|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 sun slowly moved across the sky, and the two young lovers stirred reluctantly.
"I have to be off," Arthur sighed. "Can I see you tomorrow?"
"Iím leaving tomorrow," she said quietly. "I have to report for duty on Wednesday morning."
"So soon?" he cried.
"Iíve been planning to go for months," she explained. "I settled almost everything when I was in London. Thereís really nothing left for me to do here except pack the few things that Iíll need to bring with me. If I could stay with you longer, I surely would. But itís out of my control now. I have my orders."
Arthur pulled her to him. "Is it really beyond your control? Change your mind! Stay here with me. I need you."
She pushed him gently away. Leading him to the bench, she drew him down beside her.
"Arthur, I must go. I have to do something with my life, something meaningful. My country needs me. This is my chance to do something good, something honourable. To make up for all the time I wasted."
"But couldnít you stay here and serve? Thereís work to be done in the village. As the mistress of Wilverdean Hall, you could serve in a number of important ways."
"Arthur, I canít stay. Surely you understand how I feel. Itís not just the men whoíve been left behind that feel cheated of their chance. You have a life here, an important job to do. I donít. Besides, this really isnít my home."
"But you like Puckering. You had a wonderful childhood! You said so yourself."
"My childhood is over. Iím not the girl that you think I am. Iíve changed in the last year. Do you know why I didnít return to London with Reginald? Because he is married, Arthur. I spent months making love to a married man. I came to Wilverdean to escape from him, from myself. Iím not a noble girl who gave up her life to nurse her dying aunt. Iím a coward who fled from my life because I couldnít face who Iíd become."
"Thatís not true. I saw how you cared for your aunt. How you faced her illness and death. Youíre not a coward."
"If I stay here, Iíll lose myself in you, just as I lost myself in Reginald. I need to find out who I am, and what Iím capable of, by myself." She paused, exhausted by the effort to make him understand. "I canít stay. For your sake, or for mine. Itís all moved beyond that. Canít you see?"
"Yes, love," he whispered, his voice breaking with emotion. "Iíll not stand in your way."
"Iím taking the late afternoon train tomorrow," Loretta went on. "Could you come and keep me company before I go?"
"Yes," he nodded his assent. "Of course I can." He leaned forward and kissed her. Then taking her hand in his, he rose from the bench. Together, the two began the long walk back to the house.
Later that night Grampton appeared at her bedroom door. "Mr. Kingsley is here to see you," he called out. Iíve left him waiting in the front sitting room."
Loretta followed him down the shadowy corridors. "Thank you, Grampton. You can retire for the evening. Iíll lock up after Mr. Kingsley has gone," she said, pausing at the door to the sitting room.
The butler thanked her, and disappeared down the hall.
She entered the room. Arthur sat quietly in a chair before the fire.
"I shouldnít have come," he cried. "But I couldnít stay away."
She ran to him and he rose to embrace her.
"Oh, Loretta," he moaned, his lips seeking hers, his hands running eagerly over her smooth skin.
"Not here," she whispered. "Come with me."
She took his hand, leading him around the room as she turned off lights, banked the fire. She pulled him across the hall to the large, oak door, and paused to kiss him before turning the ancient key in the lock.
Clinging to each other, they made their way up the stairs. He pushed her against he wall of the corridor, reaching to undo the buttons of her dress. His hands slipped beneath the fabric, caressed her. She led him on, down the hallway to her bedroom. They slipped into the darkened chamber, and closed the door.
Outside, the trees swayed gently in the warm summer air. Overhead, the dark night sky was punctured by thousands of brilliant stars. One by one they began to rain down on the earth, shining brightly in a glittering dance before they faded at the edge of the world.
Arthur slipped quietly from the house in the quiet hour before dawn. Leaving the warmth of her bed, he promised to return later in the day. She stood at the window and watched his shadow move across the lawn towards his car, parked on the edge of the road. A low rumble, the flash of headlights, and he was away. Closing the curtains, she slipped back into bed, where the lingering heat and scent of his body comforted her until she fell asleep.