A Family History Collection
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Book 2 - Louisa Gilbert 1866 -
Dedication - to my cousin David Barrington-Day, (1926-2011) grandson of Louisa Ann Gilbert who brought to life for me the character and latter years of 'a lovely lady...a true countrywoman...the best grandma anyone could have had'
"I was conceived out of wedlock."
Louis looked sharply at her, then looked away. After some thought, he said
"Many a bride goes to the church that way..as indeed will you.....that was not so very bad..""
"No, I mean, my mother's husband is not my father"
"Ah, I see. Why do you tell me this now?"
"Because my name is not Griffin, as father’s, but Gilbert. You will see it on the marriage lines."
The silence was long and painful.
"Is this commonly known?"
"In my village, yes, I suppose it is"
"Why did your mother not marry him?"
"He died, I am told..."
"Ah, well, that is unfortunate."
He studied his hands, then stood and walked to the window.
Without turning he said
" I have not had it told to me so perhaps it is not generally known in town..."
He continued to gaze through the window.
Louis was not a big man, rather a small and wiry one, but he had a manner of some arrogance.
His voice hard, he said,
"You know that my grandfather was Librarian and Parish Clerk; that my father was a respected man of business. You should have told me before we...."
He banged his fist on the sill.
"Dammit, woman, you had no right to draw me in."
Louisa's eyes stung at the injustice, remembering his insistence, his rough impatience with her reluctance.
"Well, I suppose you have me now. My family will be reconciled to our marriage though I know it will be a disappointment to them. It must be so - I know my responsibilities. I think you are much like your mother!
You have strong and healthy constitution. I need that in a wife. A high born lady is all very well, but the Bakery business is a hard one, so it is no doubt for the best."
Louisa's marriage may not have been ideal for Louis’ family but it caused great joy in hers.
Louisa's mother, Caroline, was triumphant but she had spent enough years in service to know how to conduct herself in the company of her betters.
She reserved the worst excesses of her glee for Louisa.
"No skivvying for you my girl! And don't you forget your brothers and sisters when you need people in your fine establishment!"
She had no difficulty with Louisa's thickening waistline.
"You caught him, that is the thing, however it was done. But you took a great chance. Not every man will marry a girl just because she lifted her skirts for him. I should know! Never mind. It is done and all will be well.
Within hours, the village was afire with the news.
He was not real gentry but near enough. His father had been the, Postmaster, Land Agent and Parish Clerk. How had the bastard daughter of a scullery maid and a farm labourer managed to catch a son of Ludgershall's first family?
Caroline was quick to ask just that question.
"He happened upon me as I was walking the Lanes from Honey Street back to Great Bedwyn after Christmas. He was bringing the bread to the village. He offered me a ride home. I was glad of it on such a muddy, wet day.
He said that he had seen me in the village and was much taken with me. "
"You have the looks to catch any man’s eye. You did well to catch his.
So you have been sporting amongst the loaves in his wagon behind our backs, you minx! What a good joke!” Caroline’s once pretty face collapsed with laughter.
"I did not...I was not..."
"Not willing, you mean? Well you should have been! But maybe not. Some men like it better that way.
And what does he know of our family's history?"
"Only that your husband is not my father. That my father died before you could be wed. I had to tell him. He would see 'Gilbert' in the Marriage Lines."
"More than enough...more than enough. No more than that, d'you hear? What he doesn't know......"
"I will never tell him"
Caroline gave Louisa's belly a hard look.
"What a pussy- mouthed little hypocrite you are”
Louis’ godfather, Thomas Meaby, however, had made his own enquiries about Louisa’s family.
He ensured that Louis knew everything that he did not already know.
“ You do not have to marry this girl. Her family have scant respect for the institution. One more bastard would be unnoticeable among the throng”
“ I want to marry her.”
“Why, in the name of God, would you? Do not prate to me about love, boy. Love will not do.”
“But I do love her. And I mean to marry her.”
“Then you are a fool.
You cannot bring her here. You will join your sisters at your Aunt Sarah’s in London for now. They are silly enough to welcome whoever you may marry. And I will give some thought to what is to be done after you are wed.”
Caroline hastened to stay with her mother in Great Bedwyn, leaving her family to shift for itself.
“Lord! Where we will find the finery for such a wedding? "
"I am to go to the dressmaker. Louis is to pay the bill..." Louisa admitted.
"Better and better! Can you not persuade him to send us all to the dressmaker?"
The family knew everyone in Great Bedwyn and were related to many.
Every neighbour, friend and relative felt the need to impress this groom's family, wanting a share in the glory. Every bit of finery was paraded before Caroline and the Gilberts. Furbelows and folderols were held up, tried on and discarded. Moth eaten collars, hats and gloves were reverently retrieved from yellowing paper in damp drawers only to be found wanting.
Caroline was draped in undergarments big enough for two and squeezed into dresses a generation out of fashion.
Finally, Louisa had to ask Louis to extend his generosity to her family, too.
If he was to be spared them appearing in the combined mismatched Sunday best of the entire village, he really had no choice.
His response shocked Louisa;
“They will need no finery! I will not have a passel of yokels with their country rags and strange rituals gawking at my family.
We are to be married from my Aunt Sarah’s house in London.”
And so it was.
Louisa came from a large family and it seemed they were all at the train halt to wave them farewell. Caroline’s disappointment showed in her petulant face, but Louisa’s dear grandmother’s face was streaked with tears of real sorrow.