Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 16 out of 23
"I'll take good care," said Pelle, and he hurried away.
At the factory he received the information that Peter was lying in
hospital. He ran thither, and arrived just at the time for visitors.
Peter was sitting upright in bed, his hand in a sling; this gave him a
curiously crippled appearance. And on the boy's face affliction had
already left those deep, ineradicable traces which so dismally
distinguish the invalided worker. The terrible burden of the
consequences of mutilation could already be read in his pondering,
He cheered up when he saw Pelle, made an involuntary movement with his
right hand, and then, remembering, held out his left. "There--I must
give you my left fist now," he said, with a dismal smile. "That'll seem
queer to me for a bit. If I can do anything at all. Otherwise"--he made
a threatening movement of the head--"I tell you this--I'll never be a
burden to Marie and Karl all my life. Take my word for it, I shall be
able to work again."
"We shall soon find something for you," said Pelle, "and there are kind
people, too. Perhaps some one will help you so that you can study." He
himself did not know just where that idea came from; he certainly had
never seen such a case. The magical dreams of his childhood had been
responsible for a whole class of ideas, which were nourished by the
anecdotes of poor boys in the reading-books. He was confronted by the
impossible, and quite simply he reached out after the impossible.
Peter had no reading-books at his back. "Kind people!" he cried
scornfully--"they never have anything themselves, and I can't even read
--how should I learn how to study? Karl can read; he taught himself from
the signs in the streets while he was running his errands; and he can
write as well. And Hanne has taught Marie a little. But all my life I've
only been in the factory." He stared bitterly into space; it was
melancholy to see how changed his face was--it had quite fallen in.
"Don't worry now," said Pelle confidently: "we shall soon find
"Only spare me the poor-relief! Don't you go begging for me--that's
all!" said Peter angrily. "And, Pelle," he whispered, so that no one in
the room should hear, "it really isn't nice here. Last night an old man
lay there and died--close to me. He died of cancer, and they didn't even
put a screen round him. All the time he lay there and stared at me! But
in a few days I shall be able to go out. Then there'll be something to
be paid--otherwise the business will come before the Poor Law guardians,
and then they'll begin to snuff around--and I've told them fibs, Pelle!
Can't you come and get me out? Marie has money for the house-rent by
her--you can take that."
Pelle promised, and hurried back to his work. Ellen was at home; she was
moving about and seemed astonished. Pelle confided the whole affair to
her. "Such a splendid fellow he is," he said, almost crying. "A little
too solemn with all his work--and now he's a cripple! Only a child, and
an invalided worker already--it's horrible to think of!"
Ellen went up to him and pulled his head against her shoulder;
soothingly she stroked his hair. "We must do something for him, Ellen,"
he said dully.
"You are so good, Pelle. You'd like to help everybody; but what can we
do? We've paid away all our savings over my lying-in."
"We must sell or pawn some of our things."
She looked at him horrified. "Pelle, our dear home! And there's nothing
here but just what is absolutely necessary. And you who love our poor
little belongings so! But if you mean that, why, of course! Only you are
doing something for him already in sacrificing your time."
After that he was silent. She several times referred to the matter
again, as something that must be well deliberated, but he did not reply.
Her conversation hurt him--whether he replied to it or was silent.
In the afternoon he invented an errand in the city, and made his way to
the factory. He made for the counting-house, and succeeded in seeing the
manufacturer himself. The latter was quite upset by the occurrence, but
pleaded in vindication that the accident was entirely the result of
negligence. He advised Pelle to make a collection among the workers in
the factory, and he opened it himself with a contribution of twenty
kroner. He also held out the prospect that Peter, who was a reliable
lad, might take a place as messenger and collector when he was well
Peter was much liked by his comrades; a nice little sum was collected.
Pelle paid his hospital dues, and there was so much left that he would
be able to stay at home and rest with an easy mind until his hand was
healed and he could take the place of messenger at the factory. The
young invalid was in high spirits, knowing that his living was assured;
he passed the time in lounging about the town, wherever there was music
to be heard, in order to learn fresh tunes. "This is the first holiday
I've had since I went to the factory," he told Pelle.
He did not get the place as messenger--some one stole a march on him;
but he received permission to go back to his old work! With the remains
of his right hand he could hold the sheet of tin-plate on the table,
while the left hand had to accustom itself to moving among the
threatening knives. This only demanded time and a little extra
This accident was branded on Pelle's soul, and it aroused his slumbering
resentment. Chance had given him the three orphans in the place of
brothers and sisters, and he felt Peter's fate as keenly as if it had
been his own. It was a scandal that young children should be forced to
earn their living by work that endangered their lives, in order to keep
the detested Poor Law guardians at bay. What sort of a social order was
this? He felt a suffocating desire to strike out, to attack it.
The burden of Due's fate, aggravated by this fresh misfortune, was once
more visible in his face; Ellen's gentle hand, could not smooth it away.
"Don't look so angry, now--you frighten the child so!" she would say,
reaching him the boy. And Pelle would try to smile; but it was only a
grim sort of smile.
He did not feel that it was necessary to allow Ellen to look into his
bleeding soul; he conversed with her about indifferent things. At other
times he sat gazing into the distance, peering watchfully at every sign;
he was once more full of the feeling that he was appointed to some
particular purpose. He was certain that tidings of some kind were on the
way to him.
And then Shoemaker Petersen died, and he was again asked to take over
the management of the Union.
"What do you say to that?" he asked Ellen, although his mind was
irrevocably made up.
"You must know that yourself," she replied reservedly. "But if it gives
you pleasure, why, of course!"
"I am not doing it to please myself," said Pelle gloomily. "I am not a
He regretted his words, and went over to Ellen and kissed her. She had
tears in her eyes, and looked at him in astonishment.
There was plenty to be done. The renegades must be shepherded back to
the organization--shepherded or driven; Pelle took the most willing
first, allowing numbers to impress the rest. Those who were quite
stubborn he left to their own devices for the time being; when they were
isolated and marked men into the bargain, they could do no further
He felt well rested, and went very methodically to work. The feeling
that his strength would hold out to the very end lent him a quiet
courage that inspired confidence. He was not over-hasty, but saw to
everything from the foundations upward; individual questions he
postponed until the conditions for solving them should be at hand. He
knew from previous experience that nothing could be accomplished unless
the ranks were tightly knit together.
So passed the remainder of the summer. And then the organization was
complete; it looked as though it could stand a tussle. And the first
question was the tariff. This was bad and antiquated; thoroughly behind
the times in all respects; the trade was groaning under a low rate of
wages, which had not kept step with the general development and the
augmentation of prices. But Pelle allowed his practical common sense to
prevail. The moment was not favorable for a demand for higher wages. The
organization could not lend the demand sufficient support; they must for
the time being content themselves with causing the current tariff to be
respected. Many of the large employers did not observe it, although they
themselves had introduced it. Meyer was a particularly hard case; he
made use of every possible shift and evasion to beat down the clearest
Complaints were continually coming in, and one day Pelle went to him in
order to discuss the situation and come to some agreement. He was
prepared to fight for the inviolability of the tariff, otherwise Meyer
would make big promises and afterward break them. He had really expected
Meyer to show him the door; however, he did not do so, but treated him
with a sort of polite effrontery. Hatred of his old enemy awaked in
Pelle anew, and it was all he could do to control himself. "The embargo
will be declared against you if you don't come to an arrangement with
your workers within a week," he said threateningly.
Meyer laughed contemptuously. "What's that you say? Oh, yes, your
embargo, we know something about that! But then the employers will
declare a lock-out for the whole trade--what do you think of that? Old
hats will be selling cheap!"
Pelle was silent, and withdrew; it was the only way in which he could
succeed in keeping cool. He had said what had to be said, and he was no
diplomat, to smile quietly with a devil lurking in the corners of his
Meyer obligingly accompanied him to the door. "Can I oblige you in any
other way--with work, for example? I could very well find room for a
worker who will make children's boots and shoes."
When Pelle reached the street he drew a long breath. Poof! That was
tough work; a little more insolence and he'd have given him one on the
jaw! That would have been the natural answer to the fellow's effrontery!
Well, it was a fine test for his hot temper, and he had stood it all
right! He could always be master of the situation if he held his tongue.
"Now suppose we do put an embargo on Meyer," he thought, as he went down
the street. "What then? Why, then he'll hit back and declare a lock-out.
Could we hold out? Not very long, but the employers don't know that--and
then their businesses would be ruined. But then they would introduce
workers from abroad--or, if that didn't answer, they would get the work
done elsewhere; or they would import whole cargoes of machinery, as they
have already begun to do on a small scale."
Pelle stood still in the middle of the street. Damn it all, this
wouldn't do! He must take care that he didn't make a hash of the whole
affair. If these foreign workers and machines were introduced, a whole
host of men would in a moment be deprived of their living. But he wanted
to have a go at Meyer; there must be some means of giving the
bloodsucker a blow that he would feel in his purse!
Next morning he went as usual to Beck's. Beck looked at him from over
his spectacles. "I've nothing more to do with you, Pelle," he said, in a
"What!" cried Pelle, startled. "But we've such a lot of work on hand,
"Yes, but I can't employ you any longer. I'm not doing this of my own
free will; I have always been very well pleased with you; but that's how
it stands. There are so many things one has to take into consideration;
a shoemaker can do nothing without leather, and one can't very well do
without credit with the leather merchants."
He would not say anything further.
But Pelle had sufficiently grasped the situation. He was the president
of the Shoemakers' Union; Master Beck had been compelled to dismiss him,
by the threat of stopping his source of supplies. Pelle was a marked man
because he was at the head of the organization--although the latter was
now recognized. This was an offence against the right of combination.
Still there was nothing to be done about the matter; one had the right
to dismiss a man if one had no further need of him. Meyer was a cunning
For a time Pelle drifted about dejectedly. He was by no means inclined
to go home to Ellen with this melancholy news; so he went to see various
employers in order to ask them for work. But as soon as they heard who
he was they found they had nothing for him to do. He saw that a black
mark had been set against his name.
So he must confine himself to home work, and must try to hunt up more
acquaintances of his acquaintances. And he must be ready day and night
lest some small shoemaker who muddled along without assistance should
suddenly have more to do than he could manage.
Ellen took things as they came, and did not complain. But she was mutely
hostile to the cause of their troubles. Pelle received no help from her
in his campaign; whatever he engaged in, he had to fight it out alone.
This did not alter his plans, but it engendered a greater obstinacy in
him. There was one side of his nature that Ellen's character was unable
to reach; well, she was only a woman, after all. One must be indulgent
with her! He was kind to her, and in his thoughts he more and more set
her on a level with little Lasse. In that way he avoided considering her
opinion concerning serious matters--and thereby felt more of a man.
Thanks to his small salary as president of his Union, they suffered no
actual privation. Pelle did not like the idea of accepting this salary;
he felt greatly inclined to refuse the few hundred kroner. There was not
a drop of bureaucratic blood in his veins, and he did not feel that a
man should receive payment for that which he accomplished for the
general good. But now this money came in very conveniently; and he had
other things to do than to make mountains out of molehills. He had given
up the embargo; but he was always racking his brains for some way of
getting at Meyer; it occupied him day and night.
One day his thoughts blundered upon Meyer's own tactics. Although he was
quite innocent, they had driven him away from his work. How would it be
if he were to employ the same method and, quite secretly, take Meyer's
workmen away from him? Meyer was the evil spirit of the shoemaker's
craft. He sat there like a tyrant, thanks to his omnipotence, and
oppressed the whole body of workers. It would not be so impossible to
set a black mark against his name! And Pelle did not mean to be too
particular as to the means.
He talked the matter over with his father-in-law, whose confidence in
him was now restored. Stolpe, who was an old experienced tactician,
advised him not to convoke any meeting on this occasion, but to settle
the matter with each man face to face, so that the Union could not be
attacked. "You've got plenty of time," he said. "Go first of all to the
trustworthy fellows, and make them understand what sort of a man Karl
Meyer is; take his best people away first of all; it won't do him much
good to keep the bad ones. You can put the fear of God into your mates
when you want to! Do your business so well that no one will have the
courage any longer to take the place of those that leave him. He must be
branded as what he is--but between man and man."
Pelle did not spare himself; he went from one comrade to another, fiery
and energetic. And what had proved impossible three years before he was
now able to accomplish; the resentment of Meyer's injustice had sunk
into the minds of all.
Meyer had been in the habit of letting his workers run about to no
purpose; if the work was not quite ready for them they could call again.
And when the work was given out to them they had, as a rule, to finish
it with a rush; there was intention in this; it made the people humble
But now the boot was on the other leg. The workers did not call; they
did not deliver urgent commissions at the appointed time; Meyer had to
send to them, and got his own words as answer; they were not quite ready
yet, but they would see what they could do for him! He had to run after
his own workers in order not to offend his rich customers. In the first
instances he settled the matter, as a rule, by dismissal. But that did
not help him at all; the devil of arrogance had entered into the simple
journeymen! It looked as though they had got their ideas of master and
subordinate reversed! He had to give up trusting to the hard hand on the
rein; he must seek them out with fair words! His business had the whole
fashionable world as customer, and always required a staff of the very
best workers. But not even friendly approaches availed. Scarcely did he
find a good journeyman-worker but he was off again, and if he asked the
reason he always received the same jeering answer: they didn't feel
inclined to work. He offered high wages, and at great expense engaged
qualified men from outside; but Pelle was at once informed and
immediately sought them out. When they had been subjected to his
influence only for a few days they went back to the place they came
from, or found other masters, who, now that Meyer's business was
failing, were getting more orders. People who went to the warehouse said
that Meyer was raging about upstairs, abusing innocent people and
driving them away from him.
Meyer was conscious of a hand behind all this, and he demanded that the
Employers' Union should declare a lock-out. But the other masters
scented a move for his benefit in this.
His own business was moribund, so he wanted to bring theirs to a
standstill also. They had no fundamental objection to the new state of
affairs; in any case they could see no real occasion for a lock-out.
So he was forced to give in, and wrote to Pelle requesting him to enter
into negotiations--in order to put an end to the unrest affecting the
craft. Pelle, who as yet possessed no skill in negotiations, answered
Meyer in a very casual manner, practically sending him about his
business. He showed his reply to his father-in-law before dispatching
"No, deuce take it, that won't do!" said Stolpe. "Look you, my lad,
everything depends on the tone you take, if you are dealing with labor
politics! These big folks think such a damn lot about the way a thing is
wrapped up! If I were setting about this business I'd come out with the
truth and chuck it in their faces--but that won't answer; they'd be so
wild there'd be no dealing with them. Just a nice little lie--that
answers much better! Yes, yes, one has to be a diplomatist and set a fox
to catch a fox. Now you write what I tell you! I'll give you an example.
Stolpe paced up and down the room a while, with a thoughtful expression;
he was in shirt-sleeves and slippers and had thrust both his forefingers
in his waistcoat pockets. "Are you ready, son-in-law? Then we'll begin!"
"To the President of the Employers' Union, Herre H. Meyer, Shoemaker to
"Being in receipt of your honored favor of yesterday's date hereby
acknowledged, I take the liberty of remarking that so far as is known to
me complete quiet and the most orderly conditions prevail throughout the
trade. There appears therefore to be no motive for negotiation.
"For the Shoemakers' Union,
"Your obedient servant,
"There, that's to the point, eh? Napoleon himself might have put his
name to that! And there's enough sting to it, too!" said Stolpe, much
gratified. "Now write that out nicely, and then get a big envelope."
Pelle felt quite important when he had written this out on a big sheet
of paper; it was like an order of the day issued by a sheriff or
burgomaster at home. Only in respect of its maliciousness he entertained
a certain doubt.
One morning, a few days later, he was sitting at home working. In the
meantime he had been obliged to undertake casual jobs for sailors in the
harbor, and now he was soling a pair of sea-boots for a seaman on board
a collier. On the other side of the bench sat little Lasse, chattering
and aping his movements, and every time Pelle drove a peg home the
youngster knocked his rattle against the edge of the table, and Pelle
smiled at him. Ellen was running in and out between the living-room and
the kitchen. She was serious and silent.
There was a knock at the door. She ran to the stove, snatching away some
of the child's linen which was drying there, ran out, and opened the
A dark, corpulent gentleman in a fur overcoat entered, bowing, holding
his tall hat before him, together with his gloves and stick. Pelle could
not believe his eyes--it was the Court shoemaker! "He's come to have it
out!" thought Pelle, and prepared himself for a tussle. His heart began
to thump, there was a sudden sinking inside him; his old submissiveness
was on the point of coming to the surface and mastering him. But that
was only for a moment; then he was himself again. Quietly he offered his
guest a chair.
Meyer sat down, looking about the neat, simple room as though he wanted
to compare his enemy's means with his own before he made a move. Pelle
gathered something from his wandering glance, and suddenly found himself
considerably richer in his knowledge of human nature. "He's sitting
there staring about him to see if something has gone to the pawnshop,"
he thought indignantly.
"H'm! I have received your favor of the other day," began Meyer. "You
are of opinion that there is no occasion for a discussion of the
situation; but--however--ah--I think--"
"That is certainly my opinion," answered Pelle, who had resolved to
adhere to the tone of the letter. "The most perfect order prevails
everywhere. But generally speaking it would seem that matters ought to
go smoothly now, when we each have our Union and can discuss affairs
impartially." He gazed innocently at Meyer.
"Ah, you think so too! It cannot be unknown to you that my workers have
left me one after another--not to say that they were taken away from me.
Even to please you I can't call those orderly conditions."
Pelle sat there getting angrier and angrier at his finicking tone. Why
the devil couldn't he bluster like a proper man instead of sitting there
and making his damned allusions? But if he wanted that sort of foolery
he should have it! "Ah! your people are leaving you?" he said, in an
"They are," said Meyer, and he looked surprised. Pelle's tone made him
feel uncertain. "And they are playing tricks on me; they don't keep to
their engagements, and they keep my messengers running about to no
purpose. Formerly every man came to get his work and to deliver it, but
now I have to keep messengers for that; the business can't stand it."
"The journeymen have had to run about to no purpose--I myself have
worked for you," replied Pelle. "But you are perhaps of opinion that we
can better bear the loss of time?"
Meyer shrugged his shoulders. "That's a condition of your livelihood--
its conditions are naturally based on order. But if only I could at
least depend on getting hands! Man, this can't go on!" he cried
suddenly, "damn and blast it all, it can't go on, it's not honorable!"
Little Lasse gave a jump and began to bellow. Ellen came hurrying in and
took him into the bedroom.
Pelle's mouth was hard. "If your people are leaving you, they must
surely have some reason for it," he replied; he would far rather have
told Meyer to his face that he was a sweater! "The Union can't compel
its members to work for an employer with whom perhaps they can't agree.
I myself even have been dismissed from a workshop--but we can't bother
two Unions on those grounds!" He looked steadily at his opponent as he
made this thrust; his features were quivering slightly.
"Aha!" Meyer responded, and he rubbed his hands with an expression that
seemed to say that--now at last he felt firm ground under his feet.
"Aha--so it's out at last! So you're a diplomatist into the bargain--a
great diplomatist! You have a clever husband, little lady!" He turned to
Ellen, who was busying herself at the sideboard. "Now just listen, Herre
Pelle! You are just the man for me, and we must come to an arrangement.
When two capable men get talking together something always comes of it--
it couldn't be otherwise! I have room for a capable and intelligent
expert who understands fitting and cutting. The place is well paid, and
you can have a written contract for a term of years. What do you say to
Pelle raised his head with a start. Ellen's eyes began to sparkle, and
then became mysteriously dark; they rested on him compellingly, as
though they would burn their purpose into him. For a moment he gazed
before him, bewildered. The offer was so overpowering, so surprising;
and then he laughed. What, what, was he to sell himself to be the
understrapper of a sweater!
"That won't do for me," he replied.
"You must naturally consider my offer," said Meyer, rising. "Shall we
say three days?"
When the Court shoemaker had gone, Ellen came slowly back and laid her
arm round Pelle's shoulders. "What a clever, capable man you are, then!"
she said, in a low voice, playing with his hair; there was something
apologetic in her manner. She said nothing to call attention to the
offer, but she began to sing at her work. It was a long time since Pelle
had heard her sing; and the song was to him like a radiant assurance
that this time he would be the victor.
Pelle continued the struggle indefatigably, contending with opposing
circumstances and with disloyalty, but always returning more boldly to
the charge. Many times in the course of the conflict he found himself
back at the same place; Meyer obtained a new lot of workers from abroad,
and he had to begin all over again; he had to work on them until they
went away again, or to make their position among their housemates so
impossible that they resigned. The later winter was hard and came to
Meyer's assistance. He paid his workers well now, and had brought
together a crowd of non-union hands; for a time it looked as though he
would get his business going again. But Pelle had left the non-unionists
alone only through lack of time; now he began to seek them out, and he
spoke with more authority than before. Already people were remarking on
his strength of will; and most of them surrendered beforehand. "The
devil couldn't stand up against him!" they said. He never wavered in his
faith in an ultimate victory, but went straight ahead; he did not
philosophize about the other aspect of the result, but devoted all his
energies to achieving it. He was actuated by sheer robust energy, and it
led him the shortest way. The members of the Union followed him
willingly, and willingly accepted the privations involved in the
emptying of the workshops. He possessed their confidence, and they found
that it was, after all, glorious sport to turn the tables, when for once
in a way they could bring the grievance home to its point of departure!
They knew by bitter experience what it was to run about to no purpose,
to beg for work, and to beg for their wages, and to haggle over them--in
short, to be the underdog. It was amusing to reverse the roles. Now the
mouse was playing with the cat and having a rattling good time of it--
although the claws did get home now and again! Pelle felt their
confidence, the trust of one and all, in the readiness with which they
followed him, as though he were only the expression of their own
convictions. And when he stood up at the general meetings or
conferences, in order to make a report or to conduct an agitation, and
the applause of his comrades fell upon his ears, he felt an influx of
sheer power. He was like the ram of a ship; the weight of the whole was
behind him. He began to feel that he was the expression of something
great; that there was a purpose within him.
The Pelle who dealt so quietly and cleverly with Meyer and achieved
precisely what he willed was not the usual Pelle. A greater nature was
working within him, with more responsibility, according to his old
presentiment. He tested himself, in order to assimilate this as a
conviction, and he felt that there was virtue in the idea.
This higher nature stood in mystical connection with so much in his
life; far back into his childhood he could trace it, as an abundant
promise. So many had involuntarily expected something from him; he had
listened to them with wonder, but now their expectation was proving
He paid strict attention to his words in his personal relations, now
that their illimitable importance had been revealed to him. But in his
agitator's work the strongest words came to him most naturally; came
like an echo out of the illimitable void that lay behind him. He busied
himself with his personality. All that had hitherto had free and
careless play must now be circumscribed and made to serve an end. He
examined his relations with Ellen, was indulgent to her, and took pains
to understand her demand for happiness. He was kind and gentle to her,
but inflexible in his resolve.
He had no conscientious scruples in respect of the Court shoemaker.
Meyer had in all respects misused his omnipotence long enough; owing to
his huge business he had made conditions and ruled them; and the evil of
those conditions must be brought home to him. It was now summer and a
good time for the workers, and his business was rapidly failing. Pelle
foresaw his fall, and felt himself to be a righteous avenger.
The year-long conflict absorbed his whole mind. He was always on his
feet; came rushing home to the work that lay there waiting for him,
threw it aside like a maniac, and hurried off again. He did not see much
of Ellen and little Lasse these days; they lived their own life without
He dared not rest on what he had accomplished, now that the cohesion of
the Union was so powerful. He was always seeking means to strengthen and
to undermine; he did not wish to fall a sacrifice to the unforeseen. His
indefatigability infected his comrades, they became more eager the
longer the struggle lasted. The conflict was magnified by the sacrifice
it demanded, and by the strength of the opposition; Meyer gradually
became a colossus whom all must stake their welfare to hew down.
Families were ruined thereby, but the more sacrifice the struggle
demanded the more recklessly they struggled on. And they were full of
jubilation on the day when the colossus fell, and buried some of them in
Pelle was the undisputed victor. The journeyman-cobbler had laid low the
biggest employer in the trade. They did not ask what the victory had
cost, but carried his name in triumph. They cheered when they caught
sight of him or when his name was mentioned. Formerly this would have
turned his head, but now he regarded his success as entirely natural--as
the expression of a higher power!
A few days later he summoned a general meeting of the Union, laid before
them the draft of a new tariff which was adapted to the times, and
proposed that they should at once begin the fight for its adoption. "We
could never have a better opportunity," he said. "Now they have seen
what we can do! With the tariff question we struck down Meyer! We must
strike the iron while it is hot!"
He reckoned that his comrades were just in the mood for battle, despite
all the privations that the struggle had entailed, and he was not
mistaken. His proposal was unanimously accepted.
But there was no fight for better wages. Meyer was now making the rounds
of the employers' establishments with the sample-box of one of the
leather firms. The sight of this once so mighty man had a stimulating
effect. The masters' Union appointed a few employers with whom the
workers' Union could discuss the question of the tariff.
It often happened that Pelle would look back with longing on his quiet
home-life with Ellen and the child, and he felt dejectedly that they
lived in a happier world, and were on the point of accustoming
themselves to live without him. "When once you have got this out of hand
you can live really comfortably with them again," he thought.
But one thing inevitably followed on another, and one question arose
from the solution of another, and the poor man's world unfolded itself
like the development of a story. The fame of his skill as organizer
spread itself abroad; everywhere men were at work with the idea of
closing up the ranks, and many began to look toward him with expectant
Frequently workers came to him begging him to help them to form an
organization--no one had such a turn for the work as he. Then they
called a meeting together, and Pelle explained the process to them.
There was a certain amount of fancifulness and emphasis in his speech,
but they understood him very well. "He talks so as to make your ears
itch," they told one another. He was the man they trusted, and he
initiated them into the practical side of the matter.
"But you must sacrifice your wages--so that you can start a fund," he
told them continually; "without money nothing can be done. Remember,
it's capital itself we are fighting against!"
"Will it be any use to understand boxing when the fight comes on?" asked
a simple-minded workman one day.
"Yes--cash-boxing!" retorted Pelle swiftly. They laughed, and turned
their pitiful pockets inside out. They gazed a moment at the money
before they gave it away. "Oh, well, it's of no consequence," they said.
"The day will soon come when it will be of consequence--if we only hang
together," said Pelle confidently.
It was the dripping they had scraped off their bread--he knew that well,
but there was no help for it! In these days he was no better situated
than they were.
His activities were leading him abroad, in wider and wider circles,
until he found himself at length in the very midst of the masses. Their
number did not astonish him; he had always really been conscious of
that. And he grew by this contact, and measured himself and the movement
by an ever-increasing standard.
At this time he underwent a noticeable change in his outer man. In his
forehead were always those deep creases which in young men speak of a
gloomy childhood; they were the only bitter token of that which he had
taken upon himself, and reminded one of a clouded sky. Otherwise he
looked fresh and healthy enough; his hard life was not undermining his
strength; he thrived on the sense of community, and was almost always
cheerful. His cheeks grew round as those of a cornet-player, and his
distended nostrils spoke of his fiery zeal; he needed much air, and
always wore his clothes open upon his chest. His carriage was upright
and elastic; his whole appearance was arresting, challenging. When he
spoke at meetings there was energy in his words; he grew deeply flushed,
and wet with perspiration. Something of this flush remained in his face
and neck, and there was always a feeling of heat in his body. When he
strode forward he looked like a trumpeter at the head of a column.
The many--that was his element. There were many who were to be brought
under one hat. Yet most of them lacked a clear understanding; old
suspicions suddenly came to light; and many doubts were abroad among the
masses. Some believed blindly; others said, "It's all one whether this
party or that does the plucking of us!" Nothing of palpable importance
occurred, such as to catch the eye; but they came to trust in his
personality as the blind man trusts his leader, and they were forever
demanding to hear his voice. Pelle became their darling speaker. He felt
that their blind confidence bore him up, and for them he gazed far over
the hubbub and confusion. He had always been a familiar of Fortune; now
he saw it plainly, far out along the route of march, and inflamed them
all with his enthusiasm.
One evening he was summoned to rouse a calling that was in low water. It
was the dustmen who applied to him. In order to stimulate their self-
consciousness he showed them what a vast power they possessed in their
despised activity. He imagined, as an example, that they refused to
work, and painted, with much humor, the results which their action would
have for the world of rich people. This had a tremendous effect on the
meeting. The men stared at one another as if they had just discovered
themselves, and then sat laughing like one man. To follow up his effect,
he showed how one kind of work depends on another, and imagined one
calling to support another, until a general strike had laid its
paralyzing hand on the city. What a fantastic picture it was! Pelle knew
nothing of the theory of the labor movement, but his energy and
enthusiasm lifted the veil from the remotest consequences. Stimulated
and startled by the terrible power which lay in their hands, the dustmen
There was something in all this that did not satisfy him; it was in his
nature to create, not to destroy. But if only the poor would, they could
make society all over again--so Morten had one day said, and the words
had never ceased to haunt Pelle's mind. But he could not endure the idea
of violent revolution; and now he had found a good way out of his
difficulty. He felt convinced that cohesion was irresistible, and that
life would undergo a peaceful change.
He had welded his own Union together so that the members hung together
through thick and thin. He had accomplished something there, but if a
real result were to be achieved the Unions here must work in conjunction
with those of all the cities in the country, and that was being done to
a certain small extent, in his own trade as well as in others. But all
these federations of local Unions must be combined in a mighty whole, so
that the whole country would be of one single mind. In other countries
matters were progressing as here, so why not summon all countries to one
vast work of cooperation?
Before Pelle was aware, he had included the whole world in his
solidarity. He knew now that poverty is international. And he was
convinced that the poor man felt alike all the world over.
The greatness of this idea did not go to his head. It had evolved
naturally on the lines of his own organization--it was just like the
idea at the base of the latter. But he continued to play with it until
it assumed a definite form. Then he went with his plan to his father-in-
law, who was a member of the party executive, and through him was
invited to lay the matter before the Central Committee.
Pelle was a practised speaker by now, but he was feverishly excited when
he stood in the presence of the actual heart of the labor movement. His
words delighted the many, but would he succeed in winning over these
tried and experienced men, the leaders who stood behind the whole
movement, while quietly going about their own business? He felt that
this was the most significant day in his life.
These were men with quieter temperaments than his own. They sat there
immovable, listening with half-closed eyes; his big words brought the
faintest smile to their lips--they had long got over that sort of thing!
They were artisans and craftsmen who worked hard all day for a living,
as did he himself, but several of them had given themselves a
considerable education; they must be regarded as scholarly persons. In
the evening and on Sundays they worked for the Cause, devising political
schemes and devoting themselves to keeping accounts and the ever-
increasing work of administration. They were awkward at these
unaccustomed tasks, which had hitherto been reserved by quite a
different class of society, and had had to grow accustomed thereto;
their heads were gray and wrinkled.
Pelle felt that he was still only at the beginning. These men gave him
the impression of a great secret council; outside they looked like any
one else, but here at the green table they sat creating the vast
organization into which he merely drove the masses. Here high politics
came into play. There was something impious in this--as though one saw
ants making plans to overturn a mountain; and he must do the same if he
wanted to accomplish anything! But here something more than big words
was needed! He involuntarily moderated his tone and did his best to
speak in a dry, professional manner.
He received no applause when he had finished; the men sat there gazing
in front of them with a slightly pondering expression. The silence and
the great empty room had the effect of making him feel dizzy. All his
faculties were directed outward, drawing strength from the echo from
without of the many who had shaped him. But at this decisive moment they
were silent, leaving him in suspense, without any kind of support. Was
the whole stupendous plan of federation a piece of madness, and was he a
fool to propound it? No one replied. The leaders quietly asked him the
details of his plan, and undertook to consider it.
Pelle left in a state of dreadful suspense. He felt that he had touched
upon something on which a great decision depended, and he wanted
corroboration of the fact that he had set about the matter rightly. In
this moment of need he turned to himself. It was not his way to ask
questions of his inner self, but now no other could answer him. He must
look to himself for recognition.
This was the first time that Pelle had sought refuge in his own ego, or
learned to fall back upon it in critical moments. But solitude did not
suit him and he sought it only under the compulsion of necessity. His
heart beat uncontrollably within him when he learned that his plan was
approved. A committee was appointed to put it into execution, and Pelle
was on the committee.
At one stroke the National Federation made a single army of the many
divisions, and was effective merely by the attractive virtue of its
mass. It became a heavy and fatiguing task to organize the swarms that
came streaming in, as water rushes to the sea, by virtue of a natural
law. It needed the talent of a great general to marshal them for a
conclusive battle and to lead them into the line of fire.
Pelle was naturally placed in the front ranks of the organization; his
work was properly that of the pioneer and agitator; no one possessed the
ear of the crowd as he did. He had received regular employment from one
of the larger employers, which amounted to a recognition of the
organization, and the increased rate of wages meant that he earned a
moderate income. He did not object to the fact that the work had to be
done away from home. Life at home had lost its radiance. Ellen was
loving enough, but she had always some purpose in view--and he would not
allow himself to be tied!
When he went home--and as a rule he managed to include a meal--it was
only to make himself ready and to rush out again--to general or
committee meetings. Father Lasse was there as a rule in the evenings,
and he gazed longingly after Pelle when the latter left his wife and
child; he did not understand it, but he did not venture to say anything
--he felt a great respect for the lad's undertakings. Ellen and the old
man had discovered one another; they were like a pair of horses in
harness; there was a great consolation in that.
Pelle went forward in a sort of intoxication of power, produced by the
sense of the multiplying hosts. He was like an embodiment of those
hosts, and he heard their step echoing in his own; it was natural that
the situation should assume large dimensions. He was a product of an
ancient culture, but a culture that had always dwelt in the shadow, and
was based on stern and narrow tenets, each of which summed up a lifetime
of bitter experience. The need of light and sunshine, continually
suppressed, had been accumulating, through illimitable years, until it
had resulted in a monstrous tension. Now it had exploded, and was
mounting dizzily upward. His mind was reeling in the heights, in a
blinding cloud of light!
But fundamentally he was still the sturdy realist and stood with his
feet on the earth! The generations beneath him had been disciplined by
the cold, and had learned to content themselves with bare necessities; a
lesson which they handed down to him, simply and directly, with no
inheritance of frivolity. In his world, cause and effect were in a
direct line; an obtrusive odor did not translate itself into a spectral
chattering of the teeth. The result was in a direct line with the cause
--but their relation was often that of the match and the bonfire. Herein
lay the strength of his imagination; this was why he could encompass all
things with so simple a preparation.
He was not afraid to consider the fate of the masses; when he could not
see ahead, his old fatalism came to his help. His words flamed high
despite himself and kept the hope alive in many who did not themselves
understand the meaning of the whole movement, but saw that its adherents
grew ever more numerous, and that in other respects they were just as
well off. Where he himself could not see he was like a lens that
collects the half-darkness and gives it out again as a beam of light.
Morten he preferred to avoid. Pelle had gradually absorbed all the
theories of the labor movement, and they comfortably filled his mind.
And how could one accomplish more than by remaining in harmony with the
whole? Morten had an unfruitful tendency to undermine the certainty of
one's mind; he always brought forth his words from his inner
consciousness, from places where no one else had ever been, and he
delivered them as though they had been God's voice in the Bible, which
always made people pause in their designs. Pelle respected his peculiar
nature, which never marched with the crowd, and avoided him.
But his thoughts often returned to him. Morten had first thrown a light
upon chaos--upon the knowledge of Pelle's world, the poor man's world;
and when he was confronted by any decisive question he involuntarily
asked himself how Morten would have dealt with it.
At times they met at meetings called together by the workers themselves,
and at which they both collaborated. Morten had no respect for the
existing laws and little for the new. He did not play a very zealous
part in the work of party organization, and was rather held at arm's
length by the leaders. But his relations with the man in the street were
of the closest. He worked independently; there was scarcely his match in
individual cases of need or injustice; and he was always laboring to
make people think for themselves.
And they loved him. They looked up to Pelle and the rest, and made way
for them with shining eyes; but they smilingly put themselves in
Morten's way. They wanted to press his hand--he could scarcely make his
way to the speaker's platform. His pale face filled them with joy--women
and children hung on to him. When he passed through the streets of the
poor quarters in his simple clothes, the women smiled at him. "That's
him, the master-journeyman, who is so good and so book-learned," they
would say. "And now he has sold all his books in order to help a poor
child!" And they gave their own children a little push, and the children
went up to him and held out their hands and followed him right to the
end of the street.
When Pelle went now and again to the "Ark," to see his brothers and
sister, the news of his visit spread quickly through the building.
"Pelle is here!" sounded from gallery to gallery, and they hurried up
the stairs in order to nod to him and to seek to entice him to swallow a
cup of coffee. Old Madam Frandsen had moved; she disappeared when
Ferdinand came out of prison--no one knew whither. Otherwise there were
no changes. A few factory women left by night on account of their rent,
and others had taken their places. And from time to time some one
completed his term, and was carried out of the dark corridors and borne
away on the dead-cart--as always. But in the "Ark" there was no change
to be observed.
It happened one day that he went over to call on Widow Johnsen. She
looked very melancholy sitting there as she turned her old soldiers'
trousers and attended to Hanne's child, which promised to be a fine
girl. She had aged; she was always sitting at home and scolding the
child; when Pelle visited her he brought a breath of fresh air into her
joyless existence. Then she recalled the excursion to the forest, and
the cozy evenings under the hanging lantern, and sighed. Hanne never
looked at Pelle. When she came running home from the factory, she had no
eyes for anything but her little girl, who threw herself upon her mother
and immediately wanted to play. For the remainder of the day the child
was close under her eyes, and Hanne had to hold her hand as she moved
about, and play with her and the doll.
"Far up the mountain did I climb,"
sang Hanne, and the child sang with her--she could sing already! Hanne's
clear, quiet eyes rested on the child, and her expression was as joyful
as though fortune had really come to her. She was like a young widow who
has lived her share of life, and in the "Ark" every one addressed her as
Widow Hanne. This was a mark of respect paid to her character; they
threw a widow's veil over her fate because she bore it so finely. She
had expected so much, and now she centered everything in her child, as
though the Stranger could have brought her no more valuable present.
Peter's misfortune had struck the little home a serious blow. They had
always only just kept their heads above water; and now he earned less
than ever with his crippled hand. Karl wanted to get on in the world,
and was attending confirmation classes, which cost money and clothes.
They had made up for Peter's loss of earning power by giving up Father
Lasse's room and moving his bed into their own room. But all three were
growing, and needed food and clothing.
Peter's character had taken on a little kink; he was no longer so
cheerful over his work, and he often played the truant, loafing about
the streets instead of going to the factory. Sometimes he could not be
got out of bed in the morning; he crept under the bedclothes and hid
himself. "I can't work with my bad hand," he would say, crying, when
Marie wanted to drag him out; "every moment the knives are quite close
to it and nearly chop it off."
"Then stay at home!" said Marie at last. "Look after the house and I
will go out and see if I can earn something. I can get work as a
charwoman in the new buildings in Market Street."
But at that he got up and slunk away; he would not allow a woman to earn
his food for him.
Karl was a brisk, merry young vagabond; nothing made any impression on
him. The streets had brought him up, had covered his outer man with a
coating of grime, and had lit the inextinguishable sparks in his eyes.
He was like the sparrows of the capital; black with soot, but full of an
urban sharpness, they slip in and out among the heavy wagon-wheels, and
know everything. He was always getting into difficulties, but always
came home with a whole skin. His continual running about seemed to have
got into his blood like a never-resting impulse.
He was full of shifts for lessening the uncertainty of his earnings, and
the little household depended principally on him. But now he had had
enough of seeking his living in the streets; he wanted to get on; he
wanted most of all to be a shopkeeper. The only thing that held him back
was his regard for his home.
Pelle saw that the little home would have to be broken up. Marie was
developing rapidly; she must leave the "Ark," and if Karl could not live
his own life, but was forced to sacrifice himself to his brother and
sister, he would end as a street-loafer. Pelle resolved suddenly to deal
with the matter himself, as his habit was. He obtained an outfit for
Karl from a charitable society, and placed him as apprentice with a
shopkeeper for whom the boy had run errands.
One Sunday afternoon he went over to the "Ark" with a big parcel under
his arm. He was holding Young Lasse by the hand; every moment the child
stooped down, picked up a little stone, dragged his father to the quay-
wall, and threw the stone into the water. He chattered incessantly.
Pelle mechanically allowed himself to be pulled aside, and answered the
child at random. He was thinking of the children's little home, which
had once been so hospitably opened to him, and must now be broken up.
Perhaps it would be the salvation of Karl and Marie; there was a future
for them outside; they were both young and courageous. And Father Lasse
could come to him; it would be quite possible to make up his bed in the
living-room at night and put it out of the way in the daytime. Ellen was
no longer so particular. But Peter--what was to become of him? The home
was the only thing that still held him.
When Young Lasse looked through the tunnel-entry into the darkness of
the "Ark" he did not want to go in. "Ugly, ugly!" he said, in energetic
refusal. Pelle had to take him in his arms. "Lasse not like that!" he
said, pushing with his hands against his father's shoulders. "Lasse
wants to go back! get down!"
"What!" said Pelle, laughing, "doesn't Young Lasse like the 'Ark'?
Father thinks it's jolly here!"
"Why?" asked the boy, pouting.
"Why?" Well, Pelle could not at once explain. "Because I lived here once
on a time!" he replied.
"And where was Young Lasse then?"
"Then you used to sit in mother's eyes and laugh at father."
At this the child forgot his fear of the darkness and the heavy timbers.
He pressed his round little nose against his father's, and gazed into
his eyes, in order to see whether a little boy was sitting in them too.
He laughed when he glimpsed himself in them. "Who sits in mother's eyes
now?" he asked.
"Now a little sister sits there, who likes to play with Young Lasse,"
said Pelle. "But now you must walk again--it doesn't do for a man to sit
on anybody's arm!"
The three orphans were waiting for him eagerly; Karl hopped and leaped
into the air when he saw Pelle.
"Where is Father Lasse?" asked Pelle.
"He has gone out with the hand-cart for the second-hand dealer," said
Marie; "he had to fetch a sofa." She had taken Young Lasse on her lap
and was almost eating him.
Karl put on his fine new clothes, his fresh face beaming with delight.
The trousers were fully long enough, but it was quite fashionable to go
about with turned-up trousers. That was easily got over.
"Now you look like a real grocer!" said Pelle, laughing.
Karl ran out into the gangway and came back immediately with his head
wetted and his hair parted down the middle. "Ach, you fool, why don't
you leave well alone!" cried Marie, ruffling his head. A fight ensued.
Peter sat in a corner, self-absorbed, staring gloomily out of the
"Now, Peter, hold your head up!" cried Pelle, clapping him on the
shoulder. "When we've got the great Federation together and things are
working properly, I'll manage something for you too. Perhaps you can act
as messenger for us."
Peter did not reply, but turned his head away.
"He's always like that--he's so grumpy! Do at least be a little polite,
Peter!" said Marie irritably. The boy took his cap and went out.
"Now he's going out by the North Bridge, to his sweetheart--and we
shan't see anything of him for the next few days," said Marie, looking
after him. "She's a factory girl--she's had a child by one man--he
deserted her," said Marie.
"He has a sweetheart already?" said Pelle.
"What of that? He's seventeen. But there's nothing in her."
"She has red hair! And she drags one leg behind her as though she wanted
to take the pavement with her," said Karl. "She might well be his
"I don't think you ought to tease him," said Pelle seriously.
"We don't," said Marie. "But he won't have it when we try to be nice to
him. And he can't bear to see us contented. Lasse says it is as though
he were bewitched."
"I have a situation for you too, Marie," said Pelle. "With Ellen's old
employers in Holberg Street--you'll be well treated there. But you must
be ready by October."
"That will be fine! Then Karl and I can go into situations on the same
day!" She clapped her hands. "But Peter!" she cried suddenly. "Who will
look after him? No, I can't do it, Pelle!"
"We must see if we can't find nice lodgings for him. You must take the
situation--you can't go on living here."
Prom the end of the long gangway came a curious noise, which sounded
like a mixture of singing and crying. Young Lasse got down onto his feet
near the open door, and said, "Sh! Singing! Sh!"
"Yes! That's the pasteboard-worker and her great Jutlander," said Marie.
"They've got a funeral to-day. The poor little worm has ceased to
suffer, thank God!"
"Is that any one new?" said Pelle.
"No, they are people who moved here in the spring. He hasn't been living
here, but every Saturday he used to come here and take her wages. 'You
are crazy to give him your wages when he doesn't even live with you!' we
told her. 'He ought to get a thrashing instead of money!' 'But he's the
child's father!' she said, and she went on giving him her money. And on
Sunday, when he had drunk it, he regretted it, and then he used to come
and beat her, because she needn't have given it to him. She was an awful
fool, for she could just have been out when he came. But she was fond of
him and thought nothing of a few blows--only it didn't do for the child.
She never had food for it, and now it's dead."
The door at the end of the gangway opened, and the big Jutlander came
out with a tiny coffin under his arm. He was singing a hymn in an
indistinct voice, as he stood there waiting. In the side passage, behind
the partition-wall, a boy's voice was mocking him. The Jutlander's face
was red and swollen with crying, and the debauch of the night before was
still heavy in his legs. Behind him came the mother, and now they went
down the gangway with funeral steps; the woman's thin black shawl hung
mournfully about her, and she held her handkerchief to her mouth; she
was crying still. Her livid face had a mildewed appearance.
Pelle and Young Lasse had to be off. "You are always in such a hurry!"
said Marie dolefully. "I wanted to make coffee."
"Yes, I've got a lot to do to-day still. Otherwise I'd gladly stay with
you a bit."
"Do you know you are gradually getting quite famous?" said Marie,
looking at him in admiration. "The people talk almost as much about you
as they do about the big tinplate manufacturer. They say you ruined the
biggest employer in the city."
"Yes. I ruined his business," said Pelle, laughing. "But where has the
shopwalker got to?"
"He's gone down into the streets to show himself!"
Karl, sure enough, was strolling about below and allowing the boys and
girls to admire him. "Look, when we come into the shop and the grocer
isn't there you'll stand us treat!" Pelle heard one of them say.
"You don't catch me! And if you dare you'll get one in the jaw!" replied
Karl. "Think I'm going to have you loafing about?"
At the end of the street the great Jutlander was rolling along, the
coffin under his arm; the girl followed at a distance, and they kept to
the middle of the road as though they formed part of a funeral
procession. It was a dismal sight. The gray, dismal street was like a
The shutters were up in all the basement windows, excepting that of the
bread-woman. Before the door of her shop stood a crowd of grimy little
children, smearing themselves with dainties; every moment one of them
slipped down into the cellar to spend an ore. One little girl, dressed
in her Sunday best, with a tightly braided head, was balancing herself
on the edge of the curbstone with a big jug of cream in her hand; and in
a doorway opposite stood a few young fellows meditating some mischief or
"Shall we go anywhere to-day?" asked Ellen, when Pelle and young Lasse
got home. "The fine season is soon over."
"I must go to the committee-meeting," Pelle replied hesitatingly. He was
sorry for her; she was going to have another child, and she looked so
forsaken as she moved about the home. But it was impossible for him to
stay at home.
"When do you think you'll be back?"
"That I don't know, Ellen. It is very possible it will take the whole
Then she was silent and set out his food.
That year was, if possible, worse than the preceding. As early as
September the unemployed stood in long ranks beside the canals or in the
market-place, their feet in the wet. The bones of their wrists were blue
and prominent and foretold a hard winter, of which the corns of the old
people had long ago given warning; and sparks of fire were flying up
from under poor folks' kettles. "Now the hard winter is coming and
bringing poverty with it," said the people. "And then we shall have a
In October the frost appeared and began to put an end to all work that
had not already been stopped by the hard times.
In the city the poor were living from hand to mouth; if a man had a bad
day it was visible on his plate the next morning. Famine lay curled up
beneath the table in ten thousand households; like a bear in its winter
sleep it had lain there all summer, shockingly wasted and groaning in
its evil dreams; but they were used to its society and took no notice of
it so long as it did not lay its heavy paw upon the table. One day's
sickness, one day's loss of work--and there it was!
"Ach, how good it would be if we only had a brine-tub that we could go
to!" said those who could still remember their life in the country. "But
the good God has taken the brine-tub and given us the pawnbroker
instead!" and then they began to pledge their possessions.
It was sad to see how the people kept together; the city was scattered
to the winds in summer, but now it grew compacter; the homeless came in
from the Common, and the great landowners returned to inhabit their
winter palaces. Madam Rasmussen, in her attic, suddenly appeared with a
husband; drunken Valde had returned--the cold, so to speak, had driven
him into her arms! At the first signs of spring he would be off again,
into the arms of his summer mistress, Madam Grassmower. But as long as
he was here, here he was! He stood lounging in the doorway downstairs,
with feathers sticking in the shaggy hair of his neck and bits of bed-
straw adhering to his flat back. His big boots were always beautifully
polished; Madam Rasmussen did that for him before she went to work in
the morning; after which she made two of herself, so that her big strong
handsome protector should have plenty of time to stand and scratch
Week by week the cold locked up all things more closely; it locked up
the earth, so that the husbandmen could not get at it; and it closed the
modest credit account of the poor. Already it had closed all the harbors
round about. Foreign trade shrunk away to nothing; the stevedores and
waterside workers might as well stop at home. It tightened the heart-
strings--and the strings of the big purse that kept everything going.
The established trades began to work shorter hours, and the less stable
trades entirely ceased. Initiative drew in its horns; people began
nothing new, and did no work for the warehouses; fear had entered into
them. All who had put out their feelers drew them back; they were
frostbitten, so to speak. The earth had withdrawn its sap into itself
and had laid a crust of ice over all; humanity did the same. The poor
withdrew their scanty blood into their hearts, in order to preserve the
germ of life. Their limbs were cold and bloodless, their skin gray. They
withdrew into themselves, and into the darkest corners, packed closely
together. They spent nothing. And many of those who had enough grudged
themselves even food; the cold ate their needs away, and set anxiety in
their place. Consumption was at a standstill.
One could not go by the thermometer, for according to that the frost had
been much harder earlier in the year. "What, is it no worse!" said the
people, taken aback. But they felt just as cold and wretched as ever.
What did the thermometer know of a hard winter? Winter is the companion
of hard times, and takes the same way whether it freezes or thaws--and
on this occasion it froze!
In the poor quarters of the city the streets were as though depopulated.
A fall of snow would entice the dwellers therein out of their hiding-
places; it made the air milder, and made it possible, too, to earn a few
kroner for sweeping away the snow. Then they disappeared again, falling
into a kind of numb trance and supporting their life on incredibly
little--on nothing at all. Only in the mornings were the streets
peopled--when the men went out to seek work. But everywhere where there
was work for one man hundreds applied and begged for it. The dawn saw
the defeated ones slinking home; they slept the time away, or sat all
day with their elbows on the table, never uttering a word. The cold,
that locked up all else, had an opposite effect upon the heart; there
was much compassion abroad. Many whose wits had been benumbed by the
cold, so that they did not attempt to carry on their avocations, had
suffered no damage at heart, but expended their means in beneficence.
Kindly people called the poor together, and took pains to find them out,
for they were not easy to find.
But the Almighty has created beings that live upon the earth and
creatures that live under the earth; creatures of the air and creatures
of the water; even in the fire live creatures that increase and
multiply. And the cold, too, saw the growth of a whole swarm of
creatures that live not by labor, but on it, as parasites. The good
times are their bad times; then they grow thin, and there are not many
of them about. But as soon as cold and destitution appear they come
forth in their swarms; it is they who arouse beneficence--and get the
best part of what is going. They scent the coming of a bad year and
inundate the rich quarters of the city. "How many poor people come to
the door this year!" people say, as they open their purses. "These are
hard times for the poor!"
In the autumn Pelle had removed; he was now dwelling in a little two-
roomed apartment on the Kapelvej. He had many points of contact with
this part of the city now; besides, he wanted Ellen to be near her
parents when she should be brought to bed. Lasse would not accompany
him; he preferred to be faithful to the "Ark"; he had got to know the
inmates now, and he could keep himself quite decently by occasional work
in the neighboring parts of the city.
Pelle fought valiantly to keep the winter at bay. There was nothing to
do at the workshop; and he had to be on the go from morning to night.
Wherever work was to be had, there he applied, squeezing his way through
hundreds of others. His customers needed footwear now more than ever;
but they had no money to pay for it.
Ellen and he drew nearer at this season and learned to know one another
on a new side. The hard times drew them together; and he had cause to
marvel at the stoutness of her heart. She accepted conditions as they
were with extraordinary willingness, and made a little go a very long
way. Only with the stove she could do nothing. "It eats up everything we
scrape together," she said dejectedly; "it sends everything up the
chimney and doesn't give out any warmth. I've put a bushel of coal on it
to-day, and it's as cold as ever! Where I was in service we were able to
warm two big rooms with one scuttle! I must be a fool, but won't you
look into it?" She was almost crying.
"You mustn't take that to heart so!" said Pelle gloomily. "That's the
way with poor folks' stoves. They are old articles that are past use,
and the landlords buy them up as old iron and then fit them in their
workmen's dwellings! And it's like that with everything! We poor people
get the worst and pay the dearest--although we make the things! Poverty
is a sieve."
"Yes, it's dreadful," said Ellen, looking at him with mournful eyes.
"And I can understand you so well now!"
Threatening Need had spread its pinions above them. They hardly dared to
think now; they accepted all things at its hands.
One day, soon after Ellen had been brought to bed, she asked Pelle to go
at once to see Father Lasse. "And mind you bring him with you!" she
said. "We can very well have him here, if we squeeze together a little.
I'm afraid he may be in want."
Pelle was pleased by the offer, and immediately set out. It was good of
Ellen to open her heart to the old man when they were by no means
certain of being able to feed themselves.
The "Ark" had a devastated appearance. All the curtains had disappeared
--except at Olsen's; with the gilt mouldings they always fetched fifty
ore. The flowers in the windows were frostbitten. One could see right
into the rooms, and inside also all was empty. There was something
shameless about the winter here; instead of clothing the "Ark" more
warmly it stripped it bare--and first of all of its protecting veils.
The privies in the court had lost their doors and covers, and it was all
Pelle could do to climb up to the attics! Most of the balustrades had
vanished, and every second step was lacking; the "Ark" was helping
itself as well as it could! Over at Madam Johnsen's the bucket of oak
was gone that had always stood in the corner of the gallery when it was
not lent to some one--the "Ark" possessed only the one. And now it was
burned or sold. Pelle looked across, but had not the courage to call.
Hanne, he knew, was out of work.
A woman came slinking out of the third story, and proceeded to break
away a fragment of woodwork; she nodded to Pelle. "For a drop of
coffee!" she said, "and God bless coffee! You can make it as weak as you
like as long as it's still nice and hot."
The room was empty; Lasse was not there. Pelle asked news of him along
the gangway. He learned that he was living in the cellar with the old
clothes woman. Thin gray faces appeared for a moment in the doorways,
gazed at him, and silently disappeared.
The cellar of the old clothes woman was overcrowded with all sorts of
objects; hither, that winter, the possessions of the poor had drifted.
Lasse was sitting in a corner, patching a mattress; he was alone down
there. "She has gone out to see about something," he said; "in these
times her money finds plenty of use! No, I'm not going to come with you
and eat your bread. I get food and drink here--I earn it by helping her
--and how many others can say this winter that they've their living
assured? And I've got a corner where I can lie. But can't you tell me
what's become of Peter? He left the room before me one day, and since
then I've never seen him again."
"Perhaps he's living with his sweetheart," said Pelle. "I'll see if I
can't find out."
"Yes, if you will. They were good children, those three, it would be a
pity if one of them were to come to any harm."
Pelle would not take his father away from a regular situation where he
was earning a steady living. "We don't very well see what we could offer
you in its place. But don't forget that you will always be welcome--
Ellen herself sent me here."
"Yes, yes! Give her many thanks for that! And now you be off, before the
old woman comes back," said Lasse anxiously. "She doesn't like any one
to be here--she's afraid for her money."
The first thing that had to go was Pelle's winter overcoat. He pawned it
one day, without letting Ellen know, and on coming home surprised her
with the money, which he delightedly threw on the table, krone by krone.
"How it rings!" he said to Young Lasse. The child gave a jump, and
wanted the money to play with.
"What do I want with a winter coat?" he retorted, to Ellen's kindly
reproaches. "I'm not cold, and it only hangs up indoors here. I've borne
with it all the summer. Ah, that's warm!" he cried, to the child, when
Ellen had brought some fuel. "That was really a good winter coat, that
of father's! Mother and sister and Young Lasse can all warm themselves
The child put his hands on his knees and peeped into the fire after his
father's winter coat. The fire kindled flames in his big child's eyes,
and played on his red cheeks. "Pretty overcoat!" he said, laughing all
over his face.
They did not see much of the tenants of the house; nor of the family.
People were living quietly, each one fighting his own privations within
his four walls. On Sundays they gave the children to one of the
neighbors, went into the city, and stood for an hour outside some
concert-hall, freezing and listening to the music. Then they went home
again and sat vegetating in the firelight, without lighting the lamp.
One Sunday things looked bad. "The coals will hold out only till
midday," said Ellen; "we shall have to go out. And there's no more food
either. But perhaps we can go to the old folks; they'll put up with us
As they were about to start, Ellen's brother Otto arrived, with his wife
and two children, to call on them. Ellen exchanged a despairing glance
with Pelle. Winter had left its stamp on them too; their faces were thin
and serious. But they still had warm clothes. "You must keep your cloaks
on," said Ellen, "for I have no more coal. I forgot it yesterday, I had
so much to do; I had to put off ordering it until to-day, and to-day,
unfortunately, the coal dealer isn't at home."
"If only the children aren't cold," said Pelle, "we grown-ups can easily
keep ourselves warm."
"Well, as long as they haven't icicles hanging from their noses they
won't come to any harm!" said Otto with a return of his old humor.
They moved restlessly about the room and spoke of the bad times and the
increasing need. "Yes, it's terrible that there isn't enough for
everybody," said Otto's wife.
"But the hard winter and the misery will come to an end and then things
will be better again."
"You mean we shall come to an end first?" said Otto, laughing
"No, not we--this poverty, of course. Ach, you know well enough what I
mean. But he's always like that," she said, turning to Pelle.
"Curious, how you women still go about in the pious belief that there's
not enough for all!" said Pelle. "Yet the harbor is full of stacks of
coal, and there's no lack of eatables in the shops. On the contrary--
there is more than usual, because so many are having to do without--and
you can see, too, that everything in the city is cheaper. But what good
is that when there's no money? It's the distribution that's all wrong."
"Yes, you are quite right!" said Otto Stolpe. "It's really damnable that
no one has the courage to help himself!"
Pelle heard Ellen go out through the kitchen door, and presently she
came back with firing in her apron. She had borrowed it. "I've scraped
together just a last little bit of coal," she said, going down on her
knees before the stove. "In any case it's enough to heat the water for a
cup of coffee."
Otto and his wife begged her urgently not to give herself any trouble;
they had had some coffee before they left home--after a good solid
breakfast. "On Sundays we always have a solid breakfast," said young
Madam Stolpe; "it does one such a lot of good!" While she was speaking
her eyes involuntarily followed Ellen's every moment, as though she
could tell thereby how soon the coffee would be ready.
Ellen chatted as she lit the fire. But of course they must have a cup of
coffee; they weren't to go away with dry throats!
Pelle sat by listening in melancholy surprise; her innocent boasting
only made their poverty more glaring. He could see that Ellen was
desperately perplexed, and he followed her into the kitchen.
"Pelle, Pelle!" she said, in desperation. "They've counted on stopping
here and eating until the evening. And I haven't a scrap in the house.
What's to be done?"
"Tell them how it is, of course!"
"I can't! And they've had nothing to eat to-day--can't you see by
looking at them?" She burst into tears.
"Now, now, let me see to the whole thing!" he said consolingly. "But
what are you going to give us with our coffee?"
"I don't know! I have nothing but black bread and a little butter."
"Lord, what a little donkey!" he said, smiling, and he took her face
between his hands. "And you stand there lamenting! Just you be cutting
Ellen set to work hesitatingly. But before she appeared with the
refreshments they heard her bang the front door and go running down the
steps. After a time she returned. "Oh, Lord! Now the baker has sold out
of white bread," she said, "so you must just have black bread-and-butter
with your coffee."
"But that's capital," they cried. "Black bread always goes best with
coffee. Only it's a shame we are giving you so much trouble!"
"Look here," said Pelle, at last. "It may please you to play hide-and-
seek with one another, but it doesn't me--I am going to speak my mind.
With us things are bad, and it can't be any better with you. Now how is
it, really, with the old folks?"
"They are struggling along," said Otto. "They always have credit, and I
think they have a little put by as well."
"Then shan't we go there to-night and have supper? Otherwise I'm afraid
we shan't get anything."
"Yes, we will! It's true we were there the day before yesterday--but
what does that matter? We must go somewhere, and at least it's sticking
to the family!"
* * * * *
The cold had no effect on Pelle; the blood ran swiftly through his
veins. He was always warm. Privation he accepted as an admonition, and
merely felt the stronger for it; and he made use of his involuntary
holiday to work for the Cause.
It was no time for public meetings and sounding words--many had not even
clothes with which to go to meetings. The movement had lost its impetus
through the cold; people had their work cut out to keep the little they
already had. Pelle made it his business to encourage the hopes of the
rejected, and was always on the run; he came into contact with many
people. Misery stripped them bare and developed his knowledge of
Wherever a trade was at a standstill, and want had made its appearance,
he and others were at hand to prevent demoralization and to make the
prevailing conditions the subject of agitation. He saw how want
propagates itself like the plague, and gradually conquers all--a callous
accomplice in the fate of the poor man. In a week to a fortnight
unemployment would take all comfort from a home that represented the
scraping and saving of many years--so crying was the disproportion. Here
was enough to stamp a lasting comprehension upon the minds of all, and
enough to challenge agitation. All but persons of feeble mind could see
now what they were aiming at.
And there were people here like those at home. Want made them even more
submissive. They could hardly believe that they were so favored as to be
permitted to walk the earth and go hungry. With them there was nothing
to be done. They were born slaves, born with slavery deep in their
hearts, pitiful and cur-like.
They were people of a certain age--of an older generation than his. The
younger folk were of another and a harder stuff; and he often was amazed
to find how vigorously their minds echoed his ideas. They were ready to
dare, ready to meet force with force. These must be held back lest they
should prejudice the movement--for them its progress was never
His mind was young and intact and worked well in the cold weather; he
restlessly drew comparisons and formed conclusions in respect of
everything he came into contact with. The individual did not seem to
change. The agitation was especially directed to awakening what was
actually existent. For the rest, they must live their day and be
replaced by a younger generation in whom demands for compensation came
more readily to the tongue. So far as he could survey the evolution of
the movement, it did not proceed through the generations, but in some
amazing fashion grew out of the empty space between them. So youth, even
at the beginning, was further ahead than age had been where it left off.
The movements of the mind had an obscure and mystical effect upon him,
as had the movement of his blood in childhood; sometimes he felt a
mysterious shudder run through him, and he began to understand what
Morten had meant when he said that humanity was sacred. It was terrible
that human beings should suffer such need, and Pelle's resentment grew
Through his contact with so many individuals he learned that Morten was
not so exceptional; the minds of many betrayed the same impatience, and
could not understand that a man who is hungry should control himself and
be content with the fact of organization. There was a revolutionary
feeling abroad; a sterner note was audible, and respectable people gave
the unemployed a wide berth, while old people prophesied the end of the
world. The poor had acquired a manner of thinking such as had never been
One day Pelle stood in a doorway with some other young people,
discussing the aspect of affairs; it was a cold meeting-place, but they
had not sufficient means to call a meeting in the usual public room. The
discussion was conducted in a very subdued tune; their voices were
bitter and sullen. A well-dressed citizen went by. "There's a fine
overcoat," cried one; "I should like to have one like that! Shall we
fetch him into the doorway and pull his coat off?" He spoke loudly, and
was about to run out into the street.
"No stupidity!" said Pelle sadly, seizing him by the arm. "We should
only do ourselves harm! Remember the authorities are keeping their eyes
"Well, what's a few weeks in prison?" the man replied. "At least one
would get board and lodging for so long." There was a look that
threatened mischief in his usually quiet and intelligent eyes.
There were rumors that the city authorities intended to intervene in
order to remedy the condition of the unemployed, and shortly before
Christmas large numbers of navvies were given employment. Part of the
old ramparts was cleared away, and the space converted into parks and
boulevards. Pelle applied among a thousand others and had the good
fortune to be accepted. The contractor gave the preference to youthful
Every morning the workers appeared in a solid phalanx; the foreman of
the works chose those he had need of, and the rest were free to depart.
At home sat their wives and children, cheered by the possibility of
work; the men felt no inclination to go home with bad news, so they
loafed about in the vicinity.
They came there long before daybreak in order to be the first, although
there was not much hope. There was at least an excuse to leave one's
bed; idleness was burning like hell fire in their loins. When the
foreman came they thronged silently about him, with importunate eyes.
One woman brought her husband; he walked modestly behind her, kept his
eyes fixed upon her, and did precisely as she did. He was a great
powerful fellow, but he did nothing of his own accord--did not even blow
his nose unless she nudged him. "Come here, Thorvald!" she said, cuffing
him so hard as to hurt him. "Keep close behind me!" She spoke in a harsh
voice, into the empty air, as though to explain her behavior to the
others; but no one looked at her. "He can't speak for himself properly,
you see," she remarked at random. Her peevish voice made Pelle start;
she was from Bornholm. Ah, those smart young girls at home, they were a
man's salvation! "And the children have got to live too!" she continued.
"We have eight. Yes, eight."
"Then he's some use for something," said a workman who looked to be
perishing with the cold.
The woman worked her way through them, and actually succeeded in getting
her man accepted. "And now you do whatever they tell you, nicely, and
don't let them tempt you to play the fool in any way!" she said, and she
gave him a cuff which set him off working in his place. She raised her
head defiantly as contemptuous laughter sounded about her.
The place was like a slave-market. The foreman, went to and fro, seeking
out the strongest, eyeing them from head to foot and choosing them for
their muscular development and breadth of back. The contractor too was
moving about and giving orders. "One of them rich snobs!" said the
laborers, grumbling; "all the laborers in town have to march out here so
that he can pick himself the best. And he's beaten down the day's wages
to fifty ore. He's been a navvy himself, too; but now he's a man who
enjoys his hundred thousand a year. A regular bloodsucker, he is!"
The crowd continued to stand there and to loaf about all the day, in the
hope that some one would give up, or fall ill--or go crazy--so that
some one could take his place. They could not tear themselves away; the
mere fact that work was being done chained them to the spot. They looked
as though they might storm the works at any moment, and the police
formed a ring about the place. They stood pressing forward, absorbed by
their desire for work, with a sick longing in their faces. When the
crowd had pressed forward too far it hesitatingly allowed itself to be
pushed back again. Suddenly there was a break in the ranks; a man leaped
over the rail and seized a pickaxe. A couple of policemen wrested the
tool from his hand and led him away.
And as they stood there a feeling of defiance rose within them, a fierce
contempt for their privations and the whole shameless situation. It
expressed itself in an angry half-suppressed growl. They followed the
contractor with curious eyes as though they were looking for something
in him but could not conceive what it was.
In his arrogance at receiving such an excessive offer of labor, he
decided to go further, and to lengthen the working day by an hour. The
workers received an order to that effect one morning, just as they had
commenced work. But at the same moment the four hundred men, all but
two, threw down their implements and returned to their comrades. They
stood there discussing the matter, purple with rage. So now their
starving condition was to be made use of, in order to enrich the
contractor by a further hundred thousand! "We must go to the city
authorities," they cried. "No, to the newspaper!" others replied. "The
paper! The paper is better!"
"It's no use going to the city council--not until we have elected
members of our own party to it," cried Pelle. "Remember that at the
elections, comrades! We must elect men of our party everywhere, their
encroachments will never be stopped until then. And now we must stand
together and be firm! If it's got to be, better starve to death at once
than do it slowly!"
They did not reply, but pressed closely about him, heavily listening.
There was something altogether too fierce and profound in their
attention. These men had declared a strike in midwinter, as their only
remedy. What were they thinking of doing now? Pelle looked about him and
was daunted by their dumb rage. This threatening silence wouldn't do;
what would it lead to? It seemed as though something overwhelming, and
uncontrollable, would spring from this stony taciturnity. Pelle sprang
upon a heap of road-metal.
"Comrades!" he cried, in a powerful voice. "This is merely a change, as
the fox said when they flayed his skin off. They have deprived us of
clothes and food and drink, and comfort at home, and now they want to
find a way of depriving us of our skins too! The question to-day is--
forward or back? Perhaps this is the great time of trial, when we shall
enter into possession of all we have desired! Hold together, comrades!
Don't scatter and don't give way! Things are difficult enough now, but
remember, we are well on in the winter, and it promises to break up
early. The night is always darkest before daybreak! And shall we be
afraid to suffer a little--we, who have suffered and been patient for
hundreds of years? Our wives are sitting at home and fretting--perhaps
they will be angry with us. We might at least have accepted what was
offered us, they may say. But we can't go on seeing our dear ones at
home fading away in spite of our utmost exertions! Hitherto the poor
man's labor has been like an aimless prayer to Heaven: Deliver us from
hunger and dirt, from misery, poverty, and cold, and give us bread, and
again bread! Deliver our children from our lot--let not their limbs
wither and their minds lapse into madness! That has been our prayer, but
there is only one prayer that avails, and that is, to defy the wicked!
We are the chosen people, and for that reason we must cry a halt! We
will no longer do as we have done--for our wives' sakes, and our
children's, and theirs again! Ay, but what is posterity to us? Of course
it is something to us--precisely to us! Were your parents as you are?
No, they were ground down into poverty and the dust, they crept
submissively before the mighty. Then whence did we get all that makes us
so strong and causes us to stand together? Time has stood still,
comrades! It has placed its finger on our breast and he said, 'Thus you
shall do!' Here where we stand, the old time ceases and the new time
begins; and that is why we have thrown down our tools, with want staring
us in the face--such a thing as has never been seen before! We want to
revolutionize life--to make it sweet for the poor man! And for all time!
You, who have so often staked your life and welfare for a florin--you
now hold the whole future in your hands! You must endure, calmly and
prudently! And you will never be forgotten, so long as there are workers
on the earth! This winter will be the last through which we shall have
to endure--for yonder lies the land toward which we have been wandering!
Comrades! Through us the day shall come!"
Pelle himself did not know what words he uttered. He felt only that
something was speaking through him--something supremely mighty, that
never lies. There was a radiant, prophetic ring in his voice, which
carried his hearers off their feet; and his eyes were blazing. Before
their eyes a figure arose from the hopeless winter, towering in
radiance, a figure that was their own, and yet that of a young god. He
rose, new-born, out of misery itself, struck aside the old grievous idea
of fate, and in its place gave them a new faith--the radiant faith in
their own might! They cried up to him--first single voices, then all. He
gathered up their cries into a mighty cheer, a paean in honor of the new
Every day they stationed themselves there, not to work, but to stand
there in dumb protest. When the foreman called for workers they stood
about in silent groups, threatening as a gloomy rock. Now and again they
shouted a curse at those who had left them in the lurch. The city did
nothing. They had held out a helping hand to the needy, and the latter
had struck it away--now they must accept the consequences. The
contractor had received permission to suspend the work entirely, but he
kept it going with a few dozen strike-breakers, in order to irritate the
All over the great terrace a silence as of death prevailed, except in
that corner where the little gang was at work, a policeman beside it, as
though the men had been convicts. The wheelbarrows lay with their legs
in the air; it was as though the pest had swept over the works.
The strike-breakers were men of all callings; a few of the unemployed
wrote down their names and addresses, in order to insert them in _The
Working Man_. One of Stolpe's fellow-unionists was among them; he was
a capable pater-familias, and had taken part in the movement from its
earliest days. "It's a pity about him," said Stolpe; "he's an old mate
of mine, and he's always been a good comrade till now. Now they'll give
it him hard in the paper--we are compelled to. It does the trade no good
when one of its representatives goes and turns traitor."
Madame Stolpe was unhappy. "It's such a nice family," she said; "we have
always been on friendly terms with them; and I know they were hungry a
long time. He has a young wife, father; it's not easy to stand out."
"It hurts me myself," replied Stolpe. "But one is compelled to do it,
otherwise one would be guilty of partisanship. And no one shall come to
me and say that I'm a respecter of persons."
"I should like to go and have a talk with them," said Pelle. "Perhaps
they'd give it up then."
He got the address and went there after working hours. The home had been
stripped bare. There were four little children. The atmosphere was
oppressive. The man, who was already well on in years, but was still
powerful, sat at the table with a careworn expression eating his supper,
while the children stood round with their chins on the edge of the
table, attentively following every bite he took. The young wife was
going to and fro; she brought him his simple food with a peculiarly
Pelle broached the question at issue. It was not pleasant to attack this
old veteran. But it must be done.
"I know that well enough," said the man, nodding to himself. "You
needn't begin your lecture--I myself have been in the movement since the
first days, and until now I've kept my oath. But now it's done with, for
me. What do you want here, lad? Have you a wife and children crying for
bread? Then think of your own!"
"We don't cry, Hans," said the woman quietly.
"No, you don't, and that makes it even worse! Can I sit here and look
on, while you get thinner day by day, and perish with the cold? To hell
with the comrades and their big words--what have they led to? Formerly
we used to go hungry just for a little while, and now we starve
outright--that's the difference! Leave me alone, I tell you! Curse it,
why don't they leave me in peace?"
He took a mouthful of brandy from the bottle. His wife pushed a glass
toward him, but he pushed it violently away.
"You'll be put in the paper to-morrow," said Pelle, hesitating. "I only
wanted to tell you that."
"Yes, and to write of me that I'm a swine and a bad comrade, and perhaps
that I beat my wife as well. You know yourself it's all lies; but what
is that to me? Will you have a drink?"
No, Pelle wouldn't take anything. "Then I will myself," said the man,
and he laughed angrily. "Now you can certify that I'm a hog--I drink out
of the bottle! And another evening you can come and listen at the
keyhole--perhaps then you'll hear me beating my wife!"
The woman began to cry.
"Oh, damn it all, they might leave me in peace!" said the man defiantly.
Pelle had to go with nothing effected.
The "Ark" was now freezing in the north wind; all outward signs of life
were stripped from it. The sounds that in summer bubbled up from its
deep well-like shaft were silent now; the indistinguishable dripping of
a hundred waste-pipes, that turned the court into a little well with
green slimy walls, was silent too. The frost had fitted them all with
stoppers; and where the toads had sat gorging themselves in the cavities
of the walls--fantastic caverns of green moss and slimy filaments--a
crust of ice hung over all; a grimy glacier, which extended from the
attics right down to the floor of the court.
Where were they now, the grimy, joyful children? And what of the evening
carouse of the hearse-driver, for which his wife would soundly thrash
him? And the quarrelsome women's voices, which would suddenly break out
over this or that railing, criticizing the whole court, sharp as so many
The frost was harder than ever! It had swept all these things away and
had locked them up as closely as might be. The hurdy-gurdy man lay down
below in his cellar, and had as visitor that good friend of the north
wind, the gout; and down in the deserted court the draught went
shuffling along the dripping walls. Whenever any one entered the tunnel-
entry the draught clutched at his knees with icy fingers, so that the
pain penetrated to the very heart.
There stood the old barrack, staring emptily out of its black windows.
The cold had stripped away the last shred of figured curtain, and sent
it packing to the pawn-shop. It had exchanged the canary for a score of
firewood, and had put a stop to the day-long, lonely crying of the
little children behind the locked doors--that hymn of labor, which had
ceased only in the evening, when the mothers returned from the
factories. Now the mothers sat with their children all day long, and no
one but the cold grudged them this delight. But the cold and its sister,
hunger, came every day to look in upon them.
On the third floor, away from the court, Widow Johnsen sat in the corner
by the stove. Hanne's little girl lay cowering on the floor, on a
tattered patchwork counterpane. Through the naked window one saw only
ice, as though the atmosphere were frozen down to the ground.
Transparent spots had formed on the window-panes every time the child
had breathed on them in order to look out, but they had soon closed up
again. The old woman sat staring straight into the stove with big, round
eyes; her little head quivered continually; she was like a bird of ill
omen, that knew a great deal more than any one could bear to hear.
"Now I'm cold again, grandmother," said the child quietly.
"Don't keep from shivering, then you'll be warm," said the old woman.
"Are you shivering?"
"No, I'm too old and stiff for it--I can't shiver any more. But the cold
numbs my limbs, so that I can't feel them. I could manage well enough if
it wasn't for my back."
"You lean your back against the cold stove too!"
"Yes, the cold grips my poor back so."
"But that's stupid, when the stove isn't going."
"But if only my back would get numb too!" said the old woman piteously.
The child was silent, and turned her head away.
Over the whole of the wall were tiny glittering crystals. Now and again
there was a rustling sound under the wall-paper.
"Grandmother, what's that funny noise?" asked the child.
"That's the bugs--they are coming down," said the old woman. "It's too
cold for them up there in the attics, and they don't like it here. You
should see them; they go to Olsen's with the warm wall; they stay there
in the cold."
"Is the wall at Olsen's always warm, then?"
"Yes, when there's fire in the boiler of the steam mill."
Then the child was silent a while, wearily turning her head from side to
side. A dreadful weariness was stamped on her face. "I'm cold," she
complained after a time.
"See if you can't shiver!"
"Hadn't I better jump a bit?"
"No, then you'd just swallow down the cold--the air is like ice. Just
keep still, and soon mother will be here, and she'll bring something!"
"She never gets anything," said the child. "When she gets there it's
always all over."
"That's not true," said Madam Johnsen severely. "There's food enough in
the soup kitchens for all; it's just a matter of understanding how to go
about it. The poor must get shame out of their heads. She'll bring
The child stood up and breathed a hole in the ice on the window-pane.
"Look now, whether it isn't going to snow a little so that the poor man
can get yet another day's employment," said the old woman.
No, the wind was still blowing from the north, although it commonly
shuffled along the canal; but now, week after week, it blew from the
Nicolai tower, and played the flute on the hollow bones of poverty. The
canals were covered with ice, and the ground looked horribly hard. The
naked frost chased the people across it like withered leaves. With a
thin rustling sound they were swept across the bridges and disappeared.
A great yellow van came driving by. The huge gates of the prison opened
slowly and swallowed it. It was the van containing the meat for the
prisoners. The child followed it with a desolate expression.
"Mother isn't coming," she said. "I am so hungry."
"She will soon come--you just wait! And don't stand in the light there;
come here in the corner! The light strikes the cold right through one."
"But I feel colder in the dark."
"That's just because you don't understand. I only long now for the pitch
"I long for the sun!" retorted the child defiantly.
There was a creaking of timber out in the yard. The child ran out and
opened the door leading to the gallery. It was only the people opposite,
who were tearing a step away.
But then came mother, with a tin pail in her hand, and a bundle under
her arm; and there was something in the pail--it looked heavy. Tra-la-
la! And the bundle, the bundle! What was in that? "Mother, mother!" she
cried shrilly, leaning far over the rickety rail.
Hanne came swiftly up the stairs, with open mouth and red cheeks; and a
face peeped out of every little nest.
"Now Widow Hanne has taken the plunge," they said. They knew what a
point of honor it had been with her to look after her mother and her
child unaided. She was a good girl.
And Widow Hanne nodded to them all, as much as to say, "Now it's done,
She stood leaning over the table, and lifted the cover off the pail.
"Look!" she said, as she stirred the soup with a ladle: "there's pearl
barley and pot-herbs. If only we had something we could warm it up
"We can tear away a bit of the woodwork like other people," said the
"Yes," replied Hanne breathlessly, "yes, why not? If one can beg one can
She ran out onto the gallery and tore away a few bits of trellis, so
that the sound re-echoed through the court. People watched her out of
all the dark windows. Widow Hanne had knocked off the head of her pride!
Then they sat down to their soup, the old woman and the child. "Eat!"
said Hanne, standing over them and looking on with glowing eyes. Her
cheeks were burning. "You look like a flower in the cold!" said her
mother. "But eat, yourself, or you'll starve to death."
No, Hanne would not eat. "I feel so light," she said, "I don't need any
food." She stood there fingering her bundle; all her features were
quivering, and her mouth was like that of a person sick of a fever.
"What have you there?" asked Madam Johnsen.
"Clothes for you and little Marie. You were so cold. I got them
downstairs from the old clothes woman--they were so cheap."
"Do you say you bought them?"
"Yes--I got them on credit."
"Well, well, if you haven't given too much for them! But it will do one
good to have something warm on one's back!"
Hanne undid the bundle, while the others looked on in suspense. A light
summer dress made its appearance, pleated and low-necked, blue as little
Marie's eyes, and a pair of thin kid shoes. The child and the old woman
gazed wonderingly at the dress. "How fine!" they said. They had
forgotten everything, and were all admiration. But Hanne stood staring
with horror, and suddenly burst into sobs.
"Come, come, Hanne!" said her mother, clapping her on the back. "You
have bought a dress for yourself--that's not so dreadful! Youth will
have its rights."
"No, mother, no, I didn't buy it at all! I knew you both needed
something to keep you warm, so I went into a fine house and asked if
they hadn't any cast-off things, and there was a young lady--she gave me
this--and she was so kind. No, I didn't know at all what was in the
bundle--I really didn't know, dear mother!"
"Well, well, they are fine enough!" said the old woman, spreading the
dress out in front of her. "They are fine things!" But Hanne put the
things together and threw them into the corner by the stove.
"You are ill!" said her mother, gazing at her searchingly; "your eyes
are blazing like fire."
The darkness descended, and they went to bed. People burned no useless
lights in those days, and it was certainly best to be in bed. They had
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