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The trumpet of the swan, p.6
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       The Trumpet of the Swan, p.6

           E. B. White
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  Louis propped the slate up against the pony's stall. "I'm in trouble," he wrote.

  "What's the matter?" asked Sam. "And where did you get the trumpet?"

  "That's the trouble," wrote Louis. "My father stole it. He gave it to me because I have no voice. The trumpet hasn't been paid for."

  Sam whistled through his teeth. Then he led the pony into his stall, tied him, came out, and sat down on a bale of hay. For a while he just stared at the bird. Finally he said, "You've got a money problem. But that's not unusual. Almost everybody has a money problem. What you need is a job. Then you can save your earnings, and when you get enough money saved up, your father can pay back the man he stole the trumpet from. Can you actually play that thing?"

  Louis nodded. He raised the trumpet to his beak.

  "Ko!" said the trumpet. The pony jumped.

  "Hey!" said Sam. "That's pretty good. Do you know any other notes?"

  Louis shook his head.

  "I've got an idea," said Sam. "I have a job this summer as a junior counselor at a boys' camp in Ontario. That's in Canada. I'll bet I can get you a job as camp bugler if you can learn a few more notes. The camp wants somebody that can blow a horn. The idea is, you blow a lot of loud fast notes in the early morning to wake the boys up. That's called reveille. Then you blow some other notes to call the campers to their meals. That's called the mess call. Then at night when everybody is in bed and the light has faded from the sky and the lake is calm and the mosquitoes are busy in the tents, biting the boys, and the boys are getting sleepy in their beds, you blow some other notes, very soft and sweet and sad. That's called taps. Do you want to go to camp with me and try it?"

  "I'll try anything," wrote Louis. "I am desperate for money."

  Sam chuckled. "O.K.," he said. "Camp opens in about three weeks. That'll give you time to learn the bugle calls. I'll buy you a music book that tells what the notes are."

  And Sam did. He found a book of trumpet calls, such as they use in the Army. He read the instructions to Louis. "Stand erect. Always hold the trumpet straight from the body. Do not point it down toward the ground as this position cramps the lungs and gives the performer a very poor appearance. The instrument should be cleaned once a week to remove the spit."

  Every afternoon, when the guests on Mr. Beaver's ranch had gone off on pack trips in the hills, Louis practiced the calls. Pretty soon he could play reveille, mess call, and taps. He particularly liked the sound of taps. Louis was musically inclined and was eager to become a really good trumpeter. "A Trumpeter Swan," he thought, "should blow a good trumpet." He liked the idea of getting a job, too, and earning money. He was just the right age for going to work. He was almost two years old.

  On the night before they were to leave for camp, Sam packed all his camping things in a duffel bag. He packed sneakers and moccasins. He packed jerseys that said "Camp Kookooskoos" on the front. He rolled his camera in a towel and packed that. He packed his fishing rod, his toothbrush, his comb and brush, his sweater, his poncho, and his tennis racquet. He packed a pad and pencils and postage stamps and a first-aid kit and a book that told how to identify birds. Before he went to bed, he opened his diary and wrote:

  Tomorrow is the last day of June. Pop is going to drive Louis and me to Camp Kookooskoos. I bet it will be the only boys' camp in the world that has a trumpeter swan for the camp bugler. I like having a job. I wish I knew what I was going to be when I am a man. Why does a dog always stretch when he wakes up?

  Sam closed his diary, shoved it into the duffel bag with the rest of his stuff, got into bed, turned out the light, and lay there wondering why a dog always stretches when it wakes up. In two minutes he was asleep. Louis, out in the barn, had gone to sleep long ago.

  Bright and early next morning, Louis arranged his slate and his chalk pencil and his trumpet neatly around his neck and climbed into the back seat of Mr. Beaver's car. The car was a convertible, so Mr. Beaver put the top down. Sam got in front with his father.

  Louis stood tall and white and handsome in the back seat. Mrs. Beaver kissed Sam good-bye. She told him to be a good boy and to take care of himself and not to drown in the lake and not to get into fights with other boys and not to go out in the rain and get sopping wet and then sit around in the chilly air without putting a sweater on, not to get lost in the woods, not to eat too much candy and drink too much pop, not to forget to write letters home every few days, and not to go out in a canoe when it was windy on the lake.

  Sam promised.

  "O.K.!" cried Mr. Beaver. "Off we go to Ontario, beneath the open sky!" He started the car and tooted the horn.

  "Good-bye, Mom!" called Sam.

  "Good-bye, son!" called his mother.

  The car sped away toward the big main gate of the ranch. Just as it was disappearing from view, Louis turned around in his seat and put his trumpet to his mouth.

  "Ko-hoh!" he blew. "Ko-hoh, ko-hoh!"

  The sound carried--a wild, clear, stirring call. Everybody back at the ranch heard it and was thrilled by the sound of the trumpet. It was like no other sound they had ever heard. It reminded them of all the wild and wonderful things and places they had ever known: sunsets and moonrises and mountain peaks and valleys and lonely streams and deep woods.

  "Ko-hoh! Ko-hoh! Ko-hoh!" called Louis.

  The sound of the trumpet died away. The ranchers returned to their breakfast. Louis, on his way to his first job, felt as excited as he had felt on the day he learned to fly.



  Camp Kookooskoos was on a small lake, deep in the woods of Ontario. There were no summer cottages on the lake, no outboard motors, no roads with cars rushing by. It was a wilderness lake, just right for boys. Mr. Beaver left Sam and Louis at the end of a dirt road, and they finished their journey to camp by canoe. Sam sat in the stern and paddled, Louis stood in the bow and looked straight ahead.

  The camp consisted of a big log cabin where everybody ate, seven tents where the boys and the counselors slept, a dock out front, and a privy out back. The woods closed in all around, but there was a bare spot that had been made into a tennis court, and there were plenty of canoes in which to take trips to other lakes. There were about forty boys.

  When Sam's canoe grounded on the sandy beach next to the camp dock, Louis stepped ashore wearing his slate, his chalk pencil, and his trumpet. About twenty boys rushed down to the landing to see what was going on. They could hardly believe their eyes.

  "Hey, look what's here!" one of the boys yelled.

  "A bird!" cried another. "Look at the size of him!"

  Everybody crowded around Louis, wanting to get a close look at the new camper. Sam had to push some of the boys back, to keep Louis from getting crushed.

  "Take it easy, will you?" Sam implored.

  That evening after supper, the director of the camp, Mr. Brickle, built a big campfire in front of the main lodge. The boys gathered around. They sang songs and toasted marshmallows and swatted mosquitoes. Sometimes you couldn't understand the words of a song because the boys sang with marshmallows in their mouths. Louis did not join the group. He stood by himself at a little distance.

  After a while, Mr. Brickle rose to his feet and addressed the boys and the counselors.

  "I call your attention," he said, "to a new camper in our midst--Louis the Swan. He is a Trumpeter Swan, a rare bird. We are lucky to have him. I have employed him at the same salary I pay my junior counselors: one hundred dollars for the season. He is gentle and has a speech defect. He came here from Montana with Sam Beaver. Louis is a musician. Like most musicians, he is in need of money. He will wake you at daybreak with his trumpet; he will call you to meals; and at night, when you are dropping off to sleep, he will play taps, and that will bring the day to a close. I caution you to treat him as an equal and to treat him with respect--he packs a terrific wallop with one of those wings. I now introduce, for your listening pleasure, Louis the Swan. Take a bow, Louis!"

  Louis was em
barrassed, but he came forward and bowed. Then he raised his trumpet to his mouth and blew a long ko. When he finished, from the opposite shore of the lake there came the echo: ko-oo.

  The boys clapped. Louis bowed again. Sam Beaver, sitting with the others, his mouth full of marshmallows, was delighted that his plan had succeeded. At the end of the summer, Louis would have a hundred dollars.

  A boy named Applegate Skinner stood up.

  "Mr. Brickle," he said, "what about me? I don't care for birds. I've never liked birds."

  "O.K., Applegate," said Mr. Brickle. "You don't have to like birds. If that's the way you feel about it, just go ahead not-liking birds. Everyone is entitled to his likes and dislikes and to his prejudices. Come to think of it, I don't care for pistachio ice cream. I don't know why I don't like it, but I don't. Do not forget, however, that Louis is one of your counselors. Whether you like him or not, he must be treated with respect."

  One of the new boys who had never been to camp before stood up.

  "Mr. Brickle," he said, "why is this camp called Camp Kookooskoos? What does Kookooskoos mean?"

  "It's an Indian name for the Great Horned Owl," replied Mr. Brickle.

  The new boy thought about this for a minute.

  "Then why didn't you just call it Camp Great Horned Owl instead of Camp Kookooskoos?"

  "Because," replied Mr. Brickle, "a boys' camp should have a peculiar name; otherwise it doesn't sound interesting. Kookooskoos is a terrific name. It is a long word, but it has only three letters in it. It has two s's, three k's, and six o's. You don't find many names as kooky as that. The queerer the name, the better the camp. Anyway, welcome to Camp Kookooskoos. It rhymes with moose--that's another good thing about it.

  "And now it's time for everybody to go to bed. You may take a swim before breakfast tomorrow, and you don't need to wear your swim trunks. Just jump out of bed when you hear the trumpet of the swan, strip off your pajamas, race to the dock, and dive in. I will be there ahead of you to do my celebrated backflip from the diving tower. It freshens me up for the hard day ahead. Good night, Louis! Good night, Sam! Good night, Applegate! Good night, all!"

  The light was fading. The boys straggled off to their tents in the darkness. The senior counselors sat together on the porch and smoked one last pipe.

  Sam crawled in under his blankets in Tent Three. Louis walked to a high, flat rock by the shore and stood there, waiting. When the lights were all out, he faced the camp, raised his horn to his mouth, and blew taps.

  The last note seemed to linger on the still waters of the lake. From their beds, the boys heard the beautiful sound. They felt sleepy and serene and happy--all but Applegate Skinner, who didn't care for birds at bedtime. But even Applegate was soon asleep, along with the others in his tent. He was asleep, and he was snoring. People who dislike birds often snore.

  A deep peace fell over Camp Kookooskoos.



  Louis liked to sleep on the lake. At night, after blowing taps, he would waddle down to the sandy beach by the dock. There he removed his slate, his chalk pencil, and his trumpet and hid them under a bush. Then he shoved off into the water. As soon as he was afloat, he would tuck his head under a wing. For a while he would doze and think about home and his parents. Then he would think about Serena--how beautiful she was and how much he loved her. Pretty soon he would be fast asleep. When daylight came, he would swim ashore and eat a light breakfast of water plants. Then he'd put on his things, climb onto the flat rock, and blow reveille. The boys, hearing the trumpet, would wake and rush to the dock to swim before breakfast.

  After supper at night the campers would often play volleyball. Louis loved the game. He couldn't hop around as fast as the boys, but he could reach far out with his long neck and poke the ball into the air and over the net. It was very hard to get a ball past Louis--he could return almost any shot. When the boys chose sides at the start of the game, Louis was always the first to be chosen.

  The boys loved camp life in Ontario. They learned how to handle a canoe. They learned to swim. Sam Beaver took them on nature walks and taught them to sit quietly on a log and observe wild creatures and birds. He showed them how to walk in the woods without making a lot of noise. Sam showed them where the kingfisher had his nest, in a hole in the bank by a stream. He showed them the partridge and her chicks. When the boys heard a soft co-co-co-co, Sam told them they were listening to the Sawwhet Owl, smallest of the owls, no bigger than a man's hand. Sometimes in the middle of the night the whole camp would wake to the scream of a wildcat. Nobody ever saw a wildcat during the entire summer, but his scream was heard at night.

  One morning when Sam was playing tennis with Applegate Skinner, Sam heard a clanking noise. He looked behind him, and there, coming out of the woods, was a skunk. The skunk's head was stuck in a tin can; he couldn't see where he was going. He kept bumping into trees and rocks, and the can went clank, clank, clank.

  "That skunk is in trouble," said Sam, laying down his racquet. "He's been to the dump, looking for food. He poked his head into that empty can, and now he can't get it out."

  The word spread quickly through camp that a skunk had arrived. The boys came running to see the fun. Mr. Brickle warned them not to get too close--the skunk might squirt them with perfume. So the boys danced around, keeping their distance and holding their noses.

  The big question was how to get the can off the skunk's head without getting squirted.

  "He's going to need help," said Sam. "That skunk will starve to death if we don't get that can off."

  All the boys had suggestions.

  One boy said they should make a bow and arrow, tie a string to the arrow, and shoot the arrow at the can. Then, when they hit the can, they could pull the string and the can would come off the skunk's head. Nobody thought much of that suggestion--it sounded like too much work.

  Another boy suggested that two boys climb a tree, and one boy could hang by his feet from the other boy's hands, and when the skunk walked under the tree, the boy who was hanging by his feet could reach down and pull the can off, and if the skunk squirted, the perfume wouldn't hit the boy because he would be hanging in the air. Nobody thought much of that suggestion. Mr. Brickle didn't like it at all. He said it was extremely impractical and furthermore he wouldn't permit it.

  Another boy suggested that they get a block of wood, smear it with glue, and when the skunk knocked against it, the can would stick to the block of wood. Nobody thought much of that suggestion. Mr. Brickle said he didn't have any glue anyway.

  While everybody was making suggestions, Sam Beaver walked quietly to his tent. He returned in a few minutes with a long pole and a piece of fishline. Sam tied one end of the fishline to the pole. Then he tied a slipknot in the other end of the line and formed a noose. Then he climbed to the roof of the porch and asked the other boys not to get too close to the skunk.

  The skunk all this time was blundering around, blindly bumping into things. It was a pitiful sight.

  Sam, holding his pole, waited patiently on the roof. He looked like a fisherman waiting for a bite. When the skunk wandered close to the building, Sam reached over, dangled the noose in front of the skunk, slipped the noose around the can, and gave a jerk. The noose tightened, and the can came off. As it did so, the skunk turned around and squirted--right at Mr. Brickle, who jumped back, stumbled, and fell. All the boys danced around, holding their noses. The skunk ran off into the woods. Mr. Brickle got up and dusted himself off. The air smelled strong of skunk. Mr. Brickle smelled, too.

  "Congratulations, Sam!" said Mr. Brickle. "You have aided a wild creature and have given Camp Kookooskoos a delicious dash of wild perfume. I'm sure we'll all remember this malodorous event for a long time to come. I don't see how we can very well forget it."

  "Ko-hoh!" cried Louis, lifting his trumpet. The lake echoed with the sound. The air was heavy with the rich, musky smell of skunk. The boys danced and danced, holding their noses. Some of them held
their stomachs and pretended to throw up. Then Mr. Brickle announced it was time for the morning swim.

  "A swim will clear the air," he said, as he walked away toward his cottage to change his clothes.

  After lunch each day, the campers went to their tents for a rest period. Some of them read books. Some wrote letters home, telling their parents how bad the food was. Some just lay on their cots and talked. One afternoon during rest period, the boys in Applegate's tent began teasing him about his name.

  "Applegate Skinner," said one boy. "Where did you get such a crazy name, Applegate?"

  "My parents gave it to me," replied Applegate.

  "I know what his name is," said another boy. "Sour Applegate. Sour Applegate Skinner." The boys howled at this and began chanting, "Sour Applegate, Sour Applegate, Sour Applegate."

  "Quiet!" bellowed the tent leader.

  "I don't think it's funny," said Applegate.

  "His name isn't Sour Applegate," whispered another boy. "His name is Wormy Applegate. Wormy Applegate Skinner." This suggestion was greeted with screams of laughter.

  "Quiet!" bellowed the tent leader. "I want quiet in this tent. Leave Applegate alone!"

  "Leave Rotten Applegate alone!" whispered another boy. And some of the other boys had to pull their pillows over their heads so their snickering couldn't be heard.

  Applegate was sore. When the rest period was over, he wandered down to the dock. He didn't like being made fun of, and he wanted to do something to get even. Without saying anything to anybody, he slid a canoe into the water and paddled out into the lake, heading for the opposite shore a mile away. No one noticed him.

  Applegate had no business taking a canoe out alone. He had not passed his swimming test. He had not passed his canoe test. He was disobeying a camp rule. When he was a quarter of a mile from shore, in deep water, the wind grew stronger. The waves got higher. The canoe was hard to manage. Applegate got scared. Suddenly, a wave caught the canoe and spun it around. Applegate leaned hard on his paddle. His hand slipped, and he lost his balance. The canoe tipped over. Applegate found himself in the water. His clothes felt terribly soggy and heavy. His shoes dragged him down, and he could barely keep his head above water. Instead of hanging on to the canoe, he started swimming toward shore--which was a crazy thing to do. One wave hit him square in the face, and he got a mouthful of water.

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