Child of the Greenwood
A Maurice fanfic
By Auburn Red
Maurice and Alec belong to the wonderful incomparable E.M. Forster and Merchant-Ivory. I however created Georgie, Lady Coulton-Haynes, Dr. and Mrs. Bird. Since it’s not important which Maurice it is, picture whichever one you want, either book or movie version. Personally, I like both about the same. Alec briefly sings a folk song called “Under Yonder Oaken Tree (Mae Croesawaid Gwraig Y Ty)”
A loud sound broke through the quiet of the woods. Maurice poked his head up listening. “Did you hear that?” he asked. His head had been buried next to his lover. Alec held him as tightly as he always did that Maurice had to fidget to move.
“It weren’t nothin’. Go back to sleep,” Alec mumbled. He had a busy day ahead cutting the wood and gathering it for the fire for winter and selling the pieces in town. He liked his sleep and was a sounder sleeper than Maurice who often was awakened by a strange bird or an odd thought that disturbed his slumber. “Pay it no mind.”
Maurice lowered his body once more trying to fall back into his slumber. The sound again broke into his thoughts. He listened. It sounded almost like a cry or a wail. “There it is again,” Maurice said. “You must have heard it that time.”
Alec yawned and this time his head darted upwards. “What thinking it’s some sort of fairy or apparition are ye? Listening to them tales of the woods, is he?” The wail again resounded this time louder and more impatient. It echoed through the Greenwood that the two men had called home and have lived in perfect exile for the past seven years. Alec awoke this time fully alert. “Sounds like an animal of some sort, a bird perhaps. It could be wounded or somethin’.” He rose from his bed and put on his shirt and trousers. Maurice followed suit. “It’s probably an easy catch. I can catch it, and you can cook it for our supper. For as much good as your horrible cookin’ tries are.”
“You never seem to complain when you eat them,” Maurice glowered catching onto his lover’s jokes as he put on his gray jacket. “In fact the only time that you are ever silent is when you shove my ‘orrible cooking tries into your mouth.”
“Well it’s either that or starvin’. “I’m not sure which would be worse.” Alec quipped and threw back his head with one of his deep laughs and winked in that way that both amused and sometimes irritated his lover when he joked about the opposite of what he really meant just to be cheeky. Maurice knew his lover didn’t mean anything about that and really loved Maurice’s cooking and the way that he took care of the house. It was just his way of getting his Morrie started.
Alec picked up his rifle and opened the door. He was surprised to see Maurice following. “You never hunt with me. What’s the occasion?”
“I’m very curious about it myself,” Maurice replied putting his gray cap onto his golden head. He ran a finger through his hair which had grown down near his shoulders and hung in tangled strands around his head. Unlike Alec, who was starting to grow a bushy dark beard, Maurice decided to remain clean shaven. But his hair hung now spilled like strands of gold placed by a scatter-brained untidy spirit around Maurice’s head. It was one of the few simple touches that Maurice considered symbolic of his new life, the fact that is hair didn’t have to be neatly shorn and slicked back for ridiculous social gatherings and that he could grow it as long or in as much disarray as he liked. Alec shrugged and held open the door.
Maurice and Alec walked into the woods that they had known by sight and sound. The early morning sun was beginning to peek through the clouds. Alec moved forward leaning against trees to get a better listen, keeping his rifle ready. Maurice asked him what he was doing when Alec whispered “shh” at him. “I’m tryin’ to get a listen on where the sound is coming from and I can’t with you yammering like that.” He moved quietly through the trees with Maurice following closely behind. Alec pointed to the edge of the forest near a small stream that had trickled by their cottage. He beckoned Maurice to follow him. They had crept to the edge of the stream where Alec pulled Maurice forward. A strange outcropping of branches and leaves bobbed up and down in the water with something that was unquestionably alive but crying shifting underneath a squirming pile of leaves. Alec peered forward, his rifle poised. “Alright, we gotta be very careful. It don’t sound very big, but that don’t mean it ain’t dangerous. Nothing’s more dangerous than a wounded animal.” He pointed his rifle at the thing when Maurice stayed his lover’s hand.
“Alec wait, it’s not an animal,” Maurice leaned forward and delicately walked across the water his trouser legs getting wet in the process. He smoothed back the leaves and pushed aside the twigs underneath. His thoughts were confirmed when he held up the squirming bundle in his arms. “It’s a baby!” Maurice gasped as he picked up the small frail creature. Alec put down his gun and stood aside. Maurice approached his lover with the baby in his arms. The child’s dark hair was matted and wet by being out in the cold and dirty woods. He was dressed in a blue suit that had grayed from exposure. Little blue veins almost popped from the red face as its shivering owner continued to cry and wail. Maurice held the little lad in his arms feeling as confused as Alec had looked.
The two sat in the cheerful home of Dr. Bird. The elderly doctor and his wife were among the few close friends that the two lovers had in town and they had the distinction of being the only people in town who were aware of Maurice and Alec’s real relationship. Most people just figured that since Maurice and Alec shared the same last name “Scudder” that the two were brothers . If anyone knew, they turned a blind eye and acted like they didn’t know which was fine for the pair. Dr. and Mrs. Bird however did know and said that “any law that would keep apart two fine lads such as yourself is an unjust law indeed,” so they were put in the two’s confidence. Alec often joked that they must have figured it out during the numerous times when Alec would appear before the doctor, his muscles strained or bones broken from a hard day’s work, with a very anxious Maurice hovering over him. (“The way that you fuss over and smother me, they’d have figured that you were either me bed-mate or me ma,” Alec teased).
Dr. Bird examined the infant up and down with his stethoscope and other instruments. Mrs. Bird made “coo-ee” sounds to get the child’s attention as she prepared a baby formula. The child had been bathed and cleaned and was now dressed in a suit that had belonged to the Bird’s grandson.“He’ll be alright, thank God,” the doctor said, his bald head red with the flames from the fireplace. “But he’s badly malnourished no doubt from being out in the woods for who knows how many hours. It was a good thing that you found him when he did. The fragile little thing that he is, he wouldn’t have lasted longer than an hour out there at most.”
Maurice gently touched the downy dark hair on the small child’s head. It felt soft to the touch. “Poor little lad,” he said. The baby had stopped crying and was now staring at his rescuers with wide blue eyes as if sizing them up with his fingers in his mouth. Mrs. Bird gently removed the fingers from the infant’s mouth and put the formula inside. The baby drank contented and peaceful. “How did he get here do you suppose?”
“Well you see when a man lies next to a woman the man produces these sperms you see-“ Alec sardonically replied.
Maurice glared at his companion. “I meant how did he get in the woods?” Neither Alec nor the Birds had an answer.
Mrs. Bird sighed. She was a stout woman with gray hair and a good heart. “No idea, but I’m sure there’s a tragic story behind this one.”
Alec and the doctor nodded. “What do you mean?” Maurice asked confused
Alec looked closely at his lover. “Did you notice that when we picked him up there weren’t no campsites nor fires nearby?” Maurice nodded. “He ain’t the child of gypsies or Travelers. He was left there in the woods by himself.”
Maurice was shocked. “You mean to die? How awful! Who would be so cruel as to do such a thing?”
Alec shrugged and Dr. and Mrs. Bird nodded. “It’s an all too common tale, lad.” The doctor replied. “The mother maybe a servant or a bar maid or some sort.”
Alec nodded. “The father could be one of them upper-class toffs who promise the young lady the moon and she is just about fool enough to believe him. Then after he shacks her up he suddenly don’t want the responsibility of a family with a girl below his standards, so he gives her up.”
“That’s terrible so she has to abandon her child?” Maurice asked. In some ways, this new world was still alien to him and often surprised him. Hearing stories like this reminded him how sheltered that he had once been in his upper middle class previous life where everything was so predictable and he never had to worry about such things as poverty, near starvation, or the consequences of an illicit romance. But then again he never got to experience the joy of watching the sun come up through their beautiful woods or to feel the body of the man of his dreams close to him. Maurice instinctively touched Alec’s hand and Alec squeezed his lover’s hand in return.
“It ain’t always like that,” Alec said. “Sometimes her family will take the young one in or she may marry another more suitable man to pass the baby off as his. But they sometimes can’t have the responsibility of an extra mouth to feed and to be the mother of someone else’s kid can sometimes make her a marked woman for life. So, she just leaves the kid out of sight out of mind.”
“Course nothing happens to the young fancy man,” Mrs. Bird replied smartly. “He gets off with not so much as how do ye do. Still it’s a good thing that you rescued this one when you did.”
Maurice nodded again fingering the small infant. He traced the child’s shape on his arm and then circled the palm of his hand with his fingers. The child wrapped the larger man’s finger in his small digits and moved it up and down. He made a gurgling and burring sound which seemed to indicate that he was pleased with his new situation. He was so small so fragile and just think if they hadn’t heard him hadn’t found him when they did he might have-“Do you know whom he may belong to?”
Dr. and Mrs. Bird shrugged. “Gossip travels. We’ll pass the word around. I’m sure someone might know,” Mrs. Bird replied.
Dr. Bird nodded. “Some of the lads in the pub might have an idea. They might have heard rumors about a baby being born. Perhaps there might be some relations looking for him so that they may take him in. The big question is what’s going to happen to him for the time being. If you like, I and Clara could take him in.”
Mrs. Bird nodded. “Our last one had been grown for about ten years now. We’d be glad to take him off a your hands.”
“Fine by me,” Alec agreed when Maurice held Alec on the shoulder by one hand and the other was still on the baby.
“Well, we found him. It seems only proper that we should look after him uh well that is until his relatives can be located of course,” he stammered.
Alec stared at his lover incredulously. “What? Maur have you completely lost what little sense that you have?” Maurice however scooped up the little boy in his arms and began to rock him gently. A yawn escaped the infant’s mouth as his eyes drooped. Alec continued to object in the strongest terms. ““And just where in the hell is he going to sleep hmm? We ain’t exactly got a bed for him you know.”
“I’m sure that we can think of something and don’t swear in front of the baby,” Maurice countered.
“He’s a baby!” Alec reminded him. “He can’t hear me!”
“Well I’m sure that he can pick up some very nasty habits listening to you,” Maurice replied.
“Pick up some nasty habits? How the hell long do you think we’re going to have him?” Alec said angrily. “Are you even listening to me? Maurice, never! I forbid it! You are not to under any circumstances to fall in love with that baby!” Maurice continued to hold onto the baby and laughed at his lover’s objections. He accepted the formula from Mrs. Bird. She chuckled as she gave him a few other items that they would need such as fresh clothes and nappies and some instructions on how to prepare the formula and other things. Dr. Bird also presented them with a list of medicines and food suggestions for him. He also promised that he would be available for any emergency or to answer any questions that they might have. Maurice overloaded his arms with the items and called over to the still fuming Alec. “While you are over there ranting and raving do you think that you can do something useful and hold him while I take these things?”
Alec sighed but held out his arms as Maurice gently lowered the infant onto Alec’s strong burly arms. “Mind his head,” Mrs. Bird reminded them. Alec cupped his hand open to balance the wee one on the palm of his hand. Surprisingly, the boy slept the whole time. His little chest moved up and down with his breath as his eyes closed. Alec looked at him. He was kind of adorable, he admitted. He sighed. “Until his relatives are found right?” he asked.
“Maurice, you have ‘til the count a’ one to shut that Lil’ Screamer up a ‘fore I throw you both out so’s I can have a good night’s rest,” Alec droned poking his lover on the arm while the screaming and crying child made his complaints known very loudly as he struggled in between the two larger men.
“I did it last time,” Maurice moaned, his head buried in the pillow. “It’s your turn.”
“Oh no,” Alec said. “I was all for the Doc and Wife to take him in, but you said ‘Well we found him. It seems only proper that we should look after him’” He responded imitating Maurice with that “haw my man” voice that he did to get Maurice riled up. Maurice couldn’t argue the truth of that comment so he slowly rose from the bed. He picked up the child and doggedly walked into their sitting room and kitchen.
Maurice laid the child on Alec’s chair to inspect his nappy. He had already changed it but he wasn’t sure how often babies needed to be changed. Well the little one was dry so he deduced that he was hungry. Maurice perched the lad on his hip and walked into the kitchen. He picked up the instructions that Mrs. Bird had written and the items that he needed to prepare the formula. He read carefully as he got the items that he needed and followed. The baby cried in anticipation of his next meal balanced by the crook of Maurice’s arm. He read aloud as he prepared the formula. “Place about a half a cup of powder in the pan-be careful don’t spill! Stir the powder with a spoon about ten or fifteen times or so to make sure that it’s all liquid-thirteen, fourteen, there. Prepare it over the stove in a rolling boil so that it is warm! How long would this take? Almost there. Pour the formula into the bottle. That’s it! Now place the rubber top on the bottle and shut it tight. Is that all? Oh, squirt a small amount on your wrist to make sure that it’s the correct temperature. It seems about right. There! “ He read the final warning. “Make sure that you put the fresh bottle in your icebox otherwise it will spoil.” Maurice glanced over at the small box that he and Alec had bought earlier that year and had to haggle over with the salesman. It was hardly in use except when they wanted to store some of the fresh meat that Alec had hunted. Maurice shrugged. Alec even said that it was a useless contraption, but Maurice insisted after he read that food would stay longer if it were chilled. No time like the present then. He put the bottle up to the baby’s mouth and after a couple of tries of struggling with the child’s mouth being closed, he managed to place the bottle in the infant’s mouth. Maurice then led the child out of the kitchen and into the sitting room. He sank down on his rocking chair rather than risk waking Alec and gently rocked back and forth with the child on his lap as he drank his formula contented. Alec had made the rocking chair for Maurice after the two had moved into their new cottage. It always felt comfortable with the cushions draped around the way that he liked it and the gentle movements. Maurice hummed a few Mozart melodies softly as the little one ate sleepily in the larger man’s arms.
Maurice glanced around the small cottage and inwardly chuckled recalling his first attempts at housekeeping. They were an unmitigated disaster as much as Maurice’s weak attempts at helping Alec with the early wood cutting, hunting, and gardening. Food had constantly burned, fruits and vegetables were improperly canned (It was a wonder that the two didn’t starve to death or acquire some awful disease from the way that Maurice had prepared food the first few days), and floors and windows had suffered more in their attempts at cleanliness than they had at being dirty. He recalled the first time that he had told Alec that he wanted to try taking care of the house. The results were a wet floor filled with suds from an upturned wash tub and mildewed wet clothes strewn about, food that had laid on the floor and on the stove either underdone, overdone, or exploded in trying to make them rise, a kitchen that looked like the bad end of a catastrophe, and a sobbing Maurice sitting on the floor exhausted and bedraggled from the attempt and fearful that Alec would hate him for it. Oh Alec of course, hugged and kissed him and told him that “he loved what he was trying to do “and he had gotten better. While the home wasn’t perfect, (it wasn’t always as spotless as it should be partly because of Alec’s natural tendencies towards slovenliness and sometimes there were a few “horrible cooking tries” still as Alec called them), Maurice certainly had improved. He still helped Alec with the wood cutting and other outdoor chores and took care of the house for him, so things were perfect as far as both were concerned. Maurice sometimes took the time to do some extra book keeping and accounting for some of the local businessmen in town on the side as well. It didn’t pay much, then neither did Alec’s wood cutting , but the two were able to live as well as they could manage and they managed beautifully.
The child made a pleasant sound that indicated that he was finished with his meal. Maurice held the child and strolled into the kitchen to place the bottle in the icebox. He read Mrs. Bird’s instructions about burping an infant once he was done feeding. He turned the little one around and held him near his shoulders. He gave the baby three firm pats on the back. He smiled as the boy gave the sound that he needed. Maurice then cleaned the baby’s face with a cloth. He then returned to the sitting room. “Why don’t we let Alec sleep a little longer hmm?” he rhetorically asked the little thing. The infant cooed with a big smile as if he agreed and Maurice returned to his chair rocking the little one back and forth, back and forth. The baby gave a deep yawn balanced on the blond man’s lap and in his arms and his eyes drooped. Maurice returned the yawn feeling tired as well, but he felt comfortable. So, he decided to remain on the chair a little while longer until he could be sure the baby had fallen asleep.
The next thing that he felt was the sun shining through the eastern window and morning birds singing. He glanced sleepily down at the still slumbering and peaceful infant. He felt warm and realized that the two were covered in a warm blanket that was draped over them sometime during the night while they slept. Maurice smiled and shook his head . He glanced upwards towards the bedroom thinking of the wonderful man who had no doubt bundled the man and child up during the night while they slept.
“Come on Georgie, splash, splash,” Maurice cooed to the child as he bathed him up and down. George playfully slapped his hands in the water as the blond man gently rubbed him with a wet cloth. The water spilled on Maurice’s trouser legs and rolled up sleeves, but he didn’t mind as he bathed the laughing child. Occasionally, Maurice ran his fingers on the small one’s neck and shoulders to tickle him only to cause George to laugh harder. Maurice laughed right along with him.
The door to the main sitting room opened and Alec stepped inside his arms full with some wooden contraption. He laid it down on the floor between his and Maurice’s chair and rocked it on the ground. “So, that’s what you have been making in the workshop,” Maurice smiled remembering the sounds of hammering and cutting that he had heard all morning. He nodded at the cradle as Alec tested the wood.
Alec sniffed contemptuously. “Well, the bed’s too small to fit the three of us. Figure that he can use this.”
Maurice laughed as he removed the small child from the tub and wrapped him in a dry bath towel. The baby laughed almost mimicking his temporary guardian. “Listen Alec,” Maurice said gently. “It’s the first time that he has done that since we found him.” He hugged the baby tightly as he tugged on the tip of Maurice’s golden hair. “Very good. That’s our Georgie.”
Alec smiled. “ ‘Tis nice to see him make some other sound besides that awful shrieking that he does.” He thought for a minute.” Did you just call him Georgie?”
Maurice nodded. “I decided to name him, George. He seems to like it.” George laughed almost in agreement as Maurice rubbed powder on his tiny body.
“Why that one? Fondness for the name?” Alec inquired.
Maurice blushed. “I used to know someone with that name long ago. I didn’t know it then, but he was the first step in a long journey that I have made.”
Alec was puzzled. He never understood it when Maurice got all metaphorical on him. “And you enjoyed this journey?”
Maurice’s face broke into a happy grin. “I have so far.”
Alec felt someone shake him roughly on the shoulder during the night. “Alec wake up,” Maurice said sounding desperate. Alec awoke to see Maurice leaning over him and holding a crying George. “It’s George, I tried feeding him, changing him, but he won’t stop crying! He’s so warm; he’s hot to the touch!” He rocked George and kissed him on the forehead. Maurice was hysterical and crying. “I don’t know what to do. Oh, Alec, I’m so scared!”
Alec rose from his bed and held Maurice and the baby for a minute. “Listen, don’t you worry none. Get dressed and we’ll take him to the Doc. He told us we can see him day or night. “ He embraced the two tightly. “He’ll be alright, Morrie, he’ll be alright.”
The two waited tensely in Doctor Bird’s sitting room, their fingers interlocked. Dr. Bird entered the sitting room dressed in long johns and a bathrobe and holding George. “He has diphtheria. It’s normal usually, but in someone so young and that has already been through so much it could get worse.”
Maurice gasped and put his hand on his mouth. “Oh no! He can’t. We just rescued him and now-“ He couldn’t finish, because he was so overcome. Alec held his lover tightly. “Something has to be done.”
“Now, it will be,” Dr. Bird reassured Maurice. He placed George in his arms and handed them a bottle with a dark liquid. “Give this to him every few hours and watch over him as much as you can. I’m sure he will be just fine, but right now it’s a waiting game.”
For the third night in a row, Maurice watched over George. He held the medicine in the spoon and tried to put it in the baby’s mouth. George sobbed and kept his mouth shut. “It’s alright, Georgie,” Maurice reassured him, his voice strained from the long sleepless nights watching over a sick baby. “I know it tastes awful, but you’ll get better. Please get better, Love.” He begged. Maurice touched the boy’s forehead. He was still hot with the fever. Maurice couldn’t believe this cruel trick that fate could play. How could this child have been rescued from certain death in the woods only to face potential death because of an illness? It just wasn’t fair! Even though he often questioned the possibility of God, Maurice found himself praying to any and all deities to spare the poor baby’s life.
A calloused hand gently touched Maurice on the shoulder. Frayed by the sleepless nights and constant worrying, Maurice jumped in surprise. Alec stood over him. “Let me watch Georgie for the night,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Maurice asked.
Alec knelt down next to his lover and looked at the flushed infant. “You watched over him enough and you need your rest. Worry yourself into a frenzy, you will and you’ll get sick and I don’t want to look after both of you.”
Maurice felt drained but rose from his chair. “Alright,” he kissed Alec on the lips. “You are a wonderful man.”
Alec smiled. “That’s alright then.” Maurice walked upstairs to their bedroom as Alec sat down next to the infant in the cradle. Maurice smiled as he heard Alec say in a soft loving voice. “Alright shut it, you and swallow this up so’s you can get better and let poor Morrie sleep.”
Maurice lay in his and Alec’s bed. He tried to shut his eyes and slip into unconsciousness but the thought of Georgie kept him awake. He left the door open a crack so he could listen. George had still been crying, but now he stopped. What had happened? Was he-? Maurice turned his head to look at the window as morning light began to peer through. Maurice tensed in anticipation as he heard thick heavy footsteps walk up the stairs and heard the door open.
Alec leaned down and touched Maurice’s hand. Maurice turned around to see his lover smiling a wide happy grin. “The fever broke. He cried himself into sleep.” Maurice grinned and laughed hugging his burly dark haired lover. He kissed him full on the mouth. “Now, didn’t I told ya that he would be alright, didn’t I call it, Morrie?”
Maurice walked from the market. His arms were full of groceries, odds, ends, and a few things for Georgie such as a rattle that he had seen in the store. He had also spoke with Dr. Bird about the little one’s improving health. Twilight approached and stars were coming out by the time that Maurice had reached the cottage. He smiled thinking of George. Dr. Bird informed him that they hadn’t yet found out any news about his parentage and now Maurice hoped that they never would. Funny, he never even thought about having or caring for children. When he eloped with Alec, he figured that children would be another inevitable sacrifice to their lifetime of togetherness. He knew under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t even be permitted or even consider any of the options but the unusual circumstances of finding and caring for Georgie were unique indeed. Unhappy union be damned, it almost seemed like fate that he was found. Sometimes Alec would tell Maurice folk stories about fairies and other spirits that roamed the woods of ancient Britain. Maurice could half –believe that George could be one of those beings, left by the fairies or some other divine influence, to bless the two with ultimate happiness. “Our child of the Greenwood,” Maurice said fondly to himself. Somehow with George and Alec, Maurice felt most complete and he wondered if Alec felt the same way about the little lad.
He crept open the front door and saw a most pleasant sight. Alec leaned over George rocking him in the cradle. He was singing softly to George “Oh, where are they a-hiding?/ In what lonely valley hiding?/Come next to me and we shall see/The fairies homewards a-gliding.” Maurice broke into a happy grin and gently closed the door. He sat outside in front of the cottage rather than interrupt the pleasant scene knowing that Alec did feel the same way.
Maurice and Alec sat in their chairs over a warm fire that had been built in the fireplace. George lay in his cradle between the two men. Alec shook the rattle at the baby that giggled at the gift. He reached for the rattle but Alec playfully pulled it away. George reached for the rattle once more and Alec held it away once again. He threw back his head and laughed. Maurice also laughed at the two and rocked in his chair.
“Did I tell you what Dr. Bird told me?” Maurice asked. Alec shrugged. “He has a friend who’s a solicitor in Tunb ridge Wells and he says that while it would be impossible for the two of us to adopt, it is not unheard of for a single man to adopt a child.”
Alec gave the rattle to Georgie and looked at his lover confused. “So how does that help us? One of us takes the kid and the other one leaves, is that what you’re saying?”
Maurice shook his head. “No, on paper one of us would be his adopted father, but we could still both live together and contribute to his raising. In fact I can have a will drawn up in the event of the father on paper’s death then the other automatically becomes his legal guardian.”
Alec cleared his throat and his brow furrowed in skepticism. “You sure that this is something that you want to do, Morrie? It tain’t like just you and me being here. We can hide out and live without anyone knowing well except now the Doc and Mrs. The only one that suffers is the two of us, but with him living here there may be more people involved, other kids, adults. Then the wrong people find out, then there are three people who would be in the shithouse, one of which is too young to understand any of this.”
“No swearing, “ Maurice said absently thinking of Alec’s words. “The Birds haven’t found any other relatives. Chances are if he was abandoned the rest of his family will not be any more receptive. If there is a chance, then we shouldn’t turn our backs on him. We could never have another opportunity to have a child. We would never have been able to even think of it. I know it may be hard, but perhaps there was a reason that he was left here.”
“Sort of a Divine Providence, eh?” Alec jested. “From the person who don’t believe in God or nothin’.”
Maurice shook his head. “I’m not saying that, but maybe we could do some good for him.”
“He may do some good for us too,” Alec said hopefully.
Maurice shrugged. “There is a risk, but I suppose there is a risk for anybody who wants children. Perhaps, if we raise him as perhaps a father and an uncle, maybe no one will know the difference. When he gets older then we can tell him the truth and let him make up his own mind on how he feels. We will deal with the questions as they come but I think that because we love each other then we should also share that love with another.”
Alec chuckled. “Last time I said no to you I was going to get on a boat to the Argentine. “ He thought for a minute. “God, I miss that boat. “ He laughed and George laughed almost imitating him. He smiled at the little one. “I might make a good Da, you know. Teach the Lil’ Mite to fish and hunt good game. He won’t have to worry about taking no orders from horrible little masters who moan about five schillings and are too grand to go to the boathouse when called!” Maurice laughed but felt ashamed at his earlier behavior. He knew that those words still made his lover fume about how low that he was treated when he was a servant. Even though Maurice would have disregarded those mannerisms of the people whom he shared his former class, living outside of that upbringing, he now understood where that anger came from. “And you,” Alec said pointing at his lover. “You would nag and fuss over him so much he wouldn’t even miss having a Ma.” Maurice glared at his lover but he smiled.
“So yes?” Maurice asked.
“Yeah,” Alec said. Maurice grinned and ran up to Alec. He seductively sat on his lap and kissed him on the mouth and down his neck. “What’s that for?” Alec asked.
“You for being so loving,” Maurice kissed him again. “So fatherly.” Again. “So warm.” Again. “So wonderful.” He kissed him full on the mouth. He moved his foot inside the other man’s trouser leg and crossed his legs on Alec’s lap. Alec moved his hands inside his lover’s sweater and felt his stomach. They were about to kiss when George gave out a high wail. Maurice sighed and leaped off his lover’s lap. “I expected that.”
“Maybe we can finish tonight after he’s asleep,” Alec said. “Or after he grows and moves out of the house.” Maurice smiled and picked up the baby to tend to his needs.
The smell of fresh bacon and eggs drove Alec from his sleep. Bleary-eyed, he dragged himself downstairs to see that Maurice was already awake. He was standing over the kitchen table turning pieces of bacon over and stirring a batter. He wore a plain gray colored apron over his clothing and had his hair tied back in a ponytail. Alec knew that his lover was planning on doing quite a bit of housework today. George was also wide –awake. Maurice had moved his cradle into the kitchen so he can watch him while he cooked. The baby waved his arms and tugged at the tip of Maurice’s apron to get his attention. Maurice knelt down and held him by the crook of his arm and balanced him on his hip. Alec smiled and wrapped his arms around the two giving Maurice a big kiss. “Morning, my Morrie,” he said.
“Good morning, Alec,” he said. “Breakfast?”
Alec nodded and kissed George on the top of his head and sat down. The baby held out his arms and laughed. “Ah ah,” he said.
“I think he’s trying to say your name,” Maurice said. “He’s trying to say ‘da da.’”
“Smart little thing he is,” Alec said. “Knows his old man when he sees him he does. Gonna be busy today?” he asked.
Maurice nodded and handed Alec a plate of food. “I was going to do some laundry and it’s about time that the floor got a good scrubbing. Thanks to all of that mud that you track in here, I have forgotten what color the floor is.”
Alec looked down in mock confusion. “We have a floor?”
“So I am told,” Maurice said dryly. “I intend to prove that theory. Also, I am going to see Dr. Bird to talk about that solicitor friend of his.”
“Sounds like you got yourself a busy day ahead,” Alec said. “Now, me I gotta work. Got several people that’ve been wanting their firewood for the winter, a few wooden things to deliver. Probably be out most of the day. You want I should come with you when we talk to the Doc?” Maurice nodded and sat down eating his breakfast and feeding Georgie his formula at the same time. A knock on the door made the two men jump. Alec stood up. “I’ll get that then.”
He walked to the door to see Mrs. Bird standing on the step. Her face was flushed by the chilly weather. “Mrs. Bird,” Alec said. “We was just talking about you and the Doc. We got breakfast on the table want some?” He yelled. “Maurice, set another plate!”
Mrs. Bird shook her head. “No, Alec, thank you kindly but I can’t stay long.”
“Never mind, Morrie!” Alec yelled back.
“I just wanted to let you know that we have found Little Georgie’s family.”
Alec’s face froze. He willed himself to remain calm. “Now did you then?
Mrs. Bird nodded. “Yes, well my second cousin’s sister’s intended’s godmother works at the estate of Lady Coulton-Haynes and her youngest was rumored to be in a family way shortly after her Season in London. Apparently, she didn’t approve of the girl’s suitor and so the young man had left her and she, the girl now, ran to the Continent.”
Alec nodded. “I see,” he said. “Thank you for telling us that.”
“Well there’s more you see after the Coulton-Haynes daughter left, her mother, Her Ladyship d’you see expressed interest in the child. She overheard my second cousin’s sister’s well you know the rest of course, dear, talking about your wee one and she wants to see him to bring him up nice and proper like.”
Alec felt a cold chill as though someone were watching them. He turned around to see Maurice standing by the kitchen door, George in his arms. His stricken face indicated that he heard everything.
Mrs. Bird looked sad. “Oh, I know, you two had your hearts set on it and I’m truly sorry, I truly am. I heard Maurice talking to me Bobbo about it. But, the wee one needs to b raised by his family. His grandmum is probably missing him like and he needs proper care with a mother and father.”
Both Maurice and Alec stared stone faced at each other. Maurice turned to the kitchen. “Oh, I have to get breakfast. I smell it burning.” He retreated to the kitchen with the baby in tow.
“So, would you like us to telegram Her Ladyship to let her know that her grandson is here?” Mrs. Bird asked.
Alec turned to Mrs. Bird. “You won’t tell her nothing about who we are to each other?” The older woman nodded as though that were a silly question. “Then yeah send for her.”
A day later, the Birds reported that they had received a telegram to say that Lady Coulton-Haynes would be arriving on the 15th at noon to come for the child.
Alec came downstairs fully dressed and holding the bridle so he can rig up the horse and cart. He spoke to Maurice, “Hey, Maurice we ought not to take the cradle. We can cut it apart and use it as firewood. Hey are you listening to me? We need to get this over with.” He saw Maurice sitting by the table stirring his tea thoughtfully. Even though he was in the room, his long expression made him seem a million miles away.
“I’m not going, Alec,” Maurice said, his voice cracking. “If you want to get this over with, then you take him because I can’t.”
Alec sighed and sat next to his lover. He put his rough calloused hand on top of Maurice’s pale one. “Morrie, we’ve been over this. We can’t keep him, he don’t belong to us.”
“I know that, but,” Maurice said slowly. “Well Alec, you told me not to fall in love with him and I did. I love him very much and I want to keep him. I’ve wanted to ever since he was ill. When I watched over him, I kept wondering how I would feel if he died Then, I remembered that if his relatives were located, then we would lose him anyway. His family would never have to feel the pain of George dying,but they would never hear his laugh or feel his arms around them. I would and I can’t bear to have that pain of losing himagain.” He buried his head in his hand and cried quietly.
Alec rubbed his lover’s shoulder. “Hey me Ma told me a story about a king, she said it were in the Bible, like. Anyway, these two birds were fighting over a baby. I suppose one was this one bloke’s Mrs., and the other was his bed-mate. Anyway, this king was a real wise bloke, Samuel, I think-“
“-Solomon,” Maurice corrected.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Alec said. “Anyway, Solomon here gets tired of these two biddies shrieking like a couple of banshees so he takes up this big axe and said ‘Listen you, I’m gonna take this here kid by the axe and cut him in half like a larch in winter.’ “
“I don’t think Solomon would have said that,” Maurice corrected. “Larches don’t grow in Jerusalem. “
“Well, I said that he was wise, didn’t I.,” Alec said miffed. “Maybe, he knew about trees in other places alright? Anyway, who’s tellin’ the story? So anyway, one of the lady’s is rather daft ‘cause she said that half a baby is better than none. I don’t know what she were planning on doing with half a baby but the other one she said that she would rather the other lady had him then see that he come to harm.” Maurice was silent and Alec continued holding his lover by both shoulders. “Can’t you see Morrie, that’s exactly what we’re doing? We are giving him to someone else, so he don’t come to any harm. If we were ever caught or arrested for being who we are, then we would have to give George up and we’d lose him anyway. And it wouldn’t be his fault.”
Tears streamed down Maurice’s face. “I know all about that in my head, but my heart. It doesn’t want to let him go.”
“Nor does mine,” Alec said hugging his lover. He pulled away. “Well we’re off. I’ll take him if you like. You want to say good-bye?” Maurice shook his head. Alec left the kitchen to gather George’s things.
“Alec,” Maurice called his lover. “I remember that story about Solomon and the two women. In the end, Solomon gave the baby to the second woman because he realized that because she didn’t want the baby to come to harm, then she was the real mother.”
Alec put the infant on the buck board and hitched up the cart. He threw his things in the back of the cart, where he usually kept the wood and other supplies. Then he leapt up to the seat and gently pulled the reins and clicked to start the horse. He made sure that the horse moved in a slow and steady pace so as not to startle George, but the baby actually smiled and laughed each time the horse kicked a rock causing the cart to bump uncomfortably. Alec smiled thinking that he ought to take Georgie out for a cart ride more often, then his heart sank when he realized that there wouldn’t be another time. He liked driving the horse and cart. It was another way of being close to the nature that he loved so much. He knew that some people bought those motor cars, but he hadn’t the least interest in purchasing one. They were too expensive, besides how could anyone enjoy the peace of the country side if they speed by in those ridiculous contraptions? He continued to drive the cart into town keeping his eyes and mind focused on the road and not on the unpleasant task that he was about to do.
He stopped the cart in front of Mrs. Bird’s home and leapt off. He picked up Georgie who blinked and made a loud sound that indicated that he was upset that the ride was over. However, he didn’t cry. Alec hugged him tighter. “I hope you don’t think that I want to do this, because I don’t.” He said and kissed him on the top of his head. His beard tickled Georgie so the baby laughed. He smiled sadly as he carried him onto the porch and knocked on the door.
Mrs. Bird opened the door wearing a wide but fake polite smile and a very flushed expression. “Just a minute, My Ladyship,” she called into her sitting room. “It’s Mr. Scudder one of the two men that I told you about. I won’t be too long.”
“See that you are not,” said a cultured and imperious voice that sounded to Alec uncomfortably too much like that horrible Mrs. Durham. Mrs. Bird pulled Alec towards the porch and closed the front door. “My Bobbo is out delivering the Peterson baby outside of town and I wish I could be with him right now.”
“Right ol’ cunt is she?” Alec asked feeling very tense already.
“Well I wouldn’t use those words, but yes,” she said. “If you don’t mind, I told her that you and Maurice were brothers.”
“That’s alright, then,” he said. “Maurice is not coming anyway.” She waved him inside as he followed her in the door baby in hand.
“This here is Mr. Scudder, My Lady,” Mrs. Bird. “He is one of the two men who found your grandson.”
“And I presume that the infant that he is holding is the child in question,” Lady Coulton-Haynes said.
Alec bit back a sarcastic response. He may have lived outside of class for the past seven years, but looking at this woman that entire servant training kicked back for him. “Yes he is ma’am,” he said. He walked closer to the woman so she could get a closer look at him. “Want you to hold him, ma’am?” Alec asked.
The noblewoman glared at him upset that he would ask such an impertinent question. “Lucille,” she called to a white-haired woman. Mrs. Bird stood behind her and pointed at the woman and nodded. Alec realized that she was her acquaintance.
Lucille came forward and curtsied. “Yes Your Ladyship,” she said.
“Bring the child closer to me, so that I can examine him,” Lady Coulton-Haynes commanded. Alec handed George to the woman.
As soon as Lucille held him, George’s face scrunched up and he started crying. “He likes to be rocked, George does,” he said. Lucille nodded and began to rock the little one.
“Did you name him George?” Lady Coulton-Haynes inquired. “No doubt named in honor of His Majesty, I presume.” Alec nodded not wanting to reveal the real source of Georgie’s name. Lady Coulton-Haynes examined the child with her opera glasses. The infant continued to sob as the woman peered closer to him. “Well he certainly has the family’s coloring. However, he has the eyes of that father of his! No doubt, he is the one. Very well, Lucille you may take him.” Lucille curtsied and took the child out of the room with an almost relieved expression on her face. Alec stifled a grin remembering the many times that he wore that expression when he was finally away from the wealthy folk.
“Very good, mum,” Alec said. “No doubt that you will raise him right. If you please, ma’am we have some clothes, toys, and the like in my cart that I can give you.”
Lady Coulton-Haynes winced as though Alec had stabbed him. “Those will not be necessary, Mr. Scudder and one does not raise a child, as though he were a plant. One rears a child.”
“Sorry about that ma’am,” Alec apologized. You old sow, he wanted to say.
Lady Coulton-Haynes continued, “Besides, he shall not be reared by myself, he shall be reared in the servant’s quarters and shall commit to his station in his life. He is the child of a servant and a servant he shall remain.”
Alec started confused. “I beg your pardon, but I thought he was your daughter’s son.”
The noblewoman glowered. “My daughter’s indiscretion aside, he is not of our family. Certainly his father is not!”
Alec rolled his eyes. He had a feeling where this was going. “So his father ain’t a Lord of the Manor, then?”
The woman’s gray face reddened but she kept her voice eerily quiet. “Mr. Scudder, I am grateful for the assistance that you and your brother delivered to the child, but do not confuse that with granting you permission to be impudent! My daughter made a foolish decision with a servant of our house. She then became impregnated by the ruffian only to learn that he was married with three other children. After she was isolated and gave birth to the product of this illicit union, I thought that she would come to her senses. Instead, I received a letter that she had left for the Continent to take up with another lover.”
Alec shook his head. Privately he sympathized with her daughter for wanting to leave the old bat behind.“So you are punishing him for his parent’s mistakes. If you don’t want to have nothing to do with him, then why do you want him anyway? Why are you letting him be raised in your house then?”
The Lady glared at the man with a withering glance that made Alec for a second there believe that she could turn him to stone. “I plan to have the child reared, Mr. Scudder, reared, in my home because it is one’s Christian duty to provide for their family regardless of the foolish mistakes provided by their antecedents.”
Alec could hear Georgie still crying from the outside. Suddenly, the rest of the little boy’s life flashed before his eyes. He saw him raised in Lady Coulton-Haynes’ estate as a servant constantly shoved aside, and ordered about. He would be made to work until he dropped, treated like a dog by those around him, and looked at like something that was lower than a rock. Maybe just maybe one day, he may work for an old woman who when he came up for any order wouldn’t remember his name. George, he thought, His name is George and I don’t aim to let him ever forget it. He turned to the old woman determined. “Then my Lady, I suppose it’s one’s Christian duty then to let the child be reared by people who do love him and do want him.”
Maurice sat in his rocking chair glancing at the empty cradle. He didn’t have the heart to destroy it, not yet. Maybe tomorrow, he would. He had begun to slowly recover from the ache of losing George. Well he supposed that he would never miss what he truly never had in the first place. Anyway, if it were just Alec and him, he would always be grateful for that anyway. Maurice’s eyes smarted. Well if he kept telling himself that, he may believe it in a day or two.
The house was so quiet that he could hear Alec’s horse and cart come to a stop. He waited for a few minutes until he could hear Alec’s heavy boot steps come to the doorstep. He also heard another sound, a very familiar wail that was like music to Maurice’s ears. The door opened to see Alec appear George in his arms. He had an impish smile. “We better tell the Doc to talk to that damn solicitor friend of his because I sure as Hell didn’t bring back this Lil’ Screamer for nothing!”
Maurice hugged his lover and kissed both him and the child. He held Georgie in his arms and playfully shoved Alec on the shoulder. “I told you not to swear in front of him!” he teased happy tears flowing down his cheeks.