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The Railway Children.
by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
Age Rating 10 Plus.
"The trouble," said Bobbie, in a very little voice--"I promised I
would never ask you any questions, and I never have, have I? But--the
trouble--it won't last always?"
"No," said Mother, "the worst will be over when Father comes home to
"I wish I could comfort you," said Bobbie.
"Oh, my dear, do you suppose you don't? Do you think I haven't noticed
how good you've all been, not quarrelling nearly as much as you used
to--and all the little kind things you do for me--the flowers, and
cleaning my shoes, and tearing up to make my bed before I get time to do
Bobbie HAD sometimes wondered whether Mother noticed these things.
"That's nothing," she said, "to what--"
"I MUST get on with my work," said Mother, giving Bobbie one last
squeeze. "Don't say anything to the others."
That evening in the hour before bed-time instead of reading to the
children Mother told them stories of the games she and Father used
to have when they were children and lived near each other in the
country--tales of the adventures of Father with Mother's brothers when
they were all boys together. Very funny stories they were, and the
children laughed as they listened.
"Uncle Edward died before he was grown up, didn't he?" said Phyllis, as
Mother lighted the bedroom candles.
"Yes, dear," said Mother, "you would have loved him. He was such a
brave boy, and so adventurous. Always in mischief, and yet friends with
everybody in spite of it. And your Uncle Reggie's in Ceylon--yes, and
Father's away, too. But I think they'd all like to think we'd enjoyed
talking about the things they used to do. Don't you think so?"
"Not Uncle Edward," said Phyllis, in a shocked tone; "he's in Heaven."
"You don't suppose he's forgotten us and all the old times, because God
has taken him, any more than I forget him. Oh, no, he remembers. He's
only away for a little time. We shall see him some day."
"And Uncle Reggie--and Father, too?" said Peter.
"Yes," said Mother. "Uncle Reggie and Father, too. Good night, my
"Good night," said everyone. Bobbie hugged her mother more closely even
than usual, and whispered in her ear, "Oh, I do love you so, Mummy--I
When Bobbie came to think it all over, she tried not to wonder what
the great trouble was. But she could not always help it. Father was not
dead--like poor Uncle Edward--Mother had said so. And he was not ill, or
Mother would have been with him. Being poor wasn't the trouble. Bobbie
knew it was something nearer the heart than money could be.
"I mustn't try to think what it is," she told herself; "no, I mustn't. I
AM glad Mother noticed about us not quarrelling so much. We'll keep that
And alas, that very afternoon she and Peter had what Peter called a
They had not been a week at Three Chimneys before they had asked Mother
to let them have a piece of garden each for their very own, and she had
agreed, and the south border under the peach trees had been divided into
three pieces and they were allowed to plant whatever they liked there.
Phyllis had planted mignonette and nasturtium and Virginia Stock in
hers. The seeds came up, and though they looked just like weeds, Phyllis
believed that they would bear flowers some day. The Virginia Stock
justified her faith quite soon, and her garden was gay with a band of
bright little flowers, pink and white and red and mauve.
"I can't weed for fear I pull up the wrong things," she used to say
comfortably; "it saves such a lot of work."
Peter sowed vegetable seeds in his--carrots and onions and turnips.
The seed was given to him by the farmer who lived in the nice
black-and-white, wood-and-plaster house just beyond the bridge. He
kept turkeys and guinea fowls, and was a most amiable man. But Peter's
vegetables never had much of a chance, because he liked to use the earth
of his garden for digging canals, and making forts and earthworks for
his toy soldiers. And the seeds of vegetables rarely come to much in
a soil that is constantly disturbed for the purposes of war and
Bobbie planted rose-bushes in her garden, but all the little new leaves
of the rose-bushes shrivelled and withered, perhaps because she moved
them from the other part of the garden in May, which is not at all the
right time of year for moving roses. But she would not own that they
were dead, and hoped on against hope, until the day when Perks came up
to see the garden, and told her quite plainly that all her roses were as
dead as doornails.
"Only good for bonfires, Miss," he said. "You just dig 'em up and burn
'em, and I'll give you some nice fresh roots outer my garden; pansies,
and stocks, and sweet willies, and forget-me-nots. I'll bring 'em along
to-morrow if you get the ground ready."
So next day she set to work, and that happened to be the day when Mother
had praised her and the others about not quarrelling. She moved the
rose-bushes and carried them to the other end of the garden, where the
rubbish heap was that they meant to make a bonfire of when Guy Fawkes'
Meanwhile Peter had decided to flatten out all his forts and earthworks,
with a view to making a model of the railway-tunnel, cutting,
embankment, canal, aqueduct, bridges, and all.
So when Bobbie came back from her last thorny journey with the dead
rose-bushes, he had got the rake and was using it busily.
"_I_ was using the rake," said Bobbie.
"Well, I'm using it now," said Peter.
"But I had it first," said Bobbie.
"Then it's my turn now," said Peter. And that was how the quarrel began.
"You're always being disagreeable about nothing," said Peter, after some
"I had the rake first," said Bobbie, flushed and defiant, holding on to
"Don't--I tell you I said this morning I meant to have it. Didn't I,
Phyllis said she didn't want to be mixed up in their rows. And
instantly, of course, she was.
"If you remember, you ought to say."
"Of course she doesn't remember--but she might say so."
"I wish I'd had a brother instead of two whiny little kiddy sisters,"
said Peter. This was always recognised as indicating the high-water mark
of Peter's rage.
Bobbie made the reply she always made to it.
"I can't think why little boys were ever invented," and just as she said
it she looked up, and saw the three long windows of Mother's workshop
flashing in the red rays of the sun. The sight brought back those words
"You don't quarrel like you used to do."
"OH!" cried Bobbie, just as if she had been hit, or had caught her
finger in a door, or had felt the hideous sharp beginnings of toothache.
"What's the matter?" said Phyllis.
Bobbie wanted to say: "Don't let's quarrel. Mother hates it so," but
though she tried hard, she couldn't. Peter was looking too disagreeable
"Take the horrid rake, then," was the best she could manage. And she
suddenly let go her hold on the handle. Peter had been holding on to
it too firmly and pullingly, and now that the pull the other way was
suddenly stopped, he staggered and fell over backward, the teeth of the
rake between his feet.
"Serve you right," said Bobbie, before she could stop herself.
Peter lay still for half a moment--long enough to frighten Bobbie a
little. Then he frightened her a little more, for he sat up--screamed
once--turned rather pale, and then lay back and began to shriek, faintly
but steadily. It sounded exactly like a pig being killed a quarter of a
Mother put her head out of the window, and it wasn't half a minute after
that she was in the garden kneeling by the side of Peter, who never for
an instant ceased to squeal.
"What happened, Bobbie?" Mother asked.
"It was the rake," said Phyllis. "Peter was pulling at it, so was
Bobbie, and she let go and he went over."
"Stop that noise, Peter," said Mother. "Come. Stop at once."
Peter used up what breath he had left in a last squeal and stopped.
"Now," said Mother, "are you hurt?"
"If he was really hurt, he wouldn't make such a fuss," said Bobbie,
still trembling with fury; "he's not a coward!"
"I think my foot's broken off, that's all," said Peter, huffily, and sat
up. Then he turned quite white. Mother put her arm round him.
"He IS hurt," she said; "he's fainted. Here, Bobbie, sit down and take
his head on your lap."
Then Mother undid Peter's boots. As she took the right one off,
something dripped from his foot on to the ground. It was red blood. And
when the stocking came off there were three red wounds in Peter's foot
and ankle, where the teeth of the rake had bitten him, and his foot was
covered with red smears.
"Run for water--a basinful," said Mother, and Phyllis ran. She upset
most of the water out of the basin in her haste, and had to fetch more
in a jug.
Peter did not open his eyes again till Mother had tied her handkerchief
round his foot, and she and Bobbie had carried him in and laid him on
the brown wooden settle in the dining-room. By this time Phyllis was
halfway to the Doctor's.
Mother sat by Peter and bathed his foot and talked to him, and Bobbie
went out and got tea ready, and put on the kettle.
"It's all I can do," she told herself. "Oh, suppose Peter should die, or
be a helpless cripple for life, or have to walk with crutches, or wear a
boot with a sole like a log of wood!"
She stood by the back door reflecting on these gloomy possibilities, her
eyes fixed on the water-butt.
"I wish I'd never been born," she said, and she said it out loud.
"Why, lawk a mercy, what's that for?" asked a voice, and Perks stood
before her with a wooden trug basket full of green-leaved things and
soft, loose earth.
"Oh, it's you," she said. "Peter's hurt his foot with a rake--three
great gaping wounds, like soldiers get. And it was partly my fault."
"That it wasn't, I'll go bail," said Perks. "Doctor seen him?"
"Phyllis has gone for the Doctor."
"He'll be all right; you see if he isn't," said Perks. "Why, my father's
second cousin had a hay-fork run into him, right into his inside, and he
was right as ever in a few weeks, all except his being a bit weak in
the head afterwards, and they did say that it was along of his getting
a touch of the sun in the hay-field, and not the fork at all. I remember
him well. A kind-'earted chap, but soft, as you might say."
Bobbie tried to let herself be cheered by this heartening reminiscence.
"Well," said Perks, "you won't want to be bothered with gardening just
this minute, I dare say. You show me where your garden is, and I'll
pop the bits of stuff in for you. And I'll hang about, if I may make so
free, to see the Doctor as he comes out and hear what he says. You cheer
up, Missie. I lay a pound he ain't hurt, not to speak of."
But he was. The Doctor came and looked at the foot and bandaged it
beautifully, and said that Peter must not put it to the ground for at
least a week.
"He won't be lame, or have to wear crutches or a lump on his foot, will
he?" whispered Bobbie, breathlessly, at the door.
"My aunt! No!" said Dr. Forrest; "he'll be as nimble as ever on his pins
in a fortnight. Don't you worry, little Mother Goose."
It was when Mother had gone to the gate with the Doctor to take his last
instructions and Phyllis was filling the kettle for tea, that Peter and
Bobbie found themselves alone.
"He says you won't be lame or anything," said Bobbie.
"Oh, course I shan't, silly," said Peter, very much relieved all the
"Oh, Peter, I AM so sorry," said Bobbie, after a pause.
"That's all right," said Peter, gruffly.
"It was ALL my fault," said Bobbie.
"Rot," said Peter.
"If we hadn't quarrelled, it wouldn't have happened. I knew it was wrong
to quarrel. I wanted to say so, but somehow I couldn't."
"Don't drivel," said Peter. "I shouldn't have stopped if you HAD said
it. Not likely. And besides, us rowing hadn't anything to do with it.
I might have caught my foot in the hoe, or taken off my fingers in the
chaff-cutting machine or blown my nose off with fireworks. It would have
been hurt just the same whether we'd been rowing or not."
"But I knew it was wrong to quarrel," said Bobbie, in tears, "and now
you're hurt and--"
"Now look here," said Peter, firmly, "you just dry up. If you're not
careful, you'll turn into a beastly little Sunday-school prig, so I tell
"I don't mean to be a prig. But it's so hard not to be when you're
really trying to be good."
(The Gentle Reader may perhaps have suffered from this difficulty.)
"Not it," said Peter; "it's a jolly good thing it wasn't you was hurt.
I'm glad it was ME. There! If it had been you, you'd have been lying
on the sofa looking like a suffering angel and being the light of the
anxious household and all that. And I couldn't have stood it."
"No, I shouldn't," said Bobbie.
"Yes, you would," said Peter.
"I tell you I shouldn't."
"I tell you you would."
"Oh, children," said Mother's voice at the door. "Quarrelling again?
"We aren't quarrelling--not really," said Peter. "I wish you wouldn't
think it's rows every time we don't agree!" When Mother had gone out
again, Bobbie broke out:--
"Peter, I AM sorry you're hurt. But you ARE a beast to say I'm a prig."
"Well," said Peter unexpectedly, "perhaps I am. You did say I wasn't a
coward, even when you were in such a wax. The only thing is--don't
you be a prig, that's all. You keep your eyes open and if you feel
priggishness coming on just stop in time. See?"
"Yes," said Bobbie, "I see."
"Then let's call it Pax," said Peter, magnanimously: "bury the hatchet
in the fathoms of the past. Shake hands on it. I say, Bobbie, old chap,
I am tired."