Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Eric Eldred, Jerry Fairbanks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
PELLE THE CONQUEROR
PART III.--THE GREAT STRUGGLE.
BY MARTIN ANDERSON NEXO
TRANSLATED FROM THE DANISH
By Bernard Miall.
III. THE GREAT STRUGGLE
A swarm of children was playing on the damp floor of the shaft. They
hung from the lower portions of the timber-work, or ran in and out
between the upright supports, humming tunes, with bread-and-dripping in
their hands; or they sat on the ground and pushed themselves forward
across the sticky flagstones. The air hung clammy and raw, as it does in
an old well, and already it had made the little voices husky, and had
marked their faces with the scars of scrofula. Yet out of the tunnel-
like passage which led to the street there blew now and again a warm
breath of air and the fragrance of budding trees--from the world that
lay behind those surrounding walls.
They had finished playing "Bro-bro-brille," for the last rider had
entered the black cauldron; and Hansel and Gretel had crept safely out
of the dwarf Vinslev's den, across the sewer-grating, and had reached
the pancake-house, which, marvelously enough, had also a grating in
front of the door, through which one could thrust a stick or a cabbage-
stalk, in order to stab the witch. Sticks of wood and cabbage-stalks
were to be found in plenty in the dustbins near the pancake-house, and
they knew very well who the witch was! Now and again she would pop up
out of the cellar and scatter the whole crowd with her kitchen tongs! It
was almost a little too lifelike; even the smell of pancakes came
drifting down from where the well-to-do Olsens lived, so that one could
hardly call it a real fairy tale. But then perhaps the dwarf Vinslev
would come out of his den, and would once again tell them the story of
how he had sailed off with the King's gold and sunk it out yonder, in
the King's Deep, when the Germans were in the land. A whole ship's crew
took out the King's treasure, but not one save Vinslev knew where it was
sunk, and even he did not know now. A terrible secret that, such as well
might make a man a bit queer in the head. He would explain the whole
chart on his double-breasted waistcoat; he had only to steer from this
button to that, and then down yonder, and he was close above the
treasure. But now some of the buttons had fallen off, and he could no
longer make out the chart. Day by day the children helped him to trace
it; this was an exciting bit of work, for the King was getting
There were other wonderful things to do; for instance, one could lie
flat down on the slippery flagstones and play Hanne's game--the "Glory"
game. You turned your eyes from the darkness down below, looking up
through the gloomy shaft at the sky overhead, which floated there
blazing with light, and then you suddenly looked down again, so that
everything was quite dark. And in the darkness floated blue and yellow
rings of color, where formerly there had been nothing but dustbins and
privies. This dizzy flux of colors before the eyes was the journey far
out to the land of happiness, in search of all the things that cannot be
told. "I can see something myself, and I know quite well what it is, but
I'm just not going to tell," they murmured, blinking mysteriously up
into the blue.
However, one could have too much of a good thing.... But the round
grating under the timbers yonder, where Hanne's father drowned himself,
was a thing one never grew weary of. The depths were forever bubbling
upward, filling the little children with a secret horror; and the half-
grown girls would stand a-straddle over the grating, shuddering at the
cold breath that came murmuring up from below. The grating was sure
enough the way down to hell, and if you gazed long enough you could see
the faintest glimmer of the inky stream that was flowing down below.
Every moment it sent its putrid breath up into your face; that was the
Devil, who sat panting down there in a corner. If you turned your eyes
away from the depths the twilight of the well had turned to brightest
day, so you could make the world light or dark just as you wished.
A few children always lay there, on all fours, gazing down with anxious
faces; and all summer through, directly over the grating, hung a cloud
of midges, swaying in the breath of the depths. They would rise to a
certain height, then suddenly fall, and rise again, just like a
juggler's balls. Sometimes the breathing from below sucked the whole
swarm right down, but it rose up again, veering hither and thither like
a dancing wraith in the draught from the tunnel-like entry. The little
girls would gaze at it, lift their petticoats, and take a few graceful
steps. Olsen's Elvira had learned her first dance-steps here, and now
she was dancing respectable citizens into the poor-house. And the
furniture broker's daughter was in Petersburg, and was _almost_ a
On the walls of the narrow shaft projecting porches hung crazily, so
that they left only a small free space, and here the clothes-lines ran
to and fro, loaded with dishclouts and children's clothing. The decaying
wooden staircases ran zig-zag up the walls, disappearing into the
projecting porches and coming out again, until they reached the very
From the projecting porches and the galleries, doors led into the
various tenements, or to long corridors that connected the inner
portions of the house. Only in Pipman's side there were neither porches
nor galleries, from the second story upward; time had devoured them, so
that the stairs alone remained in place. The ends of the joists stuck
out of the wall like decaying tooth stumps, and a rope hung from above,
on which one could obtain a hold. It was black and smooth from the grip
of many hands.
On one of those hot June days when the heavens shone like a blazing fire
above the rift overhead, the heavy, mouldering timbers came to life
again, as if their forest days had returned. People swarmed in and out
on the stairs, shadows came and went, and an incessant chattering filled
the twilight. From porch to porch dropped the sour-smelling suds from
the children's washing, until at last it reached the ground, where the
children were playing by the sluggish rivulets which ran from the
gutters. The timbers groaned continually, like ancient boughs that rub
together, and a clammy smell as of earth and moist vegetation saturated
the air, while all that one touched wore a coating of slime, as in token
of its exuberant fertility.
One's gaze could not travel a couple of steps before it was checked by
wooden walls, but one felt conscious of the world that lay behind them.
When the doors of the long passages opened and shut, one heard the rumor
of the innumerable creatures that lived in the depths of the "Ark"; the
crying of little children, the peculiar fidgeting sound of marred,
eccentric individuals, for many a whole life's history unfolded itself
within there, undisturbed, never daring the light of day. On Pipman's
side the waste-pipes stuck straight out of the wall, like wood-goblins
grinning from the thicket with wide-open mouths, and long gray beards,
which bred rose-pink earthworms, and from time to time fell with a heavy
smack into the yard. Green hanging bushes grew out of holes in the wall.
The waste water trickled through them and dripped continually as though
from the wet locks of the forest. Inside, in the greenish, dripping
darkness, sat curiously marked toads, like little water-nymphs, each in
her grotto, shining with unwholesome humidity. And up among the timbers
of the third story hung Hanne's canary, singing quite preposterously,
its beak pointing up toward the spot of fiery light overhead. Across the
floor of the courtyard went an endless procession of people, light-shy
creatures who emerged from the womb of the "Ark" or disappeared into it.
Most of them were women, weirdly clad, unwholesomely pale, but with a
layer of grime as though the darkness had worked into their skins, with
drowsy steps and fanatical, glittering eyes.
Little old men, who commonly lay in their dark corners waiting for
death, came hobbling out on the galleries, lifted their noses toward the
blazing speck of sky overhead, and sneezed three times. "That's the
sun!" they told one another, delighted. "Artishu! One don't catch cold
so easy in winter!"
High up, out of Pipman's garret, a young man stepped out onto the
platform. He stood there a moment turning his smiling face toward the
bright heavens overhead. Then he lowered his head and ran down the
break-neck stairs, without holding on by the rope. Under his arm he
carried something wrapped in a blue cloth.
"Just look at the clown! Laughing right into the face of the sun as
though there was no such thing as blindness!" said the women, thrusting
their heads out of window. "But then, of course, he's from the country.
And now he's going to deliver his work. Lord, how long is he going to
squat up there and earn bread for that sweater? The red'll soon go from
his cheeks if he stops there much longer!" And they looked after him
The children down in the courtyard raised their heads when they heard
his steps above them.
"Have you got some nice leather for us to-day, Pelle?" they cried,
clutching at his legs.
He brought out of his pockets some little bits of patent-leather and red
"That's from the Emperor's new slippers," he said, as he shared the
pieces among the children. Then the youngsters laughed until their
throats began to wheeze.
Pelle was just the same as of old, except that he was more upright and
elastic in his walk, and had grown a little fair moustache. His
protruding ears had withdrawn themselves a little, as though they were
no longer worked so hard. His blue eyes still accepted everything as
good coin, though they now had a faint expression that seemed to say
that all that happened was no longer to their liking. His "lucky curls"
still shone with a golden light.
The narrow streets lay always brooding in a dense, unbearable atmosphere
that never seemed to renew itself. The houses were grimy and crazy;
where a patch of sunlight touched a window there were stained bed-
clothes hung out to dry. Up one of the side streets was an ambulance
wagon, surrounded by women and children who were waiting excitedly for
the bearers to appear with their uneasy burden, and Pelle joined them;
he always had to take part in everything.
It was not quite the shortest way which he took. The capital was quite a
new world to him; nothing was the same as at home; here a hundred
different things would happen in the course of the day, and Pelle was
willing enough to begin all over again; and he still felt his old
longing to take part in it all and to assimilate it all.
In the narrow street leading down to the canal a thirteen-year-old girl
placed herself provocatively in his way. "Mother's ill," she said,
pointing up a dark flight of steps. "If you've got any money, come
along!" He was actually on the point of following her, when he
discovered that the old women who lived in the street were flattening
their noses against their windowpanes. "One has to be on one's guard
here!" he told himself, at least for the hundredth time. The worst of it
was that it was so easy to forget the necessity.
He strolled along the canal-side. The old quay-wall, the apple-barges,
and the granaries with the high row of hatchways overhead and the
creaking pulleys right up in the gables awakened memories of home.
Sometimes, too, there were vessels from home lying here, with cargoes of
fish or pottery, and then he was able to get news. He wrote but seldom.
There was little success to be reported; just now he had to make his
way, and he still owed Sort for his passage-money.
But it would soon come.... Pelle hadn't the least doubt as to the
future. The city was so monstrously large and incalculable; it seemed to
have undertaken the impossible; but there could be no doubt of such an
obvious matter of course as that he should make his way. Here wealth was
simply lying in great heaps, and the poor man too could win it if only
he grasped at it boldly enough. Fortune here was a golden bird, which
could be captured by a little adroitness; the endless chances were like
a fairy tale. And one day Pelle would catch the bird; when and how he
left confidingly to chance.
In one of the side streets which ran out of the Market Street there was
a crowd; a swarm of people filled the whole street in front of the iron-
foundry, shouting eagerly to the blackened iron-workers, who stood
grouped together by the gateway, looking at one another irresolutely.
"What's up here?" asked Pelle.
"This is up--that they can't earn enough to live on," said an old man.
"And the manufacturers won't increase their pay. So they've taken to
some new-fangled fool's trick which they say has been brought here from
abroad, where they seem to have done well with it. That's to say, they
all suddenly chuck up their work and rush bareheaded into the street and
make a noise, and then back to work again, just like school children in
play-time. They've already been in and out two or three times, and now
half of them's outside and the others are at work, and the gate is
locked. Nonsense! A lot that's going to help their wages! No; in my time
we used to ask for them prettily, and we always got something, too. But,
anyhow, we're only working-folks, and where's it going to come from? And
now, what's more, they've lost their whole week's wages!"
The workmen were at a loss as to what they should do; they stood there
gazing mechanically up at the windows of the counting-house, from which
all decisions were commonly issued. Now and again an impatient shudder
ran through the crowd, as it made threats toward the windows and
demanded what was owing it. "He won't give us the wages that we've
honestly earned, the tyrant!" they cried. "A nice thing, truly, when
one's got a wife and kids at home, and on a Saturday afternoon, too!
What a shark, to take the bread out of their mouths! Won't the gracious
gentleman give us an answer--just his greeting, so that we can take it
home with us?--just his kind regards, or else they'll have to go hungry
to bed!" And they laughed, a low, snarling laugh, spat on the pavement,
and once more turned their masterless faces up to the counting-house
Proposals were showered upon them, proposals of every kind; and they
were as wise as they were before. "What the devil are we to do if
there's no one who can lead us?" they said dejectedly, and they stood
staring again. That was the only thing they knew how to do.
"Choose a few of your comrades and send them in to negotiate with the
manufacturer," said a gentleman standing by.
"Hear, hear! Forward with Eriksen! He understands the deaf-and-dumb
alphabet!" they shouted. The stranger shrugged his shoulders and
A tall, powerful workman approached the group. "Have you got your killer
with you, Eriksen?" cried one, and Eriksen turned on the staircase and
exhibited his clenched fist.
"Look out!" they shouted at the windows. "Look out we don't set fire to
the place!" Then all was suddenly silent, and the heavy house-door was
Pelle listened with open mouth. He did not know what they wanted, and
they hardly knew, themselves; none the less, there was a new note in all
this! These people didn't beg for what they wanted; they preferred to
use their fists in order to get it, and they didn't get drunk first,
like the strong man Eriksen and the rest at home. "This is the capital!"
he thought, and again he congratulated himself for having come thither.
A squad of policemen came marching up. "Room there!" they cried, and
began to hustle the crowd in order to disperse it. The workmen would not
be driven away. "Not before we've got our wages!" they said, and they
pressed back to the gates again. "This is where we work, and we're going
to have our rights, that we are!" Then the police began to drive the
onlookers away; at each onset they fell back a few steps, hesitating,
and then stood still, laughing. Pelle received a blow in the back; he
turned quickly round, stared for a moment into the red face of a
policeman, and went his way, muttering and feeling his back.
"Did he hit you?" asked an old woman. "Devil take him, the filthy lout!
He's the son of the mangling-woman what lives in the house here, and now
he takes up the cudgels against his own people! Devil take him!"
"Move on!" ordered the policeman, winking, as he pushed her aside with
his body. She retired to her cellar, and stood there using her tongue to
such purpose that the saliva flew from her toothless mouth.
"Yes, you go about bullying old people who used to carry you in their
arms and put dry clouts on you when you didn't know enough to ask....
Are you going to use your truncheon on me, too? Wouldn't you like to,
Fredrik? Take your orders from the great folks, and then come yelping at
us, because we aren't fine enough for you!" She was shaking with rage;
her yellowish gray hair had become loosened and was tumbling about her
face; she was a perfect volcano.
The police marched across the Knippel Bridge, escorted by a swarm of
street urchins, who yelled and whistled between their fingers. From time
to time a policeman would turn round; then the whole swarm took to its
heels, but next moment it was there again. The police were nervous:
their fingers were opening and closing in their longing to strike out.
They looked like a party of criminals being escorted to the court-house
by the extreme youth of the town, and the people were laughing.
Pelle kept step on the pavement. He was in a wayward mood. Somewhere
within him he felt a violent impulse to give way to that absurd longing
to leap into the air and beat his head upon the pavement which was the
lingering result of his illness. But now it assumed the guise of
insolent strength. He saw quite plainly how big Eriksen ran roaring at
the bailiff, and how he was struck to the ground, and thereafter
wandered about an idiot. Then the "Great Power" rose up before him,
mighty in his strength, and was hurled to his death; they had all been
like dogs, ready to fall on him, and to fawn upon everything that smelt
of their superiors and the authorities. And he himself, Pelle, had had a
whipping at the court-house, and people had pointed the finger at him,
just as they pointed at the "Great Power." "See, there he goes loafing,
the scum of humanity!" Yes, he had learned what righteousness was, and
what mischief it did. But now he had escaped from the old
excommunication, and had entered a new world, where respectable men
never turned to look after the police, but left such things to the
street urchins and old women. There was a great satisfaction in this;
and Pelle wanted to take part in this world; he longed to understand it.
It was Saturday, and there was a crowd of journeymen and seamstresses in
the warehouse, who had come to deliver their work. The foreman went
round as usual, grumbling over the work, and before he paid for it he
would pull at it and crumple it so that it lost its shape, and then he
made the most infernal to-do because it was not good enough. Now and
again he would make a deduction from the week's wages, averring that the
material was ruined; and he was especially hard on the women, who stood
there not daring to contradict him. People said he cheated all the
seamstresses who would not let him have his way with them.
Pelle stood there boiling with rage. "If he says one word to me, we
shall come to blows!" he thought. But the foreman took the work without
glancing at it--ah, yes, that was from Pipman!
But while he was paying for it a thick-set man came forward out of a
back room; this was the court shoemaker, Meyer himself. He had been a
poor young man with barely a seat to his breeches when he came to
Copenhagen from Germany as a wandering journeyman. He did not know much
about his craft, but he knew how to make others work for him! He did not
answer the respectful greetings of the workers, but stationed himself
before Pelle, his belly bumping against the counter, wheezing loudly
through his nose, and gazing at the young man.
"New man?" he asked, at length. "That's Pipman's assistant," replied the
foreman, smiling. "Ah! Pipman--he knows the trick, eh? You do the work
and he takes the money and drinks it, eh?" The master shoemaker laughed
as at an excellent joke.
Pelle turned red. "I should like to be independent as soon as possible,"
"Yes, yes, you can talk it over with the foreman; but no unionists here,
mind that! We've no use for those folks."
Pelle pressed his lips together and pushed the cloth wrapper into the
breast of his coat in silence. It was all he could do not to make some
retort; he couldn't approve of that prohibition. He went out quickly
into Kobmager Street and turned out of the Coal Market into Hauser
Street, where, as he knew, the president of the struggling Shoemakers'
Union was living. He found a little cobbler occupying a dark cellar.
This must be the man he sought; so he ran down the steps. He had not
understood that the president of the Union would be found in such a
Under the window sat a hollow-cheeked man bowed over his bench, in the
act of sewing a new sole on to a worn-out shoe. The legs of the passers-
by were just above his head. At the back of the room a woman stood
cooking something on the stove; she had a little child on her arm, while
two older children lay on the ground playing with some lasts. It was
frightfully hot and oppressive.
"Good day, comrade!" said Pelle. "Can I become a member of the Union?"
The man looked up, astonished. Something like a smile passed over his
"Can you indulge yourself so far?" he asked slowly. "It may prove a
costly pleasure. Who d'you work for, if I may ask?"
"For Meyer, in Kobmager Street."
"Then you'll be fired as soon as he gets to know of it!"
"I know that sure enough; all the same, I want to join the Union. He's
not going to tell me what I can and what I can't do. Besides, we'll soon
settle with him."
"That's what I thought, too. But there's too few of us. You'll be
starved out of the Union as soon as you've joined."
"We must see about getting a bit more numerous," said Pelle cheerfully,
"and then one fine day we'll shut up shop for him!"
A spark of life gleamed in the tired eyes of the president. "Yes, devil
take him, if we could only make him shut up shop!" he cried, shaking his
clenched fist in the air. "He tramples on all those hereabouts that make
money for him; it's a shame that I should sit here now and have come down
to cobbling; and he keeps the whole miserable trade in poverty! Ah, what
a revenge, comrade!" The blood rushed into his hollow cheeks until they
burned, and then he began to cough. "Petersen!" said the woman anxiously,
supporting his back. "Petersen!" She sighed and shook her head, while she
helped him to struggle through his fit of coughing. "When the talk's about
the Court shoemaker Petersen always gets like one possessed," she said,
when he had overcome it. "He really don't know what he's doing. No--if
everybody would only be as clever as Meyer and just look after his own
business, then certain people would be sitting there in good health and
earning good money!"
"Hold your tongue!" said Petersen angrily. "You're a woman--you know
nothing about the matter." At which the woman went back to her cooking.
Petersen filled out a paper, and Pelle signed his name to it and paid
his subscription for a week. "And now you must try to break away from
that bloodsucker as soon as possible!" said Petersen earnestly. "A
respectable workman can't put up with such things!"
"I was forced into it," said Pelle. "And I learned nothing of this at
home. But now that's over and done with."
"Good, comrade! There's my hand on it--and good luck to you! We must
work the cause up, and perhaps we shall succeed yet; I tell you, you've
given me back my courage! Now you persuade as many as you can, and don't
miss the meetings; they'll be announced in _The Working Man_." He
shook Pelle's hand eagerly. Pelle took a brisk walk out to the
northward. He felt pleased and in the best of spirits.
It was about the time when the workers are returning home; they drifted
along singly and in crowds, stooping and loitering, shuffling a little
after the fatigue of the day. There was a whole new world out here,
quite different from that of the "Ark." The houses were new and orderly,
built with level and plumb-line; the men went their appointed ways, and
one could see at a glance what each one was.
This quarter was the home of socialism and the new ideas. Pelle often
strolled out thither on holidays in order to get a glimpse of these
things; what they were he didn't know, and he hadn't dared to thrust
himself forward, a stranger, as he still felt himself to be there; but
it all attracted him powerfully. However, to-day he forgot that he was a
stranger, and he went onward with a long, steady stride that took him
over the bridge and into North Bridge Street. Now he himself was a
trades unionist; he was like all these others, he could go straight up
to any one if he wished and shake him by the hand. There was a strong
and peculiar appeal about the bearing of these people, as though they
had been soldiers. Involuntarily he fell into step with them, and felt
himself stronger on that account, supported by a feeling of community.
He felt solemnly happy, as on his birthday; and he had a feeling as
though he must do something. The public houses were open, and the
workmen were entering them in little groups. But he had no desire to sit
there and pour spirits down his throat. One could do that sort of thing
when everything had gone to the dogs.
He stationed himself in front of a pastry cook's window, eagerly
occupied in comparing the different kinds of cakes. He wanted to go
inside and expend five and twenty ore in celebration of the day. But
first of all the whole affair must be properly and methodically planned
out, so that he should not be disappointed afterward. He must, of
course, have something that he had never eaten before, and that was just
the difficult part. Many of the cakes were hollow inside too, and the
feast would have to serve as his evening meal.
It was by no means easy, and just as Pelle was on the point of solving
the difficulty he was startled out of the whole affair by a slap on the
shoulder. Behind him was Morten, smiling at him with that kindly smile
of his, as though nothing had gone wrong between them. Pelle was ashamed
of himself and could not find a word to say. He had been unfaithful to
his only friend; and it was not easy for him to account for his
behavior. But Morten didn't want any explanations; he simply shook Pelle
by the hand. His pale face was shining with joy. It still betrayed that
trace of suffering which was so touching, and Pelle had to surrender at
discretion. "Well, to think we should meet here!" he cried, and laughed
Morten was working at the pastry cook's, and had been out; now he was
going in to get some sleep before the night's work. "But come in with
me; we can at least sit and talk for half an hour; and you shall have a
cake too." He was just the same as in the old days.
They went in through the gate and up the back stairs; Morten went into
the shop and returned with five "Napoleons." "You see I know your
taste," he said laughing. Morten's room was right up under the roof; it
was a kind of turret-room with windows on both sides. One could look out
over the endless mass of roofs, which lay in rows, one behind the other,
like the hotbeds in a monstrous nursery garden. From the numberless
flues and chimneys rose a thin bluish smoke, which lay oppressively over
all. Due south lay the Kalvebod Strand, and further to the west the hill
of Frederiksberg with its castle rose above the mist. On the opposite
side lay the Common, and out beyond the chimneys of the limekilns
glittered the Sound with its many sails. "That's something like a view,
eh?" said Morten proudly.
Pelle remained staring; he went from one window to another and said
nothing. This was the city, the capital, for which he and all other poor
men from the farthest corners of the land, had longed so boundlessly;
the Fortunate Land, where they were to win free of poverty!
He had wandered through it in all directions, had marvelled at its
palaces and its treasures, and had found it to be great beyond all
expectation. Everything here was on the grand scale; what men built one
day they tore down again on the morrow, in order to build something more
sumptuous. So much was going on here, surely the poor man might somehow
make his fortune out of it all!
And yet he had had no true conception of the whole. Now for the first
time he saw the City! It lay there, a mighty whole, outspread at his
feet, with palaces, churches, and factory chimneys rising above the mass
of houses. Down in the street flowed a black, unending stream, a stream
of people continually renewed, as though from a mighty ocean that could
never be exhausted. They all had some object; one could not see it, but
really they were running along like ants, each bearing his little burden
to the mighty heap of precious things, which was gathered together from
all the ends of the earth.
"There are millions in all this!" said Pelle at last, drawing a deep
breath. "Yes," said Morten standing beside him. "And it's all put
together by human hands--by the hands of working people!"
Pelle started. That was a wonderful idea. But it was true enough, if one
thought about it.
"But now it has fallen into very different hands!" he exclaimed,
laughing. "Yes, they've got it away from us by trickery, just as one
wheedles a child out of a thing," cried Morten morosely. "But there's no
real efficiency in anything that children do--and the poor have never
been anything more than children! Only now they are beginning to grow
up, look you, and one fine day they'll ask for their own back."
"It would go ill with us if we went and tried to take it for ourselves,"
"Not if we were united about it--but we are only the many."
Pelle listened; it had never occurred to him that the question of
organization was so stupendous. Men combined, sure enough, but it was to
secure better conditions in their trade.
"You are like your father!" he said. "He always had big ideas, and
wanted to get his rights. I was thinking about him a little while ago,
how he never let himself be trampled on. Then you used to be ashamed of
Morten hung his head. "I couldn't bear the contempt of respectable
folks," he said half under his breath. "I understood nothing beyond the
fact that he was destroying our home and bringing disgrace on us. And I
was horribly afraid, too, when he began to lay about him; I wake up
sometimes now quite wet and cold with sweat, when I've been dreaming of
my childhood. But now I'm proud that I'm the son of the 'Great Power.' I
haven't much strength myself; yet perhaps I'll do something to surprise
the city folks after all.'"
"And I too!"
Power! It was really extraordinary that Morten should be the son of the
giant stone-cutter, so quiet and delicate was he. He had not yet quite
recovered the strength of which Bodil had robbed him in his early
boyhood; it was as though that early abuse was still wasting him.
He had retained his girlish love of comfort. The room was nicely kept;
and there were actually flowers in a vase beneath the looking-glass.
Flowers, good Lord! "How did you get those?" asked Pelle.
"Bought them, of course!"
Pelle had to laugh. Was there another man in the world who would pay
money for flowers?
But he did not laugh at the books. There seemed to be a sort of
mysterious connection between them and Morten's peculiar, still energy.
He had now a whole shelf full. Pelle took a few down and looked into
"What sort of stuff is this, now?" he asked doubtfully. "It looks like
"Those are books about us, and how the new conditions are coming, and
how we must make ready for them."
"Ah, you've got the laugh of me," said Pelle. "In a moment of depression
you've got your book-learning to help you along. But we other chaps can
just sit where we are and kick our heels." Morten turned to him hastily.
"That's the usual complaint!" he cried irritably. "A man spits on his
own class and wants to get into another one. But that's not the point at
stake, damn it all! We want to stay precisely where we are, shoemakers
and bakers, all together! But we must demand proper conditions! Scarcely
one out of thousands can come out on top; and then the rest can sit
where they are and gape after him! But do you believe he'd get a chance
of rising if it wasn't that society needs him--wants to use him to
strike at his own people and keep them down? 'Now you can see for
yourself what a poor man can do if he likes!' That's what they tell you.
There's no need to blame society.
"No, the masses themselves are to blame if they aren't all rich men!
Good God! They just don't want to be! So they treat you like a fool, and
you put up with it and baa after them! No, let them all together demand
that they shall receive enough for their work to live on decently. I say
a working man ought to get as much for his work as a doctor or a
barrister, and to be educated as well. That's my Lord's Prayer!"
"Now I've set you off finely!" said Pelle good-naturedly. "And it's just
the same as what your father was raving about when he lay dying in the
shed. He lay there delirious, and he believed the ordinary workman had
got pictures on the wall and a piano, just like the fine folks."
"Did he say that?" cried Morten, and he raised his head. Then he fell
into thought. For he understood that longing. But Pelle sat there
brooding. Was this the "new time" all over again? Then there was really
some sense in banding people together--yes, and as many as possible.
"I don't rightly understand it," he said at last. "But to-day I joined
the trade union. I shan't stand still and look on when there's anything
big to be done."
Morten nodded, faintly smiling. He was tired now, and hardly heard what
Pelle was saying. "I must go to bed now so that I can get up at one. But
where do you live? I'll come and see you some time. How queer it is that
we should have run across one another here!"
"I live out in Kristianshavn--in the 'Ark,' if you know where that is!"
"That's a queer sort of house to have tumbled into! I know the 'Ark'
very well, it's been so often described in the papers. There's all sorts
of people live there!"
"I don't know anything about that," said Pelle, half offended. "I like
the people well enough.... But it's capital that we should have run into
one another's arms like this! What bit of luck, eh? And I behaved like a
clown and kept out of your way? But that was when I was going to the
dogs, and hated everybody! But now nothing's going to come between us
again, you may lay to that!"
"That's good, but now be off with you," replied Morten, smiling; he was
"I'm going, I'm going!" said Pelle, and he picked up his hat, and stood
for a moment gazing out over the city. "But it's magnificent, what you
were saying about things just now!" he cried suddenly. "If I had the
strength of all us poor folks in me, I'd break out right away and
conquer the whole of it! If such a mass of wealth were shared out
there'd never be any poverty any more!" He stood there with his arms
uplifted, as though he held it all in his hands. Then he laughed
uproariously. He looked full of energy. Morten lay half asleep, staring
at him and saying nothing. And then he went.
Pipman scolded Pelle outrageously when at last he returned. "Curse it
all, what are you thinking of? To go strolling about and playing the
duke while such as we can sit here working our eyes out of our heads!
And we have to go thirsty too! Now don't you dream of being insolent to
me, or there'll be an end of the matter. I am excessively annoyed!"
He held out his hand in pathetic expostulation, although Pelle had no
intention of answering him. He no longer took Pipman seriously. "Devil
fry me, but a man must sit here and drink the clothes off his body while
a lout like you goes for a stroll!"
Pelle was standing there counting the week's earnings when he suddenly
burst into a loud laugh as his glance fell upon Pipman. His blue naked
shanks, miserably shivering under his leather apron, looked so
enormously ridiculous when contrasted with the fully-dressed body and
the venerable beard.
"Yes, you grin!" said Pipman, laughing too. "But suppose it was you had
to take off your trousers in front of the old clothes' man, and wanted
to get upstairs respectably! Those damned brats! 'Pipman's got D. T.,'
they yell. 'Pipman's got D. T. And God knows I haven't got D. T., but I
haven't got any trousers, and that's just the trouble! And these
accursed open staircases! Olsen's hired girl took the opportunity, and
you may be sure she saw all there was to see! You might lend me your old
Pelle opened his green chest and took out his work-day trousers.
"You'd better put a few more locks on that spinach-green lumber-chest of
yours," said Pipman surlily. "After all, there might be a thief here,
near heaven as we are!"
Pelle apparently did not hear the allusion, and locked the chest up
again. Then, his short pipe in his hand, he strolled out on to the
platform. Above the roofs the twilight was rising from the Sound. A few
doves were flying there, catching the last red rays of the sun on their
white pinions, while down in the shaft the darkness lay like a hot lilac
mist. The hurdy-gurdy man had come home and was playing his evening
tune down there to the dancing children, while the inhabitants of the
"Ark" were gossiping and squabbling from gallery to gallery. Now and
again a faint vibrating note rose upward, and all fell silent. This was
the dwarf Vinslev, who sat playing his flute somewhere in his den deep
within the "Ark." He always hid himself right away when he played, for
at such times he was like a sick animal, and sat quaking in his lair.
The notes of his flute were so sweet, as they came trickling out of his
hiding place, that they seemed like a song or a lament from another
world. And the restless creatures in the "Ark" must perforce be silent
and listen. Now Vinslev was in one of his gentle moods, and one somehow
felt better for hearing him. But at times, in his dark moods, the devil
seemed to enter into him, and breathed such music into his crazy mind
that all his hearers felt a panic terror. Then the decaying timbers of
the "Ark" seemed to expand and form a vast monstrous, pitch-black
forest, in which all terror lay lurking, and one must strike out blindly
in order to avoid being trampled on. The hearse-driver in the fourth
story, who at other times was so gentle in his cups, would beat his wife
shamefully, and the two lay about in their den drinking and fighting in
self-defence. And Vinslev's devilish flute was to blame when Johnsen
vainly bewailed his miserable life and ended it under the sewer-grating.
But there was nothing to be said about the matter; Vinslev played the
flute, and Johnsen's suicide was a death like any other.
Now the devil was going about with a ring in his nose; Vinslev's playing
was like a gentle breeze that played on people's hearts, so that they
opened like flowers. This was his good time.
Pelle knew all this, although he had not long been here; but it was
nothing to him. For he wore the conqueror's shirt of mail, such as
Father Lasse had dreamed of for him.
Down in the third story, on the built-out gallery, another sort of magic
was at work. A climbing pelargonium and some ivy had wound themselves
round the broken beams and met overhead, and there hung a little red
paper lantern, which cast a cheerful glow over it all.
It was as though the summer night had found a sanctuary in the heart of
this wilderness of stone. Under the lantern sat Madam Johnsen and her
daughter sewing; and Hanne's face glowed like a rose in the night, and
every now and then she turned it up toward Pelle and smiled, and made an
impatient movement of her head. Then Pelle turned away a little, re-
crossed his leg, and leant over on the other side, restless as a horse
Close behind him his neighbor, Madam Frandsen, was bustling about her
little kitchen. The door stood open on to the platform, and she
chattered incessantly, half to herself and half to Pelle, about her
gout, her dead husband, and her lout of a son. She needed to rest her
body, did this old woman. "My God, yes; and here I have to keep slaving
and getting his food ready for Ferdinand from morning to night and from
night to morning again. And he doesn't even trouble himself to come home
to it. I can't go looking into his wild ways; all I can do is to sit
here and worry and keep his meals warm. Now that's a tasty little bit;
and he'll soon come when he's hungry, I tell myself. Ah, yes, our young
days, they're soon gone. And you stand there and stare like a baa-lamb
and the girl down there is nodding at you fit to crick her neck! Yes,
the men are a queer race; they pretend they wouldn't dare--and yet who
is it causes all the misfortunes?"
"She doesn't want anything to do with me!" said Pelle grumpily; "she's
just playing with me."
"Yes, a girl goes on playing with a white mouse until she gets it! You
ought to be ashamed to stand there hanging your head! So young and well-
grown as you are too! You cut her tail-feathers off, and you'll get a
good wife!" She nudged him in the side with her elbow.
Then at last Pelle made up his mind to go clattering down the stairs to
the third story, and along the gallery.
"Why have you been so stand-offish to-day?" said Madam Johnsen, making
room for him. "You know you are always very welcome. What are all these
"Pelle is short-sighted; he can't see as far as this," said Hanne,
tossing her head. She sat there turning her head about; she gazed at him
smiling, her head thrown back and her mouth open. The light fell on her
"Shall we get fine weather to-morrow?" asked the mother.
Pelle thought they would; he gazed up at the little speck of sky in a
weather-wise manner. Hanne laughed.
"Are you a weather-prophet, Pelle? But you haven't any corns!"
"Now stop your teasing, child!" said the mother, pretending to slap her.
"If it's fine to-morrow we want to go into the woods. Will you come with
Pelle would be glad to go; but he hesitated slightly before answering.
"Come with us, Pelle," said Hanne, and she laid her hand invitingly on
his shoulder. "And then you shall be my young man. It's so tedious going
to the woods with the old lady; and then I want to be able to do as I
like." She made a challenging movement with her head.
"Then we'll go from the North Gate by omnibus; I don't care a bit about
going by train."
"From the North Gate? But it doesn't exist any longer, mummy! But there
are still omnibuses running from the Triangle."
"Well then, from the Triangle, you clever one! Can I help it if they go
pulling everything down? When I was a girl that North Gate was a
splendid place. From there you could get a view over the country where
my home was, and the summer nights were never so fine as on the wall.
One didn't know what it was to feel the cold then. If one's clothes were
thin one's heart was young."
Hanne went into the kitchen to make coffee. The door stood open. She
hummed at her task and now and again joined in the conversation. Then
she came out, serving Pelle with a cracked tea-tray. "But you look very
peculiar tonight!" She touched Pelle's face and gazed at him
"I joined the trade union to-day," answered Pelle; he still had the
feeling that of something unusual, and felt as though everybody must
notice something about him.
Hanne burst out laughing. "Is that where you got that black sign on your
forehead? Just look, mother, just look at him! The trade mark!" She
turned her head toward the old woman.
"Ah, the rogue!" said the old woman, laughing. "Now she's smeared soot
over your face!" She wetted her apron with her tongue and began to rub
the soot away, Hanne standing behind him and holding his head in both
hands so that he should not move. "Thank your stars that Pelle's a good-
natured fellow," said the old woman, as she rubbed. "Or else he'd take
it in bad part!"
Pelle himself laughed shamefacedly.
The hearse-driver came up through the trap in the gallery and turned
round to mount to the fourth story. "Good evening!" he said, in his deep
bass voice, as he approached them; "and good digestion, too, I ought to
say!" He carried a great ham under his arm.
"Lord o' my body!" whispered Madam Johnsen. "There he is again with his
ham; that means he's wasted the whole week's wages again. They've always
got more than enough ham and bacon up there, poor things, but they've
seldom got bread as well."
Now one sound was heard in the "Ark," now another. The crying of
children which drifted so mournfully out of the long corridors whenever
a door was opened turned to a feeble clucking every time some belated
mother came rushing home from work to clasp the little one to her
breast. And there was one that went on crying whether the mother was at
home or at work. Her milk had failed her.
From somewhere down in the cellars the sleepy tones of a cradle-song
rose up through the shaft; it was only "Grete with the child," who was
singing her rag-doll asleep. The real mothers did not sing.
"She's always bawling away," said Hanne; "those who've got real children
haven't got strength left to sing. But her brat doesn't need any food;
and that makes a lot of difference when one is poor."
"To-day she was washing and ironing the child's things to make her fine
for to-morrow, when her father comes. He is a lieutenant," said Hanne.
"Is he coming to-morrow, then?" asked Pelle naively.
Hanne laughed loudly. "She expects him every Sunday, but she has never
seen him yet!"
"Well, well, that's hardly a thing to laugh about," said the old woman.
"She's happy in her delusions, and her pension keeps her from need."
Pelle awoke to find Hanne standing by his bed and pulling his nose, and
imitating his comical grimaces. She had come in over the roof. "Why are
you stopping here, you?" she said eagerly. "We are waiting for you!"
"I can't get up!" replied Pelle piteously. "Pipman went out overnight
with my trousers on and hasn't come back, so I lay down to sleep again!"
Hanne broke into a ringing laugh. "What if he never comes back at all?
You'll have to lie in bed always, like Mother Jahn!"
At this Pelle laughed too.
"I really don't know what I shall do! You must just go without me."
"No, that we shan't!" said Hanne very decidedly. "No, we'll fetch the
picnic-basket and spread the things on your counterpane! After all, it's
green! But wait now, I know what!" And she slipped through the back door
and out on to the roof. Half an hour later she came again and threw a
pair of striped trousers on the bed. "He's obliging, is Herr Klodsmajor!
Now just hurry yourself a bit. I ran round to see the hearse-driver's
Marie, where she works, and she gave me a pair of her master's week-day
breeches. But she must have them again early to-morrow morning, so that
his lordship doesn't notice it."
Directly she had gone Pelle jumped into the trousers. Just as he was
ready he heard a terrific creaking of timbers. The Pipman was coming up
the stairs. He held the rope in one hand, and at every turn of the
staircase he bowed a few times outward over the rope. The women were
shrieking in the surrounding galleries and landings. That amused him.
His big, venerable head beamed with an expression of sublime joy.
"Ah, hold your tongue!" he said good-naturedly, as soon as he set eyes
on Pelle. "You hold your tongue!" He propped himself up in the doorway
and stood there staring.
Pelle seized him by the collar. "Where are my Sunday trousers?" he asked
angrily. The Pipman had the old ones on, but where were the new?
The Pipman stared at him uncomprehending, his drowsy features working in
the effort to disinter some memory or other. Suddenly he whistled.
"Trousers, did you say, young man? What, what? Did you really say
trousers? And you ask me where your trousers have got to? Then you might
have said so at once! Because, d'you see, your bags ... I've ... yes ...
why, I've pawned them!"
"You've pawned my best trousers?" cried Pelle, so startled that he
loosed his hold.
"Yes, by God, that's what I did! You can look for yourself--there's no
need to get so hot about it! You can't eat me, you know. That goes
without saying. Yes, that's about it. One just mustn't get excited!"
"You're a scoundrelly thief!" cried Pelle. "That's what you are!"
"Now, now, comrade, always keep cool! Don't shout yourself hoarse.
Nothing's been taken by me. Pipman's a respectable man, I tell you.
Here, you can see for yourself! What'll you give me for that, eh?" He
had taken the pawnticket from his pocket and held it out to Pelle,
Pelle fingered his collar nervously; he was quite beside himself with
rage. But what was the use? And now Hanne and her mother had come out
over yonder. Hanne was wearing a yellow straw hat with broad ribbons.
She looked bewitching; the old lady had the lunch-basket on her arm. She
locked the door carefully and put the key under the doorstep. Then they
There was no reasoning with this sot of a Pipman! He edged round Pelle
with an uncertain smile, gazed inquisitively into his face, and kept
carefully just out of his reach. "You're angry, aren't you?" he said
confidingly, as though he had been speaking to a little child.
"Dreadfully angry? But what the devil do you want with two pairs of
trousers, comrade? Yes, what do you want with two pairs of trousers?"
His voice sounded quite bewildered and reproachful.
Pelle pulled out a pair of easy-looking women's shoes from under his
bed, and slipped out through the inner door. He squeezed his way between
the steep roof and the back wall of the room, ducked under a beam or
two, and tumbled into the long gangway which ran between the roof-
buildings and had rooms on either side of it. A loud buzzing sound
struck suddenly on his ears. The doors of all the little rooms stood
open on to the long gangway, which served as a common livingroom.
Wrangling and chattering and the crying of children surged together in a
deafening uproar; here was the life of a bee-hive. Here it's really
lively, thought Pelle. To-morrow I shall move over here! He had thought
over this for a long time, and now there should be an end of his lodging
In front of one of the doors stood a little eleven-years-old maiden, who
was polishing a pair of plump-looking boy's boots; she wore an apron of
sacking which fell down below her ankles, so that she kept treading on
it. Within the room two children of nine and twelve were moving backward
and forward with mighty strides, their hands in their pockets. Then
enjoyed Sundays. In their clean shirt-sleeves, they looked like a couple
of little grown-up men. This was the "Family"; they were Pelle's
"Here are your shoes, Marie," said Pelle. "I couldn't do them any
She took them eagerly and examined the soles. Pelle had repaired them
with old leather, and had therefore polished the insteps with cobbler's
wax. "They're splendid now!" she whispered, and she looked at him
gratefully. The boys came and shook hands with Pelle. "What will the
shoes cost?" asked the elder, feeling for his purse with a solemn
"We'd better let that stand over, Peter; I'm in a hurry to-day," said
Pelle, laughing. "We'll put it on the account until the New Year."
"I'm going out, too, to-day with the boys," said Marie, beaming with
delight. "And you are going to the woods with Hanne and her mother, we
know all about it!" Hopping and skipping, she accompanied him to the
steps, and stood laughing down at him. To-day she was really like a
child; the shrewd, old, careful woman was as though cast to the winds.
"You can go down the main staircase," she cried.
A narrow garret-stairs led down to the main staircase, which lay inside
the building and was supposed to be used only by those who lived on the
side facing the street. This was the fashionable portion of the "Ark";
here lived old sea-dogs, shipbuilders, and other folks with regular
incomes. The tradesmen who rented the cellars--the coal merchant, the
old iron merchant, and the old clothes dealer, also had their dwellings
These dwellings were composed of two splendid rooms; they had no kitchen
or entry, but in a corner of the landing on the main staircase, by the
door, each family had a sink with a little board cover. When the cover
was on one could use the sink as a seat; this was very convenient.
The others had almost reached the Knippels Bridge when he overtook them.
"What a long time you've been!" said Hanne, as she took his arm. "And
how's the 'Family?' Was Marie pleased with the shoes? Poor little thing,
she hasn't been out for two Sundays because she had no soles to her
"She had only to come to me; I'm ever so much in her debt!"
"No, don't you believe she'd do that. The 'Family' is proud. I had to go
over and steal the shoes somehow!"
"Poor little things!" said Madam Johnsen, "it's really touching to see
how they hold together! And they know how to get along. But why are you
taking Pelle's arm, Hanne? You don't mean anything by it."
"Must one always mean something by it, little mother? Pelle is my young
man to-day, and has to protect me."
"Good Lord, what is he to protect you from? From yourself, mostly, and
that's not easy!"
"Against a horde of robbers, who will fall upon me in the forest and
carry me away. And you'll have to pay a tremendous ransom!"
"Good Lord, I'd much rather pay money to get rid of you! If I had any
money at all! But have you noticed how blue the sky is? It's splendid
with all this sun on your back--it warms you right through the cockles
of your heart."
At the Triangle they took an omnibus and bowled along the sea-front. The
vehicle was full of cheerful folk; they sat there laughing at a couple
of good-natured citizens who were perspiring and hurling silly
witticisms at one another. Behind them the dust rolled threateningly,
and hung in a lazy cloud round the great black waterbutts which stood on
their high trestles along the edge of the road. Out in the Sound the
boats lay with sails outspread, but did not move; everything was keeping
In the Zoological Gardens it was fresh and cool. The beech-leaves still
retained their youthful brightness, and looked wonderfully light and
festive against the century-old trunks. "Heigh, how beautiful the forest
is!" cried Pelle. "It is like an old giant who has taken a young bride!"
He had never been in a real beech-wood before. One could wander about
here as in a church. There were lots of other people here as well; all
Copenhagen was on its legs in this fine weather. The people were as
though intoxicated by the sunshine; they were quite boisterous, and the
sound of their voices lingered about the tree-tops and only challenged
them to give vent to their feelings. People went strolling between the
tree-trunks and amusing themselves in their own way, laying about them
with great boughs and shouting with no other object than to hear their
own voices. On the borders of the wood, a few men were standing and
singing in chorus; they wore white caps, and over the grassy meadows
merry groups were strolling or playing touch or rolling in the grass
like young kittens.
Madam Johnsen walked confidently a few steps in advance; she was the
most at home out here and led the way. Pelle and Hanne walked close
together, in order to converse. Hanne was silent and absent; Pelle took
her hand in order to make her run up a hillock, but she did not at first
notice that he was touching her, and the hand was limp and clammy. She
walked on as in a sleep, her whole bearing lifeless and taciturn. "She's
dreaming!" said Pelle, and released her hand, offended. It fell
lifelessly to her side.
The old woman turned round and looked about her with beaming eyes.
"The forest hasn't been so splendid for many years," she said. "Not
since I was a young girl."
They climbed up past the Hermitage and thence out over the grass and
into the forest again, until they came to the little ranger's house
where they drank coffee and ate some of the bread-and-butter they had
brought with them. Then they trudged on again. Madam Johnsen was paying
a rare visit to the forest and wanted to see everything. The young
people raised objections, but she was not to be dissuaded. She had
girlhood memories of the forest, and she wanted to renew them; let them
say what they would. If they were tired of running after her they could
go their own way. But they followed her faithfully, looking about them
wearily and moving along dully onward, moving along rather more stupidly
than was justifiable.
On the path leading to Raavad there were not so many people.
"It's just as forest-like here as in my young days!" said the old woman.
"And beautiful it is here. The leaves are so close, it's just the place
for a loving couple of lovers. Now I'm going to sit down and take my
boots off for a bit, my feet are beginning to hurt me. You look about
you for a bit."
But the young people looked at one another strangely and threw
themselves down at her feet. She had taken off her boots, and was
cooling her feet in the fresh grass as she sat there chatting. "It's so
warm to-day the stones feel quite burning--but you two certainly won't
catch fire. Why do you stare in that funny way? Give each other a kiss
in the grass, now! There's no harm in it, and it's so pretty to see!"
Pelle did not move. But Hanne moved over to him on her knees, put her
hands gently round his head, and kissed him. When she had done so she
looked into his eyes, lovingly, as a child might look at her doll. Her
hat had slipped on to her shoulders. On her white forehead and her upper
lip were little clear drops of sweat. Then, with a merry laugh, she
suddenly released him. Pelle and the old woman had gathered flowers and
boughs of foliage; these they now began to arrange. Hanne lay on her
back and gazed up at the sky.
"You leave that old staring of yours alone," said the mother. "It does
you no good."
"I'm only playing at 'Glory'; it's such a height here," said Hanne. "But
at home in the 'Ark' you see more. Here it's too light."
"Yes, God knows, one does see more--a sewer and two privies. A good
thing it's so dark there. No, one ought to have enough money to be able
to go into the forests every Sunday all the summer. When one has grown
up in the open air it's hard to be penned in between dirty walls all
one's life. But now I think we ought to be going on. We waste so much
"Oh Lord, and I'm so comfortable lying here!" said Hanne lazily. "Pelle,
just push my shawl under my head!"
Out of the boughs high above them broke a great bird. "There, there,
what a chap!" cried Pelle, pointing at it. It sailed slowly downward, on
its mighty outspread wings, now and again compressing the air beneath it
with a few powerful strokes, and then flew onward, close above the tree-
tops, with a scrutinizing glance.
"Jiminy, I believe that was a stork!" said Madam Johnsen. She reached
for her boots, alarmed. "I won't stay here any longer now. One never
knows what may happen." She hastily laced up her boots, with a prudish
expression on her face. Pelle laughed until the tears stood in his eyes.
Hanne raised her head. "That was surely a crane, don't you think so?
Stupid bird, always to fly along like that, staring down at everything
as though he were short-sighted. If I were he I should fly straight up
in the air and then shut my eyes and come swooping down. Then, wherever
one got to, something or other would happen."
"Sure enough, this would happen, that you'd fall into the sea and be
drowned. Hanne has always had the feeling that something has got to
happen; and for that reason she can never hold on to what she's got in
"No, for I haven't anything in them!" cried Hanne, showing her hands and
laughing. "Can you hold what you haven't got, Pelle?"
About four o'clock they came to the Schleswig Stone, where the Social-
Democrats were holding a meeting. Pelle had never yet attended any big
meeting at which he could hear agitators speaking, but had obtained his
ideas of the new movements at second hand. They were in tune with the
blind instinct within him. But he had never experienced anything really
electrifying--only that confused, monotonous surging such as he had
heard in his childhood when he listened with his ear to the hollow of
the wooden shoe.
"Well, it looks as if the whole society was here!" said Madam Johnsen
half contemptuously. "Now you can see all the Social-Democrats of
Copenhagen. They never have been more numerous, although they pretend
the whole of society belongs to them. But things don't always go so
smoothly as they do on paper."
Pelle frowned, but was silent. He himself knew too little of the matter
to be able to convert another.
The crowd affected him powerfully; here were several thousands of people
gathered together for a common object, and it became exceedingly clear
to him that he himself belonged to this crowd. "I belong to them too!"
Over and over again the words repeated themselves rejoicingly in his
mind. He felt the need to verify it all himself, and to prove himself
grateful for the quickly-passing day. If the Court shoemaker hadn't
spoken the words that drove him to join the Union he would still have
been standing apart from it all, like a heathen. The act of subscribing
the day before was like a baptism. He felt quite different in the
society of these men--he felt as he did not feel with others. And as the
thousands of voices broke into song, a song of jubilation of the new
times that were to come, a cold shudder went through him. He had a
feeling as though a door within him had opened, and as though something
that had lain closely penned within him had found its way to the light.
Up on the platform stood a darkish man talking earnestly in a mighty
voice. Shoulder to shoulder the crowd stood breathless, listening open-
mouthed, with every face turned fixedly upon the speaker. A few were so
completely under his spell that they reproduced the play of his
features. When he made some particular sally from his citadel a murmur
of admiration ran through the crowd. There was no shouting. He spoke of
want and poverty, of the wearisome, endless wandering that won no
further forward. As the Israelites in their faith bore the Ark of the
Covenant through the wilderness, so the poor bore their hope through the
unfruitful years. If one division was overthrown another was ready with
the carrying-staves, and at last the day was breaking. Now they stood at
the entrance to the Promised Land, with the proof in their hands that
they were the rightful dwellers therein. All that was quite a matter of
course; if there was anything that Pelle had experienced it was that
wearisome wandering of God's people through the wilderness. That was the
great symbol of poverty. The words came to him like something long
familiar. But the greatness of the man's voice affected Pelle; there was
something in the speech of this man which did not reach him through the
understanding, but seemed somehow to burn its way in through the skin,
there to meet something that lay expanding within him. The mere ring of
anger in his voice affected Pelle; his words beat upon one's old wounds,
so that they broke open like poisonous ulcers, and one heaved a deep
breath of relief. Pelle had heard such a voice, ringing over all, when
he lived in the fields and tended cows. He felt as though he too must
let himself go in a great shout and subdue the whole crowd by his voice
--he too! To be able to speak like that, now thundering and now mild,
like the ancient prophets!
A peculiar sense of energy was exhaled by this dense crowd of men, this
thinking and feeling crowd. It produced a singular feeling of strength.
Pelle was no longer the poor journeyman shoemaker, who found it
difficult enough to make his way. He became one, as he stood there, with
that vast being; he felt its strength swelling within him; the little
finger shares in the strength of the whole body. A blind certainty of
irresistibility went out from this mighty gathering, a spur to ride the
storm with. His limbs swelled; he became a vast, monstrous being that
only needed to go trampling onward in order to conquer everything. His
brain was whirling with energy, with illimitable, unconquerable
Pelle had before this gone soaring on high and had come safely to earth
again. And this time also he came to ground, with a long sigh of relief,
as though he had cast off a heavy burden. Hanne's arm lay in his; he
pressed it slightly. But she did notice him; she too now was far away.
He looked at her pretty neck, and bent forward to see her face. The
great yellow hat threw a golden glimmer over it. Her active intelligence
played restlessly behind her strained, frozen features; her eyes looked
fixedly before her. It has taken hold of her too, he thought, full of
happiness; she is far away from here. It was something wonderful to know
that they were coupled together in the same interests--were like man and
At that very moment he accidentally noticed the direction of her fixed
gaze, and a sharp pain ran through his heart. Standing on the level
ground, quite apart from the crowd, stood a tall, handsome man,
astonishingly like the owner of Stone Farm in his best days; the
sunlight was coming and going over his brown skin and his soft beard.
Now that he turned his face toward Pelle his big, open features reminded
him of the sea.
Hanne started, as though awakening from a deep sleep, and noticed Pelle.
"He is a sailor!" she said, in a curious, remote voice, although Pelle
had not questioned her. God knows, thought Pelle, vexedly, how is it she
knows him; and he drew his arm from hers. But she took it again at once
and pressed it against her soft bosom. It was as though she suddenly
wanted to give him a feeling of security.
She hung heavily on his arm and stood with her eyes fixed unwaveringly
on the speakers' platform. Her hands busied themselves nervously about
her hair. "You are so restless, child," said the mother, who had seated
herself at their feet. "You might let me lean back against your knee; I
was sitting so comfortably before."
"Yes," said Hanne, and she put herself in the desired position. Her
voice sounded quite excited.
"Pelle," she whispered suddenly, "if he comes over to us I shan't answer
him. I shan't."
"Do you know him, then?"
"No, but it does happen sometimes that men come and speak to one. But
then you'll say I belong to you, won't you?"
Pelle was going to refuse, but a shudder ran through her. She's
feverish, he thought compassionately; one gets fever so easily in the
"Ark." It comes up with the smell out of the sewer. She must have lied
to me nicely, he thought after a while. Women are cunning, but he was
too proud to question her. And then the crowd shouted "Hurrah!" so that
the air rang. Pelle shouted with them; and when they had finished the
man had disappeared.
They went over to the Hill, the old woman keeping her few steps in
advance. Hanne hummed as she went; now and then she looked questioningly
at Pelle--and then went on humming.
"It's nothing to do with me," said Pelle morosely. "But it's not right
of you to have lied to me."
"I lie to you? But Pelle!" She gazed wonderingly into his eyes.
"Yes, that you do! There's something between you and him."
Hanne laughed, a clear, innocent laugh, but suddenly broken off. "No,
Pelle, no, what should I have to do with him? I have never even seen him
before. I have never even once kissed a man--yes, you, but you are my
"I don't particularly care about being your brother--not a straw, and
you know that!"
"Have I done anything to offend you? I'm sorry if I have." She seized
"I want you for my wife!" cried Pelle passionately.
Hanne laughed. "Did you hear, mother? Pelle wants me for his wife!" she
"Yes, I see and hear more than you think," said Madam Johnsen shortly.
Hanne looked from one to the other and became serious. "You are so good,
Pelle," she said softly, "but you can't come to me bringing me something
from foreign parts--I know everything about you, but I've never dreamed
of you at night. Are you a fortunate person?"
"I'll soon show you if I am," said Pelle, raising his head. "Only give
me a little time."
"Lord, now she's blethering about fortune again," cried the mother,
turning round. "You really needn't have spoiled this lovely day for us
with your nonsense. I was enjoying it all so."
Hanne laughed helplessly. "Mother will have it that I'm not quite right
in my mind, because father hit me on the head once when I was a little
girl," she told Pelle.
"Yes, it's since then she's had these ideas. She'll do nothing but go
rambling on at random with her ideas and her wishes. She'll sit whole
days at the window and stare, and she used to make the children down in
the yard even crazier than herself with her nonsense. And she was always
bothering me to leave everything standing--poor as we were after my man
died--just to go round and round the room with her and the dolls and
sing those songs all about earls. Yes, Pelle, you may believe I've wept
tears of blood over her."
Hanne wandered on, laughing at her mother's rebuke, and humming--it was
the tune of the "Earl's Song."
"There, you hear her yourself," said the old woman, nudging Pelle.
"She's got no shame in her--there's nothing to be done with her!"
Up on the hill there was a deafening confusion of people in playful
mood; wandering to and fro in groups, blowing into children's trumpets
and "dying pigs," and behaving like frolicsome wild beasts. At every
moment some one tooted in your ear, to make you jump, or you suddenly
discovered that some rogue was fixing something on the back of your
coat. Hanne was nervous; she kept between Pelle and her mother, and
could not stand still. "No, let's go away somewhere--anywhere!" she
said, laughing in bewilderment.
Pelle wanted to treat them to coffee, so they went on till they found a
tent where there was room for them. Hallo! There was the hurdy-gurdy man
from home, on a roundabout, nodding to him as he went whirling round. He
held his hand in front of his mouth like a speaking-trumpet in order to
shout above the noise. "Mother's coming up behind you with the Olsens,"
"I can't hear what he says at all," said Madam Johnsen. She didn't care
about meeting people out of the "Ark" to-day.
When the coffee was finished they wandered up and down between the
booths and amused themselves by watching the crowd. Hanne consented to
have her fortune told; it cost five and twenty ore, but she was rewarded
by an unexpected suitor who was coming across the sea with lots of
money. Her eyes shone.
"I could have done it much better than that!" said Madam Johnsen.
"No, mother, for you never foretell me anything but misfortune," replied
Madam Johnsen met an acquaintance who was selling "dying pigs." She sat
down beside her. "You go over there now and have a bit of a dance while
I rest my tired legs," she said.
The young people went across to the dancing marquee and stood among the
onlookers. From time to time they had five ore worth of dancing. When
other men came up and asked Hanne to dance, she shook her head; she did
not care to dance with any one but Pelle.
The rejected applicants stood a little way off, their hats on the backs
of their heads, and reviled her. Pelle had to reprove her. "You have
offended them," he said, "and perhaps they're screwed and will begin to
"Why should I be forced to dance with anybody, with somebody I don't
know at all?" replied Hanne. "I'm only going to dance with you!" She
made angry eyes, and looked bewitching in her unapproachableness. Pelle
had nothing against being her only partner. He would gladly have fought
for her, had it been needful.
When they were about to go he discovered the foreigner right at the back
of the dancing-tent. He urged Hanne to make haste, but she stood there,
staring absent-mindedly in the midst of the dancers as though she did
not know what was happening around her. The stranger came over to them.
Pelle was certain that Hanne had not seen him.
Suddenly she came to herself and gripped Pelle's arm. "Shan't we go,
then?" she said impatiently, and she quickly dragged him away.
At the doorway the stranger came to meet them and bowed before Hanne.
She did not look at him, but her left arm twitched as though she wanted
to lay it across his shoulders.
"My sweetheart isn't dancing any more; she is tired," said Pelle
shortly, and he led her away.
"A good thing we've come out from there," she cried, with a feeling of
deliverance, as they went back to her mother. "There were no amusing
Pelle was taken aback; then she had not seen the stranger, but merely
believed that it had been one of the others who had asked her to dance!
It was inconceivable that she should have seen him; and yet a peculiar
knowledge had enveloped her, as though she had seen obliquely through
her down-dropped eyelids; and then it was well known women could see
round corners! And that twitch of the arm! He did not know what to
think. "Well, it's all one to me," he thought, "for I'm not going to be
led by the nose!"
He had them both on his arm as they returned under the trees to the
station. The old woman was lively; Hanne walked on in silence and let
them both talk. But suddenly she begged Pelle to be quiet a moment; he
looked at her in surprise.
"It's singing so beautifully in my ears; but when you talk then it
"Nonsense! Your blood is too unruly," said the mother, "and mouths were
meant to be used."
During the journey Pelle was reserved. Now and again he pressed Hanne's
hand, which lay, warm and slightly perspiring, in his upon the seat.
But the old woman's delight was by no means exhausted, the light shining
from the city and the dark peaceful Sound had their message for her
secluded life, and she began to sing, in a thin, quavering falsetto:
"Gently the Night upon her silent wings
Comes, and the stars are bright in east and west;
And lo, the bell of evening rings;
And men draw homewards, and the birds all rest."
But from the Triangle onward it was difficult for her to keep step; she
had run herself off her legs.
"Many thanks for to-day," she said to Pelle, down in the courtyard. "To-
morrow one must start work again and clean old uniform trousers. But
it's been a beautiful outing." She waddled forward and up the steps,
groaning a little at the numbers of them, talking to herself.
Hanne stood hesitating. "Why did you say 'my sweetheart'?" she asked
suddenly. "I'm not."
"You told me to," answered Pelle, who would willingly have said more.
"Oh, well!" said Hanne, and she ran up the stairs. "Goodnight, Pelle!"
she called down to him.
Pelle was bound to the "Family" by peculiar ties. The three orphans were
the first to reach him a friendly helping hand when he stood in the open
street three days after his landing, robbed of his last penny.
He had come over feeling important enough. He had not slept all night on
his bench between decks among the cattle. Excitement had kept him awake;
and he lay there making far-reaching plans concerning himself and his
twenty-five kroner. He was up on deck by the first light of morning,
gazing at the shore, where the great capital with its towers and
factory-chimneys showed out of the mist. Above the city floated its
misty light, which reddened in the morning sun, and gave a splendor to
the prospect. And the passage between the forts and the naval harbor was
sufficiently magnificent to impress him. The crowd on the landing-stage
before the steamer laid alongside and the cabmen and porters began
shouting and calling, was enough to stupefy him, but he had made up his
mind beforehand that nothing should disconcert him. It would have been
difficult enough in any case to disentangle himself from all this
And then Fortune herself was on his side. Down on the quay stood a
thick-set, jovial man, who looked familiarly at Pelle; he did not shout
and bawl, but merely said quietly, "Good-day, countryman," and offered
Pelle board and lodging for two kroner a day. It was good to find a
countryman in all this bustle, and Pelle confidingly put himself in his
hands. He was remarkably helpful; Pelle was by no means allowed to carry
the green chest. "I'll soon have that brought along!" said the man, and
he answered everything with a jolly "I'll soon arrange that; you just
leave that to me!"
When three days had gone by, he presented Pelle with a circumstantial
account, which amounted exactly to five and twenty kroner. It was a
curious chance that Pelle had just that amount of money. He was not
willing to be done out of it, but the boarding-house keeper, Elleby,
called in a policeman from the street, and Pelle had to pay.
He was standing in the street with his green box, helpless and
bewildered, not knowing what to be about. Then a little boy came
whistling up to him and asked if he could not help him. "I can easily
carry the box alone, to wherever you want it, but it will cost twenty-
five ore and ten ore for the barrow. But if I just take one handle it
will be only ten ore," he said, and he looked Pelle over in a business-
like manner. He did not seem to be more than nine or ten years old.
"But I don't know where I shall go," said Pelle, almost crying. "I've
been turned out on the street and have nowhere where I can turn. I am
quite a stranger here in the city and all my money has been taken from
The youngster made a gesture in the air as though butting something with
his head. "Yes, that's a cursed business. You've fallen into the hands
of the farmer-catchers, my lad. So you must come home with us--you can
very well stay with us, if you don't mind lying on the floor."
"But what will your parents say if you go dragging me home?"
"I haven't any parents, and Marie and Peter, they'll say nothing. Just
come with me, and, after all, you can get work with old Pipman. Where do
you come from?"
"So did we! That's to say, a long time ago, when we were quite children.
Come along with me, countryman!" The boy laughed delightedly and seized
one handle of the chest.
It was also, to be sure, a fellow-countryman who had robbed him; but
none the less he went with the boy; it was not in Pelle's nature to be
So he had entered the "Ark," under the protection of a child. The
sister, a little older than the other two, found little Karl's action
entirely reasonable, and the three waifs, who had formerly been shy and
retiring, quickly attached themselves to Pelle. They found him in the
street and treated him like an elder comrade, who was a stranger, and
needed protection. They afforded him his first glimpse of the great city,
and they helped him to get work from Pipman.
On the day after the outing in the forest, Pelle moved over to the row
of attics, into a room near the "Family," which was standing empty just
then. Marie helped him to get tidy and to bring his things along, and
with an easier mind he shook himself free of his burdensome relations
with Pipman. There was an end of his profit-sharing, and all the
recriminations which were involved in it. Now he could enter into direct
relations with the employers and look his comrades straight in the eyes.
For various reasons it had been a humiliating time; but he had no
feeling of resentment toward Pipman; he had learned more with him in a
few months than during his whole apprenticeship at home.
He obtained a few necessary tools from an ironmonger, and bought a bench
and a bed for ready money. From the master-shoemaker he obtained as a
beginning some material for children's shoes, which he made at odd
times. His principal living he got from Master Beck in Market Street.
Beck was a man of the old school; his clientele consisted principally of
night watchmen, pilots, and old seamen, who lived out in Kristianshavn.
Although he was born and had grown up in Copenhagen, he was like a
country shoemaker to look at, going about in canvas slippers which his
daughter made for him, and in the mornings he smoked his long pipe at
the house-door. He had old-fashioned views concerning handwork, and was
delighted with Pelle, who could strain any piece of greased leather and
was not afraid to strap a pair of old dubbin'd boots with it. Beck's
work could not well be given out to do at home, and Pelle willingly
established himself in the workshop and was afraid of no work that came
his way. But he would not accept bed and board from his master in the
From the very first day this change was an improvement. He worked heart
and soul and began to put by something with which to pay off his debt to
Sort. Now he saw the day in the distance when he should be able to send
for Father Lasse.
In the morning, when the dwellers on the roof, drunken with sleep,
tumbled out into the long gangway, in order to go to their work, before
the quarter-to-six whistle sounded, Pelle already sat in his room
hammering on his cobbler's last. About seven o'clock he went to Beck's
workshop, if there was anything for him to do there. And he received
orders too from the dwellers in the "Ark."
In connection with this work he acquired an item of practical
experience, an idea which was like a fruitful seed which lay germinating
where it fell and continually produced fresh fruit. It was equivalent to
an improvement in his circumstances to discover that he had shaken off
one parasite; if only he could send the other after him and keep all his
profits for himself!
That sounded quite fantastic, but Pelle had no desire to climb up to the
heights only to fall flat on the earth again. He had obtained certain
tangible experience, and he wanted to know how far it would take him.
While he sat there working he pursued the question in and out among his
thoughts, so that he could properly consider it.
Pipman was superfluous as a middleman; one could get a little work
without the necessity of going to him and pouring a flask of brandy down
his thirsty gullet. But was it any more reasonable that the shoes Pelle
made should go to the customer by way of the Court shoemaker and yield
him carriages and high living? Could not Pelle himself establish
relations with his customers? And shake off Meyer as he had shaken off
Pipman? Why, of course! It was said that the Court shoemaker paid taxes
on a yearly income of thirty thousand kroner. "That ought to be evenly
divided among all those who work for him!" thought Pelle, as he hammered
away at his pegs. "Then Father Lasse wouldn't need to stay at home a day
longer, or drag himself through life so miserably."
Here was something which he could take in hand with the feeling that he
was setting himself a practical problem in economics--and one that
apparently had nothing to do with his easy belief in luck. This idea was
always lurking somewhere in secrecy, and held him upright through
everything--although it did not afford him any definite assistance. A
hardly earned instinct told him that it was only among poor people that
this idea could be developed. This belief was his family inheritance,
and he would retain it faithfully through all vicissitudes; as millions
had done before him, always ready to cope with the unknown, until they
reached the grave and resigned the inherited dream. There lay hope for
himself in this, but if he miscarried, the hope itself would remain in
spite of him. With Fortune there was no definite promise of tangible
success for the individual, but only a general promise, which was
maintained through hundreds of years of servitude with something of the
long patience of eternity.
Pelle bore the whole endless wandering within himself: it lay deep in
his heart, like a great and incomprehensible patience. In his world,
capacity was often great enough, but resignation was always greater. It
was thoroughly accustomed to see everything go to ruin and yet to go on
Often enough during the long march, hope had assumed tones like those of
"David's City with streets of gold," or "Paradise," or "The splendor of
the Lord returns." He himself had questioningly given ear; but never
until now had the voice of hope sounded in a song that had to do with
food and clothing, house and farm; so how was he to find his way?
He could only sit and meditate the problem as to how he should obtain,
quickly and easily, a share in the good things of this world;
presumptuously, and with an impatience for which he himself could not
And round about him things were happening in the same way. An awakening
shudder was passing through the masses. They no longer wandered on and
on with blind and patient surrender, but turned this way and that in
bewildered consultation. The miracle was no longer to be accomplished of
itself when the time was fulfilled. For an evil power had seized upon
their great hope, and pressed her knees together so that she could not
bring forth; they themselves must help to bring happiness into the
The unshakable fatalism which hitherto had kept them on their difficult
path was shattered; the masses would no longer allow themselves to be
held down in stupid resignation. Men who all their lives had plodded
their accustomed way to and from their work now stood still and asked
unreasonable questions as to the aim of it all. Even the simple ventured
to cast doubts upon the established order of things. Things were no
longer thus because they must be; there was a painful cause of poverty.
That was the beginning of the matter; and now they conceived a desire to
master life; their fingers itched to be tearing down something that
obstructed them--but what it was they did not know.
All this was rather like a whirlpool; all boundaries disappeared.
Unfamiliar powers arose, and the most good-natured became suspicious or
were frankly bewildered. People who had hitherto crawled like dogs in
order to win their food were now filled with self-will, and preferred to
be struck down rather than bow down of their own accord. Prudent folks
who had worked all their lives in one place could no longer put up with
the conditions, and went at a word. Their hard-won endurance was
banished from their minds, and those who had quietly borne the whole
burden on their shoulders were now becoming restive; they were as
unwilling and unruly as a pregnant woman. It was as though they were
acting under the inward compulsion of an invisible power, and were
striving to break open the hard shell which lay over something new
within them. One could perceive that painful striving in their
bewildered gaze and in their sudden crazy grasp at the empty air.
There was something menacing in the very uncertainty which possessed the
masses. It was as though they were listening for a word to sound out of
the darkness. Swiftly they resolved to banish old custom and convention
from their minds, in order to make room there. On every side men
continually spoke of new things, and sought blindly to find their way to
them; it was a matter of course that the time had come and the promised
land was about to be opened to them. They went about in readiness to
accomplish something--what, they did not know; they formed themselves
into little groups; they conducted unfortunate strikes, quite at random.
Others organized debating societies, and began in weighty speech to
squabble about the new ideas--which none of them knew anything about.
These were more particularly the young men. Many of them had come to the
city in search of fortune, as had Pelle himself, and these were full of
burning restlessness. There was something violent and feverish about
Such was the situation when Pelle entered the capital. It was chaotic;
there was no definite plan by which they could reach their goal. The
masses no longer supported one another, but were in a state of solution,
bewildered and drifting about in the search for something that would
weld them together. In the upper ranks of society people noted nothing
but the insecurity of the position of the workers; people complained of
their restlessness, a senseless restlessness which jeopardized revenue
and aggravated foreign competition. A few thoughtful individuals saw the
people as one great listening ear; new preachers were arising who wanted
to lead the crowd by new ways to God. Pelle now and again allowed the
stream to carry him into such quarters, but he did allow himself to be
caught; it was only the old story over again; there was nothing in it.
Nobody now was satisfied with directions how to reach heaven--the new
prophets disappeared as quickly as they had arisen.
But in the midst of all this confusion there was one permanent center,
one community, which had steadily increased during the years, and had
fanatically endured the scorn and the persecution of those above and
below, until it at last possessed several thousand of members. It stood
fast in the maelstrom and obstinately affirmed that its doctrines were
those of the future. And now the wind seemed to be filling its sails; it
replied after its own fashion to the impatient demands for a heaven to
be enjoyed here on earth and an attainable happiness.
Pelle had been captured by the new doctrines out by the Schleswig Stone,
and had thrown himself, glowing and energetic, into the heart of the
movement. He attended meetings and discussions, his ears on the alert to
absorb anything really essential; for his practical nature called for
something palpable whereupon his mind could get to work. Deep within his
being was a mighty flux, like that of a river beneath its ice; and at
times traces of it rose to the surface, and alarmed him. Yet he had no
power to sound the retreat; and when he heard the complaint, in respect
of the prevailing unrest, that it endangered the welfare of the nation,
he was not able to grasp the connection.
"It's preposterous that they should knock off work without any reason,"
he once told Morten, when the baker's driver had thrown up his place.
"Like your driver, for example--he had no ground for complaint."
"Perhaps he suddenly got a pain between the legs because his ancestor
great-grandfather was once made to ride on a wooden horse--he came from
the country," said Morten solemnly.
Pelle looked at him quickly. He did not like Morten's ambiguous manner
of expressing himself. It made him feel insecure.
"Can't you talk reasonably?" he said. "I can't understand you."
"No? And yet that's quite reason enough--there have been lots of reasons
since his great-grandfather's days. What the devil--why should they want
a reason referring to yesterday precisely? Don't you realize that the
worker, who has so long been working the treadmill in the belief that
the movement was caused by somebody else, has suddenly discovered that
it's he that keeps the whole thing in motion? For that's what is going
on. The poor man is not merely a slave who treads the wheel, and had a
handful of meal shoved down his gullet now and again to keep him from
starving to death. He is on the point of discovering that he performs a
higher service, look you! And now the movement is altering--it is
continuing of itself! But that you probably can't see," he added, as he
noted Pelle's incredulous expression.
"No, for I'm not one of the big-bellies," said Pelle, laughing, "and
you're no prophet, to prophesy such great things. And I have enough
understanding to realize that if you want to make a row you must
absolutely have something definite to make a fuss about, otherwise it
won't work. But that about the wooden horse isn't good enough!"
"That's just the point about lots of fusses," Morten replied. "There's
no need to give a pretext for anything that everybody's interested in."
Pelle pondered further over all this while at work. But these
deliberations did not proceed as in general; as a rule, such matters as
were considered in his world of thought were fixed by the generations
and referred principally to life and death. He had to set to work in a
practical manner, and to return to his own significant experience.
Old Pipman was superfluous; that Pelle himself had proved. And there was
really no reason why he should not shake off the Court shoemaker as
well; the journeymen saw to the measuring and the cutting-out; indeed,
they did the whole work. He was also really a parasite, who had placed
himself at the head of them all, and was sucking up their profits. But
then Morten was right with his unabashed assertion that the working-man
carried on the whole business! Pelle hesitated a little over this
conclusion; he cautiously verified the fact that it was in any case
valid in his craft. There was some sense in winning back his own--but
His sound common-sense demanded something that would take the place of
Meyer and the other big parasites. It wouldn't do for every journeyman
to sit down and botch away on his own account, like a little employer;
he had seen that plainly enough in the little town at home; it was mere
So he set himself to work out a plan for a cooperative business. A
number of craftsmen should band together, each should contribute his
little capital, and a place of business would be selected. The work
would be distributed according to the various capacities of the men, and
they would choose one from their midst who would superintend the whole.
In this way the problem could be solved--every man would receive the
full profit of his work.
When he had thoroughly thought out his plan, he went to Morten.
"They've already put that into practice!" cried Morten, and he pulled
out a book. "But it didn't work particularly well. Where did you get the
"I thought it out myself," answered Pelle self-consciously.
Morten looked a trifle incredulous; then he consulted the book, and
showed Pelle that his idea was described there--almost word for word--as
a phase of the progressive movement. The book was a work on Socialism.
But Pelle did not lose heart on that account! He was proud to have hit
on something that others had worked out before him--and learned people,
too! He began to have confidence in his own ideas, and eagerly attended
lectures and meetings. He had energy and courage, that he knew. He would
try to make himself efficient, and then he would seek out those at the
head of things, who were preparing the way, and would offer them his
Hitherto Fortune had always hovered before his eyes, obscurely, like a
fairy-tale, as something that suddenly swooped down upon a man and
lifted him to higher regions, while all those who were left behind gazed
longingly after him--that was the worst of it! But now he perceived new
paths, which for all those that were in need led on to fortune, just as
the "Great Power" had fancied in the hour of his death. He did not quite
understand where everything was to come from, but that was just the
thing he must discover.
All this kept his mind in a state of new and unaccustomed activity. He
was not used to thinking things out for himself, but had until now
always adhered to the ideas which had been handed down from generation
to generation as established--and he often found it difficult and
wearisome. Then he would try to shelve the whole subject, in order to
escape from it; but it always returned to him.
When he was tired, Hanne regained her influence over him, and then he
went over to see her in the evenings. He knew very well that this would
lead to nothing good. To picture for himself a future beside Hanne
seemed impossible; for her only the moment existed. Her peculiar nature
had a certain power over him--that was all. He often vowed to himself
that he would not allow her to make a fool of him--but he always went
over to see her again. He must try to conquer her--and then take the
One day, when work was over, he strolled across to see her. There was no
one on the gallery, so he went into the little kitchen.
"Is that you, Pelle?" Hanne's voice sounded from the living-room. "Come
She had apparently been washing her body, and was now sitting in a white
petticoat and chemise, and combing her beautiful hair. There was
something of the princess about her; she took such care of her body, and
knew how it should be done. The mirror stood before her, on the window-
sill; from the little back room one could see, between the roofs and the
mottled party-wall, the prison and the bridge and the canal that ran
beneath it. Out beyond the Exchange the air was gray and streaked with
the tackle of ships.
Pelle sat down heavily by the stove, his elbows on his knees, and gazed
on the floor. He was greatly moved. If only the old woman would come! "I
believe I'll go out," he thought, "and behave as though I were looking
out for her." But he remained sitting there. Against the wall was the
double bed with its red-flowered counterpane, while the table stood by
the opposite wall, with the chairs pushed under it. "She shouldn't drive
me too far," he thought, "or perhaps it'll end in my seizing her, and
then she'll have her fingers burnt!"
"Why don't you talk to me, Pelle?" said Hanne.
He raised his head and looked at her in the mirror. She was holding the
end of her plait in her mouth, and looked like a kitten biting its tail.
"Oh, what should I talk about?" he replied morosely.
"You are angry with me, but it isn't fair of you--really, it isn't fair!
Is it my fault that I'm so terrified of poverty? Oh, how it does
frighten me! It has always been like that ever since I was born, and you
are poor too, Pelle, as poor as I am! What would become of us both? We
know the whole story!"
"What will become of us?" said Pelle.
"That I don't know, and it's all the same to me--only it must be
something I don't know all about. Everything is so familiar if one is
poor--one knows every stitch of one's clothes by heart; one can watch
them wearing out. If you'd only been a sailor, Pelle!"
"Have you seen _him_ again?" asked Pelle.
Hanne laughingly shook her head. "No; but I believe something will
happen--something splendid. Out there lies a great ship--I can see it
from the window. It's full of wonderful things, Pelle."
"You are crazy!" said Pelle scornfully. "That's a bark--bound for the
coal quay. She comes from England with coals."
"That may well be," replied Hanne indifferently. "I don't mind that.
There's something in me singing, 'There lies the ship, and it has
brought something for me from foreign parts.' And you needn't grudge me
But now her mother came in, and began to mimic her.
"Yes, out there lies the ship that has brought me something--out there
lies the ship that has brought me something! Good God! Haven't you had
enough of listening to your own crazy nonsense? All through your
childhood you've sat there and made up stories and looked out for the
ship! We shall soon have had enough of it! And you let Pelle sit there
and watch you uncovering your youth--aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Pelle's so good, mother--and he's my brother, too. He thinks nothing of
"Thinks nothing of it? Yes, he does; he thinks how soft and white your
bosom is! And he's fit to cry inside of him because he mustn't lay his
head there. I, too, have known what it is to give joy, in my young
Hanne blushed from her bosom upward. She threw a kerchief over her bosom
and ran into the kitchen.
The mother looked after her.
"She's got a skin as tender as that of a king's daughter. Wouldn't one
think she was a cuckoo's child? Her father couldn't stand her. 'You've
betrayed me with some fine gentleman'--he used so often to say that. 'We
poor folks couldn't bring a piece like that into the world!' 'As God
lives, Johnsen,' I used to say, 'you and no other are the girl's
father.' But he used to beat us--he wouldn't believe me. He used to fly
into a rage when he looked at the child, and he hated us both because
she was so fine. So its no wonder that she had gone a bit queer in the
head. You can believe she's cost me tears of blood, Pelle. But you let
her be, Pelle. I could wish you could get her, but it wouldn't be best
for you, and it isn't good for you to have her playing with you. And if
you got her after all, it would be even worse. A woman's whims are poor
capital for setting up house with."
Pelle agreed with her in cold blood; he had allowed himself to he
fooled, and was wasting his youth upon a path that led nowhere. But now
there should be an end of it.
Hanne came back and looked at him, radiant, full of visions. "Will you
take me for a walk, Pelle?" she asked him.
"Yes!" answered Pelle joyfully, and he threw all his good resolutions
Pelle and his little neighbor used to compete as to which of them should
be up first in the morning. When she was lucky and had to wake him her
face was radiant with pride. It sometimes happened that he would lie in
bed a little longer, so that he should not deprive her of a pleasure,
and when she knocked on the wall he would answer in a voice quite stupid
with drowsiness. But sometimes her childish years demanded the sleep
that was their right, when Pelle would move about as quietly as
possible, and then, at half-past six, it would be his turn to knock on
the wall. On these occasions she would feel ashamed of herself all the
morning. Her brothers were supposed to get their early coffee and go to
work by six o'clock. Peter, who was the elder, worked in a tin-plate
works, while Earl sold the morning papers, and undertook every possible
kind of occasional work as well; this he had to hunt for, and you could
read as much in his whole little person. There was something restless
and nomadic about him, as though his thoughts were always seeking some
It was quite a lively neighborhood at this time of day; across the floor
of the well, and out through the tunnel-like entry there was an endless
clattering of footsteps, as the hundreds of the "Ark" tumbled out into
the daylight, half tipsy with sleep, dishevelled, with evidence of hasty
rising in their eyes and their garments, smacking their lips as though
they relished the contrast between the night and day, audibly yawning as
they scuttled away. Up in Pelle's long gangway factory girls, artisans,
and newspaper women came tumbling out, half naked; they were always
late, and stood there scolding until their turn came to wash themselves.
There was only one lavatory at either end of the gangway, and there was
only just time to sluice their eyes and wake themselves up. The doors of
all the rooms stood open; the odors of night were heavy on the air.
On the days when Pelle worked at home little Marie was in high spirits.
She sang and hummed continually, with her curiously small voice, and
every few minutes she would run in and offer Pelle her services. At such
times she would station herself behind him and stand there in silence,
watching the progress of his work, while her breathing was audibly