Since then, decades have passed, a sufficiently long time for all that to have been forgotten — especially as only much later did those great events take place which, here as elsewhere, affected the house and its chattels… But that autumn this matter also awoke the interest of those insignificant folk who in their remote little corners and meandering byways were firmly attached to convention. And what made it all so unexpected was its background: the house and its chattels. The old women in their cottages felt almost importuned, as nothing could be said of an affair of this kind. It was a malign, foreboding disturbance that implicitly assailed the unconscious foundations of their lives. If a wild landowner’s son made a pass at a local girl one night and got into her bed, that was an event that enlivened the life of the village. The girl’s family would always be able to obtain upkeep for any child born of such a liaison. In the best case, a landowner would pay very handsomely indeed in order to stop the story spreading very far. But the old women’s intuition told them, with irritating clarity, that where Kustaa was concerned none of this applied.
This phase of Kustaa’s life is now long forgotten. Long ago, one after the other, the talkative old women were taken to the cemetery from their cottages in the forest, and are now completely and utterly forgotten where they lie in the grass-covered rows of graves. While it is possible that someone may still know and say that the former master of Salmelus, now deceased, married a girl from this or that cottage, the story no longer has anyone to tell it who knows what really happened.
That night the old master of Salmelus stayed awake until Kustaa came home. It was after midnight, about two in the morning. The son approached with cheerful steps, and the father needed to see and hear nothing more, for already he knew all.
The man who arrived at the old house in the moonlight probably gave no thought just then to the important changes his father and aunt had wrought in his absence. Of this the old master was well aware. He knew that if his son considered such distant matters at all he would probably be grateful to the two old people. Kustaa could be heard in his room, preparing to retire for the night. Although the sounds of his movements could be heard only faintly, there was something about them that said he was in a happy frame of mind. When the sounds died away, the old man felt that he was now alone and could at last reflect on the clumsy awkwardness of the arrangements he had made. Though not even to himself would he admit that he had bungled them.
When an old man sits up late in the small hours of the night thinking about such things, it does not bode well for him, especially if he arrives at no clear and firm decision that sets him free from brooding. His hold on life slackens and at the same time he begins to feel death tightening its grip. As he sat there very gravely in the silence of the small hours, the master of Salmelus remembered his deceased wife. Always before had felt that there were two of them to remember her, and that had made it all seem more intimate and easier to bear. But now it had suddenly acquired a different perspective. The left side of his chest jerked so cruelly that his pipe nearly fell from his hand. He quickly set the pipe aside and began to undress as if in a hurry to reach the place where he might have a long night’s sleep ahead of him.
translated from Finnish by David McDuff
Silja - 2
Silja - 3
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