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A DAY AT HAMPTON COURT
"No, Towser, you can't come with us; you know you will not be allowed to go into the palace, and what should we do with you then," said Edith, patting him on the head, as she closed the gate and left poor doggie looking wistfully after them.
Edith had been looking forward to a visit to Hampton Court for some time. Her mamma had promised that she could invite Eleanor and Clarence Whitworth and that Miss Green would take them all to spend a Saturday half-holiday, or rather a whole holiday, at this beautiful old palace, which was on the river, not very far distant from Oldham Manor.
Several Saturdays had proved disappointingly rainy, but to-day was all they could wish for, and after calling at the vicarage for Eleanor and Clarence, they went down the little village street which led to the river landing, where there was a sign, "Boats to let."
Miss Green intended to engage a waterman to row them up to the Court, as it was a rather long and tiresome pull.
The Thames watermen are quite an institution, and are one of the oldest of English guilds or societies. They are banded together for the mutual protection of their business, which is to hire out boats -- and to row boats and the like. Each man wears a badge, and is very jealous of his rights. A new man who wishes to join their band must go through a long apprenticeship before he can become what is publicly known as a "Thames Waterman."
"Good morning, John," said Miss Green, to a bluff, good-natured man who lifted his cap to them. "Have you a good boat for us today? we want you to take us up to the Court."
"Yes, indeed, miss, one of the best of the lot." John was their favourite waterman, who often rowed them when the distances were too great for Miss Green.
It was a pretty row past the green lawns of handsome homes, and one or two small river villages, where the principal business is the letting of boats and of fishing-tackle.
John's sturdy strokes soon brought them in sight of the park belonging to Hampton Court, surrounded by a high wall past which the river winds for some distance. Soon they caught sight of the red brick towers of the palace itself, and its beautiful gardens, and in a few minutes they had landed near one of the small excursion steamers that ply between London and Hampton Court, on which so many folk take a charming day's excursion on the Thames.
There is also a little village at Hampton Court, as well as the palace, but one never pays much attention to it, except when one begins to get hungry, for it is mostly made up of little shops, that hang out signs on which is the one word, "Teas," which means one can get there their afternoon tea.
Our little party made straight for the big iron gates which lead into the entrance court. On one side are barracks where soldiers live, and before them rises the red brick lodge or gateway through which is the main entrance to the palace itself.
I fancy one often thinks of a palace as a great, tall, imposing building of many stories. Well, most palaces do cover a great deal of ground, but many of the English ones are not so very tall. This palace is only two stories high, with a sort of attic at the top. Another strange thing about these old-time palaces is that most of the rooms are very small according to our modern ideas, except for a few long rooms, called galleries.
"Let us go through the two courtyards into the gardens and sit on a bench under one of those old yew-trees, and I will tell you children something of the story of the palace; then you will enjoy seeing it much more," said Miss Green, as she led them into the lovely gardens where they could see the building to the best advantage. The children crowded around her as she began:
"It was built several hundred years ago by the great Cardinal Wolsey who was minister or councillor to King Henry VIII. Wolsey became a powerful favourite of the king, who loaded him with royal gifts. He became wealthy and proud, and built for himself many grand homes, until at last he founded this Hampton Court, which was to be the most splendid of them all. But the cardinal had become by this time such a power in the kingdom, and was so arrogant and wealthy that the king was jealous of him, fearing that the cardinal would become his rival.
"To counteract this, the cardinal presented his palace at Hampton Court to the king, and so it became a royal palace. But this did not prevent the cardinal's downfall.
"Until a hundred years or more ago this palace was a favourite home of the Royal Family, but now it is only a show-place for holiday-makers."
"I don't see how the king could have treated the poor cardinal badly after he gave him such a beautiful home," remarked Edith, as they entered the palace.
"Ah, well! perhaps he deserved it," said Miss Green, as they went up the grand stairway and through room after room filled with pictures, and some of the furniture of those old days.
They could see the beds on which had slept many royal persons. Around this furniture were drawn ropes so no one could touch it or sit upon the chairs. The floors were highly waxed, and in every room was a guardian or sort of policeman, who closely watched visitors to see that nothing was disturbed.
"Well, they did have a great number of rooms," said Eleanor, after they had walked through many bedchambers, anterooms, and reception-rooms.
"Yes," answered Miss Green, "they were necessary not only for the Royal Family itself, but for the many people who always attached to the court.
"Here is the 'throne-room,'" she continued, "where the king or queen sat in that gilt chair which stands on a dais or platform raised several steps above the floor." Above the chair was a velvet canopy surmounted by a gilt crown. Usually the arms of England (the "Lion and the Unicorn") were embroidered in gold and coloured silks on the velvet background behind the throne. Here the kings and queens held their audiences, and saw those who wished to present some petition or ask some royal favour.
"This is one of the most splendid old-time 'banqueting-halls' in our country," said Miss Green, as they came into the great chamber with a high roof of great carved wood beams and windows of coloured glass. Around the walls were great stag heads, and over the entrance door was a gallery where the musicians played while guests ate dinner at the long tables. The guests sat on wooden benches or stools, while the persons of high rank occupied chairs at a table at the end of the hall, which was placed on a raised platform which separated them from those of inferior rank.
"Can't we see the big grape-vine now?" said Edith, as they left the palace itself.
Miss Green led the way through the rose-garden, and past Queen Mary's Bower, a shady and favourite walk of one of the queens, so shut in by trees that it looked like a green tunnel. "There is the vine-house," exclaimed Clarence, as they came to a long, low, glass house which covered the huge vine, nearly two hundred years old, the largest single vine in the world. The trunk looked like that of a small tree, and its branches, hanging thick with bunches of grapes, covered the glass roof. At various times its home had to be added to, and still the vine has to be constantly pruned to keep it within bounds.
"I should like to eat some of those grapes when they are ripe," said Eleanor, looking up at the clusters over her head.
"You would have to be one of the Royal Family to do that," Miss Green smilingly said. "They are all kept for the king's own use."
"Well, are you young people ready for dinner?" asked the governess, looking at her watch as they left the vine-house. "It is nearly one o'clock, so we had better have our dinner, and then we can spend the afternoon in the gardens and park."
"Afterward we can go through the Maze, Eleanor," cried Edith, as, holding each other by the hand, the little girls skipped through the garden paths.
"Yes, but dinner first, by all means," said Clarence, "and let us go to one of the places on the river, please, Miss Green, where we can watch the boats."
On the gallery of one of the inns that overlook the river they found a round table that would just accommodate their party. Here they could enjoy a fine view of the palace and the river, and a substantial meal at the same time.
"Now for the 'Maze,"' cried the young people, when they entered the gardens again. The "Maze" is an elaborate labyrinth, whose pattern is laid out in high-clipped hedges of box-trees. One can lose themselves for some time amid its tangle of paths before it is possible to reach the centre, and come back again to the starting-place.
"By paying a penny I can watch your efforts," said Miss Green, as she paid her penny to the guardian, and mounted a little platform which overlooks the tangle of paths. "I think I shall enjoy this more than rushing around through the hot sun," she said, smiling down on her charges.
Finding the right path through the Maze is one of the favourite amusements of the children when they visit Hampton Court, and our three young friends were soon rushing around, laughing in the wildest excitement.
It took nearly an hour's fun before they were able to reach the centre and get out again, Clarence being rather crestfallen that the girls had beaten him out.
"Oh, we are warm," said Edith, as they ran up to Miss Green, panting and fanning their faces with their hats.
"Indeed you are. Come, and we will rest and cool off in the park. The chestnut-trees look lovely with their spikes of white flowers." Under the great trees, groups of children were playing about, or having picnic lunches, or amusing themselves with the deer, which live in the park, and are so used to visitors that they are very tame, and will even eat out of one's hand.
"I should like to come here next Sunday; it will be 'Chestnut Sunday,'" said Clarence, as they threw themselves on the soft grass.
"Oh," said Edith, "that is always one of the first Sundays in May."
"Yes," continued Clarence, "the first Sunday after the chestnut-trees come in full blossom."
Thousands of people come here from London and the surrounding country on that day, that they may drive through this long avenue that leads directly through the park to the palace and admire the display of blossoms on the great trees that line the avenue on both sides.
Clarence grew enthusiastic. "It's a jolly sight, I can tell you, to see vehicles of all kinds, from bicycles and coster's carts to big four-in-hand coaches and automobiles. There is such a jam on the avenue that they can only creep along; it's like a big picnic."
"Is it not nearly tea-time? We are so thirsty, Miss Green," said Eleanor, as the sun began to drop behind the trees. The little girls had amused themselves by making endless daisy chains, and decorating their hats with the "may" as they call the hawthorn-bloom, while Miss Green read to them from a story book.
"Yes, we must not be too late in getting home; we will stop at one of the little tea-shops near the boat-landing."
It was a neat little cottage which they selected, covered with vines, with a small flowergarden in front. The pleasant-faced hostess soon brought in a big tea-tray covered with a dainty cloth on which was a big pot of tea, cut bread and butter, and delicious strawberries, such as only grow in England. "Nearly as big as my fist," declared Clarence, but this was perhaps putting it rather strongly, though each one made a big mouthful as the young folk ate them, dipping them first into sugar. They sang songs as they rowed home, and the tunes were taken up by other boats full of young people out for the Saturday half-holiday.
"We have had such a lovely time; thank you so much, Miss Green," said the young Whitworths as they parted at their gate.
"It has been a nice day, and we will have some others, too, when Adelaide comes, won't we?" said Edith.
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