Now stay here

Admired and courted though she was, Marie Grubbe soon found that,
while she had escaped from the nursery, she was not fully admitted
to the circles of the grown up. For all the flatteries lavished on
them, such young maidens were kept in their own place in society. They
were made to feel it by a hundred trifles that in themselves meant
nothing, but when taken together meant a great deal. First of all,
the children were insufferably familiar, quite like their equals. And
then the servants–there was a well-defined difference in the manner
of the old footman when he took the cloak of a maid or a matron, and
the faintest shade in the obliging smile of the chambermaid showed
her sense of whether she was waiting on a married or an unmarried
woman. The free-and-easy tone which the half-grown younkers permitted
themselves was most unpleasant, and the way in which snubbings and icy
looks simply slid off from them was enough to make one despair.

She liked best the society of the younger men, for even when they were
not in love with her, they would show her the most delicate attention
and say the prettiest things with a courtly deference that quite raised
her in her own estimation,–though to be sure it was tiresome when
she found that they did it chiefly to keep in practice. Some of the
older gentlemen were simply intolerable with their fulsome compliments
and their mock gallantry, but the married women were worst of all,
especially the brides. The encouraging, though a bit preoccupied
glance, the slight condescending nod with head to one side, and the
smile–half pitying, half jeering–with which they would listen to
her–it was insulting! Moreover, the conduct of the girls themselves
was not of a kind to raise their position. They would never stand
together, but if one could humiliate another, she was only too glad
to do so. They had no idea of surrounding themselves with an air of
dignity by attending to the forms of polite society the way the young
married women did.

Her position was not enviable, and when Mistress Rigitze let fall a few
words to the effect that she and other members of the family had been
considering a match between Marie and Ulrik Frederik, she received the
news with joy. Though Ulrik Frederik had not taken her fancy captive,
a marriage with him opened a wide vista of pleasant possibilities.
When all the honors and advantages had been described to her–how she
would be admitted into the inner court circle, the splendor in which
she would live, the beaten track to fame and high position that lay
before Ulrik Frederik as the natural son and even more as the especial
favorite of the King,–while she made a mental note of how handsome he
was, how courtly, and how much in love,–it seemed that such happiness
was almost too great to be possible, and her heart sank at the thought
that, after all, it was nothing but loose talk, schemes, and hopes.

Yet Mistress Rigitze was building on firm ground, for not only had
Ulrik Frederik confided in her and begged her to be his spokesman with
Marie, but he had induced her to sound the gracious pleasure of the
King and Queen, and they had both received the idea very kindly and
had given their consent, although the King had felt some hesitation
to begin with. The match had, in fact, been settled long since by the
Queen and her trusted friend and chief gentlewoman, Mistress Rigitze,
but the King was not moved only by the persuasions of his consort. He
knew that Marie Grubbe would bring her husband a considerable fortune,
and although Ulrik Frederik held Vordingborg in fief, his love of pomp
and luxury made constant demands upon the King, who was always hard
pressed for money. Upon her marriage Marie would come into possession
of her inheritance from her dead mother, Mistress Marie Juul, while
her father, Erik Grubbe, was at that time owner of the manors of
Tjele, Vinge, Gammelgaard, Bigum, Trinderup, and Nörbæk, besides
various scattered holdings. He was known as a shrewd manager who wasted
nothing, and would no doubt leave his daughter a large fortune. So all
was well. Ulrik Frederik could go courting without more ado, and a week
after midsummer their betrothal was solemnized.

Ulrik Frederik was very much in love, but not with the stormy
infatuation he had felt when Sofie Urne ruled his heart. It was a
pensive, amorous, almost wistful sentiment, rather than a fresh, ruddy
passion. Marie had told him the story of her dreary childhood, and
he liked to picture to himself her sufferings with something of the
voluptuous pity that thrills a young monk when he fancies the beautiful
white body of the female martyr bleeding on the sharp spikes of the
torture-wheel. Sometimes he would be troubled with dark forebodings
that an early death might tear her from his arms. Then he would vow to
himself with great oaths that he would bear her in his hands and keep
every poisonous breath from her, that he would lead the light of every
gold-shining mood into her young heart and never, never grieve her.

Yet there were other times when he exulted at the thought that all this
rich beauty, this strange, wonderful soul were given into his power as
the soul of a dead man into the hands of God, to grind in the dust if
he liked, to raise up when he pleased, to crush down, to bend.

It was partly Marie’s own fault that such thoughts could rise in
him, for her love, if she did love, was of a strangely proud, almost
insolent nature. It would be but a halting image to say that her love
for the late Ulrik Christian had been like a lake whipped and tumbled
by a storm, while her love for Ulrik Frederik was the same water in the
evening, becalmed, cold, and glassy, stirred but by the breaking of
frothy bubbles among the dark reeds of the shore. Yet the simile would
have some truth, for not only was she cold and calm toward her lover,
but the bright myriad dreams of life that thronged in the wake of her
first passion had paled and dissolved in the drowsy calm of her present
feeling.

She loved Ulrik Frederik after a fashion, but might it not be chiefly
as the magic wand opening the portals to the magnificent pageant of
life, and might it not be the pageant that she really loved? Sometimes
it would seem otherwise. When she sat on his knee in the twilight and
sang little airs about Daphne and Amaryllis to her own accompaniment,
the song would die away, and while her fingers played with the strings
of the cithern, she would whisper in his waiting ear words so sweet
and warm that no true love owns them sweeter, and there were tender
tears in her eyes that could be only the dew of love’s timid unrest.
And yet–might it not be that her longing was conjuring up a mere mood,
rooted in the memories of her past feeling, sheltered by the brooding
darkness, fed by hot blood and soft music,–a mood that deceived
herself and made him happy? Or was it nothing but maidenly shyness that
made her chary of endearments by the light of day, and was it nothing
but girlish fear of showing a girl’s weakness that made her eyes mock
and her lips jeer many a time when he asked for a kiss or, vowing
love, would draw from her the words all lovers long to hear? Why was
it, then, that when she was alone, and her imagination had wearied of
picturing for the thousandth time the glories of the future, she would
often sit gazing straight before her hopelessly, and feel unutterably
lonely and forsaken?

* * * * *

In the early afternoon of an August day Marie and Ulrik Frederik were
riding, as often before, along the sandy road that skirted the Sound
beyond East Gate. The air was fresh after a morning shower, the sun
stood mirrored in the water, and blue thunder-clouds were rolling away
in the distance.

They cantered as quickly as the road would allow them, a lackey in a
long crimson coat following closely. They rode past the gardens where
green apples shone under dark leaves, past fish-nets hung to dry
with the raindrops still glistening in their meshes, past the King’s
fisheries with red-tiled roof, and past the glue-boiler’s house, where
the smoke rose straight as a column out of a chimney. They jested and
laughed, smiled and laughed, and galloped on.

At the sign of the Golden Grove they turned and rode through the woods
toward Overdrup, then walked their horses through the underbrush down
to the bright surface of the lake. Tall beeches leaned to mirror their
green vault in the clear water. Succulent marsh-grass and pale pink
feather-foil made a wide motley border where the slope, brown with
autumn leaves, met the water. High in the shelter of the foliage, in
a ray of light that pierced the cool shadow, mosquitoes whirled in
a noiseless swarm. A red butterfly gleamed there for a second, then
flew out into the sunlight over the lake. Steel-blue dragon-flies
made bright streaks through the air, and the darting pike drew swift
wavy lines over the surface of the water. Hens were cackling in the
farm-yard beyond the brushwood, and from the other side of the lake
came a note of wood-doves cooing under the domes of the beech-trees in
Dyrehaven.

They slackened their speed and rode out into the water to let their
horses dabble their dusty hoofs and quench their thirst. Marie had
stopped a little farther out than Ulrik Frederik, and sat with reins
hanging in order to let her mare lower its head freely. She was tearing
the leaves from a long branch in her hand, and sent them fluttering
down over the water, which was beginning to stir in soft ripples.

“I think we may get a thunder-storm,” she said, her eyes following the
course of a light wind that went whirling over the lake, raising round,
dark, roughened spots on the surface.

“Perhaps we had better turn back,” suggested Ulrik Frederik.

“Not for gold!” she answered and suddenly drove her mare to the shore.
They walked their horses round the lake to the road and entered the
tall woods.

“I would I knew,” said Marie, when she felt the cool air of the forest
fan her cheeks and drew in its freshness in long, deep breaths. “I
would I knew–” She got no further, but stopped and looked up into the
green vault with shining eyes.

“What wouldst thou know, dear heart?”

“I’m thinking there’s something in the forest air that makes sensible
folks mad. Many’s the time I have been walking in Bigum woods, when I
would keep on running and running, till I got into the very thickest
of it. I’d be wild with glee and sing at the top of my voice and walk
and pick flowers and throw them away again and call to the birds, when
they flew up–and then, on the sudden, a strange fright would come over
me, and I would feel, oh! so wretched and so small! Whenever a branch
broke I’d start, and the sound of my own voice gave me more fright than
anything else. Hast thou never felt it?”

Before Ulrik Frederik could answer her song rang out:

“Right merrily in the woods I go
Where elm and apple grow,
And I pluck me there sweet roses two
And deck my silken shoe.
Oh, the dance,
Oh, the dance,
Oh, tra-la-la!
Oh, the red, red berries on the dogrose bush!”

and as she sang, the whip flew down over her horse, she laughed,
hallooed, and galloped at top speed along a narrow forest path, where
the branches swept her shoulders. Her eyes sparkled, her cheeks
burned, she did not heed Ulrik Frederik calling after her. The whip
whizzed through the air again, and off she went with reins slack! Her
fluttering habit was flecked with foam. The soft earth flew up around
her horse. She laughed and cut the tall ferns with her whip.

Suddenly the light seemed to be lifted from leaf and branch and to flee
from the rain-heavy darkness. The rustling of the bushes had ceased,
and the hoof-beats were silent, as she rode across a stretch of forest
glade. On either side the trees stood like a dark encircling wall.
Ragged gray clouds were scudding over the black, lowering heavens.
Before her rolled the murky blue waters of the Sound, and beyond rose
banks of fog. She drew rein, and her tired mount stopped willingly.
Ulrik Frederik galloped past, swung back in a wide circle, and halted
at her side.

At that moment a shower fell like a gray, heavy, wet curtain drawn
slantwise over the Sound. An icy wind flattened the grass, whizzed
in their ears, and made a noise like foaming waves in the distant
tree-tops. Large flat hailstones rattled down over them in white
sheets, settled like bead strings in the folds of her dress, fell in
a spray from the horses’ manes, and skipped and rolled in the grass
as though swarming out of the earth.

They sought shelter under the trees, rode down to the beach, and
presently halted before the low door of the Bide-a-Wee Tavern. A
stable-boy took the horses, and the tall, bareheaded inn-keeper showed
them into his parlor, where, he said, there was another guest before
them. It proved to be Hop-o’-my-Thumb, who rose at their entrance,
offering to give up the room to their highnesses, but Ulrik Frederik
graciously bade him remain.

“Stay here, my man,” he said, “and entertain us in this confounded
weather. I must tell you, my dear,”–turning to Marie,–“that this
insignificant mannikin is the renowned comedian and merry-andrew of
ale-houses, Daniel Knopf, well learned in all the liberal arts such
as dicing, fencing, drinking, shrovetide sports, and such matters,
otherwise in fair repute as an honorable merchant in the good city of
Copenhagen.”

Daniel scarcely heard this eulogy. He was absorbed in looking at Marie
Grubbe and formulating some graceful words of felicitation, but when
Ulrik Frederik roused him with a sounding blow on his broad back,
his face flushed with resentment and embarrassment. He turned to him
angrily, but mastered himself, and said with his coldest smile: “We’re
scarce tipsy enough, Colonel.”

Ulrik Frederik laughed and poked his side, crying: “Oh, you sacred
knave! Would you put me to confusion, you plaguy devil, and make me out
a wretched braggart who lacks parchments to prove his boasting? Fie,
fie, out upon you! Is that just? Have I not a score of times praised
your wit before this noble lady, till she has time and again expressed
the greatest longing to see and hear your far-famed drolleries? You
might at least give us the blind Cornelius Fowler and his whistling
birds, or play the trick–you know–with the sick cock and the clucking
hens!”

Marie now added her persuasions, saying that Colonel Gyldenlöve was
quite right, she had often wondered what pastime, what fine and
particular sport, could keep young gentlemen in filthy ale-houses for
half days and whole nights together, and she begged that Daniel would
oblige them without further urging.

Daniel bowed with perfect grace and replied that his poor pranks were
rather of a kind to give fuddled young sparks added occasion for
roaring and bawling than to amuse a dainty and highborn young maiden.
Nevertheless, he would put on his best speed to do her pleasure, for
none should ever say it of him that any command from her fair ladyship
had failed of instant obedience and execution.

“Look ‘ee!” he began, throwing himself down by the table and sticking
out his elbows. “Now I’m a whole assembly of your betrothed’s honorable
companions and especial good friends.”

He took a handful of silver dollars from his pocket and laid them on
the table, pulled his hair down over his eyes, and dropped his lower
lip stupidly.

“Devil melt me!” he drawled, rattling the coins like dice. “I’m not
the eldest son of the honorable Erik Kaase for nothing! What! you’d
doubt my word, you muckworm? I flung ten, hell consume me, ten with a
jingle! Can’t you see, you dog? I’m asking if you can’t see?–you blind
lamprey, you! Or d’ye want me to rip your guts with my stinger and give
your liver and lungs a chance to see too? Shall I–huh? You ass!”

Daniel jumped up and pulled a long face.

“You’d challenge me, would you?” he said hoarsely with a strong North
Skaane accent, “you stinkard, you! D’you know whom you’re challenging?
So take me king o’ hell, I’ll strike your–Nay, nay,” he dropped into
his natural voice, “that’s perhaps too strong a jest to begin with. Try
another!”

He sat down, folded his hands on the edge of his knees as though to
make room for his stomach, puffed himself up, fat and heavy jowled,
then whistled firmly and thoughtfully but in an altogether too slow
tempo the ballad of Roselil and Sir Peter. Then he stopped, rolled his
eyes amorously, and called in fond tones:

“Cockatoo–cockadoodle-doo!” He began to whistle again, but had
some difficulty in combining it with an ingratiating smile. “Little
sugar-top!” he called, “little honey-dew, come to me, little chuck!
P’st! Will it lap wine, little kitty? Lap nice sweet wine from little
cruse?”

Again he changed his voice, leaned forward in his chair, winked with
one eye, and crooked his fingers to comb an imaginary beard.

“Now stay here,” he said coaxingly, “stay here, fair Karen; I’ll
never forsake you, and you must never forsake me,”–his voice grew
weepy,–“we’ll never part, my dear, dear heart, never in the world!
Silver and gold and honor and glory and precious noble blood–begone! I
curse you! Begone! I say. You’re a hundred heavens high above them, the
thing of beauty you are! Though they’ve scutcheons and emblems–would
that make ’em any better? You’ve got an emblem, too–the red mark on
your white shoulder that Master Anders burned with his hot iron, that’s
your coat-of-arms! I spit on my scutcheon to kiss that mark–that’s
all I think of scutcheons–that’s all! For there isn’t in all the land
of Sjælland a high-born lady as lovely as you are–is there, huh? No,
there isn’t–not a bit of one!”

“That’s–that’s a lie!” he cried in a new voice, jumped up, and shook
his fist over the table. “My Mistress Ide, you blockhead, she’s got a
shape–as a man may say–she’s got limbs–as a man may say–limbs, I
tell you, you slubberdegulleon!”

At this point Daniel was about to let himself fall into the chair
again, but at that moment Ulrik Frederik pulled it away, and he rolled
on the floor. Ulrik Frederik laughed uproariously, but Marie ran to
him with hands outstretched as though to help him up. The little man,
half rising on his knees, caught her hand and gazed at her with an
expression so full of gratitude and devotion that it haunted her for a
long time. Presently they rode home, and none of them thought that this
chance meeting in the Bide-a-Wee Tavern would lead to anything further.