|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.
Making her way back to Wilverdean Hall one evening later in the week, Loretta passed Arthur's battered car in the lane leading to the estate. On her arrival, she sought out Miss Evans.
"Has Mr. Kingsley been here this afternoon?" she asked.
"What was he doing?"
"He comes most afternoons, Miss, after he visits Miss Farthingale in hospital. Since the others have gone, he does Ďmost everything that needs to be done to keep the place together. Tending the garden, keeping things tidy--he does it all as he can."
"Has Aunt Beatrice hired him then?" she asked, surprised that she hadn't known this.
"No, Miss. He comes of his own accord. Heís that fond of her, and the place of course."
Loretta thought a moment. Every day that she had been here, all these months, and sheíd never said Ďthank you.í Well, she hadnít known. Perhaps he thought her ungrateful.
The next afternoon, she waited for him in the corridor outside her auntís room. He approached her warily.
"Mr. Kingsley," she began, and stopped, again frozen by the intensity of his gaze.
"Miss Princeton." He waited.
Loretta extended her hand. "Iíd like to thank you for all you have done for my aunt," she said. "I didn't know. I mean, Miss Evans told me how youíve been looking after things. Since the staff left. I can't thank you enough."
"Thereís no need to, Miss," he replied brusquely, refusing her handshake. "Thatís what we do in the country. We look after each other. Iím happy to help where I can."
Loretta paused, stung by his refusal to accept her peace offering. "Well, Iíd like to repay you," she continued stiffly. "You've really done so much, it seems only right. How long have you been helping her?"
"Just as long as sheís needed me. Itís no worry of yours. Thereíll be no Ďrepayingí." He stepped away, clearly impatient to be rid of her.
"Well, as you likeÖ" she responded curtly. "Please permit me at least to say thank you." She looked at him squarely, mustering all the dignity that good breeding and inherited wealth had bestowed upon her. He returned her gaze impassively.
She turned angrily, walking quickly away. He let her go halfway down the corridor before calling after her.
When she returned an hour later, Loretta found him waiting for her.
"Your aunt is sleeping," he said softly. "Fancy a cup of tea?"
"No thank you, I'm Ö" she began, and saw a look of disappointment flash across his handsome face. "Well, yes, that would be lovely." She forced a smile. "I donít want to wake my aunt, and it would be nice to have company while I wait."
They sat eyeing each other warily across the table in the hospital canteen. The tea was weak and cold.
"Iím sorry about this morning," he began.
"Thatís all right," she responded.
Having made his apologies, Arthur seemed unwilling to take the lead once more.
Loretta began again.
"My aunt is ever so fond of you."
"Aye. As I am of her." A long moment passed while the two consulted their tea. Finding no inspiration there, they turned back to each other.
"I feel like Iím in another world here," ventured Loretta. "In London itís all talk of the war--morning, noon and night. Iíve scarcely read a newspaper or listened to the radio since I came."
"Donít trouble yourself. Thereís no good news." Arthur paused. "But youíve spoken to your friends in London?" he asked. "A girl like you must get lonely in the country without friends."
"I havenít had the time," she sighed. "Anyway, I havenít wanted to. Thereís not much to say." She looked at him, tears welling up in her eyes. "You donít think sheís suffering too terribly, do you?" she asked, searching his face for some consolation.
He reached his hand across the table and picked up her own in a gesture of comfort she had seen him share with her aunt.
They were sitting quietly, her hand in his, when the doctor approached.
"Miss Princeton," he said gently, "the time has come."