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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.

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Part 12

Later that afternoon, she sat reading a book in her favourite retreat, a bench within the walled garden that lay just beyond the ancient grove of the estate. Suddenly, to her astonishment, Arthur Kingsley appeared, opening the iron garden gate with a single impatient thrust. Anxious and breathless, he clutched his hat in one strong, awkward hand as he hurried toward her.

"Is something wrong?" she called out, alarmed by the anguish in his face.

"Loretta." He paused, impatiently, for breath. "Tell me, is it true? Are you leaving Wilverdean Hall?"

Loretta stared, taken aback by the urgency of his question.

"Please," he pleaded. "Please answer me." His voice softened. "Are you going away?"

"Yes," she answered simply, looking up at him. "I have to go."

"Iíve been such a fool," he cried, unable to master the feelings that had brought him to her. "I shouldnít have stayed away so long last winter. I should have phoned when you returned from London. Itís just that I thoughtÖ" he paused, reluctant to say the words. "Iíd heard you were to be engaged to that chap, the one you were with at the funeral. When you went back again last monthÖ I thought youíd gone back to him. I thought it was too late."

"Too late?" Her eyes met his, and for a moment, all was still, as if time had frozen.

"Loretta, I love you. Iíve loved you since I was a boy, and you were a mere sprite. For years I waited for you to return. Now Miss Bigges tells me that youíd received a letter from the RAF, and that youíre going away. Have I waited too long?"

He stood before her, in agonised expectation.

"Arthur, I didnít know," she whispered. "How could I know? I thought you disliked me, I thought you disapprovedÖIíve been so selfish, so deceitful. I donít deserve your friendship, let alone your love."

"Thatís not true," he protested. "You gave up your life to come back here and nurse your aunt. Youíre kind and honest. And so amazingly beautifulÖ"

She stood and put her finger to his mouth to silence him. "You canít mean that," she murmured. "You donít know me."

His lips brushed her fingertip for a moment, and then he gathered her to him, locking her in a strong embrace. She raised her face to his hungry mouth. His hands explored her face, her hair, then glided across her trembling body as he kissed her.

He pulled her gently downwards toward the soft, yielding grass.

"Donít leave me," he whispered, his hands caressing her, pushing aside the warm folds of her dress.

"Iím here," she smiled. "Iím here."

In the courtyard garden beside the ancient house, a songbird sang out. The gardenerís withered hands turned a spigot. Water erupted from the turgid hose, penetrating the soft, yielding earth beneath the gentle caress of the springtime sun.

They lay together on the grass, watching the clouds drift overhead. Time floated slowly by. Loretta ran her hands lazily through Arthurís hair, her fingers combing it this way and that. He turned, and kissed her again.

"Will you stay with me?" he asked.

"I will for now," she answered, caressing his face. "Letís not let this day end."

"Do you love me, then?" he whispered.

"Yes, I love you Arthur," she replied.

"Then itís not too late," he smiled and drew her near.

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