Hello lovely readers! It's been quite a while since I've posted anything here, but I've had this idea for a few months now and it was during a conversation with Whatifthisstormends – to whom this is dedicated to – that it finally came into being. It's purely speculative and from my own headcanon so I have no idea if this is how things would be, just how I'd like them to be, I suppose.
Tea and biscuits and huge thanks to Orangeshipper for giving it the necessary once over. :)
And on that note, enjoy!
He found it by accident, during a game of hide and seek with Sybbie; them now having to play inside because the seasons had changed and winter drew ever closer. He'd crept upstairs, leaving his cousin counting in the library, and headed straight for his Mama's bedroom. Sybbie had never thought to look there; she'd always go to the kitchens and then quickly run away when Mr Carson or Mrs Hughes, or worse, Mrs Patmore, saw her. Or she'd go to the nursery, where she'd call for George for a minute or two before getting bored and finding something else to amuse her, and then apologising when George would appear, upset at being forgotten about. The previous week, however, Sybbie had discovered that George had been hiding in his mother's room; curled up on the window-seat behind the curtain, or tucked down on the floor by the side of the bed, and found him within minutes.
And so on this particular day, George had known he must find somewhere else to hide. He heard Sybbie's voice calling him as her footsteps grew louder, and he'd glanced at the door in Mama's room. He'd only tried to go in once, a year ago, but he'd barely turned the handle before Mary had stopped him. When he'd asked what it was for she had told him that it used to be Papa's room, where he kept his clothes and where he got dressed. But talking about Papa made Mama sad, even as she smiled and smoothed his hair and kissed his cheek, and George didn't like it when Mama was sad so he didn't ask again, but every so often he'd run his fingers over the smooth, cool wood of the door, trying to imagine his father. He knew he was called Matthew, Granny had told him that, and George knew he looked a bit like him (even though his hair was as dark as his mother's), and he knew that he'd been a lawyer and a soldier...but he didn't know this man that they told him about, and it filled him with a strange sadness that he didn't understand.
"George? I'll find you! I know where you are!" Sybbie's voice rang out as she hurried along the corridor. He looked again at the door when the handle on the other door turned and decided for him. He snuck into the room, careful to close the door behind him, and was just in time as he heard his older cousin burst into the bedroom, his heart pounding as he pressed himself against the wall and hoped Sybbie wouldn't be tempted to look in the dressing room.
"George? Hello? Oh, you're getting better at this, it's not fair." The door slammed again and he breathed a sigh of relief, unclenching his fingers and opening his eyes as he heard her run off down the hall, and it was then that he looked around the room. He hadn't looked properly last time but Mama was out now and the temptation to stay in this room – his father's room – and explore was overwhelming.
George stepped forwards and looked at the dark wood of the furniture and the green-blue of the walls, watching in fascination at the dust that floated in front of him as the low winter sun streamed through the window. It reminded him of Mama's bedroom and he smiled. The air in this room was still, though, as if it hadn't been disturbed for a while. He ran his fingers over the blanket on the bed, briefly wondering why there was a bed in there, before turning to the wardrobe next to the other door, that he guessed led back out to the hall. He tentatively reached for the handle and pulled, hanging back slightly, as if he was afraid that something might come out of it... But there was nothing, it was empty. He sighed quietly, not even entirely sure what he had been expecting anyway. He moved to the bedside cabinet and opened the drawer, his brow creasing as he saw what was in there and he reached his hand out. He knew he shouldn't. He knew he should just go and find Sybbie or go back to the nursery. He'd be in lots of trouble if he was caught, and it would make Mama sad if she knew he'd been in here, but he didn't want to go...couldn't; it felt like something was keeping his feet rooted to the ground.
He lifted the book and stared at the leather cover, frowning as he tried to make sense of the words on the front... 'Treasure Island'. He hadn't heard of that one. Biting his lip, he opened it and traced his fingers over the words on the first page, recognising his mother's writing, pausing for a moment before he slowly read them aloud.
"Matthew, just a little something that I thought you might want to read to our little prince when he arrives.
George felt a strange lump in his chest, the one that made him sad when he thought about his father and wonder about him and miss him, even though he knew he'd only met him once, but it was a meeting he had no memory of. He set the book down and his small hand curled around the other object, his eyes filling with inexplicable tears as he lifted it out and cradled it in his fingers.
"What have you got there?" George jumped as he heard his mother's voice behind him and he stuffed the items back in the drawer, his heart hammering in his chest, knowing it was too late. He turned to find her standing in the doorway, arms folded across her chest, watching him curiously.
"Sorry Mama. I was hiding from Sybbie." His eyes were wide as he shuffled nervously on his feet, his hands twisting in front of him. To his surprise, she moved to sit on the edge of the bed, next to the cabinet, looking first at the drawer he'd just hastily closed and then him, her expression fond as she regarded him.
"Do you know, when we cleared this room, I never thought to look in that cabinet. Your father didn't sleep in here, you see, so I didn't think he kept anything in it." Mary smiled at her son then, reaching for his hand and pulling him to sit next to her, which he did but with the cautious reluctance of someone who was expecting to be scolded. She pulled out the book and opened the front cover, her breath hitching at the memory of presenting it to her husband.
"I got you something in London. It's not much, but I just saw it in Selfridge's and thought you might like it." Mary handed the small package to Matthew and settled herself under the blankets, propped up against the headboard, her heart beating erratically as she tried to act calm, the rustling paper and crackling of the fire the only sounds that filled the quiet room as she held her breath in anticipation.
"Mary, what's this?"
"Well, it's a book; I'd have thought that was obvious," she replied, pleased that her voice didn't tremble too much.
"I know it's a book. I meant the first page." He looked up and met her gaze, noticing then the nervous smile, how her fingers were restlessly twisting her wedding band. "Are you… Are we…?" She nodded then, unable to stop herself from smiling, a broad breathless grin as, finally, the secret she'd been harbouring for weeks was revealed.
"About September time, the doctor thinks." Matthew grinned then too and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her passionately, the book forgotten about as they fell back against the pillows.
"I bought this for your father when the doctor told me that I was expecting you. I hadn't known how to tell him…and he always enjoyed reading..." Mary trailed off and inhaled deeply, collecting herself before turning back to George. "Do you know that the man that wrote this originally wrote it under the name George?" Mary whispered conspiratorially and gently nudged her son's shoulder, and he smiled up at her.
"Really. If you like, I'll read a little to you tonight, before you go to bed." Mary smiled as George's face lit up. "I think you'll like the story, it's about pirates!" He nodded enthusiastically.
"Yes please! What's that?" George pulled out the other item by himself then, not noticing how Mary's eyes flickered as the memories came flooding back to her. She had wondered where it had gone after they'd married, if he had kept it once he was recovered, or if it had been lost or given away.
Without a scratch…he must have had it with him…on any terms…
"Now that…that was mine when I was your age. In fact, I think it was mine from when I was very small, but you'd have to ask Carson about that." George giggled then, and Mary settled her arm around his shoulders, pulling her close to him as she took the toy from him.
"Why did Papa have it if it was yours?"
"Well, I gave it to your Papa a long time ago. It was when he was a soldier. I thought it might-" Mary paused, wondering if she should tell her darling boy the truth, if she could. She looked at George, at his still round cheeks and his unruly dark hair and his earnest expression, his bright eyes wide and trusting. He was so like Matthew in so many ways even though he'd never known him, and it made Mary's heart ache a little, even now, that their son – for he would always be theirs, hers and Matthew's, even after the wedding in a couple of weeks' time – had only known his father for two hours. Mary leaned over and kissed the top of George's head, squeezing her eyes shut for the briefest of moments before straightening once more.
"I gave it to your Papa because I thought it might bring him luck, while he was away." Her hand tightened round the soft toy, the worn material familiar against her fingertips.
Did it? She thought back to those dark years – every time he'd returned home unscathed, when he'd been missing, his injury… And yet, he had lived through that. He had survived the war. Mary wasn't naïve enough to believe that it was solely because of an old toy, but maybe there had been something lucky about it. Or maybe Matthew had been on borrowed time after the war. Or maybe they really were cursed… She blinked quickly, clearing the tears that had formed in her eyes. There were some things that weren't meant for George's young ears and innocent heart.
"I suppose it did," she replied quietly, smiling faintly as George leaned against her, each comforted by the other's solid, warm presence. It was only a moment longer before he climbed onto Mary's lap and looped his arms round her waist, nestling against her as he had done when he was smaller, as he hadn't done for quite a while, kissing her cheek as her arms tightened around him, the toy dog still clutched in her right hand.
"Do you miss Papa?" It was said quietly, almost whispered, and Mary looked at her son's dark head, his face hidden against her, and closed her eyes, breathing in his scent and cherishing the precious moment of closeness.
"Yes, I do. Sometimes I miss him very much." She didn't want to add that sometimes there could still be days where she'd remember just how much she had loved him and how much it had hurt, and that the wound in her heart would open again and she would have to fight against the urge to stay in bed or cry or reach for the black clothes that still hung in her wardrobe, instead forcing herself out of the house and into the village to visit the cemetery. But there were also days when she didn't miss him at all, when she didn't even think about him, but she didn't want to tell George that either. "And Granny misses him as well, and that's why she likes to see you so often."
Mary felt him nod against her and she shifted slightly, settling more comfortably on the bed and stroking a hand over his hair and back as she thought back to those first months after that fated day at the hospital, when she wouldn't hold her son, wouldn't go near him, refused to even think of him because to think of him meant she had to think of Matthew, and she couldn't do that. Everything had been so black and painful, and she knew now that for the days immediately following Matthew's death, she'd been sedated to stop her from crying (and screaming). And it was only when George was almost a month old that he finally had a name after her mother had warned her that Isobel and Robert were planning to call him Matthew Robert Reginald if she didn't make a decision.
"No. I am not calling him that."
"But Mary, you must call him something and soon, we need to sort out his christening." She met Robert's concerned gaze with a cold, hard stare.
"Fine, but not that."
She turned back to the window with a sigh, a stifling silence settling over the room as no-one dared to move, all warily watching the young woman as she stared out across the grounds, waiting for her to speak. "George, then. George Reginald."
"But what about Matthew?" Mary turned again and looked at Isobel, not noticing that her mother-in-law's eyes were red and full of unshed tears.
"What about it? He'll have his second and surnames, isn't that enough?" Before anyone could answer, Mary stalked from the room, feeling hollow and numb as she made her way back to her bedroom, back to solitude, away from the stark reality of the present.
Distantly, they heard the dressing gong, pulling them both from their peaceful reverie. George looked up at Mary and smiled as she softly kissed his forehead.
"Come on, we'd best go and get ready for dinner. Great Granny's coming tonight!" They stood and George reached for Mary's hand, finding her fingers still tightly closed round the toy. She looked at it in surprise before lifting his hand and placing it in his palm, just as she had done almost a decade ago. "I think you should hold onto this now."
"Don't you need it Mama?" She looked into his clear blue eyes, so familiar but also completely his own, and so full of concern, and not for the first time she marvelled at how her darling, wonderful boy loved and cared so easily and openly. He loved everyone, was friends with everyone, cared about everyone…just like Matthew.
"No, no I don't darling."
A/n: Robert Louis Stevenson adopted the pseudonym 'Captain George North' when 'Treasure Island' was first published as a series in 1881/2.
Thank you for reading! I'm curious to hear your thoughts.