The trumpet of the swan, p.11
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       The Trumpet of the Swan, p.11

           E. B. White
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  "Louis would pine away in captivity. He would die," replied Sam. "He needs wild places--little ponds, swamps, cattails, Red-winged Blackbirds in the spring, the chorus of the frogs, the cry of the loon at night. Louis is following a dream. We must all follow a dream. Please let Serena go, sir! Please don't clip her wing!"

  The Head Man closed his eyes. He was thinking of little lakes deep in the woods, of the color of bulrushes, of the sounds of night and the chorus of frogs. He was thinking of swans' nests, and eggs, and the hatching of eggs, and the cygnets following their father in single file. He was thinking of dreams he had had as a young man.

  "All right," he said, suddenly. "Serena can go. We will not clip her wing. But how can I be sure that Louis will bring me a young Trumpeter Swan when I need one? How do I know he's honest?"

  "He's an honorable bird," said Sam. "If he weren't honest and true to his word, he wouldn't have bothered to go out and earn a lot of money to pay the storekeeper back for the trumpet his father swiped."

  "How much money has Louis got, anyway?" asked the Head Man.

  "He's got four thousand six hundred and ninety-one dollars and sixty-five cents," said Sam. "We just counted it a few minutes ago. He received one hundred dollars from Camp Kookooskoos for playing bugle calls, and all he spent was sixty cents for postage stamps. So he arrived in Boston with ninety-nine dollars and forty cents. Then the Swan Boat man paid him a hundred dollars for one week's work, but he spent three dollars in tips at the hotel where he spent a night. So he had a hundred and ninety-six dollars and forty cents when he got to Philadelphia. The nightclub paid him five hundred dollars a week for ten weeks, which came to five thousand dollars, but he had to pay his agent ten percent of the five thousand dollars, and he also spent seventy-five cents for some new chalk pencils and four dollars to send the telegram to me. So that makes a total of four thousand six hundred and ninety-one dollars and sixty-five cents. It's a lot of money for a bird."

  "It sure is," said the Head Man. "It sure is."

  "But he is going to pay my airplane fare from Montana to Philadelphia and back again. That will bring the total down to four thousand four hundred and twenty dollars and seventy-eight cents."

  The Head Man looked staggered by these figures.

  "It's still a lot of money for a bird," he said. "What's he going to do with it all?"

  "He will give it to his father, the old cob."

  "And what's he going to do with it?"

  "He will fly back to the music store in Billings and give it to the owner, to pay for the stolen trumpet."

  "Give all of it?"


  "But a trumpet isn't worth four thousand four hundred and twenty dollars and seventy-eight cents."

  "I know," said Sam. "But there was some damage to the store itself. The old cob was going like the dickens when he crashed through the plate-glass window. He shook things up pretty badly."

  "Yes," said the Head Man. "But it still wouldn't take all that money to make things right."

  "I guess not," said Sam. "But Louis has no use for money anymore, so he's going to turn it all over to the owner of the music store."

  The subject of money seemed to interest the Head Man greatly. He thought how pleasant it would be not to have any more use for money. He leaned back in his chair. He found it hard to believe that one of his swans had been able to save more than four thousand dollars and that the money was right out there, hanging around his neck in a moneybag.

  "When it comes to money," he said, "birds have it easier than men do. When a bird earns some money, it's almost all clear profit. A bird doesn't have to go to a supermarket and buy a dozen eggs and a pound of butter and two rolls of paper towels and a TV dinner and a can of Ajax and a can of tomato juice and a pound and a half of ground round steak and a can of sliced peaches and two quarts of fat-free milk and a bottle of stuffed olives. A bird doesn't have to pay rent on a house, or interest on a mortgage. A bird doesn't insure its life with an insurance company and then have to pay premiums on the policy. A bird doesn't own a car and buy gas and oil and pay for repairs on the car and take the car to a car wash and pay to get it washed. Animals and birds are lucky. They don't keep acquiring things, the way men do. You can teach a monkey to drive a motorcycle, but I have never known a monkey to go out and buy a motorcycle."

  "That's right," replied Sam. "But some animals do like to acquire things, even though they don't pay anything for them."

  "Such as?" asked the Head Man.

  "A rat," said Sam. "A rat will fix up a home for himself, but then he'll bring home all sorts of little objects--trinkets and stuff. Anything he can find that catches his eye."

  "You're right," said the Head Man. "You're absolutely right, Sam. You seem to know quite a lot about animals."

  "I like animals," said Sam. "I love to watch them."

  "Then come with me and we'll explore the Zoo," said the Head Man, getting up from his chair. "I don't feel like working anymore today. I'll show you the Zoo." And away they went, the two of them.

  That night Sam slept in the Head Man's office, by special permission. He unrolled his sleeping bag on the floor and crawled in. The plane taking him back home would leave in the morning. Sam's head was full of everything he had seen in the Zoo. And before he turned out the light he took his notebook out of his rucksack and wrote a poem. This is what he wrote: SAM BEAVER'S POEM

  Of all the places on land and sea,

  Philadelphia's zoo is the place for me.

  There's plenty to eat and a lot to do,

  There's a Frigate Bird and a tiny Shrew;

  There's a Vesper Rat and a Two-toed Sloth,

  And it's fair to say that I like them both.

  There's a Canada Goose and a Polar Bear

  And things that come from Everywhere.

  There are lots of things that you've never seen

  Like the Kinkajou and the Wolverine.

  You really have to go to the zoo

  To see a newborn Wallaroo

  Or a Fallow Deer or a White-tailed Gnu.

  There are wondrous birds on a beautiful lake,

  There's a Timber Wolf and a Hognose Snake.

  There are animals with great appeal, Like the Hummingbird and the Harbor Seal.

  There are pony rides, there are birds of prey,

  And something happening every day.

  There are Wolves and Foxes, Hawks and Owls,

  And a great big pit where the Lion prowls.

  There are quiet pools and pleasant cages,

  Where Reptiles lie and the Tiger rages.

  The houses are clean, the keepers are kind,

  And one Baboon has a pink behind.

  The entire aim of a well-kept zoo

  Is to bring the animal world to You.

  (signed) Sam Beaver

  Sam left the poem on the Head Man's desk.

  Early the next morning, long before the Zoo people came to work, Sam left Philadelphia by plane. Louis and Serena went along with him to the airport. They wanted to wave good-bye. They also planned to leave Philadelphia, right then and there, and fly back to Montana. When the airport officials saw two big white birds out on the airstrip, they raised a terrible fuss. The men in the control tower sent warning messages to the pilots of incoming planes. Members of the ground crew came piling out of buildings and rushed toward Louis and Serena to chase them away. Sam was sitting by a window inside his plane, ready for takeoff, and he saw the whole thing.

  Louis grabbed his trumpet.

  "Off we go," he played, "into the wild blue yonder!" The notes carried across the airport and startled everyone. "Ko-hoh! Ko-hoh!" called Louis. He put his trumpet away and started racing down the airstrip, with Serena racing after him. Just then, Sam's plane started into the wind for the takeoff. The two swans flew alongside. They were in the air before the plane was, and flying fast. Sam waved from the window. Louis's lifesaving medal gleamed in the morning sun. The plane rose and started to climb. Louis and Serena
climbed fast, too.

  "Good-bye, Philadelphia!" thought Louis. "Good-bye, Bird Lake! Good-bye, nightclub!"

  The plane, with its greater speed, gained on the swans. They began to drop behind. For a little while they headed west, following the plane. Then Louis motioned to Serena that he was going to change course. He banked to the left and swung toward the south.

  "We'll go home by the southern route and take our time about it," he said to himself.

  And that's what they did. They flew south across Maryland and Virginia. They flew south across the Carolinas. They spent a night in Yemassee and saw huge oak trees with moss hanging from their branches. They visited the great swamps of Georgia and saw the alligator and listened to the mockingbird. They flew across Florida and spent a few days in a bayou where doves moaned in the cedars and little lizards crawled in the sun. They turned west into Louisiana. Then they turned north toward their home in Upper Red Rock Lake.

  What a triumphant return it would be! When he left Montana, Louis had been penniless. Now he was rich. When he left, he had been unknown. Now he was famous. When he left, he had been alone in the world. Now he had his bride by his side--the swan that he loved. His medal was around his neck, his precious trumpet dangled in the breeze, his hard-earned money was in the bag. He had accomplished what he had set out to do. All in a few short months!

  Freedom felt so wonderful! Love felt so good!



  On a bright clear day in January, Louis and Serena came home to the Red Rock Lakes. From among the thousands of waterfowl, they quickly found the members of their own families--their fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. It was a noisy homecoming. Everybody wanted to say hello at once. Ko-hoh, ko-hoh, ko-hoh! The wanderers were home at last.

  Louis's father, the old cob, made a graceful speech--rather long, but sincere.

  Louis raised his trumpet and played "There's no place like home. Home, home sweet home!" There was a great deal of gossip among the waterfowl about Louis's having persuaded Serena to be his wife. Everybody congratulated the happy couple. And all the brothers and sisters of Louis and Serena gathered around and looked at Louis's possessions. They were much impressed by his worldly goods. They liked the lifesaving medal, they loved the sound of the trumpet, and they were eager to see the money in the moneybag. But Louis did not open the bag. Instead, he took his father and mother to one side. They all three stepped out on shore, where Louis slipped the moneybag off his neck and, with a bow, handed it to the old cob. Four thousand four hundred and twenty dollars and seventy-eight cents.

  Then Louis took his slate and wrote a note to the owner of the music store in Billings so his father would have something to show him when he got there. The note said:


  The old cob was not able to count money, and he was not able to read, but he took the moneybag and the slate and hung them around his neck. He felt sure he could now pay his debt for the stolen trumpet.

  "I shall go," he said to his wife. "I shall redeem my honor. I shall return to Billings, the scene of my crime--a great city, teeming with life--"

  "We've heard that before," remarked his wife. "Just take the money and the note and beat it for Billings as fast as you can go. And when you get there, for heavens' sakes be careful! The owner of that music store has a gun. He will remember that the last time he saw a swan coming at him he got robbed. So watch yourself! You're on a dangerous mission."

  "Danger!" said the old cob. "Danger! I welcome danger and adventure. Danger is my middle name. I would risk my life to redeem my honor and recapture my sense of decency. I shall pay my debt and blot out the foul mark that sullies my good name. I shall rid myself forever of the shame that comes from thievery and wrongdoing. I shall--"

  "If you don't stop talking," said his wife, "you won't get to Billings before the stores close."

  "You are right, as usual," replied the cob. He adjusted the moneybag and the slate for flight. Then he took off into the air and headed toward the northeast, flying fast and high. His wife and son watched him until he faded from view.

  "What a swan!" said his wife. "You have a good father, Louis. I hope nothing happens to him. To tell you the truth, I'm worried."

  The old cob flew fast and far. When he spied the churches and factories and shops and homes of Billings, he circled once, then began his downward glide--straight for the music store.

  "My hour has come," he said to himself. "My moment of truth is at hand. I shall soon be out of debt, out from under the cloud of shame and dishonor that has cast a shadow over my life for lo these many months."

  The cob had been seen already by people down below. One of the salesmen in the music store was standing by the front window, looking out. When he saw the big white bird approaching, he yelled to the storekeeper: "Large bird approaching. Get your gun!"

  The storekeeper grabbed his shotgun and raced to the sidewalk. The cob was low in the sky, gliding straight for the store.

  The storekeeper raised his gun. He fired both barrels in quick succession. The old cob felt a twinge of pain in his left shoulder. Thoughts of death filled his mind. Looking back, he saw a bright red drop of blood staining his breast. But he kept going, straight for the storekeeper.

  "The end is near," he said to himself. "I shall die in the performance of duty. I have only a few moments remaining to live. Man, in his folly, has given me a mortal wound. The red blood flows in a steady trickle from my veins. My strength fails. But even in death's final hour, I shall deliver the money for the trumpet. Good-bye, life! Good-bye, beautiful world! Good-bye, little lakes in the north! Farewell, springtimes I have known, with their passion and ardor! Farewell, loyal wife and loving sons and daughters! I, who am about to die, salute you. I must die gracefully, as only a swan can."

  With that, he sank to the sidewalk, held out the moneybag and the slate to the astonished storekeeper, and fainted away at the sight of his own blood. He lay limp on the sidewalk, to all appearances a dying swan.

  A crowd quickly gathered.

  "What's this?" exclaimed the storekeeper, bending over the bird. "What's going on here?"

  He quickly read the note on the slate. Then he tore open the moneybag and began pulling out hundred-dollar bills and fifty-dollar bills.

  A policeman hurried to the scene and started to hold the crowd back.

  "Stand back!" he shouted. "The swan is wounded. Give him air!"

  "He's dead," said a little boy. "The bird is dead."

  "He is not dead," said the salesman. "He's scared."

  "Call an ambulance!" screamed a lady in the crowd.

  A small pool of blood formed under the neck of the old cob. He seemed lifeless. Just then a game warden appeared.

  "Who shot this bird?" he demanded.

  "I did," said the storekeeper.

  "Then you're under arrest," said the warden.

  "What for?" asked the storekeeper.

  "For shooting a Trumpeter Swan. These birds are protected by law. You can't pull a gun on a wild swan."

  "Well," replied the storekeeper, "you can't arrest me, either. I happen to know this bird. He's a thief. He's the one you should arrest. He's been here before, and he stole a trumpet from my store."

  "Call an ambulance!" cried the lady.

  "What's that you've got in your hand?" asked the policeman. The storekeeper quickly stuffed the money back into the moneybag and held the bag and the slate behind his back.

  "Come on, show it to me!" said the cop.

  "I want to see it, too," said the warden.

  "We all want to see it!" cried a fellow in the crowd. "What's in that bag?"

  The storekeeper sheepishly handed the moneybag and the slate to the game warden. The warden stood straight, put on his glasses, and read the note in a loud voice: "To the Storekeeper of Billing
s: Enclosed please find four thousand four hundred and twenty dollars and seventy-eight cents. It will pay you for the trumpet and the damage to the store. Sorry about the inconvenience this has caused you."

  At the mention of the sum of money, the crowd gasped. Everyone started talking at once.

  "Call an ambulance!" screamed the lady.

  "I'll have to take that money to the station house," said the policeman. "This is a complicated case. Anything that involves money is complex. I'll take the money and keep it safe until the matter is decided."

  "No, you won't!" said the game warden. "The money is mine."

  "Why?" asked the policeman.

  "Because," replied the warden.

  "Because what?" asked the policeman.

  "Because the law says the bird is in my custody. The money was on the bird. Therefore, the money goes to me until this is settled."

  "Oh, no, you don't!" said the storekeeper, angrily. "The money is mine. It says so right here on this slate. The four thousand four hundred and twenty dollars and seventy-eight cents is mine. Nobody's going to take it away from me."

  "Yes, they are!" said the policeman. "I am."

  "No, I am," said the game warden.

  "Is there a lawyer in the crowd?" asked the storekeeper. "We'll settle this matter right here and now."

  A tall man stepped forward.

  "I'm Judge Ricketts," he said. "I'll decide this case. Now then, who saw the bird arrive?"

  "I did," said the salesman.

  "Call an ambulance!" screamed the lady.

  "I saw the bird, too," said a small boy named Alfred Gore.

  "O.K.," said the judge. "Describe what happened, exactly as you saw it."

  The salesman spoke first. "Well," he said, "I was looking out the window and saw a swan approaching. So I hollered. The boss got his gun and fired, and the bird fell to the sidewalk. There was a drop or two of blood."

  "Did you notice anything special about the bird?" asked Judge Ricketts.

  "He carried money," replied the salesman. "You don't often see any money on a bird, so I noticed it."

  "All right," said the judge. "Now we'll let Alfred Gore tell it as he saw it. Describe what you saw, Alfred!"

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