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EDITH'S HOME ON THE THAMES
"Now it is really time to get ready, is it not, Miss Green?" exclaimed Edith, looking up at the clock for the twentieth time during the last half-hour, and breaking off in the middle of the list of English kings and queens which she was trying to commit to memory. Which king came after Henry III., in that far-away time, seemed a small matter compared to the outing which she and her governess had planned to enjoy on the river that lovely afternoon.
Miss Green smiled indulgently as she closed her book. "It does seem a shame to remain indoors a moment longer than one can help such a day as this. Well, I will see Betty about the tea-things and pack them in the basket while you are getting ready."
You may imagine it did not take Edith long to put away her books; then giving her good-natured governess a hug she skipped off for her hat and coat.
"There are Eleanor and Clarence waiting for us now," cried Edith, as she and Miss Green, who was carrying the tea-basket, crossed the gardens. Running over the lawn, which stretched down to the river, she greeted her two little playmates from the vicarage. All three were bubbling over with glee at the prospect of an outing this bright June afternoon upon the river Thames. They were to go up-stream to a pretty little nook, in a quiet "backwater," which was a favourite spot with them, and have a "gipsy" tea under the willows.
The children were soon seated on cushions in the neat little shallow punt. Towser, the big collie dog, was already in the boat, for he knew he was a welcome companion on these trips.
Miss Green, standing at one end, poled the boat gracefully through the water. This looks like an easy thing to do, but it takes a great deal of skill to handle a punt.
"Does not the river look gay?" said Eleanor. "There are lots of people out." The river indeed was covered with pleasure craft of all kinds. There is probably no stream in the world so given up to pleasure as is the Thames, which flows through the very heart of England; indeed it has been called the "River of Pleasure."
It took all Miss Green's skill to steer through the many boats filled with gay parties. Daintily fitted up rowboats with soft-cushioned seats, the ladies in their bright summer dresses, with parasols of gay colours ; the men in white flannel suits and straw hats. There were many punts like their own. Also tiny sailboats, some of them with bright red or blue sails; while every now and then a crew of young men from one of the colleges sculled past them, practising for the forthcoming boat-race. All made way for these swift racing boats, for one of the unwritten rules of the river is that boat crews must not be interfered with while practising.
Occasionally our party in the punt would get the effect of a gentle wave from an automobile boat or a steam-launch as it rushed by.
In the midst of it all were to be seen the swans gliding in and out among the boats. The Thames swans are as well known as the river itself. They are very privileged birds and directly under the protection of the government itself. There are special keepers to look after them, and any person who injured a swan in any way would be punished. But no harm ever happens to them, for the lovely white birds are great pets with every one, and the children especially like nothing better than to feed them.
Along the banks, under the shade of overhanging trees, were merry boat-loads of family parties making a picnic of their afternoon tea, as our little party intended to do.
You must know that everybody in England takes what is called "five o'clock tea," and would no more think of going without their tea in the afternoon than their dinner.
Presently the punt glided behind a clump of trees. You would think it was going into some one's garden, but out it came into a quiet bit of water, a miniature bay quite apart from the main river. This is called a "backwater." Catching hold of a tree with the hook on the end of her pole, Miss Green brought the punt up against the bank under the overhanging willows, and the young people were quickly out and on shore.
Then the tea-basket was brought from the punt. "Now, Clarence," said Miss Green, "you fill the teakettle while the girls help me."
Their kettle was especially constructed for these occasions with a hollow space in the bottom into which fits a small spirit-lamp, -- this so the wind cannot blow out the flame.
"My! we have got a jolly lot of cake; that's good," and Clarence looked very approvingly at the nice plum-cake and the Madeira cake, which is a sort of sponge cake with slices of preserved citron on top of it, -- a favourite cake for teas.
In a few minutes the water boiled in spite of everybody watching it attentively, and Miss Green filled the teapot. Then they all gathered around the dainty cloth spread on the grass, and the slices of bread and butter, known as "cut bread and butter," and the lovely strawberry jam quickly disappeared.
"Why do we always eat more out-of-doors," said Edith, "than when we are indoors eating in the proper way? I suppose it is because we are doing it for fun that it seems different from tea in the schoolroom."
"Perhaps the fresh air has more to do with it than anything else," laughed Miss Green, as she cut them the sixth piece of cake all around.
"Now you rest, Miss Green, and we will pack up everything," said Eleanor.
"Yes, and let's wash up the tea-things. It will be fun," said Edith, "and Betty will be surprised."
So the little girls amused themselves with their housekeeping, while Clarence and Towser ran races up and down the greensward until it was time to return.
The sun was setting when they pulled up at the steps of their boat-landing where Colonel and Mrs. Howard, Edith's parents, were sitting in comfortable wicker garden-chairs, waiting for them.
Oldham Manor, Edith's home, was a fine old house built in the "Tudor" style, of red brick with stone doorways and windows, and quaint, tall, ornamental chimneys, with the lower story entirely covered with ivy.
Colonel Howard was a retired army officer who had seen much service in far-away India. He had to leave the army on account of his health, and now devoted himself to his wife and two children, and his lovely home. Mrs. Howard herself was a handsome and stately woman, rather reserved in her manner, but devoted to her children.
Tom, Edith's brother, was at school at Eton College, so Edith had a double share of petting, and led a very happy existence with plenty of work and plenty of play. She had a pretty little room, with a little brass bed, and an old-fashioned chest of drawers for her clothes. The little dressing-table, which stood in front of one of the windows, was draped with pink-flowered muslin, and the window curtains were of the same material. The chairs were covered with a bright, pretty pink, green, and white chintz, and the carpet was pale green with pink roses.
From the window of this delightful room, one overlooked the rose-garden. Adjoining was the schoolroom, a big room where Miss Green and Edith spent much of their time.
Edith usually dressed quickly, for, when the weather was fine, she and her papa always took a walk around the gardens before breakfast. Colonel Howard was very proud of his roses, and the rose garden of the manor was quite famous ; many of the rose-bushes were trained to form great arches over the walks.
Another hobby of Colonel Howard's was his fancy chickens and ducks, of which he had a great variety. Edith had her pet chickens, too, and she and her papa could never agree as to whose chickens were the finest, when they went to feed them in the morning.
Edith would run each morning into the breakfast-room, a bright-faced little girl with sparkling blue eyes and golden brown hair tied up with a pink ribbon and waving loosely over her shoulders -- as all English girls wear their hair until they are quite young ladies. Her dress was very simply made, and around the neck was a pink ribbon -- pink was her favourite colour -- tied in a bow. There was a "good-morning kiss" for mamma, and Edith must help to fasten the rose in her hair, which Colonel Howard always brought his wife.
Edith had a good appetite for her breakfast of porridge and cream, milk, eggs and toast, or fish, or perhaps grilled kidneys and tomatoes, which is a favourite English breakfast dish and very good indeed. Always she finished with marmalade.
Breakfast over, then came the lessons in the schoolroom until one o'clock, when Edith and Miss Green had their dinner served to them here. After dinner she was free to walk or drive with her papa and mamma, or Miss Green, or play games with her little friends in the neighbourhood. Then for an hour in the afternoon Edith studied her lessons for the next day, curled up on the big green sofa near the window, while Miss Green read or sewed beside her, ready to help her out with a hard word. Finally she had tea with Miss Green in the schoolroom at six o'clock, and soon after this was ready for bed.
Thursday was a red-letter day for Edith, for in the afternoon she always took tea with mamma and papa in state, in the drawing-room. This was so that she should learn how to go through with it in the proper manner, which is a very important part of a little English girl's education. Mamma received her just as if she was a grown-up lady visitor, while Edith put on her real "company" manners, and Colonel and Mrs. Howard often could scarcely repress a smile at her great dignity when she began the conversation with, " It's a charming day, is it not." " I take two lumps of sugar only, thank you." Rainy afternoons she often worked on fancy articles for the bazaars held by the Children's League of Mercy. Edith was a member, and the money from the sales was given to help the very poor children in their neighbourhood. So the little girl's days passed pleasantly enough, as you may imagine.
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