The Skunk That Stunk
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Since it had been such an ordinary day, Bartholemew had no idea that his life was about to change the moment he got home from school. On the kitchen table, next to his glass of milk and gingerbread man, was a strange brown envelope. It was addressed to Bartholemew Wilber Crouch III, Junior. Just as he was about to open it, his mother walked into the kitchen.
“Oh, Bartholemew, the postman came by with this letter this morning, and I am so excited. We haven’t had any mail in soooooo long, you know. It was addressed to you so of course I didn’t look at it, even through a candle, well, maybe just a little you know, but the envelope was too dark, I am sooooooo curious. Please open it right away.”
Bartholemew was curious too, so he opened it quickly, taking care not to damage the delicate letter inside. Bartholemew, being the best speaker in his class (actually he was the best everything in his class) read it out loud. He pronounced every single word the way you munch on your favourite cookie. The letter went:
To: Bartholemew Wilbur Crouch III, Junior
We, the Munchin International School of Europe, invite you to become one of our pupils, starting this fall. Our School principal, Mr. Stricked, has heard that you are a very talented young student. We are delighted to offer you a full scholarship. Our school is located on the beautiful French Riviera, near the city of Cannes. Please let us know whether you might be interested in joining us for our two-year program.
Assistant to Mr. Stricked
Bartholemew did not know what a scholarship meant, but thought it should be something good since it was full and was being offered. He realized that France was a long way from his home in New Jersey, but how many skunks get a chance to see the world?
“I don’t know”, his mother said. “It seems like a good opportunity, but let’s wait for your father to come home, and see what he says, he is so smart you know, just yesterday I was reading about the ancient city of Petra, and he knew exactly where it was and who lived there, he always helps with the crossword puzzle, and I can never beat him at Scrabble, so I’m sure he’ll know whether it’s a good idea or not.
It seemed like years until Father came home. As soon as he came through the door, Bartholemew jumped all over him. Father, who was otherwise known as Bartholemew Wilber Crouch III, Senior, was by nature shy and serious. However, he still enjoyed his children’s hugs and kisses. And, yes, he did seem to know everything.
“A international school is an institution where one learns languages, good manners, and European life”, Father explained. “At first it will be difficult getting used to a whole new country with different food and customs.
“There will be a lot of studies. You may miss your home here, and you might even miss Mother and I. There are very few skunks in Europe, let alone France, and you may find it strange. But if this is what you want to do, we will support you every step of the way.”
The next day at School, Bartholemew discussed the matter with his schoolmates. They all seemed to think that it was a wonderful idea. This was because their teacher, Miss B. Haven, was always comparing them to Bartholemew. Without him around, life might get a little easier for the other skunks in the class.
Bartholemew spent much of the summer vacation preparing himself for his trip to Europe. He found the French Riviera on a map of France, and even tried to learn funny-looking French words such as oui, temps and beau.
Come September, Mom and Dad prepared a big suitcase full of clothes and snacks and took Bartholemew to the bus station. There was lots of crying. Bartholemew kissed his sister Dorothy goodbye, gave a great big hug to his Mom and a brave handshake to his Dad. As he did, his father whispered in his ear “Bartholemew, please look after yourself. You will be in a strange place and unexpected things might happen. You must be extra-careful.”
Before you could say “Jack Robinson” (whoever he was), Bartholemew was aboard the bus for New York. As the bus pulled away, his proud parents dried their eyes and stood there until the bus had become a tiny speck on the horizon. Bartholemew looked back, until he could no longer make out his family. “Have I made a big mistake?” he thought. He was proud that he had not cried when saying goodbye, but now, alone on the bus, he could not help shedding a few tears, which dripped down his face and onto the seat of the bus.
One hour later, Bartholemew arrived in New York and joined several other students on their way to the Munchin international school. He was the only skunk. They took another bus to Kennedy airport, where they boarded an airplane for their trip to Marseilles, France.
On Bartholemew’s right sat Jerome the giraffe, who had also received a scholarship to attend the international school. Jerome agreed with everything Bartholemew said, and didn’t appear to be too clever. Finally, Bartholemew said “I have heard that a Brazilian fisherman recently pulled a fish out of the Amazon who could dance the samba.” Jerome’s immediate response was to ask “The fish or the fisherman?” Bartholemew sat some time in silence, wondering exactly how Jerome had received his scholarship in the first place. He then relaxed for a while and watched a silly film about a dog who learned to play basketball.
On Bartholemew’s left sat Florence the nightingale. Florence was the only pupil on the plane who was really used to flying. Still, as she explained to Bartholemew, she marvelled at how the plane could fly without flapping its wings.
After eight hours, they landed at the airport near Marseilles. They took a bus to the train station, where they were met by an even bigger group of pupils on their way to the Munchin international school. Bartholemew was still the only skunk! At first, he was surprised to see so many pigs from all around the world. There were pigs from Australia, pigs from Brazil, pigs from Chile and pigs from Zimbabwe. Bartholemew felt guilty that bacon had been his favorite food at home and quickly disposed of the slices that his mother had put in his suitcase.
The Munchin international school was out of town, in a large meadow bordering on a forest. There were two buildings: the school building where they spent long hours learning trigonometry, physics and other difficult subjects, and the dormitory, an older building with large rooms and high ceilings. Bartholemew shared his dormitory room with a horse named Ed, and William, a goat whom everyone called Billy.
Mr. Stricked was a principal who had three principles. Both the dormitory building and the school were kept extremely clean as cleanliness was one of the principal’s principles. Bartholemew had no trouble keeping his bed made and cupboards organized. Ed tried his best to keep clean, but kept bringing mud in on his hooves whenever it rained. And Billy the kid would tear his sheets at night. Every morning, the dormitory rooms and the yard were inspected. If a pupil was caught throwing a candy wrapper on the floor, the wrapper was taped to his or her forehead for an entire week. If Mr. Stricked caught someone trying to stick chewing gum under a seat or table, the principal would stick the chewing gum on the pupil’s nose.
Another of the principal’s principles was punctuality. Each Friday morning, the whole school would meet at 7:00 a.m. for a weekly meeting with the principal. Students who came late (even one minute late!) had to write fifty times in their notebooks “Coming late to Muchin School is against the promptness rule”. At the weekly meeting, Mr. Stricked talked and talked. Anyone who dared to even whisper during the lecture was ordered to stand and to pull up his socks. Once Ed the Horse was disciplined in this manner, causing everyone to giggle (he had four long socks to pull up, and had to use his teeth).
The principal’s third principle was good manners. The pupils practiced good manners whenever the teachers or principal were around. “Good morning, teacher, Sir”, they would squeal in unison. However, when left on their own, the pupils preferred bad manners, which required less practice. One of their favorite bad manners was making fun of pupils who were different.
The pupils with the worst manners were the pigs. Although they had come from many different countries, they stuck together. After school they would make fun of everyone else. The pigs wore their own special hats, had their own way of walking, and made up silly rhymes which they chanted as they marched along, such as
“We are the pigs of Munchin,
Invite us to your luncheon.”
The pigs especially liked to make fun of Bartholemew.
“Bartholemew pheww”, said one of the pigs. “Barholemew just smells like poo”, said another. Bartholemew was very insulted. He didn’t think he smelled so bad. In fact, he showered every day. Actually, he thought the pigs themselves were rather smelly, as they never bathed and preferred to wallow in the mud.
After school, Bartholemew would return to his dormitory and keep busy, working on his homework. He would always leave the window open, so that Florence could fly in to visit. Florence told Bartholemew that he should ignore the pigs, but this didn’t help. Despite their bad manners and the way that they teased him, Bartholemew actually envied the pigs. He wished he could hang out with them. He tried to talk like they did. He tried to walk like them. He even asked his parents to send him a baseball cap, so that he would look a little like they did, but when he first put it on the pigs grabbed it and threw it into the Mediterranean Sea. The more Bartholemew tried to imitate the pigs, the more they made fun of him.
“Stay away from Bartholemew or his smell will stick to you”, they squealed, giggling and rolling in the mud.
Bartholemew thought that if he smelled better, the pigs might let him join in. He had a plan. On Saturday (no studies on the weekend!), Bartholemew went into town and spent some time at the local pharmacy. He stocked up on soaps, toothpaste, and deodorant. He even bought a special mouthwash that promised to give him fresh breath for a whole week. He showered twice a day. He brushed his teeth before and after every meal. He changed socks once a day. He tried to use the deodorant, but not having armpits, this presented a problem (he ended up spraying it on his tail).
Florence the nightingale, would tell him “Bartholemew, you are the best-smelling pupil in the whole school” but Bartholemew did not believe her.
One day, after school, Bartholemew took the bus up into the hills to Grasse, the ancient European center of perfume making. “Can you make me smell better, so the pigs won’t make fun of me?”, he asked Dirk, the perfume man. Dirk said, “I have been in the perfume business for many years, and I have made hundreds of perfumes and colognes, but I have never made one for a skunk. I will give it a try. Come back next week.”
When Bartholemew returned, Dirk had a big smile on his face. “I have worked all week to make you a special cologne. I have even thought of a special name for it: “Bartholemuse”. Put a drop of it behind each ear and you will smell well.”
He began to use Dirk’s fragrance. Everyone agreed that he smelled wonderful. But the pigs laughed and made fun of him. “What am I going to do now?” he thought. He cried and wanted to go home.
But then he had an idea. A great idea. A stroke of genius. “Why hadn’t he thought of it before?” he asked himself. “If I want the pigs to like the way I smell, I have to smell more like them!” So he began by eating the pigs’ favourite porridge, hanging around pigsties, and wallowing in the mud. He stopped using Bartholemuse and mouthwash. He even stopped showering! Sure enough, after a few weeks, the pigs began to treat him just a little nicer.
Bartholemew’s friends, Billy the kid, Ed the horse, and Florence the nightingale, were upset and decided to speak to him one night. “Bartholemew”, they said, “what has become of you? You not only have started acting like one of the pigs, but you have even started smelling like one.” But Bartholemew just shrugged.
On the last day of School, the pupils received their report cards (Bartholemew’s was very satisfactory). The pupils travelled together to Marseilles, and then said goodbye. Bartholemew and the other American pupils flew back to New York, where their happy families hugged and kissed them, and took them home for the summer.
The Crouch family had no problem recognizing Bartholemew when he walked out into the Arrivals hall at the airport. But as he approached they began to notice that he had changed. What was so different about him? He spent a lot of time alone in his room, and wouldn’t even touch the bacon that his mother prepared for him to eat. He spoke to his old pals over the phone, but wouldn’t go play baseball with them as he had in the past.
His parents were proud of his report card, but were very worried about the strange changes that had come over him.
When Bartholemew returned to Cannes in September, he made sure to wallow in mud and to roll around the pigsty before entering the dormitory. He was wearing a new baseball cap, which the pigs allowed him to wear.
On Saturday, there were no studies at Munchin School. The pupils could spend time in their dormitories or in the meadows, but they were strictly forbidden from entering the forest. The pigs, however, loved to picnic in the forest on Saturday, whenever the weather was good.
One Saturday, the pigs finally let Bartholemew join them for a picnic in the forest outside the school. They even allowed him to carry their picnic boxes. Bartholemew was as happy as a pig in mud. The weather was fine and the orange colors of the autumn leaves were delightful. The pigs (with Bartholemew a short distance behind) wandered farther into the forest than they had ever been. They were just about to sit down and enjoy their jolly picnic, someone noticed a distant grey-coloured spot moving towards them through the trees. The spot grew larger and larger, and soon it turned into many grey spots, all coming towards them. The pigs, slowly realizing what the spots were, started to panic:
“It’s a pack of wolves!”
“They are coming to eat us!”
“What are we going to do?” they squealed.
Bartholemew had never considered the possibility of being attacked by a pack of wolves. In New Jersey, there were few wolves, and none would dare attack a skunk. But pigs were another story. Wolves love to eat pigs. Bartholemew now smelled very much like a pig, and considered the possibility that they would all be wolfed down for lunch. Including him.
The wolves were drawing closer every second. Bartholemew thought of his Mother, and his beloved home in New Jersey. He thought of his father and remembered the wise words he had told him: “You will be in a strange place and unexpected things might happen. You must be extra-careful.” Bartholemew realized that he had not been careful at all. “Will I ever see my family again?” he wondered. But the wolves were almost upon them, and Bartholemew knew that the time had come to make a decision. Bartholemew could see the wolves’ metallic eyes and sharp teeth. He had no choice.
It happened in a flash. Bartholemew did what any skunk would do. He let out a jet of the worst smelling skunk smell that you could possibly imagine. It paralyzed the wolves. They rolled over and moaned. The smell was so bad that all the trees in the forest immediately lost their leaves. Birds dropped from the sky. The smell was so bad that even the people in faraway Cannes ran into their houses, closed the windows and phoned the mayor. The wolves ran off as fast as they could. Their appetite was gone. How could they even dream of making pigs of themselves with that terrible smell in the air?
On the way back out of the forest, the pigs insisted that Bartholemew walk in front with the pigs behind. They knew that Bartholemew had really saved their bacon. As they marched back, they invented new rhymes for to commemorate their good fortune.
Where would we be without you?
We are the pigs of Munchin,
We almost were the luncheon.
Although the pigs were all grateful to Bartholemew, they begged him not to tell anyone. After all, they had no business being in the forest in the first place.
For a week or so, Bartholemew was treated very kindly by all the pigs at the School. They let him sit right next to them, and didn’t consider repeating the nasty rhymes they used to recite. But ever so slowly, they began to forget that he had saved their lives, and started to recall the terrible smell that he had made. And eventually they began to laugh about it. The odd joke was made, and it wasn’t too long before the pigs were back to their old tricks. They were still polite to Bartholemew whenever they saw him (otherwise, he might spill the beans and tell the Mr. Stricked about their picnic), but behind his back they called him the “skunk that stunk”. Bartholemew got wind of it, and couldn’t believe how unkind they were. He was so upset that he stopped copying their habits and began showering again. He took off his baseball cap. He spent more time with his other friends.
“So what if I’m a skunk?” he began to think to himself. “Without me to save them, those pigs would have been the wolves’ Saturday picnic.
And so, in June, when international school was finished, Bartholemew was quite happy to say goodbye, and fly back to his Mother and Father and sister in New Jersey. His report card was excellent. He had become very polite and courteous. His family immediately noticed that he had begun to smell like himself again. He had learned languages and many subjects in the classroom and even more outside the classroom. He told his family many stories, in fact all the stories except for one.
At home Bartholemew wouldn’t touch the bacon which he had once loved. He was actually quite upset to watch his mother prepare it every morning for breakfast. He could barely sit with his family when it was served. But, with each day that passed, Bartholemew noticed that the smell of the frying bacon bothered him less and less. And then he began to like it. One morning, he just couldn’t help himself. So he helped himself to just one little slice. He tried another. Then another. Then two more. And, he thought to himself as he very politely cleaned his lips with a napkin, it’s really not that bad after all.