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

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[chapter 5]

  [p. 15]  


In this light even Mettälä looked kindly and peaceful, almost inviting; it was a gray, tumble-down cottage beside the lane on the edge of the woods, far from the village. Here lived Mettälä-Jukka, though at present only his wife Santra and the children were at home; Jukka himself was timber-floating with his horse, somewhere far away on a raft.

A rather ill-defined road out of the forest led to this dwelling; during the summer a few went along it on foot, but no one drove a horse and cart. It was seldom that anyone went that way at all — except in the winter, when the farmers did their log hauling. But he who, bent on his own affairs, chanced to approach the place on an evening such as this found it very charming on its level plot bounded by the stump-filled clearing, with buildings on both sides of the road and the dwelling-house so close to it that during the winter the timber sleds would bump into it and the young farm hand in the other sled, his face bitten red by the frost, would bare his teeth in a sly grin and shout across to his companion:

"Keep away from Santra's doorposts!"

But now a gray wooden gate led from the forest to the lane; it was ill cared for and half open, as though left by a woman or her children. Inside the gate were the half-rotten   [p. 16]   remains of a woodstack; the lane itself was strangely wide, with an old, lichen-covered fence on both sides supported in places by a prop. It was rather like a tired signpost.

But who would go examining such things on an afternoon like this? The huge patches of mud on the road in the spring had now dried into oblivion, and to make up for all the annoyance caused then they had pushed up gay, lush sorrel and camomile, whose growth did not seem to have been disturbed by any overly hard work in these parts. Anybody would find it pleasant to walk here — especially so late in the evening that a large, red, full moon rose from the southern end of the lane. At this time of year it gave no light; it was merely there. And yet it seemed to be nearer when one had reached the farmhouse wall and the window of the back bedroom which could easily be kicked in from the lane. But who would want to kick in a window like that! It was a pleasure just to study it. The frame was unpainted and the panes were an odd shade of blue. Strangest of all was the curtain behind the glass; it had hung there for many a year, summer and winter alike. It was a piece of cloth with regular holes, taken from a bigger and better window than this one beside the muddy road, but it served very well to screen the whole opening from within — and it had done so for years. A curious window; even if one went close and peered in, the background was black, just as if the sun, even on mild summer evenings, were unable to reach inside. Nor could it, for just when it might have done so during its best days before and after midsummer, the woodshed opposite got in the way, and the sun had to go down somewhere behind it, into the clearing, among the stones, into the depths of the forest where the bogs began. A taciturn man had passed this way one summer and made a sketch of the woodshed, whose threshold had been used as a chopping block so that it had   [p. 17]   long since broken in two. The man had sat down in the yard, asked for milk, and, having drunk it, gone off down the lane, glancing particularly at that bedroom window. The children had noticed this.

From Mettälä you could walk and walk along the summery lanes and footpaths. At first the country widened out and became more open; you came to graveled roads and painted farmhouses, where the bedroom windows were many and so big that two whole curtains, pretty and untorn, were needed, and then they covered only the sides — a ragged end of the same kind of curtain covered the entire bedroom window at Mettälä. The flowering red geraniums in the middle, looked after by the daughter of the house, were free to shine at the passer-by, whoever he might be. All had the right to look, perhaps even to envy, provided that they did not try to share them . . . . At another farm, similar but the biggest of all, there was a lilac arbor and a garden swing. At this point the road forked, and the houses were again more modest; there were fields but you did not know whose they were; until, if you wished, you could turn off from the graveled road into a lane with wheel tracks and then, after following a path, cross a bridge and be back again on a somewhat wider road.

When the summer wanderer had repeated this two or three times, he would come at last to the neighborhood of Teliranta — or to the little forest settlement on the far side of the lake, where Manu's cottage, Alviina's hut, and Syrjämäki's croft lay.

On this Saturday afternoon a man came walking from this direction on his way to one of the timber-rafts, where he worked. It was Mettälä-Jukka. He was thought to have visited his distant home, but he had not been there — those were not the paths he had trodden. He had been elsewhere   [p. 18]   and was returning along the cart track through the forest, growling to himself — a track which no one mended and no one used unless he had to. Although it was the driest season of the year, the road even now was broken here and there by a marshy hollow in which you could see the imprint of cows' hoofs; from the puddles a stale smell arose. But in this smell one or two small, pretty, light butterflies thrived. There they fluttered, untiringly. And beside the road luxuriant clumps of bracken rose like miniature palms out of the shadow. Mud from the various pools stuck to Jukka's high boots, which were stiff from tar and much patching, and it was still on them two days later when they were pulled off his rigid legs . . . . He was now a trifle drunk and so was not quite able to avoid the worst mud holes — even if he had minded them — but stepped in them almost deliberately. Then the even, angry growling would flare up slightly.

He sat down on a loose tussock, which gave under him so that he toppled half over onto his back. For a moment he remained in this rather uncomfortable position. And there — as he began to stare at a twisted, sparse juniper bush — it occurred to him again that he had not been home since he set out from the warping-raft. He felt as if Santra were eyeing him from somewhere, calmly, coldly . . . . It annoyed him that he was always thinking of it. — Come on, Jukka! Up we go!

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