Ib and little Christina


Ib og lille Christine

In the forest that extends from the banks of the Gudenau, in North Jutland, a long way into the country, and not far from the clear stream, rises a great ridge of land, which stretches through the wood like a wall. Westward of this ridge, and not far from the river, stands a farmhouse, surrounded by such poor land that the sandy soil shows itself between the scanty ears of rye and wheat which grow in it. Some years have passed since the people who lived here cultivated these fields; they kept three sheep, a pig, and two oxen; in fact they maintained themselves very well, they had quite enough to live upon, as people generally have who are content with their lot. They even could have afforded to keep two horses, but it was a saying among the farmers in those parts, "The horse eats himself up;" that is to say, he eats as much as he earns. Jeppe Jans cultivated his fields in summer, and in the winter he made wooden shoes. He also had an assistant, a lad who understood as well as he himself did how to make wooden shoes strong, but light, and in the fashion. They carved shoes and spoons, which paid well; therefore no one could justly call Jeppe Jans and his family poor people.

Little Ib, a boy of seven years old and the only child, would sit by, watching the workmen, or cutting a stick, and sometimes his finger instead of the stick. But one day Ib succeeded so well in his carving that he made two pieces of wood look really like two little wooden shoes, and he determined to give them as a present to Little Christina. "And who was Little Christina?" She was the boatman's daughter, graceful and delicate as the child of a gentleman; had she been dressed differently, no one would have believed that she lived in a hut on the neighboring heath with her father. He was a widower, and earned his living by carrying firewood in his large boat from the forest to the eel-pond and eel-weir, on the estate of Silkborg, and sometimes even to the distant town of Randers. There was no one under whose care he could leave Little Christina; so she was almost always with him in his boat, or playing in the wood among the blossoming heath, or picking the ripe wild berries. Sometimes, when her father had to go as far as the town, he would take Little Christina, who was a year younger than Ib, across the heath to the cottage of Jeppe Jans, and leave her there.

Ib and Christina agreed together in everything; they divided their bread and berries when they were hungry; they were partners in digging their little gardens; they ran, and crept, and played about everywhere. Once they wandered a long way into the forest, and even ventured together to climb the high ridge. Another time they found a few snipes' eggs in the wood, which was a great event.

Ib had never been on the heath where Christina's father lived, nor on the river; but at last came an opportunity. Christina's father invited him to go for a sail in his boat; and the evening before, he accompanied the boatman across the heath to his house.

The next morning early, the two children were placed on the top of a high pile of firewood in the boat, and sat eating bread and wild strawberries, while Christina's father and his man drove the boat forward with poles. They floated on swiftly, for the tide was in their favor, passing over lakes, formed by the stream in its course; sometimes they seemed quite enclosed by reeds and water-plants, yet there was always room for them to pass out, although the old trees overhung the water and the old oaks stretched out their bare branches, as if they had turned up their sleeves and wished to show their knotty, naked arms. Old alder-trees, whose roots were loosened from the banks, clung with their fibres to the bottom of the stream, and the tops of the branches above the water looked like little woody islands. The water-lilies waved themselves to and fro on the river, everything made the excursion beautiful, and at last they came to the great eel-weir, where the water rushed through the flood-gates; and the children thought this a beautiful sight.

In those days there was no factory nor any town house, nothing but the great farm, with its scanty-bearing fields, in which could be seen a few herd of cattle, and one or two farm laborers. The rushing of the water through the sluices, and the scream of the wild ducks, were almost the only signs of active life at Silkborg. After the firewood had been unloaded, Christina's father bought a whole bundle of eels and a sucking-pig, which were all placed in a basket in the stern of the boat. Then they returned again up the stream; and as the wind was favorable, two sails were hoisted, which carried the boat on as well as if two horses had been harnessed to it.

As they sailed on, they came by chance to the place where the boatman's assistant lived, at a little distance from the bank of the river. The boat was moored; and the two men, after desiring the children to sit still, both went on shore. They obeyed this order for a very short time, and then forgot it altogether. First they peeped into the basket containing the eels and the sucking-pig; then they must needs pull out the pig and take it in their hands, and feel it, and touch it; and as they both wanted to hold it at the same time, the consequence was that they let it fall into the water, and the pig sailed away with the stream. Here was a terrible disaster.

Ib jumped ashore, and ran a little distance from the boat.

"Oh, take me with you," cried Christina; and she sprang after him. In a few minutes they found themselves deep in a thicket, and could no longer see the boat or the shore. They ran on a little farther, and then Christina fell down, and began to cry.

Ib helped her up, and said, "Never mind; follow me. Yonder is the house." But the house was not yonder; and they wandered still farther, over the dry rustling leaves of the last year, and treading on fallen branches that crackled under their little feet; then they heard a loud, piercing cry, and they stood still to listen. Presently the scream of an eagle sounded through the wood; it was an ugly cry, and it frightened the children; but before them, in the thickest part of the forest, grew the most beautiful blackberries, in wonderful quantities. They looked so inviting that the children could not help stopping; and they remained there so long eating, that their mouths and cheeks became quite black with the juice.

Presently they heard the frightful scream again, and Christina said, "We shall get into trouble about that pig."

"Oh, never mind," said Ib; "we will go home to my father's house. It is here in the wood." So they went on, but the road led them out of the way; no house could be seen, it grew dark, and the children were afraid. The solemn stillness that reigned around them was now and then broken by the shrill cries of the great horned owl and other birds that they knew nothing of. At last they both lost themselves in the thicket; Christina began to cry, and then Ib cried too; and, after weeping and lamenting for some time, they stretched themselves down on the dry leaves and fell asleep.

The sun was high in the heavens when the two children woke. They felt cold; but not far from their resting-place, on a hill, the sun was shining through the trees. They thought if they went there they should be warm, and Ib fancied he should be able to see his father's house from such a high spot. But they were far away from home now, in quite another part of the forest. They clambered to the top of the rising ground, and found themselves on the edge of a declivity, which sloped down to a clear transparent lake. Great quantities of fish could be seen through the clear water, sparkling in the sun's rays; they were quite surprised when they came so suddenly upon such an unexpected sight. Close to where they stood grew a hazel-bush, covered with beautiful nuts. They soon gathered some, cracked them, and ate the fine young kernels, which were only just ripe. But there was another surprise and fright in store for them. Out of the thicket stepped a tall old woman, her face quite brown, and her hair of a deep shining black; the whites of her eyes glittered like a Moor's; on her back she carried a bundle, and in her hand a knotted stick. She was a gypsy. The children did not at first understand what she said. She drew out of her pocket three large nuts, in which she told them were hidden the most beautiful and lovely things in the world, for they were wishing nuts.

Ib looked at her, and as she spoke so kindly, he took courage, and asked her if she would give him the nuts; and the woman gave them to him, and then gathered some more from the bushes for herself, quite a pocket full.

Ib and Christina looked at the wishing nuts with wide open eyes.

"Is there in this nut a carriage, with a pair of horses?" asked Ib.

"Yes, there is a golden carriage, with two golden horses," replied the woman.

"Then give me that nut," said Christina; so Ib gave it to her, and the strange woman tied up the nut for her in her handkerchief.

Ib held up another nut. "Is there, in this nut, a pretty little neckerchief like the one Christina has on her neck?" asked Ib.

"There are ten neckerchiefs in it," she replied, "as well as beautiful dresses, stockings, and a hat and veil."

"Then I will have that one also," said Christina; "and it is a pretty one too." And then Ib gave her the second nut. The third was a little black thing.

"You may keep that one," said Christina; "it is quite as pretty."

"What is in it?" asked Ib.

"The best of all things for you," replied the gypsy.

So Ib held the nut very tight. Then the woman promised to lead the children to the right path, that they might find their way home: and they went forward certainly in quite another direction to the one they meant to take; therefore no one ought to speak against the woman, and say that she wanted to steal the children.

In the wild wood-path they met a forester who knew Ib, and, by his help, Ib and Christina reached home, where they found every one had been very anxious about them. They were pardoned and forgiven, although they really had both done wrong, and deserved to get into trouble; first, because they had let the sucking-pig fall into the water; and, secondly, because they had run away.

Christina was taken back to her father's house on the heath, and Ib remained in the farm-house on the borders of the wood, near the great land ridge. The first thing Ib did that evening was to take out of his pocket the little black nut, in which the best thing of all was said to be enclosed. He laid it carefully between the door and the door-post, and then shut the door so that the nut cracked directly. But there was not much kernel to be seen; it was what we should call hollow or worm-eaten, and looked as if it had been filled with tobacco or rich black earth.

"It is just what I expected!" exclaimed Ib. "How should there be room in a little nut like this for the best thing of all? Christina will find her two nuts just the same; there will be neither fine clothes or a golden carriage in them."

Winter came; and the new year

many years passed away; until Ib was old enough to be confirmed, and, therefore, he went during a whole winter to the clergyman of the nearest village to be prepared. One day, about this time, the boatman paid a visit to Ib's parents, and told them that Christina was going to service, and that she had been remarkably fortunate in obtaining a good place, with most respectable people. "Only think," he said, "She is going to the rich innkeeper's, at the hotel in Herning, many miles west from here. She is to assist the landlady in the housekeeping; and, if afterwards she behaves well and remains to be confirmed, the people will treat her as their own daughter."

So Ib and Christina took leave of each other. People already called them "the betrothed," and at parting the girl showed Ib the two nuts, which she had taken care of ever since the time that they lost themselves in the wood; and she told him also that the little wooden shoes he once carved for her when he was a boy, and gave her as a present, had been carefully kept in a drawer ever since. And so they parted.

After Ib's confirmation, he remained at home with his mother, for he had become a clever shoemaker, and in summer managed the farm for her quite alone. His father had been dead some time, and his mother kept no farm servants.

Sometimes, but very seldom, he heard of Christina, through a postillion or eel-seller who was passing. But she was well off with the rich innkeeper; and after being confirmed she wrote a letter to her father, in which was a kind message to Ib and his mother. In this letter, she mentioned that her master and mistress had made her a present of a beautiful new dress, and some nice under-clothes. This was, of course, pleasant news.

One day, in the following spring, there came a knock at the door of the house where Ib's old mother lived; and when they opened it, lo and behold, in stepped the boatman and Christina. She had come to pay them a visit, and to spend the day. A carriage had to come from the Herning hotel to the next village, and she had taken the opportunity to see her friends once more. She looked as elegant as a real lady, and wore a pretty dress, beautifully made on purpose for her. There she stood, in full dress, while Ib wore only his working clothes. He could not utter a word; he could only seize her hand and hold it fast in his own, but he felt too happy and glad to open his lips. Christina, however, was quite at her ease; she talked and talked, and kissed him in the most friendly manner.

Even afterwards, when they were left alone, and she asked, "Did you know me again, Ib?" he still stood holding her hand, and said at last, "You are become quite a grand lady, Christina, and I am only a rough working man; but I have often thought of you and of old times."

Then they wandered up the great ridge, and looked across the stream to the heath, where the little hills were covered with the flowering broom. Ib said nothing; but before the time came for them to part, it became quite clear to him that Christina must be his wife: had they not even in childhood been called the betrothed? To him it seemed as if they were really engaged to each other, although not a word had been spoken on the subject.

They had only a few more hours to remain together, for Christina was obliged to return that evening to the neighboring village, to be ready for the carriage which was to start the next morning early for Herning. Ib and her father accompanied her to the village. It was a fine moonlight evening; and when they arrived, Ib stood holding Christina's hand in his, as if he could not let her go. His eyes brightened, and the words he uttered came with hesitation from his lips, but from the deepest recesses of his heart: "Christina, if you have not become too grand, and if you can be contented to live in my mother's house as my wife, we will be married some day. But we can wait for a while."

"Oh yes," she replied; "Let us wait a little longer, Ib. I can trust you, for I believe that I do love you. But let me think it over." Then he kissed her lips; and so they parted.

On the way home, Ib told the boatman that he and Christina were as good as engaged to each other; and the boatman found out that he had always expected it would be so, and went home with Ib that evening, and remained the night in the farmhouse; but nothing further was said of the engagement.

During the next year, two letters passed between Ib and Christina. They were signed, "Faithful till death;" but at the end of that time, one day the boatman came over to see Ib, with a kind greeting from Christina. He had something else to say, which made him hesitate in a strange manner. At last it came out that Christina, who had grown a very pretty girl, was more lucky than ever. She was courted and admired by every one; but her master's son, who had been home on a visit, was so much pleased with Christina that he wished to marry her. He had a very good situation in an office at Copenhagen, and as she had also taken a liking for him, his parents were not unwilling to consent. But Christina, in her heart, often thought of Ib, and knew how much he thought of her; so she felt inclined to refuse this good fortune, added the boatman.

At first Ib said not a word, but he became as white as the wall, and shook his head gently, and then he spoke,– "Christina must not refuse this good fortune."

"Then will you write a few words to her?" said the boatman.

Ib sat down to write, but he could not get on at all. The words were not what he wished to say, so he tore up the page. The following morning, however, a letter lay ready to be sent to Christina, and the following is what he wrote:–

"The letter written by you to your father I have read, and see from it that you are prosperous in everything, and that still better fortune is in store for you. Ask your own heart, Christina, and think over carefully what awaits you if you take me for your husband, for I possess very little in the world. Do not think of me or of my position; think only of your own welfare. You are bound to me by no promises; and if in your heart you have given me one, I release you from it. May every blessing and happiness be poured out upon you, Christina. Heaven will give me the heart's consolation.

Ever your sincere friend,

This letter was sent, and Christina received it in due time.

In the course of the following November, her banns were published in the church on the heath, and also in Copenhagen, where the bridegroom lived. She was taken to Copenhagen under the protection of her future mother-in-law, because the bridegroom could not spare time from his numerous occupations for a journey so far into Jutland. On the journey, Christina met her father at one of the villages through which they passed, and here he took leave of her. Very little was said about the matter to Ib, and he did not refer to it; his mother, however, noticed that he had grown very silent and pensive. Thinking as he did of old times, no wonder the three nuts came into his mind which the gypsy woman had given him when a child, and of the two which he had given to Christina. These wishing nuts, after all, had proved true fortune-tellers. One had contained a gilded carriage and noble horses, and the other beautiful clothes; all of these Christina would now have in her new home at Copenhagen. Her part had come true. And for him the nut had contained only black earth. The gypsy woman had said it was the best for him. Perhaps it was, and this also would be fulfilled. He understood the gypsy woman's meaning now. The black earth– the dark grave– was the best thing for him now.

Again years passed away; not many, but they seemed long years to Ib. The old innkeeper and his wife died one after the other; and the whole of their property, many thousand dollars, was inherited by their son. Christina could have the golden carriage now, and plenty of fine clothes.

During the two long years which followed, no letter came from Christina to her father; and when at last her father received one from her, it did not speak of prosperity or happiness. Poor Christina! Neither she nor her husband understood how to economize or save, and the riches brought no blessing with them, because they had not asked for it.

Years passed; and for many summers the heath was covered with bloom; in winter the snow rested upon it, and the rough winds blew across the ridge under which stood Ib's sheltered home. One spring day the sun shone brightly, and he was guiding the plough across his field. The ploughshare struck against something which he fancied was a firestone, and then he saw glittering in the earth a splinter of shining metal which the plough had cut from something which gleamed brightly in the furrow. He searched, and found a large golden armlet of superior workmanship, and it was evident that the plough had disturbed a Hun's grave. He searched further, and found more valuable treasures, which Ib showed to the clergyman, who explained their value to him. Then he went to the magistrate, who informed the president of the museum of the discovery, and advised Ib to take the treasures himself to the president.

"You have found in the earth the best thing you could find," said the magistrate.

"The best thing," thought Ib; "the very best thing for me,– and found in the earth! Well, if it really is so, then the gypsy woman was right in her prophecy."

So Ib went in the ferry-boat from Aarhus to Copenhagen. To him who had only sailed once or twice on the river near his own home, this seemed like a voyage on the ocean; and at length he arrived at Copenhagen.

The value of the gold he had found was paid to him; it was a large sum– six hundred dollars. Then Ib of the heath went out, and wandered about in the great city.

On the evening before the day he had settled to return with the captain of the passage-boat, Ib lost himself in the streets, and took quite a different turning to the one he wished to follow. He wandered on till he found himself in a poor street of the suburb called Christian's Haven. Not a creature could be seen. At last a very little girl came out of one of the wretched-looking houses, and Ib asked her to tell him the way to the street he wanted; she looked up timidly at him, and began to cry bitterly. He asked her what was the matter; but what she said he could not understand. So he went along the street with her; and as they passed under a lamp, the light fell on the little girl's face. A strange sensation came over Ib, as he caught sight of it. The living, breathing embodiment of Little Christina stood before him, just as he remembered her in the days of her childhood.

He followed the child to the wretched house, and ascended the narrow, crazy staircase which led to a little garret in the roof. The air in the room was heavy and stifling, no light was burning, and from one corner came sounds of moaning and sighing. It was the mother of the child who lay there on a miserable bed. With the help of a match, Ib struck a light, and approached her.

"Can I be of any service to you?" he asked. "This little girl brought me up here; but I am a stranger in this city. Are there no neighbors or any one whom I can call?" Then he raised the head of the sick woman, and smoothed her pillow. He started as he did so.

It was Christina of the heath!

No one had mentioned her name to Ib for years; it would have disturbed his peace of mind, especially as the reports respecting her were not good. The wealth which her husband had inherited from his parents had made him proud and arrogant. He had given up his certain appointment, and travelled for six months in foreign lands, and, on his return, had lived in great style, and got into terrible debt. For a time he had trembled on the high pedestal on which he had placed himself, till at last he toppled over, and ruin came. His numerous merry companions, and the visitors at his table, said it served him right, for he had kept house like a madman. One morning his corpse was found in the canal.

The cold hand of death had already touched the heart of Christina. Her youngest child, looked for in the midst of prosperity, had sunk into the grave when only a few weeks old; and at last Christina herself became sick unto death, and lay, forsaken and dying, in a miserable room, amid poverty she might have borne in her younger days, but which was now more painful to her from the luxuries to which she had lately been accustomed. It was her eldest child, also a Little Christina, whom Ib had followed to her home, where she suffered hunger and poverty with her mother.

"It makes me unhappy to think that I shall die, and leave this poor child," sighed she. "Oh, what will become of her?" She could say no more.

Then Ib brought out another match, and lighted a piece of candle which he found in the room, and it threw a glimmering light over the wretched dwelling.

Ib looked at the little girl, and thought of Christina in her young days. For her sake, could he not love this child, who was a stranger to him? As he thus reflected, the dying woman opened her eyes, and gazed at him. Did she recognize him? He never knew; for not another word escaped her lips.


In the forest by the river Gudenau, not far from the heath, and beneath the ridge of land, stood the little farm, newly painted and whitewashed. The air was heavy and dark; there were no blossoms on the heath; the autumn winds whirled the yellow leaves towards the boatman's hut, in which strangers dwelt; but the little farm stood safely sheltered beneath the tall trees and the high ridge. The turf blazed brightly on the hearth, and within was sunlight, the sparkling light from the sunny eyes of a child; the birdlike tones from the rosy lips ringing like the song of a lark in spring. All was life and joy. Little Christina sat on Ib's knee. Ib was to her both father and mother; her own parents had vanished from her memory, as a dream-picture vanishes alike from childhood and age. Ib's house was well and prettily furnished; for he was a prosperous man now, while the mother of the little girl rested in the churchyard at Copenhagen, where she had died in poverty.

Ib had money now– money which had come to him out of the black earth; and he had Christina for his own, after all.
Nær ved Gudenå, inde i Silkeborg Skov, løfter sig en landryg, som en stor vold, den kaldes "åsen" og under den mod vest lå, ja der ligger endnu, et lille bondehus med magre jorder; sandet skinner igennem den tynde rug- og bygager. Det er nu en del år siden; folkene, som boede der, drev deres lille avling, havde dertil tre får, et svin og to stude; kort sagt, de havde det ret vel til føden, når man tager den, som man har den, ja de kunne vel også have bragt det til at holde et par heste, men de sagde, som de andre bønder derovre: "Hesten æder sig selv!" – den tærer for det gode den gør. Jeppe-Jæns drev sin lille jordlod om sommeren, og var om vinteren en flink træskomand. Han havde da også medhjælp, en karl, der forstod at skære træsko, der var både stærke, lette og med facon; ske og slev skar de; det gav skillinger, man kunne ikke kalde Jeppe-Jæns for fattigfolk.

Lille Ib, den syvårs dreng, husets eneste barn sad og så til, skar i en pind, skar sig også i fingrene, men en dag havde han snittet to stykker træ, så at de så ud, som små træsko, de skulle, sagde han, foræres til lille Christine, og det var prammandens lille datter, og hun var så fin og så yndelig, som et herskabsbarn; havde hun klæder skåret, som hun var født og båret, så ville ingen tro at hun var fra lyngtørvhuset på Sejshede. Derovre boede hendes fader, der var enkemand og ernærede sig ved at pramme brænde fra skoven ned til Silkeborg åleværk, ja tit derfra videre op til Randers. Ingen havde han, der kunne tage vare på lille Christine, der var et år yngre end Ib og så var hun næsten altid hos ham, på prammen og mellem lyngen og tyttebærbuskene; skulle han endelig helt op til Randers, ja så kom lille Christine over til Jeppe-Jæns'.

Ib og lille Christine kom godt ud af det ved leg og ved fad; de rodede og de gravede, de krøb og de gik, og en dag vovede de sig ene to næsten helt op på åsen og et stykke ind i skoven, engang fandt de dér sneppeæg, det var en stor begivenhed.

Ib havde endnu aldrig været ovre på Sejshede, aldrig prammet igennem søerne ad Gudenå, men nu skulle han det: Han var indbudt af prammanden og aftnen forud fulgte han hjem med ham.

På de højt opstablede brændestykker i prammen sad tidlig om morgnen de to børn og spiste brød og hindbær. Prammanden og hans medhjælper stagede sig frem, det gik med strømmen, i rask fart ned ad åen, gennem søerne, der syntes at lukke sig ved skov og ved siv, men altid var der dog gennemfart, om endogså de gamle træer hældede sig helt ud og egetræerne strakte frem afskallede grene, ligesom om de havde opsmøgede ærmer og ville vise deres knudrede, nøgne arme; gamle elletræer, som strømmen havde løsnet fra skrænten, holdt sig med rødderne fast ved bunden, og så ud ligesom små skovøer; åkander vuggede på vandet; det var en dejlig fart! – og så kom man til åleværket, hvor vandet brusede gennem sluserne; det var noget for Ib og Christine at se på!

Dengang var endnu hernede hverken fabrik eller by, her stod kun den gamle avlsgård og besætningen der var ikke stor, vandets fald gennem slusen og vildandens skrig, det var dengang den stadigste livlighed. – Da nu brændet var prammet om, købte Christines fader sig et stort knippe ål og en lille slagtet gris, der alt tilsammen i en kurv blev stillet agter ude på prammen. Nu gik det mod strømmen hjem, men vinden var med og da de satte sejl til, var det lige så godt, som om de havde to heste for.

Da de med prammen var så højt oppe under skoven, at de lå ud for hvor manden, der hjalp med at pramme, havde kun et kort stykke hjem, så gik han og Christines fader i land, men pålagde børnene at forholde sig rolige og forsigtige, men det gjorde de ikke længe, de måtte se ned i kurven hvor ålene og grisen gemtes og grisen måtte de løfte på og holde den, og da de begge ville holde den så tabte de den og det lige ud i vandet; der drev den på strømmen, det var en forfærdelig begivenhed.

Ib sprang i land og løb et lille stykke, så kom også Christine; "tag mig med dig!" råbte hun, og nu var de snart inde i buskene, de så ikke længere prammen eller åen; et lille stykke endnu løb de, så faldt Christine og græd; Ib fik hende op.

"Kom med mig!" sagde han. "Huset ligger derovre!" men det lå ikke derovre. De gik og de gik, over vissent løv og tørre nedfaldne grene, der knagede under deres små fødder; nu hørte de en stærk råben – de stod stille og lyttede; nu skreg en ørn, det var et fælt skrig, de blev ganske forskrækket, men foran dem, inde i skoven, voksede de dejligste blåbær, en utrolig mængde; det var alt for indbydende til ikke at blive og de blev og de spiste, og blev ganske blå om mund og kinder. Nu hørtes igen en råben.

"Vi får bank for grisen!" sagde Christine.

"Lad os gå hjem til vort!" sagde Ib; "det er her i skoven!" og de gik; de kom på en kørevej, men hjem førte den ikke, mørkt blev det og angst var de. Den forunderlige stilhed rundt om afbrødes ved fæle skrig af den store hornugle eller lyd fra fugle, de ikke kendte; endelig stod de begge to fast i en busk, Christine græd og Ib græd, og da de så havde grædt en stund lagde de sig i løvet og faldt i søvn.

Solen var højt oppe da de vågnede, de frøs, men oppe på højden tæt ved, skinnede solen ned mellem træerne, der kunne de varme sig og derfra, mente Ib, måtte de kunne se hans forældres hus; men de var langt fra det, i en ganske anden del af skoven. De kravlede helt op på højden og stod på en skrænt ved en klar, gennemsigtig sø; fiskene i den stod i stime belyst af solstrålerne; det var så uventet hvad de så og tæt ved var en stor busk fuld af nødder, ja sågar syv kløvser; og de plukkede og de knækkede og fik de fine kærner, der havde begyndt at sætte sig, – og så kom der endnu en overraskelse, en forskrækkelse. Fra busken trådte frem en stor, gammel kone, hvis ansigt var så brunt og håret så glinsende og sort; det hvide i hendes øjne skinnede ligesom på en morian; hun havde en bylt på nakken, og en knortekæp i hånden; hun var en taterske. Børnene forstod ikke straks hvad hun sagde; og hun tog tre store nødder op af lommen, inde i hver lå de dejligste ting gemt, fortalte hun, det var ønskenødder.

Ib så på hende, hun var så venlig, og så tog han sig sammen og spurgte, om han måtte have de nødder og konen gav ham dem og plukkede sig en hel lomme fuld af dem på busken.

Og Ib og Christine så med store øjne på de tre ønskenødder.

"Er der i den en vogn med heste for?" spurgte Ib.

"Der er en guldkaret med guldheste!" sagde konen.

"Så giv mig den!" sagde lille Christine, og Ib gav hende den og konen knyttede nødden ind i hendes halstørklæde.

"Er der inde i denne sådant et lille kønt halsklæde, som det Christine dér har?" spurgte Ib.

"Der er ti halsklæder!" sagde konen, "der er fine kjoler, strømper og hat!"

"Så vil jeg også have den!" sagde Christine, og lille Ib gav hende også den anden nød; den tredje var en lille sort en.

"Den skal du beholde!" sagde Christine, "og den er også køn."

"Og hvad er der i den?" spurgte Ib.

"Det allerbedste for dig!" sagde taterkonen.

Og Ib holdt fast på nødden. Konen lovede at føre dem på rette vej hjem, og de gik, men rigtignok i en ganske modsat retning, end de skulle gå, men derfor tør man ikke beskylde hende for, at hun ville stjæle børn.

I den vildsomme skov mødte de skovløberen Chræn, han kendte Ib, og ved ham kom Ib med lille Christine hjem, hvor man var i stor angst for dem, og tilgivelse fik de, skønt de havde begge fortjent et godt livfuldt ris, først fordi de lod grisen falde i vandet og dernæst at de var løbet deres vej.

Christine kom hjem på heden og Ib blev i det lille skovhus; det første han der om aftnen gjorde, var at tage frem nødden, der gemte "det allerbedste"; – han lagde den mellem døren og dørkarmen, klemte så til, nødden knak, men ikke kerne skabt var der at se, den var fyldt ligesom med snus eller muldjord; der var gået orm i den, som det kaldes.

"Ja, det kunne jeg nok tænke!" mente Ib, "hvor skulle der, inde i den lille nød, være plads for det allerbedste! Christine får hverken fine klæder eller guldkaret ud af sine to nødder!"

Og vinteren kom og det nye år kom.

Og der gik flere åringer. Nu skulle Ib gå til præsten og han boede langvejs borte. På den tid kom en dag prammanden og fortalte hos Ibs forældre, at lille Christine skulle nu ud at tjene for sit brød, og at det var en sand lykke for hende, at hun kom i de hænder, hun kom, fik tjeneste hos sådanne brave folk; tænk, hun skulle til de rige krofolk i Herningkanten, vesterpå; der skulle hun gå mor til hånde og siden, når hun skikkede sig og der var konfirmeret, ville de beholde hende.

Og Ib og Christine tog afsked fra hinanden: Kærestefolkene blev de kaldt; og hun viste ham ved afskeden, at hun endnu havde de to nødder, som hun fik af ham da de løb vild i skoven, og hun sagde, at hun i sin klædekiste gemte de små træsko, han som dreng havde skåret og foræret hende. Og så skiltes de.

Ib blev konfirmeret, men i sin moders hus blev han, for han var en flink træskosnider og han passede godt om sommeren den lille avling, hans moder havde kun ham dertil, Ibs fader var død.

Kun sjældent, og det var da ved en postkarl eller en ålebonde, hørte man om Christine: Det gik hende godt hos de rige krofolk og da hun var blevet konfirmeret, skrev hun til faderen brev med hilsen til Ib og hans moder; i brevet stod om seks nye særke og en dejlig klædning, Christine havde fået af husbond og madmor. Det var rigtignok gode tidender.

Foråret derefter, en smuk dag, bankede det på Ibs og hans moders dør, det var prammanden med Christine; hun var kommet i besøg på en dags tid; der var just en lejlighed til Them og igen tilbage, og den benyttede hun. Smuk var hun, som en fin frøken, og gode klæder havde hun, de var syede vel og de passede til hende. I fuld stads stod hun og Ib var i de daglige, gamle klæder. Han kunne slet ikke komme til mæle; vel tog han hendes hånd, holdt den så fast, var så inderlig glad, men munden kunne han ikke få på gang, det kunne lille Christine, hun talte, hun vidste at fortælle og hun kyssede Ib lige på munden:

"Kender du mig ikke nok!" sagde hun; men selv da de var ene to og han endnu stod og holdt hende i hånden, var alt hvad han kunne sige, alene det: "Du er blevet ligesom en fin dame! og jeg ser så pjusket ud! hvor jeg har tænkt på dig, Christine! og på gamle tider!"

Og de gik arm i arm op på åsen og så over Gudenå til Sejshede med de store lyngbanker, men Ib sagde ikke noget, dog da de skiltes ad, var det klart for ham, at Christine måtte blive hans kone, de var jo fra små kaldt kærestefolk, de var, syntes han, et forlovet par, uagtet ingen af dem selv havde sagt det.

Kun nogle timer endnu kunne de være sammen, for hun skulle igen til Them, hvorfra tidlig næste morgen vognen kørte tilbage vesterpå. Faderen og Ib fulgte med til Them, det var klart måneskin, og da de kom der og Ib endnu holdt Christines hånd, kunne han ikke slippe den, hans øjne de var så klare, men ordene faldt kun småt, men det var hjerteord hvert eneste et: "Er du ikke blevet for fint vant," sagde han, "og kan du finde dig i at leve i vor mors hus med mig, som ægtemand, så bliver vi to engang mand og kone! – – men vi kan jo vente lidt!"

"Ja, lad os se tiden an, Ib!" sagde hun; og så trykkede hun hans hånd og han kyssede hende på hendes mund. "Jeg stoler på dig, Ib!" sagde Christine, "og jeg tror, at jeg holder af dig! men lad mig sove på det!"

Og så skiltes de ad. Og Ib sagde til prammanden, at han og Christine var nu så godt som forlovede, og prammanden fandt, at det var, som han altid havde tænkt om det; og han fulgte hjem med Ib og sov der i seng med ham, og der taltes så ikke mere om forlovelsen.

Et år var gået; to breve var vekslet mellem Ib og Christine; "trofast til døden!" stod der ved underskriften. En dag trådte prammanden ind til Ib, han havde hilsen til ham fra Christine; hvad mere han havde at sige, gik det lidt langsomt med, men det var det, at det gik Christine vel, mere end vel, hun var jo en køn pige, agtet og afholdt. Kromandens søn havde været hjemme på besøg; han var ansat ved noget stort i København, ved et kontor: Han syntes godt om Christine, hun fandt ham også efter sit sind, hans forældre var nok ikke uvillige, men nu lå det dog Christine på hjertet, at nok Ib tænkte så meget på hende, og så havde hun betænkt at skyde lykken fra sig, sagde prammanden.

Ib sagde i førstningen ikke et ord, men han blev lige så hvid, som et klæde, rystede lidt med hovedet og så sagde han: "Christine må ikke skyde sin lykke fra sig!"

"Skriv hende det par ord til!" sagde prammanden.

Og Ib skrev også, men han kunne ikke ret sætte ordene sammen, som han ville, og han slog streg over og han rev itu, – men om morgnen var der et brev i stand til lille Christine, og her er det!

– "Det brev, du har skrevet til din fader, har jeg læst og ser, at det går dig vel i alle måder og at du kan få det endnu bedre! Spørg dit hjerte ad, Christine! og tænk vel over hvad du går ind til, om du tager mig; det er kun ringe hvad jeg har. Tænk ikke på mig og hvordan jeg har det, men tænk på dit eget gavn! Mig er du ikke bundet til ved løfte, og har du i dit hjerte givet mig et, så løser jeg dig fra det. Alverdens glæde være over dig, lille Christine! Vorherre har vel trøst for mit hjerte!

Altid din inderlige ven,

Og brevet blev afsendt og Christine fik det.

Ved mortensdagstider blev der lyst fra prædikestolen for hende, i kirken på heden og ovre i København, hvor brudgommen var, og derover rejste hun med sin madmor, da brudgommen, for sine mange forretningers skyld, ikke kunne komme så langt over i Jylland. Christine havde, efter aftale, truffet sammen med sin fader i landsbyen Funder, som vejen går igennem og som var ham det nærmeste mødested; der tog de to afsked. Derom kom til at falde et par ord, men Ib sagde ikke noget; han var blevet så eftertænksom, sagde hans gamle mor; ja eftertænksom var han, og derfor randt ham i tanke de tre nødder, han som barn fik af taterkonen og gav Christine de to af, det var ønskenødder, i hendes den ene lå jo en guldkaret med heste, i den anden de dejligste klæder; det slog til! al den herlighed fik hun nu ovre i kongens København! for hende gik det i opfyldelse –! for Ib var der i nødden kun den sorte muld. "Det allerbedste" for ham, havde taterkonen sagt, – jo, også det gik i opfyldelse! den sorte muld var ham det bedste. Nu forstod han tydeligt hvad konen havde ment: I den sorte jord, i gravens gemme, der var det ham det allerbedste!

Og der gik åringer, – ikke mange, men lange, syntes Ib; de gamle krofolk døde bort, den ene kort efter den anden; al velstanden, mange tusinde rigsdaler gik til sønnen. Ja, nu kunne Christine få guldkaret og fine klæder nok.

I to lange år, som fulgte, kom ikke brev fra Christine, og da så faderen fik et, var det slet ikke skrevet i velstand og fornøjelse. Stakkels Christine! hverken hun eller hendes mand havde vidst at holde måde på rigdommen, den gik, som den kom, der var ingen velsignelse ved den, for de ville det ikke selv.

Og lyngen stod i blomster og lyngen tørrede hen; sneen havde mange vintre fyget over Sejs Hede, over åsen hvor Ib boede i læ; forårssolen skinnede og Ib satte ploven i jorden, da skar den, som han troede, hen af en flintesten, der kom ligesom en stor sort høvlspån op over jorden, og da Ib tog på den, mærkede han, at det var et metal, og hvor ploven havde skåret ind i det, skinnede det blankt. Det var en tung, stor armring af guld fra hedenold; kæmpegraven var blevet jævnet her, dens kostelige smykke fundet. Ib viste det til præsten, der sagde ham hvad herligt det var og derfra gik Ib med det til herredsfogeden, der gav indberetning derom til København og rådede Ib selv at overbringe det kostelige fund.

"Du har fundet i jorden det bedste, du kunne finde!" sagde herredsfogeden.

"Det bedste!" tænkte Ib. "Det allerbedste for mig – og i jorden! så havde taterkvinden dog også ret med mig, når det var det bedste!"

Og Ib gik med smakken fra Århus til kongens København; det var som en rejse over verdenshavet, for ham, som kun havde sat over Gudenå. Og Ib kom til København.

Værdien af det fundne guld blev udbetalt ham, det var en stor sum: seks hundrede rigsdaler. Dér gik i det store, vildsomme København Ib fra skoven ved Sejshede.

Det var netop aftnen før han ville med skipperen tilbage til Århus, da han forvildede sig i gaderne, kom i en ganske anden retning, end den han ville, og var, over Knippelsbro, kommet til Christianshavn i stedet for ned mod volden ved Vesterport! Han styrede ganske rigtigt vesterpå, men ikke hvor han skulle. Der var ikke et menneske at se på gaden. Da kom der en lille bitte pige ud fra et fattigt hus; Ib talte til hende om vejen, han søgte; hun studsede, så op på ham og var i heftig gråd. Nu var hans spørgsmål, hvad hun fejlede, hun sagde noget, som han ikke forstod og idet de begge var lige under en lygte, og lyset fra den skinnede hende lige ind i ansigtet, blev han ganske underlig, for det var livagtig lille Christine han så, ganske, som han huskede hende fra de begge var børn.

Og han gik med den lille pige ind i det fattige hus, op ad den smalle, slidte trappe, højt op til et lille, skråt kammer under taget. Der var en tung, kvalm luft derinde, intet lys tændt; henne i krogen sukkede det og drog vejret trangt. Ib tændte en svovlstik. Det var barnets moder, som lå på den fattige seng.

"Er der noget, jeg kan hjælpe eder med!" sagde Ib. "Den lille fik mig fat, men jeg er fremmed selv her i staden. Er her ingen naboer eller nogen, jeg kan kalde på!" – Og han løftede hendes hoved.

Det var Christine fra Sejshede.

I åringer var derhjemme i Jylland hendes navn ikke blevet nævnt, det ville have rørt op i Ibs stille tankegang, og det var jo ikke heller godt, hvad rygtet og sandheden meldte, at de mange penge, hendes mand fik i arv fra hans forældre, havde gjort ham overmodig og vildsom; sin faste stilling havde han opgivet, rejst et halvt år i fremmede lande, kommet tilbage og gjort gæld og dog flankeret; mere og mere hældede vognen og til sidst væltede den. De mange lystige venner fra hans bord sagde om ham, at han fortjente det, som det gik ham, han havde jo levet, som en gal mand! – Hans lig var en morgen fundet i kanalen i Slotshaven.

Christine gik med døden i sig; hendes yngste lille barn, kun nogle uger gammelt, båret i velstand, født i elendighed, var alt i graven og nu var det så vidt med Christine, at hun lå dødssyg, forladt, på et usselt kammer, usselt, som hun kunne have tålt det i sine unge år på Sejshede, men nu bedre vant, ret følte elendigheden af. Det var hendes ældste, lille barn, også en lille Christine, der led nød og sult med hende, og som havde fået Ib derop.

"Jeg er bange, jeg dør fra det stakkels barn!" fremsukkede hun, "hvor i verden skal hun så hen!" – mere kunne hun ikke sige.

Og Ib fik igen en svovlstik tændt og fandt en stump lys, den brændte og lyste i det usle kammer.

Og Ib så på den lille pige og tænkte på Christine i unge dage; for Christines skyld kunne han være god mod dette barn, som han ikke kendte. Den døende så på ham, hendes øjne blev større og større –! Kendte hun ham? Ikke vidste han det, ikke et ord hørte han hende sige.


Og det var i skoven ved Gudenå, nær Sejshede; luften var grå, lyngen stod uden blomster, vestens storme drev det gule løv fra skoven ud i åen og hen over heden hvor græstørvhuset stod, hvor fremmede folk boede; men under åsen, godt i læ bag høje træer stod det lille hus, hvidtet og malet; inde i stuen brændte i kakkelovnen klynetørvene, inde i stuen var solskin, der strålede fra to barneøjne, forårets lærkeslag lød i talen fra dets røde, leende mund; der var liv og lystighed, lille Christine var der; hun sad på Ibs knæ; Ib var hende fader og moder, de var borte, som drømmen er det for barnet og den voksne. Ib sad i det nette, pyntelige hus, en velhavende mand; den lille piges moder lå på de fattiges kirkegård ved kongens København.

Ib havde penge på kistebunden, sagde de, guld fra muld, og han havde jo også lille Christine.

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