By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the story and a family tree, here.
Meredith rubbed her eyes. They’d been at this for an hour. After discovering the revelation about Gladys, the only other piece of information they’d found was Hayden’s birth record in 1917. She looked at David and smiled wryly. “I think we’d better get going, David. Miss Woodbridge will be waiting for us.”
David blew out a breath. “I suppose I shouldn’t expect this to be easy.”
“No, it’s going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. Unless we get lucky and Miss Woodbridge is our metal detector,” she said in reply.
She stood and David followed suit. They returned to the lobby area and told the receptionist they were finished for the day. “We’ll be closing at noon on Thursday for the holiday. Just so you know,” she called after them as they walked out.
The sun was sinking low in the winter sky, and with it’s diminishment, so went its warmth. Meredith pulled her coat tightly around her as they left the building. She said, “Tea will hit the spot, I think.”
David pulled her close, tucking her against his side as they walked. “Not as much as answers will.”
“Oh, David. Don’t get your hopes up, will you? The whole thing might dead end on us.”
They walked silently, huddled close and bent against the wind until they reached the street where Miss Woodbridge lived. Her venerable old home retained its dignity and elegance even though the signs of neglect were beginning to show. Meredith remarked, “Exactly what you’d expect of a Victorian spinster, eh?”
David smiled. “Yes, I suppose so.”
They climbed the wide stairs from the walkway to the grand front door. Meredith rang the bell, causing deep mellow chimes to herald their arrival. Miss Woodbridge called out a reedy ‘hello’ and begged them to ‘wait just a moment, she wasn’t as fast on her feet as she used to be.’
“Meredith, my dear! How good to see you!” Miss Cecily Woodbridge, said opening the door to them. “And this must be Mr. Jennings. I’m pleased to meet you. Come in, come in!”
She ushered them into the foyer, closing the door on the cold wind. “I’ll take your coats from you, dears.”
“It’s all right, ma’am,”David said. “If you just tell us where to put them?”
“Very well,” she replied. “The coat stand is just there.”
David helped Meredith out of her coat and hung it with his on the antique fixture, hoping it was sturdy enough to hold the weight.
They waited while Miss Woodbridge shuffled into a parlor crowded with old fashioned furniture, family heirlooms and assorted curiosities. Nearly every bit of surface on the papered walls was covered with ornately-framed oil paintings —portraits, landscapes, stormy seascapes, ships in peril and the like. The fireplace at the far end of the room was lit and giving off welcoming warmth. She slowly made her way to the seating area surrounding the hearth and gestured for them to follow.
“Please sit,” she said, indicating the damask sofa opposite the matching chair she chose for herself. “Let’s have tea, right away. Take the chill off? I’ll have Marion bring it if you like.”
“That sounds lovely, thank you,” Meredith said.
Miss Woodbridge rang a little bell that had been sitting on the side table. Moments later a woman about sixty years younger than the lady of the house appeared.
“Marion, dear, we’ll take the tea now. And do join us won’t you?” Turning back to Meredith and David, she said, “My great-niece, bless her heart, I don’t know what I’d do without her. Comes over every day to get me up and about, doesn’t leave till the children are due home from school.”
She sighed. “How I miss your Grandmother, Meredith. Despite the difference in our ages, she was one of my dearest friends.” Turning to David, she added, “I only wish I had some personal knowledge I could share with you about your side of the family, David. I have vague memories of your grandfather, Hayden. And of your great-grandparents, who raised him. So many young fathers had been taken by the war. And then to have the double tragedy of losing his young mother to the flu. Terrible, just terrible.”
Marion returned with a tray loaded with the teapot and cups, milk and sugar, and a plate of cookies.This she set on the coffee table and served each of them a cup and passed the plate before taking the chair opposite Miss Woodbridge.
The older woman went on, “I certainly hope that Papa’s archives might be able to reveal a clue. One good thing about Papa. Everything is catalogued and well organized. It shouldn’t be difficult to separate out the appropriate documents from the irrelevant ones.”
“Well that’s a relief,” Meredith said.
“Now tell me. What did you find at the records office?”
Meredith explained about the entry of ‘unknown father’ on Gladys’ birth certificate.
“Oh my! The plot thickens!” Miss Woodbridge said, her eyes twinkling. “Well, in a way, that may be good news. That would have been quite scandalous in those days. We are likely to find mention of it somewhere among Papa’s things. His personal diary at a minimum, if not in the public records.” She took a sip of tea. “When would you like to start?”
Meredith glanced at David. “Right away, if that’s all right? We only have the rest of today and tomorrow. We plan on leaving on Thursday morning.”
“Absolutely. I understand. You must have plans for the holiday.”
“Er, well… Just a quiet day at home, actually,” Meredith replied.
Miss Woodbridge clapped her hands together. “Well now! My dears, you must join us here. What do you say, Marion? We can fit two more at the table, can’t we?”
Marion smiled. “Of course, Aunt Cecily.” She turned to Meredith and David. “We’d be delighted to have you join us.”
“Then it’s settled.” Miss Woodbridge said.
Meredith flushed. “I well, I mean, um….”
“We’d love to come,” David said. “On one condition. You must let us help with the preparations.”
Marion waved a hand dismissively, “Nonsense, we’ve got everything well in hand. You just come and enjoy.”
“Splendid! Splendid!” The older woman clasped her hands happily. “And besides, it will give you more time to spend in your research. Now, while you finish your tea, you can begin with that,” she said pointing to a large album lying on the side table. “I’ve marked the page. There’s a photo in there of your grandmother with her mother and her in-laws, your great-great grandparents. It was 1928, Armistice Day. There was a parade to mark the ten years since the end of the war. I was just three or four years old at the time, but its one of my earliest memories. Sitting on Papa’s shoulders so that I could see…”
Meredith opened the fragile old album to the marked page and found the photo in question. David moved in close to take a look, his shoulder and knee touching hers. She breathed in his scent, clean and manly.
“It’s a funny thing,” Miss Woodbridge was saying. “Now that I’ve met you, David, I’m struggling to see a family resemblance…”
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(Header Image courtesy: ookamikasumi deviant art)