Pan, by Knut Hamsun


Shall I write more? No, no. Only a little for my own amusement’s sake, and because it passes the time for me to tell of how the spring came two years back, and how everything looked then. Earth and sea began to smell a little; there was a sweetish, rotting smell from the dead leaves in the wood, and the magpies flew with twigs in their beaks, building their nests. A couple of days more, and the brooks began to swell and foam; here and there a butterfly was to be seen, and the fishermen came home from their stations. The trader’s two boats came in laden deep with fish, and anchored off the drying grounds; there was life and commotion all of a sudden out on the biggest of the islands, where the fish were to be spread on the rocks to dry. I could see it all from my window.

But no noise reached the hut; I was alone, and remained so. Now and again someone would pass. I saw Eva, the blacksmith’s girl; she had got a couple of freckles on her nose.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Out for firewood,” she answered quietly. She had a rope in her hand to carry the wood, and her white kerchief on her head. I stood watching her, but she did not turn round.

After that I saw no one for days.

The spring was urging, and the forest listened; it was a great delight to watch the thrushes sitting in the tree-tops staring at the sun and crying; sometimes I would get up as early as two in the morning, just for a share of the joy that went out from bird and beast at sunrise.

The spring had reached me too, maybe, and my blood beat at times as if it were footsteps. I sat in the hut, and thought of overhauling my fishing rods and lines and gear, but moved never a finger to any work at all, for a glad, mysterious restlessness that was in and out of my heart all the while. Then suddenly Æsop sprang up, stood and stiffened, and gave a short bark. Someone coming to the hut! I pulled off my cap quickly, and heard Edwarda’s voice already at the door. Kindly and without ceremony she and the Doctor had come to pay me a visit, as they had said.

“Yes,” I heard her say, “he is at home.” And she stepped forward, and gave me her hand in her simple girlish way. “We were here yesterday, but you were out,” she said.

She sat down on the rug over my wooden bedstead and looked round the hut; the Doctor sat down beside me on the long bench. We talked, chatted away at ease; I told them things, such as what kinds of animals there were in the woods, and what game I could not shoot because of the closed season. It was the closed season for grouse just now.

The Doctor did not say much this time either, but catching sight of my powder-horn, with a figure of Pan carved on it, he started to explain the myth of Pan.

“But,” said Edwarda suddenly, “what do you live on when it’s closed season for all game?”

“Fish,” I said. “Fish mostly. But there’s always something to eat.”

“But you might come up to us for your meals,” she said. “There was an Englishman here last year — he had taken the hut — and he often came to us for meals.”

Edwarda looked at me and I at her. I felt at the moment something touching my heart like a little fleeting welcome. It must have been the spring, and the bright day; I have thought it over since. Also, I admired the curve of her eyebrows.

She said something about my place; how I had arranged things in the hut. I had hung up skins of several sorts on the walls, and birds’ wings; it looked like a shaggy den on the inside. She liked it. “Yes, a den,” she said.

I had nothing to offer my visitors that they would care about; I thought of it, and would have roasted a bird for them, just for amusement — let them eat it hunter’s fashion, with their fingers. It might amuse them.

And I cooked the bird.

Edwarda told about the Englishman. An old man, an eccentric, who talked aloud to himself. He was a Roman Catholic, and always carried a little prayer-book, with red and black letters, about with him wherever he went.

“Was he an Irishman then?” asked the Doctor.

“An Irishman . . .?”

“Yes — since he was a Roman Catholic.”

Edwarda blushed, and stammered and looked away.

“Well, yes, perhaps he was an Irishman.”

After that she lost her liveliness. I felt sorry for her, and tried to put matters straight again. I said:

“No, of course you are right: he was an Englishman. Irishmen don’t go travelling about in Norway.”

We agreed to row over one day and see the fish-drying grounds . . .

When I had seen my visitors a few steps on their way, I walked home again and sat down to work at my fishing gear. My hand-net had been hung from a nail by the door, and several of the meshes were damaged by rust; I sharpened up some hooks, knotted them to lengths of line, and looked to the other nets. How hard it seemed to do any work at all to-day! Thoughts that had nothing to do with the business in hand kept coming and going; it occurred to me that I had done wrong in letting Edwarda sit on the bed all the time, instead of offering her a seat on the bench. I saw before me suddenly her brown face and neck; she had fastened her apron a little low down in front, to be long-waisted, as was the fashion; the girlish contour of her thumb affected me tenderly, and the little wrinkles above the knuckle were full of kindliness. Her mouth was large and rich.

I rose up and opened the door and looked out. I could hear nothing, and indeed there was nothing to listen for. I closed the door again; Æsop came up from his resting-place and noticed that I was restless about something. Then it struck me that I might run after Edwarda and ask her for a little silk thread to mend my net with. It would not be any pretence — I could take down the net and show her where the meshes were spoiled by rust. I was already outside the door when I remembered that I had silk thread myself in my fly-book; more indeed than I wanted. And I went back slowly, discouraged — to think that I had silk thread myself.

A breath of something strange met me as I entered the hut again; it seemed as if I were no longer alone there.

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