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   Chapter 2 THE SOUND OF MYSTERIOUS WHEELS

The Slowcoach By E. V. Lucas Characters: 6107

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


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:

DEAR CHILDREN,

"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!"

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