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کتاب: شبح باجه اخذ عوارض / فصل 12

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12.The Silent Valley

“How agreeable and pleasant this valley is,” thought Milo as once again they bounced along the highway, with the Humbug humming snatches of old songs, to his own vast amusement, and Tock sniffing contentedly at the wind.

“I really can’t see what Dr. Dischord was so concerned about; there certainly couldn’t be anything unpleasant along this road.” And just as the thought crossed his mind they passed through a heavy stone gateway and everything was very different.

At first it was difficult to tell just what had changed— it all looked the same and it all smelled the same—but, for some reason, nothing sounded the same.

“I wonder what’s happened?” said Milo. At least that’s what he tried to say, for, although his lips moved, not a sound came from his mouth.

And suddenly he realized what it was, for Tock was no longer ticking and the Humbug, although happily singing, was doing so in complete silence. The wind no longer rustled the leaves, the car no longer squeaked, and the insects no longer buzzed in the fields. Not the slightest thing could be heard, and it felt as if, in some mysterious way, a switch had been thrown and all the sound in the world had been turned off at the same instant.

The Humbug, suddenly realizing what had happened, leaped to his feet in terror, and Tock worriedly checked to see if he was still keeping time. It was certainly a strange feeling to know that no matter how loudly or softly you chatted or rattled or bumped, it all came out the same way—as nothing.

“How dreadful,” thought Milo as he slowed down the car.

The three of them began to talk and shout at once with absolutely no result until, hardly noticing where they were going, they had driven into the midst of a large crowd of people marching along the road. Some of them were singing at the tops of their nonexistent voices and the others were carrying large signs which proclaimed:

DOWN WITH SILENCE

ALL QUIET IS NO DIET

IT’S LAUDABLE TO BE AUDIBLE

MORE SOUND FOR ALLAnd one enormous banner stated simply: HEAR HERE

Except for these, and the big brass cannon being pulled along behind, they all looked very much like the residents of any other small valley to which you’ve never been.

When the car had stopped, one of them held up a placard which said: “WELCOME TO THE VALLEY

OF SOUND.” And the others cheered as loudly as possible, which was not very loud at all.

“HAVE YOU COME TO HELP US?” asked another,

stepping forward with his question.

“PLEASE!” added a third.

Milo tried desperately to say who he was and where he was going, but to no avail. As he did, four more placards announced:

LISTEN LOOK CAREFULLY

AND WE

WILL TELL YOU

OF OUR TERRIBLE MISFORTUNE

And while two of them held up a large blackboard, a third, writing as fast as he could, explained why there was nothing but quiet in the Valley of Sound.

“At a place in the valley not far from here,” he began, “where the echoes used to gather and the winds came to rest, there is a great stone fortress, and in it lives the Soundkeeper, who rules this land. When the old king of Wisdom drove the demons into the distant mountains, he appointed her guardian of all sounds and noises, past, present, and future.

“For years she ruled as a wise and beloved monarch, each morning at sunrise releasing the day’s new sounds, to be borne by the winds throughout the kingdom, and each night at moonset gathering in the old sounds, to be catalogued and filed in the vast storage vaults below.”

The writer paused for a moment to mop his brow and then, since the blackboard was full, erased it completely and continued anew from the top.

“She was generous to a fault and provided us with all the sound we could possibly use: for singing as we worked, for bubbling pots of stew, for the chop of an ax and the crash of a tree, for the creak of a hinge and the hoot of an owl, for the squish of a shoe in the mudand the friendly tapping of rain on the roof, and for the sweet music of pipes and the sharp snap of winter ice cracking on the ground.”

He paused again as a tear of longing rolled from cheek to lip with the sweet-salty taste of an old memory.

“And all these sounds, when once used, would be carefully placed in alphabetical order and neatly kept for future reference. Everyone lived in peace, and the valley flourished as the happy home of sound. But then things began to change.

“Slowly at first, and then in a rush, more people came to settle here and brought with them new ways and new sounds, some very beautiful and some less so. But everyone was so busy with the things that had to be done that they scarcely had time to listen at all. And, as you know, a sound which is not heard disappears forever and is not to be found again.

“People laughed less and grumbled more, sang less and shouted more, and the sounds they made grew louder and uglier. It became difficult to hear even the birds or the breeze, and soon everyone stopped listening for them.”

He again cleared the blackboard, as the Humbug choked back a sob, and continued writing.

“The Soundkeeper grew worried and disconsolate.

Each day there were fewer sounds to be collected, and most of those were hardly worth keeping. Many people thought it was the weather, and others blamed the moon, but the general consensus of opinion held that the trouble began at the time that Rhyme and Reason were banished. But, no matter what the cause, no one knew what to do.

“Then one day Dr. Dischord appeared in the valley with his wagon of medicines and the bluish smoggy DYNNE. He made a thorough examination and promised to cure everyone of everything; and the Soundkeeper let him try.

“He gave several bad-tasting spoonfuls of medicine to every adult and child, and it worked—but not really as expected. For he cured everybody of everything but noise. The Soundkeeper became furious. She chased him from the valley forever and then issued the following decree: “ ‘FROM THIS DAY FORWARD THE VALLEY OF

SOUND SHALL BE SILENT. SINCE SOUND IS NO

LONGER APPRECIATED, I HEREBY ABOLISH IT.

PLEASE RETURN ALL UNUSED AMOUNTS TO

THE FORTRESS IMMEDIATELY.’

“And that’s the way it has been ever since,” he concluded sadly. “There is nothing we can do to change it, and each day new hardships are reported.”

A small man, with his arms full of letters and messages, pushed through the crowd and offered them to Milo. Milo took one which read:

Dear Soundkeeper,

We had a thunderstorm last week and the thunder still hasn’t arrived. How long should we wait?

Yours truly,

A friendThen he took a telegram which stated:

BAND CONCERT GREAT SUCCESS STOP WHEN

MAY WE EXPECT THE MUSIC STOP

“Now you see,” continued the writer, “why you must help us attack the fortress and free sound.”

“What can I do?” wrote Milo.

“You must visit the Soundkeeper and bring from the fortress one sound, no matter how small, with which to load our cannon. For, if we can reach the walls with the slightest noise, they will collapse and free the rest. It won’t be easy, for she is hard to deceive, but you must try.”

Milo thought for just a moment and then, with a resolute “I shall,” volunteered to go.

Within a few minutes he stood bravely at the fortress door. “Knock, knock,” he wrote neatly on a piece of paper, which he pushed under the crack. In a moment the great portal swung open, and, as it closed behind him, a gentle voice sang out:

“Right this way; I’m in the parlor.”

“Can I talk now?” cried Milo happily, hearing his voice once again.

“Yes, but only in here,” she replied softly. “Now do come into the parlor.”

Milo walked slowly down the long hallway and into the little room where the Soundkeeper sat listening intently to an enormous radio set, whose switches, dials, knobs, meters, and speaker covered one whole wall, and which at the moment was playing nothing.

“Isn’t that lovely?” she sighed. “It’s my favorite program—fifteen minutes of silence—and after that there’s a half hour of quiet and then an interlude of lull. Why, did you know that there are almost as many kinds of stillness as there are sounds? But, sadly enough, no one pays any attention to them these days.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn?” she inquired. “Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause in a roomful of people when someone isjust about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re all alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful, if you listen carefully.”

As she spoke, the thousands of little bells and chimes which covered her from head to toe tinkled softly and, as if in reply, the telephone began to ring, too.

“For someone who loves silence, she certainly talks a great deal,” thought Milo.

“At one time I was able to listen to any sound made any place at any time,” the Soundkeeper remarked, pointing towards the radio wall, “but now I merely “ “Pardon me,” interrupted Milo as the phone continued to ring, “but aren’t you going to answer it?”

“Oh no, not in the middle of the program,” she replied, and turned the silence up a little louder.

“But it may be important,” insisted Milo.

“Not at all,” she assured him; “it’s only me. It gets so lonely around here, with no sounds to distribute or collect, that I call myself seven or eight times a day just to see how I am.”

“How are you?” he asked politely.

“Not very well, I’m afraid. I seem to have a touch of static,” she complained. “But what brings you here? Of course—you’ve come to tour the vaults. Well, they’re usually open to the public only on Mondays from two to four, but since you’ve traveled so far, we’ll have to make an exception. Follow me, please.”

She quickly bounced to her feet with a chorus of jingles and chimes and started down the hallway.

“Don’t you just love jingles and chimes? I do,” she answered quickly. “Besides, they’re very convenient, for I’m always getting lost in this big fortress, and all I have to do is listen for them and then I know exactly where I am.”

They entered a tiny cagelike elevator and traveled down for fully three quarters of a minute, stopping finally in an immense vault, whose long lines of file drawers and storage bins stretched in all directions from where here began to where there ended, and from floor to ceiling.

“Every sound that’s ever been made in history is kept here,” said the Soundkeeper, skipping down one of the corridors with Milo in hand. “For instance, look here.”

She opened one of the drawers and pulled out a small brown envelope. “This is the exact tune George Washington whistled when he crossed the Delaware on that icy night in 1777.”

Milo peered into the envelope and, sure enough, that’s exactly what was in it. “But why do you collect them all?” he asked as she closed the drawer.

“If we didn’t collect them,” said the Soundkeeper as they continued to stroll through the vault, “the air would be full of old sounds and noises bouncing around and bumping into things. It would be terribly confusing, because you’d never know whether you were listening to an old one or a new one. Besides, I do like to collect things, and there are more sounds than almost anything else. Why, I have everything here from the buzz of a mosquito a million years ago to what your mother saidto you this morning, and if you come back here in two days, I’ll tell you what she said tomorrow. It’s really very simple; let me show you. Say a word—any word.”

“Hello,” said Milo, for that was all he could think of.

“Now where do you think it went?” she asked with a smile.

“I don’t know,” said Milo, shrugging his shoulders.

“I always thought that “

“Most people do,” she hummed, peering down one of the corridors. “Now, let me see: first we find the cabinet with today’s sounds. Ah, here it is. Then we look under G for greetings, then under M for Milo, and here it is already in its envelope. So, you see, the whole system is quite automatic. It’s a shame we hardly use it any more.”

“That’s wonderful,” gasped Milo. “May I have one little sound as a souvenir?”

“Certainly,” she said with pride, and then, immediately thinking better of it, added, “not. And don’t try to take one, because it’s strictly against the rules.”

Milo was crestfallen. He had no idea how to steal a sound, even the smallest one, for the Soundkeeper always had at least one eye carefully focused on him.

“Now for a look at the workshops,” she cried, whisking him through another door and into a large abandoned laboratory full of old pieces of equipment, all untended and rusting.

“This is where we used to invent the sounds,” she said wistfully.

“Do they have to be invented?” asked Milo, who seemed surprised at almost everything she told him. “I thought they just were.”

“No one realizes how much trouble we go through to make them,” she complained. “Why, at one time this shop was crowded and busy from morning to night.”

“But how do you invent a sound?” Milo inquired.

“Oh, that’s very easy,” she said. “First you must decide exactly what the sound looks like, for each sound has its own exact shape and size. Then you make some of them here in the shop, and grind each one three times into an invisible powder, and throw a little of each into the air every time you need it.”

“But I’ve never seen a sound,” Milo insisted.

“You never see them out there,” she said, waving her arm in the general direction of everywhere, “except every once in a while on a very cold morning when they freeze. But in here we see them all the time. Here, let me show you.”

She picked up a padded stick and struck a nearby bass drum six times. Six large woolly, fluffy cotton balls, each about two feet across, rolled silently out onto the floor.

“You see,” she said, putting some of them into a large grinder. “Now listen.” And she took a pinch of the invisible powder and threw it into the air with a “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.”

“Do you know what a handclap looks like?”

Milo shook his head.

“Try it,” she commanded.

He clapped his hands once and a single sheet of clean white paper fluttered to the floor. He tried it three more times and three more sheets of paper did the very same thing. And then he applauded as fast as he could and a great cascade of papers filled the air.

“Isn’t that simple? And it’s the same for all sounds.

If you think about it, you’ll soon know what each one looks like. Take laughter, for instance,” she said, laughing brightly, and a thousand tiny brightly colored bubbles flew into the air and popped noiselessly. “Or speech,” she continued. “Some of it is light and airy, some sharp and pointed, but most of it, I’m afraid, is just heavy and dull.”

“How about music?” asked Milo excitedly.

“Right over here—we weave it on our looms. Symphonies are the large beautiful carpets with all the rhythms and melodies woven in. Concertos are these tapestries, and all the other bolts of cloth are serenades, waltzes, overtures, and rhapsodies. And we also have some of the songs that you often sing,” she cried, holding up a handful of brightly colored handkerchiefs.

She stopped for a moment and said sadly, “We even had one section over there that did nothing but put the sound of the ocean into sea shells. This was once such a happy place.”

“Then why don’t you make sound for everyone now?”

he shouted, so eagerly that the Soundkeeper leaped back in surprise.

“Don’t shout so, young man! If there’s one thing we need more of around here, it’s less noise. Now come with me and I’ll tell you all about it—and put that downimmediately!” Her last remark was directed toward Milo’s efforts to stuff one of the large drumbeats into his back pocket.

They returned quickly to the parlor, and when the Soundkeeper had settled herself in a chair and carefully tuned the radio to a special hour of hush, Milo asked his question once again, in a somewhat lower voice.

“It doesn’t make me happy to hold back the sounds,”

she began softly, “for if we listen to them carefully they can sometimes tell us things far better than words.”

“But if that is so,” asked Milo—and he had no doubt that it was—”shouldn’t you release them?”

“NEVER!” she cried. “They just use them to make horrible noises which are ugly to see and worse to hear.

I leave all that to Dr. Dischord and that awful, awful DYNNE.”

“But some noises are good sounds, aren’t they?” he insisted.

“That may be true,” she replied stubbornly, “but if they won’t make the sounds that I like, they won’t make any.”

“But “ he started to say, and it got no further than that. For while he was about to say that he didn’t think that that was quite fair (a thought to which the obstinate Soundkeeper might not have taken kindly) he suddenly discovered the way he would carry his little sound from the fortress. In the instant between saying the word and before it sailed off into the air he had clamped his lips shut—and the “but” was trapped in his mouth, all made but not spoken.

“Well, I mustn’t keep you all day,” she said impatiently. “Now turn your pockets out so that I can see that you didn’t steal anything and you can be on your way.”

When he had satisfied the Soundkeeper, he nodded his farewell—for it would have been most impractical to say “Thank you” or “Good afternoon”—and raced out the door.

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