Pan, by Knut Hamsun


The two boats lay ready, and we stepped on board. Talking and singing. The place, Korholmerne, lay out beyond the islands; it took a good while to row across, and on the way we talked, one party with another, from boat to boat. The Doctor wore light things, as the ladies did; I had never seen him so pleased before; he talked with the rest, instead of listening in silence. I had an idea he had been drinking a little, and so was in good humor to-day. When we landed, he craved the attention of the party for a moment, and bade us welcome. I thought to myself: This means that Edwarda has asked him to act as host.

He fell to entertaining the ladies in the most amiable manner. To Edwarda he was polite and kind, often fatherly, and pedantically instructive, as he had been so many times before. She spoke of some date or other, saying: “I was born in ‘38,” and he asked, “Eighteen hundred and thirty-eight, I suppose you mean?” And if she had answered, “No, in nineteen hundred and thirty-eight,” he would have shown no embarrassment, but only corrected her again, and said, “I think you must be mistaken.” When I said anything myself, he listened politely and attentively, and did not ignore me.

A young girl came up to me with a greeting. I did not recognize her; I could not remember her at all, and I said a few words in surprise, and she laughed. It was one of the Dean’s daughters. I had met her the day we went to the island before, and had invited her to my hut. We talked together a little.

An hour or so passed by. I was feeling dull, and drank from the wine poured out for me, and mixed with the others, chatting with them all. Again I made a mistake here and there: I was on doubtful ground, and could not tell at the moment how to answer any little civility; now and then I talked incoherently, or even found nothing at all to say, and this troubled me. Over by the big rock which we were using as a table sat the Doctor, gesticulating.

“Soul — what is the soul?” he was saying. The Dean’s daughter had accused him of being a free-thinker — well, and should not a man think freely? People imagined hell as a sort of house down under the ground, with the devil as host — or rather as sovereign lord. Then he spoke of the altar picture in the chapel, a figure of the Christ, with a few Jews and Jewesses; water into wine — well and good. But Christ had a halo round His head. And what was a halo? Simply a yellow hoop fixed on three hairs.

Two of the ladies clasped their hands aghast, but the Doctor extricated himself, and said jestingly:

“Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I admit it. But if you repeat it and repeat it again to yourself seven or eight times, and then think it over a little, it soon sounds easier . . . Ladies, your very good health!”

And he knelt on the grass before the two ladies, and instead of taking his hat off and laying it before him he held it straight up in the air with one hand, and emptied his glass with his head bent back. I was altogether carried away by his wonderful ease of manner, and would have drunk with him myself but that his glass was empty.

Edwarda was following him with her eyes. I placed myself near her, and said:

“Shall we play ‘Enke‘ to-day?”

She started slightly, and got up.

“Be careful not to say ‘Du‘ to each other now,” she whispered.

Now I had not said “Du“ at all. I walked away.

Another hour passed. The day was getting long; I would have rowed home alone long before if there had been a third boat; Æsop lay tied up in the hut, and perhaps he was thinking of me. Edwarda’s thoughts must surely be far away from me; she talked of how lovely it would be to travel, and see strange places; her cheeks flushed at the thought, and she even stumbled in her speech:

“No one could be more happier than I the day . . . ”

“‘More happier’ . . .?” said the Doctor.

“What?” said she.

“‘More happier.’”

“I don’t understand.”

“You said ‘more happier,’ I think.”

“Did I? I’m sorry. No one could be happier than I the day I stood on board the ship. Sometimes I long for places I do not know myself.”

She longed to be away; she did not think of me. I stood there, and read in her face that she had forgotten me. Well, there was nothing to be said — but I stood there myself and saw it in her face. And the minutes dragged so miserably slowly by! I asked several of the others if we ought not to row back now; it was getting late, I said, and Æsop was tied up in the hut. But none of them wanted to go back.

I went over again to the Dean’s daughter, for the third time; I thought she must be the one that had said I had eyes like an animal’s. We drank together; she had quivering eyes, they were never still; she kept looking at me and then looking away, all the time.

“Fröken,” I said, “do you not think people here in these parts are like the short summer itself? In their feeling, I mean? Beautiful, but lasting only a little while?”

I spoke loudly, very loudly, and I did so on purpose. And I went on speaking loudly, and asked that young lady once more if she would not like to come up one day and see my hut. “Heaven bless you for it,” I said in my distress, and I was already thinking to myself how, perhaps, I might find something to give her as a present if she came. Perhaps I had nothing to give her but my powder-horn, I thought.

And she promised to come.

Edwarda sat with her face turned away and let me talk as much as I pleased. She listened to what the others said, putting in a word herself now and again. The Doctor told the young ladies’ fortunes by their hands, and talked a lot; he himself had small, delicate hands, with a ring on one finger. I felt myself unwanted, and sat down by myself awhile on a stone. It was getting late in the afternoon. Here I am, I said to myself, sitting all alone on a stone, and the only creature that could make me move, she lets me sit. Well, then, I care no more than she.

A great feeling of forsakenness came over me. I could hear them talking behind me, and I heard how Edwarda laughed; and at that I got up suddenly and went over to the party. My excitement ran away with me.

“Just a moment,” I said. “It occurred to me while I was sitting there that perhaps you might like to see my fly-book.” And I took it out. “I am sorry I did not think of it before. Just look through it, if you please; I should be only too delighted. You must all see it; there are both red and yellow flies in it.” And I held my cap in my hand as I spoke. I was myself aware that I had taken off my cap, and I knew that this was wrong, so I put it on again at once.

There was deep silence for a moment, and no one offered to take the book. At last the Doctor reached out his hand for it and said politely:

“Thanks very much; let us look at the things. It’s always been a marvel to me how those flies were put together.”

“I make them myself,” I said, full of gratitude. And I went on at once to explain how it was done. It was simple enough: I bought the feathers and the hooks. They were not well made, but they were only for my own use. One could get ready-made flies in the shops, and they were beautiful things.

Edwarda cast one careless glance at me and my book, and went on talking with her girl friends.

“Ah, here are some of the feathers,” said the Doctor. “Look, these are really fine.”

Edwarda looked up.

“The green ones are pretty,” she said; “let me look, Doctor.”

“Keep them,” I cried. “Yes, do, I beg you, now. Two green feathers. Do, as a kindness, let them be a keepsake.”

She looked at them and said:

“They are green and gold, as you turn them in the sun. Thank you, if you will give me them.”

“I should be glad to,” I said.

And she took the feathers.

A little later the Doctor handed me the book and thanked me. Then he got up and asked if it were not nearly time to be getting back.

I said: “Yes, for Heaven’s sake. I have a dog tied up at home; look you, I have a dog, and he is my friend; he lies there thinking of me, and when I come home he stands with his forepaws at the window to greet me. It has been a lovely day, and now it is nearly over; let us go back. I am grateful to you all.”

I waited on the shore to see which boat Edwarda chose, and made up my mind to go in the other one myself. Suddenly she called me. I looked at her in surprise; her face was flushed. Then she came up to me, held out her hand, and said tenderly:

“Thank you for the feathers. You will come in the boat with me, won’t you?”

“If you wish it,” I said.

We got into the boat, and she sat down beside me on the same seat, her knee touching mine. I looked at her, and she glanced at me for a moment in return. I began to feel myself repaid for that bitter day, and was growing happy again, when she suddenly changed her position, turned her back to me, and began talking to the Doctor, who was sitting at the rudder.

For a full quarter of an hour I did not exist for her. Then I did something I repent of, and have not yet forgotten. Her shoe fell off: I snatched it up and flung it far out into the water, for pure joy that she was near, or from some impulse to make myself remarked, to remind her of my existence — I do not know. It all happened so suddenly I did not think, only felt that impulse.

The ladies set up a cry. I myself was as if paralyzed by what I had done, but what was the good of that? It was done. The Doctor came to my help; he cried “Row,” and steered towards the shoe. And the next moment the boatman had caught hold of the shoe just as it had filled with water and was sinking; the man’s arm was wet up to the elbow. Then there was a shout of “Hurra” from many in the boats, because the shoe was saved.

I was deeply ashamed, and felt that my face changed color and winced, as I wiped the shoe with my handkerchief. Edwarda took it without a word. Not till a little while after did she say:

“I never saw such a thing!”

“No, did you ever?” I said. And I smiled and pulled myself together, making as if I had played that trick for some particular reason — as if there were something behind it. But what could there be? The Doctor looked at me, for the first time, contemptuously.

A little time passed; the boats glided homeward; the feeling of awkwardness among the party disappeared; we sang; we were nearing the land. Edwarda said:

“Oh, we haven’t finished the wine: there is ever so much left. We must have another party, a new party later on; we must have a dance, a ball in the big room.”

When we went ashore I made an apology to Edwarda.

“If you knew how I wished myself back in my hut!” I said. “This has been a long and painful day.”

“Has it been a painful day for you, Lieutenant?”

“I mean,” said I, trying to pass it off, “I mean, I have caused unpleasantness both to myself and others. I threw your shoe into the water.”

“Yes — an extraordinary thing to do.”

“Forgive me,” I said.

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