Part 2 out of 7
perceptible, as a faint, whistling sound. There was a curious, still,
brooding look about her little under-grown figure that reminded Pelle of
Morten's unhappy sister; something hard and undeveloped, as in the fruit
of a too-young tree. But the same shadow did not lie upon her; childish
toil had not steeped her as with a bitter sap; only her outer shell was
branded by it. There was about her, on the contrary, a gleam of careful
happiness, as though things had turned out much better than she had
expected. Perhaps this was because she could see the result of her hard
childish labors; no one could scatter that to the winds.
She was a capable little housewife, and her brothers respected her, and
faithfully brought home what they earned. Then she took what she needed,
laid something by toward the rent, in a box which was put away in the
chest of drawers, and gave them something wherewith to amuse themselves.
"They must have something!" she told people; "besides, men always need
money in their pockets. But they deserve it, for they have never yet
spent a farthing in drink. On Saturday nights they always come straight
home with their earnings. But now I must get on with my work; it's
dreadful how the time runs through one's hands."
She talked just like a young married woman, and Pelle inwardly chuckled
After a while she would peep in again; it was time for Pelle to have a
bite of something; or else she would bring her mending with her and sit
down on the edge of a chair.
She was always in a fidget lest a saucepan should boil over, or
something else go amiss.
At such times they had long, sensible talks. Little Marie did not care
about gossip; but there were plenty of serious things which had to be
talked over; the difficult times, Marie's parents, and then the
wonderful fact that they had met one another once before, a long time
ago; that was an event which provided her with an inexhaustible mine of
discussion, although she herself could not remember the occasion.
But Pelle remembered it all quite well, and over and over again he had
to tell her how one day at home he had gone down to the harbor, in order
to show old Thatcher Holm the steamers; and she always laughed when she
heard how Holm had run away in his alarm every time the steam-crane blew
off steam. And then? Yes, the steamer was just on the point of taking on
board a heap of furniture, old beds, tables, and the like.
"That was all ours!" cried Marie, clapping her hands. "We still had a
few things then. We took them to the pawn-shop when father lay ill after
his fall." And then she would meet his gaze, asking for more.
And in the midst of all the furniture stood a man with a fine old mirror
in his arms. Thatcher Holm knew him, and had a talk with him.
"He was crying, wasn't he?" asked Marie compassionately. "Father was so
unhappy, because things were going so badly with us."
And then she herself would talk about the hotel, down among the cliffs
of the east coast, and of the fine guests who came there in summer.
Three years they had kept the hotel, and Pelle had to name the sum out
of which her father had been cheated. She was proud that they had once
possessed so much. Ten thousand kroner!
Over here her father had found work as a stonemason's laborer, but one
day he trod on a loose beam and fell. For a few months he lay sick, and
all their household goods found their way to the pawn-shop; then he
died, and then they came to the "Ark." Their mother did washing out of
doors, but at last she became queer in the head. She could not bear
unhappiness, and neglected her housework, to run about seeking
consolation from all sorts of religious sects. At last she was quite
demented, and one day she disappeared. It was believed that she had
drowned herself in the canal. "But things are going well with us now,"
Marie always concluded; "now there's nothing to worry about."
"But don't you get tired of having all this to look after?" Pelle would
She would look at him in astonishment. "Why should I be tired? There's
not more than one can manage--if one only knows how to manage. And the
children never make things difficult for me; they are pleased with
everything I do."
The three orphans struggled on as well as they could, and were quite
proud of their little household. When things went badly with them, they
went hungry, and took serious counsel together; but they accepted help
from no one. They lived in the continual fear that the police would get
to know of their position, and haul them off to school. Then they would
be forcibly separated and brought up at the expense of the poorrates.
They were shy, and "kept themselves to themselves." In the "Ark"
everybody liked them, and helped them to keep their secret. The other
inmates managed their family affairs as best they could; there was
always a scandal somewhere. It was a sort of satisfaction to have these
three children living so decently in the midst of all this hotch-potch.
People thought a great deal of their little model household, and
protected it as though it had been a sanctuary.
To Pelle they attached themselves blindly. They had picked him up out of
the streets, and they certainly regarded him to some extent as a
foundling who was still under their protection. When Marie had given the
boys their morning coffee, she carried some in to Pelle--it was no use
protesting. And in the mornings, when she was busy indoors by herself,
she would go round to him with broom and bucket. Her precocious,
intelligent face was beaming with circumspection and the desire to help.
She did not ask permission, but set to work where need was. If Pelle was
away at Beck's workshop, he always found his room clean and tidy in the
If he had work at home, she would bring coffee for the two of them
during the morning. He did not dare to drive her away, for she would
take that to heart, and would go about offended all the rest of the day;
so he would run below to fetch a roll of white bread. Marie always found
some pretext for putting aside her share for the boys; it gave her no
real pleasure to enjoy anything by herself.
Pelle felt that he was making headway; and he was conscious of his own
youth. He was continually in the rosiest of humors, and even Hanne could
not throw any real shadow over his existence. In his relations with her
there was something of a beautiful unreality; they left no permanent
scar upon his heart.
He felt quite simply ashamed in the presence of this much tried child,
whenever something cropped up to put him out of temper. He felt it was
his duty to brighten her poverty-stricken life with his high spirits. He
chatted merrily to her, chaffed her, teased her, to charm her from her
unnatural solemnity. And she would smile, in her quiet, motherly
fashion, as one smiles at a much-loved child who seeks to drive away our
cares--and would then offer to do something for him.
"Shall I wash out your blouse or do up your shirt?" she would ask. Her
gratitude always found its expression in some kind of work.
"No, thanks, Marie; Hanne and her mother look after that."
"But that's not work for the Princess--I can do it much better."
"The Princess?" said Pelle, raising his head. "Is that what they call
"Only us children--we don't mean it unkindly. But we always played at
there being a princess when she was with us--and she was always the
princess. But do you know what? Some one will come and take her away--
some one very distinguished. She has been promised from the cradle to a
"What nonsense!" said Pelle crossly.
"But that's really true! When it rained we used to sit under the
gallery--in the corner by the dustbin--and she used to tell us--and it's
really true! And, besides, don't you think she's fascinating? She's
really just like a princess--like that!" Marie made a gesture in the air
with her fingers outspread. "And she knows everything that is going to
happen. She used to run down to us, in the courtyard, in her long dress,
and her mother used to stand up above and call her; then she'd sit on
the grating as if it was a throne and she was the queen and we were her
ladies. She used to braid our hair, and then dress it beautifully with
colored ribbons, and when I came up here again mother used to tear it
all down and make my hair rough again. It was a sin against God to deck
one's self out like that, she said. And when mother disappeared I hadn't
time to play down there any more."
"Poor little girl!" said Pelle, stroking her hair.
"Why do you say that?" she asked him, looking at him in astonishment.
He enjoyed her absolute confidence, and was told things that the boys
were not allowed to know. She began to dress more carefully, and her
fine fair hair was always brushed smoothly back from her forehead. She
was delighted when they both had some errand in the city. Then she put
on her best and went through the streets at his side, her whole face
smiling. "Now perhaps people will think we are a couple of lovers--but
what does it matter? Let them think it!" Pelle laughed; with her
thirteen years she was no bigger than a child of nine, so backward in
growth was she.
She often found it difficult to make both ends meet; she would say
little or nothing about it, but a kind of fear would betray itself in
her expression. Then Pelle would speak cheerfully of the good times that
would soon be coming for all poor people. It cost him a great deal of
exertion to put this in words so as to make it sound as it ought to
sound. His thoughts were still so new--even to himself. But the children
thought nothing of his unwieldy speech; to them it was easier to believe
in the new age than it was to him.
Pelle was going through a peculiar change at this time. He had seen
enough need and poverty in his life; and the capital was simply a
battlefield on which army upon army had rushed forward and had miserably
been defeated. Round about him lay the fallen. The town was built over
them as over a cemetery; one had to tread upon them in order to win
forward and harden one's heart. Such was life in these days; one shut
one's eyes--like the sheep when they see their comrades about to be
slaughtered--and waited until one's own turn came. There was nothing
else to do.
But now he was awake and suffering; it hurt him with a stabbing pain
whenever he saw others suffer; and he railed against misfortune,
unreasonable though it might be.
There came a day when he sat working at home. At the other end of the
gangway a factory girl with her child had moved in a short while before.
Every morning she locked the door and went to work--and she did not
return until the evening. When Pelle came home he could hear the sound
of crying within the room.
He sat at his work, wrestling with his confused ideas. And all the time
a curious stifled sound was in his ears--a grievous sound, as though
something were incessantly complaining. Perhaps it was only the dirge of
poverty itself, some strophe of which was always vibrating upon the air.
Little Marie came hurrying in. "Oh, Pelle, it's crying again!" she said,
and she wrung her hands anxiously upon her hollow chest. "It has cried
all day, ever since she came here--it is horrible!"
"We'll go and see what's wrong," said Pelle, and he threw down his
The door was locked; they tried to look through the keyhole, but could
see nothing. The child within stopped its crying for a moment, as though
it heard them, but it began again at once; the sound was low and
monotonous, as though the child was prepared to hold out indefinitely.
They looked at one another; it was unendurable.
"The keys on this gangway do for all the doors," said Marie, under her
breath. With one leap Pelle had rushed indoors, obtained his key, and
opened the door.
Close by the door sat a little four-year-old boy; he stared up at them,
holding a rusty tin vessel in his hand. He was tied fast to the stove;
near him, on an old wooden stool, was a tin plate containing a few half-
nibbled crusts of bread. The child was dressed in filthy rags and
presented a shocking appearance. He sat in his own filth; his little
hands were covered with it. His tearful, swollen face was smeared all
over with it. He held up his hands to them beseechingly.
Pelle burst into tears at the horrible sight and wanted to pick the
child up. "Let me do that!" cried Marie, horrified. "You'll make
"What then?" said Pelle stupidly. He helped to untie the child; his
hands were trembling.
To some extent they got the child to rights and gave him food. Then they
let him loose in the long gangway. For a time he stood stupidly gaping
by the doorpost; then he discovered that he was not tied up, and began
to rush up and down. He still held in his hand the old tea-strainer
which he had been grasping when they rescued him; he had held on to it
convulsively all the time. Marie had to dip his hand in the water in
order to clean the strainer.
From time to time he stood in front of Pelle's open door, and peeped
inside. Pelle nodded to him, when he went storming up and down again--he
was like a wild thing. But suddenly he came right in, laid the tea-
strainer in Pelle's lap and looked at him. "Am I to have that?" asked
Pelle. "Look, Marie, he is giving me the only thing he's got!"
"Oh, poor little thing!" cried Marie pityingly. "He wants to thank you!"
In the evening the factory girl came rushing in; she was in a rage, and
began to abuse them for breaking into her room. Pelle wondered at
himself, that he was able to answer her so quietly instead of railing
back at her. But he understood very well that she was ashamed of her
poverty and did not want any one else to see it. "It is unkind to the
child," was all he said. "And yet you are fond of it!"
Then she began to cry. "I have to tie him up, or he climbs out over the
window-sill and runs into the street--he got to the corner once before.
And I've no clothes, to take him to the creche!"
"Then leave the door open on the gangway! We will look after him, Marie
After this the child tumbled about the gangway and ran to and fro. Marie
looked after him, and was like a mother to him. Pelle bought some old
clothes, and they altered them to fit him. The child looked very droll
in them; he was a little goblin who took everything in good part. In his
loneliness he had not learned to speak, but now speech came quickly to
In Pelle this incident awakened something quite novel. Poverty he had
known before, but now he saw the injustice that lay beneath it, and
cried to heaven. His hands would suddenly clench with anger as he sat so
quietly in his room. Here was something one must hasten forward, without
intermission, day and night, as long as one drew breath--Morten was
right about that! This child's father was a factory hand, and the girl
dared not summon him before the magistrates in order to make him pay for
its support for fear of being dismissed from her place. The whole
business seemed so hopeless--society seemed so unassailable--yet he felt
that he must strike a blow. His own hands alone signified so little; but
if they could only strike the blow all together--then perhaps it would
have some effect.
In the evenings he and Morten went to meetings where the situation was
passionately discussed. Those who attended these meetings were mostly
young people like himself. They met in some inn by the North Bridge. But
Pelle longed to see some result, and applied himself eagerly to the
organization of his own craft.
He inspired the weary president with his own zeal, and they prepared
together a list of all the members of their trade--as the basis of a
more vigorous agitation. When the "comrades" were invited to a meeting
through the press, they turned lazy and failed to appear. More effectual
means were needed; and Pelle started a house-to-house agitation. This
helped immediately; they were in a dilemma when one got them face to
face, and the Union was considerably increased, in spite of the
persecution of the big masters.
Morten began to treat him with respect; and wanted him to read about the
movement. But Pelle had no time for that. Together with Peter and Karl,
who were extremely zealous, he took in _The Working Man_, and that
was enough for him. "I know more about poverty than they write there,"
There was no lack of fuel to keep this fire burning. He had participated
in the march of poverty, from the country to the town and thence to the
capital, and there they stood and could go no farther for all their
longing, but perished on a desert shore. The many lives of the "Ark" lay
always before his eyes as a great common possession, where no one need
conceal himself, and where the need of the one was another's grief.
His nature was at this time undergoing a great change. There was an end
of his old careless acceptance of things. He laughed less and performed
apparently trivial actions with an earnestness which had its comical
side. And he began to display an appearance of self-respect which seemed
ill-justified by his position and his poverty.
One evening, when work was over, as he came homeward from Beck's
workshop, he heard the children singing Hanne's song down in the
courtyard. He stood still in the tunnel-like entry; Hanne herself stood
in the midst of a circle, and the children were dancing round her and
"I looked from the lofty mountain
Down over vale and lea,
And I saw a ship come sailing,
I saw a ship come sailing,
And on it were lordlings three."
On Hanne's countenance lay a blind, fixed smile; her eyes were tightly
closed. She turned slowly about as the children sang, and she sang
softly with them:
"The youngest of all the lordlings
Who on the ship did stand..."
But suddenly she saw Pelle and broke out of the circle. She went up the
stairs with him. The children, disappointed, stood calling after her.
"Aren't you coming to us this evening?" she asked. "It is so long since
we have seen you."
"I've no time. I've got an appointment," replied Pelle briefly.
"But you must come! I beg you to, Pelle." She looked at him pleadingly,
her eyes burning.
Pelle's heart began to thump as he met her gaze. "What do you want with
me?" he asked sharply.
Hanne stood still, gazing irresolutely into the distance.
"You must help me, Pelle," she said, in a toneless voice, without
meeting his eye.
"Yesterday I met.... Yesterday evening, as I was coming out of the
factory ... he stood down below here ... he knows where I live. I went
across to the other side and behaved as though I did not see him; but he
came up to me and said I was to go to the New Market this evening!"
"And what did you say to that?" answered Pelle sulkily.
"I didn't say anything--I ran as hard as I could!"
"Is that all you want me for?" cried Pelle harshly. "You can keep away
from him, if you don't want him!"
A cold shudder ran through her. "But if he comes here to look for
me?... And you are so.... I don't care for anybody in the world but you
and mother!" She spoke passionately.
"Well, well, I'll come over to you," answered Pelle cheerfully.
He dressed himself quickly and went across. The old woman was delighted
to see him. Hanne was quite frolicsome; she rallied him continually, and
it was not long before he had abandoned his firm attitude and allowed
himself to be drawn into the most delightful romancing. They sat out on
the gallery under the green foliage, Hanne's face glowing to rival the
climbing pelargonium; she kept on swinging her foot, and continually
touched Pelle's leg with the tip of her shoe.
She was nervously full of life, and kept on asking the time. When her
mother went into the kitchen to make coffee, she took Pelle's hand and
smilingly stroked it.
"Come with me," she said. "I should so like to see if he is really so
silly as to think I'd come. We can stand in a corner somewhere and look
Pelle did not answer.
"Mother," said Hanne, when Madam Johnsen returned with the coffee, "I'm
going out to buy some stuff for my bodice. Pelle's coming with me."
The excuse was easy to see through. But the old woman betrayed no
emotion. She had already seen that Hanne was well disposed toward Pelle
to-day; something was going on in the girl's mind, and if Pelle only
wanted to, he could now bridle her properly. She had no objection to
make if both the young people kicked over the traces a little. Perhaps
then they would find peace together.
"You ought to take your shawl with you," she told Hanne. "The evening
air may turn cold."
Hanne walked so quickly that Pelle could hardly follow her. "It'll be a
lark to see his disappointment when we don't turn up," she said,
laughing. Pelle laughed also. She stationed herself behind one of the
pillars of the Town Hall, where she could peep out across the market.
She was quite out of breath, she had hurried so.
Gradually, as the time went by and the stranger did not appear, her
animation vanished; she was silent, and her expression was one of
"No one's going to come!" she said suddenly, and she laughed shortly.
"I only made up the whole thing to tell you, to see what you'd say."
"Then let's go!" said Pelle quietly, and he took her hand.
As they went down the steps, Hanne started; and her hand fell limply
from his. The stranger came quickly up to her. He held out his hand to
Hanne, quietly and as a matter of course, as though he had known her for
years. Pelle, apparently, he did not see.
"Will you come somewhere with me--where we can hear music, for example?"
he asked, and he continued to hold her hand. She looked irresolutely at
For a moment Pelle felt an inordinate longing to throw himself upon this
man and strike him to the ground, but then he met Hanne's eyes, which
wore an expression as though she was longing for some means of shaking
him off. "Well, it looks as if one was in the way here!" he thought.
"And what does it all matter to me?" He turned away from her and
sauntered off down a side street.
Pelle strolled along to the quays by the gasworks, and he stood there,
sunk in thought, gazing at the ships and the oily water. He did not
suffer; it was only so terribly stupid that a strange hand should appear
out of the unknown, and that the bird which he with all his striving
could not entice, should have hopped right away on to that hand.
Below the quay-wall the water plashed with a drowsy sound; fragments of
wood and other rubbish floated on it; it was all so home-like! Out by
the coal-quay lay a three-master. It was after working hours; the crew
were making an uproar below decks, or standing about on deck and washing
themselves in a bucket. One well-grown young seaman in blue clothes and
a white neckerchief came out of the cabin and stared up at the rigging
as though out of habit, and yawned. Then he strolled ashore. His cap was
on the back of his head, and between his teeth was a new pipe. His face
was full of freakish merriment, and he walked with a swing of the hips.
As he came up to Pelle he swayed to and fro a few times and then bumped
into him. "Oh, excuse me!" he said, touching his cap. "I thought it was
a scratching-post, the gentleman stood so stiff. Well, you mustn't take
it amiss!" And he began to go round and round Pelle, bending far forward
as though he were looking for something on him, and finally he pawed his
own ears, like a friendly bear, and shook with laughter. He was
overflowing with high spirits and good humor.
Pelle had not shaken off his feeling of resentment; he did not know
whether to be angry or to laugh at the whole thing.
He turned about cautiously, so as to keep his eye on the sailor, lest
the latter should pull his feet from under him. He knew the grip, and
also how it should be parried; and he held his hands in readiness.
Suddenly something in the stooping position struck him as familiar. This
was Per Kofod--Howling Peter, from the village school at home, in his
own person! He who used to roar and blubber at the slightest word! Yes,
this was he!
"Good evening, Per!" he cried, delighted, and he gave him a thump in the
The seaman stood up, astonished. "What the devil! Good evening! Well,
that I should meet you here, Pelle; that's the most comical thing I've
ever known! You must excuse my puppy-tricks! Really!" He shook Pelle
heartily by the hand.
They loafed about the harbor, chatting of old times. There was so much
to recall from their schooldays. Old Fris with his cane, and the games
on the beach! Per Kofod spoke as though he had taken part in all of
them; he had quite forgotten that he used always to stand still gripping
on to something and bellowing, if the others came bawling round him.
"And Nilen, too, I met him lately in New Orleans. He is second mate on a
big American full-rigged ship, and is earning big money. A smart fellow
he is. But hang it all, he's a tough case! Always with his revolver in
his hand. But that's how it has to be over there--among the niggers.
Still, one fine day they'll slit his belly up, by God they will! Now
then, what's the matter there?"
From some stacks of timber near by came a bellowing as of some one in
torment, and the sound of blows. Pelle wanted, to turn aside, but Per
Kofod seized his arm and dragged him forward.
In among the timber-stacks three "coalies" were engaged in beating a
fourth. He did not cry out, but gave vent to a muffled roar every time
he received a blow. The blood was flowing down his face.
"Come on!" shouted Per Kofod, hitching up his trousers. And then, with a
roar, he hurled himself into their midst, and began to lay about him in
all directions. It was like an explosion with its following hail of
rocks. Howling Peter had learned to use his strength; only a sailor
could lay about him in that fashion. It was impossible to say where his
blows were going to fall; but they all went home. Pelle stood by for a
moment, mouth and eyes open in the fury of the fray; then he, too,
tumbled into the midst of it, and the three dock-laborers were soon
biting the dust.
"Damn it all, why did you interfere!" said Pelle crossly, when it was
over, as he stood pulling his collar straight.
"I don't know," said Howling Peter. "But it does one no harm to bestir
one's self a bit for once!"
After the heat of the battle they had all but forgotten the man
originally attacked; he lay huddled up at the foot of a timber-stack and
made no sound. They got him on his legs again, but had to hold him
upright; he stood as limp as though asleep, and his eyes were staring
stupidly. He was making a heavy snoring sound, and at every breath the
blood made two red bubbles at his nostrils. From time to time he ground
his teeth, and then his eyes turned upward and the whites gleamed
strangely in his coal-blackened face.
The sailor scolded him, and that helped him so far that he was able to
stand on his feet. They drew a red rag from his bulging jacket-pocket,
and wiped the worst of the blood away. "What sort of a fellow are you,
damn it all, that you can't stand a drubbing?" said Per Kofod.
"I didn't call for help," said the man thickly. His lips were swollen to
"But you didn't hit back again! Yet you look as if you'd strength
enough. Either a fellow manages to look after himself or he sings out so
that others can come to help him. D'ye see, mate?"
"I didn't want to bring the police into it; and I'd earned a thrashing.
Only they hit so damned hard, and when I fell they used their clogs."
He lived in the Saksogade, and they took each an arm. "If only I don't
get ill now!" he groaned from time to time. "I'm all a jelly inside."
And they had to stop while he vomited.
There was a certain firm for which he and his mates had decided no
longer to unload, as they had cut down the wages offered. There were
only four of them who stuck to their refusal; and what use was it when
others immediately took their place? The four of them could only hang
about and play the gentleman at large; nothing more came of it. But of
course he had given his word--that was why he had not hit back. The
other three had found work elsewhere, so he went back to the firm and
ate humble pie. Why should he hang about idle and killing time when
there was nothing to eat at home? He was damned if he understood these
new ways; all the same, he had betrayed the others, for he had given his
word. But they had struck him so cursedly hard, and had kicked him in
the belly with their clogs.
He continued rambling thus, like a man in delirium, as they led him
along. In the Saksogade they were stopped by a policeman, but Per Kofod
quickly told him a story to the effect that the man had been struck on
the head by a falling crane. He lived right up in the attics. When they
opened the door a woman who lay there in child-bed raised herself up on
the iron bedstead and gazed at them in alarm. She was thin and anemic.
When she perceived the condition of her husband she burst into a
heartrending fit of crying.
"He's sober," said Pelle, in order to console her; "he has only got a
They took him into the kitchen and bathed his head over the sink with
cold water. But Per Kofod's assistance was not of much use; every time
the woman's crying reached his ears he stopped helplessly and turned his
head toward the door; and suddenly he gave up and tumbled head-foremost
down the back stairs.
"What was really the matter with you?" asked Pelle crossly, when he,
too, could get away. Per was waiting at the door for him.
"Perhaps you didn't hear her hymn-singing, you blockhead! But, anyhow,
you saw her sitting up in bed and looking like wax? It's beastly, I tell
you; it's infamous! He'd no need to go making her cry like that! I had
the greatest longing to thrash him again, weak as a baby though he was.
The devil--what did he want to break his word for?"
"Because they were starving, Per!" said Pelle earnestly. "That does
happen at times in this accursed city."
Kofod stared at him and whistled. "Oh, Satan! Wife and child, and the
whole lot without food--what? And she in childbed. They were married,
right enough, you can see that. Oh, the devil! What a honeymoon! What
He stood there plunging deep into his trouser pockets; he fetched out a
handful of things: chewing-tobacco, bits of flock, broken matches, and
in the midst of all a crumpled ten-kroner note. "So I thought!" he said,
fishing out the note. "I was afraid the girls had quite cleaned me out
last night! Now Pelle, you go up and spin them some sort of a yarn; I
can't do it properly myself; for, look you, if I know that woman she
won't stop crying day and night for another twenty-four hours! That's
the last of my pay. But--oh, well, blast it ... we go to sea to-morrow!"
"She stopped crying when I took her the money," said Pelle, when he came
"That's good. We sailors are dirty beasts; you know; we do our business
into china and eat our butter out of the tarbucket; all the same, we--I
tell you, I should have left the thing alone and used the money to have
made a jolly night of it to-night...." He was suddenly silent; he chewed
at his quid as though inwardly considering his difficult philosophy.
"Damn it all, to-morrow we put to sea!" he cried suddenly.
They went out to Alleenberg and sat in the gardens. Pelle ordered beer.
"I can very well stand a few pints when I meet a good pal," he said,
"but at other times I save like the devil. I've got to see about getting
my old father over here; he's living on charity at home."
"So your father's still living? I can see him still so plainly--he had a
love-affair with Madam Olsen for some time, but then bo'sun Olsen came
home unexpectedly; they thought he'd remain abroad."
Pelle laughed. Much water had run into the sea since those days. Now he
was no longer ashamed of Father Lasse's foolish prank.
Light was gleaming from the booths in the garden. Young couples wandered
about and had their fortunes told; they ventured themselves on the Wheel
of Happiness, or had their portraits cut out by the silhouette artist.
By the roundabout was a mingled whirl of cries and music and brightly
colored petticoats. Now and again a tremendous outcry arose, curiously
dreadful, over all other sounds, and from the concert-pavilion one heard
the cracked, straining voices of one-time "stars." Wretched little
worldlings came breathlessly hurrying thither, pushing through the
crowd, and disappeared into the pavilion, nodding familiarly to the man
in the ticket-office window.
"It's really quite jolly here," said Per Kofod. "You have a damn good
time of it on land!"
On the wide pathway under the trees apprentices, workmen, soldiers, and
now and again a student, loitered up and down, to and fro, looking
sideways at the servant-girls, who had stationed themselves on either
side of the walk, standing there arm-in-arm, or forming little groups.
Their eyes sent many a message before ever one of them stopped and
ventured to speak. Perhaps the maiden turned away; if so, that was an
end of the matter, and the youngster began the business all over again.
Or perhaps she ran off with him to one of the closed arbors, where they
drank coffee, or else to the roundabouts. Several of the young people
were from Pelle's home; and every time he heard the confident voices of
the Bornholm girls Pelle's heart stirred like a bird about to fly away.
Suddenly his troubles returned to his mind. "I really felt inclined,
this evening, to have done with the whole thing.... Just look at those
two, Per!" Two girls were standing arm-in-arm under a tree, quite close
to their table. They were rocking to and fro together, and now and again
they glanced at the two young men.
"Nothing there for me--that's only for you land-lubbers," said Per
Kofod. "For look you now, they're like so many little lambs whose ears
you've got to tickle. And then it all comes back to you in the nights
when you take the dog-watch alone; you've told her lies, or you promised
to come back again when she undid her bodice.... And in the end there
she is, planted, and goin' to have a kid! It don't do. A sailor ought to
keep to the naughty girls."
"But married women can be frisky sometimes," said Pelle.
"That so, really? Once I wouldn't have believed that any one could have
kicked a good woman; but after all they strangle little children.... And
they come and eat out of your hand if you give 'em a kind word--that's
the mischief of it.... D'you remember Howling Peter?"
"Yes, as you ask me, I remember him very well."
"Well, his father was a sailor, too, and that's just what he did.... And
she was just such a girl, one who couldn't say no, and believed
everything a man told her. He was going to come back again--of course.
'When you hear the trap-door of the loft rattle, that'll be me,' he told
her. But the trap-door rattled several times, and he didn't come. Then
she hanged herself from the trap-door with a rope. Howling Peter came on
to the parish. And you know how they all scorned him. Even the wenches
thought they had the right to spit at him. He could do nothing but
bellow. His mother had cried such a lot before he was born, d'ye see?
Yes, and then he hanged himself too--twice he tried to do it. He'd
inherited that! After that he had a worse time than ever; everybody
thought it honorable to ill-use him and ask after the marks on his
throat. No, not you; you were the only one who didn't raise a hand to
him. That's why I've so often thought about you. 'What has become of
him?' I used to ask myself. 'God only knows where he's got to!'" And he
gazed at Pelle with a pair of eyes full of trust.
"No, that was due to Father Lasse," said Pelle, and his tone was quite
childlike. "He always said I must be good to you because you were in
"In God's keeping, did he say?" repeated Per Kofod thoughtfully. "That
was a curious thing to say. That's a feeling I've never had. There was
nothing in the whole world at that time that could have helped me to
stand up for myself. I can scarcely understand how it is that I'm
sitting here talking to you--I mean, that they didn't torment the life
out of my body."
"Yes, you've altered very much. How does it really come about that
you're such a smart fellow now?"
"Why, such as I am now, that's really my real nature. It has just waked
up, that's what I think. But I don't understand really what was the
matter with me then. I knew well enough I could knock you down if I had
only wanted to. But I didn't dare strike out, just out of sheer
wretchedness. I saw so much that you others couldn't see. Damn it all, I
can't make head nor tail of it! It must have been my mother's dreadful
misery that was still in my bones. A horror used to come over me--quite
causeless--so that I had to bellow aloud; and then the farmers used to
beat me. And every time I tried to get out of it all by hanging myself,
they beat me worse than ever. The parish council decided I was to be
beaten. Well, that's why I don't do it, Pelle--a sailor ought to keep to
women that get paid for it, if they have anything to do with him--that
is, if he can't get married. There, you have my opinion."
"You've had a very bad time," said Pelle, and he took his hand. "But
it's a tremendous change that's come over you!"
"Change! You may well say so! One moment Howling Peter--and the next,
the strongest man on board! There you have the whole story! For look
here now, at sea, of course, it was just the same; even the ship's boy
felt obliged to give me a kick on the shins in passing. Everybody who
got a blow on a rowing passed it on to me. And when I went to sea in an
American bark, there was a nigger on board, and all of them used to
hound him down; he crawled before them, but you may take your oath he
hated them out of the whites of his devil's eyes. But me, who treated
him with humanity, he played all manner of tricks on--it was nothing to
him that I was white. Yet even with him I didn't dare to fetch him one--
there was always like a flabby lump in my midriff. But once the thing
went too far--or else the still-born something inside me was exhausted.
I just aimed at him a bit with one arm, so that he fell down. That
really was a rummy business. It was, let's say, like a fairy tale where
the toad suddenly turns into a man. I set to then and there and thrashed
him till he was half dead. And while I was about it, and in the vein, it
seemed best to get the whole thing over, so I went right ahead and
thrashed the whole crew from beginning to end. It was a tremendous
moment, there was such a heap of rage inside me that had got to come
Pelle laughed. "A lucky thing that I knew you a little while ago, or you
would have made mincemeat of me, after all!"
"Not me, mate, that was only a little joke. A fellow is in such high
spirits when he comes ashore again. But out at sea it's--thrash the
others, or they'll thrash you! Well, that's all right, but one ought to
be good to the women. That's what I've told the old man on board; he's a
fellow-countryman, but a swine in his dealings with women. There isn't a
single port where he hasn't a love-affair. In the South, and on the
American coast. It's madman's work often, and I have to go along with
him and look out that he doesn't get a knife between his ribs. 'Per,' he
says, 'this evening we'll go on the bust together.' 'All right, cap'n,'
I say. 'But it's a pity about all the women.' 'Shut your mouth, Per,' he
says; 'they're most of them married safe enough.' He's one of us from
home, too--from a little cottage up on the heath."
"What's his name, then?" said Pelle, interested.
"Why, then he's Uncle Kalle's eldest, and in a way my cousin--Kalle,
that is to say, isn't really his father. His wife had him before she was
married--he's the son of the owner of Stone Farm."
"So he's a Kongstrup, then!" cried Per Kofod, and he laughed loudly.
"Well, that's as it should be!"
Pelle paid, and they got up to go. The two girls were still standing by
the tree. Per Kofod went up to one of them as though she had been a bird
that might escape him. Suddenly he seized her round the waist; she
withdrew herself slowly from his grip and laughed in his big fair face.
He embraced her once again, and now she stood still; it was still in her
mind to escape, for she laughingly half-turned away. He looked deep into
her eyes, then released her and followed Pelle.
"What's the use, Pelle--why, I can hear her complaining already! A
fellow ought to be well warned," he said, with a despairing accent.
"But, damn it all, why should a man have so much compassion when he
himself has been so cruelly treated? And the others; they've no
compassion. Did you see how gentle her eyes were? If I'd money I'd marry
her right away."
"Perhaps she wouldn't have you," replied Pelle. "It doesn't do to take
the girls for granted."
In the avenue a few men were going to and fro and calling; they were
looking for their young women, who had given them the slip. One of them
came up to Per and Pelle--he was wearing a student's cap. "Have the
gentlemen seen anything of our ladies?" he asked. "We've been sitting
with them and treating them all the evening, and then they said they'd
just got to go to a certain place, and they've gone off."
They went down to the harbor. "Can't you come on board with me and say
how d'ye-do to the old man?" said Per. "But of course, he's ashore to-
night. I saw him go over the side about the time we knocked off--rigged
out for chasing the girls."
"I don't know him at all," said Pelle; "he was at sea already when I was
still a youngster. Anyhow, I've got to go home to bed now--I get to work
early in the mornings."
They stood on the quay, taking leave of one another. Per Kofod promised
to look Pelle up next time he was in port. While they were talking the
door of the after-cabin rattled. Howling Peter drew Pelle behind a stack
of coal. A powerful, bearded man came out, leading a young girl by the
hand. She went slowly, and appeared to resist. He set her ceremoniously
ashore, turned back to the cabin, and locked the door behind him. The
girl stood still for a moment. A low 'plaint escaped her lips. She
stretched her arms pleadingly toward the cabin. Then she turned and went
mournfully along the quay.
"That was the old man," whispered Per Kofod. "That's how he treats them
all--and yet they don't want to give him up."
Pelle could not utter a word; he stood there cowering, oppressed as by
some terrible burden. Suddenly he pulled himself together, pressed his
comrade's hand, and set off quickly between the coal-stacks.
After a time he turned aside and followed the young girl at a little
distance. Like a sleep-walker, she staggered along the quay and went
over the long bridge. He feared she would throw herself in the water, so
strangely did she behave.
On the bridge she stood gazing across at the ship, with a frozen look on
her face. Pelle stood still; turned to ice by the thought that she might
see him. He could not have borne to speak to her just then--much less
look into her eyes.
But then she moved on. Her bearing was broken; from behind she looked
like one of those elderly, shipwrecked females from the "Ark," who
shuffled along by the house-walls in trodden-down men's shoes, and
always boasted a dubious past. "Good God!" thought Pelle, "is her dream
over already? Good God!"
He followed her at a short distance down the narrow street, and as soon
as he knew that she must have reached her dwelling he entered the
In the depths of Pelle's soul lay a confident feeling that he was
destined for something particular; it was his old dream of fortune,
which would not be wholly satisfied by the good conditions for all men
which he wanted to help to bring about. His fate was no longer in his
eyes a grievous and crushing predestination to poverty, which could only
be lifted from him by a miracle; he was lord of his own future, and
already he was restlessly building it up!
But in addition to this there was something else that belonged only to
him and to life, something that no one else in the world could
undertake. What it was he had not yet figured to himself; but it was
something that raised him above all others, secretly, so that only he
was conscious of it. It was the same obscure feeling of being a pioneer
that had always urged him forward; and when it did take the form of a
definite question he answered it with the confident nod of his
childhood. Yes, he would see it through all right! As though that which
was to befall him was so great and so wonderful that it could not be put
into words, nor even thought of. He saw the straight path in front of
him, and he sauntered on, strong and courageous. There were no other
enemies than those a prudent man might perceive; those lurking forces of
evil which in his childhood had hovered threateningly above his head
were the shadows of the poor man's wretchedness. There was nothing else
evil, and that was sinister enough. He knew now that the shadows were
long. Morten was right. Although he himself when a child had sported in
the light, yet his mind was saddened by the misery of all those who were
dead or fighting in distant parts of the earth; and it was on this fact
that the feeling of solidarity must be based. The miraculous simply had
no existence, and that was a good thing for those who had to fight with
the weapon of their own physical strength. No invisible deity sat
overhead making his own plans for them or obstructing others. What one
willed, that could one accomplish, if only he had strength enough to
carry it through. Strength--it was on that and that alone that
everything depended. And there was strength in plenty. But the strength
of all must be united, must act as the strength of one. People always
wondered why Pelle, who was so industrious and respectable, should live
in the "Ark" instead of in the northern quarter, in the midst of the
Movement. He wondered at himself when he ever thought about it at all;
but he could not as yet tear himself away from the "Ark." Here, at the
bottom of the ladder, he had found peace in his time of need. He was too
loyal to turn his back on those among whom he had been happy.
He knew they would feel it as a betrayal; the adoration with which the
inmates of the "Ark" regarded the three orphan children was also
bestowed upon him; he was the foundling, the fourth member of the
"Family," and now they were proud of him too!
It was not the way of the inmates of the "Ark" to make plans for the
future. Sufficient to the day was the evil thereof; to-morrow's cares
were left for the morrow. The future did not exist for them. They were
like careless birds, who had once suffered shipwreck and had forgotten
it. Many of them made their living where they could; but however down in
the world they were, let the slightest ray of sunlight flicker down to
them, and all was forgotten. Of the labor movement and other new things
they gossiped as frivolously as so many chattering starlings, who had
snapped up the news on the wind.
But Pelle went so confidently out into the world, and set his shoulders
against it, and then came back home to them. He had no fear; he could
look Life straight in the face, he grappled boldly with the future,
before which they shudderingly closed their eyes. And thereby his name
came to be spoken with a particular accent; Pelle was a prince; what a
pity it was that he wouldn't, it seemed, have the princess!
He was tall and well-grown, and to them he seemed even taller. They went
to him in their misery, and loaded it all on his strong young shoulders,
so that he could bear it for them. And Pelle accepted it all with an
increasing sense that perhaps it was not quite aimlessly that he
lingered here--so near the foundations of society!
At this time Widow Frandsen and her son Ferdinand came upon the scene.
Misfortune must house itself somewhere!
Ferdinand was a sturdy young fellow of eighteen years, with a powerfully
modelled head, which looked as though it had originally been intended to
absorb all the knowledge there is in all the world. But he used it only
for dispensing blows; he had no other use for it whatever.
Yet he was by no means stupid; one might even call him a gifted young
man. But his gifts were of a peculiar quality, and had gradually become
even more peculiar.
As a little child he had been forced to fight a besotted father, in
order to protect his mother, who had no other protector. This unequal
battle _had_ to be fought; and it necessarily blunted his capacity
for feeling pain, and particularly his sense of danger. He knew what was
in store for him, but he rushed blindly into the fray the moment his
mother was attacked; just as a dog will attack a great beast of prey, so
he hung upon the big man's fists, and would not be shaken off. He hated
his father, and he longed in his heart to be a policeman when he was
grown up. With his blind and obtuse courage he was particularly adapted
to such a calling; but he actually became a homeless vagabond.
Gradually as he grew in height and strength and the battle was no longer
so unequal, his father began to fear him and to think of revenge; and
once, when Ferdinand had thoroughly thrashed him, he reported him, and
the boy was flogged. The boy felt this to be a damnable piece of
injustice; the flogging left scars behind it, and another of its results
was that his mother was no longer left in peace.
From that time onward he hated the police, and indulged his hatred at
every opportunity. His mother was the only being for whom he still
cared. It was like a flash of sunshine when his father died. But it came
too late to effect any transformation; Ferdinand had long ago begun to
look after his mother in his own peculiar way--which was partly due to
the conditions of his life.
He had grown up in the streets, and even when quite a child was one of
those who are secretly branded. The police knew him well, and were only
awaiting their opportunity to ask him inside. Ferdinand could see it in
their eyes--they reckoned quite confidently on that visit, and had got a
bed already for him in their hotel on the New Market.
But Ferdinand would not allow himself to be caught. When he had anything
doubtful in hand, he always managed to clear himself. He was an
unusually strong and supple young fellow, and was by no means afraid to
work; he obtained all kinds of occasional work, and he always did it
well. But whenever he got into anything that offered him a future, any
sort of regular work which must be learned and attacked with patience,
he could never go on with it.
"You speak to him, Pelle!" said his mother. "You are so sensible, and he
does respect you!" Pelle did speak to him, and helped him to find some
calling for which he was suited; and Ferdinand set to work with a will,
but when he got to a certain point he always threw it up.
His mother never lacked actual necessaries; although sometimes he only
procured them at the last moment. When not otherwise engaged, he would
stand in some doorway on the market-place, loafing about, his hands in
his pockets, his supple shoulders leaning against the wall. He was
always in clogs and mittens; at stated intervals he spat upon the
pavement, his sea-blue eyes following the passers-by with an
unfathomable expression. The policeman, who was aggressively pacing up
and down his beat, glanced at him in secret every time he passed him, as
much as to say, "Shan't we ever manage to catch the rogue? Why doesn't
he make a slip?"
And one day the thing happened--quite of itself, and not on account of
any clumsiness on his part--in the "Ark" they laid particular stress
upon that. It was simply his goodness of heart that was responsible. Had
Ferdinand not been the lad he was, matters had not gone awry, for he was
a gifted young man.
He was in the grocer's shop on the corner of the Market buying a few
coppers' worth of chewing-tobacco. An eight-year-old boy from the "Ark"
was standing by the counter, asking for a little flour on credit for his
mother. The grocer was making a tremendous fuss about the affair. "Put
it down--I dare say! One keeps shop on the corner here just to feed all
the poor folks in the neighborhood! I shall have the money to-morrow?
Peculiar it is, that in this miserable, poverty-stricken quarter folks
are always going to have money the very next day! Only the next day
"Herre Petersen can depend on it," said the child, in a low voice.
The grocer continued to scoff, but began to weigh the meal. Before the
scales there was a pile of yard brooms and other articles, but Ferdinand
could see that the grocer was pressing the scale with his fingers. He's
giving false weight because it's for a poor person, thought Ferdinand,
and he felt an angry pricking in his head, just where his thoughts were.
The boy stood by, fingering something concealed in his hand. Suddenly a
coin fell on the floor and went rolling round their feet. Quick as
lightning the grocer cast a glance at the till, as he sprang over the
counter and seized the boy by the scruff of the neck. "Ay, ay," he said
sharply, "a clever little rogue!"
"I haven't stolen anything!" cried the boy, trying to wrench himself
loose and to pick up his krone-piece. "That's mother's money!"
"You leave the kid alone!" said Ferdinand threateningly. "He hasn't done
The grocer struggled with the boy, who was twisting and turning in order
to recover his money. "Hasn't done anything!" he growled, panting, "then
why did he cry out about stealing before ever I had mentioned the word?
And where does the money come from? He wanted credit, because they
hadn't got any! No, thanks--I'm not to be caught like that."
"The money belongs to mother!" shrieked the youngster, twisting
desperately in the grocer's grip. "Mother is ill--I'm to get medicine
with it!" And he began to blubber.
"It's quite right--his mother is ill!" said Ferdinand, with a growl.
"And the chemist certainly won't give credit. You'd best let him go,
Petersen." He took a step forward.
"You've thought it out nicely!" laughed the grocer scornfully, and he
wrenched the shop-door open. "Here, policeman, here!"
The policeman, who was keeping watch at the street corner, came quickly
over to the shop. "Here's a lad who plays tricks with other folks'
money," said the grocer excitedly. "Take care of him for a bit,
The boy was still hitting out in all directions; the policeman had to
hold him off at arm's length. He was a ragged, hungry little fellow. The
policeman saw at a glance what he had in his fingers, and proceeded to
drag him away; and there was no need to have made any more ado about the
Ferdinand went after him and laid his hand on the policeman's arm.
"Mister Policeman, the boy hasn't done anything," he said. "I was
standing there myself, and I saw that he did nothing, and I know his
The policeman stood still for a moment, measuring Ferdinand with a
threatening eye; then he dragged the boy forward again, the latter still
struggling to get free, and bellowing: "My mother is ill; she's waiting
for me and the medicine!" Ferdinand kept step with them, in his thin
"If you drag him off to the town hall, I shall come with you, at all
events, and give evidence for him," he continued; "the boy hasn't done
anything, and his mother is lying sick and waiting for the medicine at
The policeman turned about, exasperated. "Yes, you're a nice witness.
One crow don't pick another's eyes out. You mind your own business--and
just you be off!"
Ferdinand stood his ground. "Who are you talking to, you Laban?" he
muttered, angrily looking the other up and down. Suddenly he took a run
and caught the policeman a blow in the neck so that he fell with his
face upon the pavement while his helmet rolled far along the street.
Ferdinand and the boy dashed off, each in a different direction, and
And now they had been hunting him for three weeks already. He did not
dare go home. The "Ark" was watched night and day, in the hope of
catching him--he was so fond of his mother. God only knew where he might
be in that rainy, cold autumn. Madam Frandsen moved about her attic,
lonely and forsaken. It was a miserable life. Every morning she came
over to beg Pelle to look in _The Working Man_, to see whether her
son had been caught. He was in the city--Pelle and Madam Frandsen knew
that. The police knew it also; and they believed him responsible for a
series of nocturnal burglaries. He might well be sleeping in the
outhouses and the kennels of the suburban villas.
The inmates of the "Ark" followed his fate with painful interest. He had
grown up beneath their eyes. He had never done anything wrong there; he
had always respected the "Ark" and its inhabitants; that at least could
be said of him, and he loved his mother dearly. And he had been entirely
in the right when he took the part of the boy; a brave little fellow he
was! His mother was very ill; she lived at the end of one of the long
gangways, and the boy was her only support. But it was a mad undertaking
to lay hands on the police; that was the greatest crime on earth! A man
had far better murder his own parents--as far as the punishment went. As
soon as they got hold of him, he would go to jail, for the policeman had
hit his handsome face against the flagstones; according to the
newspaper, anybody but a policeman would have had concussion of the
* * * * *
Old Madam Frandsen loved to cross the gangway to visit Pelle, in order
to talk about her son.
"We must be cautious," she said. At times she would purse up her mouth,
tripping restlessly to and fro; then he knew there was something
particular in the wind.
"Shall I tell you something?" she would ask, looking at him importantly.
"No; better keep it to yourself," Pelle would reply. "What one doesn't
know one can't give evidence about."
"You'd better let me chatter, Pelle--else I shall go running in and
gossiping with strangers. Old chatterbox that I am, I go fidgeting round
here, and I've no one I can trust; and I daren't even talk to myself!
Then that Pipman hears it all through the wooden partition; it's almost
more than I can bear, and I tremble lest my toothless old mouth should
get him into trouble!"
"Well, then, tell it me!" said Pelle, laughing. "But you mustn't speak
"He's been here again!" she whispered, beaming. "This morning, when I
got up, there was money for me in the kitchen. Do you know where he had
put it? In the sink! He's such a sensible lad! He must have come
creeping over the roofs--otherwise I can't think how he does it, they
are looking for him so. But you must admit that--he's a good lad!"
"If only you can keep quiet about it!" said Pelle anxiously. She was so
proud of her son!
"M--m!" she said, tapping her shrunken lips. "No need to tell me that--
and do you know what I've hit on, so that the bloodhounds shan't wonder
what I live on? I'm sewing canvas slippers."
Then came little Marie with mop and bucket, and the old woman hobbled
It was a slack time now in Master Beck's workshop, so Pelle was working
mostly at home. He could order his hours himself now, and was able to
use the day, when people were indoors, in looking up his fellow-
craftsmen and winning them for the organization. This often cost him a
lengthy argument, and he was proud of every man he was able to inscribe.
He very quickly learned to classify all kinds of men, and he suited his
procedure to the character of the man he was dealing with; one could
threaten the waverers, while others had to be enticed or got into a good
humor by chatting over the latest theories with them. This was good
practice, and he accustomed himself to think rapidly, and to have his
subject at his fingers' ends. The feeling of mastery over his means
continually increased in strength, and lent assurance to his bearing.
He had to make up for neglecting his work, and at such times he was
doubly busy, rising early and sitting late at his bench.
He kept away from his neighbors on the third story; but when he heard
Hanne's light step on the planking over there, he used to peep furtively
across the well. She went her way like a nun--straight to her work and
straight home again, her eyes fixed on the ground. She never looked up
at his window, or indeed anywhere. It was as though her nature had
completed its airy flutterings, as though it now lay quietly growing.
It surprised him that he should now regard her with such strange and
indifferent eyes, as though she had never been anything to him. And he
gazed curiously into his own heart--no, there was nothing wrong with
him. His appetite was good, and there was nothing whatever the matter
with his heart. It must all have been a pleasant illusion, a mirage such
as the traveller sees upon his way. Certainly she was beautiful; but he
could not possibly see anything fairy-like about her. God only knew how
he had allowed himself to be so entangled! It was a piece of luck that
he hadn't been caught--there was no future for Hanne.
Madam Johnsen continued to lean on him affectionately, and she often
came over for a little conversation; she could not forget the good times
they had had together. She always wound up by lamenting the change in
Hanne; the old woman felt that the girl had forsaken her.
"Can you understand what's the matter with her, Pelle? She goes about as
if she were asleep, and to everything I say she answers nothing but
'Yes, mother; yes, mother!' I could cry, it sounds so strange and empty,
like a voice from the grave. And she never says anything about good
fortune now--and she never decks herself out to be ready for it! If
she'd only begin with her fool's tricks again--if she only cared to look
out and watch for the stranger--then I should have my child again. But
she just goes about all sunk into herself, and she stares about her as
if she was half asleep, as though she were in the middle of empty space;
and she's never in any spirits now. She goes about so unmeaning--like
with her own dreary thoughts, it's like a wandering corpse. Can you
understand what's wrong with her?"
"No, I don't know," answered Pelle.
"You say that so curiously, as if you did know something and wouldn't
come out with it--and I, poor woman, I don't know where to turn." The
good-natured woman began to cry. "And why don't you come over to see us
"Oh, I don't know--I've so much on hand, Madam Johnsen," answered Pelle
"If only she's not bewitched. She doesn't enter into anything I tell
her; you might really come over just for once; perhaps that would cheer
her up a little. You oughtn't to take your revenge on us. She was very
fond of you in her way--and to me you've been like a son. Won't you come
over this evening?"
"I really haven't the time. But I'll see, some time," he said, in a low
And then she went, drooping and melancholy. She was showing her fifty
years. Pelle was sorry for her, but he could not make up his mind to
"You are quite detestable!" said Marie, stamping angrily on the floor.
"It's wretched of you!"
Pelle wrinkled his forehead. "You don't understand, Marie."
"Oh, so you think I don't know all about it? But do you know what the
women say about you? They say you're no man, or you would have managed
to clip Hanne's feathers."
Pelle gazed at her, wondering; he said nothing, but looked at her and
shook his head.
"What are you staring at me for?" she said, placing herself aggressively
in front of him. "Perhaps you think I'm afraid to say what I like to
you? Don't you stare at me with that face, or you'll get one in the
mouth!" She was burning red with shame. "Shall I say something still
worse? with you staring at me with that face? Eh? No one need think I'm
ashamed to say what I like!" Her voice was hard and hoarse; she was
quite beside herself with rage.
Pelle was perfectly conscious that it was shame that was working in her.
She must be allowed to run down. He was silent, but did not avert his
reproachful gaze. Suddenly she spat in his face and ran into her own
room with a malicious laugh.
There she was very busy for a time.
There for a time she worked with extreme vigor, but presently grew
quieter. Through the stillness Pelle could hear her gently sobbing. He
did not go in to her. Such scenes had occurred between them before, and
he knew that for the rest of the day she would be ashamed of herself,
and it would he misery for her to look him in the face. He did not wish
to lessen that feeling.
He dressed himself and went out.
The "Ark" now showed as a clumsy gray mass. It was always dark; the
autumn daylight was unable to penetrate it. In the interior of the mass
the pitch-black night brooded continually; those who lived there had to
grope their way like moles. In the darkness sounds rose to the surface
which failed to make themselves noticeable in the radiance of summer.
Innumerable sounds of creatures that lived in the half-darkness were
heard. When sleep had laid silence upon it all, the stillness of night
unveiled yet another world: then the death-watches audibly bored their
way beneath the old wall-papers, while rats and mice and the larvae of
wood-beetles vied with one another in their efforts. The darkness was
full of the aromatic fragrance of the falling worm-dust. All through
this old box of a building dissolution was at work, with thousands of
tiny creatures to aid it. At times the sound of it all rose to a
tremendous crash which awoke Pelle from sleep, when some old worm-eaten
timber was undermined and sagged in a fresh place. Then he would turn
over on the other side.
When he went out of an evening he liked to make his way through the
cheerful, crowded streets, in order to share in the brightness of it
all; the rich luxury of the shops awakened something within him which
noted the startling contrast between this quarter of the town and his
own. When he passed from the brightly lit city into his own quarter, the
streets were like ugly gutters to drain the darkness, and the "Ark" rose
mysteriously into the sky of night like a ponderous mountain. Dark
cellar-openings led down into the roots of the mountain, and there, in
its dark entrails, moved wan, grimy creatures with smoky lamps; there
were all those who lived upon the poverty of the "Ark"--the old iron
merchant, the old clothes merchant, and the money-lender who lent money
upon tangible pledges. They moved fearfully, burrowing into strange-
looking heaps. The darkness was ingrained in them; Pelle was always
reminded of the "underground people" at home. So the base of the cliffs
had opened before his eyes in childhood, and he had shudderingly watched
the dwarfs pottering about their accursed treasure. Here they moved
about like greedy goblins, tearing away the foundations from under the
careless beings in the "Ark," so that one day these might well fall into
the cellars--and in the meantime they devoured them hair and hide. At
all events, the bad side of the fairy tale was no lie!
One day Pelle threw down his work in the twilight and went off to carry
out his mission. Pipman had some days earlier fallen drunk from the
rickety steps, and down in the well the children of the quarter
surrounded the place where he had dropped dead, and illuminated it with
matches. They could quite plainly see the dark impress of a shape that
looked like a man, and were all full of the spectacle.
Outside the mouth of the tunnel-like entry he stopped by the window of
the old clothes dealer's cellar. Old Pipman's tools lay spread out there
in the window. So she had got her claws into them too! She was rummaging
about down there, scurfy and repulsive to look at, chewing an
unappetizing slice of bread-and-butter, and starting at every sound that
came from above, so anxious was she about her filthy money! Pelle needed
a new heel-iron, so he went in and purchased that of Pipman. He had to
haggle with her over the price.
"Well, have you thought over my proposal?" she asked, when the deal was
"What proposal?" said Pelle, in all ignorance.
"That you should leave your cobbling alone and be my assistant in the
So that was what she meant? No, Pelle hadn't thought over it
"I should think there isn't much to think over. I have offered you more
than you could earn otherwise, and there's not much to do. And I keep a
man who fetches and carries things. It's mostly that I have a fancy to
have a male assistant. I am an old woman, going about alone here, and
you are so reliable, I know that."
She needed some one to protect all the thousands of kroner which she had
concealed in these underground chambers. Pelle knew that well enough--
she had approached him before on the subject.
"I should scarcely be the one for that--to make my living out of the
poverty of others," said Pelle, smiling. "Perhaps I might knock you over
the head and distribute all your pennies to the poor!"
The old woman stared at him for a moment in alarm. "Ugh, what a horrible
thing to say!" she cried, shuddering. "You libel your good heart, joking
about such things. Now I shan't like to stay here in the cellar any
longer when you've gone. How can you jest so brutally about life and
death? Day and night I go about here trembling for my life, and yet I've
nothing at all, the living God knows I've nothing. That is just gossip!
Everybody looks at me as much as to say, 'I'd gladly strike you dead to
get your money!' And that's why I'd like to have a trustworthy man in
the business; for what good is it to me that I've got nothing when they
all believe I have? And there are so many worthless fellows who might
fall upon one at any moment."
"If you have nothing, you can be easy," said Pelle teasingly. "No need
for an empty stomach to have the nightmare!"
"Have nothing! Of course one always has something! And Pelle"--she
leaned confidentially over him with a smirk on her face--"now Mary will
soon come home, perhaps no later than this summer. She has earned so
much over there that she can live on it, and she'll still be in the
prime of her youth. What do you think of that? In her last letter she
asked me to look out for a husband for her. He need only be handsome,
for she has money enough for two. Then she'd rent a big house in the
fine part of the city, and keep her own carriage, and live only for her
handsome husband. What do you say to that, Pelle?"
"Well, that is certainly worth thinking over!" answered Pelle; he was in
overflowing high spirits.
"Thinking over? Is that a thing to think over? Many a poor lord would
accept such an offer and kiss my hand for it, if only he were here."
"But I'm not a lord, and now I must be going."
"Won't you just see her pictures?" The old woman began to rummage in a
"No." Pelle only wanted to be gone. He had seen these pictures often
enough, grimed with the air of the cellar and the old woman's filthy
hands; pictures which represented Mary now as a slim figure, striped
like a tiger-cat, as she sang in the fashionable variety theaters of St.
Petersburg, now naked, with a mantle of white furs, alone in the midst
of a crowd of Russian officers--princes, the old woman said. There was
also a picture from the aquarium, in which she was swimming about in a
great glass tank amid some curious-looking plants, with nothing on her
body but golden scales and diamond ornaments. She had a magnificent
body--that he could plainly see; but that she could turn the heads of
fabulously wealthy princes and get thousands out of their pockets merely
by undressing herself--that he could not understand. And he was to take
her to wife, was he?--and to get all that she had hoarded up! That was
tremendously funny! That beat everything!
He went along the High Street with a rapid step. It was raining a
little; the light from the street lamps and shop-windows was reflected
in the wet flagstones; the street wore a cheerful look. He went onward
with a feeling that his mind was lifted above the things of everyday;
the grimy old woman who lived as a parasite on the poverty of the "Ark"
and who had a wonderful daughter who was absorbing riches like a leech.
And on top of it all the little Pelle with the "lucky curl," like the
curly-haired apprentice in the story! Here at last was the much-longed-
for fairy tale!
He threw back his head and laughed. Pelle, who formerly used to feel
insults so bitterly, had achieved a sense of the divinity of life.
That evening his round included the Rabarber ward. Pelle had made
himself a list, according to which he went forth to search each ward of
the city separately, in order to save himself unnecessary running about.
First of all, he took a journeyman cobbler in Smith Street; he was one
of Meyer's regular workers, and Pelle was prepared for a hard fight. The
man was not at home. "But you can certainly put him down," said his
wife. "We've been talking it over lately, and we've come to see it's
really the best thing." That was a wife after Pelle's heart. Many would
deny that their husbands were at home when they learned what Pelle
wanted; or would slam the door in his face; they were tired of his
running to and fro.
He visited various houses in Gardener Street, Castle Street, Norway
Street, making his way through backyards and up dark, narrow stairs, up
to the garrets or down to the cellars.
Over all was the same poverty; without exception the cobblers were
lodged in the most miserable holes. He had not a single success to
record. Some had gone away or were at fresh addresses; others wanted
time to consider or gave him a direct refusal. He promised himself that
he would presently give the wobblers another call; he would soon bring
them round; the others he ticked off, keeping them for better times--
their day too would come before long! It did not discourage him to meet
with refusals; he rejoiced over the single sheep. This was a work of
patience, and patience was the one thing in which he had always been
He turned into Hunter Street and entered a barrack-like building,
climbing until he was right under the roof, when he knocked on a door.
It was opened by a tall thin man with a thin beard. This was Peter, his
fellow-'prentice at home. They were speedily talking of the days of
their apprenticeship, and the workshop at home with all the curious
company there. There was not much that was good to be said of Master
Jeppe. But the memory of the young master filled them with warmth. "I
often think of him in the course of the year," said Peter. "He was no
ordinary man. That was why he died."
There was something abstracted about Peter; and his den gave one an
impression of loneliness. Nothing was left to remind one of the
mischievous fellow who must always be running; but something hostile and
obstinate glowed within his close-set eyes. Pelle sat there wondering
what could really be the matter with him. He had a curious bleached look
as though he had shed his skin; but he wasn't one of the holy sort, to
judge by his conversation.
"Peter, what's the truth of it--are you one of us?" said Pelle suddenly.
A disagreeable smile spread over Peter's features. "Am I one of you?
That sounds just like when they ask you--have you found Jesus? Have you
become a missionary?"
"You are welcome to call it that," replied Pelle frankly, "if you'll
only join our organization. We want you."
"You won't miss me--nobody is missed, I believe, if he only does his
work. I've tried the whole lot of them--churches and sects and all--and
none of them has any use for a man. They want one more listener, one
more to add to their list; it's the same everywhere." He sat lost in
thought, looking into vacancy. Suddenly he made a gesture with his hands
as though to wave something away. "I don't believe in anything any
longer, Pelle--there's nothing worth believing in."
"Don't you believe in improving the lot of the poor, then? You haven't
tried joining the movement?" asked Pelle.
"What should I do there? They only want to get more to eat--and the
little food I need I can easily get. But if they could manage to make me
feel that I'm a man, and not merely a machine that wants a bit more
greasing, I'd as soon be a thin dog as a fat one."
"They'd soon do that!" said Pelle convincingly. "If we only hold
together, they'll have to respect the individual as well, and listen to
his demands. The poor man must have his say with the rest."
Peter made an impatient movement. "What good can it do me to club folks
on the head till they look at me? It don't matter a damn to me! But
perhaps they'd look at me of their own accord--and say, of their own
accord--'Look, there goes a man made in God's image, who thinks and
feels in his heart just as I do!' That's what I want!"
"I honestly don't understand what you mean with your 'man,'" said Pelle
irritably. "What's the good of running your head against a wall when
there are reasonable things in store for us? We want to organize
ourselves and see if we can't escape from slavery. Afterward every man
can amuse himself as he likes."
"Well, well, if it's so easy to escape from slavery! Why not? Put down
my name for one!" said Peter, with a slightly ironical expression.
"Thanks, comrade!" cried Pelle, joyfully shaking his hand. "But you'll
do something for the cause?"
Peter looked about him forlornly. "Horrible weather for you to be out
in," he said, and he lighted Pelle down the stairs.
Pelle went northward along Chapel Street. He wanted to look up Morten.
The wind was chasing the leaves along by the cemetery, driving the rain
in his face. He kept close against the cemetery wall in order to get
shelter, and charged against the wind, head down. He was in the best of
humors. That was two new members he had won over; he was getting on by
degrees! What an odd fish Peter had become; the word, "man, man,"
sounded meaningless to Pelle's ears. Well, anyhow, he had got him on the
Suddenly he heard light, running steps behind him. The figure of a man
reached his side, and pushed a little packet under Pelle's arm without
stopping for a moment. At a short distance he disappeared. It seemed to
Pelle as though he disappeared over the cemetery wall.
Under one of the street lamps he stopped and wonderingly examined the
parcel; it was bound tightly with tape. "For mother" was written upon it
in an awkward hand. Pelle was not long in doubt--in that word "mother"
he seemed plainly to hear Ferdinand's hoarse voice. "Now Madam Frandsen
will be delighted," he thought, and he put it in his pocket. During the
past week she had had no news of Ferdinand. He dared no longer venture
through Kristianshavn. Pelle could not understand how Ferdinand had lit
upon him. Was he living out here in the Rabarber ward?
Morten was sitting down, writing in a thick copybook. He closed it
hastily as Pelle entered.
"What is that?" asked Pelle, who wanted to open the book; "are you still
writing in your copybook?"
Morten, confused, laid his hand on the book. "No. Besides--oh, as far as
that goes," he said, "you may as well know. I have written a poem. But
you mustn't speak of it."
"Oh, do read it out to me!" Pelle begged.
"Yes; but you must promise me to be silent about it, or the others will
just think I've gone crazy."
He was quite embarrassed, and he stammered as he read. It was a poem
about poor people, who bore the whole world on their upraised hands, and
with resignation watched the enjoyment of those above them. It was
called, "Let them die!" and the words were repeated as the refrain of
every verse. And now that Morten was in the vein, he read also an
unpretentious story of the struggle of the poor to win their bread.
"That's damned fine!" cried Pelle enthusiastically. "Monstrously good,
Morten! I don't understand how you put it together, especially the
verse. But you're a real poet. But I've always thought that--that you
had something particular in you. You've got your own way of looking at
things, and they won't clip your wings in a hurry. But why don't you
write about something big and thrilling that would repay reading--
there's nothing interesting about us!"
"But I find there is!"
"No, I don't understand that. What can happen to poor fellows like us?"
"Then don't you believe in greatness?"
To be sure Pelle did. "But why shouldn't we have splendid things right
"You want to read about counts and barons!" said Morten. "You are all
like that. You regard yourself as one of the rabble, if it comes to
that! Yes, you do! Only you don't know it! That's the slave-nature in
you; the higher classes of society regard you as such and you
involuntarily do the same. Yes, you may pull faces, but it's true, all
the same! You don't like to hear about your own kind, for you don't
believe they can amount to anything! No, you must have fine folks--
always rich folks! One would like to spit on one's past and one's
parents and climb up among the fine folks, and because one can't manage
it one asks for it in books." Morten was irritated.
"No, no," said Pelle soothingly, "it isn't as bad as all that!"
"Yes, it is as bad as all that!" cried Morten passionately. "And do you
know why? Because you don't yet understand that humanity is holy, and
that it's all one where a man is found!"
"Humanity is holy?" said Pelle, laughing. "But I'm not holy, and I
didn't really think you were!"
"For your sake, I hope you are," said Morten earnestly, "for otherwise
you are no more than a horse or a machine that can do so much work." And
then he was silent, with a look that seemed to say that the matter had
been sufficiently discussed.
Morten's reserved expression made Pelle serious. He might jestingly
pretend that this was nonsense, but Morten was one of those who looked
into things--perhaps there was something here that he didn't understand.
"I know well enough that I'm a clown compared with you," he said good-
naturedly, "but you needn't be so angry on that account. By the way, do
you still remember Peter, who was at Jeppe's with your brother Jens and
me? He's here, too--I--I came across him a little while ago. He's
always looking into things too, but he can't find any foundation to
anything, as you can. He believes in nothing in the whole world. Things
are in a bad way with him. It would do him good if he could talk with
"But I'm no prophet--you are that rather than I," said Morten
"But you might perhaps say something of use to him. No, I'm only a
trades unionist, and that's no good."
On his way home Pelle pondered honestly over Morten's words, but he had
to admit that he couldn't take them in. No, he had no occasion to
surround his person with any sort of holiness or halo; he was only a
healthy body, and he just wanted to do things.
Pelle came rushing home from Master Beck's workshop, threw off his coat
and waistcoat, and thrust his head into a bucket of water. While he was
scrubbing himself dry, he ran over to the "Family." "Would you care to
come out with me? I have some tickets for an evening entertainment--only
you must hurry up."
The three children were sitting round the table, doing tricks with
cards. The fire was crackling in the stove, and there was a delicious
smell of coffee. They were tired after the day's work and they didn't
feel inclined to dress themselves to go out. One could see how they
enjoyed feeling that they were at home. "You should give Hanne and her
mother the tickets," said Marie, "they never go out."
Pelle thought the matter over while he was dressing. Well, why not?
After all, it was stupid to rake up an old story.
Hanne did not want to go with him. She sat with downcast eyes, like a
lady in her boudoir, and did not look at him. But Madam Johnsen was
quite ready to go--the poor old woman quickly got into her best clothes.
"It's a long time since we two have been out together, Pelle," she said
gaily, as they walked through the city. "You've been so frightfully busy
lately. They say you go about to meetings. That is all right for a young
man. Do you gain anything by it?"
"Yes, one could certainly gain something by it--if only one used one's
"What can you gain by it, then? Are you going to eat up the Germans
again, as in my young days, or what is it you are after?"
"We want to make life just a little happier," said Pelle quietly.
"Oh, you don't want to gain anything more than happiness? That's easy
enough, of course!" said Madam Johnsen, laughing loudly. "Why, to be
sure, in my pretty young days too the men wanted to go to the capital to
make their fortunes. I was just sixteen when I came here for purposes of
my own--where was a pretty girl to find everything splendid, if not
here? One easily made friends--there were plenty to go walking with a
nice girl in thin shoes, and they wanted to give her all sorts of fine
things, and every day brought its happiness with it. But then I met a
man who wanted to do the best thing by me, and who believed in himself,
too. He got me to believe that the two of us together might manage
something lasting. And he was just such a poor bird as I was, with empty
hands--but he set to valiantly. Clever in his work he was, too, and he
thought we could make ourselves a quiet, happy life, cozy between our
four walls, if only we'd work. Happiness--pooh! He wanted to be a
master, at all costs--for what can a journeyman earn! And more than once
we had scraped a little together, and thought things would be easier
now; but misfortune always fell on us and took it all away. It's always
hovering like a great bird over the poor man's home; and you must have a
long stick if you want to drive it away! It was always the same story
whenever we managed to get on a little. A whole winter he was ill. We
only kept alive by pawning all we'd got, stick by stick. And when the
last thing had gone to the devil we borrowed a bit on the pawn-ticket."
The old woman had to pause to recover her breath.
"Why are we hurrying like this?" she said, panting. "Any one would think
the world was trying to run away from us!"
"Well, there was nothing left!" she continued, shuffling on again. "And
he was too tired to begin all over again, so we moved into the 'Ark.'
And when he'd got a few shillings he sought consolation--but it was a
poor consolation for me, who was carrying Hanne, that you may believe!
She was like a gift after all that misfortune; but he couldn't bear her,
because our fancy for a little magnificence was born again in her. She
had inherited that from us--poor little thing!--with rags and dirt to
set it off. You should just have seen her, as quite a little child,
making up the fine folks' world out of the rags she got together out of
the dustbins. 'What's that?' Johnsen he said once--he was a little less
full than usual. 'Oh, that's the best room with the carpet on the floor,
and there by the stove is your room, father. But you mustn't spit on the
floor, because we are rich people.'"
Madam Johnsen began to cry. "And then he struck her on the head. 'Hold
your tongue!' he cried, and he cursed and swore at the child something
frightful. 'I don't want to hear your infernal chatter!' That's the sort
he was. Life began to be a bit easier when he had drowned himself in the
sewer. The times when I might have amused myself he'd stolen from me
with his talk of the future, and now I sit there turning old soldiers'
trousers that fill the room with filth, and when I do two a day I can
earn a mark. And Hanne goes about like a sleep-walker. Happiness! Is
there a soul in the 'Ark' that didn't begin with a firm belief in
something better? One doesn't move from one's own choice into such a
mixed louse's nest, but one ends up there all the same. And is there
anybody here who is really sure of his daily bread? Yes, Olsens with the
warm wall, but they've got their daughter's shame to thank for that."
"All the more reason to set to work," said Pelle.
"Yes, you may well say that! But any one who fights against the
unconquerable will soon be tired out. No, let things be and amuse
yourself while you are still young. But don't you take any notice of my
complaining--me--an old whimperer, I am--walking with you and being in
the dumps like this--now we'll go and amuse ourselves!" And now she
looked quite contented again.
"Then take my arm--it's only proper with a pair of sweethearts," said
Pelle, joking. The old woman took his arm and went tripping youthfully
along. "Yes, if it had been in my young days, I would soon have known
how to dissuade you from your silly tricks," she said gaily. "I should
have been taking you to the dance."
"But you didn't manage to get Johnsen to give them up," said Pelle in
"No, because then I was too credulous. But no one would succeed in
robbing me of my youth now!"
The meeting was held in a big hall in one of the side streets by the
North Bridge. The entertainment, which was got up by some of the
agitators, was designed principally for young people; but many women and
young girls were present. Among other things a poem was read which dealt
with an old respectable blacksmith who was ruined by a strike. "That may
be very fine and touching," whispered Madam Johnsen, polishing her nose
in her emotion, "but they really ought to have something one can laugh
over. We see misfortune every day."
Then a small choir of artisans sang some songs, and one of the older
leaders mounted the platform and told them about the early years of the
movement. When he had finished, he asked if there was no one else who
had something to tell them. It was evidently not easy to fill out the
There was no spirit in the gathering. The women were not finding it
amusing, and the men sat watching for anything they could carp at. Pelle
knew most of those present; even the young men had hard faces, on which
could be read an obstinate questioning. This homely, innocent
entertainment did not appease the burning impatience which filled their
hearts, listening for a promise of better things.
Pelle sat there pained by the proceedings; the passion for progress and
agitation was in his very blood. Here was such an opportunity to strike
a blow for unification, and it was passing unused. The women only needed
a little rousing, the factory-girls and the married women too, who held
back their husbands. And they stood up there, frittering away the time
with their singing and their poetry-twaddle! With one leap he stood on
"All these fine words may be very nice," he cried passionately, "but
they are very little use to all those who can't live on them! The
clergyman and the dog earn their living with their mouths, but the rest
of us are thrown on our own resources when we want to get anything. Why
do we slink round the point like cats on hot bricks, why all this
palaver and preaching? Perhaps we don't yet know what we want? They say
we've been slaves for a thousand years! Then we ought to have had time
enough to think it out! Why does so little happen, although we are all
waiting for something, and are ready? Is there no one anywhere who has
the courage to lead us?"
Loud applause followed, especially from the young men; they stamped and
shouted. Pelle staggered down from the platform; he was covered with
The old leader ascended the platform again and thanked his colleagues
for their acceptable entertainment. He turned also with smiling thanks
to Pelle. It was gratifying that there was still fire glowing in the
young men; although the occasion was unsuitable. The old folks had led
the movement through evil times; but they by no means wished to prevent
youth from testing itself.
Pelle wanted to stand up and make some answer, but Madam Johnsen held
him fast by his coat. "Be quiet, Pelle," she whispered anxiously;
"you'll venture too far." She would not let go of him, so he had to sit
down again to avoid attracting attention. His cheeks were burning, and
he was as breathless as though he had been running up a hill. It was the
first time he had ventured on a public platform; excitement had sent him
The people began to get up and to mix together. "Is it over already?"
asked Madam Johnsen. Pelle could see that she was disappointed.
"No, no; now we'll treat ourselves to something," he said, leading the
old woman to a table at the back of the hall. "What can I offer you?"
"Coffee, please, for me! But you ought to have a glass of beer, you are
Pelle wanted coffee too. "You're a funny one for a man!" she said,
laughing. "First you go pitching into a whole crowd of men, and then you
sit down here with an old wife like me and drink coffee! What a crowd of
people there are here; it's almost like a holiday!" She sat looking
about her with shining eyes and rosy cheeks, like a young girl at a
dance. "Take some more of the skin of the milk, Pelle; you haven't got
any. This really is cream!"
The leader came up to ask if he might make Pelle's acquaintance. "I've
heard of you from the president of your Union," he said, giving Pelle
his hand. "I am glad to make your acquaintance; you have done a pretty
piece of work."
"Oh, it wasn't so bad," said Pelle, blushing. "But it really would be
fine if we could really get to work!"
"I know your impatience only too well," retorted the old campaigner,
laughing. "It's always so with the young men. But those who really want
to do something must be able to see to the end of the road." He patted
Pelle on the shoulders and went.
Pelle felt that the people were standing about him and speaking of him.
God knows whether you haven't made yourself ridiculous, he thought.
Close by him two young men were standing, who kept on looking at him
sideways. Suddenly they came up to him.
"We should much like to shake hands with you," said one of them. "My
name is Otto Stolpe, and this is my brother Frederik. That was good,
what you said up there, we want to thank you for it!" They stood by for
some little while, chatting to Pelle. "It would please my father and
mother too, if they could make your acquaintance," said Otto Stolpe.
"Would you care to come home with us?"
"I can't very well this evening; I have some one with me," replied
"You go with them," said Madam Johnsen. "I see some folks from
Kristianshavn back there, I can go home with them."
"But we were meaning to go on the spree a bit now that we've at last
come out!" said Pelle, smiling.
"God forbid! No, we've been on the spree enough for one evening, my old
head is quite turned already. You just be off; that's a thing I haven't
said for thirty years! And many thanks for bringing me with you." She
The Stolpe family lived in Elm Street, on the second floor of one of the
new workmen's tenement houses. The stairs were roomy, and on the door
there was a porcelain plate with their name on it. In the entry an
elderly, well-dressed woman up to them.
"Here is a comrade, mother," said Otto.
"Welcome," she said, as she took Pelle's hand. She held it a moment in
her own as she looked at him.
In the living room sat Stolpe, a mason, reading _The Working Man_.
He was in shirt sleeves, and was resting his heavy arms on the table. He
read whispering to himself, he had not noticed that a guest was in the
"Here's some one who would like to say how-d'ye-do to father," said
Otto, laying his hand on his father's arm.
Stolpe raised his head and looked at Pelle. "Perhaps you would like to
join the Union?" he asked, rising with difficulty, with one hand pressed
on the table. He was tall, his hair was sprinkled with gray; his eyes
were mottled from the impact of splinters of limestone.
"You and your Union!" said Madam Stolpe. "Perhaps you think there's no
one in it but you!"
"No, mother; little by little a whole crowd of people have entered it,
but all the same I was the first."
"I'm already in the Union," said Pelle. "But not in yours. I'm a
shoemaker, you know."
"Shoemaker, ah, that's a poor trade for a journeyman; but all the same a
man can get to be a master; but to-day a mason can't do that--there's a
great difference there. And if one remains a journeyman all his life
long, he has more interest in modifying his position. Do you understand?
That's why the organization of the shoemakers has never been of more
than middling dimensions. Another reason is that they work in their own
rooms, and one can't get them together. But now there's a new man come,
who seems to be making things move."
"Yes, and this is he, father," said Otto, laughing.
"The deuce, and here I stand making a fool of myself! Then I'll say how-
d'ye-do over again! And here's good luck to your plans, young comrade."
He shook Pelle by the hand. "I think we might have a drop of beer,
Pelle and Stolpe were soon engaged in a lively conversation; Pelle was
in his element. Until now he had never found his way to the heart of the
movement. There was so much he wanted to ask about, and the old man
incontinently told him of the growth of the organization from year to
year, of their first beginning, when there was only one trades unionist
in Denmark, namely, himself, down to the present time. He knew all the
numbers of the various trades, and was precisely informed as to the
development of each individual union. The sons sat silent, thoughtfully
listening. When they had something to say, they always waited until the
old man nodded his head to show that he had finished. The younger,
Frederik, who was a mason's apprentice, never said "thou" to his father;
he addressed him in the third person, and his continual "father says,
father thinks," sounded curious to Pelle's ears.
While they were still talking Madam Stolpe opened the door leading into
an even prettier room, and invited them to go in and to drink their
coffee. The living-room had already produced an extremely pleasant
impression on Pelle, with its oak-grained dining-room suite and its
horse-hair sofa. But here was a red plush suite, an octagonal table of
walnut wood, with a black inlaid border and twisted wooden feet, and an
etagere full of knick-knacks and pieces of china; mostly droll, impudent
little things. On the walls hung pictures of trades unions and
assemblies and large photographs of workshops; one of a building during
construction, with the scaffolding full of the bricklayers and their
mortar-buckets beside them, each with a trowel or a beer-bottle can in
his hand. On the wall over the sofa hung a large half-length portrait of
a dark, handsome man in a riding-cloak. He looked half a dreamy
adventurer, half a soldier.
"That's the grand master," said Stolpe proudly, standing at Pelle's
side. "There was always a crowd of women at his heels. But they kept
themselves politely in the background, for a fire went out of him at
such times--do you understand? Then it was--Men to the front! And even
the laziest fellow pricked up his ears."
"Then he's dead now, is he?" asked Pelle, with interest.
Stolpe did not answer. "Well," he said briefly, "shall we have our
coffee now?" Otto winked at Pelle; here evidently was a matter that must
not be touched upon.
Stolpe sat staring into his cup, but suddenly he raised his head. "There
are things one doesn't understand," he cried earnestly. "But this is
certain, that but for the grand master here I and a whole host of other
men wouldn't perhaps be respectable fathers of families to-day. There
were many smart fellows among us young comrades, as is always the case;
but as a rule the gifted ones always went to the dogs. For when a man
has no opportunity to alter things, he naturally grows impatient, and
then one fine day he begins to pour spirit on the flames in order to
stop his mouth. I myself had that accursed feeling that I must do
something, and little by little I began to drink. But then I discovered
the movement, before it existed, I might venture to say; it was in the
air like, d'you see. It was as though something was coming, and one
sniffed about like a dog in order to catch a glimpse of it. Presently it
was, Here it is! There it is! But when one looked into it, there was
just a few hungry men bawling at one another about something or other,
but the devil himself didn't know what it was. But then the grand master
came forward, and that was like a flash of light for all of us. For he
could say to a nicety just where the shoe pinched, although he didn't
belong to our class at all. Since that time there's been no need to go
searching for the best people--they were always to be found in the
movement! Although there weren't very many of them, the best people were
always on the side of the movement."
"But now there's wind in the sails," said Pelle.
"Yes, now there's talk of it everywhere. But to whom is that due? God
knows, to us old veterans--and to him there!"
Stolpe began to talk of indifferent matters, but quite involuntarily the
conversation returned to the movement; man and wife lived and breathed
for nothing else. They were brave, honest people, who quite simply
divided mankind into two parts: those who were for and those who were
against the movement. Pelle seemed to breathe more freely and deeply in
this home, where the air was as though steeped in Socialism.
He noticed a heavy chest which stood against the wall on four twisted
legs. It was thickly ornamented with nail-heads and looked like an old
"Yes--that's the standard!" said Madam Stolpe, but she checked herself
in alarm. Mason Stolpe knitted his brows.
"Ah, well, you're a decent fellow, after all," he said. "One needn't
slink on tiptoe in front of you!" He took a key out of a secret
compartment in his writing-table. "Now the danger's a thing of the past,
but one still has to be careful. That's a vestige of the times when
things used to go hardly with us. The police used to be down on all our
badges of common unity. The grand master himself came to me one evening
with the flag under his cloak, and said to me, 'You must look out for
it, Stolpe, you are the most reliable of us all.'"
He and his wife unfolded the great piece of bunting. "See, that's the
banner of the International. It looks a little the worse for wear, for
it has undergone all sorts of treatment. At the communist meetings out
in the fields, when the troops were sent against us with ball cartridge,
it waved over the speaker's platform, and held us together. When it
flapped over our heads it was as though we were swearing an oath to it.
The police understood that, and they were mad to get it. They went for
the flag during a meeting, but nothing came of it, and since then
they've hunted for it so, it's had to be passed from man to man. In that
way it has more than once come to me."
"Yes, and once the police broke in here and took father away as we were
sitting at supper. They turned the whole place upside down, and dragged
him off to the cells without a word of explanation. The children were
little then, and you can imagine how miserable it seemed to me. I didn't
know when they would let him out again."
"Yes, but they didn't get the colors," said Stolpe, and he laughed