Leo, first published in 1989, is the first part in Ulla-Lena Lundberg’s trilogy chronicling the development of the shipping industry in the Åland Islands, and its effects on the lives of the islands’ inhabitants. The three novels are very different in character, the narrative style of each reflecting the time in which it is set. Leo is a finely-wrought family saga, whose characters are instrumental in the growth of the Åland Islands’ sailing fleet as it became the largest in the world during the late nineteenth century. In the extract that follows, the novel’s central character, Erik Petter, struggles to repay his father’s debts and establish himself as a farmer and shipmaster. Stora världen (The Wide World, 1991) tells the story of the descendants of Leo’s characters, in a variety of voices. The trilogy concludes with Allt man kan önska sig (Everything You Could Wish for, 1995) where the fractured narrative is brought up to date.
Here is the village. In total it comprises maybe one hundred people, and a hundred or so animals. If every person and every creature simultaneously let out the bellowing scream which lies within each of us, the world would collapse. But everything that happens happens drop by drop and independently, and we hold back the scream for as long as we can. It is this control which creates order and tradition and keeps the world going.
There are houses and outhouses and tilting windmills and farms which seem to have been there forever. Everything wears down and decays and, with a constant sound of banging, is rebuilt and renewed. But everything happens piece by piece, and never is everything razed to the ground; it is the constant banging which holds the world together.
Only every now and then does a cry emerge from someone’s heart so that a crack becomes visible and something is razed to the ground. The banging dies down and the village opens its mouth. But out of it comes not the scream, but chatter and talk, the lamentations and outrage that bind the world together.
It is said that it was desperation which took the life of Erik Persson of Simon’s farm in Granboda. Everyone knew that his affairs were in a bad way, but when one creditor after the other appears and forces an early inventory of his estate, the level of financial mismanagement which is uncovered is greater than any of us could have imagined. He leaves debts worth twice the value of his farm, and leaves nothing other than his farm. It must have been clear to him that the farm would go to auction and his wife and children to the parish.
It is Erik Petter, his fourteen-year-old son, who finds him hanging in the shed, and Erik Petter who helps the bailiffs to find the promissory notes in the terrible muddle in the small room. During his last years, Erik Persson borrowed thoughtlessly and indiscriminately. Here in the village the farmers were reluctant to loan him money, which is why he borrowed outside the village, at high interest. This is why there are now crofters and farmhands, fishermen and farmers’ sons, widows and maids turning up at Simon’s. Among the creditors are his own stepmother and his own farmhand, and skippers and small-holders from Flaka, Bistorp, Bengtsböle, Nåtö and Lumparby whom he has cheated out of their money on the reputation and good name of his late father, the lay assessor.
When the full extent of the debts is established, it is decided that the farm should be offered at auction to pay off some of the debt. Out of mercy for the little children, two beds with their furnishings and a fur rug are exempted.
A short respite is given before the family is to be driven away. Erik Petter stands and looks through the crack. For the first time he can see only one thing, and this gives him a sense of great calm. In front of him on the table are the promissory notes, neatly piled up and arranged in order of size, from the largest to the smallest. Alongside he has a sheet of paper on which he has written the amounts and the creditors’ names, and at the bottom the irrevocable total amount.
Here everything is recorded for eternity, coldly and calmly. Now all is revealed. Now nothing will be added, and nothing taken away.
Now he sits and adds up the assets. If he sells all that they have, right down to the clothes on their backs, he might get a period of respite, but how can he run a farm when the horses and tools and livestock have been sold? How can you ever get an income from an empty shell? The creditors know this, which is why the bailiffs see no option but to auction it off.
“No,” they say when Erik Petter speaks to them. “If the debts exceed the assets of the estate, they must be auctioned so that at least part of the debt can be repaid.”
The words “part of the debt” are what has given Erik Petter hope. If he can offer full repayment later on, with additional interest accrued in the meantime, is this not preferable to a partial repayment now? People want what is owing to them, Erik Petter knows that, and if they are offered the full amount they will be bound to accept it.
He is fourteen years old but looks sixteen. Although he is slow and taciturn among his contemporaries, he has a talkative tongue when they fall silent. Now he prepares to talk for his life and for his home, which has already been razed to the ground in the eyes of the villagers. Its very name is in the process of being erased and giving way to that of the new owner. Ancient marks of ownership see their history fade and become the new acquisitions of strangers.
Early one morning he takes the gelding from the stable and hitches him to the lightest cart. He has his writing implements and paper with him, and the list of twenty-five creditors from Bengtsböle in Lemland to Lumparby in Lumparland. Now he steers the horse towards Flaka where there are several creditors. Young as he is, the journey has its pleasures: it is seldom that a mere boy can be out driving a cart with no load on a workday.
It is not as if he were on his way to the big farmers in Flaka. Several times he has to stop and ask the way, and each time he interrupts work and leaves behind him a torrent of speculation. Wherever he goes he politely greets people, steps in only when invited, and talks of the wind and weather and the latest deaths in Granboda before he comes to the purpose of his visit. Around him there floats a sort of halo-effect which takes the form of his grandfather, the lay assessor. The boy smells of the Bible and the Law Book and the book of household accounts that the old man kept on the table in the small room at Simon’s in his day. Irresistibly, Erik Petter puts people in mind of Per Mickelsson, although it is on his father’s lamentable account that he is here.
Calmly he explains the way things stand. The farm’s assets do not cover the debts, and if the house goes to auction then the creditors can only count on getting a portion of their money back. “The large creditors,” he adds when talking to the smaller ones, “know how to arrange things so that they get more than those who have a smaller claim.” He, Erik Petter, wants to stop this injustice from happening. He is personally willing to underwrite his father’s debts. Hereby he commits himself to pay an agreed sum of interest each year, until the total amount of the debt is paid off. He knows that his father has not paid any interest for three years, and therefore wishes to hold a limited auction at Simon’s so that he can pay off the interest owing to each and every creditor up to the present day.
This is his message. Then he sits while the creditor looks him up and down and tries to work out what sort of man the boy will become.
“How are you thinking of paying off the debt, then?” they all want to know.
“Out of the profits from the farm and by sailing,” Erik Petter replies each time.
Then they smile crookedly and wonder how he will have time to sail and be a farmer. Several of them remind him that he has a lot of mouths to feed at home, so the profits will be eaten up, in their opinion.
“If I have a lot of mouths, then I also have a lot of hands and feet.” Erik Petter replies. “Year by year they will grow and get bigger and be able to work. I won’t need to employ maids or farmhands. And if I take on the burden of the debt, then they won’t be able to demand a share of the inheritance, because that is signed over to the creditors.”
It is difficult for them to decide. How can they know if he will be allowed to live and work as he plans?
“If I die,” he replies patiently, “then the farm will be auctioned all the same. When that happens, the interest will have been paid and the debt no larger, I give my word on that.”
The first name is the most difficult, because each of them wants to make their decision only when there are other names on the list. The smallest creditors are easiest to persuade, because he promises to pay them off after the limited auction he is planning. On the other hand, their names mean least when it is time for the larger creditors to make their decision. But slowly it moves forward. He spends several days working at this, driving to and fro across Lemland, with only the horse for company. Wherever he goes he must be more controlled and dependable than he feels, and wise beyond his years.
I happen upon him towards the end of the week, when he has already got most of the important names. He is driving from Flaka and he catches up with me as I am walking from Vessingsboda. It is late one spring evening and ghostly still. I hear the clip-clop of the horse long before I see it, and I cannot deny that I am half-running and am scared to hell by the darkness.
The horse trots along and catches up with me, and I realize that the driver has also been alarmed by the ghostly figure walking ahead of him with long, loping strides.
“Good evening!” the driver calls, in order to find out if it is a person or a ghost.
“Evening!” I reply, relieved to hear that it is Erik Petter. And he recognizes me from my voice as well, and stops the horse to offer me a ride.
“Jump up, why don’t you?” he says, and so I sit beside him in the half-darkness which is now becoming total.
“What are you doing out, haunting at this time of night?” I ask.
Then he tells me everything, having been silent and odd all week, disappearing with the horse and cart early in the morning. “And now it’s done!” he concludes. “I’m on my way back from Erik Eriksson in Flaka, who Father owed over two hundred riksdaler to. Now I've got his signature and can stay at Simon’s.”
It is such an achievement that you had to consider it in silence for a while. We farm-lads have no words for things like this. Eventually I say, “You’re a one, you are.”
He sits beside me and doesn’t seem particularly happy. I notice that he is sitting hunched up, and now he says in a broken voice:
“I thought I was going to have to kill myself if it didn’t work, but now I’m going to die anyway.”
He hands me the reins and scrambles out of the cart and down into the ditch. There he sits and throws up while I sit in silence holding the reins. It isn’t hard work, because the horse is used to standing and waiting for its former master, who threw up in ditches on more than a few occasions.
For an entire week Erik Petter has only had coffee and schnapps to seal his business deals, with the occasional sandwich to go with them. When he gets back on the cart he is shaking and his teeth are chattering. “Blast, it’s got cold!”, he says. And we don’t say anything else but sit and rattle our way to Granboda.
“Thanks for the lift!” I say as I jump off by the gate to Eskil’s.
“G’night, then!” he says. When I turn round and watch him go on in the evening darkness, I seem to see him as he will become: a large, powerful man, a little hunched, with his large face facing forward, immobile, with a gravity to him which people of my sort never attain.
My name is Leander, I should have mentioned that before. I live at Eskil’s, but both me and my brother are originally from Nedergård, down the hill. There were loads of us children, because father had truly multiplied everything. He had more milking cows than anyone in the village, and horses and bulls and heifers and sheep and pigs. His ketches were named Åkerlund, Neptune and Joy of the World, and his drifter, skiff and rowing-boat used to crowd alongside them down by the jetty.
Even so, he thought that all this was as good as nothing when it came to sharing out the inheritance. So he got hold of Eskil’s, the other half of the farm that had gone out of the family a couple of generations before, so that at least two of his sons could become farmers.
And then he died, just two months after the purchase in 1831. My eldest brother Erik Johan took over Nedergård. The second-eldest, Carl Gustaf, moved into Eskil’s. I was ten years old and admired him more than anything else in the world. There was a lot that needed sorting out at Eskil’s, and I was already starting to be useful, so after Father’s death I moved in there.
The first years, before Carl Gustaf got married, we lived like savages. Carl Gustaf was twenty-one and had no-one telling him what to do. He was the master of Eskil’s farm, and the ketch Joy of the World. He traded with the merchants of Stockholm and with the Russians in Skarpans. He had inherited good luck with livestock from Father, and we had a lot of butter and meat to trade. There were enough trees growing at Eskil’s to last for generations. He had no-one to chastise him, and he got used to bragging and giving orders. He liked me, because he needed someone to talk to and tease. But on summer nights when he went to see girls and sat in cabins drinking, he didn't want me along, and in August when the nights grew darker I would sometimes go to Nedergård to sleep, because I was so horribly afraid of the dark.
I’m still terribly afraid of the dark, even though I am sixteen now. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I admired Carl Gustaf, who talked big and acted big and was never frightened. There are men who brag and give orders because they have nothing to proud of, and those who do it because they have no rivals. Carl Gustaf was like that, I thought when I was ten years old, and probably think so still in a small corner of my being, even though I have seen how things have turned out.
In the summer he would drink heavily and live a wild life at night, then get up at four in the morning and lead the hay-making. After lunch he would sleep soundly for an hour and then work like an ox until evening. He was a real worker, Carl Gustaf, and that was unusual in a braggart and a drinker, which he undoubtedly was.
He had a lot of vices which would have been the downfall of other men, but they were outweighed by qualities which were to his credit. If he was insatiable in his bragging and drinking, his luck was equally immeasurable – his luck with livestock, sailing, and work.
So it was not strange, I thought, that he was used to getting his way. Where his marriage was concerned, he wanted Erka’s, the largest farm in the village, with the finest woods and the best boat-timber. When he was twenty-three he went to Erka’s and asked for Beata’s hand. The master of Erka’s, who knew what sort of rogue he was, said no.
“You’ll never get a son-in-law like me,” Carl Gustaf said, and left. That evening he went as usual to Beata's cabin and was let in. Unabashed, he went forth and spoke to the master of Erka’s during the following years, about the trips he had made to Stockholm, about the loads he had carried to the fortress being constructed at Bomarsund, about the large two-storey house he was going to build on Eskil’s Hill. The master of Erka’s also had informants who told him how things were going with livestock and grain, but also about his carousing at night, and his trips to the inn at Rödhamn.
If anyone else came sniffing round Beata’s door Carl Gustaf threatened to kill him. He never needed to fight; he merely jutted his heavy jaw and filled his lungs with air, and then Beata was left in peace.
The thing about proposals made in cabins is that once the process has been carried on for a while, a child arrives. “You’d better take him, then,” the master of Erka’s said to Beata, “if you dare marry two men. One is the best worker on Åland, and the other is the biggest scoundrel this side of St Petersburg.”
Because I thought Carl Gustaf knew everything, I assumed he knew how to behave towards a wife as well. But he was too used to another sort of woman in the sailors’ inns in Stockholm, and to scared crofters’ daughters who were gossiped about by people here in the village. Scarcely had they got married before he started hitting her, and he snarled and shouted orders, although a minute later he could be happy and laughing and joking with me. And he showed greater patience toward a cow in the cowshed than he did toward Beata when she was pregnant.
Perhaps it isn’t so odd that Beata began to fortify herself from the schnapps jug in the corner cabinet. Now she is no longer silent when Carl Gustaf shouts. She gives as good as she gets, hot, sharp words, and it happens occasionally that he slaps her so hard that she falls to the floor. I see her face when she heaves herself up: red and terrified and ready to spit, and Carl Gustaf as he stands there big and irritable, smiling spitefully.
Sometimes I hate both of them, perhaps Beata most because she is the one who has made him show himself as he is capable of being. Because I still admire and love him when we are out of the house, working or on some sailing-trip. Then he talks like a real person and jokes like a friend, and it's hard to believe that life at home is like it really is.
So I stay at Eskil’s. What would my future have been if I had gone back to Nedergård? Erik Johan is as distant from me in age as an uncle. I could only be a farmhand at Nedergård, whereas at Eskil’s I get to be a friend and a mate. Carl Gustaf likes me to take an interest in girls, and says that when I get married I can have a building plot from Eskil’s and be my own boss.
From Eskil’s Hill we have a good view, and have Simon’s in front of us every day. There’s Erik Petter busy plugging the cracks and building things up. If you stand too close and open your mouth to prattle, you’re likely to get a load of wadding in your mouth that will make you shut up.
The first thing Erik Petter has to do as a farmer is persuade his guardians and the bailiffs that he acted lawfully when taking on his father’s debts. Strictly speaking, a fourteen-year-old boy’s signature has no legal validity. Erik Petter admits that this may well be the case, but as long as the creditors are in agreement then everything is alright. The old men who are supposed to be looking out for Erik Petter, the widow and the small children cannot in the name of decency say that they want Simon’s to go to auction, even if it is well-known that Kalander from Granboda has his eye on Simon’s woods. So that was settled.
The second thing Erik Petter does is arrange a limited auction. Calmly he lays out his father’s gold rings and his deceased mother’s gold earrings, the silver pipe-mounting, his grandfather’s silver goblets, spoons and pocket-watch, the household porcelain, the large fur with the blue lining, a wealth of other clothing, and a mass of things from the outhouses and attics which they can easily do without. Single-handedly he leads out the gelding, and gets rid of a cart and a sledge, and also Hofdan, a healthy heifer.
The outhouses and rooms echo emptily. “I’ll just have to start filling them up again,” Erik Petter says, and refuses to mourn that which has gone. It has been, and now it is gone. He is friendly and amicable to the creditors, who have turned up in numbers. On the evening of the day of the auction itself he is able to pay off the interest, as had been agreed. He has asked the wailing widow and the weeping children to keep out of sight so that they do not disrupt his business.
Then he goes to the parsonage, straight to the main door, and asks to speak to the parson. “I would like to attend confirmation classes, even though I am not yet of an age,” he says. “Because it’s all wrong for a farmer not to have been confirmed.”
He is not the least bit afraid. That first winter he chops as much wood in Simon’s forests as he has time for alongside the confirmation classes, and in the spring he pumps out the ketch The Dove, still lying in Lumpar Sound after its last voyage two years before. His father had owned a sixth part of her, and his fellow owners enjoy making fun of Erik Petter.
“D’you think you’ll get her floating again, then?” ask the other owners, who had thought The Dove had sunk for the last time.
Erik Petter hears the mockery in their voices very clearly. He sticks his knife into a rotten board and replies: “You’ll see when I come back from Stockholm.”
The old men grin, because the Stockholm trade has collapsed so badly that most people no longer bother to set off in that direction, not with the tolls the Swedes imposed in 1828, which eat up half the profits. Now we are in the year 1838, and only a handful of Lemland ketches are planning trips to Stockholm.
Erik Petter lets them laugh. “Until you’ve been to see, you don’t know how profitable it might be,” he says, like a man four times his age. And after Whitsun, when he has been confirmed, he sets out on his first voyage to Stockholm. The younger boys have loaded so much timber that they're crying with rage, and mother and sister have churned and made cheese. He cannot persuade any of the other owners to join him, so he asks his uncle to go with him as advisor and navigator.
They sail to Stockholm and return with a tidy profit. His uncle talks of the voyage with a deal of personal resentment, but he also says that no-one got a better price in Stockholm than Erik Petter.
“He was cool as a snake,” his uncle says. “‘Quality goods have their price,’ he says twenty-five times, and twenty-five times the customers go on their way without buying. ‘You’re crazy, boy,’ I says. ‘You’ll be going home with your load intact if you don’t lower your price.’
“Erik Petter says nothing. The worst thing with him is that he sets his jaw and says nothing. ‘We’ll wait,’ he finally says, then: ‘Go up into town and don’t stand here scaring the customers away.’
“Is that any way to treat your uncle? I gets cross and leaves him there. I’m gone maybe an hour, and when I get back Erik Petter’s standing there getting shot of the whole cargo to a bloke who’s so fine and fancy that his master couldn’t have been any finer. The only one more majestic is Erik Petter, standing there like a prince. He’s not at all happy to see me. ‘Lend a hand,’ he says, like he was talking to a farmhand. He doesn’t want me to hear what he’s saying to the bloke, but I hear well enough that he’s talking like a parson. And he takes the money like he’s got a house full of the stuff at home.
“And now the customers looking for butter and cheese come to see who it was who bought the wood. You should see how talkative Erik Petter got. He chats away, leaning forward, all smiles, which he’s every right to be, as he tells them that the wood is being taken up to a chamberlain not far from the palace.”
Erik Petter’s uncle’s resentment has its causes, but on the other hand he did get his goods sold at the same price Erik Petter had agreed, and was honestly thanked, and without even having to pay anything for the boat. Because once the chamberlain has paved the way, the Stockholmers can pay full price for the butter and cheese and his uncle's meat.
The next time there’s no shortage of people who want to accompany him to Stockholm, or send their goods on commission. He demands no high percentage for keeping the boat, and each time he picks out an experienced man to go with him so that he can learn the sea-route and how to makes clearances and deal with customs officers and harbour masters.
The following summer the other owners join in the preparations. Erik Petter pays his sixth, and gets a sixth share back from the division of the spoils in the autumn. Outwardly he behaves like a man older and more dignified than he is – but that’s a lie: older, but not more dignified. In any case, he isn’t older than seventeen years when he declares himself to be a shipmaster on the clearance papers, and no-one ever questions that.
He’s unnaturally observant, that lad, I have to say. In Stockholm he looks neither to left nor right, but he’s still gone and got the measure of every ketch in the harbour and every boat he meets on the way.
With us Eskil folk, everything we see comes out of our mouths. That way the load never gets too great and we have room for everything new we see. But Erik Petter’s different. He sees and thinks and stores things away and keeps quiet as a statue while he's thinking.
“Good Lord!” we say as we stand on our yachts and ketches. “Would you look at that! That’s what the Swedes call a schooner. And she can really sail, you mark my words!”
Erik Petter says nothing. He stands and sets his jaw and doesn't look at anything in particular. But he’s sucking up the details and particular features and finally a complete picture of a boat which is meant for longer trading voyages over open seas. The foremast, which is level on a ketch, has been rigged with yards, and the mizzenmast is further forward. As a result, she’s got a larger area of sail than a ketch. A full-grown schooner has two or four foresails, a foremast rigged with yards, and a gaff-rigged mizzenmast which is at least as high as the foremast. She lies broad in the water in calm seas, but with the wind in her sails she'll fly past the ketch even though she’s heavier laden.
Erik Petter knows very well that the Stockholm trade will never be anything more than adequately profitable so long as the tolls remain as they are. For him, directives from above are like the weather, and he wastes no time complaining about them. Instead he prepares for stormy weather: if he can’t get through the Sound then he'll have to run for open water.
If it gets too busy in the inner skerries, then you have to take the outer course. There are already Ålanders who are sailing to German ports. They sail with ketches, but if the trade is to develop then they’ll need other boats. On Eckerö and Hammarland, where Swedish practices are quickly adopted, they've already started building schooners. It’s all experimental, because it’s obvious that a hull built to be rigged as a schooner has to have different proportions and centres of gravity to a hull planned for a ketch’s rigging.
So, Erik Petter travels to Stockholm mostly to look at the schooners. Eventually he’s ready to start talking to shipmasters on the Swedish side, and with representatives of the brokerage houses who come down to the quay to offer cargoes.
Then he can talk. It isn’t long before some shipmaster from Roslagen invites him on board his schooner. And all of a sudden it suits him to be young and inexperienced. He chokes on the drink and asks such open and foolish questions that would cajole any shipmaster alive into being affable and boastful. Erik Petter stores everything away, both how you build a schooner and how you behave as a captain.
Later on he practices his behaviour on us Lemlanders. We laugh, because he’s so young, but it gets to us because it isn’t a game. He’ll never be a real friend to us, he’s in too much of a hurry for that. It takes time for us to grow up. We have to fight and arm-wrestle and talk rubbish and stand at cross-roads letting time go by before we dare go knocking on cabin doors looking for girls. Then we do that for several years, as well as the sea trips and farming that we don’t really have time for. Erik Petter has a good eye to the girls as well, I daresay, but in contrast to us who have to measure our strength, he sets his jaw and says nothing. And he’s also the only one of us who’s a real farmer. Everything depends on him, and when he’s entertained us for a while like some higher being, he always has something he must see to and walks away from us, apparently with some relief.
The winter of 1840, when he is seventeen, the boys have to manage the wood-cutting. Erik Petter wanders through Simon’s woods, staring into the distance as though he were lovesick. In actual fact he’s looking out for timber for a ship, and there’s a lot to choose from in Simon’s woods. He doesn't act hastily and start chopping straight away. When he’s made his decision, he goes to Eckerö, where a schooner is being built on the stocks, and to Söderby to visit Sörgård’s Jusse, an old boat-builder who his grandfather used to use.
Sörgård’s Jusse doesn’t speak much either. Erik Petter has trouble getting to his point, and Jusse pretends not to notice when the word schooner is finally mentioned. He carries on talking about Venturer, the finest ketch he ever built. Erik Petter says nothing more about schooners: instead he talks about all the timber he’s got growing in Simon’s woods. Finally Jusse becomes animated, because he knows that in Granboda only Erka’s farm can compete with Simon’s where wood is concerned. “But it takes a good eye!” he repeats. “If you haven’t got the eye, you can go through a hundred acre wood without seeing a single ratchet, that much is certain.”
“I see, I see,” Erik Petter says. He sighs as though death was breathing down his neck. “That’s most likely the case.” He heaves himself up from the table and says that he’d better be going.
Nothing more is said, but a few days later Sörgård’s Jusse comes to Simon’s, and Erik Petter is sitting at the table as if he were expected. They go off into the woods. Erik Petter pulls Jusse and his bad knee on a sled. Sometimes he gets off and takes a few steps, thinking. “You can take that one,” he says, and Erik Petter makes a yellow cut with his axe. He doesn’t say much more, but that evening Erik Petter drives him home, and that winter he cuts the trees.
One or two people who meet him as he’s driving the timber-sled ask if he’s going to build a boat. “It’ll be something,” Erik Petter replies, and looks away, but he takes the timber to Bergören, where he has a sixth share in a careenage, inherited from his father. When it’s spent a year drying, he starts sawing. And now people turn up to look, curious. The old men from Granboda and Söderby and Flaka and Västerånga have to drag a response from him like a tapeworm: slowly, slowly, so that it doesn’t break, they wind the truth onto a stick.
“Ah, well,” he admits. Yes, it’s going to be a schooner, if things go as he plans. But it’s best not to count your chickens. It’s the first boat he’s planned to build, so he’s not sure... Although if it turns out that the boat is seaworthy, he’ll probably need partners, that much is clear. People can take out shares, so long as it’s understood that at the moment they’re only expressing interest in a business which like as not will come to nothing.
He blinks the sawdust from his eyes and looks pained. He likes chopping wood, but not sawing. If you’re going to build your first boat, and the first schooner in Lemland at that, you’d prefer to be alone in your efforts. But unfortunately a vessel of the dimensions Erik Petter is planning to build has to be built on stocks, and then it’s open season. A lot of people are hoping he’ll fail, and at the same time are prepared to take shares if he succeeds. He has to do everything himself, beginning with the careenage, which is sunken and half-rotten. Out of that he makes the stocks.
Late one evening when the light is already fading, Erik Petter and Sörgård’s Jusse are standing and talking about their boat. There is no-one but me in the vicinity, because I am going to make a night of it in Lumparland. Carl Gustaf has been down to the stocks to look, and has left the rowing boat by Bergören. I have to go and get it so I can cross the Sound.
I have a strong feeling that something unnatural is going on. I get scared, and I get cautious, as if it were a matter of creeping past a dryad without being seen. I am barefoot, and tread carefully and silently; I hear everything, but no-one hears me.
In the distance I hear panting and muffled cries, and to begin with I can’t work out if they come from people or animals. Someone is walking along the slope above Bergören, fumbling and quick, heavy and light, reluctant and excited.
It sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and I feel considerable relief when I am able to make out Erik Petter’s shape against the land in the half-darkness, and, a little later, Sörgård’s Jusse, who is crouching nearby. Just as I am about to call out and ask what they’re doing here, hanging about like a couple of ghosts, the words dry in my throat and my whole body becomes watchful and still. The men are walking as though they’d seen a bear.
They walk in circles, like they were closing in on game. There’s something I can’t see that they’re driving towards Bergören, and when I hear panting and muffled cries and hasty steps, I realize that they were close but have failed. Slowly they draw the circle closer: whatever they're driving is forced further and further out towards Bergören.
I can hear them talking, but can’t make out what they’re saying. To start with it’s slow and stiff. Erik Petter does most of the talking, Sörgård’s Jusse just adds the odd half-word and agreement. Erik Petter is talking as though for the first time. He is describing something that doesn’t exist, he hasn’t yet found the words to give it life, which is why he’s sighing and grunting in the spring evening.
They drive on, further and further towards Bergören. Erik Petter speaks faster, he finds more and more of the words he needs, he’s forming something, building. Sörgård’s Jusse joins in more often. I don’t hear the words, but I understand that he’s saying: “Yes, that’s what you should do. Just like that. That’s the best way.”
But Erik Petter does most of the talking. Sörgård’s Jusse is mostly there because Erik Petter would sound like a madman if he was talking to himself. It can’t be done without words, and whatever it is that he’s been tracking, he’s enclosing it with words: with a yell he jumps forward and captures it.
Then they’re out on Bergören, down by the stocks. In the night I can clearly hear them picking up and checking different planks, and putting them down again, and dividing them up into different stacks. They measure and arrange timbers and ribs around a shape that doesn’t exist.
With words Erik Petter builds the first schooner in the parish of Lemland. I’m the only one who hears his struggle that night. To other people it looks easy, like everything Erik Petter does. In the morning he and Jusse are at work early. Without hesitating they lay out the keel, and the rest of the boat grows as if they were following a pattern, as if the planks and ribs were pre-numbered and ready to slot into place. Erik Petter accepts the offers of shares as though the outcome has never been any doubt.