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Seacrow Island, Page 3

Astrid Lindgren

  “Tell you what, Uncle Melker, hold on with the crook of the poker!”

  But now Melker had happily reached safety next to the chimney. He looked down into it. There was nothing there but murky darkness.

  “Hey, Tjorven, you said something about owls—dead ones,” he yelled. “There aren’t any owls up here.”

  “Not even an old shriek owl?” called Niklas.

  Then Melker shouted angrily, “There aren’t any owls up here! I’ve already said so!” And again he heard Tjorven’s penetrating voice.

  “Do you want one? I know where there is one—but he isn’t dead.”

  Afterward the atmosphere in the kitchen was a little strained.

  “We’ll have to live out of cans for the time being,” said Malin.

  They all gazed sadly at the stove which would not behave itself. Just now there seemed nothing they would rather have had than a little warm food.

  “It’s a hard life,” said Pelle, because his father used to say that sometimes.

  Then there was a knock on the door and in came a strange woman in a red raincoat. She hastily put down an enamel saucepan on the stove and smiled a great big smile at them all.

  “Good evening! Oh, there you are, Tjorven! I thought so! How badly it’s smoking,” she said, and before anyone could do anything she went on. “I’d better tell you who I am. My name is Marta Grankvist. We are next-door neighbors. Welcome!” She spoke quickly and smiled the whole time and, before anyone in the family noticed, she had crossed to the stove and was looking up into the chimney. “Have you opened the damper? It would be better if you had!”

  Malin burst out laughing, but Melker looked hurt.

  “Yes, of course I opened the damper. It was the first thing I did,” he assured them.

  “Well, it’s closed now,” said Marta Grankvist. “And now it’s open,” she said as she turned it around. “Probably it was open when you came and Mr. Melkerson shut it.”

  “He’s always so careful,” said Malin.

  They all laughed, even Melker and most of all Tjorven.

  “I know this stove,” said Marta Grankvist, “and it’s first-rate.”

  Malin looked at her thankfully. Everything seemed so much better since this wonderful person had come into the kitchen. She was so gay and spread a feeling of security around her. What luck to have her as neighbor, thought Malin.

  “I made a little stew to welcome you,” said Marta Grankvist, and pointed to the saucepan.

  The tears came to Melker’s eyes. That often happened when people were nice to him and his children.

  “To think that there are such kind people!” he stammered.

  “Yes, we’re all kind here on Seacrow Island,” laughed Marta Grankvist. “Come on, Tjorven. We must go home now. If there’s anything more you need, just tell me.”

  “Well, there is a cracked windowpane in there,” said Malin shyly, “but we can’t ask too much.”

  “I’ll send Nisse over later when you have eaten,” said Marta Grankvist.

  “Yes, because it’s him who puts in all the windowpanes on Seacrow Island,” said Tjorven, “and it’s me and Stina who break them.”

  “What did you say?” said her mother sternly.

  “But never on purpose, of course,” Tjorven hastened to explain. “It just happens like that.”

  “Stina—I know her,” said Pelle.

  “Do you?” said Tjorven, and for some reason she did not seem very pleased.

  Pelle had been strangely quiet for a long time. Why bother to talk to people when there was a dog like Bosun in the room? Pelle was hanging around his neck and he whispered in his ear, “I like you.”

  And Bosun let himself be hugged. He just looked at Pelle with friendly, rather sad eyes, with a gaze that bared the whole of his steadfast dog’s soul for anyone who cared to see.

  But now Tjorven was going home, and where Tjorven went Bosun went too.

  “Come on, Bosun,” she said, and then they were gone.

  But the kitchen window was open and they all heard Tjorven’s voice as she went past outside.

  “Mummy, do you know what? When he walked on the roof, Uncle Melker held on with the poker.”

  They heard Marta Grankvist’s reply too. “They come from the town, you see, Tjorven, and I suppose they have to hold on with pokers.”

  The Melkersons all looked at one another.

  “She’s sorry for us,” said Johan. “She needn’t be.”

  But as far as the stove was concerned Marta was quite right. It was splendid and burned so briskly that it soon became glowingly red and spread wonderful warmth through the whole kitchen.

  “The blessed fire of the home,” said Melker. “Humans had no home until they discovered fire.”

  “And found out about stews,” said Niklas, and began to eat so that he could say no more.

  They sat around the kitchen table and ate, and it was a time of deep, comfortable homeyness. The fire roared in the stove and the rain roared outside.

  It was raining harder than ever when Johan and Niklas went to bed. Unwillingly they left the warm kitchen and went up to their attic, which was cold and damp and very unpleasant in spite of the fire in the stove. But Pelle was already asleep there, wrapped in blankets and with a warm cap on his head, pulled well down.

  Johan stood shivering at the window and tried to see over to the Grankvists, their neighbors, but the rain was so heavy that it was like looking through a dense curtain of streaming water. Shop—he could make out the sign. And the house—that was red, just like their own cottage, and the garden sloped down toward the sea and there was a boat jetty just like their own.

  “Tomorrow we may be able to make friends with those boys who . . .” said Johan. But then he suddenly stopped, for something was happening over at their neighbors’ house. A door opened and someone came running out into the rain. It was a girl in a bathing suit, and her fair hair streamed behind her as she galloped down toward the jetty.

  “Come here, Niklas. Something interesting for you to see . . .” said Johan. Then he stopped again, for now the door was opening again and another girl came out. She was in a swimsuit too, and she galloped down toward the jetty after the other one. The first girl was already there. She dove in and as soon as her nose was above water again she shrieked, “Freddy, did you bring the soap?”

  Johan and Niklas looked silently at each other.

  “Those are the ‘boys’ we were going to see tomorrow,” said Niklas at last.

  “Oh dear,” said Johan.

  They lay awake for a long time that evening.

  “You can’t possibly get to sleep until your feet have thawed at least a little bit,” said Niklas.

  Johan agreed. Then they were silent for a long time.

  “Well, at any rate it’s stopped raining now,” said Johan finally.

  “No, it hasn’t,” said Niklas. “It’s only just begun over here in my bed.”

  Either you like it when it rains in through the ceiling or you don’t. . . .

  Niklas did not exactly like it dripping down on his bed but it didn’t bother him too much, for he was only twelve years old and rather easygoing by nature. On the other hand both he and Johan realized that Malin would have a sleepless night if they reported this misery to her just now. So they moved Niklas’s bed very quietly to one side and put a pail to catch the drips from the ceiling.

  “That noise makes you sleepy,” mumbled Johan when he had got back to bed again. “Plop, plop!”

  Downstairs Malin sat blissfully ignorant of the plopping and wrote in her diary, for she wanted to remember the first day on Seacrow Island.

  “I am sitting here alone,” she finally wrote, “but it feels as if someone is watching me. Not a person. Just the house—Carpenter’s Cottage! Carpenter’s Cottage, do please like us. You’d better make up your mind to it, because you are going to have to put up with us. You don’t know who we are yet, you say? I’ll tell you. That tall, gangling fellow who is
lying in bed in the little room by the kitchen and spouting poetry aloud to send himself to sleep is Melker. You must guard against him, particularly if you see him with a hammer or a saw or some other tool in his hand. Otherwise he is very nice and quite harmless. As for the three scruffy little boys in one of the attics, I hope you are fond of children and are used to all sorts of goings-on. I suppose the carpenter’s children could not always have been so very good. The person who is going to clean your windows and scrub your floors with love, but with more and more roughened hands, is yours truly, Malin. Although I’ll make the others help too, you can be sure of that. We’ll all try to make everything look its best here. Good night, Carpenter’s Cottage, we’d better go to sleep now. A cold attic is waiting for me too—but you can be sure of my staying down here a little longer in this nice warm kitchen with its glowing range, for here I feel in touch with your warmly beating heart.”

  Then Malin suddenly noticed how late it was. A new day had already begun, a day in which the rain had stopped so that it would be bright and clear, as she saw when she went to the window. She stood there for a long time.

  “What a wonderful kitchen window,” she murmured. And she knew that she had never seen anything she liked better than what she saw outside. The still water in the light of dawn, the jetty, the gray stones on the shore, everything. She opened the window and heard the bird song which jubilantly wafted in over her. It issued from a host of small throats, but above them all she could hear the blackbird in the whitebeam. He had just wakened and was full of the joy of life. And poor Melker in the little room by the kitchen was still not asleep, but he yawned, Malin could hear that. He was still reciting poetry in a loud voice. She felt that he was happy.

  Row, Row to Fish Island

  “IT FEELS as if we have lived on Seacrow Island all our lives,” wrote Malin a week later. “I already know all the people who live here. First of all there are Nisse and Marta, who keep the shop. I know that they are the world’s kindest (especially him) and the world’s most capable (especially her) people.

  “He looks after the shop. She looks after the shop, too, but she also deals with the telephone exchange, the post office, her children, Bosun, and the household in general, and in addition whenever anyone on the island needs help she goes and helps them. It was typical of Marta to come to us with a hot stew on our first evening—‘Just because you all looked so lost,’ as she said.

  “What else do I know? That old man Söderman’s stomach rumbles terribly—he told me so himself—and he is going to the doctor to get something for it.

  “And I know that Westerman does not look after his land properly, and spends his time fishing and hunting. Mrs. Westerman told me all about it.

  “Marta and Nisse, old man Söderman, the Westermans—are there any others? Yes, the Janssons, of course. They have a farm and we get our milk from them. It is one of our country pleasures to walk through the cow field in the evening to get milk from the farm.

  “The island also has a schoolmaster, a young man called Björn Sjöblom. I met him when I went for the milk on Wednesday evening, and he seemed to be a nice, honest young man, absolutely straightforward and frank.

  “And the children here, thank God for them! Pelle plays with Tjorven and Stina, especially with Tjorven. I think there is a little rivalry about him going on between them. Something on the lines of ‘I saw him first.’ But Tjorven has taken him over completely, I expect. Anything else would be impossible. She is a remarkable child, everyone’s darling, although no one really knows why. The atmosphere brightens wherever her good-natured, funny face appears. Daddy insists that she has something of the eternal child about her, confident and warm and sunny. She is the whole of Seacrow Island’s Tjorven, wandering about all the paths and into all the cottages. Wherever she goes she is greeted with ‘Why, there’s our Tjorven!’ just as if she were the nicest thing that could happen at that moment. When she is angry—and that happens sometimes, for she’s no angel—it is as if some natural force has been let loose, and then there’s thunder and lightning, no mistake! But it soon passes.

  “Stina is a quite different type. A funny, cute little child, with a remarkable toothless charm. I can’t think how she managed it, but she has knocked out all her front teeth at the same time, and it gives her a wild, picturesque look when she laughs. She is the island’s greatest storyteller, fantastically persistent. Even Daddy, who is fond of all children and likes to talk to them, has already become a little wary of Stina, and often makes a slight detour when he sees her coming, although he denies it.

  “ ‘On the contrary,’ he said the other day, ‘it’s one of the best things I know when Stina comes and tells me stories—because it’s such a relief when she finishes!’

  “Johan and Niklas lead a happy and contented existence with Teddy and Freddy, who are a pair of little Amazons, although they are very charming. I don’t see much of my brothers nowadays, especially when it comes to washing up. I just hear in passing that ‘We’re going out fishing,’ ‘We’re going swimming,’ ‘We’re going to build a hut,’ ‘We’re going to make a raft,’ or ‘We’re going to the island to lay nets.’ This last is what they are doing this evening. Tomorrow they will be going out to take them up, they tell me. At five o’clock. If they ever manage to wake up that early.”

  They did. They woke at five o’clock, dressed quickly and ran down to the Grankvist jetty, where Teddy and Freddy were waiting with their boat. Bosun had woken up early too. He stood there on the jetty, looking reproachfully at Teddy and Freddy. Were they really going out to sea without taking him with them?

  “Oh, well, come on,” said Freddy. “Where should a bosun be if not in a boat? But you know Tjorven will be furious when she wakes up.”

  It seemed as if Bosun hesitated for a moment when he heard Tjorven’s name, but only for a moment. Then he jumped softly down into the boat, which shuddered under his great weight.

  Freddy patted him. “Perhaps you think you’ll get home before Tjorven wakes up, but you’re wrong there, little Bosun.” Then she took the oars and began to row.

  “Dogs can’t reason like that,” said Johan. “Bosun doesn’t think anything at all. He just jumped into the boat because he saw you and Teddy in it.”

  Both Teddy and Freddy declared that Bosun could think and feel like a human being.

  “But better,” said Teddy. “I bet there’s never been an unkind thought in that dog’s skull,” she said, and caressed the giant head.

  “What about this skull then?” asked Johan and gave Teddy’s blond head a tap.

  “It’s chock-full of terrible thoughts sometimes,” Teddy confessed. “Freddy’s kinder. She’s much more like Bosun.”

  They had to row for almost an hour to reach Fish Island, and they passed the time talking about the thoughts inside their various skulls.

  “Now, Niklas, what do you think about when you see something like this, for example?” asked Teddy and made a sweeping gesture which took in the whole beautiful newly awakened morning with the white summer clouds in the sky and the glint of the sun on the sea.

  “I think about food,” said Niklas.

  Teddy and Freddy stared at him. “About food? Why?”

  “Well, that’s what I think about most of the time,” said Niklas with a grin, and Johan agreed with him.

  “Yes, there are only two other thoughts at most slopping around in there,” he said, tapping Niklas’s forehead.

  “But thoughts are as thick as a shoal of minnows inside Johan’s head,” said Niklas. “Sometimes they come tumbling out of his ears when it gets too crowded. It’s because he reads too many books.”

  “I do too,” said Freddy. “Thoughts may suddenly come bursting out of my head as well. I wonder how it will feel!”

  “I think different thoughts when I am Teodora from when I am Teddy,” said Teddy.

  Johan looked at her in surprise. “Teodora?”

  “Why, didn’t you know? My real name’s Teodora, and
Freddy’s is Frederika.”

  “That was Daddy’s idiotic suggestion,” declared Freddy. “Mummy turned it into Teddy and Freddy.”

  “My Teodora thoughts are like a dream, they are so lovely,” said Teddy. “When they come to me I write poems and decide to go to Africa to work among the lepers, or perhaps to be an astronaut or the first woman on the moon or something like that.”

  Niklas looked at Freddy, who was working hard at the oars. “And what are your Frederika thoughts then?”

  “Don’t have any,” said Freddy. “I’m Freddy all the time, but my Freddy thoughts are fairly sound. Would you like to hear the latest?”

  Johan and Niklas were curious. Of course they wanted to hear the latest Freddy thought.

  “It’s this,” said Freddy. “Can’t either of those lazy boys row for a bit?”

  Johan quickly relieved her of the oars, but he was a little anxious as to how he would get along. He and Niklas had rowed in the evenings in the old boat belonging to Carpenter’s Cottage. They had practised in complete secrecy so that they wouldn’t feel too awkward when they were in a boat with Teddy and Freddy.

  “We do know something about boats, even though we aren’t island dwellers,” Johan had assured the two girls when they had first met, and Freddy had said a little scornfully, “You’ve carved bark boats, have you?”

  Freddy and Teddy had both been born on Seacrow Island so they were islanders through and through. They knew almost everything about boats and weather and wind, and how to fish with every kind of net and line. They could clean herrings and skin perch. They could splice ropes and tie knots and row the boat with one oar just as well as they could with two. They knew where the perch grounds were and the reed beds where you could find a pike if you were lucky. They could recognize all the sea birds’ eggs and calls, and they knew their way around the confusing world of island reefs and creeks which made up the archipelago around Seacrow Island better than they knew their mother’s kitchen.