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Sillanpää, Frans Eemil, 1888-1964 / People in the summer night; an epic suite (1966)

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[chapter 2]

  [p. 6]  

2

The tops of the linden trees with their intricate outlines bordered the part of the farm that could be seen from the lake. From Manu's cottage and from Syrjämäki, which were the dwellings on the wooded slope of the opposite shore, the house with its yard and surrounding was almost entirely visible.

Such were the farms and houses which the summer morning illumined. It illumined the rooms from within as well. The old-fashioned lace curtains, starched gleaming white, did little to dim the morning light other than perhaps to soften its bright intensity. Somewhere in one of the older farm buildings was a bedroom, one of those prettily furnished bedrooms with whose atmosphere people's breath seldom mingled. When an occasional guest was shown in, he was greeted by that peculiar virginal smell emanating from snow-white linen, from homemade, polished furniture, perhaps also from the photograph album on the round table which the guest instinctively began to glance through when left alone; amusing pictures of sturdy, solemn farmers in stiff collars and their wives in blouses with leg-of-mutton sleeves, such as were the fashion thirty years ago, and even though the wives were obviously not wearing those blouses for the first time, the photographs made no attempt to hide the fact — if anything, they stressed it — that that middle-aged   [p. 7]   woman had kneaded and baked into bread many a bushel of rye which that coarse-featured man had sown and threshed, the man who, even in the photograph, could not help giving a slightly roguish wink. The same features were recognizable in the portrait of his son in a white matriculation cap and high-buttoned coat, and above all in the family group with every man in knee-length boots and jerseys. How nice to associate again with one's relations after a long time, alone here in the twilit room. There they were in the album, always four on a page, and there they stayed as their relative, the twenty-two-year-old girl — young woman — maiden — looked at them; she was already in her nightgown, the slender figure gracefully bent, a pleasant tiredness on her face after a hard day's work. This was in the evening. Sleep came early and was deep. Had not her grandmother said: "Hm, that's the way it is when you have to wrest every crust of bread from the soil. But with that body you're equal to it."

But whoever falls asleep early on a summer's evening and sleeps soundly, wakes early in the morning. That is the course of nature. Old Manu, who was the farm's charcoal burner, hardly slept at all these nights, yet his eyes always had a merry twinkle and his lips, red despite his age, were pressed together and drawn out into a mischievous smile. Manu must have found a trusted deputy for his charcoal pit, for he had been seen puttering about the farm late into the evening and was on the go again early in the morning. He said something to the cock as it began its second burst of crowing; obviously nothing complimentary, for between squawks the cock swore angrily at the old man as he disappeared in the direction of the pit.

The sun climbed higher, as though seeking a point from which it could conveniently shine straight through the lace curtains onto the guestroom's solid bed and the face of the   [p. 8]   sleeping girl. A moment ago it reached the chest-of-drawers opposite the bed and the swing mirror which had reflected the face of many a young girl, as well as the pale or blushing cheeks beneath a chaplet of myrtle — for this was the room in which the family brides had been dressed . . . . Now the sun saw one or two small objects at the foot of the looking-glass which had not been there before. The girl sleeping in the bed had put them there upon her arrival and afterward handled them deftly with slender fingers. The summer-morning sunbeam, eternally the same, seemed to eye them suspiciously, but was soon mollified when it came to rest upon their owner. By then the morning had passed its first, dewy-pink stage. Somewhere a loft door creaked and a calf lowed. The day's mighty spectacle of work was beginning in dozens, in hundreds of villages, on thousands of farms, beside tens of thousands of lakes and woodland pools.

Now the sun was shining on the girl's face, on her clear-skinned, sun-tanned neck, the lovely curve of her upper lip, the soft brown curls at her ear, the wide brow that was still faintly childish. It was also shining on two forearms; the right hand was under her cheek and the left was resting on her right wrist. Every tiny furrow on the fingers, every nail could be clearly seen, the whole hand having slipped into a relaxed position. It could be pictured in one's mind but it did not seem proper to look at it. Only the sun had the right to draw near the sleeping girl's dreams. And even at this approach the girl awoke. It was therefore almost six o'clock. It happened at the same time every morning. She had found this out the first night, when she could not sleep at all, but had lain looking at the everlasting wonder of the luminous night. Two girls had lain awake in this room then, talking quietly . . . .

The same girls were still here, though now they slept in   [p. 9]   different buildings. She whom the sun had roused awoke to surroundings which were already beginning to feel familiar. She remembered that it was Saturday, a day she had secretly looked forward to. Her bodily strength and vitality had also been in a blissful slumber, but now they awoke and tingled delightfully; trunk, neck, arms, all were stretched backwards, then the arms reached up, the eyes closed again, but the soft mouth was half open and a sunbeam glistened joyfully on the white teeth. After the deep, calm sleep, yesterday's physical exertion now felt like a childishly sweet satisfaction in all her limbs.

Getting quickly out of bed, she slipped off her nightgown in a twinkling and her body repeated the same series of movements, more thoroughly than before, to the accompaniment of a happy sigh. Soon she was in her bathing suit with a bathrobe over her shoulders — and the crooked middle finger of the right hand tapped cautiously on a window pane in another building. The curtains were parted and a young woman's head with auburn locks was glimpsed in the opening. . . . Without waiting, she who had tapped on the window began walking toward the lake shore down the rather steep path, bordered by low alders, that led to the long swimming pier. She had let the bathrobe fall onto her arm. Watching from afar one might suppose that she was humming, for now and then her steps would keep time to a tune.

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