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Seacrow Island

Astrid Lindgren

  Astrid Lindgren

  Seacrow Island

  Translated from the Swedish by Evelyn Ramsden





  435 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014

  Text copyright © 1964 by Astrid Lindgren / Saltkråkan AB

  Translation copyright © 1968 by Oliver & Boyd Ltd

  All rights reserved.

  First published in Sweden in 1964 as Vi på Saltkråkan by Rabén & Sjögren, Sweden. First American edition published in 1969 by the Viking Press, Inc.

  All foreign rights are handled by Saltkråkan AB, Lidingö, Sweden

  For more information about Astrid Lindgren, see

  Cover design by Louise Fili, Ltd.

  Cover illustration by Monika Forsberg

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Lindgren, Astrid, 1907–2002.

  [Vi på Saltkråkan. English]

  Seacrow Island / by Astrid Lindgren ; translated by Evelyn Ramsden.

  1 online resource. — (The New York Review Books children’s collection)

  Originally published in Swedish by Rabén & Sjögren in 1964 under title: Vi på Saltkråkan.

  Summary: Life in their rented summer cottage on Seacrow Island is some-times happy, sometimes exciting, and sometimes tragic, but never uneventful for a Swedish author, his three sons, and nineteen-year-old daughter.

  ISBN 978-1-59017-869-0 ()— ISBN 978-1-59017-868-3 (alk. paper)

  [1. Family life—Sweden—Fiction. 2. Islands—Fiction. 3. Sweden—Fiction.] I. Ramsden, Evelyn Charlotte, 1896– translator. II. Title.




  ISBN 978-1-59017-869-0


  For a complete list of books in the NYRB Classics series, visit or write to:

  Catalog Requests, NYRB, 435 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014


  Title Page

  Copyright and More Information

  A Day in June

  Carpenter’s Cottage

  Row, Row to Fish Island

  Lost in the Fog

  And Then Came Midsummer

  Live for the Day

  An Animal for Pelle

  The Odd Thing About Summers

  Two Enchanted Princes

  Does Malin Really Not Want a Husband?

  Sorrow and Joy

  Operation Moses

  Tjorven Earns Three Crowns

  In the Uttermost Parts of the Sea

  A Day in June

  IF YOU go down to the quay in Stockholm on a summer morning and see a little white boat called Seacrow I lying there, that is the right boat to take and all you have to do is to go on board. For at ten o’clock precisely she will ring her bell for departure and back out from the quay. She is now setting out on her usual trip, which ends at the island that lies the farthest out in the sea of all the islands in the Stockholm archipelago. Seacrow I is a purposeful, energetic little steamer and she has made this journey three times a week in summer and once a week in winter for more than thirty years, although she is probably quite unconscious of the fact that she plows through waters different from any others on the face of the earth. She crosses wide expanses of open water and steams through narrow channels, past hundreds of green islands and thousands of gray, bare rocks. She does not go fast and the sun is low when at last she reaches the quay at Seacrow Island, the island which has given her its name. She has no need to go any farther, for there is only the open sea beyond with its bare rocks and its islands where nobody lives except eider ducks, gulls, and other sea birds.

  But there are people on Seacrow Island. Not many, at most twenty—that is, in the winter. But in the summer there are the summer visitors as well.

  Just such a family of summer visitors was aboard Seacrow I one day in June a few years ago. It consisted of a father and his four children, and their name was Melkerson. They lived in Stockholm and none of them had been to Seacrow Island before. And so they were very excited, especially Melker, the father.

  “Seacrow Island,” he said. “I like the name. That was why I took the house.”

  Malin, his nineteen-year-old daughter, looked at him and shook her head. What a scatterbrained father she had! He was almost fifty, but he was as impulsive as a child and more irresponsible than his own sons. Now he was standing there as excited as any child on Christmas Eve, expecting them all to be wildly enthusiastic about his idea of taking a summer cottage on Seacrow Island.

  “It’s like you, Daddy,” said Malin, “it’s exactly like you to take a cottage on an island which you have never even seen, just because you like the name.”

  “That’s what I would have thought everybody did,” Melker replied. He thought for a moment and then said, “Or perhaps one has to be an author and be more or less crazy to do a thing like that. Only a name—Seacrow Island! Perhaps other people would have gone and looked at the place before taking it.”

  “Lots would have—but not you.”

  “Well, never mind, I’m on my way there now,” said Melker cheerfully.

  And he gazed around him with his gay, blue eyes. He saw all the things he loved most: the pale waters, the islands and reefs, the old gray rocks, the shore with its old houses and jetties and boathouses—he felt as if he wanted to stretch out his hand and caress them. Instead, he grasped Johan and Niklas by the nape of the neck.

  “Do you realize how beautiful it all is? Do you realize how lucky you are to live in the midst of all this for a whole summer?”

  Johan and Niklas said that they did realize it and Pelle said he realized it too.

  “Well, why don’t you shout for joy then?” said Melker. “Would you mind my asking for a spot of jubilation?”

  “How do you do it?” Pelle asked. He was only seven years old and could not show joy to order.

  “You yodel,” said Melker, and laughed. Then he tried to yodel a little himself and all his children giggled obediently.

  “You sound like a cow mooing,” said Johan, and Malin remarked, “Wouldn’t it be better, just to be on the safe side, to wait until we’ve seen the cottage before you start crowing?”

  Melker did not think so. “The agent said the cottage was wonderful, and one has to believe what people say. He assured me that it was an old, homey, delightful cottage.”

  “If only we could get there soon,” said Pelle. “I want to see the cottage now.”

  Melker looked at his watch. “In an hour’s time, my boy! By that time we shall all be very hungry, and guess what we shall be doing then?”

  “Eating,” suggested Niklas.

  “Exactly. We’ll sit outside the house in the sunshine and eat the wonderful meal that Malin will have cooked for us. We shall be having it on the green grass, of course—and we will just sit there and feel that summer has come!”

  “Oh!” said Pelle. “I’ll soon be shouting for joy.”

  But then he decided to do something else. His father had said there was an hour to go, and there must still be things he could do aboard this boat. He had done most of the exploring. He had climbed up all the companionways and looked in all the exciting corners and cupboards. He had put his nose into the pilot’s room and been chased away. He had tried to get up to the captain on the bridge and had been sternly ordered off. He had stood looking down into the engine room, watching all the machinery as it went around and around. He had drunk lemonade and eaten rolls and had thrown bits of his rolls to the hungry gulls. He had chatted with almost everybody on board. He had tried to see h
ow fast he could run from one end of the boat to the other, and he had got in every-body’s way at every stopping place as the crew threw baggage ashore. Now he began to look around for something new, and it was then that he discovered a couple of passengers he had not noticed before.

  Far astern he saw an old man sitting with a little girl, and on the seat beside the girl was a cage with a raven in it. A live raven! That made Pelle hurry, for he loved all living creatures, everything that moved, flew, or crawled beneath the sky, every bird, fish, and four-footed animal. “Dear little animals,” he called them all and he included frogs, wasps, grasshoppers, beetles, and other small insects. But now here was a raven, a real live raven.

  The little girl smiled at him, a sweet, toothless smile, as he stopped in front of the cage.

  “Is this your raven?” he asked, and poked a finger between the bars to try to stroke the bird. But this was a mistake, for the raven immediately pecked at his finger and he hurriedly drew it back.

  “Be careful!” said the little girl. “Yes, he is my raven, isn’t he, Grandpa?”

  The old man beside her nodded. “Yes, of course, it’s Stina’s raven,” he explained to Pelle. “At any rate, while she’s with me on Seacrow Island.”

  “Do you live on Seacrow Island?” said Pelle, delighted. “I’m going to live there too this summer. I mean, Father and I are going to live on Seacrow Island.”

  The old man looked at him in an interested way. “Are you, indeed? Then I suppose it’s you who have taken the old Carpenter’s Cottage?”

  Pelle nodded eagerly. “Yes, it’s us. Is it nice there?”

  The old man put his head on one side and looked as if he were thinking. Then he broke into a funny little laugh. “Yes, it’s nice, but of course it depends on what you like.”

  “What do you mean?” asked Pelle.

  The old man laughed again. “Well, either you like it when it rains in through the roof or you don’t.”

  “Or you don’t,” came as a sort of echo from the little girl. “I don’t.”

  Pelle grew rather thoughtful. He must tell Daddy that, but not just now. Now he wanted to look at the raven. It must be fun to have a raven, because everyone would want to come and look at it, especially a big boy like him. Of course, Stina was only a little girl, at most five years old, but Pelle was willing to put up with her as a friend for the sake of the raven, at any rate until he had found something better.

  “I’ll come to see you one day,” he said kindly. “Which house do you live in?”

  “In a red one,” said Stina, which was a lead, but not much more.

  “You can ask where old man Söderman lives,” said her grandfather. “Everyone knows it.”

  The raven blustered about in its cage and seemed very restless. Pelle had another try at poking in his finger, but the bird pecked him again.

  “He’s very wise,” said Stina. “The wisest bird in all the world, Grandpa says.”

  Pelle thought this was boasting, as neither Stina nor her grandfather could possibly know which bird was the wisest in the world.

  “My grandma has a parrot,” said Pelle, “and she can say ‘Go to blazes’!”

  “There’s nothing difficult in that,” said Stina. “My grandmother can say that too.”

  Pelle laughed loudly. “It isn’t my grandma who says it! It’s the parrot!”

  Stina did not like being laughed at. She was offended. “You should say what you mean then,” she said crossly. She turned her head away and looked out over the rail. She did not want to talk to Pelle any more.

  “Good-bye,” said Pelle and went off to find his scattered family. He found Johan and Niklas on the upper deck, and as soon as he saw them he knew that something was wrong. Both of them looked so gloomy that Pelle felt anxious. Had he done something he shouldn’t have done? “What is it?” he asked.

  “Look over there,” said Niklas, and pointed with his thumb. Leaning against the rail a little farther away stood Malin and beside her a tall young man in a light-blue polo-necked sweater. They were chatting and laughing together and the boy in the sweater was looking at Malin, their Malin, as if he had just found a beautiful little nugget of gold where he least expected it.

  “Here we go again,” said Niklas. “I thought it would be better when we got away from town.”

  Johan shook his head. “Don’t you believe it! If you put Malin on a rock in the middle of the Baltic, there’d be some boy or other swimming out to the rock within five minutes.”

  Niklas glared at the polo-necked sweater. “We ought to put up a notice beside her, Anchorage Forbidden!”

  Then he looked at Johan and they both laughed. They did not really mind when anyone began to pay attention to Malin, which, according to Johan, happened about once every quarter of an hour. They were not really serious, but in spite of it all they were secretly a little anxious. What if Malin fell in love one fine day and it all ended in an engagement and marriage and that sort of thing?

  “How would we get on without Malin?” Pelle would say, and that was what they all thought and felt. For Malin was the family’s anchor and support. Ever since the day their mother had died, when Pelle was born, Malin had been like a mother to all the boys, including Melker, a childish and very unhappy little mother for the first few years, but by degrees more and more capable of “wiping their noses, washing, scolding, and baking” as she herself described it.

  “But you only scold when you really have to,” Pelle always maintained. “Usually you are as soft and kind and good as a rabbit.”

  Until recently Pelle had not understood why Johan and Niklas had been so against Malin’s admirers. He had felt absolutely sure that Malin would go on belonging to the family forever, no matter how many polo-necks circled around her. It was Malin herself who had disturbed his peace of mind. It happened when Pelle was in bed one night, trying to go to sleep. Malin was in the bathroom next door and was singing a song, which finished, “She left school, got married, and had a family.”

  “Left school.” Yes, that was just what Malin had done, and then . . . then he supposed you just waited for the rest. Now he understood what would happen! Malin would marry and they would be left all alone with Mrs. Nilsson, who came for four hours a day and then went. It was an unbearable thought, and Pelle rushed in despair to his father. “Daddy, when will Malin get married and have a family?” he asked in a trembling voice.

  Melker looked surprised. He had not heard that Malin had any plans of that sort, and he did not realize that it was a question of life and death to Pelle.

  “When is it going to happen?” Pelle insisted.

  “That day and hour must remain hidden from us,” joked Melker. “There’s no need for you to worry about it, son.”

  But Pelle had worried about it ever since, not all the time, of course, or even every day, but now and then on special occasions, like now, for instance. Pelle stared toward Malin and the polo-necked sweater. As a matter of fact they were just saying good-bye, because the young man was getting off at the next stop.

  “Good-bye, Krister,” shouted Malin.

  And the sweater shouted back, “I’ll come over with my motorboat one day and look you up!”

  “You’d better not,” muttered Pelle angrily. And he decided to ask his father to put up one of those notices Niklas had talked about—Anchorage Forbidden—on the jetty at Seacrow Island. Obviously it would have been easier to have Malin to themselves in peace if she had not been so pretty. Pelle realized that. Not that he had looked at her particularly, but he knew she was pretty. Everybody said so. They thought that fair hair and green eyes like Malin’s were very pretty. No doubt the polo-necked sweater thought so too.

  “Who was that?” asked Johan, when Malin came over to the boys.

  “No one in particular. Just someone I met at a party the other day. Quite nice.”

  “You be careful,” said Johan. “Write those words in your diary in capital letters.”

  For Malin was not th
e daughter of an author for nothing. She wrote too, but only in her secret diary. In it she gave free rein to all her secret thoughts and dreams and described all the exploits of the Melkerson boys, including Melker’s.

  “You wait until I publish my secret diary, then you’ll all be laughing on the other side of your faces.”

  “Ha, ha! You’ll come out the worst of anyone,” Johan assured her. “I’m sure you’re careful to mention all your sheiks in the right order.”

  “Keep a list, so you’ll never forget any of them,” suggested Niklas. “Olaf the Fourteenth, Karl the Fifteenth, Lennart the Sixteenth, Johan the Seventeenth. It’ll be a lovely little list.”

  And Johan and Niklas were convinced that the polo-necked sweater would be Krister the Eighteenth.

  “I would like to know how she describes him in her diary,” said Niklas.

  “A boy with very short hair,” suggested Johan. “Generally foul and sloppy.”

  “That’s only what you think,” said Niklas.

  But Malin did not write a word about Krister the Eighteenth in her diary. He got off at his stop and left no lasting impression, for only a quarter of an hour later Malin had a much more important meeting, which made her forget everything else. It was when the boat arrived at the next jetty and she saw Seacrow Island for the first time. Of this meeting she wrote:

  “Malin, Malin, where have you been so long? This island has been lying here waiting for you, calmly and quietly, for such a long time, with its little boathouses, its old village street, its jetties and fishing boats and all its beauty, and you have not even known of its existence. Isn’t that dreadful? I wonder what God thought when He made this island. ‘I will have a little bit of everything,’ I expect He thought. ‘I will have bare, gray rocks, green trees, oaks and birch trees, meadows with flowers, yes, the whole island will be adrift with red roses and white hawthorn on the June day one thousand million years ahead when Malin Melkerson arrives.’ Yes, dear Johan and Niklas, I know what you would think if you ever read this. ‘Must you be so conceited!’ But I am not being conceited. I am only glad that God made Seacrow Island just as it is and not in any other way, and that He then thought of placing it, like a jewel, farthest out in the sea, where it has remained in peace just as He first created it, and that He has allowed me to come here.”