Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 21 out of 23
furniture's sold, he shall have the rest of what we owe him."
He did not get the whole, however, for in the first place they had to
live. The remainder of the debt hung like a threat over them; if he
discovered that the furniture was sold, it might end badly for them.
"Remember I've been in prison before," said Pelle.
"They surely can't punish you for what I've done?" said Ellen, looking
at him in terror. "Pelle, Pelle, what have I done! Why didn't I do what
you told me!" For a time she collapsed, but then suddenly rose
energetically, saying: "Then we must get it paid at once. It's surely
possible to find twenty krones (a guinea)!" And hastening up to their
flat, she quickly returned in her hat and jacket.
"What are you going to do?" asked Pelle in amazement.
"What am I going to do? I'm going to 'Queen Theresa.' She _can_ get
it! Don't be afraid!" she said, bending down and kissing him. She soon
returned with the money. "I may pay it back by _washing_," she said
So that matter was settled, and they would have been glad if the loan
had been the same. It scarcely moved, however; the instalments ate
themselves up in some wonderful way. Two or three times they had had to
ask for a postponement, and each time the usurer added the amount of the
instalment to the sum still owing; he called it punishment interest.
Pelle read seldom; he felt no wish to do so. He was out early and late
looking for a job. He fetched and took back furniture in the town for
the second-hand dealer, and did anything else that came to hand.
One evening Ellen came up with a newspaper cutting that "Queen Theresa"
had sent her, an advertisement of a good, well-paid situation for a
trustworthy man, who had been trained as a shoemaker. "It's this
morning's," said Ellen anxiously, "so I only hope it isn't too late. You
must go out there at once." She took out Pelle's Sunday clothes quickly,
and helped him to make himself tidy. It was for a boot-factory in Borger
Street. Pelle took the tram in order to get there quickly, but he had no
great hopes of getting the place. The manufacturer was one of his most
bitter opponents among the employers at the time when he was organizing
the trade--a young master-shoemaker who had had the good sense to follow
the development and take the leap over to manufacturer.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he said. "Well, well, old differences shan't
stand between us if we can come to an agreement in other ways. What I
want is a man who'll look a little after everything, a kind of right-
hand man who can take something off my shoulders in a general way, and
superintend the whole thing when I'm travelling. I think you'll do
capitally for that, for you've got influence with the men; and I'd like
things to go nicely and smoothly with them, without giving in to them
too much, you understand. One may just as well do things pleasantly; it
doesn't cost an atom more, according to my experience, and now one
belongs to the party one's self."
"Do you?" said Pelle, hardly able to believe his ears.
"Yes! Why shouldn't an employer be a fellow-partisan? There's nothing to
be afraid of when once you've peeped in behind the scenes; and it has
its advantages, of course. In ten years' time every sensible man will be
a social democrat."
"That's not at all unlikely," said Pelle, laughing.
"No, is it! So one evening I said to my wife: 'I say, you know it won't
do soon to own that you don't belong to the party; in other countries
millionaires and counts and barons already belong to it.' She didn't
quite like it, but now she's quite satisfied. They're quite nice people,
as she said herself. There are even persons of rank among them. Well, it
wasn't conviction that drove me at first, but now I agree because what
they say's very sensible. And upon my word it's the only party that can
thrash the anarchists properly, don't you think so? In my opinion all
should unite in fighting against them, and that'll be the end of it, I
suppose. I've reflected a good deal upon politics and have come to the
conclusion that we employers behaved like asses from the beginning. We
oughtn't to have struggled against the Movement; it only drove it to
extremes. Just see how well-behaved it's become since we began to take
off our hats to it! You _become_ what you're _treated_ as, let
me tell you. You wouldn't have acted so harshly if we others had been a
little kinder to you. Don't you allow that? You're exactly like every
one else: you want to have good food and nice clothes--be considered
respectable people. So it was wise to cut off the lower end; you can't
rise when you've too much lumber as ballast. Fellows who pull up paving-
stones and knock you down are no company for me. You must have patience
and wait until the turn comes to your party to come in for a share:
those are my politics. Well, what do you think about the job?"
"I don't understand the machines," said Pelle.
"You'll soon get into that! But it's not that that matters, if only you
know how to treat the workmen, and that of course you do. I'll pay you
thirty-five krones (L2) a week--that's a good weekly wage--and in return
you'll have an eye to my advantage of course. One doesn't join the party
to be bled--you understand what I mean? Then you get a free house--in
the front building of course--so as to be a kind of vice-landlord for
the back building here; there are three stairs with one-roomed flats. I
can't be bothered having anything to do with that; there's so much
nonsense about the mob. They do damage and don't pay if they can help
it, and when you're a little firm with them they fly to the papers and
write spiteful letters. Of course I don't run much risk of that, but all
the same I like things to go smoothly, partly because I aspire to become
a member of the management. So you get eighteen hundred krones (L100) a
year and a flat at four hundred (L22), which makes two thousand two
hundred krones (Ll22)--a good wage, though perhaps I oughtn't to say so
myself; but good pay makes good work. Well, is it a bargain?"
Pelle wanted to have till the next day to think it over.
"What do you want to think over? One ought never to think over things
too much; our age requires action. As I said before, an expert knowledge
is not the main thing; it's your authority that I chiefly want. In other
words, you'll be my confidential man. Well, well, then you'll give me
your answer to-morrow."
Pelle went slowly homeward. He did not know why he had asked time to
think it over; the matter was settled. If you wanted to make a home, you
must take the consequences of it and not sneak away the first time a
prospect offered of making it a little comfortable for your wife and
children. So now he was the dog set to watch his companions.
He went down the King's New Market and into the fashionable quarter. It
was bright and gay here, with the arc-lamps hanging like a row of light-
birds above the asphalt, now and then beating their wings to keep
themselves poised. They seemed to sweep down the darkness of night, and
great shadows flickered through the street and disappeared. In the
narrow side streets darkness lay, and insistent sounds forced their way
out of it--a girl's laugh, the crying of a lonely child, the ceaseless
bickering of a cowed woman. But people strolled, quietly conversing,
along the pavement in couples and heard nothing. They had got out their
winter coats, and were luxuriating in the first cold weather.
Music sounded from the large _cafes_, which were filled to
overflowing. People were sitting close together in small select
companies, and looked gay and happy. On the tables round which they sat,
stood the wine-cooler with the champagne bottle pointing obliquely
upward as though it were going to shoot down heaven itself to them. How
secure they appeared to feel! Had they no suspicion that they were
sitting upon a thin crust, with the hell of poverty right beneath them?
Or was that perhaps why they were enjoying themselves--to-day your turn,
to-morrow mine? Perhaps they had become reconciled to the idea, and took
what they could get without listening too carefully to the hoarse
protests of the back streets!
Under one of the electric lamp-posts on the Town Hall Square a man was
standing selling papers. He held one out to Pelle, saying: "A halfpenny
if you can afford it, if not you can have it for nothing!" He was pale,
with dark shadows under his eyes, and he had a dark beard. He looked as
if he were suffering from some internal complaint which was slowly
consuming him. Pelle looked at him, and saw to his surprise that it was
Peter Dreyer, his comrade of long ago!
"Do you go about selling newspapers?" he exclaimed in astonishment,
holding out his hand.
Peter Dreyer quietly returned his greeting. He had the same heavy,
introspective look that he had had when Pelle met him in the garret in
Jager Street, but looked even more perplexed.
"Yes, I've become a newspaper man," he said, "but only after working
hours. It's a little paper that I write and print myself. It may perhaps
do you good to read it."
"What's it about?"
"About you and me."
"It's anarchistic, I suppose?" said Pelle, looking at the title of the
paper. "You were so strange last time I met you."
"Well, you can read it. A halfpenny if you can afford it, if not
gratis!" he cried, holding out a copy to the passers-by. A policeman was
standing a little way off observing him. He gradually drew nearer.
"I see you're under observation!" said Pelle, drawing his attention to
"I'm used to that. Once or twice they've seized my inoffensive little
"Then it can't have been altogether inoffensive?" said Pelle, smiling.
"I only advise people to think for themselves."
"That advice may be dangerous enough too, if it's followed."
"Oh, yes. The mean thing is that the police pursue me financially. As
soon as I've got work with any master, a policeman appears and advises
him to discharge me. It's their usual tactics! They aim at the stomach,
for that's where they themselves have their heart."
"Then it must be very hard for you to get on," said Pelle
"Oh, I get along somehow. Now and then they put me in prison for no
lawful reason, and when a certain time has passed they let me out again
--the one with just as little reason as the other. They've lost their
heads. It doesn't say much for machinery that's exclusively kept going
to look after us. I've a feeling that they'd like to put me out of the
way, if it could be done; but the country's not large enough to let any
one disappear in. But I'm not going to play the hunted animal any
longer. Although I despise our laws, which are only a mask for brute
force, I'm very careful to be on the right side; and if they use
violence against me again, I'll not submit to it."
"The conditions are so unequal," said Pelle, looking seriously at him.
"No one need put up with more than he himself likes. But there's
something wanting in us here at home--our own extreme consequence, self-
respect; and so they treat us as ignominiously as they please."
They went on together. On the pavement outside one of the large
_cafes_ stood an anaemic woman with a child upon her arm, offering
for sale some miserable stalks which were supposed to represent flowers.
Peter Dreyer pointed silently from her to the people in the _cafe_.
His face was distorted.
"I've no objection to people enjoying life," said Pelle; "on the
contrary, I'm glad to see that there are some who are happy. I hate the
system, but not the people, you see, unless it were those who grudge us
all anything, and are only really happy in the thought that others are
"And do you believe there's any one in there who seriously doesn't
grudge others anything? Do you believe any of them would say: 'I'm
fortunate enough to earn twenty-five thousand krones (L1,400) a year and
am not allowed to use more than five thousand (L300), so the rest
belongs to the poor'? No, they're sitting there abusing the poor man
while they drink up the surplus of his existence. The men abuse the
workmen, and their wives the servant girls. Just go in among the tables
and listen! The poor are bestial, unreliable, ungrateful in spite of
everything that is done for them; they are themselves to blame for their
misery. It gives a spice to the feast to some of them, others dull their
uneasy conscience with it. And yet all they eat and drink has been made
by the poor man; even the choicest dainties have passed through his
dirty hands and have a piquant flavor of sweat and hunger. They look
upon it as a matter of course that it should be so; they are not even
surprised that nothing is ever done in gratitude for kind treatment--
something to disagree with them, a little poison, for instance. Just
think! There are millions of poor people daily occupied in making
dainties for the rich man, and it never occurs to any of them to revenge
themselves, they are so good-natured. Capital literally sleeps with its
head in our lap, and abuses us in its sleep; and yet we don't cut its
At Victoria Street they stopped. The policeman had followed them and
stopped on the other side of the street when they stopped. Pelle drew
the other's attention to the fact.
Peter looked across carelessly. "He's like an English bloodhound," he
said quietly--"a ferocious mouth and no brain! What vexes me most is
that we ourselves produce the dogs that are to hunt us; but we shall
soon begin to agitate among the military." He said good-night and turned
toward Enghave Road, where he lived.
Ellen met Pelle at the top of the street. "How did you get on?" she
asked eagerly. "Did you get the place?"
He quietly explained matters to her. She had put her arm round him. "You
great big man," she said, looking up at him with a happy face. "If you
only knew how proud I am of you! Why, we're rich now, Pelle--thirty-five
krones (2 Pounds) a week! Aren't you glad yourself?"
"Yes, I'm glad that you and the children will be a little comfortable
"Yes, but you yourself--you don't seem to be very delighted, and yet
it's a good place you're getting."
"It won't be an easy place for me, but I must make the best of it," he
"I don't see why not. You're to be on the side of the manufacturer, but
that's always the way with that kind of position; and he's got a right
too to have his interests looked after."
When they got in Ellen brought him his supper, which had been standing
on the stove to keep warm. Now and then she looked at him in wonder;
there was something about him to-day that she did not understand. He had
on the whole become a little peculiar in his views about things in the
prison, and it was not to be wondered at. She went to him and stroked
"You'll be satisfied on your own account too, soon," she said. "It's
fortunate for us that he can't be bothered to look after things
"He's taken up with politics," answered Pelle absently. "At present he's
thinking of getting into the Town Council by the help of the working-
"Then it's very wise of him to take you," Ellen exclaimed vivaciously.
"You understand these matters and can help him. If we save, we may
perhaps have so much over that we could buy the business from him some
She looked happy, and treated him to a little petting, now in one way
and now in another. Her joy increased her beauty, and when he looked at
her it was impossible for him to regret anything. She had sacrificed
everything for him, and he could do nothing without considering her. He
must see her perfectly happy once more, let it cost what it might, for
he owed her everything. How beautiful she was in her unaffectedness! She
still had a fondness for dressing in black, and with her dark hair about
her pale face, she resembled one of those Sisters who have suffered much
and do everything out of compassion.
It struck him that he had never heard her really laugh; she only smiled.
He had not awakened the strongest feeling in her yet, he had not
succeeded in making her happy; and therefore, though she had shared his
bed and board, she had kept the most beautiful part to herself, like an
unapproachable virgin. But now her cheeks glowed with happy expectation,
and her eyes rested upon him eagerly; he no longer represented for her
the everyday dullness, he was the fairy-story that might take her by
surprise when the need was greatest. He felt he could hardly pay too
dearly for this change. Women were not made for adversity and solitude;
they were flowers that only opened fully when happiness kissed them.
Ellen might shift the responsibility over onto his shoulders.
The next day he dressed himself carefully to go out and make the final
agreement with the manufacturer. Ellen helped him to button his collar,
and brushed his coat, talking, as she did so, with the lightheartedness
of a bird, of the future. "What are we going to do now? We must try and
get rid of this flat and move out to that end of the town," she said,
"or else you'll have too far to walk."
"I forgot to tell you that we shall live out there," said Pelle. "He has
three stairs with one-roomed apartments, and we're to be the vice-
landlord of them. He can't manage the tenants himself." Pelle had not
forgotten it, but had not been able to bring himself to tell her that he
was to be watch-dog.
Ellen looked at him in petrified astonishment. "Does that go with the
post?" she gasped.
"You mustn't do it!" she cried, suddenly seizing him by the arms. "Do
you hear, Pelle? You mustn't do it!" She was greatly disturbed and gazed
beseechingly at him. "I don't understand you at all."
He looked at her in bewilderment and murmured something in self-defence.
"Don't you see that he only wants to make use of you?" she continued
excitedly. "It's a Judas post he's offered you, but we won't earn our
bread by turning poor people into the street. I've seen my own bits of
furniture lying in the gutter. Oh, if you'd gone there!" She gazed
shudderingly straight before her.
"I can't understand what you can have been thinking about--you who are
generally so sensible," she said when she had once more calmed down,
looking reproachfully at him; but the next instant she understood it
all, and sank down weeping.
"Oh, Pelle, Pelle!" she exclaimed, and hid her face.
Pelle read no more and no longer went to the library. He had enough to
do to keep things going. There was no question now of trying to get a
place; winter was at the door, and the army of the unemployed grew
larger every day. He stayed at home, worked when there was anything to
do, and for the rest minded the children for Ellen while she washed. He
talked to Lasse Frederik as he would to a comrade, but it was nice to
have to look after the little ones too. They were grateful for it, and
he discovered that it gave him much pleasure. Boy Comfort he was very
fond of now, his only sorrow being that the boy could not talk yet. His
dumbness was always a silent accusation.
"Why don't you bring books home?" Ellen would say when she came up from
the wash-house to look after them, with her arms bare and tiny drops in
her hair from the steam down there. "You've plenty of time now."
No, what did he want with books? They did perhaps widen his horizon a
little, but what lay behind it became so very much greater again; and he
himself only grew smaller by reading. It was impossible in any case to
obtain any reassuring view of the whole. The world followed its own
crooked course in defiance of all wisdom. There was little pleasure in
absorbing knowledge about things that one could not remedy; poor people
had better be dull.
He and Morten had just been to Madam Johnsen's funeral. She had not
succeeded in seeing Jutland. Out of a whole life of toil there had never
been ten krones (10s.) over for a ticket home; and the trains ran day
after day with hundreds of empty places. With chilling punctuality they
whirled away from station to station. Heaven knows how many thousand
empty seats the trains had run with to Jutland during the years in which
the old woman longed to see her home! And if she had trudged to the
railway-station and got into the train, remorseless hands would have
removed her at the first station. What had she to do with Jutland? She
longed to go there, it was true, but she had no money!
Was it malice or heartless indifference? A more fiendish sport can at
any rate hardly be imagined than this running with empty places. It was
they that made the journey so terribly vivid--as though the devil
himself were harnessed to the train and, panting with wantonness,
dragging it along through the country to places that people were longing
to see. It must be dreadful to be the guard and call the names of the
stations in to those seats for the people left behind!
And Sister walked about the floor so pale and thin! There was no
strength in her fair hair, and when she was excited, her breath whistled
in her windpipe with that painful sound that was practically inseparable
from the children of the poor neighborhoods. It was always the vitiated
air of the back-yards that had something to say now--depressing, like
almost everything his understanding mastered. All she wanted was
sunshine, and all the summer it had been poured down in open-handed
generosity, only it went over the heads of poor people like everything
else. It had been a splendid year for strawberries, but the large
gardeners had decided to let half of them rot on their stalks in order
to keep up the prices and save the money spent on picking them. And here
were the children hungering for fruit, and ailing for want of it! Why?
No, there was no possible answer to be given to that question.
And again--everywhere the same! Whenever he thought of some social
institution or other, the same melancholy spectacle presented itself--an
enormous rolling stock, only meant for a few, and to a great extent
running empty; and from the empty places accusing eyes gazed out, sick
and sad with hunger and want and disappointed hope. If one had once seen
them, it was impossible to close one's eyes to them again.
Sometimes his imagination took another direction, and he found himself
planning, for instance, kingdoms in which trains were used according to
the need for them, and not according to the purse, where the food was
eaten by those who were hungry, and the only poor people were those who
grudged others things.
But he pulled himself up there; it was too idiotic! A voice from the
unseen had called him and his out into the day, and then nothing had
happened! It had only been to fool them.
Brun often came down to see him. The old librarian missed his young
"Why do you never come in to us now?" he asked.
"What should I do there?" answered Pelle shortly. "The poor man has no
use for knowledge; he's everlastingly damned."
He had broken with all that and did not care either about the
librarian's visits. It was best for every one to look after himself; the
great were no company for such as he. He made no attempt to conceal his
ill humor, but Brun took no notice. The latter had moved out into
Frederiksberg Avenue in October, and dropped in almost every afternoon
on his way home from the library. The children took care to be down
there at that time, for he always brought something for them.
Neither Pelle nor Ellen demanded much of life now. They had settled down
in resignation side by side like a pair of carthorses that were
accustomed to share manger and toil. It would have been a great thing
now to have done with that confounded loan, so that they need not go
about with their lives in their hands continually; but even that was
requiring too much! All that could be scraped together went every month
to the money-lender, and they were no nearer the end. On the one hundred
and eighty krones (L10) that Pelle had received they had now in all paid
off one hundred and twenty (L7), and yet they still owed two hundred and
forty (more than L13). It was the "punishment interest" that made it
mount up whenever they came only a day or two too late with the
instalments or whatever it might be. In any case it was an endless screw
that would go on all their life pumping out whatever they could scrape
together into the money-lender's pocket.
But now Pelle meant to put an end to this. He had not paid the last
instalment and meant to pay no more, but let things go as they liked.
"You ought to borrow of Herr Brun and pay off that money-lender," said
Ellen, "or else he'll only come down on us and take our furniture." But
Pelle was obstinate and would not listen to reason. The consciousness
that a parasite had fastened upon him and sucked him dry in spite of all
his resistance, made him angry. He would like to see them touching his
When the money-lender came to fetch his instalment, Pelle shut the door
in his face. For the rest he took everything with the calmness of
resignation; but when the subject cropped up, he fired up and did not
know what he said. Ellen had to keep silence and let his mood work
One afternoon he sat working at the basement window. The librarian was
sitting on the chair by the door, with a child on each knee, feeding
them with dates. Pelle was taking no notice, but bent over his work with
the expression of a madman who is afraid of being spoken to. His work
did not interest him as it had formerly done, and progressed slowly; a
disturbing element had entered, and whenever he could not instantly find
a tool, he grew angry and threw the things about.
Brun sat watching him anxiously, though apparently taken up with the
children. A pitying expression would have made Pelle furious. Brun
guessed that there was some money trouble, but dared not offer his
assistance; every time he tried to begin a conversation Pelle repelled
him with a cunning look which said: "You're seeking for an opportunity
to come with your money, but you won't get it!" Something or other had
gone wrong with him, but it would all come right in the end.
A cab stopped outside the door, and three men stepped out and went into
the house. A little while after Ellen burst into the workshop. "Pelle!"
she cried, without noticing Brun, "they've come to take away our
things!" She broke into a fit of weeping, and seeing their mother
crying, the children began to cry too.
Pelle rose and seized a hammer. "I'll soon get _them_ out!" he said
between his teeth in a low tone as he moved toward the door. He did not
hurry, but went with lowered head, not looking at any one.
Brun seized him by the arm and stopped him.
"You forget that there's something called Prison!" he said with peculiar
Pelle gazed at him in astonishment, and for a moment it looked as if he
were going to strike the old man; then the hammer dropped from his hand
and he broke down.
Now and then a comrade from the good old days would come up and want
Pelle to go with him to a meeting. Old fighting memories wakened within
him. Perhaps it was there the whole point lay. He threw off his leather
apron and went. Ellen's eyes followed him to the door, wondering that he
could still wish to have anything to do with that after what _he_
had got out of it.
But it was not there after all! He remembered the tremendous ferment in
men's minds during the Movement, and it seemed to him that the
excitement had died down. People only came forward before the elections,
otherwise they went about their own business as if there had never been
any rallying idea. They were all organized, but there was nothing new
and strong in that fact; they were born--so to speak--in organization,
and connected nothing great and elevating with it. His old associates
had cooled down remarkably; they must have discovered that success was
neither so romantic nor so easy as they had thought. They had no longer
simply to open the gate into the land of success and stream through it;
there was a long and difficult road before that. So they each arranged
his own matters, and disposed of the doubtful future for small present
advantages which were immediately swallowed up by the existing
The Movement had not reached to the bottom. There was an accusation
against himself in this fact; it had not been designed with sufficient
breadth. Even at that time it had passed over the heads of the
inhabitants of the "Ark," and now a large proletariat was left with
their own expectations of the future. The good old class of the common
people had split up into a class of petty tradesmen--who seemed to be
occupied solely in establishing themselves--and this proletariat.
But there was nothing new in this. One stratum moved up and revealed a
new one below; it had always been thus in history. Was it then
everlastingly determined that at the bottom of existence there should
always be the same innumerable crowd of those who were thrust down, who
bore the burden of the whole, the great hunger reserve? Was it only
possible to be happy when one knew how to push the difficulties down,
just as one might push the folds of a material until at last they were
heaped up in one place? It was the old question over again. Formerly he
had had his clear faith with which to beat down doubt, but now he could
not be content with a blind hope; he required to be shown an expedient.
If the Movement had failed through having been begun crookedly, the
causes with which one had to do were practical causes, and it was
possible to do the whole thing over again.
There were also others engaged in taking the whole thing up from the
bottom, and through Peter Dreyer he came into contact with young men of
an entirely new type. They had emerged from the Movement, shot up
surprisingly out of its sediment, and now made new ambitious claims upon
life. By unknown paths they had reached the same point as he himself had
done, and demanded first and foremost to be human beings. The sacredness
of the ego filled them, and made them rebel at all yokes; they began
from within by shaking them off, did not smoke or drink, would be slaves
to nothing. They kept out of the Movement and had their own places of
meeting out about the South Boulevard, where they read and discussed new
social forms. They were intelligent, well-paid working-men, who
persistently shared the conditions of the proletariat; fanatics who gave
away their week's wages if they met a man who was poorer than
themselves; hot-headed enthusiasts who awaited revolution. Several of
them had been in prison for agitating against the social order. There
were also country people among them--sons of the men who stood in the
ditches and peat-pits out there. "The little man's children," Morten
These were the offspring of those who had made the Movement; that was
how it should go on. By being contented they kept themselves free from
the ensnaring expedients of capitalism, they despised the petty
tradesman's inclination for comfort, and were always ready for action.
In them the departure was at any rate a fact!
They wanted to get hold of Pelle. "Come over to us!" Peter Dreyer often
Pelle, however, was not easily enticed out; he had his home where he hid
himself like a snail in its shell. He had the responsibility for this
little world of five people, and he had not even succeeded in securing
it. His strength and industry were not enough even to keep one little
home above water; a benefactor was needed for that! It was not the time
to tend jealously one's own honor when wife and children would be the
sufferers; and now that it was all arranged he felt deeply grateful to
the old librarian. It was nevertheless a disgraceful fact which did not
encourage him to have anything to do with the affairs of others.
The violent language used by the young men frightened him too. He had
rebelled against the old conditions just as they had done, but he met
with different experiences. From the time he could crawl he had
struggled to accommodate himself to the great connection of things; even
the life of the prison had not placed him outside it, but had only
united him the more closely with the whole. He had no inclination to cut
the knot, but demanded that it should be untied.
"You're no good," said Morten and the others when they tried to rouse
him, "for you can't hate." No, the cold in his mind was like the night-
frost; it melted at the first sunbeam. When he looked back there were
redeeming ties that held the whole together in spite of all the evil;
and now the old librarian had brought him close up to the good in the
other side of the cleft too. He had settled down to his shoemaking again
and refused to be roused by the others' impatience; but he looked as if
he had an eternity in which to unravel his affairs.
Sister was often down with him and filled the workshop with her chatter.
At about eight, when it began to grow light, he heard her staggering
step on the stair, and she remained with him until Ellen took her up in
the evening by main force to put her to bed. She dragged all the tools
together and piled them up in front of Pelle on the bench so that he
could hardly move, and called it helping. Then she rested, standing with
her hands upon the edge of the bench and talking to him. "Sister's
clever!" she said appreciatively, pointing with satisfaction to her
work. "Big girl!" And if he did not answer she repeated it and did not
leave off until he had praised her.
"Yes, you're very clever!" he said, "but can you put the things back in
The child shook her head. "Sister's tired," she declared with decision,
and immediately after brought another tool and pushed it slowly up onto
the heap while she kept her eyes upon his face to see whether she might
do it. "Sister's helping!" she repeated in explanation; but Pelle
pretended not to hear.
For a time she was quiet, but then came to him with her pinafore full of
old boots and shoes that she had pulled out from behind the stove. He
tried to look stern, but had to bend down over his work. It made the
little girl feel uncertain. She emptied her pinafore onto the platform,
and sitting on her heels with her hands on her little knees, she tried
to see what his expression was. It was not satisfactory, so she got up
and, putting her hands on his knee, said, with an ingratiating look into
his face: "You're so clever, father! You can do everything! You're the
cleverest in the whole world!" And after a little pause--"We're both
clever, aren't we, father?"
"Oh, that's it, is it!" exclaimed Pelle. "One of us is very conceited at
"It's not me!" answered the child confidently, shaking her head.
"You seem to be very happy together," said Ellen when she came down with
Boy Comfort on her arm to fetch Anna. The child did not want to go up
with her, and pushed round into the corner behind Pelle's chair; and Boy
Comfort struggled to be put down onto the floor to play with the lasts.
"Well, then," said Ellen, sitting down, "we'll all stay here together."
She looked quiet and resigned; her defeat had told upon her. She no
longer spoke of the future, but was glad that they had escaped from the
clutches of the money-lender; the thought of it filled her with a quiet
but not altogether unspoiled happiness. She no longer dreamed of
anything better, but was grateful for what she possessed; and it seemed
to Pelle that something had died within her together with the
dissatisfaction. It was as though she had at last given everything she
had; her resignation to the gray everyday life made her dull and
ordinary. "She needs sunshine," he thought.
And again his thoughts wandered in their search for a way out into the
future--his one idea--in the same track that they had followed a hundred
times before. He did not even enter it fully, but merely recognized that
the problem was being worn threadbare. In his trade there was no
compromise; there was only room for extortioners and extortionized, and
he was not suited for either part. When he took up other possibilities,
however, his thoughts returned of themselves to his work, like a roving
dog that always comes back and snuffs at the same scent. There was
something in him that with fatalistic obstinacy made him one with his
trade, in spite of its hopelessness; he had staked everything there, and
there the question should be solved. Behind the fatalism of the common
people lies the recognition that there is plan and perspective in their
life too; such and such a thing is so because it must be so. And this
recognition Pelle had no reason to do away with.
He grew confused with the continual dwelling of his thoughts on the same
subject, but it seemed to possess him, was with him while he slept, and
seized him as soon as he awoke. There was an old dream that persistently
haunted him at this time--a forgotten youthful idea from his earliest
participation in the rising, the plan for a common workshop that would
make the court shoemaker superfluous. The plan had been laid aside at
the time as impossible, but now he took it up again and went over it
step by step. He could easily find some capable, reliable fellow-workmen
who would stand by him through thick and thin with regard to work and
profits; and there would be no difficulty about discipline, for during
the past years the workmen had learned to subordinate themselves to
their own people. Here was a way for the small man to assert himself
within his trade and join the development; what one was not able to do
could be done by several joining together, namely, turn the modern
technics to account and divide the work into sections. He arranged it
all most carefully, and went over it again and again to make sure that
every detail was correct. When he slept he dreamed of his system of
profit-sharing, and then it was a fact. He stood working in a bright
room among comrades; there was no master and no servant, the machinery
whirred, and the workmen sang and whistled while they minded it. Their
hours of labor were short, and they all had happy homes waiting for
It was hard to wake up and know the reality. Alas! all the cleverest and
most industrious hands in the world had no influence in their several
trades--could not so much as sew a single stitch--until capital started
them. If that refused its support, they could do nothing at all, but
were cut off, as it were, at once.
Machinery cost money. Pelle could get the latter from Brun, the old man
having often enough offered him capital to start something or other; but
he already owed him money, and capital might run his undertaking down.
It was at its post, and allowed no activity of that kind beside it. He
was seized with uncertainty; he dared not venture the stakes.
The old philosopher came almost daily. Pelle had become a part of his
life, and he watched his young friend's condition with anxiety. Was it
the prison life--or was it perhaps the books--that had transformed this
young man, who had once gone ahead with tempestuous recklessness, into a
hesitating doubter who could not come to a decision? Personality was of
doubtful value when it grew at the expense of energy. It had been the
old man's hope that it would have developed greater energy through being
replanted in fresh, untouched soil, and he tried to rouse Pelle out of
Pelle gave an impatient jerk. They were poking him up on all sides,
wanting him to come to a decision, and he could not see his way to it.
Of course he was half asleep; he knew it himself. He felt that he wanted
rest; his entity was working for him out there in the uncertainty.
"I don't know anything," he said, half irritated, "so what can be the
use? I thought books would lead me to a place from which I could bring
everything together; but now I'm all abroad. I know too much to dash on
blindly, and too little to find the pivot on which the whole thing
turns. It doesn't matter what I touch, it resolves itself into something
_for_ and something _against_." He laughed in desperation.
One day Brun brought him a book. "This book," he said with a peculiar
smile, "has satisfied many who were seeking for the truth. Let's see
whether it can satisfy you too!" It was Darwin's "Origin of Species."
Pelle read as in a mist. The point lay here--the whole thing powerfully
put into one sentence! His brain was in a ferment, he could not lay the
book down, but went on reading all night, bewitched and horrified at
this merciless view. When Ellen in surprise came down with his morning
coffee, he had finished the book. He made no reply to her gentle
reproaches, but drank the coffee in silence, put on his hat and went out
into the deserted streets to cool his burning brow.
It was very early and the working-men had not yet turned out; at the
morning coffee-rooms the shutters were just being taken down; warmly-
clad tram-men were tramping through the streets in their wooden-soled
boots; slipshod, tired women ran stumbling along to their early jobs,
shivering with cold and weary of life, weary before they had begun their
day. Here and there a belated woman toiled along the street carrying a
clothes-basket, a mother taking her baby to the creche before she went
to her work.
Suddenly the feeling of rebellion came over Pelle, hot, almost
suffocating him. This cruelly cold doctrine of the right of the strong,
which gave him the choice between becoming brutal or going to the dogs--
this was the key to an understanding of life? It pronounced a sentence
of death upon him and his fellows, upon the entire world of the poor.
From this point of view, the existing conditions were the only ones
possible--they were simply ideal; the sweater and the money-lender, whom
he hated, were in the most harmonious agreement with the fundamental
laws of life! And the terrible thing was that from this standpoint the
social fabric was clearly illuminated: he could not deny it. He who best
learned to accommodate himself to the existing state of things,
conquered; no matter how vile the existing state of things might be.
The book threw at once a dazzling light upon society, but where was his
own class in this doctrine--all the poor? They were not taken into
account! Society was thus in reality only those in possession, and here
he had their religion, the moral support for the uncompromising
utilization. It had always been difficult to understand how men could
misuse others; but here it was a sacred duty to give stones for bread.
The greatest oppressor was in reality nearest to life's holy, maternal
heart; for he was appointed to carry on the development.
The poor had no share in this doctrine. When a bad workman was in
difficulties, the others did not press him until he had to go down, not
even when he himself was to blame for his lack of means. The poor did
not let the weak fall, but took him under their wing. They placed
themselves outside the pale of the law and gave themselves no chance;
the race could not be won with a wounded comrade on one's back. But in
this fact there lay the admission that they did not belong to the
existing order of things, but had the right to demand their own time of
happiness. A new age must come, in which all that was needed in order
that they might share in it--kindness of heart, solidarity--was
predominant. Thus even the great union he had helped to effect pointed
in the right direction. It had been the opposite of one against all-it
had built upon the law of reciprocity.
And the poor man was not a miserable wretch, condemned by the
development to be ruined, a visionary, who, as a consequence of an empty
stomach, dreamed of a Utopia. Pelle had passed his childhood in the
country and gone about with the rest of creation in all kinds of
weather. He had seen the small singing-birds throw themselves in whole
clouds at the hawk when it had seized one of their number, and pursue it
until it dropped its prey in confusion. When he caught an ant in a split
straw, the other ants flocked to the straw and gnawed their comrade out:
they could not be frightened away. If he touched them, they squirted
their poison against his hand and went on working. Their courage amused
him, the sprinklings of poison were so tiny that he could not see them;
but if he quickly raised his hand to his nose, he detected a sharp acid
smell. Why did they not leave their comrade in his dilemma, when there
were so many of them and they were so busy? They did not even stop to
have a meal until they had liberated him.
The poor man must stick to the union idea; he had got hold of the right
thing this time! And now all at once Pelle knew which way they ought to
go. If they were outside the existing conditions and their laws, why not
arrange their own world upon the laws that were theirs? Through the
organizations they had been educated in self-government; it was about
time that they took charge of their own existence.
The young revolutionaries kept clear of the power of money by going
without things, but that was not the way. Capital always preached
contentment to the poor; he would go the other way, and conquer
production by a great flanking movement.
He was not afraid now of using the librarian's money. All doubt had been
chased away. He was perfectly clear and saw in broad outlines a world-
wide, peaceful revolution which was to subvert all existing values.
Pelle knew that poverty is not confined to any country. He had once
before brought forward an invincible idea. His system of profit-sharing
must be the starting-point for a world-fight between Labor and Capital!
Two days later Pelle and the librarian went to Frederiksberg Street to
look at a business that was to be disposed of. It was a small matter of
half a score of workmen, with an electrical workshop in the basement and
a shop above. The whole could be had by taking over the stock and
machinery at a valuation. The rent was rather high, but with that
exception the conditions were favorable.
"I think we'll arrange that the purchase and working capital shall bear
interest and be sunk like a four per cent. credit-association loan,"
"It's cheap money," answered Pelle. "A good result won't say much about
the circumstances when we haven't got the same conditions as other
"Not so very cheap. At that price you can get as many as you want on
good security; and I suppose the workman ought to be regarded as the
best security in an undertaking that's built upon labor," said the old
man, smiling. "There'll be a big fall in discount when you come into
power, Pelle! But the bare capital costs no more now either, when there
are no parasites at it; and it's just parasites that we're going to
Pelle had no objection to the cheap money; there were still plenty of
difficulties to overcome. If they got on, it would not be long before
private speculation declared war on him.
They agreed that they would have nothing to do with agents and branches;
the business was to rest entirely upon itself and communicate directly
with the consumers. What was made in the workshop should merely cover
the expenses of the shop above, the rest of the surplus being divided
among the workmen.
"According to what rules?" asked Brun, with a searching glance at
"Equal!" he answered without hesitation. "We won't have anything to do
with agreements. We made a great mistake, when we began the Movement, in
giving in to the agreement system instead of doing away with it
altogether. It has increased the inequality. Every one that works has a
right to live."
"Do you think the capable workman will submit to sharing equally with
those that are less capable?" asked Brun doubtfully.
"He must learn to!" said Pelle firmly. "How could he otherwise maintain
that all work is of equal value?"
"Is that your own opinion?"
"Most decidedly. I see no reason, for instance, for making any
difference between a doctor and a sewer-cleaner. It's impossible to say
which of them is of the greater use in matters of health; the point is
that each shall do what he can."
"Capital!" exclaimed Brun. "Capital!" The old philosopher was in the
best of spirits. Pelle had considered him awkward and unpractical, and
was astonished to find that his views on many points were so practical.
"It's because this is something new," said the old man, rubbing his
hands. "I'd done with the old before I came into the world; there was
nothing that stimulated me; I was said to be degenerated. Yes, indeed!
All the same, the old bookworm's going to show his ancestors that
there's vigorous blood flowing in his veins too. We two have found the
place from which the world can be rocked, my dear Pelle; I think we've
found it! And now we'll set to work."
There was enough to do indeed, but they were realities now, and Pelle
had a pleasant feeling of once more having his feet upon the ground.
This was something different from riding alone through space upon his
own thought, always in danger of falling down; here he opened up his
road, so to speak, with his hands.
It had been arranged that the present owner of the business should carry
it on a little longer, while Pelle made himself at home in it all,
learned to understand the machinery, and took lessons in book-keeping.
He was always busy, used his day and at night slept like a log. His
brain was no longer in a perpetual ferment like a caldron, for sleep put
out the fire beneath it.
The essential thing was that they should be a party that could entirely
rely upon one another, and Pelle unhesitatingly discharged those of his
comrades who were not suited for work under new forms, and admitted
The first man he applied to was Peter Dreyer. Ellen advised him not to
do so. "You know he's on bad terms with the police," she said. "You may
have difficulties enough without that." But Pelle needed some one beside
him who was able to look at things from a new point of view, and quite
understood what was essential; egoists were of no good, and this must be
the very thing for a man who had grown restive at the old state of
* * * * *
Pelle had come home from his book-keeping course to have his dinner.
Ellen was out with Boy Comfort, but she had left the meal ready for him.
It was more convenient to eat it in the kitchen, so he sat upon the
kitchen table, reading a book on the keeping of accounts while he ate.
In the front room sat Lasse Frederik, learning his lessons with fingers
in both ears in order to shut out the world completely. This was not so
easy, however, for Sister had a loose tooth, and his fingers were
itching to get at it. Every other minute he broke off his reading to
offer her something or other for leave to pull it out; but the little
girl always made the same answer: "No, father's going to."
He then gave up setting about it honorably, and tried to take her
unawares; and at last he persuaded her to let him tie a piece of cotton
round the tooth and fasten it to the doorhandle. "There! Now we've only
got to burn through the cotton," he said, lighting a piece of candle,
"or else father'll never be able to get the tooth out. It loosens it
tremendously!" He talked on about all kinds of things to divert her
attention, like a conjuror, and then suddenly brought the candle close
to her nose, so that she quickly drew back. "Look, here's the tooth!" he
cried triumphantly, showing it to Sister, who, however, screamed at the
top of her voice.
Pelle heard it all, but quietly went on eating. They would have to make
it up by themselves. It was not long before Lasse Frederik was applying
a plaster to his exploit; he talked to her and gave her her toys to put
her into good humor again. When Pelle went in, they were both lying on
the floor with their heads under the bed. They had thrown the tooth
right into the wall, and were shouting together:
Give me a gold tooth
Instead of a bone tooth!"
"Are you going to do anything now, father?" asked Sister, running up to
Yes, he had several things to do.
"You're always so busy," she said sulkily. "Are you going to keep on all
Pelle's conscience smote him. "No, I'm not very busy," he said quickly.
"I can stay with you for a little. What shall we do?"
Little Anna brought her large rag doll, and began to drag chairs into
"No, that's so stupid!" said Lasse Frederik. "Tell us about the time you
minded the cows, father! About the big mad bull!" And Pelle told them
stories of his childhood--about the bull and Father Lasse, the farmer of
Stone Farm and Uncle Kalle with his thirteen children and his happy
disposition. The big farm, the country life, the stone-quarry and the
sea--they all made up a fairy-story for the two children of the
pavement; the boy Pelle's battle with the great oxen for the supremacy,
his wonderful capture of the twenty-five-ore piece--each incident was
more exciting than the one before it. Most exciting of all was the story
of the giant Eric, who became an idiot from a blow. "That was in those
days," said Pelle, nodding; "it wouldn't happen like that now."
"What a lot you have seen!" said Ellen, who had come home while they
were talking, and was sitting knitting. "I can hardly understand how you
managed--a little fellow like that! How I should like to have seen you!"
"Father's big!" exclaimed Sister appreciatively. Lasse
Frederik was a little more reserved. It was so tiresome always to be
outdone, and he would like to have found room for a parenthesis about
his own exploits. "I say, there's a big load of corn in the cabman's
gateway," he said, to show that he too understood country life.
"That's not corn," said Pelle; "it's hay--clover hay. Don't you even
know what corn's like?"
"We call it corn," answered the boy confidently, "and it is corn too,
for it has those tassels at the ends."
"The ears, you mean! But those are on coarse grass too, and, besides,
corn is descended from grass. Haven't you ever really been into the
"We were once going, and meant to stay a whole week, but it went wrong
with mother's work. I've been right out to the Zoological Gardens,
Pelle suddenly realized how much the children must lose by living their
life in the city. "I wonder if we shouldn't think about moving out of
town," he said that evening when he and Ellen were alone.
"If you think so," Ellen answered. She herself had no desire to move
into the country, indeed she had an instinctive horror of it as a place
to live in. She did not understand it from the point of view of the
children either; there were so many children who got on capitally in
town, and he surely did not want them to become stupid peasants! If he
thought so, however, she supposed it was right; he was generally right.
Then it was certainly time they gave notice; there was not much more
than a month to April removing-day.
On Sundays they packed the perambulator and made excursions into the
surrounding country, just as in the old days when Lasse Frederik was the
only child and sat in his carriage like a little crown-prince. Now he
wheeled the carriage in which Boy Comfort sat in state; and when Sister
grew tired she was placed upon the apron with her legs hanging down.
They went in a different direction each time, and came to places that
even Lasse Frederik did not know. Close in to the back of the town lay
nice old orchards, and in the midst of them a low straw-thatched
building, which had evidently once been the dwelling-house on a farm.
They came upon it quite by chance from a side-road, and discovered that
the town was busy building barracks beyond this little idyll too, and
shutting it in. When the sun shone they sat down on a bank and ate their
dinner; Pelle and Lasse Frederik vied with one another in performing
feats of strength on the withered grass; and Ellen hunted for winter
boughs to decorate the house with.
On one of their excursions they crossed a boggy piece of ground on which
grew willow copse; behind it rose cultivated land. They followed the
field roads with no definite aim, and chanced upon an uninhabited,
somewhat dilapidated house, which stood in the middle of the rising
ground with a view over Copenhagen, and surrounded by a large, overgrown
garden. On an old, rotten board stood the words "To let," but nothing
was said as to where application was to be made.
"That's just the sort of house you'd like," said Ellen, for Pelle had
"It would be nice to see the inside," he said. "I expect the key's to be
got at the farm up there."
Lasse Frederik ran up to the old farmhouse that lay a little farther in
at the top of the hill, to ask. A little while after he came back
accompanied by the farmer himself, a pale, languid, youngish man, who
wore a stand-up collar and was smoking a cigar.
The house belonged to the hill farm, and had been built for the parents
of the present owner. The old people had had the odd idea of calling it
"Daybreak," and the name was painted in large letters on the east gable.
The house had stood empty since they died some years ago, and looked
strangely lifeless; the window-panes were broken and looked like dead
eyes, and the floors were covered with filth.
"No, I don't like it!" said Ellen.
Pelle showed her, however, that the house was good enough, the doors and
windows fitted well, and the whole needed only to be overhauled. There
were four rooms and a kitchen on the ground floor, and some rooms above,
one of these being a large attic facing south. The garden was more than
an acre in extent, and in the yard was an out-house fitted up for fowls
and rabbits, the rent was four hundred krones (L22).
Pelle and Lasse Frederik went all over it again and again, and made the
most wonderful discoveries; but when Pelle heard, the price, he grew
serious. "Then we may as well give it up," he said.
Ellen did not answer, but on the way home she reckoned it out to
herself; she could see how disappointed he was. "It'll be fifteen krones
(17 s.) more a month than we now pay," she suddenly exclaimed. "But
supposing we could get something out of the garden, and kept fowls!
Perhaps, too, we might let the upper floor furnished."
Pelle looked gratefully at her. "I'll undertake to get several hundred
krones' worth out of the garden," he said.
They were tired out when they got home, for after all it was a long way
out. "It's far away from everything," said Ellen. "You'd have to try to
buy a second-hand bicycle." Pelle suddenly understood from the tone of
her voice that she herself would be lonely out there.
"We'd better put it out of our thoughts," he said, "and look for a
three-roomed flat in town. The other is unpractical after all."
When he returned from his work the following evening, Ellen had a
surprise for him. "I've been out and taken the house," she said. "It's
not so far from the tram after all, and we get it for three hundred
krones (L16 10s.) the first year. The man promised to put it all into
good order by removing-day. Aren't you glad?"
"Yes, if only you'll be happy there," said Pelle, putting his arms round
The children were delighted. They were to live out there in the bright
world into which they had peeped, as a rule, only on very festive
occasions--to wander about there every day, and always eat the food they
brought with them in the open air.
A week later they moved out. Pelle did not think they could afford to
hire men to do the removing. He borrowed a four-wheeled hand-cart--the
same that had carried Ellen's furniture from Chapel Road--and in the
course of Saturday evening and Sunday morning he and Lasse Frederik took
out the things. "Queen Theresa" gave Ellen a helping hand with the
packing. The last load was done very quickly, as they had to be out of
the town before church-time. They half ran with it, Boy Comfort having
been placed in a tub on the top of the load. Behind came Ellen with
little Anna, and last of all fat "Queen Theresa" with some pot plants
that had to be taken with special care. It was quite a procession.
They were in a tremendous bustle all day. The cleaning had been very
badly done and Ellen and "Queen Theresa" had to do it all over again.
Well, it was only what they might have expected! When you moved you
always had to clean two flats, the one you left and the one you went
into. There had not been much done in the way of repairs either, but
that too was what one was accustomed to. Landlords were the same all the
world over. There was little use in making a fuss; they were there, and
the agreement was signed. Pelle would have to see to it by degrees.
By evening the house was so far in order that it could be slept in. "Now
we'll stop for to-day," said Ellen. "We mustn't forget that it's
Sunday." They carried chairs out into the garden and had their supper
there, Pelle having laid an old door upon a barrel for a table. Every
time "Queen Theresa" leaned forward with her elbows on the table, the
whole thing threatened to upset, and then she screamed. She was a
pastor's daughter, and her surroundings now made her melancholy. "I
haven't sat like this and had supper out of doors since I ran away from
home as a fifteen-year-old girl," she said, wiping her eyes.
"Poor soul!" said Ellen, when they had gone with her along the road to
the tram. "She's certainly gone through a good deal. She's got no one to
care about her except us."
"Is she really a pastor's daughter?" asked Pelle. "Women of that kind
always pretend to be somebody of a better class who has been
"Oh, yes, it's true enough. She ran away from home because she couldn't
stand it. She wasn't allowed to laugh, but had to be always praying and
thinking about God. Her parents have cursed her."
They went for a little walk behind the farm to see the evening sky.
Ellen was very talkative, and already had a thousand plans in her head.
She was going to plant a great many fruit-bushes and make a kitchen-
garden; and they would keep a number of fowls and rabbits. Next summer
she would have early vegetables that could be sold in town.
Pelle was only half attending as he walked beside her and gazed at the
glowing evening sky, which, with its long fiery lines, resembled a
distant prairie-fire. There was quiet happiness within him and around
him. He was in a solemn mood, and felt as though, after an absence of
many years, he had once more entered the land of his childhood. There
was a familiar feeling in the soft pressure of the earth beneath his
feet; it was like a caress that made him strong and gave him new life.
Here, with his feet on the soil, he felt himself invincible.
"You're so silent!" said Ellen, taking his arm so as to walk beside him
upon the dike.
"I feel as if you had just become my bride," he said, taking her into
Brun came in every morning before he went to the library to see how the
work was progressing; he was greatly interested in it, and began to look
younger. He was always urging Pelle on, and suggesting plans for
extensions. "If money's wanted, just let me know," he said. He longed to
see the effect of this new system, and was always asking Pelle whether
he noticed anything. When he heard that the boot and shoe manufacturers
had held a meeting to decide what should be their attitude to the
undertaking, he laughed and wanted to turn on more steam, quite
indifferent to what it might cost. The old philosopher had become as
impatient as a child; an interest had come into his old-man's existence,
and he was afraid of not getting the whole of it. "It's all very well
for you to take your time," he said, "but remember that I'm old and
sickly into the bargain."
He treated Pelle as a son, and generally said "thou" to him.
Pelle held back. So much depended upon the success of this venture, and
he watched it anxiously; it was as though he had been chosen to question
the future. Within the Movement his undertaking was followed with
attention; the working-men's papers wrote about it, but awaited results.
There were opinions for and against.
He wanted to give a good answer, and decided on his measures with much
care; he immediately dismissed such workmen as were not suited to the
plan. It made bad blood, but there was no help for that. He was busy
everywhere, and where he could not go himself, Lasse Frederik went, for
the boy had given up his other occupations and helped in the shop and
ran errands. Ellen wanted to help too. "We can keep a servant, and then
I'll learn book-keeping and keep the accounts and mind the shop."
Pelle would not agree to this, however. He was not going to have her
working for their maintenance any more. A woman's place was with her
"Nowadays the women take part in all kinds of work," Ellen urged.
It did not matter; he had his own opinion on the subject. It was enough
that the men should do the producing. Would she have them stand on the
pavement and watch the women doing the work? It was very possible it did
not sound liberal-minded, but he did not care. Women were like beautiful
flowers, whatever people said about their being man's equal. They wore
their happiness off when they had to work for their living; he had seen
enough to know that.
She did not like standing and looking on while the two men were so busy,
so she attacked the garden, and sowed herbs and planted cabbage in the
beds that lay like thick down quilts upon the earth; and when it
happened that things came up, she was happy. She had bought a gardening
book, and puzzled her head about the various kinds and their treatment.
Pelle came to her assistance after working hours, and everything that he
handled flourished. This made Ellen a little angry. She did exactly what
he did, but it was just as if the plants made a difference between them.
"I've got the countryman's hand," he said, laughing.
All Sunday they were busy. The whole family was in the garden, Lasse
Frederik digging, Pelle pruning the espalier round the garden door, and
Ellen tying it up. The children were trying to help everybody and were
mostly a hindrance. One or other of them was always doing something
wrong, treading on the beds or pulling up the plants. How
extraordinarily stupid they were! Regular town children! They could not
even understand when they were told! Pelle could not comprehend it, and
sometimes nearly lost patience.
One day when little Anna came to him unsuspectingly to show him a
flowering branch of an apple-tree which she had broken off, he was angry
and took her roughly by the arm; but when he saw the frightened
expression in her face, he remembered the man with the strange eyes, who
had taught him in his childhood to manage the cattle without using
anything but his hands, and he was ashamed of himself. He took the
little ones by the hand, went round the garden with them and told them
about the trees and bushes, which were alive just like themselves, and
only wanted to do all they could for the two children. The branches were
their arms and legs, so they could imagine how dreadful it was to pull
them off. Sister turned pale and said nothing, but Boy Comfort, who at
last had decided, to open his mouth and had become quite a chatterbox,
jabbered away and stuck out his little stomach like a drummer. He was a
sturdy little fellow, and Ellen's eyes followed him proudly as he went
round the garden.
The knowledge that everything was alive had a remarkable effect upon the
two children. They always went about hand in hand, and kept carefully to
the paths. All round them the earth was breaking and curious things
coming up out of it. The beans had a bucket turned over them to protect
them, and the lettuces put up folded hands as if they were praying for
fine weather. Every morning when the children made their round of the
garden, new things had come up. "'Oook, 'ook!" exclaimed Boy Comfort,
pointing to the beds. They stood at a safe distance and talked to one
another about the new wonders, bending over with their hands upon their
backs as if afraid that the new thing would snatch at their fingers.
Sometimes Boy Comfort's chubby hand would come out involuntarily and
want to take hold of things; but he withdrew it in alarm as if he had
burnt himself, saying "Ow!" and then the two children would run as fast
as they could up to the house.
For them the garden was a wonder-world full of delights--and full of
terrors. They soon became familiar with the plants in their own way, and
entered into a kind of mystic companionship with them, met them in a
friendly way and exchanged opinions--like beings from different worlds,
meeting on the threshold. There was always something mysterious about
their new friends, which kept them at a distance; they did not give much
information about themselves. When they were asked: "Who called you?"
they answered quickly: "Mother Ellen!" But if they were asked what it
looked like down in the earth, they made no answer whatever. The garden
continued to be an inexhaustible world to the children, no matter how
much they trotted about in it. Every day they went on new journeys of
discovery in under elder and thorn bushes; there were even places which
they had not yet got at, and others into which they did not venture at
all. They went near to them many times in the course of the day, and
peeped over the gooseberry bushes into the horrible darkness that sat in
there like an evil being and had no name. Out in the brilliant sunshine
on the path they stood and challenged it, Sister spitting until her chin
and pinafore were wet, and Boy Comfort laboriously picking up stones and
throwing them in. He was so fat that he could not bend down, but had to
squat on his heels whenever he wanted to pick up anything. And then
suddenly they would rush away to the house in a panic of fear.
It was not necessary to be a child to follow the life in the garden. A
wonderful power of growing filled everything, and in the night it
crackled and rustled out in the moonlight, branches stretched themselves
in fresh growths, the sap broke through the old bark in the form of
flowers and new "eyes." It was as though Pelle and Ellen's happy zeal
had been infectious; the half-stifled fruit-trees that had not borne for
many years revived and answered the gay voices by blossoming
luxuriantly. It was a race between human beings and plants as to who
should accomplish the most, and between the plants themselves as to
which could make the best show. "The spring is lavishing its flowers and
green things upon us," said Pelle. He had never seen a nest that was so
beautiful as his; he had at last made a home.
It was pleasant here. Virginia creeper and purple clematis covered the
whole front of the house and hung down before the garden door, where
Ellen liked to sit with her work, keeping an eye on the little ones
playing on the grass, where she liked best to sit with Pelle on Sundays,
when the Copenhagen families came wandering past on their little country
excursions. They often stopped outside the hedge and exclaimed: "Oh,
what a lovely home!"
* * * * *
The work in Pelle's workshop began, as in all other places, at six in
the morning; but it stopped at four, so that those who cared about it
could easily make something of the day. Pelle had reduced the working
hours to nine, and dared not venture any further for the present.
Some of the hands liked this arrangement, and employed the afternoon in
going out with their wives and children; but others would rather have
had an hour longer in bed in the morning. One day the latter came and
declared that now they were in the majority and would have it changed.
"I can't agree to that," answered Pelle. "Being early up is the
workman's privilege, and I'm not going to give it up."
"But we've taken the votes on it," they said. "This is a democratic
institution, isn't it?"
"I've taken no oath to the vote," Pelle answered quietly, "and in the
meantime I should advise those who are dissatisfied with the conditions
here to try somewhere else."
There was always something like this going on, but he did not take it
for more than it was worth. They had acquired consciousness of their
power, but most of them had not yet discovered its aim. They used it
blindly, in childish pleasure at seeing it unfold, like boys in
unfurling their banner, tyrannized a little by way of a change, and took
their revenge for the subjection of old times by systematically
demanding the opposite to what they had. They reeled a little; the
miracle of the voting-paper had gone to their heads. It was an
intelligible transition; the feeling of responsibility would get hold of
them in time.
Another day two of the most skilful workmen came and asked to have
piece-work introduced again. "We won't stand toiling to make money for
our comrades," they said.
"Are they idle?" asked Pelle.
"No, but we work quicker."
"Then they're more thorough on the whole. The one generally balances the
"That's all very well, but it doesn't benefit us."
"It benefits the consumers, and under the new conditions that's the same
thing. We must maintain the principle that all who do their duty are
equally good; it's in our own interests."
They were satisfied for the time. They were two clever fellows, and it
was only that they had not got hold of the new feature in the
In this way there was considerable trouble. The workmen were short-
sighted, and saw only from their hands to their own mouths. Impatience
had also something to do with it. They had shorter hours and higher
wages, but had not as much to do as in other places. It was new of
course, and had to answer to their dreams; but there would be no
fortunes to be made out of it as Pelle was working it. He was a little
more precise than was necessary when you were pressed on all sides by
There were, for instance, still a number of people who kept to the good
old handsewn boots and shoes, and willingly paid half as much again for
them. A good many small shoemakers availed themselves of this by
advertising handsewn foot-wear, and then passed the measures on to a
factory. It was a good business for both factory and shoemaker, but
Pelle would have nothing to do with such transactions. He put his trade-
mark on the sole of everything that went out of his workshop.
Pelle took all this with dignified calmness. What right had he to demand
perspicuity of these people? It was _his_ business to educate them
to it. If only they were willing, he was satisfied. Some day he supposed
he would take them so far that they would be able to take over the
business jointly, or make it self-supporting; but until then they would
have to fall in with his plans.
Part of a great, far-off dream was nevertheless being realized in his
undertaking, modest though it was at present; and if it were successful,
the way to a new age for the petty tradesmen was open. And what was of
still more importance, his own home was growing through this work. He
had found the point where the happiness of the many lay in the
lengthening of his own; he had got the right way now! Sometimes in the
evening after a troublesome day he felt a little tired of the
difficulties; but when he bicycled down toward the town in the early
morning, while the mists of night drifted across the fields and the lark
sang above his head, he was always in good spirits. Then he could follow
the consequences of his labor, and see the good principles victorious
and the work growing. Kindred enterprises sprang up in other parts of
the town, in other towns, still farther out. In the far distance he
could see that all production was in the hands of the working-men
Peter Dreyer supported him like a good comrade, and took a good deal of
the worry off his shoulders. He unselfishly put all his strength into
it, but he did not share Pelle's belief in the enormous results that
would come from it. "But, dear me, this is capitalistic too!" he said--
"socialist capitalism! Just look up to the pavement! there goes a man
with no soles to his shoes, and his feet are wet, but all the same he
doesn't come down here and get new shoes, for we want money for them
just like all the others, and those who need our work most simply have
none. That thing"--he went on, giving a kick to one of the machines--
"turns ten men into the street! There you have the whole thing!"
Pelle defended his machines, but Peter would not give in. "The whole
thing should have been altered first," he said angrily. "As it is, they
are inventions of the devil! The machines have come a day or two too
early, and point their mouths at us, like captured cannons!"
"The machines make shoes for ten times as many people as we could make
for with our hands," said Pelle, "and that can hardly be called a
misfortune. It's only the distribution that's all wrong."
Peter Dreyer shrugged his shoulders; he would not discuss the question
of distribution any more. If they meant to do anything to alter it he
was willing to help. There had been enough nonsense talked about it.
Those who had money could buy up all that they made, while the
barefooted would be no better off than before. It was a deadlock. Did he
think it would revolutionize the world if every man received the entire
proceeds of his work? That only meant justice in the existing
conditions, so long as diamonds continued to be more valuable than
bread. "I don't see that those who happen to have work should have a
better right to live than those who can't get any," he said wrathfully.
"Or perhaps you don't know the curse of unemployment! Look at them
wandering about in thousands, summer and winter, a whole army of
shadows! The community provides for them so that they can just hang
together. Good heavens, that isn't helping the poor, with all respect to
the honorable workman! Let him keep his vote, since it amuses him! It's an
innocent pleasure. Just think if he demanded proper food instead of it!"
Yes, Pelle was well enough acquainted with the great hunger reserve; he
had very nearly been transferred into it himself. But here he
nevertheless caught a glimpse of the bottom. There was a peaceable
strength in what he was doing that might carry them on a long way. Peter
Dreyer acknowledged it himself by working so faithfully with him. It was
only that he would not admit it.
At first they had to stand a good deal, but by degrees Pelle learned to
turn things off. Peter, who was generally so good and amenable, spoke in
an angry, vexed tone when the conversation touched upon social
conditions; it was as though he was at the end of his patience. Though
he earned a very good amount, he was badly dressed and looked as if he
did not get sufficient food; his breakfast, which he ate together with
the others in the workshop, generally consisted of bread and margarine,
and he quenched his thirst at the water-tap. At first the others made
fun of his prison fare, but he soon taught them to mind their own
business: it was not safe to offend him. Part of his earnings he used
for agitation, and his comrades said that he lived with a humpbacked
woman and her mother. He himself admitted no one into his confidence,
but grew more and more reticent. Pelle knew that he lived in one of the
Vesterbro back streets, but did not know his address. When he stood
silent at his work, his expression was always gloomy, sometimes terribly
sad. He seemed to be always in pain.
The police were always after him. Pelle had once or twice received a
hint not to employ him, but firmly refused to submit to any interference
in his affairs. It was then arbitrarily decided that Peter Dreyer should
report himself to the authorities every week.
"I won't do it!" he said. "It's quite illegal. I've only been punished
for political offences, and I've been so careful that they shouldn't be
able to get at me for any formal mistake, and here they're having this
triumph! I won't!" He spoke quietly and without excitement, but his
Pelle tried an appeal to his unselfishness. "Do it for my sake then," he
said. "If you don't they'll shut you up, and you know I can't do without
"Would you go and report yourself then if you were told to?" Peter
"Yes. No one need be ashamed of submitting to superior brute force."
So he went. But it cost him an enormous effort, and on that day in the
week it was better to leave him alone.
Marie's fate lay no longer like a heavy burden upon Pelle; time had
taken the bitterness out of it. He could recall without self-reproach
his life with her and her two brothers in the "Ark," and often wondered
what had become of the latter. No one could give him any information
One day, during the midday rest, he went on his bicycle out to Morten
with a message from Ellen. In Morten's sitting-room, a hunched-up figure
was sitting with its back to the window, staring down at the floor. His
clothes hung loosely upon him, and his thin hair was colorless. He
slowly raised a wasted face as he looked toward the door. Pelle had
already recognized him from his maimed right hand, which had only the
thumb and one joint of the forefinger. He no longer hid it away, but let
it lie upon his thin knee.
"Why, good-day, Peter!" exclaimed Pelle in surprise, holding out his
hand to take the other's left hand. Peter drew the hand out of his
pocket and held it out. It was a dead, maimed lump with some small
protuberances like rudiments of knuckles, that Pelle found in his hand.
Peter looked into his face without moving a muscle of his own, and there
was only a little gleam in his eyes when Pelle started.
"What in the world are you starting for?" he said dryly. "I should think
any one might have known that a fellow couldn't mind a shearing-machine
with one hand. I knew it just as well as everybody else in the factory,
and expected it every day; and at last I had to shut my eyes. Confound
it, I often thought, won't there soon be an end to it? And then one day
there it was!"
Pelle shivered. "Didn't you get any accident insurance?" he asked in
order to say something.
"Of course I did! The whole council gathered on account of my humble
self, and I was awarded three thousand krones (L170) as entirely
invalided. Well, the master possessed nothing and had never insured me,
so it never got beyond the paper. But anyhow it's a great advance upon
the last time, isn't it? Our party has accomplished something!" He
looked mockingly at Pelle. "You ought to give a cheer for paper
Peter was a messenger and a kind of secretary in a revolutionary
association for young men. He had taught himself to read and sat with
other young men studying anarchistic literature. The others took care of
him like brothers; but it was a marvel that he had not gone to the dogs.
He was nothing but skin and bone, and resembled a fanatic that is almost
consumed by his own fire. His intelligence had never been much to boast
of, but there were not many difficulties in the problem that life had
set him. He hated with a logic that was quite convincing. The strong
community had passed a sham law, which was not even liable for the
obligations that it admitted that it had with regard to him. He had done
with it now and belonged to the destructionists.
He had come up to Morten to ask him to give a reading at the Club. "It's
not because we appreciate authors--you mustn't imagine that," he said
with a gloomy look. "They live upon us and enjoy a meaningless respect
for it. It's only manual labor that deserves to be honored; everything
else sponges on us. I'm only telling you so that you shan't come
imagining something different."
"Thank you," said Morten, smiling. "It's always nice to know what you're
valued at. And still you think you can make use of me?"
"Yes, you're one of the comparatively better ones among those who work
to maintain the capitalists; but we're agreed at the Club that you're
not a real proletariat writer, you're far too much elaborated. There
have never been proletariat writers; and it's of no consequence either,
for entertainment shouldn't be made out of misery. It's very likely
you'll hear all about that up there."
"That's all right. I'll be sure to come," answered Morten.
"And if you'll write us a cantata for our anniversary festival--it's
the day of the great Russian massacre--I'll see that it's accepted. But
it mustn't be the usual hallelujah!"
"I'm glad I met you," he said to Pelle with his unchanging expression of
gloom. "Have you seen anything of Karl?"
"No, where is he?" asked Pelle eagerly.
"He's a swell now. He's got a business in Adel Street; but he won't
enjoy it long."
"Why not? Is there anything wrong with his affairs?"
"Nothing more than that some day we'll pull the whole thing down upon
all your heads. There'll soon be quite a number of us. I say, you might
speak one evening in our association, and tell us something about your
prison life. I think it would interest them. We don't generally have
outsiders, for we speak for ourselves; but I don't think there'd be any
difficulty in getting you introduced."
"He's a devil-may-care fellow, isn't he?" exclaimed Morten when he had
shut the door on Peter, "but he's no fool. Did you notice that he never
asked for anything? They never do. When they're hungry they go up to the
first person they meet and say: 'Let me have something to eat!' It's all
the same to them what's put into their mouths so long as it's
satisfying, and they never thank gratefully. Nothing affects them.
They're men who put the thief above the beggar. I don't dislike it
really; there's a new tone in it. Perhaps our well-behaved ruminant's
busy doing away with one stomach and making up the spare material into
teeth and claws."
"If only they'd come forward and do work!" said Pelle. "Strong words
don't accomplish much."
"How's it going with your peaceable revolution?" asked Morten with a
twinkle in his eye. "Do you see any progress in the work?"
"Oh, yes, it's slow but sure. Rome wasn't built in a day. I didn't think
though that you were interested in it."
"I think you're on the right tack, Pelle," answered Morten seriously.
"But let the young ones light the fire underneath, and it'll go all the
quicker. That new eventualities crop up in this country is no
disadvantage; the governing body may very well be made aware that
there's gunpowder under their seats. It'll immensely strengthen their
sense of responsibility! Would you like to see Johanna? She's been
wanting very much to see you. She's ill again unfortunately."
"Ellen sent me out to propose that she should come to stay with us in
the country. She thinks the child must be a great trouble to you and
cannot be properly looked after here either."
"It's very kind of your wife to think of it, but hasn't she enough to do
"Oh, Ellen can manage a great deal," said Pelle heartily. "You would be
giving her a pleasure."
"Then I'll say 'Thank you' for the offer," exclaimed Morten. "It'll be a
great relief to me, if only she can stand the moving. It isn't that she
gives me any trouble now, for we get on capitally together. Johanna is
good and manageable, really a splendid character in spite of her
spoiling. You won't have any difficulty with her. And I think it'll be
good for her to be away from me here, and be somewhere where there's a
woman to see to her--and children. She doesn't get much attention here."
They went in to her and found her asleep, her pale face covered with
large drops of moisture. "It's exhaustion," whispered Morten. "She's not
got much strength yet." Their presence made her sleep disturbed, and she
tossed from side to side and then, suddenly opening her eyes, gazed
about her with an expression of wild terror. In a moment she recognized
them and smiled; and raising herself a little she held out both her
hands to Pelle with a charming expression of childish coquetry.
"Tell me about the house out there and Boy Comfort," she said, making
room for him on the edge of the bed. "It's so tiresome here, and Mr.
Morten's so serious." And she threw a glance of defiance at him.
"Is he?" said Pelle. "That must be because he writes books."
"No, but I must keep up a little dignity," said Morten, assuming a
funny, schoolmasterish expression. "This young lady's beginning to be
Johanna lay and laughed to herself, her eyes travelling from one to the
other of them. "He ought to have a pair of spectacles, and then he'd be
like a real one," she said. She spoke hardly above a whisper, it was all
she had strength for; but her voice was mischievous.
"You must come to us if he's so bad," said Pelle, "and then you can play
with the children and lie in the sunshine out in the garden. You don't
know how lovely it is there now? Yes, I'm really in earnest," he
continued, as she still smiled. "Ellen asked me to come and say so."
She suddenly became grave and looked from the one to the other; then
looking down, and with her face turned away, she asked: "Will Morten be
"No, Johanna, I must stay here, of course; but I'll come out to see
"Every day?" Her face was turned to the wall, and she scratched the
paper with her nails.
"I shall come and see my little sweetheart just as often as I can," said
Morten, stroking her hair.
The red blood suffused her neck in a sudden wave, and was imperceptibly
absorbed in the paleness of her skin, like a dying ember. Hanne's blood
came and went in the same way for the merest trifle. Johanna had
inherited her mother's bashfulness and unspeakable charm, and also her
She lay with her back turned toward them and made no reply to their
persuasions. It was not easy to say whether she even heard them, until
suddenly she turned to Morten with an expression of hatred on her face.
"You don't need to trouble," she said, with glowing eyes; "you can
easily get rid of me!"
Morten only looked at her sorrowfully, but Pelle was angry. "You ought
to be ashamed of yourself for taking it like that," he said. "Is that
all the thanks Morten gets for what he's done? I must say you're a
Johanna took the scolding without moving a muscle of her face, but when
he ceased she quietly took his hand and laid it over her delicate, thin
face, which it quite covered. There she lay peeping out at him and
Morten between the large fingers, with a strangely resigned expression
that was meant to be roguish. "I know it was horrid of me," she said
dully, moving Pelle's middle finger backward and forward in front of her
eyes so that she squinted; "but I'll do what you tell me. Elle-Pelle,
Morten-Porten-I can talk the P-language!" And she laughed an embarrassed
"You don't know how much better and happier you'll be when you get out
to Pelle's," said Morten.
"I could easily get up and do the work of the house, so that you didn't
need to have a woman," she whispered, gazing at him passionately with
her big eyes. "I'm well enough now."
"My dear child, that's not what I mean at all! It's for your sake. Don't
you understand that?" said Morten earnestly, bending over her.
Johanna's gaze wandered round hopelessly, as if she had given up all
thought of being understood any more.
"I don't think we'll move her against her will," said Morten, as he went
down with Pelle. "She is so capricious in her moods. I think, too, I
should miss her, for she's a good little soul. When she's up she goes
creeping about and is often quite touching in her desire to make me
comfortable. And suddenly recollections of her former life awaken in her
and darken her mind; she's still very mistrustful and afraid of being
burdensome. But she needs the companionship of women, some one to whom
she can talk confidentially. She has too much on her mind for a child."
"Couldn't you both move out to us? You can have the two upstairs rooms."
"That's not a bad idea," exclaimed Morten. "May I have two or three days
to think it over? And my love to Ellen and the children!"
When the workshop closed, Pelle often went on working for an hour or two
in the shop, getting the accounts straight and arranging the work for
the following day in the intervals of attending to customers. A little
before six he closed the shop, mounted his bicycle and hastened home
with longing for the nest in his heart.
Every one else seemed to feel as he did. There was a peculiar homeward
current in the traffic of the streets. Cyclists overtook him in whole
flocks, and raced in shoals in front of the trams, which looked as if
they squirted them away from the lines as they worked their way along
with incessant, deafening ringing, bounding up and down under the weight
of the overfilled platforms.
Crowds of men and women were on their way out, and met other crowds
whose homes were in the opposite quarter. On the outskirts of the town
the factory whistles were crowing like a choir of giant cocks, a single
one beginning, the others all joining in. Sooty workmen poured out of
the gates, with beer-bottles sticking out of coat-pockets and dinner
handkerchiefs dangling from a finger. Women who had been at work or out
making purchases, stood with their baskets on their arms, waiting for
their husbands at the corner of the street. Little children tripping
along hand in hand suddenly caught sight of a man far off in the crowd,
and set off at a run to throw themselves at his legs.
Sister often ran right across the fields to meet her father, and Ellen
stood at the gate of "Daybreak" and waited. "Good-day, Mr.
Manufacturer!" she cried as he approached. She was making up for so much
now, and was glowing with health and happiness. It was no use for Pelle
to protest, and declare that in his world there were only workmen; she
would not give up the title. He was the one who directed the whole
thing, and she did not mind about the fellowship. She was proud of him,
and he might call himself an errand-boy if he liked; men must always
have some crochet or other in their work, or else it would not satisfy
them. The arrangement about the equal division she did not understand,
but she was sure that her big, clever husband deserved to have twice as
much as any of the others. She did not trouble her head about that,
however; she lived her own life and was contented and happy.
Pelle had feared that she would tire of the country, and apparently she
did not take to it. She weeded and worked in the garden with her
customary energy, and by degrees acquired a fair knowledge of the work;
but it did not seem to afford her any peculiar enjoyment. It was no
pleasure to her to dig her fingers into the mould. Pelle and the
children throve here, and that determined her relations to the place;
but she did not strike root on her own account. She could thrive
anywhere in the world if only they were there; and their welfare was
hers. She grew out from them, and had her own wonderful growth inward.
Within her there were strange hidden forces that had nothing to do with
theories or systems, but produced the warmth that bore up the whole.
Pelle no longer desired to force his way in there. What did he care
about logical understanding between man and woman? It was her heart with
which he needed to be irradiated. He required to be understood by his
friends. His great satisfaction in being with, for instance, Morten, was
that in perfect unanimity they talked until they came to a stopping-
place, and if they were then silent their thoughts ran on parallel lines
and were side by side when they emerged once more. But even if he and
Ellen started from the same point, the shortest pause would take their
thoughts in different directions; he never knew where she would appear
again. No matter how well he thought he knew her, she always came up
just as surprisingly and unexpectedly behind him. And was it not just
that he loved? Why then contend with it on the basis of the claims of a
She continued to be just as unfathomable, no matter how much of her he
thought he had mastered. She became greater and greater with it, and she
brought him a new, strange world--the mysterious unknown with which he
had always had to strive, allowed itself to be tenderly embraced. He no
longer demanded the whole of her; in his inmost soul probably every
human being was lonely. He guessed that she was going through her own
development in concealment, and wondered where she would appear again.
It had formerly been a grief to him that she did not join the Movement;
she was not interested in political questions and the suffrage. He now
dimly realized that that was just her strength, and in any case he did
not wish her otherwise. She seldom interfered definitely with what he
did, and why should she? She exerted a silent influence upon everything
he did, stamped each of his thoughts from the moment they began to shoot
up. For the very reason that she did not know how to discuss, she could
not be refuted; what to him was downright logic had no effect whatever
upon her. He did not get his own thoughts again stale from her lips, and
did not wish to either; her wonderful power over him lay in the fact
that she rested so securely on her own, and answered the most crushing
arguments with a smile. Pelle was beginning to doubt as to the value of
superiority of intellect; it seemed to have undisputed rule over the
age, but did not accomplish chiefly good. As compared with Ellen's
nature, it seemed to him poor. The warmth in a kiss convinced her better
than a thousand sensible reasons, and yet she seldom made a mistake.
And she herself gave out warmth. They went to her, both he and the
children, when there was anything wrong. She did not say much, but she
warmed. She still always seemed to him like a pulse that beat, living
and palpable, out from the invisible, with a strangely tranquil speech.
When his head was hot and tired with adverse happenings, there was
nothing more delightful than to rest it upon her bosom and listen, only
half awake, to the dull, soothing murmur within like that of the earth's
springs when, in his childhood, he laid his ear to the grass.
The spring was beautiful, and they were much out in it; when no one
could see them they walked hand-in-hand along the dikes like two young
lovers. Then Pelle talked and showed her things. Look! there it grew in
that way, and here in quite a different way. Was it not strange? He
lived over again all his childhood's excitement in spring. Ellen
listened to him, smiling; she was not astonished at anything so natural
as that things grew; she was merely _transformed!_ The earth simply
sent up its juices into her too.
The fresh air and the work in the garden tanned her bare arms, and gave
strength and beauty to her figure, while her easy circumstances freed
her from care. One day a new being showed in her eyes, and looked at
Pelle with the inquisitiveness of a kid. "Shall we play?" it said. Was
it he or the spring that set fire to her? No matter! The pleasure was
his! The sunshine entered the innermost corners of his soul, the musty
corners left by the darkness of his prison-cell, and cured him
completely; her freedom from care infected him, and he was entirely
happy. It was Ellen who had done it all; at last she had taken upon
herself to be the messenger between joy and him!
She became gentler and more vigorous in disposition every day. The sun
and the wind across the open country called forth something in her that
had never been there before, an innocent pleasure in her own body and a
physical appetite that made her teeth white and gleaming. She was
radiant with delight when Pelle brought her little things to adorn
herself with; she did not use them for the children now! "Look!" she
said once, holding up a piece of dark velvet to her face which in the
evening gave out again the warmth of the sun, as hay its scent. "You
must give me a dress like this when we become rich." And her eyes
sparkled as she looked at him, full of promises of abundant returns. He
thought he belonged to the soil, and yet it was through her that he
first really came into contact with it! There was worship of nature in
the appetite with which she crunched the first radishes of the year and
delighted in their juicy freshness; and when in the evening he sprang
from his bicycle and took her in his arms, she herself exhaled the fresh
perfume of all that had passed through the spring day--the wind and the
products of the soil. He could smell in her breath the perfume of wild
honey, mixed with the pollen and nectar of wild flowers; and she would
close her eyes as though she herself were intoxicated with it.
Their dawning affection became passionate first love out here. Ellen was
always standing at the gate waiting for him. As soon as Pelle had had
his supper, the children dragged him round the garden to show him what
had taken place during the day. They held his hands and Ellen had to
walk by herself. Pelle and she had an intense desire to be close
together, but the little ones would not submit to be set aside. "He's
our father!" they said; and Pelle and Ellen were like two young people
that are kept cruelly apart by a remorseless fate, and they looked at
one another with eyes that were heavy with expression.
When the little ones had gone to bed they stole away from it all,
leaving Lasse Frederik in charge of the house. He had seen an artist
sitting outside the hedge and painting the smoky city in the spring
light, and had procured himself a paintbox. He sat out there every
evening now, daubing away busily. He did not mean to be a sailor now!
They went up past the farm and on toward the evening sun, walked hand-
in-hand in the dewy grass, gazing silently in front of them. The ruddy
evening light colored their faces and made their eyes glow. There was a
little grove of trees not far off, to which they often went so as to be
quite away from the world. With their arms round one another they passed
into the deep twilight, whispering together. Now and then she bent her
head back for him to kiss her, when an invisible ray would strike her
eye and be refracted into a rainbow-colored star, in the darkness.
A high dike of turfs ran along the edge of the wood, and low over it
hung hazel and young beech trees. In under the branches there were
little bowers where they hid themselves; the dead leaves had drifted
together in under the dike and made a soft couch. The birds above their
heads gave little sleepy chirps, turned on the branch and twittered
softly as though they dreamed the day's melodies over again. Sometimes
the moon peeped in at them with a broad smile. The heavy night-
exhalations of the leaves lulled them to sleep, and sometimes they were
only wakened by the tremor that passes through everything when the sun
rises. Pelle would be cold then, but Ellen's body was always warm
although she had removed some of her clothing to make a pillow for their
She still continued to be motherly; her devotion only called forth new
sides of her desire for self-sacrifice. How rich she was in her
motherliness! She demanded nothing but the hard ground, and could not
make herself soft enough: everything was for him. And she could make
herself so incomprehensibly soft! Providence had thrown all His riches
and warmth into her lap; it was no wonder that both life and happiness
had made their nesting-place there.
Their love increased with the sunshine, and made everything bright and
good; there was no room for any darkness. Pelle met all troubles with a
smile. He went about in a state of semi-stupor, and even his most
serious business affairs could not efface Ellen's picture from his mind.
Her breath warmed the air around him throughout the day, and made him
hasten home. At table at home they had secret signs that referred to
their secret world. They were living in the first love of youth with all
its sweet secrecy, and smiled at one another in youthful, stealthy
comprehension, as though the whole world were watching them and must
learn nothing. If their feet touched under the table, their eyes met and
Ellen would blush like a young girl. Her affection was so great that she
could not bear it to be known, even to themselves. A red flame passed
over her face, and her eyes were veiled as though she hid in them the
unspeakable sweetness of her tryst from time to time. She rarely spoke
and generally answered with a smile; she sang softly to herself, filled
with the happiness of youth.
* * * * *
One afternoon when he came cycling home Ellen did not meet him as usual.
He became anxious, and hurried in. The sofa was made into a bed, and
Ellen was standing by it, bending over Johanna, who lay shivering with
fever. Ellen raised her head and said, "Hush!" The children were sitting
in a corner gazing fearfully at the sick girl, who lay with closed eyes,
"She came running out here this afternoon," whispered
Ellen, looking strangely at him; "I can't think why. She's terribly ill!
I've sent Lasse Frederik in to Morten, so that he may know she's with
"Have you sent for the doctor?" asked Pelle, bending down over Johanna.
"Yes. Lasse Frederik will tell Morten to bring his doctor with him. He
must know her best. I should think they'll soon be here."
A shivering fit came over Johanna. She lay working her tongue against
the dry roof of her mouth, now and then uttering a number of
disconnected words, and tossing to and fro upon the bed. Suddenly she
raised herself in terror, her wide-open eyes fixed upon Pelle, but with
no recognition in them. "Go away! I won't!" she screamed, pushing him
away. His deep voice calmed her, however, and she allowed herself to be
laid down once more, and then lay still with closed eyes.
"Some one has been after her," said Ellen, weeping. "What can it be?"
"It's the old story," Pelle whispered with emotion. "Morten says that it
constantly reappears in her.--Take the children out into the garden,
Ellen. I'll stay here with her."
Ellen went out with the little ones, who could hardly be persuaded to
come out of their corner; but it was not long before their chattering
voices could be heard out on the grass.
Pelle sat with his hand on Johanna's forehead, staring straight before
him. He had been rudely awakened to the horror of life once more.
Convulsive tremors passed through her tortured brow. It was as if he
held in his hand a fluttering soul that had been trodden in the mire
beneath heavy heels--a poor crushed fledgeling that could neither fly
He was roused by the sound of a carriage driving quickly up to the
garden gate, and went out to meet the men.
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