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

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[chapter 6]

  [p. 19]  


A car was standing resolutely at the edge of the drive at Teliranta, its lines revealing its make all the way out to the road; it seemed to be defending the honor of its breed. It had been there since the evening of the previous day, Saturday. When a car chances to drive into a grassy yard bordered by old-fashioned farm buildings, it usually has time to stand there for a day or two.

There was still an unfamiliar air about the very nature of such a car; it was mighty in itself in some way; its strength and grace were like the swallow's: not even the roughest night prowler could do it any harm. In the daytime, especially on a leisurely Sunday such as this, anyone who was interested could approach it. Its own peculiar, individual smell was wafted gently around it in the sunlit air; the warm, gleaming metal surface, the upholstery, the fuel — all these together formed that fine combination of smells which an ordinary simple countryman could never dream of owning — not even the smell . . . . Because of that, and to pass the time, he strolled round the empty car with a calm, slightly devout expression; the owners and drivers must be somewhere inside or maybe they had gone for a walk. And the humble observer's mood would be all the more devout were he to have an idea of this car's value compared with others, and whether it might really be one of the expensive ones regarding size   [p. 20]   and make . . . . And the lowly man made his way down the slope to his boat by the lake shore.

There he was met by other smells, in which he no doubt reveled quietly, even if he was not consciously aware of his enjoyment. There was the smell of the lake water — that intangible smell whose origin nobody knows; the smell of the reeds — quite another thing which was tangible; the familiar smell of tar and that very particular smell from the bottom of the boat; with these was blended the smell of fresh fish, which never leaves a lucky boat . . . . They were the smells which belonged to the humble oarsman — those smells which he sensed as he sat again on the thwart, after having tried the firmly locked door handles of the car in the yard, and began to row with leisured strokes.

Such an oarsman also found pleasure in watching a boat which was heading toward him from the timber-raft farther away; it too seemed to be heading for Teliranta. It was making good headway, two pairs of oars kept time; four oarlocks creaked simultaneously. They were going to pick up milk from Teliranta — it must be nearly milking time then? Had he dawdled so long? He must have . . . . The rye on the steep slope stood out in the clear light of early evening, although the sun, seen from down here on the water, was still on a level with the heads of the rye . . . .

The rower gazed in many directions. Between Teliranta and the woods were open fields, across which a narrow cart track led to the distant crofts; at this time of year the road was edged with flowers and the clayey surface had dried hard, so that even from the lake the man could almost make out the ruts. He could plainly see two people walking along, one on either side of the road; one was a woman, young and graceful, in a gaily colored summer dress — the oarsman knew who that was — and the other was a man, he too   [p. 21]   young and well built. No doubt he had something to do with that long, black car that lorded it in the yard at Teliranta . . . .

On the other side of the lake a crofter was looking at his holding and wondering about grazing and drought. It was a pretty little pasture with slender birches and no other trees at all, except for a few insignificant juniper bushes which had been overlooked, rather like weeds. The man had been given permission to thin out this pasture, which lay behind his own little plot of arable land. He was joined presently by his wife, who was bareheaded and had on a straight, neat cotton dress which she had made herself, cutting it this shape to suit her present condition. She was near her time, but she still moved briskly about her work and did not appear to give much thought to the pangs which once more lay ahead. The cow was still lying down, it had not got up yet. Without looking at her husband, the woman went up purposefully to the animal and ran her fingers over its muzzle and elsewhere.

"She's not chewing the cud yet," the woman said to her husband, who had now come up behind her and was at a loss because there was nothing he could do for the cow, any more than for its mistress, if either of them should be in pain or any other trouble.

"We must get help for it — no, there's no need yet for the vet — I'll go and have a talk first with the mistress at Teliranta."

"But are you up to going?" the man asked.

"Why shouldn't I be?" his wife replied.

And before long Jalmari saw his Hilja in the slender brown boat, rowing toward the Teliranta farm, whose inverted image, with all its contours and colors, was now reflected in the glassy water of the inlet. Jalmari, the crofter,   [p. 22]   quickly forgot his cow's pain as he stood thoughtfully watching his wife row away.

It was a lovely summer's evening, just before haymaking time. The artist was out rowing, too, no doubt gazing at farms and hillsides as he usually did. His white, red-bottomed boat went close enough to Hilja for him to say something to her, since Hilja's oars seemed to slow down. There had been talk of his painting Hilja's picture later on, with her nursing the baby, but so far Hilja had turned a deaf ear and said that it was out of the question.

Jalmari was already walking toward the cottage, where the children were still at the same game they had been playing during the whole of this fair Sunday of summer.

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