It had been an exhausting undertaking. The house boasted fourteen bedrooms alone, all of which were fully furnished.
“Lady Adeline had a good eye and good taste” Stuart Calleray commented as he examined a pretty papier mâché jewellery box.
“She had class. That was one of the things I most liked about her.” Louisa said as she leafed through a large box of paperwork she had found in a wardrobe.
“From the very first time I met her when I worked at Deschamps du Paris there was something different and special about her.” she added as she picked up a bundle of letters that had been tied with faded blue ribbon.
“Hello. What have you got there, then?” Stuart asked.
“I’m not sure. They look personal and private” Louisa said slowly as she turned the bundle over in her hands. “I’m not so sure that they are anything we need to be looking at.”
“Aren’t you just the teensiest bit curious, sweetheart?” Stuart teased as he joined his wife sitting on the edge of what had become Lady Adeline’s deathbed.
“I suspect that you are far more curious than I, darling” she said.
“Hmm, maybe. Who knows, perhaps Lady Adeline had a secret admirer or even a lover?”
“Really, you are such a fantasist!” Louisa laughed.
“So, let’s take a look and see, shall we?” he said.
“Okay. Just one letter each.” Louisa said decisively even as she undid the bow in the ribbon. She handed the topmost letter to her husband and took the next in the pile. She withdrew the handwritten pages within and began to read.
Moments later all the blood drained from her face and she felt nauseous and faint.
“Oh my dear God!” she cried as she allowed the letters to fall from her hands. “Oh dear lord God!”
“Louisa! What is it?” Stuart cried as he leapt to his feet.
“Oh no!” No!” Louisa burst into tears and fell to the floor. The letter she was clutching fell from her fingers. Stuart picked them up. His eyes widened as he read.
“Oh my god!” he exclaimed as he crouched down and took his distraught wife into his embrace. “Oh my god!”
“In closing, my love, I just want to say that I look forward to holding you in my arms again and to sharing your bed once more. My love grows stronger the longer we are parted this way. I know that once we are together again all this loneliness and hurting will disappear like a puff of smoke. It is almost – not quite, but almost – worth the wait.
Until I am home with you, darling Adeline, keep your bed warm and your heart fond of me.
Your ever-loving brother,
“I never would have thought of such a thing” Louisa Calleray said, sipping genteelly at the gin and tonic her husband had poured her. “Never in my wildest dreams.”
Sitting in her own bedroom and enfolded in the arms of her husband the shock of discovering Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper’s most sordid secret still upset Louisa.
“How could she… with her own brother?” she asked rhetorically for the third or fourth time since reading the letter.
“Unfortunately, as shocking as this all is, darling, this sort of thing is perhaps not as unusual as you might like to think.” Stuart said. “People like to believe that this sort of disgusting behaviour belongs to the lower classes, but the fact of the matter is that the bloody aristocracy has been at it for generations!”
“Oh, dear Lord, Stuart. How could I have not known, or at least guessed?” Louisa asked as she disentangled herself from her husband’s arms. “Was I blind all that time?” she demanded.
“No darling, not in the least. I would guess that they became very good at concealing what they were up to, especially from their own family; their parents” Stuart said.
“What do you mean?” Louisa asked, a frown of puzzlement creasing her brow. Then, almost as soon as she asked the question realisation dawned in her eyes.
“Oh, dear me!” she exclaimed. “You mean they were…, they were…, involved from a long time ago, don’t you?”
Stuart removed Louisa’s drink from her hand and placed it on a bedside cabinet as it was in very real danger of being spilled.
“Chances are, darling, their sick relationship began when they were probably still quite young; as teenagers perhaps. As I said, it is not as uncommon as one might think. However this sort of thing usually passes after a year a two, but in this case it appears that the pair of them were happy to continue with their ungodly relationship into adulthood.”
“It certainly explains a great deal about Adeline’s reaction to Spencer’s death” Louisa said. “I felt it was extreme at the time and, now that we know this about them, it makes sense of sorts.”
“Yes, looking at it now, her reaction was that of someone who had lost a loved one alright, but we didn’t know – could not know – how deep that love was.”
“In a way, I feel kind of sad for her” Louisa said kindly.
“Really? How? Why?” Stuart wanted to know.
“She never got over Spencer’s death. She mourned him very day until the day she died. However wrong and sick and ungodly their love was, dearest, it was sincere enough for it to break poor Adeline’s heart. I believe that is why she died. She died of a broken heart.”
Tears trickled down Louisa’s face as she spoke. Stuart wiped them away with his thumbs.
“It was sick and wicked and sinful.” he said firmly. “I feel no sympathy for people who give into their nasty impulses and temptations like that. I’m sorry if I sound uncharitable, but I have witnessed first-hand the consequences of what happens when that sort of relationship goes too far.”
Louisa looked confused.
“Deformed babies. Babies born with congenital illnesses that are only passed down through families. Young girls sexually manipulated by older males and so on. It’s sickening and revolting!”
It was clearly a subject that her husband felt strongly about. Louisa decided it was probably best to discuss other pressing matters.
“I - we – have some decisions to make regarding Lady Adeline’s possessions, which are now my possessions.” she said.
“I could not bear to have any reminders of that woman about our home darling. I am sorry if that offends you.” Stuart Calleray said firmly.
“No, that is perfectly in keeping with my thinking. I do not want any reminders of her either. On that we agree one hundred percent”.
“So, what do we do with all of that stuff?” Stuart asked.
“My immediate thought is to give it all away, but I would rather see the value put to good use. There are still so many suffering from the effects of the war, especially orphaned children. There are some quite valuable antiques and artwork in that house.”
“An auction, then?” Stuart suggested.
“I think that would be the most practical solution, yes. It also means that we can hand the whole thing over to the auction house and never have to set foot inside that place again.”
“I believe I like the sound of that very much, darling” Stuart smiled.
“We can do so much good with the money raised. At least some kind of good will come out of this unpleasantness” Louisa said as she reclaimed her drink and sipped it.
“I’ll ring around the big auction houses first thing tomorrow. Until then, the subject is closed. Is that a deal?”
“Sealed with a kiss!” Louisa said as she threw herself into her husband’s arms and allowed him to sooth away her worries and stress in the most intimate manner.
“…and that concludes the auction ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for coming and for bidding so generously. Remember, all of the money raised from this sale is going to help orphaned children, war-widows and injured servicemen” the auctioneer announced. “Please pay your account promptly so that we can get the money to work as soon as possible” he concluded.
A generous round of applause greeted his words. The auctioneer bowed politely before stepping down off the makeshift rostrum that had been erected for him.
“Well done, Teddy” Stuart Calleray said as he shook hands with the auctioneer.
“An absolute pleasure. They were a good and generous crowd” Teddy said.
“Do you have any idea of how much we raised, Teddy?” Louisa asked.
“Not exactly, Mrs. Calleray, but a rough estimate would be in the ball-park of, say, forty thousand pounds.”
“Oh, that is marvellous!” Louisa exclaimed delightedly.
“And that doesn’t include the stuff we are sending off to the specialist fine art auction” Teddy added. “We could quite easily double that figure, I’m sure.”
“That would be too marvellous for words, really it would. Thank you ever so much for your help, Teddy. You have been an absolute dear.” Louisa said as she pecked the young auctioneer on the cheek.
“My pleasure, Mrs. Calleray. Lady Adeline was a dear and valued customer of the House. She will be sorely missed.”
“Yes, I’m sure” Louisa said as she bid Teddy goodbye and turned away, her husband a step behind her.
“I reckon Lady Adeline would not have minded a bit that all of her stuff has gone to help others.” he said as he fell into step beside Louisa.
“She would have been mortified to have had so many strangers in her house, Stuart” Louisa said. “She was a very private person at heart.”
“Mmm, and we know why, don’t we?” Stuart said. No retort was forthcoming from his wife. The couple walked in companionable silence to their car.
“Darling, as much of a shock as this discovery has been to us, I would much rather it remained known only to us.” Louisa said slowly after a few moments pause for thought after she had settled herself into the passenger seat.
“Why so?” Stuart asked, starting the car and pulling into the flow of traffic.
“There is nothing whatsoever to be gained from sullying her name and her memory by making public what we have learned about her relationship with her brother. She was a beautiful, kind, caring, wonderful woman to almost everyone who knew or met her. Please, darling, let us not destroy that memory all those people hold of her” Louisa implored.
“She was in a perverted relationship! It disgusts me to my very core” Stuart Calleray said slightly pompously. “However, as I love and adore you with every fibre of my being – and because she was your friend as well as your former employer – how could I even think of refusing such a simple request from you?” he added with a smile.
"Thank you so much, darling,“ Louisa said earnestly, “from me and, although you won’t want to hear it, from Lady Adeline, too. She was a flawed woman, but not evil. Please be charitable in your thoughts of her.”
A companionable silence fell between the couple as Stuart navigated his way along the increasingly busy roads of London. After a while he asked:
“So, what’s next on the agenda, my dear wife? What with all this excitement and what-not we seem to have been running around like headless chickens for weeks now. How about a holiday, eh?”
“That, my love, sounds wonderful. Let’s do it!” Louisa said earnestly. “Let’s go on holiday!”
Rome, Paris, Belgrade, Berlin and Amsterdam were all subjected to whirlwind visits before a leisurely week in Venice completed their three-week respite from the stresses of daily life.
Many rolls of camera film were left for developing and golden tans faded slowly as the decade drew to its close. On the eve of the new decade Louisa and Stuart Calleray hosted a party to celebrate the coming of what promised to be a new and exciting phase of their lives.
To be continued...