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Project Gutenberg's Pelle the Conqueror, Vol. 2, by
Martin Anderson Nexo #2 in our series by Martin
Anderson Nexo
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Title: Pelle the Conqueror, Vol. 2Author: Martin Anderson Nexo
Release Date: March, 2005 [EBook #7792] [Yes,
we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
[This file was first posted on May 17, 2003]
Edition: 10
Language: English
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Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
On that windy May-morning when Pelle tumbled
out of the nest, it so happened that old Klaus
Hermann was clattering into town with his manure-
cart, in order to fetch a load of dung. And this
trifling circumstance decided the boy's position in
life. There was no more pother than this about the
question: What was Pelle to be?
He had never put that question to himself. He had
simply gone onward at hazard, as the meaning of
the radiant world unfolded itself. As to what he
should make of himself when he was really out in
the world —well, the matter was so
incomprehensible that it was mere folly to think
about it. So he just went on.
Now he had reached the further end of the ridge.
He lay down in the ditch to recover his breath after
his long walk; he was tired and hungry, but in
excellent spirits. Down there at his feet, only half a
mile distant, lay the town. There was a cheerful
glitter about it; from its hundreds of fireplaces the
smoke of midday fires curled upward into the blue
sky, and the red roofs laughed roguishly into the
beaming face of the day. Pelle immediately began
to count the houses; not wishing to exaggerate, he
had estimated them at a million only, and alreadyhe was well into the first hundred.
But in the midst of his counting he jumped up.
What did the people down there get for dinner?
They must surely live well there! And was it polite
to go on eating until one was quite full, or should
one lay down one's spoon when one had only half
finished, like the landowners when they attended a
dinner? For one who was always hungry this was a
very important question.
There was a great deal of traffic on the high-road.
People were coming and going; some had their
boxes behind them in a cart, and others carried
their sole worldly possessions in a bag slung over
their shoulders, just as he did. Pelle knew some of
these people, and nodded to them benevolently; he
knew something about all of them. There were
people who were going to the town—his town—and
some were going farther, far over the sea, to
America, or even farther still, to serve the King
there; one could see that by their equipment and
the frozen look on their faces. Others were merely
going into the town to make a hole in their wages,
and to celebrate May-day. These came along the
road in whole parties, humming or whistling, with
empty hands and overflowing spirits. But the most
interesting people were those who had put their
boxes on a wheelbarrow, or were carrying them by
both handles. These had flushed faces, and were
feverish in their movements; they were people who
had torn themselves away from their own country-
side, and their accustomed way of life, and had
chosen the town, as he himself had done.There was one man, a cottager, with a little green
chest on his wheelbarrow; this latter was broad in
the beam, and it was neatly adorned with flowers
painted by his own hand. Beside him walked his
daughter; her cheeks were red, and her eyes were
gazing into the unknown future. The father was
speaking to her, but she did not look as though she
heard him. "Yes—now you must take it on you to
look out for yourself; you must think about it, and
not throw yourself away. The town is quite a good
place for those who go right ahead and think of
their own advantage, but it thinks nothing of who
gets trodden underfoot. So don't be too trusting,
for the people there are wonderful clever in all
sorts of tricks to take you in and trip you up. At the
same time you want to be soft-spoken and
friendly." She did not reply to this; she was
apparently more taken up with the problem of
putting down her feet in their new shoes so that the
heels should not turn over.
There was a stream of people coming up from the
town too. All the forenoon Pelle had been meeting
Swedes who had come that morning in the
steamer, and were now looking for a job on the
land. There were old folk, worn out with labor, and
little children; there were maidens as pretty as
yellow-haired Marie, and young laborers who had
the strength of the whole world in their loins and
muscles. And this current of life was setting hither
to fill up the gaps left by the swarms that were
going away—but that did not concern Pelle. For
seven years ago he had felt everything that made
their faces look so troubled now; what they werejust entering upon he had already put behind him.
So there was no good in looking back.
Presently the old man from Neuendorf came along
the road. He was got up quite like an American,
with a portmanteau and a silk neckerchief, and the
inside pockets of his open coat were stuffed full of
papers. At last he had made up his mind, and was
going out to his betrothed, who had already been
three years away.
"Hullo!" cried Pelle, "so you are going away?"
The man came over to Pelle and set his
portmanteau down by the side of the ditch.
"Well, yes; it's time to be going," he said. "Laura
won't wait for me any longer. So the old people
must see how they can get along without a son;
I've done everything for them now for three years.
Provided they can manage all by themselves—"
"They can do that all right," said Pelle, with an
experienced air. "And they had to get help
formerly. There is no future for young people at
home." He had heard his elders say this. He struck
at the grass with his stick, assuming a superior air.
"No," said the other, "and Laura refuses to be a
cottager's wife. Well, good-bye!" He held out his
hand to Pelle and tried to smile, but his features
had it their own way; nothing but a rather twisted
expression came over them. He stood there a
minute, looking at his boots, his thumb groping
over his face as though he wanted to wipe thetormented look away; then he picked up his
portmanteau and went. He was evidently not very
"I'll willingly take over the ticket and the bride,"
shouted Pelle merrily. He felt in the deuce of a
good humor.
Everybody to-day was treading the road along
which Pelle's own young blood had called him—
every young fellow with a little pluck, every good-
looking wench. Not for a moment was the road free
of traffic; it was like a vast exodus, an army of
people escaping from places where everyone had
the feeling that he was condemned to live and die
on the very spot where he was born; an army of
people who had chosen the excitement of the
unknown. Those little brick houses which lay
scattered over the green, or stood drawn up in two
straight rows where the high-road ran into the town
—those were the cottages of the peasant folk who
had renounced the outdoor life, and dressed
themselves in townified clothes, and had then
adventured hither; and down on the sea-front the
houses stood all squeezed and heaped together
round the church, so close that there looked to be
no room between them; there were the crowds
who had gone wandering, driven far afield by the
longing in their hearts—and then the sea had set a
limit to their journey.
Pelle had no intention of allowing anything
whatever to set a limit to his journeying. Perhaps, if
he had no luck in the town, he would go to sea.And then one day he would come to some coast
that interested him, and he would land, and go to
the gold-diggings. Over there the girls went
mother-naked, with nothing but some blue tattoo-
work to hide their shame; but Pelle had his girl
sitting at home, true to him, waiting for his return.
She was more beautiful even than Bodil and
yellow-haired Marie put together, and whole
crowds followed her footsteps, but she sat at home
and was faithful, and she would sing the old love-
"I had a lad, but he went away
All over the false, false sea,
Three years they are gone, and now to-day
He writes no more to me!"
And while she sang the letter came to the door.
But out of every letter that his father Lasse
received fell ten-kroner banknotes, and one day a
letter came with steamer-tickets for the two of
them. The song would not serve him any further,
for in the song they perished during the voyage,
and the poor young man spent the rest of his days
on the sea-shore, gazing, through the shadow of
insanity, upon every rising sail. She and Lasse
arrived safely—after all sorts of difficulties, that
went without saying—and Pelle stood on the shore
and welcomed them. He had dressed himself up
like a savage, and he carried on as though he
meant to eat them before he made himself known.
Houp la! Pelle jumped to his feet. Up the road
there was a rattling and a clanking as though a

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