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Lovisa, who is called Lise by her husband, is the main character in Dinesen’s story. She is nineteen years old and has been blissfully married for only a week to Sigismund, whom she has planned to marry for ten years. She is from a family of greater rank and wealth than Sigismund’s, and her parents originally objected to him. Lovisa is girlish in many respects: she was still playing with dolls until fairly recently; the story of the thief reminds her of a fairytale character, ‘‘Red Ridinghood’s wolf’’; she has ‘‘never in her life been exposed to danger’’; and she plays a game of hide–and-seek on Sigismund to make him grieve her absence. Yet Lovisa considers herself much more mature than her twenty-fouryear- old husband. She delights in the freedom of having no secrets from him. Though she wants ‘‘to obey him in everything,’’ she is still willing to disagree with him, as when she objects to Sigismund’s feeling that the thief should be pitied, agreeing instead with Mathias that he should be killed. Her accidental encounter with the thief arouses her empathy, and her gesture of offering him her wedding ring, which he spurns, makes her feel that she has thus wedded herself to ‘‘poverty, persecution, total loneliness.’’ Her freedom disappears in the knowledge of the secret encounter she now keeps from her husband.

Other Characters

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Mathias, an older man, is the sheep master on Sigismund’s farm. At the beginning of the story he tells Sigismund about the death of one of his English- bred lambs and the illness of two others. Eventually he also describes the sheep thief’s activities, saying he would like to kill the thief for what he has done.

Sigismund is a twenty-four-year-old sheep farmer who has been married to his nineteen-year-old bride and childhood sweetheart for one week. He is determined to protect Lovisa from misfortune, promising himself that ‘‘from now there should be no stone in his bride’s path, nor should any shadow fall across it.’’ A modern farmer, Sigismund has traveled outside of Denmark to learn the latest methods of sheep breeding and has had sheep imported from England to improve his flock. He is so happy in his newly married life that he cannot join his wife and Mathias in condemning the thief but rather pities the man. On the other hand, he is preoccupied with his sheep at the expense of his wife: when Lovisa is distressed by the sick lambs, he advises her to go home—she is ‘‘turned away by an impatient husband to whom his sheep meant more than his wife.’’ When near the end of the story Lovisa admits she has lost her ring, he asks, ‘‘What ring?’’

The thief never speaks, and much of what is known of him is learned from the story of Mathias, the sheep master. Repeatedly likened to a wolf, the thief has been stealing sheep from local farmers for several weeks and recently killed a farmer who had caught him in the act. The thief is hiding in a grove on the farm of Sigismund and Lovisa and is covered with blood and surrounded by sheep bones when Lovisa unexpectedly enters the grove. He says nothing to her but points a bloody knife at her throat, his hand dangling between his legs. He refuses the wedding ring Lovisa offers him, choosing instead to wrap his knife in a handkerchief which she dropped. Once the knife is put back into its sheath, the thief disappears. The thief represents an intrusion of disturbing and deadly violence into the flat and pacific landscape of the Danish countryside as well as into the innocent, paradise-like world of Lovisa.

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