Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 17 out of 23
laid the feather-bed over themselves cross-wise, when it comfortably
covered all three; their daytime clothes they laid over their feet.
Little Marie lay in the middle. No harm could come to her there. They
talked at random about indifferent matters. Hanne's voice sounded loud
and cheerful in the darkness as though it came from a radiant
"You are so restless," said the mother. "Won't you try to sleep a
little? I can feel the burning in you from here!"
"I feel so light," replied Hanne; "I can't lie still." But she did lie
still, gazing into space and humming inaudibly to herself, while the
fever raged in her veins.
After a time the old woman awoke; she was cold. Hanne was standing in
the middle of the room, with open mouth; and was engaged in putting on
her fine linen underclothing by the light of a candle-end.
Her breath came in short gasps and hung white on the air.
"Are you standing there naked in the cold?" said Madam Johnsen
reproachfully. "You ought to take a little care of yourself."
"Why, mother, I'm so warm! Why, it's summer now!"
"What are you doing, child?"
"I am only making myself a little bit smart, mother dear!"
"Yes, yes--dance, my baby. You've still got the best of your youth
before you, poor child! Why didn't you get a husband where you got the
Hanne only hummed a tune to herself, and proceeded to don the bright
blue summer costume. It was a little full across the chest, but the
decolletage sat snugly over her uncovered bosom. A faint cloud of vapor
surrounded her person like a summer haze.
Her mother had to hook up the dress at the back. "If only we don't wake
Marie!" she whispered, entirely absorbed by the dress. "And the fine
lace on the chemise--you can always let that peep out of the dress a
little--it looks so pretty like that. Now you really look like a summer
"I'll just run down and show it to Madam Olsen," said Hanne, pressing
her hand to her glowing cheeks.
"Yes, do--poor folks' joys must have their due," replied the old woman,
turning over to the wall.
Hanne ran down the steps and across the yard and out into the street.
The ground was hard and ringing in the frost, the cold was angry and
biting, but the road seemed to burn Hanne through her thin shoes. She
ran through the market, across the bridge, and into the less crowded
quarter of the city-right into Pelle's arms. He was just going to see
Pelle was wearied and stupefied with the continual battle with hard
reality. The bottomless depths of misery were beginning to waste his
courage. Was it really of any use to hold the many together? It only
made the torture yet harder for them to bear. But in a moment everything
looked as bright as though he had fallen into a state of ecstasy, as had
often happened lately. In the midst of the sternest realities it would
suddenly happen that his soul would leap within him and conjure up the
new age of happiness before his eyes, and the terrible dearth filled his
arms to overflowing with abundance! He did not feel the cold; the great
dearth had no existence; violent spiritual excitement and insufficient
nourishment made the blood sing continually in his ears. He accepted it
as a happy music from a contented world. It did not surprise him that he
should meet Hanne in summer clothing and attired as for a ball.
"Pelle, my protector!" she said, grasping his hand. "Will you go to the
dance with me?"
"That's really the old Hanne," thought Pelle delightedly--"the careless
Princess of the 'Ark,' and she is feverish, just as she used to be
then." He himself was in a fever. When their eyes met they emitted a
curious, cold, sparkling light. He had quite forgotten Father Lasse and
his errand, and went with Hanne.
The entrance of "The Seventh Heaven" was flooded with light, which
exposed the merciless cold of the street. Outside, in the sea of light,
thronged the children of the terrible winter, dishevelled and perishing
with the cold. They stood there shuddering, or felt in their pockets for
a five-ore piece, and if they found it they slipped through the blood-
red tunnel into the dancing-hall.
But it was cold in there too; their breath hung like white powder on the
air; and crystals of ice glittered on the polished floor. Who would
dream of heating a room where the joy of life was burning? and a
thousand candles? Here carelessness was wont to give of its abundance,
so that the lofty room lay in a cloud and the musicians were bathed in
But now the cold had put an end to that. Unemployed workers lounged
about the tables, disinclined for movement. Winter had not left the poor
fellows an ounce of frivolity. Cerberus Olsen might spare himself the
trouble of going round with his giant arms outspread, driving the two or
three couples of dancers with their five-ore pieces indoors toward the
music, as though they had been a whole crowd. People only toiled across
the floor in order to have the right to remain there. Good Lord! Some of
them had rings and watches, and Cerberus had ready cash--what sort of
dearth was that? The men sat under the painted ceiling and the gilded
mirrors, over a glass of beer, leaving the girls to freeze--even Elvira
had to sit still. "Mazurka!" bellowed Cerberus, going threateningly from
table to table. They slunk into the hall like beaten curs, dejectedly
danced once round the floor, and paid.
But what is this? Is it not Summer herself stepping into the hall? All
glowing and lightly clad in the blue of forget-me-nots, with a rose in
her fair hair? Warmth lies like fleeting summer upon her bare shoulders,
although she has come straight out of the terrible winter, and she steps
with boldly moving limbs, like a daughter of joy. How proudly she
carries her bosom, as though she were the bride of fortune--and how she
burns! Who is she? Can no one say?
Oh, that is Widow Hanne, a respectable girl, who for seven long years
faithfully trod her way to and from the factory, in order to keep her
old mother and her child!
But how comes it then that she has the discreet Pelle on her arm? He who
has sold his own youth to the devil, in order to alleviate poverty? What
does he want here on the dancing-floor? And Hanne, whence did she get
her finery? She is still out of employment! And how in all the world has
she grown so beautiful?
They whisper behind her, following her as she advances; and in the midst
of the hall she stands still and smiles. Her eyes burn with a volcanic
fire. A young man rushes forward and encircles her with his arm. A dance
with Hanne! A dance with Hanne!
Hanne dances with a peculiar hesitation, as though her joy had brought
her from far away. Heavily, softly, she weighs on the arms of her
partners, and the warmth rises from her bare bosom and dispels the cold
of the terrible winter. It is as though she were on fire! Who could fail
to be warmed by her?
Now the room is warm once more. Hanne is like a blazing meteor that
kindles all as it circles round; where she glides past the fire springs
up and the blood runs warmly in the veins. They overturn the chairs in
their eagerness to dance with her. "Hi, steward! Five kroner on my
watch--only be quick!" "Ach, Hanne, a dance with me!"--"Do you remember
we were at the factory together?"--"We used to go to school together!"
Hanne does not reply, but she leaves Pelle and lays her naked arm upon
their shoulders, and if they touch it with their cheeks the fire streams
through them. They do not want to let her go again; they hold her fast
embraced, gliding along with her to where the musicians are sitting,
where all have to pay. No word passes her lips, but the fire within her
is a promise to each of them, a promise of things most precious. "May I
see you home to-night?" they whisper, hanging on her silent lips.
But to Pelle she speaks as they glide along. "Pelle, how strong you are!
Why have you never taken me? Do you love me?" Her hand is clasping his
shoulder as she whirls along beside him. Her breath burns in his ear.
"I don't know!" he says uneasily. "But stop now--you are ill."
"Hold me like that! Why have you never been stronger than I? Do you want
me, Pelle? I'll be yours!"
Pelle shakes his head. "No, I love you only like a sister now."
"And now I love you! Look--you are so distant to me--I don't understand
you--and your hand is as hard as if you came from another world! You are
heavy, Pelle! Have you brought me happiness from a foreign land with
"Hanne, you are ill! Stop now and let me take you home!"
"Pelle, you were not the right one. What is there strange about you?
Nothing! So let me alone--I am going to dance with the others as well!"
Hitherto Hanne has been dancing without intermission. The men stand
waiting for her; when one releases her ten spring forward, and this
evening Hanne wants to dance with them all. Every one of them should be
permitted to warm himself by her! Her eyes are like sparks in the
darkness; her silent demeanor excites them; they swing her round more
and more wildly. Those who cannot dance with her must slake the fire
within them with drink. The terrible winter is put to flight, and it is
warm as in Hell itself. The blood is seething in their brains; it
injects the whites of their eyes, and expresses itself in wanton frolic,
in a need to dance till they drop, or to fight.
"Hanne is wild to-night--she has got her second youth," says Elvira and
the other girls maliciously.
Hold your tongues. No one shall criticize Hanne's behavior! It is
wonderful to touch her; the touch of her skin hurts one, as though she
was not flesh and blood, but fire from Heaven! They say she has not had
a bite of food for a week. The old woman and the child have had all
there was. And yet she is burning! And see, she has now been dancing
without a break for two whole hours! Can one understand such a thing?
Hanne dances like a messenger from another world, where fire, not cold,
is the condition of life. Every dancer leaves his partner in the lurch
as soon as she is free! How lightly she dances! Dancing with her, one
soars upward, far away from the cold. One forgets all misery in her
But she has grown paler and paler; she is dancing the fire out of her
body while others are dancing it in! Now she is quite white, and Olsen's
Elvira comes up and tugs at her dress, with anxiety in her glance.
"Hanne, Hanne!" But Hanne does not see her; she is only longing for the
next pair of arms--her eyes are closed. She has so much to make up for!
And who so innocent as she? She does not once realize that she is
robbing others of their pleasure. Is she suffering from vertigo or St.
Vitus's dance, in her widowhood?
Hold your tongue! How beautiful she is! Now she is growing rosy again,
and opening her eyes. Fire darts from them; she has brought Pelle out of
his corner and is whispering something to him, blushing as she does so;
perhaps that precious promise that hitherto no one has been able to draw
from her. Pelle must always be the lucky man!
"Pelle, why don't you dance with me oftener? Why do you sit in the
corner there always and sulk? Are you angry with me as you used to be,
and why are you so hard and cold? And your clothes are quite stiff!"
"I come from outside all this--from the terrible winter, Hanne, where
the children are crying for bread, and the women dying of starvation,
and the men go about with idle hands and look on the ground because they
are ashamed of their unemployment!"
"But why? It is still summer. Only look how cheerful every one is! Take
me, then, Pelle!"
Hanne grows red, redder than blood, and leans her head on his shoulder.
Only see how she surrenders herself, blissful in her unashamed ecstasy!
She droops backward in his arms, and from between her lips springs a
great rose of blood, that gushes down over the summer-blue dress.
Fastened to the spot by his terrible burden, Pelle stands there unable
to move. He can only gaze at Hanne, until Cerberus takes her in his
giant's arms and bears her out. She is so light in her summer finery--
she weighs nothing at all!
"Mazurka!" he bellows, as he returns, and goes commandingly along the
ranks of dancers.
At the end of January, Pelle obtained a place as laborer in the
"Denmark" machine works. He was badly paid, but Ellen rejoiced, none the
less; with nothing one could only cry--with a little one could grow
strong again. She was still a little pale after her confinement, but she
looked courageous. At the first word of work her head was seething with
comprehensive plans. She began at once to redeem various articles and to
pay off little debts; she planned out a whole system and carried it out
The new sister was something for Young Lasse; he understood immediately
that she was some one given to him in order to amuse him in his
During the confinement he had remained with his grandparents, so that
the stork should not carry him away when it came with his little sister
--for he was dear to them! But when he returned home she was lying asleep
in her cradle. He just touched her eyelids, to see if she had eyes like
his own. They snatched his fingers away, so he could not solve the
exciting problem that day.
But sister had eyes, great dark eyes, which followed him about the room,
past the head of the bed and round the other side, always with the same
attentive expression, while the round cheeks went out and in like those
of a sucking animal. And Young Lasse felt very distinctly that one was
under obligations when eyes followed one about like that. He was quite a
little man already, and he longed to be noticed; so he ran about making
himself big, and rolling over like a clown, and playing the strong man
with the footstool, while his sister followed him with her eyes, without
moving a muscle of her face. He felt that she might have vouchsafed him
a little applause, when he had given himself so much trouble.
One day he inflated a paper bag and burst it before her face. That was
a help. Sister forgot her imperturbability, gave a jump, and began to
roar. He was smacked for that, but he had his compensation. Her little
face began to quiver directly he approached her, in order to show her
something; and she often began to roar before he had performed his
trick. "Go away from your sister Lasse Frederik!" said his mother. "You
are frightening her!"
But things were quite different only a month later. There was no one who
understood Young Lasse's doings better than sister. If he did but move
his plump little body, or uttered a sound, she twittered like a
Ellen's frozen expression had disappeared; now that she had something to
work at again. The cold had weaned her from many of her exactions, and
others were gratified by the children. The two little ones kept her very
busy; she did not miss Pelle now. She had become accustomed to his being
continually away from home, and she had taken possession of him in her
thoughts, in her own fashion; she held imaginary conversations with him
as she went about her work; and it was a joy to her to make him
comfortable during the short time that he was at home.
Pelle conceived his home as an intimate little world, in which he could
take shelter when he was weary. He had redeemed that obscure demand in
Ellen's eyes--in the shape of two dear little creatures that gave her
plenty to do. Now it was her real self that advanced to meet him. And
there was a peculiar loyalty about her, that laid hold of his heart; she
no longer resented his small earnings, and she did not reproach him
because he was only a workman.
He had been obliged to resign his position as president of his Union on
account of his longer hours. There was no prospect at present of his
being able to return to his vocation; but the hard bodily labor agreed
In order to help out his small earnings, he busied himself with repairs
in the evenings. Ellen helped him, and they sat together and gossiped
over their work. They ignored the labor movement--it did not interest
Ellen, and he by no means objected to a brief rest from it. Young Lasse
sat at the table, drawing and putting in his word now and then. Often,
when Pelle brought out the work, Ellen had done the greater part of it
during the day, and had only left what she did not understand. In return
he devised little ways of pleasing her.
In the new year the winter was not so severe. Already in February the
first promise of spring was perceptible. One noticed it in Ellen.
"Shan't we pack a picnic-basket and go out to one of the beer-gardens on
Sunday? It would do the children good to get into the air," she would
Pelle was very willing. But on Sunday there was a meeting of the party
leaders and a meeting concerning the affairs of the factory--he must be
present at both. And in the evening he had promised to speak before a
"Then we'll go out ourselves, the children and I!" said Ellen
peacefully. When they came home it seemed they had amused themselves
excellently; Pelle was no longer indispensable.
* * * * *
The hard winter was over at last. It was still freezing--especially at
night--but the people knew it was over in spite of that. And the ice in
the canals knew it also. It began to show fractures running in all
directions, and to drift out toward the sea. Even the houses gave one a
feeling of spring; they were brighter in hue; and the sun was shining
into the sky overhead; if one looked for it one could see it glowing
above the roofs. Down in the narrow lanes and the well-like courtyards
the children stamped about in the snowy slush and sang to the sun which
they could not see.
People began to recover from the long privations of the winter. The cold
might return at any moment; but all were united in their belief in the
spring. The starlings began to make their appearance, and the moisture
of the earth rose again to the surface and broke its way through the
hard crust, in dark patches; and business ventured to raise its head. A
peculiar universal will seemed to prevail in all things. Down under the
earth it sprouted amid frost and snow, and crept forth, young, and
seemingly brought forth by the cold itself; and in all things frozen by
winter the promise unfolded itself--in spite of all.
The workmen's quarter of the city began to revive; now it was once more
of some use to go about looking for work. It did one good to get out and
walk in the daylight for a while. And it also did one good once more to
fill one's belly every day and to fetch the household goods home from
the pawn-shop, and to air one's self a little, until one's turn came
But things did not go as well as they should have done. It looked as
though the cold had completely crippled the sources of commercial
activity. The spring came nearer; the sun rose higher every day, and
began to recover its power; but business showed no signs of real
recovery as yet; it did no more than supply what was needed from day to
day. There was no life in it, as there had been of old! At this time of
the year manufacturers were glad as a rule to increase their stocks, so
as to meet the demands of the summer; it was usual to make up for the
time lost during the winter; the workers would put forth their utmost
strength, and would work overtime.
Many anxious questions were asked. What was the matter? Why didn't
things get going again? _The Working Man_ for the present offered
no explanation, but addressed a covert warning to certain people that
they had best not form an alliance with want.
Gradually the situation assumed more definite outlines; the employers
were making preparations of some kind, for which reason they did not
resume business with any great vigor. In spite of their privations
during the winter, the workers had once again returned some of their own
representatives to Parliament, and now they were getting ready to strike
a blow at the municipal elections. That was the thing to do now! And in
the forefront of the battle stood the ever-increasing organization which
now included all vocations and the whole country a single body, and
which claimed a decisive voice in the ordering of conditions! The poor
man was made to feel how little he could accomplish without those who
kept everything going!
In the meantime there were rumors that a lock-out was being prepared,
affecting every occupation, and intended to destroy the Federation at
one blow. But that was inconceivable. They had experienced only small
lock-outs, when there was disagreement about some particular point. That
any one could think of setting the winter's distress in opposition to
the will of Nature, when every man was willing to work on the basis of
the current tariff--no, the idea was too fiendish!
But one distinction was being made. Men who had done any particular work
for the movement would find it more difficult to obtain employment. They
would be degraded, or simply replaced by others, when they applied for
their old places after the standstill of the winter. Uncertainty
prevailed, especially in those trades which had the longest connection
with the labor organization; one could not but perceive this to be a
consequence of combination. For that reason the feeling of insecurity
increased. Every one felt that the situation was unendurable and
untenable, and foresaw some malicious stroke. Especially in the iron
industry relations were extremely strained; the iron-founders were
always a hard-handed lot; it was there that one first saw what was about
Pelle anxiously watched events. If a conflict were to occur just now, it
would mean a defeat of the workers, who were without supplies and were
stripped to the buff. With the winter had ceased even the small chance
of employment on the ramparts; it was obvious that an assault would
shatter their cohesion. He did not express his anxieties to them. They
were at bottom like little children; it would do no good for them to
suffer too great anxiety. But to the leaders he insisted that they must
contrive to avoid a conflict, even if it entailed concessions. For the
first time Pelle proposed a retreat!
One week followed another, and the tension increased, but nothing
happened. The employers were afraid of public opinion. The winter had
struck terrible blows; they dared not assume the responsibility for
* * * * *
In the "Denmark" machine-works the tension was of long standing. At the
time when the farmers were compelled, by the conditions of the world-
market, to give up the cultivation of cereals for dairy-farming, the
directors of the factory had perceived in advance that the future would
lie in that direction, and had begun to produce dairy machinery. The
factory succeeded in constructing a centrifugal separator which had a
great sale, and this new branch of industry absorbed an ever-increasing
body of workers. Hitherto the best-qualified men had been selected; they
were continually improving the manufacture, and the sales were
increasing both at home and abroad. The workers gradually became so
skilled in their specialty that the manufacturers found themselves
compelled to reduce their wages--otherwise they would have earned too
much. This had happened twice in the course of the years, and the
workers had received the hint that was necessary to meet competition in
foreign markets. But at the same time the centrifugal separators were
continually increasing in price, on account of the great demand for
them. The workers had regarded the lowering of their wages as something
inevitable, and took pains yet further to increase their skill, so that
their earnings had once more come to represent a good average wage.
Now, immediately after the winter slackness, there were rumors in
circulation that the manufacturers intended once more to decrease the
rate of pay. But this time the men had no intention of accommodating
themselves to the decrease. Their resentment against the unrighteousness
of this proceeding went to their heads; they were very near
demonstrating at the mere rumor. Pelle, however, succeeded in persuading
them that they were confronted by nothing more than foolish gossip for
which no one was responsible. Afterward, when their fear had evaporated
and all was again going as usual, they came to him and thanked him.
But on the next pay-day there was a notice from the office to the effect
that the current rate of wages was not in accordance with the times--it
was to be improved. This sounded absolutely innocent, but every one knew
what lay behind it.
It was one of the first days of spring. The sun was shining into the
vast workshop, casting great shafts of light across it, and in the blue
haze pulleys and belts were revolving. The workers, as they stood at
their work, were whistling in time with the many wheels and the ringing
of metal. They were like a flock of birds, who have just landed on a
familiar coast and are getting the spring.
Pelle was carrying in some raw material when the news came and
extinguished all their joy. It was passed on a scrap of paper from man
to man, brief and callous. The managers of the factory wanted to have
nothing to do with the organization, but silently went behind it. All
had a period of fourteen days in which to subscribe to the new tariff.
"No arguments, if you please--sign, or go!" When the notice came to
Pelle all eyes were turned upon him as though they expected a signal;
tools were laid down, but the machinery ran idly for a time. Pelle read
the notice and then bent over his work again.
During the midday pause they crowded about him. "What now?" they asked;
and their eyes were fixed upon him, while their hands were trembling.
"Hadn't we better pack up and go at once? This shearing will soon be too
much for us, if they do it every time a little wool has grown on us."
"Wait!" said Pelle. "Just wait! Let the other side do everything, and
let us see how far they will go. Behave as if nothing had happened, and
get on with your work. You have the responsibility of wives and
They grumblingly followed his advice, and went back to their work. Pelle
did not wonder at them; there had been a time when he too would throw
down his work if any one imposed on him, even if everything had gone to
the devil through it. But now he was responsible for many--which was
enough to make a man prudent. "Wait!" he told them over and over again.
"To-morrow we shall know more than we do to-day--it wants thinking over
before we deal with it!"
So they put the new tariff aside and went to work as though nothing had
happened. The management of the factory treated the matter as settled;
and the directors went about with a contented look. Pelle wondered at
his comrades' behavior; after a few days they were in their usual
spirits, indulging in all kinds of pastimes during their meal-time.
As soon as the whistle sounded at noon the machinery stopped running,
and the workers all dropped their tools. A few quickly drew their coats
on, intending to go home for a mouthful of warm food, while some went to
the beer-cellars of the neighborhood. Those who lived far from their
homes sat on the lathe-beds and ate their food there. When the food was
consumed they gathered together in groups, gossiping, or chaffing one
another. Pelle often made use of the midday rest to run over to the
"Ark" in order to greet Father Lasse, who had obtained work in one of
the granaries and was now able to get along quite nicely.
One day at noon Pelle was standing in the midst of a group of men,
making a drawing of a conceited, arrogant foreman with a scrap of chalk
on a large iron plate. The drawing evoked much merriment. Some of his
comrades had in the meantime been disputing as to the elevating
machinery of a submarine. Pelle rapidly erased his caricature and
silently sketched an elevation of the machinery in question. He had so
often seen it when the vessel lay in the harbor at home. The others were
obliged to admit that he was right.
There was a sudden silence as one of the engineers passed through the
workshop. He caught sight of the drawing and asked whose work it was.
Pelle had to go to the office with him. The engineer asked him all sorts
of questions, and was amazed to learn that he had never had lessons in
drawing. "Perhaps we could make use of you upstairs here," he said.
"Would you care for that?"
Pelle's heart gave a sudden leap. This was luck, the real genuine good
fortune that seized upon its man and lifted him straightway into a
region of dazzling radiance! "Yes," he stammered, "yes, thank you very
much!" His emotion was near choking him.
"Then come to-morrow at seven--to the drawing-office," said the
engineer. "No, what's to-day? Saturday. Then Monday morning." And so the
affair was settled, without any beating about the bush! There was a man
after Pelle's own heart!
When he went downstairs the men crowded about him, in order to hear the
result. "Now your fortune's made!" they said; "they'll put you to
machine-drawing now, and if you know your business you'll get
independent work and become a constructor. That's the way Director
Jeppesen got on; he started down here on the moulding-floor, and now
he's a great man!" Their faces were beaming with delight in his good
fortune. He looked at them, and realized that they regarded him as
capable of anything.
He spent the rest of the day as in a dream, and hurried home to share
the news with Ellen. He was quite confused; there was a surging in his
ears, as in childhood, when life suddenly revealed one of its miracles
to him. Ellen flung her arms round his neck in her joy; she would not
let him go again, but held him fast gazing at him wonderingly, as in the
old days. "I've always known you were intended for something!" she said,
looking at him with pride. "There's no one like you! And now, only
think. But the children, they must know too!" And she snatched little
sister from her sleep, and informed her what had happened. The child
began to cry.
"You are frightening her, you are so delighted," said Pelle, who was
himself smiling all over his face.
"But now--now we shall mix with genteel people," said Ellen suddenly, as
she was laying the table. "If only I can adapt myself to it! And the
children shall go to the middle-class school."
When Pelle had eaten he was about to sit down to his cobbling. "No!"
said Ellen decidedly, taking the work away, "that's no work for you any
"But it must be finished," said Pelle; "we can't deliver half-finished
"I'll soon finish it for you; you just put your best clothes on; you
look like a--"
"Like a working-man, eh?" said Pelle, smiling.
Pelle dressed himself and went off to the "Ark" to give Father Lasse the
news. Later he would meet the others at his father-in-law's. Lasse was
at home, and was eating his supper. He had fried himself an egg over the
stove, and there was beer and brandy on the table. He had rented a
little room off the long corridor, near crazy Vinslev's; there was no
window, but there was a pane of glass over the door leading into the
gloomy passage. The lime was falling from the walls, so that the cob was
showing in great patches.
"Well, well," said Lasse, delighted, "so it's come to this! I've often
wondered to myself why you had been given such unprofitable talents--
such as lying about and painting on the walls or on paper--you, a poor
laborer's son. Something must be intended by that, I used to tell
myself, in my own mind; perhaps it's the gift of God and he'll get on by
reason of it! And now it really seems as if it's to find its use."
"It's not comfortable for you here, father!" said Pelle.
"But I shall soon take you away from here, whether you like it or not.
When we've paid off a few of the winter's debts we shall be moving into
a three-roomed apartment, and then you'll have a room for your own use;
but you mustn't go to work any longer then. You must be prepared for
"Yes, yes, I've nothing against living with you, so long as I'm not
taking the bread out of others' mouths. Ah, no, Pelle, it won't be
difficult for me to give up my work; I have overworked myself ever since
I could crawl; for seventy years almost I've toiled for my daily bread--
and now I'm tired! So many thanks for your kind intentions. I shall pass
the time well with the children. Send me word whenever you will."
The news was already known in the "Ark," and the inmates came up to wish
him luck as he was leaving. "You won't he running in here any more and
gossiping with us when once you are settled in your new calling," they
said. "That would never do! But don't quite forget all about us just
because we are poor!"
"No, no, Pelle has been through so many hungry times with us poor folks;
he's not one of those who forget old friendship!" they themselves
Only now, when he had left the "Ark," did he realize that there was
something to which he was bidding farewell. It was the cordial community
with all his kind, their radiant faith in him, and his own belief in his
mission there; he had known a peculiar joy in the half-embittered
recklessness, the community of feeling, and the struggle. Was he not, so
to speak, the Prince of poverty, to whom they all looked up, and of whom
they all expected that he would lead them into a strange world? And
could he justify himself for leaving them all in the lurch because of
his own good fortune? Perhaps he was really appointed to lead the
movement--perhaps he was the only one who could do so!
This belief had always been faintly glimmering in the back of his mind,
had stood behind his endurance in the conflict, and behind all the
gladness with which he bore privation. Was he in his arrogance to
repudiate the place that had formed him? No, he was not so blatant as
all that! There was plenty beside himself capable of seeing the movement
through--and Fortune had tapped him on the shoulder. "March forward,
Pelle!" an inward voice exhorted him. "What have you to consider? You have
no right to thrust success away from you? Do you want to ruin yourself
without profiting others? You have been a good comrade, but here your ways
divide. God Himself has given you talent; even as a child you used to
practise it; no one will gain by your remaining poor. Choose your own
Yes, Pelle had chosen readily enough! He knew very well that he must
accept this good fortune, whatever the world might say to it. Only it
hurt him to leave the others behind! He was bound to poverty by such
intimate ties; he felt the solidarity of the poor so keenly that it hurt
him to tear himself away. Common cares had made him a man, and the
struggle had given him a peculiar and effective strength. But now he
would attend no more meetings! It would be droll indeed if he were to
have nothing more to do with the Cause, but were to belong to the other
side--he, Pelle, who had been a flaming torch! No, he would never leave
them in the lurch, that he knew; even if he were to climb ever so high--
and he entertained no doubts as to that--he would always feel for his
old comrades and show them the way to obtain good relations between
worker and employer.
Ellen saw how serious he was--perhaps she guessed that he was feeling
remorseful. She would help him to get over that.
"Can't we have your father here to-morrow?" she said. "He can lie on the
long chair in the living-room until we move into our new home. It isn't
right to let him stay where he is, and in your new situation you
couldn't do it."
The unrest increased in the workshops round about; no one who had
anything to do with the organization felt really secure. It was
evidently the intention of the employers to drive the workers to
extremes, and thereby to force them to break the peace. "They want to
destroy the trades unions, so that they can scrape the butter off our
bread again," said the workers. "They think it'll be easier now that the
winter has made us thankful for a dry crust! But that's an infernal
The masses grew more and more embittered; everywhere they were ready for
a fight, and asked nothing better than to plunge into it. The women wept
and shuddered; most of them understood only that the sufferings of the
winter were going to begin all over again. They took desperate steps to
prevent this; they threw their shawls over their heads and rushed off to
the offices, to the manufacturers, and pleaded with them to avert the
disaster. The central Committee counselled a peaceful demeanor and
caution. Everything depended upon their having the right on their side
in the opinion of the public.
It was easy for Pelle to follow all that was happening, although he now
stood outside the whole movement. He went to work in his good clothes
and elastic-sided boots, and did not need to arrive before seven, while
the others had to be there at six--which at once altered his point of
He would soon be trusted with rule and compasses; for the present he was
kept busy copying a few worn-out working-drawings, or "filling in." He
felt in a curiously exalted frame of mind--as though he had been
slightly intoxicated; this was the first time in his life that he had
been employed on work that was of a clean nature and allowed him to wear
good clothes. It was particularly curious to survey life from where he
stood; a new perspective lay open before him. The old life had nothing
in prospect but a miserable old age; but this led upward. Here he could
achieve what he willed--even the highest place! What if he finally crept
up to the very topmost point, and established an eight-hour day and a
decent day's wage? Then he would show them that one could perfectly well
climb up from below without forgetting his origin and becoming a
bloodsucker! They should still drink to the health of Pelle, their good
comrade, although he would have left their ranks.
At home there was much to be done; as soon as he crossed the threshold
he was the prisoner of Ellen's hundred and one schemes. He must have a
new suit of clothes--a gray suit for the office, and more linen; and at
least twice a week he must go to the barber; he could no longer sit down
and scrape himself with an old razor with an edge like a saw. Pelle was
made to feel that it was not so easy after all to become an "upper-
classer," as he called it.
And all this cost money. There was the same searching, the same racking
of one's brains to find the necessary shillings as during the dearth of
the winter famine; but this time it was quite amusing; there was a
cheerful purpose in it all, and it would only last until he had properly
settled down. Lasse looked very respectable; he was wearing Pelle's
second-best suit, which Ellen had cleaned for him, and a black watered
silk cravat, with a white waterproof collar, and well-polished slippers
on his feet. These last were his old watertight boots--those in which
Pelle had left Stone Farm. They were still in existence, but had been
cut down to form house-slippers. The legs of them now formed part of a
pair of clogs.
Lasse was happiest with the children, and he looked quite an aged
grandfather now, with his wrinkled face and his kind glance, which was
now a little weak-sighted. When Young Lasse hid himself in the opposite
corner of the room Father Lasse could not see him, and the young rascal
took advantage of the fact; he could never understand those eyes, which
could not see farther than across the table, and was always asking
questions about them.
"It's because I have seen too much misery in my life," the old man would
Otherwise he was quite overflowing with happiness, and his old worn-out
body manifested its gratitude, for he began to put on flesh again; and
his cheeks had soon grown quite full. He had a peculiar knack for
looking after the children; Pelle and Ellen could feel quite easy as
they went about their multitudinous affairs. There were a hundred things
that had to be seen to before they could move into the new home. They
thought of raising a loan of a few hundred kroner. "Father will go
security for us," said Ellen.
"Yes, then I should have the means of taking proper drawing-lessons,"
said Pelle; "I particularly need to get thoroughly grounded."
* * * * *
On Saturday the term of the old tariff expired. The temper of the
workers was badly strained, but each completed his work, and contained
himself and waited. At noon the foreman went round asking each man for
his answer. They refused all information, as agreed, but in the
afternoon three men formed a deputation and entered the office, asking
if they could speak with the manager. As he entered Munck, the engine-
driver, stepped forward as spokesman, and began: "We have come in the
name of our comrades." He could get no further; the manager let fly at
him, pointing to the stairs, and crying, "I don't argue with my work-
So they went down again. The men stared up at them--this was quick work!
The burly Munck moved his lips, as though he were speaking, but no one
could hear a word on account of the frightful din of the machinery. With
a firm stride he went through the shop, picked up a hammer, and struck
three blows on the great steel gong. They sounded like the stroke of
doom, booming through the whole factory. At the same moment the man's
naked, blackened arms were lifted to strike the belts from the live
pulleys. The machinery ceased running, and the roar of it died away; it
was as still as though Death had passed through the workshop. The dense
network of belts that crossed the shop in all directions quivered and
hung slack; the silence yawned horribly in the great room.
The foremen ran from bench to bench, shouting and hardly knowing what to
do. Word was sent to the office, while the workers went to their buckets
and washed themselves, silent and melancholy as a funeral procession.
Their faces were uncommunicative. Did they perhaps foresee that those
three blows were the signal for a terrible conflict? Or were they merely
following their first angry impulse? They knew enough, at all events; it
was stamped upon their faces that this was fate--the inevitable. They
had summoned the winter because they were driven to it, and the winter
would return once more to ravage his victims.
They reappeared, washed and clean, each with his bundle under his arm,
and stood in silence waiting their turn to be paid. The foreman ran to
and fro apportioning the wages with nervous hands, comparing time-sheets
and reckoning the sum due to each. The manager came down the stairs of
his office, proud and unapproachable, and walked through the shop; the
workers made way for him. He looked sharply around him, as though he
would imprint the likeness of every individual worker on his mind, laid
his hand on the shoulder of one of the foremen, and said in a loud
voice, so that all heard him, "Make haste, now, Jacobsen, so that we can
be rid of these fellows quickly!" The workers slowly turned their
serious faces toward him, and here and there a fist was clenched. They
left the factory one by one, as soon as they were paid.
Outside they gathered in little groups, and relieved their feelings by
giving vent to significant exclamations. "Did you see the old man? He
was savage, he was; he'll hold out quite a while before we get back
Pelle was in a curious frame of mind; he knew that now the fight had
begun; first blood had been drawn, and one blow would follow on another.
Young Lasse, who heard his step on the stairs, ran into his arms as he
reached home; but Pelle did not notice him.
"You are so solemn!" said Ellen, "has anything happened?" He told her
"Good God!" she cried, shuddering. "Now the unemployment will begin all
over again! Thank God it doesn't affect us!" Pelle did not reply. He sat
down in silence to his supper; sat hanging his head as though ashamed of
A most agitating time followed. For a number of years the conflict had,
so to speak, been preparing itself, and the workers had made ready for
it, had longed for it, had sought to precipitate it, in order to
determine once for all whether they were destined always to be slaves
and to stand still, or whether there was a future for them. Now the
conflict had come--and had taken them all by surprise; they would
willingly have concluded peace just now.
But there was no prospect of a peaceful solution of any kind. The
employers found the occasion favorable for setting their house in order;
the matter was to be fought out now! This was as good as telling the men
to go. Every morning there was news of a fresh lot of workers turned
into the streets, or leaving of their own accord.
One trade involved another. The iron-masters made common cause with the
"Denmark" factory, and declared a lock-out of the machine-smiths; then
the moulders and pattern-makers walked out, and other branches of the
industry joined the strike; they all stood by one another.
Pelle could survey them all from his point of vantage. Old memories of
battle rose to his mind; his blood grew warm, and he caught himself, up
in the drawing-office, making plans of campaign for this trade or that.
His was the quick-fighting blood that assumes the offensive, and he
noted their blunders; they were not acting with sufficient energy. They
were still exhausted, and found it hard to reconcile themselves to
another period of unemployment. They made no counter-attack that could
do any damage. The employers, who were acting energetically under the
leadership of the iron industry, enjoyed from the beginning a
considerable ascendancy. The "Denmark" factory was kept running, but the
trade was on its last legs.
It was kept alive by the help of a few strike-breakers, and every one of
the officials of the company who had the requisite knowledge was set to
work downstairs; even the manager of the machine department had donned a
blouse and was working a lathe. It was a matter of sapping the courage
of the strikers, while proving to them that it was possible to do
In the drawing-office and the counting-house all was confusion; the
strike-breakers had all to be obtained from abroad; while others ran
away and had to be replaced. Under these circumstances Pelle had to look
after himself and assimilate what he could. This did not suit him; it
was a long way to the top, and one couldn't learn quickly enough.
One day he received the summons to come downstairs and lend a hand in
the centrifugal separator department. The workers had made common cause
with the machine-smiths. This summons aroused him from delightful dreams
of the future. He was swiftly awakened. "I am no strike-breaker!" he
Then the engineer himself came up. "Do you realize that you are refusing
to perform your duty?" he said.
"I can't take work away from my comrades," replied Pelle, in a low
"They may think that very nice of you. But now those men down there are
no longer your comrades. You are a salaried employee, and as such you
must serve the firm wherever you are asked to do so."
"But I can't do that! I can't strike the bread out of other folks'
"Then your whole future is at stake. Think a moment, man! I am sorry for
you, for you might have done something here; but I can't save you from
the results of your own obstinacy. We require absolute obedience here."
The engineer stood waiting for his answer, but Pelle had nothing to say.
"Now, I'll go so far as to give you till to-morrow to think over it--
although that's against the rules of the factory. Now think it over
well, and don't hang on to this stupid sentimentality of yours. The
first thing is to stand by those you belong to, through thick and thin.
Well, till to-morrow."
Pelle went. He did not want to go home before the usual time, only to be
met with a string of unseasonable questions. They would come soon enough
in any case. So he strolled through the mercantile quarter and gazed at
the shipping. Well, now his dream of success was shattered--and it had
been a short one. He could see Ellen's look of disappointment, and an
utter mental depression came over him. He was chiefly sorry for her; as
for him, there was nothing to be said--it was fate! It never occurred to
him for a moment to choose between his comrades and the future; he had
quite forgotten that the engineer had given him time for reflection.
At the usual time he strolled homeward. Ellen welcomed him cheerfully
and light-heartedly; she was living in a continual thrill of delight;
and it was quite touching to see what trouble she was taking to fit
herself for a different stratum of society. Her movements were
delightful to watch, and her mouth had assumed an expression which was
intended to betoken refinement. It suited her delightfully, and Pelle
was always seized by a desire to kiss her lips and so disarrange the
expression; but to-day he sat down to his supper in silence. Ellen was
accustomed to put aside his share of the midday dinner, and to warm it
up for him when he came home in the evening; at midday he ate bread-and-
butter in the office.
"When we have once got properly settled we'll all have dinner at six
o'clock; that is much more comfortable."
"That's what the fine folks do, I've been told," said Lasse. "That will
be pleasant, to give it a try."
Lasse was sitting with Young Lasse on his knee, telling him funny
stories. Little Lasse laughed, and every time he laughed his sister
screeched with delight in her cradle, as though she understood it all.
"What is it to be now, then--the story of the old wife? Then you must
listen carefully, or your ears won't grow! Well, then, the old wife."
"Wife!" said Young Lasse, with the very accent of the old man.
"Yes, the old wife!" repeated Lasse, and then all three laughed.
"'What shall I do first?' said the old wife, when she went to work; 'eat
or sleep? I think I'll eat first. What shall I do first?' asked the old
wife, when she had eaten; 'shall I sleep first or work? I think I'll
sleep first.' And then she slept, until it was evening, and then she
went home and went to bed."
Ellen went up to Pelle and laid her hand on his shoulder.
"I've been to see my former mistress, and she is going to help me to
turn my wedding-dress into a visiting-dress," she said. "Then we shall
only need to buy a frock-coat for you."
Pelle looked up slowly. A quiver passed over his features. Poor thing!
She was thinking about visiting-dresses! "You can save yourself the
trouble," he said, in a low voice. "I've finished with the office. They
asked me to turn strike-breaker, so I left."
"Ach, ach!" said Lasse, and he was near letting the child fall, his
withered hands were trembling so. Ellen gazed at Pelle as though turned
to stone. She grew paler and paler, but not a sound came from her lips.
She looked as though she would fall dead at his feet.
Pelle was once more among his own people; he did not regret that fortune
had withdrawn her promise; at heart he was glad. After all, this was
where he belonged. He had played a great part in the great revolt--was
he to be excluded from the battle?
The leaders welcomed him. No one could draw the people as he could, when
it came to that; the sight of him inspired them with a cheerful faith,
and gave them endurance, and a fearless pugnacity. And he was so
skilled, too, in making plans!
The first thing every morning he made his way to the lock-out office,
whence the whole campaign was directed; here all the many threads ran
together. The situation for the moment was considered, men who had
precise knowledge of the enemy's weak points were called together, in
order to give information, and a comprehensive plan of campaign was
devised. At secret meetings, to which trustworthy members of the various
trades were invited, all sorts of material for offence was collected--
for the attack upon the employers, and for carrying on the newspaper
agitation. It was a question of striking at the blood-suckers, and those
who were loose in the saddle! There were trades which the employers kept
going for local reasons--these must be hunted out and brought to a
standstill, even at the cost of increasing unemployment. They were
making energetic preparations for war, and it was not the time to be
squeamish about their weapons. Pelle was in his element. This was
something better than ruining a single shoemaker, even if he was the
biggest in the city! He was rich in ideas, and never wavered in carrying
them into execution. Warfare was warfare!
This was the attacking side; but, permeated as he was by a sense of
community, he saw clearly that the real battle was for maintenance. The
utmost foresight and widely comprehensive instructions were required if
the masses were to last out the campaign; in the long run it would be a
question of endurance! Foreign strike-breakers had to be kept at a
distance by prompt communications to the party newspapers of the
different countries, and by the setting of pickets in the railway
stations and on the steamers. For the first time the workers took the
telegraph into their own service. The number of the foreign
strikebreakers must by every possible means be kept down, and in the
first place supplies must be assured, so that the unemployed masses
could keep famine at bay.
In a vision, Pelle had beheld the natural solidarity of the workers
extended over the whole earth, and now this vision was of service to
him. The leaders issued a powerful manifesto to the workers of Denmark;
pointing to the abyss from which they had climbed and to the pinnacles
of light toward which they were striving upward; and warning them, in
impressive phrases, to stand firm and to hold together. A statement as
to the origin of the lock-out and the intention which lay behind it was
printed and distributed throughout the country, with appeal for
assistance and support, in the name of freedom! And by means of appeals
to the labor parties of foreign countries they reminded the people of
the vast solidarity of labor. It was a huge machine to set in motion;
federation had increased from one small trade union until it
comprehended the whole kingdom, and now they were striving to comprehend
the laboring populations of the whole world, in order to win them over
as confederates in the campaign. And men who had risen from the masses
and were still sharing the same conditions, were managing all this! They
had kept step with the rapid growth of the movement, and they were still
The feeling that they were well prepared inspired them with courage and
the prospect of a favorable result. From the country offers of
employment for the locked-out workers daily reached the central office.
Money was sent too--and assistance in the form of provisions; and many
families outside the capital offered to take in the children of
unemployed parents. Remittances of money came from abroad, and the
liberal circles of the capital sympathized with the workers; and in the
workers' quarter of the city shopkeepers and publicans began to collect
for the Federation.
The workers displayed an extraordinary readiness to undergo sacrifices.
Books of coupons were circulated everywhere in the workshops, and
thousands of workers gave each week a fourth part of their modest wages.
The locked-out workers left their work with magnificent courage; the
sense of community made them heroic. Destitute though they were as a
result of the hard winter, they agreed, during the first two weeks, to
do without assistance. Many of them spared the treasury altogether,
helping themselves as well as they could, seeking a little private
employment, or going out into the country to work on the land. The young
unmarried men went abroad.
The employers did what they could to cope with all these shifts. They
forbade the merchants and contractors to supply those who worked at home
on their own account with materials for their work; and secret agents
were despatched all over the country to the small employers and the
farmers, in order to prejudice them against the locked-out workers; and
the frontier of the country was covered with placards.
Their intention was obvious enough--an iron ring was to be drawn round
the workers, and once imprisoned therein they could do nothing but keep
starvation at bay until they had had enough, and surrendered. This
knowledge increased their resistance. They were lean with wandering
through the wilderness, but they were just in the mood for a fight. Many
of them had not until now understood the entire bearings of the
campaign; the new ideas had been stirring within them, but in a
fragmentary and isolated condition--as an expression of a dumb feeling
that the promised land was at hand at last. Often it was just one single
word that had fixed itself in their minds, and had to serve to express
the whole position. Any one might approach them with plausible arguments
and strike it from under them, and shatter the theory to which they had
clung; but faith itself remained, and the far-reaching concord; deep in
their hearts was the dim, immovable knowledge that they were chosen to
enter into the time of promise.
And now everything was gradually becoming plain to them. The battle shed
light both backward and forward. It illumined their existence in all its
harshness. Life was the same as it had always been, but now it was
revealed so plainly that all could see it. All the many whips and scorns
of life had been bound together in one vast scourge--the scourge of
famine--which was to drive them back into the midst of poverty! Want was
to be set upon them in its compactest form! This was the last, most
extreme weapon; it confirmed them in the certainty that they were now on
the right track, and near the goal. The night was always darkest before
the break of day!
There were all sorts of things that they could understand now. People
used to go about saying that the Germans were the hereditary enemy, and
that the Fatherland was taking the lead of all other countries. But now
the employers were sending to Germany for troops of hirelings, and were
employing them to drive their own countrymen into a state of poverty.
All that talk about patriotic feeling had been only fine words! There
were only two nations--the oppressors and the oppressed!
That was how things appeared on closer inspection! One could never be
very sure of what those above one told one--and yet all teaching came
from them! A brave lot the clergy were--they knew very well which master
they had to serve! No, the people ought to have had their own schools,
where the children would learn the new ideas instead of religion and
patriotism! Then there would long ago have been an end of the curse of
poverty! So they profited by the campaign and their compulsory idleness
in order to think things over, and to endeavor to solve all manner of
The specter of hunger presently began to go from house to house, but the
result was not what was expected; it awakened only hatred and defiance.
It was precisely in this direction that they were invincible! In the
course of time they had learned to suffer--they had learned nothing more
thoroughly; and this came to their help now. They had an inexhaustible
fund to draw upon, from which they could derive their strength to
resist; they were not to be defeated. Weren't they nearly ready to
surrender? Very well--another thousand workers on the streets! But the
distress, to all appearance, became no greater than before; they had
learned to endure their privations in decency--that was their share in
the increasing culture. One saw no obtrusive signs of want; they
compromised with it in secret, and appeared full of courage. This
weakened the faith of their opponents in the infallible nature of their
They even adopted hunger as their own weapon, boycotting the employers
and their dependents, striking the enemy a blow they were familiar with!
Many a great employer's door was marked with a cross, and all behind it
were doomed to ruin.
It was as though the courage of the people increased in proportion as
famine threatened them more closely. No one could tell how long this
would last; but they would make hay as long as the sun shone! Their
clothes were still tidy, and in the early spring there were many
excursions; the people went forth singing, with banners at their head,
and singing they came home.
This was the first time they had ever enjoyed their freedom, although
there was work enough to be done--it was their first holiday! As they
held the whip hand through their purchasing capacity, they boycotted all
the business concerns of their own quarter which did not array
themselves on the side of the workers. Their hatred was aroused; it was
"for us or against us"; all must declare themselves by taking sides. The
small shopkeepers concealed their convictions--if they had any--and
rivalled one another in friendliness toward the workers. On their
counters lay books of coupons for those who would contribute to the
funds, and some of them gave a percentage of their own takings. There
was plenty of time to keep a strict eye on such; the people's hatred was
aroused at last, and it grew more and more bitter.
The leaders held back and counselled prudence. But there was something
intoxicating in this battle for bare life--and for happiness! Something
that went to the head and tempted them to hazard all on the cast of the
dice. The leaders had given great attention to the problem of
restricting the number of idle hands--it was difficult for them to
procure sufficient funds. But those workers who still had work to do
forsook it, in order to join themselves, in blind solidarity, to their
locked-out comrades. They thought it was required of them!
One day the masons made an unexpected demand that an hour should be
struck off the day's work. They received a refusal. But that evening
they knocked off at six instead of seven. The men were unreasonable: to
demand shorter hours in the slack season following on a hard winter!
This move took the leaders by surprise. They feared that it might
diminish the general sympathy for the workers. It surprised them
particularly that the prudent and experienced Stolpe had not opposed
this demand. As president of the organization for many years, he had
great influence over the men; he must try to persuade them to go to work
again. Pelle opened negotiations with him.
"That is not my business," Stolpe replied. "I did not propose the
cessation of work, but at the general meeting the majority was in favor
of it--and with that there's no more to be said. I don't oppose my
"But that's perverse of you," said Pelle. "You are the responsible
person, and your trade has the most favorable conditions of labor--and
you ought to remember the conflict in which we are engaged."
"Yes, the conflict! Of course we thought of it. And you are right, I
have a good and comfortable home, because my craft is in a good
position; and we masons have obtained good conditions, and we earn good
money. But are we to enjoy ourselves and look on while the others are
fighting for dry bread? No, we are with them when it comes to a fight!"
"But the support you were giving--it was ten thousand kroner a week, and
now we shall have to do without it! Your action may have incalculable
consequences for us. You must put an end to this, father-in-law! You
must see that the majority doesn't have its way."
"That would be diplomatic, wouldn't it? But you seem anxious to side
with our opponents! We hold the suffrage in honor, and it is the
suffrage that is to reform society. If once one begins to meddle with
"But that isn't necessary in the least! The people aren't really clear
as to what they are doing--you can't expect any quickness of perception
from them! You could demand a fresh vote--if I could first have a talk
with them about the campaign!"
"So you think we couldn't see what we were doing!" replied Stolpe, much
offended. "But we can accept the consequences--we can do that! And you
want to get up on the platform and talk them silly, and then they are to
vote the other way round! No, no nonsense here! They voted according to
their convictions--and with that the matter's settled, whether it's
right or wrong! It won't be altered!"
Pelle had to give in; the old man was not to be moved from his point of
view. The masons increased the unemployed by a few thousand men.
The employers profited by this aggression, which represented them to the
public in a favorable aspect, in order to strike a decisive blow. The
universal lock-out was declared.
At home matters were going badly with Pelle. They had not yet recovered
from the winter when he was drawn into the conflict; and the
preparations for his new position had plunged them into debt. Pelle
received the same relief as the other locked-out workers--ten to twelve
kroner a week--and out of this Ellen had to provide them with food and
firing. She thought he ought, as leader, to receive more than the
others, but Pelle did not wish to enjoy other conditions than those
allotted to the rest.
When he came home, thoroughly exhausted after his strenuous day, he was
met by Ellen's questioning eyes. She said nothing, but her eyes
obstinately repeated the same question day after day. It was as though
they asked him: "Well, have you found employment?" This irritated him,
for she knew perfectly well that he was not looking for work, that there
was none to look for. She knew what the situation was as well as he did,
but she persistently behaved as though she knew nothing of all that he
and his comrades were endeavoring to achieve, and when he turned the
conversation on to that subject she preserved a stubborn silence; she
did not wish to hear anything about it.
When the heat of battle rose to Pelle's head, there was no one with whom
he would rather have shared his opinions and his plans of campaign. In
other directions she had urged him on, and he had felt this as a
confirmation and augmentation of his own being; but now she was silent.
She had him and her home and the children, and all else besides was
nothing to her. She had shared the privations of the winter with him and
had done so cheerfully; they were undeserved. But now he could get work
whenever he wished. She had resumed her dumb opposition, and this had an
oppressive effect upon him; it took something from the joy of battle.
When he reached home and related what had been said and done during the
day, he addressed himself to Lasse. She moved about the home immersed in
her own cares, as though she were dumb; and she would suddenly interrupt
his conversation with the statement that this or that was lacking. So he
weaned himself from his communicative habits, and carried on all his
work away from home. If there was writing to be done, or if he had
negotiations to accomplish, he selected some tavern where he would be
free of her constraining presence. He avoided telling her of his post of
confidence, and although she could not help hearing about it when away
from home she behaved as if she knew nothing. For her he was still
merely Pelle the working-man, who shirked supporting his wife and
children. This obstinate attitude pained him; and the bitterness of his
home life made him throw himself with greater energy into the struggle.
He became a hard and dangerous opponent.
Lasse used to gaze at them unhappily. He would willingly have
intervened, but he did not know how to set about it; and he felt himself
superfluous. Every day he donned his old clothes and went out in order
to offer his services as casual laborer, but there were plenty of idle
hands younger than his. And he was afraid of obtaining employment that
might take the bread out of other folks' mouths. He could not understand
the campaign, and he found it difficult to understand what was forbidden
ground; but for Pelle he felt an unconditional respect. If the lad said
this or the other, then it was right; even if one had to go hungry for
it--the lad was appointed to some special end.
One day he silently left the house; Pelle scarcely noticed it, so
absorbed was he. "He must have gone back to the old clothes woman at the
'Ark,'" he thought; "it's by no means amusing here."
Pelle had charge of the external part of the campaign; he knew nothing
of bookkeeping or administration, but simply threw himself into the
fight. Even as a child of eight he had been faced with the problem of
mastering life by his own means, and he had accomplished it, and this he
profited by now. He enjoyed the confidence of the masses; his speech
sounded natural to them, so that they believed in him even when they did
not understand him. If there was any one who did not wish to follow
where Pelle led, he had to go just the same; there was no time just now
for lengthy argument; where civil words didn't answer he took more
The campaign consisted in the first place of the federation of the
masses, and Pelle was continually away from home; wherever anything was
afoot, there he put in an appearance. He had inaugurated a huge parade,
every morning all the locked-out workers reported themselves at various
stations in the city, and there the roll was called, every worker being
entered according to his Union. By means of this vast daily roll-call of
nearly forty thousand men it was possible to discover which of them had
deserted in order to act as strike-breakers. A few were always absent,
and those who had a good excuse had to establish it in order to draw
their strike-pay. Pelle was now here, now there, and always unexpected,
acting on impulse as he did. "Lightning Pelle," they called him, on
account of the suddenness of his movements. His actions were not based
upon long deliberations; nevertheless, he had a radical comprehension of
the entire movement; one thing grew out of another, naturally, until the
whole was more than any conscious intelligence could comprehend. And
Pelle grew with it, and by virtue of his impulsiveness was a summary of
There was plenty to be done; at the roll-call all those who failed to
attend had to be entered, and those who knew anything about them must
give information. This man had gone abroad; that one had gone into the
country, to look for work; so far, so good. If any fell away and acted
as strike-breaker, instructions were immediately given for his
punishment. In this way Pelle kept the ranks closed. There were many
weak elements among them--degenerate, ignorant fellows who didn't
understand the importance of the movement, but a strong controlling hand
and unfailing justice made it a serious matter for them to break away.
At the outset he had organized with Stolpe's assistance a large body of
the best workers as pickets or watchmen. These were zealous, fanatical
members of the various trades, who had taken part in the organization of
their own professional organization, and knew every individual member
thereof. They stationed themselves early in the morning in the
neighborhood of the various places of employment, marking those who went
to work there and doing their best to prevent them. They were in
constant conflict with the police, who put every possible obstacle in
Morten he met repeatedly. Privation had called him out of his
retirement. He did not believe that the campaign would lead to better
conditions, and on that account he took no part in it. But want he knew
as did no other; his insight in that direction was mysteriously keen.
The distribution of relief in the form of provisions could not have been
entrusted to better hands. He superintended the whole business of
distribution, but what he liked best was to stand, knife in hand,
cutting up pork for the families of locked-out workers. The portions
were strictly weighed; none the less, the women always thronged about
him. There was a blessing in that faint smile of his--they felt sure
his portions were the biggest!
Morten and Pelle were in disagreement on almost every point. Even now,
when everything depended on a strict cohesion, Morten could never be
trusted to behave with severity. "Remember, they aren't of age yet," he
would say continually. And it could not be gainsaid that there were many
to whom the conflict was unintelligible--they understood nothing of it,
although otherwise they were thoughtful and intelligent enough. These
were mostly people who had come in from the provinces at a somewhat
advanced age; indeed some had been small employers there. For them
trades unionism was a sort of lynch law, and they profited by the strike
in all simplicity in order to obtain well-paid employment. When they
were reviled as strikebreakers or "gentlemen," they laughed like little
children who are threatened with a revolver. Slow-witted as they were,
in this respect, they took the consequences to heart, although they
could not see the reason for them. These must be compelled to obey.
The iron industry was doing its utmost to keep going, as a trade which
must fulfill its contracted engagements, under penalty of seeing the
business fall into foreign hands. This industry had if possible to be
disabled. The pickets were at work, and _The Working Man_ published
the names and addresses of the strike-breakers. When these left the
factory they encountered a crowd of people who treated them with scorn
and contempt; they had to be escorted by the police. But the resentment
aroused by their treachery followed them home even to the barracks they
lived in. The wives and children of the locked-out workers resumed the
battle and carried on hostilities against the families of the strike-
breakers, so that they had to move. One saw them of a night, with all
their possessions on a handcart, trudging away to seek a new home under
cover of the darkness. But the day revealed them, and again they were
fugitives, until the police took them in hand and found lodging for
One day a large factory by the North Bridge resumed operations with the
help of foreign labor and strike-breakers. Pelle set to work to prepare
a warm reception for the workers when they went homeward, but in the
course of the day a policeman who was friendly to the workers tipped him
the wink that two hundred police would be concealed in a neighboring
school, ready for the workers' departure.
In the afternoon people began to collect--unemployed workers, poor
women, and children. They came early, for it well might be that the
workers would be released an hour before their time, in order to avoid a
clash, and they were missing nothing by waiting there. Finally several
thousand people stood before the gates of the factory, and the police
were moving to and fro through the crowd, which stood many men deep, but
they had to give up the effort to drive them asunder. The street urchins
began to make an uproar, and to egg the watchers on. They felt the need
of warming themselves a little, so they gradually began to bait the
"Hullo, there!" suddenly shouted a mighty voice. "In the school over
there are two hundred police, waiting for us to make a disturbance, so
that they can come and use their truncheons on us. Hadn't we better
leave them where they are? I think it's quite as well they should go
back to school for a time!" "Hurrah!" they cried. "Hurrah! Long live
'Lightning'!" A movement went through the crowd. "That's Pelle!" The
whisper passed from mouth to mouth, and the women stood on tiptoe to see
Pelle and Stolpe were standing against a wall, surrounded by a few dozen
pickets. The police went up to them and reprimanded them. They had
orders to hinder the picketing, but they had no desire to meddle with
Pelle. They lived in the workers' quarter, were at home there, and a
word from him would make the city impossible for them.
The usual time for stopping work came round, but the workers were not
released from the factory. The crowd used its wits to keep itself warm;
punning remarks concerning strike-breakers and capitalists buzzed
through the air. But suddenly an alarm ran through the crowd. The street
urchins, who are always the first to know everything, were whistling
between their fingers and running down the side streets. Then the crowd
began to move, and the police followed at a quick march, keeping to the
middle of the street. The factory had discharged the workers by a back
door. They were moving down Guldberg Street by now, disheartened and
with never a glance behind them, while a whole escort of police
accompanied them. They were soon overtaken and brought home to the
accompaniment of a sinister concert, which now and again was interrupted
by cries of, "Three cheers for the gentlemen!"
The pickets walked in a long file, close to the procession, zealously
occupied in noting each individual worker, while Pelle moved in the
midst of the crowd, endeavoring to prevent over-hasty action. There was
need to be careful. Several men were still in prison because during the
winter they had come to blows with the strike-breakers, and the police
had received stringent orders from the authorities. The press of the
propertied classes was daily calling for stricter measures, demanding
that every meeting in the streets, and especially before the gates of a
factory, should be broken up by the police.
Now and then a strike-breaker parted from the squad and ran into the
door of his dwelling, followed by a long whistle.
Among the workers was a solitary, elderly man, still powerful, whom
Pelle recognized. He kept at the extreme edge of the police, walking
heavily, with bowed head, along the pavement close to the houses. His
hair was quite gray, and his gait was almost crippled. This was Mason
Hansen, Stolpe's old comrade and fellow-unionist, whom Pelle had
interviewed in the winter, in the hope of persuading him to refrain from
"It's going badly with him," thought Pelle, involuntarily keeping his
eyes on him. The results of strike-breaking had dealt hardly with him.
By St. Hans Street he turned the corner, winking at the policeman who
was about to follow him, and went down the street alone, looking neither
to right nor left, embarrassed, and with hanging head. Every time a
child cried aloud, he started. Then he stood as though riveted to the
ground, for in front of his door a heap of poverty-stricken household
goods lay in the gutter. A crowd of gaping children stood round the
heap, and in the midst of the group stood a youngish woman, with four
children, who were keeping tearful watch over the heap of trash. The man
pressed through the crowd and exchanged a few words with the woman, then
clenched his fists and shook them threateningly at the tenement house.
Pelle went up to him. "Things aren't going well with you, comrade," he
said, laying his hand on the other's shoulder. "And you are much too
good for what you are doing. You had better come with me and re-enter
The man slowly turned his head. "Oh, it's you!" he said, shaking Pelle's
hand away with a jerk. "And you seem as cool and impudent as ever.
Poverty hasn't dealt hardly with you! It's not at all a bad business,
growing fat on the pence of the workers, eh?"
Pelle grew crimson with anger, but he controlled himself. "Your insults
don't hurt me," he said. "I have gone hungry for the Cause while you
have been playing the turncoat. But that will be forgotten if you'll
come with me."
The man laughed bitterly, pointing at the tenement-house. "You'd better
go and give them a medal. Three months now they've tormented me and made
hell hot for my wife and children, in order to drive us away. And as
that didn't answer, they went to the landlord and forced him to give me
notice. But Hansen is obstinate--he wouldn't be shown the door. So now
they've got the bailiffs to turn me out, see?" He gave a hollow laugh.
"But these few sticks, why, we can soon carry them up again, damn it
all! Shall we begin, mother?"
"I'll willingly speak to the landlord. Remember, you are an old
"An old--yes, I was in it from the very beginning." The man drew himself
proudly erect. "But for all that I don't let my wife and children
starve. So you want to go begging favors for me, eh? You be gone--at
once, will you? Be off, to the devil, or I'll beat you to a jelly with
this!" He seized a table-leg; his eyes were quite blood-shot. His young
wife went up to him and took his hand. "Hansen!" she said quietly. He
let his weapon fall. Pelle felt the woman's pleading eyes upon him, and
When Pelle, tired to death, made his way homeward in the evening, he
had lost the feeling of invincibility and his thoughts turned to Ellen.
In the daytime he felt neither hesitation nor certainty. When he set to
work it was always with thousands behind him. He felt the great body of
workers at his back, whether he was fighting in the open or waiting with
close-buttoned coat to deal with the leaders of the opposing camp. But
when he went home to Ellen he had only himself to rely on for support.
And he could not get near her. Strongly as he was drawn by the life away
from home, she still held the secret of his life in her hands. She was
strong and would not be swept aside. He was forced to ponder over her
nature and to search for a solution.
Pelle had to deal with countless numbers of families, and what he saw
was not always edifying. Home was a conception which was only now
forcing its way downward from the middle classes. Even in periods of
normal employment the workers earned little enough when it came to
providing a decent family life, and the women knew nothing of making a
comfortable home. The man might be tidy and well-dressed when one met
him out of doors, but if you went to his home it was always the same
thing; a dark, grimy den and a worn-out wife, who moved about scolding
amidst a swarm of children. Wages were enough for one only to live in
comfort. The man represented the household out of doors. He must take
sandwiches to his work, and he must have something decent too when he
got home. The others managed with a little bread and coffee; it was of
no use to talk of regular family meals. And the man must have clothes;
he was the visible portion of the household, and he supported it. It was
of no use to look for anything further in the way of ideas from these
women; they saw nothing but unemployment and the want at home, and when
the husband showed himself they drove him out of the house with their
scolding ways. "You go out and meddle with everything you can think of
that doesn't concern us--politics and big talk--instead of doing your
work properly and leaving the fools to squabble among themselves!" The
result was that they did their work for the organization in the taverns.
Many of them held positions of confidence, and Pelle went to the taverns
to confer with them. They were dejected, when they arrived, and had
before all else to be thawed out.
There Pelle came to them, with his brilliant hopes. When they lamented
in their dejection, he promised great things of the future. "Our wives
will soon see that we are in the right. The day will soon come when we
shall be able to go home with a proper week's wages, that will be enough
for the whole family."
"And suppose it doesn't come off?" they would say.
"It will come off--if only we hold out!" he cried, smiting the table.
Yes, he might well see the bright side of things. He had a wife who came
from a long-established home, who kept things clean and tidy for him,
and knew how to make much do the work of little; the daughter of an old
unionist who had grown up in the midst of the movement--a wife who saw
her husband's doings with understanding eyes; yes, he might well smile!
As to the last, Pelle was silent.
In this particular she had accepted neither inheritance nor teaching;
she was as she was, and she would never be different, whatever might
pass over her head. Pelle was sacrificing wife and children to a fixed
idea, in order not to leave a few indifferent comrades in the lurch!
That, and the strike, and the severe condemnation of those who would not
keep step, was, and remained, for her, so much tavern nonsense. It was
something the workers had got into their heads as a result of talking
when they were not precisely sober.
That was what it was, and it filled her heart with pain and
mortification that she and hers should be set aside for people who were
nothing to them. And this pain made her beautiful, and justified her in
her own eyes.
She did not complain in words, and she was always careful to set before
Pelle whatever the house could provide. He always found everything in
order, and he understood what efforts it must cost her--considering the
smallness of the means which she had at her disposal. There was no weak
point in her defences; and this made the position still more oppressive;
he could not evoke an explosion, a ventilation of her grievances; it was
impossible to quarrel with her and make friends again.
Often he wished that Ellen would become neglectful, like so many others.
But she was always attentive; the more the circumstances enabled her to
condemn him, the more correctly did she behave.
If only he could have explained her lack of comprehension by supposing
that her mind was barren and self-seeking! But in his eyes she had
always been quite simple and single-minded, and yet her nature was to
him a continual enigma! It was true she was not excessively benevolent
or sympathetic where others were concerned; but on the other hand she
asked nothing for herself--her thoughts were all for him and the
children. He must admit that she had, without a thought, sacrificed
everything to him--her home, her whole world--and that she had a right
to ask something in return.
And she was still unchangeably the same. She was indifferent where she
herself was concerned, if only Pelle and the children had something she
was contented; she herself needed so little, yet she seemed to take
enough when he watched her eating. Pelle often wondered that she
retained her healthy appearance, although the food she ate was so
inferior. Perhaps she helped herself in secret--but he drove the thought
away, and was ashamed. She was always completely indifferent as to what
she ate; she did not notice what it was, but served him and the children
with the best of it--especially himself--yet she seemed to thrive. Yes,
even now she gave the best to him. It was as though she was fulfilling
some deep-rooted law of her nature, which was independent of their
relations to one another. In this nothing could alter her habits. She
might have been compared to a great beautiful bitch that lies
attentively marking the appetite of her young, although none can tell,
from her deliberate quiet, that her own bowels are twisted with hunger.
If they left anything, she noticed it. "I have eaten," she would say, so
quietly that she succeeded as a rule in deceiving them. Yes, it made him
feel desperate to think about it; the more he thought of it the more
unendurable it was. She was sacrificing herself for him, yet she must
condemn all his doings! She knew how to defy starvation far better than
he--and she did not understand why they must go hungry!
But from all these painful deliberations she emerged always more
prominently capable, incomprehensible, and beautiful in all her
strangeness! And he would hurry home, full of burning longing and
devotion, continually hoping that this time she would come to him
glowing with love, to hide her eyes, full of confusion, on his shoulder.
The disappointment only flung him yet more violently into the struggle;
the longing of his heart for a tender, careless hand made his own hard.
* * * * *
He was always exerting himself to find some means of making money. At
first, of course, there was no way, and he became so completely absorbed
in the conflict that finally the question no longer occupied his mind.
It lurked in his consciousness, like a voluptuous wish that merely
tinged his daily existence; it was as though something within his mind
had taken possession of his talent for design, and was always designing
beautiful paper money and displaying it to his imagination.
One day when he reached home he found Widow Rasmussen tending the
children and working on a pair of canvas shoes. Drunken Valde had left
her again--had flown out into the spring! Ellen had gone out to work. A
sudden pain shot through him. Her way of doing this, without saying a
word to him, was like a blow in the face, and at first he was angry. But
disloyalty was foreign to his nature. He had to admit that she was
within her rights; and with that his anger evaporated, leaving him
bewildered; something within him seemed tottering; surely this was a
topsy-turvy world! "I might as well stay at home and look after the
children," he thought bitterly.
"I'll stay with the children now, Madam Rasmussen!" he said. The woman
put her work together.
"Yes, they've got a lot to go through," she said, standing in the
doorway. "I don't myself understand what it's all about, but one must
always do something! That's my motto. For things can't be worse than
they are. 'Widow'! Pooh! They won't let us behave ourselves! A man can
scarcely look after himself, let alone a family, in this accursed world
--and one needn't call one's self Madam to get children! Here have I been
knocking about all my life, ruining my health and happiness, and have I
earned as much from all my blackguards as would pay for the rags I've
worn? No; I've had to beg them nicely of the fine folks for whom I do
washing! Yes, they are ready to skin one alive--Madam Rasmussen has
proved that. So I say, one must always try something! To-day the boy
comes home and says, 'Mother, they've put up the price of firewood
again--an ore the two dozen!' 'What does that matter to us, boy? Can we
buy two dozen at once?' I say. 'Yes, mother, but then the one dozen will
cost an ore more.' And eggs, they cost one krone twenty a score where
the rich folks buy them--but here! 'No, my dear madam, if you take two
eggs you must pay fifteen ore!' That makes eight ore for an egg, for if
one takes the smallest quantity the profits aren't in proportion. It's
hard to be poor. If it's never going to be better, may the devil take
him that's made it all! That was a fine swear!"
Pelle sat playing with Young Lasse. Madam Rasmussen's words had aroused
something in him. That was the eternal complaint, the old, old cry!
Whenever he heard it, the world of the poor man became even more plainly
visible for what it was--and he ought to know it! It was a frightful
abyss that he looked down into; it was bottomless; and it seemed forever
to reveal fresh depths. And he was right--he was right.
He sat carelessly drawing something for the child on a scrap of paper,
thinking of things quite different; but involuntarily the drawing took
shape from within his hand. "That's money, that's money!" cried Young
Lasse, clapping his hands. Pelle waked up and examined his drawing; sure
enough, there was a rough sketch of a ten-kroner note! It flattered his
father's heart that the child had recognized it; and he was seized by
the desire to see how like it was. But where in all the world was he to
get a "blue"? Pelle, who at this time superintended the collection and
distributing of millions, did not possess ten kroner! The pipe! The
pipe! That was what the boy got his idea from! His old Christmas
present, queerly enough, had a ten-kroner note on the bowl--and that
gave him an idea! He got it out and compared it; it was a long time
since he had smoked the pipe--he couldn't afford it. He began eagerly to
fill in the drawing while Young Lasse stood by, amusing himself by
watching the rapid movements of the pencil. "Father is clever--Father
draw!" he said, and wanted to wake his sister so that she could take
part in the game.
No, the result was not good! The design would have to be cut in wood and
printed in color for the appearance really to be similar. But then Ellen
came home, and he hid it away. "Won't you give up going out to work?"
he said. "I'll provide what is absolutely necessary."
"Why?" she retorted resolutely. "I'm not too good to do anything!" There
was no tone in her voice from which he could elicit anything; so he got
ready to go to the meeting.
Now, when Ellen went out to work, he ran home as often as he had time in
order to look after the children. He had obtained a piece of hard wood
and a ten-kroner note. With great care he transferred the design onto
the wood, and began to engrave it while he sat there chattering to the
children. This task occupied unused faculties; it engrossed him as an
artistic exercise, which lingered at the back of his mind and
automatically continued to carry itself out, even when he was away from
home. This work filled his mind with a peculiar beauty so long as he was
engaged on it. A warm, blissful world was evoked by the sight of this
ten-kroner note, which shone ever more plainly out of the darkness and
swept all privations aside. When Pelle sat at this work his mind soared
above all oppression as though intoxicated; unhappy things no longer
existed for him. He became an optimist and mentally made Ellen all sorts
of costly presents.
It was all fundamentally so simple--it was only a misunderstanding--
nothing more! He must speak to her, and she would see at once what a
happy life they were going to live--if only they held out. Silence had
filled her with resentment. Fortune! Fortune! It was nearer than ever
now, greater and more splendid than on that other occasion when it had
knocked at their door! Why, he did not know--that did not seem very
But when he heard her step on the stairs his dream was shattered. He was
awake. He concealed his work, ashamed to think that she should come home
from work and find him at play.
At times he was oppressed by a feeling of the unattainable in his
relations with Ellen. Even to himself he could not explain the
contradiction between the constant longing for more ample and stable
conditions, for triumph and victory, and his impotency at home, where
his fortunes were declining. He wearied himself in trying to puzzle it
out, and he was seized by a desire that he might become indifferent to
the whole matter. He felt no inclination to drink, but none the less
something was working convulsively within him; a certain indifference as
to his own welfare, causing him to run risks, not caring whether he
might not commit some stupidity that would do him harm. And at such
times a voice cried loudly within him, especially when he was confronted
by the bitter utterances of want. "That is my old complaint," he
thought, and he became observant. In his childhood it had been a sort of
seizure; now it had become a voice.
Early one morning Pelle wandered into the city. He had risen before
Ellen, in order to avoid the painfulness of sitting down to breakfast
with her. Ellen tried all sorts of ruses in order to give him a proper
breakfast, and it was not difficult to persuade his stomach; but
afterward he felt ashamed that he should have been cared for at the cost
of others; and cunning though he was too, he could not get the better of
her save by slipping away while she was still asleep.
His fasting condition endowed the city, and the whole of life, with a
curiously unsubstantial aspect. Before him lay a long day full of
terrific labors, and behind him was the fresh triumph of the day before.
As matters now stood, the employers in the iron industry had conceived
the cunning idea of founding a blackleg Union for smiths and mechanics,
and of giving it a name closely resembling that of the genuine Union.
Then they sent circulars to the men, stating that work would be resumed
on the following day. Many of the men were not accustomed to read, and
regarded the circular as an order from their own Union, while others
were enticed by the high wages offered by the new society. There was
great confusion among the workers of these trades. As soon as the trick
was exposed every respectable man drew back; but there was a great deal
of disappointment, and they felt horribly ashamed before their comrades.
Pelle was furious at this trick, which affected him more especially, as
the leader in open battle; he had suffered a defeat, and he meditated
revenge. In spite of all the efforts of the pickets, it was not possible
to procure a full list of the strikebreakers; his chagrin on this
account burned in his heart, like a shameful sense of impotency;
hitherto he had been noted for getting to the bottom of anything he
undertook! He resolved then and there to meet ruse with ruse. He set a
trap for his opponents, so that they themselves should deliver the
strikebreakers into his hands. One morning he published his list in
_The Working Man_ with the proud remark, "Look, the enemy has no
more!" Did the employers really fall into the trap, or was the fate of
the strike-breakers really indifferent to them? Next morning their organ
protested, and gave the number of the black-legs and their names into
This was a smack! A good one this; it brought a light to the thin,
impassive faces. There was an answer to the trick of the other day! This
Pelle was a deuce of a fellow! Three cheers for "Lightning Pelle!" Hip,
Pelle was the deuce of a fellow as he strode along ruddy and full of
pugnacity, with the echoes from the side-streets and the tenement-houses
mingled with his own vigorous footsteps. Streets and houses were white
with the night's hoar frost, and overhead the air was full of a peculiar
glow that came from the city--a light flowing from hidden sources. He
had left all his cares at home; on every hand working-folk were greeting
him, and his greeting in return was like an inspiriting song. He did not
know them, but they knew him! The feeling that his work--however deep
the scars it might leave--was arousing gratitude, had an uplifting
effect upon him.
The city was in its morning mood. The lock-out lay like a paralyzing
hand upon everything; business was slack, and the middle classes were
complaining, but there was no prospect of peace; both sides were
irreconcilable. The workers had lost nothing through the rash cessation
of the masons. Sympathy for the lower classes had become a political
principle; and contributions were still pouring in from the country.
Considerable sums came from abroad. The campaign was now costing the
workers half a million kroner a week; and the help from outside was like
a drop in the ocean. But it had the effect of a moral support, and it
stimulated the self-taxation to which all were subject. The hundred
thousand households of the poor parted with their last possessions in
order to continue the struggle; they meant to force a decision that
should affect their whole future. The employers tried to hinder the
great National Federation by calling the attention of the authorities
to an ancient statute concerning mendicancy; but that merely aroused
merriment. A little laughter over such expedients was permissible.
The workers had become accustomed to starvation. They went no more into
the forest, but strolled thoughtfully through the streets like people
who have too much time on their hands, so that the city's face wore a
peculiar stamp of meditative poverty. Their loitering steps aroused no
echo, and in the houses the quietness gave one food for reflection. The
noisy, ever-hungry children were scattered over the face of the country
--they at least had plenty to eat. But the place was empty for the lack
Pelle met several squads of workers; they were on the way to the various
roll-calls. They raised their heads as he passed; his footsteps echoed
loudly enough for all! It was the hope and the will of forty thousand
men that passed there--Pelle was the expression of them all. They stared
at his indomitable figure, and drew themselves up. "A devil of a chap!"
they told one another joyfully; "he looks as if he could trample 'em all
underfoot! Look at him--he scarcely makes way for that great loaded
wagon! Long live Pelle, boys!"
The tavern-keepers stood on their cellar stairs gaping up at the morning
sky--this was a time of famine for them! In the tavern windows hung
cards with the inscription: "Contributions received here for the locked-
On the Queen Luise Bridge Pelle encountered a pale, fat little man in a
shabby coat. He had flabby features and a great red nose. "Good morning,
General!" cried Pelle gaily; the man made a condescending movement with
his hand. This was _The Working Man's_ man of straw; a sometime
capitalist, who for a small weekly wage was, as far as the public was
concerned, the responsible editor of the paper. He served various terms
of imprisonment for the paper, and for a further payment of five kroner
a week he also worked out in prison the fines inflicted on the paper.
When he was not in jail he kept himself alive by drinking. He suffered
from megalomania, and considered that he led the whole labor movement;
for which reason he could not bear Pelle.
In the great court-yard of _The Working Man_ building the dockers
were assembled to answer the roll. The president of their Union met
Pelle in the doorway; he was the very man whom Pelle and Howling Peter
had rescued down by the harbor--now he was working for the new ideas!
"Well, how goes it?" asked Pelle, shaking his hand.
"Splendid! A thousand men all but seven!"
"But where's the joyful Jacob? Is he ill?"
"He's in jail," replied the other gloomily. "He couldn't bear to see his
old folks starving--so he broke into a grocery, he and his brother--and
now they're both in prison."
For a moment the lines on Pelle's forehead were terribly deep and
gloomy; he stood gazing blindly into space; the radiant expression left
his countenance, which was filled with a pitying gravity. The docker
stared at him--was he going to sleep on his feet? But then he pulled
"Well, comrades, are you finding the days too long?" he cried gaily.
"Ach, as for that! It's the first time one's had the time to get to know
one's own wife and children properly!" they replied. "But for all that
it would be fine to get busy again!"
It was obvious that idleness was at last beginning to depress them;
there was a peculiar pondering expression on their impassive features,
and their eyes turned to him with a persistent questioning. They asked
that this undertaking of his should be settled one way or the other.
They were not weakening; they always voted for the continuance of the
campaign, for that which they sought depended thereon; but they gazed
into his face for a look that might promise success.
He had to answer many singular questions; privation engendered in the
most fantastic ideas, which revealed the fact that their quiet,
controlled bearing was the product of the observation and the energy of
"Shall we deprive the rich of all their wealth and power?" asked one
man, after long pondering and gazing at Pelle. The struggle seemed to
have dealt hardly with him; but it had lit a spark in his eyes.
"Yes, we are going now to take our rights as men, and we shall demand
that the worker shall be respected," Pelle replied. "Then there'll be no
more talk of poor man and gentleman!"
"But suppose they try to get on top of us again? We must make short work
of them, so that they can't clamber on our backs and ride us again."
"Do you want to drive them all onto the Common and shoot them? That's
not necessary," said his neighbor. "When this is settled no one will
dare to take the food out of our mouths again."
"Won't there be any more poverty then?" asked the first speaker, turning
"No, once we get our affairs properly in going order; then there will be
comfort in every home. Don't you read your paper?"
Yes, he read it, but there was no harm in hearing the great news
confirmed by Pelle himself. And Pelle could confirm it, because he never
harbored a doubt. It had been difficult to get the masses to grasp the
new conception of things--as difficult as to move the earth! Something
big must happen in return!
A few of the men had brought out sandwiches and began to eat them as
they debated. "Good digestion!" said Pelle, nodding farewell to them.
His mouth was watering, and he remembered that he had had nothing to eat
or drink. But he had no time to think about it; he must go to Stolpe to
arrange about the posting of the pickets.
Over the way stood Marie in a white cap, with a basket over her arm; she
nodded to him, with rosy cheeks. Transplantation had made her grow;
every time he saw her she was more erect and prettier.
At his parents'-in-law the strictest economy prevailed. All sorts of
things--household possessions--had disappeared from that once so
comfortable home; but there was no lack of good spirits. Stolpe was
pottering about waiting for his breakfast; he had been at work early
"What's the girl doing?" he asked. "We never see her now."
"She has such a lot to do," said Pelle apologetically. "And now she's
going out to work as well."
"Well, well, with things as they are she's not too fine to lend a hand.
But we don't really know what's amiss with her--she's a rebellious
nature! Thank God she's not a man--she would have brought dissolution
into the ranks!"
Breakfast consisted of a portion of coffee and bread-and-butter and
porridge. Madam Stolpe could not find her fine new silver coffee-
service, which her children had given her on her silver-wedding day. "I
must have put it away," she said.
"Well, well, that'll soon be found again, mother!" said Stolpe. "Now we
shall soon have better times; many fine things will make their
appearance again then, we shall see!"
"Have you been to the machine-works this morning, father-in-law?" asked
"Yes, I've been there. But there is nothing more for the pickets to do.
The employers have quartered all the men in the factory; they get full
board and all there. There must be a crowd of foreign strike-breakers
there--the work's in full swing."
This was an overwhelming piece of news! The iron-masters had won the
first victory! This would quickly have a most depressing effect on the
workers, when they saw that their trade could be kept going without
"We must put a bridle on them," said Pelle, "or they'll get off the
course and the whole organization will fall to pieces. As for those
fellows in there, we must get a louse under their shirts somehow."
"How can we do that when they are locked in, and the police are
patrolling day and night in front of the gates? We can't even speak to
them." Stolpe laughed despairingly.
"Then some one must slink in and pretend he's in want of employment!"
Stolpe started. "As a strike-breaker? You'll never in this life get a
respectable man to do that, even if it's only in jest! I wouldn't do it
myself! A strike-breaker is a strike-breaker, turn and twist it how you
"A strike-breaker, I suppose, is one who does his comrades harm. The man
who risks his skin in this way deserves another name."
"I won't admit that," said Stolpe. "That's a little too abstract for me;
anyhow, I'm not going to argue with you. But in my catechism it says
that he is a strike-breaker who accepts employment where assistance is
forbidden--and that I stick to!"
Pelle might talk as much as he liked; the old man would not budge an
inch. "But it would be another matter if you wanted to do it yourself,"
said Stolpe. "You don't have to account to any one for what you do--you
just do what comes into your head."
"I have to account to the Cause for my doings," said Pelle sharply, "and
for that very reason I want to do it myself!"
Stolpe contracted his arms and stretched them out again. "Ah, it would
be good to have work again!" he cried suddenly. "Idleness eats into
one's limbs like the gout. And now there's the rent, mother--where the
devil are we to get that? It must be paid on the nail on Saturday,
otherwise out we go--so the landlord says."
"We'll soon find that, father!" said Madam Stolpe. "Don't you lose
Back to Full Books