15: Milo And Francesca- Uncle Barnaby- Francesca

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Francesca nearly burst out laughing when she saw the expression on Milo’s face, but she knew that if she said anything it would spoil the effect. She watched as the huge grasshopper figure sidled across the branch in the shadows above Milo and squatted down to peer at him. Milo backed away on his branch and nearly lost his footing again.

“Careful there now,” said the grasshopper. “Your bones are not any softer than mine.”

Jerry entered the scene and let out a high pitched yelp. There was a snap and suddenly he was falling through the lower branches of the tree and down onto the pavement at the base. He let out a grunt and sat nursing his elbow and behind. “What in the world was that!” he shouted up.

“Oh, do be quiet!” scolded the grasshopper. “Making noise like a police siren!”

Francesca watched Milo carefully measure the steps to the branches below and climb down the trunk. When he reached the ground he looked back up and said in a loud whisper, “I’d like to know what you are, too! I’m not sure I was seeing things correctly.”

“Oh, all right,” said the grasshopper, but with a different, gruffer voice. “Doesn’t anyone have any fun any more these days?”

The grasshopper bobbed up and down unnaturally for a moment then seemed to fall in slow motion to the street. When it touched the pavement its knees seemed to buckle and fold under itself. In a moment it was a pile of wood and clothing lying on the ground. Jerry prodded it with his foot. “A puppet?” he ventured. “I was scared of a stupid puppet?”

There was a rustling from behind the tree and a big, round-bellied man in an old wool sweater, big coke-bottle glasses, and a Irish fisherman’s cap stepped into the open. He was carrying a pair of cross-shaped pieces of wood with many strings running behind him. “That’s right, a puppet,” said the man. He stuck out his hand, to Jerry first. “Name’s Barnaby. Nice to meet you. You one of Francie’s friends?”

Jerry shook his hand, but slunk back when the handshake ended. Barney also reached out to shake Milo’s hand and Milo smiled at the man. “Got me good there, Mr. Barnaby,” said Milo. He laughed. Barnaby laughed with him, looking back at Francesca, winking.

He turned to Francesca and gave her a big bear hug. “So, what’s got my Francie stumbling across the rooftops on a rainy night with two strange boys, hmm?”

Francesca returned the hug and pushed Barnaby back. “No time to talk here on the street, she said. Let’s get inside and get dried off. Then we can talk and decide what to do now. Those guys are probably not far behind.”

Jerry sniggered. “You bet they’re not!” he said. Milo boxed him on the shoulder. “Man, Milo! That hurt!”

Barnaby led them behind the chestnut tree to a small wooden door just barely visible in the shadows. He unlocked the door and ushered them all inside. Francesca was last. “You sure they’re okay?” he whispered. “Yeah, nothing to worry about,” Francesca answered.

Barnaby switched on the light and led them to the other side of the apartment, where the dining room waited with a four-seater dining table. A naked light bulb swung above the table, making all of their shadows dance along the walls. Barneaby shuffled into the kitchen and lit the stove, then placed a kettle full of water on the burner, the metal banging loudly in the quiet room. Francesca opened the kitchen cabinet and took out the jar of black tea leaves. From the cabinet she took out five mugs and placed them on the table. Uncle Barnaby set a jar of honey in the middle of the table.

“Five cups?” said Jerry. “Who’s the fifth person?”

“Why Windford, of course!” exclaimed Barnaby. “Who else?”

“But Windford’s just a puppet!” Jerry said.

“Ah!” said Barney. “That’s where you are wrong, my friend. Winford has a special place at this table.”

Francesca chuckled. “Why don’t you sit down and relax for a little while. We still have a little time, I think.”

They all sat down at the table and waited for the water to boil.

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