In the aristocratic Farrelly home outside Washington, D.C., Fanny Farrelly, with the assistance of her two servants, Anise and Joseph, prepares for the arrival of her daughter, Sara, and her husband and children. Sara has not visited her mother for twenty years, and Fanny has never met her three grandchildren. Nervous about the visit, Fanny tries to get her son, David, and her house guests, Count Teck de Brancovis and Countess Marthe de Brancovis, to breakfast by 9 a.m., as her late husband had decreed.
To her housekeeper, Anise, Fanny reveals that the count and countess are heavily in debt and that she is concerned about David’s attraction to the countess. As Fanny and David breakfast on the terrace, Teck and Marthe argue about money, including his gambling with the Nazis at the German embassy, and about Marthe’s attraction to David.
After the count and countess retire to the terrace, the Mullers arrive and are impressed with the spacious living room. Sara, poorly dressed, delights in the beautiful things she could not remember. The family discusses Sara’s childhood and her memories of unlocked doors, plentiful food, and beautiful clothes—such a contrast to her own family’s bleak existence.
Pleased with Sara’s mature children, Fanny asks her, “Are these your children? Or are they dressed up midgets?” Responding to Fanny’s and David’s questions, Kurt, Sara’s husband, talks about his family’s travels and admits that he has not worked at his profession as an engineer for several years, since 1933. He also confesses that his family has not had adequate breakfasts because his new occupation, which he identifies as “anti-fascist,” does not pay well. Earlier in his work as an engineer his life was normal. Married to Sara for twelve quiet years, their lives changed when a festival in his hometown ended with a street fight and the murder of twenty-seven men by Nazis.
Kurt and Teck are wary of each other. Kurt recognizes the count’s name, and Teck probes to find out more about Kurt. While the family breakfasts on the terrace, Teck examines their luggage. When Marthe tries to interfere, Teck threatens her, warning her not to make plans with David.
Ten days pass, and everyone is now comfortable in the house. Sara is crocheting, Fanny and Teck play cribbage, Bodo “repairs” a heating pad for an anxious Anise, Joseph teaches Joshua to play baseball, and Babette makes potato pancakes for dinner. When Teck questions the children in an obvious attempt to learn more about their father, Sara cuts him...
(The entire section is 1067 words.)