Pan, by Knut Hamsun


A week later we were lodged in the big hut that went by the name of hotel, with the old English half-caste woman. What a hotel it was! The walls were of clay, with a little wood, and the wood was eaten through by the white ants that crawled about everywhere. I lived in a room next the main parlor, with a green glass window looking on to the street — a single pane, not very clear at that — and Glahn had chosen a little bit of a hole up in the attic, much darker, and a poor place to live in. The sun heated the thatched roof and made his room almost insufferably hot at night and day; besides which, it was not a stair at all that led up to it, but a wretched bit of a ladder with four steps. What could I do? I let him take his choice, and said:

“Here are two rooms, one upstairs and one down; take your choice.”

And Glahn looked at the two rooms and took the upper one, possibly to give me the better of the two — but was I not grateful for it? I owe him nothing.

As long as the worst of the heat lasted, we left the hunting alone and stayed quietly in the hut, for the heat was extremely uncomfortable. We lay at night with a mosquito net over the bedplace, to keep off the insects; but even then it happened sometimes that blind bats would come flying silently against our nets and tear them. This happened too often to Glahn, because he was obliged to have a trap in the roof open all the time, on account of the heat; but it did not happen to me. In the daytime we lay on mats outside the hut, and smoked and watched the life about the other huts. The natives were brown, thick-lipped folk, all with rings in their ears and dead, brown eyes; they were almost naked, with just a strip of cotton cloth or plaited leaves round the middle, and the women had also a short petticoat of cotton stuff to cover them. All the children went about stark naked night and day, with great big prominent bellies simply glistening with oil.

“The women are too fat,” said Glahn.

And I too thought the women were too fat. Perhaps it was not Glahn at all, but myself, who thought so first; but I will not dispute his claim — I am willing to give him the credit. As a matter of fact, not all the women were ugly, though their faces were fat and swollen. I had met a girl in the village, a young half-Tamil with long hair and snow-white teeth; she was the prettiest of them all. I came upon her one evening at the edge of a rice field. She lay flat on her face in the high grass, kicking her legs in the air. She could talk to me, and we did talk, too, as long as I pleased. Glahn sat that evening in the middle of our village outside a hut with two other girls, very young — not more than ten years old, perhaps. He sat there talking nonsense to them, and drinking rice beer; that was the sort of thing he liked.

A couple of days later, we went out shooting. We passed by tea gardens, rice fields, and grass plains; we left the village behind us and went in the direction of the river, and came into forests of strange foreign trees, bamboo and mango, tamarind, teak and salt trees, oil — and gum-bearing plants — Heaven knows what they all were; we had, between us, but little knowledge of the things. But there was very little water in the river, and so it remained until the rainy season. We shot wild pigeons and partridges, and saw a couple of panthers one afternoon; parrots, too, flew over our heads. Glahn was a terribly accurate shot; he never missed. But that was merely because his gun was better than mine; many times I too shot terribly accurately. I never boasted of it, but Glahn would often say: “I’ll get that fellow in the tail,” or “that one in the head.” He would say that before he fired; and when the bird fell, sure enough, it was hit in the tail or the head as he had said. When we came upon the two panthers, Glahn was all for attacking them too with his shot-gun, but I persuaded him to give it up, as it was getting dusk, and we had no more than two or three cartridges left. He boasted of that too — of having had the courage to attack panthers with a shot-gun.

“I am sorry I did not fire at them after all,” he said to me. “What do you want to be so infernally cautious for? Do you want to go on living?” “I’m glad you consider me wiser than yourself,” I answered.

“Well, don’t let us quarrel over a trifle,” he said.

Those were his words, not mine; if he had wished to quarrel, I for my part had no wish to prevent him. I was beginning to feel some dislike for him for his incautious behavior, and for his manner with women. Only the night before, I had been walking quietly along with Maggie, the Tamil girl that was my friend, and we were both as happy as could be. Glahn sits outside his hut, and nods and smiles to us as we pass. It was then that Maggie saw him for the first time, and she was very inquisitive about him. So great an impression had he made on her that, when it was time to go, we went each our own way; she did not go back home with me.

Glahn would have put this by as of no importance when I spoke to him about it. But I did not forget it. And it was not to me that he nodded and smiled as we passed by the hut! it was to Maggie.

“What’s that she chews?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “She chews — I suppose that’s what her teeth are for.”

And it was no news to me either that Maggie was always chewing something; I had noticed it long before. But it was not betel she was chewing, for her teeth were quite white; she had, however, a habit of chewing all sorts of other things — putting them in her mouth and chewing as if they were something nice. Anything would do — a piece of money, a scrap of paper, feathers — she would chew it all the same. Still, it was nothing to reproach her for, seeing that she was the prettiest girl in the village, anyway. Glahn was jealous of me, that was all.

I was friends again with Maggie, though, next evening, and we saw nothing of Glahn.

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