PELLE THE CONQUEROR - VOL. 2
PELLE THE CONQUEROR - VOL. 2
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
_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"
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
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
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