Part 5 out of 7
They were artisans and craftsmen who worked hard all day for a living,
as did he himself, but several of them had given themselves a
considerable education; they must be regarded as scholarly persons. In
the evening and on Sundays they worked for the Cause, devising political
schemes and devoting themselves to keeping accounts and the ever-
increasing work of administration. They were awkward at these
unaccustomed tasks, which had hitherto been reserved by quite a
different class of society, and had had to grow accustomed thereto;
their heads were gray and wrinkled.
Pelle felt that he was still only at the beginning. These men gave him
the impression of a great secret council; outside they looked like any
one else, but here at the green table they sat creating the vast
organization into which he merely drove the masses. Here high politics
came into play. There was something impious in this--as though one saw
ants making plans to overturn a mountain; and he must do the same if he
wanted to accomplish anything! But here something more than big words
was needed! He involuntarily moderated his tone and did his best to
speak in a dry, professional manner.
He received no applause when he had finished; the men sat there gazing
in front of them with a slightly pondering expression. The silence and
the great empty room had the effect of making him feel dizzy. All his
faculties were directed outward, drawing strength from the echo from
without of the many who had shaped him. But at this decisive moment they
were silent, leaving him in suspense, without any kind of support. Was
the whole stupendous plan of federation a piece of madness, and was he a
fool to propound it? No one replied. The leaders quietly asked him the
details of his plan, and undertook to consider it.
Pelle left in a state of dreadful suspense. He felt that he had touched
upon something on which a great decision depended, and he wanted
corroboration of the fact that he had set about the matter rightly. In
this moment of need he turned to himself. It was not his way to ask
questions of his inner self, but now no other could answer him. He must
look to himself for recognition.
This was the first time that Pelle had sought refuge in his own ego, or
learned to fall back upon it in critical moments. But solitude did not
suit him and he sought it only under the compulsion of necessity. His
heart beat uncontrollably within him when he learned that his plan was
approved. A committee was appointed to put it into execution, and Pelle
was on the committee.
At one stroke the National Federation made a single army of the many
divisions, and was effective merely by the attractive virtue of its
mass. It became a heavy and fatiguing task to organize the swarms that
came streaming in, as water rushes to the sea, by virtue of a natural
law. It needed the talent of a great general to marshal them for a
conclusive battle and to lead them into the line of fire.
Pelle was naturally placed in the front ranks of the organization; his
work was properly that of the pioneer and agitator; no one possessed the
ear of the crowd as he did. He had received regular employment from one
of the larger employers, which amounted to a recognition of the
organization, and the increased rate of wages meant that he earned a
moderate income. He did not object to the fact that the work had to be
done away from home. Life at home had lost its radiance. Ellen was
loving enough, but she had always some purpose in view--and he would not
allow himself to be tied!
When he went home--and as a rule he managed to include a meal--it was
only to make himself ready and to rush out again--to general or
committee meetings. Father Lasse was there as a rule in the evenings,
and he gazed longingly after Pelle when the latter left his wife and
child; he did not understand it, but he did not venture to say anything
--he felt a great respect for the lad's undertakings. Ellen and the old
man had discovered one another; they were like a pair of horses in
harness; there was a great consolation in that.
Pelle went forward in a sort of intoxication of power, produced by the
sense of the multiplying hosts. He was like an embodiment of those
hosts, and he heard their step echoing in his own; it was natural that
the situation should assume large dimensions. He was a product of an
ancient culture, but a culture that had always dwelt in the shadow, and
was based on stern and narrow tenets, each of which summed up a lifetime
of bitter experience. The need of light and sunshine, continually
suppressed, had been accumulating, through illimitable years, until it
had resulted in a monstrous tension. Now it had exploded, and was
mounting dizzily upward. His mind was reeling in the heights, in a
blinding cloud of light!
But fundamentally he was still the sturdy realist and stood with his
feet on the earth! The generations beneath him had been disciplined by
the cold, and had learned to content themselves with bare necessities; a
lesson which they handed down to him, simply and directly, with no
inheritance of frivolity. In his world, cause and effect were in a
direct line; an obtrusive odor did not translate itself into a spectral
chattering of the teeth. The result was in a direct line with the cause
--but their relation was often that of the match and the bonfire. Herein
lay the strength of his imagination; this was why he could encompass all
things with so simple a preparation.
He was not afraid to consider the fate of the masses; when he could not
see ahead, his old fatalism came to his help. His words flamed high
despite himself and kept the hope alive in many who did not themselves
understand the meaning of the whole movement, but saw that its adherents
grew ever more numerous, and that in other respects they were just as
well off. Where he himself could not see he was like a lens that
collects the half-darkness and gives it out again as a beam of light.
Morten he preferred to avoid. Pelle had gradually absorbed all the
theories of the labor movement, and they comfortably filled his mind.
And how could one accomplish more than by remaining in harmony with the
whole? Morten had an unfruitful tendency to undermine the certainty of
one's mind; he always brought forth his words from his inner
consciousness, from places where no one else had ever been, and he
delivered them as though they had been God's voice in the Bible, which
always made people pause in their designs. Pelle respected his peculiar
nature, which never marched with the crowd, and avoided him.
But his thoughts often returned to him. Morten had first thrown a light
upon chaos--upon the knowledge of Pelle's world, the poor man's world;
and when he was confronted by any decisive question he involuntarily
asked himself how Morten would have dealt with it.
At times they met at meetings called together by the workers themselves,
and at which they both collaborated. Morten had no respect for the
existing laws and little for the new. He did not play a very zealous
part in the work of party organization, and was rather held at arm's
length by the leaders. But his relations with the man in the street were
of the closest. He worked independently; there was scarcely his match in
individual cases of need or injustice; and he was always laboring to
make people think for themselves.
And they loved him. They looked up to Pelle and the rest, and made way
for them with shining eyes; but they smilingly put themselves in
Morten's way. They wanted to press his hand--he could scarcely make his
way to the speaker's platform. His pale face filled them with joy--women
and children hung on to him. When he passed through the streets of the
poor quarters in his simple clothes, the women smiled at him. "That's
him, the master-journeyman, who is so good and so book-learned," they
would say. "And now he has sold all his books in order to help a poor
child!" And they gave their own children a little push, and the children
went up to him and held out their hands and followed him right to the
end of the street.
When Pelle went now and again to the "Ark," to see his brothers and
sister, the news of his visit spread quickly through the building.
"Pelle is here!" sounded from gallery to gallery, and they hurried up
the stairs in order to nod to him and to seek to entice him to swallow a
cup of coffee. Old Madam Frandsen had moved; she disappeared when
Ferdinand came out of prison--no one knew whither. Otherwise there were
no changes. A few factory women left by night on account of their rent,
and others had taken their places. And from time to time some one
completed his term, and was carried out of the dark corridors and borne
away on the dead-cart--as always. But in the "Ark" there was no change
to be observed.
It happened one day that he went over to call on Widow Johnsen. She
looked very melancholy sitting there as she turned her old soldiers'
trousers and attended to Hanne's child, which promised to be a fine
girl. She had aged; she was always sitting at home and scolding the
child; when Pelle visited her he brought a breath of fresh air into her
joyless existence. Then she recalled the excursion to the forest, and
the cozy evenings under the hanging lantern, and sighed. Hanne never
looked at Pelle. When she came running home from the factory, she had no
eyes for anything but her little girl, who threw herself upon her mother
and immediately wanted to play. For the remainder of the day the child
was close under her eyes, and Hanne had to hold her hand as she moved
about, and play with her and the doll.
"Far up the mountain did I climb,"
sang Hanne, and the child sang with her--she could sing already! Hanne's
clear, quiet eyes rested on the child, and her expression was as joyful
as though fortune had really come to her. She was like a young widow who
has lived her share of life, and in the "Ark" every one addressed her as
Widow Hanne. This was a mark of respect paid to her character; they
threw a widow's veil over her fate because she bore it so finely. She
had expected so much, and now she centered everything in her child, as
though the Stranger could have brought her no more valuable present.
Peter's misfortune had struck the little home a serious blow. They had
always only just kept their heads above water; and now he earned less
than ever with his crippled hand. Karl wanted to get on in the world,
and was attending confirmation classes, which cost money and clothes.
They had made up for Peter's loss of earning power by giving up Father
Lasse's room and moving his bed into their own room. But all three were
growing, and needed food and clothing.
Peter's character had taken on a little kink; he was no longer so
cheerful over his work, and he often played the truant, loafing about
the streets instead of going to the factory. Sometimes he could not be
got out of bed in the morning; he crept under the bedclothes and hid
himself. "I can't work with my bad hand," he would say, crying, when
Marie wanted to drag him out; "every moment the knives are quite close
to it and nearly chop it off."
"Then stay at home!" said Marie at last. "Look after the house and I
will go out and see if I can earn something. I can get work as a
charwoman in the new buildings in Market Street."
But at that he got up and slunk away; he would not allow a woman to earn
his food for him.
Karl was a brisk, merry young vagabond; nothing made any impression on
him. The streets had brought him up, had covered his outer man with a
coating of grime, and had lit the inextinguishable sparks in his eyes.
He was like the sparrows of the capital; black with soot, but full of an
urban sharpness, they slip in and out among the heavy wagon-wheels, and
know everything. He was always getting into difficulties, but always
came home with a whole skin. His continual running about seemed to have
got into his blood like a never-resting impulse.
He was full of shifts for lessening the uncertainty of his earnings, and
the little household depended principally on him. But now he had had
enough of seeking his living in the streets; he wanted to get on; he
wanted most of all to be a shopkeeper. The only thing that held him back
was his regard for his home.
Pelle saw that the little home would have to be broken up. Marie was
developing rapidly; she must leave the "Ark," and if Karl could not live
his own life, but was forced to sacrifice himself to his brother and
sister, he would end as a street-loafer. Pelle resolved suddenly to deal
with the matter himself, as his habit was. He obtained an outfit for
Karl from a charitable society, and placed him as apprentice with a
shopkeeper for whom the boy had run errands.
One Sunday afternoon he went over to the "Ark" with a big parcel under
his arm. He was holding Young Lasse by the hand; every moment the child
stooped down, picked up a little stone, dragged his father to the quay-
wall, and threw the stone into the water. He chattered incessantly.
Pelle mechanically allowed himself to be pulled aside, and answered the
child at random. He was thinking of the children's little home, which
had once been so hospitably opened to him, and must now be broken up.
Perhaps it would be the salvation of Karl and Marie; there was a future
for them outside; they were both young and courageous. And Father Lasse
could come to him; it would be quite possible to make up his bed in the
living-room at night and put it out of the way in the daytime. Ellen was
no longer so particular. But Peter--what was to become of him? The home
was the only thing that still held him.
When Young Lasse looked through the tunnel-entry into the darkness of
the "Ark" he did not want to go in. "Ugly, ugly!" he said, in energetic
refusal. Pelle had to take him in his arms. "Lasse not like that!" he
said, pushing with his hands against his father's shoulders. "Lasse
wants to go back! get down!"
"What!" said Pelle, laughing, "doesn't Young Lasse like the 'Ark'?
Father thinks it's jolly here!"
"Why?" asked the boy, pouting.
"Why?" Well, Pelle could not at once explain. "Because I lived here once
on a time!" he replied.
"And where was Young Lasse then?"
"Then you used to sit in mother's eyes and laugh at father."
At this the child forgot his fear of the darkness and the heavy timbers.
He pressed his round little nose against his father's, and gazed into
his eyes, in order to see whether a little boy was sitting in them too.
He laughed when he glimpsed himself in them. "Who sits in mother's eyes
now?" he asked.
"Now a little sister sits there, who likes to play with Young Lasse,"
said Pelle. "But now you must walk again--it doesn't do for a man to sit
on anybody's arm!"
The three orphans were waiting for him eagerly; Karl hopped and leaped
into the air when he saw Pelle.
"Where is Father Lasse?" asked Pelle.
"He has gone out with the hand-cart for the second-hand dealer," said
Marie; "he had to fetch a sofa." She had taken Young Lasse on her lap
and was almost eating him.
Karl put on his fine new clothes, his fresh face beaming with delight.
The trousers were fully long enough, but it was quite fashionable to go
about with turned-up trousers. That was easily got over.
"Now you look like a real grocer!" said Pelle, laughing.
Karl ran out into the gangway and came back immediately with his head
wetted and his hair parted down the middle. "Ach, you fool, why don't
you leave well alone!" cried Marie, ruffling his head. A fight ensued.
Peter sat in a corner, self-absorbed, staring gloomily out of the
"Now, Peter, hold your head up!" cried Pelle, clapping him on the
shoulder. "When we've got the great Federation together and things are
working properly, I'll manage something for you too. Perhaps you can act
as messenger for us."
Peter did not reply, but turned his head away.
"He's always like that--he's so grumpy! Do at least be a little polite,
Peter!" said Marie irritably. The boy took his cap and went out.
"Now he's going out by the North Bridge, to his sweetheart--and we
shan't see anything of him for the next few days," said Marie, looking
after him. "She's a factory girl--she's had a child by one man--he
deserted her," said Marie.
"He has a sweetheart already?" said Pelle.
"What of that? He's seventeen. But there's nothing in her."
"She has red hair! And she drags one leg behind her as though she wanted
to take the pavement with her," said Karl. "She might well be his
"I don't think you ought to tease him," said Pelle seriously.
"We don't," said Marie. "But he won't have it when we try to be nice to
him. And he can't bear to see us contented. Lasse says it is as though
he were bewitched."
"I have a situation for you too, Marie," said Pelle. "With Ellen's old
employers in Holberg Street--you'll be well treated there. But you must
be ready by October."
"That will be fine! Then Karl and I can go into situations on the same
day!" She clapped her hands. "But Peter!" she cried suddenly. "Who will
look after him? No, I can't do it, Pelle!"
"We must see if we can't find nice lodgings for him. You must take the
situation--you can't go on living here."
Prom the end of the long gangway came a curious noise, which sounded
like a mixture of singing and crying. Young Lasse got down onto his feet
near the open door, and said, "Sh! Singing! Sh!"
"Yes! That's the pasteboard-worker and her great Jutlander," said Marie.
"They've got a funeral to-day. The poor little worm has ceased to
suffer, thank God!"
"Is that any one new?" said Pelle.
"No, they are people who moved here in the spring. He hasn't been living
here, but every Saturday he used to come here and take her wages. 'You
are crazy to give him your wages when he doesn't even live with you!' we
told her. 'He ought to get a thrashing instead of money!' 'But he's the
child's father!' she said, and she went on giving him her money. And on
Sunday, when he had drunk it, he regretted it, and then he used to come
and beat her, because she needn't have given it to him. She was an awful
fool, for she could just have been out when he came. But she was fond of
him and thought nothing of a few blows--only it didn't do for the child.
She never had food for it, and now it's dead."
The door at the end of the gangway opened, and the big Jutlander came
out with a tiny coffin under his arm. He was singing a hymn in an
indistinct voice, as he stood there waiting. In the side passage, behind
the partition-wall, a boy's voice was mocking him. The Jutlander's face
was red and swollen with crying, and the debauch of the night before was
still heavy in his legs. Behind him came the mother, and now they went
down the gangway with funeral steps; the woman's thin black shawl hung
mournfully about her, and she held her handkerchief to her mouth; she
was crying still. Her livid face had a mildewed appearance.
Pelle and Young Lasse had to be off. "You are always in such a hurry!"
said Marie dolefully. "I wanted to make coffee."
"Yes, I've got a lot to do to-day still. Otherwise I'd gladly stay with
you a bit."
"Do you know you are gradually getting quite famous?" said Marie,
looking at him in admiration. "The people talk almost as much about you
as they do about the big tinplate manufacturer. They say you ruined the
biggest employer in the city."
"Yes. I ruined his business," said Pelle, laughing. "But where has the
shopwalker got to?"
"He's gone down into the streets to show himself!"
Karl, sure enough, was strolling about below and allowing the boys and
girls to admire him. "Look, when we come into the shop and the grocer
isn't there you'll stand us treat!" Pelle heard one of them say.
"You don't catch me! And if you dare you'll get one in the jaw!" replied
Karl. "Think I'm going to have you loafing about?"
At the end of the street the great Jutlander was rolling along, the
coffin under his arm; the girl followed at a distance, and they kept to
the middle of the road as though they formed part of a funeral
procession. It was a dismal sight. The gray, dismal street was like a
The shutters were up in all the basement windows, excepting that of the
bread-woman. Before the door of her shop stood a crowd of grimy little
children, smearing themselves with dainties; every moment one of them
slipped down into the cellar to spend an ore. One little girl, dressed
in her Sunday best, with a tightly braided head, was balancing herself
on the edge of the curbstone with a big jug of cream in her hand; and in
a doorway opposite stood a few young fellows meditating some mischief or
"Shall we go anywhere to-day?" asked Ellen, when Pelle and young Lasse
got home. "The fine season is soon over."
"I must go to the committee-meeting," Pelle replied hesitatingly. He was
sorry for her; she was going to have another child, and she looked so
forsaken as she moved about the home. But it was impossible for him to
stay at home.
"When do you think you'll be back?"
"That I don't know, Ellen. It is very possible it will take the whole
Then she was silent and set out his food.
That year was, if possible, worse than the preceding. As early as
September the unemployed stood in long ranks beside the canals or in the
market-place, their feet in the wet. The bones of their wrists were blue
and prominent and foretold a hard winter, of which the corns of the old
people had long ago given warning; and sparks of fire were flying up
from under poor folks' kettles. "Now the hard winter is coming and
bringing poverty with it," said the people. "And then we shall have a
In October the frost appeared and began to put an end to all work that
had not already been stopped by the hard times.
In the city the poor were living from hand to mouth; if a man had a bad
day it was visible on his plate the next morning. Famine lay curled up
beneath the table in ten thousand households; like a bear in its winter
sleep it had lain there all summer, shockingly wasted and groaning in
its evil dreams; but they were used to its society and took no notice of
it so long as it did not lay its heavy paw upon the table. One day's
sickness, one day's loss of work--and there it was!
"Ach, how good it would be if we only had a brine-tub that we could go
to!" said those who could still remember their life in the country. "But
the good God has taken the brine-tub and given us the pawnbroker
instead!" and then they began to pledge their possessions.
It was sad to see how the people kept together; the city was scattered
to the winds in summer, but now it grew compacter; the homeless came in
from the Common, and the great landowners returned to inhabit their
winter palaces. Madam Rasmussen, in her attic, suddenly appeared with a
husband; drunken Valde had returned--the cold, so to speak, had driven
him into her arms! At the first signs of spring he would be off again,
into the arms of his summer mistress, Madam Grassmower. But as long as
he was here, here he was! He stood lounging in the doorway downstairs,
with feathers sticking in the shaggy hair of his neck and bits of bed-
straw adhering to his flat back. His big boots were always beautifully
polished; Madam Rasmussen did that for him before she went to work in
the morning; after which she made two of herself, so that her big strong
handsome protector should have plenty of time to stand and scratch
Week by week the cold locked up all things more closely; it locked up
the earth, so that the husbandmen could not get at it; and it closed the
modest credit account of the poor. Already it had closed all the harbors
round about. Foreign trade shrunk away to nothing; the stevedores and
waterside workers might as well stop at home. It tightened the heart-
strings--and the strings of the big purse that kept everything going.
The established trades began to work shorter hours, and the less stable
trades entirely ceased. Initiative drew in its horns; people began
nothing new, and did no work for the warehouses; fear had entered into
them. All who had put out their feelers drew them back; they were
frostbitten, so to speak. The earth had withdrawn its sap into itself
and had laid a crust of ice over all; humanity did the same. The poor
withdrew their scanty blood into their hearts, in order to preserve the
germ of life. Their limbs were cold and bloodless, their skin gray. They
withdrew into themselves, and into the darkest corners, packed closely
together. They spent nothing. And many of those who had enough grudged
themselves even food; the cold ate their needs away, and set anxiety in
their place. Consumption was at a standstill.
One could not go by the thermometer, for according to that the frost had
been much harder earlier in the year. "What, is it no worse!" said the
people, taken aback. But they felt just as cold and wretched as ever.
What did the thermometer know of a hard winter? Winter is the companion
of hard times, and takes the same way whether it freezes or thaws--and
on this occasion it froze!
In the poor quarters of the city the streets were as though depopulated.
A fall of snow would entice the dwellers therein out of their hiding-
places; it made the air milder, and made it possible, too, to earn a few
kroner for sweeping away the snow. Then they disappeared again, falling
into a kind of numb trance and supporting their life on incredibly
little--on nothing at all. Only in the mornings were the streets
peopled--when the men went out to seek work. But everywhere where there
was work for one man hundreds applied and begged for it. The dawn saw
the defeated ones slinking home; they slept the time away, or sat all
day with their elbows on the table, never uttering a word. The cold,
that locked up all else, had an opposite effect upon the heart; there
was much compassion abroad. Many whose wits had been benumbed by the
cold, so that they did not attempt to carry on their avocations, had
suffered no damage at heart, but expended their means in beneficence.
Kindly people called the poor together, and took pains to find them out,
for they were not easy to find.
But the Almighty has created beings that live upon the earth and
creatures that live under the earth; creatures of the air and creatures
of the water; even in the fire live creatures that increase and
multiply. And the cold, too, saw the growth of a whole swarm of
creatures that live not by labor, but on it, as parasites. The good
times are their bad times; then they grow thin, and there are not many
of them about. But as soon as cold and destitution appear they come
forth in their swarms; it is they who arouse beneficence--and get the
best part of what is going. They scent the coming of a bad year and
inundate the rich quarters of the city. "How many poor people come to
the door this year!" people say, as they open their purses. "These are
hard times for the poor!"
In the autumn Pelle had removed; he was now dwelling in a little two-
roomed apartment on the Kapelvej. He had many points of contact with
this part of the city now; besides, he wanted Ellen to be near her
parents when she should be brought to bed. Lasse would not accompany
him; he preferred to be faithful to the "Ark"; he had got to know the
inmates now, and he could keep himself quite decently by occasional work
in the neighboring parts of the city.
Pelle fought valiantly to keep the winter at bay. There was nothing to
do at the workshop; and he had to be on the go from morning to night.
Wherever work was to be had, there he applied, squeezing his way through
hundreds of others. His customers needed footwear now more than ever;
but they had no money to pay for it.
Ellen and he drew nearer at this season and learned to know one another
on a new side. The hard times drew them together; and he had cause to
marvel at the stoutness of her heart. She accepted conditions as they
were with extraordinary willingness, and made a little go a very long
way. Only with the stove she could do nothing. "It eats up everything we
scrape together," she said dejectedly; "it sends everything up the
chimney and doesn't give out any warmth. I've put a bushel of coal on it
to-day, and it's as cold as ever! Where I was in service we were able to
warm two big rooms with one scuttle! I must be a fool, but won't you
look into it?" She was almost crying.
"You mustn't take that to heart so!" said Pelle gloomily. "That's the
way with poor folks' stoves. They are old articles that are past use,
and the landlords buy them up as old iron and then fit them in their
workmen's dwellings! And it's like that with everything! We poor people
get the worst and pay the dearest--although we make the things! Poverty
is a sieve."
"Yes, it's dreadful," said Ellen, looking at him with mournful eyes.
"And I can understand you so well now!"
Threatening Need had spread its pinions above them. They hardly dared to
think now; they accepted all things at its hands.
One day, soon after Ellen had been brought to bed, she asked Pelle to go
at once to see Father Lasse. "And mind you bring him with you!" she
said. "We can very well have him here, if we squeeze together a little.
I'm afraid he may be in want."
Pelle was pleased by the offer, and immediately set out. It was good of
Ellen to open her heart to the old man when they were by no means
certain of being able to feed themselves.
The "Ark" had a devastated appearance. All the curtains had disappeared
--except at Olsen's; with the gilt mouldings they always fetched fifty
ore. The flowers in the windows were frostbitten. One could see right
into the rooms, and inside also all was empty. There was something
shameless about the winter here; instead of clothing the "Ark" more
warmly it stripped it bare--and first of all of its protecting veils.
The privies in the court had lost their doors and covers, and it was all
Pelle could do to climb up to the attics! Most of the balustrades had
vanished, and every second step was lacking; the "Ark" was helping
itself as well as it could! Over at Madam Johnsen's the bucket of oak
was gone that had always stood in the corner of the gallery when it was
not lent to some one--the "Ark" possessed only the one. And now it was
burned or sold. Pelle looked across, but had not the courage to call.
Hanne, he knew, was out of work.
A woman came slinking out of the third story, and proceeded to break
away a fragment of woodwork; she nodded to Pelle. "For a drop of
coffee!" she said, "and God bless coffee! You can make it as weak as you
like as long as it's still nice and hot."
The room was empty; Lasse was not there. Pelle asked news of him along
the gangway. He learned that he was living in the cellar with the old
clothes woman. Thin gray faces appeared for a moment in the doorways,
gazed at him, and silently disappeared.
The cellar of the old clothes woman was overcrowded with all sorts of
objects; hither, that winter, the possessions of the poor had drifted.
Lasse was sitting in a corner, patching a mattress; he was alone down
there. "She has gone out to see about something," he said; "in these
times her money finds plenty of use! No, I'm not going to come with you
and eat your bread. I get food and drink here--I earn it by helping her
--and how many others can say this winter that they've their living
assured? And I've got a corner where I can lie. But can't you tell me
what's become of Peter? He left the room before me one day, and since
then I've never seen him again."
"Perhaps he's living with his sweetheart," said Pelle. "I'll see if I
can't find out."
"Yes, if you will. They were good children, those three, it would be a
pity if one of them were to come to any harm."
Pelle would not take his father away from a regular situation where he
was earning a steady living. "We don't very well see what we could offer
you in its place. But don't forget that you will always be welcome--
Ellen herself sent me here."
"Yes, yes! Give her many thanks for that! And now you be off, before the
old woman comes back," said Lasse anxiously. "She doesn't like any one
to be here--she's afraid for her money."
The first thing that had to go was Pelle's winter overcoat. He pawned it
one day, without letting Ellen know, and on coming home surprised her
with the money, which he delightedly threw on the table, krone by krone.
"How it rings!" he said to Young Lasse. The child gave a jump, and
wanted the money to play with.
"What do I want with a winter coat?" he retorted, to Ellen's kindly
reproaches. "I'm not cold, and it only hangs up indoors here. I've borne
with it all the summer. Ah, that's warm!" he cried, to the child, when
Ellen had brought some fuel. "That was really a good winter coat, that
of father's! Mother and sister and Young Lasse can all warm themselves
The child put his hands on his knees and peeped into the fire after his
father's winter coat. The fire kindled flames in his big child's eyes,
and played on his red cheeks. "Pretty overcoat!" he said, laughing all
over his face.
They did not see much of the tenants of the house; nor of the family.
People were living quietly, each one fighting his own privations within
his four walls. On Sundays they gave the children to one of the
neighbors, went into the city, and stood for an hour outside some
concert-hall, freezing and listening to the music. Then they went home
again and sat vegetating in the firelight, without lighting the lamp.
One Sunday things looked bad. "The coals will hold out only till
midday," said Ellen; "we shall have to go out. And there's no more food
either. But perhaps we can go to the old folks; they'll put up with us
As they were about to start, Ellen's brother Otto arrived, with his wife
and two children, to call on them. Ellen exchanged a despairing glance
with Pelle. Winter had left its stamp on them too; their faces were thin
and serious. But they still had warm clothes. "You must keep your cloaks
on," said Ellen, "for I have no more coal. I forgot it yesterday, I had
so much to do; I had to put off ordering it until to-day, and to-day,
unfortunately, the coal dealer isn't at home."
"If only the children aren't cold," said Pelle, "we grown-ups can easily
keep ourselves warm."
"Well, as long as they haven't icicles hanging from their noses they
won't come to any harm!" said Otto with a return of his old humor.
They moved restlessly about the room and spoke of the bad times and the
increasing need. "Yes, it's terrible that there isn't enough for
everybody," said Otto's wife.
"But the hard winter and the misery will come to an end and then things
will be better again."
"You mean we shall come to an end first?" said Otto, laughing
"No, not we--this poverty, of course. Ach, you know well enough what I
mean. But he's always like that," she said, turning to Pelle.
"Curious, how you women still go about in the pious belief that there's
not enough for all!" said Pelle. "Yet the harbor is full of stacks of
coal, and there's no lack of eatables in the shops. On the contrary--
there is more than usual, because so many are having to do without--and
you can see, too, that everything in the city is cheaper. But what good
is that when there's no money? It's the distribution that's all wrong."
"Yes, you are quite right!" said Otto Stolpe. "It's really damnable that
no one has the courage to help himself!"
Pelle heard Ellen go out through the kitchen door, and presently she
came back with firing in her apron. She had borrowed it. "I've scraped
together just a last little bit of coal," she said, going down on her
knees before the stove. "In any case it's enough to heat the water for a
cup of coffee."
Otto and his wife begged her urgently not to give herself any trouble;
they had had some coffee before they left home--after a good solid
breakfast. "On Sundays we always have a solid breakfast," said young
Madam Stolpe; "it does one such a lot of good!" While she was speaking
her eyes involuntarily followed Ellen's every moment, as though she
could tell thereby how soon the coffee would be ready.
Ellen chatted as she lit the fire. But of course they must have a cup of
coffee; they weren't to go away with dry throats!
Pelle sat by listening in melancholy surprise; her innocent boasting
only made their poverty more glaring. He could see that Ellen was
desperately perplexed, and he followed her into the kitchen.
"Pelle, Pelle!" she said, in desperation. "They've counted on stopping
here and eating until the evening. And I haven't a scrap in the house.
What's to be done?"
"Tell them how it is, of course!"
"I can't! And they've had nothing to eat to-day--can't you see by
looking at them?" She burst into tears.
"Now, now, let me see to the whole thing!" he said consolingly. "But
what are you going to give us with our coffee?"
"I don't know! I have nothing but black bread and a little butter."
"Lord, what a little donkey!" he said, smiling, and he took her face
between his hands. "And you stand there lamenting! Just you be cutting
Ellen set to work hesitatingly. But before she appeared with the
refreshments they heard her bang the front door and go running down the
steps. After a time she returned. "Oh, Lord! Now the baker has sold out
of white bread," she said, "so you must just have black bread-and-butter
with your coffee."
"But that's capital," they cried. "Black bread always goes best with
coffee. Only it's a shame we are giving you so much trouble!"
"Look here," said Pelle, at last. "It may please you to play hide-and-
seek with one another, but it doesn't me--I am going to speak my mind.
With us things are bad, and it can't be any better with you. Now how is
it, really, with the old folks?"
"They are struggling along," said Otto. "They always have credit, and I
think they have a little put by as well."
"Then shan't we go there to-night and have supper? Otherwise I'm afraid
we shan't get anything."
"Yes, we will! It's true we were there the day before yesterday--but
what does that matter? We must go somewhere, and at least it's sticking
to the family!"
* * * * *
The cold had no effect on Pelle; the blood ran swiftly through his
veins. He was always warm. Privation he accepted as an admonition, and
merely felt the stronger for it; and he made use of his involuntary
holiday to work for the Cause.
It was no time for public meetings and sounding words--many had not even
clothes with which to go to meetings. The movement had lost its impetus
through the cold; people had their work cut out to keep the little they
already had. Pelle made it his business to encourage the hopes of the
rejected, and was always on the run; he came into contact with many
people. Misery stripped them bare and developed his knowledge of
Wherever a trade was at a standstill, and want had made its appearance,
he and others were at hand to prevent demoralization and to make the
prevailing conditions the subject of agitation. He saw how want
propagates itself like the plague, and gradually conquers all--a callous
accomplice in the fate of the poor man. In a week to a fortnight
unemployment would take all comfort from a home that represented the
scraping and saving of many years--so crying was the disproportion. Here
was enough to stamp a lasting comprehension upon the minds of all, and
enough to challenge agitation. All but persons of feeble mind could see
now what they were aiming at.
And there were people here like those at home. Want made them even more
submissive. They could hardly believe that they were so favored as to be
permitted to walk the earth and go hungry. With them there was nothing
to be done. They were born slaves, born with slavery deep in their
hearts, pitiful and cur-like.
They were people of a certain age--of an older generation than his. The
younger folk were of another and a harder stuff; and he often was amazed
to find how vigorously their minds echoed his ideas. They were ready to
dare, ready to meet force with force. These must be held back lest they
should prejudice the movement--for them its progress was never
His mind was young and intact and worked well in the cold weather; he
restlessly drew comparisons and formed conclusions in respect of
everything he came into contact with. The individual did not seem to
change. The agitation was especially directed to awakening what was
actually existent. For the rest, they must live their day and be
replaced by a younger generation in whom demands for compensation came
more readily to the tongue. So far as he could survey the evolution of
the movement, it did not proceed through the generations, but in some
amazing fashion grew out of the empty space between them. So youth, even
at the beginning, was further ahead than age had been where it left off.
The movements of the mind had an obscure and mystical effect upon him,
as had the movement of his blood in childhood; sometimes he felt a
mysterious shudder run through him, and he began to understand what
Morten had meant when he said that humanity was sacred. It was terrible
that human beings should suffer such need, and Pelle's resentment grew
Through his contact with so many individuals he learned that Morten was
not so exceptional; the minds of many betrayed the same impatience, and
could not understand that a man who is hungry should control himself and
be content with the fact of organization. There was a revolutionary
feeling abroad; a sterner note was audible, and respectable people gave
the unemployed a wide berth, while old people prophesied the end of the
world. The poor had acquired a manner of thinking such as had never been
One day Pelle stood in a doorway with some other young people,
discussing the aspect of affairs; it was a cold meeting-place, but they
had not sufficient means to call a meeting in the usual public room. The
discussion was conducted in a very subdued tune; their voices were
bitter and sullen. A well-dressed citizen went by. "There's a fine
overcoat," cried one; "I should like to have one like that! Shall we
fetch him into the doorway and pull his coat off?" He spoke loudly, and
was about to run out into the street.
"No stupidity!" said Pelle sadly, seizing him by the arm. "We should
only do ourselves harm! Remember the authorities are keeping their eyes
"Well, what's a few weeks in prison?" the man replied. "At least one
would get board and lodging for so long." There was a look that
threatened mischief in his usually quiet and intelligent eyes.
There were rumors that the city authorities intended to intervene in
order to remedy the condition of the unemployed, and shortly before
Christmas large numbers of navvies were given employment. Part of the
old ramparts was cleared away, and the space converted into parks and
boulevards. Pelle applied among a thousand others and had the good
fortune to be accepted. The contractor gave the preference to youthful
Every morning the workers appeared in a solid phalanx; the foreman of
the works chose those he had need of, and the rest were free to depart.
At home sat their wives and children, cheered by the possibility of
work; the men felt no inclination to go home with bad news, so they
loafed about in the vicinity.
They came there long before daybreak in order to be the first, although
there was not much hope. There was at least an excuse to leave one's
bed; idleness was burning like hell fire in their loins. When the
foreman came they thronged silently about him, with importunate eyes.
One woman brought her husband; he walked modestly behind her, kept his
eyes fixed upon her, and did precisely as she did. He was a great
powerful fellow, but he did nothing of his own accord--did not even blow
his nose unless she nudged him. "Come here, Thorvald!" she said, cuffing
him so hard as to hurt him. "Keep close behind me!" She spoke in a harsh
voice, into the empty air, as though to explain her behavior to the
others; but no one looked at her. "He can't speak for himself properly,
you see," she remarked at random. Her peevish voice made Pelle start;
she was from Bornholm. Ah, those smart young girls at home, they were a
man's salvation! "And the children have got to live too!" she continued.
"We have eight. Yes, eight."
"Then he's some use for something," said a workman who looked to be
perishing with the cold.
The woman worked her way through them, and actually succeeded in getting
her man accepted. "And now you do whatever they tell you, nicely, and
don't let them tempt you to play the fool in any way!" she said, and she
gave him a cuff which set him off working in his place. She raised her
head defiantly as contemptuous laughter sounded about her.
The place was like a slave-market. The foreman, went to and fro, seeking
out the strongest, eyeing them from head to foot and choosing them for
their muscular development and breadth of back. The contractor too was
moving about and giving orders. "One of them rich snobs!" said the
laborers, grumbling; "all the laborers in town have to march out here so
that he can pick himself the best. And he's beaten down the day's wages
to fifty ore. He's been a navvy himself, too; but now he's a man who
enjoys his hundred thousand a year. A regular bloodsucker, he is!"
The crowd continued to stand there and to loaf about all the day, in the
hope that some one would give up, or fall ill--or go crazy--so that
some one could take his place. They could not tear themselves away; the
mere fact that work was being done chained them to the spot. They looked
as though they might storm the works at any moment, and the police
formed a ring about the place. They stood pressing forward, absorbed by
their desire for work, with a sick longing in their faces. When the
crowd had pressed forward too far it hesitatingly allowed itself to be
pushed back again. Suddenly there was a break in the ranks; a man leaped
over the rail and seized a pickaxe. A couple of policemen wrested the
tool from his hand and led him away.
And as they stood there a feeling of defiance rose within them, a fierce
contempt for their privations and the whole shameless situation. It
expressed itself in an angry half-suppressed growl. They followed the
contractor with curious eyes as though they were looking for something
in him but could not conceive what it was.
In his arrogance at receiving such an excessive offer of labor, he
decided to go further, and to lengthen the working day by an hour. The
workers received an order to that effect one morning, just as they had
commenced work. But at the same moment the four hundred men, all but
two, threw down their implements and returned to their comrades. They
stood there discussing the matter, purple with rage. So now their
starving condition was to be made use of, in order to enrich the
contractor by a further hundred thousand! "We must go to the city
authorities," they cried. "No, to the newspaper!" others replied. "The
paper! The paper is better!"
"It's no use going to the city council--not until we have elected
members of our own party to it," cried Pelle. "Remember that at the
elections, comrades! We must elect men of our party everywhere, their
encroachments will never be stopped until then. And now we must stand
together and be firm! If it's got to be, better starve to death at once
than do it slowly!"
They did not reply, but pressed closely about him, heavily listening.
There was something altogether too fierce and profound in their
attention. These men had declared a strike in midwinter, as their only
remedy. What were they thinking of doing now? Pelle looked about him and
was daunted by their dumb rage. This threatening silence wouldn't do;
what would it lead to? It seemed as though something overwhelming, and
uncontrollable, would spring from this stony taciturnity. Pelle sprang
upon a heap of road-metal.
"Comrades!" he cried, in a powerful voice. "This is merely a change, as
the fox said when they flayed his skin off. They have deprived us of
clothes and food and drink, and comfort at home, and now they want to
find a way of depriving us of our skins too! The question to-day is--
forward or back? Perhaps this is the great time of trial, when we shall
enter into possession of all we have desired! Hold together, comrades!
Don't scatter and don't give way! Things are difficult enough now, but
remember, we are well on in the winter, and it promises to break up
early. The night is always darkest before daybreak! And shall we be
afraid to suffer a little--we, who have suffered and been patient for
hundreds of years? Our wives are sitting at home and fretting--perhaps
they will be angry with us. We might at least have accepted what was
offered us, they may say. But we can't go on seeing our dear ones at
home fading away in spite of our utmost exertions! Hitherto the poor
man's labor has been like an aimless prayer to Heaven: Deliver us from
hunger and dirt, from misery, poverty, and cold, and give us bread, and
again bread! Deliver our children from our lot--let not their limbs
wither and their minds lapse into madness! That has been our prayer, but
there is only one prayer that avails, and that is, to defy the wicked!
We are the chosen people, and for that reason we must cry a halt! We
will no longer do as we have done--for our wives' sakes, and our
children's, and theirs again! Ay, but what is posterity to us? Of course
it is something to us--precisely to us! Were your parents as you are?
No, they were ground down into poverty and the dust, they crept
submissively before the mighty. Then whence did we get all that makes us
so strong and causes us to stand together? Time has stood still,
comrades! It has placed its finger on our breast and he said, 'Thus you
shall do!' Here where we stand, the old time ceases and the new time
begins; and that is why we have thrown down our tools, with want staring
us in the face--such a thing as has never been seen before! We want to
revolutionize life--to make it sweet for the poor man! And for all time!
You, who have so often staked your life and welfare for a florin--you
now hold the whole future in your hands! You must endure, calmly and
prudently! And you will never be forgotten, so long as there are workers
on the earth! This winter will be the last through which we shall have
to endure--for yonder lies the land toward which we have been wandering!
Comrades! Through us the day shall come!"
Pelle himself did not know what words he uttered. He felt only that
something was speaking through him--something supremely mighty, that
never lies. There was a radiant, prophetic ring in his voice, which
carried his hearers off their feet; and his eyes were blazing. Before
their eyes a figure arose from the hopeless winter, towering in
radiance, a figure that was their own, and yet that of a young god. He
rose, new-born, out of misery itself, struck aside the old grievous idea
of fate, and in its place gave them a new faith--the radiant faith in
their own might! They cried up to him--first single voices, then all. He
gathered up their cries into a mighty cheer, a paean in honor of the new
Every day they stationed themselves there, not to work, but to stand
there in dumb protest. When the foreman called for workers they stood
about in silent groups, threatening as a gloomy rock. Now and again they
shouted a curse at those who had left them in the lurch. The city did
nothing. They had held out a helping hand to the needy, and the latter
had struck it away--now they must accept the consequences. The
contractor had received permission to suspend the work entirely, but he
kept it going with a few dozen strike-breakers, in order to irritate the
All over the great terrace a silence as of death prevailed, except in
that corner where the little gang was at work, a policeman beside it, as
though the men had been convicts. The wheelbarrows lay with their legs
in the air; it was as though the pest had swept over the works.
The strike-breakers were men of all callings; a few of the unemployed
wrote down their names and addresses, in order to insert them in _The
Working Man_. One of Stolpe's fellow-unionists was among them; he was
a capable pater-familias, and had taken part in the movement from its
earliest days. "It's a pity about him," said Stolpe; "he's an old mate
of mine, and he's always been a good comrade till now. Now they'll give
it him hard in the paper--we are compelled to. It does the trade no good
when one of its representatives goes and turns traitor."
Madame Stolpe was unhappy. "It's such a nice family," she said; "we have
always been on friendly terms with them; and I know they were hungry a
long time. He has a young wife, father; it's not easy to stand out."
"It hurts me myself," replied Stolpe. "But one is compelled to do it,
otherwise one would be guilty of partisanship. And no one shall come to
me and say that I'm a respecter of persons."
"I should like to go and have a talk with them," said Pelle. "Perhaps
they'd give it up then."
He got the address and went there after working hours. The home had been
stripped bare. There were four little children. The atmosphere was
oppressive. The man, who was already well on in years, but was still
powerful, sat at the table with a careworn expression eating his supper,
while the children stood round with their chins on the edge of the
table, attentively following every bite he took. The young wife was
going to and fro; she brought him his simple food with a peculiarly
Pelle broached the question at issue. It was not pleasant to attack this
old veteran. But it must be done.
"I know that well enough," said the man, nodding to himself. "You
needn't begin your lecture--I myself have been in the movement since the
first days, and until now I've kept my oath. But now it's done with, for
me. What do you want here, lad? Have you a wife and children crying for
bread? Then think of your own!"
"We don't cry, Hans," said the woman quietly.
"No, you don't, and that makes it even worse! Can I sit here and look
on, while you get thinner day by day, and perish with the cold? To hell
with the comrades and their big words--what have they led to? Formerly
we used to go hungry just for a little while, and now we starve
outright--that's the difference! Leave me alone, I tell you! Curse it,
why don't they leave me in peace?"
He took a mouthful of brandy from the bottle. His wife pushed a glass
toward him, but he pushed it violently away.
"You'll be put in the paper to-morrow," said Pelle, hesitating. "I only
wanted to tell you that."
"Yes, and to write of me that I'm a swine and a bad comrade, and perhaps
that I beat my wife as well. You know yourself it's all lies; but what
is that to me? Will you have a drink?"
No, Pelle wouldn't take anything. "Then I will myself," said the man,
and he laughed angrily. "Now you can certify that I'm a hog--I drink out
of the bottle! And another evening you can come and listen at the
keyhole--perhaps then you'll hear me beating my wife!"
The woman began to cry.
"Oh, damn it all, they might leave me in peace!" said the man defiantly.
Pelle had to go with nothing effected.
The "Ark" was now freezing in the north wind; all outward signs of life
were stripped from it. The sounds that in summer bubbled up from its
deep well-like shaft were silent now; the indistinguishable dripping of
a hundred waste-pipes, that turned the court into a little well with
green slimy walls, was silent too. The frost had fitted them all with
stoppers; and where the toads had sat gorging themselves in the cavities
of the walls--fantastic caverns of green moss and slimy filaments--a
crust of ice hung over all; a grimy glacier, which extended from the
attics right down to the floor of the court.
Where were they now, the grimy, joyful children? And what of the evening
carouse of the hearse-driver, for which his wife would soundly thrash
him? And the quarrelsome women's voices, which would suddenly break out
over this or that railing, criticizing the whole court, sharp as so many
The frost was harder than ever! It had swept all these things away and
had locked them up as closely as might be. The hurdy-gurdy man lay down
below in his cellar, and had as visitor that good friend of the north
wind, the gout; and down in the deserted court the draught went
shuffling along the dripping walls. Whenever any one entered the tunnel-
entry the draught clutched at his knees with icy fingers, so that the
pain penetrated to the very heart.
There stood the old barrack, staring emptily out of its black windows.
The cold had stripped away the last shred of figured curtain, and sent
it packing to the pawn-shop. It had exchanged the canary for a score of
firewood, and had put a stop to the day-long, lonely crying of the
little children behind the locked doors--that hymn of labor, which had
ceased only in the evening, when the mothers returned from the
factories. Now the mothers sat with their children all day long, and no
one but the cold grudged them this delight. But the cold and its sister,
hunger, came every day to look in upon them.
On the third floor, away from the court, Widow Johnsen sat in the corner
by the stove. Hanne's little girl lay cowering on the floor, on a
tattered patchwork counterpane. Through the naked window one saw only
ice, as though the atmosphere were frozen down to the ground.
Transparent spots had formed on the window-panes every time the child
had breathed on them in order to look out, but they had soon closed up
again. The old woman sat staring straight into the stove with big, round
eyes; her little head quivered continually; she was like a bird of ill
omen, that knew a great deal more than any one could bear to hear.
"Now I'm cold again, grandmother," said the child quietly.
"Don't keep from shivering, then you'll be warm," said the old woman.
"Are you shivering?"
"No, I'm too old and stiff for it--I can't shiver any more. But the cold
numbs my limbs, so that I can't feel them. I could manage well enough if
it wasn't for my back."
"You lean your back against the cold stove too!"
"Yes, the cold grips my poor back so."
"But that's stupid, when the stove isn't going."
"But if only my back would get numb too!" said the old woman piteously.
The child was silent, and turned her head away.
Over the whole of the wall were tiny glittering crystals. Now and again
there was a rustling sound under the wall-paper.
"Grandmother, what's that funny noise?" asked the child.
"That's the bugs--they are coming down," said the old woman. "It's too
cold for them up there in the attics, and they don't like it here. You
should see them; they go to Olsen's with the warm wall; they stay there
in the cold."
"Is the wall at Olsen's always warm, then?"
"Yes, when there's fire in the boiler of the steam mill."
Then the child was silent a while, wearily turning her head from side to
side. A dreadful weariness was stamped on her face. "I'm cold," she
complained after a time.
"See if you can't shiver!"
"Hadn't I better jump a bit?"
"No, then you'd just swallow down the cold--the air is like ice. Just
keep still, and soon mother will be here, and she'll bring something!"
"She never gets anything," said the child. "When she gets there it's
always all over."
"That's not true," said Madam Johnsen severely. "There's food enough in
the soup kitchens for all; it's just a matter of understanding how to go
about it. The poor must get shame out of their heads. She'll bring
The child stood up and breathed a hole in the ice on the window-pane.
"Look now, whether it isn't going to snow a little so that the poor man
can get yet another day's employment," said the old woman.
No, the wind was still blowing from the north, although it commonly
shuffled along the canal; but now, week after week, it blew from the
Nicolai tower, and played the flute on the hollow bones of poverty. The
canals were covered with ice, and the ground looked horribly hard. The
naked frost chased the people across it like withered leaves. With a
thin rustling sound they were swept across the bridges and disappeared.
A great yellow van came driving by. The huge gates of the prison opened
slowly and swallowed it. It was the van containing the meat for the
prisoners. The child followed it with a desolate expression.
"Mother isn't coming," she said. "I am so hungry."
"She will soon come--you just wait! And don't stand in the light there;
come here in the corner! The light strikes the cold right through one."
"But I feel colder in the dark."
"That's just because you don't understand. I only long now for the pitch
"I long for the sun!" retorted the child defiantly.
There was a creaking of timber out in the yard. The child ran out and
opened the door leading to the gallery. It was only the people opposite,
who were tearing a step away.
But then came mother, with a tin pail in her hand, and a bundle under
her arm; and there was something in the pail--it looked heavy. Tra-la-
la! And the bundle, the bundle! What was in that? "Mother, mother!" she
cried shrilly, leaning far over the rickety rail.
Hanne came swiftly up the stairs, with open mouth and red cheeks; and a
face peeped out of every little nest.
"Now Widow Hanne has taken the plunge," they said. They knew what a
point of honor it had been with her to look after her mother and her
child unaided. She was a good girl.
And Widow Hanne nodded to them all, as much as to say, "Now it's done,
She stood leaning over the table, and lifted the cover off the pail.
"Look!" she said, as she stirred the soup with a ladle: "there's pearl
barley and pot-herbs. If only we had something we could warm it up
"We can tear away a bit of the woodwork like other people," said the
"Yes," replied Hanne breathlessly, "yes, why not? If one can beg one can
She ran out onto the gallery and tore away a few bits of trellis, so
that the sound re-echoed through the court. People watched her out of
all the dark windows. Widow Hanne had knocked off the head of her pride!
Then they sat down to their soup, the old woman and the child. "Eat!"
said Hanne, standing over them and looking on with glowing eyes. Her
cheeks were burning. "You look like a flower in the cold!" said her
mother. "But eat, yourself, or you'll starve to death."
No, Hanne would not eat. "I feel so light," she said, "I don't need any
food." She stood there fingering her bundle; all her features were
quivering, and her mouth was like that of a person sick of a fever.
"What have you there?" asked Madam Johnsen.
"Clothes for you and little Marie. You were so cold. I got them
downstairs from the old clothes woman--they were so cheap."
"Do you say you bought them?"
"Yes--I got them on credit."
"Well, well, if you haven't given too much for them! But it will do one
good to have something warm on one's back!"
Hanne undid the bundle, while the others looked on in suspense. A light
summer dress made its appearance, pleated and low-necked, blue as little
Marie's eyes, and a pair of thin kid shoes. The child and the old woman
gazed wonderingly at the dress. "How fine!" they said. They had
forgotten everything, and were all admiration. But Hanne stood staring
with horror, and suddenly burst into sobs.
"Come, come, Hanne!" said her mother, clapping her on the back. "You
have bought a dress for yourself--that's not so dreadful! Youth will
have its rights."
"No, mother, no, I didn't buy it at all! I knew you both needed
something to keep you warm, so I went into a fine house and asked if
they hadn't any cast-off things, and there was a young lady--she gave me
this--and she was so kind. No, I didn't know at all what was in the
bundle--I really didn't know, dear mother!"
"Well, well, they are fine enough!" said the old woman, spreading the
dress out in front of her. "They are fine things!" But Hanne put the
things together and threw them into the corner by the stove.
"You are ill!" said her mother, gazing at her searchingly; "your eyes
are blazing like fire."
The darkness descended, and they went to bed. People burned no useless
lights in those days, and it was certainly best to be in bed. They had
laid the feather-bed over themselves cross-wise, when it comfortably
covered all three; their daytime clothes they laid over their feet.
Little Marie lay in the middle. No harm could come to her there. They
talked at random about indifferent matters. Hanne's voice sounded loud
and cheerful in the darkness as though it came from a radiant
"You are so restless," said the mother. "Won't you try to sleep a
little? I can feel the burning in you from here!"
"I feel so light," replied Hanne; "I can't lie still." But she did lie
still, gazing into space and humming inaudibly to herself, while the
fever raged in her veins.
After a time the old woman awoke; she was cold. Hanne was standing in
the middle of the room, with open mouth; and was engaged in putting on
her fine linen underclothing by the light of a candle-end.
Her breath came in short gasps and hung white on the air.
"Are you standing there naked in the cold?" said Madam Johnsen
reproachfully. "You ought to take a little care of yourself."
"Why, mother, I'm so warm! Why, it's summer now!"
"What are you doing, child?"
"I am only making myself a little bit smart, mother dear!"
"Yes, yes--dance, my baby. You've still got the best of your youth
before you, poor child! Why didn't you get a husband where you got the
Hanne only hummed a tune to herself, and proceeded to don the bright
blue summer costume. It was a little full across the chest, but the
decolletage sat snugly over her uncovered bosom. A faint cloud of vapor
surrounded her person like a summer haze.
Her mother had to hook up the dress at the back. "If only we don't wake
Marie!" she whispered, entirely absorbed by the dress. "And the fine
lace on the chemise--you can always let that peep out of the dress a
little--it looks so pretty like that. Now you really look like a summer
"I'll just run down and show it to Madam Olsen," said Hanne, pressing
her hand to her glowing cheeks.
"Yes, do--poor folks' joys must have their due," replied the old woman,
turning over to the wall.
Hanne ran down the steps and across the yard and out into the street.
The ground was hard and ringing in the frost, the cold was angry and
biting, but the road seemed to burn Hanne through her thin shoes. She
ran through the market, across the bridge, and into the less crowded
quarter of the city-right into Pelle's arms. He was just going to see
Pelle was wearied and stupefied with the continual battle with hard
reality. The bottomless depths of misery were beginning to waste his
courage. Was it really of any use to hold the many together? It only
made the torture yet harder for them to bear. But in a moment everything
looked as bright as though he had fallen into a state of ecstasy, as had
often happened lately. In the midst of the sternest realities it would
suddenly happen that his soul would leap within him and conjure up the
new age of happiness before his eyes, and the terrible dearth filled his
arms to overflowing with abundance! He did not feel the cold; the great
dearth had no existence; violent spiritual excitement and insufficient
nourishment made the blood sing continually in his ears. He accepted it
as a happy music from a contented world. It did not surprise him that he
should meet Hanne in summer clothing and attired as for a ball.
"Pelle, my protector!" she said, grasping his hand. "Will you go to the
dance with me?"
"That's really the old Hanne," thought Pelle delightedly--"the careless
Princess of the 'Ark,' and she is feverish, just as she used to be
then." He himself was in a fever. When their eyes met they emitted a
curious, cold, sparkling light. He had quite forgotten Father Lasse and
his errand, and went with Hanne.
The entrance of "The Seventh Heaven" was flooded with light, which
exposed the merciless cold of the street. Outside, in the sea of light,
thronged the children of the terrible winter, dishevelled and perishing
with the cold. They stood there shuddering, or felt in their pockets for
a five-ore piece, and if they found it they slipped through the blood-
red tunnel into the dancing-hall.
But it was cold in there too; their breath hung like white powder on the
air; and crystals of ice glittered on the polished floor. Who would
dream of heating a room where the joy of life was burning? and a
thousand candles? Here carelessness was wont to give of its abundance,
so that the lofty room lay in a cloud and the musicians were bathed in
But now the cold had put an end to that. Unemployed workers lounged
about the tables, disinclined for movement. Winter had not left the poor
fellows an ounce of frivolity. Cerberus Olsen might spare himself the
trouble of going round with his giant arms outspread, driving the two or
three couples of dancers with their five-ore pieces indoors toward the
music, as though they had been a whole crowd. People only toiled across
the floor in order to have the right to remain there. Good Lord! Some of
them had rings and watches, and Cerberus had ready cash--what sort of
dearth was that? The men sat under the painted ceiling and the gilded
mirrors, over a glass of beer, leaving the girls to freeze--even Elvira
had to sit still. "Mazurka!" bellowed Cerberus, going threateningly from
table to table. They slunk into the hall like beaten curs, dejectedly
danced once round the floor, and paid.
But what is this? Is it not Summer herself stepping into the hall? All
glowing and lightly clad in the blue of forget-me-nots, with a rose in
her fair hair? Warmth lies like fleeting summer upon her bare shoulders,
although she has come straight out of the terrible winter, and she steps
with boldly moving limbs, like a daughter of joy. How proudly she
carries her bosom, as though she were the bride of fortune--and how she
burns! Who is she? Can no one say?
Oh, that is Widow Hanne, a respectable girl, who for seven long years
faithfully trod her way to and from the factory, in order to keep her
old mother and her child!
But how comes it then that she has the discreet Pelle on her arm? He who
has sold his own youth to the devil, in order to alleviate poverty? What
does he want here on the dancing-floor? And Hanne, whence did she get
her finery? She is still out of employment! And how in all the world has
she grown so beautiful?
They whisper behind her, following her as she advances; and in the midst
of the hall she stands still and smiles. Her eyes burn with a volcanic
fire. A young man rushes forward and encircles her with his arm. A dance
with Hanne! A dance with Hanne!
Hanne dances with a peculiar hesitation, as though her joy had brought
her from far away. Heavily, softly, she weighs on the arms of her
partners, and the warmth rises from her bare bosom and dispels the cold
of the terrible winter. It is as though she were on fire! Who could fail
to be warmed by her?
Now the room is warm once more. Hanne is like a blazing meteor that
kindles all as it circles round; where she glides past the fire springs
up and the blood runs warmly in the veins. They overturn the chairs in
their eagerness to dance with her. "Hi, steward! Five kroner on my
watch--only be quick!" "Ach, Hanne, a dance with me!"--"Do you remember
we were at the factory together?"--"We used to go to school together!"
Hanne does not reply, but she leaves Pelle and lays her naked arm upon
their shoulders, and if they touch it with their cheeks the fire streams
through them. They do not want to let her go again; they hold her fast
embraced, gliding along with her to where the musicians are sitting,
where all have to pay. No word passes her lips, but the fire within her
is a promise to each of them, a promise of things most precious. "May I
see you home to-night?" they whisper, hanging on her silent lips.
But to Pelle she speaks as they glide along. "Pelle, how strong you are!
Why have you never taken me? Do you love me?" Her hand is clasping his
shoulder as she whirls along beside him. Her breath burns in his ear.
"I don't know!" he says uneasily. "But stop now--you are ill."
"Hold me like that! Why have you never been stronger than I? Do you want
me, Pelle? I'll be yours!"
Pelle shakes his head. "No, I love you only like a sister now."
"And now I love you! Look--you are so distant to me--I don't understand
you--and your hand is as hard as if you came from another world! You are
heavy, Pelle! Have you brought me happiness from a foreign land with
"Hanne, you are ill! Stop now and let me take you home!"
"Pelle, you were not the right one. What is there strange about you?
Nothing! So let me alone--I am going to dance with the others as well!"
Hitherto Hanne has been dancing without intermission. The men stand
waiting for her; when one releases her ten spring forward, and this
evening Hanne wants to dance with them all. Every one of them should be
permitted to warm himself by her! Her eyes are like sparks in the
darkness; her silent demeanor excites them; they swing her round more
and more wildly. Those who cannot dance with her must slake the fire
within them with drink. The terrible winter is put to flight, and it is
warm as in Hell itself. The blood is seething in their brains; it
injects the whites of their eyes, and expresses itself in wanton frolic,
in a need to dance till they drop, or to fight.
"Hanne is wild to-night--she has got her second youth," says Elvira and
the other girls maliciously.
Hold your tongues. No one shall criticize Hanne's behavior! It is
wonderful to touch her; the touch of her skin hurts one, as though she
was not flesh and blood, but fire from Heaven! They say she has not had
a bite of food for a week. The old woman and the child have had all
there was. And yet she is burning! And see, she has now been dancing
without a break for two whole hours! Can one understand such a thing?
Hanne dances like a messenger from another world, where fire, not cold,
is the condition of life. Every dancer leaves his partner in the lurch
as soon as she is free! How lightly she dances! Dancing with her, one
soars upward, far away from the cold. One forgets all misery in her
But she has grown paler and paler; she is dancing the fire out of her
body while others are dancing it in! Now she is quite white, and Olsen's
Elvira comes up and tugs at her dress, with anxiety in her glance.
"Hanne, Hanne!" But Hanne does not see her; she is only longing for the
next pair of arms--her eyes are closed. She has so much to make up for!
And who so innocent as she? She does not once realize that she is
robbing others of their pleasure. Is she suffering from vertigo or St.
Vitus's dance, in her widowhood?
Hold your tongue! How beautiful she is! Now she is growing rosy again,
and opening her eyes. Fire darts from them; she has brought Pelle out of
his corner and is whispering something to him, blushing as she does so;
perhaps that precious promise that hitherto no one has been able to draw
from her. Pelle must always be the lucky man!
"Pelle, why don't you dance with me oftener? Why do you sit in the
corner there always and sulk? Are you angry with me as you used to be,
and why are you so hard and cold? And your clothes are quite stiff!"
"I come from outside all this--from the terrible winter, Hanne, where
the children are crying for bread, and the women dying of starvation,
and the men go about with idle hands and look on the ground because they
are ashamed of their unemployment!"
"But why? It is still summer. Only look how cheerful every one is! Take
me, then, Pelle!"
Hanne grows red, redder than blood, and leans her head on his shoulder.
Only see how she surrenders herself, blissful in her unashamed ecstasy!
She droops backward in his arms, and from between her lips springs a
great rose of blood, that gushes down over the summer-blue dress.
Fastened to the spot by his terrible burden, Pelle stands there unable
to move. He can only gaze at Hanne, until Cerberus takes her in his
giant's arms and bears her out. She is so light in her summer finery--
she weighs nothing at all!
"Mazurka!" he bellows, as he returns, and goes commandingly along the
ranks of dancers.
At the end of January, Pelle obtained a place as laborer in the
"Denmark" machine works. He was badly paid, but Ellen rejoiced, none the
less; with nothing one could only cry--with a little one could grow
strong again. She was still a little pale after her confinement, but she
looked courageous. At the first word of work her head was seething with
comprehensive plans. She began at once to redeem various articles and to
pay off little debts; she planned out a whole system and carried it out
The new sister was something for Young Lasse; he understood immediately
that she was some one given to him in order to amuse him in his
During the confinement he had remained with his grandparents, so that
the stork should not carry him away when it came with his little sister
--for he was dear to them! But when he returned home she was lying asleep
in her cradle. He just touched her eyelids, to see if she had eyes like
his own. They snatched his fingers away, so he could not solve the
exciting problem that day.
But sister had eyes, great dark eyes, which followed him about the room,
past the head of the bed and round the other side, always with the same
attentive expression, while the round cheeks went out and in like those
of a sucking animal. And Young Lasse felt very distinctly that one was
under obligations when eyes followed one about like that. He was quite a
little man already, and he longed to be noticed; so he ran about making
himself big, and rolling over like a clown, and playing the strong man
with the footstool, while his sister followed him with her eyes, without
moving a muscle of her face. He felt that she might have vouchsafed him
a little applause, when he had given himself so much trouble.
One day he inflated a paper bag and burst it before her face. That was
a help. Sister forgot her imperturbability, gave a jump, and began to
roar. He was smacked for that, but he had his compensation. Her little
face began to quiver directly he approached her, in order to show her
something; and she often began to roar before he had performed his
trick. "Go away from your sister Lasse Frederik!" said his mother. "You
are frightening her!"
But things were quite different only a month later. There was no one who
understood Young Lasse's doings better than sister. If he did but move
his plump little body, or uttered a sound, she twittered like a
Ellen's frozen expression had disappeared; now that she had something to
work at again. The cold had weaned her from many of her exactions, and
others were gratified by the children. The two little ones kept her very
busy; she did not miss Pelle now. She had become accustomed to his being
continually away from home, and she had taken possession of him in her
thoughts, in her own fashion; she held imaginary conversations with him
as she went about her work; and it was a joy to her to make him
comfortable during the short time that he was at home.
Pelle conceived his home as an intimate little world, in which he could
take shelter when he was weary. He had redeemed that obscure demand in
Ellen's eyes--in the shape of two dear little creatures that gave her
plenty to do. Now it was her real self that advanced to meet him. And
there was a peculiar loyalty about her, that laid hold of his heart; she
no longer resented his small earnings, and she did not reproach him
because he was only a workman.
He had been obliged to resign his position as president of his Union on
account of his longer hours. There was no prospect at present of his
being able to return to his vocation; but the hard bodily labor agreed
In order to help out his small earnings, he busied himself with repairs
in the evenings. Ellen helped him, and they sat together and gossiped
over their work. They ignored the labor movement--it did not interest
Ellen, and he by no means objected to a brief rest from it. Young Lasse
sat at the table, drawing and putting in his word now and then. Often,
when Pelle brought out the work, Ellen had done the greater part of it
during the day, and had only left what she did not understand. In return
he devised little ways of pleasing her.
In the new year the winter was not so severe. Already in February the
first promise of spring was perceptible. One noticed it in Ellen.
"Shan't we pack a picnic-basket and go out to one of the beer-gardens on
Sunday? It would do the children good to get into the air," she would
Pelle was very willing. But on Sunday there was a meeting of the party
leaders and a meeting concerning the affairs of the factory--he must be
present at both. And in the evening he had promised to speak before a
"Then we'll go out ourselves, the children and I!" said Ellen
peacefully. When they came home it seemed they had amused themselves
excellently; Pelle was no longer indispensable.
* * * * *
The hard winter was over at last. It was still freezing--especially at
night--but the people knew it was over in spite of that. And the ice in
the canals knew it also. It began to show fractures running in all
directions, and to drift out toward the sea. Even the houses gave one a
feeling of spring; they were brighter in hue; and the sun was shining
into the sky overhead; if one looked for it one could see it glowing
above the roofs. Down in the narrow lanes and the well-like courtyards
the children stamped about in the snowy slush and sang to the sun which
they could not see.
People began to recover from the long privations of the winter. The cold
might return at any moment; but all were united in their belief in the
spring. The starlings began to make their appearance, and the moisture
of the earth rose again to the surface and broke its way through the
hard crust, in dark patches; and business ventured to raise its head. A
peculiar universal will seemed to prevail in all things. Down under the
earth it sprouted amid frost and snow, and crept forth, young, and
seemingly brought forth by the cold itself; and in all things frozen by
winter the promise unfolded itself--in spite of all.
The workmen's quarter of the city began to revive; now it was once more
of some use to go about looking for work. It did one good to get out and
walk in the daylight for a while. And it also did one good once more to
fill one's belly every day and to fetch the household goods home from
the pawn-shop, and to air one's self a little, until one's turn came
But things did not go as well as they should have done. It looked as
though the cold had completely crippled the sources of commercial
activity. The spring came nearer; the sun rose higher every day, and
began to recover its power; but business showed no signs of real
recovery as yet; it did no more than supply what was needed from day to
day. There was no life in it, as there had been of old! At this time of
the year manufacturers were glad as a rule to increase their stocks, so
as to meet the demands of the summer; it was usual to make up for the
time lost during the winter; the workers would put forth their utmost
strength, and would work overtime.
Many anxious questions were asked. What was the matter? Why didn't
things get going again? _The Working Man_ for the present offered
no explanation, but addressed a covert warning to certain people that
they had best not form an alliance with want.
Gradually the situation assumed more definite outlines; the employers
were making preparations of some kind, for which reason they did not
resume business with any great vigor. In spite of their privations
during the winter, the workers had once again returned some of their own
representatives to Parliament, and now they were getting ready to strike
a blow at the municipal elections. That was the thing to do now! And in
the forefront of the battle stood the ever-increasing organization which
now included all vocations and the whole country a single body, and
which claimed a decisive voice in the ordering of conditions! The poor
man was made to feel how little he could accomplish without those who
kept everything going!
In the meantime there were rumors that a lock-out was being prepared,
affecting every occupation, and intended to destroy the Federation at
one blow. But that was inconceivable. They had experienced only small
lock-outs, when there was disagreement about some particular point. That
any one could think of setting the winter's distress in opposition to
the will of Nature, when every man was willing to work on the basis of
the current tariff--no, the idea was too fiendish!
But one distinction was being made. Men who had done any particular work
for the movement would find it more difficult to obtain employment. They
would be degraded, or simply replaced by others, when they applied for
their old places after the standstill of the winter. Uncertainty
prevailed, especially in those trades which had the longest connection
with the labor organization; one could not but perceive this to be a
consequence of combination. For that reason the feeling of insecurity
increased. Every one felt that the situation was unendurable and
untenable, and foresaw some malicious stroke. Especially in the iron
industry relations were extremely strained; the iron-founders were
always a hard-handed lot; it was there that one first saw what was about
Pelle anxiously watched events. If a conflict were to occur just now, it
would mean a defeat of the workers, who were without supplies and were
stripped to the buff. With the winter had ceased even the small chance
of employment on the ramparts; it was obvious that an assault would
shatter their cohesion. He did not express his anxieties to them. They
were at bottom like little children; it would do no good for them to
suffer too great anxiety. But to the leaders he insisted that they must
contrive to avoid a conflict, even if it entailed concessions. For the
first time Pelle proposed a retreat!
One week followed another, and the tension increased, but nothing
happened. The employers were afraid of public opinion. The winter had
struck terrible blows; they dared not assume the responsibility for
* * * * *
In the "Denmark" machine-works the tension was of long standing. At the
time when the farmers were compelled, by the conditions of the world-
market, to give up the cultivation of cereals for dairy-farming, the
directors of the factory had perceived in advance that the future would
lie in that direction, and had begun to produce dairy machinery. The
factory succeeded in constructing a centrifugal separator which had a
great sale, and this new branch of industry absorbed an ever-increasing
body of workers. Hitherto the best-qualified men had been selected; they
were continually improving the manufacture, and the sales were
increasing both at home and abroad. The workers gradually became so
skilled in their specialty that the manufacturers found themselves
compelled to reduce their wages--otherwise they would have earned too
much. This had happened twice in the course of the years, and the
workers had received the hint that was necessary to meet competition in
foreign markets. But at the same time the centrifugal separators were
continually increasing in price, on account of the great demand for
them. The workers had regarded the lowering of their wages as something
inevitable, and took pains yet further to increase their skill, so that
their earnings had once more come to represent a good average wage.
Now, immediately after the winter slackness, there were rumors in
circulation that the manufacturers intended once more to decrease the
rate of pay. But this time the men had no intention of accommodating
themselves to the decrease. Their resentment against the unrighteousness
of this proceeding went to their heads; they were very near
demonstrating at the mere rumor. Pelle, however, succeeded in persuading
them that they were confronted by nothing more than foolish gossip for
which no one was responsible. Afterward, when their fear had evaporated
and all was again going as usual, they came to him and thanked him.
But on the next pay-day there was a notice from the office to the effect
that the current rate of wages was not in accordance with the times--it
was to be improved. This sounded absolutely innocent, but every one knew
what lay behind it.
It was one of the first days of spring. The sun was shining into the
vast workshop, casting great shafts of light across it, and in the blue
haze pulleys and belts were revolving. The workers, as they stood at
their work, were whistling in time with the many wheels and the ringing
of metal. They were like a flock of birds, who have just landed on a
familiar coast and are getting the spring.
Pelle was carrying in some raw material when the news came and
extinguished all their joy. It was passed on a scrap of paper from man
to man, brief and callous. The managers of the factory wanted to have
nothing to do with the organization, but silently went behind it. All
had a period of fourteen days in which to subscribe to the new tariff.
"No arguments, if you please--sign, or go!" When the notice came to
Pelle all eyes were turned upon him as though they expected a signal;
tools were laid down, but the machinery ran idly for a time. Pelle read
the notice and then bent over his work again.
During the midday pause they crowded about him. "What now?" they asked;
and their eyes were fixed upon him, while their hands were trembling.
"Hadn't we better pack up and go at once? This shearing will soon be too
much for us, if they do it every time a little wool has grown on us."
"Wait!" said Pelle. "Just wait! Let the other side do everything, and
let us see how far they will go. Behave as if nothing had happened, and
get on with your work. You have the responsibility of wives and
They grumblingly followed his advice, and went back to their work. Pelle
did not wonder at them; there had been a time when he too would throw
down his work if any one imposed on him, even if everything had gone to
the devil through it. But now he was responsible for many--which was
enough to make a man prudent. "Wait!" he told them over and over again.
"To-morrow we shall know more than we do to-day--it wants thinking over
before we deal with it!"
So they put the new tariff aside and went to work as though nothing had
happened. The management of the factory treated the matter as settled;
and the directors went about with a contented look. Pelle wondered at
his comrades' behavior; after a few days they were in their usual
spirits, indulging in all kinds of pastimes during their meal-time.
As soon as the whistle sounded at noon the machinery stopped running,
and the workers all dropped their tools. A few quickly drew their coats
on, intending to go home for a mouthful of warm food, while some went to
the beer-cellars of the neighborhood. Those who lived far from their
homes sat on the lathe-beds and ate their food there. When the food was
consumed they gathered together in groups, gossiping, or chaffing one
another. Pelle often made use of the midday rest to run over to the
"Ark" in order to greet Father Lasse, who had obtained work in one of
the granaries and was now able to get along quite nicely.
One day at noon Pelle was standing in the midst of a group of men,
making a drawing of a conceited, arrogant foreman with a scrap of chalk
on a large iron plate. The drawing evoked much merriment. Some of his
comrades had in the meantime been disputing as to the elevating
machinery of a submarine. Pelle rapidly erased his caricature and
silently sketched an elevation of the machinery in question. He had so
often seen it when the vessel lay in the harbor at home. The others were
obliged to admit that he was right.
There was a sudden silence as one of the engineers passed through the
workshop. He caught sight of the drawing and asked whose work it was.
Pelle had to go to the office with him. The engineer asked him all sorts
of questions, and was amazed to learn that he had never had lessons in
drawing. "Perhaps we could make use of you upstairs here," he said.
"Would you care for that?"
Pelle's heart gave a sudden leap. This was luck, the real genuine good
fortune that seized upon its man and lifted him straightway into a
region of dazzling radiance! "Yes," he stammered, "yes, thank you very
much!" His emotion was near choking him.
"Then come to-morrow at seven--to the drawing-office," said the
engineer. "No, what's to-day? Saturday. Then Monday morning." And so the
affair was settled, without any beating about the bush! There was a man
after Pelle's own heart!
When he went downstairs the men crowded about him, in order to hear the
result. "Now your fortune's made!" they said; "they'll put you to
machine-drawing now, and if you know your business you'll get
independent work and become a constructor. That's the way Director
Jeppesen got on; he started down here on the moulding-floor, and now
he's a great man!" Their faces were beaming with delight in his good
fortune. He looked at them, and realized that they regarded him as
capable of anything.
He spent the rest of the day as in a dream, and hurried home to share
the news with Ellen. He was quite confused; there was a surging in his
ears, as in childhood, when life suddenly revealed one of its miracles
to him. Ellen flung her arms round his neck in her joy; she would not
let him go again, but held him fast gazing at him wonderingly, as in the
old days. "I've always known you were intended for something!" she said,
looking at him with pride. "There's no one like you! And now, only
think. But the children, they must know too!" And she snatched little
sister from her sleep, and informed her what had happened. The child
began to cry.
"You are frightening her, you are so delighted," said Pelle, who was
himself smiling all over his face.
"But now--now we shall mix with genteel people," said Ellen suddenly, as
she was laying the table. "If only I can adapt myself to it! And the
children shall go to the middle-class school."
When Pelle had eaten he was about to sit down to his cobbling. "No!"
said Ellen decidedly, taking the work away, "that's no work for you any
"But it must be finished," said Pelle; "we can't deliver half-finished
"I'll soon finish it for you; you just put your best clothes on; you
look like a--"
"Like a working-man, eh?" said Pelle, smiling.
Pelle dressed himself and went off to the "Ark" to give Father Lasse the
news. Later he would meet the others at his father-in-law's. Lasse was
at home, and was eating his supper. He had fried himself an egg over the
stove, and there was beer and brandy on the table. He had rented a
little room off the long corridor, near crazy Vinslev's; there was no
window, but there was a pane of glass over the door leading into the
gloomy passage. The lime was falling from the walls, so that the cob was
showing in great patches.
"Well, well," said Lasse, delighted, "so it's come to this! I've often
wondered to myself why you had been given such unprofitable talents--
such as lying about and painting on the walls or on paper--you, a poor
laborer's son. Something must be intended by that, I used to tell
myself, in my own mind; perhaps it's the gift of God and he'll get on by
reason of it! And now it really seems as if it's to find its use."
"It's not comfortable for you here, father!" said Pelle.
"But I shall soon take you away from here, whether you like it or not.
When we've paid off a few of the winter's debts we shall be moving into
a three-roomed apartment, and then you'll have a room for your own use;
but you mustn't go to work any longer then. You must be prepared for
"Yes, yes, I've nothing against living with you, so long as I'm not
taking the bread out of others' mouths. Ah, no, Pelle, it won't be
difficult for me to give up my work; I have overworked myself ever since
I could crawl; for seventy years almost I've toiled for my daily bread--
and now I'm tired! So many thanks for your kind intentions. I shall pass
the time well with the children. Send me word whenever you will."
The news was already known in the "Ark," and the inmates came up to wish
him luck as he was leaving. "You won't he running in here any more and
gossiping with us when once you are settled in your new calling," they
said. "That would never do! But don't quite forget all about us just
because we are poor!"
"No, no, Pelle has been through so many hungry times with us poor folks;
he's not one of those who forget old friendship!" they themselves
Only now, when he had left the "Ark," did he realize that there was
something to which he was bidding farewell. It was the cordial community
with all his kind, their radiant faith in him, and his own belief in his
mission there; he had known a peculiar joy in the half-embittered
recklessness, the community of feeling, and the struggle. Was he not, so
to speak, the Prince of poverty, to whom they all looked up, and of whom
they all expected that he would lead them into a strange world? And
could he justify himself for leaving them all in the lurch because of
his own good fortune? Perhaps he was really appointed to lead the
movement--perhaps he was the only one who could do so!
This belief had always been faintly glimmering in the back of his mind,
had stood behind his endurance in the conflict, and behind all the
gladness with which he bore privation. Was he in his arrogance to
repudiate the place that had formed him? No, he was not so blatant as
all that! There was plenty beside himself capable of seeing the movement
through--and Fortune had tapped him on the shoulder. "March forward,
Pelle!" an inward voice exhorted him. "What have you to consider? You have
no right to thrust success away from you? Do you want to ruin yourself
without profiting others? You have been a good comrade, but here your ways
divide. God Himself has given you talent; even as a child you used to
practise it; no one will gain by your remaining poor. Choose your own
Yes, Pelle had chosen readily enough! He knew very well that he must
accept this good fortune, whatever the world might say to it. Only it
hurt him to leave the others behind! He was bound to poverty by such
intimate ties; he felt the solidarity of the poor so keenly that it hurt
him to tear himself away. Common cares had made him a man, and the
struggle had given him a peculiar and effective strength. But now he
would attend no more meetings! It would be droll indeed if he were to
have nothing more to do with the Cause, but were to belong to the other
side--he, Pelle, who had been a flaming torch! No, he would never leave
them in the lurch, that he knew; even if he were to climb ever so high--
and he entertained no doubts as to that--he would always feel for his
old comrades and show them the way to obtain good relations between
worker and employer.
Ellen saw how serious he was--perhaps she guessed that he was feeling
remorseful. She would help him to get over that.
"Can't we have your father here to-morrow?" she said. "He can lie on the
long chair in the living-room until we move into our new home. It isn't
right to let him stay where he is, and in your new situation you
couldn't do it."
The unrest increased in the workshops round about; no one who had
anything to do with the organization felt really secure. It was
evidently the intention of the employers to drive the workers to
extremes, and thereby to force them to break the peace. "They want to
destroy the trades unions, so that they can scrape the butter off our
bread again," said the workers. "They think it'll be easier now that the
winter has made us thankful for a dry crust! But that's an infernal
The masses grew more and more embittered; everywhere they were ready for
a fight, and asked nothing better than to plunge into it. The women wept
and shuddered; most of them understood only that the sufferings of the
winter were going to begin all over again. They took desperate steps to
prevent this; they threw their shawls over their heads and rushed off to
the offices, to the manufacturers, and pleaded with them to avert the
disaster. The central Committee counselled a peaceful demeanor and
caution. Everything depended upon their having the right on their side
in the opinion of the public.
It was easy for Pelle to follow all that was happening, although he now
stood outside the whole movement. He went to work in his good clothes
and elastic-sided boots, and did not need to arrive before seven, while
the others had to be there at six--which at once altered his point of
He would soon be trusted with rule and compasses; for the present he was
kept busy copying a few worn-out working-drawings, or "filling in." He
felt in a curiously exalted frame of mind--as though he had been
slightly intoxicated; this was the first time in his life that he had
been employed on work that was of a clean nature and allowed him to wear
good clothes. It was particularly curious to survey life from where he
stood; a new perspective lay open before him. The old life had nothing
in prospect but a miserable old age; but this led upward. Here he could
achieve what he willed--even the highest place! What if he finally crept
up to the very topmost point, and established an eight-hour day and a
decent day's wage? Then he would show them that one could perfectly well
climb up from below without forgetting his origin and becoming a
bloodsucker! They should still drink to the health of Pelle, their good
comrade, although he would have left their ranks.
At home there was much to be done; as soon as he crossed the threshold
he was the prisoner of Ellen's hundred and one schemes. He must have a
new suit of clothes--a gray suit for the office, and more linen; and at
least twice a week he must go to the barber; he could no longer sit down
and scrape himself with an old razor with an edge like a saw. Pelle was
made to feel that it was not so easy after all to become an "upper-
classer," as he called it.
And all this cost money. There was the same searching, the same racking
of one's brains to find the necessary shillings as during the dearth of
the winter famine; but this time it was quite amusing; there was a
cheerful purpose in it all, and it would only last until he had properly
settled down. Lasse looked very respectable; he was wearing Pelle's
second-best suit, which Ellen had cleaned for him, and a black watered
silk cravat, with a white waterproof collar, and well-polished slippers