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When the Moomin family had returned from the last sailing trip of the autumn, everyone – or almost everyone – returned home. You might almost believe that everything had returned to normal. But when Fillyjonk with renewed energy and enthusiasm had spent almost a week autumn cleaning, her thoughts returned to the Moomin family's house and her strange experience there.
Parts of that experience her mind could only barely touch, before it fled like a small frightened animal from something big and dark that passes it in the forest. Then there were a few, brief impressions that stayed with her.
The Hemulen had said that she was 'artistic'. Artistic? Her? No one had ever said that before. Never before had anyone thought her in possession of any little talent. Yet that was what he had said. Fillyjonk's cheeks flushed slightly at the memory.
Not that he had meant anything by it. Perhaps he had only wanted to flatter her so he wouldn't have to take on the responsibility of decorating the house for the Ancestor's celebration.
But still – 'artistic'.
By this time in her thoughts, Fillyjonk would usually scold herself harshly and return to her normal occupation, that of caring for her house and home, as you should before the approaching winter. Towards evening, when she was seated at her kitchen table over her last cup of tea, suddenly it occurred to her that the Hemulen was all alone in his house. Was he really capable of preparing his home for the storms and cold of winter?
Her reply was, he probably couldn't. It was clear to her that someone had to help the poor inept Hemulen. Someone more knowledgeable in the difficult art of preparing a house for the long dark season that was coming. Someone who was artistic and knew how to care for a home.
However, this thought caused her a strong sense of discomfort. Before the very sudden visit to the Moomin family, she had very rarely visited anyone and never so suddenly given in to an impulse. Fillyjonks are not by nature impulsive. The know what they can do and are very happy to do that, but considerably less willing to do other things, that they perceive as 'difficult', 'strange' and – here her inner voice was lowered to a whisper – 'frightening'. But, she then thought, strengthened by the successful experience – she had visited the Moomin family's home all by herself and she had been able to return home, likewise by herself. She had managed! And the Hemulen had told her she was artistic.
She delayed the decision until the following day, hoping that by then she would have forgotten, or simply changed her mind. Surprised, she realised that on the contrary, the decision had matured. She found herself without hesitation or any kind of shivers caused by terror, sensibly reminding herself of what she would need to bring with her.
I shall bring my polishing rag, because he won't have anything as good, and the dusting rag. Decisively, she also packed some of her eminently tasty coffee. The Hemulen wouldn't have anything that good, that was only to be expected.
By the front door, she stopped and hesitated, then hurried back to the box in the parlour, where she kept some beautiful rocks, a sea shell, a few shiny ribbons, a little jar filled with shimmering pearly buttons – treasures collected over a number of years, always with a half guilty glance over her own shoulder. A Fillyjonk didn't collect rocks and shells like silly Moomins and Snork Maidens. Yet, she had not been able to or – for some reason Fillyjonk felt rather un-Fillyjonkishly rebellious – had wanted to – deny herself these little treasures.
Perhaps she should – he would have a poor and sparse home, the poor Hemulen -
Determinedly, she closed her trunk, locked the door and placed the key in the pocket of her warm autumn coat. She wrapped her scarf more tightly around her neck and glanced worriedly up at the sky that looking menacingly grey. Her nose wrinkled, as she anxiously sniffed at the thick clouds. It wasn't too late to change her mind. She could go on another day – but on another day, the weather might be worse. Besides, she could actually make out a little of the Hemulen's roof, only a few blocks away. If she walked under the trees, she could avoid getting wet, if the rain should begin to fall before she made her way over to the Hemulen's house. It would only take ten minutes to go there, perhaps not even that.
Seven minutes later, she stood hesitating by the Hemulen's gate. Her left paw shook slightly where it hovered so close to the handle she could almost feel the icy chill from the metal. She was so nervous her eyes narrowed and she glanced over her shoulder. Almost no one was out this early in the morning. Only a Mymble with all her seven children, hurrying to the shop. A Whomper and some little Toffle had hastened by as well, with their collars turned up high, and their gazes lowered, also intent on some urgent errand. No one had cast even a single glance at Fillyjonk. And what if they had? She had just as much right to walk through their little town as they did.
Decisively, she pressed down on the handle and walked up the garden path towards the Hemulen's house. Once on top of the front steps, her decisiveness left her and she remained standing there to collect herself. She drew in breath. Now it was too late to change her mind. She would have to knock on the door now.
Nervously, she took a step back, when the door suddenly swung open, before she had even touched it. In the doorway, she could see the Hemulen. He was holding a hammer in one paw and in the other a wooden plank. He looked as if he was in a hurry. Fillyjonk whimpered a little. She had come at a bad time. Now she regretted her too hasty impulse to come here. She blamed her changed behaviour on the Moomin family and their badly chosen acquaintances.
The Hemulen spat out the nails, he had had in his mouth, bent over and put down the plank at the edge of the steps and picked up the nails again.
"Oh, there you are. I was just on my way out to mend a broken plank in the shed over there, but do come in. The coffee pot is on. I'll be right back."
Fillyjonk remained standing on the stairs, feeling confused. This wasn't the way she had imagined her visit would be. When she had had time to consider for a moment, she calmed down. The Hemulen had been glad to see her. He had invited her in. The coffee pot was on. He might just as well have said Welcome, but it didn't matter. A Hemulen couldn't know how to behave.
Fillyjonk carefully scraped her boots on the doormat, put her trunk down on the hallway floor and after a moment's hesitation, unbuttoned her coat. The Hemulen had a big and actually quite nice and well made shelf to put hats and hang coats on. In the end, she hung her coat at the far end.
Her paw reached for the handle on the trunk and walked slowly and hesitantly towards the light that came through a half open door only a few steps away. Just as she had expected, it led to the kitchen. A fire was sparkling in the stove and just like the Hemulen had said, a coffee pot was on it, spreading a home-like fragrance through the kitchen, that was pleasantly warm. The curtains, on the other hand, were simple and threadbare and the table cloth was ugly and coarse in a nondescript yellowish brown colour.
This called for artistic work, that much was clear. Suddenly, Fillyjonk's paws were positively itching to get started, but that just wasn't done. Instead she sat down on the far edge of a sturdy and actually rather well made chair over by the window. She couldn't sit with her back towards the door. If she had to, it would have to be the window.
Before she had time to do more than sit down, she heard the Hemulen's footsteps from the hallway.
"There you are. Please, have some coffee."
Now she noticed some cups on the table. The Hemulen poured coffee into both cups. Who had he been waiting for? Yet again, Fillyjonk's nose wrinkled nervously. If anyone else was coming, then she, Fillyjonk, would only be in the way.
Oddly enough, the Hemulen seemed to understand what was going through her mind.
"I only have two cups. Never needed more than that. I like to put them both on the table, because somehow, it looks more cosy with two."
He studied her, hesitantly, inquiringly.
Fillyjonk heard her own voice replying.
"Yes, of course it does. Much more cosy."
I don't sound nearly as nervous as I am, she thought with surprise.
The Hemulen fell silent, and sat down on the sofa, picked up his cup and raised it to his mouth. Then something seemed to occur to him and he put down his cup and hurriedly rose and walked across to the sink. He opened a cupboard on the wall above and picked out a tin with a tightly fitting lid. He put that down on the sink, looking as if he was searching for something. Eventually, he found an unadorned simple dish and placed some biscuits on it. Then he set it out on the table. He left the tin where it was, leaving the cupboard only half closed.
"Here you are", he prompted again and Fillyjonk held out her paw for a biscuit. It might not be completely fresh, but still quite good. In any case, she ate her biscuit in silence, while she considered what to say. You should make conversation at the coffee table. If the Hemulen had expected her, he would most likely have invited her into the parlour, but you couldn't be sure. Not with Hemulen.
When she remained silent, the Hemulen seemed to feel impelled to begin. He cleared his throat and his gaze slid across Fillyjonk, hesitantly, but despite that, there was something in that gaze that made her blush a little again. She looked away, thinking sternly to herself. You must not make a spectacle of yourself, while away visiting.
"Well, I'd been thinking – Before the first snow – I'd been thinking – If you're not too busy, I was going to invite you over. Now that – well, we knew each other before too."
Know was probably too strong a word, Fillyjonk thought. They had seen each other in the street. Sometimes they had been queueing at the shop. Once the Hemulen had walked by her little garden and nodded amiably but distantly. She had passed his house several times, but only rarely seen him outside and then he had been fully occupied with his chores.
Not until now did she realize that she could have invited the Hemulen over to her home. It was tidy and clean and ready for a visit from anyone. Once again, she blushed, more deeply this time.
"And I should invite you to my house. If this week suits you, or perhaps the next?"
There it was again, the tone that made Fillyjonk change colour. She really shouldn't, he really shouldn't – but then again - why shouldn't they visit each other? They knew each other now, just as he had pointed out. She racked her brains for something to say. He had called her artistic. Shouldn't she return the compliment? He was – big, rather strong, she thought, maybe even a little – handsome? She had never before considered whether Hemulen were handsome. Once in her youth, she had seen a young handsome Fillyjonk who had been acquainted with her relatives. A neighbour, an acquaintance, she didn't remember. He had been so handsome, but he had never paid any attention to the shy Fillyjonk. She had heard it said that he had found work in a theatre. The word sent shivers down Fillyjonk's spine. What if one day, she would go to a theatre? Perhaps she could go with – But – a compliment -
"Well, you're so nimble. I can understand that you're busy, but perhaps there will be a moment when you're not -"
"I've almost finished arranging everything for the winter."
His eyes roamed the kitchen and Fillyjonk sensed he was a little ashamed. You couldn't expect a Hemulen to be able to run a home the way a Fillyjonk could.
"Not in here. Outside."
She hesitated. It was sure to be impertinent to suggest it, but perhaps she might find a way to offer him her help – After a moment's consideration, she thought she might have found it.
"Well, you see, I have this little shed in my yard. My gardening tools are there and some old – The roof isn't completely waterproof anymore and – well, perhaps you can tell me what to do to mend it?"
Suddenly, The Hemulen looked much happier.
"I certainly do. I can fix that in a moment. When I come to visit you, I'll get it done right away, before we -"
"Then perhaps you will let me help you a little in here? It might be difficult to find the time to work both outside and in here and I would love to -"
He looked a little embarrassed, but also, Fillyjonk thought, a little relieved.
"Yes, that would be – very kind of you."
"I have some ribbons and -"
She looked down. Now he would realize that she had brought things to decorate his house, though he'd never asked her to.
The Hemulen's smile widened.
"No one's decorated here since – I'm sure you will make everything look very nice. When I come to visit you, I could paint your shed. I have some cans of paint in my shed and – which colour do you prefer? There's red and green and blue and white."
Fillyjonk had been about to say grey. Or brown. Brown and grey were respectable colours, but something made her say: "Red."
"I have always thought red such a pretty colour", said the Hemulen. "My shed is red too."
Fillyjonk got up, filled with enthusiasm about starting her work.
The Hemulen cast her a disappointed look.
"Are you leaving already?"
"No, I was going to get started."
He looked puzzled.
"With your house. It needs preparing for the winter."
"Yes. Right. Will you stay for dinner?"
Fillyjonk's mind was already occupied with today's chores, but with an effort, she turned her attention back onto her host.
"We'll have fish. I'll boil the potatoes and perhaps you might give me some advice about herbs and -"
"I'd love to."
"In the meantime, I'll go to the shop to get some more food. Tomorrow when I come over -"
Fillyjonk realized that she too would have to do some shopping on the way back, but right now she was in the middle of planning the tidy-up, so she delayed the thoughts about supper and tomorrow's dinner.
"I'm sure this winter won't be as harsh as the last one", said the Hemulen. "Back then, last winter, you couldn't leave the house for weeks on end, but now, this year – The winds don't feel nearly as cold. We should be able to get out into the street almost every day."
Then we'll be able to visit every day, thought Fillyjonk, and strangely enough, this time, she didn't blush at all. They knew each other now. That meant it was perfectly alright to visit each other. She got up and found the dust rag and began to dust cupboards, walls and the door. In a minute, she would get her polishing rag and get started on the candlesticks and copper bowls. Those curtains would need to be – or perhaps she had others that she could – And that table cloth would need to be changed. The thoughts whirled around in her head.
The Hemulen withdrew to the hallway, but stayed there a while and watched Fillyjonk, as she flew around like a whirlwind in his kitchen. He hadn't felt this way since his dear mother – He would paint her shed and her house and her fence and the gate. If her roof needed mending and the drainpipes clearing – After all, Fillyjonk was far more artistic than he was. And he was 'nimble'. No one had ever called him that. Nimble.
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