Pelle the Conqueror, Vol. 2
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 2 out of 6
"The devil knows it won't be long before he's bankrupt. He's a
frothy old rogue," murmured the master. "Has Bjerregrav got a note
The old man nodded; he was quite proud of himself.
"And interest? Five per cent.?"
"No, no interest. For money to stand out and receive interest--I
don't like that. It has to suck the interest somewhere or other,
and of course it's from the poor. Interest is blood-money, Andres
--and it's a new-fangled contrivance, too. When I was young we knew
nothing about getting interest on our money."
'Who gives to other folks his bread
And after suffers in their stead,
Why club him, club him, club him dead!'"
said the master, and went on reading.
Bjerregrav sat there sunk in his own thoughts. Suddenly he looked up.
"Can you, who are so well read, tell me what keeps the moon from
falling? I lay overnight puzzling over it, so as I couldn't sleep.
She wanders and wanders through the sky, and you can see plainly
there's nothing but air under her."
"The devil may know," said Master Andres thoughtfully. "She must
have strength of her own, so that she holds herself up."
"I've thought that myself--for obligation isn't enough. Now we can
do that--we walk and walk where we are put down, but then we've the
earth under us to support us. And you are always studying, aren't
you? I suppose you have read nearly all the books in the world?"
Bjerregrav took the master's book and felt it thoroughly. "That's
a good book," he said, striking his knuckles against the cover and
holding the book to his ear; "good material, that. Is it a lying
story or a history book?"
"It's a travel book. They go up to the North Pole, and they get
frozen in, and they don't know if they'll ever get home alive
"But that's terrible--that people should risk their lives so.
I've often thought about that--what it's like at the end of the
world--but to go and find out--no, I should never have had the
courage. Never to get home again!" Bjerregrav, with an afflicted
expression, looked first at one, then at another.
"And they get frost-bite in their feet--and their toes have to be
amputated--in some cases, the whole foot."
"No, be quiet! So they lose their health, poor fellows!--I don't
want to hear any more!" The old man sat rocking himself to and
fro, as though he felt unwell. But a few moments later he asked
inquisitively: "Did the king send them up there to make war?"
"No; they went to look for the Garden of Eden. One of the people who
investigate writings has discovered that it is said to lie behind
the ice," declared the master solemnly.
"The Garden of Eden--or they call it Paradise, too--but that lies
where the two rivers fall into a third, in the East! That is quite
plainly written. Consequently what you read there is false teaching."
"It's at the North Pole, God's truth it is!" said the master, who
was inclined to be a free-thinker; "God's truth, I tell you! The
other's just a silly superstition."
Bjerregrav maintained an angry silence. He sat for some time bending
low in his chair, his eyes roaming anywhere so that they did not
meet another's. "Yes, yes," he said, in a low voice; "everybody
thinks something new in order to make himself remarkable, but no
one can alter the grave."
Master Andres wriggled impatiently to and fro; he could change
his mood like a woman. Bjerregrav's presence began to distress him.
"Now, I've learned to conjure up spirits; will Bjerregrav make
the experiment?" he said suddenly.
"No, not at any price!" said the old man, smiling uneasily.
But the master pointed, with two fingers, at his blinking eyes,
and gazed at him, while he uttered the conjuration.
"In the name of the Blood, in the name of the Sap, in the name of
all the Humors of the Body, the good and the bad alike, and in the
name of the Ocean," he murmured, crouching like a tom-cat.
"Stop it, I tell you! Stop it! I won't have it!" Bjerregrav was
hanging helplessly between his crutches, swinging to and fro,
with an eye to the door, but he could not wrest himself away from
the enchantment. Then, desperately, he struck down the master's
conjuring hand, and profited by the interruption of the incantation
to slip away.
The master sat there blowing upon his hand. "He struck out properly,"
he said, in surprise, turning his reddened hand with the palm inward.
Little Nikas did not respond. He was not superstitious, but he did
not like to hear ridicule cast upon the reality of things.
"What shall I do?" asked Peter.
"Are mate Jensen's boots ready?" The master looked at the clock.
"Then you can nibble your shin-bones."
It was time to stop work. The master took his stick and hat and
limped over to the beer-house to play a game of billiards; the
journeyman dressed and went out; the older apprentices washed their
necks in the soaking-tub. Presently they too would go out and have
a proper time of it.
Pelle gazed after them. He too experienced a desperate need to
shake off the oppressive day, and to escape out of doors, but his
stockings were nothing but holes, and his working-blouse had to be
washed so that it should be dry by the following morning. Yes, and
his shirt--and he blushed up to his ears--was it a fortnight he had
worn it, or was this the fourth week? The time had slipped past
so.... He had meant to defer the disagreeable business of washing
only for a few days--and now it had mounted up to fourteen! His body
had a horrible crawling feeling; was his punishment come upon him
because he had turned a deaf ear to the voice of conscience, and had
ignored Father Lasse's warning, that disgrace awaited those who did
not keep themselves clean?
No, thank God! But Pelle had received a thorough fright, and
his ears were still burning as he scrubbed his shirt and blouse
downstairs in the yard. It would be well to take it as a timely
warning from on high!
And then blouse and shirt were hanging on the fence, spreading
themselves abroad as though they wanted to hug the heavens for joy
in their cleanliness. But Pelle sat dejectedly upstairs, at the
window of the apprentices' garret, one leg outside, so that part
of him at least was in the open air. The skillful darning which his
father had taught him was not put into practice here; the holes were
simply cobbled together, so that Father Lasse would have sunk into
the earth for shame. Gradually he crept right out on to the roof;
below, in the skipper's garden, the three girls were wandering idly,
looking over toward the workshop, and evidently feeling bored.
Then they caught sight of him, and at once became different beings.
Manna came toward him, thrust her body impatiently against the stone
wall, and motioned to him with her lips. She threw her head back
imperiously, and stamped with her feet--but without making a sound.
The other two were bent double with suppressed laughter.
Pelle understood perfectly what this silent speech intended, but for
a time he courageously stood his ground. At last, however, he could
endure it no longer; he threw everything aside and next moment was
with the girls.
All Pelle's dreams and unuttered longings hovered over those places
where men disported themselves. To him nothing was more ridiculous
than to run after petticoats. Women, for Pelle, were really rather
contemptible; they had no strength, and very little intelligence;
indeed, they understood nothing but the art of making themselves
ornamental. But Manna and her sisters were something apart; he was
still enough of a child to play, and they were excellent playmates.
Manna--the wild cat--was afraid of nothing; with her short skirts
and her pigtail and her skipping movements she reminded him of a
frolicsome, inquisitive young bird--Skip! out of the thicket and
back again! She could climb like a boy, and could carry Pelle all
round the garden on her back; it was really an oversight that she
should have to wear skirts. Her clothes wouldn't keep on her, and
she was always tumbling into the workshop, having torn something
or other off her shoes. Then she would turn everything upside down,
take the master's stick away, so that he could not move, and would
even get her fingers among the journeyman's American tools.
She was on good terms with Pelle the very first day.
"Whose new boy are you?" she asked him, smacking him on the back.
And Pelle laughed, and returned her look frankly, with that
immediate comprehension which is the secret of our early years.
There was no trace of embarrassment between them; they had always
known one another, and could at any time resume their play just
where they had left off. In the evening Pelle used to station
himself by the garden wall and wait for her; then in a moment he
was over and in the middle of some game.
Manna was no ordinary cry-baby; not one who seeks to escape the
consequences of her action by a display of tears. If she let herself
in for a scuffle, she never sued for mercy, however hardly it went
with her. But Pelle was to a certain extent restrained by the fact
of her petticoats. And she, on one occasion, did not deny that she
wished she could only be a little stronger!
But she had courage, and Pelle, like a good comrade, gave as good
as he got, except in the workshop, where she bullied him. If she
assailed him from behind, dropping something down his neck or
pushing him off his wooden stool, he restrained himself, and was
merely thankful that his bones were still unbroken.
All his best hours were spent in the skipper's garden, and this
garden was a wonderful place, which might well hold his senses
captive. The girls had strange outlandish names, which their father
had brought home with him on his long voyages: Aina, Dolores, and
Sjermanna! They wore heavy beads of red coral round their necks and
in their ears. And about the garden lay gigantic conch-shells, in
which one could hear the surging of the ocean, and tortoise-shells
as big as a fifteen-pound loaf, and whole great lumps of coral.
All these things were new to Pelle, but he would not allow them to
confound him; he enrolled them as quickly as possible among the
things that were matters of course, and reserved himself the right
to encounter, at any moment, something finer and more remarkable.
But on some evenings he would disappoint the girls, and would stroll
about the town where he could see real life--or go down to the dunes
or the harbor. Then they would stand dejectedly at the garden wall,
bored and quarrelsome. But on Sundays, as soon as he had finished in
the workshop, he would faithfully appear, and they would spin out
their games, conscious of a long day in front of them. They played
games innumerable, and Pelle was the center of them all; he could
turn himself to anything; he became everything in turn--lawful
husband, cannibal, or slave. He was like a tame bear in their hands;
they would ride on him, trample all over him, and at times they
would all three fall upon him and "murder" him. And he had to lie
still, and allow them to bury his body and conceal all traces of it.
The reality of the affair was enhanced by the fact that he was
really covered with earth--all but his face, which was left bare
only from necessity--they contented themselves with covering that
with withered leaves. When he cried afterward over the state of his
fine confirmation clothes, they brushed him with solicitous hands,
and when he could scarcely be comforted they all three kissed him.
With them he was always referred to as "Manna's husband."
So Pelle's days went by. He had a certain grim humor rather than
a cheerful mind; he felt gloomy, and as though things were going
badly with him; and he had no one to lean upon. But he continued his
campaign against the town, undaunted; he thought of it night and day,
and fought, it in his sleep.
"If you're ever in a difficulty, you've always Alfred and Albinus
to help you out," Uncle Kalle had said, when Pelle was bidding him
good-bye; and he did not fail to look them up. But the twins were
to-day the same slippery, evasive customers as they were among the
pastures; they ventured their skins neither for themselves nor for
In other respects they had considerably improved. They had come
hither from the country in order to better their positions, and to
that end had accepted situations which would serve them until they
had saved sufficient to allow them to commence a more distinguished
career. Albinus had advanced no further, as he had no inclination
to any handicraft. He was a good-tempered youth, who was willing
to give up everything else if only he could practise his acrobatic
feats. He always went about balancing something or other, taking
pains to put all sorts of objects to the most impossible uses. He
had no respect for the order of nature; he would twist his limbs
into all imaginable positions, and if he threw anything into the air
he expected it to stay there while he did something else. "Things
must be broken in as well as animals," he would say, and persevere
indefatigably. Pelle laughed; he liked him, but he did not count on
him any further.
Alfred had struck out in quite another direction. He no longer
indulged in hand-springs, but walked decorously on his legs, had
always much ado to pull down and straighten his collar and cuffs,
and was in continual anxiety as to his clothes. He was now
apprentice to a painter, but had a parting in his hair like a
counter-jumper, and bought all sorts of things at the chemist's,
which he smeared on his hair. If Pelle ran across him in the street,
Alfred always made some excuse to shake him off; he preferred to
associate with tradesmen's apprentices, and was continually greeting
acquaintances right and left--people who were in a better position
than himself. Alfred put on airs of importance which made Pelle long
one fine day to cudgel him soundly.
The twins resembled one another in this--no one need look to them
for assistance of any kind. They laughed comfortably at the very
idea, and if any one made fun of Pelle they joined in the laughter.
It was not easy to get on. He had quite shaken off the farm-boy; it
was his poverty that gave him trouble now. He had recklessly bound
himself as apprentice for board and lodging; he had a few clothes on
his body, and he had not thought other requisites necessary for one
who did not stroll up and down and gad about with girls. But the
town demanded that he should rig himself out. Sunday clothes were
here not a bit too good for weekdays. He ought to see about getting
himself a rubber collar--which had the advantage that one could wash
it oneself; cuffs he regarded as a further desideratum. But that
needed money, and the mighty sum of five kroner, with which he had
set out to conquer the world, or, at the worst, to buy it--well, the
town had enticed it out of his pocket before he was aware of it.
Hitherto Father Lasse had taken all very difficult matters upon
himself; but now Pelle stood alone, and had only himself to rely on.
Now he stood face to face with life, and he struggled courageously
forward, like the excellent boy he was. But at times he broke down.
And this struggle was a drag upon all his boyish doings and
In the workshop he made himself useful and tried to stand well
with everybody. He won over little Nikas by drawing a somewhat
extravagant representation of his betrothed from a photograph. The
face would not come out quite right; it looked as though some one
had trodden on it; but the clothes and the brooch at the throat were
capital. The picture hung for a week in the workshop, and brought
Pelle a wonderful piece of luck: Carlsen, who ran errands for the
stone-workers, ordered two large pictures, one of himself and one of
his wife, at the rate of twenty-five ore apiece. "But you must show
a few curls in my hair," he said, "for my mother's always wished I
Pelle could not promise the pictures in less than two months' time;
it was tedious work if they were to be accurate.
"Well, well; we can't spare the money sooner. This month there's
the lottery, and next month the rent to pay." Pelle could very well
appreciate that, for Carlsen earned eight kroner a week and had nine
children. But he felt that he could not well reduce the price. Truly,
people weren't rolling in money here! And when for once he actually
had a shilling in hand, then it was sure to take to its heels under
his very nose, directly he began to rack his brains to decide how
it could most usefully be applied: on one such occasion, for example,
he had seen, in a huckster's window, a pipe in the form of a
boot-leg, which was quite irresistible.
When the three girls called to him over the garden wall his
childhood found companionship, and he forgot his cares and struggles.
He was rather shy of anybody seeing him when he slipped across; he
felt that his intercourse with the children was not to his credit;
moreover, they were only "petticoats." But he felt that he was lucky
to be there, where there were curious things which were useful to
play with--Chinese cups and saucers, and weapons from the South Sea
Islands. Manna had a necklace of white teeth, sharp and irregular,
strung together in a haphazard way, which she maintained were human
teeth, and she had the courage to wear them round her bare neck.
And the garden was full of wonderful plants; there were maize, and
tobacco, and all sorts of other plants, which were said, in some
parts of the world, to grow as thick as corn does at home.
They were finer of skin than other folk, and they were fragrant of
the strange places of the world. And he played with them, and they
regarded him with wonder and mended his clothes when he tore them;
they made him the center of all their games--even when he was not
present. There was a secret satisfaction in this--although he
accepted it as a matter of course, it was a portion of all that
fate and good fortune had reserved for him, a slight advance payment
from the infinite fairy-tale of life. He longed to rule over them
absolutely, and if they were obstinate he lectured them angrily, so
that they suddenly gave in to him. He knew well enough that every
proper man makes his wife behave submissively.
So passed the early summer; time was moving onward. The townsfolk
had already, at Whitsuntide, provided themselves with what they
needed for the summer, and out in the country people had other
things to think about than trapesing into town with work for the
artisans; the coming harvest occupied all their thoughts. Even in
the poorest quarters, where no work was done for the peasants, one
realized how utterly dependent the little town was upon the country.
It was as though the town had in a moment forgotten its superiority;
the manual workers no longer looked down on the peasants; they
looked longingly toward the fields, spoke of the weather and the
prospects of harvest, and had forgotten all their urban interests.
If by exception a farmer's cart came through the streets, people
ran to the window to look after it. And as the harvest stood almost
at their doors, it seemed as though old memories were calling to
them, and they raised their heads to listen; those who could gave up
their town life and went into the country to help in the work of
harvest. Both the journeyman and the two apprentices had left the
workshop; Jens and Pelle could comfortably manage the work.
Pelle saw nothing of this stagnant mood; he was occupied on all
sides in keeping a whole skin and getting the utmost out of life;
there were thousands of impressions of good and evil which had to be
assimilated, and which made a balanced whole--that remarkable thing,
the town, of which Pelle never knew whether he felt inclined to
bless it or curse it,--or it always held him in suspense.
And amidst all his activities, Lasse's face rose up before him and
made him feel lonely in the midst of the bustle. Wherever could
Father Lasse be? Would he ever hear of him again? Every day he had
expected, in reliance on Karna's word, to see him blundering in at
the door, and when anybody fumbled at the door-knocker he felt quite
certain it was Lasse. It became a silent grief in the boy's mind,
a note that sounded through all that he undertook.
One Sunday evening, as Pelle was running down East Street, a cart
loaded with household goods came jolting in from the country. Pelle
was in a great hurry, but was obliged to look at it. The driver sat
in front, below the load, almost between the horses; he was tall and
had ruddy cheeks, and was monstrously wrapped up, in spite of the
heat. "Hallo!" Why, it was the worthy Due, Kalle's son-in-law; and
above him, in the midst of all the lumber, sat Anna and the children,
swaying to and fro with the motion of the cart. "Hullo!" Pelle waved
his cap, and with one spring he had his foot on the shaft and was
sitting next to Due, who was laughing all over his face at the
"Yes, we've had enough of the farming country, and now we've come
to see if things aren't better here in town," said Due, in his quiet
manner. "And here you are, running about just like you did at home!"
There was amazement in his voice.
Anna came crawling over the load, and smiled down upon him.
"Have you news of Father Lasse?" Pelle asked her. This was always
his question when he met an acquaintance.
"Yes, that we have--he's just going to buy a farm up on the heath.
Now, you devil, are you goin' to behave?" Anna crawled backward,
and a child began to cry. Then she reappeared. "Yes, and we were
to remember father to you, and mother, and all the rest."
But Pelle had no thoughts to spare for Uncle Kalle.
"Is it up by Stone Farm?" he asked.
"No--farther to the east, by the Witch's Cell," said Due. "It is a
big piece of land, but it's not much more than stone. So long as he
doesn't ruin himself over it--two have gone smash there before him.
He's arranged it together with Karna."
"Uncle Lasse will know what he's about," said Anna. "Karna has
found the money for it; she has something saved."
Pelle couldn't sit still; his heart leaped in his body at this news.
No more uncertainty--no more horrible possibilities: he had his
father once more! And the dream of Lasse's life was about to be
fulfilled: he could now put his feet under his own table. He had
become a landowner into the bargain, if one didn't use the term
too precisely; and Pelle himself--why, he was a landowner's son!
By nine o'clock in the evening he had finished everything, and was
able to get off; his blood was pulsing with excitement.... Would
there be horses? Why, of course; but would there be laborers, too?
Had Father Lasse become one of those farmers who pay wages on
a quarter-day, and come into town on a Sunday afternoon, their
fur-lined collars up to their ears? Pelle could see the men quite
plainly going up the stairs, one after another, taking off their
wooden shoes and knocking on the door of the office--yes, they
wanted to see about an advance on their wages. And Lasse scratched
the back of his head, looked at them thoughtfully, and said: "Not on
any account, you'd only waste it on drink." But he gave it to them
finally, for all that. "One is much too good-natured," he said to
For Pelle had bidden farewell to cobbling, and was living at home
as a landowner's son. Really, Pelle managed the whole business--only
it wouldn't do to say so. And at the Christmas feast he danced with
the buxom farmer's daughters. There was whispering in the corners
when Pelle made his appearance; but he went straight across the room
and invited the Pastor's daughter to a dance, so that she lost her
breath, and more besides, and begged him on the spot to marry her....
He hurried onward, still dreaming; longing drew him onward, and
before he knew it he had travelled some miles along the high-road.
The road he now turned into led him by pine woods and heath-covered
hills; the houses he passed were poorer, and the distance from one
to another was increasing.
Pelle took a turning a little farther on, which, to the best of his
knowledge, led in the required direction, and hurried forward with
awakened senses. The landscape was only half revealed by the summer
night, but it was all as familiar as the mends in the back of Father
Lasse's waistcoat, although he had never been here before. The
poverty-stricken landscape spoke to him as with a mother's voice.
Among these clay-daubed huts, the homes of poor cultivators who
waged war upon the rocky ground surrounding their handful of soil,
he felt safe as he had never felt before. All this had been his
through many generations, down to the rags thrust into the broken
window-panes and the lumber piled upon the thatch to secure it. Here
was nothing for any one to rack his brains over, as elsewhere in the
world; here a man could lie down at peace and rest. Yet it was not
for him to till the ground and to dwell amid all these things. For
he had outgrown them, as he had outgrown the shelter of his mother's
The lane gradually became a deep cart-track, which meandered between
rocks and moorland. Pelle knew that he ought to keep to the east,
but the track went now to the south, now to the north. He soon had
enough of it, noted his direction exactly, and struck off obliquely.
But it was difficult to make his way; the moonlight deceived his
eyes so that he stumbled and sank into hollows, while the heather
and the juniper reached as high as his waist, and hampered every
movement. And then he turned obstinate, and would not turn back to
the cart-track, but labored forward, so that he was soon steaming
with heat; clambering over slanting ridges of rock, which were
slippery with the dewfall on the moss, and letting himself tumble
at hazard over the ledges. A little too late he felt a depth below
him; it was as though a cold wave washed through his heart, and he
clutched wildly at the air for some support. "Father Lasse!" he
cried woefully; and at the same moment he was caught by brambles,
and sank slowly down through their interwoven runners, which struck
their myriad claws into him and reluctantly let him pass, until he
was cautiously deposited, deep down among the sharp stones at the
bottom of a ravine, shuddering and thanking his stars for all the
thorns that had mercifully flayed his hide in order that he should
not split his skull. Then he must needs grope forward, through the
darkness and running water, until he found a tree and was able to
climb to the surface.
Now he had lost his bearings, and when that became clear he lost his
head as well. Nothing was left of the confident Pelle of a while ago;
he ran blindly forward, in order to reach the summit of the hill.
And as he was hastening upward, so that he might take note of the
crags that lay about him, the ground rose and closed above him with
a frightful clamor, and the air turned black and full of noises, and
he could not see his hand before his eyes. It was like a stupendous
explosion--as though released by his cheerful stamping over the
rocks, the earth was hurled into the sky and dissolved in darkness,
and the darkness itself cried aloud with terror and eddied round him.
His heart pounded in his breast and robbed him of his last remnant
of understanding; he jumped for sheer unbridled terror and bellowed
like a maniac. The black mass drove over his head, so that he was
forced to duck, and gleaming rifts showed and disappeared; and the
darkness surged like the ocean and cried continually aloud with a
hellish chaos of sounds. Then it suddenly swung to one side, drifted
northward, and descended. And Pelle understood that he had stumbled
upon a rookery.
He found himself behind a great rock. How he got there he did not
know; but he knew that he was a terrible duffer. How easily he could
have brought confusion on the fifty-odd crows by tossing a few
stones into the air!
He went along the slope, very valiant in his resolve, but with
shaking knees. In the far distance a fox sat upon a cliff and howled
insanely at the moon, and far to the north and the south lay a
transient glimmer of sea. Up here subterranean creatures had their
home; when one trod upon the rock it sounded hollow.
In the southern opening the sea lay silver in the moonlight, but
as Pelle looked again it disappeared, and the low-lying plain was
drowned in white. In every direction the land was disappearing;
Pelle watched in amazement while the sea slowly rose and filled
every hollow. Then it closed above the lesser hills; one by one it
swallowed them, and then it took the long ridge of hills to the east,
until only the crests of the pine-trees lifted themselves above it;
but Pelle did not as yet give himself up for lost; for behind all
his anxiety lay a confused conception of Mount Ararat, which kept
up his courage. But then it became so dreadfully cold that Pelle's
breeches seemed to stick to his body. "That's the water," he thought,
and he looked round in alarm; the rock had become a little island,
and he and it were floating on the ocean.
Pelle was a sturdy little realist, who had already had all manner of
experiences. But now the fear had at last curdled his blood, and he
accepted the supernatural without a protest. The world had evidently
perished, and he himself was drifting--drifting out into space, and
space was terribly cold. Father Lasse, and the workshop, Manna and
the young master's shining eyes--here was an end of them all. He did
not mourn them; he simply felt terribly lonely. What would be the
end of it all--or was this perhaps death? Had he perhaps fallen dead
a little while ago, when he tumbled over the precipice? And was he
now voyaging toward the land of the blessed? Or was this the end of
the world itself, of which he had heard such dreadful things said,
as far back as he could remember? Perhaps he was adrift on the last
scrap of earth, and was the only person still living? It did not in
the least surprise Pelle that he should be left where everybody else
had perished; in this moment of despair he found it quite natural.
He stood breathlessly silent and listened to the infinite; and he
heard the cudgel-like blows of his pulses. Still he listened, and
now he heard something more: far away in the night that surged
against his ears he heard the suggestion of a sound, the vibrating
note of some living creature. Infinitely remote and faint though it
was, yet Pelle was so aware of it that it thrilled him all through.
It was a cow feeding on the chain; he could follow the sound of her
neck scrubbing up and down against the post.
He ran down over the craggy declivity, fell, and was again on his
feet and running forward; the mist had swallowed him unawares. Then
he was down on arable that had once been woodland; then he trod on
something that felt familiar as it brushed against his feet--it was
land that had once been ploughed but had now been recaptured by the
heath. The sound grew louder, and changed to all those familiar
sounds that one hears at night coming from an open cowshed; and
now a decayed farmhouse showed through the mist. This could not of
course be the farm Pelle was looking for--Father Lasse had a proper
farmhouse with four wings! But he went forward.
Out in the country people do not lock everything up as carefully as
they do in town; so Pelle could walk right in. Directly he opened
the door of the sitting-room he was filled with an uplifting joy.
The most comfortable odor he had ever known struck upon his senses
--the foundation of everything fragrant--the scent of Father Lasse!
It was dark in the room, and the light of the night without could
not make its way through the low window. He heard the deep breathing
of persons asleep, and knew that they had not awakened--the night
was not nearly over yet. "Good-evening!" he said.
A hand began to grope for the matches.
"Is any one there?" said a drowsy woman's voice.
"Good-evening!" he cried again, and went forward into the room.
"It's Pelle!" He brought out the name in a singsong voice.
"So it's you, boy!" Lasse's voice quavered, and the hands could not
manage the matches; but Pelle stepped toward the voice and clasped
his wrist. "And how did you find your way here in the wilderness--
and at night, too? Yes, yes, I'll get up!" he continued, and he
tried, with a groan, to sit up.
"No, you stop there and let me get up," said Karna, who lay against
the wall--she had kept silence while the men-folk were speaking. "He
gets this lumbago, I can tell you!" she declared, jumping out of bed.
"Ay, I've been at it a bit too hard. Work comes easy when a man's
his own master--it's difficult to leave off. But it'll be all right
when once I've got things properly going. Work's a good embrocation
for the lumbago. And how goes it with you then? I was near believing
you must be dead!"
So Pelle had to sit on the edge of the bed and tell about everything
in town--about the workshop, and the young master's lame leg, and
everything. But he said nothing of the disagreeable things; it was
not for men to dwell upon such things.
"Then you've been getting on well in foreign parts!" said Lasse,
delighted. "And do they think well of you?"
"Yes!" This came a trifle slowly. In the first place, respect was
just particularly what he had not won--but why trumpet forth his
miseries? "The young master must like me--he often chats with me,
even over the journeyman's head."
"Now, think of that! I have often wondered, I can tell you, how you
were getting on, and whether we shouldn't soon have good news of
you. But everything takes time, that we know. And as you see, I'm
in a very different position."
"Yes, you've become a landowner!" said Pelle, smiling.
"The deuce, yes, so I am!" Lasse laughed, too, but then he groaned
piteously with the pain in his back. "In the daytime, when I'm
working hard, I get along well enough, but as soon as I lie down,
then it comes on directly. And it's the devil of a pain--as though
the wheels of a heavy loaded wagon were going to and fro across your
back, whatever name you like to give it. Well, well! It's a fine
thing, all the same, to be your own master! It's funny how it takes
me--but dry bread tastes better to me at my own table than--yes, by
God, I can tell you, it tastes better than cake at any other body's
table! And then to be all alone on your own bit of land, and to be
able to spit wherever you like to spit, without asking anybody's
leave! And the soil isn't so bad; even if most of it has never been
under cultivation, it has all been lying there storing up its power
to produce since the beginning of the world. But about the people
in the town--are they agreeable?"
Oh, Pelle had nothing to complain about. "But when were you
married?" he asked suddenly.
"Well, you see," and Lasse began to stumble over his own words,
although he had been prepared for the boy to ask this very question;
"in a way we aren't exactly married. That takes money, and the work
here is getting forward.... But it's our intention, I needn't say,
as soon as we have time and money." It was honestly Lasse's opinion
that one could just as well dispense with the ceremony; at least
until children came, and demanded an honorable birth. But he could
see that Pelle did not relish the idea; he was still the same
pedantic little chap the moment a point of honor was in question.
"As soon as we've got the harvest under shelter we'll invite people
to a grand feast," he said resolutely.
Pelle nodded eagerly. Now he was a landowner's son, and he could
make the shabby-genteel boys of the town envious of him. But they
mustn't be able to throw it in his face that his father was "living
with a woman!"
Now Karna came in with some food. She looked at the boy with much
affection. "Now, fall to, and don't despise our poor table, my son,"
she said, and gave his arm a friendly pat. Pelle fell to with a good
appetite. Lasse hung half out of the alcove, delighted.
"You haven't lost your appetite down there," he said. "Do you get
anything decent to eat? Karna thought the food wasn't any too good."
"It's passable!" said Pelle obstinately. He repented of having
betrayed himself to Karna that evening, when he was so depressed.
The desire to eat awoke in Lasse, so that little by little he crept
out of the alcove. "You are sitting alone there," he said, and
sat down at the table in his nightcap and pants. He was wearing
a knitted nightcap, one end of which fell loosely over his ear. He
looked like a genuine old farmer, one that had money in his mattress.
And Karna, who was moving to and fro while the menfolk ate, had a
round, comfortable figure, and was carrying a big bread-knife in
her hand. She inspired confidence, and she too looked a regular
A place was found for Pelle on the bed. He extinguished the tallow
dip before he undressed, and thrust his underclothing under the
He woke late; the sun had already left the eastern heavens. The most
delicious smell of coffee filled the room. Pelle started up hastily,
in order to dress himself before Karna could come in and espy his
condition; he felt under the pillow--and his shirt was no longer
there! And his stockings lay on a stool, and they had been darned!
"When Karna came in he lay motionless, in obstinate silence; he did
not reply to her morning salutation, and kept his eyes turned toward
the alcove. She ought not to have gone rummaging among his things!
"I've taken your shirt and washed it," she said serenely, "but you
can have it again this evening. After all, you can wear this until
then." She laid one of Lasse's shirts on the coverlet.
Pelle lay there for a time as though he had not heard Karna. Then he
sat up, feeling very cross and got into the shirt. "No, stay there
until you've drunk your coffee," she said as he attempted to get up,
and she placed a stool by him. And so Pelle had his coffee in bed,
as he had dreamed it was to happen when Father Lasse remarried;
and he could not go on feeling angry. But he was still burning with
shame, and that made him taciturn.
During the morning Lasse and Pelle went out and inspected
"It'll be best if we go round it first; then you will see plainly
where the boundary lies," said Lasse, who knew that the dimensions
of the place would be a surprise to Pelle. They wandered through
heather and brambles and thorns, striking across the moorland and
skirting precipitous slopes. It was several hours before they had
finished their round.
"It's an awfully large holding," Pelle said again and again.
And Lasse answered proudly. "Yes, there's nearly seventy acres
here--if only it were all tilled!"
It was virgin soil, but it was overrun with heather and juniper-
scrub, through which brambles and honeysuckle twined their way.
Halfway up a perpendicular wall of rock hung the ash and the wild
cherry, gripping the bare cliff with roots that looked like crippled
hands. Crab-apple trees, sloe-bushes and wild rose-briars made an
impenetrable jungle, which already bore traces of Lasse's exertions.
And in the midst of this luxuriant growth the rocky subsoil
protruded its grim features, or came so near the surface that
the sun had scorched the roots of the herbage.
"That's a proper little Paradise," said Lasse; "you can scarcely
set foot in it without treading on the berries. But it's got to be
turned into arable if one is to live here.
"Isn't the soil rather middling?" said Pelle.
"Middling--when all that can grow and flourish there?" Lasse pointed
to where birch and aspen stood waving their shining foliage to and
fro in the breeze. "No, but it'll be a damned rough bit of work to
get it ready for ploughing; I'm sorry now that you aren't at home."
Lasse had several times made this allusion, but Pelle was deaf to it.
All this was not what he had imagined; he felt no desire to play the
landowner's son at home in the way Lasse had in mind.
"It'll be trouble enough here to manage about your daily bread,"
he said, with remarkable precocity.
"Oh, it won't be so difficult to earn our daily bread, even if we
can't hold a feast every day," said Lasse, affronted. "And here at
any rate a man can straighten his back without having a bailiff come
yapping round him. Even if I were to work myself to death here, at
least I've done with slavery. And you must not forget the pleasure
of seeing the soil coming under one's hands, day after day, and
yielding something instead of lying there useless. That is indeed
the finest task a man can perform--to till the earth and make it
fruitful--I can think of none better! But you--have you lost the
farmer's instinct in town?"
Pelle did not reply. Although there might be something fine and
splendid in working oneself to death over a bit of land, just so
that something different might grow there, he himself was glad that
he did not possess this farmer's instinct.
"My father, and his father, and all of our family I have ever known,
we've all had something in us so that we've been driven to improve
the soil, without thinking of our own comfort. But it certainly
never entered the mind of one of us that we should ever hear it ill
spoken of--and by one of our own people too!" Lasse spoke with his
face turned away--as did the Almighty when He was wroth with His
people; and Pelle felt as though he were a hateful renegade, as
bad as bad could be. But nevertheless he would not give in.
"I should be no use at all here," he said apologetically, gazing
in the direction of the sea. "I don't believe in it."
"No, you've cut yourself loose from it all, you have!" retorted
Lasse bitterly. "But you'll repent it some day, in the long run.
Life among the strangers there isn't all splendor and enjoyment."
Pelle did not answer; he felt at that moment too much of a man to
bandy words. He contained himself, and they went onward in silence.
"Well, of course, it isn't an estate," said Lasse suddenly, in order
to take the sting out of further criticism. Pelle was still silent.
Round the house the land was cultivated, and all round the
cultivated land the luxuriant heather revealed disappearing traces
of cultivation, and obliterated furrows.
"This was a cornfield once," said Pelle.
"Well, to think of your seeing that right off!" exclaimed Lasse,
half sarcastically, half in real admiration. "The deuce of an eye
you've got, you truly have! I should certainly have noticed nothing
particular about the heath--if I had not known. Yes, that has been
under cultivation, but the heath has won it back again! That was
under my predecessor, who took in more than he could work, so that
it ruined him. But you can see now that something can be done with
the land!" Lasse pointed to a patch of rye, and Pelle was obliged
to recognize that it looked very well. But through the whole length
of the field ran high ridges of broken stone, which told him what
a terrible labor this soil demanded before it could be brought under
cultivation. Beyond the rye lay newly-broken soil, which looked like
a dammed-up ice-field; the plough had been driven through mere
patches of soil. Pelle looked at it all, and it made him sad to
think of his father.
Lasse himself was undismayed.
"As it is, it needs two to hold the plough. Karna is very strong,
but even so it's as though one's arms would be torn from one's body
every time the plough strikes. And most of it has to be broken up
with pick and drill--and now and again it takes a bit of a sneeze.
I use dynamite; it's more powerful than powder, and it bites down
into the ground better," he said proudly.
"How much is under cultivation here?" asked Pelle.
"With meadow and garden, almost fourteen acres; but it will be more
before the year is out."
"And two families have been ruined already by those fourteen acres,"
said Karna, who had come out to call them in to dinner.
"Yes, yes; God be merciful to them--and now we get the fruit of
their labors! The parish won't take the farm away again--not from
us," he said. Lasse spoke in a tone full of self-reliance. Pelle
had never seen him stand so upright.
"I can never feel quite easy about it," said Karna; "it's as though
one were ploughing up churchyard soil. The first who was turned out
by the parish hanged himself, so they say."
"Yes, he had a hut on the heath there--where you see the elder-trees
--but it's fallen to pieces since then. I'm so glad it didn't happen
in the house." Lasse shuddered uncomfortably. "People say he haunts
the place when any misfortune is in store for those that come after
"Then the house was built later?" asked Pelle, astonished, for it
had such a tumble-down appearance.
"Yes, my predecessor built that. He got the land from the parish
free for twenty years, provided he built a house and tilled a tonde
of land a year. Those were not such bad conditions. Only he took
in too much at a time; he was one of those people who rake away
fiercely all the morning and have tired themselves out before midday.
But he built the house well"--and Lasse kicked the thin mud-daubed
wall--"and the timber-work is good. I think I shall break a lot
of stone when the winter comes; the stone must be got out of the
way, and it isn't so bad to earn a few hundred kroner. And in two
or three years we will make the old house into a barn and build
ourselves a new house--eh, Karna? With a cellar underneath and high
steps outside, like they have at Stone Farm. It could be of unhewn
granite, and I can manage the walls myself."
Karna beamed with joy, but Pelle could not enter into their mood. He
was disillusioned; the descent from his dream to this naked reality
was too great. And a feeling rose within him of dull resentment
against this endless labor, which, inexperienced though he was,
was yet part of his very being by virtue of the lives of ten, nay,
twenty generations. He himself had not waged the hard-fought war
against the soil, but he had as a matter of course understood
everything that had to do with tilling the soil ever since he could
crawl, and his hands had an inborn aptitude for spade and rake and
plough. But he had not inherited his father's joy in the soil;
his thoughts had struck out in a new direction. Yet this endless
bondage to the soil lay rooted in him, like a hatred, which gave him
a survey unknown to his father. He was reasonable; he did not lose
his head at the sight of seventy acres of land, but asked what they
contained. He himself was not aware of it, but his whole being was
quick with hostility toward the idea of spending one's strength in
this useless labor; and his point of view was as experienced as
though he had been Lasse's father.
"Wouldn't you have done better to buy a cottage-holding with twelve
or fourteen acres of land, and that in a good state of cultivation?"
Lasse turned on him impatiently. "Yes, and then a man might stint
and save all his life, and never get beyond cutting off his fly
to mend his seat; he'd most likely spend twice what he made! What
the deuce! I might as well have stayed where I was. Here, it's true,
I do work harder and I have to use my brains more, but then there's
a future before me. When I've once got the place under cultivation
this will be a farm to hold its own with any of them!" Lasse gazed
proudly over his holding; in his mind's eye it was waving with grain
and full of prime cattle.
"It would carry six horses and a score or two of cows easily," he
said aloud. "That would bring in a nice income! What do you think,
"I think the dinner will be cold," said Karna, laughing. She was
At dinner Lasse proposed that Pelle should send his clothes to
be washed and mended at home. "You've certainly got enough to do
without that," he said indulgently. "Butcher Jensen goes to market
every Saturday; he'd take it for you and put it down by the church,
and it would be odd if on a Sunday no one from the heath went to
church, who could bring the bundle back to us."
But Pelle suddenly turned stubborn and made no reply.
"I just thought it would be too much for you to wash and mend for
yourself," said Lasse patiently. "In town one must have other things
to think about, and then it isn't really proper work for a man!"
"I'll do it myself all right," murmured Pelle ungraciously.
Now he would show them that he could keep himself decent. It was
partly in order to revenge himself for his own neglect that he
refused the offer.
"Yes, yes," said Lasse meekly; "I just asked you. I hope you won't
take it amiss."
However strong Karna might be, and however willing to help in
everything, Lasse did greatly feel the need of a man to work with
him. Work of a kind that needed two had accumulated, and Pelle did
not spare himself. The greater part of the day was spent in heaving
great stones out of the soil and dragging them away; Lasse had
knocked a sledge together, and the two moorland horses were
harnessed up to it.
"Yes, you mustn't look at them too closely," said Lasse, as he
stroked the two scarecrows caressingly. "Just wait until a few
months have gone by, and then you'll see! But they've plenty of
There was much to be done, and the sweat was soon pouring down their
faces; but they were both in good spirits. Lasse was surprised at
the boy's strength--with two or three such lads he could turn the
whole wilderness over. Once again he sighed that Pelle was not
living at home; but to this Pelle still turned a deaf ear. And
before they were aware of it Karna had come out again and was
calling them to supper.
"I think we'll harness the horses and drive Pelle halfway to town--
as a reward for the work he's done," said Lasse gaily. "And we've
both earned a drive." So the two screws were put into the cart.
It was amusing to watch Lasse; he was a notable driver, and one
could not but be almost persuaded that he had a pair of blood horses
in front of him. When they met any one he would cautiously gather up
the reins in order to be prepared lest the horses should shy--"they
might so easily bolt," he said solemnly. And when he succeeded in
inducing them to trot he was delighted. "They take some holding," he
would say, and to look at him you would have thought they called for
a strong pair of wrists. "Damn it all, I believe I shall have to put
the curb on them!" And he set both his feet against the dashboard,
and sawed the reins to and fro.
When half the distance was covered Father Lasse wanted to drive
just a little further, and again a little further still--oh, well,
then, they might as well drive right up to the house! He had quite
forgotten that the following day would be a day of hard labor both
for himself and for the horses. But at last Pelle jumped out.
"Shan't we arrange that about your washing?" asked Lasse.
"No!" Pelle turned his face away--surely they might stop asking
"Well, well, take care of yourself, and thanks for your help.
You'll come again as soon as you can?"
Pelle smiled at them, but said nothing; he dared not open his mouth,
for fear of the unmanly lump that had risen in his throat. Silently
he held out his hand and ran toward the town.
The other apprentices were able to provide themselves with clothes,
as they worked on their own account in their own time; they got work
from their friends, and at times they pirated the master's customers,
by underbidding him in secret. They kept their own work under the
bench; when the master was not at home they got it out and proceeded
with it. "To-night I shall go out and meet my girl," they would say,
laughing. Little Nikas said nothing at all.
Pelle had no friends to give him work, and he could not have done
much. If the others had much to do after work-hours or on Sundays
he had to help them; but he gained nothing by so doing. And he also
had Nilen's shoes to keep mended, for old acquaintances' sake.
Jeppe lectured them at great length on the subject of tips, as
he had promised; for the townsfolk had been complaining of this
burdensome addition to their expenditure, and in no measured
terms had sworn either to abate or abolish this tax on all retail
transactions. But it was only because they had read of the matter
in the newspapers, and didn't want to be behind the capital! They
always referred to the subject when Pelle went round with his shoes,
and felt in their purses; if there was a shilling there they would
hide it between their fingers, and say that he should have something
next time for certain--he must remind them of it another time! At
first he did remind them--they had told him to do so--but then Jeppe
received a hint that his youngest apprentice must stop his attempts
at swindling. Pelle could not understand it, but he conceived an
increasing dislike of these people, who could resort to such a
shameless trick in order to save a penny piece, which they would
never have missed.
Pelle, who had been thinking that he had had enough of the world
of poor folk, and must somehow contrive to get into another class,
learned once again to rely on the poor, and rejoiced over every pair
of poor folk's shoes which the master anathematized because they
were so worn out. The poor were not afraid to pay a shilling if they
had one; it made him feel really sad to see how they would search in
every corner to get a few pence together, and empty their children's
money-boxes, while the little ones stood by in silence, looking on
with mournful eyes. And if he did not wish to accept their money
they were offended. The little that he did receive he owed to people
who were as poor as himself.
Money, to these folk, no longer consisted of those round,
indifferent objects which people in the upper strata of human
society piled up in whole heaps. Here every shilling meant so much
suffering or happiness, and a grimy little copper would still the
man's angry clamor and the child's despairing cry for food. Widow
Hoest gave him a ten-ore piece, and he could not help reflecting
that she had given him her mid-day meal for two days to come!
One day, as he was passing the miserable hovels which lay out by
the northern dunes, a poor young woman came to her door and called
to him; she held the remains of a pair of elastic-sided boots in her
hand. "Oh, shoemaker's boy, do be so kind as to mend these a bit for
me!" she pleaded. "Just sew them up anyhow, so that they'll stick
on my feet for half the evening. The stone-masons are giving their
feast, and I do so want to go to it!" Pelle examined the boots;
there was not much to be done for them, nevertheless he took them,
and mended them in his own time. He learned from Jens that the woman
was the widow of a stone-cutter, who was killed by an explosion
shortly after their marriage. The boots looked quite decent when
he returned them.
"Well, I've no money, but I do offer you many, many thanks!" she
said, looking delightedly at the boots; "and how nice you've made
them look! God bless you for it."
"Thanks killed the blacksmith's cat," said Pelle smiling. Her
pleasure was contagious.
"Yes, and God's blessing falls where two poor people share their
bed," the young woman rejoined jestingly. "Still, I wish you
everything good as payment--now I can dance after all!"
Pelle was quite pleased with himself as he made off. But few doors
farther on another poor woman accosted him; she had evidently heard
of the success of the first, and there she stood holding a dirty
pair of children's boots, which she earnestly begged him to mend.
He took the boots and repaired them although it left him still
poorer; he knew too well what need was to refuse. This was the first
time that any one in the town had regarded him as an equal, and
recognized him at the first glance as a fellow-creature. Pelle
pondered over this; he did not know that poverty is cosmopolitan.
When he went out after the day's work he took a back seat; he went
about with the poorest boys and behaved as unobtrusively as possible.
But sometimes a desperate mood came over him, and at times he would
make himself conspicuous by behavior that would have made old Lasse
weep; as, for example, when he defiantly sat upon a freshly-tarred
bollard. He became thereby the hero of the evening; but as soon as
he was alone he went behind a fence and let down his breeches in
order to ascertain the extent of the damage. He had been running his
errands that day in the best clothes he possessed. This was no joke.
Lasse had deeply imbued him with his own moderation, and had taught
him to treat his things carefully, so that it seemed to Pelle almost
a pious duty. But Pelle felt himself forsaken by all the gods, and
now he defied them.
The poor women in the streets were the only people who had eyes for
him. "Now look at the booby, wearing his confirmation jacket on a
weekday!" they would say, and call him over in order to give him a
lecture, which as a rule ended in an offer to repair the damage. But
it was all one to Pelle; if he ran about out-of-doors in his best
clothes he was only doing as the town did. At all events he had
a shirt on, even if it was rather big! And the barber's assistant
himself, who looked most important in tail-coat and top-hat, and was
the ideal of every apprentice, did not always wear a shirt; Pelle
had once noticed that fact as the youth was swinging some ladies.
Up in the country, where a man was appraised according to the number
of his shirts, such a thing would have been impossible. But here in
town people did not regard such matters so strictly.
He was no longer beside himself with astonishment at the number of
people--respectable folk for the most part--who had no abiding place
anywhere, but all through the year drifted in the most casual manner
from one spot to another. Yet the men looked contented, had wives
and children, went out on Sundays, and amused themselves; and after
all why should one behave as if the world was coming to an end
because one hadn't a barrel of salt pork or a clamp of potatoes to
see one through the winter? Recklessness was finally Pelle's refuge
too; when all the lights seemed to have gone out of the future it
helped him to take up the fairy-tale of life anew, and lent a glamor
to naked poverty. Imagination entered even into starvation: are you
or are you not going to die of it?
Pelle was poor enough for everything to be still before him, and
he possessed the poor man's alert imagination; the great world and
the romance of life were the motives that drew him through the void,
that peculiar music of life which is never silent, but murmurs to
the reckless and the careful alike. Of the world he knew well enough
that it was something incomprehensibly vast--something that was
always receding; yet in eighty days one could travel right round it,
to the place where men walk about with their heads downward, and
back again, and experience all its wonders. He himself had set out
into this incomprehensible world, and here he was, stranded in
this little town, where there was never a crumb to feed a hungry
imagination; nothing but a teeming confusion of petty cares. One
felt the cold breath of the outer winds, and the dizziness of great
spaces; when the little newspaper came the small tradesmen and
employers would run eagerly across the street, their spectacles on
their noses, and would speak, with gestures of amazement, of the
things that happened outside. "China," they would say; "America!"
and fancy that they themselves made part of the bustling world. But
Pelle used to wish most ardently that something great and wonderful
might wander thither and settle down among them just for once! He
would have been quite contented with a little volcano underfoot,
so that the houses would begin to sway and bob to one another; or
a trifling inundation, so that ships would ride over the town, and
have to moor themselves to the weather-cock on the church steeple.
He had an irrational longing that something of this kind should
happen, something to drive the blood from his heart and make his
hair stand on end. But now he had enough to contend against apart
from matters of this sort; the world must look after itself until
times were better.
It was more difficult to renounce the old fairy-tales, for poverty
itself had sung them into his heart, and they spoke to him with
Father Lasse's quivering voice. "A rich child often lies in a poor
mother's lap," his father used to say, when he prophesied concerning
his son's future, and the saying sank deep into the boy's mind, like
the refrain of a song. But he had learned this much, that there were
no elephants here, on whose necks a plucky youngster could ride
astraddle, in order to ride down the tiger which was on the point
of tearing the King of the Himalayas to pieces so that he would of
course receive the king's daughter and half his kingdom as a reward
for his heroic deed. Pelle often loitered about the harbor, but no
beautifully dressed little girl ever fell into the water, so that he
might rescue her, and then, when he was grown up, make her his wife.
And if such a thing did really happen he knew now that his elders
would cheat him out of any tip he might receive. And he had quite
given up looking for the golden coach which was to run over him,
so that the two terrified ladies, who would be dressed in mourning,
would take him into their carriage and carry him off to their six-
storied castle! Of course, they would adopt him permanently in place
of the son which they had just lost, and who, curiously enough, was
exactly the same age as himself. No, there were no golden coaches
Out in the great world the poorest boy had the most wonderful
prospects; all the great men the books had ever heard of had been
poor lads like himself, who had reached their high estate through
good fortune and their own valor. But all the men in town who
possessed anything had attained their wealth by wearily plodding
forward and sucking the blood of the poor. They were always sitting
and brooding over their money, and they threw nothing away for a
lucky fellow to pick up; and they left nothing lying about, lest
some poor lad should come and take it. Not one of them considered
it beneath him to pick up an old trouser-button off the pavement,
and carry it home.
One evening Pelle was running out to fetch half a pound of canister
tobacco for Jeppe. In front of the coal-merchant's house the big dog,
as always, made for his legs, and he lost the twenty-five-ore piece.
While he was looking for it, an elderly man came up to him. Pelle
knew him very well; he was Monsen the shipowner, the richest man
in the town.
"Have you lost something, my lad?" he asked, and began to assist
in the search.
"Now he will question me," thought Pelle. "And then I shall answer
him boldly, and then he will look at me attentively and say--"
Pelle was always hoping for some mysterious adventure, such as
happens to an able lad and raises him to fortune.
But the shipowner did nothing he was expected to do. He merely
searched eagerly, and inquired: "Where were you walking? Here,
weren't you? Are you quite certain of that?"
"In any case he'll give me another twenty-five ore," thought Pelle.
"Extraordinary--how eager he is!" Pelle did not really want to go on
searching, but he could not very well leave off before the other.
"Well, well!" said the shipowner at last, "you may as well whistle
for those twenty-five ore. But what a booby you are!" And he moved
on, and Pelle looked after him for a long while before putting his
hand into his own pocket.
Later, as he was returning that way, he saw a man bowed over the
flagstones, striking matches as he searched. It was Monsen. The
sight tickled Pelle tremendously. "Have you lost anything?" he asked
mischievously, standing on the alert, lest he should get a box on
the ear. "Yes, yes; twenty-five ore;" groaned the shipowner. "Can't
you help me to find it, my boy?"
Well, he had long understood that Monsen was the richest man in the
town, and that he had become so by provisioning ships with spoiled
foodstuffs, and refitting old crank vessels, which he heavily
insured. And he knew who was a thief and who a bankrupt speculator,
and that Merchant Lau only did business with the little shopkeepers,
because his daughter had gone to the bad. Pelle knew the secret
pride of the town, the "Top-galeass," as she was called, who in her
sole self represented the allurements of the capital, and he knew
the two sharpers, and the consul with the disease which was eating
him up. All this was very gratifying knowledge for one of the
He had no intention of letting the town retain any trace of those
splendors with which he had once endowed it. In his constant
ramblings he stripped it to the buff. For instance, there stood the
houses of the town, some retiring, some standing well forward, but
all so neat on the side that faced the street, with their wonderful
old doorways and flowers in every window. Their neatly tarred
framework glistened, and they were always newly lime-washed, ochrous
yellow or dazzling white, sea-green, or blue as the sky. And on
Sundays there was quite a festive display of flags. But Pelle had
explored the back quarters of every house; and there were sinks and
traps there, with dense slimy growths, and stinking refuse-barrels,
and one great dustbin with a drooping elder-tree over it. And the
spaces between the cobble-stones were foul with the scales of
herrings and the guts of codfish, and the lower portions of the
walls were covered with patches of green moss.
The bookbinder and his wife went about hand in hand when they set
out for the meeting of some religious society. But at home they
fought, and in chapel, as they sat together and sang out of the
same hymn-book, they would secretly pinch one another's legs. "Yes,"
people used to say, "such a nice couple!" But the town couldn't
throw dust in Pelle's eyes; he knew a thing or two. If only he had
known just how to get himself a new blouse!
Some people didn't go without clothes so readily; they were
forever making use of that fabulous thing--credit! At first it took
his breath away to discover that the people here in the town got
everything they wanted without paying money for it. "Will you please
put it down?" they would say, when they came for their boots; and
"it's to be entered," he himself would say, when he made a purchase
for his employers. All spoke the same magical formula, and Pelle was
reminded of Father Lasse, who had counted his shillings over a score
of times before he ventured to buy anything. He anticipated much
from this discovery, and it was his intention to make good use of
the magic words when his own means became exhausted.
Now, naturally, he was wiser. He had discovered that the very poor
must always go marketing with their money in their hands, and even
for the others there came a day of reckoning. The master already
spoke with horror of the New Year; and it was very unfortunate for
his business that the leather-sellers had got him in their pocket,
so that he could not buy his material where it was cheapest. All
the small employers made the same complaint.
But the fairy-tale of credit was not yet exhausted--there was
still a manner of drawing a draft upon fortune, which could be kept
waiting, and on the future, which redeems all drafts. Credit was
a spark of poetry in the scramble of life; there were people going
about who were poor as church mice, yet they played the lord. Alfred
was such a lucky fellow; he earned not a red cent, but was always
dressed like a counter-jumper, and let himself want for nothing. If
he took a fancy to anything he simply went in and got it on "tick";
and he was never refused. His comrades envied him and regarded him
as a child of fortune.
Pelle himself had a little flirtation with fortune. One day he went
gaily into a shop, in order to procure himself some underclothing.
When he asked for credit they looked at him as though he could not
be quite sane, and he had to go away without effecting his object.
"There must be some secret about it that I don't know," he thought;
and he dimly remembered another boy, who couldn't stir the pot to
cook his porridge or lay the table for himself, because he didn't
know the necessary word. He sought Alfred forthwith in order to
Alfred was wearing new patent braces, and was putting on his collar.
On his feet were slippers with fur edging, which looked like feeding
pigeons. "I got them from a shopkeeper's daughter," he said; and he
coquetted with his legs; "she's quite gone on me. A nice girl too--
only there's no money."
Pelle explained his requirements.
"Shirts! shirts!" Alfred chortled with delight, and clapped his
hands before his face. "Good Lord, he wants to gets shirts on tick!
If only they had been linen shirts!" He was near bursting with
Pelle tried again. As a peasant--for he was still that--he had
thought of shirts first of all; but now he wanted a summer overcoat
and rubber cuffs. "Why do you want credit?" asked the shopkeeper,
hesitating. "Are you expecting any money? Or is there any one who
will give you a reference?"
No, Pelle didn't want to bring any one else into it; it was simply
that he had no money.
"Then wait until you have," said the shopkeeper surlily. "We don't
clothe paupers!" Pelle slunk away abashed.
"You're a fool!" said Alfred shortly. "You are just like Albinus--he
can never learn how to do it!"
"How do you do it then?" asked Pelle meekly.
"How do I do it--how do I do it?" Alfred could give no explanation;
"it just came of itself. But naturally I don't tell them that I'm
poor! No, you'd better leave it alone--it'll never succeed with you!"
"Why do you sit there and pinch your upper lip?" asked Pelle
"Pinch? You goat, I'm stroking my moustache!"
On Saturday afternoon Pelle was busily sweeping the street. It was
getting on for evening; in the little houses there was already
a fire in the grate; one could hear it crackling at Builder
Rasmussen's and Swedish Anders', and the smell of broiled herrings
filled the street. The women were preparing something extra good in
order to wheedle their husbands when they came home with the week's
wages. Then they ran across to the huckster's for schnaps and beer,
leaving the door wide open behind them; there was just half a minute
to spare while the herring was getting cooked on the one side! And
now Pelle sniffed it afar off--Madame Rasmussen was tattling away
to the huckster, and a voice screeched after her: "Madame Rasmussen!
Your herring is burning!" Now she came rushing back, turning her
head confusedly from house to house as she scampered across the
street and into her house. The blue smoke drifted down among the
houses; the sun fell lower and filled the street with gold-dust.
There were people sweeping all along the street; Baker Jorgen, the
washerwoman, and the Comptroller's maid-servant. The heavy boughs
of the mulberry-tree across the road drooped over the wall and
offered their last ripe fruits to whomsoever would pick them. On
the other side of the wall the rich merchant Hans--he who married
the nurse-maid--was pottering about his garden. He never came out,
and the rumor ran that he was held a prisoner by his wife and her
kin. But Pelle had leaned his ear against the wall, and had heard
a stammering old voice repeating the same pet names, so that it
sounded like one of those love-songs that never come to an end; and
when in the twilight he slipped out of his attic window and climbed
on to the ridge of the roof, in order to take a look at the world,
he had seen a tiny little white-haired man walking down there in the
garden, with his arm round the waist of a woman younger than himself.
They were like a couple of young lovers, and they had to stop every
other moment in order to caress one another. The most monstrous
things were said of him and his money; of his fortune, that once
upon a time was founded on a paper of pins, and was now so great
that some curse must rest upon it.
From the baker's house the baker's son came slinking hymn-book in
hand. He fled across to the shelter of the wall, and hurried off;
old Jorgen stood there gobbling with laughter as he watched him,
his hands folded over his broomstick.
"O Lord, is that a man?" he cried to Jeppe, who sat at his window,
shaving himself before the milk-can. "Just look how he puffs! Now
he'll go in and beg God to forgive him for going courting!"
Jeppe came to the window to see and to silence him; one could hear
Brother Jorgen's falsetto voice right down the street. "Has he been
courting? However did you get him to venture such a leap?" he asked
"Oh, it was while we were sitting at table. I had a tussle with my
melancholy madman--because I couldn't help thinking of the little
Jorgen. God knows, I told myself, no little Jorgen has come to carry
on your name, and the boy's a weakling, and you've no one else to
build on! It's all very well going about with your nose in the air
all the days God gives you--everything will be swept away and be to
no purpose. And everything of that sort--you know how I get thinking
when ideas like that get the upper hand with me. I sat there and
looked at the boy, and angry I felt with him, that I did; and right
opposite him there was sitting a fine bit of womanhood, and he not
looking at her. And with that I struck my hand on the table, and I
says, 'Now, boy, just you take Marie by the hand and ask her whether
she'll be your wife--I want to make an end of the matter now and see
what you're good for!' The boy all shrivels up and holds out his
hand, and Marie, it don't come amiss to her. 'Yes, that I will!'
she says, and grips hold of him before he has time to think what
he's doing. And we shall be having the marriage soon."
"If you can make a boot out of that leather!" said Jeppe.
"Oh, she's a warm piece--look at the way she's built. She's thawing
him already. Women, they know the way--he won't freeze in bed."
Old Jorgen laughed contentedly, and went off to his work. "Yes, why,
she'd breathe life into the dead," he announced to the street at
The others went out in their finest clothes, but Pelle did not care
to go. He had not been able to accomplish his constant resolution to
keep himself neat and clean, and this failure weighed upon him and
abashed him. And the holes in his stockings, which were now so big
that they could no longer be darned, were disgustingly apparent,
with his skin showing through them, so that he had a loathing for
Now all the young people were going out. He could see the sea in
the opening at the end of the street; it was perfectly calm, and had
borrowed the colors of the sunset. They would be going to the harbor
or the dunes by the sea; there would be dancing on the grass, and
perhaps some would get to fighting about a girl. But he wasn't going
to be driven out of the pack like a mangy dog; he didn't care a hang
for the whole lot of them!
He threw off his apron and established himself on a beer-barrel
which stood outside before the gate. On the bench opposite sat
the older inhabitants of the street, puffing at their pipes and
gossiping about everything under the sun. Now the bells sounded the
hour for leaving off work. Madame Rasmussen was beating her child
and reviling it in time with her blows. Then suddenly all was silent;
only the crying of the child continued, like a feeble evening hymn.
Old Jeppe was talking about Malaga--"when I ran ashore at Malaga!"--
but Baker Jorgen was still lamenting his want of an heir, and
sighing: "Yes, yes; if only one could see into the future!" Then he
suddenly began to talk about the Mormons. "It might really be great
fun to see, some time, what they have to offer you," he said.
"I thought you'd been a Mormon a long time, Uncle Jorgen," said
Master Andres. The old man laughed.
"Well, well; one tries all sorts of things in one's time," he said,
and looked out at the sky.
Up the street stood the watchmaker, on his stone steps, his face
turned up to the zenith, while he shouted his senseless warnings:
"The new time! I ask you about the new time, O God the Father!"
Two weary stevedores were going homeward. "He'll drive all poverty
out of the world and give us all a new life--that's the form his
madness takes," said one of them, with a dreary laugh.
"Then he's got the millennium on the brain?" said the other.
"No, he's just snarling at the world," said old Jorgen, behind
them. "We shall certainly get a change in the weather."
"Things are bad with him just now, poor fellow," said Bjerregrav,
shuddering. "It was about this time of the year that he lost his
An inner voice admonished Pelle: "Don't sit there with your hands
in your lap, but go in and look after your clothes!" But he could
not bring himself to do so--the difficulties had become too
insurmountable. On the following day Manna and the others called
him, but he could not spring over the wall to join them; they had
begun to turn up their noses at him and regard him critically.
He did not very well understand it, but he had become an outcast,
a creature who no longer cared about washing himself properly.
But what was the use? He could not go on contending against the
invincible! No one had warned him in time, and now the town had
captured him, and he had given up everything else. He must shuffle
through life as best he could.
No one had a thought for him! When washing was being done for his
employers it never occurred to Madam to wash anything of his, and he
was not the boy to come forward of himself. The washerwoman was more
considerate; when she could she would smuggle in some of Pelle's
dirty linen, although it meant more work for her. But she was poor
herself; as for the rest, they only wanted to make use of him. There
was no one in town who cared sufficiently for his welfare to take
the trouble even to open his mouth to tell him the truth. This was
a thought that made him feel quite weak about the knees, although
he was fifteen years old and had courage to tackle a mad bull. More
than anything else it was his loneliness that weakened his powers of
resistance. He was helpless alone among all these people, a child,
who had to look after himself as best he could, and be prepared for
attacks from every quarter.
He sat there, making no effort to dispel the misery that had come
over him, and was working its will with him, while with half an ear
he listened to the life around him. But suddenly he felt something
in his waistcoat pocket--money! He felt immensely relieved at once,
but he did not hurry; he slipped behind the gate and counted it.
One and a half kroner. He was on the point of regarding it as a
gift from on high, as something which the Almighty had in His great
goodness placed there, but then it occurred to him that this was his
master's money. It had been given him the day before for repairs to
a pair of ladies' shoes, and he had forgotten to pay it in, while
the master, strangely enough, had quite forgotten to ask for it.
Pelle stood with bent back by the well outside, scrubbing himself
over a bucket until his blood tingled. Then he put on his best
clothes, drew his shoes on to his naked feet, to avoid the painful
feeling of the ragged stockings, and buttoned his rubber collar--for
the last time innocent of any tie--to his shirt. Shortly afterward
he was standing outside a shop-window, contemplating some large
neckties, which had just been put upon the market, and could be worn
with any one of four faces outward; they filled the whole of the
waistcoat, so that one did not see the shirt. Now he would be
disdained no longer! For a moment he ran to and fro and breathed
the air; then he got upon the scent, and ran at a breathless gallop
toward the sea-dunes, where the young folk of the town played late
into the summer night that lay over the wan sea.
Of course, it was only a loan. Pelle had to sole a pair of shoes
for a baker's apprentice who worked with Nilen; as soon as they were
finished he would repay the money. He could put the money under the
cutting-out board in his master's room; the master would find it
there, would gaze at it with a droll expression, and say: "What the
devil is this?" And then he would knock on the wall, and would treat
Pelle to a long rigmarole about his magical gifts--and then he would
ask him to run out and fetch a half-bottle of port.
He did not receive the money for soling the shoes; half the sum he
had to pay out for leather, and the rest was a long time coming, for
the baker's apprentice was a needy wretch. But he did not doubt his
own integrity; the master might be as sure of his money as if it had
been in the bank. Yet now and again he forgot to give up petty sums
--if some necessity or other was pressing him unexpectedly. They
were, of course, all loans--until the golden time came. And that
was never far away.
One day he returned home as the young master was standing at the
door, staring at the driving clouds overhead. He gave Pelle's
shoulder a familiar squeeze. "How was it they didn't pay you for
the shoes at the Chamberlain's yesterday?"
Pelle went crimson and his hand went to his waistcoat pocket.
"I forgot it," he said in a low voice.
"Now, now!" The master shook him good-naturedly. "It's not that
I mistrust you. But just to be methodical!"
Pelle's heart pounded wildly in his body; he had just decided to use
the money to buy a pair of stockings, the very next time he went out
--and then what would have happened? And the master's belief in him!
And all at once his offence showed itself to him in all its shameful
treachery; he felt as if he was on the point of being sick, so
disturbed was he. Until this moment he had preserved through
everything the feeling of his own worth, and now it was destroyed;
there could not be any one wickeder than he in all the world. In
future no one could trust him any more, and he could no longer look
people straight in the face; unless he went to the master at once
and cast himself and his shame unconditionally on his mercy. There
was no other salvation, that he knew.
But he was not certain that the master would conceive the matter
in its finer aspect, or that everything would turn out for the best;
he had given up believing in fairy-tales. Then he would simply be
turned away, or perhaps be sent to the courthouse, and it would be
all up with him.
Pelle resolved to keep it to himself; and for many days he went
about suffering from a sense of his own wickedness. But then
necessity gripped him by the throat and brushed all else aside; and
in order to procure himself the most necessary things he was forced
to resort to the dangerous expedient of stating; when the master
gave him money to buy anything, that it was to be put down. And then
one day it was all up with him. The others were ready to pull down
the house about his ears; they threw his things out of the garret
and called him a filthy, beast. Pelle wept; he was quite convinced
that not he was the guilty person, but Peter, who was always keeping
company with the nastiest women, but he could get no hearing. He
hurried away, with the resolves that he would never come back.
On the dunes he was captured by Emil and Peter, who had been sent
out after him by old Jeppe. He did not want to go back with them,
but they threw him down and dragged him back, one taking his head
and one his legs. People came to the door and laughed and asked
questions, and the other two gave their explanation of the matter,
which was a terrible disgrace for Pelle.
And then he fell ill. He lay under the tiled roof raving with fever;
they had thrown his bed into the loft. "What, isn't he up yet?" said
Jeppe, astounded, when he came in to the workshop. "No? Well, he'll
soon get up when he gets hungry." It was no joke to take a sick
apprentice his meals in bed. But Pelle did not come down.
Once the young master threw all considerations overboard and took
some food up to him. "You're making yourself ridiculous," sneered
Jeppe; "you'll never be able to manage people like that!" And Madam
scolded. But Master Andres whistled until he was out of hearing.
Poor Pelle lay there, in delirium; his little head was full of
fancies, more than it would hold. But now the reaction set in, and
he lay there stuffing himself with all that was brought him.
The young master sat upstairs a great deal and received enlightenment
on many points. It was not his nature to do anything energetically,
but he arranged that Pelle's washing should be done in the house,
and he took care that Lasse should be sent for.
Jeppe was related to about half the island, but he was not greatly
interested in disentangling his relationship. He could easily go
right back to the founder of the family, and trace the generations
through two centuries, and follow the several branches of the family
from country to town and over the sea and back again, and show that
Andres and the judge must be cousins twice removed. But if any
insignificant person asked him: "How was it, then--weren't my father
and you first cousins?" he would answer brusquely, "Maybe, but the
soup grows too thin after a time. This relationship!"
"Then you and I, good Lord! are second cousins, and you are related
to the judge as well," Master Andres would say. He did not grudge
people any pleasure they could derive from the facts of relationship.
Poor people regarded him gratefully--they said he had kind eyes; it
was a shame that he should not be allowed to live.
Jeppe was the oldest employer in the town, and among the shoemakers
his workshop was the biggest. He was able, too, or rather he had
been, and he still possessed the manual skill peculiar to the old
days. When it came to a ticklish job he would willingly show them
how to get on with it, or plan some contrivance to assist them.
Elastic-sided boots and lace-up boots had superseded the old
footwear, but honest skill still meant an honest reputation. And
if some old fellow wanted a pair of Wellingtons or Bluchers of
leather waterproofed with grease, instead of by some new-fangled
devilry, he must needs go to Jeppe--no one else could shape an
instep as he could. And when it came to handling the heavy dressed
leathers for sea-boots there was no one like Jeppe. He was obstinate,
and rigidly opposed to everything new, where everybody else was led
away by novelty. In this he was peculiarly the representative of
the old days, and people respected him as such.
The apprentices alone did not respect him. They did everything they
could to vex him and to retaliate on him for being such a severe
task-master. They all laid themselves out to mystify him, speaking
of the most matter-of-fact things in dark and covert hints, in order
to make old Jeppe suspicious, and if he spied upon them and caught
them at something which proved to be nothing at all they had a great
day of it.
"What does this mean? Where are you going without permission?" asked
Jeppe, if one of them got up to go into the court; he was always
forgetting that times had altered. They did not answer, and then he
would fly into a passion. "I'll have you show me respect!" he would
cry, stamping on the floor until the dust eddied round him. Master
Andres would slowly raise his head. "What's the matter with you this
time, father?" he would ask wearily. Then Jeppe would break out into
fulminations against the new times.
If Master Andres and the journeyman were not present, the
apprentices amused themselves by making the old man lose his temper;
and this was not difficult, as he saw hostility in everything.
Then he would snatch up a knee-strap and begin to rain blows upon
the sinner. At the same time he would make the most extraordinary
grimaces and give vent to a singular gurgling sound. "There, take
that, although it grieves me to use harsh measures!" he would mew.
"And that, too--and that! You've got to go through with it, if you
want to enter the craft!" Then he would give the lad something that
faintly resembled a kick, and would stand there struggling for
breath. "You're a troublesome youngster--you'll allow that?" "Yes,
my mother used to break a broomstick over my head every other day!"
replied Peter, the rogue, snorting. "There, you see you are! But it
may all turn out for the best even now. The foundation's not so bad!"
Jeppe doddered to and fro, his hands behind his back. The rest of
the day he was inclined to solemnity, and did his best to obliterate
all remembrance of the punishment. "It was only for your own good!"
he would say, in a propitiatory tone.
Jeppe was first cousin to the crazy Anker, but he preferred not to
lay claim to the fact; the man could not help being mad, but he made
his living, disgracefully enough, by selling sand in the streets--a
specialist in his way. Day by day one saw Anker's long, thin figure
in the streets, with a sackful of sand slung over his sloping
shoulders; he wore a suit of blue twill and white woollen stockings,
and his face was death-like. He was quite fleshless. "That comes of
all his digging," people said. "Look at his assistant!"
He never appeared in the workshop with his sack of sand; he was
afraid of Jeppe, who was now the oldest member of the family.
Elsewhere he went in and out everywhere with his clattering wooden
shoes; and people bought of him, as they must have sand for their
floors, and his was as good as any other. He needed next to nothing
for his livelihood; people maintained that he never ate anything,
but lived on his own vitals. With the money he received he bought
materials for the "New Time," and what was left he threw away,
in his more exalted moments, from the top of his high stairs. The
street-urchins always came running up when the word went round that
the madness about the "new time" was attacking him.
He and Bjerregrav had been friends as boys. Formerly they had been
inseparable, and neither of them was willing to do his duty and
marry, although each was in a position to keep a wife and children.
At an age when others were thinking about how to find favor with
the womenfolk, these two were running about with their heads full of
rubbish which enraged people. At that time a dangerous revolutionist
was living with Bjerregrav's brother; he had spent many years on
Christianso, but then the Government had sent him to spend the rest
of his term of captivity on Bornholm. Dampe was his name; Jeppe
had known him when an apprentice in Copenhagen; and his ambition was
to overthrow God and king. This ambition of his did not profit him
greatly; he was cast down like a second Lucifer, and only kept his
head on his shoulders by virtue of an act of mercy. The two young
people regarded him as then justification, and he turned their heads
with his venomous talk, so that they began to ponder over things
which common folk do better to leave alone. Bjerregrav came through
this phase with a whole skin, but Anker paid the penalty by losing
his wits. Although they both had a comfortable competence, they
pondered above all things over the question of poverty--as though
there was anything particular to be discovered about that!
All this was many years ago; it was about the time when the
craze for freedom had broken out in the surrounding nations with
fratricide and rebellion. Matters were not so bad on the island, for
neither Anker nor Bjerregrav was particularly warlike; yet everybody
could see that the town was not behind the rest of the world. Here
the vanity of the town was quite in agreement with Master Jeppe,
but for the rest he roundly condemned the whole movement. He always
looked ready to fall upon Bjerregrav tooth and nail if the
conversation turned on Anker's misfortune.
"Dampe!" said Jeppe scornfully, "he has turned both your heads!"
"That's a lie!" stammered Bjerregrav. "Anker went wrong later
than that--after King Frederick granted us liberty. And it's only
that I'm not very capable; I have my wits, thank God!" Bjerregrav
solemnly raised the fingers of his right hand to his lips, a gesture
which had all the appearance of a surviving vestige of the sign of
"You and your wits!" hissed Jeppe contemptuously. "You, who throw
your money away over the first tramp you meet! And you defend an
abominable agitator, who never goes out by daylight like other
people, but goes gallivanting about at night!"
"Yes, because he's ashamed of humanity; he wants to make the world
more beautiful!" Bjerregrav blushed with embarrassment when he had
But Jeppe was beside himself with contempt. "So gaol-birds are
ashamed of honest people! So that's why he takes his walks at night!
Well, the world would of course be a more beautiful place if it were
filled with people like you and Dampe!"
The pitiful thing about Anker was that he was such a good craftsman.
He had inherited the watchmaker's trade from his father and
grandfather, and his Bornholm striking-clocks were known all over
the world; orders came to him from Funen as well as from the capital.
But when the Constitution was granted he behaved like a child--as
though people had not always been free on Bornholm! Now, he said,
the new time had begun, and in its honor he intended, in his insane
rejoicing, to make an ingenious clock which should show the moon and
the date and the month and year. Being an excellent craftsman, he
completed it successfully, but then it entered his head that the
clock ought to show the weather as well. Like so many whom God had
endowed with His gifts, he ventured too far and sought to rival God
Himself. But here the brakes were clapped on, and the whole project
was nearly derailed. For a long time he took it greatly to heart,
but when the work was completed he rejoiced. He was offered a large
price for his masterpiece, and Jeppe bade him close with the offer,
but he answered crazily--for he was now definitely insane--"This
cannot be bought with money. Everything I made formerly had its
value in money, but not this. Can any one buy _me_?"
For a long time he was in a dilemma as to what he should do with
his work, but then one day he came to Jeppe, saying: "Now I know;
the best ought to have the clock. I shall send it to the King. He
has given us the new time, and this clock will tell the new time."
Anker sent the clock away, and after some time he received two
hundred thalers, paid him through the Treasury.
This was a large sum of money, but Anker was not satisfied; he had
expected a letter of thanks from the King's own hand. He behaved
very oddly about this, and everything went wrong with him; over and
over again trouble built its nest with him. The money he gave to
the poor, and he lamented that the new time had not yet arrived. So
he sank even deeper into his madness, and however hard Jeppe scolded
him and lectured him it did no good. Finally he went so far as to
fancy that he was appointed to create the new time, and then he
became cheerful once more.
Three or four families of the town--very poor people, so demoralized
that the sects would have nothing to do with them--gathered around
Anker, and heard the voice of God in his message. "_They_ lose
nothing by sitting under a crazy man," saw Jeppe scornfully. Anker
himself paid no attention to them, but went his own way. Presently
he was a king's son in disguise, and was betrothed to the eldest
daughter of the King--and the new time was coming. Or when his mood
was quieter, he would sit and work at an infallible clock which
would not show the time; it would _be_ the time--the new time
He went to and fro in the workshop, in order to let Master Andres
see the progress of his invention; he had conceived a blind
affection for the young master. Every year, about the first of
January, Master Andres had to write a letter for him, a love-letter
to the king's daughter, and had also to take it upon him to despatch
it to the proper quarter; and from time to time Anker would run in
to ask whether an answer had yet arrived; and at the New Year a
fresh love-letter was sent off. Master Andres had them all put away.
One evening--it was nearly time to knock off--there was a thundering
knock on the workshop door, and the sound of some one humming a
march drifted in from the entry. "Can you not open?" cried a solemn
voice: "the Prince is here!"
"Pelle, open the door quick!" said the master. Pelle flung the door
wide open, and Anker marched in. He wore a paper hat with a waving
plume, and epaulettes made out of paper frills; his face was beaming,
and he stood there with his hand to his hat as he allowed the march
to die away. The young master rose gaily and shouldered arms with
"Your Majesty," he said, "how goes it with the new time?"
"Not at all well!" replied Anker, becoming serious. "The pendulums
that should keep the whole in motion are failing me." He stood still,
gazing at the door; his brain was working mysteriously.
"Ought they to be made of gold?" The master's eyes were twinkling,
but he was earnestness personified.
"They ought to be made of eternity," said Anker unwillingly,
"and first it has got to be invented."
For a long time he stood there, staring in front of him with his
gray, empty eyes, without speaking a word. He did not move; only
his temples went on working as though some worm was gnawing at them
and seeking its way out.
Suddenly it became uncomfortable; his silence was sometimes like
a living darkness that surrounded those about him. Pelle sat there
with palpitating heart.
Then the lunatic came forward and bent over the young master's ear.
"Has an answer come from the king?" he asked, in a penetrating
"No, not yet; but I expect it every day. You can be quite easy," the
master whispered back. Anker stood for a few moments in silence; he
looked as though he must be meditating, but after his own fashion.
Then he turned round and marched out of the workshop.
"Go after him and see he gets home all right," said the young
master. His voice sounded mournful now. Pelle followed the
clockmaker up the street.
It was a Saturday evening, and the workers were on their way
homeward from the great quarries and the potteries which lay about
half a mile beyond the town. They passed in large groups, their
dinner-boxes on their back, with a beer-bottle hung in front as a
counter-weight. Their sticks struck loudly on the flagstones, and
the iron heel-pieces of their wooden shoes struck out sparks as they
passed. Pelle knew that weary homecoming; it was as though weariness
in person had invaded the town. And he knew the sound of this
taciturn procession; the snarling sound when this man or that made
an unexpected and involuntary movement with his stiffened limbs, and
was forced to groan with the pain of it. But to-night they gave him
a different impression, and something like a smile broke through the
encrusted stone-dust on their faces; it was the reflection of the
bright new kroner that lay in their pockets after the exhausting
labor of the week. Some of them had to visit the post-office to
renew their lottery tickets or to ask for a postponement, and here
and there one was about to enter a tavern, but at the last moment
would be captured by his wife, leading a child by the hand.
Anker stood motionless on the sidewalk, his face turned toward the
passing workers. He had bared his head, and the great plume of his
hat drooped to the ground behind him; he looked agitated, as though
something were fermenting within him, which could not find utterance,
save in an odd, unintelligible noise. The workers shook their heads
sadly as they trudged onward; one solitary young fellow threw him a
playful remark. "Keep your hat on--it's not a funeral!" he cried.
A few foreign seamen came strolling over the hill from the harbor;
they came zigzagging down the street, peeping in at all the street
doors, and laughing immoderately as they did so. One of them made
straight for Anker with outstretched arms, knocked off his hat,
and went on with his arm in the air as though nothing had happened.
Suddenly he wheeled about. "What, are you giving yourself airs?" he
cried, and therewith he attacked the lunatic, who timidly set about
resisting him. Then another sailor ran up and struck Anker behind
the knees, so that he fell. He lay on the ground shouting and
kicking with fright, and the whole party flung itself upon him.
The boys scattered in all directions, in order to gather stones
and come to Anker's assistance. Pelle stood still, his body jerking
convulsively, as though the old sickness were about to attack him.
Once he sprang forward toward Anker, but something within him told
him that sickness had deprived him of his blind courage.
There was one pale, slender youth who was not afraid. He went right
among the sailors, in order to drag them off the lunatic, who was
becoming quite frantic under their treatment of him.
"He isn't in his right mind!" cried the boy, but he was hurled back
with a bleeding face.
This was Morten, the brother of Jens the apprentice. He was so angry
that he was sobbing.
Then a tall man came forward out of the darkness, with a rolling
gait; he came forward muttering to himself. "Hurrah!" cried the
boys. "Here comes the 'Great Power.'" But the man did not hear; he
came to a standstill by the fighting group and stood there, still
muttering. His giant figure swayed to and fro above them. "Help him,
father!" cried Morten. The man laughed foolishly, and began slowly
to pull his coat off. "Help him, then!" bellowed the boy, quite
beside himself, shaking his father's arm. Jorgensen stretched out
his hand to pat the boy's cheek, when he saw the blood on his face.
"Knock them down!" cried the boy, like one possessed. Then a sudden
shock ran through the giant's body--somewhat as when a heavy load
is suddenly set in motion; he bowed himself a little, shook himself,
and began to throw the sailors aside. One after another they stood
still for a moment, feeling the place where he had seized them, and
then they set off running as hard as they could toward the harbor.
Jorgensen set the madman on his legs again and escorted him home.
Pelle and Morten followed them hand-in-hand. A peculiar feeling
of satisfaction thrilled Pelle through; he had seen strength
personified in action, and he had made a friend.
After that they were inseparable. Their friendship did not grow to
full strength; it overshadowed them suddenly, magically conjured out
of their hearts. In Morten's pale, handsome face there was something
indescribable that made Pelle's heart throb in his breast, and a
gentler note came into the voices of all who spoke to him. Pelle did
not clearly understand what there could be attractive about himself;
but he steeped himself in this friendship, which fell upon his
ravaged soul like a beneficent rain. Morten would come up into the
workshop as soon as work was over, or wait for Pelle at the corner.
They always ran when they were going to meet. If Pelle had to work
overtime, Morten did not go out, but sat in the workshop and amused
him. He was very fond of reading, and told Pelle about the contents
of many books.
Through Morten, Pelle drew nearer to Jens, and found that he had
many good qualities under his warped exterior. Jens had just that
broken, despondent manner which makes a child instinctively suspect
a miserable home. Pelle had at first supposed that Jens and Morten
must have been supported by the poor-box; he could not understand
how a boy could bear his father to be a giant of whom the whole
town went in terror. Jens seemed hard of hearing when any one spoke
to him. "He has had so many beatings," said Morten. "Father can't
endure him, because he is stupid." Clever he was not, but he could
produce the most wonderful melodies by whistling merely with his
lips, so that people would stand still and listen to him.
After his illness Pelle had a more delicate ear for everything. He
no longer let the waves pass over him, careless as a child, but sent
out tentacles--he was seeking for something. Everything had appeared
to him as simpler than it was, and his dream of fortune had been too
crudely conceived; it was easily shattered, and there was nothing
behind it for him to rest on. Now he felt that he must build a
better foundation, now he demanded nourishment from a wider radius,
and his soul was on the alert for wider ventures; he dropped his
anchors in unfamiliar seas. The goal of his desires receded into
the unknown; he now overcame his aversion from the great and
mysterious Beyond, where the outlines of the face of God lay hidden.
The God of Bible history and the sects had for Pelle been only a
man, equipped with a beard, and uprightness, and mercy, and all the
rest; he was not to be despised, but the "Great Power" was certainly
stronger. Hitherto Pelle had not felt the want of a God; he had only
obscurely felt his membership in that all-loving God who will arise
from the lowest and foulest and overshadow heaven; in that frenzied
dream of the poor, who see, in a thousand bitter privations, the
pilgrimage to the beloved land. But now he was seeking for that
which no words can express; now the words, "the millennium," had
a peculiar sound in his ears.
Anker, of course, was crazy, because the others said so; when they
laughed at him, Pelle laughed with them, but there was still
something in him that filled Pelle with remorse for having laughed
at him. Pelle himself would have liked to scramble money from the
top of his high steps if he had been rich; and if Anker talked
strangely, in curious phrases, of a time of happiness for all the
poor, why, Father Lasse's lamentations had dealt with the same
subject, as far back as he could remember. The foundation of the
boy's nature felt a touch of the same pious awe which had forbidden
Lasse and the others, out in the country, to laugh at the insane,
for God's finger had touched them, so that their souls wandered in
places to which no other could attain. Pelle felt the face of the
unknown God gazing at him out of the mist.
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