The Girl with White Hands

a Zobell family legend

retold by

D. L. Ashliman

In midsummer of 1814 in the village of Hørby on the island of Sjælland in the Kingdom of Denmark, a handsome carriage stopped at the cottage where the wheelwright Anders Olsen lived with his wife Anne Katrine. A fine lady, with the help of her footman, stepped from the carriage and approached the cottage. She was carrying a newborn child. Saying that she had errands in the vicinity, the lady engaged the wheelwright's wife to watch the baby for a few hours. Anne Katrine gladly accepted, not only because the promised pay was generous, but also because Anders and Anne Katrine had no children of their own, and her maternal instincts were strong. With the pride and awe of a new mother, Anne Katrine uncovered the baby and admired her face, her arms, and her hands. She was perfect in every way, except -- except for her hands. They had no color. They were totally white.

June days are long in Denmark, so the wheelwright and his wife were not concerned when evening came without the fine lady's return. Finally the gray of a northern summer night fell over their cottage, bringing with it anxious feelings, first of fear, and then of hope, and again of fear.

The fine lady did not return for the girl with white hands. On June 29, 1814, in a simple ceremony held in the wheelwright's cottage, the girl with white hands was christened Kirstine Andersdatter: Kirstine, the daughter of Anders. On October 9, 1814, the christening was formalized in the Hørby church. Friends from neighboring villages served as witnesses. In 1818 the wheelwright and his family moved to the city of Kalundborg, halfway across the island.

Kirstine Andersdatter was my great-great grandmother. My cousin Duane Dalley, who knows his way around Danish archives, discovered the place names and the dates, but the heart of the story comes from my mother, Elgarda Zobell Ashliman (1915-2004). She vouches for its truth, because she heard it from her aunt, Josepha Marie Zobell Clinger (1871-1962). Anyone who knew Aunt Seph, as we called her, remembers well that she could always tell a good story, but never a lie. Aunt Seph, while still a young girl, learned the story of the abandoned child from her grandmother, a small blond woman from the Old Country, a woman with glistening white hands.