Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 2 out of 23
his Sunday devotions, taking out slowly, one after another, all
the little things he had brought from the broken-up home. They
were all purely useful things--balls of cotton, scraps of stuff,
and such-like, that were to be used to keep his own and the boy's
clothes in order; but to him each thing was a relic to be handled
with care, and his heart bled every time one of them came to an
end. With each article he laid down, he slowly repeated what Bengta
had said it was for when she lay dying and was trying to arrange
everything for him and the boy: "Wool for the boy's gray socks.
Pieces to lengthen the sleeves of his Sunday jacket. Mind you don't
wear your stockings too long before you mend them." They were the
last wishes of the dying woman, and they were followed in the
smallest detail. Lasse remembered them word for word, in spite
of his bad memory.
Then there were little things that had belonged to Bengta herself,
cheap finery that all had its happy memory of fairs and holidays,
which he recalled in his muttered reverie.
Pelle liked this subdued murmur that he did not need to listen to
or answer, and that was so pleasant to doze off in. He lay looking
out sleepily at the bright sky, tired and with a vague feeling of
something unpleasant that was past.
Suddenly he started. He had heard the door of the cow-stable open,
and steps upon the long foddering-passage. It was the pupil. He
recognized the hated step at once.
He thrilled with delight. Now that fellow would be made to
understand that he mustn't do anything to boys with fathers who
could hold a man out at arm's length and scold! oh, much worse
than the bailiff. He sat up and looked eagerly at his father.
"Lasse!" came a voice from the end of the tables.
The old man growled sullenly, stirred uneasily, but did not rise.
"Las-se!" came again, after a little, impatiently and in a tone
"Yes," said Lasse slowly, rising and going out.
"Can't you answer when you're called, you old Swedish rascal? Are
"Oh, I can answer well enough," said Lasse, in a trembling voice.
"But Mr. Pupil oughtn't to--I'm a father, let me tell you--and
a father's heart----"
"You may be a monthly nurse for all I care, but you've got to
answer when you're called, or else I'll get the bailiff to give
you a talking-to. Do you understand?"
"Yes, oh yes!--Mr. Pupil must excuse me, but I didn't hear."
"Well, will you please remember that Aspasia's not to go out
to pasture to-morrow."
"Is she going to calve?"
"Yes, of course! Did you think she was going to foal?"
Lasse laughed, as in duty bound, and followed the pupil back through
the stable. Now it would come, thought Pelle, and sat listening
intently; but he only heard his father make another excuse, close
the half-door, and come back with slow, tottering steps. Then he
burst into tears, and crept far in under the quilt.
Lasse went about for some time, grumbling to himself, and at last
came and gently drew the quilt down from the boy's head. But Pelle
buried his face in the clothes, and when his father turned it up
toward him, he met a despairing, uncomprehending gaze that made his
own wander restlessly round the room.
"Yes," he said, with an attempt at being cross. "It's all very well
for you to cry! But when you don't know where Aspasia stands, you've
got to be civil, I'm thinking."
"I know Aspasia quite well," sobbed the boy. "She's the third from
the door here."
Lasse was going to give a cross answer, but broke down, touched and
disarmed by the boy's grief. He surrendered unconditionally, stooped
down until his forehead touched the boy's, and said helplessly,
"Yes, Lasse's a poor thing--old and poor! Any one can make a fool
of him. He can't be angry any more, and there's no strength in his
fist, so what's the good of clenching it! He has to put up with
everything, and let himself be hustled about--and say thank you into
the bargain--that's how it is with old Lasse. But you must remember
that it's for your sake he lets himself be put upon. If it wasn't
for you, he'd shoulder his pack and go--old though he is. But you
can grow on where your father rusts. And now you must leave off
crying!" And he dried the boy's wet eyes with the quilt.
Pelle did not understand his father's words, but they quieted him
nevertheless, and he soon fell asleep; but for a long time he sobbed
as he lay.
Lasse sat still upon the edge of the bed and watched the boy as he
slept, and when he had become quieter, crept away through the stable
and out. It had been a poor Sunday, and now he would go and see if
any of the men were at home and had visitors, for then there would
be spirits going round. Lasse could not find it in his heart to take
any of his wages to buy a dram with; that money would have quite
enough to do to buy bare necessaries.
On one of the beds lay a man asleep, fully dressed, and with his
boots on. He was dead drunk. All the others were out, so Lasse had
to give up all thoughts of a dram, and went across to the basement
to see if there was any gaiety going among the maids. He was not
at all averse to enjoyment of one sort or another, now that he was
free and his own master as he had been in the days of his youth.
Up by the dairy stood the three farm-laborers' wives who used to do
the milking for the girls on Sunday evening. They were thick-set,
small, and bent with toil. They were all talking together and spoke
of illnesses and other sad things in plaintive tones. Lasse at once
felt a desire to join them, for the subject found an echo in his
being like the tones of a well-known song, and he could join in
the refrain with the experience of a lifetime. But he resisted the
temptation, and went past them down the basement steps. "Ah, yes,
death will come to us all!" said one of the women, and Lasse said
the words after her to himself as he went down.
Down there Karna was sitting mending Gustav's moleskin trousers,
while Gustav lay upon the bench asleep with his cap over his face.
He had put his feet up on Karna's lap, without so much as taking
off his shoes; and she had accommodated her lap, so that they
should not slide off.
Lasse sat down beside her and tried to make himself agreeable. He
wanted some one to be nice to him. But Karna was unapproachable;
those dirty feet had quite turned her head. And either Lasse had
forgotten how to do it, or he was wanting in assurance, for every
time he attempted a pleasant speech, she turned it off.
"We might have such a comfortable time, we two elderly folk," he
"Yes, and I could contribute what was wanting," said Gustav, peeping
out from under his cap. Insolent puppy, lying there and boasting of
his seventeen years! Lasse had a good mind to go for him then and
there and chance yet one more trial of strength. But he contented
himself with sitting and looking at him until his red, lashless eyes
grew watery. Then he got up.
"Well, well, I see you want young people this evening!" he said
bitterly to Karna. "But you can't get rid of your years, all the
same! Perhaps you'll only get the spoon to lick after the others."
He went across to the cow-stable and began to talk to the three
farm-laborers' wives, who were still speaking of illness and misery
and death, as if nothing else existed in the world. Lasse nodded
and said: "Yes, yes, that's true." He could heartily endorse it all,
and could add much to what they said. It brought warmth to his old
body, and made him feel quite comfortable--so easy in his joints.
But when he lay on his back in bed, all the sad thoughts came back
and he could not sleep. Generally he slept like a log as soon as
he lay down, but to-day was Sunday, and he was tormented with the
thought that life had passed him by. He had promised himself so much
from the island, and it was nothing but worry and toil and trouble
--nothing else at all.
"Yes, Lasse's old!" he suddenly said aloud, and he kept on repeating
the words with a little variation until he fell asleep: "He's old,
poor man--and played out! Ah, so old!" Those words expressed it all.
He was awakened again by singing and shouting up on the high-road.
"And now the boy you gave me
With the black and curly hair,
He is no longer little,
No longer, no longer,
But a fine, tall strapping youth."
It was some of the men and girls of the farm on their way home from
some entertainment. When they turned into the farm road they became
silent. It was just beginning to grow light; it must have been about
At four, Lasse and Pelle were dressed and were opening the
cow-stable doors on the field side. The earth was rolling off its
white covering of night mist, and the morning rose prophetically.
Lasse stood still in the doorway, yawning, and making up his mind
about the weather for the day; but Pelle let the soft tones of the
wind and the song of the lark--all that was stirring--beat upon
his little heart. With open mouth and doubtful eyes he gazed into
the incomprehensible as represented by each new day with all its
unimagined possibilities. "To-day you must take your coat with you,
for we shall have rain about midday," Lasse would then say; and
Pelle peered into the sky to find out where his father got his
knowledge from. For it generally came true.
They then set about cleaning out the dung in the cow-stable, Pelle
scraping the floor under the cows and sweeping it up, Lasse filling
the wheelbarrow and wheeling it out. At half-past five they ate
their morning meal of salt herring and porridge.
After that Pelle set out with the young cattle, his dinner basket
on his arm, and his whip wound several times round his neck. His
father had made him a short, thick stick with rings on it, that
he could rattle admonishingly and throw at the animals; but Pelle
preferred the whip, because he was not yet strong enough to use it.
He was little, and at first he had some difficulty in making an
impression upon the great forces over which he was placed. He could
not get his voice to sound sufficiently terrifying, and on the way
out from the farm he had hard work, especially up near the farm,
where the corn stood high on both sides of the field-road. The
animals were hungry in the morning, and the big bullocks did not
trouble to move when once they had their noses buried in the corn
and he stood belaboring them with the short handle of the cattle-
whip. The twelve-foot lash, which, in a practised hand, left little
triangular marks in the animal's hide, he could not manage at all;
and if he kicked the bullock on the head with his wooden shoe, it
only closed its eyes good-naturedly, and browsed on sedately with
its back to him. Then he would break into a despairing roar, or
into little fits of rage in which he attacked the animal blindly
and tried to get at its eyes; but it was all equally useless. He
could always make the calves move by twisting their tails, but
the bullocks' tails were too strong.
He did not cry, however, for long at a time over the failure of his
resources. One evening he got his father to put a spike into the toe
of one of his wooden shoes, and after that his kick was respected.
Partly by himself, and partly through Rud, he also learned where to
find the places on the animals where it hurt most. The cow-calves
and the two bull-calves all had their particular tender spot, and
a well-directed blow upon a horn could make even the large bullocks
bellow with pain.
The driving out was hard work, but the herding itself was easy.
When once the cattle were quietly grazing, he felt like a general,
and made his voice sound out incessantly over the meadow, while his
little body swelled with pride and a sense of power.
Being away from his father was a trouble to him. He did not go home
to dinner, and often in the middle of his play, despair would come
over him and he would imagine that something had happened to his
father, that the great bull had tossed him or something else; and
he would leave everything, and start running homeward crying, but
would remember in time the bailiff's whip, and trudge back again.
He found a remedy for his longing by stationing himself so that he
could keep a lookout on the fields up there, and see his father when
he went out to move the dairy-cows.
He taught himself to whittle boats and little rakes and hoes and
decorate sticks with patterns cut upon the bark. He was clever with
his knife and made diligent use of it. He would also stand for hours
on the top of a monolith--he thought it was a gate-post--and try
to crack his cattle-whip like a pistol-shot. He had to climb to a
height to get the lash off the ground at all.
When the animals lay down in the middle of the morning, he was often
tired too, and then he would seat himself upon the head of one of
the big bullocks, and hold on to the points of its horns; and while
the animal lay chewing with a gentle vibration like a machine, he
sat upon its head and shouted at the top of his voice songs about
blighted affections and horrible massacres.
Toward midday Rud came running up, as hungry as a hunter. His mother
sent him out of the house when the hour for a meal drew near. Pelle
shared the contents of his basket with him, but required him to
bring the animals together a certain number of times for every
portion of food. The two boys could not exist apart for a whole day
together. They tumbled about in the field like two puppies, fought
and made it up again twenty times a day, swore the most fearful
threats of vengeance that should come in the shape of this or that
grown-up person, and the next moment had their arms round one
About half-a-mile of sand-dunes separated the Stone Farm fields
from the sea. Within this belt of sand the land was stony and
afforded poor grazing; but on both sides of the brook a strip of
green meadow-land ran down among the dunes, which were covered with
dwarf firs and grass-wrack to bind the sand. The best grazing was on
this meadow-land, but it was hard work minding both sides of it, as
the brook ran between; and it had been impressed upon the boy with
severe threats, that no animal must set its foot upon the dune-land,
as the smallest opening might cause a sand-drift. Pelle took the
matter quite literally, and all that summer imagined something like
an explosion that would make everything fly into the air the instant
an animal trod upon it; and this possibility hung like a fate at the
back of everything when he herded down there. When Rud came and they
wanted to play, he drove the cattle up on to the poor pasture where
there was plenty of room for them.
When the sun shone the boys ran about naked. They dared not venture
down to the sea for fear of the bailiff, who, they were sure, always
stood up in the attic of the big house, and watched Pelle through
his telescope; but they bathed in the brook--in and out of the water
continually for hours together.
After heavy rain it became swollen, and was then quite milky from
the china clay that it washed away from the banks farther up. The
boys thought it was milk from an enormous farm far up in the island.
At high water the sea ran up and filled the brook with decaying
seaweed that colored the water crimson; and this was the blood of
all the people drowned out in the sea.
Between their bathes they lay under the dunes and let the sun dry
them. They made a minute examination of their bodies, and discussed
the use and intention of the various parts. Upon this head Rud's
knowledge was superior, and he took the part of instructor. They
often quarrelled as to which of them was the best equipped in
one way or another--in other words, had the largest. Pelle, for
instance, envied Rud his disproportionately large head.
Pelle was a well-built little fellow, and had put on flesh since
he had come to Stone Farm. His glossy skin was stretched smoothly
over his body, and was of a warm, sunburnt color. Rud had a thin
neck in proportion to his head, and his forehead was angular and
covered with scars, the results of innumerable falls. He had not
full command of all his limbs, and was always knocking and bruising
himself; there were blue, livid patches all over him that were slow
to disappear, for he had flesh that did not heal easily. But he was
not so open in his envy as Pelle. He asserted himself by boasting of
his defects until he made them out to be sheer achievements; so that
Pelle ended by envying him everything from the bottom of his heart.
Rud had not Pelle's quick perception of things, but he had more
instinct, and on certain points possessed quite a talent in
anticipating what Pelle only learned by experience. He was already
avaricious to a certain extent, and suspicious without connecting
any definite thoughts with it. He ate the lion's share of the food,
and had a variety of ways of getting out of doing the work.
Behind their play there lay, clothed in the most childish forms,
a struggle for the supremacy, and for the present Pelle was the one
who came off second best. In an emergency, Rud always knew how to
appeal to his good qualities and turn them to his own advantage.
And through all this they were the best friends in the world, and
were quite inseparable. Pelle was always looking toward "the Sow's"
cottage when he was alone, and Rud ran off from home as soon as he
saw his opportunity.
* * * * *
It had rained hard in the course of the morning, in spite of Lasse,
and Pelle was wet through. Now the blue-black cloud was drawing
away over the sea, and the boats lay in the middle of it with all
their red sails set, and yet motionless. The sunlight flashed and
glittered on wet surfaces, making everything look bright; and Pelle
hung his clothes on a dwarf fir to dry.
He was cold, and crept close up to Peter, the biggest of the
bullocks, as he lay chewing the cud. The animal was steaming, but
Pelle could not bring warmth into his extremities, where the cold
had taken hold. His teeth chattered, too, and he was shivering.
And even now there was one of the cows that would not let him have
any peace. Every time he had snuggled right in under the bullock
and was beginning to get a little warmer, the cow strayed away over
the northern boundary. There was nothing but sand there, but when
it was a calf there had been a patch of mixed crops, and it still
It was one of two cows that had been turned out of the dairy-herd on
account of their dryness. They were ill-tempered creatures, always
discontented and doing some mischief or other; and Pelle detested
them heartily. They were two regular termagants, upon which even
thrashing made no impression. The one was a savage beast, that would
suddenly begin stamping and bellowing like a mad bull in the middle
of grazing, and, if Pelle went toward it, wanted to toss him; and
when it saw its opportunity, it would eat up the cloth in which
Pelle's dinner was wrapped. The other was old and had crumpled horns
that pointed in toward its eyes, one of which had a white pupil.
It was the noisy one that was now at its tricks. Every other minute
Pelle had to get up and shout: "Hi, Blakka, you villainous beast!
Just you come back!" He was hoarse with anger, and at last his
patience gave way, and he caught up a big stick and began to chase
the cow. As soon as it saw his intention, it set off at a run up
toward the farm, and Pelle had to make a wide circle to turn it down
to the herd again. Then it ran at full gallop in and out among the
other animals, the herd became confused and ran hither and thither,
and Pelle had to relinquish his pursuit for a time while he gathered
them together. But then he began again at once. He was boiling with
rage, and leaped about like an indiarubber ball, his naked body
flashing in loops and curves upon the green grass. He was only a few
yards from the cow, but the distance remained the same; he could not
catch her up to-day.
He stopped up by the rye-field, and the cow stood still almost at
the same moment. It snapped at a few ears, and moved its head slowly
to choose its direction. In a couple of leaps Pelle was up to it
and had hold of its tail. He hit it over the nose with his cudgel,
it turned quickly away from the rye, and set off at a flying pace
down toward the others, while blows rained down upon its bony
prominences. Every stroke echoed back from the dunes like blows upon
the trunk of a tree, and made Pelle swell with pride. The cow tried
to shake Pelle off as it ran, but he was not to be got rid of; it
crossed the brook in long bounds, backward and forward, with Pelle
almost floating through the air; but the blows continued to rain
down upon it. Then it grew tired and began to slacken its pace;
and at last it came to a standstill, coughed, and resigned itself
to the thrashing.
Pelle threw himself flat upon his face, and panted. Ha, ha!
_That_ had made him warm! Now that beast should--He rolled
suddenly over on to his side with a start. The bailiff! But it was
a strange man with a beard who stood over him, looking at him with
serious eyes. The stranger went on gazing at him for a long time
without saying anything, and Pelle grew more and more uneasy under
his scrutiny; he had the sun right in his eyes too, if he tried to
return the man's gaze, and the cow still stood there coughing.
"What do you think the bailiff will say?" asked the man at last,
"I don't think he's seen it," whispered Pelle, looking timidly
"But God has seen it, for He sees everything. And He has led me here
to stop the evil in you while there's still time. Wouldn't you like
to be God's child?" The man sat down beside him and took his hand.
Pelle sat tugging at the grass and wishing he had had his clothes
"And you must never forget that God sees everything you do; even in
the darkest night He sees. We are always walking in God's sight. But
come now, it's unseemly to run about naked!" And the man took him
by the hand and led him to his clothes, and then, going across to
the north side, he gathered the herd together while Pelle dressed
himself. The wicked cow was over there again already, and had drawn
a few of the others after it. Pelle watched the man in surprise;
he drove the animals back quite quietly, neither using stones nor
shouting. Before he got back, Blakka had once more crossed the
boundary; but he turned and brought her back again just as gently
"That's not an easy cow to manage," he said kindly, when he
returned; "but you've got young legs. Shan't we agree to burn
that?" he asked, picking up the thick cudgel, "and do what we have
to do with just our hands? God will always help you when you're
in difficulties. And if you want to be a true child of God, you
must tell the bailiff this evening what you did--and take your
punishment." He placed his hand upon Pelle's head, and looked at
him with that unendurable gaze; and then he left him, taking the
stick with him.
For a long time Pelle followed him with his eyes. So that was what
a man looked like, who was sent by God to warn you! Now he knew,
and it would be some time before he chased a cow like that again.
But go to the bailiff, and tell of himself, and get the whip-lash
on his bare legs? Not if he knew it! Rather than that, God would
have to be angry--if it was really true that He could see
everything? It couldn't be worse than the bailiff, anyhow.
All that morning he was very quiet. He felt the man's eyes upon
him in everything he did, and it robbed him of his confidence. He
silently tested things, and saw everything in a new light; it was
best not to make a noise, if you were always walking in the sight
of God. He did not go on cracking his cattle-whip, but meditated
a little on whether he should burn that too.
But a little before midday Rud appeared, and the whole incident
was forgotten. Rud was smoking a bit of cane that he had cut off
the piece his mother used for cleaning the stove-pipes, and Pelle
bartered some of his dinner for a few pulls at it. First they seated
themselves astride the bullock Cupid, which was lying chewing the
cud. It went on calmly chewing with closed eyes, until Rud put the
glowing cane to the root of its tail, when it rose hastily, both
boys rolling over its head. They laughed and boasted to one another
of the somersault they had turned, as they went up on to the high
ground to look for blackberries. Thence they went to some birds'
nests in the small firs, and last of all they set about their best
game--digging up mice-nests.
Pelle knew every mouse-hole in the meadow, and they lay down and
examined them carefully. "Here's one that has mice in it," said Rud.
"Look, here's their dunghill!"
"Yes, that smells of mouse," said Pelle, putting his nose to the
hole. "And the blades of grass turn outward, so the old ones must
With Pelle's knife they cut away the turf, and set to work eagerly
to dig with two pieces of pot. The soil flew about their heads as
they talked and laughed.
"My word, how fast we're getting on!"
"Yes; Strom couldn't work as fast!" Strom was a famous worker who
got twenty-five ores a day more than other autumn farm-hands, and
his example was used as an incentive to coax work out of the
"We shall soon get right into the inside of the earth."
"Well, but it's burning hot in there."
"Oh, nonsense: is it?" Pelle paused doubtfully in his digging.
"Yes, the schoolmaster says so."
The boys hesitated and put their hands down into the hole. Yes,
it was warm at the bottom--so warm that Pelle found it necessary
to pull out his hand and say: "Oh, my word!" They considered a
little, and then went on scraping out the hole as carefully as if
their lives depended on it. In a little while straw appeared in
the passage, and in a moment the internal heat of the earth was
forgotten. In less than a minute they had uncovered the nest, and
laid the little pink, new-born mice out on the grass. They looked
like half-hatched birds.
"They _are_ ugly," said Pelle, who did not quite like taking
hold of them, but was ashamed not to do so. "They're much nastier
to touch than toads. I believe they're poisonous."
Rud lay pinching them between his fingers.
"Poisonous! Don't be silly! Why, they haven't any teeth! There are
no bones in them at all; I'm sure you could eat them quite well."
"Pah! Beastly!" Pelle spat on the ground.
"I shouldn't be at all afraid of biting one; would you?" Rud lifted
a little mouse up toward his mouth.
"Afraid? Of course I'm not afraid--but--" Pelle hesitated.
"No, you're afraid, because you're a blue-bag!"
Now this nickname really only applied to boys who were afraid of
water, but Pelle quickly seized one of the little mice, and held it
up to his mouth, at exactly the same distance from his lips that Rud
was from his. "You can see for yourself!" he cried, in an offended
Rud went on talking, with many gestures.
"You're afraid," he said, "and it's because you're Swedish. But
when you're afraid, you should just shut your eyes--so--and open
your mouth. Then you pretend to put the mouse right into your mouth,
and then--" Rud had his mouth wide open, and held his hand close
to his mouth; Pelle was under his influence, and imitated his
movements--"and then--" Pelle received a blow that sent the little
mouse halfway down his throat. He retched and spat; and then his
hands fumbled in the grass and got hold of a stone. But by the time
he was on his feet and was going to throw it, Rud was far away up
the fields. "I must go home now!" he shouted innocently. "There's
something I've got to help mother with."
Pelle did not love solitude, and the prospect of a blockade
determined him at once for negotiations. He dropped the stone
to show his serious wish for a reconciliation, and had to swear
solemnly that he would not bear malice. Then at last Rud came back,
"I was going to show you something funny with the mouse," he said
by way of diversion; "but you held on to it like an idiot." He did
not venture to come quite close up to Pelle, but stood watching his
Pelle was acquainted with the little white lie when the danger of
a thrashing was imminent, but the lie as an attack was still unknown
to him. If Rud, now that the whole thing was over, said that he
only wanted to have shown him something funny, it must be true. But
then why was he mistrustful? Pelle tried, as he had so often done
before, to bend his little brain round the possible tricks of his
playmate, but failed.
"You may just as well come up close," he said stoutly. "For if I
wanted to, I could easily catch you up."
Rud came. "Now we'll catch big mice." he said. "That's better fun."
They emptied Pelle's milk-bottle, and hunted up a mouse's nest that
appeared to have only two exits, one up in the meadow, the other
halfway down the bank of the stream. Here they pushed in the mouth
of the bottle, and widened the hole in the meadow into a funnel;
and they took it in turns to keep an eye on the bottle, and to carry
water up to the other hole in their caps. It was not long before
a mouse popped out into the bottle, which they then corked.
What should they do with it? Pelle proposed that they should tame it
and train it to draw their little agricultural implements; but Rud,
as usual, got his way--it was to go out sailing.
Where the stream turned, and had hollowed out its bed into a hole
as big as a cauldron, they made an inclined plane and let the bottle
slide down into the water head foremost, like a ship being launched.
They could follow it as it curved under the water until it came up
slantingly, and stood bobbing up and down on the water like a buoy,
with its neck up. The mouse made the funniest leaps up toward the
cork to get out; and the boys jumped up and down on the grass with
"It knows the way it got in quite well!" They imitated its
unsuccessful leaps, lay down again and rolled about in exuberant
mirth. At last, however, the joke became stale.
"Let's take out the cork!" suggested Rud.
"Yes--oh, yes!" Pelle waded quickly in, and was going to set the
mouse at liberty.
"Wait a minute, you donkey!" Rud snatched the bottle from him, and
holding his hand over the mouth, put it back, into the water. "Now
we'll see some fun!" he cried, hastening up the bank.
It was a little while before the mouse discovered that the way was
open, but then it leaped. The leap was unsuccessful, and made the
bottle rock, so that the second leap was slanting and rebounded
sideways. But then followed with lightning rapidity a number of
leaps--a perfect bombardment; and suddenly the mouse flew right
out of the bottle, head foremost into the water.
"That was a leap and a half!" cried Pelle, jumping straight up
and down in the grass, with his arms at his sides. "It could just
squeeze its body through, just exactly!" And he jumped again,
squeezing himself together.
The mouse swam to land, but Rud was there, and pushed it out again
with his foot. "It swam well," he said, laughing. It made for the
opposite bank. "Look out for the fellow!" Rud roared, and Pelle
sprang forward and turned it away from the shore with a good kick.
It swam helplessly backward and forward in the middle of the pool,
seeing one of the two dancing figures every time it approached a
bank, and turning and turning endlessly. It sank deeper and deeper,
its fur becoming wet and dragging it down, until at last it swam
right under water. Suddenly it stretched out its body convulsively,
and sank to the bottom, with all four legs outspread like a wide
Pelle had all at once comprehended the perplexity and helplessness
--perhaps was familiar with it. At the animal's final struggle, he
burst into tears with a little scream, and ran, crying loudly, up
the meadow toward the fir-plantation. In a little while he came back
again. "I really thought Cupid had run away," he said repeatedly,
and carefully avoided looking Rud in the face. Quietly he waded into
the water, and fished up the dead mouse with his foot.
They laid it upon a stone in the sun, so that it might come to life
again. When that failed, Pelle remembered a story about some people
who were drowned in a lake at home, and who came to themselves again
when cannons were fired over them. They clapped their hollowed hands
over the mouse, and when that too brought about no result, they
decided to bury it.
Rud happened to remember that his grandmother in Sweden was being
buried just now, and this made them go about the matter with a
certain amount of solemnity. They made a coffin out of a matchbox,
and ornamented it with moss; and then they lay on their faces and
lowered the coffin into the grave with twine, taking every possible
care that it should not land upon its head. A rope might give way;
such things did sometimes happen, and the illusion did not permit
of their correcting the position of the coffin afterward with their
hands. When this was done, Pelle looked down into his cap, while Rud
prayed over the deceased and cast earth upon the coffin; and then
they made up the grave.
"I only hope it's not in a trance and going to wake up again!"
exclaimed Pelle suddenly. They had both heard many unpleasant
stories of such cases, and went over all the possibilities--how
they woke up and couldn't get any air, and knocked upon the lid,
and began to eat their own hands--until Pelle could distinctly hear
a knocking on the lid below. They had the coffin up in a trice, and
examined the mouse. It had not eaten its forepaws, at any rate, but
it had most decidedly turned over on its side. They buried it again,
putting a dead beetle beside it in the coffin for safety's sake,
and sticking a straw down into the grave to supply it with air.
Then they ornamented the mound, and set up a memorial stone.
"It's dead now!" said Pelle, gravely and with conviction.
"Yes, I should just think so--dead as a herring." Rud had put his
ear to the straw and listened.
"And now it must be up with God in all His glory--right high,
Rud sniffed contemptuously. "Oh, you silly! Do you think it can
crawl up there?"
"Well, can't mice crawl, I should like to know?" Pelle was cross.
"Yes; but not through the air. Only birds can do that."
Pelle felt himself beaten off the field and wanted to be revenged.
"Then your grandmother isn't in heaven, either!" he declared
emphatically. There was still a little rancor in his heart from
the young mouse episode.
But this was more than Rud could stand. It had touched his family
pride, and he gave Pelle a dig in the side with his elbow. The next
moment they were rolling in the grass, holding one another by the
hair, and making awkward attempts to hit one another on the nose
with their clenched fists. They turned over and over like one lump,
now one uppermost, now the other; they hissed hoarsely, groaned and
made tremendous exertions. "I'll make you sneeze red," said Pelle
angrily, as he rose above his adversary; but the next moment he was
down again, with Rud hanging over him and uttering the most fearful
threats about black eyes and seeing stars. Their voices were thick
And suddenly they were sitting opposite one another on the grass
wondering whether they should set up a howl. Rud put out his tongue,
Pelle went a step further and began to laugh, and they were once
more the best of friends. They set up the memorial stone, which had
been overturned in the heat of battle, and then sat down hand in
hand, to rest after the storm, a little quieter than usual.
It was not because there was more evil in Pelle, but because the
question had acquired for him an importance of its own, and he must
understand it, that a meditative expression came into his eyes, and
he said thoughtfully:
"Well, but you've told me yourself that she was paralyzed in
"Well, what if she was?"
"Why, then she couldn't crawl up into heaven."
"Oh, you booby! It's her spirit, of course!"
"Then the mouse's spirit can very well be up there too."
"No, it can't, for mice haven't got any spirit."
"Haven't they? Then how is it they can breathe?" [Footnote: In Danish,
spirit = aand, and to breathe = aande.]
That was one for Rud! And the tiresome part of it was that he
attended Sunday-school. His fists would have come in handy again
now, but his instinct told him that sooner or later Pelle would get
the better of him in fighting. And anyhow his grandmother was saved.
"Yes," he said, yielding; "and it certainly could breathe. Well,
then, it was its spirit flying up that overturned the stone--that's
what it was!"
A distant sound reached them, and far off near the cottage they
could see the figure of a fat woman, beckoning threateningly.
"The Sow's calling you," said Pelle. The two boys never called her
anything but "the Sow" between themselves.
So Rud had to go. He was allowed to take the greater part of the
contents of the dinner-basket with him, and ate as he ran. They had
been too busy to eat.
Pelle sat down among the dunes and ate his dinner. As usual when Rud
had been with him, he could not imagine what had become of the day.
The birds had ceased singing, and not one of the cattle was still
lying down, so it must be at least five o'clock.
Up at the farm they were busy driving in. It went at full gallop--
out and in, out and in. The men stood up in the carts and thrashed
away at the horses with the end of the reins, and the swaying loads
were hurried along the field-roads, looking like little bristling,
crawling things, that have been startled and are darting to their
A one-horsed vehicle drove out from the farm, and took the high-road
to the town at a quick trot. It was the farmer; he was driving so
fast that he was evidently off to the town on the spree. So there
was something gone wrong at home, and there would be crying at the
farm that night.
Yes, there was Father Lasse driving out with the water-cart, so it
was half-past five. He could tell that too by the birds beginning
their pleasant evening twittering, that was soft and sparkling like
the rays of the sun.
Far inland above the stone-quarry, where the cranes stood out
against the sky, a cloud of smoke rose every now and then into the
air, and burst in a fountain of pieces of rock. Long after came the
explosion, bit by bit in a series of rattling reverberations. It
sounded as if some one were running along and slapping his thigh
with fingerless gloves.
The last few hours were always long--the sun was so slow about it.
And there was nothing to fill up the time either. Pelle himself was
tired, and the tranquillity of evening had the effect of subduing
his voice. But now they were driving out for milking up there, and
the cattle were beginning to graze along the edge of the meadow that
turned toward the farm; so the time was drawing near.
At last the herd-boys began to jodel over at the neighboring farms,
first one, and then several joining in:
"Oh, drive home, o-ho, o-o-ho!
Oh, drive home, o-o-ho!
From all sides the soft tones vibrated over the sloping land,
running out, like the sound of happy weeping, into the first glow of
evening; and Pelle's animals began to move farther after each pause
to graze. But he did not dare to drive them home yet, for it only
meant a thrashing from the bailiff or the pupil if he arrived too
He stood at the upper end of the meadow, and called his homeward-
drifting flock together; and when the last tones of the call had
died away, he began it himself, and stepped on one side. The animals
ran with a peculiar little trot and heads extended. The shadow of
the grass lay in long thin stripes across the ground, and the
shadows of the animals were endless. Now and then a calf lowed
slowly and broke into a gallop. They were yearning for home, and
Pelle was yearning too.
From behind a hollow the sun darted long rays out into space, as if
it had called all its powers home for the night, and now poured them
forth in one great longing, from west to east. Everything pointed in
long thin lines, and the eager longing of the cattle seemed visible
in the air.
To the mind of the child there was nothing left out of doors now;
everything was being taken in, and he longed for his father with
a longing that was almost a pain. And when at last he turned the
corner with the herd, and saw old Lasse standing there, smiling
happily with his red-rimmed eyes, and opening the gate to the fold,
the boy gave way and threw himself weeping into his father's arms.
"What's the matter, laddie? What's the matter?" asked the old
man, with concern in his voice, stroking the child's face with a
trembling hand. "Has any one been unkind to you? No? Well, that's
a good thing! They'd better take care, for happy children are in
God's own keeping. And Lasse would be an awkward customer if it
came to that. So you were longing for me, were you? Then it's good
to be in your little heart, and it only makes Lasse happy. But go
in now and get your supper, and don't cry any more." And he wiped
the boy's nose with his hard, crooked fingers, and pushed him
Pelle was not long in finding out all about the man who had been
sent by God, and had the grave, reproachful eyes. He proved to be
nothing but a little shoemaker down in the village, who spoke at
the meeting-house on Sundays; and it was also said that his wife
drank. Rud went to his Sunday-school, and he was poor; so he was
nothing out of the ordinary.
Moreover, Gustav had got a cap which could turn out three different
crowns--one of blue duffle, one of water-proof American cloth, and
one of white canvas for use in sunny weather. It was an absorbingly
interesting study that threw everything else into the background,
and exercised Pelle's mind for many days; and he used this
miraculous cap as a standard by which to measure everything great
and desirable. But one day he gave Gustav a beautifully carved stick
for permission to perform the trick of turning the crown inside out
himself; and that set his mind at rest at last, and the cap had to
take its place in his everyday world like everything else.
But what did it look like in Farmer Kongstrup's big rooms? Money
lay upon the floor there, of course, the gold in one place and
the silver in another; and in the middle of each heap stood a
half-bushel measure. What did the word _"practical"_ mean,
which the bailiff used when he talked to the farmer? And why did
the men call one another _"Swede"_ as a term of abuse? Why,
they were all Swedes! What was there away beyond the cliffs where
the stone-quarry lay? The farm-lands extended as far as that on the
one side. He had not been there yet, but was going with his father
as soon as an opportunity presented itself. They had learnt quite
by chance that Lasse had a brother who owned a house over there;
so of course they knew the place comparatively well.
Down there lay the sea; he had sailed upon it himself! Ships both
of iron and wood sailed upon it, though how iron could float when
it was so heavy he did not know! The sea must be strong, for in the
pond, iron went to the bottom at once. In the middle of the pond
there was no bottom, so there you'd go on sinking forever! The old
thatcher, when he was young, had had more than a hundred fathoms
of rope down there with a drag, to fish up a bucket, but he never
reached the bottom. And when he wanted to pull up the rope again,
there was some one deep down who caught hold of the drag and tried
to pull him down, so he had to let the whole thing go.
God ... well, He had a long white beard like the farmer at Kaase
Farm; but who kept house for Him now He was old? Saint Peter was
His bailiff, of course!... How could the old, dry cows have just
as young calves as the young ones? And so on, and so on.
There was one subject about which, as a matter of course, there
could be no question, nor any thought at all in that sense, because
it was the very foundation of all existence--Father Lasse. He was
there, simply, he stood like a safe wall behind everything that one
did. He was the real Providence, the last great refuge in good and
ill; he could do whatever he liked--Father Lasse was almighty.
Then there was one natural centre in the world--Pelle himself.
Everything grouped itself about him, everything existed for him--for
him to play with, to shudder at, or to put on one side for a great
future. Even distant trees, houses and rocks in the landscape, that
he had never been up to, assumed an attitude toward him, either
friendly or hostile; and the relation had to be carefully decided
in the case of each new thing that appeared upon his horizon.
His world was small; he had only just begun to create it. For
a good arm's-length on all sides of him, there was more or less
_terra firma_; but beyond that floated raw matter, chaos. But
Pelle already found his world immense, and was quite willing to
make it infinite. He attacked everything with insatiable appetite;
his ready perceptions laid hold of all that came within their
reach; they were like the mouth of a machine, into which matter was
incessantly rushing in small, whirling particles. And in the draught
they raised, came others and again others; the entire universe was
on its way toward him.
Pelle shaped and set aside twenty new things in the course of a
second. The earth grew out under him into a world that was rich in
excitement and grotesque forms, discomfort and the most everyday
things. He went about in it uncertainly, for there was always
something that became displaced and had to be revalued or made over
again; the most matter-of-fact things would change and all at once
become terrifying marvels, or _vice versa_. He went about in
a state of continual wonderment, and assumed an expectant attitude
even with regard to the most familiar things; for who could tell
what surprises they might give one?
As an instance; he had all his life had opportunities of verifying
the fact that trouser-buttons were made of bone and had five holes,
one large one in the middle and four smaller ones round it. And then
one day, one of the men comes home from the town with a pair of new
trousers, the buttons of which are made of bright metal and are no
larger than a sixpenny-piece! They have only four holes, and the
thread is to lie across them, not from the middle outward, as in
the old ones.
Or take the great eclipse of the sun, that he had wondered so much
about all the summer, and that all the old people said would bring
about the destruction of the world. He had looked forward to it,
especially the destruction part of it; it would be something of
an adventure, and somewhere within him there was a little bit of
confident assurance that it would all come right as far as he was
concerned. The eclipse did come too, as it was meant to; it grew
dark too, as if it were the Last Day, and the birds became so quiet,
and the cattle bellowed and wanted to run home. But then it grew
light again and it all came to nothing.
Then there were fearful terrors that all at once revealed
themselves as tiny, tiny things--thank goodness! But there were
also anticipated pleasures that made your heart beat, and when
you got up to them they were dullness itself.
Far out in the misty mass, invisible worlds floated by that had
nothing to do with his own. A sound coming out of the unknown
created them in a twinkling. They came into existence in the same
way that the land had done that morning he had stood upon the deck
of the steamer, and heard voices and noise through the fog, thick
and big, with forms that looked like huge gloves without fingers.
And inside one there was blood and a heart and a soul. The heart
Pelle had found out about himself; it was a little bird shut up in
there. But the soul bored its way like a serpent to whatever part
of the body desire occupied. Old thatcher Holm had once drawn the
soul like a thin thread out of the thumb of a man who couldn't help
stealing. Pelle's own soul was good; it lay in the pupils of his
eyes, and reflected Father Lasse's image whenever he looked into
The blood was the worst, and so Father Lasse always let himself be
bled when there was anything the matter with him; the bad humors had
to be let out. Gustav thought a great deal about blood, and could
tell the strangest things about it; and he cut his fingers only to
see whether it was ripe. One evening he came over to the cow-stable
and exhibited a bleeding finger. The blood was quite black. "Now I'm
a man!" he said, and swore a great oath; but the maids only made fun
of him, and said that he had not carried his four bushels of peas up
into the loft yet.
Then there was hell and heaven, and the stone-quarry where they
struck one another with heavy hammers when they were drunk. The men
in the stone-quarry were the strongest men in the world. One of them
had eaten ten poached eggs at one time without being ill; and there
is nothing so strengthening as eggs.
Down in the meadow, will-o'-the-wisps hopped about looking for
something in the deep summer nights. There was always one of them
near the stream, and it stood and danced on the top of a little heap
of stones that lay in the middle of the meadow. A couple of years
ago a girl had one night given birth to a child out there among the
dunes and as she did not know what to do about a father for it, she
drowned it in one of the pools that the brook makes where it turns.
Good people raised the little cairn, so that the place should not
be forgotten; and over it the child's soul used to burn at dead of
night at the time of year at which it was born. Pelle believed that
the child itself was buried beneath the stones, and now and then
ornamented the mound with a branch of fir; but he never played at
that part of the stream. The girl was sent across the sea, sentenced
to penal servitude for many years, and people wondered at the
father. She had not named any one, but every one knew who it was all
the same. He was a young, well-to-do fisherman down in the village,
and the girl was one of the poorest, so there could never have been
any question of their marrying. The girl must have preferred this
to begging help of him for the child, and living in the village with
an illegitimate child, an object of universal derision. And he had
certainly put a bold face on the matter, where many another would
have been ashamed and gone away on a long voyage.
This summer, two years after the girl went to prison, the fisherman
was going home one night along the shore toward the village with
some nets on his back. He was of a callous nature, and did not
hesitate to take the shortest way across the meadow; but when he
got in among the dunes, he saw a will-o'-the-wisp following in his
steps, grew frightened, and began to run. It began to gain upon him,
and when he leaped across the brook to put water between himself and
the spirit, it seized hold of the nets. At this he shouted the name
of God, and fled like one bereft of his senses. The next morning at
sunrise he and his father went to fetch the nets. They had caught
on the cairn, and lay right across the stream.
Then the young man joined the Revivalists, and his father abandoned
his riotous life and followed him. Early and late the young
fisherman was to be found at their meetings, and at other times
he went about like a malefactor with his head hanging down, only
waiting for the girl to come out of prison, so that he could marry
Pelle was up in it all. The girls talked shudderingly about it as
they sat upon the men's knees in the long summer evenings, and a
lovesick fellow from inland had made up a ballad about it, which
Gustav sang to his concertina. Then all the girls on the farm wept,
and even Lively Sara's eyes filled with tears, and she began to talk
to Mons about engagement rings.
One day when Pelle was lying on his face in the grass, singing and
clapping his naked feet together in the clear air, he saw a young
man standing by the cairn and putting on it stones which he took out
of his pocket; after which he knelt down. Pelle went up to him.
"What are you doing?" he asked boldly, feeling that he was in his
own domain. "Are you saying your prayers?"
The man did not answer, but remained in a kneeling posture. At last
he rose, and spat out tobacco-juice.
"I'm praying to Him Who is to judge us all," he said, looking
steadily at Pelle.
Pelle recognized that look. It was the same in expression as that
of the man the other day--the one that had been sent by God. Only
there was no reproach in it.
"Haven't you any bed to sleep in then?" asked Pelle. "I always say
my prayers under the clothes. He hears them just as well! God knows
The young man nodded, and began moving about the stones on
"You mustn't hurt that," said Pelle firmly, "for there's a little
baby buried there."
The young man turned upon him a strange look.
"That's not true!" he said thickly; "for the child lies up in
the churchyard in consecrated earth."
"O--oh, inde--ed?" said Pelle, imitating his father's slow tones.
"But I know it was the parents that drowned it--and buried it here."
He was too proud of his knowledge to relinquish it without a word.
The man looked as if he were about to strike him, and Pelle
retreated a little, and then, having confidence in his legs,
he laughed openly. But the other seemed no longer aware of his
presence, and stood looking dully past the cairn. Pelle drew
The man started at Pelle's shadow, and heaved a deep sigh. "Is that
you?" he said apathetically, without looking at Pelle. "Why can't
you leave me alone?"
"It's _my_ field," said Pelle, "because I herd here; but you
may stay here if you won't hit me. And you mustn't touch the cairn,
because there's a little baby buried there."
The young man looked gravely at Pelle. "It's not true what you
say! How dare you tell such a lie? God hates a lie. But you're
a simple-hearted child, and I'll tell you all about it without
hiding anything, as truly as I only want to walk wholly in God's
Pelle looked at him uncomprehendingly. "I should think I ought to
know all about it," he said, "considering I know the whole song by
heart. I can sing it to you, if you like. It goes like this." Pelle
began to sing in a voice that was a little tremulous with shyness--
"So happy are we in our childhood's first years,
Neither sorrow nor sin is our mead;
We play, and there's nought in our path to raise fears
That it straight into prison doth lead.
Right many there are that with voice sorrowful
Must oft for lost happiness long.
To make the time pass in this prison so dull,
I now will write down all my song.
I played with my father, with mother I played,
And childhood's days came to an end;
And when I had grown up into a young maid,
I played still, but now with my friend.
I gave him my day and I gave him my night,
And never once thought of deceit;
But when I him told of my sorrowful plight,
My trust I had cause to regret.
'I never have loved you,' he quickly did say;
'Begone! I'll ne'er see you again!'
He turned on his heel and went angry away.
'Twas then I a murd'ress became."
Here Pelle paused in astonishment, for the grown-up man had sunk
forward as he sat, and he was sobbing. "Yes, it was wicked," he
said. "For then she killed her child and had to go to prison." He
spoke with a certain amount of contempt; he did not like men that
cried. "But it's nothing that you need cry about," he added
carelessly, after a little.
"Yes, it is; for she'd done nothing. It was the child's father that
killed it; it was me that did the dreadful thing; yes, I confess
that I'm a murderer! Haven't I openly enough acknowledged by
wrongdoing?" He turned his face upward, as though he were speaking
"Oh, was it you?" said Pelle, moving a little away from him. "Did
you kill your own child? Father Lasse could never have done that!
But then why aren't you in prison? Did you tell a lie, and say
_she'd_ done it?"
These words had a peculiar effect upon the fisherman. Pelle stood
watching him for a little, and then exclaimed: "You do talk so
queerly--'blop-blop-blop,' just as if you were from another country.
And what do you scrabble in the air with your fingers for, and cry?
Will you get a thrashing when you get home?"
At the word "cry," the man burst into a flood of tears. Pelle had
never seen any one cry so unrestrainedly. His face seemed all
"Will you have a piece of my bread-and-butter?" he asked, by way of
offering comfort. "I've got some with sausage on."
The fisherman shook his head.
Pelle looked at the cairn. He was obstinate, and determined not
to give in.
"It _is_ buried there," he said. "I've seen its soul myself,
burning up on the top of the heap at night. That's because it can't
get into heaven."
A horrible sound came from the fisherman's lips, a hollow groan that
brought Pelle's little heart into his mouth. He began to jump up and
down in fear, and when he recovered his senses and stopped, he saw
the fisherman running with head bent low across the meadow, until
he disappeared among the dunes.
Pelle gazed after him in astonishment, and then moved slowly toward
his dinner-basket. The result of the encounter was, as far as it
had gone, a disappointment. He had sung to a perfect stranger, and
there was no denying that that was an achievement, considering how
difficult it often was only to answer "yes" or "no" to somebody
you'd never seen before. But he had hardly more than begun the
verses, and what made the performance remarkable was that he knew
the entire ballad by heart. He sang it now for his own benefit from
beginning to end, keeping count of the verses on his fingers; and
he found the most intense satisfaction in shouting it out at the
top of his voice.
In the evening he as usual discussed the events of the day with his
father, and he then understood one or two things that filled his
mind with uncomfortable thoughts. Father Lasse's was as yet the only
human voice that the boy wholly understood; a mere sigh or shake of
the head from the old man had a more convincing power than words
from any one else.
"Alas!" he said again and again. "Evil, evil everywhere; sorrow and
trouble wherever you turn! He'd willingly give his life to go to
prison in her stead, now it's too late! So he ran away when you
said that to him? Well, well, it's not easy to resist the Word of
God even from the lips of a child, when the conscience is sore; and
trading in the happiness of others is a bad way of earning a living.
But now see about getting your feet washed, laddie."
Life furnished enough to work at and struggle with, and a good deal
to dread; but worse almost than all that would harm Pelle himself,
were the glimpses he now and then had of the depths of humanity:
in the face of these his child's brain was powerless. Why did the
mistress cry so much and drink secretly? What went on behind the
windows in the big house? He could not comprehend it, and every time
he puzzled his little brain over it, the uncomfortable feeling only
seemed to stare out at him from all the window-panes, and sometimes
enveloped him in all the horror of the incomprehensible.
But the sun rode high in the heavens, and the nights were light.
The darkness lay crouching under the earth and had no power. And
he possessed the child's happy gift of forgetting instantly and
Pelle had a quick pulse and much energy, and there was always
something that he was attempting to overtake in his restless onward
rush--if nothing else, then time itself. Now the rye was all in, now
the last stack disappeared from the field, the shadows grew longer
every day. But one evening the darkness surprised him before his
bedtime, and this made him serious. He no longer hastened on the
time, but tried to hold it back by many small sun-signs.
One day the men's midday rest was taken off. They harnessed the
horses again as soon as they had eaten their dinner, and the
chaff-cutting was put off until the evening. The horse-way lay on
the outer side of the stable, and none of the men cared to tramp
round out there in the dark, driving for the chaff-cutter, so Pelle
had to do it. Lasse protested and threatened to go to the farmer,
but it was of no use; every evening Pelle had to be out there for
a couple of hours. They were his nicest hours that they took from
him, the hours when he and Father Lasse pottered about in the
stable, and talked themselves happily through all the day's troubles
into a common bright future; and Pelle cried. When the moon chased
the clouds away and he could see everything round him distinctly,
he allowed his tears to run freely; but on dark evenings he was
quiet and held his breath. Sometimes when it rained it was so dark
that the farm and everything disappeared; and then he saw hundreds
of beings that at other times the light hid. They appeared out of
the darkness, terribly big, or came sliding up to him upon their
bellies. He grew rigid as he gazed, and could not take his eyes from
them. He sought shelter under the wall, and encouraged the horse
from there; and one evening he ran in. They chased him out again,
and he submitted to be chased, for when it came to the point he
was more afraid of the men inside than of the beings outside. But
one pitch-dark evening he was in an unusually bad way, and when he
discovered that the horse, his only comfort, was also afraid, he
dropped everything and ran in for the second time. Threats were
powerless to make him go out again, and blows equally so, and one
of the men took him up and carried him out; but then Pelle forgot
everything, and screamed till the house shook.
While they were struggling with him, the farmer came out. He was
very angry when he heard what was the matter, and blew the foreman
up sky high. Then he took Pelle by the hand, and went down with him
to the cow-stable. "A man like you to be afraid of a little dark!"
he said jokingly. "You must try to get the better of that. But if
the men harm you, just you come to me."
The plough went up and down the fields all day long, and made the
earth dark in color, the foliage became variegated, and there was
often sleet. The coats of the cattle grew thicker, their hair grew
long and stood up on their backs. Pelle had much to put up with,
and existence as a whole became a shade more serious. His clothing
did not become thicker and warmer with the cold weather like that
of the cattle; but he could crack his whip so that it sounded, in
the most successful attempts, like little shots; he could thrash
Rud when there was no unfairness, and jump across the stream at
its narrowest part. All that brought warmth to the body.
The flock now grazed all over the farm-lands, wherever the cows had
been tethered; the dairy-cows being now indoors; or they went inland
on the fens, where all the farms had each a piece of grass-land.
Here Pelle made acquaintance with herd-boys from the other farms,
and looked into quite another world that was not ruled by bailiff
and farm-pupil and thrashings, but where all ate at the same table,
and the mistress herself sat and spun wool for the herd-boys'
stockings. But he could never get in there, for they did not take
Swedes at the small farms, nor would the people of the island take
service together with them. He was sorry for this.
As soon as the autumn ploughing was started up on the fields, the
boys, according to old custom, took down the boundary-fences and let
all the animals graze together. The first few days it gave them more
to do, for the animals fought until they got to know one another.
They were never wholly mingled; they always grazed in patches, each
farm's flock by itself. The dinner-baskets were also put together,
and one boy was appointed in turn to mind the whole herd. The other
boys played at robbers up among the rocks, or ran about in the woods
or on the shore. When it was really cold they lighted bonfires, or
built fireplaces of flat stones, where they roasted apples and eggs
which they stole from the farms.
It was a glorious life, and Pelle was happy. It was true he was the
smallest of them all, and his being a Swede was a drawback to him.
In the midst of their play, the others would sometimes begin to
mimic his way of talking, and when he grew angry asked why he did
not draw his knife. But on the other hand he was from the biggest
farm, and was the only one that had bullocks in his herd; he was
not behind them in physical accomplishments, and none of them could
carve as he could. And it was his intention, when he grew big, to
thrash them all.
In the meantime he had to accommodate himself to circumstances,
ingratiate himself with the big ones, wherever he discovered there
was a flaw in their relations to one another, and be obliging. He
had to take his turn oftener than the others, and came off badly at
mealtimes. He submitted to it as something unavoidable, and directed
all his efforts toward getting the best that it was possible to get
out of the circumstances; but he promised himself, as has been said,
the fullest reparation when he grew big.
Once or twice it became too hot for him, and he left the community
and kept by himself; but he soon returned to the others again. His
little body was bursting with courage to live the life, and would
not let him shirk it; he must take his chance--eat his way through.
One day there came two new boys, who herded cattle from two farms
on the other side of the stone-quarry. They were twins, and their
names were Alfred and Albinus. They were tall, thin lads, who looked
as if they might have been half-starved when they were little; their
skin had a bluish tinge, and stood the cold badly. They were quick
and active, they could overtake the quickest calf, they could walk
on their hands and smoke at the same time, and not only vault but
really jump obstacles. They were not much good at fighting; they
were lacking in courage, and their ability forsook them in an
There was something comical about the two brothers. "Here are the
twins, the twelvins!" cried the whole flock in greeting, the first
morning they appeared. "Well, how many times have you had a baby in
your house since last year?" They belonged to a family of twelve,
and among these there had twice been twins, and this of itself was
an inexhaustible source of raillery; and moreover they were half
Swedish. They shared the disadvantage with Pelle.
But nothing seemed to have any effect upon them; they grinned at
everything, and gave themselves away still more. From all he saw and
heard, Pelle could understand that there was something ridiculous
about their home in the eyes of the parish; but they did not mind
that. It was the fecundity of their parents that was the special
subject of derision, and the two boys quite happily exposed them
to ridicule, and would tell all about the most private home matters.
One day when the flock had been most persistent in calling
"Twelvins!" they said, grinning, that their mother would soon be
having a thirteenth. They were incapable of being wounded.
Every time they exposed their parents to ridicule, it hurt Pelle,
for his own feelings on this point were the most sacred that he had.
Try as he would, he could not understand them; he had to go to his
father with the matter one evening.
"So they mock and make fun of their own parents?" said Lasse. "Then
they'll never prosper in this world, for you're to honor your father
and mother. Good parents who have brought them into the world with
pain, and must toil hard, perhaps hunger and put up with much
themselves, to get food and clothing for them! Oh, it's a shame!
And you say their surname is Karlsson like ours, and that they live
on the heath behind the stone-quarry? Then they must be brother
Kalle's sons! Why, bless my soul, if I don't believe that's it! You
ask them tomorrow if their father hasn't a notch in his right ear!
I did it myself with a piece of a horse-shoe when we were little
boys one day I was in a rage with him because he made fun of me
before the others. He was just the same as those two, but he didn't
mean anything by it, there was nothing ill-natured about him."
The boys' father _had_ a notch in his right ear. Pelle and
they were thus cousins; and the way that both they and their parents
were made fun of was a matter for both laughter and tears. In a way,
Father Lasse too came in for a share of the ridicule, and that
thought was hardly to be endured.
The other boys quickly discovered Pelle's vulnerable point, and used
it for their own advantage; and Pelle had to give way and put up
with things in order to keep his father out of their conversation.
He did not always succeed, however. When they were in the mood, they
said quite absurd things about one another's homes. They were not
intended to be taken for more than they were worth, but Pelle did
not understand jokes on that head. One day one of the biggest boys
said to him: "Do you know, your father was the cause of his own
mother's having a child!" Pelle did not understand the play of words
in this coarse joke, but he heard the laughter of the others, and
becoming blind with rage, he flew at the big boy, and kicked him so
hard in the stomach, that he had to keep his bed for several days.
During those days, Pelle went about in fear and trembling. He dared
not tell his father what had happened, for then he would be obliged
to repeat the boy's ugly accusation, too; so he went about in dread
of the fatal consequences. The other boys had withdrawn themselves
from him, so as not to share the blame if anything came of it; the
boy was a farmer's son--the only one in the company--and they had
visions of the magistrate at the back of the affair, and perhaps a
caning at the town-hall. So Pelle went by himself with his cattle,
and had plenty of time to think about the event, which, by the
force of his lively imagination, grew larger and larger in its
consequences, until at last it almost suffocated him with terror.
Every cart he saw driving along the high-road sent a thrill through
him; and if it turned up toward Stone Farm, he could distinctly see
the policemen--three of them--with large handcuffs, just as they had
come to fetch Erik Erikson for ill-treating his wife. He hardly
dared drive the cattle home in the evening.
One morning the boy came herding over there with his cattle, and
there was a grown-up man with him, whom, from his clothes and
everything else about him, Pelle judged to be a farmer--was it the
boy's father? They stood over there for a little while, talking to
the herd-boys, and then came across toward him, with the whole pack
at their heels, the father holding his son by the hand.
The perspiration started from every pore of Pelle's body; his fear
prompted him to run away, but he stood his ground. Together the
father and son made a movement with their hand, and Pelle raised
both elbows to ward off a double box-on-the-ears.
But they only extended their hands. "I beg your pardon," said the
boy, taking one of Pelle's hands; "I beg your pardon," repeated the
father, clasping his other hand in his. Pelle stood in bewilderment,
looking from one to the other. At first he thought that the man was
the same as the one sent by God; but it was only his eyes--those
strange eyes. Then he suddenly burst into tears and forgot all else
in the relief they brought from the terrible anxiety. The two spoke
a few kind words to him, and quietly went away to let him be alone.
After this Pelle and Peter Kure became friends, and when Pelle
learnt to know him better, he discovered that sometimes the boy had
a little of the same look in his eyes as his father, and the young
fisherman, and the man that was sent by God. The remarkable course
that the event had taken occupied his mind for a long time. One day
a chance comparison of his experiences brought him to the discovery
of the connection between this mysterious expression in their eyes
and their remarkable actions; the people who had looked at him with
those eyes had all three done unexpected things. And another day it
dawned upon him that these people were _religious_; the boys
had quarrelled with Peter Kure that day, and had used the word as
a term of abuse against his parents.
There was one thing that was apparent, and outweighed everything,
even his victory. He had entered the lists with a boy who was bigger
and stronger than he, and had held his own, because for the first
time in his life he had struck out recklessly. If you wanted to
fight, you had to kick wherever it hurt most. If you only did that,
and had justice on your side, you might fight anybody, even a
farmer's son. These were two satisfactory discoveries, which for
the present nothing could disturb.
Then he had defended his father; that was something quite new and
important in his life. He required more space now.
At Michaelmas, the cattle were taken in, and the last of the day-
laborers left. During the summer, several changes had been made
among the regular servants at the farm, but now, at term-day, none
were changed; it was not the habit of Stone Farm to change servants
at the regular term-times.
So Pelle again helped his father with the foddering indoors.
By rights he should have begun to go to school, and a mild
representation of this fact was made to the farmer by the school
authorities; but the boy was very useful at home, as the care of
the cattle was too much for one man; and nothing more was heard
about the matter. Pelle was glad it was put off. He had thought
much about school in the course of the summer, and had invested it
with so much that was unfamiliar and great that he was now quite
afraid of it.
Christmas Eve was a great disappointment. It was the custom for
the herd-boys to come out and spend Christmas at the farms where
they served in the summer, and Pelle's companions had told him
of all the delights of Christmas--roast meat and sweet drinks,
Christmas games and ginger-nuts and cakes; it was one endless
eating and drinking and playing of Christmas games, from the evening
before Christmas Eve until "Saint Knut carried Christmas out," on
January 7th. That was what it was like at all the small farms, the
only difference being that those who were religious did not play
cards, but sang hymns instead. But what they had to eat was just
The last few days before Christmas Pelle had to get up at two or
half-past two to help the girls pluck poultry, and the old thatcher
Holm to heat the oven. With this his connection with the delights
of Christmas came to an end. There was dried cod and boiled rice on
Christmas Eve, and it tasted good enough; but of all the rest there
was nothing. There were a couple of bottles of brandy on the table
for the men, that was all. The men were discontented and quarrelsome.
They poured milk and boiled rice into the leg of the stocking that
Karna was knitting, so that she was fuming the whole evening; and
then sat each with his girl on his knee, and made ill-natured
remarks about everything. The old farm-laborers and their wives,
who had been invited to partake of the Christmas fare, talked about
death and all the ills of the world.
Upstairs there was a large party. All the wife's relations were
invited, and they were hard at work on the roast goose. The yard was
full of conveyances, and the only one of the farm-servants who was
in good spirits was the head man, who received all the tips. Gustav
was in a thoroughly bad humor, for Bodil was upstairs helping to
wait. He had brought his concertina over, and was playing love-songs.
It was putting them into better spirits, and the evil expression was
leaving their eyes; one after another they started singing, and it
began to be quite comfortable down there. But just then a message
came to say that they must make less noise, so the assembly broke up,
the old people going home, and the young ones dispersing in couples
according to the friendships of the moment.
Lasse and Pelle went to bed.
"What's Christmas really for?" asked Pelle.
Lasse rubbed his thigh reflectively.
"It has to be," he answered hesitatingly. "Yes, and then it's the
time when the year turns round and goes upward, you see! And of
course it's the night when the Child Jesus was born, too!" It took
him a long time to produce this last reason, but when it did come
it was with perfect assurance. "Taking one thing with another, you
see," he added, after a short pause.
On the day after Christmas Day there was a kind of subscription
merrymaking at an enterprising crofter's down in the village; it
was to cost two and a half krones a couple for music, sandwiches,
and spirits in the middle of the night, and coffee toward morning.
Gustav and Bodil were going. Pelle at any rate saw a little of
Christmas as it passed, and was as interested in it as if it
concerned himself; and he gave Lasse no rest from his questions
that day. So Bodil was still faithful to Gustav, after all!
When they got up the next morning, they found Gustav lying on the
ground by the cow-stable door, quite helpless, and his good clothes
in a sad state. Bodil was not with him. "Then she's deceived him,"
said Lasse, as they helped him in. "Poor boy! Only seventeen, and
a wounded heart already! The women'll be his ruin one of these days,
At midday, when the farm-laborers' wives came to do the milking,
Lasso's supposition was confirmed: Bodil had attached herself to a
tailor's apprentice from the village, and had left with him in the
middle of the night. They laughed pityingly at Gustav, and for some
time after he had to put up with their gibes at his ill-success;
but there was only one opinion about Bodil. She was at liberty to
come and go with whomsoever she liked, but as long as Gustav was
paying for her amusements, she ought to have kept to him. Who but
the neighbor would keep the hens that ate their grain at home and
laid their eggs at the neighbor's?
There had as yet been no opportunity to visit Lasse's brother beyond
the stone-quarry, but it was to be done on the second day of the new
year. Between Christmas and the New Year the men did nothing after
dark, and it was the custom everywhere to help the herdsman with
his evening occupations. There was nothing of that here; Lasse was
too old to assert himself, and Pelle too little. They might think
themselves lucky they did not have to do the foddering for the men
who went out as well as their own.
But to-day it was to come off; Gustav and Long Ole had undertaken
to do the evening work. Pelle began to look forward to it as soon
as he was up--he was up every day by half-past three. But as Lasse
used to say, if you sing before breakfast you'll weep before night.
After dinner, Gustav and Ole were standing grinding chopping knives
down in the lower yard. The trough leaked, and Pelle had to pour
water on the grindstone out of an old kettle. His happiness could
be seen on his face.
"What are you so pleased about?" asked Gustav. "Your eyes are
shining like the cat's in the dark."
Pelle told him.
"I'm afraid you won't get away!" said Ole, winking at Gustav.
"We shan't get the chaff cut time enough to do the foddering.
This grindstone's so confoundedly hard to turn, too. If only that
handle-turner hadn't been broken!"
Pelle pricked up his ears. "Handle-turner? What's that?" he asked.
Gustav sprang round the grindstone, and slapped his thigh in
enjoyment of the joke.
"My goodness, how stupid you are! Don't you even know what a
handle-turner is? It's a thing you only need to put on to the
grindstone, and it turns it by itself. They've got one by-the-way
over at Kaase Farm," he said, turning to Ole; "if only it wasn't
so far away."
"Is it heavy?" asked Pelle, in a low voice; everything depended
upon the answer. "Can I lift it?" His voice trembled.
"Oh, no, not so awfully heavy. You could carry it quite well. But
you'd have to be very careful."
"I can run over and fetch it; I'll carry it very carefully." Pelle
looked at them with a face that could not but inspire confidence.
"Very well; but take a sack with you to put it in. And you'll have
to be as careful as the very devil, for it's an expensive thing."
Pelle found a sack and ran off across the fields. He was as
delighted as a young kid, plucking at himself and everything as
he ran, and jumping aside to frighten the crows. He was overflowing
with happiness. He was saving the expedition for himself and Father
Lasse. Gustav and Ole were good men! He would get back as quickly
as possible, so that they should not have to toil any more at the
grindstone. "What, are you back already?" they would say, and open
their eyes. "Then you must have smashed that precious machine on
the way!" And they would take it carefully out of the sack, and it
would be quite safe and sound. "Well, you are a wonder of a boy!
a perfect prince!" they would say.
When he got to Kaase Farm, they wanted him to go in to a Christmas
meal while they were putting the machine into the sack; but Pelle
said "No" and held to it: he had not time. So they gave him a
piece of cold apple out on the steps, so that he should not carry
Christmas away. They all looked so pleasant, and every one came out
when he hoisted the sack on his back and set off home. They too
recommended him to be very careful, and seemed anxious, as if he
could hardly realize what he was carrying.
It was a good mile between the farms, but it was an hour and a half
before Pelle reached home, and then he was ready to drop. He dared
not put down the sack to rest, but stumbled on step by step, only
resting once by leaning against a stone fence. When at last he
staggered into the yard, every one came up to see the neighbor's
new handle-turner; and Pelle was conscious of his own importance
when Ole carefully lifted the sack from his back. He leaned for
a moment over toward the wall before he regained his balance; the
ground was so strange to tread upon now he was rid of his burden;
it pushed him away. But his face was radiant.
Gustav opened the sack, which was securely closed, and shook out
its contents upon the stone pavement. They were pieces of brick,
a couple of old ploughshares, and other similar things. Pelle stared
in bewilderment and fear at the rubbish, looking as if he had just
dropped from another planet; but when laughter broke out on all
sides, he understood what it all meant, and, crouching down, hid
his face in his hands. He would not cry--not for the world; they
should not have that satisfaction. He was sobbing in his heart, but
he kept his lips tightly closed. His body tingled with rage. The
beasts! The wicked devils! Suddenly he kicked Gustav on the leg.
"Aha, so he kicks, does he?" exclaimed Gustav, lifting him up into
the air. "Do you want to see a little imp from Smaaland?" Pelle
covered his face with his arms and kicked to be let down; and he
also made an attempt to bite. "Eh, and he bites, too, the little
devil!" Gustav had to hold him firmly so as to manage him. He held
him by the collar, pressing his knuckles against the boy's throat
and making him gasp, while he spoke with derisive gentleness. "A
clever youngster, this! He's scarcely out of long clothes, and
wants to fight already!" Gustav went on tormenting him; it looked
as if he were making a display of his superior strength.
"Well, now we've seen that you're the strongest," said the head
man at last, "so let him go!" and when Gustav did not respond
immediately, he received a blow from a clenched fist between his
shoulder-blades. Then the boy was released, and went over to the
stable to Lasse, who had seen the whole thing, but had not dared
to approach. He could do nothing, and his presence would only have
"Yes, and then there's our outing, laddie," he explained, by way of
excuse, while he was comforting the boy. "I could very well thrash a
puppy like Gustav, but if I did we shouldn't get away this evening,
for he wouldn't do our work. And none of the others, either, for
they all stick together like burrs. But you can do it yourself! I
verily believe you'd kick the devil himself, right on his club-foot!
Well, well, it was well done; but you must be careful not to waste
your powder and shot. It doesn't pay!"
The boy was not so easily comforted now. Deep down in his heart
the remembrance of his injury lay and pained him, because he had
acted in such good faith, and they had wounded him in his ready,
cheerful confidence. What had happened had also stung his pride;
he had walked into a trap, made a fool of himself for them. The
incident burnt into his soul, and greatly influenced his subsequent
development. He had already found out that a person's word was not
always to be relied upon, and he had made awkward attempts to get
behind it. Now he would trust nobody straight away any more; and he
had discovered how the secret was to be found out. You only had to
look at people's eyes when they said anything. Both here and at
Kaase Farm the people had looked so strange about the handle-turner,
as if they were laughing inside. And the bailiff had laughed that
time when he promised them roast pork and stewed rhubarb every day.
They hardly ever got anything but herring and porridge. People
talked with two tongues; Father Lasse was the only one who did not
Pelle began to be observant of his own face. It was the face that
spoke, and that was why it went badly with him when he tried to
escape a thrashing by telling a white lie. And to-day's misfortune
had been the fault of his face; if you felt happy, you mustn't show
it. He had discovered the danger of letting his mind lie open, and
his small organism set to work diligently to grow hard skin to draw
over its vital parts.
After supper they set off across the fields, hand in hand as usual.
As a rule, Pelle chattered unceasingly when they were by themselves;
but this evening he was quieter. The event of the afternoon was
still in his mind, and the coming visit gave him a feeling of
Lasse carried a red bundle in his hand, in which was a bottle of
black-currant rum, which they had got Per Olsen to buy in the town
the day before, when he had been in to swear himself free. It had
cost sixty-six ores, and Pelle was turning something over in his
mind, but did not know whether it would do.
"Father!" he said at last. "Mayn't I carry that a little way?"
"Gracious! Are you crazy, boy? It's an expensive article! And you
might drop it."
"I wouldn't drop it. Well, only hold it for a little then? Mayn't
I, father? Oh do, father!"
"Eh, what an idea! I don't know what you'll be like soon, if you
aren't stopped! Upon my word, I think you must be ill, you're
getting so tiresome!" And Lasse went on crossly for a little while,
but then stopped and bent down over the boy.
"Hold it then, you little silly, but be very careful! And you
mustn't move a single step while you've got it, mind!"
Pelle clasped the bottle to his body with his arms, for he dared not
trust his hands, and pushed out his stomach as far as possible to
support it. Lasse stood with his hands extended beneath the bottle,
ready to catch it if it fell.
"There! That'll do!" he said anxiously, and took the bottle.
"It _is_ heavy!" said Pelle, admiringly, and went on
contentedly, holding his father's hand.
"But why had he to swear himself free?" he suddenly asked.
"Because he was accused by a girl of being the father of her child.
Haven't you heard about it?"
Pelle nodded. "Isn't he, then? Everybody says he is."
"I can hardly believe it; it would be certain damnation for Per
Olsen. But, of course, the girl says it's him and no one else. Ah
me! Girls are dangerous playthings! You must take care when your
time comes, for they can bring misfortune upon the best of men."
"How do you swear, then? Do you say 'Devil take me'?"
Lasse could not help laughing. "No, indeed! That wouldn't be very
good for those that swear false. No, you see, in the court all God's
highest ministers are sitting round a table that's exactly like a
horseshoe, and beyond that again there's an altar with the crucified
Christ Himself upon it. On the altar lies a big, big book that's
fastened to the wall with an iron chain, so that the devil can't
carry it off in the night, and that's God's Holy Word. When a man
swears, he lays his left hand upon the book, and holds up his right
hand with three fingers in the air; they're God the Father, Son and
Holy Ghost. But if he swears false, the Governor can see it at once,
because then there are red spots of blood on the leaves of the
"And what then?" asked Pelle, with deep interest.
"Well, then his three fingers wither, and it goes on eating itself
into his body. People like that suffer frightfully; they rot right
"Don't they go to hell, then?"
"Yes, they do that too, except when they give themselves up and take
their punishment, and then they escape in the next life; but they
can't escape withering away."
"Why doesn't the Governor take them himself and punish them, when
he can see in that book that they swore false?"
"Why, because then they'd get off going to hell, and there's an
agreement with Satan that he's to have all those that don't give
themselves up, don't you see?"
Pelle shuddered, and for a little while walked on in silence beside
his father; but when he next spoke, he had forgotten all about it.
"I suppose Uncle Kalle's rich, isn't he?" he asked.
"He can't be rich, but he's a land-owner, and that's not a little
thing!" Lasse himself had never attained to more than renting land.
"When I grow up, I mean to have a great big farm," said Pelle, with
"Yes, I've no doubt you will," said Lasse, laughing. Not that he
also did not expect something great of the boy, if not exactly a
large farmer. There was no saying, however. Perhaps some farmer's
daughter might fall in love with him; the men of his family
generally had an attraction for women. Several of them had given
proof of it--his brother, for instance, who had taken the fancy
of a parson's wife. Then Pelle would have to make the most of his
opportunity so that the family would be ashamed to oppose the match.
And Pelle was good enough. He had that "cow's-lick" on his forehead,
fine hair at the back of his neck, and a birth-mark on his hip; and
that all betokened luck. Lasse went on talking to himself as he
walked, calculating the boy's future with large, round figures,
that yielded a little for him too; for, however great his future
might be, it would surely come in time to allow of Lasse's sharing
and enjoying it in his very old age.
They went across country toward the stone-quarry, following stone
dikes and snow-filled ditches, and working their way through the
thicket of blackthorn and juniper, behind which lay the rocks and
"the Heath." They made their way right into the quarry, and tried
in the darkness to find the place where the dross was thrown, for
that would be where the stone-breaking went on.
A sound of hammering came from the upper end of the ground, and they
discovered lights in several places. Beneath a sloping straw screen,
from which hung a lantern, sat a little, broad man, hammering away
at the fragments. He worked with peculiar vivacity--struck three
blows and pushed the stones to one side, another three blows, and
again to one side; and while with one hand he pushed the pieces
away, with the other he placed a fresh fragment in position on the
stone. It went as busily and evenly as the ticking of a watch.
"Why, if that isn't Brother Kalle sitting there!" said Lasse, in
a voice of surprise as great as if the meeting were a miracle from
heaven. "Good evening, Kalle Karlsson! How are you?"
The stone-breaker looked up.
"Oh, there you are, brother!" he said, rising with difficulty; and
the two greeted one another as if they had met only the day before.
Kalle collected his tools and laid the screen down upon them while
"So you break stones too? Does that bring in anything?" asked Lasse.
"Oh, not very much. We get twelve krones a 'fathom' and when I work
with a lantern morning and evening, I can break half a fathom in a
week. It doesn't pay for beer, but we live anyhow. But it's awfully
cold work; you can't keep warm at it, and you get so stiff with
sitting fifteen hours on the cold stone--as stiff as if you were
the father of the whole world." He was walking stiffly in front of
the others across the heath toward a low, hump-backed cottage.
"Ah, there comes the moon, now there's no use for it!" said Kalle,
whose spirits were beginning to rise. "And, my word, what a sight
the old dormouse looks! He must have been at a New Year's feast
"You're the same merry devil that you were in the old days," said
"Well, good spirits'll soon be the only thing to be had without
The wall of the house stuck out in a large round lump on one side,
and Pelle had to go up to it to feel it all over. It was most
mysterious what there might be on the other side--perhaps a secret
chamber? He pulled his father's hand inquiringly.
"That? That's the oven where they bake their bread," said Lasse.
"It's put there to make more room."
After inviting them to enter, Kalle put his head in at a door that
led from the kitchen to the cowshed. "Hi, Maria! You must put your
best foot foremost!" he called in a low voice. "The midwife's here!"
"What in the world does she want? It's a story, you old fool!" And
the sound of milk squirting into the pail began again.
"A story, is it? No, but you must come in and go to bed; she says
it's high time you did. You are keeping up much too long this year.
Mind what you say," he whispered into the cowshed, "for she is really
here! And be quick!"
They went into the room, and Kalle went groping about to light a
candle. Twice he took up the matches and dropped them again to light
it at the fire, but the peat was burning badly. "Oh, bother!" he
said, resolutely striking a match at last. "We don't have visitors
"Your wife's Danish," said Lasse, admiringly. "And you've got
a cow too?"
"Yes, it's a biggish place here," said Kalle, drawing himself up.
"There's a cat belonging to the establishment too, and as many rats
as it cares to eat."
His wife now appeared, breathless, and looking in astonishment at
"Yes, the midwife's gone again," said Kalle. "She hadn't time
to-day; we must put it off till another time. But these are
important strangers, so you must blow your nose with your fingers
before you give them your hand!"
"Oh, you old humbug! You can't take me in. It's Lasse, of course,
and Pelle!" And she held out her hand. She was short, like her
husband, was always smiling, and had bowed arms and legs just as
he had. Hard work and their cheerful temperament gave them both
a rotund appearance.
"There are no end of children here," said Lasse, looking about him.
There were three in the turn-up bedstead under the window--two small
ones at one end, and a long, twelve-year-old boy at the other, his
black feet sticking out between the little girls' heads; and other
beds were made up on chairs, in an old kneading-trough, and on the
"Ye-es; we've managed to scrape together a few," said Kalle,
running about in vain to get something for his visitors to sit
upon; everything was being used as beds. "You'll have to spit on
the floor and sit down on that," he said, laughing.
His wife came in, however, with a washing-bench and an empty
"Sit you down and rest," she said, placing the seats round the
table. "And you must really excuse it, but the children must be
Kalle squeezed himself in and sat down upon the edge of the turn-up
bedstead. "Yes, we've managed to scrape together a few," he repeated.
"You must provide for your old age while you have the strength.
We've made up the dozen, and started on the next. It wasn't exactly
our intention, but mother's gone and taken us in." He scratched the
back of his head, and looked the picture of despair.
His wife was standing in the middle of the room. "Let's hope it
won't be twins this time too," she said, laughing.
"Why, that would be a great saving, as we shall have to send for
the midwife anyhow. People say of mother," he went on, "that when
she's put the children to bed she has to count them to make sure
they're all there; but that's not true, because she can't count
farther than ten."
Here a baby in the alcove began to cry, and the mother took it up
and seated herself on the edge of the turn-up bedstead to nurse it.
"And this is the smallest," he said, holding it out toward Lasse,
who put a crooked finger down its neck.
"What a little fatty!" he said softly; he was fond of children.
"And what's its name?"
"She's called Dozena Endina, because when she came we thought that
was to be the last; and she was the twelfth too."
"Dozena Endina! That's a mighty fine name!" exclaimed Lasse. "It
sounds exactly as if she might be a princess."
"Yes, and the one before's called Ellen--from eleven, of course.
That's her in the kneading-trough," said Kalle. "The one before
that again is Tentius, and then Nina, and Otto. The ones before that
weren't named in that way, for we hadn't thought then that there'd
be so many. But that's all mother's fault; if she only puts a patch
on my working-trousers, things go wrong at once."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, trying to get out of it like
that," said his wife, shaking her finger at him. "But as for that,"
she went on, turning to Lasse, "I'm sure the others have nothing
to complain of either, as far as their names are concerned. Albert,
Anna, Alfred, Albinus, Anton, Alma and Alvilda--let me see, yes,
that's the lot. None of them can say they've not been treated
fairly. Father was all for A at that time; they were all to rhyme
with A. Poetry's always come so easy to him." She looked admiringly
at her husband.
Kalle blinked his eyes in bashfulness. "No, but it's the first
letter, you see, and it sounds pretty," he said modestly.
"Isn't he clever to think of a thing like that? He ought to have
been a student. Now _my_ head would never have been any good
for anything of that sort. He wanted, indeed, to have the names
both begin and end with A, but that wouldn't do with the boys, so
he had to give that up. But then he hasn't had any book-learning
"Oh, that's too bad, mother! I didn't give it up. I'd made up a name
for the first boy that had A at the end too; but then the priest and
the clerk objected, and I had to let it go. They objected to Dozena
Endina too, but I put my foot down; for I can be angry if I'm
irritated too long. I've always liked to have some connection and
meaning in everything; and it's not a bad idea to have something
that those who look deeper can find out. Now, have you noticed
anything special about two of these names?"
"No," answered Lasse hesitatingly, "I don't know that I have. But
I haven't got a head for that sort of thing either."
"Well, look here! Anna and Otto are exactly the same, whether you
read them forward or backward--exactly the same. I'll just show
you." He took down a child's slate that was hanging on the wall with
a stump of slate-pencil, and began laboriously to write the names.
"Now, look at this, brother!"
"I can't read," said Lasse, shaking his head hopelessly. "Does
it really give the same both ways? The deuce! That _is_
remarkable!" He could not get over his astonishment.
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