Miss Honey and Matilda both agreed that lunch hour was one of the high points of their days, not because the food in the school cafeteria was anything exceptional, but because it was their one chance during the school day to spend time together. The tradition had started on Matilda's first day of school, when Miss Honey had noticed her exceptional pupil at a table by herself in the middle of the crowded cafeteria, kneeling on a chair and hunched over a large book that was spread on the table before her. Miss Honey politely asked if she might join her, and Matilda looked up from the book just long enough to give a nod of consent. She seemed more interested in reading Oliver Twist than having a conversation with her teacher, but little by little she opened up to Miss Honey's friendly inquiries. By the end of the week, their lunchtime conversations had become an established tradition that Miss Honey looked forward to as the highlight of her day. Now that she was headmistress of Magnus Hall (formerly known as Crunchem Hall), she enjoyed the time she spent with Matilda and her friends all the more; for, truth be told, she often missed teaching the younger students. The older students were kind to Matilda, but missed being in class Lavender, Amanda, Eric, and especially Miss Honey.
One drizzly afternoon, Matilda seemed less engaged than usual in the chatter and imaginative games the other kids played over the lunch table. She had hardly touched her food. "Don't forget to eat, Matilda," Miss Honey gently reminded her. "I'm not very hungry," said Matilda quietly. "Are you feeling alright?" Miss Honey asked. Matilda nodded. Miss Honey was not convinced, but she decided to drop the subject for now. She could always fix Matilda a nice tea when they got home.
Being headmistress meant that Miss Honey often had a great deal of paperwork to do and telephone calls to make at the end of the day. Matilda never complained of going home late. She would settle into the big, comfortable armchair in the corner of Miss Honey's office, and more often than not finish her homework before they left. This particular afternoon, Miss Honey had quite a lot of work to finish––not hard work, but dreadfully tedious. She glanced over at Matilda, who was curled up in the armchair with a large book spread out across her lap. "What are you reading?" she asked. Matilda looked up from her book. "Oh, um…Worthington's Medical Dictionary," she said. "Interesting choice," Miss Honey remarked, "Is that for a class?"
"No," said Matilda. "What were you reading about?" asked Miss Honey. "I was looking up symptoms," said Matilda, "Trying to find out…what's wrong with me."
"Why, whatever do you mean?" Miss Honey asked. Matilda shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "I've just been feeling a bit ill," she said, "but I'm sure it's nothing."
"Matilda!" Miss Honey exclaimed, "Why didn't you tell me?" Matilda looked as though she were about to cry. "I didn't want to upset you," she said, "Please don't worry about me; I'll be all right. I'm sorry." Miss Honey got up from her desk. She knelt in front of the armchair so that she was looking up into Matilda's face, and took both of the little girl's hands in hers. "Matilda, darling," she said, "You don't have to hide anything from me. I promised that would take care of you. If something's not right with you, I want to know, and try to help you as best I can. Please, my dear, it's the least I can do for you, after everything you've done for me. If you're sick, or frightened, or upset, don't be afraid to tell me about it. Alright?" Matilda nodded. "Yes, Miss Honey," she said, "I'm sorry." Miss Honey reached up to wipe away a tear that was trickling down Matilda's cheek. "Shh…" she whispered, "There's nothing to be sorry for."
She touched the back of her hand to Matilda's forehead, which felt a bit warmer than it ought to. "How long have you been ill?" she asked. "Well, I woke up this morning feeling––not quite right," said Matilda, "But I thought it would go away." Miss Honey shook her head. "Dear, if you'd told me I never would have taken you to school." She got up and went back to her desk. "I can finish this at home," she said, "Just let me make one more telephone call, and then we'll go home and you can lie down. Alright, sweetheart?"
"Okay," said Matilda. Miss Honey sorted the unfinished papers into a folder. How many times, she wondered, had Matilda suffered in silence, keeping all her hurts to herself because she had been told she was a nuisance and a burden? How many times had she cried alone because her parents could not be bothered to care for her? Miss Honey felt her cheeks burning as she thought about the horrible way the Wormwoods had treated their daughter. She stuffed the folder of papers into her bag, giving it a fierce shake. "Are you alright, Miss Honey?" asked Matilda. "Oh! Yes dear," said Miss Honey apologetically, "One telephone call, then we'll go home."
When they got home, Miss Honey tucked Matilda into bed, with instructions to call for her at once if she needed anything. She was rummaging the kitchen cupboards for any tinned soup she could tempt Matilda with, for it worried her that the child still had not eaten, when she heard the light pounding of little feet hurrying down the hall upstairs. "Matilda?" called Miss Honey, "Are you all right?" No answer came, except for a disconcerting choking sound. Miss Honey rushed upstairs, found Matilda bent over the toilet, clutching her stomach and gagging. With one hand, she gathered Matilda's hair at the back of her neck; the other hand she pressed against Matilda's forehead. The little girl was positively burning up.
When Matilda stopped retching, Miss Honey reached for a washcloth and wiped her face for her. "Poor dear," she said, "What happened?"
"I was lying in bed," said Matilda, "sort of sleeping, but not really asleep, and then all of a sudden I woke up and I felt sick, and my tummy hurt, and I ran in here so I wouldn't get sick on the bed." She swallowed hard to fight back the tears that were choking her voice. "It hurts," she whimpered, "it really, really hurts." Miss Honey picked her up; Matilda clasped her arms around Miss Honey's neck and laid her head on her shoulder. She might be a genius, but right now she was a sick little girl who needed comforting.
Miss Honey rubbed her back, humming quietly. She tried to stay calm, but she was worried that Matilda's illness was something more serious than just an upset tummy. She was so new to this whole business of being a mother… Perhaps she was worrying over nothing, but it couldn't hurt to get a professional opinion. She had not yet found a regular pediatrician for Matilda––the Wormwoods had not concerned themselves much with their children's health. But there was a free clinic not far away that Miss Honey had gone to a few times during her years of enslavement to Miss Trunchbull. For now, she figured, that was the best place to take Matilda.