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Authors: Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The Lost Ancestor

BOOK: The Lost Ancestor
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The Lost Ancestor

by

Nathan Dylan Goodwin

 

 

Copyright © Nathan Dylan
Goodwin 2014

 

Nathan Dylan Goodwin has
asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 to be
identified as the author of this work.

 

This story is a work of
fiction.  Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

 

All rights
reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, without the prior permission in
writing of the author.  This story is sold subject to the condition that
it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or
otherwise circulated without the author’s prior consent in any form of binding,
cover or other
 
eformat
, including this condition being imposed on the
subsequent purchaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to dedicate
this book to

Robert, Sarah and
Harrison

Chapter One

 

Morton
Farrier was impressed.  He had known that, when he was given an address on
the exclusive Granville Road in St Margaret at Cliffe, he would find himself
envious but the house outside of which he had just parked was nothing short of
stunning.  It was centred among a row of disparate and elite properties,
the homes and second homes of the rich and fortunate.  The village,
perched high on the white cliffs of Kent between Deal and Dover, overlooked the
invisible marine boundary of the English Channel and the North Sea and had, since
Victorian times, attracted wealth and prosperity.  Whatever the occupation
of the house’s owner, he had to be earning a decent salary.

Morton stepped from his red and white Mini
and took a good look at the house.  Protected by black iron gates and a
cherry-laurel hedge, the pristine white-walled and oak-window-framed property
was dominated by a sumptuous three-storey panel of glass, set in a concave
semi-circle.

Given the apparent luxury of the place,
Morton was surprised to be able simply to pull open the gates and head up the
drive unhindered by video entry systems or guard dogs.  Pressing the
doorbell, he waited as it chimed noisily inside.  A few moments later, the
blurred shadow of a figure moved towards the frosted glass.  The door
opened, revealing a tall, slender man with an affable, pleasant face. 
Wearing an expensive-looking shirt and dark trousers, the man smiled and
offered his hand to Morton.  His hair was stone-grey, thinned at the
centre and deep lines were etched on his forehead and around the corners of his
eyes; Morton guessed him to be in his mid-seventies.

‘Mr Mercer?’ Morton asked, shaking the
proffered hand vigorously.

‘Ray,' he said warmly.  'You must be
Morton Farrier?  You look familiar from the newspapers a few months
ago.  Come on in.'

   ‘Thank you,’ he answered,
preferring not to discuss a previous case which had made the national headlines
after it had led to the downfall of a prominent aristocratic family, the
sacking of an upcoming police chief and the imprisonment of a murderer. 
The upshot of that high profile case was that Morton was afforded the luxury of
cherry-picking from prospective genealogical assignments.  The intriguing
email which had arrived in his inbox three days ago from Ray Mercer had piqued
his interest sufficiently to warrant a meeting.

Morton followed Ray through an opulent
hallway.  Fractured light filtered in through the large, floor-to-ceiling
windows, illuminating the marble flooring.  The vast hallway fed an open
staircase and a network of oak doors, some offering Morton revealing glimpses
of the luxurious rooms within.  Ray pulled open one of the doors, which
led into a sizeable, rectangular room with one wall being made entirely of
glass, offering a breathtaking view of the English Channel.

‘Wow!’ Morton said, heading towards the
window.  ‘Fantastic view.’  In the hazy distance the rugged cliffs of
the
Nord-Pas de Calais
rose over the Channel, busy with giant white
passenger ships coming and going between Dover and Calais.

Ray, arms folded contemplatively, joined
Morton and stared out to the distant sea.  ‘Not bad, is it?  I came
back here to retire a few years ago.  I’ll never get bored with it—always
something different or new to appreciate.  When I was designing the house,
I spent an age fussing over artwork for the walls.  Then I realised that
if I just had a decent window, Mother Nature would paint me a new picture every
day and there would be no need for anything else.’

‘It certainly is lovely,’ Morton said,
taking in the whole room.  The three remaining walls were lined with
bookshelves.  Besides that, the room was minimalistic in its furnishing: a
selection of silver-framed photographs stood on a desk in the centre of the
room with two leather chairs neatly placed either side of the desk.  A
grand piano completed the room’s furniture.

Ray turned to Morton.  ‘You can see
why they called it
Hellfire Corner
around here during the last war, with
France being so close.’

‘Didn’t the Nazis
have guns
stationed in northern France which could reach here?’

‘That’s right.  I was born in a small
cottage just down the road from here in 1935.  My earliest memories are of
war: searchlights over the Channel, guns banging, planes dog-fighting overhead,
bombs landing nearby, Jerry pilots being frogmarched by the Home Guard past our
house.’

‘Must have been scary for a young boy.’

‘Well, it was all boys’ adventure stuff at
first.  Then Hitler put the V1 rocket launchers just across the water and
suddenly we were under the flight path of the dreaded doodlebugs.  That was
how my father died: a doodlebug was shot down by a well-meaning American
fighter plane and it detonated right next door to our house.  He was
killed outright.’

‘How awful for you,’ Morton said.

‘Yes.  My mother had taken me out for
a walk along the beach down in St Margaret’s Bay that morning.  The irony
was that she had guessed what the American plane was about to do and pointed it
out to me so that I could watch.  The image of my mother’s face, as the
blood drained from it and horror consumed her eyes, will stay with me
forever.  I knew, too, of course—I wasn’t silly.  She sent me off to
spend a few days with my granny in Winchelsea.  She was my dad’s
mum.  Though she later had a short-lived marriage to the village doctor,
he was illegitimate, hence me being a Mercer, like granny.  Anyway, days
turned into weeks, weeks turned into months; before I knew it I hadn’t seen my
mother in several years.  I later learned that she was incarcerated at the
East Kent County Asylum in Chartham.  It was in the days when mental
health was something to keep hidden, to be ashamed of, so my grandmother
thought it best not to tell me what had happened to her until after her death.’

Morton watched quietly as Ray brushed his
eyes with his right index finger.  ‘That must have been pretty tough on
you,’ Morton said, carefully watching the old man.

Something seemed to click in Ray,
catapulting him back to reality.  He shrugged slightly.  ‘Just one of
those things, happened to lots of families out there.  Still, the silver
lining, for want of a better phrase, was that I became very close to my
grandmother.  I doted on her, and she on me.’

‘And it was her twin sister who
disappeared?’ Morton asked.  ‘The person you want me to try and find for
you?’

‘Yes, that’s right, Mary Mercer.’ Turning
from the window, Ray walked over to his desk, picked up a framed photograph and
handed it to Morton.  ‘That’s her on the right, with my granny, Edith.’

Morton held the cold silver frame and took
in the picture.  Seeing the real people behind the names and dates always
brought his genealogical cases to life for him.  The time-faded, sepia
photo was of two girls, identical in height, around the age of fifteen. 
However, the similarity between the sisters ended there.  Mary, dark hair
parted in the centre with matching decorative bows to each side, rested her
head on her sister and the pair jointly held some kind of a book.  In
Morton’s experience, it was usually a Bible.  Both girls had plain, white
dresses with simple buttons running down the middle.  Edith had sharp,
angular features and fiery eyes, giving her the look of someone with a
formidable temperament.  Mary, meanwhile, had a much softer, prettier face
with warm eyes.

Ray shifted slightly.  ‘That was the
last picture of the two of them together.  I did a bit of digging—it was
taken at Pearson’s Photography Studio in Hastings in 1910.  Look like
chalk and cheese, don’t they?’

Morton nodded.  ‘I wouldn’t ever have
guessed them to be twins.’

‘Well, I’ve got the proof over there,’ Ray
said with a smile, nodding his head towards the desk.  ‘Come and sit
down.’

The pair moved to the leather
chairs.  Morton opened his briefcase and took out a notepad and pen. 
Although he always took his laptop with him on such visits, he still preferred scribing
notes the old-fashioned way then typing them up at home, fleshing out the
detail with further research as he went.

‘Here,’ Ray said, handing Morton an A3
manila envelope.

Morton withdrew a large, carefully
organised pile of papers and set them down in his lap.  On the top of the
pile was a General Register Office copy of Mary Mercer’s birth
certificate.  ‘Nineteenth of April, 1893, 4.16pm, Winchelsea,
Sussex.  Mary Kate.  Girl.  Daughter of Thomas Mercer and
Katherine Mercer, formally Wraight.  Father’s occupation—waggoner. 
Mark of Katherine Mercer, informant.’  Two pieces of information struck
Morton as being of interest: first of all, that Katherine, like many
countryside folk in the nineteenth-century, was illiterate and signed her name
with a cross; secondly, that the precise time of birth had been noted on the
certificate, which usually indicted multiple births so as to prove the order of
delivery.  Morton lifted the certificate and took a cursory glance at the
next: Mary’s twin sister, Edith Jane Mercer, born nine minutes later.  The
rest of the certificate was identical.

‘So,’ Ray said.  ‘There’s the proof
that Mary was actually born onto this planet.  You’ll see in that pile of
documents that I found her living at home with her sisters, mum and dad in
1901, then I found her ten years later on the 1911 census, then she
vanishes.  Mary’s whole life whittled down to three official documents.’

Morton scribbled some notes on his
pad.  ‘No marriage or death certificates?’

Ray shook his head vehemently. 
‘No.  I’ve tried every combination you can think of.  I actually
started searching for her years ago, back in the days when you had to go to the
Family Records Centre in Islington.  I checked every quarter of every
year—not a dicky bird.  I tried emigration and passenger records but that
came back with nothing either.  I’ve tried every conceivable angle but she
remains completely elusive.’

‘I don’t wish to be insensitive here, Ray,
but have you considered the possibility that something untoward happened to
her?  Something which left no genealogical trace for me to follow?’ 
Morton said, carefully choosing his words.

‘Do you mean what if her death was covered
up somehow?  Like someone killed her? Or suicide?’ Ray asked, before
addressing the question.  ‘She was at my mother’s funeral in 1962,
although I didn’t know it at the time.’

‘What do you mean?’ Morton asked, his
interest piquing substantially.

‘Well, I’ll come to that.  Let me
start at the beginning, so you know everything.’  Ray took in a deep breath
and looked to the ceiling, as if trying to extract long-buried memories. 
‘I clearly remember the first time that Granny told me about her sister’s
disappearance.  I must have been about ten years old at the time and I was
rummaging through Granny’s bedside drawer looking for something or other when I
found a locket.  The drawer was full of jewellery but something about this
locket made me pick it out and look at it more closely.  It was silver
with a small stone set in the centre.  Inside, was the photo of someone I
didn’t recognise.  Granny came in and lost her temper with me, snatched it
away and sent me to my room.  I remember being jolly upset by it all—I’d
never seen her so angry before.  A while later she came and found me, sat
on my bed and I can still see her now, tears flooding down her face as she
apologised for her outburst and told me that the picture in the locket was of
her sister, Mary, whom she hadn’t seen for a very long time.  Then she
told me the same snippet that she would repeat over the course of her life
until the day she died:  Mary was at work as usual as a live-in, domestic
servant and she left to go home for her half day’s leave.  The people she
worked for said she did her normal day’s work then left for home; but she never
arrived.  According to Granny, the whole village came out in force to look
for her.  The search began to peter out after a few days then it was
stopped altogether when a letter was discovered that said she had run
away.  Apparently, the letter was postmarked in Scotland.  The search
was called off and Granny was left heartbroken.  I mean, imagine your twin
sister just vanishing like that.  I don’t think she ever believed that
letter to have been genuine.’

‘You mean it was forged?’ Morton asked.

‘No, it was definitely in her
handwriting.  I just don’t think Granny could believe her twin would write
it.’

‘I don’t suppose you still have the
letter?’

Ray shook his head.  ‘No, sadly
not.  I don’t know where it went, but Granny didn’t have it.’

Morton wrote the word ‘Scotland’ then
underlined it.  ‘Is there any significance in running away to
Scotland?  I’m thinking Gretna Green, eloping with someone?’

‘Not that I was ever told, no. 
You’ll find among that stack a newspaper report in the
Sussex Express
about
the search for Mary.  There’s no mention of a companion.  Anyway,
that was the last time Mary was heard of until 1962—fifty-one years
later.  Granny was buried in St Thomas’s Church, Winchelsea with her
parents.  Most of the day was a blur for me and by the end of it I was
entirely drained.  All the mourners had gone and I just needed to be by
myself, so I returned to her grave.  There I was, reading all the
condolence cards attached to the flowers, when I saw a simple single white
rose, around which was wound an identical silver locket to the one Granny had,
only this one contained a photo of Granny.’

BOOK: The Lost Ancestor
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