Pelle the Conqueror, Complete
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 6 out of 23
On the farm they went about shaking themselves and unable to rest,
wandering into their rooms and out again to gaze up at the tall
windows, where people were running backward and forward with lights.
What had happened? Some mishap to the farmer, evidently, for now
and again the mistress's commanding voice could be heard down in
the kitchen--but what? The wash-house and the servants' room were
dark and locked.
Toward morning, when the doctor had come and had taken things into
his own hands, a greater calm fell upon them all, and the maids took
the opportunity of slipping out into the yard. They would not at
once say what was the matter, but stood looking in an embarrassed
way at one another, and laughing stupidly. At last they gradually
got it out by first one telling a little and then another: in a fit
of delirium or of madness Kongstrup had done violence to himself.
Their faces were contorted with a mixture of fear and smothered
laughter; and when Karl Johan said gravely to Fair Maria: "You're
not telling a lie, are you?" she burst into tears. There she stood
laughing and crying by turns; and it made no difference that Karl
Johan scolded her sharply.
But it was true, although it sounded like the craziest nonsense that
a man could do such a thing to himself. It was a truth that struck
It was some time before they could make it out at all, but when
they did there were one or two things about it that seemed a little
unnatural. It could not have happened during intoxication, for the
farmer never drank at home, did not drink at all, as far as any one
knew, but only took a glass in good company. It was more likely to
have been remorse and contrition; it was not impossible considering
the life he had led, although it was strange that a man of his
nature should behave in such a desperate fashion.
But it was not satisfactory! And gradually, without it being
possible to point to any origin, all thoughts turned toward her.
She had changed of late, and the Koller blood had come out in her;
and in that family they had never let themselves be trodden down
Out in the shelter of the gable-wall of the House sat Kongstrup,
well wrapped up, and gazing straight before him with expressionless
eyes. The winter sun shone full upon him; it had lured forth signs
of spring, and the sparrows were hopping gaily about him. His wife
went backward and forward, busying herself about him; she wrapped
his feet up better, and came with a shawl to put round his shoulders.
She touched his chest and arms affectionately as she spread the
shawl over him from behind; and he slowly raised his head and
passed his hand over hers. She stood thus for a little while,
leaning against his shoulder and looking down upon him like a
mother, with eyes that were tranquil with the joy of possession.
Pelle came bounding down across the yard, licking his lips. He had
taken advantage of his mistress's preoccupation to steal down into
the dairy and get a drink of sour cream from the girls, and tease
them a little. He was glowing with health, and moved along as
carelessly happy as if the whole world were his.
It was quite dreadful the way he grew and wore out his things; it
was almost impossible to keep him in clothes! His arms and legs
stuck far out of every article of clothing he put on, and he wore
things out as fast as Lasse could procure them. Something new was
always being got for him, and before you could turn round, his arms
and legs were out of that too. He was as strong as an oak-tree; and
when it was a question of lifting or anything that did not require
perseverence, Lasse had to allow himself to be superseded.
The boy had acquired independence, too, and every day it became more
difficult for the old man to assert his parental authority; but that
would come as soon as Lasse was master of his own house and could
bring his fist down on his own table. But when would that be? As
matters now stood, it looked as if the magistrate did not want
him and Madam Olsen to be decently married. Seaman Olsen had given
plain warning of his decease, and Lasse thought there was nothing
to do but put up the banns; but the authorities continued to raise
difficulties and ferret about, in the true lawyers' way. Now there
was one question that had to be examined into, and now another;
there were periods of grace allowed, and summonses to be issued
to the dead man to make his appearance within such and such a time,
and what not besides! It was all a put-up job, so that the
pettifoggers could make something out of it.
He was thoroughly tired of Stone Farm. Every day he made the same
complaint to Pelle: "It's nothing but toil, toil, from morning till
night--one day just like another all the year round, as if you were
in a convict-prison! And what you get for it is hardly enough to
keep your body decently covered. You can't put anything by, and one
day when you're worn out and good for nothing more, you can just go
on the parish."
The worst of it all, however, was the desire to work once more
for himself. He was always sighing for this, and his hands were
sore with longing to feel what it was like to take hold of one's
own. Of late he had meditated cutting the matter short and moving
down to his sweetheart's, without regard to the law. She was quite
willing, he knew; she badly needed a man's hand in the house.
And they were being talked about, anyhow; it would not make much
difference if he and the boy went as her lodgers, especially when
they worked independently.
But the boy was not to be persuaded; he was jealous for his father's
honor. Whenever Lasse touched upon the subject he became strangely
sullen. Lasse pretended it was Madam Olsen's idea, and not his.
"I'm not particularly in favor of it, either," he said. "People are
sure to believe the worst at once. But we can't go on here wearing
ourselves to a thread for nothing. And you can't breathe freely on
this farm--always tied!"
Pelle made no answer to this; he was not strong in reasons, but knew
what he wanted.
"If I ran away from here one night, I guess you'd come trotting
Pelle maintained a refractory silence.
"I think I'll do it, for this isn't to be borne. Now you've got to
have new school-trousers, and where are they coming from?"
"Well, then, do it! Then you'll do what you say."
"It's easy for you to pooh-pooh everything," said Lasse despondingly,
"for you've time and years before you. But I'm beginning to get old,
and I've no one to trouble about me."
"Why, don't I help you with everything?" asked Pelle reproachfully.
"Yes, yes, of course you do your very best to make things easier for
me, and no one could say you didn't. But, you see--there are certain
things you don't--there's something--" Lasse came to a standstill.
What was the use of explaining the longings of a man to a boy? "You
shouldn't be so obstinate, you know!" And Lasse stroked the boy's
But Pelle _was_ obstinate. He had already put up with plenty
of sarcastic remarks from his schoolfellows, and fought a good many
battles since it had become known that his father and Madam Olsen
were sweethearts. If they now started living together openly, it
would become quite unbearable. Pelle was not afraid of fighting,
but he needed to have right on his side, if he was to kick out
"Move down to her, then, and I'll go away!"
"Where'll you go to?"
"Out into the world and get rich!"
Lasse raised his head, like an old war-horse that hears a signal;
but then it dropped again.
"Out into the world and get rich! Yes, yes," he said slowly; "that's
what I thought, too, when I was your age. But things don't happen
like that--if you aren't born with a caul."
Lasse was silent, and thoughtfully kicked the straw in under a cow.
He was not altogether sure that the boy was not born with a caul,
after all. He was a late-born child, and they were always meant
for the worst or the best; and then he had that cow's-lick on his
forehead, which meant good fortune. He was merry and always singing,
and neat-handed at everything; and his nature made him generally
liked. It was very possible that good fortune lay waiting for him
somewhere out there.
"But the very first thing you need for that is to be properly
confirmed. You'd better take your books and learn your lesson
for the priest, so that you don't get refused! I'll do the rest
of the foddering."
Pelle took his books and seated himself in the foddering-passage
just in front of the big bull. He read in an undertone, and Lasse
passed up and down at his work. For some time each minded his own;
but then Lasse came up, drawn by the new lesson-books Pelle had got
for his confirmation-classes.
"Is that Bible history, that one there?"
"Is that about the man who drank himself drunk in there?"
Lasse had long since given up learning to read; he had not the head
for it. But he was always interested in what the boy was doing, and
the books exerted a peculiar magic effect upon him. "Now what does
that stand for?" he would ask wonderingly, pointing to something
printed; or "What wonderful thing have you got in your lesson
to-day?" Pelle had to keep him informed from day to day. And the
same questions often came again, for Lasse had not a good memory.
"You know--the one whose sons pulled off his trousers and shamed
their own father?" Lasse continued, when Pelle did not answer.
"Yes, of course! Old Noah--the one that Gustav had that song about.
I wonder what he made himself drunk on, the old man?"
"Was it wine?" Lasse raised his eyebrows. "Then that Noah must have
been a fine gentleman! The owner of the estate at home drank wine,
too, on grand occasions. I've heard that it takes a lot of that to
make a man tipsy--and it's expensive! Does the book tell you, too,
about him that was such a terrible swindler? What was his name
"Laban, do you mean?"
"Laban, yes of course! To think that I could forget it, too, for he
was a regular Laban, [Footnote: An ordinary expression in Danish for
a mean, deceitful person.] so the name suits him just right. It was
him that let his son-in-law have both his daughters, and off their
price on his daily wage too! If they'd been alive now, they'd have
got hard labor, both him and his son-in-law; but in those days the
police didn't look so close at people's papers. Now I should like
to know whether a wife was allowed to have two husbands in those
days. Does the book say anything about that?" Lasse moved his head
"No, I don't think it does," answered Pelle absently.
"Oh, well, I oughtn't to disturb you," said Lasse, and went to his
work. But in a very short time he was back again. "Those two names
have slipped my memory; I can't think where my head could have been
at the moment. But I know the greater prophets well enough, if you
like to hear me."
"Say them, then!" said Pelle, without raising his eyes from
"But you must stop reading while I say them," said Lasse, "or you
might go wrong." He did not approve of Pelle's wanting to treat it
as food for babes.
"Well, I don't suppose I could go wrong in the four greater!"
said Pelle, with an air of superiority, but nevertheless shutting
Lasse took the quid out from his lower lip with his forefinger,
and threw it on the ground so as to have his mouth clear, and then
hitched up his trousers and stood for a little while with closed
eyes while he moved his lips in inward repetition.
"Are they coming soon?" asked Pelle.
"I must first make sure that they're there!" answered Lasse,
in vexation at the interruption, and beginning to go over them
again. "Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel!" he said, dashing
them off hastily, so as not to lose any of them on the way.
"Shall we take Jacob's twelve sons, too?"
"No, not to-day. It might be too much for me all at once. At my age
you must go forward gently; I'm not as young as you, you know. But
you might go through the twelve lesser prophets with me."
Pelle went through them slowly, and Lasse repeated them one by
one. "What confounded names they did think of in those days!" he
exclaimed, quite out of breath. "You can hardly get your tongue
round them! But I shall manage them in time."
"What do you want to know them for, father?" asked Pelle suddenly.
"What do I want to know them for?" Lasse scratched one ear. "Why,
of course I--er--what a terrible stupid question! What do _you_
want to know them for? Learning's as good for the one to have as for
the other, and in my youth they wouldn't let me get at anything fine
like that. Do you want to keep it all to yourself?"
"No, for I wouldn't care a hang about all this prophet business
if I didn't _have_ to."
Lasse almost fainted with horror.
"Then you're the most wicked little cub I ever knew, and deserve
never to have been born into the world! Is that all the respect you
have for learning? You ought to be glad you were born in an age when
the poor man's child shares in it all as well as the rich. It wasn't
so in my time, or else--who knows--perhaps I shouldn't be going
about here cleaning stables if I'd learned something when I was
young. Take care you don't take pride in your own shame!"
Pelle half regretted his words now, and said, to clear himself:
"I'm in the top form now!"
"Yes, I know that well enough, but that's no reason for your putting
your hands in your trouser-pockets; while you're taking breath, the
others eat the porridge. I hope you've not forgotten anything in the
long Christmas holidays?"
"Oh, no, I'm sure I haven't!" said Pelle, with assurance.
Lasse did not doubt it either, but only made believe he did to
take the boy in. He knew nothing more splendid than to listen to
a rushing torrent of learning, but it was becoming more and more
difficult to get the laddie to contribute it. "How can you be sure?"
he went on. "Hadn't you better see? It would be such a comfort to
know that you hadn't forgotten anything--so much as you must have
in your head."
Pelle felt flattered and yielded. He stretched out his legs, closed
his eyes, and began to rock backward and forward. And the Ten
Commandments, the Patriarchs, the Judges, Joseph and his brethren,
the four major and the twelve minor prophets--the whole learning
of the world poured from his lips in one long breath. To Lasse it
seemed as if the universe itself were whizzing round the white-
bearded countenance of the Almighty. He had to bend his head and
cross himself in awe at the amount that the boy's little head could
"I wonder what it costs to be a student?" said Lasse, when he once
more felt earth beneath his feet.
"It must be expensive--a thousand krones, I suppose, at least,"
Pelle thought. Neither of them connected any definite idea with
the number; it merely meant the insurmountably great.
"I wonder if it would be so terrible dear," said Lasse. "I've been
thinking that when we have something of our own--I suppose it'll
come to something some day--you might go to Fris and learn the
trade of him fairly cheap, and have your meals at home. We ought
to be able to manage it that way."
Pelle did not answer; he felt no desire to be apprenticed to the
clerk. He had taken out his knife, and was cutting something on a
post of one of the stalls. It represented the big bull with his head
down to the ground, and its tongue hanging out of one corner of its
mouth. One hoof right forward at its mouth indicated that the animal
was pawing up the ground in anger. Lasse could not help stopping,
for now it was beginning to be like something. "That's meant to be
a cow, isn't it?" he said. He had been wondering every day, as it
"It's Volmer that time he took you on his horns," said Pelle.
Lasse could see at once that it was that, now that he had been told.
"It's really very like," he said; "but he wasn't so angry as you've
made him! Well, well, you'd better get to work again; that there
fooling can't make a living for a man."
Lasse did not like this defect in the boy--making drawings with
chalk or his penknife all over; there would soon not be a beam or
a wall in the place that did not bear marks of one or the other. It
was useless nonsense, and the farmer would probably be angry if he
came into the stable and happened to see them. Lasse had every now
and then to throw cow-dung over the most conspicuous drawings, so
that they should not catch the eye of people for whom they were not
Up at the house, Kongstrup was just going in, leaning on his wife's
arm. He looked pale but by no means thin. "He's still rather lame,"
said Lasse, peeping out; "but it won't be long before we have him
down here, so you'd better not quite destroy the post."
Pelle went on cutting.
"If you don't leave off that silly nonsense, I'll throw dirt over
it!" said Lasse angrily.
"Then I'll draw you and Madam Olsen on the big gate!" answered Pelle
"You--you'd better! I should curse you before my face, and get the
parson to send you away--if not something worse!" Lasse was quite
upset, and went off down to the other end of the cow-stable and
began the afternoon's cleaning, knocking and pulling his implements
about. In his anger he loaded the wheelbarrow too full, and then
could neither go one way nor the other, as his feet slipped.
Pelle came down with the gentlest of faces. "Mayn't I wheel the
barrow out?" he said. "Your wooden shoes aren't so firm on the
Lasse growled some reply, and let him take it. For a very short time
he was cross, but it was no good; the boy could be irresistible when
Pelle had been to confirmation-class, and was now sitting in the
servants' room eating his dinner--boiled herring and porridge. It
was Saturday, and the bailiff had driven into the town, so Erik was
sitting over the stove. He never said anything of his own accord,
but always sat and stared; and his eyes followed Pelle's movements
backward and forward between his mouth and his plate. He always kept
his eyebrows raised, as if everything were new to him; they had
almost grown into that position. In front of him stood a mug of beer
in a large pool, for he drank constantly and spilt some every time.
Fair Maria was washing up, and looked in every now and then to see
if Pelle were finished. When he licked his horn spoon clean and
threw it into the drawer, she came in with something on a plate:
they had had roast loin of pork for dinner upstairs.
"Here's a little taste for you," she said. "I expect you're still
hungry. What'll you give me for it?" She kept the plate in her hand,
and looked at him with a coaxing smile.
Pelle was still very hungry--ravenous; and he looked at the titbit
until his mouth watered. Then he dutifully put up his lips and
Maria kissed him. She glanced involuntarily at Erik, and a gleam of
something passed over his foolish face, like a faint reminiscence.
"There sits that great gaby making a mess!" she said, scolding as
she seized the beer-mug from him, held it under the edge of the
table, and with her hand swept the spilt beer into it.
Pelle set to work upon the pork without troubling about anything
else; but when she had gone out, he carefully spat down between his
legs, and went through a small cleansing operation with the sleeve
of his blouse.
When he was finished he went into the stable and cleaned out the
mangers, while Lasse curried the cows; it was all to look nice for
Sunday. While they worked, Pelle gave a full account of the day's
happenings, and repeated all that the parson had said. Lasse
listened attentively, with occasional little exclamations. "Think of
that!" "Well, I never!" "So David was a buck like that, and yet he
walked in the sight of God all the same! Well, God's long-suffering
is great--there's no mistake about that!"
There was a knock at the outer door. It was one of Kalle's children
with the message that grandmother would like to bid them good-bye
before she passed away.
"Then she can't have long to live," exclaimed Lasse. "It'll be
a great loss to them all, so happy as they've been together. But
there'll be a little more food for the others, of course."
They agreed to wait until they were quite finished, and then
steal away; for if they asked to be let off early, they would not
be likely to get leave for the funeral. "And that'll be a day's
feasting, with plenty of food and drink, if I know anything of
Brother Kalle!" said Lasse.
When they had finished their work and had their supper, they stole
out through the outside door into the field. Lasse had heaped up the
quilt, and put an old woolly cap just sticking out at the pillow-end;
in a hurry it could easily be mistaken for the hair of a sleeper, if
any one came to see. When they had got a little way, Lasse had to go
back once more to take precautions against fire.
It was snowing gently and silently, and the ground was frozen so
that they could go straight on over everything. Now that they knew
the way, it seemed no distance at all; and before they knew where
they were, the fields came to an end and the rock began.
There was a light in the cottage. Kalle was sitting up waiting for
them. "Grandmother hasn't long to live," he said, more seriously
than Lasse ever remembered to have heard him speak before.
Kalle opened the door to grandmother's room, and whispered something,
to which his wife answered softly out of the darkness.
"Oh, I'm awake," said the old woman, in a slow, monotonous voice.
"You can speak out, for I am awake."
Lasse and Pelle took off their leather shoes and went in in their
stockings. "Good evening, grandmother!" they both said solemnly,
"and the peace of God!" Lasse added.
"Well, here I am," said the old woman, feebly patting the quilt.
She had big woollen gloves on. "I took the liberty of sending for
you for I haven't long to live now. How are things going on in the
parish? Have there been any deaths?"
"No, not that I know of," answered Lasse. "But you look so well,
grandmother, so fat and rosy! We shall see you going about again
in two or three days."
"Oh, I dare say!" said the old woman, smiling indulgently. "I
suppose I look like a young bride after her first baby, eh? But
thank you for coming; it's as if you belonged to me. Well, now I've
been sent for, and I shall depart in peace. I've had a good time
in this world, and haven't anything to complain of. I had a good
husband and a good daughter, not forgetting Kalle there. And I got
my sight back, so that I saw the world once more."
"But you only saw it with one eye, like the birds, grandmother,"
said Kalle, trying to laugh.
"Yes, yes, but that was quite good enough; there was so much that
was new since I lost my sight. The wood had grown bigger, and a
whole family had grown up without my quite knowing it. Ah! yes, it
has been good to live in my old age and have them all about me--
Kalle and Maria and the children. And all of my own age have gone
before me; it's been nice to see what became of them all."
"How old are you now, grandmother?" asked Lasse.
"Kalle has looked it up in the church-book, and from that I ought
to be almost eighty; but that can scarcely be right."
"Yes, it's right enough," said Kalle, "for the parson looked it up
for me himself."
"Well, well, then the time's gone quickly, and I shouldn't at all
mind living a little longer, if it was God's will. But the grave's
giving warning; I notice it in my eyelids." The old woman had a
little difficulty in breathing, but kept on talking.
"You're talking far too much, mother!" said Maria.
"Yes, you ought to be resting and sleeping," said Lasse. "Hadn't we
better say good-bye to you?"
"No, I really must talk, for it'll be the last time I see you and
I shall have plenty of time to rest. My eyes are so light thank God,
and I don't feel the least bit sleepy."
"Grandmother hasn't slept for a whole week, I think," said Kalle
"And why should I sleep away the last of the time I shall have here,
when I shall get plenty of time for that afterward? At night when
you others are asleep, I lie and listen to your breathing, and feel
glad that you're all so well. Or I look at the heather-broom, and
think of Anders and all the fun we had together."
She lay silent for a little while, getting her breath, while she
gazed at a withered bunch of heather hanging from a beam.
"He gathered that for me the first time we lay in the flowering
heather. He was so uncommonly fond of the heather, was Anders, and
every year when it flowered, he took me out of my bed and carried me
out there--every year until he was called away. I was always as new
for him as on the first day, and so happiness and joy took up their
abode in my heart."
"Now, mother, you ought to be quiet and not talk so much!" said
Maria, smoothing the old woman's pillow. But she would not be
silenced, though her thoughts shifted a little.
"Yes, my teeth were hard to get and hard to lose, and I brought my
children into the world with pain, and laid them in the grave with
sorrow, one after another. But except for that, I've never been ill,
and I've had a good husband. He had an eye for God's creations, and
we got up with the birds every summer morning, and went out onto the
heath and saw the sun rise out of the sea before we set about our
The old woman's slow voice died away, and it was as though a song
ceased to sound in their ears. They sat up and sighed. "Ah, yes,"
said Lasse, "the voice of memory is pleasant!"
"What about you, Lasse?" said the old woman suddenly, "I hear you're
looking about for a wife!"
"Am I?" exclaimed Lasse, in alarm. Pelle saw Kalle wink at Maria,
so they knew about it too.
"Aren't you soon coming to show us your sweetheart?" asked Kalle.
"I hear it's a good match."
"I don't in the least know what you're talking about," said Lasse,
"Well, well, you might do worse than that!" said the grandmother.
"She's good enough--from what I know. I hope you'll suit one another
like Anders and me. It was a happy time--the days when we went about
and each did our best, and the nights when the wind blew. It was
good then to be two to keep one another warm."
"You've been very happy in everything, grandmother," exclaimed
"Yes, and I'm departing in peace and can lie quiet in my grave. I've
not been treated unfairly in any way, and I've got nothing to haunt
any one for. If only Kalle takes care to have me carried out feet
first, I don't expect I shall trouble you."
"Just you come and visit us now and then if you like! We shan't be
afraid to welcome you, for we've been so happy together here," said
"No, you never know what your nature may be in the next life. You
must promise to have me carried out feet first! I don't want to
disturb your night's rest, so hard as you two have to work all day.
And, besides, you've had to put up with me long enough, and it'll
be nice for you to be by yourselves for once; and there'll be a bit
more for you to eat after this."
Maria began to cry.
"Now look here!" exclaimed Kalle testily. "I won't hear any more of
that nonsense, for none of us have had to go short because of you.
If you aren't good, I shall give a big party after you, for joy that
"No, you won't!" said the old woman quite sharply. "I won't hear
of a three days' wake! Promise me now, Maria, that you won't go and
ruin yourselves to make a fuss over a poor old soul like me! But you
must ask the nearest neighbors in in the afternoon, with Lasse and
Pelle, of course. And if you ask Hans Henrik, perhaps he'd bring his
concertina with him, and you could have a dance in the barn."
Kalle scratched the back of his head. "Then, hang it, you must wait
until I've finished threshing, for I can't clear the floor now.
Couldn't we borrow Jens Kure's horse, and take a little drive over
the heath in the afternoon?"
"You might do that, too, but the children are to have a share in
whatever you settle to do. It'll be a comfort to think they'll have
a happy day out of it, for they don't have too many holidays; and
there's money for it, you know."
"Yes, would you believe it, Lasse--grandmother's got together fifty
krones that none of us knew anything about, to go toward her
"I've been putting by for it for twenty years now, for I'd like to
leave the world in a decent way, and without pulling the clothes off
my relations' backs. My grave-clothes are all ready, too, for I've
got my wedding chemise lying by. It's only been used once, and more
than that and my cap I don't want to have on."
"But that's so little," objected Maria. "Whatever will the neighbors
say if we don't dress you properly?"
"I don't care!" answered the old woman decidedly. "That's how Anders
liked me best, and it's all I've worn in bed these sixty years. So
there!" And she turned her head to the wall.
"You shall have it all just as you like, mother!" said Maria.
The old woman turned round again, and felt for her daughter's hand
on the quilt. "And you must make rather a soft pillow for my old
head, for it's become so difficult to find rest for it."
"We can take one of the babies' pillows and cover it with white,"
"Thank you! And then I think you should send to Jacob Kristian's for
the carpenter to-morrow--he's somewhere about, anyhow--and let him
measure me for the coffin; then I could have my say as to what it's
to be like. Kalle's so free with his money."
The old woman closed her eyes. She had tired herself out, after all.
"Now I think we'll creep out into the other room, and let her be
quiet," whispered Kalle, getting up; but at that she opened her
"Are you going already?" she asked.
"We thought you were asleep, grandmother," said Lasse.
"No, I don't suppose I shall sleep any more in this life; my eyes are
so light, so light! Well, good-bye to you, Lasse and Pelle! May you
be very, very happy, as happy as I've been. Maria was the only one
death spared, but she's been a good daughter to me; and Kalle's been
as good and kind to me as if I'd been his sweetheart. I had a good
husband, too, who chopped firewood for me on Sundays, and got up
in the night to look after the babies when I was lying-in. We were
really well off--lead weights in the clock and plenty of firing;
and he promised me a trip to Copenhagen. I churned my first butter
in a bottle, for we had no churn to begin with; and I had to break
the bottle to get it out, and then he laughed, for he always laughed
when I did anything wrong. And how glad he was when each baby was
born! Many a morning did he wake me up and we went out to see the
sun come up out of the sea. 'Come and see, Anna,' he would say, 'the
heather's come into bloom in the night.' But it was only the sun
that shed its red over it! It was more than two miles to our nearest
neighbor, but he didn't care for anything as long as he had me. He
found his greatest pleasures in me, poor as I was; and the animals
were fond of me too. Everything went well with us on the whole."
She lay moving her head from side to side, and the tears were
running down her cheeks. She no longer had difficulty in breathing,
and one thing recalled another, and fell easily in one long tone
from her lips. She probably did not now know what she was saying,
but could not stop talking. She began at the beginning and repeated
the words, evenly and monotonously, like one who is carried away and
"Mother!" said Maria anxiously, putting her hands on her mother's
shaking head. "Recollect yourself, mother!"
The old woman stopped and looked at her wonderingly. "Ah, yes!" she
said. "Memories came upon me so fast! I almost think I could sleep
a little now."
Lasse rose and went up to the bed. "Good-bye, grandmother!" he said,
"and a pleasant journey, in case we shouldn't meet again!" Pelle
followed him and repeated the words. The old woman looked at them
inquiringly, but did not move. Then Lasse gently took her hand, and
then Pelle, and they stole out into the other room.
"Her flame's burning clear to the end!" said Lasse, when the door
was shut. Pelle noticed how freely their voices rang again.
"Yes, she'll be herself to the very end; there's been extra good
timber in her. The people about here don't like our not having the
doctor to her. What do you think? Shall we go to the expense?"
"I don't suppose there's anything more the matter with her than
that she can't live any longer," said Lasse thoughtfully.
"No, and she herself won't hear of it. If he could only keep life
in her a little while longer!"
"Yes, times are hard!" said Lasse, and went round to look at the
children. They were all asleep, and their room seemed heavy with
their breathing. "The flock's getting much smaller."
"Yes; one or two fly away from the nest pretty well every year,"
answered Kalle, "and now I suppose we shan't have any more. It's an
unfortunate figure we've stopped at--a horrid figure; but Maria's
become deaf in that ear, and I can't do anything alone." Kalle had
got back his roguish look.
"I'm sure we can do very well with what we've got," said Maria.
"When we take Anna's too, it makes fourteen."
"Oh, yes, count the others too, and you'll get off all the easier!"
said Kalle teasingly.
Lasse was looking at Anna's child, which lay side by side with
Kalle's thirteenth. "She looks healthier than her aunt," he said.
"You'd scarcely think they were the same age. She's just as red as
the other's pale."
"Yes, there is a difference," Kalle admitted, looking affectionately
at the children. "It must be that Anna's has come from young people,
while _our_ blood's beginning to get old. And then the ones
that come the wrong side of the blanket always thrive best--like
our Albert, for instance. He carries himself quite differently from
the others. Did you know, by-the-by, that he's to get a ship of his
own next spring?"
"No, surely not! Is he really going to be a captain?" said Lasse,
in the utmost astonishment.
"It's Kongstrup that's at the back of that--that's between ourselves,
"Does the father of Anna's child still pay what he's bound to?"
"Yes, he's honest enough! We get five krones a month for having the
child, and that's a good help toward expenses."
Maria had placed a dram, bread and a saucer of dripping on the table,
and invited them to take their places at it.
"You're holding out a long time at Stone Farm," said Kalle, when they
were seated. "Are you going to stay there all your life?" he asked,
with a mischievous wink.
"It's not such a simple matter to strike out into the deep!" said
"Oh, we shall soon be hearing news from you, shan't we?" asked
Lasse did not answer; he was struggling with a crust.
"Oh, but do cut off the crust if it's too much for your teeth!"
said Maria. Every now and then she listened at her mother's door.
"She's dropped off, after all, poor old soul!" she said.
Kalle pretended to discover the bottle for the first time. "What!
Why, we've got gin on the table, too, and not one of us has smelt
it!" he exclaimed, and filled their glasses for the third time. Then
Maria corked the bottle. "Do you even grudge us our food?" he said,
making great eyes at her--what a rogue he was! And Maria stared at
him with eyes that were just as big, and said: "Yah! you want to
fight, do you?" It quite warmed Lasse's heart to see their
"How's the farmer at Stone Farm? I suppose he's got over the worst
now, hasn't he?" said Kalle.
"Well, I think he's as much a man as he'll ever be. A thing like
that leaves its mark upon any one," answered Lasse. Maria was
smiling, and as soon as they looked at her, she looked away.
"Yes, you may grin!" said Lasse; "but I think it's sad!" Upon which
Maria had to go out into the kitchen to have her laugh out.
"That's what all the women do at the mere mention of his name," said
Kalle. "It's a sad change. To-day red, to-morrow dead. Well, she's
got her own way in one thing, and that is that she keeps him to
herself--in a way. But to think that he can live with her after
"They seem fonder of one another than they ever were before; he
can't do without her for a single minute. But of course he wouldn't
find any one else to love him now. What a queer sort of devilment
love is! But we must see about getting home."
"Well, I'll send you word when she's to be buried," said Kalle,
when they got outside the house.
"Yes, do! And if you should be in want of a ten-krone note for
the funeral, let me know. Good-bye, then!"
Grandmother's funeral was still like a bright light behind
everything that one thought and did. It was like certain kinds
of food, that leave a pleasant taste in the mouth long after they
have been eaten and done with. Kalle had certainly done everything
to make it a festive day; there was an abundance of good things to
eat and drink, and no end to his comical tricks. And, sly dog that
he was, he had found an excuse for asking Madam Olsen; it was really
a nice way of making the relation a legitimate one.
It gave Lasse and Pelle enough to talk about for a whole month,
and after the subject was quite talked out and laid on one side for
other things, it remained in the background as a sense of well-being
of which no one quite knew the origin.
But now spring was advancing, and with it came troubles--not the
daily trifles that could be bad enough, but great troubles that
darkened everything, even when one was not thinking about them.
Pelle was to be confirmed at Easter, and Lasse was at his wits' end
to know how he was going to get him all that he would need--new
clothes, new cap, new shoes! The boy often spoke about it; he must
have been afraid of being put to shame before the others that day
"It'll be all right," said Lasse; but he himself saw no way at all
out of the difficulty. At all the farms where the good old customs
prevailed, the master and mistress provided it all; out here
everything was so confoundedly new-fangled, with Prompt payments
that slipped away between one's fingers. A hundred krones a year
in wages seemed a tremendous amount when one thought of it all in
one; but you only got them gradually, a few ores at a time, without
your being able to put your finger anywhere and say: You got a good
round sum there! "Yes, yes, it'll be all right!" said Lasse aloud,
when he had got himself entangled in absurd speculations; and Pelle
had to be satisfied with this. There was only one way out of the
difficulty--to borrow the money from Madam Olsen; and that Lasse
would have to come to in the end, loth as he was to do it. But Pelle
must not know anything about it.
Lasse refrained as long as he possibly could, hoping that something
or other would turn up to free him from the necessity of so
disgraceful a proceeding as borrowing from his sweetheart. But
nothing happened, and time was passing. One morning he cut the matter
short; Pelle was just setting out for school. "Will you run in to
Madam Olsen's and give her this?" he said, handing the boy a packet.
"It's something she's promised to mend for us." Inside on the paper,
was the large cross that announced Lasse's coming in the evening.
From the hills Pelle saw that the ice had broken up in the night.
It had filled the bay for nearly a month with a rough, compact mass,
upon which you could play about as safely as on dry land. This was
a new side of the sea, and Pelle had carefully felt his way forward
with the tips of his wooden shoes, to the great amusement of the
others. Afterward he learned to walk about freely on the ice without
constantly shivering at the thought that the great fish of the sea
were going about just under his wooden shoes, and perhaps were only
waiting for him to drop through. Every day he went out to the high
rampart of pack-ice that formed the boundary about a mile out, where
the open water moved round in the sunshine like a green eye. He went
out because he would do what the others did, but he never felt safe
on the sea.
Now it was all broken up, and the bay was full of heaving ice-floes
that rubbed against one another with a crackling sound; and the
pieces farthest out, carrying bits of the rampart, were already on
their way out to sea. Pelle had performed many exploits out there,
but was really quite pleased that it was now packing up and taking
its departure, so that it would once more be no crime to stay on dry
Old Fris was sitting in his place. He never left it now during a
lesson, however badly things might go down in the class, but contented
himself with beating on the desk with his cane. He was little more
than a shadow of his former self, his head was always shaking, and
his hands were often incapable of grasping an object. He still brought
the newspaper with him, and opened it out at the beginning of the
lesson, but he did not read. He would fall into a dream, sitting bolt
upright, with his hands on the desk and his back against the wall.
At such times the children could be as noisy as they liked, and he
did not move; only a slight change in the expression of his eyes
showed that he was alive at all.
It was quieter in school now. It was not worth while teasing the
master, for he scarcely noticed it, and so the fun lost most of its
attraction. A kind of court of justice had gradually formed among the
bigger boys; they determined the order of the school-lessons, and
disobedience and disputes as to authority were respectively punished
and settled in the playground--with fists and tips of wooden shoes.
The instruction was given as before, by the cleverer scholars teaching
what they knew to the others; there was rather more arithmetic and
reading than in Fris's time, but on the other hand the hymns suffered.
It still sometimes happened that Fris woke up and interfered in the
instruction. "Hymns!" he would cry in his feeble voice, and strike
the desk from habit; and the children would put aside what they were
doing to please the old man, and begin repeating some hymn or other,
taking their revenge by going through one verse over and over again
for a whole hour. It was the only real trick they played the old man,
and the joke was all on their side, for Fris noticed nothing.
Fris had so often talked of resigning his post, but now he did not
even think of that. He shuffled to and from school at the regular
times, probably without even knowing he did it. The authorities
really had not the heart to dismiss him. Except in the hymns, which
came off with rather short measure, there was nothing to say against
him as teacher; for no one had ever yet left his school without being
able both to write his name and to read a printed book--if it were in
the old type. The new-fashioned printing with Latin letters Fris did
not teach, although he had studied Latin in his youth.
Fris himself probably did not feel the change, for he had ceased to
feel both for himself and for others. None now brought their human
sorrows to him, and found comfort in a sympathetic mind; his mind
was not there to consult. It floated outside him, half detached, as
it were, like a bird that is unwilling to leave its old nest to set
out on a flight to the unknown. It must have been the fluttering mind
that his eyes were always following when they dully gazed about into
vacancy. But the young men who came home to winter in the village,
and went to Fris as to an old friend, felt the change. For them there
was now an empty place at home; they missed the old growler, who,
though he hated them all in the lump at school, loved them all
afterward, and was always ready with his ridiculous "He was my best
boy!" about each and all of them, good and bad alike.
The children took their playtime early, and rushed out before Pelle
had given the signal; and Fris trotted off as usual into the village,
where he would be absent the customary two hours. The girls gathered
in a flock to eat their dinners, and the boys dashed about the
playground like birds let loose from a cage.
Pelle was quite angry at the insubordination, and pondered over a
way of making himself respected; for to-day he had had the other big
boys against him. He dashed over the playground like a circling gull,
his body inclined and his arms stretched out like a pair of wings.
Most of them made room for him, and those who did not move willingly
were made to do so. His position was threatened, and he kept moving
incessantly, as if to keep the question undecided until a possibility
of striking presented itself.
This went on for some time; he knocked some over and hit out at
others in his flight, while his offended sense of power grew. He
wanted to make enemies of them all. They began to gather up by the
gymnastic apparatus, and suddenly he had the whole pack upon him. He
tried to rise and shake them off, flinging them hither and thither,
but all in vain; down through the heap came their remorseless
knuckles and made him grin with pain. He worked away indefatigably
but without effect until he lost patience and resorted to less
scrupulous tactics--thrusting his fingers into eyes, or attacking
noses, windpipes, and any vulnerable part he could get at. That
thinned them out, and he was able to rise and fling a last little
fellow across the playground.
Pelle was well bruised and quite out of breath, but contented. They
all stood by, gaping, and let him brush himself down; he was the
victor. He went across to the girls with his torn blouse, and they
put it together with pins and gave him sweets; and in return he
fastened two of them together by their plaits, and they screamed
and let him pull them about without being cross; it was all just
as it should be.
But he was not quite secure after his victory. He could not, like
Henry Boker in his time, walk right through the whole flock with
his hands in his pockets directly after a battle, and look as if
they did not exist. He had to keep stealing glances at them while he
strolled down to the beach, and tried with all his might to control
his breathing; for next to crying, to be out of breath was the
greatest disgrace that could happen to you.
Pelle walked along the beach, regretting that he had not leaped upon
them again at once while the flush of victory was still upon him: it
was too late now. If he had, it might perhaps have been said of him
too that he could lick all the rest of the class together; and now
he must be content with being the strongest boy in the school.
A wild war-whoop from the school made him start. The whole swarm of
boys was coming round the end of the house with sticks and pieces
of wood in their hands. Pelle knew what was at stake if he gave way,
and therefore forced himself to stand quietly waiting although his
legs twitched. But suddenly they made a wild rush at him, and with a
spring he turned to fly. There lay the sea barring his way, closely
packed with heaving ice. He ran out on to an ice-floe, leaped from
it to the next, which was not large enough to bear him--had to go on.
The idea of flight possessed him and made the fear of what lay
behind overpoweringly great. The lumps of ice gave way beneath him,
and he had to leap from piece to piece; his feet moved as fast as
fingers over the notes of a piano. He just noticed enough to take
the direction toward the harbor breakwater. The others stood gaping
on the beach while Pelle danced upon the water like a stone making
ducks and drakes. The pieces of ice bobbed under as soon as he
touched them, or turned up on edge; but Pelle came and slid by with
a touch, flung himself to one side with lightning rapidity, and
changed his aim in the middle of a leap like a cat. It was like
a dance on red-hot iron, so quickly did he pick up his feet, and
spring from one place to another. The water spurted up from the
pieces of ice as he touched them, and behind him stretched a crooked
track of disturbed ice and water right back to the place where the
boys stood and held their breath. There was nobody like Pelle, not
one of them could do what he had done there! When with a final leap
he threw himself upon the breakwater, they cheered him. Pelle had
triumphed in his flight!
He lay upon the breakwater, exhausted and gasping for breath,
and gazed without interest at a brig that had cast anchor off the
village. A boat was rowing in--perhaps with a sick man to be put in
quarantine. The weather-beaten look of the vessel told of her having
been out on a winter voyage, in ice and heavy seas.
Fishermen came down from the cottages and strolled out to the place
where the boat would come in, and all the school-children followed.
In the stern of the boat sat an elderly, weather-beaten man with a
fringe of beard round his face; he was dressed in blue, and in front
of him stood a sea-chest. "Why, it's Boatswain Olsen!" Pelle heard
one fisherman say. Then the man stepped ashore, and shook hands with
them all; and the fisherman and the school-children closed round him
in a dense circle.
Pelle made his way up, creeping along behind boats and sheds; and
as soon as he was hidden by the school-building, he set off running
straight across the fields to Stone Farm. His vexation burnt his
throat, and a feeling of shame made him keep far away from houses
and people. The parcel that he had had no opportunity of delivering
in the morning was like a clear proof to everybody of his shame, and
he threw it into a marl-pit as he ran.
He would not go through the farm, but thundered on the outside
door to the stable. "Have you come home already?" exclaimed Lasse,
"Now--now Madam Olsen's husband's come home!" panted Pelle, and went
past his father without looking at him.
To Lasse it was as if the world had burst and the falling fragments
were piercing into his flesh. Everything was failing him. He moved
about trembling and unable to grasp anything; he could not talk,
everything in him seemed to have come to a standstill. He had picked
up a piece of rope, and was going backward and forward, backward and
forward, looking up.
Then Pelle went up to him. "What are you going to do with that?"
he asked harshly.
Lasse let the rope fall from his hand and began to complain of the
sadness and poverty of existence. One feather fell off here, and
another there, until at last you stood trampling in the mud like
a featherless bird--old and worn-out and robbed of every hope of a
happy old age. He went on complaining in this way in an undertone,
and it eased him.
Pelle made no response. He only thought of the wrong and the shame
that had come upon them, and found no relief.
Next morning he took his dinner and went off as usual, but when
he was halfway to school he lay down under a thorn. There he lay,
fuming and half-frozen, until it was about the time when school
would be over, when he went home. This he did for several days.
Toward his father he was silent, almost angry. Lasse went about
lamenting, and Pelle had enough with his own trouble; each moved
in his own world, and there was no bridge between; neither of them
had a kind word to say to the other.
But one day when Pelle came stealing home in this way, Lasse
received him with a radiant face and weak knees. "What on earth's
the good of fretting?" he said, screwing up his face and turning
his blinking eyes upon Pelle--for the first time since the bad news
had come. "Look here at the new sweetheart I've found! Kiss her,
laddie!" And Lasse drew from the straw a bottle of gin, and held
it out toward him.
Pelle pushed it angrily from him.
"Oh, you're too grand, are you?" exclaimed Lasse. "Well, well, it
would be a sin and a shame to waste good things upon you." He put
the bottle to his lips and threw back his head.
"Father, you shan't do that!" exclaimed Pelle, bursting into tears
and shaking his father's arm so that the liquid splashed out.
"Ho-ho!" said Lasse in astonishment, wiping his mouth with the back
of his hand. "She's uncommonly lively, ho-ho!" He grasped the bottle
with both hands and held it firmly, as if it had tried to get away
from him. "So you're obstreperous, are you?" Then his eye fell upon
Pelle. "And you're crying! Has any one hurt you? Don't you know
that your father's called Lasse--Lasse Karlsson from Kungstorp? You
needn't he afraid, for Lasse's here, and he'll make the whole world
answer for it."
Pelle saw that his father was quickly becoming more fuddled, and
ought to be put to bed for fear some one should come and find him
lying there. "Come now, father!" he begged.
"Yes, I'll go now. I'll make him pay for it, if it's old Beelzebub
himself! You needn't cry!" Lasse was making for the yard.
Pelle stood in front of him. "Now you must come with me, father!
There's no one to make pay for anything."
"Isn't there? And yet you're crying! But the farmer shall answer
to me for all these years. Yes, my fine landed gentleman, with your
nose turned up at every one!"
This made Pelle afraid. "But father, father!" he cried. "Don't go up
there! He'll be in such a rage, he'll turn us out! Remember you're
"Yes, of course I'm drunk, but there's no harm in me." He stood
fumbling with the hook that fastened the lower half of the door.
It was wrong to lay a hand upon one's own father, but now Pelle
was compelled to set aside all such scruples. He took a firm hold
of the old man's collar. "Now you come with me!" he said, and drew
him along toward their room.
Lasse laughed and hiccupped and struggled; clutched hold of
everything that he could lay hands on--the posts and the animals'
tails--while Pelle dragged him along. He had hold of him behind,
and was half carrying him. In the doorway they stuck fast, as the
old man held on with both hands; and Pelle had to leave go of him
and knock his arms away so that he fell, and then drag him along
and on to the bed.
Lasse laughed foolishly all the time, as if it were a game. Once
or twice when Pelle's back was turned, he tried to get up; his eyes
had almost disappeared, but there was a cunning expression about
his mouth, and he was like a naughty child. Suddenly he fell back
in a heavy sleep.
The next day was a school holiday, so there was no need for Pelle
to hide himself. Lasse was ashamed and crept about with an air of
humility. He must have had quite a clear idea of what had happened
the day before, for suddenly he touched Pelle's arm. "You're like
Noah's good son, that covered up his father's shame!" he said;
"but Lasse's a beast. It's been a hard blow on me, as you may well
believe! But I know quite well that it doesn't mend matters to drink
one's self silly. It's a badly buried trouble that one has to lay
with gin; and what's hidden in the snow comes up in the thaw, as
the saying is."
Pelle made no answer.
"How do people take it?" asked Lasse cautiously. He had now got so
far as to have a thought for the shameful side of the matter.
"I don't think they know about it yet here on the farm; but what
do they say outside?"
"How should I know?" answered Pelle sulkily.
"Then you've heard nothing?"
"Do you suppose I'll go to school to be jeered at by them all?"
Pelle was almost crying again.
"Then you've been wandering about and let your father believe that
you'd gone to school? That wasn't right of you, but I won't find
fault with you, considering all the disgrace I've brought upon you.
But suppose you get into trouble for playing truant, even if you
don't deserve it? Misfortunes go hand in hand, and evils multiply
like lice in a fur coat. We must think what we're about, we two;
we mustn't let things go all to pieces!"
Lasse walked quickly into their room and returned with the bottle,
took out the cork, and let the gin run slowly out into the gutter.
Pelle looked wonderingly at him. "God forgive me for abusing his
gifts!" said Lasse; "but it's a bad tempter to have at hand when
you've a sore heart. And now if I give you my word that you shall
never again see me as I was yesterday, won't you have a try at
school again to-morrow, and try and get over it gradually? We might
get into trouble with the magistrate himself if you keep on staying
away; for there's a heavy punishment for that sort of thing in this
Pelle promised and kept his word; but he was prepared for the worst,
and secretly slipped a knuckle-duster into his pocket that Erik had
used in his palmy days when he went to open-air fetes and other
places where one had to strike a blow for one's girl. It was not
required, however, for the boys were entirely taken up with a ship
that had had to be run aground to prevent her sinking, and now lay
discharging her cargo of wheat into the boats of the village. The
wheat already lay in the harbor in great piles, wet and swollen with
the salt water.
And a few days later, when this had become stale, something happened
which put a stop forever to Pelle's school attendance. The children
were busy at arithmetic, chattering and clattering with their
slates, and Fris was sitting as usual in his place, with his head
against the wall and his hands resting on the desk. His dim eyes
were somewhere out in space, and not a movement betrayed that he
was alive. It was his usual position, and he had sat thus ever
The children grew restless; it was nearly time for them to go home.
A farmer's son who had a watch, held it up so that Pelle could see
it, and said "Two" aloud. They noisily put away their slates and
began to fight; but Fris, who generally awoke at this noise of
departure, did not stir. Then they tramped out, and in passing, one
of the girls out of mischief stroked the master's hand. She started
back in fear. "He's quite cold!" she said, shuddering and drawing
back behind the others.
They stood in a semicircle round the desk, and tried to see into
Fris's half-closed eyes; and then Pelle went up the two steps and
laid his hand upon his master's shoulder. "We're going home," he
said, in an unnatural voice. Fris's arm dropped stiffly down from
the desk, and Pelle had to support his body. "He's dead!" the words
passed like a shiver over the children's lips.
Fris was dead--dead at his post, as the honest folks of the parish
expressed it. Pelle had finished his schooling for good, and could
He helped his father at home, and they were happy together and drew
together again now that there was no third person to stand between
them. The gibes from the others on the farm were not worth taking
notice of; Lasse had been a long time on the farm, and knew too much
about each of them, so that he could talk back. He sunned himself
in Pelle's gently childlike nature, and kept up a continual chatter.
One thing he was always coming back to. "I ought to be glad I had
you, for if you hadn't held back that time when I was bent upon
moving down to Madam Olsen's, we should have been in the wrong box.
I should think he'd have killed us in his anger. You were my good
angel as you always have been."
Lasse's words had the pleasant effect of caresses on Pelle; he was
happy in it all, and was more of a child than his years would have
But one Saturday he came home from the parson's altogether changed.
He was as slow about everything as a dead herring, and did not go
across to his dinner, but came straight in through the outer door,
and threw himself face downward upon a bundle of hay.
"What's the matter now?" asked Lasse, coming up to him. "Has any
one been unkind to you?"
Pelle did not answer, but lay plucking at the hay. Lasse was going
to turn his face up to him, but Pelle buried it in the hay. "Won't
you trust your own father? You know I've no other wish in the world
but for your good!" Lasse's voice was sad.
"I'm to be turned out of the confirmation-class," Pelle managed to
say, and then burrowed into the hay to keep back his tears.
"Oh, no, surely not!" Lasse began to tremble. "Whatever have you
"I've half killed the parson's son."
"Oh, that's about the worst thing you could have done--lift your
hand against the parson's son! I'm sure he must have deserved it,
but--still you shouldn't have done it. Unless he's accused you of
thieving, for no honest man need stand that from any one, not even
the king himself."
"He--he called you Madam Olsen's concubine." Pelle had some
difficulty in getting this out.
Lasse's mouth grew hard and he clenched his fists. "Oh, he did! Oh,
did he! If I had him here, I'd kick his guts out, the young monkey!
I hope you gave him something he'll remember for a long time?"
"Oh, no, it wasn't very much, for he wouldn't stand up to me--he
threw himself down and screamed. And then the parson came!"
For a little while Lasse's face was disfigured with rage, and he
kept uttering threats. Then he turned to Pelle. "And they've turned
you out? Only because you stood up for your old father! I'm always
to bring misfortune upon you, though I'm only thinking of your good!
But what shall we do now?"
"I won't stay here any longer," said Pelle decidedly.
"No, let's get away from here; nothing has ever grown on this farm
for us two but wormwood. Perhaps there are new, happy days waiting
for us out there; and there are parsons everywhere. If we two work
together at some good work out there, we shall earn a peck of money.
Then one day we'll go up to a parson, and throw down half a hundred
krones in front of his face, and it 'u'd be funny if he didn't
confirm you on the spot--and perhaps let himself be kicked into
the bargain. Those kind of folk are very fond of money."
Lasse had grown more erect in his anger, and had a keen look in
his eyes. He walked quickly along the foddering passage, and threw
the things about carelessly, for Pelle's adventurous proposal had
infected him with youth. In the intervals of their work, they
collected all their little things and packed the green chest. "What
a surprise it'll be to-morrow morning when they come here and find
the nest empty!" said Pelle gaily. Lasse chuckled.
Their plan was to take shelter with Kalle for a day or two, while
they took a survey of what the world offered. When everything was
done in the evening, they took the green chest between them, and
stole out through the outside door into the field. The chest was
heavy, and the darkness did not make walking easier. They moved on
a little way, changed hands, and rested. "We've got the night before
us!" said Lasse cheerfully.
He was quite animated, and while they sat resting upon the chest
talked about everything that awaited them. When he came to a
standstill Pelle began. Neither of them had made any distinct plans
for their future; they simply expected a fairy-story itself with its
inconceivable surprises. All the definite possibilities that they
were capable of picturing to themselves fell so far short of that
which must come, that they left it alone and abandoned themselves
to what lay beyond their powers of foresight.
Lasse was not sure-footed in the dark, and had more and more
frequently to put down his burden. He grew weary and breathless,
and the cheerful words died away upon his lips. "Ah, how heavy it
is!" he sighed. "What a lot of rubbish you do scrape together in
the course of time!" Then he sat down upon the chest, quite out of
breath. He could do no more. "If only we'd had something to pick
us up a little!" he said faintly. "And it's so dark and gloomy
"Help me to get it on my back," said Pelle, "and I'll carry it
a little way."
Lasse would not at first, but gave in, and they went on again,
he running on in front and giving warning of ditches and walls.
"Suppose Brother Kalle can't take us in!" he said suddenly.
"He's sure to be able to. There's grandmother's bed; that's big
enough for two."
"But suppose we can't get anything to do, then we shall be a burden
"Oh, we shall get something to do. There's a scarcity of laborers
"Yes, they'll jump at you, but I'm really too old to offer myself
out." Lasse had lost all hope, and was undermining Pelle's too.
"I can't do any more!" said Pelle, letting the chest down. They
stood with arms hanging, and stared into the darkness at nothing
particular. Lasse showed no desire to take hold again, and Pelle
was now tired out. The night lay dark around them, and its all-
enveloping loneliness made it seem as if they two were floating
alone in space.
"Well, we ought to be getting on," exclaimed Pelle, taking a handle
of the chest; but as Lasse did not move, he dropped it and sat down.
They sat back to back, and neither could find the right words to
utter, and the distance between them seemed to increase. Lasse
shivered with the night cold. "If only we were at home in our good
bed!" he sighed.
Pelle was almost wishing he had been alone, for then he would have
gone on to the end. The old man was just as heavy to drag along as
"Do you know I think I'll go back again!" said Lasse at last in
crestfallen tone. "I'm afraid I'm not able to tread uncertain paths.
And you'll never be confirmed if we go on like this! Suppose we go
back and get Kongstrup to put in a good word for us with the parson."
Lasse stood and held one handle of the chest.
Pelle sat on as if he had not heard, and then he silently took hold,
and they toiled along on their weary way homeward across the fields.
Every other minute Pelle was tired and had to rest; now that they
were going home, Lasse was the more enduring. "I think I could carry
it a little way alone, if you'd help me up with it," he said; but
Pelle would not hear of it.
"Pee-u-ah!" sighed Lasse with pleasure when they once more stood
in the warmth of the cow-stable and heard the animals breathing in
indolent well-being--"it's comfortable here. It's just like coming
into one's old home. I think I should know this stable again by the
air, if they led me into it blindfold anywhere in the world."
And now they were home again, Pelle too could not help thinking
that it really was pleasant.
On Sunday morning, between watering and midday feed, Lasse and Pelle
ascended the high stone steps. They took off their wooden shoes in
the passage, and stood and shook themselves outside the door of the
office; their gray stocking-feet were full of chaff and earth. Lasse
raised his hand to knock, but drew it back. "Have you wiped your nose
properly?" he asked in a whisper, with a look of anxiety on his face.
Pelle performed the operation once more, and gave a final polish with
the sleeve of his blouse.
Lasse lifted his hand again; he looked greatly oppressed. "You might
keep quiet then!" he said irritably to Pelle, who was standing as
still as a mouse. Lasse's knuckles were poised in the air two or
three times before they fell upon the door; and then he stood with
his forehead close to the panel and listened. "There's no one there,"
he whispered irresolutely.
"Just go in!" exclaimed Pelle. "We can't stand here all day."
"Then you can go first, if you think you know better how to behave!"
said Lasse, offended.
Pelle quickly opened the door and went in. There was no one in the
office, but the door was open into the drawing-room, and the sound
of Kongstrup's comfortable breathing came thence.
"Who's there?" he asked.
"It's Lasse and Pelle," answered Lasse in a voice that did not sound
"Will you come in here?"
Kongstrup was lying on the sofa reading a magazine, and on the table
beside him stood a pile of old magazines and a plateful of little
cakes. He did not raise his eyes from his book, not even while his
hand went out to the plate for something to put in his mouth. He lay
nibbling and swallowing while he read, and never looked at Lasse and
Pelle, or asked them what they wanted, or said anything to give them
a start. It was like being sent out to plough without knowing where.
He must have been in the middle of something very exciting.
"Well, what do you want?" asked Kongstrup at last in slow tones.
"Well--well, the master must excuse us for coming like this about
something that doesn't concern the farm; but as matters now stand,
we've no one else to go to, and so I said to the laddie: 'Master
won't be angry, I'm sure, for he's many a time been kind to us poor
beggars--and that.' Now it's so in this world that even if you're a
poor soul that's only fit to do others' dirty work, the Almighty's
nevertheless given you a father's heart, and it hurts you to see
the father's sin standing in the son's way."
Lasse came to a standstill. He had thought it all out beforehand,
and so arranged it that it should lead up, in a shrewd, dignified
way, to the matter itself. But now it was all in a muddle like a
slattern's pocket-handkerchief, and the farmer did not look as if
he had understood a single word of it. He lay there, taking a cake
now and then, and looking helplessly toward the door.
"It sometimes happens too, that a man gets tired of the single
state," began Lasse once more, but at once gave up trying to go on.
No matter how he began, he went round and round the thing and got
no hold anywhere! And now Kongstrup began to read again. A tiny
question from him might have led to the very middle of it; but he
only filled his mouth full and began munching quite hard.
Lasse was outwardly disheartened and inwardly angry, as he stood
there and prepared to go. Pelle was staring about at the pictures
and the old mahogany furniture, making up his mind about each thing.
Suddenly energetic steps sounded through the rooms; the ear could
follow their course right up from the kitchen. Kongstrup's eyes
brightened, and Lasse straightened himself up.
"Is that you two?" said Fru Kongstrup in her decided way that
indicated the manager. "But do sit down! Why didn't you offer
them a seat, old man?"
Lasse and Pelle found seats, and the mistress seated herself
beside her husband, with her arm leaning upon his pillow. "How
are you getting on, Kongstrup? Have you been resting?" she asked
sympathetically, patting his shoulder. Kongstrup gave a little
grunt, that might have meant yes, or no, or nothing at all.
"And what about you two? Are you in need of money?"
"No, it's the lad. He's to be dismissed from the confirmation-
class," answered Lasse simply. With the mistress you couldn't help
"Are you to be dismissed?" she exclaimed, looking at Pelle as at
an old acquaintance. "Then what have you been doing?"
"Oh, I kicked the parson's son."
"And what did you do that for?"
"Because he wouldn't fight, but threw himself down."
Fru Kongstrup laughed and nudged her husband. "Yes, of course.
But what had he done to you?"
"He'd said bad things about Father Lasse."
"What were the things?"
Pelle looked hard at her; she meant to get to the bottom of
everything. "I won't tell you!" he said firmly.
"Oh, very well! But then we can't do anything about it
"I may just as well tell you," Lasse interrupted. "He called
me Madam Olsen's concubine--from the Bible story, I suppose."
Kongstrup tried to suppress a chuckle, as if some one had
whispered a coarse joke in his ear, and he could not help it.
The mistress herself was serious enough.
"I don't think I understand," she said, and laid a repressing
hand upon her husband's arm. "Lasse must explain."
"It's because I was engaged to Madam Olsen in the village, who every
one thought was a widow; and then her husband came home the other
day. And so they've given me that nickname round about, I suppose."
Kongstrup began his suppressed laughter again, and Lasse blinked
in distress at it.
"Help yourselves to a cake!" said Fru Kongstrup in a very loud voice,
pushing the plate toward them. This silenced Kongstrup, and he lay
and watched their assault upon the cake-plate with an attentive eye.
Fru Kongstrup sat tapping the table with her middle finger while
they ate. "So that good boy Pelle got angry and kicked out, did he?"
she said suddenly, her eyes flashing.
"Yes, that's what he never ought to have done!" answered Lasse
Fru Kongstrup fixed her eyes upon him.
"No, for all that the poorer birds are for is to be pecked at! Well,
I prefer the bird that pecks back again and defends its nest, no
matter how poor it is. Well, well, we shall see! And is that boy
going to be confirmed? Why, of course! To think that I should be
so forgetful! Then we must begin to think about his clothes."
"That's two troubles got rid of!" said Lasse when they went down to
the stable again. "And did you notice how nicely I let her know that
you were going to be confirmed? It was almost as if she'd found it
out for herself. Now you'll see, you'll be as fine as a shop-boy in
your clothes; people like the master and mistress know what's needed
when once they've opened their purse. Well, they got the whole truth
straight, but confound it! they're no more than human beings. It's
always best to speak out straight." Lasse could not forget how well
it had turned out.
Pelle let the old man boast. "Do you think I shall get leather shoes
of them too?" he asked.
"Yes, of course you will! And I shouldn't wonder if they made a
confirmation-party for you too. I say _they_, but it's her
that's doing it all, and we may be thankful for that. Did you
notice that she said _we_--_we_ shall, and so on--always?
It's nice of her, for he only lies there and eats and leaves
everything to her. But what a good time he has! I think she'd go
through fire to please him; but upon my word, she's master there.
Well, well, I suppose we oughtn't to speak evil of any one; to you
she's like your own mother!"
Fru Kongstrup said nothing about the result of her drive to the
parson; it was not her way to talk about things afterward. But Lasse
and Pelle once more trod the earth with a feeling of security; when
she took up a matter, it was as good as arranged.
One morning later in the week, the tailor came limping in with his
scissors, tape-measure, and pressing-iron, and Pelle had to go down
to the servants' room, and was measured in every direction as if he
had been a prize animal. Up to the present, he had always had his
clothes made by guess-work. It was something new to have itinerant
artisans at Stone Farm; since Kongstrup had come into power, neither
shoemaker nor tailor had ever set foot in the servants' room. This
was a return to the good old farm-customs, and placed Stone Farm
once more on a footing with the other farms. The people enjoyed it,
and as often as they could went down into the servants' room for
a change of air and to hear one of the tailor's yarns. "It's the
mistress who's at the head of things now!" they said to one another.
There was good peasant blood in her hands, and she brought things
back into the good old ways. Pelle walked into the servants' room
like a gentleman; he was fitted several times a day.
He was fitted for two whole suits, one of which was for Rud, who was
to be confirmed too. It would probably be the last thing that Rud
and his mother would get at the farm, for Fru Kongstrup had carried
her point, and they were to leave the cottage in May. They would
never venture to set foot again in Stone Farm. Fru Kongstrup herself
saw that they received what they were to have, but she did not give
money if she could help it.
Pelle and Rud were never together now, and they seldom went to the
parson together. It was Pelle who had drawn back, as he had grown
tired of being on the watch for Rud's continual little lies and
treacheries. Pelle was taller and stronger than Rud, and his nature
--perhaps because of his physical superiority--had taken more open
ways. In ability to master a task or learn it by heart, Rud was also
the inferior; but on the other hand he could bewilder Pelle and the
other boys, if he only got a hold with his practical common sense.
On the great day itself, Karl Johan drove Pelle and Lasse in the
little one-horse carriage. "We're fine folk to-day!" said Lasse,
with a beaming face. He was quite confused, although he had not
tasted anything strong. There was a bottle of gin lying in the chest
to treat the men with when the sacred ceremony was over; but Lasse
was not the man to drink anything before he went to church. Pelle
had not _touched_ food; God's Word would take best effect in
Pelle was radiant too, in spite of his hunger. He was in brand-new
twill, so new that it crackled every time he moved. On his feet he
wore elastic-sided shoes that had once belonged to Kongstrup himself.
They were too large, but "there's no difficulty with a sausage
that's too long," as Lasse said. He put in thick soles and paper
in the toes, and Pelle put on two pairs of stockings; and then the
shoes fitted as if they had been cast for his foot. On his head he
wore a blue cap that he had chosen himself down at the shop. It
allowed room for growing, and rested on his ears, which, for the
occasion, were as red as two roses. Round the cap was a broad ribbon
in which were woven rakes, scythes, and flails, interlaced with
sheaves all the way round.
"It's a good thing you came," said Pelle, as they drove up to the
church, and found themselves among so many people. Lasse had almost
had to give up thought of coming, for the man who was going to look
after the animals while he was away had to go off at the last moment
for the veterinary surgeon; but Karna came and offered to water and
give the midday feed, although neither could truthfully say that
they had behaved as they ought to have done to her.
"Have you got that thing now?" whispered Lasse, when they were
inside the church. Pelle felt in his pocket and nodded; the
little round piece of lignum-vitae that was to carry him over
the difficulties of the day lay there. "Then just answer loud and
straight out," whispered Lasse, as he slipped into a pew in the
Pelle did answer straight out, and to Lasse his voice sounded really
well through the spacious church. And the parson did absolutely
nothing to revenge himself, but treated Pelle exactly as he did the
others. At the most solemn part of the ceremony, Lasse thought of
Karna, and how touching her devotion was. He scolded himself in an
undertone, and made a solemn vow. She should not sigh any longer in
For a whole month indeed, Lasse's thoughts had been occupied with
Karna, now favorably, now unfavorably; but at this solemn moment
when Pelle was just taking the great step into the future, and
Lasse's feelings were touched in so many ways, the thought of
Karna's devotion broke over him as something sad, like a song of
slighted affection that at last, at last has justice done to it.
Lasse shook hands with Pelle. "Good luck and a blessing!" he said
in a trembling voice. The wish also embraced his own vow and he had
some difficulty in keeping silence respecting his determination,
he was so moved. The words were heard on all sides, and Pelle went
round and shook hands with his comrades. Then they drove home.
"It all went uncommonly well for you to-day," said Lasse proudly;
"and now you're a man, you know."
"Yes, now you must begin to look about for a sweetheart," said Karl
Johan. Pelle only laughed.
In the afternoon they had a holiday. Pelle had first to go up to his
master and mistress to thank them for his clothes and receive their
congratulations. Fru Kongstrup gave him red-currant wine and cake,
and the farmer gave him a two-krone piece.
Then they went up to Kalle's by the quarry. Pelle was to exhibit
himself in his new clothes, and say good-bye to them; there was only
a fortnight to May Day. Lasse was going to take the opportunity of
secretly obtaining information concerning a house that was for sale
on the heath.
They still talked about it every day for the short time that was left.
Lasse, who had always had the thought of leaving in his mind, and had
only stayed on and on, year after year, because the boy's welfare
demanded it--was slow to move now that there was nothing to hold him
back. He was unwilling to lose Pelle, and did all he could to keep
him; but nothing would induce him to go out into the world again.
"Stay here!" he said persuasively, "and we'll talk to the mistress
and she'll take you on for a proper wage. You're both strong and
handy, and she's always looked upon you with a friendly eye."
But Pelle would not take service with the farmer; it gave no position
and no prospects. He wanted to be something great, but there was no
possibility of that in the country; he would be following cows all
his days. He would go to the town--perhaps still farther, across the
sea to Copenhagen.
"You'd better come too," he said, "and then we shall get rich all
the quicker and be able to buy a big farm."
"Yes, yes," said Lasse, slowly nodding his head; "that's one for me
and two for yourself! But what the parson preaches doesn't always
come to pass. We might become penniless. Who knows what the future
"Oh, I shall manage!" said Pelle, nodding confidently. "Do you mean
to say I can't turn my hand to anything I like?"
"And I didn't give notice in time either," said Lasse to excuse
"Then run away!"
But Lasse would not do that. "No, I'll stay and work toward getting
something for myself about here," he said, a little evasively. "It
would be nice for you too, to have a home that you could visit now
and then; and if you didn't get on out there, it wouldn't be bad to
have something to fall back upon. You might fall ill, or something
else might happen; the world's not to be relied upon. You have to
have a hard skin all over out there."
Pelle did not answer. That about the home sounded nice enough, and
he understood quite well that it was Karna's person that weighed down
the other end of the balance. Well, she'd put all his clothes in order
for his going away, and she'd always been a good soul; he had nothing
It would be hard to live apart from Father Lasse, but Pelle felt
he must go. Away! The spring seemed to shout the word in his ears.
He knew every rock in the landscape and every tree--yes, every twig
on the trees as well; there was nothing more here that could fill
his blue eyes and long ears, and satisfy his mind.
The day before May Day they packed Pelle's things. Lasse knelt before
the green chest; every article was carefully folded and remarked
upon, before it was placed in the canvas bag that was to serve Pelle
as a traveling-trunk.
"Now remember not to wear your stockings too long before you mend
them!" said Lasse, putting mending wool on one side. "He who mends
his things in time, is spared half the work and all the disgrace."
"I shan't forget that," said Pelle quietly.
Lasse was holding a folded shirt in his hand. "The one you've got
on's just been washed," he said reflectively. "But one can't tell.
Two shirts'll almost be too little if you're away, won't they? You
must take one of mine; I can always manage to get another by the
time I want a change. And remember, you must never go longer than
a fortnight! You who are young and healthy might easily get vermin,
and be jeered at by the whole town; such a thing would never be
tolerated in any one who wants to get on. At the worst you can do
a little washing or yourself; you could go down to the shore in
the evening, if that was all!"
"Do they wear wooden shoes in the town?" asked Pelle.
"Not people who want to get on! I think you'd better let me keep
the wooden shoes and you take my boots instead; they always look
nice even if they're old. You'd better wear them when you go
to-morrow, and save your good shoes."
The new clothes were laid at the top of the bag, wrapped in an old
blouse to keep them clean.
"Now I think we've got everything in," said Lasse, with a searching
glance into the green chest. There was not much left in it. "Very
well, then we'll tie it up in God's name, and pray that, you may
arrive safely--wherever you decide to go!" Lasse tied up the sack;
he was anything but happy.
"You must say good-bye nicely to every one on the farm, so that they
won't have anything to scratch my eyes out for afterward," said Lasse
after a little. "And I should like you to thank Karna nicely for
having put everything in such good order. It isn't every one who'd
"Yes, I'll do that," said Pelle in a low voice. He did not seem to
be able to speak out properly to-day.
* * * * *
Pelle was up and dressed at daybreak. Mist lay over the sea, and
prophesied well for the day. He went about well scrubbed and combed,
and looked at everything with wide-open eyes, and with his hands in
his pockets. The blue clothes which he had gone to his confirmation-
classes in, had been washed and newly mangled, and he still looked
very well in them; and the tabs of the old leather boots, which were
a relic of Lasse's prosperous days, stuck out almost as much as his
He had said his "Good-bye and thank-you for all your kindness!"
to everybody on the farm--even Erik; and he had had a good meal of
bacon. Now he was going about the stable, collecting himself, shaking
the bull by the horns, and letting the calves suck his fingers; it
was a sort of farewell too! The cows put their noses close up to him,
and breathed a long, comfortable breath when he passed, and the bull
playfully tossed its head at him. And close behind him went Lasse;
he did not say very much but he always kept near the boy.
It was so good to be here, and the feeling sank gently over Pelle
every time a cow licked herself, or the warm vapor rose from freshly-
falling dung. Every sound was like a mother's caress, and every thing
was a familiar toy, with which a bright world could be built. Upon
the posts all round there were pictures that he had cut upon them;
Lasse had smeared them over with dirt again, in case the farmer
should come and say that they were spoiling everything.
Pelle was not thinking, but went about in a dreamy state; it all sank
so warmly and heavily into his child's mind. He had taken out his
knife, and took hold of the bull's horn, as if he were going to carve
something on it. "He won't let you do that," said Lasse, surprised.
"Try one of the bullocks instead."
But Pelle returned his knife to his pocket; he had not intended to
do anything. He strolled along the foddering-passage without aim or
object. Lasse came up and took his hand.
"You'd better stay here a little longer," he said. "We're so
But this put life into Pelle. He fixed his big, faithful eyes upon
his father, and then went down to their room.
Lasse followed him. "In God's name then, if it has to be!" he said
huskily, and took hold of the sack to help Pelle get it onto his
Pelle held out his hand. "Good-bye and thank you, father--for all
your kindness!" he added gently.
"Yes, yes; yes, yes!" said Lasse, shaking his head. It was all he
was able to say.
He went out with Pelle past the out-houses, and there stopped, while
Pelle went on along the dikes with his sack on his back, up toward
the high-road. Two or three times he turned and nodded; Lasse,
overcome, stood gazing, with his hand shading his eyes. He had never
looked so old before.
Out in the fields they were driving the seed-harrow; Stone Farm was
early with it this year. Kongstrup and his wife were strolling along
arm-in-arm beside a ditch; every now and then they stopped and she
pointed: they must have been talking about the crop. She leaned
against him when they walked; she had really found rest in her
Now Lasse turned and went in. How forlorn he looked! Pelle felt a
quick desire to throw down the sack and run back and say something
nice to him; but before he could do so the impulse had disappeared
upon the fresh morning breeze. His feet carried him on upon the
straight way, away, away! Up on a ridge the bailiff was stepping out
a field, and close behind him walked Erik, imitating him with foolish
On a level with the edge of the rocks, Pelle came to the wide high-
road. Here, he knew, Stone Farm and its lands would be lost to sight,
and he put down his sack. _There_ were the sand-banks by the
sea, with every tree-top visible; _there_ was the fir-tree that
the yellowhammer always built in; the stream ran milk-white after
the heavy thaw, and the meadow was beginning to grow green. But the
cairn was gone; good people had removed it secretly when Niels Koller
was drowned and the girl was expected out of prison.
And the farm stood out clearly in the morning light, with its high
white dwelling-house, the long range of barns, and all the out-houses.
Every spot down there shone so familiarly toward him; the hardships
he had suffered were forgotten, or only showed up the comforts in
Pelle's childhood had been happy by virtue of everything; it had been
a song mingled with weeping. Weeping falls into tones as well as joy,
and heard from a distance it becomes a song. And as Pelle gazed down
upon his childhood's world, they were only pleasant memories that
gleamed toward him through the bright air. Nothing else existed,
or ever had done so.
He had seen enough of hardship and misfortune, but had come well
out of everything; nothing had harmed him. With a child's voracity
he had found nourishment in it all; and now he stood here, healthy
and strong--equipped with the Prophets, the Judges, the Apostles,
the Ten Commandments and one hundred and twenty hymns! and turned
an open, perspiring, victor's brow toward the world.
Before him lay the land sloping richly toward the south, bounded by
the sea. Far below stood two tall black chimneys against the sea as
background, and still farther south lay the Town! Away from it ran
the paths of the sea to Sweden and Copenhagen! This was the world--
the great wide world itself!
Pelle became ravenously hungry at the sight of the great world, and
the first thing he did was to sit down upon the ridge of the hill
with a view both backward and forward, and eat all the food Karna
had given him for the whole day. So his stomach would have nothing
more to trouble about!
He rose refreshed, got the sack onto his back, and set off downward
to conquer the world, pouring forth a song at the top of his voice
into the bright air as he went:--
"A stranger I must wander
Among the Englishmen;
With African black negroes
My lot it may be thrown.
And then upon this earth there
Are Portuguese found too,
And every kind of nation
Under heaven's sky so blue."
On that windy May-morning when Pelle tumbled out of the nest, it so
happened that old Klaus Hermann was clattering into town with his
manure-cart, in order to fetch a load of dung. And this trifling
circumstance decided the boy's position in life. There was no more
pother than this about the question: What was Pelle to be?
He had never put that question to himself. He had simply gone onward
at hazard, as the meaning of the radiant world unfolded itself. As to
what he should make of himself when he was really out in the world
--well, the matter was so incomprehensible that it was mere folly to
think about it. So he just went on.
Now he had reached the further end of the ridge. He lay down in the
ditch to recover his breath after his long walk; he was tired and
hungry, but in excellent spirits. Down there at his feet, only half
a mile distant, lay the town. There was a cheerful glitter about it;
from its hundreds of fireplaces the smoke of midday fires curled
upward into the blue sky, and the red roofs laughed roguishly into
the beaming face of the day. Pelle immediately began to count the
houses; not wishing to exaggerate, he had estimated them at a million
only, and already he was well into the first hundred.
But in the midst of his counting he jumped up. What did the people
down there get for dinner? They must surely live well there! And was
it polite to go on eating until one was quite full, or should one lay
down one's spoon when one had only half finished, like the landowners
when they attended a dinner? For one who was always hungry this was
a very important question.
There was a great deal of traffic on the high-road. People were
coming and going; some had their boxes behind them in a cart, and
others carried their sole worldly possessions in a bag slung over
their shoulders, just as he did. Pelle knew some of these people,
and nodded to them benevolently; he knew something about all of them.
There were people who were going to the town--his town--and some were
going farther, far over the sea, to America, or even farther still,
to serve the King there; one could see that by their equipment and
the frozen look on their faces. Others were merely going into the
town to make a hole in their wages, and to celebrate May-day. These
came along the road in whole parties, humming or whistling, with
empty hands and overflowing spirits. But the most interesting people
were those who had put their boxes on a wheelbarrow, or were carrying
them by both handles. These had flushed faces, and were feverish in
their movements; they were people who had torn themselves away from
their own country-side, and their accustomed way of life, and had
chosen the town, as he himself had done.
There was one man, a cottager, with a little green chest on his
wheelbarrow; this latter was broad in the beam, and it was neatly
adorned with flowers painted by his own hand. Beside him walked his
daughter; her cheeks were red, and her eyes were gazing into the
unknown future. The father was speaking to her, but she did not look
as though she heard him. "Yes--now you must take it on you to look
out for yourself; you must think about it, and not throw yourself
away. The town is quite a good place for those who go right ahead
and think of their own advantage, but it thinks nothing of who gets
trodden underfoot. So don't be too trusting, for the people there
are wonderful clever in all sorts of tricks to take you in and trip
you up. At the same time you want to be soft-spoken and friendly."
She did not reply to this; she was apparently more taken up with
the problem of putting down her feet in their new shoes so that the
heels should not turn over.
There was a stream of people coming up from the town too. All the
forenoon Pelle had been meeting Swedes who had come that morning
in the steamer, and were now looking for a job on the land. There
were old folk, worn out with labor, and little children; there were
maidens as pretty as yellow-haired Marie, and young laborers who had
the strength of the whole world in their loins and muscles. And this
current of life was setting hither to fill up the gaps left by the
swarms that were going away--but that did not concern Pelle. For
seven years ago he had felt everything that made their faces look
so troubled now; what they were just entering upon he had already
put behind him. So there was no good in looking back.
Presently the old man from Neuendorf came along the road. He was got
up quite like an American, with a portmanteau and a silk neckerchief,
and the inside pockets of his open coat were stuffed full of papers.
At last he had made up his mind, and was going out to his betrothed,
who had already been three years away.
"Hullo!" cried Pelle, "so you are going away?"
The man came over to Pelle and set his portmanteau down by the side
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