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The Railway Children.

by Edith Nesbit.
Age Rating 10 Plus.

Start of Story

He was tired for many days after that, and the settle seemed hard and uncomfortable in spite of all the pillows and bolsters and soft folded rugs. It was terrible not to be able to go out. They moved the settle to the window, and from there Peter could see the smoke of the trains winding along the valley. But he could not see the trains. At first Bobbie found it quite hard to be as nice to him as she wanted to be, for fear he should think her priggish. But that soon wore off, and both she and Phyllis were, as he observed, jolly good sorts. Mother sat with him when his sisters were out. And the words, "he's not a coward," made Peter determined not to make any fuss about the pain in his foot, though it was rather bad, especially at night. Praise helps people very much, sometimes. There were visitors, too. Mrs. Perks came up to ask how he was, and so did the Station Master, and several of the village people. But the time went slowly, slowly. "I do wish there was something to read," said Peter. "I've read all our books fifty times over." "I'll go to the Doctor's," said Phyllis; "he's sure to have some." "Only about how to be ill, and about people's nasty insides, I expect," said Peter. "Perks has a whole heap of Magazines that came out of trains when people are tired of them," said Bobbie. "I'll run down and ask him." So the girls went their two ways. Bobbie found Perks busy cleaning lamps. "And how's the young gent?" said he. "Better, thanks," said Bobbie, "but he's most frightfully bored. I came to ask if you'd got any Magazines you could lend him." "There, now," said Perks, regretfully, rubbing his ear with a black and oily lump of cotton waste, "why didn't I think of that, now? I was trying to think of something as 'ud amuse him only this morning, and I couldn't think of anything better than a guinea-pig. And a young chap I know's going to fetch that over for him this tea-time." "How lovely! A real live guinea! He will be pleased. But he'd like the Magazines as well." "That's just it," said Perks. "I've just sent the pick of 'em to Snigson's boy--him what's just getting over the pewmonia. But I've lots of illustrated papers left." He turned to the pile of papers in the corner and took up a heap six inches thick. "There!" he said. "I'll just slip a bit of string and a bit of paper round 'em." He pulled an old newspaper from the pile and spread it on the table, and made a neat parcel of it. "There," said he, "there's lots of pictures, and if he likes to mess 'em about with his paint-box, or coloured chalks or what not, why, let him. _I_ don't want 'em."

"You're a dear," said Bobbie, took the parcel, and started. The papers were heavy, and when she had to wait at the level-crossing while a train went by, she rested the parcel on the top of the gate. And idly she looked at the printing on the paper that the parcel was wrapped in. Suddenly she clutched the parcel tighter and bent her head over it. It seemed like some horrible dream. She read on--the bottom of the column was torn off--she could read no farther. She never remembered how she got home. But she went on tiptoe to her room and locked the door. Then she undid the parcel and read that printed column again, sitting on the edge of her bed, her hands and feet icy cold and her face burning. When she had read all there was, she drew a long, uneven breath. "So now I know," she said. What she had read was headed, 'End of the Trial. Verdict. Sentence.' The name of the man who had been tried was the name of her Father. The verdict was 'Guilty.' And the sentence was 'Five years' Penal Servitude.' "Oh, Daddy," she whispered, crushing the paper hard, "it's not true--I don't believe it. You never did it! Never, never, never!" There was a hammering on the door. "What is it?" said Bobbie. "It's me," said the voice of Phyllis; "tea's ready, and a boy's brought Peter a guinea-pig. Come along down." And Bobbie had to.

Chapter 11. The hound in the red jersey.

Bobbie knew the secret now. A sheet of old newspaper wrapped round a parcel--just a little chance like that--had given the secret to her. And she had to go down to tea and pretend that there was nothing the matter. The pretence was bravely made, but it wasn't very successful. For when she came in, everyone looked up from tea and saw her pink-lidded eyes and her pale face with red tear-blotches on it. "My darling," cried Mother, jumping up from the tea-tray, "whatever IS the matter?" "My head aches, rather," said Bobbie. And indeed it did. "Has anything gone wrong?" Mother asked. "I'm all right, really," said Bobbie, and she telegraphed to her Mother from her swollen eyes this brief, imploring message--"NOT before the others!" Tea was not a cheerful meal. Peter was so distressed by the obvious fact that something horrid had happened to Bobbie that he limited his speech to repeating, "More bread and butter, please," at startlingly short intervals. Phyllis stroked her sister's hand under the table to express sympathy, and knocked her cup over as she did it. Fetching a cloth and wiping up the spilt milk helped Bobbie a little. But she thought that tea would never end. Yet at last it did end, as all things do at last, and when Mother took out the tray, Bobbie followed her. "She's gone to own up," said Phyllis to Peter; "I wonder what she's done." "Broken something, I suppose," said Peter, "but she needn't be so silly over it. Mother never rows for accidents. Listen! Yes, they're going upstairs. She's taking Mother up to show her--the water-jug with storks on it, I expect it is." Bobbie, in the kitchen, had caught hold of Mother's hand as she set down the tea-things. "What is it?" Mother asked. But Bobbie only said, "Come upstairs, come up where nobody can hear us." When she had got Mother alone in her room she locked the door and then stood quite still, and quite without words. All through tea she had been thinking of what to say; she had decided that "I know all," or "All is known to me," or "The terrible secret is a secret no longer," would be the proper thing. But now that she and her Mother and that awful sheet of newspaper were alone in the room together, she found that she could say nothing. Suddenly she went to Mother and put her arms round her and began to cry again. And still she could find no words, only, "Oh, Mammy, oh, Mammy, oh, Mammy," over and over again. Mother held her very close and waited. Suddenly Bobbie broke away from her and went to her bed. From under her mattress she pulled out the paper she had hidden there, and held it out, pointing to her Father's name with a finger that shook. "Oh, Bobbie," Mother cried, when one little quick look had shown her what it was, "you don't BELIEVE it? You don't believe Daddy did it?" "NO," Bobbie almost shouted. She had stopped crying.

"That's all right," said Mother. "It's not true. And they've shut him up in prison, but he's done nothing wrong. He's good and noble and honourable, and he belongs to us. We have to think of that, and be proud of him, and wait." Again Bobbie clung to her Mother, and again only one word came to her, but now that word was "Daddy," and "Oh, Daddy, oh, Daddy, oh, Daddy!" again and again. "Why didn't you tell me, Mammy?" she asked presently. "Are you going to tell the others?" Mother asked. "No." "Why?" "Because--" "Exactly," said Mother; "so you understand why I didn't tell you. We two must help each other to be brave." "Yes," said Bobbie; "Mother, will it make you more unhappy if you tell me all about it? I want to understand." So then, sitting cuddled up close to her Mother, Bobbie heard "all about it." She heard how those men, who had asked to see Father on that remembered last night when the Engine was being mended, had come to arrest him, charging him with selling State secrets to the Russians--with being, in fact, a spy and a traitor. She heard about the trial, and about the evidence--letters, found in Father's desk at the office, letters that convinced the jury that Father was guilty. "Oh, how could they look at him and believe it!" cried Bobbie; "and how could ANY one do such a thing!" "SOMEONE did it," said Mother, "and all the evidence was against Father. Those letters--" "Yes. How did the letters get into his desk?" "Someone put them there. And the person who put them there was the person who was really guilty." "HE must be feeling pretty awful all this time," said Bobbie, thoughtfully. "I don't believe he had any feelings," Mother said hotly; "he couldn't have done a thing like that if he had." "Perhaps he just shoved the letters into the desk to hide them when he thought he was going to be found out. Why don't you tell the lawyers, or someone, that it must have been that person? There wasn't anyone that would have hurt Father on purpose, was there?" "I don't know--I don't know. The man under him who got Daddy's place when he--when the awful thing happened--he was always jealous of your Father because Daddy was so clever and everyone thought such a lot of him. And Daddy never quite trusted that man." "Couldn't we explain all that to someone?" "Nobody will listen," said Mother, very bitterly, "nobody at all. Do you suppose I've not tried everything? No, my dearest, there's nothing to be done. All we can do, you and I and Daddy, is to be brave, and patient, and--" she spoke very softly--"to pray, Bobbie, dear." "Mother, you've got very thin," said Bobbie, abruptly. "A little, perhaps." "And oh," said Bobbie, "I do think you're the bravest person in the world as well as the nicest!"

"We won't talk of all this any more, will we, dear?" said Mother; "we must bear it and be brave. And, darling, try not to think of it. Try to be cheerful, and to amuse yourself and the others. It's much easier for me if you can be a little bit happy and enjoy things. Wash your poor little round face, and let's go out into the garden for a bit." The other two were very gentle and kind to Bobbie. And they did not ask her what was the matter. This was Peter's idea, and he had drilled Phyllis, who would have asked a hundred questions if she had been left to herself. A week later Bobbie managed to get away alone. And once more she wrote a letter. And once more it was to the old gentleman. "My dear Friend," she said, "you see what is in this paper. It is not true. Father never did it. Mother says someone put the papers in Father's desk, and she says the man under him that got Father's place afterwards was jealous of Father, and Father suspected him a long time. But nobody listens to a word she says, but you are so good and clever, and you found out about the Russian gentleman's wife directly. Can't you find out who did the treason because he wasn't Father upon my honour; he is an Englishman and uncapable to do such things, and then they would let Father out of prison. It is dreadful, and Mother is getting so thin. She told us once to pray for all prisoners and captives. I see now. Oh, do help me--there is only just Mother and me know, and we can't do anything. Peter and Phil don't know. I'll pray for you twice every day as long as I live if you'll only try--just try to find out. Think if it was YOUR Daddy, what you would feel. Oh, do, do, DO help me. With love "I remain Your affectionately little friend "Roberta. P.S. Mother would send her kind regards if she knew I am writing--but it is no use telling her I am, in case you can't do anything. But I know you will. Bobbie with best love." She cut the account of her Father's trial out of the newspaper with Mother's big cutting-out scissors, and put it in the envelope with her letter. Then she took it down to the station, going out the back way and round by the road, so that the others should not see her and offer to come with her, and she gave the letter to the Station Master to give to the old gentleman next morning. "Where HAVE you been?" shouted Peter, from the top of the yard wall where he and Phyllis were. "To the station, of course," said Bobbie; "give us a hand, Pete." She set her foot on the lock of the yard door. Peter reached down a hand.


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