The death that summer morning of the lonely servant girl Silja, forgotten and left alone, was thus really the ending of that longer story whose beginning can be seen thirty years earlier, when Silja’s father Kustaa took possession of the hereditary manor of Salmelus. It was not a large manor, but the same family had held it for as long as anyone could remember, and at least since the year 1749, from which the oldest parish registers dated: that much was known. The reputation of the manor’s older masters was of course by then forgotten, but it seems that they were on the whole the best men of their small locality. The family’s finest strength reached its summit during Kustaa’s father’s tenure. It grew naturally; no one could point to any particular actions, good or bad, but the expression of an ever prouder dignity spoke from the gable windows of Salmelus Manor to those who toiled on the lower levels. There was even a peculiar dignity in the fact that at this time there was only one heir to the manor, who seemed to be thriving, however. Throughout his youth he was able to live as he wished. For him the whole manor was one large playground, which he explored, humming and smiling, all the way to adulthood. ‘The young master of Salmelus’ and many other things that were said him, caressed his ear and mind, but he did not meditate greatly upon their substance. His parents’ equable dignity brought him up without anyone noticing it; hardly anyone ever saw master or mistress counsel him, let alone punish him. In this way he grew up into a tall, smiling young man, who from his father had inherited a slight hump on his nose and from his mother the colour and look of his hair and eyes.
The parents probably nurtured many quiet hopes in respect of their son, but the same could not be said of the boy himself. Sometimes, when they happened to be talking about some other aspect of the world, his mother would try to present to him some of her opinions, but these attempts invariably ended in a mutual gentle bickering and joking in which the strong bonds of natural love could suddenly be glimpsed. The mother had a sense that her son was like herself, and when he saw this, the father felt a secret warmth of affection. Within the boy’s mind formed two fixed points between which the features of his character arched: on the one hand, a kind of unconscious decency and honesty, whose name he was not accustomed to hear spoken, and on the other, a strong feeling that Salmelus Manor was something that endured eternally and was independent of those who lived there, a place where all the events of life were as natural as breathing; a place which ruled people, and was not ruled by them.
translated from Finnish by David McDuff