Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 15 out of 23
embodied consciousness, happily growing from deeply-buried roots.
From the foundations of the "Ark" rose a peculiar sound, a stumbling,
countrified footstep, dragging itself in heavy footgear over the
flagstones. All Pelle's blood rushed to his heart; he threw down his
work, and with a leap was on the gallery, quite convinced that this was
only an empty dream.... But there below in the court stood Father Lasse
in the flesh, staring up through the timbers, as though he couldn't
believe his own eyes. He had a sack filled with rubbish on his back.
"Hallo!" cried Pelle, taking the stairs in long leaps. "Hallo!"
"Good-day, my lad!" said Lasse, in a voice trembling with emotion,
considering his son with his lashless eyes. "Yes, here you have Father
Lasse--if you will have him. But where, really, did you come from? Seems
to me you fell down from heaven?"
Pelle took his father's sack. "You just come up with me," he said. "You
can trust the stairs all right; they are stronger than they look."
"Then they are like Lasse," answered the old man, trudging up close
behind him; the straps of his half-Wellingtons were peeping out at the
side, and he was quite the old man. At every landing he stood still and
uttered his comments on his surroundings. Pelle had to admonish him to
"One doesn't discuss everything aloud here. It might so easily be
regarded as criticism," he said.
"No, really? Well, one must learn as long as one lives. But just look
how they stand about chattering up here! There must be a whole
courtyard-full! Well, well. I won't say any more. I knew they lived one
on top of another, but I didn't think there'd be so little room here. To
hang the backyard out in front of the kitchen door, one on top of
another, that's just like the birds that build all on one bough. Lord
God, suppose it was all to come tumbling down one fine day!"
"And do you live here?" he cried, gazing in a disillusioned manner round
the room with its sloping ceiling. "I've often wondered how you were
fixed up over here. A few days ago I met a man at home who said they
were talking about you already; but one wouldn't think so from your
lodgings. However, it isn't far to heaven, anyhow!"
Pelle was silent. He had come to love his den, and his whole life here;
but Father Lasse continued to enlarge upon his hopes of his son's
respectability and prosperity, and he felt ashamed. "Did you imagine I
was living in one of the royal palaces?" he said, rather bitterly.
Lasse looked at him kindly and laid both hands on his shoulders. "So big
and strong as you've grown, lad," he said, wondering. "Well, and now you
have me here too! But I won't be a burden to you. No, but at home it had
grown so dismal after what happened at Due's, that I got ready without
sending you word. And then I was able to come over with one of the
skippers for nothing."
"But what's this about Due?" asked Pelle. "I hope nothing bad?"
"Good God, haven't you heard? He revenged himself on his wife because he
discovered her with the Consul. He had been absolutely blind, and had
only believed the best of her, until he surprised her in her sin. Then
he killed her, her and the children they had together, and went to the
authorities and gave himself up. But the youngest, whom any one could
see was the Consul's, he didn't touch. Oh, it was a dreadful misfortune!
Before he gave himself up to the police he came to me; he wanted just
one last time to be with some one who would talk it over with him
without hypocrisy. 'I've strangled Anna,' he said, as soon as he had sat
down. 'It had to be, and I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry. The children that
were mine, too. I've dealt honestly with them.' Yes, yes, he had dealt
honestly with the poor things! 'I just wanted to say goodbye to you,
Lasse, for my life's over now, happy as I might have been, with my
contented nature. But Anna always wanted to be climbing, and if I got on
it was her shame I had to thank for it. I never wanted anything further
than the simple happiness of the poor man--a good wife and a few
children--and now I must go to prison! God be thanked that Anna hasn't
lived to see that! She was finer in her feelings than the rest, and she
had to deceive in order to get on in the world.' So he sat there,
talking of the dead, and one couldn't notice any feeling in him. I
wouldn't let him see how sick at heart he made me feel. For him it was
the best thing, so long as his conscience could sleep easy. 'Your eyes
are watering, Lasse,' he said quietly; 'you should bathe them a bit;
they say urine is good.' Yes, God knows, my eyes did water! God of my
life, yes! Then he stood up. 'You, too, Lasse, you haven't much longer
life granted you,' he said, and he gave me his hand. 'You are growing
old now. But you must give Pelle my greetings--he's safe to get on!'"
Pelle sat mournfully listening to the dismal story. But he shuddered at
the last words. He had so often heard the expression of that
anticipation of his good fortune, which they all seemed to feel, and had
rejoiced to hear it; it was, after all, only an echo of his own self-
confidence. But now it weighed upon him like a burden. It was always
those who were sinking who believed in his luck; and as they sank they
flung their hopes upward toward him. A grievous fashion was this in
which his good fortune was prophesied! A terrible and grievous blessing
it was that was spoken over him and his success in life by this man
dedicated to death, even as he stepped upon the scaffold. Pelle sat
staring at the floor without a sign of life, a brooding expression on
his face; his very soul was shuddering at the foreboding of a superhuman
burden; and suddenly a light was flashed before his eyes; there could
never be happiness for him alone--the fairy-tale was dead! He was bound
up with all the others--he must partake of happiness or misfortune with
them; that was why the unfortunate Due gave him his blessing. In his
soul he was conscious of Due's difficult journey, as though he himself
had to endure the horror of it. And Fine Anna, who must clamber up over
his own family and tread them in the dust! Never again could he wrench
himself quite free as before! He had already encountered much
unhappiness and had learned to hate its cause. But this was something
more--this was very affliction itself!
"Yes," sighed Lasse, "a lucky thing that Brother Kalle did not live to
see all this. He worked himself to skin and bone for his children, and
now, for all thanks, he lied buried in the poorhouse burying-ground.
Albinus, who travels about the country as a conjurer, was the only one
who had a thought for him; but the money came too late, although it was
sent by telegraph. Have you ever heard of a conjuring-trick like that--
to send money from England to Bornholm over the telegraph cable? A
devilish clever acrobat! Well, Brother Kalle, he knew all sorts of
conjuring-tricks too, but he didn't learn them abroad. They had heard
nothing at all of Alfred at the funeral. He belongs to the fine folks
now and has cut off all connection with his poor relations. He has been
appointed to various posts of honor, and they say he's a regular
bloodhound toward the poor--a man's always worst toward his own kind.
But the fine folks, they say, they think great things of him."
Pelle heard the old man's speech only as a monotonous trickle of sound.
Due, Due, the best, the most good-natured man he knew, who championed
Anna's illegitimate child against her own mother, and loved her like his
own, because she was defenceless and needed his love--Due was now to lay
his head on the scaffold! So dearly bought was the fulfilment of his
wish, to obtain a pair of horses and become a coachman! He had obtained
the horses and a carriage on credit, and had himself made up for the
instalments and the interest--the Consul had merely stood security for
him. And for this humble success he was now treading the path of shame!
His steps echoed in Pelle's soul; Pelle did not know how he was going to
bear it. He longed for his former obtuseness.
Lasse continued to chatter. For him it was fate--grievous and heavy, but
it could not be otherwise. And the meeting with Pelle had stirred up so
many memories; he was quite excited. Everything he saw amused him.
However did anybody hit on the idea of packing folks away like this, one
on top of another, like herrings in a barrel? And at home on Bornholm
there were whole stretches of country where no one lived at all! He did
not venture to approach the window, but prudently stood a little way
back in the room, looking out over the roofs. There, too, was a crazy
arrangement! One could count the ears in a cornfield as easily as the
houses over here!
Pelle called Marie, who had discreetly remained in her own room. "This
is my foster-mother," he said, with his arm round her shoulders. "And
that is Father Lasse, whom you are fond of already, so you always say.
Now can you get us some breakfast?" He gave her money.
"She's a good girl, that she is," said Lasse, feeling in his sack. "She
shall have a present. There's a red apple," he said to Marie, when she
returned; "you must eat it, and then you'll be my sweetheart." Marie
smiled gravely and looked at Pelle.
They borrowed the old clothes dealer's handcart and went across to the
apple barges to fetch Lasse's belongings. He had sold most of them in
order not to bring too great a load to the city. But he had retained a
bedstead with bedding, and all sorts of other things. "And then I have
still to give you greetings from Sort and Marie Nielsen," he said.
Pelle blushed. "I owe her a few words, but over here I quite forgot it
somehow! And I have half promised her my portrait. I must see now about
"Yes, do," said Father Lasse. "I don't know how close you two stand to
each other, but she was a good woman. And those who stay behind, they're
sad when they're forgotten. Remember that."
At midday Lasse had tidied himself a trifle and began to brush his hat.
"What now?" inquired Pelle. "You don't want to go out all alone?"
"I want to go out and look at the city a bit," replied Lasse, as though
it were quite a matter of course. "I want to find some work, and perhaps
I'll go and have a peep at the king for once. You need only explain in
which direction I must go."
"You had better wait until I can come with you--you'll only lose
"Shall I do that?" replied Lasse, offended. "But I found my way here
alone, I seem to remember!"
"I can go with the old man!" said Marie.
"Yes, you come with the old man, then no one can say he has lost his
youth!" cried Lasse jestingly, as he took her hand. "I think we two
shall be good friends."
Toward evening they returned. "There are folks enough here," said Lasse,
panting, "but there doesn't seem to be a superfluity of work. I've been
asking first this one and then that, but no one will have me. Well,
that's all right! If they won't, I can just put a spike on my stick and
set to work collecting the bits of paper in the streets, like the other
old men; I can at least do that still."
"But I can't give my consent to that," replied Pelle forcibly. "My
father shan't become a scavenger!"
"Well--but I must get something to do, or I shall go back home again.
I'm not going to go idling about here while you work."
"But you can surely rest and enjoy a little comfort in your old days,
father. However, we shall soon see."
"I can rest, can I? I had better lie on my back and let myself be fed
like a long-clothes child! Only I don't believe my back would stand it!"
They had placed Lasse's bed with the footboard under the sloping
ceiling; there was just room enough for it. Pelle felt like a little boy
when he went to bed that night; it was so many years since he had slept
in the same room as Father Lasse. But in the night he was oppressed by
evil dreams; Due's dreadful fate pursued him in his sleep. His
energetic, good-humored face went drifting through the endless grayness,
the head bowed low, the hands chained behind him, a heavy iron chain was
about his neck, and his eyes were fixed on the ground as though he were
searching the very abyss. When Pelle awoke it was because Father Lasse
stood bending over his bed, feeling his face, as in the days of his
Lasse would not sit idle, and was busily employed in running about the
city in search of work. When he spoke to Pelle he put a cheerful face on
a bad business; and looked hopeful; but the capital had already
disillusioned him. He could not understand all this hubbub, and felt
that he was too old to enter into it and fathom its meaning--besides,
perhaps it had none! It really looked as though everybody was just
running to and fro and following his own nose, without troubling in the
least about all the rest. And there were no greetings when you passed
folks in the street; the whole thing was more than Lasse could
understand. "I ought to have stayed at home," he would often think.
And as for Pelle--well, Pelle was taken up with his own affairs! That
was only to be expected in a man. He ran about going to meetings and
agitating, and had a great deal to do; his thoughts were continually
occupied, so that there was no time for familiar gossip as in the old
days. He was engaged, moreover, so that what time was not devoted to the
Labor movement was given to his sweetheart. How the boy had grown, and
how he had altered, bodily and in every way! Lasse had a feeling that he
only reached up to Pelle's belt nowadays. He had grown terribly serious,
and was quite the man; he looked as though he was ready to grasp the
reins of something or other; you would never, to look at him, have
thought that he was only a journeyman cobbler. There was an air of
responsibility about him--just a little too much may be!
Marie got into the way of accompanying the old man. They had become good
friends, and there was plenty for them to gossip over. She would take
him to the courtyard of the Berlingske Tidende, where the people in
search of work eddied about the advertisement board, filling up the
gateway and forming a crowd in the street outside.
"We shall never get in there!" said Lasse dejectedly. But Marie worked
herself forward; when people scolded her she scolded them back. Lasse
was quite horrified by the language the child used; but it was a great
Marie read out the different notices, and Lasse made his comments on
every one, and when the bystanders laughed Lasse gazed at them
uncomprehendingly, then laughed with them, and nodded his head merrily.
He entered into everything.
"What do you say? Gentleman's coachman? Yes, I can drive a pair of
horses well enough, but perhaps I'm not fine enough for the gentry--I'm
afraid my nose would drip!"
He looked about him importantly, like a child that is under observation.
"But errand boy--that isn't so bad. We'll make a note of that. There's
no great skill needed to be everybody's dog! House porter! Deuce take
it--there one need only sit downstairs and make angry faces out of a
basement window! We'll look in there and try our luck."
They impressed the addresses on their minds until they knew them by
heart, and then squeezed their way out through the crowd. "Damn funny
old codger!" said the people, looking after him with a smile--Lasse was
quite high-spirited. They went from house to house, but no one had any
use for him. The people only laughed at the broken old figure with the
"They laugh at me," said Lasse, quite cast down; "perhaps because I
still look a bit countrified. But that after all can soon be overcome.
"I believe it's because you are so old and yet want to get work," said
"Do you think it can be on that account? Yet I'm only just seventy, and
on both my father's and mother's side we have almost all lived to
ninety. Do you really think that's it? If they'd only let me set to work
they'd soon see there's still strength in old Lasse! Many a younger
fellow would sit on his backside for sheer astonishment. But what are
those people there, who stand there and look so dismal and keep their
hands in their pockets?"
"Those are the unemployed; it's a slack time for work, and they say it
will get still worse."
"And all those who were crowding round the notice-board--were they idle
"But then it's worse here than at home--there at least we always have
the stone-cutting when there is nothing else. And I had really believed
that the good time had already begun over here!"
"Pelle says it will soon come,' said Marie consolingly.
"Yes, Pelle--he can well talk. He is young and healthy and has the time
Lasse was in a bad temper; nothing seemed right to him. In order to give
him pleasure, Marie took him to see the guard changed, which cheered him
"Those are smart fellows truly," he said. "Hey, hey, how they hold
themselves! And fine clothes too. But that they know well enough
themselves! Yes--I've never been a king's soldier. I went up for it when
I was young and felt I'd like it; I was a smart fellow then, you can
take my word for it! But they wouldn't have me; my figure wouldn't do,
they said; I had worked too hard, from the time I was quite a child.
They'd got it into their heads in those days that a man ought to be made
just so and so. I think it's to please the fine ladies. Otherwise I,
too, might have defended my country."
Down by the Exchange the roadway was broken up; a crowd of navvies were
at work digging out the foundation for a conduit. Lasse grew quite
excited, and hurried up to them.
"That would be the sort of thing for me," he said, and he stood there
and fell into a dream at the sight of the work. Every time the workers
swung their picks he followed the movement with his old head. He drew
closer and closer. "Hi," he said to one of the workers, who was taking a
breath, "can a man get taken on here?"
The man took a long look at him. "Get taken on here?" he cried, turning
more to his comrades than to Lasse. "Ah, you'd like to, would you? Here
you foreigners come running, from Funen and Middlefart, and want to take
the bread out of the mouths of us natives. Get away with you, you
Jutland carrion!" Laughing, he swung his pick over his head.
Lasse drew slowly hack. "But he was angry!" he said dejectedly to Marie.
In the evening Pelle had to go to all his various meetings, whatever
they might be. He had a great deal to do, and, hard as he worked, the
situation still remained unfavorable. It was by no means so easy a
thing, to break the back of poverty!
"You just look after your own affairs," said Lasse. "I sit here and chat
a little with the children--and then I go to bed. I don't know why, but
my body gets fonder and fonder of bed, although I've never been
considered lazy exactly. It must be the grave that's calling me. But I
can't go about idle any longer--I'm quite stiff in my body from doing
Formerly Lasse never used to speak of the grave; but now he had
seemingly reconciled himself to the idea. "And the city is so big and so
confusing," he told the children. "And the little one has put by soon
runs through one's fingers."
He found it much easier to confide his troubles to them. Pelle had grown
so big and so serious that he absolutely inspired respect. One could
take no real pleasure in worrying him with trivialities.
But with the children he found himself in tune. They had to contend with
little obstacles and difficulties, just as he did, and could grasp all
his troubles. They gave him good, practical advice, and in return he
gave them his senile words of wisdom.
"I don't exactly know why it is so," he said, "but this great city makes
me quite confused and queer in the head. To mention nothing else, no one
here knows me and looks after me when I go by. That takes all the
courage out of my knees. At home there was always one or another who
would turn his head and say to himself, 'Look, there goes old Lasse,
he'll be going down to the harbor to break stone; devil take me, but how
he holds himself! Many a man would nod to me too, and I myself knew
every second man. Here they all go running by as if they were crazy! I
don't understand how you manage to find employment here, Karl?"
"Oh, that's quite easy," replied the boy. "About six in the morning I
get to the vegetable market; there is always something to be delivered
for the small dealers who can't keep a man. When the vegetable market is
over I deliver flowers for the gardeners. That's a very uncertain
business, for I get nothing more than the tips. And besides that I run
wherever I think there's anything going. To the East Bridge and out to
Frederiksburg. And I have a few regular places too, where I go every
afternoon for an hour and deliver goods. There's always something if one
runs about properly."
"And does that provide you with an average good employment every day?"
said Lasse wonderingly. "The arrangement looks to me a little uncertain.
In the morning you can't be sure you will have earned anything when the
"Ah, Karl is so quick," said Marie knowingly. "When the times are
ordinarily good he can earn a krone a day regularly."
"And that could really be made a regular calling?" No, Lasse couldn't
"Very often it's evening before I have earned anything at all, but one
just has to stir one's stumps; there's always something or other if one
knows where to look for it."
"What do you think--suppose I were to go with you?" said Lasse
"You can't do that, because I run the whole time. Really you'd do much
better to hide one of your arms."
"Hide one of my arms?" said Lasse wonderingly.
"Yes--stick one arm under your coat and then go up to people and ask
them for something. That wouldn't be any trouble to you, you look like
"Do I, indeed?" asked Lasse, blinking his eyes. "I never knew that
before. But even if that were so I shouldn't like to beg at people's
doors. I don't think any one will get old Lasse to do that."
"Then go along to the lime works--they are looking for stone-breakers
these days," said the omniscient youngster.
"Now you are talking!" said Lasse; "so they have stone here? Yes, I
brought my stone-cutter's tools with me, and if there's one thing on
earth I long to do it is to be able to bang away at a stone again!"
Pelle was now a man; he was able to look after his own affairs and a
little more besides; and he was capable of weighing one circumstance
against another. He had thrust aside his horror concerning Due's fate,
and once again saw light in the future. But this horror still lurked
within his mind, corroding everything else, lending everything a gloomy,
sinister hue. Over his brow brooded a dark cloud, as to which he himself
was not quite clear. But Ellen saw it and stroked it away with her soft
fingers, in order to make it disappear. It formed a curious contrast to
his fresh, ruddy face, like a meaningless threat upon a fine spring day.
He began to be conscious of confidence like a sustaining strength. It
was not only in the "Ark" that he was idolized; his comrades looked up
to him; if there was anything important in hand their eyes involuntarily
turned to him. Although he had, thoughtlessly enough, well-nigh wrecked
the organism in order to come to grips with Meyer, he had fully made up
for his action, and the Union was now stronger than ever, and this was
his doing. So he could stretch his limbs and give a little thought to
his own affairs.
He and Ellen felt a warm longing to come together and live in their own
little home. There were many objections that might be opposed to such a
course, and he was not blind to them. Pelle was a valiant worker, but
his earnings were not so large that one could found a family on them; it
was the naked truth that even a good worker could not properly support a
wife and children. He counted on children as a matter of course, and the
day would come also when Father Lasse would no longer be able to earn
his daily bread. But that day lay still in the remote future, and, on
the other hand, it was no more expensive to live with a companion than
alone--if that companion was a good and saving wife. If a man meant to
enjoy some little share of the joy of life, he must close his eyes and
leap over all obstacles, and for once put his trust in the exceptional.
"It'll soon be better, too," said Mason Stolpe. "Things look bad now in
most trades, but you see yourself, how everything is drawing to a great
crisis. Give progress a kick behind and ask her to hurry herself a
little--there's something to be gained by that. A man ought to marry
while he's still young; what's the good of going about and hankering
after one another?"
Madam Stolpe was, as always, of his opinion. "We married and enjoyed the
sweetness of it while our blood was still young. That's why we have
something now that we can depend on," she said simply, looking at Pelle.
So it was determined that the wedding should be held that spring. In
March the youngest son would complete his apprenticeship, so that the
wedding feast and the journeyman's feast could be celebrated
On the canal, just opposite the prison, a little two-roomed dwelling was
standing vacant, and this they rented. Mason Stolpe wanted to have the
young couple to live out by the North Bridge, "among respectable
people," but Pelle had become attached to this quarter. Moreover, he had
a host of customers there, which would give him a foothold, and there,
too, were the canals. For Pelle, the canals were a window opening on the
outer world; they gave his mind a sense of liberty; he always felt
oppressed among the stone walls by the North Bridge. Ellen let him
choose--it was indifferent to her where they lived. She would gladly
have gone to the end of the world with him, in order to yield herself.
She had saved a little money in her situation, and Pelle also had a
little put by; he was wise in his generation, and cut down all their
necessities. When Ellen was free they rummaged about buying things for
their home. Many things they bought second-hand, for cheapness, but not
for the bedroom; there everything was to be brand-new!
It was a glorious time, in which every hour was full of its own rich
significance; there was no room for brooding or for care. Ellen often
came running in to drag him from his work; he must come with her and
look at something or other--one could get it so cheap--but quickly,
quickly, before it should be gone! On her "off" Sundays she would reduce
the little home to order, and afterward they would walk arm in arm
through the city, and visit the old people.
Pelle had had so much to do with the affairs of others, and had given so
little thought to his own, that it was delightful, for once in a way, to
be able to rest and think of himself. The crowded outer world went
drifting far away from him; he barely glanced at it as he built his
nest; he thought no more about social problems than the birds that nest
And one day Pelle carried his possessions to his new home, and for the
last time lay down to sleep in the "Ark." There was no future for any
one here; only the shipwrecked sought an abiding refuge within these
walls. It was time for Pelle to move on. Yet from all this raggedness
and overcrowding rose a voice which one did not hear elsewhere; a
careless twittering, like that of unlucky birds that sit and plume their
feathers when a little sunlight falls on them. He looked back on the
time he had spent here with pensive melancholy.
On the night before his wedding he lay restlessly tossing to and fro.
Something seemed to follow him in his sleep. At last he woke, and was
sensible of a stifled moaning, that came and went with long intervals in
between, as though the "Ark" itself were moaning in an evil dream.
Suddenly he stood up, lit the lamp, and began to polish his wedding-
boots, which were still on the lasts, so that they might retain their
handsome shape. Lasse was still asleep, and the long gangway outside lay
still in slumber.
The sound returned, louder and more long-drawn, and something about it
reminded him of Stone Farm, and awaked the horror of his childish days.
He sat and sweated at his work. Suddenly he heard some one outside--some
one who groped along the gangway and fumbled at his door. He sprang
forward and opened it. Suspense ran through his body like an icy
shudder. Outside stood Hanne's mother, shivering in the morning cold.
"Pelle," she whispered anxiously, "it's so near now--would you run and
fetch Madam Blom from Market Street? I can't leave Hanne. And I ought to
be wishing you happiness, too."
The errand was not precisely convenient, nevertheless, he ran oft. And
then he sat listening, working still, but as quietly as possible, in
order not to wake Father Lasse. But then it was time for the children to
get up; for the last time he knocked on the wall and heard Marie's
sleepy "Ye--es!" At the same moment the silence of night was broken; the
inmates tumbled out and ran barefooted to the lavatories, slamming their
doors. "The Princess is lamenting," they told one another. "She's
lamenting because she's lost what she'll never get again." Then the
moaning rose to a loud shriek, and suddenly it was silent over there.
Poor Hanne! Now she had another to care for--and who was its father?
Hard times were in store for her.
Lasse was not going to work to-day, although the wedding-feast was not
to be held until the afternoon. He was in a solemn mood, from the
earliest morning, and admonished Pelle not to lay things cross-wise, and
the like. Pelle laughed every time.
"Yes, you laugh," said Lasse, "but this is an important day--perhaps the
most important in your life. You ought to take care lest the first
trifling thing you do should ruin everything."
He pottered about, treating everything as an omen. He was delighted with
the sun--it rose out of a sack and grew brighter and brighter in the
course of the day. It was never lucky for the sun to begin too blazing.
Marie went to and fro, considering Pelle with an expression of
suppressed anxiety, like a mother who is sending her child into the
world, and strives hard to seem cheerful, thought Pelle. Yes, yes, she
had been like a mother to him in many senses, although she was only a
child; she had taken him into her nest as a little forsaken bird, and
with amazement had seen him grow. He had secretly helped her when he
could. But what was that in comparison with the singing that had made
his work easy, when he saw how the three waifs accepted things as they
were, building their whole existence on nothing? Who would help them now
over the difficult places without letting them see the helping hand? He
must keep watchful eye on them.
Marie's cheeks were a hectic red, and her eyes were shining when he held
her roughened hands in his and thanked her for being such a good
neighbor. Her narrow chest was working, and a reflection of hidden
beauty rested upon her. Pelle had taught her blood to find the way to
her colorless face; whenever she was brought into intimate contact with
him or his affairs, her cheeks glowed, and every time a little of the
color was left behind. It was as though his vitality forced the sap to
flow upward in her, in sympathy, and now she stood before him, trying to
burst her stunted shell, and unfold her gracious capacities before him,
and as yet was unable to do so. Suddenly she fell upon his breast.
"Pelle, Pelle," she said, hiding her face against him. And then she ran
into her own room.
Lasse and Pelle carried the last things over to the new home, and put
everything tidy; then they dressed themselves in their best and set out
for the Stoples' home. Pelle was wearing a top-hat for the first time in
his life, and looked quite magnificent in it. "You are like a big city
chap," said Lasse, who could not look at him often enough. "But what do
you think they'll say of old Lasse? They are half-way fine folks
themselves, and I don't know how to conduct myself. Wouldn't it perhaps
be better if I were to turn back?"
"Don't talk like that, father!" said Pelle.
Lasse was monstrously pleased at the idea of attending the wedding-
feast, but he had all sorts of misgivings. These last years had made him
shy of strangers, and he liked to creep into corners. His holiday
clothes, moreover, were worn out, and his every-day things were patched
and mended; his long coat he had hired expressly for the occasion, while
the white collar and cuffs belonged to Peter. He did not feel at all at
home in his clothes, and looked like an embarrassed schoolboy waiting
At the Stolpes' the whole household was topsy-turvy. The guests who were
to go to the church had already arrived; they were fidgeting about in
the living-room and whistling to themselves, or looking out into the
street, and feeling bored. Stople's writing-table had been turned into a
side-board, and the brothers were opening bottles of beer and politely
pressing everybody: "Do take a sandwich with it--you'll get a dry throat
standing so long and saying nothing."
In the best room Stolpe was pacing up and down and muttering. He was in
his shirtsleeves, waiting until it was his turn to use the bedroom,
where Ellen and her mother had locked themselves in. Prom time to time
the door was opened a little, and Ellen's bare white arm appeared, as
she threw her father some article of attire. Then Pelle's heart began to
On the window-sill stood Madam Stolpe's myrtle; it was stripped quite
Now Stolpe came back; he was ready! Pelle had only to button his collar
for him. He took Lasse's hand and then went to fetch _The Working
Man_. "Now you just ought to hear this, what they say of your son,"
he said, and began to read:
"Our young party-member, Pelle, to-day celebrates his nuptials with the
daughter of one of the oldest and most respected members of the party,
Mason Stolpe. This young man, who has already done a great deal of work
for the Cause, was last night unanimously proposed as President of his
organization. We give the young couple our best wishes for the future."
"That speaks for itself, eh?" Stolpe handed the paper to his guests.
"Yes, that looks well indeed," they said, passing the paper from hand to
hand. Lasse moved his lips as though he, too, were reading the notice
through. "Yes, devilish good, and they know how to put these things," he
"But what's wrong with Petersen--is he going to resign?" asked Stolpe.
"He is ill," replied Pelle. "But I wasn't there last night, so I don't
know anything about it." Stolpe gazed at him, astonished.
Madam Stolpe came in and drew Pelle into the bedroom, where Ellen stood
like a snow-white revelation, with a long veil and a myrtle-wreath in
her hair. "Really you two are supposed not to see one another, but I
think that's wrong," she said, and with a loving glance she pushed them
into each other's arms.
Frederik, who was leaning out of the window, in order to watch for the
carriage, came and thundered on the door. "The carriage is there,
children!" he roared, in quite a needlessly loud voice. "The carriage is
And they drove away in it, although the church was only a few steps
distant. Pelle scarcely knew what happened to him after that, until he
found himself back in the carriage; they had to nudge him every time he
had to do anything. He saw no one but Ellen.
She was his sun; the rest meant nothing to him. At the altar he had
seized her hand and held it in his during the whole service.
Frederik had remained at home, in order to admit, receive messages and
people who came to offer their congratulations. As they returned he
leaned out of the window and threw crackers and detonating pellets under
the horses' feet, as a salute to the bridal pair.
People drank wine, touched glasses with the young couple, and examined
the wedding-presents. Stolpe looked to see the time; it was still quite
early. "You must go for a bit of a stroll, father," said Madam Stolpe.
"We can't eat anything for a couple of hours yet." So the men went
across to Ventegodt's beer-garden, in order to play a game of skittles,
while the women prepared the food.
Pelle would rather have stopped in the house with Ellen, but he must
not; he and Lasse went together. Lasse had not yet properly wished Pelle
happiness; he had waited until they should be alone.
"Well, happiness and all blessings, my boy," he said, much moved, as he
pressed Pelle's hand. "Now you, too, are a man with a family and
responsibilities. Now don't you forget that the women are like children.
In serious matters you mustn't be too ceremonious with them, but tell
them, short and plain. This is to be so! It goes down best with them. If
once a man begins discussing too much with them, then they don't know
which way they want to go. Otherwise they are quite all right, and it's
easy to get on with them--if one only treats them well. I never found it
any trouble, for they like a firm hand over them. You've reason to be
proud of your parents-in-law; they are capital people, even if they are
a bit proud of their calling. And Ellen will make you a good wife--if I
know anything of women. She'll attend to her own affairs and she'll
understand how to save what's left over. Long in the body she is, like a
fruitful cow--she won't fail you in the matter of children."
Outdoors in the beer-garden Swedish punch was served, and Lasse's
spirits began to rise. He tried to play at skittles--he had never done
so before; and he plucked up courage to utter witticisms.
The others laughed, and Lasse drew himself up and came out of his shell.
"Splendid people, the Copenhageners!" he whispered to Pelle. "A ready
hand for spending, and they've got a witty word ready for everything."
Before any one noticed it had grown dark, and now they must be home!
At home the table was laid, and the rest of the guests had come. Madam
Stolpe was already quite nervous, they had stopped away so long. "Now
we'll all wobble a bit on our legs," whispered Stolpe, in the entry;
"then my wife will go for us! Well, mother, have you got a warm welcome
ready for us?" he asked, as he tumbled into the room.
"Ah, you donkey, do you think I don't know you?" cried Madam Stolpe,
laughing. "No, one needn't go searching in the taverns for my man!"
Pelle went straight up to Ellen in the kitchen and led her away. Hand in
hand they went round the rooms, looking at the last presents to arrive.
There was a table-lamp, a dish-cover in German silver, and some
enamelled cooking-utensils. Some one, too, had sent a little china
figure of a child in swaddling-clothes, but had forgotten to attach his
Ellen led Pelle out into the entry, in order to embrace him, but there
stood Morten, taking off his things. Then they fled into the kitchen,
but the hired cook was in possession; at length they found an
undisturbed haven in the bedroom. Ellen wound her arms round Pelle's
neck and gazed at him in silence, quite lost in happiness and longing.
And Pelle pressed the beloved, slender, girlish body against his own,
and looked deep in her eyes, which were dark and shadowy as velvet, as
they drank in the light in his. His heart swelled within him, and he
felt that he was unspeakably fortunate--richer than any one else in the
whole world--because of the treasure that he held in his arms. Silently
he vowed to himself that he would protect her and cherish her and have
no other thought than to make her happy.
An impatient trampling sounded from the other room. "The young couple--
the young couple!" they were calling. Pelle and Ellen hastened in, each
by a different door. The others were standing in their places at the
table, and were waiting for Pelle and Ellen to take their seats. "Well,
it isn't difficult to see what she's been about!" said Stolpe teasingly.
"One has only to look at the lass's peepers--such a pair of glowing
Otto Stolpe, the slater, was spokesman, and opened the banquet by
offering brandy. "A drop of spirits," he said to each: "we must make
sure there's a vent to the gutter, or the whole thing will soon get
"Now, take something, people!" cried Stolpe, from the head of the table,
where he was carving a loin of roast pork. "Up with the bricks there!"
He had the young couple on his right and the newly-baked journeyman on
his left. On the table before him stood a new bedroom chamber with a
white wooden cover to it; the guests glanced at it and smiled at one
another. "What are you staring at?" he asked solemnly. "If you need
anything, let the cat out of the bag!"
"Ah, it's the tureen there!" said his brother, the carpenter, without
moving a muscle. "My wife would be glad to borrow it a moment, she
His wife, taken aback, started up and gave him a thwack on the back.
"Monster!" she said, half ashamed, and laughing. "The men must always
make a fool of somebody!"
Then they all set to, and for a while eating stopped their mouths. From
time to time some droll remark was made. "Some sit and do themselves
proud, while others do the drudging," said the Vanishing Man, Otto's
comrade. Which was to say that he had finished his pork. "Give him one
in the mouth, mother!" said Stolpe.
When their hunger was satisfied the witticisms began to fly. Morten's
present was a great wedding-cake. It was a real work of art; he had made
it in the form of a pyramid. On the summit stood a youthful couple, made
of sugar, who held one another embraced, while behind them was a highly
glazed representation of the rising sun. Up the steps of the pyramid
various other figures were scrambling to the top, holding their arms
outstretched toward the summit. Wine was poured out when they came to
the cake, and Morten made a little speech in Pelle's honor, in which he
spoke of loyalty toward the new comrade whom he had chosen. Apparently
the speech concerned Ellen only, but Pelle understood that his words
were meant to be much more comprehensive; they had a double meaning all
"Thank you, Morten," he said, much moved, and he touched glasses with
Then Stolpe delivered a speech admonishing the newly-married pair. This
was full of precious conceits and was received with jubilation.
"Now you see how father can speak," said Madam Stolpe. "When nothing
depends on it then he can speak!"
"What's that you say, mother?" cried Stolpe, astonished. He was not
accustomed to criticism from that source. "Just listen to that now--
one's own wife is beginning to pull away the scaffolding-poles from
"Well, that's what I say!" she rejoined, looking at him boldly. Her face
was quite heated with wine. "Does any one stand in the front of things
like father does? He was the first, and he has been always the most
zealous; he has done a good stroke of work, more than most men. And to-
day he might well have been one of the leaders and have called the tune,
if it weren't for that damned hiccoughing. He's a clever man, and his
comrades respect him too, but what does all that signify if a man
hiccoughs? Every time he stands on the speaker's platform he has the
"And yet it isn't caused by brandy?" said the thick-set little Vanishing
Man, Albert Olsen.
"Oh, no, father has never gone in for bottle agitation," replied Madam
"That was a fine speech that mother made about me," said Stolpe,
laughing, "and she didn't hiccough. It is astonishing, though--there are
some people who can't. But now it's your turn, Frederik. Now you have
become a journeyman and must accept the responsibility yourself for
doing things according to plumb-line and square. We have worked on the
scaffold together and we know one another pretty well. Many a time
you've been a clown and many a time a sheep, and a box on the ears from
your old man has never been lacking. But that was in your fledgling
years. When only you made up your mind there was no fault to be found
with you. I will say this to your credit--that you know your trade--you
needn't be shamed by anybody. Show what you can do, my lad! Do your
day's work so that your comrades don't need to take you in tow, and
never shirk when it comes to your turn!"
"Don't cheat the drinker of his bottle, either," said Albert Olsen,
interrupting. Otto nudged him in the ribs.
"No, don't do that," said Stolpe, and he laughed. "There are still two
things," he added seriously. "Take care the girls don't get running
about under the scaffold in working hours, that doesn't look well; and
always uphold the fellowship. There is nothing more despicable than the
name of strikebreaker."
"Hear, hear!" resounded about the table. "A true word!"
Frederik sat listening with an embarrassed smile.
He was dressed in a new suit of the white clothes of his calling, and on
his round chin grew a few dark downy hairs, which he fingered every
other moment. He was waiting excitedly until the old man had finished,
so that he might drink brotherhood with him.
"And now, my lad," said Stolpe, taking the cover from the "tureen," "now
you are admitted to the corporation of masons, and you are welcome!
Health, my lad." And with a sly little twinkle of his eye, he set the
utensil to his mouth, and drank.
"Health, father!" replied Frederik, with shining eyes, as his father
passed him the drinking-bowl. Then it went round the table. The women
shrieked before they drank; it was full of Bavarian beer, and in the
amber fluid swam Bavarian sausages. And while the drinking-bowl made its
cheerful round, Stolpe struck up with the Song of the Mason:
"The man up there in snowy cap and blouse,
He is a mason, any fool could swear.
Just give him stone and lime, he'll build a house
Fine as a palace, up in empty air!
Down in the street below stands half the town:
Ah, ah! Na, na!
The scaffold sways, but it won't fall down!
"Down in the street he's wobbly in his tread,
He tumbles into every cellar door;
That's 'cause his home is in the clouds o'erhead,
Where all the little birds about him soar.
Up there he works away with peaceful mind:
Ah, ah. Na, na!
The scaffold swings in the boisterous wind!
"What it is to be giddy no mason knows:
Left to himself he'd build for ever,
Stone upon stone, till in Heaven, I s'pose!
But up comes the Law, and says--Stop now, clever!
There lives the Almighty, so just come off!
Ah, ah! Na, na!
Sheer slavery this, but he lets them scoff!
"Before he knows it the work has passed:
He measures all over and reckons it up.
His wages are safe in his breeches at last,
And he clatters off home to rest and to sup.
And a goodly wage he's got in his pocket:
Ah, ah! Na, na!
The scaffold creaks to the winds that rock it!"
The little thick-set slater sat with both arms on the table, staring
right in front of him with veiled eyes. When the song was over he raised
his head a little. "Yes, that may be all very fine--for those it
concerns. But the slater, he climbs higher than the mason." His face was
"Now, comrade, let well alone," said Stolpe comfortably. "It isn't the
question, to-night, who climbs highest, it's a question of amusing
"Yes, that may be," replied Olsen, letting his head sink again. "But the
slater, he climbs the highest." After which he sat there murmuring to
"Just leave him alone," whispered Otto. "Otherwise he'll get in one of
his Berserker rages. Don't be so grumpy, old fellow," he said, laying
his arm on Olsen's shoulders. "No one can compete with you in the art of
tumbling down, anyhow!"
The Vanishing Man was so called because he was in the habit--while
lying quite quietly on the roof at work--of suddenly sliding downward
and disappearing into the street below. He had several times fallen from
the roof of a house without coming to any harm; but on one occasion he
had broken both legs, and had become visibly bow-legged in consequence.
In order to appease him, Otto, who was his comrade, related how he had
fallen down on the last occasion.
"We were lying on the roof, working away, he and I, and damned cold it
was. He, of course, had untied the safety-rope, and as we were lying
there quite comfortably and chatting, all of a sudden he was off. 'The
devil!' I shouted to the others, 'now the Vanishing Man has fallen down
again!' And we ran down the stairs as quick as we could. We weren't in a
humor for any fool's tricks, as you may suppose. But there was no Albert
Olsen lying on the pavement. 'Damn and blast it all, where has the
Vanisher got to?' we said, and we stared at one another, stupefied. And
then I accidentally glanced across at a beer-cellar opposite, and there,
by God, he was sitting at the basement window, winking at us so, with
his forefinger to his nose, making signs to us to go down and have a
glass of beer with him. 'I was so accursedly thirsty,' was all he said;
'I couldn't wait to run down the stairs!'"
The general laughter appeased the Vanishing Man. "Who'll give me a glass
of beer?" he said, rising with difficulty. He got his beer and sat down
in a corner.
Stolpe was sitting at the table playing with his canary, which had to
partake of its share in the feast. The bird sat on his red ear and fixed
its claws in his hair, then hopped onto his arm and along it onto the
table. Stolpe kept on asking it, "What would you like to smoke, Hansie?"
"Peep!" replied the canary, every time. Then they all laughed. "Hansie
would like a pipe!"
"How clever he is, to answer like that!" said the women.
"Clever?--ay, and he's sly too! Once we bought a little wife for him;
mother didn't think it fair that he shouldn't know what love is. Well,
they married themselves very nicely, and the little wife lay two eggs.
But when she wanted to begin to sit Hansie got sulky; he kept on calling
to her to come out on the perch. Well, she wouldn't, and one fine day,
when she wanted to get something to eat, he hopped in and threw the eggs
out between the bars! He was jealous--the rascal! Yes, animals are
wonderfully clever--stupendous it is, that such a little thing as that
could think that out! Now, now, just look at him!"
Hansie had hopped onto the table and had made his way to the remainder
of the cake. He was sitting on the edge of the dish, cheerfully flirting
his tail as he pecked away. Suddenly something fell upon the table-
cloth. "Lord bless me," cried Stolpe, in consternation, "if that had
been any one else! Wouldn't you have heard mother carry on!"
Old Lasse was near exploding at this. He had never before been in such
pleasant company. "It's just as if one had come upon a dozen of Brother
Kalle's sort," he whispered to Pelle. Pelle smiled absently. Ellen was
holding his hand in her lap and playing with his fingers.
A telegram of congratulation came for Pelle from his Union, and this
brought the conversation back to more serious matters. Morten and Stolpe
became involved in a dispute concerning the labor movement; Morten
considered that they did not sufficiently consider the individual, but
attached too much importance to the voice of the masses. In his opinion
the revolution must come from within.
"No," said Stolpe, "that leads to nothing. But if we could get our
comrades into Parliament and obtain a majority, then we should build up
the State according to our own programme, and that is in every respect a
"Yes, but it's a question of daily bread," said Morten, with energy.
"Hungry people can't sit down and try to become a majority; while the
grass grows the cow starves! They ought to help themselves. If they do
not, their self-consciousness is imperfect; they must wake up to the
consciousness of their own human value. If there were a law forbidding
the poor man to breathe the air, do you think he'd stop doing so? He
simply could not. It's painful for him to look on at others eating when
he gets nothing himself. He is wanting in physical courage. And so
society profits by his disadvantage. What has the poor man to do with
the law? He stands outside all that! A man mustn't starve his horse or
his dog, but the State which forbids him to do so starves its own
workers. I believe they'll have to pay for preaching obedience to the
poor; we are getting bad material for the now order of society that we
hope to found some day."
"Yes, but we don't obey the laws out of respect for the commands of a
capitalist society," said Stolpe, somewhat uncertainly, "but out of
regard for ourselves. God pity the poor man if he takes the law into his
"Still, it keeps the wound fresh! As for all the others, who go hungry
in silence, what do they do? There are too few of them, alas--there's
room in the prisons for them! But if every one who was hungry would
stick his arm through a shop window and help himself--then the question
of maintenance would soon be solved. They couldn't put the whole nation
in prison! Now, hunger is yet another human virtue, which is often
practised until men die of it--for the profit of those who hoard wealth.
They pat the poor, brave man on the back because he's so obedient to the
law. What more can he want?"
"Yes, devil take it, of course it's all topsy-turvy," replied Stolpe.
"But that's precisely the reason why----No, no, you won't persuade me,
my young friend! You seem to me a good deal too 'red.' It wouldn't do!
Now I've been concerned in the movement from the very first day, and no
one can say that Stolpe is afraid to risk his skin; but that way
wouldn't suit me. We have always held to the same course, and everything
that we have won we have taken on account."
"Yes, that's true," interrupted Frau Stolpe. "When I look back to those
early years and then consider these I can scarcely believe it's true.
Then it was all we could do to find safe shelter, even among people of
our own standing; they annoyed us in every possible way, and hated
father because he wasn't such a sheep as they were, but used to concern
himself about their affairs. Every time I went out of the kitchen door
I'd find a filthy rag of dishcloth hung over the handle, and they
smeared much worse things than that over the door--and whose doing was
it? I never told father; he would have been so enraged he would have
torn the whole house down to find the guilty person. No, father had
enough to contend against already. But now: 'Ah, here comes Stolpe--
Hurrah! Long live Stolpe! One must show respect to Stolpe, the
"That may be all very fine," muttered Albert Olsen, "but the slater, he
climbs the highest." He was sitting with sunken head, staring angrily
"To be sure he climbs highest," said the women. "No one says he
"Leave him alone," said Otto; "he's had a drop too much!"
"Then he should take a walk in the fresh air and not sit there and make
himself disagreeable," said Madam Stolpe, with a good deal of temper.
The Vanishing Man rose with an effort. "Do you say a walk in the fresh
air, Madam Stolpe? Yes, if any one can stand the air, by God, it's
Albert Olsen. Those big-nosed masons, what can they do?" He stood with
bent head, muttering angrily to himself. "Yes, then we'll take a walk in
the fresh air. I don't want to have anything to do with your fools'
tricks." He staggered out through the kitchen door.
"What's he going to do there?" cried Madam Stolpe, in alarm.
"Oh, he'll just go down into the yard and turn himself inside out," said
Otto. "He's a brilliant fellow, but he can't carry much."
Pelle, still sitting at table, had been drawing with a pencil on a scrap
of paper while the others were arguing. Ellen leaned over his shoulder
watching him. He felt her warm breath upon his ear and smiled happily as
he used his pencil. Ellen took the drawing when he had finished and
pushed it across the table to the others. It showed a thick-set figure
of a man, dripping with sweat, pushing a wheelbarrow which supported his
belly. "Capitalism--when the rest of us refuse to serve him any longer!"
was written below. This drawing made a great sensation. "You're a deuce
of a chap!" cried Stolpe. "I'll send that to the editor of the humorous
page--I know him."
"Yes, Pelle," said Lasse proudly, "there's nothing he can't do; devil
knows where he gets it from, for he doesn't get it from his father." And
they all laughed.
Carpenter Stolpe's good lady sat considering the drawing with amazement,
quite bewildered, looking first at Pelle's fingers and then at the
drawing again. "I can understand how people can say funny things with
their mouths," she said, "but with their fingers--that I don't
understand. Poor fellow, obliged to push his belly in front of him! It's
almost worse than when I was going to have Victor."
"Cousin Victor, her youngest, who is so deucedly clever," said Otto, in
explanation, giving Pelle a meaning wink.
"Yes, indeed he is clever, if he is only six months old. The other day I
took him downstairs with me when I went to buy some milk. Since then he
won't accept his mother's left breast any more. The rascal noticed that
the milkman drew skim milk from the left side of the cart and full-cream
milk from the tap on the right side. And another time----"
"Now, mother, give over!" said Carpenter Stolpe; "don't you see they're
sitting laughing at you? And we ought to see about getting home
presently." He looked a trifle injured.
"What, are you going already?" said Stolpe. "Why, bless my soul, it's
quite late already. But we must have another song first."
"It'll be daylight soon," said Madam Stolpe; she was so tired that she
When they had sung the Socialist marching song, the party broke up.
Lasse had his pockets filled with sweets for the three orphans.
"What's become of the Vanishing Man?" said Otto suddenly.
"Perhaps he's been taken bad down in the yard," said Stolpe. "Run down
and see, Frederick." They had quite forgotten him.
Frederik returned and announced that Albert Olsen was not in the yard--
and the gate was locked.
"Surely he can't have gone on the roof?" said one. They ran up the back
stairs; the door of the loft was open, and the skylight also.
Otto threw off his coat and swung himself up through the opening. On the
extreme end of the ridge of the roof sat Albert Olsen, snoring.
He was leaning against the edge of the party-wall, which projected
upward about eighteen inches. Close behind him was empty space.
"For God's sake don't call him," said Mother Stolpe, under her breath;
"and catch hold of him before he wakes."
But Otto went straight up to his comrade. "Hullo, mate! Time's up!" he
"Righto!" said the Vanisher, and he rose to his feet. He stood there a
moment, swaying above the abyss, then, giving the preference to the way
leading over the roof, he followed in Otto's track and crept through the
"What the dickens were you really doing there?" asked Stolpe, laughing.
"Have you been to work?"
"I just went up there and enjoyed the fresh air a bit. Have you got a
bottle of beer? But what's this? Everybody going home already?" "Yes,
you've been two hours sitting up there and squinting at the stars,"
Now all the guests had gone. Lasse and the young couple stood waiting to
say farewell. Madam Stolpe had tears in her eyes. She threw her arms
round Ellen. "Take good care of yourself, the night is so cold," she
said, in a choking voice, and she stood nodding after them with eyes
that were blinded with tears.
"Why, but there's nothing to cry about!" said Mason Stolpe, as he led
her indoors. "Go to bed now--I'll soon sing the Vanishing Man to sleep!
Thank God for to-day, mother!"
Pelle had placed his work-bench against the wall-space between the two
windows of the living-room. There was just room to squeeze past between
the edge of the bench and the round table which stood in the middle of
the room. Against the wall by the door stood an oak-stained sideboard,
which was Ellen's pride, and exactly opposite this, on the opposing
wall, stood the chest of drawers of her girlhood, with a mirror above it
and a white embroidered cover on the top. On this chest of drawers stood
a polished wooden workbox, a few photographs, and various knick-knacks;
with its white cover it was like a little altar.
Pelle went to Master Beck's only every other day; the rest of the time
he sat at home playing the little master. He had many acquaintances
hereabouts, really poor folks, who wore their boots until their
stockings appeared before they had them repaired; nevertheless, it was
possible to earn a day's pay among them. He obtained work, too, from
Ellen's family and their acquaintances. These were people of another
sort; even when things went badly with them they always kept up
appearances and even displayed a certain amount of luxury. They kept
their troubles to themselves.
He could have obtained plenty of journeyman work, but he preferred this
arrangement, which laid the foundation of a certain independence; there
was more chance of a future in it. And there was a peculiar feeling
about work done with his home as the background. When he lifted his eyes
from his work as he sat at home a fruitful warmth came into his heart;
things looked so familiar; they radiated comfort, as though they had
always belonged together. And when the morning sun shone into the room
everything wore a smile, and in the midst of it all Ellen moved busily
to and fro humming a tune. She felt a need always to be near him, and
rejoiced over every day which he spent at home. On those days she
hurried through her work in the kitchen as quickly as possible, and then
sat down to keep him company. He had to teach her how to make a patch,
and how to sew a sole on, and she helped him with his work.
"Now you are the master and I'm the journeyman!" she would say
delightedly. She brought him customers too; her ambition was to keep him
always at home. "I'll help you all I can. And one fine day you'll have
so much work you'll have to take an apprentice--and then a journeyman."
Then he would take her in his arms, and they worked in emulation, and
sang as they worked.
Pelle was perfectly happy, and had cast off all his cares and burdens.
This was his nest, where every stick and stone was worth more than all
else in the world besides. They had their work cut out to keep it
together and feed themselves a little daintily; and Pelle tackled his
work as joyfully as though he had at last found his true vocation. Now
and again a heavy wave came rolling up from the struggling masses,
making his heart beat violently, and then he would break out into fiery
speech; or his happiness would weave radiant pictures before his eyes,
and he would describe these to Ellen. She listened to him proudly, and
with her beloved eyes upon him he would venture upon stronger expression
and more vivid pictures, as was really natural to him. When at last he
was silent she would remain quietly gazing at him with those dark eyes
of hers that always seemed to be looking at something in him of which he
himself was unaware.
"What are you thinking of now?" Pelle would ask, for he would have
enjoyed an exposition of the ideas that filled his mind. There was no
one for him but Ellen, and he wanted to discuss the new ideas with her,
and to feel the wonderful happiness of sharing these too with her.
"I was thinking how red your lips are when you speak! They certainly
want to be kissed!" she replied, throwing her arms round his neck.
What happened round about her did not interest her; she could only speak
of their love and of what concerned herself. But the passionate gaze of
her eyes was like a deep background to their life. It had quite a
mysterious effect upon his mind; it was like a lure that called to the
unknown depths of his being. "The Pelle she sees must be different to
the one I know," he thought happily. There must be something fine and
strong in him for her to cling to him so closely and suffer so when
parted from him only for a moment. When she had gazed at him long enough
she would press herself against him, confused, and hide her face.
Without his remarking it, she directed his energies back to his own
calling. He could work for two when she sat at the bench facing him and
talked to him as she helped him. Pelle really found their little nest
quite comfortable, but Ellen's mind was full of plans for improvement
and progress. His business was to support a respectable home with dainty
furniture and all sorts of other things; she was counting on these
already. This home, which to him was like a beloved face that one cannot
imagine other than it is, was to her only a temporary affair, which
would by degrees be replaced by something finer and better. Behind her
intimate gossip of every-day trivialities she concealed a far-reaching
ambition. He must do his utmost if he was to accomplish all she expected
Ellen by no means neglected her housekeeping, and nothing ever slipped
through her fingers. When Pelle was away at the workshop she turned the
whole place upside down, sweeping and scrubbing, and had always
something good on the table for him. In the evening she was waiting for
him at the door of the workshop. Then they would take a stroll along the
canal, and across the green rampart where the children played. "Oh,
Pelle, how I've longed for you to-day!" she would say haltingly. "Now,
I've got you, and yet I've still got quite a pain in my breasts; they
don't know yet that you're with me!"
"Shan't we work a little this evening--just a quarter of an hour?" she
would say, when they had eaten, "so that you can become a master all the
sooner and make things more comfortable for yourself." Pelle perhaps
would rather have taken a walk through the city with her, or have gone
somewhere where they could enjoy the sunset, but her dark eyes fixed
themselves upon him.
She was full of energy from top to toe, and it was all centered on him.
There was something in her nature that excluded the possibility of
selfishness. In relation to herself, everything was indifferent; she
only wanted to be with him--and to live for him. She was beneficent and
intact as virgin soil; Pelle had awakened love in her--and it took the
shape of a perpetual need of giving. He felt, humbly, that she brought
all she had and was to him as a gift, and all he did was done to repay
He had refused to undertake the direction of the labor organization. His
life together with Ellen and the maintenance of the newly established
household left him no time for any effectual efforts outside his home.
Ellen did not interfere in the matter; but when he came home after
spending the evening at a meeting he could see she had been crying. So
he stopped at home with her; it was weak of him, out he did not see what
else he could do. And he missed nothing; Ellen more than made amends.
She knew how to make their little home close itself about him, how to
turn it into a world of exuberant inner life. There was no greater
pleasure than to set themselves to achieve some magnificent object--as,
for instance, to buy a china flower-pot, which could stand on the
window-sill and contain an aspidistra. That meant a week of saving, and
when they had got it they would cross over to the other side of the
canal, arm in arm, and look up at the window in order to see the effect.
And then something else would be needed; a perforating machine, an
engraved nameplate for the door; every Saturday meant some fresh
_The Working Man_ lay unread. If Pelle laid down his work a moment
in order to glance at it, there was Ellen nipping his ear with her lips;
his free time belonged to her, and it was a glorious distraction in
work-time, to frolic as carelessly as a couple of puppies, far more
delightful than shouldering the burden of the servitude of the masses!
So the paper was given up; Ellen received the money every week for her
savings-bank. She had discovered a corner in Market Street where she
wanted to set up a shop and work-room with three or four assistants--
that was what she was saving for. Pelle wondered at her sagacity, for
that was a good neighborhood.
After their marriage they did not visit Ellen's parents so often. Stolpe
found Pelle was cooling down, and used to tease him a little, in order
to make him answer the helm; but that angered Ellen, and resulted in
explosions--she would tolerate no criticism of Pelle. She went to see
them only when Pelle proposed it; she herself seemed to feel no desire
to see her family, but preferred staying at home. Often they pretended
they were not at home when "the family" knocked, in order to go out
alone, to the Zoological Gardens or to Lyngby.
They did not see much of Lasse. Ellen had invited him once for all to
eat his supper with them. But when he came home from work he was too
tired to change his clothes, and wash himself, and make himself tidy,
and Ellen was particular about her little home. He had a great respect
for her, but did not feel properly at home in her living-room.
He had taken Pelle's old room, and was boarding with the three orphans.
They thought great things of him, and all their queer care for the big
foundling Pelle was now transferred to old Lasse. And here they fell on
better soil. Lasse was becoming a child again, and had felt the need of
a little pampering. With devout attention he would listen to Marie's
little troubles, and the boy's narrations of everything that they did
and saw. In return he told them the adventures of his boyhood, or
related his experiences in the stone-breaking yard, swaggering suitably,
in order not to be outdone. When Pelle came to fetch his father the four
of them would be sitting down to some childish game. They would wrangle
as to how the game should be played, for Lasse was the most skilful. The
old man would excuse himself.
"You mustn't be angry, lad, because I neglect you--but I'm tired of an
evening and I go to bed early."
"Then come on Sunday--and breakfast with us; afterward we go out."
"No, I've something on for Sunday--an assignation," said Lasse
roguishly, in order to obviate further questions. "Enjoy your youthful
happiness; it won't last forever."
He would never accept help. "I earn what I need for my food and a few
clothes; I don't need much of either, and I am quite contented. And
you've enough to see to yourself," was his constant answer.
Lasse was always gentle and amiable, and appeared contented, but there
was a curious veil over his eyes, as though some disappointment were
gnawing at his heart.
And Pelle knew well what it was--it had always been an understood thing
that Lasse should spend his old age at Pelle's fireside. In his childish
dreams of the future, however various they might be, Father Lasse was
always at hand, enjoying a restful old age, in return for all he had
done for Pelle.
That was how it should be; at home in the country in every poor home a
gray-headed old man sat in the chimney-corner--for children among the
poor are the only comfort of age.
For the time being this could not be arranged; there was no room in
their two little rooms. Ellen was by no means lacking in heart; she
often thought of this or that for the old man's comfort, but her
passionate love would permit of no third person to approach them too
closely. Such a thing had never entered her mind; and Pelle felt that if
he were to persuade her to take Father Lasse into their home, the wonder
of their life together would be killed. They lived so fully from hour to
hour; theirs was a sacred happiness, that must not be sacrificed, but
which itself demanded the sacrifice of all else. Their relation was not
the usual practical self-love, but love itself, which seldom touches the
every-day life of the poor, save that they hear it in tragic and
beautiful songs of unhappy lovers. But here, to them, had come its very
self--a shining wonder!
And now Ellen was going to bear a child. Her figure grew fuller and
softer. Toward all others she was cold and remote in her behavior; only
to Pelle she disclosed herself utterly. The slight reserve which had
always lurked somewhere within her, as though there was something that
he could not yet conquer, had disappeared. Her gaze was no longer fixed
and searching; but sought his own with quiet self-surrender. A tender
and wonderful harmony was visible in her, as though she had now come
into her own, and from day to day she grew more beautiful.
Pelle was filled with pride to see how luxuriantly she unfolded beneath
his caresses. He was conscious of a sense of inexhaustible liberality,
such as the earth had suddenly inspired in him at times in his
childhood; and an infinite tenderness filled his heart. There was an
alluring power in Ellen's helplessness, so rich in promise as it was. He
would joyfully have sacrificed the whole world in order to serve her and
that which she so wonderfully bore within her.
He got up first in the morning, tidied the rooms, and made coffee before
he went to work. He was vexed if when he came home Ellen had been
sweeping or scrubbing. He made two of himself in order to spare her,
stinted himself of sleep, and was restlessly busy; his face had assumed
a fixed expression of happiness, which gave him almost a look of
stupidity. His thoughts never went beyond the four walls of his home;
Ellen's blessed form entirely engrossed him.
The buying of new furniture was discontinued; in its place Ellen made
curious purchases of linen and flannel and material for swaddling-bands,
and mysterious conversations were continually taking place between her
and her mother, from which Pelle was excluded; and when they went to see
Ellen's parents Madam Stolpe was always burrowing in her chests of
drawers, and giving Ellen little packages to be taken home.
The time passed only too quickly. Exclusively as they had lived for
their own affairs, it seemed as if they could never get everything
finished. And one day it was as though the world was shattered about
their heads. Ellen lay in bed, turning from side to side and shrieking
as though an evil spirit had taken possession of her body. Pelle bent
over her with a helpless expression, while at the foot of the bed sat
Madam Blom; she sat there knitting and reading the papers as though
nothing whatever was amiss. "Shriek away, little woman," she said from
time to time, when Ellen became silent; "that's part of the business!"
Ellen looked at her spitefully and defiantly pressed her lips together,
but next moment she opened her mouth wide and roared wildly. A rope was
fastened to the foot of the bed, and she pulled on this while she
shrieked. Then she collapsed, exhausted. "You wicked, wicked boy," she
whispered, with a faint smile. Pelle bent over her happily; but she
pushed him suddenly away; her beautiful body contorted itself, and the
dreadful struggle was raging again. But at last a feeble voice relieved
hers and filled the home with a new note. "Another mouth to fill," said
Madam Blom, holding the new-born child in the air by one leg. It was a
Pelle went about blushing and quite bewildered, as though something had
happened to him that no one else had ever experienced. At first he took
Master Beck's work home with him and looked after the child himself at
night. Every other moment he had to put down his work and run in to the
mother and child. "You are a wonderful woman, to give me such a child
for a kiss," he said, beaming, "and a boy into the bargain! What a man
"So it's a boy!" said the "family." "Don't quite lose your head!"
"That would be the last straw!" said Pelle gravely.
The feminine members of the family teased him because he looked after
the child. "What a man--perhaps he'd like to lie in child-bed, too!"
"I don't doubt it," growled Stolpe. "But he's near becoming an idiot,
and that's much more serious. And it pains me to say it, but that's the
girl's fault. And yet all her life she has only heard what is good and
proper. But women are like cats--there's no depending on them."
Pelle only laughed at their gibes. He was immeasurably happy.
And now Lasse managed to find his way to see them! He had scarcely
received the news of the event, when he made his appearance just as he
was. He was full of audaciously high spirits; he threw his cap on the
ground outside the door, and rushed into the bedroom as though some one
were trying to hold him back.
"Ach, the little creature! Did any one ever see such an angel!" he
cried, and he began to babble over the child until Ellen was quite rosy
with maternal pride.
His joy at becoming a grandfather knew no limits. "So it's come at last,
it's come at last!" he repeated, over and over again. "And I was always
afraid I should have to go to my grave without leaving a representative
behind me! Ach, what a plump little devil! He's got something to begin
life on, he has! He'll surely be an important citizen, Pelle! Just look
how plump and round he is! Perhaps a merchant or a manufacturer or
something of that sort! To see him in his power and greatness--but that
won't be granted to Father Lasse." He sighed. "Yes, yes, here he is, and
how he notices one already! Perhaps the rascal's wondering, who is this
wrinkled old man standing there and coming to see me in his old clothes?
Yes, it's Father Lasse, so look at him well, he's won his magnificence
by fair means!"
Then he went up to Pelle and fumbled for his hand. "Well, I've hardly
dared to hope for this--and how fine he is, my boy! What are you going
to call him?" Lasse always ended with that question, looking anxiously
at his son as he asked it. His old head trembled a little now when
anything moved him.
"He's to be called Lasse Frederik," said Pelle one day, "after his two
This delighted the old man. He went off on a little carouse in honor of
And now he came almost every day. On Sunday mornings he made himself
scrupulously tidy, polishing his boots and brushing his clothes, so as
to make himself thoroughly presentable. As he went home from work he
would look in to ask whether little Lasse had slept well. He eulogized
Ellen for bringing such a bright, beautiful youngster into the world,
and she quite fell in love with the old man, on account of his delight
in the child.
She even trusted him to sit with the little one, and he was never so
pleased as when she wished to go out and sent for him accordingly.
So little Lasse succeeded, merely by his advent, in abolishing all
misunderstandings, and Pelle blessed him for it. He was the deuce of a
fellow already--one day he threw Lasse and Ellen right into one
another's arms! Pelle followed step by step the little creature's
entrance into the world; he noticed when first his glance showed a
watchful attention, and appeared to follow an object, and when first his
hand made a grab at something. "Hey, hey, just look! He wants his share
of things already!" he cried delightedly. It was Pelle's fair moustache
the child was after--and didn't he give it a tug!
The little hand gripped valiantly and was scarcely to be removed; there
were little dimples on the fingers and deep creases at the wrist. There
was any amount of strength in Ellen's milk!
They saw nothing more of Morton. He had visited them at first, but after
a time ceased coming. They were so taken up with one another at the
time, and Ellen's cool behavior had perhaps frightened him away. He
couldn't know that that was her manner to everybody. Pelle could never
find an idle hour to look him up, but often regretted him. "Can you
understand what's amiss with him?" he would ask Ellen wonderingly. "We
have so much in common, he and I. Shall I make short work of it and go
and look him up?"
Ellen made no answer to this; she only kissed him. She wanted to have
him quite to herself, and encompassed him with her love; her warm breath
made him feel faint with happiness. Her will pursued him and surrounded
him like a wall; he had a faint consciousness of the fact, but made no
attempt to bestir himself. He felt quite comfortable as he was.
The child occasioned fresh expenses, and Ellen had all she could do;
there was little time left for her to help him. He had to obtain
suitable work, so that they might not suffer by the slack winter season,
but could sit cozily between their four walls. There was no time for
loafing about and thinking. It was an obvious truth, which their daily
life confirmed, that poor people have all they can do to mind their own
affairs. This was a fact which they had not at once realized.
He no longer gave any thought to outside matters. It was really only
from old habit that, as he sat eating his breakfast in the workshop, he
would sometimes glance at the paper his sandwiches were wrapped in--part
of some back number of _The Working Man._ Or perhaps it would
happen that he felt something in the air, that passed him by, something
in which he had no part; and then he would raise his head with a
listening expression. But Ellen was familiar with the remoteness that
came into his eyes at such times, and she knew how to dispel it with a
One day he met Morten in the street. Pelle was delighted, but there was
a sceptical expression in Morten's eyes. "Why don't you ever come to see
me now?" asked Pelle. "I often long to see you, but I can't well get
away from home."
"I've found a sweetheart--which is quite an occupation."
"Are you engaged?" said Pelle vivaciously. "Tell me something about
"Oh, there's not much to tell," said Morten, with a melancholy smile.
"She is so ragged and decayed that no one else would have her--that's
why I took her."
"That is truly just like you!" Pelle laughed. "But seriously, who is the
girl and where does she live?"
"Where does she live?" Morten stared at him for a moment
uncomprehendingly. "Yes, after all you're right. If you know where
people live you know all about them. The police always ask that
Pelle did not know whether Morten was fooling him or whether he was
speaking in good faith; he could not understand him in the least to-day.
His pale face bore signs of suffering. There was a curious glitter in
his eyes. "One has to live somewhere in this winter cold."
"Yes, you are right! And she lives on the Common, when the policeman
doesn't drive her away. He's the landlord of the unfortunate, you know!
There has been a census lately--well, did you observe what happened? It
was given out that everybody was to declare where he lodged on a
particular night. But were the census-papers distributed among the
homeless? No--all those who live in sheds and outhouses, or on the
Common, or in newly erected buildings, or in the disused manure-pits of
the livery stables--they have no home, and consequently were not counted
in the census. That was cleverly managed, you know; they simply don't
exist! Otherwise there would be a very unpleasant item on the list--the
number of the homeless. Only one man in the city here knows what it is;
he's a street missionary, and I've sometimes been out with him at night;
it's horrifying, what we've seen! Everywhere, wherever there's a chink,
they crowd into it in order to find shelter; they lie under the iron
staircases even, and freeze to death. We found one like that--an old
man--and called up a policeman; he stuck his red nose right in the
corpse's mouth and said, 'Dead of drink.' And now that's put down, where
really it ought to say, 'Starved to death!' It mustn't be said that any
one really suffers need in this country, you understand. No one freezes
to death here who will only keep moving; no one starves unless it's his
own fault. It must necessarily be so in one of the most enlightened
countries in the world; people have become too cultivated to allow Want
to stalk free about the streets; it would spoil their enjoyment and
disturb their night's rest. And they must be kept at a distance too; to
do away with them would be too troublesome; but the police are drilled
to chase them back into their holes and corners. Go down to the whaling
quay and see what they bring ashore in a single day at this time of the
year--it isn't far from your place. Accidents, of course! The ground is
so slippery, and people go too near the edge of the quay. The other
night a woman brought a child into the world in an open doorway in North
Bridge Street--in ten degrees of frost. People who collected were
indignant; it was unpardonable of her to go about in such a condition--
she ought to have stopped at home. It didn't occur to them that she had
no home. Well then, she could have gone to the police; they are obliged
to take people in. On the other hand, as we were putting her in the cab,
she began to cry, in terror, 'Not the maternity hospital--not the
maternity hospital!' She had already been there some time or other. She
must have had some reason for preferring the doorstep--just as the
others preferred the canal to the workhouse."
Morten continued, regardless of Pelle, as though he had to ease some
inward torment. Pelle listened astounded to this outburst of lacerating
anguish with a shamed feeling that he himself had a layer of fat round
his heart. As Morten spoke poverty once more assumed a peculiar,
horrible, living glimmer.
"Why do you tell me all this as if I belonged to the upper classes?" he
said. "I know all this as well as you do."
"And we haven't even a bad year," Morten continued, "the circumstances
are as they always are at this time of year. Yesterday a poor man stole
a loaf from the counter and ran off with it; now he'll be branded all
his life. 'My God, that he should want to make himself a thief for so
little!' said the master's wife--it was a twopenny-ha'penny roll. It's
not easy to grasp--branded for his whole life for a roll of bread!"
"He was starving," said Pelle stupidly.
"Starving? Yes, of course he was starving! But to me it's insanity, I
tell you--I can't take it in; and every one else thinks it's so easy to
understand. Why do I tell you this, you ask? You know it as well as I
do. No, but you don't know it properly, or you'd have to rack your
brains till you were crazy over the frightful insanity of the fact that
these two words--bread and crime--can belong together! Isn't it insane,
that the two ends should bend together and close in a ring about a human
life? That a man should steal bread of all things--bread, do you
understand? Bread ought not to be stolen. What does any man want with
thieving who eats enough? In the mornings, long before six o'clock, the
poor people gather outside our shop, and stand there in rows, in order
to be the first to get the stale bread that is sold at half-price. The
police make them stand in a row, just as they do outside the box-office
at the theater, and some come as early as four, and stand two hours in
the cold, in order to be sure of their place. But besides those who buy
there is always a crowd of people still poorer; they have no money to
buy with, but they stand there and stare as though it interested them
greatly to see the others getting their bread cheap. They stand there
waiting for a miracle in the shape of a slice of bread. One can see that
in the way their eyes follow every movement, with the same desperate
hope that you see in the eyes of the dogs when they stand round the
butcher's cart and implore Heaven that the butcher may drop a bit of
meat. They don't understand that no one will pity them. Not we human
beings--you should see their surprise when we give them anything!--but
chance, some accident. Good God, bread is so cheap, the cheapest of all
the important things in this world--and yet they can't for once have
enough of it! This morning I slipped a loaf into an old woman's hand--
she kissed it and wept for joy! Do you feel that that's endurable?" He
stared at Pelle with madness lurking in his gaze.
"You do me an injustice if you think I don't feel it too," said Pelle
quietly. "But where is there a quick way out of this evil? We must be
patient and organize ourselves and trust to time. To seize on our rights
as they've done elsewhere won't do for us."
"No, that's just it! They know it won't do for us--that's why justice
never goes forward. The people get only what's due to them if the
leaders know that if the worst comes to the worst they can provide for
"I don't believe that any good would come of a revolution," said Pelle
emphatically. He felt the old longing to fight within him.
"You can't understand about that unless you've felt it in yourself,"
replied Morten passionately. "Revolution is the voice of God, which
administers right and justice, and it cannot be disputed. If the poor
were to rise to see that justice was done it would be God's judgment,
and it would not be overthrown. The age has surely the right to redeem
itself when it has fallen into arrears in respect of matters so
important; but it could do so only by a leap forward. But the people
don't rise, they are like a damp powder! You must surely some time have
been in the cellar of the old iron merchant under the 'Ark,' and have
seen his store of rags and bones and old iron rubbish? They are mere
rakings of the refuse-heap, things that human society once needed and
then rejected. He collects them again, and now the poor can buy them.
And he buys the soldiers' bread too, when they want to go on the spree,
and throws it on his muck-heap; he calls it fodder for horses, but the
poor buy it of him and eat it. The refuse-heap is the poor man's larder
--that is, when the pigs have taken what they want. The Amager farmers
fatten their swine there, and the sanitary commission talks about
forbidding it; but no one has compassion on the Copenhagen poor."
Pelle shuddered. There was something demoniacal in Morten's hideous
knowledge--he knew more of the "Ark" than Pelle himself. "Have you, too,
been down in that loathsome rubbish-store?" he asked, "or how do you
know all this?"
"No, I've not been there--but I can't help knowing it--that's my curse!
Ask me even whether they make soup out of the rotten bones they get
there. And not even the poison of the refuse-heap will inflame them;
they lap it up and long for more! I can't bear it if nothing is going to
happen! Now you've pulled yourself out of the mire--and it's the same
with everybody who has accomplished anything--one after another--either
because they are contented or because they are absorbed in their own
pitiful affairs. Those who are of any use slink away, and only the needy
"I have never left you in the lurch," said Pelle warmly. "You must
realize that I haven't."
"It isn't to be wondered at that they get weary," Morten continued.
"Even God loses patience with those who always let themselves be
trampled upon. Last night I dreamed I was one of the starving. I was
going up the street, grieving at my condition, and I ran up against God.
He was dressed like an old Cossack officer, and had a knout hanging
round his neck.
"'Help me, dear God!' I cried, and fell on my knees before him. 'My
brothers won't help me.'
"'What ails you?' he asked, 'and who are you?'
"'I am one of Thy chosen folk, one of the poor,' I answered. 'I am
"'You are starving and complain of your brothers, who have set forth
food for you in abundance?' he said angrily, pointing to all the fine
shops. 'You do not belong to my chosen people--away with you!' And then
he lashed me over the back with his knout."
Morten checked himself and spoke no more; it was as though he neither
saw nor heard; he had quite collapsed. Suddenly he turned away, without
Pelle went home; he was vexed by Morten's violence, which was, he felt,
an attack upon himself. He knew this of himself--that he was not
faithless; and no one had any right to grudge him the happiness of
founding a family. He was quite indignant--for the first time for a long
time. That they should taunt him, who had done more for the cause than
most!--just because he looked after his own affairs for a time!
Something unruly was rising within him; he felt a sudden need to lay
about him; to fight a good stiff battle and shake the warm domesticity
out of his bones.
Down by the canal they were engaged cutting the ice in order to clear
the water. It was already spring tide, and the ice-cakes were drifting
toward the sea, but with unbelievable slowness. After all, that's the
work for you, he told himself as he turned away. He was conscious of
that which lay beneath the surface, but he would not let it rise.
As soon as he was between four walls again he grew calmer. Ellen sat by
the stove busied with little Lasse, who lay sprawling on his belly in
"Only look what a sweet little roly-poly he is! There isn't a trace of
From his place at the window Pelle could look out over the canal and the
bridge by the prison, where the prisoners lay on the rafts, washing
wool. He recognized Ferdinand's tall, powerful figure; shortly after
Christmas they had captured him in an underground vault in the cemetery,
where he had established himself; the snow had betrayed his hiding-
place. And now he lay yonder, so near the "Ark" and his mother! From
time to time he raised his closely-shorn head and looked thither.
Beyond the bridge toward the market, was the potter with his barge; he
had piled up his Jutland wares on the quay, and the women from
Kristianshavn came to deal with him. And behind at the back of all rose
the mass of the "Ark."
It was so huge that it did not give the impression of a barracks, but
had rather the character of a fantastic village--as though a hundred
hamlets had been swept together in one inextricable heap. Originally it
had been a little frame building of one story with a gabled roof. Then
it had gradually become an embryo town; it budded in all directions,
upward as well, kaleidoscopically increasing to a vast mass of little
bits of facade, high-pitched roofs, deep bays, and overhanging gables,
all mingled together in an endless confusion, till in the middle it was
five stories high. And there a bluish ring of vapor always hovered,
revealing the presence of the well, that hidden ventilating shaft for
the thronging inmates of the "Ark." One could recognize Madam Frandsen's
garret with its chimney-cowl, and farther back, in a deep recess, which
ran far into the mass of the building, Pelle could distinguish Hanne's
window. Otherwise he could not place many of the little windows. They
stared like failing eyes. Even the coal-dealer, who was the deputy
landlord of the "Ark," was imperfectly acquainted with all its holes and
He could see the inmates of the "Ark" running to and fro across the
bridge, careless and myopic; they always rushed along, having started at
the last moment.. There was something tranquilizing about their
negligence, which was evoked by privation; in the "Ark" a man began to
worry about his food only, when he sat down to table and discovered
there wasn't any!
And among them little groups of workmen wandered in and out across the
bridge; that steady march from the North Bridge had travelled hither, as
though seeking him out.
The masses were now no longer vaguely fermenting; a mighty will was in
process of formation. Amid the confusion, the chaotic hubbub, definite
lines became visible; a common consciousness came into being and assumed
a direction; the thousands of workers controlled themselves in a
remarkable way, and were now progressing, slowly and prudently, with the
ideal of closing up the ranks. One whose hearing was a little dull might
have received the impression that nothing was happening--that they were
reconciled with their lot; but Pelle knew what was going on. He himself
had put his shoulder to the wheel, and was secretly one of their number.
He was happy in Ellen's divided love, and all he undertook had reference
to her and the child.
But now again the sound of footsteps echoed through his brain; and it
would not be silenced. They had penetrated further than he himself could
go. It was as though a deadening screen had suddenly been removed and
whether he wished it or not, he heard every step of the wanderers
The hard times forced them to proceed quietly, but work was being done
in secret. The new ideas were in process of becoming current, the
newspapers introduced them into the bosom of the family, and they were
uttered from the speaker's platform, or discussed at meal-times in
workshop and factory. The contagion ran up staircases and went from door
to door. Organizations which more than once had been created and broken
up were created afresh--and this time to endure. The employers fought
them, but could not defeat them; there was an inward law working upon
the masses, making a structure behind which they must defend themselves.
They taxed themselves and stole the bread out of their own mouths in
order to increase the funds of their organization, in the blind
conviction that eventually something miraculous would come of it all.
The poor achieved power by means of privation, tears, and self-denial,
and had the satisfaction of feeling that they were rich through their
organization. When many united together they tasted of the sweets of
wealth; and, grateful as they were, they regarded that already as a
result. A sense of well-being lifted them above the unorganized, and
they felt themselves socially superior to the latter. To join the trades
unions now signified a rise in the social scale. This affected many, and
others were driven into the movement by the strong representations of
their house-mates. The big tenement buildings were gradually leavened by
the new ideas; those who would not join the Union must clear out. They
were treated as the scum of society, and could only settle down in
certain quarters of the city. It no longer seemed impossible to
establish the organization of labor in a stable fashion, and to
accomplish something for the workers--if only some courageous worker
would place himself at the head of affairs. The fact that most of them
worked at home in their lodgings could no longer make them invisible--
the movement had eyes everywhere. Pelle, with surprise, caught himself
sitting at his bench and making plans for the development of the
He put the matter from him, and devoted his whole mind to Ellen and the
child. What had he to do with the need of strangers, when these two
called for all his ability and all his strength, if he was to provide
them merely with necessities? He had tortured himself enough with the
burden of poverty--and to no end. And now he had found his release in a
blessed activity, which, if he was to neglect nothing, would entirely
absorb him. What then was the meaning of this inward admonition, that
seemed to tell him that he was sinning against his duty?
He silenced the inward voice by dwelling on his joy in his wife and
child. But it returned insidiously and haunted his mind like a shadow.
At times, as he sat quietly working, something called him: "Pelle,
Pelle!"--or the words throbbed in his ears in the depth of the night.
At such times he sat upright in bed, listening. Ellen and the child were
fast asleep; he could hear a faint whistling as little Lasse drew his
breath. He would go to the door and open it, although he shook his head
at his own folly. It was surely a warning that some one near to him was
At this time Pelle threw himself passionately into his life with Ellen
and the child; he lived for them as wholly as though he had anticipated
an immediate parting.
They had purchased a perambulator on the instalment system, and every
Sunday they packed sandwiches under the apron and pushed it before them
to the Common, or they turned into some beer-garden in the neighborhood
of the city, where they ate their provisions and drank coffee. Often too
they made their way along the coast road, and went right out into the
forest. Lasse-Frederik, as Ellen called him, sat throned in all his
splendor in the perambulator, like a little idol, Pelle and Ellen
pushing him alternately. Ellen did not want to permit this. "It's no
work for a man, pushing a perambulator," she would say. "You won't see
any other man doing it! They let their wives push the family coach."
"What are other people to me?" replied Pelle. "I don't keep a horse
She gave him a grateful look; nevertheless, she did not like it.
They spent glorious hours out there. Little Lasse was allowed to
scramble about to his heart's content, and it was wonderful how he
tumbled about; he was like a frolicsome little bear. "I believe he can
smell the earth under him," said Pelle, recalling his own childish
transports. "It's a pity he has to live in that barrack there!" Ellen
gazed at him uncomprehendingly.
They did not move about much; it contented them to lie there and to
delight in the child, when he suddenly sat up and gazed at them in
astonishment, as though he had just discovered them. "Now he's beginning
to think!" said Pelle, laughing.
"You take my word for it, he's hungry." And little Lasse scrambled
straight up to his mother, striking at her breast with his clenched
hands, and saying, "Mam, mam!" Pelle and the perambulator had to station
themselves in front of her while he was fed.
When they reached home it was evening. If the doormat was displaced it
meant that some one had been to call on them; and Ellen was able to
tell, from its position, who the visitor had been. Once it stood upright
against the wall.
"That's Uncle Carpenter," said Pelle quietly. Little Lasse was sleeping
on his arm, his head resting on Pelle's shoulder.
"No, it will have been Cousin Anna," said Ellen, opening the door.
"Thank the Lord we weren't at home, or we should have had such a
business till late in the evening! They never eat anything at home on
Sundays, they simply drink a mouthful of coffee and then go round eating
their relations out of house and home."
Pelle often thought with concern of the three orphans in the "Ark." They
were learning nothing that would be of use to them in the future, but
had all they could do to make a living. The bad times had hit them too,
and little Karl in particular; people were stingy with their tips. In
these days they were never more than a day ahead of destitution, and the
slightest misfortune would have brought them face to face with it. But
they let nothing of this be seen--they were only a little quieter and
more solemn than usual. He had on several occasions made inquiries as to
obtaining help for them, but nothing could be done without immediately
tearing them asunder; all those who were in a position to help them
cried out against their little household, and separation was the worst
that could befall them.
When he went to see them Marie always had plenty to tell and to ask him;
he was still her particular confidant, and had to listen to all her
household cares and give her his advice. She was growing tall now, and
had a fresher look than of old; and Pelle's presence always filled her
eyes with joy and brought the color to her cheeks. Father Lasse she
eulogized, in a voice full of emotion, as though he were a little
helpless child; but when she asked after Ellen a little malice glittered
in her eyes.
One morning, as he sat working at home, while Ellen was out with the
child, there was a knock at the door. He went out and opened it. In the
little letter-box some one had thrust a number of _The Working
Man_, with an invitation to take the paper regularly. He opened the
paper eagerly, as he sat down to his bench again; an extraordinary
feeling of distress caused him first of all to run through the
He started up in his chair; there was a heading concerning a fourteen-
year-old boy who worked in a tinplate works and had had the fingers of
the right hand cut off. A premonition told him that this misfortune had
befallen the little "Family"; he quickly drew on a coat and ran over to
Marie met him anxiously. "Can you understand what has happened to Peter?
He never came home last night!" she said, in distress. "Lots of boys
roam about the streets all night, but Peter has never been like that,
and I kept his supper warm till midnight. I thought perhaps he'd got
into bad company."
Pelle showed her _The Working Man_. In a little while the inmates
of the "Ark" would see the report and come rushing up with it. It was
better that he should prepare her beforehand. "But it's by no means
certain," he said, to cheer her. "Perhaps it isn't he at all."
Marie burst into tears. "Yes, of course it is! I've so often gone about
worrying when he's been telling me about those sharp knives always
sliding between their fingers. And they can't take proper care of
themselves; they must work quickly or they get the sack. Oh, poor dear
Peter!" She had sunk into her chair and now sat rocking to and fro with
her apron to her eyes, like an unhappy mother.
"Now be grown-up and sensible," said Pelle, laying his hand on her
shoulder. "Perhaps it's not so bad after all; the papers always
exaggerate. Now I'll run out and see if I can trace him."
"Go to the factory first, then," said Marie, jumping to her feet, "for,
of course, they'll know best. But you mustn't in any case say where we
live--do you hear? Remember, we've not been to school, and he hasn't
been notified to the pastor for confirmation. We could be punished if
they found that out."
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