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The Railway Children.
by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
Age Rating 10 Plus.
And then they heard the voice of Mr. Perks, loud and rather angry.
"I don't care," he said; "I won't stand it, and so I tell you straight."
"But," said Mrs. Perks, "it's them children you make such a fuss
about--the children from the Three Chimneys."
"I don't care," said Perks, firmly, "not if it was a angel from Heaven.
We've got on all right all these years and no favours asked. I'm not
going to begin these sort of charity goings-on at my time of life, so
don't you think it, Nell."
"Oh, hush!" said poor Mrs Perks; "Bert, shut your silly tongue, for
goodness' sake. The all three of 'ems in the wash-house a-listening to
every word you speaks."
"Then I'll give them something to listen to," said the angry Perks;
"I've spoke my mind to them afore now, and I'll do it again," he added,
and he took two strides to the wash-house door, and flung it wide
open--as wide, that is, as it would go, with the tightly packed children
"Come out," said Perks, "come out and tell me what you mean by it. 'Ave
I ever complained to you of being short, as you comes this charity lay
"OH!" said Phyllis, "I thought you'd be so pleased; I'll never try to be
kind to anyone else as long as I live. No, I won't, not never."
She burst into tears.
"We didn't mean any harm," said Peter.
"It ain't what you means so much as what you does," said Perks.
"Oh, DON'T!" cried Bobbie, trying hard to be braver than Phyllis, and to
find more words than Peter had done for explaining in. "We thought you'd
love it. We always have things on our birthdays."
"Oh, yes," said Perks, "your own relations; that's different."
"Oh, no," Bobbie answered. "NOT our own relations. All the servants
always gave us things at home, and us to them when it was their
birthdays. And when it was mine, and Mother gave me the brooch like a
buttercup, Mrs. Viney gave me two lovely glass pots, and nobody thought
she was coming the charity lay over us."
"If it had been glass pots here," said Perks, "I wouldn't ha' said so
much. It's there being all this heaps and heaps of things I can't stand.
No--nor won't, neither."
"But they're not all from us--" said Peter, "only we forgot to put the
labels on. They're from all sorts of people in the village."
"Who put 'em up to it, I'd like to know?" asked Perks.
"Why, we did," sniffed Phyllis.
Perks sat down heavily in the elbow-chair and looked at them with what
Bobbie afterwards described as withering glances of gloomy despair.
"So you've been round telling the neighbours we can't make both
ends meet? Well, now you've disgraced us as deep as you can in the
neighbourhood, you can just take the whole bag of tricks back w'ere it
come from. Very much obliged, I'm sure. I don't doubt but what you meant
it kind, but I'd rather not be acquainted with you any longer if it's
all the same to you." He deliberately turned the chair round so that
his back was turned to the children. The legs of the chair grated on the
brick floor, and that was the only sound that broke the silence.
Then suddenly Bobbie spoke.
"Look here," she said, "this is most awful."
"That's what I says," said Perks, not turning round.
"Look here," said Bobbie, desperately, "we'll go if you like--and you
needn't be friends with us any more if you don't want, but--"
"WE shall always be friends with YOU, however nasty you are to us,"
sniffed Phyllis, wildly.
"Be quiet," said Peter, in a fierce aside.
"But before we go," Bobbie went on desperately, "do let us show you the
labels we wrote to put on the things."
"I don't want to see no labels," said Perks, "except proper luggage ones
in my own walk of life. Do you think I've kept respectable and outer
debt on what I gets, and her having to take in washing, to be give away
for a laughing-stock to all the neighbours?"
"Laughing?" said Peter; "you don't know."
"You're a very hasty gentleman," whined Phyllis; "you know you were
wrong once before, about us not telling you the secret about the
Russian. Do let Bobbie tell you about the labels!"
"Well. Go ahead!" said Perks, grudgingly.
"Well, then," said Bobbie, fumbling miserably, yet not without hope, in
her tightly stuffed pocket, "we wrote down all the things everybody said
when they gave us the things, with the people's names, because Mother
said we ought to be careful--because--but I wrote down what she
said--and you'll see."
But Bobbie could not read the labels just at once. She had to swallow
once or twice before she could begin.
Mrs. Perks had been crying steadily ever since her husband had opened
the wash-house door. Now she caught her breath, choked, and said:--
"Don't you upset yourself, Missy. _I_ know you meant it kind if he
"May I read the labels?" said Bobbie, crying on to the slips as she
tried to sort them. "Mother's first. It says:--
"'Little Clothes for Mrs. Perks's children.' Mother said, 'I'll find
some of Phyllis's things that she's grown out of if you're quite sure
Mr. Perks wouldn't be offended and think it's meant for charity. I'd
like to do some little thing for him, because he's so kind to you. I
can't do much because we're poor ourselves.'"
"That's all right," said Perks, "your Ma's a born lady. We'll keep the
little frocks, and what not, Nell."
"Then there's the perambulator and the gooseberries, and the sweets,"
said Bobbie, "they're from Mrs. Ransome. She said: 'I dare say Mr.
Perks's children would like the sweets. And the perambulator was got for
my Emmie's first--it didn't live but six months, and she's never had but
that one. I'd like Mrs. Perks to have it. It would be a help with her
fine boy. I'd have given it before if I'd been sure she'd accept of
it from me.' She told me to tell you," Bobbie added, "that it was her
Emmie's little one's pram."
"I can't send that pram back, Bert," said Mrs Perks, firmly, "and I
won't. So don't you ask me--"
"I'm not a-asking anything," said Perks, gruffly.
"Then the shovel," said Bobbie. "Mr. James made it for you himself. And
he said--where is it? Oh, yes, here! He said, 'You tell Mr. Perks it's a
pleasure to make a little trifle for a man as is so much respected,' and
then he said he wished he could shoe your children and his own children,
like they do the horses, because, well, he knew what shoe leather was."
"James is a good enough chap," said Perks.
"Then the honey," said Bobbie, in haste, "and the boot-laces. HE said
he respected a man that paid his way--and the butcher said the same. And
the old turnpike woman said many was the time you'd lent her a hand
with her garden when you were a lad--and things like that came home to
roost--I don't know what she meant. And everybody who gave anything said
they liked you, and it was a very good idea of ours; and nobody said
anything about charity or anything horrid like that. And the old
gentleman gave Peter a gold pound for you, and said you were a man who
knew your work. And I thought you'd LOVE to know how fond people are
of you, and I never was so unhappy in my life. Good-bye. I hope you'll
forgive us some day--"
She could say no more, and she turned to go.
"Stop," said Perks, still with his back to them; "I take back every word
I've said contrary to what you'd wish. Nell, set on the kettle."
"We'll take the things away if you're unhappy about them," said Peter;
"but I think everybody'll be most awfully disappointed, as well as us."
"I'm not unhappy about them," said Perks; "I don't know," he added,
suddenly wheeling the chair round and showing a very odd-looking
screwed-up face, "I don't know as ever I was better pleased. Not so much
with the presents--though they're an A1 collection--but the kind respect
of our neighbours. That's worth having, eh, Nell?"
"I think it's all worth having," said Mrs. Perks, "and you've made a
most ridiculous fuss about nothing, Bert, if you ask me."
"No, I ain't," said Perks, firmly; "if a man didn't respect hisself, no
one wouldn't do it for him."
"But everyone respects you," said Bobbie; "they all said so."
"I knew you'd like it when you really understood," said Phyllis,
"Humph! You'll stay to tea?" said Mr. Perks.
Later on Peter proposed Mr. Perks's health. And Mr. Perks proposed a
toast, also honoured in tea, and the toast was, "May the garland of
friendship be ever green," which was much more poetical than anyone had
expected from him.
* * * * * *
"Jolly good little kids, those," said Mr. Perks to his wife as they went
"Oh, they're all right, bless their hearts," said his wife; "it's you
that's the aggravatingest old thing that ever was. I was ashamed of
you--I tell you--"
"You didn't need to be, old gal. I climbed down handsome soon as I
understood it wasn't charity. But charity's what I never did abide, and
* * * * * *
All sorts of people were made happy by that birthday party. Mr. Perks
and Mrs. Perks and the little Perkses by all the nice things and by the
kind thoughts of their neighbours; the Three Chimneys children by the
success, undoubted though unexpectedly delayed, of their plan; and Mrs.
Ransome every time she saw the fat Perks baby in the perambulator.
Mrs. Perks made quite a round of visits to thank people for their kind
birthday presents, and after each visit felt that she had a better
friend than she had thought.
"Yes," said Perks, reflectively, "it's not so much what you does as what
you means; that's what I say. Now if it had been charity--"
"Oh, drat charity," said Mrs. Perks; "nobody won't offer you
charity, Bert, however much you was to want it, I lay. That was just
friendliness, that was."
When the clergyman called on Mrs. Perks, she told him all about it. "It
WAS friendliness, wasn't it, Sir?" said she.
"I think," said the clergyman, "it was what is sometimes called
So you see it was all right in the end. But if one does that sort of
thing, one has to be careful to do it in the right way. For, as Mr.
Perks said, when he had time to think it over, it's not so much what you
do, as what you mean.
Chapter 10. The terrible secret.
When they first went to live at Three Chimneys, the children had talked
a great deal about their Father, and had asked a great many questions
about him, and what he was doing and where he was and when he would come
home. Mother always answered their questions as well as she could. But
as the time went on they grew to speak less of him. Bobbie had felt
almost from the first that for some strange miserable reason these
questions hurt Mother and made her sad. And little by little the others
came to have this feeling, too, though they could not have put it into
One day, when Mother was working so hard that she could not leave off
even for ten minutes, Bobbie carried up her tea to the big bare room
that they called Mother's workshop. It had hardly any furniture. Just
a table and a chair and a rug. But always big pots of flowers on the
window-sills and on the mantelpiece. The children saw to that. And from
the three long uncurtained windows the beautiful stretch of meadow and
moorland, the far violet of the hills, and the unchanging changefulness
of cloud and sky.
"Here's your tea, Mother-love," said Bobbie; "do drink it while it's
Mother laid down her pen among the pages that were scattered all over
the table, pages covered with her writing, which was almost as plain
as print, and much prettier. She ran her hands into her hair, as if she
were going to pull it out by handfuls.
"Poor dear head," said Bobbie, "does it ache?"
"No--yes--not much," said Mother. "Bobbie, do you think Peter and Phil
are FORGETTING Father?"
"NO," said Bobbie, indignantly. "Why?"
"You none of you ever speak of him now."
Bobbie stood first on one leg and then on the other.
"We often talk about him when we're by ourselves," she said.
"But not to me," said Mother. "Why?"
Bobbie did not find it easy to say why.
"I--you--" she said and stopped. She went over to the window and looked
"Bobbie, come here," said her Mother, and Bobbie came.
"Now," said Mother, putting her arm round Bobbie and laying her ruffled
head against Bobbie's shoulder, "try to tell me, dear."
"Well, then," said Bobbie, "I thought you were so unhappy about Daddy
not being here, it made you worse when I talked about him. So I stopped
"And the others?"
"I don't know about the others," said Bobbie. "I never said anything
about THAT to them. But I expect they felt the same about it as me."
"Bobbie dear," said Mother, still leaning her head against her, "I'll
tell you. Besides parting from Father, he and I have had a great
sorrow--oh, terrible--worse than anything you can think of, and at first
it did hurt to hear you all talking of him as if everything were just
the same. But it would be much more terrible if you were to forget him.
That would be worse than anything."