PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
That air below those crowns of lime trees had swayed across brown heath and thirsty fields; it had been baked by the sun and filled with the dust of the road, but just now the thick, hanging screen of green had made it clear, the cool lime leaves had chilled it, and the scent of yellow lime flowers had made it wet and given it weight. Now it lay there shimmering, quiet and content, in that vault of pale green, caressed by gently trembling leaves and the quick beat of the wings of white and yellow butterflies.
Those lips that breathed the air were full and fresh. The breasts it swelled were small and young. Her feet were tiny, her waist slender and her figure slim. A kind of lean strength lay in her whole body.
Abundance was only to be found in her thick hair. A shadowy gold, it lay half tied up, half down because her small, dark blue velvet hat had slipped off, and was hanging around her neck by its knotted string and down her back like a small monk’s hood. Otherwise there was nothing of the convent about her dress: a wide and square-cut linen collar turned down over a coarse lavender frock, with generous slashed shoulder puffs through which flowed a wide pair of fine Holland sleeves. A scarlet bow was on her breast and scarlet bows adorned her shoes.
She walked with her hands behind her back and her head bent forwards. She was coming slowly up the path with playful, graceful steps, but not straight, rather in wide curves; one moment she was just about to bump into a tree on one side, the next to disappear through the trees on the other. She would stop now and then, shake the hair off her face and look up towards the light. The subdued brightness gave her white child’s face a dull glow and softened those blue-tinged shadows beneath her eyes. Her red lips turned a brown scarlet, and her large blue eyes became almost black. Yes, she was lovely: a high forehead, a slightly curved nose, short sharply-defined lips, a strong round chin, delicate round cheeks, very small ears and fine, elegant eyebrows…
She smiled as she walked, light and carefree, no thoughts in her head. She smiled in harmony with everything around her. Reaching the end of the path, she stopped and began to swing on her heels, first to the right and then to the left. Hands still behind her back, head held high and eyes on the sky, she hummed a colourless tune, fitfully, in time to her swinging.
There were two flagstones and some steps leading to the garden and its sharp, white sunlight. The sky, cloudless and a whitish blue, looked right into it and the limited shade there hugged the ground by the trimmed box-hedge. The light hurt her eyes, and even the hedge was sending out flashes of light from its bright leaves. Southern wormwood slung itself in bands of white here and there, around thirsty busy lizzies, Japanese lanterns, wallflowers and carnations, which were standing, their heads together, like sheep in an open field. The peas and beans by the row of lavender were falling off their supports with the heat; the morning glory had given up the fight and faced the sun head on, while the poppies had shed their big red petals and stood there with bare stalks.
She jumped down the steps, and ran through the sun-hot garden, head down, as if running through a yard in the rain. She made for a triangle of dark yew, slipped behind them and into a vast leafy arbour, a relic from the time of the Below family. The upper branches of a wide circle of elms had been woven together as far as they would reach, and the round opening in the centre had been covered with lattice wood. Rambling roses and Italian honeysuckle grew strong among elm leaves, making a fine cover, though on one side it had not worked, and hop vines, more recently planted, were strangling the elms without being able to close the gap.
In front of the entrance to the arbour were two giant white-washed seahorses. Inside, there was a long wooden bench and a table. The top of the table was made of stone, a big oval thing once, but most of it was now on the ground in three pieces, while a small, fourth piece lay loose on one corner of the table frame. Here the child sat herself down, put her feet on the bench, leaned back and crossed her arms. She closed her eyes and sat quite still. A few small furrows appeared on her brow, and from time to time she moved her eyebrows, smiling softly.
“Griselda lies at the feet of the count in a room with crimson rugs and a gilt four-poster bed, but he pushes her away. A moment ago he tore her from her warm bed. Now he is opening the narrow arched door, and the cold air streams in on poor Griselda who is lying on the floor, weeping. And there is nothing between that cold breath of night air and her white warm limbs except some thin, thin linen. But he throws her out and locks the door on her. Then she presses her naked shoulder against the smooth, cold door and sobs as she hears his soft steps on the rugs. And through the keyhole falls the light from a scented candle, settling like a small, round sun on her bared breasts. Then she slips away, down the dark marble staircase. And all is quite silent. She can’t hear anything but the soft beat of her naked feet on the icy steps. Then she’s outside. The snow – no it’s the rain. It’s pouring down, and the water, cold and heavy, is splashing down on her shoulders. The linen cloth is clinging tightly to her body and the water is dripping down her bare legs. With her delicate feet she steps into the soft, cold mud, which slides out beneath the soles of her feet. The wind… The bushes are tearing at her and slashing her dress – but she isn’t really wearing a dress – just as they slashed my brown petticoat!
“Oh, there must be nuts in Fastrup-lund, what with all those nuts in the market at Viborg… God knows whether Ane’s teeth are giving her any peace… No, Brunhilda! The wild horse is galloping away… Brunhilda and Grimmild – Queen Grimmild – they wink at the men, turn and walk away. And they drag out Queen Brunhilda, and a coarse, dark fellow with long, thick arms – someone like Bertel at the tollhouse – takes hold of her belt, tearing it in two. Then he pulls off her smock and her petticoat; and with his dirty fists he whips the gold bracelets off her white, delicate arms. Then a big, half-naked, rough brown man puts his hairy arm round her waist and breaks off her sandals with his big fat feet. And Bertel twists her long, black locks round his hand and starts dragging her away. Her body bent forward, she follows him, and the big man puts the palm of his sweaty hands on her naked back and he pushes her ahead. Ahead to the black, snorting stallion. Then they sling her into the grey dust of the road and fasten the long tail of the horse round her ankles…”
Again a frown appeared, but this time it lasted longer. She shook her head, looking more and more annoyed. Finally she opened her eyes, began to get up and looked around, tired and dissatisfied.