The trumpet of the swan, p.7
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       The Trumpet of the Swan, p.7

           E. B. White
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  "Help!" he screamed. "Help me! I'm drowning. It'll give the camp a bad name if I drown. Help! Help!"

  Counselors sprinted to the waterfront. They jumped into canoes and rowboats and started for the drowning boy. One counselor kicked his moccasins off, dove in, and began swimming toward Applegate. Mr. Brickle raced to the dock, climbed to the diving tower, and directed the rescue operation, shouting through a megaphone.

  "Hang on to the canoe, Applegate!" he shouted. "Don't leave the canoe!"

  But Applegate had already left the canoe. He was all alone, thrashing about and wasting his strength. He felt sure he would soon go to the bottom and drown. He felt weak and scared. Water had got into his lungs. He couldn't last much longer.

  The first boat to get away from the dock was rowed by Sam Beaver, and Sam was pulling hard at the oars, straining every muscle. But things didn't look good for Applegate. The boats were still a long way from the boy.

  When the first cry of "Help" was heard in camp, Louis was coming around the corner of the main lodge. He spied Applegate immediately and responded to the call.

  "I can't fly out there," thought Louis, "because my flight feathers have been falling out lately. But I can certainly make better time than those boats."

  Dropping his slate and his chalk pencil and his trumpet, Louis splashed into the water and struck out, beating his wings and kicking with his great webbed feet. A swan, even in summer when he can't fly, can scoot across the water at high speed. Louis's powerful wings beat the air. His feet churned the waves, as though he were running on top of the water. In a moment he had passed all the boats. When he reached Applegate, he quickly dove, pointed his long neck between Applegate's legs, then came to the surface with Applegate sitting on his back.

  Cheers came from the people on the shore and in the boats. Applegate clung to Louis's neck. He had been saved in the nick of time. Another minute and he would have gone to the bottom. Water would have filled his lungs. He would have been a goner.

  "Thank God!" shouted Mr. Brickle through his megaphone. "Great work, Louis! Camp Kookooskoos will never forget this day! The reputation of the camp has been saved. Our record for safety is still untarnished."

  Louis didn't pay much attention to all the shouting. He swam very carefully over to Sam's boat, and Sam pulled Applegate into the boat and helped him into the stern seat.

  "You looked pretty funny, riding a swan," Sam said. "And you're lucky to be alive. You're not supposed to go out alone in a canoe."

  But Applegate was too scared and wet to say anything. He just sat and stared straight ahead, spitting water out of his mouth and breathing hard.

  At supper that night, Mr. Brickle placed Louis at his right, in the place of honor. When the meal was over, he rose and made a speech.

  "We all saw what happened on the lake today. Applegate Skinner broke a camp rule, took a canoe out alone, and upset. He was drowning when Louis the Swan, rapidly outdistancing all other campers, reached his side, held him up, and saved his life. Let us all give Louis a standing ovation!"

  The boys and the counselors stood up. They cheered and clapped and beat on tin plates with spoons. Then they sat down. Louis looked embarrassed.

  "And now, Applegate," said Mr. Brickle, "I hope the rescue has caused you to change your opinion of birds. The first day you were here in camp, you told us you didn't care for birds. How do you feel now?"

  "I feel sick at my stomach," replied Applegate. "It makes you sick at your stomach to almost drown. My stomach still has a lot of lake water in it."

  "Yes, but what about birds?" asked Mr. Brickle.

  Applegate thought hard for a moment. "Well," he said, "I'm grateful to Louis for saving my life. But I still don't like birds."

  "Really?" said Mr. Brickle. "That's quite remarkable. Even though a bird saved you from drowning, you don't care for birds? What have you got against birds?"

  "Nothing," replied Applegate. "I have nothing against them. I just don't care for them."

  "O.K.," said Mr. Brickle. "I guess we'll just have to leave it at that. But the camp is proud of Louis. He is our most distinguished counselor--a great trumpet player, a great bird, a powerful swimmer, and a fine friend. He deserves a medal. In fact, I intend to write a letter recommending that he be given the Lifesaving Medal."

  Mr. Brickle did as he promised. He wrote a letter. A few days later, a man arrived from Washington with the Lifesaving Medal, and while all the campers watched, he hung the medal around Louis's neck, alongside the trumpet, the slate, and the chalk pencil.

  It was a beautiful medal. Engraved on it were the words:


  Louis took off his slate and wrote, "Thank you for this medal. It is a great honor."

  But he thought to himself, "I'm beginning to get overloaded with stuff around my neck. I've got a trumpet, I've got a slate, I've got a chalk pencil; now I've got a medal. I'm beginning to look like a hippie. I hope I'll still be able to fly when my flight feathers grow in again."

  That night when darkness came, Louis blew the most beautiful taps he had ever blown. The man who had brought the medal was listening and watching. He could hardly believe his ears and his eyes. When he returned to the city, he told people what he had seen and heard. Louis's fame was growing. His name was known. People all over were beginning to talk about the swan that could play a trumpet.



  A trumpet has three little valves. They are for the fingers of the player. They look like this:

  By pushing them down in the right order, the player can produce all the notes of the musical scale. Louis had often examined these three little valves on his horn, but he had never been able to use them. He had three front toes on each foot, but, being a water bird, he had webbed feet. The webbing prevented him from using his three toes independently. Luckily, the valves on a trumpet are not needed for bugle calls because bugle calls are just combinations of do, mi, and sol, and a trumpeter can play do, mi, and sol without pressing down any of the valves.

  "If I could just work those three valves with my three toes," he said to himself, "I could play all sorts of music, not just bugle calls. I could play jazz. I could play country-and-western. I could play rock. I could play the great music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius, Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Brahms, everybody. I could really be a trumpet player, not just a camp bugler. I might even get a job with an orchestra." The thought filled him with ambition. Louis loved music, and besides, he was already casting about for ways of making money after camp was over.

  Although he enjoyed life at Camp Kookooskoos, Louis often thought of his home on Upper Red Rock Lake in Montana. He thought about his parents, his brothers and sisters, and about Serena. He was terribly in love with Serena, and he often wondered what was happening to her. At night, he would look up at the stars and think about her. In the late evening, when the big bullfrogs were calling trooonk across the still lake, he would think of Serena. Sometimes he felt sad, lonely, and homesick. His music, however, was a comfort to him. He loved the sound of his own trumpet.

  Summer passed all too quickly. On the last day of camp, Mr. Brickle called his counselors together and paid them what he owed them. Louis received one hundred dollars--the first money he had ever earned. He had no wallet and no pockets, so Mr. Brickle placed the money in a waterproof bag that had a drawstring. He hung this moneybag around Louis's neck, along with the trumpet, the slate, the chalk pencil, and the lifesaving medal.

  Louis went to Sam Beaver's tent and found Sam packing his things. Louis took off his slate and pencil.

  "I need another job," he wrote. "Where should I go?"

  Sam sat down on his bed and thought for a while. Then he said, "Go to Boston. Maybe you can get a job with the Swan Boat."

  Louis had never been to Boston, and he had no idea what the Swan Boat was, but he nodded his head.
Then on his slate he wrote: "Do me a favor?"

  "Sure," said Sam.

  "Take a razor blade and slit the web on my right foot, so I can wiggle my toes." He held out his foot.

  "Why do you want to wiggle your toes?" asked Sam.

  "You'll see," wrote Louis. "I need my toes in my business."

  Sam hesitated. Then he borrowed a razor blade from one of the older counselors. He made a long, neat cut between Louis's inner toe and middle toe. Then he made another cut between Louis's middle toe and outer toe.

  "Does it hurt?"

  Louis shook his head. He lifted his trumpet, placed his toes on the valves, and played do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do. Do, ti, la, sol, fa, mi, re, do. Ko-hoh!

  Sam grinned. "The Swan Boat will hire you, all right," he said. "You're a real trumpeter now. But with your web cut, swimming will be harder for you. You will have a tendency to swim in circles, because your left foot will push better than your right foot."

  "I can manage," wrote Louis. "Thanks very much for the surgery."

  Next day, the campers left. The canoes had been hoisted onto racks in the boathouse, the float had been hauled onto the beach, the windows of the lodge had been boarded up against bears and squirrels, mattresses had been packed into zipper bags; everything was snug and ready for the long, silent winter. Of all the campers, only Louis stayed behind. His flight feathers were growing fast, but he still couldn't fly. He made up his mind he would remain at camp, all alone, until he was able to take to the air again, and then he would fly straight to Boston.

  The lake was lonely without the boys, but Louis didn't mind being alone. For the next three weeks he took life easy. He grew his flight feathers, dreamed of Serena by day and by night, and practiced his trumpet. He had listened to music all summer--several of the boys had radios and record players--and now he practiced the songs on his trumpet. Every day he got better and better. One day, he composed a love song for Serena and wrote the words and music on his slate:

  He was really thinking of Serena, but he left her name out of it and kept it impersonal.

  His plumage was beautiful now, and he felt great. On the twenty-first of September, he tried his wings. To his great relief, they lifted him. Louis rose into the air. The trumpet banged against the slate, the slate knocked against the moneybag, the lifesaving medal clinked against the chalk pencil--but Louis was airborne again. He climbed and climbed and headed for Boston. It was wonderful to be in the sky again.

  "Flying is a lot harder than it was before I acquired all these possessions," thought Louis. "The best way to travel, really, is to travel light. On the other hand, I have to have these things. I've got to have the trumpet if I am to win Serena for my wife; I've got to carry this moneybag to hold the money to pay my father's debts; I've got to have the slate and pencil so I can communicate with people; and I ought to wear the medal because I really did save a life, and if I didn't wear it, people might think I was ungrateful."

  On and on he flew, toward Boston, which is the capital of Massachusetts, and which is famous for its baked beans, its codfish, its tea parties, its Cabots, its Lowells, its Saltonstalls, and its Swan Boats.



  Louis liked Boston the minute he saw it from the sky. Far beneath him was a river. Near the river was a park. In the park was a lake. In the lake was an island. On the shore was a dock. Tied to the dock was a boat shaped like a swan. The place looked ideal. There was even a very fine hotel nearby.

  Louis circled twice, then glided down and splashed to a stop in the lake. Several ducks swam up to look him over. The park was called the Public Garden. Everybody in Boston knows about it and goes there to sit on benches in the sun, to stroll about, to feed the pigeons and the squirrels, and to ride the Swan Boat. A ride costs twenty-five cents for grown-ups, fifteen cents for children.

  After a short rest and a bite to eat, Louis swam over to the dock and climbed out on the shore. The man who was taking tickets for the Swan Boat ride seemed surprised to see an enormous white swan wearing so many things around his neck.

  "Hello!" said the Boatman.

  Louis lifted his trumpet. "Ko-hoh!" he replied.

  At the sound, every bird in the park looked up. The Boatman jumped. Boston residents as far as a mile away looked up and said, "What's that?" Nobody in Boston had ever heard a Trumpeter Swan. The sound made a big impression. People eating a late breakfast in the Ritz Hotel on Arlington Street looked up from their food. Waiters and bellboys said, "What's that?"

  The man in charge of the Swan Boat was probably the most surprised man in Boston. He examined Louis's trumpet, his moneybag, his lifesaving medal, his slate, and his chalk pencil. Then he asked Louis what he wanted. Louis wrote on his slate: "Have trumpet. Need work."

  "O.K.," said the Boatman. "You've got yourself a job. A boat leaves here in five minutes for a trip around the lake. Your job will be to swim in front of the boat, leading the way and blowing your horn."

  "What salary do I get?" asked Louis on his slate.

  "We'll settle that later, when we see how you make out," said the Boatman. "This is just a tryout."

  Louis nodded. He arranged his things neatly around his neck, entered the water quietly, took up a position a few yards in front of the boat, and waited. He wondered what would make the boat go. He couldn't see any outboard motor, and there were no oars. In the forward part of the boat were benches for the passengers. In the stern was a structure that was shaped like a swan. It was hollow. Inside of it was a seat, like a bicycle seat. And there were two pedals inside, like the pedals of a bicycle.

  When the passengers were all aboard, a young man appeared. He climbed onto the stern of the boat and sat down on the seat inside the hollow swan-shaped structure and began to push the pedals with his feet, as though he were riding a bike. A paddle wheel began to turn. The Boatman cast the lines off, and as the young man pedaled, the Swan Boat slowly moved out into the lake. Louis led the way, swimming with his left foot, holding his trumpet with his right foot.

  "Ko-hoh!" said Louis's trumpet. The wild sound rang loud and clear and stirred everyone's blood. Then, realizing that he should play something appropriate, Louis played a song he had heard the boys sing at camp.

  Row, row, row your boat

  Gently down the stream;

  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

  Life is but a dream.

  The Swan Boat passengers were beside themselves with joy and excitement. A real live swan, playing a trumpet! Life was a dream, all right. What a lark! What fun! What pleasure!

  "This is real groovy!" cried a boy in the front seat. "That bird is as good as Louis Armstrong, the famous trumpet player. I'm going to call him Louis."

  When Louis heard this, he swam alongside the boat, took his chalk pencil in his mouth, and wrote: "That's actually my name."

  "Hey, how about that?" yelled the boy. "This swan can write, too. Louis can write. Let's give him a cheer!"

  The passengers cheered loudly. Louis swam ahead again, leading the way. Slowly and gracefully, the boat circled the island, while Louis played "Gentle on My Mind" on his trumpet. It was a lovely September morning, hazy and warm. Trees were beginning to show their autumn colors. Louis played "Ol' Man River."

  When the Swan Boat docked and the passengers got off, long lines of people were waiting to get aboard for the next ride. Business was booming. Another boat was being made ready, to accommodate the crowds. Everyone wanted to ride the Swan Boats behind a real live swan playing a trumpet. It was the biggest happening in Boston in a long time. People like strange events and queer happenings, and the Swan Boat, with Louis out front leading the way, suddenly became the most popular attraction in Boston.

  "You're hired," said the Boatman, when Louis climbed out onto the bank. "With you playing the trumpet, I can double my business. I can triple it. I can quadruple it. I can quintuple it. I can . . . I can . . . I can sextoople it. Anyway, I'll give you a steady job."

s lifted his slate. "What salary?" he asked.

  The Boatman gazed around at the crowds waiting to get aboard.

  "A hundred dollars a week," he said. "I'll pay you a hundred dollars every Saturday if you'll swim ahead of the boats and play your horn. Is it a deal?"

  Louis nodded his head. The man seemed pleased but puzzled. "If it isn't too much to ask," said the Boatman, "would you mind telling me why you're so interested in money?"

  "Everybody is," replied Louis on his slate.

  "Yeah, I know," said the Boatman. "Everybody likes money. It's a crazy world. But, I mean, why would a swan need money? You can get your meals just by dipping down and pulling up tasty plants at the bottom of the lake. What do you need money for?"

  Louis erased his slate. "I'm in debt," he wrote. And he thought about his poor father who had stolen the trumpet and about the poor storekeeper in Billings who had been robbed and whose store had been damaged. Louis knew he must go on earning money until he could pay off what he owed.

  "O.K.," said the Boatman, addressing the crowd, "this swan says he's in debt. All aboard for the next ride!" And he began selling tickets. The Boatman owned several boats, all of them shaped like a swan. Pretty soon every boat was full and money was flowing in.

  All day long, the Swan Boats circled the lake, carrying their load of happy people, many of them children. Louis played his trumpet as he had never played it before. He liked the job. He loved to entertain people. And he loved music. The Boatman was just as pleased as he could be.

  When the day was over and the boats had made their last trip, the Boatman walked over to Louis, who was standing on shore arranging his things.

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