Take your foot from my path

In January of sixteen hundred and sixty-four, Ulrik Frederik was
appointed Viceroy of Norway, and in the beginning of April the same
year, he departed for his post. Marie Grubbe went with him.

The relation between them had not improved, except in so far as the
lack of mutual understanding and mutual love had, as it were, been
accepted by both as an unalterable fact, and found expression in the
extremely ceremonious manner they had adopted toward each other.

For a year or more after they had moved to Aggershus, things went on
much in the same way, and Marie, for her part, desired no change. Not
so Ulrik Frederik; for he had again become enamored of his wife.

On a winter afternoon, in the gloaming, Marie Grubbe sat alone in the
little parlor known from olden time as the Nook. The day was cloudy and
dark, with a raw, blustering wind. Heavy flakes of melting snow were
plastered into the corners of the tiny window-panes, covering almost
half the surface of the greenish glass. Gusts of wet, chilly wind went
whirling down between the high walls, where they seemed to lose their
senses and throw themselves blindly upon shutters and doors, rattling
them fiercely, then flying skyward again with a hoarse, dog-like
whimper. Powerful blasts came shrieking across the roofs opposite and
hurled themselves against windows and walls, pounding like waves, then
suddenly dying away. Now and again a squall would come roaring down
the chimney. The flames ducked their frightened heads, and the white
smoke, timidly curling toward the chimney like the comb of a breaker,
would shrink back, ready to throw itself out into the room. Ah, in
the next instant it is whirled, thin and light and blue, up through
the flue, with the flames calling after it, leaping and darting, and
sending sputtering sparks by the handful right in its heels. Then the
fire began to burn in good earnest. With grunts of pleasure it spread
over glowing coals and embers, boiled and seethed with delight in the
innermost marrow of the white birch wood, buzzed and purred like a
tawny cat, and licked caressingly the noses of blackening knots and
smouldering chunks of wood.

Warm and pleasant and luminous the breath of the fire streamed through
the little room. Like a fluttering fan of light it played over the
parquet floor and chased the peaceful dusk which hid in tremulous
shadows to the right and the left behind twisted chair-legs, or shrank
into corners, lay thin and long in the shelter of mouldings, or
flattened itself under the large clothes-press.

Suddenly the chimney seemed to suck up the light and heat with a roar.
Darkness spread boldly across the floor on every board and square, to
the very fire, but the next moment the light leaped back again and
sent the dusk flying to all sides, with the light pursuing it, up the
walls and doors, above the brass latch. Safety nowhere! The dusk sat
crouching against the wall, up under the ceiling, like a cat in a high
branch, with the light scampering below, back and forth like a dog,
leaping, running at the foot of the tree. Not even among the flagons
and tumblers on the top of the press could the darkness be undisturbed,
for red ruby-glasses, blue goblets, and green Rhenish wineglasses lit
iridescent fires to help the light search them out.

The wind blew and the darkness fell outside, but within the fire
glowed, the light played, and Marie Grubbe was singing. Now and again,
she would murmur snatches of the words as they came to her mind, then
again hum the melody alone. Her lute was in her hand, but she was not
playing it, only touching the strings sometimes and calling out a
few clear, long-sounding notes. It was one of those pleasant little
pensive songs that make the cushions softer and the room warmer; one
of those gently flowing airs that seem to sing themselves in their
indolent wistfulness, while they give the voice a delicious roundness
and fullness of tone. Marie was sitting in the light from the fire, and
its beams played around her, while she sang in careless enjoyment, as
if caressing herself with her own voice.

The little door opened, and Ulrik Frederik bent his tall form to enter.
Marie stopped singing instantly.

“Ah, madam!” exclaimed Ulrik Frederik in a tone of gentle remonstrance,
making a gesture of appeal, as he came up to her. “Had I known that you
would allow my presence to incommode you–”

“No, truly, I was but singing to keep my dreams awake.”

“Pleasant dreams?” he asked, bending over the firedogs before the grate
and warming his hands on the bright copper balls.

“Dreams of youth,” replied Marie, passing her hand over the strings of
the lute.

“Ay, that was ever the way of old age,” and he smiled at her.

Marie was silent a moment, then suddenly spoke: “One may be full young
and yet have old dreams.”

“How sweet the odor of musk in here! But was my humble person along in
these ancient dreams, madam?–if I may make so bold as to ask.”

“Ah, no!”

“And yet there was a time–”

“Among all other times.”

“Ay, among all other times there was once a wondrously fair time when
I was exceeding dear to you. Do you bring to mind a certain hour in
the twilight, a sennight or so after our nuptials? ‘Twas storming and
snowing–”

“Even as now.”

“And you were sitting before the fire–”

“Even as now.”

“Ay, and I was lying at your feet, and your dear hands were playing
with my hair.”

“Yes, then you loved me.”

“Oh, even as now! And you–you bent down over me and wept till the
tears streamed down your face, and you kissed me and looked at me with
such tender earnestness, it seemed you were saying a prayer for me in
your heart, and then all of a sudden–do you remember?–you bit my
neck.”

“Ah, merciful God, what love I did bear to you, my lord! When I heard
the clanging of your spurs on the steps the blood pounded in my ears,
and I trembled from head to foot, and my hands were cold as ice. Then
when you came in and pressed me in your arms–”

“_De grace_, madam!”

“Why, it’s naught but dead memories of an _amour_ that is long since
extinguished.”

“Alas, extinguished, madam? Nay, it smoulders hotter than ever.”

“Ah, no, ’tis covered by the cold ashes of too many days.”

“But it shall rise again from the ashes as the bird Phenix, more
glorious and fiery than before–pray, shall it not?”

“No, love is like a tender plant; when the night frost touches its
heart, it dies from the blossom down to the root.”

“No, love is like the herb named the rose of Jericho. In the dry months
it withers and curls up, but when there is a soft and balmy night, with
a heavy fall of dew, all its leaves will unfold again, greener and
fresher than ever before.”

“It may be so. There are many kinds of love in the world.”

“Truly there are, and ours was such a love.”

“That yours was such you tell me now, but mine–never, never!”

“Then you have never loved.”

“Never loved? Now I shall tell you how I have loved. It was at
Frederiksborg–”

“Oh, madam, you have no mercy!”

“No, no, that is not it at all. It was at Frederiksborg. Alas, you
little know what I suffered there. I saw that your love was not as it
had been. Oh, as a mother watches over her sick child and marks every
little change, so I kept watch over your love with fear and trembling,
and when I saw in your cold looks how it had paled, and felt in your
kisses how feeble was its pulse, it seemed to me I must die with
anguish. I wept for this love through long nights; I prayed for it, as
if it had been the dearly loved child of my heart that was dying by
inches. I cast about for aid and advice in my trouble and for physics
to cure your sick love, and whatever secret potions I had heard of,
such as love-philtres, I mixed them, betwixt hope and fear, in your
morning draught and your supper wine. I laid out your breast-cloth
under three waxing moons and read the marriage psalm over it, and on
your bedstead I first painted with my own blood thirteen hearts in
a cross, but all to no avail, my lord, for your love was sick unto
death. Faith, that is the way you were loved.”

“No, Marie, my love is not dead, it is risen again. Hear me, dear
heart, hear me! for I have been stricken with blindness and with a mad
distemper, but now, Marie, I kneel at your feet, and look, I woo you
again with prayers and beseechings. Alack, my love has been like a
wilful child, but now it is grown to man’s estate. Pray give yourself
trustingly to its arms, and I swear to you by the cross and the honor
of a gentleman that it will never let you go again.”

“Peace, peace, what help is in that!”

“Pray, pray believe me, Marie!”

“By the living God, I believe you. There is no shred nor thread of
doubt in my soul. I believe you fully, I believe that your love is
great and strong, but mine you have strangled with your own hands. It
is a corpse, and however loudly your heart may call, you can never wake
it again.”

“Say not so, Marie, for those of your sex–I know there are among you
those who when they love a man, even though he spurn them with his
foot, come back ever and ever again; for their love is proof against
all wounds.”

“‘Tis so indeed, my lord, and I–I am such a woman, I would have you
know, but you–are not the right kind of man.”

* * * * *

May God in his mercy keep you, my dearly beloved sister, and be to you
a good and generous giver of all those things which are requisite and
necessary, as well for the body as for the soul, that I wish you from
my heart.

To you, my dearly beloved sister, my one faithful friend from the
time of my childhood, will I now relate what fine fruits I have of my
elevation, which may it be cursed from the day it began; for it has,
God knows, brought me naught but trouble and tribulation in brimming
goblets.

Ay, it was an elevation for the worse, as you, my dearly beloved
sister, shall now hear, and as is probably known to you in part. For it
cannot fail that you must have learned from your dear husband how, even
at the time of our dwelling in Sjælland, there was a coolness between
me and my noble lord and spouse. Now here at Aggershus, matters have in
no way mended, and he has used me scurvily that it is past all belief,
but is what I might have looked for in so dainty a _junker_. Not that
I care a rush about his filthy gallantries; it is all one to me, and
he may run amuck with the hangman’s wife, if so be his pleasure. All
I ask is that he do not come too near me with his tricks, but that is
precisely what he is now doing, and in such manner that one might fain
wonder whether he were stricken with madness or possessed of the devil.
The beginning of it was on a day when he came to me with fair words
and fine promises and would have all be as before between us, whereas
I feel for him naught but loathing and contempt, and told him in plain
words that I held myself far too good for him. Then hell broke loose,
for _wenn’s de Düvel friert_, as the saying is, _macht er sein Hölle
glühn_, and he made it hot for me by dragging into the castle swarms of
loose women and filthy jades and entertaining them with food and drink
in abundance, ay, with costly sweetmeats and expensive stand-dishes
as at any royal banquet. And for this my flowered damask tablecloths,
which I have gotten after our blessed mother, and my silk bolsters
with the fringes were to have been laid out, but that did not come to
pass, inasmuch as I put them all under lock and key, and he had to go
borrowing in the town for wherewithal to deck both board and bench.

My own dearly beloved sister, I will no longer fatigue you with tales
of this vile company, but is it not shameful that such trulls, who
if they were rightly served should have the lash laid on their back
at the public whipping-post, now are queening it in the halls of his
Majesty the King’s Viceroy? I say, ’tis so unheard of and so infamous
that if it were to come to the ears of his Majesty, as with all my
heart and soul I wish that it may come, he would talk to _mein guten
Ulrik Friederich_ in such terms as would give him but little joy to
hear. The finest of all his tricks I have yet told you nothing of, and
it is quite new, for it happened only the other day that I sent for a
tradesman to bring me some Brabantian silk lace that I thought to put
around the hem of a sack, but the man made answer that when I sent the
money he would bring the goods, for the Viceroy had forbidden him to
sell me anything on credit. The same word came from the milliner, who
had been sent for, so it would appear that he has stopped my credit in
the entire city, although I have brought to his estate thousands and
thousands of rix-dollars. No more to-day. May we commit all unto the
Lord, and may He give me ever good tidings of you.

Ever your faithful sister,
MARIE GRUBBE.

At Aggershus Castle, 12 December, 1665.

The Honorable Mistress Anne Marie Grubbe, Styge Högh’s, Magistrate of
Laaland, my dearly beloved sister, graciously to hand.

* * * * *

God in his mercy keep you, my dearest sister, now and forever, is my
wish from a true heart, and I pray for you that you may be of good
cheer and not let yourself be utterly cast down, for we have all our
allotted portion of sorrow, and we swim and bathe in naught but misery.

Your letter, M. D. S., came to hand safe and unbroken in every way,
and thence I have learned with a heavy heart what shame and dishonor
your husband is heaping upon you, which it is a grievous wrong in his
Majesty’s Viceroy to behave as he behaves. Nevertheless, it behooves
you not to be hasty, my duck; for you have cause for patience in that
high position in which you have been placed, which it were not well to
wreck, but which it is fitting you should preserve with all diligence.
Even though your husband consumes much wealth on his pleasures, yet
is it of his own he wastes, while my rogue of a husband has made away
with his and mine too. Truly it is a pity to see a man who should guard
what God hath entrusted to us instead scattering and squandering it.
If ’twere but the will of God to part me from him, by whatever means
it might be, that would be the greatest boon to me, miserable woman,
for which I could never be sufficiently thankful; and we might as well
be parted, since we have not lived together for upward of a year, for
which may God be praised, and would that it might last! So you see,
M. D. S., that neither is my bed decked with silk. But you must have
faith that your husband will come to his senses in time and cease to
waste his goods on wanton hussies and filthy rabble, and inasmuch
as his office gives him a large income, you must not let your heart
be troubled with his wicked wastefulness nor by his unkindness. God
will help, I firmly trust. Farewell, my duck! I bid you a thousand
good-nights.

Your faithful sister while I live,
ANNE MARIE GRUBBE.

At Vang, 6 February, 1666.

Madam Gyldenlöve, my good friend and sister, written in all loving
kindness.

* * * * *

May God in his mercy keep you, my dearly beloved sister, and be to you
a good and generous giver of all those things which are requisite and
necessary, as well for the body as for the soul, that I wish you from
my heart.

My dearly beloved sister, the old saying that none is so mad but he
has a glimmer of sense between St. John and Paulinus, no longer holds
good, for my mad lord and spouse is no more sensible than he was. In
truth, he is tenfold, nay a thousandfold more frenzied than before,
and that whereof I wrote you was but as child’s play to what has now
come to pass, which is beyond all belief. Dearest sister, I would have
you know that he has been to Copenhagen, and thence–oh, fie, most
horrid shame and outrage!–he has brought one of his old _canaille_
women named Karen, whom he forthwith lodged in the castle, and she is
set over everything and rules everything, while I am let stand behind
the door. But, my dear sister, you must now do me the favor to inquire
of our dear father whether he will take my part, if so be it that I
can make my escape from here, as he surely must, for none can behold
my unhappy state without pitying me, and what I suffer is so past all
endurance that I think I should but be doing right in freeing myself
from it. It is no longer ago than the Day of the Assumption of Our Lady
that I was walking in our orchard, and when I came in again, the door
of my chamber was bolted from within. I asked the meaning of this and
was told that Karen had taken for her own that chamber and the one next
to it, and my bed was moved up into the western parlor, which is cold
as a church when the wind is in that quarter, full of draughts, and
the floor quite rough and has even great holes in it. But if I were to
relate at length all the insults that are heaped upon me here, it would
be as long as any Lenten sermon, and if it is to go on much longer, my
head is like to burst. May the Lord keep us and send me good tidings of
you.

Ever your faithful sister,
MARIE GRUBBE.

The Honorable Mistress Anne Marie Grubbe, Sti Högh’s, Magistrate of
Laaland, my dearly beloved sister, graciously to hand.

* * * * *

Ulrik Frederik, if the truth were told, was as tired of the state of
affairs at the castle as Marie Grubbe was. He had been used to refining
more on his dissipations. They were sorry boon companions, these poor,
common officers in Norway, and their soldiers’ courtesans were not to
be endured for long. Karen Fiol was the only one who was not made up
of coarseness and vulgarity, and even her he would rather bid good-by
to-day than to-morrow.

In his chagrin at being repulsed by Marie Grubbe, he had admitted these
people into his company, and for a while they amused him, but when
the whole thing began to pall and seem rather disgusting, and when
furthermore he felt some faint stirrings of remorse, he had to justify
himself by pretending that such means had been necessary. He actually
made himself believe that he had been pursuing a plan in order to bring
Marie Grubbe back repentant. Unfortunately, her penitence did not seem
to be forthcoming, and so he had recourse to harsher measures in the
hope that, by making her life as miserable as possible, he would beat
down her resistance. That she had really ceased to love him he never
believed for a moment. He was convinced that in her heart she longed
to throw herself into his arms, though she used his returning love
as a good chance to avenge herself for his faithlessness. Nor did he
begrudge her this revenge; he was pleased that she wanted it, if she
had only not dragged it out so long. He was getting bored in this
barbarous land of Norway!

He had a sneaking feeling that it might have been wiser to have let
Karen Fiol stay in Copenhagen, but he simply could not endure the
others any longer; moreover, jealousy was a powerful ally, and Marie
Grubbe had once been jealous of Karen, that he knew.

Time passed, and still Marie Grubbe did not come. He began to doubt
that she ever would, and his love grew with his doubt. Something of
the excitement of a game or a chase had entered into their relation.
It was with an anxious mind and with a calculating fear that he heaped
upon her one mortification after another, and he waited in suspense for
even the faintest sign that his quarry was being driven into the right
track, but nothing happened.

Ah, at last! At last something came to pass, and he was certain that
it was the sign, the very sign he had been waiting for. One day when
Karen had been more than ordinarily impudent, Marie Grubbe took a good
strong bridle rein in her hand, walked through the house to the room
where Karen just then was taking her after-dinner nap, fastened the
door from within, and gave the dumbfounded strumpet a good beating with
the heavy strap, then went quietly back to the western parlor, past
the speechless servants who had come running at the sound of Karen’s
screams.

Ulrik Frederik was downtown when it happened. Karen sent a messenger
to him at once, but he did not hurry, and it was late afternoon before
Karen, anxiously waiting, heard his horse in the courtyard. She ran
down to meet him, but he put her aside, quietly and firmly, and went
straight up to Marie Grubbe.

The door was ajar–then she must be out. He stuck his head in, sure
of finding the room empty, but she was there, sitting at the window
asleep. He stepped in as softly and carefully as he could; for he was
not quite sober.

The low September sun was pouring a stream of yellow and golden light
through the room, lending color and richness to its poor tints. The
plastered walls took on the whiteness of swans, the brown timbered
ceiling glowed as copper, and the faded curtains around the bed were
changed to wine-red folds and purple draperies. The room was flooded
with light; even in the shadows it gleamed as through a shimmering mist
of autumn yellow leaves. It spun a halo of gold around Marie Grubbe’s
head and kissed her white forehead, but her eyes and mouth were in deep
shadow cast by the yellowing apple-tree which lifted to the window
branches red with fruit.

She was asleep, sitting in a chair, her hands folded in her lap. Ulrik
Frederik stole up to her on tiptoe, and the glory faded as he came
between her and the window.

He scanned her closely. She was paler than before. How kind and gentle
she looked, as she sat there, her head bent back, her lips slightly
parted, her white throat uncovered and bare! He could see the pulse
throbbing on both sides of her neck, right under the little brown
birthmark. His eyes followed the line of the firm, rounded shoulder
under the close-fitting silk, down the slender arm to the white,
passive hand. And that hand was his! He saw the fingers closing over
the brown strap, the white blue-veined arm growing tense and bright,
then relaxing and softening after the blow it dealt Karen’s poor back.
He saw her jealous eyes gleaming with pleasure, her angry lips curling
in a cruel smile at the thought that she was blotting out kiss after
kiss with the leather rein. And she was his! He had been harsh and
stern and ruthless; he had suffered these dear hands to be wrung with
anguish and these dear lips to open in sighing.

His eyes took on a moist lustre at the thought, and he felt suffused
with the easy, indolent pity of a drunken man. He stood there staring
in sottish sentimentality, until the rich flood of sunlight had shrunk
to a thin bright streak high among the dark rafters of the ceiling.

Then Marie Grubbe awoke.

“You!” she almost screamed, as she jumped up and darted back so quickly
that the chair tumbled along the floor.

“Marie!” said Ulrik Frederik as tenderly as he could, and held out his
hands pleadingly to her.

“What brings you here? Have you come to complain of the beating your
harlot got?”

“No, no, Marie; let’s be friends–good friends!”

“You are drunk,” she said coldly, turning away from him.

“Ay, Marie, I’m drunk with love of you–I’m drunk and dizzy with your
beauty, my heart’s darling.”

“Yes, truly, so dizzy that your eyesight has failed you, and you have
taken others for me.”

“Marie, Marie, leave your jealousy!”

She made a contemptuous gesture as if to brush him aside.

“Indeed, Marie, you were jealous. You betrayed yourself when you took
that bridle rein, you know. But now let the whole filthy rabble be
forgotten as dead and given over to the devil. Come, come, cease playing
unkind to me as I have played the faithless rogue to you with all these
make-believe pleasures and gallantries. We do nothing but prepare each
other a pit of hell, whereas we might have an Eden of delight. Come,
whatever you desire, it shall be yours. Would you dance in silks as
thick as chamlet, would you have pearls in strings as long as your hair,
you shall have them, and rings, and tissue of gold in whole webs, and
plumes, and precious stones, whatever you will–nothing is too good
to be worn by you.”

He tried to put his arm around her waist, but she caught his wrist and
held him away from her.

“Ulrik Frederik,” she said, “let me tell you something. If you could
wrap your love in ermine and marten, if you could clothe it in sable
and crown it with gold, ay, give it shoes of purest diamond, I would
cast it away from me like filth and dung, for I hold it less than the
ground I tread with my feet. There’s no drop of my blood that’s fond of
you, no fibre of my flesh that doesn’t cry out upon you. Do you hear?
There’s no corner of my soul where you’re not called names. Understand
me aright! If I could free your body from the pangs of mortal disease
and your soul from the fires of hell by being as yours, I would not do
it.”

“Yes, you would, woman, so don’t deny it!”

“No, and no, and more than no!”

“Then begone! Out of my sight in the accursed name of hell!”

He was white as the wall and shook in every limb. His voice sounded
hoarse and strange, and he beat the air like a madman.

“Take your foot from my path! Take your–take your–take your foot from
my path, or I’ll split your skull! My blood’s lusting to kill, and
I’m seeing red. Begone–out of the land and dominion of Norway, and
hell-fire go with you! Begone–”

For a moment, Marie stood looking at him in horror, then ran as fast as
she could out of the room and away from the castle.

When the door slammed after her, Ulrik Frederik seized the chair in
which she had been sitting when he came in and hurled it out of the
window, then caught the curtains from the bed and tore the worn stuff
into shreds and tatters, storming round the room all the while. He
threw himself on the floor and crawled around, snarling like a wild
beast, and pounding with his fists till the knuckles were bloody.
Exhausted at last, he crept over to the bed and flung himself face
downward in the pillows, called Marie tender names, and wept and sobbed
and cursed her, then again began to talk in low, wheedling tones, as if
he were fondling her.

That same night Marie Grubbe, for fair words and good pay, got a skipper
to sail with her to Denmark.

The following day Ulrik Frederik turned Karen Fiol out of the castle,
and a few days later he himself left for Copenhagen.