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Mr. Popper's Penguins
By Richard Atwater, Florence Atwater, Robert Lawson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1938 Richard and Florence Atwater
All rights reserved.
It was an afternoon in late September. In the pleasant little city of Stillwater, Mr. Popper, the house painter, was going home from work.
He was carrying his buckets, his ladders, and his boards so that he had rather a hard time moving along. He was spattered here and there with paint and calcimine, and there were bits of wallpaper clinging to his hair and whiskers, for he was rather an untidy man.
The children looked up from their play to smile at him as he passed, and the housewives, seeing him, said, "Oh dear, there goes Mr. Popper. I must remember to ask John to have the house painted over in the spring."
No one knew what went on inside of Mr. Popper's head, and no one guessed that he would one day be the most famous person in Stillwater.
He was a dreamer. Even when he was busiest smoothing down the paste on the wallpaper, or painting the outside of other people's houses, he would forget what he was doing. Once he had painted three sides of a kitchen green, and the other side yellow. The housewife, instead of being angry and making him do it over, had liked it so well that she had made him leave it that way. And all the other housewives, when they saw it, admired it too, so that pretty soon everybody in Stillwater had two-colored kitchens.
The reason Mr. Popper was so absent-minded was that he was always dreaming about far-away countries. He had never been out of Stillwater. Not that he was unhappy. He had a nice little house of his own, a wife whom he loved dearly, and two children, named Janie and Bill. Still, it would have been nice, he often thought, if he could have seen something of the world before he met Mrs. Popper and settled down. He had never hunted tigers in India, or climbed the peaks of the Himalayas, or dived for pearls in the South Seas. Above all, he had never seen the Poles.
That was what he regretted most of all. He had never seen those great shining white expanses of ice and snow. How he wished that he had been a scientist, instead of a house painter in Stillwater, so that he might have joined some of the great Polar expeditions. Since he could not go, he was always thinking about them.
Whenever he heard that a Polar movie was in town, he was the first person at the ticket-window, and often he sat through three shows. Whenever the town library had a new book about the Arctic or the Antarctic—the North Pole or the South Pole—Mr. Popper was the first to borrow it. Indeed, he had read so much about Polar explorers that he could name all of them and tell you what each had done. He was quite an authority on the subject.
His evenings were the best time of all. Then he could sit down in his little house and read about those cold regions at the top and bottom of the earth. As he read he could take the little globe that Janie and Bill had given him the Christmas before, and search out the exact spot he was reading about.
So now, as he made his way through the streets, he was happy because the day was over, and because it was the end of September.
When he came to the gate of the neat little bungalow at 432 Proudfoot Avenue, he turned in.
"Well, my love," he said, setting down his buckets and ladders and boards, and kissing Mrs. Popper, "the decorating season is over. I have painted all the kitchens in Stillwater; I have papered all the rooms in the new apartment building on Elm Street. There is no more work until spring, when people will want their houses painted."
Mrs. Popper sighed. "I sometimes wish you had the kind of work that lasted all year, instead of just from spring until fall," she said. "It will be very nice to have you at home for a vacation, of course, but it is a little hard to sweep with a man sitting around reading all day."
"I could decorate the house for you."
"No, indeed," said Mrs. Popper firmly. "Last year you painted the bathroom four different times, because you had nothing else to do, and I think that is enough of that. But what worries me is the money. I have saved a little, and I daresay we can get along as we have other winters. No more roast beef, no more ice cream, not even on Sundays."
"Shall we have beans every day?" asked Janie and Bill, coming in from play.
"I'm afraid so," said Mrs. Popper. "Anyway, go wash your hands, for supper. And Papa, put away this litter of paints, because you won't be needing them for quite a while."CHAPTER 2
The Voice in the Air
That evening, when the little Poppers had been put to bed, Mr. and Mrs. Popper settled down for a long, quiet evening. The neat living room at 432 Proudfoot Avenue was much like all the other living rooms in Stillwater, except that the walls were hung with pictures from the National Geographic Magazine. Mrs. Popper picked up her mending, while Mr. Popper collected his pipe, his book, and his globe.
From time to time Mrs. Popper sighed a little as she thought about the long winter ahead. Would there really be enough beans to last, she wondered.
Mr. Popper was not worried, however. As he put on his spectacles, he was quite pleased at the prospect of a whole winter of reading travel books, with no work to interrupt him. He set his little globe beside him and began to read.
"What are you reading?" asked Mrs. Popper.
"I am reading a book called Antarctic Adventures. It is very interesting. It tells all about the different people who have gone to the South Pole and what they have found there."
"Don't you ever get tired of reading about the South Pole?"
"No, I don't. Of course I would much rather go there than read about it. But reading is the next best thing."
"I think it must be very boring down there," said Mrs. Popper. "It sounds very dull and cold, with all that ice and snow."
"Oh, no," answered Mr. Popper. "You wouldn't think it was dull if you had gone with me to see the movies of the Drake Expedition at the Bijou last year."
"Well, I didn't, and I don't think any of us will have any money for movies now," answered Mrs. Popper, a little sharply. She was not at all a disagreeable woman, but she sometimes got rather cross when she was worried about money.
"If you had gone, my love," went on Mr. Popper, "you would have seen how beautiful the Antarctic is. But I think the nicest part of all is the penguins. No wonder all the men on that expedition had such a good time playing with them. They are the funniest birds in the world. They don't fly like other birds. They walk erect like little men. When they get tired of walking they just lie down on their stomachs and slide. It would be very nice to have one for a pet."
"Pets!" said Mrs. Popper. "First it's Bill wanting a dog and then Janie begging for a kitten. Now you and penguins! But I won't have any pets around. They make too much dirt in the house, and I have enough work now, trying to keep this place tidy. To say nothing of what it costs to feed a pet. Anyway, we have the bowl of goldfish."
"Penguins are very intelligent," continued Mr. Popper. "Listen to this, Mamma. It says here that when they want to catch some shrimps, they all crowd over to the edge of an ice bank. Only they don't just jump in, because a sea leopard might be waiting to eat the penguins. So they crowd and push until they manage to shove one penguin off, to see if it's safe. I mean if he doesn't get eaten up, the rest of them know it's safe for them all to jump in."
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Popper in a shocked tone. "They sound to me like pretty heathen birds."
"It's a queer thing," said Mr. Popper, "that all the polar bears live at the North Pole and all the penguins at the South Pole. I should think the penguins would like the North Pole, too, if they only knew how to get there."
At ten o'clock Mrs. Popper yawned and laid down her mending. "Well, you can go on reading about those heathen birds, but I am going to bed. Tomorrow is Thursday, September thirtieth, and I have to go to the first meeting of the Ladies' Aid and Missionary Society."
"September thirtieth!" said Mr. Popper in an excited tone. "You don't mean that tonight is Wednesday, September twenty-ninth?"
"Why, yes, I suppose it is. But what of it?"
Mr. Popper put down his book of Antarctic Adventures and moved hastily to the radio.
"What of it!" he repeated, pushing the switch. "Why, this is the night the Drake Antarctic Expedition is going to start broadcasting."
"That's nothing," said Mrs. Popper. "Just a lot of men at the bottom of the world saying 'Hello, Mamma. Hello, Papa.'"
"Sh!" commanded Mr. Popper, laying his ear close to the radio.
There was a buzz, and then suddenly, from the South Pole, a faint voice floated out into the Popper living room.
"This is Admiral Drake speaking. Hello, Mamma. Hello, Papa. Hello, Mr. Popper."
"Gracious goodness," exclaimed Mrs. Popper. "Did he say 'Papa' or 'Popper'?"
"Hello, Mr. Popper, up there in Stillwater. Thanks for your nice letter about the pictures of our last expedition. Watch for an answer. But not by letter, Mr. Popper. Watch for a surprise. Signing off. Signing off."
"You wrote to Admiral Drake?"
"Yes, I did," Mr. Popper admitted. "I wrote and told him how funny I thought the penguins were."
"Well, I never," said Mrs. Popper, very much impressed.
Mr. Popper picked up his little globe and found the Antarctic. "And to think he spoke to me all the way from there. And he even mentioned my name. Mamma, what do you suppose he means by a surprise?"
"I haven't any idea," answered Mrs. Popper, "but I'm going to bed. I don't want to be late for the Ladies' Aid and Missionary Society meeting tomorrow."CHAPTER 3
Out of the Antarctic
What with the excitement of having the great Admiral Drake speak to him over the radio, and his curiosity about the Admiral's message to him, Mr. Popper did not sleep very well that night. He did not see how he could possibly wait to find out what the Admiral meant. When morning came, he was almost sorry that he had nowhere to go, no houses to paint, no rooms to paper. It would have helped to pass the time.
"Would you like the living room papered over?" he asked Mrs. Popper. "I have quite a lot of Paper Number 88, left over from the Mayor's house."
"I would not," said Mrs. Popper firmly. "The paper on now is plenty good enough. I am going to the first meeting of the Ladies' Aid and Missionary Society today and I don't want any mess around to clean up when I get home."
"Very well, my love," said Mr. Popper meekly, and he settled down with his pipe, his globe, and his book of Antarctic Adventures. But somehow, as he read today, he could not keep his mind on the printed words. His thoughts kept straying away to Admiral Drake. What could he have meant by a surprise for Mr. Popper?
Fortunately for his peace of mind, he did not have so very long to wait. That afternoon, while Mrs. Popper was still away at her meeting, and Janie and Bill had not yet come home from school, there was a loud ring at the front door.
"I suppose it is just the postman. I won't bother to answer it," he said to himself.
The bell rang again, a little louder this time. Grumbling to himself, Mr. Popper went to the door.
It was not the postman who stood there. It was an expressman with the largest box Mr. Popper had ever seen.
"Party by the name of Popper live here?"
"Well, here's a package that's come Air Express all the way from Antarctica. Some journey, I'll say."
Mr. Popper signed the receipt and examined the box. It was covered all over with markings. "UNPACK AT ONCE," said one. "KEEP COOL," said another. He noticed that the box was punched here and there with air holes.
You can imagine that once he had the box inside the house, Mr. Popper lost no time in getting the screw driver, for by this time, of course, he had guessed that it was the surprise from Admiral Drake.
He had succeeded in removing the outer boards and part of the packing, which was a layer of dry ice, when from the depths of the packing case he suddenly heard a faint "Ork." His heart stood still. Surely he had heard that sound before at the Drake Expedition movies. His hands were trembling so that he could scarcely lift off the last of the wrappings.
There was not the slightest doubt about it. It was a penguin.
Mr. Popper was speechless with delight.
But the penguin was not speechless. "Ork," it said again, and this time it held out its flippers and jumped over the packing debris.
It was a stout little fellow about two and a half feet high. Although it was about the size of a small child, it looked much more like a little gentleman, with its smooth white waistcoat in front and its long black tailcoat dragging a little behind. Its eyes were set in two white circles in its black head. It turned its head from one side to the other, as first with one eye and then with the other, it examined Mr. Popper.
Mr. Popper had read that penguins are extremely curious, and he soon found that this was true, for stepping out, the visitor began to inspect the house. Down the hall it went and into the bedrooms, with its strange, pompous little strut. When it, or he—Mr. Popper had already begun to think of it as he—got to the bathroom, it looked around with a pleased expression on its face.
"Perhaps," thought Mr. Popper, "all that white tiling reminds him of the ice and snow at the South Pole. Poor thing, maybe he's thirsty."
Carefully Mr. Popper began to fill the bathtub with cold water. This was a little difficult because the inquisitive bird kept reaching over and trying to bite the faucets with its sharp red beak. Finally, however, he succeeded in getting the tub all filled. Since the penguin kept looking over, Mr. Popper picked it up and dropped it in. The penguin seemed not to mind.
"Anyway, you're not shy," said Mr. Popper. "I guess you've got sort of used to playing around with those explorers at the Pole."
When he thought the penguin had had enough of a bath, he drew out the stopper. He was just wondering what to do next when Janie and Bill burst in from school.
"Papa," they shouted together at the bathroom door. "What is it?"
"It's a South Pole penguin sent to me by Admiral Drake."
"Look!" said Bill. "It's marching."
The delighted penguin was indeed marching. With little pleased nods of his handsome black head he was parading up and down the inside of the bathtub. Sometimes he seemed to be counting the steps it took—six steps for the length, two steps for the width, six steps for the length again, and two more for the width.
"For such a big bird he takes awfully small steps," said Bill.
"And look how his little black coat drags behind. It almost looks as if it were too big for him," said Janie.
But the penguin was tired of marching. This time, when it got to the end of the tub, it decided to jump up the slippery curve. Then it turned, and with outstretched flippers, tobogganed down on its white stomach. They could see that those flippers, which were black on the outside, like the sleeves of a tailcoat, were white underneath.
"Gook! Gook!" said the penguin, trying its new game again and again.
"What's his name, Papa?" asked Janie.
"Gook! Gook!" said the penguin, sliding down once more on his glossy white stomach.
"It sounds something like 'Cook,'" said Mr. Popper. "Why, that's it, of course. We'll call him Cook—Captain Cook."CHAPTER 4
"Call who captain cook?" asked Mrs. Popper, who had come in so quietly that none of them had heard her.
"Why, the penguin," said Mr. Popper. "I was just saying," he went on, as Mrs. Popper sat down suddenly on the floor to recover from her surprise, "that we'd name him after Captain Cook. He was a famous English explorer who lived about the time of the American Revolution. He sailed all over where no one had ever been before. He didn't actually get to the South Pole, of course, but he made a lot of important scientific discoveries about the Antarctic regions. He was a brave man and a kind leader. So I think Captain Cook would be a very suitable name for our penguin here."
"Well, I never!" said Mrs. Popper.
"Gork!" said Captain Cook, suddenly getting lively again. With a flap of his flippers he jumped from the tub to the washstand, and stood there for a minute surveying the floor. Then he jumped down, walked over to Mrs. Popper, and began to peck her ankle.
"Stop him, Papa!" screamed Mrs. Popper, retreating into the hallway with Captain Cook after her, and Mr. Popper and the children following. In the living room she paused. So did Captain Cook, for he was delighted with the room.
Now a penguin may look very strange in a living room, but a living room looks very strange to a penguin. Even Mrs. Popper had to smile as they watched Captain Cook, with the light of curiosity in his excited circular eyes, and his black tailcoat dragging pompously behind his little pinkish feet, strut from one upholstered chair to another, pecking at each to see what it was made of. Then he turned suddenly and marched out to the kitchen.
Excerpted from Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater, Florence Atwater, Robert Lawson. Copyright © 1938 Richard and Florence Atwater. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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