Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Slowcoach by E. V. Lucas

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

It was a delightful farm. There was everything that one wants in a farm,--a
pond with ducks; a haystack half cut, so that one might jump about on it;
straw ricks on stone posts; cowsheds smelling so warm and friendly, with
swallows darting in and out of the doorway to their nests in the roof;
stables with gentle horses who ate the green stuff you gave them without
biting you; guinea-pigs, the property of Master Walter Pescod, who was a
weekly boarder at Cirencester; fantail pigeons; bantams; ferrets, very
frightening to everyone but Kink, who knew just how to hold them; and a
turnip-slicer, which Gregory turned for some time, munching turnip all the

Mrs. Pescod led the girls round with her on an egg-hunt, which is always
one of the most interesting expeditions in life; and Mr. Pescod, as the
evening drew on, allowed the boys to accompany him with his gun to get a
rabbit or two under the hedge, and he permitted Jack to fire it off.
Nothing happened except that Jack was nearly knocked backwards by the
"kick"; but he was very proud of the bruise, and when he returned to
Chiswick showed it to his father and to William in triumph.

It was getting purple then, with green edges, and Dr. Rotheram pronounced
it one of the best bruises he had ever seen. "Good enough," he said, "to
have killed a lion with."

"Yes," said William, "instead of missing a rabbit."

Mrs. Pescod, of course, wanted the children to sleep indoors, but they
would not. "It is our very last night in the caravan," said Janet, "and we
couldn't give it up." So Mrs. Pescod instead made them promise to come to
breakfast, and gave them each a large cake of her own making in case they
felt hungry in the night.



After receiving a thousand messages for Collins, both affectionate and
jocular--one from Mr. Pescod being on no account to forget to tell her to
try anti-fat--they said good-bye to these kind folk and marched into
Faringdon the next morning, very sorry it was the last, but determined to
make a brave show. Through watery Lechdale they went, over the Isis (as the
Thames is called here), and past Buscot.

It was just after leaving Buscot that Gregory, who had been ahead alone,
suddenly rushed back in a wild state of excitement.

"What do you think I've seen?" he panted. "A giant! A real live giant!"

"Don't be an ass!" said Jack

"But I have," he protested--"I have. He's there in that wood, kneeling by
the stream, washing his face. I watched him walk to it. He's enormous! He's
as tall as this caravan nearly. Do come and peep at him."

They all very readily accompanied Gregory into the wood, and there, sure
enough, was a giant, combing his hair.

He heard them coming, and looked round. They stopped, open-eyed and

"Here, I say," the giant said at last, "this won't do. You mustn't look at
me like that--free. It's a penny each, you know."

He had a broad Yorkshire accent and a kind face.

"Where do you come from?" he asked.

"We come from London," said Janet. "We are on a caravan journey."

"A caravan journey," said the giant. "So am I. I always am, in fact."

"Are you?" said Gregory. "How splendid!"

"Splendid!" said the giant. "Do you think so? I'd give a good deal to sleep
in a bed in a house. Excuse me if I sit down," he added. "My legs aren't
very strong."

He sat down, but even then he was taller than any of the children.

"Where is your caravan?" Janet asked.

"Just over there," the giant said. "They're waiting for me. I came here to
make my toilet. Where are you going?"

"We're going to Faringdon," said Robert.

"That's where we've come from," said the giant. "There's been a fair there.
We're going to Cirencester."

"What a shame!" said Horace. "That means we've missed you."

"But you're seeing me now," said the giant, adding again, with his
Yorkshire laugh, "free."

"I know," said Jack,. "but that's not the same as at a fair. The naphtha
lamps, you know."

The giant shuddered. "I like to be away from them," he said.

"Who else is there with you?" asked Gregory.

"The King," said the giant.

"The King!" they all exclaimed.

"Yes, King Pip. He's a dwarf. We travel together, but we show separately. A
penny each."

"Might we see him if we paid a penny?" Janet asked.

"I shouldn't if I were you," said the giant.

"Why not?" said Gregory. "Isn't he nice?"

"No," said the giant very firmly. "He's not; he's nasty."

"I'm so sorry," said Janet.

"So am I," said the giant.

"I've always liked giants best," said Mary.

"But why don't you leave him?" said Jack.

"I can't," said the giant. "We don't belong to ourselves. We belong to Mr.
Kite. Mr. Kite is the showman."

"And did you sell yourself to him like a slave?" Hester asked.

The giant laughed. "Very much like a slave," he said. "You see, there's
nothing else to do when you're big like me and have no money. I'm too weak
to work, and it's ridiculous, too. No one ought to be so big. So I must do
what I can."

"What's the matter with King Pip?" Robert asked.

"He's selfish and bad-tempered," said the giant. "He thinks it's a fine
thing to be so small."

"And you think it a fine thing to be so big, don't you?" said Robert.

The giant opened his blue eyes. "I! Not me. I'd give everything I ever
possessed to be five feet seven instead of seven feet five. It's never done
me any good."

"But it's rather grand to be as big as that," Robert suggested.

"Grand! You may have the grandeur. It's worse than being a criminal. I
can't walk out unless it's pitch dark or very early morning, because if I
did the people would see me free--as you are doing--I have to live in a
narrow stuffy carriage. I'm ill, too. Giants are always ill."

Janet was full of sympathy. "We're so sorry," she said. "And here's our
money--it isn't fair to be seeing you free." And she held out sixpence.

"Oh, no," said the giant. "I didn't mean that. I like to see you and talk.
There's too few people to talk to naturally. Most of them ask silly
questions all the time, especially the doctors. If you want to pay to see
me, you must come to the fair. I shall be on view to-night."

"But we're going the other way," said Robert.

"I'm very sorry," said the giant. "I should have looked forward to seeing

"What's your name?" Gregory asked.

"My real name is William Steward," said the giant, "but they call me the
Human Colossus."

"Is there anything we could do for you?"

Janet asked. "We have some papers; would you like them?"

"No," said the giant; "I don't read much. There is one thing I'd like, but
I don't suppose you have it. A little tobacco. I'm clean out of it, and I'd
like a smoke."

"We've got tobacco all right," said Robert. "You know," he added to Janet,
"in that tin labelled 'For --'"

But Janet stopped him in time, and drew him aside. "Run and get it," she
said; "but be sure to scrape the label off. He wouldn't like to see 'For
Tramps and Gipsies' on it."

Robert was quickly back, and handed the tin to the giant, who was delighted.

He was just beginning his thanks when a shrill whistle sounded, and he said
good-bye instead.

"That's His Majesty," he explained. "He thinks I've been long enough. And I
am long enough," he added, making his only joke--"too long. Well, good-bye.
I'm glad to have met you. Don't forget to look for the Human Colossus
whenever you come to a fair. It's easy to remember the Human Colossus.

And he shambled off through the trees to the road.

They had their last lunch with Kink just outside Faringdon's red town, and
then sped him on his solitary way home, promising, however, to come and
meet him somewhere outside London in three or four days' time; and so they
stood in a group in the middle of the road until the Slowcoach and its
driver and its black guardian were out of sight. And if some of their eyes
were not quite dry, I am sure you don't blame them.

"Now," said Robert, as he made a note of what his pedometer
said--sixty-seven miles and a quarter, for he considered this the end of
the real walk--"now for the station."

First, however, a telegram had to go, and Hester insisted on sending it, as
she had an idea, and this is what she sent:

"Avory, The Gables, Chiswick. Alas! alack! we're coming back."

They caught a train on the funny little branch-line which turned them out
at Uffington, and, armed with Mr. Scott's present, "The Scouring of the
White Horse," which Mary carried and occasionally read scraps from as they
walked along, they made for the green hills and the famous animal cut on
their side. To reach it was impossible, for the London train left at 6.24,
and it was now nearly three, and there was tea to be eaten; but they came
near enough to see it distinctly, and to marvel that the name of horse
should ever have been given to it. As Gregory said, "It's no more like a
horse than Shakespeare is like a swan."

And then they had tea at a nice inn at Uffington, in a parlour full of
photograph frames, and returned to the station.

As the train left, they leaned back in their seats, a great deal more tired
than they had ever been in the Slowcoach.

"What a hateful rate this train goes at!" said Robert. "I prefer two miles
an hour."

"Oh, yes," they said.

At Paddington they found Collins and Eliza Pollard, with a station omnibus,
and they rattled down to Chiswick, pouring out the news, especially that
from Lycett's farm.

And so, after dropping Mary and Jack and Horace at their homes, they came
once again to "The Gables." A cold supper was waiting for them--one of
those nice late meals after a journey--and Mrs. Avory and Runcie sat with
them while they ate it.

"You must be glad to be back," Runcie said, " and to sleep in nice beds
once more."

"Oh, Runcie," said Hester, "you don't really understand anything."

"I understand what King Edward's head is like on a shilling," said Runcie,
with a little twinkle at Janet.

Janet blushed.

"What a shame," she said, "to tell that story! Hester, I suppose that was
you, in one of your letters."

"Yes," said Hester; "but, Janet darling, you told me always to tell all the



The children had been back two or three days, and Kink was still on the
road, when one morning a telegram came from him saying that he had reached
Hounslow, and Robert asked if they might all walk out to meet him, and so
return home triumphantly in a body. Mrs. Avory agreed, and they trooped
off, after the briefest lunch, taking Horace Campbell and the Rotherams
with them.

They had been gone two or three hours, and Mrs. Avory was sitting talking
with Runcie, when Eliza Pollard brought a card on the brass tray that Janet
had repoussed for her mother's last Christmas present. It ran:


The Red House,

Chiswick, W.

"I don't know him," said Mrs. Avory. "What is he like?"

"Well, mum," said Eliza Pollard, "he's a short gentleman with a red face
and two boys, and he seems very angry."

"Ask him what he wants to see me about," said Mrs. Avory.

"I did," said Eliza Pollard, "and he said he could not tell me, but the
matter was of the highest importance."

Mrs. Avory took the card and descended to the drawing-room, where the
visitors were waiting for her.

Mr. Amory bowed. "Pardon me, madam," he said, "but I have come to know what
you have done with my caravan."

"Your caravan!"

"Yes, madam, my caravan. A caravan was sent as a present to my sons some
three weeks or a month ago, and your family, I am creditably informed,
seized and detained it."

"Excuse me," said Mrs. Avory, "but we did nothing of the sort. A caravan
was sent here for my children as a present, and we have simply made use of
it. They have been away in it for a fortnight. It returns to-day!"

"Ha!" said Mr. Amory. "Perhaps you will have the goodness to inform me who
gave it to you?"

"That," said Mrs. Avory, "I can't do--"

"Ha!" said Mr. Amory.

"--because," Mrs. Avory continued, "I don't know. We have never discovered.
The giver wished to be anonymous."

Mr. Amory looked surprised, and became a shade less fierce.

"You took no steps to find out?" he asked.

"How could I? There was no clue to go upon."

"I see, I see," said Mr. Amory. "There has been a huge mistake. Perhaps you
will allow me to read you a letter which we received a day or so ago:


"'I have just come back, much sooner than I expected; but, finding no
letter from you, I have made some inquiries as to what you have done with
the caravan, and, to my amazement, cannot discover that it has ever reached
you at all; and since, if it has not, this letter must be all Greek to you,
I may now say that on the 23rd of June a caravan fully furnished for a
journey should have arrived at your house with a letter saying it was from
your friend X., as it amused me to call myself. I have been to the man whom
I employed to take it to you, but he is in hospital. His wife, however, is
convinced that he did take it to Chiswick all right. Please ask your father
to try to discover to what house it was sent. Tomorrow evening I shall come
to see you all.

"'Your affectionate


"There," said Mr. Amory, "you see. Not, however, that I should have let my
sons go away in it--at any rate, without me"--the two little boys
winced--"but different people have different ideas. Well," he continued, "I
have been investigating, and of course I soon discovered that the caravan
had come here, and that your children had gone off in it. I will admit that
we have only just come to Chiswick, and that you were better known here;
but the fact remains that the letter was addressed, not to the name of
Avory, but Amory."

Mrs. Avory was bewildered. "It is all very unexpected," she said. "I really
cannot remember reading the address on the envelope at all. It was handed
to me as mine, and I opened it. It may have been Amory. If you care to see
the letter, I have it."

"Please," said Mr. Amory; and Mrs. Avory went to her desk.

"Now, boys, listen to me," said Mr. Amory to his two sons. "Let this be a
lesson to you. Never give anonymous presents. It is foolish, and it leads
to trouble; and very likely the wrong person will be thanked."

Mrs. Avory handed him the letter, and he read it.

"Quite clear," he said, "but not what I call a sensible way of doing
things. Your explanation satisfies me."

Mrs. Avory expressed her regret that the mistake had occurred. "But," she
added, "you must allow that we had no other course than to accept the
present as though it really belonged to us. We have for so many years been
the only Avories here."

"But have you so many friends," Mr. Amory inquired, "who would be likely to
give you anonymously so handsome a gift?

It did not strike you as strange?"

"Certainly not," said Mrs. Avory.

Mr. Amory again said "Ha!"

"The caravan," Mrs. Avory resumed, rising to her feet, "shall be put in
order directly it returns, and sent to your address. Anything that has been
taken from it or broken shall be replaced. I can say no more than that.
Good afternoon."

It was not, however, the end of the visit, for at that instant the sound of
heavy wheels was heard, and cheers in the street, and, looking out of the
window, Mrs. Avory saw that the Slowcoach had already arrived, escorted (as
it had left) by all the children of Chiswick, and a moment later Janet
burst into the room, crying, "Mother, do come and see!"

She pulled up stiff on observing the strangers.

"Janet, dear," said Mrs. Avory, "there has been a serious mistake. The
Slowcoach is not ours at all. It belongs to this gentleman's children."

Janet gasped. "But it was sent to us," she said at last.

"No," said Mr. Amory; "I beg your pardon, young lady, but it was sent to
us. It came to you in error."

Janet looked questioningly at her mother, and Mrs. Avory nodded yes. Hester
and Gregory now entered the room to insist on their mother either coming
out or giving leave for some of the street children to be allowed to go
inside the caravan. But Mr. Amory interposed. "No," he said. "I prefer not.
They are rarely clean."

Gregory looked at him in dismay.

"Mother!" he exclaimed.

"Janet," whispered Mrs. Avory, who knew her youngest son, "take Gregory
away, and keep him out of sight till they go."

"But we," Mr. Amory resumed, "will examine the caravan. I suppose there was
no inventory."

"No," said Mrs. Avory.

"Very unfortunate," he muttered, "and very unsystematic. However, we must
hope for the best;" and so saying he led the way toward the yard, with his
meek little sons, who had said not a word, but appeared to wish themselves
well out of the affair, behind him.

Kink had already unharnessed Moses, and the Slowcoach stood at rest. Mr.
Amory first went to examine a place on the wheel where a gate-post had
removed some of the paint, and he then put a foot on the step; but Diogenes
sprang up and growled so seriously that he withdrew.

"Please remove the dog," he said.

While this was being done, and the father and his two sons were inside,
Janet explained the situation to the others. They refused at first to
believe it.

"Do you mean to say," Robert exclaimed, "that the Slowcoach isn't ours at

"Yes," said Janet.

"It belongs to those measly pip-squeaks?" said Robert.

"Yes," said Janet.

Robert held his head in a kind of stupor.



They had a very solemn tea. Everyone was depressed and mortified.

"We couldn't help it, could we, mother?" Janet said several times.

"Of course not," said Mrs. Avory. "It's no one's fault except the foolish
man who brought the caravan here. What has Kink said about it?" But as no
one had asked him, he was called to the cedar-tree, beneath which tea was
laid on fine days.

"Here's a go, mum," he said.

"What did the man say who brought the caravan?" Mrs. Avory said.

"As near as I can remember he showed me the letter, and said, Is that all
right?' I looked at it, and read, 'To be given to
Mrs. Avory' on it, so I said, 'Yes,' Then he said, 'I've got a caravan for
your lot, cockie,' and backed it into the yard."

"How splendid!" said Robert. "Then it was you who did it, Kinky?"

"Did what, Master Robert?"

"Got us the Slowcoach; because the address wasn't Mrs. Avory at all; it was
Mrs. Amory."

"Oh, I don't take much count about m's or v's," said Kink. "It began with a
big 'A,' and it ended in 'ory,' and that was good enough for me."

"Kink," said Janet, "you're a dear. You've given us the most beautiful

Hester suddenly turned pale. "Mother!" she exclaimed, "what about the
twenty-five sovereigns?"

"Yes," said Robert, "that's awful!"

"It is rather bad," said Mrs. Avory, "because, of course, it will have to
be given back, and at once too, and I'm not at all rich just now. I'm not
even sure that we have any right to go to Sea View, and the twenty-five
pounds will just spoil everything."

"Why should we give it back?" said Gregory.

"Because it's not ours," said Mrs. Avory. "There's no question at all."

"I think Kinky ought to pay it," said Gregory. "He's got heaps of money in
the Post-Office, and it's his fault, too."

"The best thing to do," said Mrs. Avory, "is to telephone to Uncle
Christopher and tell him all about it, and ask him to come over to-night
and give us his advice. He always knows best."

"And Mr. Scott and Mr. Lenox, too," said Robert.

"Very well," said Mrs. Avory. "They were all here at the beginning, and
they had better be here at the end."

Mr. Lenox, who came first, was immensely tickled. "Who stole the caravan?"
he asked at intervals through the evening. ;

Mr. Scott took it more practically. "We must have another," he said, "and
have it built to our own design. Let the Slowcoach provide the ground-plan,
so to speak, and then improve on it by the light of your experience. You
must by this time each know of certain little defects in the Slowcoach that
could easily be done away with."

"Of course," said Robert. "Blisters."

"Don't rot," said Gregory. "I know of something, Mr. Scott. The roof. It
ought to have a felt covering, so as to soften the rain."

"Exactly," said Mr. Scott. "And you, Janet?"

"I used to wonder," said Janet, "if there could not be some poles, such as
those that you raise carriage-wheels with when you wash them, to lift the
caravan above its springs at night. As it is, every movement makes it shake
or rock. They could be carried underneath quite easily."

"Very good," said Mr. Scott. "And you,

"I heard about a caravan yesterday," said Mary, "that had two little swings
at the back for small children when they were tired."

"That's a good idea," said Mr. Lenox.

For Gregory, for instance."

"I'm not a small child," said Gregory, "and I don't get tired."

"Oh," said Janet, "what about those times when you said you couldn't walk
at all?"

"Shut up," said Gregory.

"Very well, then," said Mr. Scott; "if you really are still keen on
caravaning, I'll give you a new one, with proper title-deeds, in case any
new Mr. Amory turns up, and we will all superintend its building."

"Hurrah!" cried the children.

"And we'll call it Slowcoach the Second." It was at this point that Uncle
Christopher came in.

"This is very sad," he said. "To think of my nephews and nieces running off
with another person's caravan!"

"But what shall we do?" Mrs. Avory asked.

"There's nothing to do," said Uncle Christopher, "but to have it cleaned up
and put in order as soon as possible, and sent round to its real owner."

"The dreadful thing," said Janet, "is the twenty-five pounds."

"Yes, I know," said Uncle Christopher; "but I believe there's a way out of
even that difficulty. I told your aunt all about it when I got back from
the office, and she wished me to tell you that she would like to refund the
twenty-five pounds herself."

There was a long pause.

"O dear," said Janet at last, as she hid her face in her mother's arms,
"everybody is much too kind."

Book of the day: