PELLE THE CONQUEROR
I.—BOYHOOD. Translated by Jessie Muir.
II.—APPRENTICESHIP. Translated by Bernard Miall.
III.—THE GREAT STRUGGLE. Translated by Bernard Miall.
IV.—DAYBREAK. Translated by Jessie Muir.
PELLE THE CONQUEROR, Complete
BY MARTIN ANDERSON NEXO
TRANSLATED FROM THE DANISH BY JESSE MUIR AND BERNARD MIALL
When the first part of "Pelle Erobreren" (Pelle the Conqueror) appeared in 1906, its author, Martin Andersen Nexo, was practically unknown even in his native country, save to a few literary people who knew that he had written some volumes of stories and a book full of sunshiny reminiscences from Spain. And even now, after his great success with "Pelle," very little is known about the writer. He was born in 1869 in one of the poorest quarters of Copenhagen, but spent his boyhood in his beloved island Bornholm, in the Baltic, in or near the town, Nexo, from which his final name is derived. There, too, he was a shoemaker's apprentice, like Pelle in the second part of the book, which resembles many great novels in being largely autobiographical. Later, he gained his livelihood as a bricklayer, until he somehow managed to get to one of the most renowned of our "people's high-schools," where he studied so effectually that he was enabled to become a teacher, first at a provincial school, and later in Copenhagen.
"Pelle" consists of four parts, each, except perhaps the last, a complete story in itself. First we have the open-air life of the boy in country surroundings in Bornholm; then the lad's apprenticeship in a small provincial town not yet invaded by modern industrialism and still innocent of socialism; next the youth's struggles in Copenhagen against employers and authorities; and last the man's final victory in laying the foundation of a garden-city for the benefit of his fellow-workers. The background everywhere is the rapid growth of the labor movement; but social problems are never obtruded, except, again, in the last part, and the purely human interest is always kept well before the reader's eye through variety of situation and vividness of characterization. The great charm of the book seems to me to lie in the fact that the writer knows the poor from within; he has not studied them as an outsider may, but has lived with them and felt with them, at once a participant and a keen-eyed spectator. He is no sentimentalist, and so rich is his imagination that he passes on rapidly from one scene to the next, sketching often in a few pages what another novelist would be content to work out into long chapters or whole volumes. His sympathy is of the widest, and he makes us see tragedies behind the little comedies, and comedies behind the little tragedies, of the seemingly sordid lives of the working people whom he loves. "Pelle" has conquered the hearts of the reading public of Denmark; there is that in the book which should conquer also the hearts of a wider public than that of the little country in which its author was born.
OTTO JESPERSEN, Professor of English in the University of Copenhagen.
GENTOFTE, COPENHAGEN. April, 1913.
Pelle the Conqueror
It was dawn on the first of May, 1877. From the sea the mist came sweeping in, in a gray trail that lay heavily on the water. Here and there there was a movement in it; it seemed about to lift, but closed in again, leaving only a strip of shore with two old boats lying keel uppermost upon it. The prow of a third boat and a bit of breakwater showed dimly in the mist a few paces off. At definite intervals a smooth, gray wave came gliding out of the mist up over the rustling shingle, and then withdrew again; it was as if some great animal lay hidden out there in the fog, and lapped at the land.
A couple of hungry crows were busy with a black, inflated object down there, probably the carcass of a dog. Each time a wave glided in, they rose and hovered a few feet up in the air with their legs extended straight down toward their booty, as if held by some invisible attachment. When the water retreated, they dropped down and buried their heads in the carrion, but kept their wings spread, ready to rise before the next advancing wave. This was repeated with the regularity of clock-work.
A shout came vibrating in from the harbor, and a little while after the heavy sound of oars working over the edge of a boat. The sound grew more distant and at last ceased; but then a bell began to ring—it must have been at the end of the mole—and out of the distance, into which the beat of the oars had disappeared, came the answering sound of a horn. They continued to answer one another for a couple of minutes.
The town was invisible, but now and then the silence there was broken by the iron tramp of a quarryman upon the stone paving. For a long time the regular beat of his footsteps could be heard, until it suddenly ceased as he turned some corner or other. Then a door was opened, followed by the sound of a loud morning yawn; and someone began to sweep the pavement. Windows were opened here and there, out of which floated various sounds to greet the gray day. A woman's sharp voice was heard scolding, then short, smart slaps and the crying of a child. A shoemaker began beating leather, and as he worked fell to singing a hymn—
"But One is worthy of our hymn, O brothers: The Lamb on Whom the sins of all men lay."
The tune was one of Mendelssohn's "Songs without Words."
Upon the bench under the church wall sat a boat's crew with their gaze turned seaward. They were leaning forward and smoking, with hands clasped between their knees. All three wore ear-rings as a preventive of colds and other evils, and all sat in exactly the same position, as if the one were afraid of making himself in the very least different from the others.
A traveller came sauntering down from the hotel, and approached the fishermen. He had his coat-collar turned up, and shivered in the chill morning air. "Is anything the matter?" he asked civilly, raising his cap. His voice sounded gruff.
One of the fishermen moved his hand slightly in the direction of his head-gear. He was the head man of the boat's crew. The others gazed straight before them without moving a muscle.
"I mean, as the bell's ringing and the pilot-boat's out blowing her horn," the traveller went on. "Are they expecting a ship?"
"May be. You never can tell!" answered the head man unapproachably.
The stranger looked as if he were deeply insulted, but restrained himself. It was only their usual secretiveness, their inveterate distrust of every one who did not speak their dialect and look exactly like themselves. They sat there inwardly uneasy in spite of their wooden exterior, stealing glances at him when he was not looking, and wishing him at Jericho. He felt tempted to tease them a little.
"Dear me! Perhaps it's a secret?" he said, laughing.
"Not that I know of," answered the fisherman cautiously.
"Well, of course I don't expect anything for nothing! And besides it wears out your talking-apparatus to be continually opening and shutting it. How much do you generally get?" He took out his purse; it was his intention to insult them now.
The other fishermen threw stolen glances at their leader. If only he did not run them aground!
The head man took his pipe out of his mouth and turned to his companions: "No, as I was saying, there are some folks that have nothing to do but go about and be clever." He warned them with his eyes, the expression of his face was wooden. His companions nodded. They enjoyed the situation, as the commercial traveller could see from their doltish looks.
He was enraged. Here he was, being treated as if he were air and made fun of! "Confound you fellows! Haven't you even learnt as much as to give a civil answer to a civil question?" he said angrily.
The fishermen looked backward and forward at one another, taking mute counsel.
"No, but I tell you what it is! She must come some time," said the head man at last.
"The steamer, of course. And she generally comes about this time. Now you've got it!"
"Naturally—of course! But isn't it a little unwise to speak so loud about it?" jeered the traveller.
The fishermen had turned their backs on him, and were scraping out their pipes.
"We're not quite so free with our speech here as some people, and yet we make our living," said the head man to the others. They growled their approval.
As the stranger wandered on down the harbor hill, the fishermen looked after him with a feeling of relief. "What a talker!" said one. "He wanted to show off a bit, but you gave him what he won't forget in a hurry."
"Yes, I think it touched him on the raw, all right," answered the man, with pride. "It's these fine gentlemen you need to be most careful of."
Half-way down the harbor hill, an inn-keeper stood at his door yawning. The morning stroller repeated his question to him, and received an immediate answer, the man being a Copenhagener.
"Well, you see we're expecting the steamer from Ystad today, with a big cargo of slaves—cheap Swedish laborers, that's to say, who live on black bread and salt herrings, and do the work of three. They ought to be flogged with red-hot icicles, that sort, and the brutes of farmers, too! You won't take a little early morning glass of something, I suppose?"
"No, thank you, I think not—so early."
"Very well, please yourself."
Down at the harbor a number of farmers' carts were already standing, and fresh ones arrived at full gallop every minute. The newcomers guided their teams as far to the front as possible, examined their neighbors' horses with a critical eye, and settled themselves into a half-doze, with their fur collars turned up about their ears. Custom-house men in uniform, and pilots, looking like monster penguins, wandered restlessly about, peering out to sea and listening. Every moment the bell at the end of the mole rang, and was answered by the pilot-boat's horn somewhere out in the fog over the sea, with a long, dreary hoot, like the howl of some suffering animal.
"What was that noise?" asked a farmer who had just come, catching up the reins in fear. His fear communicated itself to his horses, and they stood trembling with heads raised listening in the direction of the sea, with questioning terror in their eyes.
"It was only the sea-serpent," answered a custom-house officer. "He always suffers from wind in this foggy weather. He's a wind-sucker, you see." And the custom-house men put their heads together and grinned.
Merry sailors dressed in blue with white handkerchiefs round their necks went about patting the horses, or pricking their nostrils with a straw to make them rear. When the farmers woke up and scolded, they laughed with delight, and sang—
"A sailor he must go through A deal more bad than good, good, good!"
A big pilot, in an Iceland vest and woollen gloves, was rushing anxiously about with a megaphone in his hand, growling like an uneasy bear. Now and then he climbed up on the molehead, put the megaphone to his mouth, and roared out over the water: "Do—you—hear—any—thing?" The roar went on for a long time out upon the long swells, up and down, leaving behind it an oppressive silence, until it suddenly returned from the town above, in the shape of a confused babble that made people laugh.
"N-o-o!" was heard a little while after in a thin and long-drawn-out cry from the sea; and again the horn was heard, a long, hoarse sound that came rocking in on the waves, and burst gurgling in the splash under the wharf and on the slips.
The farmers were out of it all. They dozed a little or sat flicking their whips to pass the time. But every one else was in a state of suspense. A number of people had gradually gathered about the harbor —fishermen, sailors waiting to be hired, and master-artisans who were too restless to stay in their workshop. They came down in their leather aprons, and began at once to discuss the situation; they used nautical expressions, most of them having been at sea in their youth. The coming of the steamer was always an event that brought people to the harbor; but to-day she had a great many people on board, and she was already an hour behind time. The dangerous fog kept the suspense at high pressure; but as the time passed, the excitement gave place to a feeling of dull oppression. Fog is the seaman's worst enemy, and there were many unpleasant possibilities. On the best supposition the ship had gone inshore too far north or south, and now lay somewhere out at sea hooting and heaving the lead, without daring to move. One could imagine the captain storming and the sailors hurrying here and there, lithe and agile as cats. Stop!—Half-speed ahead! Stop!—Half-speed astern! The first engineer would be at the engine himself, gray with nervous excitement. Down in the engine-room, where they knew nothing at all, they would strain their ears painfully for any sound, and all to no purpose. But up on deck every man would be on the alert for his life; the helmsman wet with the sweat of his anxiety to watch every movement of the captain's directing hand, and the look-out on the forecastle peering and listening into the fog until he could hear his own heart beat, while the suspense held every man on deck on tenterhooks, and the fog-horn hooted its warning. But perhaps the ship had already gone to the bottom!
Every one knew it all; every man had in some way or other been through this overcharged suspense—as cabin-boy, stoker, captain, cook—and felt something of it again now. Only the farmers were unaffected by it; they dozed, woke up with a jerk, and yawned audibly.
The seafarers and the peasants always had a difficulty in keeping on peaceable terms with one another; they were as different as land and sea. But to-day the indifferent attitude of the peasants made the sea-folk eye them with suppressed rage. The fat pilot had already had several altercations with them for being in his way; and when one of them laid himself open to criticism, he was down upon him in an instant. It was an elderly farmer, who woke from his nap with a start, as his head fell forward, and impatiently took out his watch and looked at it.
"It's getting rather late," he said. "The captain can't find his stall to-day."
"More likely he's dropped into an inn on the way!" said the pilot, his eyes gleaming with malice.
"Very likely," answered the farmer, without for the moment realizing the nature of the paths of the sea. His auditors laughed exultingly, and passed the mistake on to their neighbors, and people crowded round the unfortunate man, while some one cried: "How many inns are there between this and Sweden?"
"Yes, it's too easy to get hold of liquids out there, that's the worst of it," the pilot went on. "But for that any booby could manage a ship. He's only got to keep well to the right of Mads Hansen's farm, and he's got a straight road before him. And the deuce of a fine road! Telegraph-wires and ditches and a row of poplars on each side—just improved by the local board. You've just got to wipe the porridge off your mustache, kiss the old woman, and climb up on to the bridge, and there you are! Has the engine been oiled, Hans? Right away, then, off we go; hand me my best whip!" He imitated the peasants' manner of speech. "Be careful about the inns, Dad!" he added in a shrill falsetto. There were peals of laughter, that had an evil sound in the prevailing depression.
The farmer sat quite still under the deluge, only lowering his head a little. When the laughter had almost died away, he pointed at the pilot with his whip, and remarked to the bystanders—
"That's a wonderful clever kid for his age! Whose father art thou, my boy?" he went on, turning to the pilot.
This raised a laugh, and the thick-necked pilot swelled with rage. He seized hold of the body of the cart and shook it so that the farmer had a difficulty in keeping his seat. "You miserable old clodhopper, you pig-breeder, you dung-carter!" he roared. "What do you mean by coming here and saying 'thou' to grown-up people and calling them 'boy'? And giving your opinions on navigation into the bargain! Eh! you lousy old money-grubber! No, if you ever take off your greasy night-cap to anybody but your parish clerk, then take it off to the captain who can find his harbor in a fog like this. You can give him my kind regards and say I said so." And he let go of the cart so suddenly that it swung over to the other side.
"I may as well take it off to you, as the other doesn't seem able to find us to-day," said the farmer with a grin, and took off his fur cap, disclosing a large bald head.
"Cover up that great bald pumpkin, or upon my word I'll give it something!" cried the pilot, blind with rage, and beginning to clamber up into the cart.
At that moment, like the thin metallic voice of a telephone, there came faintly from the sea the words: "We—hear—a—steam—whistle!"
The pilot ran off on to the breakwater, hitting out as he passed at the farmer's horse, and making it rear. Men cleared a space round the mooring-posts, and dragged up the gangways with frantic speed. Carts that had hay in them, as if they were come to fetch cattle, began to move without having anywhere to drive to. Everything was in motion. Labor-hirers with red noses and cunning eyes, came hurrying down from the sailors' tavern where they had been keeping themselves warm.
Then as if a huge hand had been laid upon the movement, everything suddenly stood still again, in strained effort to hear. A far-off, tiny echo of a steam whistle whined somewhere a long way off. Men stole together into groups and stood motionless, listening and sending angry glances at the restless carts. Was it real, or was it a creation of the heart-felt wishes of so many?
Perhaps a warning to every one that at that moment the ship had gone to the bottom? The sea always sends word of its evil doings; when the bread-winner is taken his family hear a shutter creak, or three taps on the windows that look on to the sea—there are so many ways.
But now it sounded again, and this time the sound come in little waves over the water, the same vibrating, subdued whistle that long-tailed ducks make when they rise; it seemed alive. The fog-horn answered it out in the fairway, and the bell in at the mole-head; then the horn once more, and the steam-whistle in the distance. So it went on, a guiding line of sound being spun between the land and the indefinite gray out there, backward and forward. Here on terra firma one could distinctly feel how out there they were groping their way by the sound. The hoarse whistle slowly increased in volume, sounding now a little to the south, now to the north, but growing steadily louder. Then other sounds made themselves heard, the heavy scraping of iron against iron, the noise of the screw when it was reversed or went on again.
The pilot-boat glided slowly out of the fog, keeping to the middle of the fairway, and moving slowly inward hooting incessantly. It towed by the sound an invisible world behind it, in which hundreds of voices murmured thickly amidst shouting and clanging, and tramping of feet—a world that floated blindly in space close by. Then a shadow began to form in the fog where no one had expected it, and the little steamer made its appearance—looking enormous in the first moment of surprise—in the middle of the harbor entrance.
At this the last remnants of suspense burst and scattered, and every one had to do something or other to work off the oppression. They seized the heads of the farmers' horses and pushed them back, clapped their hands, attempted jokes, or only laughed noisily while they stamped on the stone paving.
"Good voyage?" asked a score of voices at once.
"All well!" answered the captain cheerfully.
And now he, too, has got rid of his incubus, and rolls forth words of command; the propeller churns up the water behind, hawsers fly through the air, and the steam winch starts with a ringing metallic clang, while the vessel works herself broadside in to the wharf.
Between the forecastle and the bridge, in under the upper deck and the after, there is a swarm of people, a curiously stupid swarm, like sheep that get up on to one another's backs and look foolish. "What a cargo of cattle!" cries the fat pilot up to the captain, tramping delightedly on the breakwater with his wooden-soled boots. There are sheepskin caps, old military caps, disreputable old rusty hats, and the women's tidy black handkerchiefs. The faces are as different as old, wrinkled pigskin and young, ripening fruit; but want, and expectancy, and a certain animal greed are visible in all of them. The unfamiliarity of the moment brings a touch of stupidity into them, as they press forward, or climb up to get a view over their neighbors' heads and stare open-mouthed at the land where the wages are said to be so high, and the brandy so uncommonly strong. They see the fat, fur-clad farmers and the men come down to engage laborers.
They do not know what to do with themselves, and are always getting in the way; and the sailors chase them with oaths from side to side of the vessel, or throw hatches and packages without warning at their feet. "Look out, you Swedish devil!" cries a sailor who has to open the iron doors. The Swede backs in bewilderment, but his hand involuntarily flies to his pocket and fingers nervously his big pocket-knife.
The gangway is down, and the two hundred and fifty passengers stream down it—stone-masons, navvies, maid-servants, male and female day-laborers, stablemen, herdsmen, here and there a solitary little cowherd, and tailors in smart clothes, who keep far away from the rest. There are young men straighter and better built than any that the island produces, and poor old men more worn with toil and want than they ever become here. There are also faces among them that bear an expression of malice, others sparkling with energy, and others disfigured with great scars.
Most of them are in working-clothes and only possess what they stand in. Here and there is a man with some tool upon his shoulder—a shovel or a crowbar. Those that have any luggage, get it turned inside out by the custom-house officers: woven goods are so cheap in Sweden. Now and then some girl with an inclination to plumpness has to put up with the officers' coarse witticisms. There, for instance, is Handsome Sara from Cimrishamn, whom everybody knows. Every autumn she goes home, and comes again every spring with a figure that at once makes her the butt of their wit; but Sara, who generally has a quick temper and a ready tongue, to-day drops her eyes in modest confusion: she has fourteen yards of cloth wrapped round her under her dress.
The farmers are wide awake now. Those who dare, leave their horses and go among the crowd; the others choose their laborers with their eyes, and call them up. Each one takes his man's measure—width of chest, modest manner, wretchedness; but they are afraid of the scarred and malicious faces, and leave them to the bailiffs on the large farms. Offers are made and conditions fixed, and every minute one or two Swedes climb up into the hay in the back of some cart, and are driven off.
A little on one side stood an elderly, bent little man with a sack upon his back, holding a boy of eight or nine by the hand; beside them lay a green chest. They eagerly watched the proceedings, and each time a cart drove off with some of their countrymen, the boy pulled impatiently at the hand of the old man, who answered by a reassuring word. The old man examined the farmers one by one with an anxious air, moving his lips as he did so: he was thinking. His red, lashless eyes kept watering with the prolonged staring, and he wiped them with the mouth of the coarse dirty sack.
"Do you see that one there?" he suddenly asked the boy, pointing to a fat little farmer with apple-cheeks. "I should think he'd be kind to children. Shall we try him, laddie?"
The boy nodded gravely, and they made straight for the farmer. But when he had heard that they were to go together, he would not take them; the boy was far too little to earn his keep. And it was the same thing every time.
It was Lasse Karlsson from Tommelilla in the Ystad district, and his son Pelle.
It was not altogether strange to Lasse, for he had been on the island once before, about ten years ago; but he had been younger then, in full vigor it might be said, and had no little boy by the hand, from whom he would not be separated for all the world; that was the difference. It was the year that the cow had been drowned in the marl-pit, and Bengta was preparing for her confinement. Things looked bad, but Lasse staked his all on one cast, and used the couple of krones he got for the hide of the cow to go to Bornholm. When he came back in the autumn, there were three mouths to fill; but then he had a hundred krones to meet the winter with.
At that time Lasse had been equal to the situation, and he would still straighten his bowed shoulders whenever he thought of that exploit. Afterward, whenever there were short commons, he would talk of selling the whole affair and going to Bornholm for good. But Bengta's health failed after her late child-bearing, and nothing came of it, until she died after eight years of suffering, this very spring. Then Lasse sold their bit of furniture, and made nearly a hundred krones on it; it went in paying the expenses of the long illness, and the house and land belonged to the landlord. A green chest, that had been part of Bengta's wedding outfit, was the only thing he kept. In it he packed their belongings and a few little things of Bengta's, and sent it on in advance to the port with a horse-dealer who was driving there. Some of the rubbish for which no one would bid he stuffed into a sack, and with it on his back and the boy's hand clasped in his, he set out to walk to Ystad, where the steamer for Ronne lay. The few coins he had would just pay their passage.
He had been so sure of himself on the way, and had talked in loud tones to Pelle about the country where the wages were so incomprehensibly high, and where in some places you got meat or cheese to eat with your bread, and always beer, so that the water-cart in the autumn did not come round for the laborers, but only for the cattle. And—why, if you liked you could drink gin like water, it was so cheap; but it was so strong that it knocked you down at the third pull. They made it from real grain, and not from diseased potatoes; and they drank it at every meal. And laddie would never feel cold there, for they wore wool next their skin, and not this poor linen that the wind blew right through; and a laborer who kept himself could easily make his two krones a day. That was something different from their master's miserable eighty ores and finding themselves in everything.
Pelle had heard the same thing often before—from his father, from Ole and Anders, from Karna and a hundred others who had been there. In the winter, when the air was thick with frost and snow and the needs of the poor, there was nothing else talked about in the little villages at home; and in the minds of those who had not been on the island themselves, but had only heard the tales about it, the ideas produced were as fantastic as the frost-tracery upon the window-panes. Pelle was perfectly well aware that even the poorest boys there always wore their best clothes, and ate bread-and-dripping with sugar on it as often as they liked. There money lay like dirt by the roadside, and the Bornholmers did not even take the trouble to stoop and pick it up; but Pelle meant to pick it up, so that Father Lasse would have to empty the odds and ends out of the sack and clear out the locked compartment in the green chest to make room for it; and even that would be hardly enough. If only they could begin! He shook his father's hand impatiently.
"Yes, yes," said Lasse, almost in tears. "You mustn't be impatient." He looked about him irresolutely. Here he was in the midst of all this splendor, and could not even find a humble situation for himself and the boy. He could not understand it. Had the whole world changed since his time? He trembled to his very finger-tips when the last cart drove off. For a few minutes he stood staring helplessly after it, and then he and the boy together carried the green chest up to a wall, and trudged hand in hand up toward the town.
Lasse's lips moved as he walked; he was thinking. In an ordinary way he thought best when he talked out loud to himself, but to-day all his faculties were alert, and it was enough only to move his lips.
As he trudged along, his mental excuses became audible. "Confound it!" he exclaimed, as he jerked the sack higher up his back. "It doesn't do to take the first thing that comes. Lasse's responsible for two, and he knows what he wants—so there! It isn't the first time he's been abroad! And the best always comes last, you know, laddie."
Pelle was not paying much attention. He was already consoled, and his father's words about the best being in store for them, were to him only a feeble expression for a great truth, namely, that the whole world would become theirs, with all that it contained in the way of wonders. He was already engaged in taking possession of it, open-mouthed.
He looked as if he would like to swallow the harbor with all its ships and boats, and the great stacks of timber, where it looked as if there would be holes. This would be a fine place to play in, but there were no boys! He wondered whether the boys were like those at home; he had seen none yet. Perhaps they had quite a different way of fighting, but he would manage all right if only they would come one at a time. There was a big ship right up on land, and they were skinning it. So ships have ribs, just like cows!
At the wooden shed in the middle of the harbor square, Lasse put down the sack, and giving the boy a piece of bread and telling him to stay and mind the sack, he went farther up and disappeared. Pelle was very hungry, and holding the bread with both hands he munched at it greedily.
When he had picked the last crumbs off his jacket, he set himself to examine his surroundings. That black stuff in that big pot was tar. He knew it quite well, but had never seen so much at once. My word! If you fell into that while it was boiling, it would be worse even than the brimstone pit in hell. And there lay some enormous fish-hooks, just like those that were hanging on thick iron chains from the ships' nostrils. He wondered whether there still lived giants who could fish with such hooks. Strong John couldn't manage them!
He satisfied himself with his own eyes that the stacks of boards were really hollow, and that he could easily get down to the bottom of them, if only he had not had the sack to drag about. His father had said he was to mind the sack, and he never let it out of his hands for a moment; as it was too heavy to carry, he had to drag it after him from place to place.
He discovered a little ship, only just big enough for a man to lie down in, and full of holes bored in the bottom and sides. He investigated the ship-builders' big grind-stone, which was nearly as tall as a man. There were bent planks lying there, with nails in them as big as the parish constable's new tether-peg at home. And the thing that ship was tethered to—wasn't it a real cannon that they had planted?
Pelle saw everything, and examined every single object in the appropriate manner, now only spitting appraisingly upon it, now kicking it or scratching it with his penknife. If he came across some strange wonder or other, that he could not get into his little brain in any other way, he set himself astride on it.
This was a new world altogether, and Pelle was engaged in making it his own. Not a shred of it would he leave. If he had had his playfellows from Tommelilla here, he would have explained it all to them. My word, how they would stare! But when he went home to Sweden again, he would tell them about it, and then he hoped they would call him a liar.
He was sitting astride an enormous mast that lay along the timber- yard upon some oak trestles. He kicked his feet together under the mast, as he had heard of knights doing in olden days under their horses, and imagined himself seizing hold of a ring and lifting himself, horse and all. He sat on horseback in the midst of his newly discovered world, glowing with the pride of conquest, struck the horse's loins with the flat of his hand, and dug his heels into its sides, while he shouted a song at the top of his voice. He had been obliged to let go the sack to get up.
"Far away in Smaaland the little imps were dancing With ready-loaded pistol and rifle-barrelled gun; All the little devils they played upon the fiddle, But for the grand piano Old Harry was the one."
In the middle of his noisy joy, he looked up, and immediately burst into a roar of terror and dropped down on to the wood-shavings. On the top of the shed at the place where his father had left him stood a black man and two black, open-mouthed hell-hounds; the man leaned half out over the ridge of the roof in a menacing attitude. It was an old figure-head, but Pelle thought it was Old Harry himself, come to punish him for his bold song, and he set off at a run up the hill. A little way up he remembered the sack and stopped. He didn't care about the sack; and he wouldn't get a thrashing if he did leave it behind, for Father Lasse never beat him. And that horrid devil would eat him up at the very least, if he ventured down there again; he could distinctly see how red the nostrils shone, both the devil's and the dogs'.
But Pelle still hesitated. His father was so careful of that sack, that he would be sure to be sorry if he lost it—he might even cry as he did when he lost Mother Bengta. For perhaps the first time, the boy was being subjected to one of life's serious tests, and stood—as so many had stood before him—with the choice between sacrificing himself and sacrificing others. His love for his father, boyish pride, the sense of duty that is the social dower of the poor—the one thing with the other—determined his choice. He stood the test, but not bravely; he howled loudly the whole time, while, with his eyes fixed immovably upon the Evil One and his hell-hounds, he crept back for the sack and then dragged it after him at a quick run up the street.
No one is perhaps a hero until the danger is over. But even then Pelle had no opportunity of shuddering at his own courage; for no sooner was he out of the reach of the black man, than his terror took a new form. What had become of his father? He had said he would be back again directly! Supposing he never came back at all! Perhaps he had gone away so as to get rid of his little boy, who was only a trouble and made it difficult for him to get a situation.
Pelle felt despairingly convinced that it must be so, as, crying, he went off with the sack. The same thing had happened to other children with whom he was well acquainted; but they came to the pancake cottage and were quite happy, and Pelle himself would be sure to—perhaps find the king and be taken in there and have the little princes for his playmates, and his own little palace to live in. But Father Lasse shouldn't have a thing, for now Pelle was angry and vindictive, although he was crying just as unrestrainedly. He would let him stand and knock at the door and beg to come in for three days, and only when he began to cry—no, he would have to let him in at once, for to see Father Lasse cry hurt him more than anything else in the world. But he shouldn't have a single one of the nails Pelle had filled his pockets with down in the timber-yard; and when the king's wife brought them coffee in the morning before they were up——
But here both his tears and his happy imaginings ceased, for out of a tavern at the top of the street came Father Lasse's own living self. He looked in excellent spirits and held a bottle in his hand.
"Danish brandy, laddie!" he cried, waving the bottle. "Hats off to the Danish brandy! But what have you been crying for? Oh, you were afraid? And why were you afraid? Isn't your father's name Lasse—Lasse Karlsson from Kungstorp? And he's not one to quarrel with; he hits hard, he does, when he's provoked. To come and frighten good little boys! They'd better look out! Even if the whole wide world were full of naming devils, Lasse's here and you needn't be afraid!"
During all this fierce talk he was tenderly wiping the boy's tear- stained cheeks and nose with his rough hand, and taking the sack upon his back again. There was something touchingly feeble about his stooping figure, as, boasting and comforting, he trudged down again to the harbor holding the boy by the hand. He tottered along in his big waterproof boots, the tabs of which stuck out at the side and bore an astonishing resemblance to Pelle's ears; out of the gaping pockets of his old winter coat protruded on one side his red pocket-handkerchief, on the other the bottle. He had become a little looser in his knee-joints now, and the sack threatened momentarily to get the upper hand of him, pushing him forward and forcing him to go at a trot down the hill. He looked decrepit, and perhaps his boastful words helped to produce this effect; but his eyes beamed confidently, and he smiled down at the boy, who ran along beside him.
They drew near to the shed, and Pelle turned cold with fear, for the black man was still standing there. He went round to the other side of his father, and tried to pull him out in a wide curve over the harbor square. "There he is again," he whimpered.
"So that's what was after you, is it?" said Lasse, laughing heartily; "and he's made of wood, too! Well, you really are the bravest laddie I ever knew! I should almost think you might be sent out to fight a trussed chicken, if you had a stick in your hand!" Lasse went on laughing, and shook the boy goodnaturedly. But Pelle was ready to sink into the ground with shame.
Down by the custom-house they met a bailiff who had come too late for the steamer and had engaged no laborers. He stopped his cart and asked Lasse if he was looking for a place.
"Yes, we both want one," answered Lasse, briskly. "We want to be at the same farm—as the fox said to the goose."
The bailiff was a big, strong man, and Pelle shuddered in admiration of his father who could dare to speak to him so boldly.
But the great man laughed good-humoredly. "Then I suppose he's to be foreman?" he said, flicking at Pelle with his whip.
"Yes, he certainly will be some day," said Lasse, with conviction.
"He'll probably eat a few bushels of salt first. Well, I'm in want of a herdsman, and will give you a hundred krones for a year—although it'll be confounded hard for you to earn them from what I can see. There'll always be a crust of bread for the boy, but of course he'll have to do what little he can. You're his grandfather, I suppose?"
"I'm his father—in the sight of God and man," answered Lasse, proudly.
"Oh, indeed! Then you must still be fit for something, if you've come by him honestly. But climb up, if you know what's for your own good, for I haven't time to stand here. You won't get such an offer every day."
Pelle thought a hundred krones was a fearful amount of money; Lasse, on the contrary, as the older and more sensible, had a feeling that it was far too little. But, though he was not aware of it yet, the experiences of the morning had considerably dimmed the brightness of his outlook on life. On the other hand, the dram had made him reckless and generously-minded.
"All right then," he said with a wave of the hand. "But the master must understand that we won't have salt herring and porridge three times a day. We must have a proper bedroom too—and be free on Sundays." He lifted the sack and the boy up into the cart, and then climbed up himself.
The bailiff laughed. "I see you've been here before, old man. But I think we shall be able to manage all that. You shall have roast pork stuffed with raisins and rhubarb jelly with pepper on it, just as often as you like to open your mouth."
They drove down to the quay for the chest, and then out toward the country again. Lasse, who recognized one thing and another, explained it all in full to the boy, taking a pull at the bottle between whiles; but the bailiff must not see this. Pelle was cold and burrowed into the straw, where he crept close up to his father.
"You take a mouthful," whispered Lasse, passing the bottle to him cautiously. "But take care that he doesn't see, for he's a sly one. He's a Jute."
Pelle would not have a dram. "What's a Jute?" he asked in a whisper.
"A Jute? Good gracious me, laddie, don't you know that? It was the Jutes that crucified Christ. That's why they have to wander all over the world now, and sell flannel and needles, and such-like; and they always cheat wherever they go. Don't you remember the one that cheated Mother Bengta of her beautiful hair? Ah, no, that was before your time. That was a Jute too. He came one day when I wasn't at home, and unpacked all his fine wares—combs and pins with blue glass heads, and the finest head-kerchiefs. Women can't resist such trash; they're like what we others are when some one holds a brandy-bottle to our nose. Mother Bengta had no money, but that sly devil said he would give her the finest handkerchief if she would let him cut off just the end of her plait. And then he went and cut it off close up to her head. My goodness, but she was like flint and steel when she was angry! She chased him out of the house with a rake. But he took the plait with him, and the handkerchief was rubbish, as might have been expected. For the Jutes are cunning devils, who crucified——" Lasse began at the beginning again.
Pelle did not pay much attention to his father's soft murmuring. It was something about Mother Bengta, but she was dead now and lay in the black earth; she no longer buttoned his under-vest down the back, or warmed his hands when they were cold. So they put raisins into roast pork in this country, did they? Money must be as common as dirt! There was none lying about in the road, and the houses and farms were not so very fine either. But the strangest thing was that the earth here was of the same color as that at home, although it was a foreign country. He had seen a map in Tommelilla, in which each country had a different color. So that was a lie!
Lasse had long since talked himself out, and slept with his head upon the boy's back. He had forgotten to hide the bottle.
Pelle was just going to push it down into the straw when the bailiff —who as a matter of fact was not a Jute, but a Zeelander—happened to turn round and caught sight of it. He told the boy to throw it into the ditch.
By midday they reached their destination. Lasse awoke as they drove on to the stone paving of the large yard, and groped mechanically in the straw. But suddenly he recollected where he was, and was sober in an instant. So this was their new home, the only place they had to stay in and expect anything of on this earth! And as he looked out over the big yard, where the dinner-bell was just sounding and calling servants and day-laborers out of all the doors, all his self-confidence vanished. A despairing feeling of helplessness overwhelmed him, and made his face tremble with impotent concern for his son.
His hands shook as he clambered down from the wagon; he stood irresolute and at the mercy of all the inquiring glances from the steps down to the basement of the big house. They were talking about him and the boy, and laughing already. In his confusion he determined to make as favorable a first impression as possible, and began to take off his cap to each one separately; and the boy stood beside him and did the same. They were rather like the clowns at a fair, and the men round the basement steps laughed aloud and bowed in imitation, and then began to call to them; but the bailiff came out again to the cart, and they quickly disappeared down the steps. From the house itself there came a far-off, monotonous sound that never left off, and insensibly added to their feeling of depression.
"Don't stand there playing the fool!" said the bailiff sharply. "Be off down to the others and get something to eat! You'll have plenty of time to show off your monkey-tricks to them afterwards."
At these encouraging words, the old man took the boy's hand and went across to the basement steps with despair in his heart, mourning inwardly for Tommelilla and Kungstorp. Pelle clung close to him in fear. The unknown had suddenly become an evil monster in the imagination of both of them.
Down in the basement passage the strange, persistent sound was louder, and they both knew that it was that of a woman weeping.
Stone Farm, which for the future was to be Lasse and Pelle's home, was one of the largest farms on the island. But old people knew that when their grandparents were children, it had been a crofter's cottage where only two horses were kept, and belonged to a certain Vevest Koller, a grandson of Jens Kofod, the liberator of Bornholm. During his time, the cottage became a farm. He worked himself to death on it, and grudged food both for himself and the others. And these two things—poor living and land-grabbing—became hereditary in that family.
The fields in this part of the island had been rock and heather not many generations since. Poor people had broken up the ground, and worn themselves out, one set after another, to keep it in cultivation. Round about Stone Farm lived only cottagers and men owning two horses, who had bought their land with toil and hunger, and would as soon have thought of selling their parents' grave as their little property; they stuck to it until they died or some misfortune overtook them.
But the Stone Farm family were always wanting to buy and extend their property, and their chance only came through their neighbors' misfortunes. Wherever a bad harvest or sickness or ill luck with his beasts hit a man hard enough to make him reel, the Kollers bought. Thus Stone Farm grew, and acquired numerous buildings and much importance; it became as hard a neighbor as the sea is, when it eats up the farmer's land, field by field, and nothing can be done to check it. First one was eaten up and then another. Every one knew that his turn would come sooner or later. No one goes to law with the sea; but all the ills and discomfort that brooded over the poor man's life came from Stone Farm. The powers of darkness dwelt there, and frightened souls pointed to it always. "That's well-manured land," the people of the district would say, with a peculiar intonation that held a curse; but they ventured no further.
The Koller family was not sentimental; it throve capitally in the sinister light that fell upon the farm from so many frightened minds, and felt it as power. The men were hard drinkers and card-players; but they never drank so much as to lose sight and feeling; and if they played away a horse early in the evening, they very likely won two in the course of the night.
When Lasse and Pelle came to Stone Farm, the older cottagers still remembered the farmer of their childhood, Janus Koller, the one who did more to improve things than any one else. In his youth he once, at midnight, fought with the devil up in the church-tower, and overcame him; and after that everything succeeded with him. Whatever might or might not have been the reason, it is certain that in his time one after another of his neighbors was ruined, and Janus went round and took over their holdings. If he needed another horse, he played for and won it at loo; and it was the same with everything. His greatest pleasure was to break in wild horses, and those who happened to have been born at midnight on Christmas Eve could distinctly see the Evil One sitting on the box beside him and holding the reins. He came to a bad end, as might have been expected. One morning early, the horses came galloping home to the farm, and he was found lying by the roadside with his head smashed against a tree.
His son was the last master of Stone Farm of that family. He was a wild devil, with much that was good in him. If any one differed from him, he knocked him down; but he always helped those who got into trouble. In this way no one ever left house and home; and as he had the family fondness for adding to the farm, he bought land up among the rocks and heather. But he wisely let it lie as it was. He attached many to the farm by his assistance, and made them so dependent that they never became free again. His tenants had to leave their own work when he sent for them, and he was never at a loss for cheap labor. The food he provided was scarcely fit for human beings, but he always ate of the same dish himself. And the priest was with him at the last; so there was no fault to find with his departure from this life.
He had married twice, but his only child was a daughter by the second wife, and there was something not quite right about her. She was a woman at the age of eleven, and made up to any one she met; but no one dared so much as look at her, for they were afraid of the farmer's gun. Later on she went to the other extreme, and dressed herself up like a man, and went about out on the rocks instead of busying herself with something at home; and she let no one come near her.
Kongstrup, the present master of Stone Farm, had come to the island about twenty years before, and even now no one could quite make him out. When he first came he used to wander about on the heath and do nothing, just as she did; so it was hardly to be wondered at that he got into trouble and had to marry her. But it was dreadful!
He was a queer fellow; but perhaps that was what people were like where he came from? He first had one idea and then another, raised wages when no one had asked him to, and started stone-quarrying with contract work. And so he went on with his foolish tricks to begin with, and let his cottagers do as they liked about coming to work at the farm. He even went so far as to send them home in wet weather to get in their corn, and let his own stand and be ruined. But things went all wrong of course, as might well be imagined, and gradually he had to give in, and abandon all his foolish ideas.
The people of the district submitted to this condition of dependence without a murmur. They had been accustomed, from father to son, to go in and out of the gates of Stone Farm, and do what was required of them, as dutifully as if they had been serfs of the land. As a set-off they allowed all their leaning toward the tragic, all the terrors of life and gloomy mysticism, to center round Stone Farm. They let the devil roam about there, play loo with the men for their souls, and ravish the women; and they took off their caps more respectfully to the Stone Farm people than to any one else.
All this had changed a little as years went on; the sharp points of the superstition had been blunted a little. But the bad atmosphere that hangs over large estates—over all great accumulations of what should belong to the many—also hung heavy over Stone Farm. It was the judgment passed by the people, their only revenge for themselves and theirs.
Lasse and Pelle were quickly aware of the oppressive atmosphere, and began to see with the half-frightened eyes of the others, even before they themselves had heard very much. Lasse especially thought he could never be quite happy here, because of the heaviness that always seemed to surround them. And then that weeping that no one could quite account for!
All through the long, bright day, the sound of weeping came from the rooms of Stone Farm, like the refrain of some sad folk-song. Now at last it had stopped. Lasse was busying himself with little things in the lower yard, and he still seemed to have the sound in his ears. It was sad, so sad, with this continual sound of a woman weeping, as if a child were dead, or as if she were left alone with her shame. And what could there be to weep for, when you had a farm of several hundred acres, and lived in a high house with twenty windows!
"Riches are nought but a gift from the Lord, But poverty, that is in truth a reward. They who wealth do possess Never know happiness, While the poor man's heart is ever contented!"
So sang Karna over in the dairy, and indeed it was true! If only Lasse knew where he was to get the money for a new smock-frock for the little lad, he would never envy any one on this earth; though it would be nice to have money for tobacco and a dram now and then, if it was not unfair to any one else.
Lasse was tidying up the dung-heap. He had finished his midday work in the stable, and was taking his time about it; it was only a job he did between whiles. Now and then he glanced furtively up at the high windows and put a little more energy into his work; but weariness had the upper hand. He would have liked to take a little afternoon nap, but did not dare. All was quiet on the farm. Pelle had been sent on an errand to the village shop for the kitchen-folk, and all the men were in the fields covering up the last spring corn. Stone Farm was late with this.
The agricultural pupil now came out of the stable, which he had entered from the other side, so as to come upon Lasse unexpectedly. The bailiff had sent him. "Is that you, you nasty spy!" muttered Lasse when he saw him. "Some day I'll kill you!" But he took off his cap with the deepest respect. The tall pupil went up the yard without looking at him, and began to talk nonsense with the maids down in the wash-house. He wouldn't do that if the men were at home, the scarecrow!
Kongstrup came out on to the steps, and stood for a little while looking at the weather; then he went down to the cow-stable. How big he was! He quite filled the stable doorway. Lasse put down his fork and hastened in in case he was wanted.
"Well, how are you getting on, old man?" asked the farmer kindly. "Can you manage the work?"
"Oh, yes, I get through it," answered Lasse; "but that's about all. It's a lot of animals for one man."
Kongstrup stood feeling the hind quarters of a cow. "You've got the boy to help you, Lasse. Where is he, by the by? I don't see him."
"He's gone to the village shop for the women-folk."
"Indeed? Who told him to go?"
"I think it was the mistress herself."
"H'm. Is it long since he went?"
"Yes, some time. He ought soon to be back now."
"Get hold of him when he comes, and send him up to me with the things, will you?"
Pelle was rather frightened at having to go up to the office, and besides the mistress had told him to keep the bottle well hidden under his smock. The room was very high, and on the walls hung splendid guns; and up upon a shelf stood cigar-boxes, one upon another, right up to the ceiling, just as if it were a tobacco-shop. But the strangest thing of all was that there was a fire in the stove, now, in the middle of May, and with the window open! It must be that they didn't know how to get rid of all their money. But wherever were the money-chests?
All this and much more Pelle observed while he stood just inside the door upon his bare feet, not daring from sheer nervousness to raise his eyes. Then the farmer turned round in his chair, and drew him toward him by the collar. "Now let's see what you've got there under your smock, my little man!" he said kindly.
"It's brandy," said Pelle, drawing forth the bottle. "The mistress said I wasn't to let any one see it."
"You're a clever boy," said Kongstrup, patting him on the cheek. "You'll get on in the world one of these days. Now give me the bottle and I'll take it out to your mistress without letting any one see." He laughed heartily.
Pelle handed him the bottle—there stood money in piles on the writing-table, thick round two-krone pieces one upon another! Then why didn't Father Lasse get the money in advance that he had begged for?
The mistress now came in, and the farmer at once went and shut the window. Pelle wanted to go, but she stopped him. "You've got some things for me, haven't you?" she said.
"I've received the things," said Kongstrup. "You shall have them—when the boy's gone."
But she remained at the door. She would keep the boy there to be a witness that her husband withheld from her things that were to be used in the kitchen; every one should know it.
Kongstrup walked up and down and said nothing. Pelle expected he would strike her, for she called him bad names—much worse than Mother Bengta when Lasse came home merry from Tommelilla. But he only laughed. "Now that'll do," he said, leading her away from the door, and letting the boy out.
Lasse did not like it. He had thought the farmer was interfering to prevent them all from making use of the boy, when he so much needed his help with the cattle; and now it had taken this unfortunate turn!
"And so it was brandy!" he repeated. "Then I can understand it. But I wonder how she dares set upon him like that when it's with her the fault lies. He must be a good sort of fellow."
"He's fond of drink himself," said Pelle, who had heard a little about the farmer's doings.
"Yes, but a woman! That's quite another thing. Remember they're fine folk. Well, well, it doesn't become us to find fault with our betters; we have enough to do in looking after ourselves. But I only hope she won't send you on any more of her errands, or we may fall between two stools."
Lasse went to his work. He sighed and shook his head while he dragged the fodder out. He was not at all happy.
There was something exhilarating in the wealth of sunshine that filled all space without the accompaniment of corresponding heat. The spring moisture was gone from the air, and the warm haze of summer had not yet come. There was only light—light over the green fields and the sea beyond, light that drew the landscape in clear lines against the blue atmosphere, and breathed a gentle, pleasant warmth.
It was a day in the beginning of June—the first real summer day; and it was Sunday.
Stone Farm lay bathed in sunshine. The clear golden light penetrated everywhere; and where it could not reach, dark colors trembled like a hot, secret breath out into the light. Open windows and doors looked like veiled eyes in the midst of the light, and where the roof lay in shadow, it had the appearance of velvet.
It was quiet up in the big house to-day; it was a day of rest from wrangling too.
The large yard was divided into two by a fence, the lower part consisting in the main of a large, steaming midden, crossed by planks in various directions, and at the top a few inverted wheelbarrows. A couple of pigs lay half buried in the manure, asleep, and a busy flock of hens were eagerly scattering the pile of horse-dung from the last morning clearance. A large cock stood in the middle of the flock, directing the work like a bailiff.
In the upper yard a flock of white pigeons were pecking corn off the clean stone paving. Outside the open coach-house door, a groom was examining the dog-cart, while inside stood another groom, polishing the best harness.
The man at the dog-cart was in shirt-sleeves and newly-polished top-boots; he had a youthful, elastic frame, which assumed graceful attitudes as he worked. He wore his cap on the back of his head, and whistled softly while he cleaned the wheels outside and in, and sent stolen glances down to the wash-house, where, below the window, one of the maids was going through her Sunday ablutions, with shoulders and arms bare, and her chemise pushed down below her bosom.
The big dairymaid, Karna, went past him to the pump with two large buckets. As she returned, she splashed some water on to one of his boots, and he looked up with an oath. She took this as an invitation to stop, and put down her pails with a cautious glance up at the windows of the big house.
"You've not had all the sleep you ought to have had, Gustav," she said teasingly, and laughed.
"Then it isn't your fault, at any rate," he answered roughly. "Can you patch my everyday trousers for me to-day?"
"No, thank you! I don't mend for another to get all the pleasant words!"
"Then you can leave it alone! There are plenty who'll mend for me without you!" And he bent again to his work.
"I'll see if I can get time," said the big woman meekly. "But I've got all the work in the place to do by myself this afternoon; the others are all going out."
"Yes, I see Bodil's washing herself," said Gustav, sending a squirt of tobacco-juice out of his mouth in the direction of the wash-house window. "I suppose she's going to meeting, as she's doing it so, thoroughly."
Karna looked cunning. "She asked to be free because she wanted to go to church. She go to church! I should just like to see her! No, she's going down to the tailor's in the village, and there I suppose she'll meet Malmberg, a townsman of hers. I wonder she isn't above having anything to do with a married man."
"She can go on the spree with any one she likes, for all I care," answered Gustav, kicking the last wheel into place with his foot, while Karna stood looking at him kindly. But the next moment she spied a face behind the curtains up in one of the windows, and hurried off with her pails. Gustav spat contemptuously between his teeth after her. She was really too old for his seventeen years; she must be at least forty; and casting another long look at Bodil, he went across to the coachhouse with oil-can and keys.
The high white house that closed the yard at its upper end, had not been built right among the other buildings, but stood proudly aloof, unconnected with them except by two strips of wooden paling. It had gables on both sides, and a high basement, in which were the servants' hall, the maids' bedrooms, the wash-house, the mangling-room, and the large storerooms. On the gable looking on to the yard was a clock that did not go. Pelle called the building the Palace, and was not a little proud of being allowed to enter the basement. The other people on the farm did not give it such a nice name.
He was the only one whose awe of the House had nothing sinister about it; others regarded it in the light of a hostile fortress. Every one who crossed the paved upper yard, glanced involuntarily up at the high veiled windows, behind which an eye might secretly be kept upon all that went on below. It was, a little like passing a row of cannons' mouths—it made one a little unsteady on one's feet; and no one crossed the clean pavement unless he was obliged. On the other hand they went freely about the other half of the yard, which was just as much overlooked by the House.
Down there two of the lads were playing. One of them had seized the other's cap and run off with it, and a wild chase ensued, in at one barn-door and out at another all round the yard, to the accompaniment of mischievous laughter and breathless exclamations. The yard-dog barked with delight and tumbled madly about on its chain in its desire to join in the game. Up by the fence the robber was overtaken and thrown to the ground; but he managed to toss the cap up into the air, and it descended right in front of the high stone steps of the House.
"Oh, you mean beast!" exclaimed the owner of the cap, in a voice of despairing reproach, belaboring the other with the toes of his boots. "Oh, you wretched bailiff's sneak!" He suddenly stopped and measured the distance with an appraising eye. "Will you stand me half a pint if I dare go up and fetch the cap?" he asked in a whisper. The other nodded and sat up quickly to see what would come of it. "Swear? You won't try and back out of it?" he said, lifting his hand adjuringly. His companion solemnly drew his finger across his throat, as if cutting it, and the oath was taken. The one who had lost the cap, hitched up his trousers and pulled himself together, his whole figure stiffening with determination; then he put his hands upon the fence, vaulted it, and walked with bent head and firm step across the yard, looking like one who had staked his all upon one card. When he had secured the cap, and turned his back upon the House, he sent a horrible grimace down the yard.
Bodil now came up from the basement in her best Sunday clothes, with a black silk handkerchief on her head and a hymn-book in her hand. How pretty she was! And brave! She went along the whole length of the House and out! But then she could get a kiss from the farmer any day she liked.
Outside the farm proper lay a number of large and small outbuildings —the calves' stable, the pigsties, the tool-shed, the cart-shed and a smithy that was no longer used. They were all like so many mysteries, with trap-doors that led down to pitch-dark, underground beet and potato cellars, from which, of course, you could get by secret passages to the strangest places underground, and other trap-doors that led up to dark lofts, where the most wonderful treasures were preserved in the form of old lumber.
But Pelle unfortunately had little time to go into all this. Every day he had to help his father to look after the cattle, and with so large a herd, the work was almost beyond their power. If he had a moment's breathing-space, some one was sure to be after him. He had to fetch water for the laundry girls, to grease the pupil's boots and run to the village shop for spirits or chewing-tobacco for the men. There was plenty to play with, but no one could bear to see him playing; they were always whistling for him as if he were a dog.
He tried to make up for it by turning his work into a game, and in many instances this was possible. Watering the cattle, for instance, was more fun than any real game, when his father stood out in the yard and pumped, and the boy only had to guide the water from manger to manger. When thus occupied, he always felt something like a great engineer. But on the other hand, much of the other work was too hard to be amusing.
At this moment the boy was wandering about among the outbuildings, where there was no one to hunt him about. The door to the cow-stable stood open, and he could hear the continual munching of the cows, now and then interrupted by a snuff of contentment or the regular rattle of a chain up and down when a cow rubbed its neck upon the post. There was a sense of security in the sound of his father's wooden shoes up and down the foddering-passage.
Out of the open half-doors of the smaller outbuildings there came a steamy warmth that smelt pleasantly of calves and pigs. The pigs were hard at work. All through the long sty there was munching and smacking. One old sow supped up the liquid through the corners of her mouth, another snuffed and bubbled with her snout along the bottom of the trough to find the rotten potatoes under the liquid. Here and there two pigs were fighting over the trough, and emitting piercing squeals. The calves put their slobbering noses out at the doors, gazing into the sunny air and lowing feelingly. One little fellow, after snuffing up air from the cow-stable in a peculiarly thorough way, turned up his lip in a foolish grin: it was a bull- calf. He laid his chin upon the half-door, and tried to jump over, but Pelle drove him down again. Then he kicked up his hind legs, looked at Pelle out of the corner of his eye, and stood with arched back, lifting his fore and hindquarters alternately with the action of a rocking-horse. He was light-headed with the sun.
Down on the pond, ducks and geese stood upon their heads in the water, flourishing their red legs in the air. And all at once the whole flock would have an attack of giddy delight in the sunshine, and splash screaming from bank to bank, the last part of the way sliding along the top of the water with a comical wagging of the tail.
Pelle had promised himself much from this couple of hours that were to be entirely his own, as his father had given him a holiday until the time came for the midday work. But now he stood in bewilderment, overwhelmed by the wealth of possibilities. Would it be the best fun to sail upon the pond on two tail-boards laid one across the other? There was a manure-cart lying there now to be washed. Or should he go in and have a game with the tiny calves? Or shoot with the old bellows in the smithy? If he filled the nozzle with wet earth, and blew hard, quite a nice shot could come out of it.
Pelle started and tried to make himself invisible. The farmer himself had come round the corner, and was now standing shading his eyes with his hand and looking down over the sloping land and the sea. When he caught sight of Pelle, he nodded without changing his expression, and said: "Good day, my boy! How are you getting on?" He gazed on, and probably hardly knew that he had said it and patted the boy on the shoulder with the end of his stick; the farmer often went about half asleep.
But Pelle felt it as a caress of a divine nature, and immediately ran across to the stable to tell his father what had happened to him. He had an elevating sensation in his shoulder as if he had been knighted; and he still felt the stick there. An intoxicating warmth flowed from the place through his little body, sent the adventure mounting to his head and made him swell with pride. His imagination rose and soared into the air with some vague, dizzy idea about the farmer adopting him as his son.
He soon came down again, for in the stable he ran straight into the arms of the Sunday scrubbing. The Sunday wash was the only great objection he had to make to life; everything else came and was forgotten again, but it was always coming again. He detested it, especially that part of it which had to do with the interior of his ears. But there was no kind mother to help; Lasse stood ready with a bucket of cold water, and some soft soap on a piece of broken pot, and the boy had to divest himself of his clothes. And as if the scrubbing were not enough, he afterwards had to put on a clean shirt—though, fortunately, only every other Sunday. The whole thing was nice enough to look back upon afterwards—like something gone through with, and not to happen again for a little while.
Pelle stood at the stable door into the yard with a consequential air, with bristling hair and clean shirt-sleeves, his hands buried in his trouser pockets. Over his forehead his hair waved in what is called a "cow's lick," said to betoken good fortune; and his face, all screwed up as it turned towards the bright light, looked the oddest piece of topsy-turvydom, with not a single feature in its proper place. Pelle bent the calves of his legs out backwards, and stood gently rocking himself to and fro as he saw Gustav doing, up on the front-door steps, where he stood holding the reins, waiting for his master and mistress.
The mistress now appeared, with the farmer, and a maid ran down in front to the carriage with a little stepladder, and helped her in. The farmer stood at the top of the steps until she was seated: she had difficulty in walking. But what a pair of eyes she had! Pelle hastily looked away when she turned her face down towards the yard. It was whispered among the men that she could bring misfortune upon any one by looking at him if she liked. Now Gustav unchained the dog, which bounded about, barking, in front of the horses as they drove out of the courtyard.
Anyhow the sun did not shine like this on a week-day. It was quite dazzling when the white pigeons flew in one flock over the yard, turning as regularly as if they were a large white sheet flapping in the sunshine; the reflection from their wings flashed over the dung-heap and made the pigs lift their heads with an inquiring grunt. Above, in their rooms the men sat playing "Sixty-six," or tipping wooden shoes, and Gustav began to play "Old Noah" on his concertina.
Pelle picked his way across the upper part of the yard to the big dog-kennel, which could be turned on a pivot according to the direction of the wind. He seated himself upon the angle of the roof, and made a merry-go-round of it by pushing off with his foot every time he passed the fence. Suddenly it occurred to him that he himself was everybody's dog, and had better hide himself; so he dropped down, crept into the kennel, and curled himself up on the straw with his head between his fore-paws. There he lay for a little while, staring at the fence and panting with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Then an idea came into his head so suddenly as to make him forget all caution; and the next moment he was sliding full tilt down the railing of the front-door steps.
He had done this seventeen times and was deeply engrossed in the thought of reaching fifty, when he heard a sharp whistle from the big coach-house door. The farm pupil stood there beckoning him. Pelle, crestfallen, obeyed the call, bitterly regretting his thoughtlessness. He was most likely wanted now to grease boots again, perhaps for them all.
The pupil drew him inside the door, which he shut. It was dark, and the boy, coming in out of the bright daylight, could distinguish nothing; what he made out little by little assumed shapeless outlines to his frightened imagination. Voices laughed and growled confusedly in his ears, and hands that seemed to him enormous pulled him about. Terror seized him, and with it came crazy, disconnected recollections of stories of robbery and murder, and he began to scream with fright. A big hand covered the whole of his face, and in the silence that followed his stifled scream, he heard a voice out in the yard, calling to the maids to come and see something funny.
He was too paralyzed with terror to know what was being done with him, and only wondered faintly what there was funny out there in the sunshine. Would he ever see the sun again, he wondered?
As if in answer to his thought, the door was at that moment thrown open. The light poured in and he recognized the faces about him, and found himself standing half naked in the full daylight, his trousers down about his heels and his shirt tucked up under his waistcoat. The pupil stood at one side with a carriage-whip, with which he flicked at the boy's naked body, crying in a tone of command: "Run!" Pelle, wild with terror and confusion, dashed into the yard, but there stood the maids, and at sight of him they screamed with laughter, and he turned to fly back into the coach-house. But he was met by the whip, and forced to return into the daylight, leaping like a kangaroo and calling forth renewed shouts of laughter. Then he stood still, crying helplessly, under a shower of coarse remarks, especially from the maids. He no longer noticed the whip, but only crouched down, trying to hide himself, until at last he sank in a heap upon the stone paving, sobbing convulsively.
Karna, large of limb, came rushing up from the basement and forced her way through the crowd, crimson with rage and scolding as she went. On her freckled neck and arms were brown marks left by the cows' tails at the last milking, looking like a sort of clumsy tattooing. She flung her slipper in the pupil's face, and going up to Pelle, wrapped him in her coarse apron and carried him down to the basement.
When Lasse heard what had happened to the boy, he took a hammer and went round to kill the farm pupil; and the look in the old man's eyes was such that no one desired to get in his way. The pupil had thought his wisest course was to disappear; and when Lasse found no vent for his wrath, he fell into a fit of trembling and weeping, and became so really ill that the men had to administer a good mouthful of spirits to revive him. This took instant effect, and Lasse was himself again and able to nod consolingly to the frightened, sobbing Pelle.
"Never mind, laddie!" he said comfortingly. "Never mind! No one has ever yet got off without being punished, and Lasse'll break that long limb of Satan's head and make his brains spurt out of his nose; you take my word for it!"
Pelle's face brightened at the prospect of this forcible redress, and he crept up into the loft to throw down the hay for the cattle's midday meal. Lasse, who was not so fond of climbing, went down the long passage between the stalls distributing the hay. He was cogitating over something, and Pelle could hear him talking to himself all the time. When they had finished, Lasse went to the green chest and brought out a black silk handkerchief that had been Bengta's Sunday best. His expression was solemn as he called Pelle.
"Run over to Karna with this and ask her to accept it. We're not so poor that we should let kindness itself go from us empty-handed. But you mustn't let any one see it, in case they didn't like it. Mother Bengta in her grave won't be offended; she'd have proposed it herself, if she could have spoken; but her mouth's full of earth, poor thing!" Lasse sighed deeply.
Even then he stood for a little while with the handkerchief in his hand before giving it to Pelle to run with. He was by no means as sure of Bengta as his words made out; but the old man liked to beautify her memory, both in his own and in the boy's mind. It could not be denied that she had generally been a little difficult in a case of this kind, having been particularly jealous; and she might take it into her head to haunt them because of that handkerchief. Still she had had a heart for both him and the boy, and it was generally in the right place—they must say that of her! And for the rest, the Lord must judge her as kindly as He could.
During the afternoon it was quiet on the farm. Most of the men were out somewhere, either at the inn or with the quarry-men at the stone-quarry. The master and mistress were out too; the farmer had ordered the carriage directly after dinner and had driven to the town, and half an hour later his wife set off in the pony-carriage —to keep an eye on him, people said.
Old Lasse was sitting in an empty cow-stall, mending Pelle's clothes, while the boy played up and down the foddering passage. He had found in the herdsman's room an old boot-jack, which he placed under his knee, pretending it was a wooden leg, and all the time he was chattering happily, but not quite so loudly as usual, to his father. The morning's experience was still fresh in his mind, and had a subduing effect; it was as if he had performed some great deed, and was now nervous about it. There was another circumstance, too, that helped to make him serious. The bailiff had been over to say that the animals were to go out the next day. Pelle was to mind the young cattle, so this would be his last free day, perhaps for the whole summer.
He paused outside the stall where his father sat. "What are you going to kill him with, father?"
"With the hammer, I suppose."
"Will you kill him quite dead, as dead as a dog?"
Lasse's nod boded ill to the pupil. "Yes, indeed I shall!"
"But who'll read the names for us then?"
The old man shook his head pensively. "That's true enough!" he exclaimed, scratching himself first in one place and then in another. The name of each cow was written in chalk above its stall, but neither Lasse nor Pelle could read. The bailiff had, indeed, gone through the names with them once, but it was impossible to remember half a hundred names after hearing them once—even for the boy, who had such an uncommon good memory. If Lasse now killed the pupil, then who would help them to make out the names? The bailiff would never stand their going to him and asking him a second time.
"I suppose we shall have to content ourselves with thrashing him," said Lasse meditatively.
The boy went on playing for a little while, and then once more came up to Lasse.
"Don't you think the Swedes can thrash all the people in the world, father?"
The old man looked thoughtful. "Ye-es—yes, I should think so."
"Yes, because Sweden's much bigger than the whole world, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's big," said Lasse, trying to imagine its extent. There were twenty-four provinces, of which Malmohus was only one, and Ystad district a small part of that again; and then in one corner of Ystad district lay Tommelilla, and his holding that he had once thought so big with its five acres of land, was a tiny little piece of Tommelilla! Ah, yes, Sweden was big—not bigger than the whole world, of course, for that was only childish nonsense—but still bigger than all the rest of the world put together. "Yes, it's big! But what are you doing, laddie?"
"Why, can't you see I'm a soldier that's had one leg shot off?"
"Oh, you're an old crippled pensioner, are you? But you shouldn't do that, for God doesn't like things like that. You might become a real cripple, and that would be dreadful."
"Oh, He doesn't see, because He's in the churches to-day!" answered the boy; but for safety's sake he thought it better to leave off. He stationed himself at the stable-door, whistling, but suddenly came running in with great eagerness: "Father, there's the Agricultural! Shall I run and fetch the whip?"
"No, I expect we'd better leave him alone. It might be the death of him; fine gentlemen scamps like that can't stand a licking. The fright alone might kill him." Lasse glanced doubtfully at the boy.
Pelle looked very much disappointed. "But suppose he does it again?"
"Oh, no, we won't let him off without a good fright. I shall pick him up and hold him out at arm's length dangling in the air until he begs for mercy; and then I shall put him down again just as quietly. For Lasse doesn't like being angry. Lasse's a decent fellow."
"Then you must pretend to let him go while you're holding him high up in the air; and then he'll scream and think he's going to die, and the others'll come and laugh at him."
"No, no; you mustn't tempt your father! It might come into my mind to throw him down, and that would be murder and penal servitude for life, that would! No, I'll just give him a good scolding; that's what a classy scoundrel like that'll feel most."
"Yes, and then you must call him a spindle-shanked clodhopper. That's what the bailiff calls him when he's angry with him."
"No, I don't think that would do either; but I'll speak so seriously with him that he won't be likely to forget it in a hurry."
Pelle was quite satisfied. There was no one like his father, and of course he would be as good at blowing people up as at everything else. He had never heard him do it, and he was looking forward to it immensely while he hobbled along with the boot-jack. He was not using it as a wooden leg now, for fear of tempting Providence; but he held it under his arm like a crutch, supporting it on the edge of the foundation wall, because it was too short. How splendid it would be to go on two crutches like the parson's son at home! He could jump over the very longest puddles.
There was a sudden movement of light and shadow up under the roof, and when Pelle turned round, he saw a strange boy standing in the doorway out to the field. He was of the same height as Pelle, but his head was almost as large as that of a grown man. At first sight it appeared to be bald all over; but when the boy moved in the sun, his bare head shone as if covered with silver scales. It was covered with fine, whitish hair, which was thinly and fairly evenly distributed over the face and everywhere else; and his skin was pink, as were the whites of his eyes. His face was all drawn into wrinkles in the strong light, and the back of his head projected unduly and looked as if it were much too heavy.
Pelle put his hands in his trouser pockets and went up to him. "What's your name?" he said, and tried to expectorate between his front teeth as Gustav was in the habit of doing. The attempt was a failure, unfortunately, and the saliva only ran down his chin. The strange boy grinned.
"Rud," he said, indistinctly, as if his tongue were thick and unmanageable. He was staring enviously at Pelle's trouser pockets. "Is that your father?" he asked, pointing at Lasse.
"Of course!" said Pelle, consequentially. "And he can thrash everybody."
"But my father can buy everybody, because he lives up there." And Rud pointed toward the big house.
"Oh, does he really?" said Pelle, incredulously. "Why don't you live there with him, then?"
"Why, I'm a bastard-child; mother says so herself."
"The deuce she does!" said Pelle, stealing a glance at his father on account of the little oath.
"Yes, when she's cross. And then she beats me, but then I run away from her."
"Oh, you do, do you!" said a voice outside. The boys started and retreated farther into the stable, as a big, fat woman appeared in the doorway, and looked angrily round in the dim light. When she caught sight of Rud, she continued her scolding. Her accent was Swedish.
"So you run away, do you, you cabbage-head! If you'd only run so far that you couldn't find your way back again, a body wouldn't need to wear herself out thrashing a misbegotten imp like you! You'll go to the devil anyhow, so don't worry yourself about that! So that's the boy's father, is it?" she said, suddenly breaking off as she caught sight of Lasse.
"Yes, it is," said Lasse, quietly. "And surely you must be schoolmaster Johan Pihl's Johanna from Tommelilla, who left the country nearly twenty years ago?"
"And surely you must be the smith's tom-cat from Sulitjelma, who had twins out of an old wooden shoe the year before last?" retorted the big woman, imitating his tone of voice.
"Very well; it doesn't matter to me who you are!" said the old man in an offended tone. "I'm not a police spy."
"One would think you were from the way you question. Do you know when the cattle are to go out?"
"To-morrow, if all's well. Is it your little boy who's going to show Pelle how things go? The bailiff spoke of some one who'd go out with him and show him the grazing-ground."
"Yes, it's that Tom Noddy there. Here, come out so that we can see you properly, you calf! Oh, the boy's gone. Very well. Does your boy often get a thrashing?"
"Oh yes, sometimes," answered Lasse, who was ashamed to confess that he never chastised the boy.
"I don't spare mine either. It'll take something to make a man of such rubbish; punishment's half what he lives on. Then I'll send him up here first thing to-morrow morning; but take care he doesn't show himself in the yard, or there'll be no end of a row!"
"The mistress can't bear to see him, I suppose?" said Lasse.
"You're just about right. She's had nothing to do with the making of that scarecrow. Though you wouldn't think there was much there to be jealous about! But I might have been a farmer's wife at this moment and had a nice husband too, if that high and mighty peacock up there hadn't seduced me. Would you believe that, you cracked old piece of shoe-leather?" she asked with a laugh, slapping his knee with her hand.
"I can believe it very well," said Lasse. "For you were as pretty a girl as might be when you left home."
"Oh, you and your 'home'," she said, mimicking him.
"Well, I can see that you don't want to leave any footmarks behind you, and I can quite well pretend to be a stranger, even if I have held you upon my knee more than once when you were a little thing. But do you know that your mother's lying on her deathbed?"
"Oh no! Oh no!" she exclaimed, turning to him a face that was becoming more and more distorted.
"I went to say good-bye to her before I left home rather more than a month ago, and she was very ill. 'Good-bye, Lasse,' she said, 'and thank you for your neighborliness all these years. And if you meet Johanna over there,' she said, 'give her my love. Things have gone terribly badly with her, from what I've heard; but give her my love, all the same. Johanna child, little child! She was nearest her mother's heart, and so she happened to tread upon it. Perhaps it was our fault. You'll give her her mother's love, won't you, Lasse?' Those were her very words, and now she's most likely dead, so poorly as she was then."
Johanna Pihl had no command over her feelings. It was evident that she was not accustomed to weep, for her sobs seemed to tear her to pieces. No tears came, but her agony was like the throes of child-birth. "Little mother! Poor little mother!" she said every now and again, as she sat rocking herself upon the edge of the manger.
"There, there, there!" said Lasse, patting her on the head. "I told them they had been too hard with you. But what did you want to creep through that window for—a child of sixteen and in the middle of the night? You can hardly wonder that they forgot themselves a little, all the more that he was earning no wages beyond his keep and clothes, and was a bad fellow at that, who was always losing his place."
"I was fond of him," said Johanna, weeping. "He's the only one I've ever cared for. And I was so stupid that I thought he was fond of me too, though he'd never seen me."
"Ah, yes; you were only a child! I said so to your parents. But that you could think of doing anything so indecent!"
"I didn't mean to do anything wrong. I only thought that we two ought to be together as we loved one another. No, I didn't even think that then. I only crept in to him, without thinking about it at all. Would you believe that I was so innocent in those days? And nothing bad happened either."
"And nothing happened even?" said Lasse. "But it's terribly sad to think how things have turned out. It was the death of your father."
The big woman began to cry helplessly, and Lasse was almost in tears himself.
"Perhaps I ought never to have told you," he said in despair. "But I thought you must have heard about it. I suppose he thought that he, as schoolmaster, bore the responsibility for so many, and that you'd thrown yourself at any one in that way, and a poor farm-servant into the bargain, cut him to the quick. It's true enough that he mixed with us poor folks as if we'd been his equals, but the honor was there all the same; and he took it hardly when the fine folk wouldn't look at him any more. And after all it was nothing at all—nothing happened? But why didn't you tell them so?"
Johanna had stopped crying, and now sat with tear-stained, quivering face, and eyes turned away.
"I did tell them, but they wouldn't listen. I was found there of course. I screamed for help when I found out he didn't even know me, but was only flattered at my coming, and wanted to take hold of me. And then the others came running in and found me there. They laughed and said that I'd screamed because I'd lost my innocence; and I could see that my parents thought the same. Even they wouldn't hear of nothing having happened, so what could the other rabble think? And then they paid him to come over here, and sent me away to relations."
"Yes, and then you added to their sorrow by running away."
"I went after him. I thought he'd get to be fond of me, if only I was near him. He'd taken service here at Stone Farm, and I took a place here as housemaid; but there was only one thing he wanted me for, and that I wouldn't have if he wasn't fond of me. So he went about boasting that I'd run away from home for his sake, and the other thing that was a lie; so they all thought they could do what they liked with me. Kongstrup was just married then, but he was no better than the others. I'd got the place quite by chance, because the other housemaid had had to go away somewhere to lie in; so I was awfully careful. He got her married afterwards to a quarryman at the quarries."
"So that's the sort of man he is!" exclaimed Lasse. "I had my doubts about him. But what became of the other fellow?"
"He went to work in the quarry when we'd been at the farm a couple of years and he'd done me all the harm he could. While he was there, he drank and quarreled most of the time. I often went to see him, for I couldn't get him out of my head; but he was always drunk. At last he couldn't stay there any longer, and disappeared, and then we heard that he was in Nordland, playing Hell among the rocks at Blaaholt. He helped himself to whatever he wanted at the nearest place he could find it, and knocked people down for nothing at all. And one day they said that he'd been declared an outlaw, so that any one that liked could kill him. I had great confidence in the master, who, after all, was the only person that wished me well; and he comforted me by saying that it would be all right: Knut would know how to take care of himself."
"Knut? Was it Knut Engstrom?" asked Lasse. "Well, then, I've heard about him. He was breaking out as wild as the devil the last time I was in this country, and assaulted people on the high-road in broad daylight. He killed one man with a hammer, and when they caught him, he'd made a long gash on his neck from the back right up to his eye. The other man had done that, he said; he'd only defended himself. So they couldn't do anything to him. So that was the man, was it! But who was it he was living with, then? They said he lived in a shed on the heath that summer, and had a woman with him."
"I ran away from service, and pretended to the others that I was going home. I'd heard what a wretched state he was in. They said he was gashed all over his head. So I went up and took care of him."
"Then you gave in at last," said Lasse, with a roguish wink.
"He beat me every day," she answered hoarsely. "And when he couldn't get his way, he drove me away at last. I'd set my mind on his being fond of me first." Her voice had grown coarse and hard again.
"Then you deserved a good whipping for taking a fancy to such a ruffian! And you may be glad your mother didn't get to know anything about that, for she'd never have survived it."
At the word "mother" Johanna started. "Every one must look after themselves," she said in a hard voice. "I've had more to look to than mother, and see how fat I've grown."
Lasse shook his head. "I shouldn't care to fight with you now. But what happened to you afterwards?"
"I came back to Stone Farm again at Martinmas, but the mistress wouldn't take me on again, for she preferred my room to my company. But Kongstrup got his way by making me dairymaid. He was as kind to me as ever, for all that I'd stood out against him for nine years. But at last the magistrate got tired of having Knut going about loose; he made too much disturbance. So they had a hunt for him up on the heath. They didn't catch him, but he must have come back to the quarry to hide himself, for one day when they were blasting there, his body came out among the bits of rock, all smashed up. They drove the pieces down here to the farm, and it made me so ill to see him come to me like that, that I had to go to bed. There I lay shivering day and night, for it seemed as if he'd come to me in his sorest need. Kongstrup sat with me and comforted me when the others were at work, and he took advantage of my misery to get his way.
"There was a younger brother of the farmer on the hill who liked me. He'd been in America in his early days, and had plenty of money. He didn't care a rap what people said, and every single year he proposed to me, always on New Year's Day. He came that year too, and now that Knut was dead, I couldn't have done better than have taken him and been mistress of a farm; but I had to refuse him after all, and I can tell you it was hard when I made the discovery. Kongstrup wanted to send me away when I told him about it; but that I would not have. I meant to stay and have my child born here on the farm to which it belonged. He didn't care a bit about me any longer, the mistress looked at me with her evil eyes every day, and there was no one that was kind to me. I wasn't so hard then as I am now, and it was all I could do to keep from crying always. I became hard then. When anything was the matter, I clenched my teeth so that no one should deride me. I was working in the field the very day it happened, too. The boy was born in the middle of a beet-field, and I carried him back to the farm myself in my apron. He was deformed even then: the mistress's evil eyes had done it. I said to myself that she should always have the changeling in her sight, and refused to go away. The farmer couldn't quite bring himself to turn me out by force, and so he put me into the house down by the shore."
"Then perhaps you work on the farm here in the busy seasons?" asked Lasse.
She sniffed contemptuously. "Work! So you think I need do that? Kongstrup has to pay me for bringing up his son, and then there are friends that come to me, now one and now another, and bring a little with them—when they haven't spent it all in drink. You may come down and see me this evening. I'll be good to you too."
"No, thank you!" said Lasse, gravely. "I am a human being too, but I won't go to one who's sat on my knee as if she'd been my own child."
"Have you any gin, then?" she asked, giving him a sharp nudge.
Lasse thought there was some, and went to see. "No, not a drop," he said, returning with the bottle. "But I've got something for you here that your mother asked me to give you as a keepsake. It was lucky I happened to remember it." And he handed her a packet, and looked on happily while she opened it, feeling pleased on her account. It was a hymn-book. "Isn't it a beauty?" he said. "With a gold cross and clasp—and then, it's your mother's."
"What's the good of that to me?" asked Johanna. "I don't sing hymns."
"Don't you?" said Lasse, hurt. "But your mother has never known but that you've kept the faith you had as a child, so you must forgive her this once."
"Is that all you've got for me?" she asked, pushing the book off her lap.
"Yes, it is," said Lasse, his voice trembling; and he picked up the book.
"Who's going to have the rest, then?"
"Well, the house was leased, and there weren't many things left, for it's a long time since your father died, remember. Where you should have been, strangers have filled the daughter's place; and I suppose those who've looked after her will get what there is. But perhaps you'd still be in time, if you took the first steamer."
"No, thank you! Go home and be stared at and play the penitent—no, thank you! I'd rather the strangers got what's left. And mother— well, if she's lived without my help, I suppose she can die without it too. Well, I must be getting home. I wonder what's become of the future master of Stone Farm?" She laughed loudly.