Babette's Feast by Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen)

By Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen)

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The sisters cried as with one mouth. ‘No,’ said Babette. ’ the sisters asked in a horrified gasp. ‘The ten thousand francs have been spent, Mesdames,’ said Babette. The sisters sat down. For a full minute they could not speak. ’ Martine slowly whispered. ‘What will you, Mesdames,’ said Babette with great dignity. ’ The ladies still did not find a word to say. The piece of news was incomprehensible to them, but then many things tonight in one way or another had been beyond comprehension. Martine remembered a tale told by a friend of her father’s who had been a missionary in Africa.

It was a strange thing for a couple of Puritan women in a small Norwegian town; it might even seem to call for an explanation. The people of Berlevaag found the explanation in the sisters’ piety and kindness of heart. For the old Dean’s daughters spent their time and their small income in works of charity; no sorrowful or distressed creature knocked on their door in vain. And Babette had come to that door twelve years ago as a friendless fugitive, almost mad with grief and fear. But the true reason for Babette’s presence in the two sisters’ house was to be found further back in time and deeper down in the domain of human hearts.

Hardly ever did Babette refer to her past life. When in early days the sisters had gently condoled her upon her losses, they had been met with that majesty and stoicism of which Monsieur Papin had written. ’ she had answered, shrugging her shoulders. ’ But one day she suddenly informed them that she had for many years held a ticket in a French lottery, and that a faithful friend in Paris was still renewing it for her every year. Some time she might win the grand prix of ten thousand francs. At that they felt that their cook’s old carpetbag was made from a magic carpet; at a given moment she might mount it and be carried off, back to Paris.

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