THE SOLDIER BOY IN BLUE
Granny Bones, elbows sticking out like the legs of a grasshopper, stood on a trestle table in the middle of the market, swirled her skirts so that moths flew out, and coughed loud enough to waken the dead.
“Wanted,” she shrieked, “a soldier boy in blue! Will exchange for an unspoilt milkmaid complete with buckets. Form an orderly queue here!”
An orderly queue of one sprang into existence instantly. A young soldier in a blue uniform stood to attention so close to her that he caught one of her elbows and almost dislodged her from the table she was standing on. A moth landed on his nose and he edged it off with the back of his hand, gently so as not to hurt it.
“Where's the milkmaid?” asked the soldier boy's grizzled grandfather. “Fair exchange is no robbery but the ad says a milkmaid with buckets is involved.”
“She's here,” cooed Granny Bones, and she ushered (from somewhere, exactly where or how was not clear) a milkmaid in a blushing gingham dress and with rosy-red cheeks, beautiful blond hair and a smile to die for and gently pushed her towards the grandfather, who snorted and said she was possibly about right for his purposes.
“Come with me,” Granny Bones said to the soldier boy in blue. “You are off to war, my lad! You are off to battle!”
“I need a gun,” smiled the soldier boy. “I need a gun so that I can shoot my vicious foe!”
“How many vicious foe have you killed before?” asked Granny Bones. “How many cruel enemies have you laid into and wasted?”
He shook his head. “None, ma'am,” he said quietly. “This is my first tour of duty.”
“Then I will give you this gun,” pronounced Granny Bones, and she produced a pop-gun with a cork on a length of string attached to it. “This will suffice! You will march to battle in the Wilderlands, and you will take this gun with you, and when you get there you will shoot whatever you find there! It will be your glorious war! You will sweat but maybe not bleed, and when you return your name will be hailed as mighty and brave and glorious!”
“Yes, ma'am!” saluted the soldier boy in blue, and with no more ado he marched off, snapping “one, two, three four!” in a very military voice. Meanwhile his old grandfather wandered off with the rosy milkmaid, whispering something or nothing into her ear until she laughed out loud and slapped his face and giggled again.
The soldier boy in blue marched for the rest of the day, but when evening came he arrived at what was clearly the Wilderlands for in the very centre of the place was the hugest, most gigantic and wonderful silver creation that he had ever seen, and all around it men and women were pawing the ground and weeping and gnashing their teeth and making loud and woeful entreatings to its shining face.
“My man is dying of the Gumbles,” wept one woman, barely old enough to be the soldier boy's mother, “please, your mightiness, come and heal him of his lurgy, oh mighty Crud! Make him well again so that he can mow the fields with his itsy bitsy scissors and earn a crust for his fifteen childers!”
“The great god Crud works like a charm,” cackled another woman, an older and wiser one, though clearly nowhere near being in the same league as Granny Bones. “Why, he healed my cretin of the palsy only last week! The doctors called every day and said they might help, but the good shining Crud did it! I entreated and wept and prostrated myself, weeping and wailing, and it answered by saving the cretin's life and driving off the palsy!”
“It's a balloon,” marvelled the soldier boy in blue. That's all it is! A gigantic balloon with no more magic to its finger tips than any balloon anywhere, and here are these people believing it will help them! The very truth is I feel sorry for the doctors who labour long and hard and who get all the blame when things go wrong and no praise when their medicine works!”
“Dear silver giant,” moaned a young man with a dreadfully spotty face and dripping with pus, “come and aid me!”
“Just rub it with that ointment I prescribed and your rash will fade,” said a grey-suited man.
“It's kind of you, doc, but I need the intervention of the Mighty Crud!” wept the youth.
“So be it,” drooped the doctor, and he struggled through the crowd, back to his empty surgery.
“This is nonsense!” gasped the soldier boy in blue. “Never have I seen such idiocy, never in all of my days!”
“Crud, mighty Crud, save my baby of the measles,” cried a mother.
“What's wrong with an injection by the doctors?” asked the Soldier Boy.
“The mighty Crud will save him, and maybe if he doesn't it's because my child has sinned,” wept the mother.
“I'll soon put a stop to this nonsense!” gasped the soldier boy.
And he popped the cork on its string into the very barrel of the pop-gun and took the most careful aim at the silver balloon.
Then, face gritted with determination and brow sweating with concentration, he pulled the trigger.
TO BE CONTINUED...
© Peter Rogerson 09.02.13
I wrote a little story in which I created Granny Bones, and someone commented that she'd like to know more about the old woman, and that suggestion inspired my kitchen sink saga. Recent episodes are The Penny Whistler and Many a good tune can be played on on old Kitchen Sink