I love this story. It is full of humanity, closely observed and recreates it's period well - all in an understated way which leaves just the right amount of work for the imagination.
Emmaline checked that her ticket was in her purse for the third time. The fun of travelling alone was marred by mundane things like tickets.
She made her way to the station's waiting room and was rather taken aback to find it already crowded by a single family. Two of the children were chasing each other around the seats at the back and in desperation she selected a seat nearer to the door than she would have liked, feeling a pang of regret that there was no first class waiting room to match her first class seat on the train. Carefully smoothing her skirt so that her crinoline did not get out of control she sank gratefully into her seat.
“Victoria, George, sit down! You are disturbing this lady,” the mother called out and both children immediately came running over and sat down.
Emmaline sent a vague smile in her direction and murmured, “Thank you, madam,” before turning her head to look through the window. She was certain that, whenever she became a mother, she would be totally devoted to her children and would be a model of maternity. Until that day arrived, she would do nothing to quell her instinctive and universal dislike of anyone more than a couple of years younger than herself.
She was roused from her reverie by a light touch on her hand. Looking up, she found the second child of the family, a girl of about nine years, standing next to her holding out a piece of cake on a napkin.
“Please Miss, Mama wonders if you'd like a piece of cake. She made it herself.”
Emmaline looked at the girl properly for the first time. Bright blue ribbons struggled to keep her blonde curls under control; her white dress was spotlessly clean but the cuffs and neckline were beginning to fray.
She smiled and said, “Oh, no, thank you. I am not hungry.”
“Very well, Miss,” the girl replied a little stiffly and Emmaline's conscience smote her. The family's obvious poverty had led her to believe that they could not afford to spare even a piece of cake. But refusing it would seem like a snub.
“Actually, I find that I could manage a slice of cake. It looks absolutely delicious!”
“It is, Miss. Mama's a wonderful cook.”
Emmaline turned to 'Mama'. “Thank you very much, Mrs...?”
“Boyd, Miss. You are most welcome.”
“My name is Lenoir.” Emmaline balanced the cake on her lap whilst she removed her own gloves and laid them on the seat.
“This really is delightful,” she said, after taking a dainty bite. She was forced into silence for a little while as she finished it and took the opportunity to view the rest of the family. Mr and Mrs Boyd were a few years older than herself and their five children descended from, she estimated, around twelve years to a babe in arms in regular intervals. The eldest boy was nursing the sleeping baby and the father was playing with the toddler, singing the nonsense rhymes that she remembered from her own childhood. All showed the same immaculate shabbiness as the girl who had given her the cake.
She wanted to repay their kindness to a stranger but knew that offering money would be an insult. There must be something she could do...
As she finished the last bite and handed the napkin back to her little waitress, the guard passed the door shouting out the destination of the next train.
“Oh, my! That's us,” exclaimed Mrs Boyd, hurriedly gathering her belongings and her brood before disappearing through the door and leaving the waiting room in blessed silence.
Emmaline noticed that the older woman had left her gloves on her seat and picked them up, meaning to follow the family outside. She saw that the fingers were almost worn through and there was a neat, but visible, repair on the seam. Suddenly, the eldest boy burst through the door.
“Excuse me, Miss, but have you seen Mama's gloves?” he asked.
“Here they are,” Emmaline responded, holding out the gloves in her hand.
“Thank you, Miss!” he cried, grabbing them and running back outside.
She had no idea when Mrs Boyd would actually put the gloves on, but when she did, she would find that instead of her old, worn ones she had an almost new pair, ample repayment for her marvellous cake.