Breakfast at Greenwood was a pleasant meal at a pleasant hour. For some time previous to it, the family were up and doing, Mr. Meredith riding over his farm directing his labourers, Mrs. Meredith giving a like supervision to her housekeeping, and Janice, attired in a wash dress well covered by a vast apron, with the aid of her guest, making the beds, tidying the parlour, and not unlikely mixing cake or some dessert in the kitchen. Before the meal, Mr. Meredith replaced his rough riding coat by one of broadcloth, with lace ruffles, while the working gowns of the ladies were discarded for others of silk, made, in the parlance of the time, “sack fashion, or without waist, and termed “an elegant negligee,”— this word being applied to any frock without lacing strings.
Thus clothed, they gathered at seven o’clock in the pleasant, low-ceiled dining-room whose French windows, facing westward, gave glimpses of the Raritan, over fields of stubble and corn-stacks, broken by patches of timber and orchard. On the table stood a tea service of silver, slender in outline, and curiously light in weight, though generous in capacity. Otherwise, a silver tankard for beer, standing at Mr. Meredith’s place beside a stone jug filled with home brew, balanced by another jug filled with buttermilk, was all that tended to decoration, the knives and forks being of steel, and the china simplicity itself. For the edibles, a couple of smoked herring, a comb of honey, and a bunch of water-cress, re-enforced after the family had taken their seals by a form of smoking cornbread, was the simple fare set forth. But the early rising, and two hours of work, brought hunger to the table which required nothing more elaborate as a fillip to tempt the appetite.
While the family still lingered over the meal one warm September morning, as if loth to make further exertion in the growing heat, the Sound of a knocker was heard, and a moment later the coloured maid returned and announced:—
“Marse Hennion want see Marse Meredith.”
“Bring him in here, Peg,” said Mr. Meredith. “Like as not the lad ’s not breakfasted.”
Janice hunched her shoulders and remarked, “Never fear that Master Hennion is not hungry. He is like the roaring lion, who ‘walketh about seeking whom he may devour.’”
“Black shame on thee, Janice Meredith, for applying the Holy Word to carnal things,” cried her mother.
“Then let me read novels,” muttered Miss Meredith, but so indistinctly as not to be understood.
“Be still, child!” commanded her mother.
“And listen to Philemon glub-glub-bing over his victuals?”
“Philemon is no pig,” declared Mrs. Meredith.
“No,” assented Janice. “He ’s too old for that,”—a remark which set Mr. Meredith off into an uproarious haw-haw.
“Lambert,” protested his wife, “I lose patience with thee for encouraging this stiff-necked and wayward girl, when she should be thankful that Providence has made one man who wants so saucy a Miss Prat-a-pace for a wife.”