The Strange Cousin.
The children's aunt had been watching for the car. She came running out of the old wooden door as soon as she saw it draw up outside. The children liked the look of her at once.
"Welcome to Kirrin!" she cried. "Hallo, all of you! It's lovely to see you. And what big children!"
There were kisses all round, and then the children went into the house. They liked it. It felt old and rather mysterious somehow, and the furniture was old and very beautiful.
"Where's Georgina?" asked Anne, looking around for her unknown cousin.
"Oh, the naughty boy! I told him to wait in the garden for you," said her aunt. "Now he's gone off somewhere. I must tell you, children, you may find George a bit difficult at first - he's always been one on his own, you know, and at first may not like you being here. But you mustn't take any notice of that - he'll be all right in a short time. I was very glad for George's sake that you were able to come. He badly needs other children to play with."
"Our cousin is a boy called George?" asked Anne in surprise. "I thought he was a girl named Georgina."
"So did we, dear," said her aunt. "But George had very definite ideas about that from an early age, and after several appointments with a psychiatrist, it turns out that he has gender dysphoria. That means he's a boy who was born into the body of a girl - so you won't forget and call him the wrong thing, will you?"
The children thought that George sounded very interesting. They wished he would come, but he didn't. Their Uncle Quentin suddenly appeared instead. He was a most extraordinary-looking man, very tall, very dark, and with a rather fierce frown on his wide forehead.
"Hallo, Quentin!" said Daddy. "It's a long time since I've seen you. I hope these three won't disturb you very much in your work."
"Quentin is working on a very difficult book," said Aunt Fanny. "But I've given him a room all to himself on the other side of the house. So I don't expect he will be disturbed."
Their uncle looked at the three children, and nodded to them. The frown didn't come off his face, and they all felt a little scared, and were glad that he was to work in another part of the house.
"Where's George?" he asked in a deep voice.
"Gone off somewhere again," said Aunt Fanny, vexed. "I told him he was to stay here and meet his cousins."
"He wants a good boxing of his ears," said Uncle Quentin. The children couldn't quite make out whether he was joking or not. "Well, children, I hope you have a good time here, and maybe you will knock a little common sense into George!"
There was no room in Kirrin Cottage for Mother and Daddy to stay the night, so after a hurried supper, the left to stay at a hotel in the nearest town. They would drive back to London immediately after breakfast the next day. So they said goodbye to their children that night.
George still hadn't appeared. "I'm sorry we haven't seen Georgina," said Mother. "Just give her our love and tell her we hope she'll enjoy playing with Dick, Julian, and Anne."
Then Mother and Daddy went. The children felt a little bit lonely as they saw the big car disappear round the corner of the road, but Aunt Fanny took them upstairs to show them their bedrooms, and they soon forgot to be sad.
The two boys were to sleep together in a room with slanting ceilings at the top of the house. It had a marvellous view of the bay. The boys were really delighted with it. Anne was to sleep with George in a smaller room, whose windows looked over the moors at the back of the house. But one side window looked over the sea, which pleased Anne very much. It was a nice room, and red roses nodded their heads in at the window.
"I do wish Georgina would come," Anne said to her aunt. "I want to see what she's like."
"Well, he's a funny little boy," said her aunt. "He can be very rude and haughty - but he's kind at heart, very loyal, and absolutely truthful. Once he makes friends with you, he will always be your friend - but he finds it very difficult indeed to make friends because of his transsexualism, which is a great pity. Now do try and remember, dear - George is a boy, not a girl. He may be sharing a room with you, but that's because we need at least one guest room spare, and George is more like you under his clothes, rather than the other boys."
Anne suddenly yawned. The boys frowned at her because they knew what would happen next. And it did!
"Poor Anne! How tired you are! You must all go to bed straight away, and have a good night. Then you will all wake up quite fresh tomorrow," said Aunt Fanny.
"Anne, you are an idiot," said Dick, crossly, when his aunt had gone out of the room. "You know quite well what grown-ups think as soon as we yawn. I did want to go to the beach for a while."
"I'm so sorry," said Anne. "Anyway, you're yawning now, Dick - and Julian too!"
So they were. They were as sleepy as could be with their long drive. Secretly, all of them longed to cuddle down into bed and shut their eyes.
"I wonder where Georgina is," said Anne when she said goodnight to the boys and went to her own room. "Isn't she odd - not wanting to welcome us - and not coming in to supper - and not even in yet! After all, she's sleeping in my room - goodness knows what time she'll be in!"
All the three children were fast asleep before George came up to bed! They didn't hear him open Anne's door. They didn't hear him get undressed and clean his teeth. They didn't hear the creak of his bed as he got into it. They were so tired that they heard nothing at all until the sun awoke them in the morning.
✱ ✱ ✱
When Anne awoke, she couldn't at first think where she was. She lay in her little bed and looked up at the slanting ceiling, and at the red roses that nodded in at the open window - and suddenly remembered all in a rush where she was! "I'm at Kirrin Bay - and it's the holidays!" she said to herself, and screwed up her legs with joy.
Then she looked across at the other bed. In it lay the figure of another child, curled up under the bedclothes. Anne could just see the top of a curly head, and that was all. When the figure stirred a little, Anne spoke.
"I say! Are you Georgina?"
The child in the opposite bed sat up and looked across at Anne. He had very short curly hair, just slightly longer than other boys wore it. His face was burnt a dark brown with the sun and his very blue eyes looked as bright as forget-me-nots in his face, but his mouth was rather sulky and he had a frown like his father's.
"No," he said. "I'm not Georgina."
"Oh!" said Anne in surprise. "Then who are you?"
"I'm George," said the transsexual boy. "I shall only answer if you call me George. I'm not a girl, and I never have been. My parents tried to make me be one when I was small by putting me in dresses and giving me dolls, and they never succeeded. So what makes you think you will just by calling me one? I shan't speak to you if you call me Georgina or a girl. How would you like it to be called a boy?"
"Oh!" said Anne, thinking that her cousin was most extraordinary. "All right! I don't care what I call you. George is a nice name for you, I think. It suits you much better than Georgina does. But how extraordinary to think you're a boy so much that even a psychiatrist agrees with you!"
"I don't think I'm a boy," said George, coldly. "I am a boy. It's simply that my body is malformed so it looks like that of a girl, and would one day develop into a woman's if it wasn't for my treatment."
"What treatment's that?" Anne asked, curiously.
"I'm on medicine to halt certain developments, then when I'm old enough, I'll have hormones and operations to correct my body fully so I can finally feel normal," George replied.
"Oh, well you certainly look like any other boy I've known, even if your hair is a bit too long."
"Yes, isn't it?" sighed George. "It's growing out, and Mother's trying to put off cutting it until it's as long as it used to be. I think she and Father are still holding out for the little girl they thought she'd given birth to. They were so upset when I had it cut the first time, said it was a dreadful waste of my pocket money, but I didn't care."
"So why don't you use your pocket money to pay for it to be cut again?"
"Because I have more important things to spend it on these days." George wouldn't elaborate further, no matter how much Anne pushed him to.
The two stared at each other for a moment, then George asked, "Haven't you ever felt like you're not the girl other people expect you to be?"
"No, of course not," said Anne. "You see - I do like pretty frocks - and I love my dolls - and you can't do that if you're a boy."
"Pooh! Fancy liking dolls!" said George, in a scornful voice. "Well, I know what games I shall play with them if you ever expect me to go anywhere near them, that's all I can say!"
Anne felt offended and upset. "You're not very polite," she said. "You won't find that my brothers take much notice of you if you act like you know everything. They're real boys, not pretend boys like you!"
"Well, if they're going to be nasty to me, I shan't take any notice of them," said George, jumping out of bed. "I didn't want any of you to come, anyway. Interfering with my life here! I'm quite happy on my own. Now I'm forced to share my room with a girl who likes frocks and dolls, and put up with two stupid boy cousins!"
Anne felt that they had made a very bad beginning. She said no more, but got dressed herself, too. She put on her grey skirt and a red jersey. George put on shorts and a boy's jersey. Just as they were ready, the other boys hammered on their door.
"Aren't you ready? Is Georgina there? Cousin Georgina, come out and see us."
George flung open the door and marched out with his head held high. He took no notice of the two surprised boys at all. He stalked downstairs. The other three children looked at each other.
"He won't answer if you call him Georgina or say that he's a girl," explained Anne. "He's awfully funny, I think. He says he didn't want us to come because we'll interfere with him. He laughed at me, and was rather rude."
Julian put his arm around Anne, who looked a bit doleful. "Cheer up!" he said. "You've got us to stick up for you. I must say, you're doing awfully well remembering to call George a boy. Even Dick and I forgot!"
"Well, it was a bit hard at first," admitted Anne. "But once you've spoken to him and seen how much like other boys he is, you'll remember too."
"Well, all I can say is 'Jolly well done'!" Then Julian added, "Come on down to breakfast."
They were all hungry. The smell of bacon and eggs was very good. They ran down the stairs and said good morning to their aunt. She was just bringing the breakfast to the table. Their uncle was sitting at the head of it, reading his paper. He nodded at the children. They sat down without a word, wondering if they were allowed to speak at meals. They always were at home, but their Uncle Quentin looked rather fierce.
George was there, buttering a piece of toast. He scowled at the three children.
"Don't look like that, George," said his mother. "I hope you've made friends already. It will be fun for you to play together. You must take your cousins to the bay this morning and show them the best places to bathe."
"I'm going fishing," said George.
His father looked up at once.
"You are not," he said. "You are going to show a few good manners for a change, and take your cousins to the bay. Do you hear me?"
"Yes," said George, with a scowl exactly like his father's.
"Oh, we can go to the bay by ourselves all right, if George is going fishing," said Anne at once, thinking it would be nice not to have George if he was in a bad temper.
"George will do exactly as he's told," said his father. "If he doesn't, I shall deal with him."
So, after breakfast, four children got ready to go down to the beach. An easy path led down to the bay, and they ran down happily. Even George lost his frown as he felt the warmth of the sun and saw the dancing sparkles on the blue sea.
"You go fishing if you want to," said Anne when they were down on the beach. "We won't tell tales on you. We don't want to interfere with you, you know. We've got ourselves for company, and if you don't want to be with us, you needn't."
"But we'd like you all the same, if you'd like to be with us," said Julian, generously. He thought George was rude and ill-mannered, but he couldn't help liking the look of the straight-backed, transsexual little boy, with his brilliant blue eyes and sulky mouth.
George stared at him. "I'll see," he said. "I don't make friends with people just because they are my cousins, or anything silly like that. I only make friends with people if I like them."
"So do we," said Julian. "We may not like you, of course."
"Oh!" said George, as if that thought hadn't occurred to him. "Well - you may not, of course. Lots of people don't like me, now I come to think of it."
Anne was staring out over the blue bay. At the entrance to it lay a curious rocky island with what looked like an old ruined castle on the top of it.
"Isn't that a funny place?" she said. "I wonder what it's called."
"It's called Kirrin Island," said George, his eyes as blue as the sea as he turned to look at it. "It's a lovely place to go to. If I like you, I may take you there some day. But I don't promise. The only way to get there is by boat."
"Who does the funny island belong to?" asked Julian.
George made a most surprising answer. "It belongs to me," he said. "At least, it will belong to me - some day! It will be my own island - and my very own castle!"