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The Slowcoach by E. V. Lucas

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Once upon a time there was a nice family. Its name was Avory, and it lived
in an old house in Chiswick, where the Thames is so sad on grey days and so
gay on sunny ones.

Mr.--or rather Captain--Avory was dead; he had been wounded at Spion Kop,
and died a few years after. Mrs. Avory was thirty-five, and she had four
children. The eldest was Janet, aged fourteen, and the youngest was Gregory
Bruce, aged seven. Between these came Robert Oliver, who was thirteen, and
Hester, who was nine.

They were all very fond of each other, and they rarely quarreled. (If they
had done so, I should not be telling this story. You don't catch me writing
books about people who quarrel.) They adored their mother.

The name of the Avories' house was "The Gables," which was a better name
than many houses have, because there actually were gables in its roof.
Hester, who had funny ideas, wanted to see all the people who lived in all
the houses that are called "The Gables" everywhere drawn up in a row so
that she might examine them. She used to lie awake at night and wonder how
many there would be. "I'm sure mother would be the most beautiful, anyway,"
she used to say.

History was Hester's passion. She could read history all day. Here she
differed from Robert Oliver, who was all for geography. Their friends knew
of these tastes, of course, and so Hester's presents were nearly always
history books or portraits of great men, such as Napoleon and Shakespeare,
both of whom she almost worshipped, while Robert's were compasses and maps.
He also had a mapmeasurer (from Mr. Lenox), and at the moment at which this
story opens, his birthday being just over, he was the possessor of a
pedometer, which he carried fastened to his leg, under his knickerbockers,
so that it was certain to register every time he took a step. He kept a
careful record of the distance he had walked since his birthday, and could
tell you at any time what it was, if you gave him a minute or two to crawl
under the table and undo his clothes. He could be heard grunting in dark
places all day long, having been forbidden by Janet to undress in public.

Robert's birthday was on June 20, Hester's on November 8, and Janet's on
February 28. She had the narrowest escape, you see, of getting birthdays
only once in every four years; which is one of the worst things that can
happen to a human being. Gregory Bruce was a little less lucky, for his
birthday was on December 20, which is so near to Christmas Day that mean
persons have been known to make one gift do for both events. None the less,
Gregory's possessions were very numerous; for he had many friends, and most
of them were careful to keep these two great anniversaries apart.

Gregory's particular passion just now was the names of engines, of which he
had one of the finest collections in Europe; but a model aeroplane which
Mr. Scott had given him was beginning to turn his thoughts towards the
conquest of the air, and whereas he used to tell people that he meant to be
an engine driver when he grew up, he was now adding, "or a man like Wilbur

Most children have wanted to fly ever since "Peter Pan" began, and, as I
dare say you have heard, some have tried from the nursery window, with
perfectly awful results, having neglected to have their shoulders first
touched magically; but Gregory Bruce Avory wanted to fly in a more regular
and scientific manner. He wanted to fly like an engineer. To his mind,
indeed, the flying part of "Peter Pan" was the least fascinating; he
preferred the underground home, and the fight with the Indians, and the
mechanism of the crocodile. For a short time, in fact, his only ambition
had been to be the crocodile's front half.

Janet, on the other hand, liked Nana and the pathetic motherly parts the
best; Robert's favourite was Smee, and often at meal times he used to say,
"Woe is me, I have no knife"; while Hester was happiest in the lagoon
scene. This difference of taste in one small family shows how important it
is for anyone who writes a play to put a lot of variety into it.

Janet, the eldest, was also the most practical. She was, in fact, towards
the others almost more of a younger mother than an elder sister. Not that
Mrs. Avory neglected them at all; but Janet relieved her of many little
duties. She always knew when their feet were likely to be wet, and Robert
had once said that she had "stocking changing on the brain." She could
cook, too, especially cakes, and the tradesmen had a great respect for her
judgment when she went shopping. She knew when a joint would be too fat,
and you should see her pointing out the bone!

Janet was a tall girl, and very active, and, in spite of her
responsibilities, very jolly. She played hockey as well almost as a boy,
which is, of course, saying everything, and her cricket was good, too. Her
bowling was fast and straight, and usually too much for Robert, who knew,
however, the initials of all the gentlemen and the Christian names and
birthplaces of most of the professionals. Gregory could not bear cricket,
except when it was his own innings, which he seemed to enjoy during its
brief duration. Hester thought it dull throughout, so that Janet had to
depend upon Robert and the Rotherams for the best games.

Janet had very straight fair hair, and just enough freckles to be pretty.
She looked nicest in blue. Hester, on the contrary, was a dark little
thing, whose best frock was always red.

As for the boys--it doesn't matter what boys are like; but Gregory, I might
say, usually had black hands: not because he was naturally a grubby little
beast, but because engineers do. Robert, on the contrary, was disposed to
be dressy, and he declined to allow his mother or Janet to buy his socks or
neckties without first consulting him as to colours.

Among the friends of the family must be put first Uncle Chris, who was
Captain Avory's brother and a lawyer in Golden Square. Uncle Chris looked
after Mrs. Avory's money and gave advice. He was very nice, and came to
dinner every Sunday (hot roast beef and horse radish sauce). There was an
Aunt Chris, too, but she was an invalid and could not leave her room, where
she lay all the time and remembered birthdays.

Next to Uncle Chris came Mr. Scott, who was a famous author and a very good
cricketer on the lawn, and Mr. Lenox, who was private secretary to a real
lord, and therefore had lots of time and money. Both Mr. Scott and Mr.
Lenox were bachelors, as the best friends of families always are; unless,
of course, their wives are invalids.

Gregory, who was more social than Robert, also knew one policeman, one
coachman, three chauffeurs, and several Chiswick boatmen extremely
intimately. Robert's principal friend outside the family was a bird stuffer
in Hammersmith; but he does not come into this story.

The Avories did not go to boarding school, or, indeed, to any school in the
ordinary way at all; Mrs. Avory said she could not spare them. Instead they
were visited every day except Saturdays by Mr. Crawley and Miss Bingham,
who taught them the things that one is supposed to know--Mr. Crawley taking
the boys in the old billiard room, and Miss Bingham the girls in the
morning room. At some of the lessons--such as history --they all joined.
The classes were attended also by the Rotherams, the doctor's children, who
lived at "Fir Grove," and Horace Campbell, the only son of the vicar. So it
was a kind of school, after all.

Horace Campbell had always intended to be a cowboy when he grew up, but a
visit to a play called "Raffles" was now rather inclining him to
gentlemanly burglary. William Rotheram, like Gregory, leaned towards
flying; but Jack Rotheram voted steadily for the sea, and talked of little
but Osborne.

Mary Rotheram played with a bat almost as straight as "Plum" Warner's, and
she knew most of the old Somersetshire songs-- "Mowing the Barley," and
"Lord Rendal," and "Seventeen come Sunday"--by heart, and sang them
beautifully. Gregory, who used to revel in Sankey's hymns as sung by Eliza
Pollard, the parlourmaid, now thought that the Somerset music was the only
real kind. Mary Rotheram had a snub nose and quantities of freckle and a
very nice nature.

"The Gables" had a large garden, with a shrubbery of evergreens in it and a
cedar. It was not at all a garden-party garden, because there was a
well-worn cricketpitch right in the middle of the lawn, and Gregory had a
railway system where the best flowers ought to be; but it was a garden full
of fun, and old Kink, the gardener, managed to get a great many vegetables
out of it, too, although not so many as Collins thought he ought to.

Collins was the cook, a fat, smiling, hot lady of about fifty, who had been
with Mrs. Avory ever since she married. Collins understood children
thoroughly, and made cakes that were rather wet underneath. Her Yorkshire
pudding (for Sunday's dinner) was famous, and her horse radish sauce was so
perfect that it brought tears to the eyes.

Collins collected picture postcards and adored the family. She had never
been cross to any of them, but her way with the butcher's boy and the
grocer's boy and the fishmonger's boy was terrible.

She snapped their heads off (so to speak) every morning, and old Kink spent
quite a lot of his time in rubbing from off the backdoor the awful things
they wrote about her in chalk.

The parlourmaid was Eliza Pollard, who had red hair and a kind heart, but
was continually falling out with her last young man and getting another.
She told Hester all about it. Hester had a special knack of being told
about the servants' young men, for she knew also all about those of Eliza
Pollard's predecessors.

The housemaid was Jane Masters, who helped Eliza Pollard to make the beds.
Jane Masters did not hold with fickleness in love--in fact, she couldn't
abide it--and therefore she was steadily true to a young man called 'Erb,
who looked after the lift at the Stores, and was a particular friend of
Gregory's in consequence. No man who had charge of a lift could fail to be
admired by Gregory.

Finally--and very likely she ought to have come first--was Runcie, or Mrs.
Runciman, who had not only been the nurse of all the Avories, but of Mrs.
Avory before them, when Mrs. Avory was a slip of a girl named Janet Easton.
Runcie was then quite young herself, and why she was suddenly called Mrs.
no one ever quite knew, for she had never married. And now she was getting
on for sixty, and had not much to do except sympathize with the Avories and
reprove the servants. She had a nice sitting room of her own, where she sat
comfortably every afternoon when such work as she did was done, and
received visits from her pets, as she called the children (none of whom,
however, was quite so dear to her as their mother), and listened to their

On those evenings on which he came to "The Gables" Mr. Lenox always looked
in on her for a little gossip; and this was called his "runcible spoon"--the
joke being that Mr. Lenox and Runcie were engaged to be married.

And now you know the Avory family root and branch.


One day in late June the Avories and the Rotherams and Horace Campbell were
sitting at tea under the cedar talking about a great tragedy that had
befallen. For Mrs. Avory had just heard that Mrs. Dudeney--their regular
landlady at Sea View, in the Isle of Wight, where they had lodgings
every summer for years and years, and where they were all ready to go next
month as usual--Mrs. Avory had just heard that Mrs. Dudeney had been taken
very ill, and no other rooms were to be had.

Here was a blow! For the Rotherams always went to Sea View too, and had a
tent on the little strip of beach under the wood adjoining the Avories',
and they did everything together. And now it was very likely that the
Avories would not get lodgings at all, and certainly would not get any half
so good as Mrs. Dudeney's, where their ways were known, and their
bathing dresses were always dried at once in case they wanted to go in
again, and so on.

They were all discussing this together, and saying what a shame it was,
when suddenly the unfamiliar sound of the opening of the old stableyard
gates was heard, and then heavy wheels scrunched in and men's voices called
out directions, such as, "Steady, Joe!" "A little bit to the near side,
Bill!" and so forth.

Now, since the stable yard had not been used for years, it was no wonder
that the whole party was, so to speak, on tiptoe, longing to run and
investigate. But Mrs. Avory had always objected very strongly to
inquisitiveness, and so they stayed where they were and waited expectantly.
And then, after a minute or so, Kink came up to the table with a twinkle in
his old eye and a letter in his old hand.

"Didn't we hear the sound of a carriage?" Mrs. Avory asked.

"Did you, mum?" said old Kink, who was a great tease.

"I'm sure there were wheels," said Mrs. Avory.

Kink said nothing.

"Of course there were wheels," said Robert. "Don't be such an old humbug."

But Kink only twinkled.

"It's only coals," said Gregory; "isn't it?"

"The first I've heard of coals`" said Kink.

"Kinky dear," said Janet, "is it something awfully exciting?"

"Nothing very exciting about a house, that I know of, Miss Janet," said Kink.

"A house!" cried Janet. "It couldn't have been a house!"

"There's all sorts of houses," said Kink; "there's houses on the ground and
there's houses on--"

"O Kinky," cried Hester, "I know!"

And she clapped her hands and absolutely screamed. "I know. It's a caravan!"

"A caravan!" the children shouted together, and with one movement they
dashed off to see.

Old Kink laughed and Mrs. Avory laughed.

"It's a caravan right enough," he said. "And a very pretty one too, and
none of they nasty gypsies in it neither."

"But where does it come from?" Mrs. Avory asked, and in reply Kink handed
her the letter; but she had done no more than open it when Janet ran back
to drag her to see the wonderful sight.

Gregory, I need hardly say, was already on the box with the whip in his
hand, while all the others were inside, except
Horace Campbell, who had climbed on the roof, and was telephoning down the
chimney. The men and horse that had brought it were gone.

"Oh, mother," cried Hester, "whose is it? Is it ours? "

"I expect the letter tells us everything," said Mrs. Avory, and, sitting on
the top of the steps, she unfolded the letter, and, after looking through,
read it aloud.

This is what it said:


"It has long been my wish to give you a new kind of present, but I have
hitherto had no luck. I thought once of an elephant, and even wrote to
Jamrach about the idea--a small elephant, not a mountain---but I gave that
up. Chiswick is too crowded, and your garden is too small. But now I think
I have found the very thing. A caravan. It belonged to a lady artist, who,
having to live abroad, wished to sell it; and it is now yours. I tell you
this so that mother need not be afraid that it is dirty. It should reach
you this week, and can stand in the old coach house until you are ready to
set forth on the discovery of your native land. I should have liked also to
have added a horse and a man; but you must do that and keep an account of
what everything costs, and let me know when I come back from abroad. I
shall expect some day a long account of your adventures, and if you keep a
logbook, so much the better.

"I am,
"Your true, if unsettling, friend,


"P.S.--You will find a use for the enclosed key sooner or later, and if you
want to write to me, address the letter to 'X., care of Smithurst and Wynn,
Lincoln's Inn Fields, W.C.'"

For a while after the letter was finished the Avories were too excited and
thoughtful to speak, while as for the Rotherams and Horace Campbell,
however they may have tried, they could not disguise an expression, if not
exactly of envy, certainly of disappointment. There was no X. in their family.

"May we really go away in it and discover England?" Robert asked.

"I suppose so," said Mrs. Avory.

"Then that makes Sea View all right," said Gregory. "Because this will do

The poor Rotherams! Sea View had suddenly become tame and almost tiresome.

Mrs. Avory saw their regrets in their faces, and cheered them up by the
remark that the caravan must sometimes be lent to others.

"Oh, yes," said Janet.

"Do you think Dr. Rotheram would let you go? " she asked Mary.

"Of course he would," said Jack. "But I wish it was a houseboat."

The suggestion was so idiotic that everyone fell on him in scorn.

"But who is X.?" Mrs. Avory asked.

The letter was written in a round office hand that told nothing. Mr. Scott
was the most likely person, but why should Mr. Scott hide? He never had
done such a thing. Or Mr. Lenox? But neither was it his way to be secret
and mysterious. Nor was it Uncle Christopher's.

When, however, you have a caravan given you, and it is standing there
waiting to be explored, the question who gave it or did not give it becomes

Gregory put the case in a nutshell. "Never mind about old X. now," he said.
"Let's make a thorough examination!"


It was a real caravan. That is to say, either gypsies might have lived in
it, or anyone that did live in it would soon be properly gipsified. It was
painted in gay colours, and had little white blinds with very neat waists
and red sashes round them. That is the right kind of caravan. The brown
caravans highly varnished are wrong: they may be more luxurious, but no
gypsy would look at them.

The body of it was green--a good apple green--and the panels were lined with
blue. Some people say that blue and green won't go together; but don't let
us take any notice of them. Just look at the bed of forget-me-nots, or a
copse of bluebells; or, for that matter, try to see the Avories' caravan.
The window frames and bars were white. The spokes and hubs of the wheels
were red. It was most awfully gay.

Inside--but the inside of a caravan is so exciting that I hardly know how
to hold my pen. The inside of a caravan! Can you imagine a better phrase
than that? I can't. If Coleridge's statement is true that poetry is the
best words in the best order, then that is the best poem: the inside of a

The caravan was sixteen feet six inches long and six feet two inches high
inside. From the ground it stood ten feet. It was six feet four inches
wide. If you measure these distances in the dining room, you will see how
big it was, and you will be able to imagine yourselves in it.

The woodwork was all highly varnished, and very new and clean. More than
halfway down the caravan were heavy curtains hanging across it, and behind
these was the bedroom, containing four beds, two on each wall, on hinged
shelves, that could be let down flat against the wall-by day, when the
folding chairs could be unfolded, and the bedroom
then became a little boudoir.

The floor space was, however, filled this afternoon with great bundles
which turned out to be gypsy tents and sleeping sacks. "For the boys and
Kink to sleep in," said Janet; "but we must be very careful about
waterproof sheeting on the ground first."

The rest of the caravan, between the door and the bedroom--about ten
feet--was the kitchen and living room. Here every inch of the wall was
used, either by chairs that folded back like those in the corridors of
railway carriages, or by shelves, racks, cupboards, or pegs. There were two
tables, which also folded to the wall.

The stove was close to the door, but of course, no one who lives in a
caravan ever uses the stove except when it is raining. You make the fire
out of doors at all other times, and swing the pot from three sticks.
(Hedgehog stew! Can't you smell it?) There were kitchen utensils on hooks
and racks on each side of the stove which was covered in with shining
brass, and rows of enameled cups and saucers, and plates, and knives and
forks. The living room floor was covered with linoleum; the bedroom floor
had a carpet. Swinging candlesticks were screwed into the wall here and
there. It was more like the cabin of a ship than anything on land could
ever be, and Jack Rotheram began to weaken towards it.

In course of time other things were discovered, showing what a thorough
person X. was. A large India rubber bath, for instance, and a bath sheet to
go under it. A Beatrice oil stove and oil. An electric torch for sudden
requirements at night. A tea-basket for picnics. Quantities of cart-oil. A
piece of pumice stone (very thoughtful). There was also a box of little
India rubber pads with tintacks, the use for which (not discovered till
later) was to prevent the rattling of the furniture by making it fit a
little better. And in one of the cupboards was a bottle of camphor pills,
and a tin of tobacco labeled "For Tramps and Gypsies."

There was even a bookshelf with books on it: "Hans Andersen," "The Arabian
Nights," "Lavengro," "Inquire Within," "Mrs. Beeton," "Bradshaw" (rather
cowardly, Robert thought), and "The Blue Poetry Book." There was also "The
Whole Art of Caravaning," with certain passages marked in pencil, such as

"We pull up to measure the breadth of the gate, and if it be broad enough,
send forward an ambassador to the farm, who shall explain that we would
fain camp here, that we are not gypsies, vagabonds or suspicious
characters, that we will leave all as we find it, and will not rob or
wantonly destroy. And in case of need, he shall delicately hint that we may
incidentally provide good custom in butter, eggs, milk, and half a dozen
other things. Our ambassador must also, if it be possible, secure a stall
for the horse."

And this useful reminder:

"We must have water near at hand and a farm within reasonable distance, and
we should look for shelter from prevailing winds. We must avoid soft
ground, and it is a mistake to camp in long grass unless the weather be
particularly dry. We should be as far as possible from the road if there is
much traffic upon it. It is great advantage if there is a stream or lake at
hand for bathing. An old pasture field sloping away from the road will
often satisfy our requirements in low-lying districts. And up among the
moors we shall be content to take a piece of level ground where we can find
it. There will be nothing to disturb us there."

And this excellent caravan poem:

"I love the gentle office of the cook,
The cheerful stove, the placid twilight hour,
When, with the tender fragrance of the flower,
And all the bubbling voices of the brook,

"The coy potato or the onion browns,
The tender steak takes on a nobler hue.
I ponder 'mid the falling of the dew,
And watch the lapwings circling o'er the downs.

"Like portals at the pathway of the moon
Two trees stand forth in pencilled silhouette
Against the steel-grey sky, as black as jet--
The steak is ready. Ah! too soon! too soon!"

So much (with one exception) for the inside of the caravan. Underneath it
were still other things, for a box with perforated sides swung between the
wheels, and this was the larger, always cool and shady (except, as Janet
remarked, on dusty days), and near it on hooks were a hanging saucepan, a
great kettle, two pails, and two market baskets, a nose bag, and a skid.
Close by was a place for oats and chaff.

A new set of harness was packed on the box, and it was so complete that on
each of the little brass ornaments that hang on the horse's chest was the
letter "A." On the back of the caravan was a shelf that might be let down,
making a kind of sideboard for outdoor meals.

For two or three days the caravan did nothing but hold receptions. Everyone
who knew the Avories came to see it-- even Robert's bird stuffer, who said
he would like to borrow it for a week's holiday in Epping Forest, and
observe Nature through its windows. Several of Gregory's intimates also
examined it, and approved. Miss Bingham pronounced it elegant and
commodious, and Mr. Crawley (who, like all schoolmasters and tutors, made
too many puns) said that its probable rate of speed reminded him of his
name. Collins wished she might never have to cook in it, but otherwise was
very tolerant. Eliza Pollard said that her choice would be a motor car, and
Jane Masters brought 'Erb back on Sunday afternoon, and they exarmined it
together and decided that with such a home as that they might be married at

I have left till the last the most exciting thing of all. In an enclosure,
you remember, was a key concerning the purpose of which nothing was said in
the letter. Well, in the course of the exploration of the caravan, which
went on for some days, always yielding a fresh discovery, Robert came upon
a box securely fastened to the floor in a dark corner.

"Mother! mother!" he cried; "where's that key? I've found a mysterious

They all hurried to the stable yard to see, and Robert swiftly inserted the
key, and turned it. He fell back, too much overcome to speak. The box
contained twenty-five new sovereigns.


Mr. Lenox either knew everything, or knew someone who knew everything, so
that he was always certain to be able to help in any difficulty. Mrs. Avory
wrote to him to come round and consult with her about it, and he was there
at tea time.

"A caravan!" he said, after she had finished. "Ripping! Nothing better."

"Yes," said Mrs. Avory, "but--"

"Oh, well," said Mr. Lenox, "that's all right. A few little bothers, but
soon over." He checked them off on his finger. "Item---as your old Swan of
Avon, Hester, would say--item, a driver."

"I was thinking of Kink," said Mrs. Avory; "but there's the garden."

"Yes," said Mr. Lenox, "and there's also Kink. Do you think he'd go? "

"The best thing to do is to ask him," said Mrs. Avory. "Gregory, just run
and bring Kink in."

Kink soon appeared, fresh from the soil.

"Would you be willing to drive the caravan if we decided to use it? " Mrs.
Avory asked.

"'If'!" cried the children. "Steady on, mother. 'If'!"

Kink, who was a great tease, pretended to think for quite a long time,
until his silence had driven the children nearly desperate. "Yes," he then
said, "I should, mum, provided you let me find a trustworthy man to go on
with the garden. Otherwise I shouldn't dare to face Mrs. Collins when I
came back."

"That's very kind of you, Kink," said Mrs. Avory.

"Good old Kinky!" said Gregory.

"Yes," said Mr. Lenox. "And now for item two. The horse. How would you go
to work to get a horse, Kink?"

"Well," said Kink, "that's a little out of my way. A horse radish, yes; but
not a horse."

Everyone laughed: the old man expected it.

"Then," said Mr. Lenox, with a mock sigh, "I suppose the horse will have to
be found by me. We don't want to buy one--only to hire it."

"Don't let's have a horse," said Gregory; "let's have a motor. I think a
motor caravan would be splendid."

"There you're quite wrong," said Mr. Lenox. "The life-blood of a caravan is
sloth; the life-blood of a motor is speed. You can't mix them. And how
could Robert here survey England creditably if he rushed through it in a
motor? You're going to survey England, aren't you, Bobbie? No, it must be a
horse, and I will get it. I will make friends with cabmen, and coachmen,
and grooms, and stable-boys. I will carry a straw in my mouth. I will get a
horse to do you credit. What colour would you like?"

"White," said Janet.

"It shall be a white horse," said Mr. Lenox. "And now," he added, "the way
is cleared for item three. Can you guess what that is? "

They all tried to guess, but could not. They were too excited.

"A dog," said Mr. Lenox.

"Oh, yes," they cried.

"To guard the caravan at night and when we are away," said Janet.

"Exactly," said Mr. Lenox. "And what kind of a dog? "

"A dachshund," said Hester.

"Too small," said Mr. Lenox.

"A St. Bernard," said Robert.

"Too mild," said Mr. Lenox.

"A spaniel," said Janet.

"Too gentle," said Mr. Lenox.

"A fox-terrier," said Gregory.

"Not strong enough," said Mr. Lenox. "I leave it to Mr. Lenox," said Mrs.

"Very well, then," said Mr. Lenox, "a retriever--a retriever, because it is
big and formidable, and also because, when tied up, it will always be on
the watch. We'll buy the _Exchange_ and _Mart_, and look up retrievers. We
can't hire a dog; we must buy outright there. Now, then, Bobbie, item

"Maps," said Bobbie.

"Right," said Mr. Lenox. "I wish I was coming with you."

"Do," they all cried.

"I can't," said Mr. Lenox. "If I were to go away before September, I should
get the sack, and then I should starve. His Lordship is sufficiently cross
with me now, because I had to give him out leg-before at the annual estate
match last Saturday, when I was umpiring. He couldn't stand anything else."

That night Mrs. Avory, Uncle Christopher, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Lenox were
talking after dinner.

"It's a very wonderful present," said Mrs. Avory; "but there are two things
about it that are not quite satisfactory. One is that one likes to know
where such gifts come from, and the other is that for a party of children
to go away alone, with only Kink, is a great responsibility." (That's a
word which mothers are very fond of.) "Suppose they're ill?"

"It's a risk you must take," said Uncle Chris. "Don't anticipate trouble."

"Because," Mrs. Avory went on, "I should not go with them, although I might
arrange to meet them here and there on their journey. They would like me to
be with them, I know, and they would like to be without me, I know."

"I shouldn't worry about the giver of the present," said Mr. Scott. "You
have many friends from whom you would have no objection to accept a
caravan, and there's no harm in one of those friends wishing to be
anonymous. As for the other matter, I don't see much risk so long as Kink
goes too. He's a careful and very capable old sport, and Janet's as good a
mother as you any day."

Mrs. Avory laughed. "Yes, I know that," she said. "But what about gypsies
and tramps?"

"One has always got to take a few chances," said Uncle Christopher. "They
may get things stolen now and then from the outside of the caravan, but I
should doubt if anything else happened. Kink and a good dog would see to
that. And Janet would see to the children keeping dry, or getting dry
quickly after rain, and so forth. Such an experience as a fortnight in a
caravan of their own should be a splendid thing for all of them. Gregory,
for example--it's quite time that he studied the A B C of engineering and
began where James Watt began, instead of merely profiting by the efforts of
all the investigators since then. I mean, it's quite time he watched a
kettle boil; and Hester would get no harm by mixing a little washing-up
with her 'Romeo and Juliet' wool-gathering."

"I think you're right," said Mrs. Avory; "and I'm sure they are very
unlikely to get any such experience here. But I shall be very nervous "

"No, you won't," said Mr. Lenox, "because we'll arrange that you shall have
news. I have thought of that. A telegram every morning at breakfast and a
telegram every evening after tea. That will be perfectly simple. And
letters, of course."

In this way it was settled that the Great Experiment might be tried,
especially as so wise a woman as Collins and so old an ally as Runcie were
not against it. Both, indeed. were of Uncle Christonher's opinion that the
self-help and self-reliance which the caravan would lead to would be of the
greatest use.

Collins, when she heard later some hint of the possible route the caravan
would follow, became not only a supporter of the scheme, but an enthusiast,
because her own home was not distant, and she made the children promise to
spend a day there with her brother, the farmer. She also gave Janet some
lessons in frying-pan cooking.

Runcie never became an enthusiast, but she allowed herself to be
interested, if cautionary.

"To think of the nice comfortable beds you will be leaving," she would say.

"A horse is a vain thing for safety," she would say.

"The blisters you'll get on your poor feet!" she would say.

"The indigestion!" she would say.

"Living like gypsies," she would say.

"No proper washing or anything," she would say.

"Cheer up, Runcie,ÓGregory would reply; "you're not going."

"And glad I am I'm not," she would answer.

"I wish you were, Runcie, and then we'd show you in the villages as 'The
Old-Woman-Who-Can't-See-Any-Fun-in-Caravaning' Walk up! Walk up! A penny a

A clever dog. He knows the difference between an attack and a feeling of
faintness. But just come down to the Bricklayers' Arms, and I'll show you."

"No, thank you," said Mr. Lenox hastily. "How much is he?"

"Three pounds," said Mr. Amos.

"Oh, come!" said Mr. Lenox. "Not for a public-house dog."

"Not a penny less," said Mr. Amos.


The Sea View disappointment being so keenly felt, Mrs. Avory decided to
give the children an extra holiday of a fortnight at once, in which to
taste the delights of the caravan, and meanwhile she would herself go down
to the Isle of Wight to try to find other rooms; and it was arranged that
Mary Rotheram and one of her brothers and Horace Campbell should be
squeezed into the party too. Jack and William Rotheram therefore tossed up
for it, and Jack won.

This suddenness, as we shall see, was very fortunate, but it threw Mr.
Lenox into a state of perspiration quite strange to him.

"My dear Jenny," he said to Mrs. Avory, "how am I to get a horse to do you
credit, if you hurry me so? A horse is an animal requiring the most careful
study. Each one of its four legs needs separate consideration. I should
have liked some weeks of thought. The dog, too. Just as there is only one
satisfactory horse in the world for each family, so is there only one
satisfactory dog; and you ask me to get both in a few minutes."

He lay back and fanned himself.

Then he pulled two pennies from his pocket and gave them to Gregory, and
told him to go to the station bookstall and bring back the _Exchange_ and

The _Exchange_ and _Mart,_ as perhaps you may not know, is, without any
exaggeration, the most delightful paper in the world. It contains nothing
that one dislikes to read about, such as accidents, murders, suicides,
politics, and criticisms of concerts; it contains nothing whatever of such
things, while, on the other hand, it is packed with matters of real
interest. It tells you who has dogs for sale, and rabbits for sale, and
magic-lanterns for sale, and cameras for sale, and bicycles for sale, and
guinea-pigs for sale,--all at a bargain,--and it tells you also who wants
to buy rabbits and cameras and guinea-pigs; and it also tells you who wants
to exchange rabbits for a gun, or a dog for a fishing-rod, or a gramophone
for a parrot.

Gregory brought the paper back, and Mr. Lenox at once turned to the section
entitled "The Kennel," and then to the subsection "Retrievers," and he
found the names of three persons who wished to sell wonderful specimens of
that breed.

Two were in London and one was at Harrow.

Gregory therefore went off to find a taxicab (no easy thing at Chiswick),
and, coming back with one at last, Mr. Lenox and he drove to the nearest of
the London addresses.

The first was no good at all. The retrievers were all puppies, so gentle
and playful that they would not have frightened even a mouse from the
caravan door. But the next, which was at Bermondsey, was better. Here, in a
small backyard, they found Mr. Amos, the advertiser, surrounded by kennels.
He was a little man with a squint, and he declared that he had nothing but
the best-bred dogs with the longest pedigrees.

"But we don't want anything so swagger as that," said Mr. Lenox.

"We want a watchdog to be kept on a chain, but friendly enough with his own
people. If you keep only pedigree dogs, we may as well get on to our next

Mr. Amos stepped between Mr. Lenox and the door. "It's most extraordinary
odd," he said, " for, although I make it almost a religion never to have
any but pedigree dogs, it happens that just at this very moment I have got,
for the first time in my whole career, an inferior animal. It's not mine.
Oh, no; I'm only taking care of it for a friend. But it's a retriever all
right, and a good one, mark you, though not a pedigree dog. My friend wants
a good home for it. He's very particular about that. Kind, nice people, you
know. Bones. I dare say you know him," Mr. Amos added: "Mr. Bateman, who
keeps the Bricklayers' Arms."

How funny, Gregory thought, to keep bricklayers' arms! And he wondered why
the bricklayers didn't keep their own arms, and who kept their legs, and he
might have asked if Mr. Amos had not called to a boy named Jim to "bring
Tartar over here, and look slippy."

While Jim was bringing Tartar,--who lived in a tub, and must therefore, Mr.
Lenox said, be called in future Diogenes,--Mr. Amos reminded them how much
more likely one is to get good watch-work from a dog who is not of the
highest breeding than from a prize-winner. "As I often say," he added, "you
can have too much blood; that you can. Too much blood. It's the only fault
of many of my dogs."

Diogenes now stood before them, looking by no means overburdened with blood
and extremely ready for a new home.

Mr. Lenox asked why Mr. Amos thought he was a good watch-dog.

"Think!" said Mr. Amos. "I don't think; I know. If Mr. Bateman was here and
you were to hit him, that dog would kill you. No thinking twice, mark you.
He'd just kill you."

"I hope," said Mr. Lenox, "I shall never meet Mr. Bateman in his presence.
Suppose I were to fall against him accidentally --how perfectly ghastly!"

"No fear of that," said Mr. Amos.

"He's very well, then," said Mr. Lenox, "we must get on, Gregory. We have
still that other address."

"Two pounds ten," said Mr. Amos.

"Oh, no," said Mr. Lenox; "much too dear. Come along, Gregory."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Mr. Amos, "though it will be the end of
my friendship with Mr. Bateman. I'll say nothing about the collar and
chain, and take two pounds."

"Too dear," said Mr. Lenox, stepping to the taxi.

"Well, how much will you give?" Mr. Amos asked.

"I'll give you twenty-five shillings as he stands," said Mr. Lenox.

"He's yours," said Mr. Amos.

Mr. Lenox immediately paid the money, and then he went to a small grocer's
near by and bought a bag of biscuits, and with them he and Gregory fed the
famished Diogenes all the way back to Chiswick, and by the time they
reached home he seemed so affectionate with them as never to have had
another master.

Diogenes had come, of course, to stay; but the horse was merely to be
hired. To hire a carriage-horse or a riding-horse is easy enough, but a
cart-horse as strong as a steam-engine is more difficult to find.

Mr. Lenox decided to advertise, and he therefore sent the following
advertisement to the _Daily Telegram:_

"Wanted--To hire for a month at least, an exceedingly powerful, gentle
white horse to draw a caravan. Reply by letter. L., 'The Gables.'

"There," said Mr. Lenox, as he read it out, "that's as clear as crystal. No
one can misunderstand that."

But, as a matter of fact, people will misunderstand anything; for on the
day the advertisement appeared quite a number of men called at "The
Gables," all leading horses of every size and colour. Kink was kept busy in
getting rid of them, but one man succeeded in finding Robert unattended,
and did all he could to persuade him that a pair of small skew-bald ponies
such as he had brought with him would be far more useful in a caravan than
one large cart-horse.

"Run in and tell your father that, old sport," said he. "Tell him I've got
a pair of skews here as will do him credit, and he shall have the two for
twenty pounds."

"No, no," said Robert; "they're no use at all. We advertised for one large,
strong white horse."

Mr. Crawley was coming away from the house at this moment, and the man
tackled him.

"Have the pair, mister," said the man. "They're wonderful together--draw a
pantechnicon. There's lots of white on them, too. Your little boy here has
taken such a fancy to them," he added. "Eighteen pound for the two."

Another man, who brought a black horse and said that white horses always
had a defect somewhere, fastened on Miss Bingham.

"This is what you want, mum," he said. "Honest black. Never trust a white
horse," he said. "Black's the colour. Look at this mare here--she's a
beauty. Strong as an elephant and docile as a tortoise. Fifteen quid, mum,
and a bargain."

"My good man," said Miss Bingham, "you are laboring under a
misapprehension. I require no horse."

Fortunately, among the letters were several that told of exactly the kind
of horse that was needed, and one afternoon a stable boy led into the yard a
perfectly enormous creature which Mr. Lenox had hired for a pound a week
from a man at Finchley.

"Warranted sound in wind and limb," said Mr. Lenox, "and his name is Moses."

Gregory, having given Moses a lump of sugar, declined ever again to wish
for a motor caravan, especially as Mr. Scott slipped into his hand that
evening a large knife containing eight useful articles, including a hook
for extracting stones from horses' feet.


The question where to go came next, and, compared with this, all the other
preparations had been simple. Here they were, with a caravan, and a horse,
and a driver, and a dog, and maps, and a mapmeasurer (do you know what
they're called?--they're called wealemafnas), and tents, and--most of
all--permission to be entirely alone; and it was not yet decided where they
were going.

Of course, as you may suppose, each of the party knew where he or she
wanted to go, but that was merely a private matter; no general decision had
been come to.

Mr. Crawley, who may be said to have lived for golf, suggested Ashdown
Forest, and then, he said, he could look them up from time to time if they
made a permanent camp there. But who wants to be looked up by a tutor when
one is on a caravan holiday?

Miss Bingham was in favour of an itinerary (as she called it) that embraced
two or three cathedral cities.

Mr. Lenox said: "Go to Sussex, and camp under the downs at night and
explore them by day."

Mr. Scott, on the other hand, said: "Go to Berkshire and see the White
Horse that Tom Hughes scoured and wrote about." And he promised to lend
them the book to convert them to this project.

Mrs. Avory declined to express any opinion. "It's your caravan," she said,
"and I would much rather you decided everything for yourselves." (What a
delightful mother!)

Janet wanted to go to the New Forest, because she had never been there, and
now was a chance, and because for many years "The Children of the New
Forest" had been her favourite story.

Robert wanted to go to Salisbury Plain and see the sun rise at Stonehenge,
and cast an eye over the military operations there.

Jack Rotheram wanted to go to Hambledon, in Hampshire, to see the cradle of
cricket, as it is called--the old ground on Broad Half-penny Down where
they used to play cricket in tall hats, as described in John Nyren's book,
which someone had given him.

Mary Rotheram wanted to go to Bredon Hill in Worcestershire, because she
had always wanted to ever since she had learned a song which began:

"In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

"Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky."

That line about the coloured counties had always fascinated her: she had
longed also to see them, lying beneath her, all spread out. The coloured
counties! She talked so enthusiastically and prettily about it that she
quite won over Robert, who decided that Bredon would be quite as
interesting as Salisbury Plain, and would give him practice, too, in
estimating square miles; so that there were two for Bredon Hill, as against
one for all the other places.

Gregory, however, was not for Bredon. He wanted to see the flying-ground at
Sheppey, which is in a totally different direction, and perhaps induce
someone with an aeroplane to give him a lift.

Horace Campbell sided with Gregory, while Hester voted continually and
feelingly for Stratford-on-Avon. To see Stratford-on-Avon--that was her
idea: to walk through the same streets as her beloved Shakespeare, to see
the place where his house had stood, to row on his river, to stand by his

When the time came to discuss the journey seriously, it was Hester who won.
Stratford-on-Avon was decided on, with an extension to Bredon Hill as the
farthest point away, returning by way of Cheltenham and Cirencester to
Faringdon (for the White Horse), and then taking train for home, and
leaving Kink and Moses to do the remaining seventy miles alone.

The distance from Bredon to Faringdon through Cheltenham, Cirencester, and
Fairford, was roughly forty-five miles, or five days of nine miles each.
Starting at Oxford, as was proposed, they would be three or four days in
getting to Stratford, and two days there; three days more, at the most, in
getting to Bredon, This would make eleven days altogether, which would
make, with rests on the two Sundays, and one whole day at the White Horse,
the full fortnight.

This, then, is what was at last decided: that Kink should get the caravan
to Oxford and be all ready for the children to join him on the Wednesday
morning. They should go down to Oxford on the day before and be looked
after by Mr. Lenox's young brother, who was at Oriel.

They should leave Oxford in the caravan on the next morning on their way to

The distance from Oxford to Stratford was thirty-nine miles, and it was
decided to do this in three days, which meant thirteen miles a day. The
first night, therefore, would be spent near Wooestock, the next near
Chipping Norton, and the third near Shipston down in the green meadows on
the banks of the Stour. At Stratford they would find Mrs. Avory waiting for
them, and stay with her at the Shakespeare Hotel for a day or so. By that
time they would know exactly how much or how little they liked the caravan,
and what things were necessary; and then Mrs. Avory would go back and they
would begin their real adventures. Could anything be better? Although, of
course, Robert was very contemptuous of the Shakespeare Hotel part of the
programme. "The idea of sleeping in a bed!" he said.

The next thing to do was to apportion the various duties. Kink, of course,
was arranged for; he was to drive and to look after the horse and sleep as
near the caravan as could be managed; while Diogenes was always to be on
guard. Kink also was to see about water.

Janet was purser and steward. She had to decide what food was wanted, and
to keep the money. Hester was the official letter-writer, and was under a
promise to write home every other evening. Robert was the guide and
geographer; he kept the maps. He was also the telegraphist. Mary Rotheram,
who had taken lessons in cooking, was chief cook, and she was to be helped
by Janet. Jack was superintendent of the washing-up, and Horace Campbell
was his principal ally. (How tired they got of it!) Jack, Horace, and
Robert were carriers between the grocer's, the butcher's, the baker's, and
the Slowcoach.

It was arranged that Gregory, being the smallest and weakest, and therefore
the least likely to be refused, should go on and ask leave of the farmers
on whose land it was proposed to rest the caravan at night. Mary Rotheram
should be his companion, and ask for eggs and milk at the same time.

Next came the victualling, and this was exceedingly interesting, although
it made great holes in the sovereign box. Janet and Mary Rotheram sat for
hours over the Stores List, and they were continually taking important
questions to Collins.

"How many tins of mustard ought we to take? A dozen at fourpence? "

"Mustard, Miss Mary? Why, two penny ones would be enough for a month."

(Three and tenpence saved, you see.)

"I say, Collins, how long do eggs boil?"

"Collins, you have to prick sausages, don't you, or else they burst?"

"Collins, how many loaves do eight people want a day?"

"Four, Miss Janet, at the least--large ones."

"Including Kink? " Janet explained.

"Oh, Kink too! Five, then, if not six, the old gormandizer."

"Collins, what's the best part of beef for stewing?"

"Collins, you can put anything into a stew, can't you? Absolutely anything?"

"Collins, if you've put too much pepper into a thing, is there any way of
getting it out again?"

Mrs. Avory was very particular about tinned things. "You must have plenty
of tongues," she said, "in case the fire won't burn or the meat is too
tough;" and privately she instructed Kink to keep an eye on their eating.
"They must eat, Kink, don't forget. Never mind what they say; make them eat
sensibly." To the stores Mrs. Avory herself added a number of tongues and a
good deal of plain chocolate.

The day for Kink's departure--at least three days before the others were to
leave--at last arrived, and by eleven o'clock everything was ready: Kink
was seated on the shafts, with the reins in one hand, and in the other an
ancient map of the road from London to Oxford, which Robert had found in
one of his father's Road Books, of which there were many in the library,
and had carefully traced. It was called _Britannia Depicta;_ OR, _"Ogilby"
Improved,_ 1753, and, so that you may see what kind of help Kink was
offered, I have had the map reproduced here. Kink, I may say, having some
difficulty in reading even the plain print of the morning paper, held the
tracing in his hand only so far as he was in sight. He then folded it up
and placed it in his pocket, and when he was in any doubt as to the way,
asked the first person he met.

Mr. Lenox and Mr. Scott were both there in time to see the start of the
Slowcoach, as they had decided to call it. Also present at the start was
the greater part of adult Chiswick and all its children, who filled the
street opposite "The Gables" and cheered. Kink accepted their enthusiasm
with calm, but as he said afterwards to Collins, "I felt like the Prince of
Wales and all the royal family."

Both Mr. Scott and Mr. Lenox brought contributions to the Slowcoach's
stores. Mr. Scott's was a large bundle of firelighters and twelve dozen
boxes of matches. "You can't have too many matches," he said. Mr. Lenox's
was ointment for blisters.

Uncle Christopher was also there to see the start, and he brought with him
an envelope. "This envelope," he said, "is not to be opened unless you're
in any very serious difficulty. Then open it."

And so, in a scene of wild excitement, Kink cracked his whip, Moses
strained at the collar, the Slowcoach creaked heavily out of the yard, and
its historic journey was begun.


Mr. Lenox's young brother met the party on the Oxford platform. He was
accompanied by two of his friends, who were dressed in grey flannels and
straw hats, and were smoking very large and beautiful pipes. Mr. Lenox's
young brother introduced these friends as Fizzy and Shrimp, and then they
packed themselves into three hansoms and drove off.

Mr. Lenox's young brother led the way with Janet and Mary. Fizzy (at least,
Hester thought it was Fizzy, but it may have been Shrimp) came next with
Hester, Horace, and Gregory; and then came Shrimp (unless it was Fizzy)
with Robert and Jack.

Oxford hansoms are the worst in the world, but seldom has a ride been more
delightful. The three hosts pointed out the colleges as they passed, until
they came, far too soon, to the Mitre, where they were to sleep.

"Now take your things upstairs and make sure where your rooms are, and tidy
up if you want to," said Mr. Lenox's young brother, "and then hop down, and
we'll take you to see the caravan, and show you about a little, and perhaps
go on the river; and in the evening we're going to have supper in my rooms.
Fizzy's going to conjure, and perhaps we'll have charades."

These words made tidying up an even simpler matter than usual, and the
party started off.

Kink, it seems, had reached Oxford that morning, and was at the Green Man,
where the Slowcoach was an object of extraordinary interest to the
neighbourhood. They found him seated on the top step reading the paper,
while forty-five children (at least) stared at him. Diogenes lay at the
foot of the steps.

Kink was very glad to see them. No, he said, he hadn't had any adventures
exactly, but driving a caravan was no work for a modest man who wished for
a quiet life among vegetables.

"This," he said, waving his pipe at the increasing crowd, "is nothing. You
should have see them at Beaconsfield and High Wycombe. They began by
thinking I was Lord John Sanger, and when they were satisfied that I
wasn't, they made sure I was a Cheap Jack with gold watches for a shilling

"How does it go, Kink?" Robert asked.

"It goes all right," said Kink, "but the crockery wants muffling. You can't
hear yourself think when you trot."

"And Diogenes?"

"Diogenes," said Kink, "is a masterpiece. He begins to growl at tramps when
they're half a mile away. Why is it, I wonder," Kink added, "that dogs
can't abide ragged clothes? This Oxford, they tell me, "is a clever place. I
wonder if anyone here can explain that?"

Mr. Lenox's young brother and his friends had now to be shown the
Slowcoach, which they pronounced "top hole," and then Moses was inspected
in his stable; and, this being done, they were ready for the river--or,
rather, for the ices at a pastrycook's shop in the High Street--called the
High--which were, to precede the river.

Then they all trooped down to the boats and had a perfect hour's rowing;
and then they explored Oxford a little, and saw Tom Quad at Christ Church
(or "The House," as it is called), and were shown the rooms in which the
author of "Alice in Wonderland" lived for so many years; and so right up
through the city to Magdalen Grove, where the deer live, and Magdalen
Tower, on the top of which the May Day carols are sung.

Mr. Lenox's young brother lived in rooms outside his college; he would not
enter the college until next term. They were in Oriel Lane, and exceedingly
comfortable, with at least twenty pipes in a pipe-rack on the wall, and at
least thirty photographs of his favourite actresses, chiefly Pauline Chase,
and five cricket-bats in the corner, and about forty walking-sticks, and a
large number of puzzles of the "Pigs in Clover" type, which nearly drove
Gregory mad while supper was being prepared.

The preparation consisted merely of the entrance of one man after another
carrying silver dishes; for everything was cold, although exceedingly
sumptuous and solid. There were chickens all covered with a beautiful thick
whitewash, on which little hearts and stars cut out of truffles were
sprinkled. There was a tongue all over varnish, like the dainty foot of a
giant Cinderella. There were custards and tarts and jellies. There were
also bottles exactly like champagne bottles, which, however, contained
ginger ale, and for Mr. Lenox's young brother and his friends there were
silver tankards of beer. It was, in short, not a supper, but, as Mary
Rotheram expressed it, using her favourite adjective at the moment, a
supreme banquet.

Then another friend, with spectacles, called the Snarker, came in, and they
began. Mr. Lenox's young brother was a very attentive host, and made
everyone eat too much. Then he made a speech to propose the health of the
Slowcoaches, as he called them, and to wish them a prosperous journey.
"That you will all be happy," he said, very gravely, in conclusion, "is our
earnest wish. But the one thing which my friends and I desire more than any
other--and I assure you that they are with me most cordially in this
sentiment (aren't you, Fizzy? aren't you, Shrimp? aren't you,
Snarker?)--the one thing that we desire more than any other is, that you
may never be run in for exceeding the speed limit." This was a very
successful joke.

After supper came Fizzy's conjuring tricks, which were not very bewildering
to children who had once had a real conjurer from the Stores, as these had,
and then a charade played by Mary, Horace, Fizzy, and Shrimp for the others
to guess.

The first act represented a motorist (Fizzy) who ran over and killed an old
woman (Mary), and was arrested by a policeman (Horace), and fined
eighteenpence by a magistrate (Shrimp).

The second was a cockney scene in which two costers (Fizzy and Shrimp) took
their girls (Mary and Horace) to Hampstead Heath to 'ave fun.

The third was Henry VIII. (Shrimp) receiving Anne of Cleves (Fizzy) and her
Maid of Honour (Mary), and telling Wolsey (Horace) to prepare the divorce,
because she was a " great Flanders mare."

You see the whole word, of course--Car-'ave-Anne.

Finally the Snarker said that they must play one writing game before they
went home. The Snarker, it seemed, came from a family which was devoted to
writing games, and had even made improvements in "Consequences," which is,
when you all know each other extrernely well, the best writing game of all.
But among strangers, as the Snarker explained, it was not so good, because
they can't understand the jokes against uncles and aunts.

They did not, therefore, play "Consequences," but instead wrote what the
Snarker called "composite stories." That is to say, they each took a large
sheet of paper and began at the top a story, writing as much as they could
in two minutes. Then the paper was passed on, and the story continued by
the next person, until all had had one turn. Then the original beginners
each finished his story, and they were read out.

As there were eleven playing, this meant there were eleven stories; but I
will copy only one of them. (Janet kept the papers, or I should not be able
to do that.)

This is the one which was begun by Hester, who liked to be serious and
mysterious in her work, and was almost vexed when others turned it to
nonsense. She called it "The Secret of the Castle," and began it like this:

"It was a dark and gloomy night in the year 1135, when the young Lord
Almeric reached his impressive and ancestral home. Nothing could be heard
but the sighing of the wind in the turrets and the moaning of Boris, the
great wolfhound. Lord Almeric had ridden far, and was tired, and the
gloominess of his ancestral home weighed on his spirits, which were
naturally buoyant and high. Flinging himself from his gaily comparisoned
horse, and tossing the rein with a muttered, 'Here, varlet!' to the waiting
groom, he opened the massive doors and entered the hall. What was his
amazement to see--"

"Time!" called the Snarker, who had his watch before him, and Hester had to

Gregory came next. His idea of the game was not very clear, to begin with,
and he had some difficulty in reading what was written, so he was able to
write very little, and that not too helpfully. He therefore wrote words
that were always near his heart:

"--a flying-machine."

and that was all.

Then came Janet. Always wishing to be kind and make things easy, she longed
to get the story back into the spirit and period of poor little romantic
Hester's opening passages. But Gregory had spoiled everything. Janet,
however, did her best:

"The young lord drew back with a start, for he could hardly believe his eyes.

'What,' he exclaimed, 'is this strange mixture of wires and wings? Can my
father's astrologer have really done it at last after all these fruitless
years? He must indeed have been busy since I rode forth to battle.
Eftsoons, do I dream or wake?' He touched the strange thing cautiously, but
it did not bite, and gradually there came upon him an exceeding desire to
fly. 'By my halidom,' he cried, 'I will e'en inquire further into this

Next came Fizzy, who was bent on being funny at any cost. He wrote:

"--as the man said, sticking his fork into the German sausage. 'What ho, my
merry minions, help!' he cried; 'let us draw forth the areoplane into the
home meadow, for I would fain experiment with it. A lord is no lord unless
he can daunt the swallow and the pigeon. So saying, he rang the alarm-bell,
which was only kept for fires and burglaries, and summoned the household.
'A murrain on ye for being so pestilent slow!' he shouted. 'Gadsooth, ye
knaves! let loose the petrol, or I soar not into the zenith.'"

Then came Mary, who naturally had no patience with nonsense. She ignored
Fizzy's contribution completely, and got back to romance:

"Meanwhile, seated in her room in the home turret sat the lovely Lady
Elfrida, the picture of woe. Why did her lord tarry? Had she not heard him
ride into the courtyard and give his palfrey to the waiting serf? Yet where
was he? He was to spring up the stairs lightly as a roebuck of the
mountains to welcome her, and now where was he? Little did she guess--"

Here Shrimp took the paper and wrote:

"--that a brand-new monoplane was blocking up the stairs, so big that not a
roebuck on earth could jump it. But what of the secret of the castle? Was
that the secret? No. Why did the wind shriek and the deerhound moan? If you
would know this, reader, come with me down the dungeon steps and unbar
yonder dark door. For there in the dark recess of that terrible cell lay--"

The Shrimp, even although time had not been called, was very glad to leave
off here. Robert took the paper. He read the narrative as well as he could,
and added these words:

"But I cannot bring my pen to write the word. It was a secret; indeed, the
secret of the castle. No wonder that the dog moaned and the wind howled and
the Lady Elfrida grieved."

The Snarker, who, after all, had begun the wretched game, and whose duty it
was, therefore, to pull this ruin of a story together again, ought to have
played fair; but instead he went back to what Fizzy had called an
"areoplane," spelling not being taught at Oxford. He therefore wrote:

"And meanwhile, what of the aeroplane? Fortunately, the night was short,
and there was soon enough light by which to fly, and in a brief time the
seneschals and myrmidons had the great machine in the midst of the
tourney-ground, all ready for flight. Lord Almeric seated himself and
grasped the lever. A firm push from the willing arms of a hundred carles
and hinds, and he was in the air. 'Ah,' he cried, 'odds bodkins, this is
indeed life! Never have I felt such sensations. I will never walk or ride
again. I will sell my motorcar and my horses and my boots. Flying is for me
for ever!"'

Jack now took the paper:

"Lord Almeric was always a very clever man, and it was nothing to him that
he had never flown before. He had studied the pictures of the flying men in
the illustrated papers while waiting at the dentist's, and he knew the
principles of mechanics. No wonder, then, that he flew with perfect
control, circling the home turret, where the Lady Elfrida was still
weeping, with the greatest ease, and calling to her messages of comfort,

Here the Snarker called "Time!" again, and Mr. Lenox's young brother took
the paper:

"--she could not hear. 'Come down, good lord, or of a verity thou wilt fall
and crack thy coxcomb!' shouted the major-domo from beneath; but the
intrepid Almeric heeded not the warning, and only rose higher and higher,
nearer and nearer to the stars. And then, suddenly, there was an awful
shriek, and his body was seen to be hurtling steadily and surely towards
the earth, gaining speed with every revolution. 'Help, help!' they cried;
'he must be dashed to pieces; nothing can save him.' But at that moment --"

Here Horace had to go on. He was not a literary boy, and it took him more
than one minute to read all that had gone before. All he could therefore
add was:

"--he woke up. 'Where am I?' he said. 'You have fallen out of bed,' said
Lady Elfrida."

Poor Hester! her face was a picture of perplexity and indignation when she
came to read the story all through. There was clearly no sensible ending
possible, and she therefore merely wrote:

"Not to this day has the secret of the Castle been solved, but visitors are
still shown, on payment of a shilling each, the place where Lord Almeric
dreamed he fell from a flying-machine in the year 1135."

And then Mr. Lenox's young brother and his friends took them back to the
Mitre, and said good-night.


Mr. Lenox's young brother gave them a tremendous breakfast, and called in
Fizzy and Shrimp and the Snarker to help, and then Janet paid the bill at
the Mitre and bought a few things, including two cold chickens, and they
all went down to the little inn yard together and found Kink waiting for

Janet, whose duties as paymaster had now begun in earnest, also paid Kink's
bill; Robert set his pedometer at zero; and the whole party started,
followed by the crowd of idle men and children to which they were destined
to become so accustomed. For a caravan with people in it who are not
gipsies is still an excitement in England.

Kink drove and the others walked behind, or by the side, or in
front--mostly in front, for it was soon discovered that Moses had a slower
walk than any other of the party--in fact, two miles an hour was more than
his rate, although Kink assured them that he could trot from four to five
on the level, and keep it up.

It was a fine but rather windy day, and the dust flew about a little too
much; but everything was too fresh and exciting for that to matter. What is
a little dust on the first day of a caravan expedition!

Mr. Lenox's young brother and his jolly friends turned back at Wolvercot,
as there was work to do even at Oxford. It was not until their last waving
handkerchiefs were out of sight that the children really felt themselves at
the start of their adventurous enterprise. In fact, Robert put the feeling
into words. "Now we're beginning," he said.

Up to this time all had walked; but, glancing at Gregory's lagging legs,
Janet soon began to assume the little mother once again. In consultation
with Kink, it was decided that on fairly level roads Moses was equal to the
Slowcoach plus four passengers, and it was therefore agreed that there
should never be more than that number riding at once, but, in order that no
one should be too tired, they should take it in turns to enjoy these short
periods of ease.

The arrangement made it necessary to appoint a new officer, who was called
the Regulator of Rests, and Mary Rotheram was chosen. Her duties were not
quite as simple as they sound, because Gregory, the youngest, and Hester,
being not very much older and not very strong, were to have more rides than
anyone else; Kink also must be allowed to ride a good deal. And this meant
a little calculation; but Mary was always good at arithmetic.

Gregory, of course, refused point blank to ride a single yard; but he was
rarely sorry, none the less, when the time came to climb the steps and
settle down in a chair.

They had lunch that first day near Yarnton, without making any camp or
cooking anything. The cooking was to be saved for the evening. They merely
tore the two cold chickens to pieces and ate them with bread-and-butter and
stone ginger beer from an inn beside the road. It is much the best way with
a cold chicken. Afterwards bananas, which someone had told Mrs. Avory were
the most sustaining of fruit.

Robert had arranged an easy day to begin with, and they were to go no
farther than Woodstock, where, for those not too tired, there was Blenheim
to see, the wonderful house of the Duke of Marlborough, and Fair Rosamond's
Bower, and the park and the lake. Hester even had hopes of finding a
distressed Blenheim spaniel puppy in some romantic sort of way, and
adopting it for life.

But there were none of these things for them. Indeed, caravaners very soon
get out of the habit of making plans at all. It is all too uncertain. The
only things that really are certain are work and delay. They got no nearer
to Blenheim than to peer through its gates and to recite, very imperfectly,
the verses about old Caspar's work and little Wilhelmine.

At about half-past three they entered Woodstock, and, after passing through
the village and doing a little shopping there, surrounded by all
Woodstock's children who were not in school, they began to look about for a
camping-place. And this needs more thought than one might suppose, for
there must be some shelter from the wind, and water must not be too
distant. Also one does not want to be very close to a busy and dusty road.

Kink, who had gone off on a little tour of inspection, came back at last
and said he had found an excellent field, high and dry, and sheltered too.
Stopping a labourer, they found that the farmer was Mr. Gosden, of
Blackett's; and Gregory and Mary Rotheram hurried off to the farm-house,
which was a few fields off, to ask permission, and get some milk, and
perhaps eggs and butter.

They found the door of the kitchen open, but no one there. It was a large,
low kitchen, with a very red brick floor, and it led into the dairy, where
they could see the flat pans of milk. The fire was burning so brightly that
they knew the farmer's wife could not be far away. Over the mantelpiece was
a gun. Two or three highly polished and highly coloured grocer's
calendars--pictures of beautiful women--were on the walls. Sides of bacon
hung from the ceiling. The whole place smelled of wood smoke and plenty.
The children noticed all these things as they stood in the doorway, every
now and then knocking.

At last they heard steps, and a very wide and smiling woman entered the
kitchen from another door.

"Well," she asked, "what can I do for you? "

Gregory, proud to be really beginning his duties, said: "Please, may we
camp tonight in one of your fields? We're living in a caravan."

"You've come to the wrong person," said Mrs. Gosden. "That's my husband's
affair, and he's rather particular. He's gone to Chipping Norton; but," she
added, as Gregory began to look miserable, "he'll be back any minute now.
You sit down and have a cup of tea with me and wait for him."

So they sat down, and Mrs. Gosden made the tea, which she took from a
highly coloured tin, covered also with beautiful women, and they had with
it bread and butter and lettuce, and talked.

"And how do you like gipsying?" Mrs. Gosden asked.

"I think it's going to be splendid," Mary said; "but we've only just begun."

"Then you haven't slept out before?"

"No," said Mary.

"My word!" said Mrs. Gosden; "what sore throats you'll have in the morning!
Roughing it's all very well by day, but give me a comfortable bed to lay in
of a night. That's me!"

At this moment the sound of wheels was heard, and Mrs. Gosden jumped up and
added some hot water to the tea and cut some more bread-and-butter. "That's
father," she said, and Mr. Gosden soon after came in.

He was a big man with whiskers under his chin all the way round, but none
on the rest of his face.

"Hello!" he said; "visitors!"

"Yes," said Mrs. Gosden, "a young lady and gentleman who are living in a
caravan, and want to camp in the hay takers. At least, I think it's the hay
takers from what they say of it."

"Ho, do they?" said Mr. Gosden. "A nice state of things," he added with a
twinkle, "when every one who comes to ask leave to spoil one of my fields
gets a nice tea given them!" and he laughed.

"We shouldn't spoil it," said Gregory.

"Well," said Mr. Gosden, "perhaps you'll tell me how you make a fire. Isn't
it on the ground? And what do you do with your rubbish? Clean it up and
take it along with you? Not too likely. I've had caravaners here before."

"We will," said Mary, "I promise"--seeing as she spoke the necessity of a
new official being appointed at once: the Remover of Camp Litter.

"I said the other day," continued the farmer, "that never again would I let
a caravan into my fields, didn't I, Bet? And how can I go back on that?"

"You did say it," said Mrs. Gosden, "true enough, but you're halways
breaking your word. You said you'd bring me a new alarm clock the next
time you went to Oxford, and I've never got it yet, and that's months ago."

"Never mind," said Mr. Gosden; "it means longer in bed for you. Well," he
added to Mary, "I'll come down with you and look at the turnout and see.
But I must finish my tea first."

Never, thought Mary, could anyone have eaten so much tea or taken so long
over it, and she was in despair about the others waiting in the road,
hungry and impatient; but there was nothing for it but to be quiet, and at
last Mr. Gosden was ready.

The others, it was true, had become very tired of waiting, but they had
spent some of the time in bringing water from the nearest cottage. No one
who gets really cross from waiting should ever go away in a caravan. Mr.
Gosden had a good look at all of them and at Kink before he said anything.
He then gave them leave to camp very near the hedge, and he asked them to
promise to be gone by ten the next morning, as he had some cattle coming
in, and to clear up thoroughly, and then off he went. He stepped back to
tell them to come up to the farm in the morning for milk and butter and to
report on their night, and started off once more.

Gregory, who had clearly been puzzling over something, ran after him.

"Well?" said Mr. Gosden.

"Where do they take the hay?" Gregory said.

"Who? " Mr. Gosden asked.

"The hay takers," said Gregory.

"I don't understand," said Mr Gosden.

"What hay takers? It's not a hay meadow. We graze it."

"Mrs. Gosden," said Gregory, "called the field the hay takers."

Mr. Gosden laughed loudly. " That's my missis's pronounciation," he said.
"She's much too fond of haitches: she will put them in the wrong place. I
often correct her, but it's no use. It's nothing to do with hay. It's the
size of the field--the size, don't you see? The eight acres: that's what
she meant to say, bless her old heart!"


"Well," said Janet, "that's a very nice start. It would have been horrid if
the first farmer had been crusty."

"Ah," said Mary Rotheram, "but you should see his wife! It was she who did
it for us really. Perhaps after dinner we might walk up there to thank

After dinner! How recklessly young caravaners can talk. But you shall hear....

Kink with much skill got Moses and the Slowcoach into the field and shut
the gate, and then the great carriage rocked and swayed over the grass,
making no sound but a mixture of creaking and crockery. At last he brought
it to a stand just under a tall hedge, and Moses was at once taken out and
roped to a crowbar driven in the ground.

"The first thing," said Janet, "is the fire," and Jack and Horace were sent
off to collect wood and pile it near the Slowcoach, and fix the tripod over
it. As it was quite dry, one of Mr. Scott's lighters soon had it blazing,
and Mary, as chief cook, threw quickly into the water in the pot the large
piece of brisket they had bought at Woodstock, together with potatoes and
carrots and little onions and pepper and salt.

That done, and leaving Horace with strict orders to keep the fire fed, the
others began to unpack. First of all mackintosh sheets and rugs were thrown
on the ground round the fire, and then Robert and Jack drew out their tent
and set it up on the farther side of the fire, some four or five yards
away, so that the fire was midway between the tent and the caravan.

The tent was similar to those which gipsies use--not with a central pole,
but stretched over half-hoops which were stuck in the ground. It was wide
enough for three boys to lie comfortably in their sleeping-bags side by
side. Gregory was to sleep in the caravan with the girls; Kink was to go to

Meanwhile, with all of them, except Mary and Gregory, who had done well
with Mrs. Gosden's tea, the pangs of hunger were at work, and the steam of
the great iron pot hanging over the fire did nothing to allay them. Mary
and Janet every now and then thrust a fork into the meat, but its
resistance to the point was heart-breaking.

"Hadn't you better have some biscuits to go on with?" Janet said at last;
but the others refused. It would spoil the stew, they thought.

"At any rate," Janet said, "let's get everything ready, not only for
supper,"-- you see, it wasn't called dinner any longer,--"but for
washing-up afterwards."

So Kink went off for some more water, and a large basin was set on a box,
and dishcloths were put by it; and a rackety search began for plates, and
knives and forks, and mugs, and tinned fruits, and more plates and spoons
and moist sugar, and all the other things which appear on our tables at
mealtimes as naturally as leaves on the trees, but which in a caravan mean
so much fuss and perplexity. In fact, all the children returned home with a
vastly increased respect for the ability and punctuality of Collins and
Eliza Pollard and Jan Masters.

For a while the air was simply full of questions and remarks, some of which
I copy down, and you may guess who asked them.

"I say, Janet, where's the tin-opener?"

"Janet, dear, ought we to have napkins?"

"Hester, you little nuisance, get off that box; it's got the bread in it."

"Hester, stop reading and come and help."

"Horace, the fire's nearly out."

"I wish some of you would stop talking and tell me where the tin-opener is."

"Jack, you lazy ruffian, why don't you get some more sticks?"

"I say, Kink, do you think this old brisket will ever be done?"

"Kink, does it ruin potatoes and things to stew too long?"

"Kink, is there any decent way of opening a tin without a tin-opener?"

"I'm perfectly certain the sugar was in this cupboard. Gregory, have you
been at the sugar? "

"It's a good deal harder than a rock, still."

"Can you make a tin-opener out of a fork? "

"I am perfectly certain I saw the corkscrew this morning."

"Oh, I say, I didn't come out in this old caravan to die of hunger and

"Mary, where did you put the milkjug? "

"Let's have that beast of a brisket out and cut him up, and put him in
again in smaller pieces."

"Oh, Jack, how clever you are! However did you think of that?"

"I expect it's hunger sharpening his wits."

"I say, it's all very well to say cut him up small; but he's red hot. I'm
scalded horribly."

"So am I."

"Yes, and so am I, the way you make him jump about. It splashed right over

"Kink, come and help us hold the brisket down while we cut him up."

The result of all this confusion was the appointment of two or three new
officials. Horace was made Keeper of the Tinopener, and Gregory Keeper of
the Cork screw, while Jack was given the title of Preserver of Enough Oil
in the Beatrice Stove, because you can do wonders with a Beatrice stove
while waiting for the real fire to burn up--but only if there's oil in it.

Jack's brilliant device of slicing the brisket was successful, and by
half-past seven they were seated on their rugs round the fire eating the
most supreme stew of the century, as Mary Rotheram called it. They ate it
in soup-plates, with a great deal of juice, into which they dropped their

Suddenly old Kink, who had been eating steadily for a quarter of an hour
just outside the circle, stepped up to what we may call the supper-table,
with his watch in his hand.

"Miss Janet," he said, "there's only a quarter of an hour to get to
Woodstock to send off the telegram."

Janet looked at the official telegraphist in alarm. "Oh, Bobbie," she said,
"how dreadful if we had missed it! You must simply run!"

Robert sprang to his feet in a moment.

"Give me a shilling," he said. "I'll make it up as I go along. Keep some
tinned pears for me."

"I'll come too," said Jack, and off they bolted.

They reached the post-office just in time to despatch this message:

"Avory Gables Chiswick just finished glorious brisket all well love."

On their return Robert and Jack found washing-up in full swing, and were
not sorry to be able to eat their pears in comfort and watch the others
being busy.

The light was now going fast; the bats flitted over their heads, and there
was no sound save the talking and clattering of the washers-up and the
grinding of Diogenes's teeth on the brisket bone. Various projects for
spending the last hours of the day had been talked of, but now that it was
here no one seemed to have the slightest energy left either to walk into
Blenheim Park or cross the three or four fields to Blackett's. In fact,
they wanted but one thing, and that was to creep into their very novel beds
and see what it was like to sleep like gipsies.

Everything was therefore put ready for breakfast. A last load of wood was
brought for the fire, Diogenes was transferred to the long rope which
enabled him to range all round the camp, and Kink said good night and
trudged off to the village inn.

And so the first night began.

Gregory was a little fractious for a while, considering it an indignity to
be sleeping in the caravan instead of with the men; but he was no sooner
tucked into his berth than he fell asleep and forgot the insult. The girls
were also very soon on their little shelves, either sleeping or drowsily
enjoying the thought of sleep; but Robert and Jack and Horace did not
hurry. The fire was still warm, and they huddled round it with Diogenes,
and talked, and listened to Moses crunching the grass, and made plans for
the morrow. Then at last they carried the sheeting and the rugs to the
tent, and crept into their sacks and prepared to sleep.

With the exception of Gregory, no one slept very well. Hester was
frightened by an owl which hooted close to the caravan, and Janet had to
hold her hand for quite a long time, which is a very uncomfortable thing to
do when you are in the berth below, and then, just as she was going off
again, a rabbit, pursued by a stoat, screamed right under their wheels, as
it seemed, and Hester's fright began anew.

Jack and Horace were probably a little over excited, for they were very
restless; and to be restless on the hard ground-- with no springs, as in
our beds at home--is to get sore and wakeful; while Robert was intently
conscious of every sound and if you sleep in a field you hear thousands of
them--all the rustlings of the little shy nocturnal animals, tiny
squeakings and shrillings in the grass, as well as the cries of the birds
of prey. Now and then, too, a spider ran over his face and made him jump,
and very early the strong light poured into the mouth of the tent and made
it seem absurd to be in bed any longer.

The result was, that it was not till the morning that they began to sleep
properly at all, and that made them much less ready to get up than they had
expected to be.


The arrival of Kink at half-past six was a great relief. Robert hailed him,
and Kink said it was a beautiful morning.

"Don't you get up yet," he said, after Robert and Janet had both told him
of the night. "I'll make the fire and boil the kettle, and fetch water, and
so on, and you get up when I tell you. Otherwise, you'll all be too tired
and get ill."

And so they had the blessed experience of lying still and drowsy, and
hearing Kink move about for their comfort.

The boys were up first, and made extremely noisy toilets in the washing-up
basin, and then Jack and Gregory went off to the farm for milk and butter
and eggs, and Mrs. Gosden, who seemed, early as it was, to be in the very
middle of a day's work, and who refused to believe that the boys were not
deceiving her when they denied having sore throats, gave them leave to
gather strawberries, so that their return to the Slowcoach was a new

Their breakfast was chiefly scrambled eggs, ham, and strawberries, and by
ten o'clock, true to their bargain, they were out of the field and on the
highroad, and no sign of their camp remained, save a black circle caused by
the fire and a slight crushing of the grass all round it.

They had gone a very little way before Robert, who had already been to
Woodstock with the morning telegram, began to realize that he was in for a
blister on his left heel, and, on asking the others, he found that they
were not too comfortable either.

"This means," he told Mary, speaking to her in her oflicial capacity of
Regulator of Rests, "that we shall have to ride a good deal, because we
simply must go twelve miles today, or we shan't be at Stratford in time
for mother tomorrow afternoon."

Mary therefore ordered them in and out of the Slowcoach with great
frequency, but it was not a great deal of use, for they hobbled more and

At Enstone they stopped for lunch, which consisted of a tongue and bananas
and ginger beer; and here they met a friendly tinker, drinking his ale
outside the inn, who, noticing their lameness, gave them some good advice.
"If you can't stop and rest," he said, "you should soap your stockings, and
it's a good thing now and then to change the stockings from left to right.

They found that the soap was really useful, and got on much better, and a
little later they were overtaken by two young men on a walking tour, who
slowed down to fall into step for a while with Robert and Jack. One gave
them some hints. "When you are very tired," he said, "it helps to hold
something in front of you at full length--even a walking stick will do, or
a coat rolled up. It pulls you along. You look like an idiot, of course, but
that doesn't matter. No one who minds looking foolish will ever have a
really good time. It is a good thing to prevent a stitch in your side to
carry a little pebble in your mouth. Squeezing a cork in each hand helps."

"Another way to make walking easier," said the other young man, "is to sing
as you go. All sing together--marching songs, if you know any, such as
'Tramp, boys, tramp.' That's what soldiers do on long marches, and it makes
all the difference."

They didn't take the road to Chipping Norton, but stopped at the town,
while Kink, who had no blisters, went into the town to get the evening's
dinner; and meanwhile Janet persuaded the Beatrice stove to give them tea.
It was while here that they had their first experience of Diogenes as a
guardian, for he frightened away two tramps who seemed likely to be

On Kink's return, Robert urged them on, for he had marked down on his map a
spot called the Hollow, about five miles farther on, near Long Compton,
which sounded exceedingly attractive as a campingground, especially to one
who had read "Lavengro" and remembered the Dingle there, near Long Melton;
and hither,
very footsore, but still brave and happy, they came about half-past four,
and made a very snug camp in it without asking anyone's leave.

It was not time for supper, and they were very glad to lie about and be
lazy while the stew was slowly cooking. Robert and Janet and Mary consulted
very deeply about the morrow, and at last decided that it would be best to
remain there all the day and get their blisters cured with Mr. Lenox's
ointment, and therefore a telegram would have to go to Mrs. Avory at once,
telling her not to go to Stratford till Saturday, "and also," Robert added,
"to bring my bicycle. We can easily fasten it on the roof, and it's going
to be frightfully necessary often and often. This evening, for instance.
Here we are, goodness knows how far from a telegraph-office, and everyone
lame except Kinky, who'll have to go."

Kink, however, had luck, for he met a baker's cart on its way to Chipping
Norton, and the man not only said he would take the telegram and the
letter, but he agreed to bring out a number of things to eat the next day.

Feeling rested and well fed, they therefore went to bed that Thursday night
much more likely to sleep than on the night before.

And, indeed, everyone did sleep well, except, once again, Robert. Whatever
the reason, he was very wide awake; and at some hour in the middle of the
night he crept out of his sack and walked into the open, away from the
trees, intent upon comparing the magnetic north--which his compass gave
him--with the true north, which anyone can find by looking at the Great
Bear sprawling across the skies and getting the Pole Star from its

Having marked the difference on the glass of his compass with a spot of ink
from his fountain-pen, Robert returned to the Hollow; but to his
astonishment and alarm, on reaching the caravan he could not find the tent.
There was the Slowcoach right enough, with its white blinds glimmering, and
he could hear Moses munching close by; but there was no tent, and
apparently no Diogenes.

Robert was not a timid boy, but the lateness of the hour and the loneliness
of the place and this extraordinary occurrence affected his nerves, so that
he suddenly had a panic, and, running up the steps, he beat on the
caravan-door as if wolves were after him.

"Hullo! hullo!" cried a gruff voice that certainly did not belong to any of
the girls. "What the dickens do you want?"

Robert nearly fell off the steps in his surprise. "Please," he said, "I
want the Slowcoach."

For answer the door opened, and a big head and beard and a pyjama arm were
pushed out.

"Slowcoach?" the head said. "What Slowcoach? There's no Slowcoach here."

"The Slowcoach is the name of our caravan," said Robert.

"Oh, it is? " said the head. "Then it's over there. I saw it as I came in.
This is the Snail."

"Thank you very much," said Robert, who had quite recovered his composure.
"How late are you going to stay here in the morning?"

"I don't know," said the head, yawning vastly. "It depends on the country.
I shan't go till after breakfast, anyhow. But I'm much too tired to talk
now. Goodnight, Slowcoach."

"Good night, Snail," said Robert.

And that is how the Avories came to know the great Hamish MacAngus; for
when Robert led them round to visit him the next morning ("And it is right
for us to call first," said Janet, "since we have lived here longer"), they
found that the owner of the Snail was nothing less than the famous--But I
must tell you in the next chapter.


Mr. MacAngus had just finished his ham and eggs, and was lighting his pipe.

"Good morning, Slowcoaches," he said. "I'm very pleased to see you. Sit
down wherever you like. Furniture by Dame Nature; everything as nice as
Mother makes it. This is a friendly, reasonable hour to meet. That young
brother of yours--I suppose he is your brother"--pointing to Robert--"pays
calls in the middle of the night. He seems to think every caravan in the
world belongs to him. How a man who lives in a London terrace knows his
house I never could understand, but to recognize one's own caravan ought to
be quite easy."

Mr MacAngus, you must understand, did not say all this in one breath, for he
was a slow man. But it reads as if he did, because none of the others
uttered a word. It was all too bewildering and also too amusing. He was so
big and so strange, and he had such a twinkle in his eye, that they
preferred to let him go on, knowing that whatever he said would be

"Well," he said at last, "now we must stop talking nonsense and introduce
ourselves. But first I should like you all to guess who I am and what I do
for a living. You first," he said, pointing to Janet.

"I think you are a kind of hermit," she said at last.

"Right," he said. "But that's not enough. What do I do? You," he added,
pointing to Mary, "what do you think I do?"

"Perhaps you lecture," said Mary, "or preach. No, I don't think you preach.
I think very likely you speak to villagers about politics--tariff reform
and things like that."

The big man laughed. "Very well," he said. "Now you," to Robert.

"I think you're a gentleman gipsy," said Robert. "Like Lavengro. Are you? "

"In a way," said the stranger, "but I shan't tell you till you've all

Jack Rotheram then guessed that he was a spy, and this amused him immensely.

"In a kind of way I am that too," he answered. "At any rate, I am always
looking out for the fatness of the land."

Hester guessed he had a broken heart because of a disappointment in love,
and was living all alone because he hated the world, like Lord Byron.

He liked this most of all, and laughed for a long time--much longer, he
explained afterwards, than a broken-hearted Lord Byron would have done.

Horace Campbell did not exactly guess, but said that he hoped that the
stranger was a gentleman burglar--a kind of Raffles and Robin Hood in
one--who robbed only the wicked rich and helped the poor. "As," he added,
"I want to."

"Oh, do you?" said the big man. "Well, don't rob me, anyway. Wait till I
have led the Snail to a place of safety."

And lastly Gregory guessed. "I think," he said, "you are a vagabond."

"Gregory!" cried Janet; "you mustn't say things like that," while the
stranger laughed again.

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