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Chicken Grethe's Family

Now and then some honest fellows from the neighboring town dropped in at the ferry house. Among them were Frank, the cutler, and Sivert, the customs collector, who came to drink a mug of ale and to chat with the student. He was a thoughtful young man who knew what's what, as they said. He read Latin and Greek, and was well posted in many fields of knowledge.

"The less one knows, the lighter his burden," said Mother Soren.

One day when Holberg watched her wash clothes in strong lye, and chop up knotty stumps for firewood, he told her:

"You work too hard."

"That's my business," she said.

"Have you had to toil and slave this way ever since you were a child?"

"Read the answer in my hands," she said, and showed him her two hands, small but strong and hard, with broken nails. "You know how to read. Read them."

At Christmas time there was a heavy snowfall. The cold made itself at home, and the winds blew as bitterly as if they were dashing acid in people's faces. Mother Soren didn't care. She flung on her cloak, drew up the hood, and went about her business. When the house grew dark early in the afternoon, she would throw pine knots on the fire and sit by it to darn her stockings, for she had no one to do it for her. As evening came on she talked with the student more than she usually did. she spoke of her husband:

"By accident he killed a captain from Dragor, and for this they put him in chains and sentenced him to three years of hard labor on the King's Island. He is only an ordinary sailor, so the law must take its course, you know."

"The law applies to the upper classes too," Holberg said.

"Do you believe that?" Mother Soren stared into the fire, and then went on. "Do you know the story of Kay Lykke, who ordered one of his churches torn down? When Mads, the pastor, thundered from the pulpit against this, he had Mads clapped in irons and thrown in prison. Then he appointed himself Judge, found Mads guilty, condemned him, and had his head struck off. That was no accident, yet Kay Lykke was never punished.

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