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The Railway Children.

by Edith Nesbit.
Age Rating 10 Plus.

Start of Story

Chapter IX. The pride of Perks.

It was breakfast-time. Mother's face was very bright as she poured the milk and ladled out the porridge. "I've sold another story, Chickies," she said; "the one about the King of the Mussels, so there'll be buns for tea. You can go and get them as soon as they're baked. About eleven, isn't it?" Peter, Phyllis, and Bobbie exchanged glances with each other, six glances in all. Then Bobbie said:-- "Mother, would you mind if we didn't have the buns for tea to-night, but on the fifteenth? That's next Thursday." "_I_ don't mind when you have them, dear," said Mother, "but why?" "Because it's Perks's birthday," said Bobbie; "he's thirty-two, and he says he doesn't keep his birthday any more, because he's got other things to keep--not rabbits or secrets--but the kids and the missus." "You mean his wife and children," said Mother. "Yes," said Phyllis; "it's the same thing, isn't it?" "And we thought we'd make a nice birthday for him. He's been so awfully jolly decent to us, you know, Mother," said Peter, "and we agreed that next bun-day we'd ask you if we could." "But suppose there hadn't been a bun-day before the fifteenth?" said Mother. "Oh, then, we meant to ask you to let us anti--antipate it, and go without when the bun-day came." "Anticipate," said Mother. "I see. Certainly. It would be nice to put his name on the buns with pink sugar, wouldn't it?" "Perks," said Peter, "it's not a pretty name." "His other name's Albert," said Phyllis; "I asked him once." "We might put A. P.," said Mother; "I'll show you how when the day comes." This was all very well as far as it went. But even fourteen halfpenny buns with A. P. on them in pink sugar do not of themselves make a very grand celebration. "There are always flowers, of course," said Bobbie, later, when a really earnest council was being held on the subject in the hay-loft where the broken chaff-cutting machine was, and the row of holes to drop hay through into the hay-racks over the mangers of the stables below. "He's got lots of flowers of his own," said Peter. "But it's always nice to have them given you," said Bobbie, "however many you've got of your own. We can use flowers for trimmings to the birthday. But there must be something to trim besides buns." "Let's all be quiet and think," said Phyllis; "no one's to speak until it's thought of something." So they were all quiet and so very still that a brown rat thought that there was no one in the loft and came out very boldly. When Bobbie sneezed, the rat was quite shocked and hurried away, for he saw that a hay-loft where such things could happen was no place for a respectable middle-aged rat that liked a quiet life. "Hooray!" cried Peter, suddenly, "I've got it." He jumped up and kicked at the loose hay.

"What?" said the others, eagerly. "Why, Perks is so nice to everybody. There must be lots of people in the village who'd like to help to make him a birthday. Let's go round and ask everybody." "Mother said we weren't to ask people for things," said Bobbie, doubtfully. "For ourselves, she meant, silly, not for other people. I'll ask the old gentleman too. You see if I don't," said Peter. "Let's ask Mother first," said Bobbie. "Oh, what's the use of bothering Mother about every little thing?" said Peter, "especially when she's busy. Come on. Let's go down to the village now and begin." So they went. The old lady at the Post-office said she didn't see why Perks should have a birthday any more than anyone else. "No," said Bobbie, "I should like everyone to have one. Only we know when his is." "Mine's to-morrow," said the old lady, "and much notice anyone will take of it. Go along with you." So they went. And some people were kind, and some were crusty. And some would give and some would not. It is rather difficult work asking for things, even for other people, as you have no doubt found if you have ever tried it. When the children got home and counted up what had been given and what had been promised, they felt that for the first day it was not so bad. Peter wrote down the lists of the things in the little pocket-book where he kept the numbers of his engines. These were the lists:-- GIVEN. A tobacco pipe from the sweet shop. Half a pound of tea from the grocer's. A woollen scarf slightly faded from the draper's, which was the other side of the grocer's. A stuffed squirrel from the Doctor. PROMISED. A piece of meat from the butcher. Six fresh eggs from the woman who lived in the old turnpike cottage. A piece of honeycomb and six bootlaces from the cobbler, and an iron shovel from the blacksmith's. Very early next morning Bobbie got up and woke Phyllis. This had been agreed on between them. They had not told Peter because they thought he would think it silly. But they told him afterwards, when it had turned out all right. They cut a big bunch of roses, and put it in a basket with the needle-book that Phyllis had made for Bobbie on her birthday, and a very pretty blue necktie of Phyllis's. Then they wrote on a paper: 'For Mrs. Ransome, with our best love, because it is her birthday,' and they put the paper in the basket, and they took it to the Post-office, and went in and put it on the counter and ran away before the old woman at the Post-office had time to get into her shop. When they got home Peter had grown confidential over helping Mother to get the breakfast and had told her their plans. "There's no harm in it," said Mother, "but it depends HOW you do it. I only hope he won't be offended and think it's CHARITY. Poor people are very proud, you know."

"It isn't because he's poor," said Phyllis; "it's because we're fond of him." "I'll find some things that Phyllis has outgrown," said Mother, "if you're quite sure you can give them to him without his being offended. I should like to do some little thing for him because he's been so kind to you. I can't do much because we're poor ourselves. What are you writing, Bobbie?" "Nothing particular," said Bobbie, who had suddenly begun to scribble. "I'm sure he'd like the things, Mother." The morning of the fifteenth was spent very happily in getting the buns and watching Mother make A. P. on them with pink sugar. You know how it's done, of course? You beat up whites of eggs and mix powdered sugar with them, and put in a few drops of cochineal. And then you make a cone of clean, white paper with a little hole at the pointed end, and put the pink egg-sugar in at the big end. It runs slowly out at the pointed end, and you write the letters with it just as though it were a great fat pen full of pink sugar-ink. The buns looked beautiful with A. P. on every one, and, when they were put in a cool oven to set the sugar, the children went up to the village to collect the honey and the shovel and the other promised things. The old lady at the Post-office was standing on her doorstep. The children said "Good morning," politely, as they passed. "Here, stop a bit," she said. So they stopped. "Those roses," said she. "Did you like them?" said Phyllis; "they were as fresh as fresh. _I_ made the needle-book, but it was Bobbie's present." She skipped joyously as she spoke. "Here's your basket," said the Post-office woman. She went in and brought out the basket. It was full of fat, red gooseberries. "I dare say Perks's children would like them," said she. "You ARE an old dear," said Phyllis, throwing her arms around the old lady's fat waist. "Perks WILL be pleased." "He won't be half so pleased as I was with your needle-book and the tie and the pretty flowers and all," said the old lady, patting Phyllis's shoulder. "You're good little souls, that you are. Look here. I've got a pram round the back in the wood-lodge. It was got for my Emmie's first, that didn't live but six months, and she never had but that one. I'd like Mrs. Perks to have it. It 'ud be a help to her with that great boy of hers. Will you take it along?" "OH!" said all the children together. When Mrs. Ransome had got out the perambulator and taken off the careful papers that covered it, and dusted it all over, she said:-- "Well, there it is. I don't know but what I'd have given it to her before if I'd thought of it. Only I didn't quite know if she'd accept of it from me. You tell her it was my Emmie's little one's pram--" "Oh, ISN'T it nice to think there is going to be a real live baby in it again!"

"Yes," said Mrs. Ransome, sighing, and then laughing; "here, I'll give you some peppermint cushions for the little ones, and then you run along before I give you the roof off my head and the clothes off my back." All the things that had been collected for Perks were packed into the perambulator, and at half-past three Peter and Bobbie and Phyllis wheeled it down to the little yellow house where Perks lived. The house was very tidy. On the window ledge was a jug of wild-flowers, big daisies, and red sorrel, and feathery, flowery grasses. There was a sound of splashing from the wash-house, and a partly washed boy put his head round the door. "Mother's a-changing of herself," he said. "Down in a minute," a voice sounded down the narrow, freshly scrubbed stairs. The children waited. Next moment the stairs creaked and Mrs. Perks came down, buttoning her bodice. Her hair was brushed very smooth and tight, and her face shone with soap and water. "I'm a bit late changing, Miss," she said to Bobbie, "owing to me having had a extry clean-up to-day, along o' Perks happening to name its being his birthday. I don't know what put it into his head to think of such a thing. We keeps the children's birthdays, of course; but him and me--we're too old for such like, as a general rule." "We knew it was his birthday," said Peter, "and we've got some presents for him outside in the perambulator." As the presents were being unpacked, Mrs. Perks gasped. When they were all unpacked, she surprised and horrified the children by sitting suddenly down on a wooden chair and bursting into tears. "Oh, don't!" said everybody; "oh, please don't!" And Peter added, perhaps a little impatiently: "What on earth is the matter? You don't mean to say you don't like it?" Mrs. Perks only sobbed. The Perks children, now as shiny-faced as anyone could wish, stood at the wash-house door, and scowled at the intruders. There was a silence, an awkward silence. "DON'T you like it?" said Peter, again, while his sisters patted Mrs. Perks on the back. She stopped crying as suddenly as she had begun. "There, there, don't you mind me. I'M all right!" she said. "Like it? Why, it's a birthday such as Perks never 'ad, not even when 'e was a boy and stayed with his uncle, who was a corn chandler in his own account. He failed afterwards. Like it? Oh--" and then she went on and said all sorts of things that I won't write down, because I am sure that Peter and Bobbie and Phyllis would not like me to. Their ears got hotter and hotter, and their faces redder and redder, at the kind things Mrs. Perks said. They felt they had done nothing to deserve all this praise.

At last Peter said: "Look here, we're glad you're pleased. But if you go on saying things like that, we must go home. And we did want to stay and see if Mr. Perks is pleased, too. But we can't stand this." "I won't say another single word," said Mrs. Perks, with a beaming face, "but that needn't stop me thinking, need it? For if ever--" "Can we have a plate for the buns?" Bobbie asked abruptly. And then Mrs. Perks hastily laid the table for tea, and the buns and the honey and the gooseberries were displayed on plates, and the roses were put in two glass jam jars, and the tea-table looked, as Mrs. Perks said, "fit for a Prince." "To think!" she said, "me getting the place tidy early, and the little 'uns getting the wild-flowers and all--when never did I think there'd be anything more for him except the ounce of his pet particular that I got o' Saturday and been saving up for 'im ever since. Bless us! 'e IS early!" Perks had indeed unlatched the latch of the little front gate. "Oh," whispered Bobbie, "let's hide in the back kitchen, and YOU tell him about it. But give him the tobacco first, because you got it for him. And when you've told him, we'll all come in and shout, 'Many happy returns!'" It was a very nice plan, but it did not quite come off. To begin with, there was only just time for Peter and Bobbie and Phyllis to rush into the wash-house, pushing the young and open-mouthed Perks children in front of them. There was not time to shut the door, so that, without at all meaning it, they had to listen to what went on in the kitchen. The wash-house was a tight fit for the Perks children and the Three Chimneys children, as well as all the wash-house's proper furniture, including the mangle and the copper. "Hullo, old woman!" they heard Mr. Perks's voice say; "here's a pretty set-out!" "It's your birthday tea, Bert," said Mrs. Perks, "and here's a ounce of your extry particular. I got it o' Saturday along o' your happening to remember it was your birthday to-day." "Good old girl!" said Mr. Perks, and there was a sound of a kiss. "But what's that pram doing here? And what's all these bundles? And where did you get the sweetstuff, and--" The children did not hear what Mrs. Perks replied, because just then Bobbie gave a start, put her hand in her pocket, and all her body grew stiff with horror. "Oh!" she whispered to the others, "whatever shall we do? I forgot to put the labels on any of the things! He won't know what's from who. He'll think it's all US, and that we're trying to be grand or charitable or something horrid." "Hush!" said Peter.


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