A week later

After the attempt to storm Copenhagen in February of fifty-nine,
the Swedes retired, and contented themselves with keeping the city
invested. The beleaguered townspeople breathed more freely. The burdens
of war were lightened, and they had time to rejoice in the honors they
had won and the privileges that had been conferred on them. It is true,
there were some who had found a zest in the stirring scenes of war,
and felt their spirits flag, as they saw dull peace unfold its tedious
routine, but the great mass of people were glad and light at heart.
Their happiness found vent in merry routs, for weddings, christenings,
and betrothals, long postponed while the enemy was so oppressively
near, gathered gay crowds in every court and alley of the city.

Furthermore, there was time to take note of the neighbors and make the
mote in their eyes into a beam. There was time to backbite, to envy and
hate. Jealousies, whether of business or love, shot a powerful growth
again, and old enmity bore fruit in new rancor and new vengeance. There
was one who had lately augmented the number of his enemies, until he
had drawn well-nigh the hate of the whole community upon his head. This
man was Corfitz Ulfeldt. He could not be reached, for he was safe in
the camp of the Swedes, but certain of his relatives and those of his
wife, who were suspected of a friendly regard for him, were subjected
to constant espionage and annoyance, while the court knew them not.

There were but few such, but among them was Sofie Urne, Ulrik
Frederik’s betrothed. The Queen, who hated Ulfeldt’s wife more than
she hated Ulfeldt himself, had from the first been opposed to Ulrik
Frederik’s alliance with a gentlewoman so closely related to Eleonore
Christine, and since the recent actions of Ulfeldt had placed him in
a more sinister light than ever, she began to work upon the King and
others, in order to have the engagement annulled.

Nor was it long before the King shared the Queen’s view. Sofie Urne,
who was in fact given to intrigue, had been painted as so wily and
dangerous, and Ulrik Frederik as so flighty and easily led, that the
King clearly saw how much trouble might come of such an alliance. Yet
he had given his consent, and was too sensitive about his word of honor
to withdraw it. He therefore attempted to reason with Ulrik Frederik,
and pointed out how easily his present friendly footing at court might
be disturbed by a woman who was so unacceptable to the King and Queen,
and justly so, as her sympathies were entirely with the foes of the
royal house. Moreover, he said, Ulrik Frederik was standing in his own
light, since none could expect important posts to be entrusted to one
who was constantly under the influence of the enemies of the court.
Finally, he alluded to the intriguing character of Mistress Sofie,
and even expressed doubt of the sincerity of her regard. True love,
he said, would have sacrificed itself rather than bring woe upon its
object, would have hidden its head in sorrow rather than exulted from
the housetops. But Mistress Sofie had shown no scruples; indeed, she
had used his youth and blind infatuation to serve her own ends.

The King talked long in this strain, but could not prevail upon Ulrik
Frederik, who still had a lively recollection of the pleading it had
cost him to make Mistress Sofie reveal her affection. He left the King,
more than ever resolved that nothing should part them. His courtship
of Mistress Sofie was the first serious step he had ever taken in his
life, and it was a point of honor with him to take it fully. There had
always been so many hands ready to lead and direct him, but he had
outgrown all that; he was old enough to walk alone, and he meant to
do it. What was the favor of the King and the court, what were honor
and glory, compared to his love? For that alone he would strive and
sacrifice; in that alone he would live.

The King, however, let it be known to Christoffer Urne that he was
opposed to the match, and the house was closed to Ulrik Frederik, who
henceforth could see Mistress Sofie only by stealth. At first this
merely fed the flame, but soon his visits to his betrothed grew less
frequent. He became more clear-sighted where she was concerned, and
there were moments when he doubted her love, and even wondered whether
she had not led him on, that summer day, while she seemed to hold him
off.

The court, which had hitherto met him with open arms, was cold as
ice. The King, who had taken such a warm interest in his future, was
indifference itself. There were no longer any hands stretched out to
help him, and he began to miss them; for he was by no means man enough
to go against the stream. When it merely ceased to waft him along, he
lost heart instantly. At his birth, a golden thread had been placed in
his hand, and he had but to follow it upward to happiness and honor.
He had dropped this thread to find his own way, but he still saw it
glimmering. What if he were to grasp it again? He could neither stiffen
his back to defy the King nor give up Sofie. He had to visit her in
secret, and this was perhaps the hardest of all for his pride to
stomach. Accustomed to move in pomp and display, to take every step in
princely style, he winced at crawling through back alleys. Days passed,
and weeks passed, filled with inactive brooding and still-born plans.
He loathed his own helplessness, and began to despise himself for a
laggard. Then came the doubt: perhaps his dawdling had killed her love,
or had she never loved him? They said she was clever, and no doubt she
was, but–as clever as they said? Oh, no! What was love, then, if she
did not love, and yet–and yet….

Behind Christoffer Urne’s garden ran a passage just wide enough for a
man to squeeze through. This was the way Ulrik Frederik had to take
when he visited his mistress, and he would usually have Hop-o’-my-Thumb
mounted on guard at the end of the passage, lest people in the street
should see him climbing the board fence.

On a balmy, moonlit summer night, three or four hours after bedtime,
Daniel had wrapped himself in his cloak and found a seat for himself
on the remains of a pig’s trough, which some one had thrown out from a
neighboring house. He was in a pleasant frame of mind, slightly drunk,
and chuckling to himself at his own merry conceits. Ulrik Frederik
had already scaled the fence and was in the garden. It was fragrant
with elder-blossoms. Linen laid out to bleach made long white strips
across the grass. There was a soft rustling in the maples overhead and
the rose-bushes at his side; their red blossoms looked almost white
in the moonlight. He went up to the house, which stood shining white,
the windows in a yellow glitter. How quiet everything was–radiant and
calm! Suddenly the glassy whirr of a cricket shivered the stillness.
The sharp, blue-black shadows of the hollyhocks seemed painted on the
wall behind them. A faint mist rose from the bleach-linen. There!–he
lifted the latch, and the next moment he was in the darkness within.
Softly he groped his way up the rickety staircase until he felt the
warm, spice-scented air of the attic. The rotten boards of the floor
creaked under his step. The moon shone through a small window overhead,
throwing a square of light on the flat top of a grain-pile. Scramble
over–the dust whirling in the column of light! Now–the gable-room at
last! The door opened from within, and threw a faint reddish glow that
illuminated for a second the pile of grain, the smoke-yellowed, sloping
chimney, and the roof-beams. The next moment they were shut out, and he
stood by Sofie’s side in the family clothes-closet.

The small, low room was almost filled with large linen-presses. From
the loft hung bags full of down and feathers. Old spinning-wheels
were flung into the corners, and the walls were festooned with red
onions and silver-mounted harness. The window was closed with heavy
wooden shutters, but on a brass-trimmed chest beneath it stood a small
hand-lantern. Sofie opened its tiny horn-pane to get a brighter light.
Her loosened hair hung down over the fur-edged broadcloth robe she had
thrown over her homespun dress. Her face was pale and grief-worn, but
she smiled gaily and poured out a stream of chatter. She was sitting
on a low stool, her hands clasped around her knees, looking up merrily
at Ulrik Frederik, who stood silent above her, while she talked and
talked, lashed on by the fear his ill-humor had roused in her.

“How now, Sir Grumpy?” she said. “You’ve nothing to say? In all the
hundred hours that have passed, have you not thought of a hundred
things you wanted to whisper to me? Oh, then you have not longed as I
have!” She trimmed the candle with her fingers, and threw the bit of
burning wick on the floor. Instinctively Ulrik Frederik took a step
forward, and put it out with his foot.

“That’s right!” she went on. “Come here, and sit by my side; but first
you must kneel and sigh and plead with me to be fond again, for this is
the third night I’m watching. Yester eve and the night before I waited
in vain, till my eyes were dim.” She lifted her hand threateningly. “To
your knees, Sir Faithless, and pray as if for your life!” She spoke
with mock solemnity, then smiled, half beseeching, half impatient.
“Come here and kneel, come!”

Ulrik Frederik looked around almost grudgingly. It seemed too absurd
to fall on his knees there in Christoffer Urne’s attic. Yet he knelt
down, put his arm around her waist, and hid his face in her lap, though
without speaking.

She too was silent, oppressed with fear; for she had seen Ulrik
Frederik’s pale, tormented face and uneasy eyes. Her hand played
carelessly with his hair, but her heart beat violently in apprehension
and dread.

They sat thus for a long time.

Then Ulrik Frederik started up.

“No, no!” he cried. “This can’t go on! God our Father in heaven is my
witness, that you’re dear to me as the innermost blood of my heart, and
I don’t know how I’m to live without you. But what does it avail? What
can come of it? They’re all against us–every one. Not a tongue will
speak a word of cheer, but all turn from me. When they see me, ’tis as
though a cold shadow fell over them, where before I brought a light. I
stand so utterly alone, Sofie, ’tis bitter beyond words. True, I know
you warned me, but I’m eaten up in this strife. It sucks my courage and
my honor, and though I’m consumed with shame, I must ask you to set me
free. Dearest girl, release me from my word!”

Sofie had risen and stood cold and unflinching like a statue, eyeing
him gravely, as he spoke.

“I am with child,” she said quietly and firmly.

If she had consented, if she had given him his freedom, Ulrik Frederik
felt that he would not have taken it. He would have thrown himself
at her feet. Sure of her, he would have defied the King and all. But
she did not. She but pulled his chain to show him how securely he was
bound. Oh, she was clever as they said! His blood boiled, he could have
fallen upon her, clutched her white throat to drag the truth out of her
and force her to open every petal and lay bare every shadow and fold
in the rose of her love, that he might know the truth at last! But he
mastered himself and said with a smile: “Yes, of course, I know–’twas
nothing but a jest, you understand.”

Sofie looked at him uneasily. No, it had not been a jest. If it had
been, why did he not come close to her and kiss her? Why did he stand
there in the shadow? If she could only see his eyes! No, it was no
jest. He had asked as seriously as she had answered. Ah, that answer!
She began to see what she had lost by it. If she had only said yes, he
would never have left her! “Oh, Ulrik Frederik,” she said, “I was but
thinking of our child, but if you no longer love me, then go, go at
once and build your own happiness! I will not hold you back.”

“Did I not tell you that ’twas but a jest? How can you think that I
would ask you to release me from my word and sneak off in base shame
and dishonor! Whenever I lifted my head again,” he went on, “I must
fear lest the eye that had seen my ignominy should meet mine and force
it to the ground.” And he meant what he said. If she had loved him as
passionately as he loved her, then perhaps, but now–never.

Sofie went to him and laid her head on his shoulder, weeping.

“Farewell, Ulrik Frederik,” she said. “Go, go! I would not hold you one
hour after you longed to be gone, no, not if I could bind you with a
hair.”

He shook his head impatiently. “Dear Sofie,” he said, winding himself
out of her arms, “let us not play a comedy with each other. I owe it
both to you and to myself that the pastor should join our hands; it
cannot be too soon. Let it be in two or three days–but secretly, for
it is of no use to set the world against us more than has been done
already.” Sofie dared not raise any objection. They agreed on the time
and the place, and parted with tender good-nights.

When Ulrik Frederik came down into the garden, it was dark, for the
moon had veiled itself, and a few heavy raindrops fell from the inky
sky. The early cocks were crowing in the mews, but Daniel had fallen
asleep on his post.

A week later his best parlor was the scene of Mistress Sofie’s and
Ulrik Frederik’s private marriage by an obscure clergyman. The secret
was not so well guarded, however, but that the Queen could mention it
to the King a few days later. The result was that in a month’s time the
contract was annulled by royal decree, and Mistress Sofie was sent to
the cloister for gentlewomen at Itzehoe.

Ulrik Frederik made no attempt to resist this step. Although he felt
deeply hurt, he was weary, and bowed in dull dejection to whatever had
to be. He drank too much almost every day, and when in his cups would
weep and plaintively describe to two or three boon companions, who
were his only constant associates, the sweet, peaceful, happy life he
might have led. He always ended with mournful hints that his days were
numbered, and that his broken heart would soon be carried to that place
of healing where the bolsters were of black earth and the worms were
chirurgeon.

The King, to make an end of all this, ordered him to accompany the
troops which the Dutch were transferring to Fyen, and thence he
returned in November with the news of the victory at Nyborg. He resumed
his place at the court and in the favor of the King, and seemed to be
quite his old self.