Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 12 out of 23
He had slept like a stone, from the moment of lying down until now.
Sleep lay like a gulf between yesterday and to-day. Whistling a tune
to himself, he packed his belongings and set out upon his way, a
little bundle under his arm. He took the direction of the church, in
order to see the time. It was still not much past five. Then he made
for the outermost suburb with vigorous steps, as joyful as though he
were treading the road to happiness.
Two men appeared from the wood and crossed the highroad. One was
little and hump-backed; he had a shoemaker's bench strapped tightly
on his back; the edge rested on his hump, and a little pillow was
thrust between, so that the bench should not chafe him. The other
was young and strongly built; a little thin, but healthy and fresh-
colored. He carried a great bundle of lasts on his back, which were
held in equilibrium by another box, which he carried on his chest,
and which, to judge by the sounds that proceeded from it, contained
tools. At the edge of the ditch he threw down his burden and
unstrapped the bench from the hunchback. They threw themselves
down in the grass and gazed up into the blue sky. It was a glorious
morning; the birds twittered and flew busily to and fro, and the
cattle were feeding in the dewy clover, leaving long streaks behind
them as they moved.
"And in spite of that, you are always happy?" said Pelle. Sort had
been telling him the sad story of his childhood.
"Yes, look you, it often vexes me that I take everything so easily--
but what if I can't find anything to be sad about? If I once go into
the matter thoroughly, I always hit on something or other that makes
me still happier--as, for instance, your society. You are young, and
health beams out of your eyes. The girls become so friendly wherever
we go, and it's as though I myself were the cause of their pleasure!"
"Where do you really get your knowledge of everything?" asked Pelle.
"Do you find that I know so much?" Sort laughed gaily. "I go about
so much, and I see so many different households, some where man and
wife are as one, and others where they live like cat and dog. I come
into contact with people of every kind. And I get to know a lot, too,
because I'm not like other men--more than one maiden has confided
her miseries to me. And then in winter, when I sit alone, I think
over everything--and the Bible is a good book, a book a man can draw
wisdom from. There a man learns to look behind things; and if you
once realize that everything has its other side, then you learn to
use your understanding. You can go behind everything if you want to,
and they all lead in the same direction--to God. And they all came
from Him. He is the connection, do you see; and once a man grasps
that, then he is always happy. It would be splendid to follow things
up further--right up to where they divide, and then to show, in
spite of all, that they finally run together in God again! But that
I'm not able to do."
"We ought to see about getting on." Pelle yawned, and he began
to bestir himself.
"Why? We're so comfortable here--and we've already done what we
undertook to do. What if there should be a pair of boots yonder
which Sort and Pelle won't get to sole before they're done with?
Some one else will get the job!"
Pelle threw himself on his back and again pulled his cap over his
eyes--he was in no hurry. He had now been travelling nearly a month
with Sort, and had spent almost as much time on the road as sitting
at his work. Sort could never rest when he had been a few days in
one place; he must go on again! He loved the edge of the wood and
the edge of the meadow, and could spend half the day there. And
Pelle had many points of contact with this leisurely life in the
open air; he had his whole childhood to draw upon. He could lie
for hours, chewing a grass-stem, patient as a convalescent, while
sun and air did their work upon him.
"Why do you never preach to me?" he said suddenly, and he peeped
mischievously from tinder his cap.
"Why should I preach to you? Because I am religious? Well, so are
you; every one who rejoices and is content is religious."
"But I'm not at all content!" retorted Pelle, and he rolled on his
back with all four limbs in the air. "But you--I don't understand
why you don't get a congregation; you've got such a power over
"Yes, if I were built as you are--fast enough. But I'm humpbacked!"
"What does that matter? You don't want to run after the women!"
"No, but one can't get on without them; they bring the men and the
children after them. And it's really queer that they should--for
women don't bother themselves about God! They haven't the faculty of
going behind things. They choose only according to the outside--they
want to hang everything on their bodies as finery--and the men too,
yes, and the dear God best of all--they've got a use for the lot!"
Pelle lay still for a time, revolving his scattered experiences.
"But Marie Nielsen wasn't like that," he said thoughtfully. "She'd
willingly give the shirt off her body and ask nothing for herself.
I've behaved badly to her--I didn't even say goodbye before I came
"Then you must look her up when we come to town and confess your
fault. There was no lovemaking between you?"
"She treated me like a child; I've told you."
Sort was silent a while.
"If you would help me, we'd soon get a congregation! I can see it
in your eyes, that you've got influence over them, if you only cared
about it; for instance, the girl at Willow Farm. Thousands would
come to us."
Pelle did not answer. His thoughts were roaming back wonderingly
to Willow Farm, where Sort and he had last been working; he was once
more in that cold, damp room with the over-large bed, on which the
pale girl's face was almost invisible. She lay there encircling her
thick braids with her transparent hand, and gazed at him; and the
door was gently closed behind him. "That was really a queer fancy,"
he said, and he breathed deeply; "some one she'd never laid eyes on
before; I could cry now when I think of it."
"The old folks had told her we were there, and asked if she wouldn't
like me to read something from God's word with her. But she'd rather
see you. The father was angry and didn't want to allow it. 'She has
never thought about young men before,' he said, 'and she shall stand
before the throne of God and the Lamb quite pure.' But I said, 'Do
you know so precisely that the good God cares anything for what you
call purity, Ole Jensen? Let the two of them come together, if they
can take any joy in it.' Then we shut the door behind you--and how
was it then?" Sort turned toward Pelle.
"You know," replied Pelle crossly. "She just lay there and looked at
me as though she was thinking: 'That's what he looks like--and he's
come a long way here.' I could see by her eyes that you had spoken
of me and that she knew about all my swinishness."
"Then she held out her hand to me. How like she is to one of God's
angels already--I thought--but it's a pity in one who's so young.
And then I went close to her and took her hand."
"And what then?" Sort drew nearer to Pelle. His eyes hung
expectantly on Pelle's lips.
"Then she stretched out her mouth to me a little--and at that very
moment I forgot what sort of a hog I'd been--and I kissed her!"
"Didn't she say anything to you--not a word?"
"She only looked at me with those eyes that you can't understand.
Then I didn't know what I--what I ought to do next, so I came away."
"Weren't you afraid that she might transfer death to you?"
"No; why should I be? I didn't think about it. But she could never
think of a thing like that--so child-like as she was!"
They both lay for a time without speaking. "You have something in
you that conquers them all!" said Sort at length. "If only you would
help me--I'd see to the preaching!"
Pelle stretched himself indolently--he felt no desire to create
a new religion. "No, I want to go away and see the world now," he
said. "There must be places in that world where they've already
begun to go for the rich folks--that's where I want to go!"
"One can't achieve good by the aid of evil--you had better stay
here! Here you know where you are--and if we went together--"
"No, there's nothing here for any one to do who is poor--if I go on
here any longer, I shall end in the mud again. I want to have my
share--even if I have to strike a bloodsucker dead to get it--and
that couldn't be any very great sin! But shan't we see about getting
on now? We've been a whole month now tramping round these Sudland
farms. You've always promised me that we should make our way toward
the heath. For months now I've heard nothing of Father Lasse and
Karna. When things began to go wrong with me, it was as though I
had quite forgotten them."
Sort rose quickly. "Good! So you've still thoughts for other things
than killing bloodsuckers! How far is it, then, to Heath Farm?"
"A good six miles."
"We'll go straight there. I've no wish to begin anything to-day."
They packed their possessions on their backs and trudged onward in
cheerful gossip. Sort pictured their arrival to Pelle. "I shall go
in first and ask whether they've any old boots or harness that we
can mend; and then you'll come in, while we're in the middle of a
Pelle laughed. "Shan't I carry the bench for you? I can very well
strap it on the other things."
"You shan't sweat for me as well as yourself!" rejoined Sort,
laughing. "You'd want to take off even your trousers then."
They had chattered enough, and tramped on in silence. Pelle stepped
forward carelessly, drinking in the fresh air. He was conscious of
a superfluity of strength and well-being; otherwise he thought of
nothing, but merely rejoiced unconsciously over his visit to his
home. At every moment he had to moderate his steps, so that Sort
should not be left behind.
"What are you really thinking about now?" he asked suddenly. He
would always have it that Sort was thinking of something the moment
he fell silent. One could never know beforehand in what region he
would crop up next.
"That's just what the children ask!" replied Sort, laughing. "They
always want to know what's inside."
"Tell me, then--you might as well tell me!"
"I was thinking about life. Here you walk at my side, strong and
certain of victory as the young David. And yet a month ago you
were part of the dregs of society!"
"Yes, that is really queer," said Pelle, and he became thoughtful.
"But how did you get into such a mess? You could quite well have
kept your head above water if you had only wanted to!"
"That I really don't know. I tell you, it's as if some one had hit
you over the head; and then you run about and don't know what you're
doing; and it isn't so bad if you've once got there. You work and
drink and bang each other over the head with your beer-cans or
"You say that so contentedly--you don't look behind things--that's
the point! I've seen so many people shipwrecked; for the poor man
it's only one little step aside, and he goes to the dogs; and he
himself believes he's a devilish fine fellow. But it was a piece of
luck that you got out of it all! Yes, it's a wonder remorse didn't
make your life bitter."
"If we felt remorse we had brandy," said Pelle, with an experienced
air. "That soon drives out everything else."
"Then it certainly has its good points--it helps a man over the time
"Do you really believe that an eternal kingdom is coming--the
'thousand-year kingdom'--the millennium? With good times for all,
for the poor and the miserable?"
Sort nodded. "God has promised it, and we must believe His Word.
Something is being prepared over on the mainland, but whether it's
the real millennium, I don't know."
They tramped along. The road was stony and deserted. On either side
the rocky cliffs, with their scrubby growth, were beginning to rise
from the fields, and before them ranged the bluish rocky landscape
of the heath or moorland. "As soon as we've been home, I shall
travel; I must cross the sea and find out what they do really intend
there," said Pelle.
"I have no right to hold you back," answered Sort quietly, "but it
will be lonely travelling for me. I shall feel as if I'd lost a son.
But of course you've got other things to think of than to remember
a poor hunchback! The world is open to you. Once you've feathered
your nest, you'll think no more of little Sort!"
"I shall think of you, right enough," replied Pelle. "And as soon as
I'm doing well I shall come back and look out for you--not before.
Father will be sure to object to my idea of travelling--he would so
like me to take over Heath Farm from him; but there you must back
me up. I've no desire to be a farmer."
"I'll do that."
"Now just look at it! Nothing but stone upon stone with heather and
scrubby bushes in between! That's what Heath Farm was four years ago
--and now it's quite a fine property. That the two of them have done
--without any outside help."
"You must be built of good timber," said Sort. "But what poor fellow
is that up on the hill? He's got a great sack on his back and he's
walking as if he'd fall down at every step."
"That--that is Father Lasse! Hallo!" Pelle waved his cap.
Lasse came stumbling up to them; he dropped his sack and gave them
his hand without looking at them.
"Are you coming this way?" cried Pelle joyfully; "we were just going
on to look for you!"
"You can save yourself the trouble! You've become stingy about using
your legs. Spare them altogether!" said Lasse lifelessly.
Pelle stared at him. "What's the matter? Are you leaving?"
"Yes, we're leaving!" Lasse laughed--a hollow laugh. "Leaving--yes!
We've left--indeed, we've each of us gone our own way. Karna has
gone where there's no more care and trouble--and here's Lasse, with
all that's his!" He struck his foot against the sack, and stood
there with face averted from them, his eyes fixed upon the ground.
All signs of life had vanished from Pelle's face. Horrified, he
stared at his father, and his lips moved, but he could form no
"Here I must meet my own son by accident in the middle of the empty
fields! So often as I've looked for you and asked after you! No one
knew anything about you. Your own flesh and blood has turned from
you, I thought--but I had to tell Karna you were ill. She fully
expected to see you before she went away. Then you must give him my
love, she said, and God grant all may go well with him. She thought
more about you than many a mother would have done! Badly you've
repaid it. It's a long time ago since you set foot in our house."
Still Pelle did not speak; he stood there swaying from side to side;
every word was like the blow of a club.
"You mustn't be too hard on him!" said Sort. "He's not to blame--ill
as he's been!"
"Ah, so you too have been through bad times and have got to fight
your way, eh? Then, as your father, I must truly be the last to
blame you." Lasse stroked his son's sleeve, and the caress gave
Pelle pleasure. "Cry, too, my son--it eases the mind. In me the
tears are dried up long ago. I must see how I can bear my grief;
these have become hard times for me, you may well believe. Many
a night have I sat by Karna and been at my wits' end--I could not
leave her and go for help, and everything went wrong with us all at
the same time. It almost came to my wishing you were ill. You were
the one who ought to have had a kindly thought for us, and you could
always have sent us news. But there's an end of it all!"
"Are you going to leave Heath Farm, father?" asked Pelle quietly.
"They have taken it away from me," replied Lasse wretchedly. "With
all these troubles, I couldn't pay the last instalment, and now
their patience is at an end. Out of sheer compassion they let me
stay till Karna had fought out her fight and was happily buried
in the earth--every one could see it wasn't a matter of many days
"If it is only the interest," said Sort, "I have a few hundred
kroner which I've saved up for my old days."
"Now it's too late; the farm is already taken over by another man.
And even if that were not the case--what should I do there without
Karna? I'm no longer any use!"
"We'll go away together, father!" said Pelle, raising his head.
"No; I go nowhere now except to the churchyard. They have taken
my farm away from me, and Karna has worked herself to death, and I
myself have left what strength I had behind me. And then they took
it away from me!"
"I will work for us both--you shall be comfortable and enjoy your
old days!" Pelle saw light in the distance.
Lasse shook his head. "I can no longer put things away from me--I
can no longer leave them behind and go on again!"
"I propose that we go into the town," said Sort. "Up by the church
we are sure to find some one who will drive us in."
They collected their things and set off. Lasse walked behind the
others, talking to himself; from time to time he broke out into
lamentation. Then Pelle turned back to him in silence and took his
"There is no one to help us and give us good advice. On the contrary,
they'd gladly see us lose life and fortune if they could only earn
a few shillings on that account. Even the authorities won't help the
poor man. He's only there so that they can all have a cut at him and
then each run off with his booty. What do they care that they bring
need and misery and ruin upon us? So long as they get their taxes
and their interest! I could stick them all in the throat, in cold
So he continued a while, increasing in bitterness, until he broke
down like a little child.
They lived with Sort, who had his own little house in the outermost
suburb. The little travelling cobbler did not know what to do for
them: Lasse was so dejected and so aimless. He could not rest; he
did not recover; from time to time he broke out into lamentation.
He had grown very frail, and could no longer lift his spoon to his
mouth without spilling the contents. If they tried to distract him,
he became obstinate.
"Now we must see about fetching your things," they would both say
repeatedly. "There is no sense in giving your furniture to the
But Lasse would not have them sent for. "They've taken everything
else from me; they can take that, too," he said. "And I won't go
out there again--and let myself be pitied by every one."
"But you'll beggar yourself," said Sort.
"They've done that already. Let them have their way. But they'll
have to answer for it in the end!"
Then Pelle procured a cart, and drove over himself to fetch them.
There was quite a load to bring back. Mother Bengta's green chest
he found upstairs in the attic; it was full of balls of thread. It
was so strange to see it again--for many years he had not thought
of his mother. "I'll have that for a travelling trunk," he thought,
and he took it with him.
Lasse was standing before the door when he returned.
"See, I've brought everything here for you, father!" he cried,
lustily cracking his whip. But Lasse went in without saying a word.
When they had unloaded the cart and went to look for him, he had
crawled into bed. There he lay with his face to the wall, and would
Pelle told him all sorts of news of Heath Farm, in order to put
a little life into him. "Now the parish has sold Heath Farm to the
Hill Farm man for five thousand kroner, and they say he's got a good
bargain. He wants to live there himself and to leave Hill Farm in
his son's hands."
Lasse half turned his head. "Yes, something grows there now. Now
they are making thousands--and the farmer will do better still,"
he said bitterly. "But it's well-manured soil. Karna overstrained
herself and died and left me.... And we went so well in harness
together. Her thousand kroner went into it, too ... and now I'm a
poor wreck. All that was put into the barren, rocky soil, so that
it became good and generous soil. And then the farmer buys it, and
now he wants to live there--we poor lice have prepared the way for
him! What else were we there for? Fools we are to excite ourselves
so over such a thing! But, how I loved the place!" Lasse suddenly
burst into tears.
"Now you must be reasonable and see about becoming cheerful again,"
said Sort. "The bad times for the poor man will soon be over. There
is a time coming when no one will need to work himself to death for
others, and when every one will reap what he himself has sown. What
injury have you suffered? For you are on the right side and have
thousands of kroner on which you can draw a bill. It would be still
worse if you owed money to others!"
"I haven't much more time," said Lasse, raising himself on his
"Perhaps not, you and I, for those who start on the pilgrimage must
die in the desert! But for that reason we are God's chosen people,
we poor folk. And Pelle, he will surely behold the Promised Land!"
"Now you ought to come in, father, and see how we have arranged it,"
Lasse stood up wearily and went with them. They had furnished one
of Sort's empty rooms with Lasse's things. It looked quite cozy.
"We thought that you would live here until Pelle is getting on
well 'over there,'" said Sort. "No, you don't need to thank me!
I'm delighted to think I shall have society, as you may well
"The good God will repay it to you," said Lasse, with a quavering
voice. "We poor folk have no one but Him to rely on."
Pelle could not rest, nor control his thoughts any longer; he must
be off! "If you'll give me what the fare comes to, as I've helped
you," he told Sort, "then I'll start this evening...."
Sort gave him thirty kroner.
"That's the half of what we took. There's not so much owing to me,"
said Pelle. "You are the master and had the tools and everything."
"I won't live by the work of other hands--only by that of my own,"
said Sort, and he pushed the money across to Pelle. "Are you going
to travel just as you stand?"
"No, I have plenty of money," said Pelle gaily. "I've never before
possessed so much money all at once! One can get quite a lot of
clothes for that."
"But you mustn't touch the money! Five kroner you'll need for the
passage and the like; the rest you must save, so that you can face
the future with confidence!"
"I shall soon earn plenty of money in Copenhagen!"
"He has always been a thoughtless lad," said Lasse anxiously. "Once,
when he came into town here to be apprenticed he had five kroner;
and as for what he spent them on, he could never give any proper
"Then I shall travel as I stand!" said Pelle resolutely. But that
wouldn't do, either!
He could not by any means please both--they were like two anxious
He had no lack of linen, for Lasse had just thought of his own
supply. Karna had looked after him well. "But it will be very short
for your long body. It's not the same now as it was when you left
Stone Farm--then we had to put a tuck in my shirt for you."
In the matter of shoes he was not well off. It would never do for
a journeyman shoemaker to look for work wearing such shoes as his.
Sort and Pelle must make a pair of respectable boots. "We must leave
ourselves time," said Sort. "Think! They must be able to stand the
judgment of the capital!" Pelle was impatient, and wanted to get
the work quickly out of hand.
Now there was only the question of a new suit. "Then buy it ready
made on credit," said Sort. "Lasse and I will be good enough
securities for a suit."
In the evening, before he started, he and Lasse went out to look
up Due. They chose the time when they were certain of meeting
Due himself. They neither of them cared much for Anna. As they
approached the house they saw an old richly-dressed gentleman go
in at the front door.
"That is the consul," said Pelle, "who has helped them to get on.
Then Due is out with the horses, and we are certainly not welcome."
"Is it like that with them?" said Lasse, standing still. "Then I
am sorry for Due when he first finds out how his affairs really
stand! He will certainly find that he has bought his independence
too dearly! Yes, yes; for those who want to get on the price is
hard to pay. I hope it will go well with you over there, my boy."
They had reached the church. There stood a cart full of green
plants; two men were carrying them into a dwelling-house.
"What festivity's going on here?" asked Pelle.
"There's to be a wedding to-morrow," answered one of the men.
"Merchant Lau's daughter is marrying that swaggering fellow, who's
always giving himself airs--Karlsen, he's called, and he's a poor
chap like ourselves. But do you suppose he'll notice us? When dirt
comes to honor, there's no bearing with it! Now he's become a
partner in the business!"
"Then I'll go to the wedding," said Lasse eagerly, while they
strolled on. "It is very interesting to see when one of a family
comes to something." Pelle felt that this was to some extent meant
as a reproach, but he said nothing.
"Shall we have one look at the new harbor?" he said.
"No, now the sun's going down, and I'll go home and get to bed.
I'm old--but you go. I shall soon find my way back." Pelle strolled
onward, but then turned aside toward the north--he would go and
bid Marie Nielsen good-bye. He owed her a friendly word for all
her goodness. Also, as an exception, she should for once see him in
respectable clothes. She had just come home from her work, and was
on the point of preparing her supper.
"No, Pelle, is that you?" she cried delightedly, "and so grand,
too--you look like a prince!" Pelle had to remain to supper.
"I have really only come to thank you for all your friendliness
and to say good-bye. To-morrow I go to Copenhagen."
She looked at him earnestly. "And you are glad!"
Pelle had to tell her what he had been doing since he had last seen
her. He sat there looking gratefully about the poor, clean room,
with the bed set so innocently against the wall, covered with a
snow-white counterpane. He had never forgotten that fragrance of
soap and cleanliness and her fresh, simple nature. She had taken
him in the midst of all his misery and had not thought her own white
bed too good for him while she scrubbed the mire from him. When he
reached the capital he would have himself photographed and send her
"And how are you doing now?" he asked gently.
"Just as when you last saw me--only a little more lonely," she
And then he must go. "Good-bye, and may everything go well with
you!" he said, and he shook her hand. "And many thanks for all
She stood before him silently, looking at him with an uncertain
smile. "Ah, no! I'm only a human being too!" she cried suddenly,
and she flung her arms about him in a passionate embrace.
And then the great day broke! Pelle awaked with the sun and had
the green chest already packed before the others were up, and then
he roamed about, not knowing what he should set his hand to, he
was so restless and so excited. He answered at random, and his eyes
were full of radiant dreams. In the morning he and Lasse carried the
chest to the steamer, in order to have the evening free. Then they
went to the church, in order to attend Alfred's wedding. Pelle would
gladly have stayed away; he had enough to do with his own affairs,
and he had no sympathy for Alfred's doings.
But Lasse pushed him along.
The sun stood high in heaven and blazed in the winding side-streets
so that the tarred timberwork sweated and the gutters stank; from
the harbor came the sound of the crier, with his drum, crying
herrings, and announcing an auction. The people streamed to church
in breathless conversation concerning this child of fortune, Alfred,
who had climbed so far.
The church was full of people. It was gaily decorated, and up by
the organ stood eight young women who were to sing "It is so lovely
together to be!" Lasse had never seen or heard of such a wedding.
"I feel quite proud!" he said.
"He's a bladder full of wind!" said Pelle. "He's taking her simply
on account of the honor."
And then the bridal pair stepped up to the altar. "It's tremendous
the way Alfred has greased his head!" whispered Lasse. "It looks
like a newly-licked calf's head! But she is pretty. I'm only puzzled
that she's not put on her myrtle-wreath--I suppose nothing has
"Yes, she's got a child," whispered Pelle. "Otherwise, he would
never in this world have got her!"
"Oh, I see! Yes, but that's smart of him, to catch such a fine
Now the young women sang, and it sounded just as if they were angels
from heaven who had come to seal the bond.
"We must take our places so that we can congratulate them," said
Lasse, and he wanted to push right through the crowd, but Pelle
held him back.
"I'm afraid he won't know us to-day; but look now, there's Uncle
Kalle stood squeezed among the hindmost chairs, and there he had
to stay until everybody had passed out. "Yes, I was very anxious to
take part in this great day," he said, "and I wanted to bring mother
with me, but she thought her clothes weren't respectable enough."
Kalle wore a new gray linsey-woolsey suit; he had grown smaller
and more bent with the years.
"Why do you stand right away in the corner here, where you can see
nothing? As the bridegroom's father, you must have been given your
place in the first row," said Lasse.
"I have been sitting there, too--didn't you see me sitting next
to Merchant Lau? We sang out of the same hymn-book. I only got
pushed here in the crowd. Now I ought to go to the wedding-feast.
I was properly invited, but I don't quite know...." He looked down
at himself. Suddenly he made a movement, and laughed in his own
reckless way. "Ugh--what am I doing standing here and telling
lies to people who don't believe me! No, pigs don't belong in the
counting-house! I might spread a bad smell, you know! People like
us haven't learned to sweat scent!"
"Bah! He's too grand to know his own father! Devil take it! Then
come with us so that you needn't go away hungry!" said Lasse.
"No--I've been so overfed with roast meats and wine and cakes that I
can't get any more down for the present. Now I must go home and tell
mother about all the splendid things. I've eighteen miles to go."
"And you came here on foot--thirty-six miles! That's too much for
"I had really reckoned that I'd stay the night here. I didn't think
... Well, an owl's been sitting there! Children can't very well
climb higher than that--not to recognize their own fathers! Anna is
now taking the best way to become a fine lady, too.... I shall be
wondering how long I shall know myself! Devil take it, Kalle Karlsen,
I'm of good family, too, look you! Well, then, ajoo!"
Wearily he set about tramping home. He looked quite pitiful in his
disappointment. "He's never looked so miserable in his life!" said
Lasse, gazing after him, "and it takes something, too, to make
Brother Kalle chuck his gun into the ditch!"
Toward evening they went through the town to the steamer. Pelle took
long strides, and a strange feeling of solemnity kept him silent.
Lasse trotted along at his side; he stooped as he went. He was in a
doleful mood. "Now you won't forget your old father?" he said, again
"There's no danger of that," rejoined Sort. Pelle heard nothing of
this; his thoughts were all set on his journey. The blue smoke of
kitchen fires was drifting down among the narrow lanes. The old
people were sitting out of doors on their front steps, and were
gossiping over the news of the day. The evening sun fell upon round
spectacles, so that great fiery eyes seemed to be staring out of
their wrinkled faces. The profound peace of evening lay over the
streets. But in the narrow lanes there was the breathing of that
eternal, dull unrest, as of a great beast that tosses and turns and
cannot sleep. Now and again it blazed up into a shout, or the crying
of a child, and then began anew--like heavy, labored breathing. Pelle
knew it well, that ghostly breathing, which rises always from the
lair of the poor man. The cares of poverty had shepherded the evil
dreams home for the night. But he was leaving this world of poverty,
where life was bleeding away unnoted in the silence; in his thoughts
it was fading away like a mournful song; and he gazed out over the
sea, which lay glowing redly at the end of the street. Now he was
going out into the world!
The crazy Anker was standing at the top of his high steps.
"Good-bye!" cried Pelle, but Anker did not understand. He turned
his face up to the sky and sent forth his demented cry.
Pelle threw a last glance at the workshop. "There have I spent many
a good hour!" he thought; and he thought, too, of the young master.
Old Jorgen was standing before his window, playing with the little
Jorgen, who sat inside on the windowseat. "Peep, peep, little one!"
he cried, in his shrill voice, and he hid, and bobbed up into sight
again. The young wife was holding the child; she was rosy with
"You'll be sure to let us hear from you," said Lasse yet again, as
Pelle stood leaning over the steamer's rail. "Don't forget your old
father!" He was quite helpless in his anxiety.
"I will write to you as soon as I'm getting on," said Pelle, for
the twentieth time at least. "Only don't worry!" Sure of victory,
he laughed down at the old man. For the rest they stood silent and
gazed at one another.
At last the steamer moved. "Good luck--take care of yourself!" he
cried for the last time, as they turned the pier-head; and as long
as he could see he waved his cap. Then he went right forward and sat
on a coil of rope.
He had forgotten all that lay behind him. He gazed ahead as though
at any moment the great world itself might rise in front of the
vessel's bow. He pictured nothing to himself of what was to come
and how he would meet it--he was only longing--longing!
PELLE THE CONQUEROR
III. THE GREAT STRUGGLE
A swarm of children was playing on the damp floor of the shaft. They
hung from the lower portions of the timber-work, or ran in and out
between the upright supports, humming tunes, with bread-and-dripping in
their hands; or they sat on the ground and pushed themselves forward
across the sticky flagstones. The air hung clammy and raw, as it does in
an old well, and already it had made the little voices husky, and had
marked their faces with the scars of scrofula. Yet out of the tunnel-
like passage which led to the street there blew now and again a warm
breath of air and the fragrance of budding trees--from the world that
lay behind those surrounding walls.
They had finished playing "Bro-bro-brille," for the last rider had
entered the black cauldron; and Hansel and Gretel had crept safely out
of the dwarf Vinslev's den, across the sewer-grating, and had reached
the pancake-house, which, marvelously enough, had also a grating in
front of the door, through which one could thrust a stick or a cabbage-
stalk, in order to stab the witch. Sticks of wood and cabbage-stalks
were to be found in plenty in the dustbins near the pancake-house, and
they knew very well who the witch was! Now and again she would pop up
out of the cellar and scatter the whole crowd with her kitchen tongs! It
was almost a little too lifelike; even the smell of pancakes came
drifting down from where the well-to-do Olsens lived, so that one could
hardly call it a real fairy tale. But then perhaps the dwarf Vinslev
would come out of his den, and would once again tell them the story of
how he had sailed off with the King's gold and sunk it out yonder, in
the King's Deep, when the Germans were in the land. A whole ship's crew
took out the King's treasure, but not one save Vinslev knew where it was
sunk, and even he did not know now. A terrible secret that, such as well
might make a man a bit queer in the head. He would explain the whole
chart on his double-breasted waistcoat; he had only to steer from this
button to that, and then down yonder, and he was close above the
treasure. But now some of the buttons had fallen off, and he could no
longer make out the chart. Day by day the children helped him to trace
it; this was an exciting bit of work, for the King was getting
There were other wonderful things to do; for instance, one could lie
flat down on the slippery flagstones and play Hanne's game--the "Glory"
game. You turned your eyes from the darkness down below, looking up
through the gloomy shaft at the sky overhead, which floated there
blazing with light, and then you suddenly looked down again, so that
everything was quite dark. And in the darkness floated blue and yellow
rings of color, where formerly there had been nothing but dustbins and
privies. This dizzy flux of colors before the eyes was the journey far
out to the land of happiness, in search of all the things that cannot be
told. "I can see something myself, and I know quite well what it is, but
I'm just not going to tell," they murmured, blinking mysteriously up
into the blue.
However, one could have too much of a good thing.... But the round
grating under the timbers yonder, where Hanne's father drowned himself,
was a thing one never grew weary of. The depths were forever bubbling
upward, filling the little children with a secret horror; and the half-
grown girls would stand a-straddle over the grating, shuddering at the
cold breath that came murmuring up from below. The grating was sure
enough the way down to hell, and if you gazed long enough you could see
the faintest glimmer of the inky stream that was flowing down below.
Every moment it sent its putrid breath up into your face; that was the
Devil, who sat panting down there in a corner. If you turned your eyes
away from the depths the twilight of the well had turned to brightest
day, so you could make the world light or dark just as you wished.
A few children always lay there, on all fours, gazing down with anxious
faces; and all summer through, directly over the grating, hung a cloud
of midges, swaying in the breath of the depths. They would rise to a
certain height, then suddenly fall, and rise again, just like a
juggler's balls. Sometimes the breathing from below sucked the whole
swarm right down, but it rose up again, veering hither and thither like
a dancing wraith in the draught from the tunnel-like entry. The little
girls would gaze at it, lift their petticoats, and take a few graceful
steps. Olsen's Elvira had learned her first dance-steps here, and now
she was dancing respectable citizens into the poor-house. And the
furniture broker's daughter was in Petersburg, and was _almost_ a
On the walls of the narrow shaft projecting porches hung crazily, so
that they left only a small free space, and here the clothes-lines ran
to and fro, loaded with dishclouts and children's clothing. The decaying
wooden staircases ran zig-zag up the walls, disappearing into the
projecting porches and coming out again, until they reached the very
From the projecting porches and the galleries, doors led into the
various tenements, or to long corridors that connected the inner
portions of the house. Only in Pipman's side there were neither porches
nor galleries, from the second story upward; time had devoured them, so
that the stairs alone remained in place. The ends of the joists stuck
out of the wall like decaying tooth stumps, and a rope hung from above,
on which one could obtain a hold. It was black and smooth from the grip
of many hands.
On one of those hot June days when the heavens shone like a blazing fire
above the rift overhead, the heavy, mouldering timbers came to life
again, as if their forest days had returned. People swarmed in and out
on the stairs, shadows came and went, and an incessant chattering filled
the twilight. From porch to porch dropped the sour-smelling suds from
the children's washing, until at last it reached the ground, where the
children were playing by the sluggish rivulets which ran from the
gutters. The timbers groaned continually, like ancient boughs that rub
together, and a clammy smell as of earth and moist vegetation saturated
the air, while all that one touched wore a coating of slime, as in token
of its exuberant fertility.
One's gaze could not travel a couple of steps before it was checked by
wooden walls, but one felt conscious of the world that lay behind them.
When the doors of the long passages opened and shut, one heard the rumor
of the innumerable creatures that lived in the depths of the "Ark"; the
crying of little children, the peculiar fidgeting sound of marred,
eccentric individuals, for many a whole life's history unfolded itself
within there, undisturbed, never daring the light of day. On Pipman's
side the waste-pipes stuck straight out of the wall, like wood-goblins
grinning from the thicket with wide-open mouths, and long gray beards,
which bred rose-pink earthworms, and from time to time fell with a heavy
smack into the yard. Green hanging bushes grew out of holes in the wall.
The waste water trickled through them and dripped continually as though
from the wet locks of the forest. Inside, in the greenish, dripping
darkness, sat curiously marked toads, like little water-nymphs, each in
her grotto, shining with unwholesome humidity. And up among the timbers
of the third story hung Hanne's canary, singing quite preposterously,
its beak pointing up toward the spot of fiery light overhead. Across the
floor of the courtyard went an endless procession of people, light-shy
creatures who emerged from the womb of the "Ark" or disappeared into it.
Most of them were women, weirdly clad, unwholesomely pale, but with a
layer of grime as though the darkness had worked into their skins, with
drowsy steps and fanatical, glittering eyes.
Little old men, who commonly lay in their dark corners waiting for
death, came hobbling out on the galleries, lifted their noses toward the
blazing speck of sky overhead, and sneezed three times. "That's the
sun!" they told one another, delighted. "Artishu! One don't catch cold
so easy in winter!"
High up, out of Pipman's garret, a young man stepped out onto the
platform. He stood there a moment turning his smiling face toward the
bright heavens overhead. Then he lowered his head and ran down the
break-neck stairs, without holding on by the rope. Under his arm he
carried something wrapped in a blue cloth.
"Just look at the clown! Laughing right into the face of the sun as
though there was no such thing as blindness!" said the women, thrusting
their heads out of window. "But then, of course, he's from the country.
And now he's going to deliver his work. Lord, how long is he going to
squat up there and earn bread for that sweater? The red'll soon go from
his cheeks if he stops there much longer!" And they looked after him
The children down in the courtyard raised their heads when they heard
his steps above them.
"Have you got some nice leather for us to-day, Pelle?" they cried,
clutching at his legs.
He brought out of his pockets some little bits of patent-leather and red
"That's from the Emperor's new slippers," he said, as he shared the
pieces among the children. Then the youngsters laughed until their
throats began to wheeze.
Pelle was just the same as of old, except that he was more upright and
elastic in his walk, and had grown a little fair moustache. His
protruding ears had withdrawn themselves a little, as though they were
no longer worked so hard. His blue eyes still accepted everything as
good coin, though they now had a faint expression that seemed to say
that all that happened was no longer to their liking. His "lucky curls"
still shone with a golden light.
The narrow streets lay always brooding in a dense, unbearable atmosphere
that never seemed to renew itself. The houses were grimy and crazy;
where a patch of sunlight touched a window there were stained bed-
clothes hung out to dry. Up one of the side streets was an ambulance
wagon, surrounded by women and children who were waiting excitedly for
the bearers to appear with their uneasy burden, and Pelle joined them;
he always had to take part in everything.
It was not quite the shortest way which he took. The capital was quite a
new world to him; nothing was the same as at home; here a hundred
different things would happen in the course of the day, and Pelle was
willing enough to begin all over again; and he still felt his old
longing to take part in it all and to assimilate it all.
In the narrow street leading down to the canal a thirteen-year-old girl
placed herself provocatively in his way. "Mother's ill," she said,
pointing up a dark flight of steps. "If you've got any money, come
along!" He was actually on the point of following her, when he
discovered that the old women who lived in the street were flattening
their noses against their windowpanes. "One has to be on one's guard
here!" he told himself, at least for the hundredth time. The worst of it
was that it was so easy to forget the necessity.
He strolled along the canal-side. The old quay-wall, the apple-barges,
and the granaries with the high row of hatchways overhead and the
creaking pulleys right up in the gables awakened memories of home.
Sometimes, too, there were vessels from home lying here, with cargoes of
fish or pottery, and then he was able to get news. He wrote but seldom.
There was little success to be reported; just now he had to make his
way, and he still owed Sort for his passage-money.
But it would soon come.... Pelle hadn't the least doubt as to the
future. The city was so monstrously large and incalculable; it seemed to
have undertaken the impossible; but there could be no doubt of such an
obvious matter of course as that he should make his way. Here wealth was
simply lying in great heaps, and the poor man too could win it if only
he grasped at it boldly enough. Fortune here was a golden bird, which
could be captured by a little adroitness; the endless chances were like
a fairy tale. And one day Pelle would catch the bird; when and how he
left confidingly to chance.
In one of the side streets which ran out of the Market Street there was
a crowd; a swarm of people filled the whole street in front of the iron-
foundry, shouting eagerly to the blackened iron-workers, who stood
grouped together by the gateway, looking at one another irresolutely.
"What's up here?" asked Pelle.
"This is up--that they can't earn enough to live on," said an old man.
"And the manufacturers won't increase their pay. So they've taken to
some new-fangled fool's trick which they say has been brought here from
abroad, where they seem to have done well with it. That's to say, they
all suddenly chuck up their work and rush bareheaded into the street and
make a noise, and then back to work again, just like school children in
play-time. They've already been in and out two or three times, and now
half of them's outside and the others are at work, and the gate is
locked. Nonsense! A lot that's going to help their wages! No; in my time
we used to ask for them prettily, and we always got something, too. But,
anyhow, we're only working-folks, and where's it going to come from? And
now, what's more, they've lost their whole week's wages!"
The workmen were at a loss as to what they should do; they stood there
gazing mechanically up at the windows of the counting-house, from which
all decisions were commonly issued. Now and again an impatient shudder
ran through the crowd, as it made threats toward the windows and
demanded what was owing it. "He won't give us the wages that we've
honestly earned, the tyrant!" they cried. "A nice thing, truly, when
one's got a wife and kids at home, and on a Saturday afternoon, too!
What a shark, to take the bread out of their mouths! Won't the gracious
gentleman give us an answer--just his greeting, so that we can take it
home with us?--just his kind regards, or else they'll have to go hungry
to bed!" And they laughed, a low, snarling laugh, spat on the pavement,
and once more turned their masterless faces up to the counting-house
Proposals were showered upon them, proposals of every kind; and they
were as wise as they were before. "What the devil are we to do if
there's no one who can lead us?" they said dejectedly, and they stood
staring again. That was the only thing they knew how to do.
"Choose a few of your comrades and send them in to negotiate with the
manufacturer," said a gentleman standing by.
"Hear, hear! Forward with Eriksen! He understands the deaf-and-dumb
alphabet!" they shouted. The stranger shrugged his shoulders and
A tall, powerful workman approached the group. "Have you got your killer
with you, Eriksen?" cried one, and Eriksen turned on the staircase and
exhibited his clenched fist.
"Look out!" they shouted at the windows. "Look out we don't set fire to
the place!" Then all was suddenly silent, and the heavy house-door was
Pelle listened with open mouth. He did not know what they wanted, and
they hardly knew, themselves; none the less, there was a new note in all
this! These people didn't beg for what they wanted; they preferred to
use their fists in order to get it, and they didn't get drunk first,
like the strong man Eriksen and the rest at home. "This is the capital!"
he thought, and again he congratulated himself for having come thither.
A squad of policemen came marching up. "Room there!" they cried, and
began to hustle the crowd in order to disperse it. The workmen would not
be driven away. "Not before we've got our wages!" they said, and they
pressed back to the gates again. "This is where we work, and we're going
to have our rights, that we are!" Then the police began to drive the
onlookers away; at each onset they fell back a few steps, hesitating,
and then stood still, laughing. Pelle received a blow in the back; he
turned quickly round, stared for a moment into the red face of a
policeman, and went his way, muttering and feeling his back.
"Did he hit you?" asked an old woman. "Devil take him, the filthy lout!
He's the son of the mangling-woman what lives in the house here, and now
he takes up the cudgels against his own people! Devil take him!"
"Move on!" ordered the policeman, winking, as he pushed her aside with
his body. She retired to her cellar, and stood there using her tongue to
such purpose that the saliva flew from her toothless mouth.
"Yes, you go about bullying old people who used to carry you in their
arms and put dry clouts on you when you didn't know enough to ask....
Are you going to use your truncheon on me, too? Wouldn't you like to,
Fredrik? Take your orders from the great folks, and then come yelping at
us, because we aren't fine enough for you!" She was shaking with rage;
her yellowish gray hair had become loosened and was tumbling about her
face; she was a perfect volcano.
The police marched across the Knippel Bridge, escorted by a swarm of
street urchins, who yelled and whistled between their fingers. From time
to time a policeman would turn round; then the whole swarm took to its
heels, but next moment it was there again. The police were nervous:
their fingers were opening and closing in their longing to strike out.
They looked like a party of criminals being escorted to the court-house
by the extreme youth of the town, and the people were laughing.
Pelle kept step on the pavement. He was in a wayward mood. Somewhere
within him he felt a violent impulse to give way to that absurd longing
to leap into the air and beat his head upon the pavement which was the
lingering result of his illness. But now it assumed the guise of
insolent strength. He saw quite plainly how big Eriksen ran roaring at
the bailiff, and how he was struck to the ground, and thereafter
wandered about an idiot. Then the "Great Power" rose up before him,
mighty in his strength, and was hurled to his death; they had all been
like dogs, ready to fall on him, and to fawn upon everything that smelt
of their superiors and the authorities. And he himself, Pelle, had had a
whipping at the court-house, and people had pointed the finger at him,
just as they pointed at the "Great Power." "See, there he goes loafing,
the scum of humanity!" Yes, he had learned what righteousness was, and
what mischief it did. But now he had escaped from the old
excommunication, and had entered a new world, where respectable men
never turned to look after the police, but left such things to the
street urchins and old women. There was a great satisfaction in this;
and Pelle wanted to take part in this world; he longed to understand it.
It was Saturday, and there was a crowd of journeymen and seamstresses in
the warehouse, who had come to deliver their work. The foreman went
round as usual, grumbling over the work, and before he paid for it he
would pull at it and crumple it so that it lost its shape, and then he
made the most infernal to-do because it was not good enough. Now and
again he would make a deduction from the week's wages, averring that the
material was ruined; and he was especially hard on the women, who stood
there not daring to contradict him. People said he cheated all the
seamstresses who would not let him have his way with them.
Pelle stood there boiling with rage. "If he says one word to me, we
shall come to blows!" he thought. But the foreman took the work without
glancing at it--ah, yes, that was from Pipman!
But while he was paying for it a thick-set man came forward out of a
back room; this was the court shoemaker, Meyer himself. He had been a
poor young man with barely a seat to his breeches when he came to
Copenhagen from Germany as a wandering journeyman. He did not know much
about his craft, but he knew how to make others work for him! He did not
answer the respectful greetings of the workers, but stationed himself
before Pelle, his belly bumping against the counter, wheezing loudly
through his nose, and gazing at the young man.
"New man?" he asked, at length. "That's Pipman's assistant," replied the
foreman, smiling. "Ah! Pipman--he knows the trick, eh? You do the work
and he takes the money and drinks it, eh?" The master shoemaker laughed
as at an excellent joke.
Pelle turned red. "I should like to be independent as soon as possible,"
"Yes, yes, you can talk it over with the foreman; but no unionists here,
mind that! We've no use for those folks."
Pelle pressed his lips together and pushed the cloth wrapper into the
breast of his coat in silence. It was all he could do not to make some
retort; he couldn't approve of that prohibition. He went out quickly
into Kobmager Street and turned out of the Coal Market into Hauser
Street, where, as he knew, the president of the struggling Shoemakers'
Union was living. He found a little cobbler occupying a dark cellar.
This must be the man he sought; so he ran down the steps. He had not
understood that the president of the Union would be found in such a
Under the window sat a hollow-cheeked man bowed over his bench, in the
act of sewing a new sole on to a worn-out shoe. The legs of the passers-
by were just above his head. At the back of the room a woman stood
cooking something on the stove; she had a little child on her arm, while
two older children lay on the ground playing with some lasts. It was
frightfully hot and oppressive.
"Good day, comrade!" said Pelle. "Can I become a member of the Union?"
The man looked up, astonished. Something like a smile passed over his
"Can you indulge yourself so far?" he asked slowly. "It may prove a
costly pleasure. Who d'you work for, if I may ask?"
"For Meyer, in Kobmager Street."
"Then you'll be fired as soon as he gets to know of it!"
"I know that sure enough; all the same, I want to join the Union. He's
not going to tell me what I can and what I can't do. Besides, we'll soon
settle with him."
"That's what I thought, too. But there's too few of us. You'll be
starved out of the Union as soon as you've joined."
"We must see about getting a bit more numerous," said Pelle cheerfully,
"and then one fine day we'll shut up shop for him!"
A spark of life gleamed in the tired eyes of the president. "Yes, devil
take him, if we could only make him shut up shop!" he cried, shaking his
clenched fist in the air. "He tramples on all those hereabouts that make
money for him; it's a shame that I should sit here now and have come down
to cobbling; and he keeps the whole miserable trade in poverty! Ah, what
a revenge, comrade!" The blood rushed into his hollow cheeks until they
burned, and then he began to cough. "Petersen!" said the woman anxiously,
supporting his back. "Petersen!" She sighed and shook her head, while she
helped him to struggle through his fit of coughing. "When the talk's about
the Court shoemaker Petersen always gets like one possessed," she said,
when he had overcome it. "He really don't know what he's doing. No--if
everybody would only be as clever as Meyer and just look after his own
business, then certain people would be sitting there in good health and
earning good money!"
"Hold your tongue!" said Petersen angrily. "You're a woman--you know
nothing about the matter." At which the woman went back to her cooking.
Petersen filled out a paper, and Pelle signed his name to it and paid
his subscription for a week. "And now you must try to break away from
that bloodsucker as soon as possible!" said Petersen earnestly. "A
respectable workman can't put up with such things!"
"I was forced into it," said Pelle. "And I learned nothing of this at
home. But now that's over and done with."
"Good, comrade! There's my hand on it--and good luck to you! We must
work the cause up, and perhaps we shall succeed yet; I tell you, you've
given me back my courage! Now you persuade as many as you can, and don't
miss the meetings; they'll be announced in _The Working Man_." He
shook Pelle's hand eagerly. Pelle took a brisk walk out to the
northward. He felt pleased and in the best of spirits.
It was about the time when the workers are returning home; they drifted
along singly and in crowds, stooping and loitering, shuffling a little
after the fatigue of the day. There was a whole new world out here,
quite different from that of the "Ark." The houses were new and orderly,
built with level and plumb-line; the men went their appointed ways, and
one could see at a glance what each one was.
This quarter was the home of socialism and the new ideas. Pelle often
strolled out thither on holidays in order to get a glimpse of these
things; what they were he didn't know, and he hadn't dared to thrust
himself forward, a stranger, as he still felt himself to be there; but
it all attracted him powerfully. However, to-day he forgot that he was a
stranger, and he went onward with a long, steady stride that took him
over the bridge and into North Bridge Street. Now he himself was a
trades unionist; he was like all these others, he could go straight up
to any one if he wished and shake him by the hand. There was a strong
and peculiar appeal about the bearing of these people, as though they
had been soldiers. Involuntarily he fell into step with them, and felt
himself stronger on that account, supported by a feeling of community.
He felt solemnly happy, as on his birthday; and he had a feeling as
though he must do something. The public houses were open, and the
workmen were entering them in little groups. But he had no desire to sit
there and pour spirits down his throat. One could do that sort of thing
when everything had gone to the dogs.
He stationed himself in front of a pastry cook's window, eagerly
occupied in comparing the different kinds of cakes. He wanted to go
inside and expend five and twenty ore in celebration of the day. But
first of all the whole affair must be properly and methodically planned
out, so that he should not be disappointed afterward. He must, of
course, have something that he had never eaten before, and that was just
the difficult part. Many of the cakes were hollow inside too, and the
feast would have to serve as his evening meal.
It was by no means easy, and just as Pelle was on the point of solving
the difficulty he was startled out of the whole affair by a slap on the
shoulder. Behind him was Morten, smiling at him with that kindly smile
of his, as though nothing had gone wrong between them. Pelle was ashamed
of himself and could not find a word to say. He had been unfaithful to
his only friend; and it was not easy for him to account for his
behavior. But Morten didn't want any explanations; he simply shook Pelle
by the hand. His pale face was shining with joy. It still betrayed that
trace of suffering which was so touching, and Pelle had to surrender at
discretion. "Well, to think we should meet here!" he cried, and laughed
Morten was working at the pastry cook's, and had been out; now he was
going in to get some sleep before the night's work. "But come in with
me; we can at least sit and talk for half an hour; and you shall have a
cake too." He was just the same as in the old days.
They went in through the gate and up the back stairs; Morten went into
the shop and returned with five "Napoleons." "You see I know your
taste," he said laughing. Morten's room was right up under the roof; it
was a kind of turret-room with windows on both sides. One could look out
over the endless mass of roofs, which lay in rows, one behind the other,
like the hotbeds in a monstrous nursery garden. From the numberless
flues and chimneys rose a thin bluish smoke, which lay oppressively over
all. Due south lay the Kalvebod Strand, and further to the west the hill
of Frederiksberg with its castle rose above the mist. On the opposite
side lay the Common, and out beyond the chimneys of the limekilns
glittered the Sound with its many sails. "That's something like a view,
eh?" said Morten proudly.
Pelle remained staring; he went from one window to another and said
nothing. This was the city, the capital, for which he and all other poor
men from the farthest corners of the land, had longed so boundlessly;
the Fortunate Land, where they were to win free of poverty!
He had wandered through it in all directions, had marvelled at its
palaces and its treasures, and had found it to be great beyond all
expectation. Everything here was on the grand scale; what men built one
day they tore down again on the morrow, in order to build something more
sumptuous. So much was going on here, surely the poor man might somehow
make his fortune out of it all!
And yet he had had no true conception of the whole. Now for the first
time he saw the City! It lay there, a mighty whole, outspread at his
feet, with palaces, churches, and factory chimneys rising above the mass
of houses. Down in the street flowed a black, unending stream, a stream
of people continually renewed, as though from a mighty ocean that could
never be exhausted. They all had some object; one could not see it, but
really they were running along like ants, each bearing his little burden
to the mighty heap of precious things, which was gathered together from
all the ends of the earth.
"There are millions in all this!" said Pelle at last, drawing a deep
breath. "Yes," said Morten standing beside him. "And it's all put
together by human hands--by the hands of working people!"
Pelle started. That was a wonderful idea. But it was true enough, if one
thought about it.
"But now it has fallen into very different hands!" he exclaimed,
laughing. "Yes, they've got it away from us by trickery, just as one
wheedles a child out of a thing," cried Morten morosely. "But there's no
real efficiency in anything that children do--and the poor have never
been anything more than children! Only now they are beginning to grow
up, look you, and one fine day they'll ask for their own back."
"It would go ill with us if we went and tried to take it for ourselves,"
"Not if we were united about it--but we are only the many."
Pelle listened; it had never occurred to him that the question of
organization was so stupendous. Men combined, sure enough, but it was to
secure better conditions in their trade.
"You are like your father!" he said. "He always had big ideas, and
wanted to get his rights. I was thinking about him a little while ago,
how he never let himself be trampled on. Then you used to be ashamed of
Morten hung his head. "I couldn't bear the contempt of respectable
folks," he said half under his breath. "I understood nothing beyond the
fact that he was destroying our home and bringing disgrace on us. And I
was horribly afraid, too, when he began to lay about him; I wake up
sometimes now quite wet and cold with sweat, when I've been dreaming of
my childhood. But now I'm proud that I'm the son of the 'Great Power.' I
haven't much strength myself; yet perhaps I'll do something to surprise
the city folks after all.'"
"And I too!"
Power! It was really extraordinary that Morten should be the son of the
giant stone-cutter, so quiet and delicate was he. He had not yet quite
recovered the strength of which Bodil had robbed him in his early
boyhood; it was as though that early abuse was still wasting him.
He had retained his girlish love of comfort. The room was nicely kept;
and there were actually flowers in a vase beneath the looking-glass.
Flowers, good Lord! "How did you get those?" asked Pelle.
"Bought them, of course!"
Pelle had to laugh. Was there another man in the world who would pay
money for flowers?
But he did not laugh at the books. There seemed to be a sort of
mysterious connection between them and Morten's peculiar, still energy.
He had now a whole shelf full. Pelle took a few down and looked into
"What sort of stuff is this, now?" he asked doubtfully. "It looks like
"Those are books about us, and how the new conditions are coming, and
how we must make ready for them."
"Ah, you've got the laugh of me," said Pelle. "In a moment of depression
you've got your book-learning to help you along. But we other chaps can
just sit where we are and kick our heels." Morten turned to him hastily.
"That's the usual complaint!" he cried irritably. "A man spits on his
own class and wants to get into another one. But that's not the point at
stake, damn it all! We want to stay precisely where we are, shoemakers
and bakers, all together! But we must demand proper conditions! Scarcely
one out of thousands can come out on top; and then the rest can sit
where they are and gape after him! But do you believe he'd get a chance
of rising if it wasn't that society needs him--wants to use him to
strike at his own people and keep them down? 'Now you can see for
yourself what a poor man can do if he likes!' That's what they tell you.
There's no need to blame society.
"No, the masses themselves are to blame if they aren't all rich men!
Good God! They just don't want to be! So they treat you like a fool, and
you put up with it and baa after them! No, let them all together demand
that they shall receive enough for their work to live on decently. I say
a working man ought to get as much for his work as a doctor or a
barrister, and to be educated as well. That's my Lord's Prayer!"
"Now I've set you off finely!" said Pelle good-naturedly. "And it's just
the same as what your father was raving about when he lay dying in the
shed. He lay there delirious, and he believed the ordinary workman had
got pictures on the wall and a piano, just like the fine folks."
"Did he say that?" cried Morten, and he raised his head. Then he fell
into thought. For he understood that longing. But Pelle sat there
brooding. Was this the "new time" all over again? Then there was really
some sense in banding people together--yes, and as many as possible.
"I don't rightly understand it," he said at last. "But to-day I joined
the trade union. I shan't stand still and look on when there's anything
big to be done."
Morten nodded, faintly smiling. He was tired now, and hardly heard what
Pelle was saying. "I must go to bed now so that I can get up at one. But
where do you live? I'll come and see you some time. How queer it is that
we should have run across one another here!"
"I live out in Kristianshavn--in the 'Ark,' if you know where that is!"
"That's a queer sort of house to have tumbled into! I know the 'Ark'
very well, it's been so often described in the papers. There's all sorts
of people live there!"
"I don't know anything about that," said Pelle, half offended. "I like
the people well enough.... But it's capital that we should have run into
one another's arms like this! What bit of luck, eh? And I behaved like a
clown and kept out of your way? But that was when I was going to the
dogs, and hated everybody! But now nothing's going to come between us
again, you may lay to that!"
"That's good, but now be off with you," replied Morten, smiling; he was
"I'm going, I'm going!" said Pelle, and he picked up his hat, and stood
for a moment gazing out over the city. "But it's magnificent, what you
were saying about things just now!" he cried suddenly. "If I had the
strength of all us poor folks in me, I'd break out right away and
conquer the whole of it! If such a mass of wealth were shared out
there'd never be any poverty any more!" He stood there with his arms
uplifted, as though he held it all in his hands. Then he laughed
uproariously. He looked full of energy. Morten lay half asleep, staring
at him and saying nothing. And then he went.
Pipman scolded Pelle outrageously when at last he returned. "Curse it
all, what are you thinking of? To go strolling about and playing the
duke while such as we can sit here working our eyes out of our heads!
And we have to go thirsty too! Now don't you dream of being insolent to
me, or there'll be an end of the matter. I am excessively annoyed!"
He held out his hand in pathetic expostulation, although Pelle had no
intention of answering him. He no longer took Pipman seriously. "Devil
fry me, but a man must sit here and drink the clothes off his body while
a lout like you goes for a stroll!"
Pelle was standing there counting the week's earnings when he suddenly
burst into a loud laugh as his glance fell upon Pipman. His blue naked
shanks, miserably shivering under his leather apron, looked so
enormously ridiculous when contrasted with the fully-dressed body and
the venerable beard.
"Yes, you grin!" said Pipman, laughing too. "But suppose it was you had
to take off your trousers in front of the old clothes' man, and wanted
to get upstairs respectably! Those damned brats! 'Pipman's got D. T.,'
they yell. 'Pipman's got D. T. And God knows I haven't got D. T., but I
haven't got any trousers, and that's just the trouble! And these
accursed open staircases! Olsen's hired girl took the opportunity, and
you may be sure she saw all there was to see! You might lend me your old
Pelle opened his green chest and took out his work-day trousers.
"You'd better put a few more locks on that spinach-green lumber-chest of
yours," said Pipman surlily. "After all, there might be a thief here,
near heaven as we are!"
Pelle apparently did not hear the allusion, and locked the chest up
again. Then, his short pipe in his hand, he strolled out on to the
platform. Above the roofs the twilight was rising from the Sound. A few
doves were flying there, catching the last red rays of the sun on their
white pinions, while down in the shaft the darkness lay like a hot lilac
mist. The hurdy-gurdy man had come home and was playing his evening
tune down there to the dancing children, while the inhabitants of the
"Ark" were gossiping and squabbling from gallery to gallery. Now and
again a faint vibrating note rose upward, and all fell silent. This was
the dwarf Vinslev, who sat playing his flute somewhere in his den deep
within the "Ark." He always hid himself right away when he played, for
at such times he was like a sick animal, and sat quaking in his lair.
The notes of his flute were so sweet, as they came trickling out of his
hiding place, that they seemed like a song or a lament from another
world. And the restless creatures in the "Ark" must perforce be silent
and listen. Now Vinslev was in one of his gentle moods, and one somehow
felt better for hearing him. But at times, in his dark moods, the devil
seemed to enter into him, and breathed such music into his crazy mind
that all his hearers felt a panic terror. Then the decaying timbers of
the "Ark" seemed to expand and form a vast monstrous, pitch-black
forest, in which all terror lay lurking, and one must strike out blindly
in order to avoid being trampled on. The hearse-driver in the fourth
story, who at other times was so gentle in his cups, would beat his wife
shamefully, and the two lay about in their den drinking and fighting in
self-defence. And Vinslev's devilish flute was to blame when Johnsen
vainly bewailed his miserable life and ended it under the sewer-grating.
But there was nothing to be said about the matter; Vinslev played the
flute, and Johnsen's suicide was a death like any other.
Now the devil was going about with a ring in his nose; Vinslev's playing
was like a gentle breeze that played on people's hearts, so that they
opened like flowers. This was his good time.
Pelle knew all this, although he had not long been here; but it was
nothing to him. For he wore the conqueror's shirt of mail, such as
Father Lasse had dreamed of for him.
Down in the third story, on the built-out gallery, another sort of magic
was at work. A climbing pelargonium and some ivy had wound themselves
round the broken beams and met overhead, and there hung a little red
paper lantern, which cast a cheerful glow over it all.
It was as though the summer night had found a sanctuary in the heart of
this wilderness of stone. Under the lantern sat Madam Johnsen and her
daughter sewing; and Hanne's face glowed like a rose in the night, and
every now and then she turned it up toward Pelle and smiled, and made an
impatient movement of her head. Then Pelle turned away a little, re-
crossed his leg, and leant over on the other side, restless as a horse
Close behind him his neighbor, Madam Frandsen, was bustling about her
little kitchen. The door stood open on to the platform, and she
chattered incessantly, half to herself and half to Pelle, about her
gout, her dead husband, and her lout of a son. She needed to rest her
body, did this old woman. "My God, yes; and here I have to keep slaving
and getting his food ready for Ferdinand from morning to night and from
night to morning again. And he doesn't even trouble himself to come home
to it. I can't go looking into his wild ways; all I can do is to sit
here and worry and keep his meals warm. Now that's a tasty little bit;
and he'll soon come when he's hungry, I tell myself. Ah, yes, our young
days, they're soon gone. And you stand there and stare like a baa-lamb
and the girl down there is nodding at you fit to crick her neck! Yes,
the men are a queer race; they pretend they wouldn't dare--and yet who
is it causes all the misfortunes?"
"She doesn't want anything to do with me!" said Pelle grumpily; "she's
just playing with me."
"Yes, a girl goes on playing with a white mouse until she gets it! You
ought to be ashamed to stand there hanging your head! So young and well-
grown as you are too! You cut her tail-feathers off, and you'll get a
good wife!" She nudged him in the side with her elbow.
Then at last Pelle made up his mind to go clattering down the stairs to
the third story, and along the gallery.
"Why have you been so stand-offish to-day?" said Madam Johnsen, making
room for him. "You know you are always very welcome. What are all these
"Pelle is short-sighted; he can't see as far as this," said Hanne,
tossing her head. She sat there turning her head about; she gazed at him
smiling, her head thrown back and her mouth open. The light fell on her
"Shall we get fine weather to-morrow?" asked the mother.
Pelle thought they would; he gazed up at the little speck of sky in a
weather-wise manner. Hanne laughed.
"Are you a weather-prophet, Pelle? But you haven't any corns!"
"Now stop your teasing, child!" said the mother, pretending to slap her.
"If it's fine to-morrow we want to go into the woods. Will you come with
Pelle would be glad to go; but he hesitated slightly before answering.
"Come with us, Pelle," said Hanne, and she laid her hand invitingly on
his shoulder. "And then you shall be my young man. It's so tedious going
to the woods with the old lady; and then I want to be able to do as I
like." She made a challenging movement with her head.
"Then we'll go from the North Gate by omnibus; I don't care a bit about
going by train."
"From the North Gate? But it doesn't exist any longer, mummy! But there
are still omnibuses running from the Triangle."
"Well then, from the Triangle, you clever one! Can I help it if they go
pulling everything down? When I was a girl that North Gate was a
splendid place. From there you could get a view over the country where
my home was, and the summer nights were never so fine as on the wall.
One didn't know what it was to feel the cold then. If one's clothes were
thin one's heart was young."
Hanne went into the kitchen to make coffee. The door stood open. She
hummed at her task and now and again joined in the conversation. Then
she came out, serving Pelle with a cracked tea-tray. "But you look very
peculiar tonight!" She touched Pelle's face and gazed at him
"I joined the trade union to-day," answered Pelle; he still had the
feeling that of something unusual, and felt as though everybody must
notice something about him.
Hanne burst out laughing. "Is that where you got that black sign on your
forehead? Just look, mother, just look at him! The trade mark!" She
turned her head toward the old woman.
"Ah, the rogue!" said the old woman, laughing. "Now she's smeared soot
over your face!" She wetted her apron with her tongue and began to rub
the soot away, Hanne standing behind him and holding his head in both
hands so that he should not move. "Thank your stars that Pelle's a good-
natured fellow," said the old woman, as she rubbed. "Or else he'd take
it in bad part!"
Pelle himself laughed shamefacedly.
The hearse-driver came up through the trap in the gallery and turned
round to mount to the fourth story. "Good evening!" he said, in his deep
bass voice, as he approached them; "and good digestion, too, I ought to
say!" He carried a great ham under his arm.
"Lord o' my body!" whispered Madam Johnsen. "There he is again with his
ham; that means he's wasted the whole week's wages again. They've always
got more than enough ham and bacon up there, poor things, but they've
seldom got bread as well."
Now one sound was heard in the "Ark," now another. The crying of
children which drifted so mournfully out of the long corridors whenever
a door was opened turned to a feeble clucking every time some belated
mother came rushing home from work to clasp the little one to her
breast. And there was one that went on crying whether the mother was at
home or at work. Her milk had failed her.
From somewhere down in the cellars the sleepy tones of a cradle-song
rose up through the shaft; it was only "Grete with the child," who was
singing her rag-doll asleep. The real mothers did not sing.
"She's always bawling away," said Hanne; "those who've got real children
haven't got strength left to sing. But her brat doesn't need any food;
and that makes a lot of difference when one is poor."
"To-day she was washing and ironing the child's things to make her fine
for to-morrow, when her father comes. He is a lieutenant," said Hanne.
"Is he coming to-morrow, then?" asked Pelle naively.
Hanne laughed loudly. "She expects him every Sunday, but she has never
seen him yet!"
"Well, well, that's hardly a thing to laugh about," said the old woman.
"She's happy in her delusions, and her pension keeps her from need."
Pelle awoke to find Hanne standing by his bed and pulling his nose, and
imitating his comical grimaces. She had come in over the roof. "Why are
you stopping here, you?" she said eagerly. "We are waiting for you!"
"I can't get up!" replied Pelle piteously. "Pipman went out overnight
with my trousers on and hasn't come back, so I lay down to sleep again!"
Hanne broke into a ringing laugh. "What if he never comes back at all?
You'll have to lie in bed always, like Mother Jahn!"
At this Pelle laughed too.
"I really don't know what I shall do! You must just go without me."
"No, that we shan't!" said Hanne very decidedly. "No, we'll fetch the
picnic-basket and spread the things on your counterpane! After all, it's
green! But wait now, I know what!" And she slipped through the back door
and out on to the roof. Half an hour later she came again and threw a
pair of striped trousers on the bed. "He's obliging, is Herr Klodsmajor!
Now just hurry yourself a bit. I ran round to see the hearse-driver's
Marie, where she works, and she gave me a pair of her master's week-day
breeches. But she must have them again early to-morrow morning, so that
his lordship doesn't notice it."
Directly she had gone Pelle jumped into the trousers. Just as he was
ready he heard a terrific creaking of timbers. The Pipman was coming up
the stairs. He held the rope in one hand, and at every turn of the
staircase he bowed a few times outward over the rope. The women were
shrieking in the surrounding galleries and landings. That amused him.
His big, venerable head beamed with an expression of sublime joy.
"Ah, hold your tongue!" he said good-naturedly, as soon as he set eyes
on Pelle. "You hold your tongue!" He propped himself up in the doorway
and stood there staring.
Pelle seized him by the collar. "Where are my Sunday trousers?" he asked
angrily. The Pipman had the old ones on, but where were the new?
The Pipman stared at him uncomprehending, his drowsy features working in
the effort to disinter some memory or other. Suddenly he whistled.
"Trousers, did you say, young man? What, what? Did you really say
trousers? And you ask me where your trousers have got to? Then you might
have said so at once! Because, d'you see, your bags ... I've ... yes ...
why, I've pawned them!"
"You've pawned my best trousers?" cried Pelle, so startled that he
loosed his hold.
"Yes, by God, that's what I did! You can look for yourself--there's no
need to get so hot about it! You can't eat me, you know. That goes
without saying. Yes, that's about it. One just mustn't get excited!"
"You're a scoundrelly thief!" cried Pelle. "That's what you are!"
"Now, now, comrade, always keep cool! Don't shout yourself hoarse.
Nothing's been taken by me. Pipman's a respectable man, I tell you.
Here, you can see for yourself! What'll you give me for that, eh?" He
had taken the pawnticket from his pocket and held it out to Pelle,
Pelle fingered his collar nervously; he was quite beside himself with
rage. But what was the use? And now Hanne and her mother had come out
over yonder. Hanne was wearing a yellow straw hat with broad ribbons.
She looked bewitching; the old lady had the lunch-basket on her arm. She
locked the door carefully and put the key under the doorstep. Then they
There was no reasoning with this sot of a Pipman! He edged round Pelle
with an uncertain smile, gazed inquisitively into his face, and kept
carefully just out of his reach. "You're angry, aren't you?" he said
confidingly, as though he had been speaking to a little child.
"Dreadfully angry? But what the devil do you want with two pairs of
trousers, comrade? Yes, what do you want with two pairs of trousers?"
His voice sounded quite bewildered and reproachful.
Pelle pulled out a pair of easy-looking women's shoes from under his
bed, and slipped out through the inner door. He squeezed his way between
the steep roof and the back wall of the room, ducked under a beam or
two, and tumbled into the long gangway which ran between the roof-
buildings and had rooms on either side of it. A loud buzzing sound
struck suddenly on his ears. The doors of all the little rooms stood
open on to the long gangway, which served as a common livingroom.
Wrangling and chattering and the crying of children surged together in a
deafening uproar; here was the life of a bee-hive. Here it's really
lively, thought Pelle. To-morrow I shall move over here! He had thought
over this for a long time, and now there should be an end of his lodging
In front of one of the doors stood a little eleven-years-old maiden, who
was polishing a pair of plump-looking boy's boots; she wore an apron of
sacking which fell down below her ankles, so that she kept treading on
it. Within the room two children of nine and twelve were moving backward
and forward with mighty strides, their hands in their pockets. Then
enjoyed Sundays. In their clean shirt-sleeves, they looked like a couple
of little grown-up men. This was the "Family"; they were Pelle's
"Here are your shoes, Marie," said Pelle. "I couldn't do them any
She took them eagerly and examined the soles. Pelle had repaired them
with old leather, and had therefore polished the insteps with cobbler's
wax. "They're splendid now!" she whispered, and she looked at him
gratefully. The boys came and shook hands with Pelle. "What will the
shoes cost?" asked the elder, feeling for his purse with a solemn
"We'd better let that stand over, Peter; I'm in a hurry to-day," said
Pelle, laughing. "We'll put it on the account until the New Year."
"I'm going out, too, to-day with the boys," said Marie, beaming with
delight. "And you are going to the woods with Hanne and her mother, we
know all about it!" Hopping and skipping, she accompanied him to the
steps, and stood laughing down at him. To-day she was really like a
child; the shrewd, old, careful woman was as though cast to the winds.
"You can go down the main staircase," she cried.
A narrow garret-stairs led down to the main staircase, which lay inside
the building and was supposed to be used only by those who lived on the
side facing the street. This was the fashionable portion of the "Ark";
here lived old sea-dogs, shipbuilders, and other folks with regular
incomes. The tradesmen who rented the cellars--the coal merchant, the
old iron merchant, and the old clothes dealer, also had their dwellings
These dwellings were composed of two splendid rooms; they had no kitchen
or entry, but in a corner of the landing on the main staircase, by the
door, each family had a sink with a little board cover. When the cover
was on one could use the sink as a seat; this was very convenient.
The others had almost reached the Knippels Bridge when he overtook them.
"What a long time you've been!" said Hanne, as she took his arm. "And
how's the 'Family?' Was Marie pleased with the shoes? Poor little thing,
she hasn't been out for two Sundays because she had no soles to her
"She had only to come to me; I'm ever so much in her debt!"
"No, don't you believe she'd do that. The 'Family' is proud. I had to go
over and steal the shoes somehow!"
"Poor little things!" said Madam Johnsen, "it's really touching to see
how they hold together! And they know how to get along. But why are you
taking Pelle's arm, Hanne? You don't mean anything by it."
"Must one always mean something by it, little mother? Pelle is my young
man to-day, and has to protect me."
"Good Lord, what is he to protect you from? From yourself, mostly, and
that's not easy!"
"Against a horde of robbers, who will fall upon me in the forest and
carry me away. And you'll have to pay a tremendous ransom!"
"Good Lord, I'd much rather pay money to get rid of you! If I had any
money at all! But have you noticed how blue the sky is? It's splendid
with all this sun on your back--it warms you right through the cockles
of your heart."
At the Triangle they took an omnibus and bowled along the sea-front. The
vehicle was full of cheerful folk; they sat there laughing at a couple
of good-natured citizens who were perspiring and hurling silly
witticisms at one another. Behind them the dust rolled threateningly,
and hung in a lazy cloud round the great black waterbutts which stood on
their high trestles along the edge of the road. Out in the Sound the
boats lay with sails outspread, but did not move; everything was keeping
In the Zoological Gardens it was fresh and cool. The beech-leaves still
retained their youthful brightness, and looked wonderfully light and
festive against the century-old trunks. "Heigh, how beautiful the forest
is!" cried Pelle. "It is like an old giant who has taken a young bride!"
He had never been in a real beech-wood before. One could wander about
here as in a church. There were lots of other people here as well; all
Copenhagen was on its legs in this fine weather. The people were as
though intoxicated by the sunshine; they were quite boisterous, and the
sound of their voices lingered about the tree-tops and only challenged
them to give vent to their feelings. People went strolling between the
tree-trunks and amusing themselves in their own way, laying about them
with great boughs and shouting with no other object than to hear their
own voices. On the borders of the wood, a few men were standing and
singing in chorus; they wore white caps, and over the grassy meadows
merry groups were strolling or playing touch or rolling in the grass
like young kittens.
Madam Johnsen walked confidently a few steps in advance; she was the
most at home out here and led the way. Pelle and Hanne walked close
together, in order to converse. Hanne was silent and absent; Pelle took
her hand in order to make her run up a hillock, but she did not at first
notice that he was touching her, and the hand was limp and clammy. She
walked on as in a sleep, her whole bearing lifeless and taciturn. "She's
dreaming!" said Pelle, and released her hand, offended. It fell
lifelessly to her side.
The old woman turned round and looked about her with beaming eyes.
"The forest hasn't been so splendid for many years," she said. "Not
since I was a young girl."
They climbed up past the Hermitage and thence out over the grass and
into the forest again, until they came to the little ranger's house
where they drank coffee and ate some of the bread-and-butter they had
brought with them. Then they trudged on again. Madam Johnsen was paying
a rare visit to the forest and wanted to see everything. The young
people raised objections, but she was not to be dissuaded. She had
girlhood memories of the forest, and she wanted to renew them; let them
say what they would. If they were tired of running after her they could
go their own way. But they followed her faithfully, looking about them
wearily and moving along dully onward, moving along rather more stupidly
than was justifiable.
On the path leading to Raavad there were not so many people.
"It's just as forest-like here as in my young days!" said the old woman.
"And beautiful it is here. The leaves are so close, it's just the place
for a loving couple of lovers. Now I'm going to sit down and take my
boots off for a bit, my feet are beginning to hurt me. You look about
you for a bit."
But the young people looked at one another strangely and threw
themselves down at her feet. She had taken off her boots, and was
cooling her feet in the fresh grass as she sat there chatting. "It's so
warm to-day the stones feel quite burning--but you two certainly won't
catch fire. Why do you stare in that funny way? Give each other a kiss
in the grass, now! There's no harm in it, and it's so pretty to see!"
Pelle did not move. But Hanne moved over to him on her knees, put her
hands gently round his head, and kissed him. When she had done so she
looked into his eyes, lovingly, as a child might look at her doll. Her
hat had slipped on to her shoulders. On her white forehead and her upper
lip were little clear drops of sweat. Then, with a merry laugh, she
suddenly released him. Pelle and the old woman had gathered flowers and
boughs of foliage; these they now began to arrange. Hanne lay on her
back and gazed up at the sky.
"You leave that old staring of yours alone," said the mother. "It does
you no good."
"I'm only playing at 'Glory'; it's such a height here," said Hanne. "But
at home in the 'Ark' you see more. Here it's too light."
"Yes, God knows, one does see more--a sewer and two privies. A good
thing it's so dark there. No, one ought to have enough money to be able
to go into the forests every Sunday all the summer. When one has grown
up in the open air it's hard to be penned in between dirty walls all
one's life. But now I think we ought to be going on. We waste so much
"Oh Lord, and I'm so comfortable lying here!" said Hanne lazily. "Pelle,
just push my shawl under my head!"
Out of the boughs high above them broke a great bird. "There, there,
what a chap!" cried Pelle, pointing at it. It sailed slowly downward, on
its mighty outspread wings, now and again compressing the air beneath it
with a few powerful strokes, and then flew onward, close above the tree-
tops, with a scrutinizing glance.
"Jiminy, I believe that was a stork!" said Madam Johnsen. She reached
for her boots, alarmed. "I won't stay here any longer now. One never
knows what may happen." She hastily laced up her boots, with a prudish
expression on her face. Pelle laughed until the tears stood in his eyes.
Hanne raised her head. "That was surely a crane, don't you think so?
Stupid bird, always to fly along like that, staring down at everything
as though he were short-sighted. If I were he I should fly straight up
in the air and then shut my eyes and come swooping down. Then, wherever
one got to, something or other would happen."
"Sure enough, this would happen, that you'd fall into the sea and be
drowned. Hanne has always had the feeling that something has got to
happen; and for that reason she can never hold on to what she's got in
"No, for I haven't anything in them!" cried Hanne, showing her hands and
laughing. "Can you hold what you haven't got, Pelle?"
About four o'clock they came to the Schleswig Stone, where the Social-
Democrats were holding a meeting. Pelle had never yet attended any big
meeting at which he could hear agitators speaking, but had obtained his
ideas of the new movements at second hand. They were in tune with the
blind instinct within him. But he had never experienced anything really
electrifying--only that confused, monotonous surging such as he had
heard in his childhood when he listened with his ear to the hollow of
the wooden shoe.
"Well, it looks as if the whole society was here!" said Madam Johnsen
half contemptuously. "Now you can see all the Social-Democrats of
Copenhagen. They never have been more numerous, although they pretend
the whole of society belongs to them. But things don't always go so
smoothly as they do on paper."
Pelle frowned, but was silent. He himself knew too little of the matter
to be able to convert another.
The crowd affected him powerfully; here were several thousands of people
gathered together for a common object, and it became exceedingly clear
to him that he himself belonged to this crowd. "I belong to them too!"
Over and over again the words repeated themselves rejoicingly in his
mind. He felt the need to verify it all himself, and to prove himself
grateful for the quickly-passing day. If the Court shoemaker hadn't
spoken the words that drove him to join the Union he would still have
been standing apart from it all, like a heathen. The act of subscribing
the day before was like a baptism. He felt quite different in the
society of these men--he felt as he did not feel with others. And as the
thousands of voices broke into song, a song of jubilation of the new
times that were to come, a cold shudder went through him. He had a
feeling as though a door within him had opened, and as though something
that had lain closely penned within him had found its way to the light.
Up on the platform stood a darkish man talking earnestly in a mighty
voice. Shoulder to shoulder the crowd stood breathless, listening open-
mouthed, with every face turned fixedly upon the speaker. A few were so
completely under his spell that they reproduced the play of his
features. When he made some particular sally from his citadel a murmur
of admiration ran through the crowd. There was no shouting. He spoke of
want and poverty, of the wearisome, endless wandering that won no
further forward. As the Israelites in their faith bore the Ark of the
Covenant through the wilderness, so the poor bore their hope through the
unfruitful years. If one division was overthrown another was ready with
the carrying-staves, and at last the day was breaking. Now they stood at
the entrance to the Promised Land, with the proof in their hands that
they were the rightful dwellers therein. All that was quite a matter of
course; if there was anything that Pelle had experienced it was that
wearisome wandering of God's people through the wilderness. That was the
great symbol of poverty. The words came to him like something long
familiar. But the greatness of the man's voice affected Pelle; there was
something in the speech of this man which did not reach him through the
understanding, but seemed somehow to burn its way in through the skin,
there to meet something that lay expanding within him. The mere ring of
anger in his voice affected Pelle; his words beat upon one's old wounds,
so that they broke open like poisonous ulcers, and one heaved a deep
breath of relief. Pelle had heard such a voice, ringing over all, when
he lived in the fields and tended cows. He felt as though he too must
let himself go in a great shout and subdue the whole crowd by his voice
--he too! To be able to speak like that, now thundering and now mild,
like the ancient prophets!
A peculiar sense of energy was exhaled by this dense crowd of men, this
thinking and feeling crowd. It produced a singular feeling of strength.
Pelle was no longer the poor journeyman shoemaker, who found it
difficult enough to make his way. He became one, as he stood there, with
that vast being; he felt its strength swelling within him; the little
finger shares in the strength of the whole body. A blind certainty of
irresistibility went out from this mighty gathering, a spur to ride the
storm with. His limbs swelled; he became a vast, monstrous being that
only needed to go trampling onward in order to conquer everything. His
brain was whirling with energy, with illimitable, unconquerable
Pelle had before this gone soaring on high and had come safely to earth
again. And this time also he came to ground, with a long sigh of relief,
as though he had cast off a heavy burden. Hanne's arm lay in his; he
pressed it slightly. But she did notice him; she too now was far away.
He looked at her pretty neck, and bent forward to see her face. The
great yellow hat threw a golden glimmer over it. Her active intelligence
played restlessly behind her strained, frozen features; her eyes looked
fixedly before her. It has taken hold of her too, he thought, full of
happiness; she is far away from here. It was something wonderful to know
that they were coupled together in the same interests--were like man and
At that very moment he accidentally noticed the direction of her fixed
gaze, and a sharp pain ran through his heart. Standing on the level
ground, quite apart from the crowd, stood a tall, handsome man,
astonishingly like the owner of Stone Farm in his best days; the
sunlight was coming and going over his brown skin and his soft beard.
Now that he turned his face toward Pelle his big, open features reminded
him of the sea.
Hanne started, as though awakening from a deep sleep, and noticed Pelle.
"He is a sailor!" she said, in a curious, remote voice, although Pelle
had not questioned her. God knows, thought Pelle, vexedly, how is it she
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