Sugar and Spice
A ficlet in honor of The Foodsmith herself
With great affection to Laura from dancesabove, with ample assists from GiuliettaC and Jewell
Samantha Stewart closed her eyes and savoured the sweet, crisp October breeze. The thinning Massachusetts sunlight bathed her face. She felt elated; more fulfilled than in all the months since Mr Foyle's retirement, which had meant her forced redundancy. From that moment, her daily life had seemed to lose its zing.
Sam filled her lungs. There was a lively tang of North Atlantic sea salt in the air—the smell of the New World. Hope flooded through her veins. This trip had all the feel about it of a fresh beginning.
On board their transatlantic liner, Sam had whiled away the hours when Mr Foyle was wrapped up in his paperwork, perusing books about the Pilgrim Fathers and other distinctly American topics. And here they were, only 10 miles from the very spot those first colonists had disembarked.
This was the most relaxed that Sam had felt in ever such a long time… perhaps her most tranquil since the war had begun six years before. Now she felt the familiar sense of contentment that came from being beside the man whose shoulder brushed hers as they strolled; from the very outset she had relished working with DCS Foyle, and the friendship they had developed over the years was truly her most prized.
Of course, there were other feelings, more complex than just friendship—but she didn't dare to dwell on those; Mr Foyle would only be uncomfortable if he knew. Whilst she never wished to lose his companionship, her secret fear was that she'd never have the will to move on in her own life.
Indeed, Samantha hadn't ever felt able to let him go. She'd never been more shocked than when, two months before, a conversation in the car en route for London had upset the apple cart. She'd asked him what his plans were for retirement.
"Well, I might go to America."
Incredulous, she'd turned her head to look at him. His strong, graceful fingers lightly grasping the steering wheel, he sat in left-face profile, to which she still was so unaccustomed. Such an elegantly-shaped nose. And those sandy eyelashes…
It seemed so awkward turning to her right. Nothing was right. Sam's breath caught in her throat. He couldn't leave.
"Mmm. Unfinished business."
She'd known then what was going to steal him from her. Vivid in her memory, his tight-lipped silence in the Wolseley the day they'd swept out of the airfield after Howard Paige evaded justice. Eventually he'd opened up and shared with her his strategy… for hounding the man until he admitted what he'd done, then bringing him to justice. Samantha knew she could help Mr Foyle with all of this, and in an instant, she knew helping him was the only thing she wanted to do.
"They drive on the other side of the road there." Her almond-shaped eyes shifted sideways to see what he would say.
"They do." His frank look betrayed nothing. Sam knew he wasn't above teasing.
Then, adorably, he smirked, and her heart leapt. So close to him; so close to losing him. There'd never be another who could match him. Oh, so handsome! And he so often knows exactly what I'm thinking. Sam played her only card.
"Might need some help with that."
A few enticing beats of silence, and she'd watched his faint smile turn into a muted chuckle.
"Yep. Think I shall. If Charles can get you passage, you'll come with me?"
Foyle darted Sam a probing glance. So stunned was she by the success of her own ploy, he playfully crooked a finger underneath her chin and tapped her mouth shut.
"Sam? You coming? Yes or no?"
"Y-yes, sir! Umm, absolutely, sir!"
And in the course of three days it was settled: Sam and he would sail to Boston, Massachusetts (what a mouthful of an Indian word!) ostensibly for Mr Foyle to give a set of talks.
The lectures and the occasionally brash audience (GIs returning to the city police force, as well as older officers now retiring) were now behind them. Foyle's talks had been advice on how to handle that transition, and a restless post-war populace. In his own head the subject matter was ironic, considering his own swift, cheery exit from the Hastings office the very moment his successor turned up to take over. Nevertheless, it had served as a credible cover for his presence in America.
This week, though, he and Sam had moved away from Boston, and were finally at leisure. Charles Howard had called in an old favour and arranged an extra week for them, south of the city in a bayside historical town not far from the ocean. Their billet was a colleague's spacious house, allowing them enjoyment of some sun and sea for the remainder of their sojourn in New England. Afterwards, they were to move on to New York and Washington.
And so it was they found themselves beside Cape Cod Bay in a charming place called Duxbury, not so very different from the Hastings seaside in some ways, and yet oh, so unfamiliar in others…
The seagulls' cries, to Sam, seemed squeakier—more cheerful and less plaintive than their Sussex cousins. She wondered brightly if they'd caught a sort of New World optimism. Across from Vice Admiral Emerson's Cape Cod home, the view across the ocean from the shore was somehow more imposing than the English Channel… vast and endless. Truly, she thought, they were now in a world that did the seaside on a different scale.
Sam openly preferred this fine, pale sand to the hard-to-negotiate shingle of Hastings beaches. It was pure bliss to walk across it as the tide came in. She'd even dared to step out of her shoes and sink her toes into the coolness of the clean, wet grains. Sighing, she'd felt the unique relaxation of it seeping through her tired feet—and as for the sea: its water was a darker blue, and, as her paddling toes could testify, far colder in October than the English coast could muster. And the sky! Well, Hastings' sky was beautiful… yet Cape Cod had a fresh and unfamiliar beauty that excited her.
And for a permanently hungry Sam, the delights didn't end there: food was more plentiful than she had ever seen it.
Their first leisurely stroll in Duxbury was a welcome change from the hectic pace of the many talks and meetings that had characterised the lecture tour. Foyle watched the calm settle over Sam, and felt a wave of warmth to see the way her burnished hair absorbed the sunlight and gave back its own glow. His pleasure was complete when Sam turned, sending him that lovely squint as she grinned and announced, "I'm already peckish again."
He mused on that, lips arcing in a downturned smile. Free to consume more sweet things, Sam had been having a devil of a time with sugar cravings, especially for cakes and chocolate. Rosalind had been through something similar while she was expecting Andrew, and this had given Foyle pause; after all, Samantha had been living under the same roof as two men, and had shown a surprising adventurousness in posing—part of Foyle still balked at the phrase—with her kit off for Sir Leonard Spencer-Jones. It wasn't that he judged Sam as he weighed up the chances; she was an attractive young woman who had gone out with one or two young men, all during the unpredictable atmosphere of wartime; and she was nearly 27 now. But as to whether she might be involved with any of them? He couldn't bring himself to broach the subject. Whenever he caught himself about to, his conscience told him that it absolutely wasn't his business. Not least, since any interest he showed might be construed as paternal. And for some reason, his every instinct shied away from being cast in that mould with Samantha.
Their meanderings had brought them from the Emersons' sprawling seaside house down-along Marshall Street. A gentle curve toward the right led the road alongside even more vast and impressive estates.
"Standish Street!" exclaimed Sam as she surveyed the neatly painted signpost at the junction. At last an opportunity to share her newly acquired learning. "He was one of the puritans who came to Plymouth Rock, Sir. Did you know?"
Foyle's eyes widened. Not much American history had been covered by Miss Longbridge at St. Saviour's, so his knowledge of such things was scant. Unless you counted dozing through a newsreel in the series "Traveltalks", until it was 'time to reluctantly say farewell', as James A. FitzPatrick always put it.
"If you say so, Sam."
"Well," Sam persisted, warming to her theme as they resumed their walk, "Longfellow. The Courtship of Miles Standish, and all that. Romance…The poem may not be accurate, historically, you know, but…"—Foyle watched as her expression grew dreamy.
"'This he said with a smile, that danced in his eyes, as the sunbeams
Dance on the waves of the sea, and vanish again in a moment.'"
Sam broke off from her recitation, adding matter-of-factly, "That part rather reminds me of you, Sir. Although as I recall, Standish says it while he's bragging about how magnificent he is in battle!"
Foyle pulled in his chin and blinked at her. Sam entertained thoughts of him as a sort of twinkling hero? That seemed… no, couldn't be. He steered the conversation onto safer—marginally safer—ground.
"Hmm. Well thank you, Sam. Annd so this Standish fellow boasts of his strength and valour to, um, impress a young lady?"
"Not exactly, Sir. You see, he tries to win Priscilla Mullins by having his closest friend propose on his behalf."
Foyle chuckled. "Taking a bit of a risk, wasn't he? What if his friend had put his foot in it?"
"Ah, but you see, Sir, Miles' friend John Alden is rather a dab hand at writing prose."
"Mmm? Sounds like Cyrano de Bergerac. Standish is, ah, unsuccessful?"
"Cyrano de who, Sir?" Taken aback by the introduction of a subject that she hadn't studied, Sam was halted in her tracks, an expression of puzzlement rearranging her features.
"Nno. Please go on, Sam. Doesn't matter."
"Right-oh!" Sam brightened. "So you see, as soon as John Alden finishes extolling the virtues of his absent chum, Priscilla challenges him, 'Why don't you speak for yourself, John?'"
Foyle's lips twitched against the vision of a brisk, no-nonsense Sam in Puritan frock, apron and coif—the very image of a latter-day Priscilla. "And then?" he prompted, quite unable to suppress a smile.
Finding second wind, Sam leant in confidentially to finish up her tale. "Well, after considerable agonies of guilt about letting down his friend, poor John reports back and is accused by Miles of betrayal for his pains. Then off heads Miles-the-warrior to battle, and it soon seems as if he's been killed. Then John and Priscilla plan to marry, but on the big day, who should walk in but… well, I suppose you can guess, Sir."
Foyle's eyebrow twitched indulgently. "Shhudder to predict the outcome. Why don't you tell me."
"Miles Standish! And he asks their forgiveness! Then John Alden and Priscilla Mullins marry, have hordes of children, and found this very town!"
Foyle nodded slowly. His enjoyment of the story lay less in the detail of the tale than in the sweet enthusiasm of its teller. "Wull, I'm impressed, Sam, with your knowledge of the local history. Thank you for that."
Sam was still aglow under his praise as they continued past a burial ground where the very heroes of the poem were at rest. They made a detour to the graves, to find that they had been made a monument only about 50 years earlier, complete with naval cannons around the stone marker of Myles Standish.
Pressing on, they returned to the road and came upon more modest residences that soon gave way to the commercial part of Duxbury: an area that announced itself on signposts as Halls Corner.
As they sauntered down the broad 'sidewalk', Sam marvelled at the quantity of goods on display in the shop windows, and Foyle, not normally given to more than a practical interest in shops, found himself beaming inwardly at her obvious pleasure. Suddenly Sam halted, transfixed.
"Oh," she breathed in amazement, making a reflexive grab for Foyle's sleeve. "Look, Sir!"
The building that had caught her eye was a quaint shop with cinnamon-brown shingle-clad walls, a ruby red door, and a display window full of baked goods. THE FOODSMITH, its salmon-colour sign declared, offsetting a stylised illustration of a blue-green rolling pin, followed by the words "Bakery • Lunch." The same legend was stencilled on the window glass.
Lovely red flowers in a small bed surrounded by flat stone lay on the other side of the pavement from the shop window, and cheerful clusters of begonias and bizzy lizzies overflowed the urns that stood at each side of the door. (Mrs Emerson had told her the latter bloom were called "impatiens" over here, and Sam found it amusing that the woman thought the English name for them odd!)
But for all that the place looked neat, beautiful, and inviting unto itself, it was the display of food that had so widened Samantha's eyes.
Even Foyle had to admit this bakery had an array of such luscious variety that his mouth watered. Though not a man overly fond of confectionery and cake before the war, he was discovering that the six-year lack of it had sharpened his appetite.
The bread alone was tempting—crusty baguettes and shining braided loaves, surrounded by an assortment of dinner rolls. But the pastries! Cakes and sweet rolls and something like a cream-filled horn in the corner. The centrepiece of the display made Sam's eyes pop: an enchanting cake with three layers, each one successively smaller, topped with creamy white icing and embellished with white swirls in which nestled delicate pink roses.
Without a word, but wearing a conspiratorial smile, Foyle pushed open the door of the bake shop and ushered Sam before him with a gentle hand to her back. She grinned. He'd used the very same guiding gesture the time they'd entered the 'Saints Preserve Us' hall for the dance given by the Americans, all those years ago.
The inside of the shop was as pleasing as its culinary offerings. Sam gazed in wonder at the modern décor, quite unlike the dingy baker's shops at home. The metallic ceiling was overlaid with glossy white-lacquered squares, from which hanging electric lights shed a warm glow on everything beneath. An enamelled white clock and pristine counters picked up on this gleaming cleanliness. And such unusual delicate colours! One wall was painted a soothing pale teal; another a nicely contrasting light coral.
Barely had they crossed the threshold when a lady with a broad smile and warm, sparkling eyes emerged from a back room, dusting flour from her forearms. She wore a soft lavender frock and a coverall-style apron spattered with pastel sugary materials and chocolate, and her hair was swept back in a colourful kerchief. Her welcoming expression gave her eyes the same look that Foyle's often had when he was amused about something. Sam sensed immediately that this was a woman who absolutely loved her work. And running any sort of kitchen was, Sam well knew from her time with Sir Leonard, very hard.
"Hi! I'm Laura!" the proprietress greeted them, apologetically brushing her hands on the apron before shaking each hand. "What can I do for you folks?"
A sixth sense about tourists told Laura that these weren't quite her usual cast of customer, though she couldn't quite put her finger on why. The man had shown old-fashioned courtesy in removing his hat upon entering the shop, and though his hair was grey and thinning, it did nothing to detract from his good looks. What electric eyes! she thought. He was exceptionally well-dressed, to the point that she'd almost hesitated to get near his immaculate blue suit in her current floury state, but somehow she'd felt compelled to shake his hand. Perhaps it was the eyes.
The lady with him, though decidedly younger than he, had a slightly drawn and tired look in spite of clear enthusiasm for her surroundings. As soon as she met Laura's greeting with a sunny smile, that tiredness vanished, and the luscious strawberry blond hair bounced on her collar as she continued to feast her eyes upon all the goodies. The gentleman's gaze, Laura noted, followed his companion in preference to the pastries.
Interesting. Laura, who had a nose for these things, weighed two possibilities, factored in the nature of the man's attention to the lady, and drew her own conclusions.
"You've even scones!" exclaimed Sam, and Laura's instinct was vindicated by Sam's "short o" pronunciation of the word.
Brits abroad. How about that?
"Indeed we do," Laura indicated the mouth-watering display. "Maple walnut and blueberry… and we have cinnamon buns, chocolate chip cookies, strawberry rhubarb muffins, lemon tarts… aaaand gosh, did we bake raspberry rolls today? Hmm, maybe not…"
Ceramic and steel pedestal plates heaved with baked goods along the counter, and Sam could even see the makings of some inviting sandwiches and meat pies behind the short glass screen at the edge of the wooden boards where it looked as if some of the preparation took place. The idea of a "ready lunch to go" appealed to Sam. At home, the only option was the fish and chip shop.
Laura spoke with a politely modest tone as she continued to show Sam around and name bakery items, but her bursting pride in her surroundings and her creations was evident.
"The choice is quite extraordinary, I must say," marvelled Sam, peering eagerly over the counter. "Is this your husband's business?"
The dimples in Laura's cheeks deepened. "Oh, he's a great help, that's for sure. But I'm the foodsmith!"
Sam felt an even greater liking for the New World way of things.
Foyle watched an animated Sam with a light heart as she admired and discussed the treats with this kind woman. He wondered if she had just opened up shop (after all, the Americans had been on sugar and butter rations for a few years, too), or if its tidiness and her verve were omnipresent even after years of effort… but his attention was distracted as Laura handed Sam a sample.
"Mmm," Sam's eyes closed with bliss, and Foyle felt his heart skip a beat. "The flavour of these nuts with the custard is just… indescribably good? But what sort of nuts are these?"
"Pecans," Laura answered cheerfully. "Associated with the Southern states more than New England, but they've taken to having our Boston crème pies down there, so… nothing wrong with a fair swap!"
Foyle gave a small nod of acknowledgment; quirked an eyebrow.
"The cake in the window… it's just splendid!" Sam enthused, looking at it almost dizzily. "I've never seen a cake done up so spectacularly."
"Thank you." Laura flushed with pride. "That goes to a wedding this afternoon. Lots of marriages to cater, now that the war is over! My cousin in the Army told me about the horrible rationing in England; I guess your wedding didn't have a cake?"
Sam and Foyle exchanged glances; then both began sputtering at once.
"No, there, erm…"
Sam fell silent in deference to Christopher, who continued, wide-eyed, on both their behalfs, "We're nnot married; Sam is my... we're, um, colleagues."
Laura watched him flounder for a moment before taking pity. "I apologise," she beamed unapologetically, "it's just that the two of you look so right together, I… well, I thought you might be married. But what do I know?"
"Perfectly understandable mistake." Foyle pivoted, arched an eyebrow at Sam to ease her tension, and was rewarded with a broad—if shy—grin. Then he casually suggested that Sam select a few delicacies to take with them. Glancing toward Foyle as she picked out two chocolate cupcakes and two cinnamon rolls, she spotted a shining steel plate on a stand, laden with golden doughnuts on wax paper. The label on the plate read 'Pilgrim Father Special for Today'.
"Doughnuts! Oh, goodness. I have tried those, you know," she told Laura with a confidential chuckle. "Americans in Hastings. But never such rich golden ones! And they smell so wonderfully of spice."
"Ahh!" Laura's eyes lit up. "Was wondering where you hailed from. Not that I know Hastings any... but wasn't there a battle once?"
"Yep. Then the Luftwaffe," muttered Foyle sotto voce.
"Mmm, that's right, William the Conqueror," put in Sam hastily, sending her boss an admonitory look.
"Well, how nice you're here for a visit." Laura smiled warmly and moved next to the stand. "These are our pumpkin spice doughnuts, sort of a house specialty this time of year." One side of her lip quirked and she confided, "Five years ago we might have called 'em an 'Oktoberfest Special', but, er, getting back to that might take a while. One or two?"
Casting a glance at Foyle for guidance, Sam detected his amused squint and replied, "Just one."
Foyle pulled from his wallet a few of the odd green bills that looked so similar to one another, and paid—though Laura sweetly refused to charge for the pumpkin spice doughnut.
"Would I like your Hastings?" Laura wondered aloud, as she bagged the cakes.
"I rather think you would," Sam answered brightly, gathering up their purchases. "And I think Hastings would be very pleased to have a foodsmith. Very pleased."
Foyle took his change and ducked his head in a small smile of gratitude to the generous lady. "Thank you. Hope to see you there one day."
"Might just take ya up on that," called Laura cheerily after them as they exchanged thanks and waves of goodbye.
"I see my doughnuts are a hit," put in Betsey as the door clicked shut. Laura's assistant had hovered outside the kitchen door throughout the pumpkin conversation, pleasure painted on her features. "That gal needs fattening up, if you ask me."
"Colleagues, my eye!" observed the Foodsmith wryly, turning to see that Betsey had just brought out an enticing freshly baked apple pie. "Oooh, wish they'd seen that—perfect taste of America!"
Late afternoon, and the sun was melting into the horizon as the English visitors strolled slowly along the shore. They were trying to walk off a somewhat stuffed feeling after Sam's doughnut and Christopher's cinnamon roll.
Sam's boss gave her a sidelong glance.
"Ermmm," he began, tentatively.
She stopped, brow slightly furrowed, and turned towards him. "Yes?"
"Um, before," he spoke hesitantly, "in the baker's. You didn't sseem... too put out."
Solemnly, Sam looked the man she loved in the eye and held his gaze for a long moment; then she flashed the tiniest bit of dimple.
"Neither did you," she countered perkily. "And what did you mean by 'Perfectly understandable mistake'?"
Foyle pursed his lips and ground a toe into the sand. "Wwull... s'pose it took a stranger, thousands of miles away, to tell you how I feel."
Sam's eyes positively danced. "Why don't you speak for yourself, Christopher?"
His blue eyes twinkled as he smiled back at her, and slowly he reached out a hand and captured hers, bringing it to rest near his heart.
The expression on his face was fluttering her pulse as he murmured, "You've still got spice and sugar on your lips, Miss Stewart."
"Most certainly have not!" protested Sam. "Oh!"
But the argument was quickly rendered moot, as he'd swiftly grasped her arms and pulled her close; and now his lips, a pleasing taste of cinnamon, were warm upon hers—all too briefly. The tiniest movement of his tongue may have removed some sugar from her lower lip, but she was quite beyond all care about appearance, so determined was she not to buckle at the knees. Gently, he dusted the subtlest glitter of sugar from the curve of her cheek.
Sam took a deep breath, her eyes stretching open in comical indication of how overwhelmed she felt.
Christopher's fingers lingered on her cheek.
"She saw a lot, that lady… Laura… didn't she?" mused Sam softly, moving in so that he could wrap an arm about her waist.
"She did. Mmight just have missed her vocation." His lip curved down in a wry smile.
"Detective?" wondered Sam.
"Mmmyes. Or... an investigative reporter, p'raps?"
They continued their walk along the beach, hand-in-hand, and thought about The Foodsmith, and their future filled with rich delights.