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   Chapter 6 THE PLANS

The Slowcoach By E. V. Lucas Characters: 9738

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


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 fi

nd 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.

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