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POULTRY MEG'S FAMILY

 

 POULTRY MEG was the only human occupant in the handsome new house which was built for the fowls and ducks on the estateIt stood where the old baronial man-sion had stoodwith its tower crow-step gablemoatand drawbridge Close by was a wilderness of trees andbushes the garden had been here and had stretched downto a big lake which was now a bog. Rookscrows andjackdaws flew screaming and cawing over the old trees aperfect swarm of birds They did not seem to decreasebut rather to increase although one shot amongst themOne could hear them inside the poultry-house where Poultry Meg sat with the ducklings running about over herwooden shoesShe knew every fowland every duckfrom the time it crept out of the egg she was proud of herfowls and ducks and proud of the splendid house which had been built for them

Her own little room was clean and neat that was thewish of the lady to whom the poultry-house belonged sheoften came there with distinguished guests and showed them the "barracks of the hens and ducks"as she called it. Here was both a wardrobe and an easy-chairand even a chest of drawersand on it was a brightly polishedbrass plate on which was engraved the word "Grubbe" which was the name of the oldnoble family who had lived here in the mansion. The brass plate was found when they were digging here and the parish clerk hadsaid that it had no other value except as an old relic Theclerk knew all about the place and the old time for hehad knowledge from booksthere were so many manuscripts in his table-drawer He had great knowledgeof the old times but the oldest of the crows knew moreperhapsand screamed aboaut it in his own languagebutit was crow-language which the clerk did not under-standclever as he might be

The bog could steam after a warm summer day so that it seemed as if a lake lay behind the old treeswhere thecrows rooks and jackdaws flew so it had appeared whenthe Knight Grubbe had lived here and the old manor- house stood with its thickred wallsThe dog's chain usedto reach quite past the gateway in those daysthrough thetower one went into a stone-paved passage which led to the rooms the windows were narrow and the panes smalleven in the great hallwhere the dancing took placebut in the time of the last Grubbe there was no dancing as farback as one could rememberand yet there lay there an old kettledrum which had served as part of the musicHere stood a curions carved cupboard in which rare flower bulbswere kept for Lady Grubbe was fond of gardening and cultivated tress and plants her husband preferred ridingout to shoot wolves and wild boars and his little daughterMarie always went with him When she was only five years old she sat proudly on her horse and looked round brave-ly with her big black eyes It was her delight to hit outwith her whip amongst the hounds her father would havepreferred to see her hit out amongst the peasant boys who came to look at the company

The peassant in the clay house close to the manor had a son called S ren the same age as the little noble ladyHe knew how to climband had always to go up and getthe bird's nests for her The birds screamed as loud as they could scream and one of the biggest of them cut himover the eye so that the blood poured out It was thoughtat first that the eye had been destroyed but it was very little damaged after all

Marie Grubbe called him her Srenthat was a great favourand it was a good thing for his father poor Johnhe had committed a fault one dayand was to be punishedby riding the wooden horseIt stood in the yard with fourpoles for legs and a single narrow plank for a back onthis John had to ride astride and have some heavy bricks fastened to his legs so that he might not sit too comfort-ablyhe made horrible grimaces and Sren wept and im- plored little Marie to interfere immediately she orderedthat Sren's father should be taken down and when they did not obey her she stamped on the stone pavementandpulled her father's coat sleeve till it was torn. She would have her way and she got it and Sren's father was tak-en down

The Lady Grubbewho now came upstroked her little daughter's hair and looked at her affectionately Maire did not understand why She would go to the hounds and not with her mother who went into the gar- den down to the lake where the white and yellow water- lilies bloomed and the bulrushes nodded amongst the reeds She looked at all this luxuriance and freshness

"How pleasant" said she There stood in the garden a rare tree which she herself had planted it was called a"copper-beech" a kind of black a mooor amongst the oth- er trees so dark brown were the leaves it must havestrong sunshine otherwise in continual shade it would be- come green like the other trees and so lose its distinctive characterIn the high chestnut-trees were many birds'

nests as well as in the bushes and the grassy meadows

It seemed as if the birds knew that they were protected here for here no one dared to fire a gun

The little Marie came here with Sren he could climb as we know and he fetched both eggs and young downy birds The birds flew about in terror and anguishlittle ones and big onesPeewits from the field rooks crows and jackdaws from the high trees screamed andshrieked it was a shriek exactly the same as their descendants shriek in our own day

" What are you doing children" cried the gentle lady"This is ungodly work"

Sren stood ashamed and even the high-born littlegirl looked a little abashed but then she said shortly and sulkily"My father lets me do it"

"Afar afar" screamed the great blackbirds and flew off but they came again next day for their home was here

But the quiet gentle lady did not stay long at home hereour Lord called her to Himself with Him she was more at home than in the mansionand the church bellstolled solemnly when her body was carried to the church

Poor men's eyes were wetfor she had been good to themWhen she was goneno one cared for her plants and the garden ran to waste

Sir Grubbe was a bard man they said but his daugh- teralthough she was so youngcould manage himhe had to laugh and she got her wayShe was now twelve yearsold and strongly builtshe looked through and throughpeople with her big black eyes rode her horse like a man and shot her gun like a practised hunter

One day there came great visitors to the neighbour- hood the very greatest the young king and his half-broth- er and comrade Lord Ulrik Frederick Gyldenlwe theywanted to hunt the wild boar there and would stay somedays at Sir Grubbe's castle

Gyldenlwe sat next Marie at table he took her roundthe neck and gave her a kiss as if they had been rela- tionsbut she gave him a slap on the mouth and said thatshe could not bear him At that there was great laughteras if it was an amusing thing

And it mag have been amusing too for five years af-terwhen Marie had completed her seventeenth yeara messenger came with a letterLord Gyldenlwe proposed for the hand of the noble lady that was something

"He is the grandest and most gallant gentleman in thekingdom" said Sir Grubbe"That is not to be despised"

" I don't care much about him" said Marie Grubbebut she did not reject the grandest man in the countrywhosat by the king's side

Silver plate woollen and linen went with a ship toCopenhagen she travelled overland in ten days The outfithad contrary winds or no wind at all four months passedbefore it arrivedand when it did come Lady Gyldenlwehad departed

"I would rather lie on coarse sacking than in his silken bed"said she" I'd rather walk on my bare feetthan drive with him in a carriage"

Late one evening in November two women came rid- ing into the town of Aarhusit was Lady Gyldenlwe andher maid they came from Veile where they had arrived from Copenhagen by ship They rode up to Sir Grubbe's stone mansion He was not delighted with the visit She gothard words but she got a bedroom as well got nice foodfor breakfast but not nice words for the evil in her fatherwas roused against herand she was not accustomed to thatShe was not of a gentle temperand as one is spoken to so one answers She certainly did answer and spoke with bitterness and hate about her husbandwith whom she would not live she was too honourable for that

So a year went past but it did not pass pleasantly

There were evil words between father and daughter and that there should never be Evil words have evil fruitWhat could be the end of this

"We two cannot remain under the same roof "said the father one day" Go away from here to our old manor- housebut rather bite your tongue out than set liesgoing"

So these two separated she went with her maid to the old manor-house where she had been born andbrought upand where the gentle pious lady her mother lay in the church vault an old cowherd lived in the house and that was the whole establishmentCobwebshung in the roomsdark and heavy with dust in the gardween the trees and bushes and hemlock and nettlesgrew larger and strongerThe copper beech was overgrown by the others and now stood in shade its leaves were now as green as the other common treesand its glory had de- partedRookscrowsand daws flew in thick swarms over the high chestnut-trees and there was a cawing and screaming as if they had some important news to tell each other now she is here again the little one who had caused their eggs and their young ones to be stolen from them The thief himself who had fetched them now climbed on a leafless tree sat on the high mastand got good blows from the rope's end if he did not behave him- self

The clerk told all this in our own time he had col-lected it and put it together from books and manuscriptsit lay with many more manuscripts in the table-drawer

" Up and down is the way of the world" said he" it is strange to hear " And we shall hear how it went with Marie Grubbe but we will not forget Poultry Meg who sits in her grand hen-house in our time Marie Grubbe sat there in her timebut not with the same spirit as old Poultry Meg

The winter passed spring and summer passed andthen again came the stormy autumn-time with the cold wet sea-fogsIt was a lonely life a wearisome life there in the old manor-houseSo Marie Grubbe took her gun and went out on the moors and shot hares and foxesandwhatever birds she came across Out there she met oftenerthan once noble Sir Palle Dyre from Nrrebaek who was al- so wandering about with his gun and his dogs He was bigand strong and boasted about it when they talked togetherHe could have dared to measure himself with the late Mr

Brockenhus of Egeskov of whose strength there were still stories Palle Dyre had following his example caused an iron chain with a hunting-horn to be hung at his gate andwhen he rode home he caught the chain and lifted himself with the horse from the ground and blew the horn

" Come yourself and see it Dame Marie" said he"there is fresh air blowing at Nrrebaek"

When she went to his house is not recorded but onthe candlesticks in Nrrebaek Church one can read that they were given by Palle Dyre and Marie Grubbe of Nrrebaek Castle

Bodily strength had Palle Dyre he drank like a sponge he was like a tub that could never be filled hesnored like a whole pig-sty and he looked red and bloat- ed. "He is Piggish and rude" said Dame Palle DyreGrubbe's daughterSoon she was tired of the life but thatdid not make it any betterOne day the table was laidand the food was getting coldPalle Dyre was fox-hunting and the lady was not to be foundPalle Dyre home at midnight Dame Dyre came neither at midnight nor in the morning she had turned her back on Nrrebaek had ridden away without greeting or farewell

It was grey wet weather the wind blew cold and a flock of black screaming birds flew over her they were not so homeless as she

First she went southquite up to Germany a couple of gold ring with precious stones were turned into money

then she went east and then turned again to the west shehad no goal before her eyes and was angry with every oneeven with the good God Himself so wretched was hermindsoon her whole body became wretched too and she could scarcely put one foot before anotherThe peewit flew up from its tussock when she fell over itthe bird screamed as it always dose "You thiefYou thief "Shehad never stolen her neighbour's goods but birds'eggsand young birds she had had brought to her when she was a little girl she thought of that now. From where she lay she cluld see the sand-hills by the shore fishermen lived there but she could not get sofarshe was so illThe great white sea-mews came flyingabove her and screamed as the rooks and crows screamed over the garden at home. The birds flew very near her and at last she imagined that they were coal-black butthen it became night before her eyes

When she again opened her eyes was being car- ried a big strong fellow had taken her in his armsShelooked straight into his bearded face he had a scar overhis eye so that the eyebrow appeared to be divided in two He carried her miserable as she was to the shipwhere he got a rating from the captain for it

The day followingthe ship sailedMarie Grubbe was not put ashore so she went with it But she came back again no doubt Yes but when and where

The clerk could also tell about this and it was not astory which he himself had put together He had the whole strange story from a trustworthy old bookwe our- selves can take it out and read it

The Danish historian Ludwig Holberg who has written so many useful books and the amusing comedies from which we can get to know his time and people tells in his letters of Marie Grubbe where and how he metherit is well worth hearing aboutbut we will not forgetPoultry Megwho sits so glad and comfortable in her grand hen-house

The ship sailed away with Marie Grubbeit was there we left off

Years and years went past

The plague was raging in Copenhagenit was in theyear 1711The Queen of Denmark went away to her Ger- man home the king quitted the capital every one who could hastened awayThe students even if they had board and lodging free left the city One of them the last whostill remained at the so-called Borch's College close byRegensen also went away It was two o' clock in the morning he came with his knapsack which was filledmore with books and manuscripts than with clothes

A damp clammy mist hung over the town not acreature was to be seen in the whole street round about onthe doors and gates crosses were marked to show that theplague was insideor that the people were dead No onewas to be seen either in the broader winding Butcher'sRow as the street was called which led from the Round Tower to the King's Castle A big ammunition wagon rum-bled past the driver swung his whip and the horses wentoff at a gallop the wagon was full of dead bodies The young student held his hand before his face and smelt atsome strong spirits which he had on a sponge in a brass box

From a tavern in one of the streets came the sound of singing and unpleasant laughter from people who drank thenight through to forget that the plague stood before thedoor and would have them to accompany him in the wagon with the other corpses The student turned his steps to- wards the castle bridge where one or two small ships layone of them was weighing anchor to get away from the plague-stricken city. "Ludwig Holberg " said the student and the namesounded like any other name now the sound is one of the proudest names in Denmarkat that time he was only ayoungunknown student

The ship glided past the castleIt was not yet clear morning when they came out into the open water A light breeze came along and the sails swelled the young stu-dent set himself with his face to the wind and fell asleepand that was not quite the wisest thing to doAlready onthe third morning the ship lay off Falster

" Do you know any one in this place with whom I could live cheaply" Holberg asked the captain

"I believe that you would do well to go to the ferrywoman in Borrehouse,"said he."If you want to be verypolie,her name is Mother Sren Sorensen Mller!yet itmay happen that she will fly into a rage if you are too polite to her!Her husband is in custody for a crime;sheherself manages the ferryboat,she has fists of her own!" The student took his knapsack and went to theferry-house.The door was not locked,he lifted thelatch,and went into a room with a bricklaid floor,where a bench with a big leather coverlet was the chiefarticle of furniture.A white hen with chickens was fastened to the bench,and had upset the waterdish,andthe water had run across the floor.No one was here,orin the next room,only a cradle with a child in it.Theferry-boat came back with only one person in it,whether man or woman was not easy to say.The personwas wrapped in a great cloak,and wore a fur cap like ahood on the head.The boat lay to. It was a woman who got out and came into theroom.She looked very imposing when she straightenedher back;two proud eyes sat under the black eyebrows.It was Mother Sren,the ferry-woman;rooks,crows,and daws would scream out another name whichwe know better. She looked morose,and did not seem to care totalk,but so much was said and settled,that the student arranged for board and lodging for an indefinitetime,whilst things were so bad in Copenhagen. One or other honest citizen from the neighbouringtown came regularly out to the ferry-house.Frank thecutler and Sivert the exciseman came there;theydrank a glass of ale and talked with the student.Hewas a clever young man,who knew his"Practica",asthey called it;he read Greek and Latin,and was wellup in learned subjects. "The less one knows,the less one is burdenedwith it,"said Mother Sren. "You have to work hard!"said Holberg,one daywhen she soaked her clothes in the sharp lye,and herself chopped the treeroots for firewood. "That's my affair!"said she. "Have you always from childhood been obliged towork and toil?"

"You can see that in my hands!"said she,and showed him two small but strong,hard hands with bittennails."You have learning and can read." At Christmas it began to snow heavily.The cold cameon,the wind blew sharply,as if it had vitriol to wash people's faces with.Mother Sren did not let that disturb her.She drew her cloak around her,and pulled her hood downover her head.It was dark in the house,early in the afternoon.She laid wood and turf on the fire,and set herselfdown to darn her stockings,there was no one else to do it.Towards evening she talked more to the student than washer custom.She spoke about her husband. "He has by accident killed a skipper of Dragr,andfor that he must work three years in irons.He is only acommon sailor,and so the law must take its course." "The law applies also to people of higher position,"said Holberg. "De you think so?"said Mother Sren,and lookedinto the fire,but then she began again,"Have you heardof Kai Lykke,who caused one of his churches to be pulleddown,and when the priest thundered red from the pulpit aboutit,he caused the priest to be laid in irons,appointed acourt,and adjudged him to have forfeited his head,whichwas accordingly struck off;that was not an accident,andyet Kai Lykke went free that time!" "He was in the right according to the times!"saidHolberg,"now we are past that!" "You can try to make fools believe that,"said MotherSren as she rose and went into the room where the childlay,eased it and laid it down again,and then arranged thestudent's bed;he had the leather covering,for he felt thecold more than she did,and yet he had been born in Norway. On New Year's morning it was a real bright sunshinyday;the frost had been and still was so strong that thedrifted snow lay frozen hard,so that one could walk uponit.The bells in the town rang for church,and the studentHolberg took his woollen cloak about him and would go tothe town. Over the ferry-house the crows and rooks were flyingwith loud cries,one could scarcely hear the church bells fortheir noise.Mother Sren stood outside,filling a brasskettle with snow,which she was going to put on the fireto get drinking-water.She looked up to the swarm ofbirds,and had her own thoughts about it. The student Holberg went to church;on the waythere and back he passed Sivert the tax-collector's house,by the town gate;there he was invited in for a glass ofwarm ale with syrup and ginger.The conversation turnedon Mother Sren,but the taxcollector did not know muchabout herindeed,few people did.She did not belong toFalster,he said;she had possessed a little property atone time;her husband was a common sailor with a violenttemper,who had murdered a skipper of Dragor."Hebeats his wife,and yet she takes his part." "I could not stand such treatment!"said the tax collector's wife."I am also come of better people;my fatherwas stockingweaver to the Court!" "Consequently you have married a Government official,"said Holberg,and made a bow to her and the taxcollector. It was Twelfth Night,the evening of the festival ofthe Three Kings.Mother Soren lighted for Holberg athree-king candlethat is to say,a tallowcandle withthree branches,which she herself had dipped. "A candle for each man!"said Holberg. "Each man?"said the woman,and looked sharply athim. "Each of the wise men from the east!"said Hol-berg. "That way!"said she,and was silent for a longtime. But on the evening of the Three Kings he learnedmore about her than he did before. "You have an affectionate mind to your husband,"said Holberg,"and yet people say that he treats youbadly." "That is no one's business but mine!"she answered."The blows could have done me good as a child;now I get them for my sin's sake!I know what good hehas done me,"and she rose up."When I lay ill on theopen heath,and no one cared to come in contact with me,except perhaps the crows and the rooks to peck at me,hecarried me in his arms and got hard words for the catch hebrought on board.I am not used to be ill,and so I recov-ered.Every one has his own way,Sren has his,and oneshould not judge a horse by the halter!With him I havelived more comfortably than with the one they called themost gallant and noble of all the king's subjects.I havebeen married to the Stadtholder Gyldenlwe,the half-brother of the king;later on I took Palle Dyre!Right orwrong,each has his own way,and I have mine.That wasa long story,but now you know it!"And she went out ofthe room. It was Marie Grubbe!so strange had been the rollingball of her fortune.She did not live to see many more anniversaries of the festival of the Three Kings;Holberg hasrecorded that she died in 1716,but he has not recorded,for he did not know it,that when Mother Sren,as she wascalled,lay a corpse in the ferryhouse,a number of bigblackbirds flew over the place.They did not scream,as ifthey knew that silence belonged to a burial.As soon as shewas laid in the earth the birds disappeared,but the sameevening over at the old manor in Jutland an enormous number of crows and rooks were seen;they all screamed asloud as they could,as if they had something to announce,perhaps about him who as a little boy took their eggs andyoung ones,the farmer's son who had to wear a garter ofiron,and the noble lady who ended her life as a ferrywoman at Grnsund. "Brave!brave!"they screamed. And the whole family screamed"Brave!brave!"when the old manor-house was pulled down. "They still cry,and there is no more to cry about!"said the clerk,when he told the story."The family is extinct,the house pulled down,and where it stood,nowstands the grand hen-house with the gilded weathercock andwith old Poultry Meg.She is so delighted with her charm-ing dwelling;if she had not come here,she would havebeen in the workhouse."

The pigeons cooed over her.the turkeys gobbledround about her,and the ducks quacked. "No one knew her!"they said."She has no rela-tions.It is an act of grace that she is here.She has nei-ther a drake father nor a hen mother,and no descendants!" Still she had relations,although she did not knowit,nor the clerk either,however much manuscript hehad in the tabledrawer,but one of the old crows knewabout it,and told about it.From its mother and grandmother it had heard about Poultry Meg's mother andher grandmother,whom we also know from the time shewas a child and rode over the bridge looking about herproudly,as if the whole world and its birds'nests belonged to her;we saw her out on the heath by thesanddunes,and last of all in the ferryhouse. The grandchild,the last of the race,had comehome again where the old house had stood,where thewild birds screamed,but she sat among the tamebirds,known by them and known along with them.Poultry Meg had no more to wish for,she was glad todie,and old enough to die. "Grave!grave!"screamed the crows. And Poultry Meg got a good grave,which no oneknew except the old crow,if he is not dead also. And now we know the story of the old manor,theold race,and the whole of Poultry Meg's family.

 


 

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