Part the First
Breakfast that morning consisted of lumpy porridge, dry toast and watery tea. They sat around a large rough table, taking special care not to spill gruel onto the linens. Except for the scrape and click of silverware, they made very little noise. Young Herbert cleared his throat. Everyone stopped eating, their spoons hovering in the air, their mouths gaping and anxious. He looked up and around and, blinking rapidly, continued eating his porridge. A general suspiration, not untainted with relief, settled around the table; young Herbert’s questions were invariably awkward and it took a great deal of art to fabricate a response both technically correct and yet not unsuitable for conversation at the table.