'Tis water folks can drink without harm," said Maren thoughtfully;
"Soeren's told me about it. We were going to take a trip down there
fishing for eels, but we never did. Ay, they say 'tis a pretty sight
over the water to see the glare of the fires on the summer nights."

In between Lars Peter told them about conditions in his home. It was
not exactly the wedding they were going to, for they had married
about nine months ago--secretly. "'Twas done in a hurry," he
apologetically explained, "or you two would have been there."

Maren became silent; she had looked forward to being present at the
wedding of one of her girls at least, and nothing had come of it.
Otherwise, it was a lovely trip.

"Have you any little ones then?" she asked shortly after.

"A boy," answered Lars Peter, "a proper little monkey--the image of
his mother!" He was quite enthusiastic at the thought of the child.
"Soerine's expecting another one soon," he added quietly.

"You're getting on," said Maren. "How is she?"

"Not quite so well this time. 'Tis the heartburn, she says."

"Then 'twill be a long-haired girl," Maren declared definitely. "And
well on the way she must be, for the hair to stick in the mother's
throat."

It was a beautiful September day. Everything smelt of mold, and the
air was full of moisture, which could be seen as crystal drops over
the sunlit land; a blue haze hung between the trees sinking to rest
in the undergrowth, so that meadow and moor looked like a glimmering
white sea.

Ditte marveled at the endlessness of the world. Constantly something
new could be seen: forests, villages, churches; only the end of the
world, which she expected every moment to see and put an end to
everything, failed to appear. To the south some towers shone in the
sun; it was a king's palace, said her father--her little heart
mounted to her throat when he said that. And still further ahead----

"What's that I smell now?" Granny suddenly said, sniffing the air.
"'Tis salt! We must be near the sea."

"Not just what one would call near, 'tis over seven miles away. Can
you really smell the sea?"

Ay, ay, no-one need tell Maren that they neared the sea; she had
spent all her life near it and ought to know. "And what sea is
that?" asked she.

"The same as yours," answered Lars Peter.

"That's little enough to drive through the country for," said Maren
laughingly.

And then they were at the end of their journey. It was quite a shock
to them, when the nag suddenly stopped and Lars Peter sprang down
from the cart. "Now, then," said he, lifting them down. Soerine came
out with the boy in her arms; she was big and strong and had rough
manners.

Ditte was afraid of this big red woman, and took refuge behind
Granny. "She doesn't know you, that's why," said Maren, "she'll soon
be all right."

But Soerine was angry. "Now, no more nonsense, child," said she,
dragging her forward. "Kiss your mother at once."

Ditte began to howl, and tore herself away from her. Soerine looked
as if she would have liked to use a parent's privilege and punish
the child then and there. Her husband came between by snatching the
child from her and placing her on the back of the horse. "Pat the
kind horse and say thank you for the nice drive," said he. Thus he
quieted Ditte, and carried her to Soerine. "Kiss mother," he said,
and Ditte put forth her little mouth invitingly. But now Soerine
refused. She looked at the child angrily, and went to get water for
the horse.

Soerine had killed a couple of chickens in their honor, and on the
whole made them comfortable, as far as their food and drink went;
but there was a lack of friendliness which made itself felt. She had
always been cold and selfish, and had not improved with years. By
the next morning old Maren saw it was quite time for them to return
home, and against this Soerine did not demur. After dinner Lars Peter
harnessed the old nag, lifted them into the cart, and off they set
homewards, relieved that it was over. Even Lars Peter was different
out in the open to what he was at home. He sang and cracked jokes,
while home he was quiet and said little.

They were thankful to be home again in the hut on the Naze. "Thank
the Lord, 'tis not your mother we've to look to for our daily
bread," said Granny, when Lars Peter Hansen had taken leave; and
Ditte threw her arms round the old woman's neck and kissed her.
Today she realized fully Granny's true worth.

It had been somewhat of a disappointment. Soerine was not what they
had expected her to be, and her home was not up to much. As far as
Granny found out from Ditte's description, it was more like a
mud-hut, which had been given the name of dwelling-house, barn, etc.
In no way could it be compared with the hut on the Naze.

But the drive had been beautiful.

 

CHAPTER XII

THE RAG AND BONE MAN

All who knew Lars Peter Hansen agreed that he was a comical fellow.
He was always in a good temper, and really there was no reason why
he should be--especially where he was concerned. He belonged to a
race of rag and bone men, who as far back as any one could remember,
had traded in what others would not touch, and had therefore been
given the name of rag and bone folk. His father drove with dogs and
bought up rags and bones and other unclean refuse; when a sick or
tainted animal had to be done away with he was always sent for. He
was a fellow who never minded what he did, and would bury his arms
up to the elbows in the worst kind of carrion, and then go straight
to his dinner without even rinsing his fingers in water; people
declared that in the middle of the night he would go and dig up the
dead animals and strip them of their skin. His father, it was said,
had gone as a boy to give his uncle a helping hand. As an example of
the boy's depravity, it was said that when the rope would not
tighten round the neck of a man who was being hung, he would climb
up the gallows, drop down on to the unfortunate man's shoulder, and
sit there.

There was not much to inherit, and there was absolutely nothing to
be proud of. Lars Peter had probably felt this, for when quite young
he had turned his back on the home of his childhood. He crossed the
water and tried for work in North Sea land--his ambition was to be a
farmer. He was a steady and respectable fellow, and as strong as a
horse, any farmer would willingly employ him.

But if he thought he could run away from things, he was mistaken.
Rumors of his origin followed faithfully at his heels, and harmed
him at every turn. He might just as well have tried to fly from his
own shadow.

Fortunately it did not affect him much. He was
good-natured--wherever he had got it from--there was not a bad
thought in his mind. His strength and trustworthiness made up for
his low origin, so that he was able to hold his own with other young
men; it even happened, that a well-to-do girl fell in love with his
strength and black hair, and wanted him for a husband. In spite of
her family's opposition they became engaged; but very soon she died,
so he did not get hold of her money.

So unlucky was he in everything, that it seemed as if the sins of
his fathers were visited upon him. But Lars Peter took it as the way
of the world. He toiled and saved, till he had scraped together
sufficient money to clear a small piece of land on the Sand--and
once again looked for a wife. He met a girl from one of the
fishing-hamlets; they took to each other, and he married her.

There are people, upon whose roof the bird of misfortune always sits
flapping its black wings. It is generally invisible to all but the
inmates of the house; but it may happen, that all others see it,
except those whom it visits.

Lars Peter was one of those whom people always watched for something
to happen. To his race stuck the two biggest mysteries of all--the
blood and the curse; that he himself was good and happy made it no
less exciting. Something surely was in store for him; every one
could see the bird of misfortune on his roof.

He himself saw nothing, and with confidence took his bride home. No
one told him that she had been engaged to a sailor, who was drowned;
and anyway, what good would it have done? Lars Peter was not the man
to be frightened away by the dead, he was at odds with no man. And
no one can escape his fate.

They were as happy together as any two human beings can be; Lars
Peter was good to her, and when he had finished his own work, would
help her with the milking, and carry water in for her. Hansine was
happy and satisfied; every one could see she had got a good husband.
The bird that lived on their roof could be none other than the
stork, for before long Hansine confided in Lars Peter that she was
with child.

It was the most glorious news he had ever had in his life, and if he
had worked hard before he did even more so now. His evenings were
spent in the woodshed; there was a cradle to be made, and a
rocking-chair, and small wooden shoes to be carved. As he worked he
would hum, something slightly resembling a melody, but always the
same tune; then suddenly Hansine would come running out throwing
herself into his arms. She had become so strange under her
pregnancy, she could find no rest, and would sit for hours with her
thoughts far away--as if listening to distant voices--and could not
be roused up again. Lars Peter put it down to her condition, and
took it all good-humoredly. His even temperament had a soothing
effect upon her, and she was soon happy again. But at times she was
full of anxiety, and would run out to him in the fields, almost
beside herself. It was almost impossible to persuade her to return
to the house, he only succeeded after promising to keep within
sight. She was afraid of one thing or another at home, but when he
urged her to tell him the reason, she would look dumbly at him.

After the child's birth, she was her old self again. Their delight
was great in the little one, and they were happier even than before.

But this strange phase returned when she again became pregnant, only
in a stronger degree. There were times, when her fear forced her
out of the house, and she would run into the fields, wring her hands
in anguish. The distracted husband would fetch the screaming child
to her, thus tempting her home again. This time she gave in and
confided in him, that she had been engaged to a sailor, who had made
her promise that she would remain faithful, if anything happened to
him at sea.

"Did he never come back then?" asked Lars Peter slowly.

Hansine shook her head. And he had threatened to return and claim
her, if she broke her word. He had said, he would tap on the
trap-door in the ceiling.

"Did you promise of your own free will?" Lars Peter said
ponderously.

No, Hansine thought he had pressed her.

"Then you're not bound by it," said he. "My family, maybe, are not
much to go by, scum of the earth as we are. But my father and my
grandfather always used to say, there's no need to fear the dead;
they were easier to get away from than the living." She sat bending
over the babe, which had cried itself to sleep on her knees, and
Lars Peter stood with his arms round her shoulder, softly rocking
her backwards and forwards, as he tried to talk her to reason. "You
must think of the little one here--and the other little one to come!
The only thing which can't be forgiven, is unkindness to those given
to us."

Hansine took his hand and pressed it against her tearful eyes. Then
rising herself she put the child to bed; she was calm now.

The rag and bone man had no superstition of any kind, or fear
either, it was the only bright touch in the darkness of his race
that they possessed; this property caused them to be outcasts--and
decided their trade. Those who are not haunted, haunt others.

The only curse he knew, was the curse of being an outcast and
feared; and this, thank the Lord, had been removed where he was
concerned. He did not believe in persecution from a dead man. But he
understood the serious effect it had upon Hansine, and was much
troubled on her account. Before going to bed, he took down the
trap-door and hid it under the roof.

Thus they had children one after the other, and with it trouble and
depression. Instead of becoming better it grew worse with each one;
and as much as Lars Peter loved his children, he hoped each one
would be the last. The children themselves bore no mark of having
been carried under a heart full of fear. They were like small
shining suns, who encircled him all day long from the moment they
could move. They added enjoyment to his work, and as each new one
made its appearance, he received it as a gift of God. His huge fists
entirely covered the newly born babe, when handed to him by the
midwife--looking in its swaddling clothes like the leg of a boot--as
he lifted it to the ceiling. His voice in its joy was like the deep
chime of a bell, and the babe's head rolled from side to side, while
blinking its eyes at the light. Never had any one been so grateful
for children, wife and everything else as Lars Peter. He was filled
with admiration for them all, it was a glorious world.

He did not exactly make headway on his little farm. It was poor
land, and Lars Peter was said to be unlucky. Either he lost an
animal or the crop was spoiled by hail. Other people kept an account
of these accidents, Lars Peter himself had no feeling of being
treated badly. On the contrary he was thankful for his farm, and
toiled patiently on it. Nothing affected him.

When Hansine was to have her fifth child, she was worse than ever.
She had made him put up the trap-door again, on the pretense that
she could not stay in the kitchen for the draught, and she would be
nowhere else but there--she was waiting for the tap. She complained
no longer nor on the whole was she anxious either. It was as if she
had learned to endure what could not be evaded; she was
absent-minded, and Lars Peter had the sad feeling that she no longer
belonged to him. In the night he would suddenly realize that she was
missing from his side--and would find her in the kitchen stiff with
cold. He carried her back to bed, soothing her like a little child,
and she would fall asleep on his breast.

Her condition was such, that he never dared go from home, and leave
her alone with the children; he had to engage a woman to keep an eye
on her, and look after the house. She now neglected everything and
looked at the children as if they were the cause of her trouble.

One day when he was taking a load of peat to town, an awful thing
happened. What Hansine had been waiting for so long, now actually
took place. She sent the woman, who was supposed to be with her,
away on some excuse or other; and when Lars Peter returned, the
animals were bellowing and every door open. There was no sign of
wife or children. The poultry slipped past him, as he went round
calling. He found them all in the well. It was a fearful sight to
see the mother and four children lying in a row, first on the
cobble-stoned yard, wet and pitiful, and afterwards on the
sitting-room table dressed for burial. Without a doubt the sailor
had claimed his right! The mother had jumped down last, with the
youngest in her arms; they found her like this, tightly clasping the
child, though she had not deserved it.

Every one was deeply shocked by this dreadful occurrence. They would
willingly have given him a comforting and helping hand now; but it
seemed that nothing could be done to help him in his trouble. He did
not easily accept favors.

He busied himself round and about the dead, until the day of the
funeral. No one saw him shed a single tear, not even when the earth
was thrown on to the coffins, and people wondered at his composure;
he had clung so closely to them. He was probably one of those who
were cursed with inability to cry, thought the women.

After the funeral, he asked a neighbor to look after his animals; he
had to go to town, said he. With that he disappeared, and for two
years he was not seen; it was understood that he had gone to sea.
The farm was taken over by the creditors; there was no more than
would pay what he owed, so that at all events, he did not lose
anything by it.

One day he suddenly cropped up again, the same old Lars Peter,
prepared, like Job, to start again from the beginning. He had saved
a little money in the last two years, and bought a partly ruined
hut, a short distance north of his former farm. With the hut went a
bit of marsh, and a few acres of poor land, which had never been
under the plow. He bought a few sheep and poultry, put up an
outhouse of peat and reeds taken from the marsh--and settled himself
in. He dug peat and sold it, and when there was a good catch of
herrings, would go down to the nearest fishing hamlet with his
wheelbarrow and buy a load, taking them from hut to hut. He
preferred to barter them, taking in exchange old metal, rags and
bones, etc. It was the trade of his race he took up again, and
although he had never practised it before, he fell into it quite
easily. One day he took home a big bony horse, which he had got
cheap, because no-one else had any use for it; another day he
brought Soerine home. Everything went well for him.

He had met Soerine at some gathering down in one of the fishing huts,
and they quickly made a match of it. She was tired of her place and
he of being alone; so they threw in their lot together.

He was out the whole day long, and often at night too. When the
fishing season was in full swing, he would leave home at one or two
o'clock in the night, to be at the hamlet when the first boats came
in. On these occasions Soerine stayed up to see that he did not
oversleep himself. This irregular life came as naturally to her as
to him, and she was a great help to him. So now once more he had a
wife, and one who could work too. He possessed a horse, which had no
equal in all the land--and a farm! It was not what could be called
an estate, the house was built of hay, mud and sticks; people would
point laughingly at it as they passed. Lars Peter alone was thankful
for it.

He was a satisfied being--rather too much so, thought Soerine. She
was of a different nature, always straining forward, and pushing him
along so that her position might be bettered. She was an ambitious
woman. When he was away, she managed everything; and the first
summer helped him to build a proper outhouse, of old beams and
bricks, which she made herself by drying clay in the sun. "Now we've
a place for the animals just like other people," said she, when it
was finished. But her voice showed that she was not satisfied.

At times Lars Peter Hansen would suggest that they ought to take
Granny and Ditte to live with them. "They're so lonely and dull,"
said he, "and the Lord only knows where they get food from."

But this Soerine would not hear of. "We've enough to do without
them," answered she sharply, "and Mother's not in want, I'm sure.
She was always clever at helping herself. If they come here, I'll
have the money paid for Ditte. 'Tis mine by right."

"They'll have eaten that up long ago," said Lars Peter.

But Soerine did not think so; it would not be like her father or her
mother. She was convinced that her mother had hidden it somewhere or
other. "If she would only sell the hut, and give the money to us,"
said she. "Then we could build a new house."

"Much wants more!" answered Lars Peter smilingly. In his opinion the
house they lived in was quite good enough. But he was a man who
thought anything good enough for him, and nothing too good for
others. If he were allowed to rule they would soon end in the
workhouse!

So Lars Peter avoided the question, and after Granny's visit, and
having seen her and Soerine together, he understood they would be
best apart. They did not come to his home again, but when he was
buying up in their part of the country, he would call in at the hut
on the Naze and take a cup of coffee with them. He would then bring
a paper of coffee and some cakes with him, so as not to take them
unawares, and had other small gifts too. These were days of
rejoicing in the little hut. They longed for him, from one visit to
another, and could talk of very little else. Whenever there were
sounds of wheels, Ditte would fly to the window, and Granny would
open wide her sightless eyes. Ditte gathered old iron from the shore
as a surprise for her father; and when he drove home, she would go
with him as far as the big hill, behind which the sun went down.

Lars Peter said nothing of these visits when he got home.

 

CHAPTER XIII

DITTE HAS A VISION

Before losing her sight Maren had taught Ditte to read, which came
in very useful now. They never went to church; their clothes were
too shabby, and the way too long. Maren was not particularly zealous
in her attendance, a life-long experience had taught her to take
what the parson said with a grain of salt. But on Sundays, when
people streamed past on their way to church, they were both neatly
dressed, Ditte with a clean pinafore and polished wooden shoes, and
Granny with a stringed cap. Then Granny would be sitting in the
armchair at the table, spectacles on her nose and the Bible in front
of her, and Ditte standing beside her reading the scriptures for the
day. In spite of her blindness, Maren insisted upon wearing her
spectacles and having the holy book in front of her, according to
custom, otherwise it was not right.

Ditte was nearly of school age, but Maren took no notice of it, and
kept her home. She was afraid of the child not getting on with the
other children--and could not imagine how she herself could spare
her the whole day long. But at the end of six months they were
found out, and Maren was threatened, that unless the child was sent
to school, she would be taken from her altogether.

Having fitted out Ditte as well as she could, she sent her off with
a heavy heart. The birth certificate she purposely omitted giving
her; as it bore in the corner the fateful: born out of wedlock.
Maren could not understand why an innocent child should be stamped
as unclean; the child had enough to fight against without that. But
Ditte returned with strict injunctions to bring the certificate the
next day, and Maren was obliged to give it to her. It was hopeless
to fight against injustice.

Maren knew well that magistrates were no institution of God's
making--she had been born with this knowledge! They only oppressed
her and her kind; and with this end in view used their own hard
method, which was none of God's doing at all. He, on the contrary,
was a friend of the poor; at least His only son, who was sitting on
His right hand, whispered good things of the poor, and it was
reasonable to expect that He would willingly help. But what did it
help when the mighty ones would have it otherwise? It was the squire
and his like, who had the power! It was towards them the parson
turned when preaching, letting the poor folks look after themselves,
and towards them the deacon glanced when singing. It was all very
fine for them, with the magistrate carrying their trains, and
opening their carriage door, with a peasant woman always ready to
lay herself on all fours to prevent them wetting their feet as they
stepped in. No "born out of wedlock" on _their_ birth certificate;
although one often might question their genuineness!

"But why does the Lord let it be like that?" asked Ditte
wonderingly.

"He has to, or there'd be no churches built nor no fuss made of
Him," answered Maren. "Grandfather Soeren always said, that the Lord
lived in the pockets of the mighty, and it seems as if he's right."

* * * * *

Ditte now went three times a week to school, which lay an hour's
journey away, over the common. She went together with the other
children from the hamlet, and got on well with them.

Children are thoughtless, but not wicked; this they learn from their
elders. They had only called after her what they had heard at home;
it was their parents' gossip and judgment they had repeated. They
meant nothing by it; Ditte, who was observant in this respect, soon
found out that they treated each other just in the same way. They
would shout witch's brat, at her one minute and the next be quite
friendly; they did not mean to look down upon her. This discovery
took the sting from the abusive word--fortunately she was not
sensitive. And the parents no longer, in superstition, warned their
children against her; the time when Maren rode about as a witch was
entirely forgotten. Now she was only a poor old woman left alone
with an illegitimate child.

To the school came children just as far in the opposite direction,
from the neighborhood of Sand. And it happened, that from them Maren
and Ditte could make inquiries about Soerine and Lars Peter. They had
not seen Ditte's father for some time, and he might easily have met
with an accident, being on the roads night and day in all sorts of
weather. It was fortunate that Ditte met children from those parts,
who could assure her that all was well. Soerine had never been any
good to her mother, although she was her own flesh and blood.

One day Ditte came home with the news that she was to go to her
parents; one of the children had brought the message.

Old Maren began to shake, so that her knitting needles clinked.

"But they said they didn't want you!" she broke out, her face
quivering.

"Yes, but now they want me--you see, I've to help with the little
ones," answered Ditte proudly, gathering her possessions together
and putting them on the table. Each time she put a thing down was
like a stab to the old woman; then she would comfort and stroke
Granny's shaking hand, which was nothing but blue veins. Maren sat
dumbly knitting; her face was strangely set and dead-looking.

"Of course I'll come home and see you; but then you must take it
sensibly. Can't you understand that I couldn't stay with you always?
I'll bring some coffee when I come, and we'll have a lovely time.
But you must promise not to cry, 'cause your eyes can't stand it."

Ditte stood talking in a would-be wise voice, as she tied up her
things.

"And now I must go, or I shan't get there till night, and then
mother will be angry." She said the word "mother" with a certain
reverence as if it swept away all objections. "Good-by, dear, _dear_
Granny!" She kissed the old woman's cheek and hurried off with her
bundle.

As soon as the door had closed on her Maren began crying, and
calling for her; in a monotonous undertone she poured out all her
troubles, sorrow and want and longing for death. She had had so many
heavy burdens and had barely finished with one when another
appeared. Her hardships had cut deeply--most of them; and it did her
good to live through them again and again. She went on for some
time, and would have gone on still longer had she not suddenly felt
two arms round her neck and a wet cheek against her own. It was the
mischievous child, who had returned, saying that after all she was
not leaving her.

Ditte had gone some distance, as far as the baker's, who wondered
where she was going with the big parcel and stopped her. Her
explanation, that she was going home to her parents, they refused to
believe; her father had said nothing about it when the baker had
met him at the market the day before, indeed he had sent his love to
them. Ditte stood perplexed on hearing all this. A sudden doubt
flashed through her mind; she turned round with a jerk--quick as she
was in all her movements--and set off home for the hut on the Naze.
How it had all happened she did not bother to think, such was her
relief at being allowed to return to Granny.

Granny laughed and cried at the same time, asked questions and could
make no sense of it.

"Aren't you going at all, then?" she broke out, thanking God, and
hardly able to believe it.

"Of course I'm not going. Haven't I just told you, the baker said I
wasn't to."

"Ay, the baker, the baker--what's he got to do with it? You'd got
the message to go."

Ditte was busily poking her nose into Granny's cheek.

Maren lifted her head: "Hadn't you, child? Answer me!"

"I don't know, Granny," said Ditte, hiding her face against her.

Granny held her at an arm's length: "Then you've been playing
tricks, you bad girl! Shame on you, to treat my poor old heart like
this." Maren began sobbing again and could not stop; it had all come
so unexpectedly. If only one could get to the bottom of it; but the
child had declared that she had not told a lie. She was quite
certain of having had the message, and was grieved at Granny not
believing her. She never told an untruth when it came to the point,
so after all must have had the message. On the other side the child
herself said that she was not going--although the baker's counter
orders carried no authority. They had simply stopped her, because
her expedition seemed so extraordinary. It was beyond Maren--unless
the child had imagined it all.

Ditte kept close to the old woman, constantly taking hold of her
chin. "Now I know how sorry you'll be to lose me altogether," she
said quietly.

Maren raised her face: "Do you think you'll soon be called away?"

Ditte shook her head so vehemently that Granny felt it.

Old Maren was deep in thought; she had known before that the child
understood, that it was bound to come.

"Whatever it may be," said she after a few moments, "you've behaved
like the great man I once read about, who rehearsed his own
funeral--with four black horses, hearse and everything. All his
servants had to pretend they were the procession, dressed in black,
they had even to cry. He himself was watching from an attic window,
and when he saw the servants laughing behind their handkerchiefs
instead of crying, he took it so to heart that he died. 'Tis
dangerous for folks to make fun of their own passing away--wherever
they may be going!"

"I wasn't making fun, Granny," Ditte assured her again.

From that day Maren went in daily dread of the child being claimed
by her parents. "My ears are burning," she often said, "maybe 'tis
your mother talking of us."

Soerine certainly did talk of them in those days. Ditte was now old
enough to make herself useful; her mother would not mind having her
home to look after the little ones. "She's nearly nine years old now
and we'll have to take her sooner or later," she explained.

Lars Peter demurred; he thought it was a shame to take her from
Granny. "Let's take them both then," said he.

Soerine refused to listen, and nagged for so long that she overcame
his opposition.

"We've been expecting you," said Maren when at last he came to fetch
the child. "We've known for long that you'd come on this errand."

"'Tisn't exactly with my good will. But in a way a mother has a
right to her own child, and Soerine thinks she'd like to have her,"
answered Lars Peter. He wanted to smooth it down for both sides.

"I know you've done your best. Well, it can't be helped. And how's
every one at home? There's another mouth to feed, I've heard."

"Ay, he's nearly six months old now." Lars Peter brightened up, as
he always did when speaking of his children.

They got into the cart. "We shan't forget you, either of us," said
Lars Peter huskily, while trying to get the old nag off.

Then the old woman stumbled in, they saw her feeling her way over
the doorstep with her foot and closing the door behind her.

"'Tis lonely to be old and blind," said Lars Peter, lashing his whip
as usual.

Ditte heard nothing; she was sitting with her face in one big smile.
She was driving towards something new; she had no thought for Granny
just then.

 

CHAPTER XIV

AT HOME WITH MOTHER

The rag and bone man's property--the Crow's Nest--stood a little way
back from the road, and the piece up towards the road he had planted
with willows, partly to hide the half-ruined abode, and partly to
have material for making baskets during the winter, when there was
little business to be done. The willows grew quickly, and already
made a beautiful place for playing hide and seek. He made the house
look as well as it could, with tar and whitewash, but miserable
looking it ever would be, leaking and falling to pieces; it was the
dream of Soerine's life, that they should build a new dwelling-house
up by the road, using this as outhouse. The surroundings were
desolate and barren, and a long way from neighbors. The view towards
the northwest was shut off by a big forest, and on the opposite side
was the big lake, which reflected all kinds of weather. On the dark
nights could be heard the quacking of the ducks in the rushes on its
banks, and on rainy days, boats would glide like shadows over it,
with a dark motionless figure in the bow, the eel-fisher. He held
his eel-fork slantingly in front of him, prodded the water sleepily
now and then, and slid past. It was like a dream picture, and the
whole lake was in keeping. When Ditte felt dull she would pretend
that she ran down to the banks, hid herself in the rushes, and dream
herself home to Granny. Or perhaps away to something still better;
something unknown, which was in store for her somewhere or other.
Ditte never doubted but that there was something special in reserve
for her, so glorious that it was impossible even to imagine it.

In her play too, her thoughts would go seawards, and when her
longing for Granny was too strong, she would run round the corner of
the house and gaze over the wide expanse of water. Now she knew
Granny's true worth.

She had not yet been down to the sea; as a matter of fact there was
no time to play. At six o'clock in the morning, the youngest babe
made himself heard, as regularly as clockwork, and she had to get up
in a hurry, take him from his mother and dress him. Lars Peter would
be at his morning jobs, if he had not already gone to the beach for
fish. When he was at home, Soerine would get up with the children;
but otherwise she would take a longer nap, letting Ditte do the
heaviest part of the work for the day. Then her morning duties would
be left undone, the two animals bellowed from the barn, the pigs
squealed over their empty trough, and the hens flocked together at
the hen-house door waiting to be let out. Ditte soon found out that
her mother was more industrious when the father was at home than
when he was out; then she would trail about the whole morning, her
hair undone and an old skirt over her nightdress, and a pair of
down-trodden shoes on her bare feet, while everything was allowed to
slide.

Ditte thought this was a topsy-turvy world. She herself took her
duties seriously, and had not yet been sufficiently with grown-up
people to learn to shirk work. She washed and dressed the little
ones. They were full of life, mischievous and unmanageable, and she
had as much as she could do in looking after the three of them. As
soon as they saw an opportunity, the two eldest would slip away from
her, naked as they were; then she had to tie up the youngest while
she went after them.

The days she went to school she felt as a relief. She had just time
to get the children ready, and eat her porridge, before leaving. At
the last moment her mother would find something or other, which had
to be done, and she had to run the whole way.

She was often late, and was scolded for it, yet she loved going to
school. She enjoyed sitting quietly in the warm schoolroom for hours
at a stretch, resting body and mind; the lessons were easy, and the
schoolmaster kind. He often let them run out for hours, when he
would work in his field, and it constantly happened that the whole
school helped him to gather in his corn or dig up his potatoes.
This was a treat indeed. The children were like a flock of screaming
birds, chattering, making fun and racing each other at the work. And
when they returned, the schoolmaster's wife would give them coffee.

More than anything else Ditte loved the singing-class. She had never
heard any one but Granny sing, and she only did it when she was
spinning--to prevent the thread from being uneven, and the wheel
from swinging, said she. It was always the same monotonous, gliding
melody; Ditte thought she had composed it herself, because it was
short or long according to her mood.

The schoolmaster always closed the school with a song, and the first
time Ditte heard the full chorus, she burst into tears with emotion.
She put her head on the desk, and howled. The schoolmaster stopped
the singing and came down to her.

"She must have been frightened," said the girls nearest to her.

He comforted her, and she stopped crying. "Have you never heard
singing before, child?" he asked wonderingly, when she had calmed
down.

"Yes, the spinning-song," sniffed Ditte.

"Who sang it to you then?"

"Granny----" Ditte suddenly stopped and began to choke again, the
thought of Granny was too much for her. "Granny used to sing it when
she was spinning," she managed at last to say.

"That must be a good old Granny, you have. Do you love her?"

Ditte did not answer, but the face she turned to him was like
sunshine after the storm.

"Will you sing us the spinning-song?"

Ditte looked from the one to the other; the whole class gazed
breathlessly at her; she felt something was expected of her. She
threw a hasty glance at the schoolmaster's face; then fixed her eyes
on her desk and began singing in a delicate little voice, which
vibrated with conflicting feelings; shyness, the solemnity of the
occasion, and sorrow at the thought of Granny, who might now sit
longing for her. Unconsciously she moved one foot up and down as she
sang, as one who spins. One or two attempted to giggle, but one look
from the master silenced them.

Now we spin for Ditte for stockings and for vest,
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away!
Some shall be of silver and golden all the rest,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

Ditte went awalking, so soft and round and red,
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away,
Met a little princeling who doff'd his cap and said,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

Oh, come with me, fair maiden, to father's castle fine,
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away!
We'll play the livelong day and have a lovely time,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

Alas, dear little prince, your question makes me grieve,
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away!
There's Granny waits at home for me, and her I cannot leave,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

She's blind, poor old dear, 'tis sad to see, alack!
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away!
She's water in her legs and pains all down her back,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

--If 'tis but for a child, she's cried her poor eyes out,
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away!
Then she shall never want of that there is no doubt,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

When toil and troubles tell and legs begin to ache,
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away!
We'll dress her up in furs and drive her out in state,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

Now Granny spins once more for sheet and bolster long,
Spin, spin away, Oh, and spin, spin away!
For Ditte and the prince to lie and rest upon,
Fal-de-ray, fal-de-ray, de-ray, ray, ray!

When she had finished her song, there was stillness for a few
moments in the schoolroom.

"She thinks she's going to marry a prince," said one of the girls.

"And that she probably will!" answered the schoolmaster. "And then
Granny can have all she wants," he added, stroking her hair.

Without knowing it, Ditte at one stroke had won both the master's
and the other children's liking. She had sung to the whole class,
quite alone, which none of the others dared do. The schoolmaster
liked her for her fearlessness, and for some time shut his eyes
whenever she was late. But one day it was too much for him, and he
ordered her to stay in. Ditte began to cry.

"'Tis a shame," said the other girls, "she runs the whole way, and
she's whipped if she's late home. Her mother stands every day at the
corner of the house waiting for her--she's so strict."

"Then we'll have to get hold of your mother," said the schoolmaster.
"This can't go on!" Ditte escaped staying in, but was given a note
to take home.

This having no effect, the schoolmaster went with her home to speak
to her mother. But Soerine refused to take any responsibility. If the
child arrived late at school, it was simply because she loitered on
the way. Ditte listened to her in amazement; she could not make out
how her mother could look so undisturbed when telling such untruths.

Ditte, to help herself, now began acting a lie too. Each morning she
seized the opportunity of putting the little Swiss clock a quarter
of an hour forward. It worked quite well in the morning, so that she
was in time for school; but she would be late in arriving home.

"You're taking a quarter of an hour longer on the road now," scolded
her mother.

"We got out late today," lied Ditte, trying to copy her mother's
unconcerned face, as she had seen it when _she_ lied. Her heart was
in her mouth, but all went well--wonderful to relate! How much wiser
she was now! During the day she quietly put the clock back again.

One day, in the dusk, as she stood on the chair putting the clock
back, her mother came behind her. Ditte threw herself down from the
chair, quickly picking up little Povl from the floor, where he was
crawling; in her fear, she tried to hide behind the little one. But
her mother tore him from her, and began thrashing her.

Ditte had had a rap now and then, when she was naughty, but this was
the first time she had been really whipped. She was like an animal,
kicking and biting, and shrieking, so that it was all her mother
could do to manage her. The three little ones' howls equaled hers.

When Soerine thought she had had enough, she dragged her to the
woodshed and locked her in. "Lie there and howl, maybe it'll teach
you not to try those tricks again!" she shouted, and went in. She
was so out of breath that she had to sit down; that wicked child had
almost got the better of her.

Ditte, quite beyond herself, went on screaming and kicking for some
time. Her cries gradually quietened down to a despairing wail of:
"Granny, Granny!" It was quite dark in the woodshed, and whenever
she called for Granny, she heard a comforting rustling sound from
the darkness at the back of the shed. She gazed confidently towards
it, and saw two green fire-balls shining in the darkness, which came
and went by turns. Ditte was not afraid of the dark. "Puss, puss,"
she whispered. The fire-balls disappeared, and the next moment she
felt something soft touching her. And now she broke down again, this
caress was too much for her, and she pitied herself intensely. Puss,
little puss! There was after all one who cared for her! Now she
would go home to Granny.

She got up, dazed and bruised, and felt her way to the shutter. When
Soerine thought that she had been locked in long enough, and came to
release her, she had vanished.

* * * * *

Ditte ran into the darkness, sobbing; it was cold and windy, and the
rain was beating on her face. She wore no knickers under her
dress--these her mother had taken for the little ones, together with
the thick woollen vest Granny had knitted for her--the wet edge of
her skirt cut her bare legs, which were swollen from the lash of the
cane. But the silent rain did her good. Suddenly something flew up
from beside her; she heard the sound of rushes standing rustling in
the water--and knew that she had got away from the road. She
collapsed, and crawled into the undergrowth, and lay shivering in a
heap, like a sick puppy.

There she lay groaning without really having any more pain; the cold
had numbed her limbs and deadened the smart. It was distress of soul
which made her wince now and then; it was wrung by the emptiness
and meaninglessness of her existence. She needed soothing hands, a
mother first of all, who would fondle her--but she got only hard
words and blows from that quarter. Yet it was expected that she
should give what she herself missed most of all--a mother's
long-suffering patience and tender care to the three tiresome little
ones, who were scarcely more helpless than she was.

Her black despair little by little gave place to numbness. Hate and
anger, feebleness and want, had all fought in her mind and worn her
out. The cold did the rest, and she fell into a doze.

A peculiar, grinding, creaking and jolting noise came from the road.
Only one cart in all the world could produce that sound. Ditte
opened her eyes, and a feeling of joy went through her--her father!
She tried to call, but no sound came, and each time she tried to
rise her legs gave way under her. She crawled up with difficulty
over the edge of the ditch, out into the middle of the road, and
there collapsed.

As the nag neared that spot, it stopped, threw up its head, snorted,
and refused to go on. Lars Peter jumped down and ran to the horse's
head to see what was wrong; there he found Ditte, stiff with cold
and senseless.

Under his warm driving cape she came to herself again, and life
returned to the cold limbs. Lars Peter thawed them one by one in his
huge fists. Ditte lay perfectly quiet in his arms; she could hear
the beat of his great heart underneath his clothes, throb, throb!
Each beat was like the soft nosing of some animal, and his deep
voice sounded to her like an organ. His big hands, which took hold
of so much that was hard and ugly, were the warmest she had ever
known. Just like Granny's cheek--the softest thing in all the
world--were they.

"Now we must get out and run a little," said the father suddenly.
Ditte was unwilling to move, she was so warm and comfortable. There
was no help for it however. "We must get the blood to run again,"
said he, lifting her out of the cart. Then they ran for some time by
the side of the nag, which threw out its big hoofs in a jog-trot, so
as not to be outdone.

"Shall we soon be home?" asked Ditte, when she was in the cart
again, well wrapped up.

"Oh-h, there's a bit left--you've run seven miles, child! Now tell
me what's the meaning of your running about like this."

Then Ditte told him about the school, the injustice she had had to
bear, the whipping and everything. In between there were growls from
Lars Peter, as he stamped his feet on the bottom of the cart--he
could hardly tolerate to listen to this tale. "But you won't tell
Soerine, will you?" she added with fear. "Mother, I mean," she
hastily corrected herself.

"You needn't be afraid," was all he said.

He was silent for the rest of the journey, and was very slow in
unharnessing; Ditte kept beside him. Soerine came out with a lantern
and spoke to him, but he did not answer. She cast a look of fear at
him and the child, hung up the lantern, and hurried in.

Soon after he came in, holding Ditte by the hand, her little hand
shaking in his. His face was gray; in his right hand was a thick
stick. Soerine fled from his glance; right under the clock; pressing
herself into the corner, gazing at them with perplexity.

"Ay, you may well gaze at us," said he, coming forward--"'tis a
child accusing you. What's to be done about it?" He had seated
himself under the lamp, and lifting Ditte's frock, he carefully
pressed his palm against the blue swollen weals, which smarted with
the slightest touch. "It still hurts--you're good at thrashing!
let's see if you're equally good at healing. Come and kiss the
child, where you've struck her, a kiss for each stroke!"

He sat waiting. "Well----"

Soerine's face was full of disgust.

"Oh, you think your mouth's too good to kiss what your hand's
struck." He reached out for the stick.

Soerine had sunk down on the ground, she put out her hands
beseechingly. But he looked inexorably at her, not at all like
himself. "Well----"

Soerine lingered a few moments longer, then on her knees went and
kissed the child's bruised limbs.

Ditte threw her arms violently round her mother's neck. "Mother,"
said she.

But Soerine got up and went out to get the supper. She never looked
at them the whole evening.

Lars Peter was his old self the next morning. He woke Soerine with a
kiss as usual, humming as he dressed. Soerine still looked at him
with malice, but he pretended not to notice it. It was quite dark,
and as he sat eating his breakfast, with the lantern in front of him
on the table, he kept looking at the three little ones, in bed. They
were all in a heap--like young birds. "When Povl has to join them,
we'll have to put two at each end," he said thoughtfully. "Better
still, if we could afford another bed."

There was no answer from Soerine.

When ready to leave, he bent over Ditte, who lay like a little
mother with the children in her arms. "That's a good little girl,
you've given us," said he, straightening himself.

"She tells lies," answered Soerine from beside the fireplace.

"Then it's because she's had to. My family's not thought much of,
Soerine--and maybe they don't deserve it either. But never a hand was
laid on us children, I'll tell you. I remember plainly my father's
death-bed, how he looked at his hands, and said: 'These have dealt
with much, but never has the rag and bone man's hands been turned
against the helpless!' I'd like to say that when my time comes, and
I'd advise you to think of it too."

Then he drove away. Soerine put the lantern in the window, to act as
a guide to him, and crept back to bed, but could not sleep. For the
first time Lars Peter had given her something to think of. She had
found that in him which she had never expected, something strange
which warned her to be careful. A decent soul, she had always taken
him for--just as the others. And how awful he could be in his
rage--it made her flesh creep, when thinking of it. She certainly
would be careful not to come up against him again.

 


CHAPTER XV

RAIN AND SUNSHINE

On the days when Ditte did not go to school, there were thousands of
things for her to do. She had to look after the little ones, care
for the sheep and hens too, and gather nettles in a sack for the
pigs. At times Lars Peter came home early, having been unlucky in
selling his fish. Then she would sit up with her parents until one
or two o'clock in the night, cleaning the fish, to prevent it
spoiling. Soerine was one of those people who fuss about without
doing much. She could not bear the child resting for a moment, and
drove her from one task to another. Often when Ditte went to bed,
she was so tired that she could not sleep. Soerine had the miserable
habit of making the day unhappy for the children. She was rough with
them should they get in her way; and always left children's tears
like streams of water behind her. When Ditte went to gather sticks,
or pick berries, she always dragged the little ones with her, so as
not to leave them to their mother's tender mercy. There were days
when Soerine was not quite so bad--she was never quite happy and
kind, but at other times she was almost mad with anger, and the
only thing to do was to keep out of her way. Then they would all
hide, and only appear when their father came home.

Soerine was careful not to strike Ditte, and sent her off to school
in good time--she had no wish to see Lars Peter again as he was that
evening. But she had no love for the child, she wanted to get on in
life; it was her ambition to build a new dwelling-house, get more
land and animals--and be on the same footing with the other women on
the small farms round about. The child was a blot on her. Whenever
she looked at Ditte, she would think: Because of that brat, all the
other women look down on me!

The child certainly was a good worker, even Soerine grudgingly
admitted it to Lars Peter. It was Ditte who made butter, first in a
bottle, which had to be shaken, often by the hour, before the butter
would come--and now in the new churn. Soerine herself could not stand
the hard work of churning. Ditte gathered berries and sold them in
the market, ran errands, fetched water and sticks, and looked after
the sheep, carrying fat little Povl wherever she went. He cried if
she left him behind, and she was quite crooked with carrying him.

Autumn was the worst time for the children. It was the herring
season, and their father would stay down at the fishing
hamlet--often for a month at a time--helping with the catch. Soerine
was then difficult to get on with; the only thing which kept her
within bounds was Ditte's threat of running away. There were not
many men left in the neighborhood in the autumn, and Soerine went in
daily dread of tramps. Should they knock at the door in the evening,
she would let Ditte answer it.

Ditte was not afraid. This and her cleverness gave her moral power
over her mother; she had no fear of answering her back now. She was
quicker with her fingers than her mother, both in making baskets and
brooms, and did better work too.

What money they made in this way, Soerine had permission to keep for
herself. She never spent a penny of it, but put it by, shilling by
shilling, towards building the new house. They must try hard to make
enough, so that Lars Peter could work at home instead of hawking his
goods on the road. As long as the people had the right to call him
rag and bone man, it was natural they should show no respect. Land
they must have, and for this, money was necessary.

Money! money! That word was always in Soerine's mind and humming in
her ears. She scraped together shilling after shilling, and yet the
end was far from being in sight, unless something unexpected
happened. And what could happen to shorten the wearisome way to her
goal, only one thing--that her mother should die. She had really
lived long enough and been a burden to others. Soerine thought it was
quite time she departed, but no such luck.

It happened that Lars Peter returned one day in the middle of the
afternoon. The shabby turn-out could be seen from afar. The cart
rocked with every turn of the wheels, creaking and groaning as it
was dragged along. It was as if all the parts of the cart spoke and
sang at once, and when the children heard the well-known noise along
the road, they would rush out, full of excitement. The old nag,
which grew more and more like a wandering bag of bones, snorted and
puffed, and rumbled, as if all the winds from the four corners of
the earth were locked in its belly. And Lars Peter's deep hum joined
the happy chorus.

When the horse saw the little ones, it whinnied; Lars Peter raised
himself from his stooping position and stopped singing, and the cart
came to a standstill. He lifted them up in the air, all three or
four together in a bunch, held them up to the sky for a moment, and
put them into the cart as carefully as if they were made of glass.
The one who had seen him first was allowed to hold the reins.

When Lars Peter came home and found Soerine in a temper and the house
upside down, he was not disturbed at all, but soon cheered them all
up. He always brought something home with him, peppermints for the
children, a new shawl for mother--and perhaps love from Granny to
Ditte, whispering it to her so that Soerine could not hear. His good
humor was infectious; the children forgot their grievances, and even
Soerine had to laugh whether she wanted to or not. And if the
children were fond of him, so too were the animals. They would
welcome him with their different cries and run to meet him; he
could let the pig out and make it follow him in the funniest gallop
round the field.

However late he was in returning, and however tired, he never went
to bed without having first been the round to see that the animals
wanted for nothing. Soerine easily forgot them and they were often
hungry. Then the hens flew down from their perch on hearing his
step, the pigs came out and grunted over their trough, and a soft
back rubbed itself up against his legs--the cat.

Lars Peter brought joy with him home, and a happier man than he
could hardly be found for miles. He loved his wife for what she was,
more sharp than really clever. He admired her for her firmness, and
thought her an exceedingly capable woman, and was truly thankful for
the children she gave him, for those he was father to--and for
Ditte. Perhaps if anything he cared most for her.

Such was Lars Peter's nature that he began where others ended. All
his troubles had softened instead of hardening him; his mind
involuntarily turned to what was neglected, perhaps it was because
of this that people thought nothing throve for him.

His ground was sour and sandy, none but he would think of plowing
it. No-one grudged him his wife, and most of the animals he had
saved from being killed, on his trips round the farms. He could
afford to be happy with his possessions, thinking they were better
than what others had. He was jealous of no-one, and no exchange
would tempt him.

On Sundays the horse had to rest, and it would not do either to go
on his rounds that day. Therefore Lars Peter would creep up to the
hayloft to have a sleep. He would sleep on until late in the
afternoon, having had very little during the week, and Ditte had her
work cut out to keep the little ones from him; they made as much
noise as they possibly could, hoping to waken him so that he might
play with them, but Ditte watched carefully, that he had his sleep
in peace.

Twice a year they all drove to the market at Hilleroed, on top of the
loaded cart. The children were put into the baskets which were
stacked in the back of the cart, the brooms hung over the sides,
under the seat were baskets of butter and eggs, and in front--under
Lars' and Soerine's feet, were a couple of sheep tied up. These were
the great events of the year, from which everything was dated.

 

CHAPTER XVI

POOR GRANNY

On rare occasions Ditte was permitted to go and stay with Granny for
a few days. It was the father who managed this, and he arranged his
round so that he could either bring or fetch her home.

Granny was always in bed when she arrived--she never got up now.
"Why should I trudge on, when you're not here? If I stay in bed,
then sometimes kind folks remember me and bring me a little food and
clean up for me. Oh, dear! 'twould be much better to die; nobody
wants me," she complained. But she got up all the same, and put on
water for the coffee; Ditte cleaned the room, which was in a
deplorable condition, and they enjoyed themselves together.

When the time was up and Ditte had to go, the old woman cried. Ditte
stood outside listening to her wailings; she held on to the doorpost
trying to pull herself together. She _had_ to go home, and began
running with closed eyes the first part of the way, until she could
hear Granny's cries no longer, then----But she got more and more
sick at heart, and knew no more, until she found herself with her
arms round Granny's neck. "I'm allowed to stay until tomorrow,"
said she.

"You're not playing tricks, child?" said the old woman anxiously.
"For then Soerine'll be angry. Ay, ay," said she shortly afterwards,
"stay until tomorrow then. The Lord'll make it all right for
you--for the sake of your good heart. We don't have much chance of
seeing each other, we two."

The next day it was no better; Maren had not the strength to send
the child away. There was so much to tell her, and what was one day
after the accumulation of months of sorrow and longing? And Ditte
listened seriously to all her woes; she understood now what sorrow
and longing meant. "You've quite changed," said Granny. "I notice it
from the way you listen to me. If only the time would pass quickly
so that you might go out to service."

And one day it was all over; Lars Peter had come to fetch her.
"You'd better come home now," said he, wrapping her up, "the little
ones are crying for you."

"Ay, you're not to be feared," said old Maren. "But it seems like
Soerine might be kinder to her."

"I think it's better now--and the little ones are fond of her. She's
quite a little mother to them."

Yes, there were the children! Ditte's heart warmed at the thought of
them. They had gained her affection in their own peculiar way; by
adding burdens to her little life they had wound themselves round
her heart.

"How's Povl?" asked she, when they had driven over the big hill, and
Granny's hut was out of sight.

"Well, you know, he's always crying when you're not at home," said
the father quietly.

Ditte knew this. He was cutting his teeth just now, and needed
nursing, his cheeks were red with fever, and his mouth hot and
swollen. He would hang on to his mother's skirt, only to be brushed
impatiently aside, and would fall and hurt himself. Who then was
there to take him on their knee and comfort him? It was like an
accusation to Ditte's big heart; she was sorry she had deserted him,
and longed to have him in her arms again. It hurt her back to carry
him--yes, and the schoolmaster scolded her for stooping. "It's your
own fault," the mother would say; "stop dragging that big child
about! He can walk if he likes, he can." But when he was in pain and
cried, Ditte knew all too well from her own experience the child's
need of being held against a beating heart. She still had that
longing herself, though a mother's care had never been offered her.

Soerine was cross when Lars Peter returned with Ditte, and ignored
her for several days. But at last curiosity got the upper hand.
"How's the old woman--is she worse?" asked she.

Ditte, who thought her mother asked out of sympathy, gave full
details of the miserable condition that Granny was in. "She's always
in bed, and only gets food when any one takes it to her."

"Then she can't last much longer," thought the mother.

At this Ditte began to cry. Then her mother scolded her:

"Stupid girl, there's nothing to cry for. Old folks can't live on
forever, being a burden to others. And when Granny dies we'll get a
new dwelling-house."

"No, 'cause Granny says, what comes from the house is to be divided
equally. And the rest----" Ditte broke off suddenly.

"What rest?" Soerine bent forward with distended nostrils.

But Ditte closed her lips firmly. Granny had strictly forbidden her
to mention the subject--and here she had almost let it out.

"Stupid girl! don't you suppose I know you're thinking of the two
hundred crowns that was paid for you? What's to be done with it?"

Ditte looked with suspicion at her mother. "I'm to have it," she
whispered.

"Then the old woman should let us keep it for you, instead of
hanging on to it herself," said Soerine.

Ditte was terrified. That was exactly what Granny was afraid of,
that Soerine should get hold of it. "Granny has hidden it safely,"
said she.

"Oh, has she, and where?--in the eiderdown of course!"

"No!" Ditte assured her, shaking her head vehemently. But any one
could see that was where it was hidden.

"Oh, that's lucky, for that eiderdown I'm going to fetch some day.
That you can tell Granny, with my love, next time you see her. Each
of my sisters when they married was given an eiderdown, and I claim
mine too."

"Granny only has one eiderdown!" Ditte protested--perhaps for the
twentieth time.

"Then she'll just have to take one of her many under-quilts. She
lies propped up nearly to the ceiling, with all those bedclothes."

Yes, Granny's bed was soft, Ditte knew that better than any one
else. Granny's bedclothes were heavy, and yet warmer than anything
else in the whole world, and there was a straw mat against the wall.
It had been so cosy and comfortable sleeping with Granny.

Ditte was small for her age, all the hardships she had endured had
stunted her growth. But her mind was above the average; she was
thoughtful by nature, and her life had taught her not to shirk, but
to take up her burden. She had none of the carelessness of
childhood, but was full of forethought and troubles. She _had_ to
worry--for her little sisters and brothers the few days she was with
Granny, and for Granny all the time she was not with her.

As a punishment, for having prolonged her visit to Granny without
permission, Soerine for a long time refused to let her go again. Then
Ditte went about thinking of the old woman, worrying herself into a
morbid self-reproach; most of all at night, when she could not sleep
for cold, would her sorrows overwhelm her, and she would bury her
head in the eiderdown, so that her mother should not hear her sobs.

She would remember all the sweet ways of the old woman, and bitterly
repent the tricks and mischief she had played upon her. This was her
punishment; she had repaid Granny badly for all her care, and now
she was alone and forsaken. She had never been really good to the
old woman; she would willingly be so now--but it was too late! There
were hundreds of ways of making Granny happy, and Ditte knew them
all, but she had been a horrid, lazy girl. If she could only go back
now, she certainly would see that Granny always had a lump of sugar
for her second cup of coffee--instead of stealing it herself. And
she would remember every evening to heat the stone, and put it at
the foot of the bed, so Granny's feet should not be cold. "You've
forgotten the stone again," said Granny almost every night, "my feet
are like ice. And what are yours like? Why, they're quite cold,
child." Then Granny would rub the child's feet until they were warm;
but nothing was done to her own--it was all so hopeless to think of
it now.

She thought, if she only promised to be better in the future,
something must happen to take her back to Granny again. But nothing
did happen! And one day she could stand it no longer, and set off
running over the fields. Soerine wanted her brought home at once;
but Lars Peter took it more calmly.

"Just wait a few days," said he, "'tis a long time since she's seen
the old woman." And he arranged his round so that Ditte could spend
a few days with her grandmother.

"Bring back the eiderdown with you," said Soerine. "It's cold now,
and it'll be useful for the children."

"We'll see about it," answered Lars Peter. When she got a thing into
her head, she would nag on and on about it, so that she would have
driven most people mad. But Lars Peter did not belong to the family
of Man; all her haggling had no effect on his good-natured
stubbornness.

 

CHAPTER XVII

WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY

Ditte was awakened by the sound of iron being struck, and opened her
eyes. The smoking lamp stood on the table, and in front of the fire
was her mother hammering a ring off the kettle with a poker. She was
not yet dressed; the flames from the fire flickered over her untidy
red hair and naked throat. Ditte hastily closed her eyes again, so
that her mother should not discover that she was awake. The room was
cold, and through the window-panes could be seen the darkness of the
night.

Then her father came tramping in with the lantern, which he put out
and hung it up behind the door. He was already dressed, and had been
out doing his morning jobs. There was a smell of coffee in the room.
"Ah!" said he, seating himself by the table. Ditte peeped out at
him; when he was there, there was no fear of being turned out of
bed.

"Oh, there you are, little wagtail," said he. "Go to sleep again,
it's only five o'clock---but maybe you're thinking of a cup of
coffee in bed?"

Ditte glanced at her mother, who stood with her back to her. Then
she nodded her head eagerly.

Lars Peter drank half of his coffee, put some more sugar in the cup,
and handed it to the child.

Soerine was dressing by the fireplace. "Now keep quiet," said she,
"while I tell you what to do. There's flour and milk for you to make
pancakes for dinner; but don't dare to put an egg in."

"Good Lord, what's an egg or two," Lars Peter tried to say.

"You leave the housekeeping to me," answered Soerine, "and you'd
better get up at once before we leave, and begin work."

"What's the good of that?" said Lars Peter again. "Leave the
children in bed till it's daylight. I've fed the animals, and it's
no good wasting oil."

This last appealed to Soerine. "Very well, then, but be careful with
the fire--and don't use too much sugar."

Then they drove away. Lars Peter was going to the shore to fetch
fish as usual, but would first drive Soerine into town, where she
would dispose of the month's collection of butter and eggs, and buy
in what could not be got from the grocer in the hamlet. Ditte
listened to the cart until she dropped asleep again.

When it was daylight, she got up and lit the fire again. The others
wanted to get up too, but by promising them coffee instead of their
usual porridge and milk she kept them in bed until she had tidied up
the room. They got permission to crawl over to their parents' bed,
and thoroughly enjoyed themselves there, while Ditte put wet sand on
the floor, and swept it. Kristian, who was now five years old, told
stories in a deep voice of a dreadful cat that went about the fields
eating up all the moo-cows; the two little ones lay across him,
their eyes fixed on his lips, and breathless with excitement. They
could see it quite plainly--the pussy-cat, the moo-cow and
everything--and little Povl, out of sheer eagerness to hurry up the
events, put his fat little hand right down Kristian's throat. Ditte
went about her duties smiling in her old-fashioned way at their
childish talk. She looked very mysterious as she gave them their
coffee; and when the time came for them to be dressed, the surprise
came out. "Oh, we're going to have our best clothes on--hip, hip,
hooray!" shouted Kristian, beginning to jump up and down on the bed.
Ditte smacked him, he was spoiling the bedclothes!

"If you'll be really good and not tell any one, I'll take you out
for a drive," said Ditte, dressing them in their best clothes. These
were of many colors, their mother having made them from odd scraps
of material, taken from the rag and bone man's cart.

"Oh--to the market?" shouted Kristian, beginning to jump again.

"No, to the forest," said the little sister, stroking Ditte's cheeks
beseechingly with her dirty little hands, which were blue with cold.
She had seen it from afar, and longed to go there.

"Yes, to the forest. But you must be good; it's a long way."

"May we tell pussy?" Soester looked at Ditte with her big expressive
eyes.

"Yes, and papa," Kristian joined in with.

"Yes, but not any one else," Ditte impressed upon them. "Now
remember that!"

The two little ones were put into the wheelbarrow, and Kristian held
on to the side, and thus they set off. There was snow everywhere,
the bushes were weighted down with it, and on the cart track the ice
cracked under the wheel. It was all so jolly, the black crows, the
magpies which screamed at them from the thorn-bushes, and the rime
which suddenly dropped from the trees, right on to their heads.

It was three miles to the forest, but Ditte was used to much longer
distances, and counted this as nothing. Kristian and Soester took
turns in walking, Povl wanted to walk in the snow too, but was told
to stay where he was and be good.

All went well until they had got halfway. Then the little ones began
to tire of it, asking impatiently for the forest. They were cold,
and Ditte had to stop every other moment to rub their fingers. The
sun had melted the snow, making it dirty and heavy under foot, and
she herself was getting tired. She tried to cheer them up, and
trailed on a little further; but outside the bailiff's farm they all
came to a hopeless standstill. A big fierce dog thought their
hesitation suspicious and barred their way.

Per Nielsen came out on the porch to see why the dog barked so
furiously; he at once saw what had happened, and took the children
indoors. It was dinner-time, the wife was in the kitchen frying
bacon and apples together. It smelt delicious. She thawed their
frozen fingers in cold water; when they were all right again, all
three stood round the fire. Ditte tried to get them away, but they
were hungry.

"You shall have some too," said the bailiff's wife, "but sit down on
that bench and be good; you're in my way." They were each given a
piece of cake, and then seated at the scoured table. They had never
been out before, their eyes went greedily from one thing to another,
as they were eating; on the walls hung copperware, which shone like
the sun, and on the fire was a big bright copper kettle with a cover
to the spout. It was like a huge hen sitting on eggs.

When they had finished their meal, Per Nielsen took them out and
showed them the little pigs, lying like rolls of sausages round the
mother. Then they went into the house again, and the wife gave them
apples and cakes, but the best of all came last, when Per Nielsen
harnessed the beautiful spring-cart to drive them home. The
wheelbarrow was put in the back, so that too got a drive. The little
ones laughed so much that it caught in their throats.

"Stupid children, coming out like that all alone," said the
bailiff's wife, as she stood wrapping them up. "Fortunately 'twas
more good luck than management that you came here." And they all
agreed that the return to the Crow's Nest was much grander than the
set-off.

The trip had been glorious, but now there was work to be done. The
mother had not taken picnics into account, and had put a large
bundle of rags out on the threshing-floor to be sorted, all the wool
to be separated from the cotton. Kristian and Soester could give a
helping hand if they liked; but they would not be serious today.
They were excited by the trip, and threw the rags at each other's
heads. "Now, you mustn't fight," repeated Ditte every minute, but it
did no good.

When darkness fell, they had only half finished. Ditte fetched the
little lamp, in which they used half oil and half petroleum, and
went on working; she cried despairingly when she found that they
could not finish by the time her parents would return. At the sight
of her tears the children became serious, and for a while the work
went on briskly. But soon they were on the floor again chasing each
other; and by accident Kristian kicked the lamp, which fell down and
broke. This put an end to their wildness; the darkness fixed them to
the spot; they dared not move. "Ditte take me," came wailingly from
each corner.

Ditte opened the trap-door. "Find your own way out!" said she
harshly, fumbling about for Povl, who was sleeping on a bundle of
rags; she was angry. "Now you shall go to bed for punishment," said
she.

Kristian was sobbing all the time. "Don't let mother whip me, don't
let her!" he said over and over again. He put his arms round
Ditte's neck as if seeking refuge there. And this put an end to her
anger.

When she had lit the lantern she helped them to undress. "Now if
you'll be good and go straight to sleep, then Ditte will run to the
store and buy a lamp." She dared not leave the children with the
light burning, and put it out before she left. As a rule they were
afraid of being left alone in the dark; but under the present
conditions it was no good making a fuss.

Ditte had a sixpence! Granny had given it to her once in their
well-to-do-days, and she had kept it faithfully through all
temptations up to now. It was to have bought her so many beautiful
things, and now it had to go--to save little Kristian from a
whipping. Slowly she kneeled down in front of the hole at the foot
of the wall where it was hidden, and took the stone away; it really
hurt her to do it. Then she got up and ran off to the store as
quickly as she could--before she could repent.

On her return the little ones were asleep. She lit the lantern and
began to peel off the withered leaves from the birches which were to
be made into brooms; she was tired after the long eventful day, but
could not idle. The strong fragrance from the birches was
penetrating, and she fell asleep over her work. Thus her parents
found her.

Soerine's sharp eyes soon saw that everything was not as it should
be. "Why've you got the lantern lit?" asked she, as she unbuttoned
her coat.

Ditte had to own up, "but I've bought another!" she hastened to add.

"Oh--and where is it?" said the mother, looking round the room.

The next moment Soerine stood in the doorway. "Who gave you
permission to get things on credit?" asked she.

"I bought it with my own money," Ditte whispered.

Own money--then began a cross-examination, which looked as if it
would never end. Lars Peter had to interfere.

There was no fire in the room, so they went early to bed; Ditte had
forgotten the fire. "She's had enough to do," said Lars Peter
excusingly. And Soerine had nothing to say--she had no objection when
it meant saving.

There was a hard frost. Ditte was cold and could not sleep, she lay
gazing at her breath, which showed white, and listening to the
crackling of the frost on the walls. Outside it was moonlight, and
the beams shone coldly over the floor and the chair with the
children's clothes. If she lifted her head, she could peep out
through the cracks in the wall, catching glimpses of the white
landscape; the cold blew in her face.

The room got colder and colder. She had to lie with one arm
outstretched, holding the eiderdown over the others, and the cold
nipped her shoulders. Soester began to be restless, she was the most
thin-blooded of the three and felt the cold. It was an eiderdown
which was little else than a thick cover, the feathers having
disappeared, and those they got when killing poultry were too good
to be used--the mother wanted them turned into money.

Now Povl began to whimper. Ditte took the children's clothes from
the chair and spread them over the bed. From their parents' bed came
the mother's voice. "You're to be quiet," said she. The father got
up, fetched his driving-cape, and spread it over them; it was heavy
with dust and dirt, but it warmed them!

"'Tis dreadful the way the wind blows through these walls," said he
when again in bed; "the air's like ice in the room! I must try to
get some planks to patch up the walls."

"You'd better be thinking of building; this rotten old case isn't
worth patching up."

Lars Peter laughed: "Ay, that's all very well; but where's the money
to come from?"

"We've got a little. And then the old woman'll die soon--I can feel
it in my bones."

Ditte's heart began to jump--was Granny going to die? Her mother had
said it so decidedly. She listened breathlessly to the conversation.

"And what of that?" she heard her father say, "that won't alter
matters."

"I believe the old woman's got more than we think," answered Soerine
in a low voice. "Are you asleep, Ditte?" she called out, raising
herself on her elbow listening. Ditte lay perfectly still.

"Do you know?" Soerine began again, "I'm sure the old woman has sewn
the money up in the quilt. That's why she won't part with it."

Lars Peter yawned loudly; "What money?" It could be gathered from
the sound of his voice, that he wanted to sleep now.

"The two hundred crowns, of course."

"What's that to do with us?"

"Isn't she my mother? But the money'll go to the child, and aren't
we the proper ones to look after it for her. If the old woman dies
and there's an auction--there'll be good bids for it, and whoever
buys the quilt'll get the two hundred crowns as well. You'd better
go over and have a talk with her, and make her leave everything to
us."

"Why not you?" said Lars Peter, and turned round towards the wall.

Then everything was quiet. Ditte lay in a heap, with hands pressed
against mouth, and her little heart throbbing with fear; she almost
screamed with anxiety. Perhaps Granny would die in the night! It was
some time since she had visited her, and she had an overpowering
longing for Granny.

She crept out of bed and put on her shoes.

Her mother raised herself; "Where're you going?"

"Just going outside," answered Ditte faintly.

"Put a skirt on, it's very cold," said Lars Peter--"we might just as
well have kept the new piece of furniture in here," he growled
shortly afterwards.

What a long time the child took--Lars Peter got up and peeped out.
He caught sight of her far down the moonlit road. Hastily throwing
on some clothes, he rushed after her. He could see her ahead,
tearing off for all she was worth. He ran and shouted, ran and
shouted, his heavy wooden shoes echoing on the road. But the
distance between them only increased; at last she disappeared
altogether from view. He stood a little longer shouting; his voice
resounded in the stillness of the night; and then turned round and
went home.

Ditte tore on through the moonlit country. The road was as hard as
stone, and the ice cut through her cloth shoes; from bog and ditch
came the sound, crack, crack, crack; and the sea boomed on the
shore. But Ditte did not feel the cold, her heart was beating
wildly. Granny's dying, Granny's dying! went continuously through
her mind.

By midnight she had reached the end of her journey, she was almost
dropping with fatigue. She stopped at the corner of the house to
gain breath; from inside could be heard Granny's hacking cough. "I'm
coming, Granny!" she cried, tapping on the window, sobbing with joy.

"How cold you are, child!" said the old woman, when they were both
under the eiderdown. "Your feet are like lumps of ice--warm them on
me." Ditte nestled in to her, and lay there quietly.

"Granny! mother knows you've hidden the money in the eiderdown," she
said suddenly.

"I guessed that, my child. Feel!" The old woman guided Ditte's hand
to her breast, where a little packet was hidden. "Here 'tis, Maren
can take care of what's trusted to her. Ay, ay, 'tis sad to be like
us two, no-one to care for us, and always in the way--to our own
folks most of all. They can't make much use of you yet, and they're
finished with me--I'm worn out. That's how it is."

Ditte listened to the old woman's talk. It hummed in her ears and
gave her a feeling of security. She was now comfortable and warm,
and soon fell asleep.

But old Maren for some time continued pouring out her grievances
against existence.

 

CHAPTER XVIII

THE RAVEN FLIES BY NIGHT

It was a hard winter. All through December the snow swept the
fields, drifting into the willows in front of the Crow's Nest, the
only place in the neighborhood where a little shelter was to be
found.

The lake was entirely frozen; one could walk across it from shore to
shore. When there was a moon, the rag and bone man would go down and
with his wooden shoe break the ice round the seagulls and wild
ducks, which were frozen in the lake, and then carry them home under
his snow-covered cape. He would put them on the peat beside the
fireplace, where for days they stood on one leg gazing sickly into
the embers, until Soerine at last took them into the kitchen and
wrung their necks.

In spite of there being a fire day and night, the cold was felt
intensely in the Crow's Nest; it was impossible to heat the room.
Soerine, with the bread-knife, stuffed old rags into the cracks in
the wall; but one day when doing this, a big piece of the wall
collapsed. She filled up the hole with the eiderdown, and when Lars
Peter came home at night, he patched it up and nailed planks across
to keep it in place. The roof was not up too much either; the rats
and house-martens had worked havoc in it, so that it was like a
sieve, and the snow drifted into the loft. It was all bad.

Every day Soerine tried to rouse Lars Peter to do something.

But what could he do? "I can't work harder than I do, and steal I
won't," said he.

"What do the others do, who live in a pretty and comfortable house?"

Yes, how did other people manage? Lars Peter could not imagine. He
had never envied any one, nor drawn comparisons, so had never faced
the question before.

"You toil and toil, but never get any further, that I can see,"
Soerine continued.

"Do you really mean that?" Lars Peter looked at her with surprise
and sorrow.

"Yes, I do. What have you done? Aren't we just where we started?"

Lars Peter bent his head on hearing her hard words. But it was all
quite true; except for strict necessities, they had never money to
spare.

"There's so much wanted, and everything's so dear," said he
excusingly. "There's no trade either! We must just have patience,
till it comes round again."

"You with your patience and patience--maybe we can live on your
being patient and content? D'you know why folk call this the Crow's
Nest? Because nothing thrives for us, they say."

Lars Peter took his big hat from the nail behind the door and went
out. He was depressed, and sought comfort with the animals; they and
the children he understood, but grown-up people he could not. After
all, there must be something lacking in him, since all thought him a
peculiar fellow, just because he was happy and patient.

As soon as he had left the kitchen, the nag recognized his footstep,
and welcomed him with a whinny. He went into the stall and stroked
its back; it was like a wreck lying keel upwards. It certainly was a
skeleton, and could not be called handsome. People smiled when they
saw the two of them coming along the road--he knew it quite well!
But they had shared bad and good together, and the nag was not
particular; it took everything as it came, just as he did.

Lars Peter had never cared for other people's opinion; but now his
existence was shaken, and it was necessary to defend himself and his
own. In the stall beside the horse lay the cow. True enough, if
taken to market now it would not fetch much; it was weak on its legs
and preferred to lie down. But with spring, when it got out to
grass, this would right itself. And it was a good cow for a small
family like his; it did not give much milk at a time, but to make up
for it gave milk all the year round. And rich milk too! When
uncomplimentary remarks were made about it, Lars Peter would
chaffingly declare that he could skim the milk three times, and then
there was nothing but cream left. He was very fond of it, and more
so for the good milk it had given the little ones.

One corner of the outhouse was boarded off for the pig. It too had
heard him, and stood waiting for him to come and scratch its neck.
It suffered from intestinal hernia; it had been given to Lars Peter
by a farmer who wanted to get rid of it. It was not a pretty sight,
but under the circumstances had thriven well, he thought, and would
taste all right when salted. Perhaps it was this Soerine wanted?

The snow lay deep on the fields, but he recognized every landmark
through the white covering. It was sandy soil, and yielded poor
crops, yet for all that Lars Peter was fond of it. To him it was
like a face with dear living features, and he would no more
criticize it than he would his own mother. He stood at the door of
the barn gazing lingeringly at his land. He was not happy--as he
usually was on Sundays when he went about looking at his
possessions. Today he could understand nothing!

Every day Soerine would return to the same subject, with some new
proposal. They would buy her mother's house and move over there; the
beams were of oak, and the hut would last for many years. Or they
would take her as a pensioner, while there was time--in return for
getting all she owned. Her thoughts were ever with her mother and
her possessions. "Suppose she goes to some one else as a pensioner,
and leaves everything to them! or fritters away Ditte's two hundred
crowns!" said she. "She's in her second childhood!"

She was mad on the subject, but Lars Peter let her talk on.

"Isn't it true, Ditte, that Granny would be much better with us?"
Soerine would continue. She quite expected the child to agree with
her, crazy as she was over her grandmother.

"I don't know," answered Ditte sullenly. Her mother lately had done
her best to get her over to her side, but Ditte was suspicious of
her. She would love to be with Granny again, but not in that way.
She would only be treated badly. Ditte had no faith in her mother's
care. It was more for her own wicked ends than for daughterly love,
Granny herself had said.

Soerine was beyond comprehension. One morning she would declare that
before long they would hear sad news about Granny, because she had
heard the raven screaming in the willows during the night. "I'd
better go over and see her," said she.

"Ay, that's right, you go," answered Lars Peter. "I'll drive you
over. After all, the nag and I have nothing to do."

But Soerine wouldn't hear of it. "You've your own work to do at
home," said she. However, she did not get off that day--something or
other prevented her. She had grown very restless.

The next morning she was unusually friendly to the children. "I'll
tell you something, Granny will soon be coming here--I dreamed it
last night," said she, as she helped Ditte to dress them. "She can
have the alcove, and father and I'll move into the little room. And
then you won't be cold any longer."

"But yesterday you said that Granny was going to die soon," objected
Ditte.

"Ay, but that was only nonsense. Hurry up home from school. I've
some shopping to do, and likely won't be home till late." She put
sugar on the bread Ditte took to school, and sent her off in good
time.

Ditte set out, with satchel hanging from her arm, and her hands
rolled up in the ends of her muffler. The father had driven away
early, and she followed the wheel-tracks for some distance, and
amused herself by stepping in the old nag's footprints. Then the
trail turned towards the sea.

She could not follow the lessons today, she was perplexed in mind.
Her mother's friendliness had roused her suspicions. It was so
contrary to the conviction which the child from long experience had
formed as to her mother's disposition. Perhaps she was not such a
bad mother when it came to the point. The sugar on the bread almost
melted Ditte's heart.

But at the end of the school hour, a fearful anxiety overwhelmed
her; her heart began to flutter like a captured bird, and she
pressed her hand against her mouth, to keep herself from screaming
aloud. When leaving the school, she started running towards the
Naze. "That's the wrong way, Ditte!" shouted the girls she used to
go home with. But she only ran on.

It was thick with snow, and the air was still and heavy-laden. It
had been like twilight all day long. As she neared the hill above
the hut on the Naze, darkness began to fall. She had run all the way
and only stopped at the corner of the house, to get her breath.
There was a humming in her ears, and through the hum she heard angry
voices: Granny's crying, and her mother's hard and merciless.

She was about to tap on the window-pane, but hesitated, her mother's
voice made her creep with fear. She shivered as she crept round the
house towards the woodshed, opened the door, and stood in the
kitchen, listening breathlessly. Her mother's voice drowned
Granny's; it had often forced Ditte to her knees, but so frightful
she had never heard it before. She was stiff with fear, and she had
to squat on the ground, shivering with cold.

Through the keyhole she caught a glimpse of her mother's big body
standing beside the alcove. She was bent over it, and from the
movement of her back, it could be seen that she had got hold of the
old woman. Granny was defending herself.

"Come out with it at once," Soerine shouted hoarsely. "Or I'll pull
you out of bed."

"I'll call for some one," groaned Granny, hammering on the wall.

"Call for help if you like," ridiculed Soerine, "there's no-one to
hear you. Maybe you've got it in the eiderdown, since you hold it so
tightly."

"Oh, hold your mouth, you thief," moaned Granny. Suddenly there was
a scream, Soerine must have got hold of the packet on the old woman's
breast.

Ditte jumped in and lifted the latch. "Granny," she shrieked, but
she was not heard in the fearful noise. They fought, Granny's
screams were like those of a dying animal. "I'll make you shut up,
you witch!" shouted Soerine, and the old woman's scream died away to
an uncanny rattle; Ditte wanted to assist her grandmother, but could
not move, and suddenly fell unconscious to the ground. When she came
to herself again, she was lying face downwards on the floor; her
forehead hurt. She stumbled to her feet. The door stood open, and
her mother had gone. Large white flakes of snow came floating in,
showing white in the darkness.

Ditte's first thought was that it would be cold for Granny. She
closed the door and went towards the bed. Old Maren lay crouched
together among the untidy bedclothes. "Granny," called Ditte and
crying groped for the sunken face. "It's only me, dear little
Granny."

She took the old woman's face entreatingly between her thin
toil-worn hands, crying over it for a while; then undressed herself
and crept into bed beside her. She had once heard Granny say about
some one she had been called to: "There is nothing to be done for
him, he's quite cold!" And she was obsessed with that thought,
Granny must not be allowed to get cold, or she would have no Granny
left. She crept close to the body, and worn out by tears and
exhaustion soon fell asleep.

Towards morning she woke feeling cold; Granny was dead and cold.
Suddenly she understood the awfulness of it all, and hurrying into
her clothes, she fled.

She ran across the fields in the direction of home, but when she
reached the road leading to the sea, she went along it to Per
Nielsen's farm. There they picked her up, benumbed with misery.
"Granny's dead!" she broke out over and over again, looking from one
to the other with terror in her eyes. That was all they could get
out of her. When they proposed taking her home to the Crow's Nest,
she began to scream, so they put her to bed, to rest.

When she woke later in the day, Per Nielsen came in to her. "Well, I
suppose you'd better be thinking of getting home," said he. "I'll go
with you."

Ditte gazed at him with fear in her eyes.

"Are you afraid of your stepfather?" asked he. She did not answer.
The wife came in.

"I don't know what we're to do," said he, "she's afraid to go home.
The stepfather can't be very good to her."

Ditte turned sharply towards him. "I want to go home to Lars Peter,"
she said, sobbing.

 

CHAPTER XIX

ILL LUCK FOLLOWS THE RAVEN'S CALL

On receiving information of old Maren's death, four of her children
assembled at the hut on the Naze, to look after their own interests,
and watch that no-one ran off with anything. The other four on the
other side of the globe, could of course not be there.

There was no money--not as much as a farthing was to be found, in
spite of their searching, and the splitting up of the eiderdown--and
the house was mortgaged up to the hilt. They then agreed to give
Soerine and her husband what little there was, on condition that they
provided the funeral. On this occasion, Soerine did not spare money,
she wanted the funeral to be talked about. Old Maren was put into
the ground with more grandeur than she had lived.

Ditte was at the funeral--naturally, as she was the only one who had
ever cared for the dead woman. But in the churchyard she so lost
control over herself, that Lars Peter had to take her aside, to
prevent her disturbing the parson. She had such strong feelings,
every one thought.

But in this respect Ditte changed entirely. After Granny's death,
she seemed to quieten. She went about doing her work, was not
particularly lively, but not depressed either. Lars Peter observed
that she and her mother quarreled no longer. This was a pleasant
step in the right direction!

Ditte resigned herself to her lot. It cost her an effort to remain
under the same roof as her mother; she would rather have left home.
But this would have reflected on her stepfather, and her sense of
justice rebelled against this. Then too the thought of her little
brothers and sisters kept her back; what would become of them if she
left?

She remained--and took up a definite position towards her mother.
Soerine was kind and considerate to her, so much so that it was
almost painful, but Ditte pretended not to notice it. All advances
from her mother glanced off her. She was stubborn and determined,
carrying through what she set her mind on--the mother was nothing to
her.

Soerine's eyes constantly followed her when unobserved--she was
afraid of her. Had the child been in the hut when it happened, or
had she only arrived later? Soerine was not sure whether she herself
had overturned the chair that evening in the darkness? How much did
Ditte know? That she knew something her mother could tell from her
face. She would have given much to find out, and often touched upon
the question--with her uncertain glance at the girl.

"'Tis terrible to think that Granny should die alone," she would
say, hoping the child would give herself away. But Ditte was
obstinately silent.

One day Soerine gave Lars Peter a great surprise, by putting a large
sum of money on the table in front of him. "Will that build the
house, d'you think?" asked she.

Lars Peter looked at her; he was astounded.

"I've saved it by selling eggs and butter and wool," said she; "and
by starving you," she added with an uncertain smile. "I know that
I've been stingy and a miser; but in the end it pays you as well."

It was so seldom she smiled. "How pretty it made her!" thought Lars
Peter, looking lovingly at her. She had lately been happier and more
even tempered--no doubt the prospect of getting a better home.

He counted the money--over three hundred crowns! "That's a step
forward," said he. The next evening when returning home he had
bricks on the cart; and every evening he continued bringing home
materials for building.

People who passed the Crow's Nest saw the erection of beams and
bricks shoot up, and rumors began to float round the neighborhood.
It began with a whisper that the old woman had left more than had
been spoken of. Then it was said that perhaps, after all, old Maren
had not died a natural death. And some remembered having seen Soerine
on her way from the Crow's Nest towards the hamlet, on the same
afternoon as her mother's death; little by little more was added to
this, until it was declared that Soerine had strangled her own
mother. Ditte was probably--with the exception of the mother--the
only one who knew the real facts, and nothing could be got out of
her when it affected her family--least of all on an occasion like
this. But it was strange that she should happen to arrive just at
the critical moment; and still more remarkable that she should run
to Per Nielsen's and not home with the news of her grandmother's
death.

Neither Soerine herself nor Lars Peter heard a word of these rumors.
Ditte heard it at school through the other children, but did not
repeat it. When her mother was more than usually considerate, her
hate would seethe up in her--"Devil!" it whispered inside her, and
suddenly she would feel an overwhelming desire to shout to her
father: "Mother stifled Granny with the eiderdown!" It was worst of
all when hearing her speak lovingly about the old woman. But the
thought of his grief stopped her. He went about now like a great
child, seeing nothing, and was more than ever in love with Soerine;
he was overjoyed by the change for the better. Ditte and the others
loved him as never before.

When Soerine was too hard on the children, they would hide from her
outside the house, and only appear when their father returned at
night. But since Granny's death there had been no need for this. The
mother was entirely changed; when her temper was about to flare up,
an unseen hand seemed to hold it back.

But it happened at times that Ditte could not bear to stay in the
same room with her mother, and then she would go back to her old way
and hide herself.

One evening she lay crouching in the willows. Soerine came time after
time to the door, calling her in a friendly voice, and at each call
a feeling of disgust went through the girl. "Ugh!" said she; it made
her almost sick. After having searched for her round the house,
Soerine went slowly up to the road and back again, peering about all
the time: passing so close to Ditte that her dress brushed her face:
then she went in.

Ditte was cold, and tired of hiding, but in she would not go--not
till her father came home. He might not return until late, or not at
all. Ditte had experienced this before, but then there had been a
reason for it. It was no whipping she expected now!

No, but how lovely it had been to walk in holding her father's hand.
He asked no question now, but only looked at the mother accusingly,
and could not do enough for one. Perhaps he would make an excuse for
a trip over to ... no ... this ... Ditte began to cry. It was
terrible that however much she mourned for Granny--suddenly she
would find she had forgotten Granny was dead. "Granny's dead, dear
little Granny's dead," she would repeat to herself, so that it
should not happen again, but the next minute it was just the same.
It was so disloyal!

Now that it was too late, she was sorry she had not gone in when her
mother called. She drew her feet up under her dress and began
pulling up the grass to keep herself awake. Hearing a sound from the
distance she jumped up--wheels approaching! but alas, it was not the
well-known rumbling of her father's cart.

The cart turned from the road down in the direction of the Crow's
Nest. Two men got out and went into the house; both wore caps with
gold braid on. Ditte crept down to the house, behind the willows;
her heart was beating loudly. The next moment they reappeared with
her mother between them; she was struggling and shrieking wildly.
"Lars Peter!" she cried heartrendingly in the darkness; they had to
use force to get her into the cart. Inside the house the children
could be heard crying in fear.

This sound made Ditte forget everything else, and she rushed
forward. One of the men caught her by the arm, but let her go at a
sign from the other man. "D'you belong to the house?" asked he.

Ditte nodded.

"Then go in to the little ones and tell them not to be afraid....
Drive on!"

Quick as lightning, Soerine put both legs over the side of the cart,
but the policemen held her back. "Ditte, help me!" she screamed, as
the cart swung up the road and disappeared.

* * * * *

Lars Peter was about three miles from the Crow's Nest, turning into
the road beside the grocer's, when a cart drove past; in the light
from the shop windows he caught sight of gold-braided caps. "The
police are busy tonight!" said he, and shrugged his shoulders. He
proceeded up the road and began humming again, mechanically flicking
the nag with the whip as usual. He sat bent forward, thinking of
them all at home, of what Soerine would have for him tonight--he was
starving with hunger--and of the children. It was a shame that he
was so late--it was pleasant when they all four rushed to meet him.
Perhaps, after all, they might not be in bed.

The children stood out on the road, all four of them, waiting for
him; the little ones dared not stay in the house. He stood as though
turned to stone, holding on to the cart for support, while Ditte
with tears told what had happened; it looked as if the big strong
man would collapse altogether. Then he pulled himself together and
went into the house with them, comforting them all the time; the nag
of its own accord followed with the cart.

He helped Ditte put the children to bed. "Can you look after the
little ones tonight?" he asked, when they had finished. "I must
drive to town and fetch mother--it's all a misunderstanding."

His voice sounded hollow.

Ditte nodded and followed him out to the cart.

He turned and set the horse in motion, but suddenly he stopped.

"You know all about it, better than any one else, Ditte," said he.
"You can clear your mother." He waited quietly, without looking at
her, and listened. There was no answer.

Then he turned the cart slowly round and began to unharness.

 

 

PART II

CHAPTER I

MORNING AT THE CROW'S NEST

Klavs was munching busily in his stall, with a great deal of noise.
He had his own peculiar way of feeding; always separating the corn
from the straw, however well Lars Peter had mixed it. He would first
half empty the manger--so as to lay a foundation. Then, having still
plenty of room for further operations, he would push the whole
together in the middle of the manger, blowing vigorously, so that
the straw flew in all directions, and proceed to nuzzle all the
corn. This once devoured, he would scrape his hoofs on the stone
floor and whinny.

Ditte laughed. "He's asking for more sugar," said she. "Just like
little Povl when he's eating porridge; he scrapes the top off too."

But Lars Peter growled. "Eat it all up, you old skeleton," said he.
"These aren't times to pick and choose."

The nag would answer with a long affectionate whinny, and go on as
before.

At last Lars Peter would get up and go to the manger, mixing the
straw together in the middle. "Eat it up, you obstinate old thing!"
said he, giving the horse a slap on the back. The horse, smelling
the straw, turned its head towards Lars Peter; and looked
reproachfully at him as though saying: "What's the matter with you
today?" And nothing else would serve, but he must take a handful of
corn and mix it with the straw. "But no tricks now," said he,
letting his big hand rest on the creature's back. And this time
everything was eaten up.

Lars Peter came back and sat under the lantern again.

"Old Klavs is wise," said Ditte, "he knows exactly how far to go.
But he's very faddy all the same."

"I'll tell you, he knows that we're going on a long trip; and wants
a big feed beforehand," answered Lars Peter as if in excuse. "Ay,
he's a wise rascal!"

"But pussy's much sharper than that," said Ditte proudly, "for she
can open the pantry door herself. I couldn't understand how she got
in and drank the milk; I thought little Povl had left the door open,
and was just going to smack him for it. But yesterday I came behind
pussy, and can you imagine what she did? Jumped up on the sink, and
flew against the pantry door, striking the latch with one paw so it
came undone. Then she could just stand on the floor and push the
door open."

They sat under the lantern, which hung from one of the beams,
sorting rags, which lay round them in bundles; wool, linen and
cotton--all carefully separated. Outside it was cold and dark, but
here it was cosy. The old nag was working at his food like a
threshing machine, the cow lay panting with well-being as it chewed
the cud, and the hens were cackling sleepily from the hen-house. The
new pig was probably dreaming of its mother--now and again a sucking
could be heard. It had only left its mother a few days ago.

"Is this wool?" asked Ditte, holding out a big rag.

Lars Peter examined it, drew out a thread and put it in the flame of
the lantern.

"It should be wool," said he at last, "for it melts and smells of
horn. But Heaven knows," he felt the piece of cloth again
meditatively. "Maybe 'tis some of those new-fashioned swindles; 'tis
said they can make plant stuff, so folks can't see the difference
between it and wool. And they make silk of glass too, I'm told."

Ditte jumped up and opened the shutter, listening, then disappeared
across the yard. She returned shortly afterwards.

"Was anything wrong with the children?" asked Lars Peter.

"'Twas only little Povl crying; but how can they make silk of
glass?" asked she suddenly, "glass is so brittle!"

"Ay, 'tis the new-fashioned silk though, and may be true enough. If
you see a scrap of silk amongst the rags 'tis nearly always
broken."

"And what queer thing's glass made of?"

"Ay, you may well ask that--if I could only tell you. It can't be
any relation to ice, as it doesn't melt even when the sun shines on
it. Maybe--no, I daren't try explaining it to you. 'Tis a pity not
to have learned things properly; and think things out oneself."

"Can any folks do that?"

"Ay, there _must_ be some, or how would everything begin--if no one
hit on them. I used to think and ask about everything; but I've
given it up now, I never got to the bottom of it. This with your
mother doesn't make a fellow care much for life either." Lars Peter
sighed.

Ditte bent over her work. When this topic came up, it was better to
be silent.

For a few minutes neither spoke. Lars Peter's hands were working
slowly, and at last stopped altogether. He sat staring straight
ahead without perceiving anything; he was often like this of late.
He rose abruptly, and went towards the shutter facing east, and
opened it; it was still night, but the stars were beginning to pale.
The nag was calling from the stall, quietly, almost unnoticeably.
Lars Peter fastened the shutter, and stumbled out to the horse.
Ditte followed him with her eyes.

"What d'you want now?" he asked in a dull voice, stroking the horse.
The nag pushed its soft nose into his shoulder. It was the gentlest
caress Lars Peter knew, and he gave it another supply of corn.

Ditte turned her head towards them--she felt anxious over her
father's present condition. It was no good going about hanging one's
head.

"Is it going to have another feed?" said she, trying to rouse him.
"That animal'll eat us out of house and home!"

"Ay, but it's got something to do--and we've a long journey in front
of us." Lars Peter came back and began sorting again.

"How many miles is it to Copenhagen then?"

"Six or seven hours' drive, I should say; we've got a load."

"Ugh, what a long way." Ditte shivered. "And it's so cold."

"Ay, if I'm to go alone. But you might go with me! 'Tisn't a
pleasant errand, and the time'll go slowly all that long way. And
one can't get away from sad thoughts!"

"I can't leave home," answered Ditte shortly.

For about the twentieth time Lars Peter tried to talk her over. "We
can easily get Johansens to keep an eye on everything--and can send
the children over to them for a few days," said he.

But Ditte was not to be shaken. Her mother was nothing to her,
people could say what they liked; she _would_ not go and see her in
prison. And her father ought to stop talking like that or she would
be angry; it reminded her of Granny. She hated her mother with all
her heart, in a manner strange for her years. She never mentioned
her, and when the others spoke of her, she would be dumb. Good and
self-sacrificing as she was in all other respects, on this point she
was hard as a stone.

To Lars Peter's good-natured mind this hatred was a mystery. However
much he tried to reconcile her, in the end he had to give up.

"Look and see if there's anything you want for the house," said he.

"I want a packet of salt, the stuff they have at the grocer's is too
coarse to put on the table. And I must have a little spice. I'm
going to try making a cake myself, bought cakes get dry so quickly."

"D'you think you can?" said Lars Peter admiringly.

"There's more to be got," Ditte continued undisturbed, "but I'd
better write it down; or you'll forget half the things like you did
last time."

"Ay, that's best," answered Lars Peter meekly. "My memory's not as
good as it used to be. I don't know--I used to do hundreds of
errands without forgetting one. Maybe 'tis with your mother. And
then belike--a man gets old. Grandfather, he could remember like a
printed book, to the very last."

Ditte got up quickly and shook out her frock.

"There!" said she with a yawn. They put the rags in sacks and tied
them up.

"This'll fetch a little money," said Lars Peter dragging the sacks
to the door, where heaps of old iron and other metals lay in
readiness to be taken to the town. "And what's the time now?--past
six. Ought to be daylight soon."

As Ditte opened the door the frosty air poured in. In the east, over
the lake, the skies were green, with a touch of gold--it was
daybreak. In the openings in the ice the birds began to show signs
of life. It was as if the noise from the Crow's Nest had ushered in
the day for them, group after group began screaming and flew towards
the sea.

"It'll be a fine day," said Lars Peter as he dragged out the cart.
"There ought to be a thaw soon." He began loading the cart, while
Ditte went in to light the fire for the coffee.

As Lars Peter came in, the flames from the open fireplace were
flickering towards the ceiling, the room was full of a delicious
fragrance, coffee and something or other being fried. Kristian was
kneeling in front of the fire, feeding it with heather and dried
sticks, and Ditte stood over a spluttering frying-pan, stirring with
all her might. The two little ones sat on the end of the bench
watching the operations with glee, the reflection of the fire
gleaming in their eyes. The daylight peeped in hesitatingly through
the frozen window-panes.

"Come along, father!" said Ditte, putting the frying-pan on the
table on three little wooden supports. "'Tis only fried potatoes,
with a few slices of bacon, but you're to eat it all yourself!"

Lars Peter laughed and sat down at the table. He soon, however, as
was his wont, began giving some to the little ones; they got every
alternate mouthful. They stood with their faces over the edge of the
table, and wide open mouths--like two little birds. Kristian had his
own fork, and stood between his father's knees and helped himself.
Ditte stood against the table looking on, with a big kitchen knife
in her hand.

"Aren't you going to have anything?" asked Lars Peter, pushing the
frying-pan further on to the table.

"There's not a scrap more than you can eat yourself; we'll have
something afterwards," answered Ditte, half annoyed. But Lars Peter
calmly went on feeding them. He did not enjoy his food when there
were no open mouths round him.

"'Tis worth while waking up for this, isn't it?" said he, laughing
loudly; his voice was deep and warm again.

As he drank his coffee, Soester and Povl hurried into their clothes;
they wanted to see him off. They ran in between his and the nag's
legs as he was harnessing.

The sun was just rising. There was a red glitter over the
ice-covered lake and the frosted landscape, the reeds crackled as if
icicles were being crushed. From the horse's nostrils came puffs of
air, showing white in the morning light, and the children's quick
short breaths were like gusts of steam. They jumped round the cart
in their cloth shoes like two frolicsome young puppies. "Love to
Mother!" they shouted over and over again.

Lars Peter bent down from the top of the load, where he was half
buried between the sacks. "Shan't I give her your love too?" asked
he. Ditte turned away her head.

Then he took his whip and cracked it. And slowly Klavs set off on
his journey.

 

CHAPTER II

THE HIGHROAD

"He's even more fond of the highroad than a human being," Lars Peter
used to say of Klavs, and this was true; the horse was always in a
good temper whenever preparations were being made for a long
journey. For the short trips Klavs did not care at all; it was the
real highroad trips with calls to right and left, and stopping at
night in some stable, which appealed to him. What he found to enjoy
in it would be difficult to say; hardly for the sake of a new
experience--as with a man. Though God knows--'twas a wise enough
rascal! At all events Klavs liked to feel himself on the highroad,
and the longer the trip the happier he would be. He took it all with
the same good temper--up hills where he had to strain in the shafts,
and downhill where the full weight of the cart made itself felt. He
would only stop when the hill was unusually steep--to give Lars
Peter an opportunity of stretching his legs.

To Lars Peter the highroad was life itself. It gave daily bread to
him and his, and satisfied his love of roaming. Such a piece of
highroad between rows of trimmed poplars with endless by-ways off
to farms and houses was full of possibilities. One could take this
turning or that, according to one's mood at the moment, or leave the
choice of the road to the nag. It always brought forth something.

And the highroad was only the outward sign of an endless chain. If
one liked to wander straight on, instead of turning off, ay, then
one would get far out in the world--as far as one cared. He did not
do it of course; but the thought that it could be done was something
in itself.

On the highroad he met people of his own blood: tramps who crawled
up without permission on to his load, drawing a bottle from their
pocket, offering it to him, and talking away. They were people who
traveled far; yesterday they had come from Helsingoer; in a week's
time they would perhaps be over the borders in the south and down in
Germany. They wore heavily nailed boots, and had a hollow instead of
a stomach, a handkerchief round their throat and mittens on their
red wrists--and were full of good humor. Klavs knew them quite well,
and stopped of his own accord.

Klavs also stopped for poor women and school-children; Lars Peter
and he agreed that all who cared to drive should have that pleasure.
But respectable people they passed by; they of course would not
condescend to drive with the rag and bone man.

They both knew the highroad with its by-ways equally well. When
anything was doing, such as a thrashing-machine in the field, or a
new house being built, one or other of them always stopped. Lars
Peter pretended that it was the horse's inquisitiveness. "Well, have
you seen enough?" he growled when they had stood for a short while,
and gathered up the reins. Klavs did not mind the deception in the
least, and in no way let it interfere with his own inclinations;
Klavs liked his own way.

Things must be black indeed, if the highroad did not put the rag and
bone man into a good temper. The calm rhythmic trot of the nag's
hoofs against the firm road encouraged him to hum. The trees, the
milestones with the crown above King Christian the Fifth's initials,
the endless perspective ahead of him, with all its life and
traffic--all had a cheering effect on him.

The snow had been trodden down, and only a thin layer covered with
ice remained, which rang under the horse's big hoofs. The thin light
air made breathing easy, and the sun shone redly over the snow. It
was impossible to be anything but light-hearted. But then he
remembered the object of the drive, and all was dark again.

Lars Peter had never done much thinking on his own account, or
criticized existence. When something or other happened, it was
because it could not be otherwise--and what was the good of
speculating about it? When he was on the cart all these hours, he
only hummed a kind of melody and had a sense of well-being. "I
wonder what mother'll have for supper?" he would think, or "maybe
the kiddies'll come to meet me today." That was all. He took bad and
good trade as it came, and joy and sorrow just the same; he knew
from experience that rain and sunshine come by turns. It had been
thus in his parents' and grandparents' time, and his own had
confirmed it. Then why speculate? If the bad weather lasted longer
than usual, well, the good was so much better when it came.

And complaints were no good. Other people beside himself had to take
things as they came. He had never had any strong feeling that there
was a guiding hand behind it all.

But now he _had_ to think, however useless he found it. Suddenly
something would take him mercilessly by the neck, and always face
him with the same hopeless: _Why_? A thousand times the thought of
Soerine would crop up, making everything heavy and sad.

Lars Peter had been thoroughly out of luck before--and borne it as
being part of his life's burden. He had a thick skull and a broad
back--what good were they but for burdens; it was not his business
to whimper or play the weakling. And fate had heaped troubles upon
him: if he could bear that, then he can bear this!--till at last he
would break down altogether under the burden. But his old stolidness
was gone.

He had begun to think of his lot--and could fathom nothing: it was
all so meaningless, now he compared himself with others. As soon as
ever he got into the cart, and the nag into its old trot, these sad
thoughts would reappear, and his mind would go round and round the
subject until he was worn out. He could not unravel it. Why was he
called the rag and bone man, and treated as if he were unclean? He
earned his living as honestly as any one else. Why should his
children be jeered at like outcasts--and his home called the Crow's
Nest? And why did the bad luck follow him?--and fate? There was a
great deal now that he did not understand, but which must be cleared
up. Misfortune, which had so often knocked at his door without
finding him at home, had now at last got its foot well inside the
door.

However much Lars Peter puzzled over Soerine, he could find no way
out of it. It was his nature to look on the bright side of things;
and should it be otherwise they were no sooner over than forgotten.
He had only seen her good points. She had been a clever wife, good
at keeping the home together--and a hard worker. And she had given
him fine children, that alone made up for everything. He had been
fond of her, and proud of her firmness and ambition to get on in
the world. And now as a reward for her pride she was in prison! For
a long time he had clung to the hope that it must be a mistake.
"Maybe they'll let her out one day," he thought. "Then she'll be
standing in the doorway when you return, and it's all been a
misunderstanding." It was some time now since the sentence had
been pronounced, so it must be right. But it was equally difficult
to understand!

There lay a horseshoe on the road. The nag stopped, according to
custom, and turned its head. Lars Peter roused himself from his
thoughts and peered in front of the horse, then drove on again.
Klavs could not understand it, but left it at that: Lars Peter could
no longer be bothered to get off the cart to pick up an old
horseshoe.

He began whistling and looked out over the landscape to keep his
thoughts at bay. Down in the marsh they were cutting ice for the
dairies--it was high time too! And the farmer from Gadby was driving
off in his best sledge, with his wife by his side. Others could
enjoy themselves! If only he had his wife in the cart--driving in to
the Capital. There now--he was beginning all over again! Lars Peter
looked in the opposite direction, but what good was that. He could
not get rid of his thoughts.

A woman came rushing up the highroad, from a little farm. "Lars
Peter!" she cried. "Lars Peter!" The nag stopped.

"Are you going to town?" she asked breathlessly, leaning on the
cart.

"Ay, that I am," Lars Peter answered quietly, as if afraid of her
guessing his errand.

"Oh! would you mind buying us a chamber?"

"What! you're getting very grand!" Lars Peter's mouth twisted in
some semblance of a smile.

"Ay, the child's got rheumatic fever, and the doctor won't let her
go outside," the woman explained excusingly.

"I'll do that for you. How big d'you want it?"

"Well, as we must have it, it might as well be a big one. Here's
sixpence, it can't be more than that." She gave him the money
wrapped in a piece of paper, and the nag set off again.

When they had got halfway, Lars Peter turned off to an inn. The
horse needed food, and something enlivening for himself would not
come amiss. He felt downhearted. He drove into the yard, partly
unharnessed, and put on its nosebag.

The fat inn-keeper came to the door, peering out with his small
pig's eyes, which were deeply embedded in a huge expanse of flesh,
like two raisins in rising dough. "Why, here comes the rag and bone
man from Sand!" he shouted, shaking with laughter. "What brings such
fine company today, I wonder?"

Lars Peter had heard this greeting before, and laughed at it, but
today it affected him differently. He had come to the end of his
patience. His blood began to rise. The long-suffering, thoughtful,
slothful Lars Peter turned his head with a jerk--showing a gleam of
teeth. But he checked himself, took off his cape, and spread it over
the horse.

"'Tis he for sure," began the inn-keeper again. "His lordship of the
Crow's Nest, doing us the honor."

But this time Lars Peter blazed out.

"Hold your mouth, you beer-swilling pig!" he thundered, stepping
towards him with his heavy boots, "or I'll soon close it for you!"

The inn-keeper's open mouth closed with a snap. His small pig's
eyes, which almost disappeared when he laughed, opened widely in
terror. He turned round and rushed in. When Lars Peter, with a frown
on his face, came tramping into the tap-room, he was bustling about,
whistling softly with his fat tongue between his teeth and looking
rather small.

"A dram and a beer," growled the rag and bone man, seating himself
by the table and beginning to unpack his food.

The inn-keeper came towards him with a bottle and two glasses. He
glanced uncertainly at Lars Peter, and poured out two brimming
glassfuls. "Your health, old friend," said he ingratiatingly. The
rag and bone man drank without answering his challenge; he had given
the fat lump a fright, and now he was making up to him. It was odd
to be able to make people shiver--quite a new feeling. But he rather
liked it. And it did him good to give vent to his anger; he had a
feeling of well-being after having let off steam. Here sat this
insolent landlord trying to curry favor, just because one would not
put up with everything. Lars Peter felt a sudden inclination to put
his foot upon his neck, and give him a thorough shock. Or bend him
over so that head and heels met. Why should he not use his superior
strength once in a while? Then perhaps people would treat him with
something like respect.

The inn-keeper sank down on a chair in front of him. "Well, Lars
Peter Hansen, so you've become a socialist?" he began, blinking his
eyes.

Lars Peter dropped his heavy fist on the table so that everything
jumped--the inn-keeper included. "I'm done with being treated like
dirt--do you understand! I'm just as good as you and all the rest of
them. And if I hear any more nonsense, then to hell with you all."

"Of course, of course! 'twas only fun, Lars Peter Hansen. And how's
every one at home? Wife and children well?" He still blinked
whenever Lars Peter moved.

Lars Peter did not answer him, but helped himself to another dram.
The rascal knew quite well all about Soerine.

"D'you know--you should have brought the wife with you. Womenfolk
love a trip to town," the inn-keeper tried again. Lars Peter looked
suspiciously at him.

"What d'you mean by this tomfoolery?" he said darkly. "You know
quite well that she's in there."

"What--is she? Has she run away from you then?"

Lars Peter took another glass. "She's locked up, and you know
it--curse you!" He put the glass down heavily on the table.

The landlord saw it was no good pretending ignorance. "I think I do
remember hearing something about it," said he. "How was it--got into
trouble with the law somehow?"

The rag and bone man gave a hollow laugh. "I should think so! She
killed her own mother, 'tis said." The spirit was beginning to
affect him.

"Dear, dear! was it so bad as that?" sighed the inn-keeper, turning
and twisting as if he had a pain inside. "And now you're going to
the King, I suppose?"

Lars Peter lifted his head. "To the King?" he asked. The thought
struck him, perhaps this was the miracle he had been hoping for.

"Ay, the King decides whether it's to be life or death, you know. If
there's any one he can't stand looking at, he only says: 'Take that
fellow and chop off his head!' And he can let folk loose again too,
if he likes."

"And how's the likes of me to get near the King?" The rag and bone
man laughed hopelessly.

"Oh, that's easily done," said the inn-keeper airily. "Every one in
the country has the right to see the King. When you get in there,
just ask where he lives, any one can tell you."

"Hm, I know that myself," said Lars Peter with assurance. "I was
once nearly taken for the guards myself--for the palace. If it
hadn't been for having flat feet, then----"

"Well, it isn't quite as easy as you think; he's got so many
mansions. The King's got no-one to associate with, you see, as
there's only one King in every land, and talk to his wife always, no
man could stand--the King as little as we others. That's why he gets
bored, and moves from one castle to another, and plays at making a
visitor of himself. So you'd better make inquiries. 'Twouldn't come
amiss to get some one to speak for you either. You've got money, I
suppose?"

"I've got goods on the cart for over a hundred crowns," said Lars
Peter with pride.

"That's all right, because in the Capital nearly all the doors need
oiling before they are opened. Maybe the castle gate will creak a
little, but then----" The inn-keeper rubbed one palm against the
other.

"Then we'll oil it," said Lars Peter, with a wave of his arm as he
got up.

He had plenty of courage now, and hummed as he harnessed the horse
and got into the cart. Now he knew what to do, and he was anxious to
act. Day and night he had been faced with the question of getting
Soerine out of prison, but how? It was no good trying to climb the
prison wall at night, and fetch her out, as one read of in books.
But he could go to the King! Had he not himself nearly been taken
into the King's service as a guardsman? "He's got the height and the
build," they had said. Then they had noticed his flat feet and
rejected him; but still he had said he almost----

 

CHAPTER III

LARS PETER SEEKS THE KING

Lars Peter Hansen knew nothing of the Capital. As a boy he had been
there with his father, but since then no opportunity had arisen for
a trip to Copenhagen. He and Soerine had frequently spoken of taking
their goods there and selling direct to the big firms, instead of
going the round of the small provincial dealers, but nothing had
ever come of it beyond talk. But today the thing was to be done. He
had seen posters everywhere advertising: "The largest house in
Scandinavia for rags and bones and old metals," and "highest prices
given." It was the last statement which had attracted him.

Lars Peter sat reckoning up, as he drove along the Lyngby road
towards the eastern end of the city. Going by prices at home he had
a good hundred crowns' worth of goods on the cart; and here it ought
to fetch at least twenty-five crowns more. That would perhaps pay
for Soerine's release. This was killing two birds with one stone,
getting Soerine out--and making money on the top of it! All that was
necessary was to keep wide awake. He lifted his big battered hat and
ran his hand through his tousled mop of hair--he was in a happy
mood.

At Trianglen he stopped and inquired his way. Then driving through
Blegdamsvej he turned into a side street. Over a high wooden paling
could be seen mountains of old rusty iron: springs and empty tins,
bent iron beds, dented coal-boxes red with rust, and pails. This
must be the place. On the signboard stood: _Levinsohn & Sons,
Export_.

The rag and bone man turned in through the gateway and stopped
bewildered as he came into the yard. Before him were endless
erections of storing-places and sheds, one behind the other, and
inclosures with masses of rags, dirty cotton-wool and rusty iron and
tin-ware. From every side other yards opened out, and beyond these
more again. If he and Klavs went gathering rags until Doomsday, they
would never be able to fill one yard. He sat and gazed, overwhelmed.
Involuntarily he had taken his hat off, but then, gathering himself
together, he drove into one of the sheds and jumped down from the
cart. Hearing voices, he opened the door. In the darkness sat some
young girls sorting some filth or other, which looked like
blood-stained rags.

"Well, well, what a dove-cote to land in," broke out Lars Peter in
high spirits. "What's that you're doing, sorting angels' feathers?"
The room was filled with his good-humored chuckles.

As quick as lightning one of the girls grasped a bundle and threw
it at him. He only just escaped it by bending his head, and the
thing brought up against the door-post. It was cotton-wool covered
with blood and matter--from the hospital dust-bins. He knew that
there was a trade in this in the Capital. "Puh!" he said in disgust,
and hurried out. "Filthy, pish!" A shout of laughter went up from
the girls.

From the head-office a little spectacled gentleman came tripping
towards him. "What--what are you doing here?" he barked from afar,
almost falling over himself in his eagerness. "It--it's no business
of yours prying in here!" He was dreadfully dirty and unshaven, his
collar and frock-coat looked as if they had been fished up from a
ragbag. No, the trade never made Lars Peter as dirty as that; why,
the dirt was in layers on this old man. But of course--this business
was ever so much bigger than his own! Good-naturedly, he took off
his hat.

"Are you Mr. Levinsohn?" asked he, when the old man had finished.
"I've got some goods."

The old man stared at him speechless with surprise that any one
could be so impudent as to take him for the head of the firm. "Oh,
you're looking for Mr. Levinsohn," he said searchingly, "indeed?"

"Ay, I've got some goods I want to sell."

Now the old man understood. "And you must see him, himself--it's a
matter of life and death--eh? No one else in the whole world can buy
those goods from you, or the shaft'll break and the rags'll fall out
and break to pieces, and Heaven knows what! So you must see Mr.
Levinsohn himself." He looked the rag and bone man up and down,
almost bursting with scorn.

"Well, I shouldn't mind seeing him himself," Lars Peter patiently
said.

"Then you'd better drive down to the Riviera with your dust-cart, my
good man."

"What, where?"

"Yes, to the Riviera!" The old man rubbed his hands. He was enjoying
himself immensely. "It's only about fourteen hundred miles from
here--over there towards the south. The best place to find him is
Monte Carlo--between five and seven. And his wife and daughters--I
suppose you want to see them too? Perhaps a little flirtation? A
little walk--underneath the palm-trees, what?"

"Good Lord! is he a grand sort like that," said Lars Peter,
crestfallen. "Well--maybe I can trade with you?"

"At your service, Mr. Jens Petersen from--Sengeloese; if you, sir,
will condescend to deal with a poor devil like me."

"I may just as well tell you that my name is Lars Peter Hansen--from
Sand."

"Indeed--the firm feels honored, highly honored, I assure you!" The
old man bustled round the cartload, taking in the value at a glance,
and talking all the time. Suddenly he seized the nag by the head,
but quickly let go, as Klavs snapped at him. "We'll drive it down
to the other yard," said he.

"I think we'd better leave the goods on the cart, until we've agreed
about the price," Lars Peter thought; he was beginning to be
somewhat suspicious.

"No, my man, we must have the whole thing emptied out, so that we
can see what we're buying," said the old man in quite another tone.
"That's not our way."

"And I don't sell till I know my price. It's all weighed and sorted,
Lars Peter's no cheat."

"No, no, of course not. So it's really you? Lars Peter Hansen--and
from Sand too--and no cheat. Come with me into the office then."

The rag and bone man followed him. He was a little bewildered, was
the man making a fool of him, or did he really know him? Round about
at home Lars Peter of Sand was known by every one; had his name as a
buyer preceded him?

He had all the weights in his head, and gave the figures, while the
old man put them down. In the midst of this he suddenly realized
that the cart had disappeared. He rushed out, and down in the other
yard found two men engaged in unloading the cart. For the second
time today Lars Peter lost his temper. "See and get those things on
to the cart again," he shouted, picking up his whip. The two men
hastily took his measure; then without a word reloaded the cart.

He was no longer in doubt that they would cheat him. The cursed
knaves! If they had emptied it all out on to the heap, then he could
have whistled for his own price. He drove the cart right up to the
office door, and kept the reins on his arm. The old fox stood by his
desk, looking at him out of the corners of his eyes. "Were they
taking your beautiful horse from you?" he asked innocently.

"No, 'twas something else they wanted to have their fingers in,"
growled Lars Peter; he would show them that he could be sarcastic
too. "Now then, will you buy the goods or not?"

"Of course we'll buy them. Look here, I've reckoned it all up. It'll
be exactly fifty-six crowns--highest market price."

"Oh, go to the devil with your highest market price!" Lars Peter
began mounting the cart again.

The old man looked at him in surprise through his spectacles: "Then
you won't sell?"

"No, that I won't. I'd rather take it home again--and get double the
price."

"Well, if you say so of course--Lars Peter Hansen's no cheat. But
what are we to do, my man? My conscience won't allow me to send you
dragging those things home again--it would be a crime to this
beautiful horse." He approached the nag as if to pat it, but Klavs
laid back his ears and lashed his tail. This praise of his horse
softened Lars Peter, and the end of it was that he let the load go
for ninety crowns. A cigar was thrown into the bargain. "It's from
the cheap box, so please don't light it until you get outside the
gate," said the impudent old knave. "Come again soon!"

Thanks! It would be some time before he came here again--a pack of
robbers! He asked the way to an inn in Vestergade, where people from
his neighborhood generally stayed, and there he unharnessed.

The yard was full of vehicles. Farmers with pipes hanging from their
lips and fur-coats unbuttoned were loading their wagons. Here and
there between the vehicles were loiterers, with broad gold chains
across their chest and half-closed eyes. One of them came up to Lars
Peter. "Are you doing anything tonight?" said he. "There's a couple
of us here--retired farmers--going to have a jolly evening together.
We want a partner." He drew a pack of cards from his breast-pocket,
and began shuffling them.

No, Lars Peter had no time. "All the same, thanks." "Who are those
men?" he asked the stable-boy.

"Oh, they help the farmers to find their way about town, when it's
dark," answered the man, laughing.

"Are they paid for that then?" asked Lars Peter thoughtfully.

"Oh, yes--and sometimes a good deal. But then they fix up other
things besides--lodging for the night and everything. Even a wife
they'll get for you, if you like."

"Well, I don't care about that. If they'd only help a man to get
hold of his own wife!"

"I don't think they do that. But you can try."

No, Lars Peter would not do that. He realized these were folk it was
better to avoid. Then he sauntered out into the town. At Hauserplads
there was an inn kept by a man he knew--he would look him up. Maybe
he could give him a little help in managing the affair.

The street-lamps were just being lit, although it was not nearly
dark; evidently there was no lack of money here. Lars Peter
clattered in his big boots down towards Frue Plads, examining the
houses as he went. This stooping giant, with faded hat and cape,
looked like a wandering piece of the countryside. When he asked the
way his voice rang through the street--although it was not loud for
him. People stopped and laughed. Then he laughed back again and made
some joke or other, which, though he did not mean it, sounded like a
storm between the rows of houses. Gradually a crowd of children and
young people gathered and followed in his wake. When they shouted
after him he took it with good humor, but was not altogether at his
ease until he reached the tavern. Here he took out his red pocket
handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

"Hullo! Hans Mattisen," he shouted down into the dark cellar. "D'you
know an old friend again, what?" His joy over having got so far made
his voice sound still more overpowering than usual; there was
hardly room for it under the low ceiling.

"Not so fast, not so fast!" came from a jolly voice behind the
counter, "wait until I get a light."

When the gas was lit, they found they did not know each other at
all. Hans Mattisen had left years ago. "Don't you worry about that,"
said the inn-keeper, "sit down." After Lars Peter had seated
himself, he was given some lobscouse and a small bottle of wine, and
soon felt at peace with the world.

The inn-keeper was a pleasant man with a keen sense of humor. Lars
Peter was glad of a talk with him, and before he was aware of it,
had poured out all his troubles. Well, he had come down here to get
advice; and he had not gone far wrong either.

"Is that all?" said the inn-keeper, "we'll soon put that right.
We've only to send a message to the Bandmaster."

"Who's that?" asked Lars Peter.

"Oh, he has the cleverest head in the world; there's not a piece of
music but he can manage it. Curious fellow--never met one like him.
For example, he can't bear dogs, because once a police-dog took him
for an ordinary thief. He never can forget that. Therefore, if he
asks, you've only to say that dogs are a damned nuisance--almost as
loathsome as the police. He can't stand them either. Hi! Katrine,"
he called into the kitchen, "get hold of the Bandmaster quick, and
tell him to come along--give him plenty of drink too, for he must
be thawed before you get anything out of him."

"No fear about that," said Lars Peter airily, putting a ten-crown
piece on the table, which the inn-keeper quickly pocketed. "That's
right, old man--that's doing the thing properly," said he
appreciatively. "I'll see to the whiskey. You're a gentleman, that's
certain--you've got a well-filled pocketbook, I suppose?"

"I've got about a hundred crowns," answered Lars Peter, fearing it
would not suffice.

"You shall see your wife!" shouted the inn-keeper, shaking Lars
Peter's hand violently. "You shall see your wife as certain as I'm
your friend! Perhaps she'll be with you tonight. What do you think
of that, eh, old man?" He put his arm round Lars Peter's shoulders,
shaking him jovially.

Lars Peter laughed and was moved--he almost had tears in his eyes.
He was a little overcome by the warmth of the room and the whiskey.

A tall thin gentleman came down into the cellar. He wore a black
frock-coat, but was without waistcoat and collar--perhaps because he
had been sent for in such a hurry. He had spectacles on, and looked
on the whole a man of authority. He had a distinguished appearance,
somewhat like a town-crier or a conjurer from the market-place. His
voice was shrill and cracked, and he had an enormous larynx.

The inn-keeper treated him with great deference. "G'day, sir," said
he, bowing low--"here's a man wants advice. He's had an accident,
his wife's having a holiday at the King's expense."

The conductor glanced rather contemptuously at the rag and bone
man's big shabby figure. But the inn-keeper winked one eye, and
said, "I mustn't forget the beer-man." He went behind the desk and
wrote on a slate, "100." The Bandmaster glanced at the figure and
nodded to himself, then sat down and began to question Lars
Peter--down to every detail. He considered for a few minutes, and
then said, turning towards the inn-keeper, "Alma must tackle
this--she's playing with the _princess_, you know."

"Yes, of course!" shouted the inn-keeper, delightedly. "Of course
Alma can put it right, but tonight----?" He looked significantly at
the Bandmaster.

"Leave it to me, my dear friend. Just you leave it to me," said the
other firmly.

Lars Peter tried hard to follow their conversation. They were funny
fellows to listen to, although the case itself was serious enough.
He began to feel drowsy with the heat of the room--after his long
day in the fresh air.

"Well, my good man, you wish to see the King?" said the Bandmaster,
taking hold of the lapel of his coat. Lars Peter pulled himself
together.

"I'd like to try that way, yes," he answered with strained
attention.

"Very well, then listen. I'll introduce you to my niece, who plays
with the princess. This is how it stands, you see--but it's
between ourselves--the _princess_ rather runs off the lines at
times, she gets so sick of things, but it's incognito, you
understand--unknowingly, we say--and then my niece is always by
her side. You'll meet her--and the rest you must do yourself."

"H'm, I'm not exactly dressed for such fine society," said Lars
Peter, looking down at himself. "And I'm out of practice with the
womenfolk--if it had been in my young days, now----!"

"Don't worry about that," said his friend, "people of high degree
often have the most extraordinary taste. It would be damned strange
if the _princess_ doesn't fall in love with you. And if she once
takes a fancy to you, you may bet your last dollar that your case is
in good hands."

The inn-keeper diligently refilled their glasses, and Lars Peter
looked more and more brightly at things. He was overcome by the
Bandmaster's grand connections, and his ability in finding ways and
means--exceedingly clever people he had struck upon. And when Miss
Alma came, full-figured and with a curled fringe, his whole face
beamed. "What a lovely girl," said he warmly, "just the kind I'd
have liked in the old days."

Miss Alma at once wanted to sit on his knee, but Lars Peter kept her
at arms' length. "I've got a wife," said he seriously. Soerine
should have no grounds for complaint. A look from the Bandmaster
made Alma draw herself up.

"Just wait until the _princess_ comes, then you'll see a lady," said
he to Lars Peter.

"She's not coming. She's at a ball tonight," said Miss Alma with
resentment.

"Then we'll go to the palace and find her." The Bandmaster took his
hat, and they all got up.

Outside in the street, a half-grown girl ran up and whispered
something to him.

"Sorry, but I must go," said he to Lars Peter--"my mother-in-law is
at death's door. But you'll have a good time all right."

"Come along," cried Miss Alma, taking the rag and bone man by the
arm. "We two are going to see life!"

"Hundred--er--kisses, Alma! don't forget," called the Bandmaster
after them. His voice sounded like a market crier's.

"All right," answered Miss Alma, with a laugh.

"What's that he says?" asked Lars Peter wonderingly.

"Don't you bother your head about that fool," she answered, and drew
him along.

* * * * *

Next morning Lars Peter woke early--as usual. There was a curious
illumination in the sky, and with terror he tumbled quickly out of
bed. Was the barn on fire? Then suddenly he remembered that he was
not at home; the gleam of light on the window-panes came from the
street lamps, which struggled with the dawn of day.

He found himself in a dirty little room, at the top of the house--as
far as he could judge from the roofs all round him. How in the name
of goodness had he got here?

He seated himself on the edge of the bed, and began dressing. Slowly
one thing after another began to dawn on him. His head throbbed like
a piston rod--headache! He heard peculiar sounds: chattering women,
hoarse rough laughter, oaths--and from outside came the peal of
church bells. Through all the noise and tobacco smoke came visions
of a fair fringe, and soft red lips--the _princess_! But how did he
come to be here, in an iron bed with a lumpy mattress, and ragged
quilt?

He felt for his watch to see the time--the old silver watch had
vanished! Anxiously he searched his inner pocket--thank Heaven! the
pocketbook was there alright. But what had happened to his watch?
Perhaps it had fallen on the floor. He hurried into his clothes, to
look for it--the big leather purse felt light in his pocket. It was
empty! He opened his pocketbook--that too was empty!

Lars Peter scrambled downstairs, dreading lest any one should see
him, slipped out into one of the side streets, and stumbled to the
inn, harnessed the nag and set off. He began to long for the
children at home--yes, and for the cows and pigs too.

Not until he was well outside the town, with a cold wind blowing on
his forehead, did he remember Soerine. And, suddenly realizing the
full extent of his disaster, he broke down and sobbed helplessly.

He halted at the edge of the wood--just long enough for Klavs to
have a feed. He himself had no desire for food then. He was on the
highroad again, and sat huddled up in the cart, while the previous
evening's debauch sang through his head.

At one place a woman came running towards him. "Lars Peter!" she
shouted, "Lars Peter!" The nag stopped. Lars Peter came to himself
with a jerk; without a word he felt in his waistcoat pocket, gave
her back her coin, and whipped up the horse.

On the highroad, some distance from home, a group of children stood
waiting. Ditte had not been able to manage them any longer. They
were cold and in tears. Lars Peter took them up into the cart, and
they gathered round him, each anxious to tell him all the news. He
took no notice of their chatter. Ditte sat quietly, looking at him
out of the corners of her eyes.

When he was seated at his meal, she said, "Where're all the things
you were to buy for me?" He looked up startled, and began stammering
something or other--an excuse--but stopped in the middle.

"How was mother getting on?" asked Ditte then. She was sorry for
him, and purposely used the word "mother" to please him.

For a few moments his features worked curiously. Then he buried his
face in his hands.



CHAPTER IV

LITTLE MOTHER DITTE

At first, Lars Peter told them nothing of his visit to the Capital.
But Ditte was old enough to read between the lines, and drew her own
conclusions. At all events, her commission had not been executed.
Soerine, for some reason or other, he had not seen either, as far as
she could understand; and no money had been brought home. Apparently
it had all been squandered--spent in drink no doubt.

"Now he'll probably take to getting drunk, like Johansen and the
others in the huts," she thought with resignation. "Come home and
make a row because there is nothing to eat--and beat us."

She was prepared for the worst, and watched him closely. But Lars
Peter came home steady as usual. He returned even earlier than
before. He longed for children and home when he was away. And, as
was his custom, he gave an account of what he had made and spent. He
would clear out the contents of his trouser-pockets with his big
fist, spreading the money out over the table, so that they could
count it together and lay their plans accordingly. But now he liked
a glass with his meals! Soerine had never allowed him this, there
was no need for it--said she--it was a waste of money. Ditte gave it
willingly, and took care to have it ready for him--after all, he was
a man!

Lars Peter was really ashamed of his trip to town, and not least of
all that he had been made such a fool of. The stupid part of it was
that he remembered so little of what had happened. Where had he
spent the night--and in what society? From a certain time in the
evening until he woke the following morning in that filthy bedroom,
all was like a vague dream--good or bad, he knew not. But in spite
of his shame he felt a secret satisfaction in having for once kicked
over the traces. He had seen life. How long had he been out? Jolting
round from farm to farm, he would brood on the question, would
recall some parts of the evening and suppress others--to get as much
pleasure out of it as possible. But in the end he was none the
wiser.

However, it was impossible for him to keep any secret for long.
First one thing, then another, came out, and eventually Ditte had a
pretty good idea of what had happened, and would discuss it with
him. In the evenings, when the little ones were in bed, they would
talk it over.

"But don't you think she was a real princess?" asked Ditte each
time. She always came back to this--it appealed to her vivid
imagination and love of adventure.

"The Lord only knows," answered her father thoughtfully. He could
not fathom how he could have been such a fool; he had managed so
well with the Jews in the stable-yard. "Ay, the Lord only knows!"

"And the Bandmaster," said Ditte eagerly, "he must have been a
wonderful man."

"Ay, that's true--a conjurer! He made I don't know how many drinks
disappear without any one seeing how it was done. He held the glass
on the table in his left hand, slapped his elbow with his right--and
there it was empty."

To Ditte it was a most exciting adventure, and incidents that had
seemed far from pleasant to Lars Peter became wonders in Ditte's
version of the affair. Lars Peter was grateful for the child's help,
and together they spoke of it so long, that slowly, and without his
being aware of it, the whole experience assumed quite a different
aspect.

It certainly had been a remarkable evening. And the princess--yes,
she must have been there in reality, strange though it sounded that
a beggar like him should have been in such company. But the devil of
a woman she was to drink and smoke. "Ay, she was real enough--or I
wouldn't have been so taken with her," admitted he.

"Then you've slept with a real princess--just like the giant in the
fairy tale," broke out Ditte, clapping her hands in glee. "You have,
father!" She looked beamingly at him.

Lars Peter was silent with embarrassment, and sat blinking at the
lamp--he had not looked upon it in the innocent light of a fairy
tale. To him it seemed--well, something rather bad--it was being
unfaithful to Soerine.

"Ay, that's true," said he. "But then, will Mother forgive it?"

"Oh, never mind!" answered Ditte. "But it was a good thing you
didn't cut yourself!"

Lars Peter lifted his head, looking uncertainly at her.

"Ay, because there must have been a drawn sword between you--there
always is. You see, princesses are too grand to be touched."

"Oh--ay! that's more than likely." Lars Peter turned this over in
his mind. The explanation pleased him, and he took it to himself; it
was a comforting idea. "Ay, 'tis dangerous to have dealings with
princesses, even though a man doesn't know it at the time," said he.

* * * * *

Lars Peter thought no more of visiting Soerine in prison. He would
have liked to see her and clasp her hand, even though it were only
through an iron grating; but it was not to be. He must have patience
until she had served her time.

To him the punishment was that they had to live apart in the coming
years. He lacked imagination to comprehend Soerine's life behind
prison walls, and therefore he could not think of her for long at a
time. But unconsciously he missed her, so much so that he felt
depressed.

Lars Peter was no longer eager to work--the motive power was
lacking. He was too easily contented with things as they were; there
was no-one to taunt him with being poorer than others. Ditte was too
good-natured; she was more given to taking burdens on her own
shoulders.

He had grown quieter, and stooped more than ever. He played less
with the children, and his voice had lost some of its ring. He never
sang now, as he drove up to the farms to trade; he felt that people
gossiped about him and his affairs, and this took away his
confidence. It made itself felt when housewives and maids no longer
smiled and enjoyed his jokes or cleared out all their old rubbish
for him. He was never invited inside now--he was the husband of a
murderess! Trade dwindled away--not that he minded--it gave him more
time with the children at home.

At the same time there was less to keep house on. But, thanks to
Ditte, they scraped along; little as she was, she knew how to make
both ends meet, so they did not starve.

There was now plenty of time for Lars Peter to build. Beams and
stones lay all round as a silent reproach to him.

"Aren't you going to do anything with it?" Ditte would ask. "Folk
say it's lying there wasting."

"Where did you hear that?" asked Lars Peter bitterly.

"Oh--at school!"

So they talked about that too! There was not much where he was
concerned which was not torn to pieces. No, he had no desire to
build. "We've got a roof over our heads," said he indifferently. "If
any one thinks our hut's not good enough, let them give us another."
But the building materials remained there as an accusation; he was
not sorry when they were overgrown with grass.

What good would it do to build? The Crow's Nest was, and would
remain, the Crow's Nest, however much they tried to polish it up. It
had not grown in esteem by Soerine's deed. She had done her best to
give them a lift up in the world--and had only succeeded in pushing
them down to the uttermost depth. Previously, it had only been
misfortune which clung to the house, and kept better people away;
now it was crime. No-one would come near the house after dusk, and
by day they had as little as possible to do with the rag and bone
man. The children were shunned; they were the offspring of a
murderess, and nothing was too bad to be thought of them.

The people tried to excuse their harshness, and justified their
behavior towards the family, by endowing them with all the worst
qualities. At one time it was reported that they were thieves. But
that died down, and then they said that the house was haunted. Old
Maren went about searching for her money; first one, then another,
had met her on the highroad at night, on her way to the Crow's Nest.

The full burden of all this fell on the little ones. It was
mercilessly thrown in their faces by the other children at school;
and when they came home crying, Lars Peter of course had to bear his
share too. No-one dared say anything to him, himself--let them try
if they dared! The rag and bone man's fingers tingled when he heard
all this backbiting--why couldn't he and his be allowed to go in
peace. He wouldn't mind catching one of the rogues red-handed. He
would knock him down in cold blood, whatever the consequences might
be.

Kristian now went to school too, in the infants' class. The classes
were held every other day, and his did not coincide with Ditte's,
who was in a higher class. He had great difficulty in keeping up
with the other children, and could hardly be driven off in the
mornings. "They call me the young crow," he said, crying.

"Then call them names back again," said Ditte; and off he had to go.

But one day there came a message from the schoolmaster that the boy
was absent too often. The message was repeated. Ditte could not
understand it. She had a long talk with the boy, and got out of him
that he often played truant. He made a pretense of going to school,
hung about anywhere all day long, and only returned home when
school-time was over. She said nothing of this to Lars Peter--it
would only have made things worse.

The unkindness from outside made them cling more closely to one
another. There was something of the hunted animal in them; Lars
Peter was reserved in his manner to people, and was ready to fly out
if attacked. The whole family grew shy and suspicious. When the
children played outside the house, and saw people approaching on the
highroad, they would rush in, peeping at them from behind the broken
window-panes. Ditte watched like a she-wolf, lest other children
should harm her little brothers and sister; when necessary, she
would both bite and kick, and she could hurl words at them too. One
day when Lars Peter was driving past the school, the schoolmaster
came out and complained of her--she used such bad language. He could
not understand it; at home she was always good and saw that the
little ones behaved properly. When he spoke of this, Ditte hardened.

"I won't stand their teasing," said she.

"Then stay at home from school, and then we'll see what they'll do."

"We'll only be fined for every day; and then one day they'll come
and fetch me," said Ditte bitterly.

"They won't easily take you away by force. Somebody else would have
something to say to that." Lars Peter nodded threateningly.

But Ditte would not--she would take her chance. "I've just as much
right to be there as the others," she said stubbornly.

"Ay, ay, that's so. But it's a shame you should suffer for other
people's wickedness."

Lars Peter seldom went out now, but busied himself cultivating his
land, so that he could be near the children and home. He had a
feeling of insecurity; people had banded themselves together against
him and his family, and meant them no good. He was uneasy when away
from home, and constantly felt as if something had happened. The
children were delighted at the change.

"Are you going to stay at home tomorrow too, Father?" asked the two
little ones every evening, gazing up at him with their small arms
round his huge legs. Lars Peter nodded.

"We must keep together here in the Crow's Nest," said he to Ditte as
if in excuse. "We can't get rid of the 'rag and bone man'--or the
other either; but no-one can prevent us from being happy together."

Well, Ditte did not object to his staying at home. As long as they
got food, the rest was of no consequence.

Yes, they certainly must keep together--and get all they could out
of one another, otherwise life would be too miserable to bear. On
Sundays Lars Peter would harness the nag and drive them out to
Frederiksvaerk, or to the other side of the lake. It was pleasant to
drive, and as long as they possessed a horse and cart, they could
not be utterly destitute.

Their small circle of acquaintances had vanished, but thanks to
Klavs they found new friends. They were a cottager's family by the
marsh--people whom no-one else would have anything to do with. There
were about a dozen children, and though both the man and his wife
went out as day laborers, they could not keep them, and the parish
had to help. Lars Peter had frequently given them a hand with his
cart, but there had never been much intercourse as long as Soerine
was in command of the Crow's Nest. But now it came quite naturally.
Birds of a feather flock together--so people said.

To the children it meant play-fellows and comrades in disgrace. It
was quite a treat to be asked over to Johansens on a Sunday
afternoon, or even more so to have them at the Crow's Nest. There
was a certain satisfaction in having visitors under their roof, and
giving them the best the house could provide. For days before they
came Ditte would be busy making preparations: setting out milk for
cream to have with the coffee, and buying in all they could afford.
On Sunday morning she would cut large plates of bread-and-butter, to
make it easier for her in the afternoon. As soon as the guests
arrived, they would have coffee, bread-and-butter and home-made
cakes. Then the children would play "Touch," or "Bobbies and
Thieves." Lars Peter allowed them to run all over the place, and
there would be wild hunting in and outside the Crow's Nest. In the
meanwhile the grown-ups wandered about in the fields, looking at
the crops. Ditte went with them, keeping by the side of Johansen's
wife, with her hands under her apron, just as she did.

At six o'clock they had supper, sandwiches with beer and brandy;
then they would sit for a short time talking, before going home.
There was the evening work to be done, and every one had to get up
early the next morning.

They were people even poorer than themselves. They came in shining
wooden shoes, and in clean blue working clothes. They were so poor
that in the winter they never had anything to eat but herrings and
potatoes, and it delighted Ditte to give them a really good meal:
sandwiches of the best, and bottles of beer out of which the cork
popped and the froth overflowed.

 

CHAPTER V

THE LITTLE VAGABOND

Lars Peter stood by the water-trough where Klavs was drinking his
fill. They had been for a long trip, and both looked tired and glad
to be home again.

At times a great longing for the highroad came over the rag and bone
man, and he would then harness the nag and set off on his old rounds
again. The road seemed to ease his trouble, and drew him further and
further away, so that he spent the night from home, returning the
following day. There was not much made on these trips, but he always
managed to do a little--and his depression would pass off for the
time being.

He had just returned from one of these outings, and stood in deep
thought, happy to be home again, and to find all was well. Now there
should be an end to these fits of wandering. Affairs at home
required a man.

Povl and his sister Else hurried out to welcome him; they ran in and
out between his legs, which to them were like great thick posts,
singing all the while. Sometimes they would run between the nag's
legs too, and the wise creature would carefully lift its hoofs, as
though afraid of hurting them--they could stand erect between their
father's legs.

Ditte came out from the kitchen door with a basket on her arm. "Now,
you're thinking again, father," said she laughingly, "take care you
don't step on the children."

Lars Peter pulled himself together and tenderly stroked the rough
little heads. "Where are you off to?" asked he.

"Oh, to the shop. I want some things for the house."

"Let Kristian go, you've quite enough to do without that."

"He hasn't come home from school yet--most likely I'll meet him on
the way."

"Not home yet?--and it's nearly supper-time." Lars Peter looked at
her in alarm. "D'you think he can be off on the highroad again?"

Ditte shook her head. "I think he's been kept in--I'm sure to meet
him. It's a good thing too--he can help me to carry the things
home," she added tactfully.

But Lars Peter could no longer be taken in. He had just been
thanking his stars that all was well on his return, and had silently
vowed to give up his wanderings--and now this! The boy was at his
old tricks again, there was no doubt about that--he could see it in
the girl's eyes. It was in his children's blood, it seemed, and much
as he cared for them--his sins would be visited on them. For the
little ones' sake he was struggling to overcome his own wandering
bent, and now it cropped out in them. It was like touching an open
wound--he felt sick at heart.

Lars Peter led the horse into its stall, and gave it some corn. He
did not take off the harness. Unless the boy returned soon, he would
go and look for him. It had happened before that Lars Peter and
Klavs had spent the night searching. And once Ditte had nearly run
herself off her legs looking for the boy, while all the time he was
quite happy driving round with his father on his rounds. He had been
waiting for Lars Peter on the highroad, telling him he had a
holiday--and got permission to go with his father. There was no
trusting him.

When Ditte got as far as the willows, she hid the basket in them.
She had only used the shop as an excuse to get away from home and
look for the boy, without the father knowing anything was wrong. A
short distance along the highroad lived some of Kristian's
school-fellows, and she went there to make inquiries. Kristian had
not been at school that day. She guessed as much--he had been in
such a hurry to get off in the morning! Perhaps he was in one of the
fields, behind a bush, hungry and wornout; it would be just like him
to lie there until he perished, if no-one found him in the
meanwhile.

She ran aimlessly over the fields, asking every one she met if they
had seen her brother. "Oh, is it the young scamp from the Crow's
Nest?" people asked. "Ay, he's got vagabond's blood in him."

Then she ran on, as quickly as she could. Her legs gave way, but she
picked herself up and stumbled on. She couldn't think of going home
without the boy; it would worry her father dreadfully! And Kristian
himself--her little heart trembled at the thought of his being out
all night.

A man on a cart told her he had seen a boy seven or eight years old,
down by the marsh. She rushed down--and there was Kristian. He stood
outside a hut, howling, the inhabitants gathered round him, and a
man holding him firmly by his collar.

"Come to look for this young rascal?" said he. "Ay, we've caught
him, here he is. The children told he'd shirked his school, and we
thought we'd better make sure of him, to keep him out of mischief."

"Oh, he's all right," said Ditte, bristling, "he wouldn't do any
harm." She pushed the man's hand away, and like a little mother drew
the boy towards her. "Don't cry, dear," said she, drying his wet
cheeks with her apron. "Nobody'll dare to touch you."

The man grinned and looked taken aback. "Do him harm?" said he
loudly. "And who is it sets fire to other folk's houses and sets on
peaceful womenfolk, but vagabonds. And that's just the way they
begin."

But Ditte and Kristian had rushed off. She held him by his hand,
scolding him as they went along. "There, you can hear yourself what
the man says! And that's what they'll think you are," said she. "And
you know it worries Father so. Don't you think he's enough trouble
without that?"

"Why did Mother do it?" said Kristian, beginning to cry.

He was worn out, and as soon as they got home Ditte put him quickly
to bed. She gave him camomile tea and put one of her father's
stockings--the left one--round his throat.

During the evening she and her father discussed what had happened.
The boy lay tossing feverishly in bed. "It's those mischievous
children," said Ditte with passion. "If I were there, they wouldn't
dare to touch him."

"Why does the boy take any notice of it?" growled Lars Peter.
"You've been through it all yourself."

"Ay, but then I'm a girl--boys mind much more what's said to them. I
give it them back again, but when Kristian's mad with rage, he can't
find anything to say. And then they all shout and laugh at him--and
he takes off his wooden shoe to hit them."

Lars Peter sat silent for a while. "We'd better see and get away
from here," said he.

Kristian popped his head over the end of the bed. "Yes, far, far
away!" he shouted. This at all events he had heard.

"We'll go to America then," said Ditte, carefully covering him up.
"Go to sleep now, so that you'll be quite well for the journey."
The boy looked at her with big, trusting eyes, and was quiet.

"'Tis a shame, for the boy's clever enough," whispered Lars Peter.
"'Tis wonderful how he can think a thing out in his little head--and
understand the ins and outs of everything. He knows more about
wheels and their workings than I do. If only he hadn't got my
wandering ways in his blood."

"That'll wear off in time!" thought Ditte. "At one time I used to
run away too."

The following day Kristian was out again, and went singing about the
yard. A message had been sent to school that he was ill, so that he
had a holiday for a few days--he was in high spirits. He had got
hold of the remains of an old perambulator which his father had
brought home, and was busy mending it, for the little ones to ride
in. Wheels were put on axles, now only the body remained to be
fixed. The two little ones stood breathlessly watching him. Povl
chattered away, and wanted to help, every other moment his little
hands interfered and did harm. But sister Else stood dumbly
watching, with big thoughtful eyes. "She's always dreaming, dear
little thing," said Ditte, "the Lord only knows what she dreams
about."

Ditte, to all appearance, never dreamed, but went about wide awake
from morning till night. Life had already given her a woman's hard
duties to fulfil, and she had met them and carried them out with a
certain sturdiness. To the little ones she was the strict
house-wife and mother, whose authority could not be questioned, and
should the occasion arise, she would give them a little slap. But
underneath the surface was her childish mind. About all her
experiences she formed her own opinions and conclusions, but never
spoke of them to any one.

The most difficult of all for her to realize was that Granny was
dead, and that she could never, never, run over to see her any more.
Her life with Granny had been her real childhood, the memory of
which remained vivid--unforgettable, as happy childhood is when one
is grown up. In the daytime the fact was clear enough. Granny was
dead and buried, and would never come back again. But at night when
Ditte was in bed, dead-beat after a hard day, she felt a keen desire
to be a child again, and would cuddle herself up in the quilt,
pretending she was with Granny. And, as she dropped off, she seemed
to feel the old woman's arm round her, as was her wont. Her whole
body ached with weariness, but Granny took it away--wise Granny who
could cure the rheumatism. Then she would remember Granny's awful
fight with Soerine. And Ditte would awaken to find Lars Peter
standing over her bed trying to soothe her. She had screamed! He did
not leave her until she had fallen asleep again--with his huge hand
held against her heart, which fluttered like that of a captured
bird.

At school, she never played, but went about all alone. The others
did not care to have her with them, and she was not good at games
either. She was like a hard fruit, which had had more bad weather
than sunshine. Songs and childish rhymes sounded harsh on her lips,
and her hands were rough with work.

The schoolmaster noticed all this. One day when Lars Peter was
passing, he called him in to talk of Ditte. "She ought to be in
entirely different surroundings," said he, "a place where she can
get new school-fellows. Perhaps she has too much responsibility at
home for a child of her age. You ought to send her away."

To Lars Peter this was like a bomb-shell. He had a great respect for
the schoolmaster--he had passed examinations and things--but how was
he to manage without his clever little housekeeper? "All of us ought
to go away," he thought. "There're only troubles and worries here."

No, there was nothing to look forward to here--they could not even
associate with their neighbors! He had begun to miss the fellowship
of men, and often thought of his relations, whom he had not seen,
and hardly heard of, for many years. He longed for the old
homestead, which he had left to get rid of the family nickname, and
seriously thought of selling the little he had, and turning
homewards. Nicknames seemed to follow wherever one went. There was
no happiness to be found here, and his livelihood was gone. "Nothing
seems to prosper here," thought he, saving of course the blessed
children--and they would go with him.

The thought of leaving did not make things better. Everything was at
a standstill. It was no good doing anything until he began his new
life--whatever that might be.

He and Ditte talked it over together. She would be glad to leave,
and did not mind where they went. She had nothing to lose. A new
life offered at least the chance of a more promising future.
Secretly, she had her own ideas of what should come--but not here;
the place was accursed. Not exactly the prince in Granny's
spinning-song, she was too old for that--princes only married
princesses. But many other things might happen besides that, given
the opportunity. Ditte had no great pretensions, but "forward" was
her motto. "It must be a place where there're plenty of people,"
said she. "Kind people," she added, thinking most of her little
brothers and sister.

Thus they talked it over until they agreed that it would be best to
sell up as soon as possible and leave. In the meantime, something
happened which for a time changed their outlook altogether, and made
them forget their plans.

 

CHAPTER VI

THE KNIFE-GRINDER

One afternoon, when the children were playing outside in the
sunshine, Ditte stood just inside the open kitchen door, washing up
after dinner. Suddenly soft music was heard a short distance away--a
run of notes; even the sunshine seemed to join in. The little ones
lifted their heads and gazed out into space; Ditte came out with a
plate and a dishcloth in her hands.

Up on the road just where the track to the Crow's Nest turned off
stood a man with a wonderful-looking machine; he blew, to draw
attention--on a flute or clarionet, whatever it might be--and looked
towards the house. When no-one appeared in answer to his call, he
began moving towards the house, pushing the machine in front of him.
The little ones rushed indoors. The man left his machine beside the
pump and came up to the kitchen door. Ditte stood barring the way.

"Anything want grinding, rivetting or soldering, anything to mend?"
he gabbled off, lifting his cap an inch from his forehead. "I
sharpen knives, scissors, razors, pitchforks or plowshares! Cut
your corns, stick pigs, flirt with the mistress, kiss the maids--and
never say no to a glass and a crust of bread!" Then he screwed up
his mouth and finished off with a song.

"Knives to grind, knives to grind!
Any scissors and knives to grind?
Knives and scissors to gri-i-ind!"

he sang at the top of his voice.

Ditte stood in the doorway and laughed, with the children hanging on
to her skirt. "I've got a bread-knife that won't cut," said she.

The man wheeled his machine up to the door. It was a big thing:
water-tank, grindstone, a table for rivetting, a little anvil and a
big wheel--all built upon a barrow. The children forgot their fear
in their desire to see this funny machine. He handled the
bread-knife with many flourishes, whistled over the edge to see how
blunt it was, pretended the blade was loose, and put it on the anvil
to rivet it. "It must have been used to cut paving-stories with,"
said he. But this was absurd; the blade was neither loose nor had it
been misused. He was evidently a mountebank.

He was quite young; thin, and quick in his movements; he rambled on
all the time. And such nonsense he talked! But how handsome he was!
He had black eyes and black hair, which looked quite blue in the
sunshine.

Lars Peter came out from the barn yawning; he had been having an
after-dinner nap. There were bits of clover and hay in his tousled
hair. "Where do you come from?" he cried gaily as he crossed the
yard.

"From Spain," answered the man, showing his white teeth in a broad
grin.

"From Spain--that's what my father always said when any one asked
him," said Lars Peter thoughtfully. "Don't come from Odsherred by
any chance?"

The man nodded.

"Then maybe you can give me some news of an Amst Hansen--a big
fellow with nine sons?... The rag and bone man, he was called." The
last was added guiltily.

"I should think I could--that's my father."

"No!" said Lars Peter heartily, stretching out his big hand. "Then
welcome here, for you must be Johannes--my youngest brother." He
held the youth's hand, looking at him cordially. "Oh, so that's what
you look like now; last time I saw you, you were only a couple of
months old. You're just like mother!"

Johannes smiled rather shyly, and drew his hand away; he was not so
pleased over the meeting as was his brother.

"Leave the work and come inside," said Lars Peter, "and the girl
will make us a cup of coffee. Well, well! To think of meeting like
this. Ay, just like mother, you are." He blinked his eyes, touched
by the thought.

As they drank their coffee, Johannes told all the news from home.
The mother had died some years ago and the brothers were gone to
the four corners of the earth. The news of his mother's death was a
great blow to Lars Peter. "So she's gone?" said he quietly. "I've
not seen her since you were a baby. I'd looked forward to seeing her
again--she was always good, was mother."

"Well," Johannes drawled, "she was rather grumpy."

"Not when I was at home--maybe she was ill a long time."

"We didn't get on somehow. No, the old man for me, he was always in
a good temper."

"Does he still work at his old trade?" asked Lars Peter with
interest.

"No, that's done with long ago. He lives on his pension!" Johannes
laughed. "He breaks stones on the roadside now. He's as hard as ever
and will rule the roost. He fights with the peasants as they pass,
and swears at them because they drive on his heap of stones."

Johannes himself had quarreled with his master and had given him a
black eye; and as he was the only butcher who would engage him over
there, he had left, crossing over at Lynoes--with the machine which
he had borrowed from a sick old scissor-grinder.

"So you're a butcher," said Lars Peter. "I thought as much. You
don't look like a professional grinder. You're young and strong;
couldn't you work for the old man and keep him out of the
workhouse?"

"Oh, he's difficult to get on with--and he's all right where he is.
If a fellow wants to keep up with the rest--and get a little fun out
of life--there's only enough for one."

"I dare say. And what do you think of doing now? Going on again?"

Yes, he wanted to see something of life--with the help of the
machine outside.

"And can you do all you say?"

Johannes made a grimace. "I learned a bit from the old man when I
was a youngster, but it's more by way of patter than anything else.
A fellow's only to ramble on, get the money, and make off before
they've time to look at the things. It's none so bad, and the police
can't touch you so long as you're working."

"Is that how it is?" said Lars Peter. "I see you've got the roving
blood in you too. 'Tis a sad thing to suffer from, brother!"

"But why? There's always something new to be seen! 'Tis sickening to
hang about in the same place, forever."

"Ay, that's what I used to think; but one day a man finds out that
it's no good thinking that way! Nothing thrives when you knock about
the road to earn your bread. No home and no family, nothing worth
having, however much you try to settle down."

"But you've got both," said Johannes.

"Ay, but it's difficult to keep things together. Living from hand to
mouth and nothing at your back--'tis a poor life. And the worst of
it is, we poor folk _have_ to turn that way; it seems better not to
know where your bread's to come from day by day and go hunting it
here, there and everywhere. It's that that makes us go a-roving. But
now you must amuse yourself for a couple of hours; I've promised to
cart some dung for a neighbor!"

During Lars Peter's absence Ditte and the children showed their
uncle round the farm. He was a funny fellow and they very soon made
friends. He couldn't be used to anything fine, for he admired
everything he saw, and won Ditte's confidence entirely. She had
never heard the Crow's Nest and its belongings admired before.

He helped her with her evening work, and when Lars Peter returned
the place was livelier than it had been for many a day. After supper
Ditte made coffee and put the brandy bottle on the table, and the
brothers had a long chat. Johannes told about home; he had a keen
sense of humor and spared neither home nor brothers in the telling,
and Lars Peter laughed till he nearly fell off his chair.

"Ay, that's right enough!" he cried, "just as it would have been in
the old days." There was a great deal to ask about and many old
memories to be refreshed; the children had not seen their father so
genial and happy for goodness knows how long. It was easy to see
that his brother's coming had done him good.

And they too had a certain feeling of well-being--they had got a
relation! Since Granny's death they had seemed so alone, and when
other children spoke of their relations they had nothing to say.
They had got an uncle--next after a granny this was the greatest of
all relations. And he had come to the Crow's Nest in the most
wonderful manner, taking them unawares--and himself too! Their
little bodies tingled with excitement; every other minute they crept
out, meddling with the wonderful machine, which was outside sleeping
in the moonlight. But Ditte soon put a stop to this and ordered them
to bed.

The two brothers sat chatting until after midnight, and the children
struggled against sleep as long as they possibly could, so as not to
lose anything. But sleep overcame them at last, and Ditte too had to
give in. She would not go to bed before the men, and fell asleep
over the back of a chair.

Morning came, and with it a sense of joy; the children opened their
eyes with the feeling that something had been waiting for them by
the bedside the whole night to meet them with gladness when they
woke--what was it? Yes, over there on the hook by the door hung a
cap--Uncle Johannes was here! He and Lars Peter were already up and
doing.

Johannes was taken with everything he saw and was full of ideas.
"This might be made a nice little property," he said time after
time. "'Tis neglected, that's all."

"Ay, it's had to look after itself while I've been out," answered
Lars Peter in excuse. "And this trouble with the wife didn't make
things better either. Maybe you've heard all about it over there?"

Johannes nodded. "That oughtn't to make any difference to you,
though," said he.

That day Lars Peter had to go down to the marsh and dig a ditch, to
drain a piece of the land. Johannes got a spade and went with him.
He worked with such a will that Lars Peter had some difficulty in
keeping up with him. "'Tis easy to see you're young," said he, "the
way you go at it."

"Why don't you ditch the whole and level it out? 'Twould make a good
meadow," said Johannes.

Ay, why not? Lars Peter did not know himself. "If only a fellow had
some one to work with," said he.

"Do you get any peat here?" asked Johannes once when they were
taking a breathing space.

"No, nothing beyond what we use ourselves; 'tis a hard job to cut
it."

"Ay, when you use your feet! But you ought to get a machine to work
with a horse; then a couple of men can do ever so many square feet
in a day."

Lars Peter became thoughtful. Ideas and advice had been poured into
him and he would have liked to go thoroughly through them and digest
them one by one. But Johannes gave him no time.

The next minute he was by the clay-pit. There was uncommonly fine
material for bricks, he thought.

Ay, Lars Peter knew it all only too well. The first summer he was
married, Soerine had made bricks to build the outhouse and it had
stood all kinds of weather. But one pair of hands could not do
everything.

And thus Johannes went from one thing to the other. He was observant
and found ways for everything; there was no end to his plans. Lars
Peter had to attend; it was like listening to an old, forgotten
melody. Marsh, clay-pit and the rest had said the same year after
year, though more slowly; now he had hardly time to follow. It was
inspiriting, all at once to see a way out of all difficulties.

"Look here, brother," said he, as they were at dinner, "you put
heart into a man again. How'd you like to stay on here? Then we
could put the place in order together. There's not much in that
roving business after all."

Johannes seemed to like the idea--after all, the highroad was
unsatisfactory as a means of livelihood!

During the day they talked it over more closely and agreed how to
set about things; they would share as brothers both the work and
what it brought in. "But what about the machine?" said Lars Peter.
"That must be returned."

"Oh, never mind that," said Johannes. "The man can't use it; he's
ill."

"Ay, but when he gets up again, then he'll have nothing to earn his
living; we can't have that on our conscience. I'm going down to the
beach tomorrow for a load of herrings, so I'll drive round by
Hundested and put it off there. There's sure to be a fisherman
who'll take it over with him. I'd really thought of giving up the
herring trade; but long ago I bound myself to take a load, and there
should be a good catch these days."

At three o'clock next morning Lars Peter was ready in the yard to
drive to the fishing village; at the back of the cart was the
wonderful machine. As he was about to start, Johannes came running
up, unwashed and only half awake; he had just managed to put on his
cap and tie a handkerchief round his neck. "I think I'll go with
you," he said with a yawn.

Lars Peter thought for a minute--it came as a surprise to him. "Very
well, just as you like," said he at last, making room. He had
reckoned on his brother beginning the ditching today; there was so
little water in the meadow now.

"Do me good to get out a bit!" said Johannes as he clambered into
the cart.

Well--yes--but he had only just come in. "Don't you want an
overcoat?" asked Lars Peter. "There's an old one of mine you can
have."

"Oh, never mind--I can turn up my collar."

The sun was just rising; there was a white haze on the shores of the
lake, hanging like a veil over the rushes. In the green fields
dewdrops were caught by millions in the spiders' webs, sparkling
like diamonds in the first rays of sunshine.

Lars Peter saw it all, and perhaps it was this which turned his
mind; at least, today, he thought the Crow's Nest was a good and
pretty little place; it would be a sin to leave it. He had found out
all he wanted to know about his relations and home and what had
happened to every one in the past years and his longing for home had
vanished; now he would prefer to stay where he was. "Just you be
thankful that you're away from it all!" Johannes had said. And he
was right--it wasn't worth while moving to go back to the quarreling
and jealousies of relations. As a matter of fact there was no
inducement to leave: no sense in chasing your luck like a fool,
better try to keep what there was.

Lars Peter could not understand what had happened to him--everything
looked so different today. It was as if his eyes had been rubbed
with some wonderful ointment; even the meager lands of the Crow's
Nest looked beautiful and promising. A new day had dawned for him
and his home.

"'Tis a glorious morning," said he, turning towards Johannes.

Johannes did not answer. He had drawn his cap down over his eyes and
gone to sleep. He looked somewhat dejected and his mouth hung
loosely as if he had been drinking. It was extraordinary how he
resembled his mother! Lars Peter promised himself that he would take
good care of him.

 

CHAPTER VII

THE SAUSAGE-MAKER

Nothing was done to the land round the Crow's Nest this time; it was
a fateful moment when Johannes, instead of taking his spade and
beginning the ditching, felt inclined to go with his brother carting
herrings. On one of the farms where they went to trade, a still-born
calf lay outside the barn; Johannes caught sight of it at once. With
one jump he was out of the cart and beside it.

"What do you reckon to do with it?" asked he, turning it over with
his foot.

"Bury it, of course," answered the farm-lad.

"Don't folks sell dead animals in these parts?" asked Johannes when
they were in the cart again.

"Why, who could they sell them to?" answered Lars Peter.

"The Lord preserve me, you're far behind the times. D'you know what,
I've a good mind to settle down here as a cattle-dealer."

"And buy up all the still-born calves?" Lars Peter laughed.

"Not just that. But it's not a bad idea, all the same; the old
butcher at home often made ten to fifteen crowns out of a calf like
that."

"I thought we were going to start in earnest at home," said Lars
Peter.

"We'll do that too, but we shall want money! Your trade took up all
your time, so everything was left to look after itself, but
cattle-dealing's another thing. A hundred crowns a day's easily
earned, if you're lucky. Let me drive round once a week, and I'll
promise it'll give us enough to live on. And then we've the rest of
the week to work on the land."

"Sounds all right," said Lars Peter hesitatingly. "There's trader's
blood in you too, I suppose?"

"You may be sure of that, I've often earned hundreds of crowns for
my master at home in Knarreby."

"But how'd you begin?" said Peter. "I've got fifty crowns at the
most, and that's not much to buy cattle with. It's put by for rent
and taxes, and really oughtn't to be touched."

"Let me have it, and I'll see to the rest," said Johannes
confidently.

The very next day he set off in the cart, with the whole of Lars
Peter's savings in his pocket. He was away for two days, which was
not reassuring in itself. Perhaps he had got into bad company, and
had the money stolen from him--or frittered it away in poor trade.
The waiting began to seem endless to Lars Peter. Then at last
Johannes returned, with a full load and singing at the top of his
voice. To the back of the cart was tied an old half-dead horse, so
far gone it could hardly move.

"Well, you seem to have bought something young!" shouted Lars Peter
scoffingly. "What've you got under the sacks and hay?"

Johannes drove the cart into the porch, closed the gates, and began
to unload. A dead calf, a half-rotten pig and another calf just
alive. He had bought them on the neighboring farms, and had still
some money left.

"Ay, that's all very well, but what are you going to do with it
all?" broke out Lars Peter amazed.

"You'll see that soon enough," answered Johannes, running in and
out.

There was dash and energy in him, he sang and whistled, as he
bustled about. The big porch was cleared, and a tree-stump put in as
a block; he lit a wisp of hay to see if there was a draught
underneath the boiler. The children stood open-mouthed gazing at
him, and Lars Peter shook his head, but did not interfere.

He cut up the dead calf, skinned it, and nailed the skin up in the
porch to dry. Then it was the sick calf's turn, with one blow it was
killed, and its skin hung up beside the other.

Ditte and Kristian were set to clean the guts, which they did very
unwillingly.

"Good Lord, have you never touched guts before?" said Johannes.

"A-a-y. But not of animals that had died," answered Ditte.

"Ho, indeed, so you clean the guts while they're alive, eh? I'd like
to see that!"

They had no answer ready, and went on with their work--while
Johannes drew in the half-dead horse, and went for the ax. As he ran
across the yard, he threw the ax up into the air and caught it again
by the handle; he was in high spirits.

"Takes after the rest of the family!" thought Lars Peter, who kept
in the barn, and busied himself there. He did not like all this,
although it was the trade his race had practised for many years, and
which now took possession of the Crow's Nest; it reminded him
strongly of his childhood. "Folk may well think us the scum of the
earth now," thought he moodily.

Johannes came whistling into the barn for an old sack.

"Don't look so grumpy, old man," said he as he passed. Lars Peter
had not time to answer before he was out again. He put the sack over
the horse's head, measured the distance, and swung the ax backwards;
a strange long-drawn crash sounded from behind the sack, and the
horse sank to the ground with its skull cracked. The children looked
on, petrified.

"You'll have to give me a hand now, to lift it," shouted Johannes
gaily. Lars Peter came lingeringly across the yard, and gave a
helping hand. Shortly afterwards the horse hung from a beam, with
its head downwards, the body was cut up and the skin folded back
like a cape.

Uncle Johannes' movements became more and more mysterious. They
understood his care with the skins, these could be sold; but what
did he want with the guts and all the flesh he cut up? That evening
he lit the fire underneath the boiler, and he worked the whole
night, filling the place with a disgusting smell of bones, meat and
guts being cooked.

"He must be making soap," thought Lars Peter, "or cart grease."

The more he thought of it the less he liked the whole proceeding,
and wished that he had let his brother go as he had come. But he
could do nothing now, but let him go on.

Johannes asked no one to help him; he kept the door of the outhouse
carefully closed and did his work with great secrecy. He was cooking
the whole night, and the next morning at breakfast he ordered the
children not to say a word of what he had been doing. During the
morning he disappeared and returned with a mincing-machine, he took
the block too into the outhouse. He came to his meals covered with
blood, fat and scraps of meat. He looked dreadful and smelled even
worse. But he certainly worked hard; he did not even allow himself
time to sleep.

Late in the afternoon he opened the door of the outhouse wide: the
work was done.

"Here you are, come and look!" he shouted. From a stick under the
ceiling hung a long row of sausages, beautiful to look at, bright
and freshly colored; no-one would guess what they were made of. On
the big washing-board lay meat, cut into neat joints and bright red
in color--this was the best part of the horse. And there was a big
pail of fat, which had not quite stiffened. "That's grease," said
Johannes, stirring it, "but as a matter of fact it's quite nice for
dripping. Looks quite tasty, eh?"

"It shan't come into our kitchen," said Ditte, making a face at the
things.

"You needn't be afraid, my girl; sausage-makers never eat their own
meat," answered Johannes.

"What are you going to do with it now?" asked Lars Peter, evidently
knowing what the answer would be.

"Sell it, of course!" Johannes showed his white teeth, as he took a
sausage. "Just feel how firm and round it is."

"If you think you can sell them here, you're very much mistaken. You
don't know the folks in these parts."

"Here? of course not! Drive over to the other side of the lake where
no-one knows me, or what they're made of. We often used to make
these at my old place. All the bad stuff we bought in one county, we
sold in another. No-one ever found us out. Simple enough, isn't
it?"

"I'll have nothing to do with it," said Lars Peter determinedly.

"Don't want you to--you're not the sort for this work. I'm off
tomorrow, but you must get me another horse. If I have to drive with
that rusty old threshing-machine in there, I shan't be back for a
whole week. Never saw such a beast. If he was mine I'd make him into
sausages."

"That you shall never do," answered Lars Peter offendedly. "The
horse is good enough, though maybe he's not to your liking."

The fact was they did not suit each other--Johannes and Klavs; they
were like fire and water. Johannes preferred to fly along the
highroad; but soon found out it wouldn't do. Then he expected that
the nag--since it could no longer gallop and was so slow to set
going--should keep moving when he jumped off. As a butcher he was
accustomed to jump off the cart, run into a house with a piece of
meat, catch up with the cart and jump on again--without stopping the
horse. But Klavs did not feel inclined for these new tricks. The
result was they clashed. Johannes made up his mind to train the
horse, and kept striking it with the thick end of the whip. Klavs
stopped in amazement. Twice he kicked up his hind legs--warningly,
then turned round, broke the shafts, and tried to get up into the
cart. He showed his long teeth in a grin, which might mean: Just let
me get you under my hoofs, you black rascal! This happened on the
highroad the day he had gone out to buy cattle. Lars Peter and the
children knew that the two were enemies. When Johannes entered the
barn, Klavs at once laid back his ears and was prepared to both bite
and fight. There was no mistaking the signs.

Next morning, before Johannes started out, Kristian was sent over
with the nag to a neighbor who lived north of the road, and got
their horse in exchange.

"It belonged to a butcher for many years, so you ought to get on
with it," said Lars Peter as they harnessed it.

It was long and thin, just the sort for Johannes. As soon as he was
in the cart, the horse knew what kind of man held the reins. It set
off with a jerk, and passed the corner of the house like a flash of
lightning. The next minute they were up on the highroad, rushing
along in a whirl of dust. Johannes bumped up and down on the seat,
shouted and flourished his whip, and held the reins over his head.
They seemed possessed by the devil.

"He shan't touch Klavs again," mumbled Lars Peter as he went in.

The next day Johannes came back with notes in his pocketbook and a
mare running behind the cart. It was the same kind of horse as the
one he drove, only a little more stiff in its movements; he had
bought it for next to nothing--to be killed.

"But it would be a sin to kill it; it's not too far gone to enjoy
life yet, eh, old lady?" said he, slapping its back. The mare
whinnied and threw up its hind legs.

"'Tis nigh on thirty," said Lars Peter, peering into its mouth.

"It may not be up to much, but the will's there right enough, just
look at it!" He cracked his whip and the old steed threw its head
back and started off. It didn't get very far, however, its movements
were jerky and painful.

"Quite a high flier," said Lars Peter laughingly, "it looks as if a
breath of air would blow it up to heaven. But are you sure it's not
against the law to use it, when it's sold to be killed?"

Johannes nodded. "They won't know it when I've finished with it,"
said he.

As soon as he had had a meal, and got into his working clothes, he
started to remodel the horse. He clipped its mane and tail, and
cropped the hair round its hoofs.

"It only wants a little brown coloring to dye the gray hair--and a
couple of bottles of arsenic, and then you'll see how smart and
young she'll be. The devil himself wouldn't know her again."

"Did you learn these tricks from your master?" asked Lars Peter.

"No, from the old man. Never seen him at it?"

Lars Peter could not remember. "It must have been after my time,"
said he, turning away.

"'Tis a good old family trick," said Johannes.

* * * * *

That there was money to be made from the new business was soon
evident, and Lars Peter got over his indignation. He let Johannes
drive round buying and selling, while he himself remained at home,
making sausages, soap and grease from the refuse. He had been an apt
pupil, it was the old family trade.

The air round the Crow's Nest stank that summer. People held their
noses and whipped up their horses as they passed by. Johannes
brought home money in plenty and they lacked for nothing. But
neither Lars Peter nor the children were happy. They felt that the
Crow's Nest was talked about more even than before. And the worst of
it was, they no longer felt this to be an injustice. People had
every right to look down on them now; there was not the consolation
that their honor was unassailable.

Johannes did not care. He was out on the road most of the time. He
made a lot of money, and was proud of it too. He often bought cattle
and sold them again. He was dissipated, so it was said--played cards
with fellows of his own kidney, and went to dances. Sometimes after
a brawl, he would come home with a wounded head and a black eye.
Apparently he spent a great deal of money; no-one could say how much
he made. That was his business, but he behaved as if he alone kept
things going, and was easily put out. Lars Peter never interfered,
he liked peace in the house.

One day, however, they quarreled in earnest. Johannes had always had
his eye on the nag, and one day when Lars Peter was away, he dragged
it out of the stall and tied it up, he was going to teach it to
behave, he said to the children. With difficulty he harnessed it to
the cart, it lashed its tail and showed its teeth, and when Johannes
wanted it to set off, refused to stir, however much it was lashed.
At last, beside himself with temper, he jumped off the cart, seized
a shaft from the harrow, and began hitting at its legs with all his
might. The children screamed. The horse was trembling, bathed in
perspiration, its flanks heaving violently. Each time he jumped up
to it, the nag kicked up its hind legs, and at last giving up the
fight, Johannes threw away his weapon and went into his room.

Ditte had tried to throw herself between them, but had been brushed
aside; now she went up to the horse. She unharnessed it, gave it
water to drink, and put a wet sack over its wounds, while the little
ones stood round crying and offering it bread. Shortly afterwards
Johannes came out; he had changed his clothes. Quickly, without a
look at any one, he harnessed and drove off. The little ones came
out from their hiding-place and gazed after him.

"Is he going away now?" asked sister Else.

"I only wish he would, or the horse bolt, so he could never find his
way back again, nasty brute," said Kristian. None of them liked him
any longer.

A man came along the footpath down by the marsh, it was their
father. The children ran to meet him, and all started to tell what
had happened. Lars Peter stared at them for a moment, as if he
could not take in what they had said, then set off at a run; Ditte
followed him into the stable. There stood Klavs, looking very
miserable; the poor beast still trembled when they spoke to it; its
body was badly cut. Lars Peter's face was gray.

"He may thank the Lord that he's not here now!" he said to Ditte. He
examined the horse's limbs to make sure no bones were broken; the
nag carefully lifted one leg, then the other, and moaned.

"Blood-hound," said Lars Peter, softly stroking its legs, "treating
poor old Klavs like that."

Klavs whinnied and scraped the stones with his hoofs. He took
advantage of his master's sympathy and begged for an extra supply of
corn.

"You should give him a good beating," said Kristian seriously.

"I've a mind to turn him out altogether," answered the father
darkly. "'Twould be best for all of us."

"Yes, and d'you know, Father? Can you guess why the Johansens
haven't been to see us this summer? They're afraid of what we'll
give them to eat; they say we make food from dead animals."

"Where did you hear that, Ditte?" Lars Peter looked at her in blank
despair.

"The children shouted it after me today. They asked if I wouldn't
like a dead cat to make sausages."

"Ay, I thought as much," he laughed miserably. "Well, we can do
without them,--what the devil do I want with them!" he shouted so
loudly that little Povl began to cry.

"Hush now, I didn't mean to frighten you," Lars Peter took him in
his arms. "But it's enough to make a man lose his temper."

Two days afterwards, Johannes returned home, looking as dirty and
rakish as he possibly could. Lars Peter had to help him out of the
cart, he could hardly stand on his legs. But he was not at loss for
words. Lars Peter was silent at his insolence and dragged him into
the barn, where he at once fell asleep. There he lay like a dead
beast, deathly white, with a lock of black hair falling over his
brow, and plastered on his forehead--he looked a wreck. The children
crept over to the barn-door and peered at him through the half dark;
when they caught sight of him they rushed out with terror into the
fields. It was too horrible.

Lars Peter went to and fro, cutting hay for the horses. As he passed
his brother, he stopped, and looked at him thoughtfully. That was
how a man should look to keep up with other people: smooth and
polished outside, and cold and heartless inside. No-one looked down
on him just because he had impudence. Women admired him, and made
some excuse to pass on the highroad in the evenings, and as for the
men--his dissipation and his fights over girls probably overwhelmed
them.

Lars Peter put his hand into his brother's pocket and took out the
pocketbook--it was empty! He had taken 150 crowns with him from
their joint savings--to be used for buying cattle, it was all the
money there was in the house; and now he had squandered it all.

His hands began to tremble. He leant over his brother, as if to
seize him; but straightened himself and left the barn. He hung about
for two or three hours, to give his brother time to sleep off the
drink, then went in again. This time he would settle up. He shook
his brother and wakened him.

"Where's the money to buy the calf?" asked he.

"What's that to you?" Johannes threw himself on his other side.

Lars Peter dragged him to his feet. "I want to speak to you," said
he.

"Oh, go to hell," mumbled Johannes. He did not open his eyes, and
tumbled back into the hay.

Lars Peter brought a pail of ice-cold water from the well.

"I'll wake you, whether you like it or not!" said he, throwing the
pailful of water over his head.

Like a cat Johannes sprang to his feet, and drew his knife. He
turned round, startled by the rude awakening; caught sight of his
brother and rushed at him. Lars Peter felt a stab in his cheek, the
blade of the knife struck against his teeth. With one blow he
knocked Johannes down, threw himself on him, wrestling for the
knife. Johannes was like a cat, strong and quick in his movements;
he twisted and turned, used his teeth, and tried to find an opening
to stab again. He was foaming at the mouth. Lars Peter warded off
the attacks with his hands, which were bleeding already from several
stabs. At last he got his knee on his brother's chest.

Johannes lay gasping for breath. "Let me go!" he hissed.

"Ay, if you'll behave properly," said Lars Peter, relaxing his grip
a little. "You're my youngest brother, and I'm loth to harm you; but
I'll not be knocked down like a pig by you."

With a violent effort Johannes tried to throw off his brother. He
got one arm free, and threw himself to one side, reaching for the
knife, which lay a good arm's length away.

"Oh, that's your game!" said Lars Peter, forcing him down on to the
floor of the barn with all his weight, "I'd better tie you up. Bring
a rope, children!"

The three stood watching outside the barn-door; one behind the
other. "Come on!" shouted the father. Then Kristian rushed in for
Ditte, and she brought a rope. Without hesitation she went up to the
two struggling men, and gave it to her father. "Shall I help you?"
said she.

"No need for that, my girl," said Lars Peter, and laughed. "Just
hold the rope, while I turn him over."

He bound his brother's hands firmly behind his back, then set him on
his feet and brushed him. "You look like a pig," said he, "you must
have been rolling on the muddy road. Go indoors quietly or you'll
be sorry for it. No fault of yours that you're not a murderer
today."

Johannes was led in, and set down in the rush-bottomed armchair
beside the fire. The children were sent out of doors, and Ditte and
Kristian ordered to harness Uncle Johannes' horse.

"Now we're alone, I'll tell you that you've behaved like a
scoundrel," said Lars Peter slowly. "Here have I been longing for
many a year to see some of my own kin, and when you came it was like
a message from home. I'd give much never to have had it now. All of
us saw something good in you; we didn't expect much, so there wasn't
much for you to live up to. But what have you done? Dragged us into
a heap of filth and villainy and wickedness. We've done with you
here--make no mistake about that. You can take the one horse and
cart and whatever else you can call your own, and off you go!
There's no money to be got; you've wasted more than you've earned."

Johannes made no answer, and avoided his brother's eyes.

The cart was driven up outside. Lars Peter led him out, and lifted
him like a child on to the seat. He loosened the rope with his cut
and bleeding hands; the blood from the wound on his cheek ran down
on to his chin and clothes. "Get off with you," said he
threateningly, wiping the blood from his chin, "and be smart about
it."

Johannes sat for a moment swaying in the cart, as if half asleep.
Suddenly he pulled himself together, and with a shout of laughter
gathered up the reins and quickly set off round the corner of the
house up to the highroad.

Lars Peter stood gazing after the horse and cart, then went in and
washed off the blood. Ditte bathed his wounds in cold water and put
on sticking-plaster.

For the next few days they were busy getting rid of all traces of
that summer's doings. Lars Peter dug down the remainder of the
refuse, threw the block away, and cleaned up. When some farmer or
other at night knocked on the window-panes with his whip, shouting:
"Lars Peter, I've got a dead animal for you!" he made no answer. No
more sausage-making, no more trading in carrion for him!



CHAPTER VIII

THE LAST OF THE CROW'S NEST

Ditte went about singing at her work; she had no-one to help her,
and ran about to and fro. One eye was bound up, and each time she
crossed the kitchen she lifted the bandage and bathed her eye with
something brown in a cup. The eye was bloodshot, and hurt, and
showed the colors of the rainbow, but all the same she was happy.
Indeed, it was the sore eye which put her in such a happy mood. They
were going away from the Crow's Nest, right away and forever, and it
was all on account of her eye.

Lars Peter came home; he had been out for a walk. He hung up his
stick behind the kitchen door. "Well, how's the eye getting on?" he
asked, as he began to take off his boots.

"Oh, it's much better now. And what did the schoolmaster say?"

"Ay, what did he say? He thought it good and right that you should
stand up for your little brothers and sister. But he did not care to
be mixed up in the affair, and after all 'tis not to be wondered
at."

"Why not? He knows how it all happened--and he's so truthful!"

"Hm--well--truthful! When a well-to-do farmer's son's concerned,
then----. He's all right, but he's got his living to make. He's
afraid of losing his post, if he gets up against the farmers, and
they hang together like peas in a pod. He advised me to let it
drop--especially as we're leaving the place. Nothing would come of
it but trouble and rows again. And maybe it's likely enough. They'd
get their own back at the auction--agree not to bid the things up,
or stay away altogether."

"Then you didn't go to the police about it?"

"Ay, but I did. But he thought too there wasn't much to be made of
the case. Oh, and the schoolmaster said you needn't go to school for
the rest of the time--he'd see it was all right. He's a kind man,
even if he is afraid of his skin."

Ditte was not satisfied. It would have done the big boy good to be
well punished. He had been the first to attack Kristian, and had
afterwards kicked her in her eye with his wooden shoe, because she
had stood up for her brother. And she had been certain in her
childish mind that this time they would get compensation--for the
law made no difference whoever the people were.

"If I'd been a rich farmer's daughter, and he had come from the
Crow's Nest, what then?" she asked hoarsely.

"Oh, he'd have got a good thrashing--if not worse!" said the father.
"That's the way we poor people are treated, and can only be thankful
that we don't get fined into the bargain."

"If you meet the boy, won't you give him a good thrashing?" she
asked shortly afterwards.

"I'd rather give it to his father--but it's better to keep out of
it. We're of no account, you see!"

Kristian came in through the kitchen door. "When I'm bigger, then
I'll creep back here at night and set fire to his farm," said he,
with flashing eyes.

"What's that you say, boy--d'you want to send us all to jail?"
shouted Lars Peter, aghast.

"'Twould do them good," said Ditte, setting to work again. She was
very dissatisfied with the result of her father's visit.

"When're you going to arrange about the auction?" she said stiffly.

"They'll see to that," answered Lars Peter quickly, "I've seen the
clerk about it. He was very kind." Lars Peter was grateful for this,
he did not care to go to the magistrate.

"Ay, he's glad to get rid of us," said Ditte harshly. "That's what
they all are. At school they make a ring and sing about a crow and
an owl and all ugly birds! and the crow and his young steal the
farmer's chickens, but then the farmer takes a long stick and pulls
down the Crow's Nest. Do you think I don't know what they mean?"

Lars Peter was silent, and went back to his work. He too felt
miserable now.

But in the evening, as they sat round the lamp, talking of the
future, all unpleasantness was forgotten. Lars Peter had been
looking round for a place to settle down in, and had fixed on the
fishing-hamlet where he used to buy fish in the old days. The people
seemed to like him, and had often asked him why he didn't settle
down there. "And there's a jolly fellow there, the inn-keeper, he
can do anything. He's rough till you get to know him, but he's got a
kind heart. He's promised to find me a couple of rooms, until we can
build a place for ourselves--and help me to a share in a boat. What
we get from the auction ought to be enough to build a house."

"Is that the man you told us about, who's like a dwarf?" asked Ditte
with interest.

"Ay, he's like a giant and a dwarf mixed together--so to say--he
might well have had the one for a father and the other for a mother.
He's hunch-backed in front and behind, and his face as black as a
crow's, but he can't help that, and otherwise he's all right. He's a
finger in everything down there."

Ditte shuddered. "Sounds like a goblin!" said she.

Lars Peter was going in for fishing now. He had had a great deal to
do in this line during his life, but he himself had never gone out;
his fingers itched to be at it. Ditte too liked the thought of it.
Then she would be near the sea again, which she dimly remembered
from her childhood with Granny. And they would have done with
everything here, and perhaps get rid of the rag and bone name, and
shake off the curse.

Then they had to decide what to take with them. Now that it came to
the point, it was dreadful to part with one's possessions. When they
had gone through things together, and written on Kristian's slate
what was to be sold, there wasn't much put down. They would like to
take it all with them.

"We must go through it again--and have no nonsense," said Lars
Peter. "We can't take the whole bag of tricks with us. Money'll be
needed too--and not so little either."

So they went over the things again one by one. Klavs was out of the
question. It would be a shame to send him to strangers in his old
age; they could feed him on the downs. "It's useful to have,"
thought Lars Peter; "it gives a man a better standing. And we can
make a little money by him too." This was only said by way of
comfort. Deep down in his heart, he was very anxious about the nag.
But no-one could face the thought of being parted from it.

The cow, on the other hand, there was quite a battle about. Lars
Peter wished to take it too. "It's served us faithfully all this
while," said he, "and given the little ones their food and health.
And it's good to have plenty of milk in the house." But here Ditte
was sensible. If they took the cow, they would have to take a field
as well.

Lars Peter laughed: Ay, that was not a bad idea, if only they could
take a lump of meadow on the cart--and piece of the marsh. Down
there, there was nothing but sand. Well, he would give up the cow.
"But the pig we'll keep--and the hens!"

Ditte agreed that hens were useful to keep, and the pig could live
on anything.

The day before the auction they were busily engaged in putting all
in order and writing numbers on the things in chalk. The little ones
helped too, and were full of excitement.

"But they're not all matched," said Ditte, pointing at the different
lots Lars Peter had put up together.

"That doesn't matter," answered Lars Peter--"folks see there's a
boot in one lot, bid it up and then buy the whole lot. Well, then
they see the other boot in another lot--and bid that up as well.
It's always like that at auctions; folks get far more than they have
use for--and most of it doesn't match."

Ditte laughed: "Ay, you ought to know all about it!" Her father
himself had the bad habit of going to auctions and bringing home a
great deal of useless rubbish. It could be bought on credit, which
was a temptation.

How things collected as years went by, in attics and outhouses! It
was a relief to get it all cleared away. But it was difficult to
keep it together. The children had a use for it all--as soon as they
saw their opportunity, they would run off with something or
other--just like rats.

* * * * *

The day of the auction arrived--a mild, gray, damp October day. The
soft air hung like a veil over everything. The landscape, with its
scattered houses and trees, lay resting in the all-embracing wet.

At the Crow's Nest they had been early astir. Ditte and Lars Peter
had been running busily about from the house to the barn and back
again. Now they had finished, and everything was in readiness. The
children were washed and dressed, and went round full of
expectation, with well-combed heads and faces red from scrubbing and
soap. Ditte did not do things by halves, and when she washed their
ears, and made their eyes smart with the soap, weeping was
unavoidable. But now the disagreeable task was over, and there would
be no more of it for another week; childish tears dry quickly, and
their little faces beamingly met the day.

Little Povl was last ready. Ditte could hardly keep him on the
chair, as she put the finishing touches--he was anxious to be out.
"Well, what d'you say to sister?" she asked, when he was done,
offering her mouth.

"Hobble!" said he, looking roguishly at her; he was in high spirits.
Kristian and Else laughed.

"No, now answer properly," said Ditte seriously; she did not allow
fun when correcting them. "Say, 'thank you, dear'--well?"

"Thank you, dear lump!" said the youth, laughing immoderately.

"Oh, you're mad today," said Ditte, lifting him down. He ran out
into the yard to the father, and continued his nonsense.

"What's that he says?" shouted Lars Peter from outside.

"Oh, it's only something he's made up himself--he often does that.
He seems to think it's something naughty."

"You, lumpy, lump!" said the child, taking hold of his father's leg.

"Mind what you're doing, you little monkey, or I'll come after you!"
said Lars Peter with a terrible roar.

The boy laughed and hid behind the well.

Lars Peter caught him and put him on one shoulder, and his sister on
the other. "We'll go in the fields," said he.

Ditte and Kristian went with him, it would be their last walk there;
involuntarily they each took hold of his coat. Thus they went down
the pathway to the clay-pit, past the marsh and up on the other
side. It was strange how different everything looked now they were
going to lose it. The marsh and the clay-pit could have told their
own tale about the children's play and Lars Peter's plans. The
brambles in the hedges, the large stone which marked the boundary,
the stone behind which they used to hide--all spoke to them in their
own way today. The winter seed was in the earth, and everything
ready for the new occupier, whoever he might be. Lars Peter did not
wish his successor to have anything to complain of. No-one should
say that he had neglected his land, because he was not going to reap
the harvest.

"Ay, our time's up here," said he, when they were back in the house
again. "Lord knows what the new place'll be like!" There was a catch
in his voice as he spoke.

A small crowd began to collect on the highroad. They stood in groups
and did not go down to the Crow's Nest, until the auctioneer and his
clerk arrived. Ditte was on the point of screaming when she saw who
the two men were; they were the same who had come to fetch her
mother. But now they came on quite a different errand, and spoke
kindly.

Behind their conveyance came group after group of people, quite a
procession. It looked as if no-one wanted to be the first to put
foot on the rag and bone man's ground. Where the officials went,
they too could follow, but the auctioneer and his clerk were the
only ones to shake hands with Lars Peter; the others hung aimlessly
about, and put their heads together, keeping up a whispering
conversation.

Lars Peter summed up the buyers. There were one or two farmers among
them, mean old men, who had come in the hope of getting a bargain.
Otherwise they were nearly all poor people from round about,
cottagers and laborers who were tempted by the chance of buying on
credit. They took no notice of him, but rubbed up against the
farmers--and made up to the clerk; they did not dare to approach the
auctioneer.

"Ay, they behave as if I were dirt," thought Lars Peter. And what
were they after all? Most of them did not even own enough ground to
grow a carrot in. A good thing he owed them nothing! Even the
cottagers from the marsh, whom he had often helped in their poverty,
followed the others' example and looked down on him today. There was
no chance now of getting anything more out of him.

After all, it was comical to go round watching people fight over
one's goods and chattels. They were not too grand to take the rag
and bone man's leavings--if only they could get it on credit and
make a good bargain.

The auctioneer knew most of them by name, and encouraged them to
bid. "Now, Peter Jensen Hegnet, make a good bid. You haven't bought
anything from me for a whole year!" said he suddenly to one of the
cottagers. Or, "Here's something to take home to your wife, Jens
Petersen!" Each time he named them, the man he singled out would
laugh self-consciously and make a bid. They felt proud at being
known by the auctioneer.

"Here's a comb, make a bid for it!" shouted the auctioneer, when the
farm implements came to be sold. A wave of laughter went through the
crowd; it was an old harrow which was put up. The winnowing-machine
he called a coffee-grinder. He had something funny to say about
everything. At times the jokes were such that the laughter turned on
Lars Peter, and this was quickly followed up. But Lars Peter shook
himself, and took it as it came. It was the auctioneer's profession
to say funny things--it all helped on the sale!

The poor silly day laborer, Johansen, was there too. He stood behind
the others, stretching his neck to see what was going on--in ragged
working clothes and muddy wooden shoes. Each time the auctioneer
made a remark, he laughed louder than the rest, to show that he
joined in the joke. Lars Peter looked at him angrily. In his house
there was seldom food, except what others were foolish enough to
give him--his earnings went in drink. And there he stood, stuck-up
idiot that he was! And bless us, if he didn't make a bid too--for
Lars Peter's old boots. No-one bid against him, so they were knocked
down to him for a crown. "You'll pay at once, of course," said the
auctioneer. This time the laugh was against the buyer; all knew he
had no money.

"I'll pay it for him," said Lars Peter, putting the crown on the
table. Johansen glared at him for a few minutes; then sat down and
began putting on the boots. He had not had leather footwear for
years and years.

Indoors, a table was set out with two large dishes of sandwiches and
a bottle of brandy, with three glasses round. At one end of the
table was a coffee-pot. Ditte kept in the kitchen; her cheeks were
red with excitement in case her preparations should not be
appreciated. She had everything ready to cut more sandwiches as soon
as the others gave out; every other minute she peeped through the
door to see what was going on, her heart in her mouth. Every now and
then a stranger strolled into the room, looking round with
curiosity, but passed out without eating anything. A man entered--he
was not from the neighborhood, and Ditte did not know him. He
stepped over the bench, took a sandwich, and poured himself out a
glass of brandy. Ditte could see by his jaws that he was enjoying
himself. Then in came a farmer's wife, drew him away by his arm,
whispering something to him. He got up, spat the food out into his
hand, and followed her out of doors.

When Lars Peter came into the kitchen, Ditte lay over the table,
crying. He lifted her up. "What's the matter now?" he asked.

"Oh, it's nothing," sniffed Ditte, struggling to get away. Perhaps
she wanted to spare him, or perhaps to hide her shame even from him.
Only after much persuasion did he get out of her that it was the
food. "They won't touch it!" she sobbed.

He had noticed it himself.

"Maybe they're not hungry yet," said he, to comfort her. "And they
haven't time either."

"They think it's bad!" she broke out, "made from dog's meat or
something like that."

"Don't talk nonsense!" Lars Peter laughed strangely. "It's not
dinner-time either."

"I heard a woman telling her husband myself--not to touch it," she
said.

Lars Peter was silent for a few minutes. "Now, don't worry over it,"
said he, stroking her hair. "Tomorrow we're leaving, and then we
shan't care a fig for them. There's a new life ahead of us. Well, I
must go back to the auction; now, be a sensible girl."

Lars Peter went over to the barn, where the auction was now being
held. At twelve o'clock the auctioneer stopped. "Now we'll have a
rest, good people, and get something inside us!" he cried. The
people laughed. Lars Peter went up to the auctioneer. Every one knew
what he wanted; they pushed nearer to see the rag and bone man
humiliated. He lifted his dented old hat, and rubbed his tousled
head. "I only wanted to say"--his big voice rang to the furthermost
corners--"that if the auctioneer and his clerk would take us as we
are, there's food and beer indoors--you are welcome to a cup of
coffee too." People nudged one another--who ever heard such
impudence--the rag and bone man to invite an auctioneer to his
table, and his wife a murderess into the bargain! They looked on
breathlessly; one farmer was even bold enough to warn him with a
wink.

The auctioneer thanked him hesitatingly. "We've brought something
with us, you and your clever little girl have quite enough to do,"
said he in a friendly manner. Then, noticing Lars Peter's
crestfallen appearance, and the triumphant faces of those around, he
understood that something was going on in which he was expected to
take part. He had been here before--on an unpleasant errand--and
would gladly make matters easier for these honest folk who bore
their misfortune so patiently.

"Yes, thanks very much," said he jovially, "strangers' food always
tastes much nicer than one's own! And a glass of brandy--what do you
say, Hansen?" They followed Lars Peter into the house, and sat down
to table.

The people looked after them a little taken aback, then slunk in one
by one. It would be fun to see how such a great man enjoyed the rag
and bone man's food. And once inside, for very shame's sake they had
to sit down at the table. Appetite is infectious, and the two of
them set to with a will. Perhaps people did not seriously believe
all the tales which they themselves had both listened to and spread.
Ditte's sandwiches and coffee quickly disappeared, and she was sent
for by the auctioneer, who praised her and patted her cheeks. This
friendly act took away much of her bitterness of mind, and was a
gratifying reward for all her trouble.

"I've never had a better cup of coffee at any sale," said the
auctioneer.

When they began again, a stranger had appeared. He nodded to the
auctioneer, but ignored everybody else, and went round looking at
the buildings and land. He was dressed like a steward, with
high-laced boots. But any one could see with half an eye that he was
no countryman. It leaked out by degrees that he was a tradesman from
the town, who wished to buy the Crow's Nest--probably for the
fishing on the lake--and use it as a summer residence.

Otherwise, there was little chance of many bids for the place, but
his advent changed the outlook. It really could be made into a good
little property, once all was put in order. When the Crow's Nest
eventually was put up for sale, there was some competition, and Lars
Peter got a good price for the place.

At last the auction was over, but the people waited about, as if
expecting something to happen. A stout farmer's wife went up to Lars
Peter and shook his hand. "I should like to say good-by to you,"
said she, "and wish you better luck in your new home than you've had
here. You've not had much of a time, have you?"

"No, and the little good we've had's no thanks to any one here,"
said Lars Peter.

"Folks haven't treated you as they ought to have done, and I've been
no better than the rest, but 'tis our way. We farmers can't bear the
poor. Don't think too badly of us. Good luck to you!" She said
good-by to all the children with the same wish. Many of the people
made off, but one or two followed her example, and shook hands with
them.

Lars Peter stood looking after them, the children by his side.
"After all, folk are often better than a man gives them credit for,"
said he. He was not a little moved.

They loaded the cart with their possessions, so as to make an early
start the next morning. It was some distance to the fishing-hamlet,
and it was better to get off in good time, to settle down a little
before night. Then they went to bed; they were tired out after their
long eventful day; they slept on the hay in the barn, as the
bedclothes were packed.

The next morning was a wonderful day to waken up to. They were
dressed when they wakened, and had only to dip their faces in the
water-trough in the yard. Already they felt a sensation of something
new and pleasant. There was only the coffee to be drunk, and the cow
to be taken to the neighbor's, and they were ready to get into the
cart. Klavs was in the shafts, and on top of the high load they put
the pig, the hens and the three little ones. It was a wonderful
beginning to the new life.

Lars Peter was the only one who felt sad. He made an excuse to go
over the property again, and stood behind the barn, gazing over the
fields. Here he had toiled and striven through good and bad; every
ditch was dear to him--he knew every stone in the fields, every
crack in the walls. What would the future bring? Lars Peter had
begun afresh before, but never with less inclination than now. His
thoughts turned to bygone days.

The children, on the contrary, thought only of the future. Ditte had
to tell them about the beach, as she remembered it from her
childhood with Granny, and they promised themselves delightful times
in their new home.

 

CHAPTER IX

A DEATH

The winter was cold and long. Lars Peter had counted on getting a
share in a boat, but there seemed to be no vacancy, and each time he
reminded the inn-keeper of his promise, he was put off with talk.
"It'll come soon enough," said the inn-keeper, "just give it time."

Time--it was easy to say. But here he was waiting, with his savings
dwindling away--and what was he really waiting for? That there might
be an accident, so he could fill the place--it was not a pleasant
thought. It had been arranged that the inn-keeper should help Lars
Peter to get a big boat, and let him manage it; at least, so Lars
Peter had understood before he moved down to the hamlet. But it had
evidently been a great misunderstanding.

He went about lending a hand here and there, and replacing any one
who was ill. "Just wait a little longer," said the inn-keeper.
"It'll be all right in the end! You can get what you want at the
store." It was as if he were keeping Lars Peter back for some
purpose of his own.

At last the spring came, heralded by furious storms and accidents
round about the coast. One morning Lars Jensen's boat came in,
having lost its master; a wave had swept him overboard.

"You'd better go to the inn-keeper at once," said his two partners
to Lars Peter.

"But wouldn't it be more natural to go to Lars Jensen's widow?"
asked Lars Peter. "After all, 'tis she who owns the share now."

"We don't want to be mixed up in it," said they cautiously. "Go to
whoever you like. But if you've money in the house, you should put
it into the bank--the hut might easily catch fire." They looked
meaningly at each other and turned away.

Lars Peter turned this over in his mind--could that be the case? He
took the two thousand crowns he had put by from the sale to build
with, and went up to the inn-keeper.

"Will you take care of some money for me?" he said in a low voice.
"You're the savings bank for us down here, I've been told."

The inn-keeper counted the money, and locked it up in his desk. "You
want a receipt, I suppose?" said he.

"No-o, it doesn't really matter," Lars Peter said slowly. He would
have liked a written acknowledgment, but did not like to insist on
it. It looked as if he mistrusted the man.

The inn-keeper drew down the front of the desk--it sounded to Lars
Peter like earth being thrown on a coffin. "We can call it a deposit
on the share in the boat," said he. "I've been thinking you might
take Lars Jensen's share."

"Oughtn't I to have arranged it with Lars Jensen's widow, and not
with you?" said Lars Peter. "She owns the share."

The inn-keeper turned towards him. "You seem to know more about
other people's affairs in the hamlet than I do, it appears to me,"
said he.

"No, but that's how I understood it to be," mumbled Lars Peter.

Once outside, he shrugged his shoulders. Curse it, a fellow was
never himself when with that hunch-backed dwarf. That he had no
neck--and that huge head! He was supposed to be as strong as a lion,
and there was brain too. He made folk dance to his piping, and got
his own way. There was no getting the better of _him_. Just as he
thought of something cutting which would settle him, the
inn-keeper's face would send his thoughts all ways at once. He was
not satisfied with the result of his visit, but was glad to get out
again.

He went down to the beach, and informed the two partners of what he
had done. They had no objection; they liked the idea of getting Lars
Peter as a third man: he was big and strong, and a good fellow.
"Now, you'll have to settle with the widow," said they.

"What, that too?" broke out Lars Peter. "Good Lord! has the share to
be paid for twice?"

"You must see about that yourself," they said; "we don't want to be
mixed up in it!"

He went to see the widow, who lived in a little hut in the southern
part of the hamlet. She sat beside the fireplace eating peas from a
yellow bowl; the tears ran down her cheeks, dropping into the food.
"There's no-one to earn money for me now," she sobbed.

"Ay, and I'm afraid I've put my foot in it," said Lars Peter,
crestfallen. "I've paid the inn-keeper two thousand crowns for the
share of the boat, and now I hear that it's yours."

"You couldn't help yourself," said she, and looked kindly at him.

"Wasn't it yours then?"

"My husband took it over from the inn-keeper about a dozen years
ago, and paid for it over and over again, he said. But it's hard for
a poor widow to say anything, and have to take charity from others.
It's hard to live, Lars Peter! Who'll shelter me now? and scold me
and make it up again?" She began to cry afresh.

"We'll look you up as often as we can, and as to food, we'll get
over that too. I shouldn't like to be unfair to any one, and least
of all to one who's lost her bread-winner. Poor folks must keep
together."

"I know you won't let me want as long as you have anything yourself.
But you've got your own family to provide for, and food doesn't
grow on the downs here. If only it doesn't happen here as it
generally does--that there's the will but not the means."

"Ay, ay--one beggar must help the other. You shan't be forgotten, if
all goes well. But you must spit three times after me when I've
gone."

"Ay, that I will," said the widow, "and I wish you luck."

* * * * *

Here was an opportunity for him to work. A little luck with the
catch, and all would be well. He was glad Lars Jensen's widow wished
him no ill in his new undertaking. The curse of widows and the
fatherless was a heavy burden on a man's work.

Now that Lars Peter was in the hamlet, he found it not quite what he
had imagined it to be; he could easily think of many a better place
to settle down in. The whole place was poverty-stricken, and no-one
seemed to have any ambition. The fishermen went to sea because they
were obliged to. They seized on any excuse to stay at home. "We're
just as poor whether we work hard or not," said they.

"Why, what becomes of it all?" asked Lars Peter at first, laughing
incredulously.

"You'll soon see yourself!" they answered, and after a while he
began to understand.

That they went to work unwillingly was not much to be wondered at.
The inn-keeper managed everything. He arranged it all as he liked.
He paid for all repairs when necessary, and provided all new
implements. He took care that no-one was hungry or cold, and set up
a store which supplied all that was needed--on credit. It was all
entered in the books, no doubt, but none of them ever knew how much
he owed. But they did not care, and went on buying until he stopped
their credit for a time. On the other hand, if anything were really
wrong in one of the huts, he would step in and help.

That was why they put up with the existing condition of things, and
even seemed to be content--they had no responsibilities. When they
came ashore with their catch, the inn-keeper took it over, and gave
them what he thought fit--just enough for a little pocket-money. The
rest went to pay off their debts--he said. He never sent in any
bills. "We'd better not go into that," he would say with a smile,
"do what you can." One and all of them probably owed him money; it
would need a big purse to hold it all.

They did not have much to spend. But then, on the other hand, they
had no expenses. If their implements broke or were lost at sea, the
inn-keeper provided new ones, and necessaries had only to be fetched
from the store. It was an extraordinary existence, thought Lars
Peter; and yet it appealed to one somehow. It was hard to provide
what was needed when a man was on his own, and tempting to become a
pensioner as it were, letting others take the whole responsibility.

But it left no room for ambition. It was difficult for him to get
his partners to do more than was strictly necessary; what good was
it exerting themselves? They went about half asleep, and with no
spirit in their work. Those who did not spend their time at the inn
drinking and playing cards had other vices; there was no home life
anywhere.

Lars Peter had looked forward to mixing with his fellow-men,
discussing the events of the day, and learning something new. Many
of the fishermen had been abroad in their young days, on merchant
vessels or in the navy, and there were events happening in other
countries which affected both him and them. But all their talk was
of their neighbors' affairs--the inn-keeper always included. He was
like a stone wall surrounding them all. The roof of his house--a
solid building down by the coast, consisting of inn, farm and
store--could be seen from afar, and every one involuntarily glanced
at it before anything was said or done. With him, all discussions
ended.

No-one had much good to say for him. All their earnings went to him
in one way or other--some spent theirs at the inn, others preferred
to take it out in food--and all cursed him in secret.

Well, that was their business. In the end, people are treated
according to their wisdom or stupidity. Lars Peter did not feel
inclined to sink to the level of the others and be treated like a
dumb animal. His business was to see that the children lacked for
nothing and led a decent life.

 

CHAPTER X

THE NEW WORLD

Ditte stood in the kitchen, cutting thick slices of bread and
dripping for the three hungry little ones, who hung in the doorway
following her movements eagerly with their eyes. She scolded them:
it was only an hour since dinner, and now they behaved as if they
had not tasted food for a week. "Me first, me first!" they shouted,
stretching out their hands. It stopped her washing up, and might
waken her father, who was having a nap up in the attic--it was
ridiculous. But it was the sea that gave them such enormous
appetites.

The more she hushed them, the more noise they made, kicking against
the door with their bare feet. They could not wait; as soon as one
got a slice of bread, he made off to the beach to play. They were
full of spirits--almost too much so indeed. "You mind the king of
the cannibal islands doesn't catch sight of you," she shouted after
them, putting her head out of the door, but they neither heard nor
saw.

She went outside, and stood gazing after them, as they tore along,
kicking up the sand. Oh dear, Povl had dropped his bread and
dripping in the sand--but he picked it up again and ran on, eating
as he went. "It'll clean him inside," said Ditte, laughing to
herself. They were mad, simply mad--digging in the sand and racing
about! They had never been like this before.

She was glad of the change herself. Even if there had been any
opportunity, she could not play; all desires had died long ago. But
there was much of interest. All these crooked, broken-down
moss-grown huts, clustered together on the downs under the high
cliffs, each surrounded by its dust-heap and fish-refuse and
implements, were to Ditte like so many different worlds; she would
have liked to investigate them all.

It was her nature to take an interest in most things, though, unlike
Kristian, she didn't care to roam about. He was never still for a
moment; he had barely found out what was behind one hill, before he
went on to the next. He always wanted to see beyond the horizon, and
his father always said, he might travel round the whole world that
way, for the horizon was always changing. Lars Peter often teased
him about this; it became quite a fairy tale to the restless
Kristian, who wanted to go over the top of every new hill he saw,
until at last he fell down in the hamlet again--right down into
Ditte's stew-pan. He had often been punished for his roaming--but to
no good. Povl wanted to pick everything to pieces, to see what was
inside, or was busy with hammer and nails. He was already nearly as
clever with his hands as Kristian. Most of what he made went to
pieces, but if a handle came off a brush, he would quickly mend it
again. "He only pulls things to pieces so as to have something to
mend again," said his father. Sister stood looking on with her big
eyes.

Ditte was always doing something useful, otherwise she was not
happy. With Granny's death, all her interest in the far-off had
vanished; that there was something good in store for her she never
doubted, it acted as a star and took away the bitterness of her
gloomy childhood. She was not conscious of what it would be, but it
was always there like a gleam of light. The good in store for her
would surely find her. She stayed at home; the outside world had no
attractions for her.

Her childhood had fallen in places where neighbors were few and far
between. The more enjoyment it was to her now to have the society of
others.

Ditte took a keen interest in her fellow-beings, and had not been
many days in the hamlet before she knew all about most people's
affairs--how married people lived together, and who were
sweethearts. She could grasp the situation at a glance--and see all
that lay behind it; she was quick to put two and two together. Her
dull and toilsome life had developed that sense, as a reward for all
she had gone through. There was some spite in it too--a feeling of
vengeance against all who looked down on the rag and bone man,
although they themselves had little to boast about.

The long, hunch-backed hut, one end of which the inn-keeper had let
off to them, lay almost in the midst of the hamlet, just above the
little bay. Two other families beside lived in the little hut, so
they only had two small rooms and a kitchen to call their own, and
Lars Peter had to sleep in the attic. It was only a hovel, "the
workhouse" it was generally called, but it was the only place to be
had, and they had to make the best of it, until Lars Peter could
build something himself--and they might thank the inn-keeper that
they had a roof above their heads. Ditte was not satisfied with the
hut--the floors were rotten, and would not dry when she had washed
them. It was no better than the Crow's Nest--and there was much less
room. She looked forward to the new house that was to be built. It
should be a real house, with a red roof glistening in the sun, and
an iron sink that would not rot away.

But in spite of this she was quite happy. When she stood washing up
inside the kitchen door, she could see the downs, and eagerly her
eyes followed all who went to and fro. Her little brain wondered
where they were going, and on what errand. And if she heard voices
through the wall, or from the other end of the hut, she would stop
in her work and listen breathlessly. It was all so exciting; the
other families in the hut were always bustling and moving about--the
old grandmother, who lay lame in bed on the other side of the wall,
cursing existence, while the twins screamed at the top of their
voices, and the Lord only knew where the daughter-in-law was, and
Jacob the fisherman and his daughter in the other end of the hut.
Suddenly, as one stood thinking of nothing at all, the inn-keeper
would come strolling over the downs, looking like a goblin, to visit
the young wife next door; then the old grandmother thumped on the
floor with her crutch, cursing everything and everybody.

There was much gossip in the hamlet--of sorrow and shame and crime;
Ditte could follow the stories herself, often to the very end. She
was quick to find the thread, even in the most difficult cases.

Her life was much happier now: there was little to do in the house,
and no animals to look after, so she had more time of her own. Her
schooldays were over, and she was soon to be confirmed. Even the
nag, whom at first she had been able to keep her eye on from the
kitchen window, needed no looking after now. The inn-keeper had
forbidden them to let it feed on the downs, and had taken it on to
his own farm. There it had been during the winter, and they only saw
it when it was carting sea-weed or bringing a load of fish from the
beach for the inn-keeper. It was not well-treated in its present
home, and had all the hard tasks given it, so as to spare the
inn-keeper's own animals. Tears came into Ditte's eyes when she
thought of it. It became like a beast of burden in the fairy tale,
and no-one there to defend it. It was long since it had pulled
crusts of bread from her mouth with its soft muzzle.

Ditte lost her habit of stooping, and began to fill out as she grew
up. She enjoyed the better life and the children's happiness--the
one with the other added to her well-being. Her hair had grown, and
allowed itself the luxury of curling over her forehead, and her chin
was soft and round. No-one could say she was pretty, but her eyes
were beautiful--always on the alert, watching for something useful
to do. Her hands were red and rough--she had not yet learned how to
take care of them.

Ditte had finished in the kitchen, and went into the living room.
She sat down on the bench under the window, and began patching the
children's clothes; at the same time she could see what was
happening on the beach and on the downs.

Down on the shore the children were digging with all their might,
building sand-gardens and forts. To the right was a small hut, neat
and well cared for, outside which Rasmus Olsen, the fisherman, stood
shouting in through the window. His wife had turned him out--it
always sounded so funny when he had words with his wife, he mumbled
on loudly and monotonously as a preacher--it made one feel quite
sleepy. There was not a scrap of bad temper in him. Most likely his
wife would come out soon, and she would give it him in another
fashion.

They were always quarreling, those two--and always about the
daughter. Both spoiled her, and each tried to get her over to their
side--and came to blows over it. And Martha, the wretch, sided first
with one and then with the other--whichever paid her best. She was
a pretty girl, slim but strong enough to push a barrow full of fish
or gear through the loose sand on the downs, but she was wild--and
had plenty to say for herself. When she had had a sweetheart for a
short time, she always ended by quarreling with him.

The two old people were deaf, and always came outside to quarrel--as
if they needed air. They themselves thought they spoke in a low
voice, all the time shouting so loudly that the whole hamlet knew
what the trouble was about.

Ditte could see the sea from the window--it glittered beneath the
blazing sun, pale blue and wonderful. It was just like a big being,
softly caressing--and then suddenly it would flare up! The boats
were on the beach, looking like cattle in their stalls, side by
side. On the bench, two old fishermen sat smoking.

Now all the children from the hamlet came rushing up from the beach,
like a swarm of frightened bees. They must have caught sight of the
inn-keeper! He did not approve of children playing; they ought to be
doing something useful. They fled as soon as he appeared, imagining
that he had the evil eye. The swarm spread over the downs in all
directions, and suddenly vanished, as if the earth had swallowed
them.

Then he came tramping in his heavy leather boots. His long arms
reached to his knees. When he went through the loose sand, his great
bony hands on his thighs, he looked as if he were walking on all
fours. His misshapen body was like a pair of bellows, his head
resting between his broad shoulders, moved up and down like a buoy;
every breath sounded like a steam-whistle, and could be heard from
afar. Heavens, how ugly he looked! He was like a crouching goblin,
who could make himself as big as he pleased, and see over all the
huts in his search for food. The hard shut mouth was so big that it
could easily swallow a child's head--and his eyes! Ditte shut her
own, and shivered.

She quickly opened them, however; she must find out what his
business was, taking care not to be seen herself.

The ogre, as the children called him, mainly because of his big
mouth, came to a standstill at Rasmus Olsen's house. "Well, are you
two quarreling again?" he shouted jovially. "What's wrong
now--Martha, I suppose?"

Rasmus Olsen was silent, and shuffled off towards the beach. But his
wife was not afraid, and turned her wrath on to the inn-keeper.
"What's it to do with you?" she cried. "Mind your own business!" The
inn-keeper passed on without taking any notice of her, and entered
the house. Most likely he wanted to see Martha; she followed on his
heels. "You can save yourself the trouble, there's nothing for you
to pry into!" she screamed. Shortly afterwards he came out again,
with the woman still scolding at his heels, and went across the
downs.

The fisherman's wife stood looking round, then catching sight of
Ditte, she came over. She had not finished yet, and needed some
object to go on with. "Here he goes round prying, the beastly
hunch-back!" she screamed, still beside herself with rage, "walking
straight into other people's rooms as if they were his own. And that
doddering old idiot daren't throw him out, but slinks off. Ay,
they're fine men here on the downs; a woman has to manage it all,
the food and the shame and everything! If only the boy had lived."
And throwing her apron over her head, she began to cry.

"Was he drowned?" asked Ditte sympathetically.

"I think of it all day long; I shall never forget him; there'll be
no happiness in life for me. Maybe it's stupid to cry, but I can't
help it--it's the mean way he met his death. If he had been struck
down by illness, and the Lord had had a finger in it--'twould be
quite another thing! But that he was strong and well--'twas his
uncle wanted him to go out shooting wild duck. I tried to stop him,
but the boy _would_ go, and there was no peace until he did. 'But,
Mother,' he said, 'you know I can handle a gun; why, I shoot every
day.' Then they went out in the boat with two guns, and not ten
minutes afterwards he was back again, lying dead in a pool of blood.
That's why I can't bear to see wild ducks, or taste 'em either.
Whenever I sit by the window, I can see them bringing him in--there
they are again. That's why my eyes are dimmed, I'm always crying:
'tis all over with me now."

The woman was overcome by grief. Her hands trembled, and moved
aimlessly over the table and back again.

Ditte looked at her from a new point of view. "Hush, hush, don't cry
any more," said she, putting her arms round her and joining in her
tears. "Wait--I'll make a cup of coffee." And gradually she
succeeded in comforting her.

"You've good hands," said the old woman, taking Ditte's hand
gratefully. "They're rough and red because your heart's in the right
place."

As they were having their coffee, Lars Peter returned. He had been
to see the inn-keeper, to hear how the nag was being treated, and
was out of humor. Ditte asked what was troubling him.

"Oh, it's the nag--they'll finish it soon," said he miserably.

The fisherman's wife looked at him kindly. "At least I can hear your
voice, even though you're talking to some one else," said she. "Ay,
he's taken your horse--and cart too! He can find a use for
everything, honor and money--and food too! D'you go to the
tap-room?"

"No, I haven't been there yet," said Lars Peter, "and I don't think
to go there every day."

"No, that's just it: you're not a drinker, and such are treated
worse than the others. He likes folks to spend their money in the
tap-room more than in the store--that's his way. He wants your
money, and there's no getting out of it."

"How did he come to lord it over the place? It hasn't always been
like this," said Lars Peter.

"How--because the folk here are no good--at all events here in the
hamlet. If we've no-one to rule us, then we run about whining like
dogs without a master until we find some one to kick us. We lick his
boots and choose him for our master, and then we're satisfied. In my
childhood it was quite different here, everybody owned their own
hut. But then he came and got hold of everything. There was an inn
here of course, and when he found he couldn't get everything his own
way, he started all these new ideas with costly fishing-nets and
better ways and gear, and God knows what. He gave them new-fangled
things--and grabbed the catch. The fishermen get much more now, but
what's the good, when he takes it all! I'd like to know what made
you settle down here?"

"Round about it was said that he was so good to you fisher-people,
and as far as I could see there was no mistake about it either. But
it looks rather different now a man's got into the thing."

"Heavens! _good_, you say! He helps and helps, until a man hasn't a
shirt left to his back. Just you wait; you'll be drawn in too--and
the girl as well if she's pretty enough for him. At present he's
only taking what you've got. Afterwards he'll help you till you're
so deep in debt that you'd like to hang yourself. Then he'll talk to
you about God and Holy Scripture. For he can preach too--like the
devil!"

Lars Peter stared hopelessly. "I've heard that he and his wife hold
some kind of meetings, but we've never been; we don't care much for
that sort of thing. Not that we're unbelievers, but so far we've
found it best to mind our own affairs, and leave the Lord to look
after His."

"We don't go either, but then Rasmus drinks--ay, ay, you'll go
through it all yourself. And here am I sitting gossiping instead of
getting home." She went home to get supper ready for the doddering
idiot.

They sat silent for a few minutes. Then Ditte said: "If only we'd
gone to some other place!"

"Oh, things are never as black as they're painted! And I don't feel
inclined to leave my money and everything behind me," answered Lars
Peter.

 

CHAPTER XI

GINGERBREAD HOUSE

Now that the children were surrounded by people, they felt as if
they lived in an ant-hill. The day was full of happenings, all
equally exciting--and the most exciting of it all was their fear of
the "ogre." Suddenly, when they were playing hide-and-seek amongst
the boats, or sat riding on the roof of the engine-house, he would
appear, his long arms grasping the air, and if he caught hold of one
of them, they would get something else to add to their fear. His
breath smelt of raw meat, the children declared; they did not make
him out better than he was. To run away from him, with their hearts
thumping, gave zest to their existence.

And when they lay in bed at night listening, they heard sounds in
the house, which did not come from any of their people. Then came
steps in stocking-feet up in the attic, and they would look towards
Ditte. Kristian knew what it meant, and they buried their heads
underneath the bedclothes, whispering. It was Jacob, the fisherman,
creeping about upstairs, listening to what they said. He always
stole about, trying to find out from the talk a certain _word_ he
could use to drive the devil out of the inn-keeper. The children
worried over the question, because he had promised them sixpence if
they could discover the word. And from the other side of the wall,
they could hear the old grandmother's cough. She had dropsy, which
made her fatter and fatter outside, but was hollow within. She
coughed up her inside.

The son was on a long voyage, and seldom came home; but each time he
returned, he found one of the children dead and his wife with a new
baby to make up for it. She neglected her children, and in
consequence they died. "Light come, light go!" said folk, and
laughed. Now only the twins remained: there they lay in the big
wooden cradle, screaming day and night, with a crust of bread as a
comforter. The mother was never at home. Ditte looked after them, or
they would have perished.

A short distance away on the downs, was a little house, quite
different from the others. It was the most beautiful house the
little ones had ever seen: the door and the window-panes were
painted blue; the beams were not tarred as in the other huts, but
painted brown; the bricks were red with a blue stripe. The ground
round the house was neat: the sand was raked, and by the well it was
dry and clean. A big elder--the only tree in the whole hamlet--grew
beside the well. On the window-sill were plants, with red and blue
flowers, and behind them sat an old woman peeping out. She wore a
white cap, and the old man had snow-white hair. When the weather was
fine he was always pottering round the house. And occasionally the
old woman appeared at the door, admiring his handiwork. "How nice
you've made everything look, little father!" said she. "Ay, it's all
for you, little mother," he answered, and they laughed at each
other. Then he took hold of her hand, and they tripped towards the
elder tree and sat down in the shade; they were like a couple of
children, but she soon wanted to go back to her window, and it was
said that she had not gone beyond the well for many a year.

The old people kept to themselves, and did not mix with the other
inhabitants of the hamlet, but when Lars Peter's children passed,
the old woman always looked out and nodded and smiled. They made
some excuse to pass the house several times a day: there was
something in the pretty little place and the two old people which
attracted them. The same cleanness and order that ruled their house
was apparent in their lives; no-one in the hamlet had anything but
good to say of them.

Amongst themselves, the children called it Gingerbread House, and
imagined wonderful things inside it. One day, hand in hand, the
three went up and knocked on the door. The old man opened it. "What
do you want, children?" he asked kindly, but blocking the door. Yes,
what did they want--none of them knew. And there they stood
open-mouthed.

"Let them come inside, father," a voice said. "Come in then,
children." They entered a room that smelt of flowers and apples.
Everything was painted: ceiling, beams and walls; it all shone; the
floor was painted white, and the table was so brightly polished that
the window was reflected in it. In a softly cushioned armchair a cat
lay sleeping.

The children were seated underneath the window, each with a plate of
jelly. A waterproof cloth was put on the table, in case they spilled
anything. The old couple trotted round them anxiously; their eyes
gleamed with pleasure at the unexpected visit, but they were uneasy
about their furniture. They were not accustomed to children, and
Povl nearly frightened their lives out of them, the way he behaved.
He lifted his plate with his little hands, nearly upsetting its
contents, and said: "Potatoes too!" He thought it was jam. But
sister helped him to finish, and then it was happily over. Kristian
had gulped his share in a couple of spoonfuls, and stood by the
door, ready to run off to the beach--already longing for something
new. They were each given a red apple, and shown politely to the
door; the old couple were tired. Povl put his cheek on the old
woman's skirt. "Me likes you!" said he.

"God bless you, little one! Did you hear that, father?" she said,
nodding her withered old head.

Kristian thought he too ought to show his appreciation. "If you want
any errands done, only tell me," said he, throwing back his head. "I
can run ever so fast." And to show how clever he was on his legs,
he rushed down the path. A little way down, he turned triumphantly.
"As quick as that," he shouted.

"Yes, thanks, we'll remember," nodded the two old people.

This little visit was the introduction to a pleasant acquaintance.
The old people liked the children, and even fetched them in when
passing, and bore patiently with all their awkwardness. Not that
they were allowed to tumble about--they could do that on the downs.
The old man would tell them a story, or get his flute and play to
them. The children came home with sparkling eyes, and quieter than
usual, to tell Ditte all about it.

The following day, Ditte went about pondering how she could do the
old people a service for their kindness towards the children, and,
as she could think of nothing, she took Kristian into her
confidence. He was so clever in finding ways out of difficulties.

It was the fisher-people's custom to put aside some of the catch
before it was delivered to the inn-keeper, and one day Ditte took a
beautiful thick plaice, and told Kristian to run with it to the old
couple. "But they mustn't know that it is from us," said she.
"They'll be having their after-dinner nap, so you can easily leave
it without their seeing you." Kristian put it down on the little
bench underneath the elder; but when later on he crept past, to see
if it had been taken, only the tail and the fins remained--the cat
had eaten it up. Ditte scolded him well, and Kristian had to puzzle
his brains once more.

"Father might get Klavs, and take them for a drive on Sunday," said
he. "They never get anywhere--their legs are too old."

"You silly!--we've nothing to do with Klavs now," Ditte said
sharply.

But now she knew what to do! She would scrub out the _little house_
for them every night; the old woman had to kneel down to do it every
morning. It was a sin she should have to do it. After the old people
had gone to bed--they went to rest early--Ditte took a pail of water
and a scrubbing brush, and some sand in her pinafore, and crept up.
Kristian stood outside at home, waiting for her. He was not allowed
to go with her, for fear of disturbing the old couple--he was so
noisy.

"What d'you think they'll say when they come down in the morning and
find it all so clean?" cried he, hopping first on one foot and then
the other. He would have liked to stay up all night to see their
surprise.

Next time the children visited the old people, the old man told them
a story about a little fairy who came every night to scour and
scrub, to save his little mother. Then Kristian laughed--he knew
better.

"It was Ditte!" he burst out. He put his hand to his mouth next
moment, but it was too late.

"But Ditte isn't a fairy!" broke out sister Else, offended. They
all three laughed at her until she began to cry, and had to be
comforted with a cake.

On their way home, whom should they meet but Uncle Johannes, who was
looking for their house. He was rigged out very smartly, and looked
like a well-to-do tradesman. Lars Peter was pleased to see him. They
had not met since their unfortunate parting in the Crow's Nest, and
now all was forgotten. He had heard one or two things about
him--Johannes kept the gossips busy. The two brothers shook hands as
if no unpleasantness had come between them. "Sit down and have
something to eat," said Lars Peter. "There's boiled cod today."

"Thanks, but I'm feeding up at the inn later on; we're a few
tradesmen up there together."

"That'll be a grand dinner, I suppose?" Lars Peter's eyes shone; he
had never been to a dinner party himself.

"Ay, that it will--they do things pretty well up there. He's a good
sort, the inn-keeper."

"Some think so; others don't. It all depends how you look at him.
You'd better not tell them you're my brother--it'll do you no good
to have poor relations down here."

Johannes laughed: "I've told the inn-keeper--he spoke well of you.
You were his best fisherman, he said."

"Really, did he say that?" Lars Peter flushed with pride.

"But a bit close, he said. You thought codfish could talk reason."

"Well, now--what the devil did he mean by it? What nonsense! Of
course codfish can't speak!"

"I don't know. But he's a clever man--he might have been one of the
learned sort."

"You're getting on well, I hear," said Lars Peter, to change the
subject. "Is it true you're half engaged to a farmer's daughter?"

Johannes smiled, stroking his woman-like mouth, where a small
mustache was visible. "There's a deal of gossip about," was all he
said.

"If only you keep her--and don't have the same bad luck that I had.
I had a sweetheart who was a farmer's daughter, but she died before
we were married."

"Is that true, Father?" broke out Ditte, proud of her father's
standing.

* * * * *

"What do you think of him, my girl?" asked Lars Peter, when his
brother had gone. "Picked up a bit, hasn't he?"

"Ay, he looks grand," admitted Ditte. "But I don't like him all the
same."

"You're so hard to please." Lars Peter was offended. "Other folks
seem to like him. He'll marry well."

"Ay, that may be. It's because he's got black hair--we women are mad
on that. But I don't think he's good."

 

 


CHAPTER XII

DAILY TROUBLES

It was getting on towards Christmas, a couple of months after they
had come to the hamlet, when one day Lars Peter was mad enough to
quarrel with the inn-keeper. He was not even drunk and it was a
thing unheard of in the hamlet for a sober man to give the
inn-keeper a piece of his mind. But he had been more than stupid,
every one agreed, and he himself too.

It was over the nag. Lars Peter could not get used to seeing the
horse work for others, and it cut him to the heart that it should
have to work so hard. It angered him, too, to be idle himself, in
spite of the inn-keeper's promises--and there were many other things
besides. One day he declared that Klavs should come home, and he
would begin to drive round again. He went up to the farm and
demanded his horse.

"Certainly!" The inn-keeper followed him out and ordered the horse
to be harnessed. "Here's your horse, cart and everything belonging
to it--is there anything more of yours?"

Lars Peter was somewhat taken aback. He had expected opposition and
here was the inn-keeper quite friendly, in fact almost fawning on
him. "I wanted to cart some things home," said he, rather
crestfallen.

"Certainly, Lars Peter Hansen," said the inn-keeper, preceding him
into the shop. He weighed out all Lars Peter ordered, reminded him
of one thing after another, laying the articles in a heap on the
counter. "Have you raisins for the Christmas cakes?" he asked.
"Ditte bakes herself." He knew every one's doings and was thoughtful
in helping them.

When Lars Peter was about to carry the things out to the cart, he
said smilingly, "That will be--let me see, how much do you owe for
last time?"

"I'd like to let it wait a bit--till I get settled up after the
auction!"

"Well, I'm afraid it can't. I don't know anything about you yet."

"Oh, so you're paying me out." Lars Peter began to fume.

"Paying you out? Not at all. But I like to know what sort of a man
I'm dealing with before I can trust him."

"Oh, indeed! It's easy enough to see what sort of a fellow you are!"
shouted Lars Peter and rushed out.

The inn-keeper followed him out to the cart. "You'll have a
different opinion of me some day," said he gently, "then we can talk
it over again. Never mind. But another thing--where'll you get food
for the horse?"

"I'll manage somehow," answered Lars Peter shortly.

"And stabling? It's setting in cold now."

"You leave that to me!"

Lars Peter drove off at a walking pace. He knew perfectly well that
he could find neither food nor stabling for the horse without the
inn-keeper's help. Two or three days afterwards he sent Kristian
with the horse and cart back to the farm.

He had done this once, but he was wiser now--or at all events more
careful. When occasionally he felt a longing for the road and wanted
to spend a day on it in company with Klavs, he asked politely for
the loan of it, and he was allowed to have it. Then he and the horse
were like sweethearts who seldom saw each other.

He was no wiser than before. The inn-keeper he couldn't make
out--with his care for others and his desire to rule.

His partners and the other men he didn't understand either. He had
spent his life in the country where people kept to themselves--where
he had often longed for society. It looked cosy--as seen from the
lonely Crow's Nest--people lived next door to each other; they could
give a helping hand occasionally and chat with each other. But what
pleasure had a man here? They toiled unwillingly, pushing
responsibilities and troubles on to others, getting only enough for
a meager meal from day to day and letting another man run off with
their profits. It was extraordinary how that crooked devil scraped
in everything with his long arms, without any one daring to protest.
He must have an enormous hold on them somehow.

Lars Peter did not think of rebelling again. When his anger rose he
had only to think of fisher-Jacob, who was daily before his eyes.
Every one knew how he had become the wreck he was. He had once owned
a big boat, and had hired men to work with him, so he thought it
unnecessary to submit to the inn-keeper. But the inn-keeper licked
him into shape. He refused to buy his fish, so that they had to sail
elsewhere with it, but this outlet he closed for them too. They
could buy no goods nor gear in the village--they were shunned like
lepers, no one dared help them. Then his partners turned against
him, blaming him for their ill-luck. He tried to sell up and moved
to another place, but the inn-keeper would not buy his possessions
and no-one else dared; he had to stay on--and learn to submit.
Although he owned a boat and gear, he had to hire it from the
inn-keeper. It told so heavily on him that he lost his reason; now
he muddled about looking for a magic word to fell the inn-keeper; at
times he went round with a gun, declaring he would shoot him. But
the inn-keeper only laughed.

Ditte talked a great deal with the women. They all agreed that the
inn-keeper had the evil eye. He was always in her mind; she went in
an everlasting dread of him. When she saw him on the downs she
almost screamed; Lars Peter tried to reason her out of it.

Little Povl came home from the beach one morning feeling ill. He was
sick, and his head ached, he was hot one moment and cold the next.
Ditte undressed him and put him to bed; then called her father, who
was asleep in the attic.

Lars Peter hurried down. He had been out at sea the whole night and
stumbled as he walked.

"Why, Povl, little man, got a tummy-ache?" asked he, putting his
hand on the boy's forehead. It throbbed, and was burning hot. The
boy turned his head away.

"He looks really bad," he said, seating himself on the edge of the
bed, "he doesn't even know us. It's come on quickly, there was
nothing the matter with him this morning."

"He came home a few minutes ago--he was all gray in the face and
cold, and he's burning hot now. Just listen to the way he's
breathing."

They sat by the bedside, looking at him in silence; Lars Peter held
his little hand in his. It was black, with short stumpy fingers, the
nails almost worn down into the flesh. He never spared himself, the
little fellow, always ready; wide awake from the moment he opened
his eyes. Here he lay, gasping. It was a sad sight! Was it serious?
Was there to be trouble with the children again? The accident with
his first children he had shaken off--but he had none to spare now!
If anything happened to them, he had nothing more to live for--it
would be the end. He understood now that they had kept him
up--through the business with Soerine and all that followed. It was
the children who gave him strength for each new day. All his broken
hopes, all his failures, were dimmed in the cheery presence of the
children; that was perhaps why he clung to them, as he did.

Suddenly Povl jumped up and wanted to get out of bed. "Povl do an'
play, do an' play!" he said over and over again.

"He wants to go out and play," said Ditte, looking questioningly at
her father.

"Then maybe he's better already," broke out Lars Peter cheerily.
"Let him go if he wants to."

Ditte dressed him, but he drooped like a withered flower, and she
put him to bed again.

"Shall I fetch Lars Jensen's widow?" she asked. "She knows about
illness and what to do."

No--Lars Peter thought not. He would rather have a proper doctor.
"As soon as Kristian comes home from school, he can run up to the
inn, and ask for the loan of the nag," said he. "They can hardly
refuse it when the child's ill."

Kristian came back without the horse and cart, but with the
inn-keeper at his heels. He came in without knocking at the door, as
was his custom.

"I hear your little boy's ill," he said kindly. "I thought I ought
to come and see you, and perhaps give you a word of comfort. I've
brought a bottle of something to give him every half hour; it's
mixed with prayers, so at all events it can't do him any harm. Keep
him well wrapped up in bed." He leaned over the bed, listening to
the child's breathing. Povl's eyes were stiff with fear.

"You'd better keep away from the bed," said Lars Peter. "Can't you
see the boy's afraid of you?" His voice trembled with restrained
fury.

"There's many that way," answered the inn-keeper good-naturedly,
moving away from the bed. "And yet I live on, and thrive--and do my
duty as far as I can. Well, I comfort myself with the thought that
the Lord has some reward in store. Perhaps it does folks no harm to
be afraid of something, Lars Peter! But give him the mixture at
once."

"I'd rather fetch the doctor," said Lars Peter, reluctantly giving
the child the medicine. He would have preferred to throw it out of
the window--and the inn-keeper with it.

"Ay, so I understood, but I thought I'd just have a talk to you
first. What good's a doctor? It's only an expense, and he can't
change God's purpose. Poor people should learn to save."

"Ay, of course, when a man's poor he must take things as they come!"
Lars Peter laughed bitterly.

"Up at the inn we never send for the doctor. We put our lives in
God's keeping. If so be it's His will, then----"

"It seems to me there's much that happens that's not His will at
all--and in this place too," said Lars Peter defiantly.

"And yet I'll tell you that not even the smallest cod is caught--in
the hamlet either--without the will of the Father." The inn-keeper's
voice was earnest; it sounded like Scripture itself, but there was a
look in his eyes, which made Lars Peter uncomfortable all the same.
He was quite relieved when this unpleasant guest took his departure
and disappeared over the downs.

Ditte came down from the attic, where she had hidden. "What d'you
want to hide from that hunch-back for?" shouted Lars Peter. He
needed an outlet for his temper. Ditte flushed and turned away her
face.

Soon afterwards a knock sounded on the wall. It was their lame
neighbor. The daughter-in-law was at home, and sat with the twins in
her arms.

"I heard he was in your house," said the old one--"his strong voice
sounded through the walls. You be careful of him!"

"He was very kind," said Ditte evasively. "He spoke kindly to
father, and brought something for little Povl."

"So he brought something--was it medicine? Pour it into the gutter
at once. It can't do any harm there."

"But Povl's had some."

The old woman threw up her hands. "For the love of Jesus! for the
love of Jesus! Poor child!" she wailed. "Did he say anything about
death? They say in the village here every family owes him a death!
Did he say he'd provide the coffin? He manages everything--he's
always so good and helpful when anything's wrong. Ay, maybe he was
good-tempered--and the child'll be allowed to live."

Ditte burst into tears; she thought it looked bad for little Povl,
if his life depended on the inn-keeper. He was vexed with them
because the little ones were not sent to Sunday-school--perhaps he
was taking his revenge.

But in a few days Povl recovered, and was as lively as ever, running
about and never still for a minute, until suddenly he would fall
asleep in the midst of his play. Lars Peter was cheerful again, and
went about humming. Ditte sang at her washing up, following the
little lad's movements with her motherly eyes. But for safety's sake
she sent the children to Sunday-school.

 

CHAPTER XIII

DITTE'S CONFIRMATION

That autumn Ditte was to be confirmed. She found it very hard to
learn by rote all the psalms and hymns. She had not much time for
preparation, and her little brain had been trained in an entirely
different direction than that of learning by heart; when she had
finished her work, and brought out her catechism, it refused to stay
in her mind.

One day she came home crying. The parson had declared that she was
too far behind the others and must wait for the next confirmation;
he dared not take the responsibility of presenting her. She was in
the depths of despair; it was considered a disgrace to be kept back.

"Well,--there's no end of our troubles, it seems," broke out Lars
Peter bitterly. "They can do what they like with folks like us. I
suppose we should be thankful for being allowed to live."

"I know just as much as the others, it's not fair," sobbed Ditte.

"Fair--as if that had anything to do with it! If you did not know a
line of your catechism, I'd like to see the girl that's better
prepared to meet the Lord than you. You could easily take his
housekeeping on your shoulders; and He would be pretty blind if He
couldn't see that His little angels could never be better looked
after. The fact is we haven't given the parson enough, they're like
that--all of them--and it's the likes of them that have the keys of
Heaven! Well, it can't be helped, it won't kill us, I suppose."

Ditte refused to be comforted. "I _will_ be confirmed," she cried.
"I won't go to another class and be jeered at."

"Maybe if we tried oiling the parson a little," Lars Peter said
thoughtfully. "But it'll cost a lot of money."

"Go to the inn-keeper then--he can make it all right."

"Ay, that he can--there's not much he can't put right, if he's the
mind to. But I'm not in his good books, I'm afraid."

"That doesn't matter. He treats every one alike whether he likes
them or not."

Lars Peter did not like his errand; he was loth to ask favors of the
man; however, it must be done for the sake of the child. Much to his
surprise the inn-keeper received him kindly. "I'll certainly speak
to the parson and have it seen to," said he. "And you can send the
girl up here some day; it's the custom in the hamlet for _the
ogre's_ wife to provide clothes for girls going to be confirmed."
His big mouth widened in a grin. Lars Peter felt rather foolish.

So Ditte was confirmed after all. For a whole week she wore a long
black dress, and her hair in a thin plait down her back. In the
church she had cried; whether it was the joy of feeling grown-up, or
because it was the custom to cry, would be difficult to say. But she
enjoyed the following week, when Lars Jensen's widow came and did
her work, while she made calls and received congratulations. She was
followed by a crowd of admiring girls, and small children of the
hamlet rushed out to her shouting: "Hi, give us a ha'penny!" Lars
Peter had to give all the halfpennies he could gather together.

The week over, she returned to her old duties. Ditte discovered that
she had been grown-up for several years; her duties were neither
heavier nor lighter. She soon got accustomed to her new estate; when
they were invited out, she would take her knitting with her and sit
herself with the grown-ups.

"Won't you go with the young people?" Lars Peter would say. "They're
playing on the green tonight." She went, but soon returned.

Lars Peter was getting used to things in the hamlet; at least he
only grumbled when he had been to the tap-room and was a little
drunk. He no longer looked after the house so well; when Ditte was
short of anything she had always to ask for it--and often more than
once. It was not the old Lars Peter of the Crow's Nest, who used to
say, "Well, how goes it, Ditte, got all you want?" Having credit at
the store had made him careless. When Ditte reproached him, he
answered: "Well, what the devil, a man never sees a farthing now,
and must take things as they come!"

The extraordinary thing about the inn-keeper was, that he seemed to
know everything. As long as Lars Peter had a penny left, the
inn-keeper was unwilling to give him credit, and made him pay up
what he owed before starting a new account. In this way he had
stripped him of one hundred-crown note after the other, until by
Christmas nothing was left.

"There!" said Lars Peter when the last note went, "that's the last
of the Crow's Nest. Maybe now we'll have peace! And he can treat us
like the others in the hamlet--or I don't know where the food's to
come from."

But the inn-keeper thought differently. However often the children
came in with basket and list, they returned empty-handed. "He seems
to think there's still something to get out of us," said Lars Peter.

It was a sad lookout. Ditte had promised herself that they should
have a really good time this Christmas; she had ordered flour, and
things for cakes, and a piece of pork to be stuffed and cooked like
a goose. Here she was empty-handed; all her beautiful plans had come
to nothing. Up in the attic was the Christmas tree which the little
ones had taken from the plantation; what good was it now, without
candles and ornaments?

"Never mind," said Lars Peter, "we'll get over that too. We've got
fish and potatoes, so we shan't starve!" But the little ones cried.

Ditte made the best of a bad job, and went down to the beach, where
she got a pair of wild ducks that had been caught in the nets: she
cleaned and dressed them--and thus their Christmas dinner was
provided. A few red apples--which from time to time had been given
her by the old couple at the Gingerbread House, and which she had
not eaten because they were so beautiful--were put on the Christmas
tree. "We'll hang the lantern on the top, and then it'll look quite
fine," she explained to the little ones. She had borrowed some
coffee and some brandy--her father should not be without his
Christmas drink.

She had scrubbed and cleaned the whole day, to make everything look
as nice as possible; now she went into the kitchen and lit the fire.
Lars Peter and the children were in the living room in the dusk--she
could hear her father telling stories of when he was a boy. Ditte
hummed, feeling pleased with everything.

Suddenly she screamed. The upper half of the kitchen door had
opened. Against the evening sky she saw the head and shoulders of a
deformed body, a goblin, in the act of lifting a parcel in over the
door. "Here's a few things for you," he said, panting, pushing the
parcel along the kitchen-table. "A happy Christmas!" And he was
gone.

They unpacked the parcel in the living room. It contained everything
they had asked for, and many other things beside, which they had
often wished for but had never dreamt of ordering: a calendar with
stories, a pound of cooking chocolate, and a bottle of old French
wine. "It's just like the Lord," said Ditte in whose mind there were
still the remains of the parson's teaching--"when it looks blackest
He always helps."

"Ah, the inn-keeper's a funny fellow, there we've been begging for
things and got nothing but kicks in return; and then he brings
everything himself! He's up to something, I'm afraid. Well, whatever
it may be--the things'll taste none the worse for it!" Lars Peter
was not in the least touched by the gift.

Whatever it might be--at all events it did not end with Christmas.
They continued to get goods from the store. The inn-keeper often
crossed off things from the list, which he considered superfluous,
but the children never returned with an empty basket. Ditte still
thought she saw the hand of Providence in this, but Lars Peter
viewed it more soberly.

"The devil, he can't let us starve to death, when we're working for
him," said he. "You'll see the rascal's found out that there's
nothing more to be got out of us, he's a sharp nose, he has."

The explanation was not entirely satisfactory--even to Lars Peter
himself. There was something about the inn-keeper which could not be
reckoned as money. He was anxious to rule, and did not spare himself
in any way. He was always up and doing; he had every family's
affairs in his head, knew them better than they did themselves, and
interfered. There was both good and bad in his knowledge; no-one
knew when to expect him.

Lars Peter was to feel his fatherly care in a new direction. One day
the inn-keeper said casually: "that's a big girl, you've got there,
Lars Peter; she ought to be able to pay for her keep soon."

"She's earned her bread for many a year, and more too!" answered
Lars Peter. "I don't know what I'd have done without her."

The inn-keeper went on his way, but another time when Lars Peter was
outside chopping wood he came again and began where he left off. "I
don't like to see children hanging about after they've been
confirmed," said he. "The sooner they get out the quicker they learn
to look after themselves."

"Poor people learn that soon enough whether they are at home or out
at service," answered Lars Peter. "We couldn't do without our little
housekeeper."

"They'd like to have Ditte at the hill-farm next May--it's a good
place. I've been thinking Lars Jensen's widow could come and keep
house for you; she's a good worker and she's nothing to do. You
might do worse than marry her."

"I've a wife that's good enough for me," answered Lars Peter
shortly.

"But she's in prison--and you're not obliged to stick to her if you
don't want to."

"Ay, I've heard that, but Soerine'll want somewhere to go when she
comes out."

"Well, that's a matter for your own conscience, Lars Peter. But the
Scriptures say nothing about sharing your home with a murderess.
What I wanted to say was, that Lars Jensen's wife takes up a whole
house."

"Then perhaps we could move down to her?" said Lars Peter brightly.
"It's not very pleasant living here in the long run." He had given
up all hope of building himself.

"If you marry her, you can consider the house your own."

"I'll stick to Soerine, I tell you," shouted Lars Peter, thumping his
ax into the block. "Now, you know it."

The inn-keeper went off, as quietly and kindly as he had come. Jacob
the fisherman stood behind the house pointing at him with his gun;
it was loaded with salt, he was only waiting for the _word_ to
shoot. The inn-keeper looked at him as he passed and said, "Well,
are you out with your gun today?" Jacob shuffled out of the way.

The inn-keeper's new order brought sorrow to the little house. It
was like losing a mother. What would they do without their
house-wife, Ditte, who looked after them all?

Ditte herself took it more quietly. She had always known that sooner
or later she would have to go out to service--she was born to it.
And all through her childhood it ran like a crimson thread; she must
prepare herself for a future master and mistress. "Eat, child,"
Granny had said, "and grow big and strong and able to make the most
of yourself when you're out amongst strangers!" And Soerine--when her
turn came--had made it a daily saying: "You'd better behave, or
no-one'll have you." The schoolmaster had interwoven it with his
teachings, and the parson involuntarily turned to her when speaking
of faithful service. She had performed her daily tasks with the
object of becoming a clever servant--and she thought with a mixture
of fear and expectation of the great moment when she should enter
service in reality.

The time was drawing near. She was sorry, and more so for those at
home. For herself--it was something that could not be helped.

She prepared everything as far as possible beforehand, taught sister
Else her work, and showed her where everything was kept. She was a
thoughtful child, easily managed. It was more difficult with
Kristian. Ditte was troubled at the thought of what would happen,
when she was not there to keep him in order. Every day she spoke
seriously to him.

"You'll have to give up your foolish ways, and running off when
you're vexed with any one," said she. "Remember, you're the eldest;
it'll be your fault if Povl and sister turn out badly! They've
nobody but you to look to now. And stop teasing old Jacob, it's a
shame to do it."

Kristian promised everything--he had the best will in the world.
Only he could never remember to keep his good resolutions.

There was no need to give Povl advice, he was too small. And good
enough as he was. Dear, fat, little fellow! It was strange to think
that she was going to leave him; several times during the day Ditte
would hug him.

"If only Lars Jensen's widow'll be good to the children--and
understand how to manage them!" she said to her father. "You see,
she's never had children of her own. It must be strange after all!"

Lars Peter laughed.

"It'll be all right," he thought, "she's a good woman. But we shall
miss you sorely."

"I'm sure you will," answered Ditte seriously. "But she's not
wasteful--that's one good thing."

In the evening, when she had done her daily tasks and the children
were in bed, Ditte went through drawers and cupboards so as to leave
everything in order for her successor. The children's clothes were
carefully examined--and the linen; clean paper was put in the
drawers and everything tidied up. Ditte lingered over her work: it
was like a silent devotion. The child was bidding farewell to her
dear troublesome world, feeling grateful even for the toil and
trouble they had given her.

When Lars Peter was not out fishing she would sit beside him under
the lamp with some work or other in her hands, and they spoke
seriously about the future, giving each other good advice.

"When you get amongst strangers you must listen carefully to
everything that's said to you," Lars Peter would say. "Nothing vexes
folks more than having to say a thing twice. And then you must
remember that it doesn't matter so much how you do a thing, as to do
it as they like it. They've all got their own ways, and it's hard to
get into sometimes."

"Oh, I'll get on all right," answered Ditte--rather more bravely
than she really felt.

"Ay, you're clever enough for your age, but it's not always that.
You must always show a good-tempered face--whether you feel it or
not. It's what's expected from folks that earn their bread."

"If anything happens, I'll just give them a piece of my mind."

"Ay, but don't be too ready with your mouth! The truth's not always
wanted, and least of all from a servant: the less they have to say
the better they get on. Just you keep quiet and think what you
like--that no-one can forbid you. And then you know, you've always
got a home here if you're turned out of your place. You must never
leave before your term is up; it's a bad thing to do--whatever you
do it for. Rather bear a little unfairness."

"But can't I stand up for my rights?" Ditte did not understand.

"Ay, so you ought--but what is your right? Anyone that's got the
power gets the right on his side, that's often proved. But you'll be
all right if you're sensible and put your back to the wall."

* * * * *

Then came the last night. Ditte had spent the day saying good-by in
the different huts. She could have found a better way to spend these
last precious hours, but it was a necessary evil, and if she did not
do it they would talk of it behind her back. The three little ones
followed close at her heels.

"You mustn't come in," said she. "We can't all go, there's too many,
they'll think we want to be treated to something."

So they hid themselves nearby, while she was inside, and went with
her to the next house; today they _would_ be near her. And they had
been so the whole day long. The walk along the beach out to the
Naze, where they could see the hill-farm had come to nothing. It was
too late, and Ditte had to retract her promise. It cost some tears.
The farm where Ditte was going out to service played a strong part
in their imagination. They were only comforted, when their father
promised that on Sunday morning he would take them for a row.

"Out there you can see the hill-farm and all the land round about
it, and maybe Ditte'll be standing there and waving to us," he said.

"Isn't it really further off than that?" asked Ditte.

"Oh, it's about fourteen miles, so of course you'd have to have good
eyes," answered Lars Peter, trying to smile. He was not in the humor
for fun.

Now at last the three little ones were in the big bed, sleeping
peacefully, Povl at one end, sister and Kristian at the other. There
was just room for Ditte, who had promised to sleep with them the
last night. Ditte busied herself in the living room, Lars Peter sat
by the window trying to read Soerine's last letter. It was only a few
words. Soerine was not good at writing; he read and re-read it, in a
half-whisper. There was a feeling of oppression in the room.

"When's Mother coming out?" asked Ditte, suddenly coming towards
him.

Lars Peter took up a calendar. "As far as I can make out, there's
still another year," he said quietly. "D'you want to see her too?"

Ditte made no answer. Shortly afterwards she asked him: "D'you think
she's altered?"

"You're thinking of the little ones, I suppose. I think she cares a
little more for them now. Want makes a good teacher. You must go to
bed now, you'll have to be up early in the morning, and it's a long
way. Let Kristian go with you--and let him carry your bundle as far
as he goes. It'll be a tiresome way for you. I'm sorry I can't go
with you!"

"Oh, I shall be all right," said Ditte, trying to speak cheerfully,
but her voice broke, and suddenly she threw her arms round him.

Lars Peter stayed beside her until she had fallen asleep, then went
up to bed himself. From the attic he could hear her softly moaning
in her sleep.

At midnight he came downstairs again, he was in oilskins and carried
a lantern. The light shone on the bed--all four were asleep. But
Ditte was tossing restlessly, fighting with something in her dreams.
"Sister must eat her dinner," she moaned, "it'll never do ... she'll
get so thin."

"Ay, ay," said Lars Peter with emotion. "Father'll see she gets
enough to eat."

Carefully he covered them up, and went down to the sea.