Part 3 out of 6
did you learn it, brother?"
"Oh," said Kalle, in a tone of superiority. "I've sat and looked on
a little when mother's been teaching the children their ABC. It's
nothing at all if your upper story's all right."
"Pelle'll be going to school soon," said Lasse reflectively. "And
then perhaps _I_ could--for it would be nice. But I don't
suppose I've got the head for it, do you? No, I'm sure I haven't
got the head for it," he repeated in quite a despairing tone.
Kalle did not seem inclined to contradict him, but Pelle made up his
mind that some day he would teach his father to read and write--much
better than Uncle Kalle could.
"But we're quite forgetting that we brought a Christmas bottle
with us!" said Lasse, untying the handkerchief.
"You _are_ a fellow!" exclaimed Kalle, walking delightedly
round the table on which the bottle stood. "You couldn't have
given us anything better, brother; it'll come in handy for the
christening-party. 'Black Currant Rum'--and with a gold border--how
grand!" He held the label up toward the light, and looked round with
pleasure in his eyes. Then he hesitatingly opened the cupboard in
"The visitors ought to taste what they brought," said his wife.
"That's just what was bothering me!" said Kalle, turning round with
a disconsolate laugh. "For they ought, of course. But if the cork's
once drawn, you know how it disappears." He reached out slowly for
the corkscrew which hung on a nail.
But Lasse would not hear of it; he would not taste the beverage for
the world. Was black-currant rum a thing for a poor beggar like him
to begin drinking--and on a weekday, too? No, indeed!
"Yes, and you'll be coming to the christening-party, you two, of
course," said Kalle, relieved, putting the bottle into the cupboard.
"But we'll have a 'cuckoo,' for there's a drop of spirits left from
Christmas Eve, and I expect mother'll give us coffee."
"I've got the coffee on," answered his wife cheerfully.
"Did you ever know such a wife! You can never wish for anything but
what it's there already!"
Pelle wondered where his two herding-comrades, Alfred and Albinus,
were. They were away at their summer places, taking their share of
the good Christmas fare, and would not be back before "Knut." "But
this fellow here's not to be despised," said Kalle, pointing to
the long boy in the turn-up bed. "Shall we have a look at him?" And,
pulling out a straw, he tickled the boy's nose with it. "Get up, my
good Anton, and harness the horses to the wheelbarrow! We're going
to drive out in state."
The boy sat up and began to rub his eyes, to Kalle's great delight.
At last he discovered that there were strangers present, and drew
on his clothes, which had been doing duty as his pillow. Pelle and
he became good friends at once, and began to play; and then Kalle
hit upon the idea of letting the other children share in the
merry-making, and he and the two boys went round and tickled them
awake, all the six. His wife protested, but only faintly; she was
laughing all the time, and herself helped them to dress, while she
kept on saying: "Oh, what foolishness! Upon my word, I never knew
the like of it! Then this one shan't be left out either!" she added
suddenly, drawing the youngest out of the alcove.
"Then that's the eight," said Kalle, pointing to the flock. "They
fill the room well, don't they? Alma and Alvilda are twins, as
you can see. And so are Alfred and Albinus, who are away now for
Christmas. They're going to be confirmed next summer, so they'll
be off my hands."
"Then where are the two eldest?" asked Lasse.
"Anna's in service in the north, and Albert's at sea, out with
a whaler just now. He's a fine fellow. He sent us his portrait
in the autumn. Won't you show it us, Maria?"
His wife began slowly to look for it, but could not find it.
"I think I know where it is, mother," said one of the little girls
over and over again; but as no one heard what she said, she climbed
up on to the bench, and took down an old Bible from the shelf. The
photograph was in it.
"He is a fine fellow, and no mistake!" said Lasse. "There's a pair
of shoulders! He's not like our family; it must be from yours,
Maria, that he's got that carriage."
"He's a Kongstrup," said Kalle, in a low tone.
"Oh, indeed, is he?" said Lasse hesitatingly, recollecting Johanna
"Maria was housemaid at the farm, and he talked her over as he has
done with so many. It was before my time, and he did what he ought."
Maria was standing looking from one to the other of them with
a meaningless smile, but her forehead was flushed.
"There's gentle blood in that boy," said Kalle admiringly. "He holds
his head differently from the others. And he's good--so tremendously
good." Maria came slowly up to him, leaned her arm upon his shoulder,
and looked at the picture with him. "He is good, isn't he, mother?"
said Kalle, stroking her face.
"And so well-dressed he is too!" exclaimed Lasse.
"Yes, he takes care of his money. He's not dissipated, like his
father; and he's not afraid of parting with a ten-krone note when
he's at home here on a visit."
There was a rustling at the inner door, and a little, wrinkled old
woman crept out onto the threshold, feeling her way with her feet,
and holding her hands before her face to protect it. "Is any one
dead?" she asked as she faced the room.
"Why, there's grandmother!" said Kalle. "I thought you'd be in
"And so I was, but then I heard there were strangers here, and one
likes to hear the news. Have there been any deaths in the parish?"
"No, grandmother, there haven't. People have something better to
do than to die. Here's some one come to court you, and that's much
better. This is mother-in-law," he said, turning to the others;
"so you can guess what she's like."
"Just you come here, and I'll mother-in-law you!" said the old lady,
with a feeble attempt to enter into the gaiety. "Well, welcome to
this house then," she said, extending her hand.
Kalle stretched his out first, but as soon as she touched it, she
pushed it aside, saying: "Do you think I don't know you, you fool?"
She felt Lasse's and Pelle's hands for a long time with her soft
fingers before she let them go. "No, I don't know you!" she said.
"It's Brother Lasse and his son down from Stone Farm," Kalle
informed her at last.
"Aye, is it really? Well, I never! And you've come over the sea too!
Well, here am I, an old body, going about here quite alone; and I've
lost my sight too."
"But you're not _quite_ alone, grandmother," said Kalle,
laughing. "There are two grown-ups and half a score of children
about you all day long."
"Ah yes, you can say what you like, but all those I was young with
are dead now, and many others that I've seen grow up. Every week
some one that I know dies, and here am I still living, only to be
a burden to others."
Kalle brought in the old lady's arm-chair from her room, and
made her sit down. "What's all that nonsense about?" he said
reproachfully. "Why, you pay for yourself!"
"Pay! Oh dear! They get twenty krones a year for keeping me,"
said the old woman to the company in general.
The coffee came in, and Kalle poured brandy into the cups of all
the elder people. "Now, grandmother, you must cheer up!" he said,
touching her cup with his. "Where the pot boils for twelve, it boils
for the thirteenth as well. Your health, grandmother, and may you
still live many years to be a burden to us, as you call it!"
"Yes, I know it so well, I know it so well," said the old woman,
rocking backward and forward. "You mean so well by it all. But with
so little wish to live, it's hard that I should take the food out of
the others' mouths. The cow eats, and the cat eats, the children eat,
we all eat; and where are you, poor things, to get it all from!"
"Say 'poor thing' to him who has no head, and pity him who has
two," said Kalle gaily.
"How much land have you?" asked Lasse.
"Five acres; but it's most of it rock."
"Can you manage to feed the cow on it then?"
"Last year it was pretty bad. We had to pull the roof off the
outhouse, and use it for fodder last winter; and it's thrown us
back a little. But dear me, it made the loft all the higher." Kalle
laughed. "And now there'll always be more and more of the children
getting able to keep themselves."
"Don't those who are grown up give a hand too?" asked Lasse.
"How can they? When you're young, you can use what you've got
yourself. They must take their pleasures while there's time; they
hadn't many while they were children, and once they're married and
settled they'll have something else to think about. Albert is good
enough when he's at home on a visit; last time he gave us ten krones
and a krone to each of the children. But when they're out, you know
how the money goes if they don't want to look mean beside their
companions. Anna's one of those who can spend all they get on
clothes. She's willing enough to do without, but she never has
a farthing, and hardly a rag to her body, for all that she's
for ever buying."
"No, she's the strangest creature," said her mother. "She never
can make anything do."
The turn-up bedstead was shut to give room to sit round the table,
and an old pack of cards was produced. Every one was to play except
the two smallest, who were really too little to grasp a card; Kalle
wanted, indeed, to have them too, but it could not be managed. They
played beggar-my-neighbor and Black Peter. Grandmother's cards had
to be read out to her.
The conversation still went on among the elder people.
"How do you like working for the farmer at Stone Farm?" asked Kalle.
"We don't see much of the farmer himself; he's pretty nearly always
out, or sleeping after a night on the loose. But he's nice enough
in other ways; and it's a house where they feed you properly."
"Well, there are places where the food's worse," said Kalle, "but
there can't be many. Most of them, certainly, are better."
"Are they really?" asked Lasse, in surprise. "Well, I don't complain
as far as the food's concerned; but there's a little too much for
us two to do, and then it's so miserable to hear that woman crying
nearly the whole time. I wonder if he ill-treats her; they say not."
"I'm sure he doesn't," said Kalle. "Even if he wanted to--as you
can very well understand he might--he dursn't. He's afraid of her,
for she's possessed by a devil, you know."
"They say she's a were-wolf at night," said Lasse, looking as if
he expected to see a ghost in one of the corners.
"She's a poor body, who has her own troubles," said Maria, "and
every woman knows a little what that means. And the farmer's not
all kindness either, even if he doesn't beat her. She feels his
unfaithfulness more than she'd feel anything else."
"Oh, you wives always take one another's part," said Kalle, "but
other people have eyes too. What do _you_ say, grandmother?
You know that better than any one else."
"Well, I know something about it at any rate," said the old woman.
"I remember the time when Kongstrup came to the island as well as
if it had been yesterday. He owned nothing more than the clothes
he wore, but he was a fine gentleman for all that, and lived in
"What did he want over here?" asked Lasse.
"What did he want? To look for a young girl with money, I suppose.
He wandered about on the heath here with his gun, but it wasn't
foxes he was after. She was fooling about on the heath too, admiring
the wild scenery, and nonsense like that, and behaving half like
a man, instead of being kept at home and taught to spin and make
porridge; but she was the only daughter, and was allowed to go on
just as she liked. And then she meets this spark from the town, and
they become friends. He was a curate or a pope, or something of the
sort, so you can't wonder that the silly girl didn't know what she
"No, indeed!" said Lasse.
"There's always been something all wrong with the women of that
family," the old woman continued. "They say one of them once gave
herself to Satan, and since then he's had a claim upon them and
ill-treats them whenever the moon's waning, whether they like it
or not. He has no power over the pure, of course; but when these two
had got to know one another, things went wrong with her too. He must
have noticed it, and tried to get off, for they said that the old
farmer of Stone Farm compelled him with his gun to take her for his
wife; and he was a hard old dog, who'd have shot a man down as soon
as look at him. But he was a peasant through and through, who wore
home-woven clothes, and wasn't afraid of working from sunrise to
sunset. It wasn't like what it is now, with debts and drinking and
card-playing, so people had something then."
"Well, now they'd like to thresh the corn while it's still standing,
and they sell the calves before they're born," said Kalle. "But I
say, grandmother, you're Black Peter!"
"That comes of letting one's tongue run on and forgetting to look
after one's self!" said the old lady.
"Grandmother's got to have her face blacked!" cried the children.
She begged to be let off, as she was just washed for the night;
but the children blacked a cork in the stove and surrounded her,
and she was given a black streak down her nose. Every one laughed,
both old and young, and grandmother laughed with them, saying it
was a good thing she could not see it herself. "It's an ill wind,"
she said, "that blows nobody any good. But I should like to have my
sight again," she went on, "if it's only for five minutes, before
I die. It would be nice to see it all once more, now that the trees
and everything have grown so, as Kalle says they have. The whole
country must have changed. And I've never seen the youngest children
"They say that they can take blindness away over in Copenhagen,"
said Kalle to his brother.
"It would cost a lot of money, wouldn't it?" asked Lasse.
"It would cost a hundred krones at the very least," the grandmother
Kalle looked thoughtful. "If we were to sell the whole blooming
thing, it would be funny if there wasn't a hundred krones over.
And then grandmother could have her sight again."
"Goodness gracious me!" exclaimed the old woman. "Sell your house
and home! You must be out of your mind! Throw away a large capital
upon an old, worn-out thing like me, that has one foot in the grave!
I couldn't wish for anything better than what I have!" She had tears
in her eyes. "Pray God I mayn't bring about such a misfortune in my
"Oh, rubbish! We're still young," said Kalle. "We could very well
begin something new, Maria and me."
"Have none of you heard how Jacob Kristian's widow is?" asked the
old lady by way of changing the subject. "I've got it into my head
that she'll go first, and then me. I heard the crow calling over
there last night."
"That's our nearest neighbor on the heath," explained Kalle. "Is she
failing now? There's been nothing the matter with her this winter
that I know of."
"Well, you may be sure there's something," said the old woman
positively. "Let one of the children run over there in the morning."
"Yes, if you've had warning. Jacob Kristian gave good enough warning
himself when he went and died. But we were good friends for many
years, he and me."
"Did he show himself?" asked Lasse solemnly.
"No; but one night--nasty October weather it was--I was woke by
a knocking at the outside door. That's a good three years ago.
Maria heard it too, and we lay and talked about whether I should
get up. We got no further than talking, and we were just dropping
off again, when the knocking began again. I jumped up, put on a
pair of trousers, and opened the door a crack, but there was no one
there. 'That's strange!' I said to Maria, and got into bed again;
but I'd scarcely got the clothes over me, when there was a knocking
for the third time.
"I was cross then, and lighted the lantern and went round the house;
but there was nothing either to be seen or heard. But in the morning
there came word to say that Jacob Kristian had died in the night
just at that time."
Pelle, who had sat and listened to the conversation, pressed
close up to his father in fear; but Lasse himself did not look
particularly valiant. "It's not always nice to have anything to
do with the dead," he said.
"Oh, nonsense! If you've done no harm to any one, and given
everybody their due, what can they do to you?" said Kalle.
The grandmother said nothing, but sat shaking her head very
Maria now placed upon the table a jar of dripping and a large loaf
"That's the goose," said Kalle, merrily sticking his sheath-knife
into the loaf. "We haven't begun it yet. There are prunes inside.
And that's goose-fat. Help yourselves!"
After that Lasse and Pelle had to think about getting home, and
began to tie handkerchiefs round their necks; but the others did not
want to let them go yet. They went on talking, and Kalle made jokes
to keep them a little longer. But suddenly he turned as grave as a
judge; there was a low sound of crying out in the little passage,
and some one took hold of the handle of the door and let go of it
again. "Upon my word, it's ghosts!" he exclaimed, looking fearfully
from one to another.
The sound of crying was heard again, and Maria, clasping her hands
together, exclaimed: "Why, it's Anna!" and quickly opened the door.
Anna entered in tears, and was attacked on all sides with surprised
inquiries, to which her sobs were her only answer.
"And you've been given a holiday to come and see us at Christmas
time, and you come home crying! You are a nice one!" said Kalle,
laughing. "You must give her something to suck, mother!"
"I've lost my place," the girl at last got out between her sobs.
"No, surely not!" exclaimed Kalle, in changed tones. "But what for?
Have you been stealing? Or been impudent?"
"No, but the master accused me of being too thick with his son."
In a flash the mother's eyes darted from the girl's face to her
figure, and she too burst into tears.
Kalle could see nothing, but he caught his wife's action and
understood. "Oh!" he said quietly. "Is that it?" The little man
was like a big child in the way the different expressions came and
went upon his good-natured face. At last the smile triumphed again.
"Well, well, that's capital!" he exclaimed, laughing. "Shouldn't
good children take the work off their parents' shoulders as they
grow up and are able to do it? Take off your things, Anna, and sit
down. I expect you're hungry, aren't you? And it couldn't have
happened at a better time, as we've got to have the midwife
Lasse and Pelle drew their neckerchiefs up over their mouths after
taking leave of every one in the room, Kalle circling round them
restlessly, and talking eagerly. "Come again soon, you two, and
thanks for this visit and your present, Brother Lasse! Oh, yes!"
he said suddenly at the outside door, and laughed delightedly;
"it'll be something grand--brother-in-law to the farmer in a way!
Oh, fie, Kalle Karlsson! You and I'll be giving ourselves airs now!"
He went a little way along the path with them, talking all the time.
Lasse was quite melancholy over it.
Pelle knew quite well that what had happened to Anna was looked upon
as a great disgrace, and could not understand how Uncle Kalle could
seem so happy. "Ah, yes," said Lasse, as they stumbled along among
the stones. "Kalle's just like what he always was! He laughs where
others would cry."
It was too dark to go across the fields, so they took the quarry
road south to get down to the high-road. At the cross-roads, the
fourth arm of which led down to the village, stood the country-shop,
which was also a hedge-alehouse.
As they approached the alehouse, they heard a great noise inside.
Then the door burst open, and some men poured out, rolling the
figure of a man before them on the ground. "The police have taken
them by surprise!" said Lasse, and drew the boy with him out into
the ploughed field, so as to get past without being seen. But at
that moment some one placed a lamp in the window, and they were
"There's the Stone Farm herdsman!" said a voice. "Hi, Lasse! Come
here!" They went up and saw a man lying face downward on the ground,
kicking; his hands were tied behind his back, and he could not keep
his face out of the mud.
"Why, it's Per Olsen!" exclaimed Lasse.
"Yes, of course!" said the shopkeeper. "Can't you take him home
with you? He's not right in his head."
Lasse looked hesitatingly at the boy, and then back again. "A raving
man?" he said. "We two can't alone."
"Oh, his hands are tied. You've only got to hold the end of the rope
and he'll go along quietly with you," said one of the men. They were
quarrymen from the stone-quarry. "You'll go with them quietly, won't
you?" he asked, giving the man a kick in the side with the toe of
his wooden shoe.
"Oh dear! Oh dear!" groaned Per Olsen.
"What's he done?" asked Lasse. "And why have you ill-used him so?"
"We had to thrash him a little, because he was going to chop off
one of his thumbs. He tried it several times, the beast, and got it
half off; and we had to beat him to make him stop." And they showed
Lasse the man's thumb, which was bleeding. "Such an animal to begin
cutting and hacking at himself because he's drunk half a pint of
gin! If he wanted to fight, there were men enough here without
"It must be tied up, or he'll bleed to death, poor fellow!" said
Lasse, slowly drawing out his red pocket-handkerchief. It was his
best handkerchief, and it had just been washed. The shopkeeper came
with a bottle and poured spirit over the thumb, so that the cold
should not get into it. The wounded man screamed and beat his face
upon the ground.
"Won't one of you come with us?" asked Lasse. But no one answered;
they wanted to have nothing to do with it, in case it should come
to the ears of the magistrate. "Well, then, we two must do it with
God's help," he said, in a trembling voice, turning to Pelle. "But
you can help him up at any rate, as you knocked him down."
They lifted him up. His face was bruised and bleeding; in their
eagerness to save his finger, they had handled him so roughly that
he could scarcely stand.
"It's Lasse and Pelle," said the old man, trying to wipe his face.
"You know us, don't you, Per Olsen? We'll go home with you if you'll
be good and not hurt us; we mean well by you, we two."
Per Olsen stood and ground his teeth, trembling all over his body.
"Oh dear, oh dear!" was all he said. There was white foam at the
corners of his mouth.
Lasse gave Pelle the end of the rope to hold. "He's grinding his
teeth; the devil's busy with him already," he whispered. "But if he
tries to do any harm, just you pull with all your might at the rope;
and if the worst comes to the worst, we must jump over the ditch."
They now set off homeward, Lasse holding Per Olsen under the arm,
for he staggered and would have fallen at almost every step. He
kept on murmuring to himself or grinding his teeth.
Pelle trudged behind, holding the rope. Cold shivers ran down his
back, partly from fear, partly from secret satisfaction. He had
now seen some one whom he knew to be doomed to perdition! So those
who became devils in the next world looked like Per Olsen? But he
wasn't unkind! He was the nicest of the farm men to Pelle, and he
had bought that bottle for them--yes, and had advanced the money
out of his own pocket until May-day!
Oh! what a pace she was driving at! The farmer whipped up the gray
stallion, and sat looking steadily out over the fields, as if he had
no suspicion that any one was following him; but his wife certainly
did not mind. She whipped the bay as hard as she could, and did not
care who saw her.
And it was in broad daylight that they were playing the fool like
this on the high-road, instead of keeping their quarrels within four
walls as decent people did! It was true enough that gentle folks had
no feeling of shame in them!
Then she called out and stood up in the trap to beat the horse--with
the handle even! Couldn't she let him drive out in peace to his fair
charmer, whoever she was, and make it warm for him when he came
home? How could she do the same thing over and over again for twenty
years? Really women were persevering creatures!
And how _he_ could be bothered! Having everlasting disturbances
at home for the sake of some hotel landlady or some other woman,
who could not be so very different to be with than his own wife! It
would take a long-suffering nature to be a brute in that way; but
that must be what they call love, properly speaking.
The threshing-machine had come to a standstill, and the people at
Stone Farm were hanging out of the doors and windows, enjoying it
royally. It was a race, and a sight for the gods to see the bay mare
gaining upon the stallion; why, it was like having two Sundays in
one week! Lasse had come round the corner, and was following the mad
race, his hand shading his eyes. Never had he known such a woman;
Bengta was a perfect lamb compared to her! The farmer at Kaase Farm,
who was standing at his gate when they dashed past, was secretly
of the same opinion; and the workers in the fields dropped their
implements, stared and were scandalized at the sight.
At last, for very shame, he had to stop and turn round. She crawled
over into his carriage, and the bay followed quietly with her empty
vehicle. She put her arm about his shoulder, and looked happy and
triumphant, exactly like the district policeman when he has had a
successful chase; but he looked like a criminal of the worst kind.
In this way they came driving back to the farm.
One day Kalle came to borrow ten krones and to invite Lasse and
Pelle to the christening-party on the following Sunday. Lasse,
with some difficulty, obtained the money from the bailiff up in the
office, but to the invitation they had to say "No, thank you," hard
though it was; it was quite out of the question for them to get off
again. Another day the head man had disappeared. He had gone in the
night, and had taken his big chest with him, so some one must have
helped him; but the other men in the room swore solemnly that they
had noticed nothing, and the bailiff, fume as he might, was obliged
to give up the attempt to solve the mystery.
One or two things of this kind happened that made a stir for a day
or two, but with these exceptions the winter was hard to get through.
Darkness ruled for the greater part of the twenty-four hours, and
it was never quite light in the corners. The cold, too, was hard
to bear, except when you were in the comfortable stable. In there
it was always warm, and Pelle was not afraid of going about in the
thickest darkness. In the servants' room they sat moping through the
long evenings without anything to occupy themselves with. They took
very little notice of the girls, but sat playing cards for gin, or
telling horrible stories that made it a most venturesome thing to
run across the yard down to the stable when you had to go to bed.
Per Olsen, on account of his good behavior, was raised to the
position of head man when the other ran away. Lasse and Pelle were
glad of this, for he took their part when they were put upon by any
one. He had become a decent fellow in every respect, hardly ever
touched spirits, and kept his clothes in good order. He was a little
too quiet even for the old day-laborers of the farm and their wives;
but they knew the reason of it and liked him because he took the
part of the weak and because of the fate that hung over him. They
said he was always listening; and when he seemed to be listening
within to the unknown, they avoided as far as possible disturbing
"You'll see he'll free himself; the Evil One'll have no claim upon
him," was the opinion of both Lasse and the laborers' wives when
they discussed Per Olsen's prospects at the Sunday milking. "There
are some people that even the Almighty can't find anything to blame
Pelle listened to this, and tried every day to peep at the scar on
Per Olsen's thumb. It would surely disappear when God removed his
During most of the winter Pelle drove the horse for the threshing-
machine. All day he trotted round upon the horse-way outside the
farm, over his wooden shoes in trodden-down snow and manure. It was
the most intolerable occupation that life had yet offered him. He
could not even carve, it was too cold for his fingers; and he felt
lonely. As a herd-boy he was his own master, and a thousand things
called to him; but here he had to go round and round behind a bar,
always round. His one diversion was to keep count of the times he
drove round, but that was a fatiguing employment and made you even
duller than the everlasting going round, and you could not leave
off. Time held nothing of interest, and short as it was the day
As a rule, Pelle awoke happy, but now every morning when he woke
he was weary of everything; it was to be that everlasting trudging
round behind the bar. After a time doing this for about an hour used
to make him fall into a state of half-sleep. The condition came
of itself, and he longed for it before it came. It was a kind of
vacuity, in which he wished for nothing and took no interest in
anything, but only staggered along mechanically at the back of the
bar. The machine buzzed unceasingly, and helped to maintain the
condition; the dust kept pouring out at the window, and the time
passed imperceptibly. Generally now dinner or evening surprised him,
and sometimes it seemed to him that the horses had only just been
harnessed when some one came out to help him in with them. He had
arrived at the condition of torpor that is the only mercy that life
vouchsafes to condemned prisoners and people who spend their lives
beside a machine. But there was a sleepiness about him even in his
free time; he was not so lively and eager to know about everything;
Father Lasse missed his innumerable questions and little devices.
Now and again he was roused for a moment out of his condition by
the appearance at the window of a black, perspiring face, that swore
at him because he was not driving evenly. He knew then that Long Ole
had taken the place of Per Olsen, whose business it was to feed
the machine. It sometimes happened, too, that the lash of the whip
caught on the axle and wound round it, so that the whole thing had
to be stopped and drawn backward; and that day he did not fall into
a doze again.
In March the larks appeared and brought a little life. Snow still
lay in the hollows, but their singing reminded Pelle warmly of
summer and grazing cattle. And one day he was wakened in his tramp
round and round by seeing a starling on the roof of the house,
whistling and preening its feathers in delight. On that day the
sun shone brightly, and all heaviness was gone from the air; but
the sea was still a pale gray down there.
Pelle began to be a human being again. It was spring, and then, too,
in a couple of days the threshing would be finished. But after all,
the chief thing was that waistcoat-pocket of his; that was enough
to put life into its owner. He ran round in a trot behind the bar;
he had to drive quickly now in order to get done, for every one else
was in the middle of spring ploughing already. When he pressed his
hand against his chest, he could distinctly feel the paper it was
wrapped in. For it was still there, wasn't it? It would not do to
open the paper and look; he must find out by squeezing.
Pelle had become the owner of fifty ores--a perfectly genuine
fifty-ore piece. It was the first time he had ever possessed
anything more than two and one ore pieces, and he had earned it
by his own cleverness.
It was on Sunday, when the men had had a visit from some quarrymen,
and one of them had hit upon the idea of sending for some birch-fat
to have with their dram. Pelle was to run to the village shop for
it, and he was given a half-krone and injunctions to go in the back
way, as it was Sunday. Pelle had not forgotten his experience at
Christmas, and kept watch upon their faces. They were all doing
their best to smooth them out and busy themselves with one thing
and another; and Gustav, who gave him the money, kept turning his
face away and looking at something out in the yard.
When he stated his errand, the shopman's wife broke into a laugh.
"I say, don't you know better than that?" she exclaimed. "Why,
wasn't it you who fetched the handle-turner too? You've all found
that very useful, haven't you?"
Pelle turned crimson. "I thought they were making fun of me, but
I didn't dare say no," he said in a low voice.
"No, one has to play the fool sometimes, whether one is it or not,"
said the woman.
"What is birch-fat, then?" asked Pelle.
"Why, my gracious! You must have had it many a time, you little imp!
But it shows how often you have to put up with things you don't know
the name of."
A light dawned upon Pelle. "Does it mean a thrashing with
"Didn't I say you knew it?"
"No, I've only had it with a whip--on my legs."
"Well, well, you needn't mind that; the one may be just as good as
the other. But now sit down and drink a cup of coffee while I wrap
up the article for them." She pushed a cup of coffee with brown
sugar toward him, and began ladling out soft soap on to a piece
of paper. "Here," she said. "You give them that: it's the best
birch-fat. And you can keep the money yourself."
Pelle was not courageous enough for this arrangement.
"Very well, then," she said. "I'll keep the money for you. They
shan't make fools of us both. And then you can get it yourself.
But now you must put on a bold face."
Pelle did put on a bold face, but he was decidedly nervous. The men
swore at the loss of the half-krone, and called him the "greatest
idiot upon God's green earth"; but he had the satisfaction of
knowing that that was because he had not been stupid enough. And
the half-krone was his!
A hundred times a day he felt it without wearing it out. Here at
last was something the possession of which did not rob it of its
lustre. There was no end to the purchases he made with it, now for
Lasse, now for himself. He bought the dearest things, and when he
lingered long enough over one purchase and was satiated with the
possession of it, he set about buying something else. And all the
while he kept the coin. At times he would be suddenly seized with
an insane fear that the money was gone; and then when he felt it,
he was doubly happy.
Pelle had suddenly become a capitalist, and by his own cleverness;
and he made the most of his capital. He had already obtained every
desirable thing that he knew of--he had it all, at any rate, in hand;
and gradually as new things made their appearance in his world, he
secured for himself the right to their purchase. Lasse was the only
person who knew about his wealth, and he had reluctantly to allow
himself to be drawn into the wildest of speculations.
He could hear by the sound that there was something wrong with the
machine. The horses heard it too, and stopped even before some one
cried "Stop!" Then one after another came the shouts: "Stop! Drive
on! Stop! On again! Stop! Pull!" And Pelle pulled the bar back,
drove on and pulled until the whole thing whizzed again. Then he
knew that it was Long Ole feeding the machine while Per Olsen
measured the grain: Ole was a duffer at feeding.
It was going smoothly again, and Pelle was keeping an eye on the
corner by the cow-stable. When Lasse made his appearance there, and
patted his stomach, it meant that it was nearly dinner-time.
Something stopped the bar, the horses had to pull hard, and with
a jerk it cleared the invisible hindrance. There was a cry from the
inside of the threshing-barn, and the sound of many voices shouting
"Stop!" The horses stopped dead, and Pelle had to seize the bar to
prevent it swinging forward against their legs. It was some time
before any one came out and took the horses in, so that Pelle could
go into the barn and see what was the matter.
He found Long Ole walking about and writhing over one of his hands.
His blouse was wrapped about it, but the blood was dripping through
on to the floor of the barn. He was bending forward and stumbling
along, throwing his body from side to side and talking incoherently.
The girls, pale and frightened, were standing gazing at him while
the men were quarreling as to what was the best thing to do to stop
the flow of blood, and one of them came sliding down from the loft
with a handful of cobwebs.
Pelle went and peered into the machine to find out what there was
so voracious about it. Between two of the teeth lay something like
a peg, and when he moved the roller, the greater part of a finger
dropped down on to the barn floor. He picked it up among some chaff,
and took it to the others: it was a thumb! When Long Ole saw it, he
fainted; it could hardly be wondered at, seeing that he was maimed
for life. But Per Olsen had to own that he had left the machine at
a fortunate moment.
There was no more threshing done that day. In the afternoon Pelle
played in the stable, for he had nothing to do. While he played, he
suggested plans for their future to his father: they were engrossed
"Then we'll go to America, and dig for gold!"
"Ye-es, that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. But it would take a
good many more half-krones to make that journey."
"Then we can set up as stone-masons."
Lasse stood still in the middle of the foddering-passage, and
pondered with bent head. He was exceedingly dissatisfied with their
position; there were two of them toiling to earn a hundred krones,
and they could not make ends meet. There was never any liberty
either; they were simply slaves. By himself he never got any farther
than being discontented and disappointed with everything; he was
too old. The mere search for ways to something new was insuperable
labor, and everything looked so hopeless. But Pelle was restless,
and whenever he was dissatisfied with anything, made plans by the
score, some of the wildest, and some fairly sensible; and the old
man was carried away by them.
"We might go to the town and work too," said Lasse meditatively.
"They earn one bright krone after another in there. But what's to
be done with you? You're too little to use a tool."
This stubborn fact put a stop for the moment to Pelle's plans; but
then his courage rose again. "I can quite well go with you to the
town," he said. "For I shall----" He nodded significantly.
"What?" asked Lasse, with interest.
"Well, perhaps I'll go down to the harbor and be doing nothing, and
a little girl'll fall into the water and I shall save her. But the
little girl will be a gentleman's daughter, and so----" Pelle left
the rest to Lasse's imagination.
"Then you'd have to learn to swim first," said Lasse gravely.
"Or you'd only be drowned."
Screams were heard from the men's bedroom. It was Long Ole. The
doctor had come and was busy with his maimed hand. "Just run across
and find out what'll happen to it!" said Lasse. "Nobody'll pay any
attention to you at such a time, if you make yourself small."
In a little while Pelle came back and reported that three fingers
were quite crushed and hanging in rags, and the doctor had cut
"Was it these three?" asked Lasse, anxiously, holding up his thumb,
forefinger, and middle finger. Truth to tell, Pelle had seen nothing,
but his imagination ran away with him.
"Yes, it was his swearing-fingers," he said, nodding emphatically.
"Then Per Olsen is set free," said Lasse, heaving a deep sigh. "What
a _good_ thing it has been--quite providential!"
That was Pelle's opinion too.
The farmer himself drove the doctor home, and a little while after
he had gone, Pelle was sent for, to go on an errand for the mistress
to the village-shop.
It was nothing for Pelle; if he were vanquished on one point, he
rose again on two others: he was invincible. And he had the child's
abundant capacity for forgiving; had he not he would have hated all
grown-up people with the exception of Father Lasse. But disappointed
he certainly was.
It was not easy to say who had expected most--the boy, whose
childish imagination had built, unchecked, upon all that he had
heard, or the old man, who had once been here himself.
But Pelle managed to fill his own existence with interest, and was
so taken up on all sides that he only just had time to realize the
disappointment in passing. His world was supersensual like that
of the fakir; in the course of a few minutes a little seed could
shoot up and grow into a huge tree that overshadowed everything
else. Cause never answered to effect in it, and it was governed by
another law of gravitation: events always bore him up.
However hard reality might press upon him, he always emerged from
the tight place the richer in some way or other; and no danger could
ever become overwhelmingly great as long as Father Lasse stood
reassuringly over and behind everything.
But Lasse had failed him at the decisive moment more than once, and
every time he used him as a threat, he was only laughed at. The old
man's omnipotence could not continue to exist side by side with his
increasing decrepitude; in the boy's eyes it crumbled away from day
to day. Unwilling though he was, Pelle had to let go his providence,
and seek the means of protection in himself. It was rather early,
but he looked at circumstances in his own way. Distrust he had
already acquired--and timidity! He daily made clumsy attempts to
get behind what people said, and behind things. There was something
more behind everything! It often led to confusion, but occasionally
the result was conspicuously good.
There were some thrashings that you could run away from, because in
the meantime the anger would pass away, and other thrashings where
it answered best to shed as many tears as possible. Most people
only beat until the tears came, but the bailiff could not endure
a blubberer, so with him the thing was to set your teeth and make
yourself hard. People said you should speak the truth, but most
thrashings could be avoided by making up a white lie, if it was
a good one and you took care of your face. If you told the truth,
they thrashed you at once.
With regard to thrashing, the question had a subjective side as
well as an objective one. He could beat Rud whenever he liked, but
with bigger boys it was better to have right on his side, as, for
instance, when his father was attacked. Then God helped him. This
was a case in which the boy put the omnipotence quite aside, and
felt himself to be the old man's protector.
Lasse and Pelle were walking through life hand in hand, and yet each
was going his own way. Lasse felt it to be so. "We've each got hold
of an end," he sometimes said to himself despondently, when the
difference was all too marked. "He's rising, the laddie!"
This was best seen in the others. In the long run they had to like
the boy, it could not be otherwise. The men would sometimes give him
things, and the girls were thoroughly kind to him. He was in the
fairest period of budding youth; they would often take him on their
knees as he passed, and kiss him.
"Ah, he'll be a lady's man, he will!" Lasse would say. "He's got
that from his father." But they would laugh at that.
There was always laughter when Lasse wanted to join the elders.
Last time--yes, then he was good enough. It was always "Where's
Lasse?" when gin was going round, or tricks were being played, or
demonstrations made. "Call Lasse Karlsson!" He had no need to push
himself forward; it was a matter of course that he was there. The
girls were always on the look-out for him, married man though he
was, and he had fun with them--all quite proper, of course, for
Bengta was not good to quarrel with if she heard anything.
But now! Yes--well, yes--he might fetch the gin for the others and
do their work for them when they had a holiday, without their doing
anything in exchange! "Lasse! Where's Lasse? Can you feed the horses
for me this evening? Can you take my place at the chaff-cutting
There was a difference between then and now, and Lasse had found
out the reason for himself: he was getting old. The very discovery
brought further proof of its correctness, laid infirmity upon him,
and removed the tension from his mind, and what was left of it from
his body. The hardest blow of all was when he discovered that he was
of no importance to the girls, had no place at all in their thoughts
of men. In Lasse's world there was no word that carried such weight
as the word "man"; and in the end it was the girls who decided
whether you were one or not. Lasse was not one; he was not dangerous!
He was only a few poor relics of a man, a comical remnant of some
by-gone thing; they laughed at him when he tried to pay them
Their laughter crushed him, and he withdrew into his old-man's world,
and despondently adapted himself to it. The only thing that kept
life in him was his concern for the boy, and he clung despairingly
to his position as his providence. There was little he could do for
him, and therefore he talked all the bigger; and when anything went
against the boy, he uttered still greater threats against the world
than before. He also felt that the boy was in process of making
himself independent, and fought a desperate battle to preserve the
last appearance of power.
But Pelle could not afford to give support to his fancy, nor had he
the understanding to do it. He was growing fast, and had a use for
all that he possessed himself. Now that his father no longer stood
behind to shield him, he was like a small plant that has been moved
out into the open, and is fighting hard to comprehend the nature of
its surroundings, and adapt itself to them. For every root-fibre
that felt its way into the soil, there fell to the ground one of
the tender leaves, and two strong ones pushed forth. One after
another the feelings of the child's defencelessness dropped and
gave place to the harder ones of the individual.
The boy was engaged in building himself up, in accordance with
invisible laws. He assumed an attitude toward his surroundings at
all points, but he did not imitate them. The farm men, for instance,
were not kind to the animals. They often lashed the horses only as
a vent for their ill-humor, and the girls were just the same to the
smaller animals and the dairy-cows. From these considerations, Pelle
taught himself sympathy. He could not bear cruelty to animals, and
thrashed Rud for the first time when the latter had one day robbed
a bird's nest.
Pelle was like a kid that makes a plaything of everything. In
his play he took up, without suspecting it, many of the serious
phenomena of life, and gambolled with them in frolicsome bounds. He
exercised his small mind as he exercised his body, twisted himself
into everything and out of everything, imitated work and fun and
shirking, and learned how to puff himself up into a very devil of
a fellow where his surroundings were yielding, and to make himself
almost invisible with modesty when they were hard. He was training
himself to be that little Jack-of-all-trades, man.
And it became more and more difficult to catch him unprepared. The
first time he had to set about a thing in earnest, he was generally
handy at it; he was as difficult to take unawares as a cat.
* * * * *
It was summer again. The heat stood still and played over the
ground, sparkling, with indolent voluptuousness and soft movements
like the fish in the stream. Far inland it quivered above the rocks
that bounded the view, in a restless flicker of bluish white; below
lay the fields beneath the broiling sun, with the pollen from the
rye drifting over them like smoke. Up above the clover-field stood
the cows of Stone Farm in long rows, their heads hanging heavily
down, and their tails swinging regularly. Lasse was moving between
their ranks, looking for the mallet, and now and then gazing
anxiously down towards the meadow by the dunes, and beginning to
count the young cattle and the bullocks. Most of them were lying
down, but a few of them were standing with their heads close
together, and munching with closed eyes. The boys were nowhere
to be seen.
Lasse stood wondering whether he should give Pelle a warning call;
there would he no end of a row if the bailiff were to come now.
But then the sound of voices came from among the young firs on the
dunes, a naked boy appeared, and then another. Their bodies were
like golden flashes in the air as they ran over the grass-wrack and
across the meadow, each with his cap held closed in his hand.
They sat down upon the edge of the stream with their feet
in the water, and carefully uncovered their captives; they were
dragon-flies. As the insects one by one crawled out at the narrow
opening, the boys decapitated them and laid them in a row on the
grass. They had caught nine, and nine times thirty-five--well, it
would be more than three krones. The stupendous amount made Pelle
"Now isn't that only a lie?" he said, and licked his shoulder where
he had been bitten by a mosquito. It was said that the chemist gave
thirty-five ores apiece for dragon-flies.
"A lie?" exclaimed Rud. "Yes, perhaps it is," he went on meekly.
"It must be a lie, for anything like that always is. You might
give me yours too!"
But Pelle would not do that.
"Then give me your half-krone, and I'll go to the town and sell
them for you. They cost thirty-five ores, for Karl says so, and his
mother washes the floor in the chemist's shop."
Pelle got up, not to fetch the half-krone--he would not part with
that for all the world--but to assure himself that it still lay in
his waistcoat pocket.
When he had gone a little way, Rud hastily lifted a piece of turf
at the edge of the stream, pushed something in under it, and jumped
into the water; and when Pelle came back with slow, ominous steps,
he climbed up the other side and set off at a run.
Pelle ran too, in short, quick leaps. He knew he was the quicker,
and the knowledge made him frolicsome. He flapped at his naked body
as he ran, as if he had no joints, swayed from side to side like
a balloon, pranced and stamped on the ground, and then darted
on again. Then the young firs closed round them again, only the
movement of their tops showing where the boys ran, farther and
farther, until all was still.
In the meadow the cattle were munching with closed eyes and
attentive ears. The heat played over the ground, flickering,
gasping, like a fish in water. There was a heavy, stupefying
humming in the air; the sound came from everywhere and nowhere.
Down across the cornfields came a big, stout woman. She wore a
skirt, a chemise, and a handkerchief on her head, and she shaded
her eyes with her hand and looked about. She crossed the meadow
obliquely, found Pelle's dinner-basket, took out its contents and
put them in under her chemise upon her bare, perspiring bosom,
and then turned in the direction of the sea.
There was a sudden break in the edge of the fir-plantation, and
out came Rud with Pelle hanging upon his back. Rud's inordinately
large head hung forward and his knees gave way; his forehead,
which receded above the eyes and projected just below the line
of the hair, was a mass of bruises and scars, which became very
visible now with his exertions. Both the boys had marks all over
their bodies from the poison of the pine-needles. Pelle dropped on
to the grass, and lay there on his face, while Rud went slowly to
fetch the half-krone, and handed it reluctantly to its owner. He
stooped like one vanquished, but in his eye the thought of a new
battle lay awaiting its opportunity.
Pelle gazed lovingly at the coin. He had had it now ever since April,
from the time when he was sent to buy birch-fat. He had purchased
with it everything that was desirable, and he had lost it twice: he
loved that piece of money. It made his fingers itch, his whole body;
it was always urging him on to spend it, now in one way and now in
another. Roll, roll! That was what it was longing to do; and it was
because it was round, Father Lasse said. But to become rich--that
meant stopping the money as it rolled. Oh, Pelle meant to be rich!
And then he was always itching to spend it--spend it in such a way
that he got everything for it, or something he could have all his
They sat upon the bank of the stream and wrangled in a small way.
Rud did his best to inspire awe, and bragged to create an impression.
He bent his fingers backward and moved his ears; he could move them
forward in a listening position like a horse. All this irritated
Suddenly he stopped. "Won't you give me the half-krone, then? You
shall have ten krones when I grow up." Rud collected money--he was
avaricious already--and had a whole boxful of coins that he had
stolen from his mother.
Pelle considered a little. "No," he said. "Because you'll never grow
up; you're a dwarf!" The tone of his voice was one of sheer envy.
"That's what the Sow says too! But then I'll show myself for money
at the fairs and on Midsummer Eve on the common. Then I shall get
Pelle was inwardly troubled. Should he give him the whole fifty ores
for nothing at all? He had never heard of any one doing such a thing.
And perhaps some day, when Rud had become enormously rich, he would
get half of it. "Will you have it?" he asked, but regretted it
Rud stretched out his hand eagerly, but Pelle spat into it. "It can
wait until we've had our dinner anyhow," he said, and went over to
the basket. For a little while they stood gazing into the empty
"The Sow's been here," said Rud, putting out his tongue.
Pelle nodded. "She _is_ a beast!"
"A thief," said Rud.
They took the sun's measure. Rud declared that if you could see it
when you bent down and looked between your legs, then it was five
o'clock. Pelle began to put on his clothes.
Rud was circling about him. "I say!" he said suddenly. "If I may
have it, I'll let you whip me with nettles."
"On your bare body?" asked Pelle.
In a second Pelle was out of his trousers again, and running to
a patch of nettles. He pulled them up with the assistance of a
dock-leak, as many as he could hold, and came back again. Rud lay
down, face downwards, on a little mound, and the whipping began.
The agreement was a hundred strokes, but when Rud had received ten,
he got up and refused to have any more.
"Then you won't get the money," said Pelle. "Will you or won't you?"
He was red with excitement and the exertion, and the perspiration
already stood in beads down his slender back, for he had worked with
a will. "Will you or won't you? Seventy-five strokes then!" Pelle's
voice quivered with eagerness, and he had to dilate his nostrils to
get air enough; his limbs began to tremble.
"No--only sixty--you hit so hard! And I must have the money first,
or you may cheat me."
"I don't cheat," said Pelle gloomily. But Rud held to his point.
Pelle's body writhed; he was like a ferret that has tasted blood.
With a jerk he threw the coin at Rud, and grumbling, pushed him
down. He wept inwardly because he had let him off forty strokes;
but he made up his mind to lay into him all the harder for it.
Then he beat, slowly and with all his might, while Rud burrowed with
his head in the grass and clasped the money tightly to keep up his
strength. There was hatred in every stroke that Pelle struck, and
they went like shocks through his playmate's body, but he never
uttered a cry. No, there was no point in his crying, for the coin
he held in his hand took away the pain. But about Pelle's body the
air burnt like fire, his arms began to give way with fatigue, and
his inclination diminished with every stroke. It was toil, nothing
but hard toil. And the money--the beautiful half-krone--was slipping
farther and farther away, and he would be poor once more; and Rud
was not even crying! At the forty-sixth stroke he turned his face
and put out his tongue, whereat Pelle burst into a roar, threw down
the frayed nettle-stalks, and ran away to the fir-plantation.
There he sat for the rest of the day under a dune, grieving over
his loss, while Rud lay under the bank of the stream, bathing his
blistered body with wet earth.
After all, Per Olsen was not the sort of man they had thought him.
Now that he had been set free in that way, the thing would have been
for him to have given a helping hand to that poor fellow, Long Ole;
for after all it was for his sake that Ole's misfortune had come
upon him. But did he do it? No, he began to amuse himself. It was
drinking and dissipation and petticoats all the summer through; and
now at Martinmas he left and took work at the quarry, so as to be
more his own master. There was not sufficient liberty for him at
Stone Farm. What good there was left in him would find something
to do up there.
Long Ole could not, of course, remain at Stone Farm, crippled as
he was. Through kindness on the part of the farmer, he was paid his
half-wage; that was more than he had any claim to, and enough at any
rate to take him home and let him try something or other. There were
many kinds of work that at a pinch could be performed with one hand;
and now while he had the money he ought to have got an iron hook; it
could be strapped to the wrist, and was not bad to hold tools with.
But Ole had grown weak and had great difficulty in making up his
mind. He continued to hang about the farm, notwithstanding all that
the bailiff did to get him away. At last they had to put his things
out, to the west of the farm; and there they lay most of the summer,
while he himself slept among the stacks, and begged food of the
workers in the fields. But this could not go on when the cold set
But then one day in the autumn, his things were gone. Johanna Pihl
--commonly called the Sow--had taken him in. She felt the cold, too,
in spite of her fat, and as the proverb says: It's easier for two
to keep warm than one; but whatever was her reason for doing it, Long
Ole might thank his Maker for her. There was always bacon hanging in
Lasse and Pelle looked forward to term-day with anxiety. What
changes would it bring this time for people? So much depended on
that. Besides the head man, they were to have new second and third
men and some new maids. They were always changing at Stone Farm when
they could. Karna, poor soul, was bound to stay, as she had set her
mind upon youth, and would absolutely be where Gustav was! Gustav
stayed because Bodil stayed, so unnaturally fond was he of that
girl, although she was not worth it. And Bodil herself knew well
enough what she was doing! There must be more in it than met the eye
when a girl dressed, as she did, in expensive, town-bought clothes.
Lasse and Pelle _remained_, simply because there was no other
place in the world for them to go to. All through the year they
made plans for making a change, but when the time for giving notice
approached, Lasse became quiet and let it go past.
Of late he had given no little thought to the subject of marrying
again. There was something God-forsaken about this solitary
existence for a man of his age; you became old and worn out before
your time, when you hadn't a wife and a house. On the heath near
Brother Kalle's, there was a house that he could have without paying
anything down. He often discussed it with Pelle, and the boy was
ready for anything new.
It should be a wife who could look after everything and make the
house comfortable; and above all she must be a hard-working woman.
It would not come amiss either if she had a little of her own, but
let that be as it might, if only she was good-natured. Karna would
have suited in all respects, both Lasse and Pelle having always had
a liking for her ever since the day she freed Pelle from the pupil's
clutches; but it was nothing to offer her as long as she was so set
upon Gustav. They must bide their time; perhaps she would come to
her senses, or something else might turn up.
"Then there'd be coffee in bed on Sunday mornings!" said Pelle,
"Yes, and perhaps we'd get a little horse, and invite Brother Kalle
for a drive now and then," added Lasse solemnly.
At last it was really to be! In the evening Lasse and Pelle had
been to the shop and bought a slate and pencil, and Pelle was now
standing at the stable-door with a beating heart and the slate under
his arm. It was a frosty October morning, but the boy was quite hot
after his wash. He had on his best jacket, and his hair had been
combed with water.
Lasse hovered about him, brushing him here and there with his sleeve,
and was even more nervous than the boy. Pelle had been born to poor
circumstances, had been christened, and had had to earn his bread
from the time he was a little boy--all exactly as he had done
himself. So far there was no difference to be seen; it might very
well have been Lasse himself over again, from the big ears and the
"cow's-lick" on the forehead, to the way the boy walked and wore out
the bottoms of his trouser-legs. But this was something strikingly
new. Neither Lasse nor any of his family had ever gone to school;
it was something new that had come within the reach of his family,
a blessing from Heaven that had fallen upon the boy and himself.
It felt like a push upward; the impossible was within reach; what
might not happen to a person who had book-learning! You might become
master of a workshop, a clerk, perhaps even a schoolmaster.
"Now do take care of the slate, and see that you don't break it!"
he said admonishingly. "And keep out of the way of the big boys
until you can hold your own with them. But if any of them simply
won't let you alone, mind you manage to hit first! That takes the
inclination out of most of them, especially if you hit hard; he who
hits first hits twice, as the old proverb says. And then you must
listen well, and keep in mind all that your teacher says; and if
anyone tries to entice you into playing and larking behind his back,
don't do it. And remember that you've got a pocket-handkerchief,
and don't use your fingers, for that isn't polite. If there's no one
to see you, you can save the handkerchief, of course, and then it'll
last all the longer. And take care of your nice jacket. And if the
teacher's lady invites you in to coffee, you mustn't take more than
one piece of cake, mind."
Lasse's hands trembled while he talked.
"She's sure not to do that," said Pelle, with a superior air.
"Well, well, now go, so that you don't get there too late--the very
first day, too. And if there's some tool or other wanting, you must
say we'll get it at once, for we aren't altogether paupers!" And
Lasse slapped his pocket; but it did not make much noise, and Pelle
knew quite well that they had no money; they had got the slate and
pencil on credit.
Lasse stood looking after the boy as long as he was in sight, and
then went to his work of crushing oilcakes. He put them into a
vessel to soak, and poured water on them, all the while talking
softly to himself.
There was a knock at the outside stable-door, and Lasse went to open
it. It was Brother Kalle.
"Good-day, brother!" he said, with his cheerful smile. "Here comes
his Majesty from the quarries!" He waddled in upon his bow legs,
and the two exchanged hearty greetings. Lasse was delighted at the
"What a pleasant time we had with you the other evening!" said
Lasse, taking his brother by the hand.
"That's a long time ago now. But you must look in again one evening
soon. Grandmother looks upon both of you with a favorable eye!"
Kalle's eyes twinkled mischievously.
"How is she, poor body? Has she at all got over the hurt to her eye?
Pelle came home the other day and told me that the children had been
so unfortunate as to put a stick into her eye. It quite upset me.
You had to have the doctor, too!"
"Well, it wasn't quite like that," said Kalle. "I had moved
grandmother's spinning-wheel myself one morning when I was putting
her room to rights, and then I forgot to put it back in its place.
Then when she was going to stoop down to pick up something from the
floor, the spindle went into her eye; of course she's used to have
everything stand exactly in its place. So really the honor's due
to me." He smiled all over his face.
Lasse shook his head sympathetically. "And she got over it fairly
well?" he asked.
"No; it went altogether wrong, and she lost the sight of that eye."
Lasse looked at him with disapproval.
Kalle caught himself up, apparently very much horrified. "Eh, what
nonsense I'm talking! She lost the _blindness_ of that eye,
I ought to have said. _Isn't_ that all wrong, too? You put
somebody's eye out, and she begins to see! Upon my word, I think
I'll set up as an eye-doctor after this, for there's not much
difficulty in it."
"What do you say? She's begun to--? Now you're too merry! You
oughtn't to joke about everything."
"Well, well, joking apart, as the prophet said when his wife
scratched him--she can really see with that eye now."
Lasse looked suspiciously at him for a little while before he
yielded. "Why, it's quite a miracle!" he then said.
"Yes, that's what the doctor said. The point of the spindle had
acted as a kind of operation. But it might just as easily have taken
the other direction. Yes, we had the doctor to her three times; it
was no use being niggardly." Kalle stood and tried to look important;
he had stuck his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets.
"It cost a lot of money, I suppose?"
"That's what I thought, too, and I wasn't very happy when I asked
the doctor how much it would be. Twenty-five krones, he said, and
it didn't sound anything more than when any of us ask for a piece
of bread-and-dripping. 'Will the doctor be so kind as to wait a few
days so that I can get the cow property sold?' I asked. 'What!' he
says, and glares at me over his spectacles. 'You don't mean to sell
the cow so as to pay me? You mustn't do that on any account; I'll
wait till times are better.' 'We come off easily, even if we get rid
of the cow,' I said. 'How so?' he asks, as we go out to the carriage
--it was the farmer of Kaase Farm that was driving for me. So I told
him that Maria and I had been thinking of selling everything so that
grandmother might go over and be operated. He said nothing to that,
but climbed up into the carriage; but while I was standing like this,
buttoning up his foot-bag, he seizes me by the collar and says:
'Do you know, you little bow-legged creature!' (Kalle imitated the
doctor's town speech), 'You're the best man I've ever met, and you
don't owe me a brass farthing! For that matter, it was you yourself
that performed the operation.' 'Then I ought almost to have had the
money,' I said. Then he laughed and gave me a box on the ears with
his fur cap. He's a fine man, that doctor, and fearfully clever;
they say that he has one kind of mixture that he cures all kinds
of illness with."
They were sitting in the herdsman's room upon the green chest, and
Lasse had brought out a little gin. "Drink, brother!" he said again
and again. "It takes something to keep out this October drizzle."
"Many thanks, but you must drink! But I was going to say, you should
see grandmother! She goes round peeping at everything with her one
eye; if it's only a button, she keeps on staring at it. So that's
what that looks like, and that! She's forgotten what the things look
like, and when she sees a thing, she goes to it to feel it afterward
--to find out what it is, she actually says. She would have nothing
to do with us the first few days; when she didn't hear us talk or
walk, she thought we were strangers, even though she saw us there
before her eyes."
"And the little ones?" asked Lasse.
"Thank you, Anna's is fat and well, but our own seems to have come
to a standstill. After all, it's the young pigs you ought to breed
with. By the bye"--Kalle took out his purse--"while we're at it,
don't let me forget the ten krones I got from you for the
Lasse pushed it away. "Never mind that," he said. "You may have a
lot to go through yet. How many mouths are there now? Fourteen or
fifteen, I suppose?"
"Yes; but two take their mother's milk, like the parson's wife's
chickens; so that's all saved. And if things became difficult, one's
surely man enough to wring a few pence out of one's nose?" He seized
his nose and gave it a rapid twist, and held out his hand. A folded
ten-krone note lay in it.
Lasse laughed at the trick, but would not hear of taking the money;
and for a time it passed backward and forward between them. "Well,
well!" said Kalle at last, keeping the note; "thank you very much,
then! And good-bye, brother! I must be going." Lasse went out with
him, and sent many greetings.
"We shall come and look you up very soon," he called out after
When after a little while he returned to his room, the note lay
upon the bed. Kalle must have seen his opportunity to put it there,
conjurer that he was. Lasse put it aside to give to Kalle's wife,
when an occasion presented itself.
Long before the time, Lasse was on the lookout for Pelle. He found
the solitude wearisome, now that he was used to having the boy about
him from morning till night. At last he came, out of breath with
running, for he had longed to get home too.
Nothing either terrible or remarkable had happened at school. Pelle
had to give a circumstantial account, point by point, "Well, what
can you do?" the master had asked, taking him by the ear--quite
kindly, of course. "I can pull the mad bull to the water without
Father Lasse helping at all," Pelle had answered, and then the whole
class had laughed.
"Yes, yes, but can you read?"
No, Pelle could not do that--"or else I shouldn't have come here,"
he was on the point of adding. "It was a good thing you didn't
answer that," said Lasse; "but what more then?" Well, then Pelle was
put upon the lowest bench, and the boy next him was set to teach him
"Do you know them, then?"
No, Pelle did not know them that day, but when a couple of weeks had
passed, he knew most of them, and wrote them with chalk on the posts.
He had not learned to write, but his hand could imitate anything he
had seen, and he drew the letters just as they stood in print in the
Lasse went and looked at them during his work, and had them repeated
to him endlessly; but they would not stick properly. "What's that
one there?" he was perpetually asking.
Pelle answered with a superior air: "That? Have you forgotten it
already? I knew that after I'd only seen it once! That's M."
"Yes, of course it is! I can't think where my head is to-day.
M, yes--of course it's M! Now what can that be used for, eh?"
"It's the first letter in the word 'empty,' of course!" said Pelle
"Yes, of course! But you didn't find that out for yourself; the
master told you."
"No, I found it out by myself."
"Did you, now? Well, you've become clever--if only you don't become
as clever as seven fools."
Lasse was out of spirits; but very soon he gave in, and fell into
whole-hearted admiration of his son. And the instruction was
continued while they worked. It was fortunate for Pelle that his
father was so slow, for he did not get on very fast himself, when
once he had mastered all that was capable of being picked up
spontaneously by a quick intelligence. The boy who had to teach
him--Sloppy, he was called--was the dunce of the class and had
always been bottom until now Pelle had come and taken his place.
Two weeks of school had greatly changed Pelle's ideas on this
subject. On the first few days he arrived in a state of anxious
expectation, and all his courage forsook him as he crossed the
threshold of the school. For the first time in his life he felt
that he was good for nothing. Trembling with awe, he opened his
perceptions to this new and unfamiliar thing that was to unveil for
him all the mysteries of the world, if only he kept his ears open;
and he did so. But there was no awe-inspiring man, who looked at
them affectionately through gold-rimmed spectacles while he told
them about the sun and the moon and all the wonders of the world.
Up and down the middle passage walked a man in a dirty linen coat
and with gray bristles projecting from his nostrils. As he walked
he swung the cane and smoked his pipe; or he sat at the desk and
read the newspaper. The children were noisy and restless, and when
the noise broke out into open conflict, the man dashed down from
his desk, and hit out indiscriminately with his cane. And Pelle
himself, well he was coupled--for good, it appeared--to a dirty boy,
covered with scrofulous sores, who pinched his arm every time he
read his b-a--ba, b-e--be wrong. The only variation was an hour's
daily examination in the tedious observations in the class-book,
and the Saturday's uncouth hymn-repeating.
For a time Pelle swallowed everything whole, and passed it on
faithfully to his father; but at last he tired of it. It was not
his nature to remain long passive to his surroundings, and one fine
day he had thrown aside all injunctions and intentions, and dived
into the midst of the fun.
After this he had less information to impart, but on the other hand
there were the thousands of knavish tricks to tell about. And father
Lasse shook his head and comprehended nothing; but he could not help
"A safe stronghold our God is still,
A trusty shield and wea--pon;
He'll help us clear from all the ill
That hath us now o'erta--ken.
The ancient prince of hell
Hath risen with purpose fell;
Strong mail of craft and power
He weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his fel--low."
The whole school sat swaying backward and forward in time to the
rhythm, grinding out hymns in endless succession. Fris, the master,
was walking up and down the middle passage, smoking his pipe; he was
taking exercise after an hour's reading of the paper. He was using
the cane to beat time with, now and then letting it descend upon the
back of an offender, but always only at the end of a line--as a kind
of note of admiration. Fris could not bear to have the rhythm broken.
The children who did not know the hymn were carried along by the
crowd, some of them contenting themselves with moving their lips,
while others made up words of their own. When the latter were too
dreadful, their neighbors laughed, and then the cane descended.
When one verse came to an end, Fris quickly started the next; for
the mill was hard to set in motion again when once it had come to
a standstill. "With for--!" and the half-hundred children carried
"With force of arms we nothing can,
Full soon were we downrid--den;"
Then Fris had another breathing-space in which to enjoy his pipe
and be lulled by this noise that spoke of great and industrious
activity. When things went as they were now going, his exasperation
calmed down for a time, and he could smile at his thoughts as he
paced up and down, and, old though he was, look at the bright side
of life. People in passing stopped to rejoice over the diligence
displayed, and Fris beat more briskly with the cane, and felt a
long-forgotten ideal stirring within him; he had this whole flock
of children to educate for life, he was engaged in creating the
When the hymn came to an end, he got them, without a pause, turned
on to "Who puts his trust in God alone," and from that again to
"We all, we all have faith in God." They had had them all three
the whole winter through, and now at last, after tremendous labor,
he had brought them so far that they could say them more or less
The hymn-book was the business of Fris's life, and his forty years
as parish-clerk had led to his knowing the whole of it by heart.
In addition to this he had a natural gift. As a child Fris had been
intended for the ministry, and his studies as a young man were in
accordance with that intention. Bible words came with effect from
his lips, and his prospects were of the best, when an ill-natured
bird came all the way from the Faroe Islands to bring trouble upon
him. Fris fell down two flights from spiritual guide to parish-clerk
and child-whipper. The latter office he looked upon as almost too
transparent a punishment from Heaven, and arranged his school as
a miniature clerical charge.
The whole village bore traces of his work. There was not much
knowledge of reading and writing, but when it was a question of
hymns and Bible texts, these fishermen and little artisans were
bad to beat. Fris took to himself the credit for the fairly good
circumstances of the adults, and the receipt of proper wages by the
young men. He followed each one of them with something of a father's
eyes, and considered them all to be practically a success. And he
was on friendly terms with them once they had left school. They
would come to the old bachelor and have a chat, and relieve their
minds of some difficulty or other.
But it was always another matter with the confounded brood that sat
upon the school benches for the time being; it resisted learning
with might and main, and Fris prophesied it no good in the future.
Fris hated the children. But he loved these squarely built hymns,
which seemed to wear out the whole class, while he himself could
give them without relaxing a muscle. And when it went as it was
doing to-day, he could quite forget that there were such things as
children, and give himself up to this endless procession, in which
column after column filed past him, in the foot-fall of the rhythm.
It was not hymns, either; it was a mighty march-past of the strong
things of life, in which there stretched, in one endless tone, all
that Fris himself had failed to attain. That was why he nodded so
happily, and why the loud tramp of feet rose around him like the
acclamations of armies, an _Ave Caesar_.
He was sitting with the third supplement of his newspaper before
him, but was not reading; his eyes were closed, and his head moved
gently to the rhythm.
The children babbled on ceaselessly, almost without stopping for
breath; they were hypnotized by the monotonous flow of words. They
were like the geese that had been given leave by the fox to say a
prayer before they were eaten, and now went on praying and praying
forever and ever. When they came to the end of the three hymns, they
began again by themselves. The mill kept getting louder, they kept
the time with their feet, and it was like the stroke of a mighty
piston, a boom! Fris nodded with them, and a long tuft of hair
flapped in his face; he fell into an ecstasy, and could not sit
still upon his chair.
"And were this world all devils o'er,
And watching to devour--us,
We lay it not to heart so sore;
Not they can overpower us."
It sounded like a stamping-mill; some were beating their slates upon
the tables, and others thumping with their elbows. Fris did not hear
it; he heard only the mighty tramp of advancing hosts.
"And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e'er he will,"--
Suddenly, at a preconcerted signal, the whole school stopped
singing. Fris was brought to earth again with a shock. He opened
his eyes, and saw that he had once more allowed himself to be taken
by surprise. "You little devils! You confounded brats!" he roared,
diving into their midst with his cane. In a moment the whole school
was in a tumult, the boys fighting and the girls screaming. Fris
began hitting about him.
He tried to bring them back to the patter. "Who puts his trust in
God alone!" he shouted in a voice that drowned the clamor; but they
did not take it up--the little devils! Then he hit indiscriminately.
He knew quite well that one was just as good as another, and was not
particular where the strokes fell. He took the long-haired ones by
the hair and dragged them to the table, and thrashed them until the
cane began to split. The boys had been waiting for this; they had
themselves rubbed onion into the cane that morning, and the most
defiant of them had on several pairs of trousers for the occasion.
When the cracked sound proclaimed that the cane was in process of
disintegration, the whole school burst into deafening cheers. Fris
had thrown up the game, and let them go on. He walked up and down
the middle passage like a suffering animal, his gall rising. "You
little devils!" he hissed; "You infernal brats!" And then, "Do sit
still, children!" This last was so ridiculously touching in the
midst of all the rest, that it had to be imitated.
Pelle sat farthest away, in the corner. He was fairly new at this
sort of thing, but did his best. Suddenly he jumped on to the table,
and danced there in his stockinged feet. Fris gazed at him so
strangely, Pelle thought; he was like Father Lasse when everything
went wrong; and he slid down, ashamed. Nobody had noticed his action,
however; it was far too ordinary.
It was a deafening uproar, and now and then an ill-natured remark
was hurled out of the seething tumult. Where they came from it was
difficult to say; but every one of them hit Fris and made him cower.
False steps made in his youth on the other side of the water fifty
years ago, were brought up again here on the lips of these ignorant
children, as well as some of his best actions, that had been so
unselfish that the district put the very worst interpretation upon
them. And as if that were not enough--but hush! He was sobbing.
"Sh--sh! Sh--sh!" It was Henry Bodker, the biggest boy in the school,
and he was standing on a bench and sh--ing threateningly. The girls
adored him, and became quiet directly; but some of the boys would
not obey the order; but when Henry held his clenched fist up to one
eye, they too became quiet.
Fris walked up and down the middle passage like a pardoned offender.
He did not dare to raise his eyes, but they could all see that he
was crying. "It's a shame!" said a voice in an undertone. All eyes
were turned upon him, and there was perfect silence in the room.
"Play-time!" cried a boy's voice in a tone of command: it was
Nilen's. Fris nodded feebly, and they rushed out.
Fris remained behind to collect himself. He walked up and down with
his hands behind his back, swallowing hard. He was going to send in
his resignation. Every time things went quite wrong, Fris sent in
his resignation, and when he had come to himself a little, he put
it off until the spring examinations were over. He would not leave
in this way, as a kind of failure. This very winter he had worked
as he had never done before, in order that his resignation might
have somewhat the effect of a bomb, and that they might really feel
it as a loss when he had gone. When the examination was held, he
would take the hymn-book for repetition in chorus--right from the
beginning. Some of the children would quickly drop behind, but there
were some of them, into whom, in the course of time, he had hammered
most of its contents. Long before they had run out, the clergyman
would lift his hand to stop them, and say: "That's enough, my dear
clerk! That's enough!" and would thank him in a voice of emotion;
while the school committee and the parents would whisper together
in awed admiration.
And then would be the time to resign!
The school lay on the outskirts of the fishing-village, and the
playground was the shore. When the boys were let out after a few
hours' lessons, they were like young cattle out for the first time
after the long winter. They darted, like flitting swallows, in all
directions, threw themselves upon the fresh rampart of sea-wrack
and beat one another about the ears with the salt wet weeds. Pelle
was not fond of this game; the sharp weed stung, and sometimes
there were stones hanging to it, grown right in.
But he dared not hold himself aloof, for that would attract
attention at once. The thing was to join in it and yet not be in
it, to make himself little and big according to the requirements
of the moment, so as to be at one time unseen, and at another to
exert a terrifying effect. He had his work cut out in twisting
and turning, and slipping in and out.
The girls always kept together in one corner of the playground,
told tittle-tattle and ate their lunch, but the boys ran all over
the place like swallows in aimless flight. A big boy was standing
crouching close to the gymnastic apparatus, with his arm hiding his
face, and munching. They whirled about him excitedly, now one and
now another making the circle narrower and narrower. Peter Kofod
--Howling Peter--looked as if the world were sailing under him; he
clung to the climbing-pole and hid his face. When they came close
up to him, they kicked up behind with a roar, and the boy screamed
with terror, turned up his face and broke into a long-drawn howl.
Afterward he was given all the food that the others could not eat.
Howling Peter was always eating and always howling. He was a pauper
child and an orphan; he was big for his age, but had a strangely
blue and frozen look. His frightened eyes stood half out of his head,
and beneath them the flesh was swollen and puffy with crying. He
started at the least sound, and there was always an expression of
fear on his face. The boys never really did him any harm, but they
screamed and crouched down whenever they passed him--they could not
resist it. Then he would scream too, and cower with fear. The girls
would sometimes run up and tap him on the back, and then he screamed
in terror. Afterward all the children gave him some of their food.
He ate it all, roared, and was as famished as ever.
No one could understand what was wrong with him. Twice he had made
an attempt to hang himself, and nobody could give any reason for
it, not even he himself. And yet he was not altogether stupid.
Lasse believed that he was a visionary, and saw things that others
could not see, so that the very fact of living and drawing breath
frightened him. But however that might be, Pelle must on no account
do anything to him, not for all the world.
The crowd of boys had retired to the shore, and there, with little
Nilen at their head, suddenly threw themselves upon Henry Bodker.
He was knocked down and buried beneath the swarm, which lay in a
sprawling heap upon the top of him, pounding down with clenched
fists wherever there was an opening. But then a pair of fists began
to push upward, tchew, tchew, like steam punches, the boys rolled
off on all sides with their hands to their faces, and Henry Bodker
emerged from the heap, kicking at random. Nilen was still hanging
like a leech to the back of his neck, and Henry tore his blouse in
getting him thrown off. To Pelle he seemed to be tremendously big as
he stood there, only breathing a little quickly. And now the girls
came up, and fastened his blouse together with pins, and gave him
sweets; and he, by way of thanking them, seized them by their
pigtails and tied them together, four or five of them, so that they
could not get away from one another. They stood still and bore it
patiently, only gazing at him with eyes of devotion.
Pelle had ventured into the battle and had received a kick, but he
bore no malice. If he had had a sweet, he, like the girls, would
have given it to Henry Bodker, and would have put up with ungentle
treatment too. He worshipped him. But he measured himself by Nilen
--the little bloodthirsty Nilen, who had no knowledge of fear, and
attacked so recklessly that the others got out of his way! He was
always in the thickest of the crowd, jumped right into the worst of
everything, and came safely out of it all. Pelle examined himself
critically to find points of resemblance, and found them--in his
defence of Father Lasse the first summer, when he kicked a big boy,
and in his relations with the mad bull, of which he was not in the
least afraid. But in other points it failed. He was afraid of the
dark, and he could not stand a thrashing, while Nilen could take
his with his hands in his pockets. It was Pelle's first attempt at
obtaining a general survey of himself.
Fris had gone inland, probably to the church, so it would be a
playtime of some hours. The boys began to look about for some
more lasting ways of passing the time. The "bulls" went into the
schoolroom, and began to play about on the tables and benches, but
the "blennies" kept to the shore. "Bulls" and "blennies" were the
land and the sea in conflict; the division came naturally on every
more or less serious occasion, and sometimes gave rise to regular
Pelle kept with the shore boys; Henry Bodker and Nilen were among
them, and they were something new! They did not care about the
land and animals, but the sea, of which he was afraid, was like
a cradle to them. They played about on the water as they would in
their mother's parlor, and had much of its easy movement. They were
quicker than Pelle, but not so enduring; and they had a freer manner,
and made less of the spot to which they belonged. They spoke of
England in the most ordinary way and brought things to school that
their fathers and brothers had brought home with them from the other
side of the world, from Africa and China. They spent nights on the
sea on an open boat, and when they played truant it was always to
go fishing. The cleverest of them had their own fishing-tackle and
little flat-bottomed prams, that they had built themselves and
caulked with oakum. They fished on their own account and caught
pike, eels, and tench, which they sold to the wealthier people in
Pelle thought he knew the stream thoroughly, but now he was brought
to see it from a new side. Here were boys who in March and April--in
the holidays--were up at three in the morning, wading barefoot at
the mouth of the stream to catch the pike and perch that went up
into the fresh water to spawn. And nobody told the boys to do it;
they did it because they liked it!
They had strange pleasures! Now they were standing "before the sea"
--in a long, jubilant row. They ran out with the receding wave to
the larger stones out in the water, and then stood on the stones
and jumped when the water came up again, like a flock of sea birds.
The art consisted in keeping yourself dryshod, and yet it was the
quickest boys who got wettest. There was of course a limit to the
time you could keep yourself hovering. When wave followed wave in
quick succession, you had to come down in the middle of it, and then
sometimes it went over your head. Or an unusually large wave would
come and catch all the legs as they were drawn up in the middle of
the jump, when the whole row turned beautifully, and fell splash
into the water. Then with, a deafening noise they went up to the
schoolroom to turn the "bulls" away from the stove.
Farther along the shore, there were generally some boys sitting with
a hammer and a large nail, boring holes in the stones there. They
were sons of stone-masons from beyond the quarries. Pelle's cousin
Anton was among them. When the holes were deep enough, powder was
pressed into them, and the whole school was present at the
In the morning, when they were waiting for the master, the big boys
would stand up by the school wall with their hands in their pockets,
discussing the amount of canvas and the home ports of vessels
passing far out at sea. Pelle listened to them open-mouthed. It was
always the sea and what belonged to the sea that they talked about,
and most of it he did not understand. All these boys wanted the same
thing when they were confirmed--to go to sea. But Pelle had had
enough of it when he crossed from Sweden; he could not understand
How carefully he had always shut his eyes and put his fingers in
his ears, so that his head should not get filled with water when he
dived in the stream! But these boys swam down under the water like
proper fish, and from what they said he understood that they could
dive down in deep water and pick up stones from the bottom.
"Can you see down there, then?" he asked, in wonder.
"Yes, of course! How else would the fish be able to keep away from
the nets? If it's only moonlight, they keep far outside, the whole
"And the water doesn't run into your head when you take your fingers
out of your ears?"
"Take your fingers out of your ears?"
"Yes, to pick up the stone."
A burst of scornful laughter greeted this remark, and they began to
question him craftily; he was splendid--a regular country bumpkin!
He had the funniest ideas about everything, and it very soon came
out that he had never bathed in the sea. He was afraid of the water
--a "blue-bag"; the stream could not do away with that.
After that he was called Blue-bag, notwithstanding that he one day
took the cattle-whip to school with him and showed them how he could
cut three-cornered holes in a pair of trousers with the long lash,
hit a small stone so that it disappeared into the air, and make
those loud reports. It was all excellent, but the name stuck to him
all the same; and all his little personality smarted under it.
In the course of the winter, some strong young men came home to the
village in blue clothes and white neck-cloths. They had laid up, as
it was called, and some of them drew wages all through the winter
without doing anything. They always came over to the school to see
the master; they came in the middle of lessons, but it did not
matter; Fris was joy personified. They generally brought something
or other for him--a cigar of such fine quality that it was enclosed
in glass, or some other remarkable thing. And they talked to Fris
as they would to a comrade, told him what they had gone through, so
that the listening youngsters hugged themselves with delight, and
quite unconcernedly smoked their clay pipes in the class--with the
bowl turned nonchalantly downward without losing its tobacco. They
had been engaged as cook's boys and ordinary seamen, on the Spanish
main and the Mediterranean and many other wonderful places. One of
them had ridden up a fire-spouting mountain on a donkey. And they
brought home with them lucifer matches that were as big, almost,
as Pomeranian logs, and were to be struck on the teeth.
The boys worshipped them and talked of nothing else; it was a great
honor to be seen in the company of such a man. For Pelle it was not
to be thought of.
And then it came about that the village was awaiting the return of
one such lad as this, and he did not come. And one day word came
that bark so-and-so had gone to the bottom with all on board. It
was the winter storms, said the boys, spitting like grown men. The
brothers and sisters were kept away from school for a week, and when
they came back Pelle eyed them curiously: it must be strange to have
a brother lying at the bottom of the sea, quite young! "Then you
won't want to go to sea?" he asked them. Oh, yes, they wanted to go
to sea, too!
Another time Fris came back after an unusually long playtime in low
spirits. He kept on blowing his nose hard, and now and then dried
his eyes behind his spectacles. The boys nudged one another. He
cleared his throat loudly, but could not make himself heard, and
then beat a few strokes on his desk with the cane.
"Have you heard, children?" he asked, when they had become more
or less quiet.
"No! Yes! What?" they cried in chorus; and one boy said: "That the
sun's fallen into the sea and set it on fire!"
The master quietly took up his hymn-book. "Shall we sing 'How
blessed are they'?" he said; and they knew that something must have
happened, and sang the hymn seriously with him.
But at the fifth verse Fris stopped; he could not go on any longer.
"Peter Funck is drowned!" he said, in a voice that broke on the last
word. A horrified whisper passed through the class, and they looked
at one another with uncomprehending eyes. Peter Funck was the most
active boy in the village, the best swimmer, and the greatest scamp
the school had ever had--and he was drowned!
Fris walked up and down, struggling to control himself. The children
dropped into softly whispered conversation about Peter Funck, and
all their faces had grown old with gravity. "Where did it happen?"
asked a big boy.
Fris awoke with a sigh. He had been thinking about this boy, who
had shirked everything, and had then become the best sailor in the
village; about all the thrashings he had given him, and the pleasant
hours they had spent together on winter evenings when the lad was
home from a voyage and had looked in to see his old master. There
had been much to correct, and things of grave importance that Fris
had had to patch up for the lad in all secrecy, so that they should
not affect his whole life, and--
"It was in the North Sea," he said. "I think they'd been in
"To Spain with dried fish," said a boy. "And from there they went
to England with oranges, and were bringing a cargo of coal home."
"Yes, I think that was it," said Fris. "They were in the North Sea,
and were surprised by a storm; and Peter had to go aloft."
"Yes, for the _Trokkadej_ is such a crazy old hulk. As soon
as there's a little wind, they have to go aloft and take in sail,"
said another boy.
"And he fell down," Fris went on, "and struck the rail and fell into
the sea. There were the marks of his sea-boats on the rail. They
braced--or whatever it's called--and managed to turn; but it took
them half-an-hour to get up to the place. And just as they got there,
he sank before their eyes. He had been struggling in the icy water
for half-an-hour--with sea-boots and oilskins on--and yet--"
A long sigh passed through the class. "He was the best swimmer on
the whole shore!" said Henry. "He dived backward off the gunwale of
a bark that was lying in the roads here taking in water, and came
up on the other side of the vessel. He got ten rye rusks from the
captain himself for it."
"He must have suffered terribly," said Fris. "It would almost have
been better for him if he hadn't been able to swim."
"That's what my father says!" said a little boy. "He can't swim,
for he says it's better for a sailor not to be able to; it only
keeps you in torture."
"My father can't swim, either!" exclaimed another. "Nor mine,
either!" said a third. "He could easily learn, but he won't." And