Teacher and His
Family Take A
by the Sea by
Translated by Ann R. Born
Never before had Niels the Beachcomber seen such joyous faces as on
the day he drove the strange visitors home to Beachcomber Farm, he
felt an air of enchantment all around him that surpassed his
comprehension, for he knew that more unpretentious districts than this
land of sand dunes were hardly to be found. He sat awkwardly slumped
in the driving seat, listening to the strange city dialect; he was
familiar with the tongue of the county town, but these people were
from the capital—and a learned man into the bargain. Several times,
hearing their delighted outcries, he looked around him in surprise,
believing something must have appeared which had slipped his notice
until now...usually he recognised each little clearing or sandy
hillock. This was the first time they were taking summer visitors, so
many weeks of excitement had preceded this moment; how would such an
insignificant spot strike these people? There had been moments when
both he and his wife had thought of the old homestead as a poor place.
Several times the wife had had it in mind to cancel the visit so as
not to lure the poor souls all that way if the place didn't suit them-
-and if they went away again, what a disgrace that would be.
But they were in raptures. He stole a glance at their faces; it was
indeed joy, you might almost think that the loveliest things to be
seen were nothing other than the clumps of heather and the straws of
sea-grass shining in the sun, and what delight over the song of the
lark, and each tiny peewit to be seen above the rushes.
He became pensive, pondering on the life there was in these people,
the grown-ups were almost worse than the children. He could hardly get
a word in edgeways for the shower of questions directed at him. The
lady grasped his shoulder from her seat at the rear and asked him
first about this and then about that. It was just like being out in a
storm. The feel of her hand brought a lop-sided grin to his face, he
had noticed at once how it was with her, that she was pregnant. And
what about the girl who was sitting next to her, would she be a maid
or a daughter?
When the farm came in sight some distance away, Niels felt his
heart leap up into his mouth, he kept his face turned aside so that
his tension and awkwardness might remain unnoticed. The old flaws and
shortcomings which had almost been buried in oblivion, were suddenly
so apparent to him that he felt they were bound to notice them at
But what was this...a thrill went through him, the children in the
wagon had begun to clap their hands and shout with joy at the sight of
the foal trotting beside the mare in the meadow close by the farm. The
grown-ups too broke into raptures over the peaceful spot, lying there
enclosed by heath and dunes, with its cultivated fields, and with the
joyous song of a lark echoing over the barns.
Then Niels's features relaxed into a beaming smile, he shot a
glance at his wife, who had shyly come to the door to greet them, so
that she might know that the guests he brought were pleasant ones.
The minute the children had hopped down from the wagon they
scattered like chickens, and the guests had hardly entered the
living-room door when the whole place was shattered by shrill shrieks,
as if an accident had happened, and everyone rushed out again. The
children were running towards the door with the gander at their heels,
the youngest lay where he had tumbled down in the grass, screaming in
direst terror. But a moment later they were laughing and clapping
about it all.
The teacher's wife remained standing out in the yard with her face
turned towards the wind, Niels and his wife both felt quite
embarrassed, her skirt wrapped itself around her knees so that it was
evident that she had hardly any clothes on. Mrs. Niels glanced towards
the stable-door and the scullery, from where the farm-hand and the
girl announced their presence...never before had she seen a woman so
obviously letting the world know she was going to have a child.
Quietly she led them in through the living-room and the rooms they
were to occupy; her heart was beating despite her outward composure.
Where the lady and gentleman were to sleep stood the bed-steads piled
high as haystacks with quilts; it was a sign of prosperity for the
strangers' eyes, bedclothes and linen it would take more than a
lifetime to wear out. In her heart he was proud to be able to offer
them that anyway and she glanced expectantly at their faces.
The teacher slapped his hand down on the tightly packed down
quilts, whose solid feather contents filled out again as if he had
struck a ball, and laughed good-naturedly.
"You've certainly got some weighty ones here," he broke out, "but I
can only sleep with one blanket over me."
Mrs. Niels retained her composure in spite of her disappointment,
she seemed hardly to gather what he said. But the lady made haste to
explain courteously that they were accustomed to blankets at home.
And before Mrs. Niels realised what they were about, they began to
carry the mountains of bedclothes out of the room. But otherwise they
thought it all delightful.
You might have thought that the farm was deserted next morning, all
was so still when the guests appeared in the hall ready to go to the
beach. The teacher had only a white robe thrown over his shoulders,
and it flapped around him so that Mrs. Niels and the maid drew back in
a flurry from their hiding-place behind the window-frame. The children
went leaping out into the garden in a garb which involuntarily made
you think of savage peoples in the tropics...but when Mrs. Niels
caught sight of the lady and the young girl in similar airy garments,
it seemed as if all order in the universe was suddenly demolished
before her eyes...that women could make such an exhibition of
themselves! If she hadn't seen it with her own eyes, she wouldn't have
believed it possible.
With the wind wafting their clothes the family danced across the
green, so that it was hard to distinguish in the sunlight between
naked skin and clothes; involuntarily she glanced towards the stable
door, where the farm-hand and the young herdsman had appeared a moment
before...for young folk to see such sights! But their heads had
Suddenly the girl burst out giggling, scarlet and spluttering, as
if she had stumbled on some great knowledge unawares. Not until then
did Mrs. Niels regain her tongue.
"Gracious heavens," she exclaimed, "So that's the sort of folk
we've got at the farm—bathers!"
Her face revealed that she was outraged, she said nothing further
but remained thoughtful, as if she had incomprehensible things to
occupy her mind.
Later in the morning Niels came driving home along the beach after
his daily beachcombing expedition, he walked beside the wagon with the
rein in his hand in his usual phlegmatic manner. Several times a smile
played about his lips at the thought of the strangers at home. Now and
then he glanced along the beach, he had a feeling that a singular kind
of day was in store for him, he was filled with curiosity and a desire
to see more of these odd people. Suddenly he became aware of something
on the beach, his gaze became fixed and sharp, as if he had caught
sight of something drifting out at sea, but then he jerked at the rein
and stopped the wagon.
What was that—it looked like naked people!
He passed his hand across his eyes as if he doubted the truth of
their vision. By heavens, it WAS somebody...there were big ones and
little ones, they ran along the beach in the sunshine, so that their
white skins flashed like fire in the light.
They were just near the way up from the beach, he glanced nervously
back to see if he could possibly go by another way, but it was
impossible to drive a loaded cart over the dunes. He kept the horses
still for a while so that they would discover him and put on some
clothing, or else hide themselves. Now he could clearly hear both
voices and laughter...and see, there was the man, running along with
one of the children riding astride his shoulders.
Dubiously he made the horses start with the thought that they would
soon get out of the way when they saw him coming; he pretended not to
have noticed anything, but still he kept his gaze fixed on them, and
he drove as slowly as it was possible, to keep the horses moving...
but there was no sign of their having seen him.
There stood the lady, outlined against the blue sky, he dragged at
the rein, and suddenly he felt a strange, heavy, still feeling inside
Bashfully he drew back behind the wagon and occupied himself with
this and that so no one should know he had been a witness to what he
had seen...those crazy folk. But he soon realised that if he went on
waiting for them he would have to leave his horses and cart.
You would almost have thought they didn't reckon him for a human
being at all.
When he slowly drove on he kept himself out of sight behind the
load. When he came to the way up the children came rushing to meet
him, wanting a ride, but he shooed them away more brusquely than he
really intended, and urged on the horses so that they broke into a
trot along the soft sandy road from the beach.
A little while later he tramped into the farmyard with a clouded
countenance, so that his wife, catching sight of him through the
kitchen window, noticed at once that something had happened to him.
Suddenly he came through the scullery and went into the living-room,
where he slumped down on the settle and fell into a muse. His wife
passed the door a couple of times on unnecessary errands before she
made up her mind to go in to him.
He kept his eyes on the floor, as if there were something shameful
in the news he was about to communicate, and she closed the door
resolutely so that they could talk in privacy. She too wore an
embarrassed air, as if she was confronted with things unmentionable
even between married folks.
Niels had experienced more on that journey along the beach than in
the whole previous course of his life...he had never even seen his own
wife clothed in less than her chemise. A glance at her told him that
she too had something to impart.
"The way those people rushed off," she began. "In full view of the
hand and the girl...they had hardly a stitch on them. Terrible for
the young folks to see such sights."
She stood there with flaming cheeks.
"Did they go off like that?" he asked.
"It seems shameful to talk of it," she answered.
Then he too told of what he had seen. The lady had been standing in
full view of his eyes down there on the beach, with no more shame in
her than a pregnant ewe in the field.
They both kept their eyes on the floor while they talked, if this
got round the neighbourhood it would bring both gossip and shame on
them, taking suchlike folks in.
Then she had a brainwave.
"You must collect some empty fish boxes and build them up down on
the beach so they can have a place to stay in and use as a bathing
hut," she said.
At midday, while the visitors were indoors, Niels went down to the
beach and dragged the boxes together and erected a building he was
quite proud of...if they wanted to they could get very good shelter
In the evening, when the school teacher was sitting enjoying the
peace and quietness outside the farmyard while the children were being
put to bed and the sun was just going down, Niels approached him,
having for some time hovered about in his neighbourhood. The school
teacher at once began to chat enthusiastically about the sea and the
beach and the heavenly surroundings, overjoyed to be in a place they
could have to themselves.
Niels listened attentively, trying to make out the gist of what he
was saying. But it puzzled him a bit, you would almost think the
strangers were the only folk alive on the farm.
Finally he came out with the reason for his approach.
He had built up some fish boxes down there, he said, so that they
had somewhere to undress...for there were no bathing huts here.
The school teacher interpreted his words as purely innocent, that
wasn't necessary, he answered, there was room and to spare here, and
as he smiled his face already reflected new freshness from the sun and
It was plain to see that there was something amiss at the farm,
everybody seemed bashful as if they each carried the knowledge about
with them of things they must not mention. A week after the arrival of
the strangers the shepherd boy came leaping home from the dunes one
day, scarlet-faced and distraught, as if he had been witness to some
unholy sight. Both the farm-hand and the girl tried to make him talk,
he stood there and grinned, but they could get no explanation out of
It was the girl who showed herself most sophisticated.
"Talk about Adam and Eve," she laughed, but she turned scarlet all
the same. And the hand sneaked a stiff glance at her as if she were
forbidden fruit herself.
Over in the cow-shed the hand made the shepherd boy talk. He had
gone up to the summit of a sand dune to look for the sheep, and he
suddenly saw the whole school teacher family lying before him, their
bodies as pink as newly born piglets—at first glimpse he had been so
startled he hardly recognised them, he thought only barbarians and
heathens went about in such fashion.
Rumours of the goings-on at the Beachcomber Farm spread quickly
about the neighbourhood. Nothing was discussed openly, but all the
same people got to know about this and that. A peasant who had been
among the dunes gathering turf, had seen sights...At first they didn't
know quite how to take it, although of course they had heard
descriptions of seaside life from other places on the coast. Among the
older people disgust was aroused at the idea of naked people running
about the place. But chuckles soon became audible among lads and
girls, though each word held in its own way contempt for these strange
people who could allow themselves to behave like this. Many of them
went to the farm on some pretext or other, they kept behind the barns
so as not to be seen by the farmer or his wife, for they didn't want
to upset them. And if they happened to catch sight of any of the
school teacher family they kept out of sight behind doors or walls as
if the reason for their presence there was written all over them.
The hand and the shepherd boy behaved like people who possessed
knowledge which would annihilate the whole world if they really cared
to break silence about it.
Then it happened one morning that Niels's wife had to go into the
drawing-room to look for something in the chest of drawers which stood
in there; she listened at the door to make certain no one was up yet.
She had needed the article she was going to fetch for some days, but
had continually put off going in there for fear of disturbing...She
laid her ear against the door panel, she had heard a noise from
within, but now all was quiet again. So she grasped the door handle,
she had just crossed the threshold and turned towards the chest when
she halted, rooted to the spot with a kind of horror—for a moment she
was utterly flabbergasted and didn't know whether to advance or
The teacher was sitting by the window bent over the table writing,
completely in the nude. As the door opened he turned his gaze
smilingly from his papers and made a welcoming gesture towards the
"Come in, you won't disturb me," he cried; in his preoccupation he
took her confusion to be fear of disturbing.
He sat in the middle of a bar of sunlight slanting in through the
window-panes; it seemed to Mrs. Niels as if she could see the sun-rays
passing right through him. With a half-smothered shriek she flung up
her arms and staggered back through the door right out to the scullery
where she sank half-swooning on to a chair.
"Lord above, Lord above," she groaned with her arms hanging limply
down, never had she seen the like.
A hectic flush suffused her cheeks. The girl, who was standing
right in front of her, did not know whether to laugh or be frightened.
"Heavens above," she said, in a tone meant to show that whatever
the case she was in sympathy with her mistress.
"Sitting in there writing in the blazing sunlight, he was, with
never a stitch on him," she brought out at last.
The girl turned away abruptly, bent over and burst out laughing.
"Was he sitting there writing in his birthday suit," she
reiterated. "You must have given him a good scare, then."
Niels's wife stared up at her with a disgusted and yet somewhat
milder expression, as if a feeling of comedy was also beginning to
dawn on her.
"Given him a good scare...he waved his hand, as friendly as you
please. Come in, you're not disturbing me, he said, and he was just
about to get up, the raving lunatic."
Then the girl laughed even more heartily and pictured the whole
scene with a vivid imagination.
A few minutes later Niels appeared in the doorway asking what was
going on. Whether or not he understood his wife's horror and shared
her disgust, the description brought an amused quirk to his features.
"You certainly chose the right moment, old girl," he said with some
When this story spread over the neighbourhood, gossip began in
earnest about the farm, this was a situation they could understand,
and ever afterwards great amusement was caused by the description of
the farmer's wife's horror when she went sneaking in to her chest of
The school teacher sat in the drawing-room staring in amazement at
the door through which Mrs. Niels had vanished. Only then did it occur
to him what was the matter, and smiling he walked across the room. It
was clear enough that the good woman in her innocence had been
terrified, but that was just something to laugh about.
He stood by the window in the sunshine, filled with happiness and a
sense of well-being. A year of strenuous school work lay behind him,
he had left home tired and worn out, and it was chiefly for the
purpose of gathering new strength that they had chosen this isolated
and lonely spot by the sea. He looked down at the table, where a pile
of closely-written sheets bore witness to the persevering work of
several years' leisure time from teaching. This very day he had chosen
to rise early to take advantage of the peace and quiet while the
children were still asleep.
Niels and his wife stayed home from church two Sundays in
succession. As a rule church was a regular weekly event. They usually
set off in good time so as to have the opportunity for a chat with
their fellow parishioners while waiting for the vicar and often the
waiting time was full of gaiety. But it could also happen that if
anyone had offended against law or custom in any way it was at this
time that they felt the sting of official censure. And Niels's wife
had only to look into her heart to know what public opinion would have
to say about the happenings at Beachcomber Farm.
It was quite natural for the mistress of a house full of guests to
stay away from church for once. But when the second Sunday came round
they both went about with preoccupied expressions. At church time
Niels went and sat down at the table in the living-room and read from
the old family book of sermons, once or twice his wife came to the
door and peeped in at him, it was as if he sat there and read for her
too. But a strange unrest moved in Niels's heart, all the time the
image of the beach and the blue sky rose up before his eyes, filled
with shining white bodies which came dancing up between the words as
he was reading, as if the world around him was possessed by a wicked
When they drove away from the farm on the third Sunday, they were
both sitting unnaturally still on the driving-seat, he held the horses
in to a walk nearly all the way to avoid arriving too early. From a
long way off they could see the congregation standing about in groups
by the church wall, and they were soon aware that their approach had
been observed. Faces were turned towards them, and an immobility fell
upon the groups, as if there was something peculiar about them.
Niels the Beachcomber drove quietly up alongside the ditch by the
churchyard where the vehicles were left. People usually gave each
other a hand down, but this time he was left to get down from the
wagon by himself. He glanced up at his wife, who remained seated on
the driving-seat with her fringed black scarf tied so tightly under
her chin that only a portion of her face was visible. Her heart was
beating as it had only done once in her life before on the drive to
church, and that was the time she had been driven there as a bride,
but to-day it beat with humiliation and shame.
Not until he had finished dealing with the horses did he help her
down, she stayed beside the wagon wheel and smoothed her dress, while
he drew the great prayer book with gilt edges from his pocket as if it
were both their guardian and their weapon. Then they looked at each
other and went side by side to the churchyard gate.
The gathering too seemed to be overcome with embarrassment, they
had turned their backs on the advancing pair or kept their eyes on the
ground, so there was no occasion to give any greeting. Niels and his
wife stopped at the far end of the path, keeping close to each other.
She blushed and turned pale by turns, she felt as if it was she
herself who had been in the forbidden situation. She seemed to expect
to be the object of mirth herself. But within her a deep, outraged
pride at being treated in such a way by old acquaintances made itself
"Well, Niels," suddenly came a voice that was both bantering and
mocking. "How d'you like playing bathing attendant?"
Every face was immediately visible, they all stared at the speaker,
a little peasant well-known for his gibing tongue, and then the
communal gaze shifted to Niels, who answered with a good-humoured
grin. Laughter was heard at once, and the groups relaxed into
"It's getting too dangerous to go down to the sea, what with all
those Indians among your dunes..."
Suddenly it seemed as if joviality was going to get the upper hand,
a note of coarseness came into the laughter, even the women began to
smile, when an excitable voice broke in.
They should think of the young people.....
In a trice all trace of amusement vanished from their faces and
they saw only the scandalous aspect of the affair.
"Oh yes, we've all heard there's been a run on the beach," said the
mocking little peasant again. "But there had been others besides young
folk who had had business in that direction."
Amusement broke out again, though now several of the men retained
their stiff carriage and demeanour, uncertain who was being scoffed
At last the vicar appeared and everyone immediately took on their
accustomed expression for church. But even during the service Niels
and his wife were reminded time after time of their guests at home, as
if both the vicar and the word of God were aware of them.
While the village people were at church, the school teacher and his
family were basking on the warm sand above the dunes, letting the sun
bake them through and through, they had already taken their first dip
of the day, down on the beach the children ran and played with seaweed
and stones. Now and then a pair of seagulls came drifting along the
coastline, searching for food, but as soon as they noticed the
presence of people they flew out to sea, afraid of danger. Sometimes
the whistle of a dunlin could be heard, gliding along the edge of the
beach, visible in the sunshine like a piece of feathery down blown
about by the breeze. The only other sound was the noise of the
breakers on the beach which seemed to fill all the space around them
with each breaking wave.
The teacher sat upon a sandy slope reading aloud from the book in
his hand, so sunburnt that there was not a pale patch on his body.
Both his face and his voice reflected happiness. Just below him lay
his wife and the young girl, refreshed after their bathe, equally
sunburnt, listening while he read.
Beside the teacher lay a rucksack full of books, a selection from
the pearls of the world's literature, which he bore out to the dunes
with him daily, as if something additional was needed to give the
happy natural life real content and atmosphere.
A little way away behind the summit of a sand dune lay a half grown
lad hidden in the sea-grass gaping at them, he had sneaked up
unnoticed from dune to dune to get a look at them. He lay there ready
to leap up and flee at the slightest sound.
"I'll be damned," he mumbled and a bashful sneer crossed his face,
but the next moment he ducked down behind the top of the dune and
looked about nervously for fear anyone should see him.
Suddenly he rolled himself down the slope and remained prostrate.
Over on another dune a lad had come in sight, in spite of the distance
he had seen a grinning face. For a moment they both seemed most
impelled to rush off in opposite directions. But then the first one
began to wave to the other to come across, here was something to see.
You should crawl up there and take a look, he grinned to him when
he got there.
For a while they both lay side by side, behind the top of the dune
and stared down at the family.
"I think he's reading the Bible," whispered one of them to the
other. An expression of indignation and outrage appeared on their
faces, and completely unexpectedly one of them gave vent to a shrill
bellow, which sounded like somebody shouting at an animal to scare
it—they tore each other down the side of the dune, lay for a moment
in confusion over what had happened, then leapt up and raced away.
Both the teacher's wife and the girl gave a shriek of fright, the
teacher threw down his book, ran up the dune and reached the top just
in time to see the two lads vanish over the dunes. He came back
wearing a serious expression.
"It was a couple of boys," he said. The ladies had grabbed their
clothes, suddenly startled out of their happy paradise. They looked at
each other uneasily while he tried to reassure them. "They were just
having fun," he said.
On the afternoon of the same day, when they were sunbathing on the
beach after the second bathe of the day, a piece of wood came flying
down among them from somewhere up in the dunes.
The teacher rushed up there indignantly, but there was no one to be
seen...only when he reached the top of the next dune did he see the
attackers—this time a whole gang of them, fleeing amongst resounding
In the evening he went to the beachcomber and had a chat with him
Niels stood there very ill at ease, with his gaze rooted to the
ground, not knowing what to say.
"They threw sticks at you?" he repeated.
Despite his serious expression his face took on tones of pleasure,
although he understood that this was a serious matter.
"We are not aware that we have harmed anyone," said the teacher.
"No, that was true enough," answered Niels, with some hesitation in
his voice. They were decent folk enough in that way...
He fought hard with himself to come out with what had been
painfully on his mind for so long, but he seemed to be getting more
and more shy. He could not even fix his eyes on the stranger.
"Nobody in the neighbourhood is used to having guests like you," he
said. "If only you would wear just a bit more when you are down on the
beach." It was as if he tried to put a mildly joking tone into his
The teacher laughed confusedly, unable to answer, it had never
occurred to him.
When Niels went in to his wife to tell her what had happened, his
whole being was animated, he laughed so much that his wife had to hush
him in case the visitors heard him.
Those lads had certainly scared them...and with increased humour he
repeated what he had said to the teacher. It was funny enough that it
should be the young folks who had taught them a lesson.
About the neighbourhood too Niels's reply to the teacher caused
both pride and amusement when it got around. He had shown himself to
be both master of his house and a good beachcomber.