Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 18 out of 23
Stolpe looked round the room. "Yes, there's still a bit to take, as
Hunger said when he began on the bowels. But listen, Pelle--do you know
what? I'm your father-in-law-to be sure--but you haven't a wife like
"I'm contented with Ellen as she is," said Pelle.
There was a knock; it was Stolpe's brother, the carpenter. He looked
exhausted; he was thin and poorly dressed; his eyes were surrounded by
red patches. He did not look at those whose hands he took.
"Sit down, brother," said Stolpe, pushing a chair toward him.
"Thanks--I must go on again directly. It was--I only wanted to tell you
--well...." He stared out of the window.
"Is anything wrong at home?"
"No, no, not that exactly. I just wanted to say--I want to give notice
that I'm deserting!" he cried suddenly.
Stolpe sprang to his feet; he was as white as chalk. "You think what you
are doing!" he cried threateningly.
"I've had time enough to think. They are starving, I tell you--and
there's got to be an end of it. I only wanted to tell you beforehand so
that you shouldn't hear it from others--after all, you're my brother."
"Your brother--I'm your brother no longer! You do this and we've done
with one another!" roared Stolpe, striking the table. "But you won't do
it, you shan't do it! God damn me, I couldn't live through the shame of
seeing the comrades condemning my own brother in the open street! And I
shall be with them! I shall be the first to give you a kick, if you are
my brother!" He was quite beside himself.
"Well, well, we can still talk it over," said the carpenter quietly.
"But now you know--I didn't want to do anything behind your back." And
then he went.
Stolpe paced up and down the room, moving from one object to another. He
picked them up and put them down again, quite unthinkingly. His hands
were trembling violently; and finally he went to the other room and shut
himself in. After a time his wife entered the room. "You had better go,
Pelle! I don't think father is fit for company to-day. He's lying there
quite gray in the face--if he could only cry even! Oh, those two
brothers have always been so much to each other till now! They wore so
united in everything!"
Pelle went; he was thinking earnestly. He could see that Stolpe, in his
integrity, would consider it his duty to treat his brother more harshly
than others, dearly as he loved him; perhaps he himself would undertake
the picketing of the place where his brother went to work.
Out by the lakes he met a squad of pickets who were on their way out of
the city; he accompanied them for some distance, in order to make
certain arrangements. Across the road a young fellow came out of a
doorway and slunk round the corner. "You there, stop!" cried one of the
comrades. "There he is--the toff!" A few pickets followed him down
Castle Street and came back leading him among them. A crowd began to
form round the whole party, women and children speedily joining it.
"You are not to do anything to him," said Pelle decisively.
"God knows no one wants to touch him!" they retorted. For a while they
stood silently gazing at him, as though weighing him in their minds;
then one after another spat at him, and they went their way. The fellow
went silently into a doorway and stood there wiping the spittle from his
face with his sleeve. Pelle followed him in order to say a kind word to
him and lead him back into the organization. The lad pulled himself up
hastily as Pelle approached.
"Are you coming to spit at me?" he said contemptuously. "You forgot it
before--why didn't you do it then?"
"I don't spit at people," said Pelle, "but your comrades are right to
despise you. You have left them in the lurch. Come with me, and I'll
enter you in the organization again, and no one shall molest you."
"I am to go about as a culprit and be taunted--no, thanks!"
"Do you prefer to injure your own comrades?"
"I ask for permission to look after my old mother. The rest of you can
go to the devil. My mother isn't going to hang about courtyards singing,
and picking over the dustbins, while her son plays the great man! I
leave that to certain other people!"
Pelle turned crimson. He knew this allusion was meant for Father Lasse;
the desperate condition of the old man was lurking somewhere in his mind
like an ingrowing grief, and now it came to the surface. "Dare you
repeat what you said?" he growled, pressing close up to the other.
"And if I were married I shouldn't let my wife earn my daily bread for
me--I should leave that to the pimps!"
Oho! That was like the tattlers, to blacken a man from behind! Evidently
they were spreading all sorts of lying rumors about him, while he had
placed all that he possessed at their disposal. Now Pelle was furious;
the leader could go to hell! He gave the fellow a few sound boxes on the
ear, and asked him which he would rather do--hold his mouth or take some
Morten appeared in the doorway--this had happened in the doorway of the
house in which he worked. "This won't do!" he whispered, and he drew
Pelle away with him. Pelle could make no reply; he threw himself on
Morten's bed. His eyes were still blazing with anger at the insult, and
he needed air.
"Things are going badly here now," said Morten, looking at him with a
"Yes, I know very well you can't stand it--all the same, they must hold
"And supposing they don't get better conditions?"
"Then they must accept the consequences. That's better than the whole
Cause should go to the wall!"
"Are those the new ideas? I think the ignorant have always had to take
the consequences! And there has never been lacking some one to spit on
them!" said Morten sadly.
"But, listen!" cried Pelle, springing to his feet. "You'll please not
blame me for spitting at anybody--the others did that!" He was very near
losing his temper again, but Morten's quiet manner mastered him.
"The others--that was nothing at all! But it was you who spat seven
times over into the poor devil's face--I was standing in the shop, and
Pelle stared at him, speechless. Was this the truth-loving Morten who
stood there lying?
"You say you saw me spit at him?"
Morten nodded. "Do you want to accept the applause and the honor, and
sneak out of the beastliness and the destruction? You have taken a great
responsibility on yourself, Pelle. Look, how blindly they follow you--at
the sight of your bare face, I'm tempted to say. For I'm not myself
quite sure that you give enough of yourself. There is blood on your
hands--but is any of it your own blood?"
Pelle sat there heavily pondering; Morten's words always forced his
thoughts to follow paths they had never before known. But now he
understood him; and a dark shadow passed over his face, which left its
traces behind it. "This business has cost me my home," he said quietly.
"Ellen cares nothing for me now, and my children are being neglected,
and are drifting away from me. I have given up splendid prospects for
the future; I go hungry every day, and I have to see my old father in
want and wretchedness! I believe no one can feel as homeless and lonely
and forsaken as I do! So it has cost me something--you force me to say
it myself." He smiled at Morten, but there were tears in his eyes.
"Forgive me, my dear friend!" said Morten. "I was afraid you didn't
really know what you were doing. Already there are many left on the
field of battle, and it's grievous to see them--especially if it should
all lead to nothing."
"Do you condemn the Movement, then? According to you, I can never do
"Not if it leads to an end! I myself have dreamed of leading them on to
fortune--in my own way; but it isn't a way after their own heart. You
have power over them--they follow you blindly--lead them on, then! But
every wound they receive in battle should be yours as well--otherwise
you are not the right man for the place. And are you certain of the
Yes, Pelle was certain of that. "And we are reaching it!" he cried,
suddenly inspired. "See how cheerfully they approve of everything, and
just go forward!"
"But, Pelle!" said Morten, with a meaning smile, laying his hand on his
shoulder, "a leader is not Judge Lynch. Otherwise the parties would
fight it out with clubs!"
"Ah, you are thinking of what happened just now!" said Pelle. "That had
nothing to do with the Movement! He said my father was going about the
backyards fishing things out of dustbins--so I gave him a few on the
jaw. I have the same right as any one else to revenge an insult." He did
not mention the evil words concerning Ellen; he could not bring himself
to do so.
"But that is true," said Morten quietly.
"Then why didn't you tell me?" asked Pelle.
"I thought you knew it. And you have enough to struggle against as it
is--you've nothing to reproach yourself with."
"Perhaps you can tell me where he could be found?" said Pelle, in a low
"He is usually to be found in this quarter."
Pelle went. His mind was oppressed; all that day fresh responsibilities
had heaped themselves upon him; a burden heavy for one man to bear. Was
he to accept the responsibility for all that the Movement destroyed as
it progressed, simply because he had placed all his energies and his
whole fortune at its disposal? And now Father Lasse was going about as a
scavenger. He blushed for shame--yet how could he have prevented it? Was
he to be made responsible for the situation? And now they were spitting
upon Ellen--that was the thanks he got!
He did not know where to begin his search, so he went into the courts
and backyards and asked at random. People were crowding into a courtyard
in Blaagaard Street, so Pelle entered it. There was a missionary there
who spoke with the sing-song accent of the Bornholmer, in whose eyes was
the peculiar expression which Pelle remembered as that of the "saints"
of his childhood. He was preaching and singing alternately. Pelle gazed
at him with eyes full of reminiscence, and in his despairing mood he was
near losing control of himself and bellowing aloud as in his childish
years when anything touched him deeply. This was the very lad who had
said something rude about Father Lasse, and whom he--young as he was--
had kicked so that he became ruptured. He was able to protect his father
in those days, at all events!
He went up to the preacher and held out his hand. "It's Peter Kune! So
you are here?"
The man looked at him with a gaze that seemed to belong to another
world. "Yes, I had to come over here, Pelle!" he said significantly. "I
saw the poor wandering hither from the town and farther away, so I
followed them, so that no harm should come to them. For you poor are the
chosen people of God, who must wander and wander until they come into
the Kingdom. Now the sea has stayed you here, and you can go no farther;
so you think the Kingdom must lie here. God has sent me to tell you that
you are mistaken. And you, Pelle, will you join us now? God is waiting
and longing for you; he wants to use you for the good of all these
little ones." And he held Pelle's hand in his, gazing at him
compellingly; perhaps he thought Pelle had come in order to seek the
shelter of his "Kingdom."
Here was another who had the intention of leading the poor to the land
of fortune! But Pelle had his own poor. "I have done what I could for
them," he said self-consciously.
"Yes, I know that well; but that is not the right way, the way you are
following! You do not give them the bread of life!"
"I think they have more need of black bread. Look at them--d'you think
they get too much to eat?"
"And can you give them food, then? I can give them the joy of God, so
that they forget their hunger for a while. Can you do more than make
them feel their hunger even more keenly?"
"Perhaps I can. But I've got no time to talk it over now; I came to look
for my old father."
"Your father, I have met in the streets lately, with a sack on his back
--he did not look very cheerful. And I met him once over yonder with Sort
the shoemaker; he wanted to come over here and spend his old age with
Pelle said nothing, but ran off. He clenched his fists in impotent wrath
as he rushed out of the place. People went about jeering at him, one
more eagerly than the other, and the naked truth was that he--young and
strong and capable as he was in his calling--could not look after his
wife and children and his old father, even when he had regular work.
Yes, so damnable were the conditions that a man in the prime of his
youth could not follow the bidding of nature and found a family without
plunging those that were dependent on him into want and misery! Curse it
all, the entire system ought to be smashed! If he had power over it he
would want to make the best use of it!
In Stone Street he heard a hoarse, quavering voice singing in the
central courtyard of one of the houses. It was Father Lasse. The rag-bag
lay near him, with the hook stuck into it. He was clasping the book with
one hand, while with the other he gesticulated toward the windows as he
sang. The song made the people smile, and he tried to make it still more
amusing by violent gestures which ill-suited his pitiful appearance.
It cut Pelle to the heart to see his wretched condition. He stepped into
a doorway and waited until his father should have finished his song. At
certain points in the course of the song Lasse took off his cap and
smacked it against his head while he raised one leg in the air. He very
nearly lost his equilibrium when he did this, and the street urchins who
surrounded him pulled at his ragged coat-tails and pushed one another
against him. Then he stood still, spoke to them in his quavering voice,
and took up his song again.
"O listen to my song, a tale of woe:
I came into the world as do so many:
My mother bore me in the street below,
And as for father, why, I hadn't any!
Till now I've faithfully her shame concealed:
I tell it now to make my song complete.
O drop a shilling down that I may eat,
For eat I must, or soon to Death I yield.
"Into this world without deceit I came,
That's why you see me wear no stockings now.
A poor old man who drudges anyhow,
I have a wealthy brother, more's the shame.
But he and I are opposites in all;
While I rake muck he rakes his money up:
Much gold is his and many a jewelled cup,
And all he fancies, that is his at call.
"My brother, he has built a palace splendid,
And silver harness all his horses bear.
Full twenty crowns an hour he gets, I hear,
By twiddling thumbs and wishing day were ended!
Gold comes to him as dirt to Lasse, blast him!
And everywhere he turns there money lies.
'Twill all be mine when once my brother dies--
If I but live--so help me to outlast him!
"Luck tried to help me once, but not again!
Weary with toiling I was like to swoon.
When God let fall milk-porridge 'stead of rain!
And I, poor donkey, hadn't brought a spoon!
Yes, Heaven had meant to help me, me accurst!
I saw my luck but couldn't by it profit!
Quickly my brother made a banquet of it--
Ate my milk-porridge till he nearly burst!
"Want bears the sceptre here on earth below,
And life is always grievous to the poor.
But God, who rules the world, and ought to know,
Says all will get their rights when life is o'er.
Therefore, good people, hear me for His sake--
A trifle for the poor man's coffin give,
Wherein his final journey he must take;
Have mercy on my end while yet I live!
"Yet one thing God has given me--my boy.
And children are the poor man's wealth, I know.
O does he think of me, my only joy,
Who have no other treasure here below?
Long time have we been parted by mishap:
I'm tired of picking rags and sick of song;
God who sees all reward you all ere long:
O drop a trifle in poor Lasse's cap!"
When Lasse had finished his song the people clapped and threw down coins
wrapped in paper, and he went round picking them up. Then he took his
sack on his back and stumped away, bent almost double, through the
"Father!" cried Pelle desperately. "Father!"
Lasse stood up with a jerk and peered through the gateway with his
feeble eyes. "Is that you, lad? Ach, it sounded like your voice when you
were a child, when any one was going to hurt you and you came to me for
help." The old man was trembling from head to foot. "And now I suppose
you've heard the whole thing and are ashamed of your old father?" He
dared not look at his son.
"Father, you must come home with me now--do you hear?" said Pelle, as
they entered the street together.
"No, that I can't do! There's not enough even for your own mouths--no,
you must let me go my own way. I must look after myself--and I'm doing
"You are to come home with me--the children miss you, and Ellen asks
after you day after day."
"Yes, that would be very welcome.... But I know what folks would think
if I were to take the food out of your children's mouths! Besides--I'm a
rag-picker now! No, you mustn't lead me into temptation."
"You are to come with me now--never mind about anything else. I can't
bear this, father!"
"Well, then, in God's name, I must publish my shame before you, lad--if
you won't let me be! See now, I'm living with some one--with a woman. I
met her out on the refuse-heaps, where she was collecting rubbish, just
as I was. I had arranged a corner for myself out there--for the night,
until I could find a lodging--and then she said I was to go home with
her--it wouldn't be so cold if there were two of us. Won't you come home
with me, so that you can see where we've both got to? Then you can see
the whole thing and judge for yourself. We live quite close."
They turned into a narrow lane and entered a gateway. In the backyard,
in a shed, which looked like the remains of an old farm cottage, was
Lasse's home. It looked as though it had once been used as a fuel-shed;
the floor was of beaten earth and the roof consisted of loose boards.
Under the roof cords were stretched, on which rags, paper, and other
articles from the dustbins were hung to dry. In one corner was a mean-
looking iron stove, on which a coffee-pot was singing, mingling its
pleasant fragrance with the musty stench of the rubbish. Lasse stretched
himself to ease his limbs.
"Ach, I'm quite stiff!" he said, "and a little chilled. Well, here you
see my little mother--and this is my son, Pelle, my boy." He contentedly
stroked the cheeks of his new life's partner.
This was an old, bent, withered woman, grimy and ragged; her face was
covered with a red eruption which she had probably contracted on the
refuse-heaps. But a pair of kind eyes looked out of it, which made up
for everything else.
"So that is Pelle!" she said, looking at him. "So that's what he is
like! Yes, one has heard his name; he's one of those who will astonish
the world, although he hasn't red hair."
Pelle had to drink a cup of coffee. "You can only have bread-and-butter
with it; we old folks can't manage anything else for supper," said
Lasse. "We go to bed early, both of us, and one sleeps badly with an
"Well, now, what do you think of our home?" said Father Lasse, looking
proudly about him. "We pay only four kroner a month for it, and all the
furniture we get for nothing--mother and I have brought it all here
from the refuse-heaps, every stick of it, even the stove. Just look at
this straw mattress, now--it's really not bad, but the rich folks threw
it away! And the iron bedstead--we found that there; I've tied a leg to
it. And yesterday mother came in carrying those curtains, and hung them
up. A good thing there are people who have so much that they have to
throw it on the dust-heap!"
Lasse was quite cheerful; things seemed to be going well with him; and
the old woman looked after him as if he had been the love of her youth.
She helped him off with his boots and on with his list slippers, then
she brought a long pipe out of the corner, which she placed between his
lips; he smiled, and settled down to enjoy himself.
"Do you see this pipe, Pelle? Mother saved up for this, without my
knowing anything about it--she has got such a long one I can't light it
myself! She says I look like a regular pope!" Lasse had to lean back in
his chair while she lit the pipe.
When Pelle left, Lasse accompanied him across the yard. "Well, what do
you think of it?" he said.
"I am glad to see things are going so well with you," said Pelle humbly.
Lasse pressed his hand. "Thanks for that! I was afraid you would be
strict about it. As quite a little boy, you used to be deucedly strict
in that direction. And see now, of course, we could marry--there is no
impediment in either case. But that costs money--and the times are hard.
As for children coming, and asking to be brought into the world
respectably, there's no danger of that."
Pelle could not help smiling; the old man was so much in earnest.
"Look in on us again soon--you are always welcome," said Lasse. "But you
needn't say anything of this to Ellen--she is so peculiar in that
No, Pelle never told Ellen anything now. She had frozen his speech. She
was like the winter sun; the side that was turned away from her received
no share of her warmth. Pelle made no claims on her now; he had long ago
satisfied himself that she could not respond to the strongest side of
his nature, and he had accustomed himself to the idea of waging his
fight alone. This had made him harder, but also more of a man.
At home the children were ailing--they did not receive proper care, and
the little girl was restless, especially during the night. The
complaining and coughing of the children made the home uncomfortable.
Ellen was dumb; like an avenging fate she went about her business and
cared for the children. Her expressive glance never encountered his;
although he often felt that her eyes were resting on him. She had grown
thin of late, which lent her beauty, a fanatical glow, and a touch of
malice. There were times when he would have given his life for an
honest, burning kiss as a token of this woman's love.
He understood her less and less, and was often filled with inexplicable
anxiety concerning her. She suffered terribly through the condition of
the children; and when she quieted them, with a bleeding heart, her
voice had a fateful sound that made him shudder. Sometimes he was driven
home by the idea that she might have made away with herself and the
One day, when he had hurried home with this impression in his mind, she
met him smiling and laid on the table five and twenty kroner.
"What's that?" asked Pelle, in amazement.
"I've won that in the lottery!" she said.
So that was why her behavior had been so peculiarly mysterious during
the last few days--as though there had been something which he must not
on any account get to know. She had ventured her last shilling and was
afraid he would find it out!
"But where did you get the money?" he asked.
"I borrowed it from my old friend, Anna--we went in for it together. Now
we can have the doctor and medicine for the children, and we ourselves
can have anything we want," she said.
This money worked a transformation in Ellen, and their relations were
once more warmly affectionate. Ellen was more lovingly tender in her
behavior than ever before, and was continually spoiling him. Something
had come over her that was quite new; her manner showed a sort of
contrition, which made her gentle and loving, and bound Pelle to his
home with the bonds of ardent desire. Now once more he hurried home. He
took her manner to be an apology for her harsh judgment of him; for
here, too, she was different, and began to interest herself in his work
for the Cause, inciting him, by all sorts of allusions, to continue it.
It was evident that in spite of her apparent coldness she had kept
herself well informed concerning it. Her manner underwent a most
extraordinary transformation. She, the hard, confident Ellen, became
mild and uncertain in her manner. She no longer kept sourly out of
things, and had learned to bow her head good-naturedly. She was no
longer so self-righteous.
One day, toward evening, Pelle was sitting at home before the looking-
glass, and shaving himself; he had cut off the whole of his fine big
moustache and was now shaving off the last traces of it. Ellen was
amused to see how his face was altered. "I can scarcely recognize you!"
she said. He had thought she would have opposed its removal, and have
put his moustache before the Cause; but she was pleasant about the whole
matter. He could not at all understand this alteration in her.
When he had finished he stood up and went over to Young Lasse, but the
child cried out in terror. Then he put on his old working-clothes, made
his face and head black, and made his way to the machine-works.
The factory was in full swing now; they were working alternate shifts,
day and night, with the help of interned strike-breakers, the "locked-
in" workers, as the popular wit called them.
The iron-masters had followed up their victory and had managed to set
yet another industry in motion again. If this sort of thing went much
further the entire iron industry would one day be operated without the
locked-out workers, who could stand outside and look on. But now a blow
was about to be struck! Pelle's heart was full of warmth and joy as he
left home, and he felt equal for anything.
He slipped through the pickets unnoticed, and succeeded in reaching the
door of the factory. "They're asleep--the devils!" he thought angrily,
and was very near spoiling the whole thing by administering a reprimand.
He knocked softly on the door and was admitted. The doorkeeper took him
to the foreman, who was fortunately a German.
Pelle was given employment in the foundry, with very good wages. He was
also promised that he should receive a bonus of twenty-five kroner when
he had been there a certain time. "That's the Judas money," said the
foreman, grinning. "And then as soon as the lock-out is over you'll of
course be placed in the forefront of the workers. Now you are quite
clear about this--that you can't get out of here until then. If you want
to send something to your wife, we'll see to that."
He was shown to a corner where a sack full of straw lay on the floor;
this was his dwelling-place and his refuge for the night.
In the factory the work went on as best it might. The men rushed at
their work as in a frolic, drifted away again, lounged about the works,
or stood here and there in groups, doing as they chose. The foremen did
not dare to speak to them; if they made a friendly remark they were met
with insults. The workers were taking advantage of the fact that they
were indispensable; their behavior was sheer tyranny, and they were
continually harping on the fact that they would just as soon go as stay.
These words made them the masters of the situation.
They were paid big wages and received abundance to eat and to drink. And
the working day or shift was shorter than usual. They did not understand
the real significance of this change of life, but went about playing the
bally. But there was a peculiar hesitation visible in their faces, as
though they were not quite sure of one another. The native workers, who
were in the minority, kept to themselves--as though they felt an inward
contempt for those fellows who had travelled so far to fish in the
troubled waters of their distress.
They were working three shifts, each of eight hours' duration.
"Oho!" thought Pelle, "why, this, good God, is the eight-hours' day!
This is surely the State of the future!" At the very moment of his
arrival one shift was completed, and the men immediately proceeded to
make the most infernal uproar, hammering on metal and shouting for food
and brandy. A huge cauldron full of beef and potatoes was dragged in.
Pelle was told off to join a mess of ten men.
"Eat, matey!" they said. "Hungry, ain't you? How long had you been out
of work before you gave in?"
"Three months," said Pelle.
"Then you must be peckish. Here with the beef! More beef here!" they
cried, to the cook's mate. "You can keep the potatoes and welcome! We've
eaten enough potatoes all our lives!"--"This is Tom Tiddler's land, with
butter sauce into the bargain! This is how we've always said it ought to
be--good wages and little to do, lots to eat and brandy to drink! Now
you can see it was a good thing we held out till it came to this--now we
get our reward! Your health! Here, damme, what's your name, you there?"
"Karlsen," said Pelle.
"Here's to you, Karlsen! Well, and how are things looking outside? Have
you seen my wife lately? She's easy to recognize--she's a woman with
seven children with nothing inside their ribs! Well, how goes it with
After eating they sat about playing cards, and drinking, or they loafed
about and began to quarrel; they were a sharp-tongued crew; they went
about actuated by a malicious longing to sting one another. "Come and
have a game with us, mate--and have a drink!" they cried to Pelle. "Damn
it all, how else should a man kill the time in this infernal place?
Sixteen hours' sleep a day--no, that's more than a chap can do with!"
There was a deafening uproar, as though the place had been a vast
tavern, with men shouting and abusing one another; each contributed to
the din as though he wanted to drown it by his own voice. They were able
to buy drink in the factory, and they drank what they earned. "That's
their conscience," thought Pelle. "At heart they are good comrades."
There seemed to be some hope of success for his audacious maneuver. A
group of Germans took no part in the orgy, but had set up a separate
colony in the remotest corner of the hall. They were there to make
In one of the groups a dispute broke out between the players; they were
reviling one another in no measured language, and their terms of abuse
culminated in the term "strike-breaker." This made them perfectly
furious. It was as though an abscess had broken; all their bottled-up
shame and anger concerning their infamous position burst forth. They
began to use knives and tools on one another. The police, who kept watch
on the factory day and night, were called in, and restored tranquillity.
A wounded smith was bandaged in the office, but no arrest was made. Then
a sudden slackness overcame them.
They constantly crowded round Pelle. He was a new man; he came from
outside. "How are things going out there?" was the constant question.
"Things are going very well out there. It's a worse lookout for us in
here," said Pelle.
"Going very well, are they? We've been told they are near giving in."
"Who told you that?"
"The bosses of the factory here."
"Then they were fooling you, in order to keep you here."
"That's a lie! And what d'you mean by saying it's a worse look-out for
us? Out with it, now!"
"We shall never get regular work again. The comrades are winning--and
when they begin work again they'll demand that we others shall be locked
"The devil--and they've promised us the best positions!" cried a great
smith. "But you're a liar! That you are! And why did you come here if
they are nearly winning outside? Answer me, damn it all! A man doesn't
come slinking into this hell unless he's compelled!"
"To leave his comrades in the lurch, you might add," replied Pelle
harshly. "I wanted to see how it feels to strike the bread away from the
mouths of the starving."
"That's a lie! No one would be so wicked! You are making fools of us,
"Give him a thrashing," said another. "He's playing a crooked game. Are
you a spy, or what do you want here? Do you belong to those idiots
It had been Pelle's plan to put a good face on a crooked job, and
cautiously to feel his way; but now he grew angry.
"You had better think what you're doing before you call honorable men
idiots," he retorted violently. "Do you know what you are? Swine! You
lie there eating your fill and pouring the drink down your throats and
living easy on the need of your comrades! Swine, that you are--Judases,
who have sold a good cause for dirty money! How much did you get? Five
and twenty kroner, eh? And out there they are loyally starving, so that
all of us--yes, you too--can live a little more like human beings in the
"You hold your jaw!" said the big smith. "You've no wife and children--
you can easily talk!"
"Aren't you the fellow who lives in Jaegersborg Street?" Pelle demanded.
"Perhaps you are sending what you earn to your wife and children? Then
why are they in want? Yesterday they were turned out of doors; the
organization took them in and found a roof to go over their heads--
although they were a strike-breaker's family!" Pelle himself had made
"Send--damn and blast it all--I'll send them something! But if one lives
this hell of a life in here the bit of money one earns all goes in rot-
gut! And now you're going to get a thrashing!" The smith turned up his
shirt-sleeves so that his mighty muscles were revealed. He was no longer
reasonable, but glared at Pelle like an angry bull.
"Wait a bit," said an older man, stepping up to Pelle. "I think I've
seen you before. What is your real name, if I may make bold to ask?"
"My name? You are welcome to know it. I am Pelle."
This name produced an effect like that of an explosion. They were
dazzled. The smith's arms fell slack; he turned his head aside in shame.
Pelle was among them! They had left him in the lurch, had turned their
backs on him, and now he stood there laughing at them, not the least bit
angry with them. What was more, he had called them comrades; so he did
not despise them! "Pelle is here!" they said quietly; further and
further spread the news, and their tongues dwelt curiously on his name.
A murmur ran through the shops. "What the devil--has Pelle come?" they
cried, stumbling to their legs. Pelle had leaped onto a great anvil.
"Silence!" he cried, in a voice of thunder; "silence!" And there was
silence in the great building. The men could hear their own deep
The foremen came rushing up and attempted to drag him down. "You can't
make speeches here!" they cried.
"Let him speak!" said the big smith threateningly. "You aren't big
enough to stop his mouth, not by a long chalk!" He seized a hammer and
stationed himself at the foot of the anvil.
"Comrades!" Pelle began, in an easy tone, "I have been sent here to you
with greetings from those outside there--from the comrades who used to
stand next to you at work, from your friends and fellow-unionists. Where
are our old comrades?--they are asking. We have fought so many battles
by their side, we have shared good and evil with them--are we to enter
into the new conditions without them? And your wives and children are
asking after you! Outside there it is the spring! They don't understand
why they can't pack the picnic basket and go out into the forest with
"No, there's no picnic basket!" said a heavy voice.
"There are fifty thousand men accepting the situation without
grumbling," Pelle earnestly replied. "And they are asking after you--
they don't understand why you demand more than they do. Have you done
more for the movement than they have?--they ask. Or are you a lot of
dukes, that you can't quietly stand by the rank and file? And now it's
the spring out there!" he cried once more. "The poor man's winter is
past, and the bright day is coming for him! And here you go over to the
wrong side and walk into prison! Do you know what the locked-out workers
call you? They call you the locked-in workers!"
There were a few suppressed smiles at this. "That's a dam' good smack!"
they told, one another. "He made that up himself!"
"They have other names for us as well!" cried a voice defiantly.
"Yes, they have," said Pelle vigorously. "But that's because they are
hungry. People get unreasonable then, you know very well--and they
grudge other folks their food!"
They thronged about him, pressing closer and closer. His words were
scorching them, yet were doing them good. No one could hit out like
Pelle, and yet at the same time make them feel that they were decent
fellows after all. The foreign workers stood round about them, eagerly
listening, in order that they, too, might catch a little of what was
Pelle had suddenly plunged into the subject of the famine, laying bare
the year-long, endless despair of their families, so that they all saw
what the others had suffered--saw really for the first time. They were
amazed that they could have endured so much, but they knew that it was
so; they nodded continually, in agreement; it was all literally true. It
was Pelle's own desperate struggle that was speaking through him now,
but the refrain of suffering ran through it all. He stood before them
radiant and confident of victory, towering indomitably over them all.
Gradually his words became keen and vigorous. He reproached them with
their disloyalty; he reminded them how dearly and bitterly they had
bought the power of cohesion, and in brief, striking phrases he awakened
the inspiriting rhythm of the Cause, that lay slumbering in every heart.
It was the old, beloved music, the well-known melody of the home and
labor. Pelle sounded it with a new accent. Like all those that forsake
their country, they had forgotten the voice of their mother--that was
why they could not find their way home; but now she was calling them,
calling them back to the old dream of a Land of Fortune! He could see it
in their faces, and with a leap he was at them: "Do you know of anything
more infamous than to sell your mother-country? That is what you have
done--before ever you set foot in it--you have sold it, with your
brothers, your wives, and your children! You have foresworn your
religion--your faith in the great Cause! You have disobeyed orders, and
have sold yourselves for a miserable Judas-price and a keg of brandy!"
He stood with his left hand on the big smith's shoulder, his right hand
he clenched and held out toward them. In that hand he was holding them;
he felt that so strongly that he did not dare to let it sink, but
continued to hold it outstretched. A murmuring wave passed through the
ranks, reaching even to the foreign workers. They were infected by the
emotion of the others, and followed the proceedings with tense
attention, although they did not understand much of the language. At
each sally they nodded and nudged one another, until now they stood
there motionless, with expectant faces; they, too, were under the spell
of his words. This was solidarity, the mighty, earth-encircling power!
Pelle recognized the look of wonder on their faces; a cold shudder ran
up and down his spine. He held them all in his hand, and now the blow
was to be struck before they had time to think matters over. Now!
"Comrades!" he cried loudly. "I told those outside that you were
honorable men, who had been led into the devil's kitchen by want, and in
a moment of misunderstanding. And I am going in to fetch your friends
and comrades out, I said. They are longing to come out to you again, to
come out into the spring! Did I lie when I spoke well of you?"
"No, that you didn't!" they replied, with one voice. "Three cheers for
Pelle! Three cheers for 'Lightning'!"
"Come along, then!" Swiftly he leaped down from the anvil and marched
through the workshop, roaring out the Socialist marching-song. They
followed him without a moment's consideration, without regret or
remorse; the rhythm of the march had seized them; it was as though the
warm spring wind were blowing them out into the freedom of Nature. The
door was unlocked, the officials of the factory were pushed aside.
Singing in a booming rhythm that seemed to revenge itself for the long
days of confinement, they marched out into North Bridge Street, with
Pelle at their head, and turned into the Labor Building.
That was a glorious stroke! The employers abandoned all further idea of
running the works without the Federation. The victory was the completer
in that the trades unions gave the foreign workers their passage-money,
and sent them off before they had time for reflection. They were
escorted to the steamers, and the workers saw them off with a comradely
Pelle was the hero of the day. His doings were discussed in all the
newspapers, and even his opponents lowered their swords before him.
He took it all as a matter of course; he was striving with all his might
toward a fresh goal. There was no excuse for soaring into the clouds;
the lock-out was still the principal fact, and a grievous and burdensome
fact, and now he was feeling its whole weight. The armies of workers
were still sauntering about the streets, while the nation was consuming
its own strength, and there was no immediate prospect of a settlement.
But one day the springs would run dry--and what then?
He was too deeply immersed in the conflict to grow dizzy by reason of a
little flattery; and the general opinion more than ever laid the
responsibility for the situation on him. If this terrible struggle
should end in defeat, then his would be the blame! And he racked his
brains to find a means of breaking down the opposition of the enemy. The
masses were still enduring the conditions with patience, but how much
longer would this last? Rumors, which intended mischief, were flying
about; one day it was said that one of the leaders, who had been
entrusted with making collections, had run off with the cash-box; while
another rumor declared that the whole body of workers had been sold to
the employers! Something must happen! But what?
* * * * *
One afternoon he went home to see his family before going to a meeting.
The children were alone. "Where is mother?" he asked, taking Young Lasse
on his knee. Little Sister was sitting upright in her cradle, playing.
"Mother made herself fine and went out into the city," replied the
child. "Mother so fine!"
"So? Was she so fine?" Pelle went into the bed-room; he looked into the
wardrobe. Ellen's wedding-dress was not there.
"That is curious," he thought, and began to play with the children. The
little girl stretched her tiny arms toward him. He had to take her up
and sit with a child on either knee. The little girl kept on picking at
his upper lip, as though she wanted to say something. "Yes, father's
moustache has fallen off, Little Sister," said Young Lasse, in
"Yes, it has flown away," said Pelle. "There came a wind and--phew!--
away it went!" He looked into the glass with a little grimace--that
moustache had been his pride! Then he laughed at the children.
Ellen came home breathless, as though she had been running; a tender
rosiness lay over her face and throat. She went into the bedroom with
her cloak on. Pelle followed her. "You have your wedding-dress on," he
"Yes, I wanted something done to it, so I went to the dressmaker, so
that she could see the dress on me. But run out now, I'll come directly;
I only want to put another dress on."
Pelle wanted to stay, but she pushed him toward the door. "Run away!"
she said, pulling her dress across her bosom. The tender red had spread
all over her bosom--she was so beautiful in her confusion!
After a time she came into the living-room and laid some notes on the
table before him.
"What's this again?" he cried, half startled by the sight of all this
"Yes, haven't I wonderful luck? I've won in the lottery again! Haven't
you a clever wife?" She was standing behind him with her arm across his
Pelle sat there for a moment, bowed down as though he had received a
blow on the head. Then he pushed her arm aside and turned round to her.
"You have won again already, you say? Twice? Twice running?" He spoke
slowly and monotonously, as though he wanted to let every word sink in.
"Yes; don't you think it's very clever of me?" She looked at him
uncertainly and attempted to smile.
"But that is quite impossible!" he said heavily. "That is quite
impossible!" Suddenly he sprang to his feet, seizing her by the throat.
"You are lying! You are lying!" he cried, raging. "Will you tell me the
truth? Out with it!" He pressed her back over the table, as though he
meant to kill her. Young Lasse began to cry.
She stared at him with wondering eyes, which were full of increasing
terror. He released her and averted his face in order not to see those
eyes; they were full of the fear of death. She made no attempt to rise,
but fixed him with an intolerable gaze, like that of a beast that is
about to be killed and does not know why. He rose, and went silently
over to the children, and busied himself in quieting them. He had a
horrible feeling in his hands, almost as when once in his childhood he
had killed a young bird. Otherwise he had no feeling, except that
everything was so loathsome. It was the fault of the situation ... and
now he would go.
He realized, as he packed his things, that she was standing by the
table, crying softly. He realized it quite suddenly, but it was no
concern of his.... When he was ready and had kissed the children, a
shudder ran through her body; she stepped before him in her old
"Don't leave me--you mustn't leave me!" she said, sobbing. "Oh--I only
wanted to do what was best for you--and you didn't see after anything.
No, that's not a reproach--but our daily bread, Pelle! For you and the
children! I could no longer look on and see you go without everything--
especially you--Pelle! I love you so! It was out of love for you--above
all, out of love for you!"
It sounded like a song in his ears, like a strange, remote refrain; the
words he did not hear. He put her gently aside, kissed the boy once
more, and stroked his face. Ellen stood as though dead, gazing at his
movements with staring, bewildered eyes. When he went out to the door
Pelle left his belongings downstairs with the mangling-woman, and he
went mechanically toward the city; he heard no sound, no echo; he went
as one asleep. His feet carried him toward the Labor House, and up the
stairs, into the room whence the campaign was directed. He took his
place among the others without knowing what he did, and there he sat,
gazing down at the green table-cloth.
The general mood showed signs of dejection. For a long time now the
bottom of the cash-box had been visible, and as more and more workers
were turned into the street the product of self-imposed taxation was
gradually declining. And the readiness of those outside the movement to
make sacrifices was rapidly beginning to fail. The public had now had
enough of the affair. Everything was failing, now they would have to see
if they could not come to some arrangement. Starvation was beginning to
thrust its grinning head among the fifty thousand men now idle. The
moment had come upon which capital was counting; the moment when the
crying of children for bread begins to break the will of the workers,
until they are ready to sacrifice honor and independence in order to
satisfy the little creatures' hunger. And the enemy showed no sign of
wishing for peace!
This knowledge had laid its mark on all the members of the Council; and
as they sat there they knew that the weal or woe of hundreds of
thousands depended on them. No one dared accept the responsibility of
making a bold proposal in this direction or that. With things as they
stood, they would have, in a week or two, to give up the fight! Then
nearly a quarter of a million human beings would have suffered torment
for nothing! A terrible apathy would be the result of that suffering and
of the defeat; it would put them back many years. But if the employers
could not long withstand the pressure which the financial world was
beginning to exert on them, they would be throwing away the victory if
they gave up the fight now.
The cleverest calculations were useless here. A blind, monstrous Pate
would prevail. Who could say that he had lifted the veil of the future
and could point out the way?
No one! And Pelle, the blazing torch, who had shown them the road
regardless of all else--he sat there drowsing as though it meant nothing
to him! Apparently he had broken down under his monstrous labors.
The secretary came in with a newspaper marked with red pencil. He passed
it to the chairman, who stared for a while at the underlined portion,
then he rose and read it out; the paper was quivering in his hands.
"About thirty working women--young and of good appearance--can during
the lock-out find a home with various bachelors. Good treatment
guaranteed. The office of the paper will give further information."
Pelle sprang up out of his half-slumber; the horrible catastrophe of his
own home was blindingly clear now! "So it's come to that!" he cried.
"Now capital has laid its fingers on our wives--now they are to turn
whore! We must fight on, fight, fight! We must strike one last blow--and
it must be a heavy one!"
"But how?" they asked.
Pelle was white with enforced calm. His mind had never been so radiantly
clear. Now Ellen should be revenged on those who took everything, even
the poor man's one ewe lamb!
"In the first place we must issue an optimistic report--this very day!"
he said, smiling. "The cash-box is nearly empty--good! Then we will
state that the workers have abundant means to carry on the fight for
another year if need be, and then we'll go for them!"
Born of anger, an old, forgotten phantasy had flashed into his mind as a
"Hitherto we have fought passively," he continued, "with patience as our
chief weapon! We have opposed our necessities of life to the luxuries of
the other side; and if they strike at us in order to starve us to skin
and bone and empty our homes of our last possessions, we answered them
by refusing to do the work which was necessary to their comfort! Let us
for once strike at their vital necessities! Let us strike them where
they have struck us from the beginning! In the belly! Then perhaps
they'll turn submissive! Hitherto we have kept the most important of the
workers out of the conflict--those on whom the health and welfare of the
public depend, although we ourselves have benefited nothing thereby. Why
should we bake their bread? We, who haven't the means to eat it! Why
should we look after their cleanliness? We, who haven't the means to
keep ourselves clean! Let us bring the dustmen and the street-cleaners
into the line of fire! And if that isn't enough we'll turn off their gas
and water! Let us venture our last penny--let us strike the last blow!"
Pelle's proposal was adopted, and he went westward immediately to the
president of the Scavengers' Union. He had just got up and was sitting
down to his midday meal. He was a small, comfortable little man, who had
always a twinkle in his eye; he came from the coal country. Pelle had
helped him at one time to get his organization into working order, and
he knew that he could count on him and his men.
"Do you remember still, how I once showed you that you are the most
important workers in the city, Lars Hansen?"
The president nodded. "Yes, one would have to be a pretty sort of fool
to forget that! No, as long as I live I shall never forget the effect
your words had on us despised scavengers! It was you who gave us faith
in ourselves, and an organization! And even if we aren't quite the most
important people, still--"
"But that's just what you are--and now it's your turn to prove it! Could
you suspend work this night?"
Lars Hansen sat gazing thoughtfully into the lamp while he chewed his
food. "Our relations with the city are rather in the nature of a
contract," he said slowly and at length. "They could punish us for it,
and compel us to resume work. But if you want it, irrespective, why of
course we'll do it. There can be only one view as to that among
comrades! What you may gain by it you yourself know best."
"Thanks!" said Pelle, holding out his hand. "Then that is settled--no
more carts go out. And we must bring the street-cleaners to a standstill
"Then the authorities will put other men on--there are plenty to be
found for that work."
"They won't do that--or we'll put a stop to it if they do!"
"That sounds all right! It'll be a nasty business for the swells! It's
all the same to the poor, they haven't anything to eat. But suppose the
soldiers are ordered to do it! Scavenging must be done if the city isn't
to become pestilential!"
A flash of intelligence crossed Pelle's face. "Now listen, comrade! When
you stop working, deliver up all the keys, so that the authorities can't
touch you! Only put them all in a sack and give them a good shake-up!"
Lars Hansen broke into a resounding laugh. "That will be the deuce of a
joke!" he groaned, smacking his thighs. "Then they'll have to come to
us, for no one else will be able to sort them out again so quickly! I'll
take them the keys myself--I'll go upstairs as innocent as anything!"
Pelle thanked him again. "You'll save the whole Cause," he said quietly.
"It's the bread and the future happiness of many thousands that you are
now holding in your hands." He smiled brightly and took his leave. As
soon as he was alone his smile faded and an expression of deathly
weariness took its place.
* * * * *
Pelle walked the streets, strolling hither and thither. Now all was
settled. There was nothing more to strive for. Everything within him
seemed broken; he had not even strength to decide what he should do with
himself. He walked on and on, came out into the High Street, and turned
off again into the side streets. Over the way, in the Colonial Stores,
he saw Karl, smiling and active, behind the counter serving customers.
"You ought really to go in and ask him how he's getting on," he thought,
but he strolled on. Once, before a tenement-house, he halted and
involuntarily looked up. No, he had already done his business here--this
was where the president of the Scavengers' Union lived. No, the day's
work was over now--he would go home to Ellen and the children!
Home? No home for him now--he was forsaken and alone! And yet he went
toward the north; which road he went by he did not know, but after a
time he found himself standing before his own door and staring at the
rusty little letter box. Within there was a sound of weeping; he could
hear Ellen moving to and fro, preparing everything for the night. Then
he turned and hastened away, and did not breathe easily until he had
turned the corner of the street.
He turned again and again, from one side street into another. Inside his
head everything seemed to be going round, and at every step he felt as
if it would crack. Suddenly he seemed to hear hasty but familiar steps
behind him. Ellen! He turned round; there was no one there. So it was an
illusion! But the steps began again as soon as he went on. There was
something about those steps--it was as though they wanted to say
something to him; he could hear plainly that they wanted to catch up
with him. He stopped suddenly--there was no one there, and no one
emerged from the darkness of the side streets.
Were these strange footsteps in his own mind, then? Pelle found them
incomprehensible; his heart began to thump; his terrible exhaustion had
made him helpless. And Ellen--what was the matter with her? That
reproachful weeping sounded in his ears! Understand--what was he to
understand? She had done it out of love, she had said! Ugh--away with it
all! He was too weary to justify her offence.
But what sort of wanderer was this? Now the footsteps were keeping time
with his now; they had a double sound. And when he thought, another
creature answered to him, from deep within him. There was something
persistent about this, as there was in Morten's influence; an opinion
that made its way through all obstacles, even when reduced to silence.
What was wanted of him now--hadn't he worked loyally enough? Was he not
Pelle, who had conducted the great campaign? Pelle, to whom all looked
up? But there was no joy in the thought now; he could not now hear the
march of his fifty thousand comrades in his own footsteps! He was left
in the lurch, left alone with this accursed Something here in the
deserted streets--and loneliness had come upon him! "You are afraid!" he
thought, with a bitter laugh.
But he did not wish to be alone; and he listened intently. The conflict
had taken all that he possessed. So there was a community--mournful as
it was--between him and the misery around him here. What had he to
The city of the poor lay about him, terrible, ravaged by the battle of
unemployment--a city of weeping, and cold, and darkness, and want! From
the back premises sounded the crying of children--they were crying for
bread, he knew--while drunken men staggered round the corners, and the
screaming of women sounded from the back rooms and the back yards. Ugh--
this was Hell already! Thank God, victory was near!
Somewhere he could plainly hear voices; children were crying, and a
woman, who was moving to and fro in the room, was soothing them, and was
lulling the youngest to sleep--no doubt she had it in her arms. It all
came down to him so distinctly that he looked up. There were no windows
in the apartment! They were to be driven out by the cold, he thought
indignantly, and he ran up the stairs; he was accustomed to taking the
unfortunate by surprise.
"The landlord has taken out the doors and windows; he wanted to turn us
into the street, but we aren't going, for where should we go? So he
wants to drive us out through the cold--like the bugs! They've driven my
husband to death--" Suddenly she recognized Pelle. "So it's you, you
accursed devil!" she cried. "It was you yourself who set him on! Perhaps
you remember how he used to drink out of the bottle? Formerly he always
used to behave himself properly. And you saw, too, how we were turned
out of St. Hans Street--the tenants forced us to go--didn't you see
that? Oh, you torturer! You've followed him everywhere, hunted him like
a wild beast, taunted him and tormented him to death! When he went into
a tavern the others would stand away from him, and the landlord had to
ask him to go. But he had more sense of honor than you! 'I'm infected
with the plague!' he said, and one morning he hanged himself. Ah, if I
could pray the good God to smite you!" She was tearless; her voice was
dry and hoarse.
"You have no need to do that," replied Pelle bitterly. "He has smitten
me! But I never wished your husband any harm; both times, when I met
him, I tried to help him. We have to suffer for the benefit of all--my
own happiness is shattered into fragments." He suddenly found relief in
"They just ought to see that--the working men--Pelle crying! Then they
wouldn't shout 'Hurrah!' when he appears!" she cried scornfully.
"I have still ten kroner--will you take them?" said Pelle, handing her
She took it hesitating. "You must need that for your wife and children--
that must be your share of your strike pay!"
"I have no wife and children now. Take it!"
"Good God! Has your home gone to pieces too? Couldn't even Pelle keep it
together? Well, well, it's only natural that he who sows should reap!"
Pelle went his way without replying. The unjust judgment of this woman
depressed him more than the applause of thousands would have pleased
him. But it aroused a violent mental protest. Where she had struck him
he was invulnerable; he had not been looking after his own trivial
affairs; but had justly and honorably served the great Cause, and had
led the people to victory. The wounded and the fallen had no right to
abuse him. He had lost more than any one--he had lost everything!
With care-laden heart, but curiously calm, he went toward the North
Bridge and rented a room in a cheap lodging house.
The final instructions issued to the workers aroused terrible
indignation in the city. At one blow the entire public was set against
them; the press was furious, and full of threats and warnings. Even the
independent journals considered that the workers had infringed the laws
of human civilization. But _The Working Man_ quietly called
attention to the fact that the conflict was a matter of life or death
for the lower classes. They were ready to proceed to extremities; they
still had it in their power to cut off the water and gas--the means of
the capital's commercial and physical life!
Then the tide set in against the employers. Something had to give
somewhere! And what was the real motive of the conflict? Merely a
question of power! They wanted to have the sole voice--to have their
workers bound hand and foot. The financiers, who stood at the back of
the big employers, had had enough of the whole affair. It would be an
expensive game first and last, and there would be little profit in
destroying the cohesion of the workers if the various industries were
ruined at the same time.
Pelle saw how the crisis was approaching while he wandered about the
lesser streets in search of Father Lasse. Now the Cause was progressing
by its own momentum, and he could rest. An unending strain was at last
lifted from his shoulders, and now he wanted time to gather together the
remnants of his own happiness--and at last to do something for one who
had always sacrificed himself for him. Now he and Lasse would find a
home together, and resume the old life in company together; he rejoiced
at the thought. Father Lasse's nature never clashed with his; he had
always stood by him through everything; his love was like a mother's.
Lasse was no longer living in his lair behind Baker Street. The old
woman with whom he was living had died shortly before this, and Lasse
had then disappeared.
Pelle continued to ask after him, and, well known as he was among the
poor, it was not difficult for him to follow the old man's traces, which
gradually led him out to Kristianshavn. During his inquiries he
encountered a great deal of misery, which delayed him. Now, when the
battle was fighting itself to a conclusion, he was everywhere confronted
by need, and his old compassion welled up in his heart. He helped where
he could, finding remedies with his usual energy.
Lasse had not been to the "Ark" itself, but some one there had seen him
in the streets, in a deplorable condition; where he lived no one knew.
"Have you looked in the cellar of the Merchant's House over yonder?" the
old night watchman asked him. "Many live there in these hard times.
Every morning about six o'clock I lock the cellar up, and then I call
down and warn them so that they shan't be pinched. If I happen to turn
away, then they come slinking up. It seems to me I heard of an old man
who was said to be lying down there, but I'm not sure, for I've wadding
in my ears; I'm obliged to in my calling, in order not to hear too
much!" He went to the place with Pelle.
The Merchant's House, which in the eighteenth century was the palace of
one of the great mercantile families of Kristianshavn, was now used as a
granary; it lay fronting on one of the canals. The deep cellars, which
were entirely below the level of the canal, were now empty. It was pitch
dark down there, and impracticable; the damp air seemed to gnaw at one's
vocal cords. They took a light and explored among the pillars, finding
here and there places where people had lain on straw. "There is no one
here," said the watchman. Pelle called, and heard a feeble sound as of
one clearing his throat. Far back in the cellars, in one of the cavities
in the wall, Father Lasse was lying on a mattress. "Yes, here I lie,
waiting for death," he whispered. "It won't last much longer now; the
rats have begun to sniff about me already." The cold, damp air had taken
his voice away.
He was altogether in a pitiful condition, but the sight of Pelle put
life into him in so far as he was able to stand on his feet. They took
him over to the "Ark," the old night watchman giving up his room and
going up to Widow Johnsen;--there he slept in the daytime, and at night
went about his duties; a possible arrangement, although there was only
When Lasse was put into a warm bed he lay there shivering; and he was
not quite clear in his mind. Pelle warmed some beer; the old man must go
through a sweating cure; from time to time he sat on the bed and gazed
anxiously at his father. Lasse lay there with his teeth chattering; he
had closed his eyes; now and again he tried to speak, but could not.
The warm drink helped him a little, and the blood flowed once more into
his dead, icy hands, and his voice returned.
"Do you think we are going to have a hard winter?" he said suddenly,
turning on his side.
"We are going on toward the summer now, dear father," Pelle replied.
"But you must not lie with your back uncovered."
"I'm so terribly cold--almost as cold as I was in winter; I wouldn't
care to go through that again. It got into my spine so. Good God, the
poor folks who are at sea!"
"You needn't worry about them--you just think about getting well again;
to-day we've got the sunshine and it's fine weather at sea!"
"Let a little sunshine in here to me, then," said Lasse peevishly.
"There's a great wall in front of the window, father," said Pelle,
bending down over him.
"Well, well, it'll soon be over, the little time that's still left me!
It's all the same to the night watchman--he wakes all night and yet he
doesn't see the sun. That is truly a curious calling! But it is good
that some one should watch over us while we sleep." Lasse rocked his
head restlessly to and fro.
"Yes, otherwise they'd come by night and steal our money," said Pelle
"Yes, that they would!" Lasse tried to laugh. "And how are things going
with you, lad?"
"The negotiations are proceeding; yesterday we held the first meeting."
Lasse laughed until his throat rattled. "So the fine folks couldn't
stomach the smell any longer! Yes, yes, I heard the news of that when I
was lying ill down there in the darkness. At night, when the others came
creeping in, they told me about it; we laughed properly over that idea
of yours. But oughtn't you to be at your meeting?"
"No, I have excused myself--I don't want to sit there squabbling about
the ending of a sentence. Now I'm going to be with you, and then we'll
both make ourselves comfortable."
"I am afraid we shan't have much more joy of one another, lad!"
"But you are quite jolly again now. To-morrow you will see--"
"Ah, no! Death doesn't play false. I couldn't stand that cellar."
"Why did you do it, father? You knew your place at home was waiting for
"Yes, you must forgive my obstinacy, Pelle. But I was too old to be able
to help in the fight, and then I thought at least you won't lay a burden
on them so long as this lasts! So in that way I have borne my share. And
do you really believe that something will come of it?"
"Yes, we are winning--and then the new times will begin for the poor
"Yes, yes; I've no part in such fine things now! It was as though one
served the wicked goblin that stands over the door: Work to-day, eat to-
morrow! And to-morrow never came. What kindness I've known has been from
my own people; a poor bird will pull out its own feathers to cover
another. But I can't complain; I have had bad days, but there are folks
who have had worse. And the women have always been good to me. Bengta
was a grumbler, but she meant it kindly; Karna sacrificed money and
health to me--God be thanked that she didn't live after they took the
farm from me. For I've been a landowner too; I had almost forgotten that
in all my misery! Yes, and old Lise--Begging Lise, as they called her--
she shared bed and board with me! She died of starvation, smart though
she was. Would you believe that? 'Eat!' she used to say; 'we have food
enough!' And I, old devil, I ate the last crust, and suspected nothing,
and in the morning she was lying dead and cold at my side! There was not
a scrap of flesh on her whole body; nothing but skin over dry bones. But
she was one of God's angels! We used to sing together, she and I. Ach,
poor people take the bread out of one another's mouths!"
Lasse lay for a time sunk in memories, and began to sing, with the
gestures he had employed in the courtyard. Pelle held him down and
endeavored to bring him to reason, but the old man thought he was
dealing with the street urchins. When he came to the verse which spoke
of his son he wept.
"Don't cry, father!" said Pelle, quite beside himself, and he laid his
heavy head against that of the old man. "I am with you again!"
Lasse lay still for a time, blinking his eyes, with his hand groping to
and fro over his son's face.
"Yes, you are really here," he said faintly, "and I thought you had gone
away again. Do you know what, Pelle? You have been the whole light of my
life! When you came into the world I was already past the best of my
years; but then you came, and it was as though the sun had been born
anew! 'What may he not bring with him?' I used to think, and I held my
head high in the air. You were no bigger than a pint bottle! 'Perhaps
he'll make his fortune,' I thought, 'and then there'll be a bit of luck
for you as well!' So I thought, and so I've always believed--but now I
must give it up. But I've lived to see you respected. You haven't become
a rich man--well, that need not matter; but the poor speak well of you!
You have fought their battles for them without taking anything to fill
your own belly. Now I understand it, and my old heart rejoices that you
are my son!"
When Lasse fell asleep Pelle lay on the sofa for a while. But he did not
rest long; the old man slept like a bird, opening his eyes every moment.
If he did not see his son close to his bed he lay tossing from side to
side and complaining in a half-slumber. In the middle of the night he
raised his head and held it up in a listening attitude. Pelle awoke.
"What do you want, father?" he asked, as he tumbled onto his feet.
"Ach, I can hear something flowing, far out yonder, beyond the sea-
line.... It is as though the water were pouring into the abyss. But
oughtn't you to go home to Ellen now? I shall be all right alone
overnight, and perhaps she's sitting worrying as to where you are."
"I've sent to Ellen to tell her that I shouldn't be home overnight,"
The old man lay considering his son with a pondering glance, "Are you
happy, too, now?" he asked. "It seems to me as though there is something
about your marriage that ought not to be."
"Yes, father, it's quite all right," Pelle replied in a half-choking
"Well, God be thanked for that! You've got a good wife in Ellen, and she
has given you splendid children. How is Young Lasse? I should dearly
like to see him again before I go from here--there will still be a
"I'll bring him to you early in the morning," said Pelle. "And now you
ought to see if you can't sleep a little, father. It is pitch dark
Lasse turned himself submissively toward the wall. Once he cautiously
turned his head to see if Pelle was sleeping; his eyes could not see
across the room, so he attempted to get out of bed, but fell back with a
"What is it, father?" cried Pelle anxiously, and he was beside him in a
"I only wanted just to see that you'd got something over you in this
cold! But my old limbs won't bear me any more," said the old man, with a
Toward morning he fell into a quiet sleep, and Pelle brought Madam
Johnsen to sit with the old man, while he went home for Young Lasse. It
was no easy thing to do; but the last wish of the old man must be
granted. And he knew that Ellen would not entrust the child to strange
Ellen's frozen expression lit up as he came; an exclamation of joy rose
to her lips, but the sight of his face killed it. "My father lies
dying," he said sadly--"he very much wants to see the boy." She nodded
and quietly busied herself in making the child ready. Pelle stood at the
window gazing out.
It seemed very strange to him that he should be here once more; the
memory of the little household rose to his mind and made him weak. He
must see Little Sister! Ellen led him silently into the bedroom; the
child was sleeping in her cradle; a deep and wonderful peace brooded
over her bright head. Ellen seemed to be nearer to him in this room
here; he felt her compelling eyes upon him. He pulled himself forcibly
together and went into the other room--he had nothing more to do there.
He was a stranger in this home. A thought occurred to him--whether she
was going on with _that_? Although it was nothing to him, the
question would not be suppressed; and he looked about him for some sign
that might be significant. It was a poverty-stricken place; everything
superfluous had vanished. But a shoemaker's sewing machine had made its
appearance, and there was work on it. Strike-breaking work! he thought
mechanically. But not disgraceful--for the first time he was glad to
discover a case of strike-breaking. She had also begun to take in
sewing--and she looked thoroughly overworked. This gave him downright
"The boy is ready to go with you now," she said.
Pelle cast a farewell glance over the room. "Is there anything you
need?" he asked.
"Thanks--I can look after myself," she replied proudly.
"You didn't take the money I sent you on Saturday!"
"I can manage myself--if I can only keep the boy. Don't forget that you
told me once he should always stay with me."
"He must have a mother who can look him in the face--remember that,
"You needn't remind me of that," she replied bitterly.
Lasse was awake when they arrived. "Eh, that's a genuine Karlsen!" he
said. "He takes after our family. Look now, Pelle, boy! He has the same
prominent ears, and he's got the lucky curl on his forehead too! He'll
make his way in the world! I must kiss his little hands--for the hands,
they are our blessing--the only possession we come into the world with.
They say the world will be lifted up by the hands of poor; I should like
to know whether that will be so! I should like to know whether the new
times will come soon now. It's a pity after all that I shan't live to
"You may very well be alive to see it yet, father," said Pelle, who on
the way had bought _The Working Man_, and was now eagerly reading
it. "They are going ahead in full force, and in the next few days the
fight will be over! Then we'll both settle down and be jolly together!"
"No, I shan't live to see that! Death has taken hold of me; he will soon
snatch me away. But if there's anything after it all, it would be fine
if I could sit up there and watch your good fortune coming true. You
have travelled the difficult way, Pelle--Lasse is not stupid! But
perhaps you'll he rewarded by a good position, if you take over the
leadership yourself now. But then you must see that you don't forget the
"That's a long way off yet, father! And then there won't be any more
"You say that so certainly, but poverty is not so easily dealt with--it
has eaten its way in too deep! Young Lasse will perhaps be a grown man
before that comes about. But now you must take the boy away, for it
isn't good that he should see how the old die. He looks so pale--does he
get out into the sun properly?"
"The rich have borrowed the sun--and they've forgotten to pay it back,"
said Pelle bitterly.
Lasse raised his head in the air, as though he were striving against
something. "Yes, yes! It needs good eyes to look into the future, and
mine won't serve me any longer. But now you must go and take the boy
with you. And you mustn't neglect your affairs, you can't outwit death,
however clever you may be." He laid his withered hand on Young Lasse's
head and turned his face to the wall.
Pelle got Madam Johnsen to take the boy home again, so that he himself
could remain with the old man. Their paths had of late years lain so
little together; they had forever been meeting and then leading far
apart. He felt the need of a lingering farewell. While he moved to and
fro, and lit a fire to warm up some food, and did what he could to make
Father Lasse comfortable, he listened to the old man's desultory speech
and let himself drift hack into the careless days of childhood. Like a
deep, tender murmur, like the voice of the earth itself, Lasse's
monotonous speech renewed his childhood; and as it continued, it became
the never-silent speech of the many concerning the conditions of life.
Now, in silence he turned again from the thousands to Father Lasse, and
saw how great a world this tender-hearted old man had supported. He had
always been old and worn-out so long as Pelle could remember. Labor so
soon robs the poor man of his youth and makes his age so long! But this
very frailty endowed him with a superhuman power--that of the father! He
had borne his poverty greatly, without becoming wicked or self-seeking
or narrow; his heart had always been full of the cheerfulness of
sacrifice, and full of tenderness; he had been strong even in his
impotence. Like the Heavenly Father Himself, he had encompassed Pelle's
whole existence with his warm affection, and it would be terrible indeed
when his kindly speech was no longer audible at the back of everything.
His departing soul hovered in ever-expanding circles over the way along
which he had travelled--like the doves when they migrate. Each time he
had recovered a little strength he took up the tale of his life anew.
"There has always been something to rejoice over, you know, but much of
it has been only an aimless struggle. In the days when I knew no better
I managed well enough; but from the moment when you were born my old
mind began to look to the future, and I couldn't feel at peace any more.
There was something about you that seemed like an omen, and since then
it has always stuck in my mind; and my intentions have been restless,
like the Jerusalem shoemaker's. It was as though something had suddenly
given me--poor louse!--the promise of a more beautiful life; and the
memory of that kept on running in my mind. Is it perhaps the longing for
Paradise, out of which they drove us once?--I used to think. If you'll
believe me, I, poor old blunderer as I am, have had splendid dreams of a
beautiful, care-free old age, when my son, with his wife and children,
would come and visit me in my own cozy room, where I could entertain
them a little with everything neat and tidy. I didn't give up hoping for
it even right at the end. I used to go about dreaming of a treasure
which I should find out on the refuse-heaps. Ah, I did so want to be
able to leave you something! I have been able to do so miserably little
"And you say that, who have been father and mother to me? During my
whole childhood you stood behind everything, protecting me; if anything
happened to me I always used to think; 'Father Lasse will soon set that
right!' And when I grew up I found in everything that I undertook that
you were helping me to raise myself. It would have gone but ill indeed
with everything if you hadn't given me such a good inheritance!"
"Do you say that?" cried Lasse proudly. "Shall I truly have done my
share in what you have done for the Cause of the poor? Ah, that sounds
good, in any case! No, but you have been my life, my boy, and I used to
wonder, poor weak man as I was, to see how great my strength was in you!
What I scarcely dared to think of even, you have had the power to do!
And now here I lie, and have not even the strength to die. You must
promise me that you won't burden yourself on my account with anything
that's beyond your ability--you must leave the matter to the poor-law
authorities. I've kept myself clear of them till now, but it was only my
stupid pride. The poor man and the poor-laws belong together after all.
I have learned lately to look at many things differently; and it is good
that I am dying--otherwise I should soon be alive and thinking but have
no power. If these ideas had come to me in the strength of my youth
perhaps I should have done something violent. I hadn't your prudence and
intelligence, to be able to carry eggs in a hop-sack...."
On the morning of the third day there was a change in Lasse, although it
was not easy to say where the alteration lay. Pelle sat at the bedside
reading the last issue of _The Working Man_, when he noticed that
Lasse was gazing at him. "Is there any news?" he asked faintly.
"The negotiations are proceeding," said Pelle, "but it is difficult to
agree upon a basis.... Several times everything has been on the point of
"It's dragging out such a long time," said Lasse dejectedly; "and I
shall die to-day, Pelle. There is something restless inside me, although
I should dearly like to rest a little. It is curious, how we wander
about trying to obtain something different to what we have! As a little
boy at home in Tommelilla I used to run round a well; I used to run like
one possessed, and I believed if I only ran properly I should be able to
catch my own heels! And now I've done it; for now there is always some
one in front of me, so that I can't go forward, and it's old Lasse
himself who is stopping the way! I am always thinking I must overtake
him, but I can't find my old views of the world again, they have altered
so. On the night when the big employers declared the lock-out I was
standing out there among the many thousands of other poor folks,
listening. They were toasting the resolution with champagne, and
cheering, and there my opinions were changed! It's strange how things
are in this world. Down in the granary cellar there lay a mason who had
built one of the finest palaces in the capital, and he hadn't even a
roof over his head."
A sharp line that had never been there before appeared round his mouth.
It became difficult for him to speak, but he could not stop. "Whatever
you do, never believe the clergy," he continued, when he had gathered a
little strength. "That has been my disadvantage--I began to think over
things too late. We mustn't grumble, they say, for one thing has
naturally grown out of another, big things out of little, and all
together depends on God's will. According to that our vermin must
finally become thorough-bred horse for the rich--and God knows I believe
that is possible! They have begun by sucking the blood of poverty--but
only see how they prance in front of the carriage! Ah, yes--how will the
new period take shape? What do you think about it?"
"It will be good for us all, father," replied Pelle, with anxiety in his
voice. "But it will be sad for me, because you will no longer have your
part in it all. But you shall have a fine resting-place, and I will give
you a great stone of Bornholm granite, with a beautiful inscription."
"You must put on the stone: 'Work to-day, eat to-morrow!'" replied Lasse
All day long he lay there in a half-sleep. But in the evening twilight
he raised his head. "Are those the angels I hear singing?" he whispered.
The ring had gone out of his voice.
"No, those are the little children of the factory women, their mothers
will be coming home directly to give them the breast; then they'll
Lasse sighed. "That will be poor food if they have to work all day. They
say the rich folks drink wine at twelve and fifteen kroner a bottle;
that sounds as if they take the milk away from the little children and
turn it into costly liquors."
He lay there whispering; Pelle had to bend his head till it was almost
against his mouth. "Hand in hand we've wandered hither, lad, yet each
has gone his own way. You are going the way of youth, and Lasse--but you
have given me much joy."
Then the loving spirit, which for Pelle had burned always clear and
untroubled amid all vicissitudes, was extinguished. It was as though
Providence had turned its face from him; life collapsed and sank into
space, and he found himself sitting on a chair--alone. All night long he
sat there motionless beside the body, staring with vacant eyes into the
incomprehensible, while his thoughts whispered sadly to the dead of all
that he had been. He did not move, but himself sat like a dead man,
until Madam Johnsen came in the morning to ask how matters were
Then he awoke and went out, in order to make such arrangements as were
On Saturday, at noon, it was reported that the treaty of peace was
signed, and that the great strike was over. The rumor spread through the
capital with incredible speed, finding its way everywhere. "Have you
heard yet? Have you heard yet? Peace is concluded!" The poor were busy
again; they lay huddled together no longer, but came out into the light
of day, their lean faces full of sunlight. The women got out their
baskets and sent the children running to make a few purchases for
Sunday--for now the grocer would give them a little credit! People
smiled and chattered and borrowed a little happiness! Summer had come,
and a monstrous accumulation of work was waiting to be done, and at last
they were going to set to work in real earnest! The news was shouted
from one back door to the next; people threw down what they had in their
hands and ran on with the news. It occurred to no one to stand still and
to doubt; they were only too willing to believe!
Later in the afternoon _The Working Man_ issued a board-sheet
confirming the rumor. Yes, it was really true! And it was a victory; the
right of combination was recognized, and Capital had been taught to
respect the workers as a political factor. It would no longer be
possible to oppress them. And in other respects the _status quo_
"Just think--they've been taught to respect us, and they couldn't refuse
to accept the _status quo!_" And they laughed all over their faces
with joy to think that it was confirmed, although no one knew what it
The men were in the streets; they were flocking to their organizations,
in order to receive orders and to learn the details of the victory. One
would hardly have supposed from their appearance that the victory was
theirs; they had become so accustomed to gloom that it was difficult to
shake it off.
There was a sound of chattering in backyards and on staircases. Work was
to be resumed--beautiful, glorious labor, that meant food and drink and
a little clothing for the body! Yes, and domestic security! No more
chewing the cud over an empty manger; now one could once more throw
one's money about a little, and then, by skimping and saving, with tears
and hardship, make it suffice! To-night father would have something
really good with his bread and butter, and to-morrow, perhaps, they
could go out into the forest with the picnic-basket! Or at all events,
as soon as they had got their best clothes back from the pawn-shop! They
must have a bit of an airing before the winter came, and they had to go
back into pawn! They were so overjoyed at the mere thought of peace that
they quite forgot, for the moment, to demand anything new!
Pelle had taken part in the concluding negotiations; after Father
Lasse's burial he was himself again. Toward evening he was roaming about
the poor quarter of the city, rejoicing in the mood of the people; he
had played such an important part in the bitter struggle of the poor
that he felt the need to share their joy as well. From the North Bridge
he went by way of the Lakes to West Bridge; and everywhere swarms of
people were afoot. In the side-streets by West Bridge all the families
had emerged from their dwellings and established themselves on the front
steps and the pavements; there they sat, bare-headed in the twilight,
gossiping, smoking, and absorbing refreshments. It was the first warm
evening; the sky was a deep blue, and at the end of the street the
darkness was flooded with purple. There was something extravagant about
them all; joy urged their movements to exceed the narrow every-day
limits, and made them stammer and stagger as though slightly
Now they could all make their appearance again, all those families that
had hidden themselves during the time of want; they were just as ragged,
but that was of no consequence now! They were beaming with proud delight
to think that they had come through the conflict without turning to any
one for help; and the battles fought out in the darkness were forgotten.
Pelle had reached the open ground by the Gasworks Harbor; he wanted to
go over to see his old friends in the "Ark." Yonder it lay, lifting its
glowing mass into the deep night of the eastern sky. The red of the
sinking sun fell over it. High overhead, above the crater of the mass,
hung a cloud of vapor, like a shadow on the evening sky. Pelle, as he
wandered, had been gazing at this streak of shadow; it was the dense
exhalation of all the creatures in the heart of the mass below, the reek
of rotting material and inferior fuel. Now, among other consequences of
victory, there would be a thorough cleansing of the dens of poverty. A
dream floated before him, of comfortable little dwellings for the
workers, each with its little garden and its well-weeded paths. It would
repay a man then to go home after the day's fatigue!
It seemed to him that the streak of smoke yonder was growing denser and
denser. Or were his eyes merely exaggerating that which was occupying
his thoughts? He stood still, gazing--then he began to run. A red light
was striking upward against the cloud of smoke--touched a moment, and
disappeared; and a fresh mass of smoke unrolled itself, and hung
brooding heavily overhead.
Pelle rushed across the Staple Square, and over the long bridge. Only
too well did he know the terrible bulk of the "Ark"--and there was no
other exit than the tunnel! And the timber-work, which provided the sole
access to the upper stories! As he ran he could see it all clearly
before his eyes, and his mind began to search for means of rescue. The
fire brigade was of course given the alarm at once, but it would take
time to get the engines here, and it was all a matter of minutes! If the
timber staging fell and the tunnel were choked all the inmates would be
lost--and the "Ark" did not possess a single emergency-ladder!
Outside, in front of the "Ark," was a restless crowd of people, all
shouting together. "Here comes Pelle!" cried some one. At once they were
all silent, and turned their faces toward him. "Fetch the fire-escape
from the prison!" he shouted to some of the men in passing, and ran to
From the long corridors on the ground floor the inmates were rushing out
with their little children in their arms. Some were dragging valueless
possessions--the first things they could lay hands on. All that was left
of the timber-work after the wreckage of the terrible winter was now
brightly blazing. Pelle tried to run up the burning stairs, but fell
through. The inmates were hanging half out of their windows, staring
down with eyes full of madness; every moment they ran out onto the
platforms in an effort to get down, but always ran shrieking back.
At her third-story window Widow Johnsen stood wailing, with her
grandchild and the factory-girl's little Paul in her arms. Hanne's
little daughter stared silently out of the window, with the deep,
wondering gaze of her mother. "Don't be afraid," Pelle shouted to the
old woman; "we are coming to help you now!" When little Paul caught
sight of Pelle he wrenched himself away from Madam Johnsen and ran out
onto the gallery. He jumped right down, lay for a moment on the
flagstones, turned round and round, quite confused, and then, like a
flash of lightning, he rushed by Pelle and out into the street.
Pelle sent a few of the men into the long corridor, to see whether all
were out. "Break in the closed doors," he said; "there may possibly be
children or sick people inside." The inmates of the first and second
stories had saved themselves before the fire had got a hold on the
Pelle himself ran up the main staircase up to the lofts and under the
roof, in order to go to the assistance of the inmates of the
outbuildings over the attics. But he was met by the inmates of the long
roof-walk. "You can't get through any longer," said the old rag-picker;
"Pipman's whole garret is burning, and there are no more up here. God in
heaven have mercy on the poor souls over there!"
In spite of this, Pelle tried to find a way over the attics, but was
forced to turn back.
The men had fetched the fire-escape, and had with difficulty brought it
through the entry and had set it up! The burning timbers were beginning
to fall; fragments of burning woodwork lay all around, and at any moment
the whole building might collapse with a crash. But there was no time to
think of one's self. The smoke was rolling out of Vinslev's corridor and
filling the yard. There was need of haste.
"Of course, it was the lunatic who started the fire," said the men, as
they held the ladder.
It reached only to the second story, but Pelle threw a rope up to Madam
Johnsen, and she fastened it to the window-frame, so that he was able to
clamber up. With the rope he lowered first the child and then the old
woman to his comrades below, who were standing on the ladder to receive
them. The smoke was smarting in his eyes and throat, and all but stifled
him; he could see nothing, but he heard a horrible shrieking all about
Just above him a woman was wailing. "Oh, Pelle, help me!" she whimpered,
half choking. It was the timid seamstress, who had moved thither; he
recognized her emotional voice. "She loves me!" suddenly flashed upon
"Catch the rope and fasten it well to the window-frame, and I'll come up
and help you!" he said, and he swung the end of the rope up toward the
fourth story. But at the same moment a wild shriek rang out. A dark mass
flew past his head and struck the flagstones with a dull thud. The
flames darted hissing from the window, as though to reach after her, and
then drew back.
For a moment he hung stupefied over the window-sill. This was too
horrible. Was it not her gentle voice that he now heard singing with
him? And then the timbers fell with a long cracking sound, and a cloud
of hot ashes rose in the air and filled the lungs as with fire. "Come
down!" cried his comrades, "the ladder is burning!"
A deafening, long-drawn ringing told him that the fire-brigade was near
But in the midst of all the uproar Pelle's ears had heard a faint,
intermittent sound. With one leap he was in Madam Johnsen's room; he
stood there listening; the crying of a child reached him from the other
side of the wall, where the rooms opened on to the inner corridor. It
was horrible to hear it and to stand there and be able to do nothing. A
wall lay between, and there was no thoroughfare on the other side. In
the court below they were shouting his name. Devil take them, he would
come when he was ready. There he stood, obstinate and apathetic, held
there by that complaining, childish voice. A blind fury arose in him;
sullenly he set his shoulder against that accursed wall, and prepared
himself for the shock. But the wall was giving! Yet again he charged it
--a terrible blow--and part of the barrier was down!
He was met by a rush of stifling heat and smoke; he had to hold his
breath and cover his face with his hands as he pressed forward. A little
child lay there in a cradle. He stumbled over to it and groped his way
back to the wall. The fire, now that it had access to the air, suddenly
leaped at him with an explosive force that made him stagger. He felt as
though a thirsty bull had licked his cheek. It bellowed at his heels
with a voice of thunder, but was silent when he slammed the door. Half
choking he found his way to the window and tried to shout to those
below, but he had no voice left; only a hoarse whisper came from his
Well, there he stood, with a child in his arms, and he was going to die!
But that didn't matter--he had got through the wall! Behind him the fire
was pressing forward; it had eaten a small hole through the door, and
had thus created the necessary draught. The hole grew larger; sparks
rose as under a pair of bellows, and a dry, burning heat blew through
the opening. Small, almost imperceptible flames were dancing over the
polished surface; very soon the whole door would burst into a blaze. His
clothes smelt of singeing; his hands were curiously dry like decaying
wood, and he felt as if the hair at the back of his head was curling.
And down below they were shouting his name. But all that was of no
consequence; only his head was so heavy with the smoke and heat! He felt
that he was on the point of falling. Was the child still alive? he
wondered. But he dared not look to see; he had spread his jacket over
its face in order to protect it.
He clutched the window-frame, and directed his dying thoughts toward
Ellen and the children. Why was he not with them? What nonsense had it
been that induced him to leave them? He could no longer recollect; but
if it had not been all up with him now he would have hurried home to
them, to play with Young Lasse. But now he must die; in a moment he
would fall, suffocated--even before the flames could reach him.
There was some slight satisfaction in that--it was as though he had
played a trick on some one.
Suddenly something shot up before his dying gaze and called him back. It
was the end of a fire-escape, and a fireman rose out of the smoke just
in front of him, seized the child, and handed it down. Pelle stood there
wrestling with the idea that he must move from where he was; but before
it had passed through his mind a fireman had seized him by the scruff of
his neck and had run down the ladder with him.
The fresh air aroused him. He sprang up from the stretcher on which the
fireman had laid him and looked excitedly about him. At the same moment
the people began quite senselessly to shout his name and to clap their
hands, and Madam Johnsen pushed her way through the barrier and threw
herself upon him. "Pelle!" she cried, weeping; "oh, you are alive,
"Yes, of course I'm alive--but that's nothing to cry about."
"No, but we thought you were caught in there. But how you look, you poor
boy!" She took him with her to a working-man's home, and helped him to
set himself to rights. When he had once seen a looking-glass he
understood! He was unrecognizable, what with smoke and ashes, which had
burnt themselves into his skin and would not come off. And under the
grime there was a bad burn on one of his cheeks. He went to one of the
firemen and had a plaster applied.
"You really want a pair of eyebrows too," said the fireman. "You've been
properly in the fire, haven't you?"
"Why did the fire-engines take so long?" asked Pelle.
"Long? They were ten minutes getting here after the alarm was given. We
got the alarm at eight, and now it's half-past."
Pelle was silent; he was quite taken aback; he felt as though the whole
night must have gone by, so much had happened. Half an hour--and in that
time he had helped to snatch several people out of the claws of death
and had seen others fall into them. And he himself was singed by the
close passage of death! The knowledge was lurking somewhere at the back
of his mind, an accomplished but elusive fact; when he clenched his fist
cracks appeared in the skin, and his clothes smelt like burnt horn. In
the court the firemen were working unceasingly.
Some, from the tops of their ladders in the court, were pouring streams
of water upon the flames; others were forcing their way into the body of
the building and searching the rooms; and from time to time a fireman
made his appearance carrying a charred body. Then the inmates of the
"Ark" were called inside the barrier in order to identify the body. They
hurried weeping through the crowd, seeking one another; it was
impossible for the police to assemble them or to ascertain how many had
failed to escape.
Suddenly all eyes were directed toward the roof of the front portion of
the building, where the fire had not as yet entirely prevailed. There
stood the crazy Vinslev, playing on his flute; and when the cracking of
the fire was muffled for a moment one could hear his crazy music
"Listen! Listen! He is playing the march!" they cried. Yes, he was
playing the march, but it was interwoven with his own fantasies, so that
the well-known melody sounded quite insane on Vinslev's flute.
The firemen erected a ladder and ran up to the roof in order to save
him, but he fled before them. When he could go no farther he leaped into
the sea of flame.
The market-place and the banks of the canal were thick with people;
shoulder to shoulder they stood there, gazing at the voluptuous
spectacle of the burning "Ark." The grime and poverty and the reek of
centuries were going up in flames. How it rustled and blazed and
crackled! The crowd was in the best of spirits owing to the victory of
Labor; no one had been much inclined to sleep that night; and here was a
truly remarkable display of fireworks, a magnificent illumination in
honor of the victory of the poor! There were admiring cries of "Ah!"
people hissed in imitation of the sound of rockets and clapped their
hands when the flames leaped up or a roof crashed in.
Pelle moved about in the crowd, collecting the bewildered inmates of the
"Ark" by the gates of the prison, so that those who had relatives could
find them. They were weeping, and it was difficult to console them.
Alas, now the "Ark" was burnt, the beloved place of refuge for so many
ruined souls! "How can you take it to heart so?" said Pelle consolingly.
"You will be lodged overnight by the city, and afterward you will move
into proper dwelling-houses, where everything is clean and new. And you
needn't cry over your possessions, I'll soon get up a collection, and
you'll have better things than you had before."
Nevertheless they wept; like homeless wild beasts they whimpered and
rambled restlessly to and fro, seeking for they knew not what. Their
forest fastness, their glorious hiding-place, was burning! What was all
the rest of the city to them? It was not for them; it was as though
there was no place of refuge left for them in all the world! Every
moment a few of them slipped away, seeking again to enter the site of
the fire, like horses that seek to return to the burning stable. Pelle
might have spared his efforts at consolation; they were races apart, a
different species of humanity. In the dark, impenetrable entrails of the
"Ark" they had made for themselves a world of poverty and extremest
want; and they had been as fantastically gay in their careless existence
as though their world had been one of wealth and fortune. And now it was
all going up in flame!
The fire was unsparing; its purifying flames could not be withstood. The
flames tore off great sheets of the old wallpapers and flung them out
half-burned into the street. There were many layers pasted together,
many colors and patterns, one dimly showing through another, making the
most curious and fantastic pictures. And on the reverse side of these
sheets was a layer as of coagulated blood; this was the charred remnant
of the mysterious world of cupboards and chimney-corners, the fauna of
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