Most humble and most devoted

After she came back to Tjele, Mistress Marie Grubbe remained in her
father’s household until sixteen hundred and seventy-nine, when she was
wedded to Palle Dyre, counsellor of justice to his Majesty the King,
and with him she lived in a marriage that offered no shadow of an event
until sixteen hundred and eighty-nine. This period of her life lasted
from the time she was thirty till she was forty-six–full sixteen years.

Full sixteen years of petty worries, commonplace duties, and dull
monotony, with no sense of intimacy or affection to give warmth,
no homelike comfort to throw a ray of light. Endless brawling
about nothing, noisy hectoring for the slightest neglect, peevish
fault-finding, and coarse jibes were all that met her ears. Every
sunlit day of life was coined into dollars and shillings and pennies;
every sigh uttered was a sigh for loss; every wish, a wish for gain;
every hope, a hope of more. All around her was shabby parsimony; in
every nook and corner, busyness that chased away all pleasure; from
every hour stared the wakeful eye of greed. Such was the existence
Marie Grubbe led.

In the early days, she would sometimes forget the hubbub and bustle all
around her and sink into waking dreams of beauty, changing as clouds,
teeming as light. There was one that came oftener than others. It was a
dream of a sleeping castle hidden behind roses. Oh, the quiet garden of
that castle, with stillness in the air and in the leaves, with silence
brooding over all like a night without darkness! There the odors slept
in the flower-cups and the dewdrops on the bending blades of grass.
There the violet drowsed with mouth half open under the curling leaves
of the fern, while a thousand bursting buds had been lulled to sleep,
in the fullness of spring, at the very moment when they quickened
on the branches of the moss-green trees. She came up to the palace.
From the thorny vines of the rose-bushes, a flood of green billowed
noiselessly down over walls and roofs, and the flowers fell like silent
froth, sometimes in masses of bloom, sometimes flecking the green like
pale-pink foam. From the mouth of the marble lion, a fountain jet shot
up like a tree of crystal with boughs of cobweb, and shining horses
mirrored breathless mouths and closed eyes in the dormant waters of the
porphyry basin, while the page rubbed his eyes in sleep.

She feasted her eyes on the tranquil beauty of the old garden, where
fallen petals lay like a rose-flushed snowdrift high against walls and
doors, hiding the marble steps. Oh, to rest! To let the days glide
over her in blissful peace, hour after hour, and to feel all memories,
longings, and dreams flowing away, out of her mind, in softly lapping
waves–that was the most beautiful of all the dreams she knew.

This was true at first, but her imagination tired of flying unceasingly
toward the same goal like an imprisoned bee buzzing against the
window-pane, and all other faculties of her soul wearied too. As a fair
and noble edifice in the hands of barbarians is laid waste and spoiled,
the bold spires made into squat cupolas, the delicate, lace-like
ornaments broken bit by bit, and the wealth of pictures hidden under
layer upon layer of deadening whitewash, so was Marie Grubbe laid waste
and spoiled in those sixteen years.

Erik Grubbe, her father, was old and decrepit, and age seemed to
intensify all his worst traits, just as it sharpened his features and
made them more repulsive. He was grouchy and perverse, childishly
obstinate, quick to anger, extremely suspicious, sly, dishonest,
and stingy. In his later days he always had the name of God on his
lips, especially when the harvest was poor or the cattle were sick,
and he would address the Lord with a host of cringing, fawning names
of his own invention. It was impossible that Marie should either
love or respect him, and besides she had a particular grudge against
him, because he had persuaded her to marry Palle Dyre by dint of
promises that were never fulfilled and by threats of disinheriting
her, turning her out of Tjele, and withdrawing all support from her.
In fact, her chief motive for the change had been her hope of making
herself independent of the paternal authority, though this hope was
frustrated; for Palle Dyre and Erik Grubbe had agreed to work the farms
of Tjele and Nörbæk–which latter was given Marie as a dower on certain
conditions–together, and as Tjele was the larger of the two, and Erik
Grubbe no longer had the strength to look after it, Marie and her
husband spent more time under her father’s roof than under their own.

Palle Dyre was the son of Colonel Clavs Dyre of Sandvig and Krogsdal,
later of Vinge, and his wife Edele Pallesdaughter Rodtsteen. He was a
thickset, shortnecked little man, brisk in all his motions and with
a rather forceful face, which, however, was somewhat marred by a
hemorrhage in the lungs that had affected his right cheek.

Marie despised him. He was as stingy and greedy as Erik Grubbe himself.
Yet he was really a man of some ability, sensible, energetic, and
courageous, but he simply lacked any sense of honor whatever. He would
cheat and lie whenever he had a chance, and was never in the least
abashed when found out. He would allow himself to be abused like a dog
and never answer back, if silence could bring him a penny’s profit.
Whenever a relative or friend commissioned him to buy or sell anything
or entrusted any other business to him, he would turn the matter to
his own advantage without the slightest scruple. Though his marriage
had been in the main a bargain, he was not without a sense of pride
in winning the divorced wife of the Viceroy; but this did not prevent
him from treating her and speaking to her in a manner that might have
seemed incompatible with such a feeling. Not that he was grossly rude
or violent–by no means. He simply belonged to the class of people
who are so secure in their own sense of normal and irreproachable
mediocrity that they cannot refrain from asserting their superiority
over the less fortunate and naïvely setting themselves up as models. As
for Marie, she was, of course, far from unassailable; her divorce from
Ulrik Frederik and her squandering of her mother’s fortune were but too
patent irregularities.

This was the man who became the third person in their life at Tjele.
Not one trait in him gave grounds for hope that he would add to it
any bit of brightness or comfort. Nor did he. Endless quarrelling and
bickering, mutual sullenness and fault-finding, were all that the
passing days brought in their train.

Marie was blunted by it. Whatever had been delicate and flowerlike
in her nature, all the fair and fragrant growth which heretofore had
entwined her life as with luxurious though fantastic and even bizarre
arabesques, withered and died the death. Coarseness in thought as in
speech, a low and slavish doubt of everything great and noble, and a
shameless self-scorn were the effect of these sixteen years at Tjele.
And yet another thing: she developed a thick-blooded sensuousness, a
hankering for the good things of life, a lusty appetite for food and
drink, for soft chairs and soft beds, a voluptuous pleasure in spicy,
narcotic scents, and a craving for luxury which was neither ruled by
good taste nor refined by love of the beautiful. True, she had scant
means of gratifying these desires, but that did not lessen their force.

She had grown fuller of form and paler, and there was a slow languor in
all her movements. Her eyes were generally quite empty of expression,
but sometimes they would grow strangely bright, and she had fallen into
the habit of setting her lips in a meaningless smile.

* * * * *

There came a time when they wrote sixteen hundred and eighty-nine. It
was night, and the horse-stable at Tjele was on fire. The flickering
flames burst through the heavy clouds of brown smoke; they lit up the
grassy courtyard, shone on the low outhouses and the white walls of
the manor-house, and even touched with light the black crowns of the
trees in the garden where they rose high above the roof. Servants and
neighbors ran from the well to the fire with pails and buckets full of
water glittering red in the light of the flames. Palle Dyre was here,
there, and everywhere, tearing wildly about, his hair flying, a red
wooden rake in his hand. Erik Grubbe lay praying over an old chaff-bin,
which had been carried out. He watched the progress of the fire from
beam to beam, his agony growing more intense every moment, and he
groaned audibly whenever the flames leaped out triumphantly and swung
their spirals high above the house in a shower of sparks.

Marie, too, was there, but her eyes sought something besides the fire.
They were fixed on the new coachman, who was taking the frightened
horses out from the smoke-filled stable. The doorway had been widened
to more than double its usual size by lifting off the frame and
tearing down a bit of the frail wall on either side, and through this
opening he was leading the animals, one by either hand. They were
crazed with the smoke, and when the stinging, flickering light of the
flames met their eyes, they reared wildly and threw themselves to one
side, until it seemed the man must be torn to pieces or be trampled
down between the powerful brutes. Yet he neither fell nor lost his
hold; he forced their noses down on the ground and ran with them, half
driving, half dragging them, across the courtyard to the gate of the
garden, where he let them go.

There were many horses at Tjele, and Marie had plenty of time to admire
that beautiful, gigantic form in changing postures, as he struggled
with the spirited animals, one moment hanging from a straight arm,
almost lifted from the ground by a rearing stallion, the next instant
thrown violently down and gripping the earth with his feet, then again
urging them on by leaps and bounds, always with the same peculiarly
quiet, firm, elastic movements seen only in very strong men. His short
cotton breeches and blue-gray shirt looked yellow where the light fell
on them but black in the shadows, and outlined sharply the vigorous
frame making a fine, simple background for the ruddy face with its
soft, fair down on lip and chin, and the great shock of blonde hair.

This giant of two-and-twenty was known as Sören Overseer. His real name
was Sören Sörensen Möller, but the title had come down to him from his
father, who had been overseer on a manor in Hvornum.

The horses were all brought out at last. The stable burned to the
ground, and when the fire still smouldering on the site had been put
out, the servants went to get a little morning nap after a wakeful
night.

Marie Grubbe, too, went to bed, but she could not sleep. She lay
thinking, sometimes blushing at her own fancies, then tossing
about as if she feared them. It was late when she rose. She smiled
contemptuously at herself as she dressed. Her every-day attire was
usually careless, even slovenly, though on special occasions she would
adorn herself in a manner more showy than tasteful, but this morning
she put on an old though clean gown of blue homespun, tied a little
scarlet silk kerchief round her neck, and took out a neat, simple
little cap; then she suddenly changed her mind again and chose instead
one with a turned-up rim of yellow and brown flowered stuff and a
flounce of imitation silver brocade in the back, which went but poorly
with the rest. Palle Dyre supposed she wanted to go to town and gossip
about the fire, and he thought to himself there were no horses to drive
her there. She stayed home, however, but somehow she could not work.
She would take up one thing after another, only to drop it as quickly.
At last she went out into the garden, saying that she meant to set
to rights what the horses had trampled in the night, but she did not
accomplish much; for she sat most of the time in an arbor with her
hands in her lap, gazing thoughtfully into the distance.

The unrest that had come over her did not leave her, but grew worse day
by day. She was suddenly seized with a desire for lonely walks in the
direction of Fastrup Grove, or in the more distant parts of the outer
garden. Her father and husband both scolded her, but when she turned a
deaf ear and did not even answer them, they finally made up their minds
that it was best to let her go her own way for a short time, all the
more as it was not the busy season.

About a week after the fire, she was taking her usual walk out Fastrup
way, and was skirting the edge of a long copse of stunted oaks and
dogrose that reached almost to her shoulder, when suddenly she caught
sight of Sören Overseer, stretched at full length in the edge of the
copse, his eyes closed as if he were asleep. A scythe was lying at his
side, and the grass had been cut for some distance around.

Marie stood for a long time gazing at his large, regular features, his
broad, vigorously breathing chest, and his dark, full-veined hands,
which were clasped above his head. But Sören was drowsing rather than
sleeping, and suddenly he opened his eyes, wide awake, and looked up
at her. He was startled at being found by one of the family sleeping
when he should have been cutting hay, but the expression in Marie’s
eyes amazed him so much that he did not come to his senses until she
blushed, said something about the heat, and turned to go. He jumped
up, seized his scythe and whetstone, and began to rub the steel until
it sang through the warm, tremulous air. Then he went at the grass,
slashing as if his life were at stake.

After a while, he saw Marie crossing the stile into the grove, and at
that he paused. He stood a moment staring after her, his arms resting
on his scythe, then suddenly flung it away with all his strength, sat
down with legs sprawling, mouth open, palms flat out on the grass, and
thus he sat in silent amazement at himself and his own strange thoughts.

He looked like a man who had just dropped down from a tree.

His head seemed to be teeming with dreams. What if any one had cast a
spell over him? He had never known anything like the way things swarmed
and swarmed inside of his head, as if he could think of seven things at
once, and he couldn’t get the hang of them–they came and went as if
he’d nothing to say about it. It surely was queer the way she’d looked
at him, and she hadn’t said anything about his sleeping this way in the
middle of the day. She had looked at him so kindly, straight out of her
clear eyes, and–just like Jens Pedersen’s Trine she had looked at him.
Her ladyship! Her ladyship! There was a story about a lady at Nörbæk
manor who had run away with her gamekeeper. Had he got such a look when
he was asleep? Her ladyship! Maybe he might get to be good friends
with her ladyship, just as the gamekeeper did. He couldn’t understand
it–was he sick? There was a burning spot on each of his cheeks, and
his heart beat, and he felt so queer, it was hard to breathe. He began
to tug at a stunted oak, but he could not get a grip on it where he was
sitting; he jumped up, tore it loose, and threw it away, caught his
scythe, and cut till the grass flew in the swath.

In the days that followed, Marie often came near Sören, who happened
to have work around the house, and he always stared at her with an
unhappy, puzzled, questioning expression, as if imploring her to give
him the answer to the riddle she had thrown in his way, but Marie only
glanced furtively in his direction and turned her head away.

Sören was ashamed of himself and lived in constant fear that his
fellow-servants would notice there was something the matter with him.
He had never in all his life before been beset by any feeling or
longing that was in the least fantastic, and it made him timid and
uneasy. Maybe he was getting addled or losing his wits. There was no
knowing how such things came over people, and he vowed to himself that
he would think no more about it, but the next moment his thoughts were
again taking the road he would have barred them from. The very fact
that he could not get away from these notions was what troubled him
most, for he remembered that he had heard tales of Cyprianus, whom you
could burn and drown, yet he always came back. In his heart of hearts
he really hoped that the fancies would not leave him, for life would
seem very dreary and empty without them, but this he did not admit to
himself. In fact, his cheeks flushed with shame whenever he soberly
considered what he really had in mind.

About a week after the day when she had found Sören asleep, Marie
Grubbe was sitting under the great beech on the heathery hill in
Fastrup Grove. She sat leaning her back against the trunk, and held an
open book in her hand, but she was not reading. With dreamy eyes, she
followed intently a large, dark bird of prey, which hung, in slowly
gliding, watchful flight, over the unending, billowing surface of the
thick, leafy treetops.

The air was drenched with light and sun, vibrant with the drowsy,
monotonous hum of myriad invisible insects. The sweet–too sweet–odor
of yellow-flowered broom and the spicy fragrance of sun-warmed
birch-leaves mingled with the earthy smell of the forest and the almond
scent of white meadowsweet in the hollows.

Marie sighed.

“Petits oiseaux des bois,”

she whispered plaintively,

“que vous estes heureux,
De plaindre librement vos tourmens amoreux.
Les valons, les rochers, les forests et les plaines
Sçauent également vos plaisirs et vos peines.”

She sat a moment trying to remember the rest, then took the book and
read in a low, despondent tone:

“Vostre innocente amour ne fuit point la clarté,
Tout le monde est pour vous un lieu de liberté,
Mais ce cruel honneur, ce fléau de nostre vie,
Sous de si dures loix la retient asservie….”

She closed the book with a bang and almost shouted:

“Il est vray je ressens une secrète flame
Qui malgré ma raison s’allume dans mon âme
Depuis le jour fatal que je vis sous l’ormeau
Alcidor, qui dançoit au son du chalumeau.”

Her voice sank, and the last lines were breathed forth softly, almost
automatically, as if her fancy were merely using the rhythm as an
accompaniment to other images than those of the poem. She leaned her
head back and closed her eyes. It was so strange and disturbing, now
that she was middle-aged, to feel herself again in the grip of the
same breathless longing, the same ardent dreams and restless hopes
that had thrilled her youth. But would they last? Would they not be
like the short-lived bloom that is sometimes quickened by a sunny week
in autumn, the after-bloom that sucks the very last strength of the
flower, only to give it over, feeble and exhausted, to the mercy of
winter? For they were dead, these longings, and had slept many years in
silent graves. Why did they come again? What did they want of her? Was
not their end fulfilled, so they could rest in peace and not rise again
in deceitful shapes of life, to play the game of youth once more?

So ran her thoughts, but they were not real. They were quite impersonal,
as if she were making them up about some one else; for she had no doubt
of the strength and lasting power of her passion. It had filled her so
irresistibly and completely that there was no room left in her for
reflective amazement. Yet for a moment she followed the train of
theoretical reasoning, and she thought of the golden Remigius and his
firm faith in her, but the memory drew from her only a bitter smile
and a forced sigh, and the next moment her thoughts were caught up
again by other things.

She wondered whether Sören would have the courage to make love to
her. She hardly believed he would. He was only a peasant, and she
pictured to herself his slavish fear of the gentlefolks, his dog-like
submission, his cringing servility. She thought of his coarse
habits and his ignorance, his peasant speech and poor clothes, his
toil-hardened body and his vulgar greediness. Was she to bend beneath
all this, to accept good and evil from this black hand? In this
self-abasement there was a strange, voluptuous pleasure, which was in
part gross sensuality, but in part akin to whatever is counted noblest
and best in woman’s nature. For such was the manner in which the clay
had been mixed out of which she was fashioned….

A few days later, Marie Grubbe was in the brew-house at Tjele mixing
mead; for many of the bee-hives had been injured on the night of the
fire. She was standing in the corner by the hearth, looking at the open
door, where hundreds of bees, drawn by the sweet smell of honey, were
swarming, glittering like gold in the strip of sunlight that pierced
the gloom.

Just then Sören came driving in through the gate with an empty coach in
which he had taken Palle Dyre to Viborg. He caught a glimpse of Marie
and made haste to unharness and stable the horses and put the coach in
its place. Then he strutted about a little while, his hands buried deep
in the pockets of his long livery coat, his eyes fixed on his great
boots. Suddenly he turned abruptly toward the brew-house, swinging one
arm resolutely, frowning and biting his lips like a man who is forcing
himself to an unpleasant but unavoidable decision. He had, in fact,
been swearing to himself all the way from Viborg to Foulum that this
must end, and he had kept up his courage with a little flask, which his
master had forgotten to take out of the coach.

He took off his hat when he came into the house, but said nothing,
simply stood passing his fingers awkwardly along the edge of the
brewing-vat.

Marie asked whether Sören had any message to her from her husband.

No.

Would Sören taste her brew, or would he like a piece of sugar-honey?

Yes, thank you–or that is, no, thanks–that wasn’t what he’d come for.

Marie blushed and felt quite uneasy.

Might he ask a question?

Ay, indeed he might.

Well, then, all he wanted to say was this, with her kind permission,
that he wasn’t in his right mind, for waking or sleeping he thought of
nothing but her ladyship, and he couldn’t help it.

Ah, but that was just what Sören ought to do.

No, he wasn’t so sure of that, for ’twas not in the way of tending to
his work that he thought of her ladyship. ‘Twas quite different; he
thought of her in the way of what folks called love.

He looked at her with a timid questioning expression and seemed quite
crestfallen, as he shook his head, when Marie replied that it was quite
right; that was what the pastor said they should all do.

No, ’twasn’t in that way either, ’twas kind of what you might call
sweethearting. But of course there wasn’t any cause for it–he went on
in an angry tone as if to pick a quarrel–he s’posed such a fine lady
would be afraid to come near a poor common peasant like him, though
to be sure peasants were kind of half way like people too, and didn’t
have either water or sour gruel for blood any more than gentlefolks. He
knew the gentry thought they were of a kind by themselves, but really
they were made about the same way as others, and sure he knew they ate
and drank and slept and all that sort of thing just like the lowest,
commonest peasant lout. And so he didn’t think it would hurt her
ladyship if he kissed her mouth any more than if a gentleman had kissed
her. Well, there was no use her looking at him like that, even if he
was kind of free in his talk, for he didn’t care what he said any more,
and she was welcome to make trouble for him if she liked, for when he
left her, he was going straight to drown himself in the miller’s pond
or else put a rope around his neck.

He mustn’t do that; for she never meant to say a word against him to
any living creature.

So she didn’t? Well, anybody could believe that who was simple enough,
but no matter for that. She’d made trouble enough for him, and ’twas
nobody’s fault but hers that he was going to kill himself, for he loved
her beyond anything.

He had seated himself on a bench, and sat gazing at her with a mournful
look in his good, faithful eyes, while his lips trembled as if he were
struggling with tears.

She could not help going over to him and laying a comforting hand on
his shoulder.

She’d best not do that. He knew very well that when she put her hand on
him and said a few words quietly to herself she could read the courage
out of him, and he wouldn’t let her. Anyhow, she might as well sit down
by him, even if he was nothing but a low peasant, seeing that he’d be
dead before nightfall.

Marie sat down.

Sören looked at her sideways and moved a little farther away on the
bench. Now he s’posed he’d better say good-by and thank her ladyship
for all her kindness in the time they’d known each other, and maybe
she’d say good-by from him to his cousin Anne–the kitchen-maid at the
manor.

Marie held his hand fast.

Well, now he was going.

No, he must stay; there was no one in all the world she loved like him.

Oh, that was just something she said because she was afraid he’d come
back and haunt her, but she might make herself easy on that score, for
he didn’t bear any grudge against her and would never come near her
after he was dead; that he’d both promise and perform, if she would
only let him go.

No, she would never let him go.

Then if there was nothing else for it–Sören tore his hand away, and
ran out of the brew-house and across the yard.

Marie was right on his heels, when he darted into the menservants’
quarters, slammed the door after him, and set his back against it.

“Open the door, Sören, open the door, or I’ll call the servants!”

Sören made no answer, but calmly took a bit of pitchy twine from his
pocket and proceeded to tie the latch with it, while he held the door
with his knee and shoulder. Her threat of calling the other servants
did not alarm him, for he knew they were all haymaking in the outlying
fields.

Marie hammered at the door with all her might.

“Merciful God!” she cried. “Why don’t you come out! I love you as much
as it’s possible for one human being to love another! I love you, love
you, love you–oh, he doesn’t believe me! What shall I do–miserable
wretch that I am!”

Sören did not hear her, for he had passed through the large common
room into the little chamber in the rear, where he and the gamekeeper
usually slept. This was where he meant to carry out his purpose, but
then it occurred to him that it would be a pity for the gamekeeper; it
would be better if he killed himself in the other room, where a number
of them slept together. He went out into the large room again.

“Sören, Sören, let me in, let me in! Oh, please open the door! No, no,
oh, he’s hanging himself, and here I stand. Oh, for God Almighty’s
sake, Sören, open the door! I have loved you from the first moment
I saw you! Can’t you hear me? There’s no one I’m so fond of as you,
Sören, no one–no one in the world, Sören!”

“Is’t true?” asked Sören’s voice, hoarse and unrecognizable, close to
the door.

“Oh, God be praised for evermore! Yes, yes, yes, it _is_ true, it _is_
true; I swear the strongest oath there is in the world that I love you
with my whole soul. Oh, God be praised for evermore–”

Sören had untied the twine, and the door flew open. Marie rushed into
the room and threw herself on his breast, sobbing and laughing. Sören
looked embarrassed and hardly knew how to take it.

“Oh, Heaven be praised that I have you once more!” cried Marie. “But
where were you going to do it? Tell me!” She looked curiously around
the room at the unmade beds, where faded bolsters, matted straw, and
dirty leather sheets lay in disorderly heaps.

But Sören did not answer, he gazed at Marie angrily. “Why didn’t you
say so before?” he said and struck her arm.

“Forgive me, Sören, forgive me!” wept Marie, pressing close to him,
while her eyes sought his pleadingly.

Sören bent down wonderingly and kissed her. He was utterly amazed.

“And it’s neither play-acting nor visions?” he asked, half to himself.

Marie smiled and shook her head.

“The devil! Who’d ‘a’ thought–”

* * * * *

At first the relation between Marie and Sören was carefully concealed,
but when Palle Dyre had to make frequent trips to Randers in his
capacity of royal commissioner, his lengthy absences made them
careless, and before long it was no secret to the servants at Tjele.
When the pair realized that they were discovered, they took no pains to
keep the affair hidden, but behaved as if Palle Dyre were at the other
end of the world instead of at Randers. Erik Grubbe they recked nothing
of. When he threatened Sören with his crutch, Sören would threaten him
with his fist, and when he scolded Marie and tried to bring her to
her senses, she would tease him by reeling off long speeches without
raising her voice, as was necessary now if he were to hear her; for he
had become quite deaf, and besides he was wont to protect his bald head
with a skull-cap with long earlaps, which did not improve his hearing.

It was no fault of Sören’s that Palle Dyre, too, did not learn the true
state of affairs; for in the violence of his youthful passion, he did
not stick at visiting Marie even when the master was at home. At dusk,
or whenever he saw his chance, he would seek her in the manor-house
itself, and on more than one occasion it was only the fortunate
location of the stairway that saved him from discovery.

His sentiment for Marie was not always the same, for once in a while
he would be seized with the idea that she was proud and must despise
him. Then he would become capricious, tyrannical, and unreasonable,
and treated her much more harshly and brutally than he really meant,
simply in order to have her sweetness and submissiveness chase away
his doubts. Usually, however, he was gentle and easily led, so long
as Marie was careful not to complain too much of her husband and her
father, or picture herself as too much abused; for then he would wax
furious and swear that he would blow out Palle Dyre’s brains and put
his hands around Erik Grubbe’s thin neck, and he would be so intent on
carrying out his threat that she had to use prayers and tears to calm
him.

The most serious element of disturbance in their relation was the
persistent baiting of the other servants. They were, of course, highly
incensed at the lovemaking between mistress and coachman, which put
their fellow-servant in a favored position, and–especially in the
absence of the master–gave him an influence to which he had no more
rightful claim than they. So they harassed and tortured poor Sören,
until he was quite beside himself and thought sometimes that he would
run away and sometimes that he would kill himself.

The maids were, of course, his worst tormentors.

* * * * *

One evening they were busy making candles in the hall at Tjele. Marie
was standing beside the straw-filled vat in which the copper mould was
placed. She was busy dipping the wicks, while the kitchen-maid, Anne
Trinderup, Sören’s cousin, was catching the drippings in an earthenware
dish. The cook was carrying the trays back and forth, hanging them up
under the frame, and removing the candles when they were thick enough.
Sören sat at the hall table looking on. He wore a gold-laced cap of red
cloth trimmed with black feathers. Before him stood a silver tankard
full of mead, and he was eating a large piece of roast meat, which he
cut in strips with his clasp-knife on a small pewter plate. He ate very
deliberately, sometimes taking a draught from his cup, and now and then
answering Marie’s smile and nod with a slow, appreciative movement of
his head.

She asked him if he was comfortable.

H’m, it might have been better.

Then Anne must go and fetch him a cushion from the maids’ room.

She obeyed, but not without a great many signs to the other maid behind
Marie’s back.

Did Sören want a piece of cake?

Yes, that mightn’t be out of the way.

Marie took a tallow dip and went to get the cake, but did not return
immediately. As soon as she was out of the room, the two girls began
to laugh uproariously, as if by agreement. Sören gave them an angry,
sidelong glance.

“Dear Sören,” said Anne, imitating Marie’s voice and manner, “won’t
you have a serviette, Sören, to wipe your dainty fingers, Sören, and a
bolstered foot-stool for your feet, Sören? And are you sure it’s light
enough for you to eat with that one thick candle, Sören, or shall I get
another for you? And there’s a flowered gown hanging up in master’s
chamber, shan’t I bring it in? ‘Twould look so fine with your red cap,
Sören!”

Sören did not deign to answer.

“Ah, won’t your lordship speak to us?” Anne went on. “Common folk like
us would fain hear how the gentry talk, and I know his lordship’s
able, for you’ve heard, Trine, that his sweetheart’s given him a
compliment-book, and sure it can’t fail that such a fine gentleman can
read and spell both backwards and forwards.”

Sören struck the table with his fist and looked wrathfully at her.

“Oh, Sören,” began the other girl, “I’ll give you a bad penny for a
kiss. I know you get roast meat and mead from the old–”

At that moment Marie came in with the cake and set it down before
Sören, but he threw it along the table.

“Turn those women out!” he shouted.

But the tallow would get cold.

He didn’t care if it did.

The maids were sent away.

Sören flung the red cap from him, cursed and swore and was angry. He
didn’t want her to go there and stuff him with food as if he was an
unfattened pig, and he wouldn’t be made a fool of before people with
her making play-actor caps for him, and there’d have to be an end to
this. He’d have her know that he was the man, and didn’t care to have
her coddle him, and he’d never meant it that way. He wanted to rule,
and she’d have to mind him; he wanted to give, and she should take. Of
course he knew he didn’t have anything to give, but that was no reason
why she should make nothing of him by giving to him. If she wouldn’t
go with him through fire and flood, they’d have to part. He couldn’t
stand this. She’d have to give herself into his power and run away with
him, she shouldn’t sit there and be your ladyship and make him always
look up to her. He needed to have her be a dog with him–be poor, so he
could be good to her and have her thank him, and she must be afraid of
him and not have any one to put her trust in but him.

A coach was heard driving in at the gate. They knew it must be Palle
Dyre, and Sören stole away to the menservants’ quarters.

Three of the men were sitting there on their beds, besides the
gamekeeper, Sören Jensen, who stood up.

“Why, there’s the baron!” said one of the men, as the coachman came in.

“Hush, don’t let him hear you,” exclaimed the other with mock anxiety.

“Ugh,” said the first speaker, “I wouldn’t be in his shoes fer’s many
rosenobles as you could stuff in a mill-sack.”

Sören looked around uneasily and sat down on a chest that was standing
against the wall.

“It must be an awful death,” put in the man who had not yet spoken, and
shuddered.

Sören Gamekeeper nodded gravely to him and sighed.

“What’re you talkin’ about?” asked Sören with pretended indifference.

No one answered.

“Is’t here?” said the first man, passing his fingers across his neck.

“Hush!” replied the gamekeeper, frowning at the questioner.

“Ef it’s me you’re talkin’ about,” said Sören, “don’t set there an’
cackle, but say what you got to say.”

“Ay,” said the gamekeeper, laying great stress on the word and looking
at Sören with a serious air of making up his mind. “Ay, Sören, it _is_
you we’re talkin’ about. Good Lord!” he folded his hands and seemed
lost in dark musings. “Sören,” he began, “it’s a hangin’ matter what
ye’re doin’, and I give you warnin'”–he spoke as if reading from
a book–“mend your ways, Sören! There stands the gallows and the
block”–he pointed to the manor-house–“and there a Christian life an’
a decent burial”–he waved his hand in the direction of the stable.
“For you must answer with your neck, that’s the sacred word of the law,
ay, so it is, so it is, think o’ that!”

“Huh!” said Sören defiantly. “Who’ll have the law on me?”

“Ay,” repeated the gamekeeper in a tone as if something had been
brought forward that made the situation very much worse. “Who’ll
have the law on you? Sören, Sören, who’ll have the law on you? But
devil split me, you’re a fool,” he went on in a voice from which the
solemnity had flown, “an’ it’s fool’s play to be runnin’ after an old
woman, when there’s such a risk to it. If she’d been young! An’ such
an ill-tempered satan, too–let Blue-face keep _her_ in peace, there’s
other women in the world besides her, Heaven be praised.”

Sören had neither courage nor inclination to explain to them that he
could no longer live without Marie Grubbe. In fact, he was almost
ashamed of his foolish passion, and he knew that if he confessed the
truth, it would only mean that the whole pack of men and maids would
hound him, so he lied and denied his love.

“‘Tis a wise way you’re pointin’, but look ‘ee here, folks, I’ve got
a rix-dollar when you haven’t any, an’ I’ve got a bit of clothes an’
another bit an’ a whole wagon-load, my dear friends, and once I get my
purse full, I’ll run away just as quiet, an’ then one o’ you can try
your luck.”

“All well an’ good,” answered Sören Gamekeeper, “but it’s stealin’
money with your neck in a noose, I say. It’s all very fine to have
clothes and silver given you for a gift, an’ most agreeable to lie in
bed here an’ say you’re sick an’ get wine an’ roasted meat an’ all
kinds o’ belly-cheer sent down, but it won’t go long here with so many
people round. It’ll get out some day, an’ then you’re sure o’ the worst
that can befall any one.”

“Oh, they won’t let things come to such a pass,” said Sören, a little
crestfallen.

“Well, they’d both like to get rid o’ her, and her sisters and her
brothers-in-law are not the kind o’ folks who’d stand between, if
there’s a chance o’ getting her disinherited.”

“O jeminy, she’d help me.”

“You think so? She may ha’ all she can do helpin’ herself; she’s been
in trouble too often fer any one to help her wi’ so much as a bucket o’
oats.”

“Hey-day,” said Sören, making for the inner chamber, “a threatened man
may live long.”

From that day on, Sören was pursued by hints of the gallows and the
block and the red-hot pincers wherever he went. The consequence was
that he tried to drive away fear and keep up his courage with brandy,
and as Marie often gave him money, he was never forced to stay sober.
After a while, he grew indifferent to the threats, but he was much more
cautious than before, kept more to the other servants, and sought Marie
more rarely.

A little before Christmas, Palle Dyre came home and remained there,
which put a stop to the meetings between Sören and Marie. In order to
make the other servants believe that all was over, and so keep them
from telling tales to the master, Sören began to play sweethearts with
Anne Trinderup, and he deceived them all, even Marie, although he had
told her of his plan.

On the third day of Christmas, when most of the people were at church,
Sören was standing by the wing of the manor-house, playing with one of
the dogs, when suddenly he heard Marie’s voice calling him, it seemed
to him under the ground.

He turned and saw Marie standing in the low trap-door leading to the
salt-cellar. She was pale and had been weeping, and her eyes looked
wild and haunted under eyebrows that were drawn with pain.

“Sören,” she said, “what have I done, since you no longer love me?”

“But I do love you! Can’t you see I must have a care, fer they’re all
thinkin’ o’ nothin’ but how they can make trouble fer me an’ get me
killed. Don’t speak to me, let me go, ef ye don’t want to see me dead!”

“Tell me no lies, Sören; I can see what is in your heart, and I wish
you no evil, not for a single hour, for I am not your equal in youth,
and you have always had a kindness for Anne, but it’s a sin to let me
see it, Sören, you shouldn’t do that. Don’t think I am begging you to
take me, for I know full well the danger ‘twould put you in, and the
labor and wear and tear that would be needed if we were to become a
couple by ourselves, and ’tis a thing hardly to be wished either for
you or me, though I can’t help it.”

“But I don’t want Anne now or ever, the country jade she is! I’m fond
o’ you an’ no one else in the world, let ’em call you old and wicked
an’ what the devil they please.”

“I can’t believe you, Sören, much as I wish to.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“No, Sören, no. My only wish is that this might be my grave, the spot
where I stand. Would that I could close the door over me and sit down
to sleep forever in the darkness.”

“I’ll make you believe me!”

“Never, never! there is nothing in all the world you can do to make me
believe you, for there is no reason in it.”

“You make me daft wi’ your talk, and you’ll live to be sorry; for I’m
goin’ to make you believe me, even ef they burn me alive or do me to
death fer it.”

Marie shook her head and looked at him sadly.

“Then it must be, come what may,” said Sören and ran away.

He stopped at the kitchen door, asked for Anne Trinderup, and was told
that she was in the garden. Then he went over to the menservants’
quarters, took a loaded old gun of the gamekeeper’s, and made for the
garden.

Anne was cutting kale when Sören caught sight of her. She had filled
her apron with the green stuff, and was holding the fingers of one hand
up to her mouth to warm them with her breath. Slowly Sören stole up to
her, his eyes fixed on the edge of her dress, for he did not want to
see her face.

Suddenly Anne turned and saw Sören. His dark looks, the gun, and his
stealthy approach alarmed her, and she called to him: “Oh, don’t,
Sören, please don’t!” He lifted the gun, and Anne rushed off through
the snow with a wild, shrill scream.

The shot fell; Anne went on running, then put her hand to her cheek and
sank down with a cry of horror.

Sören threw down the gun and ran to the side of the house. He found the
trap-door closed. Then on to the front door, in and through all the
rooms, till he found Marie.

“‘Tis all over!” he whispered, pale as a corpse.

“Are they after you, Sören?”

“No, I’ve shot her.”

“Anne? Oh, what will become of us! Run, Sören, run–take a horse and
get away, quick, quick! Take the gray one!”

Sören fled. A moment later he was galloping out of the gate. He was
scarcely halfway to Foulum, when people came back from church. Palle
Dyre at once asked where Sören was going.

“There is some one lying out in the garden, moaning,” said Marie. She
trembled in every limb and could hardly stand on her feet.

Palle and one of the men carried Anne in. Her screams could be heard
far and wide, but the hurt was not really serious. The gun had only
been loaded with grapeshot, of which a few had gone through her cheek
and a few more had settled in her shoulder, but as she bled freely and
cried piteously, a coach was sent to Viborg for the barber-surgeon.

When she had gathered her wits together a little, Palle Dyre questioned
her about how it had happened, and was told not only that, but the
whole story of the affair between Sören and Marie.

As soon as he came out of the sick-room all the servants crowded
around him and tried to tell him the same tale, for they were afraid
that if they did not, they might be punished. Palle refused to listen
to them, saying it was all gossip and stupid slander. The fact was, the
whole thing was extremely inconvenient to him: divorce, journeys to
court, lawsuit, and various expenditures–he preferred to avoid them.
No doubt the story could be hushed up and smoothed over and all be as
before. Marie’s unfaithfulness did not in itself affect him much; in
fact, he thought it might be turned to advantage, by giving him more
power over her and possibly also over Erik Grubbe, who would surely be
anxious to keep the marriage unbroken, even though it had been violated.

When he had talked with Erik Grubbe, however, he hardly knew what to
think, for he could not make out the old man. He seemed furious, and
had instantly sent off four mounted men with orders to take Sören dead
or alive, which was certainly not a good way of keeping matters dark;
for many other things might come up in a trial for attempted murder.

In the evening of the following day, three of the men returned. They
had caught Sören at Dallerup, where the gray horse had fallen under
him, and had brought him to Skanderborg, where he was now held for
trial. The fourth man had lost his way and did not return until a day
later.

In the middle of January, Palle Dyre and Marie moved to Nörbæk manor.
He thought the servants would more easily forget when their mistress
was out of their sight, but in the latter part of February they were
again reminded of the affair, when a clerk came from Skanderborg
to ask whether Sören had been seen in the neighborhood, for he had
broken out of the arrest. The clerk came too early, for not until a
fortnight later did Sören venture to visit Nörbæk one night, and to
rap on Marie’s chamber window. His first question, when Marie opened
it, was whether Anne was dead, and it seemed to relieve his mind of a
heavy burden when he heard that she had quite recovered. He lived in a
deserted house on Gassum heath and often came again to get money and
food. The servants as well as Palle Dyre knew that he was in the habit
of visiting the house, but Palle took no notice, and the servants did
not trouble themselves in the matter, when they saw the master was
indifferent.

At haymaking time, the master and mistress moved back to Tjele, where
Sören did not dare to show himself. His absence, added to her father’s
taunts and petty persecution, irritated and angered Marie, until she
gave her feelings vent by scolding Erik Grubbe, in private, two or
three times, as if he had been her foot-boy. The result was that, in
the middle of August, Erik Grubbe sent a letter of complaint to the
King. After recounting at great length all her misdeeds, which were a
sin against God, a scandal before men, and an offence to all womanhood,
he ended the epistle saying:

Whereas she hath thus grievously disobeyed and misconducted herself, I
am under the necessity of disinheriting her, and I do humbly beseech
Your Royal Majesty that You will graciously be pleased to ratify and
confirm this my action, and that Your Royal Majesty will furthermore
be pleased to issue Your most gracious command to Governor Mogens
Scheel, that he may make inquiry concerning her aforesaid behavior
toward me and toward her husband, and that because of her wickedness,
she be confined at Borringholm, the expense to be borne by me, in
order that the wrath and visitation of God may be upon her as a
disobedient creature, a warning unto others, and her own soul possibly
unto salvation. Had I not been hard pressed, I should not have made
so bold as to come before You with this supplication, but I live in
the most humble hope of Your Royal Majesty’s most gracious answer,
acknowledgment, and aid, which God shall surely reward. I live and die

Your Royal Majesty’s
Most humble and most devoted
true hereditary subject

ERIK GRUBBE.

Tjele, August 14, 1690.

* * * * *

The King desired a statement in the matter from the Honorable Palle
Dyre, and this was to the effect that Marie did not conduct herself
toward him as befitted an honest wife, wherefore he petitioned the
King to have the marriage annulled without process of law. This was
not granted, and the couple were divorced by a decree of the court,
on March twenty-third, sixteen hundred and ninety-one. Erik Grubbe’s
supplication that he might lock her up and disinherit her was also
refused, and he had to content himself with keeping her a captive at
Tjele, strictly guarded by peasants, while the trial lasted, and indeed
it must be admitted that he was the last person who had any right to
cast at her the stone of righteous retribution.

As soon as judgment had been pronounced, Marie left Tjele with a poor
bundle of clothes in her hand. She met Sören on the heath to the south,
and he became her third husband.

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