Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 4 out of 23
up on the other side of the vessel. He got ten rye rusks from the
captain himself for it."
"He must have suffered terribly," said Fris. "It would almost have
been better for him if he hadn't been able to swim."
"That's what my father says!" said a little boy. "He can't swim,
for he says it's better for a sailor not to be able to; it only
keeps you in torture."
"My father can't swim, either!" exclaimed another. "Nor mine,
either!" said a third. "He could easily learn, but he won't." And
they went on in this way, holding up their hands. They could all
swim themselves, but it appeared that hardly any of their fathers
could; they had a superstitious feeling against it. "Father says you
oughtn't to tempt Providence if you're wrecked," one boy added.
"Why, but then you'd not be doing your best!" objected a little
faltering voice. Fris turned quickly toward the corner where Pelle
sat blushing to the tips of his ears.
"Look at that little man!" said Fris, impressed. "And I declare if
he isn't right and all the rest of us wrong! God helps those that
"Perhaps," said a voice. It was Henry Bodker's.
"Well, well, I know He didn't help here, but still we ought always
to do what we can in all the circumstances of life. Peter did his
best--and he was the cleverest boy I ever had."
The children smiled at one another, remembering various things.
Peter Funck had once gone so far as to wrestle with the master
himself, but they had not the heart to bring this up. One of the
bigger boys, however, said, half for the purpose of teasing: "He
never got any farther than the twenty-seventh hymn!"
"Didn't he, indeed?" snarled Fris. "Didn't he, indeed? And you think
perhaps you're clever, do you? Let's see how far you've got, then!"
And he took up the hymn-book with a trembling hand. He could not
stand anything being said against boys that had left.
The name Blue-bag continued to stick to Pelle, and nothing had ever
stung him so much; and there was no chance of his getting rid of it
before the summer came, and that was a long way off.
One day the fisher-boys ran out on to the breakwater in playtime.
A boat had just come in through the pack-ice with a gruesome cargo
--five frozen men, one of whom was dead and lay in the fire-engine
house, while the four others had been taken into various cottages,
where they were being rubbed with ice to draw the frost out of them.
The farmer-boys were allowed no share in all this excitement, for
the fisher-boys, who went in and out and saw everything, drove them
away if they approached--and sold meagre information at extortionate
The boat had met a Finnish schooner drifting in the sea, covered
with ice, and with frozen rudder. She was too heavily laden, so that
the waves went right over her and froze; and the ice had made her
sink still deeper. When she was found, her deck was just on a level
with the water, ropes of the thickness of a finger had become as
thick as an arm with ice, and the men who were lashed to the rigging
were shapeless masses of ice. They were like knights in armor with
closed visor when they were taken down, and their clothes had to be
hacked off their bodies. Three boats had gone out now to try and
save the vessel; there would be a large sum of money to divide if
they were successful.
Pelle was determined not to be left out of all this, even if he got
his shins kicked in, and so kept near and listened. The boys were
talking gravely and looked gloomy. What those men had put up with!
And perhaps their hands or feet would mortify and have to be cut off.
Each boy behaved as if he were bearing his share of their sufferings,
and they talked in a manly way and in gruff voices. "Be off with you,
bull!" they called to Pelle. They were not fond of Blue-bags for the
The tears came to Pelle's eyes, but he would not give in, and
wandered away along the wharf.
"Be off with you!" they shouted again, picking up stones in a
menacing way. "Be off to the other bumpkins, will you!" They came
up and hit at him. "What are you standing there and staring into
the water for? You might turn giddy and fall in head first! Be off
to the other yokels, will you! Blue-bag!"
Pelle turned literally giddy, with the strength of the determination
that seized upon his little brain. "I'm no more a blue-bag than you
are!" he said. "Why, you wouldn't even dare to jump into the water!"
"Just listen to him! He thinks you jump into the water for fun in
the middle of winter, and get cramp!"
Pelle just heard their exultant laughter as he sprang off the
breakwater, and the water, thick with ground-up ice, closed above
his head. The top of his head appeared again, he made two or three
strokes with his arms like a dog, and sank.
The boys ran in confusion up and down and shouted, and one of them
got hold of a boat-hook. Then Henry Bodker came running up, sprang
in head first without stopping, and disappeared, while a piece of
ice that he had struck with his forehead made ducks and drakes over
the water. Twice his head appeared above the ice-filled water, to
snatch a breath of air, and then he came up with Pelle. They got him
hoisted up on to the breakwater, and Henry set to work to give him
a good thrashing.
Pelle had lost consciousness, but the thrashing had the effect of
bringing him to. He suddenly opened his eyes, was on his legs in
a trice, and darted away like a sandpiper.
"Run home!" the boys roared after him. "Run as hard as ever you can,
or you'll be ill! Only tell your father you fell in!" And Pelle ran.
He needed no persuasion. When he reached Stone Farm, his clothes
were frozen quite stiff, and his trousers could stand alone when
he got out of them; but he himself was as warm as a toast.
He would not lie to his father, but told him just what had happened.
Lasse was angry, angrier than the boy had ever seen him before.
Lasse knew how to treat a horse to keep it from catching cold, and
began to rub Pelle's naked body with a wisp of straw, while the boy
lay on the bed, tossing about under the rough handling. His father
took no notice of his groans, but scolded him. "You mad little
devil, to jump straight into the sea in the middle of winter like a
lovesick woman! You ought to have a whipping, that's what you ought
to have--a good sound whipping! But I'll let you off this time if
you'll go to sleep and try to sweat so that we can get that nasty
salt water out of your body. I wonder if it wouldn't be a good thing
to bleed you."
Pelle did not want to be bled; he was very comfortable lying there,
now that he had been sick. But his thoughts were very serious.
"Supposing I'd been drowned!" he said solemnly.
"If you had, I'd have thrashed you to within an inch of your life,"
said Lasse angrily.
"Oh, you may laugh, you word-catcher!" snapped Lasse. "But it's
no joke being father to a little ne'er-do-weel of a cub like you!"
Saying which he went angrily out into the stable. He kept on
listening, however, and coming up to peep in and see whether fever
or any other devilry had come of it.
But Pelle slept quietly with his head under the quilt, and dreamed
that he was no less a person than Henry Bodker.
* * * * *
Pelle did not learn to read much that winter, but he learned twenty
and odd hymns by heart only by using his ears, and he got the name
Blue-bag, as applied to himself, completely banished. He had gained
ground, and strengthened his position by several bold strokes; and
the school began to take account of him as a brave boy. And Henry,
who as a rule took no notice of anybody, took him several times
under his wing.
Now and then he had a bad conscience, especially when his father
in his newly-awakened thirst for knowledge, came to him for the
solution of some problem or other, and he was at a loss for an
"But it's you who ought to have the learning," Lasse would then say
As the winter drew to an end, and the examination approached, Pelle
became nervous. Many uncomfortable reports were current of the
severity of the examination among the boys--of putting into lower
classes and complete dismissal from the school.
Pelle had the misfortune not to be heard independently in a single
hymn. He had to give an account of the Fall. The theft of the apple
was easy to get through, but the curse--! "And God said unto the
serpent: Upon thy belly shalt thou go, upon thy belly shalt thou go,
upon thy belly shalt thou go!" He could get no further.
"Does it still do that, then?" asked the clergyman kindly.
"Yes--for it has no limbs."
"And can you explain to me what a limb is?" The priest was known
to be the best examiner on the island; he could begin in a gutter
and end in heaven, people said.
"A limb is--is a hand."
"Yes, that is one. But can't you tell me something that
distinguishes all limbs from other parts of the body? A limb
is--well?--a?--a part of the body that can move by itself, for
"The ears!" said Pelle, perhaps because his own were burning.
"O-oh? Can you move your ears, then?"
"Yes." By dint of great perseverance, Pelle had acquired that art in
the course of the previous summer, so as not to be outdone by Rud.
"Then, upon my word, I should like to see it!" exclaimed the
So Pelle worked his ears industriously backward and forward, and the
priest and the school committee and the parents all laughed. Pelle
got "excellent" in religion.
"So it was your ears after all that saved you," said Lasse,
delighted. "Didn't I tell you to use your ears well? Highest marks
in religion only for moving your ears! Why, I should think you might
become a parson if you liked!"
And he went on for a long time. But wasn't he the devil of a laddie
to be able to answer like that!
"Come, cubby, cubby, cubby! Come on, you silly little chicken,
there's nothing to be afraid of!" Pelle was enticing his favorite
calf with a wisp of green corn; but it was not quite sure of him
to-day, for it had had a beating for bad behavior.
Pelle felt very much like a father whose child gives him sorrow and
compels him to use severe measures. And now this misunderstanding
--that the calf would have nothing to do with him, although it was
for its own good that he had beaten it! But there was no help for it,
and as long as Pelle had them to mind, he intended to be obeyed.
At last it let him come close up to it, so that he could stroke it.
It stood still for a little and was sulky, but yielded at last, ate
the green food and snuffed in his face by way of thanks.
"Will you be good, then?" said Pelle, shaking it by its stumps of
horns. "Will you, eh?" It tossed its head mischievously. "Very well,
then you shan't carry my coat to-day."
The strange thing about this calf was that the first day it was let
out, it would not stir, and at last the boy left it behind for Lasse
to take in again. But no sooner was it behind him than it followed
of its own accord, with its forehead close to his back; and always
after that it walked behind him when they went out and came home,
and it carried his overcoat on its back when it looked as if there
would be rain.
Pelle's years were few in number, but to his animals he was a
grown man. Formerly he had only been able to make them respect him
sufficiently to obey him at close quarters; but this year he could
hit a cow at a distance of a hundred paces with a stone, and that
gave him power over the animals at a distance, especially when he
thought of calling out the animal's name as he hit it. In this way
they realized that the pain came from him, and learned to obey the
For punishment to be effectual, it must follow immediately upon the
misdeed. There was therefore no longer any such thing as lying in
wait for an animal that had offended, and coming up behind it when
later on it was grazing peacefully. That only caused confusion. To
run an animal until it was tired out, hanging on to its tail and
beating it all round the meadow only to revenge one's self, was also
stupid; it made the whole flock restless and difficult to manage for
the rest of the day. Pelle weighed the end and the means against
one another; he learned to quench his thirst for revenge with good
Pelle was a boy, and he was not an idle one. All day, from five in
the morning until nine at night, he was busy with something or other,
often most useless things. For hours he practiced walking on his
hands, turning a somersault, and jumping the stream; he was always
in motion. Hour after hour he would run unflaggingly round in a
circle on the grass, like a tethered foal, leaning toward the center
as he ran, so that his hand could pluck the grass, kicking up behind,
and neighing and snorting. He was pouring forth energy from morning
till night with open-handed profusion.
But minding the cattle was _work_, and here he husbanded
his energy. Every step that could be saved here was like capital
acquired; and Pelle took careful notice of everything, and was
always improving his methods. He learned that punishment worked
best when it only hung as a threat; for much beating made an animal
callous. He also learned to see when it was absolutely necessary to
interfere. If this could not be done in the very act, he controlled
himself and endeavored upon the strength of his experience to bring
about exactly the same situation once more, and then to be prepared.
The little fellow, unknown to himself, was always engaged in adding
cubits unto his stature.
He had obtained good results. The driving out and home again no
longer gave him any difficulty; he had succeeded for a whole week
in driving the flock along a narrow field road, with growing corn
on both sides, without their having bitten off so much as a blade.
And there was the still greater task of keeping them under control
on a hot, close day--to hedge them in in full gallop, so that they
stood in the middle of the meadow stamping on the ground with
uplifted tails, in fear of the gad-flies. If he wanted to, he could
make them tear home to the stable in wild flight, with their tails
in the air, on the coldest October day, only by lying down in the
grass and imitating the hum of gad-flies. But that was a tremendous
secret, that even Father Lasse knew nothing about.
The amusing thing about the buzzing was that calves that were out
for the first time, and had never made the acquaintance of a gad-fly,
instantly set off running, with tail erect, when they heard its
Pelle had a remote ideal, which was to lie upon some elevated place
and direct the whole flock by the sole means of his voice, and never
need to resort to punishment. Father Lasse never beat either, no
matter how wrong things went.
There were some days--well, what did become of them? Before he had
any idea of it, it was time to drive home. Other days were long
enough, but seemed to sing themselves away, in the ring of scythes,
the lowing of cattle, and people's voices far away. Then the day
itself went singing over the ground, and Pelle had to stop every now
and then to listen. Hark! there was music! And he would run up on to
the sandbanks and gaze out over the sea; but it was not there, and
inland there was no merrymaking that he knew of, and there were no
birds of passage flying through the air at this time of year. But
hark! there was music again! far away in the distance, just such
a sound of music as reaches the ear from so far off that one cannot
distinguish the melody, or say what instruments are playing. Could
it be the sun itself?
The song of light and life streamed through him, as though he were
a fountain; and he would go about in a dreamy half-consciousness of
melody and happiness.
When the rain poured down, he hung his coat over a briar and lay
sheltered beneath it, carving or drawing with a lead button on
paper--horses, and bulls lying down, but more often ships, ships
that sailed across the sea upon their own soft melody, far away to
foreign lands, to Negroland and China, for rare things. And when he
was quite in the mood, he would bring out a broken knife and a piece
of shale from a secret hiding-place, and set to work. There was a
picture scratched on the stone, and he was now busy carving it in
relief. He had worked at it on and off all through the summer, and
now it was beginning to stand out. It was a bark in full sail,
sailing over rippling water to Spain--yes, it was going to Spain,
for grapes and oranges, and all the other delightful things that
Pelle had never tasted yet.
On rainy days it was a difficult matter to keep count of the time,
and required the utmost exertion. On other days it was easy enough,
and Pelle could tell it best by the feeling. At certain times of the
day there were signs at home on the farm that told him the time, and
the cattle gave him other hours by their habits. At nine the first
one lay down to chew the morning cud, and then all gradually lay
down one by one; and there was always a moment at about ten when
they all lay chewing. At eleven the last of them were upon their
legs again. It was the same in the afternoon between three and five.
Midday was easy to determine when the sun was shining. Pelle could
always feel it when it turned in its path. And there were a hundred
other things in nature that gave him a connection with the times
of day, such as the habits of the birds, and something about the
fir-trees, and much besides that he could not lay his finger upon
and say it was there, because it was only a feeling. The time to
drive home was given by the cattle themselves. When it drew near,
they grazed slowly around until their heads pointed in the direction
of the farm; and there was a visible tension in their bodies, a
* * * * *
Rud had not shown himself all the week, and no sooner had he
come today than Pelle had to give him a blowing-up for some
deceitfulness. Then he ran home, and Pelle lay down at the edge of
the fir-plantation, on his face with the soles of his feet in the
air, and sang. All round him there were marks of his knife on the
tree-stems. On the earliest ships you saw the keel, the deck was
perpendicular to the body. Those had been carved the first summer.
There was also a collection of tiny fields here on the edge of the
stream, properly ploughed, harrowed, and sown, each field about two
Pelle was resting now after the exertion with Rud, by making the
air rock with his jubilant bawling. Up at the farm a man came out
and went along the high-road with a bundle under his arm. It was
Erik, who had to appear in court in answer to a summons for fighting.
Then the farmer drove out at a good pace toward the town, so he was
evidently off on the spree. Why couldn't the man have driven with
him, as they were both going the same way? How quickly he drove,
although she never followed him now. She consoled herself at home
instead! Could it be true that he had spent five hundred krones in
drinking and amusement in one evening?
"The war is raging, the red blood streams,
Among the mountains ring shouts and screams!
The Turk advances with cruel rage,
And sparing neither youth nor age.
"Ho!" Pelle sprang to his feet and gazed up over the clover field.
The dairy cows up there for the last quarter of an hour had been
looking up at the farm every other moment, and now Aspasia lowed,
so his father must soon be coming out to move them. There he came,
waddling round the corner of the farm. It was not far to the lowest
of the cows, so when his father was there, Pelle could seize the
opportunity just to run across and say good-day to him.
He brought his animals nearer together and drove them slowly over
to the other fence and up the fields. Lasse had moved the upper
half, and was now crossing over diagonally to the bull, which stood
a little apart from the others. The bull was growling and kicking
up the earth; its tongue hung out at one side of its mouth, and it
tossed its head quickly; it was angry. Then it advanced with short
steps and all kinds of antics; and how it stamped! Pelle felt a
desire to kick it on the nose as he had often done before; it had
no business to threaten Lasse, even if it meant nothing by it.
Father Lasse took no notice of it, either. He stood hammering away
at the big tether-peg, to loosen it. "Good-day!" shouted Pelle.
Lasse turned his head and nodded, then bent down and hammered the
peg into the ground. The bull was just behind him, stamping quickly,
with open mouth and tongue hanging out; it looked as if it were
vomiting, and the sound it made answered exactly to that. Pelle
laughed as he slackened his pace. He was close by.
But suddenly Father Lasse turned a somersault, fell, and was in the
air again, and then fell a little way off. Again the bull was about
to toss him, but Pelle was at its head. He was not wearing wooden
shoes, but he kicked it with his bare feet until he was giddy. The
bull knew him and tried to go round him, but Pelle sprang at its
head, shouting and kicking and almost beside himself, seized it by
the horns. But it put him gently on one side and went forward toward
Lasse, blowing along the ground so that the grass waved.
It took hold of him by the blouse and shook him a little, and then
tried to get both his horns under him to send him up into the air;
but Pelle was on his feet again, and as quick as lightning had drawn
his knife and plunged it in between the bull's hind legs. The bull
uttered a short roar, turned Lasse over on one side, and dashed
off over the fields at a gallop, tossing its head as it ran, and
bellowing. Down by the stream it began to tear up the bank, filling
the air with earth and grass.
Lasse lay groaning with his eyes closed, and Pelle stood pulling
in vain at his arm to help him up, crying: "Father, little Father
Lasse!" At last Lasse sat up.
"Who's that singing?" he asked. "Oh, it's you, is it, laddie? And
you're crying! Has any one done anything to you? Ah, yes, of course,
it was the bull! It was just going to play fandango with me. But
what did you do to it, that the devil took it so quickly? You saved
your father's life, little though you are. Oh, hang it! I think I'm
going to be sick! Ah me!" he went on, when the sickness was past,
as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "If only I could
have had a dram. Oh, yes, he knew me, the fellow, or I shouldn't
have got off so easily. He only wanted to play with me a little,
you know. He was a wee bit spiteful because I drove him away from
a cow this morning; I'd noticed that. But who'd have thought he'd
have turned on me? He wouldn't have done so, either, if I hadn't
been so silly as to wear somebody else's clothes. This is Mons's
blouse; I borrowed it of him while I washed my own. And Mr. Bull
didn't like the strange smell about me. Well, we'll see what Mons'll
say to this here slit. I'm afraid he won't be best pleased."
Lasse talked on for a good while until he tried to rise, and
stood up with Pelle's assistance. As he stood leaning on the boy's
shoulder, he swayed backward and forward. "I should almost have said
I was drunk, if it hadn't been for the pains!" he said, laughing
feebly. "Well, well, I suppose I must thank God for you, laddie.
You always gladden my heart, and now you've saved my life, too."
Lasse then stumbled homeward, and Pelle moved the rest of the cows
on the road down to join his own. He was both proud and affected,
but most proud. He had saved Father Lasse's life, and from the big,
angry bull that no one else on the farm dared have anything to do
with. The next time Henry Bodker came out to see him, he should hear
all about it.
He was a little vexed with himself for having drawn his knife. Every
one here looked down upon that, and said it was Swedish. He wouldn't
have needed to do it either if there'd been time, or if only he had
had on his wooden shoes to kick the bull in the eyes with. He had
very often gone at it with the toes of his wooden shoes, when it had
to be driven into its stall again after a covering; and it always
took good care not to do anything to him. Perhaps he would put his
finger in its eye and make it blind, or take it by the horns and
twist its head round, like the man in the story, until its neck was
Pelle grew and swelled up until he overshadowed everything. There
was no limit to his strength while he ran about bringing his animals
together again. He passed like a storm over everything, tossed
strong Erik and the bailiff about, and lifted--yes, lifted the
whole of Stone Farm merely by putting his hand under the beam.
It was quite a fit of berserker rage!
In the very middle of it all, it occurred to him how awkward it
would be if the bailiff got to know that the bull was loose. It
might mean a thrashing both for him and Lasse. He must go and look
for it; and for safety's sake he took his long whip with him and
put on his wooden shoes.
The bull had made a terrible mess down on the bank of the stream,
and had ploughed up a good piece of the meadow. It had left bloody
traces along the bed of the stream and across the fields. Pelle
followed these out toward the headland, where he found the bull.
The huge animal had gone right in under the bushes, and was standing
licking its wound. When it heard Pelle's voice, it came out. "Turn
round!" he cried, flicking its nose with the whip. It put its head
to the ground, bellowed, and moved heavily backward. Pelle continued
flicking it on the nose while he advanced step by step, shouting
determinedly: "Turn round! Will you turn round!" At last it turned
and set off at a run, Pelle seizing the tether-peg and running
after. He kept it going with the whip, so that it should have no
time for evil thoughts.
When this was accomplished, he was ready to drop with fatigue, and
lay crouched up at the edge of the fir-plantation, thinking sadly of
Father Lasse, who must be going about up there ill and with nobody
to give him a helping hand with his work. At last the situation
became unbearable: he had to go home!
_Zzzz! Zzzz!_ Lying flat on the ground, Pelle crept over the
grass, imitating the maddening buzz of the gad-fly. He forced the
sound out between his teeth, rising and falling, as if it were
flying hither and thither over the grass. The cattle stopped grazing
and stood perfectly still with attentive ears. Then they began to
grow nervous, kicking up their legs under their bodies, turning
their heads to one side in little curves, and starting; and then
up went their tails. He made the sound more persistently angry, and
the whole flock, infecting one another, turned and began to stamp
round in wild panic. Two calves broke out of the tumult, and made a
bee-line for the farm, and the whole flock followed, over stock and
stone. All Pelle had to do now was to run after them, making plenty
of fuss, and craftily keep the buzzing going, so that the mood
should last till they reached home.
The bailiff himself came running to open the gate into the
enclosure, and helped to get the animals in. Pelle expected a box
on the ears, and stood still; but the bailiff only looked at him
with a peculiar smile, and said: "They're beginning to get the upper
hand of you, I think. Well, well," he went on, "it's all right as
long as you can manage the bull!" He was making fun of him, and
Pelle blushed up to the roots of his hair.
Father Lasse had crept into bed. "What a good thing you came!" he
said. "I was just lying here and wondering how I was going to get
the cows moved. I can scarcely move at all, much less get up."
It was a week before Lasse was on his feet again, and during that
time the field-cattle remained in the enclosure, and Pelle stayed
at home and did his father's work. He had his meals with the others,
and slept his midday sleep in the barn as they did.
One day, in the middle of the day, the Sow came into the yard, drunk.
She took her stand in the upper yard, where she was forbidden to go,
and stood there calling for Kongstrup. The farmer was at home, but
did not show himself, and not a soul was to be seen behind the high
windows. "Kongstrup, Kongstrup! Come here for a little!" she called,
with her eyes on the pavement, for she could not lift her head. The
bailiff was not at home, and the men remained in hiding in the barn,
hoping to see some fun. "I say, Kongstrup, come out a moment! I want
to speak to you!" said the Sow indistinctly--and then went up the
steps and tried to open the door. She hammered upon it a few times,
and stood talking with her face close to the door; and when nobody
came, she reeled down the steps and went away talking to herself and
not looking round.
A little while after the sound of weeping began up there, and just
as the men were going out to the fields, the farmer came rushing out
and gave orders that the horse should be harnessed to the chaise.
While it was being done, he walked about nervously, and then set off
at full speed. As he turned the corner of the house, a window opened
and a voice called to him imploringly: "Kongstrup, Kongstrup!" But
he drove quickly on, the window closed, and the weeping began
In the afternoon Pelle was busying himself about the lower yard when
Karna came to him and told him to go up to mistress. Pelle went up
hesitatingly. He was not sure of her and all the men were out in the
Fru Kongstrup lay upon the sofa in her husband's study, which she
always occupied, day or night, when her husband was out. She had
a wet towel over her forehead, and her whole face was red with
"Come here!" she said, in a low voice. "You aren't afraid of me,
Pelle had to go up to her and sit on the chair beside her. He did
not know what to do with his eyes; and his nose began to run with
the excitement, and he had no pocket-handkerchief.
"Are you afraid of me?" she asked again, and a bitter smile crossed
He had to look at her to show that he was not afraid, and to tell
the truth, she was not like a witch at all, but only like a human
being who cried and was unhappy.
"Come here!" she said, and she wiped his nose with her own fine
handkerchief, and stroked his hair. "You haven't even a mother,
poor little thing!" And she smoothed down his clumsily mended
"It's three years now since Mother Bengta died, and she's lying in
the west corner of the churchyard."
"Do you miss her very much?"
"Oh, well, Father Lasse mends my clothes!"
"I'm sure she can't have been very good to you."
"Oh, yes!" said Pelle, nodding earnestly. "But she was so fretful,
she was always ailing; and it's better they should go when they get
like that. But now we're soon going to get married again--when
Father Lasse's found somebody that'll do."
"And then I suppose you'll go away from here? I'm sure you aren't
comfortable here, are you?"
Pelle had found his tongue, but now feared a trap, and became dumb.
He only nodded. Nobody should come and accuse him afterward of
"No, you aren't comfortable," she said, in a plaintive tone. "No one
is comfortable at Stone Farm. Everything turns to misfortune here."
"It's an old curse, that!" said Pelle.
"Do they say so? Yes, yes, I know they do! And they say of me that
I'm a devil--only because I love a single man--and cannot put up
with being trampled on." She wept and pressed his hand against her
"I've got to go out and move the cows," said Pelle, wriggling about
uneasily in an endeavor to get away.
"Now you're afraid of me again!" she said, and tried to smile. It
was like a gleam of sunshine after rain.
"No--only I've got to go out and move the cows."
"There's still a whole hour before that. But why aren't you herding
to-day? Is your father ill?"
Then Pelle had to tell her about the bull.
"You're a good boy!" said the mistress, patting his head. "If I had
a son, I should like him to be like you. But now you shall have some
jam, and then you must run to the shop for a bottle of black-currant
rum, so that we can make a hot drink for your father. If you hurry,
you can be back before moving-time."
Lasse had his hot drink, even before the boy returned; and every day
while he kept his bed he had something strengthening--although there
was no black-currant rum in it.
During this time Pelle went up to the mistress nearly every day.
Kongstrup had gone on business to Copenhagen. She was kind to him
and gave him nice things to eat; and while he ate, she talked
without ceasing about Kongstrup, or asked him what people thought
about her. Pelle had to tell her, and then she was upset and began
to cry. There was no end to her talk about the farmer, but she
contradicted herself, and Pelle gave up trying to make anything
of it. Besides, the good things she gave him were quite enough for
him to think about.
Down in their room he repeated everything word for word, and Lasse
lay and listened, and wondered at this little fellow who had the run
of high places, and was in the mistress's confidence. Still he did
not quite like it.
"... She could scarcely stand, and had to hold on to the table when
she was going to fetch me the biscuits, she was so ill. It was only
because he'd treated her badly, she said. Do you know she hates him,
and would like to kill him, she says; and yet she says that he's
the handsomest man in the world, and asked me if I've seen any one
handsomer in all Sweden. And then she cries as if she was mad."
"Does she?" said Lasse thoughtfully. "I don't suppose she knows what
she's saying, or else she says it for reasons of her own. But all
the same, it's not true that he beats her! She's telling a lie, I'm
"And why should she lie?"
"Because she wants to do him harm, I suppose. But it's true he's a
fine man--and cares for everybody except just her; and that's the
misfortune. I don't like your being so much up there; I'm so afraid
you may come to some harm."
"How could I? She's so good, so very good."
"How am I to know that? No, she isn't good--her eyes aren't good,
at any rate. She's brought more than one person into misfortune by
looking at them. But there's nothing to be done about it; the poor
man has to risk things."
Lasse was silent, and stumbled about for a little while. Then he
came up to Pelle. "Now, see here! Here's a piece of steel I've found,
and you must remember always to have it about you, especially when
you go up _there_! And then--yes, then we must leave the rest
in God's hand. He's the only one who perhaps looks after poor little
Lasse was up for a short while that day. He was getting on quickly,
thank God, and in two days they might be back in their old ways
again. And next winter they must try to get away from it all!
On the last day that Pelle stayed at home, he went up to the
mistress as usual, and ran her errand for her. And that day he saw
something unpleasant that made him glad that this was over. She took
her teeth, palate, and everything out of her mouth, and laid them
on the table in front of her!
So she _was_ a witch!
Pelle was coming home with his young cattle. As he came near the
farm he issued his commands in a loud voice, so that his father
might hear. "Hi! Spasianna! where are you going to? Dannebrog, you
confounded old ram, will you turn round!" But Lasse did not come
to open the gate of the enclosure.
When he had got the animals in, he ran into the cow-stable. His
father was neither there nor in their room, and his Sunday wooden
shoes and his woollen cap were gone. Then Pelle remembered that it
was Saturday, and that probably the old man had gone to the shop
to fetch spirits for the men.
Pelle went down into the servants' room to get his supper. The men
had come home late, and were still sitting at the table, which was
covered with spilt milk and potato-skins. They were engrossed in
a wager; Erik undertook to eat twenty salt herrings with potatoes
after he had finished his meal. The stakes were a bottle of spirits,
and the others were to peel the potatoes for him.
Pelle got out his pocket-knife and peeled himself a pile of
potatoes. He left the skin on the herring, but scraped it carefully
and cut off the head and tail; then he cut it in pieces and ate it
without taking out the bones, with the potatoes and the sauce. While
he did so, he looked at Erik--the giant Erik, who was so strong
and was not afraid of anything between heaven and earth. Erik had
children all over the place! Erik could put his finger into the
barrel of a gun, and hold the gun straight out at arm's length! Erik
could drink as much as three others!
And now Erik was sitting and eating twenty salt herrings after his
hunger was satisfied. He took the herring by the head, drew it once
between his legs, and then ate it as it was; and he ate potatoes
to them, quite as quickly as the others could peel them. In between
whiles he swore because the bailiff had refused him permission to go
out that evening; there was going to be the devil to pay about that:
he'd teach them to keep Erik at home when he wanted to go out!
Pelle quickly swallowed his herring and porridge, and set off again
to run to meet his father; he was longing immensely to see him. Out
at the pump the girls were busy scouring the milkpails and kitchen
pans; and Gustav was standing in the lower yard with his arms on
the fence, talking to them. He was really watching Bodil, whose eyes
were always following the new pupil, who was strutting up and down
and showing off his long boots with patent-leather tops.
Pelle was stopped as he ran past, and set to pump water. The men now
came up and went across to the barn, perhaps to try their strength.
Since Erik had come, they always tried their strength in their free
time. There was nothing Pelle found so exciting as trials of
strength, and he worked hard so as to get done and go over there.
Gustav, who was generally the most eager, continued to stand and
vent his ill-nature upon the pupil.
"There must be money there!" said Bodil, thoughtfully.
"Yes, you should try him; perhaps you might become a farmer's wife.
The bailiff won't anyhow; and the farmer--well, you saw the Sow the
other day; it must be nice to have that in prospect."
"Who told you that the bailiff won't?" answered Bodil sharply.
"Don't imagine that we need you to hold the candle for us! Little
children aren't allowed to see everything."
Gustav turned red. "Oh, hold your jaw, you hussy!" he muttered,
and sauntered down to the barn.
"Oh, goodness gracious, my poor old mother,
Who's up on deck and can't stand!"
sang Mons over at the stable door, where he was standing hammering
at a cracked wooden shoe. Pelle and the girls were quarreling, and
up in the attic the bailiff could be heard going about; he was busy
putting pipes in order. Now and then a long-drawn sound came from
the high house, like the distant howling of some animal, making the
people shudder with dreariness.
A man dressed in his best clothes, and with a bundle under his arm,
slipped out of the door from the men's rooms, and crept along by
the building in the lower yard. It was Erik.
"Hi, there! Where the devil are you going?" thundered a voice from
the bailiff's window. The man ducked his head a little and pretended
not to hear. "Do you hear, you confounded Kabyle! _Erik_!" This
time Erik turned and darted in at a barn-door.
Directly after the bailiff came down and went across the yard. In
the chaff-cutting barn the men were standing laughing at Erik's bad
luck. "He's a devil for keeping watch!" said Gustav. "You must be
up early to get the better of _him_."
"Oh, I'll manage to dish him!" said Erik. "I wasn't born yesterday.
And if he doesn't mind his own business, we shall come to blows."
There was a sudden silence as the bailiff's well-known step was
heard upon the stone paving. Erik stole away.
The form of the bailiff filled the doorway. "Who sent Lasse for
gin?" he asked sternly.
They looked at one another as if not understanding. "Is Lasse out?"
asked Mons then, with the most innocent look in the world. "Ay, the
old man's fond of spirits," said Anders, in explanation.
"Oh, yes; you're good comrades!" said the bailiff. "First you make
the old man go, and then you leave him in the lurch. You deserve
a thrashing, all of you."
"No, we don't deserve a thrashing, and don't mean to submit to
one either," said the head man, going a step forward. "Let me tell
"Hold your tongue, man!" cried the bailiff, going close up to him,
and Karl Johan drew back.
"He must be in his room."
The bailiff went in through the horse-stable, something in his
carriage showing that he was not altogether unprepared for an attack
from behind. Erik was in bed, with the quilt drawn up to his eyes.
"What's the meaning of this? Are you ill?" asked the bailiff.
"Yes, I think I've caught cold, I'm shivering so." He tried to make
his teeth chatter.
"It isn't the rot, I hope?" said the bailiff sympathetically. "Let's
look at you a little, poor fellow." He whipped off the quilt. "Oho,
so you're in bed with your best things on--and top-boots! It's your
grave-clothes, perhaps? And I suppose you were going out to order a
pauper's grave for yourself, weren't you? It's time we got you put
underground, too; seems to me you're beginning to smell already!"
He sniffed at him once or twice.
But Erik sprang out of bed as if shot by a spring, and stood erect
close to him. "I'm not dead yet, and perhaps I don't smell any more
than some other people!" he said, his eyes flashing and looking
about for a weapon.
The bailiff felt his hot breath upon his face, and knew it would not
do to draw back. He planted his fist in the man's stomach, so that
he fell back upon the bed and gasped for breath; and then held him
down with a hand upon his chest. He was burning with a desire to do
more, to drive his fist into the face of this rascal, who grumbled
whenever one's back was turned, and had to be driven to every little
task. Here was all the servant-worry that embittered his existence
--dissatisfaction with the fare, cantankerousness in work, threats
of leaving when things were at their busiest--difficulties without
end. Here was the slave of many years of worry and ignominy, and all
he wanted was one little pretext--a blow from this big fellow who
never used his strength for work, but only to take the lead in all
But Erik lay quite still and looked at his enemy with watchful eye.
"You may hit me, if you like. There is such a thing as a magistrate
in the country," he said, with irritating calm. The bailiff's
muscles burned, but he was obliged to let the man go for fear of
being summoned. "Then remember another time not to be fractious!"
he said, letting go his hold, "or I'll show you that there is a
"When Lasse comes, send him up to me with the gin!" he said to
the men as he passed through the barn.
"The devil we will!" said Mons, in an undertone.
Pelle had gone to meet his father. The old man had tasted the
purchase, and was in good spirits. "There were seven men in the
boat, and they were all called Ole except one, and he was called
Ole Olsen!" he said solemnly, when he saw the boy. "Yes, wasn't it
a strange thing, Pelle, boy, that they should every one of them be
called Ole--except the one, of course; for his name was Ole Olsen."
Then he laughed, and nudged the boy mysteriously; and Pelle laughed
too, for he liked to see his father in good spirits.
The men came up to them, and took the bottles from the herdsman.
"He's been tasting it!" said Anders, holding the bottle up to the
light. "Oh, the old drunkard! He's had a taste at the bottles."
"No, the bottles must leak at the bottom!" said Lasse, whom the dram
had made quite bold. "For I've done nothing but just smell. You've
got to make sure, you know, that you get the genuine thing and not
They moved on down the enclosure, Gustav going in front and playing
on his concertina. A kind of excited merriment reigned over the
party. First one and then another would leap into the air as they
went; they uttered short, shrill cries and disconnected oaths at
random. The consciousness of the full bottles, Saturday evening with
the day of rest in prospect, and above all the row with the bailiff,
had roused their tempers.
They settled down below the cow-stable, in the grass close to the
pond. The sun had long since gone down, but the evening sky was
bright, and cast a flaming light upon their faces turned westward;
while the white farms inland looked dazzling in the twilight.
Now the girls came sauntering over the grass, with their hands under
their aprons, looking like silhouettes against the brilliant sky.
They were humming a soft folk-song, and one by one sank on to the
grass beside the men; the evening twilight was in their hearts, and
made their figures and voices as soft as a caress. But the men's
mood was not a gentle one, and they preferred the bottle.
Gustav walked about extemporizing on his concertina. He was looking
for a place to sit down, and at last threw himself into Karna's lap,
and began to play a dance. Erik was the first upon his feet. He led
on account of his difference with the bailiff, and pulled Bengta up
from the grass with a jerk. They danced a Swedish polka, and always
at a certain place in the melody, he tossed her up into the air
with a shout. She shrieked every time, and her heavy skirts stood
out round her like the tail of a turkey-cock, so that every one
could see how long it was till Sunday.
In the middle of a whirl he let go of her, so that she stumbled over
the grass and fell. The bailiff's window was visible from where they
sat, and a light patch had appeared at it. "He's staring! Lord, how
he's staring! I say, can you see this?" Erik called out, holding up
a gin-bottle. Then, as he drank: "Your health! Old Nick's health!
He smells, the pig! Bah!" The others laughed, and the face at the
In between the dances they played, drank, and wrestled. Their
actions became more and more wild, they uttered sudden yells that
made the girls scream, threw themselves flat upon the ground in
the middle of a dance, groaned as if they were dying, and sprang
up again suddenly with wild gestures and kicked the legs of those
nearest to them. Once or twice the bailiff sent the pupil to tell
them to be quiet, but that only made the noise worse. "Tell him to
go his own dog's errands!" Erik shouted after the pupil.
Lasse nudged Pelle and they gradually drew farther and farther away.
"We'd better go to bed now," Lasse said, when they had slipped away
unnoticed. "One never knows what this may lead to. They all of them
see red; I should think they'll soon begin to dance the dance of
blood. Ah me, if I'd been young I wouldn't have stolen away like
a thief; I'd have stayed and taken whatever might have come. There
was a time when Lasse could put both hands on the ground and kick
his man in the face with the heels of his boots so that he went down
like a blade of grass; but that time's gone, and it's wisest to take
care of one's self. This may end in the police and much more, not
to mention the bailiff. They've been irritating him all the summer
with that Erik at their head; but if once he gets downright angry,
Erik may go home to his mother."
Pelle wanted to stay up for a little and look at them. "If I creep
along behind the fence and lie down--oh, do let me, father!" he
"Eh, what a silly idea! They might treat you badly if they got hold
of you. They're in the very worst of moods. Well, you must take the
consequences, and for goodness' sake take care they don't see you!"
So Lasse went to bed, but Pelle crawled along on the ground behind
the fence until he came close up to them and could see everything.
Gustav was still sitting on Karna's open lap and playing, and she
was holding him fast in her arms. But Anders had put his arm around
Bodil's waist. Gustav discovered it, and with an oath flung away his
concertina, sending it rolling over the grass, and sprang up. The
others threw themselves down in a circle on the grass, breathing
hard. They expected something.
Gustav was like a savage dancing a war-dance. His mouth was open and
his eyes bright and staring. He was the only man on the grass, and
jumped up and down like a ball, hopped upon his heels, and kicked
up his legs alternately to the height of his head, uttering a shrill
cry with each kick. Then he shot up into the air, turning round as
he did so, and came down on one heel and went on turning round like
a top, making himself smaller and smaller as he turned, and then
exploded in a leap and landed in the lap of Bodil, who threw her
arms about him in delight.
In an instant Anders had both hands on his shoulders from behind,
set his feet against his back, and sent him rolling over the grass.
It all happened without a pause, and Gustav himself gave impetus to
his course, rolling along in jolts like an uneven ball. But suddenly
he stopped and rose to his feet with a bound, stared straight in
front of him, turned round with a jerk, and moved slowly toward
Anders. Anders rose quickly, pushed his cap on one side, clicked
with his tongue, and advanced. Bodil spread herself out more
comfortably on the ground, and looked proudly round the circle,
eagerly noting the envy of the others.
The two antagonists stood face to face, feeling their way to a good
grasp. They stroked one another affectionately, pinched one another
in the side, and made little jesting remarks.
"My goodness me, how fat you are, brother!" This was Anders.
"And what breasts you've got! You might quite well be a woman,"
answered Gustav, feeling Anders' chest. "Eeh, how soft you are!"
Scorn gleamed in their faces, but their eyes followed every movement
of their opponent. Each of them expected a sudden attack from the
The others lay stretched around them on the grass, and called out
impatiently: "Have done with that and look sharp about it!"
The two men continued to stand and play as if they were afraid to
really set to, or were spinning the thing out for its still greater
enjoyment. But suddenly Gustav had seized Anders by the collar,
thrown himself backward and flung Anders over his head. It was done
so quickly that Anders got no hold of Gustav; but in swinging round
he got a firm grasp of Gustav's hair, and they both fell on their
backs with their heads together and their bodies stretched in
Anders had fallen heavily, and lay half unconscious, but without
loosening his hold on Gustav's hair. Gustav twisted round and tried
to get upon his feet, but could not free his head. Then he wriggled
back into this position again as quickly as a cat, turned a backward
somersault over his antagonist, and fell down upon him with his face
toward the other's. Anders tried to raise his feet to receive him,
but was too late.
Anders threw himself about in violent jerks, lay still and strained
again with sudden strength to turn Gustav off, but Gustav held on.
He let himself fall heavily upon his adversary, and sticking out his
legs and arms to support him on the ground, raised himself suddenly
and sat down again, catching Anders in the wind. All the time the
thoughts of both were directed toward getting out their knives,
and Anders, who had now fully recovered his senses, remembered
distinctly that he had not got his. "Ah!" he said aloud. "What
a fool I am!"
"You're whining, are you?" said Gustav, bending his face him. "Do
you want to ask for mercy?"
At that moment Anders felt Gustav's knife pressing against his thigh,
and in an instant had his hand down there and wrenched it free.
Gustav tried to take it from him, but gave up the attempt for fear
of being thrown off. He then confined himself to taking possession
of one of Anders' hands, so that he could not open the knife, and
began sitting upon him in the region of his stomach.
Anders lay in half surrender, and bore the blows without trying
to defend himself, only gasping at each one. With his left hand he
was working eagerly to get the knife opened against the ground, and
suddenly plunged it into Gustav just as the latter had risen to let
himself fall heavily upon his opponent's body.
Gustav seized Anders by the wrist, his face distorted. "What the
devil are you up to now, you swine?" he said, spitting down into
Anders' face. "He's trying to sneak out by the back door!" he said,
looking round the circle with a face wrinkled like that of a young
They fought desperately for the knife, using hands and teeth and
head; and when Gustav found that he could not get possession of
the weapon, he set to work so to guide Anders' hand that he should
plunge it into his own body. He succeeded, but the blow was not
straight, and the blade closed upon Anders' fingers, making him
throw the knife from him with an oath.
Meanwhile Erik was growing angry at no longer being the hero of the
evening. "Will you soon be finished, you two cockerels, or must I
have a bite too?" he said, trying to separate them. They took firm
hold of one another, but then Erik grew angry, and did something for
which he was ever after renowned. He took hold of them and set them
both upon their feet.
Gustav looked as if he were going to throw himself into the battle
again, and a sullen expression overspread his face; but then he
began to sway like a tree chopped at the roots, and sank to the
ground. Bodil was the first to come to his assistance. With a cry
she ran to him and threw her arms about him.
He was carried in and laid upon his bed, Karl Johan poured spirit
into the deep cut to clean it, and held it together while Bodil
basted it with needle and thread from one of the men's lockers.
Then they dispersed, in pairs, as friendship permitted, Bodil,
however, remaining with Gustav. She was true to him after all.
* * * * *
Thus the summer passed, in continued war and friction with the
bailiff, to whom, however, they dared do nothing when it came to
the point. Then the disease struck inward, and they set upon one
another. "It must come out somewhere," said Lasse, who did not like
this state of things, and vowed he would leave as soon as anything
else offered, even if they had to run away from wages and clothes
"They're discontented with their wages, their working-hours are too
long, and the food isn't good enough; they pitch it about and waste
it until it makes one ill to see them, for anyhow it's God's gift,
even if it might be better. And Erik's at the bottom of it all! He's
forever boasting and bragging and stirring up the others the whole
day long. But as soon as the bailiff is over him, he daren't do
anything any more than the others; so they all creep into their
holes. Father Lasse is not such a cowardly wind-bag as any of them,
old though he is.
"I suppose a good conscience is the best support. If you have it and
have done your duty, you can look both the bailiff and the farmer
--and God the Father, too--in the face. For you must always remember,
laddie, not to set yourself up against those that are placed over
you. Some of us have to be servants and others masters; how would
everything go on if we who work didn't do our duty? You can't expect
the gentlefolk to scrape up the dung in the cow-stable."
All this Lasse expounded after they had gone to bed, but Pelle had
something better to do than to listen to it. He was sound asleep
and dreaming that he was Erik himself, and was thrashing the bailiff
with a big stick.
In Pelle's time, pickled herring was the Bronholmer's most important
article of food. It was the regular breakfast dish in all classes
of society, and in the lower classes it predominated at the supper-
table too--and sometimes appeared at dinner in a slightly altered
form. "It's a bad place for food," people would say derisively of
such-and-such a farm. "You only get herring there twenty-one times
When the elder was in flower, well-regulated people brought out
their salt-boxes, according to old custom, and began to look out
to sea; the herring is fattest then. From the sloping land, which
nearly everywhere has a glimpse of the sea, people gazed out in the
early summer mornings for the homeward-coming boats. The weather and
the way the boats lay in the water were omens regarding the winter
food. Then the report would come wandering up over the island, of
large hauls and good bargains. The farmers drove to the town or
the fishing-village with their largest wagons, and the herring-man
worked his way up through the country from cottage to cottage with
his horse, which was such a wretched animal that any one would have
been legally justified in putting a bullet through its head.
In the morning, when Pelle opened the stable doors to the field,
the mist lay in every hollow like a pale gray lake, and on the high
land, where the smoke rose briskly from houses and farms, he saw men
and women coming round the gable-ends, half-dressed, or in shirt or
chemise only, gazing out to sea. He himself ran round the out-houses
and peered out toward the sea which lay as white as silver and took
its colors from the day. The red sails were hanging motionless, and
looked like splashes of blood in the brightness of day; the boats
lay deep in the water, and were slowly making their way homeward
in response to the beat of the oars, dragging themselves along like
cows that are near their time for bearing.
But all this had nothing to do with him and his. Stone Farm, like
the poor of the parish, did not buy its herring until after the
autumn, when it was as dry as sticks and cost almost nothing. At
that time of year, herring was generally plentiful, and was sold
for from twopence to twopence-halfpenny the fourscore as long as
the demand continued. After that it was sold by the cartload as
food for the pigs, or went on to the dungheap.
One Sunday morning late in the autumn, a messenger came running
from the town to Stone Farm to say that now herring was to be had.
The bailiff came down into the servants' room while they were at
breakfast, and gave orders that all the working teams were to be
harnessed. "Then you'll have to come too!" said Karl Johan to the
two quarry drivers, who were married and lived up near the quarry,
but came down for meals.
"No, our horses shan't come out of the stable for that!" said
the drivers. "They and we drive only stone and nothing else." They
sat for a little while and indulged in sarcasms at the expense of
certain people who had not even Sunday at their own disposal, and
one of them, as he stretched himself in a particularly irritating
way, said: "Well, I think I'll go home and have a nap. It's nice
to be one's own master once a week, at any rate." So they went home
to wife and children, and kept Sunday holiday.
For a little while the men went about complaining; that was the
regular thing. In itself they had no objection to make to the
expedition, for it would naturally be something of a festivity.
There were taverns enough in the town, and they would take care to
arrange about that herring so that they did not get home much before
evening. If the worst came to the worst, Erik could damage his cart
in driving, and then they would be obliged to stay in town while it
was being mended.
They stood out in the stable, and turned their purses inside out
--big, solid, leather purses with steel locks that could only be
opened by pressure on a secret mechanism; but they were empty.
"The deuce!" said Mons, peering disappointedly into his purse.
"Not so much as the smell of a one-ore! There must be a leak!" He
examined the seams, held it close up to his eyes, and at last put
his ear to it. "Upon my word, I seem to hear a two-krone talking
to itself. It must be witchcraft!" He sighed and put his purse
into his pocket.
"You, you poor devil!" said Anders. "Have you ever spoken to a
two-krone? No, I'm the man for you!" He hauled out a large purse.
"I've still got the ten-krone that the bailiff cheated me out of
on May Day, but I haven't the heart to use it; I'm going to keep
it until I grow old." He put his hand into the empty purse and
pretended to take something out and show it. The others laughed
and joked, and all were in good spirits with the thought of the
trip to town.
"But Erik's sure to have some money at the bottom of his chest!"
said one. "He works for good wages and has a rich aunt down below."
"No, indeed!" whined Erik. "Why, I have to pay for half a score of
young brats who can't father themselves upon any one else. But Karl
Johan must get it, or what's the good of being head man?"
"That's no use," said Karl Johan doubtfully. "If I ask the bailiff
for an advance now when we're going to town, he'll say 'no' straight
out. I wonder whether the girls haven't wages lying by."
They were just coming up from the cow-stable with their milk-pails.
"I say, girls," Erik called out to them. "Can't one of you lend us
ten krones? She shall have twins for it next Easter; the sow farrows
"You're a nice one to make promises!" said Bengta, standing still,
and they all set down their milk-pails and talked it over. "I wonder
whether Bodil hasn't?" said Karna. "No," answered Maria, "for she
sent the ten krones she had by her to her mother the other day."
Mons dashed his cap to the floor and gave a leap. "I'll go up to
the Old Gentleman himself," he said.
"Then you'll come head first down the stairs, you may be sure!"
"The deuce I will, with my old mother lying seriously ill in the
town, without a copper to pay for doctor or medicine! I'm as good a
child as Bodil, I hope." He turned and went toward the stone steps,
and the others stood and watched him from the stable-door, until the
bailiff came and they had to busy themselves with the carts. Gustav
walked about in his Sunday clothes with a bundle under his arm, and
"Why don't you get to work?" asked the bailiff. "Get your horses
"You said yourself I might be free to-day," said Gustav, making
a grimace. He was going out with Bodil.
"Ah, so I did! But that'll be one cart less. You must have a holiday
another day instead."
"I can't do that."
"What the dee--And why not, may I ask?"
"Well, because you gave me a holiday to-day."
"Yes; but, confound it, man, when I now tell you you can take
another day instead!"
"No, I can't do that."
"But why not, man? Is there anything pressing you want to do?"
"No, but I have been given a holiday to-day." It looked as if Gustav
were grinning slyly, but it was only that he was turning the quid
in his mouth. The bailiff stamped with anger.
"But I can go altogether if you don't care to see me," said Gustav
The bailiff did not hear, but turned quickly. Experience had taught
him to be deaf to that kind of offer in the busy season. He looked
up at his window as if he had suddenly thought of something, and
sprang up the stairs. They could manage him when they touched upon
that theme, but his turn came in the winter, and then they had to
keep silence and put up with things, so as to keep a roof over their
heads during the slack time.
Gustav went on strutting about with his bundle, without putting his
hand to anything. The others laughed at him encouragingly.
The bailiff came down again and went up to him. "Then put in the
horses before you go," he said shortly, "and I'll drive yours."
An angry growl passed from man to man. "We're to have the dog with
us!" they said in undertones to one another, and then, so that the
bailiff should hear: "Where's the dog? We're to have the dog with
Matters were not improved by Mons coming down the steps with a
beautifully pious expression, and holding a ten-krone note over his
chest. "It's all one now," said Erik; "for we've got to have the
dog with us!" Mons' face underwent a sudden change, and he began
to swear. They pulled the carts about without getting anything done,
and their eyes gleamed with anger.
The bailiff came out upon the steps with his overcoat on. "Look
sharp about getting the horses in!" he thundered.
The men of Stone Farm were just as strict about their order of
precedence as the real inhabitants of the island, and it was just
as complicated. The head man sat at the top of the table and helped
himself first, he went first in mowing and reaping, and had the
first girl to lay the load when the hay was taken in; he was the
first man up, and went first when they set out for the fields,
and no one might throw down his tools until he had done so. After
him came the second man, the third, and so on, and lastly the day-
laborers. When no great personal preference interfered, the head
man was as a matter of course the sweetheart of the head girl, and
so on downwards; and if one of them left, his successor took over
the relation: it was a question of equilibrium. In this, however,
the order of precedence was often broken, but never in the matter
of the horses. Gustav's horses were the poorest, and no power in
the world would have induced the head man or Erik to drive them,
let alone the farmer himself.
The bailiff knew it, and saw how the men were enjoying themselves
when Gustav's nags were put in. He concealed his irritation, but
when they exultantly placed Gustav's cart hindmost in the row, it
was too much for him, and he ordered it to be driven in front of
"My horses aren't accustomed to go behind the tail-pullers!" said
Karl Johan, throwing down his reins. It was the nickname for the
last in the row. The others stood trying not to smile, and the
bailiff was almost boiling over.
"If you're so bent upon being first, be it by all means," he said
quietly. "I can very well drive behind you."
"No, my horses come after the head man's, not after the
tail-puller's," said Erik.
This was really a term of abuse in the way in which they used it,
one after the other, with covert glances. If he was going to put
up with this from the whole row, his position on the farm would be
"Yes, and mine go behind Erik's," began Anders now, "not after--
after Gustav's," he corrected himself quickly, for the bailiff had
fixed his eyes upon him, and taken a step forward to knock him down.
The bailiff stood silent for a moment as if listening, the muscles
of his arms quivering. Then he sprang into the cart.
"You're all out of your senses to-day," he said. "But now I'm going
to drive first, and the man who dares to say a word against it shall
have one between the eyes that will send him five days into next
week!" So saying he swung out of the row, and Erik's horses, which
wanted to turn, received a cut from his whip that made them rear.
Erik stormed at them.
The men went about crestfallen, and gave the bailiff time to get
well ahead. "Well, I suppose we'd better see about starting now,"
said Karl Johan at length, as he got into his wagon. The bailiff
was already some way ahead; Gustav's nags were doing their very best
to-day, and seemed to like being in front. But Karl Johan's horses
were displeased, and hurried on; they did not approve of the new
At the village shop they made a halt, and consoled themselves
a little. When they started again, Karl Johan's horses were
refractory, and had to be quieted.
The report of the catch had spread through the country, and carts
from other farms caught them up or crossed them on their way to the
fishing-villages. Those who lived nearer the town were already on
their way home with swaying loads. "Shall we Meet in the town for
a drink?" cried one man to Karl Johan as he passed. "I'm coming in
for another load."
"No, we're driving for the master to-day!" answered Karl Johan,
pointing to the bailiff in front.
"Yes, I see him. He's driving a fine pair to-day! I thought it was
An acquaintance of Karl Johan's came toward them with a swaying
load of herring. He was the only man on one of the small farms.
"So you've been to the town too for winter food," said Karl Johan,
reining in his horse.
"Yes, for the pigs!" answered the other. "It was laid in for the
rest of us at the end of the summer. This isn't food for men!" And
he took up a herring between his fingers, and pretended to break it
"No, I suppose not for such fine gentlemen," answered Karl Johan
snappishly. "Of course, you're in such a high station that you eat
at the same table as your master and mistress, I've heard."
"Yes, that's the regular custom at our place," answered the other.
"We know nothing about masters and dogs." And he drove on. The words
rankled with Karl Johan, he could not help drawing comparisons.
They had caught up the bailiff, and now the horses became unruly.
They kept trying to pass and took every unlooked-for opportunity of
pushing on, so that Karl Johan nearly drove his team into the back
of the bailiff's cart. At last he grew tired of holding them in,
and gave them the rein, when they pushed out over the border of the
ditch and on in front of Gustav's team, danced about a little on the
high-road, and then became quiet. Now it was Erik's horses that were
At the farm all the laborers' wives had been called in for the
afternoon, the young cattle were in the enclosure, and Pelle ran
from cottage to cottage with the message. He was to help the women
together with Lasse, and was delighted with this break in the daily
routine; it was a whole holiday for him.
At dinner-time the men came home with their heavy loads of herring,
which were turned out upon the stone paving round the pump in
the upper yard. There had been no opportunity for them to enjoy
themselves in the town, and they were in a bad temper. Only Mons,
the ape, went about grinning all over his face. He had been up to
his sick mother with the money for the doctor and medicine, and came
back at the last minute with a bundle under his arm in the best of
spirits. "That was a medicine!" he said over and over again,
smacking his lips, "a mighty strong medicine."
He had had a hard time with the bailiff before he got leave to go on
his errand. The bailiff was a suspicious man, but it was difficult
to hold out against Mons' trembling voice when he urged that it
would be too hard on a poor man to deny him the right to help his
sick mother. "Besides, she lives close by here, and perhaps I shall
never see her again in this life," said Mons mournfully. "And then
there's the money that the master advanced me for it. Shall I go and
throw it away on drink, while she's lying there without enough to
buy bread with?"
"Well, how was your mother?" asked the bailiff, when Mons came
hurrying up at the last moment.
"Oh, she can't last much longer!" said Mons, with a quiver in his
voice. But he was beaming all over his face.
The others threw him angry glances while they unloaded the herring.
They would have liked to thrash him for his infernal good luck. But
they recovered when they got into their room and he undid the bundle.
"That's to you all from my sick mother!" he said, and drew forth a
keg of spirits. "And I was to give you her best respects, and thank
you for being so good to her little son."
"Where did you go?" asked Erik.
"I sat in the tavern on the harbor hill all the time, so as to
keep an eye on you; I couldn't resist looking at you, you looked
so delightfully thirsty. I wonder you didn't lie down flat and
drink out of the sea, every man Jack of you!"
In the afternoon the cottagers' wives and the farm-girls sat round
the great heaps of herring by the pump, and cleaned the fish. Lasse
and Pelle pumped water to rinse them in, and cleaned out the big
salt-barrels that the men rolled up from the cellar; and two of
the elder women were entrusted with the task of mixing. The bailiff
walked up and down by the front steps and smoked his pipe.
As a general rule, the herring-pickling came under the category of
pleasant work, but to-day there was dissatisfaction all along the
line. The women chattered freely as they worked, but their talk was
not quite innocuous--it was all carefully aimed; the men had made
them malicious. When they laughed, there was the sound of a hidden
meaning in their laughter. The men had to be called out and given
orders about every single thing that had to be done; they went about
it sullenly, and then at once withdrew to their rooms. But when
there they were all the gayer, and sang and enjoyed themselves.
"They're doing themselves proud in there," said Lasse, with a sigh
to Pelle. "They've got a whole keg of spirits that Mons had hidden
in his herring. They say it's so extra uncommon good." Lasse had not
tasted it himself.
The two kept out of the wrangling; they felt themselves too weak.
The girls had not had the courage to refuse the extra Sunday work,
but they were not afraid to pass little remarks, and tittered at
nothing, to make the bailiff think it was at him. They kept on
asking in a loud voice what the time was, or stopped working to
listen to the ever-increasing gaiety in the men's rooms. Now and
then a man was thrown out from there into the yard, and shuffled
in again, shamefaced and grinning.
One by one the men came sauntering out. They had their caps on the
back of their heads now, and their gaze was fixed. They took up
a position in the lower yard, and hung over the fence, looking at
the girls, every now and then bursting into a laugh and stopping
suddenly, with a frightened glance at the bailiff.
The bailiff was walking up and down by the steps. He had laid
aside his pipe and become calmer; and when the men came out, he
was cracking a whip and exercising himself in self-restraint.
"If I liked I could bend him until both ends met!" he heard Erik
say aloud in the middle of a conversation. The bailiff earnestly
wished that Erik would make the attempt. His muscles were burning
under this unsatisfied desire to let himself go; but his brain was
reveling in visions of fights, he was grappling with the whole flock
and going through all the details of the battle. He had gone through
these battles so often, especially of late; he had thought out all
the difficult situations, and there was not a place in all Stone
Farm in which the things that would serve as weapons were not known
"What's the time?" asked one of the girls aloud for at least the
"A little longer than your chemise," answered Erik promptly.
The girls laughed. "Oh, nonsense! Tell us what it really is!"
"A quarter to the miller's girl," answered Anders.
"Oh, what fools you are! Can't you answer properly? You, Karl
"It's short!" said Karl Johan gravely.
"No, seriously now, I'll tell you what it is," exclaimed Mons
innocently, drawing a great "turnip" out of his pocket. "It's--" he
looked carefully at the watch, and moved his lips as if calculating.
"The deuce!" he exclaimed, bringing down his hand in amazement on
the fence. "Why, it's exactly the same time as it was this time
The jest was an old one, but the women screamed with laughter; for
Mons was the jester.
"Never mind about the time," said the bailiff, coming up. "But try
and get through your work."
"No, time's for tailors and shoemakers, not for honest people!"
said Anders in an undertone.
The bailiff turned upon him as quick as a cat, and Anders' arm
darted up above his head bent as if to ward off a blow. The bailiff
merely expectorated with a scornful smile, and began his pacing up
and down afresh, and Anders stood there, red to the roots of his
hair, and not knowing what to do with his eyes. He scratched the
back of his head once or twice, but that could not explain away that
strange movement of his arm. The others were laughing at him, so he
hitched up his trousers and sauntered down toward the men's rooms,
while the women screamed with laughter, and the men laid their heads
upon the fence and shook with merriment.
So the day passed, with endless ill-natured jesting and spitefulness.
In the evening the men wandered out to indulge in horse-play on the
high-road and annoy the passersby. Lasse and Pelle were tired, and
went early to bed.
"Thank God we've got through this day!" said Lasse, when he had
got into bed. "It's been a regular bad day. It's a miracle that no
blood's been shed; there was a time when the bailiff looked as if
he might do anything. But Erik must know far he can venture."
Next morning everything seemed to be forgotten. The men attended to
the horses as usual, and at six o'clock went out into the field for
a third mowing of clover. They looked blear-eyed, heavy and dull.
The keg lay outside the stable-door empty; and as they went past
they kicked it.
Pelle helped with the herring to-day too, but he no longer found
it amusing. He was longing already to be out in the open with his
cattle; and here he had to be at everybody's beck and call. As often
as he dared, he made some pretext for going outside the farm, for
that helped to make the time pass.
Later in the morning, while the men were mowing the thin clover,
Erik flung down his scythe so that it rebounded with a ringing
sound from the swaths. The others stopped their work.
"What's the matter with you, Erik?" asked Karl Johan. "Have you got
a bee in your bonnet?"
Erik stood with his knife in his hand, feeling its edge, and neither
heard nor saw. Then he turned up his face and frowned at the sky;
his eyes seemed to have sunk into his head and become blind, and
his lips stood out thick. He muttered a few inarticulate sounds,
and started up toward the farm.
The others stood still and followed him with staring eyes; then one
after another they threw down their scythes and moved away, only
Karl Johan remaining where he was.
Pelle had just come out to the enclosure to see that none of the
young cattle had broken their way out. "When he saw the men coming
up toward the farm in a straggling file like a herd of cattle on
the move, he suspected something was wrong and ran in.
"The men are coming up as fast as they can, father!" he whispered.
"They're surely not going to do it?" said Lasse, beginning to
The bailiff was carrying things from his room down to the pony-
carriage; he was going to drive to the town. He had his arms full
when Erik appeared at the big, open gate below, with distorted face
and a large, broad-bladed knife in his hand. "Where the devil is
he?" he said aloud, and circled round once with bent head, like an
angry bull, and then walked up through the fence straight toward the
bailiff. The latter started when he saw him and, through the gate,
the others coming up full speed behind him. He measured the distance
to the steps, but changed his mind, and advanced toward Erik,
keeping behind the wagon and watching every movement that Erik made,
while he tried to find a weapon. Erik followed him round the wagon,
grinding his teeth and turning his eyes obliquely up at his
The bailiff went round and round the wagon and made half movements;
he could not decide what to do. But then the others came up and
blocked his way. His face turned white with fear, and he tore a
whiffletree from the wagon, which with a push he sent rolling into
the thick of them, so that they fell back in confusion. This made
an open space between him and Erik, and Erik sprang quickly over
the pole, with his knife ready to strike; but as he sprang, the
whiffletree descended upon his head. The knife-thrust fell upon the
bailiff's shoulder, but it was feeble, and the knife just grazed
his side as Erik sank to the ground. The others stood staring in
"Carry him down to the mangling-cellar!" cried the bailiff in a
commanding tone, and the men dropped their knives and obeyed.
The battle had stirred Pelle's blood into a tumult, and he was
standing by the pump, jumping up and down. Lasse had to take a firm
hold of him, for it looked as if he would throw himself into the
fight. Then when the great strong Erik sank to the ground insensible
from a blow on the head, he began to jump as if he had St. Vitus's
Dance. He jumped into the air with drooping head, and let himself
fall heavily, all the time uttering short, shrill bursts of laughter.
Lasse spoke to him angrily, thinking it was unnecessarily foolish
behavior on his part; and then he picked him up and held him firmly
in his hands, while the little fellow trembled all over his body in
his efforts to free himself and go on with his jumping.
"What can be wrong with him?" said Lasse tearfully to the cottagers'
wives. "Oh dear, what shall I do?" He carried him down to their room
in a sad state of mind, because the moon was waning, and it would
never pass off!
Down in the mangling-cellar they were busy with Erik, pouring brandy
into his mouth and bathing his head with vinegar. Kongstrup was not
at home, but the mistress herself was down there, wringing her hands
and cursing Stone Farm--her own childhood's home! Stone Farm had
become a hell with its murder and debauchery! she said, without
caring that they were all standing round her and heard every word.
The bailiff had driven quickly off in the pony-carriage to fetch a
doctor and to report what he had done in defence of his life. The
women stood round the pump and gossiped, while the men and girls
wandered about in confusion; there was no one to issue orders. But
then the mistress came out on to the steps and looked at them for
a little, and they all found something to do. Hers were piercing
eyes! The old women shook themselves and went back to their work.
It reminded them so pleasantly of old times, when the master of the
Stone Farm of their youth rushed up with anger in his eyes when they
Down in their room, Lasse sat watching Pelle, who lay talking and
laughing in delirium, so that his father hardly knew whether to
laugh or to cry.
"She must have had right on her side, for he never said a cross word
when she started off with her complaints and reproaches, and them so
loud that you could hear them right through the walls and down in
the servants' room and all over the farm. But it was stupid of her
all the same, for she only drove him distracted and sent him away.
And how will it go with a farm in the long run, when the farmer
spends all his time on the high-roads because he can't stay at home?
It's a poor sort of affection that drives the man away from his
Lasse was standing in the stable on Sunday evening talking to the
women about it while they milked. Pelle was there too, busy with his
own affairs, but listening to what was said.
"But she wasn't altogether stupid either," said Thatcher Holm's
wife. "For instance when she had Fair Maria in to do housemaid's
work, so that he could have a pretty face to look at at home. She
knew that if you have food at home you don't go out for it. But of
course it all led to nothing when she couldn't leave off frightening
him out of the house with her crying and her drinking."
"I'm sure he drinks too!" said Pelle shortly.
"Yes, of course he gets drunk now and then," said Lasse in a
reproving tone. "But he's a man, you see, and may have his reasons
besides. But it's ill when a woman takes to drinking." Lasse was
cross. The boy was beginning to have opinions of his own pretty
well on everything, and was always joining in when grown people
"I maintain"--he went on, turning again to the women--"that he'd
be a good husband, if only he wasn't worried with crying and a bad
conscience. Things go very well too when he's away. He's at home
pretty well every day, and looks after things himself, so that
the bailiff's quite upset, for _he_ likes to be king of the
castle. To all of us, the master's like one of ourselves; he's
even forgotten the grudge he had against Gustav."
"There can't be very much to bear him a grudge for, unless it is
that he'll get a wife with money. They say Bodil's saved more than
a hundred krones from her two or three months as housemaid. Some
people can--they get paid for what the rest of us have always had
to do for nothing." It was one of the old women who spoke.
"Well, we'll just see whether he ever gets her for a wife. I doubt
it myself. One oughtn't to speak evil of one's fellow-servant, but
Bodil's not a faithful girl. That matter with the master must go
for what it was--as I once said to Gustav when he was raging about
it; the master comes before his men! Bengta was a good wife to me
in every way, but she too was very fond of laying herself out for
the landlord at home. The greatest take first; that's the way of
the world! But Bodil's never of the same mind for long together.
Now she's carrying on with the pupil, though he's not sixteen yet,
and takes presents from him. Gustav should get out of it in time;
it always leads to misfortune when love gets into a person. We've
got an example of that at the farm here."
"I was talking to some one the other day who thought that the
mistress hadn't gone to Copenhagen at all, but was with relations
in the south. She's run away from him, you'll see!"
"That's the genteel thing to do nowadays, it seems!" said Lasse.
"If only she'll stay away! Things are much better as they are."
* * * * *
An altogether different atmosphere seemed to fill Stone Farm. The
dismal feeling was gone; no wailing tones came from the house and
settled upon one like horse flies and black care. The change was
most apparent in the farmer. He looked ten or twenty years younger,
and joked good-humoredly like one freed from chains and fetters. He
took an interest in the work of the farm, drove to the quarry two
or three times a day in his gig, was present whenever a new piece
of work was started, and would often throw off his coat and take a
hand in it. Fair Maria laid his table and made his bed, and he was
not afraid of showing his kindness for her. His good humor was
infectious and made everything pleasanter.
But it could not be denied that Lasse had his own burden to bear.
His anxiety to get married grew greater with the arrival of very
cold weather as early as December; he longed to have his feet under
his own table, and have a woman to himself who should be everything
to him. He had not entirely given up thoughts of Karna yet, but he
had promised Thatcher Holm's wife ten krones down if she could find
some one that would do for him.
He had really put the whole matter out of his head as an
impossibility, and had passed into the land of old age; but what
was the use of shutting yourself in, when you were all the time
looking for doors through which to slip out again? Lasse looked
out once more, and as usual it was Pelle who brought life and
joy to the house.
Down in the outskirts of the fishing-village there lived a woman,
whose husband had gone to sea and had not been heard of for a good
many years. Two or three times on his way to and from school, Pelle
had sought shelter from the weather in her porch, and they had
gradually become good friends; he performed little services for her,
and received a cup of hot coffee in return. When the cold was very
bitter, she always called him in; and then she would tell him about
the sea and about her good-for-nothing husband, who kept away and
left her to toil for her living by mending nets for the fishermen.
In return Pelle felt bound to tell her about Father Lasse, and
Mother Bengta who lay at home in the churchyard at Tommelilla.
The talk never came to much more, for she always returned to her
husband who had gone away and left her a widow.
"I suppose he's drowned," Pelle would say.
"No, he isn't, for I've had no warning," she answered decidedly,
always in the same words.
Pelle repeated it all to his father, who was very much interested.
"Well, did you run in to Madam Olsen to-day?" was the first thing
he said when the boy came in from school; and then Pelle had to
tell him every detail several times over. It could never be too
circumstantially told for Lasse.
"You've told her, I suppose, that Mother Bengta's dead? Yes, of
course you have! Well, what did she ask about me to-day? Does she
know about the legacy?" (Lasse had recently had twenty-five krones
left him by an uncle.) "You might very well let fall a word or two
about that, so that she shouldn't think we're quite paupers."
Pelle was the bearer of ambiguous messages backward and forward.
From Lasse he took little things in return for her kindness to
himself, such as embroidered handkerchiefs and a fine silk kerchief,
the last remnants of Mother Bengta's effects. It would be hard to
lose them if this new chance failed, for then there would be no
memories to fall back upon. But Lasse staked everything upon one
One day Pelle brought word that warning had come to Madam Olsen. She
had been awakened in the night by a big black dog that stood gasping
at the head of her bed. Its eyes shone in the darkness, and she
heard the water dripping from its fur. She understood that it must
be the ship's dog with a message for her, and went to the window;
and out in the moonlight on the sea she saw a ship sailing with all
sail set. She stood high, and you could see the sea and sky right
through her. Over the bulwark hung her husband and the others, and
they were transparent; and the salt water was dripping from their
hair and beards and running down the side of the ship.
In the evening Lasse put on his best clothes.
"Are we going out this evening?" asked Pelle in glad surprise.
"No--well, that's to say I am, just a little errand. If any one
asks after me, you must say that I've gone to the smith about a new
nose-ring for the bull."
"And mayn't I go with you?" asked Pelle on the verge of tears.
"No, you must be good and stay at home for this once. Lasse patted
him on the head.
"Where are you going then?"
"I'm going--" Lasse was about to make up a lie about it, but had not
the heart to do it. "You mustn't ask me!" he said.
"Shall I know another day, then, without asking?"
"Yes, you shall, for certain--sure!"
Lasse went out, but came back again. Pelle was sitting on the edge
of the bed, crying; it was the first time Father Lasse had gone out
without taking him with him.
"Now you must be a good boy and go to bed," he said gravely. "Or
else I shall stay at home with you; but if I do, it may spoil things
for us both."
So Pelle thought better of it and began to undress; and at last
Lasse got off.
When Lasse reached Madam Olsen's house, it was shut up and in
darkness. He recognized it easily from Pelle's descriptions, and
walked round it two or three times to see how the walls stood. Both
timber and plaster looked good, and there was a fair-sized piece
of ground belonging to it, just big enough to allow of its being
attended to on Sundays, so that one could work for a daily wage
Lasse knocked at the door, and a little while after a white form
appeared at the window, and asked who was there.
"It's Pelle's father, Lasse Karlsson," said Lasse, stepping out
into the moonlight.
The door was unbolted, and a soft voice said: "Come inside! Don't
stand out there in the cold!" and Lasse stepped over the threshold.
There was a smell of sleep in the room, and Lasse had an idea where
the alcove was, but could see nothing. He heard the breathing as of
a stout person drawing on stockings. Then she struck a match and
lighted the lamp.
They shook hands, and looked at one another as they did so. She wore
a skirt of striped bed-ticking, which kept her night-jacket together,
and had a blue night-cap on her head. She had strong-looking limbs
and a good bust, and her face gave a good impression. She was the
kind of woman that would not hurt a fly if she were not put upon;
but she was not a toiler--she was too soft for that.
"So this is Pelle's father!" she said. "It's a young son you've got.
But do sit down!"
Lasse blinked his eyes a little. He had been afraid that she would
think him old.
"Yes, he's what you'd call a late-born child; but I'm still able to
do a man's work in more ways than one."
She laughed while she busied herself in placing on the table cold
bacon and pork sausage, a dram, bread and a saucer of dripping.
"But now you must eat!" she said. "That's what a man's known by.
And you've come a long way."
It only now occurred to Lasse that he must give some excuse for his
visit. "I ought really to be going again at once. I only wanted to
come down and thank you for your kindness to the boy." He even got
up as if to go.
"Oh, but what nonsense!" she exclaimed, pushing him down into his
chair again. "It's very plain, but do take some." She pressed the
knife into his hand, and eagerly pushed the food in front of him.
Her whole person radiated warmth and kind-heartedness as she stood
close to him and attended to his wants; and Lasse enjoyed it all.
"You must have been a good wife to your husband," he said.
"Yes, that's true enough!" she said, as she sat down and looked
frankly at him. "He got all that he could want, and almost more,
when he was on shore. He stayed in bed until dinner, and I looked
after him like a little child; but he never gave me a hand's turn
for it, and at last one gets tired."
"That was wrong of him," said Lasse; "for one good action deserves
another. I don't think Bengta would have anything like that to say
of me if she was asked."
"Well, there's certainly plenty to do in a house, when there's a
man that has the will to help. I've only one cow, of course, for
I can't manage more; but two might very well be kept, and there's
no debt on the place."
"I'm only a poor devil compared to you!" said Lasse despondently.
"Altogether I've got fifty krones, and we both have decent clothes
to put on; but beyond that I've only got a pair of good hands."
"And I'm sure that's worth a good deal! And I should fancy you're
not afraid of fetching a pail of water or that sort of thing,
"No, I'm not. And I'm not afraid of a cup of coffee in bed on
a Sunday morning, either."
She laughed. "Then I suppose I ought to have a kiss!" she said.
"Yes, I suppose you ought," said Lasse delighted, and kissed her.
"And now we may hope for happiness and a blessing for all three
of us. I know you're fond of the laddie."
There still remained several things to discuss, there was coffee
to be drunk, and Lasse had to see the cow and the way the house was
arranged. In the meantime it had grown late.
"You'd better stay here for the night," said Madam Olsen.
Lasse stood wavering. There was the boy sleeping alone, and he had
to be at the farm by four o'clock; but it was cold outside, and here
it was so warm and comfortable in every way.
"Yes, perhaps I'd better," he said, laying down his hat and coat
* * * * *
When at about four he crept into the cow-stable from the back, the
lantern was still burning in the herdsman's room. Lasse thought
he was discovered, and began to tremble; it was a criminal and
unjustifiable action to be away from the herd a whole night. But
it was only Pelle, who lay huddled up upon the chest asleep, with
his clothes on. His face was black and swollen with crying.
All that day there was something reserved, almost hostile, about
Pelle's behavior, and Lasse suffered under it. There was nothing
for it; he must speak out.
"It's all settled now, Pelle," he said at last. "We're going to
have a house and home, and a nice-looking mother into the bargain.
It's Madam Olsen. Are you satisfied now?"
Pelle had nothing against it. "Then may I come with you next time?"
he asked, still a little sullen.
"Yes, next time you shall go with me. I think it'll be on Sunday.
We'll ask leave to go out early, and pay her a visit." Lasse said
this with a peculiar flourish; he had become more erect.
Pelle went with him on Sunday; they were free from the middle of
the afternoon. But after that it would not have done to ask for
leave very soon again. Pelle saw his future mother nearly every day,
but it was more difficult for Lasse. When the longing to see his
sweetheart came over him too strongly, he fussed over Pelle until
the boy fell asleep, and then changed his clothes and stole out.
After a wakeful night such as one of these, he was not up to his
work, and went about stumbling over his own feet; but his eyes shone
with a youthful light, as if he had concluded a secret treaty with
life's most powerful forces.
Erik was standing on the front steps, with stooping shoulders and
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