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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Knitting-Room

By Steen Steensen Blicher (1782–1848)

IT was the eve before Christmas Eve—no, stop! I am lying—it was the eve before that, come to think of it, that there was a knitting-bee going on at the schoolmaster’s, Kristen Kornstrup’s,—you know him? There were plenty that knew him, for in the winter he was schoolmaster, and in the summer he was mason, and he was alike clever at both. And he could do more than that, for he could stop the flow of blood, and discover stolen goods, and make the wind turn, and read prayers over felons, and much more too. But at this exorcising he was not so good as the parson, for he had not been through the black school.

So we had gathered there from the whole town,—oh, well, Lysgaard town is not so mighty big: there are only six farms and some houses, but then they were there too from Katballe and Testrup, and I think the lads from Knakkeborg had drifted over too—but that doesn’t matter. We had got it measured off at last, and all of us had got our yarn over the hook in the ceiling above the table, and had begun to let the five needles work. Then the schoolmaster says, “Isn’t there one of you that will sing something or tell something? then it will go so nicely with the work here.” Then she began to speak, Kirsten Pedersdatter from Paps,—for she is always forward about speaking:—“I could sing you a little ditty if you cared to hear it—” “That we do,” said I, “rattle it off!”—And she sang a ditty—I had never heard it before, but I remember it well enough, and it ran this way:—


But now I will tell you a story about a Poorman [gipsy] and what happened to him.

“If,” said he—Mads Ur—“if you have been in Herning or thereabout, you know that there is a great marsh south of it. That same marsh is not so very nice to cross for those that don’t know it well.

“It was the summer I was working for Kristens that a cow sank down out there, and it was one of those I was watching. I took her by the horns and I took her by the tail, but she would not help herself at all, and when one won’t do a little bit, what is going to become of one? As I stand there pulling at that same refractory cow, up comes a Poorman from over at Rind, one of those they call knackers. ‘I’ll have to help you,’ said he: ‘you take hold of the horns, and I’ll lift the tail.’ That worked, for he pricked her under the tail with his pikestaff, and she was of a mind to help herself too. ‘What do you give me for that now?’ said he. ‘I have nothing to give you,’ said I, ‘nothing but thanks.’ ‘I won’t have them,’ answered he, ‘but if ever I should sink down on one road or another, will you lend me a hand if you are near by?’ ‘That I will do, indeed,’ answered I; and then he tramped up to town, and that was all.

“How was it now that I came to work in Sund’s parsonage?—well, that doesn’t matter—I could swing a scythe, but how old I was I don’t remember, for I don’t rightly know how old I am now. The parson was a mighty good man, but God help us for the wife he had! She was as bad to him as any woman could be, and he hadn’t a dog’s chance with her. I have saved him twice from her grip, for he was a little scared mite of a thing, and she was big and strong, but I was stronger still, and I could get the better of her. Once she chased him around the yard with a knife in her hand, and cried that she would be even with him. I did not like that, so I took the knife from her and warned her to behave herself,—but that wasn’t what I meant to say. Well, once while I was working there I stood near the pond looking at the aftermath. And up comes this same customer—this Poorman—drifting along the road toward me, and he had two women following him, and they each had a cradle on their backs and a child in each cradle. ‘Good day to you,’ said I. ‘Same to you,’ said he; ‘how is your cow? Have you let her get into the marsh since?’ ‘Oh, no,’ said I, ‘and here is another thank-ye to you.’ ‘Are you working in this here bit of a parsonage?’ said he. ‘That I am,’ said I. ‘Well, now listen,’ said he; ‘couldn’t you hide me these two with their little ones a day or so? for to-morrow there is to be a raid on our people, and I wouldn’t like to have these in Viborghouse; I can stow myself away easy enough.’ ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ answered I; ‘let them come, say a little after bedtime, to the West house there, and I’ll get a ladder ready and help them up on the hayloft,—but have you food and drink yourself?’ ‘Oh, I shall do well enough,’ said he, ‘and now farewell to you until the sun is down.’ So then they drifted along the road to a one-horse farm, and that evening they came, sure enough, and I hid the two women and the children until the second night; then they slipped away again. Before I parted with them, the Poorman said, ‘I’d like to repay you this piece of work: isn’t there something you want very much?’ ‘Yes,’ said I.—‘What might it be?’—‘Hm! The only thing is Morten’s Ane Kirstine at the farm where you went last night. But her parents won’t let me have her; they say I have too little, and that is true too.’ ‘Hm, man,’ says he, ‘you look as if you had a pair of strong arms of your own; that is a good heirloom, and she has some pennies,—in a couple of days you might go and see what the old man’s mind is. I’ll help along the best I know how.’ I listened to that, for evil upon them, those gipsies—they are not such fools. They can tell fortunes and discover stolen goods, and they can do both good and evil as it may happen.

“I thought over this thing a couple of days and some of the nights too, and then the third day I drifted over to Morten’s. Ane Kirstine stood alone outside the gate with her back turned, for she was busy whitewashing a wall, so I came upon her before she knew it. ‘Mercy on us! is that you?’ she cried, ‘where have you been all these many days?’—‘I have been at home, and in the field, and on the heath, as it happened, and now I come to take a look at you.’—‘I am not worth looking at,’ said she, and thrust her clay-covered hands down into the pail to rinse off the clay. ‘I don’t care,’ says I, ‘whether you are yellow or gray, for you are the best friend I’ve got in this world; but I suppose I shall never be worthy of taking you in my arms in all honor and virtue.’—‘It would be bad if that couldn’t be,’ said she, ‘but it may happen we have got to wait awhile.’—‘I can’t wait over-long,’ said I, ‘for my mother will have no roof over her head, and either I shall have to take the farm or else a sister; that is how it stands, and it cannot be otherwise.’—Then she began to sniffle, and dried her eyes and sighed, but said nothing. I felt sorry for her, but what was there for one to do?

“Well, some one came who could tell us what to do, and it was none other than that same Poorman. Along he tramps with one of his women, and had his glass case on his back and wanted to get into the farm. Then he turned toward us and said:—‘Well, well! what are you two doing there? Come along in with me, little girl, and I’ll see if I can’t manage it for you; but you stay out here, my little man! then we’ll see what may come of it.’—They went, and I sat down on a stone that was lying there and folded my hands. I was not over-happy. I don’t know how long I sat there, for I had fallen asleep; but then I was waked by some one kissing me, and it was no other than Ane Kirstine. ‘Are you sitting there sleeping?’ said she; ‘come along in now, it is as it ought to be. The knacker has spoken a good word for us to mother, and when nothing could change her he said, “There is a black cock sitting on the perch: maybe a red one will crow over you if you don’t do as I say.” At this she got a little bit scared, and said, “Then let it be! but this I tell you, Ane Kirstine, I’ll keep the black-headed cow for milking, and I’ll have all the hay that is my share.”—“That is no more than reasonable,” said I, “and now we have no more to quarrel about, I suppose.” Now you can let them publish the banns when you please.’ ‘And now, Ane Kirstine,’ said I, ‘this tramp here, he must have a reward, and I’ll give it with a good will; and if we can get hold of him when we have our feast, he shall have a pot of soup and a hen to himself and those women and children.’—‘That is right enough,’ said she; ‘and I will give them a rag or so, or a few more of my half-worn clothes.’

“Well, then my mother-in-law made a splendid feast, and there was plenty of everything. The Poorman was there, too, with all his following; but they had theirs by themselves, as you might know, seeing that they were of the knacker kind. Him I gave a coat, and Ane Kirstine gave the women each a cap and a kerchief and a piece of homespun for a petticoat for each of the young ones, and they were mighty well pleased.

“I and Ane Kirstine had lived happily together for about four years, as we do still, and all that time we had seen nothing of that Poorman, although we had spoken of him now and again. Sometimes we thought he had perished, and sometimes that they had put him into Viborghouse. Well, then it was that we were to have our second boy christened, him we called Sören, and I went to the parson to get this thing fixed up. As I came on the marsh to the selfsame place where I saw that Poor-customer the first time, there was somebody lying at one edge of the bog, on his back in the heather and with his legs in the ditch. I knew him well enough. ‘Why are you lying here alone?’ said I: ‘is anything the matter with you?’ ‘I think I am dying,’ said he, but he gasped so I could hardly understand him. ‘Where are those women,’ said I, ‘that you used to have with you? Have they left you to lie here by the road?’ He nodded his head and whispered, ‘A drop of water.’ ‘That I will give you,’ said I, and then I took some of the rainwater that stood in the ditch, in the hollow of my hat, and held it to his mouth. But that was of no use, for he could drink no longer, but drew up his legs and opened his mouth wide, and then the spirit left him. I felt so sorry for him that when I came to the parson’s I begged that his poor ghost might be sheltered in the churchyard. That he gave me leave to do, and then I fetched him on my own wagon and nailed a couple of boards together and laid him down in the northwestern corner, and there he lies.”

“Well now, that was it,” said Kristen Katballe, “but why do you sit there so still, Marie Kjölvroe? Can you neither sing nor tell us something?” “That is not impossible,” said she, and heaved a sigh, and sang so sadly that one might almost think it had happened to her.