About a month later, on an April evening, there was a crowd gathered
outside of Ribe cathedral. The Church Council was in session, and it
was customary, while that lasted, to light the tapers in church three
times a week, at eight o’clock in the evening. The gentry and persons
of quality in town as well as the respectable citizens would assemble
and walk up and down in the nave, while a skilful musician would play
for them on the organ. The poorer people had to be content to listen
from the outside.
Among the latter were Marie Grubbe and Sören.
Their clothing was coarse and ragged, and they looked as if they had
not had enough to eat every day; and no wonder, for it was not a
profitable trade they plied. In an inn between Aarhus and Randers,
Sören had met a poor sick German, who for twenty marks had sold him a
small, badly battered hurdy-gurdy, a motley fool’s suit, and an old
checked rug. With these he and Marie gained their livelihood, going
from market to market; she would turn the hurdy-gurdy, and he would
stand on the checked rug, dressed in the motley clothes, lifting and
doing tricks with some huge iron weights and long iron bars, which they
borrowed of the tradesmen.
It was the market that had brought them to Ribe.
They were standing near the door, where a faint, faded strip of light
shone on their pale faces and the dark mass of heads behind them.
People were coming singly or in pairs or small groups, talking and
laughing in well-bred manner to the very threshold of the church, but
there they suddenly became silent, gazed gravely straight before them,
and changed their gait.
Sören was seized with a desire to see more of the show, and whispered
to Marie that they ought to go in; there was no harm in trying, nothing
worse could happen to them than to be turned out. Marie shuddered
inwardly at the thought that _she_ should be turned out from a place
where common artisans could freely go, and she held back Sören, who
was trying to draw her on; but suddenly she changed her mind, pressed
eagerly forward, pulling Sören after her, and walked in without the
slightest trace of shrinking timidity or stealthy caution; indeed, she
seemed determined to be noticed and turned out. At first no one stopped
them, but just as she was about to step into the well-lit, crowded
nave, a church warden, who was stationed there, caught sight of them.
After casting one horrified glance up through the church, he advanced
quickly upon them with lifted and outstretched hands, as if pushing
them before him to the very threshold, and over it. He stood there for
a moment, looking reproachfully at the crowd, as if he blamed it for
what had occurred, then returned with measured tread, and took up his
The crowd met the ejected ones with a burst of jeering laughter and a
shower of mocking questions, which made Sören growl and look around
savagely, but Marie was content; she had bent to receive the blow which
the respectable part of society always has ready for such as he, and
the blow had fallen.
* * * * *
On the night before St. Oluf’s market, four men were sitting in one of
the poorest inns at Aarhus, playing cards.
One of the players was Sören. His partner, a handsome man with
coal-black hair and a dark skin, was known as Jens Bottom, and was a
juggler. The other two members of the party were joint owners of a
mangy bear. Both were unusually hideous: one had a horrible harelip,
while the other was one-eyed, heavy jowled, and pock-marked, and was
known as Rasmus Squint, plainly because the skin around the injured
eye was drawn together in such a manner as to give him the appearance
of being always ready to peer through a key-hole or some such small
The players were sitting at one end of the long table which ran under
the window and held a candle and an earless cruse. Opposite them was a
folding-table, fastened up against the wall with an iron hook. A bar
ran across the other end of the room, and a thin, long-wicked candle,
stuck into an old inverted funnel, threw a sleepy light over the shelf
above, where some large, square flasks of brandy and bitters, some
quart and pint measures, and half-a-dozen glasses had plenty of room
beside a basket full of mustard seed and a large lantern with panes
of broken glass. In one corner outside of the bar sat Marie Grubbe,
knitting and drowsing, and in the other sat a man with body bent
forward and elbows resting on his knees. He seemed intent on pulling
his black felt hat as far down over his head as possible, and when that
was accomplished, he would clutch the wide brim, slowly work the hat
up from his head again, his eyes pinched together and the corners of
his mouth twitching, probably with the pain of pulling his hair, then
presently begin all over again.
“Then this is the last game to play,” said Jens Bottom, whose lead it
Rasmus Squint pounded the table with his knuckles as a sign to his
partner, Salmand, to cover.
Salmand played two of trumps.
“A two!” cried Rasmus; “have you nothing but twos and threes in your
“Lord,” growled Salmand, “there’s always been poor folks and a few
Sören trumped with a six.
“Oh, oh,” Rasmus moaned, “are you goin’ to let him have it for a six?
What the devil are you so stingy with your old cards for, Salmand?”
He played, and Sören won the trick.
“Kerstie Meek,” said Sören, playing four of hearts.
“And her half-crazy sister,” continued Rasmus, putting on four of
“Maybe an ace is good enough,” said Sören, covering with ace of trumps.
“Play, man, play, if you never played before!” cried Rasmus.
“That’s too costly,” whimpered Salmand, taking his turn.
“Then I’ll put on my seven and another seven,” said Jens.
Sören turned the trick.
“And then nine of trumps,” Jens went on, leading.
“Then I’ll have to bring on my yellow nag,” cried Salmand, playing two
“You’ll never stable it,” laughed Sören, covering with four of spades.
“Forfeit!” roared Rasmus Squint, throwing down his cards. “Forfeit with
two of hearts, that’s a good day’s work! Nay, nay, ’tis a good thing
we’re not goin’ to play any more. Now let them kiss the cards that have
They began to count the tricks, and while they were busy with this,
a stout, opulently dressed man came in. He went at once to the
folding-table, let it down, and took a seat nearest the wall. As he
passed the players, he touched his hat with his silver-knobbed cane,
and said: “Good even to the house!”
“Thanks,” they replied, and all four spat.
The newcomer took out a paper full of tobacco and a long clay pipe,
filled it, and pounded the table with his cane.
A barefoot girl brought him a brazier full of hot coals and a large
earthenware cruse with a pewter cover. He took out from his vest-pocket
a pair of small copper pincers, which he used to pick up bits of coal
and put them in his pipe, drew the cruse to him, leaned back, and made
himself as comfortable as the small space would allow.
“How much do you have to pay for a paper o’ tobacco like the one you’ve
got there, master?” asked Salmand, as he began to fill his little pipe
from a sealskin pouch held together with a red string.
“Sixpence,” said the man, adding, as if to apologize for such
extravagance, “it’s very good for the lungs, as you might say.”
“How’s business?” Salmand went on, striking fire to light his pipe.
“Well enough, and thank you kindly for asking, well enough, but I’m
getting old, as you might say.”
“Well,” said Rasmus Squint, “but then you’ve no need to run after
customers, since they’re all brought to you.”
“Ay,” laughed the man, “in respect of that, it’s a good business, and,
moreover, you don’t have to talk yourself hoarse persuading folks to
buy your wares; they have to take ’em as they come, they can’t pick and
“And they don’t want anything thrown in,” Rasmus went on, “and don’t
ask for more than what’s rightly comin’ to ’em.”
“Master, do they scream much?” asked Sören in a half whisper.
“Well, they don’t often laugh.”
“Faugh, what an ugly business!”
“Then there’s no use my counting on one of you for help, I suppose.”
“Are you countin’ on us to help you?” asked Rasmus, and rose angrily.
“I’m not counting on anything, but I’m looking for a young man to help
me and to take the business after me, that’s what I’m looking for, as
you might say.”
“And what wages might a man get for that?” asked Jens Bottom, earnestly.
“Fifteen dollars per annum in ready money, one-third of the clothing,
and one mark out of every dollar earned according to the fixed rate.”
“And what might that be?”
“The rate is this, that I get five dollars for whipping at the post,
seven dollars for whipping from town, four dollars for turning out of
the county, and the same for branding with hot iron.”
“And for the bigger work?”
“Alack, that does not come so often, but it’s eight dollars for cutting
off a man’s head, that is with an axe: with a sword it’s ten, but that
may not occur once in seven years. Hanging is fourteen rix-dollars, ten
for the job itself and four for taking the body down from the gallows.
Breaking on the wheel is seven dollars, that is for a whole body, but
I must find the stake and put it up too. And now, is there anything
more? Ay, crushing arms and legs according to the new German fashion
and breaking on the wheel, that’s fourteen–that’s fourteen, and for
quartering and breaking on the wheel I get twelve, and then there’s
pinching with red-hot pincers, that’s two dollars for every pinch, and
that’s all; there’s nothing more except such extras as may come up.”
“It can’t be very hard to learn, is it?”
“The business? Well, any one can do it, but how–that’s another matter.
There’s a certain knack about it that one gets with practice, just
like any other handicraft. There’s whipping at the post, that’s not so
easy, if ’tis to be done right,–three flicks with each whip, quick and
light like waving a bit of cloth, and yet biting the flesh with due
chastisement, as the rigor of the law and the betterment of the sinner
“I think I might do it,” said Jens, sighing as he spoke.
“Here’s the earnest-penny,” tempted the man at the folding-table,
putting a few bright silver coins out before him.
“Think well!” begged Sören.
“Think and starve, wait and freeze–that’s two pair of birds that are
well mated,” answered Jens, rising. “Farewell as an honest and true
guild-man,” he went on, giving Sören his hand.
“Farewell, guild-mate, and godspeed,” replied Sören.
He went round the table with the same farewell and got the same answer.
Then he shook hands with Marie and with the man in the corner, who had
to let go his hat for the moment.
Jens proceeded to the man at the folding-table, who settled his face
in solemn folds and said: “I, Master Herman Köppen, executioner in
the town of Aarhus, take you in the presence of these honest men, a
journeyman to be and a journeyman’s work to perform, to the glory of
God, your own preferment, and the benefit of myself and the honorable
office of executioner,” and as he made this unnecessarily pompous
speech, which seemed to give him immense satisfaction, he pressed the
bright earnest-penny into Jens’s hand. Then he rose, took off his hat,
bowed, and asked whether he might not have the honor of offering the
honest men who had acted as witnesses a drink of half and half.
The three men at the long table looked inquiringly at one another, then
nodded as with one accord.
The barefoot girl brought a clumsy earthenware cruse, and three green
glasses on which splotches of red and yellow stars were still visible.
She set the cruse down before Jens and the glasses before Sören and
the bear-baiters, and fetched a large wooden mug from which she filled
first the glasses of the three honest men, then the earthenware cruse,
and finally Master Herman’s private goblet.
Rasmus drew his glass toward him and spat, the two others followed
suit, and they sat a while looking at one another, as if none of them
liked to begin drinking. Meanwhile Marie Grubbe came up to Sören and
whispered something in his ear, to which he replied by shaking his
head. She tried to whisper again, but Sören would not listen. For a
moment she stood uncertain, then caught up the glass and emptied the
contents on the floor, saying that he mustn’t drink the hangman’s
liquor. Sören sprang up, seized her arm in a hard grip, and pushed her
out of the door, gruffly ordering her to go upstairs. Then he called
for a half pint of brandy and resumed his place.
“I’d like to ha’ seen my Abelone–God rest her soul–try a thing like
that on me,” said Rasmus, drinking.
“Ay,” said Salmand, “she can thank the Lord she isn’t my woman, I’d
ha’ given her somethin’ else to think o’ besides throwin’ the gifts o’
God in the dirt.”
“But look ‘ee, Salmand,” said Rasmus, with a sly glance in Master
Herman’s direction, “your wife she isn’t a fine lady of the gentry,
she’s only a poor common thing like the rest of us, and so she gets
her trouncin’ when she needs it, as the custom is among common people;
but if instead she’d been one of the quality, you’d never ha’ dared to
flick her noble back, you’d ha’ let her spit you in the face, if she
“No, by the Lord Harry, I wouldn’t,” swore Salmand, “I’d ha’ dressed
her down till she couldn’t talk or see, and I’d ha’ picked the maggots
out o’ her. You just ask mine if she knows the thin strap bruin’s tied
up in–you’ll see it’ll make her back ache just to think of it. But
if she’d tried to come as I’m sitting here and pour my liquor on the
floor, I’d ha’ trounced her, if she was the emperor’s own daughter, as
long’s I could move a hand, or there was breath in my body. What is
she thinking about,–the fine doll,–does she think she’s better than
anybody else’s wife, since she’s got the impudence to come here and
put shame on her husband in the company of honest men? Does she s’pose
it ‘ud hurt her if you came near her after drinkin’ the liquor of this
honorable man? Mind what I say, Sören, and”–he made a motion as if he
were beating some one–“or else you’ll never in the wide world get any
good out of her.”
“If he only dared,” teased Rasmus, looking at Sören.
“Careful, Squint, or I’ll tickle your hide.”
With that he left them. When he came into the room where Marie was, he
closed the door after him with a kick, and began to untie the rope that
held their little bundle of clothing.
Marie was sitting on the edge of the rough board frame that served as
a bed. “Are you angry, Sören?” she said.
“I’ll show you,” said Sören.
“Have a care, Sören! No one yet has offered me blows since I came of
age, and I will not bear it.”
He replied that she could do as she pleased, he meant to beat her.
“Sören, for God’s sake, for God’s sake, don’t lay violent hands on me,
you will repent it!”
But Sören caught her by the hair, and beat her with the rope. She did
not cry out, but merely moaned under the blows.
“There!” said Sören, and threw himself on the bed.
Marie lay still on the floor. She was utterly amazed at herself. She
expected to feel a furious hatred against Sören rising in her soul,
an implacable, relentless hatred, but no such thing happened. Instead
she felt a deep, gentle sorrow, a quiet regret at a hope that had
burst–how could he?