At that moment, up at the farmhouse, a cow horn went “Whoop-whoop!” across the valley.
“Darn,” said Grimp. “I knew it was getting late, with him doing all that talking! Now they’re calling me to supper.” There were tears of disappointment in his eyes.
“Don’t let it fuss you, Grimp,” Grandma said consolingly. “Just jump up in here a moment and close your eyes.”
Grimp jumped up into the trailer and closed his eyes expectantly.
“Put out your hands,” Grandma’s voice told him.
He put out his hands, and she pushed them together to form a cup.
Then something small and light and furry dropped into them, caught hold of one of Grimp’s thumbs, with tiny, cool fingers, and chittered.
Grimp’s eyes popped open.
“It’s a lortel!” he whispered, overwhelmed.
“It’s for you!” Grandma beamed.
Grimp couldn’t speak. The lortel looked at him from a tiny, black, human face with large blue eyes set in it, wrapped a long, furry tail twice around his wrist, clung to his thumb with its fingers, and grinned and squeaked.
“It’s wonderful!” gasped Grimp. “Can you really teach them to talk?”
“Hello,” said the lortel.
“That’s all it can say so far,” Grandma said. “But if you’re patient with it, it’ll learn more.”
“I’ll be patient,” Grimp promised, dazed. “I saw one at the circus this winter, down the valley at Laggand. They said it could talk, but it never said anything while I was there.”
“Hello!” said the lortel.
“Hello!” gulped Grimp.
The cow horn whoop-whooped again.
“I guess you’d better run along to supper, or they might get mad,” said Grandma.
“I know,” said Grimp. “What does it eat?”
“Bugs and flowers and honey and fruit and eggs, when it’s wild. But you just feed it whatever you eat yourself.”
“Well, good-by,” said Grimp. “And golly—thanks, Grandma.”
He jumped out of the trailer. The lortel climbed out of his hand, ran up his arm, and sat on his shoulder, wrapping its tail around his neck.
“It knows you already,” Grandma said. “It won’t run away.”
Grimp reached up carefully with his other hand and patted the lortel.
“I’ll be back early tomorrow,” he said. “No school . . . They won’t let me out after supper as long as those lights keep coming around.”
The cow horn whooped for the third time, very loudly. This time it meant business.
“Well, good-by,” Grimp repeated hastily. He ran off, the lortel hanging on to his shirt collar and squeaking.
Grandma looked after him and then at the sun, which had just touched the tops of the hills with its lower rim.
“Might as well have some supper myself,” she remarked, apparently to no one in particular. “But after that I’ll have to run out the go-buggy and create a diversion.”
Lying on its armor-plated belly down in the meadow, the pony swung its big head around toward her. Its small yellow eyes blinked questioningly.
“What makes you think a diversion will be required?” its voice asked into her ear. The ability to produce such ventriloquial effects was one of the talents that made the pony well worth its considerable keep to Grandma.
“Weren’t you listening?” she scolded. “That policeman told me the Guardian’s planning to march the village’s defense unit up to the hollow after supper, and start them shooting at the Halpa detector-globes as soon as they show up.”
The pony swore an oath meaningless to anyone who hadn’t been raised on the planet Treebel. It stood up, braced itself, and began pulling its feet out of the mud in a succession of loud, sucking noises.
“I haven’t had an hour’s straight rest since you talked me into tramping around with you eight years ago!” it complained.
“But you’ve certainly been seeing life, like I promised,” Grandma smiled.
The pony slopped in a last, enormous tongueful of wet weeds. “That I have!” it said, with emphasis.
It came chewing up to the road.
“I’ll keep a watch on things while you’re having your supper,” it told her.