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 ta roomful of people when someone is just 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 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 said to 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."
There you have it, A to Z-ers! Z whole passage laid out before you. If you don't know the answer, don't read the comments. Google it and see if you can figure it out. When you're ready for the spoiler, read the comments and click over to see 17 different book covers for this classic children's book.