Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 10 out of 23
"But times have altered, Master Jeppe; knee-straps and respect have
given out; yes, those days are over! Begin at seven, and at six off
and away! So it is in the big cities!"
"Is that this sosherlism?" says Jeppe disdainfully.
"It's all the same to me what it is--Garibaldi begins and leaves
off when it pleases him! And if he wants more for his work he asks
for it! And if that doesn't please them--then adieu, master, adieu!
There are slaves enough, said the boy, when he got no bread."
The others did not get very much done; they have enough to do to
watch Garibaldi's manner of working. He has emptied the bottle,
and now his tongue is oiled; the young master questions him,
and Garibaldi talks and talks, with continual gestures. Not for
a moment do his hands persist at their work; and yet the work
progresses so quickly it is a revelation to watch it; it is as
though it were proceeding of itself. His attention is directed
upon their work, and he always interferes at the right moment;
he criticizes their way of holding their tools, and works out the
various fashions of cut which lend beauty to the heel and sole. It
is as though he feels it when they do anything wrongly; his spirit
pervades the whole workshop. "That's how one does it in Paris," he
says, or "this is Nuremberg fashion." He speaks of Vienna and Greece
in as matter-of-fact a way as though they lay yonder under Skipper
Elleby's trees. In Athens he went to the castle to shake the king
by the hand, for countrymen should always stand by one another in
"He was very nice, by the by; but he had had his breakfast already.
And otherwise it's a damned bad country for traveling; there are
no shoemakers there. No, there I recommend you Italy--there are
shoemakers there, but no work; however, you can safely risk it and
beg your way from place to place. They aren't like those industrious
Germans; every time you ask them for a little present they come
and say, 'Come in, please, there is some work you can do!' And it
is so warm there a man can sleep on the bare ground. Wine flows in
every gutter there, but otherwise it's no joke." Garibaldi raises
the empty bottle high in the air and peeps wonderingly up at the
shelves; the young master winks at Pelle, and the latter fetches
another supply of drink at the gallop.
The hot blood is seething in Pelle's ears. He must go away, far
away from here, and live the wandering life, like Garibaldi, who
hid himself in the vineyards from the gendarmes, and stole the bacon
from the chimneys while the people were in the fields. A spirit is
working in him and the others; the spirit of their craft. They touch
their tools and their material caressingly with their fingers;
everything one handles has an inward color of its own; which tells
one something. All the dustiness and familiarity of the workshop is
swept away; the objects standing on the shelves glow with interest;
the most tedious things contain a radiant life of their own.
The world rises before them like a cloudy wonder, traversed by
endless highways deep in white dust, and Garibaldi treads them all.
He has sold his journeyman's pass to a comrade for a slice of bread
and butter, and is left without papers; German policemen give chase
to him, and he creeps through the vineyards for fourteen days, on
hands and knees, getting nothing for his pains but grapes and a
shocking attack of summer cholera. Finally his clothes are so very
much alive that he no longer needs to move of himself; he simply
lies quiet, and lets himself be carried along until he comes to a
little town. "An inn?" asks Garibaldi. Yes, there is an inn. There
he tells a story to the effect that he has been robbed; and the
good people put him to bed, and warm and dry his clothes. Garibaldi
snores, and pushes the chair nearer the stove; snores, and pushes it
a little further; and as his clothes burst into a blaze he starts up
roaring and scolding and weeping, and is inconsolable. So then he is
given fine new clothes and new papers, and is out on the road again,
and the begging begins afresh; mountains rise and pass him by, and
great cities too, cities with wide rivers. There are towns in which
the wandering journeyman can get no money, but is forced to work;
damnable places, and there are German hostels where one is treated
like a prisoner; all clothes must be taken off in a long corridor,
even to one's shirt; a handful of men examine them, and then
everything is put safely away. Thirty or forty naked men are
admitted, one after another, to the great bare dormitory.
Paris--the name is like a bubble bursting in one's ear! There
Garibaldi has worked for two years, and he has been there a score
of times on passing visits. Paris is the glory of the whole world
massed together, and all the convenient contrivances of the world
brought to a state of perfection. Here in the town no respectable
shoemaker will mend the dirty shoes of the "Top-galeass"; she goes
about in down-trodden top-boots, or, if the snipping season has
been poor, she wears wooden shoes. In Paris there are women who
wear shoes at twenty guineas a pair, who carry themselves like
queens, earn forty thousand pounds a year, and are yet nothing
but prostitutes. Forty thousand! If another than Garibaldi had
said it he would have had all the lasts thrown at his head!
Pelle does not hear what the master says to him, and Jens is in a
great hurry for the cobbler's wax; he has cut the upper of the shoe
he is soling. They are quite irresponsible; as though bewitched by
this wonderful being, who goes on pouring brandy down his throat,
and turning the accursed drink into a many-colored panorama of the
whole world, and work that is like a miracle.
The news has soon spread, and people come hurrying in to see
Garibaldi, and perhaps to venture to shake him by the hand; Klausen
wants to borrow some pegs, and Marker, quite unabashed, looks in to
borrow the biggest last. The old cobbler Drejer stands modestly in
a corner and says "Yes, yes!" to the other's remarks. Garibaldi has
reached him his hand, and now he can go home to his gloomy shop and
his dirty stock and his old man's solitude. The genius of the craft
has touched him, and for the rest of his days has shed a light upon
his wretched work of patching and repairing; he has exchanged a
handshake with the man who made the cork-soled boots for the Emperor
of Germany himself when he went out to fight the French. And the
crazy Anker is there too; but does not come in, as he is shy of
strangers. He walks up and down the yard before the workshop window,
and keeps on peeping in. Garibaldi points his finger to his forehead
and nods, and Anker does the same; he is shaking with suppressed
laughter, as over some excellent joke, and runs off like a child who
must hide himself in a corner in order to savor his delight. Baker
Jorgen is there, bending down with his hands on his thighs, and his
mouth wide open. "Lor' Jiminy!" he cries from time to time; "did
ever one hear the like!" He watches the white silk run through the
sole and form itself into glistening pearls along the edge. Pearl
after pearl appears; Garibaldi's arms fly about him, and presently
he touches the baker on the hip. "Am I in the way?" asks old Jorgen.
"No, God forbid--stay where you are!" And his arms fly out again,
and the butt of the bodkin touches the baker with a little click.
"I'm certainly in the way," says Jorgen, and moves a few inches.
"Not in the least!" replies Garibaldi, stitching away. Then out
fly his arms again, but this time the point of the bodkin is turned
toward the baker. "Now, good Lord, I can see I'm in the way!" says
Jorgen, rubbing himself behind. "Not at all!" replies Garibaldi
courteously, with an inviting flourish of his hand. "Pray come
nearer." "No, thank you! No, thank you!" Old Jorgen gives a forced
laugh, and hobbles away.
Otherwise Garibaldi lets them come and stare and go as they like.
It does not trouble him that he is an eminent and remarkable person;
quite unperturbed, he puts the brandy-bottle to his lips and drinks
just as long as he is thirsty. He sits there, playing thoughtlessly
with knife and leather and silk, as though he had sat on the stool
all his life, instead of having just fallen from the moon. And about
the middle of the afternoon the incomparable result is completed; a
pair of wonderful satin shoes, slender as a neat's tongue, dazzling
in their white brilliance, as though they had just walked out of the
fairy-tale and were waiting for the feet of the Princess.
"Look at them, damn it all!" says the master, and passes them to
little Nikas, who passes them round the circle. Garibaldi throws
back his close-cropped gray head.
"You need not say who has made them--everybody can see that. Suppose
now the shoes go to Jutland and are worn there and are thrown on
the rubbish-heap. One day, years hence, some porridge-eater goes
ploughing; a scrap of the instep comes to the surface; and a
wandering journeyman, who is sitting in the ditch nibbling at his
supper, rakes it toward him with his stick. That bit of instep, he
says, that, or the Devil may fry me else, was part of a shoe made
by Garibaldi--deuce take me, he says, but that's what it was. And
in that case the journeyman must be from Paris, or Nuremberg, or
Hamburg--one or the other, that's certain. Or am I talking nonsense,
No; Master Andres can asseverate this is no nonsense--he who from
childhood lived with Garibaldi on the highways and in great cities,
who followed him so impetuously with that lame leg of his that he
remembers Garibaldi's heroic feats better than Garibaldi himself.
"But now you will stay here," he says persuasively. "Now we'll work
up the business--we'll get all the fine work of the whole island."
Garibaldi has nothing against this; he has had enough of toiling
through the world.
Klausen will gladly make one of the company; in the eyes of all
those present this proposal is a dream which will once more raise
the craft to its proper level; will perhaps improve it until the
little town can compete with Copenhagen. "How many medals have you
really received?" says Jeppe, as he stands there with a great framed
diploma in his hand. Garibaldi shrugs his shoulders. "I don't know,
old master; one gets old, and one's hand gets unsteady. But what is
this? Has Master Jeppe got the silver medal?"
Jeppe laughs. "For this I have to thank a tramp by the name of
Garibaldi. He was here four years ago and won the silver medal for
me!" Well--that is a thing Garibaldi has long forgotten! But medals
are scattered about wherever he has been.
"Yes, there are a hundred masters knocking about who boast of their
distinctions: first-class workshop--you can see it for yourself--
'a silver medal.' But who did the work? Who got his day's wages and
an extra drop of drink and then--good-bye, Garibaldi! What has one
to show for it, master? There are plenty of trees a man can change
his clothes behind--but the shirt?" For a moment he seems dejected.
"Lorrain in Paris gave me two hundred francs for the golden medal
I won for him; but otherwise it was always--Look in my waistcoat
pocket! or--I've an old pair of trousers for you, Garibaldi! But now
there's an end to that, I tell you; Garibaldi has done with bringing
water to the mill for the rich townsfolk; for now he's a sosherlist!"
He strikes the table so that the glass scrapers jingle. "That last
was Franz in Cologne--gent's boots with cork socks. He was a stingy
fellow; he annoyed Garibaldi. I'm afraid this isn't enough for the
medal, master, I said; there's too much unrest in the air. Then he
bid me more and yet more--but it won't run to the medal--that's all
I will say. At last he sends Madame to me with coffee and Vienna
bread--and she was in other respects a lady, who drove with a
lackey on the box. But we were furious by that time! Well, it
was a glorious distinction--to please Madame."
"Had he many journeymen?" asks Jeppe.
"Oh, quite thirty or forty."
"Then he must have been somebody." Jeppe speaks in a reproving tone.
"Somebody--yes--he was a rascal! What did it matter to me that he
had a lot of journeymen? I didn't cheat them out of their wages!"
Now Garibaldi is annoyed; he takes off his apron, puts his hat on
sideways, and he goes into the town.
"Now he's going to look for a sweetheart!" says the young master;
"he has a sweetheart in every town."
At eight he comes sailing into the workshop again. "What, still
sitting here?" he says to the apprentices. "In other parts of the
world they have knocked off work two hours ago. What sort of slaves
are you to sit crouching here for fourteen hours? Strike, damn it
They look at one another stupidly. "Strike--what is that?"
Then comes the young master. "Now it would do one good to warm
one's eyes a bit," says Garibaldi.
"There's a bed made up for you in the cutting-out room," says the
master. But Garibaldi rolls his coat under his head and lies down on
the window-bench. "If I snore, just pull my nose," he says to Pelle,
and goes to sleep. Next day he makes two pairs of kid boots with
yellow stitching--for little Nikas this would be a three days' job.
Master Andres has all his plans ready--Garibaldi is to be a partner.
"We'll knock out a bit of wall and put in a big shop-window!"
Garibaldi agrees--he really does for once feel a desire to settle
down. "But we mustn't begin too big," he says: "this isn't Paris."
He drinks a little more and does not talk much; his eyes stray to
the wandering clouds outside.
On the third day Garibaldi begins to show his capacities. He does
not do much more work, but he breaks a heavy stick in two with one
blow as it flies through the air, and jumps over a stick which he
holds in both hands. "One must have exercise," he says restlessly.
He balances an awl on the face of a hammer and strikes it into a
hole in the sole of a boot.
And suddenly he throws down his work. "Lend me ten kroner, master,"
he says; "I must go and buy myself a proper suit. Now I'm settled
and a partner in a business I can't go about looking like a pig."
"It will be better for you to get that finished," says the master
quietly, pushing Garibaldi's work across to little Nikas. "We
shan't see him again!"
This is really the case. He will go into the town with the honorable
intentions, to buy something, and then he will be caught and whirled
out into the great world, far away, quite at hazard. "He's on the
way to Germany with some skipper already," says the master.
"But he hasn't even said good-bye!" The master shrugs his shoulders.
He was like a falling star! But for Pelle and the others he
signified more than that; they learned more in three days than in
the whole course of their apprenticeship. And they saw brilliant
prospects for the craft; it was no hole-and-corner business after
all; with Garibaldi, they traveled the whole wonderful world.
Pelle's blood burned with the desire to wander; he knew now what
he wanted. To be capable as Garibaldi--that genius personified;
and to enter the great cities with stick and knapsack as though
to a flourish of trumpets.
They all retained traces of his fleeting visit. Something inside
them had broken with a snap; they gripped their tools more freely,
more courageously; and they had seen their handicraft pass before
their eyes like a species of technical pageant. For a long time
the wind of the passage of the great bird hung about the little
workshop with its atmosphere of respectable citizenship.
And this fresh wind in one's ears was the spirit of handicraft
itself which hovered above their heads--borne upon its two mighty
pinions--genius and debauchery.
But one thing remained in Pelle's mind as a meaningless fragment--
the word "strike." What did it mean?
One could not be quite as cheerful and secure here as one could
at home in the country; there was always a gnawing something in
the background, which kept one from wholly surrendering oneself.
Most people had wandered hither in search of fortune--poverty had
destroyed their faculty of surrendering to fate; they were weary of
waiting and had resolved to take matters into their own hands. And
now here they were, sunk in wretchedness. They could not stir from
the spot; they only labored and sunk deeper into the mire. But they
continued to strive, with the strength of their bodies, until that
gave way, and it was all over with them.
Pelle had often enough wondered to see how many poor people there
were in the town. Why did not they go ahead with might and main
until they were well off? They had all of them had intentions of
that kind, but nothing came of them. Why? They themselves did not
understand why, but bowed their heads as though under a curse. And
if they raised them again it was only to seek that consolation of
the poor--alcohol, or to attend the meetings of the home missions.
Pelle could not understand it either. He had an obscure sense of
that joyous madness which arises from poverty itself, like a dim but
wonderful dream of reaching the light. And he could not understand
why it failed; and yet he must always follow that impetus upward
which resided in him, and scramble up once more. Yet otherwise his
knowledge was wide; a patched-up window-pane, or a scurfy child's
head, marked an entrance to that underworld which he had known so
well from birth, so that he could have found his way about it with
bandaged eyes. He attached no particular importance to it, but in
this direction his knowledge was continually extended; he "thee'd
and thou'd" poor people from the first moment, and knew the mournful
history of every cottage. And all he saw and heard was like a weary
refrain--it spoke of the same eternally unalterable longing and
the same defeats. He reflected no further about the matter, but
it entered into his blood like an oppression, purged his mind of
presumption, and vitiated his tense alertness. When he lay his head
on his pillow and went to sleep the endless pulsing of his blood
in his ears became the tramping of weary hordes who were for ever
passing in their blind groping after the road which should lead to
light and happiness. His consciousness did not grasp it, but it
brooded oppressively over his days.
The middle-class society of the town was still, as far as he was
concerned, a foreign world. Most of the townsfolk were as poor as
church mice, but they concealed the fact skilfully, and seemed to
have no other desire than to preserve appearances. "Money!" said
Master Andres; "here there's only one ten-kroner note among all the
employers in the town, and that goes from hand to hand. If it were
to stop too long with one of them all the rest of us would stop
payment!" The want of loose capital weighed on them oppressively,
but they boasted of Shipowner Monsen's money--there were still rich
people in the town! For the rest, each kept himself going by means
of his own earnings; one had sent footwear to the West Indies, and
another had made the bride-bed for the burgomaster's daughter; they
maintained themselves as a caste and looked down with contempt upon
Pelle himself had honestly and honorably intended to follow the same
path; to keep smiles for those above him and harsh judgments for
those below him; in short, like Alfred, to wriggle his way upward.
But in the depths of his being his energies were working in another
direction, and they continually thrust him back where he belonged.
His conflict with the street-urchins stopped of itself, it was so
aimless; Pelle went in and out of their houses, and the boys, so
soon as they were confirmed, became his comrades.
The street boys sustained an implacable conflict with those who
attended the town school and the grammar-school. They called them
pigs, after the trough-like satchels which they carried on their
backs. Pelle found himself between a double fire, although he
accepted the disdain and the insult of those above him, as Lasse
had taught him, as something that was inherent in the nature of
things. "Some are born to command and some to obey," as Lasse said.
But one day he came to blows with one of them. And having thrashed
the postmaster's son until not a clean spot was left on him, he
discovered that he now had a crow to pluck with the sons of all
the fine folks, or else they would hold him up to ridicule. It was
as though something was redeemed at his hands when he managed to
plant them in the face of one of these lads, and there seemed to
be a particular charm connected with the act of rolling their fine
clothes in the mire. When he had thrashed a "pig" he was always in
the rosiest of tempers, and he laughed to think how Father Lasse
would have crossed himself!
One day he met three grammar-school students, who fell upon him
then and there, beating him with their books; there was repayment
in every blow. Pelle got his back against the wall, and defended
himself with his belt, but could not manage the three of them; so
he gave the biggest of them a terrific kick in the lower part of
the body and took to his heels. The boy rolled on the ground and
lay there shrieking; Pelle could see, from the other end of the
street, how the other two were toiling to set him on his legs
again. He himself had got off with a black eye.
"Have you been fighting again, you devil's imp?" said the young
No! Pelle had fallen and bruised himself.
In the evening he went round the harbor to see the steamer go out
and to say good-bye to Peter. He was in a bad temper; he was
oppressed by a foreboding of evil.
The steamer was swarming with people. Over the rail hung a swarm
of freshly-made journeymen of that year's batch--the most courageous
of them; the others had already gone into other trades, had become
postmen or farm servants. "There is no employment for us in the
shoe trade," they said dejectedly as they sank. As soon as their
journeyman's test-work was done they took to their heels, and new
apprentices were taken all along the line. But these fellows here
were crossing to the capital; they wanted to go on working at their
own trade. The hundreds of apprentices of the little town were there,
shouting "Hurrah!" every other moment, for those departing were the
heroes who were going forth to conquer the land of promise for them
all. "We are coming after you!" they cried. "Find me a place, you!
Find me a place!"
Emil stood by the harbor shed, with some waterside workers, looking
on. His time was long ago over. The eldest apprentice had not had
the pluck to leave the island; he was now a postman in Sudland
and cobbled shoes at night in order to live. Now Peter stood on
the deck above, while Jens and Pelle stood below and looked up at
him admiringly. "Good-bye, Pelle!" he cried. "Give Jeppe my best
respects and tell him he can kiss my bootsoles!"
Some of the masters were strolling to and fro on the quay, in order
to note that none of their apprentices were absconding from the town.
Jens foresaw the time when he himself would stand there penniless.
"Send me your address," he said, "and find me something over there."
"And me too," said Pelle.
Peter spat. "There's a bit of sour cabbage soup--take it home and
give it to Jeppe with my love and I wish him good appetite! But give
my very best respects to Master Andres. And when I write, then come
over--there's nothing to be done in this hole."
"Don't let the Social Democrats eat you up!" cried some one from
among the spectators. The words "Social Democrat" were at this time
in every mouth, although no one knew what they meant; they were used
as terms of abuse.
"If they come to me with their damned rot they'll get one on the
mouth!" said Peter, disdainfully. And then the steamer began to
move; the last cheers were given from the outer breakwater. Pelle
could have thrown himself into the sea; he was burning with desire
to turn his back on it all. And then he let himself drift with the
crowd from the harbor to the circus-ground. On the way he heard a
few words of a conversation which made his ears burn. Two townsmen
were walking ahead of him and were talking.
"They say he got such a kick that he brought up blood," said
"Yes, it's terrible, the way that scum behaves! I hope they'll
arrest the ruffian."
Pelle crept along behind the tent until he came to the opening.
There he stood every evening, drinking everything in by his sense
of smell. He had no money to pay his way in; but he could catch a
glimpse of a whole host of magnificent things when the curtain was
drawn up in order to admit a late-comer. Albinus came and went at
will--as always, when jugglers were in the town. He was acquainted
with them almost before he had seen them. When he had seen some
clever feat of strength or skill he would come crawling out from
under the canvas in order to show his companions that he could do
the same thing. Then he was absolutely in his element; he would walk
on his hands along the harbor railings and let his body hang over
Pelle wanted to go home and sleep on the day's doings, but a happy
pair came up to him--a woman who was dancing as she walked, and a
timid young workman, whom she held firmly by the arm. "Here, Hans!"
she said, "this is Pelle, whose doing it is that we two belong to
Then she laughed aloud for sheer delight, and Hans, smiling, held
out his hand to Pelle. "I ought to thank you for it," he said.
"Yes, it was that dance," she said. "If my dancing-shoes hadn't
been mended Hans would have run off with somebody else!" She seized
Pelle's arm. And then they went on, very much pleased with one
another, and Pelle's old merriment returned for a time. He too
could perform all sorts of feats of strength.
On the following day Pelle was hired by Baker Jorgensen to knead
some dough; the baker had received, at short notice, a large order
for ship's biscuit for the _Three Sisters_.
"Keep moving properly!" he would cry every moment to the two boys,
who had pulled off their stockings and were now standing up in the
great kneading-trough, stamping away, with their hands gripping the
battens which were firmly nailed to the rafters. The wooden ceiling
between the rafters was black and greasy; a slimy paste of dust and
dough and condensed vapor was running down the walls. When the boys
hung too heavily on the battens the baker would cry: "Use your
whole weight! Down into the dough with you--then you'll get a foot
like a fine young lady!"
Soren was pottering about alone, with hanging head as always; now
and again he sighed. Then old Jorgen would nudge Marie in the side,
and they would both laugh. They stood close together, and as they
were rolling out the dough their hands kept on meeting; they laughed
and jested together. But the young man saw nothing of this.
"Don't you see?" whispered his mother, striking him sharply in the
ribs; her angry eyes were constantly fixed on the pair.
"Oh, leave me alone!" the son would say, moving a little away from
her. But she moved after him. "Go and put your arm round her waist--
that's what she wants! Let her feel your hands on her hips! Why do
you suppose she sticks out her bosom like that? Let her feel your
hands on her hips! Push the old man aside!"
"Oh, leave me alone!" replied Soren, and he moved further away from
"You are tempting your father to sin--you know what he is! And she
can't properly control herself any longer, now that she claims to
have a word in the matter. Are you going to put up with that? Go and
take her round the waist--strike her if you can't put up with her,
but make her feel that you're a man!"
"Well, are you working up there?" old Jorgen cried to the boys,
turning his laughing countenance from Marie. "Tread away! The dough
will draw all the rottenness out of your bodies! And you, Soren--get
a move on you!"
"Yes, get a move on--don't stand there like an idiot!" continued
"Oh, leave me alone! I've done nothing to anybody; leave me
"Pah!" The old woman spat at him. "Are you a man? Letting another
handle your wife! There she is, obliged to take up with a gouty old
man like that! Pah, I say! But perhaps you are a woman after all? I
did once bring a girl into the world, only I always thought she was
dead. But perhaps you are she? Yes, make long ears at me!" she cried
to the two boys, "you've never seen anything like what's going on
here! There's a son for you, who leaves his father to do all the
work by himself!"
"Now then, what's the matter with you?" cried old Jorgen jollily.
"Is mother turning the boys' heads?" Marie broke into a loud laugh.
Jeppe came to fetch Pelle. "Now you'll go to the Town Hall and get
a thrashing," he said, as they entered the workshop. Pelle turned
an ashen gray.
"What have you been doing now?" asked Master Andres, looking sadly
"Yes, and to one of our customers, too!" said Jeppe. "You've
deserved that, haven't you?"
"Can't father get him let off the beating?" said Master Andres.
"I have proposed that Pelle should have a good flogging here in the
workshop, in the presence of the deputy and his son. But the deputy
says no. He wants justice to run its course."
Pelle collapsed. He knew what it meant when a poor boy went to the
town hall and was branded for life. His brain sought desperately for
some way of escape. There was only one--death! He could secretly
hide the knee-strap under his blouse and go into the little house
and hang himself. He was conscious of a monotonous din; that was
Jeppe, admonishing him; but the words escaped him; his soul had
already began its journey toward death. As the noise ceased he
"Well? What are you going out for?" asked Jeppe.
"I'm going to the yard." He spoke like a sleepwalker.
"Perhaps you want to take the knee-strap out with you?"
Jeppe and the master exchanged a look of understanding. Then Master
Andres came over to him. "You wouldn't be so silly?" he said, and
looked deep into Pelle's eyes. Then he made himself tidy and went
into the town.
"Pelle, you devil's imp," he said, as he came home, "I've been
running from Herod to Pilate, and I've arranged matters so that you
can get off if you will ask for pardon. You must go to the grammar-
school about one o'clock. But think it over first, as to what you
are going to say, because the whole class will hear it."
"I won't ask for pardon." It sounded like a cry.
The master looked at Pelle hesitatingly. "But that is no disgrace--
if one has done wrong."
"I have not done wrong. They began it, and they have been making
game of me for a long time."
"But you thrashed him, Pelle, and one mustn't thrash fine folks like
that; they have got a doctor's certificate that might be your ruin.
Is your father a friend of the magistrate's? They can dishonor you
for the rest of your life. I think you ought to choose the lesser
No, Pelle could not do that. "So let them flog me instead!"
he said morosely.
"Then it will be about three o'clock at the town hall," said
the master, shortly, and he turned red about the eyes.
Suddenly Pelle felt how obstinacy must pain the young master, who,
lame and sick as he was, had of his own accord gone running about
the town for him. "Yes, I'll do it!" he said; "I'll do it!"
"Yes, yes!" replied Master Andres quietly; "for your own sake as
well. And I believe you ought to be getting ready now."
Pelle slunk away; it was not his intention to apologize, and he
had plenty of time. He walked as though asleep; everything was dead
within him. His thoughts were busy with all sorts of indifferent
matters, as though he sought to delay something by chattering;
Crazy Anker went by with his bag of sand on his back, his thin legs
wobbling under him. "I will help him to carry it," thought Pelle
dejectedly, as he went onward; "I will help him to carry it."
Alfred came strolling down the street; he was carrying his best
walking-stick and was wearing gloves, although it was in the midst
of working hours. "If he sees me now he'll turn down the corner by
the coal-merchant's," thought Pelle bitterly. "Oughtn't I to ask
him to say a good word for me? He is such an important person! And
he still owes me money for soling a pair of boots."
But Alfred made straight for him. "Have you seen anything of
Albinus? He has disappeared!" he said; and his pretty face seemed
somehow unusually moved. He stood there chewing at his moustache,
just as fine folk do when they are musing over something.
"I've got to go to the town hall," said Pelle.
"Yes, I know--you've got to be flogged. But don't you know anything
of Albinus?" Alfred had drawn him into the coal-merchant's doorway,
in order not to be seen in his company.
"Yes, Albinus, Albinus--" Something was dawning in Pelle's mind.
"Wait a minute--he--he--I'm sure he has run away with the circus.
At least, I believe he has!" Whereat Alfred turned about and ran--
ran in his best clothes!
Of course Albinus had run away with the circus. Pelle could
understand the whole affair perfectly well. The evening before he
had slipped on board Ole Hansen's yacht, which during the night was
to have taken the trick-rider across to Sweden, and now he would
live a glorious life and do what he liked. To run away--that was
the only clear opening in life. Before Pelle knew it, he was down
by the harbor, staring at a ship which was on the point of sailing.
He followed up his inspiration, and went about inquiring after a
vacancy on board some vessel, but there was none.
He sat down by the waterside, and played with a chip of wood. It
represented a three-master, and Pelle gave it a cargo; but every
time it should have gone to sea it canted over, and he had to begin
the loading all over again. All round him carpenters and stone-
cutters were working on the preparations for the new harbor; and
behind them, a little apart, stood the "Great Power," at work, while,
as usual, a handful of people were loitering near him; they stood
there staring, in uneasy expectation that something would happen.
Pelle himself had a feeling of something ominous as he sat there
and plashed in the water to drive his ship out to sea; he would have
accepted it as a manifestation of the most sacred principle of life
had Jorgensen begun to rage before his eyes.
But the stone-cutter only laid down his hammer, in order to take
his brandy-bottle from under the stone and swallow a mouthful; with
that exception, he stood there bowed over the granite as peacefully
as though there were no other powers in the world save it and him.
He did not see the onlookers who watched him in gaping expectation,
their feet full of agility, ready to take to flight at his slightest
He struck so that the air moaned, and when he raised himself again
his glance swept over them. Gradually Pelle had concentrated all his
expectations upon this one man, who endured the hatred of the town
without moving an eyelash, and was a haunting presence in every mind.
In the boy's imagination he was like a loaded mine; one stood there
not knowing whether or not it was ignited, and in a moment the whole
might leap into the air. He was a volcano, and the town existed from
day to day by his mercy. And from time to time Pelle allowed him to
shake himself a little--just enough to make the town rock.
But now, moreover, there was a secret between them; the "Great Power"
had been punished too for beating the rich folks. Pelle was not
slow in deducing the consequences--was there not already a townsman
standing and watching him at play? He too was the terror of the
people. Perhaps he would join himself to the "Great Power"; there
would be little left of the town then! In the daytime they would lie
hidden among the cliffs, but at night they came down and plundered
They fell upon all who had earned their living as bloodsuckers;
people hid themselves in their cellars and garrets when they heard
that Pelle and the "Great Power" were on the march. They hanged the
rich shipowner Monsen to the church steeple, and he dangled there
a terror and a warning to all. But the poor folk came to them as
trustingly as lambs and ate out of their hands. They received all
they desired; so poverty was banished from the world, and Pelle
could proceed upon his radiant, onward way without a feeling of
His glance fell upon the clock on the harbor guard-house; it was
nearly three. He sprang up and looked irresolutely about him; he
gazed out over the sea and down into the deep water of the harbor,
looking for help. Manna and her sisters--they would disdainfully
turn their backs upon the dishonored Pelle; they would no longer
look at him. And the people would point their fingers at him, or
merely look at him, and think: "Ha, there goes the boy who was
flogged at the town hall!" Wherever he went in the world it would
follow him like a shadow, that he had been flogged as a child;
such a thing clings visibly to a man. He knew men and maids and old
white-headed men who had come to Stone Farm from places where no one
else had ever been. They might come as absolute strangers, but there
was something in their past which in spite of all rose up behind
them and went whispering from mouth to mouth.
He roamed about, desperately in his helplessness, and in the course
of his wanderings came to stone-cutter Jorgensen.
"Well," said the "Great Power," as he laid down his hammer, "you've
quarrelled nicely with the big townsfolk! Do you think you can keep
a stiff upper-lip?" Then he reached for his hammer again. But Pelle
took his bearings and ran despondently to the town-hall.
The punishment itself was nothing. It was almost laughable, those
few strokes, laid on through his trousers, by the stick of the
old gaoler; Pelle had known worse thrashings. But he was branded,
an outcast from the society even of the very poorest; he read as
much into the compassion of the people to whom he carried boots and
shoes. "Good Lord, this miserable booby! Has it gone as far as that
with him!" This was what he read in their eyes. Everybody would
always stare at him now, and when he went down the street he saw
faces in the "spy" mirrors fixed outside the windows. "There goes
that shoemaker boy!"
The young master was the only one who treated him precisely as
before; and Pelle repaid him for that with the most limitless
devotion. He bought on credit for him and saved him from blows
where only he could. If the young master in his easy-going way
had promised to have something completed and had then forgotten
it, Pelle would sit in his place and work overtime on it. "What's
it matter to us?" Jens used to say. But Pelle would not have the
customers coming to scold Master Andres, nor would he allow him
to suffer the want of anything that would keep him on his feet.
He became more intimate than ever with Jens and Morten; they all
suffered from the same disgrace; and he often accompanied them home,
although no pleasure awaited them in their miserable cottage. They
were among the very poorest, although the whole household worked.
It was all of no avail.
"Nothing's any use," the "Great Power" himself would say when he was
disposed to talk; "poverty is like a sieve: everything goes straight
through it, and if we stop one hole, it's running through ten others
at the same time. They say I'm a swine, and why shouldn't I be? I
can do the work of three men--yes, but do I get the wages of three?
I get my day's wages and the rest goes into the pockets of those who
employ me. Even if I wanted to keep myself decent, what should we
gain by it? Can a family get decent lodging and decent food and
decent clothing for nine kroner a week? Will the means of a laborer
allow him to live anywhere but by the refuse-heaps, where only the
pigs used to be kept? Why should I be housed like a pig and live
like a pig and yet be no pig--is there any sense in that? My wife
and children have to work as well as me, and how can things be
decent with us when wife and children have to go out and make things
decent for other people? No, look here! A peg of brandy, that makes
everything seem decent, and if that doesn't do it, why, then, a
bottle!" So he would sit talking, when he had been drinking a little,
but otherwise he was usually silent.
Pelle knew the story of the "Great Power" now, from the daily gossip
of the townsfolk, and his career seemed to him sadder than all the
rest; it was as though a fairy-tale of fortune had come to a sudden
Among the evil reports which were continually in circulation
respecting Stone-cutter Jorgensen--it seemed that there was never an
end of them--it was said that in his youth he had strolled into town
from across the cliffs, clad in canvas trousers, with cracked wooden
shoes on his feet, but with his head in the clouds as though the
whole town belonged to him. Brandy he did not touch. He had a better
use for his energies, he said: he was full of great ideas of himself
and would not content himself with ordinary things. And he was
thoroughly capable--he was quite absurdly talented for a poor man.
And at once he wanted to begin turning everything topsy-turvy. Just
because he was begotten among the cliffs and crags by an old toil-
worn stone-cutter, he behaved like a deity of the rocks; he brushed
long-established experience aside, and introduced novel methods of
work which he evolved out of his own mind. The stone was as though
bewitched in his hands. If one only put a sketch before him, he
would make devils' heads and subterranean monsters and sea-serpents
--the sort of thing that before his time had to be ordered from the
sculptors in Copenhagen. Old deserving stone-masons saw themselves
suddenly set aside and had then and there to take to breaking stones;
and this young fellow who had strayed into the town straightway
ignored and discounted the experience of their many years. They
tried, by the most ancient of all methods, to teach the young man
modesty. But they gave it up. Peter Jorgensen had the strength of
three men and the courage of ten. It was not good to meddle with
one who had stolen his capacities from God himself, or perhaps was
in league with Satan. So they resigned themselves, and avenged
themselves by calling him the "Great Power"--and they put their
trust in misfortune. To follow in his footsteps meant to risk a
broken neck. And whenever the brave townsfolk made the journey,
something of its dizzy quality remained with them.
In the night he would sit sketching and calculating, so that no one
could understand when he slept; and on Sundays, when decent people
went to church, he would stop at home and cut the queerest things
out of stone--although he never got a penny for it.
It was at this time that the famous sculptor came from the capital
of Germany to hew a great lion out of granite, in honor of Liberty.
But he could not get forward with his toolbox full of butter-knives;
the stone was too hard for one who was accustomed to stand
scratching at marble. And when for once he really did succeed in
knocking off a bit of granite, it was always in the wrong place.
Then the "Great Power" asserted himself, and undertook to hew the
lion out of granite, according to a scale model of some sort which
the sculptor slapped together for him! All were persuaded that he
would break down in this undertaking, but he negotiated it so
cleverly that he completed the work to the utmost satisfaction of
those concerned. He received a good sum of money for this, but it
was not enough for him; he wanted half the honor, and to be spoken
of in the newspapers like the sculptor himself; and as nothing came
of it he threw down his tools and refused to work any more for other
people. "Why should I do the work and others have the honor of it?"
he asked, and sent in a tender for a stone-cutting contract. In his
unbounded arrogance he sought to push to one side those who were
born to ride on the top of things. But pride comes before a fall;
his doom was already hanging over him.
He had sent in the lowest tender for the work on the South Bridge.
They could not disregard it; so they sought to lay every obstacle
in his path; they enticed his workmen away from him and made it
difficult for him to obtain materials. The district judge, who was
in the conspiracy, demanded that the contract should be observed;
so the "Great Power" had to work day and night with the few men left
to him in order to complete the work in time. A finer bridge no one
had ever seen. But he had to sell the shirt off his body in order
to meet his engagements.
He lived at that time in a pretty little house that was his own
property. It lay out on the eastern highway, and had a turret on the
mansard--Jens and Morten had spent their early childhood there. A
little garden, with tidy paths, and a grotto which was like a heap
of rocks, lay in front of it. Jorgenson had planned it all himself.
It was taken from him, and he had to remove to a poor quarter of
the town, to live among the people to whom he rightly belonged, and
to rent a house there. But he was not yet broken. He was cheerful
in spite of his downfall, and more high-and-mighty than ever in his
manners. It was not easy to hit him! But then he sent in a tender
for the new crane-platform. They could have refused him the contract
on the pretext that he had no capital at his disposal. But now he
_should_ be struck down! He got credit from the savings-bank,
in order to get well under way, and workers and material were his
to dispose of. And then, as he was in the midst of the work, the
same story was repeated--only this time he was to break his neck!
Rich and poor, the whole town was at one in this matter. All
demanded the restoration of the old certainty, high and low,
appointed by God Himself. The "Great Power" was of the humblest
descent; now he could quietly go back to the class he was born in!
He failed! The legal proprietor took over a good piece of work
and got it for nothing, and Stonemason Jorgensen stood up in a pair
of cracked wooden shoes, with a load of debts which he would never
be able to shake off. Every one rejoiced to see him return to the
existence of a day-laborer. But he did not submit quietly. He took
to drink. From time to time he broke out and raged like the devil
himself. They could not get rid of him; he weighed upon the minds
of all, like an angry rumbling; even when he was quietly going about
his work they could not quite forget him. Under these conditions he
squandered his last possessions, and he moved into the cottage by
the refuse-heaps, where formerly no one had dwelt.
He had become another man since the grant for the great harbor
project had been approved. He no longer touched any brandy; when
Pelle went out to see his friends, the "Great Power" would be
sitting at the window, busying himself with sketches and figures.
His wife was moving about and weeping quietly to herself; the old
woman was scolding. But Jorgensen turned his broad back upon them
and pored silently over his own affairs. He was not to be shaken
out of his self-sufficiency.
The mother received them out in the kitchen, when she heard their
noisy approach. "You must move quietly--Father is calculating and
calculating, poor fellow! He can get no peace in his head since
the harbor plans have been seriously adopted. His ideas are always
working in him. That must be so, he says, and that so! If he would
only take life quietly among his equals and leave the great people
to worry over their own affairs!"
He sat in the window, right in the sunlight, adding up some
troublesome accounts; he whispered half to himself, and his
mutilated forefinger, whose outer joint had been blown off, ran up
and down the columns. Then he struck the table. "Oh, if only a man
had learned something!" he groaned. The sunlight played on his dark
beard; his weary labors had been powerless to stiffen his limbs or
to pull him down. Drink had failed to hurt him--he sat there like
strength personified; his great forehead and his throat were deeply
bronzed by the sun.
"Look here, Morten!" he cried, turning to the boys. "Just look at
Morten looked. "What is it, father?"
"What is it? Our earnings during the last week! You can see they
are big figures!"
"No, father; what are they?" Morten twined his slender hand in his
The "Great Power's" eyes grew mild under this caress.
"It's a proposed alteration--they want to keep the channel in the
old place, and that is wrong; when the wind blows in from the sea,
one can't get into the harbor. The channel must run out there, and
the outer breakwater must curve like this"--and he pointed to his
sketches. "Every fisherman and sailor will confirm what I say--but
the big engineer gentlemen are so clever!"
"But are you going--again--to send in a tender?" Morten looked at
his father, horrified. The man nodded.
"But you aren't good enough for them--you know you aren't! They
just laugh at you!"
"This time I shall be the one to laugh," retorted Jorgensen, his
brow clouding at the thought of all the contempt he had had to
"Of course they laugh at him," said the old woman from the chimney-
corner, turning her hawk-like head toward them; "but one must play
at something. Peter must always play the great man!"
Her son did not reply.
"They say you know something about sketching, Pelle?" he said
quietly. "Can't you bring this into order a bit? This here is the
breakwater--supposing the water isn't there--and this is the basin
--cut through the middle, you understand? But I can't get it to
look right--yet the dimensions are quite correct. Here above the
water-line there will be big coping-stones, and underneath it's
Pelle set to work, but he was too finicking.
"Not so exact!" said Jorgensen. "Only roughly!"
He was always sitting over his work when they came. From his wife
they learned that he did not put in a tender, after all, but took
his plans to those who had undertaken the contract and offered them
his cooperation. She had now lost all faith in his schemes, and was
in a state of continual anxiety. "He's so queer--he's always taken
up with only this one thing," she said, shuddering. "He never drinks
--and he doesn't go raging against all the world as he used to do."
"But that's a good thing," said Morten consolingly.
"Yes, you may talk, but what do you know about it? If he looks after
his daily bread, well, one knows what that means. But now, like
this.... I'm so afraid of the reaction if he gets a set-back. Don't
you believe he's changed--it's only sleeping in him. He's the same
as ever about Karen; he can't endure seeing her crooked figure; she
reminds him always too much of everything that isn't as it should
be. She mustn't go to work, he says, but how can we do without her
help? We must live! I daren't let him catch sight of her. He gets
so bitter against himself, but the child has to suffer for it. And
he's the only one she cares anything about."
Karen had not grown during the last few years; she had become even
more deformed; her voice was dry and shrill, as though she had
passed through a frozen desert on her way to earth. She was glad
when Pelle was there and she could hear him talk; if she thought he
would come in the evening, she would hurry home from her situation.
But she never joined in the conversation and never took part in
anything. No one could guess what was going on in her mind. Her
mother would suddenly break down and burst into tears if her glance
by chance fell upon her.
"She really ought to leave her place at once," said her mother over
and again. "But the doctor's wife has one child after another, and
then they ask so pleadingly if she can't stay yet another half-year.
They think great things of her; she is so reliable with children."
"Yes, if it was Pelle, he'd certainly let them fall." Karen laughed
--it was a creaking laugh. She said nothing more; she never asked to
be allowed to go out, and she never complained. But her silence was
like a silent accusation, destroying all comfort and intimacy.
But one day she came home and threw some money on the table. "Now
I needn't go to Doctor's any more."
"What's the matter? Have you done something wrong?" asked the
"The doctor gave me a box on the ear because I couldn't carry
Anna over the gutter--she's so heavy."
"But you can't be sent away because he has struck you! You've
certainly had a quarrel--you are so stubborn!"
"No; but I accidentally upset the perambulator with little Erik
in it--so that he fell out. His head is like a mottled apple."
Her expression was unchanged.
The mother burst into tears. "But how could you do such a thing?"
Karen stood there and looked at the other defiantly. Suddenly her
mother seized hold of her. "You didn't do it on purpose? Did you
do it on purpose?"
Karen turned away with a shrug of the shoulders and went up to the
garret without saying good night. Her mother wanted to follow her.
"Let her go!" said the old woman, as though from a great distance.
"You have no power over her! She was begotten in wrath."
All the winter Jens had smeared his upper lip with fowl's dung
in order to grow a moustache; now it was sprouting, and he found
himself a young woman; she was nurse-maid at the Consul's. "It's
tremendous fun," he said; "you ought to get one yourself. When she
kisses me she sticks out her tongue like a little kid." But Pelle
wanted no young woman--in the first place, no young woman would have
him, branded as he was; and then he was greatly worried.
When he raised his head from his work and looked out sideways over
the manure-sheds and pigsties, he saw the green half-twilight of the
heart of the apple-tree, and he could dream himself into it. It was
an enchanted world of green shadows and silent movement; countless
yellow caterpillars hung there, dangling to and fro, each on its
slender thread; chaffinches and yellow-hammers swung themselves
impetuously from bough to bough, and at every swoop snapped up a
caterpillar; but these never became any fewer. Without a pause they
rolled themselves down from the twigs, and hung there, so enticingly
yellow, swinging to and fro in the gentle breath of the summer day,
and waited to be gobbled up.
And deeper still in the green light--as though on the floor of a
green sea--three brightly-clad maidens moved and played. Now and
again the two younger would suddenly look over at Pelle, but they
turned their eyes away again the moment he looked at them; and Manna
was as grown-up and self-controlled as though he had never existed.
Manna had been confirmed a long time now; her skirts were halfway to
the ground, and she walked soberly along the street, arm-in-arm with
her girl friends. She no longer played; she had long been conscious
of a rapidly-increasing certainty that it wouldn't do to play any
longer. In a few days she went over from Pelle's side to the camp of
the grown-ups. She no longer turned to him in the workshop, and if
he met her in the street she looked in another direction. No longer
did she leap like a wild cat into the shop, tearing Pelle from his
stool if she wanted something done; she went demurely up to the
young master, who wrapped up her shoes in paper. But in secret she
still recognized her playmate; if no one was by she would pinch his
arm quite hard, and gnash her teeth together as she passed him.
But Pelle was too clumsy to understand the transition, and too much
of a child to be shy of the light himself. He hung hack, lonely, and
pondered, uncomprehending, over the new condition of affairs.
But now she did not know him in secret even--he simply did not exist
for her any longer. And Dolores and Aina too had withdrawn their
favor; when he looked out, they averted their heads and shrugged
their shoulders. They were ashamed that they had ever had anything
to do with such a person, and he knew very well why that was.
It had been a peculiar and voluptuous delight to be handled by those
delicate and generous hands. It had been really splendid to sit
there with open mouth and let all three stuff him with delicacies,
so that he was in danger of choking! He wasn't allowed to swallow
them down--they wanted to see how much his mouth would hold; and
then they would laugh and dance round him, and their plump girlish
hands would take hold of his head, one on each side, and press his
jaws together. Now Pelle had gradually added quite an ell to his
stature as a worldly wise citizen; he knew very well that he was of
coarser clay than his companions, and that there must have been an
end of it all, even without the town hall.
But it hurt him; he felt as though he had been betrayed; properly
he oughtn't to touch his food. For was not Manna his betrothed? He
had never thought of that! These were the pains of love! So this was
what they were like! Did those who took their lives on account of
unhappy love feel any different? His grief, to be sure, was not very
stupendous; when the young master made a joke or cursed in his funny
way he could laugh quite heartily still. That, with his disgrace,
was the worst of all.
"You ought to get yourself a young woman," said Jens. "She's as
soft as a young bird, and she warms you through your clothes and
But Pelle had something else on hand. He wanted to learn to swim.
He wanted to know how to do everything that the town boys did, and
to win back his place among them. He no longer dreamed of leading
them. So he went about with the "gang"; he drew back a little if
they teased him too brutally, and then crept back again; finally
they grew accustomed to him.
Every evening he ran down to the harbor. To the south of the big
basin, which was now being pumped dry, there was always, in the
twilight, a crowd of apprentices; they leaped naked among the rocks
and swam in chattering shoals toward the west, where the sky still
glowed after the sunset. A long way out a reef lay under the water,
and on this they could just touch bottom; there they would rest
before they swam back, their dark heads brooding on the water like
Pelle swam out with them in order to accustom himself to deep water,
although they always tried to pull him under by his legs. When the
sea blushed it was as though one was swimming amid roses; and the
light, slippery, shining fronds which the deep-lying weed-beds had
thrown up gleamed in the evening light and slid gently across his
shoulders, and far out in the west lay the land of Fortune, beyond
the vast radiant portals of the sunset; or it showed its golden
plains stretching out into infinity. There it lay, shining with a
strange enticing radiance, so that Pelle forgot the limits of his
strength, and swam out farther than his powers justified. And when
he turned round, parting the floating weed with vigorous strokes,
the water stared at him blackly, and the terror of the depths seized
One evening the boys had been hostile in their attitude, and one
of them maintained that the marks of the whip could still be seen
on Pelle's back. "Pelle has never been beaten with a whip!" cried
Morten, in a rage. Pelle himself made no reply, but followed the
"squadron"; his whole nature felt somehow embittered.
There was a slight swell, and this perhaps washed the swimmers out
of their proper course; they could not find the reef on which they
were used to rest. For a time they splashed about, trying to find
it, and wasting their strength; then they turned back to the shore.
Pelle looked after them with wondering eyes.
"Lie on your back and rest!" they cried, as they passed him, and
then they made for the beach; a touch of panic had fallen on them.
Pelle tried to rest, but he had had no practice in floating; the
waves broke over his face; so he labored after the others. On the
shore there was great excitement; he wondered what it meant. Morten,
who had never bathed with the others, was standing on a rock and
Some of the foremost swimmers were already in safety. "You can touch
bottom here!" they shouted, standing with outstretched arms, the
water up to their chins. Pelle labored on indefatigably, but he
was quite convinced that it was useless. He was making hardly any
progress, and he was sinking deeper and deeper. Every moment a wave
washed over him and filled him with water. The stronger swimmers
came out again; they swam round him and tried to help him, but they
only made matters worse. He saw Morten run shouting into the water
with all his clothes on, and that gave him a little strength. But
then suddenly his arms became paralyzed; he went round and round in
the same spot, and only his eyes were above water. Pelle had often
flown in his dreams, and something had always clutched his legs
and hampered his flight. But now this had become reality; he was
floating in the blue sky and poised on his outspread pinions; and
out of the darkness below he heard voices. "Pelle!" they cried,
"little Pelle!" "Yes, Father Lasse!" he answered, and with a sense
of relief he folded his weary wings; he sank in whirling haste,
and a surging sounded in his ears.
Then of a sudden he felt a violent pain in his shins. His hands
clutched at growing plants. He stood up with a leap, and light and
air flowed over him as from a new existence. The boys were running
about, frightened, one leg in their trousers, and he was standing
on the submarine reef, up to the breast in the sea, vomiting salt
water. Round about him swimmers were splashing, diving in every
direction to fetch him up from the bottom of the sea. It was all
really rather funny, and Pelle raised his arms high above his head
as a greeting to life, and took the water with a long dive. Some
distance farther in he appeared again, and swam to shore, parting
the waves like a frolicsome porpoise. But on the beach he fell down
as God had made him, in a profound sleep; he had just pulled one
stocking over his big toe.
Since that day the boys recognized him again. He had certainly
performed no heroic deed, but Destiny had for a moment rested upon
his head--that was enough! Pelle always took the steel sharpener
with him after that; and laid it on the beach with the point toward
the land; he wanted after all to live a little longer. He did not
allow himself to be intimidated, but plunged headlong into the
If the sea was so rough that they could not swim, they would lie
on the brink of the water and let the waves roll them over and over.
Then the waves would come in sweeping flight from the west, as
though to spring upon them; the herds of white horses drove onward,
their grayish manes streaming obliquely behind them. Rearing they
came, sweeping the sea with their white tails, striking out wildly
with their hooves and plunging under the surface. But others sprang
up and leaped over them in serried ranks. They lay flat on the water
and rushed toward the land. The storm whipped the white foam out of
their mouths and drove it along the beach, where it hung gleaming
on the bushes, and then vanished into nothingness. Right up to the
shore they dashed, and then fell dead. But fresh hordes stormed
shoreward from the offing, as though the land must be over-run by
them; they reared, foaming, and struck at one another; they sprang,
snorting and quivering, high in the air; they broke asunder in
panic; there was never an end to it all. And far out in the distance
the sun went down in a flame-red mist. A streak of cloud lay across
it, stretching far out into infinity. A conflagration like a glowing
prairie fire surrounded the horizon, and drove the hordes before it
in panic-stricken flight, and on the beach shouted the naked swarm
of boys. Now and again they sprang up with outspread arms, and,
shouting, chased the wild horses back into the sea.
Things were not going well in the brothers' home. Jorgensen had done
nothing with his plans. He was the only person who had not known
that such would be the case. The people knew, too, on very good
authority, that the engineer had offered him a hundred kroner for
them, and as he would not take them, but demanded a share in the
undertaking and the honor of executing it, he was shown to the door.
He had never before taken anything so quietly. He did not burst out
roaring with violent words; he simply betook himself to his usual
day-laborer's work in the harbor, like any other worker. He did not
mention his defeat, and allowed no one else to do so. He treated
his wife as though she did not exist. But she had to watch him wrap
himself up in silence, without knowing what was going on in his mind.
She had a foreboding of something terrible, and spoke of her trouble
to the boys. He made no scenes, although now and again he got drunk;
he ate in silence and went to bed. When he was not working, he slept.
But as he himself had so far revealed his plans that they were
known to all, it was all up with his work. The engineer had taken
from Jorgensen's plans as much as he could use--every one could see
that--and now the "Great Power" stood with his mouth empty, simply
because he had put more in his spoon than his mouth would hold. Most
people were far from envying his position, and they took plenty of
time to talk about it; the town was quite accustomed to neglect its
own affairs in order to throw its whole weight on his obstinate back.
But now he was down in the dust all had been to the harbor to watch
the "Great Power" working there--to see him, as a common laborer,
carting the earth for his own wonderful scheme. They marvelled
only that he took it all so quietly; it was to some extent a
disappointment that he did not flinch under the weight of his
burden and break out into impotent raving.
He contented himself with drinking; but that he did thoroughly. He
went about it as it were in the midst of a cloud of alcoholic vapor,
and worked only just enough to enable him to go on drinking. "He has
never yet been like this," said his wife, weeping. "He doesn't storm
and rage, but he is angry all the time so that one can't bear him
at home any longer. He breaks everything in his anger, and he scolds
poor Karen so that it's wretched. He has no regard for anybody,
only for his old mother, and God knows how long that will last. He
doesn't work, he only drinks. He steals my hard-earned money out of
my dress-pocket and buys brandy with it. He has no shame left in him,
although he always used to be so honorable in his way of life. And
he can't stand his boozing as he used to; he's always falling about
and staggering. Lately he came home all bloody--he'd knocked a hole
in his head. What have we ever done to the dear God that he should
punish us like this?"
The old woman said nothing, but let her glance sweep from one to
the other, and thought her own thoughts.
So it went on, week after week. The boys became weary of listening
to their mother's complaints, and kept away from home.
One day, when Karen had been sent on an errand for her mother, she
did not return. Neither had she returned on the following day. Pelle
heard of it down at the boat-harbor, where she had last been seen.
They were dragging the water with nets in the hope of finding her,
but no one dared tell Jorgensen. On the following afternoon they
brought her to the workshop; Pelle knew what it was when he heard
the many heavy footsteps out in the street. She lay on a stretcher,
and two men carried her; before her the autumn wind whirled the
first falling leaves, and her thin arms were hanging down to the
pavement, as though she sought to find a hold there. Her disordered
hair was hanging, too, and the water was dripping from her. Behind
the stretcher came the "Great Power." He was drunk. He held one hand
before his eyes, and murmured as though in thought, and at every
moment he raised his forefinger in the air. "She has found peace,"
he said thickly, trying to look intelligent.
"Peace--the higher it is----" He could not find the word he wanted.
Jens and Pelle replaced the men at the stretcher, and bore it home.
They were afraid of what was before them. But the mother stood at
the door and received them silently, as though she had expected them;
she was merely pale. "She couldn't bear it!" she whispered to them,
and she kneeled down beside the child.
She laid her head on the little crippled body, and whispered
indistinctly; now and again she pressed the child's fingers into
her mouth, in order to stifle her sobs. "And you were to have run
an errand for mother," she said, and she shook her head, smilingly.
"You are a nice sort of girl to me--not to be able to buy me two
skeins of thread; and the money I gave you for it--have you thrown
it away?" Her words came between smiles and sobs, and they sounded
like a slow lament. "Did you throw the money away? It doesn't matter
--it wasn't your fault. Dear child, dear little one!" Then her
strength gave way. Her firmly closed mouth broke open, and closed
again, and so she went on, her head rocking to and fro, while her
hands felt eagerly in the child's pocket. "Didn't you run that
errand for mother?" she moaned. She felt, in the midst of her grief,
the need of some sort of corroboration, even if it referred to
something quite indifferent. And she felt in the child's purse.
There lay a few ore and a scrap of paper.
Then she suddenly stood up. Her face was terribly hard as she turned
to her husband, who stood against the wall, swaying to and fro.
"Peter!" she cried in agony, "Peter! Don't you know what you have
done? 'Forgive me, mother,' it says here, and she has taken four
ore of the thirteen to buy sugar-candy. Look here, her hand is still
quite sticky." She opened the clenched hand, which was closed upon
a scrap of sticky paper. "Ah, the poor persecuted child! She wanted
to sweeten her existence with four ore worth of sugar-candy, and then
into the water! A child has so much pleasure at home here! 'Forgive
me, mother!' she says, as though she had done something wrong. And
everything she did was wrong; so she had to go away. Karen! Karen!
I'm not angry with you--you were very welcome--what do they signify,
those few ore! I didn't mean it like that when I reproached you for
hanging about at home! But I didn't know what to do--we had nothing
to eat. And he spent the little money there was!" She turned her
face from the body to the father and pointed to him. It was the
first time that the wife of the "Great Power" had ever turned upon
him accusingly. But he did not understand her. "She has found peace,"
he murmured, and attempted to pull himself up a little; "the peace
of--" But here the old woman rose in the chimney-corner--until this
moment she had not moved. "Be silent!" she said harshly, setting
her stick at his breast, "or your old mother will curse the day when
she brought you into the world." Wondering, he stared at her; and
a light seemed to shine through the mist as he gazed. For a time he
still stood there, unable to tear his eyes from the body. He looked
as though he wished to throw himself down beside his wife, who once
more lay bowed above the bier, whispering. Then, with hanging head,
he went upstairs and lay down.
It was after working hours when Pelle went homeward; but he did not
feel inclined to run down to the harbor or to bathe. The image of
the drowned child continued to follow him, and for the first time
Death had met him with its mysterious "Why?". He found no answer,
and gradually he forgot it for other things. But the mystery itself
continued to brood within him, and made him afraid without any
sort of reason, so that he encountered the twilight even with
a foreboding of evil. The secret powers which exhale from heaven
and earth when light and darkness meet clutched at him with their
enigmatical unrest, and he turned unquietly from one thing to
another, although he must be everywhere in order to cope with this
inconceivable Something that stood, threatening, behind everything.
For the first time he felt, rid of all disguise, the unmercifulness
which was imminent in this or that transgression of his. Never
before had Life itself pressed upon him with its heavy burden.
It seemed to Pelle that something called him, but he could not
clearly discover whence the call came. He crept from his window on
to the roof and thence to the gable-end; perhaps it was the world
that called. The hundreds of tile-covered roofs of the town lay
before him, absorbing the crimson of the evening sky, and a blue
smoke was rising. And voices rose out of the warm darkness that lay
between the houses. He heard, too, the crazy Anker's cry; and this
eternal prophecy of things irrational sounded like the complaint of
a wild beast. The sea down yonder and the heavy pine-woods that lay
to the north and the south--these had long been familiar to him.
But there was a singing in his ears, and out of the far distance,
and something or some one stood behind him, whose warm breath struck
upon his neck. He turned slowly about. He was no longer afraid in
the darkness, and he knew beforehand that nothing was there. But
his lucid mind had been invaded by the twilight, with its mysterious
train of beings which none of the senses can confirm.
He went down into the courtyard and strolled about. Everywhere
prevailed the same profound repose. Peers, the cat, was sitting on
the rain-water butt, mewing peevishly at a sparrow which had perched
upon the clothes-line. The young master was in his room, coughing;
he had already gone to bed. Pelle bent over the edge of the well and
gazed vacantly over the gardens. He was hot and dizzy, but a cool
draught rose from the well and soothingly caressed his head. The
bats were gliding through the air like spirits, passing so close
to his face that he felt the wind of their flight, and turning about
with a tiny clapping sound. He felt a most painful desire to cry.
Among the tall currant-bushes yonder something moved, and
Sjermanna's head made its appearance. She was moving cautiously and
peering before her. When she saw Pelle she came quickly forward.
"Good evening!" she whispered.
"Good evening!" he answered aloud, delighted to return to human
"Hush! You mustn't shout!" she said peremptorily.
"Why not?" Pelle himself was whispering now. He was feeling quite
concerned. "Because you mustn't! Donkey! Come, I'll show you
something. No, nearer still!"
Pelle pushed his head forward through the tall elder-bush, and
suddenly she put her two hands about his head and kissed him
violently and pushed him back. He tried gropingly to take hold of
her, but she stood there laughing at him. Her face glowed in the
darkness. "You haven't heard anything about it!" she whispered.
"Come, I'll tell you!"
Now he was smiling all over his face. He pushed his way eagerly into
the elder-bush. But at the same moment he felt her clenched fist
strike his face. She laughed crazily, but he stood fixed in the
same position, as though stunned, his mouth held forward as if still
awaiting a kiss. "Why do you hit me?" he asked, gazing at her
"Because I can't endure you! You're a perfect oaf, and so ugly and
"I have never done anything to you!"
"No? Anyhow, you richly deserved it! What did you want to kiss me
Pelle stood there helplessly stammering. The whole world of his
experience collapsed under him. "But I didn't!" he at last brought
out; he looked extraordinarily foolish. Manna aped his expression.
"Ugh! Bugh! Take care, or you'll freeze to the ground and turn into
a lamp-post! There's nothing on the hedge here that will throw light
on your understanding!"
With a leap Pelle was over the hedge. Manna took him hastily by the
hand and drew him through the bushes. "Aina and Dolores will be here
directly. Then we'll play," she declared.
"I thought they couldn't come out in the evenings any more," said
Pelle, obediently allowing her to lead him. She made no reply, but
looked about her as though she wanted to treat him to something as
in the old days. In her need she stripped a handful of leaves off
the currant-boughs, and stuffed them into his mouth. "There, take
that and hold your mouth!" She was quite the old Manna once more,
and Pelle laughed.
They had come to the summer-house. Manna cooled his swollen cheeks
with wet earth while they waited.
"Did it hurt you much?" she asked sympathetically, putting her arm
about his shoulder.
"It's nothing. What's a box on the ear?" he said manfully.
"I didn't mean it--you know that. Did _that_ hurt you very
Pelle gazed at her sadly. She looked at him inquisitively. "Was
it here?" she said, letting her hand slide down his back. He rose
silently, in order to go, but she seized him by the wrist. "Forgive
me," she whispered.
"Aren't the others coming soon?" asked Pelle harshly. He proposed
to be angry with her, as in the old days.
"No! They aren't coming at all! I've deceived you. I wanted to talk
to you!" Manna was gasping for breath.
"I thought you didn't want to have anything more to do with me?"
"Well, I don't! I only want--" She could not find words, and stamped
angrily on the ground. Then she said slowly and solemnly, with the
earnestness of a child: "Do you know what I believe? I believe--I
"Then we can get married when we are old enough!" said Pelle
She looked at him for a moment with a measuring glance. The
town-hall and the flogging! thought Pelle. He was quite resolved
that he would do the beating now; but here she laughed at him.
"What a glorious booby you are!" she said, and as though deep in
thought, she let a handful of wet earth run down his neck.
Pelle thought for a moment of revenge; then, as though in sport,
he thrust his hand into her bosom. She fell back weakly, groping
submissively with her hands; a new knowledge arose in him, and
impelled him to embrace her violently.
She looked at him in amazement, and tried gently to push his hand
away. But it was too late. The boy had broken down her defences.
As Pelle went back into the house he was overwhelmed, but not happy.
His heart hammered wildly, and a chaos reigned in his brain. Quite
instinctively he trod very softly. For a long time he lay tossing
to and fro without being able to sleep. His mind had resolved the
enigma, and now he discovered the living blood in himself. It sang
its sufferings in his ear; it welled into his cheeks and his heart;
it murmured everywhere in numberless pulses, so that his whole body
thrilled. Mighty and full of mystery, it surged through him like an
inundation, filling him with a warm, deep astonishment. Never before
had he known all this!
In the time that followed his blood was his secret confidant
in everything; he felt it like a caress when it filled his limbs,
causing a feeling of distension in wrists and throat. He had his
secret now, and his face never betrayed the fact that he had ever
known Sjermanna. His radiant days had all at once changed into
radiant nights. He was still enough of a child to long for the old
days, with their games in the broad light of day; but something
impelled him to look forward, listening, and his questing soul
bowed itself before the mysteries of life. The night had made
him accomplice in her mysteries. With Manna he never spoke again.
She never came into the garden, and if he met her she turned into
another street. A rosy flame lay continually over her face, as
though it had burned its way in. Soon afterward she went to a farm
in Ostland, where an uncle of hers lived.
But Pelle felt nothing and was in no way dejected. He went about as
though in a half-slumber; everything was blurred and veiled before
his spiritual vision. He was quite bewildered by all that was going
on within him. Something was hammering and laboring in every part
and corner of him. Ideas which were too fragile were broken down
and built up more strongly, so that they should bear the weight of
the man in him. His limbs grew harder; his muscles became like steel,
and he was conscious of a general feeling of breadth across his
back, and of unapplied strength. At times he awakened out of his
half-slumber into a brief amazement, when he felt himself, in one
particular or another, to have become a man; as when one day he
heard his own voice. It had gained a deep resonance, which was quite
foreign to his ear, and forced him to listen as though it had been
another that spoke.
Pelle fought against the decline of the business. A new apprentice
had been taken into the workshop, but Pelle, as before, had to do
all the delicate jobs. He borrowed articles when necessary, and
bought things on credit; and he had to interview impatient customers,
and endeavor to pacify them. He got plenty of exercise, but he
learned nothing properly. "Just run down to the harbor," the master
used to say: "Perhaps there will be some work to bring back!" But
the master was much more interested in the news which he brought
Pelle would also go thither without having received any orders.
Everybody in the town must needs make for the harbor whenever he
went from home; it was the heart through which everything came and
went, money and dreams and desires and that which gratified them.
Every man had been to sea, and his best memories and his hardest
battles belonged to the sea. Dreams took the outward way; yonder
lay the sea, and all men's thoughts were drawn to it; the thoughts
of the young, who longed to go forth and seek adventure, and of
the old, who lived on their memories. It was the song in all men's
hearts, and the God in the inmost soul of all; the roving-ground of
life's surplus, the home of all that was inexplicable and mystical.
The sea had drunk the blood of thousands, but its color knew no
change; the riddle of life brooded in its restless waters.
Destiny rose from the floor of the deep and with short shrift
set her mark upon a man; he might escape to the land, like Baker
Jorgensen, who went no more to sea when once the warning had come
to him, or, like Boatman Jensen, he might rise in his sleep and walk
straight over the vessel's side. Down below, where the drowned dwelt,
the ships sank to bring them what they needed; and from time to time
the bloodless children of the sea rose to the shore, to play with
the children that were born on a Sunday, and to bring them death
Over the sea, three times a week, came the steamer with news from
Copenhagen; and vessels all wrapped in ice, and others that had
sprung a heavy leak, or bore dead bodies on board; and great ships
which came from warm countries and had real negroes among their
Down by the harbor stood the old men who had forsaken the sea, and
now all the long day through they stared out over the playground
of their manhood, until Death came for them. The sea had blown gout
into their limbs, had buffeted them until they were bent and bowed,
and in the winter nights one could hear them roar with the pain like
wild beasts. Down to the harbor drifted all the flotsam and jetsam
of the land, invalids and idle men and dying men, and busy folk
raced round about and up and down with fluttering coat-tails,
in order to scent out possible profits.
The young sported here continually; it was as though they
encountered the future when they played here by the open sea. Many
never went further, but many let themselves be caught and whirled
away out into the unknown. Of these was Nilen. When the ships were
being fitted out he could wait no longer. He sacrificed two years'
apprenticeship, and ran away on board a vessel which was starting
on a long voyage. Now he was far away in the Trades, on the southern
passage round America, homeward bound with a cargo of redwood. And
a few left with every steamer. The girls were the most courageous
when it came to cutting themselves loose; they steamed away swiftly,
and the young men followed them in amorous blindness. And men fought
their way outward in order to seek something more profitable than
could be found at home.
Pelle had experienced all this already: he had felt this same
longing, and had known the attractive force of the unknown. Up
in the country districts it was the dream of all poor people to
fight their way to town, and the boldest one day ventured thither,
with burning cheeks, while the old people spoke warningly of the
immorality of cities. And in the town here it was the dream of all
to go to the capital, to Copenhagen; there fortune and happiness
were to be found! He who had the courage hung one day over the
ship's rail, and waved farewell, with an absent expression in his
eyes, as though he had been playing a game with high stakes; over
there on the mainland he would have to be a match with the best
of them. But the old people shook their heads and spoke at length
of the temptations and immorality of the capital.
Now and again one came back and justified their wisdom. Then they
would run delightedly from door to door. "Didn't we tell you so?"
But many came home at holiday seasons and were such swells that it
was really the limit! And this or that girl was so extremely stylish
that people had to ask the opinion of Wooden-leg Larsen about her.
The girls who got married over there--well, they were well provided
for! After an interval of many years they came back to their
parents' homes, travelling on deck among the cattle, and giving
the stewardess a few pence to have them put in the newspaper as
cabin-passengers. They were fine enough as to their clothes, but
their thin haggard faces told another story. "There is certainly
not enough to eat for all over there!" said the old women.
But Pelle took no interest in those that came home again. All his
thoughts were with those who went away; his heart tugged painfully
in his breast, so powerful was his longing to be off. The sea,
whether it lay idle or seethed with anger, continually filled his
head with the humming of the world "over yonder," with a vague,
mysterious song of happiness.
One day, as he was on his way to the harbor, he met old thatcher
Holm from Stone Farm. Holm was going about looking at the houses
from top to bottom; he was raising his feet quite high in the air
from sheer astonishment, and was chattering to himself. On his arm
he carried a basket loaded with bread and butter, brandy, and beer.
"Well, here's some one at last!" he said, and offered his hand.
"I'm going round and wondering to myself where they all live,
those that come here day after day and year after year, and whether
they've done any good. Mother and I have often talked about it, that
it would be splendid to know how things have turned out for this
one or that. And this morning she said it would be best if I were
to make a short job of it before I quite forget how to find my way
about the streets here, I haven't been here for ten years. Well,
according to what I've seen so far, mother and I needn't regret
we've stayed at home. Nothing grows here except lamp-posts, and
mother wouldn't understand anything about rearing them. Thatched
roofs I've not seen here. Here in the town they'd grudge a thatcher
his bread. But I'll see the harbor before I go home."
"Then we'll go together," said Pelle. He was glad to meet some one
from his home. The country round about Stone Farm was always for him
the home of his childhood. He gossiped with the old man and pointed
out various objects of interest.
"Yes, I've been once, twice, three times before this to the harbor,"
said Holm, "but I've never managed to see the steamer. They tell
me wonderful things of it; they say all our crops are taken to
Copenhagen in the steamer nowadays."
"It's lying here to-day," said Pelle eagerly. "This evening
it goes out."
Holm's eyes beamed. "Then I shall be able to see the beggar! I've
often seen the smoke from the hill at home--drifting over the sea--
and that always gave me a lot to think about. They say it eats coals
and is made of iron." He looked at Pelle uncertainly.
The great empty harbor basin, in which some hundreds of men were at
work, interested him greatly. Pelle pointed out the "Great Power,"
who was toiling like a madman and allowing himself to be saddled
with the heaviest work.
"So that is he!" cried Holm. "I knew his father; he was a man who
wanted to do things above the ordinary, but he never brought them
off. And how goes it with your father? Not any too well, as I've
Pelle had been home a little while before; nothing was going well
there, but as to that he was silent. "Karna isn't very well," he
said. "She tried to do too much; she's strained herself lifting
"They say he'll have a difficult job to pull through. They have
taken too much on themselves," Holm continued.
Pelle made no reply; and then the steamer absorbed their whole
attention. Talkative as he was, Holm quite forgot to wag his
The steamer was on the point of taking in cargo; the steam derricks
were busy at both hatches, squealing each time they swung round in
another direction. Holm became so light on his legs one might have
thought he was treading on needles; when the derrick swung round
over the quay and the chain came rattling down, he ran right back
to the granary. Pelle wanted to take him on board, but he would not
hear of it. "It looks a bad-tempered monster," he said: "look how
it sneezes and fusses!"
On the quay, by the forward hold, the goods of a poverty-stricken
household lay all mixed together. A man stood there holding a
mahogany looking-glass, the only article of value, in his arms. His
expression was gloomy. By the manner in which he blew his nose--with
his knuckles instead of with his fingers--one could see that he had
something unaccustomed on hand. His eyes were fixed immovably on his
miserable household possessions, and they anxiously followed every
breakable article as it went its airy way into the vessel's maw.
His wife and children were sitting on the quay-wall, eating out of
a basket of provisions. They had been sitting there for hours. The
children were tired and tearful; the mother was trying to console
them, and to induce them to sleep on the stone.
"Shan't we start soon?" they asked continually, in complaining
"Yes, the ship starts directly, but you must be very good or
I shan't take you with me. And then you'll come to the capital city,
where they eat white bread and always wear leather boots. The King
himself lives there, and they've got everything in the shops there."
She arranged her shawl under their heads.
"But that's Per Anker's son from Blaaholt!" cried Holm, when he had
been standing a while on the quay and had caught sight of the man.
"What, are you leaving the country?"
"Yes, I've decided to do so," said the man, in an undertone, passing
his hand over his face.
"And I thought you were doing so well! Didn't you go to Ostland,
and didn't you take over a hotel there?"
"Yes, they enticed me out there, and now I've lost everything
"You ought to have considered--considering costs nothing but
a little trouble."
"But they showed me false books, which showed a greater surplus
than there really was. Shipowner Monsen was behind the whole affair,
together with the brewer from the mainland, who had taken the hotel
over in payment of outstanding debts."
"But how did big folks like that manage to smell you out?" Holm
scratched his head; he didn't understand the whole affair.
"Oh, they'd heard of the ten thousand, of course, which I'd
inherited from my father. They throw their nets out for sums like
that, and one day they sent an agent to see me. Ten thousand was
just enough for the first instalment, and now they have taken the
hotel over again. Out of compassion, they let me keep this trash
here." He suddenly turned his face away and wept; and then his wife
came swiftly up to him.
Holm drew Pelle away. "They'd rather be rid of us," he said quietly;
and he continued to discuss the man's dismal misfortune, while they
strolled out along the mole. But Pelle was not listening to him. He
had caught sight of a little schooner which was cruising outside,
and was every moment growing more restless.
"I believe that's the Iceland schooner!" he said at last. "So
I must go back."
"Yes, run off," said Holm, "and many thanks for your guidance,
and give my respects to Lasse and Karna."
On the harbor hill Pelle met Master Jeppe, and farther on Drejer,
Klaussen, and Blom. The Iceland boat had kept them waiting for
several months; the news that she was in the roads quickly spread,
and all the shoemakers of the whole town were hurrying down to the
harbor, in order to hear whether good business had been done before
the gangway was run out.
"The Iceland boat is there now!" said the merchants and leather-
dealers, when they saw the shoemakers running by. "We must make
haste and make out our bills, for now the shoemakers will be having
But the skipper had most of the boots and shoes still in his hold;
he returned with the terrifying news that no more boots and shoes
could be disposed of in Iceland. The winter industry had been of
great importance to the shoemakers.
"What does this mean?" asked Jeppe angrily. "You have been long
enough about it! Have you been trying to open another agency over
there? In others years you have managed to sell the whole lot."
"I have done what I could," replied the captain gloomily. "I offered
them to the dealers in big parcels, and then I lay there and carried
on a retail trade from the ship. Then I ran down the whole west
coast; but there is nothing to be done."
"Well, well," said Jeppe, "but do the Icelanders mean to go without
"There's the factories," replied the captain.
"The factories, the factories!" Jeppe laughed disdainfully, but
with a touch of uncertainty. "You'll tell me next that they can
make shoes by machinery--cut out and peg and sew and fix the treads
and all? No, damn it, that can only be done by human hands directed
by human intelligence. Shoemaking is work for men only. Perhaps I
myself might be replaced by a machine--by a few cog-wheels that go
round and round! Bah! A machine is dead, I know that, and it can't
think or adapt itself to circumstances; you may have to shape the
boot in a particular way for a special foot, on account of tender
toes, or--here I give the sole a certain cut in the instep, so that
it looks smart, or--well, one has to be careful, or one cuts into
"There are machines which make boots, and they make them cheaper
than you, too," said the skipper brusquely.
"I should like to see them! Can you show me a boot that hasn't
been made by human hands?" Jeppe laughed contemptuously. "No;
there's something behind all this, by God! Some one is trying to
play us a trick!" The skipper went his way, offended.
Jeppe stuck to it that there was something uncanny about it--the
idea of a machine making boots was enough to haunt him. He kept
on returning to it.
"They'll be making human beings by machinery too, soon!" he
"No," said Baker Jorgen; "there, I believe, the old method will
One day the skipper came in at the workshop door, banged a pair of
shoes down on the window-bench, and went out again. They had been
bought in England, and belonged to the helmsman of a bark which had
just come into the harbor. The young master looked at them, turned
them over in his hands, and looked at them again. Then he called
Jeppe. They were sewn throughout--shoes for a grown man, yet sewn
throughout! Moreover, the factory stamp was under the sole.
In Jeppe's opinion they were not worth a couple of shillings. But
he could not get over the fact that they were machine-made.
"Then we are superfluous," he said, in a quavering voice. All his
old importance seemed to have fallen from him. "For if they can make
the one kind on a machine, they can make another. The handicraft is
condemned to death, and we shall all be without bread one fine day!
Well, I, thank God, have not many years before me." It was the first
time that Jeppe had admitted that he owed his life to God.
Every time he came into the workshop he began to expatiate on the
same subject. He would stand there turning the hated shoes over
between his hands. Then he would criticize them. "We must take more
pains next winter."
"Father forgets it's all up with us now," said the young master
Then the old man would be silent and hobble out. But after a time
he would be back again, fingering the boots and shoes, in order to
discover defects in them. His thoughts were constantly directed upon
this new subject; no song of praise, no eulogy of his handicraft,
passed his lips nowadays. If the young master came to him and asked
his help in some difficult situation, he would refuse it; he felt
no further desire to triumph over youth with his ancient dexterity,
but shuffled about and shrank into himself. "And all that we have
thought so highly of--what's to become of it?" he would ask. "For
machines don't make masterpieces and medal work, so where will real
good work come in?"
The young master did not look so far ahead; he thought principally
of the money that was needed. "Devil take it, Pelle, how are we
going to pay every one, Pelle?" he would ask dejectedly. Little
Nikas had to look out for something else; their means would not
allow them to keep a journeyman. So Nikas decided to marry, and
to set up as a master shoemaker in the north. The shoemaker of
the Baptist community had just died, and he could get plenty of
customers by joining the sect; he was already attending their
services. "But go to work carefully!" said Jeppe. "Or matters
will go awry!"
It was a bad shock to all of them. Klaussen went bankrupt and had to
find work on the new harbor. Blom ran away, deserting his wife and
children, and they had to go home to the house of her parents. In
the workshop matters had been getting worse for a long time. And now
this had happened, throwing a dazzling light upon the whole question.
But the young master refused to believe the worst. "I shall soon be
well again now," he said. "And then you will just see how I'll work
up the business!" He lay in bed more often now, and was susceptible
to every change in the weather. Pelle had to see to everything.
"Run and borrow something!" the master would say. And if Pelle
returned with a refusal, he would look at the boy with his wide,
wondering eyes. "They've got the souls of grocers!" he would cry.
"Then we must peg those soles!"
"That won't answer with ladies' patent-leather shoes!" replied
Pelle very positively.
"Damn and blast it all, it will answer! We'll black the bottom
with cobbler's wax."
But when the black was trodden off, Jungfer Lund and the others
called, and were wroth. They were not accustomed to walk in pegged
shoes. "It's a misunderstanding!" said the young master, the
perspiration standing in clear beads on his forehead. Or he would
hide and leave it to Pelle. When it was over, he would reach up to
the shelf, panting with exhaustion. "Can't you do anything for me,
Pelle?" he whispered.
One day Pelle plucked up courage and said it certainly wasn't
healthy to take so much spirit; the master needed so much now.
"Healthy?" said the master; "no, good God, it isn't healthy! But the
beasts demand it! In the beginning I couldn't get the stuff down,
especially beer; but now I've accustomed myself to it. If I didn't
feed them, they'd soon rush all over me and eat me up."
"Do they swallow it, then?"
"I should think they do! As much as ever you like to give them. Or
have you ever seen me tipsy? I can't get drunk; the tubercles take
it all. And for them it's sheer poison. On the day when I am able
to get drunk again I shall thank God, for then the beasts will be
dead and the spirit will be able to attack me again. Then it'll only
be a question of stopping it, otherwise it'll play the deuce with my
Since the journeyman had left, the meals had become more meager than
ever. The masters had not had enough money in the spring to buy a
pig. So there was no one to consume the scraps. Now they had to eat
them all themselves. Master Andres was never at the table; he took
scarcely any nourishment nowadays; a piece of bread-and-butter now
and again, that was all. Breakfast, at half-past seven, they ate
alone. It consisted of salt herrings, bread and hog's lard, and
soup. The soup was made out of all sorts of odds and ends of bread
and porridge, with an addition of thin beer. It was fermented and
unpalatable. What was left over from breakfast was put into a great
crock which stood in one corner of the kitchen, on the floor, and
this was warmed up again the next morning, with the addition of a
little fresh beer. So it went on all the year round. The contents
were renewed only when some one kicked the crock so that it broke.
The boys confined themselves to the herrings and the lard; the soup
they did not use except to fish about in it. They made a jest of it,
throwing all sorts of objects into it, and finding them again after
half a year.
Jeppe was still lying in the alcove, asleep; his nightcap was
hoved awry over one eye. Even in his sleep he still had a comical
expression of self-importance. The room was thick with vapor; the
old man had his own way of getting air, breathing it in with a long
snort and letting it run rumbling through him. If it got too bad,
the boys would make a noise; then he would wake and scold them.
They were longing for food by dinner-time; the moment Jeppe called
his "Dinner!" at the door they threw everything down, ranged
themselves according to age, and tumbled in behind him. They held
one another tightly by the coat-tails, and made stupid grimaces.
Jeppe was enthroned at the head of the table, a little cap on his
head, trying to preserve seemly table-manners. No one might begin
before him or continue after he had finished. They snatched at
their spoons, laid them down again with a terrified glance at the
old man, and nearly exploded with suppressed laughter. "Yes, I'm
very hungry to-day, but there's no need for you to remark it!" he
would say warningly, once they were in full swing. Pelle would wink
at the others, and they would go on eating, emptying one dish after
another. "There's no respect nowadays!" roared Jeppe, striking on
the table. But when he did this discipline suddenly entered into
them, and they all struck the table after him in turn. Sometimes,
when matters got too bad, Master Andres had to find some reason
for coming into the room.
The long working-hours, the bad food, and the foul air of the
workshop left their mark on Pelle. His attachment to Master Andres
was limitless; he could sit there till midnight and work without
payment if a promise had been made to finish some particular job.
But otherwise he was imperceptibly slipping into the general
slackness, sharing the others' opinion of the day as something
utterly abominable, which one must somehow endeavor to get through.
To work at half pressure was a physical necessity; his rare
movements wearied him, and he felt less inclined to work than to
brood. The semi-darkness of the sunless workshop bleached his skin
and filled him with unhealthy imaginations.
He did little work now on his own account; but he had learned to
manage with very little. Whenever he contrived to get hold of a
ten-ore piece, he bought a savings-stamp, so that in this way he
was able to collect a few shillings, until they had grown to quite
a little sum. Now and again, too, he got a little help from Lasse,
but Lasse found it more and more difficult to spare anything.
Moreover, he had learned to compose his mind by his work.
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