Next morning, Hilma remained in the inner rooms, but in the kitchen old Martta made ready to leave, with a cold expression on her face. When Kustaa noticed her tear-stained eyes, he felt an unpleasant sense of pity for her. This aged and spiteful woman seemed not to be alone, on her side there was something invisible, old and repugnant, against which his mind wanted to rebel, even though his instinct told him that it rested on a foundation laid by generations.
With all the caution of which he was capable, Kustaa inquired about Martta’s terms of hire.
‘Old as I am, never in my life have I been a hired maid, and I do not intend to be one now.’
As he entered the back room where Hilma sat in her Sunday best, Kustaa smiled at this weak gibe – he sensed that victory was his. He had got the better of Martta, but this day was a peculiar mixture of holiday and workday, of happiness and something else. He should have entertained the idea all along that Hilma would move in here to begin her new life — as mistress of the manor. He must take charge entirely of this sweet, childlike girl for whom all oppression of soul was as foreign as sin to an angel; he must get her into these rooms without needing to be afraid of anything, without Martta, without anyone… He had not gone into Hilma’s room in the night… but in all of this there was too much tenderness: it crushed, as it were, with its softness.
The stableman came to ask if it would be possible for him to accompany Miss Martta, since she had asked him to do so, and was waiting ready for the journey. The stableman also looked gruff and dispirited, as if he, too, had some bitter word on his tongue, were he given a chance to come out with it. When a little later Miss Martta and the stableman drove out through the gateway, Kustaa and Hilma stood at the drawing room window and watched, and then Kustaa felt that there was something insolent about what he was causing to take place, and the village girl at his side even more so. The manor was now finally rid of something that had had always been there, but would now never return — something of which Miss Martta had been only a feeble relic. Now it was gone, but an atmosphere of desolation had permanently settled within the walls of the manor.
translated from Finnish by David McDuff
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