She looked straight into his eyes and turned to go

Flakes of orange-colored light shot up from the sea-gray fog-bank in
the horizon, and lit the sky overhead with a mild, rose-golden flame
that widened and widened, grew fainter and fainter, until it met a
long, slender cloud, caught its waving edge, and fired it with a
glowing, burning radiance. Violet and pale pink, the reflection from
the sunrise clouds fell over the beaches of Kallebodstrand. The dew
sparkled in the tall grass of the western rampart; the air was alive
and quivering with the twitter of sparrows in the gardens and on the
roofs. Thin strips of delicate mist floated over the orchards, and the
heavy, fruit-laden branches of the trees bent slowly under the breezes
from the Sound.

A long-drawn, thrice-repeated blast of the horn was flung out from West
Gate and echoed from the other corners of the city. The lonely watchmen
on the ramparts began to pace more briskly on their beats, shook their
mantles, and straightened their caps. The time of relief was near.

On the bastion north of West Gate, Ulrik Frederik Gyldenlöve stood
looking at the gulls, sailing with white wings up and down along the
bright strip of water in the moat. Light and fleeting, sometimes faint
and misty, sometimes colored in strong pigments or clear and vivid as
fire, the memories of his twenty years chased one another through his
soul. They brought the fragrance of heavy roses and the scent of fresh
green woods, the huntsman’s cry and the fiddler’s play and the rustling
of stiff, billowy silks. Distant but sunlit, the life of his childhood
in the red-roofed Holstein town passed before him. He saw the tall form
of his mother, Mistress Margrethe Pappen, a black hymn-book in her
white hands. He saw the freckled chamber-maid with her thin ankles and
the fencing-master with his pimpled, purplish face and his bow-legs.
The park of Gottorp castle passed in review, and the meadows with fresh
hay-stacks by the fjord, and there stood the gamekeeper’s clumsy boy
Heinrich, who knew how to crow like a cock and was marvellously clever
at playing ducks and drakes. Last came the church with its strange
twilight, its groaning organ, its mysterious iron-railed chapel, and
its emaciated Christ holding a red banner in his hand.

Again came a blast of the horn from West Gate, and in the same moment
the sun broke out, bright and warm, routing all mists and shadowy tones.

He remembered the chase when he had shot his first deer, and old von
Dettmer had made a sign in his forehead with the blood of the animal,
while the poor hunters’ boys blew their blaring fanfares. Then there
was the nosegay to the castellan’s Malene and the serious interview
with his tutor, then his first trip abroad. He remembered his first
duel in the fresh, dewy morning, and Annette’s cascades of ringing
laughter, and the ball at the Elector’s, and his lonely walk outside
of the city gates with head aching, the first time he had been tipsy.
The rest was a golden mist, filled with the tinkling of goblets and the
scent of wine, and there were Lieschen and Lotte, and Martha’s white
neck and Adelaide’s round arms. Finally came the journey to Copenhagen
and the gracious reception by his royal father, the bustling futilities
of court duties by day and the streams of wine and frenzied kisses at
night, broken by the gorgeous revelry of the chase or by nightly trysts
and tender whisperings in the shelter of Ibstrup park or the gilded
halls of Hilleröd castle.

Yet clearer than all these he saw the black, burning eyes of Sofie
Urne; more insistent than aught else her voice sounded in his
spell-bound memory–beautiful and voluptuously soft, its low notes
drawing like white arms, or rising like a flitting bird that soars and
mocks with wanton trills, while it flees….

A rustling among the bushes of the rampart below waked him from his
dreams.

“Who goes there!” he cried.

“None but Daniel, Lord Gyldenlöve, Daniel Knopf,” was the answer, as a
little crippled man came out from the bushes, bowing.

“Ha! Hop-o’-my-Thumb? A thousand plagues, what are you doing here?”

The man stood looking down at himself sadly.

“Daniel, Daniel!” said Ulrik Frederik, smiling. “You didn’t come
unscathed from the ‘fiery furnace’ last night. The German brewer must
have made too hot a fire for you.”

The cripple began to scramble up the edge of the rampart. Daniel Knopf,
because of his stature called Hop-o’-my-Thumb, was a wealthy merchant
of some and twenty years, known for his fortune as well as for his
sharp tongue and his skill in fencing. He was boon companion with the
younger nobility, or at least with a certain group of gallants, _le
cercle des mourants_, consisting chiefly of younger men about the
court. Ulrik Frederik was the life and soul of this crowd, which,
though convivial rather than intellectual, and notorious rather than
beloved, was in fact admired and envied for its very peccadillos.

Half tutor and half mountebank, Daniel moved among these men. He did
not walk beside them on the public streets, or in houses of quality,
but in the fencing-school, the wine-cellar, and the tavern he was
indispensable. No one else could discourse so scientifically on bowling
and dog-training or talk with such unction of feints and parrying. No
one knew wine as he did. He had worked out profound theories about
dicing and love-making, and could speak learnedly and at length on the
folly of crossing the domestic stud with the Salzburger horses. To
crown all, he knew anecdotes about everybody, and–most impressive of
all to the young men–he had decided opinions about everything.

Moreover, he was always ready to humor and serve them, never forgot the
line that divided him from the nobility, and was decidedly funny when,
in a fit of drunken frolic, they would dress him up in some whimsical
guise. He let himself be kicked about and bullied without resenting it,
and would often good-naturedly throw himself into the breach to stop a
conversation that threatened the peace of the company.

Thus he gained admittance to circles that were to him as the very
breath of life. To him, the citizen and cripple, the nobles seemed like
demigods. Their cant alone was human speech. Their existence swam in
a shimmer of light and a sea of fragrance, while common folk dragged
out their lives in drab-colored twilight and stuffy air. He cursed his
citizen birth as a far greater calamity than his lameness, and grieved
over it, in solitude, with a bitterness and passion that bordered on
insanity.

“How now, Daniel,” said Ulrik Frederik, when the little man reached
him. “‘Twas surely no light mist that clouded your eyes last night,
since you’ve run aground here on the rampart, or was the clary at flood
tide, since I find you high and dry like Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat?”

“Prince of the Canaries, you rave if you suppose I was in your company
last night!”

“A thousand devils, what’s the matter then?” cried Ulrik Frederik
impatiently.

“Lord Gyldenlöve,” said Daniel, looking up at him with tears in his
eyes, “I’m an unhappy wretch.”

“You’re a dog of a huckster! Is it a herring-boat you’re afraid the
Swede will catch? Or are you groaning because trade has come to a
standstill, or do you think the saffron will lose its strength and
the mildew fall on your pepper and paradise grain? You’ve a ha’penny
soul! As if good citizens had naught else to think about than their own
trumpery going to the devil,–now that we may look for the fall of both
King and realm!”

“Lord Gyldenlöve–”

“Oh, go to the devil with your whining!”

“Not so, Lord Gyldenlöve,” said Daniel solemnly, stepping back a pace.
“For I don’t fret about the stoppage of trade, nor the loss of money
and what money can buy. I care not a doit nor a damn for herring and
saffron, but to be turned away by officers and men like one sick with
the leprosy or convicted of crime, that’s a sinful wrong against me,
Lord Gyldenlöve. That’s why I’ve been lying in the grass all night like
a scabby dog that’s been turned out, that’s why I’ve been writhing like
a miserable crawling beast and have cried to God in heaven, asking Him
why I alone should be utterly cast away, why my arm alone should be too
withered and weak to wield a sword, though they’re arming lackeys and
‘prentice boys–”

“But who the shining Satan has turned you away?”

“Faith, Lord Gyldenlöve, I ran to the ramparts like the others, but
when I came to one party they told me they had room for no more, and
they were only poor citizens anyway and not fit to be with the gentry
and persons of quality. Some parties said they would have no crooked
billets, for cripples drew the bullets and brought ill luck, and none
would hazard life and limb unduly by having amongst them one whom the
Lord had marked. Then I begged Major-General Ahlefeldt that he would
order me to a position, but he shook his head and laughed: things
hadn’t come to such a pass yet that they had to stuff the ranks with
stunted stumps who’d give more trouble than aid.”

“But why didn’t you go to the officers whom you know?”

“I did so, Lord Gyldenlöve. I thought at once of the _cercle_ and spoke
to one or two of the _mourants_–King Petticoat and the Gilded Knight.”

“And did they give you no help?”

“Ay, Lord Gyldenlöve, they helped me–Lord Gyldenlöve, they helped me,
may God find them for it! ‘Daniel,’ they said, ‘Daniel, go home and
pick the maggots out of your damson prunes!’ They had believed I had
too much tact to come here with my buffoonery. ‘Twas all very well if
they thought me fit to wear cap and bells at a merry bout, but when
they were on duty I was to keep out of their sight. Now, was that well
spoken, Lord Gyldenlöve? No, ’twas a sin, a sin! Even if they’d made
free with me in the wine-cellars, they said, I needn’t think I was one
of them, or that I could be with them when they were at their post.
I was too presumptuous for them, Lord Gyldenlöve! I’d best not force
myself into their company, for they needed no merry-andrew here. That’s
what they told me, Lord Gyldenlöve! And yet I asked but to risk my life
side by side with the other citizens.”

“Oh, ay,” said Ulrik Frederik, yawning, “I can well understand that
it vexes you to have no part in it all. You might find it irksome to
sweat over your desk while the fate of the realm is decided here on
the ramparts. Look you, you _shall_ be in it! For–” He broke off and
looked at Daniel with suspicion. “There’s no foul play, sirrah?”

The little man stamped the ground in his rage and gritted his teeth,
his face pale as a whitewashed wall.

“Come, come,” Ulrik Frederik went on, “I trust you, but you can scarce
expect me to put faith in your word as if ’twere that of a gentleman.
And remember, ’twas your own that scorned you first. Hush!”

From a bastion at East Gate boomed a shot, the first that had been
fired in this war. Ulrik Frederik drew himself up, while the blood
rushed to his face. He looked after the white smoke with eager,
fascinated eyes, and when he spoke there was a strange tremor in his
voice.

“Daniel,” he said, “toward noon you can report to me, and think no more
of what I said.”

Daniel looked admiringly after him, then sighed deeply, sat down in the
grass, and wept as an unhappy child weeps.

* * * * *

In the afternoon of the same day, a fitful wind blew through the
streets of the city, whirling up clouds of dust, whittlings, and bits
of straw, and carrying them hither and thither. It tore the tiles
from the roofs, drove the smoke down the chimneys, and wrought sad
havoc with the tradesmen’s signs. The long, dull-blue pennants of the
dyers were flung out on the breeze and fell down again in spirals that
tightened around their quivering staffs. The turners’ spinning-wheels
rocked and swayed; hairy tails flapped over the doors of the furriers,
and the resplendent glass suns of the glaziers swung in a restless
glitter that vied with the polished basins of the barber-surgeons.
Doors and shutters were slamming in the back-yards. The chickens hid
their heads under barrels and sheds, and even the pigs grew uneasy
in their pens, when the wind howled through sunlit cracks and gaping
joints.

The storm brought an oppressive heat. Within the houses the people were
gasping for breath, and only the flies were buzzing about cheerfully
in the sultry atmosphere. The streets were unendurable, the porches
were draughty, and hence people who possessed gardens preferred to seek
shelter there.

In the large enclosure behind Christoffer Urne’s house in
Vingaardsstræde, a young girl sat with her sewing under a Norway maple.
Her tall, slender figure was almost frail, yet her breast was deep and
full. Luxuriant waves of black hair and almost startlingly large dark
eyes accented the pallor of her skin. The nose was sharp, but finely
cut, the mouth wide though not full, and with a morbid sweetness in
its smile. The lips were scarlet, the chin somewhat pointed, but firm
and well rounded. Her dress was slovenly: an old black velvet robe
embroidered in gold that had become tarnished, a new green felt hat
from which fell a snowy plume, and leather shoes that were worn to
redness on the pointed toes. There was lint in her hair, and neither
her collar nor her long, white hands were immaculately clean.

The girl was Christoffer Urne’s niece, Sofie. Her father, Jörgen Urne
of Alslev, Councillor of the Realm, Lord High Constable, and Knight of
the Elephant, had died when she was yet a child, and a few years ago
her mother, Mistress Margrethe Marsvin, had followed him. The elderly
uncle, with whom she lived, was a widower, and she was therefore, at
least nominally, the mistress of his household.

She hummed a song as she worked, and kept time by swinging one foot on
the point of her toe.

The leafy crowns over her head rustled and swayed in the boisterous
wind with a noise like the murmur of many waters. The tall hollyhocks,
swinging their flower-topped stems back and forth in unsteady circles,
seemed seized with a sudden tempestuous madness, while the raspberry
bushes, timidly ducking their heads, turned the pale inner side of
their leaves to the light and changed color at every breath. Dry
leaves sailed down through the air, the grass lay flat on the ground,
and the white bloom of the spirea rose and fell froth-like upon the
light-green, shifting waves of the foliage.

There was a moment of stillness. Everything seemed to straighten and
hang breathlessly poised, still quivering in suspense, but the next
instant the wind came shrieking again and caught the garden in a wild
wave of rustling and glittering and mad rocking and endless shifting as
before.

“In a boat sat Phyllis fair;
Corydon beheld her there,
Seized his flute, and loudly blew it.
Many a day did Phyllis rue it;
For the oars dropped from her hands,
And aground upon the sands,
And aground–”

Ulrik Frederik was approaching from the other end of the garden.
Sofie looked up for a moment in surprise, then bent her head over her
work and went on humming. He strolled slowly up the walk, sometimes
stopping to look at a flower, as though he had not noticed that there
was any one else in the garden. Presently he turned down a side-path,
paused a moment behind a large white syringa to smooth his uniform and
pull down his belt, took off his hat and ran his fingers through his
hair, then walked on. The path made a turn and led straight to Sofie’s
seat.

“Ah, Mistress Sofie! Good-day!” he exclaimed as though in surprise.

“Good-day!” she replied with calm friendliness. She carefully disposed
of her needle, smoothed her embroidery with her hands, looked up with
a smile, and nodded. “Welcome, Lord Gyldenlöve!”

“I call this blind luck,” he said, bowing. “I expected to find none
here but your uncle, madam.”

Sofie threw him a quick glance and smiled. “He’s not here,” she said,
shaking her head.

“I see,” said Ulrik Frederik, looking down.

There was a moment’s pause. Then Sofie spoke: “How sultry it is to-day!”

“Ay, we may get a thunderstorm, if the wind goes down.”

“It may be,” said Sofie, looking thoughtfully toward the house.

“Did you hear the shot this morning?” asked Ulrik Frederik, drawing
himself up as though to imply that he was about to leave.

“Ay, and we may look for heart-rending times this summer. One may
well-nigh turn light-headed with the thought of the danger to life
and goods, and for me with so many kinsmen and good friends in this
miserable affair, who are like to lose both life and limb and all they
possess, there’s reason enough for falling into strange and gloomy
thoughts.”

“Nay, sweet Mistress Sofie! By the living God, you must not shed
tears!? You paint all in too dark colors–

Tousiours Mars ne met pas au jour
Des objects de sang et de larmes,
Mais”–

and he seized her hand and lifted it to his lips–

“… tousiours l’Empire d’amour
Est plein de troubles et d’alarmes.”

Sofie looked at him innocently. How lovely she was! The intense,
irresistible night of her eyes, where day welled out in myriad
light-points like a black diamond flashing in the sun, the poignantly
beautiful arch of her lips, the proud lily paleness of her cheeks
melting slowly into a rose-golden flush like a white cloud kindled by
the morning glow, the delicate temples, blue-veined like flower-petals,
shaded by the mysterious darkness of her hair….

Her hand trembled in his, cold as marble. Gently she drew it away,
and her eyelids dropped. The embroidery slipped from her lap. Ulrik
Frederik stooped to pick it up, bent one knee to the ground, and
remained kneeling before her.

“Mistress Sofie!” he said.

She laid her hand over his mouth and looked at him with gentle
seriousness, almost with pain.

“Dear Ulrik Frederik,” she begged, “do not take it ill that I beseech
you not to be led by a momentary sentiment to attempt a change in the
pleasant relations that have hitherto existed between us. It serves no
purpose but to bring trouble and vexation to us both. Rise from this
foolish position and take a seat in mannerly fashion here on this bench
so that we may converse in all calmness.”

“No, I want the book of my fate to be sealed in this hour,” said Ulrik
Frederik without rising. “You little know the great and burning passion
I feel for you, if you imagine I can be content to be naught but your
good friend. For the bloody sweat of Christ, put not your faith in
anything so utterly impossible! My love is no smouldering spark that
will flame up or be extinguished according as you blow hot or cold on
it. _Par dieu!_ ‘Tis a raging and devouring fire, but it’s for you
to say whether it is to run out and be lost in a thousand flickering
flames and will-o’-the-wisps, or burn forever, warm and steady, high
and shining toward heaven.”

“But, dear Ulrik Frederik, have pity on me! Don’t draw me into a
temptation that I have no strength to withstand! You must believe that
you are dear to my heart and most precious, but for that very reason I
would to the uttermost guard myself against bringing you into a false
and foolish position that you cannot maintain with honor. You are
nearly six years younger than I, and that which is now pleasing to you
in my person, age may easily mar or distort to ugliness. You smile, but
suppose that when you are thirty you find yourself saddled with an old
wrinkled hag of a wife, who has brought you but little fortune, and
not otherwise aided in your preferment! Would you not then wish that
at twenty you had married a young royal lady, your equal in age and
birth, who could have advanced you better than a common gentlewoman?
Dear Ulrik Frederik, go speak to your noble kinsmen, they will tell
you the same. But what they cannot tell you is this: if you brought to
your home such a gentlewoman, older than yourself, she would strangle
you with her jealousy. She would suspect your every look, nay the
innermost thoughts of your heart. She would know how much you had given
up for her sake, and therefore she would strive the more to have her
love be all in all to you. Trust me, she would encompass you with her
idolatrous love as with a cage of iron, and if she perceived that you
longed to quit it for a single instant, she would grieve day and night
and embitter your life with her despondent sorrow.”

She rose and held out her hand. “Farewell, Ulrik Frederik! Our parting
is bitter as death, but after many years, when I am a faded old maid,
or the middle-aged wife of an aged man, you will know that Sofie Urne
was right. May God the Father keep thee! Do you remember the Spanish
romance book where it tells of a certain vine of India which winds
itself about a tree for support, and goes on encircling it, long after
the tree is dead and withered, until at last it holds the tree that
else would fall? Trust me, Ulrik Frederik, in the same manner my soul
will be sustained and held up by your love, long after your sentiment
shall be withered and vanished.”

She looked straight into his eyes and turned to go, but he held her
hand fast.

“Would you make me raving mad? Then hear me! Now I know that thou
lovest me, no power on earth can part us! Does nothing tell thee that
’tis folly to speak of what thou wouldst or what I would?–when my
blood is drunk with thee and I am bereft of all power over myself! I am
possessed with thee, and if thou turnest away thy heart from me in this
very hour, thou shouldst yet be mine, in spite of thee, in spite of me!
I love thee with a love like hatred–I think nothing of thy happiness.
Thy weal or woe is nothing to me–only that I be in thy joy, I be in
thy sorrow, that I–”

He caught her to him violently and pressed her against his breast.

Slowly she lifted her face and looked long at him with eyes full of
tears. Then she smiled. “Have it as thou wilt, Ulrik Frederik,” and she
kissed him passionately.

Three weeks later their betrothal was celebrated with much pomp. The
King had readily given his consent, feeling that it was time to make an
end of Ulrik Frederik’s rather too convivial bachelorhood.