|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.
Loretta sat quietly, holding her aunt’s hand as she drifted in and out of sleep. The sister’s gentle tap on her shoulder startled her from her reverie. "The doctor can see you now," she said. Loretta followed her down the tiled corridor into a crowded office overlooking an open courtyard, littered with faded leaves.
"I’m sorry," said the doctor quietly. "We’re losing her. There’s not much more we can do, I’m afraid, but make her comfortable."
Loretta nodded numbly. "How long…" she began.
He paused, searching for words of comfort. There were none. "A few days, no more than a week, I should think," he replied. "If there are other family members, you must ask them to come. One last visit before the end…"
Loretta nodded again. There was no one else, no other close family. Her father was in America, and could not return in time.
"Does she know?" Loretta’s voice quavered.
"I believe she’s always known." The doctor rose to leave, hand outstretched.
"Thank you doctor," she smiled and shook his hand. "You’ve been most kind."
Reluctant to return to her aunt’s side until she had regained her composure, Loretta left the hospital and wandered through the village. She thought of the happy days she had spent here as a child—learning to cycle on the hedge-lined lane, sitting beside Beatrice on the Downs waiting for a glimpse of a rare songbird, while the names of the more common winged inhabitants became second nature to her; sharing her adolescent hopes and dreams in the tea shop on the High Street. These memories calmed her, and shortly she traced her way through the narrow alleys back to the hospital.
She returned to find Beatrice awake and attended. A man sat, his back to the door, stroking her aunt's hand gently. He turned as Loretta entered the room and a pair of intense blue eyes slowly studied her face. She lowered her gaze under the strength of his scrutiny. When she raised them again, she discovered that she had been examined and dismissed.
The young man slowly placed her aunt's withered hand on the coverlet and stood to leave.
"Your niece is here, Miss Farthingale, " he whispered. "I should be going." The old lady managed a weak smile.
"Thank you for coming Arthur," she murmured.
"I'll come again tomorrow," he promised, and leaning over, kissed her cheek. Loretta watched the exchange, reluctant to see him go.
"Mr. Kingsley," she began.
"Miss Princeton," he responded, somewhat stiffly. "Look after your aunt." And with these words he strode from the room, as if eager to be free of her.
Aunt Beatrice proved to be more resilient than the doctor had predicted, and as the days passed, she continued to cling to life. Each morning Loretta sat by her bedside. Some days, the old woman was strong enough to manage conversation. Others she slept fitfully.
The afternoon following her encounter with Arthur Kingsley, he appeared at the door with a bouquet of flowers, and Loretta left him to visit her aunt. With the old lady he was kind and gentle; with her she sensed a reserve bordering on antagonism, and she found herself wishing to avoid his visits. She searched her memory for some reason to explain his coldness towards her. Certainly they had failed to re-establish their old camaraderie when they had renewed their acquaintance last spring, but nothing in her behaviour could explain his dismissal of her.
The next morning, her aunt broached the subject herself.
"Loretta dear, why do you leave when Arthur comes?" she asked quietly. "He is a great comfort to me, you know. You could be comfort to each other."
Loretta shrugged. "He comes to see you, auntie dear," she replied. "I don't want to interrupt your time together."
"Arthur is a good man," her aunt replied. "You two are so alike."
"Arthur and I?" Loretta frowned. "Alike? I can't see how."
"You are both very proud," her aunt responded. "And both very dear to me."