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The Literature Collection

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

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[chapter 32]

  [p. 95]  

32

Once the Kortsaani farmer set about a thing, he carried it through. He would not hand over his horse to men like that, but went and got the stableman — the doctor having promised to come. He also telephoned to the chief of police, who promised to send a policeman on a motorcycle to investigate the matter.

Salonen and his companions moved away at the same time as the horse and cart that was to get the doctor. Nokia swung himself up beside the driver with a flourish and told his two friends to climb up and sit in his lap, just as if they were setting off to a fair. Then the old farmer, small, scrawny, and hook-nosed, snapped out in the same voice as before:

"Get down off there, or the cart stays where it is — we don't stand for that sort of thing here."

His wife had appeared behind him, half-dressed and stumbling slightly. Her face was withered and gray; distress and anger were reflected in it.

"What wrong have we done to you that you come here disturbing us old people?"

At this, Salonen jumped down and, bowing with heartfelt sincerity said:

"I beg your pardon, ma'am, we were going only as far as the main road, but your old man here is a bit narrow-minded. Hey, mister, how much does the ride cost? I think I might   [p. 96]   have enough hidden away in my rags." And with sweeping gestures he began to take out his wallet.

"It costs you the effort of getting out of here double quick. Mauno knows where to take the doctor." And the farmer slammed the door of his porch so hard that he was sorry the same instant, for the bang startled his old wife. From the window he watched the men walking away along the road. They really did go, talking as they went; they seemed to have forgotten the farm altogether. The youngest pulled what looked like a bottle out of his hip pocket. The old farmer was disgusted and upset; he would not sleep a wink for the rest of the night. The freshness of the morning began to occupy the thoughts of the old countryman. It consoled him to see that the coming day would undoubtedly be warm and fine. His eyes already noted signs of the morning: a cow in the farmyard had stood up, a calf was flapping its ears. The cobwebs were plainly visible; the dew had settled delicately onto the threads. The old man went outside again. Sleep was out of the question anyway.

The morning was indeed dewy; the old man felt it as he stood there in his underpants. The sounds and the stillness were very familiar. In the distance he could hear the men talking noisily as they walked away, and from still farther off the violent stuttering of the policeman's motorcycle could already be heard. — Where did the man come from? He was still very young. These were the farmer's thoughts, and his eyes took in the familiar peg for the horse's collar-bow on the stable wall, the apple trees in the orchard, the lovage and southernwood growing in the corner by the parlor windows, and the whole of his solid, well-run farm, whose peace such temporary ruffians could not seriously disturb. It was haymaking time; the usual day laborers had been notified.

Salonen had quite forgotten about the liquor he had come   [p. 97]   by earlier in the evening — how incredibly far off that evening walk seemed! It was afterward that there'd been all that trouble with Mettälä. . . . He fished out the bottle with what was left of the liquor and offered some to Matti.

"Go on, my boy, drink! Our drinking days will soon be over!"

"But they're never going to lock me up too!" Matti said in alarm.

"Oh, yes, they'll shove you in too; they've seen us together," Nokia declared. "And when I jumped out of the boat you shouted to me to let him have it good and hard."

"Did I say that?" Matti began to be terrified by the whole business. Flattering though such an assertion was, coming from Nokia, his instinct told him that it could land him in a tight corner. Policemen and police chiefs, the laborer's enemies, would never take the right view of a shout like that: that Puolamäki yelled out the words — if he did yell — merely from eagerness, because Nokia was such a nimble man that you couldn't help admiring him. Oh yes, they would try to fasten some sort of charge on him. Matti Puolamäki himself, however, had not the slightest recollection of having shouted anything of the kind. He said so very firmly to his buddy.

"You did call out, man — don't try that!" Salonen said, looking straight ahead.

This seemed to Matti like the betrayal of true comradeship. He too was slightly the worse for the liquor he had drunk; he was almost crying. If he went to prison too, what was going to happen to Iitta and Toivo and Laila and Tauno. He and Iitta weren't even married; there was nothing to stop her from going off with somebody else in the meantime.

"Give us another swig!"

  [p. 98]  

Salonen handed over the bottle, but tried to snatch it back almost at once, as he saw the policeman on his motorcycle approaching in the distance and guessed he had seen Matti taking a swig. When he rode up to them, that'd be the end of the bottle.

Sure enough, the policeman almost wrenched the bottle from Nokia's mouth. Although he did not know any of the men, they came from the direction of Kortsaani and the farmer had reported the murder, so there was not much doubt.

"Well, boys, and where's the body?"

"It needn't be a body yet — who the hell said he was dead before the doctor's seen him? And the doctor's coming — I can afford the doctor for one man at any rate — here, officer, won't you give me another swig out of the bottle — and take one yourself."

The policeman ignored the remark and began instead to ask a few preliminary questions.

"Did you have any grudge against the dead man — any old drinking or gambling quarrels?" The officer also cast an inquiring glance at Matti, who hastened to answer:

"Yes, there was something like that — they fell out over cards once, and Jukka, he was a terrible one for making trouble. I remember once —"

"You're a damned fine pal, telling the police everything," Nokia complained as if to himself. "It was you who shouted to me to let him have it good and hard. Damned fine pal you are."

"I never shouted anything of the kind," Puolamäki declared, as he plodded earnestly along beside them.

"Well, we'll see," the policeman said. The whole time he looked closely at the men as though taking careful note of their size and appearance and every detail of their dress. He   [p. 99]   was a swarthy man with a curled moustache. He could not do anything yet about placing the men under arrest, since he had not seen the body — in fact no one had reported anything about a body, only about a stabbing. So they walked on, the officer pushing his heavy motorcycle in front of him. Puolamäki grasped the handlebars on the other side and they pushed it together, the policeman making no objection.

They still had over two kilometers to the scene of the crime. The road finally became a cart track; the officer left his cycle in some bushes at the side. They were now in sight of the farm, with the ryefield behind it, at the edge of which — yes, the foreman and a couple of other raftsmen were still there, waiting around, staring straight ahead. They had evidently noticed the little group approaching.

Only now, as he got near, did Salonen stiffen somewhat; he tried to slacken his pace, so that the policeman gave him a long look — he was obviously beginning to keep his eye on him. They drew nearer and nearer . . . . Salonen and Puolamäki could already see the familiar backside of the man lying in the grass, just as they had seen it so many times on the bunk of the raft hut, when the man lay there snoring. They drew nearer and nearer. . . . Nokia was silent, nor could Matti and Heinonen find anything to say.

Salonen said nothing more about the doctor; he was pale and tired and had a violent thirst. There was nothing but lake water, and when he started down to the shore to gulp it up, the officer grabbed him by the wrist and growled in a very different voice from the one he had used as they walked along:

"Oh, no — you stay right here. Isn't this the one who did the stabbing?"

"Yes, it was him all right," the men confirmed. It could not be denied, however impartial they might want to be.

  [p. 100]  

"Surely I can damned well go and quench my thirst," Salonen said. His voice, too, was different; it sounded full of suppressed anguish and rage.

"You'll get the taste of water soon enough," the policeman replied, and before Nokia knew what had happened, his wrists had been clapped into handcuffs.

Without a further glance at Nokia, the policeman demanded:

"And what about this man here? Did he shout and egg the other man on?"

"I never shouted nothing — Yrjö's mistaken." Inadvertently Matti had used Salonen's Christian name, which he never did normally.

"There was such a noise going on that I can't say for sure whether he shouted or not."

"Supposing we do like this in any case," the policeman said, undoing the handcuff from Salonen's left wrist and fastening it to Matti Puolamäki's left wrist. "You seem to be such good friends that you might as well stay together for a while."

And all the while the big-boned, coarse-featured crofter lay motionless in the grass where he had fallen. There he was, with not a movement out of him however much you stared at him. The cobbled, water-logged boots, the rough clothing sagging and crumpled as before. On the raft, the horse; at home in the third parish, croft, wife, and children.

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