Pan, by Knut Hamsun


A league below me is the sea. It is raining, and I am up in the hills. An overhanging rock shelters me from the rain. I smoke my pipe, smoke one pipe after another; and every time I light it, the tobacco curls up like little worms crawling from the ash. So also with the thoughts that twirl in my head. Before me, on the ground, lies a bundle of dry twigs, from the ruin of a bird’s nest. And as with that nest, so also with my soul.

I remember every trifle of that day and the next. Hoho! I was hard put to it then! . . .

I sit here up in the hills and the sea and the air are voiceful, a seething and moaning of the wind and weather, cruel to listen to. Fishing boats and small craft show far out with reefed sails, human beings on board — making for somewhere, no doubt, and Heaven knows where all those lives are making for, think I. The sea flings itself up in foam, and rolls and rolls, as if inhabited by great fierce figures that fling their limbs about and roar at one another; nay, a festival of ten thousand piping devils that duck their heads down between their shoulders and circle about, lashing the sea white with the tips of their wings. Far, far out lies a hidden reef, and from that hidden reef rises a white merman, shaking his head after a leaky sailboat making out to sea before the wind. Hoho! out to sea, out to the desolate sea . . .

I am glad to be alone, that none may see my eyes. I lean securely against the wall of rock, knowing that no one can observe me from behind. A bird swoops over the crest with a broken cry; at the same moment a boulder close by breaks loose and rolls down towards the sea. And I sit there still for a while, I sink into restfulness; a warm sense of comfort quivers in me because I can sit so pleasantly under shelter while the rain pours down outside. I button up my jacket, thanking God for the warmth of it. A little while more. And I fall asleep.

It was afternoon. I went home; it was still raining. Then — an unexpected encounter. Edwarda stood there before me on the path. She was wet through, as if she had been out in the rain a long time, but she smiled. Ho! I thought to myself, and my anger rose; I gripped my gun and walked fiercely although she herself was smiling.

Goddag!“ she called, speaking first.

I waited till I had come some paces nearer, and said:

“Fair one, I give you greeting.”

She started in surprise at my jesting tone. Alas, I knew not what I was saying. She smiled timidly, and looked at me.

“Have you been up in the hills to-day?” she asked. “Then you must be wet. I have a kerchief here, if you care for it; I can spare it . . . Oh, you don’t know me.” And she cast down her eyes and shook her head when I did not take her kerchief.

“A kerchief?” I answer, grinning in anger and surprise. “But I have a jacket here — won’t you borrow it? I can spare it — I would have lent it to anyone. You need not be afraid to take it. I would have lent it to a fishwife, and gladly.”

I could see that she was eager to hear what I would say. She listened with such attention that it made her look ugly; she forgot to hold her lips together. There she stood with the kerchief in her hand — a white silk kerchief which she had taken from her neck. I tore off my jacket in turn.

“For Heaven’s sake put it on again,” she cried. “Don’t do that! Are you so angry with me? Herregud! put your jacket on, do, before you get wet through.”

I put on my jacket again.

“Where are you going?” I asked sullenly.

“No — nowhere . . . I can’t understand what made you take off your jacket like that . . . ”

“What have you done with the Baron to-day?” I went on. “The Count can’t be out at sea on a day like this.”

“Glahn, I just wanted to tell you something . . . ”

I interrupted her:

“May I beg you to convey my respects to the Duke?”

We looked at each other. I was ready to break in with further interruptions as soon as she opened her mouth. At last a twinge of pain passed over her face; I turned away and said:

“Seriously, you should send His Highness packing, Edwarda. He is not the man for you. I assure you, he has been wondering these last few days whether to make you his wife or not — and that is not good enough for you.”

“No, don’t let us talk about that, please. Glahn, I have been thinking of you; you could take off your jacket and get wet through for another’s sake; I come to you . . . ”

I shrugged my shoulders and went on:

“I should advise you to take the Doctor instead. What have you against him? A man in the prime of life, and a clever head — you should think it over.”

“Oh, but do listen a minute . . . ”

Æsop, my dog, was waiting for me in the hut. I took off my cap, bowed to her again, and said:

“Fair one, I give you farewell.”

And I started off.

She gave a cry:

“Oh, you are tearing my heart out. I came to you to-day; I waited for you here, and I smiled when you came. I was nearly out of my mind yesterday, because of something I had been thinking of all the time; my head was in a whirl, and I thought of you all the time. To-day I was sitting at home, and someone came in; I did not look up, but I knew who it was. ‘I rowed half a mile to-day,’ he said. ‘Weren’t you tired?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes, very tired, and it blistered my hands,’ he said, and was very concerned about it. And I thought: Fancy being concerned about that! A little after he said: ‘I heard someone whispering outside my window last night; it was your maid and one of the store men talking very intimately indeed.’ ‘Yes, they are to be married,’ I said. ‘But this was at two o’clock in the morning!’ ‘Well, what of it?’ said I, and, after a little: ‘The night is their own.’ Then he shifted his gold spectacles a little up his nose, and observed: ‘But don’t you think, at that hour of night, it doesn’t look well?’ Still I didn’t look up, and we sat like that for ten minutes. ‘Shall I bring you a shawl to put over your shoulders?’ he asked. ‘No, thank you,’ I answered. ‘If only I dared take your little hand,’ he said. I did not answer — I was thinking of something else. He laid a little box in my lap. I opened the box, and found a brooch in it. There was a coronet on the brooch, and I counted ten stones in it . . . Glahn, I have that brooch with me now; will you look at it? It is trampled to bits — come, come and see how it is trampled to bits . . . ‘Well, and what am I to do with this brooch?’ I asked. ‘Wear it,’ he answered. But I gave him back the brooch, and said, ‘Let me alone — it is another I care for.’ ‘What other?’ he asked. ‘A hunter in the woods,’ I said. ‘He gave me two lovely feathers once, for a keepsake. Take back your brooch.’ But he would not. Then I looked at him for the first time; his eyes were piercing. ‘I will not take back the brooch. You may do with it as you please; tread on it,’ he said. I stood up and put the brooch under my heel and trod on it. That was this morning . . . For four hours I waited and waited; after dinner I went out. He came to meet me on the road. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked. ‘To Glahn,’ I answered,‘to ask him not to forget me . . . ’ Since one o’clock I have been waiting here. I stood by a tree and saw you coming — you were like a god. I loved your figure, your beard, and your shoulders, loved everything about you . . . Now you are impatient; you want to go, only to go; I am nothing to you, you will not look at me . . . ” I had stopped. When she had finished speaking I began walking on again. I was worn out with despair, and I smiled; my heart was hard.

“Yes?” I said, and stopped again. “You had something to say to me?”

But at this scorn of mine she wearied of me.

“Something to say to you? But I have told you — did you not hear? No, nothing — I have nothing to tell you any more . . . ”

Her voice trembled strangely, but that did not move me.

Next morning Edwarda was standing outside the hut when I went out.

I had thought it all over during the night, and taken my resolve. Why should I let myself be dazzled any longer by this creature of moods, a fisher-girl, a thing of no culture? Had not her name fastened for long enough on my heart, sucking it dry? Enough of that! — though it struck me that, perhaps, I had come nearer to her by treating her with indifference and scorn. Oh, how grandly I had scorned her — after she had made a long speech of several minutes, to say calmly: “Yes? You had something to say to me . . .?”

She was standing by the big stone. She was in great excitement, and would have run towards me; her arms were already opened. But she stopped, and stood there wringing her hands. I took off my cap and bowed to her without a word.

“Just one thing I wanted to say to you to-day, Glahn,” she said entreatingly. And I did not move, but waited, just to hear what she would say next. “I hear you have been down at the blacksmith’s. One evening it was. Eva was alone in the house.”

I started at that, and answered:

“Who told you that?”

“I don’t go about spying,” she cried. “I heard it last evening; my father told me. When I got home all wet through last night, my father said: ‘You were rude to the Baron to-day.’ ‘No,’ I answered. ‘Where have you been now?’ he asked again. I answered: ‘With Glahn.’

“And then my father told me.”

I struggled with my despair; I said:

“What is more, Eva has been here.”

“Has she been here? In the hut?”

“More than once. I made her go in. We talked together.”

“Here too?”

Pause. “Be firm!” I said to myself; and then, aloud:

“Since you are so kind as to mix yourself up in my affairs, I will not be behindhand. I suggested yesterday that you should take the Doctor; have you thought it over? For really, you know, the prince is simply impossible.”

Her eyes lit with anger. “He is not, I tell you,” she cried passionately. “No, he is better than you; he can move about in a house without breaking cups and glasses; he leaves my shoes alone. Yes! He knows how to move in society; but you are ridiculous — I am ashamed of you — you are unendurable — do you understand that?”

Her words struck deep; I bowed my head and said:

“You are right; I am not good at moving in society. Be merciful. You do not understand me; I live in the woods by choice — that is my happiness. Here, where I am all alone, it can hurt no one that I am as I am; but when I go among others, I have to use all my will power to be as I should. For two years now I have been so little among people at all . . . ”

“There’s no saying what mad thing you will do next,” she went on. “And it is intolerable to be constantly looking after you.”

How mercilessly she said it! A very bitter pain passed through me. I almost toppled before her violence. Edwarda had not yet done; she went on:

“You might get Eva to look after you, perhaps. It’s a pity though, that she’s married.”

“Eva! Eva married, did you say?”

“Yes, married!”

“Why, who is her husband?”

“Surely you know that. She is the blacksmith’s wife.”

“I thought she was his daughter.”

“No, she is his wife. Do you think I am lying to you?”

I had not thought about it at all; I was simply astonished. I just stood there thinking: Is Eva married?

“So you have made a happy choice,” says Edwarda.

Well, there seemed no end to the business. I was trembling with indignation, and I said:

“But you had better take the Doctor, as I said. Take a friend’s advice; that prince of yours is an old fool.” And in my excitement I lied about him, exaggerated his age, declared he was bald, that he was almost totally blind; I asserted, moreover, that he wore that coronet thing in his shirt front wholly and solely to show off his nobility. “As for me, I have not cared to make his acquaintance, there is nothing in him of mark at all; he lacks the first principles; he is nothing.”

“But he is something, he is something,” she cried, and her voice broke with anger. “He is far more than you think, you thing of the woods. You wait. Oh, he shall talk to you — I will ask him myself. You don’t believe I love him, but you shall see you are mistaken. I will marry him; I will think of him night and day. Mark what I say: I love him. Let Eva come if she likes — hahaha! Heavens, let her come — it is less than nothing to me. And now let me get away from here . . . ”

She began walking down the path from the hut; she took a few small hurried steps, turned round, her face still pale as death, and moaned: “And let me never see your face again.”

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