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

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[chapter 40]

  [p. 123]  


A farmer by the name of Pietilä served as a guard for prisoners. He was a young man and in his house lived his even younger brother, who spent most of his time leading a wild life with drink and young farm girls; these were quite helpless once they had got mixed up with him. Iivari Pietilä was a handsome fellow, and he knew just how to deal with each girl he met.

On this July evening he had been on his usual Sunday wanderings and had not yet come home when Salonen and Puolamäki arrived from the preliminary interrogation with the police chief. Puolamäki, who was not seriously worried, had fallen asleep on his bunk the moment he stretched out, but Salonen could not get to sleep. His intoxication began finally to clear away, and he banged on the door of the cell to get water for his burning thirst.

At that moment into the living room walked a man who asked roughly what the prisoner wanted.

"By God, I want water, or I'll burst into flames," came a voice from the cell.

The new arrival was Iivari Pietilä.

"Wouldn't you like a drop of liquor?" he called out.

"Don't make fun of a poor prisoner!" came the reply.

Iivari was fumbling at the door of the cell when the door   [p. 124]   to the room at the back of the living room opened and his brother appeared in his underclothes and said:

"Be careful with that man; he's a murderer."

"Don't worry, I know Nokia — I meant to beat him up the other Sunday, but that's as far as it got, and I don't suppose anything will come of it now for a long time. You go and turn in; I'll watch the prisoner."

Iivari was somewhat the worse for drink — and because on the whole he was wiser and stronger than his elder brother, the latter was in the habit of giving in to him.

A corner of the room had been partitioned off as a cell. Iivari opened the door, and before him, large as life, stood the same Nokia whom he had encountered when the timber-raft passed the village. They had very nearly come to blows. Now, Iivari too had heard — even at this distance — of the night's brawl and the killing near the raft. And even though Nokia on the earlier occasion had deliberately goaded him on and then made off with his pals without a final settling up, Iivari now treated the man in the heavy leg irons like a long-lost brother. He beckoned to the prisoner to come out into the living room, and soon they were sitting on the broad bench by the window. The farmer came to the door once again in his underclothes and said to his brother:

"This is on your own head, Iivari. As long as you know that."

"Hm, and he's supposed to be a jailer," Iivari said, fishing out of his pocket a bottle containing a ready-mixed, pinkish liquid. Salonen's bright blue eyes gleamed in the clear morning light. The sunrise could not be seen directly from inside, but the glow was reflected from the yard;

The men discussed what had happened.

"Did he die on the spot?" Iivari asked.

"Yes, he died on the spot, all right."

  [p. 125]  

"Have you been in prison before?"

"Not exactly in prison, but I've been sentenced to quite a pile of small fines."

"You don't look much like an ordinary log floater. How is it you came to be on a raft?"

"Oh, I just thought I'd see what it was like. So many books have such fancy stories about this log-floating life that I had to try my hand at it for once. But — they're an ugly lot of men; I haven't seen a good-looking youth the whole summer — not since I left my lodgings in Tampere."

"What about girls?"

"Phoo — farm girls and scullery maids! I can't be bothered. . . . But the knife sank sweetly into him. . . ." And Nokia made the same movement with his hand as he had done when he struck Mettälä; his eyes flashed, their blueness grew more intense, and his mouth had a strange, voluptuous expression. At the same moment he reached out with his other hand for the liquor, which Iivari let him have. Salonen took a long pull at the bottle. When he had finished drinking he called out:

"I'm not sorry though; by God, I'm not sorry. The boy was young and childish — he was young, beautiful, and childish. . . ."

"Girl, you mean, don't you?" Iivari remarked.

"The boy was beautiful and childish," Salonen repeated to himself; he seemed to have forgotten about Iivari. His eyes had a strange, almost feminine gleam as he looked out of the window at the expanse of the sky, as if instinctively he had taken farewell of it. The coarse-featured Iivari Pietilä, who could no longer follow what was going on in the young man's mind, glanced at him rather sheepishly and took a swig from the bottle, which now seemed to be common property. What was this talk about a boy?

  [p. 126]  

Morning drew near. An old pauper woman, who looked as if she had been left at Pietilä by mistake long after the poor law had been abolished, came down from the porch of the little cottage across the yard, squatted down beside the shrubbery, remained there her due time, got up, shook herself slightly, and went on. It was morning. Even the sparrows and swallows gave notice of it.

These two young men had now drifted somewhat apart, though there was still some liquor left.

"Hand over the bottle; I'll drink it all!" Nokia said to his recent antagonist.

"Drink, my boy, God's creature that you are," Iivari said, well aware that he had more of the pink liquid put away. "Drink it up, go on, you're not likely to get any for a long time, neither this nor anything else you fancy. It's a grim thought, all right, to be kept away from the good things of life. — Cheers!"

"Cheers!" and Salonen gave a long look at this heavy lout. How ugly and coarse he was — and how lovely those spring evenings had been at home in the town, there on the high rocks by the tower with young Ilmari, the schoolboy. And all the things they had talked about, sitting there hand in hand, that one and only happy spring. . . . After that, everything had gone wrong. The pangs of life — sometimes so sharp that they felt almost like joy, the pressure of an anguish that increased in violence until it burst its container. And was this how it happened? Is this where I am now? — penned in here in a corner of a farmhouse living room, with irons on my legs, on the way to Turku jail? And some day I'll be brought back from there to this same parish — free no longer — oh, dear God — what have I done? Tears welled from Salonen's eyes as he tried to explain his situation to this hulking peasant who was free to come and go.

  [p. 127]  

"Eh, boy, you don't understand what it means to have these engagement rings around your legs and to know they'll be there for God knows how many years. . . . Oh, Jesus, hell and damnation. . . ." His sobbing was now so violent that the elder brother came out of his room once more and said to Iivari:

"There now, you see . . . the whole house can't get a wink of sleep, what with you and the prisoner making that row. . . ."

But Salonen wept and shouted; he shook his heavy irons so that a frightful rattling filled the quiet morning. Even the farm girls, sleepy-eyed, came from the kitchen regions to see, first amazed and then touched. Even when drunk and haggard from lack of sleep, Nokia was still young and handsome. His long, fair, combed-up hair kept flopping down over his forehead, so that now and then he had to push it back with his hand — soon all that lovely hair would be lying on the prison floor and then in the waste can, thought one of the servant girls. But the young man cried out:

"What do you know of a mortal boy's pain? When his young mind is burning with such longing that he doesn't know himself what he's longing for. Have a good look, my girl. You've got your sweetheart to hug whenever you like, but what have I got? Not even a mother any more, a mother, a mother. . . ."

It was around this last word that his cries at last were centered. He repeated it over and over again, although it was more a moan than anything else: "Mother, mother. . . ." He lay down on the bunk, hid his face in the grubby sheet, and cried out again and again: "Mother, mother. . . ." Since he showed no other signs of violence and the word he shouted being what it was, he was left to himself. The servant girl's eyes at last filled with tears and she crept away. Poor girl,   [p. 128]   she had no mother either, had not had for a long time — and a father she had never known.

In a gentle voice that might have been a stranger's Salonen begged for water, and having drunk greedily, sobbed himself to sleep. Puolamäki had slept like a log the whole time; not even his companion's shouts had awakened him.

The sun was shining. The time was about three o'clock. The farmer, that mild man, was thinking of the blades of the mowing machine as he stood holding up his underpants and looking out over the property inherited from his fathers.

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