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Dreaming Child
by [?]

In the first half of last century, there lived in Sealand, in Denmark, a family of cottagers and fishermen, who, after their native place,were called Plejelt, and who did not seem able to do well for themselves in any way. Once they had owned a little land here and there, and fishing-boats, but what they had possessed they had lost, and in their new enterprises they failed. They just managed to keep out of the jails of Denmark, but they gave themselves up freely to all such sins and weaknesses,—vagabondage, drink, gambling, illegitimate children and suicide,—as human beings can indulge in without breaking the law.

The old judge of the district said of them: "These Plejelts are not bad people, I have got many worse than they. They are pretty, healthy, likeable, even talented in their way. Only they just have not got the knack of living. And if they do not promptly pull themselves together, I cannot tell what may become of them, except that the rats will eat them. "

Now it was a queer thing that,—just as if the Plejelts had been overhearing this sad prophecy and had been soundly frightened by it,— in the following years, they actually seemed to pull themselves together. One of them married into a respectable peasant family, another had a stroke of luck in the herring-fishery, another was converted by the new parson of the parish, and obtained the office of bell-ringer. Only one child of the clan, a girl, did not escape its fate, but on the contrary, appeared to collect upon her young head the entire burden of guilt and misfortune of her tribe. In the course of her short, tragic life, she was washed from the country into the town of Copenhagen, and here, before she was twenty, she died in dire misery, leaving a small son behind her. The father of the child, who is otherwise unknown to this tale, had given her a hundred rixdollars, these, together with the child, the dying mother handed over to an old washerwoman, blind of one eye, and named Madam Mahler, in whose house she had lodged. She begged Madam Mahler to provide for her baby as long as the money lasted, contenting herself with a brief respite, in the true spirit of the Plejelts.

At the sight of the money, Madam Mahler got a rose in each cheek, shehad never till now set eyes on a hundred rixdollars, all in a pile. Asshe looked at the child she sighed deeply, then she took the task uponher shoulders, with what other burdens life had already placed there.

The little boy, whose name was Jens, in this way first became conscious of the world, and of life, within the slums of old Copenhagen, in a dark back-yard like a well, a labyrinth of filth, decay and foul smell. Slowly he also became conscious of himself, and of something exceptional in his worldly position. There were other children in the back-yard, a big crowd of them, they were pale and dirty as himself. But they all seemed to belong to somebody, they had a father and a mother, there was for each of them a group of other ragged and squalling children whom they called brothers and sisters, and who sided with them in the brawls of the yard; they obviously made part of a unity. He began to meditate upon the world’s particular attitude to himself, and upon the reason for it. Something in it responded to an apprehension within his own heart:—that he did not really belong here, but somewhere else. At night, he had chaotic, many-coloured dreams, in the daytime his thoughts still lingered in them; sometimes they made him laugh, all to himself, like the tinkling of a little bell, so that Madam Mahler, shaking her own head, held him to be a bit weak in his.