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The trumpet of the swan, p.8
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       The Trumpet of the Swan, p.8

           E. B. White
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  "You've done great," said the Boatman. "You're a good swan. I wish I'd had you long ago. And now--where are you planning to spend the night?"

  "Here on the lake," Louis wrote.

  "Well, I don't know about that," said the man uneasily. "An awful lot of people are curious about you. They might make trouble for you. Bad boys might molest you. I don't trust the people who hang around this park at night. You might get kidnapped. I don't want to lose you. I think I'll take you across to the Ritz Carlton Hotel and get you a room for the night. It's clean, and the food is good. It would be safer. Then I can be sure you'll come to work in the morning."

  Louis didn't think much of this idea, but he agreed to go. He thought, "Well, I've never spent a night in a hotel--maybe it would be an interesting experience." So he walked along with the Boatman. They left the park and crossed Arlington Street and entered the lobby of the Ritz. It had been a long, tiring day for Louis, but he felt relieved to know that he had a good job and that he could earn money in Boston as a musician.

  CHAPTER 15

  A NIGHT AT THE RITZ

  When the desk clerk at the Ritz Hotel saw the Boatman enter the lobby followed by an enormous snow-white swan with a black beak, the clerk didn't like it at all. The clerk was a carefully-dressed man--very neat, his hair nicely combed. The Boatman stepped boldly up to the desk.

  "I'd like a single room for tonight for my friend here," said the Boatman.

  The clerk shook his head.

  "No birds," he said. "The Ritz doesn't take birds."

  "You take celebrities, don't you?" asked the Boatman.

  "Certainly," replied the clerk.

  "You'd take Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, wouldn't you, if they wanted to spend the night?"

  "Of course," replied the clerk.

  "You'd take Queen Elizabeth, wouldn't you?"

  "Of course."

  "O.K.," said the Boatman. "My friend here is a celebrity. He is a famous musician. He created a sensation in the Public Garden this afternoon. You must have heard the commotion. He's a Trumpeter Swan and plays like the great Armstrong."

  The clerk gazed suspiciously at Louis.

  "Has he any luggage?" asked the clerk.

  "Luggage?" cried the Boatman. "Take a look at him! Look at the stuff he's got with him!"

  "Well, I don't know," said the clerk, staring at Louis's possessions--his trumpet, his moneybag, his slate, his chalk pencil, his lifesaving medal. "A bird is a bird. How do I know he hasn't got lice? Birds often have lice. The Ritz won't take anybody that has lice."

  "Lice?" roared the Boatman. "Did you ever see a cleaner guest in your whole life? Look at him! He's immaculate."

  At this, Louis held his slate up to the clerk. "No lice," he wrote.

  The clerk stared in amazement. He was beginning to weaken.

  "Well, I have to be careful," he said to the Boatman. "You say he's a celebrity. How do I know he's famous. You may be just kidding me about that."

  Just then, three young girls entered the lobby. They were giggling and squealing. One of them pointed at Louis.

  "There he is!" she screamed. "There he is! I'll get his autograph."

  The girls rushed up to Louis. The first girl held out a pad and pencil.

  "May I have your autograph?" she asked.

  Louis took the pencil. Very gracefully, he wrote "Louis" on the pad.

  More squeals, more giggles, and the girls rushed away. The clerk watched in silence.

  "There!" said the Boatman. "Is he a celebrity or isn't he?"

  The clerk hesitated. He was beginning to think he would have to give Louis a room.

  At this point, Louis had an idea. He lifted his trumpet and began to play an old song called "There's a Small Hotel."

  His tone was beautiful. Guests passing through the lobby paused to listen. The clerk leaned his elbows on the desk and listened attentively. The man behind the newsstand looked up and listened. People sitting upstairs in the lounge put down their cocktails and listened. The bellboys stared and listened. For a few minutes, everything stopped in the lobby while Louis played. He charmed everyone who could hear. Chambermaids in the bedrooms paused in their work to listen to the trumpet. It was a moment of sheer magic. As the song came to an end, people who knew the words sang them softly.

  When the steeple bell

  Says "Good night, sleep well,"

  We'll thank the small hotel, together.

  "How about that?" asked the Boatman, grinning at the clerk. "Is this swan a musician or isn't he?"

  "He plays a sweet trumpet," the clerk said. "But there is one more question that I hesitate to bring up. What about his personal habits? Will he mess the room all up? Actors are bad enough. Musicians are worse. I can't allow a large bird to occupy one of our beds--it might put us out of business. Other guests might complain."

  "I sleep in the bathtub," Louis wrote on his slate. "Will not disturb bed."

  The clerk shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Who's going to pay the bill?" he asked.

  "I am," replied the Boatman. "I'll be here early tomorrow morning when Louis checks out."

  The clerk couldn't think of any more reasons for not letting the swan have a room.

  "Very well," he said. "Sign the register, please!" He handed Louis a pen and a card.

  Louis wrote:

  LOUIS THE SWAN

  UPPER RED ROCK LAKE

  MONTANA

  The clerk studied it. He seemed satisfied at last. He summoned a bellboy and handed him a key. "Take this gentleman to his room!" he ordered.

  Louis removed his medal, his trumpet, his slate, his chalk pencil, and his moneybag and handed them to the bellboy. Together, they walked to the elevators. The Boatman said good-bye.

  "Sleep well, Louis!" called the Boatman. "And be ready to come to work promptly in the morning!"

  Louis nodded. The elevator door opened. "This way, sir!" said the bellboy. They entered the elevator and waited for the door to close. A rich smell of perfume filled the air. Louis stood very still. Then he felt himself rising. The elevator stopped at the seventh floor, and the bellboy led Louis to a room, unlocked the door, and ushered him in.

  "Here you are, sir!" he said. "Would you like a window open?"

  The bellboy put Louis's luggage down, snapped on a few lights, opened a window, and laid the room key on the dresser. Then he waited.

  "I guess he wants a tip," thought Louis. So he went to his moneybag, loosened the drawstring, and took out a dollar.

  "Thank you very much, sir," said the bellboy, taking the dollar. He went out and closed the door softly behind him. Louis was alone at last--alone in a room at the Ritz.

  Louis had never spent a night alone in a hotel. First he walked round and around, switching lights on and off, examining everything. In the writing desk, he found a few sheets of letter paper that said: Ritz Carlton

  Boston

  He felt mussy and dirty, so he went into the bathroom, climbed into the tub, pulled the shower curtain across, and took a shower bath. It felt good and reminded him of the water fights he used to have with his brothers and sisters. He was careful not to splash any water out of the tub. When he was finished, he stood for a while, admiring the bath mat and preening his feathers. Then he felt hungry.

  On the wall of the bedroom, he found a button that said WAITER. Louis put his beak against the button and pressed hard. In a few minutes, there was a knock at the door and a waiter entered. He was nicely dressed and tried not to show surprise at finding a swan in the room.

  "May I get you something?" he asked.

  Louis picked up his chalk pencil. "Twelve watercress sandwiches, please," he wrote on the slate.

  The waiter thought for a moment. "Are you expecting guests?" he asked.

  Louis shook his head.

  "And you want twelve watercress sandwiches?"

  Louis nodded.

  "Very good, sir," said the waiter. "Do you wish them with mayonnaise?"

  L
ouis didn't know what mayonnaise tasted like, but he thought fast. He cleaned his slate and wrote: "One with. Eleven without."

  The waiter bowed and left the room. Half an hour later he was back. He rolled a table into the room, placed a huge platter of watercress sandwiches on it, along with a plate, a knife, a fork, a spoon, salt and pepper, a glass of water, and a linen napkin, nicely folded. There was also a butter dish, with several pieces of butter covered with cracked ice. The waiter arranged everything carefully, then handed Louis a bill to sign. The bill said: 12 w/c sandwiches: $18.00

  "Goodness!" thought Louis. "This is an expensive place. I hope the Boatman won't be mad when he sees this supper charge on the bill tomorrow morning."

  He borrowed a pencil from the waiter and signed the bill: "Louis the Swan."

  The waiter took the bill and stood there, waiting.

  "I guess he wants a tip," thought Louis. So he opened his moneybag again, drew out two dollars, and handed it to the waiter, who thanked him, bowed again, and went away.

  Because a swan has such a long neck, the table was just the right height for Louis. He didn't need a chair; he ate his supper standing up. He tried the sandwich that had mayonnaise on it and decided he didn't like mayonnaise. Then he carefully pulled each sandwich apart. All he really wanted was the watercress. He piled the slices of bread in two neat piles, scooped the watercress onto his plate, and had a nice supper. He did not touch the butter. When he was thirsty, instead of drinking from the glass of water, he walked into the bathroom, drew a basinful of cold water, and drank that. Then he took his napkin, wiped his beak, and pushed the table out of the way. He felt much better.

  To be all alone in a hotel room gives a person a cozy feeling and a feeling of importance. Louis felt great. But soon he began feeling rather lonely, too. He thought of Sam Beaver. He thought of Camp Kookooskoos. He thought of his father and mother and sisters and brothers, back home in Montana. He thought of Serena, the swan he loved, and wondered how she was. The words of the song he had played in the lobby came back to him: There's a small hotel

  With a wishing well;

  I wish that we were there, together.

  How wonderful it would be, he thought, if Serena could be here at the Ritz to enjoy the hotel with him!

  The waiter had left an evening paper on a table. Louis glanced at the front page. To his amazement, he saw a picture of himself on the lake in the Public Garden with the Swan Boat. A big headline said: BOSTON GOES WILD OVER

  THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN

  The news story began:

  There's a new bird in town. His name is Louis. He is a Trumpeter Swan that really plays the trumpet. Incredible though it may seem, this rare and beautiful water bird has accepted employment with the Swan Boat management in the Public Garden and is entertaining boat riders with his smooth trumpet. Crowds gathered at the lake this afternoon after his arrival, and the sweet notes of his horn were heard in many parts of Boston. . . .

  Louis read the article to the end and then tore it out of the paper. "Sam Beaver ought to know about this," he thought. From the writing desk in his room, Louis took a pen and a sheet of letter paper. This is what he wrote: Dear Sam:

  I am spending the night at the Ritz in fashionable surroundings. You were right about Boston--it is very pleasant. I was able to find work as soon as I arrived. I am associated with the Swan Boat at a salary of $100 a week. You may be interested in the enclosed clipping from today's paper. If all goes well, I'll soon have enough money to pay my father's debt to the music store, and then I will own the trumpet free and clear and will hope that by blowing it passionately I will be able to make a favorable impression on the young female I am in love with. Then everybody will be happy: my father's honor will be restored, the music shop in Billings will be repaid, and I can take a wife. I hope you are well. I miss you. A hotel room, even though it has every convenience, can be a lonely place.

  Your friend,

  Louis

  Louis addressed an envelope to Sam, folded the letter, fitted the newspaper clipping in, and found a six-cent stamp in his moneybag. He sealed the envelope, pasted the stamp on, and dropped the letter in a mail chute outside the door of his room. "Now I'll go to sleep," he thought.

  He went into the bathroom, used the toilet, then drew a full tub of cold water in the bathtub. He couldn't get Serena out of his mind. How wonderful it would be if only she were here! Before settling down for the night, he picked up his trumpet and played the song he had composed for her when he was in Ontario: Oh, ever in the greening spring,

  By bank and bough retiring,

  For love shall I be sorrowing

  And swans of my desiring.

  He tried to play softly, but in a minute the phone rang in his room. Louis lifted the receiver and put it to his ear.

  "I'm sorry, sir," a voice said, "but I'll have to ask you not to make so much noise. The Ritz does not allow its guests to play brass instruments in the bedrooms."

  Louis hung up the phone and put his trumpet away. Then he turned out the lights, climbed into the tub, curved his long neck around to the right, rested his head on his back, tucked his bill under his wing, and lay there, floating on the water, his head cradled softly in his feathers. Soon he was asleep, dreaming of little lakes in the north in the springtime, dreaming of Serena, his true love.

  CHAPTER 16

  PHILADELPHIA

  Louis worked all the last week of September for the Swan Boat man in the Boston Public Garden. He was a great success and was becoming famous. On Saturday, the Boatman paid him a hundred dollars in cash, which Louis placed carefully in his moneybag. The Boatman, after paying the first night's bill at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, decided to let Louis sleep on the lake instead of in the hotel, and this suited Louis better. He slept with the ducks and geese on the lake, floating gracefully on the surface of the water, his head tucked under his wing.

  Louis took good care of his trumpet. He kept it polished, and once a week he cleaned the spit out of it. He learned new songs whenever he could, by listening to people's radios and by attending concerts. He was very good at remembering music he had heard. He was really a natural-born musician--or, in his case, a natural-hatched musician.

  One song he liked was "Beautiful Dreamer, Wake Unto Me." Whenever he played it, he thought of Serena, and always, when he finished it, the passengers on the Swan Boat clapped loudly and cheered. Louis liked applause. It made him feel lighthearted and gay.

  Sometimes, at the end of the afternoon, Louis played "Now the Day Is Over." He made it sound sweet and sad. One afternoon, when he was leading the last trip of the day, he played the "Cradle Song" by Brahms. The passengers sang the words:

  A boy in the front seat of the boat pulled an air rifle from under his jacket and began shooting BB shots at Louis's trumpet. Whenever a shot hit the horn, it made a pinging sound. So the "Cradle Song" sounded something like this:

  Lul-la-by (ping)

  and good-night (ping)

  With ros-es be-dight (ping)

  The children on the boat roared with laughter when they heard this, but the grown-up passengers were angry. One of them seized the boy's rifle. Another went home that night and wrote a letter to The Boston Globe urging a stronger gun-control law.

  On some afternoons, at the end of the day, people gathered on the shores of the lake to listen while Louis played taps. It was a peaceful scene, a memorable hour. The Swan Boat had never enjoyed such popularity or made such a lot of money for the owner. But Louis knew that the boats would not run all winter. In a few days, the boats would be hauled out for the season, to wait quietly for the arrival of spring.

  One day, when Louis was waiting for the boat to take its passengers aboard, a Western Union messenger boy appeared on a bicycle.

  "I have a telegram for the swan," he said.

  The Boatman seemed surprised, but he took the telegram and handed it to Louis, who opened it promptly. It was from a man in Philadelphia. The message said:

  CA
N OFFER YOU FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS A WEEK FOR NIGHTCLUB SPOT. TEN WEEK ENGAGEMENT. PLEASE REPLY.

  (Signed) ABE ("LUCKY") LUCAS

  HOTEL NEMO

  Louis did some quick figuring. Five hundred dollars a week for ten weeks--that was five thousand dollars. Five thousand dollars would easily pay his father's debt to the music store.

  He took his slate and wrote:

  OFFER ACCEPTED. ARRIVE TOMORROW. MEET ME AT BIRD LAKE IN THE ZOO. SPLASHDOWN WILL BE AT FOUR FIFTY-TWO P.M. HOPE THIS WILL BE A CONVENIENT TIME FOR YOU.

  Louis showed the message to the Western Union boy, who copied it on a telegraph blank.

  "Send it collect!" wrote Louis.

  The messenger nodded and rode away. Louis stepped back into the water, the boat's lines were cast off, and Louis led the way. He knew it was his last appearance with the Swan Boat, and he felt a little sad. It was a warm, quiet Sunday afternoon, the last Sunday in September. Louis played all his favorite tunes: "Lazy River," "Beautiful Dreamer," "Oh, Ever in the Greening Spring," "Now the Day Is Over," and then, as the boat neared the dock, he raised his trumpet and blew taps.

  The last note echoed from the walls of the Ritz and lingered over the Public Garden. It was a sad farewell. For the people of Boston, it meant the end of summer. For the Boatman, it meant the end of the best week of business he had ever had. For Louis, it meant the end of another chapter in his adventurous life, out in the big world, trying to earn enough money to get his father and himself out of trouble. Louis slept peacefully that night, being very careful that his moneybag was safe. Next day he flew to Philadelphia to keep his appointment with Mr. Lucas, the man who had sent the telegram.

  Louis had no trouble finding Philadelphia. Almost anybody can find Philadelphia who tries. Louis simply rose into the air with all his things around his neck, and when he was about a thousand feet high, he followed the railroad tracks to Providence, New London, New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford, Cos Cob, Greenwich, Port Chester, Rye, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Pelham, Mount Vernon, and the Bronx. When he saw the Empire State Building, he veered off to the right, crossed the Hudson River, and followed the railroad tracks to Newark and Trenton and points south. At half past four, he reached the Schuylkill River. Just beyond, he spied the Philadelphia Zoo. Bird Lake looked very attractive from the air. It was crowded with waterfowl of all kinds--ducks and geese mostly. Louis thought he also saw two or three swans.

 
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