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   Chapter 3 THE THOROUGH EXAMINATION

The Slowcoach By E. V. Lucas Characters: 7903

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


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 c

ertain 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.

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