Horace helped his mother to pack the picnic basket while his younger brother and two little sisters ran round the back yard. Summer holidays were always a trying time for Mother, keeping the little ones occupied. He was glad he had suggested that they take a day trip and the weather looked perfect outside. His uncle had let him have a day of mid week and told him with a smile that he was sure the terrazzo business would not go to pot without his help, at least for one day.
“Now children!” called Mother out of the window, “Don't get your best clothes all dirty before we go out! Elsie get off the swing and Clara stop chasing the cat. Henry get up off the floor. We are almost ready to go.” Mother looked back at the basket and checked its contents; sandwiches, pork pies, hard-boiled eggs, ginger beer, fruit cake, apples and oranges. Now was there anything she had forgotten before she padded the basket with the picnic blanket. She thought for a second and spoke, “Horace, get the little salt and pepper pots from the dining room please and we are ready to go. Then call out to your father and tell him to put down that watch he is working on and get his coat on.”.
Horace opened the door of the front parlour that father used as workroom for watch repairs when he was not at his shop. His father looked up as he entered and frowned, as he spoke. “Just a moment Horace, one more screw to go in and I can put the back on the watch. Family all ready to go?” Horace nodded and added, “Mother wants to make sure we don't miss the boat. Its quite a walk to the river, down through Shepherd's Bush and you know Mother and the children will be window shopping as we go.”
As Horace had thought the straggling procession that was his family took three times as long as he would to walk the mile to jetty by Hammersmith Bridge. Mother had seen several hat shops and only father's stern glance had prevented her entering them and the girls had to be dragged away from the display of dolls in a toy shop window. Horace and his father had, of course, wasted no time at all, despite Mother's opinion that they had dawdled past every watchmaker and chemist with cameras on display. As it was they arrived at the jetty with a few minutes to spare before the “Duke of Cambridge” came into view, the splashes from its paddle-wheels glinting in the summer sun. Horace managed to grab a photograph before the crowded ship moored. The children were across the gangplank almost as soon as it touched the jetty while Horace and Father sandwiched Mother between them fore and aft and she got across with her eyes closed.
On board it was standing room only, not a problem for Horace or the children but Mother could do with sitting down. As they threaded their way down the crowded deck one young gentleman in a straw boater stood and offered Mother his seat, which she accepted with profuse thanks. Horace stowed the picnic basket under the bench, now he could take some more photographs. As he turned to take in the view a short sour faced man in shirt sleeves opposite glowered at him. Horace decided to move along the deck, he didn't want that face in his pictures.
As the ship neared Kew Gardens Horace rounded up the children and took them back to where Mother was sitting. Father was standing near her enjoying one of his treasured cigars, he was only allowed to smoke them outside. Horace was just reaching under the bench for their picnic basket when he was roughly pushed aside by someone else pulling a basket from beside theirs. It was that same sour faced man he had seen earlier. It seemed that Victorian good manners had vanished in some people in this new Edwardian era. The horrid little man then pushed his way towards the gangplank that was being readied for landing. Not wanting to spoil the day Horace determined to forget the incident and pulled out the basket and put it in young Henry's safe keeping. As they waited to leave the ship he saw the odious little man again, scurrying off away from the gardens.
Inside Kew Gardens the children were able to run and play on the grass while the rest of the family walked beneath the shade of the trees, reading the labels on less well known specimens. Towards lunch time they made their way to the lawns near the Giant Pagoda and chose an area of grass to eat their picnic. Horace put the picnic basket on the ground and opened it to get out the picnic blanket. He looked inside and called Mother over. No blanket! Instead an unfamiliar jacket. Horace pulled out the jacket to see if there was a name in it and his face turned from puzzlement to astonishment. Under the jacket were bundles of banknotes, five pound notes, hundreds, no thousands of them. His legs gave way beneath him and he sat down heavily on the grass. Mother and Father looking over his shoulder were silent, eyes wide open.
Meanwhile in a lodging house room in Kew a little sour faced man was panicking. Whoever had the basket had his money and knew his false name and where he lived. They would go to the police! Fred bundled his few possessions into his Gladstone bag. He would have to vanish. He could withdraw the money he had in the local bank under his false name, that would be enough to get him far away and live frugally for a few years. He closed the door to the lodging house and headed toward the bank. All that work for almost nothing.
Horace and his family found a policeman in the gardens and told him what they had found and spent the rest of the day answering questions at the police station. The constables who visited the address shown on the documents in the jacket found the room empty except for their picnic basket.. At last Horace and his family were free to go and they caught a train back home. Well he would have an interesting story to tell when he got back to work.
Six months later there was a knock at the door.of Horace's home. Two constables and a police sergeant stood outside with a padlocked strongbox. As the police had been unable to trace the owner of the money, even after enquiries at the Bank of England the money now belonged to Horace and his family.