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IB AND CHRISTINE

 

NOT far from the stream Gudenaain the forest of Silkeborga great ridge of land rises and stretches along like a wallBy this ridgewestwardstands a farm-housesurrounded by poor landthe sandy soil is seen through the spare rye and wheat that grow upon itSome years have elapsed since the time of which we speakThe people who lived here cultivated the fieldsand moreover kept three sheepa pigand two oxenin factthey sup-ported themselves quite comfortablyfor they had enough to live on if they took things as they came Indeedthey could have managed to save enough to keep two horsesbutlike the other peasants of the neighbourhoodthey said,“The horse eats itself up-that is to sayit eats as much as it earnsJeppe-Jens cultivated his field in summerIn the winter he made wooden shoesand then he had an assistanta journeymanwho understood how to make the wooden shoes strongand lightand gracefulThey carved shoes and spoonsand that brought in moneyIt would have been wronging the Jeppe-Jenses to call them poor people

Little Iba boy seven years oldthe only child of the familywould sit bylooking at the workmencutting at a stickand occasionally cutting his finger But one day he had out two pieces of woodso that they looked like little wooden shoesand these he wanted to give to little Christinewas the boatman's daughterand was graceful and delicate as a gentleman's childhad she been differently dressedno one would have imagined that she came out of the hut on the neighbouring heathThere lived her fatherwho was a widowerand supported him-self by carrying firewood in his great out of the forest down to the eel-weir of Silkeborgand sometimes even to the distant town of RandersHe had no one who could take care of little Christinewho was a year younger than Iband therefore the child was almost always with him in his boator in the forest among the heath plants and barberry bushesWhen he had to go as far as Randershe would bring little Christine to stay at the Jeppe-Jenses’

Ib and Christine agreed very well in every particularthey dug in the ground together for treasuresand they ran and creptand one day they ventured together up the high ridgeand a long way into the forestthey found a few snipe's eggs thereand that was a great event for them

Ib had never been on the heathnor had he ever been on the riverBut even this was to happenfor Christine's father once invited him to go with themand on the evening before the excursionIb went home with him

Next morning earlythe two children were sitting high up on the pile of firewood in the boateating bread and raspberriesChristine's father and his assistant propelled the boat with stavesThey had the current with themand swiftly they glided down the streamthrough the lakes which sometimes seemed shut in by woods and reedsBut there was always room for them to passeven if the old trees bent quite forward over the waterand the old oaks bent down their bare branchesas if they had turned up their sleevesand wanted to show their knotty naked armsOld alder treeswhich the stream had washed away from the bankclung with their roots to the bottom of the streamand looked like little wooded islandsThe water-lilies rocked themselves on the riverIt was a splendid excursionand at last they came to the great eel-weirwhere the water rushed through the flood-gatesthat was some-thing for Ib and Christine to see

In those days there was no manufactory therenor was there anytownonly the old farm-yardand the stock there was not largeand the rushing of the water through the weir and the cry of the wild ducks were the only signs of life in SilkeborgAfter the firewood had been unloadedthe father of Christine bought a whole bundle of eels and a slaughtered sucking-pigand all was put into a basket and placed in the stern of the boatThen they went back again up the streambut the wind was favourableand when the sails were hoisted It was as good as if two horses had been harnessed to the boat

When they had arrived at a point in the stream where the assistant-boatman dwelta little way from the bankthe boat was mooredand the two men landedafter exhorting the children to sit stillBut the children did not do that very longThey must be peeping into the bas-ket in which the eels and the sucking-pig had been placedand they must need pull the sucking-pig outand take it in their handsand as both wanted to hold it at the same timeit came to pass that they let it fall into the waterand the sucking-pig drifted away with the stream-and here was a terrible event

Ib jumped ashoreand ran a little distance along the bankand Christine sprang after him

Take me with you!”she cried

And in a few minutes they were deep in the thicketand could no longer see either the boat or the bankThey ran on a little fartherand then Christine fell down on the ground and began to crybut Ib picked her up

Follow me!”he cried.“The house lies over there.”

But the house was not thereThey wandered on and onover the withered leavesand over dry fallen branch-Es that crackled beneath their feetSoon thet heard a loud piercing screamThey stood still and listenedand presently the scream of an eagle again sounded through the woodIt was an ugly screamand they were frightened at itbut before themin the thick woodthe most beautiful blueberries grew in wonderful profusionThey were so inviting that the children could not do otherwise than stopand they lingered for some timeeating the blueberries till they had quite blue mouths and blue cheeksNow again they heart the cry they had heard be-fore

We shall get into trouble about the pig,”said Christine

Comelet us go to our house said Ib;“It is here in the wood.”

And they went forwardThey presently came to a roadbut it did not lead them homeand darkness came onand they were afraidThe wonderful stillness that reigned around was interrupted now and then by the shrill cries of the great horned owl and of the birds that were strange to themAt last they both lost themselves in a thicketChristine criedand Ib cried tooand after they had cried for a timethey threw themselves down on the dry leavesand went fast asleep

The sun was high in the heavens when the two children awokeThey were coldbut on the hillock close at hand the sun shone through the trees and there they thought they would warm themselvesand from there Ib fancied they would be able to see his parents’ houseBut they were far away from thatin quite another part of the forestThey clambered to the top of the rising groundand found themselves on the summit of a slope running down to the margin of a transparent lakeThey could see fish in great numbers in the pure water illumined by the sun's raysThis spectacle was quite a sudden surprise for themclose beside them grew a nut tree covered with the finest nutsand now they picked the nuts and cracked themand ate the delicate young kernelswhich had only just begun to formBut there was another surprise and another fright in store for themOut of the thicket stepped a tall old womanher face was quite brownand her hair was deep black and shiningThe whites of her eyes gleamed like a negro'son her back she carried a bundle and in her hand she bore a knotted stickShe was a gipsyThe children did not at once nuderstand what she saidShe brought three nuts out of her pocketand told them that in these nuts the most beautifulthe loveliest things were hiddenfor they were wishing-nuts

Ib looked at herand she seemed so friendly that he plucked up courage and asked her if she would give him the nutsand the woman gave them to himand gathered some more for herselfa whole pocketfulfrom the nut tree

And Ib and Christine looked at the wishing-nuts with great eyes

Is there a carriage with a pair of horses in this nutt?”he asked

Yesthere's a golden carriage with golden horses,”answered the woman

Then give me the nut,”said little Christine

And Ib gave it to herand the strange woman tied it in her pocket-handkerchief for her

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Is there in this nut a pretty little neckerchieflike the one Christine wears round her neck?”inquired Ib There are ten neckerchiefs in it,”answered the woman.“There are beautiful dresses in itand stockingsand a hat.” Then I will have that one too,”cried little Chris-tine

And Ib gave her the second nut alsoThe third was a little black thing

That one you can keep,”said Christine;“and it is a pretty one too

What is in it?”inquired Ib

The best of all things for you,”replied the gipsy woman

And Ib held the nut very tightThe woman promised to lead the children into the right pathso that they might find their way homeand now they went forwardcertainly in quite a different direction from the path they should have followedBut that is no reason why we should suspect the gipsy woman of wanting to steal the childrenIn the wild wood-path they met the torest bailiffwho knew Iband by his helpIb and Christine both arrived at homewhere their friends had been very anxious about themThey were pardoned and forgivenalthough they had indeed both de-served to get into troublefirstlybecause they had let the sucking-pig fall into the waterand secondlybecause they had run away

Christine was taken back to her father on the heathand Ib remained in the farm-house by the woodThe first thing he did in the evening was to bring forth out of his pocket the nutin whichthe best thing of allwas said to be enclosedHe placed it carefully between the door and the door-frameand then shut the door so as to break the nutbut there was not much kernel in itThe nut looked as if it were filled with snuff or black rich earthit was what we call hollowor worm-eaten

Yesthat's exactly what I thought,”said Ib.“How could the very best thing be contained in this little nutAnd Christine will get just as little out of her two nutsand will have neither fine clothes nor golden carriage.”

And winter came onand the new year beganindeedseveral years went by

Ib was now to be confirmedand the clergyman lived a long way offAbout tiis time the boatman one day visited Ib's parentsand told them that Christine was now going into serviceand that she had been really fortunate in getting a remarkably good placeand falling into worthy hands

Only think!”he said;“she is going to the rich innkeeper'sin the inn at Herningfar towards the westShe is to assist the hostess in keeping the houseand afterwardsif she takes to it welland stays to be con-firmed therethe people are going to keep her with them

And Ib and Christine took leave of one anotherPeople called them sweetheartsand at partingthe girl showed Ib that she had still the two nuts which he had given her long agoduring their wanderings in the forestand she told himmoreoverthat in a drawer she had carefully kept the little wooden shoes which he had carved as a present for her in their childish daysAnd thereupon they parted

Ib was confirmedBut he remained in his mother's housefor he had become a clever maker of wooden shoesand in summer he looked after the fieldHis mother had no one else to do thisfor his father was dead

Only seldom he got news of Christine from some passing postilion or eel-fisherBut she was well off at the rich innkeeper'sand after she had been confirmedshe wrote a letter to her fatherand sent a kind message to Ib and his motherand in the letter there was mention made of six new shifts and a fine new gownwhich Christine had received from her master and mistressThis was certainly good news

Next springthere was a knock one warm day at the door of our Ib's old motherand beholdthe boatman and Christine stepped into the roomShe had come on a visit to spend a daya carriage had to come from the Heming Inn to the next villageand she had taken the opportunity to see her friends once againShe looked as handsome as a real ladyand she had a pretty gown onwhich had been well sewnand made expressly for herThere she stoodin grand arrayand Ib was in his working clothesHe could not utter a wordhe certainly seized her handand held it fast in his ownand was heartily gladbut he could not get his tongue to obey himChristine was not embarrassedhoweverfor she went on talking and talkingandmoreoverkissed Ib on his mouth in the heartiest manner

Do you really not know me?”she askedbut even afterwardswhen they were left quite by themselvesand he stood there still holding her hand in hishe could only sar

You look quite like a real ladyand I am so uncouthHow often I have thought of youChristineand of the old times!”

And arm in arm they sauntered up the great ridgeand looked across the stream towards the heathtowards the great heather banksIt was perfectly silentbut by the time they parted it had grown quite clear to him that Chris-tine must be his wifeHad they noteven in their child-hoodbeen called sweetheartsTo him they seemed to be really engaged to each otherthough neither of them had spoken a word on the subjectOnly for a few more hours could they remain togetherfor Christine was obliged to go back into the next villagefrom whence the carriage was to start early next morning for HerningHer father and Ib Escorted her as far as the villageIt was a fair moonlight eveningand when they reached their destinationand Ib still held Christine's hand in his ownhe could not let it goHis eyes brightenedbut still the words came halting over his lipsYet they came from the depths of his heartwhen he said

If you have not become too grandChristineand if you can make up your mind to live with me in my mother's house as my wifewe must become a wedded pair some daybut we can wait a while yet.”

Yeslet us wait for a timeIb,” she repliedand she pressed his handand he kissed her lips.“I trust in youIb,”said Christine;“and I think that I love you-but I will sleep upon it.”

And with that they partedAnd on the way home Ib told the boatman that he and Christine were as good as betrothedand the boatman declared he had always expected it would turn out soand he went home with Iband remained that night in the young man's housebut nothing further was said of the betrothal

A year passed byin the course of which two letters were exchanged between Ib and ChristineThe signature was prefaced by the words,“Faithful till death!”One day the boatman came in to Iband brought him a greeting from ChristineWhat he had further to say was brought out in somewhat hesitatingbut it was to the effect that Christine was almost more than prosperousfor she was a pretty girlcourted and lovedThe son of the host had been home on a visithe was employed in the office of some great institution in Copenhagenand he was very much pleased with Christineand she had taken a fancy to himhis parents were not unwillingbut it lay very much on Christine's mind that Ib had such a fancy for her;“and so she had thought of fusing this great piece of good fortune,”said the boatman

At first Ib said not a wordbut he became as white as a sheetand slightly shook his headThe he said slowly

Christine must not thrust her good fortune away.”

Then do you write a few words to her,”said the boatman

And Ib sat down to writebut he could not manage it wellthe words would not come as he wished themand first he alteredand then he tore up the pagebut the next morning a letter lay ready to be sent to Christineand here it is

I hare read the letter you hare sent to your fatherand gather from it that you are prospering in all thingsand that there is a prospect of higher fortune for youAsk your heartChristineand think well over what you are going intoif you take me for your husbandwhat I possess is but littleDo not think of meor my positionbut think of your own welfareYou are bound to me by no promiseand if in your heart you have given me oneIrelease you from itMay all the joy of the world be yoursChristineHeaven will have comfort for my heart

Ever your sincere friendIB

And the letter was dispatchedand Christine duly received it

In the course of that November her banns were published in the church on the heathand in Copenhagenwhere her bridegroom livedand to Copenhagen she travelledwith her mistressbecause the bridegroom could not undertake the journey into Jutland on account of his various occupationsOn the journeyChristine met her father in a certain villageand here the two took leave of one anotherA few words were mentioned concerning this factbut Ib made no remark upon ithis mother said he had grown very silent of lateindeedhe had become very pensiveand thus the three nuts came into his mind which the gipsy woman had given him long agoand of which he had given two to ChristineYesit seemed right-in one of hers lay a golden carriage with horsesand in the other very elegant clothesall those luxuries would now be Christine's in the capitalHer part had thus come trueAnd to himIbthe nut had offered only black earthThe gipsy woman had said this wasthe best of all for him”.Yesit was nightthat also was coming trueThe black earth was the best for himNow he understood clearly what had been the woman's meaningIn the black earthin the dark gravewould be the best happiness for him

And once again years passed bynot very manybut they seemed long years to IbThe old innkeeper and his wife diedand the whole of their propertymany thousands of dollarscame to the sonYesnow Christine could have the golden carriage and plenty of fine clothes

During the two long years that followedno letter came from Christineand when her father at length received one from herit was not written in prosperityby any meansPoor Christineneither she nor her husband had understood how to keep the money togetherand there seemed to be no blessimg with itbecause they had not sought it

And again the heather bloomed and fadedThe snow had swept for many winters across the heathand over the ridge beneath which Ib dweltsheltered from the rough windsThe spring sun shone brightand Ib guided the plough across his fieldwhen one day it glided over what appeared to be a flint stoneSomething like a great black shaving came out of the groundand when Ib took it up it proved to be a piece of metaland where the plough had cut into itit gleamed brightlyIt was a great heavy arm-let of gold from heathen timesA grave-mound bad been levelled here and its precious treasure foundIb showed what he had found to the clergymanwho explained its value to himand then he betook himself to the local judgewho reported the discovery to Copenhagenand recommended Ib to deliver up the treasure in person

You have found in the earth the best thing you could find,” said the judge

The best thing!”thought Ib.“The very best thing for meand found in the earthWellif that is the bestthe gipsy woman was correct in what she prophesied to me

So Ib travelled with the boat from Aarhus to CopenhagenTo himwho had only crossed Gudenaait was like a voyage across the oceanAnd he arrived in Copenhagen

The value of the gold he had found was paid over to himit was a large sum-six hundred dollarsAnd Ib of the heath wandered about in the great capital

On the day on which he had settled to go back with the captainIb lost his way in the streetsand took quite a different direction from the one he intended to followHe had wandered into the suburb of Christianshaveninto a poor little streetNot a human being was to be seenAt last a very little girl came out of a wretched houseIb inquired of the little one the way to the street which he wantedbut she looked shyly at himand began to cry bitterlyHe asked her what ailed herbut could not understand what she said in replyBut as they were both under a lampand the light fell on the girl's facehe felt quite strangefor Christine stood bodily before himjust as he remembered her from the days of his childhood

And he went with the little maiden into the wretched houseand ascended the narrowcrazy staircasewhich led to a little attic chamber in the roofThe air in this chamber was heavy and almost suffocatingno light was burningbut there was heavy sighingand moaning in one cornerIb struck a light with the help of a matchIt was the mother of the child who lay on the miserable bed

Can I be of any service to you?”asked Ib.“This little girl has brought me up herebut I am a stranger in this cityAre there no neighbours or friends whom I could call to youAnd he raised the sick woman's head

It was Christine of the heath

For years her name had not been mentioned at home in Jutlandfor it would have disturbed Ib's peace of mindand rumour had told nothing good concerning herThe wealth which her husband had inherited from his parents had made him proud and arrogantHe had given up his certain appointmenthad travelled for half a year in foreign landsand on his return had incurred debtsand yet lived in an expensive fashionHis carriage had bent over more and moreso to speakuntil at last it turned over commapletelyThe many merry companions and table-friends he had entertained declared it served him rightfor he had kept house like a madmanand one morning his body was found in the canal

The hand of death was already on ChristineHer youngest childonly a few weeks oldexpected in prosperity and born in miserywas alresdy in its graveand it had come to this with Christine herselfthat she lay sick to death and forsakenin a miserable roomamid a poverty that she might well have borne in her childish daysbut which now oppressed her painfullysince she had been accustomed to better thingsIt was her eldest childalso a little Christinethat here suffered hunger and poverty with herand who had conducted Ib there

I am afraid I shall die and leave the poor child here alone,”she said.“Where in the world will she go then?”And not a word more could she utter

And Ib brought out another matchand lighted up a piece of candle he found in the roomand the flame illumined the wretched dwelling

And Ib looked at the little girland thought how Christine had looked when she was youngand he felt that for her sake he would be good to this childwhich was as yet a stranger to himThe dying woman gazed at himand her eyes opened wider and widerdid she recognize himHe never knewfor no further word passed over her lips

And it was in the forest by the river Gudenaain the region of the heathThe air was greyand there were no blossoms on the heath plantbut the autumn tempests whirled the yellow leaves from the wood into the streamand out over the heath towards the hut of the boatmanin which strangers now dweltbut beneath the ridgesafe beneath the protection of the high treesstood the little farmtrimly whitewashed and paintedand within it the turf blazed up cheerily in the chimneyfor within was sunlightthe beaming sunlight of a child's two eyesand the tones of the spring birds sounded in the words that came from the child's rosy lipsshe sat on Ib's kneeand Ib was to her both father and motherfor her own parents were deadand had vanished from her as a dream vanishes alike from children and grown menIb sat in the pretty neat housefor he was a prosperous manwhile the mother of the little girl rested in the churchyard at Copenhagenwhere she had died in poverty

Ib had moneyand was said to have provided for the futureHe had won gold out of the black earthand he had a Christine for his ownafter all

 


 

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