The Block Arcade - Collins Street Melbourne (built in 1892) and the Hopetoun Tearooms.
When I think of places such as the Block Arcade in Melbourne I think of my mother. It's not that I have even been there with her, I just know how much she adored this place. "The Block," the arcade was called by older Melbourne residents. My mum was born in South Melbourne in 1910, and the block date's back to my grandparent's era.
It is a stunning arcade. The architecture and tiling are beautiful. A visit to the Hopetoun Tea Rooms is a must after wandering around the boutique shops.
I once held an exhibition of my paintings and pottery here in the center of the Block Arcade.
The Block is a feast for the eyes. Where to look first? You need time. You could spend hours just looking at the architecture of high ornate ceilings, and detail of tiled floors, let alone attempting to choose from the cake selection. This is a busy tourist attraction in Melbourne so best to avoid mid-morning until mid afternoon if you are wasting fast service seating and service at the tea house. This reminds me of the tearoom scene from my novel, Gold, book 1 in the The Stolen Years Series.
Excerpt from the novel Gold by Ryn Shell
Entering the Station Hotel through the stained-glass door, Jane stepped into the ladies’ lounge. A fire alight in the stone hearth filled the candlelit room with an amber glow and welcoming warmth. A few diners looked up as her boots tapped on the stone-flagged floor. She wanted to bolt for the door, but it was too late to leave without drawing unwanted attention.
Glancing through the open door into the bar room, Jane found herself seeking a glimpse of the red-haired man she’d encountered in the street. She recognised the bearded man seated on a stool at the bar as the man she’d asked directions from, about boarding the Admella. He was the same uncouth man who’d seemed so damn smug when the captain had refused her passage on the ship, unless she had an accompanying male.
She watched the man fumble through his pocket. James Whittaker’s hand shook when he withdrew a crinkled document. Jane recoiled. A drunk.
Frowning, James placed the paper on the counter. Without looking up from studying the writing he held out his right hand.
Jane shuddered. But he’s possibly my last option to get aboard the ship. God, give me courage. Her stomach lurched. She’d need strong fortification, a full meal, at the least, before approaching him. Why hadn't she accepted the workman’s offered sandwich? She should attract his eye now—before she lost her nerve. The buzz of conversation in the dining room quieted. Jane glanced about.
Curious diners returned Jane’s nervous gaze. Why hadn’t she been more convincing and secured the protection of that nonchalant man in the street—before he’d turned sour? Not sour—vile—he’s the arrogant devil himself. So why was it that she hankered for the impossible, a chance to replay their first meeting in a hope for a different outcome? Was it the hint of familiarity, a suggestion in his looks and manner reminding her of home? Then there was his joyfulness, even while walking through dismal weather—she’d known such joy too—before leaving Scotland. He exuded confidence, as if he knew no fear—Jane envied that.
Fear engulfed Jane with every step she took. Even now—people watched her. She fought the fear—rationalising the situation. The diners would only see a woman wearing a mourning costume; her frumpy clothes and black veil would disguise her face and figure. Conquer one fear—there’s another. Had Constable Greene been killed by the bushrangers? Palpitations. Was Green here and looking for her? Chest pain—it’s just hunger—panic—find a seat and sit down—breathe—they can’t hear your heart pounding.
A kettle sang softly on the hob near the fire as Jane sat at one of the white damask covered tables. If I were seated beside the man with the wild red hair, would I be less afraid? Could she escape her fear with such a man? Fear clung to her, threatening to overpower her to the extent where existence had become a play she performed in—acting a part. With red-hair beside me… His eyes, when they first looked at me, were kind.
The rattle of the tea trolley on the stone floor brought Jane’s thoughts back to the present. Her tension eased as eyes in the room eagerly turned to watch their afternoon drink being prepared. None paid Jane further attention.
What nonsense, to think that I could face reality unflinchingly, with or without such a man. He reminded me of home—Scotland; that’s all the attraction is. Don’t trust him—he’s still a man. On with the act. What character to play now?
A waitress parked the trolley beside Jane’s table. She squatted near the fireplace and poured simmering water into a teapot, which she replaced on the hearthstone. Standing, she took the caddy from the mantelpiece and crouched at the fireside with her back to Jane.
Waiting, her tummy rumbling, Jane lifted her hat veil so her eyes could devour the cake. She gazed around the room, counting the occupants. Eight—would she get a full eighth of that cake? The waitress rocked the teapot. Jane thought her impossibly slow. She considered helping herself to a slice of cake if the waitress didn’t hurry. The temptation was getting too strong to resist, so Jane distracted herself by reading the notice board above the mantelpiece. Attention all Diggers. Hmm, a party of sorts hosted by Mr. Willkiams for friends of ‘The Right Sort.’ Jane huffed a fast breath at the thought, then eyeballed the cake again, not able to help herself.
Again, the waitress stooped and rocked the teapot, and Jane’s eyes went back to the trolley. Still striving not to look at the cake, she studied the milk pitcher. A dried yellow ring of butterfat clung to the inside around the milk line. She wondered if she dared pour out a cupful and drink it. Darn about the ring on the jug, even if she were fast and gulped some milk down before the waitress turned and saw her do it, the waitress would still know.
The waitress returned the tea caddy to the shelf above the fireplace.
Jane’s tummy growled. She gripped the damask napkin and considered chucking it at the waitress, but that might delay the afternoon tea.
Gradually, Jane eased her timber chair backward, trying hard to move silently. She stood, positioning herself between the trolley and the other diners. She inspected the sugar bowl. Her heart leapt like a child let loose in a candy store. The surface of the grains was uneven; none would be able to tell if she ate some. Furthermore, there were brown specks throughout.
Carefully, Jane lifted the spoon and brought a spoonful of sugar close to her mouth, where she could look at it. If the waitress turned around, she’d say she was inspecting the soiled sugar. What were the specks? Ah, a bit of dirt hadn’t killed her yet. With a fast moving hand and mouth, she placed the empty spoon back in the spoon rest and studied the tray contents with a grin reminiscent of a cat that stole the cream.
“Would you like your drink left to draw nice and strong?” The waitress stood, her eyes following Jane’s gaze around the tea trolley.
Jane shook her head, grinning as sugar melted and flowed down her throat, the most delectable sensation. She’d forgotten how divine sugar tasted. She sat and removed her black lace gloves. “Now.” She gazed at the cake. “Please serve everything now.”
The waitress counted heads in the room and cut the cake into eight pieces, both thick and thin slices. She slid the cake lifter beneath a small slice.
Jane summoned an authoritative tone of voice. “I don’t want that slice. I’ll have one of the large ones, thank you very much.”
“The thick slices are for the men.”
“Really!” Jane said. “How much is a man’s afternoon tea?”
“How much is a lady’s afternoon tea?”
“Fourpence.” The waitress flashed a glance through the open doorway to the bar, her eyes blinked several times.
The barman dropped a towel from his hands and hurried out of the bar. He slowed to a walk as he entered the dining room.
This was an excerpt from the novel Gold by Ryn Shell
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