Next morning, when it was just barely light enough to see, Mr. Joe heard a knocking at the back door, and a child’s voice.
“Mr. Joe, Mr. Joe. Let me in. It’s me… Jimmy Jake.”
“I know who it is.” Mr. Joe groaned and opened the door. “And what can I do for you so early in the morning?”
“I want to see the hudgeon.”
Mr. Joe put on his bathrobe and slippers and opened the door. JJ came in and tiptoed to the window ledge in the bedroom to peek into the walnut shell.
“Oooooooo,” he sighed. “Isn’t it beautiful?” And indeed it was, breathing lightly--no bigger than the fingernail on Jimmy Jake’s finger, but perfect in every feature.
Putting his finger to his lips, Mr. Joe whispered, “Shh… let’s let it sleep.”
The boy nodded and they quietly left the room.
Mr. Joe began to fix Jimmy Jake’s wagon, whistling as he worked. Suddenly, he looked at the boy. “Didn’t I fix this the other day? And the day before that?”
JJ’s face turned red.
“Guess you did. Guess it just keeps breaking.”
“On purpose maybe?” asked Mr. Joe.
JJ smiled sheepishly. “Guess so.”
“That sure is a lot of trouble for both of us. There must be an easier way. How about I take you on as a helper, if that would be O.K. with your folks.”
Jimmy Jake’s eyes grew big. “Really? You really mean that?”
Then he added, “Aunt Janine and Uncle Nedrick want to go away next week, and they’ve been looking for someone to take care of me. Do you think I could stay here with you?”
His eyes sparkled. “Could I please, could I please? I won’t be any trouble. I promise.”
Mr. Joe couldn’t resist. “All right. I’ll go talk to your aunt and uncle now, and you can stay here and mind the shop.” The boy could hardly keep from jumping up and down with excitement, but he nodded and tried to look grown-up and responsible.
Mr. Joe put down his tools and left. He knew Jimmy Jake’s aunt and uncle, who’d been caring for the boy since the death of his parents. They were nice people who saw to it that Jimmy Jake was fed and clothed and went to church and did his lessons. But they were busy people, very busy people, who had not the time or energy to keep up with an energetic boy. Mr. Joe was sure they would be more than happy to let Jimmy Jake stay with him. And they were. Especially since their trip was going to be a long one.
Meanwhile, when he was sure that Mr. Joe was out of hearing, JJ let out a triumphant yell. He walked around the shop, opening drawers and cupboards to see what was in them and then closing them carefully. He knew that Mr. Joe liked things neat and tidy.
Suddenly, he heard a noise in the house. “Burglars?” he thought. “Not at this time of day.”
Then he remembered. The hudgeon!
JJ dashed up the stairs, through the back door and into the kitchen. Stunned by what he saw there, he let his mouth fall open.
What a total mess! There was flour on the floor, beans on the counters and butter looking like someone or something had been sliding on it. Every drawer and cupboard door was open, with jars overturned and their contents spilling over. Who could have done this?
“Won’t Mr. Joe be mad! Sure hope he doesn’t think I did it.”
The hudgeon? He shook his head... couldn’t be.
But maybe it could. JJ went over to the windowsill in the bedroom and peeked into the walnut shell. There was the hudgeon, sound asleep. He looked closely at the innocent little face and right at the tip of the nose was the tiniest smudge of flour.
JJ heard the back door open and an astonished voice say,“What happened to my clean kitchen? Jimmy Jake, where are you? What have you been doing?”
JJ rushed to the kitchen. “I didn’t do it…honest I didn’t.”
“Then who did?”
He answered his own question. “That hudgeon.”
JJ nodded, and led him by the hand to the bedroom. They both looked down at the little creature’s flour smudged nose. Just then the eyes opened and focused on Jimmy Jake. Dark brown and flecked with gold they were. The boy stared into those eyes and stood silently for a long, long time without moving.
“JJ, are you all right?” asked Mr. Joe.
“She says she’s hungry. That’s what she was doing in the kitchen; looking for food. She didn’t find anything she could eat”
“How do you know? I didn’t hear anything. And how do you know it’s a she?”
“I just know.”
There was deep understanding in JJ’s voice. “We have to find something she can eat.”
So back to the kitchen they went. Mr. Joe cut a tiny slice of bread and poured a thimbleful of milk, and a bottle cap of soup, a baby spoon of ice cream and some Jell-O. JJ took it all to the hudgeon.
“Too crumbly,” she said about the bread. “Too slurpy,” about the soup. The ice cream was too cold and the Jell-O too “shimmy-shaky.” Milk was just plain “blah.”
“Let’s go out in the garden. That’s where we found her bed,” Mr. Joe suggested.
They looked for fruit, but all the trees and bushes were bare.
JJ looked around the yard and headed for the honeysuckle bush and picked a few blossoms. Then he very gently pulled out the center pistil of one of them in such a way that a tiny droplet of nectar formed at the bottom of the blossom. He did this to four blossoms, then, ever so carefully, brought them to the hudgeon.
Mr. Joe followed him and heard a faint, pleased purring of satisfaction and a soft voice saying:
“Oh yes indeed, this suits me fine
I really like this food of mine.”