“I’m not so sure that’s a good thing,” Eloise said.
“You should swim,” Oliver prodded. “Or at least go as far as Amanda. You’ve barely got your feet wet.”
“I don’t have a bathing costume,” Eloise said, even though she’d explained this to them at least six times already.
“I think you don’t know how to swim,” he said.
“I assure you I know very well how to swim,” she returned, “and that you’re not likely to provoke a demonstration while I’m wearing my third-best morning dress.”
Amanda looked over at her and blinked a few times. “I should like to see your first- and second-best. That’s a very pretty frock.”
“Why, thank you, Amanda,” Eloise said, wondering who picked out the young girl’s clothing. The crotchety Nurse Edwards, probably. There was nothing wrong with what Amanda was wearing, but Eloise would wager that no one had ever thought to offer her the fun of choosing her own garments. She smiled at Amanda and said, “If you would like to go shopping sometime, I would be happy to take you.”
“Oh, I should adore that,” Amanda said breathlessly. “Above all else. Thank you!”
“Girls,” Oliver said disdainfully.
“You’ll be glad for us someday,” Eloise remarked.
She just shook her head with a smile. It would be some time before he thought girls were good for anything other than tying their plaits together.
Oliver just shrugged and went back to hitting the surface of the water with the heel of his hand at just the right angle so as to splash the maximum amount of water on his sister.
“Stop it!” Amanda hollered.
He cackled and splashed some more.
“Oliver!” Amanda stood up and advanced menacingly toward him. Then, when walking proved too slow, she dove in and began to swim. He shrieked with laughter and swam away, coming up for air only long enough to taunt her.
“I’ll get you yet!” Amanda growled, stopping for a moment to tread water.
“Don’t go too far out!” Eloise called, but it really wasn’t very important. It was clear that both children were excellent swimmers. If they were like Eloise and her siblings, they’d probably been swimming since age four. The Bridgerton children had spent countless summer hours splashing around in the pond near their home in Kent, although, in truth, the swimming had been curtailed after the death of their father. When Edmund Bridgerton had been alive, the family had spent most of their time in the country, but once he was gone, they had found themselves in town more often than not. Eloise had never known if it was because her mother preferred town or simply that their home in the country held too many memories.
Eloise adored London and had certainly enjoyed her time there, but now that she was here in Gloucestershire, splashing in a pond with two boisterous young children, she realized how much she’d missed the country way of living.
Not that she was prepared to give up London and all the friends and amusements it offered, but still, she was beginning to think she didn’t need to spend quite so much time in the capital.
Amanda finally caught up with her brother and launched herself on top of him, causing them both to go under. Eloise watched carefully; she could see a hand or foot break the surface every few seconds until they both came up for air, laughing and gasping and vowing to beat each other in what was clearly extremely important warfare.
“Be careful!” Eloise called out, mostly because she felt she should. It was strange to find herself in the position of authoritative adult; with her nieces and nephews she got to be the fun and permissive aunt. “Oliver! Do not pull your sister’s hair!”
He stopped but then immediately moved to the collar of her bathing costume, which could not have been comfortable for Amanda, and indeed, she began to sputter and cough.
“Oliver!” Eloise yelled. “Stop that at once!”
He did, which surprised and pleased her, but Amanda used the momentary reprieve to jump on top of him, sending him under while she sat on his back.
“Amanda!” Eloise yelled.
Amanda pretended not to hear.
Oh, blast, now she was going to have to wade out there to put an end to it herself, and she was going to be completely soaked in the process. “Amanda, stop that this instant!” she called out, making one last attempt to save her dress and her dignity.
Amanda did, and Oliver came up gasping, “Amanda Crane, I’m going to—”
“No, you’re not,” Eloise said sternly. “Neither one of you is going to kill, maim, attack, or even hug the other for at least thirty minutes.”
They were clearly appalled that Eloise had even mentioned the possibility of a hug.
“Well?” Eloise demanded.
They were completely silent, then Amanda asked, “Then what will we do?”
Good question. Most of Eloise’s own memories of swimming involved the same sort of war games. “Maybe we’ll dry off and rest for a spell,” she said.
They both looked horrified by the suggestion.
“We certainly ought to work on lessons,” Eloise added. “Perhaps a bit more arithmetic. I did promise Nurse Edwards that we would do something constructive with our time.”
That suggestion went over about as well as the first.
“Very well,” Eloise said. “What do you suggest we do?”
“I don’t know,” came Oliver’s muttered reply, punctuated by Amanda’s shoulder shrug.
“Well, there is certainly no point in standing here doing nothing,” Eloise said, planting her hands on her hips. “Aside from the fact that it’s exceedingly boring, we’re likely to fr—”