PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Whistling and frolicking he walked along the dusty road.
Nights he spent in the woods, beside lakes or meanders, but at sunrise he trampled out his fire, scattered the glowing embers around the place and carried on walking. He was not in a hurry and had no purpose, and he was a bit peculiar. Often stopping, he got lost in the variations of the landscape, imitating the chirping of the birds; he was jolly and cheerful. Occasionally, he came to a halt beside some lake and, lying in the grass, watched white clouds high up in the blueness for hours.
He was tall and lean. His big eyes were full of joy, and he called himself Toomas Nipernaadi. When curious folk asked him something, he laughed with a wide mouth and told them that he was just wandering around looking for how the land really opened up. When he got tired he sat by the roadside, played the zither and sang, but his voice screeched and was ugly. Standing up, he looked long at the landscape ahead. Dust was rising from dried-out fields, on the distant horizon clouds of smoke were rising from a burning marsh. The blue woods loomed, smouldering with heat.
It came about that at that moment death came to the Widow Liis, owner of Krootuse Farm, who had the surname Nõgikikas from her late husband. What happened was that the cowherd Janka, who was taking a nap on top of the range was woken by a strange gurgling, and raising his sleepy eyes he saw the mistress's death agonies. Terrified and shivering, he watched for a long time, but when all of a sudden the mistress's chest sank and her chin stayed hanging helplessly, Janka ran out as if carried by the wind.
'The mistress has been taken away by the one from below!' he cried, full of an elated sense of joy and freedom. Three men, the sons of the deceased, who were lying idly on the lawn, mouths gaping towards the sun, sat up all at once and stared at one another in bafflement.
'What did the laddie say?' the eldest son eventually asked.
They had been waiting day upon day for their mother's death, never daring to go to her bedside. Again and again the cowherd was sent inside to see how the patient was and what she was doing. The cowherd looked, paid attention, and then announced gloomily and without hope that nothing good was to be expected - this customer is not ready to leave the world yet. And the sons lay back on the lawn, stared at the clouds and yawned, and patiently waited for better news.
They had feared their mother more than death. The dead woman had had a formidable personality. Her heavy fist had often thumped the disobedient sons. What else could she do when the fields were lying fallow, the crops unharvested, cattle untended, and the sons wasted the days of our Lord now hunting in the forest, now fishing on the lake, also surely in the village dances, knifing their enemies? They escaped farm work like storks escape winter, they were lazy and quarrelsome. Their father, the late churchwarden, whose life had been spent on the road between home and the church, had along with laziness bequeathed Biblical names to them. Thus the eldest son was called Peetrus, the second son Paulus and the third Joonatan - 'watch out, boys, the Israelites are coming in all their power and might', the village lads called out, seeing the sons coming. Like it or not, the sons had to grab clubs and bowie knives to defend their honour. And after that, there was ample reason again to wait while their wounds healed, which took weeks: moaning, sighing and loitering in the attic somewhere, hidden from their mother. Then, Janka was their only help and support. He carried bread and meat to their hideout. But when Mother caught them, they were in trouble. Then the village sounded with the boys' cries and their mother's curses. Thus the widow still had to do all the farm labour herself, or rely on hired farmhands.
Now, when mother was dying, they were suddenly all overcome by fear, and did not know what to do. For a good while they considered the situation.
'Listen, kid,' the eldest brother said at last, 'looks like this is the best plan we’ve got: run to all the neighbours and tell them about our misfortune. But see, you bugger, that you do it well, so the village people don't start thinking that we are now happy or something! Tell them that we are lying down in sadness like oxen struck by lightning and cannot even do anything except sigh, weep and desperately hit our heads against Mother Earth! And tell them that if they don't come at once, we might meet the same sad fate as our unhappy mother. Now run!'
Janka set off across the meadow like the wind. He was proud and touched that such an important task had been entrusted to him. Excitedly running from farm to farm, he didn't have the patience to give a longer account of the death of the deceased. Brusquely tearing the door open he shouted in: ‘Liis Nõgikikas is dead: come right now and have a look! - and pulled the door to with a bang then excitedly dashed to the next farm.
When he got to the road, he ran into Toomas Nipernaadi.
'Liis Nõgikikas is dead, go and see!' Janka shouted to him too, not slowing down.
Nipernaadi stopped and examined the cowherd. 'Hold on a moment, lightning bolt,' he said, smiling. 'Stop a while and tell me, who was this Liis Nõgikikas?'
'I have no time at all!' the boy answered solemnly, but sat, however, next to Nipernaadi by the side of the road.
'And you didn't know the old witch?' Janka asked, surprised. "Oh Jesus and the holy prophets — she was the old one with the horns in person. We were sick of waiting for her to die! But she just wouldn't cark it. She creaked and squeaked before she gave up the ghost. That bastard was just fierce and angry. When she got her fingers into you that was the end of all fun. She spun round the farm like a whirlwind. And then each of us would bomb it in a different direction - someone to the forest, someone to the ditch, someone straight onto the roof.'
'My word!' said Nipernaadi, wonderingly. 'Who was this "you", then?'
‘Me and the sons: who else?' Janka blustered. 'Me, Peetrus, Paulus and Joonatan.'
And Janka started a long account of everything he knew: the deceased, the brothers, the farm and its surroundings, the cousins and neighbours. Only when he thought he'd told enough did he suddenly remember his important duty, and he sprang to his feet as if bitten by a snake.
'Jesus Louisus!' he cried out, alarmed, rubbing his mouth with his sleeve. 'Now I have to get moving. But you go and have a look at the corpse. Definitely. The sons can't do anything there themselves. They are like oxen struck by lightning, and they're not far from death either.'
Nipernaadi thought it over a bit, smirked, glanced around, then set off towards Krootuse Farm.
When he reached the yard, he found the sons still sitting on the lawn staring at each other in silence. He leaned his zither against the wall, took his cap in his hand, greeted everybody with a handshake, and said sadly,
'God be with you, dear cousins. A grave misfortune has fallen upon us.'
'Misfortune indeed,' the eldest said on behalf of everybody. 'Don’t know really what to do now or how to be. Death, you see, came to our mother very suddenly and unexpectedly. Who could have known? I guess the bell-ringer and the pastor should be told. They will perhaps take care of the official stuff. But this frigging Janka doesn’t come back. He could be sent to the pastor!'
' We will manage everything,' Nipernaadi said encouragingly.
He walked ahead and the brothers snuck hesitatingly after him. When he got indoors, Nipernaadi first stopped in front of the bed of the dead person, said a quiet prayer, only moving his lips, and then pushed the deceased one's eyes shut. Then he started going carefully through the bed and the drawers around it. Under the bed sack he found the farm papers and a bundle of money. The papers he handed to the eldest brother, then he carefully counted the money, named the sum to the brothers, put it into the drawers, locked it and put the key in his pocket for the time being. That done, he brought some boards from outside, placed them on the benches and with the help of the brothers lifted the dead body onto the bier.
'What's to be done next is women's business,' he said.
And soon their parlour was filled with women. Sighing and wailing they first revolved around the dead body just like magpies around an animal who is still moving. But then they suddenly jumped at it and instantly, feverish action began: water was boiled, clean clothes were found from the chest, and soon the corpse of the mistress was like a bundle of laundry in the women's fingers, which is rubbed and scrubbed in angry exultation.
Nipernaadi directed the activity as if he was one of them. He had found a bottle of vodka in the cupboard. He drank some himself, gave some to the women, and praised the good qualities of the deceased. Then he stepped out.
He hurried to the lake. The sun shone pink as evening approached. The air turned bluish. The rays of sun were seen as if through a haze. Red spots appeared on the lake. Clouds reflected in it like diving swans. Nipernaadi stepped onto the shore and watched. Fish plopped in and out of the water in the rushes.
All of a sudden he heard the cry of a girl. He leapt to his feet and set off running towards the cry.