Turn Thou from us Thy wrath all men pursuing For their wrongdoing

In May of sixteen hundred and ninety-five Erik Grubbe died at the age
of eighty-seven. The inheritance was promptly divided among his three
daughters, but Marie did not get much, as the old man, before his
death, had issued various letters of credit in favor of the other two,
thus withdrawing from the estate the greater part of his property to
the disadvantage of Marie.

Even so, her portion was sufficient to make her and her husband
respectable folk instead of beggars, and with a little common sense,
they might have secured a fair income to the end of their days.
Unluckily Sören made up his mind to become a horse-dealer, and it was
not long before he had squandered most of the money. Still there was
enough left so they could buy the Burdock House at the Falster ferry.

In the early days they had a hard time, and Marie often had to lend a
hand at the oars, but later on her chief task was to mind the ale-house
which was a part of the ferry privileges. On the whole, they were very
happy, for Marie still loved her husband above everything else in the
world, and though he would sometimes get drunk and beat her, she did
not take it much to heart. She realized that she had enrolled in a
class where such things were an every-day matter, and though she would
sometimes feel irritated, she would soon get over it by telling herself
that this man who could be so rough and hard was the same Sören who had
once shot a human being for her sake.

The people they ferried over were generally peasants and cattle-men,
but occasionally there would come some one who was a little higher up
in the world. One day Sti Högh passed that way. Marie and her husband
rowed him across, and he sat in the stern of the boat, where he could
talk with Marie, who had the oar nearest him. He recognized her at
once, but showed no signs of surprise; perhaps he had known that he
would find her there. Marie had to look twice before she knew him, for
he was very much changed. His face was red and bloated, his eyes were
watery; his lower jaw dropped, as if the corners of his mouth were
paralyzed, his legs were thin, and his stomach hung down,–in short, he
bore every mark of a life spent in stupefying debauchery of every kind,
and this had, as a matter of fact, been his chief pursuit ever since he
left Marie. As far as the external events went, he had for a time been
_gentilhomme_ and _maître d’hôtel_ in the house of a royal cardinal in
Rome, had gone over to the Catholic Church, had joined his brother,
Just Högh, then ambassador to Nimeguen, had been converted back to the
Lutheran religion again, and returned to Denmark, where he was living
on the bounty of his brother.

“Is this,” he asked, nodding in the direction of Sören,–“is this the
one I foretold was to come after me?”

“Ay, he is the one,” said Marie, hesitating a little, for she would
have preferred not to reply.

“And he is greater than I–was?” he went on, straightening himself in
his seat.

“Nay, you can’t be likened to him, your lordship,” she answered,
affecting the speech of a peasant woman.

“Oh, ay, so it goes–you and I have indeed cheapened ourselves–we’ve
sold ourselves to life for less pay than we had thought to, you in one
manner, I in another.”

“But your lordship is surely well enough off?” asked Marie, in the same
simple tone.

“Well enough,” he laughed, “well enough is more than half ill; I am
indeed well enough off. And you, Marie?”

“Thank you kindly for asking; we’ve got our health, and when we keep
tugging at the oars every day, we’ve got bread and brandy too.”

They had reached land, and Sti stepped out and said good-by.

“Lord,” said Marie, looking after him pityingly, “he’s certainly been
shorn of crest and wings too.”

* * * * *

Peacefully and quietly the days passed at the Burdock House, with
daily work and daily gain. Little by little, the pair improved their
condition, hired boatmen to do the ferrying, carried on a little trade,
and built a wing on their old house. They lived to the end of the old
century and ten years into the new. Marie turned sixty, and she turned
sixty-five, and still she was as brisk and merry at her work as if
she had been on the sunny side of sixty. But then it happened, on her
sixty-eighth birthday, in the spring of seventeen hundred and eleven,
that Sören accidentally shot and killed a skipper from Dragör under
very suspicious circumstances, and in consequence was arrested.

This was a hard blow to Marie. She had to endure a long suspense, for
judgment was not pronounced until midsummer of the following year, and
this, together with her anxiety lest the old affair of his attempt on
the life of Anne Trinderup should be taken up again, aged her very much.

One day, in the beginning of this period of waiting, Marie went down
to meet the ferry just as it was landing. There were two passengers
on board, and one of these, a journeyman, absorbed her attention by
refusing to show his passport, declaring that he had shown it to the
boatmen, when he went on board, which they, however, denied. When
she threatened to charge him full fare, unless he would produce his
passport as proof of his right as a journeyman to travel for half
price, he had to give in. This matter being settled, Marie turned to
the other passenger, a little slender man who stood, pale and shivering
after the seasickness he had just endured, wrapped in his mantle of
coarse, greenish-black stuff, and leaning against the side of a boat
that had been dragged up on the beach. He asked in a peevish voice
whether he could get lodgings in the Burdock House, and Marie replied
that he might look at their spare room.

She showed him a little chamber which, besides bed and chair, contained
a barrel of brandy with funnel and waste-cup, some large kegs of
molasses and vinegar, and a table with legs painted in pearl-color and
a top of square tiles, on which scenes from the Old and New Testament
were drawn in purplish black. The stranger at once noticed that three
of the tiles represented Jonah being thrown on land from the mouth of
the whale, and when he put his hand on them, he shuddered, declaring
he was sure to catch a cold, if he should be so careless as to sit and
read with his elbows on the table.

When Marie questioned him, he explained that he had left Copenhagen on
account of the plague, and meant to stay until it was over. He ate only
three times a day, and he could not stand salt meat or fresh bread. As
for the rest, he was a master of arts, at present fellow at Borch’s
Collegium, and his name was Holberg, Ludvig Holberg.

Master Holberg was a very quiet man of remarkably youthful appearance.
At first glance, he appeared to be about eighteen or nineteen years
old, but upon closer examination, his mouth, his hands, and the
inflection of his voice showed that he must be a good deal older. He
kept to himself, spoke but little, and that little–so it seemed–with
reluctance. Not that he avoided other people, but he simply wanted
them to leave him in peace and not draw him into conversation. When
the ferry came and went with passengers, or when the fishermen brought
in their catch, he liked to watch the busy life from a distance and
to listen to the discussions. He seemed to enjoy the sight of people
at work, whether it was ploughing or stacking or launching the boats,
and whenever any one put forth an effort that showed more than common
strength, he would smile with pleasure and lift his shoulders in quiet
delight. When he had been at the Burdock House for a month, he began to
approach Marie Grubbe, or rather he allowed her to approach him, and
they would often sit talking, in the warm summer evenings, for an hour
or two at a time, in the common room, where they could look out through
the open door, over the bright surface of the water, to the blue, hazy
outlines of Möen.

One evening, after their friendship had been well established, Marie
told him her story, and ended with a sigh, because they had taken Sören
away from her.

“I must own,” said Holberg, “that I am utterly unable to comprehend how
you could prefer an ordinary groom and country oaf to such a polished
gentleman as his Excellency the Viceroy, who is praised by everybody
as a past master in all the graces of fashion, nay as the model of
everything that is elegant and pleasing.”

“Even though he had been as full of it as the book they call the
_Alamodische Sittenbuch_, it would not have mattered a rush, since I
had once for all conceived such an aversion and loathing for him that I
could scarce bear to have him come into my presence; and you know how
impossible it is to overcome such an aversion, so that if one had the
virtue and principles of an angel, yet this natural aversion would be
stronger. On the other hand, my poor present husband woke in me such
instant and unlooked-for inclination that I could ascribe it to nothing
but a natural attraction, which it would be vain to resist.”

“Ha! That were surely well reasoned! Then we have but to pack all
morality into a strong chest and send it to Hekkenfell, and live on
according to the desires of our hearts, for then there is no lewdness
to be named but we can dress it up as a natural and irresistible
attraction, and in the same manner there is not one of all the virtues
but we can easily escape from the exercise of it; for one may have
an aversion for sobriety, one for honesty, one for modesty, and such
a natural aversion, he would say, is quite irresistible, so one who
feels it is quite innocent. But you have altogether too clear an
understanding, goodwife, not to know that all this is naught but wicked
conceits and bedlam talk.”

Marie made no answer.

“But do you not believe in God, goodwife,” Master Holberg went on, “and
in the life everlasting?”

“Ay, God be praised, I do. I believe in our Lord.”

“But eternal punishment and eternal reward, goodwife?”

“I believe every human being lives his own life and dies his own death,
that is what I believe.”

“But that is no faith; do you believe we shall rise again from the dead?”

“How shall I rise? As the young innocent child I was when I first came
out among people, or as the honored and envied favorite of the King and
the ornament of the court, or as poor old hopeless Ferryman’s Marie?
And shall I answer for what the others, the child and the woman in the
fullness of life, have sinned, or shall one of them answer for me? Can
you tell me that, Master Holberg?”

“Yet you have had but one soul, goodwife!”

“Have I indeed?” asked Marie, and sat musing for a while. “Let me speak
to you plainly, and answer me truly as you think. Do you believe that
one who his whole life has sinned grievously against God in heaven, and
who in his last moment, when he is struggling with death, confesses his
sin from a true heart, repents, and gives himself over to the mercy
of God, without fear and without doubt, do you think such a one is
more pleasing to God than another who has likewise sinned and offended
against Him, but then for many years of her life has striven to do her
duty, has borne every burden without a murmur, but never in prayer or
open repentance has wept over her former life, do you think that she
who has lived as she thought was rightly lived, but without hope of any
reward hereafter and without prayer, do you think God will thrust her
from Him and cast her out, even though she has never uttered a word of
prayer to Him?”

“That is more than any man may dare to say,” replied Master Holberg and
left her.

Shortly afterwards he went away.

In August of the following year, judgment was pronounced against Sören
Ferryman, and he was sentenced to three years of hard labor in irons at

It was a long time to suffer, longer to wait, yet at last it was over.
Sören came home, but the confinement and harsh treatment had undermined
his health, and before Marie had nursed him for a year, they bore him
to the grave.

For yet another long, long year Marie had to endure this life. Then she
suddenly fell ill and died. Her mind was wandering during her illness,
and the pastor could neither pray with her nor give her the sacrament.

On a sunny day in summer they buried her at Sören’s side, and over the
bright waters and the golden grainfields sounded the hymn, as the poor
little group of mourners, dulled by the heat, sang without sorrow and
without thought:

“Lord God, in mercy hear our cry before Thee,
Thy bloody scourge lift from us, we implore Thee;
Turn Thou from us Thy wrath all men pursuing
For their wrongdoing.

“If Thou regard alone our vile offending,
If upon us true justice were descending,
Then must the earth and all upon it crumble,
Yea, proud and humble.”