Select the desired text size

how_drummer_the woodpecker came_by_his_red_cap.

by Thornton Burgess.
Age Rating 4 to 8.


Press F5 to hear again

Start of Story

Drummer the Woodpecker was beating his long roll on a hollow tree in the Green Forest. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat! Drummer thought it the most beautiful sound in the world. After each long roll he would stop and listen for a reply. You see, sometimes one of his family in another part of the Green Forest, or over in the Old Orchard, would hear him drumming and would hasten to find a hollow tree himself and drum too. Then they would drum back and forth to each other for the longest time, until all the other little people would scold because of the racket and would wish they could stop their ears. But it was music, real music to Drummer and all the members of his family, and Drummer never was happier than when beating his long roll as he was doing now. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat-tat! Suddenly Drummer heard a scratching sound inside the hollow tree. Once more he beat the long roll and the scratching sound grew louder. Then he heard a voice just a little way above him. "Do Ah hear some one knocking?" asked the voice. Drummer looked up. There was Unc' Billy Possum's sharp little face sticking out of his doorway, and Unc' Billy looked very sleepy and very cross and at the same time as if he were trying very hard to be polite and pleasant.

"Hello, Unc' Billy! Is this your house? I didn't know it when I began to drum. I wasn't knocking; I was drumming. I just love to drum," replied Drummer. "Ah reckons yo' do by the noise yo' have been making, but Ah don't like being inside the drum. Ah'm feelin' powerful bad in the haid just now, Brer Drummer, and Ah cert'nly will take it kindly if yo' will find another drum," said Unc' Billy, holding his head in both hands as if he had a terrible headache. Drummer looked disappointed and a little bit hurt, but he is one of the best-natured little people in the Green Forest and always willing to be obliging. "I'm sorry if I have disturbed you, Unc' Billy," he replied promptly. "Of course I won't drum here any longer, if you don't like it. I'll look for another hollow tree, though I don't believe I can find another as good. It is one of the best sounding trees I have ever drummed on. It's simply beautiful!" There was a great deal of regret in his voice, as if it were the hardest work to give up that tree. "Ah'll tell yo' where there's another just as good," replied Unc' Billy. "Yo' see the top of that ol' chestnut-tree way down there in the holler? Well, yo' try that. Ah'm sure yo' will like it."

Drummer thanked Unc' Billy politely and bobbed his red-capped head as he spread his wings and started in the direction of the big chestnut-tree. Unc' Billy grinned as he watched him. Then he slowly and solemnly winked one eye at Peter Rabbit, who had just come along. "What's the joke?" asked Peter. "Ah done just sent Brer Drummer down to the big chestnut-tree to drum," Unc' Billy replied, winking again. "Why, that's Bobby Coon's house!" cried Peter, and then he saw the joke and began to grin too. In a few minutes they heard Drummer's long roll. Then again and again. The third time it broke off right in the middle, and right away a terrible fuss started down at the big chestnut-tree. They could hear Drummer's voice, and it sounded very angry. "Ah reckon Brer Coon was waked up and lost his temper," chuckled Unc' Billy. "It's a bad habit to lose one's temper. Yes, Sah, it cert'nly is a bad habit. Ah reckons Ah better be turning in fo' another nap, Brer Rabbit." With that Unc' Billy disappeared, still chuckling.

Hardly was he out of sight when Peter saw Drummer heading that way, and Drummer looked very much put out about something. He just nodded to Peter and flew straight to Unc' Billy's tree. Then he began to drum. How he did drum! His red-capped head flew back and forth as Peter never had seen it fly before. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat! Drummer hardly paused for breath. There was too much noise for Peter, and he kicked up his heels and started for the Smiling Pool, and all the way there he laughed. "I hope Unc' Billy is enjoying a good nap," he chuckled. "Drummer certainly has turned the joke back on Unc' Billy this time, and I guess it serves him right." He was still laughing when he reached the Smiling Pool. Grandfather Frog watched him until he began to smile too. You know laughter is catching. "Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Peter and held his sides. "What is the joke?" demanded Grandfather Frog in his deepest voice. When Peter could get his breath, he told Grandfather Frog all about the joke on Unc' Billy Possum. "Listen!" said Peter at the end of the story. They both listened. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat! The long roll of Drummer the Woodpecker could be heard clear down to the Smiling Pool, and Peter and Grandfather Frog knew by the sound that it still came from Unc' Billy's house.

"Chug-a-rum! That reminds me," said Grandfather Frog. "Did you ever hear how Drummer came by his red cap?" "No," replied Peter. "How did he?" There was great eagerness in Peter's voice. "Well," said Grandfather Frog, settling himself in a way that Peter knew meant a story, "of course Drummer over there came by his red cap because it was handed down in the family, but of course there's a reason." "Of course," said Peter, quite as if he knew all about it. Grandfather Frog rolled his great, goggly eyes and looked at Peter suspiciously, but Peter looked so innocent and eager that he went on with his story. "Of course, it all happened way back in the days when the world was young." "Of course!" said Peter.

This time Grandfather Frog took no notice. "Drummer's grandfather a thousand times removed was just a plain little black and white bird without the least bit of bright color on him. He didn't have any sweeter voice than Drummer has to-day. Altogether he seemed to his neighbors a no-account little fellow, and they didn't have much to do with him. So Mr. Woodpecker lived pretty much alone. In fact, he lived alone so much that when he found a hollow tree he used to pound on it just to make a noise and keep from being lonesome, and that is how he learned to drum. You see, he hadn't any voice for singing, and so he got in the habit of drumming to keep his spirits up. "Now all the time, right down in his heart, Mr. Woodpecker envied the birds who had handsome coats. He used to wish and wish that he had something bright, if it were no more than a pretty necktie. But he never said anything about it, and no one suspected it but Old Mother Nature, and Mr. Woodpecker didn't know that she knew it. Whenever he got to wishing too much, he would try to forget it by hunting for worms that bored into the trees of the Green Forest and which other birds could not get because they did not have the stout bill and the long tongue Mr. Woodpecker possessed.

"Now it happened that while Old Mother Nature was busy elsewhere, a great number of worms settled in the Green Forest and began to bore into the trees, so that after a while many trees grew sickly and then died. None of the other little people seemed to notice it, or if they did, they said it was none of their business and that Old Mother Nature ought to look out for such things. They shrugged their shoulders and went on playing and having a good time. But Mr. Woodpecker was worried. He loved the Green Forest dearly, and he began to fear that if something wasn't done, there wouldn't be any Green Forest. He said as much to some of his neighbors, but they only laughed at him. The more he thought about it, the more Mr. Woodpecker worried. "'Something must be done,' said he to himself. 'Yes, Sir, something must be done. If Old Mother Nature doesn't come to attend to things pretty soon, it will be too late.' Then he made up his mind that he would do what he could. From early morning until night he hunted worms and dug them out of the trees. He would start at the bottom of a tree and work up, going all over it until he was sure that there wasn't another worm left. Then he would fly to the next tree. He pounded with his bill until his neck ached. He didn't even take time to drum. His neighbors laughed at him at first, but he kept right on working, working, working every hour of the day.

"At last Old Mother Nature appeared very unexpectedly. She went all through the Green Forest, and her sharp eyes saw all that Mr. Woodpecker had done. She didn't say a word to him, but she called all the little people of the Green Forest before her, and when they were all gathered around, she sent for Mr. Woodpecker. She made him sit up on a dead limb of a tall chestnut-tree where all could see him. Then she told just what he had done, and how he had saved the Green Forest, and how great a debt the other little people owed to him. "'And now that you may never forget it,' she concluded, 'I herewith make Mr. Woodpecker the policeman of the trees, and this is his reward to be worn by him and his children forever and ever.' With that she called Mr. Woodpecker down before her and put on his head a beautiful red cap, for she knew how in his heart he had longed to wear something bright. Mr. Woodpecker thanked Old Mother Nature as best he could and then slipped away where he could be alone with his happiness. All the rest of the day the other little people heard him drumming off by himself in the Green Forest and smiled, for they knew that that was the way he was expressing his joy, having no voice to sing. "And that," concluded Grandfather Frog, "is how Drummer whom you know came by his red cap." "Isn't it splendid!" cried Peter Rabbit, and then he and Grandfather Frog both smiled as they heard a long rat-a-tat-tat-tat roll out from the Green Forest.

Back To Top

audio version         text version         Download the audio         download the text