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The Sampo by  James Baldwin


 

 

A DREADFUL VENGEANCE

[271]

B
ESIDE the door of Ilmarinen's dwelling the women of the household were assembled. Dame Lokka, best and busiest of matrons, was planning the evening meal. Sister Anniki, maid of the morning, was assorting the week's washing and toying with the ribbons in her hair. And she who had been the Maid of Beauty—she who was now the wife and helpmate of the master Smith—was busy at the churn. Suddenly the sound of the slave boy's whistle—the herdsman's whistle—aroused and startled them. The sound filled the air with its shrill but welcome music, and was echoed sharply from the hills and the forest beyond. Again it was heard, and again and again, each time more distinct, more persistent, less musical.

"Praise Jumala!" cried the wife and helpmate. "There is the herdsman's horn. The cows are at home and it is milking time."

[272] "The slave boy has tended the cows well, I hope," said Dame Lokka. "If he has not lost any of them he shall have a good supper to-night."

"But why does he blow so loudly?" said Anniki, holding her head. "The sound is deafening. My ears are surely split and my head will burst from the unearthly noise."

"Never mind, sister," said the wife and helpmate, gently, soothingly. "That was the last blast and we shall not hear another. Does your head ache? You shall have the first cup of milk that is taken from Brown Bossy to-night. I myself will milk her, and I will give it to you, warm and frothing and fit for a queen. Surely that will heal your ear-drums, surely that will ease your throbbing head."

Then she called cheerily to her milkmaids: "Come, girls, the cows are in the paddock and it is milking time! Fetch the new pails and fetch also my milking stool. Let us get at our task before the daylight fades."

The milkmaids came—three young serving-girls, rosy-faced, red-lipped, and ruddy with health. Methinks I see them even now, tripping lightly from the doorway, each with a [273] sweet-smelling cedar-wood pail, and the foremost with a three-legged stool for the mistress.

Along the garden walk, between rows of blue and yellow flowers, they pass joyously. In their blue gowns and white aprons, their long braided hair falling far down their backs—how handsome they are! The wife and helpmate goes before, queenly as when men called her the Maid of Beauty. Anniki, the sister, comes after, thirsty and impatient for the cup of fresh and frothing milk. They walk across the farmyard; they open the great gate into the paddock; they enter and look around them.

"Ha! how sleek the milkers are to-night!" says the wife and helpmate. "Their hides shine as though they had been rubbed down with lynx-skin brushes and smoothed with lamb's wool dipped in oil."

"And how full they are!" says Anniki, the sister. "They have eaten so much they can hardly breathe. Surely the slave boy knows where to find the best pastures for the herd."

"Yes, and see how large their udders are!" says one of the milkmaids. "Methinks our pails are too small to contain such quantities of milk. The whole milk-house will be flooded."

[274] "But look!" suddenly cries the second milkmaid. "What ails the yearlings? They stare at us so and their eyes glow like balls of fire."

"Oh, I am afraid! I am afraid!" whispers the third milkmaid, shrinking back into the shadows.

The brave mistress laughs at her fears. "It is only the light of the setting sun shining in their eyes," she says. "Surely no harm can come from these gentle creatures."

But sister Anniki shivers with cold and draws nearer, her cheeks pale and her limbs trembling.

"Bring hither my stool," says the wife and helpmate, "and give me the new pail of polished cedar. Here is Brown Bossy, patiently waiting to give a cup of milk to Anniki. I will milk her first, and do each of you girls choose a cow. The yearlings will not disturb you."

She places her stool by the side of the great brown beast; she takes the new milk-pail in her hands; she sits down; she bends forward to begin the milking.

Suddenly a great shout, a whoop, a scream is heard far down the road. It is not the shouting of a lone traveller; it is not the whooping of a home-coming ploughboy; it is not the scream- [275] ing of a frightened woman. The milkmaids hear it and are overcome with terror. Sister Anniki turns to flee through the open gateway.

But the wife and mistress stamps her foot with anger. "How silly!" she cries. "It is only the cry of an owl or the call of a lone wolf in the darkening woods. Get to your milking!"

Her own hand trembles as she reaches for the teat. Quickly the dreadful sound is repeated, deafening the ears, freezing the blood of both mistress and maidens. It is the savage whoop of the slave Kullervo, bidding the beasts perform the dreadful business which he alone has planned. Instantly the broad-horned, mild-eyed creature which has played the part of Brown Bossy becomes a huge bear, grim and terrible; instantly all the milkers are turned to growling beasts; instantly the bright-eyed yearlings resume their proper forms and become fierce wolves snapping and snarling and eager for blood. Oh, the savage uproar! Oh, the terror, brief but indescribable!

The milkmaids with their white aprons and braided hair vanish like snow-flakes in a turbulent flood of waters. The wife and helpmate, she who erstwhile was the Maid of Beauty, is [276] swept away in the storm, is swallowed up, and naught but a blood-stained lock of hair remains to tell of her fate. And Anniki, maid of the morning, flees shrieking through the gateway, is seized by cruel jaws, is devoured—no magic skill of hers availing to avert her doom.

Ah, me! that it should be my task to tell of this strange tragedy so brief but terrible! No minstrel's song can depict that scene so fraught with woe, so horrible to contemplate.

The maddened, hungry wolves ran out of the paddock, out of the farmyard; the hideous bears rushed after them. They ran hither and thither devouring every living thing. Like a destroying flood they invaded the farmhouse, breaking down the doors, overturning the tables and benches, filling every room with their horrid presence. In the kitchen they found the old cook, the wench who had caused this unheard-of disaster. She was praying to Jumala, but Jumala did not save her. In her own chamber Dame Lokka, the best loved of matrons, fell before the pitiless tide. Not one of the household escaped the jaws of the furious beasts. Women and men, children, birds and fowls, dogs and horses, all perished. Even the gardens and [277] the fields were overrun and trampled into worthlessness. The once prosperous home of Ilmarinen became in a single night an uninhabited waste.

Ah! if only the master, Ilmarinen, had been there! But what could even he have done in that storm so fierce, so irresistible, so overwhelming?


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