18: Milo And Francesca- Uncle Barnaby’s Stage- Francesca

Please Go Here for the beginning of the story.

The four of them gathered behind the trellis and watched the street below. In the rain the street looked dark and lonely, and even the street light on the corner didn’t provide enough light to illuminate more than the small portion of the other side of the street. The eave over the balcony protected them from the rain, but it still felt chilly and damp. After the adventure on the rooftops Francesca shivered and wished she were in her apartment wrapped in a blanket. She glanced over at Barnaby, whose back was to her. He always seemed so sure of himself and cheerful, no matter what happened. It made her feel more confident than she would have been on her own.

Shifting her eyes to Jerry, who was standing away from the edge of the balcony with his back against the wall, staring at his feet, she wondered why he had done that get himself into this situation. She couldn’t help gripping tightly the handrail of the balcony, feeling the disgust rise; now, now, she thought, no reason to give in to those feelings.

Pulling her eyes away from Jerry, they rested upon Milo, standing beside her. He was peering intently through the trellis trying to make out what was below on the street. She smiled. She barely knew him, but his earnestness, clearheadedness, and cheerfulness had warmed her to him. She especially liked the way he laughed, a clear, open laugh that didn’t seem to hide other intentions.

Barnaby coughed and indicated with his index finger the street below. All of them leaned into the trellis to look. At first there was nothing, except the shadows and the rain and the wind. Then, from one side of the street a lone figure stepped into view. It was one of the two henchman of that mean-looking gangster. Then, across the street, another figure sidled up near the street light, crouching low in the shadows. The other henchman.

He straightened up and lit a cigarette. The end glowed orange in the dark. From a doorway stepped the leader, his white hair bright in the dimness. He stepped into the middle of the street and stood glaring at the puppet store storefront.

Beside her, Barnaby drew a deep breath.

“Get ready,” he whispered.

The leader of the group raised his right hand and motioned the other two to approach the store. He strode forward straight for the front door of the store.

Barnnaby reached up and yanked on something. There was a loud bang and suddenly the street was flooded with light. Beneath the balcony a metallic crunch issued from the building wall and a red and white striped awning popped out. Followed by that, music. Circus music, like you hear on merry-go-rounds. Then, as if speaking out of the sky, the voice of Winford the Grasshopper.

“Well, well, well, well, well!” he boomed. “What have we here?”

The music played between his words.

“Three mice sneaking into the pantry!”

The two henchman froze where they were. The leader jumped back, brandishing a knife.

“Who’s there?” shouted the leader. “Come out!”

“Come out? Whatever for? This is so entertaining!” spoke Winford.

“What kind of a joke is this?” shouted the leader. “Is that rat Jerry with you?”

“Jerry is safe. I would be thinking more about yourself, if I were you.”

The leader raised his knife and shouted to his henchmen, “In the store! Jerry’s in the store!”

All three dashed forward for the front door, yelling.

At that moment a clock struck somewhere over the city and at the same time something moved in the rooftops. There was another bang and a flash of lights. Swinging like acrobats six shapes swooped down and crashed into the three men. There was a lot of shouting and swinging of fists and confusion. Francesca tried to see through the trellis, but the rain and darkness made it hard to make out. Milo was whooping with joy. Uncle Barnaby was hugging Milo. Jerry was staring in disbelief.

After the confusion had died down Francesca saw what it was they were so happy about: six puppets, Winford included, had swung down and wrapped the three men in webs of strings. The three men were unable to move, though they were snarling and shouting. The six puppets lay prone on the ground.

“Welcome to Barnaby’s Stage of Wonders!” shouted Uncle Barnaby.