Poultry Meg's Family
By Hans Christian Andersen
Poultry Meg was the only human occupant in
the handsome new house which was built for
the fowls and ducks on the estate. It stood
where the old baronial mansion had stood,
with its tower, crow-step gable, moat, and
drawbridge. Close by was a wilderness of
trees and bushes ; the garden had been here
and had stretched down to a big lake, which
was now a bog. Rooks, crows, and jackdaws
flew screaming and cawing over the old
trees, a perfect swarm of birds. They did
not seem to decrease, but rather to
increase, although one shot amongst them.
One could hear them inside the
poultry-house, where Poultry Meg sat with
the ducklings running about over her wooden
shoes. She knew every fowl, and every duck,
from the time it crept out of the egg ; she
was proud of her fowls and ducks, and proud
of the splendid house which had
been built for them.
Her own little room was clean and neat, that
was the wish of the lady to whom the
poultry-house belonged ; she often came
there with distinguished guests and showed
them the ' barracks of the hens and ducks ',
as she called it.
Here was both a wardrobe and an easy-chair,
and even a chest of drawers, and on it was a
brightly polished brass plate on which was
engraved the word ' Grubbe ', which was the
name of the old, noble family who had lived
here in the mansion. The brass plate was
found when they were digging here, and the
parish clerk had said that it had no other
value except as an old relic. The clerk knew
all about the place and the old time, for he
had knowledge from books ; there were so
many manuscripts in his table-drawer. He had
great knowledge of the old times ; but the
oldest of the crows knew more perhaps, and
screamed about it in his own language, but
it was crow-language, which the clerk did
not understand, clever as he might be. The
bog could steam after a warm summer day so
that it seemed as if a lake lay behind the
old trees, where the crows, rooks, and
jackdaws flew ; so it had appeared when the
Knight Grubbe had lived here, and the old
manor-house stood with its thick, red walls.
The dog's chain used to reach quite
past the gateway in those days ; through the
tower, one went into a stone-paved passage
which led to the rooms ; the windows were
narrow and the panes small, even in the
great hall, where the dancing took place,
but in the time of the last Grubbe there was
no dancing as far back as one could
remember, and yet there lay there an old
kettledrum which had served as part of the
music. Here stood a curious carved cupboard,
in which rare flower bulbs were kept, for
Lady Grubbe was fond of gardening, and
cultivated trees and plants ; her husband
preferred riding out to shoot wolves and
wild boars, and his little daughter Marie
always went with him. When she was only five
years old, she sat proudly on her horse, and
looked round bravely with her big black
eyes. It was her delight to hit out with her
whip amongst the hounds ; her father would
have preferred to see her hit out amongst
the peasant boys who came to look at the
The peasant in the clay house close to the
manor had a son called Sören,
the same age as the little noble lady. He
knew how to climb, and had always to go up
and get the bird's nests for her. The birds
screamed as loud as they could scream, and
one of the biggest of them cut him over the
eye, so that the blood poured out. It was
thought at first that the eye had been
destroyed ; but it was very little damaged
after all. Marie Grubbe called him her Sören
that was a great favour, and it was a good
thing for his father, poor John ; he had
committed a fault one
day, and was to be punished by riding the
wooden horse. It stood in the yard, with
four poles for legs, and a single narrow
plank for a back ; on this John had to ride
astride, and have some heavy bricks fastened
to his legs, so that he might not sit too
comfortably ; he made horrible grimaces, and
Sören wept and implored little Marie to
interfere ; immediately she ordered that
Sören's father should be taken down, and
when they did not obey her she stamped on
the stone pavement, and pulled her father's
coat sleeve till it was torn. She would have
her way, and she got it, and Sören's father
was taken down.
The Lady Grubbe, who now came up, stroked
her little daughter's hair, and looked at
her affectionately; Mario did not understand
why. She would go to the hounds, and not
with her mother, who went into the garden,
down to the lake, where the white and yellow
water-lilies bloomed, and the bulrushes
nodded amongst the reeds. She looked at all
this luxuriance and freshness. ' How
pleasant ! ' said she. There stood in the
garden a rare tree which she herself had
planted ; it was called a copper-beech ', a
kind of blackamoor amongst the other trees,
so dark brown were the leaves ; it must have
strong sunshine, otherwise in continual
shade it would become green like the other
trees and so lose its distinctive character.
In the high chestnut-trees were many birds'
nests, as well as in the bushes and the
grassy meadows. It seemed as if the birds
knew that they were protected here, for here
no one dared to fire a gun.
The little Marie came here with Sören ; he
could climb, as we know, and he fetched both
eggs and young downy birds. The birds flew
about in terror and anguish, little ones and
big ones ! Peewits from the field, rooks,
crows, and jackdaws from the high trees,
screamed and shrieked ; it was a shriek
exactly the same as their descendants shriek
in our own day.
What are you doing, children ? ' cried the
gentle lady.' This is ungodly work ! '
Sören stood ashamed, and even the high-born
little girl looked a little abashed, but
then she said, shortly and sulkily, My
father lets me do it ! '
' Afar ! afar ! ' screamed the great
blackbirds, and flew off, but they came
again next day, for their home was here.
But the quiet, gentle lady did not stay long
at home here ; our Lord called her to
Himself, with Him she was more at home than
in the mansion, and the church bells tolled
solemnly when her body was carried to the
church. Poor men's eyes were wet, for she
had been good to them.
When she was gone, no one cared for her
plants, and the garden ran to waste.
Sir Grubbe was a hard man, they said, but
his daughter, although she was so young,
could manage him ; he had to laugh, and she
got her way. She was now twelve years old,
and strongly built ; she looked through and
through people, with her big black eyes,
rode her horse like a man, and shot her gun
like a practised hunter.
One day there came great visitors to the
neighbourhood, the very greatest, the young
king and his half-brother and comrade Lord
Ulrik Frederick Gyldenlöwe
; they wanted to hunt the wild boar there,
and would stay some days at Sir Grubbe 's
sat next Marie at table ; he took her round
the neck and gave her a kiss, as if they had
been relations, but she gave him a slap on
the mouth and said that she could not bear
him. At that there was great laughter, as if
it was an amusing thing.
And it may have been amusing too, for five
years after, when Marie had completed her
seventeenth year, a messenger came with a
letter ; Lord Gyldenlöwe
proposed for the hand
of the noble lady ; that was something !
He is the grandest and most gallant
gentleman in the kingdom ! ' said Sir Grubbe.
' That is not to be despised.'
' I don't care much about him ! ' said Marie
Grubbe, but she did not reject the grandest
man in the country, who sat by the king's
Silver plate, woollen and linen went with a
ship to Copenhagen ; she travelled overland
in ten days. The outfit had contrary winds,
or no wind at all ; four months passed
before it arrived, and when it did come Lady
Gyldenlowe had departed.
I would rather lie on coarse sacking, than
in his silken bed ! ' said she ; 'I'd rather
walk on my bare feet than drive with him in
a carriage ! '
Late one evening in November, two women came
riding into the town of Aarhus ; it was Lady
and her maid : they came from Veile, where
they had arrived from Copenhagen by ship.
They rode up to Sir Grubbe's stone mansion.
He was not delighted with the visit. She
got hard words, but she got a bedroom as
well ; got nice food for breakfast, but not
nice words, for the evil in her father was
roused against her, and she was not
accustomed to that. She was not of a gentle
temper, and as one is spoken to, so one
answers. She certainly did answer, and spoke
with bitterness and hate about her husband,
with whom she would not live ; she was too
honourable for that.
So a year went past, but it did not pass
pleasantly. There were evil words between
father and daughter, and that there should
never be. Evil words have evil fruit. What
could be the end of this ?
'We two cannot remain under the same roof,'
said the father one day. ' Go away from here
to our old manorhouse, but rather bite your
tongue out than set lies going ! '
So these two separated ; she went with her
maid to the old manor-house, where she had
been born and brought up, and where the
gentle pious lady, her mother, lay in the
church vault ; an old cowherd lived in the
house, and that was the whole establishment.
Cobwebs hung in the rooms, dark and heavy
with dust ; in the garden everything was
growing wild. Hops and other climbing plants
twisted a net between the trees and bushes ;
and hemlock and nettles grew larger and
stronger. The copper beech was overgrown by
the others and now stood in shade, its
leaves were now as green as the other common
trees, and its glory had departed. Rooks,
crows, and daws flew in thick swarms over
the high chestnut -trees, and there was a
and screaming, as if they had some important
news to tell each other : now she is here
again, the little one who had caused their
eggs and their young ones to be stolen from
them. The thief himself, who had fetched
them, now climbed on a leafless tree, sat on
the high mast, and got good blows from the
rope's end if he did not behave himself.
The clerk told all this in our own time ; he
had collected it and put it together from
books and manuscripts ; it lay with many
more manuscripts in the table-drawer.
' Up and down is the way of the world ! '
said he, ' it is strange to hear ! ' And we
shall hear how it went with Marie Grubbe,
but we will not forget Poultry Meg, who sits
in her grand hen-house in our time ; Marie
Grubbe sat there in her time, but not with
the same spirit as old
The winter passed, spring and summer passed,
and then again came the stormy autumn-time,
with the cold, wet sea-fogs. It was a lonely
life, a wearisome life there in the old
manor-house. So Marie Grubbe took her gun
and went out on the moors, and shot hares
and foxes, and whatever birds she came
across. Out there she met oftener than once
noble Sir Palle Dyre from Norrebaek, who was
also wandering about with his gun and his
dogs. He was big and strong, and boasted
about it when they talked together. He could
have dared to measure himself with the late
Mr. Brockenhus of Egeskov, of whose strength
there were still stories. Palle Dyre had,
following his example, caused an iron chain
with a hunting-horn to be hung at his gate,
and when he rode home he caught the chain,
and lifted himself with the horse from the
ground, and blew the horn.
' Come yourself and see it, Dame Marie ! '
said he, ' there is fresh air blowing at Nörrebaek
When she went to his house is not recorded,
but on the candlesticks in Nörrebaek
Church one can read that they were given by
Palle Dyre and Marie Grubbe of Nörrebaek
Bodily strength had Palle Dyre : he drank
like a sponge ; he was like a tub that could
never be filled ; he snored like a whole
pig-sty, and he looked red and bloated.
' He is piggish and rude ! ' said Dame Palle
Dyre, Grubbe's daughter. Soon she was tired
of the life, but that did not make it any
better. One day the table was laid, and the
food was getting cold ; Palle Dyre was
fox-hunting and the lady was not to be
found. Palle Dyre came home
at midnight, Dame Dyre came neither at
midnight nor in the morning, she had turned
her back on Nörrebaek
had ridden away without greeting or
It was grey wet weather ; the wind blew
cold, and a flock of black screaming birds
flew over her, they were not so homeless as
First she went south, quite up to Germany ;
a couple of gold rings with precious stones
were turned into money ; then she went east,
and then turned again to the west ; she had
no goal before her eyes, and was angry with
every one, even with the good God Himself,
so wretched was her mind ; soon her whole
body became wretched too, and she could
scarcely put one foot before another. The
peewit flew up from its tussock when she
fell over it : the bird screamed as it
always does, You thief ! You thief ! ' She
had never stolen her neighbour's goods, but
birds' eggs and young birds she had had
brought to her when she was a little girl ;
she thought of that now.
From where she lay she could see the
sand-hills by the shore ; fishermen lived
there, but she could not get so far, she was
so ill. The great white sea-mews came flying
above her and screamed as the rooks and
crows screamed over the garden at home. The
birds flew very near her, and at last she
imagined that they were coal-black, but then
it became night before her eyes. When she
again opened her eyes she was being carried
; a big, strong fellow had taken her in his
arms. She looked straight into his bearded
face ; he had a scar over his eye, so that
the eyebrow appeared to be divided in two.
He carried her, miserable as she was, to the
ship, where he got a rating from the captain
The day following, the ship sailed ; Marie
Grubbe was not put ashore, so she went with
it. But she came back again, no doubt ? Yes,
but when and where ?
The clerk could also tell about this, and it
was not a story which he himself had put
together. He had the whole strange story
from a trustworthy old book ; we ourselves
can take it out and read it.
The Danish historian, Ludwig Holberg, who
has written so many useful books and the
amusing comedies from which we can get to
know his time and people, tells in his
letters of Marie Grubbe, where and how he
met her ; it is well worth hearing about,
but we will not forget Poultry Meg, who sits
so glad and comfortable in her grand
The ship sailed away with Marie Grubbe ; it
was there we left off.
Years and years went past.
The plague was raging in Copenhagen ; it was
in the year 1711. The Queen of Denmark went
away to her German home, the king quitted
the capital, every one who could, hastened
away. The students, even if they had board
and lodging free, left the city. One of
them, the last who still remained at the
so-called Borch's College, close by Regensen,
also went away. It was two o'clock in the
morning ; he came with his knapsack, which
was filled more with books and manuscripts
than with clothes. A damp, clammy mist hung
over the town ; not a creature
was to be seen in the whole street ; round
about on the doors and gates crosses were
marked to show that the plague was inside,
or that the people were dead. No one was to
be seen either in the broader, winding
Butcher's Row, as the street was called
which led from the Round Tower to the King's
Castle. A big ammunition wagon rumbled past
; the driver swung his whip and the horses
went off at a gallop, the wagon was full of
dead bodies. The young student held his hand
before his face, and smelt at some strong
spirits which he had on a sponge in a
From a tavern in one of the streets came the
sound of singing and unpleasant laughter,
from people who drank the night through, to
forget that the plague stood before the door
and would have them to accompany him in the
wagon with the other corpses. The student
steps towards the castle bridge, where one
or two small ships lay ; one of them was
weighing anchor to get away from the
' If God spares our lives and we get wind
for it, we are going to Grönsund
in Falster said the skipper, and asked the
name of the student who wished to go with
' Ludwig Holberg,' said the student, and the
name sounded like any other name ; now the
sound is one of the proudest names in
Denmark ; at that time he was only a young,
The ship glided past the castle. It was not
yet clear morning when they came out into
the open water. A light breeze came along,
and the sails swelled, the young student set
himself with his face to the wind, and fell
asleep, and that was not quite the wisest
thing to do. Already on the
third morning the ship lay off Falster.
' Do you know any one in this place, with
whom I could live cheaply ? ' Holberg asked
' I believe that you would do well to go to
the ferrywoman in Borrehouse,' said he. 'If
you want to be very polite, her name is
Mother Sören Sörensen Möller
! yet it may happen that she will fly into a
rage if you are too polite to her ! Her
husband is in custody for a crime ; she
herself manages the ferry-boat, she has
fists of her own ! '
The student took his knapsack and went to
the ferryhouse. The door was not locked, he
lifted the latch, and went into a room with
a brick-laid floor, where a bench with a big
leather coverlet was the chief article of
furniture. A white hen with chickens was
fastened to the bench, and
had upset the water-dish, and the water had
run across the floor. No one was here, or in
the next room, only a cradle with a child in
it. The ferry-boat came back with only one
person in it, whether man or w r oman was
not easy to say. The person was wrapped in a
great cloak, and wore a fur cap like a hood
on the head. The boat lay to.
It was a woman who got out and came into the
room. She looked very imposing when she
straightened her back ; two proud eyes sat
under the black eyebrows. It was Mother
Sören, the ferry-woman ; rooks, crows, and
daws would scream out another name which we
She looked morose, and did not seem to care
to talk, but so much was said and settled,
that the student arranged for board and
lodging for an indefinite time, whilst
things were so bad in Copenhagen. One or
other honest citizen from the neighbouring
town came regularly out to the ferryhouse.
Frank the cutler and Sivert the excise-man
came there ; they drank a glass of ale and
talked with the student. He was a clever
young man, who knew his ' Practica ', as
they called it ; he read Greek and Latin,
and was well up in learned subjects.
' The less one knows, the less one is
burdened with it,' said Mother Sören.
' You have to work hard ! ' said Holberg,
one day when she soaked her clothes in the
sharp lye, and herself chopped the tree
-roots for firewood.
' Thats my affair ! ' said she.
' Have you always from childhood been
obliged to work and toil ? '
' You can see that in my hands ! ' said she,
and showed him two small but strong, hard
hands with bitten nails. You have learning
and can read.'
At Christmas it began to snow heavily. The
cold came on, the wind blew sharply, as if
it had vitriol to wash people's faces with.
Mother Sören did not let that disturb her.
She drew her cloak around her, and pulled
her hood down over her head. It was dark in
the house, early in the
afternoon. She laid wood and turf on the
fire, and set herself down to darn her
stockings, there was no one else to do it.
Towards evening she talked more to the
student than was her custom. She spoke about
' He has by accident killed a skipper of
and for that he must work three years in
irons. He is only a common sailor, and so
the law must take its course.'
The law applies also to people of higher
position,' said Holberg.
' Do you think so ? ' said Mother Sören, and
looked into the fire, but then she began
again, ' Have you heard of Kai Lykke, who
caused one of his churches to be pulled
down, and when the priest thundered from the
pulpit about it, he caused the priest to be
laid in irons, appointed
a court, and adjudged him to have forfeited
his head, which was accordingly struck off ;
that was not an accident, and yet Kai Lykke
went free that time ! '
' He was in the right according to the times
! ' said Holberg, ' now we are past that ! '
' You can try to make fools believe that,'
said Mother Sören as she rose and went into
the room where the child lay, eased it and
laid it down again, and then arranged the
student's bed ; he had the leather covering,
for he felt the cold more than she did, and
yet he had been born in Norway.
On New Year's morning it was a real bright
sunshiny day ; the frost had been and still
was so strong that the drifted snow lay
frozen hard, so that one could walk upon it.
The bells in the town rang for church, and
the student Holberg took his woollen cloak
about him and would go to the town.
Over the ferry-house the crows and rooks
were flying with loud cries, one could
scarcely hear the church bells for their
noise. Mother Sören stood outside, filling a
brass kettle with snow, which she was going
to put on the fire to get drinking-water.
She looked up to the swarm of birds, and had
her own thoughts about it.
The student Holberg went to church ; on the
way there and back he passed Sivert the
tax-collector's house, by the town gate ;
there he was invited in for a glass of warm
ale with syrup and ginger. The conversation
turned on Mother Sören, but the
tax-collector did not know much
about her indeed, few people did. She did
not belong to Falster, he said ; she had
possessed a little property at one time ;
her husband was a common sailor with a
violent temper, who had murdered a skipper
' He beats his wife, and yet she takes his
' I could not stand such treatment ! ' said
the taxcollector's wife. ' I am also come of
better people ; my father was
stocking-weaver to the Court ! '
Consequently you have married a Government
official,' said Holberg, and made a bow to
her and the tax-collector.
It was Twelfth Night, the evening of the
festival of the Three Kings. Mother Sören
lighted for Holberg a three - king candle
that is to say, a tallow-candle with three
branches, which she herself had dipped.
' A candle for each man ! ' said Holberg.
Each man ? ' said the woman, and looked
sharply at him.
' Each of the wise men from the east ! '
' That way ! ' said she, and was silent for
a long time. But on the evening of the Three
Kings he learned more about her than he did
' You have an affectionate mind to your
husband,' said Holberg, ' and yet people say
that he treats you badly.'
That is no one's business but mine ! ' she
answered. The blows could have done me good
as a child ; now I get them for my sin's
sake ! I know what good he has done me,' and
she rose up. When I lay ill on the open
heath, and no one cared to come in contact
with me, except perhaps the crc ws and the
rooks to peck at me, he carried me in his
arms and got hard words for the catch he
brought on board. I am not used to be ill,
and so I recovered. Every one has his own
way, Sören has his, and one should not judge
a horse by the halter ! With him I have
more comfortably than with the one they
called the most gallant and noble of all the
king's subjects. I have been married to the
the half-brother of the king ; later on I
took Palle Dyre ! Right or wrong, each has
his own way, and I have mine. That was a
story, but now you know it ! ' And she went
out of the room.
It was Marie Grubbe ! so strange had been
the rolling ball of her fortune. She did not
live to see many more anniversaries of the
festival of the Three Kings ; Holberg has
recorded that she died in 1716, but he has
not recorded, for he did not know it, that
when Mother Sören, as she was
called, lay a corpse in the ferry-house, a
number of big blackbirds flew over the
place. They did not scream, as if they knew
that silence belonged to a burial. As soon
as she was laid in the earth the birds
disappeared, but the same evening over at
the old manor in Jutland an enormous
number of crows and rooks were seen ; they
all screamed as loud as they could, as if
they had something to announce, perhaps
about him who as a little boy took their
eggs and young ones, the farmer's son who
had to wear a garter of iron, and the noble
lady who ended her life as a ferry- woman at
' Brave ! brave ! ' they screamed.
And the whole family screamed ' Brave !
brave ! ' when the old manor-house was
pulled down. ' They strll cry, and there is
no more to cry about ! ' said the clerk,
when he told the story. ' The family is
extinct, the house pulled down, and where it
stood, now stands the grand hen-house
with the gilded weathercock and with old
Poultry Meg. She is so delighted with her
charming dwelling ; if she had not come
here, she would have been in the workhouse.'
The pigeons cooed over her, the turkeys
gobbled round about her, and the ducks
' No one knew her ! ' they said. ' She has
no relations. It is an act of grace that she
is here. She has neither a, drake father nor
a hen mother, and no descendants ! '
Still she had relations, although she did
not know it, nor the clerk either, however
much manuscript he had in the table -drawer,
but one of the old crows knew about it, and
told about it. From its mother and
grandmother it had heard about Poultry Meg's
mother and her grandmother, whom we also
know from the time she has a child and rode
over the bridge looking about her proudly,
as if the whole world and its birds' nests
belonged to her ; we saw her out on the
heath by the sand-dunes, and last of all in
the ferry-house. The grandchild, the last of
the race, had come home again where the old
house had stood, where the wild birds
screamed, but she sat among the tame birds,
known by them and known along with them.
Poultry Meg had no more to wish for, she was
glad to die, and old enough to die.
Grave ! grave ! ' screamed the crows.
And Poultry Meg got a good grave, which no
one knew except the old crow, if he is not
And now we know the story of the old manor,
the old race, and the whole of Poultry Meg's