Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Eric Eldred, Jerry Fairbanks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
PELLE THE CONQUEROR
BY MARTIN ANDERSON NEXO
TRANSLATED FROM THE DANISH
By Jessie Muir.
Out in the middle of the open, fertile country, where the plough was
busy turning up the soil round the numerous cheerful little houses,
stood a gloomy building that on every side turned bare walls toward the
smiling world. No panes of glass caught the ruddy glow of the morning
and evening sun and threw back its quivering reflection; three rows of
barred apertures drank in all the light of day with insatiable avidity.
They were always gaping greedily, and seen against the background of
blue spring sky, looked like holes leading into the everlasting
darkness. In its heavy gloom the mass of masonry towered above the many
smiling homes, but their peaceable inhabitants did not seem to feel
oppressed. They ploughed their fields right up to the bare walls, and
wherever the building was visible, eyes were turned toward it with an
expression that told of the feeling of security that its strong walls
Like a landmark the huge building towered above everything else. It
might very well have been a temple raised to God's glory by a grateful
humanity, so imposing was it; but if so, it must have been in by-gone
ages, for no dwellings--even for the Almighty--are built nowadays in so
barbaric a style, as if the one object were to keep out light and air!
The massive walls were saturated with the dank darkness within, and the
centuries had weathered their surface and made on it luxuriant cultures
of fungus and mould, and yet they still seemed as if they could stand
for an eternity.
The building was no fortress, however, nor yet a temple whose dim
recesses were the abode of the unknown God. If you went up to the great,
heavy door, which was always closed you could read above the arch the
one word _Prison_ in large letters and below it a simple Latin
verse that with no little pretentiousness proclaimed:
"I am the threshold to all virtue and wisdom;
Justice flourishes solely for my sake."
One day in the middle of spring, the little door in the prison gate
opened, and a tall man stepped out and looked about him with eyes
blinking at the light which fell upon his ashen-white face. His step
faltered and he had to lean for support against the wall; he looked as
if he were about to go back again, but he drew a deep breath and went
out on to the open ground.
The spring breeze made a playful assault upon him, tried to ruffle his
prison-clipped, slightly gray hair, which had been curly and fair when
last it had done so, and penetrated gently to his bare body like a soft,
cool hand. "Welcome, Pelle!" said the sun, as it peeped into his
distended pupils in which the darkness of the prison-cell still lay
brooding. Not a muscle of his face moved, however; it was as though hewn
out of stone. Only the pupils of his eyes contracted so violently as to
be almost painful, but he continued to look earnestly before him.
Whenever he saw any one, he stopped and gazed eagerly, perhaps in the
hope that it was some one coming to meet him.
As he turned into the King's Road some one called to him. He turned
round in sudden, intense joy, but then his head dropped and he went on
without answering. It was only a tramp, who was standing half out of a
ditch in a field a little way off, beckoning to him. He came running
over the ploughed field, crying hoarsely: "Wait a little, can't you?
Here have I been waiting for company all day, so you might as well wait
He was a broad-shouldered, rather puffy-looking fellow, with a flat back
and the nape of his neck broad and straight and running right up into
his cap without forming any projection for the back of his head, making
one involuntarily think of the scaffold. The bone of his nose had sunk
into his purple face, giving a bull-dog mixture of brutality and stupid
curiosity to its expression.
"How long have you been in?" he asked, as he joined him, breathless.
There was a malicious look in his eyes.
"I went in when Pontius Pilate was a little boy, so you can reckon it
out for yourself," said Pelle shortly.
"My goodness! That was a good spell! And what were you copped for?"
"Oh, there happened to be an empty place, so they took me and put me in
--so that it shouldn't stand empty, you know!"
The tramp scowled at him. "You're laying it on a little too thick! You
won't get any one to believe that!" he said uncertainly. Suddenly he put
himself in front of Pelle, and pushed his bull-like forehead close to
the other's face. "Now, I'll just tell you something, my boy!" he said.
"I don't want to touch any one the first day I'm out, but you'd better
take yourself and your confounded uppishness somewhere else; for I've
been lying here waiting for company all day."
"I didn't mean to offend any one," said Pelle absently. He looked as if
he had not come back to earth, and appeared to have no intention of
"Oh, didn't you! That's fortunate for you, or I might have taken a
color-print of your doleful face, however unwillingly. By the way,
mother said I was to give you her love."
"Are you Ferdinand?" asked Pelle, raising his head.
"Oh, don't pretend!" said Ferdinand. "Being in gaol seems to have made a
swell of you!"
"I didn't recognize you," said Pelle earnestly, suddenly recalled to the
world around him.
"Oh, all right--if you say so. It must be the fault of my nose. I got it
bashed in the evening after I'd buried mother. I was to give you her
love, by the way."
"Thank you!" said Pelle heartily. Old memories from the "Ark" filled his
mind and sent his blood coursing through his veins once more. "Is it
long since your mother died?" he asked sympathetically.
Ferdinand nodded. "It was a good thing, however," he said, "for now
there's no one I need go and have a bad conscience about. I'd made up my
mind that she deserved to have things comfortable in her old age, and I
was awfully careful; but all the same I was caught for a little robbery
and got eight months. That was just after you got in--but of course you
"No! How could I know it?"
"Well, I telegraphed it over to you. I was just opposite you, in Wing A,
and when I'd reckoned out your cell, I bespoke the whole line one
evening, and knocked a message through to you. But there was a
sanctimonious parson at the corner of your passage, one of those moral
folk--oh, you didn't even know that, then? Well, I'd always suspected
him of not passing my message on, though a chap like that's had an awful
lot of learning put into him. Then when I came out I said to myself that
there must be an end to all this, for mother'd taken it very much to
heart, and was failing. I managed to get into one of the streets where
honest thieves live, and went about as a colporteur, and it all went
very well. It would have been horribly mean if she'd died of hunger. And
we had a jolly good time for six months, but then she slipped away all
the same, and I can just tell you that I've never been in such low
spirits as the day they put her underground in the cemetery. Well, I
said to myself, there lies mother smelling the weeds from underneath, so
you can just as well give it all up, for there's nothing more to trouble
about now. And I went up to the office and asked for a settlement, and
they cheated me of fifty subscribers, the rogues!
"Of course I went to the police: I was stupid enough to do that at that
time. But they're all a lot of rogues together. They thought it wouldn't
do to believe a word that I said, and would have liked to put me in
prison at once; but for all they poked about they couldn't find a peg to
hang their hat upon. 'He's managing to hide it well this time, the sly
fellow!' they said, and let me go. But there soon was something, for I
settled the matter myself, and you may take your oath my employers
didn't get the best of the arrangement. You see there are two kinds of
people--poor people who are only honest when they let themselves be
robbed, and all the others. Why the devil should one go about like a
shorn sheep and not rob back! Some day of course there'll be a bust-up,
and then--'three years, prisoner!' I shall be in again before long."
"That depends upon yourself," said Pelle slowly.
"Oh, well, of course you can do _something_; but the police are
always getting sharper, and the man isn't born who won't fall into the
trap sooner or later."
"You should try and get some honest employment again. You've shown that
you can succeed."
Ferdinand whistled. "In such a paltry way as that! Many thanks for the
good advice! You'd like me to look after a bloated aristocrat's geese
and then sit on the steps and eat dry bread to the smell of the roast
bird, would you? No, thank you! And even if I did--what then? You may be
quite sure they'd keep a good watch on a fellow, if he tried an honest
job, and it wouldn't be two days before the shadow was there. 'What's
this about Ferdinand? I hear things are not all square with him. I'm
sorry, for he's really worked well; but he'd better look out for another
place.' That's what the decent ones would do; the others would simply
wait until his wages were due and take something off--because he'd been
in once. They could never be sure that he hadn't stolen something from
them, could they? and it's best to be careful! If you make a fuss,
you're called a thief to your face. I've tried it, let me tell you! And
now you can try it yourself. You'll be in again as soon as ever the
spring comes! The worst of it is that it gets more every time; a fellow
like me may get five years for stealing five krones (five shillings).
Isn't that a shame? So it's just as well to do something to make it
worth while. It wouldn't matter if you could only get a good hit at it
all. It's all one to me now that mother's dead. There's a child crying,
but it's not for me. There isn't a soul that would shed a tear if I had
to lay my head on the block. They'd come and stare, that's what they'd
do--and I should get properly into the papers!
"Wicked? Of course I'm wicked! Sometimes I feel like one great sore, and
would like to let them hear all about it. There's no such thing as
gentle hands. That's only a lie, so I owe nothing to anybody. Several
times while I've been in there I've made up my mind to kill the warder,
just so as to have a hit at something; for he hadn't done me any harm.
But then I thought after all it was stupid. I'd no objection to kick the
bucket; it would be a pleasant change anyhow to sitting in prison all
one's life. But then you'd want to do something first that would make a
stir. That's what I feel!"
They walked on at a good pace, their faces turned in the direction of
the smoky mist of the town far ahead, Ferdinand chewing his quid and
spitting incessantly. His hardened, bulldog face with its bloodshot eyes
was entirely without expression now that he was silent.
A peasant lad came toward them, singing at the top of his voice. He must
have been about twelve or fourteen years of age.
"What are you so happy about, boy?" asked Ferdinand, stopping him.
"I took a heifer into the town, and I got two krones (two shillings) for
the job," answered the boy, smiling all over his face.
"You must have been up early then," said Pelle.
"Yes, I left home at three last night. But now I've earned a day's
wages, and can take it easy the rest of the day!" answered the boy,
throwing the two-krone piece into the air and catching it again.
"Take care you don't lose it," said Ferdinand, following the coin with
The boy laughed merrily.
"Let's see whether it's a good one. They're a fearful lot of thieves on
the market in there."
The boy handed him the coin. "Ah, yes, it's one of those that you can
break in half and make two of," said Ferdinand, doing a few juggling
tricks with it. "I suppose I may keep one?" His expression had become
lively and he winked maliciously at Pelle as he stood playing with the
coin so that it appeared to be two. "There you are; that's yours," he
said, pressing the piece of money firmly into the boy's hand. "Take good
care of it, so that you don't get a scolding from your mother."
The boy opened his empty hand in wonderment. "Give me my two-krone!" he
said, smiling uncertainly.
"What the devil--I've given it you once!" said Ferdinand, pushing the
boy aside roughly and beginning to walk on.
The boy followed him and begged persistently for his money. Then he
began to cry.
"Give him his money!" said Pelle crossly. "It's not amusing now."
"Amusing?" exclaimed Ferdinand, stopping abruptly and gazing at him in
amazement. "Do you think I play for small sums? What do I care about the
boy! He may take himself off; I'm not his father."
Pelle looked at him a moment without comprehending; then he took a paper
containing a few silver coins out of his waistcoat pocket, and handed
the boy two krones. The boy stood motionless with amazement for a
moment, but then, seizing the money, he darted away as quickly as he
Ferdinand went on, growling to himself and blinking his eyes. Suddenly
he stopped and exclaimed: "I'll just tell you as a warning that if it
wasn't you, and because I don't want to have this day spoiled, I'd have
cracked your skull for you; for no one else would have played me that
trick. Do you understand?" And he stood still again and pushed his heavy
brow close to Pelle's face.
Quick as thought, Pelle seized him by his collar and trousers, and threw
him forcibly onto a heap of stones. "That's the second time to-day that
you've threatened to crack my skull," he said in fury, pounding
Ferdinand's head against the stones. For a few moments he held him down
firmly, but then released him and helped him to rise. Ferdinand was
crimson in the face, and stood swaying, ready to throw himself upon
Pelle, while his gaze wandered round in search of a weapon. Then he
hesitatingly drew the two-krone piece out of his pocket, and handed it
to Pelle in sign of subjection.
"You may keep it," said Pelle condescendingly.
Ferdinand quickly pocketed it again, and began to brush the mud off his
clothes. "The skilly in there doesn't seem to have weakened you much,"
he said, shaking himself good-naturedly as they went on. "You've still
got a confounded hard hand. But what I can't understand is why you
should be so sorry for a hobbledehoy like that. He can take care of
himself without us."
"Weren't you once sorry too for a little fellow when some one wanted to
take his money away from him?"
"Oh, that little fellow in the 'Ark' who was going to fetch the medicine
for his mother? That's such a long time ago!"
"You got into difficulties with the police for his sake! It was the
first time you were at odds with the authorities, I think."
"Well, the boy hadn't done anything; I saw that myself. So I hobbled the
copper that was going to run him in. His mother was ill--and my old 'un
was alive; and so I was a big idiot! You'll see you won't get far with
your weak pity. Do we owe any one anything, I should like to know?"
"Yes, _I_ do," said Pelle, suddenly raising his face toward the
light. "But I can't say you've much to thank any one for."
"What confounded nonsense!" exclaimed Ferdinand, staring at him. "Have
they been good to you, did you say? When they shut you up in prison too,
perhaps? You're pretending to be good, eh? You stop that! You'll have to
go farther into the country with it. So you think you deserved your
house-of-correction turn, while another was only suffering the blackest
injustice? Nonsense! They know well enough what they're doing when they
get hold of me, but they might very well have let you off. You got
together fifty thousand men, but what did you all do, I should like to
know? You didn't make as much disturbance as a mouse in a pair of lady's
unmentionables. Well-to-do people are far more afraid of me than of you
and all your fellows together. Injustice! Oh, shut up and don't slobber!
You give no quarter, and you don't ask any either: that's all. And by
the way, you might do me the favor to take back your two-krone. _I_
don't owe any one anything."
"Well, borrow it, then," said Pelle. "You can't go to town quite without
"Do take it, won't you?" begged Ferdinand. "It isn't so easy for you to
get hold of any as for any one else, and it was a little too mean the
way I got it out of you. You've been saving it up in there, a halfpenny
a day, and perhaps gone without your quid, and I come and cheat you out
of it! No, confound it! And you gave mother a little into the bargain;
I'd almost forgotten it! Well, never mind the tin then! I know a place
where there's a good stroke of business to be done."
A little above Damhus Lake they turned into a side road that led
northward, in order to reach the town from the Norrebro side. Far down
to the right a great cloud of smoke hung in the air. It was the
atmosphere of the city. As the east wind tore off fragments of it and
carried them out, Ferdinand lifted his bull-dog nose and sniffed the
air. "Wouldn't I like to be sitting in the 'Cupping-Glass' before a
horse-steak with onions!" he said.
By this time the afternoon was well advanced. They broke sticks out of a
hedge and went on steadily, following ditches and dikes as best they
could. The plough was being driven over the fields, backward and
forward, turning up the black earth, while crows and sea-birds fought in
the fresh furrows. The ploughmen put the reins round their waist each
time they came to the end of their line, threw the plough over and
brought it into position for a new furrow, and while they let their
horses take breath, gazed afar at the two strange spring wayfarers.
There was such a foreign air about their clothes that they must be two
of that kind of people that go on foot from land to land, they thought;
and they called after them scraps of foreign sentences to show they knew
something about them. Ah, yes! They were men who could look about them!
Perhaps by to-morrow those two would be in a foreign country again,
while other folk never left the place they were once in!
They passed a white house standing in stately seclusion among old trees,
a high hawthorn hedge screening the garden from the road. Ferdinand
threw a hasty glance over the gate. The blinds were all down! He began
to be restless, and a little farther on he suddenly slipped in behind a
hedge and refused to go any farther. "I don't care to show myself in
town empty-handed," he said. "And besides evening's the best time to go
in at full speed. Let's wait here until it's dark. I can smell silver in
that house we passed."
"Come on now and let those fancies alone," said Pelle earnestly. "A new
life begins from to-day. I'll manage to help you to get honest work!"
Ferdinand broke into laughter. "Good gracious me! You help others! You
haven't tried yet what it is to come home from prison! You'll find it
hard enough to get anywhere yourself, my good fellow. New life, ha, ha!
No; just you stay here and we'll do a little business together when it
gets dark. The house doesn't look quite squint-eyed. Then this evening
we can go to the 'Cupping-Glass' and have a jolly good spree, and act
the home-coming American. Besides it's not right to go home without
taking something for your family. Just you wait! You should see 'Laura
with the Arm' dance! She's my cupboard-love, you know. She can dance
blindfold upon a table full of beer-mugs without spilling a drop. There
might be a little kiss for you too.--Hang it!--you don't surely imagine
you'll be made welcome anywhere else, do you? I can tell you there's no
one who'll stand beckoning you home.--Very well, then go to the devil,
you fool, and remember me to your monthly nurse! When you're tired of
family life, you can ask for me at my address, the 'Cupping-Glass'." His
hoarse, hollow voice cut through the clear spring air as he shouted the
last words with his hand to his mouth.
Pelle went on quickly, as though anxious to leave something behind him.
He had had an insane hope of being received in some kind way or other
when he came out--comrades singing, perhaps, or a woman and two children
standing on the white highroad, waiting for him! And there had only been
Ferdinand to meet him! Well, it had been a damper, and now he shook off
the disappointment and set out at a good pace. The active movement set
his pulses beating. The sky had never before been so bright as it was
to-day; the sun shone right into his heart. There was a smiling greeting
in it all--in the wind that threw itself into his very arms, in the
fresh earth and in the running water in the ditches. Welcome back again,
How wide and fair the world looks when you've spent years within four
bare walls! Down in the south the clouds were like the breast of a great
bright bird, one of those that come a long way every year with summer in
the beat of their strong wings; and on all sides lay the open, white
roads, pointing onward with bright assurances.
For the fourth time he was setting out to conquer the world, and this
time it was in bitter earnest. There had always before proved to be
something more behind, but now he felt that what he should now set out
upon would be decisive; if he was victorious now, he would conquer
eternity. This time it must be either for weal or woe, and all that he
possessed he was now bringing into the field. He had never before been
so heavily equipped. Far off he could still make out the dome of the
prison, which stood there like a huge mill over the descent to the
nether world, and ground misery into crime in the name of humanity. It
sucked down every one who was exposed to life's uncertainty; he had
himself hung in the funnel and felt how its whirling drew him down.
But Pelle had been too well equipped. Hitherto he had successfully
converted everything into means of rising, and he took this in the same
way. His hair was no longer fair, but, on the other hand, his mind was
magically filled with a secret knowledge of the inner nature of things,
for he had sat at the root of all things, and by listening had drawn it
out of the solitude. He had been sitting moping in the dark mountain
like Prince Fortune, while Eternity sang to him of the great wonder. The
spirits of evil had carried him away into the mountains; that was all.
And now they had set him free again, believing that he had become a
troll like all his predecessors. But Pelle was not bewitched. He had
already consumed many things in his growth, and this was added to the
rest. What did a little confinement signify as compared with the slow
drip, drip, of centuries? Had he not been born with a caul, upon which
neither steel nor poison made any impression?
He sat down on an elevation, pulled off his cap, and let the cool breeze
play upon his forehead. It was full of rich promises; in its vernal
wandering over the earth it had gathered up all that could improve and
strengthen, and loaded him with it. Look around you, Pelle!
On all sides the soil was being prepared, the plough-teams nodded up the
gentle inclines and disappeared down the other side. A thin vapor rose
from the soil; it was the last of the cold evaporating in the declining
spring day. Some way down a few red cottages smilingly faced the sunset,
and still farther on lay the town with its eternal cloud of smoke
hanging over it.
What would his future be like down there? And how did matters stand? Had
the new made its way to the front, or would he once more have to submit
to an extortioner, get only the bare necessaries of life out of his
work, and see the rest disappear into some one else's pocket? A number
of new factories had grown up, and now formed quite a belt about the
city, with their hundreds of giant chimneys stretching up into the sky.
But something must be going on, since they were not smoking. Was it a
He was now going to lay plans for his life, build it up again upon the
deep foundation that had been laid in his solitude; and yet he knew
absolutely nothing of the conditions down in the town! Well, he had
friends in thousands; the town was simply lying waiting to receive him
with open arms, more fond of him than ever because of all he had
suffered. With all his ignorance he had been able to lead them on a
little way; the development had chosen him as its blind instrument, and
it had been successful; but now he was going to lead them right into the
land, for now he felt the burden of life within him.
Hullo! if he wasn't building castles in the air just as in the old days,
and forgetting all that the prison cell had taught him so bitterly! The
others' good indeed! He had been busily concerned for the homes of
others, and had not even succeeded in building his own! What humbug!
Down there were three neglected beings who would bring accusations
against him, and what was the use of his sheltering himself behind the
welfare of the many? What was the good of receiving praise from tens of
thousands and being called benefactor by the whole world, if those three
whose welfare had been entrusted to him accused him of having failed
them? He had often enough tried to stifle their accusing voices, but in
there it was not possible to stifle anything into silence.
Pelle still had no doubt that he was chosen to accomplish something for
the masses, but it had become of such secondary importance when he
recollected that he had neglected his share of that which was the duty
of every one. He had mistaken small for great, and believed that when he
accomplished something that no one else could do, he might in return pay
less attention to ordinary every-day duties; but the fates ordained that
the burden of life should be laid just where every one could help. And
now he was coming back like a poor beggar, who had conquered everything
except the actual, and therefore possessed nothing, and had to beg for
mercy. Branded as a criminal, he must now begin at the beginning, and
accomplish that which he had not been able to do in the days of his
power. It would be difficult to build his home under these
circumstances, and who was there to help him? Those three who could have
spoken for him he had left to their own devices as punishment for an
offence which in reality was his own.
He had never before set out in such a poverty-stricken state. He did not
even come like one who had something to forgive: his prison-cell had
left him nothing. He had had time enough there to go carefully over the
whole matter, and everything about Ellen that he had before been too
much occupied to notice or had felt like a silent opposition to his
projects, now stood out clearly, and formed itself, against his will,
into the picture of a woman who never thought of herself, but only of
the care of her little world and how she could sacrifice herself. He
could not afford to give up any of his right here, and marshalled all
his accusations against her, bringing forward laws and morals; but it
all failed completely to shake the image, and only emphasized yet more
the strength of her nature. She had sacrificed _everything_ for him
and the children, her one desire being to see them happy. Each of his
attacks only washed away a fresh layer of obstructing mire, and made the
sacrifice in her action stand out more clearly. It was because she was
so unsensual and chaste that she could act as she had done. Alas! she
had had to pay dearly for _his_ remissness; it was the mother who,
in their extreme want, gave her own body to nourish her offspring.
Pelle would not yield, but fought fiercely against conviction. He had
been robbed of freedom and the right to be a human being like others,
and now solitude was about to take from him all that remained to sustain
him. Even if everything joined together against him, he was not wrong,
he _would_ not be wrong. It was he who had brought the great
conflict to an end at the cost of his own--and he had found Ellen to be
a prostitute! His thoughts clung to this word, and shouted it hoarsely,
unceasingly--prostitute! prostitute! He did not connect it with
anything, but only wanted to drown the clamor of accusations on all
sides which were making him still more naked and miserable.
At first letters now and then came to him, probably from old companions-
in-arms, perhaps too from Ellen: he did not know, for he refused to take
them. He hated Ellen because she was the stronger, hated in impotent
defiance everything and everybody. Neither she nor any one else should
have the satisfaction of being any comfort to him; since he had been
shut up as an unclean person, he had better keep himself quite apart
from them. He would make his punishment still more hard, and purposely
increased his forlornness, kept out of his thoughts everything that was
near and dear to him, and dragged the painful things into the
foreground. Ellen had of course forgotten him for some one else, and had
perhaps turned the children's thoughts from him; they would certainly be
forbidden to mention the word "father." He could distinctly see them all
three sitting happily round the lamp; and when some turn in the
conversation threatened to lead it to the subject of himself, a coldness
and stillness as of death suddenly fell upon them. He mercilessly filled
his existence with icy acknowledgment on all points, and believed he
revenged himself by breathing in the deadly cold.
After a prolonged period of this he was attacked with frenzy, dashed
himself blindly against the walls, and shouted that he wanted to get
out. To quiet him he was put into a strait-waistcoat and removed to a
pitch-dark cell. On the whole he was one of the so-called defiant
prisoners, who meant to kick against the pricks, and he was treated
But one night when he lay groaning after a punishment, and saw the angry
face of God in the darkness, he suddenly became silent. "Are you a human
being?" it said, "and cannot even bear a little suffering?" Pelle was
startled. He had never known that there was anything particularly human
in suffering. But from that night he behaved quietly, with a listening
expression, as if he heard something through the walls. "Now he's become
quiet," said the gaoler, who was looking at him through the peep-hole.
"It won't be long before he's an idiot!"
But Pelle had only come out on the other side; he was staring bravely
into the darkness to see God's face once more, but in a gentler guise.
The first thing he saw was Ellen again, sitting there beautiful,
exculpated, made more desirable by all his accusations. How great and
fateful all petty things became here! What was the good of defending
himself? She was his fate, and he would have to surrender
unconditionally. He still did not comprehend her, but he had a
consciousness of greater laws for life, laws that raised _her_ and
made him small. She and hers passed undefiled through places where he
stuck fast in the surface mire.
She seemed to him to grow in here, and led his thoughts behind the
surface, where they had never been before. Her unfailing mother-love was
like a beating pulse that rose from the invisible and revealed hidden
mystical forces--the perceptible rhythm of a great heart which beat in
concealment behind everything. Her care resembled that of God Himself;
she was nearer to the springs of life than he.
The springs of life! Through her the expression for the first time
acquired a meaning for him. It was on the whole as if she re-created
him, and by occupying himself with her ever enigmatical nature, his
thoughts were turned further and further inward. He suspected the
presence of strong currents which bore the whole thing; and sometimes in
the silence of his cell he seemed to hear his existence flowing, flowing
like a broad stream, and emptying itself out there where his thoughts
had never ventured to roam. What became of the days and the years with
all that they had held? The ever present Ellen, who had never herself
given a thought to the unseen, brought Pelle face to face with infinity.
While all this was going on within him, they sang one Sunday during the
prison service Grundtvig's hymn, "The former days have passed away." The
hymn expressed all that he had himself vaguely thought, and touched him
deeply; the verses came to him in his narrow pen like waves from a
mighty ocean, which rolled ages in to the shore in monotonous power. He
suddenly and strongly realized the passage of generations of human
beings over the earth, and boldly grasped what he had until now only
dimly suspected, namely, his own connection with them all, both those
who were living then and all those who had gone before. How small his
own idea of union had been when measured by this immense community of
souls, and what a responsibility was connected with each one! He
understood now how fatal it was to act recklessly, then break off and
leave everything. In reality you could never leave anything; the very
smallest thing you shirked would be waiting for you as your fate at the
next milestone. And who, indeed, was able to overlook an action? You had
to be lenient continually, and at last it would turn out that you had
been lenient to yourself.
Pelle was taking in wisdom, and his own heart confirmed it. The thought
of Ellen filled his mind more and more; he had lost her, and yet he
could not get beyond her. Did she still love him? This question pursued
him day and night with ever increasing vehemence, until even his life
seemed to depend upon it. He felt, as he gazed questioningly into his
solitude, that he would be worthless if he did not win her back. New
worlds grew up before him; he could dimly discern the great connection
between things, and thought he could see how deep down the roots of life
stretched, drawing nourishment from the very darkness in which he dwelt.
But to this he received no answer.
He never dreamt of writing to her. God had His own way of dealing with
the soul, a way with which one did not interfere. It would have to come
like all the rest, and he lulled himself with the foolish hope that
Ellen would come and visit him, for he was now in the right mood to
receive her. On Sundays he listened eagerly to the heavy clang of the
gate. It meant visitors to the prisoners; and when the gaoler came along
the corridor rattling his keys, Pelle's heart beat suffocatingly. This
repeated itself Sunday after Sunday, and then he gave up hope and
resigned himself to his fate.
After a long time, however, fortune favored him and brought him a
Pelle took no personal part in the knocking that every evening after the
lights were out sounded through the immense building as if a thousand
death-ticks were at work. He had enough of his own to think about, and
only knocked those messages on that had to pass through his cell. One
day, however, a new prisoner was placed in the cell next to his, and
woke him. He was a regular frequenter of the establishment, and
immediately set about proclaiming his arrival in all directions. It was
Druk-Valde, "Widow" Rasmussen's idler of a sweetheart, who used to stand
all the winter through in the gateway in Chapel Road, and spit over the
toes of his well-polished shoes.
Yes, Valde knew Pelle's family well; his sweetheart had looked after the
children when Ellen, during the great conflict, began to go out to work.
Ellen had been very successful, and still held her head high. She sewed
uppers and had a couple of apprentices to help her, and she was really
doing pretty well. She did not associate with any one, not even with her
relatives, for she never left her children.
Druk-Valde had to go to the wall every evening; the most insignificant
detail was of the greatest importance. Pelle could see Ellen as if she
were standing in the darkness before him, pale, always clad in black,
always serious. She had broken with her parents; she had sacrificed
everything for his sake! She even talked about him so that the children
should not have forgotten him by the time he came back. "The little
beggars think you're travelling," said Valde.
So everything was all right! It was like sunshine in his heart to know
that she was waiting faithfully for him although he had cast her off.
All the ice must melt and disappear; he was a rich man in spite of
Did she bear his name? he asked eagerly. It would be like her--intrepid
as she was--defiantly to write "Pelle" in large letters on the door-
Yes, of course! There was no such thing as hiding there! Lasse Frederik
and his sister were big now, and little Boy Comfort was a huge fellow
for his age--a regular little fatty. To see him sitting in his
perambulator, when they wheeled him out on Sundays, was a sight for
Pelle stood in the darkness as though stunned. Boy Comfort, a little
fellow sitting in a perambulator! And it was not an adopted child
either; Druk-Valde so evidently took it to be his. Ellen! Ellen!
He went no more to the wall. Druk-Valde knocked in vain, and his six
months came to an end without Pelle noticing it. This time he made no
disturbance, but shrank under a feeling of being accursed. Providence
must be hostile to him, since the same blow had been aimed at him twice.
In the daytime he sought relief in hard work and reading; at night he
lay on his dirty, mouldy-smelling mattress and wept. He no longer tried
to overthrow his conception of Ellen, for he knew it was hopeless: she
still tragically overshadowed everything. She was his fate and still
filled his thoughts, but not brightly; there was indeed nothing bright
or great about it now, only imperative necessity.
And then his work! For a man there was always work to fall back upon,
when happiness failed him. Pelle set to work in earnest, and the man who
was at the head of the prison shoemaking department liked to have him,
for he did much more than was required of him. In his leisure hours he
read diligently, and entered with zest into the prison school-work,
taking up especially history and languages. The prison chaplain and the
teachers took an interest in him, and procured books for him which were
generally unobtainable by the prisoners.
When he was thoroughly tired out he allowed his mind to seek rest in
thoughts of his home. His weariness cast a conciliatory light over
everything, and he would lie upon his pallet and in imagination spend
happy hours with his children, including that young cuckoo who always
looked at him with such a strangely mocking expression. To Ellen alone
he did not get near. She had never been so beautiful as now in her
unapproachableness, but she received all his assurances in mysterious
silence, only gazing at him with her unfathomable eyes. He had forsaken
her and the home; he knew that; but had he not also made reparation? It
was _her_ child he held on his knee, and he meant to build the home
up again. He had had enough of an outlaw's life, and needed a heart upon
which to rest his weary head.
All this was dreaming, but now he was on his way down to begin from the
beginning. He did not feel very courageous; the uncertainty held so many
possibilities. Were the children and Ellen well, and was she still
waiting for him? And his comrades? How would his fate shape itself?
* * * * *
Pelle was so little accustomed to being in the fresh air that it
affected him powerfully, and, much against his will, he fell asleep as
he leaned back upon the bank. The longing to reach the end of his
journey made him dream that he was still walking on and making his entry
into the city; but he did not recognize it, everything was so changed.
People were walking about in their best clothes, either going to the
wood or to hear lectures. "Who is doing the work, then?" he asked of a
man whom he met.
"Work!" exclaimed the man in surprise. "Why, the machines, of course! We
each have three hours at them in the day, but it'll soon be changed to
two, for the machines are getting more and more clever. It's splendid to
live and to know that there are no slaves but those inanimate machines;
and for that we have to thank a man called Pelle."
"Why, that's me!" exclaimed Pelle, laughing with pleasure.
"You! What absurdity! Why, you're a young man, and all this happened
many years ago."
"It is me, all the same! Don't you see that my hair is gray and my
forehead lined? I got like that in fighting for you. Don't you recognize
me?" But people only laughed at him, and he had to go on.
"I'll go to Ellen!" he thought, disheartened. "She'll speak up for me!"
And while the thought was in his mind, he found himself in her parlor.
"Sit down!" she said kindly. "My husband'll be here directly."
"Why, I'm your husband!" he exclaimed, hardly able to keep back his
tears; but she looked at him coldly and without recognition, and moved
toward the door.
"I'm Pelle!" he said, holding out his hand beseechingly. "Don't you know
Ellen opened her lips to cry out, and at that moment the husband
appeared threateningly in the doorway. From behind him Lasse Frederik
and Sister peeped out in alarm, and Pelle saw with a certain amount of
satisfaction that there were only the two. The terrible thing, however,
was that the man was himself, the true Pelle with the good, fair
moustache, the lock of hair on his forehead and the go-ahead expression.
When he discovered this, it all collapsed and he sank down in despair.
Pelle awoke with a start, bathed in perspiration, and saw with
thankfulness the fields and the bright atmosphere: he was at any rate
still alive! He rose and walked on with heavy steps while the spring
breeze cooled his brow.
His road led him to Norrebro. The sun was setting behind him; it must be
about the time for leaving off work, and yet no hooter sounded from the
numerous factories, no stream of begrimed human beings poured out of the
side streets. In the little tea-gardens in the Frederikssund Road sat
workmen's families with perambulator and provision-basket; they were
dressed in their best and were enjoying the spring day. Was there after
all something in his dream? If so, it would be splendid to come back! He
asked people what was going on, and was told that it was the elections.
"We're going to take the city to-day!" they said, laughing triumphantly.
From the square he turned into the churchyard, and went down the somber
avenue of poplars to Chapel Road. Opposite the end of the avenue he saw
the two little windows in the second floor; and in his passionate
longing he seemed to see Ellen standing there and beckoning. He ran now,
and took the stairs three or four at a time.
Just as he was about to pull the bell-cord, he heard strange voices
within, and paused as though paralyzed. The door looked cold and as if
it had nothing to do with him; and there was no door-plate. He went
slowly down the stairs and asked in the greengrocer's cellar below
whether a woman who sewed uppers did not live on the second floor to the
left. She had been forsaken by her husband and had two children--
_three_, he corrected himself humbly; What had become of them?
The deputy-landlord was a new man and could give him no information; so
he went up into the house again, and asked from door to door but without
any result. Poor people do not generally live long in one place.
Pelle wandered about the streets at haphazard. He could think of no way
of getting Ellen's address, and gave it up disheartened; in his forlorn
condition he had the impression that people avoided him, and it
discouraged him. His soul was sick with longing for a kind word and a
caress, and there was no one to give them. No eyes brightened at seeing
him out again, and he hunted in vain in house after house for some one
who would sympathize with him. A sudden feeling of hatred arose in him,
an evil desire to hit out at everything and go recklessly on.
Twilight was coming on. Below the churchyard wall some newspaper-boys
were playing "touch last" on their bicycles. They managed their machines
like circus-riders, and resembled little gauchos, throwing them back and
running upon the back wheel only, and bounding over obstacles. They had
strapped their bags on their backs, and their blue cap-bands flapped
about their ears like pennons.
Pelle seated himself upon a bench, and absently followed their reckless
play, while his thoughts went back to his own careless boyhood. A boy of
ten or twelve took the lead in breakneck tricks, shouting and
commanding; he was the chief of the band, and maintained the leadership
with a high hand. His face, with its snub nose, beamed with lively
impudence, and his cap rested upon two exceptionally prominent ears.
The boys began to make of the stranger a target for their exuberant
spirits. In dashing past him they pretended to lose control of their
machine, so that it almost went over his foot; and at last the leader
suddenly snatched off his cap. Pelle quietly picked it up, but when the
boy came circling back with measured strokes as though pondering some
fresh piece of mischief he sprang up and seized him by the collar.
"Now you shall have a thrashing, you scamp!" he said, lifting him off
his bicycle. "But it'll be just as well if you get it from your parents.
What's your father's name?"
"He hasn't got a father!" cried the other boys, flocking round them
threateningly. "Let him go!"
The boy opened his lips to give vent to a torrent of bad language, but
stopped suddenly and gazed in terror at Pelle, struggling like a mad
thing to get away. Pelle let him go in surprise, and saw him mount his
bicycle and disappear howling. His companions dashed after him like a
flight of swallows. "Wait a little, Lasse Frederik!" they cried. Pelle
stood a little while gazing after them, and then with bent head walked
slowly into Norrebro Street.
It was strange to be walking again in this street, which had played so
great a part in his life. The traffic was heavier here than in other
places, and the stone paving made it more so. A peculiar adamantine
self-dependence was characteristic of this district where every step was
weighted with the weight of labor.
The shops were the same, and he also recognized several of the
shopkeepers. He tried to feel at home in the crowd, and looked into
people's faces, wondering whether any one would recognize him. He both
wished and feared it, but they hurried past, only now and then one of
them would wonder a little at his strange appearance. He himself knew
most of them as well as if it had been yesterday he had had to do with
those thousands, for the intermediate years had not thrust new faces in
between him and the old ones. Now and again he met one of his men
walking on the pavement with his wife on his arm, while others were
standing on the electric tramcars as drivers and conductors. Weaklings
and steady fellows--they were his army. He could name them by name and
was acquainted with their family circumstances. Well, a good deal of
water had run under the bridge since then!
He went into a little inn for travelling artisans, and engaged a room.
"It's easy to see that you've been away from this country for a day or
two," said the landlord. "Have you been far?"
Oh, yes, Pelle had seen something of the world. And here at home there
had been a good many changes. How did the Movement get on?
"Capitally! Yes, awfully well! Our party has made tremendous progress;
to-day we shall take the town!"
"That'll make a difference in things, I suppose?"
"Oh, well, I wouldn't say that for certain. Unemployment increases every
year, and it's all the same who represents the town and sits in
parliament. But we've got on very well as far as prices go."
"Tell me--there was a man in the Movement a few years ago called Pelle;
what's become of him?"
The landlord scratched his parting. "Pelle! Pelle! Yes, of course. What
in the world was there about him? Didn't he make false coins, or rob a
till? If I remember right, he ended by going to prison. Well, well,
there are bad characters in every movement."
A couple of workmen, who were sitting at a table eating fried liver,
joined in the conversation. "He came a good deal to the front five or
six years ago," said one of them with his mouth full. "But there wasn't
much in him; he had too much imagination."
"He had the gift of the gab, anyhow," said the other. "I still
distinctly remember him at the great lock-out. He could make you think
you were no end of a fine fellow, he could! Well, that's all past and
gone! Your health, comrade!"
Pelle rose quietly and went out. He was forgotten; nobody remembered
anything about him, in spite of all that he had fought for and suffered.
Much must have passed over their heads since then, and him they had
He did not know what to do with himself, more homeless here in this
street, which should have been his own, than in any other place. It was
black with people, but he was not carried with the stream; he resembled
something that has been washed up to one side and left lying.
They were all in their best clothes. The workmen came in crowds on their
way either from or to the polling-booths, and some were collected and
accompanied thither by eager comrades. One man would shout to another
across the road through his hollowed hand: "Hi, Petersen! I suppose
you've voted?" Everywhere there was excitement and good humor: the city
was to be taken!
Pelle went with the stream over Queen Louise's Bridge and farther into
the city. Here the feeling was different, opinions were divided, people
exchanged sharp words. Outside the newspaper-offices stood dense crowds
impeding the wheel-traffic as they waited patiently for the results that
were shown in the windows. Every time a contested district came in, a
wave of movement passed through the crowd, followed by a mighty roar if
a victory was recorded. All was comparatively quiet; people stood
outside the offices of the papers that bore the color of their party.
Only the quarrelsome men gathered about their opponents and had their
hats bashed in. Within the offices the members of the staff were passing
busily backward and forward, hanging up the results and correcting them.
All the _cafes_ and restaurants were full of customers. The
telephone rang incessantly, and messengers kept coming with lists from
the telegram bureaus; men fought over the results in front of the great
blackboard and chances were discussed at the tables and much political
nonsense was talked.
Pelle had never seen the city so excited, not even during the great
lock-out. Class faced class with clenched fists, the workmen even more
eager than the upper class: they had become out-and-out politicians. He
could see that the Movement had shifted its center of gravity over this.
What was necessary was to gain seats; to-day they expected to get the
upper hand in the city and a firm footing out in the country. Several of
the old leaders were already in parliament and brought forward their
practical experience in the debate; their aim now was nothing less than
to usurp the political power. This was bold enough: they must have been
successful, after all. He still possessed his old quickness of hearing
as regards the general feeling, and perceived a change in the public
tone. It had become broader, more democratic. Even the upper classes
submitted to the ballot now, and condescended to fight for a majority of
Pelle could see no place for himself, however, in this conflict. "Hi,
you there! I suppose you've voted?" men shouted to him as they passed.
Voted! He had not even the right to vote! In the battle that was now
being fought, their old leader was not even allowed to take part as an
Out of the road! They marched in small bands on their way to the
polling-booths or the Assembly Rooms, taking up the whole pavement, and
Pelle readily moved out of their way. This time he did not come like a
king's son for whom the whole world stood waiting.
He was of the scum of the earth, neither more nor less, one who had been
thrown aside and forgotten. If he succeeded in recalling himself to
their remembrance, it would only be the bringing up of the story of a
criminal. There was the house where the Stolpes lived. Perhaps they knew
where Ellen was. But what did it matter to him? He had not forgotten
Lasse Frederik's terror-stricken face. And there was the corner house
where Morten had managed the business. Ah, it was long since their ways
had parted! Morten had in reality always envied him; he had not been
able to bear his tremendous success. Now he would be able to crow over
Anger and bitterness filled his heart, and his head was confused, and
his thoughts, bred of malice, were like clumsy faultfinders. For years
the need of associating with human beings had been accumulating within
him; and now the whole thing gave way like an avalanche. He could easily
pick a quarrel with some one, just to make himself less a matter of
indifference to the rest of the world. Why shouldn't he go to the
"Cupping-Glass"? He would be expected there at any rate.
Outside Griffenfeldt Street there was a crowd. A number of people had
gathered round a coal-heaver, who was belaboring a lamp-post with the
toes of his wooden shoes, at the same time using abusive language. He
had run against it and had a bruise on his forehead. People were amusing
themselves at his expense.
As the light from the lamp fell upon the coal-blackened face of the
drunken man, Pelle recognized him. It was Merry Jacob. He pushed his way
angrily through the crowd and took him by the shoulder. "What's the
matter with you, Jacob? Have you become a drunkard?" he said hotly.
"It's got no business to get in the way of an organized workman," Jacob
said indistinctly, kicking the air to the great delight of the
onlookers, who encouraged him to continue. "I'm a member of my
organization, and don't owe anything; you can see for yourselves!" He
pulled out of his breast-pocket a little book in a black leather cover,
and turned over its pages. "Just look for yourselves! Member's
subscription paid, isn't it? Strike subscription paid, isn't it? Shown
on entrance, isn't it? Just you shut up! Take it and pass it round; we
must have our papers in order. You're supporting the election fund, I
suppose? Go up and vote, confound you! The man who won't give his mite
is a poor pal. Who says thief? There's no one here that steals. I'm an
honest, organized--" He suddenly began to weep, and the saliva dropped
from the corners of his mouth onto his coat, while he made fearful
Pelle managed to get him into a courtyard, and washed his wound at the
pump. The cold water made him shiver, and his head lolled weakly. "Such
a snotty blackleg!" he murmured. "I'll get the chairman to give him a
doing in the paper."
Suddenly he recognized Pelle. He started, and consciousness struggled to
obtain control over his dulled senses. "Why, is that you, master?" he
asked shamefacedly, seizing Pelle's hand. "So you've come back! I
suppose you think me a beast, but what can I do?"
"Just come along!" said Pelle sharply, anxious to get away from the
crowd of spectators.
They went down Meinung Street, Jacob staggering along in silence, and
looking askance at his former leader. He walked a little awkwardly, but
it came from his work; the meeting with Pelle had made him almost sober.
"I'm sure you think I'm a beast," he said again at last in a pitiful
voice. "But you see there's no one to keep me straight."
"It's the fault of the brandy," said Pelle shortly.
"Well, you may be right, but a fellow needs a kind word now and then,
and you have to take it where you can get it. Your pals look down upon
you and chuck you out of their set."
"What's the matter, then?" asked Pelle.
"What's the matter? Six times five's the matter, because I wouldn't let
my old father starve during the lockout. We had a jolly good time then.
I was a good son! Didn't mind the fat purses of the bigwigs and a little
bread and water--and the devil and his standpipe! But now they're
singing another tune: That man! Why, he's been punished for theft! End
of him. No one asks why; they've become big men, you see. In olden days
I was always called Merry Jacob, and the fellows liked to be in my
shift. Do you know what they call me now? Thieving Jacob. Well, they
don't say it right out, for if they did, some one 'ud crack their heads
for them; but that is my name. Well, I say to myself, perhaps you saw
everything topsy-turvy in those days; perhaps, after all, you're nothing
but a thief. And then I have to drink to become an honest man again."
"And get in rages with the lamp-posts! Don't you think you'd do better
to hit out at those who wrong you?"
Jacob was silent and hung his head; the once strong, bold fellow had
become like a dog that any one might kick. If it were so dreadful to
bear six times five among one's own people, what could Pelle say? "How
is your brother?" he asked, in order to divert Jacob's thoughts to
something brighter. "He was a splendid fellow."
"He hung himself," answered Jacob gloomily. "He couldn't stand it any
longer. We broke into a house together, so as to be equal about it; and
the grocer owed the old man money--he'd worked for it--and they meant to
cheat him out of it. So the two old things were starving, and had no
fire either; and we got them what they'd a right to, and it was so
splendidly done too. But afterward when there was a row at the works,
agitation and election fuss and all that kind of thing, they just went
and left him and me out. We weren't the right sort, you see; we hadn't
the right to vote. He couldn't get even with the business in any other
way than by putting a rope over the lamp-hook in the ceiling. I've
looked at the matter myself all round, you see, but I can't make
anything of it." He walked on a little without speaking, and then said:
"Would you hit out properly now? There's need of a kind word."
Pelle did not answer; it was all too sad. He did not even hear the
"It was chiefly what you said that made me believe in a better time
coming," Jacob continued persistently, "or perhaps my brother and me
would have done differently and things might have gone better with both
of us. Well, I suppose you believed it yourself, but what do you think
now? Do you still believe in that about the better time? For I should
like to be an honest man again."
Of course Pelle still believed in it.
"For there aren't many who'd give a brass farthing for that story now;
but if _you_ say so--I've got faith in you all the same. Others
wouldn't have the brains to think of anything for themselves, and it was
like the cork going off, so to speak, for us poor people when you went
away; everything went flat. If anything happens, it doesn't do for a
poor devil to look on; and every time any one wants to complain, he gets
a voting-paper pushed into his hand and they say: Go and vote and things
will be altered! But confound it, that can't rouse a fellow who's not
learnt anything from the time he was small. They'd taken a lot of
trouble about me now--whitewashing me so that I could use my right to
vote; but they can't make me so that no one looks down on me. And so I
say, Thank you for nothing! But if you still believe in it, so will I,
for I've got faith in you. Here's my hand on it!"
Jacob was the same simple, good-hearted fellow that he had been in
former days when he lived in the attic in the "Ark." There might very
well have been a little more evil in him. But his words warmed Pelle's
heart. Here was some one who needed him, and who still believed in him
although he had been maimed in the fight. He was the first of the
disabled ones, and Pelle was prepared to meet with more and to hear
their accusations. Many of them would turn against him now that he was
powerless, but he would have to put up with that. He felt as though he
had the strength for it now.
Pelle went into the street again, letting his feet carry him where they
would, while he thought of the past and the future. They had been so
certain that a new age would dawn upon them at once! The new, great
truth had been so self-evident that it seemed as if all the old
conditions must fall before it as at a magic word; and now the everyday
reality had worn the gloss off it. As far as he could see, nothing
particular had happened, and what was there to happen? That was not the
way to overturn systems. From Merry Jacob's opinion he could draw his
own, but he was no longer despondent, he did not mind what happened. He
would have had no objection to challenge the opinion of his old comrades
at once, and find out how he stood.
He had passed through several side streets when he suddenly found
himself in front of a large, well-lighted building with a broad flight
of steps, up which people were flocking. It was one of the working-men's
halls, and festivities were being held in it to celebrate the elections.
Pelle went, by force of habit, with the stream.
He remained at the back of the hall, and used his eyes as though he had
just dropped down from some other planet; strange feelings welled up
within him when he found himself once more among the people. For a
moment he felt a vehement desire to cry: Here I am! and stretch out his
arms to them all; but he quickly controlled it, and his face regained
its stony composure.
This then was his army from the conflict. They were decidedly better
clothed than on the day when he led them in triumph into the city as its
true citizens; they carried their heads higher too, did not get behind
one another, but claimed room for themselves. They had more to eat, he
could see, for their faces shone more; and their eyes had become
indolent in expression, and no longer looked hungrily out into
uncertainty but moved quietly and unhesitatingly from place to place.
They were prepared for another long march, and perhaps it was as well;
great things did not happen in the twinkling of an eye.
He was aroused from his thoughts by discovering that the people nearest
to him were turning and gazing at him. The number of faces looking round
at him increased, and the words, "Pelle is here!" passed in a murmur
through the crowd. Hundreds of eyes were directed toward him
questioningly and searchingly, some of them in evident expectation of
something unusual happening at once.
The movement became general--a wave that carried him resistlessly to the
front of the hall and up onto the platform. A great roar like the
breaking of surf arose on all sides of him and stupefied his sensitive
brain in which silence sat always putting together a fine new world
about which no one else knew. Suddenly everything was still, so still
that the solitude was again audible to his ear.
Pelle spoke quietly and with confidence. His words were a greeting to
them from a world they as yet did not know, the great solitude through
which man must move alone--without loud-voiced companions to encourage
him--and listen until he hears his own heart beat within it. He sits in
a cell again, like the first original germ of life, alone and forsaken;
and over him a spider skilfully spins its web. At first he is angry with
the busy insect, and tears down the web; but the insect begins again
patiently. And this suddenly becomes a consolatory lesson to him never
to give up; he becomes fond of the little vigilant creature that makes
its web as skilfully as if it had a great responsibility, and he asks
himself whether it is at all conscious of his existence. Is it sorry for
him in his forsaken condition, since it does not move to another place,
but patiently builds its web up again, finer and finer, as if it had
only been torn down because it was not made well enough? He bitterly
regrets his conduct, and would give much for a sign that the little
insect is not angry with him, for no one can afford to offend another;
the smallest creature is of vital importance to you. In the loneliness
of the prison cell you learn solidarity. And one day when he is sitting
reading, the spider, in its busy efforts to carry its thread past him,
drops down and uses his shoulder as a temporary attachment. Never before
has such confidence been shown him notwithstanding everything; the
little insect knew how a hardened criminal should be taken. It taught
him that he had both a heart and a soul to take care of. A greeting to
his comrades from the great silence that was waiting to speak to them
one by one.
He spoke from the depths of his soul, and saw surprise in their faces.
What in the world did he want? Did he want them all to go to prison only
because he himself had been there? Was that all that was left of the old
Pelle--Lightning, as he was then called? He was certainly rather weak in
the legs; there wasn't much of _his_ eloquence left! They quickly
lost interest and began to talk together in undertones; there came only
a little desultory applause here and there from the corners.
Pelle felt the disappointment and indifference, and smiled. He no longer
had need of storms of approbation; he listened for it now within
himself. This much he had learned by standing up there, namely, that he
had not done with the men below; he was, in fact, only just beginning
with them. His work had been swept away: well then he would build up a
new one that was better. He had sat in his prison-cell and learned long-
He took a seat below the platform among the leaders of the meeting, and
felt that he was really a stranger there. It was out of compassion they
had drawn him into the meeting; he read in their eyes that the work that
had been done was done without him, and that he came at an inopportune
moment. Would they have to reckon with him, the hare-brained fellow, now
again, or did he mean to emigrate? Alas, he did not give much impetus to
the Movement! but if they only knew how much wisdom he had gained in his
He did not talk, but looked on absently, trying to listen through the
noise for something lasting. They laughed and drank and made speeches--
for him too; but all this was so unnecessary! They had gained
confidence, they spoke quite openly, there was a certain emancipation in
their general behavior; taken as a whole, they made a good impression.
But the miracle? the incomprehensible? He missed a little anxiety behind
the prosperity, the deep, silent pondering that would show that they had
gazed into a new world. Did they not hear the undertone at all, since
they were making such a noise--the unceasing, soft rhythm that was in
his own ears continually and contained the whole thing? The stillness of
the cell had made his hearing acute; the boisterous laughter, which
expressed their pleasure in life, caused him suffering.
Beside a large blackboard on the platform stood one of the leaders,
writing up the victories of the day, amid the rejoicing of the crowd.
Pelle slipped out unnoticed, and was standing on the steps, breathing in
the quiet night air, when a young man came up to him and held out his
hand. It was his brother-in-law, Frederik Stolpe. "I just wanted to wish
you welcome back," he said, "and to thank you for what you said in
"How is Ellen?" Pelle asked in a low voice.
"She's only pretty well. She lives at 20, Victoria Street, and takes in
washing. I think she would be glad to see you." He looked searchingly at
Pelle. "If you like, I can easily arrange for you to meet at my place."
"Thank you!" Pelle answered, "but I'll go out to her early to-morrow
morning." He no longer needed to go by circuitous routes.
Pelle was awakened by a distant sound resembling thunder, that came
nearer and nearer out of the night and kept close to the prison. He lay
still and listened shudderingly in the hope of hearing the reassuring
step of the watchman passing his door, while fancies chased one another
in his heavy head like riderless horses. The hollow, threatening sound
grew ever louder and clearer, until it suddenly shattered the stillness
of the night with a thunderous roar, which seemed to bring everything
crashing down. It was as though a great gulf had opened and swallowed
In one panic-stricken bound he was at the window, his heart beating
tumultuously; but the next moment he was ashamed of his mistake. It had
been the same terrifying Doomsday that he had dreaded in the days of his
childhood, when the lightning zig-zagged among the rocks at home; and
yet it was nothing but the noise of the first farm-carts as they passed
from the highroad onto the stone paving of the town. It was the solitude
brooding in his imagination, making it start in fear at every sound. But
that would wear off.
He stretched himself and shook off the nightmare. Free! No gaoler was
coming like a bad spirit to shatter the night's happy dream of freedom.
He _was_ free! His pallet had not to be hooked up to the wall at a
certain hour; he could lie as long as he wanted to, the whole day, if he
liked. But now he had more important things to do; life was waiting. He
hastily put on his clothes.
In the street the lamplighter was lighting every other lamp. An endless
procession of carts was pouring in from the country to supply the town.
Pelle threw open the window and looked out over the wakening city while
he dressed himself. He was accustomed to sleep in a silence that was
only broken by the soft squeaking of the mice under the heat-grating;
and the night-noises of the city--the rumble of the electric trams, the
shouts of night-wanderers--all these unwonted sounds that pierced the
darkness so startlingly, had filled, his sleep with feverish dreams and
caused a series of ugly, deformed visions to pass through his brain.
He now felt quite rested, however, and greeted the city with awakened
pleasure. Yes, he had slept more than sufficiently; the noise called him
and he must go down and give a helping hand to keep it going. For years
he had done nothing but hoard; now he would set to work again with
strength and courage. As soon as he was dressed he went out. It was too
early to visit Ellen, but he could not bear to stay in any longer. It
was early morning. The first tram-car came in, filled with workmen, some
even hanging on to the steps both of the motor-wagon and the two cars
following it. And there was the first peasant with milk: they were not
even up yet in the ice-dairy! Every quarter of an hour trams came in
with workmen, and the market-carts continued to drive in from the
country laden with vegetables, corn or pigs' carcasses. The street was
like a feeding-tube through which nourishment was continually being
drawn into the city.
On the top of swaying loads of straw sat Zealand peasants nodding. They
had come all the way from the Frederikssund quarter, and had been
driving all night. Here and there came a drover with a few animals
intended for the cattle-market. The animals did not like the town, and
constantly became restive, hitching themselves round lamp-posts or
getting across the tram-lines. The newspaper-women trudged from street-
door to street-door with their aprons laden with morning papers, and he
heard them toiling up the stairs as though their feet were weighted with
lead. And beneath all this could be heard the endless tramp-tramp of
workmen hastening to their work.
There was a peculiarly familiar sound in those footsteps, which suddenly
reminded him that he no longer belonged to their party, but had marked
out his own way for good and evil.
Why was he not still a small, impersonal fraction of this great stream
which day after day mechanically followed the same round in the mill?
Solitude had made his view of mankind a new and wondering one; he now,
in every strange face he met, involuntarily sought for a little of that
which makes each individual a world in himself. But these men were all
alike, he thought; they came hurrying out of the darkness of the side
streets, and were not fully awake and steady on their feet until they
joined the throng, but then they did walk capitally. He recognized the
firm beat again: he had himself taught it to them.
Daylight came stealing in over Vesterbro, gray and heavy with spring
moisture and the city smoke. That part of the town was not quite awake
yet; the step sounding in the main street was that of the belated night-
wanderer. He turned down Victoria Street, looking about him in surprise;
he had never been here before. He read the door-plates: Artists' Bureau,
Artisan Heim, Lodging for Artists, Masseur & Chiropodist, Costumes for
Hire. Most of the announcements were in foreign languages. There was
also a Gymnasium for Equilibrists and a Conservatorium for Singing and
Music, Dancing and Deportment. Nor did there seem to be a scarcity of
pawnbrokers and dealers in second-hand goods. How had Ellen drifted into
this strange atmosphere of perfumes and old clothes and foreign
countries? Behind the windows in the low rooms he saw wonderful dresses
thrown over chair-backs--burnouses and red fezes; and a little dark
figure with a long pigtail and bare feet in yellow slippers, glided
noiselessly past him in the old-fashioned, palatial doorway of No. 20.
He mounted the stairs with a beating heart. The steps were worn and
groaned ominously when trodden on. The door of the flat stood ajar, and
he heard the sound of sweeping in the front room, while farther in a
child was talking to itself or its doll. He had to stand a little while
on the landing to take breath and to regain his composure.
Ellen was sweeping under the sofa with quick movements. She rose and
gazed at him in bewilderment; the broom fell from her hand and she
swayed to and fro. Pelle caught her, and she leaned inert and helpless
against him, and remained thus for a considerable time, pale and with
closed eyes. When at last he turned her inanimate face toward him and
kissed, it, she burst into tears.
He spoke gently and reassuringly to her as to a child. She kept her eyes
closed, as she had always done when anything overwhelmed her. She lay
back on his arm, and he felt her body tremble at the sound of his voice.
Her tears seemed to soften her, and from the yielding of her body now he
could see how stiffly she must have held herself, and was filled with
joy. It had all been for his sake, and with a tremendous effort of her
will she had defied fate until he came. She now placed it all at his
feet and lay prostrate. How tired she must be! But now she and the
children should have a good time; he would live for her now!
He had laid her on the sofa and sat bending over her and telling her
quietly how he had repented and longed for her. She made no answer, but
held his hand in a convulsive grasp, now and then opening her eyes and
stealing a glance at him. Suddenly she discovered how worn and lined his
face was, and as she passed her hand over it as if to soften the
features, she broke into a storm of weeping.
"You have suffered so, Pelle!" she exclaimed vehemently, passing her
trembling fingers through his iron-gray hair. "I can feel by your poor
head how badly they've treated you. And I wasn't even with you! If I
could only do something really nice to make you look happy!"
She drew his head down onto her bosom and stroked it as a mother might
her child's, and Pelle's face changed as would a child's when taken to
its mother's breast. It was as though the well of life flowed through
him, the hardness of his expression disappeared, and life and warmth
took its place. "I didn't think you'd come back to us," said Ellen.
"Ever since Lasse Frederik met you yesterday I've been expecting you to
Pelle suddenly noticed how exhausted she looked. "Haven't you been to
bed all night?" he asked.
She smilingly shook her head. "I had to take care that the street-door
wasn't locked. Whenever any one came home, I ran down and unlocked it
again. You mustn't be angry with the boy for being afraid of you just at
first. He was sorry for it afterward, and ran about the town all the
evening trying to find you."
A clear child's voice was calling from the bedroom more and more
persistently: "Man! Good-morning, man!"
It was Sister, sitting up in Ellen's bed and playing with a feather that
she had pulled out of the corner of the down-quilt. She readily allowed
herself to be kissed, and sat there with pouting mouth and the funniest
little wrinkled nose. "You're man!" she said insinuatingly.
"Yes, that's true enough," answered Pelle, laughing: "but what man?"
"Man!" she repeated, nodding gravely.
Sister shared Ellen's bed now. At the foot of the big bed stood her own
little cot, which had also been Lasse Frederik's, and in it lay----.
Well, Pelle turned to the other side of the room, where Lasse Frederik
lay snoring in a small bed, with one arm beneath his head. He had kicked
off the quilt, and lay on his stomach in a deep sleep, with his limbs
extended carelessly. The little fellow was well built, thought Pelle.
"Now, lazy-bones, you'd better be thinking of getting up!" cried Pelle,
pulling him by the leg.
The boy turned slowly. When he saw his father, he instantly became wide
awake, and raised his arm above his head as though to ward off a blow.
"There's no box on the ears in the air, my boy," said Pelle, laughing.
"The game only begins to-day!"
Lasse Frederik continued to hold his arm in the same position, and lay
gazing indifferently out into the front room, as if he had no idea to
what his father was referring; but his face was scarlet.
"Don't you even say good-morning to your father?" said Ellen, whereupon
he sullenly extended his hand and then turned his face to the wall. He
was vexed at his behavior of the day before, and perhaps expected a
blowing-up. On a nail above his head hung his blouse and cap.
"Is Lasse Frederik a milk-boy?" asked Pelle.
"Yes," said Ellen, "and he's very good at it. The drivers praise him."
"Isn't he going to get up then, and go? I've met several milk-carts."
"No, for we're on strike just now," murmured the boy without turning
Pelle became quite interested. "What fellows you are! So you're on
strike, are you? What's it for--is it wages?"
The boy had to explain, and gradually turned his face round, but did not
look at his father.
Ellen stood in the doorway and listened to them smilingly. She looked
frail. "Lasse Frederik's the leader," she said gently.
"And he's lying here instead of being out on the watch for blacklegs?"
exclaimed Pelle quite irritably. "You're a nice leader!"
"Do you suppose any boy would be so mean as to be a blackleg?" said
Lasse Frederik. "No, indeed! But people fetch their own milk from the
"Then you must get the drivers to join you."
"No, we don't belong to a real union, so they won't support us."
"Well then, make a union! Get up, boy, and don't lie there snoring when
there's anything of this sort on! Do you imagine that anything in this
world is to be got by sleeping?"
The boy did not move. He did not seem to think there was any reason for
taking his father very seriously; but he met a reproachful look from
Ellen, and he was out of bed and dressed in a trice. While they sat in
the front room, drinking their coffee, Pelle gave him a few hints as to
how he should proceed in the matter. He was greatly interested, and went
thoroughly into the subject; it seemed to him as though it were only
yesterday that he had occupied himself with the people. How many
pleasant memories of the fight crowded into his mind! And now every
child knew that the meanest thing on earth was to become a blackleg! How
he had fought to make even intelligent fellow-workmen understand this!
It was quite comical to think that the strike--which filled the workmen
with horror the first time he had employed it--was now a thing that
children made use of. Time passed with a fleet foot out here in the day;
and if you wanted to keep pace you must look sharp!
When the boy had gone, Ellen came to Pelle and stroked his hair.
"Welcome home!" she said softly, and kissed his furrowed brow.
He pressed her hand. "Thank you for having a home for me," he answered,
looking into her eyes; "for if you hadn't, I think I should have gone to
"The boy has had his share in that, you know! He's worked well, or it
might have gone badly with me many a time. You mustn't be angry with
him, Pelle, even if he is a little sullen to you. You must remember how
much he's gone through with the other boys. Sometimes he's come home
"Because of me?" asked Pelle in a low voice.
"Yes, for he couldn't bear them to say anything about you. At one time
he was always fighting, but now I think he's taught them to leave him
alone; for he never gave in. But it may have left its marks on him."
She lingered by him; there was something she wanted to say to him, but
she had a difficulty in beginning. "What is it?" he asked, in order to
help her, his heart beating rapidly. He would have liked to get over
this without speech.
She drew him gently into the bedroom and up to the little cot. "You
haven't looked at Boy Comfort," she said.
He bent in embarrassment over the little boy who lay and gazed at him
with large, serious eyes. "You must give me a little time," he said.
"It's little Marie's boy," said Ellen, with a peculiar intonation.
He stood up quickly, and looked in bewilderment at her. It was a little
while before he comprehended.
"Where is Marie?" he asked with difficulty.
"She's dead, Pelle," answered Ellen, and came to his aid by holding out
her hand to him. "She died when the child was born."
A gray shadow passed across Pelle's face.
The house in which Pelle and his wife lived--the "Palace," the
inhabitants of the street called it--was an old, tumble-down, three-
storied building with a mansard roof. Up the middle of the facade ran
the remains of some fluted pilasters through the two upper stories,
making a handsome frame to the small windows. The name "Palace" had not
been given to the house entirely without reason; the old woman who kept
the ironmonger's shop in the back building could remember that in her
childhood it had been a general's country-house, and stood quite by
itself. At that time the shore reached to where Isted Street now runs,
and the fruit-gardens went right into Council House Square. Two ancient,
worm-eaten apple-trees, relics of that period, were still standing
squeezed in among the back buildings.
Since then the town had pushed the fruit-gardens a couple of miles
farther back, and in the course of time side streets had been added to
the bright neighborhood of Vesterbro--narrow, poor-men's streets, which
sprang up round the scattered country-houses, and shut out the light;
and poor people, artistes and street girls ousted the owners and turned
the luxuriant summer resort into a motley district where booted poverty
and shoeless intelligence met.
The "Palace" was the last relic of a vanished age. The remains of its
former grandeur were still to be seen in the smoke-blackened stucco and
deep windows of the attics; but the large rooms had been broken up into
sets of one or two rooms for people of small means, half the wide
landing being boarded off for coal-cellars.
From Pelle's little two-roomed flat, a door and a couple of steps led
down into a large room which occupied the entire upper floor of the side
building, and was not unlike the ruins of a former banqueting-hall. The
heavy, smoke-blackened ceiling went right up under the span roof and had
once been decorated; but most of the plaster had now fallen down, and
the beams threatened to follow it.
The huge room had been utilized, in the course of time, both as a
brewery and as a warehouse; but it still bore the stamp of its former
splendor. The children of the property at any rate thought it was grand,
and picked out the last remains of panelling for kindling-wood, and
would sit calling to one another for hours from the high ledges above
the brick pillars, upon which there had once stood busts of famous men.
Now and again a party of Russian or Polish emigrants hired the room and
took possession of it for a few nights. They slept side by side upon the
bare floor, each using his bundle for a pillow; and in the morning they
would knock at the door of Ellen's room, and ask by gestures to be
allowed to come to the water-tap. At first she was afraid of them and
barricaded the door with her wardrobe cupboard; but the thought of Pelle
in prison made her sympathetic and helpful. They were poor, needy
beings, whom misery and misfortune had driven from their homes. They
could not speak the language and knew nothing about the world; but they
seemed, like birds of passage, to find their way by instinct. In their
blind flight it was at the "Palace" that they happened to alight for
With this exception the great room lay unused. It went up through two
stories, and could have been made into several small flats; but the
owner of the property--an old peasant from Glostrup--was so miserly that
he could not find it in his heart to spend money on it, notwithstanding
the great advantage it would be to him. _Ellen_ had no objection to
this! She dried her customers' washing there, and escaped all the coal-
dust and dirt of the yard.
Chance, which so often takes the place of Providence in the case of poor
people, had landed her and her children here when things had gone wrong
with them in Chapel Road. Ellen had at last, after hard toil, got her
boot-sewing into good working order and had two pupils to help her, when
a long strike came and spoiled it all for her. She struggled against it
as well as she could, but one day they came and carried her bits of
furniture down into the street. It was the old story: Pelle had heard it
several times before. There she stood with the children, mounting guard
over her belongings until it grew dark. It was pouring with rain, and
they did not know what to do. People stopped as they hurried by, asked a
few questions and passed on; one or two advised her to apply to the
committee for housing the homeless. This, however, both Ellen and Lasse
Frederik were too proud to do. They took the little ones down to the
mangling-woman in the cellar, and themselves remained on guard over
their things, in the dull hope that something would happen, a hope of
which experience never quite deprives the poor.
After they had stood there a long time something really did happen. Out
of Norrebro Street came two men dashing along at a tremendous pace with
a four-wheeled cart of the kind employed by the poor of Copenhagen when
they move--preferably by night--from one place to another. One of the
men was at the pole of the cart, while the other pushed behind and, when
the pace was at its height, flung himself upon his stomach on the cart,
putting on the brake with the toes of his boots upon the road so as to
twist the cart into the gutter. Upon the empty cart sat a middle-aged
woman, singing, with her feet dangling over the side; she was big and
wore an enormous hat with large nodding flowers, of the kind designed to
attract the male sex. The party zig-zagged, shouting and singing, from
one side of the street to the other, and each time the lady shrieked.
"_There's_ a removing cart!" said Lasse Frederik, and as he spoke
the vehicle pulled up in the gutter just in front of them.
"What are you doing, Thorvald?" said one of the men; then, staring
straight into Ellen's face, "Have you hurt your eye?"
The woman had jumped down from the cart. "Oh, get out of the way, you
ass!" she said, pushing him aside. "Can't you see they've been turned
out? Is it your husband that's chucked you out?" she asked, bending
sympathetically over Ellen.
"No, the landlord's turned us out!" said Lasse Frederik.
"What a funny little figure! And you've got nowhere to sleep to-night?
Here, Christian, take and load these things on the cart, and then they
can stand under the gateway at home for the night. They'll be quite
spoilt by the rain here."
"Yes," answered Christian, "the chair-legs have actually begun to take
root!" The two men were in a boisterous humor.
"Now you can just come along with me," said the woman, when the things
were piled upon the cart, "and I'll find you a place to sleep in. And
then to-morrow Providence'll perhaps be at home himself!"
"She's a street-woman," whispered Lasse Frederik again and again,
pulling Ellen's dress; but Ellen did not care now, if only she could
avoid having to accept poor relief. She no longer held her head so high.
It was "Queen Theresa" herself they had met, and in a sense this meeting
had made their fortune. She helped Ellen to find her little flat, and
got her washing to do for the girls of the neighborhood. It was not very
much, though the girls of Vesterbro went in for fine clothes as far as
they could; but it afforded her at any rate a livelihood.
* * * * *
Pelle did not like Ellen going on with all this dirty work; he wanted to
be the one to provide for the family. Ellen moreover had had her turn,
and she looked tired and as if she needed to live a more comfortable
life. It was as though she fell away now that he was there and able once
more to assume the responsibility; but she would not hear of giving up
the washing. "It's never worth while to throw away the dirty water until
you've got the clean!" she said.
Every morning he set out furnished with a brand-new trades-union book,
and went from workshop to workshop. Times were bad for his branch of
trade; many of his old fellow-workmen had been forced to take up other
occupations--he met them again as conductors, lamplighters, etc.;
machinery had made them unnecessary, they said. It was the effect of the
great lock-out; it had killed the little independent businesses that had
formerly worked with one or two men, and put wind into the sails of
large industries. The few who could manage it had procured machines and
become manufacturers; the rest were crowded out and sat in out-of-the-
way basements doing repairs. To set to work again, on the old conditions
was what had been farthest from Pelle's thoughts; and he now went about
and offered to become an apprentice again in order to serve his new
master, the machinery, and was ready to be utilized to the utmost. But
the manufacturers had no use for him; they still remembered him too
well. "You've been too long away from the work," said one and another of
Well, that was only tit for tat; but he felt bitterly how even his past
rose up against him. He had fought and sacrificed everything to improve
the conditions in his branch; and the machines were the discouraging
answer that the development gave to him and his fellows.
He was not alone in his vain search in this bright springtime. A number
of other branches had had the same fate as his own. Every new day that
dawned brought him into a stream of men who seemed to be condemned to
wear out the pavement in their hopeless search for work--people who had
been pushed out by the machines and could not get in again. "There must
be something wrong with them," Pelle thought while he stood and listened
to always the same story of how they had suddenly been dropped, and saw
the rest of the train steaming away. It must have been their own fault
that they were not coupled on to a new one; perhaps they were lazy or
drunkards. But after a time he saw good, tried men standing in the row,
and offering their powers morning after morning without result; and he
began to realize with a chill fear that times were changing.
He would certainly have managed to make both ends meet if there had been
anything to be got. The prices were all right; their only defect was
that they were not eatable. Altogether it seemed as if a change for the
worse had overtaken the artisan; and to make it still more serious the
large businesses stood in the way of his establishing himself and
becoming independent. There was not even a back door left open now!
Pelle might just as well put that out of his head first as last; to
become a master now required capital and credit. The best thing that the
future held was an endless and aimless tramp to and from the factory.
At one stroke he was planted in the middle of the old question again;
all the circumstances passed before him, and it was useless to close his
eyes. He was willing enough to mind his own affairs and did not seek for
anything; but the one thing was a consequence of the other, and whether
he wished it or not, it united in a general view of the conditions.
The union had stood the test outwardly. The workmen were well organized
and had vindicated their right to negotiate; their corporations could no
longer be disregarded. Wages were also to some extent higher, and the
feeling for the home had grown in the workmen themselves, many of them
having removed from their basements into new two- or three-roomed flats,
and bought good furniture. They demanded more from life, but everything
had become dearer, and they still lived from hand to mouth. He could see
that the social development had not kept pace with the mechanical; the
machines wedged themselves quietly but inexorably in between the workmen
and the work, and threw more and more men out of employment. The hours
of labor were not greatly shortened. Society did not seem to care to
protect the workers, but it interested itself more in disabled workmen
than before, and provision for the poor was well organized. Pelle could
not discover _any_ law that had a regulating effect, but found a
whole number of laws that plastered up the existing conditions. A great
deal of help was given, always just on the borders of starvation; and
more and more men had to apply for it. It did not rob them of their
rights as citizens, but made them a kind of politically _kept_
It was thus that the world of adventure which Pelle had helped to
conquer appeared now when he returned and looked at it with new eyes.
The world had not been created anew, and the Movement did not seem to
have produced anything strong and humanly supporting. It seemed as if
the workmen would quietly allow themselves to be left out of the game,
if only they received money for doing nothing! What had become of their
former pride? They must have acquired the morals of citizens, since they
willingly agreed to accept a pension for rights surrendered. They were
not deficient in power; they could make the whole world wither and die
without shedding a drop of blood, only by holding together. It was a
sense of responsibility that they lacked; they had lost the fundamental
idea of the Movement.
Pelle looked at the question from all sides while he trudged up and down
in his vain search. The prospect obtruded itself upon him, and there
were forces at work, both within and without, trying to push him into
the Movement and into the front rank among the leaders, but he repelled
the idea: he was going to work for his home now.
He managed to obtain some repairs for the neighbors, and also helped
Ellen to hang up clothes and turn the mangle. One must pocket one's
pride and be glad _she_ had something. She was glad of his help,
but did not want any one to see him doing this woman's work.
"It's not work for a man," she said, looking at him with eyes which said
how pleased she was to have his company.
They liked being together, enjoyed it in their own quiet way without
many words. Much had happened, but neither Pelle nor Ellen were in a
hurry. Neither of them had a facility in speaking, but they found their
way to an understanding through the pauses, and drew nearer to one
another in the silences. Each knew what the other had suffered without
requiring to have it told: time had been at work on them both.
There was no storm in their new companionship. The days passed quietly,
made sad by the years that had gone by. In Ellen's mind was neither
jubilation nor reproach. She was cautious with regard to him--almost as
shy as the first time they met; behind all her goodness and care lay the
same touch of maidenly reserve as at that time. She received his
caresses silently, she herself giving chiefly by being something for
him. He noticed how every little homely action she did for him grew out
of her like a motherly caress and took him into her heart. He was
grateful for it, but it was not that of which he stood most in need.
When they sat together in the twilight and the children played upon the
floor, she was generally silent, stealing glances at him now and then;
but as soon as he noticed these, the depth of her expression vanished.
Was she again searching for his inner being as she had done in their
earliest time together? It was as though she were calling to something
within him, but would not reveal herself. It was thus that mother might
sit and gaze searchingly into her child's future. Did she not love him
then? She had given him all that she possessed, borne him children, and
had faithfully waited for him when all the rest of the world had cast
him off; and yet he was not sure that she had ever loved him.
Pelle had never met with love in the form of something unmanageable; the
Movement had absorbed the surplus of his youth. But now he had been born
anew together with the spring, and felt it suddenly as an inward power.
He and Ellen would begin now, for now she was everything! Life had
taught him seriousness, and it was well. He was horrified at the
thoughtless way in which he had taken Ellen and made her a mother
without first making her a bride. Her woman's heart must be immeasurably
large since she had not gone to pieces in consequence, but still stood
as unmoved as ever, waiting for him to win her. She had got through it
by being a mother.
Would he ever win her? Was she really waiting still, or was she
contented with things as they were?
His love for her was so strong that everything about her was
transfigured, and he was happy in the knowledge that she was his fate.
Merely a ribbon or a worn check cotton apron--any little thing that
belonged to her--acquired a wonderfully warm hue, and filled his mind
with sweetness. A glance or a touch made him dizzy with happiness, and
his heart went out to her in waves of ardent longing. It awoke no
response; she smiled gently and pressed his hand. She was fond of him
and refused him nothing, but he nevertheless felt that she kept her
innermost self hidden from him. When he tried to see in, he found it
closed by a barrier of kindness.
Pelle was like a man returning home after years of exile, and trying to
bring himself into personal relations with everything; the act of
oblivion was in force only up to the threshold; the real thing he had to
see to himself. The land he had tilled was in other hands, he no longer
had any right to it; but it was he who had planted, and he must know how
it had been tended and how it had thriven.
The great advance had taken on a political character. The Movement had
in the meantime let the demand of the poorest of the people for bread
drop, and thrown them over as one would throw over ballast in order to
rise more quickly. The institutions themselves would be won, and then
they would of course come back to the starting-point and begin again
quite differently. It might be rather convenient to turn out those who
most hindered the advance, but would it lead to victory? It was upon
them indeed that everything turned! Pelle had thoroughly learned the
lesson, that he who thinks he will outwit others is outwitted himself.
He had no faith in those who would climb the fence where it was lowest.
The new tactics dated from the victorious result of the great conflict.
He had himself led the crowds in triumph through the capital, and if he
had not been taken he would probably now be sitting in parliament as one
of the labor members and symbolizing his promotion to citizenship. But
now he was out of it all, and had to choose his attitude toward the
existing state of things; he had belonged to the world of outcasts and
had stood face to face with the irreconcilable. He was not sure that the
poor man was to be raised by an extension of the existing social ethics.
He himself was still an outlaw, and would probably never be anything
else. It was hard to stoop to enter the doorway through which you had
once been thrown out, and it was hard to get in. He did not intend to
take any steps toward gaining admission to the company of respectable
men; he was strong enough to stand alone now.
Perhaps Ellen expected something in that way as reparation for all the
wrong she had suffered. She must have patience! Pelle had promised
himself that he would make her and the children happy, and he persuaded
himself that this would be best attained by following his own impulses.
He was not exactly happy. Pecuniarily things were in a bad way, and
notwithstanding all his planning, the future continued to look
uncertain. He needed to be the man, the breadwinner, so that Ellen could
come to him for safety and shelter, take her food with an untroubled
mind from his hand, and yield herself to him unresistingly.
He was not their god; that was where the defect lay. This was noticeable
at any rate in Lasse Frederik. There was good stuff in the boy, although
it had a tang of the street. He was an energetic fellow, bright and
pushing, keenly alert with regard to everything in the way of business.
Pelle saw in him the image of himself, and was only proud of him; but
the boy did not look upon him with unconditional reliance in return. He
was quick and willing, but nothing more; his attitude was one of trial,
as if he wanted to see how things would turn out before he recognized
the paternal relationship.
Pelle suffered under this impalpable distrust, which classed him with
the "new fathers" of certain children; and he had a feeling that was at
the same time painful and ridiculous, that he was on trial. In olden
days the matter might have been settled by a good thrashing, but now
things had to be arranged so that they would be lasting; he could no
longer buy cheaply. When helping Lasse Frederik in organizing the milk-
boys, he pocketed his pride and introduced features from the great
conflict in order to show that he was good for something too. He could
see from the boy's expression that he did not believe much of it, and
intended to investigate the matter more closely. It wounded his
sensitive mind and drove him into himself.
One day, however, when he was sitting at his work, Lasse Frederik rushed
in. "Father, tell me what you did to get the men that were locked into
the factory out!" he cried breathlessly.
"You wouldn't believe it if I did," said Pelle reproachfully.
"Yes, I would; for they called you the 'Lightning!'" exclaimed the boy
in tones of admiration. "And they had to put you in prison so as to get
rid of you. The milk-driver told me all about it!"
From that day they were friends. At one stroke Pelle had become the hero
of the boy's existence. He had shaved off his beard, had blackened his
face, and had gone right into the camp of his opponents, and nothing
could have been finer. He positively had to defend himself from being
turned into a regular robber-captain with a wide-awake hat and top-
boots! Lasse Frederik had a lively imagination!
Pelle had needed this victory. He must have his own people safely at his
back first of all, and then have a thorough settlement of the past. But
this was not easy, for little Boy Comfort staggered about everywhere,
warped himself toward him from one piece of furniture to another with
his serious eyes fixed steadily upon him, and crawled the last part of
the way. Whenever he was set down, he instantly steered for Pelle; he
would come crawling in right from the kitchen, and would not stop until
he stood on his feet by Pelle's leg, looking up at him. "See how fond he
is of you already!" said Ellen tenderly, as she put him down in the
middle of the floor to try him. "Take him up!" Pelle obeyed
mechanically; he had no personal feeling for this child; it was indeed
no child, but the accusation of a grown-up person that came crawling
toward him. And there stood Ellen with as tender an expression as if it
were her own baby! Pelle could not understand how it was that she did
not despise him; he was ashamed whenever he thought of his struggle to
reconcile himself to this "little cuckoo." It was a good thing he had
said so little!
His inability to be as naturally kind to the child as she was tormented
him; and when, on Saturday evening, she had bathed Boy Comfort and then
sat with him on her lap, putting on his clean clothes, Pelle was
overwhelmed with self-accusation. He had thoughtlessly trodden little
Marie of the "Ark" underfoot, and she whom he had cast off when she most
needed him, in return passed her beneficent hand over his wrong-doing.
As though she were aware of his gloomy thoughts, she went to him and
placed the warm, naked child in his arms, saying with a gentle smile:
"Isn't he a darling?" Her heart was so large that he was almost afraid;
she really took more interest in this child than in her own.
"I'm his mother, of course!" she said naturally. "You don't suppose he
can do without a real mother, do you?"
Marie's fate lay like a shadow over Pelle's mind. He had to talk to
Ellen about it in order to try to dispel it, but she did not see the
fateful connection; she looked upon it as something that had to be. "You
were so hunted and persecuted," she said quietly, "and you had no one to
look to. So it had to happen like that. Marie told me all about it. It
was no one's fault that she was not strong enough to bear children. The
doctor said there was a defect in her frame; she had an internal
deformity." Alas! Ellen did not know how much a human being should be
able to help, and she herself took much more upon her than she need.
There was, nevertheless, something soothing in these sober facts,
although they told him nothing about the real thing. It is impossible to
bear for long the burden of the irreparable, and Pelle was glad that
Ellen dwelt so constantly and naturally on Marie's fate; it brought it
within the range of ordinary things for him too. Marie had come to her
when she could no longer hide her condition, and Ellen had taken her in
and kept her until she went to the lying-in hospital. Marie knew quite
well that she was going to die--she could feel it, as it were--and would
sit and talk about it while she helped Ellen with her boot-sewing. She
arranged everything as sensibly as an experienced mother.
"How old-fashioned she was, and yet so child-like!" Ellen would exclaim
Pelle could not help thinking of his life in the "Ark" when little Marie
kept house for him and her two brothers--a careful housekeeper of eleven
years! She was deformed and yet had abundant possibilities within her;
she resembled poverty itself. Infected by his young strength, she had
shot up and unfolded into a fair maiden, at whom the young dandies
turned to look when she went along the street to make her purchases. He
had been anxious about her, alone and unprotected as she was; and yet it
was he himself who had become the plunderer of the poor, defenceless
girl. Why had he not carried his cross alone, instead of accepting the
love of a being who gave herself to him in gratitude for his gift to her
of the joy of life? Why had he been obliged, in a difficult moment, to
take his gift back? Boy Comfort she had called her boy in her innocent
goodness of heart, in order that Pelle should be really fond of him; but
it was a dearly-bought Comfort that cost the life of another! For Pelle
the child was almost an accusation.
There was much to settle up and some things that could not be arranged!
Pelle sometimes found it burdensome enough to be responsible for
About this time Morten was often in his thoughts. "Morten has
disappointed me at any rate," he thought; "he could not bear my
prosperity!" This was a point on which Pelle had right upon his side!
Morten must come to him if they were to have anything more to do with
one another. Pelle bore no malice, but it was reasonable and just that
the one who was on the top should first hold out his hand.
In this way he thought he had obtained rest from that question in any
case, but it returned. He had taken the responsibility upon himself now,
and was going to begin by sacrificing his only friend on a question of
etiquette! He would have to go to him and hold out a hand of
This at last seemed to be a noble thought!
But Pelle was not allowed to feel satisfied with himself in this either.
He was a prey to the same tormenting unrest that he had suffered in his
cell, when he stole away from his work and sat reading secretly--he felt
as if there were always an eye at the peephole, which saw everything
that he did. He would have to go into the question once more.