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My Cjarly Years 




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955423 * 26 "28 


reaching the age of sixty, I have more and more often been 
asked when I was going to write my autobiography. At first I was 
annoyed that I should be thought old enough for that; I myself had 
no feeling of having reached the memoir stage. My links with the 
past have always lain in the unconscious; it is the present and the 
future that live in me conscious and alert. I have, of course, vigorous 
roots in the past, but I have always felt that they nourished and 
strengthened me best when they were allowed to work in conceal- 
ment. Moreover, when a man is in the thick of the battle, where it is 
raging fiercest, and when he has a boy of a year and a half bouncing 
about under his desk like a freshly pumped up rubber ball, he is not 
much disposed to turn his mind backward. 

Surely, too, there was enough known about me already. I have 
written a goodly amount, and the critics have always energetically 
maintained without paying much attention to an occasional mild 
protest on my part that the content of my work is mainly auto- 
biographical, slightly remolded, of course, to meet the require- 
ments of fiction. 

Now this is not altogether true; for even where I have used material 
from my own life, I have lied quite grossly, have been forced to lie 
in order to get on speaking terms with people at all. I have often 
had to laugh when people have complained of my crass realism; if 
they only knew what the reality was like! If I had described the 
episodes in question as I actually experienced them, I should have 
been hissed perhaps stoned out of existence. But it might be rather 
tempting to do this, to set up the stark reality beside the picture of it. 

Thus, without wishing to, I drifted along, until one day I found 


I had become reconciled to the idea of surveying my whole life entire. 
But then, I thought, I will permit myself for once to tell the naked, 
unvarnished truth, 

Now that I am well started, however, I am forced to ask myself 
what the truth really is. For I have met with sundry truths in my 
lifetime, perhaps hundreds! The number of truths is infinite; and 
when we have met them all, then perhaps we have truth itself. But 
it is infinitely far off! Perhaps the only way for the individual to 
arrive at the truth is to create it for himself by lying, to invent it, 
or let others invent it for him. 

The truth about Father and Mother, for example surely that 
should be obvious to one who was begotten by them, who grew up 
under their eye, and who lived the most wide-awake time of his 
life, his childhood, together with them day by day. And yet there is 
no problem more complicated than that of judging between them 
I simply cannot do it. Now the one is in the right in my mind and 
now the other, and generally it is Mother. But then sometimes I 
have to side with Father; it depends upon the mood of the moment, 
and that, in turn, upon the particular situation which is uppermost at 
the time and dominates the memory. And the older I grow, the 
harder it becomes! I think I know more about Father and Mother 
today than when they were alive, more, indeed, than when I had 
them constantly before my eyes. But their life together is as much 
a mystery to me as ever. 

Of myself, with whom I have had to do battle now for sixty- 
three yearsj I know still less. There I can find nothing at all to 
call the truth, however I look at it; not even the fragments of truth 
will answer. When I was young, ah, then I knew to a T who and 
what and how I was; now I am entirely at sea. There is, I am 
ashamed to confess, something about this state that appeals to me. 
The uncertainty about everything is in itself attractive to the mind; 
the world becomes larger, life becomes richer. And above all it 
gives the mind something of that free, untrammeled feeling usually 
attributed to youthl 

Sometimes at least! 

I must say that if I look at life from the standpoint of technical 
development, it seems to me that I, as a human being, am a devil of 
a smart fellow to whom nothing is impossible. But if I apply spiritual 
standards I discover myself to be the most miserable of creatures. 
Our science is constantly extending the bounds of the universe, but 
the result is simply that we children of men appear more and more 
insignificant. We are parasites on the face of the earth, almost like 
lice in the beard of a creator! We encompass the grandest gestures 
in our technique, but we fail to catch the heartbeat of * the universe. 

If we know practically nothing about ourselves, we persuade our- 
selves, to make up for it, that we know a great deal about people 
who do not concern us. But there is nothing very substantial in 
this knowledge. Whenever I am confronted with people who live 
their lives, satisfied with themselves and at peace with existence, I 
always wonder whether they are really, in their innermost hearts, 
so sure of things as they seem to be; whether there is not, deep down 
within them, a worm that gnaws, a doubt about themselves, a feel- 
ing of boundless insufficiency. Am I really a creature apart simply 
because I usually feel myself a scurvy rogue who has misunderstood 
life's purpose with me? All my life I have been pursued by the feel- 
ing that I was two beings : one I that nobody could call to account, 
so sovereign was it, so exalted above all doubt and criticism; and 
another I, a ghastly failure, that 7 held in my hands and must try to 
mold into shape. The result is that I have always labored with myself 
striven inhumanly, I may say and often bungled. Have I suc- 
ceeded with the years in molding myself, at least in part, along 
those basic lines which seem to be laid down deep within me? Or 
has it gone the other way? Has the abortion contrived to hold its own 
at the expense of what was originally a greatly conceived being? I 
do not know but at least I have succeeded in bringing more balance 
into my life and in getting some relief from a sense of responsibility 
at times positively burdensome. 


As I look back it seems to me that my life has been one long 
struggle with chaos, an endless effort to bring some sort of whole 
out of a heap of chance scraps. They speak of putting a cat, a dog, 
and a porcupine together in the same sack. I have been just some such 
sackful of incongruities. That I have been able to hold the fragments 
together at all is quite incomprehensible to me. If I have also man- 
aged, as some people think, to accomplish a few things in life, it is 
really nothing short of a miracle. I certainly have not found exist- 
ence dull. My life thus far has run a wide gamut; it has been atro- 
ciously hard and it has been incredibly happy. Every experience has 
been intense, with bitterness or sweetness; partly, perhaps, because I 
have usually had the tick of a deathwatch in my ear as accompani- 
ment to everything. It is invigorating once you have got used to it. 

Until I was nearing forty, I cannot remember ever having passed 
a single day when I enjoyed that wonderful unawareness of the body 
that goes with perfect health. Some organ or other always made 
itself felt unpleasantly, when there was not something more serious 
the matter. And this wretched husk has had to hold together all 
manner of incompatibles, scraps of multifarious physical and intel- 
lectual abilities and powers, which do not belong together but seem 
to have been picked up on life's wharf and put into a sack from 
the same place perhaps by a Knight of the Seven. 1 It has, as I have 
said, cost no end of effort merely to get the sack to hold together, 
and it has seemed hopeless that its chaotic contents could ever be 
united into a harmonious and productive whole. I have sometimes 
had a vague feeling that if this could be achieved, I should perform 
feats the like of which the world has seldom seen. But what one 
faculty started, another as often as not refused to set its hand to; it 
had its own job to N do. "You are made up entirely of torsos," a 
woman who knew me well once said. 

The same was true of my physical constitution. For the individual 
organs seemed good enough in themselves; they simply refused to 

iln the author's childhood, old men used to pick up rubbish on the wharves of 
Copenhagen with a stick hooked like the figure seven. 


have anything to do with each other. Only when it came to sickness 
did they work in harmony. If I drove a malady out of one organ, 
it stole over like a thief in the night to another, where it appeared in 
a new incarnation; I could never get it out of my body. As I have 
said, the days can be counted when I have not felt myself held 
down, or at least impeded, by something or other that was not in 
order. I gradually became acutely and unpleasantly conscious of 
having a devil in my body of which I could not get rid. 

But sickness has its values; the feeling of life is intensified by the 
warnings of death. To hang dangling by a thread over the abyss, 
as it were, makes everything seem strangely near and dear! I have 
not gone through life sleeping. The day has always found me recep- 
tive and willing. For long periods of my life, even the necessary sleep 
at night seemed to me sheer robbery; from my twenties until I 
was approaching fifty, I did not think I could afford to give to sleep 
six or seven hours out of every twenty-four of my dearly won life. 
I cheated where I could and then made up for it when sickness 
forced me to stay in bed anyway. 

No one has any promise of life, and yet people generally act as 
though they thought they were going to live forever. There is a 
certain spur in having had a "but" placed at your name, or a cross, 
if you will; things and the semblance of things take on the radiance 
of rarity. You throw yourself upon life as though you had only 
one day to live and must by main force extract the whole of it in 
that brief space, eat yourself into the stuff like a larva and leave 
it behind you decomposed and commingled. There is not much 
between heaven and earth that I have not at least made an attempt 
to assimilate; there is not much that I have come by mechanically. 
Whether that is in itself an advantage is another matter,ftlie more 
you wrestle with the phenomena of life yourself, the Harder it is 
for you to get on with your fellows. They instinctively dislike any- 
body who thinks. How easy it is, on the other hand, to fincTa com- 
mon ground with others in what you have got from reading the 
newspaper! \ 


There is so much talk of laziness, especially in this age of idle 
hands; indeed, there are actually people, otherwise quite normal, who 
would lay the blame for the world depression upon the thirty to 
fifty million unemployed, would make it out to be the result of the 
appalling laziness o the workers. As a matter of fact, there is prob- 
ably no such thing as physical laziness; I have taken part in many 
kinds of work in my time, and I have come to the conclusion that in 
reality the apparently lazy man is always suffering from some disease 
or at least from degeneration. The healthy man has a natural desire 
to make use of his physical powers, to be active; and where this 
desire diminishes or disappears, there is something wrong with 
the organism. 

If the sick person is for obvious reasons physically indolent, the 
healthy man is, as a rule perhaps for reasons just as natural intel- 
lectually sluggish. My experience has taught me that man is only 
of necessity a thinking being; while he is by nature physically active, 
he is normally endowed with a certain intellectual apathy. My 
comrades have always been ready to give me a hand on the job, 
have gladly sacrificed half the night to help me with some work 
or other. But if I threw out a new idea to them, if I asked them 
to think independently about something, they were ready to bite my 
head off. And however highly they might esteem me, I generally 
came in for a certain amount of isolation. With all due respect, they 
preferred to avoid infection! I have always had to pasture a little 
to one side of the flock, as ailing animals have to do. 

Just as the sick man does not like to work, so the healthy man 
does not like to think if he can help it; both eventualities are against 
the order of nature. Thinking is a phenomenon of sickness, or at 
best a result of lack of balance, of mental perturbation; the healthy 
person, the balanced person, does not speculate about things but takes 
them as they come. My own propensity to turn the phenomena of 
life inside out has been closely linked up with a lack of peace and 
harmony, with the incongruities in my nature. I have cross-examined 
the phenomena in order to arbitrate among the desperate attempts 


to establish peace, to administer justice among the irreconcilable 
elements that rage within me. That I have, in all probability, two 
races in me, two races which stand sharply opposed to each other 
and need to be properly intermingled, does not make matters any 
better. This is, indeed, another reason for analyzing the phenomena 
thoroughly and attempting to smooth things out. 

If, in addition, you have as parents two people who are as differ- 
ent as it is possible for two people to be, and if you have inherited 
something from both and not just their most comfortable traits or 
their most wholesome qualities then you will have your work cut 
out for you here in the world. 

I have had to struggle with all this and more, toofortunately 
without always being fully aware of the extent of my obstacles* 
Otherwise the race might perhaps have been given up as hopeless 
at a very early period. 

Yes, there has been plenty to dol And I have always been blamed 
to the full for not being like other people. I have always accepted 
this blame perhaps too modestly as proof that I was a failure and 
have striven hard to be different. I have wasted probably three 
quarters of my strength and ability in trying to dominate all the 
conflicting and peculiar elements in myself and become like other 
people, without entirely succeeding. Not until I was fifty did I 
give up this constant warfare with myself. I realized that it was 
stupid and a waste of energy and decided that it must be stopped; 
henceforth people would just have to take me as I was. When I 
reached fifty, I took a week to audit my life thus far, with the 
result that I wrote above the vanished epoch: He has been his own 
worst enemy! And strange to relate, this egotistical decision has 
made me happy. My fellow men like me much better now that I 
let them bear some o the burdens involved in my being what I 
am. My life has become both better and freer it pays to go your own 
way regardless! 

And I shall endeavor to do so in the following pages, too. 


FOR the proletarian child it is not birth but conception that is 
often bitterly decisive. Before conception the child haunts the 
minds of the parents as a hopeless struggle between impulse on 
the one hand and fear and breakneck risk on the other; and from 
the day it appears that "things have gone wrong," the child lives for 
them as the inevitable, the manifestation of an evil fate. Many a 
proletarian child has had his most difficult time in those fateful 
nine months and has come into the world with a furrowed face. 

Mother used to say that I was "a bad one to kick" before I was 
born; I hope I made up for it later. As a sort of just retribution, 
Father spanked me very soon after I came into the world. I cried 
a great deal the first half year especially at night; Mother, who 
had me with her, shared the bed with Father, who consequently got 
no sleep. He was dead tired from the hard work of the day, and 
was, understandably enough, overwrought and bad-tempered from 
never getting his proper rest. "But why didn't he sleep in another 
room," some sympathetic soul will ask, "or at least in a bed to him- 
self?" But there was only the one bed; the other three children 
slept on chairs or as best they could until two of them preferred to 
move out to the churchyard. 

We really did have another room! But that was our sole link with 
the bright side of existence and must not be used to sleep in except in 
case of sickness; that was where Mother's stuffed sofa stood, and her 
chest of drawers with the porcelain dog, and the two plaster vase^-" 
and the round turned table. There was a stove in there, too, and, 
indeed, there was not room for anything more. 4 


I have no recollection whatever of the second oldest of us children, 
Gertrud; I was barely six months old when she dropped out o 
the game. But I can dimly remember the oldest, Kristian, as a poor 
sick little thing with much too large a head. He must have been all 
of six at the time, and I between two and three. He always lay in 
some sort of wicker affair, the edge of which he indef atigably picked 
to pieces. He didn't get his fingers slapped for it to my great 
amazement. When the sun moved, Mother carried him over to the 
window in the other room. Father once said: "When Kristian's 
dead, we'll have more room." And then Mother cried. He was the 
most troublesome of all her children, and no doubt because o 
that, the one nearest her heart. She never spoke of him, but even 
after several years I might surprise her sitting weeping over an open 
drawer in the chest with a lock of his hair and a little piece of cloth- 
ing in her hand. Of his actual death and burial, I have no recollec- 
tion, but I remember that I missed him and asked Mother where 
he was. "He has moved out to the churchyard/' she answered and 
began to cry. "Is he an angel then?" I asked. Mother shook her 
head. "Poor people don't belong in heaven, they have to be thankful 
if they can get into the earth." 

And I remember that I suddenly found myself in an entirely 
new situation* My brother Georg, who was two years older than I, 
was now the oldest and I myself the second oldest. It was a sort of 
promotion; I was no longer the tail of the flock of children. A little 
sister had arrived on the scene! My promotion brought dignity, but 
also work and responsibility she had to be minded! In poor families 
the children look after each other, and the work devolved naturally 
upon my brother; but he energetically broke me in to take over a 
considerable part of it chiefly by praising me. 

When Mother was nineteen, she was pregnant with the oldest. 
They were planning to get married, she and Father; but then the 
war came in '64 and Father was conscripted. He managed to scrape 
together fifty dollars and get a substitute, and they were married; 
but the repayment of the fifty dollars weighed heavily upon the 

home for several years. In '69 I, as the fourth, saw the light four 
children in five years! And Mother did her share to support the 
family too during those years, helped out on special occasions in 
the houses where she had formerly worked, scrubbed stairways, and 
delivered papers. She had a tenacious will, indomitable energy, and 
remarkable powers of endurance. 

Her tenacity of will took on a positive note in me I was stub- 
born! Father found that out while I was still a baby. I would not 
stop screaming even for fairly severe whacks. Later on I was to hear 
this at every opportunity from him and from my brother and 
sisters, who of course needed only to point to the fact that Father 
himself had said so. I cannot remember that Mother ever chided me 
for obstinacy; but it was always easy for her to manage me. She 
could get me to do anything. Mother had the sweetest smile I have 
ever seen on a woman's face; and when she smiled, all my willful- 
ness melted within me. 

The fourth of eleventhat should be a pretty good position. At 
least I remained alive, even if I did not have a very firm hold on 
existence. I must have been in possession of a good deal of obstinacy, 
not to say obduracy, to be able to resist the continual urgent invita- 
tions to give up. The third in the row, Georg, had apparently got 
what vitality there was, so that almost nothing was left for me. He 
was always strong until he very suddenly fell ill and died at the 
age of forty-two. 

How far back can one remember? I was born in St. Annaegade, 
just below the golden ball of Our Saviour's Church, up in the attic 
of a back building. "The second floor back, on the court," Mother 
always corrected me later when we talked of it. "It was really a 
nice apartment! It had only one fault; you couldn't live in it for 
the rats," she would add. I was between two and three years old 
when we moved to the Houses of the Medical Society. Of the moving 
itself I have no memory, although a moving ought to be among the 
great events of a child's life; but I have a faint recollection of a deep 
dormer window with a roasting hot piece of sheet iron in front 


and a little farther out an eaves trough in which something green 
was growing. A red, knitted object, probably a ball, lay gleaming out 
there, and I myself lay on my stomach, kicking and unable to reach 
it. A scream sounded behind me as I touched the hot roof; I thought 
I must have got too near the stove and that was why Mother came 
after me now. She hauled me in by the leg and looked so funny 
as she stood there shaking, although she knew just as well as I did 
that we had no fire on in the stove. 

More clearly I remember a huge fire wall. Mother said a strange 
/yj;hing about this wall, she said it stole the sun. It was a great relief 
to me that it did not keep it; in the morning the stolen sun popped 
up again on the other side. The dampness had drawn great, gro- 
tesque worlds on this wall; and over these worlds wandered queer 
wee monsters with hard shells or an enormous number of legs 
U^wood lice and centipedes. I thought I ought to be able to catch them 
L from the eaves trough, so close was the fire wall. Above it I had 
the huge gilded ball of Our Saviour's Church hanging high, high 
up in the air. In the eaves trough itself there was earth with tufts of 
grass growing in it and busy birds; and one fine day a plant with 
a red flower shot up before the wondering eyes of the child. Only 
the poorest of the poor can get out to the country so easily and 

^ Mother declared later ^that I couldn't possibly remember anything 

^of all this. Nevertheless, it lives somewhere in me and makes the 

Lffcack yards of the Kristianshavn quarter of Copenhagen the most 

^ntimate world for me to move in to this very day. Mother herself 

remembered vividly many details from her earliest childhood in 

Stege on the island of Moen, which she had left before she was 

three years old and had never since visited. Poor children can doubt- 

Mless remember further back than children who have a bright, care- 

free childhood; life early etches indelible grooves in their minds. 

The child has a curious way of dealing with its experiences; it 
sifts them out, discarding and retaining according to laws quite dif- 
ferent from those of grown-up people. While I do not remember 

anything at all of the big event itself, the moving from Kristianshavn 
to the Houses of the Medical Society, but just find myself there one 
fine day, I have a clear picture of Mother standing in the doorway of 
the new dwelling, entertaining the neighbor women. This must have 
been very shortly after we moved there, for later on she was not quite 
such good friends with them. She stood with her arms crossed, lean- 
ing against the doorpost, and I was proud of her; I felt that we 
played a role as the new arrivals. Mother was busy arguing the 
others down, the Houses came in for a formidable raking over. 
"The Medical SorJety, hygienic houses for the poor pooh! Two 
litde holes at a high rent! Now in Kristianshavn, that was a real 
apartment, three big rooms!" 

"And we had rats too!" I said. I wanted to help out. 

"You little chatterbox/' said Mother, shaking me by the arm. 
''Why did you have to chip in? Yes, that's why we moved, of 
course/' she explained, rather crestfallen. "You had to hang the 
food up in a basket under the ceiling at night for fear those filthy 
creatures would eat it. But aside from that it was a very nice apart- 

Here in the Houses I really began to live a life of my own. And 
in relation to society too, for very soon I had to start making myself 
useful. Mother undertook to deliver newspapers in the section around 
the Triangle, and my brother and I had to go along and run up 
the worst of the steps for her. She was troubled even then with vari- 
cose veins. 

This was an entirely new world. At that time the Houses of the 
Medical Society lay almost outside the city; the Olufsvej section 
between the Houses and the Triangle was not yet built up. On the 
other side of Strandvejen (now Osterbrogade), there were market 
gardens, and on the two remaining sides stretched the East and 
North Commons. Between the Commons ran Kongevejen, as we 
called it (now Ostre Alle), leading out into the unknown to royal 
palaces and lakes in great forests where the charcoal burners lived. In 
the mornings when my brother and I were trudging out to the Kris- 

tineberg bread factories, beyond Store Vibenshus, for bread from the 
day before, which we got at half price, we used to meet these men. 
They had set out from home at midnight; black smudged and un- 
couth looking, they sat nodding half asleep on their high loads of 
charcoal or birch brooms and baskets. They were said to hurl their 
knives at people, and, to be on the safe side, we kept right over in 
the ditch at the edge of the road. There we lay and shouted: "Hey, 
charcoal burner, give us a little charcoal!" Sometimes one of them 
would toss a bit of charcoal over into the ditch to us, and we would 
gather it up carefully in our caps and take it home to Mother for 
her steam iron. "Well, that's a couple of pennies saved," Mother 
would say, praising us. 

The Commons were fenced in on both sides of the road with 
beams that rested flat on low posts. We used to race on top of these 
beams, each on his own side of the road; it shortened the trip home 
from the bread factories. There were cattle pasturing on the Com- 
mons; they would stop grazing and stare. Sometimes one of them 
would start over toward you with nodding head as though to say: 
Yes, I'll teach you! Then you would let yourself drop down, into the 
ditch with a loud whoop and feel like a regular daredevil afterward. 

Often there were soldiers drilling on the Commons, shooting, 
digging trenches, and attacking each other. Then the place swarmed 
with tents, canteens, and basketwomen, especially if there was a 
military review; and afterward the ground was covered with empty 
cartridges and empty bottles. And where the refreshment tents had 
stood you might even be so lucky as to find a few pennies. 

Great events had taken place on the Commons in the past. 
Struensee and Count Brandt had been executed there; * the story 

^Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737-1772), a German doctor appointed Court physi- 
cian by the morbid and degenerate King Christian VII, became the lover o the 
unhappy young Queen Caroline Mathilda, a sister o King George III o England. 
He used his influence to overthrow the rule of the landlords and carry through 
innumerable reforms. Conservatism revived under Hoegh-Guldberg, who declared 
that the "yoke of the peasants could not be removed without Denmark shaking and 
quivering to its foundations." Struensee was arrested in his bedroom and chained 
to the wall of his prison. He confessed his relationship with the Queen and was 


of the execution haunted my imagination. I would steal over to the 
last row of the Houses and peep through a knothole in the board 
fence at the mound on the East Common where the execution had 
taken place. One day my brother decided after prolonged entreaties 
on my part that I was "big enough for that sort of thing" and 
took me out with him. "That sort of thing" was the execution. And 
indeed, walking up the mound made as strong an impression upon 
me as though I had experienced the actual decapitation. The mound 
lay just beside Kongevejen; a little farther in on the East Common 
was a big pit surrounded by a paling. Their corpses were still lying 
at the bottom of it, my brother declared, letting me stand on his 
back so that I could get my nose up to the edge of the fence and 
smell for myself, A terrible stench struck me in the face from the 
depths of the pit, which later revealed itself as a primitive privy for 
the Jenses. 2 

On the other side of Kongevejen, a little way in on the Common, 
lay "Holger Danske's Spectacles/* a huge lake, far bigger than the 
whole ocean! To get to it you had to brave the greatest dangers- 
fight both with bulls and wild horsesand the lake itself was full of 
monsters! Boys who had paddled in it had been bitten on the leg by 
leeches that sucked blood until they turned into round black sausages! 
And in the middle of the water there was a bottomless hole that led 
down to hell! The legends about this lake were indeed enough to 
send cold shivers up and down the spine of a little urchin of three 
or four, and it was some time before I got up enough courage to 
put this part of the world behind me. 

Great events still took place on the Commons! Sometimes the 
animals were gone and the field was black with people instead; then 

sentenced to a barbarous method o execution. First his right hand was cut off, 
then his head. The head was set up on a pole and the body drawn and quartered. 
Brandt, whom he had placed in charge o the lunatic King, suffered the same fate. 
The Queen was imprisoned in Kronborg Castle, but her brother demanded that 
she be treated as an English princess and sent an English man-of-war to escort her 
to Hanover. She died there of smallpox less than three years later, in I775 aot 
yet twenty-four years of age. 
2 The Danish equivalent of the English "Tommies." 

you would run home with pounding heart and hide in the corner 
between Mother's chest of drawers and the stove! Perhaps the work- 
ers were fighting with the police right now! They had fought before, 
and in our version of the story it had become a regular battle in which 
the police, whom we hated, got a thorough beating. "Please don't go 
out there!" Mother begged when there was trouble brewing. But 
Father and Uncle Otterberg just laughed and went off with valiant 

Dangerous as it was to venture out on the Commons, the tramps 
were not afraid! They would He sleeping in the grass all day long 
with their caps over one eye, in the midst of the cattle and horses, 
where even the bigger boys of the Houses dared not go. That long, 
lanky lout of a Kristian Nielsen, the grown-up son of our neighbor, 
the organ-grinder, whom Mother could not bear because he always 
hung round home idle, took many a nap in the sun there; and one 
day while he was sleeping a galloping horse dashed over him, snort- 
ing. I looked on terror-struck from the fence, while he himself was 
not even awakened by it. He became our hero from that day forth; 
after that it was an honor when he condescended to say, "Hello, kid!" 
To know him as I did was a distinction. We boys liked to touch him 
slyly we thought it made us strong. 

"Nonsense," said Mother. "A fine sort o strength that conies 
from a loafer like that!". I always told Mother everything, but I no 
longer believed in her blindly. There were some things that women- 
folk just didn't understand. 

And I certainly needed to filch a little more strength from some- 
where. I had very little, and life was full o difficulties and dangers. 
There were hostile boys, whole hordes of them. You had to be care- 
ful not to enter their section of the city unless you were with 
many others. There were the animals of the Commons in summer; 
sometimes they broke out and strayed over to the Houses. And there 
were the vast expanses of the Commons in wintertime; Mother knew 
stories about little boys who had got lost out there and had never 
come back. Then there were the police! And behind everything the 
inevitable whippings from Father's hand if he found out anything. 


71s a small child I was often sick, or, rather, often confined to bed. 
For I was always sickly; until nearly forty, I don't think I was ever 
entirely well a single day of my life. But the first eight years were 
particularly bad; the little organism had a hard time adjusting itself. 
I suffered a great deal from glands, which broke out as sores all 
over my face, leaving only my eyes free. Besides, I was greatly 
troubled with colds bronchitis and coughs; and I became feverish 
at the slightest provocation. I had to take cod-liver oil, at that time a 
rancid yellow liquid not easy to get down. And Father used to 
bring sea water home with him from the Limekiln Harbor, which 
tasted, if possible, still worse. 

I didn't mind having to stay in bed, as healthy children who sud- 
denly have something the matter with them generally do. In fact, I 
usually came and asked to go to bed. I would sometimes do this even 
when I was not really sick when existence became too much for 
me and seemed like an unfriendly desert on all sides. At such times 
I did not feel easy until the bed closed softly around me and I lay 
like a child in its mother's womb. The leap from the snug, warm 
existence in the mother's body into the vast, cold world without is 
undoubtedly a drastic one. The frequent attacks of nostalgia that 
children have usually come from the desire for security and warmth; 
they become quiet when they can snuggle down in softness and pull 
the feather comforter over their heads. 

This is still more true of the delicate child, and it doesn't help 
matters to try to harden it life has hardness enough in store for it! 

Mother was quick to put me to bed on such occasions; and there 


I lay, snuggling down and following her every move. Once in a 
while she would come over to me and look into my eyes. "Well, 
you little goose, do you think you'll soon venture to tread the earth 
again?" she would ask with a peculiar smile. "You ought to try and 
get up before anybody comes, or they'll think you've got sleeping 

But as a rule it was serious enough. 

One sickbed in particular has imprinted itself deeply on my 
memory. Lying in our bedroom facing on Olufsvej, where the rows 
of houses were then just being built. I followed the work from day 
to day. First I heard the boys of the Houses playing in the excava- 
tions, and then the scaffolding being raised. One day the caps of 
the masons popped up above the board fence that divided off the 
Houses, the wall grew higher, the workmen came climbing up into 
the air with huge hodfuls of bricks and mortar on their shoulders 
which they threw down with a loud boom. They shouted and sang 
at their work, and a little flask followed by a big one passed round 
from hand to hand. And sometimes there were violent quarrels 
over there; then I would scream out in terror and Mother would 
come rushing in from the kitchen and make me lie down again. 
There was always a repressed terror in me and it broke out when 
grown-up people began to raise their voices. It was probably a legacy 
from nerve-racking scenes at home when Father would come back 
after he had been drinking. 

During this sickness, which must have been quite prolonged, I 
had fever most of the time and imagined gruesome things. It was al- 
ways the Germans that were after me and wanted to catch me. 
Mother had hung a sheet in front of the window to protect me from 
the strong light outside, and my phantom enemies glimmered up 
and down on it. They took on the shape of monsters and devils, 
with pincers as claws and a long pair of scissors as tail, chased round 
on the white curtain, and made faces at me. Then I would have 
to scream again, and Mother would come and lay her hand on my 
forehead and turn the pillow. "You mustn't be afraid of the Ger- 

mans, for they won't hurt us if we just mind our own business," 
she would say reassuringly. "My grandfather came to this country 
from Germany, so you can see for yourself they are good people!" 
That sounded quite convincing, but no words > however fair, could 
talk the fear of the Germans out of my mind. We children were all 
obsessed by it at that time it was probably an aftereffect of '64. 

Our surroundings were not particularly well calculated to calm 
the mind of a nervous child. At the organ-grinder's next door both 
the sons hung round the house idle a pair of big, lanky good-for- 
nothings, Mother called them. We could hear them wrangling all 
day long, and when the daughter came home, there was usually 
a fearful row. She was tolerated only when she brought home 
money; otherwise her brothers called her by the worst names. She 
lived down in a cellar at Landemaerket and made apple fritters for 
the soldiers at the Solvgaden barracks; she was enormously fat and 
had her hair in curlpapers all day long, even when she came home 
for a visit. I asked Mother why she had that paper in her hair. "It 
gives the fritters a flavor," said Mother enigmatically. 

Nielsen himself was out most of the time traveling around with 
his barrel organ; he had been in the three years' war and had a 
wooden leg. The leg itself, however, was not gone; it was bent and 
stuck out behind. I used to imitate him by putting my knee in the 
cleft of Father's bootjack and hobbling round with it for a wooden 
leg, "Yes, you're just as much of an invalid as some people anyway," 
said Mother. She did not believe in Neighbor Nielsen's disability* 
"Still, he earns a pretty penny with it," she said. But it went as fast 
as it came. Whenever they .had anything, they ate and drank it up 
right away and then existed on what they could beg or steal 

Mother couldn't bear them, and neither, therefore, could L But 
I was more consistent than she, for I kept away from them. It sur- 
prised and disappointed me whenever Mother, at my call, would 
come rushing in from the corridor between the two kitchens from a 
chat with that nasty fat Madam Nielsen. She must have noticed that I 
didn't like it, for she wouldn't look me in the eye, 


"That's a horrid woman!" I said one day sulkily. 

Mother found something to busy herself with. "Yes, yes, my bo 
we all have our faults," she answered after a little while. "And si- 
does look after you when I'm out working." 

"No, she doesn't, she just steals your food out of the kitchen cuj 
board and then we get the blame for it." 

Mother stood for a moment and stared, then she bent down an 
laid her face up to mine. "I'm sorry!" she whispered. "It was wron 
of me to suspect you." Suddenly she straightened up. "She'll pa 
for that, the old hag," she said threateningly. "I'll let her know th 

Yes, a proper old hag she was. But Nielsen I was quite fond oi 
he was a good-natured fellow and would let me turn the barn 
organ, especially when he was tipsy. And I admired the sons privately 
even if I did keep out of their way. The police were always afte 
them, and I had a feeling that they were at war with society. Ths 
satisfied something inside me! There was just too much noise an 
disturbance at our neighbors' house for my timid nature. 

It was no better at the Bigums' who lived on the other corrido 
but just on the other side of the wall from us. I had never beei 
in their house, hardly knew what the two daughters looked like 
They were factory workers and were away during the day earnin; 
a living for themselves and their father, who was a drunkard an< 
had delirium tremens. When he had his attacks, the two daughter 
tied him fast to the bench before they left home, and there he la 1 
raving all day long. The bench was just on the other side of th 
wall, which was so thin that through it I could hear everything h 

Perhaps from nervousness, I had scratched a hole in the plaster 
and now that it was done, I lay shuddering lest the madman ii 
there might try to do something through the hole, might perhap 
come in after me, although it really went only as far as the bricks 
"Are you crazy? Even if there were a hole, he couldn't possibly 
get through it," said Mother. But my terrified imagination leap 

over a trifle like that with ease; all he had to do was make himself 

thin enough! 

One day some bugs had collected in the hole and Mother covered 
it over with soft soap. "Now they've got what's coming to them," 
she said. "They can just have the kindness to crawl back where they 
came from and suck gin from the body of that delirious old man 
in there. What kind o nasty bugs are they? They're called bedbugs 
because they get the poor out of bed in the mornings; the Lord gave 
them to us when he drove us out of Paradis^-so that we shouldn't 

I was quite satsfied with the explanation; but the bugs themselves 
I was afraid of. . 

"You needn't be, for they don't bite you," Mother comforted. 
"You've much too fine a skin; Aunt Lassen says the little princes, 
if you please, haven't nearly such a fine skin as you." 

And it is true that bedbugs did not bite me either then or later, 
I have, especially in my young days, lived in lodging houses of the 
very cheapest kind, slept in many countries in hovels and dens that 
swarmed with bedbugs. In the morning when we were roused up, 
my bedfellow might be red and inflamed with bites all over his body, 
but me they had not touched. Perhaps I had been so thoroughly in- 
fested with them while still very tiny in Kristianshavn that my blood 
had had to build up both an immunity and some sort of deterrent. 
Nor are bedbugs the only parasites that have given me a wide berth. 
For a long time it used to grieve me that vermin which were grateful 
for the rottenest old sots would have none of me; I felt as though I 
were rejected of all living things. But when all is said and done, it 
is, of course, a considerable advantage to be untouchable, 

Perhaps because of my fear of Bigum, who would lie there by the 
hour grinding his teeth and raving to get loose, until it seemed as 
though the wall must tumble down, Mother one day moves me 
over to the sofa in the parlor. Father grumbles a bit, for the sofa 
is stufled and must not even be sat on every day. But I must be 
seriously ill, for he doesn't forbid it, and I lie comfortably cuddled 

up in here. The stove is in this room too, and winter must have come 
in the meantime. When Mother has money for a little fuel, she puts 
a fire on right in the middle of the day, before my brother comes 
home from the charity school with slate and ABC and running 
nose. He must get warmed up a bit before he has to go off out to 
the limekiln with a bottle of hot coffee for Father. He tosses his 
slate and ABC over on my bed and begins at once to impart his 
learning; he already knows the first six letters and is almost bursting 
with knowledge; me he treats as a hopeless idiot. I am glad he will 
soon have to go again; I like it best alone with Mother. 

But he's not glad. "It's so cold out there beside the water," he says, 
howling and squeezing into the corner beside the stove. He has to 
help Father every afternoon, lay out the materials for paving stones, 
and take away the waste that heaps up underneath Father's work 
stand, a barrel full of chips and stone dust. He is much too small for 
the work, and every afternoon Mother has the same scene: he pounds 
the wall with his hand, threatens Mother and Father and all of us- 
and howls! But when Mother looks at him silently with eyes that 
are beginning to dim with tears, he snatches up the basket with the 
coffee and dashes off. 

In the evening when he comes home, sometimes with Father, 
sometimes alone, he is happy and good to me. He always brings 
me something, a pretty stone, shells of the big mussels that cling 
to the huge boulders which the stonefishers fetch up from the bottom 
of the Kattegat and the Oresund and bring to the places where the 
stone is cut. The meat, which is exactly like the yolk of an egg, 
they had eaten out there. 

"Ill bet anything you've been to the saloon- in the middle of the 
afternoon!" said Mother sharply. "And he's sitting there still, of 
course; so I may expect him home drunk as usual!" She threw the 
stocking she was mending angrily to one side and leaned her head 
on her hands. My brother said nothing; you could see from his 
expression that Father had forbidden him to tell anything at home. 

Suddenly he said, brightly as only he could say it, and with a face 

as though all unpleasantness were now banished: 'Til bring a whole 
capful of mussels home to you next time so I will! And I'll earn 
lots of money for you, Mother and never go to the saloon when 
I get big!" Then Mother had to smile. 

Father did indeed come home drunk, but he was in good humor. 
Covered with snow, he stamped into the room; there was snow on 
his thick black hair and snow clung to his sailcloth jacket. He had 
had a tussle with a policeman; he described it laughing, as he stood 
there swaying a bearded bear- in the doorway. His forehead was 
bleeding, and he had lost his hat on the road. 

"The deuce with that/' he said when Mother came with water and 
wanted to bathe his forehead. "But just look here what Father has 
for you." Out from underneath his sailcloth jacket, which was lined 
with a heavy woollen sweater and served as a sort of short fur coat, he 
hauled a frozen, famished sea gull that could stand only on one leg; 
the other hung limp and withered. "How's that for a sea bird, eh?" 
said Father in great glee. "It's just as though it might have come over 
from Bornholm." It had been drifting round on an ice floe outside 
the Limekiln Harbor, with its feet frozen fast to the ice; Father had 
punted out on another ice floe and freed it. "I had to chop it loose 
with my wooden shoe just as I used to do over there at home on 
the beach when I was a boy." Then the policeman had stopped him 
on the way home, perhaps because he was hiding something under 
his jacket. "We rolled round in the ditch, but he was all right any- 
way, the wee fellow," said Father, laughing. "He had more coming 
to him, but of course I had to be careful of the bird. And just look 
at him, he's not hurt a bit." 

Father sat on the edge of my couch and told the story, and the sea 
gull stood on one leg on my chest with white, closed eyes. We were 
proud of Father that evening; we were all fond of him in spite of 
the saloon smell that clung to him. Mother leaned over the table and 
listened with eyes that fairly devoured him, and Georg clenched 
his fist. 'Til give the police a thrashing all right when I get a bit 
bigger," he said ominously. 

"You," said Mother, laughing good-humoredly. "Why, you're 
only six!" 

"He's all right," said Father, nodding. "He knows how to hand 
out a paving stone already." How I hungered for a like word o praise 
from my father. But he, who had never been sick for a whole day 
in his life, regarded me as something of a "sissy." 

A place was made for Georg, who ordinarily slept on chairs in 
with Father and Mother, at the foot of my sofa, and the door was 
pushed almost shut. Father and Mother looked like people who 
have birthday secrets when they said good night; it seemed to me 
that they had never looked with such sincere affection at each other 
before. It must have been the white bird that did it; it stood on one 
leg on a piece of turf in front of the stove. Mother had been lavish 
and put a few extra pieces on the fire, and the glow from the vent 
in the stove door flickered down on the bird. I lay for a long time 
looking at it before its image faded out; my brother, who had every 
reason to be tired, had fallen asleep at once. 

When I awakened next morning, the matter from the sores had 
completely sealed my mouth; Mother had to soften the scabs with 
warm water, whereupon Father clipped my lips apart with the 
scissors. He was at home, was not at work, although it was almost 
broad daylight! The remains of yesterday evening's celebration were 
still in the air! Over on the stove stood the coffeepot giving oflf a 
delightful aroma, and my brother was off to the baker's for some 
real coffeecake. It was all very lovely to waken up to! 

And in the forenoon Father killed the gull and Mother roasted 
it for him in the pot; it smelled wonderful, but it did take away a 
little from the joy. The white bird of happiness scrunched so 
strangely between Father's all too powerful teeth. 

On in the afternoon he dressed and went out. Mother sighed. 
Everyday had set in again. 


^DURING the half year or more that I lay ill, I did not see much of 
my little sister. Mother must have kept her away from. me. That I 
did not miss her at all, I regard as proof that I must have been 
pretty sick. As soon as I begin to get better, she steps clearly and 
resolutely into my life again, I can still hear distinctly her: "Up, up!" 
She liked to sit in bed with me and play. And Mother had no objec- 
tion; my sickness had set the home back in every respect and she 
had much to catch up with. 

It is not altogether a bad idea for poor people to have many 
children, for family feeling is stronger among the lower orders than 
in the higher ranks of society. In the lower classes the children bring 
up each other to a considerable extent; the child that has no brothers 
and sisters is worse off than the one with a whole flock. The fewer 
the children the more food there should be, of course, but this is not 
always the case- The breadwinning spirit is often weaker in uri- 
prolific parents; and the children of the poor usually begin early to 
provide for themselves. Since family feeling expresses itself in the 
downward relationship, as care for the smaller members, it auto- 
matically becomes the kernel of a later social attitude. 

When I got up again, however, we had a great deal to do with 
each other, my little sister and I. Mother had to take up her outside 
work again, and Georg got a job as errand boy; we two little ones 
had to get through the day as best we could. It was not easy; I still 
regard this period as the most strenuous in my life, 

It must have been summer, for I was not cold; and there was no 

fire in the stove, or I should certainly have remembered it. For of 
all hard jobs the hardest was watching that Sister did not get too 
near the stove. If you were to look away but a single moment or 
forget yourself for an instant, the calamity might happen and Sister 
would be in flames! The newspapers told of little children that were 
horribly burned to death because those who were left to mind them 
were thoughtless and indifferent; and these stories would certainly 
have made the responsibility burdensome, if it had not been so 

But it weighed heavily enough of itself. I have often wondered 
since where a not very robust little chap, who might himself have 
needed a protecting hand, ever got the strength and endurance to 
look after a small sister day in and day out. The strength came from 
the need, of course; the marvel is that it should have sufficed! It 
may appear meaningless to us that the sense of responsibility often 
seems to be stronger in people the less they have to thank existence 
for, and especially that this feeling the most irrational of all life's 
undercurrents should be vested in a little urchin of four or five, 
making an existence in itself not easy still more burdensome for 
him. But there is perhaps, after all, a deep meaning in this seeming 
paradox, that the very ones who have least to be thankful for should 
take it upon themselves to be the strength and stay of all, that it is 
the empty hands that hold up the world. 

Yes, of course it was summer! Father was working far away from 
home, and that never happened in winter. He was away over in 
Jutland, building a bridge over a great body of water and Mother 
was out selling from a pushcart. She was working in partnership 
with Madam Sandru again, although they had recently had a violent 
quarrel and had separated in deadly enmity. How much there was 
that was hard to get into one's childish head! Never, Mother had 
said, never in her life would she have anything more to do with 
that abominable old hag. And Madam Sandru had spat and said: 
"The devil with you!" And now they were trying to outdo each 

other in singing; I could hear their voices now and then as they 
went past on Strandvejen: 

Shrimps, shrimps, shrimps are good! 
Live shrimps 
Shrimps are good! 

It was a rollicking song; it lighted up my wearisome existence 
for a moment and I would lug little Sister over to the window or 
right out into the tiny front lawn so that she, too, could share in 
Mother's voice. But the only result was that she would become des- 
perate and begin to howl. She was not an easy child to manage, 

But when I complained, Mother just laughed: "Pooh, is that any- 
thing for a big boy like you to talk about? When I was your age I 
had lost both father and mother and had to go out in Dyrehaven 
and gather firewood." 

Then I shuddered and wondered how she had kept from being 
eaten up by the wolf; and I realized, of course, how much better 
off I was, who had a mother. But that she had no father did pot 
seem to me anything to be particularly sorry about. 

"Indeed it was, for he was an industrious man and never drank. 
Everybody in Falster thought well of him. He was the best black- 
smith in Nykobing, too. But then the cholera came and took both 
him and Mother with her unborn child and my two brothers; 
Mother died first, and Father gave her a needle and thread to take 
into the grave with her so that she could make baby clothes for the 
little one. He was a good father and mindful of his own." Mother 
began to cry and could not tell any more; but I knew the rest of the 
story from before: about the three who were left orphans and scat- 
tered to the four winds; and about relations and friends who 
plundered the home so that there was nothing for the children. 
Mother, who was seven or eight at the time, was sent to relatives in 
Taarbaek; her smaller brother and sister, Georg and Maria, were 
put out with foster parents far away from hen Now they were in 

America; Georg had not been heard from for many years, but Aunt 
Maria seemed to have done well; she wrote now and then. Mother 
had had it even harder than I! 

Father was, as I have said, in Judand working, and to tell the 
truth none of us missed him. Unless perhaps the baby; for he was 
quite different toward the infant in the cradle from what he was 
toward the rest of us. He would play with it until it was quite 
beside itself with joy, and he could make it coo like a bird in love. 
But when the rest of us gathered round and tried to share in the 
game, he would put the baby back in the cradle and take up his 
paper. Our joy he could not seem to endure; I have often thought 
it hurt him. 

We breathed freely now that he was away and we could plan a 
little farther ahead; and we did not hide from each other the fact 
that we were glad to be rid of him. Something of the new spirit 
that characterizes our age was already on the threshold at that time; 
the poor had begun to emancipate themselves from fatalism. That 
conditions were bad was a fact with which people had not yet 
thought of tampering. They were so and they could not be other- 
wise; poverty, like wealth, was created by the Lord. But when the 
man, the breadwinner, made conditions in the home still worse, 
it no longer came under the category of fate. Father could not hide 
behind the Word of God when, at our expense, he took more than 
his share. He was no patriarch who could do as he liked with every- 
thing without criticism from the rest of us; he had to account for 
himself like everybody else in the family. He was the strongest; we 
had to be careful, of course, not to reproach him openly. But we 
condemned him for his actions none the less by shutting ourselves 
off and living our lives without him. Father was- not fate in his 
relation to us those days were over. He was guilt! 

And now, thank heaven, he was out of the way. 

There was one drawback: we had nothing at all to live on, he 
completely forgot to send us any of his earnings. "That's exactly 
like him," said Mother, when she had waited in vain for a couple of 

weeks. "Now hell be able to live like a lord!" She took hold her- 
self with all her superabundance of energy and resourcefulness. A 
double effort went into the pushcart; Mother herself was out from 
early morning. And she found a place for my brother as errand boy 
for a grocer over on the Triangle. I was given the task of looking 
after things at home. 

And a difficult task it was. Many a time I was ready to give up; 
but when Mother came home in the afternoon and had a little talk 
with me, it was forgotten. She had a peculiar, playful way of man- 
aging me when I was feeling low; no burden could withstand her 
good humor. Besides, Dyrehavsbakken stood as a golden promise 
behind everything. Mother had promised us that if we did our best 
to help her, we should all go out there together some Sunday. 

"Is it even more fun than the 'Dyrehave of the Poor 1 ?" I asked 

"Than 'The Rhine'? Are you crazy, boy? Why, royalty themselves 
have to go to the real Dyrehavsbakken if they want to have a proper 
good time!" shouted my brother. 

"Yes, and other nice people go there too," said Mother. "The 
Chamberlain's, where I used to work, went to Dyrehavsbakken once 
every summer; and they always took me along." 

I had often been to the Dyrehave of the Poor, an amusement place 
with merry-go-rounds, swings, shooting galleries, and so on, down 
at the foot of the Old Limekiln Road. Almost every Sunday Georg 
and I were given a penny each with permission to go there; there 
was no entrance fee to the garden, and for the penny you could get 
either a ride on the merry-go-round or a big gingerbread cake- 
unfortunately not both. We tried. My brother, who was good at 
thinking of things, once suggested: "Now III ride on the merry-go- 
round, then you'll buy a cake, and then well divide up. In that way 
we'll get twice as much for our money." I liked the suggestion, but 
it did not come up to expectations at least as far as I was concerned. 
Still, it was a form of division, and one that I have met with since 
as well. There were summerhouses round the outskirts of the park; 


sometimes Mother came along and we brought a basket and ate 
lunch in one of the houses. It was lots of fun, for then, of course, you 
had to have a treat of some kind, too. 

But neither of us boys had ever been to the real Dyrehavsbakken, 
and when Mother sat counting up the day's earnings in the evening, 
we stood beside her. She talked all the time about the money or 
rather to the money and what it was to be used for. "You there 
are for the rent, and you will have to go to renew Father's lottery 
ticket before the first. We must remember that or there'll be the 
devil of a row when he comes home and the ticket's gone up in 
smoke. And of course hell never think so far ahead. We'll have to 
buy food with you; and let me see. . . ." There was money left over. 

"Dyrehavsbakken, Mother, oh, may we, on Sunday, please!" My 
brother's eyes were upon her, filled with entreaty and persuasion. 

Mother wavered; it was hard for her to resist Georg's brown eyes, 
which were the picture of Father's. But finally reason triumphed. 
"No, we must get the good feather comforter home first, now that 
we have the money. Next Sunday, though, children!" 

"Oh, let it stay there you'll only pawn it again. What do we need 
of the good feather comforter now that it's summer?" my brother 
protested hotly. But Mother was firm. 

I awakened to find Mother standing bent over me, kissing me. 
"Good-bye, my boy, I hope you'll be all right," she whispered into 
my ear. "I've put sugar and cream out in a cup on the kitchen table, 
and the coffeepot is on the burner; but be careful when you light it! 
There's a warm bottle for Sister in the foot of the bed, and if she 
gets hungry you can buy two rusks and soak them in water; I've 
put a penny on the plate rack. But watch out that that rogue of a 
baker doesn't give you two top halves! You'll be able to slip over 
there while Sister's sleeping. And now show me that you're a big 
boy; I'll hurry home again." Mother put both her hands around my 
head and looked into my eyes; her face came nearer and nearer until 
her forehead was touching mine and it seemed to me as though she 

had only one eye, a big one, in the middle of her forehead. My eyes 
closed. And when I opened them again, a long time must have gone 
by, for the sun was coming straight in at the window, 

At first it seemed as though Mother were not away at all, but had 
just gone into the other room; she had smiled the troubles out of 
existence as so often before, and her smile still hovered in the air 
about me and made me brave. Sister was well-behaved, too, and 
continued to sleep; there was time to dress and get a few things put 
to rights before she would announce herself. 

I was out in the kitchen every minute to look at the coffee cup. 
It stood over by the drainpipe from the apartment above; beside it 
was a plate with bread-and-dripping and a smoked herring skinned 
and boned. I peeked into the cup, just peeked; Mother had not 
been stingy and it tasted so awfully good: sugar and cream. I 
simply must have just a lick, just with the tip of the teaspoon. If you 
went about it in the right way, sneaked up on things from behind, 
so to speak, it must surely be possible to lick a little without making 
the delectable mixture shrink. 

But alas, shrink it did, and suddenly there was no more. It was 
too bad, for that was the last of the morning coffee; black coffee 
without sugar could simply not be got down. And I was not yet 
hardened enough to go to the cupboard it didn't even occur to me. 

Fortunately little Sister awakened. She announced herself with a 
sudden yell that glided over into a prolonged paroxysm of rage* 
Perhaps she was cross because she had overslept; she made a bridge 
with her back, turned bluish red in the face, and almost tumbled 
out o the cradle. Her bottle she would not touch. 

I couldn't carry her, but when I stuck my stomach out well, I 
could shove her across the floor in front of me; in this way I slowly 
and painfully got her into the other room and up onto the sofa. 
She seemed quite content there; I toiled and moiled until I got her 
into the corner with the table shoved over in front of her. But no 
sooner had I finished than she was tired of being there and began 
all over again with her eternal: "Up, up!" Then I had to go to 


work and lug her down again, and in the meantime she had man- 
aged to make a nice mess o Mother's good sofa that we were not 
allowed to go near at all. I struggled round in the apartment with 
her from one object to another, let her rattle the handles on the 
chest of drawers until she tired of it, and then dragged her on to 
something else. But it did not matter what I hit upon, nothing 
found grace in her eyes for more than a brief moment. She would 
apparently be completely engrossed in something and I already 
breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect of a quiet hour and then 
she would let out another yell, the signal that she wanted to move 
on again. I do not understand today how I endured it and submitted 
to her tyrannical whims without defending myself. Perhaps with a 
little spank she might have roared it out of her system and made 
room for good humor; Mother sometimes resorted if only very 
rarely to this solution with us children. But I could not bring 
myself to it, although on occasion I both bit and struck my older 
brother. She was such a little thing! 

So I struggled on with her, until we came to port at the sandbox 
out in the kitchen. It was full of lovely white floor sand, and Mother 
had hidden carrots in it. It looked as though Sister were going to 
content herself here for a while. But then she got sand in her eyes; 
she bored round in them with her hands and shrieked wildly. I 
could not get the tiny fists away from her face while I washed the 
sand out of her eyes. Every time I tried to help her, she rubbed still 
more sand into them. I slapped her on the fingers, and then all at 
once it really dawned on me how desperately helpless I was. I began 
to howl, too, still louder than she, and tried to kiss her to make up 
for having struck her. Sister was just as unhappy at what had hap- 
pened as I; there was no longer any anger in her cry. She opened 
her mouth wide and slobbered over my face in forgiveness. But she 
kept on crying, quite heart-rendingly now; the most appalling grief 
at my action rang through the weeping: I had struck her, struck 
her! Nor did I myself think that anything could ever be the same 
again; and there we sat with open mouths howling out our despair 


into each other's wet, grimy faces when my brother unexpectedly 

stepped in. 

He was out on an errand for the grocer, had delivered some goods 
out on Strandvejen and had just run home to "well, to give you 
a hand, you idiot. Something inside me told me you were howling." 

I do not know whether I believed entirely in his explanation, but 
he really did come as a rescuing angel. He had more strength to 
handle little Sister than I; in the turn of a hand he had changed 
her and was now walking round with her on his arm, talking 
nonsense to hen He was every bit as fond of children, not to say 
crazy about them, as I; we always have been, all we brothers and 
sisters, and still are, those of us who are alive although there was 
early plenty of wear and tear on this side of our nature. And Georg 
had, besides, a happy gift of gab, which I have unfortunately always 
lacked; he could always talk people over, and even little Sister 
answered with glad prattle, although she understood nothing of his 
fair words and promises. She was like a twittering bird on his arm. 

But Georg was always flighty, he quickly got enough of a thing. 
He soon put little Sister down and began to poke about, in the 
cupboard and everywhere. Mother had, however, locked up every- 
thing that might conceivably appeal to a boy suffering from chronic 
hunger. "Have you had your coffee yet?" No eh?" he asked, 
shaking the coffeepot which emitted a fairly well-filled gurgle. "But 
you've been drinking up the cream, you saucy brat." He was over at 
the coffee cup. 

"I have not, it just ran short," I retorted, ashamed arid yet glad 
that I had got there first. 

"Ran short? Yes, because you licked it up, so you did!" He 
laughed pityingly. "You think you can lick and it won't show just 
like a wee baby. But it simply can't be done." He gave me a look 
full of scorn. 

"No, I don't think that at all," I muttered, flushing hotly with 

"Yes, you do,'* he went on, irritatingly superior, and stared down 


into the empty cup with an expression which in spite of his habitual 
good nature boded me no good. "You lic\, so you do! Just a wee 
bit, and then a wee bit more, and just a litde wee bit more until 
there isn't any left. But of course you can't help that, you see, 
because you're a fool, and fools just can't help being stupid!" 

He kept on chatting good-naturedly, with his eyes on the bottom 
of the empty cup as though he were fascinated by what had been 
in it. Every sentence was like the lash of a whip; oh, how small he 
made me feel! And yet I worked just as much as he did, and looked 
after my little sister every day! It was certainly no angel that had 
guided his footsteps homeward today! I writhed under his amiable 
talk and overbearing smile, through both of which shone something 
that made me boil with rage. I wanted to kick him on the shins 
and then let out a piercing shriek as though he had hurt me so that 
people would come rushing in before he had a chance to revenge 
himself; he never remembered it afterward. I had used this method 
successfully with him before today! But then he suddenly forgot all 
about it and began snooping round again. 

On the wall of the kitchen hung a big cigar box that Father had 
made over into a spice cupboard and painted black. "Oh, look, 
here's a broken stick of cinnamon," cried Georg suddenly. "It 
wouldn't taste so bad in coffee either." He lit the gas in a hurry, and 
soon the coffee was on the kitchen table. 

But Sister did not leave us in peace. "Up, up!" sounded her ever- 
lasting cry from the floor, where she was crawling round. Every 
time she whined Georg made a face. "The little wretch! Come and 
chew her a sugar-teat so she'll stop pestering us." 

"But Mother doesn't want me to!" 

"Oh, rot, they do it everywhere else. They give them gin, too, 
and then they fall sound asleep. If only we had something." He got 
hold of a thin rag, chewed up a little of my bread-and-dripping, put 
it into the rag, and tied it up. "How's that for a sugar-teat, eh?" he 
said proudly and stuck it into Sister's mouth. "But you'll have to 
hold on good and tight to the end of the string, or she may swallow 


the whole thing and then" He made a vast descriptive movement 
with his arm. 

"What then?" I asked anxiously. 

"What then? Then she'll be an angel, stupid, and then you'll 
get a licking from Mother." 

There was something here I could not get to harmonize; but I 
faithfully held on to the string, while Sister lay on her back on the 
floor and sucked to her heart's content. "Now do you see how she 
likes it," said Georg. "Mother's just stupid." 

"She is not, for that's what you are yourself/' I answered, holding 
my elbow up to my head to ward off a box on the ear. "Mother 
knows more than anybody else in the world." 

But my brother just looked pityingly at me. "Oh, all right, we'll 
say she does then," he said patronizingly. "But you can surely see 
that it's just because it isn't refined to use a sugar-teat; it's Aunt 
Lassen, you know that darned well 'Now at the court we never 
use the sugar-teat!'" He disguised his voice and waggled his head 
genteelly; he got that from Father. Father couldn't bear Aunt 
Lassen, he said she smelled of the royal stables. 

Strange to relate, the coffee was not good. At first, of course, my 
brother pretended that it tasted fine to him. "You just have to take 
big mouthfuls," he said, making faces. But suddenly he spat the 
whole thing out into the sink. The cinnamon must have been too 
old, he thought. He got hold of a cup of sour mustard and began a 
new brew. 

"Well, hang it all, you certainly ought to like this," he said when 
the brew was ready, shoving it over to me with a reproachful look, 
as though I were the most unreasonable being on earth. Good Lord, 
he could always get me to do anything he wanted then as well as 
later; when he turned his tongue loose on me, I was enmeshed in 
a moment. I should, of course, have been sufficiently warned by 
numerous bitter experiences; but of what use is experience to us 
poor human creatures? It is said that the glance of certain animals 
has a paralyzing effect on their prey. That was how my brother's 


voice affected me; as soon, as it began to work on me, a feeling o 
helplessness stole over me, and I was hopelessly at the mercy of his 
often fantastic plans. 

He did not touch the new concoction himself; something in his 
roving glance revealed that he had given up the struggle and was 
just thinking of an excuse to make off. "Well, I'll have to be going 
now or 111 get a licking from the grocer," he said suddenly and slid 
down off the chair. "I'll just cut a bite off your lunch; you never 
eat anything anyway." 

"You might at least help me to get Sister up into the cradle," I 
said; it was her sleeping time and I had to run out for rusks for 
her dinner. But he hadn't a moment. With his mouth full of food 
he stuttered out some orders, liberally larded with "fool" and 
"blockhead," and ran off. 

He took all the lunch and I was hungry myself or grew hungry 
now that there was nothing left. He took it with the best conscience 
in the world, although he himself had his own lunch package with 
him and Mother had put this out for me! My little mind stood 
still at the idea that he could say that I never ate any lunch and I 
so hungry! I lay down beside Sister so as not to fall and hurt 
myself when death occurred. She had gone to sleep on the floor, 
and lay there drawing the sugar-teat out and in as she slept. I fell 
asleep beside her. 

I was awakened by her pulling my hair and screaming. We 
must have slept for a long time; the light in the kitchen had 
entirely changed. She was venomously angry, perhaps because Georg 
was no longer there or so I imagined. She was just like everybody 
else nobody but Georg would do! I couldn't manage to get her 
hoisted up into the cradle; it was as though she realized that I was 
not master of the situation and therefore did what she could to 
make it worse. When she would just help a little herself, I could 
move her; and she knew how to stretch up her arms very cleverly 
so that I could get hold of her from behind. But today she made 
herself stiff and unmanageable; every time I tried, she slipped out 


of my arms and hit her head on the floor. There she lay making a 
bridge with her back and kicking; and she squealed as though she 
had a knife in her throat. 

When she had really got going, there came a knocking on the 
wall from the Bigurm'. He had delirium tremens at that time; 
when the daughters were not there to look after him, he ran round 
with a knife and an axe in his hands. And today they must have 
forgotten to tie him to the bench; he was knocking in quite other 
places from where, according to my reckoning, the bench should be. 
Terror crept over me; whimpering, I threw myself over the baby 
and held her mouth so that her screaming should not attract the 
madman and lead him to put us to death. But she just screamed 
all the worse. Nobody appeared from the organ-grinder's, although 
I could hear them quarreling in there; and I could not lock the 
door. Mother had taken the key, lest I might, little as I was, lock 
us in. 

In my hour of need I began to pray, not to God, but to Fru 
Fredriksen, the beautiful young woman who lived upstairs, right 
above us, and who always had such a friendly smile for me when 
we met. Her husband was a gentleman's coachman and did not 
drink and they never quarreled; as a result she was not called 
Madam like the other women but Fru Fru Fredriksen! She had 
a baby that looked like an angel and she took it out riding in a real 
baby carriage. Fru Fredriksen looked like an angel herself and I 
called upon her in my thoughts. If only she would come and take 
us up with her, if only she would! I did not cry out, did not dare to 
scream because of the madman, but I felt sure that she heard my 

Suddenly the room darkened. I raised my head, filled with hope 
already and saw Bigum's blue, bloated face draw back from the 
window. The next moment he stood staggering in the doorway. 
Did he have the murderous weapon in his hands? I do not know; 
everything turned and whirled as on a merry-go-round, each 
moment he came swaying through the doorway, waving his great 


balloon-like arms; his huge, puffy face bulged like the surface of a 
tent in a wind. I screamed in frenzied terror, screamed so that every- 
thing around me crashed and was swallowed up in unfathomable 

I was slowly brought to my senses by a faraway whimpering 
underneath me, which came nearer and nearer; I did not dare to 
open my eyes, but I knew that it was little Sister. Swift, light steps 
sounded on the stairway from the apartment above; and the sound 
of those steps seeped in to me like a promise. Someone bent over us, 
a blessed voice broke the curse; the voice shone into all corners and 
drove the horror away. Tender arms surrounded us and lifted us up, 
both at once. It was Fru Fredriksen, I knew it without opening my 

Why should I open them for was I not being carried! Carried 
in the safest and loveliest way, like a child on its mother's arm. On 
the other arm sat little Sister; she took hold of my face with her 
tiny hands and tried to push me away. "Down," she repeated, 
"down" I had no business being carried. And indeed I felt a little 
the same way about it when I once became conscious of my situa- 
tion; I was embarrassed and wanted to be put down on the floor. 

"Oh, never mind!" said Fru Fredriksen, laughing and hugging 
me close. "You don't need to mind being carried, you little goose; 
why, you're just a wee fellow of five." 

Her words had a strangely liberating effect on the child in me; I 
realized that I was just little myself; my duties fell off me like 
broken linksand the all too burdensome feeling of responsibility! 
I bored my forehead into her neck and glided over blissfully into 
being tiny and helpless. There was no longer any "must," all weight 
was lifted from off my childish shoulders. Sister and I were on 
exactly the same childish footing, as we sat on Fru Fredriksen's 
sofa playing and eating cookies. 

Seldom, perhaps never, have I been placed in greater need; after- 
ward my infant mind lay waste, as though ravaged by a storm. 
But seldom, either, has life shed its inexhaustible goodness over me 


as then from a young mother's eyes. I have no longer any impres- 
sion of her form, nor of the room, nor of her little child. But the 
white forehead with the fine, fair hair around it, the delicately pink, 
slightly hollow cheeks, the fine chin and the eyes I see her before 
me as though it were yesterday that her all-bountiful eyes had dwelt 
upon me. 

No fire is to be likened to that of the blood when it is violently 
awakened, and no force, however concentrated, can compare with 
the serried strength of a human glance that castigates or caresses. A 
castigating glance may perhaps be effaced from the memory; I have 
had the good fortune to forget a few of that sort. But a face that 
sheds upon one in dire distress the tenderness of the heart is never 



XHE weak are soon forced to fall back on their wits for aid, and I 
gradually evolved a psychology of my own with Sister. I became 
more ingenious in thinking of ways to amuse her and learned how 
to manage her. It was of no use, for example, to flaunt my right of 
ownership; no matter what I had in my hand, she had to have it. 
Toys did not seem to interest her until she saw me playing with 
them. She was a little tyrant, and there was nothing to do but hand 
over whatever I had. Having once reached the point of complete 
submission and found that it paid, I went a step further. I no 
longer put a toy into her hands, for then she simply flung it away; 
instead, I would take it myself and pretend to be having a grand 
time with it. Then she would immediately demand it and throw 
herself eagerly upon it. Her interest was short-lived, to be sure, but 
by that time I would have something else in my hands that she was 
bound to have, and so on. It was not much fun. My ingenuity was 
kept constantly at white heat. But for the time being I was relieved 
of having to lug her round and could spare my puny strength. It 
finally became quite an art to fool her and pass the time until 
Mother came home. 

When she refused to eat her rusks and milk, I applied a similar 
method. She had no respect for me. I was too small for that. Severity 
got me nowhere with her. But when I pretended that I was eating 
some of the food myself and smacked my lips loudly, it helped her 
appetite along. 

Gradually, too, a manual dexterity is developed which in many 
cases is as good as the strength of a"bear. There is no better com- 


panion to have through life than skill of hand! Once acquired, it 
lasts a lifetime; and if it has been properly acquired in one sphere, 
the mastery of any kind of work comes easier. My skill of hand has 
more than once saved the day for me. 

Mother used to help also by getting me up before she left the 
house and herself putting Sister's clothes in order especially drawers 
and diapers, the two things that more than anything else could fill 
my life with problems! Before Georg went to his work in the city, 
he had to run over to Osterbrogade beside the Lakes and hire a 
pushcart for Mother. She would join him at the Triangle, take over 
the pushcart, and go on to Grontorvet to meet Madam Sandru, who 
in the meantime had purchased their supply of vegetables, fruit, 
shrimps, smoked herring whatever was in season. There was sys- 
tem in the work, everything was neatly fitted in! Mother had also 
left a basin of water and a sponge ready in case Sister should need it; 
and I attended to everything and was praised by Mother when her 
route led past the house and she looked in or when late in the 
afternoon she "came home for good." But it was and continued to 
be hard work the hardest I have ever had to do. This period I still 
regard as the most trying time of my life. 

Fru Fredriksen was a real bright spot in my existence. Since she 
had rescued me from horror itself on that disastrous day, it was 
always like conjuring forth the sun to turn my thoughts toward 
her. Indeed, even if I were not thinking of her, I had yet a feeling 
that there was sunshine somewhere near. She still kept to herself, 
but she must have followed our goings on from her sewing table, 
for she always had the good fortune to intervene when I was really 
sorely pressed. Once Sister had soiled me from head to foot. I didn't 
scream, because I was ashamed at the idea that anybody should see 
me. My sickly organism was excessively fastidious, and I suffered 
horribly. It is no exaggeration to say that I might very well have 
done something desperate to get out of this disgusting situation* 
"If only Fru Fredriksen would come," I thought, feeling ashamed at 
the same time. And lo, there she stood in the doorway with sponge 

and towel, as if she could see right through the floor what was going 
on at our place. Mother did not believe in angels, but Fru Fredriksen 
must surely be an angel! It was a comfort to know that she was near. 
For the rest, she minded her own business and kept away from 
Mother and the other women. Nor did she take us up to her apart- 
ment again which was a great disappointment to me. 

The trip out to Dyrehavsbakken was put ofif. Time after time 
Mother had declared that it would be this Sunday for sure; but 
something always came along and spoiled our plans. It was my own 
fault the first time. There was sunshine that day, and I had managed 
to lug Sister out on to the lawn between the rows of houses. We 
were sitting there with the other children from the Houses, digging 
at the root of one of the big trees. Sister had a broken wooden spoon 
in her hand and was singing at her play. I can still hear her voice 
distinctly. It was the tune to "Think thou of me, when fierce the 
tempest rages" she sang. She could not pronounce the words; they 
became just "a baba me." But the melody was absolutely pure. 

Mother and Madam Sandru were selling in our section that day. 
I could hear their voices, now down on Strandvejen, now over on 

Cherries, cherries, 
Fourpence a pound! 
Cherries, sweet cherries, 

Sister suddenly raised her head and began to roar; it made her 
heart sick to hear Mother's voice. I ran in for a pillow, and she 
immediately bored her head into it. I had discovered that this had 
a soothing effect. But sometimes even this did not help. Then her 
memories were of a more powerful nature, and I would have to 
smear a little sugar, which I was at great pains to deny my own 
mouth, on her thumb and put it into her mouth. 

But this time the song suddenly came very close, and they popped 


up with the pushcart down at the end of the row. Sister became 
quiet at once on Mother's arm; she buried her black little paws on 
Mother's breast and stared drunkenly at her. Mother laughed and 
took Madam Sandru into the house for a drop of coffee. 

In the meantime I was to look after the cart. I sat on one of the 
shafts so that it should not tip up. I felt very proud. The youngsters 
from the Houses flocked round the cart. Its tempting contents of 
black and red cherries were like thousands of eyes laughing up at 
the sun. "Aw, give us a cherry! Just one little rotten one," begged 
the children. But I shook my head, looking as though I could easily 
have given the whole lot away if I had felt like it. It just didn't occur 
to me, in this case to a tribe of urchins like that! I had a welcome 
opportunity to assert authority, something seldom vouchsafed me. 

They stood around me hungry-eyed. All the fruit we children of 
the Houses ever tasted was what we could watch our chance to steal 
in the market gardens on Strandvejen and from carts. Suddenly a 
boy sprang forward, snatched a handful o cherries, and ran- 1 forgot 
everything and dashed off to catch him. Behind me rose a shout of 
many voices, wails of woe from the girls mingled with cries of joy 
from the boys. The cart had tipped up and all the lovely cherries 
lay in the dust. 

Mother came out first. She was white in the face and looked as 
though she were going to fall down. She did not scold, Ah ? if she 
had only given me a box on the ear! What she did v^as ten times 
worse. "You'll pay for this all right when Father comes home," 
she said trembling. 

Her words sent a chill through me. She had often enough begged 
my brother and me not to mention a word of it to Father, when 
some misfortune or other had befallen her; quite unnecessarily, for 
the last thing that would have occurred to either of us would have 
been to give Mother away. And now she was threatening to give 
me away and what was more, for something I could not help. For 
I had, of course, acted with the best intentions I wanted to punish 
the thief! That was hard to swallow and I had to turn my back on 


her and everything else; I stood with my forehead against a tree and 
was miserable. 

Mother must have regretted her ill-considered words at once, for 
she began to speak kindly to me; and when that had no effect, she 
turned me round and smiled at me. But for once I defiantly resisted 
even her bright smile. "All right then, I'll tell on you some time/' 
I said angrily and ran away and hid in the common washhouse. I 
crept in under a big rinsing tub and pulled it down over me. Madam 
Sandru came in and dragged me out. "Come on, boy," she said, "and 
he can have some crushed cherries." She always said "he" to me and 
was so funny that I had to give in. The cherries were gathered up 
and washed, and the ones that were crushed worst were divided up 
among the children of the Houses. I got a whole plateful from 
Mother. But it was a long time before I forgave her for wanting to 
betray me. I never entirely forgot it. 

The cherries did not keep well after being washed and had to 
be sold at a loss; and Mother, of course, had to stand this loss. So 
there could be no excursion that Sunday. And the next week there 
was something the matter with Georg. I was not told what it was, 
but Mother had to take him home from the grocer's and pay the 
man several kroner. Mother just looked vague and worried when I 
asked her; and when I asked Georg, he answered: "Oh, it's damages 
of course, you fool!" And with that I had to be satisfied. 

There was another Sunday gone, and I had to bear my disappoint- 
ment in silence and not bring up the subject. For then Mother 
would begin to cry brokenheartedly over both of us. If we didn't 
know before what miserable creatures we were, we certainly knew 
it now. 

But then something happened which Mother with good reason 
called a miracle. Father sent money. Ten kroner he sent, and it 
completely transformed her. She acted as though she had won a 
fortune in the lottery. Actually the money was not for us, but to 
renew Father's lottery ticket. However, since Mother had already 


renewed it, we got the good of the money anyway. And in the most 
wonderful way, too. 

"If Father only knew that we're going picnicking on his hard- 
earned pennies, he'd be mad as blazes," said Mother as she was 
packing the lunch basket. 

And thus we opened our eyes on a red-letter day. On such a day 
you waken up yourself, aroused by the brightest expectations. Some- 
thing golden pricks you lightly on the eyelids, and when you open 
them, the air is not gray but filled with a strange radiance. And then 
suddenly the fact bursts in on you, explodes like a bomb, filling the 
air with fireworks. It sputters and crackles on all sides: We're off 
to the woods today! Today we're off to the woods! Hurray! 

"Do stop that noise now, you're enough to drive a body crazy!" 
comes Mother's voice from the kitchen. "Hurry up and get into your 
clothes and then you can take Sister over." Where she was taken, I 
have forgotten. She was probably left with Aunt Trine, who had 
recently moved into the apartment above us. The main thing was 
that she was left somewhere. Today I had nothing to look after and 
be responsible for. I was entirely my own master. It was a glorious 
feeling! Hurray! 

It had to happen, of course, that the Nielsens were also going to 
the woods just that Sunday, out to see the husband who played 
there for a merry-go-round in the summer. But Mother would have 
no more of their company. It was Ludvig, the youngest Nielsen boy, 
who had got Georg to count wrong at the grocer'sand there would 
have to be a stop to that! "The Lord help you if I ever catch you 
with those louts in there!" said Mother. 

The Nielsens were up early, too. They were probably afraid we 
might give them the slip. "We'll just not bother to make the sand- 
wiches," whispered Mother, "and pack the bread whole in the 
basket. It won't dry out then, either." She laughed and whispered, 
scurrying round, hushing us as though the Nielsens could hear what 
we said, giddy as a girl. I liked her that way; it was like having a 


big sister. But it seemed funny to me that she could seriously think 
the walls had ears. 

And what a basket she packed! There was a glass of anchovies, 
real Bornholm herrings, radishes, a cold pancake for each of us, a 
cup of butter wrapped up in a big dock leaf from the ditch on 
Strand vej en, bread from Kristineberg which I had fetched all by 
myself for the first time rye bread and white bread with poppy 

It was still morning, but the omnibuses, with awnings up and 
decorated with Danish flags, were already stationed on the Triangle. 
Ours was soon filled and we rolled out along Strandvejen. 

The first part of the road was almost too well known. On the 
left lay the Houses, extending up to the East Common, and on fhe 
right came first Gardener Love's orchards, which we boys of the 
Houses had visited often enough, then the road leading down to 
where Father worked, along which I had already trotted several 
times and then suddenly the Sound opened before us with sun 
and sailboats! This far I had often been allowed to go. The black 
water tanks of Strandvejen, set up on high posts, were old acquaint- 
ances. And I had more than once waded barefoot through the layer 
of stone dust several inches thick that covered Strandvejen, shrouding 
everything in a thick cloud, and had cut my feet deep enough to 
draw blood on the fragments of glass treacherously hidden at the 
bottom of the soft, inviting dust of the road. 

Thus far I could safely shout joyful recognition and no doubt did 
so most extravagantly the world looked so much more elegant 
from high up in a bus than when you were down paddling in the 
midst of it. Mother had to keep hushing me. But beyond Lille 
Vibenshus the world should have been new and strange to me. 
And for all my parents knew, it was, too. Georg was busy kicking 
me on the legs and winking at me for fear I should let the cat out 
of the bag. The truth was that we had wandered away one day 
when we were at home alone and were supposed to mind little 
Sister. Georg had simply left her in the care of some other children 


and then off we had gone. But that was not the only thing that had 
made the trip criminal. Far, far away, beyond both the known and 
the unknown, we had broken into the garden of a country house 
and robbed a cherry tree. 1 

We had been surprised by the owner, received our punishment, 
and got home without Mother's having discovered anything; so far 
everything was in the best of order. Georg feared my thoughtlessness 
and garrulity and with good reason; I was no diplomat then, nor 
have I become one since. He was ready to start a fight to get me to 
shut my mouth. Mother looked in surprise from the one to the 

But then the world became new in earnest. I had never yet been 
out here. In many places the Sound rippled right up to the road, 
and on the other side between the woods the open farmland stretched 
inward with cows and horses and big farmhouses. The humming 
of the insects (I thought it was the sun sitting up there in the sky 
and purring with well-being), the little booths along the road with 
the good woman peeking out among her doughnuts and sugar 
sticks it all seemed strange and wonderful to me and made me 
dizzy, nay, downright drunk, with joy. Mother had to keep hushing 
me, I didn't know why. I could not hear my own giddy prattle and 
felt it only as a sort of luxurious inner expansion. The passengers 
laughed and looked, and Mother was ashamed for me. Finally she 
slapped me to make me keep quiet. 

Mother, who had spent her childhood out here, had many mem- 
ories to revive. From the place where the bus stopped we walked to 
Taarbaek, where Mother had been placed with foster parents. She 
had acquaintances in almost every house and had to have a chat 
with them. In the meantime I hopped round impatiently at her 
hand pulling at her now and then when it got too much for me. 
My laced boots, which had come down to me from Georg, were 
too small, and there were nails in them that hurt my feet when I 
walked. Georg had run off by himself, and when Mother had finally 

1 The short story Indian Summer is based on this excursion. 


talked herself out and got a fisherman to turn down the nails in 
my shoes and we were ready to go on, he was nowhere to be found. 
Finally we discovered him in a boat in the harbor and were able to 
get started on our way. His eyes were full of adventure; he had 
been fishing and was just about to make a catch. I was green with 

It was more fun in the woods. Mother told us about her childhood 
experiences, when she used to be sent to gather firewood or pick 
whortleberries in the swamp. In those days there were both snakes 
and adders out here, and she used to go barefoot. When she felt 
something and looked to see whether she had been bitten, there 
were flowers between her toes! It was terrifying but ended hap- 
pily; and the woods became alive with horror and delight as Mother 
told her stories. We ate our lunch beside a broad river into which the 
trees dipped their sun-drenched leaves, making the water quite 
green. Georg was allowed to go right down and dip his hand into it. 
He came back declaring that it was stagnant like the water at the 
Ox Pasture. Mother was offended; he had no right to call the water 
stagnant that drove three whole factories! It was the river of her 

Before we ate, Mother took the altitude of the sun. She sought 
out a certain spot on the brink of the stream, where as a child she 
used to devour the chunk of bread she had brought with her. There 
she sat down and peered at the sun. When it got behind a certain 
knot in the big beech that leaned out over the river, it was noon. 
And it was right on the dot, it was exactly twelve o'clock. We could 
all check it by comparing the position of the sun with the state o 
our stomachs. 

Mother had pulled my shoes off while we were resting, and when 
we wanted to move on again, they could hardly be got on. And now 
followed a tramp through the woods that seemed endless. I was tired 
and Mother tireless. It always seemed to be just as far as ever to 
Dyrehavsbakken. "Won't we soon be there?" I whimpered. Mother 
called me an ungrateful little wretch and shook me by the arm. The 


last thing I remember is that I lay down. I could go no farther. It 
had been a long day, and the excitement had done its share I could 
not be shaken awake. I got to Dyrehavsbakken all right, for Mother 
carried me up to a refreshment tent where she knew the people, and 
there I slept on, while she and Georg amused themselves. 

I have one more memory of the great day: I awakened on a chair, 
we were home, and Mother was on her knees in front of the chair 
pulling off my shoes. It was just a flash; my eyes fell shut again. 

Of Dyrehavsbakken, to which I had looked forward so eagerly, 
I saw nothing that time, neither Master Jakel, the man who could 
eat fire, nor the ropedancer, nor any of the other marvels that were 
to be seen out there. But my brother described them to me so graph- 
ically that it finally seemed as though I had experienced them myself* 
And I had had the anticipation often the best part of things! 


jSisTER W as fond of Father, and apparently I had been, too, when 
very small; but as soon as I began to understand, I became afraid 
of him. Perhaps it is better to say that I like Mother and Georg 
was in terror of him. He was seldom the source of any joy for us. 
We did not rush to meet him when he came home, but rather slunk 
out of the way. Any other father would take his boy by the hand, 
when he came running out to meet him. Father usually began to 
grumble about something or other that was not as it should be, and 
if he had been drinking, he held a regular Judgment Day. 

We did not see much of him anyway. He left the house at four 
o'clock in the morning, and Mother usually tried to have us out of 
the way when he came home in the evening. If it was late, and it 
often was, he was sure to be at least tipsy, and then the sense of his 
parental duties would rise up in him and he would begin to call us 
to account. Mother was always anxious when he was in this mood. 
She feared his leaden fists and did not dare to come directly between 
them and us. But how wise she was in warding off and forestalling 
them! Her gentle, loving mind was always thinking of us; she was 
just not brave when it came to taking the blows herself. 

When Father was really drunk, he was not ugly in the way that 
he was when he was merely tipsy. He was rather like a funny, good- 
humored bear until something irritated him from without. And 
generally it was at Mother he took offense. Perhaps bad conscience 
had something to do with it, too; when he was drunk, he took it out 
on Mother. Often enough she was herself to blame, for she could not 
hold her tongue. 

Aunt Trine, Father's sister, had, as I have mentioned, moved into 
the apartment above us with her sick husband and three children, 
two bright, lively little girls and a boy who was not all there and 
walked with crutches. He squinted, and if you spoke to him he 
might suddenly hit you over the head with his crutch. 

Uncle Mathias was bedridden and Aunt supported the home; she 
worked at a brewery as bottle washer. Only once did I see Uncle up; 
he stood leaning against the head of the bed, while it was being 
made. His shirt was very short and his legs very long and stalky. 
He was always as pale as a ghost and racked with pain, like the Christ 
that hung over Mother's chest of drawers, and he had a thin beard 
through which the wan skin gleamed and long, strange fingers that 
seemed to go out of joint when he wrung his hands. And this he did 
constantly. Mother called him an afflicted man. The way she said 
it made my childish imagination heap horrors about him. 

Aunt Trine was still darker than Father, small of stature and 
almost coal-black. There was always the same fixed smile on her 
face, as though she were wandering in a strange closed world of 
enchantment, invisible to all the rest of us, I marveled at this and 
asked Mother why Aunt Trine was always so happy. Mother sighed 
deeply: "Oh, the poor soul, just never mind why; she has troubles 
enough to bear." 

"She's a lucky one," said Father, "they're allowed to drink all the 
beer they want at the brewery where she works and take it home 
with them too. It wouldn't hurt her to slip us a couple of bottles 
once in a while," 

"I didn't think you had much use for beer," said Mother with a 
sly glance at Father, who was sitting on the sofa reading to himself 
in a loud whisper. 

"Gin's healthier," said Father. "They can praise this fine new- 
fangled stuff as much as they like. Gin's made of good Danish grain, 
and I'm used to it. At home in Bornholm everybody got his ration of 
gin, we children, too. It builds up resistance, you seel That's why I 
got along so much better than anybody else when I was working at 

the distillery. You sometimes had to drink a quart a day there!" 
Father spoke more to us children than to Mother. He nodded at 
every word, from which I could tell that he had had something to 
drink, Georg had discovered it, too, and we made signs to Mother 
to be careful! It would be best for her to agree with him as we did 
or at least keep quiet! 

But Mother had not sufficient self-control for that. She sniffed 
scornfully: "Pooh, you and your power of resistance you should 
talk! If you're as hardened as you say, why is it that you can't stand 
the sight of a bottle?" 

We were hushing her and pulling at her dress, one on each side. 
I was already howling and Georg looked cross. "Oh, do be quiet, 
Mother! Please do keep quiet!" we begged and threatened. 

Father laughed and nodded his head: "Do keep quiet, Mother 
ha! If you can get her to keep quiet, Hans Jorgen Andersen will 
stand a round. Oh, do be quiet, Mother!" He laughed wryly. 

"A round for your children, I suppose? That's just like you. 
You'd have me go round here and be the slave of a drunken sot like 
you- and keep quiet! But if you beat me to death for it, you'll hear 
the truth." Mother was fairly beside herself with rebellion; it was 
as though she actually wanted to defy Father. 

Perhaps it was the word "beat" that did it. Father got up heavily. 
"Oh, so you'll keep on after death, too, will you?" He came over 
between the sofa and the table. "Well, I think something short of 
killing you will do." 

Mother screamed and ran into the corner beside the stove; she had 
time enough to get out of the room, but stood there holding her arms 
up in front of her. I could not understand her. And why she had not 
kept quiet but had gone on heaping reproaches upon Father was 
quite beyond my comprehension. We threw ourselves against him; 
disregarding his leaden fists, we clung to his arms and begged him 
to leave Mother alone. For a moment he seemed to waver, but then 
the word "beat" struck him like the lash of a whip, and he flung us 
aside. "Beat me then, just go right ahead and let your children see 


you abuse their mother!" she screamed. It was almost as though 
she were really daring him to strike her. Father ducked his head 
under her reproaches and made for hen My brother and I threw 
ourselves upon him from behind, screaming frantically. He struck 
out at us, landing me such a blow in the face with the back of his 
hand that I flew across the floor and struck the back of my head 
against something hard. 

When I came to, I was lying on the sofa and Mother was leaning 
over me, washing the blood off my face. Father had gone; he had 
not touched Mother after all, and had himself picked me up and 
laid me on the sofa before he left. 

"If only I had got the blow myself," said Mother, weeping as she 
washed me oflf. 

"It's easy enough for you to say that now," growled Georg. "But 
you just can't stand up to a blow at all all you can do is use your 

It was true that Father had been brought up if not just on gin 
itself, at least on the odor of it. In his childhood, secret distilling was 
still common in Bornholm. True, they no longer supped up schnapps 
with a spoon in place of soup, as they had done in the busy harvest- 
time in Grandfather's childhood, but both women and children got 
their share of it. The children were given their quarter of a pint to 
take to school with them (as is still said to be the case in certain 
parts of the Black Forest and here and there in Switzerland), and 
the women took just as big a drink with their lunch as the men. 
Grandfather's family had a reputation for making extra good home- 
brewand also for consuming it. Anna Mikkelsen, a cousin of 
Father's, had had a pint a day as a fixed ration for many years. 
Grandfather himself consumed a like amount daily until he was up 
in the sixties. Then the miser in him rose up against the drinker and 
triumphed no doubt after a hard inner struggle; he gave up drink- 
ing entirely. Father's brothers and sisters all had a weakness for 

Nevertheless, I do not believe in the theory that addiction to drink 


is hereditary, that it is transmitted as a craving for spirits in the cells 
themselves. If that were the case, the Danish nation, which a good 
hundred and fifty years ago was thoroughly sottish, must long since 
have perished. A great deal of false, and consequently unsuccessful, 
agitation has been carried on against drinking. Inherited ill-health 
has rarely been the cause of the common man's taking to the bottle. 
It has more often been the need to bring a little excitement into 
existence! Painting the devil on the wall and picturing his descend- 
ants as hydrocephalics or complete idiots did not frighten him. For 
there were his youngsters running round at home, and as long as 
he did not feed them on gin but could get decent food for them, they 
thrived excellently in spite of his daily swigs. Most of them were con- 
ceived during a spreeor the reconciliation afterward; but they 
were no devils with horns for all that. Degeneration and alcohol 
have very little to do with each other; and where they have, degen- 
eration is the cause and not the effect; the swigging is done to bol- 
ster up the ebbing will to live. And here, too, the problem is primarily 
one of excitement. The advanced and steadily increasing sobriety 
among the lower classes has little to do with the temperance agita- 
tion! It is closely linked up with the fact that the common people 
have found something to live for : ideas to fight for and the feeling of 
counting for something as human beings. 

Naturally the milieu plays a great role for the growing genera- 
tion in its relation to drinking its surroundings and the attitude it 
has taken up toward them. It is not easy to protect oneself against 
evil customs. If people are in close contact with hard drinking on all 
sides, they are likely to become callous and regard it as perfectly 
natural On the other hand, they may equally well rebel against bad 
habits, especially if, like me, they have rebellion in the blood, if they 
are what are generally called cranks. But this requires regenerative 
powers which are none too common among the children of men. 
Hero-worship also plays a role in the attitude o the young toward 
drinking. The young lad just stepping out into life after confirma- 
tion may perhaps be so unfortunate as to find his hero among the 


drinkers. For liquor has also its romantic side; under its influence 
men sometimes perform real deeds of valor! What is more impor- 
tant, however, is that young people fortunately are able to react 
against drinking, to assert themselves as human beings and try in 
this sphere also to gain the mastery over existence, 

On the paternal side our family had, as I have said, soaked long 
and thoroughly in alcohol; on the maternal side I lack the informa- 
tion to judge of matters. Yet of all us children who lived to grow 
up, Georg was the only one with a weakness for alcohol; and it 
certainly went along with the rest of his mental make-up. We other 
six have never had anything to contend with on that score. Even as 
children we reacted against alcohol, and its curse has glanced off 
from us ever since, curiously enough without any of us having been 
interested in the temperance movement. On the contrary, we can 
all enjoy a glass! Regeneration, which is seldom, dwelt upon, al- 
though its relation to degeneration is like that of life to its cinders, 
has helped us to a good solution of this problem, the greatest, per- 
haps, with which the struggle against cold has confronted mankind, 
It has brought us into the proper relationship of mastery over alco- 
hol as one enjoyment among many. 

I myself, especially as a child, was strongly repelled by alcohol in 
every form; it is not too much to say that in my childhood and on 
through my boyhood years I hated it When I grew bigger, I became 
more tolerant in a way; but the aversion turned inward, so to speak, 
and became purely physical I had become reconciled to schnapps 
to the extent that I was beginning to see it in a larger connection, 
and from my growing experience I recognized that drinking was a 
result rather than a cause. But I just could not get it down. During 
my apprenticeship there was much drinking in the workshops; the 
gin bottle made its rounds several times a day, I used to fetch the 
drink and cheerfully contributed the ore or two that fell to my 
share, although I was very poor. But when it came to drinking, an 
invisible stopper intervened as soon as I put the bottle to my lips, 
I began to feel like vomiting. It was a physical reaction over which 


I had no control and which has since left me. I sometimes find now 
that schnapps smells wonderful far better than it tastes! But I still 
feel nauseated when I smell the breath of a drunken man; meeting 
one may upset me completely. 

And unfortunately I very often run into drunken people; so often 
that I begin to see a Fate or Nemesis in it. Even in the busiest 
street, where friends and enemies pass by without catching sight 
of one, I can be sure that the glassy stare of the dead drunk man will 
fix upon me. The street may be black with people and he reeling 
along on the opposite sidewalk, chattering away to himself with 
hanging head. He sees nobody, the street is empty for him; and I am 
already hoping to slip past this time. Perspiring slighdy, I seek cover 
behind other pedestrians going in the same direction. But when he 
gets diagonally opposite me, the same thing always recurs with un- 
varying precision. He gives a start, raises his head, and cuts across 
the street, straight for me. While still in the middle of the roadway, 
he lifts his hand to point at me and begins to denounce me. Then 
we have the crowd, and the ungovernable reaction which the sight 
of a drunken man calls forth in me. How often have I wished that 
an automobile would run the man down and thus break the chain 
of drunks that winds through my existence! 

While I am as strongly repelled as ever by the abuse of alcoholic 
beverages, I am not opposed to their use, and find it unreasonable 
that life should be deprived of what they have to give of beauty and 
health because they can be abused. When in 1894 I was sent South 
with sick lungs and totally given up by the doctors, it was the wine 
of Italy more than the sun and air of the country that brought me 
round. It started the blood flowing in my veins and revived my 
appetite. Should I not then love the wine to which I owe my life? 
What one loves, one does not abuse! 

Drunkenness is called a social evil, and it is, but only secondarily. 
In the first place it is a social eruption, a symptom of disease; the 
disease itself is of an internal nature and can better be cured from 
within than by putting powder over the rash. The great majority of 


the drink addicts I have known among workers have been able 
men, men who could do things and who also laid claims upon life 
both for material competence and for a certain intellectual stimulus. 
These claims were seldom honored a few decades ago, and those 
who suffered in consequence diluted their demands with alcohol. 
Liquor gave a man for a little while the illusion of what he came so 
miserably short of in reality; he was no longer a beast of burden, 
looked down upon by all, but a human being, yes, a devil of a fellow! 
He dared to pound on the table and tell his employer the truth, take 
his coat and go, if it came to that. The worker had no power as a 
member of his class in those days, but as long as the intoxication 
lasted, he had at least the feeling of counting for something as an 
individual. The wide-awake part of the working class is today the 
soberest stratum of society. 

Father was undoubtedly a man of good abilities. He wrote a 
beautiful hand, something of a phenomenon at that time, liked to 
read, and had a weakness for trying to interpret things for himself; 
he never passed on second-hand opinions and was by that token 
necessarily a man of few words. In this he was the strongest con- 
trast to Mother. Gay and happy as she was by nature, she came much 
easier by her opinions and did not weigh her words too nicely. As 
a child I have often read the cold contempt in Father's eyes, when 
Mother was improvising freely on some question that was being 
discussed, and have since asked myself if they were not too different. 
There is nothing so beautiful as silence, but it made Mother un- 
happy. And my brother Georg, too, for that matter. 

Perhaps Father and Mother were too disparate for a good union; 
he was at least a different person away from home. Letters of his 
that have survived reveal him as a clever and critical man, full of 
odd conceits, irreverent; and among his comrades he had a reputa- 
tion for ready wit and ability to tell a good story. There was a cer- 
tain glamor about him and I remember several occasions when 
Mother threw this up at him. "Out there with them you're the life 


of the party, but to us here at home you're a devil!" she said once. 
I was myself to have an opportunity one day to see this side o 
Father's nature which was so foreign to us at home. 

When, as a crofter's son of nineteen or twenty, Father left Born- 
holm for the capital, he was one of those young men who are after 
something out of the ordinary. Life was too narrow and class dis- 
tinctions too rigid for him there at home; nobody could be any- 
thing but what he was born to. He was a self-reliant man, industrious 
and temperate he wanted to get ahead. He can scarcely have had 
any basic defect at that time. Mother thought not, in any case. He 
was the best man you could think of, she always said later, handsome, 
good, spruce a rare man! Right up to her death at the age of 
eighty-two she would rave like a young girl when the conversation 
was about Father during the first years of their life together; and 
she still continued to be in love with him all her days, even after, 
when well on in her sixties, she gave up the hopeless struggle against 
his weakness and divorced him. In her opinion it was at Kristians- 
havn that he was ruined. While we lived there, he worked at one 
of the big distilleries as head dairyman. At that time the distilleries 
used to keep a large stock of cows to use up the waste products of 
distillation, and the stablemen as well as the real distillery workers 
were paid one quarter of their weekly wage in the form of gin, 
which they had then to try to get rid of themselves. 

This fiendish method was also applied wherever it could be in 
other industries. The already tilting cart was given as hard a push 
as possible. No wonder if the workers became sots! 



^SOMEONE or other Ellen Key, I think has called the nineteenth 
century "the century of the child." This is one of the fair falsehoods 
in which liberalism in its heyday was so rich; in reality no age has 
been so cruel to the child as the age of industrialism, which finally 
in order not to exterminate it altogether was forced to legislate 
against itself. Feudalism, with which I was to become acquainted 
when in my eighth year we went home to Bornholm, used the 
child but did not abuse it; nor was it wasteful of human beings in 
general. The child had to make itself useful, but the demands upon 
it were small; as they were also on the grown-up people sweated 
labor had not been reduced to a system. The child helped, worked 
together with its parents and grandparents, usually at home. 

Industrialism is the first system to make the child an object of ex- 
ploitation. It measures the child's small strength beside that of the 
grown-up worker purely from the standpoint of profit and pushes 
it in behind the machine wherever there is a penny to be made on it, 
uses it to force out the adult, turns its puny powers fatally against 
its own father. Or mother, for often it is the wife who, as the cheaper^ 
labor, must force the man out, so that the child, still cheaper, can put 
the mother on the street. 

In my childhood all the children of people in poor circumstances 
slaved, and so did their mothers if they could get work. The men 
were really the ones who had it least hard, since they spent a part of 
the working time at the saloon. This did no particular harm to the 
employers, who, of course, took in again with both hands what was 
lost. Consequently they looked with favor upon steady drinking and 


generally set up gin shops and saloons themselves near the place of 
work, where the workers could get schnapps and beer for use while 
working, or sit and drink when they were tired of being on the job. 
They got it on credit and the week's consumption was deducted when 
the accounts were settled on Saturday. Often the settling of accounts 
took place in the canteen itself to make sure that all the sheep were 
sheared; what the employer paid out with one hand, he literally took 
in again with the other. 

The children of "the century of the child" had, as a rule, to live 
their childhood without knowing what it means, humanly speaking, 
to have a father. He "the man" as my little sister called Father left 
home at four o'clock in the morning; when the children awakened, 
he had long been gone. And when he returned in the evening, the 
mother had usually seen to it that they were out of the way; one never 
knew, of course, what state he might be in. On Sunday he generally 
slept until well on in the forenoon, dressed and went out to look up 
his comrades; only if there were visitors would he perhaps stay at 
home. It would have been difficult for any very cordial relationship to 
spring out of this; he remained a stranger "the man." 

The children dung all the more to the mother, but "the century of 
the child" did not let them have her, either. It was a sheer delight 
when her work was such that they could be allowed to accompany 
her delivering papers, for instance. Otherwise they had a larger 
share in her duties than in herself. There was not much time for 
play, food was not very plentiful, and clothes were poor. And the 
inost important thing of all, happiness t was very scarce. Industrialism 
turned life into a hell for the child. 

And it was not made any easier by the fact that you saw before 
your eyes that it could be otherwise. There was a new kind of 
people emerging in my childhood, a sect, almost, people who were 
different from the rest, who held meetings with singing and speak- 
ing, and who went to the woods with their wives and children on 
Sundays instead of sitting in the saloon. In that they resembled the 
other pious folk, but there was also a certain audacity about them 

that the others did not have. They set themselves up against the 
authorities, marched round in procession with a red banner in front 
of them, and wanted themselves to decide the wages for their work. 
Mother and the other women often talked about them as a half- 
crazy set of people who wanted to turn everything upside down. 
They even went so far as to take their week's wages home instead 
of drinking them up, and did not want their wives and children to 
have to go to work! 

There were some of these people living in the Houses, too, and 
I secredy envied their children. We called them the "socialist brats/' 
but the epithet was really dictated by envy; actually, we would have 
been glad to change places with them. They were better kept than 
we and felt themselves better, too; they seemed to have been smit- 
ten with the self-confidence of their fathers. But the most painful 
thing of all was to witness the comradely relationship that existed 
between such a "socialist brat" and his father. Now in the summer- 
time these strange workers came home from work while it was still 
broad daylight; the mother had washed the children, they trudged 
off hand in hand to meet the father and were allowed to ride 
home on his shoulder. I could have howled at the sight, and once 
or twice I watched for Father, hoping to experience something 
similar. But, alas, nothing came of it. 

And then one Saturday the miracle happened of itself! Father 
had come home from his work in Jutland and had started in again 
at the quarry down at the Limekiln Harbor. The heavy atmosphere 
of old lay over the home again; now we were no longer ourselves. 
We had to move cautiously and watch every word lest we should 
betray something from the lovely time when he was away. The 
week passed, and with Saturday came the usual fateful question: 
Would he bring any of the week's wages home, and how much? 
Upon that depended the whole week to come; it decided even the 
plentifulness of the bread-and-dripping. 

On Saturday afternoon Mother had come home early as usual. 
In contrast to the other six days of the week, she kept us up on 


Saturday evening so that we should be ready to run off to the 
grocer's and the butcher's, if 

We had not yet got huddled together for the painful wait, during 
which we children used to pass the time whispering stories, while 
Mother sat with her head buried in her hands, when we heard the 
well-known footsteps, and Father entered Father, who we thought 
was comfortably settled in the saloon for the evening! His step was 
different, his face brighter. He slowly hung his cap and lunch basket 
up beside the stove, then came forward into the room and laid a 
handful of money on the table. Ten kroner, the whole week's wages! 
"There, Mama!" he said in an embarrassed voice without looking 
at any of us. "See if you can put us up a real good lunch basket now. 
We're going to the woods tomorrow." 

Mother almost cried out, but wisely restrained herself; too strong 
an outburst of joy on her part might easily have driven Father into 
himself again. She pressed her forearm against her waist and said 
softly: "Oh, I feel queer!" Father looked at her suspiciously. 

"How about sending the boys off, then?" he said. 

It was actually true. Not only were the purchases substantial reali- 
ties, but the next day we all went off together to the woods! Where 
we were, I do not know now; all I know is that I walked at Father's 
hand and that I was drunk with bliss. The hard fist, that could fall 
so heavily, closed gently about my little hand, and I had to keep 
looking up at him every minute and saying to myself: 'You are 
my father!" I no longer remember what we saw and experienced on 
the trip, probably did not pay much attention to the surroundings. 
One thought possessed me completely: Would Father let me ride 
on his shoulder too, like those other fathers who in my opinion were 
the right kind? I did not dare to ask him, but my shoes, which were 
too small for me, came to my aid. After we had been walking for 
some time, I could bear it no longer. Mother whispered something 
to Father, and suddenly I flew up into the air and sat riding on 
his shoulders with my hands clasped round his high sweaty fore- 


head. That made amends for many things; it was one of the happiest 
moments of my life. 

In a big open space in the woods a large crowd of people had 
gathered. A bearded man was standing on a platform, shouting 
and waving his arms. "We workers," he shouted and looked like 
an apostle. I was very much taken up with him, and when I came 
to myself, the others had gone. It was as though the earth had opened 
up beneath rne; I was accustomed to a quick recoil from every 
pleasure, and regarded it as a matter of course that I should never 
see them again a sad matter of course. I sank into black despair 
and ran round whimpering. I hadn't the heart to cry out loud; it 
was much too hopelessly sad for that. Especially about Father. For 
the first time in my life perhaps, I thought most about him. I had 
just got a father with warm, kind hands and a kind smile and now 
he would never see me any more. How sorry I was for him! 

People picked me up and wanted to take me up to the platform 
to have me called out; it promised to be not only a sad, but a down- 
right shameful story. I was still at the age when it is easier for chil- 
dren to fix their attention on the legs of grown-up people than on 
their faces, and suddenly I espied in front of me Father's light gray 
trouser-legs and the shiny shoes with the bunions, and screeched out: 
"Father! Father I** People stuck their fingers in their ears and 

FOR a while after this happy day I lived in a state of intoxication. I 
watched like a miser lest anything escape me, lay awake at night 
and listened for Father's heavy breathing, and imagined myself 
performing some great deed so that he should never again need 
to work in the quarry. In the morning when he was going to work, 
I wakened and lay there, following him with my eyes while he 
got ready to go; his every move was of vital importance to me. 
Before he left, he usually sat down at the table with a candle and 
melted tar into the deep cracks in his hands caused by tools and 
wet; and I would sit up on the sofa and stare at him, shuddering 
and admiring. Father was constantly in my mind, occupied it 
completely. I went round with something of his in my hand all day 
long. In the evening I got Mother to fix my bow tie for me and 
ran to meet him, far down along the Old Limekiln Road, so that 
the walk home hand in hand might be as long as possible. Mother 
was quite jealous. "You're clean father-crazy, boy," she said as she 
got me ready. 

During this period it is as though all reality were non-existent, 
had vanished, giving place to sheer happiness. What happened round 
about had no effect upon me; I remember nothing of it. Uncle 
Mathias died and Aunt Trine moved into the Old Town with the 
children, but it made no impression on me; what took place during 
this time I have had to find out later from others. For me there "was 
only Father! I was jealous of Georg because he was allowed to 
help him. 

Hitherto I had lived in dread of the day when Father would say 


that now I was big enough to come out to the stone quarry; Mother 
could get me to do anything at all merely by reminding me that 
I could easily get leave to help Father if that would suit me better. 
But now the fear of the heavy stones and the cold out there by the 
stormy Sound was gone. I begged and pleaded to be taken along, 
and when that did not avail, I ran out alone o<ne afternoon. Father 
made fun of me, even in the hearing of the other workmen: "You 
little sissy! Why, you can't even lift a paving stone from the ground!'* 
He let me try, and unfortunately it proved to be as he said; I could 
not budge the stone. I was dreadfully mortified. 

"It's still frozen fast from last winter," said one of the workmen, 
as though to excuse me. 

They all roared with laughter at the stone that was still frozen 
fast from last year, although it was already fall again; and my honor 
was saved. 

"I can cut wedge holes, too," I said. 

"No, can you really?" said Father, handing me a small pick. I 
clambered up onto one of the big round stones from the Sound. 
They were covered with a beard of seaweed with mussels in it and 
looked like troll heads. I seated myself astride the stone, as was 
proper, and prepared to show them, but the pick turned in my hand 
and struck with the side instead of the point. Georg stood and 
grinned and the men rolled their eyes and rooted round in their 
mouths with their tongues in the queerest way. It did not help 
matters when I began to howl 

This time there was nobody to save my honor. But one of the 
workmen gave me a penny for a caraway cake and Father let my 
brother off we were allowed to run out on the mole. There were 
boats out there with their holds full of big stones from the bottom 
of the sea; an enormous pair of tongs dropped down into the hold 
and fastened its claws around a stone, which had then to come up 
with it and was swung in on the mole. My defeat was transformed 
into a great experience; there was no flaw in my happiness. And 
Father took me by the hand all the way home! 


It was a happy time for Mother, too. Father, who like the other 
workmen had been in the habit of taking his half pint of gin along 
in his lunch basket from home every day, gave that up, too. It had 
meant a quart and a half a week, which had to be taken out of 
the week's wages before there was anything for food. Mother was 
pleased that this item of expense had dropped off. 

She had not given up her business entirely; Mother was too en- 
terprising for the little home to give her enough to do. We could 
afford to put little Sister out during the day now; she was able to 
walk by this time, and every morning I took her over to an elderly 
woman who looked after the small children of mothers who went 
out to work. Her little room was always full of tiny tots crawling 
round the floor, each with its sugar-teat in its mouth, and the stove 
was hung all over with diapers and drawers. The air sickened me 
and made everything swim before my eyes; to this very day that 
room with its smell and light and sounds comes vividly before me 
when I come into a place where children's clothes are being dried 
over the stove. 

Mother had stopped working with Madam Sandru for some rea- 
son, and I was often allowed to accompany her on her rounds. She 
had a wide canvas pocket tied over her stomach, and there was al- 
ways money in it, even when she complained. She had a peculiar 
way of digging down into it and bringing up a whole handful, as 
though it were nothing at all. And while she was making change, 
she was already blaring out her wares. "Herring, herring, herring 
for sale real Bornholm herring!" she would shout up at the rows 
of houses, so that it echoed down the street. Mother had all she 
could do to change marks and shillings, the old currency, into kroner 
and ore; and when we came to count up the day's earnings, it some- 
times happened that she had less in her pocket than she should 
have had. There was never too much, however, and I marveled at 

Mother laughed: "The Lord's wits would certainly be wandering 


if He let people overpay the poor." That sort of thing could never 
dampen her spirits. 

There was never much left after the storekeeper had got his and 
the rent for the pushcart had been paid; at most, a krone. Mother 
called that a good day and got down the box with the savings from 
the chest of drawers. There were still things to be redeemed from 
the bad time. We had got back the winter comforter, and Mother 
was glad of that. "Who knows what may come?" she said. "The 
good sausage soon comes to an end." 

"Why does it do that?" I asked. I had also noticed myself that 
things which tasted good and which you would like to have last 
forever always came to an end very quickly. 

"Because it has two ends!" answered Mother promptly. 

"Yes, but so has the bad sausage, Mother!" 

"Yes, I suppose it has, but you're certainly the first to have dis- 
covered that," said Mother. And I was very proud that I had made 
a discovery. 

Her skepticism was justified. There came a day when the weekly 
wages Father brought home became less every time. He had now 
one explanation and now another; Mother kept silent and was in 
low spirits. 

One Saturday Georg came home alone; he had been sent on 
ahead as in the old days. Mother stared at him dejectedly, her hands 
hanging limply. "Is that you, and alone?" she said. 

"We've started drinking again!" answered my brother, tossing his 
head as though there were nothing more to be said to that. 

Mother laughed so strangely. "Yes, I thought as much! How long 
was Abraham in Paradise?" She laughed louder and louder. Then 
suddenly she collapsed. 

It was the gray and bitter everyday again. Mother hunted round 
for jobs from early morning; we could no longer afford to put 
Sister out in the care of the old woman; I had to come under the 
yoke again. I was often sick in bed; cold and exhaustion laid me 
low. On Saturday we sat together and waited, whispering to each 


other and listening for Father's step and the remains of the week's 
wages. As in the old days. 

One Saturday Mother hit upon the desperate idea of sending 
me down to the stone quarries to try to get Father past the saloon 
and on home with me. It was a hopeless plan, if for no other reason 
than that the week's wages had, of course, been practically all used 
up by this time, and Father could not escape the reckoning even 
if I should succeed in getting him past the saloon where it generally 
took place. He would probably have been fired at once. But it was a 
mad device in any case. The new had lost its weak, fleeting hold on 
him; his fellow workers had twitted it out of him with scorn and 
mockery; Georg could tell of their sarcasms every day. Now they 
were celebrating Father as the prodigal son who had returned home 
again, and it was dangerous to come up against them. The worst 
thing the workers could say to a comrade in those days was that he 
was henpecked. And now Mother was putting this poisonous weapon 
into their hands. 

Perhaps she had some suspicion of how wrongly she was acting, 
for she gave me a letter to take with me, which had come from Aunt 
Marie in California. "That will please Father," she said with a 
peculiar emphasis. "But you must say it came today." The letter had 
arrived several days perhaps a whole week before; Mother had 
read it to us, but had ordered us not to say anything about it to 
Father, although it chiefly concerned him. It must have cost her 
something now to give it up and use it as a pretext for sending me 
down to him. I see in this a proof of how hard it was for her, also, 
to have to return to the old, unhappy life. 

I was confined to bed at this time, with my face covered with 
glandular sores as usual; I had a nasty cough, too. Mother gave me 
Georg's coat on top of my own and tied a knitted scarf around my 
neck. "There you are, my boy, now you won't feel the cold," she 
said affectionately and kissed me on the forehead, while her hands 
stroked down over me the cosiest caress I knew. Frightened, she 
drew her lips away. "Why, your head is burning, child!" She sat 


still for a moment. Then she pulled my cap down lower over my 
forehead and ears it had to be! 

Yes, I was feverish! In my left ear I could hear the regular beat 
of columns on the march. Bed and a cold pillow were the only 
things that could give me relief. 

Outside it was dark and ugly; the storm lashed me in the face. 
The wind went through my clothes and bit fiercely at me; but my 
body was like a glowing stove and did not feel cold I just trembled 
and my teeth chattered. I had stuck my hands inside the lining of 
my trousers to warm them on my body; I was still not big enough 
to have pockets. 

It was dark out at the stone quarries; no light shone from any of 
the half-open stands, where at this time of the year the men worked 
by lantern morning and evening. So the workers were already in 
the saloon! 

I was quite clear as to the risk I was running when I took the 
road over toward the saloon to look for Father there; and I was not 
particularly courageous; I whimpered. But not for a moment did 
it occur to me to slink out of it; a sense of duty, which I have often 
enough felt as a sort of curse and tried in vain to shake off, drove 
me on. 

I hung round outside the saloon, trying to peep in at the windows. 
There were shutters over them, such as were used at that time, low 
but yet too high for me to see over the top of them. I went from 
window to window, searching for a peephole shutters always had 
peepholes for the simple reason that no stick in the world could 
compare with the slats of a shutter. What could be made of them, 
when once the shutter had been persuaded to go to pieces and had 
to be discarded, was well-nigh incalculable. Ah, Mother, Mother 
dear, how well I remember our silent warfare, when Georg and I 
had condemned a shutter to destruction and made a little break in 
it, and you so carefully patched it up, and we just as promptly tore it 
open again. We were victorious, and you simply could not under- 
stand what was the matter with that shutter and were forced to buy 


a new one. It cost thirty ore or was it only twenty-five and came 
all the way from China! 

I found a hole in the blind through which I could survey the 
entire low-ceilinged room. There were many small tables and the 
workers were sitting four or five at each, drinking and playing tip- 
cat or cards. In the center, under the lamp, stood a large round 
table, and there sat Father with the decanter in front of him. He was 
treating, for every time the big two-quart decanter had made its 
round, it came back to his place. They sat round the table and 
listened to him with intent expressions, ready to laugh. And Father 
sat with head erect; his hand was raised and his face was more ani- 
mated than I have ever seen it either before or since. It shone over 
the others and his inspired smile held all eyes fast. I had never seen 
my father like that; I realized that he was now telling one of those 
stories for which he had such a reputation among his comrades. 
Laughing, they hung on his lips, and an entirely new feeling in 
regard to my father flowed through me. I had known fear in rela- 
tion to himand hate; and just recently I had loved him, clung to 
him with my greedy little heart. But now I was filled with proud 
joy! I knew my father as a man of few words; even in the good 
time, when he did not hang like a leaden-heavy cloud over the home, 
he was none the less chary of speech. He usually nodded, or growled 
in protestand let the rest chatter; when Mother in her joy at hav- 
ing him again became too garrulous, he left the room. And here 
he sat and made all the others keep silence and listen. His words 
created joy. Over at the small tables they stopped their games and 
listened, too. A young workman threw himself back in his chair and 
laughed up at the ceiling. My heart swelled; it was filled with pride, 
that wonderful pride that only children can feel and only in relation 
to their father. 

I had no desire to know what Father was telling; I was at that 
happy age where all stories are equally good, equally exciting. On 
the contrary, I had the strongest desire to turn back. I knew that 
my popping up in there would spoil everything. Was I afraid, too, 


that Father would strike me? Duty triumphed in any case, and I 
went in. I remained standing just inside the door. A workman 
nudged his neighbor and winked in my direction. Others glanced 
slyly over and laughed covertly. Finally Father, too, caught sight 
o me and stopped. His expression changed, became again fear- 
some, ominous. He did not say anything, but called me across to 
him with a motion of his head. I went over hesitatingly, holding in 
my outstretched hand the letter that was to take die sting out of 
my mission. The fever had set in again, I was trembling all over my 
body; and whether from cold or fright or both together- I could 
not hold my water. 

Father took the letter and began to read it, while the others 
watched expectantly; he was blue in the face with rage. All of a 
sudden he began to read aloud to his companions; Aunt Marie was 
inviting him to come to California. He was to come alone, the 
family could always come later when he had earned the passage 
money. Aunt Marie was willing to advance the money for his own 
passage. Mother had read the letter to my brother and me, but she 
had forgotten to include this. The men made jokes, Father laughed 
but said nothing. 

Suddenly he turned to me. "Be off with you now," he said 
ominously. He stuck the letter in his pocket. 

"Father didn't come with you then didn't you see him at all?" 
asked Mother anxiously, even before I got inside the door. I told 
what had occurred; Mother laughed bitterly. "Oh, Lord, yes! He 
has to be big before the others and let his own sit at home and starve/* 
But when she heard that he had read the letter aloud, she was 
furious; her voice became caustic and she used harsh words. 

"Oh! Is it really true that we're going to America?" asked Georg, 
clapping his hands. 

"No, it's not. Aunt Marie knows all right which of us she wants 
over there and which not," Mother answered sulkily. 

I do not think Mother kept us up that Saturday evening, so that 
she could send us into town to get provisions if Father came home 

with any money. She was worried and upset, and her nervousness 
and anxiety infected my brother and me. 

We crouched down each in his corner; when a noise was heard 
out in the passage, Mother started. She completely forgot about 
putting me to bed; and I myself had no thought of it, although I 
was shaking with fever chills. 

At last he came. We knew him by his step in the distance, could 
tell, too, by his walk, the condition he was in. "Oh, my God!" 
groaned Mother. He stood reeling out in the hall for a while, fumbled 
with the doorknob, then finally got the door open and came in; his 
eyes were glazed. He was holding a torn piece of newspaper in his 
hand. Waving it up and down and nodding his head significantly, 
he advanced toward Mother. 

Mother stared anxiously and uncomprehendingly at the hand 
with the paper. "Good Lord, what have I done now?" she wailed, 
and fled round behind the table, where my brother and I were sitting. 

Father grinned knowingly. "Yes, you'll try to skedaddle, now 
that Hans Jorgen appears on the scene. But just come over here to 
the lamp." He dragged her out across the floor and over to the chest 
of drawers where the lamp stood. "Read that out loud to the kids 
now, will you?" he said, forcing her head down toward tie scrap of 
paper. Georg looked as though he were going to throw himself on 
Father; I screeched. 

"What is it? What am I to read?" stammered Mother, blue in the 
face from Father's grip. 

"So you're playing stupid hypocritical, eh? Hans- go on now. 
Hans Jorgen what?" 

"Hans Jorgen gets into hot water," stammered Mother, half 

"Well, there you are!" Father let go of her. "You can hit out at 
a person in the newspaper you can do that all right!" 

"Oh, you drunken swine!" Mother suddenly understood and drew 
herself up in front of him. "That's just a stupid excuse to be brutal. 
Or else your pot companions have given you something to run round 


with! It would certainly not have occurred to any person in his right 
senses that I would put that piece in. the paper. But of course they 
can always make you believe anything; you, the clever Hans Jorgen 
Andersen!" She sniffed in his face. 

It was as though something had gone to pieces inside Father. Now 
he'll go at Mother, I thought. But it turned out otherwise. He stood 
there with his head ducked, looking for something to say and grin- 
ning confusedly. "What, you don't write in the newspaper, Mother? 
No, of course you don't. But you packed my lunch in it so that my 
comrades would make fun of me." His voice sank into sheer self- 
pity and he suddenly began to cry. This was the first, and probably 
also the only time I saw Father cry. 

"Oh, you and your comrades!" said Mother sarcastically. "Drunken 
sots, the lot of them, sitting slobbering over their gin glasses." Her 
voice was harsh and full of contempt. I had never heard her talk 
like that to Father. "You'd better save your gin tears and cry when 
you're sober there'd be something for you to cry for then!" She 
snatched the piece of newspaper out of his hand. "It's a political arti- 
cle, of course, and Hans Jorgen is the politician! You've certainly 
got delusions of grandeur!" Mother laughed till the lamp shade 
jingled. "Hans Jorgen gets into hot water, ha, ha! You and hot water. 
Then you must have sat down in it and stayed there!" 

Father was ashamed, fuddled though he was; he slunk off into 
the other room and to bed. And my brother and I were ashamed for 
him because he could imagine that he would be in the newspaper. 

Mother slept with me on the sofa that night; she always did when 
Father was tipsy. Then I lay at the foot; it was crowded, but I liked 
it anyway* Several times before I fell asleep, I heard Mother laugh 
loudly and ringingly. 



BAD TIMES! was the eternal cry of the grown-up people, until one 
was finally forced to the conclusion that times could never be any- 
thing else but bad. Then all at once everybody began to make use 
of an entirely new expression: Better times! "Now, while times are 
good," Mother would say when there was something she wanted 
to get. Or: "Let's enjoy the good times while we have them; the 
bad times will be sure to come back again." 

A different tone seemed to have come over everything; it was 
there already at Easter, when the new candidates for confirmation 
made their appearance. We youngsters ran at their heels shrieking: 
"Give us a penny, you!" Why we did so, nobody knew. Perhaps 
it was a relic from a golden age long, long ago. But now all of a 
sudden a remarkable thing happened: they actually took us at our 
word and threw two-ore pieces for us to scramble for. And "Tyrolean 
Ferdinand and his brown-eyed daughter," whom we had otherwise 
to run down to the prosperous Strandvejen to hear, now came right 
up to the houses and played and sang in the alleys. And people threw 
money out of the windows to them times were indeed good! No- 
body knew where they had come from, but that didn't matter. They 
were there and that was the important thing. Even I, little sprout of 
humanity, could tell from experience that existence was changing, 
becoming less severe. It was many years before I understood the 
reasons for the change. They were of the good old-fashioned sort: 
war and more war! 

I had hitherto been living under the fateful effects of the war of 
1864; my existence had been the typical poor man's existence after 


an unsuccessful war. All burdens fall downward, in society as else- 
where; the heaviest have a tendency to sink right down to the bot- 
tom. I had with my five or six years borne my share of the defeat. 
Now the waves of a still greater catastrophe, the war of 1870-1871, 
swept in over our little world, wiping out for a time the bad effects of 
the defeat of '64. It was the reparations that did it, the stupendous 
five billion kroner. This sum, which looks so small now against 
the background of the Versailles Treaty, seemed monstrous then, 
and was too large to be absorbed in Germany. It was like a deluge 
with its spongy, ephemeral vegetation: the so-called Grunder epoch 
set in. New undertakings shot up like mushrooms out of the soil 
Even up here in the North money reproduced rankly, creating an 
era of enterprise which made everything flourish for a while. A 
heavy demand for labor set in, wages went up, women were attracted 
away from odd jobs by the higher wages offered in the factories, and 
the payment for odd jobs rose accordingly. 

Wages went up at the stone quarries, too. It was essential to hold 
on to the workers already employed; Father came home repeatedly 
and reported that the firm had again increased the daily wage, "Pooh, 
a lot of good that will do the rest of us,** said Mother; but this time 
at least she was not justified in her pessimism. Man is a creature 
of habit also in his vices, and the workers, who had been used to 
carousing a certain definite amount and were suddenly left with 
something over, brought the money home. Father's big suede wallet 
with the patent clasp, which he had got in a trade with a Swede, 
again became something more than just a mere curiosity. There was 
usually something in it now, and Mother kept a careful eye on it. 
When Father, for very good reasons, was sleeping like a log, she 
would sneak in and get the wallet, and Georg and I were allowed 
to watch while she emptied it of its contents. "Why shouldn't I?" 
she said when we became frightened because she was going about 
it so thoroughly. Later, when Father had slept off his drunk and 
stood over by the window rummaging through the empty purse with 

a puzzled expression as though he were trying to recall something 
to his memory, we were secretly much amused. 

Mother refused to be tempted inside the walls of the factory, and 
wisely went out after odd jobs. 

Incidentally, she had had a baby that had died immediately after 
baptism, before it had yet had time to take root in any heart. All 
I remember is my terror when it suddenly announced itself, and my 
relief when, not many days later, Father walked to the cemetery 
with the little black coffin under his arm. Mother was rather tired at 
first and did not go out until the afternoon; in the forenoon she 
stayed at home and took charge of things. I no longer had to crawl 
out of the feathers and be laden with burdens like a pack horse, and 
that was fortunate. I was not at all well, coughed a great deal, and 
was troubled with earache. My tonsils were always swollen and 
I spent much of my time in bed. I have often wondered since what 
would have become of me if it had not been for But surely some- 
thing less than a gigantic war and an indemnity of five billions might 
have done it! 

I had already done a fair share of work by this time, more than 
was good for my fragile frame. I was accused as a child of having a 
wrinkled forehead, three deep wavy folds stretching all the way 
across from temple to temple; the wave lines of the Danish coat of 
arms, Mother used to call them when she was in cheerful mood 
she used to weep, too, over my "angry forehead." It came from these 
burdensome early years of my life. 

Then suddenly everything changed in brilliant fashion! Suddenly 
is hardly the word for it; but memory knows no smooth transitions * 
one fine day everything is entirely different! I no longer have to get 
up before dawn, do not have to run with newspapers or fetch the 
pushcart for Mother, do not have to go out to the lumberyards and 
gather chips. Sister must still be minded in the afternoon; but she 
is big enough now to ask when she wants something and can toddle 
round by herself; she is no longer so troublesome. If only a new one 
doesn't come along now, it's not so bad. Sister is very sweet. Once 


they're here, you can't help being fond of them, but . . . My brother 
doesn't think so. "They don't just come right one on top of the 
other," he says. "But I'll see how it is when Mother comes home," 
he remarks rather airily. 

"How can you see?" I ask, overwhelmed with admiration. 

"Oh, that's nothing for children!" he answers peremptorily. 

Well, Georg has mysteriously made his diagnosis : No children in 
prospect; so everything is fine. 

For things could not possibly be better than they are. Instead of 
being rudely awakened to a headache and an obstinate little young 
one to dress, I am actually dressed by somebody myself! I have be- 
come a child and am cared for and coddled a marvelous transfor- 

When I awaken in the morning and this transformation joyfully 
dawns upon me, I make haste to shut my eyes again and pretend 
that I am still sleeping. Then Mother comes and wakens me with a 
kiss and says: "Sleepyhead, lazybones!" She washes me and helps 
me into my clothes; there is nobody and nothing to struggle with, 
not even the buttoning of my blouse in the back. All I have to do is 
make myself little and awkward. Mother notices this and laughs, 
but that doesn't matter. I stand up on a chair as though I were a 
little tot, stretch my arms up in the air, and pretend to be helpless. 
And Mother combs my hair with water to take the silly curls out; on 
the forehead she combs it up into a cockscomb as is the fashion 
for smart little boys. I can hardly wait till she has finished; every 
minute she keeps saying: "Do stand still, my boy!" "There, now," 
she says, giving me a gentle push in the back, "Off with you, now!" 
And away I run. 

I have a sweetheart my first one! and life is all the more joyful 
for that. She lives away over in the third row and her name is Anna. 
She has red apple cheeks and yellow curls and is four years old. 
We are soon to be married! When I have added twenty-five ore to 
the fifty I already have in my savings bank, we are going to hold the 
wedding. The fifty ore are, to be sure, the result of persistent toil and 


saving practically from the day I was born; but it will be much 
easier to get the twenty-five. That is good poor man's optimism. 

It is quite a journey, the hundred or maybe two hundred yards 
over to the third row. To the longing heart the road seems endless. 
And the day has not really begun, everything is, as it were, without 
meaning, until one has given one's true love a morning kiss. But at 
last we are sitting on the steps with our arms round each other's 
necks, and Little Anna asks: "Have you got the twenty-five ore yet?" 

"Ill soon get it," I say, nodding to the words like Father. 

"Then well buy lots of candies," says little Anna, who thinks all 
the money is to be used for sweets. 

"Oh, no, for the money has to be used for rent and for food 
and for the lottery ticket," I say instructively. 

"Is it for gin, too?" asks Anna. "No, indeed, not for gin. But for 
candies!" She puts both her little paws on my shoulders and shouts 
the word "candies" into my face like a regular explosion. But I 
know about that already from Sister and from Mother, too women- 
folk never seem to get sweets enough! 

Little Anna gives me no peace. The twenty-five ore must be raised. 
There is no use asking Mother for it; she jokes with me about Little 
Anna, but in her heart she is against our engagement. And Georg, 
who sometimes has money wherever he gets it simply scorns me 
for my love. There is no other way but to earn it myself. But how? 
I know how to work, but I have not yet learned how to earn money. 
In my thoughts I go over all the possibilities. I -find the money; I 
hoo\ it out of the grocer's till while he turns his back for a moment; 
I ta\e it out of Father's wallet while he is sleeping very soundly. I 
even go so far as to wish for what is otherwise the most terrible thing 
of all for me that Father may come home dead drunk. 

But not all the fantastic imaginings in the world can conjure up a 
twenty-five ore piece, and in my need I have to go to Georg again. 
"You certainly are cracked!" he says, but promises to help me any- 
way. "But I want the money back when you get bigger; and you 
mustn't tell anybody you got it from me. Just say you found it." 


Mother's face got rather long when I came with the twenty-five 
ore and demanded the principal from the savings bank. First she 
tried to avoid the issue by cross-examining me as to where I had got 
the money; but I braved it out. Perhaps the fact that Georg was 
standing over by the window shaking his fist at me on the sly 
strengthened me. Finally Mother had to abandon her counterattack 
and confess that she had used the money long ago in the bad times 
and had not got it put back again. And now she hadn't any. 

There was nothing to be done about it. There was no use trying 
to remonstrate with the bad times; they were gone and I had no 
desire to call them back to answer. 

And as it turned out, I had no use for the money anyway. Did 
Little Anna suspect that my finances were not in order? When I 
came running over the next morning, she was standing in the entry 
kissing a sniveling boy, one with a real running nose. 

I took this, my first shipwreck in relation to the other sex, much 
harder than was at all reasonable, and Mother shamed me properly. 
"Is that anything to howl for?" she said, taking me into her arms. 
<c You're a fine little simpleton! Better kiss Mother and then you 
won't be fooled. Mother's nose may be long but at least it doesn't 
run; it hasn't any secrets with snivelers!" Then she kissed me and 
pretended that we couldn't reach each other because of her big nose. 

How nice it was to have Mother at home! I must certainly have 
needed her particularly, for Georg didn't think it was any fun. 
"We're much freer when she's out/' he said. "But of course you must 
have a skirt to hang on to! You're a regular baby!" It didn't matter 
much that he called me fool and baby* I couldn't come up to his 
ideals in any case, and I had perhaps for that reason begun to 
emancipate myself from him. I no longer believed blindly everything 
he said. But he could still get me to do foolish things. And I had 
to admire him whether I would or no. 

He was a manly lad, who did not run away from anything; he 
was not even particularly afraid of Father's fists. "So you can just 


let me take the licking/' he would say when he wanted me to join 
him in something and I was afraid because of Father. He used to 
take it bravely, too, and keep me out of it; but the sad part of it was 
that the beating he got hurt me terribly, too. The raised hand filled 
me with horror. I could not help writhing and screaming for every 
blow my brother received. "By Jove, then you'll get something to 
cry for too," Father would say and lay me over the chair. His blows 
were not exactly gentle; but when it was all over, there was none the 
less a certain satisfaction in having borne one's share. 

It was difficult enough, for I wanted very much to be a manly boy 
but had a hard time getting used to the consequences. The concept 
"street Arab" has now disappeared together with so much else that 
was objectionable; but at that time a manly boy was one who 
usually had the police on his trail. And there were many manly 
boys in the Houses; they were visited regularly by the police. As 
soon as the officers appeared on the scene, generally two of them, 
with two others keeping watch at the entrances on Kongevejen and 
Strandvejen, we got out of sight. These were usually raids under- 
taken by the police to round up boys and question them. Then 
Mother would hide us, so as not to get into trouble with our neigh- 
bors. One time when a policeman popped up outside our windows, 
Mother hid us both in the clothes closet "He's gone into Nielsens', 
thank goodness/' she whispered shortly after and let us out. "Let 
them take what's coming to them, the scoundrels." 

I remember many a mad prank, but I cannot recall that the police 
ever had an errand at our house. We were pretty well looked after 
anyway. Father used to beat us unmercifully, if it got to his ears 
that we had had the least thing to do with the organ-grinder's boys; 
and on that point Mother was on his side. "They led Georg into 
mischief once. Let that be enough," she said, "The Lord have mercy 
on you if you don't keep away from them." 

And bad rascals they were. Only one of them was under fourteen. 
The others were all thumping big fellows, half or fully grown, large 
and powerful; but they were lazy louts, who hung round home* 
* [81] 

got into fights, and stole. Mother often hushed us and announced 
in a whisper that now the police were in there again; sometimes 
one of the sons would disappear for a while. He was doing time, 
Mother explained. This expression puzzled me and Georg didn't 
throw much light on the question by saying: "Oh, you idiot, he's 
in the jug, of course." 

There was still enough to contend with even now in the good 
times. Every day presented its problems. They pressed hard upon 
you, clamoring for solution perhaps only to pop up again in a new 
form. There were problems which took a peculiar pleasure in pre- 
senting themselves perplexingly, so that they had to be solved afresh 
every day, with the result that they finally got into a knot. Others 
towered up overwhelmingly in front of you, inviting to endless 
battle. Life was no easy matter. Your known, familiar world was 
much too small to nourish or sustain you. The unknown, which sur- 
rounded you on all sides just a little way off, was, on the other hand, 
much too overwhelmingly, insuperably large. Fear was probably 
the feeling that most easily took hold of me as a child, sometimes 
mounting to inexplicable horror. 

From out in the unknown, fragments of formlessness flew into 
your existence, flung there in the guise of a word or an idea; they 
monopolized every fiber of your being and began to multiply in 
your childish mind. The imagination worked incessantly at high 
tension; the incomprehensible lay in wait for you at every step. 
You might go round from morning till evening repeating a word 
that had been flung into your world from without and would not 
be driven away again, saying it over and over, turning it upside 
down, repeating it idiotically. "Do be quiet now and stop that ever- 
lasting harping away on the same thing all the time," said Mother. 
But how could you, when the foreign element kept on working and 
buzzing away inside you like a bluebottle on a windowpane? They 
came booming into your existence, these words, freighted with fear; 
or they made your heart beat faster in wonderment. 

Mother thought it was about time to bring a little meaning into 

my life; I must go to the charity school. It was over on the other 
side of town, out toward the East Common, and was kept by a 
woman who had "fallen down" (that is, in her examination). Mother 
and the other women always kept coming back to this when they 
were discussing my forthcoming registration, and the mysterious 
words began to grow in my mind. The charity-school lady became 
something quite monstrous, a fantastic, formless being, larger than 
anything I had ever seen. My heart was pounding with excitement 
when Mother took me over by the hand to be presented to this 
creature who was so heavy that the floor could not carry her. It 
was no joke to come down to earth after such a flying trip for me, 
I mean! Not to mention the mockery and laughter, which did not 
leave off until you lay howling in a corner, feeling yourself the most 
helpless blockhead on God's green earth. 


IT is hard to be a human being, the saying goes. And as I began 
slowly to get my bearings in life, I became more and more aware 
that existence was not so simple after all. The rancid cod-liver oil 
was hard to get down, and so was the rancid American lard and ba- 
con; but these were spasmodic ordeals that could be borne. You made 
a violent effort, gagged a time or two and got water in your eyes 
and then you were free again for a few hours. 

But there were trials that gave no respite. Back of everything lurked 
ill-health, ready to dart forth suddenly and knock your legs from 
under you. A peculiar feeling of inadequacy, strong enough in it- 
self, was further strengthened by the everlasting cry on all sides: 
"He can't do that! He's no good at that!" That I was willing did not 
make it any better. There was no relation between my will to live 
abundantly and my strength. I was inwardly convinced of my abil- 
ity, but when it came to the test, I fell ludicrously short. Of what use 
is it to have perhaps in anticipation of future powers an unshak- 
able faith in yourself, when the only reality, the moment, tells quite 
another story and puts you miserably to shame. 

Loneliness of mind is no doubt closely allied to the sense of being 
alien to the environment and the resultant difficulty in becoming 
reconciled, much less adjusted, to it. I was very lonely as a child, 
lonely and strange in the presence of practically everything, and 
afraid of people. Fear was the dominant feeling in my childhood, 
and a trace of it has followed me through life. It has remained like 
an obscure threat behind everything that has happened to me, even 
of good. 


As a child I met only Mother with absolute confidence. She was 
in the nature of things the all-bounteous being; but otherwise people 
were distressing enigmas to me, charged with the unexpected. For 
me it was like having to handle loaded mines to have to deal with 
people, and I have never quite got over this feeling. It has since 
fallen to my lot to come into close communion with the masses of 
mankind. Millions of hearts have throbbed out to meet me. And I 
myself have learned to know and to love thousands and more 
thousands of people. But when, for example, I stand on a platform 
and speak to a large assembly, it may happen while rny words hold 
them fast in rapt attentionthat panic fear will spring up in the 
back of my mind and make me shudder with cold. 

Even now it is sometimes hard enough to come to terms with 
existence. How hard must it have been then for a delicate, over- 
strained little fellow who found it difficult to make contact at any 
point and who had not the remotest chance of becoming strong and 
robust? A litde sprout of humanity, eager and willing to play his 
part but with very few qualifications. Calling me sissy did not help. 
I knew that the name was unjust and resented it, but what good was 
that? What could the others know of the things I had to struggle 
with both within myself and without? They could not imagine how 
madly everything multiplied within me and round about me until 
there were dangers and terrors lying in wait on all sides. In order to 
assert myself and make myself important, I sometimes took to tell- 
ing tall stories and was laughed to scorn or scolded for being a 

My invention was poor, and the world being what it is, this was 
not to my advantage. Whenever I concocted a story, it was always 
too easily seen through. And my attempts at evasion were no more 
successful. In spite of all the pains Georg took with me, I continued 
to be a clown at inventing excuses. I had not much faith in their 
efficacy, to begin with. This in itself is sufficient to indicate a defec- 
tive knowledge of human nature. I thought subterfuges were stupid 
and I still think so irritatingly stupid! 


But that, of course, does not prevent them from being effective. 

Anyway, Mother was not the sort of person who forces you to 
think up excuses. When you consider all she had to contend with, 
she was patience itself. And she was more than that. She could 
transform the driest crust of bread into something like a feast merely 
by tie smile with which she handed it to you. Mother was what 
people, and especially children, need more than anything else a 
good, cheery example. She took things as they came if they could 
not be different. She did not sit down in a corner and weep and wail, 
but disposed of the inevitable with a brisk retort, often in the form 
of a proverb. But if there were the slightest chance of warding off 
ill or doing something to alter things, Mother was right there. From 
her I learned that there are ways out of almost every dilemma. 

Among the big words that people are fond of using, the word 
education is one of those set in the heaviest types. Pedagogy is a 
whole science in itself, with laboratories, professorships, learned 
works and millions of victims. Comic is the voluminous apparatus 
of precepts and instructions for parents and other educators on how 
to bring up children properly, and tragic all that is perpetrated upon 
children by grown-up people, seen against the background of the 
fact that nobody can educate others, that only the person himself 
can educate himself. 

Education is much too big a word to use for the relationship be- 
tween parents and children. This is a relationship which must be 
lived, must be experienced from day to day. In most homes there is 
no great choice of method in settling matters, usually just one solu- 
tionwhipping; or at least, punishment. The aftermath is not of 
much moment if only the children perceive that their parents, es- 
pecially the mother, are fond of them. Mother often handled us 
wrongly from a pedagogical point of view. She had to get results by 
short cuts of her own; there was not always time to weigh words and 
actions. But there was always a certain vital quality even in the 
wrong things she did; and she always acted entirely without ego- 
tism. For this reason her life was a wonderfully fruitful example for 


us children. And there is no better education, or rather aid to self- 
education, than example. 

Father was in many respects more upright than Mother. He never 
lied, even i he could save himself by it, and he despised backbiting! 
He was as good as his word, too; if he had promised something, he 
kept to it, whereas Mother was quite capable of trying to bluff her 
way out of a promise. But these qualities, excellent as they were in 
themselves, lacked something and as a result remained unfruitful. 
Father, in strong contrast to Mother, had rather the effect of a terri- 
fying example in my life, especially, of course, by reason of his less 
admirable qualities. 

When people say that my parents have brought me up thus or so, 
well or ill, I have to laugh. I brought myself up and must myself 
take the responsibility for the way I have turned out. There can be 
no question of education, if only for the reason that the child is 
better than the adult in all essentials. The child is simpler, it is frank 
and open and dissembles only under pressure from its elders. The 
palpable lie is forced upon it in self -defense. The warnings and ad- 
monitions of grown-up people dull the child to something that is 
so precious as human speech. Action is the only thing that makes any 
impression on a child when it is very young and does not yet know 
fear. Example is the only thing that has any value for its develop- 
ment. All good "education" consists, therefore, in spoiling as little 
as possible in the child by a bad example and is thus mainly of a 
negative kind hands off! 

The word education is a decorative word, a beautiful blind for 
much that is crude, indifferent, or downright ugly. The rough knocks 
that are necessary before a many-sided child of man can become ad- 
justed to, or rather grow into, life, must be taken by the person 
himself. The human being educates himself through his struggle on 
all sides with his environment and outer and inner conditions, by 
his stubborn attempts because it seems easier to adjust existence 
to himself. And this struggle slowly merges into the more difficult, 
but also more fruitful one of growing into life, entering into exist- 


ence. It is a painful, often bloody story of good or evil, most fre- 
quently, I suppose, of good and evil; and fortunate is he who has 
good examples* to lean upon and who is able to profit from the bad 

I have now come to the point where I must pull myself together, 
divide life into its component parts, and take up my position to- 
ward its phenomena. It is no longer only Georg who calls me fool 
or blockhead. Others, too, find me apt to ask stupid questions and 
at the same time to take everything at its face value; to wonder when 
there is absolutely nothing to wonder at, and conversely, to behave 
toward the real wonder as though I had been forewarned of its 
coming. I was always easily fooled and the others took advantage 
of this to make me believe the most absurd things. Then they would 
laugh and say that what they had palmed off on me was absolutely 
impossible. But why should it not be just as possible as so many other 
things? Everything is equally possible in a world full of surprises, 
of impossibilities. 

So with all my credulity I am also suspicious. Sometimes it is im- 
possible to get the most obvious things into my head, which even 
Mother must now and then call square. 

Life is not always such a simple matter! Trees are lucky; they just 
stand there and grow. And the cattle on the Commons are content 
if they can but find a green spot. They have neither coughs nor 
fever, let alone glandular sores; nobody calls them and makes them 
work when they would rather play. They have neither duties nor 
bad conscience, not they! The little calf just runs behind its mother 
when there is danger afoot. What is this pitiless unseen power that 
causes me, weak-kneed little baby calf that I am, frail and helpless, 
to take burdens upon myself of my own free will, to go through fire 
and water for Mother, yes, even to get between her and Father 
hurl my puny strength into the breach at the risk of being crushed? 

You have to sort things out and take a stand. It does not do to let 
the mind lie open for the world to work upon. Shut yourself in, and 


choose what you will allow to come in to you! Plain speaking will 
not do at all; you must not say what you think and feel., nor call 
thingsl>y their right nanies. Say: "Father, how is it that you never 
say 'thank you'?" and you get a box on the ear. Even Mother can't 
bear your speaking out frankly; you have to beat around the bush, 
sometimes even say just the opposite of what you mean. Getting 
along with people is like target shooting; it takes a great deal of 
practice to hit the mark. But when you do, then out comes a monkey 
who bows and says thank you you can see it every Sunday out at 
"The Rhine." My brother and I stand by the hour waiting for the 
monkey to come out from behind the target and take off his high 
hat in gratitude for having been hit in the heart. 

The more difficult problems of life have fortunately two solutions. 
You cannot be happy all the time, but you can school yourself to 
look happy on command., And you need not be pious: it is enough 
to fold your hands. I could really succeed in looking happy when 
my heart was full of fear, yes, even when the cane came out* And 
quite late in life I have learned voluntarily to assume an air of 
happy optimism. That is something people need and therefore like 
to have before their eyes. ,* 

Is there really anything so remarkable about remembering every- 
thing from childhood years as distincdy as though it had happened 
yesterday? Every experience was intense then and was taken up 
by a mind that was bright and shining and untouched, so that every 
contact left traces often ineffaceable. 

It is, of course, only the essential that has been preserved in the 
mind, or rather what was then the essential. The things remembered 
may seem mere trifles now, and yet at that time may have been 
of fateful import. The child mind has its own laws of existence, very 
different from those of the adult. 

I was now big enough to notice this so-called education: the urge 
of the grown-up people from reasons either of habit or convenience 
to make something of you. Warnings merely arouse aversion; you 


shut yourself up to them, turn a deaf ear, so that they fall like water 
off a duck's back. It is harder to come to terms with the more posi- 
tive variety of education incarnate in the cane especially since most 
grown-up persons, and fathers in particular, have a curious convic- 
tion that they represent heaven when they punish children by whip- 
ping/The educator Is always a preposterous figure, and it is es- 
pecially true of fathers that much of their solicitude for the child's 
future, for the way in which the child is going to behave later when 
it grows up, is sheer hypocrisy, an attempt to throw dust in the 
eyes of those round about them and, no doubt, in those of the 
higher powers as well with regard to themselves. 

Father made sedulous use of the word education, especially, like 
most fathers, when his own conduct was anything but unimpeach- 
able. "If I can't give my children anything else a good education 
they shall have; there shall be no lack of that!" he was fond of re- 
peating. It smacked of a number of things; in view of the condi- 
tion he was usually in when the educator came uppermost in him, 
it was a thing at which both to laugh and to cry. 

By education he meant whipping, coldly calculated blows of the 
cane accompanied by admonitions and warnings. When something 
angered him, he struck at random, on the head or wherever it 
landed. It hurt, but still we bore him no grudge for that. A person 
flies into a rage and lashes out at you; that is something that may 
happen to anybody and that we gladly forgave him. But punishment 
meted out with cold calculation aroused in us hatred and the de- 
sire for revenge. 

When he was in a certain condition "primed," Mother called it 
the paterfamilias and provider usually came uppermost in him, 
as I have said, and he would seat himself on the sofa and proceed 
to administer the Last Judgment. He would begin with a vague 
preamble about duty and responsibility .'Then he would start raking 
up old scores that we thought had long since been wiped off the 
slate/He had probably forgotten, but we felt the recapitulation as 
the most grievous injustice. Or he would unearth something new, 


and rant on about it until he stumbled upon some sort of clue. Then 
the cross-examination would begin; in every father there is a pocket 
judge often, too, something of an inquisitor; and the cane was 
brought out. The mere twist of the hand with which Father weighed 
out the blows filled us with hatred and rebellion; there were times 
when we should not have been sorry if some calamity had over- 
taken him. 

Father had got it into his head once and for all that my brother 
and I were uncommonly wicked and that it was his "painful duty 
as a father" to bring us onto the right road. The portentous dignity 
that descended upon him when with that mortal grief which 
soberer fathers are also wont to display when they wield the cane 
he carried out his stern fatherly duty filled us with a scorn that 
almost took away the pain. He usually went straight to bed after 
the punishment; and one evening when it was over Georg spat on 
the stove and said: "Dirty swine!" Father was just shutting the 
door; my brother certainly intended him to hear the exclamation. 
Georg was in such a state of defiance and rebellion that he was 
completely indifferent as to what might happen if only he could 
strike a blow at Father. Did Father hear? He hesitated for a moment 
with the door half closed. Then he closed it altogether and Mother 
drew a deep sigh of relief. She did not reprove my brother; and I 
like her for not starting in to read us a lecture from the false doctrine 
of what children owe their parents. 

There arose a spirit of rebellion in me, too, little mite that I was. 
"Why are you hitting me?" I howled once when I was beitig 
punished as I thought unjusdy. 

Father lowered his arm, aghast at my boldness. "Why am I hit- 
ting you, did you say? You ask why I'm hitting you?" The ques- 
tion had caught him completely unawares. Then he began to nod 
knowingly, he had discovered the reason. "My parents whipped me 
when I was a boy and you've got to be whipped, too. You can't get 
anywhere without education; surely anybody can understand that!" 
He nodded and brandished the cane. 


Nevertheless he had become uncertain; he could not get into 
his stride again. Sensing this, I pursued my victory, still lying across 
the chair. "For I haven't done anything at all," I said with the 
deeply moved voice that children have when injustice is done them. 

"Haven't done anything haven't done anything ha! Well, then 
you can let it go on all the times you've done something and got no 
punishment. You can hardly have too many whippings!" 

"Some people certainly think it's more blessed to give than to 
receive," put in Mother from the window, where she was fussing 
with her geraniums. Her voice trembled. 

Father lifted me up from the chair and set me down on the floor. 
"Mother thinks somebody else might need a bit of the cane once in 
a while, too," he said, smiling. "But when there's nobody that can 
give it to him, what then?" My heart leapt involuntarily was Father 
really so strong? 

But then defiance and bitterness rose up in me again; I wanted 
to down him, threaten him even. "God can do it," I said. "He's far 
stronger than you are." 

Father stood pondering that for a while; his expression changed 
rapidly. Finally he laughed and nodded: "That was well said; you 
get a penny for that/' He pulled out the big suede wallet with the 
patent clasp. 


X HE doctrine of evolution, once so disturbing to people's minds, 
is now used rather to retard evolution, which is represented as an 
imperceptible, almost sluggish sliding along by means of infinitely 
many, infinitely small, steps forward. This slothful way of sleeping 
the future into existence, which has been largely adopted by the 
labor movement also, has certainly no place in the world of the 
child. There each new phase is prepared for by a long period of 
accumulation, of tumescence, and is released by an explosion, as it 
were a leap ahead. Everyone who has children knows these ap- 
parently static periods in the child, periods of accumulation, when 
the child seems to be at a standstill, held down from within, until 
with amazing abruptness, from one day to the next, so to speak, it 
blossoms forth, displays an entirely new side, is hurled months, some- 
times half a year, ahead in development. I can clearly establish when 
I sloughed off my skin at some particular time or other. All evolution 
undoubtedly takes place in this way, not by a smooth gliding over, but 
by a bursting through. The missing link, if it is ever discovered, will 
be found to be a centrifugal force of a rare and revolutionary nature! 
Perspective entered into my life together with orientation; I 
could not only choose among the phenomena, I could also choose 
the day for my meeting with them. Time was no longer divided 
up into long outflowing periods, associated in the memory with 
light or darkness, with whether there was a fire in the stove or 
whether you could get to bed while it was still daylight. The year 
began to have many days, an enormous number; and every one of 
them might be charged with good or evil. "Tomorrow" I had long 


been acquainted with; the word had gradually come to mean every- 
thing you had been promised or wanted very badly, but of which 
you were going to be cheated; it was still "tomorrow" the next day 
and thenceforward. "Tomorrow" never came! But now the days 
stood there in order and sequence, leaving no room for such de- 
ceptions. They reached out a helping hand to the child's hunger for 

Perspective entered also into my view of human actions. Grown- 
up people were neither infallible nor omniscient. They were ca- 
pable of acting unjustly toward you; but to make up for that you 
might successfully play innocent when you had really done some- 
thing naughty. And the outer world began to assume limits and 
proportions. It was divided naturally into the known part and the 
part which was still unknown but permitted of investigation. It held 
no abyss that could swallow up a little boy; the whole art was to 
find your way home again. What I had thus far learned to know of 
the city and surrounding country had been acquired under the 
guidance of my brother; but now I began to go exploring on my 
own account. My fear of the unknown was suddenly replaced by a 
mysterious yearning for it; I began to "gad" about. 

Mother hated "gadding" and kept her eye on me as well as she 
could; but suddenly I would be off on an excursion, usually into the 
inner town. When I returned home again often, rather crestfallen, 
quite a different person from when I set out she was annoyed. "You 
may thank your stars that your father hasn't come home yet/' she 
would say, "or you'd have got what's coming to you all right!" 
Father, like Mother, regarded "gadding" as something that belonged 
to the dregs of society. It sometimes happened that I would wander 
too far away or could not find my way back again and did not get 
home before Father came. Then there was sure to be a whipping in 
store for me. But on this point, too, a change had come over me; I 
was no longer afraid of the cane. 

It came about one Sunday at noon and it was just as sudden as it 
was inexplicable. 


On the other side of Strandvejen, just opposite the Houses, there 
were some large market gardens. Love's nurseries. A huge thorn 
hedge cut off the view, but you could slip down into the ditch and 
pretend to be picking dandelions. The tall grass was like water to 
swim in, and zip, you had dived under the hedge and bobbed up 
again on the other side in an enchanted underworld of green 
twilight. The apple trees stood trunk by trunk, shutting out the 
sky. The light filtered through, golden and green, and the air 
was filled with the humming of insects. Far off among the tree trunks 
the sun shone on a farmhouse of brick and timber with shutters and 
a thatched roof. Down beside the house an old man was watering 
the roses; he was in his shirt sleeves and was smoking a pipe and 
wore a green shade over his eyes. In front of the door a big St. 
Bernard dog was dozing. It was pretty risky, but our hunger for 
fruit overcame all other considerations. Now and then, of course, 
a handful of half-spoiled berries, that could not be sold anyway, 
would fall to us; but apples would have been an unknown joy to us 
boys, if we had not broken through the many barriers of society and 
usurped a share. (Not until my eighth year, when we moved to 
Bornholm was this with many other things different.) 

At the grocer's you might manage at most to hook a single apple, 
and that only if by great good fortune he had to fetch something 
from the back room. But here the most bewitching fruits hung in 
thousands above your head, golden and seductively red; and in the 
grass, which was like green glass, they lay shining and glowing. The 
thing to do, of course, was to fill your cap in a terrific hurry and 
then get out; it's easy enough to say that now so many years after! 
But when your mouth was filled with water from sheer apple- 
hunger! To set your teeth into such an apple was to forget time 
and place; and suddenly you awakened to the barking and panting 
of a dog and escaped in some headlong fashion onto the road, 
whole-skinned but with the seat torn out of your trousers. 

They were my Sunday trousers! And it was past dinner time 
half past twelve by the clock at the end of Olufsvej. I began to howL 


My brother said dryly: "Save your howling till we get, inside the 
door. If you howl all the time I'm getting licked, you'll get off scot- 
free, crybaby!" He said it rather scornfully, but I could see that he 
was willing to take the blame upon himself. 

And that was when it happened! Father and Mother were sitting 
at the table, eating. Alas, it was the favorite dish of us brothers: 
vegetable soup with meat balls! Its aroma hit you with such force 
that your stomach began to yammer! Father was as black as a 
thundercloud. Whack, whack! and neither dinner nor supper! Des- 
perate, I walked over to the table and said: "You may as well lick me 

Father dropped his spoon in amazement. Such unheard-of cheek 
he had never yet met with in any of his children and that it should 
come from me, in the bargainthe sissy! Mother huddled up as 
though she were freezing. Then he began slowly to nod his head. 
"Go and get the cane, will you?" he said. I brought it in from the 
kitchen and, without being told, lay over a chain Father walked 
across the floor; something about his movements told me that he had 
resolved to pound the cheek out of me. 

Oh, how hard he hit! It was as though my heart had turned a 
somersault inside me. But I did not howl! He stopped for a moment 
as though he were listening and then he struck again, still harder. 

I bit into the under edge of the chair and clawed the air with my 
fingers, but I did not scream that satisfaction he should not have. 
The name of crybaby should be wiped out now if he were to kill 
me! There was a strange consolation in the idea that he might per- 
haps kill me; then he would be executed like Struensee and Count 
Brandt. I lay there thinking; I no longer felt any pain at the blows, 
merely a dull sensation every time they fella jar. A carpet that is 
being beaten must feel just about the same. "Well if that's not 
--the damnedest!" I heard Father say, and at every word a painless 
shock went through me. Suddenly a chair was overturned with a 
crash, and Mother threw herself down on top of me. 

I remember nothing more until I wakened in bed. The sun was 


shining and Mother was sitting near me, patching my Sunday 
trousers, while Sister sat beside the window playing with her rag 
doll Father had gone, and Georg was outside playing. He had got 
off without any whipping at all today, and on that score had laid 
his pencil box beside my pillow; I was to have it to play with when I 
awakened. Ordinarily it was a sacred object which neither Sister nor 
I was allowed to touch. 

I had cold packs on behind which Mother changed from time to 
time. "Oh, that will soon be better now," she said. "It doesn't amount 
to much, it will patch itself; it's worse with your trousers!" She 
looked at me with a face that made me laugh in spite of myself. 

The report soon went round among the boys of the Houses that 
I had, without a whimper, of my own free will, allowed myself to 
be caned until I fainted. Georg had told the story, and I was looked 
upon with favor by them and treated as a hero. But I preferred to 
keep to myself. Even if I could take a licking, I lacked the aggres- 
siveness necessary for association with the boys of the Houses. 

On my excursions into the city I had got all the way out to the 
Ox Pasture, about where the catde market is now, had paddled 
round in the rushes there, in water as red as blood from rotted sea- 
weed from drowned sailors, we boys used to think and had been 
up to Vesterport, where there were said to be so many gooseberry 
bushes. A daily trip that could be combined with almost any errand 
was over to the Lakes on the other side of the Triangle to take a 
bath. The Lakes had natural borders at that time, protected only by 
low wickerwork, and we litde boys used to lie on our stomachs out 
over the wickerwork and duck our heads. You had to duck right 
under so that the band of your shirt got wet or it didn't count for 
a bath. 

The highway had a peculiar fascination for me. There was a sort 
of suction from the receding distance. Once you got under way, pref- 
erably with bare feet, it drew you on and did not readily let you 
go again. How easy it was to go out, but how weary the way home 


even after you had got used to whippings and no longer con- 
sidered them. 

When there were animals pasturing on the Commons, I generally 
kept away from them. I had not yet had any opportunity of getting 
to know animals I was afraid of them. But otherwise the Commons 
were tempting enough. There was something about these barren 
wastes, unbroken by a single tree, that lured me on. I ventured far 
out to where the North Common ended and on to a new stretch 
known as Lambs' Common, and finally came to clover fields and 
meadows the Lerso quarterwhere I picked big yellow marsh 
marigolds for Mother. At the sight of the flowers I completely for- 
got that she was not to know anything about the trip, 

I had got out to the lovely open farm country; it was much 
brighter and friendlier here than at home in the Houses. The air 
embraced you softly and tenderly, the clover was cool to lay your 
hot cheek against, and all around was filled with light, and the 
singing of birds and the humming of insects. And yonder on the 
side of a hill a long, jointed creature rumbled along, groaning and 
whistling, coughing smoke and dirt out of its chimney, and putting 
on the most preposterous airs. That was the puff-train and I was 
probably seeing it for the first time. 

My greatest experience out here, however, was finding out where 
milk came from, that lovely drink, that tasted, oh, so wonderful that 
you could simply guzzle it no matter how full you were. It was a 
big event when you were sent off for half a quart or a whole quart, 
taking with you Mother's warning: "The Lord help you if you do 
any tasting on the way!" Of course, you did taste and were not 
overnourished on that account, and Mother scolded at the rascally 
grocer who gave such scant measure. Then we had some on our 
porridge and each of us had a cup of milk to drink with it ah! But 
there wasn't any left for Mother's cup! It might well happen then 
that everything would turn over inside you and you would begin 
to bawl with all the sluices open: Mother, Mother! Mother didn't 


say "thief or anything else. She just kissed you and said: "Come, 
now, and drink your milk, my boy; it's so good for your glands!" 

But here the milk flowed in strong streams, squirted straight out 
into the sunshine. A little piece away a woman sat with her head 
pressed into the side of a cow, pulling it in the stomach; and jets o 
milk spurted out of its stomach and struck the pail so that it sang. 
The loveliest, white milk, and from a coal-black cow, too! She 
beckoned me over and gave me a drink; and I flew home, filled to 
the neck with experience. I had drunk milk, real milk from the 
country! I forgot the flowers out there, but things almost went 
wrong anyway. For, of course, you just couldn't keep your mouth 
shut when you had drunk milk real milk from the country! And 
on this point Mother was not to be trifled with either; with all her 
heart she loathed "gadding." 

One morning Father had forgotten his schnapps and beer when 
he went to work, or rather Mother had forgotten to send it along 
with him she was very nervous when she discovered it. She kept 
Georg home from school "I'll give you a note tomorrow to say 
that you were sick," she said. 

"Yes, but then we'll be telling a lie," said Georg, looking very 

"You little hypocrite, you don't usually mind putting something 
over!" said Mother, laughing. "No, we're not lying," she added 
seriously. "We're just saving ourselves! and be off you now, so 
that your father will get the pancakes while they're still hot." To 
atone for her forgetfulness Mother had baked a couple of pancakes 
and put them into the basket. "Don't loiter on the way now; there'll 
be the devil to pay if you aren't there when it's time for Father to eat 
lunch!" She shoved us out the door. 

Did she send the two of us to be surer that the errand would be 
carried out? We knew what it meant and trudged bravely off, hand 
in hand. But the highway, alas, the highway! When we came out 
from the Houses on to Strandvejen, the fire-engines whizzed by, 


each one drawn by four galloping horses and followed by a long 
tail of boys and dust 

Guard, guard Broager guard! 
At 'em again, the shell is gone! 

sang the huge train of boys all together, and 

At 'em, at 'em, at 'em again, 
Old man Ferdinand Ludvigsen! 

The suction caught us and drew us irresistibly along! Did we 
drop the basket so that we could run faster? Our hands sometimes 
do things without our knowledge, especially in boyhood years. 

Far out, about where "Norgesminde" lies, a manor was burning. 
The fire must have made a tremendous impression on me. I can 
still see the flames, the tongues of fire, writhing and cracking 
like the lash of a whip in the air, the collapse of the buildings when 
the black beams looked like live creatures diving headforemost into 
the sea of flames! The police had formed a barrier and kept us at 
a distance; but the heat from the gigantic blaze struck our cheeks 
so that we had to turn our heads. Then the barrier broke, or else 
Georg and I had found a way around it; we were standing beside 
two long rows of charred cows. "A hundred and twenty-six," counted 
a man, prodding a cow with his cane. And the cane plunked into the 
cow's stomach! 

And just at that moment my brother gave a yell and pointed. 
The sun was going down; the day, which seemed to us only to have 
begun a little while before, had come to an end. It had shamefully 
stolen over our heads without warning of any sort. But we would 
get our warning now all right. Hunger gnawed at our vitals as we 
trudged home hand in hand. "The deuce with the licking," said 
my brother as we ran for our lives, "but we won't get anything to 
eat." And now I could agree with him: the deuce with the licking! 


For I had triumphed over pain; it was not so bad at all if you just 
ground your teeth and clenched your hand around your thumb. 
Then only the first blow really hurt. But hunger, hunger we would 
get nothing to eat! Ow, ow, ow! 

"We'll look for the basket," gasped my brother as we ran. "Per- 
haps we threw it over in the ditchthere were pancakes in it!" We 
spread out and each ran along his own ditch; but there was no 
basket. And now the entrance to the Houses appeared, and B No. 28 
"Dare you to go in first," whispered my brother hoarsely; it was 
as though my bravery had made him fearful. 

I dared; Mother met us in the doorway. "Go quietly round the 
other way to the kitchen and wash yourselves," she said in a whisper. 
"Uncle Morten's here!" So there was no licking in store for us to- 
day! But food? Food? 

Mother let us into the kitchen and put a chunk of bread into each 
of our mouths, while she got after us with the sponge. Then we 
went in and said how do you do. "Here are the lads," said Father. 
"They've been on an errand and have been delayed." Was he mak- 
ing fun of us ? There was nothing to be seen from his face. He was 
dressed in his Sunday best; it was necessary to make a fuss over 
Uncle Morten. 


3? EOPLE have sometimes accused me of a lack of family feeling, and 
indeed there is some truth in it. My interest in the past is very sec- 
ondary; it interests me mainly as a means of throwing light on the 
future. There is no strong feeling of solidarity in my family any- 
way, not even among the most immediate members; although chil- 
dren of the same parents, we brothers and sisters are very different 
and in important matters have fallen each into his own world. The 
slightly more distant members of the family hardly know each other 
when they meet in the street. 

I consider this a good thing. There is just as little sense in associat- 
ing with people because you happen to have parents or grandparents 
in common as there is in associating because you come from the 
same part of the country or make your living in the same way. Nor 
do I when abroad associate with people because they come from the 
same country but seek companionship according to less conventional, 
and consequently more vital, needs. This is one of the things in 
which the proletarian differs from the bourgeois. He has, of course, 
just as many ancestors, his family tree would be just as easy to trace 
back to Gorm the Old or "Skjalm Hvide's family" as any other; 
since none of us human beings has fallen down from heaven, we 
all reach equally far back genealogically. But if the struggle for 
existence has been so severe that you have had daily knocks, you 
may be tempted like the petty bourgeois, to seek comfort in great 
ancestors or in great contemporaries from your own sphere or 
profession; as a proletarian you should look ahead, seek comfort and 
put your trust in the future. 


In our family there was a conflict of many and extreme contrasts, 
superficially symbolized by the old opposites, fair and dark. Mother 
was the fairest of the fair, both in complexion and disposition. Hers 
was a fair nature through and through, open and transparent. 
Strangely enough she was the one of our parents who was less deeply 
rooted in the native soil; her father had come from South Germany 
and her mother was a Swedish woman, probably with a Jewish 
strain. Father, on the other hand, who was like coal and bronze out- 
wardly, and inwardly was filled with secret chambers like the old 
chests, was a pure Bornholmer; it was impossible to point to any 
foreign stock. His mother was a queer little woman, like a Lapp, 
closemouthed and deep, unfathomable. She came from a small farm 
in the north of Bornholm, where her family had lived from time 
immemorial. She was equally dark both summer and winter and 
her body was just as brown as her face. All her brothers and sisters 
were fair and so were her parents. In her the dark element had 
sprung forth into the light after perhaps having lain bound in the 
family, hidden down in its reserves, for centuries. It must have been 
a strong element in any case; all her own children were dark, and 
in us grandchildren, too, the foreign stamp predominates. Grand- 
father was also a Bornholmer, through many generations, of the 
Nansen family of South Bornholm. This family, which probably 
far back emigrated from Germany, has since sent various branches 
out over the North. The Nansens generally appeared in twos or 
threes and bore the mark of the clan on them. They were tall, sin- 
ewy people, most of them butchers and cattle dealers inveterate 
card playersf Grandfather was like them to a hair. He, too, as tenant 
farmer and day laborer, held his head erect all his life long; he was 
six feet tall and until well on in years a bold and able swimmer. 

Bornholm has been settled chiefly by way of Germany and 
Sweden, the two countries lying nearest the island which thus 
formed a natural bridge for the folk migrations. From the Swedish 
coast you can clearly see Bornholm with its cliffs and green ash 
trees, and from the German, you do not have to go very far out to 

sea before you catch sight of the island.The same mixture of facial 
types that you meet in Sweden and meet again, one after another, 
on a trip through Russia from Leningrad to the Caucasus, recurs 
here. And there are survivals in the speech of Bornholm and its 
superstitions which point southward, toward the Bodensee and the 
Allemans. It is a motley nest, even such a remote, out-of-the-way 
corner of the world as this little island in the Baltic; it is not so easy 
to determine the color of the birds who fly out of it! 

At least that is what Mother said; she had expected to find in a 
Bornholmer the most dependable creature on earth and had been 
badly disappointed. Mother was jealous, and not only of her sister 
Marie; it was apparent from many outbursts that in this respect she 
never really trusted Father. Perhaps she had reason; at all events 
she was very much in love with him and continued to be in spite of 
everything. And love without jealousy is at least as rare as roses 
without thorns. She sometimes brought very grave charges against 
him., even when we children were present; and Father, who other- 
wise did not put up with many reproaches, merely laughed. He was 
attractive to women, as is generally the case with dark men in a 
blond people; and this attractiveness to women was generously in- 
herited by the dark ones among his children. While still an appren- 
tice, Georg had a hard time warding off the women; they positively 
pursued him in droves and almost ate him up. The strange thing 
about Mother's jealousy was that there was an accompanying ring 
of pride in her accusations, as though she were boasting of Father's 
peccadilloes at the same time that she reproached him for them. 

I do not know whether Mother in her jealousy read more into 
Aunt Marie's invitations to Father to come out to California and 
make his way there than was right or reasonable. Aunt Marie's let- 
ters kept on coming and each one gave rise to a scene; and when 
she suddenly surprised us by a visit, it was really quite awful. Georg 
and I didn't like her, although she brought us presents and gave us 
money for sweets. She had freckles round her nose, something which 
in our boyish world could only come from having run behind a 


night cart; she pursed up her lips when she talked and laughed, so 
that it made her look like Sister's doll; and her teeth could be taken 
out! She put them to soak in a glass of water when she went to bed, 
and in the morning brushed them at the kitchen sink! 

It was a restless time; we children were homeless and forlorn. 
Often we were put outside and the doors locked; then there was 
something that had to be discussed in private. They wrangled in 
there. Mother cried, and we children shook the door and tried to get 
in to her; then Father came over, opened the door a little, and 
scolded us. The neighbor women gathered in whispering groups a 
little distance away from our entrance, and one day the preacher came 
and went in; he touched us on the forehead with the tips of his 
fingers as he passed. I remember it, because I could never bear to have 
a stranger touch me. 

Then suddenly Aunt Marie went away. Father did not go over 
with her to make a way for us all, but remained at home; life fell 
back into the old groove again. Now and then Mother accused him 
of something or other in connection with Aunt Marie; he no longer 
laughed as before but became angry. "It's your fault that I slave 
away here and get nowhere," he said. "I could have had a good start 
over there by now; indeed, the rest of you might perhaps have been 
on your way over to join me." 

Mother snorted: "On our way over to join you pooh! We could 
have looked in the almanac for you once you had got over there. 
You're no better than your brothers!" 

Father's youngest brother, Uncle Kristian, was said to have cleared 
out to America to escape from a situation in which he had become 
too deeply involved. And as for Uncle Morten what really was the 
case with him? He had slept on the deck in the moonlight, they 
said and then began to talk in such strangely low tones. 

Uncle Morten was the oldest of the flock of children and the one 
who had been most successful. He lived in Ronne, where he had his 
own house and garden and carried on a little grocery business, 
which was looked after by his wife while he was at sea. He had a 

regular route between Ronne and Copenhagen, sailed over with a 
cargo of cut stone and came back with mixed freight. He had passed 
no seaman's examination; nevertheless he was a skipper, indeed a 
shipowner, for he owned the vessel, a little schooner, himself. He 
had a man to help run the ship between the two ports, "run" to be 
understood here almost as a seaman's expression. It took, on the 
average, from two weeks to a month to make the voyage over and 
back again. In those days the highest government official on the 
island got what a laborer now gets, about ten kroner a day; and 
Uncle was properly considered among the well-to-do. Nor did we 
have much to do with each other; although Uncle Morten was in 
Copenhagen every two or three weeks, I can remember having seen 
him only once before this particular time when he came and saved 
us from the punishment that was certainly waiting for us both with 
good measure and something extra. 

I remember Uncle Marten from that time as an unusually hand- 
some man, still darker and browner than Father. His hair and beard 
were coal-black and soft as silk, his skin a warm, coppery brown, 
drenched in color as one sees it in the Arabs; the high broad forehead 
reflected the light like a shiny-bellied copper kettle. But the full lips 
drooped a trifle on the one side, and the one arm hung limp. It was 
because he had slept on the deck in the moonlight, Mother said, it 
was the moonsickness! "Poor man, he'll not get off as easy as that," 
she said. "People like that generally end up like babies that have to 
be fed and tended." Her prophecy filled me with horror; I could not 
stop staring at Uncle; as long as he was in the room my eyes never 
left him. It made him uneasy. 

"You stare so strangely at me," he said finally, laughing in em- 

"Yes, there's a lad that uses his eyes," said Father proudly. "He's 
called after you, too; perhaps hell grow up to look like you. Who 
are you going to leave your things to anyway; you've no children, 
have you?" 

Uncle Morten shook his head impatiently. Then he raised his 

glass: "Skaal, brother!" They sat with the whisky bottle between 
them! And we had always heard that Uncle did not drink! 

Uncle Morten came oftener at this time, and there was a reason. 
The brother in America had signed away his right to inherit from 
the old couple at home in Balka when they should die. In return 
he was to be relieved o all responsibility for them he was so far 
away. Now Uncle Morten wanted Father to sign a similar paper. 
"Then you'll be free, and all responsibility for their support will 
rest upon me," he said. But Father refused. 

"You can sign away your rights, but no document can rid you o 
your responsibilities," he said. 

So Uncle Morten stayed away again. But we heard that he was 
drinking and dissipating, and in between times going to visit wise 
women and men in Skaane who cured people by the laying on of 
hands. "It's the moonsickness!" said Mother. "Now he's purifying 
himself and thinks he can wash himself clean in innocence! But the 
Lord will strike him down one day when he has ruined a sufficient 
number of innocents. And what the Lord does not do, the liquor 
will take care of, all right!" It was not often that Mother referred to 
the Lord, and the horror surrounding Uncle grew in my soul and 
took on such forms that I screamed out when the moon shone in on 
me at night. 

The only relative of whom we children were really fond and whose 
visits we longed for from one time to the next was Uncle Otterberg, 
and he was not even our real uncle. He was Mother's foster brother. 
We had always called him Uncle Lauritz; but now he had got mar- 
ried and the etiquette of our world required that henceforth we 
should call him by his surname. Uncle Otterberg was a mason and 
a cheerful chap. Whenever he came, we boys had a wild time of it; 
we rode on his shoulders, and he played "pancake" with us and tossed 
us up in the air. Boys, too, hunger for caresses, albeit of a rather 
queer sort; and we had not been spoiled in this respect. It was glori- 
ous fun when he lay down on his back on the lawn between the rows 
of houses and we sat firmly astride him. Then he was a wicked giant, 

who had been conquered and had to be held down, and he would 
moan and groan very pitiably for a giant. And suddenly he would 
make a bridge and we would roll off into the grass. 

Father did not know how to play with us even if he were in the 
mood to do so; it usually ended up with unpleasantness, sometimes 
even with weeping and gnashing of teeth. It was too bad that Uncle 
Lauritz went off and got married; he came less often now, and 
when he did come, it was in his Sunday best and with a young wife 
on his arm. But Uncle Otterberg was still nice and jolly, even if 
the clothes and the new dignity as married man set certain limits 
he is a cheerful chap to this day, with all his eighty years. But 
he made the mistake of settling down in the Rhubarb quarter, 
where our most implacable enemies lived. There was bad blood 
between the boys of the Houses and those of the section around 
Griff enfeldtsgade and Kapelvej. We ventured there only in great 
strength and armed with straps or clubs. There could be no casual 
roaming in that quarter. But it happened quite often that we would 
go out there for a visit on Sunday afternoon with Father and Mother; 
and it was always a joyous event. Uncle Otterberg's were to us our 
only relatives; and beyond these visits and the return visits Father 
and Mother had no social intercourse. 

Once Georg and I were sent out there on an errand that opened 
up dark prospects for the future. We were to fetch the cradle that 
Uncle had borrowed for his first-born. It was no fun to have to haul 
it all the long way home from Tjornegade, and what did we want 
it for anyway? We were getting along much better without a cradle. 

"What do we want it for? Don't you know that, you idiot? 
Mother's going to have a baby, of course! When a woman puts her 
hands on her stomach, like this, and is pinched around the nose, it 
always means that she is going to have a baby!" Georg crossed his 
arms and thrust out his stomach so that they could rest on it. 

"Well, we can just send for the minister and baptize it; it will be 
sure to die then," I thought. 

"Oh, how stupid you are. You don't die because you're baptized; 


but you're baptized in an awful hurry because you're going to die." 

So that way of escape was closed. There was much that was upside 
down in this world. 

We took a short cut across the Commons, the catde having been 
taken home, I grew tired and sleepy on the way, probably as a result 
of low spirits; I still get sleepy when things go against me. We had 
to sit down and I fell asleep with my head in Georg's lap. Perhaps I 
slept for a long time and he no doubt got bored he did easily 
and yet did not have the heart to waken me. To pass the time he 
took to stuffing my mouth full of sheep manure. He was just in the 
act of trying whether the small, hard, black balls could also be 
squeezed into my nose, when I awakened. I screamed and vomited, 
while my brother helped widi alacrity to rid me of "that nasty 
dirt that had flown into my mouth." I no longer believed him; but 
when a bigger boy came and interfered in the matter and was going 
to thrash Georg, I immediately took his part; and we put the strange 
boy to flight. With that our friendship was re-established and we 
trudged on, my brother palavering away to wipe out the last traces 
of his act, 

"Yes, you're spitting, all right, and it certainly doesn't taste very 
nice. But it does make you strong, I tell you that; so you just have 
to get used to the taste of it. You've seen strong men with something 
black in their mouths that they chew on, haven't you? Well, that's 
what it is it makes you terrifically strong. And you were the one 
that did most to beat up that big boy, too." He rattled on until I 
became dizzy and finally did not know where I was. If we had not 
got across the Commons and into the Rhubarb country, I should 
have ended by starting to eat sheep manure. 

At Uncle's I had a new experience, I ate strawberry jam for the 
first time in my life. And the trip home was rather fun. It began to 
pour rain as we started across the Commons, We hit upon the idea 
of turning the wicker cradle over our heads and walking underneath 
it; it was like walking under a house. 



HLTHOUGH I had been registered with pomp and circumstance at 
the charity school, nothing came of the plan to send me there; I 
have not a single recollection of it. When it came to the point, Mother 
was probably unable to spare the fifty ore a week that it cost. 

Nothing was lost thereby. Order and discipline I did not need to 
learn: those two things had been sufficiently well hammered into 
me by my laborious existence. And I have never been able to profit 
from the instruction of the schoolroom whether the fault is to be 
found in the instruction or in myself. On the other hand, I perhaps 
took more readily to the teaching of the life round about me than 
do children who turn to books and school rather from the force of 
family tradition than from their own inclination. 

I have since, on my way through life, had ample opportunity to 
observe that there is a vast difference between people with an aca- 
demic education and the rest of us, who have had to glean our 
knowledge and wisdom along the road of experience. Let me say 
here that I would not change. It is no doubt much easier to arrive 
at a result by way of books and teaching than by way of experience. 
All you need is unquestioning faith and the ability to learn by heart. 
On the other hand, the lessons taught by life are more lasting; they 
are more universal and more generally applicable. I have often 
known people with academic training to give up before the simplest 
problems in the world of nature. "That's not my field; I haven't 
studied that," is usually their excuse. The academic person seems to 
me to be altogether too dependent on books and on what he has 
learned from lectures too passive; success depends on submitting 


as uncritically as passively as possible to being crammed. Whereas 
if you have to pick up your information for yourself from the thou- 
sand phenomena of life, you must be extremely active. 

It is said that hens which are used to being fed indoors on sys- 
tematically blended feed, in fixed rations, at fixed times lose the 
power to choose their food properly when they are let out and left 
to themselves. And when they finally manage to produce an egg, 
it is usually soft-shelled the lime for the shell has been forgotten. 
They have lost the instinct for materials and the ability to collect 
and assort. I had both qualities and still have them; this has a tend- 
ency to isolate a person in an age in which most intellectual workers 
are still academically minded. 

I had no ability to take in predigested stuff with my brain and 
store it up in my memory at that time, and I have had a hard time 
to develop this faculty since. You need blind faith to be able to 
learn by rote; the tooth that you keep wiggling critically does not 
grow firm. I should at any time whatever in my life have been 
flunked at any imaginable examination not planned as a test of 
maturity but based on memory. But I had early a rare capacity 
for experience. Experiences burned themselves into my mind and 
my powers of assimilation were in good order. Even poisonous stuff 
was beneficial to my intellectual organism. Not least on my wan- 
derings I received impressions and collected material on good and 
evil which was of critical importance for my growth. During this 
period, which caused my parents so many worries, I was storing 
up honey and wax for life. There is a certain danger in including 
everything; honey may sometimes be poisonous, when the bees roam 
too much. But never for the bees themselves. 

As a by-product of my wandering I learned to read, quite inci- 
dentally. It came entirely of itself, clung to me, so to speak, as the 
pollen clings to the bee on its excursions from flower to flower. 
Above the shop into which when your insides cried out too loudly 
from hunger you ran and asked if you could go on an errand was 
the word "Baker"; it was really very simple. Nor could the words 

"Fresh killed meat today*' on the blackboard hung out by the inn- 
keeper possibly be mistaken; when that sign was up, you could go 
in and get a plate of hot soup gratis. You were practically born able 
to make out words like "Police Station," and you soon learned to 
grasp the meaning of sentences like "Trespassing Forbidden" or 
"Beware of the Dog." One thing led to another! From shop signs to 
street names was not a very big leap; when I wandered about the 
city, I read my way along. 

With reading in the broader sense my new accomplishment had 
as yet nothing to do. But one day my brother brought a little chil- 
dren's book home with him from school; he had borrowed it from 
the school library for two ore and was very much taken up with it. 
All the time he was reading it, with his fingers in his ears, he sat 
squirming with delight and laughing. It was simply not to be borne; 
it was enough to drive you stark, staring mad! 

Outwardly the book did not look like much, with its dirty paper 
cover; but inside it dealt with the most fascinating of all subjects, a 
boy and a girl. And it had pictures, too; in one of them you saw the 
boy and the girl playing beside a river. At the edge of the water 
there was a tub, and in the next picture the boy had persuaded the 
little girl to get into the tub and pushed her out into the river. 
Weeping, she floated off downstream into a precarious world, and 
the boy followed along the bank, screaming. 

It certainly was thrilling! But Georg wouldn't read the story 
aloud to me; and I was not allowed to borrow the book either. We 
got into a fight over it, and Mother decided the matter in his favor. 
"What do you want with the book? You can't read it anyway," she 

"He thinks he can," said Georg, grinning. "He's so conceited." 

"We'll soon find out whether he can or not," said Mother, and 
then they picked out a good long word for me to make out "por- 
celain cups." I managed to puzzle it out with great difficulty. Mother 
looked at me in surprise. 

"He's cheating," shouted my brother. "He didn't get it by spell- 


Ing!" But Mother decided that I should have permission to read the 
book when Georg was out. 

I didn't get much out of it beyond the satisfaction of having the 
others think I could read; I couldn't even make proper sense out 
of it, let alone a story. But Georg, who was good nature itself, after 
all, helped me with a profuse display of strong language and in a 
short time I was able to make sense out of the words. 

Then it was Father's turn to be surprised. But when I had shown 
him in black and white, he declared that he had always said I would 
amount to something. How new it sounded to my ears! But it rang 
pleasantly after the everlasting "milksop" and "sissy"; and in my 
pride I turned the book upside down and tried to show him that I 
could read any way. But Father did not like that "That's how the 
Devil read the Bible," he said, nodding gravely. "One must be 
careful not to get too clever." 

Reading took hold of me now. Perhaps it was convenience that 
caused me to take this short cut to excitement; in any case it was 
better for me, with my frail physique, to meet experiences at home 
than to have to hunt them up on excursions; I lost the desire to 
roam. Perhaps the fact that summer was over had something to do 
with it, too. Mother liked to have me at home; when none of us had 
anything more important to do, I had to read aloud to her. It usu- 
ally went too slowly for her and she would come and read aloud 
with me. That helped me a great deal. 

We children owned a pious picture book in verse which a chari- 
table old lady had once brought us for Christmas, together with a 
bag of candy. The pictures had done their duty and the book was 
all in tatters. Now it was the turn of the text; I read it aloud to 
Mother so thoroughly that the verses are still in my head. They were 
bad verses, the contents mediocre, the pictures commonplace. "The 
Lamb is my fountain, Jesus is my fold," ran one of the poems. 
Nevertheless they set soul and mind in motion, the imagination ex- 
panded; they started something growing in you. It is the poor man's 
privilege to get much out of little. 

[n 3 ] 

Father had a big book lying in his own drawer, a bound volume of 
some illustrated weekly or other. It was not to be touched; none o 
us had ever had a thought that it could possibly be taken out of the 
drawer. But now we were possessed by the devil of reading and we 
risked it. Mother was at once the most fearful and the most eager; 
and lo and behold, the book was full of stories and travels, illus- 
trated with woodcuts, and most of them so long that they began 
again just when you were beginning to feel sorry that it was all over, 
"Continued" it said, a wonderful word! Georg came home from 
school breathless: "You haven't read any further, have you?" No, 
we hadn't, and if we had, we did not say so. These were things that 
could well bear reading twice over ten times if necessary! Oh, what 
are ten times? You could never get tired of plunging headfirst into 
such a God's plenty. "End" was a tiresome word, just as tiresome as 
"continued" was stimulating. But you could always begin all over 
again^ especially after the book had been locked up for a while. 
That freshened it up no end! But in the meantime 

Well, down in the bottom of the clothes closet lay a huge pile of 
uncut pages, carefully tied together with string. It was a serial novel 
of several thousand pages: Leonia, or a Night in the Mines, it was 
called. Mother had subscribed for it when she was in service, so as 
to have the pictures for when she would get married. And, sure 
enough, there were the pictures, hanging above the chest of drawers, 
one on either side of a small but gaily colored print of the Madonna 
of the Pierced Heart. The one represented a fountain in a strange 
forest, with a smoking mountain in the background; the other, a queen 
or a goddess driving her war chariot, while a naked black man threw 
himself against the speeding four-horse team. Father detested sensa- 
tional novels and Mother had once had a hard time to keep him 
from burning it. The Lord help the one that dared undo the string! 

But there was nothing else for it, even if the earth were to open 
beneath us and swallow us up. Out the bundle had to come. We did 
not venture to cut the pages, but peeked in between the folded leaves 
and painfully and furtively found out what was in them as spong- 


ing readers do in a bookshop. It was quite an effort, but it was well 
worth it. All the exciting events in the world seemed to have had a 
rendezvous in the yellow booklets with the flamboyant covers. I 
no longer needed to roam round in quest of thin, tiresome experi- 
ences. My mind was sated with surprises: murder, violence, bloody 
events, robbers and heroes, holy fathers and pure maidens I thought 
they were pure because they were always washing themselves 
castles and cloisters with subterranean passages. There it was, every- 
thing that makes life exciting and worth living. We read aloud to 
one another; Mother, who had been the most timid when the book 
had to be taken out for the first time, had now become very reckless 
from all this hobnobbing with robbers and heroes. "It won't matter 
if we do cut a page here and there," she said when the peeking 
method was too slow. It ended with our cutting the long side of every 
sheet the part that was hardest to read in order to get on faster. 
You became quite breathless just from listening, and when we had 
to stop, so that Father should not take us by surprise, we hardly 
dared move, so haunted was every corner. At this time something 
new that I had never known before appeared in me I became 
afraid of the dark. 


FATHER had quit the stone quarry and got a job laying cobblestones; 
he had never learned either trade, but so adept was he with stone 
and hammer that he seemed to have been born with them in his 
hand. He rose rapidly among the real pavers, and when I brought 
him his lunch, now here and now there in the new side streets that 
were opening up in Osterbro, I would find him sitting on a little 
one-legged stool laying cobblestones. He dug in the sand with a 
funny hammer, which was a spade on the one end, then swung it 
in the air, turned it round in his hand and brought the hammer 
end down on the cobblestone, so that it echoed up the street. There 
were huge piles of sand all around and it looked as though the pavers 
were sitting playing in it; you really felt quite envious of them! In 
the afternoon it was Georg's turn; when he had come home from 
school and had his dinner, he ran off to Father with his afternoon 
coffee. Often he was allowed to stay out there for the rest of the 
afternoon and hand out cobblestones to the stone setters. He got 
money for it from the foreman twenty-five ore. Yes, times were 

You could notice it on all external things and also on the mind; 
people become good when things go well with them. Father was 
happier than before, and so were the rest of us; the change of fortune 
affected everybody. Even Bigum with his D. T.'s seemed less menac- 
ing. Besides, he had been in the alcoholic ward of the hospital for 
the cure and now went round looking thin and flabby and trembling. 
His blue nose had become long instead of thick, and dripped; he was 
always cold. The women thought he was to be pitied and gave him 
a swig on the sly. 


You could tell from the food,, too, that times were different; 
Mother often bought a big piece of American bacon and made kale 
soup or pork stew in the big pot, so that there was enough for 
several days. We had to watch then that Madam Nielsen, the 
thievish old hag, didn't come in and steal the food out of the pot for 
her lanky, good-for-nothing sons. She never cooked herself; she 
couldn't be bothered, Mother said. The Nielsens were earning good 
money now. People had really begun to spend again, and when 
Nielsen appeared in the courtyards with his hand organ and his 
sham wooden leg, pennies rained down on him from all stories, so 
that he hardly had time to play for picking them up. He would have 
liked to have one of us boys along to gather up the coins for him; 
but Mother wouldn't hear of it. "Let him take his own big lazy louts 
for that," she said, "we are neither organ-grinders nor scalawags!" 
She was furious at his cheek. 

Father was at home a great deal; in the evening and on Sunday 
he usually sat writing, drawing, and making calculations on an 
enormous sheet of paper. He was making estimates, and Mother 
walked quietly and hushed us. "Father's working," she said, with a 
peculiarly solemn expression which was new to me. "He's working 
out a tender. We'll soon be well off now." Whether the exciting read- 
ing was the cause of it or not, she was no longer so cool and skeptical 
about Father's ideas. Formerly she had always shrugged her shoul- 
ders at his plans. When he talked about something he was thinking 
of doing, she always looked as though she were thinking: "Oh, 
Lord help us! If only you'd attend to what you're at." Her attitude 
no doubt influenced me in turn; I had never taken Father's plans 
seriously, but regarded them as pothouse vapors. 

I was beginning now to see and apprehend in a more subtle way; 
things were not so simple as they seemed, every day there was some- 
thing or other that abruptly presented itself in a new light. What 
I had hitherto regarded in Father as castles in the air, built upon 
the fumes of alcohol, now assumed an entirely different form. 
Mother had often talked of how many things he had wanted to 


do when he was young, o how ambitious and progressive he had 
been then. Now the connection was clear to me. I sensed a relation- 
ship between that and the other, discouraging side of Father, a 
struggle in which he now sank down into the depths and now was 
borne high. From the Limekiln Harbor I had once watched a boat 
with a man in it out in the surf. He rowed hard to get into the 
mouth of the harbor, and sometimes a wave would take the boat, 
lift it up and run ahead with it, as though it were going to carry 
him safely into port. But suddenly it would run away from under- 
neath the boat and let it fall and disappear, so that I thought the 
deep had swallowed the man and could not help shrieking aloud. 
This was the first time that anything had translated itself into a 
vivid picture for me. In this picture of a man fighting for his life 
I now saw Father and became fond of him once more. Indeed, 
he became in a certain sense my hero again, but not as before in a 
more complicated way. Then he had been a shining hero, now he 
entered my mind as a suffering hero. 

Mother was serious and solemn rather than really happy during 
this time; she was one of those people who are uneasy when things 
are soaring upward perhaps because the rise means so much to 
them. On the other hand, the downward course never found her 
lacking in spirit; I have always had to admire the strength of nerve 
and will that she could command when things were going downhill 
with us, and to wonder from what hidden sources within herself she 
drew it. When she thought she was alone, she would stand by the 
hour peeking into Father's papers, which were locked up in the 
drawer of the table as though she were trying to discover whether 
there were really a future in his work, or whether this time also there 
would be a recoil. She was to find out later in Bornholm that 
there really was something in it, without being any the happier on 
that account. 

One Saturday evening Father came home and announced that from 
Monday on he was to work as foreman. It was funny to see Mother. 
For a moment she stood as though paralyzed; then she shook her- 

self like a young girl and rushed over and threw her arms around 
Father's neck. He tried gently to free himself, but Mother wouldn't 
let him go. "You'll have to hand over some money now/' she said, 
putting her hand down into his pocket and pulling out the suede 
wallet. And Father let her do it without grumbling very much. 

He merely muttered: "The Lord only knows what's the matter 
with you." 

"The matter with me is that I'm having company tomorrow/' 
answered Mother briskly. "I'm going to have a party for my 

"Better buy me a few shirts instead," said Father. "As foreman I 
can't go a whole week with the same shirt." 

"I'll make them myself/' said Mother. "You'll have some nice 
shirts, so that you can change every day if you like." 

"Just like the King!" I shouted. For I knew from Aunt Lassen's 
that the King changed every day, the princes every other day. 
Mother winked at me to keep quiet. 

The next morning Georg and I were up bright and early and 
out to Kristineberg for bread, lots of bread, both fine and coarse, 
for Mother to make sandwiches for the company. Then we were 
dressed in our good clothes and sent out to invite the guests for the 
afternoon: Uncle Otterberg's, Aunt Lassen's, and Aunt Trine. With 
that our entire social circle was exhausted. "Now be sure and tell 
Aunt Lassen that Father's been made foreman/* Mother warned 
us as we left. "They'll come then, all right." Father was still sleep- 
ing, he was so dead tired on Sunday after the week's work that he 
could hardly waken. 

My brother and I didn't understand how it could occur to Mother 
to invite Aunt Lassen's, since Father didn't like them at all, and it 
was to be a party for him. But we were glad of the chance to go into 
their house. There were so many toys and there was a peculiar 
fragrance over everything, a fragrance from a strange world that 
appealed to our imagination. 

They lived somewhere in the inner town, quite near the Palace, 

probably on Frederiksgade. We had been there only once or twice, 
but were all the more taken up with them as a result. Man cannot 
live without having something to look up to; Aunt Lassen's were 
our link with the higher levels of society, our pride. 

And what a connection it was it led right up to the top. Uncle 
was the Queen Dowager's coachman and always wore a red coat. 
Even at that time the color red had a magic effect upon me; I 
thought it the most splendid and distinguished color of all, and 
could not understand why the King himself did not wear it, but 
used it for his coachmen and footmen. But it was just as well any- 
way; when Uncle had his red coat on, it was almost like being with 
the King! 

Aunt Lassen had been something in the King's kitchen and was 
still sent for on special occasions. However, they were both old; 
Uncle seldom drove; he was in charge of the stables. They had only 
one child, a grown-up daughter, who was unmarried and was in 
service at the court; she was the most elegant creature alive, and 
moreover, she was extremely pretty. This last I do not base upon 
my own observation, but upon what the grown-up people said. I 
myself had eyes only for her high., ample bosom, which made a 
powerful impression on me. 

She, in turn, had a little girl who looked as though she had stepped 
right out of a book of fairy tales. Merely the manner in which she 
was treated must have made her a fairy princess in my eyes and in 
my brother's. She was always in white dresses, white stockings, and 
white shoes, like the princesses in Hans Christian Andersen, and 
she was very blase. She had the most wonderful toys, but when we 
admired them, she half closed her eyes, put back her head, and said 
pooh! Although she was no older than I, she ruled the whole house- 
hold. Father declared that Uncle Lassen put on his red coat and 
stood behind her chair while she ate. 

Elegant they were, and if I am to be quite honest, they did not 
belong in our circle at all. Aunt Lassen had been in our house 
once or twice and had brought some toys, which had belonged to the 


princes and which Father had relentlessly put into the stove in spite 
of our tears. Then I had been out there occasionally with Mother, 
and my brother and I had tried to visit them once or twice on our 
own account and had been gently bowed out. That was really all. 
But Mother basked in it; here, as elsewhere, she had a rare power 
of getting much out of little; and we children listened to her gladly, 
for we had need of a little color in our lives. 

"If only they don't kick us out," said my brother on the steps, for 
about the tenth time. And they did; that is to say, they did not let 
us in at all. We saw them moving inside the curtain of the entry- 
door, but they did not open it. I felt sorry for them that they should 
miss the party at our place, and wanted to kick on the door, but 
Georg cooled me off. "They've seen us, all right, don't you under- 
stand?" he said. "That's why they don't open the door. How stupid 
you are!" 

Yes, stupid I was; I could not get it into my head that they had 
seen us and yet would not open the door. 

"Because we're not fine enough, you idiot!" 

That hit home! It dawned upon me bitterly for the first time what 
it meant to belong at the bottom. 

"All right, then, I'll go and pee on the door," I said angrily. But 
my brother dragged me down the steps and we trailed off home. 

But Uncle Otterberg's came, and Aunt Trine with the little girls; 
the boy was in an institution. We had a lovely day after all. Mother 
gave us some soft soap in a saucer and we blew soap bubbles out 
beside the washhouse, and afterward we had all sorts of sandwiches. 


ONE day in my seventh year a gentle and kind man came into our 
house and took me by the hand. "I come from Society, the loving 
mother of us all," he said. "Hitherto you have lived the carefree 
life of a child under the protecting wings of your parents, but now 
you must go to school, so that you can be a real man some day, a 
citizen of the world. Look, here we have built a school, a palace, 
which is a complete replica of life; here you will meet everything in 
reduced and condensed form, you will be allowed to test out your 
powers on the whole thing. What you have, we will develop, and 
what you lack, we will try to coax forth, so that you may become 
an all-round man. For a human being is the rarest and most precious 
thing in the world, and consequently not a mite must go to waste. 
Therefore we must begin right from the bottom. 

"First of all, you must have a warm bath have you never had a 
bath before? Then it is certainly high time. It feels good, doesn't 
it? It makes you so beautifully clean and hungry. You're always 
hungry? Here at school you'll get enough to satisfy you all right. 
Our motto is: food and food and more food! So you thought you 
were to be fed on lessons ? No, lessons were invented by the Devil 
to deaden the alertness and aptitude of the child's mind; we'll have 
none of them here we're not extinguishers! We want to light, not 
to snuff out; we want to awaken all that is slumbering within you 
and make it blossom and bear fruit. But we are not going to hand 
you out intellectual food before we have cared for your little body. 
We are not so inhuman as that nor yet so topsy-turvy. All you have 
to do now is eat your fill, the rest will come later. You've never been 


so nice and full before? Drink up your milk then, just dip your snout 
right down into it like a little calf, and then we'll go down to the 
school meadow and look at the cows that give us the lovely milk and 
you will be allowed to try to milk one yourself. Won't it be fun to 
feed the cow yourself and milk the lovely rich milk that is the first 
food of all creatures? You just got the bottle, did you say, strained 
gruel? Yes, that was how it used to be, poor women had tumors in 
their breasts instead of milk then; it was a result of the drudgery 
and of all the cold water they had to work in. But we won't think 
back over that now, it's much too sad and terrible a chapter. Now 
you must enjoy your milk, drink and drink, so that you'll be plump 
and rosy-cheeked. No, not yet; you'll be allowed to learn something 
in good time; much that is beautiful and great and useful you will 
be allowed to learn, so that your eyes will shine and your heart ex- 
pand with joy, 

"But now we must go first to the school doctor. He will examine 
you and take a blood test. There's a little trouble in your chest, but 
we'll soon get the better of that; it's just drudgery and undernourish- 
ment, not another thing. Glands tubercles; sad and bad conditions 
coffins and cemeteries! But now there is no more poverty we 
teachers have done away with that. One day we threw down the 
cane and the catechism and took up the microscope and the blood 
test. We let the children see themselves and their rags under the 
microscope. Yes, they even had to bring along pieces of their greasy 
bedclothes. And when they and their parents had seen bacilli by the 
billions and disease germs of every sort swarming on them a few 
times, and had felt the King of Terror knocking in the thin blood 
under the skin, they refused to put up with it any longer and poverty 
abolished itself. Do not say, then, that education cannot have a 
revolutionary effect! 

"First we will give you a strong body and teach you to use it 
properly. And then, my boy, when the machinery is in order, the 
work will begin and the lofty flight. You'll be a devil of a fellow 


But what's all this my pencil is scribbling down ? Lies, of course, 
from one end to the other, utter, awful lies! The only thing that may 
serve to excuse me and my pencil is that it could and should have 
been true. 

And it is true, at all events, that society had got its eye on my 
brother and me and was out for us. Instead of a gentle and kind 
man, it sent a blue slip of paper of the sort that easily makes poor 
people tremble giving notice that the child, Georg Frederik Ander- 
sen, was of school age and must appear at the free school on St. Hans 
Torv on such and such a date. 

Schools in general had a bad name in those days; and of the 
free school on St. Hans Torv, in particular, no good was said. 
Whether it was any worse than other schools I do not know; but 
it cast a shadow over my childish mind, filled me with an uneasiness 
that increased as time passed and the fatal day for my own admission 
drew nearer and nearer. Georg was a tough lad, and yet he was 
anything but happy at school. How then would it be for me? He 
often "skipped," played truant because he had not the courage to 
venture within the gates of the hell that school then was. I was his 
accessory, and we used to wander round until schooltime was over, 
so that they should not discover at home that he had played truant. 
But of course he always caught it later, often both at school and at 
home; and that did not make the idea of school any more comfort- 
able to contemplate. If the school already had a bad reputation, 
Georg's experiences were not calculated to dispel my anxiety. 

"I won't go to school at all, then," I said after one of his hair- 
raising stories. "I can read now anyway!" 

"Yes, but that's no good, for you haven't learned it in the right 
way, and that's much worse than not knowing how at all. The 
teachers always get mad at the ones that have learned to read at 
home! You read commode, but that's wrong; you have to read 
c-o-m, com, m-o-d-e, mode, commode. If you don't, you just catch 
it on the fingers with the sharp edge of the ruler!" 

I had firmly decided that I would not go to school anyway; when 

the time came, I would pretend that I was going and then run away 
and never come home any more. There were, o course, many things 
that it would be painful to have to part from; the idea of never seeing 
Mother or Sister Sine again was enough to give you a faint feeling 
round the heart. But when you thought of the new sister or brother 
that was on the way, it passed oS a bit. I had no worries as to how 
I should get along; I was used to looking after myself. 

On the day itself my decision stood firmer than ever; and it was 
just an accident that it was not carried out. Mother took special 
pains with me that morning; she was in a sober mood, her hands 
stroked down over me in a way that was like a caress. 

I was in a state of long-accumulated terror when I slipped out 
from the Houses and across Kongevejen onto the Commons. The 
animals were out, cattle were bunting at each other or rushing 
hither and thither, horses were galloping round wildly and kicking 
their heels out behind. I was certainly not very pleased to see that, 
but school was there as the evil menace before which all other ter- 
rors paled. 

You could also take the slightly longer road across the Triangle 
and along Blegdamsvej. That was more fun. On the inner side 
of Blegdamsvej there were gardens with fences in front, broken 
here and there by an iron foundry or an open storage lot that led 
right out to the Lakes. Mother had advised me to take that road. 
But in the middle of it there was a school! For a boy with a school- 
bag to go past a strange school was just about the same as giving 
himself up to be torn limb from limb; if the Blegdam School boys 
caught a glimpse of me, they would throw themselves upon me in 
a body. 

Incredible luck led me safely through all dangers, but only to run 
straight into the arms of my fate. On the other side of the Common 
I intended to turn down along Faelledvej and go out on Vesterbro; 
there were market gardens where Tivoli now lies, and I knew that 
the gardeners always needed errand boys. And here I ran right into 

the arms of my brother. His school day began an hour earlier than 
mine, he was having recess now and had run to meet me. 

There was no possibility of escape. At my brother's protecting hand 
I ran the last piece of the way and slipped safely through the door 
this I had thought would be the most difficult thing of all. He in- 
structed me on the way: 

"All you have to do is sit as quiet as a mouse in your place, then 
perhaps the teacher won't notice you at all. But with Fatty Madsen 
nothing is any use, for he can't stand lazy boys, but he gets as sore 
as a boil when you try to please him. If he tells you to come up and 
catch a louse in his beard, you must just pick through his beard as 
though you were really hunting in earnest that's what he likes best. 
But if Shall-I-pinch-your-chops Daddy Brask lifts you up by the 
cheeks^ you mustn't howl, for then he just gets uglier!" 

It was all very promising. My heart was beating right up in my 
throat; but I would certainly be careful not to howl! 

I had a brand new cap in honor of the day. Mother had made it 
herself out of some blue scraps, and I was very proud of it, not least 
because the lining suggested peppermint sugar sticks in design and 
colon It was kite-shaped, with two fluttering ribbons behind. I wore 
it on the fateful day and I shall never forget Mother's grief; she 
wept over the beautiful cap. 

I had got safely through to the long recess. Down on the play- 
ground the boys were whirling and jostling round; it was pretty 
rough and I was wisely keeping to one side. I was standing over 
beside the fence eating my lunch, which Mother had made particu- 
larly delicious to emphasize the festiveness of the day a slice of 
cold pork between two pieces of rye bread. Is it possible to imagine 
anything more delicious on this earth? I love it to this day! 

Suddenly a hand reached out of the whirlpool and snatched my 
delicious sandwich away; I began to bawl loudly! 

Up on the high school steps stood the fat-jowled teacher, Daddy 
Brask, doing playground duty. He held a cane in his hand and was 
surrounded by a bodyguard of big boys, who watched his face like 

dogs. At a signal from him they would fly across the playground and 
bring some little sinner or other back with them. It was said among 
the boys that you must not express too great joy, for then you would 
be brought up. 

Suddenly I remembered my brother's warning: Daddy Brask 
couldn't bear it if you howled, either. I hastily dried my eyes, but 
it was already too late. Two big boys rushed down upon me, took 
me by the scruff of the neck, and dragged me off through the whirl- 
pool and up to the broad stairway. My beautiful new cap was 
knocked off on the way and I never saw it again. 

Was I afraid? The word is certainly not adequate to express the 
state I was in. Daddy Brask glowered at me with eyes that seemed 
to swim out toward me from the big, bulgy face. Once on my 
wanderings I had been out to the Ox Pasture and had gone in 
paddling, and there I had seen big jellyfish that had made a very 
unpleasant impression on me. Now a similar monster was swimming 
in the thick air before my terrified eyes, floating toward me, nearer 
and nearer. And all at once the gross tentacles reached out for me; 
like tongs they bit into my cheeks. "Shall I pinch your chops?" hissed 
the monster hoarsely into my face, as though he were about to give 
vent to an evil passion and lifted me up by the cheeks on a level 
with his ugly swimming face. It hurt terribly and his breath stank 
indescribably. And the eyes stared out at me like fish eyes as the 
monsters of the deep stared at the diver in Father's illustrated book 
at home. I shrieked frantically, sprawled and kicked, then slipped 
out of his grasp and fell down on the steps. 

Fortunately we little urchins had women teachers; it was only 
at recess that we had anything to do with Fatty Madsen and Daddy 
Brask. Our teacher was a small, dark woman with a solemn, almost 
melancholy, face. I can still see clearly her big hooked nose, under 
which a drop was prone to form, her pensive gaze, and her humped 
back. The children used to say that she cried with her nose. When 

she helped me to write letters or figures, she would take hold of my 
hand in a peculiarly gentle way and I soon grew fond of her. 

The lessons were not in themselves much fun. We sat jammed 
in together on a bench with a desk in front, bleating out syllables or 
rhymes in chorus. We had to keep our hands on the desk in front 
of us and couldn't even dangle our legs. How I have envied those 
modern school children who receive their theoretical instruction at 
small tables in groups of four or six and are busy the rest of the 
time with pincers, hammer, and saw in laboratories, workshops, 
or out of doors. What a joyous sensation it must be for the child 
to get a hold of things and learn to master existence by this practical 
method of instruction, which has now, of course, been introduced 
everywhere in Soviet Russia. 

The teacher made up for everything else. She must have noticed 
that I was afraid to go down at recess, for she contrived to have me 
stay and help her tidy up after the class. I soon become her favorite, 
and my affection for her grew out of all reasonable compass, so 
that I forgot my fear of school and looked forward to every new 
day with eager expectation. 

And yet it was she who more than anyone else in my childhood 
was to cause the earth to tremble beneath my feet and make life seem 
like an abyss into which I was being whirled. 

She used to let me do little errands for her, and I was glad and 
proud of the confidence she showed in me. I was at that delightful 
age when a clap on the shoulder can make you run till you drop. 

One day as we were leaving for home, she gave me a cigar btx 
tied up with string and asked me to deliver it to a teacher in the 
school on Blegdamsvej. I had to repeat the teacher's name and the 
number of the classroom several times before with an enchanting 
look and a clap on the shoulder she let me run with it. I was drunk 
with happiness; like a bewildered birdling, I fluttered off down 

But very soon my pace slackened, the enchantment was gone, and 
the most implacable fact appeared in its place. For it was, of course, 

that selfsame school with those ferocious boys, who were the living 
terror of us little Osterbro chaps, into which I must venture. Now 
at last I had accustomed myself to the divers dangers incurred in 
crossing the Commons, had painfully achieved composure in the 
face of the curious caprices of horses and cows such as coming over 
and sniffing critically at me and then suddenly cavorting away as 
though the smell had thrown them into ecstasies of fear! And now 
I was to begin all over again, was to be cast to the wild beasts, so 
to speak. 

To go back and tell the teacher how it was would not do any 
good; I had experience enough of how little grown-up people recked 
of the dangers that lurked in my world. Besides, this was rather a 
point of honor; the teacher had entrusted me with the task, and I 
felt myself in a sense her chosen one, her knight. The box must be 
delivered, were I to perish in the attempt! 

But how we cling to life even at that very green age in which we 
generally feel that we can afford to risk a great deal! I became as 
crafty as an Indian from the instinct of self-preservation, and crept 
stealthily along Blegdamsvej from tree to tree, keeping a sharp look- 
out on the school. The way was clear in front, the children must 
have gone home! I opened the wicket gate, light of heart and proud 
already of my deed well done. But immediately there arose a roar of 
many voices from the yard, from the pear tree, that famous pear 
tree which made all other schoolboys envious of the boys of 
Blegdamsvej School. The tree hung full of big boys and they all 
turned rabid faces toward me. The sight paralyzed me. I stood rooted 
to the spot. One of the boys dropped down to the ground with a 
bloodcurdling Indian yell. His pain-distorted face, as he struck the 
ground and staggered to his feet to attack me, restored my powers of 
action. I wrenched my feet free from the ground in a trice and did 
not stop till I was within the confines of the Houses. He would cer- 
tainly think twice before intruding here. In any case it was only 
a delusion of my imagination that he was pursuing me he had a 
perfect alibi. I found out from the big boys that he had broken his 

leg in the leap. They were rather inclined to put it down as a per- 
sonal victory for me and make much o me on that account. And I 
was grateful for the cheap little triumph I needed it. 

Moreover, it turned out not to have been so cheap after all; my 
brother told me that the Blegdam boys had sworn my destruction. 
And there I was with my box that must be delivered at any cost. 
"Let me take it over for you/' said my brother. "Ill see that it gets 
there all right." He had again reached the point where he was afraid 
of nothing, whereas I had really become what he called "a regular 
milksop." But I refused his offer; I had an obstinate conviction that 
I must fight this thing through myself. 

Not for a single moment had I let go of the box. I clasped it close 
while I ate, and Mother laughed at me, a thing I simply could not 
understand. In the afternoon I cut across a corner of the Common on 
the run; I supposed that there would be no school at that time and 
I would be able to deliver the box the fatal box to the janitor. 
But while yet a long way off, I heard a din from the playground. 
Perhaps it was my terrified imagination that fooled me; I wheeled 
round and rushed home right into the arms of Georg, who made 
proper fun of me. "You are one silly little fool!" he said. "Of course 
there's nobody there at this time of day." He turned his back on 
me in- scorn and left me to my bitter fate. 

It would certainly not be right to say that I was pleased with my- 
self or with existence; my cheeks and ears burned, perhaps from 
shame, but fear was still stronger. At night I cried in my sleep and 
was feverish. Mother decided to keep me home from school the 
next day and gave my brother a note for the inspector; but while 
she was out on an errand, I hurried into my clothes and ran off 
with my box. It must be delivered now, whatever the cost; I had 
to have it out of the way, so that the teacher could pat me on the 
cheek and say: That's a good boy! 

But by now it had become quite impossible, the problem had got 
into a hopeless tangle for me. I wandered round on the Commons 
and on the Triangle, and simply did not dare go near Blegdamsvej 

School; from far off I could hear the clamor of the boys. It got to 
the point where I could hear them howling all around me and had 
to hide to keep from going mad. I wandered about all day long, 
and toward evening I hid the box under some grass in the ditch 
out in front of the Houses and stole home. Strangely enough, my 
truancy was not discovered. At home I told them I had delivered the 
box at the school to the teacher herself. 

After it had got dark, Mother sent me on an errand to the grocer's 
on Olufsvej. For once I was not afraid of the dark. I got the box 
out and ran full pelt across the Common to the school; and con- 
trary to custom, I felt strangely safe and happy in the darkness, 
which gave me shelter from all the big boys in the world. I rang 
for a long time at the doorbell, my heart pounding in my throat at 
the thought of how sweetly the teacher would look at me the next 
day when I came and could tell her that all was in order. 

But nobody opened the door, for all my ringing. And while I 
waited, my joy sank into the earth and reality sprang up grim and 
grisly out of the darkness. There was no escape for me, poor wretch, 
no place in the world where I could seek cover, let alone support; 
I was hopelessly at the mercy of something that was becoming more 
cruel, more relentless from moment to moment. There could be 
neither advance nor retreat. I was pinned down to an insoluble 
problem. Should I carry the box back home? I simply could not go 
through all that again. I could not bear to have the box in my hands, 
it burned me, it revolted me so that I grew sleepy and felt nauseated. 
I had to get rid of it, had to get it out of my life! I hurled it from 
me, flung it in over a fence. Oh, what a grand feeling it was to see 
it fly away, to be rid of it! 

The affair was not quite straightened out yet, but I was tired 
enough to be able to put it out of my mind. "Where have you been 
all this time?" asked Mother, none too amiably. But I sank down 
into her lap and fell asleep; she had to undress me and put me to 
bed. These last days had told heavily on rne. 

I awakened in a daze and went to school. I told the teacher that 

I had been sick the day before. "Well, and did you get the box de- 
livered safely?" she asked pleasantly. I nodded and slunk back to 
my seat without looking at her; a word of praise or a caress from 
her would at that moment have made me sick. But she allowed 
me to go down to my seat and began the lesson. 

No, I was not rid of the box far from it. I could plainly feel 
it under my arm, as I sat there writing on my slate. At the same 
time it hung in the air before my eyes; it was indelibly imprinted 
on the retina from the snapshot I took of it as it flew over the fence. 
(And I can see it still.) It was in my brain and in my heart, too, 
haunting and persecuting me, filling me with sorrow and shame 
and "despair. 

After a few days had gone by, I began to breathe more easily. But 
one morning the teacher called me up to her and began to question 
me with a queer expression, as though there were tears away back 
in her eyes, behind everything else, tears that wanted to come out. 
And beneath her gaze, which seemed to make my heart contract 
within me, I fought a last time for my life I lied! I felt terrible in- 
side, but I forced myself to look her in the eye, while I described 
in detail how I had gone into the school, asked my way to the class- 
room, and delivered the box to the strange teacher herself. The 
teacher listened with a puzzled expression; she obviously could not 
make herself believe that I would stand there and lie right to her 
face. There was both pleasure and pain in the thought. 

Down at my seat I sat half dozing. When school was over the 
teacher took me by the hand and said: "Now we'll go down together 
to Blegdamsvej School, and then you can show me the person to 
whom you delivered the box." I felt that it was all up with me now, 
but trudged unresistingly along. I was as though dead inside; the 
impending execution made no impression upon me whatsoever. 

Not until we reached the school did I awaken to consciousness. 
The noise of the big boys struck me in the face as we opened the 
door; I shrieked frantically and jerked away. I wanted to flee, but 

fell down instead and lay there kicking wildly about me in a fit of 

The teacher took me home. This was the first time in my life that 
I had ridden in a cab, and perhaps the first time that a cab had ever 
pulled up in front of B No. 28, Houses of the Medical Society; we 
attracted a large crowd. But I had no joy of it; I was carried in 
unconscious and put to bed. 

There followed a prolonged illness of which the only memory I 
have is of Mother's smearing my parched lips with ox-marrow and 
laying wet cloths on my forehead and of the box. It was with me 
day and night, danced before my sight when I was awake and fol- 
lowed me through all the feverish fantasies of the night. The teacher 
came often to visit me; and when I recognized her for the first 
time and she read the awakening terror in my eyes, she told me with 
a bright smile that the box had arrived safely at its destination. 

I found out later that she had just said that to quiet me. 

She was always kind and good to me afterward, too, but some- 
thing in the relationship between us had broken to pieces and could 
not be made whole again. I believe that it was more my fault than 
hers that everything was not as before. I was like a young bird that 
has fallen through fire and singed its wings. It is harder for some 
than for others to grow new feathers again; and I sometimes suffer 
to this day from the feeling of having failed in the crucial test that 

But sometimes, too, I ask myself if there was really anything in 
that box after all. Or was it just an ordinary, empty cigar box that 
my little humpbacked goddess had entrusted to me to test whether 
I was willing to go through fire for her? 

WE HAD been borne high upon a wave that came from the great 
sea of the world without and swept right into our little corner; we 
had peeked a long way into the Promised Land and got a taste of 
many things. Now it subsided again. 

First Father lost his job as foreman; a piece of work was com- 
pleted and he was no longer needed in that capacity. Mother failed 
to see in this any warning of a turn in the tide of general prosperity, 
and put it down entirely to Father's account. "Your father can never 
get along with his superiors," she said. "He's much too blunt." There 
was something in that, but still it didn't explain everything. With 
astonishing speed the bad times set in again. They certainly didn't 
come slinking along as though ashamed of themselves, as the good 
times had done; almost in one leap they were upon us. The enter- 
prises which had shot up out of the earth a couple of years before, 
conjured forth by the invasion of German capital, could not keep 
going; one after another they failed, and the men were on the street 
again. Unemployment reappeared, and the struggle for work at any 
wage; the taxes did not come in and the municipality had to cut 
down on street work. Not until Father had been forced to get out 
of paving entirely and go back to the stone quarries at the Limekiln 
Harbor did Mother realize how the land lay. 

But then she took hold- with all her old fiery will. We were again 
put in harness, my brother and I Sister Sine was still too small, but 
she could look after herself now. We had been helping all along, of 
course, but now we had to come under the yoke again in earnest. 

Let me say here, so as not to be misunderstood, that I have never 

felt sorry for myself for the often difficult road that my growth and 
development followed I could not imagine changing places with 
anybody on earth. On the other hand, I should be loath to live over 
again the first eight years of my life., the Copenhagen period. But 
otherwise I look upon my life as a whole, and as something in- 
evitable, which I would not alter, even if I could. Closely connected 
with this is the fact that I do not feel myself as an isolated case, but 
as an expression of the larger half of humanity, which can best be 
characterized, perhaps, by calling it the exploited half. I believe that 
a class, a stratum, produces organs just as much as an organism does, 
organs for defense and attack, for example, and I feel myself as such 
an organ for the lower classes. It was therefore not only reasonable 
but absolutely essential that I as an individual should scrape the bot- 
tom and take everything along with me as my own dearly bought 

It was hard to have to buckle down again after having tasted of 
freedom, and with the pressure of circumstances, the demands made 
upon us were too great. But the work in itself was no misfortune for 
us; I do not easily become sentimental over the question of child 
labor. The child must play, of course! But if he has the whole day 
at his disposal and no plan under which to arrange the parts of the 
game, everything peters out, and he actually suffers from spleen and 
attacks of world-weariness. The child must have duties, which are 
deeply rooted in the human struggle for existence (in the broader 
sense and at its various stages), and the fulfilment of which lies 
within his reach. 

If I have been able now and then, both as a child and later, to 
react against the superabundant sense of responsibility with which 
Nature has endowed me and to feel it as a punishment, yes, some- 
times as a curse, it is to be understood as merely a passing reaction, 
the revolt of the weak shoulders against far too heavy burdens. In 
my opinion mankind, in the deeper meaning of the wor4 begins 
at that point in the history of civilization at which the human being 
first takes upon himself responsibility for things which do not, in 


the narrower sense, concern him. Culture is a sense of responsibility; 
growing culture means the inclusion of ever-widening areas under 
its responsibility. The lower type of man looks after himself first, 
the higher type looks after others first; he protects children and old 
people, the weak, yes, even the dead. The responsible man bears a 
heavy burden with him through life for others! 

Here is a criterion which draws a sharp distinction all along the 
line, and makes individualistic culture seem a low-ceilinged, poverty- 
stricken culture in spite of many outstanding single achievements. 
Because individualism came so late in the history of the race, like 
a renaissance of powers and abilities from the pre-human period, 
it has necessarily meant a step backward for mankind intellectually. 
It is the business of the new epoch to balance this. From individual- 
ism to socialism is an incalculable advance in sense of responsibility. 

It is the sense of responsibility in its first faint burgeoning that 
transforms the animal into man, and it is the sense of responsibility 
in its vigorous expansion that causes man to thrust his head through 
the low-ceilinged world of creation into the heavens. Man assumes 
the responsibility for everything; he feels himself as creator and all 
creation as his; the idea of God originates at the point where man 
begins to share responsibility with the Lord. Now, today, we are 
taking it all upon ourselves. The new man starts here. 

The sense of responsibility seems to me to be identical with the 
progressive instinct in mankind. It is the religious kernel in man 
whatever he may profess later. The various religions and sects have 
little to do with this: it is a question of inner worth. They often 
exist merely to rob human solidarity of its sting. 

Children hunger after responsibility while yet but a year or two 
old. Anybody who has children knows that. Just as plants and ani- 
mals are not really thriving unless their forms are rounded out until 
they are bursting with health and energy, so the child is not really 
happy and contented unless his mind is filled, his soul tense. Just 
as the workingman used to take to the bottle to get the better of 
his feeling of inferiority and contemptibleness, so the child resorts 

to telling lies and indulging in fancies when life seems too gaunt 
for him. 

As I write these lines, a little urchin of twenty months is running 
round between my legs. Watch him when he is allowed to help, to 
fetch paper or sharpen Father's pencil! He fairly struts with self- 
importance and the consciousness of being useful. The paper is 
unusable before it gets to me. He bites the point off the pencil. But 
he is right in the thick of things. He's busy! 

His sister, who is six, was unable to get the days to pass in the 
proper, profitable manner. She was dissatisfied when she had to go 
to bed in the evening, sour and disappointed; the day had not yielded 
her what it should and ought. There was play enough and play- 
things, too; but the play did not contain the necessary vitamins in 
the form of responsibility. It was too plentiful and hence too wishy- 
washy; and it disregarded the soul. Now she has to mind her 
little brother in the forenoon; and it is a delight to see how the 
afternoon becomes charged, how it goes by at full steam. The fore- 
noon has also come to contain more of value. She has quickly grown 
into her forenoon duties and is a loving and attentive a responsible 
litde mother. I had to resort to experiences from my own child- 
hood to help her; now she goes willingly and joyfully to bed. 
Formerly, when she felt disappointed in her day, it was a struggle 
every evening when it was time for her to go to bed. 

There is, of course, a substantial difference between my childhood 
and that of my children. These two are not expected to help earn 
their bread; they are simply to have pressure up, to enter life under 
full steam. I do not defend conditions at that time nor do I attack 
them; they could not very well have been otherwise at the stage at 
which the workers and industry then stood. It was absolutely neces- 
sary for children to look after one another and also lend a hand 
wherever they could; otherwise even the coarsest fare did not find 
its way to the table. Besides, there is always something ludicrous 
about fighting with the past; and you are not a slave unless you 
feel encumbered by your chains. Mother used to say: There is al- 


ways a blessing in doing something you have to do. And I believe 
she was right; the drudgery of my childhood, hard as it often was, 
has benefited me on the whole. Today, both in respect of our tech- 
nical advancement and of the greater human insight of the workers, 
child labor of this kind is not only absurd but criminal. 

But work, activity, adapted to the child's strength and ability 
not merely to his pleasure is a kindness to him. An hour spent in 
helping grown-up people with productive work is of greater value 
to a child than twenty hours on any school bench. On the other hand, 
I do not believe that the child should be left to determine the kind 
of work. That simply puts him in the state he was in when he had 
the whole day to play and had to invent games himself in a state 
of confusion and dissatisfaction. Left to himself, a child is always tak- 
ing a fancy to something else, becomes aimless and indifferent. Every 
child has a deep-seated desire for order and system, for the satisfac- 
tion of overcoming something within himself and fulfilling a duty 
which must, of course, be based upon our common human needs. 
The child like every grown-up person who is not ill is happy to 
feel himself as a link in a chain, as a part of a system. As I have 
said, our little girl is much easier to manage now that she has her 
day divided into forenoon duty and afternoon freedom. And she is 
much happier. 

I did not myself, of course, have things put in order for me, but 
had to take them as they came. After a long and bitter period of 
slavery, I took my fling when freedom set in for a while, went roam- 
ing round, almost ran amuck. Books, literature, came to my rescue; 
and then one fine day my duties announced themselves again, harsher 
and sterner than ever. At least it was hard to come under the yoke 
again after having tasted the sweetness of being in some degree one's 
own master. 

At New Year's the new sister appeared on the scene. Mother had 
promised her to us Christmas Eve "a new toy," she said archly. 
But the baby did not come until the second last day of the year, and 
none of the rest of us minded. Mother did, though; she was longing 

to have a newborn babe in her arms again. Just a few hours after 
the baby was born, she was sitting up in bed swaddling her. 

Mother did not go out when her confinement, which never kept 
her in bed more than a few days, was over, but stayed at home and 
looked after things. Georg had to go out and work with Father at 
the stone quarries every afternoon. He was strong enough to handle 
a hammer now and had to cut wedge holes for Father. My strength 
was not much to boast of, but I could run errands for the grocer; 
every afternoon when I got out of school, I had to go round and see 
if he wanted me. And if not, I had to hunt for fuel; it was a cold 
winter and the new sister must be kept warm. 

Out on Kongevejen the coal wagons drove by with coal for the 
factories at Kristineberg. They were well loaded and you ran along 
behind them with a sack and gathered up what shook out over the 
boards in driving. It might be well worth while, especially if you 
were lucky enough to get behind a driver who was kindly disposed 
and helped out with his foot. You might have to drag your sack 
home behind you and come in hauling an enormous chunk. Mother 
would clap her hands together and say: "Lord-a-mercy, boy, if you 
haven't worn the bottom out of the sack again," and laugh aloud for 
joy. But you had to look sharp; there were many of us for the crumbs. 
You picked your wagon at the Triangle, generally had to fight for it, 
and followed it out all the way to Vibenshus if you were victorious. 
Once you had won your wagon, your right to it was respected by 
the other boys and you had it to yourself all the way. 

But a stove does not live by coal alone, and the kitchen range had 
to have something to eat, too, preferably in the form of chips and 
chunks of wood; I had all I could do over and above my errand- 
running for the grocer to satisfy those two greedy creatures. At the 
lumberyard, where there was seldom any work going on now in 
the wintertime, there was a thick layer of chips over everything; but 
they were wet and half rotten, on their way to becoming mold 
again. And at the few places which were working, you were chased 
away by the men, unless you were one of their family or a friend. 

We were not among those who had connections of any sort; and 
the only way to get chips for Mother was to sneak out to the chop- 
ping place when it was dark and the workmen had gone home. 
This was always a hazardous business. You had to climb over a 
high fence with your sack and ran the risk of encountering either 
a watchdog or a night watchman. 

The night watchman was the worse to run up against; if you were 
caught, it meant the police, threats of the rod, and warnings to your 
parents. The watchdog was generally satisfied with tearing your 
trousers to pieces. He was much easier to fool, too; if you sat astride 
the fence and threw stones into the yard to see if the coast were 
clear, the watchdog would never fail to begin barking, if there was 
one. But if there was a night watchman, he would keep as still as 
a mouse, so that you would think there was no watch and fall into 
the trap. One evening I visited a lumberyard somewhere out near 
the intersection of Jagtvejen and Tagensvej. It was said among the 
boys of the Houses to be a very good place. The gate to the yard 
stood open and that was fine; but I had barely got inside when a 
fist grabbed me round the neck and a hoarse voice said: "Well, 
I've caught you at last, you dirty thief!" I dropped my sack in terror 
and began to howl. 

Perhaps the watchman did not see that I had a sack at all. He 
hauled me over into a little shed and opened a dark lantern; it re- 
minded me uncomfortably of the penny dreadful at home. The situa- 
tion was the same, except that the boy in the novel was to smuggle 
a secret letter through the line of the bandits and was captured by 
the sentry. But he was a smart boy and knew how to play a role! 
He fixed a pair of confiding blue eyes on the grisly guard and whis- 
pered: "I come to greet you and to say that you must hurry home. 
Your wife " Before he could say more, the sentry set off at a run 
across the field and disappeared into the darkness "with seven- 
league strides" it said, and that had made a particularly strong im- 
pression on me. The innocent blue glance I could not muster, my 
eyes were red from crying, but I sobbed out: "You're to hurry home! 


You're to " "What the devil!" he said. "Is there something wrong 
at home?" I nodded energetically. He stumbled out of the shed. 
"And here I thought . * . There, you can have a penny for that!** 
The fierce watchman disappeared into the darkness, with seven- 
league strides as was proper. 

I got no chips that evening, but I triumphantly exhibited my 
penny to my brother and described how the novel had saved me. 
"You're a blockhead," was all he said. "You should have filled your 
sack." There I was again; it seemed as though I should never learn, 
I had a gloomy feeling that I would never amount to anything. 


BEHIND the row of houses in which we lived Row A, as it was 
called and leaning up against the fence which formed the boundary 
between our quarter and the Olufsvej quarter, were the washhouses. 
All through the early part of the summer the radish sellers of the 
Houses washed their wares here in the big vats and we children 
helped by gathering the gay red fruits of the earth together in 
two-ore bunches of a "small score" eighteen. These buildings were 
the scene of many a skirmish among the women of the Houses, and 
when the big boys got their heads together out there. Mother always 
said: "Well, I suppose well be having a visit from the police again 

It was really only when it rained that there was any reason for us 
boys to be in the washhouses; otherwise they belonged as a matter 
of course when not in use to the girls. But many a time when 
my strength gave out I took refuge there. I could keep pace for a 
while, but in the long run I was not robust enough to stand the 
rough-and-tumble of the boys. I became nervous and overwrought 
from having to live in a constant state of warfare. The girls were 
good to me and made a fuss over me; they were proud to have a 
boy in their midst, even if he was only a sissy, and they generally had 
a little candy for me which they had denied their own mouths. Un- 
fortunately they liked to brag about me, too, and that did not please 
me so well. For then the big boys would jeer at me and come out 
with hints, the meaning of which I could not grasp. But I under- 
stood from the laughter of the others that a boy who had any respect 
for himself would not consort with a bunch of girls. 

It did not make it any better that I was now going to school and 
therefore belonged naturally among the bigger boys. You advanced 
into a higher order, so to speak, and the membership entailed obliga- 
tions which were often rather hard to meet. You had to be a rough- 
neck under all circumstances. If people asked you the way, you must 
not give them the proper information but stuff them with some- 
thing that would lead them astray. If a painter had set his paintpot 
down on the sidewalk, it was your bounden duty to kick it over 
in passing. And an unwatched baby carriage must be started off 
down the street at the risk of having it turn over and dump the baby 
out. It was hard for a coward and a sissy to bring himself to do this 
last trick; and the result was that he never learned to whistle prop- 
erly with his fingers. That was a gift that Nature had reserved for 
the smart boys who were afraid of nothing. 

It was by no means easy to come up to the ideal of a smart lad, 
nor had I any particular urge to do so. Now and then, of course, 
the desire to count for something among the others would blaze up 
in me, but it did not last. And I had no need to seek excitement in 
that direction; I had all that I could cope with as it was. Excitement 
sprang up everywhere out of the bare earth. No matter how many 
veils were removed, there was always something new popping up. 
Terrors still lurked on all sides, and everywhere the enigmatical 
thrust out its shapeless head. And what was the use of trying to 
harden yourself? I had hardened myself to whippings and thought 
that now nothing could affect me. And then along came dread of 
the dark which was much worse than the fear of all the whippings 
in the world. Everywhere in the darkness covert evils were lying in 
wait for you. And I had not got much further with the riddles of 
the daytime; at bottom I was still the same timid, ingenuous little 
creature that I had been four years ago when I first took up the 
struggle on my own account. 

I felt safest when I was with the younger members of the family 
and was responsible for them; duty and responsibility give one a 
rare feeling of strength in the face of evil powers! And in the com- 

pany of the little girls, too, I felt easy. A peculiar tenderness, very 
soothing to me, emanated from them; and they radiated warmth 
through their thin dresses. They never had numb, cold hands. I 
was always chilly and needed a genial temperature. The boys were 
too cold and hardhanded for me. To those from other sections I 
naturally gave a wide berth, and that was just about the worst crime 
I could commit. 

There cannot have been very much change in my physical condi- 
tion during these years; at my best I scarcely ever got beyond the 
stage of being what is called a delicate boy. But every now and then 
there were periods when my imagination ran amuck with me and 
I would take a notion to be heroic; the recoil was always strong. 

For the time being I was tame enough; school had cooled me off 

On Sundays the boys from the Houses and from Olufsvej used 
to meet the boys from the Rhubarb country. They were armed with 
sticks and long poles and used to have a regular battle out in the 
middle of the North Common. The conflict was usually fought in 
the trenches left by the soldiers, and it was often a stern and bloody 
fight. According to my age I belonged in the ranks of the fighters; 
but they could not use me. I was really not afraid, my imagination 
no longer overrated physical pain. But when the battle got going in 
earnest, I was seized with horror. Convulsive jerks went through 
me, which infected the men at my side and caused them to throw 
away their poles and run. 

At this immature stage I remained; even today I am too small 
to belong to the gang. Horror attaches to the lifted hand, whether 
it is my own hand that is lifted to strike or whether hands are lifted 
against me. If the worst comes to the worst, it is easier to pocket a 
kick or a cuff than to hit back. If you happen to have given a fellow 
creature a black eye even in self-defense, the bloodshot gaze pursues 
you everywhere, stares up at you from the bottom of the deep well 
of sleep. 

But I had to join in the battle song when the armies clashed. We 

puny fellows and sissies were stationed a little to one side, preferably 
on a little mound, and there we stood, screeching out the battle song 
at the top of our lungs: 

The boys of Brumleby * are brave, 
And those of Olufsvej are tough! 
The Rhubarb boys give up quick, 
When anybody treats them rough! 

My brother, who had regained his courage, accused me of con- 
tributing my share of the incitement by yelling; and it was probably 
so. I know that I was terribly wrought up as long as the batde was 
on. Sometimes it waged so fiercely that grown-up men had to rush 
out with weapons and separate the boys. 

Among the girls of the Houses, large and small, I have particular 
reason to remember Maria, the biggest of the flock. She was probably 
twelve or thirteen and big for her age; I can see her face and figure 
clearly before me still. Her face was fat and pasty, the features swol- 
len as though from glands. Her lips flared out like meat when it 
is given a sharp gash. Among the children she was something of a 
shrew. She scolded and thwacked and bossed, managing our games 
with no very gende hand. But she meant well enough by us. She 
always had a bread-and-dripping sandwich in her hand at which 
she ate as she played with us. And if any of the little ones were 
hungry, she always let them have a bite. I could not keep away from 
the big tubs in the washhouse; I always had to be splashing in them 
and putting something out to sail. When my hands became numb 
and blue from it, she would give me a good scolding; but then she 
would take my hands and hold them against her bare body to thaw 
them out. I always crept close up to her, when we sat huddled to- 
gether in the washhouse telling stories; warmth flowed out through 
her thin clothes as from a stove. 
3-Thc boys* name for the Houses of the Medical Association. 


My main task that winter was to keep the house supplied with 
fuel, with coal from Kongevejen and chips from the lumberyards. 
As soon as I came home from school and got something to eat, I had 
to be off; my free time depended upon how quickly I could finish 
the job. 

The chips were always wet, since the lumberyards were not roofed; 
and Mother often complained that she couldn't kindle a fire decently 
with them or make a quick flame under the kettle when she wanted 
to have a drop of coffee in a hurry. Although she did not directly 
reproach me, I felt hurt. One day as she was standing by the window 
looking out, she said : "Look, there come some boys with big sacks 
of chips again; I wonder where in Heaven's name they get them?" 
I took it as a reproach, picked up my sack, and sneaked off. 

I knew very well where the boys got the big bursting sacks of 
chips that they were always dragging past our windows, as though 
they wanted to shame me in good earnest. Both at the end of the 
Lakes and farther in on the other side, there was a great deal of 
building going on enterprises begun in the good times and not yet 
finished. But there was more to it than that. If I tagged at the heels 
of the big boys, they threatened me with a thrashing and drove me 
off; they wanted to have the places to themselves. And if I went 
into a new building alone, the workmen chased me out. 

One day I had made up my mind that I simply would not give up. 
It was altogether too humiliating to come home day after day with 
an empty sack and meet Mother's eyes; she used to look as though 
she just couldn't imagine what would become of me. I followed 
wherever I could, went into some half score new buildings and was 
kicked out again, tried to tag on to women and children who were 
obviously related to the workmen in the building you could tell 
that from the way they walked in. Everywhere I went I was chased 
away, until finally I felt like a mangy dog. But I did not give up. 

I got no chips but blows aplenty. Over in Classensgade a big boy 
became angry at the sight of me and my sack. He threw me down on 
my back in the gutter and was preparing with a well-satisfied expres- 

sion to pound my head, when a wooden shoe came flying through 
the air and struck him such a blow in the face that he fell over 
backward. I was on my feet in a trice and there behind me was 
Maria. The wooden shoe with which she had kicked the strange boy 
in the face was now in her hand. And there she stood, in her stock- 
ing feet in the slush and snow, with a wooden shoe in either hand, 
ready to strike a blow for me. "Come on, then/' she challenged, 
white in the face; but the boy preferred to be off. She stuck her 
feet into her wooden shoes and began to dry the tears off my face 
with her thin, dirty skirt. She had nothing on underneath; her body 
was blue and goose-fleshy under the dress. "You mustn't cry," she 
said in a motherly way and took me by the hand. "Do you think I'm 
afraid of the likes of him? Just let him try to come back." 

A little farther on she drew me into a large new building. "It's 
my brother where's the foreman?" she said to the workmen, let 
go of my hand, and disappeared in the depths of the building. 
Round about me the men were hammering and planing; they stared 
over at me, then turned their heads in the direction in which Maria 
had disappeared and laughed to each other. The situation was be- 
ginning to get uncomfortable, I should have liked to run away; but 
I could not leave Mark in the lurch when she had been so kind to 

"It's taking a long time," said one of the carpenters, wiping off 
his face with the back of his hand. But his eyes leered; they all leered 
evilly and looked over toward the doorway where she had dis- 

And suddenly I became frightened. "Where's Maria gone?" I 

"She'll be back, all right," said one of the men. "She's just gone 
for a little walk in the chips!" And then they all laughed so that 
it echoed round about. 

Everything echoed in here. And there I stood with my sack. My 
heart was pounding right up in my throat and I had to struggle to 
keep from howling, ; 

But suddenly she appeared with one of the workmen, whom I 
took to be the foreman, since he was fatter than the others. He was 
red in the face. "Devil of a wench!" he said to the other men and 
spat very far, right over to the other wall I still admire him for 
that long spit. He helped us to fill our sacks and tramp the chips 
down tight in them. And the others threw chunks to us that we had 
to hide deep down in the sacks in case the boss should come. 

That day Mother was pleased and praised me well. I wanted to 
have all the honor myself and did not mention that Maria had helped 
me; I needed a little praise to bolster up my self-esteem. And I 
received it in plentiful measure; Mother kept coming back to it and 
saying what a splendid sack of chips I had brought home. "And the 
chunks," she said, "the lovely big chunks as dry as a bone. Those will 
make a grand fire!" 

After that I stuck to Maria when I had to go out and fetch chips. 
She gladly took me along with her and we were never kicked out. 
Luck went with her. 

One day as we were walking along Osterbrogade with our stuffed 
sacks, she stopped in front of a large mansion. "You go up now 
and ring and ask if they need any chips. They're twenty-five ore a 
sack and you can say that there are lots of chunks in them. Then 
if they need any, well take the sacks round into the yard." 

We managed to sell both sacks and bought candy with the money. 
It didn't taste quite right to me; this was the first time in my life 
I had spent more than a five-ore piece on myself. 

Maria and I then went back to the same building again. The men 
scolded us. "You've sold the chips, you robbers," said the fattest one 
the foreman, of course. 

"What's that to you?" answered Maria, and it surprised me that 
she did not lie, but looked him boldly in the face. We were then al- 
lowed to fill two more sacks, which we hauled home. Maria had to 
help me. We Osterbro boys always carried everything on our heads, 
and I got a pain in the back of my neck from balancing the big 

One day it did not work the second time, and we had to go back 
home to the Houses with empty sacks. Mother, who was spoiled 
now, couldn't understand why I came emptyhanded. Suddenly she 
looked sharply at me. "You've sold the chips, you little thief," she 
said. "Come here and let me see your tongue!" It was red from the 
coloring of the candy. "I just thought you smelled of peppermint 
shame on you, boy, to cheat and fool your own mother!" She pushed 
me away from her. 

I was properly ashamed and sorry, too. "Maria told me to do it," 
I said, to save myself. 

Mother clapped her hands together. 

"Is that why you're so smart at fetching home chips and here I 
thought it was you yourself who were so clever. Well, I suppose 111 
have to do without my lovely chips, for Maria is no company for 
you." Mother became thoughtful; she was disturbed at the idea of 
having to do without chips again. 

"Maria's nice/' I protested energetically, "far better than any of 
the others. She licked a big boy who threw me down in the dirt. 
She's not afraid of anybody, not even of the big fat foreman." 

"Hm!" Mother sat and pondered. She looked undecided. For some 
reason or other she could not bear Maria. "Hm, no, she's certainly 
not afraid of anything, and she slaves like a grownup, you have to 
admit that." 

"Yes, and she just goes into the back with one of them. Then the 
men say that she's gone for a walk in the chips and then they help 
me to fill the sack," I hastened to say in order to have the question 
decided in my favor. 

Something strange came over Mother. She sat and stared at me. 
Everything in her face began to dance. At first I thought she was 
laughing and tried to follow up my victory. "They say she's gone 
for a walk in the chips, and then they laugh like this, you know 
and throw big chunks over to me. And then I just take and put a big 
man into the sack and pretend that it's a chunk. And then you put 
him into the stove!" I laughed immoderately and looked up at 


Mother, chattering and swaying as though I were drunk. I acted 
as though I were beside myself with joy. Now she would have to 
laugh aloud! But Mother's face was quite distorted. The features 
no longer danced, but had suddenly become rigid, in altogether 
ridiculous positions; the tears were trickling down her cheeks and 
her mouth was trembling. 

I could not understand it at all. "Why do you do like that with 
your mouth?" I said, disappointed and annoyed. And suddenly 
Mother began to laugh and gasp for breath; it sounded like some- 
body with whooping cough about to have a spell of coughing. This 
business was becoming too complicated for me. I took my cap and 
went out to play, over in the washhouse with Maria and the others. 

Nothing more was said about this matter, but it was all over with 
the fetching of chips. Often I lay awake in the dark winter mornings 
when Mother came in to light the stove, and from my couch I could 
see the trouble she had to get the wet chips to burn. I felt sorry for 
her and could not understand her stubbornness on this point. When 
she sighed at the work I said: "Yes, but Mother, I can easily get you 
some shavings. Down in Rosenvaenget " I got no further, for 
Mother would throw up both hands in protest. And afterward she 
would sometimes shake herself, as though she were very cold. 

IT WAS a hard winter for us. Where there was work at all, it was 
just half time. Many industries were closed down altogether. Mother 
chased round after odd jobs; there was no longer any such thing as 
steady work. People used to gather in the mornings outside the 
doors of the work places to hear whether there was anything to do. 
Most of them were turned away with nothing. Mother spent most 
of her time on the road from one place of work to another in a 
hopeless hunt for a few hours' wages. 

Father was at home a good deal of the time. When Mother had 
work outside, he took care of Anna, the new sister, and saw that 
Georg and I got off to school; otherwise he usually slept late. He 
was very kind and good to us. But sometimes in the afternoon he 
would dress and go into town; if he met with some of his comrades 
who had work and consequently a little money to spend, he was not 
in very good humor when he came home again. 

Sometimes, too, Father went to workers' meetings, for at this time 
he was in a very undecided state of mind; you could notice it when 
he and Uncle Otterberg were together. Uncle Otterberg was in the 
union and a member of the workers* party; he insisted that these 
two things went together, and he and Father had many a hot argu- 
ment about it. Father was in the union, too, but he refused to join, 
the party. "That's just something for you masons/' he said teasingly. 

"Why should it be something for us masons, particularly?" asked 
Uncle Otterberg. 

"So that you can get into heaven i you tumble down from the 
scaffold/' answered Father. 

Then they both laughed. "The heaven of the party is not to be 
despised, even if you don't tumble down," said Uncle. "We have a 
decent daily wage and for that we have to thank our paper. What 
have you got?" 

And indeed what Father earned in a week did not amount to 
much even when he worked full time. The trade was badly organ- 
ized; the majority of the workers did not dare to join the union for 
fear of their employers. Father himself had become a member mainly 
from contrariness. He had an obstinate disposition, and I suppose 
some pressure had been exerted to get him to join the union; this had 
made him determined not to become a member. But one day an owner 
had come over to Father and begun to praise him because he re- 
fused to have anything to do with this union nonsense, and that was 
too much for Father. He could not bear to be clapped on the shoul- 
der by those above him, and that very evening he went and joined 
the union. Mother was put out about it. "But that's what he's like," 
she said to us. "He always has to be doing something to annoy his 
superiors." My brother and I took a different view; we did not un- 
derstand very well what it was all about, but yet enough to admire 
Father. "It's like that fellow, you know, who told the lord of the 
castle what he thought," said my brother. Yes, it was; it was exactly 
like strong Hans with the split shoes. His wooden shoes split be- 
cause he was so enormously strong, of course; and Father had to 
put iron bands around his wooden shoes to make them hold. 

There was another thing about Father, too: he could give you a 
good answer if you were just lucky enough to find him in the right 
humor. Mother was dear and good, you could always go to her. But 
we were about to grow away from her in various fields. Her explana- 
tions were long-winded enough, but yet did not suffice. If there was 
something you really had to get to the bottom of, it was not much 
use going to her. But with Father it was a different matter; when 
you asked him something, he did not answer right away, but began 
to nod thoughtfully and repeat the question; he fairly dug the an- 

swer out of himself. Sometimes it was as though he were wrestling 
with a great stone. 

We had come much closer to him now that he was at home so 
much and often actually taking Mother's place with us. Sometimes 
he would get out the big illustrated book himself and let us read in 
it, but only when our work and lessons were done. "Books are 
dangerous/* he said. "They can make the likes of us into downright 

"Are they more dangerous than gin?" I asked. My brother kicked 
me under the table* 

Father chewed on that a little while. "Yes, they are," he said 
finally, "for they make you lazy; you lose the desire to work. Gin 
just makes you stupid. And that's no misfortune in our position." 

One day when I was reading in the big book about the abolition 
of slavery, I asked Father what freedom was. I had often stumbled 
on the word and was unable to connect it with anything. 

"Well, I guess you'll have to tell me that," answered Father, smil- 
ing, "for I have often wondered about it myself." 

"Yes, but it says that the Negro slaves got their freedom; wasn't 
it something good, then?" 

*Tes, it was indeed. Before that the slave owner had to feed them 
whether he had anything for them to do or not. But now they be- 
came like us, for we have freedom, too! When there's nothing for 
us to do, we can starve. A farmer, you see, can't just chase his horses 
and cows out when he isn't making any profit from them, but must 
keep them well and feed them; for animals, of course, have no free- 
dom. But we have freedom, you see; there's a devil of a difference. 
Or have you ever noticed anybody meddling in our affairs? We 
could afl sit here and starve to death without anybody giving a 

"But they came and ordered us to go to school," I put in. 

'Tes, but that's different. You've got to learn something if you're 
to get anything out of freedom. Slaves and animals do you think 
they know how to enjoy freedom? They'd starve to death." 

"Yes, but so do we, you said so yourself." 
"Yes, but that's quite a different matter," answered Father, nodding 
thoughtfully. Why it was a different matter I did not discover. 

I had got pretty well used to going to school by this time; as it 
was, so it had to be, and I had adjusted myself to it and built up my 
defenses. Since I was no longer in the woman teacher's class but had 
advanced to the regular instruction, I had ample opportunity to be- 
come better acquainted with the various teachers. With that they 
lost their terrors for me. Fear gave way before a feeling which can 
best be described as contempt. We were boys who were used to lend- 
ing a hand with all sorts of work, to performing the duties required 
of us and bearing our share of the burdens of the home to the best 
of our ability. Our complete lack of respect for our teachers can be 
explained only by the fact that they shirked their duties toward us 
and that we felt it. There was no question of instruction at all; every- 
body had to work out his own problems. If he were unable to do so, 
he might expect a rich variety of blows and buffets. The ingenuity 
of the different teachers in inventing methods of punishment was 
simply incredible; we boys thought that must have been the object 
of their studies. We certainly did not receive anything else but beat- 
ings from them. The teacher was a sort of overseer, a slave driver, 
brought over into the world of the child. They were, as I have said, 
all alike, and we did not like any of them, but tormented and hood- 
winked them at every opportunity. A state of latent warfare existed 
between us; we had set ourselves once and for all to make their lives 
as miserable as we could, because they took so little interest in us. 

I have often wondered what satisfaction these people could have 
had in living at enmity with us boys. It was not we who wanted 
war; we had open minds, and it would have been an easy and grate- 
ful task to make the hours profitable for us. But we took up the 
battle with a will: on the whole we were hardly the ones who suffered 
most from it- In spite of strap and cane and a unique virtuosity in ad- 
ministering cuffs and blows, we made a hell so hot for some of the 

teachers that they screamed loudly and hysterically and had to re- 
port themselves ill. 

Once or twice a week we had gymnastics at the school. The teacher 
was a sergeant from the army and the gymnastics consisted mainly in 
having us run round in a circle in the gymnasium; he himself stood in 
the center and hit us over the legs with the end o a rope. He had 
a big nose that jutted out from his face and then turned upward like 
a raised proboscis; underneath the nose was a blond mustache which 
strove to go in the same direction. We called him "the Cannibal." 

On Saturdays we had singing. The singing teacher, Viggo Sarnie, 
was the only one of all the teachers we had any use for; in his classes 
we really tried hard. But not even he knew any other way, when we 
sang off key, than to hit us over the head with the end of his violin 

How the change had come about I do not know., but we were not 
even afraid of Fatty Madsen or Daddy Brask any more. Those boys 
who toadied to them we broke of the habit by giving them a hiding 
on the way home from school. 

Only the Cannibal formed an exception. He was never in the 
least ruffled no matter how badly we behaved, but was always at 
the top of his form. Our pranks seemed to afford him sheer delight; 
he could look "sweetly" at you and smilingly flick you with the end 
of the rope, so that you were not quite sure whether it was meant 
seriously or not. But when you came to go to bed in the evening, 
you could hardly get your trousers off for the pain and you had blue 
stripes up your legs. He really seemed to be in his element when we 
conspired together and sabotaged the exercises, and that spoiled our 
fun. It was certainly not to provide him with additional enjoyment 
that we invented our thousand pranks. 

From the many different expressions and epithets of abuse that 
still ring in my ears from those days, I have come to the conclusion 
that in the eyes of the teachers we were not little human souls at all, 
but rather a swarm of dirty, ill-smelling vermin with which they 
were condemned to be in the room for so and so many hours daily. 

For that they hated us and revenged themselves upon us however 
they could. 

And it is true that we did not appear in the most attractive physical 
accouterment; most of us suffered from glands, some from discharge 
of the ears; and probably a few among us had vermin. A mangy, 
snotty lot, the sergeant called us. And yet a sponge and a little 
soap and we would have looked like most other children. A few 
kroner for clothes and a month's care and we would not have been 
recognizable from the children of the upper class, might, indeed, 
have passed for princes of the blood as far as the exterior was con- 
cerned. Of what was inside, I need to say nothing at all; there is no 
better and more unspoiled human material than the youngsters of 
the back street. It would have been an easy matter to appeal to our 
hearts, so little pampered were we. 


H.LTHOUGH it was summer, Father could not succeed in finding any 
steady employment. Occasionally he got work for a day or two, now 
here, now there; but it didn't amount to much, and Mother had to 
earn most of our living. We boys helped out as best we could, but 
openings had become few and far between; everywhere there were 
ten men for any job that offered. People had never seen such un- 
employment as this before; we were experiencing the reaction from 
the good times. But then, of course, they had themselves originated 
in catastrophe the greatest war the world had seen. 

"We need another war," said Father, " a bigger and bloodier one 
still than the war of 1870." 

"Oh, no, for Heaven's sake, don't talk like that," cried Mother. 

"Yes, you scream; but do you suppose the world order pays any 
attention to poor devils like us? Once it has got the taste of blood 
and the desire to glut on it, it isn't going to care about our sweat any 

A change had come over Father. Most of the time he sat around 
and moped. He let us do just about as we liked; his old sternness 
had disappeared. It was as though something had snapped in him 
at the idea that he must sit idle and let his wife and children provide 
for him. He did not care for reading, and he had burned his calcu- 
lations and plans. Mother thought that was just as well. 

"Now I'm going to be serious about it and go up to the magis- 
trate's and get him to put us on poor relief," he would say every 
day. Mother begged and implored him to wait and see what time 
would bring. 

"I'll never get over the disgrace of it," she said. 'Til manage some- 
how to find work enough to keep us going; and meanwhile better 
times will surely come again." 

Father laughed bitterly: "A disgrace you call it; but can people 
like us afford to feel disgrace? I see no disgrace in demanding to be 
provided for when they won't provide any work for us. A farmer 
has to feed his cattle, doesn't he, even when he isn't making any- 
thing out of them for a time? I'm going this afternoon; you can let 
one of the boys stay home with Anna." 

Mother cried. 

Father did not come home until late in the afternoon; he was un- 
steady on his feet and said nothing but went straight to bed. And 
the next morning he was taciturn, as always after a spree. Mother 
had to pump him. 

He had not received any promise of support at the magistrate's, 
but still he had not come away emptyhanded. They had asked him 
if he would like to move home to Bornholm with his family. At this 
time the municipalities of the country were dumping the unemployed 
on to each other by every kind of trickery; and the municipality of 
Copenhagen had decided to pay the fares of all families who came 
from the provinces and would prefer to go home. "It's not counted 
as poor relief," said Father, "and you get the transportation of your 
furniture paid for, too. So it is a means of getting away from here 

Once Father got started, he was extremely enthusiastic. He had 
often dreamed aloud of going home to Bornholm to make his way; 
I believe he had visions of being able to begin life anew over there. 

Nor had Mother any objection to getting away from Copenhagen, 
the "city of hunger" as she called it, and over to Father's native isle, 
which she pictured to herself as a sort of fools' paradise. She had 
never been in Bornholm herself, but from Father's stories she had 
formed the impression of a land flowing with milk and honey, where 
there was plenty of everything and it cost nothing. 

My brother and I had still more fantastic notions about the rocky 

island where Father had spent his childhood and youth. How poor 
our own world seemed when Father began to tell about his boy- 
hood, about his years as a herdboy and his rights with wild bulls and 
adders, about the blasting of the rocks and the trips out to sea in a 
boat. Those were real deeds of derring-do! Compared to them our 
own exploits seemed paltry pranks. We had nothing against moving 
over there and getting away from the drudgery and the tiresome 

A new word had begun to haunt the school: bathing. Our gym- 
nastics were to be expanded to include swimming also. That was the 
word that was going round and it gave us boys something to think 
about. In those days bathing was quite unheard of, and most of us 
had never really been in the water. We had paddled in "Holger 
Danske's Spectacles" and had ducked our heads over the wicker- 
work of the Lakes; the most daring had pulled off their trousers 
and waded out into the Ox Pasture, in water up to the middle* 
These boys were our heroes; they were considered downright des- 
peradoes. But now we were to go right into the water, like the 
sailors when they fell overboard and drowned; out where you 
couldn't touch bottom; perhaps out at Trekroner itself! 

Trekroner? The garrison? Surely not! Away out in the Oresund 
lie three islands; you can see them all right, and you can go out to 
them, too, but you can't touch bottom there! Upon closer reflection 
it appeared that the Cannibal hailed from Trekroner; he had prob- 
ably drowned several soldiers, it was thought. 

There was a good deal of superstition connected with bathing at 
that time. You might get water in your ears, or it might run into 
your eyes if you forgot to keep them shut. But these were all mere 
trifles compared to the danger that you might swallow the spirit of 
the water. Then you got spells of vomiting, and if you didn't get 
entirely rid of the spirit again, you got water on the brain or dropsy 
when you were older. It was small wonder that worry had entered 

into our world; who wants to become an idiot or get dropsy for the 
sake o a mangy sergeant? 

One day in the class in gymnastics he suddenly pulled out the 
flute and blew a shrill blast on it: "I have something to tell you," he 
said when there was silence, and made a face as though he were 
squinting at the sun. "Something you'll be mighty glad to hear. On 
Saturday we're going bathing, all hands. Now, let's have a cheer, 

"Well, aren't you delighted at the idea of going into the water?" 
he continued, as jovial as ever, when there wasn't a peep from any 
of us. "How I've been looking forward to it on your behalf! How 
I'll duck you, you little cherubs, for being so nice to me! Yes, per- 
haps 111 take and drown the whole lot of you like a mess of kittens. 
Then you'll all go straight up to Heaven." 

He stood rubbing his hands and laughing; he got a fine satisfac- 
tion out of tormenting us. That it was all meant seriously, every 
word he said, we had not the slightest doubt. 

Now followed a week that could justly be called the silent week. 
No plots of any kind were hatched; every boy skulked round like one 
condemned to death; we had all completely lost our heads. 

On Saturday we did not assemble as usual in the gymnasium, but 
were drawn up in the schoolyard. Our ranks were badly depleted; 
fully half the boys had either pkyed truant or reported sick. The 
sergeant rubbed his hands. "There must be some who prefer to die 
in bed," he said. "Well, their turn will surely come. I'll be able to 
wash the rest of you all the more thoroughly today." He was in high 
good humor and kept cracking jokes while he arranged us in a long 
row, two by two, marched us out of the gate, and swung us into the 
market place. We trotted down the right side of the road, while he 
himself strutted along on the sidewalk, cracking a whip and shout- 
ing commands: "Left right, left right! Get in step there, damn it, 
left right, left right!" His eyes and his mustache were beaming; 
the blond bristles stood straight up in the air; he was like a walking 


But already at the Town Hall one boy skipped; zip, and he was 
out of the line and had disappeared through the door of the Town 
Hall. The sergeant bawled, "Halt!" and "Stand at ease!" and looked 
for a moment as though he were going to take after him. But he 
was probably afraid of not finding the rest of us when he came back; 
for suddenly he yelled, "Attention!" and "March!" He was no longer 

And zip! Off flew another and still another. The sergeant swore 
and screamed himself hoarse. We marched past Blegdam School. 
The boys hung over the fence and stuck out their tongues at us. 
This really called for a reply, but terror possessed us and made us 
indifferent to everything; we trudged along through the dust like 
a column of convicts. Only my brother rose to the occasion. He raised 
a threatening fist to his eye, as we marched past our mortal enemies. 
But not even his bravery was much to boast of today; he was walk- 
ing a few rows in front of me, and I could see his hams twitching 
every moment. "Now he's going to make a dash for it," I thought. 

And when we came opposite the old iron foundry, he could not 
hold out any longer. He dashed out of the line with a bound and 
disappeared across the yard among all the junk iron. 

And suddenly a spark struck and kindled in my hopelessly ex- 
tinguished brairu Trembling, I raised a finger. The sergeant beck- 
oned me over to the sidewalk. "That was my brother that skipped," 
I said. "Shall I fetch him back?" 

"Yes, do, damn it all," shrieked the Cannibal. "Grab him. Bring 
him back dead or alive, you dog!" I easily found him among the 
rusty iron kettles in the yard where we were both well acquainted. 
We ran on through to the Lakes and trudged along hand in hand 
toward the city. We didn't dare go home at that hour of the day. 

"We'll catch it for this," said my brother when we had crossed 
over Fredensbro and felt that we had reached safety. "Ow, ow 3 ow 
how we'll catch it! And the Cannibal hits hard. He's used to flogging 
the Jenses." 

I had not given a thought to that side of the question, but had 


stared myself completely blind at the one thing: escaping drowning 
at the hands of the terrible sergeant. Now I was no further ahead; 
the problem was like all important problems still unsolved. For 
me there was indeed never any way out! 

The next school day at recess the sergeant suddenly appeared. He 
had his most joyous face on, as he went round picking out the cul- 
prits and crossing them off on a list. He collected the truants on 
one hand, and when he had a whole bunch, took them over to the 
side of the yard, where they had to fall in. The teachers had come 
out onto the steps and stood there grinning. 

I hid behind a big tree, so that the Cannibal could not see me; 
but Fatty Madsen could see me from the steps and gave him a sign. 
And suddenly he stood over me. "What became of you on Satur- 
day?" he asked, lifting me up by the back of the neck as one picks 
up a kitten, and carrying me over to the others. "You were supposed 
to fetch your brother.*' 

"I skipped," I said in a small voice. I was unable to think of any 
evasion on the spur of the moment. 

"Well, at least you're honest," he said, setting me down on the 
ground. He looked over the flock. "I really ought to paddle the 
whole bunch of you from one end to the other," he roared, staring 
brightly and promisingly at us. "But now you'll have it coming to 
you on Saturday. I haven't time today Lord help the one that 
doesn't show up on Saturday!" he bellowed from the gate. 

"He'll not see me again," muttered my brother. "He can bet his 
last dollar on that! You're crazy if you go. Just cut it, there's no dan- 
ger; we're going away soon anyway." 

Georg was like that even then, ready to pile up debts without 
giving a thought as to how they were to be paid. I, on the other 
hand, had an unfortunate, ingrained need to wipe things of? the 
slate before they mounted up too high. Consequently I did not fol- 
low his advice to play truant again, but mustered for the next ex- 
cursion. This time I did not regret that I had followed my own 


head, but as a rule his philosophy of life was better than mine. Those 
who make debts seldom pay them themselves. 

The following Saturday we arrived without many casualties at 
the military bathing place. It was a hard job to get our clothes off, 
although we didn't have many on. One boy had one thing the mat- 
ter with him and another something else, which made it impossible 
for him to go into the water. The sergeant gave short shrift. "Well, 
what's the matter with you?" he asked me, with his head solicitously 
on one side. 

"I have a rupture," I answered dejectedly. I had heard that a 
rupture exempted you from bathing. 

"Then you must have a rupture belt on," he said, tying a belt 
with a long rope around my waist. And suddenly I flew out into the 
pool. My heart stood still. The bright water, the sky, everything 
closed around me in gold and green. Light and softness flowed over 
me. Perhaps I had fever; I felt a solace the like of which I had never 
known. When I came up again, I was as though transformed. My 
fear of the water was gone, had given place to a boundless confi- 
dence. I threw myself in again without giving a thought to it that 
the sergeant had taken the swimming belt off me. He gave a yell 
and jumped in after me. "What a water rat," he said, spitting. "You 
really ought to get a good licking!" He gave me a hard whack on 
the rear. But he laughed; and this time the smile was genuine 

But my terror of water was gone beyond recall. Later I went my- 
self to the beach and became really something of a water rat. I some- 
times got a whipping for it, but I got rid of my gland trouble* I no 
longer needed to drink sea water. 

THE summer drew to a close without anything coming of our plans 
to move to Bornholm. Father had decided upon the little town of 
Nekso, where an old schoolmate of his, with whom he occasionally 
exchanged letters, lived. This childhood friend, who was now a 
carpenter, had found a house for us and had also inquired about 
work for Father. Everything was settled then, except that we had 
heard nothing of the passage money from the municipality. Then 
one day in late September that, too, was settled; Mother took the 
pictures down and laid them between two mattresses. Everything 
was packed up, loaded onto a big dray, and driven down to the 
steamer. There we were in the empty rooms, waiting, excited and 
impatient, for the time to pass. Father had gone over to Uncle Otter- 
berg's on an errand, and Mother was round in the neighborhood 
saying good-bye. We children didn't say any good-byes; we had 
no feeling of sadness, we simply longed to get away, over to the new 
life that awaited us. A hack driver out on Olufsvej, where Mother 
had often given a hand in the house, had offered to drive us down 
to the steamer in his cab, and late in the afternoon we were jolted 
oE to Kvsesthusbroen, where the Bornholm steamer lay. 

A chapter of my life was behind me and I was eight years old! 

I have often had to think since of how wise I was then with my 
eight years and yet how innocent. I had been hard put to it, had 
suffered much, tried much, had to do all sorts of things. But my 
mind was neither impoverished nor sullied from it, nor had it be- 
come old. The child lived on in me and was as it should be. 

I wonder if people were different then from now. Perhaps they 

were not so fond of children, or perhaps they did not understand 
how to give expression to their feelings most of them seemed to 
take a peculiar joy in misinforming us children, imposing on us, even 
torturing us. I should rather have been a child now; our age cer- 
tainly regards the child as more important. This is probably because 
there is more future in life today. 

Was my early childhood bright or dark? Most people would 
doubdess say dark myself, I do not know. But it was often hard 
enough; the brightness in it sprang out of the darkness, so to speak. 
It is possible to make a background so dark that ordinary white 
paper hurts the eyes as though it were the most powerful source of 

But whether it was bright or dark, such as it was, I should not 
like to be without it. But neither should I like to live it over again. 

I wonder, too, if you don't take a brighter view of the future when 
you have had a hard childhood ? The disciples of a new age are, for 
the most part, people who have passed their childhood at the bottom 
of the heap, without having become on that account embittered 
against existence. They generally find satisfaction in trying to make 
it over. 

If I am to examine closely into these first eight years of my life, I 
must say that I could very well have done with a little more light 
and air, a litde more food, and perhaps also some warmer clothes. 
Still, these things were not absolutely essential; it was possible to 
grow even on the share of them that fell to my lot. The result, of 
course, would have been different if I had grown up according to 
all the rules of child hygiene: with certified Jersey milk, daily baths, 
sun and more sun, and carefree play. I should have been more red- 
cheeked then. My gall bladder would have shrunk to nothing and 
been replaced by an organ for the secretion of benevolent egoism. 
But entirely aside from the fact that egoism may also arise out of 
want (it must certainly require a confounded lot of want for that), 
I am not at all sure that to grow up in sunlight and free from care 
is of value in the struggle for existence as it is today. From the 

purely physical point of view perhaps it is. A sound body is devel- 
oped, but at the expense of intellectual qualities which have little 
to do with nature indeed, but are of all the greater importance in 
our human world. A bright childhood makes people sound and 
self-satisfied, benevolently egoistic (asocial), and stupid. 

What I seriously lacked in my early childhood was not so much 
food and clothing, care and all that, as people the powerful effect 
produced by people who were not matter-of-course! Father and 
Mother and my brother and sisters, our scant circle of friends, the 
whole of our known poor man's world this was all very well in 
its way, but it was as matter-of-course as the air one breathed, the 
bread one ate. There was a world above ours, another world in 
which people never wanted for any of the things we cried for, in 
which, viewed from our level, it appeared that people lived in joy 
and splendor, a world where nobody knew what it meant to go 
to bed hungry or to want in any other way, where the soul did not 
crawl far out of people's eyes from sheer lack and longing. But this 
world was never heard from; never did a shining spark from it 
penetrate into ours with a message and greeting from man to man. 
We were not human beings in the eyes of those people up there; 
no human feelings went out toward us. This undernourishment was 
more serious in its effects than the purely physical; it gave the soul 
a firmness and fortitude which it would perhaps hardly have ac- 
quired otherwise, or at least would hardly have retained. 

I had a good childhood, all things considered but this is not quite 
the same thing as a bright childhood, which may perhaps be a 
source of great outward strength; I do not know. But to grow up 
in all sorts of weather is a source of inward strength; you can draw 
on it all your life. 

As a child of the lower classes you learn if you are acclimatized 
to it two things which supplement each other in a remarkable way: 
a stoical content and an indomitable discontent. This discontent is 
probably the mother of all progress, but with it there must go a cer- 
tain inner contentment or optimism; it has never been the pessimists 


who have changed the world. It is a great gift to be able to take 
things as they come; without it the proletariat must long since have 
lost its humanness. And it is indeed a great art to be able to reconcile 
yourself to that which cannot be otherwise, and at the same time take 
up the cudgels with existence as Mother, for example, could do. 
Make it over as far as possible and accept the rest as something that 
has to be, with cheerful mind. 

I believe that I possess something of this balance, with which, it 
may be remarked parenthetically, Nature herself has a great deal 
to do. And I believe that it is connected in a peculiarly intimate 
fashion with the way in which my childhood shaped itself. If the 
environment had been much more favorable for me, I do not know 
how things might have turned out perhaps I might have gone under. 
As far back as I can remember, there has been a brooding melan- 
choly at the bottom of my nature. A sunny, carefree childhood of 
idle play might perhaps have cleared the way for this melancholy 
and turned it loose upon me. Instead, it was thrust aside by tasks 
which were often severe enough; and even the severest tasks became 
easier and brighter with the obscure feeling that there was some- 
thing latent and repressed in me with which it would have been 
much more difficult still to deal. 

Even sickness was not allowed to be an unmixed evil, although it 
was a torment. In the first place, it came and took you away from 
hard work and put you to bed. Everybody pampered you. There 
was sometimes a rare enjoyment in these interruptions, when every- 
thing revolved about you and even Father had to turn out his purse 
for money for medicine or a penny for sweets. The sickbed lent a 
peculiar perspective to existence. You lay there staring back over 
the past and learning to remember, or dreaming yourself ahead into 
the future. 

Above all, a particular kind of will power developed, purely or- 
ganically, out of the sickness, with its roots deeply imbedded in it: 
a stubborn tenacity capable of holding back or of pushing ahead 1 
You came to share in much that as a healthy being you must have 

missed; and you were held back from the purely physical point of 
view. I must, to judge from all reports, have been pale and delicate 
as a boy; when I was eighteen years old I looked as though I were 
only fifteen, and even when I was over twenty, women would some- 
times to my great indignation treat me as a half-grown boy. 

Sickness has its own plan with us mortals. I do not mean to say 
that it is a necessary part of a good childhood, but simply to draw 
attention once again to the benefits it has brought mankind. 

But I do consider excitement absolutely essential to growth, not 
so much the excitement that comes from storybooks and reading in 
general, as that which is connected with all important work for life 
and its maintenance and begins with the procuring of bread itself. 
This alone is sufficient to fill the childish mind with the joy of 

For the satisfaction of the mind it matters greatly whether one is 
producing something useful or something worthless. And it is of 
great importance for the child's evolution into a social being that 
his games should draw him into the social system; idle play makes 
the child vague and intellectually spineless makes him asocial. I 
was early forced to carry my share of the burden of supporting the 
home and acquired from that a social mind. 

And the social mind is today the most fruitful, and hence the most 
valuable asset o all. Consequently I have every reason to be con- 
tented with my early childhood. 


?!LL night long we had lain huddled together, down on the dirty 
'tween-decks in an empty cattle stall, which gave off the most ter- 
rible stench every time the ship settled in a trough of the sea. It was 
the Pride of East Bornholm, a wobbly litde tub of a steamer with 
a high superstructure, allowing for the closed-in 'tween-decks over 
the whole length of the ship. She had carried a cargo of cattle over 
to the capital; now she was almost empty and rolled frightfully on 
the waves. Every time the wind got a good grip on the high super- 
structure, she heeled over and had trouble in righting herself again. 

Mother lay bemoaning her lot, with the new sister at her breast. 
(She was now nine months old but could, fortunately, still be called 
new.) At every fresh lurch Mother had to give in; she vomited bile, 
her hand clutching frantically at my shoulder, "Oh, help me, I'm 
dying!" she groaned. I couldn't think of any way to help hen And 
Georg, who was always so good at cheering other people, had all 
he could do to take care of himself. He lay propped up on one hand 
and vied with Mother in vomiting; every time she had a spell, he had 
to have one, too. He was quite green in the face. 

"Won't we soon be there?" Mother asked every time she had a 
little respite. So I clambered up the iron stairway and peered out. 
The heavy billows boomed against the side of the ship. Now and 
then a jet of spray spurted in over the deck. It was dark, but there 
was a faint streak of light ahead. 

"We are now sailing into the uttermost darkness," I announced 
when I came back. 

Mother gave a start. <e What's the matter with you? Are you trying 

to play doomsday prophet?" she said, shivering. Georg kicked me 
on the leg; neither of them was fit to be near. 

"But when I've seen myself that we're sailing through the dark- 
ness toward where it's day," I said, howling. 

I had been so pleased with my turn of phrase; the uttermost dark- 
ness, it described everything so well, was a real find, it seemed to me. 
But Mother was still afraid. She kept crouching down in misery every 
moment. And then Georg would kick at me. Sister Sine lay in the 
center of a coil of rope and slept through it all. 

"Where's Father?" Mother suddenly inquired in quite a different 

I had seen him on one of my excursions, sitting with somebody 
away out under the afterdeck. 

"Are they drinking?*' Mother looked sharply at me. I nodded so 
as not to gossip. 

"Oh, yes, they'd find each other, all right. They're like freemasons, 
all they have to do is wink an eye. And nothing has any effect on 

"No, for they're rolling anyway," my brother put in with a wry 

"Just listen to him," said Mother. "He's being smart." And then 
it was all up with her. I had to hold her forehead; it was sopping 
wet. Georg kept her faithful company. 

"Oh, yes," she said with a sigh. "Some people can always take 
things lightly. And there are plenty of big words at the bottom of 
the bottle. There's no end to the causes they have to champion. Oh, 
yes, they're a fine set of world reformers." 

"Oh, Father's given up all that sort of thing now," said Georg. 
Mother was about to answer, but just then the ship gave another 
lurch, and they both had something else to think about 

We smaller children were all right, perhaps because we were not 
yet so far removed from the cradle. 

Sine had slipped out of the coil of rope down onto the deck, but 
slept soundly on. I could very well have slept, too, had not the ex- 

citement kept me on my feet. We had once sailed to Klampenborg, 
but this was the first time I had ever been on a real ship on real 
water. There were plenty o strange things here to keep me awake. 
And then there was Georg! For once I was the stronger and this 
had to be made the most of; every time I saw anything at all re- 
markable, I would come back and give him and Mother an account 
of it. "You ought to come and see it," I would say to him, wanting 
to help him to his feet. But he would shake his head; he couldn't 
even afford to say that he wouldn't be bothered running at the heels 
of such a fool. 

"Won't we soon be across?" groaned Mother. 

I scrambled up the iron stairway to the upper deck and was able 
to report that we were sailing right in toward some houses that 
looked as if they were hanging on a wall. 

"Hanging on a wall," sneered Georg. "That's Hasle, you goose." 

"Yes, of course it is." 

"Yes, but you said some houses." He made a sour face, but for 
very good reasons couldn't carp at me. 

"What are they drinking?" groaned Mother in between spasms. 

"Oh, it's nothing expensive, just schnapps and beer." 

"Are they playing cards, too?" 

"No, they're just palavering." Mother was afraid that the passage 
money might be spent. 

As long as we lay in Hasle Harbor, Mother was more comfort- 
able. I had to help her sit up. She felt my hand, turned my face 
round toward the porthole, where the dawn was peeping in at us, 
and looked anxiously into my eyes. "You're feverish again," she 
said, frightened. "You aren't sick, are you?" 

I was not sick in that sense, but the excitement of the departure 
pulsed in my throat and head and buzzed in my ears. I was trem- 
bling with expectation, my senses and nerves were so wrought up 
that my impressions have remained almost unimpaired. Even yet 
when I think back, the floor begins to settle underneath me, foul 
odors are given off, Mother lies there with the baby dangling at her 

nipple, which is drawn out long because Mother's arm is tired and 
the breast is sucked dry, while Sister hangs on hungrily. The ship's 
lantern swings back and forth above them and has a special beam 
of light left for Georg, who lies on his elbow, green in the face, 
glowering guiltily at me, impudent rascal, because I do not get sick, 
although he does. Sine sleeps soundly among the bales of goods 
where the swell has landed her; in a bright square opposite, the 
cook pops up and kindles a fire in the galley range. Pots and pans 
hang limply from the ceiling. 

Then all of a sudden the boxes and bales of goods get busy, too; 
Mother succumbs to her spells again, falls right over on her side as 
though she had broken in two in the middle. The cook beckons me 
over to the galley and gives me something for Mother in a tin mug; 
but before I can get it over to her I have spilled it. The ship leaps 
in the sea, it is like standing on the back of a wild horse; I have 
often done it in dreams, now it has become reality. You have to 
hang on tight, and the things you grab at for support are themselves 
out on a spree. Boxes and bales begin to slide about, as though they 
were going to crush us all; sailors come on the run and stow them 
away. Georg has rolled right down into the gutter along the ship's 
side; the mate is bending over Mother trying to pour something 
into her. She is going to die and is calling for Father, and I set of? 
to find him, hanging on to anything I can and dashing ahead in 
the intervals between the ship's paroxysms, calling him and roaring. 

"Your father, he's asleep, he is," says a voice. I do not see who is 
speaking, nor do I try to see, the voice is everything to me. "It'll be 
all right now pretty soon," it says, "for we've rounded the North 
Point!" And indeed the ship has become tired of raging and is just 
rolling lazily and slowly. "Are you hungry?" says the voice, and a 
hand reaches a big bun toward me. It is a queer hand, big and thick 
like a pillow, blue and swollen. It is covered with fiery red hair and 
there are rusty brown blotches under the skin. It is repulsive-looking. 
But the bun tastes none the worse" for that. 

"I hope you thanked him politely and shook hands with him/' 

said Mother when I came dashing down to show her the bun; she 
was sitting up changing the baby. I had forgotten as usual. 

"Go right back and do it, but let your brother have a bite before 
you go." 

He was in no humor for anything of the sort just now fortu- 
nately. For he could take the lion's share in a single mouthful. And 
if I held a finger over it, he would bite my finger so that I would 
have to let go altogether and give him the whole thing. The man I 
could not find, I had no idea what he looked like anyway. 

Mother had come up to the upper deck, she was sitting in the 
shelter of the smokestack, staring in to shore with a strange expres- 
sion, as though she were looking into the Promised Land. "It's on 
this side that we're to live," she said brightly. "I won't mind it here; 
round on the other side of the island there was nothing but dark- 
ness and storm." 

"Yes, because it was night and the wind was blowing," said my 

"You always have to be so smart, don't you ?" Mother snapped him 
off. "Now I know we must be all the way round on the other side. 
But it's nice that you're beginning to come to, anyway." 

I, too, expected much in fact, everything from our new place 
of abode. And I had the same feeling as Mother, that now we were 
all the way round on the other side, away from Copenhagen and our 
former existence, into an entirely new one. That, indeed, was what 
I had tried to express by "the uttermost darkness" that it was so 
bright ahead. Moving is the poor man's salvation when he can't 
make a go of things any longer, he packs up all the darkness behind 
him and moves. Mother had probably already moved several times 
in her life. But you couldn't tell that, to look at her as she sat huddled 
up, warming herself at the ship's funnel and staring in to land, rapt 
and dreaming. She was indomitable and continued to be, right up 
to extreme old age; no disappointment ever got her down. She 
might feel low for a little while; but she always straightened up again 
and seemed more erect than before. Often I have had the impres- 

sion that disappointment merely strengthened her optimism, and at 
such times I have always had a desire to be as near to her as possible 
and share in her exuberance. 

And now, too, I clung to her and let myself be borne along on 
her bright journey into our new world. It looked just as promising 
to me as it did to her; I simply did not relate my feeling to specific 
things. Mother could see that it was more fertile here than in other 
places, and milder, too. "There didn't use to be such huge trees 
growing even in Dyrehaven when I was a child," she said., pointing 
up above the cliffs along the shore. "And just look, they have real 
mulberry trees yonder in the gardens! Not even the Chamberlain 
could get them to grow for all his fussing." 

I knew all about the Chamberlain's place, where Mother had been 
in service as a girl. Everything big and out o the ordinary was 
measured by something corresponding to it at the Chamberlain's; 
if it surpassed that, then one was altogether out in the realm of the 
miraculous. I hung on her gay glance and her bright voice and fol- 
lowed where she pointed. And fair it was over there in the new land. 
I was unable to grasp the details, was unequal to the open horizon. 
Everything lay in luminous haze; it hurt the eye to gaze at it. 
But for me, too, it was full of promise. 

We were there at last after sailing almost a day and a night. The 
arrival at Nekso, where we were to live, comes vividly to my mind. 
A round mole jutted out in a curve; it looked like half a sausage 
that has been split lengthwise. Along its rounded surface a man was 
running and gesticulating with his arms; the mate heaved a looped 
hawser over at him as though he wanted to lasso him. On the other 
side was the harbor with coalyards and warehouses; the sun was 
shining and a crowd of people stood and stared. Some of them 
shouted up at us in an incomprehensible language and struggled 
with gangways. A boy lay on his stomach on a mooring post and 
whirled round; every time his face turned toward the ship, he stuck 
out his tongue at me. I held my fist up threateningly in front of 
my eye; but Georg knocked my hand down and said: 'TSTever mind 

that, he's much bigger than you are! I'll take care of him." Now 
that we were at the end of the voyage, he was the old Georg again. 

Mother cried when we set foot on the new soil; she turned her 
back on everything and wiped her nose, while people stared at us 
and talked among themselves. A man came over and shook hands 
with Father; he was deathly pale and had a thin black beard- We 
accompanied him up to the town. He talked in a low voice, almost 
a whisper, so that you had to listen closely to catch what he said. 
On the way he asked Father if he had found Jesus. The question 
fascinated me; it was so different from all other questions I had ever 
heard and the man looked like Jesus himself as I knew him from 
the pictures at school. 

I knew, of course, that the man was a carpenter and Father's old 
schoolmate. It was he who had got us to come over here and found 
us a place to live. But his question frightened me; it was a long time 
before I was able to regard him as an ordinary person. 

H.T THE rear of an old dyer's yard, right out at the water's edge, was 
a relic of an outbuilding, so ruinous that it could not be used for 
anything. It had therefore been converted by simple means into a 
human habitation for renting out! Here we took up our abode. 
There were two tiny rooms and a kitchen; it was indeed a squalid 
spot, much worse than our home in Copenhagen, and Mother scolded. 
When there was a gale blowing landward, the waves came right 
up over the shore path, which ran just under our living-room win- 
dow, and sprayed the gable end and the windowpanes, so that it was 
like being in the stern of a ship that was half aground. We boys 
thought it was great fun when there was a storm from the east and 
the white flakes of foam smacked against the windowpane; but 
Mother had had all the sailing she wanted for a while. "Why 
couldn't he have got us a house with a glimpse of the street? You 
can sit here and mope and never see a soul or hear a wagon nothing 
but water and water and the printer's bare back-building." He was 
not Father this time, but the pious carpenter, who was to have found 
us a house and had brought us here perhaps because the printer 
was pious, too. 

It was cold here when there was a wind; up in the open loft 
where Georg and I slept, it blew right through the tiles. And it 
was quite impossible to heat the living quarters below; the walls 
were thin half-brick fillings in brick-and-timber, and the stove was 
an old burnt-out monstrosity that, without any perceptible effect, 
ate up everything you put into it. "That rust-red devil will land us 
in the poorhouse yet!*' said Mother. It was not that we were buying 

anything, but we children had all we could do to procure fodder for 
it, dried seaweed and cow manuie, brush from the woods and drift- 
wood from the beach. "Well, you at least get some warmth from the 
old hobgoblin/' said Mother as we came toiling in with our load. 
"I'm only sorry we ever came here at all." 

Every time she saw the printer, she got after him about the stove 
and the kitchen range, which was no better, until finally he was 
afraid to show his face around on the shore side. "Very well then, 
111 go and see him. He'll bring us a new stove if I have to join the 
congregation to get it." Mother had a rare talent for talking to 
people, and she came back with as good as a promise of a new stove, 
or at least a good secondhand one. But when she was to have gone 
with the printer out to the foundry to look at a stove, the back door 
into the dyer's yard was locked. "We'll go in by the main door, 
then," said Mother, running down along the shore path to an alley 
which led up to Storegade, where the front of the yard with the shop 
was. But in the shop she was informed that the printer had driven 
out to the country and would not be back before evening. 

"I never knew that the children of the Lord could so far forget 
themselves as to have to hide," was all Mother said. But five minutes 
later the printer called at our house for her and we got a new stove 
that gave heat. 

Our next problem was to hold the heat in the room. The wind 
blew in through the brick-and-timber and the fillings. Mother had us 
soak paper and plug it into the crevices with an old bread knife. It 
stopped them up nicely, but there were gaps in the ceiling, too. 
From the cracks between the planks in the floor of the attic dust 
sifted down into the beds and into our food, as we ate. All our past- 
ing was of no avail; when you went up into the attic, the strips of 
paper split. "You'll just have to get used to having free pepper on 
your food, for I've done all I can now," declared Mother. Father 
just muttered. 

He had not found any work in the town and had to trudge out 
every day to the stone quarry at Hell's Hills and cut paving stones. 

The weekly wage was very small and the working-day long. The 
stone quarry lay half a mile inland; he had to get up at four o'clock 
and did not come home from work before seven or eight in the eve- 
ning, tired and stiff. To have anything at all out of it, they had to 
make the day long and work by lantern. Once or twice a week Georg 
or I had to go out and pile paving stones in cords or clear away the 
chips for crushing. 

There seemed to be no signs of any golden age. Father said noth- 
ing; he was the most silent person I have ever known. Only when 
he had been drinking did his tongue run loose. But it had been 
obvious that he, too, had thought of our move as something of a 
step up in the world. And then we had landed here, outside of every- 
thing and at the bottom of the heap. We could not see a single house 
from our windows. Only the endless expanse of the ocean, with 
steamers and sailing ships afar off and on the land side the long, 
windowless back length of the printer's place. Social distinctions 
were much more sharply drawn here than where we had come from. 
In particular, anyone who was poor was looked upon with contempt. 
There was no prospect of advancement here. 

Mother, who was tied to the house, gready missed seeing people. 
In front of the kitchen window, which faced on the printer's garden, 
a big wooden box had been placed so that the light could come in 
from above but you could not see out. And there was nothing to see 
on the shore path but fishermen trundling their wheelbarrows to and 
from the harbor. <c You can't see as much as a window with a flower- 
pot from this forsaken spot," she said dolefully. The ocean did not 
interest her particularly, but she was very much taken up with the 
box and what it concealed. She could see right through it; when I 
stood beside her as she washed the dishes, she would tell me about 
this garden. There was a big mulberry tree in the middle with 
branches that hung right down to the grass, and underneath the tree 
there was a table with some benches a real summerhouse. "The 
printer's brother-in-law is sitting there billing and cooing with his 

sweetheart and thinking they're alone in the world. They little 
dream that wood can be transparent." 

"Can you really see through the boards, Mother?" 

"You heard what I said, didn't you ? When you have to stand and 
stare at a wall like that from morning till night, you end up by being 
able to see right through it." 

It no longer sounded so incredible; in the face of all this newness 
and strangeness, supernatural powers were certainly necessary. I 
had no objection to having a mother who could see right through 
things, and it was no satisfaction to me when I happened to dis- 
cover one day that she simply stood up on the kitchen chair and 
held the looking glass up to the ceiling. I had begun to have a new 
respect for Mother's powers and would not have minded in the least 
if they had been supernatural. She had to practice witchcraft often 
enough anyway, although she would wring her hands and declare 
that she couldn't. 

Father accepted the situation with astonishing calm. He liked 
having the sea as his nearest neighbor and stayed at home when he 
was not working. He had bought an old army musket; he made 
it over into a shotgun and began shooting sea gulls and wild ducks; 
often when it was moonlight he would get up at night and shoot them 
from the window. The wild ducks were sold, but nobody would 
buy the sea gulls. People here considered them unclean food and 
turned up their noses at us because we ate them. But they tasted 
all right. Mother soaked them in water with a little milk in it to 
draw the fish oil out of them and roasted them, in a pot. 

For Georg and me the sea was the great adventure and made up 
for many disappointments. At home in Copenhagen it had been 
an event to run round from the Houses of the Medical Society to 
Sortedamssoen, lie on your stomach out over the wickerwork along 
the edge, and duck your head. When there was no policeman in 
sight, you might go so far as to paddle about and fish snail shells 
up out of the water; a dead perch, bobbing up and down with its 
belly turned up, was like a breath from unknown worlds. A bowl o 


water and a few burnt matches put out to sail in it was enough in 
those days to fill your mind with fertile fancies and make you forget 
everything around you. 

And this was the ocean itself! As far as you could see, it stretched, 
and farther still, all the way to Russia! Indeed, it went round the 
whole earth and bore ships on its back and treasures and dead men 
in its belly. Away out yonder fared the fathers of the most ordinary 
fellows with whom you fought every day but with whom you would 
prefer to be on good terms. For then perhaps they would take you 
home with them, and these little sailor homes held strange offerings 
from the sea, stuffed trunkfish that hung from the ceiling, sharks' 
teeth, blocks of red and white coral. At night we were awakened 
by the sound of creaking wheelbarrows and clumping wooden shoes; 
it was the fishermen on their way to the harbor; the fish must be 
caught while people slept. There were boys who could boast of hav- 
ing been out on a night expedition; perhaps you might achieve that 
feat yourself! If you wanted to avoid being seasick, you simply tied 
a piece of bacon on a string and pulled it up and down through 
your throat. 

Yonder was the sea with its inexhaustible reserves for the boyish 
mind. And here was the beach; it offered more than enough for the 
present. We toiled at the wall of seaweed, worked the wrack free of 
the stones that had wrapped themselves up in it, and gathered drift- 
wood and cork, all for winter fuel. It was more fun to work at this 
than at anything else; the sea washed so many things ashore, botdes 
and empty casks, baskets and nameboards, and now and then a 
corpse things that told of life on board ship, of storms, and perhaps 
of shipwreck or mutiny. The sea was indeed an entertaining 

Here by the seashore I learned to see afar off . I had lived my early 
childhood among high buildings, had seen streets intersect, had had 
everything at close quarters. When I first came over here, my eyes 
hurt from the light and the wide expanses and I had to screw them 
up; but soon both sight and mind became accustomed to the open 


spaces, my dizziness left me, and I took pleasure in following the 
horizon and surveying the scene. It became a habit with me to scan 
the horizon and gaze across the rising land. There was lust for 
adventure in this; every little change in the seascape or the land- 
scape meant that something was happening, something was going 

My sight became keener. I was able with the naked eye to dis- 
tinguish details on passing ships which others could see only with 
a telescope. One day some people were standing on the shore path 
in front of our gable watching a three-master which seemed to be 
perilously close to land. She was heading south and the question was 
whether she would be able to round Snogebaek Point^ which shot 
far out under the water. "She ought to keep out to sea, there was 
water enough out there," they thought. I could clearly see a bank 
a long way out; the ship had sailed this side of it, I said. Nobody else 
could see the bank and I was well laughed at. But a fisherman, 
Lars Koller, who came by with a barrowful of net, declared that 
it was true, all right; there was a bank where,! was pointing, at the 
trolling grounds. But it was far out at sea, you'd practically have 
to have second sight to see it. The reputation for seeing more than 
other people clung to me for a time after this, and it had both ad- 
vantages and disadvantages especially since people were inclined 
to give it the metaphorical meaning. "Ask Martin, he can see into 
the future, you know," the women might say to Mother when they 
wished to have foreknowledge of something. And Mother, who had 
a special little weakness for me, recollected that I had, indeed, been 
born on a Sunday. It was rather embarrassing while it lasted; fortu- 
nately it wore of! and I was allowed to be like the others again. 

Despite the disappointment over hopes frustrated, I have from 
this period a strong impression of freedom. Life seems to have really 
begun only with our removal to Bornholm, while all that lies before 
that is but the circumscribed prenatal state. From the very beginning 
there is a rare glory over these childhood years on Bornholm, a glory 
which common day, however drab, has not been able to blot out; 

the removal is, in spite of everything, an emergence from straitened 
darkness into light and spaciousness. 

I felt like a chicken that has just come out of the egg and totter- 
ingly tries to find a foothold, dizzy from the sense of deliverance, of 
delight at being able to spread itself dazed! It seems to me in 
my mind's eye like a sort of drunken lurching, my first contact with 
light and space, an arrogant floundering into existence. 

Perhaps it was the effect of this vast world, against the background 
of which all human hardships seemed at first so petty; I took heart 
of grace, gulped down the air with avidity, went at life with a glut- 
tonous appetite such as I had never known before. No fear could 
down me any longer. The home, without actually changing itself, 
had lost its fateful power. Those four narrow walls and what they 
contained were no longer the be-all and end-all; they were not 
existence itself, but only a more or less snug corner. I had moved out 
and begun life on my own account. 

And there was plenty for me to tackle here. The twenty-hour sail 
had transported us to a world hundreds of years away in time from 
the one we had left. 

UP BACK of the town 3 at the edge of the common, was a cluster of 
mills. There were always people on the road up to them with a little 
bit of grain in a wheelbarrow to be ground into meal for the cattle 
or into flour for bread. It was a responsible job to barrow to the 
mill; sometimes I would have to do it for the printer or one of the 
other landowners, and I was always given strict orders to watch that 
the miller did not exchange the grain. People used to meet at the 
mill and there was much talk* But the man whose turn it was to 
have his grain ground had no time for idle chatter; he followed his 
parcel of grain from quern to quern until it came out as meal 
into his own sack. None but his own would do; even those who had 
poor grain seemed unable to eat bread from seed grown on any but 
their own land much less bread bought from the baker. 

We had known nothing more glorious than to skip off to the store 
and buy; everything depended, of course, upon whether you had 
the wherewithal. But here it was considered small to run round with 
a penny in your fist, as they expressed it; everything "boughten" 
was second-rate, was for poor people. Respectable folk made their 

Occasionally some man of the town might make a trade with the 
baker, taking bread in exchange for flour. If he had many in Ms 
service, there was nothing to be said; the great were not generally 
criticized; they stood above the law and were even exalted above 
custom. But ordinary people had to own land and grow their own 
grain if they wished to be considered respectable. They themselves 
no longer baked as in the country, but contented themselves with 

setting the sponge, which was then taken over to Michael's Anne. 
She had a kind of community oven, in which she baked a loaf of 
bread for ten ore. 

This whole mode of life was strange to us, and what was worse, 
we were not in a position to adopt it. We were poor^ we had neither 
land nor catde. "As soon as we're able, we'll move," Mother declared 
daily. "Then we'll have a place where we can keep pigs and hens 
and grow vegetables." 

Mother did not confine herself to promises for the future. Even 
if we didn't own land, we were not going to eat only bakery bread, 
especially since the homemade seemed to be so essential to the salva- 
tion of our souls. One Friday Mother bought flour and cardamon, 
made dough and set it on the stove to rise. And the next day we 
went over to Michael's Anne. 

Mother took me along with her, to have a little moral support 
perhaps. There were many townswomen at the bakery; they were 
standing at a long table shaping the loaves and marking them 
with the family initials, lest they be exchanged and gossiping. It 
sounded like a choir of birds on the beach; but when Mother and 
I came in, the chatter died down. Mother found herself a place at 
the end of the long deal table and began to knead the dough. I 
kept close beside her, bothered by the attention we attracted. The 
women cast sidelong glances at Mother and smiled to each other; she 
was not going about it in the right way. But Mother was not one 
to let herself be driven from the field without making a stand. 
When it got too much for her, she turned her face round toward 
me. "Dear me, here I stand and fumble, while some people are to 
the manner born, with thumbs and everything." 

"Live and learn," said a woman down the row, almost outside. 

"Yes, and take a licking all the time you're learning!" Mother 
snapped back. Then they thought better of it and helped her out, 
and on Sunday morning we each got a slice of delicious homemade 
wheaten bread with our coffee. That was all we could have, for 
the loaf had to last out the week. 

There were no laborers here, in our sense of the word. They were 
all fishermen, plied some trade or other, and did odd jobs in between. 
Those who had no regular occupation with a little farming on the 
side were regarded as paupers. On the Commons in Copenhagen 
I had once witnessed an encounter between the socialists and the 
police; but over here people were still living and thinking wholly 
as peasants. "Town people," said Mother with a sniff. "No, thank 
you, they're just peasants! All they think of is land and more land. 
They're like children afraid to let go of their mother's skirt. As 
long as they've got hold of a little snip, they're satisfied!" 

It was a funny world. Here the houses had only one storey; the 
women asked Mother if it was true that in Copenhagen people lived 
one above the other as in a kind of church tower. And how do they 
get rid of the garbage and that sort of thing? 'They just dump it 
down on each other's heads," said Mother. "And then wash their hair 
every Saturday." Here every house had its garden, and often the 
house lay in the midst of the garden and was shaded by big trees. 
Those who had no cows had at least hens and a pig and geese and 
ducks, too. These were the little people; the well-to-do, of course, 
had land in the Commons- Everybody enjoyed respect in proportion 
to the cows and fields he possessed. 

We did not belong even among the little people; we had no house 
of our own, but lived in a rented one. With that everything was said. 
There were not many tenants in the town and lodgings were there- 
fore scarce; people rented only what they did not care to live in 
themselves and yet had not the heart to tear down. The rent was a 
whole krone a week for two rooms and a kitchen. For those who 
could not manage this rent, the town had put up a long rambling 
building with apartments at a cheap rate. And for those who could 
not pay even that, there was the poorhouse. We were not quite so 
low in the scale as that. There was a certain satisfaction in this, since 
in the old societies it is more important for people to have something 
to look down upon than something to look up to. 

The strange thing about the situation here was that while there 
was plenty of everything, still it was very difficult to get what you 
needed. Every household provided for itself from field and garden, 
and tried to cover as far as possible its needs for the whole year, 
whereas we had been used to buying everything from meal to meaL 
Potatoes were to be had only by the barrel, and you could not buy 
a little bunch of soup vegetables at all. "We must have a garden/* 
said Mother in despair. "It's so stupid that there should be God's 
plenty of everything here and yet you can't get anything without go- 
ing down on your knees and begging for it." There was no such 
thing here as: "Skip over and buy a five-ore bunch of soup vegetables, 
but be sure there's lots of parsley in it!" Mother often had to catch 
herself up; it was enough to drive you to distraction! 

Even milk was scarce at first, although every other home kept 
cows. Some places they thought It didn't seem right to take money 
for milk, and so put whatever they could spare into your pail. But 
Mother wouldn't let us go back there again; that was only for poor 
people. And at the places where they sold milk, as at the brewer's, 
for instance, they required you to take a certain amount every day. 
"Why, they're crazy," said Mother. "They must want to have us in 
the poorhouse in a hurry!" Skim milk, yes, she'd be quite willing to 
take a quart of that every day; it was only two ore. But the calves 
and the pigs had to have that! And new milk cost eight ore a quart. 

Everything depended largely upon good will, and we, as strangers, 
were met with suspicion. We were not shut out entirely, as strangers 
usually were; Father himself came from the island and had several 
childhood friends living in the town. There was a certain guarantee 
in that. But we were quarantined; it was a long time before we were 
completely accepted and could feel that we really belonged in the 

Then, too, there was much that was odd and ridiculous about a 
Copenhagen family like ours, both in dress and manners. We were 
too frank and outspoken for the Bornholmers, who have to this 
day the habit of holding back cautiously and letting other people 


get themselves into trouble. Mother in particular never minced 
matters; the other women used to keep quiet and let her give her- 
self away. Afterward, what Madam Andersen had said would pass 
round from mouth to mouth, and we children would have it thrown 
up to us in school with titters and taunts. 

We created a comic effect whether we wanted to or not. Mother 
sent us to the grocer's for sour mustard; the people in the store ex- 
changed surreptitious smiles. "The mustard never gets sour here; we 
don't keep it long enough," said the grocer's wife. They knew only 
mustard mixed with water. They were not acquainted with radishes 
either. It was really too funny the way these Copenhageners ran 
round asking for the craziest things. And they ate gulls, too, and 
young rooks that the father himself shot. And when Knap, the hack 
driver's horse, broke its leg in the Shrovetide race and had to be 
shot, they ran and bought horse meat, which was regarded by all 
Christian people as unclean. 

At school the boys always had something to tease my brother and 
me about. "That one's too small, we'll stick it in again," was a re- 
mark they kept up at us for a long time. We had stopped at a house 
to buy carrots for Mother and were to pull them up ourselves; and 
then the woman of the house had heard us saying this to each other. 
Neither of us had any idea that carrots grew; we noticed only that 
they were stuck in the ground. 

With the boys things straightened out fairly quickly. Georg was 
a fearless fellow when it came to a fight, and this was greatly to my 
advantage also. I had the good luck to have one of the big boys of 
the school, who was going to throw me, fall himself and sprain his 
foot. This surrounded me, too, with a certain air of invincibility; 
the boys were not anxious to start anything with us. 

We had plenty to learn and much resistance to overcome. First 
of all there was the language, which must be mastered at any price 
and preferably as soon as possible. It was quite unbearable in the 
long run to have every word you uttered turned and twisted in 
mimicry, never to get an answer to what you said, but only your 

own sentence back in distorted form. And on this point no quarter 
was given; he who did not speak the speech of the natives could 
have no contact with them. Even the grown-up people seized upon 
the mere sound of our words as something excessively funny. All in 
all, you were swallowed up by an organism that took you to pieces 
and made you over in every respect. The quicker you could be 
digested and assimilated into it the better. 

For us children it was fairly easy to glide over into the new life. 
It was painful for a while, as a difficult birth must be painful; and 
suddenly you discovered that you were well over on the right side. 
For Mother the change was harder to make, and indeed she never 
succeeded entirely. There was always something of an exotic bird 
about her. But this was in a peculiar sense an advantage to her. She 
had her own way of commanding respect; when she spoke she 
would subtly link what she said with the chain of our common 
experiences of life; she frequently expressed herself in the form of 
proverbs or maxims. This gave weight to her words, and there came 
the day when the women no longer laughed at her but said: "Madam 
Andersen says such and such!" or "Ask Madam Andersen what 
she would do!" Mother was one of those fortunate people who al- 
ways manage to land on their feet no matter how life buffets them 

Mother thought the sea air would be good for me, and my glandu- 
lar sores did go away; but still I was not altogether well. As a result 
of the wind and the damp air, I suffered continually from bronchitis. 
I felt the cold a good deal, my clothes were thin and no doubt my 
blood was, too. "Wait till you get some woolen underwear, then, 
you'll feel better," said Mother. She had bought a secondhand spin- 
ning wheel and carder from a woman who in return was to teach 
her to spin. The spinning gear did not have to be paid for until 
summer. From the traveling butcher she bought two sheepskins, one 
black and one white, and clipped off the wool with her sewing 
scissors. It was a tedious business, for the skins must not be damaged; 
they were to be sold again to the tanner. But then things began 


to move. When the weather was not fit for work outside, Georg and 
I blended the wool and carded it up into "lengths/' and Mother 
spun and sang: "I've been a farmer's daughter long enough." The 
most beautiful gray yarn piled up in skeins and waited only to be 
twined; and there was a little hunchbacked woman up at the mission 
house who would knit undervests for a mark. But there were never 
any undervests from our yarn; Mother was glad if she could keep 
us in stockings. "You must have stockings/' she said with a sigh. 
"Nobody looks to see whether you've got woolen undervests on or 

If I was not much stronger physically, I was at least happier in 
mind. There was so much to experience here and it was all out in the 
open. However monotonous life might seem to be, there was always 
something happening to nourish the mind and the imagination. Like 
a broad river the days flowed by with plenty of work but without 
nervous tension, a river without whirlpools or falls, bearing along 
with it all that a boy required. There were not many hidden terrors, 
it was not like living on a powder barrel; no longer was there a per- 
petual menace behind everything. In spite of many adversities and 
struggles, it was as though my existence had come forth into the 
light of day. There was a clear view. The ills that came were unac- 
companied misfortunes that you knew would have an end again; 
there was not, beyond the visible, an impenetrable cloud in which 
- catastrophe lurked. 

Not that life was devoid of mystery on this account. The daily 
round was in itself mysterious with its wealth of wonders and sur- 
prises; a whole world, in which I, as a city child, had had no part, 
revealed itself to me. Fish did not begin in the frying pan; I could 
follow them out to the vast depths of the sea, had myself been out 
in a boat to catch cod. Life disclosed to me its continuity. Food 
had its history and so had clothes. The soil itself was a mystery, 
I acquired knowledge of plants and of the strange nature of the 
earth. If you dug down into it, you struck rock, and a little way 
down in the rock ran veins of water. Father sometimes dug wells 


for people and I would go along to fetch the blasted stone up out of 
the well. When the water came, you had to get out in a hurry, for 
water could be subde as a serpent! 

It had other qualities, too, some that filled you with delight and 
others that sent cold shivers up and down your spine. Water was 
simply incredible. It belonged in the sea, of course; that was plain 
to be seen from the way it sought the ocean as soon as it was set free. 
And the ocean was everywhere roaring far into my slumbers and 
rolling in my dreams. 


WHEN I was spreading out seaweed to dry at the southern edge of 
the town, beside Sobaekken, I used to run up on a litde redoubt, a 
remnant of the old shore defenses, and gaze out toward the south. 
About a mile away, where the stone ended and the sand began, I 
could see the remains of Balka Harbor. It was blocked up with sand 
now and there was no longer any fishing carried on from it. But it 
was there that Grandfather had kept his boat while he was still a 
fisherman; the thrilHng boyhood adventures Father had told us 
about in his brighter moments had almost all had this harbor as 
their starting point. From Balka the white sand beach shot forth like 
a luminous bow and ended far out at Snogeba^k Point with its strange 
fairylike silhouette of buildings. Midway along the bay, I knew, 
was where Grandfather must live, in behind the high sand dunes 
beside an enormous bog. 

We had not yet been there; hi fact, I had never seen my grand- 
parents. But I had a very clear and exalted conception of them. In 
my mind's eye they were fine folk who were good to fall back on 
when your prestige was low. Grandfather was the son of a free- 
holder from a large farm, indeed, and that carried weight over 
here; I used to brag about it at school. That the farm he was born 
on was sand and had since blown out to sea, I did not know at this 
time. And neither did Mother! We had visions of something splen- 
did but vague, something in the way of milk and honey and drowsy 
comfort in a big shady garden; and we couldn't understand why 
Father wasn't in more of a hurry to take us there. 

We had no likeness of Grandfather. But on Mother's chest of 

drawers there had stood, as far back as I could remember, a picture 
of an old lady wearing the Bornholm ceremonial costume of black 
satin with the pretty flowered headdress and holding a hymnbook 
in her hand. That was Grandmother, that fine, fine lady! And when 
Father got food that did not please him, he would always say: 
"You'll never learn to cook like my mother." We had every reason 
to look forward with excitement to the day when we should go out to 
visit the old couple. 

At last one Sunday in the fall it was to be. "But we'd better take 
along something to eat," said Father. "They might not have enough 
for so many mouths." 

"Oh, really?" exclaimed Mother in surprise. 

We followed the South Road, which runs between the ocean and 
Fserskesjo, cut across the barren field with the rifle range, and 
squeezed through a hole in the hedge onto Balka Heath, a desolate, 
stony waste with here and there a little tuft of heather. On this desert, 
the poorhouse, a large splotchy building that looked as if it had been 
doused with muddy water, stood out as the only human habitation. 
Father knew every path on the heath and led the way; we followed 
after him in a long file, Mother with little Sister on her arm bringing 
up the rear. She stumbled along over the stones looking anything 
but pleased. "The road runs over there, you know,'* she said. But 
Father must tread these very paths. 

When the ground changed from stone to sand, cottages began 
to emerge, small and tumbledown. Father pointed to one of them, 
a long, low, half-timbered house a short way off. 

"Surely that's not it?" said Mother disappointedly, surveying the 
humble surroundings. Father looked crestfallen. "Things can never 
be fine enough to suit some people," he muttered. 

A little, wizened, old woman's face pressed flat against the win- 
dowpane; then the latch moved and the upper half of the door 
swung open. Grandmother looked like a mummy set on end. She 
was all wrapped up in old-fashioned cotton material, so that only 
a litde of her face was visible, and that was smoked and wrinkled. 


And how tiny she was! But she had dark, velvety-soft eyes that 
wavered back and forth between terror and delight; and suddenly 
the tears ran down her cheeks. Her trembling hands reached out 
toward us at random and caught hold of me; and something about 
her hand, which danced with emotion on my shoulder, made me 
start crying, too. And straight away I loved her and my disappoint- 
ment left. I had a grandmother and a grandfather just like other 
children, like the children in the storybooks who always turned to 
their grandparents when things went wrong. All the rest of it was 
only something I had endowed them with to give them substance 
so that I could feel them, as it were, in my thoughts. I knew very 
well, of course, that the grand ceremonial costume was one that the 
photographer had hanging there to pull over the heads of people 
who were to have their pictures taken; I had been home with his 
boy myself and had seen it. 

This was much more fun. The eaves were so low that I could 
reach them, and there were tools, shavings, and other things of 
that sort in them. Higher up on the roof lay flat stones and an old 
worn-out harrow to hold it fast in windy weather. 

If Grandmother was tiny and reminded you of one of those shy, 
gray birds that scutde of! under the bushes and peek out, Grand- 
father was long and lean, just skin and bones. He was in his shirt 
sleeves with a vest buttoned right up to his neck and had a big, 
shiny, bald pate. He reminded me of Njal of the saga as I had pic- 
tured him to myself from the passages in the reader. But there was 
something gypsylike about Grandmother; her eyes grew hungry 
when she looked at us children, and when she hugged us she shook 
with emotion. It was all very strange and yet there were links; the 
hut led your thoughts back to the savages in Father's big illustrated 
book. It stood on posts, a sort of primitive half-timbered affair with 
the spaces filled in with sticks pkstered together with clay and dung; 
the floor was large flagstones, except in the living room, where it 
was of beaten clay. The two old people wore wooden shoes indoors 
as well, shoes made entirely of wood and carved out by Grandfather 

himself; they were not even padded at the instep. Nobody in town 
could bear to walk in such footgear. 

While Grandfather was showing off the house. Grandmother 
went out into the open chimney and raked the ashes away from the 
turf embers to make coffee. She still held me by the hand, even 
while she was laying brushwood on the embers and blowing to 
make a blaze. The copper kettle hung on a long iron rod over the 

"Haven't you any matches?" I asked in surprise. 

"We have" said Grandmother proudly. "We always have matches 
in the house! But we don't use them, unless by chance the fire should 
go out on us." This practically never happened; Grandmother was 
scr adept at keeping embers alive that the fire did not go out for 
months on end. 

The chimney was a curious place. It was really a primitive little 
hut within the hut, the earliest type of house, with smoke every- 
where and a hole above for it to escape. There was a door out to the 
real kitchen, but Grandmother preferred to keep it shut. "Then the 
smoke stays up there and throws down heat," she said. The feeding 
door of the stove that heated the living room opened into this room 
and there were piles of turf, firewood, and dried cow dung. Up on 
the sloping sides of the chimney hung hams and smoked sausages. 
The tar dripped from them and trickled down the chimney wall. 

It was no wonder that Grandmother was as brown as a smoked 
herring and smelled as though she had come out of a tar barreL 
The smoke-filled room agreed with her and she couldn't understand 
why I kept coughing all the time- Finally she let me go out to the 

Such a long and narrow house I had never seen. The living room 
went right across and had windows on both sides. There was a hen 
walking round in there, scratching in the day floor. Her name was 
Trine; they had only the one. Now that it was cold she stayed in 
the living room and would remain there all winter; over by the door 
stood a besom to sweep aside the droppings. At night she slept on 

the crossbar under the table. In gratitude she laid eggs the year 

A hen, a pig, and a cow that was all the livestock they had. But 
then these were model animals; Grandfather never tired of singing 
their praises in a mixture of jest and earnest. The hen laid three 
hundred eggs a year, one for every weekday; Sundays and holidays 
she skipped over so as not to fall out with the parson. He was proud 
of the pig, too, in his quiet way. "You've only to scratch its neck 
to make it do well; and Blakka there gives the richest milk in the 
parish. You can skim it three times and still there's nothing left but 
cream." It was fun to hear him; for all his joking it was plain that 
he was proud of his litde place. 

Back of the living room was the bedroom where the old folks 
slept. It served also as pantry and storeroom; at the foot of the 
double bed stood the barrel of salt herring, and on the shelf above 
the bed the big crock of grease that they used instead of butter. 
Here, too, was the black rye bread and here the milk was "set" and 
the cream soured. A door led down to the byre and thence to the 
barn; when it was cold the door to the byre always stood open. "A 
cow is better than two stoves," said Grandfather, "And Bkkka is 
warmer to share a bedroom with than the warmest maiden." 

He was in high good humor and made a delightful guide; he 
could give color to the most insignificant object and rivet your at- 
tention to it as though it were something extraordinary, the like of 
which scarcely existed elsewhere. 

In the meantime Grandmother had made coffee. It was a strange 
drink brewed of rye and vetch, which Grandmother had roasted 
in the frying pan and then ground. We children had a hard time 
getting it down, but Father's threatening glances turned the scale. 
We each got a little chunk of sugar candy for the coffee to run over 
when it passed the tongue; but when we had finished the coffee, 
the piece of candy was put back in the sugar bowl again. They had 
no pastry, but Mother had brought along some of her homemade 
wheaten bread. 

But they had lots of food rye bread and potatoes, salt herring, 
bacon, and suet in great abundance. They had no need to fear for 
the morrow; they were provided with the essentials for the main- 
tenance of life right up to next fall. They had it easy compared to 
Mother who had to struggle along from meal to meal. And yet 
they were far poorer than we except in the matter of food. When 
Grandfather heard that Father earned eight or nine kroner a week, 
he was thunderstruck; they would hardly take in so much cash as 
that in half a year, he thought. Father began to figure and it ap- 
peared that the old people, when nothing went amiss, might take in 
seventy or seventy-five kroner a year on butter and eggs and Blakka's 
calf; the pig they ate themselves of course. "But then we can't touch 
a bit of butter or sweet milk/' said Grandfather. "And we can't think 
of treating ourselves to an egg, not even at Easter." 

With this money all their expenses had to be met, and it was a 
tight squeeze. Grandfather had not been able to read for half a year 
because he had broken his glasses and a new lens cost fifty ore. 

"I have fifty ore in my bank," said Georg. "Let me take your 
glasses with me." But Mother winked at him, for she had, of course, 
borrowed the money; it never got old in our banks. 

We had supper there, little square pieces of bacon fried with pota- 
toes. The pot was set in the middle of the table with a wooden plate 
under each of its three legs, and we were all given horn spoons. 
They didn't use plates. Spoon-meat was eaten out of the common 
earthenware dish, and for the solid food larding-boards were used. 

But Grandfather had schnapps in a fine fat botde. It stood in 
the green wall cupboard over the end of the table with a stemless 
glass turned upside down over the neck. It was a glass that Grand- 
father had found on the beach behind the hotel one day when he 
was in town; he always took a walk down there to see if anything 
usable had been thrown away. But he told us jokingly that he had 
bought it and knocked the foot off at once so that he should not 
be tempted to set it down half emptied. Father laughed; he laughed 
at everything Grandfather said. It was strange to see him, for at 

home he was always so stern and domineering; here he was like 
one of us boys. "You haven't bit your tongue off yet," he said. 

"I've kept my tongue all right," answered Grandfather, "but my 
teeth have taken a jaunt. In fact, I did bite my tongue one time, but 
they were already gone by then." 

"It's a queer thing about the old man," said Father on the way 
home. "For in his young days he was very fond of schnapps. There 
was a time when he could really be said to be a drinker; he and 
Anne Mikkelsen used to sup up gin with a horn spoon." 

"But they hadn't any plates," I objected. 

Father became angry. He was the head of the house again now 
and would brook no contradiction. "No, but they had a thick table 
board with round hollows in it, you stupid chatterbox. And they 
poured gin into them at Jorgen Mikkelsen's funeral and supped it 
up like soup. But now his stinginess has got the better of his thirst; 
Father still has schnapps on hand, but I'm sure he doesn't allow him- 
self to take any unless he has company." 

"That's nothing to hold against him," Mother said. "If only every- 
body was like that!" 

"But after all, a man It really hurt him to give me a glass." 

"It's a good thing you can help yourself, then." 

"What do you mean by that?" muttered Father. 

"Perhaps you think I didn't know what was going on when we 
were standing out at the well and you made an excuse to go into 
the house? Your father and mother weren't so stupid either that 
they didn't know. It must surely be wonderful for parents to see 
their son again like that." 

A frantic fear possessed me. "Now Father will go at Mother right 
here in the middle of the road," I thought. 

But Father only shrugged and grinned. "It would be too bad for 
the schnapps to stand there and get stale," he said, with a strangely 
foolish expression that made me feel ashamed of him. 


"If it were left to you, no liquor would get stale," answered 

Father had not been to the saloon since we had come over here; 
at least he had never come home drunk. So I could not understand 
why Mother was so hard on him nor how she dared. He had started 
drinking regularly, had to have his schnapps with every meal and 
also in between. Mother was a different person over here, more ex- 
acting and also more authoritative. And it vexed her that every 
Saturday she had to set aside out of the meager weekly wage money 
enough for two quarts of gin. 

H.FTER this I often trotted out the long way to Grandfather's, espe- 
cially the first winter, before I had really begun to work out. Mother 
usually gave me some little thing to take with me, a piece of wheat 
cake or something of the sort; the old people never had any white 
bread. I used to carry it in a tin pail and bring the pail back filled 
with skim milk or buttermilk. 

They used to churn every two weeks and they liked to have me 
come over and run the dash churn for them. It was too hard work 
for the old couple; often it took five or six hours before the butter 
would come. The cream, which was thick and bitter from having 
stood too long, would not work properly. When the butter finally 
formed, Grandmother strained it out in a cloth and worked in salt 
and coloring, and the next day Grandfather walked into town with 
a pound or two of bitter butter and a few eggs and made his pur- 
chasesa little sugar candy, chewing tobacco, and a few ores* worth 
of thread. He always used only the odd part of the sum; if it was 
two kroner seventy-five, he spent the seventy-five ore. The kroner 
he called the principal and that must be put by for a rainy day, the 
thought of which played a great part in the old people's existence. 

These trips into town were the milestones in Grandfather's mo- 
notonous life, and he would not have dreamed of entrusting the sale 
of these few pounds of butter to anybody else. Grandmother always 
stayed at home; she had not been to town for some years; but she 
looked forward to these excursions as though she herself were going 
and prepared everything carefully the day before as for a long jour- 
ney. Sometimes I would run to meet Grandfather and carry the 


things for him the last part of the way to the grocer's. Then, when 
the lump of butter had been dumped down into a big barrel with 
the other lumps to be worked together into what was called crofter's 
butter, Grandfather would sing the praises of his butter and his 
Blakka to the grocer's wife. "It'll give a flavor to the whole barrel," 
he said. "Madam Jorgensen, you might just as well sell the whole 
lot as table butter." 

The grocer's wife laughed: "Indeed, we wouldn't want to be with- 
out your butter for a good deal, Anders Mortensen. We'd be in a 
bad way if we didn't have you! But come on up to the desk now 
and have a nip." 

On the one end of the desk there was a sideboard with arrack, 
cordial, and other sweet things for the women and spirits for the 
men. Here the crofters were treated; the farmers went into the liv- 
ing room oflf the store. "There's a sofa to sit down on in there," 
Grandfather explained to me in a loud voice. "You can eat your 
lunch there, and there's a full decanter of liquor. But that's only 
for those who can afford to let their lice wear dancing slippers." 

The grocer's wife stared at us, and I pulled at Grandfather's sleeve 
and made signs to him; but he talked away as if there were nobody 
there. Suddenly lie stopped short and pretended to be frightened. 
"I must be getting childish," he said. 

"If that's the case, you must have been childish all your days," 
said the grocer's wife sharply. "That's why you're so popular with 
the rest of us, Anders Mortensen." 

"You have to accept good will, even if it comes in small lumps," 
said Grandfather. "Then you can work them together into one, of 

"Yes, but it still won't be table butter anyway," laughed the 
grocer's wife grimly. 

I didn't understand very much of all this; but it gradually dawned 
upon me that Grandfather was well liked by the little people be- 
cause he had the courage to speak the truth to the great and that 
they probably for the same reason did not like him. 


Grandfather was a tall man ? his figure was straight and sinewy, 
but his head was bent forward. "It's been too low under the ceiling 
everywhere I've been," he would say in a bitter tone. "So I've 
had to cut something off my height." And it was true, everywhere 
in the hut the ceilings were too low for him to walk upright. 

He was proud of his tall stature, which characterized all the male 
side o his family but which none o his children had inherited. 
"Mother's been the stronger there anyway," he said. "But perhaps it 
will come back again for everything comes back in its turn, good 
as well as bad!" 

When I sat with him at the big table helping to pick the weed 
seeds out of the seed-grain, he would tell me about his childhood 
which reached all the way back to the period of the national bank- 
ruptcy. At that time the country was flooded with money and yet was 
poorer than ever before; at the age of seven or eight he drove with 
his father to Ronne with a load of produce. They were in a wagon 
with wooden axles which had to be greased every few minutes or 
they would catch fire. The grease tin with tar in it hung between 
the wheels and there,, too, hung the wicker basket in which they 
were to carry the money. Such a trip took several days and the father 
had to haggle with the merchant over the payment. "Very well," 
said the merchant at last, tossing a sack of money into the wagon 
among the others. "Take that trash, then. But I'd like to have the 
sack returned.*' 

The farm on which Grandfather was born was a large one; it 
could almost be called an estate. They had eight horses, but they 
were long-haired and had to be helped up with bars when they had 
lain down. And it wasn't any better with the cows; toward the end 
of the winter they usually had to pull the straw roof off the buildings 
and feed it to them. For not much grew on the sandy lands; what 
you sowed in one corner of the field, you might have to harvest in 
another or fetch it in from the sea after a storm. Stu% it was a farm, 
added Grandfather complacently. 

They were forced to take up fishing to help eke out a living; and 


when Grandfather grew up he went the whole hog, moved down to 
the sea, and became a fisherman. He married a crofter's daughter 
from the North, from Randkleven. "And I got a good bargain that 
time," he said, nodding to himself, "for she could read. She had 
learned from her father, who was ahead of his time, and I learned 
from her. And it's a good thing to know, too; for then you can 
check on where the parson gets his learning." Grandfather didn't 
like the clergy. The reason he gave for his dislike was allegorical 
that they turned their backs alternately on God and on the congre- 

He must have been a. fine fellow in his day and an able fisherman. 
What was enough for one was too little when it had to be divided be- 
tween two; so he managed his boat without a partner. And when 
he came in from the sea on a summer morning and his young wife 
was standing on the beach to welcome him, things didn't move fast 
enough for him. "The morning breeze was lazy, as it usually is at 
sunrise when the whole world holds its breath," so the young fisher- 
man stripped off his clothes, took the mooring line in his teeth, and 
swam his boat to shore. "That was in days gone by!" he used to add. 
It was salmon they caught, and there were so many in the sea that 
they would flip them into the boat with a hook on a pole. They 
used to eat salmon at every meal then, fresh and smoked, salted 
and dried, sometimes three times a day. But of course you got tired 
of it; it wasn't like rye bread and bacon, of which a man never 

The harbor filled up with sand and the salmon grew scarcer and 
went farther out to sea; and there was no money for a larger, sea- 
going boat. The children hired out on farms and Grandfather rented 
this crofter's place, which was so small that he could look after it at 
night and on Sundays. In the daytime he went cutting peat and 
worked out by the day. 

Grandfather had an interesting scar on his right hand between the 
middle finger and the ring finger and right up to the wrist. He had 
once caught his hand in a cutting box. It shook constantly, and 


when he wanted to lift his drinking mug to his mouth, he had to 
support this hand with his left, otherwise it would splash the con- 
tents of the mug in all directions. 

"Why does it do that?" I asked. 

"It's just dance crazy," answered Grandfather. "It's had to slave 
all its life; now it dances!" 

Grandmother was small and shrunken but light on her feet. Sum- 
mer and winter she was wrapped up like a mummy; you saw only 
the dark face around the eyes and the hands which were as black as 
her earthen pots. When she talked, she took the blue cloth away from 
her mouth, and if she wanted to hear, she pulled it away from her 
ear. Her eyes were really the only part of her you saw, and they 
followed you like the eyes of an inquisitive, affectionate little animal. 
I liked her black hands. They always touched me with a shy caress 
when she spoke to me; and they were fond of slipping things to me, 
a piece of sugar candy or a penny, "But don't let Grandfather see 
it," she would add. 

When Grandfather slipped me something it was usually with the 
words: "Grandmother needn't know anything about it." They liked 
to represent each other as bogies and grumble a bit; but they got on 
well together. They couldn't do without each other. 

They supplemented each other in almost all respects. It was hard 
for Grandmother, tiny as she was, to reach things; but then she 
would call Grandfather he could reach everything. On the other 
hand it was hard for him to bend; when there was anything to be 
picked up from the floor, Grandmother was there at once. They 
could afford only one pair of spectacles and they couldn't share them 
because Grandmother was farsighted. On Sundays they sat by the 
window. Grandfather read aloud and Grandmother listened and at 
the same time kept an eye on who was passing away up on the 
road at Balkamolle. "Bless my soul, there go the Pilegaard folks; 
they must be off to church again," Grandmother would say, inter- 
rupting the reading. Then they would talk about that for a while 
and Grandfather would go on reading. 

Or he might come to a standstill of his own accord in the midst 
of the reading. He would move the tip of his tongue back and forth 
between his thin lips he was thinking. Grandmother did not dis- 
turb him., but gave me a sign to come out with her into the kitchen. 
"He's meditating," she whispered to me. "He's always been like 
that, he has to cogitate over things." In a little while Grandfather 
joined us. 

"I got to cogitating over something I was talking about with the 
Balka miller the other day: that not only the earth but everything 
else is round and goes round; for otherwise the cogs wouldn't catch 
into each other, and then how could you have a life and a world 
out of it? It's the same as with the wheels in the mill: they run and 
run, but they always come back to the same point and take hold of 
each other. Just like Martin there; when I was his age, I had lop 
ears just exactly like his now. But his father's ears lay flat enough to 
his head. Everything comes back again when it has made its round.* 

If conditions in the little town seemed strange, then this was like 
an entirely different world. When I was out at Grandfather's, I felt 
as though I had been transported into the medieval world which 
lives in old fairy tales. The old people could not be called poor; they 
had money in the bottom of the chest, and Grandfather once said 
that never a day in his life had he gone to bed hungry. But how 
simple everything was and how little they asked for! Grandmother 
had a black woolen dress hung away in a linen bag in the attic; 
it was her wedding gown and she had never had any fine clothes 
since. There, too, hung Grandfather's blue duffel suit the one with 
the real buttons on it. He always wore, Sundays and weekdays alike, 
clothes of coarse sailcloth; only on very rare occasions did the duffel 
suit come out. Nothing but a funeral could make him dress up. 

Once he lost a button, and the next time I came, he sent me out 
to hunt for it. It was more than two miles to the church and it was 
wearisome and hopeless to begin looking: so I ran home to Mother 
and got hold of a white bone button. But it didn't suit Grandfather. 


He got the button-bone out of the cupboard and set about carving 
a new button from the bone; it was a tedious business. On his every- 
day clothes there were no buttons, just buttonholes where the but- 
tons should have been. A suspender strap made of twine was brought 
through the hole and the loop put around a little peg with a groove 
in it something like the pegs they have in the stores today for car- 
rying parcels. 

In the fairy tale seven people were satisfied by kissing an apple; 
Grandfather and Grandmother kissed the lump of sugar candy when 
they drank the ghastly drink which they called coffee and to which 
they looked forward every afternoon and then put it back again. 
The brave tailor bought a whole thimbleful of applesauce from a 
peasant woman and almost went to pieces afterward from remorse 
at his extravagance. Grandfather did not yield the palm; he and 
Grandmother had a box of matches for a whole year. When the 
embers went out in the fireplace, they heaped reproaches on them- 
selves and Grandfather split the match, when they were finally 
forced to use one, so that it made two. They did not know what 
kerosene was but used train-oil lamps and dips which they molded 
themselves from tallow. They didn't like fire and most of the eve- 
ning work in barn and byre was done in the dark. Before Grand- 
mother went to bed she would draw a cross in the ashes over the 
covered embers. 

The two old people were not afraid of the dark as we were at 
home; but they looked forward with childlike joy to the time when 
you could go to bed while it was still light and get up with the sun. 
Grandfather had a refrain that he had made up himself and often 
used to chant in summer: 

"It's morning when the sun gets up, 
It's noon when Mother says it is, 
But evening gives us word itself/* 


He used to make up malicious rhymes about various scandals, too, 
and the peasants feared his mockery. Biting sayings of his had be- 
come proverbial; the little people often used the expression, "As 
Anders Mortensen of Balka says!" 

Grandfather was ahead of his time; he didn't just take it on trust 
that the authorities were ordained of God, and he had a sharp eye for 
the inequalities of existence. He regarded conditions more critically 
than Father. But he was content with his lot and made no demands 
on his own account. No drink tasted so good to him as the sour, 
acrid beer they brewed themselves twice a year from malted barley 
and wormwood. When he picked up his mug, he would praise the 
lovely drink. No food could take the place of the home fare which 
had been invariably the same, year in and year out, all his life long-. 
A pickled herring and spoon-meat (a warm mixture of skim milk 
and beer with, porridge and bread it it) in the morning; at noon 
porridge; in the evening black bread and a slice of smoked bacon; 
on Sunday hash. Vegetables they did not know and potatoes were 
not everyday fare as with us at home where they formed the staple 
food. Here the staple was black bread, which Grandfather ate on 
all occasions; even when word came that his sister Sidsele was dead, 
he had to go in and get a mouthful of black bread. 

Grandmother had no opportunity to practice the art of cooking. 
She had never in her life cooked a roast or made a soup, and now, 
of course. Father left off boasting about her meals. Now it was 
Mother's turn; when he was dissatisfied with the food, she would 
innocently ask: "Perhaps that isn't the way your mother used to 
make it?" Then lie would keep quiet or mutter something. 

But Grandmother could cook porridge and make hash like no- 
body else. The hash was so tasty that my mouth watered at the mere 
thought of it. It was always simply marvelous; and the porridge, 
too, when she had only taken the time to pick the mouse dirt out of 
the groats. When she wished to make the porridge particularly 
delectable, she would let a bag containing a piece of smoked ham 
hang down in it while it cooked. Indeed, all her food tasted smoked. 


It was hard to get used to the smoky taste, but on the other hand 
you might become addicted to it. 

The first thing the old people used to ask me when I came out to 
see them was whether there was any news. We took the newspaper 
at home; nine families of us shared it and by the time it got round 
to the last there wasn't much left of it. But they had no paper at all; 
as soon as they saw anybody, they asked for news. By news they 
meant everything they hadn't heard before, even if it were a year 
old. It was mainly the deaths in the parish that interested them; but 
they would ask about war and cholera, too, and whether the sea 
serpent had appeared. 


IT WAS a hard winter. Father was earning eight or nine kroner a 
week, to be sure, but only half of it was paid on Saturdays; they 
were working on a deposit system and the remainder was to stand 
until spring came and brought in cash. And we had no provisions 
as other people had, no barrel of pickled herrings to go to, no coal- 
bin, no potatoes to fall back on. 

Georg and I were to blame for the fact that we had no potato 
supply, and that didn't make it any better. Only women and chil- 
dren were used for the potato picking in the fall. The wages were 
every seventh or eighth basket, and the little people who had no 
land themselves got their potatoes for the winter in this way. It was 
vile drudgery; you crawled on all fours along the ploughed-up rows 
and picked the potatoes out of the water-soaked earth with the fall 
rain lashing against the back of your neck. Nevertheless, one had to 
fight for this work and the others had known how to force us out, 
unfamiliar with conditions as we were. 

We tried to make up for it by being on the spot wherever we got 
wind of a job for a boy. Every time a vessel entered the harbor with 
bricks, staves, or birchwood to be unloaded, we were there and tried 
to wedge our way in. Most of these boats came from Sweden, and 
the men on board worked at a different tempo from the Bornholm- 
ere, who were very deliberate about everything they did and liked 
to turn a handful of stones or staves around a time or two before 
they pitched it to us. This speed didn't make it any easier for us to 
catch, but the Swedish skippers liked "those two young divils from 
the King's Copenhagen" and sent word for us when they came 


the next time. It was hard work; the ends of your fingers were torn 
open. But then you got fifty ore a day; and when, like Georg, you 
could take your turn with the grownups, you got seventy-five. 

One week, too, we made a little picking stones. Many of the fields 
were full of stones; but most people thought that was as it should 
be. Everything that existed must be good for something, and God 
had put the stones into the ground to hold the moisture. This was 
just a new farmer who was trying to show off and improve on the 
Lord's handiwork; he declared that where there was a stone noth- 
ing could grow. For a whole week my brother and I had our board 
and twenty-five ore a day each for picking stones, but then they got 
the new man to listen to reason and the work ceased. 

There was not very much to do in the little town even for the 
grown-up people. During the winter they hibernated,, looked after 
the cow a little, did a bit of mending of nets and other gear, and 
then sauntered down to the harbor where they could stand and 
chat all day long with their backs against a shed. They talked about 
seamanship, in which they were all well versed, about the soil and 
its cultivation, which they also understood, and about stone. All the 
people here seemed to have been born farmers, seamen, and stone- 

But there wasn't much push in anything life stood still. The 
whole sailing fleet of the town lay in the harbor unrigged, except 
for a few large ships that were out on long voyages. Everybody knew 
all about these vessels and followed them carefully from place to 
place; even the boys in school talked about Cadiz, where salt was 
loaded, and Buenos Aires, as if they were quite at home there. But 
otherwise the people were limited enough. It was a big event when 
the well in the market place got a new pump; they all made a 
pilgrimage to see it. And for the rest they went to mission meetings 
and Bible readings and talked about the end of the world and about 
forewarnings and witchings. 

I seldom went to the stone quarry; Father didn't care about my 
help. I was nothing loath to be left behind, for the cold was even 


more severe up there on the cliffs than down by the sea; and I had 
all I could do to keep clear of the sickbed. It was so stupid, for I had 
a good heart for existence and went willingly and cheerfully to work; 
life in the open appealed to me. But it seemed as though my organ- 
ism could not stand fresh air. "Skinny!" said Georg; the grownups 
always called me a shut-in. And yet there was nothing I liked less 
than to be indoors. But the cold and my cough drove me in to the 

Why should I feel the cold so much? Even Grandfather and 
Grandmother did not mind the weather. When I came running out 
there with my hands stuck inside the top of my trousers to keep 
them warm, they would be standing outside the hut watching for 
me. Grandmother would rub my blue wrists, which the sleeves 
of my jacket were too short to cover, and shake her head. "Come 
on in to the stove now," she would say, "and I'll put on a good fire!" 
Then she would stand out there in the chimney, where there was 
really a terrible draft and where you could look right up into 
the winter sky, and put straw and brushwood into the stove. "Ah," 
Grandfather would say when he came in; but there was not a trace 
of warmth in the room, he just imagined it because he heard the 
straw fire roaring in the stove. And Grandmother, who stood out 
there loyally stoking up, would slip in for a moment now and then 
to rejoice at how warm it was in the living room. But I shivered 
and tried in vain to find a corner that the draft could not reach. 

The old people looked at each other in despair. "His blood's too 
poor," they said. "He ought to be bled." Grandmother had herself 
bled regularly twice a year, Grandfather only when something ailed 

I was very sensitive to cold at that time; but to this day it is still 
a mystery to me that the old people did not perish of it. The hut 
simply could not be heated, and they both wore linen clothes; they 
did not use wool. Their hands were always cold, of course, and 
usually they both had drops under their noses. But they didn't feel 


And indeed they were warmly clad now compared with what 
they had been used to in their young days. At that time Grandfather 
went summer and winter in coarse linen clothes with nothing un- 
derneath but a coarse shirt. In this attire he would go out in winter 
to fish on the frozen sea. Sometimes he or one of the others would 
fall through the ice; then his companions hauled him out, he pulled 
on a pair of dry, long-legged socks, and went on fishing in the wet 
clothing, which froze dry on his back. 

"You ought to try something like that, that would give you warm 
blood, all right," said Grandfather. "People nowadays are too soft." 

One day I experienced something of the sort myself. It was in 
school hours; our old teacher was in church singing at a funeral, and 
we were putting in the time as best we could; the girls were playing 
in the classroom and we boys were "jumping waves" down at the 
beach. We had built ourselves little islands of stone out in the water, 
just big enough to stand on and so low that the waves washed over 
them. When a wave came along, you had to jump up in the air 
so as not to get wet. Often there came several waves in a row, and 
we all had wet feet. The ice crackled in the seaweed as the waves 
rolled in and died along the shore; it made a clanking noise like 
glass fingers twanging against each other. The gulls sheared through 
the air above our heads; they chided us because we kept them from 
darting down on the dazed little fish that were tossing about in the 
surf. "Away with you," they shrieked, "away with you!" A little 
way out the waves broke, like a green wall of viscous glass in which 
the bottom of the ocean seemed to whirl upward; it was there that 
the deep began. 

I had a cough and often the spasms came in the midst of a leap; I 
hung in the air and coughed. It was the wet feet. The others mim- 
icked me, bent double as they sprang and stretched out their necks, 
barking. All at once a yell of delight went up, a wave swept the 
island from under me, I landed in the ice-cold water and could not 
get a foothold. A big boy, Henrik Bodker, jumped in and helped me 
to get to land. I was going to run home. "You'll only get a licking! ** 


lie said and took me with him into the classroom. There we sat one 
on each side of the big stove and pressed up close against it; when it 
got too hot, we made a half turn. Henrik Bodker gave orders and 
swore like a trooper. "Look out, damn it," he shrieked, sniffing the 
air, "or you'll burn your clothes!" In the meantime the girls dried 
our stockings on the stove and shook live coals round in our wooden 
shoes to dry the insides. 

I didn't feel cold and my cough was gone, too. But when I got 
home, Mother began to take deep breaths. "What's this, it seems 
to me you smell of the washtub!" she said. Then the truth came out 
and I was packed off to bed. And now that there was no longer 
anything to hide, the cough suddenly came back. However, I was 
none the worse for the outing and even felt that I didn't fall far 
short of Grandfather in his young days. 

I managed to keep fairly free of bed but still suffered from the 
cold. It was cold in the attic, the wind from the sea went right 
through the badly lined roof and whipped snow into our faces; 
sometimes the comforter was snowed under. It was wide enough 
and long enough but there was too litde stuffing in it. Mother was 
collecting the feathers from the sea birds that Father shot; they 
were to make a whole new comforter with a striped cover of real 
wooL But that was all in the future; in the meantime she made 
shift by laying old clothes on top of the one we had. And around 
the bed, the head of which leaned against the chimney, she hung 
old sacks so that we slept as though in a closed carriage. "That's a 
four-poster," she said. "That's how all the fine folk sleep!" 

Grandfather had a comforter lying up in the attic. It was old and 
hard but it might do all right to lay on top; we got leave to borrow 
it. It was very heavy; Georg and I basked beneath it. But one day 
Father got a letter from Uncle Morten's in Ronne; it was Aunt that 
wrote, Uncle himself was too ill to write. And this business of the 
comforter had aggravated his illness; they were very much worried. 
"Oh, the hypocritical riff raff," said Mother. "Now I suppose they think 
we want to rob them of their share in an old quilt. And yet they 


tried to get their hands on everything." She was thinking now of 
Uncle Morten's visit to the Houses, when he had wanted Father 
to sign off all his claims on the old people. From Copenhagen, from 
Aunt Trine's, there came another letter about the comforter. It had 
certainly got round. Finally Father grew angry and ordered us to 
carry it back to Grandfather's at once. But by that time the worst 
of the cold was over. 

How had Uncle Morten's, who lived away over on the other side 
of the island, found out that we had borrowed a comforter from 
Grandfather's? It was quite mystifying. But here all the people 
knew each other and knew all about each other; it was not as in 
Copenhagen where everybody kept to himself and minded his own 
business. They knew each other's family connections right out to 
remote relatives and back to grandparents and great-grandparents 
and discussed each other's affairs down to the minutest details. In 
Copenhagen you might easily, if you were inclined to be communi- 
cative, receive the answer: "What's that to me?" Here everything 
concerned everybody; people were prying and gossipy; if I lost a 
penny on the way to the grocer's, Mother knew it before I got home. 
The men were no better than the women; Father heard up at the 
stone quarry that I had fallen into the water. He was very cross, not 
because I had got wet, but because I had "given the gossips some- 
thing to talk about," 

In the beginning it had seemed to me that the townspeople here 
were peasants; but at least the peasants were not like that. There 
were bigger things going on out on the farms than here in town; 
often the daily round concealed violent and sinister events; and they 
knew everything about each other. But they kept silent about it. If 
the people here in town were peasants, they were certainly a poor 
sort; and the peasants the real ones didn't like them either, but 
looked upon them with a certain contempt. 

The townspeople, on the other hand, looked up to the peasants 
and were proud to be able to count themselves their kin; there were 
fortunate boys of my acquaintance who went out on farms in the 

holidays, rode horseback, helped with the fall work, and at Christ- 
mas time drove round to parties in sleighs. We also had relatives on 
various farms, especially in the south country, but we had no com- 
munication with them. We had to be content to follow them at a 
distance and when the conversation touched upon them quietly 
draw attention to the fact that we were related to them. 

At Langedeby there was a farm where we had relatives. Grand- 
father told me about them one day when I was out at Balka and I 
took it into my head to visit them on the road home; it was not 
much out of my way. 

The farmer's wife welcomed me in a very friendly fashion, gave 
me a seat in the kitchen, and got me something to eat; while I was 
eating, she filled my basket and asked questions: where I was from 
and how I knew that they had lately had their butchering day. I 
was surprised at her questions, it seemed so obvious to me that she 
must know me for, of course, we were related. Finally I drew her 
attention to this, but then her friendliness promptly froze up. "We're 
not in the habit of having relatives who go round and beg," she 
said curdy. I left with my basket, which was full of good things 
meat and sausage and a piece of butter. But then it was charity 
food; when there was butchering on the farms, the poor could come 
and have their baskets filled. I didn't know what I was going to do 
with the good things; I couldn't bring myself to throw them away. 

"What's that?" said Mother, peering down into the basket. "Has 
Grandfather been butchering?" 

I told what had happened and explained that I thought it was 
because of the relationship that I had been given the wonderful 

"You must take them over to some poor family right away," said 
Mother sternly. 

"Yes, but we're poor ourselves." 

"No, we haven't much, but we don't belong to the poor. You 
can go up to the Vangegemmer house with it; the girl up there has 
had twins and has no father for them. And she and her mother have 

no one to provide for thempeople like that are poor. But be sure 
you let people see that you're going there with it; and you can say 
that it's a little lying-in present." 

How delighted I was with Mother who could thus restore our 
dignity! I showed the basket of? in fine style on the way. And I 
actually saw the Vangegemmer girl sit up in bed and give the two 
newborn babies coffee with a teaspoon. 

Mother was indomitable. One day she came along with a piece 
of cardboard; we chewed the end of a match soft and painted in 
ink on the cardboard: French Washing and Ironing. This we put 
up on the gate to the shore path. Father laughed when he saw it: 
"Is it the gulls you're going to iron collars for? Because certainly 
nobody else comes by here." 

No, that was just the trouble; not very many traveled along the 
shore path and we had no entrance from the real street. "We'll have 
to let the town crier announce it," Georg suggested. But that would 
cost sixty-six ore two marks. 

Mother had a steam iron that burned charcoal. It looked like a 
misshapen locomotive and smelled something awful when it was 
in use; because of that she had put it away. But now it was brought 
out again and scoured on the kitchen floor; it was rusty on the 
bottom from the sea air. The small iron that served for the needs of 
the household she would not hear of in this connection; it looked 
too unimpressive. 'French ironing could be done only with a steam 


We persuaded the town crier to give us credit, but Father was not 
to know anything about it. Charcoal we got from the baker and we 
found customers,, too, both townfolk and fanners. It was the time 
of the winter parties and sleigh rides, around Shrovetide, and 
Mother got several party dresses to put in order. People were in the 
habit of washing and ironing their finery themselves, but 'Trench 
Washing" had an elegant sound and had to be tried. It was no great 
success. Mother had no drying place and had to hang the fine wash 
bv the kitchen stove where it got soot spots. Then the iron stuck 

in the starch and made stains on the clothes; and it smoked till we 
all had headaches. 

Mother wept as she toiled with the clothes, and when she sent 
me off with the first delivery, shirts with stiff cuffs for Skipper 
Tuesen and party dresses for his two young daughters, she was 
deathly pale. They looked critically at the clothes and my heart was 
in my mouth; but they found no fault and even gave me a five-ore 
tip. The whole bill came to eighty-nine ore and Mother breathed a 
sigh of relief when I came home with the money. I was sent off at 
once with the sixty-six ore for the crier. "Thank goodness," said 
Mother when I got back. f< Now Father won't have that to crab 
about. If you'll just lend me your five ore, you can run right over 
and get half a calf s head the butcher happens to have one on hand. 
But be sure to get the tongue, it's so nice for sandwiches!" 

So that was the kst of my five ore, the first money that could 
really be called my own over here. What I earned by going out to 
work did not, of course, belong to me; but this had been given to 
me. Well, I was used to it; and in return Father had grilled calf's 
head for supper; now he could see that the French Washing and 
Ironing was not mere idle chatter. 

The house was filled with the savory odor from the calf's head, 
the nasty black smoke was gone and the headaches forgotten. Father 
seemed to be satisfied with the result, too, for he didn't scold, al- 
though it appeared that he knew all about the town crier business. 
He and Georg, who had been with him in the Hills, consumed the 
fragrant roast with good appetite, while the rest of us ate our greased 
bread and potatoes. They, of course, were the breadwinners! But 
just the same it was Mother and I who had put the delicacies on 
the table* 

This was a moot point anyway. Mother and I were agreed that 
we were as useful as anybody else. But our work wasn't counted. 

[ 2I 6J 

THERE was one thing in particular that the Bornholmers disliked 
about us; we were not pious enough for them. Father's old school- 
mate, the carpenter, who had got us over here, had not managed to 
convert Father and now kept well away from us. The dyer also let 
it be known that he was not pleased to have the children o this 
world under his roof. But he was pleased enough to get the rent. 
When Mother came with it and said: "I don't know whether I 
dare offer the dyer the coin of this world?" he laughed and snatched 
the money quickly, as though he were afraid it would fly away 
from him. 

Neither Father nor Mother went to "the house of God" any oftener 
than need be and then always to the established church. There were 
several sects in the town and you were expected to belong to one 
of them. To be high church was looked upon almost as freethinking. 

So as not to seem too eccentric, I suppose, Father and Mother de- 
cided that we children should go to Sunday school; but Mother 
enrolled us by mistake in the Luther Mission instead of the parish 
church Sunday school. Father was furious, he couldn't bear the sects, 
and especially not the Luther Mission Society, the Mollerites as they 
were called, to which Uncle Morten belonged. But now It had hap- 
pened, so there was nothing to be done about it. It would look too 
silly altogether to run round and take our names off the roll. 

The Mollerites were the largest and most powerful sect on the 
island and had also many adherents abroad where they were known 
as "the Bornholmers." The founder of the sect was really a black- 
smith; in his young days he had worked at his trade in the stone 

quarry at Hell's Hills and had been a rough customer. That was 
not so long ago but that everybody could remember it; his followers 
related with a peculiar relish how he had drunk and raised the devil 
and fought with the stonecutters whose tools he was hired to sharpen. 
In those days no very good spirit had prevailed among the stone- 
cutters. Dissension and indignation against the quarry owners had 
been the order of the day and Moller was the real instigator. 

But one day he had a vision like the man Saul; he ceased calling 
upon the Devil and enjoying strong drink. The strong words he 
kept and aimed at his former boon companions; he turned to God 
and the Scriptures, tirelessly proclaimed his sin and his repentance, 
and filled the air up there in the quarry with brimstone. Many of 
the stonecutters were unable to withstand his thundering and be- 
came converted; he felled his man to the ground with the testimony 
of God, as he had formerly felled him with his fists. A few became 
weak in the head and let themselves go in the same way as the 
smith, but without his grip of things. There were people who under 
the influence of his revival wresded incessantly with the Devil with- 
out being able to get the better of him. 

One day Moller threw down his hammer, descended from the 
cliffs, and began to preach the glad tidings throughout the island. 
The tidings of grace, he called them, and they were things concern- 
ing himselfand Satan within himself! He was a rough-and-ready 
speaker and did not hesitate to use coarse, homely expressions. And 
he brought the most intimate phenomena of life into his sermons. 

Little as he resembled the Bornholmers in the impropriety of his 
speech and behavior, he nevertheless carried them with him. Uncle 
Morten was one of the pillars of the congregation and Moller often 
came to their home; I had the opportunity later, when I was a shoe- 
maker's apprentice in Ronne, of seeing him there at close hand. He 
put no restraint whatsoever upon himself, came out brutally with 
anything that occurred to him, and kept those about him in a con- 
stant state of alarm with his daring remarks; in the pulpit he was 
the same. And the Bornholmers, who were so careful and circum- 

spect in their speech, flinched and shuddered and had to close their 
eyes, when he really gave himself rein and ventured out where none 
of them had the courage to follow. It was as though he made up to 
them for muchand for much that was important. They followed 
him; in the course of two decades his conversion went no further 
back than that meetinghouses had been built and congregations 
formed round about the island, and the sect had spread abroad also, 
especially in West Judand and Sweden. 

The men who led the Sunday school were of quite another mold 
heavy, serious men who never kughed and always spoke to us in 
muffled voices. They spoke of sin and of grace abounding, and of 
the inconceivable joy of being a child of God. When we were in- 
attentive, they would put their hands on our heads, look sorrow- 
fully into our eyes, and pray with us. One of them, Lars Dam, a 
farmer, was a large-limbed man of about twenty-five with childish 
blue eyes and a sheeplike expression. He lived at home and man- 
aged the farm for his mother, who was a widow and a woman of 
strong mind. She would not let him marry the girl he loved., nor 
would she turn the farm over to him they had three horses and 
some ten cows. He hadn't the courage to oppose her, so he took 
refuge with the religionists. 

It was strange to see him so big and strong, to feel his huge warm 
hand on you and know that he lay crying for his girl at night and 
didn't dare walk over to see her. It was still stranger to see him fold 
those powerful fists, which looked as though they could crush the 
whole world, like a little child, and hear him say that if you said 
your evening prayer and truly humbled yourself in the faith, you 
would become a child of God like himself. 

It was not lack of strength that made him carry himself so for- 
lornly and hang his head. At a devotional meeting in the woods, at 
which Bergendal and another giant, whom we boys regarded as in- 
vincible, had harried the speaker and laughed at Dam, who was 
keeping order, he had with a flick o his fist laid them both out on 
the grass. Afterward he was tormented by the pangs of conscience; 

every time he came near them, he begged them to forgive him. And 
the miraculous thing was that these two graceless scamps who feared 
neither God nor the Devil gave him a wide berth. They were game 
for a fight any day, but to have their hands shaken by this drooling 
giant and to be asked for forgiveness in the name of God was more 
than they could stomach. They shook themselves like two wet dogs 
when they got well away from him. 

That Dam could roll them in the dust and do the same for any- 
body else who made fun of him, and instead of that bowed his head 
and looked for the blame in himself, had a disturbing effect on the 
mind. You couldn't get away from it. And yonder was Holmgren, 
the blacksmith, walking up and down between the rows of benches, 
talking to us, helping the little tots to wipe their noses, preaching a 
few sentences, and then all at once switching over into song. 

"Art thou living, art thou living 
In the faith of Jesus Christ?" 

might suddenly burst forth from him in a curiously high and light 
Voice, which was not his own at all, while the tears ran down his 
face into his beard. He was in agony, and his face was covered with 
cuts and bruises like a brawler's. "And that's just what I am," he 
would cry, rolling his eyes heavenward in ecstasy. "Fro, the brawler 
of the Lord. For Him I take my wounds." Then his voice would 
change again and he would hide his face in his hands and pray, 
loudly and with a strange sensitiveness. 

There was a sinister secrecy about Smith Holmgren's sores and 
bruises; he was really a champion of the Lord, for every night he 
wrestled with the Prince of Darkness without being able to prevail 
against him. But the mere fact that he did not himself perish in the 
struggle, but escaped from the embrace of Satan with a few wounds 
was enough to surround him with a peculiar horror. In the daytime 
his eyes roved round restlessly as though they were on guard against 
the enemy; but when darkness fell his voice could be heard out over 


the houses. Then the One that only he could see was there. When the 
struggle was fierce, his wife and children had to flee to the neigh- 
bors, lest he make a mistake and strike them instead of the Evil One 
with the bread knife. When he took hold of me with his mutilated 
hands and looked into my eyes with a glance in the depths of which 
there was so much that was strange, I trembled through and through 
and the shivers ran up and down my spine like nimble climbing 

Unpleasantnesses accumulated. I became restless and filled with in- 
definable fears. Gradually they assumed the form of sheer terror; a 
horror of death possessed me, horror lest it should steal up on me 
unawares, so that I would burn in hell, boil eternally in pitch, and 
never, never be redeemed. For death stole up on you unawares; like 
a thief in the night it came, the messenger of Satan 3 to fetch the un- 
prepared. But how could you be prepared, how avoid this fearful 
fate? Everlasting torment, what a ghastly sound it had! I knew how 
unbearably long a single day could be when you were in pain, and I 
remembered nights of fever that seemed as though they would never 
come to an end. But everlasting torment, that must be a thousand 
such nights and days and then a thousand more! God was indeed 
a jealous master. He knew no pity, you must give yourself up com- 
pletely. But how did you give yourself up, and when was it enough? 
He did not help even Holmgren, who was so devoted to Him, but 
let him fight out his battle alone. 

The Sunday-school paper increased my bewilderment still further. 
Life was like walking amidst hidden pitfalls and not knowing where 
they were. It lay like an incubus upon my mind; I fell a prey to an 
oppression of spirit that I could not overcome. I was unable to defend 
myself against the other boys because the idea of sin intervened and 
paralyzed me; if I finally let drive, my hand was sick afterward. 
Once when I struck a boy in the eye in self-defense, I had horrid 
sensations in my hand for a long time after and thought my arm 
must wither. In the Sunday-school paper there was a story about a 
woman who had led a sinful life and rotted away in punishment. It 


began with the big toe and ate slowly upward until it reached the 
heart. She was then released from the sufferings of this world, but 
only to pass over into everlasting torment. 

There was much else that was arbitrary in God's relation to man. 
I had the daily life of the pious before my eyes, and could not but 
see that in their actions and dealings they were not much different 
from other people. They never swore, to be sure, and you rarely 
found a drinker in their ranks; but if they could scrimp on the food 
and wages of those in their employ, they did so. And some of them 
cheated and cozened and yet were still the children of the Lord. 
They were very clannish and dealt only with each other. And since 
they had gradually got to be very numerous, you almost had to 
belong to the sect to get anything to do; this gave rise to a great 
deal of hypocrisy. Many a tradesman ran round to their meetings 
and sat with folded hands and bowed head in hopes of being no- 
ticed and getting customers. 

I had a sufficiently broad outlook on men and affairs to see this, but 
was not strong enough to break the sinister power that the pious 
exercised over me. Religion lives to a large extent on the attraction 
of the ambiguous; it was commonly said of the leader that he used 
now and then to put the Bible in a sack and beat his wife with it; 
he could then stand up some day and testify that he had chastised 
her only with the Word of God. This did not lower him in people's 
eyes; it was as though your actions ceased to be turned against you, 
once you were on the right side; when they stood up and testified 
about sin and Jesus, they held grace and judgment in the hollow of 
their hands. They simply had their mandate from above and had 
the key not only to heaven, but also to hell and eternal damnation. 

It was desperately hard, more than I could bear; I suffered much 
and had no one to talk to. The child seldom goes to his parents with 
his agonies of soul; he may be laughed at, may run the risk of having 
his problem retailed to others as a droll story in his own. hearing. 
I went round in a state of growing inner terror, which made want 
and cold seem unimportant. I had suffered a good deal from fear of 


the dark, but even that grew less; fear of the dark had to give place 
to fear of outer darkness. 

When Georg and I got into our bed, which was like an icehouse, 
we used to creep down under the comforter and make a nest there; 
then we didn't hear the roar of the sea, and our breath soon warmed 
up the bed. But if you had forgotten to say your prayers, it was 
pretty hard to leave the warm bed again and kneel down outside in 
the cold room. To forget to say your prayers was a very great sin; 
and only the lukewarm, who were an abomination unto the Lord, 
would lie on their backs in bed and pray. 

Georg took it lightly, deplorably so! "Oh, bosh!" was all he said, 
"we can say them twice tomorrow night." He was a lucky fellow; 
he didn't take anything too seriously and was on good terms with 

One day the children's paper told of a case that resembled ours. 
It was about two boys who like us had forgotten to say their prayers* 
One crawled out on to the floor again and prayed, the other didn't 
bother. In the morning the one who had atoned for his neglect was 
dead God had taken him to Himself as a reward for his faith, but 
his brother had to go on living as a punishment for his wickedness. 

I was terribly wrought up when it was reported one morning that 
Holmgren had laid hands on himself in the night. He had been 
battling with the Devil as so often before, and this time he had 
vanquished him by cutting his own throat. Dam told us about it 
in Sunday school; he laid great stress on the struggle and construed 
its outcome as a triumph for Holmgren. And this made me rebel 

Mother's having another baby didn't make the winter any brighter 
or easier. I could see things for myself now and how often my eyes 
had anxiously scanned her figure! Georg and I had talked about it 
in the evenings with our heads under the comforter and had said 
how splendid it was that we were not going to have any more chil- 
dren* And suddenly one night we wakened up to a great turmoil 
and confusion. Mother screamed and we two lads were sent off to 


fetch Madam Bech. In the morning it was all over and Mother was 
sitting up in bed measuring out beans for the coffee that Georg was 
making. Beside her ky a little red-nosed boy-bundle. 

So now it would begin all over again with the baby's squalling 
and the cradle and the rest of it. Little Sister Anna had just got to 
the stage where she could toddle round by herself and here it was 
again! There was no escape; it seemed as though life for us must 
take the same form eternally. 

And then, too, stupid as it was, you couldn't help becoming fond 
of such a little creature once he was there. The new brother brought 
both Georg and me under his yoke by the aid of instincts in us from 
which we could not free ourselves. As soon as we entered the room, 
our steps turned automatically toward the cradle just to take a 
peek. There he lay staring intently up at the ceiling, where the 
quivering surface of the ocean threw dancing cells of light. The 
bright eyes were like two quiet stars. It was a temptation then to 
try to make him prattle or laugh and then, of course, you kept on 
with it. When you wanted to go, he would toss his little body about 
and the innocent stars would become imperious in expression. There 
was nothing for it but to stay with him until he fell asleep. 

And then when we had really grown to love him and he had be- 
come an indispensable part of the home, sickness came pneumonia. 
Gone were the bewitching prattle and baby smile; no longer did 
Lillebror make bubbles of his mother's milk and sprawl with de- 
light while we stood round and laughed. In the cradle lay a tiny 
creature, bluish, chalky, with a rattle in his throat and leaden eye- 

It was hard to come home to Mother's tearstained face and huddled 
figure. On the table in the parlor stood a little coffin; there he lay, in 
a wreath of paper flowers, breathless, the shadow of a little being. 
Death was so stupid, so meaningless! And so irrevocable! The deacon 
came and Georg was in the best of his and my clothes; Father went 
out through the gate with the little coffin under his arm and Mother 
and Georg went after him. Out on the shore path they formed in 


line and the little funeral procession set forth; in front walked the 
deacon, singing. It was a hymn in which Lillebror rejoiced at going 
up to heaven and reproached Father and Mother for weeping over 
his death. Suddenly everything went to pieces inside me. I stood be- 
hind the gate howling desperately and beating my hand against the 
wall. "Shut up!" I bellowed. "Shut up!" I could hear the deacon 
singing down on the shore path and writhed under his consolation. 
It seemed to me diabolical, he must be cutting Mother to the heart 
with his words the nasty deacon with the bristles in his nose! 

Defiance rose up in me, I turned violently against the church, the 
mission house, the Sunday school, and everything connected with 
them. On Sunday I played truant; I would have nothing more to do 
with the Sunday school, not even if they tried to flog me to it. It was 
easy to persuade Georg to play truant with me; he was always ready 
for anything that smacked of French leave. I avoided the men from 
the Sunday school. I had got it into my head that there was some con- 
nection between them and Lillebror's death and imagined that they 
were out for my life, too. They were just waiting for me to become 
properly pious and pleasing to God so that they could suck the 
blood out of me. 

I did not get rid of this feeling until I became a herdboy and used 
to spend my day out in the open air in carefree companionship with 
animals and plants. I attained a clearly defined attitude toward 
Christianity only when as a young man I sat in the classes of the 
Askov High School and wonderingly witnessed the efforts of the 
teachers to bring all subjects, even physics, into harmony with, the 
Old and New Testaments, to make the hare really chew the cui 1 

Still later the truth of the hymn dawned on me. There is indeed 
a consolation for poor people albeit a bitter one in knowing that 
they have in death a sure provider for their children, 

1 "And the tare, because lie dbeweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean 
unto you." Leviticus 11:6. 


FATHER had submitted a tender to the county for a paving job at 
Skovgaardsbakken, and this time luck was with him. He got the 
job and it completely transformed him. So it was not just swelled 
head after all, when he sat working out estimates and sent in a 
tender. He did well with the job and the road inspector praised him. 
It brought in some money, too, and there were plenty of places for 
it; the winter had been a slack one, we owed both grocer and baker. 

Once the county had led the way, the municipality was able to 
use Father, too; he was given a small job on trial, and when that 
went well, he was entrusted with bigger ones. The town had only 
graveled roadways in the streets at that time, and it was a big event 
when the council voted to have the first street paved with Father 
in charge of the work. He was to get three kroner a day for direct- 
ing it, twice as much as an ordinary workman earned. It was indeed 
enough to turn our heads; we children were giddy with joy and 
pride, and Mother smiled and began to dream about having a house 
of our own. "But not down here beside the water," she said. "I've 
had about enough of being a mermaid 1" 

Father was working now with a whole staff of men, laborers who 
dug out the humps and leveled the terrain, teamsters who hauled 
away the dirt and brought materials, and stonecutters. But pavers 
were hard to find; there was nobody who knew how to lay cobble- 
stones and they were afraid to try. Father then got hold of a couple 
of young Swedes and undertook to show them how to do it. 

My brother and I no longer went out to work for strangers. We 
ran with the tapeline and held the belted leveling poles in plumb, 


when the leveling was being done, and laid out stone for the pavers. 
Most days we were free and could do as we pleased. 

It was spring and we had taken the curtains off our bed so that 
we could waken at break of day; we were fishermen and fish are 
early astir. When the morning sun shot the first splinters of light 
through the cracks in the tile roof and filled the attic room with 
fiery dust, we were already on the move and stealing downstairs so 
as not to waken Father and Mother. Outside, dawn stained the 
ocean; the seaweed, growing up from the bottom in great floes with 
its flowers floating at the water's edge, looked like rose beds in 
bloom. We had got a big flat box from the grocer and calked it with 
oakum; in it we punted round in the shallow water. Georg stood in 
front with the homemade fish spear; warily he swept the seaweed 
a\yay. In underneath them the eel hung dreaming, wrapped round 
with the branches of the seaweed, and the fish were moving their 
mouths as though they were chewing tobacco. It seldom happened 
that we hit anything we had too little experience and practice. But 
many times we came very near, often enough to keep up the excite- 

There were pike and perch there, too; it was spawning time, and 
they moved along the coast, tasting for fresh water, full of roe and 
milt, heavy with the essence of spring. From far out in the Baltic 
they came, feeling their way in to the coast along the strips of fresh 
water as along a thread and following the coast until they struck 
a watercourse. They did not consider the ocean good enough to 
hatch their young and must by might and main pour their eggs and 
milk (as I thought it was) into a fresh-water lake it sounded quite 

But it was true! Out on the flats at Sobaekken you could catch them 
with your bare hands, if only you knew their habits and got up 
early enough. The fisherboys were usually out early; but sometimes 
we fooled them and got there first. When the harsh east winds of 
Easter time had driven the high tide round to the other side of the 
island and drained the sea-bed dry for some distance out, the flats 


were left lying there with the water from Sobaekken rippling across 
them in the shape of a fan. Out on the bright strip of ocean, at the 
place where the deep began., the birds were rising from their slum- 
bers. The sun was just about to break away from the horizon, the 
early morning breeze passed like quick, cold shivers over the 
smoothly shining sea, and round about in the puddles on the flats 
there was a great splashing and splattering of gravid perch, flipping 
themselves along to get to the fresh-water lake a litde way inland. 
We had a basket with us and were armed with rusty forks, and 
Mother didn't mind if we brought home a basketful of perch. 
Father did not care for them; like all Bornholmers he scorned fresh- 
water fish. "It's like chewing on a pincushion eating perch," he 
said. We children didn't like them either; but now they were caught, 
they had to be eaten, too. Nobody would buy perch, and Mother 
was not one to throw anything away. 

But the pike now it was, of course, just as full of bones as the 
perch! And yet this was quite a different matter, for it belonged 
to the fine folk among the fish "and then nobody asks what you 
look like inside," said Mother. "The Chamberlain always ate pike 
on his birthday!" 

"How can you see that it belongs among the fine folk?" I asked. 

"Because it eats the other fish, you little simpleton," said Mother, 
smiling and giving me a poke in the back. 

"Does Father like pike?" asked Georg. 

"That I don't know," said Mother. "But I know that the apothe- 
cary's do, so you can slip over there with it first. And if they don't 
take it, try the doctor's and the judge's." These were the fine folk 
of the town, the people on top, whom you regarded with a certain 
favor and took advantage of whenever you could. The real mag- 
nates of the town, the big merchants and shipowners, were not so 
foolish as to give fifteen ore a pound for pike! 

That was what we got at the druggist's; and the pike was a 
thumping big fellow of over ten pounds. We were more than a 
little puffed up as we paraded through the streets with it. People 


would see now that the Copenhagen boys could catch fish, too. And 
yet there was something wrong somewhere. Father was now a super- 
intendent he should have eaten the pike himself. 

"You know, it's the very devil with money at our place," said 
Georg. 'Tor we never have any!" And indeed there was something 
very puzzling about it. Father had plenty of work now, but we were 
still just as hard up as ever at home. Mother had to count every 

The days grew longer still, and the water warmer. With our 
trousers rolled up as far as they would go, we waded out, wriggled 
eels from under the big stones, and speared them. For this, too, you 
had to be on the move early; the water was cold, but when the 
fiery ball rose up out of the sea, it seemed to get warmer at once. The 
sun lighted up all the windows along the shore path; Martha, the 
old fisherman's widow, came to the door and scanned the weather 
for the day with her hand to her eyes; over the town rose the crow- 
ing of cocks and the sound of cows straining in their stalls. The 
young cattle called from the close; and you could hear traces clank- 
ing against wagon tongues and wagons clattering over cobblestones. 
On the farms they were about to drive out to the fields. 

This was a quiet world in which you had to move silently; whis- 
pering and with noiseless movements, we waded from stone to 
stone, rocked them cautiously, and held the fish spear in readiness. 
Underneath the big gull stones that jutted up out of the water the 
rippling waves clucked softly like a decoy and across the water came 
the singing of low-flying ducks. On the sea-bed underneath the gull 
stones there were sometimes bluish-white eggs left there by eider 
ducks caught too far away from the nest. That was what Father 
liked; his teeth laughed when he sank them into something that 
came from the wild, free out-of-doors. 

But he did not like to have us playing out here even though we 
did bring many a tasty bite home with us; children should make 
themselves useful in some regular way. And now his ironshod wooden 
shoes sounded from the house and he came out of the gate; for- 


tunately he did not see us, he had the low morning sun right in 
his eyes. Then it must be almost six o'clock; the work began at six. 

And before you knew a word of it, it was seven. Mother was 
standing up there with her hand over her eyes, looking for us and 
calling. "Have the boats come in yet?" she shouted. "Off you go, 
then, to the harbor for five pounds of small cod. Here are ten ore. 
But hurry up! Father comes at half -past seven, you know." Oh, so 
we were going to have fried cod for breakfast! 

At eight o'clock school began, but it was easy to get out of that; 
nobody paid any attention whether you came or not. Often you were 
picked up on the way to school by somebody who needed a boy, or 
you thought of something that was more exciting and scooted. 

In school we provided the excitement ourselves. There was only 
one teacher; during the first two years it was an old deacon who had 
studied for the ministry in his youth but had had to give it up on 
account of an affair with a woman. He was considered good 
enough to be a teacher, however. 

He held school both forenoon and afternoon, but made up for 
that by taking it easy in the classes. He sat up at the desk with the 
cane in his hand, smoking his long pipe and reading the Berlingsfe. 
He left us to ourselves, and in order to have peace from us, made us 
drone out hymns in chorus; when we got to the end of one, he gave 
us the cue for the next. The cane swung back and forth in his hand 
in time to the music, but as soon as there was a halt in the droning, 
his hand stopped, he looked up from the newspaper in exasperation, 
and began to hiss and curse. And the next minute he was down 
showering blows upon us, haphazardly without any sort of investi- 
gation. He was ready at any time to belabor us with the cane, pull 
our hair, give us some "knuckle-grease" on the head with the 
knuckles of his clenched hand. He didn't care whom he hit, and he 
was quite justified in this inasmuch as we all had a share in the 
rumpus. The front rows would keep on droning devoutly so that 
he should not suspect what was going on at the back of the room. 
Suddenly everything came to a standstill and all eyes stared down 


at the back bench, where Henrik Bodker was impersonating the for- 
est goblin, his face black, his eyes propped open, and long tusks in 
his mouth. Friis darted down with the cane but seldom got hold of 
the sinner. We pushed the tables together and blocked his way; the 
forest goblin kept over in the narrow aisle beside the wall, and Friis 
was in the broad center aisle. There they stood ready to jump, with 
their eyes glued on each other; every time the teacher made a move 
as though he were going to plunge over, the boy sprang to the other 
side and the tables closed on Friis. Suddenly the old child-whipper 
turned on his heel, left the school, and strutted across the street to 
his house, with tossing mane and the cane under his arm. Then we 
had a recess and saw nothing of him for an hour or two. 

Otherwise the cane was kept in the desk, and when we had 
planned a major frolic, the first thing we did was to rub it with 
onion. A couple of the bigger boys came in good time in the morn- 
ing, picked the lock of the desk, and gave the cane a thorough rub- 
bing. The next thing was to provoke the old teacher. We were 
already in our places when he came in. Outwardly we seemed well- 
behaved and began of our own accord to recite in chorus. Friis un- 
folded his newspaper, but no sooner had he settled down comfort- 
ably to his reading than we came to a standstill. Friis looked up 
angrily. "It was Nilen," we shouted with one voice, deeply offended. 
Friis brandished the cane at him and we went on reciting but again 
there was a pause. This time, too, it was Nilen and the next time; 
the class was unanimous in pointing him out. Friis was loath to come 
to grips with Nilen, but finally it got too much for him. He snorted 
like an enraged bull; clouds of nicotine breath hung over the class; 
with cane upraised, he rushed headlong down the middle aisle and 
threw himself upon Nilen, who had even taken the first place on 
the bench as though he needed a hiding. And Nilen did not move, 
but like a lamb allowed himself to be turned over the edge of the 
table. There he lay howling dolefully, while Friis tanned his rear. 
How he roared, the rascal! And sticking his tongue out at the class, 
he made a face that was irresistible; the whole school shouted with 

glee. Nilen was all right, he had put on three pairs of trousers in 
honor of the day. And the splinters of the cane flew round Friis's 
ears until it was shattered right up to his hand. Then he threw 
away the stub, took his long pipe., and left. And we stormed out, 
down to the beach to "jump waves," or to the harbor, if there was 
a ship in. 

No such thing as co-operation between school and home was 
known; Friis never sent complaints to any of the boys' parents. Nor 
did he call on the school authorities, however far we went; he wanted 
no interference and preferred to fight it out with us alone. In this 
he was wise. A proper investigation would hardly have turned out 
to his advantage. His recesses were longer than his classes, and all 
we learned during the time spent in school was what we taught 
each other. I cannot recall that Friis ever told us a single fact about 
history, or nature study, or even read us a story. If it had been his 
intention to extinguish the light of the soul in us, he could not have 
gone more scientifically to work than he did with that insidiously 
endless recitation. We kept ourselves awake at his expense. It was 
legitimate self-defense, when we made him the means of satisfying 
our need for excitement. 

We were not bad and not even particularly ill-mannered. Later, 
when a real teacher came to the town, a man who took his work 
seriously, discipline came of its own accord. There was something 
that was called physics and nature study. These things were ex- 
citing, and we did not need to think up our own entertainment. And 
Danish history! Rolf and his warriors, Hroar and Helge, Uffe the 
Meek! We had never heard anything of all this from Friis. I didn't 
have much part in this Skrydstrup era; it came in the last three years 
before my confirmation, when I spent every summer as herdboy. 
But I had the full benefit of the Friis era! When I was confirmed, 
I knew all the hundred hymns of the old hymnbook by heart. 

But we were indeed ruthless. I was later, as a shoemaker, tied 
down for six years to a task to which I could not summon any in- 
terest, and experienced then for myself what a tragedy it is for a 

person to get into the wrong niche. Friis should probably have been a 
craftsman; it was said that when he dashed home from school in 
and out of season it was to upholster old chairs. 


FATHER had a good deal of opposition to overcome ; it was held against 
him that he came from the rank and file and had not even learned 
a trade, much less studied. Many people regarded it as presumption 
in an ordinary workman to make tenders to the county and mu- 
nicipality and want to be a contractor. There was nothing to be said 
against his work, his ability was generally recognized; but unseen 
hands were always putting obstacles in his path. When a job was 
completed, the rumor immediately went abroad that it would not 
be approved; and when it was pronounced good, hidden forces were 
set in motion to prevent his obtaining a new commission. The result 
of this was always that he broke loose and went on a spree. Although 
he was himself a Bornholmer, he had no faculty for going about 
things diplomatically; he hated all underhandedness, but was helpless 
before it and resented it in silence until he had something to drink. 
Then he gave a broadside up and down the line, launched out at 
his enemies with thrusts that rankled in them for years after. 

In the street work it was often necessary to cut away humps and 
straighten out corners; here and there part of a house might be left 
hanging over the excavation and would have to be propped up and 
walled under. When this happened, the owner usually carried on as 
though you had brought the destruction of the world upon him; he 
would run frantically up and down in front of the house. And once 
Kofod, the night watchman, pulled the props away from his house in 
the night and piled stones under it instead. The corner sagged a little 
and people made pilgrimages to the place in hopes of seeing the house 
keel over. Now they were vindicated who had always said that it was 


inexcusable to place the responsibility in the hands of such an ignorant 
workman. Father must be dismissed! But he went to Ronne and got 
the road inspector and an architect to come and look at what had 
happened, and they upheld him. The shoring had been perfectly 
adequate; the night watchman was himself to blame for the damage. 
Father kept his position as superintendent and kept his enemies, too, 
as a result. 

There was much malice in the little town both at the bottom and 
at the top, and no solidarity whatever among the lower classes. They 
cringed before the established great and were glad to have somebody 
to look down upon in their turn. They were not efficient workers 
when it came to larger undertakings which required united effort; 
they were used to pottering about, each at his own little job, and did 
not understand the art of working together. They did not realize the 
value of strictly defined hours and usually stayed poking round at the 
place of work after quitting time. On the other hand, they did not 
put on much speed in the actual working hours. Only those who had 
been to sea in their youth had learned how to work together; but they 
were now fishermen and skippers. They were in many respects a 
different race of people from the peasants with the land at their back, 
more open and straightforward, and also more liberal. We boys pre- 
ferred to help the fishermen and skippers rather than the small 
farmers. But there were some queer customers among them, too. 

It is generally agreed, of course, that our age has a leveling influence. 
And it is certainly true that a good many earmarks have disappeared; 
you can no longer tell to look at a man whether he is an artisan and 
if so what trade he practices or a farmer or a teacher. In my youth 
you could tell at a glance how a man made his living; his occupation 
put a distinctive, and, in the eyes of other people, usually a comical 
mark upon him. In fact, most individuals had striking characteristics 
in those days, but rather in the direction of eccentricity than of per- 
sonality. They were what was known as "queer." Queer and often 
comical habits and manners clung to them and were not to be shaken 
off. There were many eccentric people in those days; indeed, there 


was something eccentric about practically all of them. They were ob- 
stinate and opinionated a result, perhaps, of the difficulty which 
the individual had in acquiring anything. Once they had got some- 
thing into their heads, it could not be knocked out again. Yet there 
are no doubt more people now with the ability to take a broad view 
and form a personal opinion, which is at the same time based on the 
universal, than there were then, however little opportunity there 
may be for the development of personality in our "age of individual- 

It must be granted that education today is more uniform than it 
was then. It is now imparted on a conveyor belt; in those days every- 
body had to pick up what he could for himself. This made for in- 
dividuality, but it was easy to become onesided, too. The person who 
is able to produce his own vitamins and add the necessary ones to 
the margarine of modern education has more favorable conditions 
for developing himself intellectually and individually now than he 
had then. 

Father was "queer" in many respects, but not in regard to his 
work. However obstinate he might be in his opinions otherwise, there 
he was always ready to take up new ideas And he had the tempo of 
the new age in his body, had absorbed it as a laborer in the capital, 
He was clever with his hands himself, and it annoyed him when 
somebody had "too many thumbs" or "walked five times round the 
handle to move a shovelful of earth." The work was new and un- 
familiar, since the town had not had any paving in the streets before; 
the men had to be taught. But they were not very quick at learning. 
"Now I have my own way of doing that," they might answer, even 
if it was something they had never done in their lives. 

The Swedish day laborers, on the other hand, were men of an 
entirely different type. They came over in droves in the spring from 
South Sweden, mainly from Halland and Blekinge. They were from 
the small huts, most of them the children of agricultural laborers 
and crofters; but they had the modern age in their blood. They, too, 
had pottered round on die land with a cow and a few pigs; but they 


had not become stunted small holders by clinging desperately to a 
little plot of ground. They had let go of it, had broken loose from 
the feudal way of thinking, and had become a class in themselves. 
They were real ragged proletarians who pushed their caps onto the 
backs of their heads and dug in wherever there was a chance, men 
with stuff in them for anything. 

They were men for whom there was no room at home or who could 
not adapt themselves to home conditions, surplus population of the 
same ilk as the emigrants who built up the United States. They had 
simply not been able to buy the ticket for the long journey across the 
Atlantic and so had come to port here as servants or day laborers. 
The smartest of them got work at harbor or bridge construction, some- 
thing where they could come to grips with stone. They were reckless 
fellows with a pronounced contempt for death; they took hold of big 
boulders as though they were waltzing with their sweethearts and 
went round with sticks of dynamite loose in their pockets. Graceless 
scamps and a low rabble they were in the eyes of the native popula- 
tion; they didn't live like other people in houses with proper beds, 
but rented a place in Laus the teamster's barn, slept in the hay, and 
cooked their own meals on the threshing floor, fried bacon and eggs 
over a kerosene burner. They never got a real hot meal; gin and beer 
took the place of meat and porridge. But then they were just the sort 
of people you would expect that from, never went to church and 
drew their knives at a word. 

They were tough customers but Father knew how to handle them. 
They were good at lifting all together; a little chanty and they lifted 
like one man. And they were good to fall back on when something 
had to be ready by a certain time. "The paving stones don't stick to 
their fingers and they sing at their work," he said. He didn't do 
that himself, however; as a child I hardly ever heard him sing. But 
perhaps beneath his sullen exterior he had a suppressed desire to do 
so. The good humor of the Swedish workmen took away some of the 
melancholy that lay over his mind and could otherwise be dispelled 
only by the help of alcohol 


And they liked him and spoke well of him, something he needed, 
although he pretended to scorn people's opinion of him. He was really 
a boss after their own heart, took hold side by side with the others, 
did not act like a superior but stood on a comradely footing with 
them and yet could knock his man down if there was too much 
nonsense. And he wasn't afraid to stand a round of drinks. 

Among themselves the native workmen and the Swedes did not 
get along so well. There was a good deal of national arrogance in 
the Bornholmers; they were disposed to regard the Swedes as an 
inferior race of people. In return the Swedes despised them as narrow- 
minded snobs. They could not work very well together, but were bet- 
ter kept apart; their working tempo and everything else was so differ- 
ent. The Swedes called the Bornholmers "slowpokes"; they themselves 
in turn were called "blustering devils." 

Georg and I often went down to see them in their barn. Then they 
would begin to sing Father's praises and commend him for things 
that others held against him. "He's a damned fine fellow!" they said. 
"He's not stingy and he's devilish smart!" It did a boy's heart good 
to know that there could be another way of looking at it. People here 
were not like that, they would drink the rounds Father offered and 
condemn him for his extravagance. That was not very admirable! 
Nevertheless they were right in one way in their condemnation, for 
it was at the expense of the home that he was such a good fellow. 
His openhandedness was at once a source of pride and of grief 
it was not easy to take up a position toward him that you could hold 
to comfortably. 

It is a dark shadow over my entire childhood, this endless struggle 
in my mind for and against. I had a vehement desire to admire Father 
and was always seeking for something that would support my ad- 
miration unreservedly. But I was always beaten back; for seen with 
the eyes of the home, with Mother's eyes, not very much of what I 
tried to admire in him stood the test. I had to choose between Mother 
and him as between two opposites and could never really enfold them 
both with my emotions. 


Mother did not like it that we boys went to visit the Swedish work- 
men nor that Father was so free and easy with them. At that time I 
did not understand her, but saw merely that she, like everybody else, 
regarded them as persons who lived an irregular life and swore even 
worse on Sundays than on weekdays. Mother was violently opposed 
to everything that might help to encourage the vagabond in Father. I 
do not believe that she saw any of her dreams realized in his rise 
to be a contractor. But she fought on as indefatigably as ever for the 
maintenance of the home. 

There was always plenty of excitement down with the Swedish 
workmen; the barn was like a regular camp. About twenty men were 
living there; some of them were always preparing food and drinking, 
others playing cards and singing songs; and they swore till the air 
smelled interestingly of brimstone and the pitch pools of hell. There 
was one of the older workmen, a big, powerful fellow called Erik 
Persson, who told stories that dripped with blood : of sons who had 
been discriminated against in the division of an inheritance and had 
got up in the middle of the night, taken the axe and knocked their 
parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents everybody on the head; 
of children who had fallen in love with each other while they were 
still preparing for confirmation and had even got with child; of un- 
happy love between master and maidservant and of clandestine births; 
of gigantic battles between bands of mineworkers, who set upon each 
other with mattocks so that their skulls were crushed like eggshells. 
And in the midst of it a young workman might burst forth in a 
tender ballad about the birch tree and the bright night and little 
Ingrid. For a boy hungering after excitement it was like staring out 
into the unknown; the gray everyday took on the color of a fairy tale, 
the color of blood. The door was thrown open into a world of won- 
ders; all you had to do was give your imagination free rein. 

Erik Persson was a remarkable figure, a big man, bluish-red and 
blotchy. He told stories and ate at the same time, and always rye bread 
and cold roast pork. He sat flat on the barn floor with a board on his 
knees; on the board he had the piece of pork and a loaf of rye bread; 


beside him on the floor stood a quart botde of gin. When he had told 
a part of the story, he would make a pause, always at the most exciting 
point, cut a slice of pork and a chunk of bread with his big sheath- 
knife, and begin to eat, pensively, far away from everything. He did 
not hear the others asking, "What comes next then, in the Devil's 
name? Aren't we going to have some more lies soon?" but munched 
quietly on. Then suddenly his face lit up, he wiped the blade of the 
knife on his moleskin breeches, and went on with the story. 

I loved cold pork and rye bread and probably looked at him with 
longing eyes, for one day he handed me a piece of bread and pork. 
As I took it and saw the thick hand with the red hairs and the rust- 
colored blotches under the skin, I gave a start, and the floor began to 
rise and fall beneath me like the deck of a ship. It was indeed the 
hand, the unappetizing hand, which had reached me the delicious 
bun that time on the ship. Now I recognized the voice also. The same 
mingled feeling of disgust and desire possessed me now as then and 
doubtless marked my manner of accepting the gift. Suddenly he 
struck the handle of the knife on the board and burst out: "God bless 
my soul, is it you, boy! Well, 111 be damned and double damned, 
is it really you!** He lifted me up above his head, tousled me and 
turned me upside down, was quite beside himself with joy and 
wonder at the miracle, as he called it. From that day forth he lavished 
his love on me. "That there young imp out of hell, that limb of Satan!" 
he would say, looking at me with shining eyes when I came over 
to where he was working. 

Unfortunately he had to go to jail and disappeared out of my world* 
He was secretly engaged to a Bornholm girl, but although her parents 
were among the very poorest, they were against it and made her break 
it off. Erik Persson stayed away from work and began drinking day 
and night. And one night there was a fire at the girl's parents', who 
lived about two miles north of the town; the hut burned to the ground 
and Erik Persson was taken by the police. He couldn't account for 
anything, so befuddled was he from his spree; and on the strength 
of that he was condemned and sent to the penitentiary. 


He should have kept to his own kind, people said; there were Swed- 
ish girls enough on the island. Whether he had set the place on fire 
or not, they thought, he was getting his just deserts* 

However strong the contrast was between the Bornholmers and 
the immigrant Swedes, it did not rest upon racial differences; the 
Bornholmer is more closely akin to the Swedes than to any other 
people, his own included. The island was certainly settled at some 
time mainly from South Sweden, from the coast of which it is always 
visible in clear weather. And the constant wear and tear upon the 
population through the succeeding centuries has also, broadly speak- 
ing, been counterbalanced by new contributions from South Sweden; 
from the rest of Denmark only government officials have come to the 
island which has served them as a stepping-stone. It was good blood 
that was brought to the island from Sweden, pugnacious people, who 
clung firmly to the rock! The landscape resembled that at home, 
and the immigrant Swedes wrested from the wilderness many a stony 
stretch and turned it into a thriving home. They were gradually ab- 
sorbed and became Bornholmers themselves. 

But the contrast persisted; it concerned the new immigrants and 
was of a social nature; it was a contrast between the settled, firmly 
established people and the rootless and homeless elements which came 
both as an abomination and a menace. 

In my childhood they used to come in the spring in shiploads of 
several hundreds. They brought unrest of various kinds; there were 
some good things about them and some bad. They were able work- 
men and were not finicky but would tackle anything. But they did 
not fit very well into a patriarchal society, they were too disrespectful 
and undisciplined to be called human beings. Possessing nothing 
themselves, they had really no idea of how to handle property; they 
did not deal gently enough with the holy of holies and had not suf- 
ficient respect for the owner. The Bornholmer was a feudalist through 
and through; he had not yet let go of the skirts of Mother Earth, but 
must, as Mother used to say, have hold of a little corner of it to feel 
auite safe. He put less stock in earning than in owning, and land was 

the highest form of ownership; a man's standing was gauged by 
whether he had land and how much. 

They burst like wild birds into the petty bourgeois world of the 
Bornholmer, these Swedes who had forsaken their native heath to 
fare forth at a venture. If they had even signed up on a ship and gone 
off on a long voyage, that would at least have been something in the 
way of an ordered existence you got a flogging if you disobeyed the 
captain, and if you deserted you were put in jail! But these men just 
roved round at random like gypsies; they never knew where or at 
what they would land! They could earn money all right shame- 
lessly! And yet they never owned anything. The Bornholmer added 
little to little, turned a twenty-five ore piece ten times before he spent 
it, knew what it was to be used for years ahead. These men would toil 
and slave a whole week, till their eyes were crawling out of their heads, 
and then perhaps drink the whole thing up on a Sunday and live on 
dry bread all the next week! It was scandalous that such starveling 
vermin should be so openhanded; they gave tips as though they were 
millionaires instead of beggars; and when they took on a job they 
would rush it through and often went home with an unholy wage. 
And still they were poor and stayed poor; they cared nothing for fin- 
ery nor for what people thought of them. Who knew whether they 
hadn't families back at home, women and children that they had left 
in the lurch? And they even gloried in their shame, mocked at decent 
domestic people and called them snobs and skinflints who would 
hang the empty schnapps botde up and let it drip on a piece of bread. 
As though it were not the duty of every decent man to be frugal with 
the gifts of God! 

They were not class-conscious, these men; and yet they did repre- 
sent something new. They were the heralds of the proletariat, who 
came into conflict here with the remnants of the old feudal age which 
progress had not yet managed to sweep away from this remote little 
island. Two very different types of people collided here: the petty 
bourgeois of feudal times, who laid stress upon the facade and upon 
seeming more and better than he was, and the proletarian, who didn't 


give a hang what people thought of him, went unconcernedly on his 
way, and often had his heart in the right place beneath his rough 
exterior. They were ragged proletarians, these Swedes, but there were 
greater social possibilities in their aimless spending than in the stingi- 
ness and avarice of the Bornholmers; and their positive attitude to- 
ward existence was more progressive. While the Bornholmers pre- 
ferred to get ahead by the help of inheritances and good marriages, 
the Swedes tackled life on their own account. Many of them did not 
return home, but settled on the heath and in the pasture lands and 
began to break ground. I have since met on small farms on the High 
Heath several of Father's workmen from that time brawlers and 
topers who had found an object for their untamable strength and 
wrested from rocks and wilderness a pleasant little human world. 

MOTHER grew strong in adversity, but it often looked as though 
she could not really stand prosperity. She was always dreaming o 
better times for us, and every time it got a little brighter, she smiled 
and hummed at her work. But if we reached that stage about which 
she had had such beautiful dreams, it was as though her joy were 
wafted away. 

Father was just the opposite. When things were going ahead, he 
straightened up and kept fairly straight; but he could not stand ad- 
versity. If things were going badly for us, he turned to the saloon. 

"He's lucky," said Mother. "He sneaks away from it all and leaves 
me to bear the burdens!" And there was some truth in that, but Father 
was no different in this respect from other men. In the lower class it 
was then and probably still is the woman who must carry the 
heavier share of the load. 

We led a strange double existence. In the summertime Father 
was both master and contractor and often had many men working 
under him, but in the winter he was again one of the many who 
trudged out to the Hills with their tool kits on their backs. That was 
the end of the free life for my brother and me, too. We both had to 
go along to the quarry, and when there was nothing for us to do there, 
we had to go out hunting work in the town. He did not like us to 
be idle. 

But sometimes he was in good humor when we came out to him 
at the quarry after school. Then he would let us go free and we would 
clamber up over the brow of the cliff and make our way across the 
wild, stony country beyond. In those days there was not much forest 


back of Hell's Hills and Paradise Hills; the rock reigned supreme in 
great blue and reddish patches, bordered by moss and heather and 
low juniper berries. From the high overhanging cliffs we had a wide 
view of the lowlands with the town of Nekso and Balka Bay; the 
surface of the sea seemed to slant upward, so that it looked as though 
the boats were sliding down into the harbor. On the other side the 
granite lay like a congealed ocean, and far inland a blue bar loomed 
up, the forest of Almindingen. 

There were plenty of things here to make a boy's heart beat faster: 
black pools beneath beetling cliffs with horror hovering over them in 
the shape of stories of unhappy women who had sought a last refuge 
here for themselves and their children. Their spirits still haunted the 
black waters. And the rocking stone was hidden away somewhere 
in here, too; it meant luck if you found it, but it was also a thrill to 
climb up on top of the enormous boulder and set it swaying, just by 
bending your knees and shouting at the same time. On the brow 
of the cliff lay feathers and bones, the remains from the meals of 
the foxes and the great birds of prey, and in the withered heather were 
the old sloughed-off skins of snakes and vipers. They themselves were 
asleep for the winter; they lay in large clusters underneath the rocks; 
the stonecutters sometimes found them when they were clearing 
away for blasting, twenty or thirty of them all heaped together in a 
big ball. 

There was neither road nor path in here; you had to stumble along 
as best you could. And the terrain was intersected by deep gorges 
with steep rocky walls. Trees reached up for light from the depths 
below, and you could pull the tops over, slide down the trunks 
and land in the midst of the most impenetrable chaos of fallen boul- 
ders entwined in the dry tendrils of honeysuckle and brambles. The 
boulders formed caves with black mire at the bottom. The darkness 
boiled and bubbled down there. And suddenly it would move, like 
some huge shaggy creature slowly sitting up. Then panic would 
seize us and we would push and shove each other to be the first to 
get to the top. 


"There was certainly something there/' said Georg. "What do you 
think it was?" 

"A bear/' I thought modestly. 

"Rubbish, you know perfectly well there are no bears here on the 
island. It must have been a troll." Zoology put no obstacles in the way 
of trolls, so we let it go. at that. But when we were about to proceed, 
my brother discovered that he had left one of his wooden shoes down 
below. "Slip down and fetch it," he said rather offhandedly. "You've 
something on your feet, after all." 

I didn't feel very brave about it. "You're afraid to go yourself," I 
said taking the bull by the horns. 

" Afraid ? you'll certainly never be anything but a sissy! Perhaps 
you think trolls bite, do you? Why, they all hibernate at this time 
of the year, you goose! Just you run along now! and 111 lick any 
boy that tries to do anything to you." His voice became quite im- 
perious, and there was no escape for me. But it was certainly no easy 
expedition; I did not breathe freely until I was standing beside 
him again. 

"Well, that wasn't so dangerous, was it?" he asked carelessly. "If 
he had just tried to harm you, I would have fixed him." He was 
standing with a big stone in his hand. 

In here among the rocks we gathered sloes and wild crab apples. 
They had been nipped by the night frost and that had taken the bit- 
terness out of them; when they were roasted on the stove, they tasted 

But these were the few bright spots. It was cold in the Hills, the 
snow drifted over everything and made the stone tough and sluggish 
to handle. The hard frost caused stones and tools to stick fast to your 
skin when you took hold of them. Father's steel bar was like glowing 
iron in frosty weather, and I have never been able to do anything 
with mittens on. Chipping stone was hard work. You sat astride a 
stone with just a cushion with a little straw between you and the 
stone; when I got up, I was stiiJ in the crotch and could not pass 
water. You lost control of this function; both my brother and I suf- 


fered from this for years afterward in that we were unable to lie dry 
at night. It was for me, during the first years I was out among strang- 
ers, a source of much mental anguish. 

We had moved from the dyer's over to Mattis Jensen's, farmers who 
had come down in the world. Their land had gradually been taken 
away from them, so they had contrived a little dwelling in that end 
of the house which had formerly served as barn. We got one room 
more and a bit of a garden; on the other hand, we had no longer a 
view of the ocean; there was an old garden with a barn in front of 
our windows and it cut of? all the view. Mother was glad of that, 
"Now we have a little green in front of the windows and not that 
everlasting ocean that just made it cold," she said. Since the voyage 
over here, she hated the sea. But for us boys it was a great loss; we 
had followed the changes of the ocean from our windows; the surf 
had become a part of our sleep and so had the winter song of the 
squawk ducks on the still, frosty nights. Now we could no longer 
watch the ships battling with the treacherous coast and be among 
the first to give warning of a stranding. It had been thrilling to see 
the ships come scudding from north and south around the points 
during an offshore storm, cast anchor, furl the scant sail, and come to 
rest in the shelter of the coast like storm-beaten birds. There they 
would lie then, resting and riding out the storm. But if the wind 
suddenly veered, they had a busy time. Many escaped only by cutting 
the cables and leaving the anchor behind. Sometimes vessels could 
not even save themselves by this means and ran aground. One morn- 
ing there were five stranded ships in the bay south of the town- Then 
there was work to be done and money to be made salvaging stranded 
goods on the beach; we brothers ran into the water up to our waists 
and fetched things out under the guidance of the coast guard. What 
was saved was sold at auction, and we got our share of the salvage 

But now that we had moved, other boys would get ahead of us; 
it was all over. All that mattered was over, it seemed to us, as we 
peered out at the high garden fence that shut us off from everything. 


In behind the high stone fence grew some old apple trees. We could 
see only the tops of them; there were apples from the summer time 
still hanging on the naked branches and there were apples lying in the 
forks between the trunks and the branches. "Don't be peeking now," 
said Mother, "and then you won't be naughty. If they disappear, I'll 
know it was you." They were let lie a long time before Georg and I 
investigated the domain behind the high wall; we were not so sick 
for fruit as in Copenhagen; it was easier to get hold of here. 

It was a damp, unhealthy house, full of stale vapors and lacking 
in sunlight. The water in the well was brackish; it came in from the 
sea and was not fit to drink. 

Of this house I have no pleasant memories; ill luck seemed to 
hang over it. In the byre stood two sick cows with sores on their 
udders* Since the farmer had no longer any land, they never got out 
but were fed on sour bog hay which Mattis bought at auction; the 
little milk they gave was yellow and mixed with blood. The people 
thought the cows were bewitched; Sviza of Balka had been there once 
to beg and they hadn't given her anything; so she had bewitched 
the cows for them. Now they had her come and read over them; but 
it didn't help. Clever as she was at witching, the evil powers that she 
had conjured up she could not exorcise into the earth again. 

Everything about this place was depressing. The man, who was big 
and strong, stood all day long outside the house with his back against 
a post, his hands in his pockets, and straws in his hair. He did not 
seem to be interested in anything at all, just stood there drooping with 
a dull, defeated look. His wife was fat and fond of men, but her own 
she would have nothing to do with. He had to sleep up in the loft 
in the sour hay, while sailors and Swedish day laborers kept company 
with his wife below. 

We had a pigpen and raised a pig for the first time. We children 
had picked greens for it all summer, nettles and milkweeds, and in 
the fall Sister Sine and I had gleaned ears of corn in the fields as fat- 
tening fodder for it. It had grown to be a whopping big fellow, all 
it lacked now was the final fattening. It was good feed we had gleaned 


for it in the stubble; along in November it was so heavy it could 
hardly walk from the pen to the trough. Mother was proud and in- 
vited the neighbor women in to see the pig; what a barrel of meat 
we should have for the winter! And sausage feasts! We talked over 
with Mother which people we should carry sausages to. But one day 
shordy before Christmas a butcher came and took away the pig. 
He brutally threw a rope over the snout and legs of our pet and got 
Mattis to help him hoist it into the wagon, while we children stood 
around howling in chorus. Mother sat by the window and wept. 

It was as though existence gave with the one hand only to take 
away brutally with the other. Always we were beaten down; not even 
now under the new conditions was there anything left over from the 
summer with which to meet the winter. Father had had big jobs, 
but what had become of the proceeds? Had he miscalculated and 
been forced to put in money out of his own pocket, or what? We had 
not even paid off our debt from the previous winter; grocer and 
baker kept running to our door with the old bills; and now it was 
winter again and we needed new credit so as not to starve. "But 
what has become of it the surplus and all?" said Mother in despair. 

"Oh, there just wasn't any," said Georg. "Father can't figure, you 

"He can't figure? But Georg!" Mother stared bewilderedly from 
the one to the other. 

"No, for he only makes mistakes. That's why they would rather 
have him take on the work himself. It just means that they don't 
have to pay him the big wage." Mother was petrified. 

"So you think he has miscalculated, do you? But what about the 
municipality then? They surely can't take advantage of his figuring 
too low and let him take the loss?" 

"They just laugh about it. I've heard people talking myself. They 
all just laugh." 

Mother began to catch her breath and laugh in a strange way; it 
was a long time since I had seen her like that. And suddenly it turned 


into weeping. "And the money for the pig, our lovely pig; that wasn't 
his at all. You and I have raised it. Our lovely pig!" 
"Fat Mads has got that. He's the one that had the pig taken away.'* 
Mother laughed again so strangely. "So it's been drunk up ? Our 
lovely pig, our lov- lov- lov " She broke down completely. 

However it happened. Father still had credit at Fat Mads's. When 
there was anything to do up in the Hills, he didn't come home in the 
evening but hung round the saloon; if the weather was too bad or 
if there was nothing to do, he spent the whole day there from the 
forenoon on. He didn't come home for meals, and indeed Mother 
had nothing for him; he brought no money home on Saturdays. 
Mother had got credit in her own name from Sonne the baker, and 
we lived that winter on rye bread and American lard. 

In the evenings we sat up, often until late, and waited. We didn't 
dare go to bed, so we waited, read aloud a little, talked in whispers 
and waited. Georg and I took a trip out into the darkness now and 
then to look for Father. One evening late we found him over beside 
the old barn, half buried in snow; with Mother's help we managed 
to drag him home and get him into bed. Mother overstrained herself 
lifting and had hemorrhages; she had to stay in bed for several days. 
Georg went round being very important and mysterious; he knew 
what was wrong with Mother, but I was not allowed to know. Every 
time I asked, he answered : "Oh, it's just something that won't amount 
to anything." 

Another evening as we sat and waited, we heard Father turn in 
at the gate and fall against the front of the house. Mother had not yet 
recovered and had no strength; we couldn't manage to drag him in, 
so dead and leaden was he. "Just let him lie there," said Mother; her 
voice was filled with hate. 

"But he'll freeze to death!" Georg and I were still struggling with 

"Well, just let him!" said Mother, going inside. Her voice was like 
ice; I had never heard her talk like that. We covered him over with 


sacks and went in to bed. "We can get up and look at him in the 
night/' said Georg; but we slept right through. When we awakened 
in the morning, he was lying in his bed asleep; Mother had wakened 
him in the night and got him in. Mother was right when she declared 
that there must be a God who watched over drunk men; he didn't 
even catch a cold in the head from his spree. 

It was a harrowing time. Mother hobbled round at her housework 
with her left arm pressed against her waist, the babies cried a great 
deal. Sine and I quarreled, and Georg was beside himself with rage 
every time he had to go up to the Hills. "Why should I go?" he 
screamed. "He just drinks it all up! I'll take a hammer, so I will, 
and " Mother put her hand over his mouth, she looked at him with 
eyes that were wild with terror. Georg shuffled off outside under her 
look; but when he got out on the street, he struck his clenched fist 
against the window so that a pane broke. At that the spirit of rebellion 
went out of him and he hurried off. 

On Christmas Eve we sat and waited from about noon. The 
Christmas tree we had put out of our minds and the modest gifts, 
too; it was just a matter of getting something to eat. We had nothing 
whatever in the house, Father would have to come with the money 
first; and surely on Christmas Eve he would come home with a little 
bit, just a couple of kroner. Mother had tidied up the house and laid 
a fire in the stove; the pots stood ready, and now we sat and waited. 
It grew dark, and we lit no lamp but sat close together and listened; 
we knew Father's step a long way off, even little Sister knew it. But 
it just wouldn't sound; the babies began to cry; and when time for 
the stores to close drew near, Mother cried, too. And in the midst 
of all this despair, Georg came storming in, very blue with cold. Div- 
ing down into his pocket with his numb fingers, he threw a handful 
of change on the table. There was nearly a krone in all. "I hooked 
it from Father," he said, out of breath. "I knew you hadn't anything* 
so I hooked it from him and ran." 

"Won't he come after you?" asked Mother, frightened. 

"No, for he was ashamed before the others and let me go." 

Mother brightened up. She sent one of us out for a roast of pork, 
the other for bread. The coffee bag got a second boiling, and soon 
we were sitting cosily round the table. Later on a potted plant was 
brought into the living room and decorated with colored paper; and 
we marched around the Christmas tree singing. "But no hymns!" 
said Mother. "Sing the song about the dog that got the double share 
of meat; there's some sense to that one." Georg and I were not much 
for hymns either; we agreed with Mother that poor people hadn't 
very much to be thankful for. Every time Sine and Anna began with 
"Here, Jesus, come thy little ones," we twisted it round. 

"Hey, diddle dum, my man fell down, 'twas just on Christmas 
Eve. I took a stick and helped him up, 'twas just on Christmas Eve," 
we sang over and over again, running in a circle round the table with 
the potted plant. And suddenly Father appeared in the doorway; 
he had heard everything. He said nothing, but walked past us and 
went to bed. 

For a while after that he behaved himself; what he earned, he 
brought home. But it didn't amount to much; there wasn't much 
work and most of the time the cold interfered with what little there 
was. I don't know whether it was because good fortune had smiled 
upon us in the summer, but it seemed as though we had never been 
so low before. After Christmas a Russian vessel ran aground south of 
the town. The ship was wrecked and the whole cargo, honey in 
barrels, washed up on shore. It was sold for eight ore a quart, and 
even if it did taste rather strongly of sea water, it nevertheless sweet- 
ened our dry bread for us. I think we touched bottom that winter, 
lower down we could hardly have gone! Nor did we go lower. 

ONE day well on in the winter Georg came home in high good 
humor. "Well be all right now/' he shouted, "for Father's just run 
foul of Fat Mads and they had a fight. They have to go to court! But 
Father will win, for he was on the King's side." 

Father didn't mention it himself, but we learned from another 
quarter that the saloonkeeper, who was furious because Father had 
been keeping away from the saloon, had stopped him in the street 
and called him a snob who thought himself too good to drink a glass 
with his equals. Perhaps Father regretted the money he had left with 
the saloonkeeper; he gave tit for tat and accused him of taking the 
part of the poor people only in order to plunder them. 

Fat Mads was a democrat, and in those days democrats were re- 
garded as social revolutionaries, so for once Father had public opinion 
on his side. And justice, too, of course. As bad luck would have it, 
some of the more aristocratic citizens of the town, in delight at the 
outcome, invited Father over to Korup's Hotel after the trial; Georg 
and I heard on the street from some other boys that Father was sitting 
in the hotel drinking with the fine folk. We had got used to his not 
going to the saloon any more and no doubt hoped against hope that 
it would last, so this was disagreeable news for us. It was some con- 
solation, of course, that he was at the hotel and in good company. 
Fine folk didn't get dead drunk like poor people but were care- 
ful. And yet- 
Mother was not pleased at this news either. She had counted def- 
initely on Father's coming straight home from the court and had 
prepared something extra for his dinner; now the food stood sizzling 

and drying out on the stove and we sat round the table munching, 
with a crushing sense of the inevitable over our heads of evil hover- 
ing in the air ready to strike down upon us at any moment. It had 
been altogether too pleasant and comfortable lately. Father came 
straight home from work, ate his dinner, and then sat on the sofa 
in his shirt sleeves and read the paper. Afterward he would play with 
the smaller children or give us a tune on the old wooden flute. It 
was cracked and had to be soaked first to make any sound at all, and 
we had got so sure of him that we would put the flute in water with- 
out waiting for him to ask us. 

Now it was as though someone had told us that there must be 
an end to all this. Nothing had happened, to be sure; a shipowner 
and an agent had invited Father into the hotel that was all. But 
we were too well used to being let down; we recognized misfortune 
by its footstep long before it reached us. 

We had school in the afternoon that day and during recess sat 
inside the classroom, Georg and I; we were in low spirits and had 
no desire to play with the others out on the beach. Some boys came 
dashing in and called us : we must come out and see something funny. 
Out on the shore path there was a regular circus; a crowd of boys 
was busy bombarding a drunk man with snow and he was staggering 
round trying to catch the worst offenders in the midst of wild re- 
joicing. It was Father! 

With me it struck inward, as always, and turned to hopeless despair; 
but Georg was frantic with rage. He pounced upon Father and shook 
him. "Father, are you crazy?" he roared. Then he pitched into the 
boys with blows and kicks. Father was completely bewildered and 
reeled oil home. 

It was a long time before the other boys forgot this incident. Every 
time anybody hinted at it to embarrass us, Georg became furious 
and pitched into him. "I'd like to murder them," he said as I helped 
him to put his clothes in order afterward. "And Father, some day 
I'll give him a real thrashing. Just let him wait!" We were no longer 
friendly to\^fd Father, nor were we obedient. The other times he 


had come home in that condition, it had been dark and late at night; 
people went to bed early. But this time he had run the gauntlet 
through the streets, had advertised his shame in broad daylight and 
made himself the laughingstock of all. We were mortally hurt and 
mercilessly showed our contempt; even the babies would have nothing 
to do with him they screamed when he took them on his lap. 

For a long time Father didn't look us in the eye. He still came 
straight home from work, then ate his dinner and went silently to 
bed. He looked terribly lonesome, and you could see that Mother 
suffered, too. 

It was a severe winter; the ocean was frozen over as far out as you 
could see. It was screw ice; you couldn't skate on it. But Georg and I 
took long trips out to sea out where the vessels ordinarily went. 
It was thrilling to know that far below us swam the fish and down 
on the bottom of the sea lay the remains of sunken ships, perhaps 
with their holds still full of treasure. Here and there were bright open- 
ings in the ice where the water for some reason or other would 
not freeze over; and far out you came to a wall of pack ice. Beyond 
that again lay the heavy winter water heaving in long swells of 
slush ice and cold. 

Father had built himself a shelter of ice blocks beside an air hole 
out here. He lay there at night and shot wild ducks of a peculiarly 
savory kind. They were not for sale but went into Mother's roasting 
pan with the thick bottom; there they lay sputtering and filling 
every corner of the home with fragrance. 

Things had turned out quite differently from what we had feared. 
Father revealed an entirely new side; he began to take an interest in 
our troubles and help us. He built us a sled and bought an old pair 
of boy's shoes from the secondhand dealer and fixed them up so 
that Georg and I could take turns in skating. So it was a good thing 
after all that the ice didn't carry him off when it broke up one night. 

For a while he went round looking very mysterious; it was plain 
that he had a pleasant surprise in store for us. And pne evening as 
we sat eating our dinner, he tossed a piece of paper 'across the table 

to Mother; it was a deed; he had bought a lot from the municipality 
out at Faerskesjo. Oh, so we were to have a house of our own like 
other residents! "You might have talked it over," said Mother re- 
proachfully. But Father was not in the habit of asking anybody's 

As soon as the frost was out of the ground. Father began to dig 
out the foundation; Georg and I helped, and never had we gone at 
any work with such a will; we laughed and behaved like fools. Father 
was happy, too; he didn't laugh, but you could tell it from his en- 
thusiasm. Often he played truant from the stone quarry in order to 
work on the foundation, and he used every holiday; to make up for 
it he worked by lantern the days he went to the quarry. These were 
long days for him, and when he went to bed, I could hear his joints 
creak, so stiflf was he. We broke stone on the beach for the founda- 
tion wall and for the fence around the property. Solid it must be, 
and Father dug right down to bedrock so that the house should have 
a firm foundation. When Mother came out with coffee for us, she 
laughed all over her face and looked lovingly at Father. "It will be 
done thoroughly, like everything Hans Jorgen Andersen does," she 
said. When she was really proud of Father, she always called him 
by his full name. 

Father was able for the most part to build the house himself, but 
he lacked the money for materials. There was a financial institution 
in the town where you could get a loan for a mortgage on the house; 
but one evening the old lame butcher, Henrik Legan, came down 
to see us. He had money saved up and made loans at interest to 
people he was not related to; he didn't take more than four or five 
per cent, but was nevertheless regarded as something of a usurer. It 
was not considered quite the right thing to take interest on money; 
a loan was a helping hand extended temporarily to relatives and 
friends! Father got five hundred kroner, probably at four per cent, 
but the old butcher wouldn't have anything in writing for the money. 
Father had to promise him not to mention to anybody that he had 
got the loan. 


So Lau, the teamster, began to haul brick. Father thought it was 
rather early yet to begin the wall; there might still be night frost, and 
there were plenty of other things to do. When the low tide uncovered 
the flats, we marched out there with pickaxes and crowbars, shoveled 
the sea-bed clean of small stones, and began to break the blue sand- 
stone. Father took it up in great slabs to be used for the floor in the 
outhouse, for the courtyard, and for sidewalks. The sea had polished 
the upper surface smooth; it was often ribbed like a washboard. 
Father broke off a flag as big as a table and five or six inches thick, 
squared it, and cut a round hole in the middle. This was the top for 
the well. One block was chosen for a pig trough; Georg was allowed 
to hollow it out. "Ah, I'm to cut something that will belong to the 
house!'* he said triumphandy. Father must have caught my expres- 
sion, for suddenly he came along with a smaller block. "This one is 
for a hen trough and you must cut it out," he said gently. I had 
never known him like that and I began to cry. Father looked at me 
in surprise. 

"It's just because he's happy," explained my brother. 

The stone had to be cut down here as far as possible, so as not to 
haul unnecessary material up from the beach; we wheeled it all the 
way to the building site in barrows to save having the teamster. But 
it was important also to get it up before the high tides came and cut 
us off from it; so we had plenty to do. We took hold with a will; 
Father steered the barrow and Georg and I went in front and hauled 
it with ropes over our shoulders. Across the stony sea-bed we went, 
then over the wall of seaweed and along the stony, sloping coast 
until our shoulders burned and everything grew dim before our 
eyes. But up on the flat field the most beautiful sight awaited us; just 
a hundred yards or so ahead lay a spot that shone as spots may some- 
times shine on an otherwise turbulent sea. Everything lay in chaos 
on that spot, earth and stone and wood, but how it shone! 

We were building. It seemed as though pulse and heart were sing- 
ing all the time, so persistently did those words pound through and 
through us: we're building, we're building! Georg and I had re- 


peatedly sworn not to fall asleep; when you slept, you just cheated 
yourself out of happiness. We dropped off quickly, dead tired as we 
were; but in the middle of the night Georg pulled my nose, rather 
roughly as was his way, "Hey, you, we're building!" he shouted and 
went right off to sleep again. 

Yes, we were building; you could notice it in many ways. People 
made errands out to the place, ran by as though by chance, stopped, 
and began to chat. The judge with his ladies took his walk out that 
way, stood up on the embankment, and surveyed the scene; as though 
by accident, they discovered us; the judge pointed with his cane, and 
the ladies peeked through spectacles which they held up in front of 
their noses with something that looked like a pair of pincers. Then 
they came over, and Father had to lay down his trowel and show 
them round. 

This took more time than Father liked; the judge was noted for 
his stupid questions and always had to have everything explained 
twice. "There's the pantry seen from the rear," said Father when 
they had got to the outhouse; I could tell from his expression that 
he wanted to be rid of his fine guests now so that he could get back 
to work again. The ladies held back a little, but the judge stuck his 
head inside. "Well, I declare, if you haven't even painted the seat, 
Mr. Andersen," said he. 

"Yes, that's so you won't get rump-matism when using it," answered 
Father promptly. At this the ladies disappeared and the judge trotted 
along at their heels as usual. 

Father's helpers laughed and exulted at his having launched out 
at so mighty a man. The town judge shared the fate of all the other 
officials on the island, bad as well as good; he was not popular. They 
came from over yonder, these government officials, spoke a refined 
speech and were set up to rule; they received a large salary for this 
unnecessary work; it was said that Judge J. F. Petersen Miss Petersen 
was what the people called him got over ten kroner a day. Nobody 
begrudged the native merchants and shipowners all that they could 
get their hands on; but this money, paid out to foreign masters from 


over yonder, rankled in all minds. The town judge was probably a 
yery kindhearted man. I had had work for a week weeding in his 
garden, and he had taken more interest in me than the local people 
were in the habit of doing when I worked for them watched that 
I didn't overwork, and saw to it that I came into the kitchen and had 
coffee. But no amount of personal goodness could outweigh the cir- 
cumstance that he was a paid official and from over yonder into 
the bargain. Besides, he had a touch of the comic about him and 
there were many stories current about the limitations of his intel- 
lect. When the town sawmill burned down as a result of a boiler 
explosion and he was conducting the investigation, he asked the work- 
men why they hadn't taken the lid off the boiler in time. That was 
a choice morsel for the town; big and small made merry at the ex- 
pense of this high judge who had spent many years of his life in 
study and whose ideas about steam pressure were limited to the 
clattering lid on the coffee pot. 

But only on the sly. He was the highest authority in the place and 
the gold-tasseled cap made even his vacant head awe-inspiring. You 
didn't run the risk of offending the high authorities; it was only 
Andersen, the paver, who could permit himself anything like that. 
It was both pleasing and displeasing. Everybody had to come out 
and see our house and especially the little outbuilding where the 
magistrate in his own high person had been made game of. But they 
preferred to come when Father wasn't there so as to be on the safe 
side in whatever might happen. 

But all in all our stock rose. One day when we were up putting on 
roofing, a big square-set woman stood down on the road and stared. 
"Well, you're certainly building a castle here," she shouted up to 
Father, grinning from ear to ear. She was barelegged and was carry- 
ing her shoes and stockings in her hand; the other hand held the 
tongue of a little two-wheeled cart which was filled with produce, but- 
ter and eggs, that she was taking down to the store. 

It was Anne Mikkelsen, Father's cousin, she who drank gin like 
water and supped it up with a spoon. We had heard much about her; 


she had money, and consequently the conversation often turned to 
her when we were out at Grandfather's or had company. She didn't 
have a red nose, however; her face was a large whitish mask of flesh 
framed in a hood. When she laughed, it twitched over the whole sur- 
face and looked as though strings were being jerked here and there 
underneath it to draw it into folds. 

Father had crawled down and taken her into the building; he called 
to us to come down and say how do you do. Anne Mikkelsen was 
drawing on her stockings so as to be grand, now that she was near 
town. She pulled her skirt right up over her knees. 

"That's a fine pair of posts you have to walk on," said Father. 

"Yes, feel; there are muscles for you, look there! The boys had 
better feel, too, then they'll have a measure to grow by." She stuck 
out her leg, but Georg and I drew back into another room; there we 
stood and looked at her with curiosity. We were just a little bit afraid 
of her, for it was said that she could be a woman or a man as it pleased 
her and that she was now the one and now the other. For the moment 
she was a woman, to be sure, but what if she were suddenly to take 
a notion to turn into a man before our very eyes! 

Anne Mikkelsen sat broad and substantial on a heap of bricks and 
unpacked her lunch, and Georg and I stood waiting to see if she 
would drop something into her lap, for then we could easily tell 
which she was. For womenfolk spread their legs apart when they 
drop something, but menfolk draw them together. This was Georg's 
wisdom, and we had long since agreed that when we saw her we 
would keep an eye on her with precisely this in mind. But then Father 
called us. We had to go for gin for Anne Mikkelsen to drink with her 
lunch. "She must be a man then, anyway," said Georg as we ran. 
"For women don't have such a thirst." 

When Anne Mikkelsen was about to leave. Father invited her to 
drop in at home when she had finished with her errands. "Then you 
can make the acquaintance of my wife, too, and she'll make you a 
good cup of coffee, I'm sure," he said. 

But Anne Mikkelsen threw up both her hands and laughed loudly. 


"Make the acquaintance of your wife eeh, Lord-a-mercy! She's one 
of the kind that has young ones every year; and then they aren't even 
strong enough to live, they say. How many have you now?" 

"Yes, some of them have died, to be sure," said Father. "But we've 
got a few left yet." 

"And I suppose you mean to keep those. But it doesn't look as if 
they'd amount to much." Anne looked closely at us. "Every little helps 
as they say." 

"Yes, he's a poor beanpole"* Father pointed to me. "But the other 
one's all right." 

I wasn't going to be left with that slur upon me; I snatched Georg's 
hat and started off across the common so that they could see for them- 
selves which of us was the better runner. Georg took after me; he 
knew he couldn't catch me by fair means so he fired a volley of 
threats as he ran. But I simply pretended to be frightened; every time 
he got near me, I made off at a bound, tossing my head and gaEoping 
like a wild horse. Father and Anne Mikkelsen stood outside the house 
and watched us with amusement and that gave me courage; I ran 
slowly as though I were played out; and when Georg dashed up 
to grab me, I was off under his arm. Finally he gave up and trudged 
back, muttering the most awful things, all of which were to happen 
to me when ; but I followed teasingly right at his heels* 

" Ton my word, that was pretty well done," shouted Anne Mikkel- 
sen to me. "You'll get a penny for that." 

"Oh, that's just because he's a coward," muttered Georg. "They're 
always good runners." 

"Oh, so that's it then I'd better just keep my penny." Anne 
Mikkelsen put the coin back into her big pocket again. So that feather 
was plucked from me, too! No matter what I did, in the eyes of 
others I was always a good-for-nothing. 


WHILE I had got rid of my fear of hell itself, I was still troubled 
about what lay beyond death; it had become a great empty space 
filled with dismal cold and darkness. I could not help dwelling on the 
idea o death, perhaps because of my lack of physical robustness; when 
the coffin lid was screwed down upon somebody I knew, I was dis- 
mayed at the thought of the darkness and cold that now awaited 
him. And I was sometimes seized with horror lest I might perhaps 
die myself without having a chance to make amends for the evil 
I had done. When this came over me, I had to run to Mother, kiss 
her soft cheek, and say: "Forgive me, Mother!" 

"Good gracious, what's wrong with you, boy ? " said Mother, staring 
at me in astonishment. "Have you done something naughty or is it 
just your notions? If you've done something, you'd better tell me 
what it is!" 

No, it wasn't anything that coulcj be explained, and Mother was 
much too matter-of-fact and moreover had far too much to do to be 
able to enter into a child's distress of soul. If I confided to her how 
unbearable the thought was that everything might perhaps be too 
late, she would laugh and say: Foolish child, better put such fancies 
out of your mind! 

I tried to base my actions and my behavior on the belief that it 
might suddenly be too late to make good again what had happened. 
But it was difficult always to have to think and especially to think 
kindly before you acted. With my smaller brothers and sisters, for 
instance, the harsh and wicked answers would slip out of my mouth 
before I had time to reflect, and my actions were so hard to control. I 


I bethought myself and tried to make amends, they just made fun of 
me and said: Ha-ha, he's afraid of getting a licking from Father! I 
was given to ruing and repenting and envied Georg who took things 
as they came and was always calm no matter what scrape he got into. 

I suffered greatly for a time from the pangs of conscience. And it 
didn't make it any better that I extended the bounds of conscience to 
include not only what had actually happened but also what might 
have happened. What if little Sister had fallen into the water and 
drowned the day I left her alone on the mole while I caught a blenny ? 
I had to live through all the consequences of this "if** how they 
fished for the little body. Mother's inconsolable grief, the silence that 
gaped from every corner of the house now that little Sister was gone 
live through it and shudder under the horror of it as though it 
were grim reality. 

And as though that were not enough, I began to go over things 
that had happened long since. I did so, I suppose, in order to find 
excuses in answer to my self-accusation, and I unraveled the skein 
of past perplexities. But instead of relief I found new accusations, new 
burdens. Life seemed to become narrower as I went back, narrower 
and narrower the further back I probed; I brought forth in myself 
a more and more concentrated knowledge of pain and need. Life was 
like a tunnel constandy narrowing, until it seemed as though I 
were again back at that fearfully narrow pass, which leads from form- 
lessness into existence. A rope had been thrown round me, as was done 
with the calf when a cow was unable to give birth to it and I was 
drawn forcibly over the threshold of life. And there was a scrunching 
in my head such as there must have been in the head of Bohn, the 
road man, when the big steam roller ran over it. 

We had moved into the new house on Sondre Landevej. It was 
the last house on the street and lay quite alone; in front, a couple of 
hundred paces off, was the beach, and behind the house, the lake, 
Faerskesjo, reached right up to the garden wall. We had a wide view 
here on every side; from the kitchen sink Mother could see across 


the lake to the road on the other side and farther, over the pasture 
lands and the town common, all the way to Slamrebjaerg. And from 
the living room she could watch the traffic on the highway. Peasants 
from P^rsker and Povlsker rolled by with wagons full of produce 
and poultry. Sometimes they had a wagonload of girls; then they 
were going to a dance or some other festivity in the town for that 
was how you had to be up and doing if you had a flock of daughters. 
Mother was quite worried about how they were to be married off. 

But she had worries enough of her own, too; the house had cost 
more than we had calculated; and new taxes were added. Mother 
had put a properly painted sign up at the gate and plenty of peo- 
ple passed by here; she had many customers, especially from the 
country. But it didn't bring in very much; unless you were cheap, 
people took care of their fine washing themselves. "The prospect is 
fine here if only the prospects were a little better," said Mother 
as she stood by the window ironing; it became a saying of hers. 

Father grumbled and was in bad humor most of the time; the 
winter was severe and work was scarce. "And then all these young- 
sters; they eat you out of house and home," he would add. But then 
Mother would get angry and let him know that we bigger children 
were not much of a burden to him; we earned our own keep. Father 
held to his own opinion, and Georg and I spoke up to take Mother's 
part; it provoked a quarrel and Father punished us by going into 

There was something here that didn't hang together. Hitherto 
Father had always regarded Georg as a half breadwinner, because 
he helped at the quarry. He had been satisfied to look down on 
Mother's work and mine. The money Mother earned he didn't count; 
and, of course, I helped Mother most! That I also worked out, helped 
to unload ships and weeded stone walks for the finer families of the 
town, he was not generally told; Mother needed badly the pennies I 
could bring home in this way. But now he suddenly lumped Georg 
in with the rest of us; we were all a burden to him. 

Mother was enough above it to laugh and scoff at his "saloon talk"; 


but I took it very much to heart and made myself miserable. It struck 
me as a crying injustice, a monstrous wrong that must be righted, 
that we should toil and slave and do our best only to have him treat 
us as spongers; and one day on toward spring I rebelled, went off o 
my own accord and hired out as herdboy with one of the biggest 
farmers of the town. I was to begin in May and was to have fifteen 
kroner and my board and lodging the first summer. If I were smart, 
the wages would go up five kroner every summer. The matter o 
school attendance was taken care of by the farmer; the larger land- 
owners had the right to remove poor boys from school for the six 
summer months of the year. 

Mother clapped her hands together in surprise. "But what do you 
think Father will say?" 

"He'll be only too glad. I'm to sleep up there, too so he'll be rid 
of me altogether!" 

Mother looked guilty on Father's behalf. "You shouldn't go round 
bearing a grudge, anyway," she said. 

Father didn't scold. "You're smart on your feet," he said. "You're 
probably better at running than at anything else. And the cattle have 
respect for that. Herding is a tough job; if you do that, you can do 
other things, too; I've tried it myself. There are mean customers 
among them, as there are everywhere; and if they ever get their head, 
they'll be boss. Run them down at the first opportunity; even if your 
insides are coming out at your throat, you mustn't give up for then 
they'll have no more respect for you. Get them by the tails and give 
them a good lashing and then you'll have peace and order. But be 
careful where you hit; a cow is more valuable than a human being. 
Animals must be handled with care under all circumstances." 

The farmer had rented from the municipality the pasture field on 
the other side of the lake between the highway and Langedeby. Gal- 
lows Paddock it was called, from a long stony rise where the gallows 
had formerly stood in olden days every little hamlet had its own 
place of execution and its own hangman and where you could 
still dig up human bones out of the gravel and stones. In behind the 


rise, patches of heather alternated with long strips of pasture, and 
here I passed the time together with my herd, which that first sum- 
mer consisted of some fifty cattle. Most of them belonged to the 
man I was working for; there were steers, young cattle, dry cows 
and others which for some mysterious reason could not get in calf 
although they were always crazy for the bull. This pasture was poor 
and he didn't send his best cows out here. The rest were cows be- 
longing to various small holdings which lay on the road out to the 
field. They always grazed by themselves, singly or two together, if 
they came from the same place; the main herd would have nothing 
to do with them, nor could they get along among themselves. This 
gave me a good deal of extra work. 

Although I drove the cattle home at noon, I was given a big well- 
filled lunch basket and a whole quart of sweet milk with me fore- 
noon and afternoon much more than I could put away myself. From 
the top of the gallows hill I could see home to our new house on the 
other side of the lake; when Mother needed milk, she hoisted the 
signal on the wall outside the kitchen steps. I answered by swinging 
my sweater over my head. Then either Sine or Anna would come 
over for the milk and bring a little can of warm, coffee for me. 
While I drank it, my sister would rummage through my lunch 
basket, where, besides the sandwiches, there was often something 
extra, a couple of apples or a pancake. 

"I was to say hello from Mother and tell you that you mustn't 
take any food home to the farm," she said. "For then you'll just get 
less next time." 

It wasn't hard to dispose of the food, plentiful as it was. I often 
had visits from hungry boys who looked longingly at my lunch 
basket. They used to help me herd in return for something to 
eat, and we soon drew up a table of prices based on the quality of 
the food* Cheese and smoked sausage were not much in demand; it 
was a very hungry boy who would chase more than twice for a 
cheese sandwich. For a sausage sandwich they would run once more 
for me, and for one with salt meat in it any boy was glad to chase 

five times. Collared beef and roast veal were away up, at an exchange 
of eight chases. 

But still there was work enough. No sooner did one of us get back 
than another would have to dash out; there was a lack of system in 
the work, and the animals gave us all plenty to do. There was no 
danger of my returning home with anything in the lunch basket. 

At first I was rather homesick and used to run home for a few 
minutes every evening when I could see my chance. It was mainly 
my litde brothers and sisters that drew me; Mother was tired and 
hard-driven after a long day. She would turn me round, look to see 
whether my ears were clean and whether I had torn my clothes, 
scolding gently as she patched me up. She had nothing to tell me; 
I was no longer her little workfellow in whom she confided every- 
thing. That hurt me! But I was supporting myself and the con- 
sciousness of that kept up my spirits. 

It was good for me to get away from home where I could look at 
everything from a distance. While I was living at home, I could see 
only one of my parents at a time; over here I seemed to be able to 
see them both at once and compare them. It drew me a litde farther 
away from Mother and made me look with milder eyes upon Father. 

"Where's Father?" I asked one evening when I came home. 

"Why?" asked Mother. 

Why indeed? I suddenly realized that I was longing to see him. 

"You can certainly have that longing satisfied easily enough," said 
Mother. "Hell not be very hard to find." It seemed to me that there 
was a ring of scorn in her voice. I waited a litde while for him and 
then I had to dash off, so as not to get a scolding from the boss. But 
on Sunday an incredible thing happened Father came over to see 
me at the herding field; my sisters had told him that I had sat and 
waited for him. He didn't say anything about it, but I could see from 
his eyes that it had pleased him. And he brought with him a handle 
for my cattle whip which he himself had carved with a pattern. 

With regard to the eternal problems of life and death my mind 
was easy. There was plenty here to keep me busy; I had not yet got 


hold of the secret of herding and was very uncertain in my relation 
to the cattle, lived, so to speak, from one emergency to the next. The 
abundant lunch basket kept me from facing the problem; when the 
other boys were with me, I let them run for me and lay there getting 
stupid and lazy by virtue of the fact that I sat on the bread sack. And 
when they went away, I had not learned anything and had a hard 
time handling the work. 

I was afraid of the boss at first. He was young and unmarried and 
it was said that you could never do enough work to satisfy him. But 
I soon saw that people did him an injustice. He had been over to the 
mainland to do his military service and had also attended an agri- 
cultural school; he came home with new ideas in his head and people 
didn't like that. 

The Harild estate had once been a big store with a farm belonging 
to it. The store had gradually lost out in competition until there was 
only a litde grocery business left, which his parents carried on. Hans 
Harild, my boss, had taken over the land when he had come home 
a year or two ago from his military service and had moved out to 
the west end of the town, while his parents remained in the old place. 
He was planning to rebuild all the buildings and had collected a 
large supply of timber and stone. 

I shared a bed with the foreman Peter Ibsen was his name and 
was not a litde worried at first. But Mother had spoken to him and 
offered to do his washing. In return he wakened me in the middle of 
the night and was generally good to me. If things went wrong any- 
way, he didn't reproach me, but warned the maids not to mention 
it to a soul. It was my great fear that the town would get to know 
that I wet the bed. He was a bachelor; the rest of the men the boss 
employed were day laborers who slept at home. 

Sometimes people would come out to me in the herding field and 
try to pump me about the boss, ask me whether I was satisfied with 
the food and whether it was true that he scolded the maids because 
they used too much, and so on. But for me it was as though I had 
come into a fool's paradise. At five o'clock in the morning I got up 


and had as much sweet milk and bread and butter as I could put 
away, and there were never fewer than ten big round slices in my 
basket when I set out at six o'clock. People ate a great deal at that 
time much more than now; food had to take the place of so many 
other things, both clothes and amusements; it was almost the only 
thing that was plentiful when you had your own land. 



THE boys who were more attracted by my lunch basket than by my 
company were not really to be depended upon; that I found out very 
quickly. Some of them made off as soon as they had the food in their 
hands and even stuck their tongues out at me when they got a few 
yards away; others jumped up suddenly with a frightened expres- 
sion, shouting: "Mother called me!" and ran off. Or they would take 
advantage of their turn to chase, pretend to run after the catde and 
not come back. You had to size people up; there were some that you 
could use only by following the rule of work first and pay afterward. 
But when that was enforced the flock rapidly dwindled; perhaps I 
was too strict in holding them to their word; one fine day I found 
myself alone up to my ears in work. 

Two boys from the poorhouse at Balka Heath had often circled 
around the herding field but had never ventured to come over to 
the rest of us. As poorhouse children they were shunned like the 
plague, like lepers whom nobody wanted to touch or be near. Mother 
had warned me that I mustn't have anything to do with them. One 
day when I couldn't keep the cattle in order at all and ran crying 
from place to place, they suddenly popped up from the southern end 
of the pasture where I could not keep watch because of a drop in the 
terrain. They came running up with some calves that had wandered 
off down there and helped me steadily and surely to round up the 
herd and get it grazing quietly. It went surprisingly well; the ani- 
mals seemed to sense that there was no longer any escape; we were 
able to sit down comfortably around the lunch basket. "But on a 
high place/' the two brothers suggested, "for catde have to see the 


person who is herding them all the time." That I had not known; I 
had been in the habit of seeking shade or shelter. 

Their father was a big red-haired man. It was said that he and his 
wife had with their bare fists fashioned a property for themselves 
out of the rock and heather on the other side of the Paradise Hills. It 
was land that didn't belong to anybody, land that nobody would want 
to own or have anything to do with; they had simply paid the Ibsker 
municipality a small yearly rental of a few kroner. But when a tidy 
little property had emerged from the stony waste, a peasant had come 
along and laid claim to it; he had been pasturing sheep on the ground 
for a number of years long enough to be able to take the property 
away from the two who had created it. The big red man had no legal 
claim so he broke up and destroyed all that he could of what he and 
his wife had created. He was punished for that, as was proper, and 
retaliated by taking to drink. He refused to work any more; when 
the authorities ordered him to do so, he laughed loudly and replied: 
"You can damn well look after me now." Since he was entitled to 
parish relief here in the district, he and his family were then put in 
the poorhouse. 

Mother sent sister Sine over upon some pretext or other to warn me 
against the two boys, but I was stubborn. I had now taken on the 
responsibility for myself and refused to take orders from home; and 
I needed these two brothers, their company and their help. It was 
easy enough to come from home and tell me to send them away, but 
they didn't tell me where I was to get other company and other help. 
My experience with the other boys had led me to begin judging my 
fellow men for myself; perhaps, too, I had inherited some of Father's 

These boys were brave and upright by nature. Their voices were 
crude and hoarse and they had pouches under their eyes; often, too, 
they bore the marks of their father's fists. When they thought he was 
on his way home, they always hurried off so as not to leave their 
mother alone with him. 

From them I learned many new and useful things. They were 

clever at carving in wood ships, ploughs, little wagons. We dug 
out mouse nests and hitched the mice to a little wagon which had 
the disk ends of wool reels as wheels. The two brothers knew where 
the hens from the Langedeby farms hid their nests in ditches and 
hedges; we always had a supply of eggs. We made a fire of heather 
and cow dung and fried the eggs over it on thin slabs of stone. It 
was sandstone and we had to use a lot of butter to keep the eggs from 
burning; but Andrea spread it thick on the sandwiches. 

I made the surprising discovery that these two in contrast to most 
of the other boys did not come to visit me for the sake of the food. 
Tattered as their clothing was, they were strong and in good condi- 
tion; there was plenty of food for anybody who was not too proud to 
go round and beg for it. A couple of times a week they would go on 
a foraging expedition into the country and would sometimes come 
home by the herding field to show me what they had got. The mis- 
tresses on the farms round about were not stingy. 

"Why don't you ask for a coat or a pair of trousers?" I asked. 

"No, for people don't give away clothes; they wear them out them- 
selves, because they cost money." 

Yes, I had to admit that. Clothes cost money. I hadn't very many 
clothes on my own back in the winter; and they had been worn thin 
by my brother before I got them. And at home there was no such 
thing as clothing yourself in food. A good layer of flesh on your body 
is no mean overcoat; but for us at home food, too, cost money. I had 
suffered greatly from the cold and still felt it a good deal; but these 
boys were never cold. I imagined that that was why they were so fear- 
less : they were afraid of nothing. 

From them I learned to hunt vipers. There were a great many o 
them in the pasture; they wintered in the fence on the Langedeby side, 
they and the harmless snakes. The May sun lured them forth; in the 
rambling stretches along the fence they would lie sunning them- 
selves on the slope, often fifteen or twenty of them. Not until the real 
heat of summer did they spread out over the pasture and live among 
the small kones and in the heather. When I was running after a 


cow, I would sometimes step on a viper and it would hit me on the 
leg; I was too quick in passing, it never managed to bite me. But the 
young cattle sometimes had big lumps on their ankles where the 
hair was thin; they would go round hanging their heads for several 
days after a bite. 

The snakes we killed- off right away, but that was not enough for 
the vipers. They were wicked, they were out for our lives; if you got 
a bite and had nobody to suck the wound out, it was as good as cer- 
tain death. They had hollow teeth, just like Sviza and the other 
witches, and in them there was poison from the brimstone pool of 
hell. It was the devil himself we punished when we tortured them. 

For mass hunting we armed ourselves with long hazel sticks which 
we had slit at one end; in the cleft there was a small piece of wood 
with a string attached. We slipped the noose over the fore part of the 
viper's body, pulled the piece of wood out with a jerk and the stick 
snapped shut on the monster. We could catch half a score in a fore- 
noon. We crushed the heads of the snakes; the vipers were burned 
over a bonfire. This was the natural death penalty for a creature that 
came from hell, from the eternal fire. And then you didn't run the 
risk of having them come to life again. If you cut a viper in half, the 
two parts joined together at sundown and the ogre bolted off into 

Later on in the summer we hunted vipers singly. I had always been 
in the habit of killing them simply with a stick or a stone; but the 
two brothers taught me that this was cowardly. You should catch 
them with your bare hands. First you teased the viper and let it 
chase you until it got tired and wanted to slink into hiding. As soon 
as it got its head buried in a tuft of heather to make itself invisible, 
you ran up and grabbed it round the tail with your right hand; you 
slid your left hand forward along the viper's body as you drew it 
backward out of the heather and then caught it with a firm grip just 
below the head* 

My hair stood on end the first time I watched them use this method 
of capture; I couldn't stand still, my body twisted like the viper's. 


The captor, laughing, held it out from him with his left hand 
clenched around its neck; when he let go of the tail with his right, if, 
threw itself up around his arm and tried to writhe itself free; it 
spewed its poison down over his hand until there was a whole crust 
of it. I simply could not stand still; I jumped up into the air and 
crouched as I jumped, laughing aloud with fear and loathing and 

Afterward the viper was hung up by the tail on a stick, one end of 
which was stuck into the ground; and we danced a war dance around 
it, while it struck out at us with its head. If we knew where there was 
a hedgehog's lair, we would carry it over and let the mother hedge- 
hog eat it up. There was often a real battle before the hedgehog got 
the best of it. She would dart out, bite it firmly by the tail, and roll 
up like lightning. The viper would bombard her with its head. Blow 
after blow it would strike but always hit the spines, until, tired and 
exhausted, it would finally sink down. Then the hedgehog would 
unroll herself and devour it slowly and comfortably from the tail 
up. Afterward we would give her milk from our wooden shoes so 
she wouldn't be sick from the poison. 

Fortunately they didn't ask me to try the trick, too; it was a long 
time before I one cold rainy day when the viper is not so quick on 
the turn ventured to tackle one with my bare hands. Ambition 
drove me on and I mastered the trick; but easy assurance in it I never 
attained. There was always something inside me which threatened 
to miss fire at the critical moment. 

There was good stuff in those two lads and I had much to thank 
them for. They never quarreled; conditions at home had taught 
them to hold steadfastly together. Although I had the name of being 
hard to get along with, I always got along well with them. They were 
honest in a peculiarly healthy sort of way and had a stronger sense 
of justice than boys usually do, always kept their word and never 
sneaked out of anything. They disappeared out of my world all too 
quickly; the parish put them out as servant boys with peasants in the 
south country. 


They helped me over the first period when I might have succumbed 
to the great loneliness out there in the pasture and brought me into 
a fruitful relationship with my surroundings so that I did not miss 
human companionship. And from them I learned the secret of herd- 
ing lies, to be sure, in running but in running not so much, how- 
ever, but as litde as possible. The art lay in the legs and yet not in the 
legs. Father had already given me advice as to how I should handle 
the cattle from the very first, so that the work would not get beyond 
me, and it was good advice, too. But I had not taken it; Father's words 
lacked the power to take root in my mind. But now along came these 
two boys, whom I admired, and said the same thing. If you didn't 
want to run your legs off from morning to night and unsetde the 
animals so that they wouldn't get their proper food, you had to teach 
them to obey your voice! And that they would do only when they had 
found out that you were faster than they and could at any time run 
them down and punish them. 

There was a castaway cow in the herd called Spasianna. She was 
not old, but she couldn't get in calf and was therefore shut out of 
the circle of milk cows. She was a typical "morphidite," always putting 
on airs with the young heifers and trying to act the bull. Or she would 
rove round as though consumed by a longing that could not be satis- 
fied. When Spasianna thought I was busy with something else, she 
would set off in some direction or other, now running straight ahead 
and now in a zigzag course, her head stretched out and her tail stick- 
ing up in the air. When she ran straight ahead, she was being crafty 
enough, even if it looked perf ectly idiotic to make right for the fence 
on the Langedeby side; there was a piece of ground in there, where 
in her heifer days an experiment had been made with a new kind of 
turnip. These she had tasted and had never been able to forget; al- 
most every day she broke down the fence at that particular place, so 
that I would have to build it up again. But if she ran hither and 
thither, the madness was upon her; and there was no telling what 
she might try to do. She was a real devil, was Spasianna, and she 
gave me more trouble than all the rest of the herd put together. When- 

ever she was up to some mischief, she always kept a cautious eye 
behind on me. She knew everything I did as though she had eyes in 
her rear; as soon as I made a move, she changed her direction or be- 
gan to graze very innocently. I had never managed to catch her in 
the act. 

But what the two brothers had put me up to she couldn't figure 
out, crafty as she was. Now I was the one who pretended to be in- 
nocent and unsuspecting and lay in wait behind a simple-seeming 
exterior. Now I had my eyes turned backward just as she had. I sat 
unconcernedly with my back to her, singing and tearing up tufts of 
grass between my outspread legs with the one hand, while in the other 
I held a piece of a mirror in which I could follow every wily move 
that Spasianna made. Stupid cow! She thought I had given up fight- 
ing with her and imagined she was playing me for a fool. But I was 
smarter than she was a thousand times smarter, I thought myself 
and was only waiting for the right moment to pounce down upon 
her. This time she was going to get a chance to become properly in- 
volved in her mischievous pranks; she was going to get as tangled 
up in them as if she were trampling through her own "innards." 

This time Spasianna had set off toward the powder house; the 
wind was blowing from that direction and she had probably taken 
a notion that there must be something tasty growing over there. She 
came to the Langedeby road, which formed the boundary of my 
domain on the side of the town, stood for a moment and considered 
with her head turned right round in my direction, and then started 
across the road. How she struck out; she was filled with enterprise! 
There was a potato patch over there, not a trace of anything else; 
that was what she had smelled. But she buried her whole head in the 
half-withered potato tops and gobbled them down as though she 
wished to make herself believe that she was reveling in deep clover. 

Now I had her, now she was definitely on forbidden ground, and 
I could tell from her ears that she realized it herself. I started off, ran 
a good part of the way under cover of the big steers, and popped out 
when she had just had her head up to look round and had buried 


it again. By the time she discovered me, I had got up good and close 
to her. For a moment she was taken off her guard she hadn't ex- 
pected this; she stood still for a second and sized up the situation, 
made a move as though she were going to try to get back to the herd- 
ing field, but gave it up again and set off at full speed toward the 
town. She realized that it was serious this time and probably thought 
that if we came tearing home in this order of march I would be the 
one to get into trouble. 

But she would find out, indeed she would; I had no mind to let 
things turn out that way; Spasianna had asked for trouble she had 
challenged me time after time now she would get it! I set out around 
her in a semicircle to cut her off from home; Spasianna ran well; I 
had to exert all my strength to head her off. When I finally got her 
back to the pasture field again, there was not much breath left in me; 
the blood hummed in my ears; I felt as though the sky were grinding 
darkness down over me. "My heart must be spurting the blood out of 
my neck,' 5 1 thought; but I didn't give up. It took an hour before I 
got hold of Spasianna by the tail; and by that time I was so tired that 
I could hardly move one foot after the other and couldn't even raise 
my stick to strike. But she was still more exhausted; as soon as I got 
her by the tail, she came to a complete standstill. And when I let go 
of her, she slunk into the midst of the herd and flopped down on the 
ground. There she lay for the rest of the day, chewing her cud with 
half-closed eyes. 

After that she was uncertain; I could see that when the wanderlust 
came over her she was wavering and couldn't make up her mind. But 
she still didn't obey when I called her name; there had to be another 
race and one in which I was completely victorious before she sub- 
mitted to my voice. She never did become any model of virtue, but I 
finally got to the place where I could usually, when the roving spirit 
came over her, call her to order again. 

Spasianna was only one of half a hundred, even if she was the 
worst one. There were several animals in the herd that were still 
quicker on their feet, and half the summer was over before I got so 


that I could run faster than the fastest calf. Only then was I master of 
the situation. 

But I really was master of it then. Occasionally one of the animals 
would have to have its memory refreshed, but otherwise I lay all day 
long in some high spot and did what I pleased, letting my voice ring 
out now and then when an animal grazed too far away from the herd 
and cracking my cattle whip. 

This cattle whip was unique; none of the other herdboys had one 
like it. The handle was an inch thick and only half a yard long; but 
the lash measured over four yards. It was a great art to weave a lash 
for a cattle whip of this kind and it took several pounds of twine; it 
was an inch and a half thick at the handle and thinned down gradually 
to the end, which consisted of a single cord. This had to be of a par- 
ticularly fine quality for the whip to crack so that it sounded like a 
shot. I had collected the twine by begging for it on the ships where I 
had worked; and the old cowman, Hans Olsen, had woven the lash 
for me from twenty-four cords which were dropped one by one. 

The catde whip was my most treasured possession. At first I 
couldn't handle it at all; I had to climb up on a rock to get the long 
lash of! the ground and make anything like a crack with it. But I 
gradually got practice in keeping it swaying in the air in whirls, and 
arcs, and zigzag swings, and could with one stroke make it produce 
a whole series of explosions. I learned to hit a fly with the lash at 
twelve paces, to pluck a flower with it or clip a tuft of hair from the 
flank of an unmannerly creature. I usually carried it wound four or 
five times round my neck. I had never seen a catde whip of this kind 
outside of Bornholm until I went in 1924 to Villingen, a village in 
the Black Forest, to attend the famous Villinger carnival. The whip 
was called the Karpatsche there and was used to "crack open" the 
carnival week. 



THE life in the herding field did me good. My mind was set at rest 
and I found that moral sustenance, that satisfaction which even a 
child can ill forego. I felt that I was doing something, that I was good 
for something; at the harvest festival I sat beside the boss and he made 
a speech about me and called me his best man. He said it with a 
smile, but I could tell from the way he put his arm around my shoul- 
der that he meant some of it seriously. 

My life came to have content of its own and varied content. I 
conquered a whole world round about me and was myself the central 
point in it. My mind was filled with the knowledge of creatures and 
things and with concern for them to know them intimately was to 
care for them. I grew fond of the cattle and noticed that they in turn 
were fond of me, did not become angry at me for punishing them, 
but saw in me a sort of Providence. Toward evening when they were 
longing to go home, they would low at me as though asking leave 
of me to go home to the stable and the evening fodder. The reason, 
they bore no grudge against me for striking them was that I never 
did so if it could be avoided, and never brutally; my boss said in 
praise of me that he had never had any herdboy who treated the 
cattle so kindly. "Martin never strikes," he said approvingly at the 

"Well, I wouldn't say it was just a mere laying on of hands with 
him," muttered old Hans Olsen. 

No, it was not, but the cattle were content to know that they were 
subject to a firm will; they grazed calmly and quietly and enjoyed 
their cud-chewing as though eternal peace had been established upon 


earth. The boss saw the advantage to him in my willingness to ex- 
tend the work beyond what was absolutely necessary. I did not, for 
example, yield to the temptation to let the cattle pasture in the places 
most convenient for me, but took pride in seeing that the field was 
grazed off clean right out to the edges. It was hard to do, especially 
when there were things growing in the neighbor's field which tempted 
the cows and which would provide evidence against you if one of 
them had been over the border. But that just made the praise taste 
all the sweeter. 

I had learned to look after my little brothers and sisters and love 
them in spite of the trouble they caused; now I learned through my 
trials with the animals to be fond of them and to look to their good. 
And from them there were threads leading out to Nature: to the 
tufts of grass which they lopped oft with their tongues and gums, 
scoop, scoop like a jack plane working to the birds which, like the 
cattle, had the habit of always doing certain things at certain times, 
to the sun which did so much for me and for everything else. It was 
the sun which cleared up my breathing and took away the distress- 
ing wheeze that sounded like cloth being torn every time I drew 
breath; it was the sun which made the blades of grass shoot up so 
that they clicked and made the calves turn somersaults, drunk with 
delight. The sun had its habits, too, like everything else; indeed, they 
emanated from it and infected the rest. It measured off the day into 
definite parts and meted out the day's activity to men and birds and 

It was all just like an enormous clock, the sun and all space above 
me. It moved in rhythm and what you had to do was listen and grope 
your way into that rhythm; it was better if you had the rhythm in 
your blood like the animals and plants. They were clocks them- 
selves, little clocks hanging round inside the big one and going by it. 
If the sun was behind the clouds, I still always knew what time it 
was; the birds told me and the plants the cattle. At nine o'clock in 
the morning the cattle lay down they were never many minutes 
out and lay there for a good hour chewing their cud; in the after- 


noon they took another rest always at the same time. The starlings 
held noisy council of war every morning in the big ash, before they 
set out; in the afternoon at five they met there again, but this time 
it was for a cozy hour of gossip. I used to imagine that they were 
telling each other the experiences of the day. And when the hour 
for going home approached, you could tell it from the herd; all the 
animals grazed with their heads turned in the direction of the town. 

I had made myself a sundial in a cow dropping. It told the time 
very well when the sun was shining, but was soon abandoned; I had 
no need of it. The homeward marches came at half-past eleven in 
the forenoon and seven in the evening; Mother usually hung a piece 
of cloth out on the wall at home as a sign that it was time to go. But 
I knew it without that. The time feeling had got into my blood. 

And other senses turned up in me, too. I knew by heart the five 
senses that man is said to possess; but the creatures out here had 
several others, and I came to have a share in these also. It used to amuse 
the boys who came out to visit me to bind my eyes, whirl me round 
ten times or so, and then ask me where north was. I knew it, felt my 
way to it, as the birds of passage feel in their blood the direction in 
which they must fly. 

My senses grew sharper and at the same time lost that sickly hyper- 
sensitiveness which had caused me so much suffering and seemed 
so absurd in the conditions under which I had grown up. Mother 
had often called me a comical rascal and a princess on a pea when I 
complained that I had got something on my body and it turned out 
to be nothing but a hair. But it left a red inflammation and the same 
thing happened when any foreign body touched me. I could read by 
feeling what the other children wrote with a finger on my naked 
back, and the sensation remained there as a tickling letter or figure 
until I stroked with my own hand over the spot. "My goodness, how 
ticklish you are," said Mother; but that was much too mild an expres- 
sion. For some reason or other vermin did not bite me; but when a 
flea ran over my skin, I could count its legs, and it left a trail of feeling 
a series of prickles which did not go away for a long time. 

All this sensitiveness grew less so that it ceased to be painful; my 
feelings and perceptions took another course, became more acute 
with regard to natural things, and brought me into close contact with 
the great whole. So intimate did my connection with the surrounding 
nature become that I remarked at once when anything foreign popped 
into my world, were it only a dog. It was not easy to sneak up on 
me unawares; even when I was lying playing, I would be suddenly 
startled out of my carefree mood and would scan the outskirts of my 
world yonder came a human being! People began to talk about all 
this, and I had to dissemble so as not to become a byword and be 
pointed out as an oddity. 

One evening I was to fetch something for the foreman from the 
horse stable but came back without it, whatever it was. The light 
nights were already over; it was pitch-dark in the stable and I could 
sense that there was somebody there. Peter Ibsen, who was sitting in 
the servants' hall playing cards with the two day laborers, made fun 
of me; finally they took the lantern and went out. They found a 
tramp lying asleep in the haymow. For a long time after that I got 
the name of seeing more than ordinary people. 

One day about this time I had a visit from a big boy whom I knew 
all right but with whom I had never had anything to do. He ap- 
proached me in a peculiarly shy way, walked around me in a wide 
circle and suddenly made for me with long strides and with his head 
ducked down between his shoulders. "I say," he whispered, fumbling 
with an embarrassed smile at my smock, "is it true that you can tell 
the four corners of the world with your eyes bound?" He smiled with 
his eyes screwed up and pursed his upper lip as he whispered; and it 
suddenly occurred to me that I had never heard him speak out loud, 
let alone shout. 

I let him tie my lunch cloth over my eyes and whirl me round; the 
experiment worked out to his satisfaction. "That's very interesting," 
he said with a thoughtful expression, putting his finger on his nose 
"For Marryat says the Indians always know where the four corners 

o the world are; now I didn't believe that was so. Is it also true that 
you can sense it when there are people near you and that you don't 
run against things in the dark?" 

Jakob * was regarded as peculiar and generally kept to himself. In 
the schoolyard he seldom joined in the games; he usually stood a 
little to one side surrounded by a small group of boys to whom he 
lectured. He read strange books and always knew things of which the 
rest of us had no suspicion. 

His mother was the widow of a miller in Hasle. The father had 
died when Jakob was quite small, and they had then moved to Nekso, 
where the widow had bought a little house. There was a girl also, 
Marie, who in her way was just as strange as the boy. But the strang- 
est of the three was the mother. They lived on their income, which 
assured them of respect and good will; people with money were 
sacrosanct in the little town. Nevertheless, people found the widow 
Hansen peculiar; she didn't associate with anybody and always sat 
at home in semi-darkness beside the big alcove, reading or dreaming, 
with big horn-rimmed spectacles over her eyes and a big cat in her 
lap. Few had seen her, and the strangest ideas about her and her 
household were current. 

The house lay just opposite the farm where I was working; I had 
never been inside, indeed, had scarcely ever exchanged a word with 
Jakob. But I knew a couple of boys who belonged to his narrow 
circle of acquaintances and visited him in his home; and they were 
envied by the other boys. Now and then I saw the mother amble off 
down the street with a jug in her hand and the big cat following 
close at her heels; she was on her way to the baker's to buy bread and 
cream for the coffee. It was said that they lived entirely on coffee and 
bread and did no other housekeeping. Something had snapped in- 
side Widow Hansen when her husband died, they said. 

But Jakob was big and strong. When the disorder in the school 
got out of all bounds, he would interfere, would get up and hold his 

1 Jakob Hansen, 1868-1909. Danish novelist and short story writer, and a pioneer in 
proletarian literature. Nexo has written introductions to some of his works. Tr. 


clenched fist threateningly to his eye. That usually secured quiet. He 
also used to help the backward pupils with their spelling and was 
possessed of a strange, heavy patience. He himself needed no instruc- 
tion; he knew much more than the teacher, and it was the general 
opinion that he should be sent to the Latin school in Ronne. 

And here he was now in the herding field had himself sought me 
out! He looked at me, smiling, with his eyes screwed up and quizzed 
me like a doctor. He had been out to a farm at Bodilskirke and bought 
summer pears; he had a whole basketful. Although he was only a 
year older than I, he seemed to me a grown-up, experienced person; 
and I couldn't understand what had made him take this roundabout 
way to visit me. 

He had thrown himself down beside me and was telling me in a 
low voice about the Indians. There had been a little bit about them 
in Father's big illustrated book, but otherwise I had never heard nor 
read anything about Indians and was very much interested. "Don't 
forget the cattle," he would say quietly now and then; while I ran 
and chased, he lay staring at a particular blade of grass and eating 
pears. And suddenly the basket was empty. "Now I've eaten a whole 
bushel," he said, proudly hitching up his trousers. 

After this he often came out to me and brought books with him 
from which he read aloud, or he narrated the contents of books he 
had read. 

Remote as in a dream, his voice still whispers in my ear as I heard 
it on a certain occasion. It was a rainy day; the boss had given me an 
old raincoat and under it we sat, Jakob and I, with our backs against 
the Langedeby fence. Above us hung the elder branches; the rain 
falling on the elder blossoms released a peculiar perfume suggestive 
of herring brine and then dripped down on our raincoat with a dull 
thud. The raindrops which hit the stone fence beside my face gave off 
a smell of sulphur. The cattle had come up close to me, as they always 
did when it rained or was cold, and stood chewing their cud with their 
tails to the storm. And Jakob told a strange story about a triangle, two 
men who loved the same woman. She had a child who resembled 


now the one and now the other. He was to stay with each fajier in 
turn, but when the boy was with the one, he resembled the other, and 
vice versa, and because of this jealousy arose between them. The boy 
got two gold watches at confirmation and in fact always got two of 
everything until at last he saw everything double. A fantastic tale 
of which I did not understand a whit and which therefore continued 
to haunt me. 

Jakob had the same pensive expression as his sister and his mother, 
his face was roughhewn like theirs with a uniformly gray complexion. 
He was very shy by nature; if he came down the road and discovered 
that there were other boys with me, he would pass by as though he 
didn't know me. When he told stories, he always leaned over to- 
ward me and whispered even when there was nobody there as 
though he were confiding a precious secret to me. 

Although he was the strongest boy in the school and had the best 
head, he was very modest and unpretentious; one of the ways in 
which his modesty expressed itself was in a rare ability to admire 
others. I was not used to being credited with valuable qualities, and 
it meant much that he could see something in me. He admired my 
systematic method of herding: "You're like Napoleon/' he said. "You 
rule by taking thought!" 

This was the first time I had heard Napoleon's name, and Jakob de- 
scribed him to me in such a way that he seemed to me like a great 
fabulous animal, which had taken on human form Napo's lion, the 
lion of the valley, which the Revelation of St. John had prophesied. 
I knew the Book of Revelation; I had read aloud to Grandfather and 
Grandmother from both the Old and New Testaments; and the 
Sunday school had confined itself almost exclusively to Revelation. I 
had never understood it; but now it entered into mystical union with 
our own time and took on thereby a certain grandeur. 

Jakob was impractical; he couldn't carve with a pocket knife nor 
could he learn to crack the cattle whip nor hit an object with a stone. 
He did not know how to judge people; he let his imagination play 
upon everybody he knew in one way or another until they resembled 


people he had read about. And when he went out for a walk, he al- 
ways kept his eyes fixed on the ground, lost in his own thoughts; the 
most obvious things in nature escaped him. He was no observer. But 
even at that time his brain was swarming with ideas. He brought the 
world of books into the life of his friends as he was later to bring 
thoughts and ideas. 


THERE were oxen in my herd, too, five or six head, of various ages. 
They were my pride; no other herdboy had oxen under him. They 
were the boss's gilt-edged bonds; when they attained a substantial 
weight and plumpness, they were sent away by steamer or sold to 
foreign ships which put into the roadstead to take on provisions. This 
adventurous fate, which hung over them from the moment they were 
led to the slaughter, already set them apart. 

They were different from the others outwardly, too. They were 
much larger than the cows; the biggest of them could compare in 
weight with the bull which was always tied up at home in the stable. 
But they grew the other way. While the bull was heavy and deep- 
chested, the steers were long-legged; they looked as though their huge 
bodies were propped up on posts. 

The steers, like the cows, had names. The biggest one was called 
Amor. He was a veritable mountain of flesh. When the animals were 
grazing, Amor towered above the whole herd, which involuntarily 
grouped itself around him. 

Where he had got his rather exacting name, I do not know. I didn't 
connect anything with it myself, and certainly the others on the farm 
didn't either. He was not in the least aggressive; in fact, he was the 
very incarnation of cud-chewing; he never lost his equilibrium. When 
I raised my hand to punish him for something, he merely closed his 

He had the same father and mother as the bull at home, but two 
more different dispositions could hardly be imagined. The bull was 
dangerous to everybody but me, which made it look to me as though 


all the others were afraid of him. Not even the old cowman Hans 
Olsen dared to let him out when the small farmers of the town came 
at the noon hour to have a cow covered. The cow was tied to a ring 
in the wall and the farmyard cleared of people and animals; in the 
stable stood the bull dancing, bellowing, and sniffing the air. He was 
like a loaded mine, and it was quite an art to loose him without being 
tossed aside or trampled down. I kept on the side of him which was 
turned away from the stable door and watched my chance to loose 
the coupling in the fraction of a second that intervened between two 
waves of energy; the moment the iron chain rattled to the ground, 
the colossus shot like a projectile down the long dung alley and 
plunged with a sure leap through the upper half door. He had to clear 
that obstacle for I was the ringmaster of the circus! Hello! I shouted, 
as with outstretched forelegs he shattered the square film of light and 
flew from the darkness of the stable out into the blazing sunshine 
hello! Jehovah jumped through the flaming ring! There he stood for 
a moment in front of the manure pile, curling up his muzzle and 
sniffing the air, and then set of! at a gallop across the deserted barn- 
yard to the cow. 

The bull Per was his name, I ventured to call him Jehovah only 
in my thoughts had for some inexplicable reason chosen me as his 
master; I could do anything I liked with him. And he licked the 
cow and was pleased with her; but otherwise he was at war with every- 
thing and everybody. If there were anything lying round the yard, 
wagons or tools, he tried to overturn them; if a pigeon fluttered down 
on the cobblestones, he made for it with lowered horns. There was 
no room here for anybody but himself, the cow, and me. 

And, of course, the sunlight! It sometimes happened, on very sunny 
days, that the light was the strongest attraction. Then he would for- 
get the cow and run around with his horns raised high, tossing and 
shaking his head and acting as if he had caught the blue sky on his 
horns. On such days he was hard to get into the stable again. He 
would roar and lay his head flat on the ground at my feet. I had to be 
sure to have heavy wooden shoes on. I would kick him over the 

snout and spit out curses; and he would answer by snorting so that 
the sand and chaff flew, paw up the earth, and bellow and back 
slowly toward the stable door. Step by step I forced him back, scold- 
ing and using my wooden shoes, until he turned and with lowered 
head and reluctant pace made his way to his stall. 

One noon when I let him out, he bounded through the half door 
and sniffed in the air as usual, but did not run over to the cow. He 
galloped off to the other end of the yard where the boss had found 
himself something to do. He was annoyed, was the boss, that I was 
the only one who could handle the bull; he was going to show now 
that he was master here. The bull let out a hollow roar and the long 
thin legs of the boss tensed. And suddenly he threw down the rake 
and fled into the barn. He managed to get the lower half door 
closed behind him, but the bull jumped in through the upper half. 
By great good luck they had j ust been working at the oats and a narrow 
passage had been cut between the unthreshed oats and the wall so 
that the seed would not get damp. There the bull could not follow 
and I managed with difficulty to get him out into the yard again. I 
had seldom seen him so angry, and I really felt sorry for the boss; 
after all, it was his bull! Later, when I had got the bull back into his 
stall and securely tied up, the boss came in and took his revenge; he 
struck the bull over the muzzle with a piece of an iron chain and I 
was severely scolded for teaching him circus tricks. But Jehovah re- 
stored our dignity; for a long time after that the boss hardly dared 
show himself in the stable. As soon as the bull saw him, he would 
begin to paw up the litter and stick out his tongue and make a sound 
as though he were vomiting. 

He had a dark, thickset head on a short heavy neck, which was 
leathery and furrowed like the roots of an old oak. When he was 
angry, he turned still darker in the face and the forelock between his 
short horns curled. Then he looked a tremendous, awe-inspiring 
power appearing in a cloud. Hence the name Jehovah! 

There was nothing awe-inspiring about Amor's head, although he 
had an expanse of horn so wide that I could barely span it from tip 


to tip. Amor's face was quite expressionless. He had been deprived of 
all faculties and feelings and was an automaton who ate and lay 
down, ate again and lay down as regularly as a machine works. 

Only when there were dogs in the neighborhood did something, 
seemingly from far away, awaken to life in him and restore his senses; 
he could scent a dog a long way off. Then this great mass of flesh 
would come to life and I had all I could do to keep him in the herd- 
ing field. The enmity between wolf and ox must be appallingly deep- 
seated, since it could survive not only the centuries but also an opera- 
tion which obliterated every other characteristic. Where dogs were 
concerned, Amor could certainly use his legs. And his horns other- 
wise the most useless of all the useless things about him. 

There were a few bottles of punch left over from the harvest festi- 
val. The housekeeper didn't want the men on the farm to get hold of 
them and told me to get rid of them* I decided to give them to my 
good friend the bull. I poured two of them into a pail for him. Amor, 
who must not be entirely overlooked, got the third. It was a merry 
noon in the stable; the whole side where the bull stood rocked and 
swayed, so foolishly did he carry on. He licked his chops, cut circles 
in the air with his head, leaped and lurched with all four legs at 
once like a rocking horse, behaved much beneath his dignity like 
a perfect clown. Andrea, who was trying to milk the cows, wept in 
despair, for he infected the whole herd. "What if the boss should 
come now!" she wailed. "How could you do such a thing?" But the 
boss would certainly keep away from the stable when Jehovah was 
in this ungovernable mood. Every time I rattled a pail, he began to 
act up, licked his lips, writhed with pleasure, and begged. He hum- 
bled himself properly to get another swig, high and mighty though 
he usually was. Amor was the only one who took no part in the 
merriment. He paid for his bottle of punch by lying down for a nap; 
I came pretty near not getting him out of the herding field that after- 

There; was not much fire in Amor the steer; and yet he was the 
jqjMUgr of the berd and set the tone. When the heel flies were bad, the 

calves immediately grew restless, even those who had experienced 
them before; they threw up their tails and began to gallop round. 
The older cows paid no attention as long as Amor remained calm. But 
once he hoisted the danger signal, it was impossible to control the 
herd. Then they all whirled madly about and I tried by constant run- 
ning to round up the animals and keep them together in one spot 
When they were close together, they were not so much afraid; but if 
a single one broke out, the whole herd scattered. Amor also set the 
larger rhythms in the course of the day; at a definite hour, forenoon 
and afternoon, he lay down to chew his cud, and before many minutes 
the whole herd was lying down, too. 

Then I had a quiet hour. When the weather was fine, I used to sit 
between Amor's horns and eat my lunch and roar out my songs with 
my feet dangling against his muzzle. If it was cold and rainy, I 
squeezed in next to his forelegs and warmed myself from his huge 
body. It sounded like a machine working inside him, a big, sofdy 
humming machine with all sorts of little noises. I could listen to his 
various functions, hear the blood pulse through him, the lumps of 
fodder rise, and the organs work. 

Jehovah I also associated the name in my thoughts with the tou- 
sled heads that you saw on certain full-blooded topers and brawlers 
brought in money; every time I let him out to a cow, I took in fifty 
ore. But that went to old Hans Olsen, although he didn't dare come 
near the bull when he was loose. I regarded this as a great injustice and 
tried a time or two, when he was off duty, to keep the money. But 
everything was on such a small scale in the little town that the dis- 
appearance of fifty ore was immediately noticed and I always had to 
make good my "forgetfulness." It was hard to do without money 
altogether. You needed twine for the lash of your cattle whip and 
many other important things.* And I didn't dare touch my wajges. 
The twenty kroner which I was to have for the summer were, pt 
course, to be set aside to buy my confirmation outfit, Eke the 
kroner feoin the summer before and Lord knows how 
money tBat I had earned in tiie last few year?. It i>eeame a s 


joke between Georg and me to say: "Father's out buying confirma- 
tion clothes!" Mother didn't like to hear us say that; she would run 
and put her hand over our mouths. 

But all at once Amor began to bring in money, too, as though he 
didn't want to be left in the shade by his more esteemed brother; and 
he did so by means o the only vestige of his original nature that re- 
mained to him. The herd lay chewing the cud in the middle of the 
pasture; I was sitting between Amor's horns reveling in a very melan- 
choly ballad about unhappy love, beating time with my bare heels on 
his muzzle, and feeling quite happy. He blinked his eyes occasionally 
but was otherwise perfectly calm. 

Suddenly he raised his head, causing me to roll down along his 
back, and was on his feet with a bound. The big, sluggish animal was 
completely transformed; he ran back and forth and sniffed the air 
and then set off toward the gap leading into the Langedeby lands. I 
shouted his name, thundered it out time after time; but he didn't 
hear it, he was oblivious to everything. So I started after him, furious, 
determined to punish him; it was a great reproach to me that he 
should not obey my voice. And it would be still greater if he got into 
the peasants 5 territory; then he would be shut up and it would cost 
the boss sixty-six ore to get him out again. 

Up at the gap a young lady came into view; she was carrying a 
portfolio under her arm and leading a dog on a leash. I had seen her 
pass by before and supposed that she was from a large farm some 
distance away; the music lady I called her in my thoughts. As a rule 
she came driving in a litde gig. 

But how she took on as though calamity itself were upon her I 
"Come and save me, your big bull will gore me! " she shrieked, frantic 
with fear, although Amor was only a steer and I was already at his 
head. He was behaving, however, as though he had turned into a 
bull again or had modeled himself on Jehovah. He snorted ferociously, 
flourished his horns, and flung his head about violently* as though he 
jakeady liad the dog on his horns and was tossing him up in the air 
to give him one over the horns with my dub to bring h^tp tp 

his senses. The root of the horn is the tenderest spot in cattle and I 
felt sorry for Amor; but I had to do it. He went down on one knee 
roaring with pain, then turned around and dragged himself back to 
the herd again, holding his head awry in agony not a trace of bravado 
left in him. And I was able to accompany the terrified young lady 
down to the boundary of the town. For this I received ten ore. 

The ten ore were not easily earned, however, for I had to hold the 
young lady by the hand all the way; otherwise she was afraid, she 
said. It was an embarrassing situation and I was very uncomfortable; 
somebody might see us and like this! But ten ore was a lot of money 
enough to make me do violence to my shyness. 

She talked elegantly, and how she could chatter! About the sun, 
about the sea which lay there blue and streaked with white, about 
everything you could think of, she rambled on. I was depressed by 
my predicament and said nothing, simply walked along wishing that 
she would hurry up and give me the ten ore so that I could get back 
to the herd. But she kept on, catching her breath and jumping from 
one marvel to another, until I felt foolish listening to her. 

She came again and we grew rather friendly after a fashion. I used 
to watch for her and missed her if she stayed away; but I never felt 
quite easy with her. She left the dog at home now, but I still had to 
escort her to the edge of the town. "Then we can have such a nice 
chat; you're so sensible. But why won't you hold my hand?** 

"Oh, just because," I mumbled. 

She laughed sofdy: " 'J ust because' that's a funny reason. And 
yet you're my rescuer! If my friend were here, he wouldn't be afraid 
to hold my hand." 

"Fm not afraid either." 

"Qh, dear, how gruff you are! No, I saw that all right you certmrjiy 
jpitqhed into that bull!" 

^, that was just Amor, And he's w> bull/* 

> That's a funny jjame for 1 
r, tha has son 

body who is big and strong and good and who is not afraid to jump 
out of the second-storey window." 

I was annoyed that she thought me small and her interpretation of 
the word "friend" puzzled me. "I'm not afraid to jump off the beam 
in the barn/' I said. 

"Yes, but that's not so high. And if he were to break his leg, then " 
She squeezed my hand and shuddered. A queer one if only she'd 
hurry up with the ten ore! 

"Then he'd get his leg set," I said. "Father broke his leg when he 
was a boy and Grandmother set it with hazel sticks. Then he just 
crawled round till it grew together again." 

"Oh, no, how terrible! Then they'd catch him!" 

"Who'd catch him?" Now it was beginning to get exciting. But 
she gave me five ore and hurried away. Only five ore she gave me 
that, no doubt, was because I hadn't held her hand all the way. 

Who caught him? And why did he jump out of the window? The 
question tormented me out there in my solitude. Her hand which 
squeezed mine when she got excited and which was alternately hot 
and cold I didn't like it! I certainly felt uncomfortable with her and 
yet I missed her. 

She liked best to talk about love. "Of course, you don't know what 
it is, to be sure," she would interrupt. "For you're still so small." She 
was always bringing that up. 

"I do so know what it is. For it's about two people who can't get 
married and then she has a baby," I answered indignantly. 

She gave a start. "Then I'm going to have a baby," she said, putting 
her hand to her heart. "For my love is unhappy, all right. We can 
never get married." She began to cry. 

There was certainly nothing to be seen on her I had gradually 
acquired a sharp eye for that. But she was crying, and that's what 
they did in the ballads! This was no very cheerful secret to have; I 
had become the confidant of misfortune. To fortify myself I sang all 
my melancholy ballads about guilty love and women who got into 
trouble, cried them out all day long to relieve my mind of another's 


pain. I was afraid of her, and shy as boys are of pregnant women, and 
kept as far from the road as possible with the herd. But this did not 
free me from her; her sorrow hung over my mind like a crepe. 

I was sitting one day singing over my lunch basket, taking a bite 
now from one sandwich and now from another, and humming as I 
munched. The result was a dolorous wail which had a soothing effect 
on my mind. Suddenly a shadow fell upon me and made me look up. 
There she stood bending over me and staring with a greedy expres- 
sion. Her nostrils were twitching in and out and she was breathing 
heavily. For a moment I thought she was a witch who meant to harm 
me. She had caught me quite unawares, although I could always tell 
when anybody was approaching; and she was fair and beautiful, as 
the really dangerous witches in the books always are. 

But my fear passed off again. Her face was so gende and so un- 
happy. "Sing that song again for me," she begged, and I had to sing 
the song about the sailor and his secret bride. She had stealthily 
drawn my hand over to her and pressed it as I sang in a very quaver- 
ing voice: 

Bind up, bind up thy fair gold hair, 
For thou this year a son shalt bear 
Nor sobs nor plaints can aid thee. 
In forty weeks I'll come again 
And see how thou art faring then. 
The forty weeks went softly by 
And then the maid began to wail . . . 

I got no further, for the music lady wept as though she were being 
whipped; she sat there rocking back and forth and was all broken 
up. She had rubbed the tears over her face with her hands until her 
eyelashes stuck to the lids. She wept like a willful little child. I did 
not know how to comfort her and in my distress reached out a sand- 
wich to her; it was of roast veal, the best I had. And she took a bite 
from the sandwich, and dried her eyes, and took another bite; and 


suddenly she looked brightly at me: "What do we care about the 
stupid old song anyway?" she said, smiling. "My friend is over 
yonder waiting for a message from me!" She pointed at an English 
man-of-war which was manning the yards out in the roadstead. The 
sun fell on the half-furled sails, and how relieved I felt! Then the un- 
fortunate girl had a father for her child and everything was all right. 
All she had to do was send a message to him; and there was no time 
to lose. All of a sudden it would come over her, and I was frightened, 
for if Perhaps it would be the same with her as with Mother. She 
might just be sitting there chatting and suddenly she would begin 
to make faces; and before you could look round, there was a little 
sister! She was extremely restless, she sat tearing up the grass and 
kicking her heels. 

She had a letter in her bosom. She wanted me to row out with it 
while she minded the cattle. I didn't dare; something inside me was 
constantly on guard against her. "Well, run down to the harbor with 
it, then, and give it to the pilot," she said. "He'll take it out all right." 
It was a crazy idea but at the moment it seemed quite natural to me; 
and I promised to run down with the letter in the evening. She 
laughed with joy. "Now we have a father for our child," she said, 
clapping her hands. I was happy, too; all the doleful ballads were 
wrong; now there was a father for the child! 

When I had tied the cattle in and had my supper, I set off. I went 
round by home just to say good evening. "Oh, so you've come!" ex- 
claimed Mother. "We don't see much of you any more!" 

I showed her the letter and told her about the music lady. All the 
sorrow and joy rose up in me again. I was ready to howl. 

Mother stared at me with eyes that got rounder and rounder. Her 
mouth, too, became round; she looked as if she were going to fall 
over backward. Then she turned me round and peered at my back. 

"Why are doing that?" I asked sulkily. Something began to dawn 
on me. 

"Oh, I just wanted to see if 'blockhead' was written on your back. 
Can't you see that it's an old envelope and that there's no proper ad- 


dress: To the Captain from the Mother of his Child.' Such awful 
rubbish! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you ought indeed. It 
must be that girl from Storgaarden who runs round thinking she's 
going to have a baby all the time and always by a sea captain. If 
only she doesn't come to grief some fine day! Well" Mother stroked 
my hair "you're not the first to be made a fool of by her craziness. 
But that you were no wiser than that!" 

It was a pretty kettle of fish and the stupid ballads were to blame. 
And still I couldn't get them out of my mind; there was too much 
sweetness in them. And how could it be helped if a poor crazed girl 
enjoyed them? But I was careful not to sing the ballads too loudly 
and kept an eye on the road, too. When the music lady appeared, I 
set off at a gallop and got very busy herding the cattle. She suddenly 
disappeared out of my life, was probably put in an institution. 

That she was the unhappy one and I the one who was reveling in 
her unhappiness did not for a moment occur to me. Everything can be 
traced, of course, to eroticism; and my feeling of loneliness which 
properly understood! was nothing else but the fact that I was still 
far out on the fringe of the extensive realm of Eros, caused me to seek 
compensation in that condensed form of human companionship of 
which the ballads were an expression. It sounds complicated, but it's 
really very simple if you can only understand it. 

Amor is the best proof of this! He made up for his fatal lack by 
weighing almost two thousand pounds, and that was his brilliant 
compensation. As a matter o fact, he was sold just at this time to the 
English man-of-war which was maneuvering off the coast. He be- 
came steaks for the sailors and took immediate satisfaction for all his 
ignominy. It was chiefly his fault when on the next shore leave they 
took possession of the town and had a riotous time with girls and 

How good-naturedly he had always submitted to my whip right up 
to the last! And now he suddenly set the cat-o'-nine-tails going. 


HERE and there in the town were long, half-timbered buildings, often 
with as many as twenty windows, with curtains and flowers in all of 
them, so that it was clear that there were living rooms within. I simply 
couldn't understand what use people could have for all those rooms. 
There was the big brewer's place in the middle of Storegade; in 
front of the high, half-timbered house in which the family lived stood 
a couple of gigantic trees, right up against the wall, overshadowing 
everything. The big black doorway led into a deep courtyard full of 
tools and small sheds and surrounded by long barns with many black 
shutters and doors. Everything at the brewer's was black, and he him- 
self was the blackest of all. His bushy black hair and beard stood out 
around his head and his bare chest and arms were black with hair. 
He always went round in suspenders with his sleeves rolled up and 
his shirt open at the neck. He looked like a wild man and was said 
to have an ugly temper. The only person who could tame him was his 
wife, people said. She was just as mild as he was surly; there was al- 
ways a bright smile under her white cap when she measured out the 
milk to the customers in the morning. She usually gave us boys a 
pear as well. But Mother scolded because the milk was thin; it had 
been watered. "The sweet smile has to make up for the cream," said 
Mother. "People don't get rich on nothing!" 

It was the general opinion that the brewer was immensely wealthy. 
He had been a sealer with his own ship in his younger days and had 
also practiced piracy; it was said that his name was on the black list 
over in the capital. Besides the brewery and a good-sized farm, he 
also had a share in his brother's shipping business. 


The brother, who owned the big place next door, did not farm. He 
dealt in corn, lumber, coal, and general merchandise and carried on 
a large shipping business; the Berg shipping company had at one 
time over a hundred ships at sea. He was regarded as the most in- 
fluential man in the town, but was very plain although he did wear 
leather shoes even on weekdays. The brewer, on the contrary, wore 
big wooden shoes both weekdays and Sundays. 

Either Georg or I used to go down with the wheelbarrow to the 
brewery every Saturday for a keg o beer. It was not real beer but 
something on that order; it was the rinsings from the casks and brew- 
ing vats and cost forty ore for a small keg of seventeen or eighteen 
quarts. If the old master brewer Hans Holm were in good humor, he 
might take you down with him into the deep cellar and let you taste 
beer, real beer, that flowed thick and sweet over the tongue and gave 
you a queer feeling, as though you were both happy and melancholy 
at the same time. 

We were more familiar with Merchant Berg's yard. On Saturdays 
it was filled to overflowing with peasant wagons; then he would come 
out himself and ask the peasants in and tell the hostlers how to ar- 
range the vehicles to make most room. You could often earn a few 
pennies by helping to hitch and unhitch or by running errands for 
the peasants. But you had to be careful not to run into town for some- 
thing which the merchant himself carried, even if it were cheaper 
somewhere else; for then he would put you out of the yard. 

My brother and I had been exceptionally good when it came to 
ferreting out jobs; at first the other boys could not compete with us 
at all. They waited in the good old-fashioned way for somebody to 
send for them; but we hunted up the jobs ourselves, tried as far as 
possible to be on hand wherever an opportunity was likely to turn 
up. It didn't last long, however; we soon had the others at our heels; 
they kept watch on us and followed us to get a share in the velvet. We 
tried our best to hold off the competition, but it was only a short time 
until several of them learned the ropes and were already on the spot 
when we arrived. This caused fights, and here Georg was always 


generous; he would shove me behind him and take the worst knocks 
himself. "You just howl/ 5 he said, "so you'd better keep back. But 
watch out that nobody lets fly at me from behind! And when I jump 
out of my wooden shoes, you nab them in a hurry." He could hop 
out of both shoes at once; and if I were only quick enough in picking 
them up, he would have them on his hands like boxing gloves in a 

But now all this was over. We could do the same things as the other 
boys here, fish and harvest and work with animals; they, in turn, had 
learned our tricks. My brother and I began to notice that there were 
many boys for every job; it was no longer easy to find work, especially 
in winter. When I got tired of staying at home I had the advantage of 
being able to fall back on the farm where I herded in summer. But 
Georg had to stay at home and go with Father to the Hills. 

I was always welcome at the farm. When they were threshing or 
cutting straw, I used to drive the horses or clear away straw; other- 
wise I entertained the cowman and the stableboy or sat in the servants' 
hall and teased the maids. Then they would make sandwiches for 
me and bring out a bowl of milk. The servants were always the same, 
and Mother said that was proof that it was a good place and I should 
stick to it. 

I had had an offer of another place with a big merchant who also 
had a farm, but Mother advised me against it. She didn't like the big 
merchants. "They're all black," she said, "and that's because they've 
sold their souls to the devil. That's why they have everything in their 
pockets.'' They were the people who decided everything; if ordinary 
people wanted to get anywhere, they had to try to be taken under 
the wing of one of the big merchants. They were a peculiar tribe; they 
were nearly all related to each other the island over. They looked 
different from other people and their names were not like the ordi- 
nary ones either. 

Mother thought that they had these unusual names and looked so 
strange so that you could watch out for them. And Grandfather said 
the same. They had originally come here from afar with a whole 

chest of money which they wished to make productive; just as other 
people sowed grain, they deposited money wherever there was soil. If 
a peasant's cow or a horse died, they were there at once to offer him 
another on credit. All you had to do was put your name on a paper 
and you were helped out immediately. And how helped? One fine 
day they had everything in their pockets. Thus did they prepare the 
soil and then settle down in the town and become big merchants. 
Now they had steady customers and could set the price themselves; 
God help the peasant who bought and sold elsewhere. "Beware of the 
big merchants," said Grandfather. 

And Mother was of the same opinion. "They won't give credit to 
those who need it; and they cheat on the weight just as much as the 
small dealers." We had credit now anyway; we had started to deal 
with Mr. Jorgensen on the Market Square, and he was often very 
lenient when the winter was long and hard. 

"Yes, but he's got a name that ends in 'sen' like the rest of us poor 
devils; and just look and see whether he has anything to say in the 
affairs of the town," persisted Mother. "The big fellows know the 
ones they let in." 

They had the deciding word in town affairs, in the stone quarry, 
and at the harbor; those skippers who owned their own vessels had 
a hard time finding cargoes. Laborers and small folk didn't venture 
to have an opinion at all. You just put up with things and took re- 
venge on them behind their backs. 

The big half-timbered houses with the long rows of windows and 
the huge trees in front furnished the staple of conversation for the 
townspeople; they followed what went on behind the curtains, and 
lived on mulling over the doings of the great. They were neither gay 
nor happy, the tales that were told of the owners of the big commercial 
houses; these people exceeded the common measure, and the more ex- 
tensive their holdings, the more people bowed down to them and the 
more they mistrusted them. One of the big merchants had established 
a savings bank; this was taken as a sign that he was in financial diffi- 

culties and people preferred to keep their money at home in the bot- 
tom of the chest. 

"Look out," warned Grandfather. "This is the second generation 
and now the wastrels are here. Every time the devil gives anybody a 
sack of money, the Lord puts a wastrel into the bag, so that it won't 
always be in the same hands. That's His justice!" 

There was something in it, all right; everything that put up a fine 
show was not gold and riches. Gossip kept the big businesses as 
though in a Ferris wheel; now they were up high and now down low 
again. There could not possibly be any blessing in money that owed 
its origin to slave trading and privateering. Thus they had the big 
houses rocking and tottering, and when one of them failed, they nod- 
ded and said: the punishment of God! Perhaps Grandfather was 
right; they usually had burdens enough to bear, great droves of rela- 
tives who lived in the large dwelling and led a life of idleness and 
luxury at the expense of the house, unsuccessful sons-in-law and good- 
for-nothing sons who, while they were still schoolboys, stole from the 
till and always had their pockets filled with money and good things 
carob beans and Brazil nuts. 

Bankruptcy, which has since become a regular profession, and a 
profitable one, was at that time not yet properly respected. "Bank- 
rupt" was a strong term of abuse; everybody had to pay his own way 
if he were to be regarded as a respectable person. And in cash! When 
H. the baker went bankrupt, his relatives and friends regarded it as 
a great injustice that his house and furniture should be sold at a forced 
auction; they took all his movable property out at night and buried 
it in their gardens. It was almost as unjust for his creditors to take his 
furniture as to chop off his hand, people thought. 

In my childhood there was an old lady in Nekso who used to sit 
in front of a window and stare out into the street; she had a mirror 
so placed that she could follow everything that happened there. But 
she didn't let herself be seen; the curtain was drawn all day long, and 
she never appeared in the town. She hadn't been on the street for 
twenty-eight years, not since her husband went bankrupt. He was 


the first bankrupt in Nekso and he hanged himself. She lived on, 
but shame kept her in hiding; she knitted for people, and from her 
small means she paid off a little of the debt every year. Not until it 
was all paid would she show herself on the street again, she thought. 
She never succeeded, but there she sat paying off until her legs grew 
crippled. And still she kept on paying, until they carried her out to 
the churchyard. 

The government officials were amusing with their outlandish speech 
and manners; the two or three commercial houses lent a certain per- 
spective to existence, and the Swedish seasonal workers gave it color. 
But the native population didn't cut much of a dash. They were just 
as sleepy as the steers in my herd, chewed the cud over things and 
stared amicably the while upon existence, ate and lay down, ate and 
lay down. Only when one of them got a glimpse of Satan did any- 
thing happen; then he went berserk and tried to take the foul fiend 
by the horns. 

Occasionally a breath of fresh air blew in from abroad; ships came 
home after voyages lasting years; they stirred up people's minds. 
Bearded sailors walked through the streets and ducked in under 
their low thatched roofs to visit wives and children. They brought 
with them strange objects from the coast of Africa and remote is- 
lands off New Zealand; often they brought their wages, too or what 
was left of them. And they were generally welcome, unless they hap- 
pened to stay away too long like Edvard Funk. 

I had been out at Balka one day to help the old people churn. I had 
stayed all night to warm Grandmother, who had a pain in the small 
of her back, and came in to town with Grandfather the next day. On 
the road we met Edvard Funk's old mother, who was on her way out 
to the bog for a barrow of brushwood. 

"Any news, Anders Mortensen?" she asked, setting down her bar- 

"Not so far as I know, except that the womenfolk are going so long 
this year," said Grandfather with an arch look. 


"Yes, it certainly seems that way," answered the old woman. 'Tor 
it's twelve months now since Edvard sailed and my daughter-in-law 
is still expecting!" The story went round the town, and when Ed- 
vard came home shortly after, everybody looked at him in such a way 
that he knew what was wrong. He hurried off home to beat his wife, 
but he himself was the one that got the beating. "You can take that 
for staying away so long," said Edvard Funk's wife; she beat her hus- 
band because she had a baby by another man. 

But they were usually welcome when they returned home from the 
long, long voyage. The children came to school in their best clothes, 
looking very important. There must be law and order now in the 
home, which had just got along as best it could while the father was 
away. There must be training and no sparing of the rod. They usually 
upset things pretty thoroughly, these fathers, strangers that they were 
to their homes; you could usually tell from the squalling behind the 
small windowpanes that now Father had come home and taken com- 
mand. It was a good thing that they did come home else they 
would have been still greater strangers. But it was a good thing, too, 
that they went away again. 

Otherwise there was not much life in the town. Grandfather 
was right when he called the townspeople castrated peasants. The 
town was simply a piece of peasant country that had moved in; it had 
no character or individuality. The people in the town didn't think 
for themselves nor undertake anything on their own initiative. They 
had dragged the land along with them; even the sailor families were 
small fanners. But they hadn't the true spirit; they had left their 
peasant qualities behind them. They were petty and pottering, and 
were happiest when they poked their heads out of the doorway wirh 
their nightcaps on to scan the weather, or stood down at the harbor 
with their backs against a pile of boards and their hands in their 
pockets, criticizing the ships out at sea for their rigging and navi- 
gation. They wouldn't get into a boat themselves and most of them 
were afraid of the water. They didn't like books; if they caught one 
of us boys behind a hedge or a rock on the beach with a book, they 


would take it away from us and burn it as something dangerous. 
They fairly hated the school it put notions in people's heads and 
kept the children from working. 

Once in a while, however, they would awaken to something like 
intellectual responsibility. I had not spent very much time in school, 
but I had learned from working and was not behind those boys who 
had nothing to do but go to school In practical matters I was ahead 
of most of them, and the ones I couldn't thrash, when they came out 
and tried to give themselves airs with the herdboy, I could run away 

There was not much of what can be learned out in the open that I 
did not know. I could walk on my hands and smoke a clay pipe at the 
same time, turn handsprings, and jump over Sobaekken where it 
was broadest. I couldn't learn to fly; there was a big bauta stone 
close to the pasture, and I used to climb up on top of it and throw 
myself down with my coat spread out. But each time I fell down on 
the grass and hurt my stomach. So I gave that up and tried instead 
to discover how the cattle managed to chew the cud. I envied them 
this ability but I couldn't acquire it. 

Aside from flying and cud-chewing, however, the animals didn't 
know very much beyond the tricks I taught them. I was anything 
but lazy when it came to learning something new or merely passing 
the time. All over the herding field there were round rings in the 
grass, as though a circus tent had been pitched there. I had made 
these all by myself, galloping round, often by the hour, kicking and 
neighing playing circus horse. But if it were suddenly necessary to 
chase one of the catde, I immediately became lazy. Oh, what a nui- 
sance it was to have to run after such a creature, it was just intolerable! 
I would make use of all my intellectual faculties to avoid using my 
legs and got to the point where I could master the herd by means of 
my person and my voice. You don't count your steps when you're 
dancing; it was only when it was a matter of something useful that 
I was economical of my strength. And this characteristic is probably 
the cause of most progress. 


When I was sitting between Amor's horns dangling my legs and 
bawling out my ballads, I used to keep my hands deep in my pockets. 
No boy likes to be disturbed when he has his hands in his pockets; 
and then it would probably happen that a saucy fly would come along 
and settle itself on my ear. I would have to take my hand out of my 
pocket and chase it away, and then it would fly down on one of 
Amor's ears. But all he had to do was twitch his ear to drive It away! 
It annoyed me, this advantage that he had over me, and I practiced 
until I grew able to twitch my ears quite cleverly too. And that saved 
me once in a difficult situation. 

The good citizens of the town had suddenly succumbed to an at- 
tack of a kind of intellectual responsibility; and this time I happened 
to be the cause of it. I could tell from the eyes that rested upon me 
that something was brewing; and one day the light broke through. 
It was my immortal soul that was worrying them. There was that 
herdboy running round in the pasture and spending all his time 
among mere animals. He didn't go to school and he didn't hear the 
word of God what was to become of him? It was not their inten- 
tion, of course, to interfere with things as God had created them and 
send me to school. A herdboy is not supposed to go to school; he is 
supposed to herd. But something had to be done, something simply 
had to be done about my immortal soul, so that when the time came 
I could be confirmed and go out in the world to make my living. 
Consequently it was decided that I should appear on a certain eve- 
ning at the municipal school to be catechized. 

It was a very serious business, and I was let off early that day. 
The cattle were put into the paddock and I ran home to Mother and 
had my ears scrubbed. Many of the small tradesmen of the town 
were assembled in the schoolroom. They were in a serious mood 
There was a strange smell in the room of Sunday 'clothes and church 
air. Dean Olsen was present in full canonicals and himself con- 
ducted the examination. Searching eyes were fixed upon me from 
all sides; I felt as I have felt since when getting a visa for a Fascist 
or Nazi country. 

We began right at the beginning, with, creation: "And the Lord 


God said unto the serpent, upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust 
shalt thou eat, and thou " Then I came to a standstill; I knew it 
perfectly well, knew large parts of the Bible by heart; but the situa- 
tion overwhelmed me. 

"Slowly now, quietly now," said the dean. "There's no hurry at all 
And why did the serpent have to go upon his belly?" 

"Because he hadn't any limbs," I answered, with my eyes on the 
floor. I was afraid to look at all the faces staring at me round about 
with open mouths. 

"Correct, correct! And can you tell me then what a limb is?" 

I knew what it was all right, better than the dean, perhaps; but I 
wasn't very strong on definitions you didn't learn that out in the 
herding field. "Well " said the dean "a limb is something that 
you well! that you can move, such as ?" 

"Ears!" I burst out, happy that it was being made so easy for me. 

"Oh, really!" The dean looked at me over his spectacles. "Oh, 
really, now, can you move your ears?" 

"Yes." I blushed to the roots of my hair. I felt that it was now or 

"I'd certainly like to see that!" 

So I cleverly twitched my ears. The dean laughed till his stomach 
shook and gave me "excellent" in religion. And the situation was 
saved. People left the schoolroom chatting, and I learned later that 
I had made a strong impression on them. For a time the townspeople 
even talked of taking up a collection so that I could be sent to Latin 
school and later study for the ministry; for since I had already gone 
so far out there in the herding field, what might I not become if I 
were kept to books? It never got beyond talk, however, and I lived 
on out with the catde under the open sky. 

As a result of the examination, however, I was allowed to go to 
confirmation classes without further difficulty. Otherwise the herd- 
boys generally had a hard time. They were forcibly removed from 
school and then a fearful row was raised because they didn't know 
anything. They were even threatened with exclusion from confir- 



ON the whole I was well treated as herdboy. The boss might scold 
me now and then, but that didn't happen very often. And he never 
offered to strike me. The same was true of the other herdboys; the 
place might be better or worse as far as food was concerned, but the 
boys were always humanely treated. Tragedies such as the herdboys 
in Jutland seem so often to have suffered abuse, overwork, and 
beating I never experienced myself and do not remember ever 
having heard o If such things have occurred in Bornholm, they are 
the exception. The Bornholmer is very much like the Southerner in 
his relation to children; he dislikes to punish them and is very for- 

Both the foreman and the two maids were kind to me. They 
might be a little violent in their kindness; Andrea especially would 
sometimes take a notion to hug me and crush me in her strong arms. 
I didn't like it, but I didn't take it for more than it was meant to be. 
When she kissed me, I would revenge myself by going over into a 
corner and spitting and making faces as though I had got something 
very nasty in my mouth; then she would laugh and slip me some- 
thing good. Andrea was one of the pious, or at least she went to 
their meetings; but she didn't have a holier-than-thou attitude. She 
was a big, strapping girl and pretty, too but her eyes were red- 
rimmed. I put that down to the fact that the foreman was friendly 
with the other maids also. They were sweethearts, of course, he and 
she; that went without saying, since he was the foreman and she was 
the head maid. However strict people were in other matters, that was 
considered quite the proper thing. They didn't try to interfere with 


time-honored customs, but were content to keep an eye on the maids, 
take the measure of their aprons, so to speak. And if anything went 
wrong, a decent man was expected to marry his fellow servant. 

One day when I came into the servants' hall I found Andrea with 
her eyes red from weeping. My glance must have gone involuntarily 
to her lap, for she jumped up and caught me by the head. "No, you 
can be sure it's not that," she said, pressing her tearstained face 
against mine. The trouble was that she was seriously in love with 
Peter Ibsen. 

We had no second man; in the busy time the boss hired day 
laborers. They were usually married and moreover were regarded 
as a lesser breed. Thus the pretty little Karoline, the second maid, 
was treated like a stepchild. She had round, red cheeks like an apple 
and long, heavy lashes that veiled her eyes and gave her a melan- 
choly expression which appealed to my boyish mind. She had grown 
up in the great forest of Almindingen, which held so much that was 
beautiful and so much that was horrible. Other people were always 
longing to go there and were delighted if they could take a trip to 
Almindingen once a year; and there she had grown up, had spent 
her childhood amidst the robber castles and the black, dreamy moun- 
tain pools! This surrounded her with a peculiar halo of romance, 
and her fate cast its shadow over her life like a veil. Her father was a 
forester and had lost his life when a tree fell on him. Since his death 
the family had lived by picking berries and making heather brooms. 
And they used to help the innkeepers at the big forest picnics and 
hunt in the grass for money afterward. They had to hope for many 
drunken people, who would talk thickly and lose their money, so 
that they themselves might have food and clothing. 

I liked her for all this and was sorry for her sake that we had no 
second man. She was younger than Andrea and not so violent; she 
never mauled me, and when she asked me for a kiss, I gave it to her 

But Andrea gave me the best lunch basket. She knew how to 
prepare food and took particular pains to show the foreman what a 


good housewife she would make. Karoline was more careless; she 
would cut the bread thick at one side and thin at the other, and 
pack the sandwiches so that they stuck together. On the other hand, 
there was always a red apple in the basket when she had packed it. 

Children in the country know early all about many subjects which 
the city child can only guess at; and they come by their knowledge in 
a natural way, which takes away from it any taint of excitement or 
piquancy. I used to let the bull out almost every day and lead him 
to the cow as the most natural thing in the world; I had the erotic 
constantly before my eyes everywhere in nature, and it was not diffi- 
cult to transfer what I saw into the world of human beings. I knew 
all that there was to know about this thing, and recognized also the 
significance of the red apple; I ate it with a good appetite and it didn't 
do me any harm. But when there were other boys with me, I took 
care that they didn't see it. They might easily get the idea that there 
was something behind it; and sexual lapses among boys were the 
most contemptible thing we knew. The least step in this direction 
was enough to brand a boy and bar him from our circle. That was 
the business of grown-up people, and we kept strictly away from it. 

Perhaps the girls had not quite so much discipline within their 
ranks. They all had the habit of going in groups to the toilet 
something which we boys despised; and a few among them were 
very bold when you were alone with them. They were lanky wenches 
who were fond of sweets and usually brought some to school with 
them, wherever they got them. When we went on picnics to the 
woods together, to the Dawn or the Cliff, we were careful not to 
get near them; to be caught by one of them in a game was like touch- 
ing something unclean. I have always had to think back to my own 
boyish years and the strict puritanism that ruled among us, when I 
have read stories of the depravity of children. We grew up in the 
midst of the erotic without being affected by it. 

Karoline was only eighteen and small of stature. For that reason 
alone I felt more companionable with her than with Andrea, who was 
big and massive. And the melancholy in Karoline's eyes lured 

forth all my sorrowful ballads. When the foreman wanted to go 
for a walk with Andrea in the town meadow of a summer evening, 
she always liked to have Karoline along; for they were not formally 
engaged, of course, she and Peter. Karoline made it a condition that 
I should go, too; she didn't want to be third wheel to the carriage. 
I was tired and sleepy after the long day, but sometimes had to give 
in to them anyway. There we would sit overlooking the town fields 
and meadows and, in the distance, the ocean, which sank deeper and 
deeper in the hot violet dusk; and I would sing a ballad about love. 
It had to be a sad one, and Andrea would sink down on the fore- 
man's breast. Karoline's lashes would droop still more sorrowfully 
over her eyes; it seemed to me that they reached right down on her 
cheek. I felt sorry for her and put my arm around her waist. But 
when she began to breathe heavily, I became frightened and thought 
of some excuse to run away remembered suddenly that I had prom- 
ised Mother to look in at home and dashed off to the farm to bed. 

There was a calf-house in the middle of one side of the farmyard. 
In one corner of it was the hired men's room. There we slept, Peter 
Ibsen and I, in a wide double bed. On in the night I might be wakened 
by somebody standing over me touching my face. "Are you asleep?" 
Peter would whisper. I would pretend that I was and roll over, as 
though in my sleep, to the wall. Then they would whisper and creep 
under the comforter, Andrea Uttering and Peter hushing her. They 
had shaken off Karoline. 

When I was ready to drive the cattle out the next morning and 
came in to get my lunch basket, Andrea would look at me through 
narrowed eyes with a questioning expression. I was ashamed and 
could not meet her glance; I grabbed the basket, but she caught me 
and took me in her arms. Her dress smelled of food and was spotted, 
and her whole being was repulsive to me, as though exposed. I dug 
an elbow into her breast and ran. 

Karoline was not like that; there was nothing repulsive about her 
no strange smell. She might have been an older sister. Nor did she 
kiss differently from my little sisters when they were pleased with 


me with open mouth and thoughtful expression so that there was 
nothing to be afraid of. Her mouth was always slightly pursed, as 
thought it had just let go of the nipple. But when Andrea stole a 
kiss, her mouth was wet. Nevertheless, it was Karoline who was 
to put my boyish mind to the severest test. 

By fall the pasture was usually dry and cropped off bare. But by 
that time the meadows in the town commons and also the clover 
fields had grown up after the summer mowing and were ready for 
grazing. The milk cows came along, too, now, and I was rid of the 
ones from the many cottages; this made the herd more compact and 
easier to handle. But it was also more difficult to herd on the com- 
mons; the boss had one field here and one there, some land toward 
the north and some away up on the top of Aspesbakken. It was a 
big job to drive the cows out and back along the narrow field paths; 
and the herding itself gave you plenty to do when you had to keep 
twenty or thirty cattle on about an acre of meadow or clover field with 
open boundaries on all sides. I was seldom visited by boys from the 
town now. They couldn't find me. The boss didn't tell me until the 
morning where I was to go with the cows. He would take an early 
walk round the commons and come home wet with dew, while the 
rest of us were sitting at breakfast. "You'd better go out to Holvedje 
today, Martin," he said one morning. "And the rest of us can get 
at the barley at Branastaelinj." 

I was not easy to find and didn't have much company; Jakob, who 
had often visited me at the pasture, I saw no more. Sometimes my 
sisters would come out to glean grain in a nearby field. They were 
quite as busy as I was, but still it was some relief just to know that 
they were there. Oh, how I missed my pasture with its gravel pits 
and damp hollows, the long, heather-clad Gallows Hill, the water 
holes, which were left where the sandstone had been removed. And 
I missed being able to see home. How often had I not run up on 
Gallows Hill and stared across the lake, gladdened and strengthened 
if Mother happened to come out on the kitchen steps just then and 
look out with her hand up to her eyes. 

Here there was nothing but square fields and meadows, well cared 
for and orderly. There wasn't even a lizard here that you could train 
to come when you called it and slip up under your hat while you ran 
after the cattle. They were very affectionate., the lizards, once they 
got to know you; they liked to be petted and would bend their necks 
when you stroked them on the side of the head with one finger. The 
fine skin of the neck went in and out as though there were something 
beating inside. They were quick on the move, and clever at snap- 
ping flies but they had no objection to your catching flies for them. 
Here on the commons there were no lizards. There were plants that 
you could catch flies for, low, sticky plants gaping greedily in the 
grass. If you put an insect inside them it stuck there and the plant 
closed around it. When it opened up again, the insect was eaten. 

It was fun to try this, but still the plant was stupid; if you put in a 
little lump of turf as big as a fly, it would close up just the same. 

There is one bright spot in my memories of the commons. I was 
herding in a meadow at the foot of Aspesbakken on the north side 
and had made a cave for myself in the stone drain underneath an old 
driveway. And one day I found in the wall of the drain a powder 
horn which some hunter had hidden there. The gun I had already; 
amongst the junk in Grandfather's attic I had once found a key of 
the good, old-fashioned type, hollow and big enough to knock a man 
down with. I filed a touchhole in it and fastened it firmly to a piece 
of wood. I had a grand time shooting with it until one day the pow- 
der gave out. 

When all the grain was off the fields, there came a good time again. 
Then we herdboys, according to the old custom, did away with the 
boundaries, allowed the cattle to graze over the whole place, and 
collected in a group. It was a gay time, with pirate games and jumping 
over the brook. We kept warm by our own efforts and dried our 
wet clothing beside the bonfire. The cold, sleety fall came all too 
quickly to an end. 

I did most of my herding up on Aspesbakken; the boss had several 
fields together there, and there was a broad view over the town and 

the sea. We were hauling home grain from one of the big barley 
fields, and I was herding on a last-year's clover patch between the 
barley and Aspesskoven. The clover field was big and the woods 
formed a natural barrier at the back, so that it was easy to herd; I 
spent most of my time over with the harvesters. 

It was one of the busiest harvest days. The boss had not been able 
to get hold of any day laborers. The work on the new harbor, where 
the wages were much higher, had absorbed all the spare men. And 
the grain had to be got home. So we were hauling with three wagons 
and only one team of horses. The maids did the loading. The fore- 
man was on the road all the time, driving the load home and bringing 
the empty wagon out again. And the boss and Hans Olsen were at 
home pitching off the loads and storing the grain in the mow. It 
was possible to haul with three wagons and only one team, because 
the grain had been put up in stacks containing one load each. Andrea 
built the load. She was the stronger and should really have "pitched 
on" but Karoline couldn't build a load so that it would neither 
slide nor upset; it took lots of practice to do that. It was hard for her 
to pitch on, too; as the load gradually got higher, I would give her a 
hand with the pitchfork. When we hoisted the heavy grain up to- 
gether, she would give me a motherly look with her kind eyes, and it 
warmed my heart. There were beads of sweat in the dark down on 
her upper lip; she would lick them off and laugh in my face while 
we held our burden up to the height of the load and waited for Andrea 
to throw her strong bare arm around it; there was dust from the 
grain in her heavy lashes. 

When the load was built, we shoved the heavy wooden pole up with 
our united strength to Andrea. She laid it lengthwise on top of 
the high, broad load it had to lie exactly in the middle and put 
the heavy front end through the noose. The rear end of the pole 
stuck up in the air and was brought down by means of a block and 
tackle. We pulled on the rope, Karoline and I, putting all our little 
bit of weight into it; Andrea pressed down from above, and tug by 
tug the pole was tightened down. It was merry work. We clung to 


each other and made ourselves heavy in little jumps, and Andrea lay 
on top, sticking her head out over the load and shouting hip, hip, 
hurrah until the tackle was taut and could be made fast. After that 
the load was tied round with rope. 

We were usually finished before Peter Ibsen could get back with 
the empty wagon, and lay down in the shadow of the load, chattering 
and looking down across the sloping land. On all the field paths 
there were swaying loads wriggling along, crawling up on to the 
main road and then hurrying down toward the town; they looked 
like gray wood lice, surprised by the light and scuttling into hiding. 
In the empty harvest wagons, which came in the opposite direction, 
the men stood up, shouting and urging on their horses; the bottom 
of the wagon danced beneath their feet, bouncing them up into the 
air, and their blue blouses bulged out like water wings. Far beyond 
the town the sea lay blue and heavy; it slanted up toward the horizon, 
and the home-coming ships looked as though they were sliding on 
their tails toward the town. 

Andrea and Karolme had thrown themselves down on their backs 
with their heads close together. They stretched out their weary limbs 
and stared up at the sky, talking and laughing. I lay on my stomach 
behind their heads, talking nonsense with them and tickling their 
lips and sweaty necks with ears of barley. And suddenly the two of 
them turned on me, pounced down with one accord, as though they 
might have made it up between them, and rolled me over on my 
back. They tickled me and throttled me, put their hands in on my 
bare body and ran their fingers over my skin, so that I curled up 
with their laughing, sweaty faces right down in mine. I was terribly 
ticklish and writhed under their warm, soft hands. "Well take the 
tickle out of you," they laughed, running their hands all over my 
body, touching me in the most intimate places, pulling my shirt aside 
and exposing me. Or perhaps I sprawled and kicked so violently that 
I exposed myself. In any case, they didn't stop the game but helped 
one another to hold me fast and played with my private part. "Oh, 
how tiny it is," said Andrea, letting it glide through her fingers. I 


tried to kick her in the face, but she was lying with her whole weight 
on my body. So I began to bawl, helpless with shame and rage. 

"Oh, that's a shame," said Karoline suddenly. She bent down 
quickly, kissed me on the exposed spot, then jumped up and hid be- 
hind the load. 

I had run over to my own part of the field and hidden myself be- 
hind a ditch. There I lay, unable to get my breath, so boiling was I 
inside with passionate indignation, with venomous fury; I have cer- 
tainly never been so wrought up either before or since. I uttered the 
most awful curses and imprecations, pictured myself picking up big 
stones and running over to Andrea and Karoline and crushing their 
heads, taking the pitchfork and plunging it into their bodies. I would 
revenge myself on them for the humiliation I had suffered. I would 
really hurt them somehow. 

The foreman drove up, placed the empty wagon beside a stack and 
hitched up to the loaded one. Then they made a halt to eat the after- 
noon lunch. He stood peering out across the herding field; I could 
keep an eye on them through the thornbush behind which I was 

I was called but I kept out of sight, crouched down still more, con- 
cealed myself in my hiding place like a stricken animal licking its 
wounds. And thus I fell asleepthat was the only time that this hap- 
pened to me in the herding field. I was awakened by a cow sniffing 
at me and sprang up in alarm. The cattle were marching past me, 
the leaders were already on the road to the highway. The fields were 
empty of harvesters; it was time to go home. As so often before and 
since, I had slept off the pain; what had happened had been forced 
into the background the world again looked fair and friendly. 

When we sat down to our milk porridge in the evening, Andrea 
and Karoline refused to come in to the table. The boss had to bring 
them in from the barn, where they had found themselves something 
to do. They sat there staring down into their laps and hardly touched 
their food; they were blushing to the roots of their hair. 

"It seems very quiet here this evening," said the boss suddenly, 
looking from the one to the other. 

"Oh, it's only Andrea and Karoline," I answered maliciously. 

"Really? And what's the matter with them?" 

"Oh, they just tried to rape me this afternoon." Now I had got 
back at them. I had thrown a big, big stone right at their heads. What 
had happened flared up in me again; I burst into tears. 

The boss sprang up. He was white in the face. But Andrea and 
Karoline rushed out and didn't show themselves any more during 
the meaL When I came out into the stable, they were sitting milking, 
with their heads pressed deep into the sides of the cows. 

"You were too hard on them, just the same," said the foreman as 
we were going to bed. 

But I was glad that I had got back at them for it had cleared the 
air. With Andrea it wouldn't have mattered; but I couldn't bear the 
thought of holding a grudge against Karoline maybe all my life 
and forgiving her only on my deathbed. 


H.T many points my herding field touched on the real farm country, 
and I made the acquaintance of the herdboys from the farms. Some- 
times the peasants allowed their own children to herd, but it was 
usually poor boys from the huts back of Slamre. Several of them 
were, like me, attending confirmation classes, and the families they 
worked for were providing them with confirmation outfits. 

The idea of confirmation filled me with anxiety. I was not afraid 
of the test itself; for I had, of course, made a good showing at the 
examination in the school and still stood high with the dean; it hap- 
pened not infrequently during the preparatory course at Bodilsker 
parsonage that he excused me from the class and sent me into the 
town to fetch tobacco. It was over four miles there and back; if I made 
good use of my legs, I could just manage to get back when the class 
was over. "Now you didn't get the class today," he would say regret- 
fully. "Well, you'll pull through all right!" And he would put his 
hand on my shoulder and smile at the recollection of how well I had 
been able to pull through in religion. 

I was not anxious on that score; but the thought of the confirma- 
tion outfit worried me all the more. Shoes and a new suit and a hat 
that was no small matter; where were they all to come from? My 
wages for the second summer had also been paid, and still there was 
no sign that Father was going to attend to things. He said the mysti- 
cal words, taxes and interest as usual. And hocus-pocus, the twenty- 
five kroner were gone. Now there were only the winter and one more 
summer left. 

"You'll have to dig in good and hard this winter," said Mother. 

And that I did. I cut wedge holes for Father, carried paving stones, 
and broke chips; or I went down to the harbor and helped to load and 
unload. Often, too, they sent word for me to come and help out at 
my herding place. There I was always welcome, and I ran as soon as 
they called. Father grumbled but let me go; it meant next summer's 
wages, of course, all of thirty kroner. I got no pay for the winter days, 
but neither was there much for me to do; it seemed as if they sent for 
me just to see me. Andrea and Karoline pulled at me from each side 
when I came, and Peter Ibsen chuckled and looked benevolently 
at me. 

I felt happier here than anywhere else; and my herding days are 
probably the best of my whole life. The work it gave me appealed to 
me in an entirely different way from any other work whatsoever. 

As author I have usually been given to know, from those who 
classify, that I was rather a peasant than a real town laborer, and I 
am glad if this is so. I do not believe that there is any fundamental 
contrast between farmers and workers; the difference is superficial 
and easy to level out, even though it may seem great. The farmer 
lies just beneath the surface in the worker; under feudalism peasant 
and worker were the same; the contrast is of a capitalistic nature. 
When we have everywhere got to the place of really letting the ma- 
chine work for us, there will certainly be an extensive return to the 
land. The machines will put food on our tables and clothe us with 
very little work on our part. When the work gets its share and books 
theirs, there will still be time left over; man needs some sort of work 
that lies midway between the physical and the intellectual, a play- 
ground for soul and mind. The cheapest satisfaction of this need is 
found in playing cards; the most beautiful and richest in companion- 
ship with Nature above all, in active companionship. We must let 
the machines stay in the city and work for us, and ourselves move 
out into the open, out to the land. There is more nourishment for the 
mind in planting flowers and coaxing fruit along than in any other 
form of recreation. 

Perhaps when we reach that stage we will establish our factories 
out in the country,, beside woods and streams and moors at the 
sources of power. We will have a limited working day of two or 
three hours, perhaps less; the rest of the day will be for the building 
up of the human being in us and it must be used well and for many 
things, preferably without fitting time either in card playing or in 
the idle devouring of novels. You can't read books all the time; too 
much reading is just as harmful as too little it muddles your mind. 
It is well then that the hens and the pigeons and the rabbits call you; 
that the fruit trees stand with drooping leaves begging to be sprayed 
and dusted, that the plants are gasping for water. They almost 
straighten up with a jerk when the spray has reached them, show off 
their fullness and color, and send out waves of spicy fragrance songs 
of thankfulness. Everywhere there's something new to experience 
new and yet at the same time commonplace and everyday. We need to 
have the mystery all round about us, to have it take possession of 
our common day and keep us awake in wonderment. To live is to 

I have, when I have myself been the master of the situation, tried 
also as author to live my life half as farmer and worker, have lived 
out in the country and striven for the real building up of myself, not 
in the bookcase but by work in house and garden bricklaying, paint- 
ing, and paper hanging, digging ditches and planting. There are a 
good many books that, on this account, I have not managed to read, 
and there are foreign words which I doubtless pronounce as incorrectly 
as the housemaids in the bourgeois plays. For, as everybody knows, 
the main cultural difference between masters and menials is that the 
menials cannot manage foreign words. Thus I am a little short on 
theater culture. On the other hand, I have proof of having tasted a 
great deal of life; and that pleases me. 

The herding period was a good apprenticeship in this respect, and 
for a city child I adapted myself very quickly and easily to rural con- 
ditions; the peasant lay, so to speak, close to the surface in me and 
was easy to call forth. Life in the open air with the animals gave 

me more joy and satisfaction than I had ever known before. I envied 
those boys who were born on their own farms, and I used to take trips 
out to the real farming country when I was free. It was not, of course, 
endless, like the ocean on the other side; people who went there didn't 
stay away for years and then suddenly bob up again as large as life 
and with a long beard after having been put down on the casualty list 
as "drowned or otherwise lost." But it was still farther to the bottom 
in there. 

The peasants were neither so talkative nor so tattling as the towns- 
people; if you had been in the hazelnut bush and got caught, they 
might give you a rap with the cane. But they didn't run tattling home 
to your parents like the people in the town, where there was always 
somebody on the road with clattering wooden shoes to bring bad 
reports about you. They were proud, too. They looked down on 
the townspeople and regarded the town almost as a place where 
people took refuge when they couldn't make their way any longer 
in the country. They didn't cringe and make themselves small and 
miserable like the townspeople and then suddenly turn around and 
act like pompous fools; the only thing you could tell about them from 
the outside was that they were proud of being peasants. 

Many of them, it was said, were in the pockets of the big merchants, 
But you couldn't tell, to look at them when they drove into town in 
their costly fur coats, that the coats had probably been bought on 
credit. The horses danced down the road as light on their feet as 
though they were treading on pincushions, and people would come to 
the windows and say: "They're fine folk; you can tell that by the 
way their horses step; they're probably going to the hotel to play 
cards/' Then they had their round of games, and we sometimes 
boasted of being related to them; even if this relationship were very 
distant, it nevertheless gave the impression of belonging to the real 

It was still more festive when the peasants from Persker, Povlsker, 
or BodUsker had a sleighing party in the winter with a ball at the 
hotel. Then the old sleighs, which were built in the shape of Viking 

boats and swans, were brought down from the lofts and polished up. 
They were gaily painted, some blue with silver stars and some with 
fantastic monsters in gold on a dark ground. The horses were fitted 
out with strings of bells and waving tufts of feathers, and a colored 
net extended from the horses to the sleigh so that the lumps of snow 
from their hooves would not hit the passengers in the face. How 
they carried themselves, those horses! Bornholm horses are always 
full of life and don't know which leg to stand on when they are in 
front of a showy turnout; here they were ready to fly in the air with 
the rain of sound from the silver bells and the dazzling decorations. 
The feather tufts waved above tensely arched necks and the metal 
of the harness vied in brilliance with the sparkling snow. And in 
the sleighs sat the young daughters, red-cheeked and lovely. Each 
one of them was given her character, and seldom the kindest; when 
it came to marriageable daughters, the faces behind the windowpane 
were not to be trifled with. 

Georg had been put out to learn the coopering trade. It was very 
funny to watch him cut staves and bind them together over a fire 
into barrels; but I was to go on the farm when I was confirmed. 
"That's a miserable way of life for poor people," said Mother. 
"Servants don't have a very easy time. But we can't afford to keep 
two at a trade." Now, I had not thought of remaining a servant; 
I wanted a farm of my own. "I'm afraid you'll have to marry it, 
then," said Mother, laughing. "Now, if it were only Georg all the 
girls are crazy about him! But then you'd be a henpecked husband/' 
I had no wish for that. 

Grandfather was better to talk to. "You never can tell," he said. 
"Plenty of people fall out of farms, why shouldn't you be able to fall 
into one? I've heard before of poor children who became great folk; 
but it's very seldom. You might inherit one, I suppose; we come of 
well-to-do peasant stock, you know!" 

Yes, we had relatives on farms both in Persker and Povlsker, and 
it was not impossible that one day a big farmer would pull up in 
front of the house, point at me with his whip, and say: "111 take that 

fellow along with me!" One day a big farmer from Persker did stop 
outside and tap on the window with his whip; we had often seen him 
drive past and had talked about him; he was Father's cousin or 
rather second cousin. I ran out to the carriage, my heart thumping. 
He had just brought some collars that he would like to have washed; 
Mother had to come out to the carriage herself and get instructions. 
"Let me see, now, aren't your husband and I second cousins?" he said 
as he gathered up the reins. That was always something. "He knew 
us, Mother," I said as we came in. 

"Yes, and now well sit down nicely and eat bread to the smell 
of steak," answered Mother, laughing. 

When the Nansens of Persker came dashing along, we always 
hurried over to the window; we could recognize them by the com- 
motion they made. They were Grandfather's cousins and tall men 
like him. They could trace their family back for centuries, to the 
Mayor of Copenhagen, and farther still; but now there was nothing 
much left but the vices. 

The two brothers were cattle dealers and were always on the road 
driving from one hotel to another. They always drove together; and 
as soon as they had made a deal, they had to drink to the bargain 
and play cards. They drank deep and they played for high stakes. 
We saw them tear into town with two proud horses to the carriage 
and plod home the next forenoon in an old cart drawn by a miserable 
nag that they had borrowed from the horse butcher. They had 
gambled away horses and carriage. But however they managed it, 
they always made good their losses; one fine day they would be driv- 
ing in style again and on top in every respect. They were not like 
the rest of us, who were always at the bottom of the heap. 

"The Devil's their uncle," said Grandfather. "I can't really be 
related to them after all." But he was, although they had never 
crossed his threshold. 

One day, however, they found their way to him. I was often 
out at Grandfather's the last winter before I left home; the farm 
drew me, small as it was; and I helped Grandfather with the jobs 


that needed two. Grandmother was too old and feeble to be able 
to lend a hand in the field. We were busy hauling some big 
stones out of the lowest part of the field; it was swampy and the 
work had to be done while the ground was frozen. Grandfather 
had built a stoneboat out of two thick, bent branches of oak; 
we rolled the stones on to it and hauled them up one by one over 
the snow-covered ground to the house. There was a marl pit 
in the middle of the swampy ground where we could have dumped 
them; but Grandfather insisted on bringing them up to the house, 
to a big pile of stone and junk that he had collected through the 
years. "You never know what it may come in handy for," he 
would say of everything, and hadn't the heart to throw anything 
away. "Today it seems to you just like so much old rubbish, but 
then when you need it, it feels like gold in your hand." 

A smart carriage turned off the highway at Balka mill; at Grand- 
father's gate two huge men got out and came over toward us. 
"Here come the Nansens," I said. Grandfather pretended not to 

"Good-day, Anders Mortensen," they shouted noisily, waving 
their pudgy hands which looked like flippers. Not until they were 
right over did Grandfather straighten up. 

"What fine folk are these that come to see me, poor wretch?" 
he said with an expression that was hard to fathom. 

"Don't you know us? Why, we're cousins!" they shouted, 
reaching out their paws, both eager to be the first to shake hands 
with Grandfather. 

"Yes, upon my word, I do believe it's you! And you come 
walking like the two that went to Emmaus. Perhaps you're out 
on some heavenly mission?" 

The two giants looked like two stupid schoolboys; they were 
afraid of Grandfather and stood blinking irresolutely and looking 
askance at each other. "Oh, quit that now," said one of the 
brothers, putting out his fat hand imploringly, "It's so tiresome. 
We come to you openly and honorably to ask you as our relative 

to lend us two hundred kroner till this evening. We can make 
a good deal in the town and in the evening you'll have your money 
back again with interest. You'll get two hundred and twenty 
kroner this evening as sure as I'm your cousin." He stood there 
waving his paw, ready to clap it into Grandfather's to seal the 

I was expecting Grandfather to explain to them that he had no 
cash on hand; I knew, of course, how often he had to turn and 
twist even a single ore before he handed it out. But Grandfather 
acted very strangely. He stood crossing himself and talking out 
into the air as though he were alone: "Well, I never! Here come 
great folk and fine folk and spruce folk out to me, poor fellow; 
and even if it is my money, they don't consider it too mean to cast 
their eyes on! Well, now I never God bless my soul! The world 
won't last much longer now, for there are signs in sun and moon." 
The two men had turned away; they ran across the field and 
looked properly squelched as they crawled into the carriage. Not 
until they were seated did they recover and begin to curse and 
whip the horses. 

Grandfather did have money then that was a pleasant thought! 
Even if there wasn't enough to buy a farm, there was hope for 
the confirmation outfit now. If everything else failed, I would ask 
Grandfather to lend me the money for shoes and clothes. And 
I would pay him back when I was really out earning money and 
could do as I liked with my wages. 



CONFIRMATION, which had caused me so many worries, came off 
well. I knew over a hundred hymns and a large part of the Bible 
by heart; the dean had only to give me a cue and I plunged in and 
was hard to stop. "He ought to study," people said to Father 
when it was all over and they came to congratulate me and give 
me their blessing. "He might become a preacher o the Word." 

"He has to go out and and wipe cows' rumps," answered Father 

The new headmaster, Skrydstrup, who played the organ in 
church, also came over and congratulated me and asked what I 
was going to be; he would be glad to read with me, if it could 
be arranged somehow. Father repeated his answer, but this time 
used a worse word than rump. Headmaster Skyrdstrup went 
red in the face and turned his back on us. 

Father had seen to the outfit, too if only at the last minute, 
as though he took pleasure in keeping Mother and me on tender- 
hooks. I got a suit of homespun and elastic shoes with toe caps. 
I was particularly proud of these shoes, but I had no real joy of 
them at confirmation; I had got a swollen big toe in the pasture 
field. Father lanced it with his razor the morning of the confirma- 
tion day; but I had to have a cloth shoe on that foot. However, 
I rode in more style than most; the boss had Peter Ibsen drive me 
and gave us the dosed carriage. 

There was no great ceremony about the confirmation and no 
feast was held; my only gift was a hymnbook, and since I had 
to have that, it was rather hard to regard it as a present. Father 


scolded although I hadn't said anythingperhaps he had a bad 
conscience. "It has to be some useless finery or it doesn't suit," he 

But I didn't care about his scolding; it no longer concerned me. 
I felt as though I had managed to get over a difficult piece of road 
with a fairly whole skin; it hadn't been easy to have to do for 
yourself and at the same time never dare openly to make a 
decision to have to take matters in hand and yet do so by stealth, 
as it were. If I asked Father before I acted, he grumbled at my 
not being able to undertake anything on my own initiative, and 
if I didn't ask, it was just as bad. I was like the boy in the story- 
book who got into trouble whether he picked up his hat or let 
it lie. But that was all over now; Father must be shaken off. He 
had decided that I was to go out to work, and I had got used to 
the idea, although I didn't like the contemptuous way he spoke 
of my future occupation. But this would be the last time he should 
decide things for me. Georg had already broken free. The 
coopering work had given him strength and assurance. He had 
a good big pair of fists for his age, and when Father began to raise 
a row about something, Georg looked threatening. "Some day 
I'll let drive at the old man," he said to me. "He's got it coming 
to him." 

But Father was afraid of him and didn't interfere in his affairs. 
And that was how I wanted to have it, too. 

The cold came early and the cattle were put into the stable. My 
herding life was over. I had experienced the best part of my child- 
hood here, had only, indeed, really become a child out in the herd- 
ing field, so that it seemed to me as though my life had begun here. 
Now it was ended. The carefree life of a lord, I felt, was over 
forever. Now I must go out and earn my living! 

Father made no effort to help me in this respect. Sometimes he 
would look at me as though he were expecting to hear that I had 
been inquiring for a place. But I pretended not to understand. He 
had decided what I was to do without asking me; so now he could 

find a job for me, too. Father was cutting stone for the munici- 
pality on the triangular stretch of shore in front of our house, and 
I helped him silently, cutting wedge holes and breaking up chips 
as he asked me to do so. Never did he say a word to me while we 
worked, but simply stood there cutting stone, dark and silent; he 
was like a thundercloud. And the snowy wind blew in from the 
sea. It was cold work to sit and break stone, and I longed to get 
away from it all. But Father said nothing; it looked as though 
I might keep on here all winter. 

But a few days before the day for changing servants, he suddenly 
laid down his hammer and said: "You'd better go and find a place, 
for you ought to be able to look after yourself now." It had a 
comical ring to my ears, but I didn't say anything. I put the 
straw cover down over the tools, went into the house for my scarf 
and cuffs, and trudged off southward along the highway at ran- 
dom. I asked my way from the millers and from travelers and 
came at last to a farm away down at Povlsker, where they needed a 
cowboy. I was to have twenty kroner for the winter and begin work 
on the evening of the next day. 

So that was settled. All I had to do now was put in the time today 
and tomorrow. There was nothing to hurry for. If Father had been 
in the Hills still, Mother would have been spinning and the rest of 
us could have taken turns in knitting and reading aloud. But now 
there was nothing to do but pull on my work smock and sit freezing 
on the stone pile until it got dark. 

I went home by Grandfather's. Grandfather's hand with the scar 
danced when he heard about the new place. "You're small," he said, 
"and they have a lot of cattle on that farm. They don't keep a very 
good table either, so far as I know; and newly weds are never easy 
to please. But you must try and make the best of it." 

It didn't sound very encouraging, and Grandfather probably 
noticed that I was downcast. For a long time he stumbled up and 
down the clay floor in his wooden shoes. The tip of his tongue was 
busy on his lips and his hands trembled. "You're going to have a 


confirmation present now anyway," he said, coming over to me and 
handing me a fifty-ore piece. "It's not very much, but if you let it 
lie for a thousand years, it can breed a million however that comes 
about. But don't let Mother see it." 

At the supper table he drank a glass of schnapps in honor of my 
confirmation; he was in solemn mood as he- emptied the footless 
glass and put it back on the decanter like a cap. 

"You must be a wise boy now, and not answer back; a man who 
has to work out for his living must know how to swallow a good 
deal and say nothing. And don't draw your wages till they're due; 
it's miserable to work for wages that have already been eaten up. And 
always spend less than you earn; then you'll have something over, 
whatever happens. Above all, don't acquire expensive vices." Here 
Grandfather made a pause. His expression changed from the solemn 
to the equivocal. 

"When I was young, I took to chewing tobacco," he continued after 
a little while. "To make up a little for that vice, I dried out the quid 
and smoked it in a pipe; the ashes and scrapings I used as snuff, and 
the snuff I sneezed out I used to brush my shoes. I had shiny shoes 
to go to church, but nevertheless it was vice heaped upon vice. So 
I gave up chewing and had nothing, neither vice nor Sunday finery; 
so it was both good and bad. But there's progress in everything here 
in the world, they say; so see that you make something better of it." 

Grandmother was complaining greatly of the pain in the small 
of her back and I spent the night there to warm her a last time. The 
old couple stood outside by the well and stared after me with their 
hands to their eyes when I set off the next morning. It was as though 
I were going away on a long journey, and I nodded brightly to them, 
turned around several times and waved. I would certainly get the 
best possible out of things; that it would be anything fabulously good, 
I was no longer quite so sure. But it certainly was not my intention 
to smoke dried quids. 

Before I went home, I took a walk up to my old place to say 
good-bye. The boss was not at home; but my old fellow servants 


were all glad to see me, and this was a great comfort to me, since I 
had begun lately to doubt that I was good for anything. And the 
animals in the stable licked my hand in recognition and tossed their 
heads as though they were thanking me for the time we had spent 
together. That, too, strengthened me. It was cosy and homelike 
there hi the warm stable with its various sounds the rattling of 
chains, the chewing of the cud, the bull's long sigh of well-being. Did 
he still remember that I had given him punch? He looked plead- 
ingly at me and struck out in the air imperiously with his horns. 

It was not much fun at home. Father had gone into town in 
vexation at my not coming home; Mother was out of sorts* And my 
sisters kept asking teasingly if I were not soon going out to wipe 
the cows' rumps. So I took up my bundle and set out for my new 
place; a green-painted chest which Father had bought for me at 
auction was to be sent after me by wagon the first time there was a 

I cut myself a knotty stick and trudged off I would certainly get 
the best out of things in any case. I was small and slender, but I had 
courage; the idea of facing a strange world gave me strength. I had 
worked myself fairly free of sickness and gloom over here those 
things belonged to a distant past in the capital. And my fear of hell 
had given place to a growing sense of responsibility toward life. 
I was still not bursting with health, but the herding period had made 
a vast improvement in me; I was no longer so crushed by the cold; 
life did not weigh upon me like a burden. The free life, filled with 
responsibility, out in the open, the sun, the air, and the good food 
one with another these things make it seem as though the summers 
in the herding field spread out over this part of my childhood and 
became themselves its content. It is as though my childhood begins 
and ends here in Bornholm, as though I had been born here washed 
up from darkness into light and air on the shore of childhood.