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Chicken Grethe's Family

Chicken Grethe was the only human tenant of the fine new house that was built for the hens and ducks on the estate. It was built where the old baronial castle had stood with its tower, crow's-perch gable, moat, and drawbridge. Close by was a complete wilderness of trees and bushes. This had been the garden, running down to a big lake which was now a marsh. Rooks, crows, and jackdaws - a whole horde of screeching, cawing birds, hovered over the trees. The flock did not seem to diminish but rather to increase when one fired among them. They could be heard even inside the poultry house where Chicken Grethe sat with the ducklings waddling about her wooden shoes. She knew each chicken and every duck from the moment it hatched. She took pride in her chickens and her ducks, and in the fine house that had been built for them.

Her little room was clean and tidy. Her mistress, who owned the chicken house, insisted upon neatness, for she frequently brought distinguished visitors to see "the barracks of her hens and ducks," as she called the place.

She had a rocking chair, and a wardrobe, and even a chest of drawers, on which stood a highly polished brass plate with the name "Grubbe" engraved on it. This was the name of the old noble family that had lived there in the days when the castle was standing. The brass plate had been found while they were digging the ground and the parish clerk said that it had no value except as a relic. The clerk knew all about the place and the old days, for he was a scholar and his table drawer was filled with manuscripts. He knew much about the old days, but perhaps the oldest crow knew more and jabbered it out in his own language, but that was crow-talk, which the clerk did not understand, learned though he was.

Toward the end of hot summer day, the mist would rise over the marsh until it looked as if there were a lake beyond the old trees where the rooks, crows, and jackdaws lived. This was how it had looked when old Sir Grubbe had lived there, and the castle with its massive red walls was still standing.

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