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"DID you ever see anything so lovely? It looks like a garden full of flowers of all colours," exclaimed Edith, enthusiastically, as she and Adelaide leaned over the railing of Colonel Howard's house-boat, and looked up and down the river.
I am sure every one would agree with her, if they could be at the picturesque little village of Henley-on-Thames during "the week," as it is known. That is when the boat-races are held there. It is the great open-air society event for the younger people of England; a great water fete or picnic. The nicest way to enjoy the boat-races is to have a house-boat and live on it during the week, then one is on the spot all the time.
A house-boat is really a small house that is built on a flat boat, so that it can be towed from place to place at its owner's pleasure. There is a big room with perhaps two or more small bedrooms. At the back is a tiny kitchen and a larder or pantry.
"It's just like dolls keeping house; isn't it lovely, mamma?" declared Edith.
"Well, yes," said Mrs. Howard, thoughtfully, as she looked in at the tiny larder. "It is all very well for Henley, but I believe I do prefer the manor."
Colonel Howard's house-boat was very pretty and attractive. "The jolliest on the river," Tom declared, and as Tom was an important person on this occasion, his good opinion was valued by his family.
Over the roof, which was used for a general open-air sitting-room, was a brilliant red and white awning, and around the edge of the roof or deck was a border of a solid mass of flowers, splendid red geraniums and big white daisies, while hanging down from these was a fringe of green vines, all of which looked very pretty with the brass railings around the deck, and the bright woodwork of the boat itself, which was painted white with green Venetian blinds at the windows.
The deck was covered over with rugs, and there were plenty of wicker lounging chairs and cushions. Meals were served sometimes on desk; sometimes in the big room below.
All the house-boats here were decorated in some such way, and made a pretty picture, tied up to the shore on one side of the river -- a long line of them. Their occupants entertained their friends on board, and there was much visiting done from one to another.
The course of one mile, along which the races are rowed, is "staked off" by "booms " or logs tied together. On either side of this course lay thousands of small boats as tightly packed together as could be, for naturally every one wanted to get as near the racing boats as possible.
The ladies were all dressed in the loveliest of dresses of all colours, -- pale pinks, blues, and lavenders, as well as white, with sunshades to match. If it happens to be showery weather, dear me! Many a pretty hat and dress is spoilt. But this was a "dry" Henley, with brilliant sunshine, so Edith was right when she said the river looked like a garden of flowers.
The men looked very cool and comfortable in their white flannel suits and straw hats. Along both river banks were big tents, which were used as club-houses by the various boat clubs who were rowing in the races, while thousands of spectators lined either side of the river. English people take a great interest in all kinds of sports, but they are specially fond of boating, and they cheer the winning crews at Henley with the greatest enthusiasm.
This afternoon the race in which Tom was to row was coming off, and the Howard family was in a great flutter of excitement. The crew of Tom's boat were to take dinner afterward on their house-boat, and if they should prove the winners they would have an especially jolly feast.
Friends of the Howards from Oxford had the house-boat next to theirs -- their eldest son was in one of the competing boats for the " Ladies' Plate," and their two little boys, the nine-year-old twins, Edgar and Will, held great discussions with Edith and Adelaide over the merits of the two rival boat crews.
The little girls' loyalty to Eton never wavered, while the "Twins," as they were always called, had a great contempt for any boat crew that did not have their brother George in it.
The "Twins" were particularly arrogant this afternoon, for the rumour had gained ground that George's boat would prove the best. However, the cry, "They have started," put an end to all talk.
It was one of the favourite races of the week, and everybody was wild. On they came, the young fellows straining, and the oars glittering as they flew in and out of the water. At first Eton was left behind, but they drew up little by little on their rivals. Side by side the rival crews kept, nearly up to goal, when with a supreme effort Eton gave a spurt ,forward, and won by half a boat's length. Such cheers as went up! The Etonians were the heroes for the rest of the day.
You may imagine the joy of Tom's family, who were prouder of him than ever, and in the eyes of the little girls he had grown several inches taller. Don't you think it was very good of the girls when they went over afterward to take tea with the " Twins" that they did not crow over them a bit?
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