Produced by Eric Eldred, Earle Beach
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
PELLE THE CONQUEROR
BY MARTIN ANDERSON NEXO
TRANSLATED FROM THE DANISH
By Bernard Miall.
On that windy May-morning when Pelle tumbled out of the nest, it so happened that old Klaus Hermann was clattering into town with his manure-cart, in order to fetch a load of dung. And this trifling circumstance decided the boy’s position in life. There was no more pother than this about the question: What was Pelle to be?
He had never put that question to himself. He had simply gone onward at hazard, as the meaning of the radiant world unfolded itself. As to what he should make of himself when he was really out in the world –well, the matter was so incomprehensible that it was mere folly to think about it. So he just went on.
Now he had reached the further end of the ridge. He lay down in the ditch to recover his breath after his long walk; he was tired and hungry, but in excellent spirits. Down there at his feet, only half a mile distant, lay the town. There was a cheerful glitter about it; from its hundreds of fireplaces the smoke of midday fires curled upward into the blue sky, and the red roofs laughed roguishly into the beaming face of the day. Pelle immediately began to count the houses; not wishing to exaggerate, he had estimated them at a million only, and already he was well into the first hundred.
But in the midst of his counting he jumped up. What did the people down there get for dinner? They must surely live well there! And was it polite to go on eating until one was quite full, or should one lay down one’s spoon when one had only half finished, like the landowners when they attended a dinner? For one who was always hungry this was a very important question.
There was a great deal of traffic on the high-road. People were coming and going; some had their boxes behind them in a cart, and others carried their sole worldly possessions in a bag slung over their shoulders, just as he did. Pelle knew some of these people, and nodded to them benevolently; he knew something about all of them. There were people who were going to the town–his town–and some were going farther, far over the sea, to America, or even farther still, to serve the King there; one could see that by their equipment and the frozen look on their faces. Others were merely going into the town to make a hole in their wages, and to celebrate May-day. These came along the road in whole parties, humming or whistling, with empty hands and overflowing spirits. But the most interesting people were those who had put their boxes on a wheelbarrow, or were carrying them by both handles. These had flushed faces, and were feverish in their movements; they were people who had torn themselves away from their own country-side, and their accustomed way of life, and had chosen the town, as he himself had done.
There was one man, a cottager, with a little green chest on his wheelbarrow; this latter was broad in the beam, and it was neatly adorned with flowers painted by his own hand. Beside him walked his daughter; her cheeks were red, and her eyes were gazing into the unknown future. The father was speaking to her, but she did not look as though she heard him. “Yes–now you must take it on you to look out for yourself; you must think about it, and not throw yourself away. The town is quite a good place for those who go right ahead and think of their own advantage, but it thinks nothing of who gets trodden underfoot. So don’t be too trusting, for the people there are wonderful clever in all sorts of tricks to take you in and trip you up. At the same time you want to be soft-spoken and friendly.” She did not reply to this; she was apparently more taken up with the problem of putting down her feet in their new shoes so that the heels should not turn over.
There was a stream of people coming up from the town too. All the forenoon Pelle had been meeting Swedes who had come that morning in the steamer, and were now looking for a job on the land. There were old folk, worn out with labor, and little children; there were maidens as pretty as yellow-haired Marie, and young laborers who had the strength of the whole world in their loins and muscles. And this current of life was setting hither to fill up the gaps left by the swarms that were going away–but that did not concern Pelle. For seven years ago he had felt everything that made their faces look so troubled now; what they were just entering upon he had already put behind him. So there was no good in looking back.
Presently the old man from Neuendorf came along the road. He was got up quite like an American, with a portmanteau and a silk neckerchief, and the inside pockets of his open coat were stuffed full of papers. At last he had made up his mind, and was going out to his betrothed, who had already been three years away.
“Hullo!” cried Pelle, “so you are going away?”
The man came over to Pelle and set his portmanteau down by the side of the ditch.
“Well, yes; it’s time to be going,” he said. “Laura won’t wait for me any longer. So the old people must see how they can get along without a son; I’ve done everything for them now for three years. Provided they can manage all by themselves–“
“They can do that all right,” said Pelle, with an experienced air. “And they had to get help formerly. There is no future for young people at home.” He had heard his elders say this. He struck at the grass with his stick, assuming a superior air.
“No,” said the other, “and Laura refuses to be a cottager’s wife. Well, good-bye!” He held out his hand to Pelle and tried to smile, but his features had it their own way; nothing but a rather twisted expression came over them. He stood there a minute, looking at his boots, his thumb groping over his face as though he wanted to wipe the tormented look away; then he picked up his portmanteau and went. He was evidently not very comfortable.
“I’ll willingly take over the ticket and the bride,” shouted Pelle merrily. He felt in the deuce of a good humor.
Everybody to-day was treading the road along which Pelle’s own young blood had called him–every young fellow with a little pluck, every good-looking wench. Not for a moment was the road free of traffic; it was like a vast exodus, an army of people escaping from places where everyone had the feeling that he was condemned to live and die on the very spot where he was born; an army of people who had chosen the excitement of the unknown. Those little brick houses which lay scattered over the green, or stood drawn up in two straight rows where the high-road ran into the town–those were the cottages of the peasant folk who had renounced the outdoor life, and dressed themselves in townified clothes, and had then adventured hither; and down on the sea-front the houses stood all squeezed and heaped together round the church, so close that there looked to be no room between them; there were the crowds who had gone wandering, driven far afield by the longing in their hearts–and then the sea had set a limit to their journey.
Pelle had no intention of allowing anything whatever to set a limit to his journeying. Perhaps, if he had no luck in the town, he would go to sea. And then one day he would come to some coast that interested him, and he would land, and go to the gold-diggings. Over there the girls went mother-naked, with nothing but some blue tattoo-work to hide their shame; but Pelle had his girl sitting at home, true to him, waiting for his return. She was more beautiful even than Bodil and yellow-haired Marie put together, and whole crowds followed her footsteps, but she sat at home and was faithful, and she would sing the old love-song:
“I had a lad, but he went away
All over the false, false sea,
Three years they are gone, and now to-day He writes no more to me!”
And while she sang the letter came to the door. But out of every letter that his father Lasse received fell ten-kroner banknotes, and one day a letter came with steamer-tickets for the two of them. The song would not serve him any further, for in the song they perished during the voyage, and the poor young man spent the rest of his days on the sea-shore, gazing, through the shadow of insanity, upon every rising sail. She and Lasse arrived safely–after all sorts of difficulties, that went without saying–and Pelle stood on the shore and welcomed them. He had dressed himself up like a savage, and he carried on as though he meant to eat them before he made himself known.
_Houp la!_ Pelle jumped to his feet. Up the road there was a rattling and a clanking as though a thousand scythes were clashing together: an old cart with loose plank sides came slowly jolting along, drawn by the two most miserable moorland horses he had ever seen. On the driver’s seat was an old peasant, who was bobbing about as though he would every moment fall in pieces, like all the rest of his equipment. Pelle did not at first feel sure whether it was the cart itself or the two bags of bones between the shafts that made such a frightful din whenever they moved, but as the vehicle at last drew level with him, and the old peasant drew up, he could not resist the invitation to get up and have a lift. His shoulders were still aching from carrying his sack.
“So you are going to town, after all?” said old Klaus, pointing to his goods and chattels.
To town, yes indeed! Something seemed to grip hold of Pelle’s bursting heart, and before he was aware of it he had delivered himself and his whole future into the old peasant’s hands.
“Yes, yes–yes indeed–why, naturally!” said Klaus, nodding as Pelle came forward. “Yes, of course! A man can’t do less. And what’s your idea about what you are going to be in the long run–councillor or king?” He looked up slowly. “Yes, goin’ to town; well, well, they all, take the road they feel something calling them to take…. Directly a young greyhound feels the marrow in his bones, or has got a shilling in his pocket, he’s got to go to town and leave it there. And what do you think conies back out the town? Just manure and nothing else! What else have I ever in my life been able to pick up there? And now I’m sixty-five. But what’s the good of talking? No more than if a man was to stick his tail out and blow against a gale. It comes over them just like the May-gripes takes the young calves– heigh-ho! and away they go, goin’ to do something big. Afterward, then old Klaus Hermann can come and clean up after them! They’ve no situation there, and no kinsfolk what could put them up–but they always expect something big. Why, down in the town there are beds made up in the streets, and the gutters are running over with food and money! But what do you mean to do? Let’s hear it now.”
Pelle turned crimson. He had not yet succeeded in making a beginning, and already he had been caught behaving like a blockhead.
“Well, well, well,” said Klaus, in a good-humored tone, “you are no bigger fool than all the rest. But if you’ll take my advice, you’ll go to shoemaker Jeppe Kofod as apprentice; I am going straight to his place to fetch manure, and I know he’s looking for an apprentice. Then you needn’t go floundering about uncertain-like, and you can drive right up to the door like the quality.”
Pelle winced all over. Never in his life had it entered his head that he could ever become a shoemaker. Even back there on the land, where people looked up to the handicrafts, they used always to say, if a boy had not turned out quite right: “Well, we can always make a cobbler or a tailor of him!” But Pelle was no cripple, that he must lead a sedentary life indoors in order to get on at all; he was strong and well-made. What he would be–well, that certainly lay in the hands of fortune; but he felt very strongly that it ought to be something active, something that needed courage and energy. And in any case he was quite sure as to what he did not want to be. But as they jolted through the town, and Pelle–so as to be beforehand with the great world–kept on taking off his cap to everybody, although no one returned his greeting, his spirits began to sink, and a sense of his own insignificance possessed him. The miserable cart, at which all the little town boys laughed and pointed with their fingers, had a great deal to do with this feeling.
“Take off your cap to a pack like that!” grumbled Klaus; “why, only look how puffed up they behave, and yet everything they’ve got they’ve stolen from us others. Or what do you suppose–can you see if they’ve got their summer seeds in the earth yet?” And he glared contemptuously down the street.
No, there was nothing growing on the stone pavements, and all these little houses, which stood so close that now and then they seemed to Pelle as if they must be squeezed out of the row–these gradually took his breath away. Here were thousands and thousands of people, if that made any difference; and all his blind confidence wavered at the question: where did all their food come from? For here he was once more at home in his needy, familiar world, where no amount of smoke will enable one to buy a pair of socks. All at once he felt thoroughly humble, and he decided that it would be all he could do here to hold his own, and find his daily bread among all these stones, for here people did not raise it naturally from the soil, but got it–well, how _did_ they get it?
The streets were full of servants. The girls stood about in groups, their arms round one another’s waists, staring with burning eyes at the cotton-stuffs displayed in the shops; they rocked themselves gently to and fro as though they were dreaming. A ‘prentice boy of about Pelle’s age, with a red, spotty face, was walking down the middle of the street, eating a great wheaten roll which he held with both hands; his ears were full of scabs and his hands swollen with the cold. Farm laborers went by, carrying red bundles in their hands, their overcoats flapping against their calves; they would stop suddenly at a turning, look cautiously round, and then hurry down a side street. In front of the shops the salesmen were walking up and down, bareheaded, and if any one stopped in front of their windows they would beg them, in the politest manner, to step nearer, and would secretly wink at one another across the street.
“The shopkeepers have arranged their things very neatly to-day,” said Pelle.
Klaus nodded. “Yes, yes; to-day they’ve brought out everything they couldn’t get rid of sooner. To-day the block-heads have come to market–the easy purses. Those”–and he pointed to a side street, “those are the publicans. They are looking this way so longingly, but the procession don’t come as far as them. But you wait till this evening, and then take a turn along here, and ask the different people how much they’ve got left of their year’s wages. Yes, the town’s a fine place–the very deuce of a fine place!” And he spat disgustedly.
Pelle had quite lost all his blind courage. He saw not a single person doing anything by which he himself might earn his bread. And gladly as he would have belonged to this new world, yet he could not venture into anything where, perhaps without knowing it, he would be an associate of people who would tear the rags off his old comrades’ backs. All the courage had gone out of him, and with a miserable feeling that even his only riches, his hands, were here useless, he sat irresolute, and allowed himself to be driven, rattling and jangling, to Master Jeppe Kofod’s workshop.
The workshop stood over an entry which opened off the street. People came and went along this entry: Madame Rasmussen and old Captain Elleby; the old maid-servant of a Comptroller, an aged pensioner who wore a white cap, drew her money from the Court, and expended it here, and a feeble, gouty old sailor who had bidden the sea farewell. Out in the street, on the sharp-edged cobble-stones, the sparrows were clamoring loudly, lying there with puffed-out feathers, feasting among the horse-droppings, tugging at them and scattering them about to the accompaniment of a storm of chirping and scolding.
Everything overlooking the yard stood open. In the workshop all four windows were opened wide, and the green light sifted into the room and fell on the faces of those present. But that was no help. Not a breath of wind was blowing; moreover, Pelle’s heat came from within. He was sweating with sheer anxiety.
For the rest, he pulled industriously at his cobbler’s wax, unless, indeed, something outside captured his harassed mind, so that it wandered out into the sunshine.
Everything out there was splashed with vivid sunlight; seen from the stuffy workshop the light was like a golden river, streaming down between the two rows of houses, and always in the same direction, down to the sea. Then a speck of white down came floating on the air, followed by whitish-gray thistle-seeds, and a whole swarm of gnats, and a big broad bumble-bee swung to and fro. All these eddied, gleaming, in the open doorway, and they went on circling as though there was something there which attracted them all–doubtless an accident, or perhaps a festival.
“Are you asleep, booby?” asked the journeyman sharply. Pelle shrank into his shell and continued to work at the wax; he kneaded away at it, holding it in hot water.
Inside the court, at the baker’s–the baker was the old master’s brother–they were hoisting sacks of meal. The windlass squeaked horribly, and in between the squeaking one could hear Master Jorgen Kofod, in a high falsetto, disputing with his son. “You’re a noodle, a pitiful simpleton–whatever will become of you? Do you think we’ve nothing more to do than to go running out to prayer-meetings on a working day? Perhaps that will get us our daily bread? Now you just stay here, or, God’s mercy, I’ll break every bone in your body!” Then the wife chimed in, and then of a sudden all was silent. And after a while the son stole like a phantom along the wall of the opposite house, a hymn-book in his hand. He was not unlike Howling Peter. He squeezed himself against the wall, and his knees gave under him if any one looked sharply at him. He was twenty-five years old, and he took beatings from his father without a murmur. But when matters of religion were in question he defied public opinion, the stick, and his father’s anger.
“Are you asleep, booby? I shall really have to come over and teach you to hurry!”
For a time no one spoke in the workshop–the journeyman was silent, so the others had to hold their tongues. Each bent over his work, and Pelle pulled the pitch out to as great a length as possible, kneaded some grease into it, and pulled again. Outside, in the sunshine, some street urchins were playing, running to and fro. When they saw Pelle, they held their clenched fist under their noses, nodded to him in a provocative manner, and sang–
“The cobbler has a pitchy nose,
The more he wipes it the blacker it grows!”
Pelle pretended not to see them, but he secretly ticked them all off in his mind. It was his sincere intention to wipe them all off the face of the earth.
Suddenly they all ran into the street, where a tremendous, monotonous voice lifted itself and flowed abroad. This was the crazy watchmaker; he was standing on his high steps, crying damnation on the world at large.
Pelle knew perfectly well that the man was crazy, and in the words which he so ponderously hurled at the town there was not the slightest meaning. But they sounded wonderfully fine notwithstanding, and the “ordeal by wax” was hanging over him like a sort of last judgment. Involuntarily, he began to turn cold at the sound of this warning voice, which uttered such solemn words and had so little meaning, just as he did at the strong language in the Bible. It was just the voice that frightened him; it was such a terrible voice, such a voice as one might hear speaking out of the clouds; the sort of voice, in short, that made the knees of Moses and Paul give under them; a portentous voice, such as Pelle himself used to hear coming out of the darkness at Stone Farm when a quarrel was going on.
Only the knee-strap of little Nikas, the journeyman, kept him from jumping up then and there and throwing himself down like Paul. This knee-strap was a piece of undeniable reality in the midst of all his imaginings; in two months it had taught him never quite to forget who and where he was. He pulled himself together, and satisfied himself that all his miseries arose from his labors over this wretched cobbler’s wax; besides, there was such a temptation to compare his puddle of cobbler’s wax with the hell in which he was told he would be tormented. But then he heard the cheerful voice of the young shoemaker in the yard outside, and the whole trouble disappeared. The “ordeal by wax” could not really be so terrible, since all the others had undergone it–he had certainly seen tougher fellows than these in his lifetime!
Jens sat down and ducked his head, as though he was expecting a box on the ears;–that was the curse of the house which continually hung over him. He was so slow at his work that already Pelle could overtake him; there was something inside him that seemed to hamper his movements like a sort of spell. But Peter and Emil were smart fellows–only they were always wanting to thrash him.
Among the apple trees in the yard it was early summer, and close under the workshop windows the pig stood smacking at his food. This sound was like a warm breeze that blew over Pelle’s heart. Since the day when Klaus Hermann had shaken the squeaking little porker out of his sack, Pelle had begun to take root. It had squealed at first in a most desolate manner, and something of Pelle’s own feeling of loneliness was taken away from him by its cries. Now it complained simply because it was badly fed, and it made Pelle quite furious to see the nasty trash that was thrown to it–a young pig must eat well, that is half the battle. They ought not to go running out every few minute to throw something or other to the pig; when once the heat really set in it would get acidity of the stomach. But there was no sense in these town folk.
“Are you really asleep, booby? Why, you are snoring, deuce take me!”
The young master came limping in, took a drink, and buried himself in his book. As he read he whistled softly in time with the hammer- strokes of the others. Little Nikas began to whistle too, and the two older apprentices who were beating leather began to strike in time with the whistling, and they even kept double time, so that everything went like greased lightning. The journeyman’s trills and quavers became more and more extraordinary, in order to catch up with the blows–the blows and the whistling seemed to be chasing one another–and Master Andres raised his head from his book to listen. He sat there staring into the far distance, as though the shadowy pictures evoked by his reading were hovering before his eyes. Then, with a start, he was present and among them all, his eyes running over them with a waggish expression; and then he stood up, placing his stick so that it supported his diseased hip. The master’s hands danced loosely in the air, his head and his whole figure jerking crazily under the compulsion of the rhythm.
_Swoop!_–and the dancing hands fell upon the cutting-out knife, and the master fingered the notes on the sharp edge, his head on one side and his eyes closed–his whole appearance that of one absorbed in intent inward listening. But then suddenly his face beamed with felicity, his whole figure contracted in a frenzy of delight, one foot clutched at the air as though bewitched, as though he were playing a harp with his toes–Master Andres was all at once a musical idiot and a musical clown. And _smack!_ the knife flew to the ground and he had the great tin cover in his hand– _chin-da-da-da chin-da-da-da!_ Suddenly by a stroke of magic the flute had turned into a drum and cymbals!
Pelle was doubled up with laughter: then he looked in alarm at the knee-strap and again burst out laughing; but no one took any notice of him. The master’s fingers and wrist were dancing a sort of devil’s dance on the tin cover, and all of a sudden his elbows too were called into requisition, so that the cover banged against the master’s left knee, bounced off again and quick as lightning struck against his wooden heel, which stuck out behind him; then against Pelle’s head, and round about it went, striking the most improbable objects, _dum, dum, dum_, as though in wild, demoniacal obedience to the flute-like tones of the journeyman. There was no holding back. Emil, the oldest apprentice, began boldly to whistle too, cautiously at first, and then, as no one smacked his head, more forcefully. Then the next apprentice, Jens–the music-devil, as he was called, because anything would produce a note between his fingers–plucked so cleverly at his waxed-end that it straightway began to give out a buzzing undertone, rising and falling through two or three notes, as though an educated bumble-bee had been leading the whole orchestra. Out of doors the birds came hopping on to the apple-boughs; they twisted their heads inquisitively to one side, frantically fluffed out their feathers, and then they too joined in this orgy of jubilation, which was caused merely by a scrap of bright blue sky. But then the young master had an attack of coughing, and the whole business came to an end.
Pelle worked away at his cobbler’s wax, kneading the pitch and mixing grease with it. When the black lump was on the point of stiffening, he had to plunge both hands into hot water, so that he got hangnails. Old Jeppe came tripping in from the yard, and Master Andres quickly laid the cutting-board over his book and diligently stropped his knife.
“That’s right!” said Jeppe; “warm the wax, then it binds all the better.”
Pelle had rolled the wax into balls, and had put them in the soaking-tub, and now stood silent; for he had not the courage of his own accord to say, “I am ready.” The others had magnified the “ordeal by wax” into something positively terrible; all sorts of terrors lurked in the mystery that was now awaiting him; and if he himself had not known that he was a smart fellow–why–yes, he would have left them all in the lurch. But now he meant to submit to it, however bad it might be; he only wanted time to swallow first. Then at last he would have succeeded in shaking off the peasant, and the handicraft would be open to him, with its song and its wandering life and its smart journeyman’s clothes. The workshop here was no better than a stuffy hole where one sat and slaved over smelly greasy boots, but he saw that one must go through with it in order to reach the great world, where journeymen wore patent-leather shoes on workdays and made footwear fit for kings. The little town had given Pelle a preliminary foreboding that the world was almost incredibly great, and this foreboding filled him with impatience. He meant to conquer it all!
“Now I am ready!” he said resolutely; now he would decide whether he and the handicraft were made for one another.
“Then you can pull a waxed end–but make it as long as a bad year!” said the journeyman.
The old master was all on fire at the idea. He went over and watched Pelle closely, his tongue hanging out of his mouth; he felt quite young again, and began to descant upon his own apprenticeship in Copenhagen, sixty years ago. Those were times! The apprentices didn’t lie in bed and snore in those days till six o’clock in the morning, and throw down their work on the very stroke of eight, simply to go out and run about. No; up they got at four, and stuck at it as long as there was work to do. Then fellows _could_ work–and then they still learned something; they were told things just once, and then–the knee-strap! Then, too, the manual crafts still enjoyed some reputation; even the kings had to learn a handicraft. It was very different to the present, with its bungling and cheap retailing and pinching and paring everywhere.
The apprentices winked at one another. Master Andres and the journeyman were silent. You might as well quarrel with the sewing-machine because it purred. Jeppe was allowed to spin his yarn alone.
“Are you waxing it well?” said little Nikas. “It’s for pigskin.”
The others laughed, but Pelle rubbed the thread with a feeling as though he were building his own scaffold.
“Now I am ready!” he said, in a low voice.
The largest pair of men’s lasts was taken down from the shelf, and these were tied to one end of the waxed-end and were let right down to the pavement. People collected in the street outside, and stood there staring. Pelle had to lean right out of the window, and bend over as far as he could, while Emil, as the oldest apprentice, laid the waxed-end over his neck. They were all on their feet now, with the exception of the young master; he took no part in this diversion.
“Pull, then!” ordered the journeyman, who was directing the solemn business. “Pull them along till they’re right under your feet!”
Pelle pulled, and the heavy lasts joggled over the pavement, but he paused with a sigh; the waxed-end was slipping over his warm neck. He stood there stamping, like an animal which stamps its feet on the ground, without knowing why; he lifted them cautiously and looked at them in torment.
“Pull, pull!” ordered Jeppe. “You must keep the thing moving or it sticks!” But it was too late; the wax had hardened in the hairs of his nape–Father Lasse used to call them his “luck curls,” and prophesied a great future for him on their account–and there he stood, and could not remove the waxed-end, however hard he tried. He made droll grimaces, the pain was so bad, and the saliva ran out of his mouth.
“Huh! He can’t even manage a pair of lasts!” said Jeppe jeeringly. “He’d better go back to the land again and wash down the cows’ behinds!”
Then Pelle, boiling with rage, gave a jerk, closing his eyes and writhing as he loosed himself. Something sticky and slippery slipped through his fingers with the waxed-end; it was bloody hair, and across his neck the thread had bitten its way in a gutter of lymph and molten wax. But Pelle no longer felt the pain, his head was boiling so, and he felt a vague but tremendous longing to pick up a hammer and strike them all to the ground, and then to run through the street, banging at the skulls of all he met. But then the journeyman took the lasts off him, and the pain came back to him, and his whole miserable plight. He heard Jeppe’s squeaky voice, and looked at the young master, who sat there submissively, without having the courage to express his opinion, and all at once he felt terribly sorry for himself.
“That was right,” buzzed old Jeppe, “a shoemaker mustn’t be afraid to wax his hide a little. What? I believe it has actually brought the water to his eyes! No, when I was apprentice we had a real ordeal; we had to pass the waxed-end twice round our necks before we were allowed to pull. Our heads used to hang by a thread and dangle when we were done. Yes, those were times!”
Pelle stood there shuffling, in order to fight down his tears; but he had to snigger with mischievous delight at the idea of Jeppe’s dangling head.
“Then we must see whether he can stand a buzzing head,” said the journeyman, getting ready to strike him.
“No, you can wait until he deserves it,” said Master Andres hastily. “You will soon find an occasion.”
“Well, he’s done with the wax,” said Jeppe, “but the question is, can he sit? Because there are some who never learn the art of sitting.”
“That must be tested, too, before we can declare him to be useful,” said little Nikas, in deadly earnest.
“Are you done with your tomfoolery now?” said Master Andres angrily, and he went his way.
But Jeppe was altogether in his element; his head was full of the memories of his boyhood, a whole train of devilish tricks, which completed the ordination. “Then we used to brand them indelibly with their special branch, and they never took to their heels, but they considered it a great honor as long as they drew breath. But now these are weakly times and full of pretences; the one can’t do this and the other can’t do that; and there’s leather colic and sore behinds and God knows what. Every other day they come with certificates that they’re suffering from boils from sitting down, and then you can begin all over again. No, in my time we behaved very different–the booby got held naked over a three-legged stool and a couple of men used to go at him with knee-straps! That was leather on leather, and like that they learned, damn and blast it all! how to put up with sitting on a stool!”
The journeyman made a sign.
“Now, is the seat of the stool ready consecrated, and prayed over? Yes, then you can go over there and sit down.”
Pelle went stupidly across the room and sat down–it was all the same to him. But he leaped into the air with a yell of pain, looked malevolently about him, and in a moment he had a hammer in his hand. But he dropped it again, and now he cried–wept buckets of tears.
“What the devil are you doing to him now?”
The young master came out of the cutting-out room. “What dirty tricks are you hatching now?” He ran his hand over the seat of the stool; it was studded with broken awl-points. “You are barbarous devils; any one would think he was among a lot of savages!”
“What a weakling!” sneered Jeppe. “In these days a man can’t take a boy as apprentice and inoculate him a bit against boils! One ought to anoint the boobies back and front with honey, perhaps, like the kings of Israel? But you are a freethinker!”
“You get out of this, father!” shouted Master Andres, quite beside himself. “You get out of this, father!” He trembled, and his face was quite gray. And then he pushed the old man out of the room before he had struck Pelle on the shoulder and received him properly into the handicraft.
Pelle sat there and reflected. He was altogether disillusioned. All the covert allusions had evoked something terrifying, but at the same time impressive. In his imagination the ordeal had grown into something that constituted the great barrier of his life, so that one passed over to the other side as quite a different being; it was something after the fashion of the mysterious circumcision in the Bible, a consecration to new things. And now the whole thing was just a spitefully devised torture!
The young master threw him a pair of children’s shoes, which had to be soled. So he was admitted to that department, and need no longer submit to preparing waxed-ends for the others! But the fact did not give him any pleasure. He sat there struggling with something irrational that seemed to keep on rising deep within him; when no one was looking he licked his fingers and drew them over his neck. He seemed to himself like a half-stupefied cat which had freed itself from the snare and sat there drying its fur.
Out of doors, under the apple-trees, the sunlight lay green and golden, and a long way off, in the skipper’s garden, three brightly dressed girls were walking and playing; they seemed to Pelle like beings out of another world. “Fortune’s children on the sunbright shore,” as the song had it. From time to time a rat made its appearance behind the pigsty, and went clattering over the great heap of broken glass that lay there. The pig stood there gobbling down its spoiled potatoes with that despairing noise that put an end to all Pelle’s proud dreams of the future, while it filled him with longing–oh, such a mad longing!
And everything that possibly could do so made its assault upon him at this moment when he was feeling particularly victorious; the miseries of his probation here in the workshop, the street urchins, the apprentices, who would not accept him as one of themselves, and all the sharp edges and corners which he was continually running up against in this unfamiliar world. And then the smelly workshop itself, where never a ray of sunlight entered. And no one here seemed to respect anything.
When the master was not present, little Nikas would sometimes indulge in tittle-tattle with the older apprentices. Remarks were made at such times which opened new spheres of thought to Pelle, and he had to ask questions; or they would talk of the country, which Pelle knew better than all of them put together, and he would chime in with some correction. _Smack!_ came a box on his ears that would send him rolling into the corner; he was to hold his tongue until he was spoken to. But Pelle, who was all eyes and ears, and had been accustomed to discuss everything in heaven or earth with Father Lasse, could not learn to hold his tongue.
Each exacted with a strong hand his quantum of respect, from the apprentices to the old master, who was nearly bursting with professional pride in his handicraft; only Pelle had no claim to any respect whatever, but must pay tribute to all. The young master was the only one who did not press like a yoke on the youngster’s neck. Easygoing as he was, he would disregard the journeyman and the rest, and at times he would plump himself down beside Pelle, who sat there feeling dreadfully small.
Outside, when the sun was shining through the trees in a particular way, and a peculiar note came into the twittering of the birds, Pelle knew it was about the time when the cows began to get on their feet after their midday chewing of the cud. And then a youngster would come out from among the little fir-trees, lustily cracking his whip; he was the general of the whole lot–Pelle, the youngster–who had no one set over him. And the figure that came stumbling across the arable yonder, in order to drive the cows home–why, that was Lasse!
He did not know why, but it wrung a sob from him; it took him so unawares. “Hold your row!” cried the journeyman threateningly. Pelle was greatly concerned; he had not once made the attempt to go over and see Lasse.
The young master came to get something off the shelf above his head, and leaned confidentially on Pelle’s shoulder, his weak leg hanging free and dangling. He stood there loitering for a time, staring at the sky outside, and this warm hand on Pelle’s shoulder quieted him.
But there could be no talk of enjoyment when he thought where good Father Lasse was. He had not seen his father since that sunny morning when he himself had gone away and left the old man to his loneliness. He had not heard of him; he had scarcely given a thought to him. He had to get through the day with a whole skin, and to adapt himself to the new life; a whole new world was before him, in which he had to find his feet. Pelle had simply had no time; the town had swallowed him.
But at this moment his conduct confronted him as the worst example of unfaithfulness the world had ever known. And his neck continued to hurt him–he must go somewhere or other where no one would look at him. He made a pretence of having to do something in the yard outside; he went behind the washhouse, and he crouched down by the woodpile beside the well.
There he lay, shrinking into himself, in the blackest despair at having left Father Lasse so shamelessly in the lurch, just for the sake of all these new strange surroundings. Yes, and then, when they used to work together, he had been neither as good nor as heedful as he should have been. It was really Lasse who, old as he was, had sacrificed himself for Pelle, in order to lighten his work and take the worst of the burden off him, although Pelle had the younger shoulders. And he had been a little hard at times, as over that business between his father and Madame Olsen; and he had not always been very patient with his good-humored elderly tittle-tattle, although if he could hear it now he would give his life to listen. He could remember only too plainly occasions when he had snapped at Lasse, so unkindly that Lasse had given a sigh and made off; for Lasse never snapped back–he was only silent and very sad.
But how dreadful that was! Pelle threw all his high-and-mighty airs to the winds and gave himself up to despair. What was he doing here, with Father Lasse wandering among strangers, and perhaps unable to find shelter? There was nothing with which he could console himself, no evasion or excuse was possible; Pelle howled at the thought of his faithlessness. And as he lay there despairing, worrying over the whole business and crying himself into a state of exhaustion, quite a manful resolve began to form within him; he must give up everything of his own–the future, and the great world, and all, and devote his days to making the old man’s life happy. He must go back to Stone Farm! He forgot that he was only a child who could just earn his own keep. To protect the infirm old man at every point and make his life easy–that was just what he wanted. And Pelle was by no means disposed to doubt that he could do it. In the midst of his childish collapse he took upon himself all the duties of a strong man.
As he lay there, woe-begone, playing with a couple of bits of firewood, the elder-boughs behind the well parted, and a pair of big eyes stared at him wonderingly. It was only Manna.
“Did they beat you–or why are you crying?” she asked earnestly.
Pelle turned his face away.
Manna shook her hair back and looked at him fixedly. “Did they beat you? What? If they did, I shall go in and scold them hard!”
“What is it to you?”
“People who don’t answer aren’t well-behaved.”
“Oh, hold your row!”
Then he was left in peace; over at the back of the garden Manna and her two younger sisters were scrambling about the trellis, hanging on it and gazing steadfastly across the yard at him. But that was nothing to him; he wanted to know nothing about them; he didn’t want petticoats to pity him or intercede for him. They were saucy jades, even if their father had sailed on the wide ocean and earned a lot of money. If he had them here they would get the stick from him! Now he must content himself with putting out his tongue at them.
He heard their horrified outcry–but what then? He didn’t want to go scrambling about with them any more, or to play with the great conch-shells and lumps of coral in their garden! He would go back to the land and look after his old father! Afterward, when that was done, he would go out into the world himself, and bring such things home with him–whole shiploads of them!
They were calling him from the workshop window. “Where in the world has that little blighter got to?” he heard them say. He started, shrinking; he had quite forgotten that he was serving his apprenticeship. He got on his feet and ran quickly indoors.
Pelle had soon tidied up after leaving off work. The others had run out in search of amusement; he was alone upstairs in the garret. He put his worldly possessions into his sack. There was a whole collection of wonderful things–tin steamboats, railway-trains, and horses that were hollow inside–as much of the irresistible wonders of the town as he had been able to obtain for five white krone pieces. They went in among the washing, so that they should not get damaged, and then he threw the bag out of the gable-window into the little alley. Now the question was how he himself should slip through the kitchen without arousing the suspicions of Jeppe’s old woman; she had eyes like a witch, and Pelle had a feeling that every one who saw him would know what he was about.
But he went. He controlled himself, and sauntered along, so that the people should think he was taking washing to the laundrywoman; but he could only keep it up as far as the first turning; then he started off as fast as he could go. He was homesick. A few street-boys yelled and threw stones after him, but that didn’t matter, so long as he only got away; he was insensible to everything but the remorse and homesickness that filled his heart.
It was past midnight when he at last reached the outbuildings of Stone Farm. He was breathless, and had a stitch in his side. He leaned against the ruined forge, and closed his eyes, the better to recover himself. As soon as he had recovered his breath, he entered the cowshed from the back and made for the herdsman’s room. The floor of the cowshed felt familiar to his feet, and now he came in the darkness to the place where the big bull lay. He breathed in the scent of the creature’s body and blew it out again–ah, didn’t he remember it! But the scent of the cowherd’s room was strange to him. “Father Lasse is neglecting himself,” he thought, and he pulled the feather-bed from under the sleeper’s head. A strange voice began to upbraid him. “Then isn’t this Lasse?” said Pelle. His knees were shaking under him.
“Lasse?” cried the new cowherd, as he sat upright. “Do you say Lasse? Have you come to fetch that child of God, Mr. Devil? They’ve been here already from Hell and taken him with them–in the living body they’ve taken him there with them–he was too good for this world, d’ye see? Old Satan was here himself in the form of a woman and took him away. You’d better go there and look for him. Go straight on till you come to the devil’s great-grandmother, and then you’ve only got to ask your way to the hairy one.”
Pelle stood for a while in the yard below and considered. So Father Lasse had gone away! And wanted to marry, or was perhaps already married. And to Karna, of course. He stood bolt-upright, sunk in intimate memories. The great farm lay hushed in moonlight, in deepest slumber, and all about him rose memories from their sleep, speaking to him caressingly, with a voice like that contented purring, remembered from childhood, when the little kittens used to sleep upon his pillow, and he would lay his cheek against their soft, quivering bodies.
Pelle’s memory had deep roots. Once, at Uncle Kalle’s, he had laid himself in the big twins’ cradle and had let the other children rock him–he was then fully nine years old–and as they rocked him a while the surroundings began to take hold of him, and he saw a smoky, raftered ceiling, which did not belong to Kalle’s house, swaying high over his head, and he had a feeling that a muffled-up old woman, wrapped in a shawl, sat like a shadow at the head of the cradle, and rocked it with her foot. The cradle jolted with the over-vigorous rocking, and every time the rocking foot slipped from the footboard it struck on the floor with the sound of a sprung wooden shoe. Pelle jumped up–“she bumped so,” he said, bewildered. “What? No, you certainly dreamed that!” Kalle looked, smiling, under the rockers. “Bumped!” said Lasse. “That ought to suit you first-rate! At one time, when you were little, you couldn’t sleep if the cradle didn’t bump, so we had to make the rockers all uneven. It was almost impossible to rock it. Bengta cracked many a good wooden shoe in trying to give you your fancy.”
The farmyard here was like a great cradle, which swayed and swayed in the uncertain moonlight, and now that Pelle had once quite surrendered himself to the past, there was no end to the memories of childhood that rose within him. His whole existence passed before him, swaying above his head as before, and the earth itself seemed like a dark speck in the abysm of space.
And then the crying broke out from the house–big with destiny, to be heard all over the place, so that Kongstrup slunk away shamefaced, and the other grew angry and ungovernable. … And Lasse … yes, where was Father Lasse?
With one leap, Pelle was in the brew-house, knocking on the door of the maid’s room.
“Is that you, Anders?” whispered a voice from within, and then the door opened, and a pair of arms fastened themselves about him and drew him in. Pelle felt about him, and his hands sank into a naked bosom–why, it was yellow-haired Marie!
“Is Karna still here?” he asked. “Can’t I speak to Karna a moment?”
They were glad to see him again; and yellow-haired Marie patted his cheeks quite affectionately, and just before that she kissed him too. Karna could scarcely recover from her surprise; he had acquired such a townsman’s air. “And now you are a shoemaker too, in the biggest workshop in the town! Yes, we’ve heard; Butcher Jensen heard about it on the market. And you have grown tall and townified. You do hold yourself well!” Karna was dressing herself.
“Where is Father Lasse?” said Pelle; he had a lump in his throat only from speaking of him.
“Give me time, and I’ll come out with you. How fine you dress now! I should hardly have known you. Would you, Marie?”
“He’s a darling boy–he always was,” said Marie, and she pushed at him with her arched foot–she was now in bed again.
“It’s the same suit as I always had,” said Pelle.
“Yes, yes; but then you held yourself different–there in town they all look like lords. Well, shall we go?”
Pelle said good-by to Marie affectionately; it occurred to him that he had much to thank her for. She looked at him in a very odd way, and tried to draw his hand under the coverlet.
“What’s the matter with father?” said Pelle impatiently, as soon as they were outside.
Well, Lasse had taken to his heels too! He couldn’t stand it when Pelle had gone. And the work was too heavy for one. Where he was just at the moment Karna could not say. “He’s now here, now there, considering farms and houses,” she said proudly. “Some fine day he’ll be able to take you in on his visit to town.”
“And how are things going here?” inquired Pelle.
“Well, Erik has got his speech back and is beginning to be a man again–he can make himself understood. And Kongstrup and his wife, they drink one against the other.”
“They drink together, do they, like the wooden shoemaker and his old woman?”
“Yes, and so much that they often lie in the room upstairs soaking, and can’t see one another for the drink, they’re that foggy. Everything goes crooked here, as you may suppose, with no master. ‘Masterless, defenceless,’ as the old proverb says. But what can you say about it–they haven’t anything else in common! But it’s all the same to me–as soon as Lasse finds something I’m off!”
Pelle could well believe that, and had nothing to say against it. Karna looked at him from head to foot in surprise as they walked on. “They feed you devilish well in the town there, don’t they?”
“Yes–vinegary soup and rotten greaves. We were much better fed here.”
She would not believe it–it sounded too foolish. “But where are all the things they have in the shop windows–all the meats and cakes and sweet things? What becomes of all them?”
“That I don’t know,” said Pelle grumpily; he himself had racked his brains over this very question. “I get all I can eat, but washing and clothes I have to see to myself.”
Karna could scarcely conceal her amazement; she had supposed that Pelle had been, so to speak, caught up to Heaven while yet living. “But how do you manage?” she said anxiously. “You must find that difficult. Yes, yes, directly we set out feet under our own table we’ll help you all we can.”
They parted up on the high-road, and Pelle, tired and defeated, set out on his way back. It was broad daylight when he got back, and he crawled into bed without any one noticing anything of his attempted flight.
Little Nikas had washed the blacking from his face and had put on his best clothes; he wanted to go to the market with a bundle of washing, which the butcher from Aaker was to take home to his mother, and Pelle walked behind him, carrying the bundle. Little Nikas saluted many friendly maidservants in the houses of the neighborhood, and Pelle found it more amusing to walk beside him than to follow; two people who are together ought to walk abreast. But every time he walked beside the journeyman the latter pushed him into the gutter, and finally Pelle fell over a curbstone; then he gave it up.
Up the street the crazy watchmaker was standing on the edge of his high steps, swinging a weight; it was attached to the end of a long cord, and he followed the swinging of the pendulum with his fingers, as though he were timing the beats. This was very interesting, and Pelle feared it would escape the journeyman.
“The watchmaker’s making an experiment,” he said cheerfully.
“Stop your jaw!” said the journeyman sharply. Then it occurred to Pelle that he was not allowed to speak, so he closed his mouth tight.
He felt the bundle, in order to picture to himself what the contents were like. His eyes swept all the windows and the side streets, and every moment he carried his free hand to his mouth, as though he were yawning, and introduced a crumb of black bread, which he had picked up in the kitchen. His braces were broken, so he had continually to puff out his belly; there were hundreds of things to look at, and the coal-merchant’s dog to be kicked while, in all good faith, he snuffed at a curbstone.
A funeral procession came toward them, and the journeyman passed it with his head bared, so Pelle did the same. Eight at the back of the procession came Tailor Bjerregrav with his crutch; he always followed every funeral, and always walked light at the back because his method of progression called for plenty of room. He would stand still and look on the ground until the last of the other followers had gone a few steps in advance, then he would set his crutch in front of him, swing himself forward for a space, and then stand still again. Then he would swing forward again on his lame legs, and again stand still and watch the others, and again take a few paces, looking like a slowly wandering pair of compasses which was tracing the path followed by the procession.
But the funniest thing was that the tailor had forgotten to button up the flap of his black mourning-breeches, so that it hung over his knees like an apron. Pelle was not quite sure that the journeyman had noticed this.
“Bjerregrav has forgotten–“
“Hold your jaw.” Little Nikas made a movement backward, and Pelle ducked his head and pressed his hand tightly to his mouth.
Over in Staal Street there was a great uproar; an enormously fat woman was standing there quarrelling with two seamen. She was in her nightcap and petticoat, and Pelle knew her.
“That’s the Sow!” he began. “She’s a dreadful woman; up at Stone Farm—-“
_Smack!_ Little Nikas gave him such a box on the ear that he had to sit down on the woodcarver’s steps. “One, two, three, four– that’s it; now come on!” He counted ten steps forward and set off again. “But God help you if you don’t keep your distance!”
Pelle kept his distance religiously, but he instantly discovered that little Nikas, like old Jeppe, had too large a posterior. That certainly came of sitting too much–and it twisted one’s loins. He protruded his own buttocks as far as he could, smoothed down a crease in his jacket over his hips, raised himself elegantly upon the balls of his feet and marched proudly forward, one hand thrust into the breast of his coat. If the journeyman scratched himself, Pelle did the same–and he swayed his body in the same buoyant manner; his cheeks were burning, but he was highly pleased with himself.
Directly he was his own master he went the round of the country butchers, questioning them, in the hope of hearing some news of Lasse, but no one could tell him anything. He went from cart to cart, asking his questions. “Lasse Karlson?” said one. “Ah, he was cowherd up at Stone Farm!” Then he called to another, asking him about Lasse –the old cowherd at Stone Farm–and he again called to a third, and they all gathered about the carts, in order to talk the matter over. There were men here who travelled all over the island [Bornholm] in order to buy cattle; they knew everything and everybody, but they could tell him nothing of Lasse. “Then he’s not in the island,” said one, very decidedly. “You must get another father, my lad!”
Pelle did not feel inclined for chaff, so he slipped away. Besides, he must go back and get to work; the young master, who was busily going from cart to cart, ordering meat, had called to him. They hung together like the halves of a pea-pod when it was a question of keeping the apprentices on the curb, although otherwise they were jealous enough of one another.
Bjerregrav’s crutch stood behind the door, and he himself sat in stiff funereal state by the window; he held a folded white handkerchief in his folded hands, and was diligently mopping his eyes.
“Was he perhaps a relation of yours?” said the young master slyly.
“No; but it is so sad for those who are left–a wife and children. There is always some one to mourn and regret the dead. Man’s life is a strange thing, Andres.”
“Ah, and potatoes are bad this year, Bjerregrav!”
Neighbor Jorgen filled up the whole doorway. “Lord, here we have that blessed Bjerregrav!” he shouted; “and in state, too! What’s on to-day then–going courting, are you?”
“I’ve been following!” answered Bjerregrav, in a hushed voice.
The big baker made an involuntary movement; he did not like being unexpectedly reminded of death. “You, Bjerregrav, you ought to be a hearse-driver; then at least you wouldn’t work to no purpose!”
“It isn’t to no purpose when they are dead,” stammered Bjerregrav. “I am not so poor that I need much, and there is no one who stands near to me. No living person loses anything because I follow those who die. And then I know them all, and I’ve followed them all in thought since they were born,” he added apologetically.
“If only you got invited to the funeral feast and got something of all the good things they have to eat,” continued the baker, “I could understand it better.”
“The poor widow, who sits there with her four little ones and doesn’t know how she’s to feed them–to take food from her–no, I couldn’t do it! She’s had to borrow three hundred kroner so that her man could have a respectable funeral party.”
“That ought to be forbidden by law,” said Master Andres; “any one with little children hasn’t the right to throw away money on the dead.”
“She is giving her husband the last honors,” said Jeppe reprovingly. “That is the duty of every good wife.”
“Of course,” rejoined Master Andres. “God knows, something must be done. It’s like the performances on the other side of the earth, where the widow throws herself on the funeral pyre when the husband dies, and has to be burned to death.”
Baker Jorgen scratched his thighs and grimaced. “You are trying to get us to swallow one of your stinking lies, Andres. You’d never get a woman to do that, if I know anything of womankind.”
But Bjerregrav knew that the shoemaker was not lying, and fluttered his thin hands in the air, as though he were trying to keep something invisible from touching his body. “God be thanked that we came into the world on this island here,” he said, in a low voice. “Here only ordinary things happen, however wrongheaded they may be.”
“What puzzles me is where she got all that money!” said the baker.
“She’s borrowed it, of course,” said Bjerregrav, in a tone of voice that made it clear that he wanted to terminate the conversation.
Jeppe retorted contemptuously, “Who’s going to lend a poor mate’s widow three hundred kroner? He might as well throw it into the sea right away.”
But Baker Jorgen gave Bjerregrav a great smack on the back. “You’ve given her the money, it’s you has done it; nobody else would he such a silly sheep!” he said threateningly.
“You let me be!” stammered Bjerregrav. “I’ve done nothing to you! And she has had one happy day in the midst of all her sorrow.” His hands were trembling.
“You’re a goat!” said Jeppe shortly.
“What is Bjerregrav really thinking about when he stands like this looking down into the grave?” asked the young master, in order to divert the conversation.
“I am thinking: Now you are lying there, where you are better off than here,” said the old tailor simply.
“Yes, because Bjerregrav follows only poor people,” said Jeppe, rather contemptuously.
“I can’t help it, but I’m always thinking,” continued Master Andres; “just supposing it were all a take-in! Suppose he follows them and enjoys the whole thing–and then there’s nothing! That’s why I never like to see a funeral.”
“Ah, you see, that’s the question–supposing there’s nothing.” Baker Jorgen turned his thick body. “Here we go about imagining a whole lot of things; but what if it’s all just lies?”
“That’s the mind of an unbeliever!” said Jeppe, and stamped violently on the floor.
“God preserve my mind from unbelief!” retorted brother Jorgen, and he stroked his face gravely. “But a man can’t very well help thinking. And what does a man see round about him? Sickness and death and halleluiah! We live, and we live, I tell you, Brother Jeppe–and we live in order to live! But, good heavens! all the poor things that aren’t born yet!”
He sank into thought again, as was usual with him when he thought of Little Jorgen, who refused to come into the world and assume his name and likeness, and carry on after him…. There lay his belief; there was nothing to be done about it. And the others began to speak in hushed voices, in order not to disturb his memories.
Pelle, who concerned himself with everything in heaven and earth, had been absorbing every word that was spoken with his protruding ears, but when the conversation turned upon death he yawned. He himself had never been seriously ill, and since Mother Bengta died, death had never encroached upon his world. And that was lucky for him, as it would have been a case of all or nothing, for he had only Father Lasse. For Pelle the cruel hands of death hardly existed, and he could not understand how people could lay themselves down with their noses in the air; there was so much to observe here below–the town alone kept one busy.
On the very first evening he had run out to look for the other boys, just where the crowd was thickest. There was no use in waiting; Pelle was accustomed to take the bull by the horns, and he longed to be taken into favor.
“What sort of brat is that?” they said, flocking round him.
“I’m Pelle,” he said, standing confidently in the midst of the group, and looking at them all. “I have been at Stone Farm since I was eight, and that is the biggest farm in the north country.” He had put his hands in his pockets, and spat coolly in front of him, for that was nothing to what he had in reserve.
“Oh, so you’re a farmer chap, then!” said one, and the others laughed. Rud was among them.
“Yes,” said Pelle; “and I’ve done a bit of ploughing, and mowing fodder for the calves.”
They winked at one another. “Are you really a farmer chap?”
“Yes, truly,” replied Pelle, perplexed; they had spoken the word in a tone which he now remarked.
They all burst out laughing: “He confesses it himself. And he comes from the biggest farm in the country. Then he’s the biggest farmer in the country!”
“No, the farmer was called Kongstrup,” said Pelle emphatically. “I was only the herd-boy.”
They roared with laughter. “He doesn’t see it now! Why, Lord, that’s the biggest farmer’s lout!”
Pelle had not yet lost his head, for he had heavier ammunition, and now he was about to play a trump. “And there at the farm there was a man called Erik, who was so strong that he could thrash three men, but the bailiff was stronger still; and he gave Erik such a blow that he lost his senses.”
“Oh, indeed! How did he manage that? Can you hit a farmer chap so that he loses his senses? Who was it hit you like that?” The questions rained upon him.
Pelle pushed the boy who had asked the last question, and fixed his eyes upon his. But the rascal let fly at him again. “Take care of your best clothes,” he said, laughing. “Don’t crumple your cuffs!”
Pelle had put on a clean blue shirt, of which the neckband and wristbands had to serve as collar and cuffs. He knew well enough that he was clean and neat, and now they were being smart at his expense on that very account.
“And what sort of a pair of Elbe barges has he got on? Good Lord! Why, they’d fill half the harbor!” This was in reference to Kongstrup’s shoes. Pelle had debated with himself as to whether he should wear them on a week-day. “When did you celebrate hiring-day?” asked a third. This was in reference to his fat red cheeks.
Now he was ready to jump out of his skin, and cast his eyes around to see if there was nothing with which he could lay about him, for this would infallibly end in an attack upon the whole party. Pelle already had them all against him.
But just then a long, thin lad came forward. “Have you a pretty sister?” he asked.
“I have no sisters at all,” answered Pelle shortly.
“That’s a shame. Well, can you play hide-and-seek?”
Of course Pelle could!
“Well, then, play!” The thin boy pushed Pelle’s cap over his eyes, and turned him with his face against the plank fence. “Count to a hundred–and no cheating, I tell you!”
No, Pelle would not cheat–he would neither look nor count short– so much depended on this beginning. But he solemnly promised himself to use his legs to some purpose; they should all be caught, one after another! He finished his counting and took his cap from his eyes. No one was to be seen. “Say ‘peep’!” he cried; but no one answered. For half an hour Pelle searched among timbers and warehouses, and at last he slipped away home and to bed. But he dreamed, that night, that he caught them all, and they elected him as their leader for all future time.
The town did not meet him with open arms, into which he could fall, with his childlike confidence, and be carried up the ladder. Here, apparently, one did not talk about the heroic deeds which elsewhere gave a man foothold; here such things merely aroused scornful laughter. He tried it again and again, always with something new, but the answer was always the same–“Farmer!” His whole little person was overflowing with good-will, and he became deplorably dejected.
Pelle soon perceived that his whole store of ammunition was crumbling between his hands, and any respect he had won at home, on the farm or in the village, by his courage and good nature, went for nothing here. Here other qualities counted; there was a different jargon, the clothes were different, and people went about things in a different way. Everything he had valued was turned to ridicule, even down to his pretty cap with its ear-flaps and its ribbon adorned with representations of harvest implements. He had come to town so calmly confident in himself–to make the painful discovery that he was a laughable object! Every time he tried to make one of a party, he was pushed to one side; he had no right to speak to others; he must take the hindmost rank!
Nothing remained to him but to sound the retreat all along the line until he had reached the lowest place of all. And hard as this was for a smart youngster who was burning to set his mark on everything, Pelle did it, and confidently prepared to scramble up again. However sore his defeat, he always retained an obstinate feeling of his own worth, which no one could take away from him. He was persuaded that the trouble lay not with himself but with all sorts of things about him, and he set himself restlessly to find out the new values and to conduct a war of elimination against himself. After every defeat he took himself unweariedly to task, and the next evening he would go forth once more, enriched by so many experiences, and would suffer defeat at a new point. He wanted to conquer–but what must he not sacrifice first? He knew of nothing more splendid than to march resoundingly through the streets, his legs thrust into Lasse’s old boots–this was the essence of manliness. But he was man enough to abstain from so doing–for here such conduct would be regarded as boorish. It was harder for him to suppress his past; it was so inseparable from Father Lasse that he was obsessed by a sense of unfaithfulness. But there was no alternative; if he wanted to get on he must adapt himself in everything, in prejudices and opinions alike. But he promised himself to flout the lot of them so soon as he felt sufficiently high-spirited.
What distressed him most was the fact that his handicraft was so little regarded. However accomplished he might become, the cobbler was, and remained, a poor creature with a pitchy snout and a big behind! Personal performance counted for nothing; it was obvious that he must as soon as possible escape into some other walk of life.
But at least he was in the town, and as one of its inhabitants– there was no getting over that. And the town seemed still as great and as splendid, although it had lost the look of enchantment it once had, when Lasse and he had passed through it on their way to the country. Most of the people wore their Sunday clothes, and many sat still and earned lots of money, but no one knew how. All roads came hither, and the town swallowed everything: pigs and corn and men–everything sooner or later found its harbor here! The Sow lived here with Rud, who was now apprenticed to a painter, and the twins were here! And one day Pelle saw a tall boy leaning against a door and bellowing at the top of his voice, his arms over his face, while a couple of smaller boys were thrashing him; it was Howling Peter, who was cook’s boy on a vessel. Everything flowed into the town!
But Father Lasse–he was not here!
There was something about the town that made it hard to go to bed and hard to get up. In the town there was no sunrise shining over the earth and waking everybody. The open face of morning could not be seen indoors. And the dying day poured no evening weariness into one’s limbs, driving them to repose; life seemed here to flow in the reverse direction, for here people grew lively at night!
About half-past six in the morning the master, who slept downstairs, would strike the ceiling with his stick. Pelle, whose business it was to reply, would mechanically sit up and strike the side of the bedstead with his clenched fist. Then, still sleeping, he would fall back again. After a while the process was repeated. But then the master grew impatient. “Devil take it! aren’t you going to get up to-day?” he would bellow. “Is this to end in my bringing you your coffee in bed?” Drunken with sleep, Pelle would tumble out of bed. “Get up, get up!” he would cry, shaking the others. Jens got nimbly on his feet; he always awoke with a cry of terror, guarding his head; but Emil and Peter, who were in the hobbledehoy stage, were terribly difficult to wake.
Pelle would hasten downstairs, and begin to set everything in order, filling the soaking-tub and laying a sand-heap by the window-bench for the master to spit into. He bothered no further about the others; he was in a morning temper himself. On the days when he had to settle right away into the cobbler’s hunch, without first running a few early errands or doing a few odd tasks, it took hours to thaw him.
He used to look round to see whether on the preceding evening he had made a chalk-mark in any conspicuous place; for then there must be something that he had to remember. Memory was not his strong point, hence this ingenious device. Then it was only a matter of not forgetting what the mark stood for; if he forgot, he was no better off than before.
When the workshop was tidy, he would hurry downstairs and run out for Madame, to fetch morning rolls “for themselves.” He himself was given a wheaten biscuit with his coffee, which he drank out in the kitchen, while the old woman went grumbling to and fro. She was dry as a mummy and moved about bent double, and when she was not using her hands she carried one forearm pressed against her midriff. She was discontented with everything, and was always talking of the grave. “My two eldest are overseas, in America and Australia; I shall never see them again. And here at home two menfolk go strutting about doing nothing and expecting to be waited on. Andres, poor fellow, isn’t strong, and Jeppe’s no use any longer; he can’t even keep himself warm in bed nowadays. But they know how to ask for things, that they do, and they let me go running all over the place without any help; I have to do everything myself. I shall truly thank God when at last I lie in my grave. What are you standing there for with your mouth and your eyes wide open? Get away with you!” Thereupon Pelle would finish his coffee–it was sweetened with brown sugar–out of doors, by the workshop window.
In the mornings, before the master appeared, there was no great eagerness to work; they were all sleepy still, looking forward to a long, dreary day. The journeyman did not encourage them to work; he had a difficulty in finding enough for himself. So they sat there wool-gathering, striking a few blows with the hammer now and then for appearance’s sake, and one or another would fall asleep again over the table. They all started when three blows were struck on the wall as a signal for Pelle.
“What are you doing? It seems to me you are very idle in there!” the master would say, staring suspiciously at Pelle. But Pelle had remarked what work each was supposed to have in hand, and would run over it all. “What day’s this–Thursday? Damnation take it! Tell that Jens he’s to put aside Manna’s uppers and begin on the pilot’s boots this moment–they were promised for last Monday.” The master would struggle miserably to get his breath: “Ah, I’ve had a bad night, Pelle, a horrible night; I was so hot, with such a ringing in my ears. New blood is so devilishly unruly; it’s all the time boiling in my head like soda-water. But it’s a good thing I’m making it, God knows; I used to be so soon done up. Do you believe in Hell? Heaven, now, that’s sheer nonsense; what happiness can we expect elsewhere if we can’t be properly happy here? But do you believe in Hell? I dreamed I’d spat up the last bit of my lungs and that I went to Hell. ‘What the devil d’you want here, Andres?’ they asked me; ‘your heart is still whole!’ And they wouldn’t have me. But what does that signify? I can’t breathe with my heart, so I’m dying. And what becomes of me then? Will you tell me that?
“There’s something that bids a man enter again into his mother’s womb; now if only a man could do that, and come into the world again with two sound legs, you’d see me disappear oversea double-quick, whoop! I wouldn’t stay messing about here any longer…. Well, have you seen your navel yet to-day? Yes, you ragamuffin, you laugh; but I’m in earnest. It would pay you well if you always began the day by contemplating your navel.”
The master was half serious, half jesting. “Well, now, you can fetch me my port wine; it’s on the shelf, behind the box with the laces in it. I’m deadly cold.”
Pelle came back and announced that the bottle was empty. The master looked at him mildly.
“Then run along and get me another. I’ve no money–you must say– well, think it out for yourself; you’ve got a head.” The master looked at him with an expression which went to Pelle’s heart, so that he often felt like bursting into tears. Hitherto Pelle’s life had been spent on the straight highway; he did not understand this combination of wit and misery, roguishness and deadly affliction. But he felt something of the presence of the good God, and trembled inwardly; he would have died for the young master.
When the weather was wet it was difficult for the sick man to get about; the cold pulled him down. If he came into the workshop, freshly washed and with his hair still wet, he would go over to the cold stove, and stand there, stamping his feet. His cheeks had quite fallen in. “I’ve so little blood for the moment,” he said at such times, “but the new blood is on the way; it sings in my ears every night.” Then he would be silent a while. “There, by my soul, we’ve got a piece of lung again,” he said, and showed Pelle, who stood at the stove brushing shoes, a gelatinous lump. “But they grow again afterward!”
“The master will soon be in his thirtieth year,” said the journeyman; “then the dangerous time is over.”
“Yes, deuce take it–if only I can hang together so long–only another six months,” said the master eagerly, and he looked at Pelle, as though Pelle had it in his power to help him; “only another six months! Then the whole body renews itself–new lungs–everything new. But new legs, God knows, I shall never get.”
A peculiar, secret understanding grew up between Pelle and the master; it did not manifest itself in words, but in glances, in tones of the voice, and in the whole conduct of each. When Pelle stood behind him, it was as though even the master’s leather jacket emitted a feeling of warmth, and Pelle followed him with his eyes whenever and wherever he could, and the master’s behavior to Pelle was different from his behavior to the others.
When, on his return from running errands in the town, he came to the corner, he was delighted to see the young master standing in the doorway, tightly grasping his stick, with his lame leg in an easy position. He stood there, sweeping his eyes from side to side, gazing longingly into the distance. This was his place when he was not indoors, sitting over some book of adventure. But Pelle liked him to stand there, and as he slipped past he would hang his head shyly, for it often happened that the master would clutch his shoulder, so hard that it hurt, and shake him to and fro, and would say affectionately: “Oh, you limb of Satan!” This was the only endearment that life had vouchsafed Pelle, and he sunned himself in it.
Pelle could not understand the master, nor did he understand his sighs and groans. The master never went out, save as an exception, when he was feeling well; then he would hobble across to the beerhouse and make up a party, but as a rule his travels ended at the house door. There he would stand, looking about him a little, and then he would hobble indoors again, with that infectious good humor which transformed the dark workshop into a grove full of the twittering of birds. He had never been abroad, and he felt no craving to go; but in spite of this his mind and his speech roamed over the whole wide world, so that Pelle at times felt like falling sick from sheer longing. He demanded nothing more than health of the future, and adventures hovered all about him; one received the impression that happiness itself had fluttered to earth and settled upon him. Pelle idolized him, but did not understand him. The master, who at one moment would make sport of his lame leg and the next moment forget that he had one, or jest about his poverty as though he were flinging good gold pieces about him–this was a man Pelle could not fathom. He was no wiser when he secretly looked into the books which Master Andres read so breathlessly; he would have been content with a much more modest adventure than a journey to the North Pole or the center of the earth, if only he himself could have been of the party.
He had no opportunity to sit still and indulge in fancies. Every moment it was, “Pelle, run and do something or other!” Everything was purchased in small quantities, although it was obtained on credit. “Then it doesn’t run up so,” Jeppe used to say; it was all the same to Master Andres. The foreman’s young woman came running in; she absolutely must have her young lady’s shoes; they were promised for Monday. The master had quite forgotten them. “They are in hand now,” he said, undaunted. “To the devil with you, Jens!” And Jens had hastily thrust a pair of lasts into the shoes, while Master Andres went outside with the girl, and joked with her on the landing, in order to smooth her down. “Just a few nails, so that they’ll hang together,” said the master to Jens. And then, “Pelle, out you go, as quick as your legs will carry you! Say we’ll send for them early to-morrow morning and finish them properly! But run as though the devil were at your heels!”
Pelle ran, and when he returned, just as he was slipping into his leather apron, he had to go out again. “Pelle, run out and borrow a few brass nails–then we needn’t buy any to-day. Go to Klausen–no, go to Blom, rather; you’ve been to Klausen already this morning.”
“Blom’s are angry about the screw-block!” said Pelle.
“Death and all the devils! We must see about putting it in repair and returning it; remember that, and take it with you to the smith’s. Well, what in the world shall we do?” The young master stared helplessly from one to another.
“Shoemaker Marker,” suggested little Nikas.
“We don’t borrow from Marker,” and the master wrinkled his forehead. “Marker’s a louse!” Marker had succeeded in stealing one of the oldest customers of the workshop.
“There isn’t salt to eat an egg!”
“Well, what _shall_ I do?” asked Pelle, somewhat impatiently.
The master sat for a while in silence. “Well, take it, then!” he cried, and threw a krone toward Pelle; “I have no peace from you so long as I’ve got a farthing in my pocket, you demon! Buy a packet and pay back Klausen and Blom what we’ve borrowed.”
“But then they’d see we’ve got a whole packet,” said Pelle.
“Besides, they owe us lots of other things that they’ve borrowed of us.” Pelle showed circumspection in his dealings.
“What a rogue!” said the master, and he settled himself to read. “Lord above us, what a gallows-bird!” He looked extremely contented.
And after a time it was once more, “Pelle, run out, etc.”
The day was largely passed in running errands, and Pelle was not one to curtail them; he had no liking for the smelly workshop and its wooden chairs. There was so much to be fetched and carried, and Pelle considered these errands to be his especial duty; when he had nothing else to do he roved about like a young puppy, and thrust his nose into everything. Already the town had no more secrets from him.
There was in Pelle an honorable streak which subdued the whole. But hitherto he had suffered only defeat; he had again and again sacrificed his qualities and accomplishments, without so far receiving anything in return. His timidity and distrust he had stripped from him indoors, where it was of importance that he should open his defences on all sides, and his solid qualities he was on the point of sacrificing on the altar of the town as boorish. But the less protection he possessed the more he gained in intrepidity, so he went about out-of-doors undauntedly–the town should be conquered. He was enticed out of the safe refuge of his shell, and might easily be gobbled up.
The town had lured him from the security of his lair, but in other matters he was the same good little fellow–most people would have seen no difference in him, except that he had grown taller. But Father Lasse would have wept tears of blood to see his boy as he now walked along the streets, full of uncertainty and uneasy imitativeness, wearing his best coat on a workday, and yet disorderly in his dress.
Yonder he goes, sauntering along with a pair of boots, his fingers thrust through the string of the parcel, whistling with an air of bravado. Now and again he makes a grimace and moves cautiously–when his trousers rub the sensitive spots of his body. He has had a bad day. In the morning he was passing a smithy, and allowed the splendid display of energy within, half in the firelight and half in the shadow, to detain him. The flames and the clanging of the metal, the whole lively uproar of real work, fascinated him, and he had to go in and ask whether there was an opening for an apprentice. He was not so stupid as to tell them where he came from, but when he got home, Jeppe had already been told of it! But that is soon forgotten, unless, indeed, his trousers rub against his sore places. Then he remembers it; remembers that in this world everything has to be paid for; there is no getting out of things; once one begins anything one has to eat one’s way through it, like the boy in the fairy-tale. And this discovery is, in the abstract, not so strikingly novel to Pelle.
He has, as always, chosen the longest way, rummaging about back yards and side streets, where there is a possibility of adventure; and all at once he is suddenly accosted by Albinus, who is now employed by a tradesman. Albinus is not amusing. He has no right to play and loiter about the warehouse in the aimless fashion that is possible out-of-doors; nor to devote himself to making a ladder stand straight up in the air while he climbs up it. Not a word can be got out of him, although Pelle does his best; so he picks up a handful of raisins and absconds.
Down at the harbor he boards a Swedish vessel, which has just arrived with a cargo of timber. “Have you anything for us to do?” he asks, holding one hand behind him, where his trousers have a hole in them.
“Klausen’s apprentice has just been here and got what there was,” replied the skipper.
“That’s a nuisance–you ought to have given it to us,” says Pelle. “Have you got a clay pipe?”
“Yes–just you come here!” The skipper reaches for a rope’s end, but Pelle escapes and runs ashore.
“Will you give me a thrashing now?” he cries, jeering.
“You shall have a clay pipe if you’ll run and get me half a krone’s worth of chewing ‘bacca.”
“What will it cost?” asks Pelle, with an air of simplicity. The skipper reaches for his rope’s end again, but Pelle is off already.
“Five ore worth of chewing tobacco, the long kind,” he cries, before he gets to the door even. “But it must be the very best, because it’s for an invalid.” He throws the money on the counter and puts on a cheeky expression.
Old Skipper Lau rises by the aid of his two sticks and hands Pelle the twist; his jaws are working like a mill, and all his limbs are twisted with gout. “Is it for some one lying-in?” he asks slyly.
Pelle breaks off the stem of the clay pipe, lest it should stick out of his pocket, boards the salvage steamer, and disappears forward. After a time he reappears from under the cabin hatchway, with a gigantic pair of sea-boots and a scrap of chewing tobacco. Behind the deck-house he bites a huge mouthful off the brown Cavendish, and begins to chew courageously, which makes him feel tremendously manly. But near the furnace where the ship’s timbers are bent he has to unload his stomach; it seems as though all his inward parts are doing their very utmost to see how matters would be with them hanging out of his mouth. He drags himself along, sick as a cat, with thumping temples; but somewhere or other inside him a little feeling of satisfaction informs him that one has to undergo the most dreadful consequences in order to perform any really heroic deed.
In most respects the harbor, with its stacks of timber and its vessels on the slips, is just as fascinating as it was on the day when Pelle lay on the shavings and guarded Father Lasse’s sack. The black man with the barking hounds still leans from the roof of the harbor warehouse, but the inexplicable thing is that one could ever have been frightened of him. But Pelle is in a hurry.
He runs a few yards, but he must of necessity stop when he comes to the old quay. There the “strong man,” the “Great Power,” is trimming some blocks of granite. He is tanned a coppery brown with wind and sun, and his thick black hair is full of splinters of granite; he wears only a shirt and canvas trousers, and the shirt is open on his powerful breast; but it lies close on his back, and reveals the play of his muscles. Every time he strikes a blow the air whistles– _whew!_–and the walls and timber-stacks echo the sound. People come hurrying by, stop short at a certain distance, and stand there looking on. A little group stands there all the time, newcomers taking the place of those that move on, like spectators in front of a cage of lions. It is as though they expect something to happen– something that will stagger everybody and give the bystanders a good fright.
Pelle goes right up to the “Great Power.” The “strong man” is the father of Jens, the second youngest apprentice. “Good-day,” he says boldly, and stands right in the giant’s shadow. But the stonecutter pushes him to one side without looking to see who it is, and continues to hew at the granite: _whew! whew!_
“It is quite a long time now since he has properly used his strength,” says an old townsman. “Is he quieting down, d’you think?”
“He must have quieted down for good,” says another. “The town ought to see that he keeps quiet.” And they move on, and Pelle must move on, too–anywhere, where no one can see him.
“Cobbler, wobbler, groats in your gruel, Smack on your back goes the stick–how cruel!”
It is those accursed street-urchins. Pelle is by no means in a warlike humor; he pretends not to see them. But they come up close behind him and tread on his heels, and before he knows what is happening they are upon him. The first he knows about it is that he is lying in the gutter, on his back, with all three on top of him. He has fallen alongside of the curbstone and cannot move; he is faint, too, as a result of his indiscretion; the two biggest boys spread his arms wide open on the flagstones and press them down with all their might, while the third ventures to deal with his face. It is a carefully planned outrage, and all Pelle can do is to twist his head round under the blows–and for once he is thankful for his disgracefully fat cheeks.
Then, in his need, a dazzling apparition appears before him; standing in the doorway yonder is a white baker’s boy, who is royally amused. It is no other than Nilen, the wonderful little devil Nilen, of his schooldays, who was always fighting everybody like a terrier and always came out of it with a whole skin. Pelle shuts his eyes and blushes for himself, although he knows perfectly well that this is only an apparition.
But then a wonderful thing happens; the apparition leaps down into the gutter, slings the boys to one side, and helps him to his feet. Pelle recognizes the grip of those fingers–even in his schooldays they were like claws of iron.
And soon he is sitting behind the oven, on Nilen’s grimy bed. “So you’ve become a cobbler?” says Nilen, to begin with, compassionately, for he feels a deucedly smart fellow himself in his fine white clothes, with his bare arms crossed over his naked breast. Pelle feels remarkably comfortable; he has been given a slice of bread and cream, and he decides that the world is more interesting than ever. Nilen is chewing manfully, and spitting over the end of the bed.
“Do you chew?” asks Pelle, and hastens to offer him the leaf-tobacco.
“Yes, we all do; a fellow has to when he works all night.”
Pelle cannot understand how people can keep going day and night.
“All the bakers in Copenhagen do–so that the people can get fresh bread in the morning–and our master wants to introduce it here. But it isn’t every one can do it; the whole staff had to be reorganized. It’s worst about midnight, when everything is turning round. Then it comes over you so that you keep on looking at the time, and the very moment the clock strikes twelve we all hold our breath, and then no one can come in or go out any more. The master himself can’t stand the night shift; the ‘baccy turns sour in his mouth and he has to lay it on the table. When he wakes up again he thinks it’s a raisin and sticks it in the dough. What’s the name of your girl?”
For a moment Pelle’s thoughts caress the three daughters of old Skipper Elleby–but no, none of them shall be immolated. No, he has no girl.
“Well, you get one, then you needn’t let them sit on you. I’m flirting a bit just now with the master’s daughter–fine girl, she is, quite developed already–you know! But we have to look out when the old man’s about!”
“Then are you going to marry her when you are a journeyman?” asks Pelle, with interest.
“And have a wife and kids on my back? You are a duffer, Pelle! No need to trouble about that! But a woman–well, that’s only for when a man’s bored. See?” He stretches himself, yawning.
Nilen has become quite a young man, but a little crude in his manner of expressing himself. He sits there and looks at Pelle with a curious expression in his eyes. “Cobbler’s patch!” he says contemptuously, and thrusts his tongue into his cheek so as to make it bulge. Pelle says nothing; he knows he cannot thrash Nilen.
Nilen has lit his pipe and is lying on his back in bed–with his muddy shoes on–chattering. “What’s your journeyman like? Ours is a conceited ass. The other day I had to fetch him a box on the ears, he was so saucy. I’ve learned the Copenhagen trick of doing it; it soon settles a man. Only you want to keep your head about it.” A deuce of a fellow, this Nilen, he is so grown up! Pelle feels smaller and smaller.
But suddenly Nilen jumps up in the greatest hurry. Out in the bakery a sharp voice is calling. “Out of the window–to the devil with you!” he yelps–“the journeyman!” And Pelle has to get through the window, and is so slow about it that his boots go whizzing past him. While he is jumping down he hears the well-known sound of a ringing box on the ear.
When Pelle returned from his wanderings he was tired and languid; the stuffy workshop did not seem alluring. He was dispirited, too; for the watchmaker’s clock told him that he had been three hours away. He could not believe it.
The young master stood at the front door, peeping out, still in his leather jacket and apron of green baize; he was whistling softly to himself, and looked like a grown fledgling that did not dare to let itself tumble out of the nest. A whole world of amazement lay in his inquiring eyes.
“Have you been to the harbor again, you young devil?” he asked, sinking his claws into Pelle.
“Yes.” Pelle was properly ashamed.
“Well, what’s going on there? What’s the news?”
So Pelle had to tell it all on the stairs; how there was a Swedish timber ship whose skipper’s wife was taken with childbirth out at sea, and how the cook had to deliver her; of a Russian vessel which had run into port with a mutiny on board; and anything else that might have happened. To-day there were only these boots. “They are from the salvage steamer–they want soling.”
“H’m!” The master looked at them indifferently. “Is the schooner _Andreas_ ready to sail?”
But that Pelle did not know.
“What sort of a sheep’s head have you got, then? Haven’t you any eyes in it? Well, well, go and get me three bottles of beer! Only stick them under your blouse so that father don’t see, you monster!” The master was quite good-tempered again.
Then Pelle got into his apron and buckled on the knee-strap. Everybody was bending over his work, and Master Andres was reading; no sound was to be heard but those produced by the workers, and now and again a word of reprimand from the journeyman.
Every second afternoon, about five o’clock, the workshop door would open slightly, and a naked, floury arm introduced the newspaper and laid it on the counter. This was the baker’s son, Soren, who never allowed himself to be seen; he moved about from choice like a thief in the night. If the master–as he occasionally did–seized him and pulled him into the workshop, he was like a scared faun strayed from his thickets; he would stand with hanging head, concealing his eyes, and no one could get a word from him; and when he saw an opportunity, he would slip away.
The arrival of the newspaper caused quite a small commotion in the workshop. When the master felt inclined, he would read aloud–of calves with two heads and four pairs of legs; of a pumpkin that weighed fifty pounds; of the fattest man in the world; of fatalities due to the careless handling of firearms, or of snakes in Martinique. The dazzling wonder of the whole world passed like a pageant, filling the dark workshop; the political news was ignored. If the master happened to be in one of his desperate humors, he would read the most damnable nonsense: of how the Atlantic Ocean had caught fire, so that the people were living on boiled codfish; or how the heavens had got torn over America, so that angels fell right on to somebody’s supper-tray. Things which one knew at once for lies–and blasphemous nonsense, too, which might at any time have got him into trouble. Rowing people was not in the master’s line, he was ill the moment there was any unpleasantness; but he had his own way of making himself respected. As he went on reading some one would discover that he was getting a wigging, and would give a jump, believing that all his failings were in the paper.
When the time drew near for leaving off work, a brisker note sounded in the workshop. The long working-day was coming to an end, and the day’s weariness and satiety were forgotten, and the mind looked forward–filling with thoughts of the sand-hills or the woods, wandering down a road that was bright with pleasure. Now and again a neighbor would step in, and while away the time with his gossip; something or other had happened, and Master Andres, who was so clever, must say what he thought about it. Sounds that had been confused during the day now entered the workshop, so that those within felt that they were participating in the life of the town; it was as though the walls had fallen.
About seven o’clock a peculiar sound was heard in the street without, approaching in very slowly _tempo;_ there was a dull thump and then two clacking sounds; and then came the thump again, like the tread of a huge padded foot, and once more the clack-clack. This was old Bjerregrav, swinging toward the workshop on his crutches; Bjerregrav, who moved more slowly than anybody, and got forward more quickly. If Master Andres happened to be in one of his bad humors, he would limp away, in order not to remain in the same room with a cripple; at other times he was glad to see Bjerregrav.
“Well, you are a rare bird, aren’t you?” he would cry, when Bjerregrav reached the landing and swung himself sideways through the door; and the old man would laugh–he had paid this visit daily now for many years. The master took no further notice of him, but went on reading; and Bjerregrav sank into his dumb pondering; his pale hands feeling one thing after another, as though the most everyday objects were unknown to him. He took hold of things just as a newborn child might have done; one had to smile at him and leave him to sit there, grubbing about like the child he really was. It was quite impossible to hold a continuous conversation with him; for even if he did actually make an observation it was sure to be quite beside the mark; Bjerregrav was given to remarking attributes which no one else noticed, or which no one would have dwelt upon.
When he sat thus, pondering over and fingering some perfectly familiar object, people used to say, “Now Bjerregrav’s questioning fit is coming on!” For Bjerregrav was an inquirer; he would ask questions about the wind and the weather, and even the food that he ate. He would ask questions about the most laughable subjects– things that were self-evident to any one else–why a stone was hard, or why water extinguished fire. People did not answer him, but shrugged their shoulders compassionately. “He is quite all there,” they would say; “his head’s all right. But he takes everything the wrong way round!”
The young master looked up from his book. “Now, shall I inherit Bjerregrav’s money?” he asked mischievously.
“No–you’ve always been good to me; I don’t want to cause you any misfortune.”
“Worse things than that might befall me, don’t you think?”
“No, for you’ve got a fair competence. No one has a right to more, so long as the many suffer need.”
“Certain people have money in the bank themselves,” said Master Andres allusively.
“No, that’s all over,” answered the old man cheerfully. “I’m now exactly as rich as you.”
“The devil! Have you run through the lot?” The young master turned round on his chair.
“You and your ‘run through it all’! You always sit over me like a judge and accuse me of things! I’m not conscious of having done anything wrong; but it’s true that the need gets worse every winter. It’s a burden to have money, Andres, when men are hungry all about you; and if you help them then you learn afterward that you’ve done the man injury; they say it themselves, so it must be true. But now I’ve given the money to the Charity Organization Society, so now it will go to the right people.”
“Five thousand kroner!” said the master, musing. “Then there ought to be great rejoicing among the poor this winter.”
“Well, they won’t get it direct in food and firing,” said Bjerregrav, “but it will come to them just as well in other ways. For when I’d made my offer to the Society, Shipowner Monsen–you know him–came to me, and begged me to lend him the money at one year. He would have gone bankrupt if he hadn’t had it, and it was terrible to think of all the poor people who would have gone without bread if that great business of his had come to a standstill. Now the responsibility falls on me. But the money is safe enough, and in that way it does the poor twice as much good.”
Master Andres shook his head. “Suppose Bjerregrav has just sat himself down in the nettles?”
“Why? But what else could I have done?” said the old man uneasily.