"Thank you, Mr. Uselman," Sören said, but not feeling right about it. It didn't seem honorable to earn money for killing birds, not even thievin' crows. Didn't seem right to take money from Mr. Uselman, either. The old man would shoot the birds himself if he could only hold the rifle steady, Far had said to Mor, explaining that Otto Uselmann had the shaking palsy.
"You've done a good job, Sören. Someday, son, when I'm up in Heaven, if the good Lord'll take me, I'll be holding my Winchester with my eye staring down the barrel and bam! I'm gonna get me them crows," Mr. Uselman said, sighing.
Sören smiled politely and said, "I sure hope so, Mr. Uselman."
"Come back in two weeks when I have a fresh round of shot, why don’tcha?"
"Sure will, Mr. Uselman, thanks again!" Sören waved as he walked down the dirt road humming Gåsvihorn, the tune Far had taught him the previous night. A sturdy little polska, Far had said, played slowly enough for new dancers to dance the hambo.
Sören had been allowed to hold Far's nyckelharpa and even try tuning a few of the strings, but he'd had to whistle the tune through his lips last night.
Uncle Sven owned a durspel. Even now, Sören felt breathless remembering the time he'd squeezed the bellows and pressed the keys. Out came a too-loud-for-the-closet sound quickly exposing his secret hide-away at Uncle Sven's place. It was hard to believe Far and Sven were brothers the way each had reacted.
Far had hurried to the closet first. His eyes and lips formed narrow straight lines. He worked his left palm like he was polishing silver. Then big, blond Sven and found them and burst out laughing. “Sören, my son, you’ve ratted yourself out!” Then he’d thumped his brother’s shoulder and said, “Nils, looks like you’ve raised up a replica of yourself, another musician in the family!” Sören was sure music was the only way he resembled his far.
A glint of metal caught Sören's eye. He turned his head just in time to see a black crow swoop down and pluck up a coin, a dime even, and fly away to a tree limb. Once landed, the crow guardedly dropped the coin into a hollowed out cavity at the limb's fork.
It wasn't that high up, Sören mused. If he stretched, maybe he could...no...it certainly was higher up than that. He was still shorter than Mor. Sören looked around. There was nothing nearby that could boost him. He stepped closer to the tree and tentatively put his arms around it.
That wasn't too bad. Maybe he could shimmy up the trunk. His right hand reached up to find a knot, giving him enough purchase to pull upward and hoist a foot off the ground. Then his foot wedged in between two deep grooves of the bark and he heaved himself higher.
Now his right foot was pushing the air, blindly searching for a spot to dig in. Suddenly he found his foot pushed up a whole half-yard. He looked down. There stood Becky Erdmann.
"Heya, Becky!" he grinned. "Thanks for helping me, but don't let me hurt you."
"I'm fine, Sören. Whatcha looking for up there? A bird's nest?" Becky asked.
"I saw a crow drop a coin in a hole up there and I wanted to get it, maybe get lucky and find even more than that," replied Sören. "Whadda ya know! My fingers can touch something!"
Sören's index finger poked around the hole, sending crazy messages to his brain. "I feel something sticky and then something thin and round, like that coin, but no, it's got a hole in...it's a ring! Well, but there's something...ouch!"
"Sören! Did something bite you? What happened? Also, my arms are wearing out, if you don't mind," Becky said.
Sören quickly stretched up just enough to grab a handful of mishmash from the crow's stash of treasures. In doing so, he felt the muscle in his side smart, as if snapped by a rubber band. "Okay, I've grabbed whatever I can. I'm going to drop down. Let go, Becky."
Becky stepped back as Sören let go of his hold on the tree. His entire body plunged downward and he found himself suddenly standing so close to Becky, they might as well have been dancing. They both exclaimed in harmony, "Oh!"
Shyly, Becky shrank back, but then grasped Sören's hand. "Let me look at your hand," she cried.
"I haven't even looked at what I nabbed from the bird," Sören protested with a smile.
"No, I'm not thinking about that, I see you're bleeding," Becky said.
"Oh, that. It's nothing. See?" He held out his finger, surprised to see it was dripping red. "It doesn't even hurt now,” he claimed, but he still wrapped his handkerchief around it. “Let's look at what that bird stole."
"You mean, what you stole from the bird," she chided.
Sheepishly Sören nodded his head. "I guess I stole it, too."
The two classmates examined the contents of Sören's hand. A foil wrapper with a wad of chewed gum, “There’s your ‘something sticky’," said Becky. A lady's brooch with its sharp pin resolved the question of what had stuck him. There was the dime as hoped for, but something much more valuable was underneath it.
Sören carefully picked up the ring. He turned it over and fitted on his pinkie. It just went over the tip.
"This is a small ring," Sören said.
"It's a wedding ring," Becky observed.
"How can you tell?"
"Look at the inside, there's something engraved. It's a woman's ring with a cross etched onto the outside.”
Sören peered at the engraving. "R-R-M" he read. "Do you know anyone with those initials?"
Becky blushed, but shook her head. "What do you think we should do," she said.
Sören liked how Becky had joined him in this adventure. He liked the idea of the two of them solving a mystery together. He tried not to, but he grinned and remarked, “You’re blushing.”
"Oh, it’s just me being silly. It’s nothing. Could the ring belong to Mrs. Mork? Her first name is Rachel," offered Becky.
"I’m not sure I know her, but maybe it's Moen. Do you know Mrs. Ruth Moen?"
"Yes, but Sören, she's, you know, she's not very tiny. This ring is small."
"Let's see how it fits on your finger," suggested Sören.
Becky hid her hands behind her back. "Oh, no. I don't think so."
"C'mon, Becky. Just try it on so we can see how big a person might be who'd wear this ring."
Sören coaxed Becky's arm from around her back. He uncurled her fingers and started to slide the ring on her fourth digit. Becky nearly shouted, "Stop! Let me put it on," her cheeks turning crimson.
To her amazement, the ring, with pressure, slipped over her knuckle and popped into place at the base of her finger. But when she went to remove it, it wouldn't budge.
"Sören, I can't take it off!" she said in alarm.
"Here. Hold your hand over your head. Stick your fingers straight up. Now let me try." Sören worked at the ring. He slowly eased it upward, but when he had pushed it to the first knuckle, it stuck.
"I bet if we used some oil, we'd get it off."
"I don't have any oil."
"No, I don't either. What have you got?"
Becky gave a half-hearted laugh. "Sören, young ladies don't carry stuff around in their pockets. We're not boys, you know."
Sören's eyebrows arched and his eyes widened as he looked at the young woman standing before him, her hand in his. "No, I can see you're not a boy," he breathed. "I know, I've got some soap in my pocket."
"Soap! Well, at least you're clean. Let's rub some of that on my finger."
He dug out the small soap chip that he used to stick a spare fish hook into when he went fishing at Opperman Lake and rubbed the soap on Becky’s finger. With effort, the two of them worked at the ring until at last it flew off. Sören scrambled on his knees immediately so as not to lose it. Shoving it into his pocket, he promised to find the owner. "I'll take it to my far. He'll know what to do. And Becky, ‘fess up, why’d you turn red when we were looking at the initials on the ring…wait a minute. What’s you middle name?”
Becky clamped her mouth together and slowly shook her head, but a smile crept into her eyes. She squeaked out, “Rose.”
Sören laughed, “Ha! That’s it! Rebecca Rose Erdmann…well, that’s not right. The ring’s initials are RRM.” He looked at her bewildered.
Becky looked up at the sky and drew in a huge breath. Finally she said, “Sören, what’s your last name?”
“Markusson. But I still don’t get it.”
Becky stifled an embarrassed giggle and quickly started walking, “Which way are you going?”
After a pause, the puzzled boy said, “I’m headed home. You?”
“To home as well, we can walk together for a block or two.”
Their footsteps fell into a rhythm, each thinking very different thoughts.
Suddenly, Sören burst out, "You know, the church Octoberfest is in two weeks and I've got a dime now, plus another twenty cents at home. We could go to and I'll buy you a glass of root beer. Do you wanna?"
Becky became shy again, “I’ll think about it,” she proffered. “Maybe if we practiced singing a hymn, I'd be able to make up my mind," she teased.
To her surprise, Sören broke out, "For all the saints who from their labors rest, Who thee by faith..." Becky began to sing, too, "...before the world confess, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia! Alleluia!"