The Pearl, Part IV
pianos - and why
For the next part of our story to happen will take several months,
about as long as (for instance) the time between Easter vacation and
the start of Summer, with hot dogs and fireworks on the Fourth of July.
The time went by quickly for William, Sally, and Freddie, as it often
does when every day is pretty much the same. Sally came and went,
searching for food. She flew to Nantucket Island and walked on the beach.
Sometimes she followed the big sailboats of the wealthy people who lived
there. She understood now that many of these people must have big, big
stacks of green paper. Life was easy for them. They seemed to have
little to do but sail around the island in their boats and enjoy the
sunshine. Sometimes Sally flew inland to Providence and saw how other
people lived. She saw how they were always on the street each morning
at the same time, waiting for buses and streetcars to carry them to the
jobs where they earned just enough green paper to buy what they needed
If Sally spent all day dumpster diving, she would see the
same people again at evening, coming back to their small houses, weary
and silent at the end of a long day. Sally still followed the cruise
ships too, but not so far out to sea as she once had. Now, except on
rare occasions, she returned each night to William and Freddy and made
gentle cooing sounds as she drifted off to sleep on William's mast.
William and Sally became the very best of friends over those months.
Sometimes they didn't talk very much, but they felt peaceful and
happy just keeping each other company. After a time, Sally understood,
and so did William, that his big tank, floating in the ocean, was now
her home. Even birds who fly far and wide need a home, she thought, and
she was very glad to have found one with William.
As for William and Freddy, the Spring and Summer that year were quiet
and uneventful. The weather was very fine. There were no big storms.
There were no shipwrecks either. William's job guiding ships to and
from the big Atlantic ocean was mostly routine and not stressful at
all. This gave William and Freddy plenty of time to play Tugboat, which
they did--all day long--almost every day. When they weren't playing,
they sometimes watched the giant right whales breaching and swimming
along the sea lane. They watched the whale mothers teaching their new
calves to swim, while gently guiding them with their huge
make sure they didn't get into trouble. It was very beautiful and
inspiring to see.
Occasionally, at evening time, William, Freddy, and Sally would have a
talk once more about the beautiful pearl and what might be done with
it. William suggested that perhaps Sally should just carry it to
Nantucket and give it to one of the human beings there, but she
hesitated to do that. She said that the humans on Nantucket didn't
really need any more pearls, or the stacks of green paper for which they
could be exchanged. They all seemed to have more than enough of those
It was toward the Fall that year that chance, at last, presented the
three friends with an idea they could all agree on about what to do. It
happened like this:
One evening in October, when Sally had been flying above Providence city all
day, looking for food scraps in dumpsters, she stopped to rest on a
chimney top, just as the sun dropped below the horizon. Sally was very
tired. She thought she might as well just stay where she was and sleep
until morning. She had just tucked her head under her wing for the
night and started drifting into a dream of William out at sea, when she
heard a sound. At first she thought she was dreaming of William's bell,
chiming sweetly over and over, but then, waking up, she realized that
the sound was coming from down in the chimney where she was sitting. It
was coming from down inside the little house whose chimney she had
picked to rest on. Sally, wide awake now, listened. The sounds she
heard were indeed something like William's bell, except that there were
so many more of them and they seemed to be so different from one
another. Some were high and tinkly. Some were low and booming. Some
were everywhere in between. The sounds were all on top of one another
as well, booming, chiming, and tinkling, all at the same time. Sally
imagined that the sounds were like a gigantic waterfall cascading down
through the star-filled night. The sounds themselves were made of stars,
a million times more beautiful than the shiny things that the human
Sally was fascinated. She listened for a long time until the real stars
had risen high above her in the night sky. At last - it seemed like
forever now - she heard a voice down in the chimney. It said: "Bedtime
dear. That's enough for today, Miranda. It's time to go to sleep." The
beautiful sounds stopped.
Now Sally fell asleep, too. In her dream the beautiful sounds continued - the most beautiful sounds she had ever heard.
The next day, Sally couldn't wait to share her adventure with William
and Freddy. They were as amazed as she was, even though they could only
imagine the sounds Sally described. William suggested that perhaps she
could ask Oliver about them. He seemed so wise and experienced. So
that's just what Sally did. The following morning she visited Ollie at
his barn and asked him to go with her to the little house with the
chimney that made the sounds. They would have to go at night, she said,
and she made Oliver give his promise that he would not forget that she
was his friend, even though it was night time. She made him promise not
to try to eat her! Oliver frowned, but at last he agreed, and that
night, just at supper time, they flew together to the chimney to listen.
The sun had gone down and the lights of Providence city were winking on in
the darkness when Sally and Oliver settled themselves on the chimney
top of the little house. It wasn't long before they heard the magic
cascade of beautiful sounds floating up from inside. Sally couldn't
hold back her excitement any longer. "What is that, Ollie? What is that
sound?" Oliver looked at Sally. He didn't speak right away. First he
turned his head around to the back. Then he adjusted his feathery
spectacles and opened his eyes very wide. He looked very wise. "That,"
he said, "is a piano." "What is that? What is a piano?" said Sally,
hopping from one foot to the other and ruffling her wings. "What is a
piano?" she asked again. Oliver took his time. Then he spoke very
slowly. "A piano is a machine with thousands of bell sounds inside. It
has buttons on the front called keys. The keys don't unlock any doors.
Instead, they unlock the bell sounds inside the box, one after another,
when someone presses them."
Sally felt like a baby chick, just hatched, back when her mother was
just teaching her to fly. "But Ollie," Sally asked, "Why, why do the
human beings have pianos?"
Oliver sighed. Sometimes, he thought, it was hard to believe how little
the average seagull knew about the world of the human beings. Ollie
waited. Finally, he said, "Remember when I told you that the 'human
beings' can't fly?" Sally nodded. "Well, they also can't sing. That is,
most of them can't. A few can sing a little bit." Sally's beak dropped
open. "Can't sing, can't fly." She was just beginning to understand how
hard life must be for the human beings.
Oliver said, "The human beings are very clever. Because they can't
sing, they made some machines to do their singing for them. One of
those machines is the piano."
Sally was silent. She was shocked. She even felt a bit sad. She and
Ollie sat on the chimney top for a long time, listening to the piano
sounds. They listened until they heard the voice inside, that Sally
recognized now. "Time for bed, Miranda. That's enough for today." Then
Sally and Oliver flew away, Ollie to hunt for field mice near his barn,
and Sally to sleep on a black piling down in the harbor.