By Meg Sorick. Find other parts in the series and a family tree, here.
The Seafarer Inn at Turnby wasn’t busy during the week of Christmas. Meredith reserved two rooms for them on Tuesday and Wednesday evening. It wasn’t enough time for a thorough investigation, but it was a place to start. There might not even be anything to investigate, but they wouldn’t know until they tried.
Tuesday dawned crisp and bright. Meredith brewed coffee and filled a thermos while David made egg sandwiches for them to take along. He smiled to himself at the domesticity of it all. She let him drive for the first half of the trip since once they got on the motorway, left side driving wouldn’t seem as unfamiliar on the four lane road. She took over after they stopped for lunch.
“It’s not much longer now,” she said. “Miss Woodbridge is expecting us for tea. It’ll give us time to check in and freshen up a bit before we see her.”
Meredith navigated the narrow streets of the old town with the confidence of a local. The Seafarer was situated on a promontory facing the crashing waves of the North Sea. The gravel drive culminated in a parking lot on the right side of the building. David carried Meredith’s overnight bag despite her protests. The wind blowing off the winter sea whipped her dark hair around her face and she laughed. As she struggled to tame it, David smiled. She looked like a Celtic goddess blown in from the sea.
He allowed her to lead the way into the pub area of the inn. A plump, friendly looking man of indeterminate age smiled at them from behind the bar. He had just one customer who turned to get a look at the newcomers as they made their way over.
“Welcome. Miss Miles, is it?” he said, regarding them over his glasses. He motioned for them to follow him to the far end of the bar where a locked cabinet held rows of old fashioned keys on hooks. He pushed a guest book toward them. “Just sign here, dearie. And you too, Mr. … Um, Jennings? Will you be using the credit card you gave us, then?”
“Yes, that will be fine,” Meredith replied.
“You did want two rooms…?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Meredith blushed. “Yes. Mr. Jennings is my cousin.”
The publican looked disappointed. “Oh, I see. Well, then…” He unlocked the cabinet behind him and took out two of the old keys and handed one each to them. “Side by side, they are at least. So you won’t have to look too far to find each other. On the seaside, too. You’ll sleep well with the sound of the waves to carry you off to dreamland.”
“Thank you,” Meredith said.
She turned to David and gestured for him to follow. He laughed softly when they were out of earshot. “I think he was disappointed, cousin. Hoping for a lovers’ rendezvous, I imagine. It’s a good thing he didn’t recognize you.”
She snorted. “Turnby isn’t that small a town.”
They wound their way up the narrow staircase to the second floor. Their rooms were the middle two of four rooms on the right side of the hallway. David waited while Meredith unlocked her door. He followed her inside and dropped her bag on the floor near the foot of the double bed. The room was cozy and comfortable, with white-washed walls and exposed beams. The old fashioned furniture was sturdy and polished to a shine. The wrought iron casement windows were opened just a few inches to let the fresh air into the room. Everything smelled of lemon and salt water. Meredith breathed deep and sighed.
“This is exactly the way I imagined an English seaside inn. It’s wonderful, Meri,” David said stepping to the window to take in the view.
“It is charming, isn’t it,” she replied, stepping forward to stand next to him. They stared at the scene in contented silence. Finally, Meredith said, “Well, why don’t you go see your room and get yourself settled. I’m gong to freshen up a bit.
“Let’s walk,” he said. “Stretch our legs after that long drive.”
Meredith checked her watch. “Tell you what. Let’s just walk over to the records office rather than take the car. It’s not far. And by the time we’re finished there, it will be time for tea with Miss Woodbridge.”
“Perfect. I’ll be right back,” David said, taking his backpack and retreating through the door.
Meredith heard him open the door to the adjacent room and enter. But after that the thick ancient walls of the inn blocked all the noise from next door. She used the bathroom and brushed the tangles from her hair, then bundled the long tresses into a bun at the base of her skull. Not long after, a knock came to her door.
She took her key and joined David in the hallway. As they worked their way to the ground floor, she asked, “Is your room satisfactory?”
“Mmm hmm. Mirror image of yours,” he said. “That view… The waves crashing… and the salt air… I believe I will sleep like the dead tonight.”
“We’ll make it an early night. Have a quick bite in the pub and turn in,” she said.
They waved to the innkeeper on the way out the main entrance. “It’s this way,” Meredith directed.
As they walked, David commented on the architecture of the old buildings that lined the street. Meredith told him what she knew of the history of the town. The county records office was near the center of Turnby, between the courthouse and the post office. The lobby was quiet and no one was tending the reception desk when they walked in.
Meredith cleared her throat, and called out a tentative, “Hello?”
The click of heels on the vinyl floor let them know their presence had been detected. Finally, the glass partition window slid open and the receptionist greeted them. “Sorry, not very busy this time of year. Got caught up in my filing. May I help you?”
“Hello, yes. We’re researching some family history. Trying to fill in some missing details. We were hoping to have a look at the birth records for the years 1913 and 1914.”
“Certainly. It hasn’t been converted to digital format, yet. But it should be on microfilm. Follow me.”
They followed her through a door to a small room with two computer monitors and a microfilm reader. She pushed a second chair over so that they could both have a seat. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
“Meri, what about the death records? Marriage licenses, things like that?” David asked.
She shrugged. “That will be more tedious. We know she survived past 1918, so we’ll just have to start looking through the years one by one to see if we can figure out what became of her.”
Moments later the receptionist returned with the microfilms for the years in question and loaded the reader. After demonstrating how to use it, she left them alone. “Just let me know when you’re finished,” she said on her way out the door.
David and Meredith crowded close together, their knees touching. Meredith worked the controls as they scrolled past the records for all the births in 1913. David spotted it first. “There!” he said, pointing. “Gladys Elizabeth Henry, born November 22, 1913. Mother Ada Victoria Henry, Father, unknown.”
“Father unknown?” Meredith repeated. “David you know what that means, right?”
“Gladys wasn’t my great grandfather’s child.”