Pelle the Conqueror, Vol. 2
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 3 out of 6
He had become another being since his illness; his movements were
more deliberate, and the features of his round childish face had
become more marked and prominent. Those two weeks of illness had
dislodged his cares, but they were imprinted on his character,
to which they lent a certain gravity. He still roamed about alone,
encompassing himself with solitude, and he observed the young master
in his own assiduous way. He had an impression that the master was
putting him to the proof, and this wounded him. He himself knew that
that which lay behind his illness would never be repeated, and he
writhed uneasily under suspicion.
One day he could bear it no longer. He took the ten kroner which
Lasse had given him so that he might buy a much-needed winter
overcoat, and went in to the master, who was in the cutting-out
room, and laid them on the table. The master looked at him with
a wondering expression, but there was a light in his eyes.
"What the devil is that?" he asked, drawling.
"That's master's money," said Pelle, with averted face.
Master Andres gazed at him with dreamy eyes, and then he seemed
to return, as though from another world, and Pelle all at once
understood what every one said--that the young master was going
to die. Then he burst into tears.
But the master himself could not understand.
"What the deuce. But that means nothing!" he cried, and he tossed
the ten kroner in the air. "Lord o' me! what a lot of money! Well,
you aren't poor!" He stood there, not knowing what to believe, his
hand resting on Pelle's shoulder.
"It's right," whispered Pelle. "I've reckoned it up exactly. And the
master mustn't suspect me--I'll never do it again."
Master Andres made a gesture of refusal with his hand, and wanted
to speak, but at that very moment he was attacked by a paroxysm of
coughing. "You young devil!" he groaned, and leaned heavily on Pelle;
his face was purple. Then came a fit of sickness, and the sweat
beaded his face. He stood there for a little, gasping for breath
while his strength returned, and then he slipped the money into
Pelle's hand and pushed him out of the room.
Pelle was greatly dejected. His uprightness was unrewarded, and what
had become of his vindication? He had been so glad to think that
he would shake himself free of all the disgrace. But late in the
afternoon the master called him into the cutting-out room. "Here,
Pelle," he said confidentially, "I want to renew my lottery ticket;
but I've no money. Can you lend me those ten kroner for a week?"
So it was all as it should be; his one object was to put the whole
disgrace away from him.
Jens and Morten helped him in that. There were three of them now;
and Pelle had a feeling that he had a whole army at his back. The
world had grown no smaller, no less attractive, by reason of the
endless humiliations of the year. And Pelle knew down to the ground
exactly where he stood, and that knowledge was bitter enough. Below
him lay the misty void, and the bubbles which now and again rose to
the surface and broke did not produce in him any feeling of mystical
wonder as to the depths. But he did not feel oppressed thereby; what
was, was so because it must be. And over him the other half of the
round world revolved in the mystery of the blue heavens, and again
and again he heard its joyous _Forward! On!_
In his loneliness Pelle had often taken his way to the little house
by the cemetery, where Due lived in two little rooms. It was always
a sort of consolation to see familiar faces, but in other respects
he did not gain much by his visits; Due was pleasant enough, but
Anna thought of nothing but herself, and how she could best get on.
Due had a situation as coachman at a jobmaster's, and they seemed
to have a sufficiency.
"We have no intention of being satisfied with driving other people's
horses," Anna would say, "but you must crawl before you can walk."
She had no desire to return to the country.
"Out there there's no prospects for small people, who want something
more than groats in their belly and a few rags on their back. You
are respected about as much as the dirt you walk on, and there's no
talk of any future. I shall never regret that we've come away from
Due, on the contrary, was homesick. He was quite used to knowing
that there was a quarter of a mile between him and the nearest
neighbor, and here he could hear, through the flimsy walls, whether
his neighbors were kissing, fighting, or counting their money. "It
is so close here, and then I miss the earth; the pavements are so
"He misses the manure--he can't come treading it into the room,"
said Anna, in a superior way; "for that was the only thing there was
plenty of in the country. Here in the town too the children can get
on better; in the country poor children can't learn anything that'll
help them to amount to something; they've got to work for their
daily bread. It's bad to be poor in the country!"
"It's worse here in town," said Pelle bitterly, "for here only those
who dress finely amount to anything!"
"But there are all sorts of ways here by which a man can earn money,
and if one way doesn't answer, he can try another. Many a man has
come into town with his naked rump sticking out of his trousers, and
now he's looked up to! If a man's only got the will and the energy
--well, I've thought both the children ought to go to the municipal
school, when they are older; knowledge is never to be despised."
"Why not Marie as well?" asked Pelle.
"She? What? She's not fitted to learn anything. Besides, she's only
Anna, like her brother Alfred, had set herself a lofty goal. Her
eyes were quite bright when she spoke of it, and it was evidently
her intention to follow it regardless of consequences. She was a
loud-voiced, capable woman with an authoritative manner; Due simply
sat by and smiled and kept his temper. But in his inmost heart,
according to report, he knew well enough what he wanted. He never
went to the public-house, but came straight home after work; and in
the evening he was never happier than when all three children were
scrambling over him. He made no distinction between his own two
youngsters and the six-year-old Marie, whom Anna had borne before
she married him.
Pelle was very fond of little Marie, who had thrived well enough so
long as her child-loving grandparents had had her, but now she was
thin and had stopped growing, and her eyes were too experienced.
She gazed at one like a poor housewife who is always fretted and
distressed, and Pelle was sorry for her. If her mother was harsh to
her, he always remembered that Christmastide evening when he first
visited his Uncle Kalle, and when Anna, weeping and abashed, had
crept into the house, soon to be a mother. Little Anna, with the
mind of a merry child, whom everybody liked. What had become of
One evening, as Morten was not at liberty, he ran thither. Just
as he was on the point of knocking, he heard Anna storming about
indoors; suddenly the door flew open and little Marie was thrown
out upon the footpath. The child was crying terribly.
"What's the matter, then?" asked Pelle, in his cheerful way.
"What's the matter? The matter is that the brat is saucy and won't
eat just because she doesn't get exactly the same as the others.
Here one has to slave and reckon and contrive--and for a bad girl
like that! Now she's punishing herself and won't eat. Is it anything
to her what the others have? Can she compare herself with them?
She's a bastard brat and always will be, however you like to dress
"She can't help that!" said Pelle angrily.
"Can't help it! Perhaps I can help it? Is it my fault that she
didn't come into the world a farmer's daughter, but has to put up
with being a bastard? Yes, you may believe me, the neighbors' wives
tell me to my face she hasn't her father's eyes, and they look at
me as friendly as a lot of cats! Am I to be punished all my life,
perhaps, because I looked a bit higher, and let myself be led astray
in a way that didn't lead to anything? Ah, the little monster!" And
she clenched her fists and shook them in the direction from which
the child's crying could still be heard.
"Here one goes and wears oneself out to keep the house tidy and to
be respectable, and then no one will treat me as being as good as
themselves, just because once I was a bit careless!" She was quite
"If you aren't kind to little Marie, I shall tell Uncle Kalle,"
said Pelle warningly.
She spat contemptuously. "Then you can tell him. Yes, I wish to
God you'd do it! Then he'd come and take her away, and delighted
I should be!"
But now Due was heard stamping on the flags outside the door, and
they could hear him too consoling the child. He came in holding her
by the hand, and gave his wife a warning look, but said nothing.
"There, there--now all that's forgotten," he repeated, in order to
check the child's sobs, and he wiped away the grimy tears from her
cheeks with his great thumbs.
Anna brought him his food, sulkily enough, and out in the kitchen
she muttered to herself. Due, while he ate his supper of bacon
and black bread, stood the child between his knees and stared at
her with round eyes. "Rider!" she said, and smiled persuasively.
"Rider!" Due laid a cube of bacon on a piece of bread.
"There came a rider riding
On his white hoss, hoss, hoss, hoss!"
he sang, and he made the bread ride up to her mouth. "And then?"
"Then, _pop_ he rode in at the gate!" said the child, and
swallowed horse and rider.
While she ate she kept her eyes fixed upon him unwaveringly, with
that painful earnestness which was so sad to see. But sometimes it
happened that the rider rode right up to her mouth, and then, with
a jerk, turned about, and disappeared, at a frantic gallop, between
Due's white teeth. Then she smiled for a moment.
"There's really no sense shoving anything into her," said Anna, who
was bringing coffee in honor of the visitor. "She gets as much as
she can eat, and she's not hungry."
"She's hungry, all the same!" hummed Due.
"Then she's dainty--our poor food isn't good enough for her. She
takes after her father, I can tell you! And what's more, if she
isn't naughty now she soon will be when once she sees she's
Due did not reply. "Are you quite well again now?" he asked,
turning to Pelle.
"What have you been doing to-day?" asked Anna, filling her husband's
"I had to drive a forest ranger from up yonder right across the
whole of the moor. I got a krone and a half for a tip."
"Give it to me, right away!"
Due passed her the money, and she put it into an old coffeepot.
"This evening you must take the bucket to the inspector's,"
Due stretched himself wearily. "I've been on the go since half-past
four this morning," he said.
"But I've promised it faithfully, so there's nothing else to be done.
And then I thought you'd see to the digging for them this autumn;
you can see when we've got the moonlight, and then there's Sundays.
If we don't get it some one else will--and they are good payers."
Due did not reply.
"In a year or two from now, I'm thinking, you'll have your own
horses and won't need to go scraping other people's daily bread
together," she said, laying her hand on his shoulder, "Won't you
go right away and take the bucket? Then it's done. And I must have
some small firewood cut before you go to bed."
Due sat there wearily blinking. After eating, fatigue came over him.
He could hardly see out of his eyes, so sleepy was he. Marie handed
him his cap, and at last he got on his legs. He and Pelle went out
The house in which Due lived lay far up the long street, which ran
steeply down to the sea. It was an old watercourse, and even now
when there was a violent shower the water ran down like a rushing
torrent between the poor cottages.
Down on the sea-road they met a group of men who were carrying
lanterns in their hands; they were armed with heavy sticks, and one
of them wore an old leather hat and carried a club studded with
spikes. This was the night-watch. They moved off, and behind them
all went the new policeman, Pihl, in his resplendent uniform. He
kept well behind the others, in order to show off his uniform, and
also to ensure that none of the watch took to their heels. They were
half drunk, and were taking their time; whenever they met any one
they stood still and related with much detail precisely why they had
taken the field. The "Great Power" was at his tricks again. He had
been refractory all day, and the provost had given the order to keep
an eye on him. And quite rightly, for in his cups he had met Ship-
owner Monsen, on Church Hill, and had fallen upon him with blows
and words of abuse: "So you take the widow's bread out of her mouth,
do you? You told her the _Three Sisters_ was damaged at sea,
and you took over her shares for next to nothing, did you? Out of
pure compassion, eh, you scoundrel? And there was nothing the matter
with the ship except that she had done only too well and made a big
profit, eh? So you did the poor widow a kindness, eh?" A scoundrel,
he called him and at every question he struck him a blow, so that he
rolled on the ground. "We are all witnesses, and now he must go to
prison. A poor stone-cutter oughtn't to go about playing the judge.
Come and help us catch him, Due--you are pretty strong!"
"It's nothing to do with me," said Due.
"You do best to keep your fingers out of it," said one of the men
derisively; "you might get to know the feel of his fist." And they
went on, laughing contemptuously.
"They won't be so pleased with their errand when they've done," said
Due, laughing. "That's why they've got a nice drop stowed away--
under their belts. To give them courage. The strong man's a swine,
but I'd rather not be the one he goes for."
"Suppose they don't get him at all!" said Pelle eagerly.
Due laughed. "They'll time it so that they are where he isn't. But
why don't he stick to his work and leave his fool's tricks alone? He
could have a good drink and sleep it off at home--he's only a poor
devil, he ought to leave it to the great people to drink themselves
But Pelle took another view of the affair. The poor man of course
ought to go quietly along the street and take his hat off to
everybody; and if anybody greeted him in return he'd be quite proud,
and tell it to his wife as quite an event, as they were going to
bed. "The clerk raised his hat to me to-day--yes, that he did!" But
Stonecutter Jorgensen looked neither to right nor to left when he
was sober, and in his cups he trampled everybody underfoot.
Pelle by no means agreed with the pitiful opinions of the town. In
the country, whence he came, strength was regarded as everything,
and here was a man who could have taken strong Erik himself and put
him in his pocket. He roamed about in secret, furtively measuring
his wrists, and lifted objects which were much too heavy for him; he
would by no means have objected to be like the "Great Power," who,
as a single individual, kept the whole town in a state of breathless
excitement, whether he was in one of his raging moods or whether he
lay like one dead. The thought that he was the comrade of Jens and
Morten made him quite giddy, and he could not understand why they
bowed themselves so completely to the judgment of the town, as no
one could cast it in their teeth that they were on the parish, but
only that their father was a powerful fellow.
Jens shrank from continually hearing his father's name on all lips,
and avoided looking people in the eyes, but in Morten's open glance
he saw no trace of this nameless grief.
One evening, when matters were quite at their worst, they took Pelle
home with them. They lived in the east, by the great clay-pit, where
the refuse of the town was cast away. Their mother was busy warming
the supper in the oven, and in the chimney-corner sat a shrivelled
old grandmother, knitting. It was a poverty-stricken home.
"I really thought that was father," said the woman, shivering.
"Has any of you heard of him?"
The boys related what they had heard; some one had seen him here,
another there. "People are only too glad to keep us informed," said
"Now it's the fourth evening that I've warmed up his supper to no
purpose," the mother continued. "Formerly he used to take care to
look in at home, however much they were after him--but he may come
She tried to smile hopefully, but suddenly threw her apron in front
of her eyes and burst into tears. Jens went about with hanging head,
not knowing what he ought to do; Morten put his arm behind the weary
back and spoke soothingly: "Come, come; it isn't worse than it has
often been!" And he stroked the projecting shoulder-blades.
"No, but I did feel so glad that it was over. A whole year almost
he never broke out, but took his food quietly when he came home from
work, and then crawled into bed. All that time he broke nothing; he
just slept and slept; at last I believed he had become weak-minded,
and I was glad for him, for he had peace from those terrible ideas.
I believed he had quieted down after all his disgraces, and would
take life as it came; as the rest of his comrades do. And now he's
broken out again as audacious as possible, and it's all begun over
again!" She wept desolately.
The old woman sat by the stove, her shifting glance wandering from
one to another; she was like a crafty bird of prey sitting in a cage.
Then her voice began, passionless and uninflected:
"You're a great donkey; now it's the fourth evening you've made
pancakes for your vagabond; you're always at him, kissing and
petting him! I wouldn't sweeten my husband's sleep if he had behaved
so scandalously to his wife and family; he could go to bed and
get up again hungry, and dry too, for all I cared; then he'd learn
manners at last. But there's no grit in you--that's the trouble;
you put up with all his sauciness."
"If I were to lay a stone in his way--why, who would be good to him,
if his poor head wanted to lie soft? Grandmother ought to know how
much he needs some one who believes in him. And there's nothing else
I can do for him."
"Yes, yes; work away and wear yourself out, so that there's always
something for the great fellow to smash if he has a mind to! But now
you go to bed and lie down; I'll wait up for Peter and give him his
food, if he comes; you must be half dead with weariness, you poor
"There's an old proverb says, 'A man's mother is the devil's pother,'
but it don't apply to you, grandmother," said the mother of the boys
mildly. "You always take my part, although there's no need. But now
you go to bed! It's far past your bed-time, and I'll look after
Peter. It's so easy to manage him if only he knows that you mean
well by him."
The old woman behaved as though she did not hear; she went on
knitting. The boys remembered that they had brought something with
them; a bag of coffee-beans, some sugar-candy, and a few rolls.
"You waste all your hard-earned shillings on me," said the mother
reproachfully, and put the water to boil for the coffee, while her
face beamed with gratitude.
"They've no young women to waste it on," said the old woman dryly.
"Grandmother's out of humor this evening," said Morten. He had taken
off the old woman's glasses and looked smilingly into her gray eyes.
"Out of humor--yes, that I am! But time passes, I tell you, and here
one sits on the edge of the grave, waiting for her own flesh and
blood to get on and do something wonderful, but nothing ever happens!
Energies are wasted--they run away like brook-water into the sea--
and the years are wasted too--or is it lies I'm telling you? All
want to be masters; no one wants to carry the sack; and one man
seizes hold of another and clambers over him just to reach an inch
higher. And there ought to be plenty in the house--but there's
poverty and filth in every corner. I should think the dear God will
soon have had enough of it all! Not an hour goes by but I curse
the day when I let myself be wheedled away from the country; there
a poor man's daily bread grows in the field, if he'll take it as it
comes. But here he must go with a shilling in his fist, if it's only
that he wants a scrap of cabbage for his soup. If you've money you
can have it; if you haven't, you can leave it. Yes, that's how it is!
But one must live in town in order to have the same luck as Peter!
Everything promised splendidly, and I, stupid old woman, have always
had a craving to see my own flesh and blood up at the top. And now
I sit here like a beggar-princess! Oh, it has been splendid--I'm
the mother of the biggest vagabond in town!"
"Grandmother shouldn't talk like that," said the mother of the boys.
"Yes, yes; but I'm sick of it all--and yet I can't think about dying!
How can I go and lay me down--who would take a stick to Peter?--the
strong man!" she said contemptuously.
"Grandmother had better go quietly and lie down; I can manage Peter
best if I'm alone with him," said the wife, but the old woman did
"Can't you get her to go, Morten?" whispered the mother. "You are
the only one she will listen to."
Morten lectured the old woman until he had enticed her away; he had
to promise to go with her and arrange the bedclothes over her feet.
"Now, thank goodness, we've got her out of the way!" said the mother,
relieved. "I'm always so afraid that father might forget what he's
doing when he's like he is now; and she doesn't think of giving in
to him, so it's flint against flint. But now I think you ought to go
where the rest of the young folks are, instead of sitting here and
hanging your heads."
"We'll stay and see whether father comes," declared Morten.
"But what does it matter to you--you can say good-day to father at
any time. Go now--listen--father prefers to find me alone when he's
like this and comes home merry. Perhaps he takes me in his arms and
swings me round--he's so strong--so that I feel as giddy as a young
girl. 'Ho, heigh, wench, here's the "Great Power"!' he says, and he
laughs as loud as he used to in his rowdy young days. Yes, when he's
got just enough in him he gets as strong and jolly as ever he was in
his very best days. I'm glad it's soon over. But that's not for you
--you had better go." She looked at them appealingly, and shrank
back as some one fumbled at the door. Out-of-doors it was terrible
It was only the youngest, who had come home from her day's work. She
might have been ten or twelve years old and was small for her age,
although she looked older; her voice was harsh and strident, and
her little body seemed coarsened and worn with work. There was not
a spot about her that shed or reflected a single ray of light; she
was like some subterranean creature that has strayed to the surface.
She went silently across the room and let herself drop into her
grandmother's chair; she leaned over to one side as she sat, and
now and again her features contracted.
"She's got that mischief in her back," said the mother, stroking her
thin, unlovely hair. "She got it always carrying the doctor's little
boy--he's so tall and so heavy. But as long as the doctor says
nothing, it can't be anything dangerous. Yes, you did really leave
home too early, my child; but, after all, you get good food and you
learn to be smart. And capable, that she is; she looks after the
doctor's three children all by herself! The eldest is her own age,
but she has to dress and undress her. Such grand children, they
don't even learn how to do things for themselves!"
Pelle stared at her curiously. He himself had put up with a good
deal, but to cripple himself by dragging children about, who were
perhaps stronger than himself--no, no one need expect that of him!
"Why do you carry the over-fed brat?" he asked.
"They must have some one to look after them," said the mother, "and
their mother, who's the nearest to them, she doesn't feel inclined
to do it. And they pay her for it."
"If it was me, I'd let the brat fall," said Pelle boldly.
The little girl just glanced at him with her dull eyes, and a
feeble interest glimmered in them. But her face retained its frozen
indifference, and it was impossible to say what she was thinking,
so hard and experienced was her expression.
"You mustn't teach her anything naughty," said the mother; "she has
enough to struggle against already; she's got an obstinate nature.
And now you must go to bed, Karen"--she caressed her once more--
"Father can't bear to see you when he's had too much. He's so fond
of her," she added helplessly.
Karen drew away from the caress without the slightest change of
expression; silently she went up to the garret where she slept.
Pelle had not heard her utter a sound.
"That's how she is," said the mother, shivering. "Never a word to
say 'good night'! Nothing makes any impression on her nowadays--
neither good nor bad; she's grown up too soon. And I have to manage
so that father doesn't see her when he's merry. He goes on like a
wild beast against himself and everybody else when it comes across
his mind how she's been put upon." She looked nervously at the clock.
"But go now--do listen! You'll do me a great favor if you'll go!"
She was almost crying.
Morten stood up, hesitating, and the others followed his example.
"Pull your collars up and run," said the mother, and buttoned up
their coats. The October gale was beating in gusts against the house,
and the rain was lashing violently against the window-panes.
As they were saying good night a fresh noise was heard outside. The
outer door banged against the wall, and they heard the storm burst
in and fill the entry. "Ah, now it's too late!" lamented the mother
reproachfully. "Why didn't you go sooner?" A monstrous breathing
sounded outside, like the breathing of a gigantic beast, sniffing up
and down at the crack of the door, and fumbling after the latch with
its dripping paws. Jens wanted to run and open the door. "No, you
mustn't do that!" cried his mother despairingly, and she pushed the
bolt. She stood there, rigid, her whole body trembling. Pelle too
began to shiver; he had a feeling that the storm itself was lying
there in the entry like a great unwieldy being, puffing and snorting
in a kind of gross content, and licking itself dry while it waited
The woman bent her ear to the door, listening in frantic suspense.
"What is he up to now?" she murmured; "he is so fond of teasing!"
She was crying again. The boys had for the moment forgotten her.
Then the outer door was beaten in, and the monster got up on all
four dripping paws, and began to call them with familiar growls.
The woman turned about in her distress; waving her hands helplessly
before her, and then clapping them to her face. But now the great
beast became impatient; it struck the door sharply, and snarled
warningly. The woman shrank back as though she herself were about
to drop on all fours and answered him. "No, no!" she cried, and
considered a moment. Then the door was burst in with one tremendous
blow, and Master Bruin rolled over the threshold and leaped toward
them in clumsy jumps, his head thrown somewhat backward as though
wondering why his little comrade had not rushed to meet him, with
an eager growl. "Peter, Peter, the boy!" she whispered, bending over
him; but he pushed her to the floor with a snarl, and laid one heavy
paw upon her. She tore herself away from him and escaped to a chair.
"Who am I?" he asked, in a stumbling, ghostly voice, confronting
"The great strong man!" She could not help smiling; he was ramping
about in such a clumsy, comical way.
"The luckiest woman in all the world!" But now her voice died away
in a sob.
"And where is the strong man to rest to-night?" He snatched at her
She sprang up with blazing eyes. "You beast--oh, you beast!" she
cried, red with shame, and she struck him in the face.
The "Great Power" wiped his face wonderingly after each blow. "We're
only playing," he said. Then, in a flash, he caught sight of the
boys, who had shrunk into a corner. "There you are!" he said, and he
laughed crazily; "yes, mother and I, we're having a bit of a game!
Aren't we, mother?"
But the woman had run out of doors, and now stood under the eaves,
Jorgensen moved restlessly to and fro. "She's crying," he muttered.
"There's no grit in her--she ought to have married some farmer's
lad, devil take it, if the truth must be told! It catches me here
and presses as though some one were shoving an iron ferrule into my
brain. Come on, 'Great Power'! Come on! so that you can get some
peace from it! I say every day. No, let be, I say then--you must
keep a hold on yourself, or she just goes about crying! And she's
never been anything but good to you! But deuce take it, if it would
only come out! And then one goes to bed and says, Praise God, the
day is done--and another day, and another. And they stand there and
stare--and wait; but let them wait; nothing happens, for now the
'Great Power' has got control of himself! And then all at once it's
there behind! Hit away! Eight in the thick of the heap! Send them
all to hell, the scoundrels! 'Cause a man must drink, in order to
keep his energies in check.... Well, and there she sits! Can one
of you lend me a krone?"
"Not I!" said Jens.
"No, not you--he'd be a pretty duffer who'd expect anything from you!
Haven't I always said 'he takes after the wrong side'? He's like his
mother. He's got a heart, but he's incapable. What can you really do,
Jens? Do you get fine clothes from your master, and does he treat
you like a son, and will you finish up by taking over the business
as his son-in-law? And why not? if I may ask the question. Your
father is as much respected as Morten's."
"Morten won't be a son-in-law, either, if his master has no
daughter," Jens muttered.
"No. But he might have had a daughter, hey? But there we've got an
answer. You don't reflect. Morten, he's got something there!" He
touched his forehead.
"Then you shouldn't have hit me on the head," retorted Jens sulkily.
"On the head--well! But the understanding has its seat in the head.
That's where one ought to hammer it in. For what use would it be,
I ask you, supposing you commit some stupidity with your head and I
smack you on the behind? You don't need any understanding there? But
it has helped--you've grown much smarter. That was no fool's answer
you gave me just now: 'Then you shouldn't have hit me on the head!'"
He nodded in acknowledgment. "No, but here is a head that can give
them some trouble--there are knots of sense in this wood, hey?" And
the three boys had to feel the top of his head.
He stood there like a swaying tree, and listened with a changing
expression to the less frequent sobs of his wife; she was now
sitting by the fire, just facing the door. "She does nothing but
cry," he said compassionately; "that's a way the women have of
amusing themselves nowadays. Life has been hard on us, and she
couldn't stand hardships, poor thing! For example, if I were to say
now that I'd like to smash the stove"--and here he seized a heavy
chair and waved it about in the air--"then she begins to cry. She
cries about everything. But if I get on I shall take another wife
--one who can make a bit of a show. Because this is nonsense. Can
she receive her guests and make fine conversation? Pah! What the
devil is the use of my working and pulling us all out of the mud?
But now I'm going out again--God knows, it ain't amusing here!"
His wife hurried across to him. "Ah, don't go out, Peter--stay
here, do!" she begged.
"Am I to hang about here listening to you maundering on?" he asked
sulkily, shrugging his shoulders. He was like a great, good-natured
boy who gives himself airs.
"I won't maunder--I'm ever so jolly--if only you'll stay!" she
cried, and she smiled through her tears. "Look at me--don't you
see how glad I am? Stay with me, do, 'Great Power!'" She breathed
warmly into his ear; she had shaken off her cares and pulled herself
together, and was now really pretty with her glowing face.
The "Great Power" looked at her affectionately; he laughed stupidly,
as though he was tickled, and allowed himself to be pulled about; he
imitated her whisper to the empty air, and was overflowing with good
humor. Then he slyly approached his mouth to her ear, and as she
listened he trumpeted loudly, so that she started back with a little
cry. "Do stay, you great baby!" she said, laughing. "I won't let you
go; I can hold you!" But he shook her off, laughing, and ran out
For a moment it looked as though she would run after him, but then
her hands fell, and she drooped her head. "Let him run off," she
said wearily; "now things must go as they will. There's nothing to
be done; I've never seen him so drunk. Yes, you look at me, but you
must remember that he carries his drink differently to every one
else--he is quite by himself in everything!" She said this with a
certain air of pride. "And he has punished the shipowner--and even
the judge daren't touch him. The good God Himself can't be more
upright than he is."
Now the dark evenings had come when the lamp had to be lit early for
the workers. The journeyman left while it was still twilight; there
was little for him to do. In November the eldest apprentice had
served his time. He was made to sit all alone in the master's room,
and there he stayed for a whole week, working on his journeyman's
task--a pair of sea-boots. No one was allowed to go in to him, and
the whole affair was extremely exciting. When the boots were ready
and had been inspected by some of the master-shoemakers, they were
filled to the top with water and suspended in the garret; there they
hung for a few days, in order to show that they were water-tight.
Then Emil was solemnly appointed a journeyman, and had to treat the
whole workshop. He drank brotherhood with little Nikas, and in the
evening he went out and treated the other journeymen--and came home
drunk as a lord. Everything passed off just as it should.
On the following day Jeppe came into the workshop. "Well, Emil, now
you're a journeyman. What do you think of it? Do you mean to travel?
It does a freshly baked journeyman good to go out into the world and
move about and learn something."
Emil did not reply, but began to bundle his things together. "No,
no; it's not a matter of life and death to turn you out. You can
come to the workshop here and share the light and the warmth until
you've got something better--those are good conditions, it seems
to me. Now, when I was learning, things were very different--a kick
behind, and out you went! And that's for young men--it's good for
He could sit in the workshop and enumerate all the masters in the
whole island who had a journeyman. But that was really only a joke
--it never happened that a new journeyman was engaged. On the other
hand, he and the others knew well enough how many freshly-baked
journeymen had been thrown on to the streets that autumn.
Emil was by no means dejected. Two evenings later they saw him off
on the Copenhagen steamer. "There is work enough," he said, beaming
with delight. "You must promise me that you'll write to me in a
year," said Peter, who had finished his apprenticeship at the same
time. "That I will!" said Emil.
But before a month had passed they heard that Emil was home again.
He was ashamed to let himself be seen. And then one morning he came,
much embarrassed, slinking into the workshop. Yes, he had got work
--in several places, but had soon been sent away again. "I have
learned nothing," he said dejectedly. He loitered about for a time,
to enjoy the light and warmth of the workshop, and would sit there
doing some jobs of cobbling which he had got hold of. He kept
himself above water until nearly Christmas-time, but then he gave
in, and disgraced his handicraft by working at the harbor as an
"I have wasted five years of my life," he used to say when they met
him; "Run away while there's time! Or it'll be the same with you as
it was with me." He did not come to the workshop any longer out of
fear of Jeppe, who was extremely wroth with him for dishonoring his
It was cozy in the workshop when the fire crackled in the stove and
the darkness looked in at the black, uncovered window-panes. The
table was moved away from the window so that all four could find
place about it, the master with his book and the three apprentices
each with his repairing job. The lamp hung over the table, and
smoked; it managed to lessen the darkness a little. The little light
it gave was gathered up by the great glass balls which focussed it
and cast it upon the work. The lamp swayed slightly, and the specks
of light wriggled hither and thither like tadpoles, so that the work
was continually left in darkness. Then the master would curse and
stare miserably at the lamp.
The others suffered with their eyes, but the master sickened in
the darkness. Every moment he would stand up with a shudder. "Damn
and blast it, how dark it is here; it's as dark as though one lay
in the grave! Won't it give any light to-night?" Then Pelle would
twist the regulator, but it was no better.
When old Jeppe came tripping in, Master Andres looked up without
trying to hide his book; he was in a fighting mood.
"Who is there?" he asked, staring into the darkness. "Ah, it's
"Have you got bad eyes?" asked the old man derisively. "Will you
have some eye-water?"
"Father's eye-water--no thanks! But this damned light--one can't
see one's hand before one's face!"
"Open your mouth, then, and your teeth will shine!" Jeppe spat the
words out. This lighting was always a source of strike between them.
"No one else in the whole island works by so wretched a light,
you take my word, father."
"In my time I never heard complaints about the light," retorted
Jeppe. "And better work has been done under the glass ball than
any one can do now with all their artificial discoveries. But it's
disappearing now; the young people to-day know no greater pleasure
than throwing their money out of the window after such modern
"Yes, in father's time--then everything was so splendid!" said
Master Andres. "That was when the angels ran about with white sticks
in their mouths!"
In the course of the evening now one and another would drop in to
hear and tell the news. And if the young master was in a good temper
they would stay. He was the fire and soul of the party, as old
Bjerregrav said; he could, thanks to his reading, give explanations
of so many things.
When Pelle lifted his eyes from his work he was blind. Yonder, in
the workshop, where Baker Jorgen and the rest sat and gossiped, he
could see nothing but dancing specks of light, and his work swam
round in the midst of them; and of his comrades he saw nothing but
their aprons. But in the glass ball the light was like a living
fire, in whose streams a world was laboring.
"Well, this evening there's a capital light," said Jeppe, if one
of them looked to the lamp.
"You mean there's no light at all!" retorted Master Andres,
twisting the regulator.
But one day the ironmonger's man brought something in a big basket
--a hanging lamp with a round burner; and when it was dark the
ironmonger himself came in order to light it for the first time, and
to initiate Pelle into the management of the wonderful contrivance.
He went to work very circumstantially and with much caution. "It can
explode, I needn't tell you," he said, "but you'd have to treat the
mechanism very badly first. If you only set to work with care and
reason there is no danger whatever."
Pelle stood close to him, holding the cylinder, but the others
turned their heads away from the table, while the young master
stood right at the back, and shuffled to and fro. "Devil knows
I don't want to go to heaven in my living body!" he said, with
a comical expression; "but deuce take it, where did you get the
courage, Pelle? You're a saucy young spark!" And he looked at him
with his wide, wondering gaze, which held in it both jest and
At last the lamp shone out; and even on the furthest shelf, high
up under the ceiling, one could count every single last. "That's
a regular sun!" said the young master, and he put his hand to his
face; "why, good Lord, I believe it warms the room!" He was quite
flushed, and his eyes were sparkling.
The old master kept well away from the lamp until the ironmonger
had gone; then he came rushing over to it. "Well, aren't you blown
sky-high?" he asked, in great astonishment. "It gives an ugly light
--oh, a horrible light! Poof, I say! And it doesn't shine properly;
it catches you in the eyes. Well, well, you can spoil your sight as
far as I'm concerned!"
But for the others the lamp was a renewal of life. Master Andres
sunned himself in its rays. He was like a sun-intoxicated bird; as
he sat there, quite at peace, a wave of joy would suddenly come over
him. And to the neighbors who gathered round the lamp in order to
discover its qualities he held forth in great style, so that the
light was doubled. They came often and stayed readily; the master
beamed and the lamp shone; they were like insects attracted by the
light--the glorious light!
Twenty times a day the master would go out to the front door, but
he always came in again and sat by the window to read, his boot with
the wooden heel sticking out behind him. He spat so much that Pelle
had to put fresh sand every day under his place.
"Is there some sort of beast that sits in your chest and gnaws?"
said Uncle Jorgen, when Andres' cough troubled him badly. "You look
so well otherwise. You'll recover before we know where we are!"
"Yes, thank God!" The master laughed gaily between two attacks.
"If you only go at the beast hard enough, it'll surely die. Now,
where you are, in your thirtieth year, you ought to be able to get
at it. Suppose you were to give it cognac?"
Jorgen Kofod, as a rule, came clumping in with great wooden shoes,
and Jeppe used to scold him. "One wouldn't believe you've got a
shoemaker for a brother!" he would say crossly; "and yet we all
get our black bread from you."
"But what if I can't keep my feet warm now in those damned leather
shoes? And I'm full through and through of gout--it's a real misery!"
The big baker twisted himself dolefully.
"It must be dreadful with gout like that," said Bjerregrav. "I
myself have never had it."
"Tailors don't get gout," rejoined Baker Jorgen scornfully. "A
tailor's body has no room to harbor it. So much I do know--twelve
tailors go to a pound."
Bjerregrav did not reply.
"The tailors have their own topsy-turvy world," continued the baker.
"I can't compare myself with them. A crippled tailor--well, even he
has got his full strength of body."
"A tailor is as fine a fellow as a black-bread baker!" stammered
Bjerregrav nervously. "To bake black bread--why, every farmer's
wife can do that!"
"Fine! I believe you! Hell and blazes! If the tailor makes a cap
he has enough cloth left over to make himself a pair of breeches.
That's why tailors are always dressed so fine!" The baker was
talking to the empty air.
"Millers and bakers are always rogues, everybody says." Old
Bjerregrav turned to Master Andres, trembling with excitement.
But the young master stood there looking gaily from one to the
other, his lame leg dangling in the air.
"For the tailor nothing comes amiss--there's too much room in me!"
said the baker, as though something were choking him. "Or, as
another proverb says--it's of no more consequence than a tailor in
hell. They are the fellows! We all know the story of the woman who
brought a full-grown tailor into the world without even knowing she
was with child."
Jeppe laughed. "Now, that's enough, really; God knows neither of
you will give in to the other."
"Well, and I've no intention of trampling a tailor to death, if it
can anyhow be avoided--but one can't always see them." Baker Jorgen
carefully lifted his great wooden shoes. "But they are not men.
Now is there even one tailor in the town who has been overseas? No,
and there were no men about while the tailor was being made. A woman
stood in a draught at the front door, and there she brought forth
the tailor." The baker could not stop himself when once he began
to quiz anybody; now that Soren was married, he had recovered all
his good spirits.
Bjerregrav could not beat this. "You can say what you like about
tailors," he succeeded in saying at last. "But people who bake
black bread are not respected as handicraftsmen--no more than the
washerwoman! Tailoring and shoemaking, they are proper crafts,
with craftman's tests, and all the rest."
"Yes, shoemaking of course is another thing," said Jeppe.
"But as many proverbs and sayings are as true of you as of us,"
said Bjerregrav, desperately blinking.
"Well, it's no longer ago than last year that Master Klausen married
a cabinet-maker's daughter. But whom must a tailor marry? His own
"Now how can you, father!" sighed Master Andres. "One man's as good
"Yes, you turn everything upside down! But I'll have my handicraft
respected. To-day all sorts of agents and wool-merchants and other
trash settle in the town and talk big. But in the old days the
handicraftsmen were the marrow of the land. Even the king himself
had to learn a handicraft. I myself served my apprenticeship in the
capital, and in the workshop where I was a prince had learned the
trade. But, hang it all, I never heard of a king who learned
They were capable of going on forever in this way, but, as the
dispute was at its worst, the door opened, and Wooden-leg Larsen
stumped in, filling the workshop with fresh air. He was wearing a
storm-cap and a blue pilot-coat. "Good evening, children!" he said
gaily, and threw down a heap of leather ferrules and single boots
on the window-bench.
His entrance put life into all. "Here's a playboy for us! Welcome
home! Has it been a good summer?"
Jeppe picked up the five boots for the right foot, one after another,
turned back the uppers, and held heels and soles in a straight line
before his eyes. "A bungler has had these in hand," he growled, and
then he set to work on the casing for the wooden leg. "Well, did the
layer of felt answer?" Larsen suffered from cold in his amputated
"Yes; I've not had cold feet any more."
"Cold feet!" The baker struck himself on the loins and laughed.
"Yes, you can say what you like, but every time my wooden leg gets
wet I get a cold in the head!"
"That's the very deuce!" cried Jorgen, and his great body rolled
like a hippopotamus. "A funny thing, that!"
"There are many funny things in the world," stammered Bjerregrav.
"When my brother died, my watch stopped at that very moment--it
was he who gave it me."
Wooden-leg Larsen had been through the whole kingdom with his
barrel-organ, and had to tell them all about it; of the railway-
trains which travelled so fast that the landscape turned round on
its own axis, and of the great shops and places of amusement in
"It must be as it will," said Master Andres. "But in the summer
I shall go to the capital and work there!"
"In Jutland--that's where they have so many wrecks!" said the baker.
"They say everything is sand there! I've heard that the country is
shifting under their feet--moving away toward the east. Is it true
that they have a post there that a man must scratch himself against
before he can sit down?"
"My sister has a son who has married a Jutland woman and settled
down there," said Bjerregrav. "Have you seen anything of them?"
The baker laughed. "Tailors are so big--they've got the whole world
in their waistcoat pocket. Well, and Funen? Have you been there,
too? That's where the women have such a pleasant disposition. I've
lain before Svendborg and taken in water, but there was no time to
go ashore." This remark sounded like a sigh.
"Can you stand it, wandering so much?" asked Bjerregrav anxiously.
Wooden-leg Larsen looked contemptuously at Bjerregrav's congenital
club-foot--he had received his own injury at Heligoland, at the
hands of an honorable bullet. "If one's sound of limb," he said,
spitting on the floor by the window.
Then the others had to relate what had happened in town during the
course of the summer; of the Finnish barque which had stranded in
the north, and how the "Great Power" had broken out again. "Now he's
sitting in the dumps under lock and key."
Bjerregrav took exception to the name they gave him; he called it
blasphemy, on the ground that the Bible said that power and might
belonged to God alone.
Wooden-leg Larsen said that the word, as they had used it, had
nothing to do with God; it was an earthly thing; across the water
people used it to drive machinery, instead of horses.
"I should think woman is the greatest power," said Baker Jorgen,
"for women rule the world, God knows they do! And God protect us
if they are once let loose on us! But what do you think, Andres,
you who are so book-learned?"
"The sun is the greatest power," said Master Andres. "It rules over
all life, and science has discovered that all strength and force
come from the sun. When it falls into the sea and cools, then the
whole world will become a lump of ice."
"Then the sea is the greatest power!" cried Jeppe triumphantly.
"Or do you know of anything else that tears everything down and
washes it away? And from the sea we get everything back again.
Once when I went to Malaga----"
"Yes, that really is true," said Bjerregrav, "for most people get
their living from the sea, and many their death. And the rich people
we have get all their money from the sea."
Jeppe drew himself up proudly and his glasses began to glitter.
"The sea can bear what it likes, stone or iron, although it is soft
itself! The heaviest loads can travel on its back. And then all at
once it swallows everything down. I have seen ships which sailed
right into the weather and disappeared when their time came."
"I should very much like to know whether the different countries
float on the water, or whether they stand firm on the bottom of
the sea. Don't you know that, Andres?" asked Bjerregrav.
Master Andres thought they stood on the bottom of the sea, far below
the surface; but Uncle Jorgen said: "Nay! Big as the sea is!"
"Yes, it's big, for I've been over the whole island," said
Bjerregrav self-consciously; "but I never got anywhere where I
couldn't see the sea. Every parish in all Bornholm borders on the
sea. But it has no power over the farmers and peasants--they belong
to the land, don't they?"
"The sea has power over all of us," said Larsen. "Some it refuses;
they go to sea for years and years, but then in their old age they
suffer from sea-sickness, and then they are warned. That is why
Skipper Andersen came on shore. And others it attracts, from right
away up in the country! I have been to sea with such people--they
had spent their whole lives up on the island, and had seen the sea,
but had never been down to the shore. And then one day the devil
collared them and they left the plough and ran down to the sea
and hired themselves out. And they weren't the worse seamen."
"Yes," said Baker Jorgen, "and all of us here have been to sea,
and Bornholmers sail on all the seas, as far as a ship can go. And
I have met people who had never been on the sea, and yet they were
as though it was their home. When I sailed the brig _Clara_
for Skipper Andersen, I had such a lad on board as ordinary seaman.
He had never bathed in the sea; but one day, as we were lying at
anchor, and the others were swimming around, he jumped into the
water too--now this is God's truth--as though he were tumbling into
his mother's arms; he thought that swimming came of its own accord.
He went straight to the bottom, and was half dead before we fished
him up again."
"The devil may understand the sea!" cried Master Andres breathlessly.
"It is curved like an arch everywhere, and it can get up on its hind
legs and stand like a wall, although it's a fluid! And I have read
in a book that there is so much silver in the sea that every man in
the whole world might be rich."
"Thou righteous God!" cried Bjerregrav, "such a thing I have never
heard. Now does that come from all the ships that have gone down?
Yes, the sea--that, curse it, is the greatest power!"
"It's ten o'clock," said Jeppe. "And the lamp is going out--that
devil's contrivance!" They broke up hastily, and Pelle turned the
But long after he had laid his head on his pillow everything was
going round inside it. He had swallowed everything, and imaginary
pictures thronged in his brain like young birds in an over-full nest,
pushing and wriggling to find a place wherein to rest. The sea was
strong; now in the wintertime the surging of the billows against the
cliffs was continually in his ear. Pelle was not sure whether it
would stand aside for him! He had an unconscious reluctance to set
himself limits, and as for the power about which they had all been
disputing, it certainly had its seat in Pelle himself, like a vague
consciousness that he was, despite all his defeats, invincible.
At times this feeling manifested itself visibly and helped him
through the day. One afternoon they were sitting and working, after
having swallowed their food in five minutes, as their custom was;
the journeyman was the only one who did not grudge himself a brief
mid-day rest, and he sat reading the newspaper. Suddenly he raised
his head and looked wonderingly at Pelle. "Now what's this? Lasse
Karlson--isn't that your father?"
"Yes," answered Pelle, with a paralyzed tongue, and the blood rushed
to his cheeks. Was Father Lasse in the news? Not among the accidents?
He must have made himself remarkable in one way or another through
his farming! Pelle was nearly choking with excitement, but he did
not venture to ask, and Little Nikas simply sat there and looked
secretive. He had assumed the expression peculiar to the young
But then he read aloud: "Lost! A louse with three tails has escaped,
and may be left, in return for a good tip, with the landowner Lasse
Karlson, Heath Farm. Broken black bread may also be brought there."
The others burst into a shout of laughter, but Pelle turned an ashen
gray. With a leap he was across the table and had pulled little
Nikas to the ground underneath him; there he lay, squeezing the
man's throat with his fingers, trying to throttle him, until he was
overpowered. Emil and Peter had to hold him while the knee-strap put
in its work.
And yet he was proud of the occurrence; what did a miserable
thrashing signify as against the feat of throwing the journeyman
to the ground and overcoming the slavish respect he had felt for
him! Let them dare to get at him again with their lying allusions,
or to make sport of Father Lasse! Pelle was not inclined to adopt
And the circumstances justified him. After this he received more
consideration; no one felt anxious to bring Pelle and his cobbler's
tools on top of him, even although the boy could be thrashed
The skipper's garden was a desert. Trees and bushes were leafless;
from the workshop window one could look right through them, and
over other gardens beyond, and as far as the backs of the houses
in East Street. There were no more games in the garden; the paths
were buried in ice and melting snow, and the blocks of coral, and
the great conch-shells which, with their rosy mouths and fish-like
teeth, had sung so wonderfully of the great ocean, had been taken
in on account of the frost.
Manna he saw often enough. She used to come tumbling into the
workshop with her school satchel or her skates; a button had got
torn off, or a heel had been wrenched loose by a skate. A fresh
breeze hovered about her hair and cheeks, and the cold made her
face glow. "There is blood!" the young master would say, looking
at her delightedly; he laughed and jested when she came in. But
Manna would hold on to Pelle's shoulder and throw her foot into his
lap, so that he could button her boots. Sometimes she would pinch
him secretly and look angry--she was jealous of Morten. But Pelle
did not understand; Morten's gentle, capable mind had entirely
subjugated him and assumed the direction of their relations. Pelle
was miserable if Morten was not there when he had an hour to spare.
Then he would run, with his heart in his mouth, to find him;
everything else was indifferent to him.
One Sunday morning, as he was sweeping the snow in the yard, the
girls were in their garden; they were making a snowman.
"Hey, Pelle!" they cried, and they clapped their mittens; "come over
here! You can help us to build a snow-house. We'll wall up the door
and light some Christmas-tree candles: we've got some ends. Oh, do
"Then Morten must come too--he'll be here directly!"
Manna turned up her nose. "No, we don't want Morten here!"
"Why not? He's so jolly!" said Pelle, wounded.
"Yes, but his father is so dreadful--everybody is afraid of him.
And then he's been in prison."
"Yes, for beating some one--that's nothing so dreadful! My father
was too, when he was a young man. That's no disgrace, for it isn't
But Manna looked at him with an expression exactly like Jeppe's when
he was criticizing somebody from his standpoint as a respectable
"But, Pelle, aren't you ashamed of it? That's how only the very
poorest people think--those who haven't any feelings of shame!"
Pelle blushed for his vulgar way of looking at things. "It's no
fault of Morten's that his father's like that!" he retorted lamely.
"No, we won't have Morten here. And mother won't let us. She says
perhaps we can play with you, but not with anybody else. We belong
to a very good family," she said, in explanation.
"My father has a great farm--it's worth quite as much as a rotten
barge," said Pelle angrily.
"Father's ship isn't rotten!" rejoined Manna, affronted. "It's the
best in the harbor here, and it has three masts!"
"All the same, you're nothing but a mean hussy!" Pelle spat over
"Yes, and you're a Swede!" Manna blinked her eyes triumphantly,
while Dolores and Aina stood behind her and put out their tongues.
Pelle felt strongly inclined to jump over the garden wall and
beat them; but just then Jeppe's old woman began scolding from
the kitchen, and he went on with his work.
Now, after Christmas, there was nothing at all to do. People were
wearing out their old boots, or they went about in wooden shoes.
Little Nikas was seldom in the workshop; he came in at meal-times
and went away again, and he was always wearing his best clothes.
"He earns his daily bread easily," said Jeppe. Over on the mainland
they didn't feed their people through the winter; the moment there
was no more work, they kicked them out.
In the daytime Pelle was often sent on a round through the harbor
in order to visit the shipping. He would find the masters standing
about there in their leather aprons, talking about nautical affairs;
or they would gather before their doors, to gossip, and each, from
sheer habit, would carry some tool or other in his hand.
And the wolf was at the door. The "Saints" held daily meetings,
and the people had time enough to attend them. Winter proved how
insecurely the town was established, how feeble were its roots; it
was not here as it was up in the country, where a man could enjoy
himself in the knowledge that the earth was working for him. Here
people made themselves as small and ate as little as possible, in
order to win through the slack season.
In the workshops the apprentices sat working at cheap boots and
shoes for stock; every spring the shoemakers would charter a ship
in common and send a cargo to Iceland. This helped them on a little.
"Fire away!" the master would repeat, over and over again; "make
haste--we don't get much for it!"
The slack season gave rise to many serious questions. Many of the
workers were near to destitution, and it was said that the organized
charities would find it very difficult to give assistance to all who
applied for it. They were busy everywhere, to their full capacity.
"And I've heard it's nothing here to what it is on the mainland,"
said Baker Jorgen. "There the unemployed are numbered in tens of
"How can they live, all those thousands of poor people, if the
unemployment is so great?" asked Bjerregrav. "The need is bad enough
here in town, where every employer provides his people with their
"Here no one starves unless he wants to," said Jeppe. "We have
a well-organized system of relief."
"You're certainly becoming a Social Democrat, Jeppe," said Baker
Jorgen; "you want to put everything on to the organized charities!"
Wooden-leg Larsen laughed; that was a new interpretation.
"Well, what do they really want? For they are not freemasons. They
say they are raising their heads again over on the mainland."
"Well, that, of course, is a thing that comes and goes with
unemployment," said Jeppe. "The people must do something. Last
winter a son of the sailmaker's came home--well, he was one of them
in secret. But the old folks would never admit it, and he himself
was so clever that he got out of it somehow."
"If he'd been a son of mine he would have got the stick," said
"Aren't they the sort of people who are making ready for the
millennium? We've got a few of their sort here," said Bjerregrav
"D'you mean the poor devils who believe in the watchmaker and his
'new time'? Yes, that may well be," said Jeppe contemptuously.
"I have heard they are quite wicked enough for that. I'm inclined
to think they are the Antichrist the Bible foretells."
"Ah, but what do they really want?" asked Baker Jorgen. "What is
their madness really driving at?"
"What do they want?" Wooden-leg Larsen pulled himself together.
"I've knocked up against a lot of people, I have, and as far as I
can understand it they want to get justice; they want to take the
right of coining money away from the Crown and give it to everybody.
And they want to overthrow everything, that is quite certain."
"Well," said Master Andres, "what they want, I believe, is perfectly
right, only they'll never get it. I know a little about it, on
account of Garibaldi."
"But what _do_ they want, then, if they don't want to overthrow
the whole world?"
"What do they want? Well, what do they want? That everybody should
have exactly the same?" Master Andres was uncertain.
"Then the ship's boy would have as much as the captain! No, it would
be the devil and all!" Baker Jorgen smacked his thigh and laughed.
"And they want to abolish the king," said Wooden-leg Larsen eagerly.
"Who the devil would reign over us then? The Germans would soon come
hurrying over! That's a most wicked thing, that Danish people should
want to hand over their country to the enemy! All I wonder is that
they don't shoot them down without trial! They'd never be admitted
"That we don't really know!" The young master smiled.
"To the devil with them--we'd all go down to the shore and shoot
them: they should never land alive!"
"They are just a miserable rabble, the lot of them," said Jeppe.
"I should very much like to know whether there is a decent citizen
"Naturally, it's always the poor who complain of poverty," said
Bjerregrav. "So the thing never comes to an end."
Baker Jorgen was the only one of them who had anything to do. Things
would have to be bad indeed before the people stopped buying his
black bread. He even had more to do than usual; the more people
abstained from meat and cheese, the more bread they ate. He often
hired Jeppe's apprentices so that they might help him in the
But he was not in a happy frame of mind. He was always shouting his
abuse of Soren through the open doors, because the latter would not
go near his buxom young wife. Old Jorgen had taken him and put him
into bed with her with his own hands, but Soren had got out of the
business by crying and trembling like a new-born calf.
"D'you think he's perhaps bewitched?" asked Master Andres.
"She's young and pretty, and there's not the least fault to be found
with her--and we've fed him with eggs right through the winter. She
goes about hanging her head, she gets no attention from him. 'Marie!
Soren!' I cry, just to put a little life into them--he ought to be
the sort of devil I was, I can tell you! She laughs and blushes, but
Soren, he simply sneaks off. It's really a shame--so dainty as she
is too, in every way. Ah, it ought to have been in my young days,
I can tell you!"
"You are still young enough, Uncle Jorgen!" laughed Master Andres.
"Well, a man could almost bring himself to it--when he considers
what a dreadful injustice is going on under his own eyes. For, look
you, Andres, I've been a dirty beast about all that sort of thing,
but I've been a jolly fellow too; people were always glad to be on
board with me. And I've had strength for a booze, and a girl; and
for hard work in bad weather. The life I've led--it hasn't been
bad; I'd live it all over again the same. But Soren--what sort of
a strayed weakling is he? He can't find his own way about! Now, if
only you would have a chat with him--you've got some influence over
"I'll willingly try."
"Thanks; but look here, I owe you money." Jorgen took ten kroner
and laid them on the table as he was going.
"Pelle, you devil's imp, can you run an errand for me?" The young
master limped into the cutting-out room, Pelle following on his
A hundred times a day the master would run to the front door, but he
hurried back again directly; he could not stand the cold. His eyes
were full of dreams of other countries, whose climates were kinder,
and he spoke of his two brothers, of whom one was lost in South
America--perhaps murdered. But the other was in Australia, herding
sheep. He earned more at that than the town magistrate received as
salary, and was the cleverest boxer in the neighborhood. Here the
master made his bloodless hands circle one round the other, and let
them fall clenched upon Pelle's back. "That," he said, in a superior
tone, "is what they call boxing. Brother Martin can cripple a man
with one blow. He is paid for it, the devil!" The master shuddered.
His brother had on several occasions offered to send him his
steamer-ticket, but there was that damned leg. "Tell me what
I should do over there, eh, Pelle?"
Pelle had to bring books from the lending library every day,
and he soon learned which writers were the most exciting. He also
attempted to read himself, but he could not get on with it; it was
more amusing to stand about by the skating-pond and freeze and watch
the others gliding over the ice. But he got Morten to tell him of
exciting books, and these he brought home for the master; such was
the "Flying Dutchman." "That's a work of poetry, Lord alive!" said
the master, and he related its contents to Bjerregrav, who took them
all for reality.
"You should have played some part in the great world, Andres--I for
my part do best to stay at home here. But you could have managed
it--I'm sure of it."
"The great world!" said the master scornfully. No, he didn't take
much stock in the world--it wasn't big enough. "If I were to travel,
I should like to look for the way into the interior of the earth--
they say there's a way into it in Iceland. Or it would be glorious
to make a voyage to the moon; but that will always be just a story."
At the beginning of the new year the crazy Anker came to the young
master and dictated a love-letter to the eldest daughter of the
king. "This year he will surely answer," he said thoughtfully.
"Time is passing, and fortune disappears, and there are few that
have their share of it; we need the new time very badly."
"Yes, we certainly do," said Master Andres. "But if such a
misfortune should happen that the king should refuse, why, you
are man enough to manage the matter yourself, Anker!"
It was a slack season, and, just as it was at its very worst,
shoemaker Bohn returned and opened a shop on the marketplace. He
had spent a year on the mainland and had learned all sorts of modern
humbug. There was only one pair of boots in his window, and those
were his own Sunday boots. Every Monday they were put out and
exhibited again, so that there should be something to look at.
If he himself was in the shop, talking to the people, his wife
would sit in the living-room behind and hammer on a boot, so that
it sounded as though there were men in the workshop.
But at Shrovetide Jeppe received some orders. Master Andres came
home quite cheerfully one day from Bjerhansen's cellar; there he
had made the acquaintance of some of the actors of a troupe which
had just arrived. "They are fellows, too!" he said, stroking his
cheeks. "They travel continually from one place to another and give
performances--they get to see the world!" He could not sit quiet.
The next morning they came rioting into the workshop, filling the
place with their deafening gabble. "Soles and heels!" "Heels that
won't come off!" "A bit of heel-work and two on the snout!" So they
went on, bringing great armfuls of boots from under their cloaks,
or fishing them out of bottomless pockets, and throwing them in
heaps on the window-bench, each with his droll remarks. Boots and
shoes they called "understandings"; they turned and twisted every
word, tossing it like a ball from mouth to mouth, until not a trace
of sense was left in it.
The apprentices forgot everything, and could scarcely contain
themselves for laughing, and the young master overflowed with wit--
he was equal to the best of them. Now one saw that he really might
have luck with the women: there was no boasting or lying about it.
The young actress with the hair like the lightest flax could not
keep her eyes off him, although she evidently had all the others
at her petticoat-tails; she made signs to her companions that they
should admire the master's splendid big mustache. The master had
forgotten his lame leg and thrown his stick away; he was on his
knees, taking the actress's measure for a pair of high boots with
patent tops and concertina-like folds in the legs. She had a hole
in the heel of her stocking, but she only laughed over it; one of
the actors cried "Poached egg!" and then they laughed uproariously.
Old Jeppe came tumbling into the room, attracted by the merriment.
The blonde lady called him "Grandfather," and wanted to dance with
him, and Jeppe forgot his dignity and laughed with the rest. "Yes,
it's to us they come when they want to have something good," he said
proudly. "And I learned my trade in Copenhagen, and I used to carry
boots and shoes to more than one play-actor there. We had to work
for the whole theater; Jungfer Patges, who became so famous later
on, got her first dancing shoes from us."
"Yes, those are the fellows!" said Master Andres, as at last they
bustled out; "devil take me, but those are the chaps!" Jeppe could
not in the least understand how they had found their way thither,
and Master Andres did not explain that he had been to the tavern.
"Perhaps Jungfer Patges sent them to me," he said, gazing into the
distance. "She must somehow have kept me in mind."
Free tickets poured in on them; the young master was in the theater
every evening. Pelle received a gallery ticket every time he went
round with a pair of boots. He was to say nothing--but the price
was plainly marked on the sole with chalk.
"Did you get the money?" the master would ask eagerly; he used to
stand on the stairs all the time, waiting. No, Pelle was to present
their very best wishes, and to say they would come round and settle
"Well, well, people of that sort are safe enough," said the master.
One day Lasse came stamping into the workshop and into the midst of
them all, looking the picture of a big farmer, with his fur collar
drawn round his ears. He had a sack of potatoes outside; it was a
present to Pelle's employers, because Pelle was learning his trade
so well. Pelle was given leave and went out with his father; and he
kept looking furtively at the fur collar. At last he could contain
himself no longer, but turned it up inquiringly. Disillusioned, he
let it fall again.
"Ah, yes--er--well--that's just tacked on to my driving-cloak. It
looks well, and it keeps my ears nice and warm. You thought I'd
blossomed out into a proper fur coat? No, it won't run to that just
yet--but it will soon. And I could name you more than one big farmer
who has nothing better than this."
Yes, Pelle was just a trifle disappointed. But he must admit that
there was no difference to be perceived between this cloak and the
real bear-skin. "Are things going on all right?" he asked.
"Oh, yes; at present I am breaking stone. I've got to break twenty
cords if I'm to pay everybody what's owing to him by the Devil's
birthday. [Footnote: The 11th December--the general pay-day and
hiring-day.--TB.] So long as we keep our health and strength, Karna
They drove to the merchant's and put up the horses. Pelle noticed
that the people at the merchant's did not rush forward to Lasse
quite so eagerly as they did to the real farmers; but Lasse himself
behaved in quite an important manner. He stumped right into the
merchant's counting-house, just like the rest, filled his pipe at
the barrel, and helped himself to a drink of brandy. A cold breath
of air hung about him as he went backward and forward from the
cart with buttoned-up cloak, and he stamped as loudly on the sharp
cobble-stones as though his boot-soles too were made of stone.
Then they went on to Due's cottage; Lasse was anxious to see how
matters were prospering there. "It isn't always easy when one of
the parties brings a love-child into the business."
Pelle explained to him how matters stood. "Tell them at Uncle
Kalle's that they must take little Maria back again. Anna ill-treats
her. They are getting on well in other ways; now they want to buy
a wagon and horses and set up as carriers."
"Do they? Well, it's easy for those to get on who haven't any
heart." Lasse sighed.
"Look, father," said Pelle suddenly, "there's a theater here now,
and I know all the players. I take them their boots, and they give
me a ticket every evening. I've seen the whole thing."
"But, of course, that's all lies, eh?" Lasse had to pull up, in
order to scrutinize Pelle's face. "So you've been in a proper
theater, eh? Well, those who live in the town have got the devil
to thank for it if they are cleverer than a peasant. One can
have everything here!"
"Will you go with me to-night? I can get the tickets."
Lasse was uneasy. It wasn't that he didn't want to go; but the whole
thing was so unaccustomed. However, it was arranged that he should
sleep the night at Due's, and in the evening they both went to the
"Is it here?" asked Lasse, astounded. They had come to a great
building like a barn, before which a number of people were standing.
But it was fine inside. They sat right up at the top, at the back,
where the seats were arranged like the side of a hill, and they had
a view over the whole theater. Down below, right in front, sat some
ladies who, so far as Lasse could see, were naked. "I suppose those
are the performers?" he inquired.
Pelle laughed. "No, those are the grandest ladies in the town--the
doctor's wife, the burgomaster's lady, and the inspector's wife,
and such like."
"What, they are so grand that they haven't enough clothes to
wear!" cried Lasse. "With us we call that poverty! But where are
the players, then?"
"They are the other side of the curtain."
"Then have they begun already?"
"No, you can see they haven't--the curtain has to go up first."
There was a hole in the curtain, and a finger came through it, and
began to turn from side to side, pointing at the spectators. Lasse
laughed. "That's devilish funny!" he cried, slapping his thighs,
as the finger continued to point.
"It hasn't begun yet," said Pelle.
"Is that so?" This damped Lasse's spirits a little.
But then the big crown-light began suddenly to run up through a hole
in the ceiling; up in the loft some boys were kneeling round the
hole, and as the light came up they blew out the lamps. Then the
curtain went up, and there was a great brightly-lit hall, in which
a number of pretty young girls were moving about, dressed in the
most wonderful costumes--and they were speaking! Lasse was quite
astonished to find that he could understand what they said; the
whole thing seemed so strange and foreign to him; it was like a
peep into dreamland. But there was one maiden who sat there all
alone at her spinning wheel, and she was the fairest of them all.
"That's surely a fine lady?" asked Lasse.
But Pelle whispered that she was only a poor forest maiden, whom the
lord of the castle had robbed, and now he wanted to force her to be
his sweetheart. All the others were making a tremendous lot of her,
combing her golden hair and kneeling before her; but she only looked
unhappier than before. And sometimes her sadness was more than she
could bear; then she opened her beautiful mouth and her wounded
heart bled in song, which affected Lasse so that he had to fetch
a long sighing breath.
Then a tall man with a huge red beard came stamping into the hall.
Lasse saw that he was dressed like a man who has been keeping
"That's the one we made the fine boots for," whispered Pelle: "the
lord of the castle, who wants to seduce her."
"An ugly devil he looks too!" said Lasse, and spat. "The master at
Stone Farm is a child of God compared with him!" Pelle signed to
him to be quiet.
The lord of the castle drove all the other women away, and then
began to tramp stormily to and fro, eyeing the forest maiden and
showing the whites of his eyes. "Well, have you at last decided?"
he roared, and snorted like a mad bull. And suddenly he sprang at
her as if to take her by force.
"Ha! Touch me not!" she cried, "or by the living God, I will plunge
this dagger into my heart! You believe you can buy my innocence
because I am poor, but the honor of the poor is not to be bought
"That's a true word!" said Lasse loudly.
But the lord of the castle gave a malicious laugh, and tugged at
his red beard. He rolled his r's dreadfully.
"Is my offer not enough for you? Come, stay this night with me and
you shall receive a farm with ten head of cattle, so that to-morrow
you can stand at the altar with your huntsman!"
"Hold your tongue, you whoremonger!" said Lasse angrily.
Those round about him tried to calm him; one or another nudged him
in the ribs. "Well, can't a man speak any longer?" Lasse turned
crossly to Pelle. "I'm no clergyman, but if the girl doesn't want
to, let him leave her alone; at any rate he shan't slake his lust
publicly in the presence of hundreds of people with impunity! A
swine like that!" Lasse was speaking loudly, and it seemed as though
his words had had their effect on the lord of the castle. He stood
there awhile staring in front of him, and then called a man, and
bade him lead the maiden back to the forest.
Lasse breathed easily again as the curtain fell and the boys
overhead by the hole in the ceiling relit the lamps and let them
down again. "So far she's got out of it all right," he told Pelle,
"but I don't trust the lord--he's a scoundrel!" He was perspiring
freely, and did not look entirely satisfied.
The next scene which was conjured up on the stage was a forest.
It was wonderfully fine, with pelargoniums blooming on the ground,
and a spring which was flowing out of something green. "That is a
covered beer-barrel!" said Pelle, and now Lasse too could see the
tap, but it was wonderfully natural. Right in the background one
could see the lord's castle on a cliff, and in the foreground lay
a fallen tree-trunk; two green-clad huntsmen sat astride of it,
concocting their evil schemes. Lasse nodded--he knew something of
the wickedness of the world.
Now they heard a sound, and crouched down behind the tree-trunk,
each with a knife in his hand. For a moment all was silent; then
came the forest maiden and her huntsman, wandering all unawares down
the forest path. By the spring they took a clinging and affectionate
farewell; then the man came forward, hurrying to his certain death.
This was too much. Lasse stood up. "Look out!" he cried in a choking
voice: "look out!" Those behind him pulled his coat and scolded him.
"No, devil take you all, I won't hold my tongue!" he cried, and
laid about him. And then he leaned forward again: "Look where you're
going, d'you hear! Your life is at stake! They're hiding behind the
The huntsman stood where he was and stared up, and the two
assassins had risen to their feet and were staring, and the actors
and actresses came through from the wings and gazed upward over
the auditorium. Lasse saw that the man was saved, but now he had
to suffer for his services; the manager wanted to throw him out.
"I can perfectly well go by myself," he said. "An honorable man
is one too many in this company!" In the street below he talked
aloud to himself; he was in a blazing temper.
"It was only a play," said Pelle dejectedly. In his heart he was
ashamed of his father.
"You needn't try to teach me about that! I know very well that it
all happened long ago and that I can do nothing to alter it, not
if I was to stand on my head. But that such low doings should be
brought to life again! If the others had felt as I did we should
have taken the lord and thrashed him to death, even if it did come
a hundred years too late!"
"Why--but that was Actor West, who comes to our workshop every day."
"Is that so? Actor West, eh? Then you are Actor Codfish, to let
yourself be imposed on like that! I have met people before now who
had the gift of falling asleep and conjuring up long dead people
in their place--but not so real as here, you understand. If you
had been behind the curtain you would have seen West lying there
like dead, while he, the other one--the Devil--was carrying on
and ordering everybody about. It's a gift I'd rather not have; a
dangerous game! If the others forget the word of command that brings
him back into the body it would be all up with him, and the other
would take his place."
"But that is all superstition! When I know it's West in a play--why,
I recognized him at once!"
"Oh, of course! You are always the cleverer! You'd like a dispute
with the devil himself every day! So it was only a show? When he
was rolling the whites of his eyes in his frantic lust! You believe
me--if she hadn't had that knife he would have fallen on her and
satisfied his desire in front of everybody! Because if you conjure
up long bygone times the action has to have its way, however many
there are to see. But that they should do it for money--for money
--ugh! And now I'm going home!" Lasse would say nothing more, but
had the horses harnessed.
"You had best not go there again," he said at parting. "But if it
has got hold of you already, at least put a knife in your pocket.
Yes, and we'll send you your washing by Butcher Jensen, one
Pelle went to the theater as before; he had a shrewd idea that it
was only a play, but there _was_ something mysterious about it;
people must have a supernatural gift who evening after evening could
so entirely alter their appearance and so completely enter into the
people they represented. Pelle thought he would like to become an
actor if he could only climb high enough.
The players created a considerable excitement when they strolled
through the streets with their napping clothes and queer head-gear;
people ran to their windows to see them, the old folk peeping over
their shoulders. The town was as though transformed as long as they
were in it.
Every mind had taken a perverse direction. The girls cried out in
their sleep and dreamed of abductions; they even left their windows
a little open; and every young fellow was ready to run away with the
players. Those who were not theater-mad attended religious meetings
in order to combat the evil.
And one day the players disappeared--as they had come--and left a
cloud of debts behind them. "Devil's trash!" said the master with
his despondent expression. "They've tricked us! But, all the same,
they were fine fellows in their way, and they had seen the world!"
But after these happenings he could by no means get warm again. He
crawled into bed and spent the best part of the month lying there.
It can be very cozy on those winter evenings when everybody sits at
home in the workshop and passes the time by doing nothing, because
it is so dark and cold out of doors, and one has nowhere to go to.
To stand about by the skating-ponds and to look on, frozen, while
others go swinging past--well, Pelle has had enough of it; and as
for strolling up the street toward the north, and then turning about
and returning toward the south, and turning yet again, up and down
the selfsame street--well, there is nothing in it unless one has
good warm clothes and a girl whose waist one can hold. And Morten
too is no fresh-air disciple; he is freezing, and wants to sit in
So they slink into the workshop as soon as it begins to grow dark,
and they take out the key and hang it on the nail in the entry, in
order to deceive Jeppe, and then they secretly make a fire in the
stove, placing a screen in front of it, so that Jeppe shall not see
the light from it when he makes his rounds past the workshop windows.
They crouch together on the ledge at the bottom of the stove, each
with an arm round the other's shoulder, and Morten tells Pelle about
the books he has read.
"Why do you do nothing but read those stupid books?" asks Pelle,
when he has listened for a time.
"Because I want to know something about life and about the world,"
answers Morten, out of the darkness.
"Of the world?" says Pelle, in a contemptuous tone. "I want to go
out into the world and see things--what's in the books is only lies.
But go on."
And Morten goes on, good-natured as always. And in the midst of his
narrative something suddenly occurs to him, and he pulls a paper
packet from his breast-pocket: "That's chocolate from Bodil," he
says, and breaks the stick in two.
"Where had she put it?" asks Pelle.
"Under the sheet--I felt something hard under my back when
I lay down."
The boys laugh, while they nibble at the chocolate. Suddenly Pelle
says: "Bodil, she's a child-seducer! She enticed Hans Peter away
from Stone Farm--and he was only fifteen!"
Morten does not reply; but after a time his head sinks on Pelle's
shoulder--his body is twitching.
"Well, you are seventeen," says Pelle, consoling. "But it's silly
all the same; she might well be your mother--apart from her age."
And they both laugh.
It can be still cozier on work-day evenings. Then the fire is
burning openly in the stove, even after eight o'clock, and the
lamp is shining, and Morten is there again. People come from
all directions and look in for a moment's visit, and the cold,
an impediment to everything else, awakens all sorts of notable
reminiscences. It is as though the world itself comes creeping
into the workshop. Jeppe conjures up his apprentice years in the
capital, and tells of the great bankruptcy; he goes right back to
the beginning of the century, to a wonderful old capital where the
old people wore wigs, and the rope's-end was always at hand and the
apprentices just kept body and soul together, begging on Sundays
before the doors of the townsfolk. Ah, those were times! And he
comes home and wants to settle down as master, but the guild won't
accept him; he is too young. So he goes to sea as cook, and comes
to places down south where the sun burns so fiercely that the pitch
melts in the seams and the deck scorches one's feet. They are a
merry band, and Jeppe, little as he is, by no means lags behind the
rest. In Malaga they storm a tavern, throw all the Spaniards out
of the window, and sport with the girls--until the whole town falls
upon them and they have to fly to their boat. Jeppe cannot keep up
with them, and the boat shoves off, so that he has to jump into the
water and swim for it. Knives fall splashing about him in the water,
and one sticks shivering in his shoulder-blades. When Jeppe comes to
this he always begins to strip his back to show the scar, and Master
Andres holds him back. Pelle and Morten have heard the story many
a time, but they are willing always to hear it again.
And Baker Jorgen, who for the greater part of his life has been a
seaman on the big vessels sailing the northern and southern oceans,
talks about capstans and icebergs and beautiful black women from
the West Indies. He sets the capstan turning, so that the great
three-master makes sail out of the Havana roadstead, and all his
hearers feel their hearts grow light.
"Heave ho, the capstan,
Waltz her well along!
Leave the girl a-weeping,
Strike up the song!"
So they walk round and round, twelve men with their breasts pressed
against the heavy capstan-bars; the anchor is weighed, and the sail
fills with the wind--and behind and through his words gleam the
features of a sweetheart in every port. Bjerregrav cannot help
crossing himself--he who has never accomplished anything, except
to feel for the poor; but in the young master's eyes everybody
travels--round and round the world, round and round the world. And
Wooden-leg Larsen, who in winter is quite the well-to-do pensioner,
in blue pilot-coat and fur cap, leaves his pretty, solidly-built
cottage when the Spring comes, and sallies forth into the world as
a poor organ-grinder--he tells them of the Zoological Gardens on the
hill, and the adventurous Holm-Street, and of extraordinary beings
who live upon the dustbins in the back-yards of the capital.
But Pelle's body creaks whenever he moves; his bones are growing
and seeking to stretch themselves; he feels growth and restlessness
in every part and corner of his being. He is the first to whom the
Spring comes; one day it announces itself in him in the form of a
curiosity as to what his appearance is like. Pelle has never asked
himself this question before; and the scrap of looking-glass which
he begged from the glazier from whom he fetches the glass scrapers
tells him nothing truly. He has at bottom a feeling that he is an
He begins to give heed to the opinions of others respecting his
outward appearance; now and again a girl looks after him, and his
cheeks are no longer so fat that people can chaff him about them.
His fair hair is wavy; the lucky curl on his forehead is still
visible as an obstinate little streak; but his ears are still
terribly big, and it is of no use to pull his cap over them, in
order to press them close to his head. But he is tall and well-grown
for his age, and the air of the workshop has been powerless to spoil
his ruddy complexion; and he is afraid of nothing in the world--
particularly when he is angry. He thinks out a hundred different
kinds of exercise in order to satisfy the demands of his body, but
it is of no use. If he only bends over his hammer-work he feels it
in every joint of his body.
And then one day the ice breaks and goes out to sea. Ships are
fitted out again, and provisioned, and follow the ice, and the
people of the town awake to the idea of a new life, and begin to
think of green woods and summer clothing.
And one day the fishing-boats arrive! They come gliding across
from Hellavik and Nogesund on the Swedish coast. They cut swiftly
through the water, heeling far over under their queer lateen sails,
like hungry sea-birds that sweep the waves with one wing-tip in
their search for booty. A mile to seaward the fishermen of the town
receive them with gunshots; they have no permission to anchor in
the fishing port, but have to rent moorings for themselves in the
old ship's harbor, and to spread out the gear to dry toward the
north. The craftsmen of the town come flocking down to the harbor,
discussing the foreign thieves who have come from a poorer country
in order to take the bread out of the mouths of the townsfolk;
for they are inured to all weathers, and full of courage, and are
successful in their fishing. They say the same things every Spring,
but when they want to buy herrings they deal with the Swedes, who
sell more cheaply than the Bornholmers. "Perhaps our fishermen wear
leather boots?" inquires Jeppe. "No, they wear wooden shoes week-
days and Sunday alike. Let the wooden-shoe makers deal with them--I
buy where the fish is cheapest!"
It is as though the Spring in person has arrived with these thin,
sinewy figures, who go singing through the streets, challenging the
petty envy of the town. There are women, too, on every boat, to mend
and clean the gear, and they pass the workshop in crowds, searching
for their old lodgings in the poor part of the town near the "Great
Power's" home. Pelle's heart leaps at the sight of these young women,
with pretty slippers on their feet, black shawls round their oval
faces, and many fine colors in their dress. His mind is full of
shadowy memories of his childhood, which have lain as quiet as
though they were indeed extinguished; vague traditions of a time
that he has experienced but can no longer remember; it is like a
warm breath of air from another and unknown existence.
If it happens that one or another of these girls has a little
child on her arm, then the town has something to talk about. Is it
Merchant Lund again, as it was last year? Lund, who since then had
been known only as "the Herring Merchant"? Or is it some sixteen-
year-old apprentice, a scandal to his pastor and schoolmaster,
whose hands he has only just left?
Then Jens goes forth with his concertina, and Pelle makes haste with
his tidying up, and he and Morten hurry up to Gallows Hill, hand-in-
hand, for Morten finds it difficult to run so quickly. All that the
town possesses of reckless youth is there; but the Swedish girls
take the lead. They dance and whirl until their slippers fly off,
and little battles are fought over them. But on Saturdays the boats
do not go to sea; then the men turn up, with smouldering brows, and
claim their women, and then there is great slaughter.
Pelle enters into it all eagerly; here he finds an opportunity of
that exercise of which his handicraft deprives his body. He hungers
for heroic deeds, and presses so close to the fighters that now and
again he gets a blow himself. He dances with Morten, and plucks up
courage to ask one of the girls to dance with him; he is shy, and
dances like a leaping kid in order to banish his shyness; and in
the midst of the dance he takes to his heels and leaves the girl
standing there. "Damned silly!" say the onlookers, and he hears them
laughing behind him. He has a peculiar manner of entering into all
this recklessness which lets the body claim its due without thought
for the following day and the following year. If some man-hunting
young woman tries to capture his youth he lashes out behind, and
with a few wanton leaps he is off and away. But he loves to join in
the singing when the men and women go homeward with closely-twined
arms, and he and Morten follow them, they too with their arms about
each other. Then the moon builds her bridge of light across the sea,
and in the pinewood, where a white mist lies over the tree-tops,
a song rises from every path, heard as a lulling music in the haunts
of the wandering couples; insistently melancholy in its meaning,
but issuing from the lightest hearts. It is just the kind of song
to express their happiness.
"Put up, put up thy golden hair;
A son thou'lt have before a year--
No help in thy clamor and crying!
In forty weeks may'st look for me.
I come to ask how it fares with thee.
The forty weeks were left behind.
And sad she was and sick of mind,
And fell to her clamor and crying--"
And the song continues as they go through the town, couple after
couple, wandering as they list. The quiet winding closes ring with
songs of love and death, so that the old townsfolk lift their heads
from their pillows, and, their nightcaps pushed to one side, wag
gravely at all this frivolity. But youth knows nothing of this;
it plunges reveling onward, with its surging blood. And one day
the old people have the best of it; the blood surges no longer, but
there they are, and there are the consequences, and the consequences
demand paternity and maintenance. "Didn't we say so?" cry the
old folk; but the young ones hang their heads, and foresee a long,
crippled existence, with a hasty marriage or continual payments
to a strange woman, while all through their lives a shadow of
degradation and ridicule clings to them; both their wives and their
company must be taken from beneath them. They talk no longer of
going out into the world and making their way; they used to strut
arrogantly before the old folk and demand free play for their youth,
but now they go meekly in harness with hanging heads, and blink
shamefacedly at the mention of their one heroic deed. And those who
cannot endure their fate must leave the country secretly and by
night, or swear themselves free.
The young master has his own way of enjoying himself. He takes no
part in the chase after the girls; but when the sunlight is really
warm, he sits before the workshop window and lets it warm his back.
"Ah, that's glorious!" he says, shaking himself. Pelle has to feel
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