Chapter Two – Our Heroine Arrives in Knaresborough

The Saucy Sponge Cake

The Saucy Sponge Cake

Dearest Maman,

The zeppelin ride over the Atlantic was uneventful to say the least. I spent it in solitude, apart from the meals (which were very bland), and got a fair amount of reading done. Though I could not forget the fact I was such a high way up above the unforgiving waves.

I have arrived at King’s Cross station and am awaiting the train up to Knaresborough. It is yet a couple of hours until it departs and thus I decided to write to you and give you word as to how I am doing. I cannot help but still be terribly upset because of that newspaper and I am simply at a loss now what I should do with my life. I can see you and Father before me when I am writing that, telling me I am yet so young – but it does not feel that way. To tell the truth I think I have never felt older than I do at this minute. Perhaps I should go into studies at a university? Shocking, I know, but what else can I do with my life after this disaster? Reading, at least, has always been close to my heart.

England seems just the way I thought it. It is grey and the buildings look as if they were built hundreds of years ago – something which I think is true in many of the cases. I am surprised at the fact it has not yet rained.

I shall write again once I have arrived at Aunt Phyllida’s. I am certain there will not be much else to do there, so expect long missives of my continued existence in the north.

Thinking of you all,

Matilda.

I folded the paper, put it in the envelope and then went to try to find somewhere to post it in the bustling station. Somehow I had imagined England to be all but deserted but this proved not to be the case in the slightest. Instead people were going in all directions and despite myself I felt rather at home, if one could forget the fact the air was moist and all seemed so very dreary. However, I could see some young people about and was heartened. Perhaps there would even be a few jazz clubs in Phyllida’s town up north. One had to harbour hope.

Feeling better at this thought and after the relief in writing I straightened my back and put the letter in a red postbox I found in a corner of the station. The displays above me clicked and I looked up to see that my departure was now listed on them. It was still an hour and a half before it would leave and I looked around to see what I could amuse myself with until the time was ripe to continue my journey. At least I did not have to worry about my luggage since that was all taken care of by other people and would be unloaded at Phyllida’s residence in Knaresborough without me gracing it with a single thought. That was lucky really, considering I had several trunks of clothes with me. It would not do to wear anything less than the best Manhattan had to offer even though I was entering exile.

In another corner of the station I could make out a little tea shop and I navigated my way through the crowds towards it. It was called ‘The Saucy Sponge-Cake’. I decided to try it out, tea after all being the beverage of choice in this country and ‘when in Rome…’. Even if the zeppelin journey had been dull it had still been exhausting and I was longing to have a normal meal and go to sleep in a bed safely situated on ground level. To count on good refreshments being served on the train to Knaresborough felt like a silly idea, as well. I turned the door handle and went inside.

The tea shop itself proved to offer a respite from all the noise in the rest of the station and I sat down with a rather strong feeling of gratitude. Every available space was crammed with white wooden tables and chairs, though in the case of the chairs I do not think even two looked the same. A girl hurried over with a menu which she placed before me on the crocheted doily covering my table.

‘Whenever you are ready, madam,’ she smiled and returned to cater to the other guests, of which a fair number were present. It seemed to be a popular little establishment but then again I could imagine more people than I preferring something like this instead of the ghastly train fair.

I opened the menu and found it to be consisting of only a couple of pages of food stuffs, whereas the list of teas spread over four pages alone. They really do love their brew, I thought, and felt a little tinge of worry at the large selection. How on earth should I know which one to choose? I simply had to ask the waitress, I decided and returned to perusing the food menu. In the end I settled on something which they referred to as their ‘Classic Afternoon Tea Menu’, including a pot of tea (of your choice) for one, four mixed finger sandwiches (ham and cheese, chicken and mayonnaise, cucumber, salmon and watercress and goat cheese and olives), two scones with jam (apricot) and clotted cream as well as one of their famous sponge cakes, available in several varieties. I settled for the one filled with strawberries and whipped double cream. That should ready me for the last hours’ journey up north, and if it did not there was surely something wrong with me.

I looked up and located the waitress and smiled at her to show that I was ready to place my order.

‘Yes, madam, what can I get you today?’ She smiled back ready with notepad and pencil.

‘Well, I would like your classic afternoon tea menu, with the strawberry and double cream sponge cake, please.’

‘A very good choice indeed! Which tea can I get your with that?’ She jotted down my order quickly.

‘Oh, I don’t exactly know…’ I ventured. ‘I have never really been to such an establishment as this.’

She nodded understandingly. ‘I hear on your accent you are American, madam, and I don’t mean to be rude pointing it out! May I suggest our first flush Darjeeling tea? It is one of the best we have on the menu, and referred to as the ‘champagne among teas’! It has a very light and floral taste, very lovely.’

I nodded. ‘That sounds like a great choice. Please, go ahead.’

She jotted this down, too, smiled one last time and hurried off to prepare my order. Not more than ten minutes later she appeared again with the pot, white and decorated with roses, and matching cup as well as a small, also matching, milk jug and bowl of sugar. I poured a cup of the liquid and was amazed at its heavenly scent while the waitress went to fetch the food. Nobody had served me tea like this in the states I thought, and splashed a dab of milk into the cup. I refrained from the sugar altogether.

The foods, when they arrived only a minute later, were arranged on a three-tier cake-dish with the finger sandwiches at the bottom, the scones in the middle and the sponge-cake at the top. Accompanying this were two small bowls, one with jam and the other with clotted cream.

Without further ado I began eating and became engrossed in this to the point where I did not even feel the need to read or otherwise amuse myself meanwhile. The sandwiches were lovely and the scones were a positive taste-explosion in my mouth. Sampling the sponge-cake, finally, made me settle back in my chair with a silly grin on my face. All the dishes were set off wonderfully by the taste of the tea and I could begin to understand why the Brits were so very fond of the stuff. Coffee can almost hide the taste of whatever you are eating by the very nature of its bitterness, whereas the taste of the tea only serves to heighten your awareness of all the other flavours.

Once I was finished I happily paid the bill and in a cloud of contentment I exited the little tea shop once more. I found myself wishing, quite intensely, that Knaresborough would hold a similar place. To tell the truth I actually felt a bit better, finally. It seemed the repast had cured some of the acute embarrassment of that newspaper notice. Who knew sponge-cake could have such a healing effect.

I checked the time and since it only was twenty minutes left until the departure of my train at two thirteen, I decided to slowly amble toward the platform. I easily found the right train and boarded it. Father had taken care of all the arrangements and made certain that I would have a compartment to myself. With the help of a conductor I managed to find it and sat back to enjoy the ride as much as possible. According to the travel documentation I should be in Knaresborough by six in the evening.

I had brought with me several of Jane Austen’s novels for the journey and retrieved Pride and Prejudice from my suitcase. In one of my travel trunks I had several more books and I hoped that I could also increase my collection even though I would reside in England. After all, they should be possible to send for from London through mail order if nothing else. In any case, I opened my copy and began to read as the train rolled out smoothly from the station. For quite some time I was left undisturbed but shortly before we were due to arrive at our destination someone suddenly knocked on the door to my compartment.

I looked up with a jerk and spotted a young woman outside, perhaps a little older than myself, who eagerly waved at me.

‘Can I come inside?’ she mouthed and, intrigued, I nodded to show I allowed it. She slid the compartment door to the side and quickly stepped in and sat down on the opposite seat.

‘Thank goodness!’ she exclaimed while holding out a gloved hand for me to shake. ‘How do you do? I’m Clarissa Murdoch, and yes I am from Scottish descent. It’s better to have that out in the open at once, I find, or people will start gossipping.’

‘How so?’ I asked. ‘ And it’s very nice to meet you, my name is Matilda Arkwright.’

‘Oh how delightful, you’re an American!’ She practically beamed at me. ‘Oh you know, some people. They have no manners and Scottish descent especially seem to trigger an intense desire to find all your flaws. But never mind! Where are you from?’

‘Uhm, New York,’ I ventured.

‘That is absolutely marvellous, my dear. I have always wanted to go. And look at you, how lovely you are! Such beautiful blond hair. Though I see you prefer to keep it long?’

‘Why yes, I never fell for that short-cropped trend.’ I was drawn in by her talkative attitude and in no particular hurry to find out why she had ventured into my compartment. That was something I would find out soon enough, I thought. On that account I proved to be right.

‘Wise choice, my dear, wise choice. I cut mine and have regretted it ever since!’ She leaned back against the plush seat. ‘I am headed home to Knaresborough. You too I take it? Though I am assuming you are merely visiting the place.’ I nodded and she continued happily. ‘You must excuse me being so forward to come in here and not explain at once why I intruded, but it simply was too much to bear.’

Clarissa Murdoch

Clarissa Murdoch

She looked at me dramatically and despite her regrets she looked terribly sophisticated in her short bob. It set off her sooted eyes in the most intriguing manner. With a start I realised that she wished me to inquire why she had indeed deemed it necessary to enter my compartment uninvited. After all, it was horribly forward of a Brit.

‘Oh, do tell. When you say it like that, I am dying to know the details!’

Her eyes glittered and she leaned forward slightly once more.

‘You see, I found that I was in the same carriage as such a horrible woman from back home in Knaresborough. It has been quite the scandal, I can tell you.’

‘No?’ I asked in shock. ‘What took place?’ Despite myself I found the whole situation rather amusing as well as diverting.

‘Well, her name is Delia Keighley and she is expecting!’ I failed to see the problem and I imagine my face was quite blank. Clarissa soldiered on triumphantly. ‘She is unmarried.’

‘Oh,’ I said, not as delighted at the news as I might have been some months back. It was a bit too close to what I myself had experienced recently. She looked disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm and was just about to go into the matter further when, thankfully, the conductor announced that we were nearing our end-destination and that Miss Clarissa probably wanted to go fetch her luggage from her compartment.

‘Oh bother,’ she said with feeling, ‘I was having such a wonderful time with you. Do promise me you will pop over for a splash of tea later in the week?’

‘Thank you, I’d like that,’ I replied mostly to be rid of her.

‘Wonderful, my dear! I’ll come by with my address. See you then!’

‘How will you know where I live?’ I asked.

‘Really, dear, you will be the only outsider in town. I shall find you and leave my card with you.’ She bustled away down the narrow corridor and I turned my head toward the window.

The view which greeted me was simply breath-taking as we crossed the bridge into the down and for a moment I forgot all about Clarissa Murdoch. Far below was the mirror-like surface of the water and much to my surprise I really liked what I saw. At last the train arrived at the station and I went to find my aunt, who would wait for me outside the station house. My luggage would, as mentioned, arrive at her house without me interfering.

As I neared the station house I spotted a woman who could only be Phyllida Kynaston and took a steadying breath. It was simply impossible that somebody like that could be anything but related to me. That was my normal luck.

‘Goodness gracious me,’ I muttered. ‘This will certainly prove to be interesting.’

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