Pelle the Conqueror, Vol. 2
Martin Anderson Nexo
Part 5 out of 6
will go awry!"
It was a bad shock to all of them. Klaussen went bankrupt and had to
find work on the new harbor. Blom ran away, deserting his wife and
children, and they had to go home to the house of her parents. In
the workshop matters had been getting worse for a long time. And now
this had happened, throwing a dazzling light upon the whole question.
But the young master refused to believe the worst. "I shall soon be
well again now," he said. "And then you will just see how I'll work
up the business!" He lay in bed more often now, and was susceptible
to every change in the weather. Pelle had to see to everything.
"Run and borrow something!" the master would say. And if Pelle
returned with a refusal, he would look at the boy with his wide,
wondering eyes. "They've got the souls of grocers!" he would cry.
"Then we must peg those soles!"
"That won't answer with ladies' patent-leather shoes!" replied
Pelle very positively.
"Damn and blast it all, it will answer! We'll black the bottom
with cobbler's wax."
But when the black was trodden off, Jungfer Lund and the others
called, and were wroth. They were not accustomed to walk in pegged
shoes. "It's a misunderstanding!" said the young master, the
perspiration standing in clear beads on his forehead. Or he would
hide and leave it to Pelle. When it was over, he would reach up to
the shelf, panting with exhaustion. "Can't you do anything for me,
Pelle?" he whispered.
One day Pelle plucked up courage and said it certainly wasn't
healthy to take so much spirit; the master needed so much now.
"Healthy?" said the master; "no, good God, it isn't healthy! But the
beasts demand it! In the beginning I couldn't get the stuff down,
especially beer; but now I've accustomed myself to it. If I didn't
feed them, they'd soon rush all over me and eat me up."
"Do they swallow it, then?"
"I should think they do! As much as ever you like to give them. Or
have you ever seen me tipsy? I can't get drunk; the tubercles take
it all. And for them it's sheer poison. On the day when I am able
to get drunk again I shall thank God, for then the beasts will be
dead and the spirit will be able to attack me again. Then it'll only
be a question of stopping it, otherwise it'll play the deuce with my
Since the journeyman had left, the meals had become more meager than
ever. The masters had not had enough money in the spring to buy a
pig. So there was no one to consume the scraps. Now they had to eat
them all themselves. Master Andres was never at the table; he took
scarcely any nourishment nowadays; a piece of bread-and-butter now
and again, that was all. Breakfast, at half-past seven, they ate
alone. It consisted of salt herrings, bread and hog's lard, and
soup. The soup was made out of all sorts of odds and ends of bread
and porridge, with an addition of thin beer. It was fermented and
unpalatable. What was left over from breakfast was put into a great
crock which stood in one corner of the kitchen, on the floor, and
this was warmed up again the next morning, with the addition of a
little fresh beer. So it went on all the year round. The contents
were renewed only when some one kicked the crock so that it broke.
The boys confined themselves to the herrings and the lard; the soup
they did not use except to fish about in it. They made a jest of it,
throwing all sorts of objects into it, and finding them again after
half a year.
Jeppe was still lying in the alcove, asleep; his nightcap was
hoved awry over one eye. Even in his sleep he still had a comical
expression of self-importance. The room was thick with vapor; the
old man had his own way of getting air, breathing it in with a long
snort and letting it run rumbling through him. If it got too bad,
the boys would make a noise; then he would wake and scold them.
They were longing for food by dinner-time; the moment Jeppe called
his "Dinner!" at the door they threw everything down, ranged
themselves according to age, and tumbled in behind him. They held
one another tightly by the coat-tails, and made stupid grimaces.
Jeppe was enthroned at the head of the table, a little cap on his
head, trying to preserve seemly table-manners. No one might begin
before him or continue after he had finished. They snatched at
their spoons, laid them down again with a terrified glance at the
old man, and nearly exploded with suppressed laughter. "Yes, I'm
very hungry to-day, but there's no need for you to remark it!" he
would say warningly, once they were in full swing. Pelle would wink
at the others, and they would go on eating, emptying one dish after
another. "There's no respect nowadays!" roared Jeppe, striking on
the table. But when he did this discipline suddenly entered into
them, and they all struck the table after him in turn. Sometimes,
when matters got too bad, Master Andres had to find some reason
for coming into the room.
The long working-hours, the bad food, and the foul air of the
workshop left their mark on Pelle. His attachment to Master Andres
was limitless; he could sit there till midnight and work without
payment if a promise had been made to finish some particular job.
But otherwise he was imperceptibly slipping into the general
slackness, sharing the others' opinion of the day as something
utterly abominable, which one must somehow endeavor to get through.
To work at half pressure was a physical necessity; his rare
movements wearied him, and he felt less inclined to work than to
brood. The semi-darkness of the sunless workshop bleached his skin
and filled him with unhealthy imaginations.
He did little work now on his own account; but he had learned to
manage with very little. Whenever he contrived to get hold of a
ten-ore piece, he bought a savings-stamp, so that in this way he
was able to collect a few shillings, until they had grown to quite
a little sum. Now and again, too, he got a little help from Lasse,
but Lasse found it more and more difficult to spare anything.
Moreover, he had learned to compose his mind by his work.
The crazy Anker was knocking on the workshop door. "Bjerregrav is
dead!" he said solemnly. "Now there is only one who can mourn over
poverty!" Then he went away and announced the news to Baker Jorgen.
They heard him going from house to house, all along the street.
Bjerregrav dead! Only yesterday evening he was sitting yonder, on
the chair by the window-bench, and his crutch was standing in the
corner by the door; and he had offered them all his hand in his
odd, ingenuous way--that unpleasantly flabby hand, at whose touch
they all felt a certain aversion, so importunate was it, and almost
skinless in its warmth, so that one felt as if one had involuntarily
touched some one on a naked part. Pelle was always reminded of
Father Lasse; he too had never learned to put on armor, but had
always remained the same loyal, simple soul, unaffected by his
The big baker had fallen foul of him as usual. Contact with this
childlike, thin-skinned creature, who let his very heart burn itself
out in a clasp of his hand, always made him brutal. "Now, Bjerregrav,
have you tried it--you know what--since we last saw you?"
Bjerregrav turned crimson. "I am content with the experience which
the dear God has chosen for me," he answered, with blinking eyes.
"Would you believe it, he is over seventy and doesn't know yet how
a woman is made!"
"Because, after all I find it suits me best to live alone, and then
there's my club foot."
"So he goes about asking questions about everything, things
such as every child knows about," said Jeppe, in a superior tone.
"Bjerregrav has never rubbed off his childish innocence."
Yet as he was going home, and Pelle was helping him over the gutter,
he was still in his mood of everlasting wonder.
"What star is that?" he said; "it has quite a different light to
the others. It looks so red to me--if only we don't have a severe
winter, with the soil frozen and dear fuel for all the poor people."
"You mustn't look at the moon so much. Skipper Andersen came by his
accident simply because he slept on deck and the moon shone right in
his face; now he has gone crazy!"
Yesterday evening just the same as always--and now dead! And no one
had known or guessed, so that they might have been a little kinder
to him just at the last! He died in his bed, with his mind full of
their last disdainful words, and now they could never go to him and
say: "Don't take any notice of it, Bjerregrav; we didn't mean to be
unkind." Perhaps their behavior had embittered his last hours. At
all events, there stood Jeppe and Brother Jorgen, and they could not
look one another in the face; an immovable burden weighed upon them.
And it meant a void--as when the clock in a room stops ticking.
The faithful sound of his crutch no longer approached the workshop
about six o'clock. The young master grew restless about that time;
he could not get used to the idea of Bjerregrav's absence.
"Death is a hateful thing," he would say, when the truth came over
him; "it is horribly repugnant. Why must one go away from here
without leaving the least part of one behind? Now I listen for
Bjerregrav's crutch, and there's a void in my ears, and after a time
there won't be even that. Then he will be forgotten, and perhaps
more besides, who will have followed him, and so it goes on forever.
Is there anything reasonable about it all, Pelle? They talk about
Heaven, but what should I care about sitting on a damp cloud and
singing 'Hallelujah'? I'd much rather go about down here and get
myself a drink--especially if I had a sound leg!"
The apprentices accompanied him to the grave. Jeppe wished them to
do so, as a sort of atonement. Jeppe himself and Baker Jorgen, in
tall hats, walked just behind the coffin. Otherwise only a few poor
women and children followed, who had joined the procession out of
curiosity. Coachman Due drove the hearse. He had now bought a pair
of horses, and this was his first good job.
Otherwise life flowed onward, sluggish and monotonous. Winter had
come again, with its commercial stagnation, and the Iceland trade
was ruined. The shoemakers did no more work by artificial light;
there was so little to do that it would not repay the cost of the
petroleum; so the hanging lamp was put on one side and the old tin
lamp was brought out again. That was good enough to sit round and
to gossip by. The neighbors would come into the twilight of the
workshop; if Master Andres was not there, they would slip out again,
or they would sit idly there until Jeppe said it was bed-time. Pelle
had begun to occupy himself with carving once more; he got as close
to the lamp as possible, listening to the conversation while he
worked upon a button which was to be carved like a twenty-five-ore
piece. Morten was to have it for a tie-pin.
The conversation turned upon the weather, and how fortunate it was
that the frost had not yet come to stop the great harbor works. Then
it touched upon the "Great Power," and from him it glanced at the
crazy Anker, and poverty, and discontent. The Social Democrats "over
yonder" had for a long time been occupying the public mind. All
the summer through disquieting rumors had crossed the water; it was
quite plain that they were increasing their power and their numbers
--but what were they actually aiming at? In any case, it was nothing
good. "They must be the very poorest who are revolting," said
Wooden-leg Larsen. "So their numbers must be very great!" It was
as though one heard the roaring of something or other out on the
horizon, but did not know what was going on there. The echo of the
upheaval of the lower classes was quite distorted by the time it
reached the island; people understood just so much, that the lowest
classes wanted to turn God's appointed order upside down and to get
to the top themselves, and involuntarily their glance fell covertly
on the poor in the town. But these were going about in their
customary half-slumber, working when there was work to be had and
contenting themselves with that. "That would be the last straw,"
said Jeppe, "here, where we have such a well-organized poor-relief!"
Baker Jorgen was the most eager--every day he came with news of
some kind to discuss. Now they had threatened the life of the King
himself! And now the troops were called out.
"The troops!" The young master made a disdainful gesture. "That'll
help a lot! If they merely throw a handful of dynamite among the
soldiers there won't be a trouser-button left whole! No, they'll
conquer the capital now!" His cheeks glowed: he saw the event
already in his mind's eye. "Yes, and then? Then they'll plunder
the royal Mint!"
"Yes--no. Then they'll come over here--the whole party!"
"Come over here? No, by God! We'd call out all the militia and shoot
them down from the shore. I've put my gun in order already!"
One day Marker came running in. "The pastrycook's got a new
journeyman from over yonder--and he's a Social Democrat!" he cried
breathlessly. "He came yesterday evening by the steamer." Baker
Jorgen had also heard the news.
"Yes, now they're on you!" said Jeppe, as one announcing disaster.
"You've all been trifling with the new spirit of the times. This
would have been something for Bjerregrav to see--him with his
compassion for the poor!"
"Let the tailor rest in peace in his grave," said Wooden-leg Larsen,
in a conciliatory tone. "You mustn't blame him for the angry masses
that exist to-day. He wanted nothing but people's good--and perhaps
these people want to do good, too!"
"Good!" Jeppe was loud with scorn. "They want to overturn law and
order, and sell the fatherland to the Germans! They say the sum is
settled already, and all!"
"They say they'll be let into the capital during the night, when
our own people are asleep," said Marker.
"Yes," said Master Andres solemnly. "They've let out that the key's
hidden under the mat--the devils!" Here Baker Jorgen burst into a
shout of laughter; his laughter filled the whole workshop when he
They guessed what sort of a fellow the new journeyman might be. No
one had seen him yet. "He certainly has red hair and a red beard,"
said Baker Jorgen. "That's the good God's way of marking those who
have signed themselves to the Evil One."
"God knows what the pastrycook wants with him," said Jeppe. "People
of that sort can't do anything--they only ask. I've heard the whole
lot of them are free-thinkers."
"What a lark!" The young master shook himself contentedly. "He won't
grow old here in the town!"
"Old?" The baker drew up his heavy body. "To-morrow I shall go to
the pastrycook and demand that he be sent away. I am commander of
the militia, and I know all the townsfolk think as I do."
Drejer thought it might be well to pray from the pulpit--as in
time of plague, and in the bad year when the field-mice infested
Next morning Jorgen Kofod looked in on his way to the pastrycook's.
He was wearing his old militia coat, and at his belt hung the
leather wallet in which flints for the old flint-locks had been
carried many years before. He filled his uniform well; but he came
back without success. The pastrycook praised his new journeyman
beyond all measure, and wouldn't hear a word of sending him away.
He was quite besotted. "But we shall buy there no more--we must all
stick to that--and no respectable family can deal with the traitor
"Did you see the journeyman, Uncle Jorgen?" asked Master Andres
"Yes, I saw him--that is, from a distance! He had a pair of terrible,
piercing eyes; but he shan't bewitch me with his serpent's glance!"
In the evening Pelle and the others were strolling about the market
in order to catch a glimpse of the new journeyman--there were a
number of people there, and they were all strolling to and fro with
the same object in view. But he evidently kept the house.
And then one day, toward evening, the master came tumbling into the
workshop. "Hurry up, damn it all!" he cried, quite out of breath;
"he's passing now!" They threw down their work and stumbled along
the passage into the best room, which at ordinary times they were
not allowed to enter. He was a tall, powerful man, with full cheeks
and a big, dashing moustache, quite as big as the master's. His
nostrils were distended, and he held his chest well forward. His
jacket and wasitcoat were open, as though he wanted more air. Behind
him slunk a few street urchins, in the hope of seeing something;
they had quite lost their accustomed insolence, and followed him
"He walks as though the whole town belonged to him!" said Jeppe
scornfully. "But we'll soon finish with him here!"
Out in the street some one went by, and then another, and then
another; there was quite a trampling of feet. The young master
knocked on the wall. "What in the world is it, Pelle?" He did not
mean to get up that day.
Pelle ran out to seek information. "Jen's father has got delirium--
he's cleared the whole harbor and is threatening to kill them all!"
The master raised his head a little. "By God, I believe I shall
get up!" His eyes were glistening; presently he had got into his
clothes, and limped out of doors; they heard him coughing terribly
in the cold.
Old Jeppe put his official cap in his pocket before he ran out;
perhaps the authorities would be needed. For a time the apprentices
sat staring at the door like sick birds; then they, too, ran out
of the house.
Outside everything was in confusion. The wildest rumors were flying
about as to what Stonemason Jorgensen had done. The excitement could
not have been greater had a hostile squadron come to anchor and
commenced to bombard the town. Everybody dropped what he was holding
and rushed down to the harbor. The smaller side-streets were one
unbroken procession of children and old women and small employers
in their aprons. Old gouty seamen awoke from their decrepit slumber
and hobbled away, their hands dropped to the back of their loins
and their faces twisted with pain.
"Toot aroot aroot aroot.
All the pitchy snouts!"
A few street-urchins allowed themselves this little diversion, as
Pelle came running by with the other apprentices; otherwise all
attention was concentrated on the one fact that the "Great Power"
had broken out again! A certain festivity might have been noted on
the faces of the hurrying crowd; a vivid expectation. The stonemason
had been quiet for a long time now; he had labored like a giant
beast of burden, to all appearance extinguished, but toiling like
an elephant, and quietly taking home a couple of kroner in the
evening. It was almost painful to watch him, and a disappointed
silence gathered about him. And now came a sudden explosion,
thrilling everybody through!
All had something to say of the "strong man" while they hastened
down to the harbor. Everybody had foreseen that it must come; he had
for a long time looked so strange, and had done nothing wrong, so
that it was only a wonder that it hadn't come sooner! Such people
ought not really to be at large; they ought to be shut up for life!
They went over the events of his life for the hundredth time--from
the day when he came trudging into town, young and fearless in his
rags, to find a market for his energies, until the time when he
drove his child into the sea and settled down as a lunatic.
Down by the harbor the people were swarming; everybody who could
creep or crawl was stationed there. The crowd was good-humored, in
spite of the cold and the hard times; the people stamped their feet
and cracked jokes. The town had in a moment shaken off its winter
sleep; the people clambered up on the blocks of stone, or hung
close-packed over the rough timber frames that were to be sunk
in building the breakwater. They craned their necks and started
nervously, as though some one might come up suddenly and hit them
over the head. Jens and Morten were there, too; they stood quite
apart and were speaking to one another. They looked on mournfully,
with shy, harrassed glances, and where the great slip ran obliquely
down to the floor of the basin the workmen stood in crowds; they
hitched up their trousers, for the sake of something to do,
exchanged embarrassed glances, and swore.
But down on the floor of the great basin the "Great Power"
ruled supreme. He was moving about alone, and he seemed to be as
unconscious of his surroundings as a child absorbed in play; he had
some purpose of his own to attend to. But what that was it was not
easy to tell. In one hand he held a bundle of dynamite cartridges;
with the other he was leaning on a heavy iron bar. His movements
were slow and regular, not unlike those of a clumsy bear. When he
stood up, his comrades shouted to him excitedly; they would come
and tear him into little pieces; they would slit his belly so that
he could see his own bowels; they would slash him with their knives
and rub his wounds with vitriol if he didn't at once lay down his
weapons and let them come down to their work.
But the "Great Power" did not deign to answer. Perhaps he never
heard them. When he raised his head his glance swept the distance,
laden with a mysterious burden which was not human. That face,
with its deadly weariness, seemed in its sadness to be turned upon
some distant place whither none could follow him. "He is mad!"
they whispered; "God has taken away his wits!" Then he bent himself
to his task again; he seemed to be placing the cartridges under
the great breakwater which he himself had proposed. He was pulling
cartridges out of every pocket; that was why they had stuck out
from his body curiously.
"What the devil is he going to do now? Blow up the breakwater?"
they asked, and tried to creep along behind the causeway, so as to
come upon him from behind. But he had eyes all round him; at the
slightest movement on their part he was there with his iron bar.
The whole works were at a standstill! Two hundred men stood idle
hour after hour, growling and swearing and threatening death and
the devil, but no one ventured forward. The overseer ran about
irresolutely, and even the engineer had lost his head; everything
was in a state of dissolution. The district judge was walking up
and down in full uniform, with an impenetrable expression of face;
his mere presence had a calming effect, but he did nothing.
Each proposal made was wilder than the last. Some wanted to make
a gigantic screen which might be pushed toward him; others suggested
capturing him with a huge pair of tongs made of long balks of timber;
but no one attempted to carry out these suggestions; they were only
too thankful that he allowed them to stand where they were. The
"Great Power" could throw a dynamite cartridge with such force that
it would explode where it struck and sweep away everything around it.
"The tip-wagons!" cried some one. Here at last was an idea!
The wagons were quickly filled with armed workmen. The catch was
released, but the wagons did not move. The "Great Power" with
his devilish cunning, had been before them; he had spiked the
endless chain so that it could not move. And now he struck away
the under-pinning of a few of the supports, so that the wagons
could not be launched upon him by hand.
This was no delirium; no one had ever yet seen delirium manifest
itself in such a way! And he had touched no spirit since the
day they had carried his daughter home. No; it was the quietest
resolution imaginable; when they got up after the breakfast-hour
and were strolling down to the slip, he stood there with his iron
bar and quietly commanded them to keep away--the harbor belonged
to him! They had received more than one sharp blow before they
understood that he was in earnest; but there was no malice in
him--one could see quite plainly how it hurt him to strike them.
It was certainly the devil riding him--against his own will.
But where was it going to end? They had had enough of it now!
For now the great harbor bell was striking midday, and there was
something derisive in the sound, as though it was jeering at
respectable people who only wanted to resume their work. They
didn't want to waste the whole day; neither did they want to risk
life and limb against the fool's tricks of a lunatic. Even the
mighty Bergendal had left his contempt of death at home to-day,
and was content to grumble like the rest.
"We must knock a hole in the dam," he said, "then the brute may
perish in the waves!"
They immediately picked up their tools, in order to set to work. The
engineer threatened them with the law and the authorities; it would
cost thousands of kroner to empty the harbor again. They would not
listen to him; what use was he if he couldn't contrive for them to
do their work in peace?
They strolled toward the dam, with picks and iron crowbars, in order
to make the breach; the engineer and the police were thrust aside.
Now it was no longer a matter of work; it was a matter of showing
that two hundred men were not going to allow one crazy devil to make
fools of them. Beelzebub had got to be smoked out. Either the "Great
Power" would come up from the floor of the basin, or he would drown.
"You shall have a full day's wages!" cried the engineer, to hold
them back. They did not listen; but when they reached the place of
the intended breach, the "Great Power" was standing at the foot of
the dam, swinging his pick so that the walls of the basin resounded.
He beamed with helpfulness at every blow; he had posted himself at
the spot where the water trickled in, and they saw with horror what
an effect his blows had. It was sheer madness to do what he was
"He'll fill the harbor with water, the devil!" they cried, and they
hurled stones at his head. "And such a work as it was to empty it!"
The "Great Power" took cover behind a pile and worked away.
Then there was nothing for it but to shoot him down before he had
attained his object. A charge of shot in the legs, if nothing more,
and he would at least be rendered harmless. The district judge was
at his wits' end; but Wooden-leg Larsen was already on the way home
to fetch his gun. Soon he came stumping back, surrounded by a swarm
"I've loaded it with coarse salt!" he cried, so that the judge
"Now you'll be shot dead!" they called down to him. In reply, the
"Great Power" struck his pick into the foot of the dam, so that
the trampled clay sighed and the moisture rose underfoot. A long
crackling sound told them that the first plank was shattered.
The final resolve had been formed quite of itself; everybody was
speaking of shooting him down as though the man had been long ago
sentenced, and now everybody was longing for the execution. They
hated the man below there with a secret hatred which needed no
explanation; his defiance and unruliness affected them like a slap
in the face; they would gladly have trampled him underfoot if they
They shouted down insults; they reminded him how in his presumption
he had ruined his family, and driven his daughter to suicide; and
they cast in his face his brutal attack on the rich shipowner Monsen,
the benefactor of the town. For a time they roused themselves from
their apathy in order to take a hand in striking him down. And now
it must be done thoroughly; they must have peace from this fellow,
who couldn't wear his chains quietly, but must make them grate like
the voice of hatred that lay behind poverty and oppression.
The judge leaned out over the quay, in order to read his sentence
over the "Great Power"--three times must it be read, so the man
might have opportunity to repent. He was deathly pale, and at the
second announcement he started convulsively; but the "Great Power"
threw no dynamite cartridges at him; he merely lifted his hand to
his head, as though in greeting, and made a few thrusting motions in
the air with two of his fingers, which stood out from his forehead
like a pair of horns. From where the apothecary stood in a circle
of fine ladies a stifled laugh was heard. All faces were turned to
where the burgomaster's wife stood tall and stately on a block of
stone. But she gazed down unflinchingly at the "Great Power" as
though she had never seen him before.
On the burgomaster the gesture had an effect like that of an
explosion. "Shoot him down!" he roared, with purple face, stumbling
excitedly along the breakwater. "Shoot him down, Larsen!"
But no one heeded his command. All were streaming toward the
wagon-slip, where an old, faded little woman was in the act of
groping her way along the track toward the floor of the basin.
"It's the 'Great Power's' mother!" The word passed from mouth
to mouth. "No! How little and old she is! One can hardly believe
she could have brought such a giant into the world!"
Excitedly they followed her, while she tottered over the broken
stone of the floor of the basin, which was littered with the
_debris_ of explosions until it resembled an ice-floe under
pressure. She made her way but slowly, and it looked continually
as though she must break her legs. But the old lady persevered,
bent and withered though she was, with her shortsighted eyes
fixed on the rocks before her feet.
Then she perceived her son, who stood with his iron bar poised
in his hand. "Throw the stick away, Peter!" she cried sharply,
and mechanically he let the iron rod fall. He gave way before her,
slowly, until she had pinned him in a corner and attempted to seize
him; then he pushed her carefully aside, as though she was something
that inconvenienced him.
A sigh went through the crowd, and crept round the harbor like
a wandering shudder. "He strikes his own mother--he must be mad!"
they repeated, shuddering.
But the old woman was on her legs again. "Do you strike your own
mother, Peter?" she cried, with sheer amazement in her voice, and
reached up after his ear; she could not reach so far; but the "Great
Power" bent down as though something heavy pressed upon him, and
allowed her to seize his ear. Then she drew him away, over stock
and stone, in a slanting path to the slipway, where the people
stood like a wall. And he went, bowed, across the floor of the
basin, like a great beast in the little woman's hands.
Up on the quay the police stood ready to fall upon the "Great Power"
with ropes; but the old woman was like pepper and salt when she saw
their intention. "Get out of the way, or I'll let him loose on you!"
she hissed. "Don't you see he has lost his intellect? Would you
attack a man whom God has smitten?"
"Yes, he is mad!" said the people, in a conciliatory tone; "let
his mother punish him--she is the nearest to him!"
Now Pelle and the youngest apprentice had to see to everything,
for in November Jens had finished his term and had left at once. He
had not the courage to go to Copenhagen to seek his fortune. So he
rented a room in the poor quarter of the town and settled there with
his young woman. They could not get married; he was only nineteen
years of age. When Pelle had business in the northern portion of the
town he used to look in on them. The table stood between the bed and
the window, and there sat Jens, working on repairs for the poor folk
of the neighborhood. When he had managed to get a job the girl would
stand bending over him, waiting intently until he had finished, so
that she could get something to eat. Then she would come back and
cook something right away at the stove, and Jens would sit there
and watch her with burning eyes until he had more work in hand.
He had grown thin, and sported a sparse pointed beard; a lack of
nourishment was written in both their faces. But they loved one
another, and they helped one another in everything, as awkwardly
as two children who are playing at "father and mother." They had
chosen the most dismal locality; the lane fell steeply to the sea,
and was full of refuse; mangy cats and dogs ran about, dragging
fish-offal up the steps of the houses and leaving it lying there.
Dirty children were grubbing about before every door.
One Sunday morning, when Pelle had run out there to see them, he
heard a shriek from one of the cottages, and the sound of chairs
overturned. Startled, he stood still. "That's only one-eyed Johann
beating his wife," said an eight-year-old girl; "he does that
almost every day."
Before the door, on a chair, sat an old man, staring imperturbably
at a little boy who continually circled round him.
Suddenly the child ran inward, laid his hands on the old man's knee,
and said delightedly: "Father runs round the table--mother runs
round the table--father beats mother--mother runs round the table
and--cries." He imitated the crying, laughed all over his little
idiot's face, and dribbled. "Yes, yes," was all the old man said.
The child had no eyebrows, and the forehead was hollow over the eyes.
Gleefully he ran round and round, stamping and imitating the uproar
within. "Yes, yes," said the old man imperturbably, "yes, yes!"
At the window of one of the cottages sat a woman, gazing out
thoughtfully, her forehead leaning against the sash-bar. Pelle
recognized her; he greeted her cheerfully. She motioned him to the
door. Her bosom was still plump, but there was a shadow over her
face. "Hans!" she cried uncertainly, "here is Pelle, whose doing
it was that we found one another!"
The young workman replied from within the room: "Then he can
clear out, and I don't care if he looks sharp about it!" He spoke
In spite of the mild winter, Master Andres was almost always in bed
now. Pelle had to receive all instructions, and replace the master
as well as he could. There was no making of new boots now--only
repairs. Every moment the master would knock on the wall, in order
to gossip a little.
"To-morrow I shall get up," he would say, and his eyes would shine;
"yes, that I shall, Pelle! Give me sunlight tomorrow, you devil's
imp! This is the turning-point--now nature is turning round in me.
When that's finished I shall be quite well! I can feel how it's
raging in my blood--it's war to the knife now--but the good sap is
conquering! You should see me when the business is well forward--
this is nothing to what it will be! And you won't forget to borrow
the list of the lottery-drawings?"
He would not admit it to himself, but he was sinking. He no longer
cursed the clergy, and one day Jeppe silently went for the pastor.
When he had gone, Master Jeppe knocked on the wall.
"It's really devilish queer," he said, "for suppose there should
be anything in it? And then the pastor is so old, he ought rather
to be thinking of himself." The master lay there and looked
thoughtful; he was staring up at the ceiling. He would lie all day
like that; he did not care about reading now. "Jens was really a
good boy," he would say suddenly. "I could never endure him, but he
really had a good disposition. And do you believe that I shall ever
be a man again?"
"Yes, when once the warm weather comes," said Pelle.
From time to time the crazy Anker would come to ask after Master
Andres. Then the master would knock on the wall. "Let him come in,
then," he said to Pelle. "I find myself so terribly wearisome."
Anker had quite given up the marriage with the king's eldest
daughter, and had now taken matters into his own hands. He was now
working at a clock which would _be_ the "new time" itself, and
which would go in time with the happiness of the people. He brought
the wheels and spring and the whole works with him, and explained
them, while his gray eyes, fixed out-of-doors, wandered from one
object to another. They were never on the thing he was exhibiting.
He, like all the others, had a blind confidence in the young master,
and explained his invention in detail. The clock would be so devised
that it would show the time only when every one in the land had what
he wanted. "Then one can always see and know if anybody is suffering
need--there'll be no excuse then! For the time goes and goes, and
they get nothing to eat; and one day their hour comes, and they go
hungry into the grave." In his temples that everlasting thing was
beating which seemed to Pelle like the knocking of a restless soul
imprisoned there; and his eyes skipped from one object to another
with their vague, indescribable expression.
The master allowed himself to be quite carried away by Anker's talk
as long as it lasted; but as soon as the watchmaker was on the other
side of the door he shook it all off. "It's only the twaddle of a
madman," he said, astonished at himself.
Then Anker repeated his visit, and had something else to show. It
was a cuckoo; every ten-thousandth year it would appear to the hour
and cry "Cuckoo!" The time would not be shown any longer--only the
long, long course of time--which never comes to an end--eternity.
The master looked at Anker bewildered. "Send him away, Pelle!" he
whispered, wiping the sweat from his forehead: "he makes me quite
giddy; he'll turn me crazy with his nonsense!"
Pelle ought really to have spent Christmas at home, but the master
would not let him leave him. "Who will chat with me all that time
and look after everything?" he said. And Pelle himself was not so
set on going; it was no particular pleasure nowadays to go home.
Karna was ill, and Father Lasse had enough to do to keep her in good
spirits. He himself was valiant enough, but it did not escape Pelle
that as time went on he was sinking deeper into difficulties. He had
not paid the latest instalment due, and he had not done well with
the winter stone-breaking, which from year to year had helped him
over the worst. He had not sufficient strength for all that fell
to his lot. But he was plucky. "What does it matter if I'm a few
hundred kroner in arrears when I have improved the property to the
tune of several thousand?" he would say.
Pelle was obliged to admit the truth of that. "Raise a loan,"
Lasse did try to do so. Every time he was in the town he went to
the lawyers and the savings-banks. But he could not raise a loan on
the land, as on paper it belonged to the commune, until, in a given
number of years, the whole of the sum to which Lasse had pledged
himself should be paid up. On Shrove Tuesday he was again in town,
and then he had lost his cheerful humor. "Now we know it, we had
better give up at once," he said despondently, "for now Ole Jensen
is haunting the place--you know, he had the farm before me and
hanged himself because he couldn't fulfill his engagements. Karna
saw him last night."
"Nonsense!" said Pelle. "Don't believe such a thing!" But he could
not help believing in it just a little himself.
"You think so? But you see yourself that things are always getting
more difficult for us--and just now, too, when we have improved the
whole property so far, and ought to be enjoying the fruit of our
labor. And Karna can't get well again," he added despondently.
"Well, who knows?--perhaps it's only superstition!" he cried at
last. He had courage for another attempt.
Master Andres was keeping his bed. But he was jolly enough there;
the more quickly he sank, the more boldly he talked. It was quite
wonderful to listen to his big words, and to see him lying there
so wasted, ready to take his departure when the time should come.
At the end of February the winter was so mild that people were
already beginning to look for the first heralds of spring; but then
in one night came the winter from the north, blustering southward on
a mighty ice-floe. Seen from the shore it looked as though all the
vessels in the world had hoisted new white sails, and were on the
way to Bornholm, to pay the island a visit, before they once again
set out, after the winter's rest, on their distant voyages. But
rejoicings over the breaking-up of the ice were brief; in four-and-
twenty hours the island was hemmed in on every side by the ice-pack,
so that there was not a speck of open water to be seen.
And then the snow began. "We really thought it was time to begin
work on the land," said the people; but they could put up with the
cold--there was still time enough. They proceeded to snowball one
another, and set their sledges in order; all through the winter
there had been no toboggan-slide. Soon the snow was up to one's
ankles, and the slide was made. Now it might as well stop snowing.
It might lie a week or two, so that people might enjoy a few proper
sleighing-parties. But the snow continued to flutter down, until it
reached to the knee, and then to the waist; and by the time people
were going to bed it was no longer possible to struggle through it.
And those who did not need to rise before daylight were very near
not getting out of bed at all, for in the night a snowstorm set in,
and by the morning the snow reached to the roofs and covered all
the windows. One could hear the storm raging about the chimneys,
but down below it was warm enough. The apprentices had to go through
the living-room to reach the workshop. The snow was deep there and
had closed all outlets.
"What the devil is it?" said Master Andres, looking at Pelle
in alarm. "Is the world coming to an end?"
Was the world coming to an end? Well, it might have come to an
end already; they could not hear the smallest sound from without,
to tell them whether their fellow-men were living still, or were
already dead. They had to burn lamps all day long; but the coal was
out in the snow, so they must contrive to get to the shed. They all
pushed against the upper half-door of the kitchen, and succeeded in
forcing it so far open that Pelle could just creep through. But once
out there it was impossible to move. He disappeared in the mass of
snow. They must dig a path to the well and the coal-shed; as for
food, they would have to manage as best they could. At noon the sun
came out, and so far the snow melted on the south side of the house
that the upper edge of the window admitted a little daylight. A
faint milky shimmer shone through the snow. But there was no sign
of life outside.
"I believe we shall starve, like the people who go to the North
Pole," said the master, his eyes and mouth quite round with
excitement. His eyes were blazing like lamps; he was deep in
the world's fairy-tale.
During the evening they dug and bored halfway to Baker Jorgen's.
They must at least secure their connection with the baker. Jeppe
went in with a light. "Look out that it doesn't fall on you,"
he said warningly. The light glistened in the snow, and the boys
proceeded to amuse themselves. The young master lay in bed, and
called out at every sound that came to him from outside--so loudly
that his cough was terrible. He could not contain himself for
curiosity. "I'll go and see the robbers' path, too, by God!" he
said, over and over again. Jeppe scolded him, but he took no notice.
He had his way, got into his trousers and fur jacket, and had a
counterpane thrown about him. But he could not stand up, and with
a despairing cry he fell back on the bed.
Pelle watched him until his heart burned within him. He took the
master on his arm, and supported him carefully until they entered
the tunnel. "You are strong; good Lord, you are strong!" The master
held Pelle convulsively, one arm about his neck, while he waved the
other in the air, as defiantly as the strong man in the circus. "Hip,
hip!" He was infected by Pelle's strength. Cautiously he turned
round in the glittering vault; his eyes shone like crystals of ice.
But the fever was raging in his emaciated body. Pelle felt it like
a devouring fire through all his clothes.
Next day the tunnel was driven farther--as far as Baker Jorgen's
steps, and their connection with the outer world was secure. At
Jorgen's great things had happened in the course of the last four-
and-twenty hours. Marie had been so excited by the idea that the end
of the world was perhaps at hand that she had hastily brought the
little Jorgen into it. Old Jorgen was in the seventh heaven; he had
to come over at once and tell them about it. "He's a regular devil,
and he's the very image of me!"
"That I can well believe!" cried Master Andres, and laughed.
"And is Uncle pleased?"
But Jeppe took the announcement very coolly; the condition of his
brother's household did not please him. "Is Soren delighted with
the youngster?" he asked cautiously.
"Soren?" The baker gave vent to a shout of laughter. "He can think
of nothing but the last judgment--he's praying to the dear God!"
Later in the day the noise of shovels was heard. The workmen were
outside; they cleared one of the pavements so that one could just
get by; but the surface of the street was still on a level with
Now one could get down to the harbor once more; it felt almost as
though one were breathing again after a choking-fit. As far as the
eyes could reach the ice extended, packed in high ridges and long
ramparts where the waves had battled. A storm was brewing. "God be
thanked!" said the old seamen, "now the ice will go!" But it did not
move. And then they understood that the whole sea was frozen; there
could not be one open spot as big as a soup-plate on which the storm
could begin its work. But it was a wonderful sight, to see the sea
lying dead and motionless as a rocky desert in the midst of this
And one day the first farmer came to town, with news of the country.
The farms inland were snowed up; men had to dig pathways into the
open fields, and lead the horses in one by one; but of accidents
he knew nothing.
All activities came to a standstill. No one could do any work, and
everything had to be used sparingly--especially coals and oil, both
of which threatened to give out. The merchants had issued warnings
as early as the beginning of the second week. Then the people began
to take to all sorts of aimless doings; they built wonderful things
with the snow, or wandered over the ice from town to town. And one
day a dozen men made ready to go with the ice-boat to Sweden, to
fetch the post; people could no longer do without news from the
outside world. On Christianso they had hoisted the flag of distress;
provisions were collected in small quantities, here, there, and
everywhere, and preparations were made for sending an expedition
And then came the famine; it grew out of the frozen earth, and
became the only subject of conversation. But only those who were
well provided for spoke of it; those who suffered from want were
silent. People appealed to organized charity; there was Bjerregrav's
five thousand kroner in the bank. But no, they were not there.
Ship-owner Monsen declared that Bjerregrav had recalled the money
during his lifetime. There was no statement in his will to the
contrary. The people knew nothing positively; but the matter gave
plenty of occasion for discussion. However things might be, Monsen
was the great man, now as always--and he gave a thousand kroner out
of his own pocket for the help of the needy.
Many eyes gazed out over the sea, but the men with the ice-boat
did not come back; the mysterious "over yonder" had swallowed them.
It was as though the world had sunk into the sea; as if, behind the
rugged ice-field which reached to the horizon, there now lay nothing
but the abyss.
The "Saints" were the only people who were busy; they held
overcrowded meetings, and spoke about the end of the world. All else
lay as though dead. Under these conditions, who would worry himself
about the future? In the workshop they sat in caps and overcoats and
froze; the little coal that still remained had to be saved for the
master. Pelle was in his room every moment. The master did not speak
much now; he lay there and tossed to and fro, his eyes gazing up at
the ceiling; but as soon as Pelle had left him he knocked for him
again. "How are things going now?" he would ask wearily. "Run down
to the harbor and see whether the ice isn't near breaking--it is so
very cold; at this rate the whole earth will become a lump of ice.
This evening they will certainly hold another meeting about the last
judgment. Run and hear what they think about it."
Pelle went, and returned with the desired information, but when he
had done so the master had usually forgotten all about the matter.
From time to time Pelle would announce that there seemed to be a
bluish shimmer on the sea, far beyond the ice. Then the master's
eyes would light up. But he was always cast down again by the next
announcement. "The sea will eat up the ice yet--you'll see," said
Master Andres, as though from a great distance. "But perhaps it
cannot digest so much. Then the cold will get the upper hand, and
we shall all be done for!"
But one morning the ice-field drove out seaward, and a hundred men
got ready to clear the channel of ice by means of dynamite. Three
weeks had gone by since any post had been received from the outer
world, and the steamer went out in order to fetch news from Sweden.
It was caught by the ice out in the offing, and driven toward the
south; from the harbor they could see it for days, drifting about
in the ice-pack, now to the north and now to the south.
At last the heavy bonds were broken. But it was difficult alike for
the earth and for mankind to resume the normal activities of life.
Everybody's health had suffered. The young master could not stand
the change from the bitter frost to the thaw; when his cough did not
torment him he lay quite still. "Oh, I suffer so dreadfully, Pelle!"
he complained, whispering. "I have no pain--but I suffer, Pelle."
But then one morning he was in a good humor. "Now I am past the
turning-point," he said, in a weak but cheerful voice; "now you'll
just see how quickly I shall get well. What day is it really to-day?
Thursday? Death and the devil! then I must renew my lottery ticket!
I am so light I was flying through the air all night long, and if
I only shut my eyes I am flying again. That is the force in the new
blood--by summer I shall be quite well. Then I shall go out and see
the world! But one never--deuce take it!--gets to see the best--the
stars and space and all that! So man must learn to fly. But I was
there last night."
Then the cough overpowered him again. Pelle had to lift him up;
at every spasm there was a wet, slapping sound in his chest. He
put one hand on Pelle's shoulder and leaned his forehead against
the boy's body. Suddenly the cough ceased; and the white, bony hand
convulsively clutched Pelle's shoulder. "Pelle, Pelle!" moaned the
master, and he gazed at him, a horrible anxiety in his dying eyes.
"What does he see now?" thought Pelle, shuddering; and he laid him
back on his pillow.
Often enough did Pelle regret that he had wasted five years as
apprentice. During his apprenticeship he had seen a hundred, nay,
two hundred youths pass into the ranks of the journeymen; and then
they were forthwith turned into the streets, while new apprentices
from the country filled up the ranks again. There they were, and
they had to stand on their own legs. In most cases they had learned
nothing properly; they had only sat earning their master's daily
bread, and now they suddenly had to vindicate their calling. Emil
had gone to the dogs; Peter was a postman and earned a krone a day,
and had to go five miles to do that. When he got home he had to
sit over the knee-strap and waxed-end, and earn the rest of his
livelihood at night. Many forsook their calling altogether. They
had spent the best years of their youth in useless labor.
Jens had done no better than the majority. He sat all day over
repairs, and had become a small employer, but they were positively
starving. The girl had recently had a miscarriage, and they had
nothing to eat. When Pelle went to see them they were usually
sitting still and staring at one another with red eyes; and over
their heads hung the threat of the police, for they were not yet
married. "If I only understood farm work!" said Jens. "Then I'd
go into the country and serve with a farmer."
Despite all his recklessness, Pelle could not help seeing his own
fate in theirs; only his attachment to Master Andres had hindered
him from taking to his heels and beginning something else.
Now everything suddenly came to an end; old Jeppe sold the business,
with apprentices and all. Pelle did not wish to be sold. Now was
his opportunity; now, by a sudden resolve, he might bring this
whole chapter to an end.
"You don't go!" said Jeppe threateningly; "you have still a year
of your apprenticeship before you! I shall give information to the
police about you--and you've learned what that means." But Pelle
went. Afterward they could run to the police as often as they liked.
With a light and cheerful mind he rented an attic on the hill above
the harbor, and removed his possessions thither. He felt as though
he was stretching himself after his years of slavery; he no longer
had any one over him, and he had no responsibilities, and no burdens.
Year by year he had fought against a continual descent. It had by no
means fortified his youthful courage vainly to pit his energies, day
after day, against the decline of the workshop; he was only able to
hold back the tide a little, and as for the rest, he must perforce
sink with the business.
A good share of resignation and a little too much patience with
regard to his eighteen years--this was for the moment his net
profit from the process of going downhill.
Now it all lay at the foot of the hill, and he could stand aside
and draw himself up a little. His conscience was clear, and he felt
a somewhat mitigated delight in his freedom; that was all he had
won. He had no money for traveling, and his clothes were in a sad
case; but that did not trouble him at first. He breathed deeply,
and considered the times. The death of the master had left a great
void within him; he missed that intelligent glance, which had given
him the feeling that he was serving an idea; and the world was a
terribly desolate and God-forsaken place now that this glance no
longer rested on him, half lucid and half unfathomable, and now
that the voice was silent which had always gone to his heart--when
it was angry just as much as when it was infinitely mild or
frolicsome. And where he was used to hear that voice his ear
encountered only solitude.
He did nothing to arouse himself; he was for the present idle. This
or that employer was after him, truly, for they all knew that he
was a quick and reliable worker, and would willingly have taken him
as apprentice, for a krone a week and his food. But Pelle would have
none of them; he felt that his future did not lie in that direction.
Beyond that he knew nothing, but only waited, with a curious apathy,
for something to happen--something, anything. He had been hurried
out of his settled way of life, yet he had no desire to set to
work. From his window he could look out over the harbor, where the
extensive alterations that had been interrupted by the winter were
again in full swing. And the murmur of the work rose up to him; they
were hewing, boring and blasting; the tip-wagons wandered in long
rows up the slipway, threw their contents out on the shore, and
returned. His limbs longed for strenuous work with pick and shovel,
but his thoughts took another direction.
If he walked along the street the industrious townsfolk would turn
to look after him, exchanging remarks which were loud enough to
reach his ear. "There goes Master Jeppe's apprentice, loafing
along," they would tell one another; "young and strong he is, but he
doesn't like work. He'll turn into a loafer if you give him time--
that you can see. Yes, wasn't it he who got a beating at the town
hall, for his brutal behavior? What else can you expect of him?"
So then Pelle kept the house. Now and again he got a little work
from comrades, and poor people of his acquaintance; he did his best
without proper implements, or if he could not manage otherwise he
would go to Jens. Jens had lasts and an anvil. At other times he sat
at the window, freezing, and gazed out over the harbor and the sea.
He saw the ships being rigged and fitted, and with every ship that
went gliding out of the harbor, to disappear below the horizon, it
seemed to him that a last possibility had escaped him; but although
he had such a feeling it did not stir him. He shrank from Morten,
and did not mix with other people. He was ashamed to be so idle
when every one else was working.
As for food, he managed fairly well; he lived on milk and bread,
and needed only a few ore a day. He was able to avoid extreme
hunger. As for firing, it was not to be thought of. Sitting idly
in his room, he enjoyed his repose, apart from a certain feeling
of shame; otherwise he was sunk in apathy.
On sunny mornings he got up early and slipped out of the town. All
day long he would stroll in the great pine-woods or lie on the dunes
by the shore, with the murmur of the sea sounding through his half-
slumber. He ate like a dog whatever he could get that was eatable,
without particularly thinking of what it consisted. The glitter of
the sun on the water, and the poignant scent of the pine-trees, and
the first rising of the sluggish sap which came with spring, made
him dizzy, and filled his brain with half-wild imaginations. The
wild animals were not afraid of him, but only stood for a moment
inhaling his scent; then they would resume their daily life before
his eyes. They had no power to disturb his half-slumber; but if
human beings approached, he would hide himself, with a feeling of
hostility, almost of hatred. He experienced a kind of well-being
out in the country. The thought often occurred to him that he would
give up his dwelling in the town, and creep at night under the
Only when the darkness hid him did he return to his room. He would
throw himself, fully dressed, on his bed, and lie there until he
fell asleep. As though from a remote distance he could hear his
next-door neighbor, Strom the diver, moving about his room with
tottering steps, and clattering with his cooking utensils close at
hand. The smell of food, mingled with tobacco smoke and the odor of
bedding, which crept through the thin board partition, and hovered,
heavy and suffocating, above his head, became even more overpowering.
His mouth watered. He shut his eyes and forced himself to think
of other things, in order to deaden his hunger. Then a light,
well-known step sounded on the stairs and some one knocked on the
door--it was Morten. "Are you there, Pelle?" he asked. But Pelle
did not move.
Pelle could hear Strom attacking his bread with great bites, and
chewing it with a smacking sound; and suddenly in the intervals of
mastication, another sound was audible; a curious bellowing, which
was interrupted every time the man took a bite; it sounded like a
child eating and crying simultaneously. That another person should
cry melted something in Pelle, and filled him with a feeble sense
of something living; he raised himself on his elbows and listened
to Strom struggling with terror, while cold shudders chased one
another down his back.
People said that Strom lived here because in his youth he had done
something at home. Pelle forgot his own need and listened, rigid
with terror, to this conflict with the powers of evil. Patiently,
through his clenched teeth, in a voice broken by weeping, Strom
attacked the throng of tiny devils with words from the Bible.
"I'll do something to you at last that'll make you tuck your tails
between your legs!" he cried, when he had read a little. There was
a peculiar heaviness about his speech, which seemed charged with
a craving for peace. "Ah!" he cried presently, "you want some more,
you damned rascals, do you? Then what have you got to say to this
--'I, the Lord thy God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the
God of Jacob'"--Strom hurled the words at them, anger crept into his
voice, and suddenly he lost patience. He took the Bible and flung
it on the floor. "Satan take you, then!" he shouted, laying about
him with the furniture.
Pelle lay bathed in sweat, listening to this demoniac struggle; and
it was with a feeling of relief that he heard Strom open the window
and drive the devils out over the roofs. The diver fought the last
part of the battle with a certain humor. He addressed the corner of
the room in a wheedling, flattering tone. "Come, you sweet, pretty
little devil! What a white skin you have--Strom would so like to
stroke you a little! No, you didn't expect that! Are we getting
too clever for you? What? You'd still bite, would you, you devil's
brat? There, don't scowl like that!"--Strom shut the window with
an inward chuckle.
For a while he strolled about amusing himself. "Strom is still man
enough to clear up Hell itself!" he said, delighted.
Pelle heard him go to bed, and he himself fell asleep. But in the
night he awoke; Strom was beating time with his head against the
board partition, while he lay tearfully singing "By the waters of
Babylon!" But halfway through the psalm the diver stopped and stood
up. Pelle heard him groping to and fro across the floor and out on
the landing. Seized with alarm, he sprang out of bed and struck a
light. Outside stood Strom, in the act of throwing a noose over the
rafters. "What do you want here?" he said fiercely. "Can I never
get any peace from you?"
"Why do you want to lay hands on yourself?" asked Pelle quietly.
"There's a woman and a little child sitting there, and she's forever
and forever crying in my ear. I can't stand it any longer!" answered
Strom, knotting his rope.
"Think of the little child, then!" said Pelle firmly, and he tore
down the rope. Strom submitted to be led back into his room, and he
crawled into bed. But Pelle must stay with him; he dared not put out
the light and lie alone in the darkness.
"Is it the devils?" asked Pelle.
"What devils?" Strom knew nothing of any devils. "No, it's remorse,"
he replied. "The child and its mother are continually complaining of
But next moment he would spring out of bed and stand there whistling
as though he was coaxing a dog. With a sudden grip he seized
something by the throat, opened the window, and threw it out. "So,
that was it!" he said, relieved; "now there's none of the devil's
brood left!" He reached after the bottle of brandy.
"Leave it alone!" said Pelle, and he took the bottle away from him.
His will increased in strength at the sight of the other's misery.
Strom crept into bed again. He lay there tossing to and fro, and
his teeth chattered. "If I could only have a mouthful!" he said
pleadingly; "what harm can that do me? It's the only thing that
helps me! Why should a man always torment himself and play the
respectable when he can buy peace for his soul so cheaply? Give
me a mouthful!" Pelle passed him the bottle. "You should take one
yourself--it sets a man up! Do you think I can't see that you've
suffered shipwreck, too? The poor man goes aground so easily, he has
so little water under the keel. And who d'you think will help him to
get off again if he's betrayed his own best friend? Take a swallow,
then--it wakes the devil in us and gives us courage to live."
No, Pelle wanted to go to bed.
"Why do you want to go now? Stay here, it is so comfortable. If you
could, tell me about something, something that'll drive that damned
noise out of my ears for a bit! There's a young woman and a little
child, and they're always crying in my ears."
Pelle stayed, and tried to distract the diver. He looked into his
own empty soul, and he could find nothing there; so he told the man
of Father Lasse and of their life at Stone Farm, with everything
mixed up just as it occurred to him. But his memories rose up within
him as he spoke of them, and they gazed at him so mournfully that
they awakened his crippled soul to life. Suddenly he felt utterly
wretched about himself, and he broke down helplessly.
"Now, now!" said Strom, raising his head. "Is it your turn now?
Have you, too, something wicked to repent of, or what is it?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know? That's almost like the women--crying is one of
their pleasures. But Strom doesn't hang his head; he would like
to be at peace with himself, if it weren't for a pair of child's
eyes that look at him so reproachfully, day in and day out, and the
crying of a girl! They're both at home there in Sweden, wringing
their hands for their daily bread. And the one that should provide
for them is away from them here and throws away his earnings in the
beer-houses. But perhaps they're dead now because I've forsaken them.
Look you, that is a real grief; there's no child's talk about that!
But you must take a drink for it."
But Pelle did not hear; he sat there gazing blindly in front of him.
All at once the chair began to sail through air with him; he was
almost fainting with hunger. "Give me just one drink--I've had not
a mouthful of food to-day!" He smiled a shamefaced smile at the
With one leap, Strom was out of bed. "No, then you shall have
something to eat," he said eagerly, and he fetched some food.
"Did one ever see the like--such a desperate devil! To take brandy
on an empty stomach! Eat now, and then you can drink yourself full
elsewhere! Strom has enough on his conscience without that.... He
can drink his brandy himself! Well, well, then, so you cried from
hunger! It sounded like a child crying to me!"
Pelle often experienced such nights. They enlarged his world in
the direction of the darkness. When he came home late and groped
his way across the landing he always experienced a secret terror
lest he should rub against Strom's lifeless body; and he only
breathed freely when he heard him snoring or ramping round his room.
He liked to look in on him before he went to bed.
Strom was always delighted to see him, and gave him food; but brandy
he would not give him. "It's not for fellows as young as you! You'll
get the taste for it early enough, perhaps."
"You drink, yourself," said Pelle obstinately.
"Yes, I drink to deaden remorse. But that's not necessary
in your case."
"I'm so empty inside," said Pelle. "Really brandy might set me up
a little. I feel as if I weren't human at all, but a dead thing,
a table, for instance."
"You must do something--anything--or you'll become a good-for-
nothing. I've seen so many of our sort go to the dogs; we haven't
enough power of resistance!"
"It's all the same to me what becomes of me!" replied Pelle
drowsily. "I'm sick of the whole thing!"
It was Sunday, and Pelle felt a longing for something unaccustomed.
At first he went out to see Jens, but the young couple had had
a dispute and had come to blows. The girl had let the frying-pan
containing the dinner fall into the fire, and Jens had given
her a box on the ears. She was still white and poorly after her
miscarriage. Now they were sitting each in a corner, sulking like
children. They were both penitent, but neither would say the first
word. Pelle succeeded in reconciling them, and they wanted him
to stay for dinner. "We've still got potatoes and salt, and I can
borrow a drop of brandy from a neighbor!" But Pelle went; he could
not watch them hanging on one another's necks, half weeping, and
kissing and babbling, and eternally asking pardon of one another.
So he went out to Due's. They had removed to an old merchant's house
where there was room for Due's horses. They seemed to be getting on
well. It was said that the old consul took an interest in them and
helped them on. Pelle never went into the house, but looked up Due
in the stable, and if he was not at home Pelle would go away again.
Anna did not treat him as though he was welcome. Due himself greeted
him cordially. If he had no rounds to make he used to hang about the
stable and potter round the horses; he did not care about being in
the house. Pelle gave him a hand, cutting chaff for him, or helping
in anything that came to hand, and then they would go into the house
together. Due was at once another man if he had Pelle behind him;
he was more decided in his behavior. Anna was gradually and
increasingly getting the upper hand over him.
She was just as decided as ever, and kept the house in good order.
She no longer had little Marie with her. She dressed her own two
children well, and sent them to a school for young children, and
she paid for their attendance. She was delightful to look at, and
understood how to dress herself, but she would hear nothing good
of any one else. Pelle was not smart enough for her; she turned up
her nose at his every-day clothes, and in order to make him feel
uncomfortable she was always talking about Alfred's engagement to
Merchant Lau's daughter. This was a fine match for him. "_He_
doesn't loaf about and sleep his time away, and sniff at other
people's doors in order to get their plate of food," she said. Pelle
only laughed; nothing made any particular impression on him nowadays.
The children ran about, wearying themselves in their fine clothes
--they must not play with the poor children out-of-doors, and must
not make themselves dirty. "Oh, play with us for a bit, Uncle Pelle!"
they would say, hanging on to him. "Aren't you our uncle too? Mother
says you aren't our uncle. She's always wanting us to call the
consul uncle, but we just run away. His nose is so horribly red."
"Does the consul come to see you, then?" asked Pelle.
"Yes, he often comes--he's here now!"
Pelle peeped into the yard. The pretty wagon had been taken out.
"Father's gone out," said the children. Then he slipped home again.
He stole a scrap of bread and a drop of brandy from Strom, who was
not at home, and threw himself on his bed. As the darkness came on
he strolled out and lounged, freezing, about the street corners.
He had a vague desire to do something. Well-dressed people were
promenading up and down the street, and many of his acquaintances
were there, taking their girls for a walk; he avoided having to
greet them, and to listen to whispered remarks and laughter at
his expense. Lethargic as he was, he still had the acute sense of
hearing that dated from the time of his disgrace at the town hall.
People enjoyed finding something to say when he passed them; their
laughter still had the effect of making his knees begin to jerk
with a nervous movement, like the quickly-suppressed commencement
of a flight.
He slipped into a side-street; he had buttoned his thin jacket
tightly about him, and turned up his collar. In the half-darkness
of the doorways stood young men and girls, in familiar, whispered
conversation. Warmth radiated from the girls, and their bibbed
aprons shone in the darkness. Pelle crept along in the cold, and
knew less than ever what to do with himself; he ranged about to
find a sweetheart for himself.
In the market he met Alfred, arm-in-arm with Lau's daughter. He
carried a smart walking-stick, and wore brown gloves and a tall
hat. "The scamp--he still owes me two and a half kroner, and I shall
never get it out of him!" thought Pelle, and for a moment he felt
a real desire to spring upon him and to roll all his finery in the
mud. Alfred turned his head the other way. "He only knows me when
he wants to do something and has no money!" said Pelle bitterly.
He ran down the street at a jog-trot, in order to keep himself
warm, turning his eyes toward the windows. The bookbinder and
his wife were sitting at home, singing pious songs. The man drank
when at home; that one could see plainly on the blind. At the
wool-merchant's they were having supper.
Farther on, at the Sow's, there was life, as always. A mist of
tobacco smoke and a great deal of noise were escaping through the
open window. The Sow kept a house for idle seamen, and made a great
deal of money. Pelle had often been invited to visit her, but had
always considered himself too good; moreover, he could not bear
Rud. But this evening he seized greedily upon the memory of this
invitation, and went in. Perhaps a mouthful of food would come
At a round table sat a few tipsy seamen, shouting at one another,
and making a deafening row. The Sow sat on a young fellow's knee;
she lay half over the table and dabbled her fingers in a puddle of
spilt beer; from time to time she shouted right in the face of those
who were making the most noise. The last few years had not reduced
"Now look at that! Is that you, Pelle?" she said, and she stood
up to give him her hand. She was not quite sober, and had some
difficulty in taking his. "That's nice of you to come, now--I really
thought we weren't good enough for you! Now, sit down and have
a drop; it won't cost you anything." She motioned to him to take
The sailors were out of humor; they sat staring sleepily at Pelle.
Their heavy heads wagged helplessly. "That's surely a new customer?"
asked one, and the others laughed.
The Sow laughed too, but all at once became serious. "Then you can
leave him out of your games, for he's far too good to be dragged
into anything; one knows what you are!" She sank into a chair next
to Pelle, and sat looking at him, while she rubbed her own greasy
countenance. "How tall and fine you've grown--but you aren't
well-off for clothes! And you don't look to be overfed.... Ah,
I've known you from the time when you and your father came into
the country; a little fellow you were then, and Lasse brought me my
mother's hymn-book!" She was suddenly silent, and her eyes filled
One of the sailors whispered to the rest, and they began to laugh.
"Stop laughing, you swine!" she cried angrily, and she crossed over
to them. "You aren't going to play any of your nonsense with him--he
comes like a memory of the times when I was respectable, too. His
father is the only creature living who can prove that I was once a
pretty, innocent little maid, who got into bad company. He's had me
on his lap and sung lullabies to me." She looked about her defiantly,
and her red face quivered.
"Didn't you weigh as much then as you do now?" asked one of the men,
and embraced her.
"Don't play the fool with the little thing!" cried another. "Don't
you see she's crying? Take her on your lap and sing her a lullaby--
then she'll believe you are Lasse-Basse!"
Raging, she snatched up a bottle. "Will you hold your tongue with
your jeering? Or you'll get this on the head!" Her greasy features
seemed to run together in her excitement.
They let her be, and she sat there sobbing, her hands before her
face. "Is your father still alive?" she asked. "Then give him my
respects--just say the Sow sends her respects--you can safely call
me the Sow!--and tell him he's the only person in the world I have
to thank for anything. He thought well of me, and he brought me the
news of mother's death."
Pelle sat there listening with constraint to her tearful speech,
with an empty smile. He had knives in his bowels, he was so empty,
and the beer was going to his head. He remembered all the details
of Stone Farm, where he had first seen and heard the Sow, just as
Father Lasse had recalled her home and her childhood to her. But he
did not connect any further ideas with that meeting; it was a long
time ago, and--"isn't she going to give me anything to eat?" he
thought, and listened unsympathetically to her heavy breathing.
The sailors sat looking at her constrainedly; a solemn silence lay
on their mist-wreathed faces; they were like drunken men standing
about a grave. "Give over washing the decks now--and get us
something to drink!" an old fellow said suddenly. "Each of us knows
what it is to have times of childish innocence come back to him,
and I say it's a jolly fine thing when they will peep through the
door at old devils like us! But let the water stop overboard now,
I say! The more one scours an old barge the more damage comes to
light! So, give us something to drink now, and then the cards,
She stood up and gave them what they asked for; she had mastered
her emotion, but her legs were still heavy.
"That's right--and then we've got a sort of idea that to-day is
Sunday! Show us your skill, ma'am, quick!"
"But that costs a krone, you know!" she said, laughing.
They collected the money and she went behind the bar and undressed.
She reappeared in her chemise, with a burning candle in her hand....
Pelle slipped out. He was quite dizzy with hunger and a dull feeling
of shame. He strolled on at random, not knowing what he did. He had
only one feeling--that everything in the world was indifferent to
him, whatever happened--whether he went on living in laborious
honesty, or defiled himself with drinking, or perished--it was all
one to him! What was the good of it all? No one cared what happened
to him--not even he himself. Not a human soul would miss him if he
went to the dogs--but yes, there was Lasse, Father Lasse! But as for
going home now and allowing them to see him in all his wretchedness
--when they had expected such unreasonable things of him--no, he
could not do it! The last remnants of shame protested against it.
And to work--what at? His dream was dead. He stood there with a
vague feeling that he had come to the very edge of the abyss, which
is so ominous to those in the depths.
Year in, year out, he had kept himself by his never-flagging
exertions, and with the demented idea that he was mounting upward.
And now he stood very near the lowest depth of life--the very bottom.
And he was so tired. Why not let himself sink yet a little further;
why not let destiny run its course? There would be a seductive
repose in the acts, after his crazy struggle against the superior
The sound of a hymn aroused him slightly. He had come down a
side-street, and right in front of him stood a wide, lofty building,
with the gable facing the street and a cross on the point of the
gable. Hundreds of voices had sought, in the course of the years,
to entice him hither; but in his arrogance he had had no use for
spiritual things. What was there here for a smart youngster? And now
he was stranded outside! And now he felt a longing for a little care,
and he had a feeling that a hand had led him hither.
The hall was quite filled with poor families. They were packed
amazingly close together on the benches, each family by itself; the
men, as a rule, were asleep, and the women had all they could do to
quiet their children, and to make them sit politely with their legs
sticking out in front of them. These were people who had come to
enjoy a little light and warmth, free of cost, in the midst of their
desolate lives; on Sundays, at least, they thought, they could ask
for a little of these things. They were the very poorest of the poor,
and they sought refuge here, where they would not be persecuted, and
where they were promised their part in the millennium. Pelle knew
them all, both those whom he had seen before and those others, who
wore the same expression, as of people drowned in the ocean of life.
He soon found himself cozily settled among all these dishevelled
nestlings, whom the pitiless wind had driven oversea, and who were
now washed ashore by the waves.
A tall man with a full beard and a pair of good child-like eyes
stood up among the benches, beating the time of a hymn--he was Dam,
the smith. He led the singing, and as he stood there he bent his
knees in time, and they all sang with him, with tremulous voices,
each in his own key, of that which had passed over them. The notes
forced their way through the parched, worn throats, cowering, as
though afraid, now that they had flown into the light. Hesitatingly
they unfurled their fragile, gauzy wings, and floated out into the
room, up from the quivering lips. And under the roof they met with
their hundreds of sisters, and their defilement fell from them. They
became a jubilation, loud and splendid, over some unknown treasure,
over the kingdom of happiness, that was close at hand. To Pelle
it seemed that the air must be full of butterflies winged with
"O blessed, blessed shall we be
When we, from care and mis'ry free,
The splendor of Thy kingdom see,
And with our Saviour come to Thee!"
"Mother, I'm hungry!" said a child's voice, as the hymn was followed
by silence. The mother, herself emaciated, silenced the child with a
shocked expression, and looked wonderingly about her. What a stupid
idea of the child's! "You've just had your food!" she said loudly,
as though she had been comfortably off. But the child went on
crying: "Mother, I'm so hungry!"
Then Baker Jorgen's Soren came by, and gave the child a roll. He had
a whole basket full of bread. "Are there any more children who are
hungry?" he asked aloud. He looked easily in people's faces, and was
quite another creature to what he was at home; here no one laughed
at him, and no one whispered that he was the brother of his own son.
An old white-bearded man mounted the pulpit at the back of the
hall. "That's him," was whispered in every direction, and they
all hastened to clear their throats by coughing, and to induce
the children to empty their mouths of food. He took the cry of
the little one as his text: "Mother, I am so hungry!" That was the
voice of the world--that great, terrible cry--put into the mouth of
a child. He saw no one there who had not writhed at the sound of
that cry on the lips of his own flesh and blood--no one who, lest
he should hear it again, had not sought to secure bread during his
lifetime--no one who had not been beaten back. But they did not see
God's hand when that hand, in its loving-kindness, changed that mere
hunger for bread into a hunger for happiness. They were the poor,
and the poor are God's chosen people. For that reason they must
wander in the desert, and must blindly ask: "Where is the Promised
Land?" But the gleam of which the faithful followed was not earthly
happiness! God himself led them to and fro until their hunger was
purged and became the true hunger--the hunger of the soul for
They did not understand much of what he said; but his words set free
something within them, so that they engaged in lively conversation
over everyday things. But suddenly the buzz of conversation was
silenced; a little hunchbacked man had clambered up on a bench and
was looking them over with glittering eyes. This was Sort, the
traveling shoemaker from the outer suburb.
"We want to be glad and merry," he said, assuming a droll
expression; "God's children are always glad, however much evil they
have to fight against, and they can meet with no misfortune--God is
Joy!" He began to laugh, as boisterously as a child, and they all
laughed with him; one infected the next. They could not control
themselves; it was as though an immense merriment had overwhelmed
them all. The little children looked at the grown-ups and laughed,
till their little throats began to cough with laughing. "He's a
proper clown!" said the men to their wives, their own faces broad
with laughter, "but he's got a good heart!"
On the bench next to Pelle sat a silent family, a man and wife and
three children, who breathed politely through their raw little noses.
The parents were little people, and there was a kind of inward
deftness about them, as though they were continually striving to
make themselves yet smaller. Pelle knew them a little, and entered
into conversation with them. The man was a clay-worker, and they
lived in one of the miserable huts near the "Great Power's" home.
"Yes, that is true--that about happiness," said the wife. "Once we
too used to dream of getting on in the world a little, so that we
might be sure of our livelihood; and we scraped a little money
together, that some good people lent us, and we set up in a little
shop, and I kept it while father went to work. But it wouldn't
answer; no one supported us, and we got poorer goods because we were
poor, and who cares about dealing with very poor people? We had to
give it up, and we were deeply in debt, and we're still having to
pay it off--fifty ore every week, and there we shall be as long
as we live, for the interest is always mounting up. But we are
honorable people, thank God!" she concluded. The man took no part
in the conversation.
Her last remark was perhaps evoked by a man who had quietly entered
the hall, and was now crouching on a bench in the background; for
he was not an honorable man. He had lived on a convict's bread and
water; he was "Thieving Jacob," who about ten years earlier had
smashed in the window of Master Jeppe's best room and had stolen
a pair of patent-leather shoes for his wife. He had heard of a rich
man who had given his betrothed such a pair of shoes, and he wanted
to see what it was like, just for once, to give a really fine
present--a present worth as much as one would earn in two weeks.
This he had explained before the court. "Numbskull!" said Jeppe
always, when the conversation touched upon Jacob; "for such a
miserable louse suddenly to get a swollen head, to want to make big
presents! And if it had been for his young woman even--but for his
wife! No, he paid the penalty to the very last day--in spite of
Yes, he certainly had to pay the penalty! Even here no one would sit
next to him! Pelle looked at him and wondered that his own offence
should be so little regarded. The remembrance of it now only lay in
people's eyes when they spoke to him. But at this moment Smith Dam
went and sat next to Thieving Jacob, and they sat hand-in-hand and
And over yonder sat some one who nodded to Pelle--in such a friendly
manner; it was the woman of the dancing-shoes; her young man had
left her, and now she was stranded here--her dancing days were
over. Yet she was grateful to Pelle; the sight of him had recalled
delightful memories; one could see that by the expression of her
eyes and mouth.
Pelle's own temper was softened as he sat there. Something melted
within him; a quiet and humble feeling of happiness came over him.
There was still one human being who believed herself in Pelle's
debt, although everything had gone wrong for her.
As the meeting was breaking up, at half-past nine, she was standing
in the street, in conversation with another woman. She came up to
Pelle, giving him her hand. "Shall we walk a little way together?"
she asked him. She evidently knew of his circumstances; he read
compassion in her glance. "Come with me," she said, as their ways
parted. "I have a scrap of sausage that's got to be eaten. And we
are both of us lonely."
Hesitatingly he went with her, a little hostile, for the occasion
was new and unfamiliar. But once he was seated in her little room
he felt thoroughly at ease. Her white, dainty bed stood against
the wall. She went to and fro about the room, cooking the sausage
at the stove, while she opened her heart to him, unabashed.
It isn't everybody would take things so easily! thought Pelle,
and he watched her moving figure quite happily.
They had a cheerful meal, and Pelle wanted to embrace her in his
gratitude, but she pushed his hands away. "You can keep that for
another time!" she said, laughing. "I'm a poor old widow, and you
are nothing but a child. If you want to give me pleasure, why, just
settle down and come to yourself again. It isn't right that you
should be just loafing about and idling, and you so young and such
a nice boy. And now go home, for I must get up early to-morrow and
go to my work."
Pelle visited her almost every evening. She had a disagreeable habit
of shaking him out of his slumber, but her simple and unchanging
manner of accepting and enduring everything was invigorating. Now
and again she found a little work for him, and was always delighted
when she could share her poor meal with him. "Any one like myself
feels a need of seeing a man-body at the table-end once in a while,"
she said. "But hands off--you don't owe me anything!"
She criticized his clothes. "They'll all fall off your body soon--
why don't you put on something else and let me see to them?"
"I have nothing but these," said Pelle, ashamed.
On Saturday evening he had to take off his rags, and creep, mother-
naked, into her bed. She would take no refusal, and she took shirt
and all, and put them into a bucket of water. It took her half
the night to clean everything. Pelle lay in bed watching her, the
coverlet up to his chin. He felt very strange. As for her, she hung
the whole wash to dry over the stove, and made herself a bed on a
couple of chairs. When he woke up in the middle of the morning she
was sitting by the window mending his clothes.
"But what sort of a night did you have?" asked Pelle, a trifle
"Excellent! Do you know what I've thought of this morning? You ought
to give up your room and stay here until you are on your feet again
--you've had a good rest--for once," she smiled teasingly. "That
room is an unnecessary expense. As you see, there's room here for
But Pelle would not agree. He would not hear of being supported
by a woman. "Then people will believe that there's something wrong
between us--and make a scandal of it," he said.
"Let them then!" she answered, with her gay laugh. "If I've a good
conscience it's indifferent to me what others think." While she was
talking she was working diligently at his linen, and she threw one
article after another at his head. Then she ironed his suit. "Now
you're quite a swell again!" she said, when he stood up dressed once
more, and she looked at him affectionately. "It's as though you had
become a new creature. If I were only ten or fifteen years younger
I'd be glad to go down the street on your arm. But you shall give me
a kiss--I've put you to rights again, as if you were my own child."
She kissed him heartily and turned about to the stove.
"And now I've got no better advice than that we have some cold
dinner together and then go our ways," she said, with her back still
turned. "All my firing has been used overnight to dry your things,
and you can't stay here in the cold. I think I can pay a visit
somewhere or other, and so the day will pass; and you can find
some corner to put yourself in.'
"It's all the same to me where I am," said Pelle indifferently.
She looked at him with a peculiar smile. "Are you really always
going to be a loafer?" she said. "You men are extraordinary
creatures! If anything at all goes wrong with you, you must start
drinking right away, or plunge yourself into unhappiness in some
other way--you are no better than babies! We must work quietly on,
however things go with us!" She stood there hesitating in her hat
and cloak. "Here's five-and-twenty ore," she said; "that's just
for a cup of coffee to warm you!"
Pelle would not accept it. "What do I want with your money?" he
said. "Keep it yourself!"
"Take it, do! I know it's only a little, but I have no more,
and there's no need for us to be ashamed of being helped by one
another." She put the coin in his jacket pocket and hurried off.
Pelle strolled out to the woods. He did not feel inclined to go
home, to resume the aimless battle with Strom. He wandered along
the deserted paths, and experienced a feeble sense of well-being
when he noticed that the spring was really coming. The snow was
still lying beneath the old moss-gray pinetrees, but the toadstools
were already thrusting their heads up through the pine-needles, and
one had a feeling, when walking over the ground, as though one trod
upon rising dough.
He found himself pondering over his own affairs, and all of a sudden
he awoke out of his half-slumber. Something had just occurred to
him, something cozy and intimate--why, yes, it was the thought that
he might go to Marie and set up for himself, like Jens and his girl.
He could get hold of a few lasts and sit at home and work ... he
could scrape along for a bit, until better times came. She earned
something too, and she was generous.
But when he thought over the matter seriously it assumed a less
pleasant aspect. He had already sufficiently abused her poverty and
her goodness of heart. He had taken her last scrap of firing, so
that she was now forced to go out in order to get a little warmth
and some supper. The idea oppressed him. Now that his eyes were
opened he could not escape this feeling of shame. It went home and
to bed with him, and behind all her goodness he felt her contempt
for him, because he did not overcome his misery by means of work,
like a respectable fellow.
On the following morning he was up early, and applied for work down
at the harbor. He did not see the necessity of work in the abstract,
but he would not be indebted to a woman. On Sunday evening he would
repay her outlay over him and his clothes.
Pelle stood on the floor of the basin, loading broken stone into the
tip-wagons. When a wagon was full he and his comrade pushed it up to
the head of the track, and came gliding back hanging to the empty
wagons. Now and again the others let fall their tools, and looked
across to where he stood; he was really working well for a cobbler!
And he had a fine grip when it came to lifting the stone. When he
had to load a great mass of rock into the wagon, he would lift it
first to his knee, then he would let out an oath and put his whole
body into it; he would wipe the sweat from his forehead and take a
dram of brandy or a drop of beer. He was as good as any of the other
He did not bother himself with ideas; two and two might make five
for all he cared; work and fatigue were enough for him. Hard work
had made his body supple and filled him with a sense of sheer animal
well-being. "Will my beer last out the afternoon to-day?" he would
wonder; beyond that nothing mattered. The future did not exist, nor
yet the painful feeling that it did not exist; there was no remorse
in him for what he had lost, or what he had neglected; hard work
swallowed up everything else. There was only this stone that had to
be removed--and then the next! This wagon which had to be filled--
and then the next! If the stone would not move at the first heave
he clenched his teeth; he was as though possessed by his work. "He's
still fresh to harness," said the others; "he'll soon knock his
horns off!" But Pelle wanted to show his strength; that was his only
ambition. His mate let him work away in peace and did not fatigue
himself. From time to time he praised Pelle, in order to keep his
This work down at the harbor was the hardest and lowest kind
of labor; any one could get taken on for it without previous
qualifications. Most of Pelle's comrades were men who had done with
the world, who now let themselves go as the stream carried them,
and he felt at ease among them. He stood on the solid ground, and
no words had power to call the dead past to life; it had power to
haunt only an empty brain. An iron curtain hung before the future;
happiness lay here to his hand; the day's fatigue could straightway
be banished by joyous drinking.
His free time he spent with his companions. They led an unsettled,
roving life; the rumor that extensive works were to be carried out
had enticed them hither. Most were unmarried; a few had wives and
children somewhere, but held their tongues about them, or no longer
remembered their existence, unless reminded by something outside
themselves. They had no proper lodgings, but slept in Carrier
Koller's forsaken barn, which was close to the harbor. They never
undressed, but slept in the straw, and washed in a bucket of water
that was seldom changed; their usual diet consisted of stale bread,
and eggs, which they grilled over a fire made between two stones.
The life pleased Pelle, and he liked the society. On Sundays they
ate and drank alternately, all day long, and lay in the smoke-filled
barn; burrowing deep into the straw, they told stories, tragic
stories of youngest sons who seized an axe and killed their father
and mother, and all their brothers and sisters, because they thought
they were being cheated of their share of their inheritance! Of
children who attended confirmation class, and gave way to love, and
had children themselves, and were beheaded for what they did! And of
wives who did not wish to bring into the world the children it was
their duty to bear, and whose wombs were closed as punishment!
Since Pelle had begun to work here he had never been out to see
Marie Nielsen. "She's making a fool of you," said the others, to
whom he had spoken of Marie; "she's playing the respectable so that
you shall bite. Women have always got second thoughts--it's safest
to be on the lookout. They and these young widows would rather take
two than one--they're the worst of all. A man must be a sturdy devil
to be able to stand up against them."
But Pelle was a man, and would allow no woman to lead him by the
nose. Either you were good friends and no fuss about it, or nothing.
He'd tell her that on Saturday, and throw ten kroner on the table--
then they would sure enough be quits! And if she made difficulties
she'd get one over the mouth! He could not forgive her for using all
her firing, and having to pass Sunday in the street; the remembrance
would not leave him, and it burned like an angry spark. She wanted
to make herself out a martyr.
One day, about noon, Pelle was standing among the miners on the
floor of the basin; Emil and he had just come from the shed, where
they had swallowed a few mouthfuls of dinner. They had given up
their midday sleep in order to witness the firing of a big blast
during the midday pause when the harbor would be empty. The whole
space was cleared, and the people in the adjacent houses had opened
their windows so that they should not be shattered by the force of
The fuse was lit, and the men took shelter behind the caissons, and
stood there chatting while they waited for the explosion. The "Great
Power" was there too. He was always in the neighborhood; he would
stand and stare at the workers with his apathetic expression,
without taking part in anything. They took no notice of him, but let
him move about as he pleased. "Take better cover, Pelle," said Emil;
"it's going off directly!"
"Where are Olsen and Strom?" said some one suddenly. The men looked
at one another bewildered.
"They'll be taking their midday sleep," said Emil. "They've been
drinking something chronic this morning."
"Where are they sleeping?" roared the foreman, and he sprang from
his cover. They all had a foreboding, but no one wanted to say. It
flashed across them that they must do something. But no one stirred.
"Lord Jesus!" said Bergendal, and he struck his fist against the
stone wall. "Lord Jesus!"
The "Great Power" sprang from his shelter and ran along the side of
the basin, taking long leaps from one mass of rock to the next, his
mighty wooden shoes clattering as he went. "He's going to tear the
fuse away!" cried Bergendal. "He'll never reach it--it must be burnt
in!" There was a sound as of a cry of distress, far above the heads
of those who heard it. They breathlessly followed the movements of
the "Great Power"; they had come completely out of shelter. In Pelle
an irrational impulse sprang into being. He made a leap forward,
but was seized by the scruff of the neck. "One is enough," said
Bergendal, and he threw him back.
Now the "Great Power" had reached the goal. His hand was stretched
out to seize the fuse. Suddenly he was hurled away from the fuse,
as though by an invisible hand, and was swept upward and backward
through the air, gently, like a human balloon, and fell on his back.
Then the roar of the explosion drowned everything.
When the last fragments had fallen the men ran forward. The "Great
Power" lay stretched upon his back, looking quietly up at the sky.
The corners of his mouth were a little bloody and the blood trickled
from a hole behind the ear. The two drunken men were scathless. They
rose to their feet, bewildered, a few paces beyond the site of the
explosion. The "Great Power" was borne into the shed, and while the
doctor was sent for Emil tore a strip from his blouse, and soaked it
in brandy, and laid it behind the ear.
The "Great Power" opened his eyes and looked about him. His glance
was so intelligent that every one knew that he had not long to live.
"It smells of brandy here," he said. "Who will stand me a drop?"
Emil reached him the bottle, and he emptied it. "It tastes good,"
he said easily. "Now I haven't touched brandy for I don't know how
long, but what was the good? The poor man must drink brandy, or he's
good for nothing; it is no joke being a poor man! There is no other
salvation for him; that you have seen by Strom and Olsen--drunken
men never come to any harm. Have they come to any harm?" He tried
to raise his head. Strom stepped forward. "Here we are," he said,
his voice stifled with emotion. "But I'd give a good dead to have
had us both blown to hell instead of this happening. None of us
has wished you any good!" He held out his hand.
But the "Great Power" could not raise his; he lay there, staring up
through the holes in the thatched roof. "It has been hard enough,
certainly, to belong to the poor," he said, "and it's a good thing
it's all over. But you owe me no thanks. Why should I leave you in
the lurch and take everything for myself--would that be like the
'Great Power'? Of course, the plan was mine! But could I have
carried it out alone? No, money does everything. You've fairly
deserved it! The 'Great Power' doesn't want to have more than any
one else--where we have all done an equal amount of work." He raised
his hand, painfully, and made a magnanimous gesture.
"There--he believes he's the engineer of the harbor works!" said
Strom. "He's wandering. Wouldn't a cold application do him good?"
Emil took the bucket in order to fetch fresh water. The "Great Power"
lay with closed eyes and a faint smile on his face; he was like a
blind man who is listening. "Do you understand," he said, without
opening his eyes, "how we have labored and labored, and yet have
been barely able to earn our daily bread? The big people sat there
and ate up everything that we could produce; when we laid down our
tools and wanted to still our hunger there was nothing. They stole
our thoughts, and if we had a pretty sweetheart or a young daughter
they could do with her too--they didn't disdain our cripple even.
But now that's done with, and we will rejoice that we have lived
to see it; it might have gone on for a long time. Mother wouldn't
believe what I told her at all--that the bad days would soon be over.
But now just see! Don't I get just as much for my work as the doctor
for his? Can't I keep my wife and daughter neat and have books
and get myself a piano, just as he can? Isn't it a great thing to
perform manual labor too? Karen has piano lessons now, just as I've
always wished, for she's weakly and can't stand any hard work. You
should just come home with me and hear her play--she does it so
easily too! Poor people's children have talent too, it's just that
no one notices it."
"God, how he talks!" said Strom, crying. "It's almost as if he had
Pelle bent down over the "Great Power." "Now you must be good and be
quiet," he said, and laid something wet on his forehead. The blood
was trickling rapidly from behind his ear.
"Let him talk," said Olsen. "He hasn't spoken a word for months now;
he must feel the need to clear his mind this once. It'll be long
before he speaks again, too!"
Now the "Great Power" was only weakly moving his lips. His life was
slowly bleeding away. "Have you got wet, little Karen?" he murmured.
"Ah, well, it'll dry again! And now it's all well with you, now
you can't complain. Is it fine to be a young lady? Only tell me
everything you want. Why be modest? We've been that long enough!
Gloves for the work-worn fingers, yes, yes. But you must play
something for me too. Play that lovely song: 'On the joyful journey
through the lands of earth....' That about the Eternal Kingdom!"
Gently he began to hum it; he could no longer keep time by moving
his head, but he blinked his eyes in time; and now his humming broke
out into words.
Something irresistibly impelled the others to sing in concert with
him; perhaps the fact that it was a religious song. Pelle led them
with his clear young voice; and it was he who best knew the words
"Fair, fair is earth,
And glorious Heaven;
Fair is the spirit's journey long;
Through all the lovely earthly kingdoms,
Go we to Paradise with song."
The "Great Power" sang with increasing strength, as though he would
outsing Pelle. One of his feet was moving now, beating the time of
the song. He lay with closed eyes, blindly rocking his head in time
with the voices, like one who, at a drunken orgy, must put in his
last word before he slips under the table. The saliva was running
from the corners of his mouth.
"The years they come,
The years they go
And down the road to death we throng,
But ever sound the strains from heaven--
The spirit's joyful pilgrim song!"
Back to Full Books