There was little to be seen on the site of the old farm, but the place itself — a small, stony rise with a glimpse of the water here and there — was enchanting. Several small mounds overgrown by grass were evidently former cornerstones and parts of the walls. One or two ancient trees higher up showed clearly that man had at one time treated them differently from the birches and spruces farther away. These venerable trees that had known the touch of a human hand rose from the midst of a grove of saplings as though to give, in the name of bygone times, a dignified welcome to the two strollers; they were not at all like the people who had first cared for them.
A tumble-down old haybarn lay at the foot of the knoll and beside it grew some meadow flowers, which the forest would not have allowed to grow without the barn: a few bluebells and violet-tinged mallows, even some blood-red clover that had just burst into bloom. Helka bent down to examine the grass of the tiny slope.
"No, there are no wild strawberries ripe yet."
"Well, the rye has hardly finished flowering."
"Oh yes, surely."
"No, I had a look this morning. At least a fifth of the heads were still dark."[p. 47]
They had to talk about something, having made a pretext for coming.
They started back. Arvid had been looking at his companion and once more remembered their last meeting in town. It was wonderful how well this figure and expression of hers fitted in with the glade and the grass-grown road which was so seldom used in the summer. She took long steps, trying to adapt her walk to his. Here in the shelter of the wood you could do as you pleased; there was no one to watch except the flycatcher darting silently past. Here and there in the grass of the road was a celandine or a stunted buttercup.
The road became a grassy strip and only the opening it made through the woods showed its direction. Helka's left arm, which was linked in Arvid's, stiffened as though she had caught sight of something strange. When Arvid stopped, she gave a short laugh which seemed to cascade in golden drops, her arm flew up round his neck, and she kissed him on the mouth. They had been to see the old ruins of her family's estate, and now that they had done so and were on their way home, they were no longer the same people they had been when they set out. The young man gripped the girl by the shoulders, pressed her to him perhaps a trifle too hard, looked at her in the same way as he had done after their duet and said:
"Do you love me?"
"How can I help it?" — and her joy almost burst into a sob . . . .
And then her attention was caught by a modest veronica gleaming in the grass like a fallen butterfly's wing. Or like an eye which had seen what it had seen.
They came out through a gate onto the fields and saw farms near and far. The sky in front of them, to the south, [p. 48] had a leaden tinge, and behind them they could sense the gold of evening. But there was no sign yet of the moon.
They were now walking, one on either side of the road, their shoes clacking on the hard clay. On both sides was an increasing profusion of wildflowers. On Arvid's side, where a gash had been made in the surface of the road, were short, but incredibly big-leaved aspen shoots, and in the midst a wealth of veronicas, pimpernels, meadowsweet, woodruff, bluebells. There were also one or two thistles on the point of bursting into bloom — the loveliest plant of all to be found on lush slopes: the flower purple, the leaf dark-green on top, almost white underneath, and when you break the stem the copious white sap oozes out. On the other side was a cornfield, where the clumsy ears had just attained their full growth. There was still some cow parsley in flower, and in the shelter of the cornstalks some balls of downy seed remained.
Out here on the road across the tilled fields Helka's walk was not the same as on the soft, grassy track through the wood. She was walking as Arvid had seen her walk on the parquet floor of the ballroom in the capital, as though proclaiming with every step the glory of Him who had fashioned her. She made no attempt now to talk to her companion; after what had just happened she merely hummed softly to herself, swinging her hat slowly in time to her steps. If Arvid spoke to her, she answered eagerly, but it was plain that her thoughts were floating happily elsewhere.
This was the return witnessed by the rower on the lake — and these were its conditions.
Copyright © 1934 by Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava, Helsinki, Finland. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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