The wind tells the story of Valdemar Daae and his daughters
When the wind sweeps over the grass, it makes it ripple like water, when it sweeps over the corn, it makes it surge like a sea, that is how the wind dances; but just listen to it tell a story: it sings it out, and it sounds differently in the trees of the wood than in the sound-holes, the clefts and cracks in the wall. Can you see how the wind up there chases the clouds, as if they were a flock of sheep! Can you hear how the wind down here howls through the open door, as if it were the night-watchman sounding his horn! It roars strangely down the chimney into the fireplace; making the fire flare and sparkle and gleam far out into the living room, where it is so warm and cosy to sit there listening to it. Just let the wind tell you things – it knows fairytales and stories, more than all of us put together. Just listen to what it has to tell:
Whoo-oo! Away with you! – that is the wind’s refrain.
‘Down by the Great Belt lies an old manor with thick, red walls!’ the wind says, ‘I know each and every brick, I’ve seen them all when they sat in Marsk Stig’s castle out on the headland – it had to come down! The bricks came up again, became a new wall, a new dwelling, some place else, the manor of Borreby Gaard, that still stands today!
I have seen and known the high-ranking men and women, the changing family generations that lived inside – now I will tell you of Valdemar Daae and his daughters! He held his head high – he was of royal lineage! He could do more than hunt a stag and empty a tankard; – everything will come right, he used to say himself.
His wife, proud and erect, used to stride across her gleaming, chequered floor in a gold-brocade kirtle; the tapestries were magnificent, the furniture expensive, beautifully carved. She had brought gold plate and silverware into the house; German beer lay in the cellars where there was plenty of it; black, mettlesome horses whinnied in the stables; there were riches galore at Borreby Gaard.
And there were children too: three fine maidens, Ide, Johanne and Anna Dorthea – I still recall their names. They were rich, they were aristocratic, born in splendour and surrounded by it! Whoo-oo! Away with you!,’ the wind sang, and then took up its story once more.
‘Here I did not see, as in other old manors, the high-born lady sit in the hall with her girls and three spinning wheels, she used to play on the fine-sounding lute and sing to the music, though not always the old Danish ballads, also songs in foreign tongues. Here there was life and hospitality, with distinguished guests from near and far, the music rang out, the goblets chinked, I couldn’t outdo them! the wind said. ‘Here there was show and ostentation, power and might, but not God Almighty!’
‘It was a Mayday Eve,’ the wind said, ‘I was coming from the west, had seen ships crushed to wrecks against the west coast of Jutland, chased over the heaths and the green-wooded coast, across the land of Funen and just crossed the Great Belt, huffing and puffing.
So I quietened down when I got to the coast of Sealand, close to Borreby Gaard, where the forest still stood with magnificent oak trees.
The young men from that area came out here to gather kindlewood and branches, the largest and driest they could find. They took them to the town, laid them in heaps, set fire to them and the young men and women danced around them and sang.’
‘I lay there quite still,’ the wind said, ‘but gently touched a branch, the one that had been laid there by the handsomest young man; his wood flared up, flared highest; he was the chosen one, was given the name of honour, became ‘Shrovetide Boss’, was the first to choose again from the Shrovetide ‘lambs’; there was joy and merriment out there greater than that inside Borreby Gaard.’
‘And up to the manor came six horses harnessed to the golden coach of the high-born lady and her three daughters, so fine, so young, three exquisite flowers: rose, lily and the pale hyacinth. Their mother was a flamboyant tulip, she did not greet a single one of the entire crowd, which stopped playing and bowed and scraped – you would think the lady of the manor had a brittle stalk.
Rose, lily and the pale hyacinth, oh yes, I saw all three of them! I wonder whose Shrovetide lamb they would one day be; their Shrovetide boss will be a proud knight, maybe a prince! – Whoo-oo-oo! Away with you! Away with you!’
Well, the coach took them on and dancing took over the peasant folk. Summer was being got ready for in Borreby, Tjæreby – all the towns round about.’
‘But that night, when I got up,’ the wind said, ‘the high-born lady lay down never to get up again; what befell her is what will befall all mortal beings, there is nothing new in that. Valdemar Daae stood there solemn and thoughtful for a short while; the proudest tree can bend but does not break, he heard a voice say within himself; his daughters wept and at the manor everyone dried their eyes, but Mistress Daae was gone away – and I blew away! Whoo-oo!!’ the wind said.
‘I came again, I often came again across the land of Funen and the waters of the Great Belt, sat down at Borreby Strand by the magnificent forest of oak trees; there the osprey, the wood pigeons, the blue ravens and even the black stork built their nests. It was early in the year, some of them had eggs and others had young. Oh, how they flew, how they screeched; axe blows could be heard, stroke upon stroke; the forest was to be felled, Valdemar Daae wanted to build a costly ship, a warship with three foredecks that the king would probably buy, so the forest was being felled, the sailors’ landmark, the birds’ nesting place. The shrike flew up in fear, its nest was ruined; the osprey and all the birds of the forest lost their homes, they flew around aimlessly and screeched from fear and anger – I was able to understand them. Crows and jackdaws called out mockingly: “Away from the nest! Away from the nest! Awa-ay! Awa-ay!”.
And in the middle of the forest, among all the workers, stood Valdemar Daae and his three daughters, and they all laughed at the wild screeching of the birds, although the heart of his youngest daughter, Anna Dorthea, was filled with pity, and when they also wanted to fell a tree that was half-dead, on whose naked branches the black stork had built its nest from where the tiny fledglings peeped and cheeped, she prayed them with tears in her eyes to stay their axes, and the tree was allowed to stay standing with the nest for the black stork. That was only a small consolation.
There was much work done with axe and saw – a ship was built with three foredecks. The master-builder himself was of humble birth but noble worth; his eyes and brow spoke eloquently of how wise he was, and Valdemar Daae liked to hear him relate, as did little Ide, the eldest daughter who was fifteen years old; and while he built a ship for the father he built a dream castle for himself, where he and little Ide sat as man and wife, and if it had come true, the castle would have been of bricks with ramparts and moats, woodland and garden. But despite all his shrewdness, the master-builder was only a poor small bird, and what place can a sparrow possibly have in a dance of cranes? Away with you! – I flew off and he flew off, for he did not dare stay, and little Ide got over it, for she had to get over it!’
‘In the stables the black horses whinnied, well worth looking at and much looked at. – The admiral was sent by the king himself to look at the new warship and discuss buying it, he was full of admiration for the mettlesome horses; I heard it clearly!’ the wind said; ‘I followed the gentlemen through the open door and scattered straw like bars of gold in front of their feet. Valdemar Daae wanted gold, the admiral wanted to have the black horses, for he praised them greatly, but this was not understood and so the ship was not sold, it stood them gleaming down on the beach, covered over with planks – a Noah’s ark that never set sail. Whoo-oo! Away with you! Away with you! A pitiful sight.’
‘In winter, when the fields lay covered with snow, the drift ice filled the Great Belt and I put the thumbscrews on the coast,’ the wind said,’ ravens and crows arrived, the one blacker than the other, great flocks; they sat on what was desolate, what was dead, the lonely ship on the beach, and screeched with loud shrieks about the forest that was gone, the many precious bird’s nests that had been ruined, the homeless old birds, the homeless small ones – and all that just for the sake of this great pile of lumber, the proud vessel that was never going to set sail.
I whirled up the snow, it lay like surging waves all around it, right over it! I let it hear my voice, what a gale really has to say; I know I did my part to help it gain some sailing knowledge. Whoo-oo! Away with you!
And the winter passed away, winter and summer they passed and they pass, as I do, as the snow drifts, the apple blossom drifts and the leaves fall! Away with you, away with you, humanity too!
But the daughters were still young, little Ide a rose that was lovely to look at, as when the master-builder saw her. I often ran through her long, brown hair when she stood by the apple tree in the garden deep in thought and did not notice that I sprinkled blossoms on her unfurling locks, and she looked at the red sun and the golden backdrop of the sky between the dark bushes and trees of the garden.
Her sister was like a lily, gleaming and erect, Johanne; she was downright and upright, like her mother she had a brittle stalk. She liked to walk around the great hall, where the pictures of her ancestors hung; the ladies were portrayed wearing velvet and silk with a pearl-studded tiny hat perched on their plaited hair – they were lovely ladies! Their husbands were clad in steel or expensive cloaks with squirrel-fur linings and blue ruffs; their sword was strapped round their thigh and not girded round their loins. Where would she, Johanne, perhaps come to hang on the wall and what would her noble husband look like? yes, that was what she thought about, chatted about, I heard it when I swept along the long passage into the hall and turned round again!
Anna Dorthea, the pale hyacinth, a child of only fourteen, was quiet and pensive; her large, pale blue eyes looked thoughtful, but a childlike smile played round her lips, I could not blow it away, nor did I wish to.
I met her in the garden, the sunken road and on the tenant field, she used to gather herbs and flowers, those she knew her father could use for the drinks and distillations he made; Valdemar Daae was proud and cocky, but also well-informed and knowledgeable; people noticed this, they used to mutter about it; his fireplace was lit even when it was summer; the door to his study was locked; he stayed in there for days and nights, but spoke little of it; the forces of nature one must slowly learn to interpret, soon he would find the best thing of all – red gold.
‘That was why there came steam from the fireplace, why it sparkled and flared! yes, I was there!’ the wind related, ‘Away with you! Away with you! I sang down the chimney. There will be smoke and smouldering, embers and ashes! You will burn yourself up! Whoo-oo! away with you! Away with you! but Valdemar Daae would not let it rest!’
‘The magnificent horses in the stable – what became of them? the old silverware and gold-plate in cupboards and chests, the cows in the field, the manor and the estate? – well, it was all put into the melting-pot, but no gold came of it. The pantries and barns grew empty, as did the attics. Less people, more mice. One pane fractured, another cracked, I didn’t need to use the door to enter!’ the wind said. ‘Where the chimney smokes, the food frazzles, the chimney smoked, it swallowed all the food for the red gold.’
‘I blew through the manor gate like a night watchman blows on his horn, but there was no night watchman!’ the wind said; ‘I made the weathervane on the spire spin, it grated as if the night watchman was snoring in the tower, but there was no night watchman – there were rats and mice; poverty laid the table, poverty sat in the wardrobe and food cupboard, the doors sagged on their hinges, cracks and crevices opened; I went in and out,’ the wind said, ‘that is how I know all this!’
In smoke and ashes, in sorrow and sleepless nights the hair on his head and his beard turned grey, his skin muddy and yellow, his eyes were so greedy for gold, the gold he always expected.
I blew smoke and ashes into his face and beard; instead of gold came debt. I sang through the cracked window panes and open crevices, blew in to the daughters’ wall seat where their clothes lay faded and threadbare, for they always had to be made to last. Such a song had not been sung at the children’s cradle! The life of a lord became that of a wretch! I was the only one who sang out loud at the manor,’ the wind said. ‘I snowed them in, it keeps one warm, people say, for they had no firewood – the forest they could have fetched it from had been felled. There was a tinkling frost, I swung my way though the sound-holes and passages, over gable and wall to keep myself in good shape; inside they lay in their beds, because of the cold, the noble daughters; their father crept under his blanket of hide. Nothing to bite and nothing to burn, that’s the life of a lord! Whoo-oo! Away with you! – But Mr. Daae could not rest!
“After winter comes spring1”, he said, “after lean years come fat ones! – but they are taking their time coming, yes indeed! – Now the manor is a note of hand! now the worst time has come – and now the gold must come! at Easter!”
I heard him mumbling into the cobwebs. – “You clever little weaver! You teach me not to give in! If you web is torn to pieces, you start all over again and complete your task! If broken again, you set to it from the very beginning! the very beginning! that is what one must do! and the reward will come!”
It was Easter Morning, the bells rang, the sun danced in the sky. In a fever he has watched over everything, heated and cooled, mixed and distilled. I heard him sigh like a desperate soul, I heard him pray, I sensed that he was holding his breath. The lamp had gone out, he did not notice it; I blew into the embers, they shone into his chalk-white face, which took on a warm gleam, his eyes were squeezed into their deep sockets – but now they grew big, big – as if about to burst.’
‘Look, the alchemist’s retort! there is something sparkling inside! it is gleaming, pure and heavy! he lifted it with a trembling hand, he called out with a trembling tongue: “Gold! Gold!” it made him go dizzy, I could have blown him over just like that,’ the wind said, ‘but I only blew on the glowing coals, followed him through the door, in to where his daughters were freezing. His coat was covered with ashes, it clung to his beard and his matted hair. He stood erect, lifted the retort up high, which glinted in the sun’s rays; – and his hand trembled and the alchemist’s retort fell to the floor and shattered in thousands of pieces – his last bubble of wealth burst. Whoo-oo! Away with you! – And away I flew from the gold-maker’s house.
Late in the year, in the short days up here, when the mist comes with its washcloth and wrings wet drops on the red berries and the leafless branches, I came in high spirits, aired through everything, swept the sky clean and snapped off rotten branches, not a heavy task, but it has to be done. A different kind of new broom was sweeping clean inside Valdemar Daae’s Borreby Gaard. His enemy Ove Ramel from Basnæs was there with a purchased note of hand for the manor and its contents. I drummed on the cracked window panes, made the dilapidated doors bang, howled through the cracks and crevices: Whoo-oo! Mr Ove was not to wish to stay there. Ide and Anna Dorthea wept brave tears; Johanne stood erect and pale, bit her thumb till it bled – a lot of help that was! Ove Ramel allowed Mr Daae to spend the rest of his days at the manor, but he was given no thanks for the offer; I listened carefully; – I saw the manor-less master lift his head more proudly, he tossed his head, and I blew a gust straight at the house and the old linden trees, so that the thickest branch snapped, and it was not rotten; it lay in front of the gate like a broom, as if someone wanted to sweep clean, and there was much sweeping – I thought as much!
It was a hard day, a tough time to live through, but their minds were set, their heads held high. They owned nothing except the clothes they wore; oh yes, and also the alchemist’s retort that had recently been bought and filled with the remains scraped up from the floor, the treasure that made a promise it did not keep. Valdemar Daae hid it close to his chest, took his stick in his hand, and the once rich lord of the manor left Borreby Gaard with his three daughters. I blew a cold wind against his hot cheeks, I patted his grey beard and his long, white hair, I sang as I knew how: Whoo-oo! Away with you! Away with you! – This marked the end of the life of a lord.
Ide and Anna Dorthea walked on either side of him; Johanne turned at the gate, but what could that help, for Fortune would not turn even so. She looked at the wall’s red bricks from Marsk Stig’s castle, she thought of his two daughters:
The elder took the younger by the hand,
and into the world they set out.
She thought of the old ballad: ‘ here there were three – and their father was there too! – They went along the road where they once had ridden in a coach, they tramped along with their father, to Smidstrup Mark, to the mud-and-wattle house that had been rented for ten marks a year, their new manor with empty walls and empty vessels. Crows and jackdaws flew over them and screeched, as if in mockery: “From the nest! From the nest! Away! Away!” as the birds had done in Borreby Skov when the trees were felled. Mr Daae and his daughters sensed this! I blew around their ears, it wasn’t worth listening to.
They then moved into the mud-and-wattle house at Smidstrup Mark – and I raced on over bog and field, through naked hedgerows and stripped woods, to open water, other countries, – Who-oo! Away! Away! And each and every year!’
How did things go for Valdemar Daae, how do they go for his daughters? The wind relates:
‘The last one I came to see, yes, the final time, was Anna Dorthea, the pale hyacinth, – now she was old and bent, that was half a century later. She lived longest, she knew about all of it.
Over there on the heath, near the city of Viborg, lay the dean of the chapter’s fine, new mansion, of red brick with a crenelated gable; the smoke arose richly from the chimney. The gentle wife and lovely daughters sat in the oriole looking out over the hanging box-thorn towards the brown heath –! what were they looking for? They were looking for the stork’s nest out there on the dilapidated house. The roof was of moss and houseleek, to the extent that there was a roof, for most of it was covered by the stork’s nest, and it was the only one that was tended, the stork kept it in good shape.
‘It was a house to be looked at, not touched! I must be careful how I blow!’ the wind said. ‘For the sake of the stork’s nest, the house was allowed to stand, for it was otherwise nothing but an eyesore on the heath. The dean of chapter did not want to chase away the stork, so the rowan was allowed to remain and so could the poor thing inside be allowed to reside there; it could thank the Egyptian bird for that – or was it thanks because she once had prayed for the nest of its black, wild brother in Borreby Skov wood? Back then, she, the poor thing, was a young child, a fine pale hyacinth in the fine manor garden. She remembered all of it: Anne Dorthea.
“Oh! oh!”, yes, humans could sigh, just like the wind does in rushes and reeds. “Oh! – no bells tolled over your grave, Valdemar Daae! the poor schoolboys did not sing when the former master of Borreby was laid to rest. – Oh! everything has an end, though, even misery! – Sister Ide became the wife of a peasant! that was the hardest thing of all for our father! The daughters husband, a pitiable bondsman that the master could put to ride on the hardest plank!’ Now he’s surely under the ground? and you too? Ide! – Oh yes! oh yes! it is not yet all over, poor thing that I am! Poor old thing that I am! Open the door to me, mighty Christ!”
That was Anna Dorthea’s prayer in the wretched house that had been allowed to stand for the stork’s sake.
‘The sprightliest of the sisters I took care of!’ the wind said, ‘She donned clothes to match her inten, came dressed as a poor ship’s hand and got a berth on board a ship; she was taciturn and surly yet willing to do her appointed tasks, but she couldn’t climb; so I blew her overboard before anyone realised she was a woman, and that was a deed well done!’ the wind said.
‘It was Easter Morning, like the one when Valdemar Daae thought he had found the red gold, when, beneath the stork’s nest, between the frail walls, I heard the singing of hymns – Anna Dorthea’s last song. There was no window pane, only a hole in the wall; – the sun came like a great nugget of gold and sat down in there – what a gleam! her eyes broke, her heart broke! it would have done so even if the sun hadn’t shone on her that morning.
The stork gave her a roof over her at her death! I sang at her grave!’ the wind said, ‘I sang at her father’s grave, I know where it is and where her grave is – and no one else does!
New times, different times! the old path off the beaten track ends up in a closed field, sacred graves end up as highways – and soon steam will come with its lines of carriages and rush over the graves, forgotten just as the names, Whoo-oo! Away with you!
That was the story of Valdemar Daae and his daughters. Tell it better than I did, the rest of you! If you’re able,’ the wind said and turned around.
And was gone.