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   Chapter 4 THE ITEMS

The Slowcoach By E. V. Lucas Characters: 7863

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

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. Avo

ry; "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.

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