POULTRY MEG'S FAMILY 1013
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 Soren stood outside, rilling 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 Soren, 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 of Dragor. ' He beats his wife, and yet she takes his part.'
' I could not stand such treatment ! ' said the tax-collector'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 Soren 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! ' said Holberg.
' 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 before.
' 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