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

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[chapter 8]

  [p. 26]  


Mettälä-Santra had not really expected her husband home for the weekend. He had been back once since he went off log floating in the spring, and she had no great joy from that visit other than the little money he had brought. In fact, the two nights he had spent at home had been rather unpleasant. Volmari, Santra's eldest son — a child of her early days before her marriage — had chanced to drop in, and he and his stepfather never really hit it off . . . . And by midday on Sunday Volmari had set off again into the world, going his own way as he had done for years. He came home only when he was well dressed and could arrogantly flourish his money on the slightest pretext. He was just like his anonymous father. Santra, his mother, always felt a bitter-sweet pang at the remembrance of the things that had happened when Volmari was conceived — and then again at his birth. A dour, ironic expression was apt to come over her face when, her husband having gone, she noticed how firmly and tenaciously — strange to say — she was attached to this home and her life here. There were the youngsters — whom she had had by that man who was now striding off down the lane, a large man with a plodding, slightly pigeon-toed walk. Santra stayed at home at her work, and even the children with their staring eyes noticed a look on their mother's face which was not there when father was   [p. 27]   at home, nor was it there later when he had gone. It was only like that when father was walking away down the lane — and then again on Saturday evenings when he was expected home. In between times mother was the same as she always was.

She was a tall, big-boned woman. But even if the bone structure was apparent here and there — on the shoulders, in the cheekbones, at the chin and elbows — it seemed as if not even her hard life had been able to deprive this woman of any of the earthy female magnetism that nature had infused into her ever since her girlhood. It could be seen as she walked along the summer path, carrying something, or when in an idle moment she sat down to rest. And it could be heard when she gave a sharp answer to some tipsy fellow's pleasantries. Even if there was always a somewhat bitter line at the corners of her mouth as she went about her work, and her eyes had a slightly morose look of despair, those who had eyes to see could trace her primitive femininity in the eyes and lips. Boys did not see it, perhaps, but more mature men did. She was about thirty-five these summer nights — nights which, as always, soothed the hearts of men, young and old, high and low. Especially during these few short weeks when the spring work was over and haymaking had not yet begun.

In Mettälä-Jukka's eyes his wife was nothing now but an ordinary old crofter's mare; in fact their marriage, when the croft fell to Jukka on the death of his father, was the work of others. Jukka had been no ladies' man when young. At dances he would usually stand by the door; mostly he kept away from them unless he had a quick one first — not too much, but just enough to give him Dutch courage. It excused a man for going to a dance, as it were. He had a vague feeling that it was slightly mawkish for a man to walk several   [p. 28]   miles on such an errand. And as a rule the only dancing Mettälä-Jukka did was to slouch along on the edge of the ring, trying when he sang to bellow as loud as he thought he should. It was seldom that a girl drew him into the ring, but it happened sometimes. As it did that summer when he was released from prison after his part in the rebellion. Having recovered his old form, physically and mentally, he once went to a dance at the workmen's institute at Mahanala. Korkomäki-Santra had come and pulled him into the ring and looked him straight in the eyes, as much to say: Is there any truth in old Mother Nieminen's talk?

It was just the time when old Mother Nieminen, mischief-making and glib-tongued, had started it all — a matter for which she took the credit ever afterwards. Though at the outset she had done little more than to drop insinuations to Santra and Jukka, one at a time. After that very same dance Santra took Jukka to the loft where she slept. By then Jukka's tipsiness had evaporated to some extent; but when he saw what Santra was up to, it soon returned, and he pretended to be drunk and swore threateningly under his breath as they approached the farm where Santra was in service, their arms around each other's waists. Santra assured him that none of the farm folk was watching them, not that they would have cared a rap if the whole lot had been standing there on the porch. But to Jukka's way of thinking, this business of coming back with a girl and climbing up to her loft was no better than bellowing on the edge of the ring at the dance: no grown man could be bothered with that sort of thing if he was sober. Or without feeling ashamed.

But toward morning the same night, just as Jukka was making ready to leave, Santra said to him:

"You've got to marry me now, you know. That was the understanding."

  [p. 29]  

And so it was. Jukka soon learned to visit Santra's loft without having to bolster courage at the dictates of his childish bashfulness. He did not go unobserved — and after that summer, when the weather got so cold that Santra had to move her bed from the loft to the servants' quarters, they had to have the banns posted. The farmer spoke his mind and said that otherwise he could not have that kind of thing going on under the same roof where he lay with his wife.

That was the beginning, and before very long it had become what it now was, even during these summer nights. Jukka had lost the shyness of his bachelor days, but otherwise felt very little for Santra. He was an ordinary man, who made a passable living with his horse and who was morose and apathetic, unless he had had just the right amount to drink, as in the old days when he went dancing. Then he could be the same as before — until recently. More and more often now he would look for work farther afield; sometimes he got dead drunk and was then rough and hard to please.

This last visit of Jukka's a week ago had at first, on Saturday evening, seemed pleasant enough. He had come a long way, from the far end of the floating-channel, and Santra and the children had not expected him. Santra had been making home-brewed ale for the master of the farm from which this Mettälä had at one time been parceled and where Santra had been in service. There was a younger master in charge there now; at that earlier time he had still been a bachelor and he knew Santra's talent for brewing ale.

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