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

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[chapter 17]

  [p. 55]  

17

Mettälä had meanwhile returned. He was slightly the worse for drink, some of which he still had in his pocket, and he suggested that they should go off for a prowl through the village. Salonen in particular he tried to persuade, but Salonen only skipped about, whistling and paying very little attention to what Mettälä said.

Mettälä was quite different from Salonen in appearance. He was coarse and big-boned, rather simple, and given to bragging. His was the horse which had been standing idle for some days there under the shelter, but which would no doubt be back at work turning the warping winch that evening.

"Come on, come on, Nokia," Mettälä said again. Salonen was called Nokia because he had once mentioned having been born in the industrial community of that name.

"Oh, stop nagging, mate. I said I wasn't going, didn't I?" Nokia snapped. He was especially irritated because, tongue in the corner of his mouth, he was just aiming his sheath knife at the wall of the cabin. This was his favorite amusement: holding his slender Kauhava knife by the point, he would fling it at the cabin wall and was very proud if he hit the spot that he said he was aiming at. When the other raftsmen sometimes stopped to watch his efforts and he did succeed, he proceeded to tell them of the phenomenal Chinaman   [p. 56]   he had once seen at a circus. An ordinary white woman — though she must have been the Chinaman's girl friend at that — had gone and stood against a wooden partition and the fellow ringed her head around with knives — just like this he threw them — and when the woman stepped aside, there was her outline like a drawing on the boards. Each of the knives had hit the mark exactly beside her, but not a single one had struck her. It would have killed her if it had, that slant-eyed Chink threw them so damned hard. The girl had to tug at them when she went and proudly plucked them out of the boards.


"I said I'm damn well not going, didn't I? Stop nagging," said Salonen, aiming again with his knife at the wall of the cabin. Then he threw himself down on his bunk and picked up the book he had bought when he was last in the village by the railroad. Victims of Love was the name of the book. Salonen had barely turned twenty. Up to now he had been a shop assistant in town, but driven by his restless nature, he had taken a job for the summer as a log floater on this chain of lakes. True, he had also been sentenced to a small fine which it did not suit him to pay, and he had no wish to go to prison for it, at any rate not in the summer. He had heard that a summer log-raft was the best hiding place.

This raft was not very big, and since the timber company's office was not far away, the rafts in these waters did not even have a proper captain; the eldest of the crew was supposed to act as one. Because he was not even entrusted with the wages — every Saturday a man from the office came in a motorboat to pay them; he'd been there only yesterday — the crew took little notice of what the old codger said. In any case he had only one arm, so he could not show his superiority   [p. 57]   at work either. Though in the narrows, where the current was strong, he knew all the dodges that were needed, giving his orders in the voice of a general at the front line. "Nokia" Salonen's best friend among the raftsmen was Matti Puolamäki, a very simple man, who openly admired Nokia's agility, youth, and checkered career. Later, when Nokia stood his trial for murder, Matti Puolamäki stood beside him in the dock, fettered and charged with incitement to murder. True, the irons were removed from Matti's ankles by order of the court, for it had not been proved that he had shouted to Nokia the words "Let him have it good and hard!" as someone had at first claimed. However, Matti had been made to stand beside the handsome youth, dressed the same as he was. Among the jurymen and lawyers that evening, there was more talk of Matti than of the leading figure, Nokia. According to the statutes the judge always asked the accused about his particular circumstances.

"Married or single?" the judge therefore asked Matti.

"I'm not married, but I have been engaged for the last five years — and I've three children, what's more."

"Well, why haven't you got married?" the judge went on.

The silence that followed this question was broken by the chairman of the district council in the parish that Matti came from:

"They forgot to send Matti here to confirmation school, so his union with this woman Iitta has never been solemnized, but otherwise Matti has taken good care of his family — in fact better than that murdered man, Mettälä, whose family the parish has sometimes had to help."

It was to guard the interests of the Mettälä children that the chairman had come to the trial. Matti and Mettälä were from the same parish.

But on the present evening they had no forebodings, and   [p. 58]   they all enjoyed to the fullest the life that had been given them to live.


Salonen did go off to the village anyway. He read his book until he came to an appropriate place, dog-eared the page, and slipped the book into the pocket of his workaday coat on the wall of the cabin. It had been Matti's turn to make coffee. Mettälä insisted on handing round his bottle; he lurched about the raft, going off now and then to pat his horse.

"It's the horse that earns money for a lazy man," he said, slapping the animal needlessly hard on the tender spots under the belly, so that it neighed vexedly and gave a little jump. For this reason he thought it necessary to slap it even harder on the hind quarters. Mettälä was in a very cocky mood. Then he went and tumbled into one of the boats, shoving it off so violently that it almost reached the shore before he got himself to the oars. Then he could be seen staggering up toward the houses. An old farmer, stone deaf and known for his surliness, came toward him on his way to look at his fish nets. A comical conversation ensued between them, which the men on the raft listened to in amusement.

"There's a bum for you," Nokia said, and his eyes glittered. Then he too set off, Matti rowing him ashore in the second boat.

The moon rose and for some time watched how events developed on this Sunday night.

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