E. V. LUCAS.
CHAPTER 1: THE AVORIES CHAPTER 2: THE SOUND OF MYSTERIOUS WHEELS CHAPTER 3: THE THOROUGH EXAMINATION CHAPTER 4: THE ITEMS CHAPTER 5: DIOGENES AND MOSES CHAPTER 6: THE PLANS CHAPTER 7: MR. LENOX'S YOUNG BROTHER CHAPTER 8: THE FIRST DAY CHAPTER 9: THE FIRST NIGHT CHAPTER 10: THE ADVENTURE OF THE SECOND CARAVAN CHAPTER 11: THE WAYSIDE FRIEND CHAPTER 12: STRATFORD-ON-AVON CHAPTER 13: THE ADVENTURE OF THE YOUNG POLICEMAN CHAPTER 14: THE ADVENTURE OF THE LITTLE OLD LADY CHAPTER 15: THE ADVENTURE OF THE RUNAWAY PONIES CHAPTER 16: THE BLACK SPANIELS CHAPTER 17: THE ADVENTURE OF THE LOST BABY CHAPTER 18: THE ADVENTURE OF THE OLD IRISHWOMAN CHAPTER 19: THE LETTER TO X CHAPTER 20: THE ADVENTURE OF THE LINE OF POETRY CHAPTER 21: COLLINS'S PEOPLE CHAPTER 22: THE ADVENTURE OF THE GIANT CHAPTER 23: THE MOST SURPRISING ADVENTURE OF ALL CHAPTER 24: THE END
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 Wright."
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 adventures.
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.
THE SOUND OF MYSTERIOUS WHEELS
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, "X.
"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 instead."
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 unimportant.
Gregory put the case in a nutshell. "Never mind about old X. now," he said. "Let's make a thorough examination!"
THE 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 caravan!
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 this:
"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 examined it together and decided that with such a home as that they might be married at once.
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 keyhole!"
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. Avory.
"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 four?"
"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 Christopher'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," Gregory 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 peep!"
"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.
DIOGENES AND MOSES
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 Mart.
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 address."
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.' Chiswick."
"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 tomb!
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 Stratford-on-Avon.
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 Woodstock, 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
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 each."
"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."
"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 extremely 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 stop.
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:
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 mystery—'"
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, which—"
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.
THE FIRST DAY
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 them.
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!"
THE FIRST NIGHT
"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 her."
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 Woodstock.
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 neglect."
"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 here."
"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 bread.
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 ADVENTURE OF THE SECOND CARAVAN
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 triumph.
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 official 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 more.
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 troublesome.
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 pointers.
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.
THE WAYSIDE FRIEND
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 entertaining.
"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."