Gabriel Blow Your Horn

There wasn't any music. There wasn't any star dust. No more rides to heaven. Then Clutey's trumpet spoke . . .

JOHN CLARE January 15 1947

Gabriel Blow Your Horn

There wasn't any music. There wasn't any star dust. No more rides to heaven. Then Clutey's trumpet spoke . . .

JOHN CLARE January 15 1947

Gabriel Blow Your Horn


There wasn't any music. There wasn't any star dust. No more rides to heaven. Then Clutey's trumpet spoke . . .

ONE DAWN, when the boys of the band were walking home after a jam session, Harry Kildonan said that when Clutey Rolfe blew his horn it was like a preview of Gabriel and echo of Joshua all rolled up in one ride to heaven. Of course everyone was still keyed up by the music, and Harry had borrowed freely from the extravagance of the occasion; but it had pleased Clutey to have Harry say that about his trumpet.

And in the years that followed— years as full of ups and downs as the march of the notes through a trumpet passage Harry was always there to say things that helped him. Clutey remembered how' when he was trying to play his kind of music Harry encouraged him, although the rest of the band said there was no place for it in an outfit called Kildonan’s Kavaliers. Harry had always known

how it was with him, known that the music beating in his head had to get out through the bellmouth of his trumpet.

That’s why it was so tough to tell Harry now that he wasn’t going to play any more.

‘‘I don’t get it, Clutey,” Harry said quietly for the tenth time. “I’ve always thought I knew you. I tried to figure your point of view even when you were a kid, fresh with the band. But I don’t get this.”

Harry didn’t have to remind him of the past— the days when Clutey came to the band and first wrapped his hammerlike knuckles around a trumpet and played the fine frightening music that was later to make him famous. Yes, Clutey would never forget how Harry had held out for his music when the rest of the boys said there was no place for it

in the outfit. Harry had seemed to know how it was with Clutey and to understand the offbeat clamor of the music that beat in his skull. He had said, “Play it, kid.”

And Clutey had kept on playing his kind of music, and it was his trumpet that got them their first break. They dropped the phony K’s and picked up a smooth beat, and eventually a spot at the Hotel. They were firm and good when they played, and there was always the Viking fire that spilled from the bellmouth of Clutey’s trumpet.

Clutey liked the Hotel. He liked the kids who came to the Saturday night supper dance. He liked the little cult that grew around his trumpet playing. The band got better and they got better bids. But they had been so long at the Hotel they seemed to belong, and besides the war made them feel as though they should stay. The same kids came to the Saturday night dances, in uniform now. There were requests for the warm old songs, and they would ask Clutey to play.

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come to Clutey, hand in hand, and ask for the old sweet music. It used to get Clutey, those request numbers. It used to be tough playing for youngsters who tried to hold back their tears with love and laughter.

And Harry had known how it was even before Clutey came to him and told him he was going into the Air Force.

Harry had been fine all the time he was overseas. There were long kidding letters about the band and their tours through the camps. Always he told Clutey they were waiting for him. And now Clutey couldn’t help him to understand. How could he tell him something he didn’t quite understand himself? How could he tell him what 35 trips over the Ruhr did to a guy?

“It’s hard to explain, Harry. It’s just that—well, blowing a horn in a dance band doesn’t seem to mean anything any more. There doesn’t seem to be any music left—I haven’t got it any more, Harry.”

“Haven’t got it? Don’t give me that . . .”

“Oh, 1 guess I could still make it come out. But you have to want to play. That’s how it’s always been with me. I’ve always wanted to play a horn. I haven’t got that any more, Harry. I’m going back West, to my dad’s farm. I’m going to work out there for a while—maybe for good.”

Harry got up. “Okay, Clutey. That’s how it is, then. I know it must be tough trying to explain something to a guy who spent the war twiddling a stick in his fingers in front of a dance band. Only this, Clutey. You’ve only been back fora little while. There’re thousands of fellows like you. Never feel sorry for yourself, pal.”

As he shook hands with Harry, Clutey had a sudden impulse to tell him it was all right and he would go back with him. But he fought it back. It was only because he felt badly that his friend was disappointed and puzzled.

Slowly, Clutey began to pack. He felt confused and lonely for the first time in his life. He had always been calm and self-sufficient . . . Maybe it had been the music that had always been pulsing inside him that had given him a secret and satisfying life. Now he felt cut off from everyone he had ever known, because he couldn’t communicate with them in words or even music.

It would be good to get back to the farm and get his hands on the wheel of a tractor and do some hard—brutally hard -work, Clutey told himself as he threw the last of his clothes in a bag.

He looked at his watch. The train didn’t leave for another hour and a half. He would check out and then go for a walk until he felt ready to get on the train and go to bed. At the station he checked his bag and went into the restaurant for a cup of coffee. He had been drinking coffee all day, but he felt tense, the palms of his hands were damp. Maybe another cup of coffee would help him relax.

He watched the cream slowly spin its whorls on the surface of the coffee and thought about what Harry had said. Maybe he really was feeling sorry for himself. Maybe he was dramatizing himself and didn’t know it.

“After all I haven’t been through so much.”

“You haven’t what . . .?”

The voice was slow and deep and the query seemed to fit naturally, without any suggestion of intrusion.

Clutey looked down. A girl was sit-

ting next to him. A girl with brown eyes that were unshy but not bold. She looked at him without letting her gaze drop.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was talking out loud,” said Clutey.

“Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping,” she said.

“If you had been really eavesdropping, you would have heard a guy feeling sorry for himself,” said Clutey.

“That’s my trouble, too. I do it all the time. It gets to be a habit, like chain smoking. You find yourself lighting your thoughts off each other and you drop back into the loveliest welter of self-pity,” she said. The brown eyes were unsmiling, grave now.

Would she have another coffee? She would, and they sat puddling the coffee which neither of them wanted very much.

“Going west or east or one of thé' other directions?” asked Clutey. “West. And you?”

“Yes, I’m going West, to get a job.” “With a band?” asked the girl.

“Do I look like a band musician?” “You look like Clutey Rolfe, the trumpet player.”

HER NAME was Janey Sharpe— Miss Janey Sharpe — and she thought it was a good idea to go for a walk before they got on the train.

“It’s surprising that you should remember. I’ve been away quite a while,” said Clutey as they strolled down the rain-wet street with the high cliff of the Hotel looming on their right.

She looked up at the light-flecked mass of the building. “I used to see you with the band in there on Saturday nights. A long time ago I used to go there with someone I knew —a long time ago.”

They walked in silence for almost a block.

“I’m going to get a job on a farm, not a band, incidentally,” said Clutey. “Isn’t that a !$ttle out of your line?” “I was a good farmer before I was a bad trumpet player. It’s what I want to do.” T¡(e hesitated. Tihen he felt an impulse to tell this girl why he was never going to play again.

“I’m not going to play any more. It doesn’t seem to mean anything any more,” he blurted.

She was silent for a moment. “I’m running away too. I’m running away from the memory of someone I used to know. I know it’s cowardly, and it’s probably foolish, but I’m running away tonight.”

They were walking past the entrance to the Hotel now. At the brightly lit door a taxi stopped and two laughing couples got out,. Clutey touched her arm gently as he steered her through the congestion at the door. Now they were past, once more in the shadow of the big building.

“Big deal—Saturday night,” said Clutey softly.

They walked for some time without speaking before Clutey realized Janey was crying.

He stopped. “Anything I can do— except keep my big mouth shut after this?”

“It’s all rig!¿t. It’s just tf at it’s Saturday night/ I guess. The old selfpity again.” *

They started to walk again. Janes began to talk easily and naturally about a boy named Jake.

“Weboth liktfd to listen to you play. Jake thought your trumpet was the most wonderful sound in the world. We would dance çlowly and listen to it. That’s the way we said good-by— dancing while you played. You have no idea how maùy people said good -’ y that way in the Hotel on Saturday nights.” j

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Janey hesitated. “Let’s walk back to the station. I think I’ll get on the train and go West before I make a fool of myself.”

Clutey stopped and looked at her. Janey wore no hat. Her hair was a blond sheath long on her shoulders.

“Look, Janey, you haven’t made a fool of yourself. A person can be just so tough. If it helps you to talk, go ahead. I listen real good,” said Clutey.

They walked with their hands deep in their topcoat pockets. It rained a little and the drops glistened on Janey’s hair as they walked under the lampposts with their shadows wheeling clumsily around, racing to catch up with them.

Janey talked about the week ends when Jake had come down from Camp Borden. They would go dancing at the Hotel, and the music that came out of Clutey Rolfe’s trumpet somehow caught the desperate rhythm of their love.

“And the last night I asked you to play ‘Star Dust’ for us. No, you wouldn’t remember, there must have been so many. We left after that and Jake went back to the station. That was the last time I ever saw him.”

They were back near the entrance to the Hotel. Janey spoke.

“You’ve been swell listening to me moan. I’ve sort of let myself go tonight. But meeting someone who played ‘Star Dust’ for you—well, it shook me a little, I guess.”

“I’m glad I did play it for you,” said Clutey.

“Clutey . . .?”

“Yes, Janey.”

It came out in a breathless bundle of words.

“I know you’re not playing any more but if there’s any way you could play it for me again . . . Just once more before I go West—I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to, but if you could, somehow . . .”

“C’mon,” said Clutey.

They stopped at the porter’s desk in the Hotel. “Give me that horn, Mac,” said Clutey. He put the black case under his arm and walked swiftly across the lobby with Janey at his heels. No, there was no one in the Waverley Room. It was closed during the summer. Of course it would be all right for Mr. Rolfe to go in.

The tables were stacked and the chairs were piled along the walls. The bandstand was under wraps. Clutey found a light—a single dim light somewhere near the back of the stage, and Janey seemed to melt into the shadows as she went to the edge of the big room.

Clutey’s fingers shook a little as he undid the clasp. He examined the horn like Robinson Crusoe looking at a strange shell on his beach. It had been so long and he had said . . . He almost put it back. It wouldn’t work. The music wasn’t there any more. He was suddenly angry with the girl for asking him. She wanted something that wasn’t there for either of them.

She wanted to soak herself in self-pity before she went away.

There wasn’t any music — there wasn’t any star dust.

Over in the shadows Janey’s hair was a soft glow in the gloom. It would only hurt her if he did play it. And it would serve her right. She wanted to be hurt just once more, did she? All right, he would hurt her.

Then his hands dropped nervelessly and the trumpet hung loosely at his side. What did you do? How did you get music out of one of these things when there was none to put in? He raised the trumpet and looked at it closely. It was like sitting in the Lane at the end of the runway, getting your heart and yoPr guts over the hump so you could start rolling. Some nights it was like that. Only this was tougher.

He closed his eyes and put the trumpet to his lips.

It wasn’t the Hoagy Carmichael song. It wasn’t any song. It wasn’t like anything that ever came out of a trumpet before. There was anger in the opening passage—anger and bitterness as deep and dark as the Jim Crow song of protest against life and man. The music broke in hard chunks like flak. The music lashed and wailed like a slip stream screaming through the torn sides of a stricken bomber. There was sobbing loneliness and pain as the trumpet notes climbed in taut tortured spirals.

There was fear, too, and the fear of fear whimpering like a lost child weeping. And the wild clashing of the high hard notes stopped and the empty room seemed to rock with the shock of them. Then the music came sweet and calm. The notes were pure and cool, like the English countryside looked at dawn to the bomber crews coming home. In it was the flat sweet push of the wind that wiped your face and soul clean as you walked again.

There was a note as fine and clear as a whitethroat in the north bush at evening, and 'the music stopped. Clutey took the trumpet down.

Janey raised Jier head. He walked to where she sat.

“It was like that—when you were away?” she asked.

“Something like that,” he said softly

Their footsteps echoed cjistant as the memory of footsteps as they walked from the big dark room. At the porter’s he gave back his trumpet. “What will I do with it?” the porter asked.

Clutey looked at Janey. Then: “I’ll be picking it up. I’ll be around.”

At the door of the hotel Janey said good-by. “Thanks for helping me to grow up. I was asking for a double helping of sentimental music so I could have a wonderful time feeling sorry for myself. And you gave me . . . well, I had it coming to me. It was very terrible, but very real. Thanks, Clutey Rolfe.”

Then she was gone. She was out of sight before he realized he didn’t know where'to reach her. But he knew they would meet again. She hadn’t gone to the station. ★