Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 13 out of 23
knows him; and he drew his arm from hers. But she took it again at once
and pressed it against her soft bosom. It was as though she suddenly
wanted to give him a feeling of security.
She hung heavily on his arm and stood with her eyes fixed unwaveringly
on the speakers' platform. Her hands busied themselves nervously about
her hair. "You are so restless, child," said the mother, who had seated
herself at their feet. "You might let me lean back against your knee; I
was sitting so comfortably before."
"Yes," said Hanne, and she put herself in the desired position. Her
voice sounded quite excited.
"Pelle," she whispered suddenly, "if he comes over to us I shan't answer
him. I shan't."
"Do you know him, then?"
"No, but it does happen sometimes that men come and speak to one. But
then you'll say I belong to you, won't you?"
Pelle was going to refuse, but a shudder ran through her. She's
feverish, he thought compassionately; one gets fever so easily in the
"Ark." It comes up with the smell out of the sewer. She must have lied
to me nicely, he thought after a while. Women are cunning, but he was
too proud to question her. And then the crowd shouted "Hurrah!" so that
the air rang. Pelle shouted with them; and when they had finished the
man had disappeared.
They went over to the Hill, the old woman keeping her few steps in
advance. Hanne hummed as she went; now and then she looked questioningly
at Pelle--and then went on humming.
"It's nothing to do with me," said Pelle morosely. "But it's not right
of you to have lied to me."
"I lie to you? But Pelle!" She gazed wonderingly into his eyes.
"Yes, that you do! There's something between you and him."
Hanne laughed, a clear, innocent laugh, but suddenly broken off. "No,
Pelle, no, what should I have to do with him? I have never even seen him
before. I have never even once kissed a man--yes, you, but you are my
"I don't particularly care about being your brother--not a straw, and
you know that!"
"Have I done anything to offend you? I'm sorry if I have." She seized
"I want you for my wife!" cried Pelle passionately.
Hanne laughed. "Did you hear, mother? Pelle wants me for his wife!" she
"Yes, I see and hear more than you think," said Madam Johnsen shortly.
Hanne looked from one to the other and became serious. "You are so good,
Pelle," she said softly, "but you can't come to me bringing me something
from foreign parts--I know everything about you, but I've never dreamed
of you at night. Are you a fortunate person?"
"I'll soon show you if I am," said Pelle, raising his head. "Only give
me a little time."
"Lord, now she's blethering about fortune again," cried the mother,
turning round. "You really needn't have spoiled this lovely day for us
with your nonsense. I was enjoying it all so."
Hanne laughed helplessly. "Mother will have it that I'm not quite right
in my mind, because father hit me on the head once when I was a little
girl," she told Pelle.
"Yes, it's since then she's had these ideas. She'll do nothing but go
rambling on at random with her ideas and her wishes. She'll sit whole
days at the window and stare, and she used to make the children down in
the yard even crazier than herself with her nonsense. And she was always
bothering me to leave everything standing--poor as we were after my man
died--just to go round and round the room with her and the dolls and
sing those songs all about earls. Yes, Pelle, you may believe I've wept
tears of blood over her."
Hanne wandered on, laughing at her mother's rebuke, and humming--it was
the tune of the "Earl's Song."
"There, you hear her yourself," said the old woman, nudging Pelle.
"She's got no shame in her--there's nothing to be done with her!"
Up on the hill there was a deafening confusion of people in playful
mood; wandering to and fro in groups, blowing into children's trumpets
and "dying pigs," and behaving like frolicsome wild beasts. At every
moment some one tooted in your ear, to make you jump, or you suddenly
discovered that some rogue was fixing something on the back of your
coat. Hanne was nervous; she kept between Pelle and her mother, and
could not stand still. "No, let's go away somewhere--anywhere!" she
said, laughing in bewilderment.
Pelle wanted to treat them to coffee, so they went on till they found a
tent where there was room for them. Hallo! There was the hurdy-gurdy man
from home, on a roundabout, nodding to him as he went whirling round. He
held his hand in front of his mouth like a speaking-trumpet in order to
shout above the noise. "Mother's coming up behind you with the Olsens,"
"I can't hear what he says at all," said Madam Johnsen. She didn't care
about meeting people out of the "Ark" to-day.
When the coffee was finished they wandered up and down between the
booths and amused themselves by watching the crowd. Hanne consented to
have her fortune told; it cost five and twenty ore, but she was rewarded
by an unexpected suitor who was coming across the sea with lots of
money. Her eyes shone.
"I could have done it much better than that!" said Madam Johnsen.
"No, mother, for you never foretell me anything but misfortune," replied
Madam Johnsen met an acquaintance who was selling "dying pigs." She sat
down beside her. "You go over there now and have a bit of a dance while
I rest my tired legs," she said.
The young people went across to the dancing marquee and stood among the
onlookers. From time to time they had five ore worth of dancing. When
other men came up and asked Hanne to dance, she shook her head; she did
not care to dance with any one but Pelle.
The rejected applicants stood a little way off, their hats on the backs
of their heads, and reviled her. Pelle had to reprove her. "You have
offended them," he said, "and perhaps they're screwed and will begin to
"Why should I be forced to dance with anybody, with somebody I don't
know at all?" replied Hanne. "I'm only going to dance with you!" She
made angry eyes, and looked bewitching in her unapproachableness. Pelle
had nothing against being her only partner. He would gladly have fought
for her, had it been needful.
When they were about to go he discovered the foreigner right at the back
of the dancing-tent. He urged Hanne to make haste, but she stood there,
staring absent-mindedly in the midst of the dancers as though she did
not know what was happening around her. The stranger came over to them.
Pelle was certain that Hanne had not seen him.
Suddenly she came to herself and gripped Pelle's arm. "Shan't we go,
then?" she said impatiently, and she quickly dragged him away.
At the doorway the stranger came to meet them and bowed before Hanne.
She did not look at him, but her left arm twitched as though she wanted
to lay it across his shoulders.
"My sweetheart isn't dancing any more; she is tired," said Pelle
shortly, and he led her away.
"A good thing we've come out from there," she cried, with a feeling of
deliverance, as they went back to her mother. "There were no amusing
Pelle was taken aback; then she had not seen the stranger, but merely
believed that it had been one of the others who had asked her to dance!
It was inconceivable that she should have seen him; and yet a peculiar
knowledge had enveloped her, as though she had seen obliquely through
her down-dropped eyelids; and then it was well known women could see
round corners! And that twitch of the arm! He did not know what to
think. "Well, it's all one to me," he thought, "for I'm not going to be
led by the nose!"
He had them both on his arm as they returned under the trees to the
station. The old woman was lively; Hanne walked on in silence and let
them both talk. But suddenly she begged Pelle to be quiet a moment; he
looked at her in surprise.
"It's singing so beautifully in my ears; but when you talk then it
"Nonsense! Your blood is too unruly," said the mother, "and mouths were
meant to be used."
During the journey Pelle was reserved. Now and again he pressed Hanne's
hand, which lay, warm and slightly perspiring, in his upon the seat.
But the old woman's delight was by no means exhausted, the light shining
from the city and the dark peaceful Sound had their message for her
secluded life, and she began to sing, in a thin, quavering falsetto:
"Gently the Night upon her silent wings
Comes, and the stars are bright in east and west;
And lo, the bell of evening rings;
And men draw homewards, and the birds all rest."
But from the Triangle onward it was difficult for her to keep step; she
had run herself off her legs.
"Many thanks for to-day," she said to Pelle, down in the courtyard. "To-
morrow one must start work again and clean old uniform trousers. But
it's been a beautiful outing." She waddled forward and up the steps,
groaning a little at the numbers of them, talking to herself.
Hanne stood hesitating. "Why did you say 'my sweetheart'?" she asked
suddenly. "I'm not."
"You told me to," answered Pelle, who would willingly have said more.
"Oh, well!" said Hanne, and she ran up the stairs. "Goodnight, Pelle!"
she called down to him.
Pelle was bound to the "Family" by peculiar ties. The three orphans were
the first to reach him a friendly helping hand when he stood in the open
street three days after his landing, robbed of his last penny.
He had come over feeling important enough. He had not slept all night on
his bench between decks among the cattle. Excitement had kept him awake;
and he lay there making far-reaching plans concerning himself and his
twenty-five kroner. He was up on deck by the first light of morning,
gazing at the shore, where the great capital with its towers and
factory-chimneys showed out of the mist. Above the city floated its
misty light, which reddened in the morning sun, and gave a splendor to
the prospect. And the passage between the forts and the naval harbor was
sufficiently magnificent to impress him. The crowd on the landing-stage
before the steamer laid alongside and the cabmen and porters began
shouting and calling, was enough to stupefy him, but he had made up his
mind beforehand that nothing should disconcert him. It would have been
difficult enough in any case to disentangle himself from all this
And then Fortune herself was on his side. Down on the quay stood a
thick-set, jovial man, who looked familiarly at Pelle; he did not shout
and bawl, but merely said quietly, "Good-day, countryman," and offered
Pelle board and lodging for two kroner a day. It was good to find a
countryman in all this bustle, and Pelle confidingly put himself in his
hands. He was remarkably helpful; Pelle was by no means allowed to carry
the green chest. "I'll soon have that brought along!" said the man, and
he answered everything with a jolly "I'll soon arrange that; you just
leave that to me!"
When three days had gone by, he presented Pelle with a circumstantial
account, which amounted exactly to five and twenty kroner. It was a
curious chance that Pelle had just that amount of money. He was not
willing to be done out of it, but the boarding-house keeper, Elleby,
called in a policeman from the street, and Pelle had to pay.
He was standing in the street with his green box, helpless and
bewildered, not knowing what to be about. Then a little boy came
whistling up to him and asked if he could not help him. "I can easily
carry the box alone, to wherever you want it, but it will cost twenty-
five ore and ten ore for the barrow. But if I just take one handle it
will be only ten ore," he said, and he looked Pelle over in a business-
like manner. He did not seem to be more than nine or ten years old.
"But I don't know where I shall go," said Pelle, almost crying. "I've
been turned out on the street and have nowhere where I can turn. I am
quite a stranger here in the city and all my money has been taken from
The youngster made a gesture in the air as though butting something with
his head. "Yes, that's a cursed business. You've fallen into the hands
of the farmer-catchers, my lad. So you must come home with us--you can
very well stay with us, if you don't mind lying on the floor."
"But what will your parents say if you go dragging me home?"
"I haven't any parents, and Marie and Peter, they'll say nothing. Just
come with me, and, after all, you can get work with old Pipman. Where do
you come from?"
"So did we! That's to say, a long time ago, when we were quite children.
Come along with me, countryman!" The boy laughed delightedly and seized
one handle of the chest.
It was also, to be sure, a fellow-countryman who had robbed him; but
none the less he went with the boy; it was not in Pelle's nature to be
So he had entered the "Ark," under the protection of a child. The
sister, a little older than the other two, found little Karl's action
entirely reasonable, and the three waifs, who had formerly been shy and
retiring, quickly attached themselves to Pelle. They found him in the
street and treated him like an elder comrade, who was a stranger, and
needed protection. They afforded him his first glimpse of the great city,
and they helped him to get work from Pipman.
On the day after the outing in the forest, Pelle moved over to the row
of attics, into a room near the "Family," which was standing empty just
then. Marie helped him to get tidy and to bring his things along, and
with an easier mind he shook himself free of his burdensome relations
with Pipman. There was an end of his profit-sharing, and all the
recriminations which were involved in it. Now he could enter into direct
relations with the employers and look his comrades straight in the eyes.
For various reasons it had been a humiliating time; but he had no
feeling of resentment toward Pipman; he had learned more with him in a
few months than during his whole apprenticeship at home.
He obtained a few necessary tools from an ironmonger, and bought a bench
and a bed for ready money. From the master-shoemaker he obtained as a
beginning some material for children's shoes, which he made at odd
times. His principal living he got from Master Beck in Market Street.
Beck was a man of the old school; his clientele consisted principally of
night watchmen, pilots, and old seamen, who lived out in Kristianshavn.
Although he was born and had grown up in Copenhagen, he was like a
country shoemaker to look at, going about in canvas slippers which his
daughter made for him, and in the mornings he smoked his long pipe at
the house-door. He had old-fashioned views concerning handwork, and was
delighted with Pelle, who could strain any piece of greased leather and
was not afraid to strap a pair of old dubbin'd boots with it. Beck's
work could not well be given out to do at home, and Pelle willingly
established himself in the workshop and was afraid of no work that came
his way. But he would not accept bed and board from his master in the
From the very first day this change was an improvement. He worked heart
and soul and began to put by something with which to pay off his debt to
Sort. Now he saw the day in the distance when he should be able to send
for Father Lasse.
In the morning, when the dwellers on the roof, drunken with sleep,
tumbled out into the long gangway, in order to go to their work, before
the quarter-to-six whistle sounded, Pelle already sat in his room
hammering on his cobbler's last. About seven o'clock he went to Beck's
workshop, if there was anything for him to do there. And he received
orders too from the dwellers in the "Ark."
In connection with this work he acquired an item of practical
experience, an idea which was like a fruitful seed which lay germinating
where it fell and continually produced fresh fruit. It was equivalent to
an improvement in his circumstances to discover that he had shaken off
one parasite; if only he could send the other after him and keep all his
profits for himself!
That sounded quite fantastic, but Pelle had no desire to climb up to the
heights only to fall flat on the earth again. He had obtained certain
tangible experience, and he wanted to know how far it would take him.
While he sat there working he pursued the question in and out among his
thoughts, so that he could properly consider it.
Pipman was superfluous as a middleman; one could get a little work
without the necessity of going to him and pouring a flask of brandy down
his thirsty gullet. But was it any more reasonable that the shoes Pelle
made should go to the customer by way of the Court shoemaker and yield
him carriages and high living? Could not Pelle himself establish
relations with his customers? And shake off Meyer as he had shaken off
Pipman? Why, of course! It was said that the Court shoemaker paid taxes
on a yearly income of thirty thousand kroner. "That ought to be evenly
divided among all those who work for him!" thought Pelle, as he hammered
away at his pegs. "Then Father Lasse wouldn't need to stay at home a day
longer, or drag himself through life so miserably."
Here was something which he could take in hand with the feeling that he
was setting himself a practical problem in economics--and one that
apparently had nothing to do with his easy belief in luck. This idea was
always lurking somewhere in secrecy, and held him upright through
everything--although it did not afford him any definite assistance. A
hardly earned instinct told him that it was only among poor people that
this idea could be developed. This belief was his family inheritance,
and he would retain it faithfully through all vicissitudes; as millions
had done before him, always ready to cope with the unknown, until they
reached the grave and resigned the inherited dream. There lay hope for
himself in this, but if he miscarried, the hope itself would remain in
spite of him. With Fortune there was no definite promise of tangible
success for the individual, but only a general promise, which was
maintained through hundreds of years of servitude with something of the
long patience of eternity.
Pelle bore the whole endless wandering within himself: it lay deep in
his heart, like a great and incomprehensible patience. In his world,
capacity was often great enough, but resignation was always greater. It
was thoroughly accustomed to see everything go to ruin and yet to go on
Often enough during the long march, hope had assumed tones like those of
"David's City with streets of gold," or "Paradise," or "The splendor of
the Lord returns." He himself had questioningly given ear; but never
until now had the voice of hope sounded in a song that had to do with
food and clothing, house and farm; so how was he to find his way?
He could only sit and meditate the problem as to how he should obtain,
quickly and easily, a share in the good things of this world;
presumptuously, and with an impatience for which he himself could not
And round about him things were happening in the same way. An awakening
shudder was passing through the masses. They no longer wandered on and
on with blind and patient surrender, but turned this way and that in
bewildered consultation. The miracle was no longer to be accomplished of
itself when the time was fulfilled. For an evil power had seized upon
their great hope, and pressed her knees together so that she could not
bring forth; they themselves must help to bring happiness into the
The unshakable fatalism which hitherto had kept them on their difficult
path was shattered; the masses would no longer allow themselves to be
held down in stupid resignation. Men who all their lives had plodded
their accustomed way to and from their work now stood still and asked
unreasonable questions as to the aim of it all. Even the simple ventured
to cast doubts upon the established order of things. Things were no
longer thus because they must be; there was a painful cause of poverty.
That was the beginning of the matter; and now they conceived a desire to
master life; their fingers itched to be tearing down something that
obstructed them--but what it was they did not know.
All this was rather like a whirlpool; all boundaries disappeared.
Unfamiliar powers arose, and the most good-natured became suspicious or
were frankly bewildered. People who had hitherto crawled like dogs in
order to win their food were now filled with self-will, and preferred to
be struck down rather than bow down of their own accord. Prudent folks
who had worked all their lives in one place could no longer put up with
the conditions, and went at a word. Their hard-won endurance was
banished from their minds, and those who had quietly borne the whole
burden on their shoulders were now becoming restive; they were as
unwilling and unruly as a pregnant woman. It was as though they were
acting under the inward compulsion of an invisible power, and were
striving to break open the hard shell which lay over something new
within them. One could perceive that painful striving in their
bewildered gaze and in their sudden crazy grasp at the empty air.
There was something menacing in the very uncertainty which possessed the
masses. It was as though they were listening for a word to sound out of
the darkness. Swiftly they resolved to banish old custom and convention
from their minds, in order to make room there. On every side men
continually spoke of new things, and sought blindly to find their way to
them; it was a matter of course that the time had come and the promised
land was about to be opened to them. They went about in readiness to
accomplish something--what, they did not know; they formed themselves
into little groups; they conducted unfortunate strikes, quite at random.
Others organized debating societies, and began in weighty speech to
squabble about the new ideas--which none of them knew anything about.
These were more particularly the young men. Many of them had come to the
city in search of fortune, as had Pelle himself, and these were full of
burning restlessness. There was something violent and feverish about
Such was the situation when Pelle entered the capital. It was chaotic;
there was no definite plan by which they could reach their goal. The
masses no longer supported one another, but were in a state of solution,
bewildered and drifting about in the search for something that would
weld them together. In the upper ranks of society people noted nothing
but the insecurity of the position of the workers; people complained of
their restlessness, a senseless restlessness which jeopardized revenue
and aggravated foreign competition. A few thoughtful individuals saw the
people as one great listening ear; new preachers were arising who wanted
to lead the crowd by new ways to God. Pelle now and again allowed the
stream to carry him into such quarters, but he did allow himself to be
caught; it was only the old story over again; there was nothing in it.
Nobody now was satisfied with directions how to reach heaven--the new
prophets disappeared as quickly as they had arisen.
But in the midst of all this confusion there was one permanent center,
one community, which had steadily increased during the years, and had
fanatically endured the scorn and the persecution of those above and
below, until it at last possessed several thousand of members. It stood
fast in the maelstrom and obstinately affirmed that its doctrines were
those of the future. And now the wind seemed to be filling its sails; it
replied after its own fashion to the impatient demands for a heaven to
be enjoyed here on earth and an attainable happiness.
Pelle had been captured by the new doctrines out by the Schleswig Stone,
and had thrown himself, glowing and energetic, into the heart of the
movement. He attended meetings and discussions, his ears on the alert to
absorb anything really essential; for his practical nature called for
something palpable whereupon his mind could get to work. Deep within his
being was a mighty flux, like that of a river beneath its ice; and at
times traces of it rose to the surface, and alarmed him. Yet he had no
power to sound the retreat; and when he heard the complaint, in respect
of the prevailing unrest, that it endangered the welfare of the nation,
he was not able to grasp the connection.
"It's preposterous that they should knock off work without any reason,"
he once told Morten, when the baker's driver had thrown up his place.
"Like your driver, for example--he had no ground for complaint."
"Perhaps he suddenly got a pain between the legs because his ancestor
great-grandfather was once made to ride on a wooden horse--he came from
the country," said Morten solemnly.
Pelle looked at him quickly. He did not like Morten's ambiguous manner
of expressing himself. It made him feel insecure.
"Can't you talk reasonably?" he said. "I can't understand you."
"No? And yet that's quite reason enough--there have been lots of reasons
since his great-grandfather's days. What the devil--why should they want
a reason referring to yesterday precisely? Don't you realize that the
worker, who has so long been working the treadmill in the belief that
the movement was caused by somebody else, has suddenly discovered that
it's he that keeps the whole thing in motion? For that's what is going
on. The poor man is not merely a slave who treads the wheel, and had a
handful of meal shoved down his gullet now and again to keep him from
starving to death. He is on the point of discovering that he performs a
higher service, look you! And now the movement is altering--it is
continuing of itself! But that you probably can't see," he added, as he
noted Pelle's incredulous expression.
"No, for I'm not one of the big-bellies," said Pelle, laughing, "and
you're no prophet, to prophesy such great things. And I have enough
understanding to realize that if you want to make a row you must
absolutely have something definite to make a fuss about, otherwise it
won't work. But that about the wooden horse isn't good enough!"
"That's just the point about lots of fusses," Morten replied. "There's
no need to give a pretext for anything that everybody's interested in."
Pelle pondered further over all this while at work. But these
deliberations did not proceed as in general; as a rule, such matters as
were considered in his world of thought were fixed by the generations
and referred principally to life and death. He had to set to work in a
practical manner, and to return to his own significant experience.
Old Pipman was superfluous; that Pelle himself had proved. And there was
really no reason why he should not shake off the Court shoemaker as
well; the journeymen saw to the measuring and the cutting-out; indeed,
they did the whole work. He was also really a parasite, who had placed
himself at the head of them all, and was sucking up their profits. But
then Morten was right with his unabashed assertion that the working-man
carried on the whole business! Pelle hesitated a little over this
conclusion; he cautiously verified the fact that it was in any case
valid in his craft. There was some sense in winning back his own--but
His sound common-sense demanded something that would take the place of
Meyer and the other big parasites. It wouldn't do for every journeyman
to sit down and botch away on his own account, like a little employer;
he had seen that plainly enough in the little town at home; it was mere
So he set himself to work out a plan for a cooperative business. A
number of craftsmen should band together, each should contribute his
little capital, and a place of business would be selected. The work
would be distributed according to the various capacities of the men, and
they would choose one from their midst who would superintend the whole.
In this way the problem could be solved--every man would receive the
full profit of his work.
When he had thoroughly thought out his plan, he went to Morten.
"They've already put that into practice!" cried Morten, and he pulled
out a book. "But it didn't work particularly well. Where did you get the
"I thought it out myself," answered Pelle self-consciously.
Morten looked a trifle incredulous; then he consulted the book, and
showed Pelle that his idea was described there--almost word for word--as
a phase of the progressive movement. The book was a work on Socialism.
But Pelle did not lose heart on that account! He was proud to have hit
on something that others had worked out before him--and learned people,
too! He began to have confidence in his own ideas, and eagerly attended
lectures and meetings. He had energy and courage, that he knew. He would
try to make himself efficient, and then he would seek out those at the
head of things, who were preparing the way, and would offer them his
Hitherto Fortune had always hovered before his eyes, obscurely, like a
fairy-tale, as something that suddenly swooped down upon a man and
lifted him to higher regions, while all those who were left behind gazed
longingly after him--that was the worst of it! But now he perceived new
paths, which for all those that were in need led on to fortune, just as
the "Great Power" had fancied in the hour of his death. He did not quite
understand where everything was to come from, but that was just the
thing he must discover.
All this kept his mind in a state of new and unaccustomed activity. He
was not used to thinking things out for himself, but had until now
always adhered to the ideas which had been handed down from generation
to generation as established--and he often found it difficult and
wearisome. Then he would try to shelve the whole subject, in order to
escape from it; but it always returned to him.
When he was tired, Hanne regained her influence over him, and then he
went over to see her in the evenings. He knew very well that this would
lead to nothing good. To picture for himself a future beside Hanne
seemed impossible; for her only the moment existed. Her peculiar nature
had a certain power over him--that was all. He often vowed to himself
that he would not allow her to make a fool of him--but he always went
over to see her again. He must try to conquer her--and then take the
One day, when work was over, he strolled across to see her. There was no
one on the gallery, so he went into the little kitchen.
"Is that you, Pelle?" Hanne's voice sounded from the living-room. "Come
She had apparently been washing her body, and was now sitting in a white
petticoat and chemise, and combing her beautiful hair. There was
something of the princess about her; she took such care of her body, and
knew how it should be done. The mirror stood before her, on the window-
sill; from the little back room one could see, between the roofs and the
mottled party-wall, the prison and the bridge and the canal that ran
beneath it. Out beyond the Exchange the air was gray and streaked with
the tackle of ships.
Pelle sat down heavily by the stove, his elbows on his knees, and gazed
on the floor. He was greatly moved. If only the old woman would come! "I
believe I'll go out," he thought, "and behave as though I were looking
out for her." But he remained sitting there. Against the wall was the
double bed with its red-flowered counterpane, while the table stood by
the opposite wall, with the chairs pushed under it. "She shouldn't drive
me too far," he thought, "or perhaps it'll end in my seizing her, and
then she'll have her fingers burnt!"
"Why don't you talk to me, Pelle?" said Hanne.
He raised his head and looked at her in the mirror. She was holding the
end of her plait in her mouth, and looked like a kitten biting its tail.
"Oh, what should I talk about?" he replied morosely.
"You are angry with me, but it isn't fair of you--really, it isn't fair!
Is it my fault that I'm so terrified of poverty? Oh, how it does
frighten me! It has always been like that ever since I was born, and you
are poor too, Pelle, as poor as I am! What would become of us both? We
know the whole story!"
"What will become of us?" said Pelle.
"That I don't know, and it's all the same to me--only it must be
something I don't know all about. Everything is so familiar if one is
poor--one knows every stitch of one's clothes by heart; one can watch
them wearing out. If you'd only been a sailor, Pelle!"
"Have you seen _him_ again?" asked Pelle.
Hanne laughingly shook her head. "No; but I believe something will
happen--something splendid. Out there lies a great ship--I can see it
from the window. It's full of wonderful things, Pelle."
"You are crazy!" said Pelle scornfully. "That's a bark--bound for the
coal quay. She comes from England with coals."
"That may well be," replied Hanne indifferently. "I don't mind that.
There's something in me singing, 'There lies the ship, and it has
brought something for me from foreign parts.' And you needn't grudge me
But now her mother came in, and began to mimic her.
"Yes, out there lies the ship that has brought me something--out there
lies the ship that has brought me something! Good God! Haven't you had
enough of listening to your own crazy nonsense? All through your
childhood you've sat there and made up stories and looked out for the
ship! We shall soon have had enough of it! And you let Pelle sit there
and watch you uncovering your youth--aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Pelle's so good, mother--and he's my brother, too. He thinks nothing of
"Thinks nothing of it? Yes, he does; he thinks how soft and white your
bosom is! And he's fit to cry inside of him because he mustn't lay his
head there. I, too, have known what it is to give joy, in my young
Hanne blushed from her bosom upward. She threw a kerchief over her bosom
and ran into the kitchen.
The mother looked after her.
"She's got a skin as tender as that of a king's daughter. Wouldn't one
think she was a cuckoo's child? Her father couldn't stand her. 'You've
betrayed me with some fine gentleman'--he used so often to say that. 'We
poor folks couldn't bring a piece like that into the world!' 'As God
lives, Johnsen,' I used to say, 'you and no other are the girl's
father.' But he used to beat us--he wouldn't believe me. He used to fly
into a rage when he looked at the child, and he hated us both because
she was so fine. So its no wonder that she had gone a bit queer in the
head. You can believe she's cost me tears of blood, Pelle. But you let
her be, Pelle. I could wish you could get her, but it wouldn't be best
for you, and it isn't good for you to have her playing with you. And if
you got her after all, it would be even worse. A woman's whims are poor
capital for setting up house with."
Pelle agreed with her in cold blood; he had allowed himself to he
fooled, and was wasting his youth upon a path that led nowhere. But now
there should be an end of it.
Hanne came back and looked at him, radiant, full of visions. "Will you
take me for a walk, Pelle?" she asked him.
"Yes!" answered Pelle joyfully, and he threw all his good resolutions
Pelle and his little neighbor used to compete as to which of them should
be up first in the morning. When she was lucky and had to wake him her
face was radiant with pride. It sometimes happened that he would lie in
bed a little longer, so that he should not deprive her of a pleasure,
and when she knocked on the wall he would answer in a voice quite stupid
with drowsiness. But sometimes her childish years demanded the sleep
that was their right, when Pelle would move about as quietly as
possible, and then, at half-past six, it would be his turn to knock on
the wall. On these occasions she would feel ashamed of herself all the
morning. Her brothers were supposed to get their early coffee and go to
work by six o'clock. Peter, who was the elder, worked in a tin-plate
works, while Earl sold the morning papers, and undertook every possible
kind of occasional work as well; this he had to hunt for, and you could
read as much in his whole little person. There was something restless
and nomadic about him, as though his thoughts were always seeking some
It was quite a lively neighborhood at this time of day; across the floor
of the well, and out through the tunnel-like entry there was an endless
clattering of footsteps, as the hundreds of the "Ark" tumbled out into
the daylight, half tipsy with sleep, dishevelled, with evidence of hasty
rising in their eyes and their garments, smacking their lips as though
they relished the contrast between the night and day, audibly yawning as
they scuttled away. Up in Pelle's long gangway factory girls, artisans,
and newspaper women came tumbling out, half naked; they were always
late, and stood there scolding until their turn came to wash themselves.
There was only one lavatory at either end of the gangway, and there was
only just time to sluice their eyes and wake themselves up. The doors of
all the rooms stood open; the odors of night were heavy on the air.
On the days when Pelle worked at home little Marie was in high spirits.
She sang and hummed continually, with her curiously small voice, and
every few minutes she would run in and offer Pelle her services. At such
times she would station herself behind him and stand there in silence,
watching the progress of his work, while her breathing was audibly
perceptible, as a faint, whistling sound. There was a curious, still,
brooding look about her little under-grown figure that reminded Pelle of
Morten's unhappy sister; something hard and undeveloped, as in the fruit
of a too-young tree. But the same shadow did not lie upon her; childish
toil had not steeped her as with a bitter sap; only her outer shell was
branded by it. There was about her, on the contrary, a gleam of careful
happiness, as though things had turned out much better than she had
expected. Perhaps this was because she could see the result of her hard
childish labors; no one could scatter that to the winds.
She was a capable little housewife, and her brothers respected her, and
faithfully brought home what they earned. Then she took what she needed,
laid something by toward the rent, in a box which was put away in the
chest of drawers, and gave them something wherewith to amuse themselves.
"They must have something!" she told people; "besides, men always need
money in their pockets. But they deserve it, for they have never yet
spent a farthing in drink. On Saturday nights they always come straight
home with their earnings. But now I must get on with my work; it's
dreadful how the time runs through one's hands."
She talked just like a young married woman, and Pelle inwardly chuckled
After a while she would peep in again; it was time for Pelle to have a
bite of something; or else she would bring her mending with her and sit
down on the edge of a chair.
She was always in a fidget lest a saucepan should boil over, or
something else go amiss.
At such times they had long, sensible talks. Little Marie did not care
about gossip; but there were plenty of serious things which had to be
talked over; the difficult times, Marie's parents, and then the
wonderful fact that they had met one another once before, a long time
ago; that was an event which provided her with an inexhaustible mine of
discussion, although she herself could not remember the occasion.
But Pelle remembered it all quite well, and over and over again he had
to tell her how one day at home he had gone down to the harbor, in order
to show old Thatcher Holm the steamers; and she always laughed when she
heard how Holm had run away in his alarm every time the steam-crane blew
off steam. And then? Yes, the steamer was just on the point of taking on
board a heap of furniture, old beds, tables, and the like.
"That was all ours!" cried Marie, clapping her hands. "We still had a
few things then. We took them to the pawn-shop when father lay ill after
his fall." And then she would meet his gaze, asking for more.
And in the midst of all the furniture stood a man with a fine old mirror
in his arms. Thatcher Holm knew him, and had a talk with him.
"He was crying, wasn't he?" asked Marie compassionately. "Father was so
unhappy, because things were going so badly with us."
And then she herself would talk about the hotel, down among the cliffs
of the east coast, and of the fine guests who came there in summer.
Three years they had kept the hotel, and Pelle had to name the sum out
of which her father had been cheated. She was proud that they had once
possessed so much. Ten thousand kroner!
Over here her father had found work as a stonemason's laborer, but one
day he trod on a loose beam and fell. For a few months he lay sick, and
all their household goods found their way to the pawn-shop; then he
died, and then they came to the "Ark." Their mother did washing out of
doors, but at last she became queer in the head. She could not bear
unhappiness, and neglected her housework, to run about seeking
consolation from all sorts of religious sects. At last she was quite
demented, and one day she disappeared. It was believed that she had
drowned herself in the canal. "But things are going well with us now,"
Marie always concluded; "now there's nothing to worry about."
"But don't you get tired of having all this to look after?" Pelle would
She would look at him in astonishment. "Why should I be tired? There's
not more than one can manage--if one only knows how to manage. And the
children never make things difficult for me; they are pleased with
everything I do."
The three orphans struggled on as well as they could, and were quite
proud of their little household. When things went badly with them, they
went hungry, and took serious counsel together; but they accepted help
from no one. They lived in the continual fear that the police would get
to know of their position, and haul them off to school. Then they would
be forcibly separated and brought up at the expense of the poorrates.
They were shy, and "kept themselves to themselves." In the "Ark"
everybody liked them, and helped them to keep their secret. The other
inmates managed their family affairs as best they could; there was
always a scandal somewhere. It was a sort of satisfaction to have these
three children living so decently in the midst of all this hotch-potch.
People thought a great deal of their little model household, and
protected it as though it had been a sanctuary.
To Pelle they attached themselves blindly. They had picked him up out of
the streets, and they certainly regarded him to some extent as a
foundling who was still under their protection. When Marie had given the
boys their morning coffee, she carried some in to Pelle--it was no use
protesting. And in the mornings, when she was busy indoors by herself,
she would go round to him with broom and bucket. Her precocious,
intelligent face was beaming with circumspection and the desire to help.
She did not ask permission, but set to work where need was. If Pelle was
away at Beck's workshop, he always found his room clean and tidy in the
If he had work at home, she would bring coffee for the two of them
during the morning. He did not dare to drive her away, for she would
take that to heart, and would go about offended all the rest of the day;
so he would run below to fetch a roll of white bread. Marie always found
some pretext for putting aside her share for the boys; it gave her no
real pleasure to enjoy anything by herself.
Pelle felt that he was making headway; and he was conscious of his own
youth. He was continually in the rosiest of humors, and even Hanne could
not throw any real shadow over his existence. In his relations with her
there was something of a beautiful unreality; they left no permanent
scar upon his heart.
He felt quite simply ashamed in the presence of this much tried child,
whenever something cropped up to put him out of temper. He felt it was
his duty to brighten her poverty-stricken life with his high spirits. He
chatted merrily to her, chaffed her, teased her, to charm her from her
unnatural solemnity. And she would smile, in her quiet, motherly
fashion, as one smiles at a much-loved child who seeks to drive away our
cares--and would then offer to do something for him.
"Shall I wash out your blouse or do up your shirt?" she would ask. Her
gratitude always found its expression in some kind of work.
"No, thanks, Marie; Hanne and her mother look after that."
"But that's not work for the Princess--I can do it much better."
"The Princess?" said Pelle, raising his head. "Is that what they call
"Only us children--we don't mean it unkindly. But we always played at
there being a princess when she was with us--and she was always the
princess. But do you know what? Some one will come and take her away--
some one very distinguished. She has been promised from the cradle to a
"What nonsense!" said Pelle crossly.
"But that's really true! When it rained we used to sit under the
gallery--in the corner by the dustbin--and she used to tell us--and it's
really true! And, besides, don't you think she's fascinating? She's
really just like a princess--like that!" Marie made a gesture in the air
with her fingers outspread. "And she knows everything that is going to
happen. She used to run down to us, in the courtyard, in her long dress,
and her mother used to stand up above and call her; then she'd sit on
the grating as if it was a throne and she was the queen and we were her
ladies. She used to braid our hair, and then dress it beautifully with
colored ribbons, and when I came up here again mother used to tear it
all down and make my hair rough again. It was a sin against God to deck
one's self out like that, she said. And when mother disappeared I hadn't
time to play down there any more."
"Poor little girl!" said Pelle, stroking her hair.
"Why do you say that?" she asked him, looking at him in astonishment.
He enjoyed her absolute confidence, and was told things that the boys
were not allowed to know. She began to dress more carefully, and her
fine fair hair was always brushed smoothly back from her forehead. She
was delighted when they both had some errand in the city. Then she put
on her best and went through the streets at his side, her whole face
smiling. "Now perhaps people will think we are a couple of lovers--but
what does it matter? Let them think it!" Pelle laughed; with her
thirteen years she was no bigger than a child of nine, so backward in
growth was she.
She often found it difficult to make both ends meet; she would say
little or nothing about it, but a kind of fear would betray itself in
her expression. Then Pelle would speak cheerfully of the good times that
would soon be coming for all poor people. It cost him a great deal of
exertion to put this in words so as to make it sound as it ought to
sound. His thoughts were still so new--even to himself. But the children
thought nothing of his unwieldy speech; to them it was easier to believe
in the new age than it was to him.
Pelle was going through a peculiar change at this time. He had seen
enough need and poverty in his life; and the capital was simply a
battlefield on which army upon army had rushed forward and had miserably
been defeated. Round about him lay the fallen. The town was built over
them as over a cemetery; one had to tread upon them in order to win
forward and harden one's heart. Such was life in these days; one shut
one's eyes--like the sheep when they see their comrades about to be
slaughtered--and waited until one's own turn came. There was nothing
else to do.
But now he was awake and suffering; it hurt him with a stabbing pain
whenever he saw others suffer; and he railed against misfortune,
unreasonable though it might be.
There came a day when he sat working at home. At the other end of the
gangway a factory girl with her child had moved in a short while before.
Every morning she locked the door and went to work--and she did not
return until the evening. When Pelle came home he could hear the sound
of crying within the room.
He sat at his work, wrestling with his confused ideas. And all the time
a curious stifled sound was in his ears--a grievous sound, as though
something were incessantly complaining. Perhaps it was only the dirge of
poverty itself, some strophe of which was always vibrating upon the air.
Little Marie came hurrying in. "Oh, Pelle, it's crying again!" she said,
and she wrung her hands anxiously upon her hollow chest. "It has cried
all day, ever since she came here--it is horrible!"
"We'll go and see what's wrong," said Pelle, and he threw down his
The door was locked; they tried to look through the keyhole, but could
see nothing. The child within stopped its crying for a moment, as though
it heard them, but it began again at once; the sound was low and
monotonous, as though the child was prepared to hold out indefinitely.
They looked at one another; it was unendurable.
"The keys on this gangway do for all the doors," said Marie, under her
breath. With one leap Pelle had rushed indoors, obtained his key, and
opened the door.
Close by the door sat a little four-year-old boy; he stared up at them,
holding a rusty tin vessel in his hand. He was tied fast to the stove;
near him, on an old wooden stool, was a tin plate containing a few half-
nibbled crusts of bread. The child was dressed in filthy rags and
presented a shocking appearance. He sat in his own filth; his little
hands were covered with it. His tearful, swollen face was smeared all
over with it. He held up his hands to them beseechingly.
Pelle burst into tears at the horrible sight and wanted to pick the
child up. "Let me do that!" cried Marie, horrified. "You'll make
"What then?" said Pelle stupidly. He helped to untie the child; his
hands were trembling.
To some extent they got the child to rights and gave him food. Then they
let him loose in the long gangway. For a time he stood stupidly gaping
by the doorpost; then he discovered that he was not tied up, and began
to rush up and down. He still held in his hand the old tea-strainer
which he had been grasping when they rescued him; he had held on to it
convulsively all the time. Marie had to dip his hand in the water in
order to clean the strainer.
From time to time he stood in front of Pelle's open door, and peeped
inside. Pelle nodded to him, when he went storming up and down again--he
was like a wild thing. But suddenly he came right in, laid the tea-
strainer in Pelle's lap and looked at him. "Am I to have that?" asked
Pelle. "Look, Marie, he is giving me the only thing he's got!"
"Oh, poor little thing!" cried Marie pityingly. "He wants to thank you!"
In the evening the factory girl came rushing in; she was in a rage, and
began to abuse them for breaking into her room. Pelle wondered at
himself, that he was able to answer her so quietly instead of railing
back at her. But he understood very well that she was ashamed of her
poverty and did not want any one else to see it. "It is unkind to the
child," was all he said. "And yet you are fond of it!"
Then she began to cry. "I have to tie him up, or he climbs out over the
window-sill and runs into the street--he got to the corner once before.
And I've no clothes, to take him to the creche!"
"Then leave the door open on the gangway! We will look after him, Marie
After this the child tumbled about the gangway and ran to and fro. Marie
looked after him, and was like a mother to him. Pelle bought some old
clothes, and they altered them to fit him. The child looked very droll
in them; he was a little goblin who took everything in good part. In his
loneliness he had not learned to speak, but now speech came quickly to
In Pelle this incident awakened something quite novel. Poverty he had
known before, but now he saw the injustice that lay beneath it, and
cried to heaven. His hands would suddenly clench with anger as he sat so
quietly in his room. Here was something one must hasten forward, without
intermission, day and night, as long as one drew breath--Morten was
right about that! This child's father was a factory hand, and the girl
dared not summon him before the magistrates in order to make him pay for
its support for fear of being dismissed from her place. The whole
business seemed so hopeless--society seemed so unassailable--yet he felt
that he must strike a blow. His own hands alone signified so little; but
if they could only strike the blow all together--then perhaps it would
have some effect.
In the evenings he and Morten went to meetings where the situation was
passionately discussed. Those who attended these meetings were mostly
young people like himself. They met in some inn by the North Bridge. But
Pelle longed to see some result, and applied himself eagerly to the
organization of his own craft.
He inspired the weary president with his own zeal, and they prepared
together a list of all the members of their trade--as the basis of a
more vigorous agitation. When the "comrades" were invited to a meeting
through the press, they turned lazy and failed to appear. More effectual
means were needed; and Pelle started a house-to-house agitation. This
helped immediately; they were in a dilemma when one got them face to
face, and the Union was considerably increased, in spite of the
persecution of the big masters.
Morten began to treat him with respect; and wanted him to read about the
movement. But Pelle had no time for that. Together with Peter and Karl,
who were extremely zealous, he took in _The Working Man_, and that
was enough for him. "I know more about poverty than they write there,"
There was no lack of fuel to keep this fire burning. He had participated
in the march of poverty, from the country to the town and thence to the
capital, and there they stood and could go no farther for all their
longing, but perished on a desert shore. The many lives of the "Ark" lay
always before his eyes as a great common possession, where no one need
conceal himself, and where the need of the one was another's grief.
His nature was at this time undergoing a great change. There was an end
of his old careless acceptance of things. He laughed less and performed
apparently trivial actions with an earnestness which had its comical
side. And he began to display an appearance of self-respect which seemed
ill-justified by his position and his poverty.
One evening, when work was over, as he came homeward from Beck's
workshop, he heard the children singing Hanne's song down in the
courtyard. He stood still in the tunnel-like entry; Hanne herself stood
in the midst of a circle, and the children were dancing round her and
"I looked from the lofty mountain
Down over vale and lea,
And I saw a ship come sailing,
I saw a ship come sailing,
And on it were lordlings three."
On Hanne's countenance lay a blind, fixed smile; her eyes were tightly
closed. She turned slowly about as the children sang, and she sang
softly with them:
"The youngest of all the lordlings
Who on the ship did stand..."
But suddenly she saw Pelle and broke out of the circle. She went up the
stairs with him. The children, disappointed, stood calling after her.
"Aren't you coming to us this evening?" she asked. "It is so long since
we have seen you."
"I've no time. I've got an appointment," replied Pelle briefly.
"But you must come! I beg you to, Pelle." She looked at him pleadingly,
her eyes burning.
Pelle's heart began to thump as he met her gaze. "What do you want with
me?" he asked sharply.
Hanne stood still, gazing irresolutely into the distance.
"You must help me, Pelle," she said, in a toneless voice, without
meeting his eye.
"Yesterday I met.... Yesterday evening, as I was coming out of the
factory ... he stood down below here ... he knows where I live. I went
across to the other side and behaved as though I did not see him; but he
came up to me and said I was to go to the New Market this evening!"
"And what did you say to that?" answered Pelle sulkily.
"I didn't say anything--I ran as hard as I could!"
"Is that all you want me for?" cried Pelle harshly. "You can keep away
from him, if you don't want him!"
A cold shudder ran through her. "But if he comes here to look for
me?... And you are so.... I don't care for anybody in the world but you
and mother!" She spoke passionately.
"Well, well, I'll come over to you," answered Pelle cheerfully.
He dressed himself quickly and went across. The old woman was delighted
to see him. Hanne was quite frolicsome; she rallied him continually, and
it was not long before he had abandoned his firm attitude and allowed
himself to be drawn into the most delightful romancing. They sat out on
the gallery under the green foliage, Hanne's face glowing to rival the
climbing pelargonium; she kept on swinging her foot, and continually
touched Pelle's leg with the tip of her shoe.
She was nervously full of life, and kept on asking the time. When her
mother went into the kitchen to make coffee, she took Pelle's hand and
smilingly stroked it.
"Come with me," she said. "I should so like to see if he is really so
silly as to think I'd come. We can stand in a corner somewhere and look
Pelle did not answer.
"Mother," said Hanne, when Madam Johnsen returned with the coffee, "I'm
going out to buy some stuff for my bodice. Pelle's coming with me."
The excuse was easy to see through. But the old woman betrayed no
emotion. She had already seen that Hanne was well disposed toward Pelle
to-day; something was going on in the girl's mind, and if Pelle only
wanted to, he could now bridle her properly. She had no objection to
make if both the young people kicked over the traces a little. Perhaps
then they would find peace together.
"You ought to take your shawl with you," she told Hanne. "The evening
air may turn cold."
Hanne walked so quickly that Pelle could hardly follow her. "It'll be a
lark to see his disappointment when we don't turn up," she said,
laughing. Pelle laughed also. She stationed herself behind one of the
pillars of the Town Hall, where she could peep out across the market.
She was quite out of breath, she had hurried so.
Gradually, as the time went by and the stranger did not appear, her
animation vanished; she was silent, and her expression was one of
"No one's going to come!" she said suddenly, and she laughed shortly.
"I only made up the whole thing to tell you, to see what you'd say."
"Then let's go!" said Pelle quietly, and he took her hand.
As they went down the steps, Hanne started; and her hand fell limply
from his. The stranger came quickly up to her. He held out his hand to
Hanne, quietly and as a matter of course, as though he had known her for
years. Pelle, apparently, he did not see.
"Will you come somewhere with me--where we can hear music, for example?"
he asked, and he continued to hold her hand. She looked irresolutely at
For a moment Pelle felt an inordinate longing to throw himself upon this
man and strike him to the ground, but then he met Hanne's eyes, which
wore an expression as though she was longing for some means of shaking
him off. "Well, it looks as if one was in the way here!" he thought.
"And what does it all matter to me?" He turned away from her and
sauntered off down a side street.
Pelle strolled along to the quays by the gasworks, and he stood there,
sunk in thought, gazing at the ships and the oily water. He did not
suffer; it was only so terribly stupid that a strange hand should appear
out of the unknown, and that the bird which he with all his striving
could not entice, should have hopped right away on to that hand.
Below the quay-wall the water plashed with a drowsy sound; fragments of
wood and other rubbish floated on it; it was all so home-like! Out by
the coal-quay lay a three-master. It was after working hours; the crew
were making an uproar below decks, or standing about on deck and washing
themselves in a bucket. One well-grown young seaman in blue clothes and
a white neckerchief came out of the cabin and stared up at the rigging
as though out of habit, and yawned. Then he strolled ashore. His cap was
on the back of his head, and between his teeth was a new pipe. His face
was full of freakish merriment, and he walked with a swing of the hips.
As he came up to Pelle he swayed to and fro a few times and then bumped
into him. "Oh, excuse me!" he said, touching his cap. "I thought it was
a scratching-post, the gentleman stood so stiff. Well, you mustn't take
it amiss!" And he began to go round and round Pelle, bending far forward
as though he were looking for something on him, and finally he pawed his
own ears, like a friendly bear, and shook with laughter. He was
overflowing with high spirits and good humor.
Pelle had not shaken off his feeling of resentment; he did not know
whether to be angry or to laugh at the whole thing.
He turned about cautiously, so as to keep his eye on the sailor, lest
the latter should pull his feet from under him. He knew the grip, and
also how it should be parried; and he held his hands in readiness.
Suddenly something in the stooping position struck him as familiar. This
was Per Kofod--Howling Peter, from the village school at home, in his
own person! He who used to roar and blubber at the slightest word! Yes,
this was he!
"Good evening, Per!" he cried, delighted, and he gave him a thump in the
The seaman stood up, astonished. "What the devil! Good evening! Well,
that I should meet you here, Pelle; that's the most comical thing I've
ever known! You must excuse my puppy-tricks! Really!" He shook Pelle
heartily by the hand.
They loafed about the harbor, chatting of old times. There was so much
to recall from their schooldays. Old Fris with his cane, and the games
on the beach! Per Kofod spoke as though he had taken part in all of
them; he had quite forgotten that he used always to stand still gripping
on to something and bellowing, if the others came bawling round him.
"And Nilen, too, I met him lately in New Orleans. He is second mate on a
big American full-rigged ship, and is earning big money. A smart fellow
he is. But hang it all, he's a tough case! Always with his revolver in
his hand. But that's how it has to be over there--among the niggers.
Still, one fine day they'll slit his belly up, by God they will! Now
then, what's the matter there?"
From some stacks of timber near by came a bellowing as of some one in
torment, and the sound of blows. Pelle wanted, to turn aside, but Per
Kofod seized his arm and dragged him forward.
In among the timber-stacks three "coalies" were engaged in beating a
fourth. He did not cry out, but gave vent to a muffled roar every time
he received a blow. The blood was flowing down his face.
"Come on!" shouted Per Kofod, hitching up his trousers. And then, with a
roar, he hurled himself into their midst, and began to lay about him in
all directions. It was like an explosion with its following hail of
rocks. Howling Peter had learned to use his strength; only a sailor
could lay about him in that fashion. It was impossible to say where his
blows were going to fall; but they all went home. Pelle stood by for a
moment, mouth and eyes open in the fury of the fray; then he, too,
tumbled into the midst of it, and the three dock-laborers were soon
biting the dust.
"Damn it all, why did you interfere!" said Pelle crossly, when it was
over, as he stood pulling his collar straight.
"I don't know," said Howling Peter. "But it does one no harm to bestir
one's self a bit for once!"
After the heat of the battle they had all but forgotten the man
originally attacked; he lay huddled up at the foot of a timber-stack and
made no sound. They got him on his legs again, but had to hold him
upright; he stood as limp as though asleep, and his eyes were staring
stupidly. He was making a heavy snoring sound, and at every breath the
blood made two red bubbles at his nostrils. From time to time he ground
his teeth, and then his eyes turned upward and the whites gleamed
strangely in his coal-blackened face.
The sailor scolded him, and that helped him so far that he was able to
stand on his feet. They drew a red rag from his bulging jacket-pocket,
and wiped the worst of the blood away. "What sort of a fellow are you,
damn it all, that you can't stand a drubbing?" said Per Kofod.
"I didn't call for help," said the man thickly. His lips were swollen to
"But you didn't hit back again! Yet you look as if you'd strength
enough. Either a fellow manages to look after himself or he sings out so
that others can come to help him. D'ye see, mate?"
"I didn't want to bring the police into it; and I'd earned a thrashing.
Only they hit so damned hard, and when I fell they used their clogs."
He lived in the Saksogade, and they took each an arm. "If only I don't
get ill now!" he groaned from time to time. "I'm all a jelly inside."
And they had to stop while he vomited.
There was a certain firm for which he and his mates had decided no
longer to unload, as they had cut down the wages offered. There were
only four of them who stuck to their refusal; and what use was it when
others immediately took their place? The four of them could only hang
about and play the gentleman at large; nothing more came of it. But of
course he had given his word--that was why he had not hit back. The
other three had found work elsewhere, so he went back to the firm and
ate humble pie. Why should he hang about idle and killing time when
there was nothing to eat at home? He was damned if he understood these
new ways; all the same, he had betrayed the others, for he had given his
word. But they had struck him so cursedly hard, and had kicked him in
the belly with their clogs.
He continued rambling thus, like a man in delirium, as they led him
along. In the Saksogade they were stopped by a policeman, but Per Kofod
quickly told him a story to the effect that the man had been struck on
the head by a falling crane. He lived right up in the attics. When they
opened the door a woman who lay there in child-bed raised herself up on
the iron bedstead and gazed at them in alarm. She was thin and anemic.
When she perceived the condition of her husband she burst into a
heartrending fit of crying.
"He's sober," said Pelle, in order to console her; "he has only got a
They took him into the kitchen and bathed his head over the sink with
cold water. But Per Kofod's assistance was not of much use; every time
the woman's crying reached his ears he stopped helplessly and turned his
head toward the door; and suddenly he gave up and tumbled head-foremost
down the back stairs.
"What was really the matter with you?" asked Pelle crossly, when he,
too, could get away. Per was waiting at the door for him.
"Perhaps you didn't hear her hymn-singing, you blockhead! But, anyhow,
you saw her sitting up in bed and looking like wax? It's beastly, I tell
you; it's infamous! He'd no need to go making her cry like that! I had
the greatest longing to thrash him again, weak as a baby though he was.
The devil--what did he want to break his word for?"
"Because they were starving, Per!" said Pelle earnestly. "That does
happen at times in this accursed city."
Kofod stared at him and whistled. "Oh, Satan! Wife and child, and the
whole lot without food--what? And she in childbed. They were married,
right enough, you can see that. Oh, the devil! What a honeymoon! What
He stood there plunging deep into his trouser pockets; he fetched out a
handful of things: chewing-tobacco, bits of flock, broken matches, and
in the midst of all a crumpled ten-kroner note. "So I thought!" he said,
fishing out the note. "I was afraid the girls had quite cleaned me out
last night! Now Pelle, you go up and spin them some sort of a yarn; I
can't do it properly myself; for, look you, if I know that woman she
won't stop crying day and night for another twenty-four hours! That's
the last of my pay. But--oh, well, blast it ... we go to sea to-morrow!"
"She stopped crying when I took her the money," said Pelle, when he came
"That's good. We sailors are dirty beasts; you know; we do our business
into china and eat our butter out of the tarbucket; all the same, we--I
tell you, I should have left the thing alone and used the money to have
made a jolly night of it to-night...." He was suddenly silent; he chewed
at his quid as though inwardly considering his difficult philosophy.
"Damn it all, to-morrow we put to sea!" he cried suddenly.
They went out to Alleenberg and sat in the gardens. Pelle ordered beer.
"I can very well stand a few pints when I meet a good pal," he said,
"but at other times I save like the devil. I've got to see about getting
my old father over here; he's living on charity at home."
"So your father's still living? I can see him still so plainly--he had a
love-affair with Madam Olsen for some time, but then bo'sun Olsen came
home unexpectedly; they thought he'd remain abroad."
Pelle laughed. Much water had run into the sea since those days. Now he
was no longer ashamed of Father Lasse's foolish prank.
Light was gleaming from the booths in the garden. Young couples wandered
about and had their fortunes told; they ventured themselves on the Wheel
of Happiness, or had their portraits cut out by the silhouette artist.
By the roundabout was a mingled whirl of cries and music and brightly
colored petticoats. Now and again a tremendous outcry arose, curiously
dreadful, over all other sounds, and from the concert-pavilion one heard
the cracked, straining voices of one-time "stars." Wretched little
worldlings came breathlessly hurrying thither, pushing through the
crowd, and disappeared into the pavilion, nodding familiarly to the man
in the ticket-office window.
"It's really quite jolly here," said Per Kofod. "You have a damn good
time of it on land!"
On the wide pathway under the trees apprentices, workmen, soldiers, and
now and again a student, loitered up and down, to and fro, looking
sideways at the servant-girls, who had stationed themselves on either
side of the walk, standing there arm-in-arm, or forming little groups.
Their eyes sent many a message before ever one of them stopped and
ventured to speak. Perhaps the maiden turned away; if so, that was an
end of the matter, and the youngster began the business all over again.
Or perhaps she ran off with him to one of the closed arbors, where they
drank coffee, or else to the roundabouts. Several of the young people
were from Pelle's home; and every time he heard the confident voices of
the Bornholm girls Pelle's heart stirred like a bird about to fly away.
Suddenly his troubles returned to his mind. "I really felt inclined,
this evening, to have done with the whole thing.... Just look at those
two, Per!" Two girls were standing arm-in-arm under a tree, quite close
to their table. They were rocking to and fro together, and now and again
they glanced at the two young men.
"Nothing there for me--that's only for you land-lubbers," said Per
Kofod. "For look you now, they're like so many little lambs whose ears
you've got to tickle. And then it all comes back to you in the nights
when you take the dog-watch alone; you've told her lies, or you promised
to come back again when she undid her bodice.... And in the end there
she is, planted, and goin' to have a kid! It don't do. A sailor ought to
keep to the naughty girls."
"But married women can be frisky sometimes," said Pelle.
"That so, really? Once I wouldn't have believed that any one could have
kicked a good woman; but after all they strangle little children.... And
they come and eat out of your hand if you give 'em a kind word--that's
the mischief of it.... D'you remember Howling Peter?"
"Yes, as you ask me, I remember him very well."
"Well, his father was a sailor, too, and that's just what he did.... And
she was just such a girl, one who couldn't say no, and believed
everything a man told her. He was going to come back again--of course.
'When you hear the trap-door of the loft rattle, that'll be me,' he told
her. But the trap-door rattled several times, and he didn't come. Then
she hanged herself from the trap-door with a rope. Howling Peter came on
to the parish. And you know how they all scorned him. Even the wenches
thought they had the right to spit at him. He could do nothing but
bellow. His mother had cried such a lot before he was born, d'ye see?
Yes, and then he hanged himself too--twice he tried to do it. He'd
inherited that! After that he had a worse time than ever; everybody
thought it honorable to ill-use him and ask after the marks on his
throat. No, not you; you were the only one who didn't raise a hand to
him. That's why I've so often thought about you. 'What has become of
him?' I used to ask myself. 'God only knows where he's got to!'" And he
gazed at Pelle with a pair of eyes full of trust.
"No, that was due to Father Lasse," said Pelle, and his tone was quite
childlike. "He always said I must be good to you because you were in
"In God's keeping, did he say?" repeated Per Kofod thoughtfully. "That
was a curious thing to say. That's a feeling I've never had. There was
nothing in the whole world at that time that could have helped me to
stand up for myself. I can scarcely understand how it is that I'm
sitting here talking to you--I mean, that they didn't torment the life
out of my body."
"Yes, you've altered very much. How does it really come about that
you're such a smart fellow now?"
"Why, such as I am now, that's really my real nature. It has just waked
up, that's what I think. But I don't understand really what was the
matter with me then. I knew well enough I could knock you down if I had
only wanted to. But I didn't dare strike out, just out of sheer
wretchedness. I saw so much that you others couldn't see. Damn it all, I
can't make head nor tail of it! It must have been my mother's dreadful
misery that was still in my bones. A horror used to come over me--quite
causeless--so that I had to bellow aloud; and then the farmers used to
beat me. And every time I tried to get out of it all by hanging myself,
they beat me worse than ever. The parish council decided I was to be
beaten. Well, that's why I don't do it, Pelle--a sailor ought to keep to
women that get paid for it, if they have anything to do with him--that
is, if he can't get married. There, you have my opinion."
"You've had a very bad time," said Pelle, and he took his hand. "But
it's a tremendous change that's come over you!"
"Change! You may well say so! One moment Howling Peter--and the next,
the strongest man on board! There you have the whole story! For look
here now, at sea, of course, it was just the same; even the ship's boy
felt obliged to give me a kick on the shins in passing. Everybody who
got a blow on a rowing passed it on to me. And when I went to sea in an
American bark, there was a nigger on board, and all of them used to
hound him down; he crawled before them, but you may take your oath he
hated them out of the whites of his devil's eyes. But me, who treated
him with humanity, he played all manner of tricks on--it was nothing to
him that I was white. Yet even with him I didn't dare to fetch him one--
there was always like a flabby lump in my midriff. But once the thing
went too far--or else the still-born something inside me was exhausted.
I just aimed at him a bit with one arm, so that he fell down. That
really was a rummy business. It was, let's say, like a fairy tale where
the toad suddenly turns into a man. I set to then and there and thrashed
him till he was half dead. And while I was about it, and in the vein, it
seemed best to get the whole thing over, so I went right ahead and
thrashed the whole crew from beginning to end. It was a tremendous
moment, there was such a heap of rage inside me that had got to come
Pelle laughed. "A lucky thing that I knew you a little while ago, or you
would have made mincemeat of me, after all!"
"Not me, mate, that was only a little joke. A fellow is in such high
spirits when he comes ashore again. But out at sea it's--thrash the
others, or they'll thrash you! Well, that's all right, but one ought to
be good to the women. That's what I've told the old man on board; he's a
fellow-countryman, but a swine in his dealings with women. There isn't a
single port where he hasn't a love-affair. In the South, and on the
American coast. It's madman's work often, and I have to go along with
him and look out that he doesn't get a knife between his ribs. 'Per,' he
says, 'this evening we'll go on the bust together.' 'All right, cap'n,'
I say. 'But it's a pity about all the women.' 'Shut your mouth, Per,' he
says; 'they're most of them married safe enough.' He's one of us from
home, too--from a little cottage up on the heath."
"What's his name, then?" said Pelle, interested.
"Why, then he's Uncle Kalle's eldest, and in a way my cousin--Kalle,
that is to say, isn't really his father. His wife had him before she was
married--he's the son of the owner of Stone Farm."
"So he's a Kongstrup, then!" cried Per Kofod, and he laughed loudly.
"Well, that's as it should be!"
Pelle paid, and they got up to go. The two girls were still standing by
the tree. Per Kofod went up to one of them as though she had been a bird
that might escape him. Suddenly he seized her round the waist; she
withdrew herself slowly from his grip and laughed in his big fair face.
He embraced her once again, and now she stood still; it was still in her
mind to escape, for she laughingly half-turned away. He looked deep into
her eyes, then released her and followed Pelle.
"What's the use, Pelle--why, I can hear her complaining already! A
fellow ought to be well warned," he said, with a despairing accent.
"But, damn it all, why should a man have so much compassion when he
himself has been so cruelly treated? And the others; they've no
compassion. Did you see how gentle her eyes were? If I'd money I'd marry
her right away."
"Perhaps she wouldn't have you," replied Pelle. "It doesn't do to take
the girls for granted."
In the avenue a few men were going to and fro and calling; they were
looking for their young women, who had given them the slip. One of them
came up to Per and Pelle--he was wearing a student's cap. "Have the
gentlemen seen anything of our ladies?" he asked. "We've been sitting
with them and treating them all the evening, and then they said they'd
just got to go to a certain place, and they've gone off."
They went down to the harbor. "Can't you come on board with me and say
how d'ye-do to the old man?" said Per. "But of course, he's ashore to-
night. I saw him go over the side about the time we knocked off--rigged
out for chasing the girls."
"I don't know him at all," said Pelle; "he was at sea already when I was
still a youngster. Anyhow, I've got to go home to bed now--I get to work
early in the mornings."
They stood on the quay, taking leave of one another. Per Kofod promised
to look Pelle up next time he was in port. While they were talking the
door of the after-cabin rattled. Howling Peter drew Pelle behind a stack
of coal. A powerful, bearded man came out, leading a young girl by the
hand. She went slowly, and appeared to resist. He set her ceremoniously
ashore, turned back to the cabin, and locked the door behind him. The
girl stood still for a moment. A low 'plaint escaped her lips. She
stretched her arms pleadingly toward the cabin. Then she turned and went
mournfully along the quay.
"That was the old man," whispered Per Kofod. "That's how he treats them
all--and yet they don't want to give him up."
Pelle could not utter a word; he stood there cowering, oppressed as by
some terrible burden. Suddenly he pulled himself together, pressed his
comrade's hand, and set off quickly between the coal-stacks.
After a time he turned aside and followed the young girl at a little
distance. Like a sleep-walker, she staggered along the quay and went
over the long bridge. He feared she would throw herself in the water, so
strangely did she behave.
On the bridge she stood gazing across at the ship, with a frozen look on
her face. Pelle stood still; turned to ice by the thought that she might
see him. He could not have borne to speak to her just then--much less
look into her eyes.
But then she moved on. Her bearing was broken; from behind she looked
like one of those elderly, shipwrecked females from the "Ark," who
shuffled along by the house-walls in trodden-down men's shoes, and
always boasted a dubious past. "Good God!" thought Pelle, "is her dream
over already? Good God!"
He followed her at a short distance down the narrow street, and as soon
as he knew that she must have reached her dwelling he entered the
In the depths of Pelle's soul lay a confident feeling that he was
destined for something particular; it was his old dream of fortune,
which would not be wholly satisfied by the good conditions for all men
which he wanted to help to bring about. His fate was no longer in his
eyes a grievous and crushing predestination to poverty, which could only
be lifted from him by a miracle; he was lord of his own future, and
already he was restlessly building it up!
But in addition to this there was something else that belonged only to
him and to life, something that no one else in the world could
undertake. What it was he had not yet figured to himself; but it was
something that raised him above all others, secretly, so that only he
was conscious of it. It was the same obscure feeling of being a pioneer
that had always urged him forward; and when it did take the form of a
definite question he answered it with the confident nod of his
childhood. Yes, he would see it through all right! As though that which
was to befall him was so great and so wonderful that it could not be put
into words, nor even thought of. He saw the straight path in front of
him, and he sauntered on, strong and courageous. There were no other
enemies than those a prudent man might perceive; those lurking forces of
evil which in his childhood had hovered threateningly above his head
were the shadows of the poor man's wretchedness. There was nothing else
evil, and that was sinister enough. He knew now that the shadows were
long. Morten was right. Although he himself when a child had sported in
the light, yet his mind was saddened by the misery of all those who were
dead or fighting in distant parts of the earth; and it was on this fact
that the feeling of solidarity must be based. The miraculous simply had
no existence, and that was a good thing for those who had to fight with
the weapon of their own physical strength. No invisible deity sat
overhead making his own plans for them or obstructing others. What one
willed, that could one accomplish, if only he had strength enough to
carry it through. Strength--it was on that and that alone that
everything depended. And there was strength in plenty. But the strength
of all must be united, must act as the strength of one. People always
wondered why Pelle, who was so industrious and respectable, should live
in the "Ark" instead of in the northern quarter, in the midst of the
Movement. He wondered at himself when he ever thought about it at all;
but he could not as yet tear himself away from the "Ark." Here, at the
bottom of the ladder, he had found peace in his time of need. He was too
loyal to turn his back on those among whom he had been happy.
He knew they would feel it as a betrayal; the adoration with which the
inmates of the "Ark" regarded the three orphan children was also
bestowed upon him; he was the foundling, the fourth member of the
"Family," and now they were proud of him too!
It was not the way of the inmates of the "Ark" to make plans for the
future. Sufficient to the day was the evil thereof; to-morrow's cares
were left for the morrow. The future did not exist for them. They were
like careless birds, who had once suffered shipwreck and had forgotten
it. Many of them made their living where they could; but however down in
the world they were, let the slightest ray of sunlight flicker down to
them, and all was forgotten. Of the labor movement and other new things
they gossiped as frivolously as so many chattering starlings, who had
snapped up the news on the wind.
But Pelle went so confidently out into the world, and set his shoulders
against it, and then came back home to them. He had no fear; he could
look Life straight in the face, he grappled boldly with the future,
before which they shudderingly closed their eyes. And thereby his name
came to be spoken with a particular accent; Pelle was a prince; what a
pity it was that he wouldn't, it seemed, have the princess!
He was tall and well-grown, and to them he seemed even taller. They went
to him in their misery, and loaded it all on his strong young shoulders,
so that he could bear it for them. And Pelle accepted it all with an
increasing sense that perhaps it was not quite aimlessly that he
lingered here--so near the foundations of society!
At this time Widow Frandsen and her son Ferdinand came upon the scene.
Misfortune must house itself somewhere!
Ferdinand was a sturdy young fellow of eighteen years, with a powerfully
modelled head, which looked as though it had originally been intended to
absorb all the knowledge there is in all the world. But he used it only
for dispensing blows; he had no other use for it whatever.
Yet he was by no means stupid; one might even call him a gifted young
man. But his gifts were of a peculiar quality, and had gradually become
even more peculiar.
As a little child he had been forced to fight a besotted father, in
order to protect his mother, who had no other protector. This unequal
battle _had_ to be fought; and it necessarily blunted his capacity
for feeling pain, and particularly his sense of danger. He knew what was
in store for him, but he rushed blindly into the fray the moment his
mother was attacked; just as a dog will attack a great beast of prey, so
he hung upon the big man's fists, and would not be shaken off. He hated
his father, and he longed in his heart to be a policeman when he was
grown up. With his blind and obtuse courage he was particularly adapted
to such a calling; but he actually became a homeless vagabond.
Gradually as he grew in height and strength and the battle was no longer
so unequal, his father began to fear him and to think of revenge; and
once, when Ferdinand had thoroughly thrashed him, he reported him, and
the boy was flogged. The boy felt this to be a damnable piece of
injustice; the flogging left scars behind it, and another of its results
was that his mother was no longer left in peace.
From that time onward he hated the police, and indulged his hatred at
every opportunity. His mother was the only being for whom he still
cared. It was like a flash of sunshine when his father died. But it came
too late to effect any transformation; Ferdinand had long ago begun to
look after his mother in his own peculiar way--which was partly due to
the conditions of his life.
He had grown up in the streets, and even when quite a child was one of
those who are secretly branded. The police knew him well, and were only
awaiting their opportunity to ask him inside. Ferdinand could see it in
their eyes--they reckoned quite confidently on that visit, and had got a
bed already for him in their hotel on the New Market.
But Ferdinand would not allow himself to be caught. When he had anything
doubtful in hand, he always managed to clear himself. He was an
unusually strong and supple young fellow, and was by no means afraid to
work; he obtained all kinds of occasional work, and he always did it
well. But whenever he got into anything that offered him a future, any
sort of regular work which must be learned and attacked with patience,
he could never go on with it.
"You speak to him, Pelle!" said his mother. "You are so sensible, and he
does respect you!" Pelle did speak to him, and helped him to find some
calling for which he was suited; and Ferdinand set to work with a will,
but when he got to a certain point he always threw it up.
His mother never lacked actual necessaries; although sometimes he only
procured them at the last moment. When not otherwise engaged, he would
stand in some doorway on the market-place, loafing about, his hands in
his pockets, his supple shoulders leaning against the wall. He was
always in clogs and mittens; at stated intervals he spat upon the
pavement, his sea-blue eyes following the passers-by with an
unfathomable expression. The policeman, who was aggressively pacing up
and down his beat, glanced at him in secret every time he passed him, as
much as to say, "Shan't we ever manage to catch the rogue? Why doesn't
he make a slip?"
And one day the thing happened--quite of itself, and not on account of
any clumsiness on his part--in the "Ark" they laid particular stress
upon that. It was simply his goodness of heart that was responsible. Had
Ferdinand not been the lad he was, matters had not gone awry, for he was
a gifted young man.
He was in the grocer's shop on the corner of the Market buying a few
coppers' worth of chewing-tobacco. An eight-year-old boy from the "Ark"
was standing by the counter, asking for a little flour on credit for his
mother. The grocer was making a tremendous fuss about the affair. "Put
it down--I dare say! One keeps shop on the corner here just to feed all
the poor folks in the neighborhood! I shall have the money to-morrow?
Peculiar it is, that in this miserable, poverty-stricken quarter folks
are always going to have money the very next day! Only the next day
"Herre Petersen can depend on it," said the child, in a low voice.
The grocer continued to scoff, but began to weigh the meal. Before the
scales there was a pile of yard brooms and other articles, but Ferdinand
could see that the grocer was pressing the scale with his fingers. He's
giving false weight because it's for a poor person, thought Ferdinand,
and he felt an angry pricking in his head, just where his thoughts were.
The boy stood by, fingering something concealed in his hand. Suddenly a
coin fell on the floor and went rolling round their feet. Quick as
lightning the grocer cast a glance at the till, as he sprang over the
counter and seized the boy by the scruff of the neck. "Ay, ay," he said
sharply, "a clever little rogue!"
"I haven't stolen anything!" cried the boy, trying to wrench himself
loose and to pick up his krone-piece. "That's mother's money!"
"You leave the kid alone!" said Ferdinand threateningly. "He hasn't done
The grocer struggled with the boy, who was twisting and turning in order
to recover his money. "Hasn't done anything!" he growled, panting, "then
why did he cry out about stealing before ever I had mentioned the word?
And where does the money come from? He wanted credit, because they
hadn't got any! No, thanks--I'm not to be caught like that."
"The money belongs to mother!" shrieked the youngster, twisting
desperately in the grocer's grip. "Mother is ill--I'm to get medicine
with it!" And he began to blubber.
"It's quite right--his mother is ill!" said Ferdinand, with a growl.
"And the chemist certainly won't give credit. You'd best let him go,
Petersen." He took a step forward.
"You've thought it out nicely!" laughed the grocer scornfully, and he
wrenched the shop-door open. "Here, policeman, here!"
The policeman, who was keeping watch at the street corner, came quickly
over to the shop. "Here's a lad who plays tricks with other folks'
money," said the grocer excitedly. "Take care of him for a bit,
The boy was still hitting out in all directions; the policeman had to
hold him off at arm's length. He was a ragged, hungry little fellow. The
policeman saw at a glance what he had in his fingers, and proceeded to
drag him away; and there was no need to have made any more ado about the
Ferdinand went after him and laid his hand on the policeman's arm.
"Mister Policeman, the boy hasn't done anything," he said. "I was
standing there myself, and I saw that he did nothing, and I know his
The policeman stood still for a moment, measuring Ferdinand with a
threatening eye; then he dragged the boy forward again, the latter still
struggling to get free, and bellowing: "My mother is ill; she's waiting
for me and the medicine!" Ferdinand kept step with them, in his thin
"If you drag him off to the town hall, I shall come with you, at all
events, and give evidence for him," he continued; "the boy hasn't done
anything, and his mother is lying sick and waiting for the medicine at
The policeman turned about, exasperated. "Yes, you're a nice witness.
One crow don't pick another's eyes out. You mind your own business--and
just you be off!"
Ferdinand stood his ground. "Who are you talking to, you Laban?" he
muttered, angrily looking the other up and down. Suddenly he took a run
and caught the policeman a blow in the neck so that he fell with his
face upon the pavement while his helmet rolled far along the street.
Ferdinand and the boy dashed off, each in a different direction, and
And now they had been hunting him for three weeks already. He did not
dare go home. The "Ark" was watched night and day, in the hope of
catching him--he was so fond of his mother. God only knew where he might
be in that rainy, cold autumn. Madam Frandsen moved about her attic,
lonely and forsaken. It was a miserable life. Every morning she came
over to beg Pelle to look in _The Working Man_, to see whether her
son had been caught. He was in the city--Pelle and Madam Frandsen knew
that. The police knew it also; and they believed him responsible for a
series of nocturnal burglaries. He might well be sleeping in the
outhouses and the kennels of the suburban villas.
The inmates of the "Ark" followed his fate with painful interest. He had
grown up beneath their eyes. He had never done anything wrong there; he
had always respected the "Ark" and its inhabitants; that at least could
be said of him, and he loved his mother dearly. And he had been entirely
in the right when he took the part of the boy; a brave little fellow he
was! His mother was very ill; she lived at the end of one of the long
gangways, and the boy was her only support. But it was a mad undertaking
to lay hands on the police; that was the greatest crime on earth! A man
had far better murder his own parents--as far as the punishment went. As
soon as they got hold of him, he would go to jail, for the policeman had
hit his handsome face against the flagstones; according to the
newspaper, anybody but a policeman would have had concussion of the
* * * * *
Old Madam Frandsen loved to cross the gangway to visit Pelle, in order
to talk about her son.
"We must be cautious," she said. At times she would purse up her mouth,
tripping restlessly to and fro; then he knew there was something
particular in the wind.
"Shall I tell you something?" she would ask, looking at him importantly.
"No; better keep it to yourself," Pelle would reply. "What one doesn't
know one can't give evidence about."
"You'd better let me chatter, Pelle--else I shall go running in and
gossiping with strangers. Old chatterbox that I am, I go fidgeting round
here, and I've no one I can trust; and I daren't even talk to myself!
Then that Pipman hears it all through the wooden partition; it's almost
more than I can bear, and I tremble lest my toothless old mouth should
get him into trouble!"
"Well, then, tell it me!" said Pelle, laughing. "But you mustn't speak
"He's been here again!" she whispered, beaming. "This morning, when I
got up, there was money for me in the kitchen. Do you know where he had
put it? In the sink! He's such a sensible lad! He must have come
creeping over the roofs--otherwise I can't think how he does it, they
are looking for him so. But you must admit that--he's a good lad!"
"If only you can keep quiet about it!" said Pelle anxiously. She was so
proud of her son!
"M--m!" she said, tapping her shrunken lips. "No need to tell me that--
and do you know what I've hit on, so that the bloodhounds shan't wonder
what I live on? I'm sewing canvas slippers."
Then came little Marie with mop and bucket, and the old woman hobbled
It was a slack time now in Master Beck's workshop, so Pelle was working
mostly at home. He could order his hours himself now, and was able to
use the day, when people were indoors, in looking up his fellow-
craftsmen and winning them for the organization. This often cost him a
lengthy argument, and he was proud of every man he was able to inscribe.
He very quickly learned to classify all kinds of men, and he suited his
procedure to the character of the man he was dealing with; one could
threaten the waverers, while others had to be enticed or got into a good
humor by chatting over the latest theories with them. This was good
practice, and he accustomed himself to think rapidly, and to have his
subject at his fingers' ends. The feeling of mastery over his means
continually increased in strength, and lent assurance to his bearing.
He had to make up for neglecting his work, and at such times he was
doubly busy, rising early and sitting late at his bench.
He kept away from his neighbors on the third story; but when he heard
Hanne's light step on the planking over there, he used to peep furtively
across the well. She went her way like a nun--straight to her work and
straight home again, her eyes fixed on the ground. She never looked up
at his window, or indeed anywhere. It was as though her nature had
completed its airy flutterings, as though it now lay quietly growing.
It surprised him that he should now regard her with such strange and
indifferent eyes, as though she had never been anything to him. And he
gazed curiously into his own heart--no, there was nothing wrong with
him. His appetite was good, and there was nothing whatever the matter
with his heart. It must all have been a pleasant illusion, a mirage such
as the traveller sees upon his way. Certainly she was beautiful; but he
could not possibly see anything fairy-like about her. God only knew how
he had allowed himself to be so entangled! It was a piece of luck that
he hadn't been caught--there was no future for Hanne.
Madam Johnsen continued to lean on him affectionately, and she often
came over for a little conversation; she could not forget the good times
they had had together. She always wound up by lamenting the change in
Hanne; the old woman felt that the girl had forsaken her.
"Can you understand what's the matter with her, Pelle? She goes about as
if she were asleep, and to everything I say she answers nothing but
'Yes, mother; yes, mother!' I could cry, it sounds so strange and empty,
like a voice from the grave. And she never says anything about good
fortune now--and she never decks herself out to be ready for it! If
she'd only begin with her fool's tricks again--if she only cared to look
out and watch for the stranger--then I should have my child again. But
she just goes about all sunk into herself, and she stares about her as
if she was half asleep, as though she were in the middle of empty space;
and she's never in any spirits now. She goes about so unmeaning--like
with her own dreary thoughts, it's like a wandering corpse. Can you
understand what's wrong with her?"
"No, I don't know," answered Pelle.
"You say that so curiously, as if you did know something and wouldn't
come out with it--and I, poor woman, I don't know where to turn." The
good-natured woman began to cry. "And why don't you come over to see us
"Oh, I don't know--I've so much on hand, Madam Johnsen," answered Pelle
"If only she's not bewitched. She doesn't enter into anything I tell
her; you might really come over just for once; perhaps that would cheer
her up a little. You oughtn't to take your revenge on us. She was very
fond of you in her way--and to me you've been like a son. Won't you come
over this evening?"
"I really haven't the time. But I'll see, some time," he said, in a low
And then she went, drooping and melancholy. She was showing her fifty
years. Pelle was sorry for her, but he could not make up his mind to
"You are quite detestable!" said Marie, stamping angrily on the floor.
"It's wretched of you!"
Pelle wrinkled his forehead. "You don't understand, Marie."
"Oh, so you think I don't know all about it? But do you know what the
women say about you? They say you're no man, or you would have managed
to clip Hanne's feathers."
Pelle gazed at her, wondering; he said nothing, but looked at her and
shook his head.
"What are you staring at me for?" she said, placing herself aggressively
in front of him. "Perhaps you think I'm afraid to say what I like to
you? Don't you stare at me with that face, or you'll get one in the
mouth!" She was burning red with shame. "Shall I say something still
worse? with you staring at me with that face? Eh? No one need think I'm
ashamed to say what I like!" Her voice was hard and hoarse; she was
quite beside herself with rage.
Pelle was perfectly conscious that it was shame that was working in her.
She must be allowed to run down. He was silent, but did not avert his
reproachful gaze. Suddenly she spat in his face and ran into her own
room with a malicious laugh.
There she was very busy for a time.
There for a time she worked with extreme vigor, but presently grew
quieter. Through the stillness Pelle could hear her gently sobbing. He
did not go in to her. Such scenes had occurred between them before, and
he knew that for the rest of the day she would be ashamed of herself,
and it would he misery for her to look him in the face. He did not wish
to lessen that feeling.
He dressed himself and went out.
The "Ark" now showed as a clumsy gray mass. It was always dark; the
autumn daylight was unable to penetrate it. In the interior of the mass
the pitch-black night brooded continually; those who lived there had to
grope their way like moles. In the darkness sounds rose to the surface
which failed to make themselves noticeable in the radiance of summer.
Innumerable sounds of creatures that lived in the half-darkness were
heard. When sleep had laid silence upon it all, the stillness of night
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