By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the story and a family tree, here.
“Gladys’ real father claimed her,” David repeated. “Of course. That would make sense.” He rubbed his chin. “But that would mean he was aware of her existence. This opens up a whole new set of questions…. Why, for instance, hadn’t he claimed her before this?”
“And if Ada knew the father and the father knew of the baby’s existence, why had Ada left his name off the birth certificate? And why hadn’t he married Ada when she found out she was pregnant?” Meredith added. “And…”
“And why did my great-grandfather end up marrying her after she’d had another man’s child?” David interrupted. “Wouldn’t that have been pretty outrageous in those days?”
Miss Woodbridge nodded. “Yes. I believe it would.”
Meredith added, “There must have been tremendous pressure from her family to marry. David what do you know about your great-grandmother?”
He leaned back in the sofa. “Not much. Just her name. Ada Henry. And her birthday, the date she married my great-grandfather and the day she died.”
“We need to look into her family, the Henrys. See what we can find out about them. Maybe unearthing some of Ada’s history will give us a better idea how she ended up in the circumstances she did.”
David nodded. “The records office should have her birth certificate, right? Her parents’ names will be on that. We can go back tomorrow morning.”
“In the meantime, may we start looking at your father’s documents?” Meredith asked Miss Woodbridge.
“Certainly, dear,” she agreed. “As soon as we finish our tea.”
The older lady was not to be hurried. She had Marion refill everyone’s cups and pass the plate of cookies around a second time while she asked Meredith about her recent move to her new home at St. Eanswith. Did she like the quieter surroundings? Was she enjoying the new school? Did she miss the city life? And so on. When finally, cups had been drained and questions had been satisfactorily answered, Miss Woodbridge braced herself on the arms of her chair and pushed herself to her feet. “Well, then, come with me and I’ll show you Papa’s things.”
“I’ll just clear the tea things and be on my way, Aunt Cecily,” Marion said. “I’ve left a container of stew and a fresh roll out for your supper, then.”
“Thank you, dear. I’ll see you tomorrow,” the older woman replied.
With that, Marion left them to shuffle slowly down the hallway to the library at the back of the house. Miss Woodbridge pushed open the door and ushered them into a large space entirely lined with bookcases and cabinets. She flipped a switch in the wall that lit up a series of sconces in the spaces between shelves. In the center of the room was a large desk, a library table and a pair of comfortable armchairs that must have been more recent additions to the Victorian decor. Even the walls with windows facing out onto the rear garden had low glass-fronted cabinets beneath them, housing mementos and artifacts from times gone by.
“Wow,” David remarked. “Where do we start?”
“Well,” Miss Woodbridge began. “There are news articles saved in scrapbooks. They are sorted by date. Those are on the shelves over here.” She pointed. “Papa’s personal journals are on the shelves behind his desk. All his photograph albums are on the shelves below. Which reminds me, I must return the one in the living room to its spot…”
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” David said. “I’ll get it for you.”
“Much obliged, David,” she said as he left the room. When he was out of earshot, she said, “My goodness, Meredith. He’s a fine looking man. Why, if I were forty years younger…”
Meredith laughed. “I hadn’t noticed!”
It was the older woman’s turn to laugh. “Meredith you’d have to be dead not to notice. It appears the two of you are getting along rather well?”
Meredith blushed. “Miss Woodbridge! He’s my cousin!”
She waved a hand dismissively. “Third cousin, Meredith. You’re barely related.”
The matter was dropped as David reentered the room with the photo album. “So what have you decided?” he asked, as he replaced the volume in the empty space it normally occupied.
Miss Woodbridge gestured to the scrapbooks containing the newspaper articles. “That might be a good place to start. Less tedious than reading through all of Papa’s journals. If you find an interesting bit, you can compare it to his journal entries from around the same time.”
“That’s a good idea,” Meredith said.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” she said, making her way to the door. “If you need anything, I’ll be in the sitting room.”
“We should start at a point before Gladys was born, don’t you think?” David asked. “Maybe the year before?”
Meredith yawned. “Sure. Why not?”
David laid a hand on her arm. “Meri? Are you up for this? We don’t have to dig into this tonight. Now that we’ve decided to stay through the holiday, we don’t have to rush.”
“No, it’s ok. Let’s get a start on it,” she said. “We’ll start with 1912 and see how far we get.”
They began with the first of two scrapbooks marked 1912. David pulled the two volumes from the shelf, laid them on the library table and switched on the lamp. The news after April was dominated by the sinking of the Titanic. Mr. Woodbridge had included the major news reports of the disaster as well as reports on a few local citizens who were lost in the catastrophe and some who were affected indirectly, through the loss of family members and so forth.
By the time they had finished with the second volume, all remnants of daylight had disappeared. David replaced the the two volumes in their spaces and said, “I think that’s enough for today. Let’s head back to the inn and have a pint and a bite to eat. What do you say?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Meredith replied.
They bid goodbye to their hostess with a promise to return tomorrow after a stop at the records office. Then, bundling up in their coats, they set out for the Seafarer on foot. For a while, they walked in silence, huddled close with heads bent against the wind. David finally spoke.
“Meri,” he said, stopping her on the sidewalk. He put his hands on her arms and turned her to face him. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. I never would have gotten this far on my own.”
She smiled up at him. “It is really is no bother. I do love research, after all. In fact I feel like we’re digging for hidden treasure.”
He leaned down and kissed her lightly on the lips. “And I feel like I’ve already found it.”