Pan, by Knut Hamsun

IX

I had some talk with Edwarda.

“We shall have rain before long,” I said.

“What time is it?” she asked.

I looked at the sun and answered:

“About five.”

She asked:

“Can you tell so nearly by the sun?”

“Yes,” I answered; “I can.”

Pause.

“But when you can’t see the sun, how do you tell the time then?”

“Then I can tell by other things. There’s high tide and low tide, and the grass that lies over at certain hours, and the song of the birds that changes; some birds begin to sing when others leave off. Then, I can tell the time by flowers that close in the afternoon, and leaves that are bright green at some times and dull green at others — and then, besides, I can feel it.”

“I see.”

Now I was expecting rain, and for Edwarda’s sake I would not keep her there any longer on the road; I raised my cap. But she stopped me suddenly with a new question, and I stayed. She blushed, and asked me why I had come to the place at all? Why I went out shooting, and why this and why that? For I never shot more than I needed for food, and left my dog idle . . .

She looked flushed and humble. I understood that someone had been talking about me, and she had heard it; she was not speaking for herself. And something about her called up a feeling of tenderness in me; she looked so helpless, I remembered that she had no mother; her thin arms gave her an ill-cared-for appearance. I could not help feeling it so.

Well, I did not go out shooting just to murder things, but to live. I had need of one grouse to-day, and so I did not shoot two, but would shoot the other to-morrow. Why kill more? I lived in the woods, as a son of the woods. And from the first of June it was closed time for hare and ptarmigan; there was but little left for me to shoot at all now. Well and good: then I could go fishing, and live on fish. I would borrow her father’s boat and row out in that. No, indeed, I did no go out shooting for the lust of killing things, but only to live in the woods. It was a good place for me; I could lie down on the ground at meals, instead of sitting upright on a chair; I did not upset my glass there. In the woods I could do as I pleased; I could lie down flat on my back and close my eyes if I pleased, and I could say whatever I liked to say. Often one might feel a wish to say something, to speak aloud, and in the woods it sounded like speech from the very heart . . .

When I asked her if she understood all this, she said, “Yes.”

And I went on, and told her more, because her eyes were on me. “If you only knew all that I see out in the wilds!” I said. “In winter, I come walking along, and see, perhaps, the tracks of ptarmigan in the snow. Suddenly the track disappears; the bird has taken wing. But from the marks of the wings I can see which way the game has flown, and before long I have tracked it down again. There is always a touch of newness in that for me. In autumn, many a time there are shooting stars to watch. Then I think to myself, being all alone, What was that? A world seized with convulsions all of a sudden? A world going all to pieces before my eyes? To think that I— that I should be granted the sight of shooting stars in my life! And when summer comes, then perhaps there may be a little living creature on every leaf; I can see that some of them have no wings; they can make no great way in the world, but must live and die on that one little leaf where they came into the world.

“Then sometimes I see the blue flies. But it all seems such a little thing to talk about — I don’t know if you understand?”

“Yes, yes, I understand.”

“Good. Well, then sometimes I look at the grass, and perhaps the grass is looking at me again — who can say? I look at a single blade of grass; it quivers a little, maybe, and thinks me something. And I think to myself: Here is a little blade of grass all a-quivering. Or if it happens to be a fir tree I look at, then maybe the tree has one branch that makes me think of it a little, too. And sometimes I meet people up on the moors; it happens at times.”

I looked at her; she stood bending forward, listening. I hardly knew her. So lost in attention she was that she took no heed of herself, but was ugly, foolish looking; her underlip hung far down.

“Yes, yes,” she said, and drew herself up.

The first drops of rain began to fall.

“It is raining,” said I.

“Oh! Yes, it is raining,” she said, and went away on the instant.

I did not see her home; she went on her way alone; I hurried up to the hut. A few minutes passed. It began to rain heavily. Suddenly I heard someone running after me. I stopped short, and there was Edwarda.

“I forgot,” she said breathlessly. “We were going over to the islands — the drying grounds, you know. The Doctor is coming to-morrow; will you have time then?”

“To-morrow? Yes, indeed. I shall have time enough.”

“I forgot it,” she said again, and smiled.

As she went, I noticed her thin, pretty calves; they were wet far above the ankle. Her shoes were worn through.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38