POULTRY MEG'S FAMILY
by Hans Christian Anderson (1869)
Page 1 of 2
Poultry Meg was the only person who lived in the new stately dwelling that had been built for the fowls and ducks belonging to the manor house. It stood there where once the old knightly building had stood with its tower, its pointed gables, its moat, and its drawbridge. Close by it was a wilderness of trees and thicket; here the garden had been, and had stretched out to a great lake, which was now moorland. Crows and choughs flew screaming over the old trees, and there were crowds of birds; they did not seem to get fewer when any one shot among them, but seemed rather to increase. One heard the screaming into the poultry-house, where Poultry Meg sat with the ducklings running to and fro over her wooden shoes. She knew every fowl and every duck from the moment it crept out of the shell; and she was fond of her fowls and her ducks, and proud of the stately house that had been built for them. Her own little room in the house was clean and neat, for that was the wish of the gracious lady to whom the house belonged. She often came in the company of grand noble guests, to whom she showed "the hens' and ducks' barracks," as she called the little house.
Here were a clothes cupboard, and an arm-chair, and even a chest of drawers; and on these drawers a polished metal plate had been placed, whereon was engraved the word "Grubbe," and this was the name of the noble family that had lived in the house of old. The brass plate had been found when they were digging the foundation; and the clerk has said it had no value except in being an old relic. The clerk knew all about the place, and about the old times, for he had his knowledge from books, and many a memorandum had been written and put in his table-drawer. But the oldest of the crows perhaps knew more than he, and screamed it out in her own language; but that was the crow's language, and the clerk did not understand that, clever as he was.
After the hot summer days the mist sometimes hung over the moorland as if a whole lake were behind the old trees, among which the crows and the daws were fluttering; and thus it had looked when the good Knight Grubbe had lived here – when the old manor house stood with its thick red walls. The dog-chain used to reach in those days quite over the gateway; through the tower one went into a paved passage which led to the rooms; the windows were narrow, and the panes were small, even in the great hall where the dancing used to be; but in the time of the last Grubbe, there had been no dancing in the hall within the memory of man, although an old drum still lay there that had served as part of the music. Here stood a quaintly carved cupboard, in which rare flower-roots were kept, for my Lady Grubbe was fond of plants and cultivated trees and shrubs. Her husband preferred riding out to shoot wolves and boars; and his little daughter Marie always went with him part of the way. When she was only five years old, she would sit proudly on her horse, and look saucily round with her great black eyes. It was a great amusement to her to hit out among the hunting-dogs with her whip; but her father would rather have seen her hit among the peasant boys, who came running up to stare at their lord.
The peasant in the clay hut close by the knightly house had a son named Soren, of the same age as the gracious little lady. The boy could climb well, and had always to bring her down the bird's nests. The birds screamed as loud as they could, and one of the greatest of them hacked him with its beak over the eye so that the blood ran down, and it was at first thought the eye had been destroyed; but it had not been injured after all. Marie Grubbe used to call him her Soren, and that was a great favor, and was an advantage to Soren's father – poor Jon, who had one day committed a fault, and was to be punished by riding on the wooden horse. This same horse stood in the courtyard, and had four poles for legs, and a single narrow plant for a back; on this Jon had to ride astride, and some heavy bricks were fastened to his feet into the bargain, that he might not sit too comfortably. He made horrible grimaces, and Soren wept and implored little Marie to interfere. She immediately ordered that Soren's father should be taken down, and when they did not obey her, she stamped on the floor, and pulled at her father's sleeve till it was torn to pieces. She would have her way, and she got her way, and Soren's father was taken down.
Lady Grubbe, who now came up, parted her little daughter's hair from the child's brow, and looked at her affectionately; but Marie did not understand why.
She wanted to go to the hounds, and not to her mother, who went down into the garden, to the lake where the water-lily bloomed, and the heads of bulrushes nodded amid the reeds; and she looked at all this beauty and freshness. "How pleasant!" she said. In the garden stood at that time a rare tree, which she herself had planted. It was called the blood-beech – a kind of negro growing among the other trees, so dark brown were the leaves. This tree required much sunshine, for in continual shade it would become bright green like the other trees, and thus lose its distinctive character. In the lofty chestnut trees were many birds' nests, and also in the thickets and in the grassy meadows. It seemed as though the birds knew that they were protected here, and that no one must fire a gun at them.
Little Marie came here with Soren. He knew how to climb, as we have already said, and eggs and fluffy-feathered young birds were brought down. The birds, great and small, flew about in terror and tribulation; the peewit from the fields, and the crows and daws from the high trees, screamed and screamed; it was just such din as the family will raise to the present day.
"What are you doing, you children?" cried the gentle lady; "that is sinful!"
Soren stood abashed, and even the little gracious lady looked down a little; but then he said, quite short and pretty,
"My father lets me do it!"
"Craw-craw! away-away from here!" cried the great black birds, and they flew away; but on the following day they came back, for they were at home here.
The quiet gentle lady did not remain long at home here on earth, for the good God called her away; and, indeed, her home was rather with Him than in the knightly house; and the church bells tolled solemnly when her corpse was carried to the church, and the eyes of the poor people were wet with tears, for she had been good to them.
When she was gone, no one attended to her plantations, and the garden ran to waste. Grubbe the knight was a hard man, they said; but his daughter, young as she was, knew how to manage him. He used to laugh and let her have her way. She was now twelve years old, and strongly built. She looked the people through and through with her black eyes, rode her horse as bravely as a man, and could fire off her gun like a practiced hunter.
One day there were great visitors in the neighborhood, the grandest visitors who could come. The young King, and his half-brother and comrade, the Lord Ulric Frederick Gyldenlowe. They wanted to hunt the wild boar, and to pass a few days at the castle of Grubbe.
Gyldenlowe sat at table next to Marie Grubbe, and he took her by the hand and gave her a kiss, as if she had been a relation; but she gave him a box on the ear, and told him she could not bear him, at which there was great laughter, as if that had been a very amusing thing.
And perhaps it was very amusing, for, five years afterwards, when Marie had fulfilled her seventeenth year, a messenger arrived with a letter, in which Lord Gyldenlowe proposed for the hand of the noble young lady. There was a thing for you!
"He is the grandest and most gallant gentleman in the whole country," said Grubbe the knight; "that is not a thing to despise."
"I don't care so very much about him," said Marie Grubbe; but she did not despise the grandest man of all the country, who sat by the king's side.
Silver plate, and fine linen and woollen, went off to Copenhagen in a ship, while the bride made the journey by land in ten days. But the outfit met with contrary winds, or with no winds at all, for four months passed before it arrived; and when it came, my Lady Gyldenlowe was gone.
"I'd rather lie on coarse sacking than lie in his silken beds," she declared. "I'd rather walk barefoot than drive with him in a coach!"
Late one evening in November two women came riding into the town of Aarhuus. They were the gracious Lady Gyldenlowe (Marie Grubbe) and her maid. They came from the town of Weile, whither they had come in a ship from Copenhagen. They stopped at Lord Grubbe's stone mansion in Aarhuus. Grubbe was not well pleased with this visit. Marie was accosted in hard words; but she had a bedroom given her, and got her beer soup of a morning; but the evil part of her father's nature was aroused against her, and she was not used to that. She was not of a gentle temper, and we often answer as we are addressed. She answered openly, and spoke with bitterness and hatred of her husband, with whom she declared she would not live; she was too honorable for that.
A year went by, but it did not go by pleasantly. There were evil words between the father and the daughter, and that ought never to be. Bad words bear bad fruit. What could be the end of such a state of things?
"We two cannot live under the same roof," said the father one day. "Go away from here to our old manor house; but you had better bite your tongue off than spread any lies among the people."
And so the two parted. She went with her maid to the old castle where she had been born, and near which the gentle, pious lady, her mother, was lying in the church vault. An old cowherd lived in the courtyard, and was the only other inhabitant of the place. In the rooms heavy black cobwebs hung down, covered with dust; in the garden everything grew just as it would; hops and climbing plants ran like a net between the trees and bushes, and the hemlock and nettle grew larger and stronger. The blood-beech had been outgrown by other trees, and now stood in the shade; and its leaves were green like those of the common trees, and its glory had departed. Crows and choughs, in great close masses, flew past over the tall chestnut trees, and chattered and screamed as if they had something very important to tell one another – as if they were saying, "Now she's come back again, the little girl who had their eggs and their young ones stolen from them; and as for the thief who had got them down, he had to climb up a leafless tree, for he sat on a tall ship's mast, and was beaten with a rope's end if he did not behave himself."
The clerk told all this in our own times; he had collected it and looked it up in books and memoranda. It was to be found, with many other writings, locked up in his table-drawer.
"Upward and downward is the course of the world," said he. "It is strange to hear."
And we will hear how it went with Marie Grubbe. We need not for that forget Poultry Meg, who is sitting in her capital hen-house, in our own time. Marie Grubbe sat down in her times, but not with the same spirit that old Poultry Meg showed.
The winter passed away, and the spring and the summer passed away, and the autumn came again, with the damp, cold sea-fog. It was a lonely, desolate life in the old manor house. Marie Grubbe took her gun in her hand and went out to the heath, and shot hares and foxes, and whatever birds she could hit. More than once she met the noble Sir Palle Dyre, of Norrebak, who was also wandering about with his gun and his dogs. He was tall and strong, and boasted of this when they talked together. He could have measured himself against the deceased Mr. Brockenhuus, of Egeskov, of whom the people still talked. Palle Dyre had, after the example of Brockenhuus, caused an iron chain with a hunting-horn to be hung in his gateway; and when he came riding home, he used to seize the chain, and lift himself and his horse from the ground, and blow the horn.
"Come yourself, and see me do that, Dame Marie," he said. 'One can breathe fresh and free at Norrebak.
When she went to his castle is not known, but on the altar candlestick in the church of Norrebak it was inscribed that they were the gift of Palle Dyre and Marie Grubbe, of Norrebak Castle.
A great stout man was Palle Dyre. He drank like a sponge. He was like a tub that could never get full; he snored like a whole sty of pigs, and he looked red and bloated.
"He is treacherous and malicious," said Dame Pally Dyre, Grubbe's daughter. Soon she was weary of her life with him, but that did not make it better.
One day the table was spread, and the dishes grew cold. Palle Dyre was out hunting foxes, and the gracious lady was nowhere to be found. Towards midnight Palle Dyre came home, but Dame Dyre came neither at midnight, nor next morning. She had turned her back upon Norrebak, and had ridden away without saying good-bye.
It was gray, wet weather; the wind grew cold, and a flight of black screaming birds flew over her head. They were not so homeless as she.
First she journeyed southward, quite down into the German land. A couple of golden rings with costly stones were turned into money; and then she turned to the east, and then she turned again and went towards the west. She had no food before her eyes, and murmured against everything, even against the good God himself, so wretched was her soul. Soon her body became wretched too, and she was scarcely able to move a foot. The peewit flew up as she stumbled over the mound of earth where it had built its nest. The bird cried, as it always cried, "You thief! you thief!" She had never stolen her neighbor's goods; but as a little girl she had caused eggs and young birds to be taken from the trees, and she thought of that now.
From where she lay she could see the sand-dunes. By the seashore lived fishermen; but she could not get so far, she was so ill. The great white sea-mews flew over her head, and screamed as the crows and daws screamed at home in the garden of the manor house. The birds flew quite close to her, and at last it seemed to her as if they became black as crows, and then all was night before her eyes.
When she opened her eyes again, she was being lifted and carried. A great strong man had taken her up in his arms, and she was looking straight into his bearded face. He had a scar over one eye, which seemed to divide the eyebrow into two parts. Weak as she was, he carried her to the ship, where he got a rating for it from the captain.