Part Seven: 1946 – 50
The wedding in July nineteen forty-seven was a small affair, attended by the few close friends and colleagues Louisa and Stuart had chosen to invite to the ceremony. Louisa’s former workmates from Deschamps du Paris, Marilyn Penney and her husband Bernard plus her three children and the now-elderly Dorothy Evans, attended. Louisa was overwhelmed with gratitude to Marcel Descamps for the wonderful dress he insisted that she wear for her special day, even if it did have to be returned to the store promptly the following morning. Various medical personnel from Saint Thomas the Apostle hospital, regular staff and volunteers alike, also helped the happy couple celebrate their union.
One notable absentee from the occasion was Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper. Louisa had personally delivered the invitation to the wedding herself and had been distressed to note the deterioration in her former employer and friend. Lady Adeline had ceased to volunteer at the hospital within days of the Armistice. Due to her involvement in renovating the Connolly house Louisa had not had as many opportunities to visit Lady Adeline as she would have liked and contact became sporadic.
“I’m fine, Louisa, dear. Just a little under the weather.” Lady Adeline had assured Louisa even though it was perfectly clear that it was something more than that.
Shockingly to Louisa, Lady Adeline looked unkempt and, worse still, it appeared that she was not taking as much care of her personal hygiene as she once most assiduously did. She had also lost weight, her skin was wan and pasty and her once beautiful face looked gaunt and haunted. She refused point-blank to consult a doctor.
“Really, darling, I am perfectly fine. Now, you go and have a wonderful day. You are a very lucky girl to have found such a wonderful man. Very lucky indeed.”
Louisa left the invitation card on the same small table that Lady Adeline had placed the salver with the sherry glasses the day Louisa had learned of her change in fortunes. So much had changed in such a short time and, looking once more at Lady Adeline, not all of the changes had been for the good. Her absence from the wedding celebrations, if it was noticed by any of the assembled company, was not commented upon.
The fifteen years age gap between Louisa and Stuart had caused eyebrows to be raised in certain circles. However, as one sage older lady told her best friend ‘love is love however and whenever it comes’. To the new Mrs. Calleray her charming husband could have been fifty years older than she and she still could not have loved him enough!
With rationing a hindrance to a full-blown reception, a few nibbles and drinks were provided at the newly-refurbished Connolly House Project that Louisa had founded the previous year. With her handsome new husband at her side constantly Louisa was as happy as she could ever have imagined herself to be.
As she lay in his arms that night for the first time as a married woman Louisa Calleray, nee Tavistock, gave up a small prayer of thanks to a God she had largely abandoned. She also uttered silent thanks to her benefactors, Mavis and Maud Connolly, who had so generously left her the beautiful house she now lived in. She slept peacefully and contentedly alongside her adoring husband.
The Connolly House Project was open to any woman of any age or background who found herself in need of refuge, short-term or longer. The official opening was celebrated in the summer of nineteen forty-seven, although two women had taken up emergency residence several months earlier. Louisa asked very few questions, set very few strict rules other than personal hygiene and dress were to be taken care of at all times.
Another largely unnecessary rule was that no men-folk were allowed in any room other than the small airy dining-room that overlooked the yet-to-be-tackled garden. Many of the guests were fleeing men-troubles so the likelihood of them inviting a man to their room was slim. However, Louisa was a practical woman and knew that there was a good chance that younger guests might not be so careful or considerate.
In the two and a half years since opening Louisa had welcomed more than fifty women into the Connolly House Project. By the time that Christmas nineteen forty-nine rolled around forty-two years old Louisa Calleray had a full house of twenty three guests ranging in age from a seventeen years old girl who was expecting an unplanned child to a seventy-nine years old widow who was struggling to cope after the loss of her husband of more than fifty years. They were ‘typical’ Connolly House guests, if such a person existed.
One wall in the small study of her private quarters was given over to the numerous letters and cards she had received thanking her for opening her home to the distressed women who passed through the Project’s doors. Looking at the wall gave Louisa a sense of pride and satisfaction in what she had so far achieved and passionate determination to continue to help as many women and girls who came to her asking for it.
“I would like to open another Connolly House” Louisa told her husband over drinks one evening. “I had to ‘double-up’ today. Luckily it was two girls of almost the same age who were more than happy to share a room. If either one had declined I would have had to turn the second girl away. I swore when I set up the project that nobody would be turned away.”
“The Project has definitely been a success, if that is the proper way to put it. In an ideal world there would be no need whatsoever for establishments like the Connolly House Project. Sadly the need is all too evident by the number of people who have passed through the front door here.”
“Demand is high. It has been high since day one and I fear that it will remain so for a long time to come, darling. That is why I would like to look for another property like this beautiful house in which to establish another Connolly House.” Louisa told her husband.
“Financing a new project is not going to be an issue I understand. The investments dear old Maud and Mavis made are still paying adequate if not handsome dividends and the value of the estate has increased substantially.”
“We have that creepy little solicitor, Merchant, to thank for that, I suppose. “Louisa said.
She had never really taken to the man who had been charged with administering the affairs of the late Mavis Connolly. There was something about him that rubbed Louisa the wrong way. It was for that reason alone that she considered consulting another firm of solicitors to look after her legal needs. However Daniel Merchant had persuaded Louisa to leave management of what were now her investments in the capable hands of the firm of Simpkiss, Alcourt and Merchant.
“We handle the affairs of many dozens of well-to-do clients” he had told Louisa on a subsequent visit to his claustrophobic office to sign the many legal documents that made her the official and legal owner of the Connolly House and much else besides. “The Misses Connolly engaged this firm more than thirty years ago and never had cause for complaint as far as I am aware” he said proudly.
It was more a lack of will and expertise in how to go about transferring the account to another legal representative more than being swayed by Daniel Merchant’s speech. In truth, though, Louisa had to admit, the firm had not let her down. Her initial inheritance had grown appreciably and allowed her to spend money that otherwise might have been difficult to come by in the post-war period.
“Indeed you do!” Stuart Calleray laughed. “He might be a little weasel but he knows his stuff. Why don’t you call him and set him to work looking for a suitable property for you?” he suggested.
“I was having that same thought” Louisa smiled.
To be continued...