|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.
A sharp autumn wind swept across the lawn of Wilverdean Hall as Loretta bid the taxi driver goodbye. The house was dark and cold, shuttered against the night’s wind and rain. She ran lightly up the steps, and called out a greeting to old Grampton, who appeared miraculously, as he had done as far back as she could remember, to open the door and collect her things. The silent house depressed her as she followed the butler down the darkened halls to her sitting room.
Chill rooms, swathed in shadows, signalled the departure of the staff. Most had left in the past six months; the men to join the military, the women to look after their own affairs, now that the war had left them to fend for their families without fathers, husbands and brothers. Only Grampton and Miss Evans had stayed on; he too old to do battle, and she because Wilverdean Hall had become her home.
As she settled into bed later that night, Loretta reflected gloomily on the changes that the past year had brought. The Germans had marching inexorably across Europe in the spring, so that by mid-year only the Channel stood between hope and despair. Most young men abandoned the city to join the war effort; those who remained were tense and somber. Two of her own circle had perished in the Battle of Britain; now the city itself lay under siege. Nightly the bombs lit up the sky, thundering down death and ruin. The world had gone mad around her.
The madness struck close to home when she learned Aunt Beatrice had fallen ill. The robust woman who had scarcely suffered a cold in Loretta’s memory was now locked in a deadly battle with cancer. Loretta’s mother had lost that fight years before, and Beatrice had taken on her role unquestioningly, giving up her home and friends to live in London and help raise her young niece. When Loretta reached adulthood, Beatrice returned to Wilverdean Hall, the place she loved. She had been on a visit to the city in early summer when her illness was diagnosed. She returned to the ancestral seat, and although her spirits had improved, her health had not.
Throughout the summer and early autumn, Loretta made the journey from London to Puckering weekly, and each time the ravages of the disease became more pronounced. Beatrice had now been in hospital for a week. Loretta feared that on this visit, she had come to say goodbye.
And then there was Reg…No, she would not, could not think of him tonight. There was no comfort there, only pain. She rose from her bed, crossing to the window, and gazed out at the stormy night. The rain-spattered panes reflected back to her the tears she could no longer control. The skies, and the young woman alone in the dark beneath them, shared their misery.