A Trunk Call by A. A. Milne

Last Wednesday, being the anniversary of the Wednesday before, Celia gave me a present of a door-knocker. The knocker was in the shape of an elephant’s head (not life-size); and by bumping the animal’s trunk against his chin you could produce a small brass noise.

“It’s for the library,” she explained eagerly. “You’re going to work there this morning, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I shall be very busy,” I said in my busy voice.

“Well, just put it up before you start, and then if I have to interrupt you for anything important, I can knock with it. Do say you love it.”

“It’s a dear, and so are you. Come along, let’s put it up.”

I got a small screw-driver, and with very little loss of blood managed to screw it into the door. Some people are born screwists, some are not. I am one of the nots.

“It’s rather sideways,” said Celia doubtfully.

“Osso erry,” I said.

“What?”

I took my knuckle from my mouth.

“Not so very,” I repeated.

“I wish it had been straight.”

“So do I; but it’s too late now. You have to leave these things very largely to the screw-driver. Besides, elephants often do have their heads sideways; I’ve noticed it at the Zoo.”

“Well, never mind. I think it’s very clever of you to do it at all. Now then, you go in, and I’ll knock and see if you hear.”

I went in and shut the door, Celia remaining outside. After five seconds, having heard nothing, but not wishing to disappoint her, I said, “Come in,” in the voice of one who has been suddenly disturbed by a loud “rat-tat.”

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“I haven’t knocked yet,” said Celia from the other side of the door.

“Why not?”

“I was admiring him. He is jolly. Do come and look at him again.”

I went out and looked at him again. He really gave an air to the library door.

“His face is rather dirty,” said Celia. “I think he wants some brass polish and a–and a bun.”

She ran off to the kitchen. I remained behind with Jumbo and had a little practice. The knock was not altogether convincing, owing to the fact that his chin was too receding for his trunk to get at it properly. I could hear it quite easily on my own side of the door, but I felt rather doubtful whether the sound would penetrate into the room. The natural noise of the elephant–roar, bark, whistle, or whatever it is–I have never heard, but I am told it is very terrible to denizens of the jungle. Jumbo’s cry would not have alarmed an ant.

Celia came back with flannels and things and washed Jumbo’s face.

“There!” she said. “Now his mother would love him again.” Very confidently she propelled his trunk against his chin and added, “Come in.”

“You can hear it quite plainly,” I said quickly.

“It doesn’t re–rever–reverberate–is that the word?” said Celia, “but it’s quite a distinctive noise. I’m sure you’d hear it.”

“I’m sure I should. Let’s try.”

“Not now. I’ll try later on, when you aren’t expecting it. Besides, you must begin your work. Good-bye. Work hard.” She pushed me in and shut the door.

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I began to work.

I work best on the sofa; I think most clearly in what appears to the hasty observer to be an attitude of rest. But I am not sure that Celia really understands this yet. Accordingly, when a knock comes at the door I jump to my feet, ruffle my hair, and stride up and down the room with one hand on my brow. “Come in,” I call impatiently, and Celia finds me absolutely in the throes. If there should chance to be a second knock later on, I make a sprint for the writing-desk, seize pen and paper, upset the ink or not as it happens, and present to any one coming in at the door the most thoroughly engrossed back in London.

But that was in the good old days of knuckle-knocking. On this particular morning I had hardly written more than a couple of thousand words–I mean I had hardly got the cushions at the back of my head comfortably settled when Celia came in.

“Well?” she said eagerly.

I struggled out of the sofa.

“What is it?” I asked sternly.

“Did you hear it all right?”

“I didn’t hear anything.”

“Oh!” she said in great disappointment. “But perhaps you were asleep,” she went on hopefully.

“Certainly not. I was working.”

“Did I interrupt you?”

“You did rather; but it doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, well, I won’t do it again–unless I really have to. Good-bye, and good luck.”

She went out and I returned to my sofa. After an hour or so my mind began to get to work, and I got up and walked slowly up and down the room. The gentle exercise seemed to stimulate me. Seeing my new putter in the corner of the room, I took it up (my brain full of other things) and, dropping a golf ball on the carpet, began to practise. After five or ten minutes, my ideas being now quite clear, I was just about to substitute the pen for the putter when Celia came in.

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“Oh!” she said. “Are–are you busy?”

I turned round from a difficult putt with the club in my hand.

“Very,” I said. “What is it?”

“I don’t want to disturb you if you’re working—-“

“I am.”

“But I just wondered if you–if you liked artichokes.”

I looked at her coldly.

“I will fill in your confession book another time,” I said stiffly, and I sat down with dignity at my desk and dipped the putter in the ink.

“It’s for dinner to-night,” said Celia persuasively. “Do say. Because I don’t want to eat them all by myself.”

I saw that I should have to humour her.

“If it’s a Jerusalem artichoke you mean, yes,” I said; “the other sort, no. J. Arthur Choke I love.”

“Right-o. Sorry for interrupting.” And then as she went to the door, “You did hear Jumbo this time, didn’t you?”

“I believe that’s the only reason you came in for.”

“Well, one of them.”

“Are you coming in again?”

“Don’t know,” she smiled. “Depends if I can think of an excuse.”

“Right,” I said. “In that case—-“

There was nothing else for it; I took up my pen and began to work.

But I have a suggestion to make to Celia. At present, although Jumbo is really mine, she is having all the fun with him. And as long as Jumbo is on the outside of the door there can never rise an occasion when I should want to use him. My idea is that I should unscrew Jumbo and put him on the inside of the door, so that I can knock when I come out.

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And then when Celia wants to come in she will warn me in the old-fashioned way with her knuckles … and I shall have time to do something about it.

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