Thirty years of love

by Eduard Vilde

Thirty Years of Love
The young pastor knows that it is not substance but surface that matters. Substance is what people do not often understand, or do not even bother to understand, it tends to go in one ear and out the other for 90 per cent of listeners. What is enjoyed, what makes people prick up their ears and drop their jaws and what makes their eyes water and warms their hearts is the outward show, the preacher's voice, his diction, his gestures and his temperament. If one possesses all these qualities, despite being a Protestant pastor, the wishy-washy man of religion, one has the power to rouse to ecstasy even the pious Old Believers - Pastor Dove knew this from his own experience, and he used to argue with his colleagues that the result would be the same even if one preached to the Estonian congregation in the Kirghiz language.


    Since the young pastor was well aware of the importance of a resounding voice, telling gestures and effective eloquence, he tried to practise these virtues outside the church, to exercise them whenever a suitable moment offered itself, be it at home weddings, be it at baptisms or at funerals. And as he observed his own success, and a rather quick success at that, he fell in love with himself and got a rhetorical enjoyment from his practice in every speech and prayer; he took great delight in his own art. And that is why he buried Mrs. Kreek twice. The first burial took place in the house of mourning and the second one at the grave. Everybody had presumed that he would say only a couple of words at the grave as everything, everything had already been said at home, and had been said so beautifully, but no, Pastor Dove was going strong and there was no stopping him.


    Not that it mattered much. It was summertime and the day was fine. Much to the glory of the deceased and the mourners. The two daughters of the deceased, moved to the bottom of their hearts by the young pastor's masterly performance, wept profusely; the others followed suit, in a rather drier vein, showing an enthusiastic interest in the speaker's sparkling shower of words. The young Kreek, a newly installed lawyer's clerk, who had been russified in tsarist schools, took the advantage of learning good Estonian from Pastor Dove, as far as befitted his state of mourning. Only the widowed old Kreek, who was longing for a smoke, wondered why on earth the pastor was rambling on, whether he could not speak less, since he wouldn't be able to pay him more. However, one had to put up with the inevitable, and as Mr. Kreek had other things to think about, the one and only weak opposition to the length of Pastor Dove's oratory died.


    Mr. Kreek's other thoughts can't have been very pleasant, because, apart from a craving to smoke, he was suffering torments from his black coat. How these idiotic clothes made you sweat in this hot weather! He felt as if water was literally dripping out of his sleeves and dense vapour steaming from his open neck. With this sensation other irritating thoughts and memories visited him one after another. The coffin down there. Did it have to be so expensive? To bury a lot of money, just like that, for the sole purpose of exposing it to other people for a couple of hours!... He would not have bought it himself, but for the children! It was their good mamma who had to be buried with all pomp and ceremony. That this pomp cost the price of two milking cows - who cares!...


    Ah well, the good mamma! She had been good to them, so good that she had more or less spoilt them. The girls smoke, drink, go to cafés and restaurants and dance the Charleston. And their rooms are always full of boys none of whom are the  marrying kind. And my son is still on my hands, as if he had no job, and I have to pay his bills, often signed at the card table...


    Weak mother, weak mother-  yes, yes... And now, in the middle of all the summer work, she gives up and dies. And you have to arrange her funeral. You have to invite a bunch of people, you have to treat them to food and drink. And what kind? The best, of course, the most expensive, because the children will have it so. Dainty morsels, foreign wines and liqueurs. Quite a party! For that money you could get a couple of fat cows...


    And what about work? Now these made up and powdered and permed misses won't do anything. Their dear mamma pampered them, they're not used to anything that might pass for work... There's nothing for it but to look straight away... look straight away for a new wife... Why does the papa chew over this thirty of years of love? Over and over again: "Thirty years of love! Thirty years of love!" - what a bore he is with this endless repetition...


    In his funeral speech Pastor Dove had woven variations on the theme of the Kreeks' thirty years of cohabitation and cooperation, which had been flooded by the sunshine of true love. And he delivered it with such gripping pathos that there was no one who disbelieved him, no one whose eye was dry. Weeping became general, now both the Lutherans and other Protestants were in tears. And as content does not matter as much as form, the speaker reiterated the refrain: "Thirty years of love!"


    At the same time Mr. Kreek picked up anxiously the lost thread of the new wife whom he had to start looking for almost immediately after the funeral. He had a wide circle of acquaintances in town and nearby where he ran a big farm in the countryside - the buildings could be seen from the cemetery just as the towers of the city could be seen. And in that circle there were plenty of single women. In his mind's eye he let them pass by one by one, now and then studying one at length and dismissing another quickly.


    But suddenly this not in the least uninteresting activity was disrupted. Something else, something outside, caught Kreek's attention. His eye happened to rest on the south-easterly sky and  - a sudden shock opens his mouth and raises his eyebrows high. And as he is standing close to the clergyman orator, he raises his chin and murmurs: "Couldn't  you make it a bit shorter?"


    But Pastor Dove must have neither heard nor understood - he didn't pay any attention to this reproach and carried on with eagerness.


    Kreek's restless gaze is fixed to the south-east now. The danger which he has discovered grows visibly. Kreek bears it patiently for a while, then tugs the orator by the gown and murmurs more urgently than on the previous occasion: "Couldn't you make it a bit shorter?"


    Pastor Dove may have heard and understood now. But who can go and tell the merrily gushing waterfall: "Be silent and still!" So that after a few minutes Mr. Kreek was forced to pull the pastor by his clerical gown again and his reproaches got louder.


    Only now did he achieve a certain result. The orator's face was slightly turned and his nose was slightly nodded towards the interrupter. And the speech itself took the desired turn towards the finale.


    The concluding prayer followed.


    Then the pastor and the mourners threw handfuls of earth into the grave.


    Suddenly the widowed Kreek's voice, abrupt and anxious, cut in on the thump of handfuls of softly falling earth, ordering the gravediggers:


    "Men, fill the grave as quickly as you can. I've got thirty bales' worth of hay in the meadow and the thunder's approaching!" He himself was making for the gates of the graveyard.