Part 4 out of 7
"Ah, you donkey, do you think I don't know you?" cried Madam Stolpe,
laughing. "No, one needn't go searching in the taverns for my man!"
Pelle went straight up to Ellen in the kitchen and led her away. Hand in
hand they went round the rooms, looking at the last presents to arrive.
There was a table-lamp, a dish-cover in German silver, and some
enamelled cooking-utensils. Some one, too, had sent a little china
figure of a child in swaddling-clothes, but had forgotten to attach his
Ellen led Pelle out into the entry, in order to embrace him, but there
stood Morten, taking off his things. Then they fled into the kitchen,
but the hired cook was in possession; at length they found an
undisturbed haven in the bedroom. Ellen wound her arms round Pelle's
neck and gazed at him in silence, quite lost in happiness and longing.
And Pelle pressed the beloved, slender, girlish body against his own,
and looked deep in her eyes, which were dark and shadowy as velvet, as
they drank in the light in his. His heart swelled within him, and he
felt that he was unspeakably fortunate--richer than any one else in the
whole world--because of the treasure that he held in his arms. Silently
he vowed to himself that he would protect her and cherish her and have
no other thought than to make her happy.
An impatient trampling sounded from the other room. "The young couple--
the young couple!" they were calling. Pelle and Ellen hastened in, each
by a different door. The others were standing in their places at the
table, and were waiting for Pelle and Ellen to take their seats. "Well,
it isn't difficult to see what she's been about!" said Stolpe teasingly.
"One has only to look at the lass's peepers--such a pair of glowing
Otto Stolpe, the slater, was spokesman, and opened the banquet by
offering brandy. "A drop of spirits," he said to each: "we must make
sure there's a vent to the gutter, or the whole thing will soon get
"Now, take something, people!" cried Stolpe, from the head of the table,
where he was carving a loin of roast pork. "Up with the bricks there!"
He had the young couple on his right and the newly-baked journeyman on
his left. On the table before him stood a new bedroom chamber with a
white wooden cover to it; the guests glanced at it and smiled at one
another. "What are you staring at?" he asked solemnly. "If you need
anything, let the cat out of the bag!"
"Ah, it's the tureen there!" said his brother, the carpenter, without
moving a muscle. "My wife would be glad to borrow it a moment, she
His wife, taken aback, started up and gave him a thwack on the back.
"Monster!" she said, half ashamed, and laughing. "The men must always
make a fool of somebody!"
Then they all set to, and for a while eating stopped their mouths. From
time to time some droll remark was made. "Some sit and do themselves
proud, while others do the drudging," said the Vanishing Man, Otto's
comrade. Which was to say that he had finished his pork. "Give him one
in the mouth, mother!" said Stolpe.
When their hunger was satisfied the witticisms began to fly. Morten's
present was a great wedding-cake. It was a real work of art; he had made
it in the form of a pyramid. On the summit stood a youthful couple, made
of sugar, who held one another embraced, while behind them was a highly
glazed representation of the rising sun. Up the steps of the pyramid
various other figures were scrambling to the top, holding their arms
outstretched toward the summit. Wine was poured out when they came to
the cake, and Morten made a little speech in Pelle's honor, in which he
spoke of loyalty toward the new comrade whom he had chosen. Apparently
the speech concerned Ellen only, but Pelle understood that his words
were meant to be much more comprehensive; they had a double meaning all
"Thank you, Morten," he said, much moved, and he touched glasses with
Then Stolpe delivered a speech admonishing the newly-married pair. This
was full of precious conceits and was received with jubilation.
"Now you see how father can speak," said Madam Stolpe. "When nothing
depends on it then he can speak!"
"What's that you say, mother?" cried Stolpe, astonished. He was not
accustomed to criticism from that source. "Just listen to that now--
one's own wife is beginning to pull away the scaffolding-poles from
"Well, that's what I say!" she rejoined, looking at him boldly. Her face
was quite heated with wine. "Does any one stand in the front of things
like father does? He was the first, and he has been always the most
zealous; he has done a good stroke of work, more than most men. And to-
day he might well have been one of the leaders and have called the tune,
if it weren't for that damned hiccoughing. He's a clever man, and his
comrades respect him too, but what does all that signify if a man
hiccoughs? Every time he stands on the speaker's platform he has the
"And yet it isn't caused by brandy?" said the thick-set little Vanishing
Man, Albert Olsen.
"Oh, no, father has never gone in for bottle agitation," replied Madam
"That was a fine speech that mother made about me," said Stolpe,
laughing, "and she didn't hiccough. It is astonishing, though--there are
some people who can't. But now it's your turn, Frederik. Now you have
become a journeyman and must accept the responsibility yourself for
doing things according to plumb-line and square. We have worked on the
scaffold together and we know one another pretty well. Many a time
you've been a clown and many a time a sheep, and a box on the ears from
your old man has never been lacking. But that was in your fledgling
years. When only you made up your mind there was no fault to be found
with you. I will say this to your credit--that you know your trade--you
needn't be shamed by anybody. Show what you can do, my lad! Do your
day's work so that your comrades don't need to take you in tow, and
never shirk when it comes to your turn!"
"Don't cheat the drinker of his bottle, either," said Albert Olsen,
interrupting. Otto nudged him in the ribs.
"No, don't do that," said Stolpe, and he laughed. "There are still two
things," he added seriously. "Take care the girls don't get running
about under the scaffold in working hours, that doesn't look well; and
always uphold the fellowship. There is nothing more despicable than the
name of strikebreaker."
"Hear, hear!" resounded about the table. "A true word!"
Frederik sat listening with an embarrassed smile.
He was dressed in a new suit of the white clothes of his calling, and on
his round chin grew a few dark downy hairs, which he fingered every
other moment. He was waiting excitedly until the old man had finished,
so that he might drink brotherhood with him.
"And now, my lad," said Stolpe, taking the cover from the "tureen," "now
you are admitted to the corporation of masons, and you are welcome!
Health, my lad." And with a sly little twinkle of his eye, he set the
utensil to his mouth, and drank.
"Health, father!" replied Frederik, with shining eyes, as his father
passed him the drinking-bowl. Then it went round the table. The women
shrieked before they drank; it was full of Bavarian beer, and in the
amber fluid swam Bavarian sausages. And while the drinking-bowl made its
cheerful round, Stolpe struck up with the Song of the Mason:
"The man up there in snowy cap and blouse,
He is a mason, any fool could swear.
Just give him stone and lime, he'll build a house
Fine as a palace, up in empty air!
Down in the street below stands half the town:
Ah, ah! Na, na!
The scaffold sways, but it won't fall down!
"Down in the street he's wobbly in his tread,
He tumbles into every cellar door;
That's 'cause his home is in the clouds o'erhead,
Where all the little birds about him soar.
Up there he works away with peaceful mind:
Ah, ah. Na, na!
The scaffold swings in the boisterous wind!
"What it is to be giddy no mason knows:
Left to himself he'd build for ever,
Stone upon stone, till in Heaven, I s'pose!
But up comes the Law, and says--Stop now, clever!
There lives the Almighty, so just come off!
Ah, ah! Na, na!
Sheer slavery this, but he lets them scoff!
"Before he knows it the work has passed:
He measures all over and reckons it up.
His wages are safe in his breeches at last,
And he clatters off home to rest and to sup.
And a goodly wage he's got in his pocket:
Ah, ah! Na, na!
The scaffold creaks to the winds that rock it!"
The little thick-set slater sat with both arms on the table, staring
right in front of him with veiled eyes. When the song was over he raised
his head a little. "Yes, that may be all very fine--for those it
concerns. But the slater, he climbs higher than the mason." His face was
"Now, comrade, let well alone," said Stolpe comfortably. "It isn't the
question, to-night, who climbs highest, it's a question of amusing
"Yes, that may be," replied Olsen, letting his head sink again. "But the
slater, he climbs the highest." After which he sat there murmuring to
"Just leave him alone," whispered Otto. "Otherwise he'll get in one of
his Berserker rages. Don't be so grumpy, old fellow," he said, laying
his arm on Olsen's shoulders. "No one can compete with you in the art of
tumbling down, anyhow!"
The Vanishing Man was so called because he was in the habit--while
lying quite quietly on the roof at work--of suddenly sliding downward
and disappearing into the street below. He had several times fallen from
the roof of a house without coming to any harm; but on one occasion he
had broken both legs, and had become visibly bow-legged in consequence.
In order to appease him, Otto, who was his comrade, related how he had
fallen down on the last occasion.
"We were lying on the roof, working away, he and I, and damned cold it
was. He, of course, had untied the safety-rope, and as we were lying
there quite comfortably and chatting, all of a sudden he was off. 'The
devil!' I shouted to the others, 'now the Vanishing Man has fallen down
again!' And we ran down the stairs as quick as we could. We weren't in a
humor for any fool's tricks, as you may suppose. But there was no Albert
Olsen lying on the pavement. 'Damn and blast it all, where has the
Vanisher got to?' we said, and we stared at one another, stupefied. And
then I accidentally glanced across at a beer-cellar opposite, and there,
by God, he was sitting at the basement window, winking at us so, with
his forefinger to his nose, making signs to us to go down and have a
glass of beer with him. 'I was so accursedly thirsty,' was all he said;
'I couldn't wait to run down the stairs!'"
The general laughter appeased the Vanishing Man. "Who'll give me a glass
of beer?" he said, rising with difficulty. He got his beer and sat down
in a corner.
Stolpe was sitting at the table playing with his canary, which had to
partake of its share in the feast. The bird sat on his red ear and fixed
its claws in his hair, then hopped onto his arm and along it onto the
table. Stolpe kept on asking it, "What would you like to smoke, Hansie?"
"Peep!" replied the canary, every time. Then they all laughed. "Hansie
would like a pipe!"
"How clever he is, to answer like that!" said the women.
"Clever?--ay, and he's sly too! Once we bought a little wife for him;
mother didn't think it fair that he shouldn't know what love is. Well,
they married themselves very nicely, and the little wife lay two eggs.
But when she wanted to begin to sit Hansie got sulky; he kept on calling
to her to come out on the perch. Well, she wouldn't, and one fine day,
when she wanted to get something to eat, he hopped in and threw the eggs
out between the bars! He was jealous--the rascal! Yes, animals are
wonderfully clever--stupendous it is, that such a little thing as that
could think that out! Now, now, just look at him!"
Hansie had hopped onto the table and had made his way to the remainder
of the cake. He was sitting on the edge of the dish, cheerfully flirting
his tail as he pecked away. Suddenly something fell upon the table-
cloth. "Lord bless me," cried Stolpe, in consternation, "if that had
been any one else! Wouldn't you have heard mother carry on!"
Old Lasse was near exploding at this. He had never before been in such
pleasant company. "It's just as if one had come upon a dozen of Brother
Kalle's sort," he whispered to Pelle. Pelle smiled absently. Ellen was
holding his hand in her lap and playing with his fingers.
A telegram of congratulation came for Pelle from his Union, and this
brought the conversation back to more serious matters. Morten and Stolpe
became involved in a dispute concerning the labor movement; Morten
considered that they did not sufficiently consider the individual, but
attached too much importance to the voice of the masses. In his opinion
the revolution must come from within.
"No," said Stolpe, "that leads to nothing. But if we could get our
comrades into Parliament and obtain a majority, then we should build up
the State according to our own programme, and that is in every respect a
"Yes, but it's a question of daily bread," said Morten, with energy.
"Hungry people can't sit down and try to become a majority; while the
grass grows the cow starves! They ought to help themselves. If they do
not, their self-consciousness is imperfect; they must wake up to the
consciousness of their own human value. If there were a law forbidding
the poor man to breathe the air, do you think he'd stop doing so? He
simply could not. It's painful for him to look on at others eating when
he gets nothing himself. He is wanting in physical courage. And so
society profits by his disadvantage. What has the poor man to do with
the law? He stands outside all that! A man mustn't starve his horse or
his dog, but the State which forbids him to do so starves its own
workers. I believe they'll have to pay for preaching obedience to the
poor; we are getting bad material for the now order of society that we
hope to found some day."
"Yes, but we don't obey the laws out of respect for the commands of a
capitalist society," said Stolpe, somewhat uncertainly, "but out of
regard for ourselves. God pity the poor man if he takes the law into his
"Still, it keeps the wound fresh! As for all the others, who go hungry
in silence, what do they do? There are too few of them, alas--there's
room in the prisons for them! But if every one who was hungry would
stick his arm through a shop window and help himself--then the question
of maintenance would soon be solved. They couldn't put the whole nation
in prison! Now, hunger is yet another human virtue, which is often
practised until men die of it--for the profit of those who hoard wealth.
They pat the poor, brave man on the back because he's so obedient to the
law. What more can he want?"
"Yes, devil take it, of course it's all topsy-turvy," replied Stolpe.
"But that's precisely the reason why----No, no, you won't persuade me,
my young friend! You seem to me a good deal too 'red.' It wouldn't do!
Now I've been concerned in the movement from the very first day, and no
one can say that Stolpe is afraid to risk his skin; but that way
wouldn't suit me. We have always held to the same course, and everything
that we have won we have taken on account."
"Yes, that's true," interrupted Frau Stolpe. "When I look back to those
early years and then consider these I can scarcely believe it's true.
Then it was all we could do to find safe shelter, even among people of
our own standing; they annoyed us in every possible way, and hated
father because he wasn't such a sheep as they were, but used to concern
himself about their affairs. Every time I went out of the kitchen door
I'd find a filthy rag of dishcloth hung over the handle, and they
smeared much worse things than that over the door--and whose doing was
it? I never told father; he would have been so enraged he would have
torn the whole house down to find the guilty person. No, father had
enough to contend against already. But now: 'Ah, here comes Stolpe--
Hurrah! Long live Stolpe! One must show respect to Stolpe, the
"That may be all very fine," muttered Albert Olsen, "but the slater, he
climbs the highest." He was sitting with sunken head, staring angrily
"To be sure he climbs highest," said the women. "No one says he
"Leave him alone," said Otto; "he's had a drop too much!"
"Then he should take a walk in the fresh air and not sit there and make
himself disagreeable," said Madam Stolpe, with a good deal of temper.
The Vanishing Man rose with an effort. "Do you say a walk in the fresh
air, Madam Stolpe? Yes, if any one can stand the air, by God, it's
Albert Olsen. Those big-nosed masons, what can they do?" He stood with
bent head, muttering angrily to himself. "Yes, then we'll take a walk in
the fresh air. I don't want to have anything to do with your fools'
tricks." He staggered out through the kitchen door.
"What's he going to do there?" cried Madam Stolpe, in alarm.
"Oh, he'll just go down into the yard and turn himself inside out," said
Otto. "He's a brilliant fellow, but he can't carry much."
Pelle, still sitting at table, had been drawing with a pencil on a scrap
of paper while the others were arguing. Ellen leaned over his shoulder
watching him. He felt her warm breath upon his ear and smiled happily as
he used his pencil. Ellen took the drawing when he had finished and
pushed it across the table to the others. It showed a thick-set figure
of a man, dripping with sweat, pushing a wheelbarrow which supported his
belly. "Capitalism--when the rest of us refuse to serve him any longer!"
was written below. This drawing made a great sensation. "You're a deuce
of a chap!" cried Stolpe. "I'll send that to the editor of the humorous
page--I know him."
"Yes, Pelle," said Lasse proudly, "there's nothing he can't do; devil
knows where he gets it from, for he doesn't get it from his father." And
they all laughed.
Carpenter Stolpe's good lady sat considering the drawing with amazement,
quite bewildered, looking first at Pelle's fingers and then at the
drawing again. "I can understand how people can say funny things with
their mouths," she said, "but with their fingers--that I don't
understand. Poor fellow, obliged to push his belly in front of him! It's
almost worse than when I was going to have Victor."
"Cousin Victor, her youngest, who is so deucedly clever," said Otto, in
explanation, giving Pelle a meaning wink.
"Yes, indeed he is clever, if he is only six months old. The other day I
took him downstairs with me when I went to buy some milk. Since then he
won't accept his mother's left breast any more. The rascal noticed that
the milkman drew skim milk from the left side of the cart and full-cream
milk from the tap on the right side. And another time----"
"Now, mother, give over!" said Carpenter Stolpe; "don't you see they're
sitting laughing at you? And we ought to see about getting home
presently." He looked a trifle injured.
"What, are you going already?" said Stolpe. "Why, bless my soul, it's
quite late already. But we must have another song first."
"It'll be daylight soon," said Madam Stolpe; she was so tired that she
When they had sung the Socialist marching song, the party broke up.
Lasse had his pockets filled with sweets for the three orphans.
"What's become of the Vanishing Man?" said Otto suddenly.
"Perhaps he's been taken bad down in the yard," said Stolpe. "Run down
and see, Frederick." They had quite forgotten him.
Frederik returned and announced that Albert Olsen was not in the yard--
and the gate was locked.
"Surely he can't have gone on the roof?" said one. They ran up the back
stairs; the door of the loft was open, and the skylight also.
Otto threw off his coat and swung himself up through the opening. On the
extreme end of the ridge of the roof sat Albert Olsen, snoring.
He was leaning against the edge of the party-wall, which projected
upward about eighteen inches. Close behind him was empty space.
"For God's sake don't call him," said Mother Stolpe, under her breath;
"and catch hold of him before he wakes."
But Otto went straight up to his comrade. "Hullo, mate! Time's up!" he
"Righto!" said the Vanisher, and he rose to his feet. He stood there a
moment, swaying above the abyss, then, giving the preference to the way
leading over the roof, he followed in Otto's track and crept through the
"What the dickens were you really doing there?" asked Stolpe, laughing.
"Have you been to work?"
"I just went up there and enjoyed the fresh air a bit. Have you got a
bottle of beer? But what's this? Everybody going home already?" "Yes,
you've been two hours sitting up there and squinting at the stars,"
Now all the guests had gone. Lasse and the young couple stood waiting to
say farewell. Madam Stolpe had tears in her eyes. She threw her arms
round Ellen. "Take good care of yourself, the night is so cold," she
said, in a choking voice, and she stood nodding after them with eyes
that were blinded with tears.
"Why, but there's nothing to cry about!" said Mason Stolpe, as he led
her indoors. "Go to bed now--I'll soon sing the Vanishing Man to sleep!
Thank God for to-day, mother!"
Pelle had placed his work-bench against the wall-space between the two
windows of the living-room. There was just room to squeeze past between
the edge of the bench and the round table which stood in the middle of
the room. Against the wall by the door stood an oak-stained sideboard,
which was Ellen's pride, and exactly opposite this, on the opposing
wall, stood the chest of drawers of her girlhood, with a mirror above it
and a white embroidered cover on the top. On this chest of drawers stood
a polished wooden workbox, a few photographs, and various knick-knacks;
with its white cover it was like a little altar.
Pelle went to Master Beck's only every other day; the rest of the time
he sat at home playing the little master. He had many acquaintances
hereabouts, really poor folks, who wore their boots until their
stockings appeared before they had them repaired; nevertheless, it was
possible to earn a day's pay among them. He obtained work, too, from
Ellen's family and their acquaintances. These were people of another
sort; even when things went badly with them they always kept up
appearances and even displayed a certain amount of luxury. They kept
their troubles to themselves.
He could have obtained plenty of journeyman work, but he preferred this
arrangement, which laid the foundation of a certain independence; there
was more chance of a future in it. And there was a peculiar feeling
about work done with his home as the background. When he lifted his eyes
from his work as he sat at home a fruitful warmth came into his heart;
things looked so familiar; they radiated comfort, as though they had
always belonged together. And when the morning sun shone into the room
everything wore a smile, and in the midst of it all Ellen moved busily
to and fro humming a tune. She felt a need always to be near him, and
rejoiced over every day which he spent at home. On those days she
hurried through her work in the kitchen as quickly as possible, and then
sat down to keep him company. He had to teach her how to make a patch,
and how to sew a sole on, and she helped him with his work.
"Now you are the master and I'm the journeyman!" she would say
delightedly. She brought him customers too; her ambition was to keep him
always at home. "I'll help you all I can. And one fine day you'll have
so much work you'll have to take an apprentice--and then a journeyman."
Then he would take her in his arms, and they worked in emulation, and
sang as they worked.
Pelle was perfectly happy, and had cast off all his cares and burdens.
This was his nest, where every stick and stone was worth more than all
else in the world besides. They had their work cut out to keep it
together and feed themselves a little daintily; and Pelle tackled his
work as joyfully as though he had at last found his true vocation. Now
and again a heavy wave came rolling up from the struggling masses,
making his heart beat violently, and then he would break out into fiery
speech; or his happiness would weave radiant pictures before his eyes,
and he would describe these to Ellen. She listened to him proudly, and
with her beloved eyes upon him he would venture upon stronger expression
and more vivid pictures, as was really natural to him. When at last he
was silent she would remain quietly gazing at him with those dark eyes
of hers that always seemed to be looking at something in him of which he
himself was unaware.
"What are you thinking of now?" Pelle would ask, for he would have
enjoyed an exposition of the ideas that filled his mind. There was no
one for him but Ellen, and he wanted to discuss the new ideas with her,
and to feel the wonderful happiness of sharing these too with her.
"I was thinking how red your lips are when you speak! They certainly
want to be kissed!" she replied, throwing her arms round his neck.
What happened round about her did not interest her; she could only speak
of their love and of what concerned herself. But the passionate gaze of
her eyes was like a deep background to their life. It had quite a
mysterious effect upon his mind; it was like a lure that called to the
unknown depths of his being. "The Pelle she sees must be different to
the one I know," he thought happily. There must be something fine and
strong in him for her to cling to him so closely and suffer so when
parted from him only for a moment. When she had gazed at him long enough
she would press herself against him, confused, and hide her face.
Without his remarking it, she directed his energies back to his own
calling. He could work for two when she sat at the bench facing him and
talked to him as she helped him. Pelle really found their little nest
quite comfortable, but Ellen's mind was full of plans for improvement
and progress. His business was to support a respectable home with dainty
furniture and all sorts of other things; she was counting on these
already. This home, which to him was like a beloved face that one cannot
imagine other than it is, was to her only a temporary affair, which
would by degrees be replaced by something finer and better. Behind her
intimate gossip of every-day trivialities she concealed a far-reaching
ambition. He must do his utmost if he was to accomplish all she expected
Ellen by no means neglected her housekeeping, and nothing ever slipped
through her fingers. When Pelle was away at the workshop she turned the
whole place upside down, sweeping and scrubbing, and had always
something good on the table for him. In the evening she was waiting for
him at the door of the workshop. Then they would take a stroll along the
canal, and across the green rampart where the children played. "Oh,
Pelle, how I've longed for you to-day!" she would say haltingly. "Now,
I've got you, and yet I've still got quite a pain in my breasts; they
don't know yet that you're with me!"
"Shan't we work a little this evening--just a quarter of an hour?" she
would say, when they had eaten, "so that you can become a master all the
sooner and make things more comfortable for yourself." Pelle perhaps
would rather have taken a walk through the city with her, or have gone
somewhere where they could enjoy the sunset, but her dark eyes fixed
themselves upon him.
She was full of energy from top to toe, and it was all centered on him.
There was something in her nature that excluded the possibility of
selfishness. In relation to herself, everything was indifferent; she
only wanted to be with him--and to live for him. She was beneficent and
intact as virgin soil; Pelle had awakened love in her--and it took the
shape of a perpetual need of giving. He felt, humbly, that she brought
all she had and was to him as a gift, and all he did was done to repay
He had refused to undertake the direction of the labor organization. His
life together with Ellen and the maintenance of the newly established
household left him no time for any effectual efforts outside his home.
Ellen did not interfere in the matter; but when he came home after
spending the evening at a meeting he could see she had been crying. So
he stopped at home with her; it was weak of him, out he did not see what
else he could do. And he missed nothing; Ellen more than made amends.
She knew how to make their little home close itself about him, how to
turn it into a world of exuberant inner life. There was no greater
pleasure than to set themselves to achieve some magnificent object--as,
for instance, to buy a china flower-pot, which could stand on the
window-sill and contain an aspidistra. That meant a week of saving, and
when they had got it they would cross over to the other side of the
canal, arm in arm, and look up at the window in order to see the effect.
And then something else would be needed; a perforating machine, an
engraved nameplate for the door; every Saturday meant some fresh
_The Working Man_ lay unread. If Pelle laid down his work a moment
in order to glance at it, there was Ellen nipping his ear with her lips;
his free time belonged to her, and it was a glorious distraction in
work-time, to frolic as carelessly as a couple of puppies, far more
delightful than shouldering the burden of the servitude of the masses!
So the paper was given up; Ellen received the money every week for her
savings-bank. She had discovered a corner in Market Street where she
wanted to set up a shop and work-room with three or four assistants--
that was what she was saving for. Pelle wondered at her sagacity, for
that was a good neighborhood.
After their marriage they did not visit Ellen's parents so often. Stolpe
found Pelle was cooling down, and used to tease him a little, in order
to make him answer the helm; but that angered Ellen, and resulted in
explosions--she would tolerate no criticism of Pelle. She went to see
them only when Pelle proposed it; she herself seemed to feel no desire
to see her family, but preferred staying at home. Often they pretended
they were not at home when "the family" knocked, in order to go out
alone, to the Zoological Gardens or to Lyngby.
They did not see much of Lasse. Ellen had invited him once for all to
eat his supper with them. But when he came home from work he was too
tired to change his clothes, and wash himself, and make himself tidy,
and Ellen was particular about her little home. He had a great respect
for her, but did not feel properly at home in her living-room.
He had taken Pelle's old room, and was boarding with the three orphans.
They thought great things of him, and all their queer care for the big
foundling Pelle was now transferred to old Lasse. And here they fell on
better soil. Lasse was becoming a child again, and had felt the need of
a little pampering. With devout attention he would listen to Marie's
little troubles, and the boy's narrations of everything that they did
and saw. In return he told them the adventures of his boyhood, or
related his experiences in the stone-breaking yard, swaggering suitably,
in order not to be outdone. When Pelle came to fetch his father the four
of them would be sitting down to some childish game. They would wrangle
as to how the game should be played, for Lasse was the most skilful. The
old man would excuse himself.
"You mustn't be angry, lad, because I neglect you--but I'm tired of an
evening and I go to bed early."
"Then come on Sunday--and breakfast with us; afterward we go out."
"No, I've something on for Sunday--an assignation," said Lasse
roguishly, in order to obviate further questions. "Enjoy your youthful
happiness; it won't last forever."
He would never accept help. "I earn what I need for my food and a few
clothes; I don't need much of either, and I am quite contented. And
you've enough to see to yourself," was his constant answer.
Lasse was always gentle and amiable, and appeared contented, but there
was a curious veil over his eyes, as though some disappointment were
gnawing at his heart.
And Pelle knew well what it was--it had always been an understood thing
that Lasse should spend his old age at Pelle's fireside. In his childish
dreams of the future, however various they might be, Father Lasse was
always at hand, enjoying a restful old age, in return for all he had
done for Pelle.
That was how it should be; at home in the country in every poor home a
gray-headed old man sat in the chimney-corner--for children among the
poor are the only comfort of age.
For the time being this could not be arranged; there was no room in
their two little rooms. Ellen was by no means lacking in heart; she
often thought of this or that for the old man's comfort, but her
passionate love would permit of no third person to approach them too
closely. Such a thing had never entered her mind; and Pelle felt that if
he were to persuade her to take Father Lasse into their home, the wonder
of their life together would be killed. They lived so fully from hour to
hour; theirs was a sacred happiness, that must not be sacrificed, but
which itself demanded the sacrifice of all else. Their relation was not
the usual practical self-love, but love itself, which seldom touches the
every-day life of the poor, save that they hear it in tragic and
beautiful songs of unhappy lovers. But here, to them, had come its very
self--a shining wonder!
And now Ellen was going to bear a child. Her figure grew fuller and
softer. Toward all others she was cold and remote in her behavior; only
to Pelle she disclosed herself utterly. The slight reserve which had
always lurked somewhere within her, as though there was something that
he could not yet conquer, had disappeared. Her gaze was no longer fixed
and searching; but sought his own with quiet self-surrender. A tender
and wonderful harmony was visible in her, as though she had now come
into her own, and from day to day she grew more beautiful.
Pelle was filled with pride to see how luxuriantly she unfolded beneath
his caresses. He was conscious of a sense of inexhaustible liberality,
such as the earth had suddenly inspired in him at times in his
childhood; and an infinite tenderness filled his heart. There was an
alluring power in Ellen's helplessness, so rich in promise as it was. He
would joyfully have sacrificed the whole world in order to serve her and
that which she so wonderfully bore within her.
He got up first in the morning, tidied the rooms, and made coffee before
he went to work. He was vexed if when he came home Ellen had been
sweeping or scrubbing. He made two of himself in order to spare her,
stinted himself of sleep, and was restlessly busy; his face had assumed
a fixed expression of happiness, which gave him almost a look of
stupidity. His thoughts never went beyond the four walls of his home;
Ellen's blessed form entirely engrossed him.
The buying of new furniture was discontinued; in its place Ellen made
curious purchases of linen and flannel and material for swaddling-bands,
and mysterious conversations were continually taking place between her
and her mother, from which Pelle was excluded; and when they went to see
Ellen's parents Madam Stolpe was always burrowing in her chests of
drawers, and giving Ellen little packages to be taken home.
The time passed only too quickly. Exclusively as they had lived for
their own affairs, it seemed as if they could never get everything
finished. And one day it was as though the world was shattered about
their heads. Ellen lay in bed, turning from side to side and shrieking
as though an evil spirit had taken possession of her body. Pelle bent
over her with a helpless expression, while at the foot of the bed sat
Madam Blom; she sat there knitting and reading the papers as though
nothing whatever was amiss. "Shriek away, little woman," she said from
time to time, when Ellen became silent; "that's part of the business!"
Ellen looked at her spitefully and defiantly pressed her lips together,
but next moment she opened her mouth wide and roared wildly. A rope was
fastened to the foot of the bed, and she pulled on this while she
shrieked. Then she collapsed, exhausted. "You wicked, wicked boy," she
whispered, with a faint smile. Pelle bent over her happily; but she
pushed him suddenly away; her beautiful body contorted itself, and the
dreadful struggle was raging again. But at last a feeble voice relieved
hers and filled the home with a new note. "Another mouth to fill," said
Madam Blom, holding the new-born child in the air by one leg. It was a
Pelle went about blushing and quite bewildered, as though something had
happened to him that no one else had ever experienced. At first he took
Master Beck's work home with him and looked after the child himself at
night. Every other moment he had to put down his work and run in to the
mother and child. "You are a wonderful woman, to give me such a child
for a kiss," he said, beaming, "and a boy into the bargain! What a man
"So it's a boy!" said the "family." "Don't quite lose your head!"
"That would be the last straw!" said Pelle gravely.
The feminine members of the family teased him because he looked after
the child. "What a man--perhaps he'd like to lie in child-bed, too!"
"I don't doubt it," growled Stolpe. "But he's near becoming an idiot,
and that's much more serious. And it pains me to say it, but that's the
girl's fault. And yet all her life she has only heard what is good and
proper. But women are like cats--there's no depending on them."
Pelle only laughed at their gibes. He was immeasurably happy.
And now Lasse managed to find his way to see them! He had scarcely
received the news of the event, when he made his appearance just as he
was. He was full of audaciously high spirits; he threw his cap on the
ground outside the door, and rushed into the bedroom as though some one
were trying to hold him back.
"Ach, the little creature! Did any one ever see such an angel!" he
cried, and he began to babble over the child until Ellen was quite rosy
with maternal pride.
His joy at becoming a grandfather knew no limits. "So it's come at last,
it's come at last!" he repeated, over and over again. "And I was always
afraid I should have to go to my grave without leaving a representative
behind me! Ach, what a plump little devil! He's got something to begin
life on, he has! He'll surely be an important citizen, Pelle! Just look
how plump and round he is! Perhaps a merchant or a manufacturer or
something of that sort! To see him in his power and greatness--but that
won't be granted to Father Lasse." He sighed. "Yes, yes, here he is, and
how he notices one already! Perhaps the rascal's wondering, who is this
wrinkled old man standing there and coming to see me in his old clothes?
Yes, it's Father Lasse, so look at him well, he's won his magnificence
by fair means!"
Then he went up to Pelle and fumbled for his hand. "Well, I've hardly
dared to hope for this--and how fine he is, my boy! What are you going
to call him?" Lasse always ended with that question, looking anxiously
at his son as he asked it. His old head trembled a little now when
anything moved him.
"He's to be called Lasse Frederik," said Pelle one day, "after his two
This delighted the old man. He went off on a little carouse in honor of
And now he came almost every day. On Sunday mornings he made himself
scrupulously tidy, polishing his boots and brushing his clothes, so as
to make himself thoroughly presentable. As he went home from work he
would look in to ask whether little Lasse had slept well. He eulogized
Ellen for bringing such a bright, beautiful youngster into the world,
and she quite fell in love with the old man, on account of his delight
in the child.
She even trusted him to sit with the little one, and he was never so
pleased as when she wished to go out and sent for him accordingly.
So little Lasse succeeded, merely by his advent, in abolishing all
misunderstandings, and Pelle blessed him for it. He was the deuce of a
fellow already--one day he threw Lasse and Ellen right into one
another's arms! Pelle followed step by step the little creature's
entrance into the world; he noticed when first his glance showed a
watchful attention, and appeared to follow an object, and when first his
hand made a grab at something. "Hey, hey, just look! He wants his share
of things already!" he cried delightedly. It was Pelle's fair moustache
the child was after--and didn't he give it a tug!
The little hand gripped valiantly and was scarcely to be removed; there
were little dimples on the fingers and deep creases at the wrist. There
was any amount of strength in Ellen's milk!
They saw nothing more of Morton. He had visited them at first, but after
a time ceased coming. They were so taken up with one another at the
time, and Ellen's cool behavior had perhaps frightened him away. He
couldn't know that that was her manner to everybody. Pelle could never
find an idle hour to look him up, but often regretted him. "Can you
understand what's amiss with him?" he would ask Ellen wonderingly. "We
have so much in common, he and I. Shall I make short work of it and go
and look him up?"
Ellen made no answer to this; she only kissed him. She wanted to have
him quite to herself, and encompassed him with her love; her warm breath
made him feel faint with happiness. Her will pursued him and surrounded
him like a wall; he had a faint consciousness of the fact, but made no
attempt to bestir himself. He felt quite comfortable as he was.
The child occasioned fresh expenses, and Ellen had all she could do;
there was little time left for her to help him. He had to obtain
suitable work, so that they might not suffer by the slack winter season,
but could sit cozily between their four walls. There was no time for
loafing about and thinking. It was an obvious truth, which their daily
life confirmed, that poor people have all they can do to mind their own
affairs. This was a fact which they had not at once realized.
He no longer gave any thought to outside matters. It was really only
from old habit that, as he sat eating his breakfast in the workshop, he
would sometimes glance at the paper his sandwiches were wrapped in--part
of some back number of _The Working Man._ Or perhaps it would
happen that he felt something in the air, that passed him by, something
in which he had no part; and then he would raise his head with a
listening expression. But Ellen was familiar with the remoteness that
came into his eyes at such times, and she knew how to dispel it with a
One day he met Morten in the street. Pelle was delighted, but there was
a sceptical expression in Morten's eyes. "Why don't you ever come to see
me now?" asked Pelle. "I often long to see you, but I can't well get
away from home."
"I've found a sweetheart--which is quite an occupation."
"Are you engaged?" said Pelle vivaciously. "Tell me something about
"Oh, there's not much to tell," said Morten, with a melancholy smile.
"She is so ragged and decayed that no one else would have her--that's
why I took her."
"That is truly just like you!" Pelle laughed. "But seriously, who is the
girl and where does she live?"
"Where does she live?" Morten stared at him for a moment
uncomprehendingly. "Yes, after all you're right. If you know where
people live you know all about them. The police always ask that
Pelle did not know whether Morten was fooling him or whether he was
speaking in good faith; he could not understand him in the least to-day.
His pale face bore signs of suffering. There was a curious glitter in
his eyes. "One has to live somewhere in this winter cold."
"Yes, you are right! And she lives on the Common, when the policeman
doesn't drive her away. He's the landlord of the unfortunate, you know!
There has been a census lately--well, did you observe what happened? It
was given out that everybody was to declare where he lodged on a
particular night. But were the census-papers distributed among the
homeless? No--all those who live in sheds and outhouses, or on the
Common, or in newly erected buildings, or in the disused manure-pits of
the livery stables--they have no home, and consequently were not counted
in the census. That was cleverly managed, you know; they simply don't
exist! Otherwise there would be a very unpleasant item on the list--the
number of the homeless. Only one man in the city here knows what it is;
he's a street missionary, and I've sometimes been out with him at night;
it's horrifying, what we've seen! Everywhere, wherever there's a chink,
they crowd into it in order to find shelter; they lie under the iron
staircases even, and freeze to death. We found one like that--an old
man--and called up a policeman; he stuck his red nose right in the
corpse's mouth and said, 'Dead of drink.' And now that's put down, where
really it ought to say, 'Starved to death!' It mustn't be said that any
one really suffers need in this country, you understand. No one freezes
to death here who will only keep moving; no one starves unless it's his
own fault. It must necessarily be so in one of the most enlightened
countries in the world; people have become too cultivated to allow Want
to stalk free about the streets; it would spoil their enjoyment and
disturb their night's rest. And they must be kept at a distance too; to
do away with them would be too troublesome; but the police are drilled
to chase them back into their holes and corners. Go down to the whaling
quay and see what they bring ashore in a single day at this time of the
year--it isn't far from your place. Accidents, of course! The ground is
so slippery, and people go too near the edge of the quay. The other
night a woman brought a child into the world in an open doorway in North
Bridge Street--in ten degrees of frost. People who collected were
indignant; it was unpardonable of her to go about in such a condition--
she ought to have stopped at home. It didn't occur to them that she had
no home. Well then, she could have gone to the police; they are obliged
to take people in. On the other hand, as we were putting her in the cab,
she began to cry, in terror, 'Not the maternity hospital--not the
maternity hospital!' She had already been there some time or other. She
must have had some reason for preferring the doorstep--just as the
others preferred the canal to the workhouse."
Morten continued, regardless of Pelle, as though he had to ease some
inward torment. Pelle listened astounded to this outburst of lacerating
anguish with a shamed feeling that he himself had a layer of fat round
his heart. As Morten spoke poverty once more assumed a peculiar,
horrible, living glimmer.
"Why do you tell me all this as if I belonged to the upper classes?" he
said. "I know all this as well as you do."
"And we haven't even a bad year," Morten continued, "the circumstances
are as they always are at this time of year. Yesterday a poor man stole
a loaf from the counter and ran off with it; now he'll be branded all
his life. 'My God, that he should want to make himself a thief for so
little!' said the master's wife--it was a twopenny-ha'penny roll. It's
not easy to grasp--branded for his whole life for a roll of bread!"
"He was starving," said Pelle stupidly.
"Starving? Yes, of course he was starving! But to me it's insanity, I
tell you--I can't take it in; and every one else thinks it's so easy to
understand. Why do I tell you this, you ask? You know it as well as I
do. No, but you don't know it properly, or you'd have to rack your
brains till you were crazy over the frightful insanity of the fact that
these two words--bread and crime--can belong together! Isn't it insane,
that the two ends should bend together and close in a ring about a human
life? That a man should steal bread of all things--bread, do you
understand? Bread ought not to be stolen. What does any man want with
thieving who eats enough? In the mornings, long before six o'clock, the
poor people gather outside our shop, and stand there in rows, in order
to be the first to get the stale bread that is sold at half-price. The
police make them stand in a row, just as they do outside the box-office
at the theater, and some come as early as four, and stand two hours in
the cold, in order to be sure of their place. But besides those who buy
there is always a crowd of people still poorer; they have no money to
buy with, but they stand there and stare as though it interested them
greatly to see the others getting their bread cheap. They stand there
waiting for a miracle in the shape of a slice of bread. One can see that
in the way their eyes follow every movement, with the same desperate
hope that you see in the eyes of the dogs when they stand round the
butcher's cart and implore Heaven that the butcher may drop a bit of
meat. They don't understand that no one will pity them. Not we human
beings--you should see their surprise when we give them anything!--but
chance, some accident. Good God, bread is so cheap, the cheapest of all
the important things in this world--and yet they can't for once have
enough of it! This morning I slipped a loaf into an old woman's hand--
she kissed it and wept for joy! Do you feel that that's endurable?" He
stared at Pelle with madness lurking in his gaze.
"You do me an injustice if you think I don't feel it too," said Pelle
quietly. "But where is there a quick way out of this evil? We must be
patient and organize ourselves and trust to time. To seize on our rights
as they've done elsewhere won't do for us."
"No, that's just it! They know it won't do for us--that's why justice
never goes forward. The people get only what's due to them if the
leaders know that if the worst comes to the worst they can provide for
"I don't believe that any good would come of a revolution," said Pelle
emphatically. He felt the old longing to fight within him.
"You can't understand about that unless you've felt it in yourself,"
replied Morten passionately. "Revolution is the voice of God, which
administers right and justice, and it cannot be disputed. If the poor
were to rise to see that justice was done it would be God's judgment,
and it would not be overthrown. The age has surely the right to redeem
itself when it has fallen into arrears in respect of matters so
important; but it could do so only by a leap forward. But the people
don't rise, they are like a damp powder! You must surely some time have
been in the cellar of the old iron merchant under the 'Ark,' and have
seen his store of rags and bones and old iron rubbish? They are mere
rakings of the refuse-heap, things that human society once needed and
then rejected. He collects them again, and now the poor can buy them.
And he buys the soldiers' bread too, when they want to go on the spree,
and throws it on his muck-heap; he calls it fodder for horses, but the
poor buy it of him and eat it. The refuse-heap is the poor man's larder
--that is, when the pigs have taken what they want. The Amager farmers
fatten their swine there, and the sanitary commission talks about
forbidding it; but no one has compassion on the Copenhagen poor."
Pelle shuddered. There was something demoniacal in Morten's hideous
knowledge--he knew more of the "Ark" than Pelle himself. "Have you, too,
been down in that loathsome rubbish-store?" he asked, "or how do you
know all this?"
"No, I've not been there--but I can't help knowing it--that's my curse!
Ask me even whether they make soup out of the rotten bones they get
there. And not even the poison of the refuse-heap will inflame them;
they lap it up and long for more! I can't bear it if nothing is going to
happen! Now you've pulled yourself out of the mire--and it's the same
with everybody who has accomplished anything--one after another--either
because they are contented or because they are absorbed in their own
pitiful affairs. Those who are of any use slink away, and only the needy
"I have never left you in the lurch," said Pelle warmly. "You must
realize that I haven't."
"It isn't to be wondered at that they get weary," Morten continued.
"Even God loses patience with those who always let themselves be
trampled upon. Last night I dreamed I was one of the starving. I was
going up the street, grieving at my condition, and I ran up against God.
He was dressed like an old Cossack officer, and had a knout hanging
round his neck.
"'Help me, dear God!' I cried, and fell on my knees before him. 'My
brothers won't help me.'
"'What ails you?' he asked, 'and who are you?'
"'I am one of Thy chosen folk, one of the poor,' I answered. 'I am
"'You are starving and complain of your brothers, who have set forth
food for you in abundance?' he said angrily, pointing to all the fine
shops. 'You do not belong to my chosen people--away with you!' And then
he lashed me over the back with his knout."
Morten checked himself and spoke no more; it was as though he neither
saw nor heard; he had quite collapsed. Suddenly he turned away, without
Pelle went home; he was vexed by Morten's violence, which was, he felt,
an attack upon himself. He knew this of himself--that he was not
faithless; and no one had any right to grudge him the happiness of
founding a family. He was quite indignant--for the first time for a long
time. That they should taunt him, who had done more for the cause than
most!--just because he looked after his own affairs for a time!
Something unruly was rising within him; he felt a sudden need to lay
about him; to fight a good stiff battle and shake the warm domesticity
out of his bones.
Down by the canal they were engaged cutting the ice in order to clear
the water. It was already spring tide, and the ice-cakes were drifting
toward the sea, but with unbelievable slowness. After all, that's the
work for you, he told himself as he turned away. He was conscious of
that which lay beneath the surface, but he would not let it rise.
As soon as he was between four walls again he grew calmer. Ellen sat by
the stove busied with little Lasse, who lay sprawling on his belly in
"Only look what a sweet little roly-poly he is! There isn't a trace of
From his place at the window Pelle could look out over the canal and the
bridge by the prison, where the prisoners lay on the rafts, washing
wool. He recognized Ferdinand's tall, powerful figure; shortly after
Christmas they had captured him in an underground vault in the cemetery,
where he had established himself; the snow had betrayed his hiding-
place. And now he lay yonder, so near the "Ark" and his mother! From
time to time he raised his closely-shorn head and looked thither.
Beyond the bridge toward the market, was the potter with his barge; he
had piled up his Jutland wares on the quay, and the women from
Kristianshavn came to deal with him. And behind at the back of all rose
the mass of the "Ark."
It was so huge that it did not give the impression of a barracks, but
had rather the character of a fantastic village--as though a hundred
hamlets had been swept together in one inextricable heap. Originally it
had been a little frame building of one story with a gabled roof. Then
it had gradually become an embryo town; it budded in all directions,
upward as well, kaleidoscopically increasing to a vast mass of little
bits of facade, high-pitched roofs, deep bays, and overhanging gables,
all mingled together in an endless confusion, till in the middle it was
five stories high. And there a bluish ring of vapor always hovered,
revealing the presence of the well, that hidden ventilating shaft for
the thronging inmates of the "Ark." One could recognize Madam Frandsen's
garret with its chimney-cowl, and farther back, in a deep recess, which
ran far into the mass of the building, Pelle could distinguish Hanne's
window. Otherwise he could not place many of the little windows. They
stared like failing eyes. Even the coal-dealer, who was the deputy
landlord of the "Ark," was imperfectly acquainted with all its holes and
He could see the inmates of the "Ark" running to and fro across the
bridge, careless and myopic; they always rushed along, having started at
the last moment.. There was something tranquilizing about their
negligence, which was evoked by privation; in the "Ark" a man began to
worry about his food only, when he sat down to table and discovered
there wasn't any!
And among them little groups of workmen wandered in and out across the
bridge; that steady march from the North Bridge had travelled hither, as
though seeking him out.
The masses were now no longer vaguely fermenting; a mighty will was in
process of formation. Amid the confusion, the chaotic hubbub, definite
lines became visible; a common consciousness came into being and assumed
a direction; the thousands of workers controlled themselves in a
remarkable way, and were now progressing, slowly and prudently, with the
ideal of closing up the ranks. One whose hearing was a little dull might
have received the impression that nothing was happening--that they were
reconciled with their lot; but Pelle knew what was going on. He himself
had put his shoulder to the wheel, and was secretly one of their number.
He was happy in Ellen's divided love, and all he undertook had reference
to her and the child.
But now again the sound of footsteps echoed through his brain; and it
would not be silenced. They had penetrated further than he himself could
go. It was as though a deadening screen had suddenly been removed and
whether he wished it or not, he heard every step of the wanderers
The hard times forced them to proceed quietly, but work was being done
in secret. The new ideas were in process of becoming current, the
newspapers introduced them into the bosom of the family, and they were
uttered from the speaker's platform, or discussed at meal-times in
workshop and factory. The contagion ran up staircases and went from door
to door. Organizations which more than once had been created and broken
up were created afresh--and this time to endure. The employers fought
them, but could not defeat them; there was an inward law working upon
the masses, making a structure behind which they must defend themselves.
They taxed themselves and stole the bread out of their own mouths in
order to increase the funds of their organization, in the blind
conviction that eventually something miraculous would come of it all.
The poor achieved power by means of privation, tears, and self-denial,
and had the satisfaction of feeling that they were rich through their
organization. When many united together they tasted of the sweets of
wealth; and, grateful as they were, they regarded that already as a
result. A sense of well-being lifted them above the unorganized, and
they felt themselves socially superior to the latter. To join the trades
unions now signified a rise in the social scale. This affected many, and
others were driven into the movement by the strong representations of
their house-mates. The big tenement buildings were gradually leavened by
the new ideas; those who would not join the Union must clear out. They
were treated as the scum of society, and could only settle down in
certain quarters of the city. It no longer seemed impossible to
establish the organization of labor in a stable fashion, and to
accomplish something for the workers--if only some courageous worker
would place himself at the head of affairs. The fact that most of them
worked at home in their lodgings could no longer make them invisible--
the movement had eyes everywhere. Pelle, with surprise, caught himself
sitting at his bench and making plans for the development of the
He put the matter from him, and devoted his whole mind to Ellen and the
child. What had he to do with the need of strangers, when these two
called for all his ability and all his strength, if he was to provide
them merely with necessities? He had tortured himself enough with the
burden of poverty--and to no end. And now he had found his release in a
blessed activity, which, if he was to neglect nothing, would entirely
absorb him. What then was the meaning of this inward admonition, that
seemed to tell him that he was sinning against his duty?
He silenced the inward voice by dwelling on his joy in his wife and
child. But it returned insidiously and haunted his mind like a shadow.
At times, as he sat quietly working, something called him: "Pelle,
Pelle!"--or the words throbbed in his ears in the depth of the night.
At such times he sat upright in bed, listening. Ellen and the child were
fast asleep; he could hear a faint whistling as little Lasse drew his
breath. He would go to the door and open it, although he shook his head
at his own folly. It was surely a warning that some one near to him was
At this time Pelle threw himself passionately into his life with Ellen
and the child; he lived for them as wholly as though he had anticipated
an immediate parting.
They had purchased a perambulator on the instalment system, and every
Sunday they packed sandwiches under the apron and pushed it before them
to the Common, or they turned into some beer-garden in the neighborhood
of the city, where they ate their provisions and drank coffee. Often too
they made their way along the coast road, and went right out into the
forest. Lasse-Frederik, as Ellen called him, sat throned in all his
splendor in the perambulator, like a little idol, Pelle and Ellen
pushing him alternately. Ellen did not want to permit this. "It's no
work for a man, pushing a perambulator," she would say. "You won't see
any other man doing it! They let their wives push the family coach."
"What are other people to me?" replied Pelle. "I don't keep a horse
She gave him a grateful look; nevertheless, she did not like it.
They spent glorious hours out there. Little Lasse was allowed to
scramble about to his heart's content, and it was wonderful how he
tumbled about; he was like a frolicsome little bear. "I believe he can
smell the earth under him," said Pelle, recalling his own childish
transports. "It's a pity he has to live in that barrack there!" Ellen
gazed at him uncomprehendingly.
They did not move about much; it contented them to lie there and to
delight in the child, when he suddenly sat up and gazed at them in
astonishment, as though he had just discovered them. "Now he's beginning
to think!" said Pelle, laughing.
"You take my word for it, he's hungry." And little Lasse scrambled
straight up to his mother, striking at her breast with his clenched
hands, and saying, "Mam, mam!" Pelle and the perambulator had to station
themselves in front of her while he was fed.
When they reached home it was evening. If the doormat was displaced it
meant that some one had been to call on them; and Ellen was able to
tell, from its position, who the visitor had been. Once it stood upright
against the wall.
"That's Uncle Carpenter," said Pelle quietly. Little Lasse was sleeping
on his arm, his head resting on Pelle's shoulder.
"No, it will have been Cousin Anna," said Ellen, opening the door.
"Thank the Lord we weren't at home, or we should have had such a
business till late in the evening! They never eat anything at home on
Sundays, they simply drink a mouthful of coffee and then go round eating
their relations out of house and home."
Pelle often thought with concern of the three orphans in the "Ark." They
were learning nothing that would be of use to them in the future, but
had all they could do to make a living. The bad times had hit them too,
and little Karl in particular; people were stingy with their tips. In
these days they were never more than a day ahead of destitution, and the
slightest misfortune would have brought them face to face with it. But
they let nothing of this be seen--they were only a little quieter and
more solemn than usual. He had on several occasions made inquiries as to
obtaining help for them, but nothing could be done without immediately
tearing them asunder; all those who were in a position to help them
cried out against their little household, and separation was the worst
that could befall them.
When he went to see them Marie always had plenty to tell and to ask him;
he was still her particular confidant, and had to listen to all her
household cares and give her his advice. She was growing tall now, and
had a fresher look than of old; and Pelle's presence always filled her
eyes with joy and brought the color to her cheeks. Father Lasse she
eulogized, in a voice full of emotion, as though he were a little
helpless child; but when she asked after Ellen a little malice glittered
in her eyes.
One morning, as he sat working at home, while Ellen was out with the
child, there was a knock at the door. He went out and opened it. In the
little letter-box some one had thrust a number of _The Working
Man_, with an invitation to take the paper regularly. He opened the
paper eagerly, as he sat down to his bench again; an extraordinary
feeling of distress caused him first of all to run through the
He started up in his chair; there was a heading concerning a fourteen-
year-old boy who worked in a tinplate works and had had the fingers of
the right hand cut off. A premonition told him that this misfortune had
befallen the little "Family"; he quickly drew on a coat and ran over to
Marie met him anxiously. "Can you understand what has happened to Peter?
He never came home last night!" she said, in distress. "Lots of boys
roam about the streets all night, but Peter has never been like that,
and I kept his supper warm till midnight. I thought perhaps he'd got
into bad company."
Pelle showed her _The Working Man_. In a little while the inmates
of the "Ark" would see the report and come rushing up with it. It was
better that he should prepare her beforehand. "But it's by no means
certain," he said, to cheer her. "Perhaps it isn't he at all."
Marie burst into tears. "Yes, of course it is! I've so often gone about
worrying when he's been telling me about those sharp knives always
sliding between their fingers. And they can't take proper care of
themselves; they must work quickly or they get the sack. Oh, poor dear
Peter!" She had sunk into her chair and now sat rocking to and fro with
her apron to her eyes, like an unhappy mother.
"Now be grown-up and sensible," said Pelle, laying his hand on her
shoulder. "Perhaps it's not so bad after all; the papers always
exaggerate. Now I'll run out and see if I can trace him."
"Go to the factory first, then," said Marie, jumping to her feet, "for,
of course, they'll know best. But you mustn't in any case say where we
live--do you hear? Remember, we've not been to school, and he hasn't
been notified to the pastor for confirmation. We could be punished if
they found that out."
"I'll take good care," said Pelle, and he hurried away.
At the factory he received the information that Peter was lying in
hospital. He ran thither, and arrived just at the time for visitors.
Peter was sitting upright in bed, his hand in a sling; this gave him a
curiously crippled appearance. And on the boy's face affliction had
already left those deep, ineradicable traces which so dismally
distinguish the invalided worker. The terrible burden of the
consequences of mutilation could already be read in his pondering,
He cheered up when he saw Pelle, made an involuntary movement with his
right hand, and then, remembering, held out his left. "There--I must
give you my left fist now," he said, with a dismal smile. "That'll seem
queer to me for a bit. If I can do anything at all. Otherwise"--he made
a threatening movement of the head--"I tell you this--I'll never be a
burden to Marie and Karl all my life. Take my word for it, I shall be
able to work again."
"We shall soon find something for you," said Pelle, "and there are kind
people, too. Perhaps some one will help you so that you can study." He
himself did not know just where that idea came from; he certainly had
never seen such a case. The magical dreams of his childhood had been
responsible for a whole class of ideas, which were nourished by the
anecdotes of poor boys in the reading-books. He was confronted by the
impossible, and quite simply he reached out after the impossible.
Peter had no reading-books at his back. "Kind people!" he cried
scornfully--"they never have anything themselves, and I can't even read
--how should I learn how to study? Karl can read; he taught himself from
the signs in the streets while he was running his errands; and he can
write as well. And Hanne has taught Marie a little. But all my life I've
only been in the factory." He stared bitterly into space; it was
melancholy to see how changed his face was--it had quite fallen in.
"Don't worry now," said Pelle confidently: "we shall soon find
"Only spare me the poor-relief! Don't you go begging for me--that's
all!" said Peter angrily. "And, Pelle," he whispered, so that no one in
the room should hear, "it really isn't nice here. Last night an old man
lay there and died--close to me. He died of cancer, and they didn't even
put a screen round him. All the time he lay there and stared at me! But
in a few days I shall be able to go out. Then there'll be something to
be paid--otherwise the business will come before the Poor Law guardians,
and then they'll begin to snuff around--and I've told them fibs, Pelle!
Can't you come and get me out? Marie has money for the house-rent by
her--you can take that."
Pelle promised, and hurried back to his work. Ellen was at home; she was
moving about and seemed astonished. Pelle confided the whole affair to
her. "Such a splendid fellow he is," he said, almost crying. "A little
too solemn with all his work--and now he's a cripple! Only a child, and
an invalided worker already--it's horrible to think of!"
Ellen went up to him and pulled his head against her shoulder;
soothingly she stroked his hair. "We must do something for him, Ellen,"
he said dully.
"You are so good, Pelle. You'd like to help everybody; but what can we
do? We've paid away all our savings over my lying-in."
"We must sell or pawn some of our things."
She looked at him horrified. "Pelle, our dear home! And there's nothing
here but just what is absolutely necessary. And you who love our poor
little belongings so! But if you mean that, why, of course! Only you are
doing something for him already in sacrificing your time."
After that he was silent. She several times referred to the matter
again, as something that must be well deliberated, but he did not reply.
Her conversation hurt him--whether he replied to it or was silent.
In the afternoon he invented an errand in the city, and made his way to
the factory. He made for the counting-house, and succeeded in seeing the
manufacturer himself. The latter was quite upset by the occurrence, but
pleaded in vindication that the accident was entirely the result of
negligence. He advised Pelle to make a collection among the workers in
the factory, and he opened it himself with a contribution of twenty
kroner. He also held out the prospect that Peter, who was a reliable
lad, might take a place as messenger and collector when he was well
Peter was much liked by his comrades; a nice little sum was collected.
Pelle paid his hospital dues, and there was so much left that he would
be able to stay at home and rest with an easy mind until his hand was
healed and he could take the place of messenger at the factory. The
young invalid was in high spirits, knowing that his living was assured;
he passed the time in lounging about the town, wherever there was music
to be heard, in order to learn fresh tunes. "This is the first holiday
I've had since I went to the factory," he told Pelle.
He did not get the place as messenger--some one stole a march on him;
but he received permission to go back to his old work! With the remains
of his right hand he could hold the sheet of tin-plate on the table,
while the left hand had to accustom itself to moving among the
threatening knives. This only demanded time and a little extra
This accident was branded on Pelle's soul, and it aroused his slumbering
resentment. Chance had given him the three orphans in the place of
brothers and sisters, and he felt Peter's fate as keenly as if it had
been his own. It was a scandal that young children should be forced to
earn their living by work that endangered their lives, in order to keep
the detested Poor Law guardians at bay. What sort of a social order was
this? He felt a suffocating desire to strike out, to attack it.
The burden of Due's fate, aggravated by this fresh misfortune, was once
more visible in his face; Ellen's gentle hand, could not smooth it away.
"Don't look so angry, now--you frighten the child so!" she would say,
reaching him the boy. And Pelle would try to smile; but it was only a
grim sort of smile.
He did not feel that it was necessary to allow Ellen to look into his
bleeding soul; he conversed with her about indifferent things. At other
times he sat gazing into the distance, peering watchfully at every sign;
he was once more full of the feeling that he was appointed to some
particular purpose. He was certain that tidings of some kind were on the
way to him.
And then Shoemaker Petersen died, and he was again asked to take over
the management of the Union.
"What do you say to that?" he asked Ellen, although his mind was
irrevocably made up.
"You must know that yourself," she replied reservedly. "But if it gives
you pleasure, why, of course!"
"I am not doing it to please myself," said Pelle gloomily. "I am not a
He regretted his words, and went over to Ellen and kissed her. She had
tears in her eyes, and looked at him in astonishment.
There was plenty to be done. The renegades must be shepherded back to
the organization--shepherded or driven; Pelle took the most willing
first, allowing numbers to impress the rest. Those who were quite
stubborn he left to their own devices for the time being; when they were
isolated and marked men into the bargain, they could do no further
He felt well rested, and went very methodically to work. The feeling
that his strength would hold out to the very end lent him a quiet
courage that inspired confidence. He was not over-hasty, but saw to
everything from the foundations upward; individual questions he
postponed until the conditions for solving them should be at hand. He
knew from previous experience that nothing could be accomplished unless
the ranks were tightly knit together.
So passed the remainder of the summer. And then the organization was
complete; it looked as though it could stand a tussle. And the first
question was the tariff. This was bad and antiquated; thoroughly behind
the times in all respects; the trade was groaning under a low rate of
wages, which had not kept step with the general development and the
augmentation of prices. But Pelle allowed his practical common sense to
prevail. The moment was not favorable for a demand for higher wages. The
organization could not lend the demand sufficient support; they must for
the time being content themselves with causing the current tariff to be
respected. Many of the large employers did not observe it, although they
themselves had introduced it. Meyer was a particularly hard case; he
made use of every possible shift and evasion to beat down the clearest
Complaints were continually coming in, and one day Pelle went to him in
order to discuss the situation and come to some agreement. He was
prepared to fight for the inviolability of the tariff, otherwise Meyer
would make big promises and afterward break them. He had really expected
Meyer to show him the door; however, he did not do so, but treated him
with a sort of polite effrontery. Hatred of his old enemy awaked in
Pelle anew, and it was all he could do to control himself. "The embargo
will be declared against you if you don't come to an arrangement with
your workers within a week," he said threateningly.
Meyer laughed contemptuously. "What's that you say? Oh, yes, your
embargo, we know something about that! But then the employers will
declare a lock-out for the whole trade--what do you think of that? Old
hats will be selling cheap!"
Pelle was silent, and withdrew; it was the only way in which he could
succeed in keeping cool. He had said what had to be said, and he was no
diplomat, to smile quietly with a devil lurking in the corners of his
Meyer obligingly accompanied him to the door. "Can I oblige you in any
other way--with work, for example? I could very well find room for a
worker who will make children's boots and shoes."
When Pelle reached the street he drew a long breath. Poof! That was
tough work; a little more insolence and he'd have given him one on the
jaw! That would have been the natural answer to the fellow's effrontery!
Well, it was a fine test for his hot temper, and he had stood it all
right! He could always be master of the situation if he held his tongue.
"Now suppose we do put an embargo on Meyer," he thought, as he went down
the street. "What then? Why, then he'll hit back and declare a lock-out.
Could we hold out? Not very long, but the employers don't know that--and
then their businesses would be ruined. But then they would introduce
workers from abroad--or, if that didn't answer, they would get the work
done elsewhere; or they would import whole cargoes of machinery, as they
have already begun to do on a small scale."
Pelle stood still in the middle of the street. Damn it all, this
wouldn't do! He must take care that he didn't make a hash of the whole
affair. If these foreign workers and machines were introduced, a whole
host of men would in a moment be deprived of their living. But he wanted
to have a go at Meyer; there must be some means of giving the
bloodsucker a blow that he would feel in his purse!
Next morning he went as usual to Beck's. Beck looked at him from over
his spectacles. "I've nothing more to do with you, Pelle," he said, in a
"What!" cried Pelle, startled. "But we've such a lot of work on hand,
"Yes, but I can't employ you any longer. I'm not doing this of my own
free will; I have always been very well pleased with you; but that's how
it stands. There are so many things one has to take into consideration;
a shoemaker can do nothing without leather, and one can't very well do
without credit with the leather merchants."
He would not say anything further.
But Pelle had sufficiently grasped the situation. He was the president
of the Shoemakers' Union; Master Beck had been compelled to dismiss him,
by the threat of stopping his source of supplies. Pelle was a marked man
because he was at the head of the organization--although the latter was
now recognized. This was an offence against the right of combination.
Still there was nothing to be done about the matter; one had the right
to dismiss a man if one had no further need of him. Meyer was a cunning
For a time Pelle drifted about dejectedly. He was by no means inclined
to go home to Ellen with this melancholy news; so he went to see various
employers in order to ask them for work. But as soon as they heard who
he was they found they had nothing for him to do. He saw that a black
mark had been set against his name.
So he must confine himself to home work, and must try to hunt up more
acquaintances of his acquaintances. And he must be ready day and night
lest some small shoemaker who muddled along without assistance should
suddenly have more to do than he could manage.
Ellen took things as they came, and did not complain. But she was mutely
hostile to the cause of their troubles. Pelle received no help from her
in his campaign; whatever he engaged in, he had to fight it out alone.
This did not alter his plans, but it engendered a greater obstinacy in
him. There was one side of his nature that Ellen's character was unable
to reach; well, she was only a woman, after all. One must be indulgent
with her! He was kind to her, and in his thoughts he more and more set
her on a level with little Lasse. In that way he avoided considering her
opinion concerning serious matters--and thereby felt more of a man.
Thanks to his small salary as president of his Union, they suffered no
actual privation. Pelle did not like the idea of accepting this salary;
he felt greatly inclined to refuse the few hundred kroner. There was not
a drop of bureaucratic blood in his veins, and he did not feel that a
man should receive payment for that which he accomplished for the
general good. But now this money came in very conveniently; and he had
other things to do than to make mountains out of molehills. He had given
up the embargo; but he was always racking his brains for some way of
getting at Meyer; it occupied him day and night.
One day his thoughts blundered upon Meyer's own tactics. Although he was
quite innocent, they had driven him away from his work. How would it be
if he were to employ the same method and, quite secretly, take Meyer's
workmen away from him? Meyer was the evil spirit of the shoemaker's
craft. He sat there like a tyrant, thanks to his omnipotence, and
oppressed the whole body of workers. It would not be so impossible to
set a black mark against his name! And Pelle did not mean to be too
particular as to the means.
He talked the matter over with his father-in-law, whose confidence in
him was now restored. Stolpe, who was an old experienced tactician,
advised him not to convoke any meeting on this occasion, but to settle
the matter with each man face to face, so that the Union could not be
attacked. "You've got plenty of time," he said. "Go first of all to the
trustworthy fellows, and make them understand what sort of a man Karl
Meyer is; take his best people away first of all; it won't do him much
good to keep the bad ones. You can put the fear of God into your mates
when you want to! Do your business so well that no one will have the
courage any longer to take the place of those that leave him. He must be
branded as what he is--but between man and man."
Pelle did not spare himself; he went from one comrade to another, fiery
and energetic. And what had proved impossible three years before he was
now able to accomplish; the resentment of Meyer's injustice had sunk
into the minds of all.
Meyer had been in the habit of letting his workers run about to no
purpose; if the work was not quite ready for them they could call again.
And when the work was given out to them they had, as a rule, to finish
it with a rush; there was intention in this; it made the people humble
But now the boot was on the other leg. The workers did not call; they
did not deliver urgent commissions at the appointed time; Meyer had to
send to them, and got his own words as answer; they were not quite ready
yet, but they would see what they could do for him! He had to run after
his own workers in order not to offend his rich customers. In the first
instances he settled the matter, as a rule, by dismissal. But that did
not help him at all; the devil of arrogance had entered into the simple
journeymen! It looked as though they had got their ideas of master and
subordinate reversed! He had to give up trusting to the hard hand on the
rein; he must seek them out with fair words! His business had the whole
fashionable world as customer, and always required a staff of the very
best workers. But not even friendly approaches availed. Scarcely did he
find a good journeyman-worker but he was off again, and if he asked the
reason he always received the same jeering answer: they didn't feel
inclined to work. He offered high wages, and at great expense engaged
qualified men from outside; but Pelle was at once informed and
immediately sought them out. When they had been subjected to his
influence only for a few days they went back to the place they came
from, or found other masters, who, now that Meyer's business was
failing, were getting more orders. People who went to the warehouse said
that Meyer was raging about upstairs, abusing innocent people and
driving them away from him.
Meyer was conscious of a hand behind all this, and he demanded that the
Employers' Union should declare a lock-out. But the other masters
scented a move for his benefit in this.
His own business was moribund, so he wanted to bring theirs to a
standstill also. They had no fundamental objection to the new state of
affairs; in any case they could see no real occasion for a lock-out.
So he was forced to give in, and wrote to Pelle requesting him to enter
into negotiations--in order to put an end to the unrest affecting the
craft. Pelle, who as yet possessed no skill in negotiations, answered
Meyer in a very casual manner, practically sending him about his
business. He showed his reply to his father-in-law before dispatching
"No, deuce take it, that won't do!" said Stolpe. "Look you, my lad,
everything depends on the tone you take, if you are dealing with labor
politics! These big folks think such a damn lot about the way a thing is
wrapped up! If I were setting about this business I'd come out with the
truth and chuck it in their faces--but that won't answer; they'd be so
wild there'd be no dealing with them. Just a nice little lie--that
answers much better! Yes, yes, one has to be a diplomatist and set a fox
to catch a fox. Now you write what I tell you! I'll give you an example.
Stolpe paced up and down the room a while, with a thoughtful expression;
he was in shirt-sleeves and slippers and had thrust both his forefingers
in his waistcoat pockets. "Are you ready, son-in-law? Then we'll begin!"
"To the President of the Employers' Union, Herre H. Meyer, Shoemaker to
"Being in receipt of your honored favor of yesterday's date hereby
acknowledged, I take the liberty of remarking that so far as is known to
me complete quiet and the most orderly conditions prevail throughout the
trade. There appears therefore to be no motive for negotiation.
"For the Shoemakers' Union,
"Your obedient servant,
"There, that's to the point, eh? Napoleon himself might have put his
name to that! And there's enough sting to it, too!" said Stolpe, much
gratified. "Now write that out nicely, and then get a big envelope."
Pelle felt quite important when he had written this out on a big sheet
of paper; it was like an order of the day issued by a sheriff or
burgomaster at home. Only in respect of its maliciousness he entertained
a certain doubt.
One morning, a few days later, he was sitting at home working. In the
meantime he had been obliged to undertake casual jobs for sailors in the
harbor, and now he was soling a pair of sea-boots for a seaman on board
a collier. On the other side of the bench sat little Lasse, chattering
and aping his movements, and every time Pelle drove a peg home the
youngster knocked his rattle against the edge of the table, and Pelle
smiled at him. Ellen was running in and out between the living-room and
the kitchen. She was serious and silent.
There was a knock at the door. She ran to the stove, snatching away some
of the child's linen which was drying there, ran out, and opened the
A dark, corpulent gentleman in a fur overcoat entered, bowing, holding
his tall hat before him, together with his gloves and stick. Pelle could
not believe his eyes--it was the Court shoemaker! "He's come to have it
out!" thought Pelle, and prepared himself for a tussle. His heart began
to thump, there was a sudden sinking inside him; his old submissiveness
was on the point of coming to the surface and mastering him. But that
was only for a moment; then he was himself again. Quietly he offered his
guest a chair.
Meyer sat down, looking about the neat, simple room as though he wanted
to compare his enemy's means with his own before he made a move. Pelle
gathered something from his wandering glance, and suddenly found himself
considerably richer in his knowledge of human nature. "He's sitting
there staring about him to see if something has gone to the pawnshop,"
he thought indignantly.
"H'm! I have received your favor of the other day," began Meyer. "You
are of opinion that there is no occasion for a discussion of the
situation; but--however--ah--I think--"
"That is certainly my opinion," answered Pelle, who had resolved to
adhere to the tone of the letter. "The most perfect order prevails
everywhere. But generally speaking it would seem that matters ought to
go smoothly now, when we each have our Union and can discuss affairs
impartially." He gazed innocently at Meyer.
"Ah, you think so too! It cannot be unknown to you that my workers have
left me one after another--not to say that they were taken away from me.
Even to please you I can't call those orderly conditions."
Pelle sat there getting angrier and angrier at his finicking tone. Why
the devil couldn't he bluster like a proper man instead of sitting there
and making his damned allusions? But if he wanted that sort of foolery
he should have it! "Ah! your people are leaving you?" he said, in an
"They are," said Meyer, and he looked surprised. Pelle's tone made him
feel uncertain. "And they are playing tricks on me; they don't keep to
their engagements, and they keep my messengers running about to no
purpose. Formerly every man came to get his work and to deliver it, but
now I have to keep messengers for that; the business can't stand it."
"The journeymen have had to run about to no purpose--I myself have
worked for you," replied Pelle. "But you are perhaps of opinion that we
can better bear the loss of time?"
Meyer shrugged his shoulders. "That's a condition of your livelihood--
its conditions are naturally based on order. But if only I could at
least depend on getting hands! Man, this can't go on!" he cried
suddenly, "damn and blast it all, it can't go on, it's not honorable!"
Little Lasse gave a jump and began to bellow. Ellen came hurrying in and
took him into the bedroom.
Pelle's mouth was hard. "If your people are leaving you, they must
surely have some reason for it," he replied; he would far rather have
told Meyer to his face that he was a sweater! "The Union can't compel
its members to work for an employer with whom perhaps they can't agree.
I myself even have been dismissed from a workshop--but we can't bother
two Unions on those grounds!" He looked steadily at his opponent as he
made this thrust; his features were quivering slightly.
"Aha!" Meyer responded, and he rubbed his hands with an expression that
seemed to say that--now at last he felt firm ground under his feet.
"Aha--so it's out at last! So you're a diplomatist into the bargain--a
great diplomatist! You have a clever husband, little lady!" He turned to
Ellen, who was busying herself at the sideboard. "Now just listen, Herre
Pelle! You are just the man for me, and we must come to an arrangement.
When two capable men get talking together something always comes of it--
it couldn't be otherwise! I have room for a capable and intelligent
expert who understands fitting and cutting. The place is well paid, and
you can have a written contract for a term of years. What do you say to
Pelle raised his head with a start. Ellen's eyes began to sparkle, and
then became mysteriously dark; they rested on him compellingly, as
though they would burn their purpose into him. For a moment he gazed
before him, bewildered. The offer was so overpowering, so surprising;
and then he laughed. What, what, was he to sell himself to be the
understrapper of a sweater!
"That won't do for me," he replied.
"You must naturally consider my offer," said Meyer, rising. "Shall we
say three days?"
When the Court shoemaker had gone, Ellen came slowly back and laid her
arm round Pelle's shoulders. "What a clever, capable man you are, then!"
she said, in a low voice, playing with his hair; there was something
apologetic in her manner. She said nothing to call attention to the
offer, but she began to sing at her work. It was a long time since Pelle
had heard her sing; and the song was to him like a radiant assurance
that this time he would be the victor.
Pelle continued the struggle indefatigably, contending with opposing
circumstances and with disloyalty, but always returning more boldly to
the charge. Many times in the course of the conflict he found himself
back at the same place; Meyer obtained a new lot of workers from abroad,
and he had to begin all over again; he had to work on them until they
went away again, or to make their position among their housemates so
impossible that they resigned. The later winter was hard and came to
Meyer's assistance. He paid his workers well now, and had brought
together a crowd of non-union hands; for a time it looked as though he
would get his business going again. But Pelle had left the non-unionists
alone only through lack of time; now he began to seek them out, and he
spoke with more authority than before. Already people were remarking on
his strength of will; and most of them surrendered beforehand. "The
devil couldn't stand up against him!" they said. He never wavered in his
faith in an ultimate victory, but went straight ahead; he did not
philosophize about the other aspect of the result, but devoted all his
energies to achieving it. He was actuated by sheer robust energy, and it
led him the shortest way. The members of the Union followed him
willingly, and willingly accepted the privations involved in the
emptying of the workshops. He possessed their confidence, and they found
that it was, after all, glorious sport to turn the tables, when for once
in a way they could bring the grievance home to its point of departure!
They knew by bitter experience what it was to run about to no purpose,
to beg for work, and to beg for their wages, and to haggle over them--in
short, to be the underdog. It was amusing to reverse the roles. Now the
mouse was playing with the cat and having a rattling good time of it--
although the claws did get home now and again! Pelle felt their
confidence, the trust of one and all, in the readiness with which they
followed him, as though he were only the expression of their own
convictions. And when he stood up at the general meetings or
conferences, in order to make a report or to conduct an agitation, and
the applause of his comrades fell upon his ears, he felt an influx of
sheer power. He was like the ram of a ship; the weight of the whole was
behind him. He began to feel that he was the expression of something
great; that there was a purpose within him.
The Pelle who dealt so quietly and cleverly with Meyer and achieved
precisely what he willed was not the usual Pelle. A greater nature was
working within him, with more responsibility, according to his old
presentiment. He tested himself, in order to assimilate this as a
conviction, and he felt that there was virtue in the idea.
This higher nature stood in mystical connection with so much in his
life; far back into his childhood he could trace it, as an abundant
promise. So many had involuntarily expected something from him; he had
listened to them with wonder, but now their expectation was proving
He paid strict attention to his words in his personal relations, now
that their illimitable importance had been revealed to him. But in his
agitator's work the strongest words came to him most naturally; came
like an echo out of the illimitable void that lay behind him. He busied
himself with his personality. All that had hitherto had free and
careless play must now be circumscribed and made to serve an end. He
examined his relations with Ellen, was indulgent to her, and took pains
to understand her demand for happiness. He was kind and gentle to her,
but inflexible in his resolve.
He had no conscientious scruples in respect of the Court shoemaker.
Meyer had in all respects misused his omnipotence long enough; owing to
his huge business he had made conditions and ruled them; and the evil of
those conditions must be brought home to him. It was now summer and a
good time for the workers, and his business was rapidly failing. Pelle
foresaw his fall, and felt himself to be a righteous avenger.
The year-long conflict absorbed his whole mind. He was always on his
feet; came rushing home to the work that lay there waiting for him,
threw it aside like a maniac, and hurried off again. He did not see much
of Ellen and little Lasse these days; they lived their own life without
He dared not rest on what he had accomplished, now that the cohesion of
the Union was so powerful. He was always seeking means to strengthen and
to undermine; he did not wish to fall a sacrifice to the unforeseen. His
indefatigability infected his comrades, they became more eager the
longer the struggle lasted. The conflict was magnified by the sacrifice
it demanded, and by the strength of the opposition; Meyer gradually
became a colossus whom all must stake their welfare to hew down.
Families were ruined thereby, but the more sacrifice the struggle
demanded the more recklessly they struggled on. And they were full of
jubilation on the day when the colossus fell, and buried some of them in
Pelle was the undisputed victor. The journeyman-cobbler had laid low the
biggest employer in the trade. They did not ask what the victory had
cost, but carried his name in triumph. They cheered when they caught
sight of him or when his name was mentioned. Formerly this would have
turned his head, but now he regarded his success as entirely natural--as
the expression of a higher power!
A few days later he summoned a general meeting of the Union, laid before
them the draft of a new tariff which was adapted to the times, and
proposed that they should at once begin the fight for its adoption. "We
could never have a better opportunity," he said. "Now they have seen
what we can do! With the tariff question we struck down Meyer! We must
strike the iron while it is hot!"
He reckoned that his comrades were just in the mood for battle, despite
all the privations that the struggle had entailed, and he was not
mistaken. His proposal was unanimously accepted.
But there was no fight for better wages. Meyer was now making the rounds
of the employers' establishments with the sample-box of one of the
leather firms. The sight of this once so mighty man had a stimulating
effect. The masters' Union appointed a few employers with whom the
workers' Union could discuss the question of the tariff.
It often happened that Pelle would look back with longing on his quiet
home-life with Ellen and the child, and he felt dejectedly that they
lived in a happier world, and were on the point of accustoming
themselves to live without him. "When once you have got this out of hand
you can live really comfortably with them again," he thought.
But one thing inevitably followed on another, and one question arose
from the solution of another, and the poor man's world unfolded itself
like the development of a story. The fame of his skill as organizer
spread itself abroad; everywhere men were at work with the idea of
closing up the ranks, and many began to look toward him with expectant
Frequently workers came to him begging him to help them to form an
organization--no one had such a turn for the work as he. Then they
called a meeting together, and Pelle explained the process to them.
There was a certain amount of fancifulness and emphasis in his speech,
but they understood him very well. "He talks so as to make your ears
itch," they told one another. He was the man they trusted, and he
initiated them into the practical side of the matter.
"But you must sacrifice your wages--so that you can start a fund," he
told them continually; "without money nothing can be done. Remember,
it's capital itself we are fighting against!"
"Will it be any use to understand boxing when the fight comes on?" asked
a simple-minded workman one day.
"Yes--cash-boxing!" retorted Pelle swiftly. They laughed, and turned
their pitiful pockets inside out. They gazed a moment at the money
before they gave it away. "Oh, well, it's of no consequence," they said.
"The day will soon come when it will be of consequence--if we only hang
together," said Pelle confidently.
It was the dripping they had scraped off their bread--he knew that well,
but there was no help for it! In these days he was no better situated
than they were.
His activities were leading him abroad, in wider and wider circles,
until he found himself at length in the very midst of the masses. Their
number did not astonish him; he had always really been conscious of
that. And he grew by this contact, and measured himself and the movement
by an ever-increasing standard.
At this time he underwent a noticeable change in his outer man. In his
forehead were always those deep creases which in young men speak of a
gloomy childhood; they were the only bitter token of that which he had
taken upon himself, and reminded one of a clouded sky. Otherwise he
looked fresh and healthy enough; his hard life was not undermining his
strength; he thrived on the sense of community, and was almost always
cheerful. His cheeks grew round as those of a cornet-player, and his
distended nostrils spoke of his fiery zeal; he needed much air, and
always wore his clothes open upon his chest. His carriage was upright
and elastic; his whole appearance was arresting, challenging. When he
spoke at meetings there was energy in his words; he grew deeply flushed,
and wet with perspiration. Something of this flush remained in his face
and neck, and there was always a feeling of heat in his body. When he
strode forward he looked like a trumpeter at the head of a column.
The many--that was his element. There were many who were to be brought
under one hat. Yet most of them lacked a clear understanding; old
suspicions suddenly came to light; and many doubts were abroad among the
masses. Some believed blindly; others said, "It's all one whether this
party or that does the plucking of us!" Nothing of palpable importance
occurred, such as to catch the eye; but they came to trust in his
personality as the blind man trusts his leader, and they were forever
demanding to hear his voice. Pelle became their darling speaker. He felt
that their blind confidence bore him up, and for them he gazed far over
the hubbub and confusion. He had always been a familiar of Fortune; now
he saw it plainly, far out along the route of march, and inflamed them
all with his enthusiasm.
One evening he was summoned to rouse a calling that was in low water. It
was the dustmen who applied to him. In order to stimulate their self-
consciousness he showed them what a vast power they possessed in their
despised activity. He imagined, as an example, that they refused to
work, and painted, with much humor, the results which their action would
have for the world of rich people. This had a tremendous effect on the
meeting. The men stared at one another as if they had just discovered
themselves, and then sat laughing like one man. To follow up his effect,
he showed how one kind of work depends on another, and imagined one
calling to support another, until a general strike had laid its
paralyzing hand on the city. What a fantastic picture it was! Pelle knew
nothing of the theory of the labor movement, but his energy and
enthusiasm lifted the veil from the remotest consequences. Stimulated
and startled by the terrible power which lay in their hands, the dustmen
There was something in all this that did not satisfy him; it was in his
nature to create, not to destroy. But if only the poor would, they could
make society all over again--so Morten had one day said, and the words
had never ceased to haunt Pelle's mind. But he could not endure the idea
of violent revolution; and now he had found a good way out of his
difficulty. He felt convinced that cohesion was irresistible, and that
life would undergo a peaceful change.
He had welded his own Union together so that the members hung together
through thick and thin. He had accomplished something there, but if a
real result were to be achieved the Unions here must work in conjunction
with those of all the cities in the country, and that was being done to
a certain small extent, in his own trade as well as in others. But all
these federations of local Unions must be combined in a mighty whole, so
that the whole country would be of one single mind. In other countries
matters were progressing as here, so why not summon all countries to one
vast work of cooperation?
Before Pelle was aware, he had included the whole world in his
solidarity. He knew now that poverty is international. And he was
convinced that the poor man felt alike all the world over.
The greatness of this idea did not go to his head. It had evolved
naturally on the lines of his own organization--it was just like the
idea at the base of the latter. But he continued to play with it until
it assumed a definite form. Then he went with his plan to his father-in-
law, who was a member of the party executive, and through him was
invited to lay the matter before the Central Committee.
Pelle was a practised speaker by now, but he was feverishly excited when
he stood in the presence of the actual heart of the labor movement. His
words delighted the many, but would he succeed in winning over these
tried and experienced men, the leaders who stood behind the whole
movement, while quietly going about their own business? He felt that
this was the most significant day in his life.
These were men with quieter temperaments than his own. They sat there
immovable, listening with half-closed eyes; his big words brought the
faintest smile to their lips--they had long got over that sort of thing!