It had been several weeks since she had seen or heard from Lady Adeline. Therefore on a beautiful September morning Louisa Calleray set off in her car to drive across town to Lady Adeline’s home. The car radio issued news of new conflict in Korea.
“Goodness me,” Louisa muttered, “another war already?”
The radio announcer described how the communist North Koreans had invaded its democratic neighbour South Korea, to the anger and condemnation of much of the rest of the world. The Americans were sending troops to help the South Koreans repel the invasion.
“So much death and destruction so soon after the big war” Louisa thought as she wended her way through the busy streets.
She parked the sleek vehicle at the kerb and after ensuring that it was secured knocked upon the imposing door to Lady Adeline’s smart house.
A full minute passed without anybody answering Louisa’s knock, which was most unusual. There should have been at least two domestic staff – the housekeeper and a cook – available to answer the door. Louisa could not for a moment imagine Lady Adeline at home alone. In all the years Louisa had known her Lady Adeline had had people around her to do her bidding. A second knock on the door failed to produce an answer. With concern etching her face Louisa stood and considered what to do next.
This was not the sort of place where one knocked upon the door of one’s neighbours. In this part of town one did not call upon one’s neighbour unless one was formally invited to do so, a practice that Louisa personally abhorred. Not being from or of that social set she did not feel the constraints social convention imposed so took herself briskly to the house to her right and knocked firmly upon a shiny black door with a gleaming brass knocker.
A pretty young girl in full housemaid’s uniform answered the door.
“Is the master or the mistress of the house available, please?” she asked politely.
“I’m afraid the Mr. and Mrs. is away, miss” the girl replied in a broad local accent.
“Oh dear, that’s unhelpful. Tell me, have you personally seen anything of the lady who lives next door, Lady Courtenay-Hooper?” Louisa asked.
The housemaid looked confused.
“No, miss, I don’t believe I have” she answered uncertainly.
“You do not sound very sure” Louisa commented.
“Please, miss, I don’t know anything about the lady, honest I don’t” the girl said worriedly.
“Do any of the other staff know anything, anything at all?” Louisa probed.
Before the girl could answer a battleship of a woman with a stern countenance and angry eyes hove into view behind her.
“What’s all this, Alice?” she demanded in a rather masculine tone of voice.
“This lady, Gloria, she’s asking about the lady next door…”
“I’m sorry,” Louisa interjected, “my name is Louisa Calleray. I am rather concerned about your neighbour, Lady Courtenay-Hooper. I have knocked upon her door – twice – but nobody has answered. I know that she has a housekeeper and a cook but nobody has answered the door” she explained.
“That’d be cos she let cook Edna Young go about a month back and the housekeeper went with her. Far as I know she’s at home all alone” the redoubtable Gloria said. “Don’t want to be rude, miss, but we’ve got work to do.” she added brusquely.
“Yes, of course, thank you so much for your help.” Louisa said as the huge door closed in her face.
Louisa walked back to her car. She looked back at the house and pondered whether to try knocking again. Deciding against it she got back into her car and drove to Saint Thomas the Apostle hospital and sought out her husband.
He was in surgery when she enquired at the front desk. In the few years years the formation of the new National Health Service Stuart and his medical colleagues had seen their workload increase dramatically. For Louisa’s husband, though, it was energising and exciting.
“We are able to do more things, learn more things and save more lives, darling!” he had enthused very recently over dinner. “Bevan knew what he wanted to achieve when he floated the idea of of a NHS and, by golly, I am going to do my utmost to make sure it works.”
Louisa Calleray was immensely proud of her husband. Now into his sixties he was still as energetic and enthusiastic about his work at the hospital as he ever was, if not more so. His colleagues admired and respected him and he was much loved by his patients, both male and female. Louisa considered herself to be a very lucky woman indeed to have captured the heart of such a kind, caring and wonderful man.
Which is why she waited patiently for his counsel.
A broad smile broke out across his handsome face when he espied Louisa flipping through a tatty magazine.
“Darling! What brings you back to these well-trodden corridors?” he asked as he swept her into his arms and hugged her warmly.
After allowing herself to be kissed twice Louisa disengaged herself from her husband’s embrace and straightened her clothing.
“I need your advice” she said, the level tone in her voice removing the smile from Stuart Calleray’s face.
“Of course. Let’s go and find a cup of tea and talk about it” he suggested, holding his hand out for Louisa to take. He led her wordlessly towards a door marked ‘Hospital Personnel Only’ which, upon being opened, revealed a small, rather untidy, functional room that boasted a gas ring a battered kettle and an assortment of mismatched crockery.
“Not exactly tea at the Ritz, honey, but it works for us” Stuart commented after inviting his wife to sit herself on one of the two vinyl-upholstered chairs the small room also boasted.
“So, what is on your mind? he asked as he filled the kettle before placing it on the lit gas ring to boil.
As her husband busied himself making two cups of tea Louisa told him about her visit to Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper’s house and her subsequent visit to the neighbour.
“Stuart, it appears that she is living there all alone!” Louisa exclaimed. “That is not right, I am sure.”
“And this Gloria woman said that she dismissed the cook and housekeeper?” he queried.
“Yes. Several weeks ago I believe, maybe a month.”
“That is most odd, I agree.”
“I am extremely worried about her.” Louisa said. She told of her pre-wedding visit to Lady Adeline and the condition in which she found her.
“That does not sound very good, darling. I understand fully why you are concerned. But, really, what can you or I do? If she will not answer your knock at her door then we cannot render her any assistance. I’m sorry”
“Surely there must be something you can do?” Louisa insisted, the strident tone in her voice evidence of her level of concern for her former employer. “Perhaps call the police?”
“That may be an option, but do you really want to go down that route at this point? Maybe Lady Adeline was out of doors when you called, or asleep?” Stuart Calleray offered.
“Yes, perhaps, but are you willing to take the chance that there may be something seriously amiss?” Louisa countered, rising to her feet and hugging her husband. “I know I am asking much of you darling, but you know I would not fuss so if I was not so concerned about Lady Adeline. She was always very good to me and I came to love her like a sister while I was with her.”
“In that case, Mrs. Louisa Calleray, let us make a further attempt to rouse Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper ourselves. If she refuses to open the door to us this time we will make our way to the nearest police station immediately.” Then tone was theatrical and slightly mocking, but his eyes reflected his wife’s concerns.
Moments later Louisa was speeding away from the hospital in her car with her husband in the passenger seat beside her.
Louisa stoically fought to prevent the well of tears filling her eyes from falling. Even now, more than three weeks after that horrific day Louisa Calleray was struggling to come to terms with the death of her friend and former-employer. Not just her death, but also the manner of her death. It was just too awful to take in.
Vigorous knocking on Lady Adeline’s street door by Stuart Calleray failed to elicit any response from Lady Adeline. As promised he and Louisa marched straight round to the local police station, no more than five minutes’ walk away. Louisa told the desk sergeant of her concerns for the health and safety of Lady Adeline, but her concern was pooh-poohed.
“We can’t just go around breaking into people’s houses – a Lady’s house no less – just because she won’t answer her door to you” the rotund, ruddy-faced officer said.
“Listen, officer,” Stuart said, “we have very good reason to believe that Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper has been taken ill – or worse – and is unable to either call for help or to answer her door. She is alone in that house and may at this minute require urgent medical attention!” The last few words were almost a shout such was the air of unconcern and indifference emanating from the obstinate officer.
“Please do not raise your voice sir. That is not necessary” the affronted desk sergeant complained.
“If you actually listened you moronic buffoon then maybe I would not have to raise my goddamn voice!” Stuart shouted angrily. Louisa stood transfixed. She had not witnessed this side of her husband’s character before. “Now, if all you want to do is blather like an idiot perhaps you could call someone over who actually gives a damn!”
“That’s quite enough of that, sir. Another outburst like that and I’ll place you…”
“You will do no such thing, Pratley” an authoritative voice said from behind Louisa and Stuart. Louisa recognised it immediately.
“Bernard! Well, bless you. It’s a joy to see you!” she exclaimed as she threw herself into her friend’s startled husband’s hug.
“Sergeant Penney, good to see you” Stuart said offering his hand.
“You, too, Stuart, only it’s Inspector Penney nowadays” he said with a smile.
“You got the promotion?!” Louisa exclaimed. “Oh, how wonderful. Congratulations!” She hugged him again and allowed herself to be kissed continental-style on each cheek.
“Now, what brings you to my station and what is all this fuss and shouting about, eh?” he asked, slipping smoothly from family friend to officer of the law in moments.
Between them, Louisa and Stuart Calleray told the same story they had recounted to the unfortunate Pratley, who had the good grace to look shamefaced at his Inspector when the telling reached the part about his lack of interest in their concerns.
“Right, two things,“ Inspector Penney said. “Firstly, Pratley, you will report to my office at nine a.m. sharp tomorrow morning and explain to me just what the hell you were thinking!” he said sharply. “Secondly, let’s go to my office and I will make a couple of calls to see what we can do about this troubling situation.”
“Thank you very much, Inspector Penney” Stuart said.
“Oh, and Pratley?” Inspector Penney said.
“My guests here are still awaiting that apology you owe them for your stupidity and incompetence.” He winked surreptitiously at Louisa who had to cover her mouth to suppress the giggle that threatened to burst forth from her.
“I am extremely sorry ma’am; sir” officer Pratley mumbled insincerely. If looks could kill then Pratley would have found himself hanging on the end of a rope after the looks he directed at the lady and man who had just helped humiliate him as they followed Inspector Penney to his office.
Nervously Louisa waited grasping her husband’s hand tightly as the local fire brigade unit forced entry into Lady Adeline’s house. An ashen-faced senior officer opened the street door from inside several long minutes later. His eyes sought Inspector Penney’s. As Louisa watched she saw him shake his head ‘no’.
“Oh, no. No!” Louisa wailed, falling weeping into her husband’s waiting arms. “Please, no!” she cried, grief-stricken.
To be continued...