|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.
Aunt Beatrice’s funeral was well attended. Although her family was small, she had many friends in the village, and they assembled in the church to bid her farewell. Loretta had phoned Sylvia with the news, and her flatmate organised a group of friends to stay at Wilverdean Hall until after the funeral.
The service itself passed in a blur of kindly faces, murmured condolences and ecclesiastic efficiency. As the group clustered in the graveyard, reluctant to disperse, Arthur Kingsley made his way to Loretta’s side.
"Loretta," he began, his voice unsteady. "I wanted to say how truly sorry I am. Your aunt was a fine woman, and a good friend." He paused. "If I can do anything at all, please, let me know." He reached out to touch her shoulder, and then drew hastily back.
Loretta felt herself enfolded in an embrace. Twisting around, she came
face to face with Reginald Winters.
Arthur backed quickly away. His voice hardened; distant, formal. "Miss Princeton," he concluded, "accept my condolences. Your aunt will be missed." He glanced at Reginald, and then back at Loretta. "Please excuse me." Turning abruptly, he disappeared into the crowd.
"Let go of me," Loretta hissed, pulling away from the hold of her former lover.
"Darling, I had to come," he murmured soothingly. "It's too awful. You shouldn't be alone right now."
"I don't need you here," she responded, conscious of the eyes of the villagers, and those of her friends, upon them. "I'm quite used to being alone."
"It will be all right, love." Reginald continued on, undaunted by her vehemence. His voice lowered. "I've left Andrea," he whispered, "I'm here for you."
Loretta fought to control her voice. "Do not dishonour the memory of my aunt by continuing this conversation, Mr. Winters," she spat, her voice cold with barely contained fury. "I am not interested in the state of your relationship with your wife."
He refused to accept defeat. "You're overwrought, love, as anyone would expect you to be. I'm sorry to have startled you." He smiled kindly at her. "Let me take you home."
"I'm staying at Wilverdean," she answered. "I have work to do here."
"Of course, of course," he crooned soothingly. "I'll drop you back, shall I?"
Arthur Kingsley stood in the shadow of the church door and watched the two climb into Winters' Rolls Royce. His eyes followed its tail lights as they glowed in the gathering dusk. Then they were gone. He shrugged, briefly, and headed for home.
* * * * *
Loretta's friends stayed for a week, though Reginald found two nights at the Goose and Pony sufficient to induce him to return to London without Loretta. After he delivered her to Wilverdean Hall she had dismissed him with cold seriousness that, upon reflection, seemed sincere. He returned to the city to lick his wounds and re-evaluate his relationship with his wife.
Loretta found herself counting the days until she could be free of her visitors. Although she appreciated their kindness, she chafed under their self-absorbed airs and frivolous conversation. She longed to be alone, to examine her grief and embrace it.
In her room at night, her mind replayed her final meeting with Reginald. How had he so misread her, to think that after all that had happened, he could regain her love? How could he believe that abandoning Andrea was a solution for either of them? She now saw him as he was; a weak man unsure of what he wanted, who grabbed whatever was offered up. Her own behaviour appalled her. How had she fallen in love with such a man? How had she continued the relationship, when her intuition, her common sense, had warned her that all was not right between them?
After her return to London with him last spring, things had improved. He was attentive, charming, eager to please. They had slipped away for a week in the Lake District, made the rounds of London society arm in arm. Her face burned with shame at the recollection of it. How many had known of his deceit? How many believed her to be complicit?
A month ago she had learned the truth. Upon returning to her flat one afternoon, she found a slim young woman with jet-black hair seated resolutely in the foyer. The stranger wasted no time in conveying her message. Extending a well-manicured hand, she made her introductions.
"Miss Princeton? Let me introduce myself. I am Andrea Winters. Mrs. Reginald Winters. You are, I believe, acquainted with my husband." She spat the words out, accusatory and filled with hate.
Loretta stood, rooted in horror as the realisation of Reginald's duplicity dawned. Without waiting for a response, Mrs. Winters had moved towards the door. Plucking a pair of white gloves from her purse, she paused at the doorway and drew them on. "Please leave my husband alone," she had said, half plea, half demand. Then the door opened, and she was gone.