When Father Brought Home the Lamp
Juhani Aho (Finland)
When father bought the lamp, or a little before that, he said to mother:
"Hark ye, mother—oughtn't we to buy us a lamp?"
"A lamp? What sort of a lamp?"
"What! Don't you know that the storekeeper who lives in the market town has brought from St. Petersburg lamps that actually burn better than ten PAREA? [Footnote: A pare (pr. payray; Swed., perta; Ger., pergei) is a resinous pine chip, or splinter, used instead of torch or candle to light the poorer houses in Finland.] They've already got a lamp of the sort at the parsonage."
"Oh, yes! Isn't it one of those things which shines in the middle of the room so that we can see to read in every corner, just as if it was broad daylight?"
"That's just it. There's oil that burns in it, and you only have to light it of an evening, and it burns on without going out till the next morning."
"But how can the wet oil burn?"
"You might as well ask—how can brandy burn?"
"But it might set the whole place on fire. When brandy begins to burn you can't put it out, even with water."
"How can the place be set on fire when the oil is shut up in a glass, and the fire as well?"
"In a glass? How can fire burn in a glass—won't it burst?"
"Won't what burst?"
"Burst! No, it never bursts. It might burst, I grant you, if you screwed the fire up too high, but you're not obliged to do that."
"Screw up the fire? Nay, dear, you're joking—how CAN you screw up fire?"
"Listen, now! When you turn the screw to the right, the wick mounts—the lamp, you know, has a wick, like any common candle, and a flame too—but if you turn the screw to the left, the flame gets smaller, and then, when you blow it, it goes out."
"It goes out! Of course! I But I don't understand it a bit yet, however much you may explain—some sort of new-fangled gentlefolk arrangement, I suppose."
"You'll understand it right enough when I've bought one."
"How much does it cost?"
"Seven and a half marks, and the oil separate at one mark the can."
"Seven and a half marks and the oil as well! Why, for that you might buy parea for many a long day—that is, of course, if you were inclined to waste money on such things at all, but when Pekka splits them not a penny is lost."
"And you'll lose nothing by the lamp, either! Pare wood costs money too, and you can't find it everywhere on our land now as you used to. You have to get leave to look for such wood, and drag it hither to the bog from the most out-of-the-way places—and it's soon used up, too."
Mother knew well enough that pare wood is not so quickly used up as all that, as nothing had been said about it up to now, and that it was only an excuse to go away and buy this lamp. But she wisely held her tongue so as not to vex father, for then the lamp and all would have been unbought and unseen. Or else some one else might manage to get a lamp first for his farm, and then the whole parish would begin talking about the farm that had been the FIRST, after the parsonage, to use a lighted lamp. So mother thought the matter over, and then she said to father:
"Buy it, if you like; it is all the same to me if it is a pare that burns, or any other sort of oil, if only I can see to spin. When, pray, do you think of buying it?"
"I thought of setting off to-morrow—I have some other little business with the storekeeper as well."
It was now the middle of the week, and mother knew very well that the other business could very well wait till Saturday, but she did not say anything now either, but, "the sooner the better," thought she.
And that same evening father brought in from the storehouse the big travelling chest in which grandfather, in his time, had stowed his provisions when he came from Uleaborg, and bade mother fill it with hay and lay a little cotton-wool in the middle of it. We children asked why they put nothing in the box but hay and a little wool in the middle, but she bade us hold our tongues, the whole lot of us. Father was in a better humor, and explained that he was going to bring a lamp from the storekeeper, and that it was of glass, and might be broken to bits if he stumbled or if the sledge bumped too much.
That evening we children lay awake a long time and thought of the new lamp; but old scullery-Pekka, the man who used to split up all the parea, began to snore as soon as ever the evening pare was put out. And he didn't once ask what sort of a thing the lamp was, although we talked about it ever so much.
The journey took father all day, and a very long time it seemed to us all. We didn't even relish our food that day, although we had milk soup for dinner. But scullery-Pekka gobbled and guzzled as much as all of us put together, and spent the day in splitting parea till he had filled the outhouse full. Mother, too, didn't spin much flax that day either, for she kept on going to the window and peeping out, over the ice, after father. She said to Pekka, now and then, that perhaps we shouldn't want all those parea any more, but Pekka couldn't have laid it very much to heart, for he didn't so much as ask the reason why.
It was not till supper time that we heard the horses' bells in the courtyard.
With the bread crumbs in our mouths, we children rushed out, but father drove us in again and bade scullery-Pekka come and help with the chest. Pekka, who had already been dozing away on the bench by the stove, was so awkward as to knock the chest against the threshold as he was helping father to carry it into the room, and he would most certainly have got a sound drubbing for it from father if only he had been younger, but he was an old fellow now, and father had never in his life struck a man older than himself. Nevertheless, Pekka would have heard a thing or two from father if the lamp HAD gone to pieces, but fortunately no damage had been done.
"Get up on the stove, you lout!" roared father at Pekka, and up on the stove Pekka crept.
But father had already taken the lamp out of the chest, and now let it hang down from one hand.
"Look! there it is now! How do you think it looks? You pour the oil into this glass, and that stump of ribbon inside is the wick—hold that pare a little further off, will you!"
"Shall we light it?" said mother, as she drew back.
"Are you mad? How can it be lighted when there's no oil in it?"
"Well, but can't you pour some in, then?"
"Pour in oil? A likely tale! Yes, that's just the way when people don't understand these things; but the storekeeper warned me again and again never to pour the oil in by firelight, as it might catch fire and burn the whole house down."
"Then when will you pour the oil into it!"
"In the daytime—daytime, d'ye hear? Can't you wait till day? It isn't such a great marvel as all that." "Have you SEEN it burn, then?"
"Of course I have. What a question! I've seen it burn many a time, both at the parsonage and when we tried this one here at the storekeeper's."
"And it burned, did it?"
"Burned? Of course it did, and when we put up the shutters of the shop, you could have seen a needle on the floor. Look here, now! Here's a sort of capsule, and when the fire is burning in this fixed glass here, the light cannot creep up to the top, where it isn't wanted either, but spreads out downward, so that you could find a needle an the floor."
Now we should have all very much liked to try if we could find a needle on the floor, but father rang up the lamp to the roof and began to eat his supper.
"This evening we must be content, once more, with a pare," said father, as he ate; "but to-morrow the lamp shall burn in this very house."
"Look, father! Pekka has been splitting parea all day, and filled the outhouse with them."
"That's all right. We've fuel now, at any rate, to last us all the winter, for we sha'n't want them for anything else."
"But how about the bathroom and the stable?" said mother.
"In the bathroom we'll burn the lamp," said father.
That night I slept still less than the night before, and when I woke in the morning I could almost have wept, if I hadn't been ashamed, when I called to mind that the lamp was not to be lit till the evening. I had dreamed that father had poured oil into the lamp at night and that it had burned the whole day long.
Immediately when it began to dawn, father dug up out of that great travelling chest of his a big bottle, and poured something out of it into a smaller bottle. We should have very much liked to ask what was in this bottle, but we daren't, for father looked so solemn about it that it quite frightened us.
But when he drew the lamp a little lower down from the ceiling and began to bustle about it and unscrew it, mother could contain herself no longer, and asked him what he was doing.
"I am pouring oil into the lamp."
"Well, but you're taking it to pieces! How will you ever get everything you have unscrewed into its proper place again?"
Neither mother nor we knew what to call the thing which father took out from the glass holder.
Father said nothing, but he bade us keep further off. Then he filled the glass holder nearly full from the smaller bottle, and we now guessed that there was oil in the larger bottle also.
"Well, won't you light it now?" asked mother again, when all the unscrewed things had been put back into their places and father hoisted the lamp up to the ceiling again.
"What! in the daytime?"
"Yes—surely we might try it, to see how it will burn."
"It'll burn right enough. Just wait till the evening, and don't bother."
After dinner, scullery-Pekka brought in a large frozen block of wood to split up into parea, and cast it from his shoulders on to the floor with a thud which shook the whole room and set in motion the oil in the lamp.
"Steady!" cries father; "what are you making that row for?"
"I brought in this pare-block to melt it a bit—nothing else will do it—it is regularly frozen."
"You may save yourself the trouble then," said father, and he winked at us.
"Well, but you can't get a blaze out of it at all, otherwise."
"You may save yourself the trouble, I say."
"Are no more parea to be split up, then?"
"Well, suppose I DID say that no more parea were to be split up?"
"Oh! 't is all the same to me if master can get on without 'em."
"Don't you see, Pekka, what is hanging down from the rafters there?" When father put this question he looked proudly up at the lamp, and then he looked pityingly down upon Pekka.
Pekka put his clod in the corner, and then, but not till then, looked up at the lamp.
"It's a lamp," says father, "and when it burns you don't want any more pare light."
"Oh!" said Pekka, and, without a single word more, he went off to his chopping-block behind the stable, and all day long, just as on other days, he chopped a branch of his own height into little fagots; but all the rest of us were scarce able to get on with anything. Mother made believe to spin, but her supply of flax had not diminished by one-half when she shoved aside the spindle and went out. Father chipped away at first at the handle of his axe, but the work must have been a little against the grain, for he left it half done. After mother went away, father went out also, but whether he went to town or not I don't know. At any rate he forbade us to go out too, and promised us a whipping if we so much as touched the lamp with the tips of our fingers. Why, we should as soon have thought of fingering the priest's gold-embroidered chasuble. We were only afraid that the cord which held up all this splendor might break and we should get the blame of it.
But time hung heavily in the sitting-room, and as we couldn't hit upon anything else, we resolved to go in a body to the sleighing hill. The town had a right of way to the river for fetching water therefrom, and this road ended at the foot of a good hill down which the sleigh could run, and then up the other side along the ice rift.
"Here come the Lamphill children," cried the children of the town, as soon as they saw us.
We understood well enough what they meant, but for all that we did not ask what Lamphill children they alluded to, for our farm was, of course, never called Lamphill.
"Ah, ah! We know! You've gone and bought one of them lamps for your place. We know all about it!"
"But how came you to know about it already?"
"Your mother mentioned it to my mother when she went through our place. She said that your father had bought from the storeman one of that sort of lamps that burn so brightly that one can find a needle on the floor—so at least said the justice's maid."
"It is just like the lamp in the parsonage drawing-room, your father told us just now. I heard him say so with my own ears," said the innkeeper's lad.
"Then you really have got a lamp like that, eh?" inquired all the children of the town.
"Yes, we have; but it is nothing to look at in the daytime, but in the evening we'll all go there together."
And we went on sleighing down hill and up hill till dusk, and every time we drew our sleighs up to the hilltop, we talked about the lamp with the children of the town.
In this way the time passed quicker than we thought, and when we had sped down the hill for the last time, the whole lot of us sprang off homeward.
Pekka was standing at the chopping block and didn't even turn his head, although we all called to him with one voice to come and see how the lamp was lit. We children plunged headlong into the room in a body.
But at the door we stood stock-still. The lamp was already burning there beneath the rafters so brightly that we couldn't look at it without blinking.
"Shut the door; it's rare cold," cried father, from behind the table.
"They scurry about like fowls in windy weather," grumbled mother from her place by the fireside.
"No wonder the children are dazed by it, when I, old woman as I am, cannot help looking up at it," said the innkeeper's old mother.
"Our maid also will never get over it," said the magistrate's step-daughter.
It was only when our eyes had got a little used to the light that we saw that the room was half full of neighbors.
"Come nearer, children, that you may see it properly," said father, in a much milder voice than just before.
"Knock that snow off your feet, and come hither to the stove; it looks quite splendid from here," said mother, in her turn.
Skipping and jumping, we went toward mother, and sat us all down in a row on the bench beside her. It was only when we were under her wing that we dared to examine the lamp more critically. We had never once thought that it would burn as it was burning now, but when we came to sift the matter out we arrived at the conclusion that, after all, it was burning just as it ought to burn. And when we had peeped at it a good bit longer, it seemed to us as if we had fancied all along that it would be exactly as it was.
But what we could not make out at all was how the fire was put into that sort of glass. We asked mother, but she said we should see how it was done afterward.
The townsfolk vied with each other in praising the lamp, and one said one thing, and another said another. The innkeeper's old mother maintained that it shone just as calmly and brightly as the stars of heaven. The magistrate, who had sad eyes, thought it excellent because it didn't smoke, and you could burn it right in the middle of the hall without blackening the walls in the least, to which father replied that it was, in fact, meant for the hall, but did capitally for the dwelling room as well, and one had no need now to dash hither and thither with parea, for all could now see by a single light, let them be never so many.
When mother observed that the lesser chandelier in church scarcely gave a better light, father bade me take my ABC book, and go to the door to see if I could read it there. I went and began to read: "Our Father." But then they all said: "The lad knows that by heart." Mother then stuck a hymn-book in my hand, and I set off with "By the Waters of Babylon."
"Yes; it is perfectly marvellous!" was the testimony of the townsfolk.
Then said father: "Now if any one had a needle, you might throw it on the floor and you would see that it would be found at once."
The magistrate's step-daughter had a needle in her bosom, but when she threw it on the floor, it fell into a crack, and we couldn't find it at all—it was so small.
It was only after the townsfolk had gone that Pekka came in.
He blinked a bit at first at the unusual lamplight, but then calmly proceeded to take off his jacket and rag boots.
"What's that twinkling in the roof there enough to put your eyes out?" he asked at last, when he had hung his stockings up on the rafters.
"Come now, guess what it is," said father, and he winked at mother and us.
"I can't guess," said Pekka, and he came nearer to the lamp.
"Perhaps it's the church chandelier, eh?" said father jokingly.
"Perhaps," admitted Pekka; but he had become really curious, and passed his thumb along the lamp.
"There's no need to finger it," says father; "look at it, but don't touch it."
"All right, all right! I don't want to meddle with it!" said Pekka, a little put out, and he drew back to the bench alongside the wall by the door.
Mother must have thought that it was a sin to treat poor Pekka so, for she began to explain to him that it was not a church chandelier at all, but what people called a lamp, and that it was lit with oil, and that was why people didn't want parea any more.
But Pekka was so little enlightened by the whole explanation that he immediately began to split up the pare-wood log which he had dragged into the room the day before. Then father said to him that he had already told him there was no need to split parea any more.
"Oh! I quite forgot," said Pekka; "but there it may bide if it isn't wanted any more," and with that Pekka drove his pare knife into a rift in the wall.
"There let it rest at leisure," said father.
But Pekka said never a word more. A little while after that he began to patch up his boots, stretched on tiptoe to reach down a pare from the rafters, lit it, stuck it in a slit fagot, and sat him down on his little stool by the stove. We children saw this before father, who stood with his back to Pekka planing away at his axe-shaft under the lamp. We said nothing, however, but laughed and whispered among ourselves, "If only father sees that, what will he say, I wonder?" And when father did catch sight of him, he planted himself arms akimbo in front of Pekka, and asked him, quite spitefully, what sort of fine work he had there, since he must needs have a separate light all to himself?
"I am only patching up my shoes," said Pekka to father.
"Oh, indeed! Patching your shoes, eh? Then if you can't see to do that by the same light that does for me, you may take yourself off with your pare into the bath-house or behind it if you like."
And Pekka went.
He stuck his boots under his arm, took his stool in one hand and his pare in the other, and off he went. He crept softly through the door into the hall, and out of the hall into the yard. The pare light flamed outside in the blast, and played a little while, glaring red, over outhouses, stalls, and stables. We children saw the light through the window and thought it looked very pretty. But when Pekka bent down to get behind the bath-house door, it was all dark again in the yard, and instead of the pare we saw only the lamp mirroring itself in the dark window-panes.
Henceforth we never burned a pare in the dwelling-room again. The lamp shone victoriously from the roof, and on Sunday evenings all the townsfolk often used to come to look upon and admire it. It was known all over the parish that our house was the first, after the parsonage, where the lamp had been used. After we had set the example, the magistrate bought a lamp like ours, but as he had never learned to light it, he was glad to sell it to the innkeeper, and the innkeeper has it still.
The poorer farmfolk, however, have not been able to get themselves lamps, but even now they do their long evening's work by the glare of a pare.
But when we had had the lamp a short time, father planed the walls of the dwelling-room all smooth and white, and they never got black again, especially after the old stove, which used to smoke, had to make room for another, which discharged its smoke outside and had a cowl.
Pekka made a new fireplace in the bath-house out of the stones of the old stove, and the crickets flitted thither with the stones—at least their chirping was never heard any more in the dwelling room. Father didn't care a bit, but we children felt, now and then, during the long winter evenings, a strange sort of yearning after old times, so we very often found our way down to the bath-house to listen to the crickets, and there was Pekka sitting out the long evenings by the light of his pare.