Okay, enough old-man-getting-off-the-subject stuff (when roads diverge in a yellow wood, I seem, on the page, to be able to be one traveler and take them all). Mary Shelley’s lost children’s story, Maurice, or The Fisher's Cot, written for a friend’s daughter in Italy in 1820, rediscovered (in Italy) in the mid-1990s, published in 1998. So what’s it about?
A traveler enters a seaport in England and sees a funeral procession—just four mourners, one a boy about thirteen who is weeping heavily. In an inn, the traveler asks about the boy’s story. Hears it. A poor boy, he moved in with an old local fisherman (the one who just had the funeral procession), an old man ascending in years as he was descending in his ability to take care of himself. The boy proved an enormous help to him.
Then we learn a bit about the other mourners, relatives of the old fisherman. Cold-hearted, they told the boy he could stay only one more week in the cot(tage). The traveler goes to the boy, says the boy can live with him, and then proceeds to tell the boy his story.
(Mary, Mary, if you’re not contrary, you are a bit complicated! Stories within stories, multiple points of view.)
We learn that the traveler is the son of an Oxford don—a professor of mathematics. He (the son) studied architecture, practiced it, made some money, retired to country labors and all kinds of study, which I liked better than building churches and bridges .... He married, had a son, a little boy stolen at about age two. The traveler has been looking for him.
And just about two weeks ago, he discovered a recent widow in a cottage, who, after some colloquy with the traveler, confesses, miraculously, that it was she who stole the little boy. And—no real surprise, is it?—we learn that the little boy is the traveler’s missing son.
Henry (that’s his real name, not the “Maurice” the thieves named him) goes back home with the traveler, attends Eton, and the old fisherman’s cot(tage) becomes a vacation spot for the family. Later, a severe storm washes the cot away, but the boy-now-a-man, we learn, …often during his life came to visit the cliff, and the trees, and the rock; where he would sit and reflect on the life he had led while a little boy with old Barnet in the pretty, old, fisher’s cot; and how his father came to visit and assist him when he was poor and helpless, not knowing him to be his son; and how on that very rock he had first discovered that he belonged to good, kind parents; with whom he now lived in content and happiness.
Hmmm … how old were his parents? And why was he still living with them when he was apparently much older?