“Well, look at you!” Louisa exclaimed as she walked up to her closest friend. “You look fabulous!”
Marilyn Penney stood and hugged her friend and kissed her on the cheek.
“As do you, as do you” she said warmly. “It is so good to see you again.”
Both women sat down. A young, harried-looking waitress hovered nearby waiting to take their order.
“Tea?” Marilyn asked Louisa.
“Tea for two, please and a selection of yummy cakes” Marilyn told the waitress.
“Certainly, ma’am. A couple of minutes?”
“Thank you. That will be fine.”
As the waitress bustled away to fetch their order Marilyn turned to her friend once more.
“Married life certainly agrees with you, Louisa. My, you do look well!”
“Stuart is the most wonderful man imaginable. He makes me so happy. I have very little to complain about.” Louisa replied with feeling. “I know that I am a very lucky girl.” she added.
“Lucky? I’ll say. The gods have certainly smiled upon you, albeit in tragic circumstances.” Marilyn said affectionately. “You seem to be tripping over good fortune!” she declared.
“I cannot argue with you. Maud and Mavis, bless their hearts, really made me who I am today. If they had not given me a decent roof over my head who knows where or how I might have ended up?”
Marilyn’s reply was stayed by the arrival of their waitress bearing a large tray. The two friends watched in silence as their tea things and an impressive platter of tempting treats was placed in front of them.
“Anything else I can get you, ladies?” the waitress asked.
“No, thank you. This is wonderful” Louisa answered for both women.
“Then I’ll leave you to enjoy your tea” the waitress said, a perfunctory smile on her careworn face.
“You are a battler and a survivor, Louisa. Look at where you are now compared to where you were when you turned-up knocking on the door of Deschamps du Paris. That Louisa no longer exists. Instead I see before me a beautiful, talented and much admired successful woman.”
“Thank you, Marilyn. That is so sweet of you to say.”
“Nothing other than the truth, nonetheless.”
Both women sipped their tea. Louisa toyed with an iced bun, picking at, but not eating the soft roll. Marilyn’s heartier appetite saw her consume a fruity Chelsea bun with alacrity.
“So, my dear friend, to what do I owe the honour of taking tea with you on this fine afternoon in this fine establishment?” Marilyn asked after helping Louisa to consume the dismantled iced bun.
“Well, to put it bluntly, I would like to offer you a job.” Louisa said.
Marilyn gaped blankly at her dining companion.
“Well, of all the things I expected to hear come out of your mouth, that was not one of them. A job you say?”
“Yes, my dear Marilyn, a job. But not just any old job.”
Louisa went on to explain about the new Connolly House Project property and how she really needed someone she knew and trusted to manage the place on her behalf.
“I know that you and I share similar philosophies towards helping those who do not share our good fortune.” she went on. “Not only that, you have a good heart and a good head on your shoulders. I know that not only would I be able to trust you implicitly, I also know that you would do the work I do to the utmost of your ability with the same dedication, love and care that I do.”
“Oh, Louisa, darling, it is so exceptionally kind of you to say those things. You are, of course, absolutely correct. I admire you and what you do tremendously. Bernard and I both do.” Marilyn said.
“When I thought about taking on another property I also thought about a manager for it, should it ever come to fruition. There was only ever one person in my mind and that person was you.” Louisa told her friend.
“You are too kind, really.” Marilyn said as she clasped Louisa’s hand. “Thank you.”
“All you have to do is say ‘yes’ to my offer.” Louisa said with a smile.
“Obviously I cannot give you that answer here and now,” Marilyn smiled, “I have to discuss this with Bernard.”
“Of course. Good lord, the new place is still months away from completion, so you have plenty of time to think it over. Obviously, there are the finer points to be discussed, such as living arrangements and salary. These are all important matters which will require further discussion.”
“Of course, darling. I will speak to Bernard this evening and I will telephone you in the next few days. Is that suitable, dear?” Marilyn offered.
“Take all the time you need. There really is not any rush.” Louisa told her friend as she indicated to their waitress that they were ready for their bill.
The two friends parted with a hug .
“I’ll be in touch very soon!” Marilyn promised as a taxi whisked her away.
Louisa smiled to herself. She was ninety-nine percent confident what Marilyn’s answer would be.
The second Connolly House Project house opened in the autumn of nineteen fifty-three. It’s manager was Mrs. Marilyn Penney ably assisted by her husband, Bernard. Inspector Bernard Penney had recently retired from the police force and was keen to turn his hand to something new. When his wife told him of Louisa Calleray’s offer he was not immediately enthused. However, as retirement loomed and several further conversations with the Calleray’s ensued he began to warm to the idea.
“Besides, Bernard old chap,” Stuart Calleray said one evening, “unlike me you can turn you hand to most things practical. Across the two properties there is almost always something that needs looking at, repairing, repainting or just tidying-up. You would be perfect for the job.”
“Oh, phooey, Stuart. You are as practical as I.” Bernard demurred.
“No, really, he is not!” Louisa laughed. “Give him a human body and he is the master of his universe,” she said, “but give him a saw or a hammer and he is a fish out of water!”
Good natured laughter rippled around the group of four friends.
“And that is why, my dear fellow, we need a Bernard Penney in our midst” Stuart said.
“Really, now that the children have all grown our house is quite too large for us, dear.” Marilyn said. “We could really do without the expense and the responsibility of its upkeep.”
“That is also very true, my dear.” Bernard agreed. “It is definitely a thought to bear in mind.”
The deal was concluded a week or so later. It was with much pride that Marilyn and Bernard Penney moved into the spacious apartment specially decorated for them at the renamed Connolly Killeen House Project.
The name change had been suggested by Louisa both as a tribute to the generosity of Lady Adeline’s cousins and as a means of giving the property its own identity. Stuart and the Penney’s had agreed wholeheartedly.
As winter slipped inexorably towards Christmas, life settled into a comfortable, often hectic, but never dull routine for both couples. Nobody could have foreseen the the horrors that the New Year would bring to their doorstep.
To be continued...