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Chicken Grethe's Family


"He was within his right, according to the custom of his time," Holberg said. "We have come a long way since then."

"Try to make fools believe you." Mother Soren got up and went into the next room where Toesen, her little child, lay in the cradle. When she had tidied and aired the cradle, she made the student's bed. He had the big furred cover, for though he was born in Norway he felt the cold more than she did.

New Year's Day dawned clear and sunny. It was so cold that the snowdrifts were hard enough for one to walk across them. The bells in the village were ringing for church, as student Holberg wrapped himself in his heavy cloak to set off for town. Rooks flew screeching over Borrehouse, and so did the crows and jackdaws. They made such a racket that you could scarcely hear the bells. Mother Soren stood outside, filling a brass kettle with snow, to melt over the fire for drinking water. She gazed up at the dark swarm of birds and thought her own thoughts.

Student Holberg went to church and on his way back he passed the house of Sivert, the customs collector. Sivert invited him in to warm himself from a bowl of mulled ale, sweetened with syrup and ginger. They started to talk about Mother Soren, but the customs collector knew little about her. Indeed, there were few who did. "She is not a native of Falster," he said, "and she has probably seen better days. Her husband is a common sailor, with a violent temper. He killed a captain on Dragor, and, though he used to beat his wife, she always sticks up for him."

"I would never stand for that," said the customs collector's wife. "I too come of better stock. My father wove stockings for the King."

"So naturally you married one of the King's officers," Holberg said, with a bow to her husband.

Twelfth Night came, and Mother Soren lighted for Holberg a candle of the Three Kings - that is, three small tallow candles - which she herself had prepared.

"A candle for each man!" said Holberg.

"Each man?" she exclaimed, and looked at him hard.

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