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

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[chapter 33]

  [p. 101]  

33

Yes, there they were, croft, wife, and children — and their life was not quite as usual at this time. Saturday evening also had seen the beginning of one or two small things out of the ordinary at Mettälä.

It was a week now since Santra had made the homebrewed ale out of ingredients obtained on the sly by the local farmer. The brew had been allowed to ferment and strengthen undisturbed and was indeed a first-class drink by Saturday evening, when the farmer and a couple of his boon companions arrived to sample it. One of the guests Santra did not know at all; the other she recognized as a man from the church village who was inclined to put on airs.

At first they sat outside, on a bench on the porch, enjoying the lovely evening. There was even talk of going to the sauna, but Santra answered sharply, though doing her best to be pleasant:

"I haven't brought any water or anything — so you can't go — you can give your insides a bath instead."

The children had already had theirs; they came dashing back inside with their shirts in their fists, and went straight to bed. Santra still glanced toward the road from time to time. Something special stirred in her mind; the expression of her eyes, which reflected her waiting, was almost ironic.

"He won't come now," the farmer said.

  [p. 102]  

"You can never be sure," Santra said without taking her eyes off the road, the eyes that expressed so much. Those who wanted to could see from Santra's whole attitude, not only her gaze, that she was not expecting anyone on the road. Urged by the men, she too sampled the ale.

The night moved on a degree or two; it no longer gave the talkative company any pleasure. It would have demanded silence of each one of them if they had decided to stay out on the porch. Even though the guests felt a certain glow from the ale, their very instincts told them this. They moved into the ever dim room behind the porch; it was the window of this room that was covered by the torn lace curtain. Santra had given it a quick straightening up. The bed served as a seat, and there were also some sort of chest and a couple of chairs. By the time the guests had moved inside, the night had entered a new phase in earnest. Saturday night, the eve of the Sabbath. Cigarette smoke filled the air; it was very seldom that anyone smoked in here. And things were talked of, the like of which that moldering room at least had never heard before. Santra brought the men ale in a large pail — to give her time to go to the sauna without their noticing.

For Santra the evening was strange and unusual — if for no other reason than that she was alone in the sauna. She could not recall such a thing's ever happening. It was odd — in some funny way she was left alone with herself. Or rather there was company: the dark corner of the wooden bench, the hiss of the water on the hot stones; they drew near and — most vivid of all — seemed to look straight into a body's thoughts and know her present state of mind. They even seemed to disclose and explain it to herself. When the stones stopped hissing, there was nothing else to do but to start vigorously applying the birch whisk. Once again this was an everyday activity. . . . So Jukka was not here with her in the   [p. 103]   sauna this Saturday evening. Well, if he wasn't, he wasn't, and — what was the harm of it — it was their own ale they were drinking.

Santra sat cooling off on the sauna porch and could not help looking at the night, as one does look at it when coming late from the sauna. Here too was the same strange excitement, though it was light everywhere and she knew she had nothing to fear. No one could cast stones at her — at most one or two local people might envy her. Well — Jukka was not at home, but no one would think anything of that. The thought amused Santra slightly. . . . There they sat, drinking their ale and talking their interminable talk. The worst of it was that the mistress might get wind of it — Santra still spoke and thought of the owners of the former estate as the master and mistress. Well, let her, Santra felt more or less ready to stand up to the mistress. Why shouldn't the master come and see us? Santra began to draw on her chemise.

She stuck first her arms, then her head, into the waist of the garment, then stretched her arms straight up to get them into the sleeves. At that very moment the farmer came out of the porch door and caught sight of Mettälä-Santra's sturdy frame with all its curves, the breasts and armpits; it looked like a massive sculpture. He gazed — as long as Santra wriggled into the garment. Then he turned nimbly toward the corner of the house as though he had not even noticed the figure at the sauna.

The night had now reached its most sacred and solemn moment, when all sounds grow hushed and even that fancied music, the pianissimo, has thinned out into nothing, into a pregnant pause. The farmer, who was now past forty, was aware for the first time in a long, long time of the spell of the summer night at a remote croft like this.

The strangers were not used to the home-brewed ale; they   [p. 104]   grew drowsy and started to stretch out on the bed. When she saw this, Santra — who after the sauna went about more lightly clad — said to the farmer that he must get them away; they couldn't spend the night here. She said this out on the steps, looking away toward the road as she spoke. The farmer glanced at her sauna-red cheeks, pressed her left arm, nodded, and went inside. Santra went into the living room and lay down beside the youngest child. From the back room came the murmur of three men talking at once. After a while they all came out, and she heard them going into the yard.

The sounds died away, but Santra still strained her ears — and, sure enough, before long there was a noise on the steps and on the porch. The farmer's shape loomed in the doorway; he seemed to be looking for something and at last to find it — tiptoeing ridiculously, he came and sat down on the edge of Santra's bed.

"I nearly forgot to give the brewer her wages."

He groped for Santra's right hand and slipped two notes into her rather limp palm. He left his hand in hers.

"There's still some ale left, isn't there?" The farmer squeezed Santra's hand, as though asking it and not her. But the hand did not respond.

"Don't be angry, Santra. Next time I come, I'll give a receipt for a part-payment of the price of the croft."

"Yes, but what will the mistress say?"

"Is there any ale left?" He bent over so close to Santra's ear that he smelled the scent left in her hair by the sauna.

"We'll see," Santra said, pushing the farmer away; a distant murmur of voices grew louder as his companions returned to see what had become of him.

She gave him a more vigorous push and he made no resistance; he merely gave a farewell squeeze to the hand that   [p. 105]   held the money and slipped outside before his companions noticed where he came from.

The men's voices died away again and for some time there was silence; then the cock crowed. A moment or two later the clock on the wall struck. Santra lay awake, the notes she had been given still in her hand. — Jukka would not come now, wherever he might be this night.

For Santra somehow felt that he was not lying in his bunk in the hut on the raft.

Once more she remembered the small keg, still in the cellar, in which she had saved the best of her brew. She thought of what the farmer had said as he left — everything was rather strange and frightening, but at the same time secretly delightful. Again the cock crowed.

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