She showed herself to possess an ordinary woman’s face, iron-grey hair, hardly any hips, and a great deal of cleanliness in a broad white apron-string, as it appeared upon the waist of her dark stuff dress.
“People will run away with a story now, I suppose,” she began saying, “that Jane Day’s tablecloths are as poor and ragged as any union beggar’s!”
Dick now perceived that the tablecloth was a little the worse for wear, and reflecting for a moment, concluded that ‘people’ in step-mother language probably meant himself. On lifting his eyes he found that Mrs. Day had vanished again upstairs, and presently returned with an armful of new damask-linen tablecloths, folded square and hard as boards by long compression. These she flounced down into a chair; then took one, shook it out from its folds, and spread it on the table by instalments, transferring the plates and dishes one by one from the old to the new cloth.
“And I suppose they’ll say, too, that she ha’n’t a decent knife and fork in her house!”
“I shouldn’t say any such ill-natured thing, I am sure—” began Dick. But Mrs. Day had vanished into the next room. Fancy appeared distressed.
“Very strange woman, isn’t she?” said Geoffrey, quietly going on with his dinner. “But ’tis too late to attempt curing. My heart! ’tis so growed into her that ’twould kill her to take it out. Ay, she’s very queer: you’d be amazed to see what valuable goods we’ve got stowed away upstairs.”
Back again came Mrs. Day with a box of bright steel horn-handled knives, silver-plated forks, carver, and all complete. These were wiped of the preservative oil which coated them, and then a knife and fork were laid down to each individual with a bang, the carving knife and fork thrust into the meat dish, and the old ones they had hitherto used tossed away.
Geoffrey placidly cut a slice with the new knife and fork, and asked Dick if he wanted any more.
The table had been spread for the mixed midday meal of dinner and tea, which was common among frugal countryfolk. “The parishioners about here,” continued Mrs. Day, not looking at any living being, but snatching up the brown delf tea-things, “are the laziest, gossipest, poachest, jailest set of any ever I came among. And they’ll talk about my teapot and tea-things next, I suppose!” She vanished with the teapot, cups, and saucers, and reappeared with a tea-service in white china, and a packet wrapped in brown paper. This was removed, together with folds of tissue-paper underneath; and a brilliant silver teapot appeared.
“I’ll help to put the things right,” said Fancy soothingly, and rising from her seat. “I ought to have laid out better things, I suppose. But” (here she enlarged her looks so as to include Dick) “I have been away from home a good deal, and I make shocking blunders in my housekeeping.” Smiles and suavity were then dispensed all around by this bright little bird.