Part 2 out of 5
That unselfish Morten envious? It was true he had not celebrated Pelle's
victory with a flourish of trumpets, but had preferred to be his
conscience! That was really at the bottom of it. He had intoxicated
himself in the noise, and wanted to find something with which to drown
Morten's quiet warning voice, and the accusation was not far to seek--
_envy!_ It was he himself, in fact, who had been the one to
One day he hunted him up. Morten's dwelling was not difficult to find
out; he had acquired a name as an author, and was often mentioned in the
papers in connection with the lower classes. He lived on the South
Boulevard, up in an attic as usual, with a view over Kalvebod Strand and
"Why, is that you?" he said, taking Pelle's hands in his and gazing into
his stern, furrowed face until the tears filled his eyes. "I say, how
you have changed!" he whispered half tearfully, and led him into his
"I suppose I have," Pelle answered gloomily. "I've had good reason to,
anyhow. And how have you been? Are you married?"
"No, I'm as solitary as ever. The one I want still doesn't care about
me, and the others _I_ don't want. I thought you'd thrown me over
too, but you've come after all."
"I had too much prosperity, and that makes you self-important."
"Oh, well, it does. But in prison--why did you send my letters back? It
was almost too hard."
Pelle looked up in astonishment. "It would never have occurred to the
prisoner that he could hurt anybody, so you do me an injustice there,"
he said. "It was myself I wanted to punish!"
"You've been ill then, Pelle!"
"Yes, ill! You should only know what one gets like when they stifle your
right to be a human being and shut you in between four bare walls. At
one time I hated blindly the whole world; my brain reeled with trying to
find out a really crushing revenge, and when I couldn't hit others I
helped to carry out the punishment upon myself. There was always a
satisfaction in feeling that the more I suffered, the greater devils did
it make the others appear. And I really did get a hit at them; they
hated with all their hearts having to give me a transfer."
"Wasn't there any one there who could speak a comforting word--the
chaplain, the teachers?"
Pelle smiled a bitter smile. "Oh, yes, the lash! The jailer couldn't
keep me under discipline; I was what they call a difficult prisoner. It
wasn't that I didn't want to, but I had quite lost my balance. You might
just as well expect a man to walk steadily when everything is whirling
round him. They saw, I suppose, that I couldn't come right by myself, so
one day they tied me to a post, pulled my shirt up over my head and gave
me a thrashing. It sounds strange, but that did it; the manner of
procedure was so brutal that everything in me was struck dumb. When such
a thing as _that_ could happen, there was nothing more to protest
against. They put a wet sheet round me and I was lifted onto my pallet,
so that was all right. For a week I had to lie on my face and couldn't
move for the pain; the slightest movement made me growl like an animal.
The strokes had gone right through me and could be counted on my chest;
and there I lay like a lump of lead, struck down to the earth in open-
mouthed astonishment. 'This is what they do to human beings!' I groaned
inwardly; 'this is what they do to human beings!' I could no longer
Pelle's face had become ashen gray; all the blood had left it, and the
bones stood out sharply as in a dead face. He gulped two or three times
to obtain control over his voice.
"I wonder if you understand what it means to get a thrashing!" he said
hoarsely. "Fire's nothing; I'd rather be burnt alive than have it again.
The fellow doesn't beat; he's not the least angry; nobody's angry with
you; they're all so seriously grieved on your account. He places the
strokes carefully down over your back as if he were weighing out food,
almost as if he were fondling you. But your lungs gasp at each stroke
and your heart beats wildly; it's as if a thousand pincers were tearing
all your fibers and nerves apart at once. My very entrails contracted in
terror, and seemed ready to escape through my throat every time the lash
fell. My lungs still burn when I think of it, and my heart will suddenly
contract as if it would send the blood out through my throat. Do you
know what the devilish part of corporal punishment is? It's not the
bodily pain that they inflict upon the culprit; it's his inner man they
thrash--his soul. While I lay there brooding over my mutilated spirit,
left to lick my wounds like a wounded animal, I realized that I had been
in an encounter with the evil conscience of Society, the victim of their
hatred of those who suffer."
"Do you remember what gave occasion to the punishment?" Morten asked, as
he wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"It was some little thing or other--I think I called out. The solitude
and the terrible silence got upon my nerves, and I suppose I shouted to
make a little life in the horrible emptiness. I don't remember very
clearly, but I think that was my crime."
"You'd have been the better anyhow for a kind word from a friend."
Morten was still thinking of his despised letters.
"Yes, but the atmosphere of a cell is not suited for friendly relations
with the outside world. You get to hate all who are at liberty--those
who mean well by you too--and you chop off even the little bit of branch
you're sitting on. Perhaps I should never have got into touch with life
again if it hadn't been for the mice in my cell. I used to put crumbs of
bread down the grating for them, and when I lay there half dead and
brooding, they ran squeaking over my hand. It was a caress anyhow, even
if it wasn't from fellow-men."
Morten lived in a small two-roomed flat in the attics. While they sat
talking, a sound came now and then from the other room, and each time a
nervous look came into Morten's face, and he glanced in annoyance at the
closed door. Gradually he became quite restless and his attention was
fixed on these sounds. Pelle wondered at it, but asked no questions.
Suddenly there came the sound of a chair being overturned. Morten rose
quickly and went in, shutting the door carefully behind him. Pelle heard
low voices--Morten's admonishing, and a thin, refractory, girlish voice.
"He's got a girl hidden in there," thought Pelle. "I'd better be off."
He rose and looked out of the large attic window. How everything had
changed since he first came to the capital and looked out over it from
Morten's old lodging! In those days he had had dreams of conquering it,
and had carried out his plan too; and now he could begin from the
beginning! An entirely new city lay spread out beneath him. Where he had
once run about among wharves and coal-bunkers, there now stood a row of
palatial buildings with a fine boulevard. And everything outside was
new; a large working-men's district had sprung up where there had once
been timber-yards or water. Below him engines were drawing rows of
trucks filled with ballast across the site for the new goods-station
yard; and on the opposite side of the harbor a new residential and
business quarter had grown up on the Iceland Quay. And behind it all lay
the water and the green land of Amager. Morten had had the sense to
select a high branch for himself like the nightingales.
He had got together a good number of books again, and on his writing-
table stood photographs of well-known men with autograph inscriptions.
To all appearances he seemed to make his way in the world of books.
Pelle took down some of Morten's own works, and turned over their leaves
with interest. He seemed to hear Morten's earnest voice behind the
printed words. He would begin to read him now!
Morten came in. "You're not going, are you?" he asked, drawing his hand
across his forehead. "Do stay a little while and we'll have a good talk.
You can't think how I've missed you!" He looked tired.
"I'm looking forward tremendously to reading your books," said Pelle
enthusiastically. "What a lot you've written! You haven't given that
"Perhaps solitude's taught you too to like books," said Morten, looking
at him. "If so, you've made some good friends in there, Pelle. All that
there isn't worth much; it's only preliminary work. It's a new world
ours, you must remember."
"I don't think _The Working Man_ cares much about you."
"No, not much," answered Morten slowly.
"They say you only write in the upper-class papers."
"If I didn't I should starve. _They_ don't grudge me my food, at
any rate! Our own press still has no use for skirmishers, but only for
men who march to order!"
"And it's very difficult for you to subordinate yourself to any one,"
said Pelle, smiling.
"I have a responsibility to those above me," answered Morten proudly.
"If I give the blind man eyes to see into the future, I can't let myself
be led by him. Now and then _The Working Man_ gets hold of one of
my contributions to the upper-class press: that's all the connection I
have with my own side. My food I have to get from the other side of the
boundary, and lay my eggs there: they're pretty hard conditions. You
can't think how often I've worried over not being able to speak to my
own people except in roundabout ways. Well, it doesn't matter! I can
afford to wait. There's no way of avoiding the son of my father, and in
the meantime I'm doing work among the upper classes. I bring the misery
into the life of the happily-situated, and disturb their quiet
enjoyment. The upper classes must be prepared for the revolution too."
"Can they stand your representations?" asked Pelle, in surprise.
"Yes, the upper classes are just as tolerant as the common people were
before they rose: it's an outcome of culture. Sometimes they're almost
too tolerant; you can't quite vouch for their words. When there's
something they don't like, they always get out of it by looking at it
from an artistic point of view."
"How do you mean?"
"As a display, as if you were acting for their entertainment. 'It's
splendidly done,' they say, when you've laid bare a little of the
boundless misery. 'It's quite Russian. Of course it's not real at all,
at any rate not here at home.' But you always make a mark on some one or
other, and little by little the food after all becomes bitter to their
taste, I think. Perhaps some day I shall be lucky enough to write in
such a way about the poor that no one can leave them out. But you
yourself--what's your attitude toward matters? Are you disappointed?"
"Yes, to some extent. In prison, in my great need, I left the fulfilment
of the time of prosperity to you others. All the same, a great change
has taken place."
"And you're pleased with it?"
"Everything has become dearer," said Pelle slowly, "and unemployment
seems on the way to become permanent."
Morten nodded. "That's the answer capital gives," he said. "It
multiplies every rise in wages by two, and puts it back on the workmen
again. The poor man can't stand very many victories of that kind."
"Almost the worst thing about it is the development of snobbery. It
seems to me that our good working classes are being split up into two--
the higher professions, which will be taken up into the upper classes;
and the proletariat, which will be left behind. The whole thing has been
planned on too small a scale for it to get very far."
"You've been out and seen something of the world, Pelle," said Morten
significantly. "You must teach others now."
"I don't understand myself," answered Pelle evasively, "and I've been in
prison. But what about you?"
"I'm no good as a rallier; you've seen that yourself. They don't care
about me. I'm too far in advance of the great body of them, and have no
actual connection--you know I'm really terribly lonely! Perhaps, though,
I'm destined to reach the heights before you others, and if I do I'll
try to light a beacon up there for you."
Morten sat silent for a little while, and then suddenly lifted his head.
"But you _must_, Pelle!" he said. "You say you're not the right
man, but there's simply no one but you. Have you forgotten that you
fired the Movement, that you were its simple faith? They one and all
believed in you blindly like children, and were capable of nothing when
you gave up. Why, it's not you, but the others--the whole Movement--
who've been imprisoned! How glad I am that you've come back full of the
strength gained there! You were smaller than you are now, Pelle, and
even then something happened; now you may be successful even in great
Pelle sat and listened in the deepening twilight, wondering with a
pleased embarrassment. It was Morten who was nominating him--the severe,
incorruptible Morten, who had always before been after him like his evil
"No, I'm going to be careful now," he said, "and it's your own fault,
Morten. You've gone and pricked my soul, and I'm awake now; I shan't go
at anything blindly again. I have a feeling that what we two are joining
in is the greatest thing the world has ever seen. It reaches further
into the future than I can see, and so I'm working on myself. I study
the books now--I got into the way of that in prison--and I must try to
get a view out over the world. Something strange too has happened to me:
I understand now what you meant when you said that man was holy! I'm no
longer satisfied with being a small part of the whole, but think I must
try to become a whole world by myself. It sounds foolish, but I feel as
if I were in one of the scales and the rest of the world in the other;
and until I can send the other scale up, I can't think of putting myself
at the head of the multitude."
Evening had closed in before they were aware of it. The electric light
from the railway-station yard threw its gleam upon the ceiling of the
attic room and was reflected thence onto the two men who sat leaning
forward in the half-darkness, talking quietly. Neither of them noticed
that the door to the other room had opened, and a tall, thin girl stood
on the threshold gazing at them with dilated pupils. She was in her
chemise only, and it had slipped from one thin shoulder; and her feet
were bare. The chemise reached only to her knees, leaving exposed a pair
of sadly emaciated legs. A wheezing sound accompanied her breathing.
Pelle had raised his head to say something, but was silent at sight of
the lean, white figure, which stood looking at him with great eyes that
seemed to draw the darkness into them. The meeting with Morten had put
him into an expectant frame of mind. He still had the call sounding in
his ears, and gazed in amazement at the ghostly apparition. The delicate
lines, spoiled by want, the expression of childlike terror of the dark--
all this twofold picture of wanness stamped with the stamp of death, and
of an unfulfilled promise of beauty--was it not the ghost of poverty, of
wrong and oppression, a tortured apparition sent to admonish him? Was
his brain failing? Were the horrible visions of the darkness of his cell
returning? "Morten!" he whispered, touching his arm.
Morten sprang up. "Why, Johanna! Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" he
exclaimed reproachfully. He tried to make the girl go back into the
other room, and to close the door; but she pushed past him out into the
"I _will_ see him!" she cried excitedly. "If you don't let me, I
shall run away! He's hidden my clothes," she said to Pelle, gazing at
him with her sunken eyes. "But I can easily run away in my chemise. I
don't care!" Her voice was rough and coarse from the damp air of the
"Now go back to bed, Johanna!" said Morten more gently.
"Remember what the doctor said. You'll catch cold and it'll all be
"What do I care!" she answered, breaking into a coarse laugh. "You
needn't waste anything on me; I've had no children by you." She was
trembling with cold, but remained obstinately standing, and answered
Morten's remonstrances with a torrent of abusive epithets. At last he
gave it up and sat down wearily. The two men sat and looked at her in
The child was evidently uncomfortable at the cessation of resistance,
and became confused beneath their silent gaze. She tossed her head and
looked defiantly from the one to the other, her eyes glowing with an
unnatural brightness. Suddenly she sank upon the floor and began to cry.
"_This_ won't do," said Pelle gravely.
"I can't manage her," answered Morten hopelessly, "but you are strong
Pelle stooped and took her up in his arms. She kicked and bit him.
"She's got a fit," he said to Morten. "We must take her out to the
pump." She instantly became quiet and let him carry her to bed. The
fever was raging in her, and he noticed how her body was racked with
every breath she drew; it sounded like a leaky pump.
When Morten, with a few kind words, covered her up, she began to weep
convulsively, but turned her face to the wall and stuffed the quilt into
her mouth in order to hide it. She gradually became quieter and at last
fell asleep; and the two men stole out of the room and closed the door
Morten looked tired out, for he was still not strong. "I've let myself
in for something that I'm not equal to," he said despondently.
"Who is the poor child?" asked Pelle softly.
"I don't know. She came to me this spring, almost dead drunk and in a
fearful state; and the next day she regretted it and went off, but I got
hold of her again. She's one of those poor creatures who have no other
home than the big timber-yards, and there she's made a living by going
from one to another of the bigger lads. I can get nothing out of her,
but I've found out in other ways that she's lived among timber-stacks
and in cellars for at least two years. The boys enticed dissolute men
out there and sold her, taking most of the money themselves and giving
her spirits to encourage her. From what I can make out there are whole
organized bands which supply the dissolute men of the city with boys and
girls. It makes one sick to think of it! The child must be an orphan,
but won't, as I said, tell me anything. Once or twice I've heard her
talk in her sleep of her grandmother; but when I've referred to it, she
sulks and won't speak."
"Does she drink?" asked Pelle.
Morten nodded. "I've had some bad times with her on that account," he
said. "She shows incredible ingenuity when it's a case of getting hold
of liquor. At first she couldn't eat hot food at all, she was in such a
state. She's altogether fearfully shattered in soul and body, and causes
me much trouble."
"Why don't you get her into some home?"
"Our public institutions for the care of children are not calculated to
foster life in a down-trodden plant, and you'll not succeed with Johanna
by punishment and treatment like any ordinary child. At times she's
quite abnormally defiant and unmanageable, and makes me altogether
despair; and then when I'm not looking, she lies and cries over herself.
There's much good in her in spite of everything, but she can't let it
come out. I've tried getting her into a private family, where I knew
they would be kind to her; but not many days had passed before they came
and said she'd run away. For a couple of weeks she wandered about, and
then came back again to me. Late one evening when I came home, I found
her sitting wet and shivering in the dark corner outside my door. I was
quite touched, but she was angry because I saw her, and bit and kicked
as she did just now. I had to carry her in by force. Her unhappy
circumstances have thrown her quite off her balance, and I at any rate
can't make her out. So that's how matters stand. I sleep on the sofa in
here, but of course a bachelor's quarters are not exactly arranged for
this. There's a lot of gossip too among the other lodgers."
"Does that trouble you?" asked Pelle in surprise.
"No, but the child, you see--she's terribly alive to that sort of thing.
And then she doesn't comprehend the circumstances herself. She's only
about eleven or twelve, and yet she's already accustomed to pay for
every kindness with her weak body. Can't you imagine how dreadful it is
to look into her wondering eyes? The doctor says she's been injured
internally and is probably tuberculous too; he thinks she'll never get
right. And her soul! What an abyss for a child! For even one child to
have such a fate is too much, and how many there are in the hell in
which we live!"
They were both silent for a little while, and then Morten rose. "You
mustn't mind if I ask you to go," he said, "but I must get to work;
there's something I've got to finish this evening. You won't mind, will
you? Come and see me again as soon as you can, and thanks for coming
this time!" he said as he pressed Pelle's hand.
"I'd like you to keep your eyes open," he said as he followed him to the
door. "Perhaps you could help me to find out the history of the poor
thing. You know a lot of poor people, and must have come in some way or
other into her life, for I can see it in her. Didn't you notice how
eager she was to have a look at you? Try to find out about it, will
Pelle promised, but it was more easily said than done. When his thoughts
searched the wide world of poverty to which he had drawn so close during
the great lock-out, he realized that there were hundreds of children who
might have suffered Johanna's fate.
Pelle had got out his old tools and started as shoemaker to the dwellers
in his street. He no longer went about seeking for employment, and to
Ellen it appeared as if he had given up all hope of getting any. But he
was only waiting and arming himself: he was as sanguine as ever. The
promise of the inconceivable was still unfulfilled in his mind.
There was no room for him up in the small flat with Ellen doing her
washing there, so he took a room in the high basement, and hung up a
large placard in the window, on which he wrote with shoemaker's ink,
"Come to me with your shoes, and we will help one another to stand on
our feet." When Lasse Frederik was not at work or at school, he was
generally to be found downstairs with his father. He was a clever fellow
and could give a hand in many ways. While they worked they talked about
all sorts of things, and the boy related his experiences to his father.
He was changing very rapidly and talked sensibly about everything. Pelle
was afraid he was getting too little out of his childhood. "Aren't you
going up to play with them?" he asked, when the boys of the neighborhood
rushed shouting past the basement window; but Lasse Frederik shook his
head. He had played at being everything, from a criminal to a king, so
there was nothing more to be had in that direction. He wanted something
real now, and in the meantime had dreams of going to sea.
Although they all three worked, they could only just make ends meet;
there was never anything over for extras. This was a sorrow to Ellen
especially; Pelle did not seem to think much about it. If they only put
something eatable before him, he was contented and did not mind what it
It was Ellen's dream that they should still, by toiling early and late,
be able to work themselves up into another stratum; but Pelle was angry
when she worked on after the time for leaving off. He would rather they
were a little poor, if only they could afford to be human beings. Ellen
did not understand it, but she saw that his mind was turned in another
direction; he who had hitherto always fallen asleep over books would now
become so absorbed in them that he did not hear the children playing
round him. She had actually to rouse him when there was anything she
wanted; and she began to fear this new power which had come in place of
the old. It seemed like a curse that something should always work upon
him to take him beyond her. And she dared not oppose it; she had bitter
experience from former times.
"What are you looking for in those books?" she asked, sitting down
beside him. Pelle looked up absently. His thoughts were in far-off
regions where she had never been. What was he looking for? He tried to
tell her, but could not explain it. "I'm looking for myself!" he said
suddenly, striking boldly through everything. Ellen gazed at him,
wondering and disappointed.
But she tried again. This time nothing should come between them and
destroy her world. She no longer directly opposed anything; she meant to
_go with him_ and be where he was. "Tell me what you are doing and
let me take part in it," she said.
Pelle had been prepared to some extent to go into this by himself, and
was glad to meet with a desire for development in her too. For the
present the intellectual world resembled more or less a wilderness, and
it was good to have a companion with him in traversing it.
He explained to her the thoughts that occupied him, and discussed them
with her; and Ellen observed wonderingly that it was all about things
that did not concern their own little well-being. She took great pains
to comprehend this flight away from the things that mattered most; it
was like children who always wanted what they ought not to have.
In the evening, when Boy Comfort and Sister had been put to bed, Pelle
would take a book and read aloud. Ellen was occupied with some mending
or other, and Lasse Frederik, his ears standing out from his head, hung
over a chair-back with his eyes fixed upon his father. Although he did
not understand the half of it, he followed it attentively until Nature
asserted herself, and he fell asleep.
Ellen understood this very well, for she had great difficulty herself in
keeping her eyes open. They were not stories that Pelle read. Sometimes
he would stop to write something down or to discuss some question or
other. He would have the most extraordinary ideas, and see a connection
between things that seemed to Ellen to be as far apart as the poles; she
could not help thinking that he might very well have studied to be a
pastor. It suited him, however; his eyes became quite black when he was
explaining some subject that he was thoroughly interested in, and his
lips assumed an expression that made her long to kiss them. She had to
confess to herself that in any case it was a very harmless evening
occupation, and was glad that what was interesting him this time kept
him at home at any rate.
One day Pelle became aware that she was not following him. She did not
even believe in what he was doing; she had never believed in him
blindly. "She's never really loved me either: that's why!" he thought
despondently. Perhaps that explained why she took Boy Comfort as calmly
as if he were her own child: she was not jealous! Pelle would willingly
have submitted to a shower of reproaches if afterward she had given him
a kiss wetted with hot tears; but Ellen was never thrown off her
Happy though they were, he noticed that she, to a certain extent,
reckoned without him, as if he had a weakness of which it was always
well to take account. Her earlier experiences had left their mark upon
* * * * *
Ellen had been making plans with regard to the old room and the two
small ante-rooms at the end of it. She was tired of washing; it paid
wretchedly and gave a great deal of work, and she received very little
consideration. She now wanted to let lodgings to artistes. She knew of
more than one woman in their street who made a nice living by taking in
artistes. "If I'd only got a couple of hundred krones (10 or 11 pounds)
to start it with, I'm sure I should make it pay," she said. "And then
you'd have more time and quiet for reading your books," she added
Pelle was against the plan. The better class of artistes took rooms at
the artiste hotels, and the people _they_ might expect to get had
not much to pay with. He had seen a good deal of them from his basement
window, and had mended shoes for some of them: they were rather a
soleless tribe. She said no more about it, but he could see that she was
not convinced. She only dropped the subject because he was against it
and it was he who would have to procure the money.
He could not bear to think this; he had become cautious about deciding
for others. The money might be obtained, if in no other way, by giving
security in his furniture and tools. If the plan did not succeed, it
would be certain ruin; but perhaps Ellen thought him a wet blanket.
One day he threw down his leather apron and went out to raise the money.
It was late when he came home, and Ellen was standing at the door
waiting for him with a face of anxiety.
"Here's the money, my dear! What'll you give me for it?" he said gaily,
and counted out into her hand a hundred and eighty krones (L10) in
notes. Ellen gazed in surprise at the money; she had never held so large
a sum in her hands before.
"Wherever did you get all that money from?" she asked at last.
"Well, I've trudged all day from place to place," said Pelle cheerfully,
"and at last I was directed to a man in Blaagaard Street. He gave me two
hundred krones (L11) on the furniture."
"But there's only one hundred and eighty (L10) here!"
"Oh, well, he took off twenty krones (L1 2_s_.). The loan's to be
repaid in instalments of twenty krones (L1 2_s_.) a month for
fifteen months. I had to sign a statement that I had borrowed three
hundred krones (L16 10_s_.), but then we shan't have to pay any
Ellen stared at him in amazement. "Three hundred krones, and we've only
got a hundred and eighty, Pelle!" But she suddenly threw her arms round
his neck and kissed him passionately. "Thank you!" she whispered. He
felt quite dazed; it was not like her to be so vehement.
She had plenty to do, after hiring the room, in putting it in order. The
loose beams had to be fixed up, and the walls plastered and whitewashed
a little. The old peasant was willing enough to let it, but he would not
hear of going to any expense. Ellen at last succeeded, however, in
getting him to agree to pay half the repairs on condition that she took
the room for a year and payed the rent in advance. "We can get my
brother Frederik to do some of the repairs on Sunday morning," she said
to Pelle, "and then perhaps we shall get it done for nothing." She was
altogether very energetic.
There was need for it too. The rent swallowed up the hundred krones (L5
10_s_.), and then there were all the things that had to be got. She
bought a quantity of cheap print, and hung it up so as to divide one
side of the room into a number of small compartments each provided with
a second-hand bed and hay mattress, and a washing-stand. "Artistes are
not so particular," she said, "and I'm sure they'll be glad to have the
room to practise in." Finally there were the two little anterooms, which
were to be furnished a little better for more particular artistes. There
was not nearly enough money, and some of the things had to be taken on
At last it was all ready to receive the guests. It looked quite smart
for the amount spent on it, and Pelle could not but admire her
cleverness in making a little go a long way. The only thing now left to
do was to catch the birds, but here Ellen's practical sense ceased to
act; she had no idea how to proceed. "We must advertise," she said, and
counted up her remaining pence.
Pelle laughed at her. A lot of good it would be to advertise for people
who were goodness knows where on railways and steamers! "What shall we
do then?" she said, looking anxiously to him for help. After all, he was
the man for it all.
Well, first of all there must be a German placard down on the street-
door, and then they must make the rooms known. Pelle had studied both
German and English in the prison, and he made up the placard himself. He
had cards printed, and left them in the artistes' tavern at the corner
of Vesterbro Street, went there himself two or three times after
midnight when the artistes gathered there when their work was finished,
and stationed himself at the stage-entrances of the music-halls. He soon
came to look upon it as a task to be performed, like everything with
which he occupied himself; and this _should_ succeed!
Ellen looked on wondering and helpless. She had all at once grown
frightened, and followed each of his movements with anxious attention.
Soon, however, things began to move. The girls whose washing Ellen had
done took an interest in the undertaking, and sent lodgers to her; and
Lasse Frederik, who had the run of the circus stables, often returned
with some Russian groom or other who did a turn as a rustic dancer or a
Cossack horseman. Sometimes there lived with her people from the other
side of the world where they walk with their heads down--fakirs and
magicians from India and Japan, snake-charmers from Tetuan, people with
shaven heads or a long black pigtail, with oblique, sorrowful eyes,
loose hips and skin that resembled the greenish leather that Pelle used
for ladies' boots. Sister was afraid of them, but it was the time of his
life to Lasse Frederik. There were fat Tyrolese girls, who came three by
three; they jodeled at the music-halls, and looked dreadful all day,
much to Ellen's despair. Now and then a whole company would come, and
then trapezes and rings creaked in the great room, Spanish dancers went
through their steps, and jugglers practised new feats.
They were all people who should preferably not be seen off the stage.
Ellen often went to the circus and music-halls now, but could never
quite believe that the performers were the same men and women who went
about at home looking like scarecrows. Most of them required nothing
except that the lodging should be cheap; they boarded themselves, and
goodness knows what they lived on. Some of them simply lighted a fire on
a sheet of iron on the floor and made a mixture of rice or something of
the sort. They could not eat Danish food, Pelle said. Sometimes they
went away without paying, and occasionally took something with them; and
they often broke things. There was no fortune to be made out of them,
but in the meantime Ellen was satisfied as long as she could keep it
going, so that it paid the rent and instalments on the loan and left her
a little for her trouble. It was her intention to weed out the more
worthless subjects, and raise the whole tone of the business when it had
got into good order.
"You really might refuse the worst work now, and save yourself a
little," she said to Pelle when he was sitting over some worn-out
factory shoes that had neither sole nor upper. Most boots and shoes had
done service somewhere else before they reached this neighborhood; and
when they came to Pelle there was not much left of them. "Say no to it!"
said Ellen. "It's far too hardly earned for you! And we shall get on now
without having to take everything." In the kindness of her heart she
wanted him to be able to read his books, since he had a weakness for
them. Her intention was good, but Pelle had no thought of becoming an
aesthetic idler, who let his wife keep him while he posed as a learned
man. There were enough of them in the neighborhood, and the inhabitants
looked up to them; but they were not interesting. They were more or less
another form of drunkard.
To Pelle books were a new power, grown slowly out of his sojourn in
prison. He had sat there alone with his work, thrown on himself for
occupation, and he had examined himself in every detail. It was like
having companionship when he brought to light anything new and strange
in himself; and one day he chanced upon the mistiness of his own being,
and discovered that it consisted of experience that others had gone
through before him. The Bible, which always lay on the prisoner's table
for company, helped him; its words had the sound of a well-known voice
that reminded him strongly of Father Lasse's in his childhood. From the
Bible he went on further and discovered that the serious books were men
who sat in solitude like himself, and spoke out.
Was solitude so dreadful then when you had such company? Pelle was no
longer able to comprehend his own fear of it. As a child he had been a
creature in the widest sense, and found companionship in everything; he
could converse with trees, animals, and stones. Those fibers had
withered, and no longer conveyed nourishment; but then he became one
with the masses, and thought and felt exactly as they did. That was
crumbling away too now; he was being isolated distinctly, bit by bit,
and he was interested in discovering a plan in it. He had made
Nature subject to him even as a child, and had afterward won the masses!
It was solitude now that had to be taken, and he himself was going about
in the midst of it, large and wonderful! It was already leaving
indelible traces in his mind, although he had seen nothing of it yet. He
felt strangely excited, very much as he had felt when, in his childhood,
he arrived in Bornholm with his father and could see nothing, but heard
the movement of thronging life behind the mist. A new and unknown world,
full of wonders and throbbing with anticipation, would meet him in
Pelle's action was not due to his own volition. He might as well try to
lift himself up by his hair as determine that now he would be a human
being by himself. It was an awakening of new powers. He no longer let
sunshine and rain pass unnoticed over his head. A strange thing happened
to him--he looked wonderingly at everything that he had formerly passed
by as commonplace, and saw it all in a new, brilliant light. He had to
go all over it from the beginning, look at every detail. How wonderfully
everything was connected, sorrow and joy and apparent trifles, to make
him, Pelle, who had ruled over hundreds of thousands and yet had to go
to prison in order to feel himself rich! Something had been ignited in
him that could never be extinguished, a sacred fire to which everything
must bear fuel, whether it would or not. He could not be conquered now;
he drew strength from infinity itself.
The bare cell--three paces one way and six the other--with its tiny
window and the mysterious peephole in the door which was like a watchful
eye upon one always, how much it had held! It had always been the lot of
the poor man to create worlds out of the void, beautiful mirages which
suddenly broke and threw him back even poorer and more desolate. But
this lasted. All the threads of life seemed to be joined together in the
bare cell. It was like the dark, underground place in large buildings
where the machinery is kept that admits and excludes light and heat to
the whole block. There he discovered how rich and varied life is.
Pelle went about in a peculiarly elevated frame of mind. He felt that
something greater and finer than himself had taken up its abode within
him and would grow on to perfection there.
It was a new being that yet was himself; it remained there and drew
nourishment from everything that he did. He went about circumspectly and
quietly, with an introspective expression as though he were weighing
everything: there was so much that was not permissible because it might
injure _it_! There were always two of them now--Pelle and this
wonderful, invisible ego, which lay securely and weightily within him
like a living thing, with its roots in the darkness.
Pelle's relations to books were deeply grounded: he had to find out what
the world meant now. He was a little distrustful of works of fiction;
you got at their subject-matter too easily, and that could not be right.
They were made up, too! He needed real stuff, facts. There were great
spaces in his brain that longed to be filled with a tangible knowledge
of things. His favorite reading was historical works, especially social
history; and at present he read everything that came in his way, raw and
unsweetened; it would have to sort itself out. It was a longing that had
never been satisfied, and now seemed insatiable.
He minded his work punctiliously, however. He had made it a principle
never to touch a book as long as any work lay waiting unfinished on the
floor. In prison he had dreamt of a reasonable working-day of--for
instance--eight hours, so that he would have time and strength to occupy
himself with intellectual matters; but now he took it off his night's
sleep instead. This was at any rate a field out of which they need not
try to keep him; he would have his share in the knowledge of the times.
He felt it was a weapon. The poor man had long enough retired willingly
into the corner for want of enlightenment, and whenever he put out his
head he was laughed back again. Why did he not simply wrest the
prerogative from the upper classes? It cost only toil, and in that coin
he was accustomed to pay! He was scarcely deficient in ability; as far
as Pelle could see at present, almost all the pioneers of the new state
of things came from the lower classes.
He discovered with pleasure that his inward searching did not carry him
away from the world, for far in there he came out again into the light--
the light itself! He followed the secret laws for his own inward being,
and found himself once more deep in the question of the welfare of the
multitude. His practical sense required this confirmation of the
conditions. There were also outward results. Even now history could no
longer be used to light him and his ideas home; he knew too much. And
his vision grew from day to day, and embraced an ever-widening horizon.
Some day he would simply take the magic word from the trolls and wake
the giant with it!
He worked hard and was as a rule full of confidence. When the last of
the artistes came home from their _cafe_, he was often sitting
working by the light of his shoemaker's lamp. They would stop before the
open basement window and have a chat with him in their broken Danish.
His domestic circumstances were somewhat straitened; the instalments in
repayment of the loan, and the debt on the furniture still swallowed all
that they were able to scrape together, and Pelle had no prospect of
getting better work. But work is the bearer of faith, and he felt sure
that a way would open out if only he kept on with it unweariedly.
He took Ellen's unspoken mistrust of his projects quietly. He felt
himself to be greater than she in this; she could not reach up to the
level of his head!
Pelle was awake as early as four o'clock, although he had gone to bed
late. He slept lightly at this time, when the summer night lay lightly
upon his eyelids. He stole out into the kitchen and washed himself under
the tap, and then went down to his work. The gray spirit of the night
was still visible down in the street, but a tinge of red was appearing
above the roofs. "The sun's rising now over the country," he thought,
recalling the mornings of his childhood, the fields with their sheen of
silvery dew, and the sun suddenly coming and changing them into
thousands of sparkling diamond drops. Ah, if one could once more run
bare-footed, if a little shrinkingly, out into the dewy grass, and shout
a greeting to the dawning day: "Get up, Sun! Pelle is here already!"
The night-watchman came slowly past the open window on his way home. "Up
already?" he exclaimed in a voice hoarse with the night air, as he
nodded down to Pelle. "Well, it's the early bird that catches the worm!
You'll be rich one of these days, shoemaker!" Pelle laughed; he
He thought of his wife and children while he worked. It was nice to
think of them sleeping so securely while he sat here at work; it
emphasized the fact that he was their bread-winner. With every blow of
his hammer the home grew, so he hammered away cheerfully. They were
poor, but that was nothing in comparison with the fact that if he were
taken away now, things would go to pieces. He was the children's
Providence; it was always "Father's going to," or "Father said so." In
their eyes he was infallible. Ellen too began to come to him with her
troubles; she no longer kept them to herself, but recognized that he had
the broader back.
It was all so undeserved--as if good spirits were working for him.
Shameful though it was that the wife should work to help to keep the
family, he had not been able to exempt her from it. And what had he done
for the children? It was not easy to build everything up at once from a
bare foundation, and he was sometimes tempted to leave something alone
so as to accomplish the rest the more quickly. As it was now, he was
really nothing! Neither the old Pelle nor the new, but something
indeterminate, in process of formation, something that was greatly in
need of indulgence! A removing van full of furniture on its way to a new
He often enough had occasion to feel this from outside; both old enemies
and old friends looked upon him as a man who had gone very much down in
the world. Their look said: "Is that really all that remains of that
stalwart fellow we once knew?" His own people, on the other hand, were
lenient in their judgment. "Father hasn't got time," Sister would say in
explanation to herself when she was playing about down in his work-room
--"but he will have some day!" And then she would picture to herself all
the delightful things that would happen then. It affected Pelle
strangely; he would try to get through this as quickly as possible.
It was a dark and pathless continent into which he had ventured, but he
was now beginning to find his way in it. There were ridges of hills that
constantly repeated themselves, and a mountain-top here and there that
was reached every time he emerged from the thicket. It was good to
travel there. Perhaps it was the land he and the others had looked for.
When he had got through, he would show it to them.
Pelle had a good memory, and remembered all that he read. He could quote
much of it verbatim, and in the morning, before the street had wakened,
he used to go through it all in his mind while he worked. It surprised
him to find how little history concerned itself with his people; it was
only in quite recent times that they had been included. Well, that did
not trouble him! The Movement _was_ really something new, and not
one of history's everlasting repetitions. He now wanted to see its idea
in print, and one day found him sitting with a strange solemnity in the
library with Marx and Henry George in front of him. Pelle knew something
about this subject too, but this was nevertheless like drawing up a net
from the deep; a brilliant world of wonders came up with it. There were
incontrovertible logical proofs that he had a right apprehension, though
it had been arrived at blindly. The land of fortune was big enough for
all; the greater the number that entered it, the larger did it become.
He felt a desire to hit out again and strike a fresh blow for happiness!
Suddenly an avalanche seemed to fall from the top to the bottom of the
house, a brief, all-pervading storm that brought him back to his home.
It was only Lasse Frederik ushering in the day; he took a flight at each
leap, called a greeting down to his father, and dashed off to his work,
buttoning the last button of his braces as he ran. A little later Ellen
came down with coffee.
"Why didn't you call me when you got up?" she said sulkily. "It's not
good to sit working so long without having had something to eat."
Pelle laughed and kissed her good-morning. "Fine ladies don't get up
until long after their husbands," he said teasingly.
But Ellen would not be put off with a jest. A proper wife would be up
before her husband and have something ready for him. "I _will_ have
you call me!" she said decidedly, her cheeks very red. It suited her to
get roused now and then.
While he drank his coffee, she sat and talked to him about her affairs,
and they discussed the plans for the day, after which she went upstairs
to help the children to dress.
Later in the morning Pelle laid aside his work, dressed himself and went
out to deliver it. While he was out he would go into the Library and
look up something in the large dictionaries.
The street lived its own quiet life here close up to the greater
thoroughfares--the same life day after day. The fat second-hand dealer
from Jutland was standing as usual at his door, smoking his wooden pipe.
"Good-morning, shoemaker!" he cried. A yellow, oblique-eyed oriental in
slippers and long black caftan was balancing himself carelessly on the
steps of the basement milk-shop with a bowl of cream in one hand and a
loaf of bread in the other. Above on the pavement two boys were playing
hopscotch, just below the large red lamp which all night long advertised
its "corn-operator" right up to the main thoroughfare. Two girls in
cycling costume came out of a gateway with their machines; they were
going to the woods. "Good-day, Pelle! How is Ellen's business getting
on?" they asked familiarly. They were girls for whom she had washed.
Pelle was fond of this busy part of the town where new shops with large
plate-glass windows stood side by side with low-roofed cottages where
retail business was carried on behind ordinary windows with wallflowers
and dahlias in them as they might be in any provincial town. A string
was stretched above the flower-pots, with a paper of safety-pins or a
bundle of shoelaces hanging from it. There were poor people enough here,
but life did not run in such hard grooves as out at Norrebro. People
took existence more easily; he thought them less honorable, but also
less self-righteous. They seemed to be endowed with a more cheerful
temperament, did not go so steadily and methodically to and from their
fixed work, but, on the other hand, had several ways of making a living.
There was everywhere a feeling of breaking up, which corresponded well
with Pelle's own condition; the uncertainty of life enveloped everything
in a peculiarly tense atmosphere. Poverty did not come marching in close
columns of workmen; its clothing was plentiful and varied; it might
appear in the last woollen material from the big houses of old
Copenhagen, or in gold-rimmed spectacles and high hat. Pelle thought he
knew all the trades, but here there were hundreds of businesses that
could not be organized; every day he discovered new and remarkable
trades. He remembered how difficult it had been to organize out here;
life was too incalculable.
There was room here for everything; next door to one another lived
people whom the Movement had not yet gathered in, and people who had
been pushed up out of it in obstinate defiance. There was room here for
him too; the shadow he had dreaded did not follow him. The people had
seen too much of life to interfere in one another's affairs; respectable
citizenship had not been able to take possession of the poor man. There
was something of the "Ark" about this part of the town, only not its
hopelessness; on the contrary, all possibilities were to be found here.
The poor man had conquered this ground from the rich citizens, and it
seemed as if the development had got its direction from them. Here it
was the proletariat whose varied nature forced its way upward, and
leavened--so to speak--the whole. In the long side streets, which were
full of second-hand dealers and pawnbrokers, existence had not resolved
itself into its various constituents. Girls and gamblers were next-door
neighbors to old, peaceable townsfolk, who lived soberly on the interest
of their money, and went to church every Sunday with their hymn-books in
their hands. The ironmonger had gold watches and antique articles among
the lumber in his cellar.
Pelle went along Vesterbro Street. The summer holidays were just over,
and the pavement on the Figaro side was crowded with sunburnt people--
business-men, students and college girls--who were conspicuous in the
throng by their high spirits. They had just returned to town, and still
had the scent of fresh breeze and shore about them: it was almost as
good as a walk in the country. And if he wanted to go farther out into
the world, he could do that too; there were figures enough in the
Vesterbro neighborhood to arrest his fancy and carry him forth. It was
like a quay on which people from all parts of the world had agreed to
meet--artists, seamen and international agents. Strange women came
sailing through the crowd, large, exotic, like hot-house fruits; Pelle
recognized them from the picture of the second-hand dealer's daughter in
the "Ark," and knew that they belonged to the international nursing
corps. They wore striped costumes, and their thick, fair hair emitted a
perfume of foreign lands, of many ports and routes, like the interior of
steamers; and their strong, placid faces were big with massage. They
floated majestically down the current like full-rigged vessels. In their
wake followed some energetic little beings who also belonged to the
show, and had decked themselves out to look like children, with puffed
sleeves, short skirts, and hair tied up with ribbons. Feeble old men,
whom the sun had enticed out, stood in silent wonder, following the
lovely children with their eyes.
Pelle felt a peculiar pleasure in being carried along with this stream
which flowed like life itself, broad and calm. The world was greater
than he had thought, and he took no side for or against anything, but
merely wondered over its variety.
* * * * *
He came home from the library at two, with a large volume of statistics
under his arm. Ellen received him with red eyes.
"Have your lodgers been making things unpleasant for you again?" he
asked, looking into her face. She turned her head away.
"Did you get the money for your work?" she asked instead of answering.
"No, the man wasn't in the shop himself. They're coming here to pay."
"Then we haven't got a farthing, and I've got no dinner for you!" She
tried to smile as she spoke, but her heavy eyelids quivered.
"Is that all?" said Pelle, putting his arm round her. "Why didn't you
make me some porridge? I should have liked a good plateful of that."
"I have made it, but you'll get hardly anything else, and that's no food
for a man."
He took her round the waist with both hands, lifted her up and put her
carefully down upon the kitchen table. "That's porridge, my dear!" he
said merrily. "I can hardly walk, I'm so strong!"
But there was no smile to be coaxed out of Ellen; something had happened
that she did not want to tell him. At last he got out of her that the
two musical clowns had gone off without paying. They had spoiled her
good bed-clothes by lying in them with their clothes on, and had made
them so filthy that nothing could be done with them. She was unwilling
to tell Pelle, because he had once advised her against it; but all at
once she gave in completely. "You mustn't laugh at me!" she sobbed,
hiding her face on his shoulder.
Pelle attempted to comfort her, but it was not so easily done. It was
not the one misfortune but the whole fiasco that had upset her so; she
had promised herself so much from her great plan. "It isn't all lost
yet," he said to comfort her. "We'll just keep on and you'll see it'll
be all right."
Ellen was not to be hoodwinked, however. "You know you don't mean it,"
she said angrily. "You only say it because of me! And the second-hand
dealer sent up word this morning that if he didn't soon get the rest of
his money, he'd take all the furniture back again."
"Then let him take it, and that'll be an end of the matter."
"But then we shall lose all that we've paid!" she exclaimed quickly,
drying her eyes.
Pelle shrugged his shoulders. "That can't be helped."
"Wouldn't it be better to get the things sold little by little? We only
owe a third on them."
"We can't do that; it's punishable. We've got a contract for the hire of
the furniture, and as long as we owe a farthing on it, it's his. But
we're well and strong all of us; what does it matter?"
"That's true enough," answered Ellen, trying to smile, "but the stronger
we are, the more food we need."
A girl came running up with a pair of boots that were to be soled as
quickly as possible. They were "Queen Theresa's," and she was going to
wear them in the evening. "That'll bring us in a few pence!" said Ellen,
brightening. "I'll help you to get them done quickly."
They seated themselves one on each side of the counter, and set to work.
It reminded them of the early days of their married life. Now and then
they stopped to laugh, when Ellen had forgotten some knack. In an hour
and a half the boots were ready, and Pelle went himself with them to
make sure of the money.
"You'll most likely find her in the tavern," said Ellen. "The artistes
generally have their dinner at this hour, and she's probably there."
It was a busy time in the artistes' restaurant. At the small tables sat
bony, close-cropped men of a peculiar rubicund type, having dinner with
some girl or other from the neighborhood. They were acrobats, clowns,
and wrestlers, people of a homogeneous type, dressed in loud checks,
with enormous cuffs and boots with almost armor-plated toes. They chewed
well and looked up stupidly at the call of the girls; they wore a hard,
brutal mask for a face, and big diamond rings on their fingers. Some of
them had such a powerful lower jaw that they looked as if they had
developed it for the purpose of taking blows in a boxing-match. In the
adjoining room some elegant young men were playing billiards while they
secretly kept an eye on what was going on at the tables. They had curls
on their forehead, and patent leather shoes.
"Queen Theresa" was not there, so Pelle went to Dannebrog Street, where
she lived, but found she was not at home. He had to hand in the boots to
a neighbor, and go back empty-handed.
Well, it was no more than might have been expected. When you needed a
thing most, chance played with you as a cat played with a mouse. Pelle
was not nearly so cheerful as he appeared to be when he faced Ellen. The
reality was beginning to affect him. He went out to Morten, but without
any faith in the result; Morten had many uses for what he earned.
"You've just come at the right moment!" said Morten, waving two notes in
the air. "I've just had twenty krones (a guinea) sent me from _The
Working Man_, and we can divide them. It's the first money I've got
from that quarter, so of course I've spat upon it three times."
"Then they've found their way to you, after all!" exclaimed Pelle
Morten laughed. "I got tired of seeing my work repeated in their paper,"
he said, "when they'll have nothing to do with me up there; and I went
up to them and drew their attention to the paragraph about piracy. You
should have seen their expression! Goodness knows it's not pleasant to
have to earn your bread on wretchedness, so to speak, but it's still
more painful when afterward you have to beg for your hard-earned pence.
You mustn't think I should do it either under other circumstances; I'd
sooner starve; but at any rate I won't be sweated, by my own side! It's
a long time since you were here."
"I've been so busy. How's Johanna?" The last words were spoken in a
"Not well just now; she's keeping her bed. She's always asking after
"I've been very busy lately, and unfortunately I can't find out anything
about her. Is she just as cross?"
"When she's in a bad temper she lets me understand that she could easily
help to put us on the right track if she wanted to. I think it amuses
her to see us fooled."
"A child can't be so knowing!"
"Don't be so sure of that! Remember she's not a child; her experiences
have been too terrible. I have an idea that she hates me and only
meditates on the mischief she can do me. You can't imagine how spiteful
she can be; it's as though the exhalations from down there had turned to
poison in her. If any one comes here that she notices I like, she
reviles them as soon as they're gone, says some poisonous thing about
them in order to wound me. You're the only one she spares, so I think
there must be some secret link between you. Try to press her on the
subject once more."
They went in to her. As the door opened she slipped hastily down beneath
the clothes--she had been listening at the door--and pretended to be
asleep. Morten went back to his work and closed the door after him.
"Well, Johanna," said Pelle, seating himself on the edge of the bed.
"I've got a message for you. Can you guess who it's from?"
"From grandmother!" she exclaimed, sitting up eagerly; but the next
moment she was ashamed at having been outwitted, and crept down under
the clothes, where she lay with compressed lips, and stole distrustful
glances at Pelle. There was something in the glance and the carriage of
her head that awakened dormant memories in him, but he could not fix
"No, not grandmother," he said. "By-the-bye, where is she now? I should
like to speak to her. Couldn't you go out to her with me when you get
She looked at him with sparkling eyes and a mocking expression. "Don't
you wish you may get it!" she answered.
"Tell me where she lives, Johanna," Pelle went on, taking her thin hand
in his, "there's a good girl!"
"Oh, yes, at night!"
Pelle frowned. "You must be very heartless, when you can leave your old
grandmother and not even like others to help her. I'm certain she's in
want somewhere or other."
Johanna looked at him angrily. "I whipped her too," she exclaimed
malignantly, and then burst into a laugh at Pelle's expression. "No, I
didn't really," she said reassuringly. "I only took away her stick and
hid her spectacles so that she couldn't go out and fetch the cream. So
she was obliged to send me, and I drank up all the cream and put water
in the can. She couldn't see it, so she scolded the milk people because
"You're making all this up, I think," said Pelle uncertainly.
"I picked the crumb out of the loaf too, and let her eat the crust,"
Johanna continued with a nod.
"Now stop that," said Pelle, stroking her damp forehead. "I know quite
well that I've offended you."
She pushed away his hand angrily. "Do you know what I wish?" she said
suddenly. "I wish you were my father."
"Would you like me to be?"
"Yes, for when you became quite poor and ill, I'd treat you just as well
as I've treated grandmother." She laughed a harsh laugh.
"I'm certain you've only been kind to grandmother," said Pelle gravely.
She looked hard at him to see whether he meant this too, and then turned
her face to the wall. He could see from the curve of her body that she
was struggling to keep back her tears, and he tried to turn her round to
him; but she stiffened herself.
"I won't live with grandmother!" she whispered emphatically, "I won't!"
"And yet you're fond of her!"
"No, I'm not! I can't bear her! She told the woman next door that I was
only in the way! It was that confounded child's fault that she couldn't
get into the Home, she said; I heard her myself! And yet I went about
and begged all the food for her. But then I left her!" She jerked the
sentences out in a voice that was quite hoarse, and crumpled the sheet
up in her hands.
"But do tell me where she is!" said Pelle earnestly. "I promise you you
shan't go to her if you don't want to."
The child kept a stubborn silence. She did not believe in promises.
"Well, then, I must go to the police to find her, but I don't want to do
"No, because you've been in prison!" she exclaimed, with a short laugh.
A pained expression passed over Pelle's face. "Do you think that's so
funny?" he said, winking his eyes fast. "I'm sure grandmother didn't
laugh at it."
Johanna turned half round. "No, she cried!" she said. "There was no one
to give us food then, and so she cried."
It began to dawn upon him who she was. "What became of you two that day
on the common? We were going to have dinner together," he said.
"When you were taken up? Oh, we couldn't find you, so we just went
home." Her face was now quite uncovered, and she lay looking at him with
her large gray eyes. It was Hanne's look; behind it was the same
wondering over life, but here was added to it a terrible knowledge.
Suddenly her face changed; she discovered that she had been outwitted,
and glared at him.
"Is it true that you and mother were once sweethearts?" she suddenly
Pelle's face flushed. The question had taken him by surprise. "I'll tell
you everything about your mother if you'll tell me what you know," he
said, looking straight at her.
"What is it you want to know?" she asked in a cross-questioning tone.
"Are you going to write about me in the papers?"
"My dear child, we must find your grandmother! She may be starving."
"I think she's at the 'Generality,'" said the child quietly. "I went
there on Thursday when the old things had leave to go out and beg for a
little coffee; and one day I saw her."
"Didn't you go up to her then?"
"No; I was tired of listening to her lamentations!"
Johanna was no longer stiff and defiant. She lay with her face turned
away and answered--a little sullenly--Pelle's questions, while she
played nervously with his fingers. Her brief answers made up for him one
connected, sad story.
Widow Johnsen was not worth much when once the "Ark" was burnt down. She
felt old and helpless everywhere else, and when Pelle went to prison,
she collapsed entirely. She and the little girl suffered want, and when
Johanna felt herself in the way, she ran away to a place where she could
be comfortable. Her grandmother had also been in her way. She had her
mother's whimsical, dreamy nature, and now she gave up everything and
ran away to meet the wonderful. An older playfellow seduced her and took
her out to the boys of the timber-yard. There she was left to take care
of herself, often slept out in the open, and stole now and then, but
soon learned to earn money for herself. When it became cold she went as
scullery-maid to the inns or maid-of-all-work to the women in Dannebrog
Street. Strange to say, she always eluded the police. At first there
were two or three times when she started to return to her grandmother,
but went no farther than the stairs; she was afraid of being punished,
and could not endure the thought of having to listen to the old lady's
complaints. Later on she became accustomed to her new way of living, and
no longer felt any desire to leave it, probably because she had begun to
take strong drink. Now and again, however, she stole in to the Home and
caught a glimpse of her grandmother. She could not explain why she did
it, and firmly maintained that she could not endure her. The old woman's
unreasonable complaint that she was an encumbrance to her had eaten
deeply into the child's mind. During the last year she had been a
waitress for some time at a sailors' tavern down in Nyhavn with an
innkeeper Elleby, the confidence-man who had fleeced Pelle on his first
arrival in the city. It was Elleby's custom to adopt young girls so as
to evade the law and have women-servants for his sailors; and they
generally died in the course of a year or two: he always wore a crape
band round his sleeve. Johanna was also to have been adopted, but ran
away in time.
She slowly confessed it all to Pelle, coarse and horrible as it was,
with the instinctive confidence that the inhabitants of the "Ark" had
placed in him, and which had been inherited by her from her mother and
grandmother. What an abyss of horrors! And he had been thinking that
there was no hurry, that life was richer than that! But the children,
the children! Were they to wait too, while he surveyed the varied forms
of existence--wait and go to ruin? Was there on the whole any need of
knowledge and comprehensiveness of survey in order to fight for juster
conditions? Was anything necessary beyond the state of being good? While
he sat and read books, children were perhaps being trodden down by
thousands. Did this also belong to life and require caution? For the
first time he doubted himself.
"Now you must lie down and go to sleep," he said gently, and stroked her
forehead. It was burning hot and throbbed, and alarmed he felt her
pulse. Her hand dropped into his, thin and worn, and her pulse was
irregular. Alas, Hanne's fever was raging within her!
She held his hand tight when he rose to go. "Were you and mother
sweethearts, then?" she asked in a whisper, with a look of expectation
in the bright eyes that she fixed upon him. And suddenly he understood
the reiterated question and all her strange compliance with his wishes.
For a moment he looked waveringly into her expectant eyes. Then he
nodded slowly. "Yes, Johanna; you're my little daughter!" he said,
bending down over her. Her pale face was lighted with a faint smile, and
she shyly touched his stubbly chin and then turned over to go to sleep.
In a few words Pelle told Morten the child's previous history--Madam
Johnsen and her husband's vain fight to get on, his horrible death in
the sewer, how Hanne had grown up as the beautiful princess of the
"Ark"--Hanne who meant to have happiness, and had instead this poor
"You've never told me anything about Hanne," said Morten, looking at
"No," said Pelle slowly. "She was always so strangely unreal to me, like
an all too beautiful dream. Do you know she danced herself to death! But
you must pretend to the child that I'm her father."
Morten nodded. "You might go out to the Home for me, and hear about the
old lady. It's a pity she should have to spend her old age there!" He
looked round the room.
"You can't have her here, however," said Pelle.
"It might perhaps be arranged. She and the child belong to one another."
Pelle first went home to Ellen with the money and then out to the Home.
Madam Johnsen was in the infirmary, and could not live many days. It was
a little while before she recognized Pelle, and she seemed to have
forgotten the past. It made no impression whatever on her when he told
her that her grandchild had been found. She lay most of the time,
talking unintelligibly; she thought she still had to get money for the
rent and for food for herself and the child. The troubles of old age had
made an indelible impression upon her. "She gets no pleasure out of
lying here and being comfortable," said an old woman who lay in the next
bed to hers. "She's always trying and trying to get things, and when
she's free of that, she goes to Jutland."
At the sound of the last word, Madam Johnsen fixed her eyes upon Pelle.
"I should so like to see Jutland again before I die," she said. "Ever
since I came over here in my young days, I've always meant to use the
first money I had over on an excursion home; but I never managed it.
Hanne's child had to live too, and they eat a lot at her age." And so
she was back in her troubles again.
The nurse came and told Pelle that he must go now, and he rose and bent
over the old woman to say farewell, strangely moved at the thought that
she had done so much for him, and now scarcely knew him. She felt for
his hand and held it in both hers like a blind person trying to
recognize, and she looked at him with her expressionless eyes that were
already dimmed by approaching death. "You still have a good hand," she
said slowly, with the far-sounding voice of old age. "Hanne should have
taken you, and then things would have been very different.'"
People wondered, at the library, over the grave, silent working-man who
took hold of books as if they were bricks. They liked him and helped him
to find what he wanted.
Among the staff there was an old librarian who often came and asked
Pelle if there were anything he could help him with. He was a little
wizened man with gold spectacles and thin white hair and beard that gave
a smiling expression to his pale face. He had spent his time among the
stacks of books during the greater part of his life; the dust of the
books had attacked his chest, and every minute his dry cough sounded
through the room.
Librarian Brun was a bachelor and was said to be very rich. He was not
particularly neat or careful in his dress, but there was something
unspoiled about his person that made one think he could never have been
subjected to the world's rough handling. In his writings he was a
fanatical worshipper of the ego, and held up the law of conscience as
the only one to which men should be subject. Personally he was reserved
and shy, but something drew him to Pelle, who, he knew, had once been
the soul in the raising of the masses; and he followed with wonder and
curiosity the development of the new working-man. Now and then he
brought one of his essays to Pelle and asked him to read it. It often
treated of the nature of personality, took as its starting-point the ego
of some philosopher or other, or of such and such a religion, and
attempted to get at the questions of the day. They conversed in whispers
on the subject. The old, easily-approached philosopher, who was read by
very few, cherished an unrequited affection for the general public, and
listened eagerly to what a working-man might be able to make out of his
ideas. Quiet and almost timid though his manner was, his views were
strong, and he did not flinch from the thought of employing violent
measures; but his attitude toward the raising of the lower classes was
sceptical. "They don't know how to read," he said. "The common people
never touch a real book." He had lived so long among books that he
thought the truths of life were hidden away in them.
They gradually became well acquainted with one another. Brun was the
last descendant of an old, decayed family, which had been rich for many
generations. He despised money, and did not consider it to be one of the
valuable things of life. Never having known want, he had few
pretensions, and often denied himself to help others. It was said that
he lived in a very Spartan fashion, and used a large proportion of his
income for the relief of the poor. On many points he agreed with the
lower classes, not only theoretically but purely organically; and Pelle
saw, to his amazement, that the dissolution of existing conditions could
also take place from the upper grades of society. Perhaps the future was
preparing itself at both extremities!
One day Brun carefully led the conversation on to Pelle's private
affairs: he seemed to know something about them. "Isn't there anything
you want to start?" he asked. "I should be so glad if you would allow me
to help you."
Pelle was not yet clear as to what was to be done about the future. "At
present," he said, "the whole thing is just a chaos to me."
"But you must live! Will you do me the favor of taking a loan from me at
any rate, while you're looking about you? Money is necessary to make one
capable and free," he continued, when Pelle refused it. "It's a pity,
but so it is. You don't _take_ what you want anyhow, so you must
either get the money in the way that offers, or do without."
"Then I'll do without," said Pelle.
"It seems to me that's what you and yours have always done, and have you
ever succeeded in heaping coals of fire on the head of society by it?
You set too high a value upon money; the common people have too great
respect for the property of others. And upon my word it's true! The good
old poor man could scarcely find it in his heart to put anything into
his own miserable mouth; his wife was to have all the good pieces. So he
is mourned as lost to our side; he was so easy to get wealth by. His
progeny still go about with a good deal of it."
"Money makes you dependent," Pelle objected.
"Not always," answered Brun, laughing. "In my world people borrow and
take on credit without a thought: the greater the debt, the better it
is; they never treat a man worse than when they owe him money. On that
point we are very much more emancipated than you are, indeed that's
where the dividing line goes between the upper classes and the common
people. This fear of becoming indebted to any one, and carefulness to do
two services in return for one, is all very nice and profitable in your
own world; but it's what you'll be run down by in your relations to us.
We don't know it at all; how otherwise would those people get on who
have to let themselves be helped from their cradle to their grave, and
live exclusively upon services received?"
Pelle looked at him in bewilderment. "Poor people have nothing but their
sense of honor, and so they watch over it," he said.
"And you've really never halted at this sense of honor that works so
splendidly in our favor?" asked Brun in surprise. "Just examine the
existing morals, and you'll discover that they must have been invented
by us--for your use. Yes, you're surprised to hear me say that, but then
I'm a degenerate upper-class man, one of those who fall outside the
established order of things. I saw your amazement at my not having
patted you on the shoulder and said: 'Poor but proud! Go on being so,
young man!' But you mustn't draw too far-reaching conclusions from that;
as I told you, I'm not that sort. Now mayn't I give you a helping hand?"
No, Pelle was quite determined he should not. Something had been
shattered within him, and the knowledge made him restive.
"You're an obstinate plebeian," said Brun, half vexed.
On his way home Pelle thought it all over. Of course he had always been
quite aware that the whole thing resembled a gentleman's carriage, in
which he and others like him had to be the horses; the laws and general
arrangement were the reins and harness, which made them draw the
carriage well. The only thing was that it was always denied from the
other side; he was toiling at history and statistics in order to furnish
incontrovertible proof of this. But here was some one who sat in the
carriage himself, and gave evidence to the effect that it was right
enough; and this was not a book, but a living man with whom he stood
face to face. It gave an immense support to his belief.
There was need enough for it too, for at home things were going badly.
The letting of rooms was at a standstill, and Ellen was selling the
furniture as fast as she could. "It's all the same to me what the law
is!" was her reply to Pelle's warnings. "There surely can be no sense in
our having to make the furniture-dealer a present of all we've paid upon
it, just because he has a scrap of paper against us. When the
furniture's sold, he shall have the rest of what we owe him."
He did not get the whole, however, for in the first place they had to
live. The remainder of the debt hung like a threat over them; if he
discovered that the furniture was sold, it might end badly for them.
"Remember I've been in prison before," said Pelle.
"They surely can't punish you for what I've done?" said Ellen, looking
at him in terror. "Pelle, Pelle, what have I done! Why didn't I do what
you told me!" For a time she collapsed, but then suddenly rose
energetically, saying: "Then we must get it paid at once. It's surely
possible to find twenty krones (a guinea)!" And hastening up to their
flat, she quickly returned in her hat and jacket.
"What are you going to do?" asked Pelle in amazement.
"What am I going to do? I'm going to 'Queen Theresa.' She _can_ get
it! Don't be afraid!" she said, bending down and kissing him. She soon
returned with the money. "I may pay it back by _washing_," she said
So that matter was settled, and they would have been glad if the loan
had been the same. It scarcely moved, however; the instalments ate
themselves up in some wonderful way. Two or three times they had had to
ask for a postponement, and each time the usurer added the amount of the
instalment to the sum still owing; he called it punishment interest.
Pelle read seldom; he felt no wish to do so. He was out early and late
looking for a job. He fetched and took back furniture in the town for
the second-hand dealer, and did anything else that came to hand.
One evening Ellen came up with a newspaper cutting that "Queen Theresa"
had sent her, an advertisement of a good, well-paid situation for a
trustworthy man, who had been trained as a shoemaker. "It's this
morning's," said Ellen anxiously, "so I only hope it isn't too late. You
must go out there at once." She took out Pelle's Sunday clothes quickly,
and helped him to make himself tidy. It was for a boot-factory in Borger
Street. Pelle took the tram in order to get there quickly, but he had no
great hopes of getting the place. The manufacturer was one of his most
bitter opponents among the employers at the time when he was organizing
the trade--a young master-shoemaker who had had the good sense to follow
the development and take the leap over to manufacturer.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he said. "Well, well, old differences shan't
stand between us if we can come to an agreement in other ways. What I
want is a man who'll look a little after everything, a kind of right-
hand man who can take something off my shoulders in a general way, and
superintend the whole thing when I'm travelling. I think you'll do
capitally for that, for you've got influence with the men; and I'd like
things to go nicely and smoothly with them, without giving in to them
too much, you understand. One may just as well do things pleasantly; it
doesn't cost an atom more, according to my experience, and now one
belongs to the party one's self."
"Do you?" said Pelle, hardly able to believe his ears.
"Yes! Why shouldn't an employer be a fellow-partisan? There's nothing to
be afraid of when once you've peeped in behind the scenes; and it has
its advantages, of course. In ten years' time every sensible man will be
a social democrat."
"That's not at all unlikely," said Pelle, laughing.
"No, is it! So one evening I said to my wife: 'I say, you know it won't
do soon to own that you don't belong to the party; in other countries
millionaires and counts and barons already belong to it.' She didn't
quite like it, but now she's quite satisfied. They're quite nice people,
as she said herself. There are even persons of rank among them. Well, it
wasn't conviction that drove me at first, but now I agree because what
they say's very sensible. And upon my word it's the only party that can
thrash the anarchists properly, don't you think so? In my opinion all
should unite in fighting against them, and that'll be the end of it, I
suppose. I've reflected a good deal upon politics and have come to the
conclusion that we employers behaved like asses from the beginning. We
oughtn't to have struggled against the Movement; it only drove it to
extremes. Just see how well-behaved it's become since we began to take
off our hats to it! You _become_ what you're _treated_ as, let
me tell you. You wouldn't have acted so harshly if we others had been a
little kinder to you. Don't you allow that? You're exactly like every
one else: you want to have good food and nice clothes--be considered
respectable people. So it was wise to cut off the lower end; you can't
rise when you've too much lumber as ballast. Fellows who pull up paving-
stones and knock you down are no company for me. You must have patience
and wait until the turn comes to your party to come in for a share:
those are my politics. Well, what do you think about the job?"
"I don't understand the machines," said Pelle.
"You'll soon get into that! But it's not that that matters, if only you
know how to treat the workmen, and that of course you do. I'll pay you
thirty-five krones (L2) a week--that's a good weekly wage--and in return
you'll have an eye to my advantage of course. One doesn't join the party
to be bled--you understand what I mean? Then you get a free house--in
the front building of course--so as to be a kind of vice-landlord for
the back building here; there are three stairs with one-roomed flats. I
can't be bothered having anything to do with that; there's so much
nonsense about the mob. They do damage and don't pay if they can help
it, and when you're a little firm with them they fly to the papers and
write spiteful letters. Of course I don't run much risk of that, but all
the same I like things to go smoothly, partly because I aspire to become
a member of the management. So you get eighteen hundred krones (L100) a
year and a flat at four hundred (L22), which makes two thousand two
hundred krones (Ll22)--a good wage, though perhaps I oughtn't to say so
myself; but good pay makes good work. Well, is it a bargain?"
Pelle wanted to have till the next day to think it over.
"What do you want to think over? One ought never to think over things
too much; our age requires action. As I said before, an expert knowledge
is not the main thing; it's your authority that I chiefly want. In other
words, you'll be my confidential man. Well, well, then you'll give me
your answer to-morrow."
Pelle went slowly homeward. He did not know why he had asked time to
think it over; the matter was settled. If you wanted to make a home, you
must take the consequences of it and not sneak away the first time a
prospect offered of making it a little comfortable for your wife and
children. So now he was the dog set to watch his companions.
He went down the King's New Market and into the fashionable quarter. It
was bright and gay here, with the arc-lamps hanging like a row of light-
birds above the asphalt, now and then beating their wings to keep
themselves poised. They seemed to sweep down the darkness of night, and
great shadows flickered through the street and disappeared. In the
narrow side streets darkness lay, and insistent sounds forced their way
out of it--a girl's laugh, the crying of a lonely child, the ceaseless
bickering of a cowed woman. But people strolled, quietly conversing,
along the pavement in couples and heard nothing. They had got out their
winter coats, and were luxuriating in the first cold weather.
Music sounded from the large _cafes_, which were filled to
overflowing. People were sitting close together in small select
companies, and looked gay and happy. On the tables round which they sat,
stood the wine-cooler with the champagne bottle pointing obliquely
upward as though it were going to shoot down heaven itself to them. How
secure they appeared to feel! Had they no suspicion that they were
sitting upon a thin crust, with the hell of poverty right beneath them?
Or was that perhaps why they were enjoying themselves--to-day your turn,
to-morrow mine? Perhaps they had become reconciled to the idea, and took
what they could get without listening too carefully to the hoarse
protests of the back streets!
Under one of the electric lamp-posts on the Town Hall Square a man was
standing selling papers. He held one out to Pelle, saying: "A halfpenny
if you can afford it, if not you can have it for nothing!" He was pale,
with dark shadows under his eyes, and he had a dark beard. He looked as
if he were suffering from some internal complaint which was slowly
consuming him. Pelle looked at him, and saw to his surprise that it was
Peter Dreyer, his comrade of long ago!
"Do you go about selling newspapers?" he exclaimed in astonishment,
holding out his hand.
Peter Dreyer quietly returned his greeting. He had the same heavy,
introspective look that he had had when Pelle met him in the garret in
Jager Street, but looked even more perplexed.
"Yes, I've become a newspaper man," he said, "but only after working
hours. It's a little paper that I write and print myself. It may perhaps
do you good to read it."
"What's it about?"
"About you and me."
"It's anarchistic, I suppose?" said Pelle, looking at the title of the
paper. "You were so strange last time I met you."
"Well, you can read it. A halfpenny if you can afford it, if not
gratis!" he cried, holding out a copy to the passers-by. A policeman was
standing a little way off observing him. He gradually drew nearer.
"I see you're under observation!" said Pelle, drawing his attention to
"I'm used to that. Once or twice they've seized my inoffensive little
"Then it can't have been altogether inoffensive?" said Pelle, smiling.
"I only advise people to think for themselves."
"That advice may be dangerous enough too, if it's followed."
"Oh, yes. The mean thing is that the police pursue me financially. As
soon as I've got work with any master, a policeman appears and advises
him to discharge me. It's their usual tactics! They aim at the stomach,
for that's where they themselves have their heart."
"Then it must be very hard for you to get on," said Pelle
"Oh, I get along somehow. Now and then they put me in prison for no
lawful reason, and when a certain time has passed they let me out again
--the one with just as little reason as the other. They've lost their
heads. It doesn't say much for machinery that's exclusively kept going
to look after us. I've a feeling that they'd like to put me out of the
way, if it could be done; but the country's not large enough to let any
one disappear in. But I'm not going to play the hunted animal any
longer. Although I despise our laws, which are only a mask for brute
force, I'm very careful to be on the right side; and if they use
violence against me again, I'll not submit to it."
"The conditions are so unequal," said Pelle, looking seriously at him.
"No one need put up with more than he himself likes. But there's
something wanting in us here at home--our own extreme consequence, self-
respect; and so they treat us as ignominiously as they please."
They went on together. On the pavement outside one of the large
_cafes_ stood an anaemic woman with a child upon her arm, offering
for sale some miserable stalks which were supposed to represent flowers.
Peter Dreyer pointed silently from her to the people in the _cafe_.
His face was distorted.
"I've no objection to people enjoying life," said Pelle; "on the
contrary, I'm glad to see that there are some who are happy. I hate the
system, but not the people, you see, unless it were those who grudge us
all anything, and are only really happy in the thought that others are
"And do you believe there's any one in there who seriously doesn't
grudge others anything? Do you believe any of them would say: 'I'm
fortunate enough to earn twenty-five thousand krones (L1,400) a year and
am not allowed to use more than five thousand (L300), so the rest
belongs to the poor'? No, they're sitting there abusing the poor man
while they drink up the surplus of his existence. The men abuse the
workmen, and their wives the servant girls. Just go in among the tables
and listen! The poor are bestial, unreliable, ungrateful in spite of
everything that is done for them; they are themselves to blame for their
misery. It gives a spice to the feast to some of them, others dull their
uneasy conscience with it. And yet all they eat and drink has been made
by the poor man; even the choicest dainties have passed through his
dirty hands and have a piquant flavor of sweat and hunger. They look
upon it as a matter of course that it should be so; they are not even
surprised that nothing is ever done in gratitude for kind treatment--
something to disagree with them, a little poison, for instance. Just
think! There are millions of poor people daily occupied in making
dainties for the rich man, and it never occurs to any of them to revenge
themselves, they are so good-natured. Capital literally sleeps with its
head in our lap, and abuses us in its sleep; and yet we don't cut its
At Victoria Street they stopped. The policeman had followed them and
stopped on the other side of the street when they stopped. Pelle drew
the other's attention to the fact.
Peter looked across carelessly. "He's like an English bloodhound," he
said quietly--"a ferocious mouth and no brain! What vexes me most is
that we ourselves produce the dogs that are to hunt us; but we shall
soon begin to agitate among the military." He said good-night and turned
toward Enghave Road, where he lived.
Ellen met Pelle at the top of the street. "How did you get on?" she
asked eagerly. "Did you get the place?"
He quietly explained matters to her. She had put her arm round him. "You
great big man," she said, looking up at him with a happy face. "If you
only knew how proud I am of you! Why, we're rich now, Pelle--thirty-five
krones (2 Pounds) a week! Aren't you glad yourself?"
"Yes, I'm glad that you and the children will be a little comfortable
"Yes, but you yourself--you don't seem to be very delighted, and yet
it's a good place you're getting."
"It won't be an easy place for me, but I must make the best of it," he
"I don't see why not. You're to be on the side of the manufacturer, but
that's always the way with that kind of position; and he's got a right
too to have his interests looked after."
When they got in Ellen brought him his supper, which had been standing
on the stove to keep warm. Now and then she looked at him in wonder;
there was something about him to-day that she did not understand. He had
on the whole become a little peculiar in his views about things in the
prison, and it was not to be wondered at. She went to him and stroked
"You'll be satisfied on your own account too, soon," she said. "It's
fortunate for us that he can't be bothered to look after things
"He's taken up with politics," answered Pelle absently. "At present he's
thinking of getting into the Town Council by the help of the working-
"Then it's very wise of him to take you," Ellen exclaimed vivaciously.
"You understand these matters and can help him. If we save, we may
perhaps have so much over that we could buy the business from him some
She looked happy, and treated him to a little petting, now in one way
and now in another. Her joy increased her beauty, and when he looked at
her it was impossible for him to regret anything. She had sacrificed
everything for him, and he could do nothing without considering her. He
must see her perfectly happy once more, let it cost what it might, for
he owed her everything. How beautiful she was in her unaffectedness! She
still had a fondness for dressing in black, and with her dark hair about
her pale face, she resembled one of those Sisters who have suffered much
and do everything out of compassion.
It struck him that he had never heard her really laugh; she only smiled.
He had not awakened the strongest feeling in her yet, he had not
succeeded in making her happy; and therefore, though she had shared his
bed and board, she had kept the most beautiful part to herself, like an
unapproachable virgin. But now her cheeks glowed with happy expectation,
and her eyes rested upon him eagerly; he no longer represented for her
the everyday dullness, he was the fairy-story that might take her by
surprise when the need was greatest. He felt he could hardly pay too
dearly for this change. Women were not made for adversity and solitude;
they were flowers that only opened fully when happiness kissed them.
Ellen might shift the responsibility over onto his shoulders.
The next day he dressed himself carefully to go out and make the final
agreement with the manufacturer. Ellen helped him to button his collar,
and brushed his coat, talking, as she did so, with the lightheartedness
of a bird, of the future. "What are we going to do now? We must try and
get rid of this flat and move out to that end of the town," she said,
"or else you'll have too far to walk."
"I forgot to tell you that we shall live out there," said Pelle. "He has
three stairs with one-roomed apartments, and we're to be the vice-
landlord of them. He can't manage the tenants himself." Pelle had not
forgotten it, but had not been able to bring himself to tell her that he
was to be watch-dog.
Ellen looked at him in petrified astonishment. "Does that go with the
post?" she gasped.
"You mustn't do it!" she cried, suddenly seizing him by the arms. "Do
you hear, Pelle? You mustn't do it!" She was greatly disturbed and gazed
beseechingly at him. "I don't understand you at all."
He looked at her in bewilderment and murmured something in self-defence.
"Don't you see that he only wants to make use of you?" she continued
excitedly. "It's a Judas post he's offered you, but we won't earn our
bread by turning poor people into the street. I've seen my own bits of
furniture lying in the gutter. Oh, if you'd gone there!" She gazed
shudderingly straight before her.
"I can't understand what you can have been thinking about--you who are
generally so sensible," she said when she had once more calmed down,
looking reproachfully at him; but the next instant she understood it
all, and sank down weeping.
"Oh, Pelle, Pelle!" she exclaimed, and hid her face.
Pelle read no more and no longer went to the library. He had enough to
do to keep things going. There was no question now of trying to get a
place; winter was at the door, and the army of the unemployed grew
larger every day. He stayed at home, worked when there was anything to
do, and for the rest minded the children for Ellen while she washed. He
talked to Lasse Frederik as he would to a comrade, but it was nice to
have to look after the little ones too. They were grateful for it, and
he discovered that it gave him much pleasure. Boy Comfort he was very
fond of now, his only sorrow being that the boy could not talk yet. His
dumbness was always a silent accusation.
"Why don't you bring books home?" Ellen would say when she came up from
the wash-house to look after them, with her arms bare and tiny drops in
her hair from the steam down there. "You've plenty of time now."
No, what did he want with books? They did perhaps widen his horizon a
little, but what lay behind it became so very much greater again; and he
himself only grew smaller by reading. It was impossible in any case to
obtain any reassuring view of the whole. The world followed its own
crooked course in defiance of all wisdom. There was little pleasure in
absorbing knowledge about things that one could not remedy; poor people
had better be dull.
He and Morten had just been to Madam Johnsen's funeral. She had not
succeeded in seeing Jutland. Out of a whole life of toil there had never
been ten krones (10s.) over for a ticket home; and the trains ran day
after day with hundreds of empty places. With chilling punctuality they
whirled away from station to station. Heaven knows how many thousand
empty seats the trains had run with to Jutland during the years in which
the old woman longed to see her home! And if she had trudged to the
railway-station and got into the train, remorseless hands would have
removed her at the first station. What had she to do with Jutland? She
longed to go there, it was true, but she had no money!
Was it malice or heartless indifference? A more fiendish sport can at
any rate hardly be imagined than this running with empty places. It was
they that made the journey so terribly vivid--as though the devil
himself were harnessed to the train and, panting with wantonness,
dragging it along through the country to places that people were longing
to see. It must be dreadful to be the guard and call the names of the
stations in to those seats for the people left behind!
And Sister walked about the floor so pale and thin! There was no
strength in her fair hair, and when she was excited, her breath whistled
in her windpipe with that painful sound that was practically inseparable
from the children of the poor neighborhoods. It was always the vitiated
air of the back-yards that had something to say now--depressing, like
almost everything his understanding mastered. All she wanted was
sunshine, and all the summer it had been poured down in open-handed
generosity, only it went over the heads of poor people like everything
else. It had been a splendid year for strawberries, but the large
gardeners had decided to let half of them rot on their stalks in order
to keep up the prices and save the money spent on picking them. And here
were the children hungering for fruit, and ailing for want of it! Why?
No, there was no possible answer to be given to that question.
And again--everywhere the same! Whenever he thought of some social
institution or other, the same melancholy spectacle presented itself--an
enormous rolling stock, only meant for a few, and to a great extent
running empty; and from the empty places accusing eyes gazed out, sick
and sad with hunger and want and disappointed hope. If one had once seen
them, it was impossible to close one's eyes to them again.
Sometimes his imagination took another direction, and he found himself
planning, for instance, kingdoms in which trains were used according to
the need for them, and not according to the purse, where the food was
eaten by those who were hungry, and the only poor people were those who
grudged others things.
But he pulled himself up there; it was too idiotic! A voice from the
unseen had called him and his out into the day, and then nothing had
happened! It had only been to fool them.
Brun often came down to see him. The old librarian missed his young
"Why do you never come in to us now?" he asked.
"What should I do there?" answered Pelle shortly. "The poor man has no
use for knowledge; he's everlastingly damned."
He had broken with all that and did not care either about the
librarian's visits. It was best for every one to look after himself; the
great were no company for such as he. He made no attempt to conceal his
ill humor, but Brun took no notice. The latter had moved out into
Frederiksberg Avenue in October, and dropped in almost every afternoon
on his way home from the library. The children took care to be down
there at that time, for he always brought something for them.
Neither Pelle nor Ellen demanded much of life now. They had settled down
in resignation side by side like a pair of carthorses that were
accustomed to share manger and toil. It would have been a great thing
now to have done with that confounded loan, so that they need not go
about with their lives in their hands continually; but even that was
requiring too much! All that could be scraped together went every month
to the money-lender, and they were no nearer the end. On the one hundred
and eighty krones (L10) that Pelle had received they had now in all paid
off one hundred and twenty (L7), and yet they still owed two hundred and
forty (more than L13). It was the "punishment interest" that made it
mount up whenever they came only a day or two too late with the
instalments or whatever it might be. In any case it was an endless screw
that would go on all their life pumping out whatever they could scrape
together into the money-lender's pocket.
But now Pelle meant to put an end to this. He had not paid the last
instalment and meant to pay no more, but let things go as they liked.
"You ought to borrow of Herr Brun and pay off that money-lender," said
Ellen, "or else he'll only come down on us and take our furniture." But
Pelle was obstinate and would not listen to reason. The consciousness
that a parasite had fastened upon him and sucked him dry in spite of all
his resistance, made him angry. He would like to see them touching his
When the money-lender came to fetch his instalment, Pelle shut the door
in his face. For the rest he took everything with the calmness of
resignation; but when the subject cropped up, he fired up and did not
know what he said. Ellen had to keep silence and let his mood work
One afternoon he sat working at the basement window. The librarian was
sitting on the chair by the door, with a child on each knee, feeding
them with dates. Pelle was taking no notice, but bent over his work with
the expression of a madman who is afraid of being spoken to. His work
did not interest him as it had formerly done, and progressed slowly; a
disturbing element had entered, and whenever he could not instantly find
a tool, he grew angry and threw the things about.
Brun sat watching him anxiously, though apparently taken up with the
children. A pitying expression would have made Pelle furious. Brun
guessed that there was some money trouble, but dared not offer his
assistance; every time he tried to begin a conversation Pelle repelled
him with a cunning look which said: "You're seeking for an opportunity
to come with your money, but you won't get it!" Something or other had
gone wrong with him, but it would all come right in the end.
A cab stopped outside the door, and three men stepped out and went into
the house. A little while after Ellen burst into the workshop. "Pelle!"
she cried, without noticing Brun, "they've come to take away our
things!" She broke into a fit of weeping, and seeing their mother
crying, the children began to cry too.
Pelle rose and seized a hammer. "I'll soon get _them_ out!" he said
between his teeth in a low tone as he moved toward the door. He did not
hurry, but went with lowered head, not looking at any one.
Brun seized him by the arm and stopped him.
"You forget that there's something called Prison!" he said with peculiar
Pelle gazed at him in astonishment, and for a moment it looked as if he
were going to strike the old man; then the hammer dropped from his hand
and he broke down.
Now and then a comrade from the good old days would come up and want
Pelle to go with him to a meeting. Old fighting memories wakened within
him. Perhaps it was there the whole point lay. He threw off his leather
apron and went. Ellen's eyes followed him to the door, wondering that he
could still wish to have anything to do with that after what _he_
had got out of it.
But it was not there after all! He remembered the tremendous ferment in
men's minds during the Movement, and it seemed to him that the
excitement had died down. People only came forward before the elections,
otherwise they went about their own business as if there had never been
any rallying idea. They were all organized, but there was nothing new
and strong in that fact; they were born--so to speak--in organization,
and connected nothing great and elevating with it. His old associates
had cooled down remarkably; they must have discovered that success was
neither so romantic nor so easy as they had thought. They had no longer
simply to open the gate into the land of success and stream through it;
there was a long and difficult road before that. So they each arranged
his own matters, and disposed of the doubtful future for small present
advantages which were immediately swallowed up by the existing