|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.
Monday brought torrents of rain. Loretta and her aunt settled companionably by the fire, filling a pleasant afternoon with tea and the pleasure of each other’s company. Tuesday brought another spring day, full of promise, and again Loretta found herself wandering alone through the estate. In spite of her resolve to treat the affair with indifference, her thoughts returned with annoying frequency to her lover, Reginald Winters. As she meandered along a wooded path beside the lake, her mind replayed the evening that they had met: his charming manners as they made their introductions, his grace on the dance floor, Freddie Merchant’s plodding attempts at conversation as her eyes followed Reginald across the room and met his with flattering frequency, and the brief, passionate kiss he stole when they found themselves alone in the cloakroom at the end of the evening.
It had all seemed so perfect at first. Reginald called the very next day, inviting her to an intimate lunch at one of Kensington’s most exclusive restaurants. A drive in the country followed lunch; moonlit strolls along the Thames, candlelight dinners, balls and trips to the theatre ensued. Within a few short weeks she found herself enveloped in his embrace and wrapped up in his world. He was handsome, sophisticated, confident, and infinitely charming. His attention, at first flattering, became a necessity in her daily life. His lips were the first she had kissed with ardour; his gentle insistence in the bedroom the first to which she yielded.
Her mind retraced the movement of his hands across her body, the heat and intensity of their passion. She blushed, embarrassed by the power of her memory and the eagerness she felt to return to his embrace.
The two became inseparable, and despite the brevity of their acquaintance, the couple became the favourite target of gossip among friends. Whispers of an imminent betrothal were shared up with tea and biscuits in sitting rooms across London. At first, Loretta coyly denied the strength of their attachment, while secretly awaiting the question she knew must come. But as six months passed, and then seven and eight, she began to suspect that despite his smooth charm and romantic attentiveness, Reginald’s heart remained unconquered. Small clues gave him away—tardiness in meeting, sudden departures, unexplained flashes of ill humour that were always smoothly explained or quickly concealed.
The latest slight, leading to Loretta’s hasty departure to the country, was a missed luncheon engagement. He had phoned the restaurant and apologised. Business matters had unavoidably detained him. She detected the hint of untruth in his voice, however, and rang off before he finished his explanation. It had seemed so important to punish him for his inattention, if indeed that were his worst sin. Now, as she walked alone through the woods of Sussex, she began to doubt her own actions. She longed for the touch of his lips on hers. Perhaps she should speak to him tonight. The wound was too fresh, however, and in the end she resolved to leave him waiting for another few days.
At seven, Reginald phoned again. At seven o-one, he was told that Miss Princeton was again indisposed, and that she would be unable to speak with him. Miss Evans, the housekeeper, reported that he rang off with a satisfying degree of ill grace. As punishment for his show of temper, his phone call the following morning was greeted with the news that Miss Princeton was out for the day, and was not expected back until late in the evening. In fact, she spent the morning writing letters, and the afternoon visiting with some friends of her aunt’s. Had he thought to phone again that night, Loretta might have spoken with him, for her resolve was weakening. To be honest, she admitted to herself, she was a bit bored.
By Thursday, country life had begun to take its toll on Loretta’s normally high spirits, and she decided to cycle to the village for a change of scenery. An ill-timed flat tyre left her stranded on the edge of Puckering. Stowing her bicycle in a hedge for safekeeping, she headed on foot towards the pub to phone her aunt.
A broad-shouldered young man blocked the entrance to the Golden Crown, his back to her as he called some farewell remarks across the smoke-filled room to the publican. Turning suddenly, he collided with her, pushing her off the step and into a bush, whose widespread arms broke her fall. He plucked her from the greenery as the words for an apology began to form. Then the young man halted as recognition dawned.
"You’re Miss Princeton," he stated gravely, with the hint of a smile in his deep blue eyes.
"Arthur?" she replied, uncertainly. "Arthur Kingsley?"
"Aye," he grinned at her. "That it is. It’s ever so good to see you." His eyes twinkled. He was unmistakably pleased.