By Maeve Alpin
Queen Victoria’s Lady-in-Waiting, Anna Duchess of Bedford began the tradition of afternoon tea. She grew hungry between a grand breakfast, light lunch, and late supper, the dining style of nobles of that era. Others noticed her partaking of tea and petite sweets in the afternoon and followed her lead. I learned so much about teas at a demonstration at a Steampunk Expo I recently attended. Along with three types of tea, cucumber sandwiches, lemon pound cake, devil eggs, scones, and cookies were featured. Our charming expert hostess shared with us the differences in tea time in England, France, and Germany. For the Germans serve coffee and cake, while the French drink chocolate with cookies or pastries or baguettes with butter and jam. When chocolate is offered at a tea, it is topped with whipped cream.
The spout of the tea pot or kettle faces the hostess or pourer. A tea cup is shallow and wider than a coffee or chocolate cup to give the tea room to temper before drinking. Have cream, sugar, and sliced lemons on the table.
An infinite variety of sandwiches may be served at tea, sometimes filled with chicken or turkey salad and cumber sandwiches are very tasty as well. The crust is always trimmed off the bread for tea.
When everyone is seated, the hostess pours the tea, filling each guest’s cup, then offers milk, sugar, or lemon. Cream is much too heavy for tea and is never offered. Milk and lemon are never added to the same cup, as citrus spoils milk.
When drinking your tea never extend your pinkie finger as it is considered rude. When stirring tea do not clink your spoon against the cup, instead swish it gently to and fro without touching the sides of the cup. After stirring, place the spoon on the saucer behind the tea cup. Remove the spoon before drinking your tea. Do not swirl the tea in your cup or you may slosh the pristine white tablecloth.
Specific etiquette for gentlemen attending teas includes standing every time a lady enters or leaves the room, opening the door for the ladies, and escorting them downstairs to their carriage or cab.
Here’s a tea time with the queen excerpt from To Love A London Ghost:
Sexton mimicked what he’d often seen others do, he bent his waist and went down on one knee. “Your Majesty.”
Queen Victoria nodded in acknowledgment, and as she glided forward, the hem of her skirt rustled on the floor of the small cigar-shaped airship.
“Nice rug. Persian, I’m sure. Gives a whole new meaning to a flying carpet.”
“We find it adequate.” The queen drew in a short breath. “We wanted to speak with you off the ground, so no one can eavesdrop at the door and overhear us.”
“It seems a bit drastic, but surely Your Majesty is wiser than a mere subject, such as myself.”
“Once we are in the air and out of earshot, we will tell you why you have been summoned.”
“I eagerly await your pleasure. Not that it should concern Your Majesty, but I was taken by your guards just as I was about to eat my dinner.”
“You were needed at that time, but would you care for tea?”
“No, I don’t drink anything made from water, I hear it’s quite addictive.”
“We always put a nip of Scotch in our tea.” The Queen picked up her cup and took a generous swallow.
“In that case, I will partake of a cup.” He poured the tea from the silver teapot into one of the dainty porcelain cups, tilted it to his dry lips, and tossed it down his throat. “The whiskey is a remarkable improvement.”
The Queen took a sip, and then set her cup on the gold-rimmed saucer. “We hear you have developed new scientific procedures for exorcising phantasms.”
“Those of the noble class say many things about me, but I did not know they referred to me as man of science. How complimentary.”
“Though we understand there may be some question as to how reliable you are.”
“What am I being accused of, Your Majesty?”
“We do not accuse, we are interested in your services. Do you really know how to deal with spiritual apparitions in ways others cannot? We are told you have more knowledge than the royal psychic.”
“I am no psychic, Your Majesty, I have built some equipment that serves me well on phantasm hunts.”
“They say you charge people to get rid of apparitions, but the specters remain. We are told you seek payment for work you do not provide.”
Sexton had invented equipment to detect an increase in energy, as well as a machine that detected changes in room temperature.
Both phenomena indicated the possible presence of specters. This equipment helped him make a handsome living by ridding the gentry of their phantasms. He really wasn’t dishonest in his business dealings. What could he do when he found that a supposedly haunted house was in truth free of phantasms? He rid pasty-faced aristocrats of specters even when none existed. Hallucinations of the gently bred were not his problem, who was he to argue with the ghost-seeing gentry? If he didn’t make a living off of their unreasonable fears, someone else would.
“Often, Your Majesty, people say they have phantasms when it appears it’s other causes and not spirits at all. I cannot get rid of entities when there are none; still, I must be paid for my time and trouble, like any hardworking man. It is hardly my fault people are prone to see or hear things which truly are not there.”
“This may be true.” The Queen opened her fan, flapping it like a bird’s wing in front of her dour, hawk-nosed face. “We certainly believe in ghosts and have been trying to contact my Albert, but the spirits we are seeking have not responded to Mister Lee’s séances, or those of another famed paranormal expert who is new to me, John Brown.” Victoria paused and looked Sexton straight in the eyes. “Others may be very alarmed with what we have to say. It is why we would only talk to you and why we must meet in the sky. When the walls are in the clouds, people on the ground cannot listen at the doors.” With A flick of her wrist, she shut the fan. “Mister Dukenfield, the reason we called you here today is because there are reports that several of the kingdom’s most respected specters have gone missing.”
“Your majesty?” Sexton wondered if she’d put a bit too much whiskey in her tea.
“We need our ghosts. We have come to enjoy them. Theatre Royal has lost the spirit in the tri-corner hat. His sightings during rehearsals always bode well. Now all the plays are failures. The Whelan estate is up in arms. Margaret Whelan, burned long ago for witchcraft, perhaps because she had great healing skills, is said to haunt her old home and none of the family has ever fallen ill since her death. She keeps them all well. Now her spirit is gone and all the Whelans are sick.” She lifted the dainty tea cup and took a sip of tea. “A Scottish clan has even approached me. They have held the family castle since the 16th century, and ever since a famous laird died in the 17th century, the clan has sought advice from his ghost, who remained there. Now with their ancestor gone, they are at a loss as to how to make important decisions for the family.” She set the teacup down with a soft clang. “Also, there is a spirit who, for over a hundred years, watched the shore and by his gestures warned fishermen and sailors of coming storms and was attributed with saving many lives. He’s gone, and that whole village fears many will be caught in sudden tempests at sea now and die. Specters are missing from my own castle. King George the third is absent from Windsor. It has been days since anyone has seen him puttering about, muttering, ‘What, what?’ We are told the staff is concerned at his sudden disappearance after all these years. It appears not seeing ghosts you often saw is more unsettling than seeing them. Mister Dukenfield, we charge you to find who has taken our specters and return these good British spirits to us.”
“It wasn’t me.” Sexton poured another cup of tea and scotch. “Why would anyone want to take the phantasms?”
“With the disappearance of King George the third, it has been put forth by my advisors, the Americans may be involved.” She took another gulp of tea. “It needs more whiskey.”
Sexton leaned back in the armchair. “If I recall, the Americans did not want George when he was alive. I believe they waged a war against him, which they won. Why would they want George now?”
“That is neither here nor there. We have called you to find out why the ghosts have vanished. The answer is in your hands now.”