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Stories From The Greenwood

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"Maurice, I think this flowers are not supposed to go with this sash. See, daffodils were worse because they were too yellow, but this is just too white! We're not in a funeral."

"It's fine! It is less than 3 hours away, and very casual, will you stop worrying over such things?"

"No but I tell you, it's wrong!"

"Okay, alright, I'll put you on flower duty, sure, but you have to promise to stop stressing out."

"I'll pick you the prettiest flowers!"

And there Kitty went running to the greenhouse, determined to find flowers that were the perfect shade of yellow for her brother's wedding. She had been running non-stop since she got here five days ago in preparation of the gathering. Though Maurice had repeated times and times again that it was not really a wedding but a regular gathering with some flowers and fancier table clothes, Kitty insisted that it wasn't enough. She had Collins running around on catering duty, and, after having decided that the suits Maurice and Alec were going to wear were not at all appropriate, she demanded that they got fitted for new ones in the village. Alec didn't oblige simply without a protest, "What's wrong with my suit?! I spent five whole pounds on it!", but at Kitty's stern criticism of how blue was very not his colour, Alec had to visit Mr. Fordham for a new one with a long face.

"She is energetic, isn't she," Mrs. Bailey laughed when she saw Kitty flying off, "It's been a hectic couple of days. How are my grooms doing?"

"We are great," Maurice said, "Actually I don't know about Alec, Kitty has forbidden me to see him since yesterday."

They laughed and casually took a sip from their glasses of wine - ones Kitty insisted that they had and let her take care of everything.

"Thank you again, Madam, for letting us use your beautiful garden for this gathering," Maurice said and slightly nodded.

"It's the third time you've said that same thing to me, my dear," she waved her hands in mocked disbelief, "In two days!"

Maurice looked down at her in gratitude and they shared another contented smile. 

"It is your home as much as it is mine. It gets lonely up here, visitations are just always with problems. It's genuinely fun to celebrate non-problems sometimes, dear boy. So seriously," she held up her glass and clinked it with Maurice's, making a cheerful sound that rang through the small space between them - another snippet of memory that Maurice will hold dear for the next thirty years, "enjoy today and don't fret about anything, at all."

She paused, "And my daughters sent their congratulations. They, unfortunately, have other engagements to tend to."

Mrs. Bailey didn't say what engagement, but Maurice had an idea why they couldn't come in person. Their husbands. Kitty had told him a while ago about the rows that went off in Oakview when they were gone, regarding Maurice and Alec. If not for Mrs. Bailey's influence and the money she had provided for her daughters' families, their husbands would have gone to the police. The men had since no longer welcomed at Oakview, and the ladies managed to keep quiet about the gathering. Maurice felt mildly guilty for breaking up a family upon hearing the story, but Kitty had told him not to fret, she didn't like the husbands anyway.

After a few minutes, Collins came to inform her that Miss van der Linden had arrived. The Dutch lady was standing right behind the butler, wearing a subtle blue dress, featuring beautifully intricate patterns on the fabric. She was striking, yet not distracting. Maurice was always amazed at how purposeful every little decision that the lady made was, and he sometimes wondered if getting Kitty to move to Holland was one of them. She shared a hug with the hostess of the manor before leaning down to shake Maurice's hand.

"My apologies for getting here so late, Hall," she said, a hint of genuine apology was heard in her voice.

"No, I'm glad you could make it, Madam," Maurice smiled, and walked the two ladies to the tea table a few yards away from the main party which was still getting prepared, "Please, sit, have some tea with me. I and Alec are really happy to have you join us today."

"Speaking of," the lady looked around, "Where is that silly boy, anyway? I believe he owes me a drink after losing that bet with me in March."

The bet was whether or not Collins the butler would get back with her then ex-husband. She did, to Alec's disbelief. "This woman is full of bad decisions!", he had exclaimed after a telephone call in May. Maurice was just surprised that Lady van der Linden of all people, a graceful woman in every way, would be in on this bet, too. It seemed rather gossip-y.

"Why on earth would you be taking part in something like that?", Mrs. Bailey was reading his mind.

"I'm good at it, simply," she said, nonchalantly, then continued to explain to Mrs. Bailey's dismay that she could do better things with all the theory in probability and possibilities than wasting it on doofuses for the greater good of the world. She knew just the button to press on her friend, and when she ended the teasing with "No, I'm not actually betting on racing horses, God, Evelyn," , Mrs. Bailey's face was priceless.

Lady van der Linden had just lit up a cigarette when Kitty came over with a bouquet of freshly picked flowers for the party table. After a brief salutation, Maurice saw the lady quietly putting out her newly lit cigarette under Kitty's gaze. He chuckled, amused, then excused himself and left the tea table to the ladies.

He went for a walk through the garden, offering help to anyone he could find preparing for the gathering, all of whom turned him away and insisted on calling it a wedding. After every encounter, he sighed and kept on walking into the main house. Collins was just on the opposite direction with a couple of guests following behind.

"Mr. Hall," she bowed, and Maurice winced, "Mr. and Mrs. Durham have arrived to join your wedding."

"It's not a wedding, thank you!" Maurice called after the butler. The woman is full of malice, too, he thought before turning to his guests. 

Arm in arm, Clive and Anne slightly bowed to greet him just before he walked over for a proper hug with each of them, "Good Lord, come here you two! Where is your little angel?"

"Lily found Finn and Thomas outside," Anne grinned happily at him, "God, look at you Mr. Hall! All primmed up and proper! Doesn't he look gorgeous, Clive?"

"Surely he does, Anne," Clive patted his shoulder firmly, his smile was proud and genuine. It had been too long since Maurice saw that on his face, and the realization of it made Maurice smile back, wider, in response, "It's our Maurice after all."

"Stop it, you two," he felt the blush creeping in on his face, "Thank you for coming! I'm sure you're both very busy."

"It really is our honour, Maurice," Clive smiled, "We know how much this gathering means to you and Scudder."

"I wish we could come earlier and help organizing it. Alas, Clive had this engagement in London and the little one was having a cold until two days ago," Anne said, "But he's better now, though he wasn't fit for travelling."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Maurice took hold of her hand, "Another shipment next week for the boy in sickness?"

"You are spoiling him, Mr. Hall!" Anne laughed and swatted playfully on his shoulder.

Maurice snuck a look at his friend just as he looked up at him. A blush from pure embarrassment that said sorry for being an idiot bugger flashed over Clive's face and Maurice caught it immediately. He had commented on it recently, "Mate, how do you manage to be a lawyer and a politician with that face of yours which gives away so much?" ."I'm not a lawyer or a politician here with you" was his answer. They had laughed at it, knowing their friendship was at that point again - the point they had missed so much over the lost 10 years of their lives. Clive gave him a smile, a peaceful one, then promptly returned his attention to his giddy wife.

"No one in our circle gets married these days anymore," he teased, "Anne has been looking forward to this day for months, you know."

"It's not really a wedding," Maurice sighed, but giggled with them at the end of it, "Though I appreciate you all insisting that it is one."

"Take it as it is, Mr. Hall," Anne walked up to him, the happiness in her voice was contagious, "It is the union of the most beautiful courtship I have seen in a while."

"Oh, spare me, dear Anne," he chuckled, blushed. She helped him fix his bow tie, then went on out to the garden with the rest of the party. Maurice looked at them until they were out of the gate that led to the garden, out of his sight. 

Maurice continued his walk up the stairs and quickly found Alec in his room - the room Kitty had forced him to take the day before the gathering. He knocked at the slightly open door.

"Oh, Maurice," Alec was startled and scrambled as he stood up from his bed. He was examining a piece of paper, next to a small tin box. Maurice had never seen that small tin box.

"Darling, what are you doing here?" Maurice walked over to pull him in for a kiss, "Why don't you come join the others? I think all of our guests have arrived."

"Kitty would scream if she saw you here," Alec kissed him again, arms circling his waist, "I honestly am a little bit scared of her."

"I would too if I were you," Maurice laughed. Alec guided him to sit down next to him on the bed.

It was then that Maurice finally took a good look at his lover. He could tell the amount of hair product Collins had had to use to tame his wildly curly hair and slick it back in a very proper way. The new hair style showed off more of his greying hair at the temple. He looked younger, neater, striking. Maurice smoothed his fingertips over the collar of his new suit, now in a gorgeous shade of dark red, probably made with the finest Italian fabric in Mr. Gianni's tailor shop. It took him a full moment to take in the beauty of the man that was sitting in front of him.

"God, Alec," he felt like he could cry, "God, that's gorgeous! You are gorgeous!"

"Thanks, Mr. Fordham worked extra hours for this," Alec grinned, and was met with a kiss.

"I'm afraid Mr. Fordham will be very upset with me if I dare ruin his finest work," Maurice pulled back before the heat took over and made him push Alec down on the bed. 

"You can ruin me later without it," Alec smirked, which earned him another kiss, "But yes, I look quite the prize today eh?"

"My prize, sweetheart."

"You look plenty handsome, too, old man."

They laughed as they admired each other's appearance back and forth. When they finally got out of the loop, Maurice looked down and curiously pointed at the tin box next to them. Alec took it and open the lid, presenting a bundle of letters, previously wrapped up with an old piece of string, together with a few bits and bobs - a button, a piece of eye glass with a crack on it, and some of his old wood carving tools. 

"The box is new, but the letters have been with me since forever," Alec looked at it fondly, "Through the war. Always the first thing I packed."

"Our letters?" Maurice smiled, taking the first letter of the bunch and read it. It was a letter he sent to Alec when his troop was in Flanders, back in 1914. 

"Yes, your letters to me, specifically," Alec handed him one letter after another, "It was hard, but I kept them all. Oh, and a photograph, we took this one just before we left for Flanders, didn't we?"

Maurice looked at the black and white photograph, already with rough tear marks on the edges. He remembered exactly the day they took this photograph: the man behind the camera giving them instructions as he got the machine to work, Alec's nervousness as it was his first time taking a photograph, Maurice's hand on Alec's shoulder as a rebellious part against the cameraman's instructions and as a gesture to comfort him, the loud noise that the machine made as it took them in. 

"Yes, God, you were precious," Maurice sighed as he looked at it, then looked up at his lover as though to compare, "Christ I'm so wrinkly now. Look at that young thing."

"You are unbearably beautiful, Maurice, stop it," Alec snatched back the photograph and scolded him lightly, "Anyway, there is something you probably have never seen in here," he took the bundle of letters in hand and took out the last one of the stack, "It was meant to be a gift for you today, love, but well, you see it now, so."

Maurice could sense Alec's nervousness as he spoke about the letter. He carefully opened the piece of paper, and he immediately recognized Alec's scribbles. The letter was dated on 24 August, in 1913. It read:

"Dear Maurice,

You didn't write back. I wish I knew why you didn't write back. 'Alec, you're a dear fellow,' you said. It almost pains me now to think about that night we spent together in Pendersleigh. My dear Maurice, what we had was more real than anything I have experienced thus far. You feel real. I have reasons to believe that it felt real to you, too, which riddles me even further as to why you chose to ignore me.

No matter how much it pains and angers me to think about you and the possibility that you have gone far beyond my reach, I trust that you will see that I am sincere when I hand you this letter tomorrow in person. I have waited many nights in the boathouse without your visit. I think about your arms around me every day. I think about how much your body yearned for mine and mine for yours that night and the nights after that. All that, wishing you were here. But alas.

My time in old England is coming to an end in the matter of days. How I wish to see you again in good health and good spirit. Please allow me to have the honour of worshipping your body and soul one more time before we part for good, if not physically, then in spirit is fine. I love you, Maurice. Have a good life.

Humbly yours,

Alec S."

Maurice was having tears in his eyes when he finished reading the letter. 

They always kept it chaste when sending letters during their separation. Not an explicit word of romance. This was the first time Maurice saw the three words that captured Alec's affection for him written on paper. The fact that it was written mere days after their first real encounter made the thought almost unbearable.

"Oh, darling!" Maurice pulled him in for an embrace, "I'm sorry!"

"Christ, it's ten years ago!" Alec burst into laughter, returning the embrace nonetheless, "I just wanted to show it to you. Perhaps not the best gift, but, well."

"It's the perfect gift, love," Maurice planted a kiss on his neck, his cheek, then his sweet lips, "God, you were gone on me this early on, eh?"

"Utterly and completely," Alec smiled back into a kiss.

"The only written proof that we are in love is right here, darling."

"Well, there's also this," Alec twisted the wooden band on Maurice's ring finger, "And all of our friends waiting to witness our commitment to each other. That enough proof for you?"

"Not really. I want to adopt a dog. Maybe a cat. Don't you think the children in the village would love a furry companion in the store?"

"Christ, yes, they would go crazy over it."

"How about a human baby?"

"Make it two. Finny and Tommy would finally have friends to play with when they come over."

They both giggled at the conversation of future plans, panning from pets to children, to the possibility of a bigger house, until Collins came in to inform them that all the guests were waiting for them in the garden. As they went hand in hand down the stairs, Maurice's other hand went into his trouser pocket, his fingers brushed through the velvet covering of the small box. He looked outside at the waiting smile of all the people who accepted them and believed in them, who went through happy days and hardships with them, all of whom waiting for them. Alec's hand clenched slightly around Maurice's, prompting him to squeeze the velvet box in his pocket tighter. In a few minutes, their happier year shall become their happier life - a life no longer on the run. A life that they could share with their world.