Glahn's Death by Knut Hamsun
Translated from the Norwegian of Knut Hamsun by W. W.
A DOCUMENT OF 1861
The Glahn family can go on advertising as long as they please for
Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, who disappeared; but he will never come back.
He is dead, and, what is more, I know how he died.
To tell the truth, I am not surprised that his people should still
keep on seeking information; for Thomas Glahn was in many ways an
uncommon and likable man. I admit this, for fairness' sake, and despite
the fact that Glahn is still repellant to my soul, so that the bare
memory of him arouses hatred. He was a splendidly handsome man, full of
youth, and with an irresistible manner. When he looked at you with his
hot animal eyes, you could not but feel his power; even I felt it so. A
woman, they say, said: “When he looks at me, I am lost; I feel a
sensation as if he were touching me.”
But Thomas Glahn had his faults, and I have no intention of hiding
them, seeing that I hate him. He could at times be full of nonsense
like a child, so kindly natured was he; and perhaps it was that which
made him so irresistible to women. God knows! He could chat with them
and laugh at their senseless twaddle; and so he made an impression.
Once, speaking of a very corpulent man in the place, he said that he
looked as if he went about with his breeches full of lard. And he
laughed at that joke himself, though I should have been ashamed of it.
Another time, after we had come to live in the same house together, he
showed his foolishness in an unmistakable way. My landlady came in one
morning and asked what I would have for breakfast, and in my hurry I
happened to answer: “A bread and a slice of egg.” Thomas Glahn was
sitting in my room at the time—he lived in the attic up above, just
under the roof—and he began to chuckle and laugh childishly over my
little slip of the tongue. “A bread and a slice of egg!” he repeated
time over and over, until I looked at him in surprise and made him
Maybe I shall call to mind other ridiculous traits of his later on.
If so, I will write them down too, and not spare him, seeing that he is
still my enemy. Why should I be generous? But I will admit that he
talked nonsense only when he was drunk. But is it not a great mistake
to be drunk at all?
When I first met him, in the autumn of 1859, he was a man of
two-and-thirty—we were of an age. He wore a full beard at that time,
and affected woolen sports shirts with an exaggerated lowness of neck;
not content with that, he sometimes left the top button undone. His
neck appeared to me at first to be remarkably handsome; but little by
little he made me his deadly enemy, and then I did not consider his
neck handsomer than mine, though I did not show off mine so openly. I
met him first on a river boat, and we were going to the same place, on
a hunting trip; we agreed to go together up-country by ox-wagon when we
came to the end of the railway. I purposely refrained from stating the
place we were going to, not wishing to set anyone on the track. But the
Glahns can safely stop advertising for their relative; for he died at
the place we went to, which I will not name.
I had heard of Thomas Glahn, by the way, before I met him; his name
was not unknown to me. I had heard of some affair of his with a young
girl from Nordland, from a big house there, and that he had compromised
her in some way, after which she broke it off. This he had sworn, in
his foolish obstinacy, to revenge upon himself, and the lady calmly let
him do as he pleased in that respect, considering it no business of
hers. From that time onwards, Thomas Glahn's name began to be well
known; he turned wild, mad; he drank, created scandal after scandal,
and resigned his commission in the army. A queer way of taking
vengeance for a girl's refusal!
There was also another story of his relations with that young lady,
to the effect that he had not compromised her in any way, but that her
people had showed him the door, and that she herself had helped in it,
after a Swedish Count, whose name I will not mention, had proposed to
her. But this account I am less inclined to trust; I regard the first
as true, for after all I hate Thomas Glahn and believe him capable of
the worst. But, however it may have been, he never spoke himself of the
affair with that noble lady, and I did not ask him about it. What
business was it of mine?
As we sat there on the boat, I remember we talked about the little
village we were making for, to which neither of us had been before.
“There's a sort of hotel there, I believe,” said Glahn, looking at
the map. “Kept by an old half-caste woman, so they say. The chief lives
in the next village, and has a heap of wives, by all accounts—some of
them only ten years old.”
Well, I knew nothing about the chief and his wives, or whether there
was a hotel in the place, so I said nothing. But Glahn smiled, and I
thought his smile was beautiful.
I forgot, by the way, that he could not by any means be called a
perfect man, handsome though he was. He told me himself that he had an
old gunshot wound in his left foot, and that it was full of gout
whenever the weather changed.
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
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
“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
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
I was friends again with Maggie, though, next evening, and we saw
nothing of Glahn.
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
“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
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
“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.
We began going out shooting again. Glahn felt he had wronged me, and
begged my pardon.
“And I'm dead sick of the whole thing,” he said. “I only wish you'd
make a slip one day and put a bullet in my throat.” It was that letter
from the Countess again, perhaps, that was smouldering in his mind. I
“As a man soweth, so shall he also reap.”
Day by day he grew more silent and gloomy. He had given up drinking
now, and didn't say a word, either; his cheeks grew hollow.
One day I heard talking and laughter outside my window; Glahn had
turned cheerful again, and he stood there talking out loud to Maggie.
He was getting in all his fascinating tricks. Maggie must have come
straight from her hut, and Glahn had been watching and waiting for her.
They even had the nerve to stand there making up together right outside
my glass window.
I felt a trembling in all my limbs. I cocked my gun; then I let the
hammer down again. I went outside and took Maggie by the arm; we walked
out of the village in silence; Glahn went back into the hut again at
“What were you talking with him again for?” I asked Maggie.
She made no answer.
I was thoroughly desperate. My heart beat so I could hardly breathe.
I had never seen Maggie look so lovely as she did then—never seen a
real white girl so beautiful. And I forgot she was a Tamil—forgot
everything for her sake.
“Answer me,” I said. “What were you talking to him for?”
“I like him best,” she said.
“You like him better than me?”
Oh, indeed! She liked him better than me, though I was at least as
good a man! Hadn't I always been kind to her, and given her money and
presents? And what had he done?
“He makes fun of you; he says you're always chewing things,” I said.
She did not understand that, and I explained it better; how she had
a habit of putting everything in her mouth and chewing it, and how
Glahn laughed at her for it. That made more impression on her than all
the rest I said.
“Look here, Maggie,” I went on, “you shall be mine for always.
Wouldn't you like that? I've been thinking it over. You shall go with
me when I leave here; I will marry you, do you hear? and we'll go to
our own country and live there. You'd like that, wouldn't you?”
And that impressed her too. Maggie grew lively and talked a lot as
we walked. She only mentioned Glahn once; she asked:
“And will Glahn go with us when we go away?”
“No,” I said. “He won't. Are you sorry about that?”
“No, no,” she said quickly. “I am glad.”
She said no more about him, and I felt easier. And Maggie went home
with me, too, when I asked her.
When she went, a couple of hours later, I climbed up the ladder to
Glahn's room and knocked at the thin reed door. He was in. I said:
“I came to tell you that perhaps we'd better not go out shooting
“Why not?” said Glahn.
“Because I'm not so sure but I might make a little mistake and put a
bullet in your throat.”
Glahn did not answer, and I went down again. After that warning he
would hardly dare to go out to-morrow—but what did he want to get
Maggie out under my window for, and fool with her there at the top of
his voice? Why didn't he go back home again, if the letter really asked
him, instead of going about as he often did, clenching his teeth and
shouting at the empty air: “Never, never! I'll be drawn and quartered
But the morning after I had warned him, as I said, there was Glahn
the same as ever, standing by my bed, calling out:
“Up with you, comrade! It's a lovely day; we must go out and shoot
something. That was all nonsense you said yesterday.”
It was no more than four o'clock, but I got up at once and got ready
to go with him, in spite of my warning. I loaded my gun before starting
out, and I let him see that I did. And it was not at all a lovely day,
as he had said; it was raining, which showed that he was only trying to
irritate me the more. But I took no notice, and went with him, saying
All that day we wandered round through the forest, each lost in his
own thoughts. We shot nothing—lost one chance after another, through
thinking of other things than sport. About noon, Glahn began walking a
bit ahead of me, as if to give me a better chance of doing what I liked
with him. He walked right across the muzzle of my gun; but I bore with
that too. We came back that evening. Nothing had happened. I thought to
myself: “Perhaps he'll be more careful now, and leave Maggie alone.”
“This has been the longest day of my life,” said Glahn when we got
back to the hut.
Nothing more was said on either side.
The next few days he was in the blackest humor, seemingly all about
the same letter. “I can't stand it; no, it's more than I can bear,” he
would say sometimes in the night; we could hear it all through the hut.
His ill temper carried him so far that he would not even answer the
most friendly questions when our landlady spoke to him; and he used to
groan in his sleep. He must have a deal on his conscience, I
thought—but why in the name of goodness didn't he go home? Just pride,
no doubt; he would not go back when he had been turned off once.
I met Maggie every evening, and Glahn talked with her no more. I
noticed that she had given up chewing things altogether; she never
chewed now. I was pleased at that, and thought: She's given up chewing
things; that is one failing the less, and I love her twice as much as I
One day she asked about Glahn—asked very cautiously. Was he not
well? Had he gone away?
“If he's not dead, or gone away,” I said, “he's lying at home, no
doubt. It's all one to me. He's beyond all bearing now.”
But just then, coming up to the hut, we saw Glahn lying on a mat on
the ground, hands at the back of his neck, staring up at the sky.
“There he is,” I said.
Maggie went straight up to him, before I could stop her, and said in
a pleased sort of voice:
“I don't chew things now—nothing at all. No feathers or money or
bits of paper—you can see for yourself.”
Glahn scarcely looked at her. He lay still. Maggie and I went on.
When I reproached her with having broken her promise and spoken to
Glahn again, she answered that she had only meant to show him he was
“That's right—show him he's wrong,” I said. “But do you mean it was
for his sake you stopped chewing things?”
She didn't answer. What, wouldn't she answer?
“Do you hear? Tell me, was it for his sake?”
And I could not think otherwise. Why should she do anything for
That evening Maggie promised to come to me, and she did.
She came at ten o'clock. I heard her voice outside; she was talking
loud to a child whom she led by the hand. Why did she not come in, and
what had she brought the child for? I watched her, and it struck me
that she was giving a signal by talking out loud to the child; I
noticed, too, that she kept her eyes fixed on the attic—on Glahn's
window up there. Had he nodded to her, I wondered, or beckoned to her
from inside when he heard her talking outside? Anyhow, I had sense
enough myself to know there was no need to look up aloft when talking
to a child on the ground.
I was going out to take her by the arm. But just then she let go the
child's hand, left the child standing there, and came in herself,
through the door to the hut. She stepped into the passage. Well, there
she was at last; I would take care to give her a good talking to when
Well, I stood there and heard Maggie step into the passage. There
was no mistake: she was close outside my door. But instead of coming in
to me, I heard her step up the ladder—up to the attic—to Glahn's hole
up there. I heard it only too well. I threw my door open wide, but
Maggie had gone up already. That was ten o'clock.
I went in, sat down in my room, and took my gun and loaded it. At
twelve o'clock I went up the ladder and listened at Glahn's door. I
could hear Maggie in there; I went down again. At one I went up again;
all was quiet this time. I waited outside the door. Three o'clock, four
o'clock, five. Good, I thought to myself. But a little after, I heard a
noise and movement below in the hut, in my landlady's room; and I had
to go down again quickly, so as not to let her find me there. I might
have listened much more, but I had to go.
In the passage I said to myself: “See, here she went: she must have
touched my door with her arm as she passed, but she did not open the
door: she went up the ladder, and here is the ladder itself—those four
steps, she has trodden them.”
My bed still lay untouched, and I did not lie down now, but sat by
the window, fingering my rifle now and again. My heart was not
beating—it was trembling.
Half an hour later I heard Maggie's footstep on the ladder again. I
lay close up to the window and saw her walk out of the hut. She was
wearing her little short cotton petticoat, that did not even reach to
her knees, and over her shoulders a woolen scarf borrowed from Glahn.
She walked slowly, as she always did, and did not so much as glance
towards my window. Then she disappeared behind the huts.
A little after came Glahn, with his rifle under his arm, all ready
to go out. He looked gloomy, and did not even say good-morning. I
noticed, though, that he had got himself up and taken special care
about his dress.
I got ready at once and went with him. Neither of us said a word.
The first two birds we shot were mangled horribly, through shooting
them with the rifle; but we cooked them under a tree as best we could,
and ate in silence. So the day wore on till noon.
Glahn called out to me:
“Sure your gun is loaded? We might come across something
unexpectedly. Load it, anyhow.”
“It is loaded,” I answered.
Then he disappeared a moment into the bush. I felt it would be a
pleasure to shoot him then—pick him off and shoot him down like a dog.
There was no hurry; he could still enjoy the thought of it for a bit.
He knew well enough what I had in mind: that was why he had asked if my
gun were loaded. Even to-day he could not refrain from giving way to
his beastly pride. He had dressed himself up and put on a new shirt;
his manner was, lordly beyond all bounds.
About one o'clock he stopped, pale and angry, in front of me, and
“I can't stand this! Look and see if you're loaded, man—if you've
anything in your gun.”
“Kindly look after your own gun,” I answered. But I knew well enough
why he kept asking about mine.
And he turned away again. My answer had so effectively put him in
his place that he actually seemed cowed: he even hung his head as he
After a while I shot a pigeon, and loaded again. While I was doing
so, I caught sight of Glahn standing half hidden behind a tree,
watching me to see if I really loaded. A little later he started
singing a hymn—and a wedding hymn into the bargain. Singing wedding
hymns, and putting on his best clothes, I thought to myself—that's his
way of being extra fascinating to-day. Even before he had finished the
hymn he began walking softly in front of me, hanging his head, and
still singing as he walked. He was keeping right in front of the muzzle
of my gun again, as if thinking to himself: Now it is coming, and that
is why I am singing this wedding hymn! But it did not come yet, and
when he had finished his singing he had to look back at me.
“We shan't get much to-day anyhow, by the look of it,” he said, with
a smile, as if excusing himself, and asking pardon of me for singing
while we were out after game. But even at that moment his smile was
beautiful. It was as if he were weeping inwardly, and his lips
trembled, too, for all that he boasted of being able to smile at such a
I was no woman, and he saw well enough that he made no impression on
me. He grew impatient, his face paled, he circled round me with hasty
steps, showing up now to the left, now to the right of me, and stopping
every now and then to wait for me to come up.
About five, I heard a shot all of a sudden, and a bullet sang past
my left ear. I looked up. There was Glahn standing motionless a few
paces off, staring at me; his smoking rifle lay along his arm. Had he
tried to shoot me? I said:
“You missed that time. You've been shooting badly of late.”
But he had not been shooting badly. He never missed. He had only
been trying to irritate me.
“Then take your revenge, damn you!” he shouted back.
“All in good time,” I said, clenching my teeth.
We stood there looking at each other. And suddenly Glahn shrugged
his shoulders and called out “Coward” to me. And why should he call me
a coward? I threw my rifle to my shoulder—aimed full in his
As a man soweth...
Now, there is no need, I insist, for the Glahns to make further
inquiry about this man. It annoys me to be constantly seeing their
advertisements offering such and such reward for information about a
dead man. Thomas Glahn was killed by accident—shot by accident when
out on a hunting trip in India. The court entered his name, with the
particulars of his end, in a register with pierced and threaded leaves.
And in that register it says that he is dead—dead, I tell
you—and what is more, that he was killed by accident.