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She knew the result, when she saw the doctor's face.

The stern man handed Will the envelope, with a look of contempt. Wasting no time, and not looking at Carlotta or Fern, Will opened the letter.

Blood test results

Fern Francis: O negative

William Francis (Jr): A positive

William Francis (Sr): A Positive

George Wilson: B negative.

This test conclusively proves that George Wilson is not the biological father of William Francis Jr, and that William Francis Sr is of a matching blood type.

They barely had time to process the news. The custody of little William was such a charged issue that the hearing took place within the week. Carlotta had expected that, unless the test was conclusively the other way, Will would want to try for custody, so they spent the evenings preparing.

They'd discuss the drunken infidelity later. Little William needed their help now.

The judge bore the same look of contempt, as his eyes bore down into the three of them. He heard Will and Fern in turn, and then retired for a few moments to think. When he came out again, his mind appeared to be made.

"The court of this land, in such ghastly cases of this, would rarely remove a child from his mother." the judge says. "For it is the mother's duty to raise the child. But Fern, you abandoned your son for almost six months, with no contact, no provision, and only reappearing at a moment of your convenience. The boy does not know you, let alone trust you. There is also your criminal conduct to take into account."

He then looks at Will.

"You, sir, may be a hero of war, but your dealings with alcohol are far from satisfactory in bringing up a child. If you truly do not remember his conception, then you must have been very drunk indeed. If you do, then you have lied and denied him for a year. I see no reason to hand you custody of the child."

Will looks mortified. Carlotta reaches out and squeezes his hand.

"However." The judge says. "I have in my possession a legal document that has some bearing on this case. Carlotta Francis, stand please."

Carlotta, surprised, stands up.

"Carlotta Francis, you filed several months ago for legal permission to make William Francis Junior a ward of the circus. Please explain to the hearing why you did this."

"Oh!" Carlotta remembers. "Well, it's standard procedure for children taken along with the circus. If no legal guardian can be found, then the child needs to have one, in case they fall ill, are neglected, or get in trouble with the law."

"According to this document." the judge says. "'Circus Ward Status may be granted in the event that a child has been abandoned. Abandonment is defined by inability to establish contact with a parent or guardian within thirty days when all avenues have been attempted; and when no prior arrangement has been made stating the date of collection of the child.
Furthermore in the case of abandonment, should the child be deemed to be in risk of harm on return of the biological parent, the circus guardian status may be extended by appeal until such a time that the biological parent is deemed safe to resume custody, or the child reaches the age of sixteen.'

"You cannot be serious!" Fern screeches. "Carlotta has no biological relationship to William!"

"And yet she is the only one who has behaved throughout in a responsible manner." The judge snaps. "And is, according to this, his current legal guardian."

Carlotta thinks quickly, and nods.

"Your Honour, I would like to request an extension to guardian status until Fern is able to regain safe custody please, with regular visitation from her so that she can re-bond. If she cannot travel, I will bring him. I have no intention of taking William from her permanently, I'm just worried about his welfare."

The judge nods, in agreement.

"This hearing rules that under the present circumstances, as neither biological parent is in a fit state to resume sole custody, William Francis Jr is still bound by law as a ward of the circus and Carlotta Francis has full guardian responsibility. Fern is allowed full visitation rights. This decision may be appealed in six months. I suggest both of you get your lives back in order."

"It isn't fair, that just means Will gets to look after Little William, and he'll be with beastly circus people!" Fern yells.

"The judgement is final. Perhaps you will think more carefully, the pair of you, when conceiving a child outside of wedlock." The judge says. "You are fortunate that Will has such a responsible wife."

It is worth it, Carlotta reflects, when they get outside and Little William runs back up to her and grabs her legs tightly. It wasn't the plan, but he's one of her people now, whoever he's living with.


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Carlotta Francis (nee Brown)

February 2014

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