Creative Nonfiction

It was an excruciatingly bitter, cold night in January of 1788 at the house on Holles Street in London. Frost littered the windowpanes, icicles hung from the rooftops, and snow fell softly with gaslights spreading their dim light across the cobblestone street as the wind howled its' fury. Upstairs on the second floor, a lady’s maid mopped Catherine’s brow as she strained and pushed for the nineteenth time. This was decidedly proving to be no easy endeavor, and young Catherine cried softly between contractions, fearful she would be unable to accomplish this thing called childbirth. In the drawing room downstairs, Captain John, or “Mad Jack” as he was more famously known, paced repeatedly across the Persian rug, pausing to pour himself yet another glass of whiskey. The crystal decanter clinked loudly as he did so. In his semi-drunken and excited state, Mad Jack was unusually clumsy. The servant who stood nearby at the ready mused that it would be no time before the decanter or the glass – or both – were inadvertently dropped and broken.

In between contractions, Catherine attempted to focus on the fire that blazed brightly in the small fireplace directly across from her bed. No one had prepared her for this difficult birthing, and it was unlike anything she'd previously experienced. The preceding months of pregnancy had been relatively quiet and uneventful, but her labor was anything but. Her water had broken the previous evening, with contractions ensuing quickly and growing steadily stronger with each hour. It had only been in the last hour, more than twenty-four hours since the onset, that she’d had the slightest inclination to push. Would this baby ever be born? She was so tired, and right now, thoughts of both she and the baby dying on this cold winter's night filled her head, and she once again wiped the tears that fell from her big blue eyes at the possibility.

“I can’t do it,” Catherine wailed in fear to her servant, Maisy, who stood by calmly as she held Catherine’s hand for support.

“I’ll hear no such talk, my Lady. You’re about to have that baby, so you must push. And you must do so with all the might you possess in your little body,” Maisy said firmly.

In response, Catherine gripped Maisy’s hand tighter with one hand and the bedsheet with the other as she pressed down harder, pushing just as Maisy had instructed: with all her might. At the foot of the bed, another servant encouraged her.

“I see the baby’s head, your Ladyship!” the servant exclaimed excitedly. “It won’t be long!”

Catherine gritted her teeth and with one final push born of sheer determination, the baby eased from her swollen body and onto the bedsheets.

“It’s a boy, Miss Catherine! It’s a boy!” Maisy said as Catherine laid her head back in relief, tears of joy now streaming down her flushed cheeks. “I’ll send Matthew to tell Captain Jack,” Maisy said, hurrying to the door and whispering the news to the servant who stood just outside of it.

The servant hurried downstairs with the news. As he reached the drawing room and entered, Captain Mad Jack turned about quickly, ignoring the amber liquid that spilled from his crystal glass as he did so. “What news do you bring?” he demanded.

“Her Ladyship has been delivered of a baby boy. An excellent baby boy! Both her Ladyship and the baby are in good health, your Lordship.”

Captain Mad Jack lifted his fist in the air and let out a huge cry of glee! “Did you hear that, James?” He asked his manservant. “I have myself a fine baby boy! An heir at long last!”

“Congratulations, my Lord,” the manservant said, pouring the Captain another glass of whiskey to celebrate the news.

“It’s a fine day,” Captain Mad Jack said. “January 22, 1788 is a day in the history of this family – and most likely, in the history of England!” he proudly exclaimed. “I know my boy will go on to do great things, just like me!”

“Yes, your Lordship,” the manservant murmured and nodded.

Upstairs, Maisy had managed to wash her mistress and make Catherine more presentable with a fresh change of gown. She now laid the sweet, swaddled babe in her mistress’s arms. “He’s beautiful, Miss Catherine,” she said. “Such a fine baby boy.”

Catherine pulled back the blanket and peered into the scrunched up little pink face of her newly delivered son. An indescribable and unexpected feeling filled her as she did so. So this was motherhood.! She was quite proud of herself and the newborn child.

“He is sweet, is he not, Maisy? Even if he did take a long while to make an appearance. I hope he doesn't take after his father,” Catherine whispered in the stillness of the room, as though fearful anything louder would disrupt the now slumbering child who had cried himself to sleep not long after the long birthing process.

Moments later, with the approval of Maisy, Captain Mad Jack burst into Catherine’s bedchamber, his exuberance clearly evident. “Such wonderful news, my dear! A fine baby boy! Let me see him! Let me see my boy!”

Catherine eyed her husband with disdain and disapproval. “Lower your voice, sir. Your son is sleeping.”

“I want to see the boy, Catherine. Pull back the blanket,” Captain Mad Jack instructed as he leaned over the bed, anxious to gain a glimpse of the newborn child.

Hesitantly but obediently, Catherine pulled back the blanket from the babe's face to allow her husband a glimpse. He studied the boy for a moment before he straightened and then rocked back and forth on his heels, his pleasure quite obvious as if he alone were responsible for the birth of the wee babe.

“He’s as handsome as me,” he cackled in his inebriated state. “We should call him William.”

Catherine grimaced at the name her husband had chosen, but said nothing. Little did the Captain know, but she had already decided the boy’s name would be George Gordon after her father, who had died tragically in 1779, and she would not consider anything to the contrary. She was sure her decision would not pose a problem since her husband likely would not be at the christening. After all, he was wont to disappear more often than not. It was sheer amazement that he was even present this very evening for the child’s birth.

Maisy, seeing her mistress’s displeasure, quickly sought to usher the Captain from the room. “Her Ladyship and the babe need their rest, Captain Jack. You must be patient. You’ll get to see your son again soon enough.”

Once the Captain was gone and the door firmly shut behind him, Maisy strode to the bed and took up the infant. “Here Your Ladyship, allow me,” she said as she coddled the sweet baby in her arms. “I’ll put your son in his cradle so that you may rest. I promise to watch over him whilst you sleep. You must rest and restore your strength, my Lady.”

Catherine sighed and nodded as she obediently relinquished her hold on the baby. “Yes, Maisy. I am quite tired. Please let my husband know I do not wish to be disturbed,” Catherine said as she settled more comfortably within the confines of the bed, adjusting her covers. Only mere moments later, Maisy noted that Catherine’s breathing had slowed, and she was at long last resting.

Maisy seated herself in the rocking chair beside the cradle and lightly rocked the sleeping child to ensure the baby’s slumber continued. She knew it wouldn’t be long before he awoke and needed feeding. Until then, the quiet of the room was a welcome relief after the events of the last twenty-four hours.

As Maisy smoothed the blanket over the child, she silently wondered what the future would bring for the sleeping babe. He looked so peaceful at the moment, but what would life be like for him? Would he grow to become a man who would accomplish great things? Or would he grow to be lazy and a spendthrift much like his father? Preferably, this child would inherit his mother’s sweet, intelligent, and creative nature opposed to his father’s carousing ways. Maisy fervently hoped that Catherine would consider returning to her home in Aberdeenshire, Scotland to raise the boy. It would seem this would be both in Catherine and the child’s best interest, especially in view of the fact that Captain Jack was gone more than he was a present figure in Catherine’s life. Maisy knew that whatever the future might bring, one thing was certain: this child would be well-loved by his mother and by her. The entire world lay at the boy’s feet - an open door of possibilities looming on the horizon. Time would surely tell, but there was every possibility that he would go on to accomplish great things in his lifetime.


And thus, so it was that many years later following that fateful, cold winter's night in 1788, the Romantic Movement took England firmly in its’ grasp. And among one of the most prominent of its’ founding fathers in London's affluent society was a well-known gentleman by the name of George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron of Byron – or more fondly and simply known as Lord Byron, the famous poet and politician.

September 15, 2021 18:32

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20:22 Sep 23, 2021

I've really been enjoying all these 'brushes with history' stories and this one was one of my favourites. We all come from the same humble beginnings i.e. our mothers. Well done on the pacing and images of the times.


Cindy Calder
03:19 Sep 24, 2021

Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed my story!


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S. Thomson
10:17 Sep 23, 2021

This is a great story, with impactful imagery and strong imagery. If I had to give one note, there are a few times that an -ly adverb disrupts the flow of your narrative. Other than that, great work!


Cindy Calder
18:19 Sep 23, 2021

Thank you for your suggestions and kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.


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F.O. Morier
06:58 Sep 23, 2021

wow! what a pleasant read. I love it!


Cindy Calder
18:19 Sep 23, 2021

Thank you so much - I'm glad you enjoyed it!


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