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Betty’s Tea Room

A sweet story from Ana and Christian’s honeymoon in England.

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“My wife will have the Twinings English breakfast tea, bag out, and I’ll have a coffee with skim milk, please.”

Christian is his usual commanding self.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that, luv,” says the waitress affably. “The coffee here is shocking. I’d have tea if I were you, this being a tea room.”

We’ve come to Betty’s Tea Room in Harrogate because the guidebook says this quaint little place is a must-see during our trip to the north of England. Hanging baskets of flowers invite us into the old corner shop. The dark interior is all tiny tables squeezed together, decorated with starched white tablecloths and silver sugar tongs.

We’ve had the most wonderful morning visiting the Haworth Parsonage where the Brontë sisters wrote their books that changed the course of English literature: all that passion, all that tortured love. I never thought I’d ever really be here but Christian has thought of everything, of course. It’s the perfect honeymoon. From London we had a day trip to Stonehenge where Tess Durbeyfield finally made her peace with Angel and her short, sad life, and now we are in the county of Yorkshire, in the landscape that inspired ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’.

“It says on the menu that you serve coffee.” Christian is bemused and a little irritated with our waitress, a short, softly comfortable woman of indeterminate age. She could be anything between fifty and seventy.

“Aye, that we do, pet,” she says, smiling kindly at Christian, “but it’s filthy stuff. Now why don’t you have a nice cuppa, like your lovely young bride?”

I can’t resist.

“How do you know we just got married?”

“Oh, bless you! It’s written all over you! And the way your hubby said ‘my wife’ with such pride… fair brings a lump to me throat.”

I grin at Christian. I just love this place. It’s so… English! I know that with just a little prompting this woman will be giving us her life story. I can’t resist a good story – I suppose that’s why I enjoy working in publishing so much. Christian catches my eye, an amused expression on his face. He tolerates my questioning but I suspect really he just wants a drink.

“Thank you. And you’re right. We are just married: we’re on our honeymoon.”

“You’re Americans, aren’t you? We get a lot of Americans here. Been to the Haworth Parsonage have you?”

“Yes, I’m a big Brontë fan.”

“Course you are, luv, all young women are: all those pounding bosoms and unruly passions. I do like a good bodice-ripper myself but those Brontë lasses were dark. A bit too dark for me. No wonder, the life they led, slowly going mad up on the moors, alone with their thoughts and all the darkness.”

Christian is intrigued. “What do you mean? I never read about any insanity in the family.”

“No, and you won’t,” states our loquacious waitress. “That’s just my opinion, of course. But I’ve lived on these moors my whole life and it’s a strange and wild place, especially in winter. It just… affects some folk more than others. The loneliness, the bleakness. Some folk just can’t take it… and it’s my opinion those young girls were addled – touched in the head. Who’d write such shocking things otherwise?” She shivers and pulls her nylon cardigan firmly across her ample chest. “No, there was a darkness in that family, that’s obvious.”

“Is it?” Christian is intrigued.

“Lord love you, yes! You only have to look at Branwell, the sole surviving son. Talented he were: a poet, a painter. But the drink took him; that and an addiction to laudanum. An addiction to the dark side, you might say – and then there were that affair with a married woman: well, ‘twere the gossip at the time. I’d say that Mrs Robinson took a toll upon him.”

“Mrs Robinson!” I glance at Fifty. “You’re kidding!”

“No, luv, Lydia Robinson. She were the wife of his employer; an older woman and a younger man who worked for the family – a recipe for disaster.”

Christian smirks at me.

“But I think it were summat else that finished him.”

“Like what?” Christian leans forward to hear her answer as she lowers her voice.

“Well, it can’t be easy growing up in the perfect family when you’re not perfect, can it?”

We’re both slightly shocked by her response, by the words she’s used.

“No, I suppose not,” says Christian softly. I glance at him but he’s in the thrall of our waitress.

“All those sisters, all that talent; and he’s supposed to be the bright young hope. Hope for him to be a shining success. He’s given the best of everything: a good education with all those expectations heaped upon him. Well, who can live up to that? The darkness of despair grows in his soul whilst the light becomes dimmer. And the only job he can get is as a station clerk: he’s fired from one job after another. Tries to work as a tutor but is fired again: then he comes home to lick his wounds and the darkness grows. His sisters are all being published and Charlotte, she’s got no time for him. And yet his father, the stern heart at the family’s center, he’s compassionate, nursing his broken son. I reckon the Reverend understood what it was to have a broken heart, having lost his own dear wife, the children’s mother.” She sighs. “They realise too late that he’s dying of the tuberculosis. And then he’s gone, snuffed out like a candle. When his light went, the darkness over took them all.”

Another shiver runs through her. “Oh, someone just walked over me grave. Now, what I can I get you, petal?” she says to Christian. “Would you like to try my buns? I’ve got currant or plain, or maybe you’d like the Yorkshire Tea Loaf – that’s our speciality.”

Christian shakes his head. We’re both bemused by her change of pace. And I don’t think anyone has called Christian ‘petal’ before. “No, thank you.”

“Oh, you must,” she says, firmly. “A young man like you is all hollow legs and big appetites.” Unexpectedly she winks at me. “Perhaps I can tempt you with a nice, toasted teacake and homemade strawberry jam, dear?”

Christian succumbs, as I knew he would and we both opt for toasted teacakes, whatever those are, with strawberry jelly, I mean, jam. Christian is gently bullied into having Earl Grey tea, which seems apt, with fresh lemon. Our waitress frowns slightly: I don’t think she approves of tea without milk but, as we’re American, she tolerates our eccentricity with fortitude.

She returns with our order on a huge tray: two miniature teapots, complete with individual tea strainers; cups and saucers with white paper doilies; two small plates with our toasted teacakes; and two eggcup-sized pots of strawberry jam with silver spoons.

“There you are, my dears,” she says, setting down the enormous tray. “Nothing like an afternoon tea for fortifying the spirit.”

She smiles again and trots off to serve another table.

“She was interesting, wasn’t she,” I say to Christian.

“It’s you,” he says, smiling. “You have a way of getting people to talk to you. You beguile them, Mrs Grey, just like you do me. But you’re right: I didn’t know that about Branwell Brontë.” He frowns and I can guess what he’s thinking, but I won’t bring up the spectre of Mrs Robinson. She’s ancient history as far as I’m concerned.

“I could have ended up like Branwell,” he says thoughtfully, “drawn to the darkness.”

“No, Christian,” I say, gently resting my hand on his thigh.

He shrugs. “But you drew me into the light.” He lifts my hand and gently kisses my knuckles.

“And then you married me, Mr Grey,” I say, to lighten his somber mood.

“That you did, Mrs Grey. I like being married to you.”

“How much do you like it?” I say, raising an eyebrow.

“I’ll demonstrate later, when we’re alone,” he says, a gleam in his eye. There’s a world of promise in his words and look, and all my muscles clench in a deep, delicious way.

He releases my hand, giving me a salacious smile and we work our way through our afternoon tea.

When we finish and are ready to head back out into the grey and damp English afternoon air, Christian fishes out a couple of twenty-pound notes which, disconcertingly, are purple.

We stroll out onto the cobbled street but are hailed suddenly.

“Excuse me, dears!”

Our waitress is chasing after us, breathless and flushed. She’s waving one of the twenty-pound notes at us.

“You dropped this,” she wheezes.

Christian hides his smile. “That’s your tip,” he says gently

She gapes at him. She seems even shorter now she’s standing next to Fifty, gazing up at him, perplexed.

“Twenty pounds? A twenty-pound tip! No, dear, that’s far too much!”

Christian cocks his head to one side. “To thank you for your entertaining and informative story.”

She shakes her head emphatically. “No, I can’t possibly accept this.” Then a thought occurs to her. “Well, perhaps I could donate it to charity, petal.”

“Certainly,” says Christian, waving away her thanks.

“Thank you, dears,” she says, happily. “I’ll donate it to the NSPCC.”

“Which charity is that?” I ask out of curiosity.

“Oh, that’s the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.” She smiles at me broadly. “Cheerio, sweetheart!”

“Good choice,” I say softly, glancing up at Christian.

She waves at us and trots back into the tea room.

Christian smiles down at me. “Come on, sweetheart,” he says.

“Alright, petal,” I say, grinning.

He raises an eyebrow. “God, you’re challenging, Mrs Grey.”

“That I am, Mr Grey. What are you going to do about it?”

“I’ll think of something, Mrs Grey.”

“I can’t wait, Mr Grey.”

And he bends down to kiss me, softly and sweetly.

~~~~~~~~

28 Comments Post a comment
  1. 08/1/2012

    Just great!

    Reply
  2. 08/1/2012
    shabz

    oh i really did enjoy this sweet story! the waitress reminded me of my old neighbour Barbara she called my hubby petal and me sunshine she was so sweet and had the best stories…..Thanks for sharing x

    Reply
  3. 08/2/2012
    shabz

    =]

    Reply
  4. 08/10/2012
    Chris L

    Thank you for a little bit of England form the honeymoon. England was so important to Ana and yet mostly missing form the novels. I thought that odd since the novels are largely from Ana’s point of view. Thanks you again for filling a little of the missing.

    Reply
    • 08/10/2012
      sunandsurf

      Yes, I always wondered that. I imagined them walking around Stonehenge and going to the Tower of London (Christian might rather like the dungeons) and maybe somewhere like Eltham Palace which is part Henry VIII and part art deco. Tea at Claridges, maybe? Or wandering through Soho?

      Reply
  5. 08/14/2012

    “petal”, a close observation of C, but let’s not forget his thorns.

    Reply
    • 08/14/2012
      sunandsurf

      You have a way with words, Ms Grape!

      Reply
  6. 08/16/2012
    daiseree

    i super love this story!i check this page from time to time just to get my doze of fifty!and i love you too!im a Filipino, and i have shared your stories to my friends and officemates whose into Fifty’s too.God Bless!

    Reply
    • 08/17/2012
      sunandsurf

      Thanks so much, sweetie! I love that you’re helping me lead your office mates astray!

      Reply
  7. 08/16/2012
    Vicki

    Such a insightfull and informative piece of the honeymoon Thankyou once again i love your blog and look forward to all the stories 🙂

    Reply
    • 08/17/2012
      sunandsurf

      Thanks. I had fun writing that one. The coincidence of the name ‘Robinson’ was too good to miss!

      Reply
  8. 08/21/2012
    Carol

    Sweet story!! Only a kind, nurturing waitress could get away with calling Christian ‘ petal’. Lol

    Reply
    • 08/22/2012
      sunandsurf

      I’m so glad you liked that – it’s one of my favourites!

      Reply
  9. 09/21/2012
    Dw

    As I already said – I do enjoy your original characters and the way they intertwine in the Land of Fifty.
    This little étude is such a gem!

    It reminds me of the time my British friend decided to show my coffee-drinking-tea-hating brother-in-law the beauty of English Tea Experience. In view of my sister’s interest in landscaping, she decided to take us not to Claridges in London but to Luton Hoo. After a stroll around the grounds, we sat down to wonderful selection of tea and crumpets, teacakes, cucumber sandwiches, etc. and the men started a discussion on difficulties with grass trimming in the pre- lawn mower era. And there we were regaled by a very amusing and enlightening tale (not by the server though but by a ½ of a very sweet old couple sitting near us) on uses of natural resources such as sheep in lawn trimming, Capability Brown and the device called Ha!Ha! used by him not only for aesthetical purposes but also to keep the cattle off the gardens. (at first we thought the old guy was pulling our leg – but later we found the Ha!Ha! to be true… 🙂 ).

    So – yes: Hurray to English Tea not only for the tasteful but also educational experience!!!
    BTW – I loved the choice of the Charity in this story – poetic justice indeed – Jane your storytelling is magnificent and you use the literary devices so well 😉

    Dw (Dorota)

    Reply
  10. 10/5/2012
    Elle

    Oh my word,how freaky is the waitress. Loved this story

    Reply
    • 10/6/2012
      Jane H-B

      Yeah, made me larf writing that.

      Reply
  11. 10/10/2012
    Marta

    Lovely!

    Reply
    • 10/10/2012
      Jane H-B

      A favourite of mine 🙂

      Reply
  12. 10/11/2012
    Sarah

    Love had me laugh out loud to myself still chuckling now x

    Reply
    • 10/12/2012
      Jane H-B

      Oh, good! It makes me smile to think of Christian being called ‘petal’ 🙂

      Reply
  13. 10/13/2012

    I loved this chapter and the way you brought the waitress into the story. Her tale of the Bronte lasses, Branwell and Lydia Robinson showed an uncanny affinity to Christian’s and Ana’s story. I too am a tea lover in the afternoon and evening. (Twinings English Breakfast & Earl Grey). I do enjoy my coffee in the morning. Thank you.

    Reply
    • 10/14/2012
      Jane H-B

      I’m very fond of this little story but the Bronte story is all real – I didn’t have to invent that. Branwell is, perhaps, what happens to brilliant but tortured young men who never find an outlet for their talents – or for their abounding love.

      Reply
  14. 10/14/2012

    These are some really, really great stories!!!! I really needed this after I read a story on Fanfiction.net that just made me want to vomit! Thank you.

    Reply
    • 10/14/2012
      Jane H-B

      Ooh, no vomiting, please! We all need a little sweetness and gentleness. That’s why we love the FSoG books, don’t you think, because despite everything, they’re a love story where the girl saves the boy who didn’t even know he was drowning.

      Reply
  15. 10/5/2013

    Sorry CG not CS! 😨

    Reply
  16. 10/5/2013

    Oops, screwed up again. The above comment was for the “Fifty Ways to Seattle” story not this one I enjoyed this just as much. Kind of supernatural how the waitress told the tale of long ago that reflected CG’s life before Ana. Love these briefs! 😀

    Reply
    • 10/14/2013
      Jane H-B

      I really like Betty’s Tea Room. And the thing is I DIDN’T MAKE IT UP! All that stuff about the Brontes is documented fact. I nearly fell off my chair when I realized and I knew I HAD to get it into a story. Glad you enjoyed it : ) jx

      Reply
  17. 05/6/2014
    Chris L

    I am not sure why this has never occurred to me before, but then there is a lot that is pretty improbable about ELJ’s characters. Ana doe snot act much like an only child. And I think I know about only children as adults, my father is an only child, my former in-laws are only children, and I have worked closely with one. Ana has a much greater appreciation for and attention to the needs of others, and is much more inclined to share, and be the caregiver in a relationship than the adult only children I have know.

    Reply

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