Members of the Trolle, Sehested, Rosencrantz, and Krag families lived
there; Joachim Gersdorf was Mistress Rigitze’s neighbor, and one or two
foreign ministers usually had lodgings in Carl van Mandern’s new red
mansion. Only one side of the street was the home of fashion, however;
on the other side, Nikolaj Church was flanked by low houses, where
dwelt artisans, shopkeepers, and shipmasters. There were also one or
On a Sunday morning, early in September, Marie Grubbe stood looking
out of the dormer window in Mistress Rigitze’s house. Not a vehicle in
sight! Nothing but staid footsteps, and now and then the long-drawn cry
of the oyster-monger. The sunlight, quivering over roofs and pavements,
threw sharp, black, almost rectangular shadows. The distance swam in a
faint bluish heat mist.
“At-tention!” called a woman’s voice behind her, cleverly mimicking the
raucous tones of one accustomed to much shouting of military orders.
Marie turned. Her aunt’s maid, Lucie, had for some time been sitting
on the table, appraising her own well-formed feet with critical eyes.
Tired of this occupation, she had called out, and now sat swinging her
legs and laughing merrily.
Marie shrugged her shoulders with a rather bored smile and would have
returned to her window-gazing, but Lucie jumped down from the table,
caught her by the waist, and forced her down on a small rush-bottomed
“Look here, Miss,” she said, “shall I tell you something?”
“You’ve forgot to write your letter, and the company will be here at
half-past one o’clock, so you’ve scarce four hours. D’you know what
they’re going to have for dinner? Clear soup, flounder or some such
broad fish, chicken pasty, Mansfeld tart, and sweet plum compote.
Faith, it’s fine, but not fat! Your sweetheart’s coming, Miss?”
“Nonsense!” said Marie crossly.
“Lord help me! It’s neither banns nor betrothal because I say so! But,
Miss, I can’t see why you don’t set more store by your cousin. He is
the pret-tiest, most be-witching man I ever saw. Such feet he has! And
there’s royal blood in him–you’ve only to look at his hands, so tiny
and shaped like a mould, and his nails no larger than silver groats and
so pink and round. Such a pair of legs he can muster! When he walks
it’s like steel springs, and his eyes blow sparks–”
She threw her arms around Marie and kissed her neck so passionately and
covetously that the child blushed and drew herself out of the embrace.
Lucie flung herself down on the bed, laughing wildly.
“How silly you are to-day,” cried Marie. “If you carry on like this,
I’ll go downstairs.”
“Merciful! Let me be merry once in a while! Faith, there’s trouble
enough, and I’ve more than I can do with. With my sweetheart in the
war, suffering ill and worse–it’s enough to break one’s heart. What if
they’ve shot him dead or crippled! God pity me, poor maid, I’d never
get over it.” She hid her face in the bedclothes and sobbed: “Oh, no,
no, no, my own dear Lorens–I’d be so true to you, if the Lord would
only bring you back to me safe and sound! Oh, Miss, I _can’t_ bear it!”
Marie tried to soothe her with words and caresses, and at last she
succeeded in making Lucie sit up and wipe her eyes.
“Indeed, Miss,” she said, “no one knows how miserable I am. You see, I
can’t possibly behave as I should all the time. ‘Tis no use I resolve
to set no store by the young men. When they begin jesting and passing
compliments, my tongue’s got an itch to answer them back, and then ’tis
true more foolery comes of it than I could answer for to Lorens. But
when I think of the danger he’s in, oh, then I’m more sorry than any
living soul can think. For I love him, Miss, and no one else, upon my
soul I do. And when I’m in bed, with the moon shining straight in on
the floor, I’m like another woman, and everything seems so sad, and I
weep and weep, and something gets me by the throat till I’m like to
choke–it’s terrible! Then I keep tossing in my bed and praying to
God, though I scarce know what I’m praying for. Sometimes I sit up in
bed and catch hold of my head and it seems as if I’d lose my wits with
longing. Why, goodness me, Miss, you’re crying! Sure you’re not longing
for any one in secret–and you so young?”
Marie blushed and smiled faintly. There was something flattering in the
idea that she might be pining for a lover.
“No, no,” she said, “but what you say is so sad. You make it seem as if
there’s naught but misery and trouble.”
“Bless me, no, there’s a little of other things too,” said Lucie,
rising in answer to a summons from below, and nodding archly to Marie,
as she went.
Marie sighed and returned to the window. She looked down into the cool,
green graveyard of St. Nikolaj, at the red walls of the church, over
the tarnished copper roof of the castle, past the royal dockyard and
ropewalk around to the slender spire of East Gate, past the gardens and
wooden cottages of Hallandsaas, to the bluish Sound melting into the
blue sky, where softly moulded cloud-masses were drifting to the Skaane
Three months had passed since she came to Copenhagen. When she left
home she had supposed that life in the residential city must be
something vastly different from what she had found. It had never
occurred to her that she might be more lonely there than at Tjele
Manor, where, in truth, she had been lonely enough. Her father had
never been a companion to her, for he was too entirely himself to be
anything to others. He never became young when he spoke to fourteen
years nor feminine when he addressed a little maid. He was always on
the shady side of fifty and always Erik Grubbe.
As for his concubine, who ruled as though she were indeed mistress of
the house, the mere sight of her was enough to call out all there was
of pride and bitterness in Marie. This coarse, domineering peasant
woman had wounded and tortured her so often that the girl could hardly
hear her step without instantly and half unconsciously hardening into
obstinacy and hatred. Little Anne, her half-sister, was sickly and
spoiled, which did not make it easier to get along with her, and to
crown all, the mother made the child her excuse for abusing Marie to
Who, then, were her companions?
She knew every path and road in Bigum woods, every cow that pastured
in the meadows, every fowl in the hencoop. The kindly greeting of the
servants and peasants when she met them seemed to say: Our young lady
suffers wrong, and we know it. We are sorry, and we hate the woman up
there as much as you do.
But in Copenhagen?
There was Lucie, and she was very fond of her, but after all she
was a servant. Marie was in Lucie’s confidence and was pleased and
grateful for it, but Lucie was not in her confidence. She could not
tell her troubles to the maid. Nor could she bear to have the fact of
her unfortunate position put into words or hear a servant discuss her
unhappy family affairs. She would not even brook a word of criticism
against her aunt, though she certainly did not love her father’s
kinswoman and had no reason to love her.
Rigitze Grubbe held the theories of her time on the salutary effects of
harsh discipline, and she set herself to bring up Marie accordingly.
She had never had any children of her own, and she was not only a very
impatient foster-mother, but also clumsy, for mother love had never
taught her the useful little arts that smooth the way for teacher and
pupil. Yet a severe training might have been very good for Marie. The
lack of watchful care in her home had allowed one side of her nature
to grow almost too luxuriantly, while the other had been maimed and
stunted by capricious cruelty, and she might have felt it a relief to
be guided in the way she should go by the hard and steady hand of one
who in all common sense could wish her nothing but good.
Yet she was not so guided. Mistress Rigitze had so many irons in the
fire of politics and court intrigue that she was often away for days,
and when at home she would be so preoccupied that Marie did with
herself and her time what she pleased. When Mistress Rigitze had a
moment to spare for the child, the very consciousness of her own neglect
made her doubly irritable. The whole relation therefore wore to Marie
an utterly unreasonable aspect, and was fitted to give her the notion
that she was an outcast whom all hated and none loved.
As she stood at the window looking out over the city, this sense of
forlornness came over her again. She leaned her head against the
casement and lost herself in contemplation of the slowly gliding clouds.
She understood what Lucie had said about the pain of longing. It was
like something burning inside of you, and there was nothing to do but
to let it burn and burn–how well she knew it! What would come of it
all?–One day just like another–nothing, nothing,–nothing to look
forward to. Could it last? Yes, for a long time yet! Even when she had
passed sixteen?–But things did happen to other people! At least she
wouldn’t go on wearing a child’s cap after she was sixteen; sister
Anne Marie hadn’t–_she_ had been married. Marie remembered the noisy
carousing at the wedding long after she had been sent to bed–and the
music. Well, at least she could be married. But to whom? Perhaps to the
brother of her sister’s husband. To be sure, he was frightfully ugly,
but if there was nothing else for it–No, that certainly was nothing to
look forward to. Was there anything? Not that she could see.
She left the window, sat down by the table thoughtfully, and began to
My loving greeting always in the name of Our Lord, dear Anne Marie,
good sister and friend! God keep you always and be praised for His
mercies. I have taken upon myself to write _pour vous congratuler_
inasmuch as you have been fortunately delivered of child and are now
restored to good health. Dear sister, I am well and hearty. Our Aunt,
as you know, lives in much splendor, and we often have company, chiefly
gentlemen of the court, and with the exception of a few old dames, none
visit us but men folks. Many of them have known our blessed mother and
praise her beauty and virtue. I always sit at table with the company,
but no one speaks to me except Ulrik Frederik, whom I would prefer to
do without, for he is ever given to bantering and _raillerie_ rather
than sensible conversation. He is yet young and is not in the best
repute; ’tis said he frequents both taverns and ale-houses and the
like. Now I have nothing new to tell except that to-day we have an
assembly, and he is coming. Whenever I speak French he laughs very
much and tells me that it is a hundred years old, which may well be,
for Pastor Jens was a mere youth at the time of his travels. Yet he
gives me praise because I put it together well, so that no lady of
the court can do it better, he says, but this I believe to be but
compliments, about which I care nothing. I have had no word from Tjele.
Our Aunt cannot speak without cursing and lamenting of the enormity
that our dear father should live as he does with a female of such lowly
extraction. I grieve sorely, but that gives no boot for bane. You must
not let Stycho see this letter, but give him greeting from my heart.
Your dear sister,
The honorable Mistress Anne Marie Grubbe, consort of Stycho Höegh of
Gjordslev, my good friend and sister, written in all loving-kindness.
* * * * *
The guests had risen from the table and entered the drawing-room,
where Lucie was passing the golden Dantzig brandy. Marie had taken
refuge in a bay-window, half hidden by the full curtains. Ulrik
Frederik went over to her, bowed with exaggerated deference, and with a
very grave face expressed his disappointment at having been seated so
far from mademoiselle at the table. As he spoke, he rested his small
brown hand on the window-sill. Marie looked at it and blushed scarlet.
“_Pardon_, Mademoiselle, I see that you are flushing with anger. Permit
me to present my most humble service! Might I make so bold as to ask
how I have had the misfortune to offend you?”
“Indeed I am neither flushed nor angry.”
“Ah, so ’tis your pleasure to call that color white? _Bien!_ But then I
would fain know by what name you designate the rose commonly known as
“Can you never say a sensible word?”
“Hm–let me see–ay, it has happened, I own, but rarely–
Doch Chloë, Chloë zürne nicht!
Toll brennet deiner Augen Licht
Mich wie das Hundsgestirn die Hunde,
Und Worte schäumen mir vom Munde
Dem Geifer gleich der Wasserscheu–”
“Forsooth, you may well say that!”
“_Ach_, Mademoiselle, ’tis but little you know of the power of Eros!
Upon my word, there are nights when I have been so lovesick I have
stolen down through the Silk Yard and leaped the balustrade into
Christen Skeel’s garden, and there I’ve stood like a statue among
fragrant roses and violets, till the languishing Aurora has run her
fingers through my locks.”
“Ah, Monsieur, you were surely mistaken when you spoke of Eros; it must
have been Evan–and you may well go astray when you’re brawling around
at night-time. You’ve never stood in Skeel’s garden; you’ve been at the
sign of Mogens in Cappadocia among bottles and Rhenish wineglasses, and
if you’ve been still as a statue, it’s been something besides dreams of
love that robbed you of the power to move your legs.”
“You wrong me greatly! Though I may go to the vintner’s house
sometimes, ’tis not for pleasure nor revelry, but to forget the gnawing
anguish that afflicts me.”
“You have no faith in me; you do not trust to the constancy of my
_amour_! Heavens! Do you see the eastern louver-window in St. Nikolaj?
For three long days have I sat there gazing at your fair countenance,
as you bent over your broidery frame.”
“How unlucky you are! You can scarce open your mouth, but I can catch
you in loose talk. I never sit with my broidery frame toward St.
Nikolaj. Do you know this rigmarole?–
‘Twas black night,
Troll was in a plight;
For man held him tight.
To the troll said he:
‘If you would be free,
Then teach me quick,
Without guile or trick,
One word of perfect truth.’
Up spake the troll: ‘In sooth!’
Man let him go.
None on earth, I trow,
Could call troll liar for saying so.”
Ulrik Frederik bowed deferentially and left her without a word.
She looked after him, as he crossed the room. He did walk gracefully.
His silk hose fitted him without fold or wrinkle. How pretty they were
at the ankle, where they met the long, narrow shoe! She liked to look
at him. She had never before noticed that he had a tiny pink scar in
Furtively she glanced at her own hands and made a slight grimace,–the
fingers seemed to her too short.