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

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[chapter 11]

  [p. 38]  

11

Sleep was out of the question, but at this time of year and in this part of the world — and at this age — one does not need so much sleep. For Arvid, the guest, a bed had been made up in the end corner room of the building ruled by grandmother. An empty front sitting room — smelling of unpainted wood and unlit tiled stoves — separated this room from the old lady's actual living quarters, where Helka also slept.

It was already after midnight, and the guest was still tiptoeing around the front room. It was a wide room with two windows in each of the side walls; in these windows, as elsewhere in the house, stiffly starched lace curtains hung from week to week, virginal and untouched. At each gable end were two doors, one leading into a wide hall and from there onto an amusingly rickety porch with small-paned windows; here and there a pane was bright blue or blood red. Having drifted about the sitting room for a while, a guest could make his way out to the yard — unnoticed from anywhere else, provided that all in the house were asleep.

The door leading from the front room into the hall opened very gently and someone was faintly visible in the opening. The twilight was now so deep that the man in the room could pretend to look hard in order to make sure.

"Can't you sleep?"

  [p. 39]  

"I haven't wanted to yet."

The girl who had asked the question remained in the doorway, leaning gracefully against the jamb. In that light and in that position she was again new. The destiny of two young people moved onward with the charm and ease peculiar to a sublime force. As scene after scene unfolded, the attraction grew stronger. The girl was standing there on the threshold in the dusk — on the threshold, but the half-open door was already behind her: the door opened outward, in the direction from which she had come.

The young man had spoken the words "I haven't wanted to yet," with a strange gravity. He moved slightly toward where the girl was standing, but in such a way that all his attention seemed to be fixed on the summer night. He looked at each side of the room in turn, as though surrendering himself to what he saw from the windows, first in the south, then in the north.

"Who could sleep here when such a being, such a brightly dark, enchanting ghost, keeps watch all round one's bed, playing a melody which is so low and so high that the ear cannot catch it."

"How then do you know that it makes a sound?"

"I see it in your eyes — you have accompanied me once before."

By now the girl, without being aware of it, had stepped over the threshold and closed the door noiselessly behind her.

There was a caress in the young man's words . . . an accompaniment . . . soundless music which would soon be heard. Once more the girl felt herself in the power of this music, just as she had been in the winter. At this moment she again felt self-conscious as she remembered their duet — how the violin had seemed to come like a gypsy right against her ear   [p. 40]   and speak a language which, had it been expressed in ordinary human words — and acts — would . . . . She had resisted, striking the chords with the strength of despair, yet it seemed to her when they had finished playing — the music ended with a long pianissimo in which the accompaniment led — it seemed when she got up from the piano stool that she was no longer the same as before. And then in the library — she remembered every detail . . . .

There he was again, that same being, the same manly figure, his "music" had the same firm touch as then, though now the sound was muted — and the most wonderful of all: there were no guests. What had the whole of this day been? What else but a preparation for this. Had there been a single thing, however insignificant, had there been one chance thought, word, or action which had not been an irrevocable preparation for this? In all her life had there been any thought, word, deed which did not lead to this — in all her life; — yes — that is what — it — has — been . . . . He — he whose right shoulder was already such a sweet support for the fingers of her left hand as they gazed together out into the yard . . . . their two profiles together stood out in a clear, light, double relief against the background of that "brightly dark, enchanting ghost," the northern summer night, which could not speak . . . . There he was . . . that dear person . . . the man who in the daytime had a name but not now . . . who, somewhere out there, had a "career" for which he was studying, at the same time practicing his music . . . no, nothing . . . nothing . . . only this. Only this wonderful, almost numbing state of existence.


The sun returned; it could not help it. The grassy space in front of the house grew mysteriously pink and the most curious of all was that certain parts of it, which   [p. 41]   one was accustomed to think of as illumined, were now in deep shadow, and quite strange parts were emerging into light. Yesterday evening — where was it? Was this the yard where they had all sat? — How have I come to be here? — along what paths? — through what circumstances? We are still awake, and no one knows it.

"Good night," one of them said.

But it was said in such a way that the other was unable to answer in words. In the old front room smelling of wood and clean linen, where many a bride had been wedded, it was quite still for a while. Then light footsteps were heard, and two doors were closed almost at the same time. Day threatened — threatened with the fact that they, without the mediation of sleep, would remember who they were, each other's names — all that which . . . .

But sleep did draw its curtain between — to open it again on the morrow for new events that gained in intensity.

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