PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Translator: W. Glyn Jones Cover design: Marie Lane
The stationmaster put on his uniform coat to be ready for the train.
“There’s no damn time for anything,” he said, stretching his arms. He had been dozing over the accounts.
He lit a cigar stub and went out on to the platform. Now, as he walked up and down, erect in his uniform and with his hands in both his jacket pockets, there was still something of the lieutenant about him. And it could be seen on his legs, too, which were still bent in the way he had acquired in the cavalry.
Five or six farm lads had arrived and were standing legs akimbo in a group opposite the station building; the station porter dragged the freight out, a sole, green-painted chest that looked as though it had been dropped by the side of the road.
The parson’s daughter, tall as an officer in the guards, flung the platform gate open and entered.
The stationmaster clicked his heels and saluted.
“And what does madam intend to do today?” he said. When he was “on the platform”, the stationmaster conversed in the tone he used to employ in the club balls at Næstved in his old cavalry days.
“Walk,” said the parson’s daughter. She made some curious flapping gestures as she spoke, as though she intended to hit whoever she was addressing.
“By the way, Miss Abel is coming home.”
“Already – from town?”
“Nothing in the offing yet?” The stationmaster extended the fingers on his right hand in the air, and the parson’s daughter laughed.
“Here come the family,” she said. “I made my excuses and ran away from them …”
The stationmaster paid his respects to the Abel family, the widowed Mrs Abel and her elder daughter Louise. They were accompanied by Miss Jensen. Mrs Abel looked resigned.
“Yes,” she said, “I have come to meet my little Ida.”
Mrs Abel took it in turns to fetch her Louise and her little Ida. Louise in the spring and little Ida in the autumn.
They each spent six weeks with an aunt in Copenhagen.”My sister, the one who was married to a State Councillor,” said Mrs Abel. The State Councillor’s widow lived in a fourth floor apartment and lived by decorating terracotta ornaments with paintings of storks standing on one leg. Mrs Abel always dispatched her daughters with all good wishes.
She had now been dispatching them for ten years.
“And such letters we have received from my younger daughter this time.”
“Aye, those letters,” said Miss Jensen.
“But it is better to have your chicks at home,” said Mrs Abel, looking tenderly at Louise. Mrs Abel had to dry her eyes at the thought.
The six months they were at home, Mrs Abel’s chicks spent quarrelling and sewing fresh trimmings on old dresses. They never spoke to their mother.
“How could one possibly live in an out-of-the-way place like this if one did not have a family life?” said the widow.
Miss Jensen nodded.
There came the sound of barking from the corner over by the inn, and a coach appeared.
“That’s the Kiærs,” said the parson’s daughter. “What can they want?”
She went across the platform to the gate.
“Aye,” Kiær, the gentleman farmer, got out of his carriage. “You might well ask. Now Madsen’s gone and caught typhoid just at the worst possible time, so I’ve had to wire for a replacement and God knows what kind of rubbish I’m going to get. He’s due here now.”
Mr Kiær came on to the platform.
“He’s been to the Royal College of Agriculture, if that means anything, and he got a first class there as well. Oh, good morning, Bai.” The station master was allowed to shake hands. “You look a bit bleary-eyed. How’s the wife?”
“Fine, thank you. So you’re here to fetch a new bailiff.”
“Aye, dreadful story, and just at the worst possible time.”
“Oh a new man in the district,” says the parson’s daughter waving her arms about as though she was already giving him a box on the ears. “With Wee Bentzen the porter that means six and a half.”
The widow was suddenly all of a flutter. She had said it at home: Young Louise was not to go out wearing those prunella boots.
Her feet were the source of young Louise’s beauty: slender, aristocratic feet.
And she had told her.
Miss Louise was in the waiting room adjusting her veil. The Misses Abel went in for low-cut dresses with ruffs, jet beads and veils.
Bai went indoors to the kitchen to tell his wife about the bailiff. The parson’s daughter sat swinging her legs on the green-painted chest. She took out her watch and checked the time. “Good heavens, that man’s certainly letting us wait,” she said.
Miss Jensen said: “Yes, the train seems to be an appreciable number of minutes late.” Miss Jensen spoke exceedingly correctly, especially when talking to the parson’s daughter.
She did not approve of the parson’s daughter.
“That is not the tone to be used by my neophits,” she said to the widow. Miss Jensen was not entirely sure in her use of foreign words.
“But – there we have the lovely lady.” The parson’s daughter bounced up from the chest and rushed across the platform towards Mrs Bai, who had appeared on the stone steps. When the parson’s daughter gave someone a hearty greeting, it looked as though she was about to commit a violent assault.
Mrs Bai smiled quietly and allowed herself to be kissed.
“Heaven help us,” said the parson’s daughter, “we’re unexpectedly going to have a new cock on the midden. Here he comes!”
They heard the sound of the train in the distance and the loud clattering as it crossed the bridge over the river. Swaying and puffing, it made its slow approach across the meadow.
The parson’s daughter remained on the steps, holding Mrs Bai around the waist. “That’s Ida Abel,” said the parson’s daughter. “I know her by her veil.” A Bordeaux-coloured veil emerged from a window.
The train stopped, and doors were opened and closed. Mrs Abel shouted her “Hello” in such a loud voice that the occupants of all the nearby compartments came to the windows.
Young Ida squeezed her mother’s arm angrily; she was still standing on the step:
“There’s a gentleman on the train coming here.“
“Who is he?” Everything was going nineteen to the dozen.
Young Ida was down on the platform. There was the gentleman, a very staid-looking, fair-haired gentleman with a beard, who was taking a hat box and cases out of a smoking compartment.
“And Auntie, Auntie Mi,” shouted the widow.
“Shush,” said in a quiet but irate voice. “Where’s Louise?”
Louise turned and sprang like a child up the stone steps in front of Mrs Bai and the parson’s daughter, as though her “beauty” resided in her button boots.
At the bottom of the steps, the bailiff made himself known to Mr Kiær.
“Aye, the devil of a story. There’s Madsen in bed, at the very worst time. Ah well, we’ll hope for the best.” Mr Kiær slapped the new bailiff on the shoulder.
“Heaven preserve us,” said the parson’s daughter. “A very ordinary domestic animal.”
The green-painted box was in the train and the milk churns for the cooperative dairy had been hoisted on to the goods van. The train was just starting to move when a farmer shouted out of a window: he had no ticket.
The guard, a smart young man as straight as a hussar briefly touched hands with Bai and jumped up on to the running board.
The farmer continued to shout and argue with the guard, who was still hanging on to the running board.
And for a moment all faces on the platform turned towards the train as it rumbled away.
“Hmm, and that was that,” said the parson’s daughter. She went into the entrance hall with Mrs Bai.
“My bailiff, Mr. Huus,” said Mr Kiær in the direction of Bai as he was about to walk past. The three stood there for a moment.
Young Louise and little Ida finally found each other and started kissing madly in the doorway.
“Oh, good heavens,” said the widow, “they haven’t seen each other for six weeks.”
“You are fortunate, Mr Huus,” said Bai in the tone he used at club balls. “You can make the acquaintance of the ladies of this place without further ado. Ladies, may I introduce you?”
The Misses Abel interrupted their kissing as though on command.
“The Misses Abel,” said Mr Bai. “Mr Huus.”
“Yes, I have just come to meet my younger daughter from Copenhagen,” said the widow out of the blue.
“Mrs Abel,” said Mr Bai.
Mr Huus bowed.
“Miss Linde” (This was the parson’s daughter.) “Mr Huus.”
The parson’s daughter inclined her head.
“And my wife,” said Bai.
Mr Huus said a few words, and then they all went in to fetch their clothes.
Farmer Kiær drove off with the bailiff. The others walked. When they reached the road, they discovered they had forgotten Miss Jensen.
She stood dreaming over there on the platform, leaning against a signal post.
“Miss Jensen,” the parson’s daughter yelled from the road.
Miss Jensen started. Miss Jensen always came over melancholy when she saw a railway. She could not abide to see “anything leaving”.
“Seems to be a really nice person,” said Mrs Abel as they walked along the road.
“Very ordinary bailiff,” said the parson’s daughter; she was walking arm in arm with Mrs Bai. “He had nice hands.”
The two chicks tailed along at the end of the group, bickering.
“I must say, Miss Jensen, you are in a hurry,” said the parson’s daughter. Miss Jensen was far ahead of them, jumping the puddles like a goat. She was making a considerable show of her maidenly legs on account of the autumnal humidity.
They walked by the tiny woodland. At the turn of the road, Mrs Bai said goodbye.
“Oh, you look so tiny and natty in that big shawl, lovely lady,” said the parson’s daughter, reaching out as though to embrace her.
“She’ll never be out of breath with the amount she says,” said little Ida.
The parson’s daughter whistled.
“Oh there’s the curate,” said Mrs Abel. “Good evening, curate. Good evening.”
The curate raised his hat. “I had to say good evening to the lady as she returned home,” he said.
“Well, Miss Abel. Are you in good health?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Miss Abel.
No. of pages: 194
Publication date: 23.01.2015
978 1 909232 92 1
978 1 910213 09 4
World English Language in this translation