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