“I really do not feel up to going today!” Lady Adeline uncharacteristically snapped. “Please, stop fussing and pestering” she added before turning her head away and facing the wall.
It was seven o’clock on Tuesday morning, thirty minutes before Lady Adeline and Louisa were due to attend the hospital for their volunteer shift. Lady Adeline was still in bed and refusing to allow Louisa to assist in readying her for the day ahead.
“Is there anything I can get you?” Louisa asked, concern etched on her face.
“No, thank you, I will be perfectly fine. You go ahead and help people who really need help” Lady Adeline sighed without turning to face her aide.
With no other option open to her, Louisa Tavistock reluctantly exited the expensively and tastefully appointed bed chamber and made her way down the broad staircase. She was very worried about this latest development in the emotional decline in her employer. Until that morning Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper had always at least managed to fulfil her obligations as a medical volunteer. To do otherwise would previously have been anathema to her, but nowadays?
Louisa feared that Lady Adeline’s priorities had been set off-kilter by the loss of her brother and she, Louisa Tavistock, was at a loss as to how to restore the equilibrium required for Lady Adeline to carry on her life as before the tragedy. It was with a heavy heart and worried mind that she closed the imposing street door and made her way to the hospital.
“Thank you for your help today, Louisa” Stuart Calleray said as they removed their blood-soiled scrubs. “Did you give any more thought to my suggestion that you take this up properly and professionally?” he asked with a warm smile.
“To be honest I have not really had much time to think about anything other than what is affecting Lady Adeline” Louisa answered as she dried her hands.
“Okay, let’s make time to at least discuss the idea” Stuart said, his smile broader than ever. “How about we grab a bite to eat after work one of these days?” he suggested.
Inexplicably Louisa felt her face become heated and she could not stand to look directly at her companion. Damn, but he was handsome!
“Well, I’m not sure. I mean…, I think, Lady Adeline…” she muttered and stumbled.
His laugh was hearty and affectionate.
“Really, Miss Tavistock, you are such a silly pussy. I am asking you to join me in sharing simple fare at a local eatery. Nothing complicated or involved.”
The merriment in his eyes made them sparkle alluringly. Suddenly Louisa had wanted nothing in her life so much as to spend as much time as she could with this handsome, charming and skilled medical practitioner.
“I’m so sorry. I am not used to being invited anywhere, especially not by a man” Louisa admitted, her cheeks burning bright red.
“You know, you are rather cute when you blush” Stuart Calleray teased as he took hold of Louisa’s hands. “Please say you’ll come” he implored her.
“For teasing me so, I should refuse point-blank!” Louisa laughed. “However, given the choice between another long and rather tiresome evening with Lady Adeline or a long and hopefully not-so-tiresome evening with Mr. Stuart Calleray I’m afraid Lady Adeline will have to manage by herself for one evening” she said, smiling warmly.
“Wonderful! Let’s make it tomorrow evening, shall we? I see that we are both working the late shift.”
“Yes, that will be ideal. Thank you.”
“No, Louisa, thank you.” Stuart said before brushing his lip lightly over the fingers of Louisa’s right hand before turning and walking away, whistling softly to himself.
“Oh my. What have I just got myself into?” Louisa asked the deserted scrub room.
The envelope was made of fine quality paper and bore the legend
From the office of Daniel Merchant KC - Solicitor
printed across the top. It was addressed to Miss Louisa Tavistock.
“How odd” Louisa remarked. “I have had no dealings with any solicitor before. I wonder what Daniel Merchant KC wants with me?”
“Logically, opening the letter will answer those questions” Lady Adeline remarked listlessly.
“Yes, of course” Louisa said. She used the long-bladed letter opener that lay alongside the letter on the salver to slit the top of the envelope. She withdrew a twice-folded single sheet of paper that was of the same stock and quality as the envelope.
Her eyes widened unnaturally wide as she read the two or three short paragraphs therein.
Then she read them again before gasping “Oh my!”
“What? What is it?” Lady Adeline asked querulously.
“It’s…, it’s…, the Connolly’s. Their house” Louisa stuttered unintelligibly.
“For goodness sake girl, what are you talking about?”
By way of an answer Louisa wordlessly handed the solicitor’s letter to Lady Adeline for her to read.
“Well, goodness me!” she commented after reading. “This is the most amazing news, dear Louisa” she said warmly, sounding more like her old self for the first time in many weeks. “Congratulations too” she added.
“I never knew or even suspected. Really” Louisa muttered. “This is all such a shock.”
“I’m sure it must be. Please, allow me to pour you and me a small sherry, perhaps?” Lady Adeline offered.
Without waiting for Louisa to respond she rose slowly to her feet and made her way to the Victorian mahogany and sliver tantalus that stood unlocked on a sideboard. She filled two dainty glasses and carried them on a small silver tray to the sofa where she had been reclining.
Lady Adeline placed the tray on a small side table between the chair where a dumbfounded Louisa Tavistock sat and the sofa. She eased herself into a seated posture.
“This is amazing news, Louisa. It is all really rather exciting for you I expect?”
“I am so shocked. A house? Me?” Louisa managed to reply after sipping at the sherry.
“Those lovely ladies obviously thought the world of you, as do I” Lady Adeline told her companion.
“I liked them too, of course I did, but I’m sure I was no different to any of the other girls and young men who boarded with them through the years.”
“Clearly, Louisa darling, Miss Maud and Miss Mavis Connolly saw something more in you.”
“I’m sure I do not know what that ‘something’ could be” Louisa demurred. “I’m just an ordinary girl from a poor background, that’s all.”
“You are a warm, kind, generous and most patient young lady. Louisa. The Good Lord knows that I have not been the easiest nor, I suspect, the nicest person to have been around these past weeks. Even so you have been the most delightful and darling girl throughout, never once complaining or treating me any more differently than you always do. If anybody in the whole world deserves this stroke of good fortune it is you, darling Louisa. I am so happy for you.”
If Louisa Tavistock was shocked or in any way taken aback at the sight of tears running down the pretty face of her employer she gave no indication. Unbidden tears pricked at her own eyes, however and, for just this once, she was not minded to hold them back.
“Golly, look at the pair of us!” Lady Adeline giggled. “Blubbering like a couple of schoolgirls!” she laughed. Louisa laughed, too, albeit feeling slightly hysterical. The whole situation was too unreal to be believable. She was half-convinced that it was all a very strange dream or a very nasty practical joke being played upon her.
“No, it is all perfectly legitimate and above-board” the younger-than-expected Mr. Daniel Merchant, KC said with a professional smile. He had pre-arranged an appointment for Louisa in expectation of her calling him.
“When Miss Maud died she willed her estate to her sister, Miss Mavis. Upon Miss Mavis’s demise she chose to bequeath the entire estate you you, Miss Tavistock.”
“But, are there no other family members; brothers or other sisters? Cousins?” Louisa asked.
The office was small. The large oak desk dominated the limited space and the worn leather chair Daniel Merchant sat in had an annoying habit of squeaking every time he moved. The chairs that Louisa and Lady Adeline had been invited to occupy were unconscionably uncomfortable, perhaps to dissuade clients from taking up too much of Daniel Merchant, KC’s valuable time, Lady Adeline speculated.
“We have made extensive and very thorough enquiries on those very questions” Daniel Merchant said, steepling his fingers as he rested his elbows on a spotless white blotter. “We, too, had…, uh, concerns about this bequest. We felt it our duty to ensure that at a later date a previously unknown long-lost relative would not, as it were, appear out of the woodwork and stake his or her claim to the estate. We are one hundred percent satisfied that there are no other legitimate claimants to the estate”.
His smile was cold and automatic.
“Oh my!” Louisa gasped. “Oh dear me|”
“And, Mr. Merchant, what is the value of the estate?” Lady Adeline asked bluntly, irritated by the man’s manner. He was barely four or five years older than herself yet he had the air of a middle-aged man. She found him intensely unpleasant.
“Well, I can only give a generalised figure…”
“That will suffice.” Lady Adeline interrupted.
“Yes, of course. With the house, the contents and various other small financial investments made by both sisters we estimate the value of the estate at around three hundred thousand pounds after taxes and duties are settled” he said, a thin-lipped smile on his face.
“Oh, MY!” Louisa gasped before falling in to a dead faint.
To be continued...