Part 3 out of 7
heartily. "I had already passed them on, they were never very long in
one place in those days. Now they lead a comparatively quiet life, and
mother and the rest of us too!"
The young men stood in silence, gazing at the standard that had seen so
many vicissitudes, and that was like the hot red blood of the movement.
Before Pelle a whole new world was unfolding itself; the hope that had
burned in the depths of his soul was after all not so extravagant. When
he was still running, wild at home, playing the games of childhood or
herding the cows, strong men had already been at work and had laid the
foundations of the cause.... A peculiar warmth spread through him and
rose to his head. If only it had been he who had waved the glowing
standard in the face of the oppressor--he, Pelle!
"And now it lies here in the chest and is forgotten!" he said
"It is only resting," said Stolpe. "Forgotten, yes; the police have no
idea that it still exists. But fix it on a staff, and you will see how
the comrades flock about it! Old and young alike. There's fire in that
bit of cloth! True fire, that never goes out!"
Carefully they folded the colors and laid them back in the chest. "It
won't do even now to speak aloud of the colors! You understand?" said
There was a knock, and Stolpe made haste to lock the chest and hide the
key, while Frederik went to the door. They looked at one another
uneasily and stood listening.
"It is only Ellen," said Frederik, and he returned, followed by a tall
dark girl with an earnest bearing. She had a veil over her face, and
before her mouth her breath showed like a pearly tissue.
"Ah, that's the lass!" cried Stolpe, laughing. "What folly--we were
quite nervous, just as nervous as in the old days. And you're abroad in
the streets at this hour of night! And in this weather?" He looked at
her affectionately; one could see that she was his darling. Outwardly
they were very unlike.
She greeted Pelle with the tiniest nod, but looked at him earnestly.
There was something still and gracious about her that fascinated him.
She wore dark clothes, without the slightest adornment, but they were of
good sound stuff.
"Won't you change?" asked the mother, unbuttoning her cloak. "You are
quite wet, child."
"No, I must go out again at once," Ellen replied. "I only wanted to peep
"But it's really very late," grumbled Stolpe. "Are you only off duty
"Yes, it's not my going-out day."
"Not to-day again? Yes, it's sheer slavery, till eleven at night!"
"That's the way things are, and it doesn't make it any better for you to
scold me," said Ellen courageously.
"No, but you needn't go out to service. There's no sense in our children
going out to service in the houses of the employers. Don't you agree
with me?" He turned to Pelle.
Ellen laughed brightly. "It's all the same--father works for the
employers as well."
"Yes, but that's a different thing. It's from one fixed hour to another,
and then it's over. But this other work is a home; she goes from one
home to another and undertakes all the dirty work."
"Father's not in a position to keep me at home."
"I know that very well, but all the same I can't bear it. Besides, you
could surely get some other kind of work."
"Yes, but I don't want to! I claim the right to dispose of myself!" she
The others sat silent, looking nervously at one another. The veins
swelled on Stolpe's forehead; he was purple, and terribly angry. But
Ellen looked at him with a little laugh. He got up and went grumbling
into the other room.
Her mother shook her head at Ellen. She was quite pale. "Oh, child,
child!" she whispered.
After a while Stolpe returned with some old newspapers, which he wanted
to show Pelle. Ellen stood behind his chair, looking down at them; she
rested her arm on his shoulders and idly ruffled his hair. The mother
pulled at her skirt. The papers were illustrated, and went back to the
The clock struck the half-hour; it was half-past eleven. Pelle rose in
consternation; he had quite forgotten the time.
"Take the lass with you," said Stolpe. "You go the same way, don't you,
Ellen? Then you'll have company. There's no danger going with her, for
she's a saint." It sounded as though he wanted to make up for his
scolding. "Come again soon; you will always be welcome here."
They did not speak much on the way home. Pelle was embarrassed, and he
had a feeling that she was considering him and thinking him over as they
walked, wondering what sort of a fellow he might be. When he ventured to
say something, she answered briefly and looked at him searchingly. And
yet he found it was an interesting walk. He would gladly have prolonged
"Many thanks for your company," he said, when they stood at her house-
door. "I should be very glad to see you again."
"You will if we meet," she said taciturnly; but she gave him her hand
for a moment.
"We are sure to meet again! Be sure of that!" cried Pelle jovially. "But
you are forgetting to reward me for my escort?" He bent over her.
She gazed at him in astonishment--with eyes that were turning him to
stone, he thought. Then she slowly turned and went indoors.
One day, after his working hours, Pelle was taking some freshly
completed work to the Court shoemaker's. The foreman took it and paid
for it, and proceeded to give out work to the others, leaving Pelle
standing. Pelle waited impatiently, but did no more than clear his
throat now and again. This was the way of these people; one had to put
up with it if one wanted work. "Have you forgotten me?" he said at last,
a little impatiently.
"You can go," said the foreman. "You've finished here."
"What does that mean?" asked Pelle, startled.
"It means what you hear. You've got the sack--if you understand that
Pelle understood that very well, but he wanted to establish the fact of
his persecution in the presence of his comrades. "Have you any fault to
find with my work?" he asked.
"You mix yourself up too much with things that don't concern you, my
good fellow, and then you can't do the work you ought to do."
"I should like very much to know what fault you have to find with my
work," said Pelle obstinately.
"Go to the devil! I've told you already!" roared the foreman.
The Court shoemaker came down through the door of the back room and
looked about him. When he saw Pelle, he went up to him.
"You get out of here, and that at once!" he cried, in a rage. "Do you
think we give bread to people that undermine us? Out, out of my place of
business, Mossoo Trades-Unionist!"
Pelle stood his ground, and looked his employer in the eyes; he would
have struck the man a blow in the face rather than allow himself to be
sent away. "Be cool, now; be cool!" he said to himself. He laughed, but
his features were quivering. The Court shoemaker kept a certain
distance, and continued to shout, "Out with him! Here, foreman, call the
police at once!"
"Now you can see, comrades, how they value one here," said Pelle,
turning his broad back on Meyer. "We are dogs; nothing more!"
They stood there, staring at the counter, deaf and dumb in their dread
of taking sides. Then Pelle went. He made his way northward. His heart
was full of violent emotion. Indignation raged within him like a
tempest, and by fits and starts found utterance on his lips. Meyer's
work was quite immaterial to him; it was badly paid, and he only did it
as a stop-gap. But it was disgusting to think they could buy his
convictions with badly-paid work! And there they stood not daring to
show their colors, as if it wasn't enough to support such a fellow with
their skill and energy! Meyer stood there like a wall, in the way of any
real progress, but he needn't think he could strike at Pelle, for he'd
get a blow in return if he did!
He went straight to Mason Stolpe, in order to talk the matter over with
him; the old trades unionist was a man of great experience.
"So he's one of those who go in for the open slave-trade!" said Stolpe.
"We've had a go at them before now. 'We've done with you, my good man;
we can make no use of agitators!' And if one steals a little march on
them 'Off you go; you're done with here!' I myself have been like a
hunted cur, and at home mother used to go about crying. I could see what
she was feeling, but when I put the matter before her she said, 'Hold
out, Stolpe, you shan't give in!' 'You're forgetting our daily bread,
mother,' I say. 'Oh, our daily bread. I can just go out washing!' That
was in those days--they sing another tune to us now! Now the master
politely raises his hat to old Stolpe! If he thinks he can allow himself
to hound a man down, an embargo must be put on him!"
Pelle had nothing to say against that. "If only it works," he said. "But
our organization looks weak enough as yet."
"Only try it; in any case, you can always damage him. He attacks your
livelihood in order to strike at your conscience, so you hit back at his
purse-that's where his conscience is! Even if it does no good, at least
it makes him realize that you're not a slave."
Pelle sat a while longer chatting. He had secretly hoped to meet Ellen
again, but he dared not ask whether that was her day for coming home.
Madam Stolpe invited him to stay and to have supper with them she was
only waiting for her sons. But Pelle had no time; he must be off to
think out instructions for the embargo. "Then come on Sunday," said the
mother; "Sunday is Ellen's birthday."
With rapid strides he went off to the president of the Union; the
invitation for the following Sunday had dissipated the remains of his
anger. The prospect of a tussle with Meyer had put him in the best of
tempers. He was certain of winning the president, Petersen, for his
purpose, if only he could find him out of bed; he himself had in his
time worked for wholesale shoemakers, and hated them like the plague. It
was said that Petersen had worked out a clever little invention--a
patent button for ladies' boots--which he had taken to Meyer, as he
himself did not know how to exploit it. But Meyer had, without more ado,
treated the invention as his own, inasmuch as it was produced by one of
his workmen. He took out a patent and made a lot of money by it,
trifling as the thing was. When Petersen demanded a share of the
profits, he was dismissed. He himself never spoke of the matter; he just
sat in his cellar brooding over the injustice, so that he never managed
to recover his position. Almost his whole time had been devoted to the
Union, so that he might revenge himself through it; but it never really
made much progress. He fired up passionately enough, but he was lacking
in persistence. And his lungs were weak.
He trembled with excitement when Pelle explained his plan. "Great God in
heaven, if only we could get at him!" he whispered hoarsely, clenching
his skinny fists which Death had already marked with its dusky shadows.
"I would willingly give my miserable life to see the scoundrel ruined!
Look at that!" He bent down, whispering, and showed Pelle a file ground
to a point, which was fastened into a heavy handle. "If I hadn't the
children, he would have got that between his ribs long before this!" His
gray, restless eyes, which reminded Pelle of Anker, the crazy
clockmaker, had a cold, piercing expression.
"Yes, yes," said Pelle, laying his hand soothingly on the other's; "but
it's no use to do anything stupid. We shall only do what we want to do
if we all stand together."
The day was well spent; on the very next evening the members of the
Union were summoned to a meeting. Petersen spoke first, and beginning
with a fiery speech. It was like the final efforts of a dying man. "You
organize the struggle," said Petersen. "I'm no good nowadays for that--
and I've no strength. But I'll sound the assault--ay, and so that they
wake up. Then you yourself must see to keeping the fire alight in them."
His eyes burned in their shadowy sockets; he stood there like a martyr
upholding the necessity of the conflict. The embargo was agreed upon
Then Pelle came forward and organized the necessary plan of campaign. It
was his turn now. There was no money in the chest, but every man had to
promise a certain contribution to be divided among those who were
refusing to work. Every man must do his share to deprive Meyer of all
access to the labor market. And there was to be no delirious enthusiasm
--which they would regret when they woke up next morning. It was
essential that every man should form beforehand a clear conception of
the difficulties, and must realize what he was pledging himself to. And
then--three cheers for a successful issue!
This business meant a lot of running about. But what of that! Pelle, who
had to sit such a lot, wouldn't suffer from getting out into the fresh
air! He employed the evenings in making up for lost time. He got work
from the small employers in Kristianshavn, who were very busy in view of
Christmas, which made up for that which he had lost through the Court
On the second day after his dismissal, the declaration of the embargo
appeared under the "Labor Items" in _The Working Man_. "Assistance
strictly prohibited!" It was like the day's orders, given by Pelle's own
word of mouth. He cut the notice out, and now and again, as he sat at
his work, he took it out and considered it. This was Pelle--although it
didn't say so--
Pelle and the big employer were having a bit of a tussle! Now they
should see which was the stronger!
Pelle went often to see Stolpe. Strangely enough, his visits always
coincided with Ellen's days off. Then he accompanied her homeward, and
they walked side by side talking of serious things. There was nothing
impetuous about them--they behaved as though a long life lay before
them. His vehemence cooled in the conflict with Meyer. He was sure of
Ellen's character, unapproachable though she was. Something in him told
him that she ought to be and would remain so. She was one of those
natures to whom it is difficult to come out of their shell, so as to
reveal the kernel within; but he felt that there was something that was
growing for him within that reserved nature, and he was not impatient.
One evening he had as usual accompanied her to the door, and they stood
there bidding one another good night. She gave him her hand in her shy,
awkward manner, which might even mean reluctance, and was then about to
"But are we going on like this all our lives?" said Pelle, holding her
fingers tightly. "I love you so!"
She stood there a while, with an impenetrable expression, then advanced
her face and kissed him mechanically, as a child kisses, with tightly
closed lips. She was already on her way to the house when she suddenly
started back, drew him to herself, and kissed him passionately and
unrestrainedly. There was something so violent, so wild and fanatical in
her demeanor, that he was quite bewildered. He scarcely recognized her,
and when he had come to himself she was already on her way up the
kitchen steps. He stood still, as though blinded by a rain of fire, and
heard her running as though pursued.
Since that day she had been another creature. Her love was like the
spring that comes in a single night. She could not be without him for a
day; when she went out to make purchases, she came running over to the
"Ark." Her nature had thrown off its restraint; there was tension in her
manner and her movements; and this tension now and again escaped from
within in little explosions. She did not say very much; when they were
together, she clung to him passionately as though to deaden some pain,
and hid her face; if he lifted it, she kept her eyes persistently
closed. Then she breathed deeply, and sat down smiling and humming to
herself when he spoke to her.
It was as though she was delving deep into his inmost being, and Pelle,
who felt the need to reach and to know that inner nature, drew
confidence from her society. No matter what confronted him, he had
always sought in his inner self for his natural support, anxiously
listening for that which came to the surface, and unconsciously doubting
and inquiring. And now, so surely as she leaned silently on his arm, she
confirmed something deep within him, and her steadfast gaze vibrated
within him like a proud vocation, and he felt himself infinitely rich.
She spoke to something deep within him when she gazed at him so
thoughtfully. But what she said he did not know--nor what answer she
received. When he recalled her from that gaze of hers, as of one
bewitched, she only sighed like one awaking, and kissed him.
Ellen was loyal and unselfish and greatly valued by her employers. There
was no real development to be perceived in her--she longed to become
his--and that was all. But the future was born on Pelle's own lips under
her dreamy gaze, as though it was she who inspired him with the
illuminating words. And then she listened with an absent smile--as to
something delightful; but she herself seemed to give no thought to the
future. She seemed full of a hidden devotion, that filled Pelle with an
inward warmth, so that he held up his head very high toward the light.
This constant devotion of Ellen's made the children "Family" teasingly
call her "the Saint."
It gave him much secret pleasure to be admitted to her home, where the
robust Copenhagen humor concealed conditions quite patriarchal in their
nature. Everything was founded on order and respect for the parents,
especially the father, who spoke the decisive word in every matter, and
had his own place, in which no one else ever sat. When he came home from
his work, the grown-up sons would always race to take him his slippers,
and the wife always had some extra snack for him. The younger son,
Frederik, who was just out of his apprenticeship, was as delighted as a
child to think of the day when he should become a journeyman and be able
to drink brotherhood with the old man.
They lived in a new, spacious, three-roomed tenement with a servant's
room thrown in; to Pelle, who was accustomed to find his comrades over
here living in one room with a kitchen, this was a new experience. The
sons boarded and lodged at home; they slept in the servant's room. The
household was founded on and supported by their common energies;
although the family submitted unconditionally to the master of the
house, they did not do so out of servility; they only did as all others
did. For Stolpe was the foremost man in his calling, an esteemed worker
and the veteran of the labor movement. His word was unchallenged.
Ellen was the only one who did not respect his supremacy, but
courageously opposed him, often without any further motive than that of
contradiction. She was the only girl of the family, and the favorite;
and she took advantage of her position. Sometimes it looked as though
Stolpe would be driven to extremities; as though he longed to pulverize
her in his wrath; but he always gave in to her.
He was greatly pleased with Pelle. And he secretly admired his daughter
more than ever. "You see, mother, there's something in that lass! She
understands how to pick a man for himself!" he would cry
"Yes; I've nothing against him, either," Madam Stolpe would reply. "A
bit countrified still, but of course he's growing out of it."
"Countrified? He? No, you take my word, he knows what he wants. She's
really found her master there!" said Stolpe triumphantly.
In the two brothers Pelle found a pair of loyal comrades, who could not
but look up to him.
With the embargo matters were going so-so. Meyer replied to it by
convoking the employers to a meeting with a view to establishing an
employers' union, which would refuse employment to the members of the
trade union. Then the matter would have been settled at one blow.
However, things did not go so far as that. The small employers were
afraid the journeymen would set up for themselves and compete against
them. And instinctively they feared the big employers more than the
journeymen, and were shy of entering the Union with them. The inner
tendency of the industrial movement was to concentrate everything in a
few hands, and to ruin the small business. The small employers had yet
another crow to pluck with Meyer, who had extended his business at the
expense of their own.
Through Master Beck, Pelle learned what was taking place among the
employers. Meyer had demanded that Beck should discharge Pelle, but Beck
would not submit to him.
"I can't really complain of you," he said. "Your trades-unionism I don't
like--you would do better to leave it alone. But with your work I am
very well satisfied. I have always endeavored to render justice to all
parties. But if you can knock Meyer's feet from under him, we small
employers will be very grateful to your Union, for he's freezing us
To knock his feet from under him-that wasn't an easy thing to do. On the
contrary, he was driving the weaker brethren out of the Union, and had
always enough workers--partly Swedes, with whom he had a written
contract, and whom he had to pay high wages. The system of home
employment made it impossible to get to grips with him. Pelle and the
president of the Union carefully picketed the warehouse about the time
when the work was delivered, in order to discover who was working for
him. And they succeeded in snatching a few workers away from him and in
bringing them to reason, or else their names were published in The
Working Man. But then the journeymen sent their wives or children with
the work--and there was really nothing that could be done. It cost Meyer
large sums of money to keep his business going, but the Union suffered
more. It had not as yet sufficient authority, and the large employers
stood by Meyer and would not employ members of the Union as long as the
embargo lasted. So it was finally raised.
That was a defeat; but Pelle had learned something, none the less! The
victory was to the strong, and their organization was not as yet
sufficient. They must talk and agitate, and hold meetings! The tendency
to embrace the new ideas certainly inclined the men to organize
themselves, but their sense of honor was as yet undeveloped. The
slightest mishap dispersed them.
Pelle did not lose heart; he must begin all over again, that was all.
On the morning after the defeat was an accomplished fact he was up
early. His resolution to go ahead with redoubled energies, he had, so to
speak, slept into him, so that it pervaded his body and put energy and
decision into his hammer-strokes.
He whistled as the work progressed rapidly under his hands. The window
stood open so that the night air might escape; hoar frost lay on the
roofs, and the stars twinkled overhead in the cold heavens. But Pelle
was not cold! He had just awakened the "Family" and could hear them
moving about in their room. People were beginning to tumble out into the
gangway, still drunken with sleep. Pelle was whistling a march. On the
previous evening he had sent off the last instalment of his debt to
Sort, and at the same time had written definitely to Father Lasse that
he was to come. And now the day was dawning!
Marie came and reached him his coffee through the door. "Good morning!"
she cried merrily, through the crack of the door. "We're going to have
fine weather to-day, Pelle!" She was not quite dressed yet and would not
let herself be seen. The boys nodded good morning as they ran out. Karl
had his coat and waistcoat under his arm. These articles of clothing he
always used to put on as he ran down the stairs.
When it was daylight Marie came in to set the room in order. She
conversed with him as she scrubbed.
"Look here, Marie!" cried Pelle suddenly. "Ellen came here yesterday and
asked you to bring me a message when I came home. You didn't do it."
Marie's face became set, but she did not reply.
"It was only by pure chance that I met her yesterday, otherwise we
should have missed one another."
"Then I must have forgotten it," said Marie morosely.
"Why, of course you forgot it. But that's the second time this week. You
must be in love!" he added, smiling.
Marie turned her back on him. "I've got nothing to do with her--I don't
owe her anything!" suddenly she cried defiantly. "And I'm not going to
clean your room any longer, either--let her do it--so there!" She seized
her pail and scrubbing-brush and ran into her own room. After a time he
heard her voice from within the room; at first he thought she was
singing a tune to herself, but then he heard sobs.
He hurried into the room; she was lying on the bed, weeping, biting the
pillow and striking at it angrily with her roughened hands. Her thin
body burned as if with fever.
"You are ill, Marie dear," said Pelle anxiously, laying his hand on her
forehead. "You ought to go to bed and take something to make you sweat.
I'll warm it up for you."
She was really ill; her eyes were dry and burning, and her hands were
cold and clammy. But she would agree to nothing. "Go away!" she said
angrily, "and attend to your own work! Leave me alone!" She had turned
her back on him and nudged him away defiantly with her shoulder. "You'd
best go in and cuddle Ellen!" she cried suddenly, with a malicious
"Why are you like this, Marie?" said Pelle, distressed. "You are quite
She buried her face in the bed and would neither look at him nor answer
him. So he went back to his work.
After a time she came into his room again and resumed her work of
cleaning. She banged the things about; pulling down some work of his
that he had set to dry by the stove, and giving him a malicious sidelong
look. Then a cup containing paste fell to the ground and was broken.
"She did that on purpose," he thought unhappily, and he put the paste
into an empty box. She stood watching him with a piercing, malicious
He turned to his work again, and made as though nothing had happened.
Suddenly he felt her thin arms about his neck. "Forgive me!" she said,
weeping, and she hid her face against his shoulder.
"Come, come, nothing very dreadful has happened! The silly old cup!" he
said consolingly, as he stroked her head. "You couldn't help it!"
But at that she broke down altogether, and it seemed as though her
crying would destroy her meager body. "Yes, I did it on purpose!" she
bellowed. "And I threw down the boots on purpose, and yesterday I didn't
give you the message on purpose. I would have liked to hurt you still
more, I'm so bad, bad, bad! Why doesn't some one give me a good beating?
If you'd only once be properly angry with me!"
She was quite beside herself and did not know what she was saying.
"Now listen to me at once--you've got to be sensible!" said Pelle
decidedly, "for this sort of thing is not amusing. I was pleased to
think I was going to be at home to-day, so as to work beside you, and
then you go and have an attack just like a fine lady!"
She overcame her weeping by a tremendous effort, and went back to her
room, gently sobbing. She returned at once with a cracked cup for the
paste and a small tin box with a slit in the lid. This was her money-
"Take it," she said, pushing the box onto his lap. "Then you can buy
yourself lasts and needn't go asking the small employers for work.
There's work enough here in the 'Ark.'"
"But, Marie--that's your rent!" said Pelle, aghast.
"What does that matter? I can easily get the money together again by the
Oh, she could easily do that! Pelle laughed, a bewildered laugh. How
cheerfully she threw her money about, the money that cost her thirty
days of painful thought and saving, in order to have it ready each
"What do you think Peter and Karl would say to your chucking your money
about like that? Put the box away again safely-and be quick about it!"
"Oh, take it!" she cried persistently, thrusting the box upon him.
again. "Yes--or I'll throw it out of the window!" She quickly opened one
of the sashes. Pelle stood up.
"It's true I still owe you for the last washing," he said, offering to
put a krone in the box.
"A good thing you reminded me." She stared at him with an impenetrable
expression and ran back to her room.
In there she moved about singing in her harsh voice. After a while she
went out to make some purchases clad in a gray shawl, with her house-
wife's basket on her arm. He could follow her individual step, which was
light as a child's, and yet sounded so old--right to the end of the
tunnel. Then he went into the children's room and pulled out the third
drawer in the chest of drawers. There she always hid her money-box,
wrapped up in her linen. He still possessed two kroner, which he
inserted in the box.
He used always to pay her in this way. When she counted out her money
and found there was too much, she believed the good God had put the
money in her box, and would come jubilantly into his room to tell him
about it. The child believed blindly in Fortune, and accepted the money
as a sign of election; and for her this money was something quite
different to that which she herself had saved.
About noon she came to invite him into her room. "There's fried herring,
Pelle, so you can't possibly say no," she said persuasively, "for no
Bornholmer could! Then you needn't go and buy that stuffy food from the
hawker, and throw away five and twenty ore." She had bought half a score
of the fish, and had kept back five for her brothers when they came
home. "And there's coffee after," she said. She had set out everything
delightfully, with a clean napkin at one end of the table.
The factory girl's little Paul came in and was given a mouthful of food.
Then he ran out into the gangway again and tumbled about there, for the
little fellow was never a moment still from the moment his mother let
him out in the morning; there was so much to make up for after his long
imprisonment. From the little idiot whom his mother had to tie to the
stove because he had water on the brain and wanted to throw himself out
of the window, he had become a regular vagabond. Every moment he would
thrust his head in at the door and look at Pelle; and he would often
come right in, put his hand on Pelle's knee, and say, "You's my father!"
Then he would rush off again. Marie helped him in all his infantile
necessities--he always appealed to her!
After she had washed up, she sat by Pelle with her mending, chattering
away concerning her household cares. "I shall soon have to get jackets
for the boys--it's awful what they need now they're grown up. I peep in
at the second-hand clothes shop every day. And you must have a new
blouse, too, Pelle; that one will soon be done for; and then you've none
to go to the wash. If you'll buy the stuff, I'll soon make it up for
you--I can sew! I made my best blouse myself--Hanne helped me with it!
Why, really, don't you go to see Hanne any longer?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"Hanne has grown so peculiar. She never comes down into the courtyard
now to dance with us. She used to. Then I used to watch out of the
window, and run down. It was so jolly, playing with her. We used to go
round and round her and sing! 'We all bow to Hanne, we curtsy all to
Hanne, we all turn round before her!' And then we bowed and curtsied and
suddenly we all turned round. I tell you, it was jolly! You ought to
have taken Hanne."
"But you didn't like it when I took Ellen. Why should I have taken
"Oh, I don't know ... Hanne...." Marie stopped, listened, and suddenly
wrenched the window open.
Down in the "Ark" a door slammed, and a long hooting sound rose up from
below, sounding just like a husky scream from the crazy Vinslev's flute
or like the wind in the long corridors. Like a strange, disconnected
snatch of melody, the sound floated about below, trickling up along the
wooden walls, and breaking out into the daylight with a note of ecstasy:
"Hanne's with child! The Fairy Princess is going to be confined!"
Marie went down the stairs like a flash. The half-grown girls were
shrieking and running together in the court below; the women on the
galleries were murmuring to others above and below. Not that this was in
itself anything novel; but in this case it was Hanne herself, the
immaculate, whom as yet no tongue had dared to besmirch. And even now
they dared hardly speak of it openly; it had come as such a shock. In a
certain sense they had all entered into her exaltation, and with her had
waited for the fairy-tale to come true; as quite a child she had been
elected to represent the incomprehensible; and now she was merely going
to have a child! It really was like a miracle just at first; it was such
a surprise to them all!
Marie came back with dragging steps and with an expression of horror and
astonishment. Down in the court the grimy-nosed little brats were
screeching, as they wheeled hand in hand round the sewer-grating--it was
splendid for dancing round--
Hanne's doin' to have a tid!"
They couldn't speak plainly yet.
And there was "Grete with the baby," the mad-woman, tearing her cellar-
window open, leaning out of it backward, with her doll on her arm, and
yelling up through the well, so that it echoed loud and shrill: "The
Fairy Princess has got a child, and Pelle's its father!"
Pelle bent over his work in silence. Fortunately he was not the king's
son in disguise in this case! But he wasn't going to wrangle with women.
Hanne's mother came storming out onto her gallery. "That's a shameless
lie!" she cried. "Pelle's name ain't going to be dragged into this--the
other may be who he likes!"
Overhead the hearse-driver came staggering out onto his gallery. "The
princess there has run a beam into her body," he rumbled, in his good-
natured bass. "What a pity I'm not a midwife! They've got hold of the
wrong end of it!"
"Clear off into your hole and hold your tongue, you body-snatcher!"
cried Madam Johnsen, spitting with rage. "You've got to stick your
brandy-nose into everything!"
He stood there, half drunk, leaning over the rail, babbling, teasing,
without returning Madam Johnsen's vituperation. But then little Marie
flung up a window and came to her assistance, and up from her platform
Ferdinand's mother emerged. "How many hams did you buy last month? Fetch
out your bear hams, then, and show us them! He kills a bear for every
corpse, the drunkard!" From all sides they fell upon him. He could do
nothing against them, and contented himself with opening his eyes and
his mouth and giving vent to a "Ba-a-a!" Then his red-haired wife came
out and hailed him in.
From the moment when the gray morning broke there was audible a peculiar
note in the buzzing of the "Ark," a hoarse excitement, which thrust all
care aside. Down the long corridors there was a sound of weeping and
scrubbing; while the galleries and the dark wooden stair-cases were
sluiced with water. "Look out there!" called somebody every moment from
somewhere, and then it was a question of escaping the downward-streaming
flood. During the whole morning the water poured from one gallery to
another, as over a mill-race.
But now the "Ark" stood freezing in its own cleanliness, with an
expression that seemed to say the old warren didn't know itself. Here
and there a curtain or a bit of furniture had disappeared from a window
--it had found its way to the pawn shop in honor of the day. What was
lacking in that way was made up for by the expectation and festive
delight on the faces of the inmates.
Little fir-trees peeped out of the cellar entries in the City Ward, and
in the market-place they stood like a whole forest along the wall of the
prison. In the windows of the basement-shops hung hearts and colored
candles, and the grocer at the corner had a great Christmas goblin in
his window--it was made of red and gray wool-work and had a whole cat's
skin for its beard.
On the stairs of the "Ark" the children lay about cleaning knives and
forks with sand sprinkled on the steps.
Pelle sat over his work and listened in secret. His appearance usually
had a quieting effect on these crazy outbursts of the "Ark," but he did
not want to mix himself up with this affair. And he had never even
dreamed that Hanne's mother could be like this! She was like a fury,
turning her head, quick as lightning, now to one side, now to the
other, and listening to every sound, ready to break out again!
Ah, she was protecting her child now that it was too late! She was like
a spitting cat.
"The youngest of all the lordlin's,"
sang the children down in the court. That was Hanne's song. Madam
Johnsen stood there as though she would like to swoop down on their
heads. Suddenly she flung her apron over her face and ran indoors,
"Ah!" they said, and they slapped their bellies every time an odor of
something cooking streamed out into the court. Every few minutes they
had to run out and buy five or ten ore worth of something or other;
there was no end to the things that were needed in preparation for
Christmas Eve. "We're having lovely red beetroot!" said one little
child, singing, making a song of it--"We're having lovely red beetroot,
aha, aha, aha!" And they swayed their little bodies to and fro as they
"Frederik!" a sharp voice cried from one of the corridors. "Run and get
a score of firewood and a white roll--a ten-ore one. But look out the
grocer counts the score properly and don't pick out the crumb!"
Madam Olsen with the warm wall was frying pork. She couldn't pull her
range out onto the gallery, but she did let the pork burn so that the
whole courtyard was filled with bluish smoke. "Madam Olsen! Your pork is
burning!" cried a dozen women at once.
"That's because the frying-pan's too small!" replied Frau Olsen,
thrusting her red head out through the balusters. "What's a poor devil
to do when her frying-pan's too small?" And Madam Olsen's frying-pan was
the biggest in the whole "Ark"!
Shortly before the twilight fell Pelle came home from the workshop. He
saw the streets and the people with strange eyes that diffused a
radiance over all things; it was the Christmas spirit in his heart. But
why? he asked himself involuntarily. Nothing in particular was in store
for him. To-day he would have to work longer than usual, and he would
not be able to spend the evening with Ellen, for she had to be busy in
her kitchen, making things jolly for others. Why, then, did this feeling
possess him? It was not a memory; so far as he could look back he had
never taken part in a genuine cheerful Christmas Eve, but had been
forced to content himself with the current reports of such festivities.
And all the other poor folks whom he met were in the same mood as he
himself. The hard questioning look had gone from their faces; they were
smiling to themselves as they went. To-day there was nothing of that
wan, heavy depression which commonly broods over the lower classes like
the foreboding of disaster; they could not have looked more cheerful had
all their hopes been fulfilled! A woman with a feather-bed in her arms
passed him and disappeared into the pawn-shop; and she looked extremely
well pleased. Were they really so cheerful just because they were going
to have a bit of a feast, while to do so they were making a succession
of lean days yet leaner? No, they were going to keep festival because
the Christmas spirit prevailed in their hearts, because they must keep
holiday, however dearly it might cost them!
It was on this night to be sure that Christ was born. Were the people so
kind and cheerful on that account?
Pelle still knew by heart most of the Bible texts of his school-days.
They had remained stowed away somewhere in his mind, without burdening
him or taking up any room, and now and again they reappeared and helped
to build up his knowledge of mankind. But of Christ Himself he had
formed his own private picture, from the day when as a boy he first
stumbled upon the command given to the rich: to sell all that they had
and to give to the starving. But they took precious good care not to do
so; they took the great friend of the poor man and hanged him on high!
He achieved no more than this, that He became a promise to the poor; but
perhaps it was this promise that, after two thousand years, they were
now so solemnly celebrating!
They had so long been silent, holding themselves in readiness, like the
wise virgins in the Bible, and now at last it was coming! Now at last
they were beginning to proclaim the great Gospel of the Poor--it was a
goodly motive for all this Christmas joy! Why did they not assemble the
multitudes on the night of Christ's birth and announce the Gospel to them?
Then they would all understand the Cause and would join it then and there!
There was a whirl of new living thoughts in Pelle's head. He had not
hitherto known that that in which he was participating was so great a
thing. He felt that he was serving the Highest.
He stood a while in the market-place, silently considering the
Christmas-trees--they led his thoughts back to the pasture on which he
had herded the cows, and the little wood of firs. It pleased him to buy
a tree, and to take the children by surprise; the previous evening they
had sat together cutting out Christmas-tree decorations, and Karl had
fastened four fir-tree boughs together to make a Christmas-tree.
At the grocer's he bought some sweets and Christmas candles. The grocer
was going about on tip-toe in honor of the day, and was serving the
dirty little urchins with ceremonious bows. He was "throwing things in,"
and had quite forgotten his customary, "Here, you, don't forget that you
still owe for two lots of tea and a quarter of coffee!" But he was
cheating with the scales as usual.
Marie was going about with rolled-up sleeves, and was very busy. But she
dropped her work and came running when she saw the tree. "It won't stand
here yet, Pelle," she cried, "it will have to be cut shorter. It will
have to be cut still shorter even now! Oh, how pretty it is! No, at the
end there--at the end! We had a Christmas-tree at home; father went out
himself and cut it down on the cliffs; and we children went with him.
But this one is much finer!" Then she ran out into the gangway, in order
to tell the news, but it suddenly occurred to her that the boys had not
come home yet, so she rushed in to Pelle once more.
Pelle sat down to his work. From time to time he lifted his head and
looked out. The seamstress, who had just moved into Pipman's old den,
and who was working away at her snoring machine, looked longingly at
him. Of course she must be lonely; perhaps there was nowhere where she
could spend the evening.
Old Madam Frandsen came out on her platform and shuffled down the steep
stairs in her cloth slippers. The rope slipped through her trembling
hands. She had a little basket on her arm and a purse in her hand--she
too looked so lonely, the poor old worm! She had now heard nothing of
her son for three months. Madam Olsen called out to her and invited her
in, but the old woman shook her head. On the way back she looked in on
"He's coming this evening," she whispered delightedly. "I've been buying
brandy and beefsteak for him, because he's coming this evening!"
"Well, don't be disappointed, Madam Frandsen," said Pelle, "but he
daren't venture here any more. Come over to us instead and keep
Christmas with us."
She nodded confidently. "He'll come tonight. On Christmas Eve he has
always slept in mother's bed, ever since he could crawl, and he can't do
without it, not if I know my Ferdinand!" She had already made up a bed
for herself on the chairs, so certain was she.
The police evidently thought as she did, for down in the court strange
footsteps were heard. It was just about twilight, when so many were
coming and going unremarked. But at these steps a female head popped
back over the balustrade, a sharp cry was heard, and at the same moment
every gallery was filled with women and children. They hung over the
rails and made an ear-splitting din, so that the whole deep, narrow
shaft was filled with an unendurable uproar. It sounded as though a
hurricane came raging down through the shaft, sweeping with it a
hailstorm of roofing-slates. The policeman leaped back into the tunnel-
entry, stupefied. He stood there a moment recovering himself before he
withdrew. Upstairs, in the galleries, they leaned on the rails and
recovered their breath, exhausted by the terrific eruption; and then
fell to chattering like a flock of small birds that have been chasing a
"Merry Christmas!" was now shouted from gallery to gallery. "Thanks, the
same to you!" And the children shouted to one another, "A jolly feast
and all the best!" "A dainty feast for man and beast!"
Christmas Eve was here! The men came shuffling home at a heavy trot, and
the factory-girls came rushing in. Here and there a feeble wail filtered
out of one of the long corridors, so that the milk-filled breast ached.
Children incessantly ran in and out, fetching the last ingredients of
the feast. Down by the exit into the street they had to push two tramps,
who stood there shuddering in the cold. They were suspicious-looking
people. "There are two men down there, but they aren't genuine," said
Karl. "They look as if they came out of a music-hall."
"Run over to old Madam Frandsen and tell her that," said Pelle. But her
only answer was, "God be thanked, then they haven't caught him yet!"
Over at Olsen's their daughter Elvira had come home. The blind was not
drawn, and she was standing at the window with her huge hat with flowers
in it, allowing herself to be admired. Marie came running in. "Have you
seen how fine she is, Pelle?" she said, quite stupefied. "And she gets
all that for nothing from the gentlemen, just because they think she's
so pretty. But at night she paints her naked back!"
The children were running about in the gangway, waiting until Pelle
should have finished. They would not keep Christmas without him. But now
he, too, had finished work; he pulled on a jacket, wrapped up his work,
and ran off.
Out on the platform he stood still for a moment. He could see the light
of the city glimmering in the deep, star-filled sky. The night was so
solemnly beautiful. Below him the galleries were forsaken; they were
creaking in the frost. All the doors were closed to keep the cold out
and the joy in. "Down, down from the green fir-trees!"--it sounded from
every corner. The light shone through the window and in all directions
through the woodwork. Suddenly there was a dull booming sound on the
stairs--it was the hearse-driver staggering home with a ham under either
arm. Then all grew quiet--quiet as it never was at other times in the
"Ark," where night or day some one was always complaining. A child came
out and lifted a pair of questioning eyes, in order to look at the Star
of Bethlehem! There was a light at Madam Frandsen's. She had hung a
white sheet over the window today, and had drawn it tight; the lamp
stood close to the window, so that any one moving within would cast no
shadow across it.
The poor old worm! thought Pelle, as he ran past; she might have spared
herself the trouble! When he had delivered his work he hurried over to
Holberg Street, in order to wish Ellen a happy Christmas. The table was
finely decked out in his room when he got home; there was pork chops,
rice boiled in milk, and Christmas beer. Marie was glowing with pride
over her performance; she sat helping the others, but she herself took
"You ought to cook a dinner as good as this every day, lass!" said Karl,
as he set to. "God knows, you might well get a situation in the King's
"Why don't you eat any of this nice food?" said Pelle.
"Oh, no, I can't," she replied, touching her cheeks; her eyes beamed
They laughed and chattered and clinked their glasses together. Karl came
out with the latest puns and the newest street-songs; so he had gained
something by his scouring of the city streets. Peter sat there looking
impenetrably now at one, now at another; he never laughed, but from time
to time he made a dry remark by which one knew that he was amusing
himself. Now and again they looked over at old Madam Frandsen's window--
it was a pity that she wouldn't be with them.
Five candles were now burning over there--they were apparently fixed on
a little Christmas tree which stood in a flowerpot. They twinkled like
distant stars through the white curtain, and Madam Frandsen's voice
sounded cracked and thin: "O thou joyful, O thou holy, mercy-bringing
Christmas-tide!" Pelle opened his window and listened; he wondered that
the old woman should be so cheerful.
Suddenly a warning voice sounded from below: "Madam Frandsen, there are
Doors and windows flew open on the galleries round about. People tumbled
out of doorways, their food in their hands, and leaned over the
railings. "Who dares to disturb our Christmas rejoicings?" cried a deep,
"The officers of the law!" the reply came out of the darkness. "Keep
quiet, all of you--in the name of the law!"
Over on Madam Frandsen's side two figures became visible, noiselessly
running up on all fours. Upstairs nothing was happening; apparently they
had lost their heads. "Ferdinand, Ferdinand!" shrieked a girl's voice
wildly; "they're coming now!"
At the same moment the door flew open, and with a leap Ferdinand stood
on the platform. He flung a chair down at his pursuers, and violently
swayed the hand-rope, in order to sweep them off the steps. Then he
seized the gutter and swung himself up onto the roof. "Good-bye,
mother!" he cried from above, and his leap resounded in the darkness.
"Good-bye, mother, and a merry Christmas!" A howl like that of a wounded
beast flung the alarm far out into the night, and they heard the
stumbling pursuit of the policemen over the roofs. And then all was
They returned unsuccessful. "Well, then you haven't got him!" cried
Olsen, leaning out of his window down below.
"No; d'you think we are going to break our necks for the like of him?"
retorted the policemen, as they scrambled down. "Any one going to stand
a glass of Christmas beer?" As no response followed, they departed.
Old Madam Frandsen went into her room and locked up; she was tired and
worried and wanted to go to bed. But after a time she came shuffling
down the long gangway. "Pelle," she whispered, "he's in bed in my room!
While they were scrambling about on the roofs he slipped quietly back
over the garrets and got into my bed! Good God, he hasn't slept in a bed
for four months! He's snoring already!" And she slipped out again.
Yes, that was an annoying interruption! No one felt inclined to begin
all over again excepting Karl, and Marie did not count him, as he was
always hungry. So she cleared away, gossiping as she went in and out;
she did not like to see Pelle so serious.
"But the secret!" she cried of a sudden, quite startled. The boys ran in
to her; then they came back, close together, with Marie behind them,
carrying something under her apron. The two boys flung themselves upon
Pelle and closed his eyes, while Marie inserted something in his mouth.
"Guess now!" she cried, "guess now!" It was a porcelain pipe with a
green silken tassel. On the bowl of the pipe, which was Ellen's
Christmas gift, was a representation of a ten-kroner note. The children
had inserted a screw of tobacco. "Now you'll be able to smoke properly,"
said Marie, pursing her lips together round the mouthpiece; "you are so
clever in everything else."
The children had invited guests for the Christmas-tree; the seamstress,
the old night-watchman from the courtyard, the factory-hand with her
little boy; all those who were sitting at home and keeping Christmas all
alone. They didn't know themselves, there were so many of them! Hanne
and her mother were invited too, but they had gone to bed early--they
were not inclined for sociability. One after another they were pulled
into the room, and they came with cheerful faces. Marie turned the lamp
out and went in to light up the Christmas tree.
They sat in silence and expectation. The light from the stove flickered
cheerfully to and fro in the room, lighting up a face with closed
eyelids and eager features, and dying away with a little crash. The
factory hand's little boy was the only one to chatter; he had sought a
refuge on Pelle's knee and felt quite safe in the darkness; his childish
voice sounded strangely bright in the firelight. "Paul must be quite
good and quiet," repeated the mother admonishingly.
"Mus'n't Paul 'peak?" asked the child, feeling for Pelle's face.
"Yes, to-night Paul can do just as he likes," replied Pelle. Then the
youngster chattered on and kicked out at the darkness with his little
"Now you can come!" cried Marie, and she opened the door leading to the
gangway. In the children's room everything had been cleared away. The
Christmas-tree stood in the middle, on the floor, and was blazing with
light. And how splendid it was--and how tall! Now they could have a
proper good look! The lights were reflected in their eyes, and in the
window-panes, and in the old mahogany-framed mirror, and the glass of
the cheap pictures, so that they seemed suddenly to be moving about in
the midst of myriads of stars, and forgot all their miseries. It was as
though they had escaped from all their griefs and cares, and had entered
straightway into glory, and all of a sudden a pure, clear voice arose,
tremulous with embarrassment, and the voice sang:
"O little angel, make us glad!
Down from high Heaven's halls
Through sunshine flown, in splendor clad,
Earth's shadow on thee falls!"
It sounded like a greeting from the clouds. They closed their eyes and
wandered, hand in hand, about the tree. Then the seamstress fell silent,
blushing. "You aren't singing with me!" she cried.
"We'll sing the Yule Song--we all know that," said Pelle.
"Down, down from the high green tree!"--It was Karl who struck up. And
they just did sing that! It fitted in so admirably--even the name of
Peter fitted in! And it was great fun, too, when all the presents
cropped up in the song; every single person was remembered! Only, the
lines about the purse, at the end, were all too true! There wasn't much
more to be said for that song! But suddenly the boys set the ring-dance
going; they stamped like a couple of soldiers, and then they all went
whirling round in frantic movement--a real witches' dance!
"Hey dicker dick,
My man fell smack;
It was on Christmas Eve!
I took a stick
And broke it on his back,
It was on Christmas Eve!"
How hot all the candles made it, and how it all went to one's head! They
had to open the door on to the gangway.
And there outside stood the inmates of the garrets, listening and
craning their necks. "Come inside," cried the boys. "There's room enough
if we make two rings!" So once again they moved round the tree, singing
Christmas carols. Every time there was a pause somebody struck up a new
carol, that had to be sung through. The doors opposite were open too,
the old rag-picker sat at the head of his table singing on his own
account. He had a loaf of black bread and a plate of bacon in front of
him, and after every carol he took a mouthful. In the other doorway sat
three coal-porters playing "sixty-six" for beer and brandy. They sat
facing toward the Christmas-tree, and they joined in the singing as they
played; but from time to time they broke off in the middle of a verse in
order to say something or to cry "Trumped!" Now they suddenly threw down
their cards and came into the room. "We don't want to sit here idle and
look on while others are working," they said, and they joined the
Finally they had all had enough of circling round the tree and singing.
So chairs and stools were brought in from the other rooms; they had to
squeeze close together, right under the sloping roof, and some sat up on
the window-sill. There was a clear circle left round the Christmas-tree.
And there they sat gossiping, crouching in all sorts of distorted
postures, as though that was the only way in which their bodies could
really find repose, their arms hanging loosely between their knees. But
their faces were still eager and excited; and the smoke from the candles
and the crackling fir-boughs of the tree veiled them in a bluish cloud,
through which they loomed as round as so many moons. The burning
turpentine gave the smoke a mysterious, alluring fragrance, and the
devout and attentive faces were like so many murmuring spirits, hovering
in the clouds, each above its outworn body.
Pelle sat there considering them till his heart bled for them--that was
his Christmas devotion. Poor storm-beaten birds, what was this splendid
experience which outweighed all their privations? Only a little light!
And they looked as though they could fall down before it and give up
their lives! He knew the life's story of each one of them better than
they knew. But their faces were still eager and excited; and they
themselves; when they approached the light they always burned themselves
in it, like the moths, they were so chilled!
"All the same, that's a queer invention, when one thinks about it," said
one of the dockers, nodding toward the Christmas-tree. "But it's fine.
God knows what it really is supposed to mean!"
"It means that now the year is returning toward the light again," said
the old night-watchman.
"No; it stands for the joy of the shepherds over the birth of Christ,"
said the rag-picker, stepping into the doorway.
"The shepherds were poor folks, like ourselves, who lived in the
darkness. That's why they rejoiced so over Him, because He came with the
"Well, it don't seem to me we've been granted such a terrible deal of
light! Oh, yes, the Christmas-tree here, that's splendid, Lord knows it
is, and we should all of us like to thank the children for it--but one
can't have trees like that to set light to every day; and as for the
sun--well, you see, the rich folks have got a monopoly of that!"
"Yes, you are right there, Jacob," said Pelle, who was moving about
round the tree, taking down the hearts and packages for the children,
who distributed the sweets. "You are all three of you right--curiously
enough. The Christmas-tree is to remind us of Christ's birth, and also
that the year is returning toward the sun--but that's all the same
thing. And then it's to remind us, too, that we too ought to have a
share in things; Christ was born especially to remind the poor of their
rights! Yes, that is so! For the Lord God isn't one to give long-winded
directions as to how one should go ahead; He sends the sun rolling round
the earth every day, and each of us must look out for himself, and see
how best he himself can get into the sunshine. It's just like the wife
of a public-house keeper I remember at home, who used to tell
travellers, 'What would you like to eat? You can have ducks or pork
chops or sweets--anything you've brought with you!'"
"That was a devilish funny statement!" said his hearers, laughing.
"Yes, it's easy enough to invite one to all sorts of fine things when
all the time one has to bring them along one's self! You ought to have
been a preacher."
"He'd far better be the Devil's advocate!" said the old rag-picker. "For
there's not much Christianity in what he says!"
"But you yourself said that Christ came bringing light for the poor,"
said Pelle; "and He Himself said as much, quite plainly; what He wanted
was to make the blind to see and the dead to walk, and to restore
consideration to the despised and rejected. Also, He wanted men to have
"The blind shall see, the lame shall walk, the leper shall be clean, the
deaf shall hear, and the dead shall arise, and the Word shall be preached
to the poor," said the rag-picker, correcting Pelle. "You are distorting
the Scriptures, Pelle."
"But I don't believe He meant only individual cripples--no, He meant all
of us in our misery, and all the temptations that lie in wait for us.
That's how Preacher Sort conceived it, and he was a godly, upright man.
He believed the millennium would come for the poor, and that Christ was
already on the earth making ready for its coming."
The women sat quite bemused, listening with open mouths; they dared
scarcely breathe. Paul was asleep on his mother's lap.
"Can He really have thought about us poor vermin, and so long
beforehand?" cried the men, looking from one to another. "Then why
haven't we long ago got a bit more forward than this?"
"Yes, I too don't understand that," said Pelle, hesitating. "Perhaps we
ourselves have got to work our way in the right direction--and that
"Yes, but--if He would only give us proper conditions of life. But if we
have to win them for ourselves we don't need any Christ for that!"
This was something that Pelle could not explain even to himself,
although he felt it within him as a living conviction, A man must win
what was due to him himself--that was clear as the day, and he couldn't
understand how they could be blind to the fact; but why he must do so he
couldn't--however he racked his brains--explain to another person. "But
I can tell you a story," he said.
"But a proper exciting story!" cried Earl, who was feeling bored. "Oh,
if only Vinslev were here--he has such droll ideas!"
"Be quiet, boy!" said Marie crossly. "Pelle makes proper speeches--
before whole meetings," she said, nodding solemnly to the others. "What
is the story called?"
"Oh, it's a story with Peter in it--then it's a fairy-tale! What is it
"You'll know that when you hear it, my child," said the old night-
"Yes, but then one can't enjoy it when it comes out right. Isn't it a
story about a boy who goes out into the world?"
"The story is about"--Pelle bethought himself a moment; "the story is
about the birth of Christ," he said quickly, and then blushed a deep red
at his own audacity. But the others looked disappointed, and settled
themselves decently and stared at the floor, as though they had been in
And then Pelle told them the story of Howling Peter; who was born and
grew up in poverty and grief, until he was big and strong, and every
man's cur to kick. For it was the greatest pity to see this finely-made
fellow, who was so full of fear and misery that if even a girl so much
as touched him he must flood himself with tears; and the only way out of
his misery was the rope. What a disgrace it was, that he should have
earned his daily bread and yet have been kept in the workhouse, as
though they did him a kindness in allowing him a hole to creep into
there, when with his capacity for work he could have got on anywhere!
And it became quite unendurable as he grew up and was still misused by
all the world, and treated like a dog. But then, all of a sudden, he
broke the magic spell, struck down his tormentors, and leaped out into
the daylight as the boldest of them all!
They drew a deep breath when he had finished. Marie clapped her hands.
"That was a real fairy-tale!" she cried. Karl threw himself upon Peter
and pummeled away at him, although that serious-minded lad was anything
but a tyrant!
They cheerfully talked the matter over. Everybody had something to say
about Howling Peter. "That was damned well done," said the men; "he
thrashed the whole crew from beginning to end; a fine fellow that! And a
strong one too! But why the devil did he take such a long time about it?
And put up with all that?"
"Yes, it isn't quite so easy for us to understand that--not for us, who
boast such a lot about our rights!" said Pelle, smiling.
"Well, you're a clever chap, and you've told it us properly!" cried the
cheerful Jacob. "But if ever you need a fist, there's mine!" He seized
and shook Pelle's hand.
The candles had long burned out, but they did not notice it.
Their eyes fastened on Pelle's as though seeking something, with a
peculiar expression in which a question plainly came and went. And
suddenly they overwhelmed him with questions. They wanted to know
enough, anyhow! He maintained that a whole world of splendors belonged
to them, and now they were in a hurry to get possession of them. Even
the old rag-picker let himself be carried away with the rest; it was too
alluring, the idea of giving way to a little intoxication, even if the
everyday world was to come after it.
Pelle stood among them all, strong and hearty, listening to all their
questions with a confident smile. He knew all that was to be theirs--
even if it couldn't come just at once. It was a matter of patience and
perseverance; but that they couldn't understand just now. When they had
at last entered into their glory they would know well enough how to
protect it. He had no doubts; he stood there among them like their
embodied consciousness, happily growing from deeply-buried roots.
From the foundations of the "Ark" rose a peculiar sound, a stumbling,
countrified footstep, dragging itself in heavy footgear over the
flagstones. All Pelle's blood rushed to his heart; he threw down his
work, and with a leap was on the gallery, quite convinced that this was
only an empty dream.... But there below in the court stood Father Lasse
in the flesh, staring up through the timbers, as though he couldn't
believe his own eyes. He had a sack filled with rubbish on his back.
"Hallo!" cried Pelle, taking the stairs in long leaps. "Hallo!"
"Good-day, my lad!" said Lasse, in a voice trembling with emotion,
considering his son with his lashless eyes. "Yes, here you have Father
Lasse--if you will have him. But where, really, did you come from? Seems
to me you fell down from heaven?"
Pelle took his father's sack. "You just come up with me," he said. "You
can trust the stairs all right; they are stronger than they look."
"Then they are like Lasse," answered the old man, trudging up close
behind him; the straps of his half-Wellingtons were peeping out at the
side, and he was quite the old man. At every landing he stood still and
uttered his comments on his surroundings. Pelle had to admonish him to
"One doesn't discuss everything aloud here. It might so easily be
regarded as criticism," he said.
"No, really? Well, one must learn as long as one lives. But just look
how they stand about chattering up here! There must be a whole
courtyard-full! Well, well. I won't say any more. I knew they lived one
on top of another, but I didn't think there'd be so little room here. To
hang the backyard out in front of the kitchen door, one on top of
another, that's just like the birds that build all on one bough. Lord
God, suppose it was all to come tumbling down one fine day!"
"And do you live here?" he cried, gazing in a disillusioned manner round
the room with its sloping ceiling. "I've often wondered how you were
fixed up over here. A few days ago I met a man at home who said they
were talking about you already; but one wouldn't think so from your
lodgings. However, it isn't far to heaven, anyhow!"
Pelle was silent. He had come to love his den, and his whole life here;
but Father Lasse continued to enlarge upon his hopes of his son's
respectability and prosperity, and he felt ashamed. "Did you imagine I
was living in one of the royal palaces?" he said, rather bitterly.
Lasse looked at him kindly and laid both hands on his shoulders. "So big
and strong as you've grown, lad," he said, wondering. "Well, and now you
have me here too! But I won't be a burden to you. No, but at home it had
grown so dismal after what happened at Due's, that I got ready without
sending you word. And then I was able to come over with one of the
skippers for nothing."
"But what's this about Due?" asked Pelle. "I hope nothing bad?"
"Good God, haven't you heard? He revenged himself on his wife because he
discovered her with the Consul. He had been absolutely blind, and had
only believed the best of her, until he surprised her in her sin. Then
he killed her, her and the children they had together, and went to the
authorities and gave himself up. But the youngest, whom any one could
see was the Consul's, he didn't touch. Oh, it was a dreadful misfortune!
Before he gave himself up to the police he came to me; he wanted just
one last time to be with some one who would talk it over with him
without hypocrisy. 'I've strangled Anna,' he said, as soon as he had sat
down. 'It had to be, and I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry. The children that
were mine, too. I've dealt honestly with them.' Yes, yes, he had dealt
honestly with the poor things! 'I just wanted to say goodbye to you,
Lasse, for my life's over now, happy as I might have been, with my
contented nature. But Anna always wanted to be climbing, and if I got on
it was her shame I had to thank for it. I never wanted anything further
than the simple happiness of the poor man--a good wife and a few
children--and now I must go to prison! God be thanked that Anna hasn't
lived to see that! She was finer in her feelings than the rest, and she
had to deceive in order to get on in the world.' So he sat there,
talking of the dead, and one couldn't notice any feeling in him. I
wouldn't let him see how sick at heart he made me feel. For him it was
the best thing, so long as his conscience could sleep easy. 'Your eyes
are watering, Lasse,' he said quietly; 'you should bathe them a bit;
they say urine is good.' Yes, God knows, my eyes did water! God of my
life, yes! Then he stood up. 'You, too, Lasse, you haven't much longer
life granted you,' he said, and he gave me his hand. 'You are growing
old now. But you must give Pelle my greetings--he's safe to get on!'"
Pelle sat mournfully listening to the dismal story. But he shuddered at
the last words. He had so often heard the expression of that
anticipation of his good fortune, which they all seemed to feel, and had
rejoiced to hear it; it was, after all, only an echo of his own self-
confidence. But now it weighed upon him like a burden. It was always
those who were sinking who believed in his luck; and as they sank they
flung their hopes upward toward him. A grievous fashion was this in
which his good fortune was prophesied! A terrible and grievous blessing
it was that was spoken over him and his success in life by this man
dedicated to death, even as he stepped upon the scaffold. Pelle sat
staring at the floor without a sign of life, a brooding expression on
his face; his very soul was shuddering at the foreboding of a superhuman
burden; and suddenly a light was flashed before his eyes; there could
never be happiness for him alone--the fairy-tale was dead! He was bound
up with all the others--he must partake of happiness or misfortune with
them; that was why the unfortunate Due gave him his blessing. In his
soul he was conscious of Due's difficult journey, as though he himself
had to endure the horror of it. And Fine Anna, who must clamber up over
his own family and tread them in the dust! Never again could he wrench
himself quite free as before! He had already encountered much
unhappiness and had learned to hate its cause. But this was something
more--this was very affliction itself!
"Yes," sighed Lasse, "a lucky thing that Brother Kalle did not live to
see all this. He worked himself to skin and bone for his children, and
now, for all thanks, he lied buried in the poorhouse burying-ground.
Albinus, who travels about the country as a conjurer, was the only one
who had a thought for him; but the money came too late, although it was
sent by telegraph. Have you ever heard of a conjuring-trick like that--
to send money from England to Bornholm over the telegraph cable? A
devilish clever acrobat! Well, Brother Kalle, he knew all sorts of
conjuring-tricks too, but he didn't learn them abroad. They had heard
nothing at all of Alfred at the funeral. He belongs to the fine folks
now and has cut off all connection with his poor relations. He has been
appointed to various posts of honor, and they say he's a regular
bloodhound toward the poor--a man's always worst toward his own kind.
But the fine folks, they say, they think great things of him."
Pelle heard the old man's speech only as a monotonous trickle of sound.
Due, Due, the best, the most good-natured man he knew, who championed
Anna's illegitimate child against her own mother, and loved her like his
own, because she was defenceless and needed his love--Due was now to lay
his head on the scaffold! So dearly bought was the fulfilment of his
wish, to obtain a pair of horses and become a coachman! He had obtained
the horses and a carriage on credit, and had himself made up for the
instalments and the interest--the Consul had merely stood security for
him. And for this humble success he was now treading the path of shame!
His steps echoed in Pelle's soul; Pelle did not know how he was going to
bear it. He longed for his former obtuseness.
Lasse continued to chatter. For him it was fate--grievous and heavy, but
it could not be otherwise. And the meeting with Pelle had stirred up so
many memories; he was quite excited. Everything he saw amused him.
However did anybody hit on the idea of packing folks away like this, one
on top of another, like herrings in a barrel? And at home on Bornholm
there were whole stretches of country where no one lived at all! He did
not venture to approach the window, but prudently stood a little way
back in the room, looking out over the roofs. There, too, was a crazy
arrangement! One could count the ears in a cornfield as easily as the
houses over here!
Pelle called Marie, who had discreetly remained in her own room. "This
is my foster-mother," he said, with his arm round her shoulders. "And
that is Father Lasse, whom you are fond of already, so you always say.
Now can you get us some breakfast?" He gave her money.
"She's a good girl, that she is," said Lasse, feeling in his sack. "She
shall have a present. There's a red apple," he said to Marie, when she
returned; "you must eat it, and then you'll be my sweetheart." Marie
smiled gravely and looked at Pelle.
They borrowed the old clothes dealer's handcart and went across to the
apple barges to fetch Lasse's belongings. He had sold most of them in
order not to bring too great a load to the city. But he had retained a
bedstead with bedding, and all sorts of other things. "And then I have
still to give you greetings from Sort and Marie Nielsen," he said.
Pelle blushed. "I owe her a few words, but over here I quite forgot it
somehow! And I have half promised her my portrait. I must see now about
"Yes, do," said Father Lasse. "I don't know how close you two stand to
each other, but she was a good woman. And those who stay behind, they're
sad when they're forgotten. Remember that."
At midday Lasse had tidied himself a trifle and began to brush his hat.
"What now?" inquired Pelle. "You don't want to go out all alone?"
"I want to go out and look at the city a bit," replied Lasse, as though
it were quite a matter of course. "I want to find some work, and perhaps
I'll go and have a peep at the king for once. You need only explain in
which direction I must go."
"You had better wait until I can come with you--you'll only lose
"Shall I do that?" replied Lasse, offended. "But I found my way here
alone, I seem to remember!"
"I can go with the old man!" said Marie.
"Yes, you come with the old man, then no one can say he has lost his
youth!" cried Lasse jestingly, as he took her hand. "I think we two
shall be good friends."
Toward evening they returned. "There are folks enough here," said Lasse,
panting, "but there doesn't seem to be a superfluity of work. I've been
asking first this one and then that, but no one will have me. Well,
that's all right! If they won't, I can just put a spike on my stick and
set to work collecting the bits of paper in the streets, like the other
old men; I can at least do that still."
"But I can't give my consent to that," replied Pelle forcibly. "My
father shan't become a scavenger!"
"Well--but I must get something to do, or I shall go back home again.
I'm not going to go idling about here while you work."
"But you can surely rest and enjoy a little comfort in your old days,
father. However, we shall soon see."
"I can rest, can I? I had better lie on my back and let myself be fed
like a long-clothes child! Only I don't believe my back would stand it!"
They had placed Lasse's bed with the footboard under the sloping
ceiling; there was just room enough for it. Pelle felt like a little boy
when he went to bed that night; it was so many years since he had slept
in the same room as Father Lasse. But in the night he was oppressed by
evil dreams; Due's dreadful fate pursued him in his sleep. His
energetic, good-humored face went drifting through the endless grayness,
the head bowed low, the hands chained behind him, a heavy iron chain was
about his neck, and his eyes were fixed on the ground as though he were
searching the very abyss. When Pelle awoke it was because Father Lasse
stood bending over his bed, feeling his face, as in the days of his
Lasse would not sit idle, and was busily employed in running about the
city in search of work. When he spoke to Pelle he put a cheerful face on
a bad business; and looked hopeful; but the capital had already
disillusioned him. He could not understand all this hubbub, and felt
that he was too old to enter into it and fathom its meaning--besides,
perhaps it had none! It really looked as though everybody was just
running to and fro and following his own nose, without troubling in the
least about all the rest. And there were no greetings when you passed
folks in the street; the whole thing was more than Lasse could
understand. "I ought to have stayed at home," he would often think.
And as for Pelle--well, Pelle was taken up with his own affairs! That
was only to be expected in a man. He ran about going to meetings and
agitating, and had a great deal to do; his thoughts were continually
occupied, so that there was no time for familiar gossip as in the old
days. He was engaged, moreover, so that what time was not devoted to the
Labor movement was given to his sweetheart. How the boy had grown, and
how he had altered, bodily and in every way! Lasse had a feeling that he
only reached up to Pelle's belt nowadays. He had grown terribly serious,
and was quite the man; he looked as though he was ready to grasp the
reins of something or other; you would never, to look at him, have
thought that he was only a journeyman cobbler. There was an air of
responsibility about him--just a little too much may be!
Marie got into the way of accompanying the old man. They had become good
friends, and there was plenty for them to gossip over. She would take
him to the courtyard of the Berlingske Tidende, where the people in
search of work eddied about the advertisement board, filling up the
gateway and forming a crowd in the street outside.
"We shall never get in there!" said Lasse dejectedly. But Marie worked
herself forward; when people scolded her she scolded them back. Lasse
was quite horrified by the language the child used; but it was a great
Marie read out the different notices, and Lasse made his comments on
every one, and when the bystanders laughed Lasse gazed at them
uncomprehendingly, then laughed with them, and nodded his head merrily.
He entered into everything.
"What do you say? Gentleman's coachman? Yes, I can drive a pair of
horses well enough, but perhaps I'm not fine enough for the gentry--I'm
afraid my nose would drip!"
He looked about him importantly, like a child that is under observation.
"But errand boy--that isn't so bad. We'll make a note of that. There's
no great skill needed to be everybody's dog! House porter! Deuce take
it--there one need only sit downstairs and make angry faces out of a
basement window! We'll look in there and try our luck."
They impressed the addresses on their minds until they knew them by
heart, and then squeezed their way out through the crowd. "Damn funny
old codger!" said the people, looking after him with a smile--Lasse was
quite high-spirited. They went from house to house, but no one had any
use for him. The people only laughed at the broken old figure with the
"They laugh at me," said Lasse, quite cast down; "perhaps because I
still look a bit countrified. But that after all can soon be overcome.
"I believe it's because you are so old and yet want to get work," said
"Do you think it can be on that account? Yet I'm only just seventy, and
on both my father's and mother's side we have almost all lived to
ninety. Do you really think that's it? If they'd only let me set to work
they'd soon see there's still strength in old Lasse! Many a younger
fellow would sit on his backside for sheer astonishment. But what are
those people there, who stand there and look so dismal and keep their
hands in their pockets?"
"Those are the unemployed; it's a slack time for work, and they say it
will get still worse."
"And all those who were crowding round the notice-board--were they idle
"But then it's worse here than at home--there at least we always have
the stone-cutting when there is nothing else. And I had really believed
that the good time had already begun over here!"
"Pelle says it will soon come,' said Marie consolingly.
"Yes, Pelle--he can well talk. He is young and healthy and has the time
Lasse was in a bad temper; nothing seemed right to him. In order to give
him pleasure, Marie took him to see the guard changed, which cheered him
"Those are smart fellows truly," he said. "Hey, hey, how they hold
themselves! And fine clothes too. But that they know well enough
themselves! Yes--I've never been a king's soldier. I went up for it when
I was young and felt I'd like it; I was a smart fellow then, you can
take my word for it! But they wouldn't have me; my figure wouldn't do,
they said; I had worked too hard, from the time I was quite a child.
They'd got it into their heads in those days that a man ought to be made
just so and so. I think it's to please the fine ladies. Otherwise I,
too, might have defended my country."
Down by the Exchange the roadway was broken up; a crowd of navvies were
at work digging out the foundation for a conduit. Lasse grew quite
excited, and hurried up to them.
"That would be the sort of thing for me," he said, and he stood there
and fell into a dream at the sight of the work. Every time the workers
swung their picks he followed the movement with his old head. He drew
closer and closer. "Hi," he said to one of the workers, who was taking a
breath, "can a man get taken on here?"
The man took a long look at him. "Get taken on here?" he cried, turning
more to his comrades than to Lasse. "Ah, you'd like to, would you? Here
you foreigners come running, from Funen and Middlefart, and want to take
the bread out of the mouths of us natives. Get away with you, you
Jutland carrion!" Laughing, he swung his pick over his head.
Lasse drew slowly hack. "But he was angry!" he said dejectedly to Marie.
In the evening Pelle had to go to all his various meetings, whatever
they might be. He had a great deal to do, and, hard as he worked, the
situation still remained unfavorable. It was by no means so easy a
thing, to break the back of poverty!
"You just look after your own affairs," said Lasse. "I sit here and chat
a little with the children--and then I go to bed. I don't know why, but
my body gets fonder and fonder of bed, although I've never been
considered lazy exactly. It must be the grave that's calling me. But I
can't go about idle any longer--I'm quite stiff in my body from doing
Formerly Lasse never used to speak of the grave; but now he had
seemingly reconciled himself to the idea. "And the city is so big and so
confusing," he told the children. "And the little one has put by soon
runs through one's fingers."
He found it much easier to confide his troubles to them. Pelle had grown
so big and so serious that he absolutely inspired respect. One could
take no real pleasure in worrying him with trivialities.
But with the children he found himself in tune. They had to contend with
little obstacles and difficulties, just as he did, and could grasp all
his troubles. They gave him good, practical advice, and in return he
gave them his senile words of wisdom.
"I don't exactly know why it is so," he said, "but this great city makes
me quite confused and queer in the head. To mention nothing else, no one
here knows me and looks after me when I go by. That takes all the
courage out of my knees. At home there was always one or another who
would turn his head and say to himself, 'Look, there goes old Lasse,
he'll be going down to the harbor to break stone; devil take me, but how
he holds himself! Many a man would nod to me too, and I myself knew
every second man. Here they all go running by as if they were crazy! I
don't understand how you manage to find employment here, Karl?"
"Oh, that's quite easy," replied the boy. "About six in the morning I
get to the vegetable market; there is always something to be delivered
for the small dealers who can't keep a man. When the vegetable market is
over I deliver flowers for the gardeners. That's a very uncertain
business, for I get nothing more than the tips. And besides that I run
wherever I think there's anything going. To the East Bridge and out to
Frederiksburg. And I have a few regular places too, where I go every
afternoon for an hour and deliver goods. There's always something if one
runs about properly."
"And does that provide you with an average good employment every day?"
said Lasse wonderingly. "The arrangement looks to me a little uncertain.
In the morning you can't be sure you will have earned anything when the
"Ah, Karl is so quick," said Marie knowingly. "When the times are
ordinarily good he can earn a krone a day regularly."
"And that could really be made a regular calling?" No, Lasse couldn't
"Very often it's evening before I have earned anything at all, but one
just has to stir one's stumps; there's always something or other if one
knows where to look for it."
"What do you think--suppose I were to go with you?" said Lasse
"You can't do that, because I run the whole time. Really you'd do much
better to hide one of your arms."
"Hide one of my arms?" said Lasse wonderingly.
"Yes--stick one arm under your coat and then go up to people and ask
them for something. That wouldn't be any trouble to you, you look like
"Do I, indeed?" asked Lasse, blinking his eyes. "I never knew that
before. But even if that were so I shouldn't like to beg at people's
doors. I don't think any one will get old Lasse to do that."
"Then go along to the lime works--they are looking for stone-breakers
these days," said the omniscient youngster.
"Now you are talking!" said Lasse; "so they have stone here? Yes, I
brought my stone-cutter's tools with me, and if there's one thing on
earth I long to do it is to be able to bang away at a stone again!"
Pelle was now a man; he was able to look after his own affairs and a
little more besides; and he was capable of weighing one circumstance
against another. He had thrust aside his horror concerning Due's fate,
and once again saw light in the future. But this horror still lurked
within his mind, corroding everything else, lending everything a gloomy,
sinister hue. Over his brow brooded a dark cloud, as to which he himself
was not quite clear. But Ellen saw it and stroked it away with her soft
fingers, in order to make it disappear. It formed a curious contrast to
his fresh, ruddy face, like a meaningless threat upon a fine spring day.
He began to be conscious of confidence like a sustaining strength. It
was not only in the "Ark" that he was idolized; his comrades looked up
to him; if there was anything important in hand their eyes involuntarily
turned to him. Although he had, thoughtlessly enough, well-nigh wrecked
the organism in order to come to grips with Meyer, he had fully made up
for his action, and the Union was now stronger than ever, and this was
his doing. So he could stretch his limbs and give a little thought to
his own affairs.
He and Ellen felt a warm longing to come together and live in their own
little home. There were many objections that might be opposed to such a
course, and he was not blind to them. Pelle was a valiant worker, but
his earnings were not so large that one could found a family on them; it
was the naked truth that even a good worker could not properly support a
wife and children. He counted on children as a matter of course, and the
day would come also when Father Lasse would no longer be able to earn
his daily bread. But that day lay still in the remote future, and, on
the other hand, it was no more expensive to live with a companion than
alone--if that companion was a good and saving wife. If a man meant to
enjoy some little share of the joy of life, he must close his eyes and
leap over all obstacles, and for once put his trust in the exceptional.
"It'll soon be better, too," said Mason Stolpe. "Things look bad now in
most trades, but you see yourself, how everything is drawing to a great
crisis. Give progress a kick behind and ask her to hurry herself a
little--there's something to be gained by that. A man ought to marry
while he's still young; what's the good of going about and hankering
after one another?"
Madam Stolpe was, as always, of his opinion. "We married and enjoyed the
sweetness of it while our blood was still young. That's why we have
something now that we can depend on," she said simply, looking at Pelle.
So it was determined that the wedding should be held that spring. In
March the youngest son would complete his apprenticeship, so that the
wedding feast and the journeyman's feast could be celebrated
On the canal, just opposite the prison, a little two-roomed dwelling was
standing vacant, and this they rented. Mason Stolpe wanted to have the
young couple to live out by the North Bridge, "among respectable
people," but Pelle had become attached to this quarter. Moreover, he had
a host of customers there, which would give him a foothold, and there,
too, were the canals. For Pelle, the canals were a window opening on the
outer world; they gave his mind a sense of liberty; he always felt
oppressed among the stone walls by the North Bridge. Ellen let him
choose--it was indifferent to her where they lived. She would gladly
have gone to the end of the world with him, in order to yield herself.
She had saved a little money in her situation, and Pelle also had a
little put by; he was wise in his generation, and cut down all their
necessities. When Ellen was free they rummaged about buying things for
their home. Many things they bought second-hand, for cheapness, but not
for the bedroom; there everything was to be brand-new!
It was a glorious time, in which every hour was full of its own rich
significance; there was no room for brooding or for care. Ellen often
came running in to drag him from his work; he must come with her and
look at something or other--one could get it so cheap--but quickly,
quickly, before it should be gone! On her "off" Sundays she would reduce
the little home to order, and afterward they would walk arm in arm
through the city, and visit the old people.
Pelle had had so much to do with the affairs of others, and had given so
little thought to his own, that it was delightful, for once in a way, to
be able to rest and think of himself. The crowded outer world went
drifting far away from him; he barely glanced at it as he built his
nest; he thought no more about social problems than the birds that nest
And one day Pelle carried his possessions to his new home, and for the
last time lay down to sleep in the "Ark." There was no future for any
one here; only the shipwrecked sought an abiding refuge within these
walls. It was time for Pelle to move on. Yet from all this raggedness
and overcrowding rose a voice which one did not hear elsewhere; a
careless twittering, like that of unlucky birds that sit and plume their
feathers when a little sunlight falls on them. He looked back on the
time he had spent here with pensive melancholy.
On the night before his wedding he lay restlessly tossing to and fro.
Something seemed to follow him in his sleep. At last he woke, and was
sensible of a stifled moaning, that came and went with long intervals in
between, as though the "Ark" itself were moaning in an evil dream.
Suddenly he stood up, lit the lamp, and began to polish his wedding-
boots, which were still on the lasts, so that they might retain their
handsome shape. Lasse was still asleep, and the long gangway outside lay
still in slumber.
The sound returned, louder and more long-drawn, and something about it
reminded him of Stone Farm, and awaked the horror of his childish days.
He sat and sweated at his work. Suddenly he heard some one outside--some
one who groped along the gangway and fumbled at his door. He sprang
forward and opened it. Suspense ran through his body like an icy
shudder. Outside stood Hanne's mother, shivering in the morning cold.
"Pelle," she whispered anxiously, "it's so near now--would you run and
fetch Madam Blom from Market Street? I can't leave Hanne. And I ought to
be wishing you happiness, too."
The errand was not precisely convenient, nevertheless, he ran oft. And
then he sat listening, working still, but as quietly as possible, in
order not to wake Father Lasse. But then it was time for the children to
get up; for the last time he knocked on the wall and heard Marie's
sleepy "Ye--es!" At the same moment the silence of night was broken; the
inmates tumbled out and ran barefooted to the lavatories, slamming their
doors. "The Princess is lamenting," they told one another. "She's
lamenting because she's lost what she'll never get again." Then the
moaning rose to a loud shriek, and suddenly it was silent over there.
Poor Hanne! Now she had another to care for--and who was its father?
Hard times were in store for her.
Lasse was not going to work to-day, although the wedding-feast was not
to be held until the afternoon. He was in a solemn mood, from the
earliest morning, and admonished Pelle not to lay things cross-wise, and
the like. Pelle laughed every time.
"Yes, you laugh," said Lasse, "but this is an important day--perhaps the
most important in your life. You ought to take care lest the first
trifling thing you do should ruin everything."
He pottered about, treating everything as an omen. He was delighted with
the sun--it rose out of a sack and grew brighter and brighter in the
course of the day. It was never lucky for the sun to begin too blazing.
Marie went to and fro, considering Pelle with an expression of
suppressed anxiety, like a mother who is sending her child into the
world, and strives hard to seem cheerful, thought Pelle. Yes, yes, she
had been like a mother to him in many senses, although she was only a
child; she had taken him into her nest as a little forsaken bird, and
with amazement had seen him grow. He had secretly helped her when he
could. But what was that in comparison with the singing that had made
his work easy, when he saw how the three waifs accepted things as they
were, building their whole existence on nothing? Who would help them now
over the difficult places without letting them see the helping hand? He
must keep watchful eye on them.
Marie's cheeks were a hectic red, and her eyes were shining when he held
her roughened hands in his and thanked her for being such a good
neighbor. Her narrow chest was working, and a reflection of hidden
beauty rested upon her. Pelle had taught her blood to find the way to
her colorless face; whenever she was brought into intimate contact with
him or his affairs, her cheeks glowed, and every time a little of the
color was left behind. It was as though his vitality forced the sap to
flow upward in her, in sympathy, and now she stood before him, trying to
burst her stunted shell, and unfold her gracious capacities before him,
and as yet was unable to do so. Suddenly she fell upon his breast.
"Pelle, Pelle," she said, hiding her face against him. And then she ran
into her own room.
Lasse and Pelle carried the last things over to the new home, and put
everything tidy; then they dressed themselves in their best and set out
for the Stoples' home. Pelle was wearing a top-hat for the first time in
his life, and looked quite magnificent in it. "You are like a big city
chap," said Lasse, who could not look at him often enough. "But what do
you think they'll say of old Lasse? They are half-way fine folks
themselves, and I don't know how to conduct myself. Wouldn't it perhaps
be better if I were to turn back?"
"Don't talk like that, father!" said Pelle.
Lasse was monstrously pleased at the idea of attending the wedding-
feast, but he had all sorts of misgivings. These last years had made him
shy of strangers, and he liked to creep into corners. His holiday
clothes, moreover, were worn out, and his every-day things were patched
and mended; his long coat he had hired expressly for the occasion, while
the white collar and cuffs belonged to Peter. He did not feel at all at
home in his clothes, and looked like an embarrassed schoolboy waiting
At the Stolpes' the whole household was topsy-turvy. The guests who were
to go to the church had already arrived; they were fidgeting about in
the living-room and whistling to themselves, or looking out into the
street, and feeling bored. Stople's writing-table had been turned into a
side-board, and the brothers were opening bottles of beer and politely
pressing everybody: "Do take a sandwich with it--you'll get a dry throat
standing so long and saying nothing."
In the best room Stolpe was pacing up and down and muttering. He was in
his shirtsleeves, waiting until it was his turn to use the bedroom,
where Ellen and her mother had locked themselves in. Prom time to time
the door was opened a little, and Ellen's bare white arm appeared, as
she threw her father some article of attire. Then Pelle's heart began to
On the window-sill stood Madam Stolpe's myrtle; it was stripped quite
Now Stolpe came back; he was ready! Pelle had only to button his collar
for him. He took Lasse's hand and then went to fetch _The Working
Man_. "Now you just ought to hear this, what they say of your son,"
he said, and began to read:
"Our young party-member, Pelle, to-day celebrates his nuptials with the
daughter of one of the oldest and most respected members of the party,
Mason Stolpe. This young man, who has already done a great deal of work
for the Cause, was last night unanimously proposed as President of his
organization. We give the young couple our best wishes for the future."
"That speaks for itself, eh?" Stolpe handed the paper to his guests.
"Yes, that looks well indeed," they said, passing the paper from hand to
hand. Lasse moved his lips as though he, too, were reading the notice
through. "Yes, devilish good, and they know how to put these things," he
"But what's wrong with Petersen--is he going to resign?" asked Stolpe.
"He is ill," replied Pelle. "But I wasn't there last night, so I don't
know anything about it." Stolpe gazed at him, astonished.
Madam Stolpe came in and drew Pelle into the bedroom, where Ellen stood
like a snow-white revelation, with a long veil and a myrtle-wreath in
her hair. "Really you two are supposed not to see one another, but I
think that's wrong," she said, and with a loving glance she pushed them
into each other's arms.
Frederik, who was leaning out of the window, in order to watch for the
carriage, came and thundered on the door. "The carriage is there,
children!" he roared, in quite a needlessly loud voice. "The carriage is
And they drove away in it, although the church was only a few steps
distant. Pelle scarcely knew what happened to him after that, until he
found himself back in the carriage; they had to nudge him every time he
had to do anything. He saw no one but Ellen.
She was his sun; the rest meant nothing to him. At the altar he had
seized her hand and held it in his during the whole service.
Frederik had remained at home, in order to admit, receive messages and
people who came to offer their congratulations. As they returned he
leaned out of the window and threw crackers and detonating pellets under
the horses' feet, as a salute to the bridal pair.
People drank wine, touched glasses with the young couple, and examined
the wedding-presents. Stolpe looked to see the time; it was still quite
early. "You must go for a bit of a stroll, father," said Madam Stolpe.
"We can't eat anything for a couple of hours yet." So the men went
across to Ventegodt's beer-garden, in order to play a game of skittles,
while the women prepared the food.
Pelle would rather have stopped in the house with Ellen, but he must
not; he and Lasse went together. Lasse had not yet properly wished Pelle
happiness; he had waited until they should be alone.
"Well, happiness and all blessings, my boy," he said, much moved, as he
pressed Pelle's hand. "Now you, too, are a man with a family and
responsibilities. Now don't you forget that the women are like children.
In serious matters you mustn't be too ceremonious with them, but tell
them, short and plain. This is to be so! It goes down best with them. If
once a man begins discussing too much with them, then they don't know
which way they want to go. Otherwise they are quite all right, and it's
easy to get on with them--if one only treats them well. I never found it
any trouble, for they like a firm hand over them. You've reason to be
proud of your parents-in-law; they are capital people, even if they are
a bit proud of their calling. And Ellen will make you a good wife--if I
know anything of women. She'll attend to her own affairs and she'll
understand how to save what's left over. Long in the body she is, like a
fruitful cow--she won't fail you in the matter of children."
Outdoors in the beer-garden Swedish punch was served, and Lasse's
spirits began to rise. He tried to play at skittles--he had never done
so before; and he plucked up courage to utter witticisms.
The others laughed, and Lasse drew himself up and came out of his shell.
"Splendid people, the Copenhageners!" he whispered to Pelle. "A ready
hand for spending, and they've got a witty word ready for everything."
Before any one noticed it had grown dark, and now they must be home!
At home the table was laid, and the rest of the guests had come. Madam
Stolpe was already quite nervous, they had stopped away so long. "Now
we'll all wobble a bit on our legs," whispered Stolpe, in the entry;
"then my wife will go for us! Well, mother, have you got a warm welcome
ready for us?" he asked, as he tumbled into the room.