The short story “The Piece of String” opens one morning in the small town of Goderville; farmers and their wives trudge to the market square bearing wares to sell—cattle, chickens, ducks, milk, and more. By noon, the crowds disperse and this bustling marketplace closes. Then the farmers, horse traders, and wives celebrate their hard work with a hearty midday meal.
Everyone “pour[s] into the inns” for lunch; outside of the inns sit
vehicles of every sort—wagons, gigs, chars-a-bancs, tilburies, innumerable vehicles which have no name, yellow with mud, misshapen, pieced together, raising their shafts to heaven like two arms, or it may be with their nose on the ground and their rear in the air.
The ragtag array of vehicles, from two-wheeled to four-wheeled horse-drawn carriages, reflect their owners. They are “the aristocracy of the plough,” members of the farming class enjoying profits from their sales.
Although not aristocracy in the sense of wealth and upper-class breeding, the people dine together on a delicious feast cooked over a fire:
Three spits were turning, loaded with chickens, with pigeons and with joints of mutton, and a delectable odor of roast meat and of gravy flowing over crisp brown skin arose from the hearth, kindled merriment, caused mouths to water.
Instead of fine cuisine, they savor more down-to-earth food. Everyone crowds together to eat, drink, gossip, and talk shop:
The dishes were passed round, were emptied, as were the jugs of yellow cider. Everyone told of his affairs, of his purchases and his sales. They exchanged news about the crops. The weather was good for greens, but too wet for grain.
The only event that can interrupt this boisterous, festive atmosphere is the arrival of the town crier. When he alerts the diners of his presence with the signal of his beating drum, most people—“their mouths full and napkins in their hand”—actually get up from the table and run to the windows or outside to see what is going on. After the crier makes his announcement about the missing wallet, people return to finish their meals and resume gossiping. They end their midday feast with coffee.