It was in the spring of nineteen forty-one that a telegram addressed to Miss Louisa Tavistock arrived at the home of Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper. Both women were out of the house, working at the hospital tending to injured blitz victims. However, upon arriving back at the house and finding the telegram on a silver salver, Louisa was quite taken aback.
“I have never in my life received a telegram!” she exclaimed, nonplussed.
“It is obviously important, Louisa.” Lady Adeline remarked. “Why send it otherwise?”
“Yes, I’m sure you are correct” Louisa agreed as she ripped-open the sealed envelope and quickly read the contents of the single slip of paper inside.
“Oh, no!” she cried in distress.
“Louisa? What is it?” Lady Adeline asked in alarm.
“It’s Mavis Connolly. You remember her, don’t you?”
The blankness on Lady Adeline’s face suggested otherwise.
“She was one of the two sisters I was tenanting with before I came here to work for you.” Louisa reminded her a little impatiently.
The light of recognition lit in Lady Adeline’s eyes.
“Ah, yes, adorable ladies, both of them. What news of them?”
As tears slipped from her eyes, Louisa read the brief note aloud:
‘Maud fading fast – stop - Asking to see you – stop – Please come at all haste – stop – Mavis Connolly’
“I must go to her. Maud and Mavis were so good to me when I arrived in London. Please, Lady Adeline, please may I be excused?” Louisa begged, openly sobbing.
“Of course!” I shall accompany you. I shall have the car brought round immediately while you compose yourself. Can’t have you turning up looking so… distressed, can we?”
Lady Adeline was all business, ushering her companion towards a bathroom whilst she called for a footman to have the car brought to the front door. In less than ten minutes the pair were speeding towards the house Louisa Tavistock had enjoyed calling home for an all-too-brief time.
“She’s been in and out of consciousness for the past twenty-four hours,” Mavis Connolly whispered. “The physician said that she should be in hospital where she can be cared for right to the end” Her voice hitched at the last. Louisa placed a comforting arm around her frail shoulders.
“I’m sure, Mavis, that this is where she would rather be, at home with her sister. It must be some sort of comfort to her” she told the distressed woman.
“The doctors and nurses we see every day do such remarkable work under such trying circumstances” Lady Adeline offered. “Really, they are saints and angels, every one of them. Your dear sister would have been in very safe hands, I’m sure.”
“Maud had a dislike of anything to do with medicine and hospitals. Really, it’s a wonder she lasted this long!”
The sob that escaped Mavis was smothered by a somewhat soggy-looking lace-trimmed handkerchief.
“There is, I suppose…, no hope now?” Lady Adeline asked delicately.
“She most likely won’t see the night out, I’m told” Mavis Connolly confirmed. “She is in no pain and is barely aware of her surroundings. It is just a matter of waiting. That’s all we can do.”
At her sister’s bedside was a padded stool. Mavis sat herself wearily upon it and took hold of her sister’s hand.
“Louisa has come, dear,” she told Maud, “and so has lovely Lady Adeline.”
For a few moments Maud Connolly’s eyes flickered open. There was clarity and perception in them. They settled briefly on her sister’s drawn and tired face before finding the concerned countenance of Louisa Tavistock.
“Louisa, my beloved daughter” she sighed before her eyes closed for the very final time. A low hiss passed through her lips before her chest ceased to rise and fall.
“She’s gone to be with mother” Mavis said softly as she rose slowly to her feet. With tears streaming unchecked down her face she kissed her sister softly on each cheek before pulling up the bedsheet to cover her face. “Her suffering is over now.”
“Please, Miss Connolly, please accept my sincerest condolences” Lady Adeline offered sincerely. “If there is anything I or my family can do to help, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you, ma’am, that is very kind and generous of you." Mavis said, wiping her face dry. "We are fine, thank you. All that sort of thing was taken care of many years ago.” she added, her voice slightly stronger now. “Maud and I never wanted to burden one or the other with the expense of arranging a funeral and the like so we paid our way long ago. Maud will get the send-off she wanted and paid for.”
There was a wistful smile on her face .
“She loved you, you know, Louisa.”
As hard as she had tried to hold her emotions in check, Louisa had been unable to prevent tears slipping from her eyes. She swiped at them with her hands.
“What did Maud mean when she called me her ‘beloved daughter’?” she asked Mavis.
“Really, I’m sure I don’t know although I do recall her saying more than once that if she had been blessed with a child – a daughter – she would have wanted her to be just like you. Maybe her mind was a little confused at the end?”
“Yes, maybe.” Louisa agreed. “It was a very sweet thing to say, don’t you think?”
“Clearly, dear Louisa, you made a very big impression on the late Miss Maud Connolly” Lady Adeline interjected. “As you have on many people, including me” she added with a fond smile.
“Indeed she did.” agreed Mavis Connolly. “She was one of the very best and nicest tenants we ever had in more than forty years. Maud missed her ever so much when she left us.”
I wave of guilt washed through Louisa as she realised that she had not made enough time or effort to pay as many visits to her former landladies as she could have.
“I am so sorry I did not come to see you more often than I did, Mavis” she said earnestly.
“Oh, don’t be so silly, girl. You are a busy young lady leading a busy life. Why would you want to spend any more time than absolutely necessary with two dotty old spinsters than you had to, eh?" she asked, the twinkle in her eye belying the tone of her voice. “No, darling Louisa, we enjoyed the time you could spare us. That was always enough.”
“Thank you so much, Mavis. I shall Miss Maud, as I know you will, too.” She hugged and kissed the elderly lady before departing shortly afterwards with Lady Adeline.
Tragically, within a month she was back at the same house escorting Mavis’s lifeless body to its final resting place alongside her sister. It was speculated that the loneliness and emptiness caused by the loss of her sister had accelerated the decline in Mavis Connolly’s health and will to live.
“It appears that she wanted to rejoin her sister” a doctor told Louisa and Lady Adeline. “It’s a phenomenon we see often in elderly couples, although this case is a first in my experience seeing as it concerns two sisters.”
“They spent their whole lives together” Louisa told him without further explanation.
“Ah. That would be it then” the doctor commented.
To be continued...