“We knew he was a wrong one from the off!” Maud said much later. “He didn’t smell right!” she declared.
“Really? How odd.” Louisa commented, balancing the bone-china cup and saucer on her knee.
“Oh, yes, dearie, wrong ones have a certain smell about them, isn’t that so Mavis?”
Mavis smiled affectionately at her sister.
“I’m not really sure about that, Maudie, but you do seem to have sixth sense about these things, I cannot argue against that.” she said.
It was more than an hour after the arrest of Percy Styles. Louisa Tavistock was seated in the ‘best’ chair that the inner sanctum of the Connolly sisters had to offer. At their insistence she had been cajoled in to joining them for the remainder of the evening. A pot of strong tea, digestive biscuits and a supply of handkerchiefs had kept the conversation flowing as the sisters told their story.
“Anyway, we didn’t like the look of him and it was obvious to both of us that you were not comfortable with him, either.” Mavis took up the story. "Luckily I talked Maudie into having a telephone installed a little while ago…”
“… and I rang the police!” Madge interrupted excitedly.
“They took a bit of convincing at first, but when I described him to them, they seemed to be more convinced."
Just then there was a knock at the street door. Maud rose stiffly to answer. Familiar voices approached and Louisa stood up as Marilyn and her husband, still in uniform, entered the room.
“Louisa! Are you alright, darling?” Marilyn cried as she swept her friend into a tight hug.
“I’m okay now, really. I’m not hurt, at least.” She told Marilyn. “I was very scared, but I am fine now.”
“I was so worried for you, after what you told me earlier. Bless my Bernard!”
Marilyn explained that she had told her husband about Louisa’s concerns regarding her uncle. He had gone straight to his superiors and convinced them that she, Louisa, was vulnerable and a likely target for the rapist and killer. He had been given permission to take four officers to Louisa’s lodgings just in case he turned up.
“Then Madge’s telephone call came in,” Bernard said, “and everything changed.”
He went on to explain that armed with Madge’s description and other information relating to Percy Styles senior officers at the station were convinced that Louisa was shut up alone in a room with a dangerous killer and rapist.
“Your squeal or scream was all that was needed to set the whole thing in motion,” he told Louisa. “Up to that point we didn’t know whether he posed a real threat to you or not. We were not going to take any chances.”
His smile was warm and reassuring. For the first time since meeting him Louisa gained a small understanding as to how and why Marilyn had fallen in love with him. He inspired trust and confidence. She turned to her friend and smiled.
“I am more glad than ever that your beautiful wife is such a good friend,” she said warmly. "Without you – all of you – I shudder to think how this evening could have ended. Thank you so much.” Her eyes filled with tears and her voice thickened as she looked at each of her saviours one-by-one. For the first time since she was a child she felt the love and comfort of a family, although the assembled company were the oddest ‘family’ she could imagine.
Part Three: London 1930 – 1939
Six months after his arrest Percy Arthur Styles met with Pierrepoint, the hangman. It was a once in a lifetime meeting as it was at the end of Pierrepoint’s rope that Styles’ vile life came to its end. His accomplice, Parsons, had met the same fate weeks previously. Louisa Tavistock had read the newspaper report dispassionately. She had no feelings towards her uncle anymore; he had got exactly what he deserved. Her Aunt Sylvie, by way of some misguided sense of loyalty, had never missed an opportunity to claim that her husband was innocent of the crimes for which he had been sentenced to death. There was a photograph of the weeping woman alongside the newspaper report, apparently to give the article poignancy. It had made Louisa feel slightly nauseous. She’d tossed the paper into the waste bin.
Now, four years later Louisa found herself in the position that the recently retired Dorothy Evans had held when Louisa joined the store staff. By seniority the role should have naturally gone to Marilyn Penney, but she had declined the post, citing her growing family – she was expecting her third child in a few months – as not leaving her the time the role demanded. Thus it was to Louisa the management confidently turned to continue the store’s much cherished traditions. Little did they know what they had let themselves in for.
“I would like to hold a fashion show in-store,” Louisa told Marcel Deschamps, the bemused and slightly alarmed managing director and son of the founder.
“A fashion show. Really?” he clarified. “In the store, after hours?”
“Yes…, sir” Louisa replied, remembering her manners just in time. “It would be something new and exciting and bring great prestige to the store,” she enthused.
The idea had been with her from her days as a fashion ‘clothes-horse’ when she joined the store. It was a long, laborious and frankly boring and tiring job, constantly trying on outfit after outfit and maybe selling just one of perhaps several dozen examples. While she had been grateful for the work at the time, Louisa hated to ask the newest young girls on the staff to perform as she had once done.
Her idea was to invite the store’s wealthiest clientele to a special show of all the season’s fashions in one go. A brochure listing all the items to be shown would be given to each client, from which they could select those items that most particularly caught their fancy. It would, Louisa was convinced, revolutionise the process and, more importantly, bring in much more revenue much more quickly.
Louisa was certain that more of the stores’ clients would buy more clothes if they were given a bigger selection to choose from. The present system of showing one garment at a time in several different colours or minor variations was too time consuming and ultimately self-defeating as the clients became tired or bored or just did not have three or four or more hours to sit around waiting for the next garment to be modelled.
“Let me talk with the Board, Miss Tavistock. I will report back to you shortly.” Marcel Deschamps said kindly with a smile.
Unbeknown to her, he had already decided to let Louisa have her way. He felt, though, that to appear to give in too easily would undermine his authority. The excuse he had fed the young woman about consulting the Board was just a ruse to make it appear that he didn’t have carte blanche when it came to decision-making.
Truth be told, the members of the Board were deaf, senile and so out of touch with the modern world that it would not have mattered if he had gone to them and proposed semi-naked dancing girls as in-store entertainment. He could have - would have - gone ahead with or without their approval, just as his father had.
He smiled as Louisa Tavistock thanked him. She was an asset that the store was lucky to have. Had he not already been happily married he would have liked to have got to know her more intimately. Having her come visit him in his office was a pleasure to be savoured for it did not happen anywhere near as frequently as he would have liked.
The cash registers rang musically as sale after sale was rung through. An unforeseen, but very welcome, bonus from the first Deschamps du Paris Fashion Show was the increased footfall through the store itself. As expected, the order books were overflowing and it looked very likely that the year of nineteen twenty-seven would be the most profitable in the store’s lengthy esteemed history. The aged members of the Board were not entirely sure what had happened, but were universally delighted at the prospect of a bumper dividend at financial year-end.
To be continued...