Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 20 out of 23
there's anything of this sort on! Do you imagine that anything in this
world is to be got by sleeping?"
The boy did not move. He did not seem to think there was any reason for
taking his father very seriously; but he met a reproachful look from
Ellen, and he was out of bed and dressed in a trice. While they sat in
the front room, drinking their coffee, Pelle gave him a few hints as to
how he should proceed in the matter. He was greatly interested, and went
thoroughly into the subject; it seemed to him as though it were only
yesterday that he had occupied himself with the people. How many
pleasant memories of the fight crowded into his mind! And now every
child knew that the meanest thing on earth was to become a blackleg! How
he had fought to make even intelligent fellow-workmen understand this!
It was quite comical to think that the strike--which filled the workmen
with horror the first time he had employed it--was now a thing that
children made use of. Time passed with a fleet foot out here in the day;
and if you wanted to keep pace you must look sharp!
When the boy had gone, Ellen came to Pelle and stroked his hair.
"Welcome home!" she said softly, and kissed his furrowed brow.
He pressed her hand. "Thank you for having a home for me," he answered,
looking into her eyes; "for if you hadn't, I think I should have gone to
"The boy has had his share in that, you know! He's worked well, or it
might have gone badly with me many a time. You mustn't be angry with
him, Pelle, even if he is a little sullen to you. You must remember how
much he's gone through with the other boys. Sometimes he's come home
"Because of me?" asked Pelle in a low voice.
"Yes, for he couldn't bear them to say anything about you. At one time
he was always fighting, but now I think he's taught them to leave him
alone; for he never gave in. But it may have left its marks on him."
She lingered by him; there was something she wanted to say to him, but
she had a difficulty in beginning. "What is it?" he asked, in order to
help her, his heart beating rapidly. He would have liked to get over
this without speech.
She drew him gently into the bedroom and up to the little cot. "You
haven't looked at Boy Comfort," she said.
He bent in embarrassment over the little boy who lay and gazed at him
with large, serious eyes. "You must give me a little time," he said.
"It's little Marie's boy," said Ellen, with a peculiar intonation.
He stood up quickly, and looked in bewilderment at her. It was a little
while before he comprehended.
"Where is Marie?" he asked with difficulty.
"She's dead, Pelle," answered Ellen, and came to his aid by holding out
her hand to him. "She died when the child was born."
A gray shadow passed across Pelle's face.
The house in which Pelle and his wife lived--the "Palace," the
inhabitants of the street called it--was an old, tumble-down, three-
storied building with a mansard roof. Up the middle of the facade ran
the remains of some fluted pilasters through the two upper stories,
making a handsome frame to the small windows. The name "Palace" had not
been given to the house entirely without reason; the old woman who kept
the ironmonger's shop in the back building could remember that in her
childhood it had been a general's country-house, and stood quite by
itself. At that time the shore reached to where Isted Street now runs,
and the fruit-gardens went right into Council House Square. Two ancient,
worm-eaten apple-trees, relics of that period, were still standing
squeezed in among the back buildings.
Since then the town had pushed the fruit-gardens a couple of miles
farther back, and in the course of time side streets had been added to
the bright neighborhood of Vesterbro--narrow, poor-men's streets, which
sprang up round the scattered country-houses, and shut out the light;
and poor people, artistes and street girls ousted the owners and turned
the luxuriant summer resort into a motley district where booted poverty
and shoeless intelligence met.
The "Palace" was the last relic of a vanished age. The remains of its
former grandeur were still to be seen in the smoke-blackened stucco and
deep windows of the attics; but the large rooms had been broken up into
sets of one or two rooms for people of small means, half the wide
landing being boarded off for coal-cellars.
From Pelle's little two-roomed flat, a door and a couple of steps led
down into a large room which occupied the entire upper floor of the side
building, and was not unlike the ruins of a former banqueting-hall. The
heavy, smoke-blackened ceiling went right up under the span roof and had
once been decorated; but most of the plaster had now fallen down, and
the beams threatened to follow it.
The huge room had been utilized, in the course of time, both as a
brewery and as a warehouse; but it still bore the stamp of its former
splendor. The children of the property at any rate thought it was grand,
and picked out the last remains of panelling for kindling-wood, and
would sit calling to one another for hours from the high ledges above
the brick pillars, upon which there had once stood busts of famous men.
Now and again a party of Russian or Polish emigrants hired the room and
took possession of it for a few nights. They slept side by side upon the
bare floor, each using his bundle for a pillow; and in the morning they
would knock at the door of Ellen's room, and ask by gestures to be
allowed to come to the water-tap. At first she was afraid of them and
barricaded the door with her wardrobe cupboard; but the thought of Pelle
in prison made her sympathetic and helpful. They were poor, needy
beings, whom misery and misfortune had driven from their homes. They
could not speak the language and knew nothing about the world; but they
seemed, like birds of passage, to find their way by instinct. In their
blind flight it was at the "Palace" that they happened to alight for
With this exception the great room lay unused. It went up through two
stories, and could have been made into several small flats; but the
owner of the property--an old peasant from Glostrup--was so miserly that
he could not find it in his heart to spend money on it, notwithstanding
the great advantage it would be to him. _Ellen_ had no objection to
this! She dried her customers' washing there, and escaped all the coal-
dust and dirt of the yard.
Chance, which so often takes the place of Providence in the case of poor
people, had landed her and her children here when things had gone wrong
with them in Chapel Road. Ellen had at last, after hard toil, got her
boot-sewing into good working order and had two pupils to help her, when
a long strike came and spoiled it all for her. She struggled against it
as well as she could, but one day they came and carried her bits of
furniture down into the street. It was the old story: Pelle had heard it
several times before. There she stood with the children, mounting guard
over her belongings until it grew dark. It was pouring with rain, and
they did not know what to do. People stopped as they hurried by, asked a
few questions and passed on; one or two advised her to apply to the
committee for housing the homeless. This, however, both Ellen and Lasse
Frederik were too proud to do. They took the little ones down to the
mangling-woman in the cellar, and themselves remained on guard over
their things, in the dull hope that something would happen, a hope of
which experience never quite deprives the poor.
After they had stood there a long time something really did happen. Out
of Norrebro Street came two men dashing along at a tremendous pace with
a four-wheeled cart of the kind employed by the poor of Copenhagen when
they move--preferably by night--from one place to another. One of the
men was at the pole of the cart, while the other pushed behind and, when
the pace was at its height, flung himself upon his stomach on the cart,
putting on the brake with the toes of his boots upon the road so as to
twist the cart into the gutter. Upon the empty cart sat a middle-aged
woman, singing, with her feet dangling over the side; she was big and
wore an enormous hat with large nodding flowers, of the kind designed to
attract the male sex. The party zig-zagged, shouting and singing, from
one side of the street to the other, and each time the lady shrieked.
"_There's_ a removing cart!" said Lasse Frederik, and as he spoke
the vehicle pulled up in the gutter just in front of them.
"What are you doing, Thorvald?" said one of the men; then, staring
straight into Ellen's face, "Have you hurt your eye?"
The woman had jumped down from the cart. "Oh, get out of the way, you
ass!" she said, pushing him aside. "Can't you see they've been turned
out? Is it your husband that's chucked you out?" she asked, bending
sympathetically over Ellen.
"No, the landlord's turned us out!" said Lasse Frederik.
"What a funny little figure! And you've got nowhere to sleep to-night?
Here, Christian, take and load these things on the cart, and then they
can stand under the gateway at home for the night. They'll be quite
spoilt by the rain here."
"Yes," answered Christian, "the chair-legs have actually begun to take
root!" The two men were in a boisterous humor.
"Now you can just come along with me," said the woman, when the things
were piled upon the cart, "and I'll find you a place to sleep in. And
then to-morrow Providence'll perhaps be at home himself!"
"She's a street-woman," whispered Lasse Frederik again and again,
pulling Ellen's dress; but Ellen did not care now, if only she could
avoid having to accept poor relief. She no longer held her head so high.
It was "Queen Theresa" herself they had met, and in a sense this meeting
had made their fortune. She helped Ellen to find her little flat, and
got her washing to do for the girls of the neighborhood. It was not very
much, though the girls of Vesterbro went in for fine clothes as far as
they could; but it afforded her at any rate a livelihood.
* * * * *
Pelle did not like Ellen going on with all this dirty work; he wanted to
be the one to provide for the family. Ellen moreover had had her turn,
and she looked tired and as if she needed to live a more comfortable
life. It was as though she fell away now that he was there and able once
more to assume the responsibility; but she would not hear of giving up
the washing. "It's never worth while to throw away the dirty water until
you've got the clean!" she said.
Every morning he set out furnished with a brand-new trades-union book,
and went from workshop to workshop. Times were bad for his branch of
trade; many of his old fellow-workmen had been forced to take up other
occupations--he met them again as conductors, lamplighters, etc.;
machinery had made them unnecessary, they said. It was the effect of the
great lock-out; it had killed the little independent businesses that had
formerly worked with one or two men, and put wind into the sails of
large industries. The few who could manage it had procured machines and
become manufacturers; the rest were crowded out and sat in out-of-the-
way basements doing repairs. To set to work again, on the old conditions
was what had been farthest from Pelle's thoughts; and he now went about
and offered to become an apprentice again in order to serve his new
master, the machinery, and was ready to be utilized to the utmost. But
the manufacturers had no use for him; they still remembered him too
well. "You've been too long away from the work," said one and another of
Well, that was only tit for tat; but he felt bitterly how even his past
rose up against him. He had fought and sacrificed everything to improve
the conditions in his branch; and the machines were the discouraging
answer that the development gave to him and his fellows.
He was not alone in his vain search in this bright springtime. A number
of other branches had had the same fate as his own. Every new day that
dawned brought him into a stream of men who seemed to be condemned to
wear out the pavement in their hopeless search for work--people who had
been pushed out by the machines and could not get in again. "There must
be something wrong with them," Pelle thought while he stood and listened
to always the same story of how they had suddenly been dropped, and saw
the rest of the train steaming away. It must have been their own fault
that they were not coupled on to a new one; perhaps they were lazy or
drunkards. But after a time he saw good, tried men standing in the row,
and offering their powers morning after morning without result; and he
began to realize with a chill fear that times were changing.
He would certainly have managed to make both ends meet if there had been
anything to be got. The prices were all right; their only defect was
that they were not eatable. Altogether it seemed as if a change for the
worse had overtaken the artisan; and to make it still more serious the
large businesses stood in the way of his establishing himself and
becoming independent. There was not even a back door left open now!
Pelle might just as well put that out of his head first as last; to
become a master now required capital and credit. The best thing that the
future held was an endless and aimless tramp to and from the factory.
At one stroke he was planted in the middle of the old question again;
all the circumstances passed before him, and it was useless to close his
eyes. He was willing enough to mind his own affairs and did not seek for
anything; but the one thing was a consequence of the other, and whether
he wished it or not, it united in a general view of the conditions.
The union had stood the test outwardly. The workmen were well organized
and had vindicated their right to negotiate; their corporations could no
longer be disregarded. Wages were also to some extent higher, and the
feeling for the home had grown in the workmen themselves, many of them
having removed from their basements into new two- or three-roomed flats,
and bought good furniture. They demanded more from life, but everything
had become dearer, and they still lived from hand to mouth. He could see
that the social development had not kept pace with the mechanical; the
machines wedged themselves quietly but inexorably in between the workmen
and the work, and threw more and more men out of employment. The hours
of labor were not greatly shortened. Society did not seem to care to
protect the workers, but it interested itself more in disabled workmen
than before, and provision for the poor was well organized. Pelle could
not discover _any_ law that had a regulating effect, but found a
whole number of laws that plastered up the existing conditions. A great
deal of help was given, always just on the borders of starvation; and
more and more men had to apply for it. It did not rob them of their
rights as citizens, but made them a kind of politically _kept_
It was thus that the world of adventure which Pelle had helped to
conquer appeared now when he returned and looked at it with new eyes.
The world had not been created anew, and the Movement did not seem to
have produced anything strong and humanly supporting. It seemed as if
the workmen would quietly allow themselves to be left out of the game,
if only they received money for doing nothing! What had become of their
former pride? They must have acquired the morals of citizens, since they
willingly agreed to accept a pension for rights surrendered. They were
not deficient in power; they could make the whole world wither and die
without shedding a drop of blood, only by holding together. It was a
sense of responsibility that they lacked; they had lost the fundamental
idea of the Movement.
Pelle looked at the question from all sides while he trudged up and down
in his vain search. The prospect obtruded itself upon him, and there
were forces at work, both within and without, trying to push him into
the Movement and into the front rank among the leaders, but he repelled
the idea: he was going to work for his home now.
He managed to obtain some repairs for the neighbors, and also helped
Ellen to hang up clothes and turn the mangle. One must pocket one's
pride and be glad _she_ had something. She was glad of his help,
but did not want any one to see him doing this woman's work.
"It's not work for a man," she said, looking at him with eyes which said
how pleased she was to have his company.
They liked being together, enjoyed it in their own quiet way without
many words. Much had happened, but neither Pelle nor Ellen were in a
hurry. Neither of them had a facility in speaking, but they found their
way to an understanding through the pauses, and drew nearer to one
another in the silences. Each knew what the other had suffered without
requiring to have it told: time had been at work on them both.
There was no storm in their new companionship. The days passed quietly,
made sad by the years that had gone by. In Ellen's mind was neither
jubilation nor reproach. She was cautious with regard to him--almost as
shy as the first time they met; behind all her goodness and care lay the
same touch of maidenly reserve as at that time. She received his
caresses silently, she herself giving chiefly by being something for
him. He noticed how every little homely action she did for him grew out
of her like a motherly caress and took him into her heart. He was
grateful for it, but it was not that of which he stood most in need.
When they sat together in the twilight and the children played upon the
floor, she was generally silent, stealing glances at him now and then;
but as soon as he noticed these, the depth of her expression vanished.
Was she again searching for his inner being as she had done in their
earliest time together? It was as though she were calling to something
within him, but would not reveal herself. It was thus that mother might
sit and gaze searchingly into her child's future. Did she not love him
then? She had given him all that she possessed, borne him children, and
had faithfully waited for him when all the rest of the world had cast
him off; and yet he was not sure that she had ever loved him.
Pelle had never met with love in the form of something unmanageable; the
Movement had absorbed the surplus of his youth. But now he had been born
anew together with the spring, and felt it suddenly as an inward power.
He and Ellen would begin now, for now she was everything! Life had
taught him seriousness, and it was well. He was horrified at the
thoughtless way in which he had taken Ellen and made her a mother
without first making her a bride. Her woman's heart must be immeasurably
large since she had not gone to pieces in consequence, but still stood
as unmoved as ever, waiting for him to win her. She had got through it
by being a mother.
Would he ever win her? Was she really waiting still, or was she
contented with things as they were?
His love for her was so strong that everything about her was
transfigured, and he was happy in the knowledge that she was his fate.
Merely a ribbon or a worn check cotton apron--any little thing that
belonged to her--acquired a wonderfully warm hue, and filled his mind
with sweetness. A glance or a touch made him dizzy with happiness, and
his heart went out to her in waves of ardent longing. It awoke no
response; she smiled gently and pressed his hand. She was fond of him
and refused him nothing, but he nevertheless felt that she kept her
innermost self hidden from him. When he tried to see in, he found it
closed by a barrier of kindness.
Pelle was like a man returning home after years of exile, and trying to
bring himself into personal relations with everything; the act of
oblivion was in force only up to the threshold; the real thing he had to
see to himself. The land he had tilled was in other hands, he no longer
had any right to it; but it was he who had planted, and he must know how
it had been tended and how it had thriven.
The great advance had taken on a political character. The Movement had
in the meantime let the demand of the poorest of the people for bread
drop, and thrown them over as one would throw over ballast in order to
rise more quickly. The institutions themselves would be won, and then
they would of course come back to the starting-point and begin again
quite differently. It might be rather convenient to turn out those who
most hindered the advance, but would it lead to victory? It was upon
them indeed that everything turned! Pelle had thoroughly learned the
lesson, that he who thinks he will outwit others is outwitted himself.
He had no faith in those who would climb the fence where it was lowest.
The new tactics dated from the victorious result of the great conflict.
He had himself led the crowds in triumph through the capital, and if he
had not been taken he would probably now be sitting in parliament as one
of the labor members and symbolizing his promotion to citizenship. But
now he was out of it all, and had to choose his attitude toward the
existing state of things; he had belonged to the world of outcasts and
had stood face to face with the irreconcilable. He was not sure that the
poor man was to be raised by an extension of the existing social ethics.
He himself was still an outlaw, and would probably never be anything
else. It was hard to stoop to enter the doorway through which you had
once been thrown out, and it was hard to get in. He did not intend to
take any steps toward gaining admission to the company of respectable
men; he was strong enough to stand alone now.
Perhaps Ellen expected something in that way as reparation for all the
wrong she had suffered. She must have patience! Pelle had promised
himself that he would make her and the children happy, and he persuaded
himself that this would be best attained by following his own impulses.
He was not exactly happy. Pecuniarily things were in a bad way, and
notwithstanding all his planning, the future continued to look
uncertain. He needed to be the man, the breadwinner, so that Ellen could
come to him for safety and shelter, take her food with an untroubled
mind from his hand, and yield herself to him unresistingly.
He was not their god; that was where the defect lay. This was noticeable
at any rate in Lasse Frederik. There was good stuff in the boy, although
it had a tang of the street. He was an energetic fellow, bright and
pushing, keenly alert with regard to everything in the way of business.
Pelle saw in him the image of himself, and was only proud of him; but
the boy did not look upon him with unconditional reliance in return. He
was quick and willing, but nothing more; his attitude was one of trial,
as if he wanted to see how things would turn out before he recognized
the paternal relationship.
Pelle suffered under this impalpable distrust, which classed him with
the "new fathers" of certain children; and he had a feeling that was at
the same time painful and ridiculous, that he was on trial. In olden
days the matter might have been settled by a good thrashing, but now
things had to be arranged so that they would be lasting; he could no
longer buy cheaply. When helping Lasse Frederik in organizing the milk-
boys, he pocketed his pride and introduced features from the great
conflict in order to show that he was good for something too. He could
see from the boy's expression that he did not believe much of it, and
intended to investigate the matter more closely. It wounded his
sensitive mind and drove him into himself.
One day, however, when he was sitting at his work, Lasse Frederik rushed
in. "Father, tell me what you did to get the men that were locked into
the factory out!" he cried breathlessly.
"You wouldn't believe it if I did," said Pelle reproachfully.
"Yes, I would; for they called you the 'Lightning!'" exclaimed the boy
in tones of admiration. "And they had to put you in prison so as to get
rid of you. The milk-driver told me all about it!"
From that day they were friends. At one stroke Pelle had become the hero
of the boy's existence. He had shaved off his beard, had blackened his
face, and had gone right into the camp of his opponents, and nothing
could have been finer. He positively had to defend himself from being
turned into a regular robber-captain with a wide-awake hat and top-
boots! Lasse Frederik had a lively imagination!
Pelle had needed this victory. He must have his own people safely at his
back first of all, and then have a thorough settlement of the past. But
this was not easy, for little Boy Comfort staggered about everywhere,
warped himself toward him from one piece of furniture to another with
his serious eyes fixed steadily upon him, and crawled the last part of
the way. Whenever he was set down, he instantly steered for Pelle; he
would come crawling in right from the kitchen, and would not stop until
he stood on his feet by Pelle's leg, looking up at him. "See how fond he
is of you already!" said Ellen tenderly, as she put him down in the
middle of the floor to try him. "Take him up!" Pelle obeyed
mechanically; he had no personal feeling for this child; it was indeed
no child, but the accusation of a grown-up person that came crawling
toward him. And there stood Ellen with as tender an expression as if it
were her own baby! Pelle could not understand how it was that she did
not despise him; he was ashamed whenever he thought of his struggle to
reconcile himself to this "little cuckoo." It was a good thing he had
said so little!
His inability to be as naturally kind to the child as she was tormented
him; and when, on Saturday evening, she had bathed Boy Comfort and then
sat with him on her lap, putting on his clean clothes, Pelle was
overwhelmed with self-accusation. He had thoughtlessly trodden little
Marie of the "Ark" underfoot, and she whom he had cast off when she most
needed him, in return passed her beneficent hand over his wrong-doing.
As though she were aware of his gloomy thoughts, she went to him and
placed the warm, naked child in his arms, saying with a gentle smile:
"Isn't he a darling?" Her heart was so large that he was almost afraid;
she really took more interest in this child than in her own.
"I'm his mother, of course!" she said naturally. "You don't suppose he
can do without a real mother, do you?"
Marie's fate lay like a shadow over Pelle's mind. He had to talk to
Ellen about it in order to try to dispel it, but she did not see the
fateful connection; she looked upon it as something that had to be. "You
were so hunted and persecuted," she said quietly, "and you had no one to
look to. So it had to happen like that. Marie told me all about it. It
was no one's fault that she was not strong enough to bear children. The
doctor said there was a defect in her frame; she had an internal
deformity." Alas! Ellen did not know how much a human being should be
able to help, and she herself took much more upon her than she need.
There was, nevertheless, something soothing in these sober facts,
although they told him nothing about the real thing. It is impossible to
bear for long the burden of the irreparable, and Pelle was glad that
Ellen dwelt so constantly and naturally on Marie's fate; it brought it
within the range of ordinary things for him too. Marie had come to her
when she could no longer hide her condition, and Ellen had taken her in
and kept her until she went to the lying-in hospital. Marie knew quite
well that she was going to die--she could feel it, as it were--and would
sit and talk about it while she helped Ellen with her boot-sewing. She
arranged everything as sensibly as an experienced mother.
"How old-fashioned she was, and yet so child-like!" Ellen would exclaim
Pelle could not help thinking of his life in the "Ark" when little Marie
kept house for him and her two brothers--a careful housekeeper of eleven
years! She was deformed and yet had abundant possibilities within her;
she resembled poverty itself. Infected by his young strength, she had
shot up and unfolded into a fair maiden, at whom the young dandies
turned to look when she went along the street to make her purchases. He
had been anxious about her, alone and unprotected as she was; and yet it
was he himself who had become the plunderer of the poor, defenceless
girl. Why had he not carried his cross alone, instead of accepting the
love of a being who gave herself to him in gratitude for his gift to her
of the joy of life? Why had he been obliged, in a difficult moment, to
take his gift back? Boy Comfort she had called her boy in her innocent
goodness of heart, in order that Pelle should be really fond of him; but
it was a dearly-bought Comfort that cost the life of another! For Pelle
the child was almost an accusation.
There was much to settle up and some things that could not be arranged!
Pelle sometimes found it burdensome enough to be responsible for
About this time Morten was often in his thoughts. "Morten has
disappointed me at any rate," he thought; "he could not bear my
prosperity!" This was a point on which Pelle had right upon his side!
Morten must come to him if they were to have anything more to do with
one another. Pelle bore no malice, but it was reasonable and just that
the one who was on the top should first hold out his hand.
In this way he thought he had obtained rest from that question in any
case, but it returned. He had taken the responsibility upon himself now,
and was going to begin by sacrificing his only friend on a question of
etiquette! He would have to go to him and hold out a hand of
This at last seemed to be a noble thought!
But Pelle was not allowed to feel satisfied with himself in this either.
He was a prey to the same tormenting unrest that he had suffered in his
cell, when he stole away from his work and sat reading secretly--he felt
as if there were always an eye at the peephole, which saw everything
that he did. He would have to go into the question once more.
That unselfish Morten envious? It was true he had not celebrated Pelle's
victory with a flourish of trumpets, but had preferred to be his
conscience! That was really at the bottom of it. He had intoxicated
himself in the noise, and wanted to find something with which to drown
Morten's quiet warning voice, and the accusation was not far to seek--
_envy!_ It was he himself, in fact, who had been the one to
One day he hunted him up. Morten's dwelling was not difficult to find
out; he had acquired a name as an author, and was often mentioned in the
papers in connection with the lower classes. He lived on the South
Boulevard, up in an attic as usual, with a view over Kalvebod Strand and
"Why, is that you?" he said, taking Pelle's hands in his and gazing into
his stern, furrowed face until the tears filled his eyes. "I say, how
you have changed!" he whispered half tearfully, and led him into his
"I suppose I have," Pelle answered gloomily. "I've had good reason to,
anyhow. And how have you been? Are you married?"
"No, I'm as solitary as ever. The one I want still doesn't care about
me, and the others _I_ don't want. I thought you'd thrown me over
too, but you've come after all."
"I had too much prosperity, and that makes you self-important."
"Oh, well, it does. But in prison--why did you send my letters back? It
was almost too hard."
Pelle looked up in astonishment. "It would never have occurred to the
prisoner that he could hurt anybody, so you do me an injustice there,"
he said. "It was myself I wanted to punish!"
"You've been ill then, Pelle!"
"Yes, ill! You should only know what one gets like when they stifle your
right to be a human being and shut you in between four bare walls. At
one time I hated blindly the whole world; my brain reeled with trying to
find out a really crushing revenge, and when I couldn't hit others I
helped to carry out the punishment upon myself. There was always a
satisfaction in feeling that the more I suffered, the greater devils did
it make the others appear. And I really did get a hit at them; they
hated with all their hearts having to give me a transfer."
"Wasn't there any one there who could speak a comforting word--the
chaplain, the teachers?"
Pelle smiled a bitter smile. "Oh, yes, the lash! The jailer couldn't
keep me under discipline; I was what they call a difficult prisoner. It
wasn't that I didn't want to, but I had quite lost my balance. You might
just as well expect a man to walk steadily when everything is whirling
round him. They saw, I suppose, that I couldn't come right by myself, so
one day they tied me to a post, pulled my shirt up over my head and gave
me a thrashing. It sounds strange, but that did it; the manner of
procedure was so brutal that everything in me was struck dumb. When such
a thing as _that_ could happen, there was nothing more to protest
against. They put a wet sheet round me and I was lifted onto my pallet,
so that was all right. For a week I had to lie on my face and couldn't
move for the pain; the slightest movement made me growl like an animal.
The strokes had gone right through me and could be counted on my chest;
and there I lay like a lump of lead, struck down to the earth in open-
mouthed astonishment. 'This is what they do to human beings!' I groaned
inwardly; 'this is what they do to human beings!' I could no longer
Pelle's face had become ashen gray; all the blood had left it, and the
bones stood out sharply as in a dead face. He gulped two or three times
to obtain control over his voice.
"I wonder if you understand what it means to get a thrashing!" he said
hoarsely. "Fire's nothing; I'd rather be burnt alive than have it again.
The fellow doesn't beat; he's not the least angry; nobody's angry with
you; they're all so seriously grieved on your account. He places the
strokes carefully down over your back as if he were weighing out food,
almost as if he were fondling you. But your lungs gasp at each stroke
and your heart beats wildly; it's as if a thousand pincers were tearing
all your fibers and nerves apart at once. My very entrails contracted in
terror, and seemed ready to escape through my throat every time the lash
fell. My lungs still burn when I think of it, and my heart will suddenly
contract as if it would send the blood out through my throat. Do you
know what the devilish part of corporal punishment is? It's not the
bodily pain that they inflict upon the culprit; it's his inner man they
thrash--his soul. While I lay there brooding over my mutilated spirit,
left to lick my wounds like a wounded animal, I realized that I had been
in an encounter with the evil conscience of Society, the victim of their
hatred of those who suffer."
"Do you remember what gave occasion to the punishment?" Morten asked, as
he wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"It was some little thing or other--I think I called out. The solitude
and the terrible silence got upon my nerves, and I suppose I shouted to
make a little life in the horrible emptiness. I don't remember very
clearly, but I think that was my crime."
"You'd have been the better anyhow for a kind word from a friend."
Morten was still thinking of his despised letters.
"Yes, but the atmosphere of a cell is not suited for friendly relations
with the outside world. You get to hate all who are at liberty--those
who mean well by you too--and you chop off even the little bit of branch
you're sitting on. Perhaps I should never have got into touch with life
again if it hadn't been for the mice in my cell. I used to put crumbs of
bread down the grating for them, and when I lay there half dead and
brooding, they ran squeaking over my hand. It was a caress anyhow, even
if it wasn't from fellow-men."
Morten lived in a small two-roomed flat in the attics. While they sat
talking, a sound came now and then from the other room, and each time a
nervous look came into Morten's face, and he glanced in annoyance at the
closed door. Gradually he became quite restless and his attention was
fixed on these sounds. Pelle wondered at it, but asked no questions.
Suddenly there came the sound of a chair being overturned. Morten rose
quickly and went in, shutting the door carefully behind him. Pelle heard
low voices--Morten's admonishing, and a thin, refractory, girlish voice.
"He's got a girl hidden in there," thought Pelle. "I'd better be off."
He rose and looked out of the large attic window. How everything had
changed since he first came to the capital and looked out over it from
Morten's old lodging! In those days he had had dreams of conquering it,
and had carried out his plan too; and now he could begin from the
beginning! An entirely new city lay spread out beneath him. Where he had
once run about among wharves and coal-bunkers, there now stood a row of
palatial buildings with a fine boulevard. And everything outside was
new; a large working-men's district had sprung up where there had once
been timber-yards or water. Below him engines were drawing rows of
trucks filled with ballast across the site for the new goods-station
yard; and on the opposite side of the harbor a new residential and
business quarter had grown up on the Iceland Quay. And behind it all lay
the water and the green land of Amager. Morten had had the sense to
select a high branch for himself like the nightingales.
He had got together a good number of books again, and on his writing-
table stood photographs of well-known men with autograph inscriptions.
To all appearances he seemed to make his way in the world of books.
Pelle took down some of Morten's own works, and turned over their leaves
with interest. He seemed to hear Morten's earnest voice behind the
printed words. He would begin to read him now!
Morten came in. "You're not going, are you?" he asked, drawing his hand
across his forehead. "Do stay a little while and we'll have a good talk.
You can't think how I've missed you!" He looked tired.
"I'm looking forward tremendously to reading your books," said Pelle
enthusiastically. "What a lot you've written! You haven't given that
"Perhaps solitude's taught you too to like books," said Morten, looking
at him. "If so, you've made some good friends in there, Pelle. All that
there isn't worth much; it's only preliminary work. It's a new world
ours, you must remember."
"I don't think _The Working Man_ cares much about you."
"No, not much," answered Morten slowly.
"They say you only write in the upper-class papers."
"If I didn't I should starve. _They_ don't grudge me my food, at
any rate! Our own press still has no use for skirmishers, but only for
men who march to order!"
"And it's very difficult for you to subordinate yourself to any one,"
said Pelle, smiling.
"I have a responsibility to those above me," answered Morten proudly.
"If I give the blind man eyes to see into the future, I can't let myself
be led by him. Now and then _The Working Man_ gets hold of one of
my contributions to the upper-class press: that's all the connection I
have with my own side. My food I have to get from the other side of the
boundary, and lay my eggs there: they're pretty hard conditions. You
can't think how often I've worried over not being able to speak to my
own people except in roundabout ways. Well, it doesn't matter! I can
afford to wait. There's no way of avoiding the son of my father, and in
the meantime I'm doing work among the upper classes. I bring the misery
into the life of the happily-situated, and disturb their quiet
enjoyment. The upper classes must be prepared for the revolution too."
"Can they stand your representations?" asked Pelle, in surprise.
"Yes, the upper classes are just as tolerant as the common people were
before they rose: it's an outcome of culture. Sometimes they're almost
too tolerant; you can't quite vouch for their words. When there's
something they don't like, they always get out of it by looking at it
from an artistic point of view."
"How do you mean?"
"As a display, as if you were acting for their entertainment. 'It's
splendidly done,' they say, when you've laid bare a little of the
boundless misery. 'It's quite Russian. Of course it's not real at all,
at any rate not here at home.' But you always make a mark on some one or
other, and little by little the food after all becomes bitter to their
taste, I think. Perhaps some day I shall be lucky enough to write in
such a way about the poor that no one can leave them out. But you
yourself--what's your attitude toward matters? Are you disappointed?"
"Yes, to some extent. In prison, in my great need, I left the fulfilment
of the time of prosperity to you others. All the same, a great change
has taken place."
"And you're pleased with it?"
"Everything has become dearer," said Pelle slowly, "and unemployment
seems on the way to become permanent."
Morten nodded. "That's the answer capital gives," he said. "It
multiplies every rise in wages by two, and puts it back on the workmen
again. The poor man can't stand very many victories of that kind."
"Almost the worst thing about it is the development of snobbery. It
seems to me that our good working classes are being split up into two--
the higher professions, which will be taken up into the upper classes;
and the proletariat, which will be left behind. The whole thing has been
planned on too small a scale for it to get very far."
"You've been out and seen something of the world, Pelle," said Morten
significantly. "You must teach others now."
"I don't understand myself," answered Pelle evasively, "and I've been in
prison. But what about you?"
"I'm no good as a rallier; you've seen that yourself. They don't care
about me. I'm too far in advance of the great body of them, and have no
actual connection--you know I'm really terribly lonely! Perhaps, though,
I'm destined to reach the heights before you others, and if I do I'll
try to light a beacon up there for you."
Morten sat silent for a little while, and then suddenly lifted his head.
"But you _must_, Pelle!" he said. "You say you're not the right
man, but there's simply no one but you. Have you forgotten that you
fired the Movement, that you were its simple faith? They one and all
believed in you blindly like children, and were capable of nothing when
you gave up. Why, it's not you, but the others--the whole Movement--
who've been imprisoned! How glad I am that you've come back full of the
strength gained there! You were smaller than you are now, Pelle, and
even then something happened; now you may be successful even in great
Pelle sat and listened in the deepening twilight, wondering with a
pleased embarrassment. It was Morten who was nominating him--the severe,
incorruptible Morten, who had always before been after him like his evil
"No, I'm going to be careful now," he said, "and it's your own fault,
Morten. You've gone and pricked my soul, and I'm awake now; I shan't go
at anything blindly again. I have a feeling that what we two are joining
in is the greatest thing the world has ever seen. It reaches further
into the future than I can see, and so I'm working on myself. I study
the books now--I got into the way of that in prison--and I must try to
get a view out over the world. Something strange too has happened to me:
I understand now what you meant when you said that man was holy! I'm no
longer satisfied with being a small part of the whole, but think I must
try to become a whole world by myself. It sounds foolish, but I feel as
if I were in one of the scales and the rest of the world in the other;
and until I can send the other scale up, I can't think of putting myself
at the head of the multitude."
Evening had closed in before they were aware of it. The electric light
from the railway-station yard threw its gleam upon the ceiling of the
attic room and was reflected thence onto the two men who sat leaning
forward in the half-darkness, talking quietly. Neither of them noticed
that the door to the other room had opened, and a tall, thin girl stood
on the threshold gazing at them with dilated pupils. She was in her
chemise only, and it had slipped from one thin shoulder; and her feet
were bare. The chemise reached only to her knees, leaving exposed a pair
of sadly emaciated legs. A wheezing sound accompanied her breathing.
Pelle had raised his head to say something, but was silent at sight of
the lean, white figure, which stood looking at him with great eyes that
seemed to draw the darkness into them. The meeting with Morten had put
him into an expectant frame of mind. He still had the call sounding in
his ears, and gazed in amazement at the ghostly apparition. The delicate
lines, spoiled by want, the expression of childlike terror of the dark--
all this twofold picture of wanness stamped with the stamp of death, and
of an unfulfilled promise of beauty--was it not the ghost of poverty, of
wrong and oppression, a tortured apparition sent to admonish him? Was
his brain failing? Were the horrible visions of the darkness of his cell
returning? "Morten!" he whispered, touching his arm.
Morten sprang up. "Why, Johanna! Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" he
exclaimed reproachfully. He tried to make the girl go back into the
other room, and to close the door; but she pushed past him out into the
"I _will_ see him!" she cried excitedly. "If you don't let me, I
shall run away! He's hidden my clothes," she said to Pelle, gazing at
him with her sunken eyes. "But I can easily run away in my chemise. I
don't care!" Her voice was rough and coarse from the damp air of the
"Now go back to bed, Johanna!" said Morten more gently.
"Remember what the doctor said. You'll catch cold and it'll all be
"What do I care!" she answered, breaking into a coarse laugh. "You
needn't waste anything on me; I've had no children by you." She was
trembling with cold, but remained obstinately standing, and answered
Morten's remonstrances with a torrent of abusive epithets. At last he
gave it up and sat down wearily. The two men sat and looked at her in
The child was evidently uncomfortable at the cessation of resistance,
and became confused beneath their silent gaze. She tossed her head and
looked defiantly from the one to the other, her eyes glowing with an
unnatural brightness. Suddenly she sank upon the floor and began to cry.
"_This_ won't do," said Pelle gravely.
"I can't manage her," answered Morten hopelessly, "but you are strong
Pelle stooped and took her up in his arms. She kicked and bit him.
"She's got a fit," he said to Morten. "We must take her out to the
pump." She instantly became quiet and let him carry her to bed. The
fever was raging in her, and he noticed how her body was racked with
every breath she drew; it sounded like a leaky pump.
When Morten, with a few kind words, covered her up, she began to weep
convulsively, but turned her face to the wall and stuffed the quilt into
her mouth in order to hide it. She gradually became quieter and at last
fell asleep; and the two men stole out of the room and closed the door
Morten looked tired out, for he was still not strong. "I've let myself
in for something that I'm not equal to," he said despondently.
"Who is the poor child?" asked Pelle softly.
"I don't know. She came to me this spring, almost dead drunk and in a
fearful state; and the next day she regretted it and went off, but I got
hold of her again. She's one of those poor creatures who have no other
home than the big timber-yards, and there she's made a living by going
from one to another of the bigger lads. I can get nothing out of her,
but I've found out in other ways that she's lived among timber-stacks
and in cellars for at least two years. The boys enticed dissolute men
out there and sold her, taking most of the money themselves and giving
her spirits to encourage her. From what I can make out there are whole
organized bands which supply the dissolute men of the city with boys and
girls. It makes one sick to think of it! The child must be an orphan,
but won't, as I said, tell me anything. Once or twice I've heard her
talk in her sleep of her grandmother; but when I've referred to it, she
sulks and won't speak."
"Does she drink?" asked Pelle.
Morten nodded. "I've had some bad times with her on that account," he
said. "She shows incredible ingenuity when it's a case of getting hold
of liquor. At first she couldn't eat hot food at all, she was in such a
state. She's altogether fearfully shattered in soul and body, and causes
me much trouble."
"Why don't you get her into some home?"
"Our public institutions for the care of children are not calculated to
foster life in a down-trodden plant, and you'll not succeed with Johanna
by punishment and treatment like any ordinary child. At times she's
quite abnormally defiant and unmanageable, and makes me altogether
despair; and then when I'm not looking, she lies and cries over herself.
There's much good in her in spite of everything, but she can't let it
come out. I've tried getting her into a private family, where I knew
they would be kind to her; but not many days had passed before they came
and said she'd run away. For a couple of weeks she wandered about, and
then came back again to me. Late one evening when I came home, I found
her sitting wet and shivering in the dark corner outside my door. I was
quite touched, but she was angry because I saw her, and bit and kicked
as she did just now. I had to carry her in by force. Her unhappy
circumstances have thrown her quite off her balance, and I at any rate
can't make her out. So that's how matters stand. I sleep on the sofa in
here, but of course a bachelor's quarters are not exactly arranged for
this. There's a lot of gossip too among the other lodgers."
"Does that trouble you?" asked Pelle in surprise.
"No, but the child, you see--she's terribly alive to that sort of thing.
And then she doesn't comprehend the circumstances herself. She's only
about eleven or twelve, and yet she's already accustomed to pay for
every kindness with her weak body. Can't you imagine how dreadful it is
to look into her wondering eyes? The doctor says she's been injured
internally and is probably tuberculous too; he thinks she'll never get
right. And her soul! What an abyss for a child! For even one child to
have such a fate is too much, and how many there are in the hell in
which we live!"
They were both silent for a little while, and then Morten rose. "You
mustn't mind if I ask you to go," he said, "but I must get to work;
there's something I've got to finish this evening. You won't mind, will
you? Come and see me again as soon as you can, and thanks for coming
this time!" he said as he pressed Pelle's hand.
"I'd like you to keep your eyes open," he said as he followed him to the
door. "Perhaps you could help me to find out the history of the poor
thing. You know a lot of poor people, and must have come in some way or
other into her life, for I can see it in her. Didn't you notice how
eager she was to have a look at you? Try to find out about it, will
Pelle promised, but it was more easily said than done. When his thoughts
searched the wide world of poverty to which he had drawn so close during
the great lock-out, he realized that there were hundreds of children who
might have suffered Johanna's fate.
Pelle had got out his old tools and started as shoemaker to the dwellers
in his street. He no longer went about seeking for employment, and to
Ellen it appeared as if he had given up all hope of getting any. But he
was only waiting and arming himself: he was as sanguine as ever. The
promise of the inconceivable was still unfulfilled in his mind.
There was no room for him up in the small flat with Ellen doing her
washing there, so he took a room in the high basement, and hung up a
large placard in the window, on which he wrote with shoemaker's ink,
"Come to me with your shoes, and we will help one another to stand on
our feet." When Lasse Frederik was not at work or at school, he was
generally to be found downstairs with his father. He was a clever fellow
and could give a hand in many ways. While they worked they talked about
all sorts of things, and the boy related his experiences to his father.
He was changing very rapidly and talked sensibly about everything. Pelle
was afraid he was getting too little out of his childhood. "Aren't you
going up to play with them?" he asked, when the boys of the neighborhood
rushed shouting past the basement window; but Lasse Frederik shook his
head. He had played at being everything, from a criminal to a king, so
there was nothing more to be had in that direction. He wanted something
real now, and in the meantime had dreams of going to sea.
Although they all three worked, they could only just make ends meet;
there was never anything over for extras. This was a sorrow to Ellen
especially; Pelle did not seem to think much about it. If they only put
something eatable before him, he was contented and did not mind what it
It was Ellen's dream that they should still, by toiling early and late,
be able to work themselves up into another stratum; but Pelle was angry
when she worked on after the time for leaving off. He would rather they
were a little poor, if only they could afford to be human beings. Ellen
did not understand it, but she saw that his mind was turned in another
direction; he who had hitherto always fallen asleep over books would now
become so absorbed in them that he did not hear the children playing
round him. She had actually to rouse him when there was anything she
wanted; and she began to fear this new power which had come in place of
the old. It seemed like a curse that something should always work upon
him to take him beyond her. And she dared not oppose it; she had bitter
experience from former times.
"What are you looking for in those books?" she asked, sitting down
beside him. Pelle looked up absently. His thoughts were in far-off
regions where she had never been. What was he looking for? He tried to
tell her, but could not explain it. "I'm looking for myself!" he said
suddenly, striking boldly through everything. Ellen gazed at him,
wondering and disappointed.
But she tried again. This time nothing should come between them and
destroy her world. She no longer directly opposed anything; she meant to
_go with him_ and be where he was. "Tell me what you are doing and
let me take part in it," she said.
Pelle had been prepared to some extent to go into this by himself, and
was glad to meet with a desire for development in her too. For the
present the intellectual world resembled more or less a wilderness, and
it was good to have a companion with him in traversing it.
He explained to her the thoughts that occupied him, and discussed them
with her; and Ellen observed wonderingly that it was all about things
that did not concern their own little well-being. She took great pains
to comprehend this flight away from the things that mattered most; it
was like children who always wanted what they ought not to have.
In the evening, when Boy Comfort and Sister had been put to bed, Pelle
would take a book and read aloud. Ellen was occupied with some mending
or other, and Lasse Frederik, his ears standing out from his head, hung
over a chair-back with his eyes fixed upon his father. Although he did
not understand the half of it, he followed it attentively until Nature
asserted herself, and he fell asleep.
Ellen understood this very well, for she had great difficulty herself in
keeping her eyes open. They were not stories that Pelle read. Sometimes
he would stop to write something down or to discuss some question or
other. He would have the most extraordinary ideas, and see a connection
between things that seemed to Ellen to be as far apart as the poles; she
could not help thinking that he might very well have studied to be a
pastor. It suited him, however; his eyes became quite black when he was
explaining some subject that he was thoroughly interested in, and his
lips assumed an expression that made her long to kiss them. She had to
confess to herself that in any case it was a very harmless evening
occupation, and was glad that what was interesting him this time kept
him at home at any rate.
One day Pelle became aware that she was not following him. She did not
even believe in what he was doing; she had never believed in him
blindly. "She's never really loved me either: that's why!" he thought
despondently. Perhaps that explained why she took Boy Comfort as calmly
as if he were her own child: she was not jealous! Pelle would willingly
have submitted to a shower of reproaches if afterward she had given him
a kiss wetted with hot tears; but Ellen was never thrown off her
Happy though they were, he noticed that she, to a certain extent,
reckoned without him, as if he had a weakness of which it was always
well to take account. Her earlier experiences had left their mark upon
* * * * *
Ellen had been making plans with regard to the old room and the two
small ante-rooms at the end of it. She was tired of washing; it paid
wretchedly and gave a great deal of work, and she received very little
consideration. She now wanted to let lodgings to artistes. She knew of
more than one woman in their street who made a nice living by taking in
artistes. "If I'd only got a couple of hundred krones (10 or 11 pounds)
to start it with, I'm sure I should make it pay," she said. "And then
you'd have more time and quiet for reading your books," she added
Pelle was against the plan. The better class of artistes took rooms at
the artiste hotels, and the people _they_ might expect to get had
not much to pay with. He had seen a good deal of them from his basement
window, and had mended shoes for some of them: they were rather a
soleless tribe. She said no more about it, but he could see that she was
not convinced. She only dropped the subject because he was against it
and it was he who would have to procure the money.
He could not bear to think this; he had become cautious about deciding
for others. The money might be obtained, if in no other way, by giving
security in his furniture and tools. If the plan did not succeed, it
would be certain ruin; but perhaps Ellen thought him a wet blanket.
One day he threw down his leather apron and went out to raise the money.
It was late when he came home, and Ellen was standing at the door
waiting for him with a face of anxiety.
"Here's the money, my dear! What'll you give me for it?" he said gaily,
and counted out into her hand a hundred and eighty krones (L10) in
notes. Ellen gazed in surprise at the money; she had never held so large
a sum in her hands before.
"Wherever did you get all that money from?" she asked at last.
"Well, I've trudged all day from place to place," said Pelle cheerfully,
"and at last I was directed to a man in Blaagaard Street. He gave me two
hundred krones (L11) on the furniture."
"But there's only one hundred and eighty (L10) here!"
"Oh, well, he took off twenty krones (L1 2_s_.). The loan's to be
repaid in instalments of twenty krones (L1 2_s_.) a month for
fifteen months. I had to sign a statement that I had borrowed three
hundred krones (L16 10_s_.), but then we shan't have to pay any
Ellen stared at him in amazement. "Three hundred krones, and we've only
got a hundred and eighty, Pelle!" But she suddenly threw her arms round
his neck and kissed him passionately. "Thank you!" she whispered. He
felt quite dazed; it was not like her to be so vehement.
She had plenty to do, after hiring the room, in putting it in order. The
loose beams had to be fixed up, and the walls plastered and whitewashed
a little. The old peasant was willing enough to let it, but he would not
hear of going to any expense. Ellen at last succeeded, however, in
getting him to agree to pay half the repairs on condition that she took
the room for a year and payed the rent in advance. "We can get my
brother Frederik to do some of the repairs on Sunday morning," she said
to Pelle, "and then perhaps we shall get it done for nothing." She was
altogether very energetic.
There was need for it too. The rent swallowed up the hundred krones (L5
10_s_.), and then there were all the things that had to be got. She
bought a quantity of cheap print, and hung it up so as to divide one
side of the room into a number of small compartments each provided with
a second-hand bed and hay mattress, and a washing-stand. "Artistes are
not so particular," she said, "and I'm sure they'll be glad to have the
room to practise in." Finally there were the two little anterooms, which
were to be furnished a little better for more particular artistes. There
was not nearly enough money, and some of the things had to be taken on
At last it was all ready to receive the guests. It looked quite smart
for the amount spent on it, and Pelle could not but admire her
cleverness in making a little go a long way. The only thing now left to
do was to catch the birds, but here Ellen's practical sense ceased to
act; she had no idea how to proceed. "We must advertise," she said, and
counted up her remaining pence.
Pelle laughed at her. A lot of good it would be to advertise for people
who were goodness knows where on railways and steamers! "What shall we
do then?" she said, looking anxiously to him for help. After all, he was
the man for it all.
Well, first of all there must be a German placard down on the street-
door, and then they must make the rooms known. Pelle had studied both
German and English in the prison, and he made up the placard himself. He
had cards printed, and left them in the artistes' tavern at the corner
of Vesterbro Street, went there himself two or three times after
midnight when the artistes gathered there when their work was finished,
and stationed himself at the stage-entrances of the music-halls. He soon
came to look upon it as a task to be performed, like everything with
which he occupied himself; and this _should_ succeed!
Ellen looked on wondering and helpless. She had all at once grown
frightened, and followed each of his movements with anxious attention.
Soon, however, things began to move. The girls whose washing Ellen had
done took an interest in the undertaking, and sent lodgers to her; and
Lasse Frederik, who had the run of the circus stables, often returned
with some Russian groom or other who did a turn as a rustic dancer or a
Cossack horseman. Sometimes there lived with her people from the other
side of the world where they walk with their heads down--fakirs and
magicians from India and Japan, snake-charmers from Tetuan, people with
shaven heads or a long black pigtail, with oblique, sorrowful eyes,
loose hips and skin that resembled the greenish leather that Pelle used
for ladies' boots. Sister was afraid of them, but it was the time of his
life to Lasse Frederik. There were fat Tyrolese girls, who came three by
three; they jodeled at the music-halls, and looked dreadful all day,
much to Ellen's despair. Now and then a whole company would come, and
then trapezes and rings creaked in the great room, Spanish dancers went
through their steps, and jugglers practised new feats.
They were all people who should preferably not be seen off the stage.
Ellen often went to the circus and music-halls now, but could never
quite believe that the performers were the same men and women who went
about at home looking like scarecrows. Most of them required nothing
except that the lodging should be cheap; they boarded themselves, and
goodness knows what they lived on. Some of them simply lighted a fire on
a sheet of iron on the floor and made a mixture of rice or something of
the sort. They could not eat Danish food, Pelle said. Sometimes they
went away without paying, and occasionally took something with them; and
they often broke things. There was no fortune to be made out of them,
but in the meantime Ellen was satisfied as long as she could keep it
going, so that it paid the rent and instalments on the loan and left her
a little for her trouble. It was her intention to weed out the more
worthless subjects, and raise the whole tone of the business when it had
got into good order.
"You really might refuse the worst work now, and save yourself a
little," she said to Pelle when he was sitting over some worn-out
factory shoes that had neither sole nor upper. Most boots and shoes had
done service somewhere else before they reached this neighborhood; and
when they came to Pelle there was not much left of them. "Say no to it!"
said Ellen. "It's far too hardly earned for you! And we shall get on now
without having to take everything." In the kindness of her heart she
wanted him to be able to read his books, since he had a weakness for
them. Her intention was good, but Pelle had no thought of becoming an
aesthetic idler, who let his wife keep him while he posed as a learned
man. There were enough of them in the neighborhood, and the inhabitants
looked up to them; but they were not interesting. They were more or less
another form of drunkard.
To Pelle books were a new power, grown slowly out of his sojourn in
prison. He had sat there alone with his work, thrown on himself for
occupation, and he had examined himself in every detail. It was like
having companionship when he brought to light anything new and strange
in himself; and one day he chanced upon the mistiness of his own being,
and discovered that it consisted of experience that others had gone
through before him. The Bible, which always lay on the prisoner's table
for company, helped him; its words had the sound of a well-known voice
that reminded him strongly of Father Lasse's in his childhood. From the
Bible he went on further and discovered that the serious books were men
who sat in solitude like himself, and spoke out.
Was solitude so dreadful then when you had such company? Pelle was no
longer able to comprehend his own fear of it. As a child he had been a
creature in the widest sense, and found companionship in everything; he
could converse with trees, animals, and stones. Those fibers had
withered, and no longer conveyed nourishment; but then he became one
with the masses, and thought and felt exactly as they did. That was
crumbling away too now; he was being isolated distinctly, bit by bit,
and he was interested in discovering a plan in it. He had made
Nature subject to him even as a child, and had afterward won the masses!
It was solitude now that had to be taken, and he himself was going about
in the midst of it, large and wonderful! It was already leaving
indelible traces in his mind, although he had seen nothing of it yet. He
felt strangely excited, very much as he had felt when, in his childhood,
he arrived in Bornholm with his father and could see nothing, but heard
the movement of thronging life behind the mist. A new and unknown world,
full of wonders and throbbing with anticipation, would meet him in
Pelle's action was not due to his own volition. He might as well try to
lift himself up by his hair as determine that now he would be a human
being by himself. It was an awakening of new powers. He no longer let
sunshine and rain pass unnoticed over his head. A strange thing happened
to him--he looked wonderingly at everything that he had formerly passed
by as commonplace, and saw it all in a new, brilliant light. He had to
go all over it from the beginning, look at every detail. How wonderfully
everything was connected, sorrow and joy and apparent trifles, to make
him, Pelle, who had ruled over hundreds of thousands and yet had to go
to prison in order to feel himself rich! Something had been ignited in
him that could never be extinguished, a sacred fire to which everything
must bear fuel, whether it would or not. He could not be conquered now;
he drew strength from infinity itself.
The bare cell--three paces one way and six the other--with its tiny
window and the mysterious peephole in the door which was like a watchful
eye upon one always, how much it had held! It had always been the lot of
the poor man to create worlds out of the void, beautiful mirages which
suddenly broke and threw him back even poorer and more desolate. But
this lasted. All the threads of life seemed to be joined together in the
bare cell. It was like the dark, underground place in large buildings
where the machinery is kept that admits and excludes light and heat to
the whole block. There he discovered how rich and varied life is.
Pelle went about in a peculiarly elevated frame of mind. He felt that
something greater and finer than himself had taken up its abode within
him and would grow on to perfection there.
It was a new being that yet was himself; it remained there and drew
nourishment from everything that he did. He went about circumspectly and
quietly, with an introspective expression as though he were weighing
everything: there was so much that was not permissible because it might
injure _it_! There were always two of them now--Pelle and this
wonderful, invisible ego, which lay securely and weightily within him
like a living thing, with its roots in the darkness.
Pelle's relations to books were deeply grounded: he had to find out what
the world meant now. He was a little distrustful of works of fiction;
you got at their subject-matter too easily, and that could not be right.
They were made up, too! He needed real stuff, facts. There were great
spaces in his brain that longed to be filled with a tangible knowledge
of things. His favorite reading was historical works, especially social
history; and at present he read everything that came in his way, raw and
unsweetened; it would have to sort itself out. It was a longing that had
never been satisfied, and now seemed insatiable.
He minded his work punctiliously, however. He had made it a principle
never to touch a book as long as any work lay waiting unfinished on the
floor. In prison he had dreamt of a reasonable working-day of--for
instance--eight hours, so that he would have time and strength to occupy
himself with intellectual matters; but now he took it off his night's
sleep instead. This was at any rate a field out of which they need not
try to keep him; he would have his share in the knowledge of the times.
He felt it was a weapon. The poor man had long enough retired willingly
into the corner for want of enlightenment, and whenever he put out his
head he was laughed back again. Why did he not simply wrest the
prerogative from the upper classes? It cost only toil, and in that coin
he was accustomed to pay! He was scarcely deficient in ability; as far
as Pelle could see at present, almost all the pioneers of the new state
of things came from the lower classes.
He discovered with pleasure that his inward searching did not carry him
away from the world, for far in there he came out again into the light--
the light itself! He followed the secret laws for his own inward being,
and found himself once more deep in the question of the welfare of the
multitude. His practical sense required this confirmation of the
conditions. There were also outward results. Even now history could no
longer be used to light him and his ideas home; he knew too much. And
his vision grew from day to day, and embraced an ever-widening horizon.
Some day he would simply take the magic word from the trolls and wake
the giant with it!
He worked hard and was as a rule full of confidence. When the last of
the artistes came home from their _cafe_, he was often sitting
working by the light of his shoemaker's lamp. They would stop before the
open basement window and have a chat with him in their broken Danish.
His domestic circumstances were somewhat straitened; the instalments in
repayment of the loan, and the debt on the furniture still swallowed all
that they were able to scrape together, and Pelle had no prospect of
getting better work. But work is the bearer of faith, and he felt sure
that a way would open out if only he kept on with it unweariedly.
He took Ellen's unspoken mistrust of his projects quietly. He felt
himself to be greater than she in this; she could not reach up to the
level of his head!
Pelle was awake as early as four o'clock, although he had gone to bed
late. He slept lightly at this time, when the summer night lay lightly
upon his eyelids. He stole out into the kitchen and washed himself under
the tap, and then went down to his work. The gray spirit of the night
was still visible down in the street, but a tinge of red was appearing
above the roofs. "The sun's rising now over the country," he thought,
recalling the mornings of his childhood, the fields with their sheen of
silvery dew, and the sun suddenly coming and changing them into
thousands of sparkling diamond drops. Ah, if one could once more run
bare-footed, if a little shrinkingly, out into the dewy grass, and shout
a greeting to the dawning day: "Get up, Sun! Pelle is here already!"
The night-watchman came slowly past the open window on his way home. "Up
already?" he exclaimed in a voice hoarse with the night air, as he
nodded down to Pelle. "Well, it's the early bird that catches the worm!
You'll be rich one of these days, shoemaker!" Pelle laughed; he
He thought of his wife and children while he worked. It was nice to
think of them sleeping so securely while he sat here at work; it
emphasized the fact that he was their bread-winner. With every blow of
his hammer the home grew, so he hammered away cheerfully. They were
poor, but that was nothing in comparison with the fact that if he were
taken away now, things would go to pieces. He was the children's
Providence; it was always "Father's going to," or "Father said so." In
their eyes he was infallible. Ellen too began to come to him with her
troubles; she no longer kept them to herself, but recognized that he had
the broader back.
It was all so undeserved--as if good spirits were working for him.
Shameful though it was that the wife should work to help to keep the
family, he had not been able to exempt her from it. And what had he done
for the children? It was not easy to build everything up at once from a
bare foundation, and he was sometimes tempted to leave something alone
so as to accomplish the rest the more quickly. As it was now, he was
really nothing! Neither the old Pelle nor the new, but something
indeterminate, in process of formation, something that was greatly in
need of indulgence! A removing van full of furniture on its way to a new
He often enough had occasion to feel this from outside; both old enemies
and old friends looked upon him as a man who had gone very much down in
the world. Their look said: "Is that really all that remains of that
stalwart fellow we once knew?" His own people, on the other hand, were
lenient in their judgment. "Father hasn't got time," Sister would say in
explanation to herself when she was playing about down in his work-room
--"but he will have some day!" And then she would picture to herself all
the delightful things that would happen then. It affected Pelle
strangely; he would try to get through this as quickly as possible.
It was a dark and pathless continent into which he had ventured, but he
was now beginning to find his way in it. There were ridges of hills that
constantly repeated themselves, and a mountain-top here and there that
was reached every time he emerged from the thicket. It was good to
travel there. Perhaps it was the land he and the others had looked for.
When he had got through, he would show it to them.
Pelle had a good memory, and remembered all that he read. He could quote
much of it verbatim, and in the morning, before the street had wakened,
he used to go through it all in his mind while he worked. It surprised
him to find how little history concerned itself with his people; it was
only in quite recent times that they had been included. Well, that did
not trouble him! The Movement _was_ really something new, and not
one of history's everlasting repetitions. He now wanted to see its idea
in print, and one day found him sitting with a strange solemnity in the
library with Marx and Henry George in front of him. Pelle knew something
about this subject too, but this was nevertheless like drawing up a net
from the deep; a brilliant world of wonders came up with it. There were
incontrovertible logical proofs that he had a right apprehension, though
it had been arrived at blindly. The land of fortune was big enough for
all; the greater the number that entered it, the larger did it become.
He felt a desire to hit out again and strike a fresh blow for happiness!
Suddenly an avalanche seemed to fall from the top to the bottom of the
house, a brief, all-pervading storm that brought him back to his home.
It was only Lasse Frederik ushering in the day; he took a flight at each
leap, called a greeting down to his father, and dashed off to his work,
buttoning the last button of his braces as he ran. A little later Ellen
came down with coffee.
"Why didn't you call me when you got up?" she said sulkily. "It's not
good to sit working so long without having had something to eat."
Pelle laughed and kissed her good-morning. "Fine ladies don't get up
until long after their husbands," he said teasingly.
But Ellen would not be put off with a jest. A proper wife would be up
before her husband and have something ready for him. "I _will_ have
you call me!" she said decidedly, her cheeks very red. It suited her to
get roused now and then.
While he drank his coffee, she sat and talked to him about her affairs,
and they discussed the plans for the day, after which she went upstairs
to help the children to dress.
Later in the morning Pelle laid aside his work, dressed himself and went
out to deliver it. While he was out he would go into the Library and
look up something in the large dictionaries.
The street lived its own quiet life here close up to the greater
thoroughfares--the same life day after day. The fat second-hand dealer
from Jutland was standing as usual at his door, smoking his wooden pipe.
"Good-morning, shoemaker!" he cried. A yellow, oblique-eyed oriental in
slippers and long black caftan was balancing himself carelessly on the
steps of the basement milk-shop with a bowl of cream in one hand and a
loaf of bread in the other. Above on the pavement two boys were playing
hopscotch, just below the large red lamp which all night long advertised
its "corn-operator" right up to the main thoroughfare. Two girls in
cycling costume came out of a gateway with their machines; they were
going to the woods. "Good-day, Pelle! How is Ellen's business getting
on?" they asked familiarly. They were girls for whom she had washed.
Pelle was fond of this busy part of the town where new shops with large
plate-glass windows stood side by side with low-roofed cottages where
retail business was carried on behind ordinary windows with wallflowers
and dahlias in them as they might be in any provincial town. A string
was stretched above the flower-pots, with a paper of safety-pins or a
bundle of shoelaces hanging from it. There were poor people enough here,
but life did not run in such hard grooves as out at Norrebro. People
took existence more easily; he thought them less honorable, but also
less self-righteous. They seemed to be endowed with a more cheerful
temperament, did not go so steadily and methodically to and from their
fixed work, but, on the other hand, had several ways of making a living.
There was everywhere a feeling of breaking up, which corresponded well
with Pelle's own condition; the uncertainty of life enveloped everything
in a peculiarly tense atmosphere. Poverty did not come marching in close
columns of workmen; its clothing was plentiful and varied; it might
appear in the last woollen material from the big houses of old
Copenhagen, or in gold-rimmed spectacles and high hat. Pelle thought he
knew all the trades, but here there were hundreds of businesses that
could not be organized; every day he discovered new and remarkable
trades. He remembered how difficult it had been to organize out here;
life was too incalculable.
There was room here for everything; next door to one another lived
people whom the Movement had not yet gathered in, and people who had
been pushed up out of it in obstinate defiance. There was room here for
him too; the shadow he had dreaded did not follow him. The people had
seen too much of life to interfere in one another's affairs; respectable
citizenship had not been able to take possession of the poor man. There
was something of the "Ark" about this part of the town, only not its
hopelessness; on the contrary, all possibilities were to be found here.
The poor man had conquered this ground from the rich citizens, and it
seemed as if the development had got its direction from them. Here it
was the proletariat whose varied nature forced its way upward, and
leavened--so to speak--the whole. In the long side streets, which were
full of second-hand dealers and pawnbrokers, existence had not resolved
itself into its various constituents. Girls and gamblers were next-door
neighbors to old, peaceable townsfolk, who lived soberly on the interest
of their money, and went to church every Sunday with their hymn-books in
their hands. The ironmonger had gold watches and antique articles among
the lumber in his cellar.
Pelle went along Vesterbro Street. The summer holidays were just over,
and the pavement on the Figaro side was crowded with sunburnt people--
business-men, students and college girls--who were conspicuous in the
throng by their high spirits. They had just returned to town, and still
had the scent of fresh breeze and shore about them: it was almost as
good as a walk in the country. And if he wanted to go farther out into
the world, he could do that too; there were figures enough in the
Vesterbro neighborhood to arrest his fancy and carry him forth. It was
like a quay on which people from all parts of the world had agreed to
meet--artists, seamen and international agents. Strange women came
sailing through the crowd, large, exotic, like hot-house fruits; Pelle
recognized them from the picture of the second-hand dealer's daughter in
the "Ark," and knew that they belonged to the international nursing
corps. They wore striped costumes, and their thick, fair hair emitted a
perfume of foreign lands, of many ports and routes, like the interior of
steamers; and their strong, placid faces were big with massage. They
floated majestically down the current like full-rigged vessels. In their
wake followed some energetic little beings who also belonged to the
show, and had decked themselves out to look like children, with puffed
sleeves, short skirts, and hair tied up with ribbons. Feeble old men,
whom the sun had enticed out, stood in silent wonder, following the
lovely children with their eyes.
Pelle felt a peculiar pleasure in being carried along with this stream
which flowed like life itself, broad and calm. The world was greater
than he had thought, and he took no side for or against anything, but
merely wondered over its variety.
* * * * *
He came home from the library at two, with a large volume of statistics
under his arm. Ellen received him with red eyes.
"Have your lodgers been making things unpleasant for you again?" he
asked, looking into her face. She turned her head away.
"Did you get the money for your work?" she asked instead of answering.
"No, the man wasn't in the shop himself. They're coming here to pay."
"Then we haven't got a farthing, and I've got no dinner for you!" She
tried to smile as she spoke, but her heavy eyelids quivered.
"Is that all?" said Pelle, putting his arm round her. "Why didn't you
make me some porridge? I should have liked a good plateful of that."
"I have made it, but you'll get hardly anything else, and that's no food
for a man."
He took her round the waist with both hands, lifted her up and put her
carefully down upon the kitchen table. "That's porridge, my dear!" he
said merrily. "I can hardly walk, I'm so strong!"
But there was no smile to be coaxed out of Ellen; something had happened
that she did not want to tell him. At last he got out of her that the
two musical clowns had gone off without paying. They had spoiled her
good bed-clothes by lying in them with their clothes on, and had made
them so filthy that nothing could be done with them. She was unwilling
to tell Pelle, because he had once advised her against it; but all at
once she gave in completely. "You mustn't laugh at me!" she sobbed,
hiding her face on his shoulder.
Pelle attempted to comfort her, but it was not so easily done. It was
not the one misfortune but the whole fiasco that had upset her so; she
had promised herself so much from her great plan. "It isn't all lost
yet," he said to comfort her. "We'll just keep on and you'll see it'll
be all right."
Ellen was not to be hoodwinked, however. "You know you don't mean it,"
she said angrily. "You only say it because of me! And the second-hand
dealer sent up word this morning that if he didn't soon get the rest of
his money, he'd take all the furniture back again."
"Then let him take it, and that'll be an end of the matter."
"But then we shall lose all that we've paid!" she exclaimed quickly,
drying her eyes.
Pelle shrugged his shoulders. "That can't be helped."
"Wouldn't it be better to get the things sold little by little? We only
owe a third on them."
"We can't do that; it's punishable. We've got a contract for the hire of
the furniture, and as long as we owe a farthing on it, it's his. But
we're well and strong all of us; what does it matter?"
"That's true enough," answered Ellen, trying to smile, "but the stronger
we are, the more food we need."
A girl came running up with a pair of boots that were to be soled as
quickly as possible. They were "Queen Theresa's," and she was going to
wear them in the evening. "That'll bring us in a few pence!" said Ellen,
brightening. "I'll help you to get them done quickly."
They seated themselves one on each side of the counter, and set to work.
It reminded them of the early days of their married life. Now and then
they stopped to laugh, when Ellen had forgotten some knack. In an hour
and a half the boots were ready, and Pelle went himself with them to
make sure of the money.
"You'll most likely find her in the tavern," said Ellen. "The artistes
generally have their dinner at this hour, and she's probably there."
It was a busy time in the artistes' restaurant. At the small tables sat
bony, close-cropped men of a peculiar rubicund type, having dinner with
some girl or other from the neighborhood. They were acrobats, clowns,
and wrestlers, people of a homogeneous type, dressed in loud checks,
with enormous cuffs and boots with almost armor-plated toes. They chewed
well and looked up stupidly at the call of the girls; they wore a hard,
brutal mask for a face, and big diamond rings on their fingers. Some of
them had such a powerful lower jaw that they looked as if they had
developed it for the purpose of taking blows in a boxing-match. In the
adjoining room some elegant young men were playing billiards while they
secretly kept an eye on what was going on at the tables. They had curls
on their forehead, and patent leather shoes.
"Queen Theresa" was not there, so Pelle went to Dannebrog Street, where
she lived, but found she was not at home. He had to hand in the boots to
a neighbor, and go back empty-handed.
Well, it was no more than might have been expected. When you needed a
thing most, chance played with you as a cat played with a mouse. Pelle
was not nearly so cheerful as he appeared to be when he faced Ellen. The
reality was beginning to affect him. He went out to Morten, but without
any faith in the result; Morten had many uses for what he earned.
"You've just come at the right moment!" said Morten, waving two notes in
the air. "I've just had twenty krones (a guinea) sent me from _The
Working Man_, and we can divide them. It's the first money I've got
from that quarter, so of course I've spat upon it three times."
"Then they've found their way to you, after all!" exclaimed Pelle
Morten laughed. "I got tired of seeing my work repeated in their paper,"
he said, "when they'll have nothing to do with me up there; and I went
up to them and drew their attention to the paragraph about piracy. You
should have seen their expression! Goodness knows it's not pleasant to
have to earn your bread on wretchedness, so to speak, but it's still
more painful when afterward you have to beg for your hard-earned pence.
You mustn't think I should do it either under other circumstances; I'd
sooner starve; but at any rate I won't be sweated, by my own side! It's
a long time since you were here."
"I've been so busy. How's Johanna?" The last words were spoken in a
"Not well just now; she's keeping her bed. She's always asking after
"I've been very busy lately, and unfortunately I can't find out anything
about her. Is she just as cross?"
"When she's in a bad temper she lets me understand that she could easily
help to put us on the right track if she wanted to. I think it amuses
her to see us fooled."
"A child can't be so knowing!"
"Don't be so sure of that! Remember she's not a child; her experiences
have been too terrible. I have an idea that she hates me and only
meditates on the mischief she can do me. You can't imagine how spiteful
she can be; it's as though the exhalations from down there had turned to
poison in her. If any one comes here that she notices I like, she
reviles them as soon as they're gone, says some poisonous thing about
them in order to wound me. You're the only one she spares, so I think
there must be some secret link between you. Try to press her on the
subject once more."
They went in to her. As the door opened she slipped hastily down beneath
the clothes--she had been listening at the door--and pretended to be
asleep. Morten went back to his work and closed the door after him.
"Well, Johanna," said Pelle, seating himself on the edge of the bed.
"I've got a message for you. Can you guess who it's from?"
"From grandmother!" she exclaimed, sitting up eagerly; but the next
moment she was ashamed at having been outwitted, and crept down under
the clothes, where she lay with compressed lips, and stole distrustful
glances at Pelle. There was something in the glance and the carriage of
her head that awakened dormant memories in him, but he could not fix
"No, not grandmother," he said. "By-the-bye, where is she now? I should
like to speak to her. Couldn't you go out to her with me when you get
She looked at him with sparkling eyes and a mocking expression. "Don't
you wish you may get it!" she answered.
"Tell me where she lives, Johanna," Pelle went on, taking her thin hand
in his, "there's a good girl!"
"Oh, yes, at night!"
Pelle frowned. "You must be very heartless, when you can leave your old
grandmother and not even like others to help her. I'm certain she's in
want somewhere or other."
Johanna looked at him angrily. "I whipped her too," she exclaimed
malignantly, and then burst into a laugh at Pelle's expression. "No, I
didn't really," she said reassuringly. "I only took away her stick and
hid her spectacles so that she couldn't go out and fetch the cream. So
she was obliged to send me, and I drank up all the cream and put water
in the can. She couldn't see it, so she scolded the milk people because
"You're making all this up, I think," said Pelle uncertainly.
"I picked the crumb out of the loaf too, and let her eat the crust,"
Johanna continued with a nod.
"Now stop that," said Pelle, stroking her damp forehead. "I know quite
well that I've offended you."
She pushed away his hand angrily. "Do you know what I wish?" she said
suddenly. "I wish you were my father."
"Would you like me to be?"
"Yes, for when you became quite poor and ill, I'd treat you just as well
as I've treated grandmother." She laughed a harsh laugh.
"I'm certain you've only been kind to grandmother," said Pelle gravely.
She looked hard at him to see whether he meant this too, and then turned
her face to the wall. He could see from the curve of her body that she
was struggling to keep back her tears, and he tried to turn her round to
him; but she stiffened herself.
"I won't live with grandmother!" she whispered emphatically, "I won't!"
"And yet you're fond of her!"
"No, I'm not! I can't bear her! She told the woman next door that I was
only in the way! It was that confounded child's fault that she couldn't
get into the Home, she said; I heard her myself! And yet I went about
and begged all the food for her. But then I left her!" She jerked the
sentences out in a voice that was quite hoarse, and crumpled the sheet
up in her hands.
"But do tell me where she is!" said Pelle earnestly. "I promise you you
shan't go to her if you don't want to."
The child kept a stubborn silence. She did not believe in promises.
"Well, then, I must go to the police to find her, but I don't want to do
"No, because you've been in prison!" she exclaimed, with a short laugh.
A pained expression passed over Pelle's face. "Do you think that's so
funny?" he said, winking his eyes fast. "I'm sure grandmother didn't
laugh at it."
Johanna turned half round. "No, she cried!" she said. "There was no one
to give us food then, and so she cried."
It began to dawn upon him who she was. "What became of you two that day
on the common? We were going to have dinner together," he said.
"When you were taken up? Oh, we couldn't find you, so we just went
home." Her face was now quite uncovered, and she lay looking at him with
her large gray eyes. It was Hanne's look; behind it was the same
wondering over life, but here was added to it a terrible knowledge.
Suddenly her face changed; she discovered that she had been outwitted,
and glared at him.
"Is it true that you and mother were once sweethearts?" she suddenly
Pelle's face flushed. The question had taken him by surprise. "I'll tell
you everything about your mother if you'll tell me what you know," he
said, looking straight at her.
"What is it you want to know?" she asked in a cross-questioning tone.
"Are you going to write about me in the papers?"
"My dear child, we must find your grandmother! She may be starving."
"I think she's at the 'Generality,'" said the child quietly. "I went
there on Thursday when the old things had leave to go out and beg for a
little coffee; and one day I saw her."
"Didn't you go up to her then?"
"No; I was tired of listening to her lamentations!"
Johanna was no longer stiff and defiant. She lay with her face turned
away and answered--a little sullenly--Pelle's questions, while she
played nervously with his fingers. Her brief answers made up for him one
connected, sad story.
Widow Johnsen was not worth much when once the "Ark" was burnt down. She
felt old and helpless everywhere else, and when Pelle went to prison,
she collapsed entirely. She and the little girl suffered want, and when
Johanna felt herself in the way, she ran away to a place where she could
be comfortable. Her grandmother had also been in her way. She had her
mother's whimsical, dreamy nature, and now she gave up everything and
ran away to meet the wonderful. An older playfellow seduced her and took
her out to the boys of the timber-yard. There she was left to take care
of herself, often slept out in the open, and stole now and then, but
soon learned to earn money for herself. When it became cold she went as
scullery-maid to the inns or maid-of-all-work to the women in Dannebrog
Street. Strange to say, she always eluded the police. At first there
were two or three times when she started to return to her grandmother,
but went no farther than the stairs; she was afraid of being punished,
and could not endure the thought of having to listen to the old lady's
complaints. Later on she became accustomed to her new way of living, and
no longer felt any desire to leave it, probably because she had begun to
take strong drink. Now and again, however, she stole in to the Home and
caught a glimpse of her grandmother. She could not explain why she did
it, and firmly maintained that she could not endure her. The old woman's
unreasonable complaint that she was an encumbrance to her had eaten
deeply into the child's mind. During the last year she had been a
waitress for some time at a sailors' tavern down in Nyhavn with an
innkeeper Elleby, the confidence-man who had fleeced Pelle on his first
arrival in the city. It was Elleby's custom to adopt young girls so as
to evade the law and have women-servants for his sailors; and they
generally died in the course of a year or two: he always wore a crape
band round his sleeve. Johanna was also to have been adopted, but ran
away in time.
She slowly confessed it all to Pelle, coarse and horrible as it was,
with the instinctive confidence that the inhabitants of the "Ark" had
placed in him, and which had been inherited by her from her mother and
grandmother. What an abyss of horrors! And he had been thinking that
there was no hurry, that life was richer than that! But the children,
the children! Were they to wait too, while he surveyed the varied forms
of existence--wait and go to ruin? Was there on the whole any need of
knowledge and comprehensiveness of survey in order to fight for juster
conditions? Was anything necessary beyond the state of being good? While
he sat and read books, children were perhaps being trodden down by
thousands. Did this also belong to life and require caution? For the
first time he doubted himself.
"Now you must lie down and go to sleep," he said gently, and stroked her
forehead. It was burning hot and throbbed, and alarmed he felt her
pulse. Her hand dropped into his, thin and worn, and her pulse was
irregular. Alas, Hanne's fever was raging within her!
She held his hand tight when he rose to go. "Were you and mother
sweethearts, then?" she asked in a whisper, with a look of expectation
in the bright eyes that she fixed upon him. And suddenly he understood
the reiterated question and all her strange compliance with his wishes.
For a moment he looked waveringly into her expectant eyes. Then he
nodded slowly. "Yes, Johanna; you're my little daughter!" he said,
bending down over her. Her pale face was lighted with a faint smile, and
she shyly touched his stubbly chin and then turned over to go to sleep.
In a few words Pelle told Morten the child's previous history--Madam
Johnsen and her husband's vain fight to get on, his horrible death in
the sewer, how Hanne had grown up as the beautiful princess of the
"Ark"--Hanne who meant to have happiness, and had instead this poor
"You've never told me anything about Hanne," said Morten, looking at
"No," said Pelle slowly. "She was always so strangely unreal to me, like
an all too beautiful dream. Do you know she danced herself to death! But
you must pretend to the child that I'm her father."
Morten nodded. "You might go out to the Home for me, and hear about the
old lady. It's a pity she should have to spend her old age there!" He
looked round the room.
"You can't have her here, however," said Pelle.
"It might perhaps be arranged. She and the child belong to one another."
Pelle first went home to Ellen with the money and then out to the Home.
Madam Johnsen was in the infirmary, and could not live many days. It was
a little while before she recognized Pelle, and she seemed to have
forgotten the past. It made no impression whatever on her when he told
her that her grandchild had been found. She lay most of the time,
talking unintelligibly; she thought she still had to get money for the
rent and for food for herself and the child. The troubles of old age had
made an indelible impression upon her. "She gets no pleasure out of
lying here and being comfortable," said an old woman who lay in the next
bed to hers. "She's always trying and trying to get things, and when
she's free of that, she goes to Jutland."
At the sound of the last word, Madam Johnsen fixed her eyes upon Pelle.
"I should so like to see Jutland again before I die," she said. "Ever
since I came over here in my young days, I've always meant to use the
first money I had over on an excursion home; but I never managed it.
Hanne's child had to live too, and they eat a lot at her age." And so
she was back in her troubles again.
The nurse came and told Pelle that he must go now, and he rose and bent
over the old woman to say farewell, strangely moved at the thought that
she had done so much for him, and now scarcely knew him. She felt for
his hand and held it in both hers like a blind person trying to
recognize, and she looked at him with her expressionless eyes that were
already dimmed by approaching death. "You still have a good hand," she
said slowly, with the far-sounding voice of old age. "Hanne should have
taken you, and then things would have been very different.'"
People wondered, at the library, over the grave, silent working-man who
took hold of books as if they were bricks. They liked him and helped him
to find what he wanted.
Among the staff there was an old librarian who often came and asked
Pelle if there were anything he could help him with. He was a little
wizened man with gold spectacles and thin white hair and beard that gave
a smiling expression to his pale face. He had spent his time among the
stacks of books during the greater part of his life; the dust of the
books had attacked his chest, and every minute his dry cough sounded
through the room.
Librarian Brun was a bachelor and was said to be very rich. He was not
particularly neat or careful in his dress, but there was something
unspoiled about his person that made one think he could never have been
subjected to the world's rough handling. In his writings he was a
fanatical worshipper of the ego, and held up the law of conscience as
the only one to which men should be subject. Personally he was reserved
and shy, but something drew him to Pelle, who, he knew, had once been
the soul in the raising of the masses; and he followed with wonder and
curiosity the development of the new working-man. Now and then he
brought one of his essays to Pelle and asked him to read it. It often
treated of the nature of personality, took as its starting-point the ego
of some philosopher or other, or of such and such a religion, and
attempted to get at the questions of the day. They conversed in whispers
on the subject. The old, easily-approached philosopher, who was read by
very few, cherished an unrequited affection for the general public, and
listened eagerly to what a working-man might be able to make out of his
ideas. Quiet and almost timid though his manner was, his views were
strong, and he did not flinch from the thought of employing violent
measures; but his attitude toward the raising of the lower classes was
sceptical. "They don't know how to read," he said. "The common people
never touch a real book." He had lived so long among books that he
thought the truths of life were hidden away in them.
They gradually became well acquainted with one another. Brun was the
last descendant of an old, decayed family, which had been rich for many
generations. He despised money, and did not consider it to be one of the
valuable things of life. Never having known want, he had few
pretensions, and often denied himself to help others. It was said that
he lived in a very Spartan fashion, and used a large proportion of his
income for the relief of the poor. On many points he agreed with the
lower classes, not only theoretically but purely organically; and Pelle
saw, to his amazement, that the dissolution of existing conditions could
also take place from the upper grades of society. Perhaps the future was
preparing itself at both extremities!
One day Brun carefully led the conversation on to Pelle's private
affairs: he seemed to know something about them. "Isn't there anything
you want to start?" he asked. "I should be so glad if you would allow me
to help you."
Pelle was not yet clear as to what was to be done about the future. "At
present," he said, "the whole thing is just a chaos to me."
"But you must live! Will you do me the favor of taking a loan from me at
any rate, while you're looking about you? Money is necessary to make one
capable and free," he continued, when Pelle refused it. "It's a pity,
but so it is. You don't _take_ what you want anyhow, so you must
either get the money in the way that offers, or do without."
"Then I'll do without," said Pelle.
"It seems to me that's what you and yours have always done, and have you
ever succeeded in heaping coals of fire on the head of society by it?
You set too high a value upon money; the common people have too great
respect for the property of others. And upon my word it's true! The good
old poor man could scarcely find it in his heart to put anything into
his own miserable mouth; his wife was to have all the good pieces. So he
is mourned as lost to our side; he was so easy to get wealth by. His
progeny still go about with a good deal of it."
"Money makes you dependent," Pelle objected.
"Not always," answered Brun, laughing. "In my world people borrow and
take on credit without a thought: the greater the debt, the better it
is; they never treat a man worse than when they owe him money. On that
point we are very much more emancipated than you are, indeed that's
where the dividing line goes between the upper classes and the common
people. This fear of becoming indebted to any one, and carefulness to do
two services in return for one, is all very nice and profitable in your
own world; but it's what you'll be run down by in your relations to us.
We don't know it at all; how otherwise would those people get on who
have to let themselves be helped from their cradle to their grave, and
live exclusively upon services received?"
Pelle looked at him in bewilderment. "Poor people have nothing but their
sense of honor, and so they watch over it," he said.
"And you've really never halted at this sense of honor that works so
splendidly in our favor?" asked Brun in surprise. "Just examine the
existing morals, and you'll discover that they must have been invented
by us--for your use. Yes, you're surprised to hear me say that, but then
I'm a degenerate upper-class man, one of those who fall outside the
established order of things. I saw your amazement at my not having
patted you on the shoulder and said: 'Poor but proud! Go on being so,
young man!' But you mustn't draw too far-reaching conclusions from that;
as I told you, I'm not that sort. Now mayn't I give you a helping hand?"
No, Pelle was quite determined he should not. Something had been
shattered within him, and the knowledge made him restive.
"You're an obstinate plebeian," said Brun, half vexed.
On his way home Pelle thought it all over. Of course he had always been
quite aware that the whole thing resembled a gentleman's carriage, in
which he and others like him had to be the horses; the laws and general
arrangement were the reins and harness, which made them draw the
carriage well. The only thing was that it was always denied from the
other side; he was toiling at history and statistics in order to furnish
incontrovertible proof of this. But here was some one who sat in the
carriage himself, and gave evidence to the effect that it was right
enough; and this was not a book, but a living man with whom he stood
face to face. It gave an immense support to his belief.
There was need enough for it too, for at home things were going badly.
The letting of rooms was at a standstill, and Ellen was selling the
furniture as fast as she could. "It's all the same to me what the law
is!" was her reply to Pelle's warnings. "There surely can be no sense in
our having to make the furniture-dealer a present of all we've paid upon
it, just because he has a scrap of paper against us. When the
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