|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.
Loretta awoke again to a grey, overcast morning. She breakfasted, finished packing, and waited for Arthurís return. Time passed slowly as she moved around the house, torn between the longing to stay and the will to leave.
Her plans were simple. She would travel to London, and spend one last night in Kensington at the flat of a friend. In the morning, she would turn over the keys to Wilverdean Hall to her solicitor who she had engaged to oversee the sale of the estate. Grampton and Miss Evans could stay in the house until a buyer could be found. There was an early afternoon train from Victoria that should, by Tuesday evening, deposit her in Morcambe. Her new life as a nurse in the Royal Air Force would begin the following morning.
She phoned the station; the afternoon train to London had been cancelled. If she hurried, she could catch the 10:15. Loretta stood, overcome by indecision. To be gone, to be on her way, would be a tremendous relief. But she could not leave Arthur without saying goodbye. There wasnít time to find him. She must wait for him to come to her.
He arrived, in early afternoon, with a small box wrapped in brightly-coloured paper. He led her to the garden and handed it to her. Within it was a small golden locket, containing his photograph and a single strand of his hair. "Will you wear it?" he asked.
She gently lifted it out of the box and placed it around her neck. "Thank you, Arthur," she said quietly.
Hand in hand, the two walked around the estate, pausing to remember the happy days they had played there together as children. They passed the lake, peered in the darkness of the grotto, walked through the grove and returned to the walled garden. Could it have been only yesterday that they had shared their love here?
They returned to the house at tea time. "I should take you to the station now," he said heavily, looking at the clock. "The train isnít running this afternoon," she replied, "Iíve had to call a taxi."
"Youíre going all the way to London in a taxi?" he asked. "Couldnít you just wait and go up in the morning?"
"I have an appointment with my solicitor at half past nine," she explained. She paused a moment in thought. "Arthur, I donít want to hurt you. You see, Iím leaving him the keys to the house. Iíve decided to sell Wilverdean Hall."
He looked at her, stricken, as the meaning of her words became clear. "Then youíre not coming back?" he asked, his face pale, his eyes dark.
"No." She said simply. "I made this decision months ago. Before I realised I love you. Itís too late now to change things."
"Itís never too late! Promise youíll come back after the war.
Can you at least promise me that?"
Outside, the strident call of a horn announced the arrival of the taxi.
"Iíll get your things," Arthur said gruffly, racing from the room to be free of her, of the pain of saying goodbye. He carried her bags to the waiting vehicle. Depositing them in the boot, he stood beside the car, his eyes turned towards the door of Wilverdean Hall.
She came to him, heart fluttering beneath the thin gauze that stretched across her ample breasts. He wrapped her in his arms, burying his granite features in the soft curl of her luxurious auburn hair. "Iíll never let you go, mílove," he whispered.
"You must," she sighed. "You know this must endÖ" And, tearing herself from his embrace, she turned to the taxi driver. "Kensington," she sobbed, stepping into the maw of the black behemoth. Within seconds, she had gone, and all that remained was the bittersweet memory of a warm summer evening.
Later that night, as Arthur staggered towards the door of the Golden Crown, he overhead two men chatting at a table near the exit.
"I hear Miss Princeton is planning to leave Puckering," one man said. "I heard sheís selling the old place."
Arthur leaned unsteadily across the table, lowering his head to meet the speakerís eyes.
"Sheís gone," he said. "She took the last taxi to Kensington."