Why would an American couple be staying in an out-of-the way place like Silver Oaks Cabins? Well, maybe because they thought one of their ancestors came from that area. That idea leads to this story, and a realization that sometimes it’s better not to know.
This is a first draft, please accept any blinding errors for what they are!!
This wasn’t going the way he had imagined it, Trey had to admit to himself as he opened the door of the cottage, and carried their bags in. Dotty sniffed slightly as she followed her husband over the threshold. Her allergies had been giving her trouble ever since they had landed in Heathrow 2 weeks ago. She was hoping that the proximity to the sea would help a bit, but so far little seemed to have changed. This whole trip had been different than she had expected or hoped.
Seeing his wife in evident discomfort, Trey said, “Listen Dotty, we don’t have to stay here, I’m sure there are some great hotels in London we could find, and they’d probably have air conditioning and everything.”
It seemed like years since they had had decent air conditioning, not that it had been hot. Accustomed as they were to Texas weather, the temperatures here seemed cold by comparison. But it was the warm and muggy conditions that were wearing for Dotty, as much as the lack of success in their quest.
Dotty had to admit that the idea of a modern hotel in a real city appealed to her, but she wanted to try this last clue at least. “I appreciate the offer Trey’” she said, “but let’s just stick it out a couple of days here, who knows we might find something here.”
This was their first time traveling outside of the US, and it had been Dotty’s hope that she could learn moreabout her ancestors. The furthest she had been able to go back was 5 Generations, to a Captain John Larwood, who had arrived in New York from Liverpool. So she had started her hunt in Liverpool, and had learned a lot about The Beatles, about the cotton trade between the countries and lots of other interesting histories, but nothing about the sea captain. Her great grandmother had said that she believed they had come from Wales, so their next stop was Cardiff, but that had proved fruitless too.
The last clue was that “Larwood” was said to be an East Anglian name, specifically a Norfolk one. Research at home lead them to think that they might find some records in Norwich, but when they got there, the trail was almost blank. The last glimmer of hope had been a reference to a family of fishermen on the North Norfolk Coast, that seemed to tie in with the dates they had, but it was a very vague reference, with hardly any detail.
Nevertheless, they phoned round a few places to try and find some accommodation, eventually finding Silver Oaks which was, at least, in the approximate right area.
“Well, before we set off on the hunt, I vote for a day off, and some gentle walking,” Trey said.
He loved his wife, and her enthusiasm was one of the things that had always attracted him. But sometimes, he was also frustrated by her. He thought about their home, and all the corners containing reminders of her many enthusiasm. There were the collection of dolls; all beautifully dressed in hand made clothes. The cupboards full of mason jars from her canning experiments. Shelves packed with her collection of memorabilia from the peanut industry. And now history.
When Dotty had started with this desire to find out about her past, he had assumed that it would entail internet searches, and maybe the use of one of the family tree investigation services he had heard about. But no, Dotty wanted to do it all first-hand, and it had meant long trips to the Eastern seaboard and visits to graveyards and old churches, dusty record offices and libraries. It was fascinating, he had to admit, and it kept them both active in their retirement years.
And now a trip to England, and this strange countryside and odd dialects. Liverpool had been fun, Wales just confusing, and his head was still reeling. Driving on the wrong side of the road was difficult too, but then when he reached his part of the country, where the lanes were barely wider than his rental SUV, he had just about lost it.
Dotty too was getting tired of the hunt. At first, it had been amusing to explain where they were from, and what they were doing. But it seemed that all anyone knew about Dallas was J. R. Ewing, and she soon tired of explaining that no, they were not in the oil business, and no, they were not multi-millionaires.
“Yes, a day of relaxation would be wonderful,” she agreed, “and what a cute place this is you found, you are so smart!”
It was late the next morning before they ventured out. They had a local map, and it looked a nice walk down to the sea, then along the shore, and then back through the woods. They had eaten only apples for breakfast, but saw that there was a café about half way along the route, so they thought they would have an early lunch there.
Walking was harder than they had anticipated. Rather than the paved walkway they had both expected, the path wound in and out among the trees, sometimes disappearing entirely and leaving them wondering if they had gone the wrong way. Then the trees gave way to shrubs, and then to dunes until they, at last, reached the shore. The water seemed to be miles away, and between them and the water was a stretch of wet sand, rivulets of water and sand banks. Not at all like the manicured beaches they had back home.
They started out in high spirits, but soon their happy chatter relapsed into a trudging silence, and they were both relieved when the café came into sight.
“There it is, Fisherman’s Café,” Trey said, “let’s hope they have something nice to eat.”
Trey still shuddered when he thought of their first breakfast in Liverpool, and he swore that he’d never try “black pudding” again.
The menu was for burgers or all-day breakfast, and they both settled for scrambled eggs and bacon. The waitress, Dorothy, was a friendly enough person and came back to their table to chat after she had taken their order.
“And where are you from, if you don’t mind me asking?” Dorothy enquired.
“We’re from Dallas, Texas” Dotty replied, and in an effort to stop any questions about the TV show of the same name went on “Actually, my given name is Dorothy too, I was named after my grandmother.” She added for no particular reason.
“Oh how nice!” Smiled Dorothy “I was named after my great-great Grandmother Dorothy Larwood.”
Dotty and Trey both jumped as Dorothy said the name, and she looked at them in alarm.
“Are you alright m’dears? You look quite shocked.”
At that moment, the bell rang which meant the food was ready to be served, so Dorothy went over to the kitchen and came back bearing plates of food for the visitors.
“Now you eat up: you look quite white, maybe it’s that jet-lag they talk about,” Dorothy said with concern as she put the plates in front of them.
Dotty tried to hold down her rising excitement. “You are from the Larwood family did you say?” Dotty asked, ignoring the food in front of her. “We came here hoping to track down an ancestor of mine with that name.”
“Really m’dear?” Dorothy replied. “Well, I never heard of any of my relatives going over the pond.” She paused and tried to remember the stories that her family had told her, long ago. “As I recall, Great-great-Grandma Dorothy married and had daughters, so the name didn’t go on to any more generations.”
“Do you know if she had any brothers or sisters?” Trey asked.
“No, she was an only child, her mother – oh! What was the name? It’ll come to me I’m sure – anyway I remember I was told she was left a widow after her husband was lost at sea. Being on the boats was a hard life back in those days, I dare say.”
Dorothy was about to turn to her other customers when a memory came back to her.
“Catherine! That was it! And her husband that was lost at sea was John! My, how long it is since I heard those stories, how Catherine struggled to bring up her daughter, waiting in vain for the return of Captain John, who’d traveled to Liverpool looking for a good position, but he never came back. I remember how it would bring a tear to my eye just to think of him, out there, swept away and drowned on some foreign shore. It just about broke poor Catherine’s heart when he didn’t come back they do say.” Dorothy dabbed at her eyes. “A true love story, but without a happy ending, sad to say.” She moved on, leaving Dotty and Trey looking at each other in silence.
Eventually, Dotty said, “You don’t think?”
“John is a common name,” Trey replied.
“It can’t be, Dorothy said he was drowned,” Trey reminded her.
“She said he went to Liverpool and never came back. It might have been easier for his wife to think that he’d drowned than that he’d started a new life without her.”
“But if so,” Trey hesitated before continuing.
“If so,” he started again, “Then when he started a family in America he was still married, and had abandoned a wife and child back in England.”
Before Dotty could answer, Dorothy appeared at the table. “Everything alright m’dears? You’ve not started your food, is there anything wrong?”
“Oh no it’s fine,” Dotty replied, hurriedly picking up her fork. “We were just chatting, that’s all, and this looks wonderful.”
“Well, you let me know if there is anything I can get you, OK?” Dorothy replied as she went on her rounds of the tables.
“What should we do?” Trey asked in an undertone.
“Do?” Dorothy replied. “We will eat this food, and leave as soon as decently possible.”
“But what about your quest? This looks like a really promising lead, don’t you want to find out the truth?”
Dorothy thought before she answered.
“Truth is a relative term, Trey.” She said. “My truth is that Captain John Larwood was a heroic character that came over the Atlantic to make a life for himself in the land of the free. Dorothy’s truth is that Captain John loved his wife and was tragically lost at sea. Why can’t we both be right?”
Dorothy came over and cleared their plates. “Any more tea? Toast? Anything?”
“No thanks,” Dotty replied. “Actually we should be going, we’re leaving this afternoon.” She shot a warning glance at Trey as she said this, and he didn’t contradict his wife, even though they had booked the cottage for the next 5 days.
“Oh that’s a shame m’dears” Dorothy smiled. “We don’t get many ‘mericans in these parts, and it would have been nice to chat some more.”
Back at Silver Oaks, Trey told the office that something had come up. Paid what was due and started packing the car. On the way back to the cottages, he had already phoned and booked a London 5 star hotel for the rest of their stay.
“You are sure about this?” He asked as the last of their things were put in the car. “We can always change our minds if you want?”
Dotty smiled up at her husband, who, she knew, was always loving, and would never desert her. “I’m sure. And it’s about time you were spoiled at a nice hotel. In any case, I’ve already written in the journal, so we have to leave now!”
“Well, I won’t pretend the idea of a real restaurant, a swimming pool, a sauna and some civilized sightseeing does appeal a lot!” Trey smiled, took his bride’s arm, and shut the door on the cottage.
Cabin 22 Journal.
Dear reader, never look back! The past is a foreign country, as someone once said, and it is best to leave it alone. Memories change, love endures, or it doesn’t, and history is created by the next generation.
I hope you enjoy this place – I was here too short a time to judge, but it looks pretty.
I have just found out that both my given names come from my ancestors who were from this part of the world. They never knew it, but their line continued over the ocean.
Dorothy Catherine Miller (Dotty)