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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 4

Later that afternoon, as Loretta and her aunt sat quietly in the sitting room, the phone rang. Beatrice rose. "How bothersome," she explained. "Someone always phones just as I’m expecting a guest. Well, I shan’t be long. Make Arthur comfortable when he gets here, won’t you love?" And she left room, closing the door behind her.

A moment later, Arthur entered, a clean-scrubbed and tidier version of the young man Loretta had met that morning. His suit, however clean, was more than a few years out of fashion, and the crumpled black hat that he laid on the floor at his feet had ridden other heads than his. Loretta made a mental comparison with her last encounter with Reginald. He, as always, made a masterful appearance, his Saville Row suit with hardly a crease.

In the hours before tea, Loretta had carefully considered this meeting, weighing her own feelings about it. Although he was an old friend, and a handsome one at that, her good sense had returned. She was in love with Reginald. This man was a farmer. His appearance now confirmed it. Though she had been undeniably attracted to him this morning, upon cool reflection, he was most unsuitable.

"Do sit down," she said politely, motioning him towards a chintz-covered chair across from her.

"Thank you, miss." Arthur settled his large frame uncomfortably into the frilly seat, and looked at her. "I’ve missed seeing you around here, Miss Princeton," he began, his blue eyes meeting hers with the startling intensity that had made her heart race that morning. "Do you remember the last time we met?"

Loretta felt a slow blush beginning to creep across her face. ‘For goodness sake,’ she told herself. ‘Stop it. You’re behaving like a school girl. It’s been twelve years.’ She regained her composure. "I’m sorry, I don’t believe I do recall," she replied, her voice cool and distant.

"Don’t you though?" he went on eagerly. "It was a day much like today. We were walking by the grove." He smiled at the memory.

"Really?" she replied icily, desperate for him to stop. What was this farmer doing, bringing up that long-ago kiss? She was no longer a child. Why should he presume that this was a topic she wished to pursue?

"I’m afraid I don’t recall much of anything from my childhood here," she lied. "You know, with the passing of my mother…"

Her words were interrupted by Aunt Beatrice opening the door.

"Loretta, do call that Mr. Winters of yours. You’ve tormented the poor man for long enough." Beatrice paused, taking in the two young people facing each other across the tea table. "Pardon me, Arthur," she said kindly. "I didn’t know that you’d arrived."

What followed was an excruciating few hours of polite conversation and little wit. Arthur seemed to lose all interest in Loretta once Aunt Beatrice had arrived and settled into her chair. A protracted conversation about local politics and the upcoming church bazaar united him with her aunt. He restricted his conversation with her to comments about the weather and queries about the health of her father. By the time that he stood to leave, Loretta was missing Reginald intensely.

"Has he changed much, do you think?" asked Aunt Beatrice hopefully after his departure.

Loretta searched for words, aware of her aunt’s fondness for the young man. "He’s become…quite steady in his ways," she offered.

"Yes, I suppose he has," assented her aunt. "Still, steadiness is important. Arthur is the kind of man you can trust." Her shrewd eyes fixed on Loretta for a moment to see if the hint had found its mark, and then she moved away. Reginald was not in when she returned his call later that evening, and Loretta went to bad in a bad temper.

The next morning he rang again, and she was ready for him. He arrived on the afternoon train, joining her in time to provide a sharp contrast to the previous afternoon’s discomfort. The two returned to Kensington the next morning, leaving Aunt Beatrice to enjoy the beauty of the Sussex springtime by herself.

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