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THE air beneath the linden crowns had flowed in across brown heath and parched meadow. It brought the heat of the sun and was laden with dust from the road, but in the cool, thick foliage it had been cleansed and freshened, while the yellow linden flowers had given it moisture and fragrance. In the blissful haven of the green vault it lay quivering in light waves, caressed by the softly stirring leaves and the flutter of white-gold butterfly wings.
The human lips that breathed this air were full and fresh; the bosom it swelled was young and slight. The bosom was slight, and the foot was slight, the waist small, the shape slim, and there was a certain lean strength about the whole figure. Nothing was luxuriant except the partly loosened hair of dull gold, from which the little dark blue cap had slipped until it hung on her back like a tiny cowl. Otherwise there was no suggestion of the convent in her dress. A wide, square-cut collar was turned down over a frock of lavender homespun, and from its short, slashed sleeves billowed ruffles of fine holland. A bow of red ribbon was on her breast, and her shoes had red rosettes.
Her hands behind her back, her head bent forward, she went slowly up the path, picking her steps daintily. She did not walk in a straight line, but meandered, sometimes almost running into a tree at her left, then again seeming on the point of strolling out among the bushes to her right. Now and then, she would stop, shake the hair from her cheeks, and look up to the light. The softened glow gave her child-white face a faint golden sheen and made the blue shadows under the eyes less marked. The scarlet of her lips deepened to red-brown, and the great blue eyes seemed almost black. She was lovely—lovely!—a straight forehead, faintly arched nose, short, clean-cut upper lip, a strong, round chin and finely curved cheeks, tiny ears, and delicately pencilled eyebrows....
She smiled as she walked, lightly and carelessly, thought of nothing, and smiled in harmony with everything around her. At the end of the path, she stopped and began to rock on her heel, first to the right, then to the left, still with her hands behind her back, head held straight, and eyes turned upward, as she hummed fitfully in time with her swaying.
Two flagstones led down into the garden, which lay glaring under the cloudless, whitish-blue sky. The only bit of shade hugged the feet of the clipped box-hedge. The heat stung the eyes, and even the hedge seemed to flash light from the burnished leaves. The amber-bush trailed its white garlands in and out among thirsty balsamines, nightshade, gillyflowers, and pinks, which stood huddling like sheep in the open. The peas and beans flanking the lavender border were ready to fall from their trellis with heat. The marigolds had given up the struggle and stared the sun straight in the face, but the poppies had shed their large red petals and stood with bared stalks.
The child in the linden lane jumped down the steps, ran through the sun-heated garden, with head lowered as one crosses a court in the rain, made for a triangle of dark yew-trees, slipped behind them, and entered a large arbor, a relic from the days of the Belows. A wide circle of elms had been woven together at the top as far as the branches would reach, and a framework of withes closed the round opening in the centre. Climbing roses and Italian honeysuckle, growing wild in the foliage, made a dense wall, but on one side they had failed, and the hopvines planted instead had but strangled the elms without filling the gap.
Two white seahorses were mounted at the door. Within the arbor stood a long bench and table made of a stone slab, which had once been large and oval, but now lay in three fragments on the ground, while only one small piece was unsteadily poised on a corner of the frame. The child sat down before it, pulled her feet up under her on the bench, leaned back, and crossed her arms. She closed her eyes and sat quite still. Two fine lines appeared on her forehead, and sometimes she would lift her eyebrows, smiling slightly.
“ In the room with the purple carpets and the gilded alcove, Griselda lies at the feet of the margrave, but he spurns her. He has just torn her from her warm bed. Now he opens the narrow, round-arched door, and the cold air blows in on poor Griselda, who lies on the floor weeping, and there is nothing between the cold night air and her warm, white body except the thin, thin linen. But he turns her out and locks the door on her. And she presses her naked shoulder against the cold, smooth door, and sobs, and she hears him walking inside on the soft carpet, and through the keyhole the light from the scented taper falls and makes a little sun on her bare breast. And she steals away, and goes down the dark staircase, and it is quite still, and she hears nothing but the soft patter of her own feet on the ice-cold steps. Then she goes out into the snow—no, it’s rain, pouring rain, and the heavy cold water splashes on her shoulders. Her shift clings to her body, and the water runs down her bare legs, and her tender feet press the soft, chilly mud, which oozes out beside them. And the wind—the bushes scratch her and tear her frock,—but no, she hasn’t any frock on,—just as they tore my brown petticoat! The nuts must be ripe in Fastrup Grove—such heaps of nuts there were at Viborg market! God knows if Anne’s teeth have stopped aching.
“ No, Brynhild!—the wild steed comes galloping... Brynhild and Grimhild—Queen Grimhild beckons to the men, then turns, and walks away. They drag in Queen Brynhild, and a squat, black yokel with long arms—something like Bertel in the turnpike house—catches her belt and tears it in two, and he pulls off her robe and her underkirtle, and his huge black hands brush the rings from her soft white arms, and another big, half-naked, brown and shaggy churl puts his hairy arm around her waist, and he kicks off her sandals with his clumsy feet, and Bertel winds her long black locks around his hands, and drags her along, and she follows with body bent forward, and the big fellow puts his sweaty palms on her naked back and shoves her over to the black, fiery stallion, and they throw her down in the gray dust in the road, and they tie the long tail of the horse around her ankles—”
The lines came into her forehead again and stayed there a long time. She shook her head and looked more and more vexed. At last she opened her eyes, half rose, and glanced around her wearily.
Mosquitoes swarmed in the gap between the hopvines, and from the garden came puffs of fragrance from mint and common balm, mingling sometimes with a whiff of sow-thistle or anise. A dizzy little yellow spider ran across her hand, tickling her, and made her jump up. She went to the door and tried to pick a rose growing high among the leaves, but could not reach it. Then she began to gather the blossoms of the climbing rose outside, and getting more and more eager, soon filled her skirt with flowers, which she carried into the arbor. She sat down by the table, took them from her lap, and laid one upon the other until the stone was hidden under a fragrant cover of pale rose.
When the last flower had been put in its place, she smoothed the folds of her frock, brushed off the loose petals and green leaves that had caught in the nap, and sat with hands in her lap gazing at the blossoming mass.
This bloom of color, curling in sheen and shadow, white flushing to red and red paling to blue, moist pink that is almost heavy, and lavender light as wafted on air, each petal rounded like a tiny vault, soft in the shadow, but gleaming in the sun with thousands of fine light-points; with all its fair blood-of-rose flowing in the veins, spreading through the skin—and the sweet, heavy fragrance, rising like vapor from that red nectar that seethes in the flower-cup....
Suddenly she turned back her sleeves, and laid her bare arms in the soft, moist coolness of the flowers. She turned them round and round under the roses, until the loosened petals fluttered to the ground, then jumped up and with one motion swept everything from the table, and went out into the garden, pulling down her sleeves as she walked. With flushed cheeks and quickened step, she followed the path to the end, then skirted the garden toward the turnpike. A load of hay had just been overturned and was blocking the way to the gate. Several other wagons halted behind it, and she could see the brown polished stick of the overseer gleaming in the sun, as he beat the unlucky driver.
She put her fingers in her ears to shut out the sickening sound of the blows, ran toward the house, darted within the open cellar door, and slammed it after her.
The child was Marie Grubbe, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Squire Erik Grubbe of Tjele Manor.
The blue haze of twilight rested over Tjele. The falling dew had put a stop to the haymaking. The maids were in the stable milking, while the men busied themselves about the wagons and harness in the shed. The tenant farmers, after doing their stint of work for the squire, were standing in a group outside the gate, waiting for the call to supper.
Erik Grubbe stood at an open window, looking out into the court. The horses, freed from harness and halter, came slowly, one by one, from the stable and went up to the watering-trough. A red-capped boy was hard at work putting new tines in a rake, and two greyhounds played around the wooden horse and the large grindstone in one corner of the yard.
It was growing late. Every few minutes the men would come out of the stable door and draw back, whistling or humming a tune. A maid, carrying a full bucket of milk, tripped with quick, firm steps across the yard, and the farmers were straggling in, as though to hasten the supper-bell. The rattling of plates and trenchers grew louder in the kitchen, and presently some one pulled the bell violently, letting out two groups of rusty notes, which soon died away in the clatter of wooden shoes and the creaking of doors. In a moment the yard was empty, except for the two dogs barking loudly out through the gate.
Erik Grubbe drew in the window and sat down thoughtfully. The room was known as the winter-parlor, though it was in fact used all the year round for dining-room and sitting-room, and was practically the only inhabited part of the house. It was a large room with two windows and a high oak panelling. Glazed Dutch tiles covered the walls with a design of blue nosegays on a white ground. The fireplace was set with burned bricks, and a chest of drawers had been placed before it as a screen against the draught that came in whenever the door was opened. A polished oak table with two rounded leaves hanging almost to the floor, a few high-backed chairs with seats of leather worn shiny, and a small green cupboard set high on the wall—that was all there was in the parlor.
As Erik Grubbe sat there in the dusk, his housekeeper, Anne Jensdaughter, entered, carrying in one hand a lighted candle and in the other a mug of milk, warm from the udder. Placing the mug before him, she seated herself at the table. One large red hand still held the candlestick, and as she turned it round and round, numerous rings and large brilliants glittered on her fingers.
“ Alack-a-day!” she groaned.
“ What now?” asked Erik Grubbe, glancing up.
“ Sure, I may well be tired after stewing ’roun’ till I’ve neither stren’th nor wit left.”
“ Well, ’tis busy times. Folks have to work up heat in summer to sit in all winter.”
“ Busy—ay, but there’s reason in everythin’. Wheels in ditch an’ coach in splinters’s no king’s drivin’, say I. None but me to do a thing! The indoor wenches’re nothin’ but draggle-tails,—sweethearts an’ town-talk’s all they think of. Ef they do a bit o’ work, they boggle it, an’ it’s fer me to do over. Walbor’s sick, an’ Stina an’ Bo’l—the sluts—they pother an’ pother till the sweat comes, but naught else comes o’t. I might ha’ some help from M’ree, ef you’d speak to her, but you won’t let her put a finger to anything.”
“ Hold, hold! You run on so fast you lose your breath and the King’s Danish too. Don’t blame me, blame yourself. If you’d been patient with Marie last winter, if you’d taught her gently the right knack of things, you might have had some help from her now, but you were rough and cross-grained, she was sulky, and the two of you came nigh to splitting each other alive. ’Tis to be more than thankful for there’s an end on’t.”
“ Ay, stand up fer M’ree! You’re free to do it, but ef you stand up fer yours, I stand up fer mine, and whether you take it bad or not, I tell you M’ree’s more sperrit than she can carry through the world. Let that be fer the fault it is, but she’s bad. You may say ‘No,’ but I say she is. She can never let little Anne be—never. She’s a-pinchin’ and a-naggin’ her all day long and a-castin’ foul words after her, till the poor child might wish she’d never been born,—and I wish she hadn’t, though it breaks my heart. Alack-a-day, may God have mercy upon us! Ye’re not the same father to the two children, but sure it’s right that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation—and the sins of the mother too, and little Anne’s nothin’ but a whore’s brat—ay, I tell ye to yer face, she’s nothin’ but a whore’s brat, a whore’s brat in the sight of God and man,—but you, her father!—shame on ye, shame!—yes, I tell ye, even ’f ye lay hands on me, as ye did two years ago come Michaelmas, shame on ye! Fie on ye that ye let yer own child feel she’s conceived in sin! ye do let her feel it, you and M’ree both of ye let her feel it,—even ef ye hit me, I say ye let her feel it—”
Erik Grubbe sprang up and stamped the floor.
“ Gallows and wheel! Are you spital-mad, woman? You’re drunk, that’s what you are. Go and lie down on your bed and sleep off your booze and your spleen too! ’Twould serve you right if I boxed your ears, you shrew! No—not another word! Marie shall be gone from here before to-morrow is over. I want peace—in times of peace.”
Anne sobbed aloud.
“ O Lord, O Lord, that such a thing should come to pass—an everlastin’ shame! Tell me I’m tipsy! In all the time we’ve ben together or all the time before, have ye seen me in the scullery with a fuddled head? Have y’ ever heard me talkin’ drivel? Show me the spot where ye’ve seen me o’ercome with drink! That’s the thanks I get. Sleep off my booze! Would to God I might sleep! would to God I might sink down dead before you, since ye put shame upon me—”
The dogs began to bark outside, and the beat of horses’ hoofs sounded beneath the windows.
Anne dried her eyes hastily, and Erik Grubbe opened the window to ask who had come.
“ A messenger riding from Fovsing,” answered one of the men about the house.
“ Then take his horse and send him in,” and with these words the window was closed.
Anne straightened herself in her chair and held up one hand to shade her eyes, red with weeping.
The messenger presented the compliments of Christian Skeel of Fovsing and Odden, Governor of the Diocese, who sent to apprise Erik Grubbe of the notice he had that day received by royal courier, saying that war had been declared on June first. Since it became necessary that he should travel to Aarhus and possibly even to Copenhagen, he made inquiry of Erik Grubbe whether he would accompany him on the road so far as served his convenience, for they might at least end the suit they were bringing against certain citizens of Aarhus. With regard to Copenhagen, the Governor well knew that Erik Grubbe had plenty of reasons for going thither. At all events, Christian Skeel would arrive at Tjele about four hours after high noon on the following day.
Erik Grubbe replied that he would be ready for the journey, and the messenger departed with this answer.
Anne and Erik Grubbe then discussed at length all that must be done while he was away, and decided that Marie should go with him to Copenhagen and remain for a year or two with her Aunt Rigitze.
The impending farewells had calmed them both, though the quarrel was on the point of blazing out again when it came to the question of letting Marie take with her sundry dresses and jewels that had belonged to her dead mother. The matter was settled amicably at last, and Anne went to bed early, for the next day would be a long one.
Again the dogs announced visitors, but this time it was only the pastor of Tjele and Vinge parish, Jens Jensen Paludan.
“ Good even to the house!” he said as he stepped in.
He was a large-boned, long-limbed man, with a stoop in his broad shoulders. His hair was rough as a crow’s nest, grayish and tangled, but his face was of a deep yet clear pink, seemingly out of keeping with his coarse, rugged features and bushy eyebrows.
Erik Grubbe invited him to a seat and asked about his haymaking. The conversation dwelt on the chief labors of the farm at that season and died away in a sigh over the poor harvest of last year. Meanwhile the pastor was casting sidelong glances at the mug and finally said: “Your honor is always temperate—keeping to the natural drinks. No doubt they are the healthiest. New milk is a blessed gift of heaven, good both for a weak stomach and a sore chest.”
“ Indeed the gifts of God are all good, whether they come from the udder or the tap. But you must taste a keg of genuine mum that we brought home from Viborg the other day. She’s both good and German, though I can’t see that the customs have put their mark on her.”
Goblets and a large ebony tankard ornamented with silver rings were brought in and set before them.
They drank to each other.
“ Heydenkamper! Genuine, peerless Heydenkamper!” exclaimed the pastor in a voice that trembled with emotion. He leaned back blissfully in his chair and very nearly shed tears of enthusiasm.
“ You are a connoisseur,” smirked Erik Grubbe.
“ Ah, connoisseur! We are but of yesterday and know nothing,” murmured the pastor absent-mindedly, “though I’m wondering,” he went on in a louder voice, “whether it be true what I have been told about the brew-house of the Heydenkampers. ’Twas a free-master who related it in Hanover, the time I travelled with young Master Jörgen. He said they would always begin the brew on a Friday night, but before any one was allowed to put a finger to it he had to go to the oldest journeyman and lay his hand on the great scales and swear by fire and blood and water that he harbored no spiteful or evil thoughts, for such might harm the beer. The man also told me that on Sundays, when the church-bells sounded, they would open all the doors and windows to let the ringing pass over the beer. But the most important of all was what took place when they set the brew aside to ferment; for then the master himself would bring a splendid chest, from which he would take heavy gold rings and chains and precious stones inscribed with strange signs, and all these would be put into the beer. In truth, one may well believe that these noble treasures would impart to it something of their own secret potency given them by nature.”
“ That is not for us to say,” declared Erik Grubbe. “I have more faith, I own, in the Brunswick hops and the other herbs they mix.”
“ Nay,” said the pastor, “it were wrong to think so, for there is much that is hidden from us in the realm of nature,—of that there can be no doubt. Everything, living or dead, has its miraculum within it, and we need but patience to seek and open eyes to find. Alas, in the old days when it was not so long since the Lord had taken his hands from the earth, then all things were still so engirded with his power that they exhaled healing and all that was good for time and eternity. But now the earth is no longer new nor fine: it is defiled with the sins of many generations. Now it is only at particular times that these powers manifest themselves, at certain places and certain seasons, when strange signs may be seen in the heavens,—as I was saying to the blacksmith, when we spoke of the awful flaming light that has been visible in half the heavens for several nights recently.... That reminds me, a mounted courier passed us just then; he was bound this way, I think.”
“ So he was, Pastor Jens.”
“ I hope he rode with none but good tidings?”
“ He rode with the tidings that war has been declared.”
“ Lord Jesu! Alas the day! Yet it had to come some time.”
“ Ay, but when they’d waited so long, they might as well have waited till folks had their harvest in.”
“’ Tis the Skaanings who are back of it, I make no doubt. They still feel the smart of the last war and would seek balm in this.”
“ Oh, it’s not only the Skaanings. The Sjælland people are ever spoiling for war. They know it will pass them by as usual. Well, it’s a good time for neats and fools, when the Councillors of the Realm have gone mad one and all!”
“’ Tis said the Lord High Constable did not desire war.”
“ May the devil believe that! Perhaps not—but there’s little to be made of preaching quiet in an ant-hill. Well, the war’s here, and now it’s every man for himself. We shall have our hands full.”
The conversation turned to the journey of the morrow, passed on to the bad roads, lingered on fatted oxen and stall-feeding, and again reverted to the journey. Meanwhile they had not neglected the tankard. The beer had gone to their heads, and Erik Grubbe, who was just telling about his voyage to Ceylon and the East Indies in the “Pearl,” had difficulty in making headway through his own laughter, whenever a new joke came to his mind.
The pastor was getting serious. He had collapsed in his chair, but once in a while he would turn his head, look fiercely around, and move his lips as though to speak. He was gesticulating with one hand, growing more and more excited, until at last he happened to strike the table with his fist, and sank down again with a frightened look at Erik Grubbe. Finally, when the squire had got himself quite tangled up in a story of an excessively stupid scullery lad, the pastor rose and began to speak in a hollow, solemn voice.
“ Verily,” he said, “verily, I will bear witness with my mouth—with my mouth—that you are an offence and one by whom offence cometh—that it were better for you that you were cast into the sea—verily, with a millstone and two barrels of malt—the two barrels of malt that you owe me, as I bear witness solemnly with my mouth—two heaping full barrels of malt in my own new sacks. For they were not my sacks, never kingdom without end, ’twas your own old sacks, and my new ones you kept,—and it was rotten malt—verily! See the abomination of desolation, and the sacks are mine, and I will repay—vengeance is mine, I say. Do you not tremble in your old bones—you old whoremonger? You should live like a Christian—but you live with Anne Jensdaughter and make her cheat a Christian pastor. You’re a—you’re a—Christian whoremonger—yes—”
During the first part of the pastor’s speech, Erik Grubbe sat smiling fatuously and holding out his hand to him across the table. He thrust out his elbow as though to poke an invisible auditor in the ribs and call his attention to how delightfully drunk the parson was. But at last some sense of what was being said appeared to pierce his mind. His face suddenly became chalky white; he seized the tankard and threw it at the pastor, who fell backward from his chair and slipped to the floor. It was nothing but fright that caused it, for the tankard failed to reach its mark. It merely rolled to the edge of the table and lay there, while the beer flowed in rivulets down on the floor and the pastor.
The candle had burned low and was flaring fitfully, sometimes lighting the room brightly for a moment, then leaving it almost in darkness, while the blue dawn peeped in through the windows.
The pastor was still talking, his voice first deep and threatening, then feeble, almost whining.
“ There you sit in gold and purple, and I’m laid here, and the dogs lick my sores,—and what did you drop in Abraham’s bosom? What did you put on the contribution plate? You didn’t give so much as a silver eightpenny bit in Christian Abraham’s bosom. And now you are in torments—but no one shall dip the tip of his finger in water for you,”—and he struck out with his hand in the spilled beer,—“but I wash my hands—both hands—I have warned you—hi!—there you go—yes, there you go in sackcloth and ashes—my two new sacks—malt—”