As in a dream

Issue 4/1992 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

From Kun on tunteet (‘When you have feelings’, 1913). Introduction by Irmeli Niemi

‘No, they’re not rich, those Kolehmainens, not rich at all. Even the house is a bit on the small side.’

‘So how did you end up there? That’s one thing I’ve often wondered about.’

‘How did I end up there? Well, it must have been my fate.’

‘You sure weren’t looking to get rich.’

‘No, I sure wasn’t. Got married when I had to.’

‘Had to. You can’t tell me it had to be to him. You, with suitors in every size and shape. All you had to do was pick out the best, but no, you just up and take off with somebody from out of town, and a poor man at that.’

‘That’s how it goes.’

‘And then, after the man kicks the bucket, you take up with a farmhand and move into a tenant farmer’s hut.’

‘That’s right, that’s how it would look from outside.’

‘Well, that’s what I’ve wondered about. There isn’t a living soul that set eyes on you when you were young who’d believe it. What was it, now tell me, what was it that led you along that road?’

‘Who could have known? You sure don’t have any idea of your fate ahead of time.’

‘That’s how it is.’

‘It’s just that when you get started in one direction, little by little it keeps on sliding that way, all along. You just take one step, and before long you take another, that’s the way it goes.’

‘That’s the way it goes. Guess it must be twenty years or so since you last set foot in the old homestead.’

‘Must be.’

‘Well, it’s good you came. You haven’t borne a grudge against us, have you, for our taking over the farm. After all, you put it on the market yourself.’

‘I did, all right, what with no other heirs – somebody had to live here. It was a good thing I managed to sell it then.’

‘So you didn’t bring your husband here?’


‘Well, I just couldn’t stop marvelling about your selling off a solid farm, moving away, and with a poor farmer at that.’

‘Should I have gone to a farmhand, then?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Well, that’s exactly what I thought back then, of course I shouldn’t. But in the end it would have been all the same.’

‘Of course it wouldn’t, the only daughter and heir. I guess you could have had just about anybody back then.’

‘But it didn’t happen that way. Things were different then.’

‘What things?’

‘Well, why not tell you. You know, you’re the only one I know I can talk to. What if I do tell you. Maybe you won’t believe me. The way it was back then, it was past the time when I could pick and choose the man I’d take. I just had to get on with it.’

‘I had no idea.’

‘Who would? How could I deceive the rich farmers’ sons who thought so highly of me? This one was poor and needed the money, had creditors on his heels…’

‘Oh, no.’

‘Why don’t I just tell you right from the start, since you’re my closest childhood friend, and you’ve always been sweet to me. There’s no reason to keep anything secret from you.’

‘Don’t tell me if – ‘

‘I don’t care about it so much anymore. Back then, it was different. When you’re young, you get timid for no reason.’

‘That’s the way it is.’

‘You know how I lived the high life here, parading around without a care in the world. There were plenty of good things, just for me, and with no parents either.’

‘And when you’d come to church, all heads would tum. You’d always be the first one chosen at the dances.’

‘I guess I was. I’ll take a good man, I thought, I won’t be content with a bad one. I turned them down, looked them over, just waiting until someone good enough would come along.’

‘There were some good ones on offer, all right. This husband of mine, for one – ‘

‘Yes, there were. But I wasn’t one to hurry, at first. I didn’t have a care in the world, living here at home. I had it good. This very room was my bedroom, just as it’s your daughter’s now. The best room in the house. Had wallpaper even then, with evergreen going around the walls. Morning and evening I’d sit here by the window, sewing, I still don’t know for whom. – No rush, just gazing out of the window. The bay, and the forest beyond. The window open. Listening to the birds singing, the woodland ringing like a harp in the morning. And my mind busying itself with light-hearted thoughts, all day long. Life was just like a dream.’

‘That’s how it was in those days.’

‘Off we went, dancing.’


‘Well, they had a harvest bee at the Hassila farm, with all the young people from the village there. It had been a beautiful August day, and it turned into a beautiful evening. There was a moon, but before long it was covered by clouds. We had been harvesting all day, and after supper we gathered to dance in the big main room. You know the main room at the Hassila farm, the one as big as a church. The girls had decorated it with branches and saplings, so it smelled as sweet as a forest. There was dancing and revelling. The night turned dark. A little lamp stared down from the ceiling, swinging in time with the dance. It didn’t give off much light, but some mischief-maker went and turned it off. The musician went right on playing without breaking rhythm, the dark room echoing with the thumping of the dance. The boys kept hoisting their girls up in the air, and when a girl got tired, the boy would sit her down on his lap. As the night wore on, the crowd began to dwindle as people paired off and disappeared without anyone noticing.

‘Our farmhand, Juhani, had me in his arms. He was the best dancer in the village, and all the girls loved him. Handsome, he was, and tall as a pine. Do you remember Juhani?’

‘Sure I remember him.’

‘I wonder who the good Lord created him for? Well, Juhani and I were dancing, spinning round like a whirlwind. Made me quite dizzy, but Juhani was there to hold me up, and so I just forgot myself in his arms. Finally he set me down and stood there, right beside me. Why he stayed on, I don’t know. If he’d gone away, I’d have shouted after him, called him back. I was crazy, as if I were under a spell. Was it because he was so handsome and stood up so straight and tall?

‘”Let’s go,” I said to him.

‘ “Let’s go. Why not?”

‘ “Goodbye,” I called out to our hosts.

‘ “We’ll turn on the light,” they said.

‘”No, carry on,” I called back.

‘So we went on our way. Whatever the magic of that night may have been about, it sure was beautiful. By then, the moon was completely obscured by clouds, and the forest seemed full of ghosts. We took the shortcut home through the deep woods. Crossing the brook in the swampland, I couldn’t quite see the little footbridge, and my foot slipped into the quagmire. Juhani suddenly grasped me and carried me across the swamp. I just closed my eyes and let him. It felt like Juhani had been mine for a long time. And after crossing the last bit of swampland, he didn’t set me down. At that time, I happened to be sleeping out in the barn, and that’s where he carried me, laying me down on the bed. Then he knelt down beside me and took off my wet shoes. I just let it happen, I felt that was the way it was supposed to be. I wouldn’t have had the strength to resist him. Why was that? Maybe the dancing, then the silent woodland, the smell of the summer night, and the thick darkness. Was that what cast a spell over me and made me go mad? Senseless, I was in love with Juhani. It was as if he belonged to me. And when he asked, “Should I go?”, I couldn’t get a word out of my mouth. I knew what was happening. This is now my misfortune, and I’ll regret it to the end of my days. I shall end up a worthless, wandering wretch. I knew all that-but still I couldn’t utter a word. That’s how it was.’

‘Oh, you poor miserable dear.’

‘Then I asked Juhani to leave our house. And he left. He went off into the world, and I have no idea where he is. I’ve never heard another thing about him. Yet it was as if he was my own, as if he understood me. Or was it just that I felt that way? You know, it was all like a dream.’

‘So, how did you meet Kolehmainen?’

‘Simply by chance. He had no designs on me. He just happened to be around here on business, I guess he’d been visiting his creditors, and I happened to be in town on an errand. Kolehmainen offered me a ride home, and I accepted, why not, and we drove off together. The snow came early that year, with high drifts even at the beginning of December. Kolehmainen had a good horse, and we drove along at a good clip. We didn’t have much of anything to say to each other. But whatever came into his head, you know what that Kolehmainen does, he proposes to me. We got all embarrassed, both of us, but I thought about it before I gave him an answer. This is my fate, I thought. It’s as if this man was made for me. He’s poor, and he needs money. That suits me just fine. Maybe he’d been unlucky in money matters, ’cause he got it into his head to try his luck and ask for me. Asked even though he didn’t think he’d get a positive answer. And that’s why he got all embarrassed. That’s how it was. It was a money matter for him, and I took it as a money matter, too.

‘ “If I say yes,” I said, “there’ll be no recriminations later on?”

‘ “No recriminations. Why should there be?”

‘ “For everything. But as long as there’s no word of reproach whatever happens, no explanation, well, then – ”

‘ “None.”

‘ “Well, then, that’s settled.”

‘And that’s how it was decided. Of course he understood what I meant. So I married Kolehmainen, and Kolehmainen was as good as his word. Not a word of reproach out of him, and not too much of anything else, either good or bad, for that matter. And when spring came and my little girl died and I was weak myself, he quietly looked after me. It all went just the way I wanted it. It wouldn’t be right to blame Kolehmainen for anything.

‘But the farm began to go downhill. Kolehmainen wasn’t one to keep a farm. He was kind of lackadaisical, wandered aimlessly in the woods, went along without eating for long stretches of time. Was some sorrow weighing on his mind, or something like that? He never talked about anything. We hardly exchanged more than a few words all the time we were married.’

‘You should have taken charge of things.’

‘It was as if my wings had been clipped. I didn’t dare make any plans. I was afraid he’d get his feelings hurt. I was like a visitor in the house. It seemed life had come to a stop for me. All I did was wait for evening and then night to come, and I couldn’t believe how the day would drag on. I just felt numb. I almost wished for some accident or misfortune, for any sign of life.’

‘That’s human nature, that’s what it’s like.’

‘That’s what it’s like. But then the years passed, and times changed. They changed, sure enough. Kolehmainen up and died. I took the reins of the farm into my own hands. And it worked out all right. But I was still young then, in a way. I was halfway between thirty and forty.’

‘Well, at that age you’re still in your prime.’

‘Maybe so. Then along came Eerikka, the farmhand who’s now my husband. He passed for a man, all right. So I took him on. Well, what? You’ve heard people talk, haven’t you?’

‘I guess I’ve heard some talk.’

‘Well, people talk. But let them. I took him on, and for a couple of years he worked as hard as if it were his own farm. But then I made a stupid mistake. I let him marry me. Shouldn’t have done that. Right afterwards, he began drinking the farm away like he owned it. He didn’t have any real sense, after all. I was mad not to have realised that a farmhand is a farmhand. Why did I have to go to the clergyman with him? Well, I sold the farm so I could still get a penny or two for it, and I moved into the tenant farmer’s cottage. And that’s where we’ve been trying to make a go of it.’

‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen this husband of yours.’

‘Nothing much to see.’

‘What with you going to church all by yourself, and all.’

‘The few times I go. Why should I drag him along? It’s not that I care what people think, it’s just that I’m disgusted myself. I leave him alone and I let him leave me alone.’

‘That’s the way it goes.’

‘Yes, it is. If only I’d taken Juhani way back then, I wouldn’t have been ashamed to show him off, but who knows? Yet when a man’s stupid, he’s no good for anything. Even a dog’s better company. But I’m not complaining. I didn’t listen to the voice of my conscience and take the one who was meant for me, and this is what happened. It was all for the best. The way it was, I too had to learn you don’t live for others, but for yourself, and you can’t buy happiness. If it once reveals itself to you and you don’t open your heart to it, it vanishes forever and leaves without a trace, disappears so completely that you no longer know whether that’s what it really was, or whether it was only a dream.’

Translated by Aili and Austin Flint


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