Stuart Calleray’s funeral was attended by hundreds. The outpouring of sympathy and genuine grief – once the circumstances of his death became public knowledge – was a source of some comfort to his devastated widow. For once she allowed her unrestrained grief full vent as she said her final goodbyes to her slain husband at his graveside. Many other handkerchiefs were pressed to wet eyes that cruelly-beautiful summer day.
Over the course of the following weeks a strange phenomenon happened: people – complete strangers – were stopping by both Connolly House Projects – to offer financial aid to the work the Project was doing. Some sent donations by post. Not all of the donors were women. Not all of the donors could afford to be so generous, but such was the revulsion and anger at what had befallen Louisa Calleray’s husband, the good-hearted people of London and further afield wanted to ensure that the work they were doing continued to help women in need.
Such was the level of donations that Louisa found herself once again in the office of the young solicitor, Daniel Merchant, seeking his counsel.
“A Trust, to administer the funds, that would be my best suggestion.” he told Louisa. “That way all the responsibility for the money would pass to the trustees and not yourself.”
“Ah, that sounds like just what I am looking for. It worries me terribly that all these kind people have entrusted me with sometimes large sums of money.” Louisa said eagerly. “Really, one large company sent me a cheque just the other day for five thousand pounds!”
“Umm, do you have, ah, any idea of the total amount of money you wish to place into the fund?” Merchant asked nervously.
“I believe it is in the region of thirty thousand pounds now. More money seems to arrive every day.”
“It’s a decent amount of money, Mrs. Calleray. Have you given any thought to what you would actually like to do with it?”
“Gosh. I have not really given it any thought.” Louisa said slowly. “Do you have any ideas or suggestions, Mr. Merchant?” she asked.
“I need to look into a couple of things and consult with my senior colleagues, but I believe that something good could well come out of this horrible tragedy" Merchant said, with all sincerity.
“Thank you, Mr. Merchant. I know that we have not perhaps always seen eye-to-eye on a personal level. However I have always found you to be utterly professional in my dealings with you. For that I am not only most grateful, but also most confident that you will do what you believe to be what is best for this money.” Louisa smiled her warmest most genuine smile for the young man seated across the desk from her.
“I appreciate the vote of confidence.” Daniel Merchant said as he stood to escort Louisa from his office. “I hope I can continue to retain it.”
“Keep doing as you are doing and that is assured.” Louisa told him, shaking his hand.
“Thank you, Mrs. Calleray. I hope to be in touch within the next few days. ‘Bye for now.”
Twelve months later the third Project house opened, named the Connolly Calleray House Project as a memorial to Louisa’s husband. The Trust set up by Daniel Merchant – named the Stuart Calleray Memorial Trust – had provided enough funds to refurbish another large empty property. More than one hundred people attended the official opening, including the local Mayor. During a quiet moment at the reception he took Louisa aside.
“This is probably bloody poor timing, Louisa,” he began, “but this has been in the pipeline for a while now.”
“Mayor Jellis. How nice to see you. What has been in the pipeline?” Louisa asked.
“Well, the Committee has approved my awarding your good self a special award for the work you have been doing helping these unfortunate women. It’s called the Mayor’s Special Award.” the Mayor told a stunned Louisa.
“Oh, my!” she exclaimed.
The ceremony was short and held in private. A local press photographer and a reporter covered the story for the local newspaper. Louisa found herself in the slightly embarrassing position of being front page news once again, this time for far more pleasant reasons than formerly.
Tragic Widow Receives Civic Award From Mayor
the banner headline read. The earnest young reporter Louisa had met at the award ceremony had done a very good job of not rehashing the full details of her husband’s murder, for which she was grateful. The killer, Charles Harold Franks, had kept his date with the hangman almost a year ago. The less often Louisa had cause to remember him the more able she was to move on with her life. A small pang of regret that Stuart was not there to enjoy the moment with her caused her to frown momentarily. He would have been so proud of her and for her. A rueful smile replaced the frown.
“I love you as much as ever and miss you every second of every day.” she told the photograph that held pride-of-place on her ordered desk.
Putting the newspaper aside Louisa Calleray sighed wearily. So much work to do that now seemed that much harder to get through without her rock to support her. She had never been a woman given to self-pity. She could never have overcome the privations of her upbringing and the abuse she suffered at her uncle and aunt’s hands if she had been. There were times though, like now, when she should be overjoyed, that she felt tears sting her eyes. Taking several deep breaths and telling herself to pull herself together, Louisa Calleray tackled the pile of paperwork that required her attention.
The ringing of the telephone dragged her attention away from yet another invoice, this one for cleaning supplies. There was something not right about it that Louisa could not put her finger on. The telephone was an unwelcome distraction.
“Louisa Calleray.” she said into the handset.
“Ah, hello Mrs. Calleray. Daniel Merchant here.”
“Mr. Merchant. This is an unexpected pleasure!” Louisa said with a feeling of pleasure that was, for once, entirely genuine. “How may I help you?” she asked.
“I have some news for you that is going to blow…” Merchant began. He was going to say ‘blow you away’, but thought better of it given the circumstances of the death of Louisa’s husband. “That is very exciting.” he amended.
“You have my undivided attention. Please, go on.” There was a smile in Louisa’s voice. She would never number Daniel Merchant amongst her closest friends, but her toleration of him had grown considerably over the past couple of years. It helped that he was very good at his job.
Merchant went on to explain that the Stuart Calleray Memorial Fund had just received a large – a very large - anonymous donation. The donor stipulated that under no circumstances was Louisa to learn of the donor's name until ten years had passed.
“How very Alfred Hitchcock!” Louisa laughed, referencing the movie director who had made a name for himself making exciting mystery thriller movies. “And you have no idea whom this benefactor is?” she clarified.
“Not in the slightest. All I know is that the money was donated and that the person wants to remain anonymous.”
“How very odd. Dare I ask how much this kind person has given to the fund?”
“I do hope you are sitting down, Mrs. Calleray” Daniel Merchant cautioned.
“I am sitting at my desk in my study.” Louisa confirmed.
“The sum donated is…” Merchant paused. “Eighty-two thousand, four hundred and seventy-six pounds and a few shillings.” he said, carefully enunciating every word.
“Oh, my goodness!” Louisa squealed excitedly. "Oh, my dear goodness!”
“It’s a fair-old sum, alright.” Daniel Merchant said, losing his professional demeanour for a few moments.
As much to satisfy his own curiosity as to inform Louisa Calleray of the identity of her most generous of benefactors, Daniel Merchant made as many enquiries as he was able regarding the bequest. At almost every turn he met a wall of confidentiality and secrecy. He finally ceased his investigation when he was advised to do so by one of the more senior partners of the firm.
“You are treading dangerous – professionally dangerous - waters.” the partner had told him over coffee one morning. “You are gaining yourself a good reputation, Merchant. Please do not throw it away because your curiosity got the better of you.”
He had taken the caution to heart.
“It is only ten years.” he told Louisa on the telephone. “No time at all, really.” he joked.
“So speaks the voice of youth!” Louisa laughed. “I shall put the matter out of my mind otherwise it will drive me insane wondering about it.”
With Daniel Merchant’s sound advice and guidance the first Connolly House Project outside of London was opened in the West Country city of Bristol, birthplace of Marilyn Penney. Named the Connolly Penney House Project, Marilyn herself was afforded the honour of opening the premises in spring of nineteen fifty-seven.
It was a momentous year: not only did the fourth Connolly House Project open its doors and the Russians beat the Americans into space when they launched their Sputnik satellite in October, it was also the year Louisa Calleray, nee Tavistock, turned the milestone age of fifty.
“And you are as beautiful as you were when you were eighteen!” Marilyn Penney assured her as they sat drinking coffee in a coffee shop and listening to a brash young American singer with the unlikely name of Elvis Presley belt out a rather raucous song called ‘Hound Dog’. It had featured a lot in coffee bars all over the country, if not most of the world, but the radio had largely ignored it.
“There are days when I feel every day of my fifty years, I can tell you.” Louisa sighed.
“I’m sure you do. It must be tough for you without Stuart to take some of the worry out of your days” Marilyn sympathised. “I know that I could not cope without my Bernard behind me.”
“Some days are harder – and worse – than others.” Louisa admitted. “The past three years have been the most difficult I can remember since I was a young girl.”
In spite of their friendship and closeness Louisa had still not confided in Marilyn the full horrors of her upbringing and the abuse she suffered. So many years had passed that the memories, although still painful, were less vivid nowadays. To share them now with somebody else risked rubbing the wounds sore again. Louisa most certainly did not want that to happen so she kept her secrets to herself.
“It is going to be a spectacular party tonight.” Marilyn said, the excitement in her voice making her sound a little like an excited schoolgirl.
“So much fuss over nothing.” Louisa demurred. “Really, I would much rather have supper at home with my dearest friends than be the cause of such spectacle.”
“Oh, phooey!” Marilyn laughed as another noisy song came on the jukebox. She rather liked the unusual singing style of the singer, one Buddy Holly, another American she believed.
“Thank goodness we won’t have to listen to this nonsense tonight!” Louisa declared as though she had been reading Marilyn’s thoughts. Her finger was pointing at the jukebox in the corner. “Awful noise. Simply awful!” Marilyn declined to comment.
Louisa wore a beautiful emerald-blue dress that accentuated her still-slender figure.
“You are definitely the belle of this ball, darling.” one noted philanderer said with a lascivious wink at her. “If I wasn’t married already…” he hinted.
“I would still avoid you like the plague, Anthony” Louisa said with mock sweetness. It was not the first time he had suggested since her husband’s death that he and she should get together. It was never going to happen while Louisa still drew breath.
“Creepy Anthony Percival drooling all over you again?” Marilyn asked.
“I can handle him. He’s a lecherous fool. I do not understand why poor Yvonne puts up with him, really I don’t”
“Two things, apparently. One is money and the other…” Marilyn grinned. “Well, it’s what he keeps in his trousers, I’ve heard.” She grinned again.
For a heartbeat or two Louisa looked blankly at her friend, then realisation dawned.
“Marilyn!” she squealed. “You are scandalous!” she laughed. The two women hugged and laughed like the teenagers they used to be. Louisa kissed her friend’s cheek.
“Thank you for everything. I love you dearly.” she said warmly.
“Bernard and I adore you, too.” Marilyn told her best friend. “Happy birthday, dearest.”
To be continued...