Pan, by Knut Hamsun


There was another day which I remember well. It was the day my summer came. The sun began shining while it was still night, and dried up the wet ground for the morning. The air was soft and fine after the last rain.

In the afternoon I went down to the quay. The water was perfectly still; we could hear talking and laughter away over at the island, where men and girls were at work on the fish. It was a happy afternoon.

Ay, was it not a happy afternoon? We took hampers of food and wine with us; a big party we were, in two boats, with young women in light dresses. I was so happy that I hummed a tune.

And when we were in the boat, I fell to thinking where all these young people came from. There were the daughters of the Lensmand and the district surgeon, a governess or so, and the ladies from the vicarage. I had not seen them before; they were strangers to me; and yet, for all that, they were as friendly as if we had known each other for years. I made some mistakes! I had grown unaccustomed to being in society, and often said “Du” [Footnote: “Du”=thou, the familiar form of address (tutoyer), instead of “De”=you.] to the young ladies, but they did not seem offended. And once I said “dear,” or “my dear,” but they forgave me that as well, and took no notice of it.

Herr Mack had his unstarched shirt front on as usual, with the diamond stud. He seemed in excellent spirits, and called across to the other boat:

“Hi, look after the hamper with the bottles, you madcaps there. Doctor, I shall hold you responsible for the wine.”

“Right!” cried the Doctor. And just those few words from one boat to another seemed to me pleasant and merry to hear.

Edwarda was wearing the same dress she had, worn the day before, as if she had no other or did not care to put on another. Her shoes, too, were the same. I fancied her hands were not quite clean; but she wore a brand new hat, with feathers. She had taken her dyed jacket with her, and used it to sit on.

At Herr Mack’s request I fired a shot just as we were about to land, in fact, two shots, both barrels — and they cheered. We rambled up over the island, the workers greeted us all, and Herr Mack stopped to speak to his folk. We found daisies and corn marigolds and put them in our button-holes; some found harebells.

And there was a host of seabirds chattering and screaming, in the air and on the shore.

We camped out on a patch of grass where there were a few stunted birches with white stems. The hampers were opened, and Herr Mack saw to the bottles. Light dresses, blue eyes, the ring of glasses, the sea, the white sails. And we sang a little.

And cheeks were flushed.

* * * * *

An hour later, my whole being was joy; even little things affected me. A veil fluttering from a hat, a girl’s hair coming down, a pair of eyes closing in a laugh — and it touched me. That day, that day!

“I’ve heard you’ve such a queer little hut up there, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, a nest. And the very thing for me. Come and see me there one day; there’s no such hut anywhere else. And the great forest behind it.”

Another came up and said kindly:

“You have not been up here in the north before?”

“No,” I answered. “But I know all about it already, ladies. At night I am face to face with the mountains, the earth, and the sun. But I will not try to use fine words. What a summer you have here! It bursts forth one night when everyone is asleep, and in the morning there it is. I looked out of my window and saw it myself. I have two little windows.”

A third came up. She was charming by reason of her voice and her small hands. How charming they all were! This one said:

“Shall we change flowers? It brings luck, they say.”

“Yes,” I answered, holding out my hand, “let us change flowers, and I thank you for it. How pretty you are! You have a lovely voice; I have been listening to it all the time.”

But she drew back her harebells and said curtly:

“What are you thinking about? It was not you I meant.”

It was not me she meant! It hurt me to feel that I had been mistaken; I wished myself at home again, far away in my hut, where only the wind could speak to me. “I beg your pardon,” I said; “forgive me.” The other ladies looked at one another and moved away, so as not to humiliate me.

Just at that moment someone came quickly over towards us. All could see her — it was Edwarda. She came straight to me. She said something, and threw her arms round my neck; clasped her arms round my neck and kissed me again and again on the lips. Each time she said something, but I did not hear what it was. I could not understand it all; my heart stood still; I had only a feeling of her burning look. Then she slipped away from me; her little breast beat up and down. She stood there still, with her brown face and brown neck, tall and slender, with flashing eyes, altogether heedless. They were all looking at her. For the second time I was fascinated by her dark eyebrows, that curved high up into her forehead.

But, Heavens — the girl had kissed me openly in sight of them all!

“What is it, Edwarda?” I asked, and I could hear my blood beating; hear it as it were from down in my throat, so that I could not speak distinctly.

“Nothing,” she answered. “Only — that I wanted to. It doesn’t matter.”

I took off my cap and brushed back my hair mechanically as I stood looking at her. “Doesn’t matter . . .?”

Herr Mack was saying something, a good way off; we could not hear his words from where we were. But I was glad to think that Herr Mack had seen nothing, that he knew nothing of this. It was well indeed that he had been away from the party just then. I felt relieved at that, and I stepped over to the others and said with a laugh, and seeming quite indifferent:

“I would ask you all to forgive my unseemly behavior a moment ago; I am myself extremely sorry about it. Edwarda kindly offered to change flowers with me, and I forgot myself. I beg her pardon and yours. Put yourself in my place; I live all alone, and am not accustomed to the society of ladies; besides which, I have been drinking wine, and am not used to that either. You must make allowances for that.”

And I laughed, and showed great indifference to such a trifle, that it might be forgotten; but, inwardly, I was serious. Moreover, what I had said made no impression on Edwarda. She did not try to hide anything, to smooth over the effect of her hasty action: on the contrary, she sat down close to me and kept looking at me fixedly. Now and again she spoke to me. And afterwards, when we were playing “Enke,” she said:

“I shall have Lieutenant Glahn. I don’t care to run after anyone else.”

Saa for Satan, [Footnote: Expletive, equivalent to “The Devil!” or “Damnation!”] girl, be quiet!” I whispered, stamping my foot.

She gave me a look of surprise, made a wry face as if it hurt, and then smiled bashfully. I was deeply moved at that; the helpless look in her eyes and her little thin figure were more than I could resist; I was drawn to her in that moment, and I took her long, slight hand in mine.

“Afterwards,” I said, “No more now. We can meet again to-morrow.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55