Herio could scarcely take his eyes off the sky long enough to find his stirrup as he thanked Mrs. Gweld for the pie and said his goodbyes. “I wonder if they passed by while I
was inside,” he said once he had Gwynt underway, following Sophie on her unicorn to
“Well, this is it,” she said, hesitating as he doffed his hat and steered Gwynt onto the road.
“She’s pretty,” he thought. He looked back to see her disappear around the corner. “Actually, she’s very pretty. And now that I think about it, she must have been interested
in me. My! Could that be why she came with her unicorn instead of her brothers?” He
gave a deep sigh and resumed combing the heavens.
Suddenly something was fluttering in his ear, giving him a start. “Herio!” chirped Tweet, landing on his shoulder and springing into flight again. “You’ve got to hurry! Hubba Hubba’s been shot and the evil boy’s going to eat him!”
“No! Is he dead?”
“He was alive last I knew, but…”
“Good! Show me. Let’s go Gwynt!”
“It was actually on this very road, just two farms south of here, where he was shot. We have to wait there for either Chirp or Squeak to show up when they find where the boy took him.”
At once, Herio had Gwynt pounding away at a full gallop. Soon his side was cramping from all the bouncing pie.
“Herio! Tweet! Hoy!” came a wee tweet from up ahead.
“Squeak!” chirped Tweet. “Is Hubba Hubba still alive?”
“Hurry! I’ll show you!”
Away they raced, down the road and through the very same fields crossed by Frankin and Hubba Hubba. At last they splashed through the creek and had zigzagged nearly across the orchard. “You’re here!” squeaked Chirp, dropping down from the sky, halting them at once. “See that house through the trees? They took him inside in a game bag, but I think they have him in a box. He’s hurt, Herio. I don’t know how bad. The biggest boy right yonder, see? He beaned him on the head and knocked him right out of the sky. They were going to dress him for supper…”
“And they haven’t yet?” said Herio.
“I don’t think so, ’cause the lady and the boys got to fussing something awful.”
“How do you reckon they’d take my walking up and asking for their supper?”
“Not very well. They’ve been shouting at each other the whole time I’ve been here.”
“Maybe I could offer them some money for Hubba,” he said, glancing away at the house. “They look kind of hard up.”
“They look like they might rob you…” squeaked Chirp.
“Oh surely not, but if it eases your mind, I’ll dump out most of our money in the rotted out place in this old peach tree.” He poured out his coins, put away his bag and threw his leg over Gwynt. “Well, let’s go get Hubba, boys.”
Frankin trotted out several rods to meet them. “You better hold it right there, fellow!” he hollered as he wrapped a stone in the patch of his sling. “We don’t know you at all, so that makes you ones a trespasser…”
“Frankin!” echoed the cry from the house. “How’d you get that sling? You bring it back right now! You hear? And don’t you dare talk to strangers that a-way unless there’s a good reason!”
“I’m right sorry,” said Herio. “I certainly didn’t mean to make you think I was trespassing. I’m just passing through on my way to Castle Goll, but I got separated from my crow…”
“Crow?” said Frankin without so much as glancing back at his mother. “No crow here, fellow, so just turn around. Go!” He swung his rock back and forth like he might fling it around and throw it.
“Frankin! You heard me!” came the cry from the house.
Frankin did not bat an eye nor turn around, but the shouting woman must have had his attention, for suddenly Kink dashed out of the bushes and yanked away the sling.
“You stinking cachu face, Poopkink!” shouted Frankin, grabbing his fingers. “That hurt!”
“We got a crow shut up in the house, mister!” cried Kink, dancing about warily, well out of Frankin’s reach.
“Yea!” cried Dink, running up. “He talks and Mom’s afraid of him!”
“This time you gwrteithiau have really gone and done it!” cried Frankin, going red in the face. “I’m going to pound you…”
“Not while I’m alive!” howled the Mother, grabbing him by the arm. “And you’re done with slings for a good while, buster!”
Frankin tried to wrench free, but she gave him a shake.
“I’m man of the house now that Dad and Alwin’s gone!” he wailed. “You said so!”
“Yea? Well, when you can’t live up to it, then you’re just a little boy, aren’t you? And if that makes you disappointed, kid-o, hit makes me doubly so. Now let’s work you back up to being a man again. You get yourself around back and chop me a proper rick o’ wood!”
“But there’s a whole pile of wood ’round…Aaaah!”
“And there’s a proper red welt acrost the back o’ your leg, too!” she hissed as she got him good with a whistling switch. She watched him scuttle out of sight. When she heard chopping commence, she retied her apron. “Now I’m right sorry for that, young man. He’s turned mean since his daddy was kilt at Ash Fork. Now he didn’t even give you ones the chance to give your name, ‘fore he started in, did he? He’s Frankin, I’m Mrs. Simms and these two be Wilmer and Jake…”
“I’m Herio, ma’am,” he said, thinking to remove his hat.
“Well, we’ve been kind o’ afraid of your bird. We didn’t know what to think. He bit me good every time I tried to get him down, and he was swearing like a sailor…”
“Sounds like Hubba Hubba, all right…”
“That’s his name?”
“And you taught him to curse like that?”
“No, but I’ve learnt a bunch from him…”
“You know, that’s one lie I think I believe,” she said with a laugh as she turned to Kink and Dink. “You ones run inside and bring this nice young fellow his bird.”
They raced to the door and darted inside. Immediately they were back outside again, with the door slammed fast behind them. They looked up at Herio with wide eyes.
“He’s deliberately knocking things off shelves…” said Kink.
“And he said when you get here you’re going to cut off our heads,” said Dink with an uneasy swallow.
Herio put his ear to the door.
“And when he does show up, “cawed Hubba Hubba amidst the crash of dishes, “you all will wish you were far, far, away! He’ll make you pay! He’ll cut off your grubby little fingers! He’ll…!”
“He’ll come and take you with him!” hollered Herio as he threw open the door.
“Herio!” cawed Hubba Hubba, swooping down from some shelves to walk up the front of his shirt as he madly beat his wings. “You did it! You saved me! They were going to eat me!” He flapped his way up onto Herio’s shoulder to drop open his beak and go quite skinny. “You mean you didn’t kill them?”
“Well, no, Hubba, they returned you in one piece… In fact, ma’am?” he said, taking out his purse and dumping out some crowns onto the bench by the door. “This is for your dishes.”
“Why you ones don’t have to…”
“Have you seen how many he broke?”
“Every bloomin’ one I could reach,” rattled Hubba Hubba as he bristled all over. “And ‘one piece,’ I dispute that. Have you seen the knot on my head?”
“Then you’ve gained from the experience,” said Herio, rolling his eyes for Mrs. Simms.
She nodded and herded her boys back towards the house. “Looks like we both got our hands full,” she called with a nod, as she shooed Kink and Dink into the house. “Good luck, you hear?”
“Thank you ma’am, for being good to my bird,” said Herio as he got astride Gwynt with Hubba Hubba gaping aghast and three merrily twittering sparrows. They sauntered back through the orchard, pausing long enough to scrape his crowns out of the rotted out hollow in the old tree.
“‘Good to my bird?’ ‘Good to my bird?’ You think a knot on my very knitty box, big as my eye, is good to your bird? And what righteous damage, may I ask, did you do in order to be good unto them…?”
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps