Chapter Two: Wherein I become the sole guardian and protector of an orphan.
“I am not a pie thief,” said I, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the limited light of the little room. “If anything, I am a procurer of pies to be paid for at a later time, which is to say an eater of pies on account.”
“I don’t judge you,” said the little voice from the dark corner. “After all, am I not incarcerated for the same crime? It may well have been the same pie that I attempted to steal earlier in the evening that you tried to…”
“Check for doneness,” I interrupted.
“For someone who doesn’t judge, you seem quite judgmental to me,” I opined. “And if self control did escape me for a moment, could I be blamed? Here am I, a cold and weary traveler from a far land, cold to the bone and hungry. And there sits a pie, and not just any pie, but a pie for the ages, sitting as if waiting especially for me, on the window ledge.”
“Mistress Gaston is an excellent piesmith.”
“I shall have to take your word for that,” said I, starting to make out the form of a child. “And what is it they call you, lad?”
“I am called Galfrid.”
“Come out of the corner and let me have a look at you.”
“Promise me that you won’t hurt me,” said he.
“All the country knows the name of Eaglethorpe Buxton and it knows that he is not one to harm children or ladies, nor old people or the infirm. Rather he is a friend to those who are in need of a friend and a protector to those who are in need of a protector and a guardian to those who are in need of a guardian.”
“So long as it is not a pie that needs guarding,” said he.
“Pies are something altogether unique. Pies are special, which is to say they are wonderful, but not rare. No, indeed they are common, but that does not make them worthless. Quite the contrary. Life is quite like a pie, at least in-so-much-as a life lived well is like a pie—warm and delicious on the inside with a protective crust on the outside. There are places in the world where pies are worshiped.”
“There is no place in the world where pies are worshipped.”
“That is not worshipped, but revered as one might revere the saints.”
“Far to the east of here, in the city of Bertold, in the land of Holland, they revere pies.”
“No. There is no city of Bertold in Holland and nowhere east of here do they revere pies.”
“You are a saucy child,” said I. “And if they do not revere pies east of here, then I should not like to travel in that direction.”
“So are you implying that you are this Englethorpe Boxcar and that I therefore have nothing to fear from you?”
“Eaglethorpe, with an A instead of an N, and Buxton, with an X and a ton, and yes, I am he and you have nothing to fear. Though to be sure there are plenty who would claim the name of Eaglethorpe Buxton, with and E not an N and an X and a ton, because greatness will ever have its imitators.”
“So you might well be an imposter,” said he.
“You may rest assured that I am not,” said I.
“But if you were an imposter, would you not insist that you were not an imposter?”
“You may be sure that I would.”
“Then how can I trust that you are the real Englethorpe Boxcar?”
“Just look at me!” I exclaimed, throwing my arms out and giving him a good look.
“Swear that you will not harm me,” said he. “And furthermore, swear that you will be my protector and guardian until I can return to my home?”
“How far away do you live?”
“I swear to be your protector and guardian until you reach your home, though it be on the far side of creation,” said I. “Now come closer and let me get the measure of you.”
The lad crept forward until he stepped into a beam of moonlight shining through a space between the boards of the shack wall. He was a slight little ragamuffin, with a build that suggested he had not eaten in some time. He had a dirty face and wool cap pulled down to his eyes. His clothes were dirty and torn, but I immediately noticed that his shoes while dirty, seemed too fine for a ragamuffin such as this. I asked upon them.
“You see, Sir Boxcar, my parents were, um… cobblers… but they died, leaving me a destitute and lonely orphan child. These shoes were the only things they left me.”
“May they rest in peace,” said I, whipping off my cap, which is only proper courtesy to offer, even if one is only offering it to an orphan. “But on to the situation at hand. I see that you are a sturdy boy, despite your condition. Why did you not bust out of this shack? It looks as though it would take no more than a couple of kicks.”
The lad stared at me with his mouth open, obviously chagrined that he had not thought of this means of escape himself. “Yes,” he said at last. “I am a sturdy… boy…. but I think you will find the shack is better built than it looks. It is hammered together with iron nails.”
I turned and leveled a kick at the side wall through which crack I had but a moment before been peering. One of the boards flew off, landing in the snow six or seven feet away and leaving an opening almost big enough for the boy to pass through. I kicked a second board off the side of the structure and I was outside in a jiffy. Turning around, I reached through to aid my companion’s escape.
“Come along, orphan,” said I.