Pan, by Knut Hamsun


A week passed, and we went out shooting every day, and shot a heap of game. One morning, just as we were entering the forest, Glahn gripped me by the arm and whispered: “Stop!” At the same moment he threw up his rifle and fired. It was a young leopard he had shot, I might have fired myself, but Glahn kept the honour to himself and fired first. Now he’ll boast of that later on, I said to myself. We went up to the dead beast. It was stone dead, the left flank all torn up and the bullet in its back.

Now I do not like being gripped by the arm, so I said:

“I could have managed that shot myself.”

Glahn looked at me.

I said: “You think perhaps I couldn’t have done it?”

Still Glahn made no answer. Instead, he showed his childishness once more, shooting the dead leopard again, this time through the head. I looked at him in utter astonishment.

“Well, you know,” he explains, “I shouldn’t like to have it said that I shot a leopard in the flank.” “You are very amiable this evening,” I said.

It was too much for his vanity to have made such a poor shot; he must always be first. What a fool he was! But it was no business of mine, anyway. I was not going to show him up.

In the evening, when we came back to the village with the dead leopard, a lot of the natives came out to look at it. Glahn simply said we had shot it that morning, and made no sort of fuss about it himself at the time. Maggie came up too.

“Who shot it?” she asked.

And Glahn answered:

“You can see for yourself — twice hit. We shot it this morning when we went out.” And he turned the beast over and showed her the two bullet wounds, both that in the flank and that in the head. “That’s where mine went,” he said, pointing to the side — in his idiotic fashion he wanted me to have the credit of having shot it in the head. I did not trouble to correct him; I said nothing. After that, Glahn began treating the natives with rice beer — gave them any amount of it, as many as cared to drink.

“Both shot it,” said Maggie to herself; but she was looking at Glahn all the time.

I drew her aside with me and said:

“What are you looking at him all the time for? I am here too, I suppose?”

“Yes,” she said. “And listen: I am coming this evening.”

It was the day after this that Glahn got the letter. There came a letter for him, sent up by express messenger from the river station, and it had made a detour of a hundred and eighty miles. The letter was in a woman’s hand, and I thought to my self that perhaps it was from that former friend of his, the noble lady. Glahn laughed nervously when he had read it, and gave the messenger extra money for bringing it. But it was not long before he turned silent and gloomy, and did nothing but sit staring straight before him. That evening he got drunk — sat drinking with an old dwarf of a native and his son, and clung hold of me too, and did all he could to make me drink as well.

Then he laughed out loud and said:

“Here we are, the two of us, miles away in the middle of all India shooting game — what? Desperately funny, isn’t it? And hurrah for all the lands and kingdoms of the earth, and hurrah for all the pretty women, married or unmarried, far and near. Hoho! Nice thing for a man when a married woman proposes to him, isn’t it — a married woman?”

“A countess,” I said ironically. I said it very scornfully, and that cut him. He grinned like a dog because it hurt him. Then suddenly he wrinkled his forehead and began blinking his eyes, and thinking hard if he hadn’t said too much — so mighty serious was he about his bit of a secret. But just then a lot of children came running over to our hut and crying out: “Tigers, ohoi, the tigers!” A child had been snapped up by a tiger quite close to the village, in a thicket between it and the river.

That was enough for Glahn, drunk as he was, and cut up about something into the bargain. He picked up his rifle and raced off at once to the thicket — didn’t even put on his hat. But why did he take his rifle instead of a shot-gun, if he was really as plucky as all that? He had to wade across the river, and that was rather a risky thing in itself — but then, the river was nearly dry now, till the rains. A little later I heard two shots, and then, close on them, a third. Three shots at a single beast, I thought; why, a lion would have fallen for two, and this was only a tiger! But even those three shots were no use: the child was torn to bits and half eaten by the time Glahn come up. If he hadn’t been drunk he wouldn’t have made the attempt to save it.

He spent the night drinking and rioting in the hut next door. For two days he was never sober for a minute, and he had found a lot of companions, too, to drink with him. He begged me in vain to take part in the orgy. He was no longer careful of what he said, and taunted me with being jealous of him.

“Your jealousy makes you blind,” he said.

My jealousy? I, jealous of him?

“Good Lord!” I said, “I jealous of you? What’s there for me to be jealous about?”

“No, no, of course you’re not jealous of me,” he answered. “I saw Maggie this evening, by the way. She was chewing something, as usual.”

I made no answer; I simply walked off.

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