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

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[chapter 25]

  [p. 74]  


So Helka rode in Hannu's car, sitting beside him. Behind them came Selma and Arvid. Teliranta was left pleasantly behind. It was indeed pleasant for a little while to leave this house where the summer Sunday had been so brimful of tranquil happiness. Arvid also thought how nice it was that Hannu had Helka sitting beside him — on the way there. Coming back, there would be just the two of them. Hannu was to continue his trip and Selma would stay in town. So he had gathered when they set off.

The festive loveliness of the night seemed to accompany these travelers. From one landscape to the next, from view to view, it was there with them, glimpsed now to the side where a village straggled, now hiding at a bend in the road on a pine heath — until again it widened out and gave itself up freely, resting calmly above a new lake and dreaming, darkly colored, on the ridges that lay beyond. These travelers had known it all their lives, this dear Finnish summer night, and for that reason they did not stop to admire it. They dwelt in it; the expression and light of their eyes shone with the same radiance without their giving it a thought. They lived and felt this night — just as they had so often lived a January night of moonlight and frost.

"Farther south I expect it's already much darker at midnight," Helka said to her companion, looking at his softly handsome profile.

  [p. 75]  

"Yes, especially in the outer archipelago," Hannu replied, narrowing his eyes — they were passing a farm and someone had left a hayrack in the road. "And in the cities along the Baltic all the street lights are on. Actually that kind of summer night too has its charm, with its wealth of chestnut blooms lit up with electric light. But they're over by now."

Selma, who had not known Hannu before, asked Arvid about him, shyly and almost brusquely.

"Be on your guard in his company on a night like this. He tramples on hearts as we trample on flowers in a summer meadow."

"You may have to be on guard yourself," Selma replied — and in this car it happened that the driver found himself glancing at the girl beside him and observing her profile. Selma's eyes, as she answered, had been fastened on the car ahead and she did not take them off it. Arvid saw her rather large-featured face which, with its firm contour and smooth though somewhat coarse skin, would have suited an adolescent youth. But the natural curls near the pale ear revealed something else. Their hot golden tinge glinted like the extreme tip of a flame from a deep-burning fire which had forced its way to the surface. Selma was inclined to be blunt; if anyone approached her, whether it was a woman of the same age or any man at all, she stiffened politely and the golden flames at her temples seemed to go out. For some reason she was convinced that her appearance was against her. If someone in an inferior position — a seamstress, a bath attendant — said in a voice trembling with sincerity, "You certainly have a lovely figure, miss," she thought the person said so merely because her face was not beautiful.

But now too, late on this Sunday evening, a cluster of youths standing about in some outlying village street could give her a very admiring glance as she sat in the front seat   [p. 76]   of the car. She had an extraordinary flair for clothes and colors, although no one ever actually noticed when and where she got them. She saw and understood all that went on around her. And the red-gold locks flamed at her temples like the deeply suppressed signs of a strong femininity.

After her remark Arvid could not help glancing at the even-tempered girl. Though aware of this, she kept looking straight ahead, as if steering the car with her gaze.

They came to a railroad crossing, and each looked out of the window. In front of them were the blurred outskirts of the town on its gently rising ridge. In the twilight the many twisting streets and hundreds of houses formed a coherent mass, which merged into the chain of lakes extending on either side and the factory chimneys rising behind. Over there, somewhere behind that thick, even grove of pines was the place they were headed for.

"I wonder if there is any engagement party. Hannu sometimes gives one just for fun. All he wanted was to get us out for a ride and some amusement."

So spoke Arvid, now keeping his eyes straight ahead. Here in the outskirts of the town his handsome car drew attention. A couple of taxi-drivers who were lounging about watched them as they drove past.

"I wouldn't mind having a buggy like that."

"What do you think you'd do with her? She'd cost you more in fuel than you'd earn."

It turned out just as Arvid had predicted. "It's somewhere on the top of the ridge; I'll find it all right," so Hannu had said. Now he drove in front; they could see him turn with a laugh to his companion once or twice, and the conversation was evidently very lively. And the car knew exactly where it was going. It was already bumping along a cobbled street — until at a certain point it turned unhesitatingly to the right   [p. 77]   and was soon on the lovely road at the top of the ridge, where now and then a night-blue expanse of water gleamed between the pines on both sides. By this time the two in the car behind knew quite well where Hannu's "engagement party" was.

They passed one or two well-tended market gardens. The road was now like an ordinary highway, until it widened out into a level, shady space, at one corner of which several cars were parked side by side. An old and sunken flight of stone steps led to an upper terrace, and from this again rose some wooden steps. Everywhere, almost up to the door, grew elder bushes, luxuriant nettles, sorrel, and in general everything that thrives in strong soil. But up in the doorway a gold-braided doorman was visible.

When the "trailer" — as Hannu called Arvid's Packard for the rest of the evening — drove up, the other two were already waiting.

"This is an engagement party, Arvid," Helka called. "It remains to be seen whose."

But Arvid was already drawing his car in neatly beside the other. Music could be heard from inside, and above it, from the vestibule, a sharp discussion. It was almost bickering — some dispute among the restaurant staff. But in the background was the sound of the dance music.

The newcomers were received very politely; the host himself came forward and mentioned in an obsequious whisper that the glass rotunda at the end of the veranda had just become vacant. Would they care to sit there? Both brow and neck were wrinkled from his anxiety to be of service. Yes — anywhere at all! And in an instant the traces of the previous guests vanished from the rotunda table.

Pines were growing somewhere far down below, so that their tops barely reached to the level of the young people's   [p. 78]   feet. And above the trees could be seen once more that same dim expanse of lake which they had glimpsed from the top of the ridge, gleaming between the pine trunks. One or two people were out rowing, and an occasional motorboat hurried along — its chatter did not carry up to the watchers on the glassed-in veranda; it was only the sight of it that influenced their mood. Farther away other rowboats and motorboats were visible — townspeople returning to the summer quiet of their dwellings from Sunday outings. They all had their own experiences, some of which were to be continued this coming night. After a few swift hours the factory machines would start turning, the shops and offices would be opened. But now the people in the boats were still gazing at the familiar shoreline, wondering what it would be like to be there or there and entering into the spirit of these imagined moods. So too might someone, whose thoughts had momentarily drifted away from the merrymaking, look down at the water from the height of the lakeside restaurant and picture the feelings of the people in this or that boat. The young people in the restaurant, settled into one position, seemed to be intensely receptive to the atmosphere of this night, still free from the exertions of the morrow.

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