At last they started

They were in Paris. A half year had passed, and the bond of love so
suddenly tied had loosened, and at last been broken. Marie and Sti Högh
were slowly slipping apart. Both knew it, though they had not put the
fact into words. The confession hid so much pain and bitterness, so
much abasement and self-scorn, that they shrank from uttering it.

In this they were one, but in their manner of bearing their distress
they were widely different. Sti Högh grieved ceaselessly in impotent
misery, dulled by his very pain against the sharpest stings of that
pain, despairing like a captured animal that paces back and forth, back
and forth, in its narrow cage. Marie was more like a wild creature
escaped from captivity, fleeing madly, without rest or pause, driven
on and ever on by frantic fear of the chain that drags clanking in its

She wanted to forget, but forgetfulness is like the heather: it grows
of its own free will, and not all the care and labor in the world can
add an inch to its height. She poured out gold from overflowing hands
and purchased luxury. She caught at every cup of pleasure that wealth
could buy or wit and beauty and rank could procure, but all in vain.
There was no end to her wretchedness, and nothing, nothing could take
it from her. If the mere parting from Sti Högh could have eased her
pain or even shifted the burden, she would have left him long ago, but
no, it was all the same, no spark of hope anywhere. As well be together
as apart, since there was no relief either way.

Yet the parting came, and it was Sti Högh who proposed it. They had not
seen each other for several days, when Sti came into the drawing-room
of the magnificent apartment they had rented from Isabel Gilles, the
landlady of _La Croix de Fer_. Marie was sitting there, in tears. Sti
shook his head drearily and took a chair at the other end of the room.
It was hard to see her weep and to know that every word of comfort from
his lips, every sympathetic sigh or compassionate look, merely added
bitterness to her grief and made her tears flow faster.

He went up to her.

“Marie,” he said in a low, husky voice, “let us have one more talk and
then part.”

“What is the good of that?”

“Nay, Marie, there are yet happy days awaiting you, even now they are
coming thick and fast.”

“Ay, days of mourning and nights of weeping in an endless, unbreakable

“Marie, Marie, have a care what you say, for I understand the meaning
of your words as you never think to have me, and they wound me cruelly.”

“I reck but little of wounds that are stung with words for daggers. It
was never in my mind to spare you them.”

“Then drive the weapon home, and do not pity me–not for one instant.
Tell me that my love has besmirched you and humbled you in the dust!
Tell me that you would give years of your life to tear from your heart
every memory of me! And make a dog of me and call me cur. Call me by
every shameful name you know, and I will answer to every one and say
you are right; for I know you are right, you are, though it’s torture
to say so! Hear me, Marie, hear me and believe if you can: though I
know you loathe yourself because you have been mine, and sicken in your
soul when you think of it, and frown with disgust and remorse, yet do
I love you still–I do indeed. I love you with all my might and soul,

“Fie, shame on you, Sti Högh! Shame on you! You know not what you
are saying. And yet–God forgive me–but ’tis true, fearful as it
seems! Oh, Sti, Sti, why are you such a varlet soul? Why are you
such a miserable, cringing worm that doesn’t bite when it’s trodden
underfoot? If you knew how great and proud and strong I believed
you–you who are so weak! It was your sounding phrases that lied to me
of a power you never owned; they spoke loud of everything your soul
never was and never could be. Sti, Sti, was it right that I should find
weakness instead of strength, abject doubt instead of brave faith, and
pride–Sti, where was your pride?”

“Justice and right are but little mercy, but I deserve naught else, for
I have been no better than a counterfeiter with you, Marie. I never
believed in your love, no, even in the hour when you first vowed it to
me, there was no faith in my soul. Oh! how I wanted to believe, but
could not! I could not down the fear that lifted its dark head from
the ground, staring at me with cold eyes, blowing away my rich, proud
dreams with the breath from its bitterly smiling mouth. I could not
believe in your love, and yet I grasped the treasure of it with both
hands and with all my soul. I rejoiced in it with a timid, anxious
happiness, as a thief might feel joy in his golden booty, though he
knew the rightful owner would step in, the next moment, and tear the
precious thing from his hands. For I know the man will come who will be
worthy of you, or whom you will think worthy, and he will not doubt,
not tremble and entreat. He will mould you like pure gold in his hands
and set his foot on your will, and you will obey him, humbly and
gladly. Not that he will love you more than I, for that no one could,
but that he will have more faith in himself and less sense of your
priceless worth, Marie.”

“Why, this is a regular fortune-teller’s tale you’re giving me, Sti
Högh. You are ever the same, your thoughts roam far afield. You are
like children with a new toy; instead of playing with it, they must
needs pull it to pieces and find out how it was made, and so spoil it.
You never have time to hold and enjoy, because you are ever reaching
and seeking. You cut the timber of life all up into thought-shavings.”

“Farewell, Marie.”

“Farewell, Sti Högh,–as well as may be.”

“Thanks–thanks–it must be so. Yet I would ask of you one thing.”


“When you depart from here, let none know the way you go, lest I should
hear it, for if I do, I cannot answer for myself that I shall have
strength to keep from following you.”

Marie shrugged her shoulders impatiently.

“God bless you, Marie, now and forever.”

With that he left her.

* * * * *

In a fair November gloaming, the bronze-brown light of the sun is
slowly receding from the windows still gleaming singly in high gables;
an instant it rests on the slender twin spires of the church, is
caught up there by cross and golden wreath, then freed in luminous
air, and fades, while the moon lifts a shining disc over the distant,
long-flowing lines of the rounded hills.

Yellow, bluish, and purple, the fading tints of the sky are mirrored
in the bright, silently running river. Leaves of willow and maple and
elder and rose drop from golden crowns and flutter down to the water in
tremulous flight, rest on the glittering surface and glide along, under
leaning walls and stone steps, into the darkness, beneath low, massive
bridges, around palings black with moisture. They catch the glow from
the red coal fire in the lighted smithy, are whirled round in the
rust-brown eddies by the grinder’s house, then drift away among rushes
and leaky boats, lost among sunken barrels and muddy, water-soaked

Blue twilight is spreading a transparent dusk over squares and open
markets. In the fountains the water gleams as through a delicate veil,
as it runs from wet snake-snouts and drips from bearded dragon-mouths,
among fantastic broken curves and slender, serrated vessels. It murmurs
gently and trickles coldly; it bubbles softly and drips sharply,
making rapidly widening rings on the dark surface of the brimming
basin. A breath of wind soughs through the square, while round about
the dusky space, a deeper darkness stares from shadowy portals, black
window-panes, and dim alleys.

Now the moon is rising and throwing a silvery sheen over roofs and
pinnacles, dividing light and shadow into sharp-cut planes. Every
carved beam, every flaunting sign, every baluster in the low railing
of the porches is etched on houses and walls. The stone lattice-work
over the church-doors, St. George with his lance there at the corner,
the plant with its leaves here in the window, all stand out like black
figures. What a flood of light the moon pours through the wide street,
and how it glitters on the water in the river! There are no clouds in
the heavens, only a ring like a halo around the moon, and nothing else
except myriads of stars.

It was such a night as this at Nürnberg, and in the steep street
leading up to the castle, in the house known as von Karndorf’s, a
feast was held that same evening. The guests were sitting around the
table, merry, and full of food and drink. All but one were men who
had left youth behind, and this one was but eighteen years. He wore
no periwig, but his own hair was luxuriant enough, long, golden, and
curly. His face was fair as a girl’s, white and red, and his eyes were
large, blue, and serene. They called him the golden Remigius, golden
not only because of his hair, but because of his great wealth. For all
his youth, he was the richest nobleman in the Bavarian forest–for he
hailed from the Bavarian forest.

They were speaking of female loveliness, these gay gentlemen around
the groaning board, and they all agreed that when they were young the
world was swarming with beauties, beside whom those who laid claim to
the name in these days were as nothing at all.

“But who knew the pearl among them all?” asked a chubby, red-faced
man with tiny, sparkling eyes. “Who ever saw Dorothea von Falkenstein
of the Falkensteiners of Harzen? She was red as a rose and white as a
lamb. She could clasp her waist round with her two hands and have an
inch to spare, and she could walk on larks’ eggs without crushing them,
so light of foot was she. But she was none of your scrawny chicks for
all that; she was as plump as a swan swimming in a lake, and firm as a
roe-deer running in the forest.”

They drank to her.

“God bless you all, gray though you be!” cried a tall, crabbed old
fellow at the end of the table. “The world is getting uglier every
day. We have but to look at ourselves”–his glance went round the
table–“and think what dashing blades we once were. Well, no matter
for that! But where in the name of everything drinkable–can any one
say? huh? can you?–who can?–can any one tell me what’s become of the
plump landladies with laughing mouths and bright eyes and dainty feet,
and the landladies’ daughters with yellow, yellow hair and eyes so
blue–what’s become of them? huh? Or is’t a lie that one could go to
any tavern or wayside inn or ordinary and find them there? Oh, misery
of miseries and wretchedness! Look at the hunchbacked jades the tavern
people keep in these days–with pig’s eyes and broad in the beam! Look
at the toothless, bald-pated hags that get the king’s license to scare
the life out of hungry and thirsty folks with their sore eyes and
grubby hands! Faugh, I’m as scared of an inn as of the devil himself,
for I know full well the tapster is married to the living image of the
plague from Lübeck, and when a man’s as old as I am, there’s something
about _memento mori_ that he’d rather forget than remember.”

Near the centre of the long table sat a man of strong build with a face
rather full and yellow as wax, bushy eyebrows, and clear, searching
eyes. He looked not exactly ill, but as if he had suffered great bodily
pain, and when he smiled there was an expression about his mouth as
though he were swallowing something bitter. He spoke in a soft, low,
rather husky voice. “The brown Euphemia of the Burtenbacher stock
was statelier than any queen I ever saw. She could wear the stiffest
cloth of gold as if it were the easiest house-dress. Golden chains
and precious stones hung round her neck and waist and rested on her
bosom and hair as lightly as berries the children deck themselves with
when they play in the forest. There was none like her. The other young
maidens would look like reliquaries weighed down by necklaces of gold
and clasps of gold and jewelled roses, but she was fair and fresh and
festive and light as a banner that flies in the wind. There was none
like her, nor is there now.”

“Ay, and a better one,” cried young Remigius, jumping up. He bent
forward across the table, supporting himself with one hand, while the
other swung a bright goblet, from which the golden grape brimmed over,
wetting his fingers and wrist and falling in clear drops from his full
white lace ruffles. His cheeks were flushed with wine, his eyes shone,
and he spoke in an unsteady voice.

“Beauty! Are you blind, one and all, or have you never even seen the
Lady from Denmark–not so much as seen Mistress Marie! Her hair is like
the sunlight on a field when the grain is ripe. Her eyes are bluer than
a steel blade, and her lips are like the bleeding grape. She walks like
a star in the heavens, and she is straight as a sceptre and stately as
a throne, and all, all charms and beauties of person are hers like rose
upon rose in flowering splendor. But there is that about her loveliness
which makes you feel, when you see her, as on a holy morn when they
blow the trumpets from the tower of the cathedral. A stillness comes
over you, for she is like the sacred Mother of Sorrows on the beauteous
painting; there is the same noble grief in her clear eyes, and the same
hopeless, patient smile around her lips.”

He was quite moved. Tears came to his eyes, and he tried to speak, but
could not, and remained standing, struggling with his voice to utter
the words. A man sitting near him laid a friendly hand on his shoulder
and made him sit down. They drank together goblet after goblet, until
all was well. The mirth of the old fellows rose high as before, and
nothing was heard but laughter and song and revelry.

* * * * *

Marie Grubbe was at Nürnberg. After the parting from Sti Högh, she had
roamed about from place to place for almost a year, and had finally
settled there. She was very much changed since the night she danced in
the ballet at Frederiksborg park. Not only had she entered upon her
thirtieth year, but the affair with Sti Högh had made a strangely deep
impression upon her. She had left Ulrik Frederik, urged on partly by
accidental events, but chiefly because she had kept certain dreams of
her early girlhood of the man a woman should pay homage to, one who
should be to her like a god upon earth, from whose hands she could
accept, lovingly and humbly, good and evil according to his pleasure.
And now, in a moment of blindness, she had taken Sti for that god, him
who was not even a man. These were her thoughts. Every weakness and
every unmanly doubt in Sti she felt as a stain upon herself that could
never be wiped out. She loathed herself for that short-lived love and
called it base and shameful names. The lips that had kissed him, would
that they might wither! The eyes that had smiled on him, would that
they might be dimmed! The heart that had loved him, would that it might
break! Every virtue of her soul–she had smirched it by this love;
every feeling–she had desecrated it. She lost all faith in herself,
all confidence in her own worth, and as for the future, it kindled no
beacon of hope.

Her life was finished, her course ended. A quiet nook where she could
lay down her head, never to lift it again, was the goal of all her

Such was her state of mind when she came to Nürnberg. By chance,
she met the golden Remigius, and his fervent though diffident
adoration,–the idolatrous worship of fresh youth,–his exultant faith
in her and his happiness in this faith,–were to her as the cool dew
to a flower that has been trodden under foot. Though it cannot rise
again, neither does it wither; it still spreads delicate, brightly
tinted petals to the sun, and is still fair and fragrant in lingering
freshness. So with her. There was balm in seeing herself pure and holy
and unsullied in the thoughts of another person. It well-nigh made her
whole again to know that she could rouse that clear-eyed trust, that
fair hope and noble longing which enriched the soul of him in whom
they awoke. There was comfort and healing in hinting of her sorrows in
shadowy images and veiled words to one who, himself untried by grief,
would enter into her suffering with a serene joy, grateful to share the
trouble he guessed but did not understand and yet sympathized with. Ay,
it was a comfort to pour out her grief where it met reverence and not
pity, where it became a splendid queenly robe around her shoulders and
a tear-sparkling diadem around her brow.

Thus Marie little by little grew reconciled to herself, but then it
happened one day, when Remigius was out riding, that his horse shied,
threw him from the saddle, and dragged him to death by the stirrups.

When the news was brought to Marie, she sank into a dull, heavy,
tearless misery. She would sit for hours, staring straight before her
with a weary, empty look, silent as if she had been bereft of the power
of speech, and refusing to exert herself in any way. She could not even
bear to be spoken to; if any one tried it, she would make a feeble
gesture of protest and shake her head as if the sound pained her.

Time passed, and her money dwindled, until there was barely enough left
to take them home. Lucie never tired of urging this fact upon her, but
it was long before she could make Marie listen.

At last they started. On the way, Marie fell ill, and the journey
dragged out much longer than they had expected. Lucie was forced to
sell one rich gown and precious trinket after the other, to pay their
way. When they reached Aarhus, Marie had hardly anything left but
the clothes she wore. There they parted; Lucie returned to Mistress
Rigitze, and Marie went back to Tjele.

This was in the spring of seventy-three.

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