|Last Taxi to Kensington, by Helena O'Rall
This short novel, purportedly written by Ellen Hall, one of the last family residents of Stoney Grove is presented here in 14 parts.
The dark countryside flowed past her, strange, and yet under the veil of the cloudy night sky, somehow familiar. Fields gave way to scattered woodlands, bare and gaunt against the early winter darkness. It had been hours since they’d left the city and would be hours before they reached their destination. Around her the world slept, yet she sat upright, staring out into the enveloping blackness.
A soft groan, almost a whimper, disturbed her thoughts. Turning her attention from the passing scene, she glanced down at a young soldier sleeping on the seat beside her. He muttered again softly and was still. She watched him for a moment, then turned back to the window. Against the cold glass surface she caught a reflection—her reflection. Two thoughtful eyes regarded her, set in a stern, thin face. A wisp of auburn hair fell across her forehead, challenging the control of her disciplined features. She pushed it aside and focused again on the passing night, slipping away beneath the relentless motion of the train.
* * * *
Loretta paused a moment longer, brushing a lock of stray hair impatiently from her forehead and regarding her smooth skin and clear green eyes with satisfaction. Then she turned from the mirror.
So you see," she sighed, " I’ve been a ninny. He doesn’t really love me."
"Nonsense," responded a young woman, elegantly draped across a sofa behind her. "He’s been busy, you know. Men are such active creatures. You must not take everything so seriously! Do be a dear and stay in London."
"Too late," responded Loretta. "I’m off to see Aunt Beatrice this afternoon. A week in the country will do me good. It’s no use pretending with Reginald. He’s not the subtle type."
"Well, if you ask me, he’ll be on the next train behind you. He’s mad about you, really he is. I don’t know how you can doubt it." Loretta’s flatmate Sylvia stood. "And the country is so dreadfully dull. If you must be dramatic, couldn’t you go to Paris?"
Loretta shook her head. "I need to think. Dullness is just what’s called for. Besides," she added playfully, "if Reg were to come, at least I’d know he came for me. He abhors the country!"
Reg did come, in the end, and the country visit served its purpose nicely. Or should have done, if some niggling doubt hadn’t crept into her mind, quite uninvited, and refused to leave. Of course she’d said that Reginald Winters didn’t love her before she’d gone, but had not for a moment believed it to be true or considered the consequences. The exercise was intended to play out as all lovers’ quarrels in her circle did, and on the surface, it went precisely according to plan.
Loretta arrived at Wilverdean Hall on the Saturday, and spent a quiet afternoon visiting with her aunt. As expected, Reg phoned that evening, and just as expectedly, she refused the call, citing weariness from the trip and a slight headache. She passed the next day rambling about the old estate, helping her aunt in the garden, reading in the library, and becoming reacquainted with the grounds. She visited all her old haunts, seeing them for the first time with the eyes of an adult. The old willow that she had learned to climb stood stunted and crippled where once it had seemed impossibly tall; the grotto where she’d hidden during games of hide and seek no longer terrified her. She emerged from the ancient grove to a small walled garden. Before her, a stone fountain stood silent and empty in the bright spring sunshine, all gleaming white against a sea of bluebells. She smiled to herself as she approached it, lost in memory. The last time she had stood here had also been spring, a day much like this one. Then, however, she had not been alone. Arthur Kingsley, her dearest friend, had been with her. They had stood, watching the water cascade from the down-turned pitcher in the stony hand of the imp. Then, quite unexpectedly, he had kissed her. Her first kiss. Unconsciously she put her hand to her lips, imagining in the soft spring air the boy’s warm breath. It had been years—how many?—since she had seen him. That very day, in fact, the spell of spring had been broken. News had arrived of her mother’s sickness and she had gone away, not to return to Wilverdean Hall until now.