It began one morning at breakfast. It was the fifteenth of August–the birthday of Napoleon the Great, Oswald Bastable, and another very nice writer. Oswald was to keep his birthday on the Saturday, so that his father could be there. A birthday when there are only many happy returns is a little like Sunday or Christmas Eve. Oswald had a birthday-card or two–that was all; but he did not repine, because he knew they always make it up to you for putting off keeping your birthday, and he looked forward to Saturday.
Albert’s uncle had a whole stack of letters as usual, and presently he tossed one over to Dora, and said, “What do you say, little lady? Shall we let them come?”
But Dora, butter-fingered as ever, missed the catch, and Dick and Noel both had a try for it, so that the letter went into the place where the bacon had been, and where now only a frozen-looking lake of bacon fat was slowly hardening, and then somehow it got into the marmalade, and then H. O. got it, and Dora said:
“I don’t want the nasty thing now–all grease and stickiness.” So H. O. read it aloud:
“MAIDSTONE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUITIES AND FIELD CLUB,
” Aug. 14, 1900.
“DEAR SIR,–At a meeting of the–“
H. O. stuck fast here, and the writing was really very bad, like a spider that has been in the inkpot crawling in a hurry over the paper without stopping to rub its feet properly on the mat. So Oswald took the letter. He is above minding a little marmalade or bacon. He began to read. It ran thus:
“It’s not Antiquities, you little silly,” he said; “it’s Antiquaries.”
“The other’s a very good word,” said Albert’s uncle, “and I never call names at breakfast myself–it upsets the digestion, my egregious Oswald.”
“That’s a name though,” said Alice, “and you got it out of ‘Stalky,’ too. Go on, Oswald.”
So Oswald went on where he had been interrupted:
“MAIDSTONE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES AND FIELD CLUB,
” Aug. 14, 1900.
“DEAR SIR,–At a meeting of the Committee of this Society it was agreed that a field day should be held on Aug. 20, when the Society proposes to visit the interesting church of Ivybridge and also the Roman remains in the vicinity. Our president, Mr. Longchamps, F.R.S., has obtained permission to open a barrow in the Three Trees pasture. We venture to ask whether you would allow the members of the Society to walk through your grounds and to inspect–from without, of course–your beautiful house, which is, as you are doubtless aware, of great historic interest, having been for some years the residence of the celebrated Sir Thomas Wyatt.–I am, dear Sir, yours faithfully,
“EDWARD K. TURNBULL ( Hon. Sec. ).”
“Just so,” said Albert’s uncle; “well, shall we permit the eye of the Maidstone Antiquities to profane these sacred solitudes, and the foot of the Field Club to kick up a dust on our gravel?”
“Our gravel is all grass,” H. O. said. And the girls said, “Oh, do let them come!” It was Alice who said:
“Why not ask them to tea? They’ll be very tired coming all the way from Maidstone.”
“Would you really like it?” Albert’s uncle asked. “I’m afraid they’ll be but dull dogs, the Antiquities, stuffy old gentlemen with amphorae in their button-holes instead of orchids, and pedigrees poking out of all their pockets.”
We laughed–because we knew what an amphorae is. If you don’t you might look it up in the dicker. It’s not a flower, though it sounds like one out of the gardening book, the kind you never hear of any one growing.
Dora said she thought it would be splendid.
“And we could have out the best china,” she said, “and decorate the table with flowers. We could have tea in the garden. We’ve never had a party since we’ve been here.”