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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 42]

  [p. 134]  


Mettälä-Santra did not sleep more than a couple of hours on that Saturday night. Nevertheless, when she awoke, she felt more refreshed than she had for many a morning — almost since she had been in service. She had fallen asleep still clutching the notes the farmer had thrust into her palm; one had fallen onto the quilt, but the other was still crumpled in her hand. Imagine throwing hundred-mark notes about like that! Santra saw them, saw the brightly shining Sunday morning, remembered that her husband had not come and now would not come this Sunday. The wall clock struck, announcing the time, but the dial was now visible. Santra got up and hurried to see to the cows. She was in the same clothes she had put on after the sauna in the evening. It occurred to her that it was just as well the children were still asleep and had not seen their mother when she awoke. Without a second thought she stuck the notes into the bosom of her top garment. There they tickled pleasantly the whole time she was milking — still crushed up, just as they had lain in her grasp during the night.

Two hundred marks was a fantastically high wage for brewing ale; even one hundred would have been. On the other hand, there was something wildly delightful about it. Her husband would not be home for another week at least; the local gossips would think she and the children were getting a bit short. . . . Santra was standing in the dim room behind   [p. 135]   the porch; the traces of the evening were visible. She drew the notes out of her bosom, smoothed them out, and folded them on their original creases. She held them in her hand; they were like secret guests who were to be hidden so that not even an unexpected arrival might surprise them. The ironbound chest was Santra's own — her father had made it, put on the iron, and painted it — and her husband had never opened the lid. Inside, at one end, was a narrow transverse compartment with a lid in which the best linen was kept. At the bottom of the compartment was a piece of paper and under this paper Santra hid her notes.

A tin mug with ale left in it was still on the table — Santra could see from the handle that the last one to leave had drunk from the mug standing up. She stood there, picked it up, tilted it, and watched the liquid slop about. She smelled the ale and finally tasted it. . . . It was tepid and stale, but still had the familiar earthy taste. There was some in the pail, too, at the head of the bed — yet when the farmer was going, he had asked if there was any left.

The bed, which could be folded up from the side, showed signs of having been sat upon. Santra set about straightening it; she smoothed it and arranged the bedclothes so that she could lie down. She thought that perhaps later in the day she might take a little nap here in the shady room. True, such a thing had never happened before and would never even have entered her head when her husband was at home — it would be too much like pampering herself. But now Santra was alone — or alone with her own self, the self which had awakened so strangely during the past twenty-four hours and which the self she had known hitherto, now pushed rather to one side, was a little afraid of.

Santra was almost humming as, with more care than usual, she put on her Sunday best.

A long, rather exciting day lay ahead of her. When the   [p. 136]   children, having had their meal, asked if they could go visiting at one of the neighboring farms, their mother made no real objection, but they were hardly out in the lane before she called to them to stop, caught up with them and said sternly, but in a low voice that was almost a hiss:

"If you so much as open your mouths about what's been going on here at home, then watch out. No matter how much they ask you. Now remember."

The children were utterly at a loss to understand their mother's sudden severity; she had been in such a good mood the whole morning — quite unusually gentle. Nor did they at once grasp what she meant by "what's been going on here at home."

"It must be those men who were here drinking ale last night," the eldest girl said at last.

They all looked behind them and saw their mother shoo the cows away from the forest gate, where they had been lingering. It seemed as if it annoyed Santra to have even the animals near her, as if there was something to hide even from them.

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