Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Sins of the Fathers (Part 1 of 2)

The boy looked to be about twelve, and was small for his age. He wore a blue sailor suit, which had the unfortunate effect of making him look even younger and, sad to say, less masculine. A larger, pudgy boy was administering a beating to the smaller one while three others looked on, cheering the bully.

“Stop it, boys!” I said – sternly, I hoped. I had no experience with children save from a safe distance, and had no idea what they responded to. I aimed for a note of authority in my voice.

The three audience members looked up at the sound of my voice, but the larger boy kept hitting and kicking the smaller as though I had not spoken. Having reached the group, I saw that the victim was Sammy Thraxon, who lived two blocks from me in the Downs. I also recognized the three who preferred to watch rather than participate. The bully was not someone I recalled.

I tried again. “Stop it this instant!” That one worked – eventually. The bully gave two more kicks to his victim, now prone and rolled in a tight ball to protect himself, then backed away. He looked me in the eye. For a moment I thought he might decide he could safely ignore me, and I wondered about the propriety of pulling my Webley on a twelve-year-old. He decided not to push his luck, sneered at me, and ran off, his acolytes close behind.

I walked to the boy, who stayed in his protective ball. He cried softly; it was unclear to me whether this was out of embarrassment or fear that sobs could lead to even greater punishment. I wanted to comfort him, but knew not how. “There, there, he’s gone,” I said, tapping him on the shoulder. The boy – Sammy – flinched at my touch, but eventually decided I was no immediate threat and uncurled.

“It’s Master Sammy, isn’t it?” The boy nodded. “What happened? Were those boys not your friends? Why was the one hitting you?”

He sniffled. “They was my friends, at least Johnny, Mick, and Pete was, but then Enoch come and no one’s my friend any more.”

“Enoch is the larger boy?” He nodded. I sighed. I would have to find Enoch’s parents and fill them in on their son’s activities. “Well, let us get you home.” I set off in the direction of his house, and Sammy trudged dejectedly behind me.


I had been out for a stroll when I encountered the boys, so I had the time to accompany Sammy to the Thraxon house. I had seen boys fight before, and those episodes tended to fall into one of two categories: “friendly” slaps and punches that were designed to establish superiority without inflicting damage, much as two lion cubs might fight; or real fights that ended when one gave up and the other declared victory. What I had just witnessed was different: Enoch continued to kick well after his victim had given up, as though an inner force compelled him to continue to the end. I could not imagine what ran through Enoch’s head to spur him on so.

We reached the Thraxon residence, a handsome cottage with a small but neatly-kept yard. Before I could knock on the door, Sammy was inside, complaining to his mother. Wandering toward the noise of her unhappy offspring, she saw me standing in the open doorway.

Mrs. Thraxon was nearly half a foot shorter than I, and round all over. She wore a tea dress in the style of several years ago, with a stained apron over it. Although she wore her face in an uncertain smile, dark lines of fatigue rimmed her eyes.

“Miss Jameson?” she asked, uncertainty in her voice. I needed to get out more.

“Yes, Mrs. Thraxon.” She invited me inside, and I quickly explained how I came to be there.

Mrs. Thraxon shook her head. “He has always been a little delicate. Mr. Thraxon tried to show him more manly behavior, but I’m afraid my husband gave it up as hopeless.”

“In fairness to the boy, the other lad, Enoch, was much bigger and appeared to be the aggressor. He was uninterested in a fair fight.”

“That Enoch Salinger! Things were bad before, but the Salinger boy made it worse. He’s a rotter, I don’t mind saying, even at his age. He’ll pick a fight with anyone, for any reason – or none at all.”

I made what I hoped were sufficiently sympathetic noises, and asked where the Salingers lived. The answer turned out to be down the hill, into Tamrannoch, near the Sanitarium. Mrs. Thraxon thanked me for escorting Sammy home, we made vague promises of having one another over, and I departed.

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