Part 7 out of 7
past, and the bright day is coming for him! And here you go over to the
wrong side and walk into prison! Do you know what the locked-out workers
call you? They call you the locked-in workers!"
There were a few suppressed smiles at this. "That's a dam' good smack!"
they told, one another. "He made that up himself!"
"They have other names for us as well!" cried a voice defiantly.
"Yes, they have," said Pelle vigorously. "But that's because they are
hungry. People get unreasonable then, you know very well--and they
grudge other folks their food!"
They thronged about him, pressing closer and closer. His words were
scorching them, yet were doing them good. No one could hit out like
Pelle, and yet at the same time make them feel that they were decent
fellows after all. The foreign workers stood round about them, eagerly
listening, in order that they, too, might catch a little of what was
Pelle had suddenly plunged into the subject of the famine, laying bare
the year-long, endless despair of their families, so that they all saw
what the others had suffered--saw really for the first time. They were
amazed that they could have endured so much, but they knew that it was
so; they nodded continually, in agreement; it was all literally true. It
was Pelle's own desperate struggle that was speaking through him now,
but the refrain of suffering ran through it all. He stood before them
radiant and confident of victory, towering indomitably over them all.
Gradually his words became keen and vigorous. He reproached them with
their disloyalty; he reminded them how dearly and bitterly they had
bought the power of cohesion, and in brief, striking phrases he awakened
the inspiriting rhythm of the Cause, that lay slumbering in every heart.
It was the old, beloved music, the well-known melody of the home and
labor. Pelle sounded it with a new accent. Like all those that forsake
their country, they had forgotten the voice of their mother--that was
why they could not find their way home; but now she was calling them,
calling them back to the old dream of a Land of Fortune! He could see it
in their faces, and with a leap he was at them: "Do you know of anything
more infamous than to sell your mother-country? That is what you have
done--before ever you set foot in it--you have sold it, with your
brothers, your wives, and your children! You have foresworn your
religion--your faith in the great Cause! You have disobeyed orders, and
have sold yourselves for a miserable Judas-price and a keg of brandy!"
He stood with his left hand on the big smith's shoulder, his right hand
he clenched and held out toward them. In that hand he was holding them;
he felt that so strongly that he did not dare to let it sink, but
continued to hold it outstretched. A murmuring wave passed through the
ranks, reaching even to the foreign workers. They were infected by the
emotion of the others, and followed the proceedings with tense
attention, although they did not understand much of the language. At
each sally they nodded and nudged one another, until now they stood
there motionless, with expectant faces; they, too, were under the spell
of his words. This was solidarity, the mighty, earth-encircling power!
Pelle recognized the look of wonder on their faces; a cold shudder ran
up and down his spine. He held them all in his hand, and now the blow
was to be struck before they had time to think matters over. Now!
"Comrades!" he cried loudly. "I told those outside that you were
honorable men, who had been led into the devil's kitchen by want, and in
a moment of misunderstanding. And I am going in to fetch your friends
and comrades out, I said. They are longing to come out to you again, to
come out into the spring! Did I lie when I spoke well of you?"
"No, that you didn't!" they replied, with one voice. "Three cheers for
Pelle! Three cheers for 'Lightning'!"
"Come along, then!" Swiftly he leaped down from the anvil and marched
through the workshop, roaring out the Socialist marching-song. They
followed him without a moment's consideration, without regret or
remorse; the rhythm of the march had seized them; it was as though the
warm spring wind were blowing them out into the freedom of Nature. The
door was unlocked, the officials of the factory were pushed aside.
Singing in a booming rhythm that seemed to revenge itself for the long
days of confinement, they marched out into North Bridge Street, with
Pelle at their head, and turned into the Labor Building.
That was a glorious stroke! The employers abandoned all further idea of
running the works without the Federation. The victory was the completer
in that the trades unions gave the foreign workers their passage-money,
and sent them off before they had time for reflection. They were
escorted to the steamers, and the workers saw them off with a comradely
Pelle was the hero of the day. His doings were discussed in all the
newspapers, and even his opponents lowered their swords before him.
He took it all as a matter of course; he was striving with all his might
toward a fresh goal. There was no excuse for soaring into the clouds;
the lock-out was still the principal fact, and a grievous and burdensome
fact, and now he was feeling its whole weight. The armies of workers
were still sauntering about the streets, while the nation was consuming
its own strength, and there was no immediate prospect of a settlement.
But one day the springs would run dry--and what then?
He was too deeply immersed in the conflict to grow dizzy by reason of a
little flattery; and the general opinion more than ever laid the
responsibility for the situation on him. If this terrible struggle
should end in defeat, then his would be the blame! And he racked his
brains to find a means of breaking down the opposition of the enemy. The
masses were still enduring the conditions with patience, but how much
longer would this last? Rumors, which intended mischief, were flying
about; one day it was said that one of the leaders, who had been
entrusted with making collections, had run off with the cash-box; while
another rumor declared that the whole body of workers had been sold to
the employers! Something must happen! But what?
* * * * *
One afternoon he went home to see his family before going to a meeting.
The children were alone. "Where is mother?" he asked, taking Young Lasse
on his knee. Little Sister was sitting upright in her cradle, playing.
"Mother made herself fine and went out into the city," replied the
child. "Mother so fine!"
"So? Was she so fine?" Pelle went into the bed-room; he looked into the
wardrobe. Ellen's wedding-dress was not there.
"That is curious," he thought, and began to play with the children. The
little girl stretched her tiny arms toward him. He had to take her up
and sit with a child on either knee. The little girl kept on picking at
his upper lip, as though she wanted to say something. "Yes, father's
moustache has fallen off, Little Sister," said Young Lasse, in
"Yes, it has flown away," said Pelle. "There came a wind and--phew!--
away it went!" He looked into the glass with a little grimace--that
moustache had been his pride! Then he laughed at the children.
Ellen came home breathless, as though she had been running; a tender
rosiness lay over her face and throat. She went into the bedroom with
her cloak on. Pelle followed her. "You have your wedding-dress on," he
"Yes, I wanted something done to it, so I went to the dressmaker, so
that she could see the dress on me. But run out now, I'll come directly;
I only want to put another dress on."
Pelle wanted to stay, but she pushed him toward the door. "Run away!"
she said, pulling her dress across her bosom. The tender red had spread
all over her bosom--she was so beautiful in her confusion!
After a time she came into the living-room and laid some notes on the
table before him.
"What's this again?" he cried, half startled by the sight of all this
"Yes, haven't I wonderful luck? I've won in the lottery again! Haven't
you a clever wife?" She was standing behind him with her arm across his
Pelle sat there for a moment, bowed down as though he had received a
blow on the head. Then he pushed her arm aside and turned round to her.
"You have won again already, you say? Twice? Twice running?" He spoke
slowly and monotonously, as though he wanted to let every word sink in.
"Yes; don't you think it's very clever of me?" She looked at him
uncertainly and attempted to smile.
"But that is quite impossible!" he said heavily. "That is quite
impossible!" Suddenly he sprang to his feet, seizing her by the throat.
"You are lying! You are lying!" he cried, raging. "Will you tell me the
truth? Out with it!" He pressed her back over the table, as though he
meant to kill her. Young Lasse began to cry.
She stared at him with wondering eyes, which were full of increasing
terror. He released her and averted his face in order not to see those
eyes; they were full of the fear of death. She made no attempt to rise,
but fixed him with an intolerable gaze, like that of a beast that is
about to be killed and does not know why. He rose, and went silently
over to the children, and busied himself in quieting them. He had a
horrible feeling in his hands, almost as when once in his childhood he
had killed a young bird. Otherwise he had no feeling, except that
everything was so loathsome. It was the fault of the situation ... and
now he would go.
He realized, as he packed his things, that she was standing by the
table, crying softly. He realized it quite suddenly, but it was no
concern of his.... When he was ready and had kissed the children, a
shudder ran through her body; she stepped before him in her old
"Don't leave me--you mustn't leave me!" she said, sobbing. "Oh--I only
wanted to do what was best for you--and you didn't see after anything.
No, that's not a reproach--but our daily bread, Pelle! For you and the
children! I could no longer look on and see you go without everything--
especially you--Pelle! I love you so! It was out of love for you--above
all, out of love for you!"
It sounded like a song in his ears, like a strange, remote refrain; the
words he did not hear. He put her gently aside, kissed the boy once
more, and stroked his face. Ellen stood as though dead, gazing at his
movements with staring, bewildered eyes. When he went out to the door
Pelle left his belongings downstairs with the mangling-woman, and he
went mechanically toward the city; he heard no sound, no echo; he went
as one asleep. His feet carried him toward the Labor House, and up the
stairs, into the room whence the campaign was directed. He took his
place among the others without knowing what he did, and there he sat,
gazing down at the green table-cloth.
The general mood showed signs of dejection. For a long time now the
bottom of the cash-box had been visible, and as more and more workers
were turned into the street the product of self-imposed taxation was
gradually declining. And the readiness of those outside the movement to
make sacrifices was rapidly beginning to fail. The public had now had
enough of the affair. Everything was failing, now they would have to see
if they could not come to some arrangement. Starvation was beginning to
thrust its grinning head among the fifty thousand men now idle. The
moment had come upon which capital was counting; the moment when the
crying of children for bread begins to break the will of the workers,
until they are ready to sacrifice honor and independence in order to
satisfy the little creatures' hunger. And the enemy showed no sign of
wishing for peace!
This knowledge had laid its mark on all the members of the Council; and
as they sat there they knew that the weal or woe of hundreds of
thousands depended on them. No one dared accept the responsibility of
making a bold proposal in this direction or that. With things as they
stood, they would have, in a week or two, to give up the fight! Then
nearly a quarter of a million human beings would have suffered torment
for nothing! A terrible apathy would be the result of that suffering and
of the defeat; it would put them back many years. But if the employers
could not long withstand the pressure which the financial world was
beginning to exert on them, they would be throwing away the victory if
they gave up the fight now.
The cleverest calculations were useless here. A blind, monstrous Pate
would prevail. Who could say that he had lifted the veil of the future
and could point out the way?
No one! And Pelle, the blazing torch, who had shown them the road
regardless of all else--he sat there drowsing as though it meant nothing
to him! Apparently he had broken down under his monstrous labors.
The secretary came in with a newspaper marked with red pencil. He passed
it to the chairman, who stared for a while at the underlined portion,
then he rose and read it out; the paper was quivering in his hands.
"About thirty working women--young and of good appearance--can during
the lock-out find a home with various bachelors. Good treatment
guaranteed. The office of the paper will give further information."
Pelle sprang up out of his half-slumber; the horrible catastrophe of his
own home was blindingly clear now! "So it's come to that!" he cried.
"Now capital has laid its fingers on our wives--now they are to turn
whore! We must fight on, fight, fight! We must strike one last blow--and
it must be a heavy one!"
"But how?" they asked.
Pelle was white with enforced calm. His mind had never been so radiantly
clear. Now Ellen should be revenged on those who took everything, even
the poor man's one ewe lamb!
"In the first place we must issue an optimistic report--this very day!"
he said, smiling. "The cash-box is nearly empty--good! Then we will
state that the workers have abundant means to carry on the fight for
another year if need be, and then we'll go for them!"
Born of anger, an old, forgotten phantasy had flashed into his mind as a
"Hitherto we have fought passively," he continued, "with patience as our
chief weapon! We have opposed our necessities of life to the luxuries of
the other side; and if they strike at us in order to starve us to skin
and bone and empty our homes of our last possessions, we answered them
by refusing to do the work which was necessary to their comfort! Let us
for once strike at their vital necessities! Let us strike them where
they have struck us from the beginning! In the belly! Then perhaps
they'll turn submissive! Hitherto we have kept the most important of the
workers out of the conflict--those on whom the health and welfare of the
public depend, although we ourselves have benefited nothing thereby. Why
should we bake their bread? We, who haven't the means to eat it! Why
should we look after their cleanliness? We, who haven't the means to
keep ourselves clean! Let us bring the dustmen and the street-cleaners
into the line of fire! And if that isn't enough we'll turn off their gas
and water! Let us venture our last penny--let us strike the last blow!"
Pelle's proposal was adopted, and he went westward immediately to the
president of the Scavengers' Union. He had just got up and was sitting
down to his midday meal. He was a small, comfortable little man, who had
always a twinkle in his eye; he came from the coal country. Pelle had
helped him at one time to get his organization into working order, and
he knew that he could count on him and his men.
"Do you remember still, how I once showed you that you are the most
important workers in the city, Lars Hansen?"
The president nodded. "Yes, one would have to be a pretty sort of fool
to forget that! No, as long as I live I shall never forget the effect
your words had on us despised scavengers! It was you who gave us faith
in ourselves, and an organization! And even if we aren't quite the most
important people, still--"
"But that's just what you are--and now it's your turn to prove it! Could
you suspend work this night?"
Lars Hansen sat gazing thoughtfully into the lamp while he chewed his
food. "Our relations with the city are rather in the nature of a
contract," he said slowly and at length. "They could punish us for it,
and compel us to resume work. But if you want it, irrespective, why of
course we'll do it. There can be only one view as to that among
comrades! What you may gain by it you yourself know best."
"Thanks!" said Pelle, holding out his hand. "Then that is settled--no
more carts go out. And we must bring the street-cleaners to a standstill
"Then the authorities will put other men on--there are plenty to be
found for that work."
"They won't do that--or we'll put a stop to it if they do!"
"That sounds all right! It'll be a nasty business for the swells! It's
all the same to the poor, they haven't anything to eat. But suppose the
soldiers are ordered to do it! Scavenging must be done if the city isn't
to become pestilential!"
A flash of intelligence crossed Pelle's face. "Now listen, comrade! When
you stop working, deliver up all the keys, so that the authorities can't
touch you! Only put them all in a sack and give them a good shake-up!"
Lars Hansen broke into a resounding laugh. "That will be the deuce of a
joke!" he groaned, smacking his thighs. "Then they'll have to come to
us, for no one else will be able to sort them out again so quickly! I'll
take them the keys myself--I'll go upstairs as innocent as anything!"
Pelle thanked him again. "You'll save the whole Cause," he said quietly.
"It's the bread and the future happiness of many thousands that you are
now holding in your hands." He smiled brightly and took his leave. As
soon as he was alone his smile faded and an expression of deathly
weariness took its place.
* * * * *
Pelle walked the streets, strolling hither and thither. Now all was
settled. There was nothing more to strive for. Everything within him
seemed broken; he had not even strength to decide what he should do with
himself. He walked on and on, came out into the High Street, and turned
off again into the side streets. Over the way, in the Colonial Stores,
he saw Karl, smiling and active, behind the counter serving customers.
"You ought really to go in and ask him how he's getting on," he thought,
but he strolled on. Once, before a tenement-house, he halted and
involuntarily looked up. No, he had already done his business here--this
was where the president of the Scavengers' Union lived. No, the day's
work was over now--he would go home to Ellen and the children!
Home? No home for him now--he was forsaken and alone! And yet he went
toward the north; which road he went by he did not know, but after a
time he found himself standing before his own door and staring at the
rusty little letter box. Within there was a sound of weeping; he could
hear Ellen moving to and fro, preparing everything for the night. Then
he turned and hastened away, and did not breathe easily until he had
turned the corner of the street.
He turned again and again, from one side street into another. Inside his
head everything seemed to be going round, and at every step he felt as
if it would crack. Suddenly he seemed to hear hasty but familiar steps
behind him. Ellen! He turned round; there was no one there. So it was an
illusion! But the steps began again as soon as he went on. There was
something about those steps--it was as though they wanted to say
something to him; he could hear plainly that they wanted to catch up
with him. He stopped suddenly--there was no one there, and no one
emerged from the darkness of the side streets.
Were these strange footsteps in his own mind, then? Pelle found them
incomprehensible; his heart began to thump; his terrible exhaustion had
made him helpless. And Ellen--what was the matter with her? That
reproachful weeping sounded in his ears! Understand--what was he to
understand? She had done it out of love, she had said! Ugh--away with it
all! He was too weary to justify her offence.
But what sort of wanderer was this? Now the footsteps were keeping time
with his now; they had a double sound. And when he thought, another
creature answered to him, from deep within him. There was something
persistent about this, as there was in Morten's influence; an opinion
that made its way through all obstacles, even when reduced to silence.
What was wanted of him now--hadn't he worked loyally enough? Was he not
Pelle, who had conducted the great campaign? Pelle, to whom all looked
up? But there was no joy in the thought now; he could not now hear the
march of his fifty thousand comrades in his own footsteps! He was left
in the lurch, left alone with this accursed Something here in the
deserted streets--and loneliness had come upon him! "You are afraid!" he
thought, with a bitter laugh.
But he did not wish to be alone; and he listened intently. The conflict
had taken all that he possessed. So there was a community--mournful as
it was--between him and the misery around him here. What had he to
The city of the poor lay about him, terrible, ravaged by the battle of
unemployment--a city of weeping, and cold, and darkness, and want! From
the back premises sounded the crying of children--they were crying for
bread, he knew--while drunken men staggered round the corners, and the
screaming of women sounded from the back rooms and the back yards. Ugh--
this was Hell already! Thank God, victory was near!
Somewhere he could plainly hear voices; children were crying, and a
woman, who was moving to and fro in the room, was soothing them, and was
lulling the youngest to sleep--no doubt she had it in her arms. It all
came down to him so distinctly that he looked up. There were no windows
in the apartment! They were to be driven out by the cold, he thought
indignantly, and he ran up the stairs; he was accustomed to taking the
unfortunate by surprise.
"The landlord has taken out the doors and windows; he wanted to turn us
into the street, but we aren't going, for where should we go? So he
wants to drive us out through the cold--like the bugs! They've driven my
husband to death--" Suddenly she recognized Pelle. "So it's you, you
accursed devil!" she cried. "It was you yourself who set him on! Perhaps
you remember how he used to drink out of the bottle? Formerly he always
used to behave himself properly. And you saw, too, how we were turned
out of St. Hans Street--the tenants forced us to go--didn't you see
that? Oh, you torturer! You've followed him everywhere, hunted him like
a wild beast, taunted him and tormented him to death! When he went into
a tavern the others would stand away from him, and the landlord had to
ask him to go. But he had more sense of honor than you! 'I'm infected
with the plague!' he said, and one morning he hanged himself. Ah, if I
could pray the good God to smite you!" She was tearless; her voice was
dry and hoarse.
"You have no need to do that," replied Pelle bitterly. "He has smitten
me! But I never wished your husband any harm; both times, when I met
him, I tried to help him. We have to suffer for the benefit of all--my
own happiness is shattered into fragments." He suddenly found relief in
"They just ought to see that--the working men--Pelle crying! Then they
wouldn't shout 'Hurrah!' when he appears!" she cried scornfully.
"I have still ten kroner--will you take them?" said Pelle, handing her
She took it hesitating. "You must need that for your wife and children--
that must be your share of your strike pay!"
"I have no wife and children now. Take it!"
"Good God! Has your home gone to pieces too? Couldn't even Pelle keep it
together? Well, well, it's only natural that he who sows should reap!"
Pelle went his way without replying. The unjust judgment of this woman
depressed him more than the applause of thousands would have pleased
him. But it aroused a violent mental protest. Where she had struck him
he was invulnerable; he had not been looking after his own trivial
affairs; but had justly and honorably served the great Cause, and had
led the people to victory. The wounded and the fallen had no right to
abuse him. He had lost more than any one--he had lost everything!
With care-laden heart, but curiously calm, he went toward the North
Bridge and rented a room in a cheap lodging house.
The final instructions issued to the workers aroused terrible
indignation in the city. At one blow the entire public was set against
them; the press was furious, and full of threats and warnings. Even the
independent journals considered that the workers had infringed the laws
of human civilization. But _The Working Man_ quietly called
attention to the fact that the conflict was a matter of life or death
for the lower classes. They were ready to proceed to extremities; they
still had it in their power to cut off the water and gas--the means of
the capital's commercial and physical life!
Then the tide set in against the employers. Something had to give
somewhere! And what was the real motive of the conflict? Merely a
question of power! They wanted to have the sole voice--to have their
workers bound hand and foot. The financiers, who stood at the back of
the big employers, had had enough of the whole affair. It would be an
expensive game first and last, and there would be little profit in
destroying the cohesion of the workers if the various industries were
ruined at the same time.
Pelle saw how the crisis was approaching while he wandered about the
lesser streets in search of Father Lasse. Now the Cause was progressing
by its own momentum, and he could rest. An unending strain was at last
lifted from his shoulders, and now he wanted time to gather together the
remnants of his own happiness--and at last to do something for one who
had always sacrificed himself for him. Now he and Lasse would find a
home together, and resume the old life in company together; he rejoiced
at the thought. Father Lasse's nature never clashed with his; he had
always stood by him through everything; his love was like a mother's.
Lasse was no longer living in his lair behind Baker Street. The old
woman with whom he was living had died shortly before this, and Lasse
had then disappeared.
Pelle continued to ask after him, and, well known as he was among the
poor, it was not difficult for him to follow the old man's traces, which
gradually led him out to Kristianshavn. During his inquiries he
encountered a great deal of misery, which delayed him. Now, when the
battle was fighting itself to a conclusion, he was everywhere confronted
by need, and his old compassion welled up in his heart. He helped where
he could, finding remedies with his usual energy.
Lasse had not been to the "Ark" itself, but some one there had seen him
in the streets, in a deplorable condition; where he lived no one knew.
"Have you looked in the cellar of the Merchant's House over yonder?" the
old night watchman asked him. "Many live there in these hard times.
Every morning about six o'clock I lock the cellar up, and then I call
down and warn them so that they shan't be pinched. If I happen to turn
away, then they come slinking up. It seems to me I heard of an old man
who was said to be lying down there, but I'm not sure, for I've wadding
in my ears; I'm obliged to in my calling, in order not to hear too
much!" He went to the place with Pelle.
The Merchant's House, which in the eighteenth century was the palace of
one of the great mercantile families of Kristianshavn, was now used as a
granary; it lay fronting on one of the canals. The deep cellars, which
were entirely below the level of the canal, were now empty. It was pitch
dark down there, and impracticable; the damp air seemed to gnaw at one's
vocal cords. They took a light and explored among the pillars, finding
here and there places where people had lain on straw. "There is no one
here," said the watchman. Pelle called, and heard a feeble sound as of
one clearing his throat. Far back in the cellars, in one of the cavities
in the wall, Father Lasse was lying on a mattress. "Yes, here I lie,
waiting for death," he whispered. "It won't last much longer now; the
rats have begun to sniff about me already." The cold, damp air had taken
his voice away.
He was altogether in a pitiful condition, but the sight of Pelle put
life into him in so far as he was able to stand on his feet. They took
him over to the "Ark," the old night watchman giving up his room and
going up to Widow Johnsen;--there he slept in the daytime, and at night
went about his duties; a possible arrangement, although there was only
When Lasse was put into a warm bed he lay there shivering; and he was
not quite clear in his mind. Pelle warmed some beer; the old man must go
through a sweating cure; from time to time he sat on the bed and gazed
anxiously at his father. Lasse lay there with his teeth chattering; he
had closed his eyes; now and again he tried to speak, but could not.
The warm drink helped him a little, and the blood flowed once more into
his dead, icy hands, and his voice returned.
"Do you think we are going to have a hard winter?" he said suddenly,
turning on his side.
"We are going on toward the summer now, dear father," Pelle replied.
"But you must not lie with your back uncovered."
"I'm so terribly cold--almost as cold as I was in winter; I wouldn't
care to go through that again. It got into my spine so. Good God, the
poor folks who are at sea!"
"You needn't worry about them--you just think about getting well again;
to-day we've got the sunshine and it's fine weather at sea!"
"Let a little sunshine in here to me, then," said Lasse peevishly.
"There's a great wall in front of the window, father," said Pelle,
bending down over him.
"Well, well, it'll soon be over, the little time that's still left me!
It's all the same to the night watchman--he wakes all night and yet he
doesn't see the sun. That is truly a curious calling! But it is good
that some one should watch over us while we sleep." Lasse rocked his
head restlessly to and fro.
"Yes, otherwise they'd come by night and steal our money," said Pelle
"Yes, that they would!" Lasse tried to laugh. "And how are things going
with you, lad?"
"The negotiations are proceeding; yesterday we held the first meeting."
Lasse laughed until his throat rattled. "So the fine folks couldn't
stomach the smell any longer! Yes, yes, I heard the news of that when I
was lying ill down there in the darkness. At night, when the others came
creeping in, they told me about it; we laughed properly over that idea
of yours. But oughtn't you to be at your meeting?"
"No, I have excused myself--I don't want to sit there squabbling about
the ending of a sentence. Now I'm going to be with you, and then we'll
both make ourselves comfortable."
"I am afraid we shan't have much more joy of one another, lad!"
"But you are quite jolly again now. To-morrow you will see--"
"Ah, no! Death doesn't play false. I couldn't stand that cellar."
"Why did you do it, father? You knew your place at home was waiting for
"Yes, you must forgive my obstinacy, Pelle. But I was too old to be able
to help in the fight, and then I thought at least you won't lay a burden
on them so long as this lasts! So in that way I have borne my share. And
do you really believe that something will come of it?"
"Yes, we are winning--and then the new times will begin for the poor
"Yes, yes; I've no part in such fine things now! It was as though one
served the wicked goblin that stands over the door: Work to-day, eat to-
morrow! And to-morrow never came. What kindness I've known has been from
my own people; a poor bird will pull out its own feathers to cover
another. But I can't complain; I have had bad days, but there are folks
who have had worse. And the women have always been good to me. Bengta
was a grumbler, but she meant it kindly; Karna sacrificed money and
health to me--God be thanked that she didn't live after they took the
farm from me. For I've been a landowner too; I had almost forgotten that
in all my misery! Yes, and old Lise--Begging Lise, as they called her--
she shared bed and board with me! She died of starvation, smart though
she was. Would you believe that? 'Eat!' she used to say; 'we have food
enough!' And I, old devil, I ate the last crust, and suspected nothing,
and in the morning she was lying dead and cold at my side! There was not
a scrap of flesh on her whole body; nothing but skin over dry bones. But
she was one of God's angels! We used to sing together, she and I. Ach,
poor people take the bread out of one another's mouths!"
Lasse lay for a time sunk in memories, and began to sing, with the
gestures he had employed in the courtyard. Pelle held him down and
endeavored to bring him to reason, but the old man thought he was
dealing with the street urchins. When he came to the verse which spoke
of his son he wept.
"Don't cry, father!" said Pelle, quite beside himself, and he laid his
heavy head against that of the old man. "I am with you again!"
Lasse lay still for a time, blinking his eyes, with his hand groping to
and fro over his son's face.
"Yes, you are really here," he said faintly, "and I thought you had gone
away again. Do you know what, Pelle? You have been the whole light of my
life! When you came into the world I was already past the best of my
years; but then you came, and it was as though the sun had been born
anew! 'What may he not bring with him?' I used to think, and I held my
head high in the air. You were no bigger than a pint bottle! 'Perhaps
he'll make his fortune,' I thought, 'and then there'll be a bit of luck
for you as well!' So I thought, and so I've always believed--but now I
must give it up. But I've lived to see you respected. You haven't become
a rich man--well, that need not matter; but the poor speak well of you!
You have fought their battles for them without taking anything to fill
your own belly. Now I understand it, and my old heart rejoices that you
are my son!"
When Lasse fell asleep Pelle lay on the sofa for a while. But he did not
rest long; the old man slept like a bird, opening his eyes every moment.
If he did not see his son close to his bed he lay tossing from side to
side and complaining in a half-slumber. In the middle of the night he
raised his head and held it up in a listening attitude. Pelle awoke.
"What do you want, father?" he asked, as he tumbled onto his feet.
"Ach, I can hear something flowing, far out yonder, beyond the sea-
line.... It is as though the water were pouring into the abyss. But
oughtn't you to go home to Ellen now? I shall be all right alone
overnight, and perhaps she's sitting worrying as to where you are."
"I've sent to Ellen to tell her that I shouldn't be home overnight,"
The old man lay considering his son with a pondering glance, "Are you
happy, too, now?" he asked. "It seems to me as though there is something
about your marriage that ought not to be."
"Yes, father, it's quite all right," Pelle replied in a half-choking
"Well, God be thanked for that! You've got a good wife in Ellen, and she
has given you splendid children. How is Young Lasse? I should dearly
like to see him again before I go from here--there will still be a
"I'll bring him to you early in the morning," said Pelle. "And now you
ought to see if you can't sleep a little, father. It is pitch dark
Lasse turned himself submissively toward the wall. Once he cautiously
turned his head to see if Pelle was sleeping; his eyes could not see
across the room, so he attempted to get out of bed, but fell back with a
"What is it, father?" cried Pelle anxiously, and he was beside him in a
"I only wanted just to see that you'd got something over you in this
cold! But my old limbs won't bear me any more," said the old man, with a
Toward morning he fell into a quiet sleep, and Pelle brought Madam
Johnsen to sit with the old man, while he went home for Young Lasse. It
was no easy thing to do; but the last wish of the old man must be
granted. And he knew that Ellen would not entrust the child to strange
Ellen's frozen expression lit up as he came; an exclamation of joy rose
to her lips, but the sight of his face killed it. "My father lies
dying," he said sadly--"he very much wants to see the boy." She nodded
and quietly busied herself in making the child ready. Pelle stood at the
window gazing out.
It seemed very strange to him that he should be here once more; the
memory of the little household rose to his mind and made him weak. He
must see Little Sister! Ellen led him silently into the bedroom; the
child was sleeping in her cradle; a deep and wonderful peace brooded
over her bright head. Ellen seemed to be nearer to him in this room
here; he felt her compelling eyes upon him. He pulled himself forcibly
together and went into the other room--he had nothing more to do there.
He was a stranger in this home. A thought occurred to him--whether she
was going on with _that_? Although it was nothing to him, the
question would not be suppressed; and he looked about him for some sign
that might be significant. It was a poverty-stricken place; everything
superfluous had vanished. But a shoemaker's sewing machine had made its
appearance, and there was work on it. Strike-breaking work! he thought
mechanically. But not disgraceful--for the first time he was glad to
discover a case of strike-breaking. She had also begun to take in
sewing--and she looked thoroughly overworked. This gave him downright
"The boy is ready to go with you now," she said.
Pelle cast a farewell glance over the room. "Is there anything you
need?" he asked.
"Thanks--I can look after myself," she replied proudly.
"You didn't take the money I sent you on Saturday!"
"I can manage myself--if I can only keep the boy. Don't forget that you
told me once he should always stay with me."
"He must have a mother who can look him in the face--remember that,
"You needn't remind me of that," she replied bitterly.
Lasse was awake when they arrived. "Eh, that's a genuine Karlsen!" he
said. "He takes after our family. Look now, Pelle, boy! He has the same
prominent ears, and he's got the lucky curl on his forehead too! He'll
make his way in the world! I must kiss his little hands--for the hands,
they are our blessing--the only possession we come into the world with.
They say the world will be lifted up by the hands of poor; I should like
to know whether that will be so! I should like to know whether the new
times will come soon now. It's a pity after all that I shan't live to
"You may very well be alive to see it yet, father," said Pelle, who on
the way had bought _The Working Man_, and was now eagerly reading
it. "They are going ahead in full force, and in the next few days the
fight will be over! Then we'll both settle down and be jolly together!"
"No, I shan't live to see that! Death has taken hold of me; he will soon
snatch me away. But if there's anything after it all, it would be fine
if I could sit up there and watch your good fortune coming true. You
have travelled the difficult way, Pelle--Lasse is not stupid! But
perhaps you'll he rewarded by a good position, if you take over the
leadership yourself now. But then you must see that you don't forget the
"That's a long way off yet, father! And then there won't be any more
"You say that so certainly, but poverty is not so easily dealt with--it
has eaten its way in too deep! Young Lasse will perhaps be a grown man
before that comes about. But now you must take the boy away, for it
isn't good that he should see how the old die. He looks so pale--does he
get out into the sun properly?"
"The rich have borrowed the sun--and they've forgotten to pay it back,"
said Pelle bitterly.
Lasse raised his head in the air, as though he were striving against
something. "Yes, yes! It needs good eyes to look into the future, and
mine won't serve me any longer. But now you must go and take the boy
with you. And you mustn't neglect your affairs, you can't outwit death,
however clever you may be." He laid his withered hand on Young Lasse's
head and turned his face to the wall.
Pelle got Madam Johnsen to take the boy home again, so that he himself
could remain with the old man. Their paths had of late years lain so
little together; they had forever been meeting and then leading far
apart. He felt the need of a lingering farewell. While he moved to and
fro, and lit a fire to warm up some food, and did what he could to make
Father Lasse comfortable, he listened to the old man's desultory speech
and let himself drift hack into the careless days of childhood. Like a
deep, tender murmur, like the voice of the earth itself, Lasse's
monotonous speech renewed his childhood; and as it continued, it became
the never-silent speech of the many concerning the conditions of life.
Now, in silence he turned again from the thousands to Father Lasse, and
saw how great a world this tender-hearted old man had supported. He had
always been old and worn-out so long as Pelle could remember. Labor so
soon robs the poor man of his youth and makes his age so long! But this
very frailty endowed him with a superhuman power--that of the father! He
had borne his poverty greatly, without becoming wicked or self-seeking
or narrow; his heart had always been full of the cheerfulness of
sacrifice, and full of tenderness; he had been strong even in his
impotence. Like the Heavenly Father Himself, he had encompassed Pelle's
whole existence with his warm affection, and it would be terrible indeed
when his kindly speech was no longer audible at the back of everything.
His departing soul hovered in ever-expanding circles over the way along
which he had travelled--like the doves when they migrate. Each time he
had recovered a little strength he took up the tale of his life anew.
"There has always been something to rejoice over, you know, but much of
it has been only an aimless struggle. In the days when I knew no better
I managed well enough; but from the moment when you were born my old
mind began to look to the future, and I couldn't feel at peace any more.
There was something about you that seemed like an omen, and since then
it has always stuck in my mind; and my intentions have been restless,
like the Jerusalem shoemaker's. It was as though something had suddenly
given me--poor louse!--the promise of a more beautiful life; and the
memory of that kept on running in my mind. Is it perhaps the longing for
Paradise, out of which they drove us once?--I used to think. If you'll
believe me, I, poor old blunderer as I am, have had splendid dreams of a
beautiful, care-free old age, when my son, with his wife and children,
would come and visit me in my own cozy room, where I could entertain
them a little with everything neat and tidy. I didn't give up hoping for
it even right at the end. I used to go about dreaming of a treasure
which I should find out on the refuse-heaps. Ah, I did so want to be
able to leave you something! I have been able to do so miserably little
"And you say that, who have been father and mother to me? During my
whole childhood you stood behind everything, protecting me; if anything
happened to me I always used to think; 'Father Lasse will soon set that
right!' And when I grew up I found in everything that I undertook that
you were helping me to raise myself. It would have gone but ill indeed
with everything if you hadn't given me such a good inheritance!"
"Do you say that?" cried Lasse proudly. "Shall I truly have done my
share in what you have done for the Cause of the poor? Ah, that sounds
good, in any case! No, but you have been my life, my boy, and I used to
wonder, poor weak man as I was, to see how great my strength was in you!
What I scarcely dared to think of even, you have had the power to do!
And now here I lie, and have not even the strength to die. You must
promise me that you won't burden yourself on my account with anything
that's beyond your ability--you must leave the matter to the poor-law
authorities. I've kept myself clear of them till now, but it was only my
stupid pride. The poor man and the poor-laws belong together after all.
I have learned lately to look at many things differently; and it is good
that I am dying--otherwise I should soon be alive and thinking but have
no power. If these ideas had come to me in the strength of my youth
perhaps I should have done something violent. I hadn't your prudence and
intelligence, to be able to carry eggs in a hop-sack...."
On the morning of the third day there was a change in Lasse, although it
was not easy to say where the alteration lay. Pelle sat at the bedside
reading the last issue of _The Working Man_, when he noticed that
Lasse was gazing at him. "Is there any news?" he asked faintly.
"The negotiations are proceeding," said Pelle, "but it is difficult to
agree upon a basis.... Several times everything has been on the point of
"It's dragging out such a long time," said Lasse dejectedly; "and I
shall die to-day, Pelle. There is something restless inside me, although
I should dearly like to rest a little. It is curious, how we wander
about trying to obtain something different to what we have! As a little
boy at home in Tommelilla I used to run round a well; I used to run like
one possessed, and I believed if I only ran properly I should be able to
catch my own heels! And now I've done it; for now there is always some
one in front of me, so that I can't go forward, and it's old Lasse
himself who is stopping the way! I am always thinking I must overtake
him, but I can't find my old views of the world again, they have altered
so. On the night when the big employers declared the lock-out I was
standing out there among the many thousands of other poor folks,
listening. They were toasting the resolution with champagne, and
cheering, and there my opinions were changed! It's strange how things
are in this world. Down in the granary cellar there lay a mason who had
built one of the finest palaces in the capital, and he hadn't even a
roof over his head."
A sharp line that had never been there before appeared round his mouth.
It became difficult for him to speak, but he could not stop. "Whatever
you do, never believe the clergy," he continued, when he had gathered a
little strength. "That has been my disadvantage--I began to think over
things too late. We mustn't grumble, they say, for one thing has
naturally grown out of another, big things out of little, and all
together depends on God's will. According to that our vermin must
finally become thorough-bred horse for the rich--and God knows I believe
that is possible! They have begun by sucking the blood of poverty--but
only see how they prance in front of the carriage! Ah, yes--how will the
new period take shape? What do you think about it?"
"It will be good for us all, father," replied Pelle, with anxiety in his
voice. "But it will be sad for me, because you will no longer have your
part in it all. But you shall have a fine resting-place, and I will give
you a great stone of Bornholm granite, with a beautiful inscription."
"You must put on the stone: 'Work to-day, eat to-morrow!'" replied Lasse
All day long he lay there in a half-sleep. But in the evening twilight
he raised his head. "Are those the angels I hear singing?" he whispered.
The ring had gone out of his voice.
"No, those are the little children of the factory women, their mothers
will be coming home directly to give them the breast; then they'll
Lasse sighed. "That will be poor food if they have to work all day. They
say the rich folks drink wine at twelve and fifteen kroner a bottle;
that sounds as if they take the milk away from the little children and
turn it into costly liquors."
He lay there whispering; Pelle had to bend his head till it was almost
against his mouth. "Hand in hand we've wandered hither, lad, yet each
has gone his own way. You are going the way of youth, and Lasse--but you
have given me much joy."
Then the loving spirit, which for Pelle had burned always clear and
untroubled amid all vicissitudes, was extinguished. It was as though
Providence had turned its face from him; life collapsed and sank into
space, and he found himself sitting on a chair--alone. All night long he
sat there motionless beside the body, staring with vacant eyes into the
incomprehensible, while his thoughts whispered sadly to the dead of all
that he had been. He did not move, but himself sat like a dead man,
until Madam Johnsen came in the morning to ask how matters were
Then he awoke and went out, in order to make such arrangements as were
On Saturday, at noon, it was reported that the treaty of peace was
signed, and that the great strike was over. The rumor spread through the
capital with incredible speed, finding its way everywhere. "Have you
heard yet? Have you heard yet? Peace is concluded!" The poor were busy
again; they lay huddled together no longer, but came out into the light
of day, their lean faces full of sunlight. The women got out their
baskets and sent the children running to make a few purchases for
Sunday--for now the grocer would give them a little credit! People
smiled and chattered and borrowed a little happiness! Summer had come,
and a monstrous accumulation of work was waiting to be done, and at last
they were going to set to work in real earnest! The news was shouted
from one back door to the next; people threw down what they had in their
hands and ran on with the news. It occurred to no one to stand still and
to doubt; they were only too willing to believe!
Later in the afternoon _The Working Man_ issued a board-sheet
confirming the rumor. Yes, it was really true! And it was a victory; the
right of combination was recognized, and Capital had been taught to
respect the workers as a political factor. It would no longer be
possible to oppress them. And in other respects the _status quo_
"Just think--they've been taught to respect us, and they couldn't refuse
to accept the _status quo!_" And they laughed all over their faces
with joy to think that it was confirmed, although no one knew what it
The men were in the streets; they were flocking to their organizations,
in order to receive orders and to learn the details of the victory. One
would hardly have supposed from their appearance that the victory was
theirs; they had become so accustomed to gloom that it was difficult to
shake it off.
There was a sound of chattering in backyards and on staircases. Work was
to be resumed--beautiful, glorious labor, that meant food and drink and
a little clothing for the body! Yes, and domestic security! No more
chewing the cud over an empty manger; now one could once more throw
one's money about a little, and then, by skimping and saving, with tears
and hardship, make it suffice! To-night father would have something
really good with his bread and butter, and to-morrow, perhaps, they
could go out into the forest with the picnic-basket! Or at all events,
as soon as they had got their best clothes back from the pawn-shop! They
must have a bit of an airing before the winter came, and they had to go
back into pawn! They were so overjoyed at the mere thought of peace that
they quite forgot, for the moment, to demand anything new!
Pelle had taken part in the concluding negotiations; after Father
Lasse's burial he was himself again. Toward evening he was roaming about
the poor quarter of the city, rejoicing in the mood of the people; he
had played such an important part in the bitter struggle of the poor
that he felt the need to share their joy as well. From the North Bridge
he went by way of the Lakes to West Bridge; and everywhere swarms of
people were afoot. In the side-streets by West Bridge all the families
had emerged from their dwellings and established themselves on the front
steps and the pavements; there they sat, bare-headed in the twilight,
gossiping, smoking, and absorbing refreshments. It was the first warm
evening; the sky was a deep blue, and at the end of the street the
darkness was flooded with purple. There was something extravagant about
them all; joy urged their movements to exceed the narrow every-day
limits, and made them stammer and stagger as though slightly
Now they could all make their appearance again, all those families that
had hidden themselves during the time of want; they were just as ragged,
but that was of no consequence now! They were beaming with proud delight
to think that they had come through the conflict without turning to any
one for help; and the battles fought out in the darkness were forgotten.
Pelle had reached the open ground by the Gasworks Harbor; he wanted to
go over to see his old friends in the "Ark." Yonder it lay, lifting its
glowing mass into the deep night of the eastern sky. The red of the
sinking sun fell over it. High overhead, above the crater of the mass,
hung a cloud of vapor, like a shadow on the evening sky. Pelle, as he
wandered, had been gazing at this streak of shadow; it was the dense
exhalation of all the creatures in the heart of the mass below, the reek
of rotting material and inferior fuel. Now, among other consequences of
victory, there would be a thorough cleansing of the dens of poverty. A
dream floated before him, of comfortable little dwellings for the
workers, each with its little garden and its well-weeded paths. It would
repay a man then to go home after the day's fatigue!
It seemed to him that the streak of smoke yonder was growing denser and
denser. Or were his eyes merely exaggerating that which was occupying
his thoughts? He stood still, gazing--then he began to run. A red light
was striking upward against the cloud of smoke--touched a moment, and
disappeared; and a fresh mass of smoke unrolled itself, and hung
brooding heavily overhead.
Pelle rushed across the Staple Square, and over the long bridge. Only
too well did he know the terrible bulk of the "Ark"--and there was no
other exit than the tunnel! And the timber-work, which provided the sole
access to the upper stories! As he ran he could see it all clearly
before his eyes, and his mind began to search for means of rescue. The
fire brigade was of course given the alarm at once, but it would take
time to get the engines here, and it was all a matter of minutes! If the
timber staging fell and the tunnel were choked all the inmates would be
lost--and the "Ark" did not possess a single emergency-ladder!
Outside, in front of the "Ark," was a restless crowd of people, all
shouting together. "Here comes Pelle!" cried some one. At once they were
all silent, and turned their faces toward him. "Fetch the fire-escape
from the prison!" he shouted to some of the men in passing, and ran to
From the long corridors on the ground floor the inmates were rushing out
with their little children in their arms. Some were dragging valueless
possessions--the first things they could lay hands on. All that was left
of the timber-work after the wreckage of the terrible winter was now
brightly blazing. Pelle tried to run up the burning stairs, but fell
through. The inmates were hanging half out of their windows, staring
down with eyes full of madness; every moment they ran out onto the
platforms in an effort to get down, but always ran shrieking back.
At her third-story window Widow Johnsen stood wailing, with her
grandchild and the factory-girl's little Paul in her arms. Hanne's
little daughter stared silently out of the window, with the deep,
wondering gaze of her mother. "Don't be afraid," Pelle shouted to the
old woman; "we are coming to help you now!" When little Paul caught
sight of Pelle he wrenched himself away from Madam Johnsen and ran out
onto the gallery. He jumped right down, lay for a moment on the
flagstones, turned round and round, quite confused, and then, like a
flash of lightning, he rushed by Pelle and out into the street.
Pelle sent a few of the men into the long corridor, to see whether all
were out. "Break in the closed doors," he said; "there may possibly be
children or sick people inside." The inmates of the first and second
stories had saved themselves before the fire had got a hold on the
Pelle himself ran up the main staircase up to the lofts and under the
roof, in order to go to the assistance of the inmates of the
outbuildings over the attics. But he was met by the inmates of the long
roof-walk. "You can't get through any longer," said the old rag-picker;
"Pipman's whole garret is burning, and there are no more up here. God in
heaven have mercy on the poor souls over there!"
In spite of this, Pelle tried to find a way over the attics, but was
forced to turn back.
The men had fetched the fire-escape, and had with difficulty brought it
through the entry and had set it up! The burning timbers were beginning
to fall; fragments of burning woodwork lay all around, and at any moment
the whole building might collapse with a crash. But there was no time to
think of one's self. The smoke was rolling out of Vinslev's corridor and
filling the yard. There was need of haste.
"Of course, it was the lunatic who started the fire," said the men, as
they held the ladder.
It reached only to the second story, but Pelle threw a rope up to Madam
Johnsen, and she fastened it to the window-frame, so that he was able to
clamber up. With the rope he lowered first the child and then the old
woman to his comrades below, who were standing on the ladder to receive
them. The smoke was smarting in his eyes and throat, and all but stifled
him; he could see nothing, but he heard a horrible shrieking all about
Just above him a woman was wailing. "Oh, Pelle, help me!" she whimpered,
half choking. It was the timid seamstress, who had moved thither; he
recognized her emotional voice. "She loves me!" suddenly flashed upon
"Catch the rope and fasten it well to the window-frame, and I'll come up
and help you!" he said, and he swung the end of the rope up toward the
fourth story. But at the same moment a wild shriek rang out. A dark mass
flew past his head and struck the flagstones with a dull thud. The
flames darted hissing from the window, as though to reach after her, and
then drew back.
For a moment he hung stupefied over the window-sill. This was too
horrible. Was it not her gentle voice that he now heard singing with
him? And then the timbers fell with a long cracking sound, and a cloud
of hot ashes rose in the air and filled the lungs as with fire. "Come
down!" cried his comrades, "the ladder is burning!"
A deafening, long-drawn ringing told him that the fire-brigade was near
But in the midst of all the uproar Pelle's ears had heard a faint,
intermittent sound. With one leap he was in Madam Johnsen's room; he
stood there listening; the crying of a child reached him from the other
side of the wall, where the rooms opened on to the inner corridor. It
was horrible to hear it and to stand there and be able to do nothing. A
wall lay between, and there was no thoroughfare on the other side. In
the court below they were shouting his name. Devil take them, he would
come when he was ready. There he stood, obstinate and apathetic, held
there by that complaining, childish voice. A blind fury arose in him;
sullenly he set his shoulder against that accursed wall, and prepared
himself for the shock. But the wall was giving! Yet again he charged it
--a terrible blow--and part of the barrier was down!
He was met by a rush of stifling heat and smoke; he had to hold his
breath and cover his face with his hands as he pressed forward. A little
child lay there in a cradle. He stumbled over to it and groped his way
back to the wall. The fire, now that it had access to the air, suddenly
leaped at him with an explosive force that made him stagger. He felt as
though a thirsty bull had licked his cheek. It bellowed at his heels
with a voice of thunder, but was silent when he slammed the door. Half
choking he found his way to the window and tried to shout to those
below, but he had no voice left; only a hoarse whisper came from his
Well, there he stood, with a child in his arms, and he was going to die!
But that didn't matter--he had got through the wall! Behind him the fire
was pressing forward; it had eaten a small hole through the door, and
had thus created the necessary draught. The hole grew larger; sparks
rose as under a pair of bellows, and a dry, burning heat blew through
the opening. Small, almost imperceptible flames were dancing over the
polished surface; very soon the whole door would burst into a blaze. His
clothes smelt of singeing; his hands were curiously dry like decaying
wood, and he felt as if the hair at the back of his head was curling.
And down below they were shouting his name. But all that was of no
consequence; only his head was so heavy with the smoke and heat! He felt
that he was on the point of falling. Was the child still alive? he
wondered. But he dared not look to see; he had spread his jacket over
its face in order to protect it.
He clutched the window-frame, and directed his dying thoughts toward
Ellen and the children. Why was he not with them? What nonsense had it
been that induced him to leave them? He could no longer recollect; but
if it had not been all up with him now he would have hurried home to
them, to play with Young Lasse. But now he must die; in a moment he
would fall, suffocated--even before the flames could reach him.
There was some slight satisfaction in that--it was as though he had
played a trick on some one.
Suddenly something shot up before his dying gaze and called him back. It
was the end of a fire-escape, and a fireman rose out of the smoke just
in front of him, seized the child, and handed it down. Pelle stood there
wrestling with the idea that he must move from where he was; but before
it had passed through his mind a fireman had seized him by the scruff of
his neck and had run down the ladder with him.
The fresh air aroused him. He sprang up from the stretcher on which the
fireman had laid him and looked excitedly about him. At the same moment
the people began quite senselessly to shout his name and to clap their
hands, and Madam Johnsen pushed her way through the barrier and threw
herself upon him. "Pelle!" she cried, weeping; "oh, you are alive,
"Yes, of course I'm alive--but that's nothing to cry about."
"No, but we thought you were caught in there. But how you look, you poor
boy!" She took him with her to a working-man's home, and helped him to
set himself to rights. When he had once seen a looking-glass he
understood! He was unrecognizable, what with smoke and ashes, which had
burnt themselves into his skin and would not come off. And under the
grime there was a bad burn on one of his cheeks. He went to one of the
firemen and had a plaster applied.
"You really want a pair of eyebrows too," said the fireman. "You've been
properly in the fire, haven't you?"
"Why did the fire-engines take so long?" asked Pelle.
"Long? They were ten minutes getting here after the alarm was given. We
got the alarm at eight, and now it's half-past."
Pelle was silent; he was quite taken aback; he felt as though the whole
night must have gone by, so much had happened. Half an hour--and in that
time he had helped to snatch several people out of the claws of death
and had seen others fall into them. And he himself was singed by the
close passage of death! The knowledge was lurking somewhere at the back
of his mind, an accomplished but elusive fact; when he clenched his fist
cracks appeared in the skin, and his clothes smelt like burnt horn. In
the court the firemen were working unceasingly.
Some, from the tops of their ladders in the court, were pouring streams
of water upon the flames; others were forcing their way into the body of
the building and searching the rooms; and from time to time a fireman
made his appearance carrying a charred body. Then the inmates of the
"Ark" were called inside the barrier in order to identify the body. They
hurried weeping through the crowd, seeking one another; it was
impossible for the police to assemble them or to ascertain how many had
failed to escape.
Suddenly all eyes were directed toward the roof of the front portion of
the building, where the fire had not as yet entirely prevailed. There
stood the crazy Vinslev, playing on his flute; and when the cracking of
the fire was muffled for a moment one could hear his crazy music
"Listen! Listen! He is playing the march!" they cried. Yes, he was
playing the march, but it was interwoven with his own fantasies, so that
the well-known melody sounded quite insane on Vinslev's flute.
The firemen erected a ladder and ran up to the roof in order to save
him, but he fled before them. When he could go no farther he leaped into
the sea of flame.
The market-place and the banks of the canal were thick with people;
shoulder to shoulder they stood there, gazing at the voluptuous
spectacle of the burning "Ark." The grime and poverty and the reek of
centuries were going up in flames. How it rustled and blazed and
crackled! The crowd was in the best of spirits owing to the victory of
Labor; no one had been much inclined to sleep that night; and here was a
truly remarkable display of fireworks, a magnificent illumination in
honor of the victory of the poor! There were admiring cries of "Ah!"
people hissed in imitation of the sound of rockets and clapped their
hands when the flames leaped up or a roof crashed in.
Pelle moved about in the crowd, collecting the bewildered inmates of the
"Ark" by the gates of the prison, so that those who had relatives could
find them. They were weeping, and it was difficult to console them.
Alas, now the "Ark" was burnt, the beloved place of refuge for so many
ruined souls! "How can you take it to heart so?" said Pelle consolingly.
"You will be lodged overnight by the city, and afterward you will move
into proper dwelling-houses, where everything is clean and new. And you
needn't cry over your possessions, I'll soon get up a collection, and
you'll have better things than you had before."
Nevertheless they wept; like homeless wild beasts they whimpered and
rambled restlessly to and fro, seeking for they knew not what. Their
forest fastness, their glorious hiding-place, was burning! What was all
the rest of the city to them? It was not for them; it was as though
there was no place of refuge left for them in all the world! Every
moment a few of them slipped away, seeking again to enter the site of
the fire, like horses that seek to return to the burning stable. Pelle
might have spared his efforts at consolation; they were races apart, a
different species of humanity. In the dark, impenetrable entrails of the
"Ark" they had made for themselves a world of poverty and extremest
want; and they had been as fantastically gay in their careless existence
as though their world had been one of wealth and fortune. And now it was
all going up in flame!
The fire was unsparing; its purifying flames could not be withstood. The
flames tore off great sheets of the old wallpapers and flung them out
half-burned into the street. There were many layers pasted together,
many colors and patterns, one dimly showing through another, making the
most curious and fantastic pictures. And on the reverse side of these
sheets was a layer as of coagulated blood; this was the charred remnant
of the mysterious world of cupboards and chimney-corners, the fauna of
the fireplace, that had filled the children's sleep with dreams, and in
the little mussel-shaped bodies was contained the concentrated
exhalation of the poor man's night! And now the "Ark" must have been hot
right through to the ground, for the rats were beginning to leave. They
came in long, winding files from the entry, and up out of the cellars of
the old iron merchant and the old clothes dealer, headed by the old,
scabby males which used to visit the dustbins in the middle of the day.
The onlookers cheered and drove them back again.
About ten o'clock the fire was visibly decreasing and the work of
clearance could begin. The crowd scattered, a little disappointed that
all was over so soon. The "Ark" was an extinct bonfire! There could not
have been a sackful of sound firewood in all that heap of lumber!
Pelle took Madam Johnsen and her little grand-daughter to his lodgings
with him. The old woman had been complaining all the time; she was
afraid of being given over to the public authorities. But when she heard
that she was to go with Pelle she was reassured.
On the High Bridge they met the first dust-carts on their way outward.
They were decked out with green garlands and little national flags.
The next day broke with a lofty, radiant Sabbath sky. There was
something about it that reminded one of Easter--Easter morning, with its
hymns and the pure winds of resurrection. _The Working Man_ rung in
the day with a long and serious leading article--a greeting to the rosy
dawn--and invited the working-classes to attend a giant assembly on the
Common during the afternoon. All through the forenoon great industry
prevailed--wardrobes had to be overhauled, provision-baskets packed, and
liquid refreshment provided. There was much running across landings and
up and down stairs, much lending and borrowing. This was to be not
merely a feast of victory; it was also intended as a demonstration--that
was quite clear. The world should see how well they were still holding
together after all these weeks of the lock-out! They were to appear in
full strength, and they must look their best.
In the afternoon the people streamed from all sides toward the Labor
Building; it looked as though the whole city was flocking thither. In
the big court-yard, and all along the wide street as far as High Street,
the trades unions were gathered about their banners. The great review
had all been planned beforehand, and all went as by clockwork by those
who were accustomed to handling great masses of men; there was no
running from side to side; every one found his place with ease. Pelle
and Stolpe, who had devised the programme, went along the ranks setting
all to rights.
With the men there were no difficulties; but the women and children had
of course misunderstood their instructions. They should have gone direct
to the Common, but had turned up here with all their impedimenta. They
stood crowding together on both the side-walks; and when the procession
got under way they broke up and attached themselves to its sides. They
had fought through the campaign, and their place was beside their
husbands and fathers! It was a bannered procession with a double escort
of women and children! Had the like ever been seen?
No, the city had never seen such a going forth of the people! Like a
giant serpent the procession unrolled itself; when its head was at the
end of the street the greater part of its body was still coiled
together. But what was the matter in front there? The head of the
procession was turning toward the wrong side--toward the city, instead
of taking the direct way to the Common, as the police had ordered! That
wouldn't do! That would lead to a collision with the police! Make haste
and get Pelle to turn the stream before a catastrophe occurs!--Pelle?
But there he is, right in front! He himself has made a mistake as to the
direction! Ah, well, then, there is nothing to be said about it. But
what in the world was he thinking of?
Pelle marches in the front rank beside the standard-bearer. He sees and
hears nothing, but his luminous gaze sweeps over the heads of the crowd.
His skin is still blackened by the smoke of the fire; it is peeling off
his hands; his hair and moustache seem to have been cropped very
strangely; and the skin is drawn round the burn on his cheek. He is
conscious of one thing only: the rhythmic tread of fifty thousand men!
As a child he has known it in dreams, heard it like a surging out of
doors when he laid his head upon his pillow. This is the great
procession of the Chosen People, and he is leading them into the
Promised Land! And where should their road lie if not through the
At the North Wall the mounted police are drawn up, closing the inner
city. They are drawn up diagonally across the thoroughfare, and were
backing their horses into the procession, in order to force it to turn
aside. But they were swept aside, and the stream flowed on; nothing can
It passes down the street with difficulty, like a viscous mass that
makes its way but slowly, yet cannot be held back. It is full of a
peaceful might. Who would venture to hew a way into it? The police are
following it like watchful dogs, and on the side-walks the people stand
pressed against the houses; they greet the procession or scoff at it,
according as they are friends or foes. Upstairs, behind the big windows,
are gaily clad ladies and gentlemen, quizzing the procession with half-
scornful, half-uneasy smiles. What weird, hungry, unkempt world is this
that has suddenly risen up from obscurity to take possession of the
highway? And behind their transparent lace curtains the manufacturers
gaze and grumble. What novel kind of demonstration is this? The people
have been forgiven, and instead of going quietly back to their work they
begin to parade the city as though to show how many they are--yes, and
how thin starvation has made them!
It is a curious procession in every way. If they wanted to demonstrate
how roughly they have been handled, they could not have done better!
They all bear the marks of battle--they are pale and sallow and ill-
clad; their Sunday best hangs in the great common wardrobe still; what
they wear to-day is patched and mended. Hunger has refined their
features; they are more like a procession of ghosts who have shaken off
the heavy bonds of earth and are ready to take possession of the world
of the spirit, than people who hope to conquer the Promised Land for
themselves and posterity. Such a procession of conquerors! They are all
limping! A flock with broken wings, that none the less are seeking to
fly. And whither are they going?
One of their choirs breaks into song: "We are bound for the Land of
And where does that land lie? has any of your watchers seen it? Or was
it not merely a deceitful dream, engendered by hunger? Eat enough,
really enough, for once, good people, and then let us talk together!
What is it yonder? The emptiness that gave birth to you and even yet
surges crazily in your starving blood? Or the land of the living? Is
this then the beginning of a new world for you? Or is the curse eternal
that brings you into the world to be slaves?
There is a peculiar, confident rhythm in their tread which drowns all
other sounds, and seems to say, "We are the masters, poor as we look to
the eye! We have used four million kroner in waging the war, and twenty
millions have been wasted because they brought the work of our hands to
a standstill! We come from the darkness, and we go toward the light, and
no one can hold us back! Behind us lie hunger and poverty, ignorance and
slavery, and before us lies a happy existence, radiant with the rising
sun of Freedom! From this day onward a new age begins; we are its
youthful might, and we demand power for ten thousand families! The few
have long enough prevailed!"
Imperturbably they march onward, despite the wounds that must yet be
smarting; for see, they limp! Why should they still doubt?
Listen, they are singing! Hoarsely the sound emerges from ten thousand
throats, as though the song had grown rusty, or must first tear itself
free. A new instrument this, that has not yet been tuned by the master--
its first notes are discords! But the song runs to and fro along the
procession in rhythmical waves, it is an army on the march, and their
eyes kindle and blaze with the growing sense of their power, the
consciousness that they are the many! And the sound grows mighty, a
storm that rolls above the housetops, "Brother, soon will dawn the day!"
Touch not the humblest of them now! A vast, intoxicating power has
descended upon them; each one has grown beyond himself, and believes
himself capable of performing miracles. There are no loose particles;
the whole is a mighty avalanche. Touch but one of them and the might of
the mass will pour into him. He will be oblivious of consequences, but
will behave as though urged by destiny--as though the vast being of
which he forms a part will assume all responsibility, and constitutes
It is intoxicating to walk in the ranks, to be permitted to bear the
Union banners; even to look on fills one with strength and joy. Mothers
and children accompany the men, although they have for the most part to
walk in the gutters. It is great sport to fall out and watch the whole
mighty procession go by, and then, by taking a short cut, again to
station one's self at the head. Stand at a street-corner, and it will
take hours for the whole to pass you. _Trapp, trapp! Trapp, trapp!_
It gets into one's blood, and remains there, like an eternal rhythm.
One Union passes and another comes up; the machinists, with the sturdy
Munck at their head, as standard-bearer, the same who struck the three
blows of doom that summoned five and forty thousand men to the battle
for the right of combination! Hurrah for Munck! Here are the house-
painters, the printers, the glove-makers, the tinsmiths, the cork-
cutters, the leather-dressers, and a group of seamen with bandy legs. At
the head of these last marches Howling Peter, the giant transfigured!
The copper-smiths, the coal-miners, the carpenters, the journeymen
bakers, and the coach-builders! A queer sort of procession this! But
here are the girdlers and there the plasterers, the stucco-workers, and
the goldsmiths, and even the sand-blasters are here! The tailors and the
shoemakers are easy to recognize. And there, God bless me, are the
slipper-makers, close at their heels; they wouldn't be left in the cold!
The gilders, the tanners, the weavers, and the tobacco-workers! The
file-cutters, the bricklayers'-laborers, the pattern-makers, the
coopers, the book-binders, the joiners and shipbuilders! What, is there
no end to them? Hi, make way for the journeymen glaziers! Yes, you may
well smile--they are all their own masters! And here come the
gasworkers, and the water-company's men, and the cabinet-makers, who
turn in their toes like the blacksmiths, and march just in front of
them, as though these had anything to learn from them! Those are the
skilful ivory-turners, and those the brush-makers; spectacled these, and
with brushes growing out of their noses--that is, when they are old.
Well, so it is all over at last! The tail consists of a swarm of
But no--these are the milk-boys, these young vagabonds! And behind them
come the factory-girls and behind them it all begins again--the
pianoforte-makers, the millers, the saddlers, and the paper-hangers--
banners as far as one can see! How big and how gay the world is, after
all! How many callings men pursue, so that work shall never fail them!
Ah, here are the masons, with all the old veterans at their head--those
have been in the movement since the beginning! Look, how steady on his
leg is old Stolpe! And the slaters, with the Vanishing Man at their
head--they look as if they don't much care about walking on the level
earth! And here are the sawyers, and the brewers, and the chair-makers!
Year by year their wages have been beaten down so that at the beginning
of the struggle they were earning only half as much as ten years ago;
but see how cheerful they look! Now there will be food in the larder
once more. Those faded-looking women there are weavers; they have no
banner; eight ore the hour won't run to flags. And finally a handful of
newspaper-women from _The Working Man_. God how weary they look!
Their legs are like lead from going up and down so many stairs. Each has
a bundle of papers under her arm, as a sign of her calling.
_Trapp, trapp, trapp, trapp!_ On they go, with a slow, deliberate
step. Whither? Where Pelle wills. "_Brother, soon will dawn the
day!_" One hears the song over and over again; when one division has
finished it the next takes it up. The side-streets are spewing their
contents out upon the procession; shrunken creatures that against their
will were singed in the struggle, and cannot recover their feet again.
But they follow the procession with big eyes and break into fanatical
A young fellow stands on the side-walk yonder; he has hidden himself
behind some women, and is stretching his neck to see. For his own Union
is coming now, to which he was faithless in the conflict. Remorse has
brought him hither. But the rhythm of the marching feet carries him
away, so that he forgets all and marches off beside them. He imagines
himself in the ranks, singing and proud of the victory. And suddenly
some of his comrades seize him and drag him into the ranks; they lift
him up and march away with him. A trophy, a trophy! A pity he can't be
stuck on a pole and carried high overhead!
Pelle is still at the head of the procession, at the side of the sturdy
Munck. His aspect is quiet and smiling, but inwardly he is full of
unruly energy; never before has he felt so strong! On the side-walks the
police keep step with him, silent and fateful. He leads the procession
diagonally across the King's New Market, and suddenly a shiver runs
through the whole; he is going to make a demonstration in front of
Schloss Amalienborg! No one has thought of that! Only the police are too
clever for them the streets leading to the castle are held by troops.
Gradually the procession widens out until it fills the entire market-
place. A hundred and fifty trades unions, each with its waving standard!
A tremendous spectacle! Every banner has its motto or device. Red is the
color of all those banners which wave above the societies which were
established in the days of Socialism, and among them are many national
flags--blue, red, and white--the standards of the old guilds and
corporations. Those belong to ancient societies which have gradually
joined the movement. Over all waves the standard of the millers, which
is some hundreds of years old! It displays a curious-looking scrawl
which is the monogram of the first absolute king!
But the real standard is not here, the red banner of the International,
which led the movement through the first troubled years. The old men
would speedily recognize it, and the young men too, they have heard so
many legends attaching to it. If it still exists it is well hidden; it
would have too great an effect on the authorities--would be like a red
rag to a bull.
And as they stand staring it suddenly rises in the air--slashed and
tattered, imperishable as to color. Pelle stands on the box of a
carriage, solemnly raising it in the air. For a moment they are taken by
surprise; then they begin to shout, until the shouts grow to a tempest
of sound. They are greeting the flag of brotherhood, the blood-red sign
of the International--and Pelle, too, who is raising it in his blistered
hands--Pelle, the good comrade, who saved the child from the fire;
Pelle, who has led the movement cause to victory!
And Pelle stands there laughing at them frankly, like a great child.
This would have been the place to give them all a few words, but he has
not yet recovered his mighty voice. So he waves it round over them with
a slow movement as though he were administering an oath to them all. And
he is very silent. This is an old dream of his, and at last it has come
The police are pushing into the crowd in squads, but the banner has
disappeared; Munck is standing with an empty stave in his hands, and is
on the point of fixing his Union banner on it.
"You must take care to get these people away from here, or we shall hold
you responsible for the consequences," says the Police inspector, with a
look that promises mischief. Pelle looks in the face. "He'd like to
throw me into prison, if only he had the courage," he thought, and then
he sets the procession in motion again.
* * * * *
Out on the Common the great gathering of people rocked to and fro, in
restless confusion. From beyond its confines it looked like a dark,
raging sea. About each of the numerous speakers' platforms stood a
densely packed crowd, listening to the leaders who were demonstrating
the great significance of the day. But the majority did not feel
inclined to-day to stand in a crowd about a platform. They felt a
longing to surrender themselves to careless enjoyment, after all the
hardships they had endured; to stand on their heads in the grass, to
play the clown for a moment. Group upon group lay all over the great
Common, eating and playing. The men had thrown off their coats and were
wrestling with one another, or trying to revive the gymnastic exercises
of their boyhood. They laughed more than they spoke; if any one
introduced a serious subject it was immediately suppressed with a
punning remark. Nobody was serious to-day!
Pelle moved slowly about, delighting in the crowd, while keeping a look-
out for Madam Johnsen and the child, who were to have met him out here.
Inwardly, at the back of everything, he was in a serious mood, and was
therefore quiet. It must be fine to lie on one's belly here, in the
midst of one's own family circle, eating hard-boiled eggs and bread-and-
butter--or to go running about with Young Lasse on his shoulders! But
what did it profit a man to put his trust in anything? He could not
begin over again with Ellen; the impossible stood between them. To drive
Young Lasse out of his thoughts--that would be the hardest thing of all;
he must see if he could not get him away from Ellen in a friendly
manner. As for applying to the law in order to get him back, that he
would not do.
The entire Stolpe family was lying in a big circle, enjoying a meal; the
sons were there with their wives and children; only Pelle and his family
"Come and set to!" said Stolpe, "or you'll be making too long a day of
"Yes," cried Madam Stolpe, "it is such a time since we've been together.
No need for us to suffer because you and Ellen can't agree!" She did not
know the reason of the breach--at all events, not from him--but was none
the less friendly toward him.
"I am really looking for my own basket of food," said Pelle, lying down
"Now look here, you are the deuce of a fellow," said Stolpe, suddenly
laughing. "You intended beforehand to look in and say how-d'ye-do to
Brother Christian, [Footnote: The king was so called.] hey? It wasn't
very wise of you, really--but that's all one to me. But what you have
done to-day no one else could do. The whole thing went like a dance! Not
a sign of wobbling in the ranks! You know, I expect, that they mean to
put you at the head of the Central Committee? Then you will have an
opportunity of working at your wonderful ideas of a world-federation.
But there'll be enough to do at home here without that; at the next
election we must win the city--and part of the country too. You'll let
them put you up?"
"If I recover my voice. I can't speak loudly at present."
"Try the raw yolk of an egg every night," said Madam Stolpe, much
concerned, "and tie your left-hand stocking round your throat when you
go to bed; that is a good way. But it must be the left-hand stocking."
"Mother is a Red, you know," said Stolpe. "If I go the right-hand side
of her she doesn't recognize me!"
The sun must have set--it was already beginning to grow dark. Black
clouds were rising in the west. Pelle felt remorseful that he had not
yet found the old woman and her grandchild, so he took his leave of the
He moved about, looking for the two; wherever he went the people greeted
him, and there was a light in their eyes. He noticed that a policeman
was following him at some little distance; he was one of the secret
hangers-on of the party; possibly he had something to communicate to
him. So Pelle lay down in the grass, a little apart from the crowd, and
the policeman stood still and gazed cautiously about him. Then he came
up to Pelle. When he was near he bent down as though picking something
up. "They are after you," he said, under his breath; "this afternoon
there was a search made at your place, and you'll be arrested, as soon
as you leave here." Then he moved on.
Pelle lay there some minutes before he could understand the matter. A
search-but what was there at his house that every one might not know of?
Suddenly he thought of the wood block and the tracing of the ten-kroner
note. They had sought for some means of striking at him and they had
found the materials of a hobby!
He rose heavily and walked away from the crowd. On the East Common he
stood still and gazed back hesitatingly at this restless sea of
humanity, which was now beginning to break up, and would presently melt
away into the darkness. Now the victory was won and they were about to
take possession of the Promised Land--and he must go to prison, for a
fancy begotten of hunger! He had issued no false money, nor had he ever
had any intention of doing so. But of what avail was that? He was to be
arrested--he had read as much in the eyes of the police-inspector. Penal
servitude--or at best a term in prison!
He felt that he must postpone the decisive moment while he composed his
mind. So he went back to the city by way of the East Bridge. He kept to
the side-streets, in order not to be seen, and made his way toward St.
Saviour's churchyard; the police were mostly on the Common.
For a moment the shipping in the harbor made him think of escape. But
whither should he flee? And to wander about abroad as an outlaw, when
his task and his fate lay here could he do it? No, he must accept his
The churchyard was closed; he had to climb over the wall in order to get
in. Some one had put fresh flowers on Father Lasse's grave. Maria, he
thought. Yes, it must have been she! It was good to be here; he no
longer felt so terribly forsaken. It was as though Father Lasse's
untiring care still hovered protectingly about him.
But he must move on. The arrest weighed upon his mind and made him
restless. He wandered through the city, keeping continually to the
narrow side-streets, where the darkness concealed him. This was the
field of battle--how restful it was now! Thank God, it was not they who
condemned him! And now happiness lay before them--but for him!
Cautiously he drew near his lodging--two policemen in plain clothes were
patrolling to and fro before the house. After that he drew back again
into the narrow side-streets. He drifted about aimlessly, fighting
against the implacable, and at last resigning himself.
He would have liked to see Ellen--to have spoken kindly to her, and to
have kissed the children. But there was a watch on his home too--at
every point he was driven back into the solitude to which he was a
stranger. That was the dreadful part of it all. How was he going to live
alone with himself, he who only breathed when in the company of others?
Ellen was still his very life, however violently he might deny it. Her
questioning eyes still gazed at him enigmatically, from whatever corner
of existence he might approach. He had a strong feeling now that she had
held herself ready all this time--that she had sat waiting for him,
expecting him. How would she accept this?
From Castle Street he saw a light in Morten's room. He slipped into the
yard and up the stairs. Morten was reading.
"It's something quite new to see you--fireman!" he said, with a kindly
"I have come to say good-bye," said Pelle lightly.
Morten looked at him wonderingly. "Are you going to travel?"
"Yes ... I--I wanted...." he said, and sat down.
He gazed on the floor in front of his feet. "What would you do if the
authorities were sneaking after you?" he asked suddenly. Morten stared
at him for a time. Then he opened a drawer and took out a revolver. "I
wouldn't let them lay hands on me," he said blackly. "But why do you ask
"Oh, nothing.... Will you do me a favor, Morten? I have promised to take
up a collection for those poor creatures from the 'Ark,' but I've no
time for it now. They have lost all their belongings in the fire. Will
you see to the matter?"
"Willingly. Only I don't understand----"
"Why, I have got to go away for a time," said Pelle, with a grim laugh.
"I have always wanted to travel, as you know. Now there's an
"Good luck, then!" said Morten, looking at him curiously as he pressed
his hand. How much he had guessed Pelle did not know. There was Bornholm
blood in Morten's veins; he was not one to meddle in another's affairs.
And then he was in the streets again. No, Morten's way out was of no use
to him--and now he would give in, and surrender himself to the
authorities! He was in the High Street now; he had no purpose in hiding
himself any longer.
In North Street he saw a figure dealing with a shop-door in a very
suspicious manner; as Pelle came up it flattened itself against the
door. Pelle stood still on the pavement; the man, too, was motionless
for a while, pressing himself back into the shadow; then, with an angry
growl, he sprang out, in order to strike Pelle to the ground.
At that very moment the two men recognized one another. The stranger was
"What, are you still at liberty?" he cried, in amazement. "I thought
they had taken you!"
"How did you know that?" asked Pelle.
"Ach, one knows these things--it's part of one's business. You'll get
five to six years, Pelle, till you are stiff with it. Prison, of course
--not penal servitude."
"You'll freeze in there," said Ferdinand compassionately. "As for me, I
can settle down very well in there. But listen, Pelle--you've been so
good, and you've tried to save me--next to mother you are the only
person I care anything about. If you would like to go abroad I can soon
hide you and find the passage-money."
"Where will you get it?" asked Pelle, hesitating.
"Ach, I go in for the community of goods," said Ferdinand with a broad
smile. "The prefect of police himself has just five hundred kroner lying
in his desk. I'll try to get it for you if you like."
"No," said Pelle slowly, "I would rather undergo my punishment. But
thanks for your kind intentions--and give my best wishes to your old
mother. And if you ever have anything to spare, then give it to Widow
Johnsen. She and the child have gone hungry since Hanne's death."
And then there was nothing more to do or say; it was all over.... He
went straight across the market-place toward the court-house. There it
stood, looking so dismal! He strolled slowly past it, along the canal,
in order to collect himself a little before going in. He walked along
the quay, gazing down into the water, where the boats and the big live-
boxes full of fish were just visible. By Holmens Church he pulled
himself together and turned back--he must do it now! He raised his head
with a sudden resolve and found himself facing Marie. Her cheeks glowed
as he gazed at her.
"Pelle," she cried, rejoicing, "are you still at liberty? Then it wasn't
true! I have been to the meeting, and they said there you had been
arrested. Ach, we have been so unhappy!"
"I shall be arrested--I am on the way now."
"But, Pelle, dear Pelle!" She gazed at him with tearful eyes. Ah, he was
still the foundling, who needed her care! Pelle himself had tears in his
eyes; he suddenly felt weak and impressible. Here was a human child
whose heart was beating for him--and how beautiful she was, in her grief
at his misfortune!
She stood before him, slender, but generously formed; her hair--once so
thin and uncared-for--fell in heavy waves over her forehead. She had
emerged from her stunted shell into a glorious maturity. "Pelle," she
said, with downcast eyes, gripping both his hands, "don't go there to-
night--wait till tomorrow! All the others are rejoicing over the victory
to-night--and so should you! ... Come with me, to my room, Pelle, you
are so unhappy." Her face showed him that she was fighting down her
tears. She had never looked so much a child as now.
"Why do you hesitate? Come with me! Am I not pretty? And I have kept it
all for you! I have loved you since the very first time I ever saw you,
Pelle, and I began to grow, because I wanted to be beautiful for you. I
owe nothing to any one but you, and if you don't want me I don't want to
go on living!"
No, she owed nothing to any one, this child from nowhere, but was solely
and entirely her own work. Lovely and untouched she came to him in her
abandonment, as though she were sent by the good angel of poverty to
quicken his heart. Beautiful and pure of heart she had grown up out of
wretchedness as though out of happiness itself, and where in the world
should he rest his head, that was wearied to death, but on the heart of
her who to him was child and mother and beloved?
"Pelle, do you know, there was dancing to-day in the Federation building
after the meeting on the Common, and we young girls had made a green
garland, and I was to crown you with it when you came into the hall. Oh,
we did cry when some one came up and called out to us that they had
taken you! But now you have won the wreath after all, haven't you? And
you shall sleep sweetly and not think of to-morrow!"
And Pelle fell asleep with his head on her girlish bosom. And as she lay
there gazing at him with the eyes of a mother, he dreamed that Denmark's
hundred thousand workers were engaged in building a splendid castle, and
that he was the architect. And when the castle was finished he marched
in at the head of the army of workers; singing they passed through the
long corridors, to fill the shining halls. But the halls were not there
--the castle had turned into a prison! And they went on and on, but could
not find their way out again.
* * * * *