Few wanted to admit that. But your profile, said a third, bringing up something new; the dike will be as broad on the outside toward the water as other things are long. Where shall we get the material? When shall the work be done?
Angry laughter passed along the whole company. But what is all that useless labor for? The dike isnt supposed to be any bigger than the old one; cried a new voice; and Im sure thats stood for over thirty years.
You are right, said Hauke, thirty years ago the old dike broke; then backwards thirty-five years ago, and again forty-five years ago; but since then, although it is still standing steep and senseless, the highest floods have spared us. But the new dike is to stand in spite of such floods for hundreds of years; for it will not be broken through; because the gentle slope toward the sea gives the waves no point of attack, and so you will gain safe land for yourselves and your children, and that is why the government and the dikemaster general support meand, besides, that is what you ought to be aware of for your own profit.
When the assembled were not ready on the spot to answer these words, an old white-haired man rose with difficulty from his chair. It was Elkes godfather, Jewe Manners, who, in response to Haukes beseeching, had kept his office as dike overseer.
Dikemaster Hauke Haien, he said, you give us much commotion and expense, and I wish you had waited with all this until the Lord had called me to rest; butyou are right, and only unreason can deny that. We ought to thank God every day that He has kept us our precious piece of foreland against storms and the force of the tide, in spite of our idleness; now, I believe, is the eleventh hour, in which we must lend a hand and try to save it for ourselves to the best of our knowledge and powers, and not defy Gods patience any longer. I, my friends, am an old man; I have seen dikes built and broken; but the dike that Hauke Haien has proposed according to his God-given insight and has carried through with the governmentthat dike none of you living men will see broken. And if you dont want to thank him yourselves, your grandchildren some day will not deny him his laurel wreath.
Jewe Manners sat down again; he took his blue handkerchief from his pocket and wiped a few drops from his forehead. The old man was still known as a man of efficiency and irreproachable integrity, and as the assembly was not inclined to agree with him, it remained silent. But Hauke Haien took the floor, though all saw that he had grown pale.
I thank you, Jewe Manners, he said, for staying here and for what you have said. You other gentlemen, have the goodness at least to consider the building of the new dike, which indeed will be my burden, as something that cannot be helped any more, and let us decide accordingly what needs to be done.
A while ago someone has asked, he began, from where we shall get the soil? You see, as far as the foreland stretches out into the flooded district, a strip of land is left free outside of the dike line; from this we can take our soil and from the foreland which runs north and south along the dike from the new enclosed land. If we have a good layer of clay at the water side, at the inside and the middle we can take sand. Now first we have to get a surveyor to mark off the line of the new dike on the foreland. The one who helped me work out my plan will be best suited for the work. Furthermore we have to order some one-horse tip-carts at a cartwrights for the purpose of getting our clay and other material. For damming the channel and also for the inside, where we may have to use sand, we shall needI cannot tell now how many cartloads of straw for the dike, perhaps more than can be spared in the marshes. Let us discuss then now how all this is to be acquired and arranged. The new lock here, too, on the west side toward the water will have to be given over to an efficient carpenter later for repairs.
The assembly gathered round the table, looked at the map with half attention and gradually began to talk; but it seemed as if they did it merely so that there might be some talking. When it came to the choice of a surveyor, one of the younger ones remarked: You have thought it out, dikemaster; you must know best yourself who is fit for it.
But one of the older ones did not think it would be so perfectly all right. He had a nephew, a surveyor, the like of whom had never been in the marshes, who was said to surpass the dikemasters father, the late Tede Haien.
So there was a discussion about the two surveyors and it was finally decided to let both do the work together. There was similar disputing over the carts, the furnishing of the straw and everything else, and Hauke came home late and almost exhausted on his brown horse which he was still riding at that time. But when he sat in the old armchair, handed down from his self-important but more easy-going predecessor, his wife was quickly at his side: You look tired, Hauke, she said, and with her slender hand pushed his hair out of his forehead.
When after a few weeks the dike line had been marked off and most of the carts had been furnished, the dikemaster had gathered together in the inn by the church all the shareholders of the land to be diked in and also the owners of the land behind the old dike. He wanted to present to them a plan for the distribution of the work and the cost and to hear their possible objections; for the owners of the old land had to bear their part of the labor land the cost because the new dike and the new sluices would lessen the running expenses of the older ones. This plan had been a hard piece of work for Hauke and if he had not been given a dike messenger and a dike clerk through the mediation of the dikemaster general, he could not have accomplished it so soon, although again he was working well into the night. When he went to bed, tired to death, his wife no longer waited for him with feigned sleep; she, too, had such a full share of daily work that she lay, as if at the bottom of a deep well, in a sleep that could not be disturbed.
Now Hauke read his plan and again spread his papers out on the tablepapers which, to be sure, had already lain for three days in the inn for inspection. Some serious men were present, who regarded this conscientious diligence with awe, and who, after quiet consideration, submitted to the low charge of the dikemaster. But others, whose shares in the new land had been sold either by themselves or their fathers or someone else who had bought them, complained because they had to pay part of the expenses of the new diked-in land which no longer concerned them, not thinking that through the new work the old lands would be less costly to keep up. Again there were others who were blessed with shares for the new land who clamoured that one should buy these of them for very little, because they wanted to be rid of shares that burdened them with such unreasonable labor. Old Peters who was leaning against the doorpost with a grim face, shouted into the midst: Think first and then trust in our dikemaster! He knows how to calculate; he already had most of the shares, then he was clever enough to get mine at a bargain, and when he had them, he decided to dike in the new land.
After these words for a moment a deadly silence fell upon the assembly. The dikemaster stood by the table where he had spread out his papers before; he raised his head and looked over to Old Peters: You know very well, Ole Peters, he said, that you are libeling me; you are doing it just the same, because you know that, nevertheless, a good part of the dirt you are throwing at me will cling to me. The truth is that you wanted to be rid of your shares, and that at that time I needed them for my sheep raising. And if you want to know more I will tell you that the dirty words which escaped your lips here at the inn, namely that I was made dikemaster only on account of my wifethat they have stirred me up and I wanted to show you all that I could be dikemaster on my own account. And so, Ole Peters, I have done what the dikemaster before me ought to have done. If you are angry, though, because at that time your shares were made mineyou hear now, there are enough who want to sell theirs cheaply, because the work connected with them is too much.
But they did not finish after all, although Ole Peters was silent, and the people did not disperse till supper time. Not until they had a second meeting was everything settled, and then only after Hauke had agreed to furnish four teams in the next month instead of the three that were his share.
At last, when the Whitsuntide bells were ringing through the land, the work had begun: unceasingly the dumpcarts were driven from the foreland to the dike line, there to dump the clay, and in the same way an equal number was driven back to get new clay from the foreland. At the line of the dike itself men stood with shovels and spades in order to put the dumped clay into its right place and to smooth it. Huge loads of straw were driven up and taken down. This straw was not only used to cover the lighter material, like sand and loose earth, which was used for the inside; gradually single pieces of the dike were finished, and the sod with which they were covered was in places securely overlaid with straw as a protection against the gnawing waves. Inspectors engaged for the purpose walked back and forth, and when it was stormy, they stood with wide open mouths and shouted their orders through wind and storm. In and out among them rode the dikemaster on his white horse, which he now used exclusively, and the animal flew back and forth with its rider, while he have his orders quickly and drily, praised the workmen, or, as it happened sometimes, dismissed a lazy or clumsy man without mercy. That cant be helped! he would cry; we cant have the dike spoiled on account of your laziness! From far, when he came up from the enclosed land below, they heard the snorting of his horse, and all hands went to work more briskly. Come on, get to work! Theres the rider on the white horse!
During breakfast time, when the workmen sat together in masses on the ground, with their morning bread, Hauke rode along the deserted works, and his eyes were sharp to spy where slovenly hands had used the spade. Then when he rode up to the men and explained to them how the work ought to be done, they would look up at him and keep on chewing their bread patiently; but he never heard a word of assent or even any remark. Once at this time of day, though rather late, when he had found the work on a part of the dike particularly well done, he rode to the nearest assembly of breakfasting men, jumped down from his white horse and asked cheerfully who had done such a neat days work. But they only looked at him shyly and sombrely and only slowly, as if against their will, a few names were given. The man to whom he had given his horse, which stood as meekly as a lamb, held it with both hands and looked as if he were frightened at the animals beautiful eyes fixed, as usual, upon its master.
Hauke laughed and took the horse by the reins himself, when immediately it rubbed its head caressingly against his shoulder. Some of the workmen looked shyly at horse and rider, others ate their morning meal silently, as if all this were no concern of theirs, and now and then threw a crumb to the gulls who had remembered this feeding place and with their slender wings almost descended on the heads of the men. For a while the dikemaster gazed absently at the begging birds as they chased with their bills the bits thrown at them; then he leaped to his saddle and rode away, without turning round to look at the men. Some of the words that now were being spoken among them sounded to him like derision. What can that mean? he spoke to himself. Was Elke right when she said that all were against me? These laborers and poorer people, too, many of whom will be well off through my new dike?
He spurred on his horse, which flew down into the enclosed land as if it were mad. To be sure, he himself knew nothing of the uncanny glamour with which the rider of the white horse had been clothed by his former servant boy; but now the people should have seen him, with his eyes staring out of his haggard face, his coat fluttering on his fiery white horse.
Thus summer and autumn had passed and until toward the end of November the work had been continued; then frost and snow had put a stop to the labors and it was decided to leave the land that was to be diked in, open. Eight feet the dike rose above the level of the land. Only where the lock was to be made on the west side toward the water, a gap had been left; the channel up in front of the old dike had not yet been touched. So the flood could make its way into the enclosed land without doing it or the new dike either any great damage. And this work of human hands was entrusted to the great God and put under His protection until the spring sun should make possible its completion.
In the mean time a happy event had been expected in the house of the dikemaster: in the ninth year of his marriage a child had been born. It was red and shrivelled and weighed seven pounds, as new-born children should when they belong, as this one did, to the female sex; only its crying was strangely muffled and did not please the wise woman. The worst of all was that on the third day Elke was seized with high childbed fever, was delirious and recognised neither her husband nor her old helper. The unbounded joy that had come over Hauke at the sight of his child had turned to sorrow. The doctor from the city was called, he sat at her bedside and felt her pulse and looked about helplessly. Hauke shook his head: He wont help; only God can help! He had thought out a Christianity of his own, but there was something that kept back his prayer. When the old doctor had driven away, Hauke stood by the window, staring out into the wintry day, and while the patient was screaming in her delirium, he folded his handshe did not know whether he did so in devotion or so as not to lose himself in his terrible fear.
The sea! The sea! wailed the patient. Hold me! she screamed; hold me, Hauke! Then her voice sank; it sounded, as if she were crying: Out on the sea, on the wide sea. Oh, God, Ill never see him again!
He laid her back on her pillows; then he pressed his hands together convulsively: Lord, my God, he cried; dont take her from me! Thou knowest, I cannot live without her! Then it seemed as if a thought came to him, and he added in a lower voice: I know well Thou canst not always do as Thou wouldstnot even Thou; Thou art all-wise; Thou must act according to Thy wisdom. Oh Lord, speak to me through a breath!
It seemed as if there were a sudden calm. He only heard low breathing; when he turned to the bed, he saw his wife lying in a quiet sleep and the nurse looking at him with horrified eyes. He heard the door move.
Hauke made no reply. The practise of holding seceding conventicles, which at that time was in full swing, had also blossomed out among the Frisians. Down-and-out artisans and schoolmasters dismissed as drunkards played the leading parts, and girls, young and old women, lazy and lonely people went eagerly to the secret meetings at which anybody could play the priest. Of the dikemasters household Ann Gerthe and the servant boy in love with her spent their free evenings there. To be sure, Elke had not concealed her doubtful opinion of this from Hauke, but he had said that in matters of faith one ought not to interfere with anyone: this could not hurt anybody, and it was better to have them go there than to the inn for whiskey.
So he had let it be, and so he had kept silent even now. But, to be sure, people were not silent about him; the words of his prayer were spread from house to house. He had denied the omnipotence of God; what was a God without omnipotence? He was a denier of God; that affair with the devils horse may have something in it after all!
The old doctor came again, came every day, sometimes twice, then stayed a whole night, again wrote a prescription and Iven Johns swiftly rode with it to the apothecary. But finally the doctors face grew more cheerful, and he nodded confidentially to the dikemaster: Shell pull through. Shell pull through, with Gods help! And one daywhether it was because his skill had conquered her illness or because in answer to Haukes prayer God had been able after all to find a way out of his troublewhen the doctor was alone with the patient, he spoke to her, while his old eyes smiled: Lady, now I can safely say to you: to-day the doctor has his gala-day; things looked very darkly for you, but now you belong to us again, to the living!
Then a flood of light streamed out of her dark eyes; Hauke, Hauke, where are you? she cried, and when, in response to her loud cry, he rushed into the room and to her bed, she flung her arms round his neck: Hauke, my husbandsaved! I can stay with you! then the old doctor pulled his silk handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped his forehead and cheeks with it and nodding left the room.
On the third evening after this day a pious speakerit was a slippermaker who had once been dismissed by the dikemasterspoke at the conventicle held at the Dutch tailors, where he explained to his audience the attributes of God: But he who denies the omnipotence of God, who says: I know Thou canst not as Thou wouldstwe all know the unhappy man; he weighs like a stone on the communityhe has fallen off from God and seeks the enemy of God, the friend of sin, as his comforter; for the hand of man has to lean upon some staff. But youbeware of him who prays thus; his prayer is a curse!
This too was spread from house to house. What is not spread in a small community? And it reached Haukes ears. He said no word about it, not even to his wife; but sometimes he would embrace her violently and draw her to himself: Stay faithful, Elke! Stay faithful to me! Then her eyes would look up at him full of wonder. Faithful to you? To whom else should I be faithful? After a short while, however, she had understood his words. Yes, Hauke, we are faithful to each other; not only because we need each other. Then each went his and her way to work.
So far all would have been well. But in spite of all the lively work, a loneliness had spread round him, and in his heart nestled a stubbornness and a reserved manner toward other people. Only toward his wife he was always the same, and every evening and every morning he knelt at the cradle of his child as if there he could find the place of his eternal salvation. Towards servants and workmen, however, he grew more severe; the clumsy and careless ones whom he used to instruct with quiet reproaches were now startled by his harsh address, and sometimes Elke had to make things right quietly where he had offended.
When spring came, work on the dike began again. The gap in the western dike line was closed by a temporary dike half-moon shaped on the inside and the same toward the outside, for the protection of the new lock about to be made. And as the lock grew, so the chief dike gradually acquired its height, which could be more and more quickly attained. The work of directing was not any easier for the dikemaster, as in place of Jewe Manners, Ole Peters had stepped in as dike overseer. Hauke had not cared to attempt preventing this, but now in place of the encouraging word and the corresponding friendly slap on the shoulder that he had earned form his wifes old godfather, he had to cope with the successors secret hostility and unnecessary objections which had to be thwarted with equally unnecessary reasons. For Ole belonged to the important people, to be sure, but not to the clever ones in dike matters; besides, the scribbling hired man of former days was still in his way.
The brightest sky again spread over sea and marshes, and the enclosed land was once more gay with strong cattle, the bellowing of which from time to time interrupted the widespread calm. Larks sang continually high in the air, but one was not aware of it until for the time of heartbeat the singing had ceased. No bad weather disturbed the work, and the lock was ready with its unpainted structure of beams before it needed the protection of the temporary dike for even one night; the Lord seemed to favor the new work. Then Elkes eyes would laugh to greet her husband when he came home from the dike on his white horse. You did turn into a good animal! he said, and then patted the horses smooth neck. But when he saw the child clinging round her neck, Hauke leaped down and let the tiny thing dance in his arms. Then, when the white horse would fix its brown eyes on the child, he would say: Come here, you shall have the honor. And he would place little Wienkefor that was her Christian nameon the saddle and lead the white horse round in a circle on the hill. The old ash tree, too, sometimes had the honor; he would set the child on a swinging bough and let it rock. The mother stood in the house door with laughing eyes. But the child did not laugh; her eyes, between which there was a delicate little nose, looked a little dully into the void, and her little hands did not try to seize the small stick that her father was holding for her to take. Hauke did not pay attention to this, especially as he knew nothing about such little children. Only Elke, when she saw the bright-eyed girl on the arm of her charwoman, who had been confined at the same time with her, sometimes said with regret: Mine isnt as far on as yours yet, Trina. And the woman, as she shook the chubby boy she held by the hand with brusque love, would cry: Yes, madam, children are different; this one here, he stole apples out of my room before he was more than two years old. And Elke pushed the chubby boys curls from his eyes, and then secretly pressed her quiet child to her heart.
At the beginning of October, the new lock stood solidly at the west side in the main dike, now closed on both sides. Except for the gaps by the channel, the new dike now sloped all the way round with a gentle profile toward the water and rose above the ordinary high tide by fifteen feet. From the northwestern corner one could look unhindered past Jevers Island out over the sea. But, to be sure, the winds blew more sharply here; ones hair fluttered, and he who wanted a view from this point had to have his cap securely on his head.
Toward the end of November, when storm and rain had set in, there remained only one gap to close, the one hard by the old dike, at the bottom of which the sea water shot through the channel into the new enclosure. At both sides stood the walls of the dike; now the cleft between them had to vanish. Dry summer weather would have made the work easier; but it had to be done anyway, for a rising storm might endanger the whole work. And Hauke staked everything on accomplishing the end. Rain poured down, the wind whistled; but his lean figure on the fiery white horse rose now here, now there out of the black masses of people who were busy by the gap, above and below, on the north side of the dike. Now he was seen below beside the dump-carts that already had to go far on the foreland to get the clay; a crowded lot of these had just reached the channel in order to cast off their loads. Through the splashing of the rain and the roaring of the wind, from time to time sounded the sharp orders of the dikemaster, who wanted to rule here alone to-day. He called the carts according to their numbers and ordered back those that were crowding up. When his Stop sounded, then all work ceased. Straw! Send down a load of straw! he called to those above, and the straw from one of their loads came tumbling down on to the wet clay. Below men jumped about in it and tore it apart and called up to the others that they did not want to be buried. Again new carts came, and Hauke was up on top once more, and looked down from his white horse into the cleft below and watched them shovel and dump their loads. Then he glanced out over the sea. The wind was sharp and he saw how the edge of the water was climbing higher up the dike and that the waves rose still higher. He saw, too, that the men were drenched and could scarcely breathe during their hard work because of the wind which cut off the air right before their mouths and because of the cold rain that was pouring down on them. Hold out, men! Hold out! he shouted down to them. Only one foot higher; then itll be enough for this flood. And through all the raging of the storm one could hear the noise of the workmen; the splashing of the masses of clay tumbling down, the rattling of the carts and the rustling of the straw let down from above went on unceasingly. In the midst of these noises, now and then, the wailing of a little yellow dog could be heard, which, shivering and forlorn, was knocked about among all the men and teams. Suddenly a scream of anguish from the little animal rose out of the cleft. Hauke looked down: he had seen the dog hurled down from above. His face suddenly flushed with rage. Stop! Stop! he shouted down to the carts; for the wet clay was being heaped up unceasingly.
But not a hand stirred; only a few spades full of tough clay were still thrown beside the howling animal. Then he spurred his white horse so that it uttered a cry and stormed down the dike, and all gave way before him. The dog! he shouted, I want the dog!
A hand slapped his shoulder gently, as if it were the hand of old Jewe Manners, but when Hauke looked round, he saw that it was only a friend of the old mans. Take care, dikemaster! he whispered to him. You have no friends among these people; let this dog business be!
The wind whistled, the rain splashed, the men had stuck their spades into the ground, some had thrown them away. Hauke bent down to the old man. Do you want to hold my horse, Harke Jens? he asked; and the latter scarcely had the reins in his hand when Hauke had leaped into the cleft and held the little wailing animal in his arms. Almost in the same moment he sat high in his saddle again and galloped back to the dike. He glanced swiftly over the men who stood by the teams. Who was it? he called. Who threw down this creature?
For a moment all was silent, for rage was flashing from the face of the dikemaster, and they had a superstitious fear of him. Then a muscular fellow stepped down from a team and stood before him. I didnt do it, dikemaster, he said, bit off a piece from his roll of tobacco, and calmly pushed it into his mouth before he went on, but he who did it, did right; if your dike is to hold, something alive has to be put into it!
Oho! sounded from a dozen throats, and the dikemaster saw grim faces and clenched fists round him; he saw that these were no friends. The thought of his dike came over him like a sudden fear. What would happen if now all should throw down their spades? As he glanced down he again saw the friend of old Jewe Manners, who walked in and out among the workmen, talked to this one and that one, smiled at one, slapped another on the shoulder with a pleasant airand one after another took up his spade again. After a few minutes the work was in full swingWhat was it that he still wanted? The channel had to be closed and he hid the dog safely in the folds of his cloak. With a sudden decision, he turned his white horse to the next team: Let down the straw! he called despotically, and the teamster obeyed mechanically. Soon it rustled down into the depth, and on all sides all arms were stirring again.
This work lasted an hour longer. It was six oclock, and deep twilight was descending; the rain had stopped. Then Hauke called the superintendents together beside his horse: To-morrow morning at four oclock, he said, everybody is to be in his place; the moon will still be shining, then well finish with Gods blessing. And one thing more, he cried, when they were about to go: do you know this dog? And he took the trembling creature out of his cloak.
The next day the last cut with the spade was made on the new dike. The wind had gone down; gulls and other sea birds were flying back and forth over land and water in graceful flight. From Jevers Island one could hear like a chorus of a thousand voices the cries of the wild geese that still were making themselves at home on the coast of the North Sea, and out of the white morning mists that spread over the wide marshes, gradually rose a golden autumn day and shed its light on the new work of human hands.
After a few weeks the commissioners of the ruler came with the dikemaster general for inspection. A great banquet, the first since the funeral banquet of old Tede Volkerst, was given in the house of the dikemaster, to which all the dike overseers and the greater landowners were invited. After dinner all the carriages of the guests and of the dikemaster were made ready. The dikemaster general helped Elke into the carriage in front of which the brown horse was stamping his hoofs; then he leaped in after her and took the reins himself, for he wanted to drive the clever wife of his dikemaster himself. Then they rode merrily from the hill down to the road, then up to the new dike, and upon it all round the new enclosed land. In the mean time a light northwest wind had risen and the tide was driven against the north and west sides of the new dike. But one could not help being aware of the fact that the gentle slope made the attack of the water gentler; and praise was poured on the new dikemaster from the lips of the rulers commissioners, so that the objections which now and then were slowly brought out by the overseers, were soon stifled by it.
This, too, passed by. But the dikemaster received another satisfaction one day as he rode along on the new dike, in quiet, self-conscious meditation. The question naturally arose in his mind, why the new enclosure, which would not have had its being without him, into which he had put the sweat of his brow and his night watches, now finally was named after one of the princesses the new Caroline-land. But it was so: on all the documents concerned with it stood the name, on some even in red Gothic letters. Then, just as he was looking up, he saw two workmen coming toward him with their tools, the one about twenty paces behind the other. Why dont you wait! he heard the one behind calling. The other, who was just standing by a path which led down into the new land, called to him: Another time, Jens. Im late; I have to dig clay here.
He called it aloud, as he trotted down the path, as if he wanted the whole marsh below to hear it. But Hauke felt as if he were hearing his fame proclaimed; he rose from his saddle, spurred on his horse and with steady eyes looked over the wide land that lay to his left. Hauke-Haien-land! Hauke-Haien-land! he repeated softly; that sounded as if in all time it could not have another name. Let them defy him as they wouldthey could not get round his name; the name of the princesswouldnt that soon moulder in old documents?His white horse galloped proudly and in his ears he heard a murmur: Hauke-Haien-land! Hauke-Haien-land! In his thoughts the new dike almost grew into the eighth wonder of the world; in all Frisia there was not the like of it. And he let the white horse dance, for he felt as if he were standing in the midst of all the Frisians, towering over them the height of a head, and glancing down upon all keenly and full of pity.
Gradually three years had gone by since the building of the dike. The new structure had proved its worth, the cost of repairing had been small. And now almost everywhere in the enclosed land white clover was blooming, and as one walked over the sheltered pastures, the summer wind blew toward one a whole cloud of sweet fragrance. Thus the time had come to turn the shares, which hitherto had only been ideal, into real ones, and to allot to each shareholder the piece which he was to keep as his own. Hauke had not been slow to acquire some new shares before this; Old Peters had kept back out of spite, and owned nothing in the new land. The distribution of the parts could not be accomplished without annoyance and quarreling; but it was done, nevertheless. This day, too, lay behind the dikemaster.
From now on he lived in a lonely way for his duties as farmer and as dikemaster and for those who were nearest to him. His old friends were no longer living, and he was not the man to make new ones. But under his roof was a peace which even the quiet child did not mar. She spoke little, the constant questioning that is so characteristic of bright children was rare with her and usually came in such a way that it was hard to answer; but her dear, simple little face almost always wore an expression of content. She had two play-fellows, and they were enough: when she wandered over the hill, the rescued little yellow dog always jumped round her, and when the dog appeared, little Wienke did not stay away long. The second companion was a pewit gull. As the dogs name was Pearl so the gull was called Claus.
Claus had been installed on the farm by an aged woman. Eighty-year-old Trin Jans had not been able to keep herself any longer in her hut on the outer dike; and Elke had thought that the aged servant of her grandfather might find peaceful evening hours and a good room to die in at her home. So, half by force, she and Hauke had brought her to their farm and settled her in the little northwest room in the new barn that the dikemaster had had built beside the main house when he had enlarged his establishment. A few of the maids had been given rooms next to the old womans and could help her tonight. Along the walls she kept her old furnishings; a chest made of wood from sugar boxes, above it two coloured pictures of her lost son, then a spinning-wheel, now at rest, and a very neat canopied bed in front of which stood an unwieldy stool covered with the white fur of the defunct Angora cat. But something alive, too, she had had about her and brought with her: that was the gull Claus, which had been attached to her and fed by her for years. To be sure, when winter came, it flew with the other gulls to the south and did not come again until the wormwood was fragrant on the shore.
The barn was a little lower down on the hill, so the old woman could not look over the dike at the sea from her window. You keep me here as in prison, dikemaster, she muttered one day, as Hauke stepped in to see her, and she pointed with her bent finger at the fens that spread out below. Where is Jeverssand? Above those red oxen or those black ones?
This was the style of thanks the dikemaster and his wife received for some time, until all at once everything was different. The little childs head of Wienke one morning peeped in through her half-open door. Well, called the old woman, who sat with her hands folded on her wooden stool; what have you to tell me?
Are you the dikemasters child? Trin Jans asked, and as the child lowered its head a s if nodding, she went on: Then sit down here on my stool. Once it was an Angora catso big! But your father killed it. If it wee still alive, you could ride on it.
Wienke silently turned her eyes to the white fur; then she knelt down and began to stroke lit with her little hands as children are wont to do with live cats or dogs. Poor cat! she said then and went on with her caresses.
Well, cried the old woman after a while, now thats enough; and you can sit on him to-day, too. Perhaps your father only killed him for that. Then she lifted up the child by both arms and set it down roughly on the stool. But when it remained sitting there, silent and motionless and only kept looking at her, she began to shake her head. Thou art punishing him, Lord God! Yes, yes, Thou art punishing him! she murmured. But pity for the child seemed to come over her; she stroked its scanty hair with her bony hand, and the eyes of the little girl seemed to show that this did her good.
From now on Wienke came every day to the old woman in her room. Soon she sat down on the Angora stool of her own accord, and Trin Jans put small bits of meat and bread which she always saved into the childs little hands, and made her throw them on the floor. Then the gull shot out of some corner with screams and wings spread out and pounced on the morsels. At first the great, rushing bird frightened the child and made her cry out; but soon it all happened like a game learned by heart, and her little head only had to appear in the opening of the door, when the bird rushed up to her and perched on her head and shoulders, until the old woman helped and the feeding could begin. Trin Jans who before never could bear to have anyone merely stretch out a hand after her Claus, now patiently watched the child gradually win over the bird altogether. It willingly let itself be chased, and she carried it about in her apron. Then, when on the hill the little yellow dog would jump round her and up at the bird in jealousy, she would cry: Dont, dont, Pearl! and lift the gull with her little arms so high, that the bird, after setting itself free, would fly screaming over the hill, and now the dog, by jumping and caressing, would try to win its place in her arms.
When by chance Haukes or Elkes eyes fell upon this strange four-leaved clover which, as it were, was held to the same stem only by the same defectthen they cast tender glances upon the child. But when they turned away, there remained on their faces only the pain that each carried away alone, for the saving word had not yet been spoken between them. One summer morning, when Wienke sat with the old woman and the two animals on the big stones in front of the barn door, both her parents passed bythe dikemaster leading his white horse, with the reins flung over his arm. He wanted to ride on the dike and had got his horse out of the fens himself; on the hill his wife had taken his arm. The sun shone down warmly; it was almost sultry, and now and then a gust of wind blew from the south-southeast. It seemed that her seat was uncomfortable for the child. Wienke wants to go too! she cried, shook the gull out of her lap and seized her fathers hand.
Hauke laughed: That shant get us! and lifted the child to his saddle. Elke stayed a while on the hill and, shading her eyes with her hand, watched the two trot down the road and toward the dike. Trin Jan sat on the stone and murmured incomprehensible things with her lips.