Part Eight: 1950 – 1960
The familiar bass rumble of Arthur Thorndyke’s distinctive voice greeted Louisa when she answered the ringing telephone.
“Mrs. Calleray? Mrs. Louisa Calleray?” he enquired.
“Mr. Thorndyke. What a pleasure to hear from you!” Louisa exclaimed in genuine delight.
“Really? How splendid of you to say so. Indeed it is!” Thorndyke burbled happily.
Louisa smiled to herself. Ever since her first meeting with the eccentric solicitor she had grown quite fond of him through further unusual meetings. She had learned that beneath the slightly dotty exterior lay a keen mind and an acerbic wit that would have given Oscar Wilde a run for his money.
“How might I be of assistance to you today, Mr. Thorndyke?” Louisa asked.
“Not so much that, m’dear, but more what can I – or rather Blessington, Thorndyke and Chatworthy – can possibly do for you. What do you say, eh?”
“I am sure that you have some interesting information to impart. Would I be correct in that suggestion?”
Louisa had further learned that to more easily understand Arthur Thorndyke it paid handsome dividends to make educated guesses as to what he was driving at. Louisa had had some success in the past with the method and she was rewarded again this time.
“Quite so, Mrs. Calleray, nee Tavistock, quite so” Thorndyke agreed.
“And that information, Mr. Thorndyke? What might it be?” Louisa prompted.
“Information? Hmm, let me see…” There was a worryingly long pause during which time Louisa heard serval ‘ah’s’ and ‘umm’s’ before Arthur Thorndyke spoke directly to Louisa again.
“Of. It is just as I thought” he said confidently.
“It is? What was it that you thought, Mr. Thorndyke?” Louisa probed gently.
“Why, the house of course! They want it sold, you know!” Thorndyke exclaimed as though it was as plain as the nose on one’s face.
“The house, Mr. Thorndyke? Which house?” a puzzled Louisa Calleray asked.
“Well bless me and my kinfolk!” Thorndyke muttered in a low tone. It was the closest Louisa had heard him come to sounding irritated. She felt a great deal of empathy towards him.
“My dear Mrs. Calleray, they – the cousins, you recall?” Thorndyke offered tentatively.
“Ah, Charles and Walter Killeen. The South American branch of the family?” Louisa said.
“Quite so, indeedy yes” Thorndyke agreed. “Did I mention that they are a rum pair of buggers. Wouldn’t trust the little blighters as far as I could see them!” he added.
“I recall that you mentioned as much previously” Louisa said trying to not giggle.
“They were my boys, I’d give them a damn good thrashing, but that’s neither here nor there. We have business to discuss, you and I, Mrs. Louisa Calleray, nee Tavistock!”
Unable to help herself Louisa let loose a bubble of unconstrained laughter. She laughed even harder when she heard guffaws of laughter coming through the telephone handset.
“You, sir, are an incredible character, Mr. Arthur Thorndyke,” Louisa said when she and the solicitor had managed to regain control of themselves.
“That is a very tolerant and awfully nice thing to say, what? Personally I think I’m a silly old duffer who is rapidly losing his marbles… but I’ll take character over old duffer any day!” he said in a semi-jocular tone.
“You are adorable!” Louisa gushed, and realised that she meant it. “Now, the cousins of doubtful repute…” she prompted.
“Ah, yes, back to those little buggers, eh? Right-ho.”
“You mentioned something about a house. Are we talking about the former home of Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper?” Louisa asked.
The name felt uncomfortable to say and left an imaginary bad taste in Louisa’s mouth. She and her husband had made a pact to mention her as infrequently as possible since the discovery of her vile, sordid secret, a pact they had adhered to rigidly. Today was the first time Louisa had said Lady Adeline’s name out loud in several months.
“The very one and the same, m’dear.” Thorndyke agreed.
“And what of it, Mr. Thorndyke. What of the Courtenay-Hooper house?”
“Sell it!” Thorndyke said. “Sell it! That’s what the buggers said. Sell it!”
A small smile played at Louisa’s lips.
“So, the cousins – the Killeen’s – have instructed you to sell the house?” Louisa asked.
“Well, yes, of course they have. I would not have said so otherwise, would I?” Thorndyke protested.
“No, Mr. Thorndyke. Please accept my apologies for misunderstanding.” Louisa apologised, although there was no fault on her part.
“Jolly good, what? Anyway, of course it is not that bloody simple, is it? I mean, if it was, why would I be bothering you on such a beautiful afternoon, eh? Answer me that?”
Louisa feared that if she took Thorndyke at his word it could be much, much longer before the conversation was concluded. Instead she chose to treat the questions as rhetorical and ploughed ahead.
“What, uh…, what complications are there to hinder the sale of the house, Mr. Thorndyke?” she instead asked.
“You, Mrs. Calleray, nee Tavistock. It is you who is the complication, so to speak!” Thorndyke said emphatically.
“I?” Louisa gasped. “How do I come to be a part of this… situation?” she asked, completely taken aback.
“The house, m’dear. The blighters will only sell the house to you, Mrs. Calleray…, Louisa. They want you to buy the house!” Arthur Thorndyke blurted. “They want you to have it because you know the place, what?”
“Oh, my!” Louisa gasped.
It took many more minutes for Arthur Thorndyke to explain, in his own inimitable manner, that Charles and Walter Killeen had instructed the firm of Blessington, Thorndyke and Chatworthy to offer – at a very special price indeed – the beautiful house previously owned by their late cousin, Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper to her former companion and friend, Mrs. Louisa Calleray, nee Tavistock. If, and only if, the said Mrs. Louisa Calleray, nee Tavistock, did not wish to purchase the property then the firm of Blessington, Thorndyke and Chatworthy were instructed to offer the property for sale on the open market and invest the proceeds in local charitable causes of their choice.
“I will, of course, have to discuss this proposition with my husband” Louisa told told Arthur Thorndyke prior to promising him an answer within the week.
“It is an amazing offer and at an amazing price” Louisa concluded.
“I cannot disagree, darling.” her husband concurred. “My problem is that…, well, it’s what went on in that house that I have a problem with.” he said.
“I know, and that history troubles me as well. However, this is a business proposition and one that we – I – would be foolish to turn down. It answers some ardent prayers for me, Stuart.” Louisa argued.
The rather annoying solicitor, Daniel Merchant, had singularly failed to find one suitable property that might possibly be of interest to Louisa to open her new Connolly House Project, in spite of his simpering assurances that he was ‘working day and night’ on her behalf.
“Besides,” Louisa continued, “after remodelling and the like the house will be less about its former occupant and all about the new tenants who will take up residence there.”
“All I ask is that you be one-hundred percent sure that it is what you want and is also what you can cope with.” Stuart Calleray said sombrely.
“I am and I can, for certain!” Louisa cried. She hugged her husband lovingly. “You are my voice of reason, and for that I love you dearly. This will be an exciting new project to get our teeth into!”
Stuart Calleray smiled lovingly at his wife. He loved her dearly anyway, but when she was excited and animated as she was now, his heart swelled with love and pride he could barely contain within himself.
“And you, my darling, are the light of my life.” he told her.
Louisa instructed Daniel Merchant to contact Arthur Thorndyke and to conclude the purchase of the former home of Lady Adeline Courtenay-Hooper.
“It will be my utmost pleasure to be of service to you, Mrs. Calleray.” Merchant told her.
“Thank you, Mr. Merchant. Please keep me informed of your progress. Good day.” Louisa replaced the telephone handset and exhaled a sigh of relief. The purchase was going ahead! She felt a frisson of excitement and a sudden burst of energy flood her veins at the prospect of being able to help more troubled women get their disordered lives back on track.
She tuned in the wireless to listen to while she completed some paperwork. In the news bulletins the sad news was announced of the sudden death of King George at the tragically young age of fifty-six years.
His eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth – now Queen Elizabeth the Second - on holiday in Kenya with her husband, had been informed of her father’s passing and was flying home as soon as it could be arranged. She would ascend the throne at the tender age of just twenty-five years.
“Oh, dear me, that poor girl.” Louisa sympathised. She recalled how brave King George had been to keep the Royal Family together throughout the horrors of the War, over the objections of his advisors and the government. It had endeared him to the British people and he was much loved by them. To have lost him so soon after the ending of that terrible conflict was a massive body-blow to the nation.
In June nineteen fifty-three news reached the outside world that the most challenging mountain in the world – Everest - had finally been conquered. The news, coming on the eve of the new queen’s coronation was seen as a positive omen for the years to come. Louisa, Stuart and sundry guests at the Connolly House Project watched the coronation spectacle on the latest invention to sweep the nation: television. The flickering black and white images broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation caused great excitement and brought great wonder into the homes of millions of people across the watching nation who otherwise would have not been able to witness the magnificent ceremony.
The purchase of the former Courtenay-Hooper house was completed and renovations were well under way by the time Queen Elizabeth took up the reigns of state.
“I need a manager for the new Project.” Louisa said to her husband over dinner. “I cannot manage both properties myself.”
“I am sure that there are very many competent and experienced women out there,” Stuart said, sweeping his arm out to encompass the world outside their windows, “who are perfectly qualified and capable of taking on that role.”
“I am sure you are right, but I want and need someone who is warm, kind, friendly, empathic and, yes, even motherly” Louisa said with a smile.
“And if I am not mistaken, my love, I think that you have a person in mind!” Stuart exclaimed with a laugh.
“I cannot deny that only one person I have ever met fits my profile exactly, but whether she will be happy to take on the role is another matter entirely.” Louisa said.
“I am sure your powers of persuasion and your natural charm will win over whomever she is.”
“That remains to be seen.” Louisa commented.
To be continued...