Stuart Calleray had a romantic soul. He adored women and had made a fool of himself more than once in his forty-five years of life over them. Even so, he was sure that with Louisa Tavistock he would not be making another mistake. Almost from the first moment he had met her he had felt an attraction to her. There was depth and pain and a story in her soulful eyes. It was a story he wanted to hear about and learn about. He wanted very much to fall in love with Louisa Tavistock, that is, if he was not already.
He listened to her talk animatedly about her plans for the house she had inherited. Three months since she had learned of her change in fortunes and she still referred to the property as the ‘Connolly house’. No amount of correcting her would get her to call it anything else. Stuart and others had tried, repeatedly.
He was ninety-nine percent certain that Louisa felt the same way about him as he did her. Certainly, she allowed him to hold her hand and to put his arm around her shoulders when he walked her to her street door. She even allowed him to kiss her cheek chastely before bidding him goodnight. He suspected that she had been very badly hurt in the past, which was why he was more than happy to accept whatever crumbs of comfort she left for him. He would – and could – wait for her. She was worth it.
“A home for troubled women, Stuart, that is what I want to do with the Connolly house.” She said earnestly. “I am sure that Mavis and Maud would approve if they were here.”
“I get the impression the Misses Connolly would have been just as happy if you turned the place into a bordello!” Stuart teased.
“Really! You are too naughty!” Louisa chided with laughter in her voice. “You are incorrigible!”
“It is my charm, darling.” he replied straight-faced. Louisa giggled.
“A bordello, indeed. The very thought!”
“Tell me more about your idea. Joking aside I think it has a great deal of merit” Stuart Calleray said, all mirth and jocularity put aside for the time being as he listened with mounting interest to the woman he was definitely falling in love with outline her plans to share her good fortune with women who were less fortunate than herself.
The decision to move out of Lady Adeline’s home had been a difficult – but necessary - one to make.
“There is so much I need to do to get the Connolly house ready for its first guests” she explained to Lady Adeline over tea. “The renovations are moving along slowly due to the shortage of tradespeople. This awful war!” she sighed in exasperation.
The Americans had entered the war after bloody provocation by the Japanese. They had made an unprovoked attack on the US naval base in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii just before Christmas in nineteen forty-one, but three years on and the war still raged.
“Of course you must go, Louisa darling. I will miss you terribly but, I will manage. At some stage I suppose I will find myself another companion, but don’t you be concerning yourself with all that. I am a big girl really, although I know I do not always behave as such.”
Lady Adeline laughed hollowly. There was more than a grain of truth in her apparently self-deprecating words.
“You must, must, promise to call me should you ever need anything. Please Lady Adeline, promise me that you will?”
“Of course I will, dear Louisa. Now, away with you. There must be a million things you need to be doing today?”
“Indeed, but always top of my list is ensuring that you are well “ Louisa said as she hugged Lady Adeline.
“Thank you darling. You are far too kind.” A soft kiss on Louisa’s cheek accompanied the compliment.
As she settled herself into the seat of the new car she had purchased Louisa Tavistock turned and waved to the woman who had been a large part of her life for the past few years. She could not have known then that it would be one of the last times she would see Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper alive.
With her arms around her handsome companion, Stuart Calleray, Louisa joined the crowds in London’s Trafalgar Square in May nineteen forty-five to celebrate the end of the long bloody war. True, there was still fighting in the Far East but the war in Europe was ended at last. Louisa and Stuart followed the crowds as they made their way to Buckingham Palace and cheered just as loudly as anybody as the Royal Family appeared on the balcony and waved to the ecstatic crowds below. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was given many rousing cheers. It was generally accepted that his inspirational wireless broadcasts were one of the main reasons why morale in Britain had remained high, even during the worst of the conflict.
Tired, overwhelmed with happiness and relief and very much in love for the first time in her life Louisa Tavistock invited Stuart Calleray into her home for the first time as a potential lover.
“There are things I need to tell you about, things we need to talk about, before I will feel comfortable inviting you in to my bed” she told him as they sat in the newly remodelled apartment that had been the Connolly sister’s parlour.
“I understand, darling. As you wish.” Stuart told her as he held her hand.
Haltingly and with many tears, for the first time ever Louisa told another soul of the horrors of her life prior to arriving in London as a teenager. For more than hour she spoke of the death of her father during the Great War, her mother’s suicide, living with her Aunt and Uncle and their abuse of her.
“The bastards!” Stuart spat angrily.
“I’m sorry, but there is more… and it is far worse than anything I have told you so far.” Louisa said slowly.
“If I don’t do this now – say this now – I may never pluck up the strength and courage to do this again” she said stutteringly.
“If you’re sure, darling…”
“Of course I’m not sure, not in the least. But this is something I have to do, for me and for you, if we are to have any hope of a future together. This is too big and too important to leave unspoken about any longer” Louisa cried.
For the first time since he had met her and got to know her Stuart Calleray saw Louisa Tavistock completely exposed and utterly vulnerable. It unnerved him a little but, as he wrapped her in his arms for comfort and to give her strength he felt assured that the remarkable woman he loved would survive whatever she had to tell him.
“From the age of thirteen my uncle raped me. My aunt knew about it and did nothing to stop him. Then when I was nearly sixteen my uncle almost sold me to one of his vile friends. If I had not escaped he would have raped me too.”
The words were delivered in a flat emotionless monotone, but the weight behind them was enormous. Almost as soon as she had finished speaking the biggest and most violent sobs yet rent Louisa’s body to the point that she could say nothing further for some time. Throughout Stuart’s strong arms held her securely in his protective embrace while she cried herself out.
Louisa went on to explain how she had arrived in London and how her uncle had sought her out. She reminded Stuart of the series of horrific murders of innocent young girls that had shocked the country and admitted that the killers were her uncle and the man who’s wallet she had stolen when she ran away. She told of Mavis and Maud Connolly’s help in getting her uncle arrested.
“That’s my whole sordid story, Stuart. I’m afraid I am not the angelic innocent you seem to see me as at times” she said tiredly.
“I cannot deny that I am shocked…”
“I knew you would be” Louisa interjected
“But not by anything you did. A suicidal mother and a rapist uncle? Christ, Louisa, not many girls would have survived that sort of trauma, let alone made a life for theirself as you have done. I am shocked, yes, but, my darling, I am incredibly proud of you!”
His kiss was tender and sweet. It was also very much welcomed by its recipient and was the first of many such kisses to be exchanged that night, both in the parlour and, later, in Louisa Tavistock’s bed.
To be continued...