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

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[chapter 39]

  [p. 118]  

39

The old mistress of Teliranta — mother of its present master, whom she loved so well — had been following the course of events ever since the evening. She knew that the young people, with their guests, had gone off in cars to town — in the guests' cars, because the family's own was still in the garage — and she also knew that the mistress had gone to Syrjämäki earlier in the evening, as indeed was only right, seeing that she did know a little more than an ordinary old peasant woman. She had been rather worried that her daughter-in-law was away for so long; but since her son had answered her anxious inquiries with a good-humored smile, she had at last got into bed to wait for sleep.

Sleep did not come at once. The very thought that sleep would come the moment one stretched out in bed was something remote. There was much else of the same kind which her brain could no longer grasp but which she remembered from the glorious, colorful days of her youth. . . . It almost made her envious to think of someone like Helka, whose mental and physical charms she so well perceived, old as she was.

No, sleep would not come. Grandmother went many times to the window, then back to bed. Once she peeped into the other room and glanced at Helka's bed, as though not knowing it was empty — for that matter it always did look untouched,   [p. 119]   even when Helka had slept in it. While she was up and about, the old lady never failed to look out at the sky and see what the weather was going to be. One thing was certain — it would be fine tomorrow, Monday. Not a speck of cloud anywhere. All she saw were the hayfields — Teliranta's own and those of the village on the other side of the lake. How far off were those old memories of meadows and haymaking! Many a strip she had scythed, this woman who was now old but who had once been young. Many a farm hand had eyed her hopefully as he sharpened her scythe. . . . So it had been — and so, too, the years had passed and her son, this present master of Teliranta, was now going on fifty. And his handsome wife — only a year or two younger. . . . Well, Selma was a big girl now; whenever a young man came near her — like this Hannu — it almost fretted her. Selma and Helka — how lovely they were — part of God's creation! According to the Creator's decree, they were one day to find the same calling as their grandmother, but all the same . . . oddly enough the thought troubled the old lady. For the sake of her grandchildren she did her best to make as favorable an impression as possible on the young men.

But now she was alone — or alone with her own old self. In some strange way her whole past life came into her mind. It felt as if she were still the same little girl as she had been when she first began to be aware of herself as a human being. She looked at her hand, which was now old, thin, and sinewy, but which nevertheless felt the same as the child's hand she had once examined for the first time. She looked out at the summer night — which was already morning — and there too the lakes at least were just the same as they had been in her far-off youth when she had been out rowing night and day. Some of the farm buildings were new, but the land was the same, and the same firs grew beside the slopes   [p. 120]   where the potato pits were. Strange, that she should come to look at it all now, that all these things should make her so sad and pensive.

Grandmother combed her thinning hair, combed it calmly and braided it, tried out a yawn, and then got into bed.

Helka had still not returned; she would have heard her. It was pleasant just the same to think of Helka and Selma on a summer night's outing with young men. It was nice when you knew a girl as well as she knew her grandchildren. And they would soon be back.

But what was keeping Martta, her daughter-in-law? And what had happened at Syrjämäki?

She couldn't be all this time just with the cow; there must be something the matter with the people.

Hilja, yes . . . this would be her fourth. The old mistress of Teliranta knew and remembered Hilja's ups and downs as well as her own. Actually, she was an important person in Hilja and Jalmari's life. Hilja had been in service here at Teliranta and because of that, presumably, had come to look on this place as home and felt she could turn to it for comfort in times of trouble. As a young girl she had been rather unruly — the old mistress remembered this quite well — but at heart she was good and pure, and this too the old woman knew, knew without any doubt. For Hilja had once cried for an hour or more on her shoulder, clutching her in her despair as though she were drowning. It was all because of that university student — the one who was here for a summer and then went away. It was then that the old mistress had got to know Hilja and become a second mother to her, defenseless as she was.

Later, Hilja had said to her:

"Auntie, can I take Jalmari . . . when you know what I have been like before?"

  [p. 121]  

And the old mistress had answered:

"You can be happy if a decent man like Jalmari loves you. But remember one thing: you must not hide anything from him. Have you had any other men besides that student?"

"Not in that way," Hilja replied.

"Well, then, next time Jalmari mentions marriage, you're to say this to him: I should like very much to be your wife, but can you take me when I am not — untouched?"

And the old mistress of Teliranta laughed even now, old as she was and weary from lack of sleep, at the thought of what she had heard from Hilja a little later. The girl had done as she was told and had said to Jalmari the very words that the old mistress had put into her mouth.

"And Jalmari?"

"Hehehehehe. . . ." Hilja's good spirits bubbled out irresistibly. "In all my born days I've never seen a man who looked more stupid than Jalmari did when he heard it — that is, if he did hear. He goggled at me, and when I'd explained just what it was all about, he looked at me for a long time and asked, how was it now, was I coming to him or not. And what about the banns. . . . Hahahhahahahh."

That was how it all turned out — and the old mistress herself had been the firstborn's godmother. At first she had made objections — "I'm so old now that I'm not really suited to that sort of thing" — but Hilja had said:

"Unless the old mistress of Teliranta is godmother, there won't be any christening."

All this went through the grandmother's mind as she glanced out of the window and across the lake. Then once more she went to bed. . . . She felt an extraordinary weakness which she had not known before, even in her old age. It was a fatigue more of mind than of body. With increasing eagerness her thoughts centered around youth — both her own   [p. 122]   and others'. More and more imperfect seemed the life she had lived. How can anyone go through life so inadequately, although one knows quite well what one should have done. What have I been? — and I've given life to many descendants. If only they knew my imperfections. . . .

She heard voices from the direction of the road but was too tired to go to the window and see. She could make out her son's voice — and then there was the sound of a car pulling up, a faint screech of brakes. But she was past getting up to look. Let them be! It was nearly morning now — in the old days you were at work before this, and there was no taking an afternoon nap as these modern mechanized haymakers did, who also made out they were so ready to get up in the mornings.

The old mistress heard sounds from the shore of the lake — the motorboat was being started up. They had to make several attempts before the chug-chug continued — and then faded away. It was off to Syrjämäki, she supposed. Poor Hilja, how were things with her? But she was too tired now to get up and ask or look.

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