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The Slowcoach By E. V. Lucas Characters: 8462

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

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 s

ay," 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.

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