OF SMALL BOYS AND POO-POO
Here's the scene, then.
Three refugees (my distant relatives Owongus and Mirumtia, together with Bern, their self-appointed guide, also known as Spider for reasons that may or may not be revealed) were in the dim interior of an old deserted shack (well, it would have been deserted had they not been inside it) and a boy of around ten was staring curiously in, telling them he was an escaped slave and begging their help.
“Who are you, Honky-tonk?” asked Bern, suspiciously.
“Don't call me that! My master calls me that when he's about to thrash me!” dribbled the boy.
“Why would he want to do anything like that?” asked Mirumtia, already subject to a first and threateningly overpowerful surge of maternal feelings when she considered the punishment of innocent small boys.
“Do what?” asked the boy, who, lest I forget to tell you soon, was called Paulinus, which, it turned out, was a name held in deep contempt and hatred in Britannia from where our heroes heralded.
“Thrash you?” said Mirumtia.
“I'm supposed to be refined. I'm really just an ordinary person, Paulinus is the name they gave me at the Big House where I'm supposed to impersonate their dead son.”
“Impersonate their dead son?” echoed Owongus.
“Yes, sir. They had a son and he died. I think they thrashed him to death for playing with his widgy. I would never do that, sir, not ever! Anyway, they bought me off an old trader and told me I was their son Paulinus, and that I must never, ever be myself again, on fear of death.”
“I don't believe you, lad,” leered Bern. “I think you're telling us porkies!”
The boy looked alarmed. “No sir! Not porkies!” he almost shrieked. “I'm telling the truth! Yesterday it all came to a head when my mistress came on me with a birch in her hand and accused me of stealing her necklace, which I would never do, though I know that Poo-poo did. Poo-poo's their dog and he sometimes gets hungry...”
“Poo-poo?” asked Bern. “You mean they're the people who live in the villa right next to the army compound, the people with a wolf they call Poo-poo? I've met them! I actually pinched my kilt from the lady of that particular house, when it was obvious that I looked too much like an escaped slave! I know it was made for ladies, Honky-tonks, but it's really comfortable and I don't look like a slave, do I?”
You look like nothing on Earth, thought Owongus, but he shook his head and told Bern that he looked nothing like an escaped slave.
“I know there was a boy there,” mused Bern.
“I got thrashed when that kilt went missing,” moaned Paulinus. “They made me bleed, they did.”
“They thought you'd stolen a lady's kilt?” asked Mirumtia. “Come here, you poor wee soul! I hate the idea of children being beaten! It should never happen!”
Her maternal instincts started bubbling over as she hugged the boy to her.
“They taught me to talk posh,” said Paulinus. “They made me say my vowels every day, and if I got them wrong they … they … they...”
“I know, they beat you!” muttered Bern.
“How did you know that?” asked Paulinus.
“It just came into my head, Honky-tonk,” grated Bern “The big question is, what are we going to do with the wretched child?”
“Help me...” whimpered the child.
“We could take him back to the big villa...” began Bern.
“Nooo!” shrieked the boy.
“But that would mean us going a great deal too close to a compound full of soldiers, all eager to practice their lance-work on living flesh,” said Bern, thoughtfully.
“Or we could take the poor wee soul with us...” suggested Mirumtia, a flare in her eyes that warned of her rapidly evolving maternal desire to protect the young and defenceless.
“He might be a decoy...” warned Bern.
“He is not!” snapped Mirumtia. “He's a poor, vulnerable and wretched child who needs all the help he can get!”
“Or he's a good little actor who can tell a tall story, Honky-tonk” growled Bern. “Now keep quiet for a minute and let me think.”
“Quiet, Honky-tonk!” hissed Bern.
And then, as they fell to an unnatural silence while Bern ostensibly thought, they heard a voice calling in the distance.
It was faint but every word was clear:
“Paulinus! Paulinus! Where are you, dratted boy! I've got a rod for your back when I catch you, and a coffin to bury you in if I have to call you one more time!”
Inside the shack the boy was shaking.
Bern silently pulled the wooden door shut, indicating that the others should remain still. He wedged it firmly with a stone that must have fallen from the wall sometime in the past.
The voice outside called again, getting slowly fainter:
“Paulinus! Paulinus, you little bastard, where are you? I know what you are, Paulinus! You're a dead boy, that's what you are! A dead, dead, dead boy”
© Peter Rogerson 22.08.12