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The Railway Children.
by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
Age Rating 10 Plus.
"What on earth?" she asked as she reached the wall-top--for Phyllis and
Peter were very muddy. A lump of wet clay lay between them on the wall,
they had each a slip of slate in a very dirty hand, and behind Peter,
out of the reach of accidents, were several strange rounded objects
rather like very fat sausages, hollow, but closed up at one end.
"It's nests," said Peter, "swallows' nests. We're going to dry them
in the oven and hang them up with string under the eaves of the
"Yes," said Phyllis; "and then we're going to save up all the wool and
hair we can get, and in the spring we'll line them, and then how pleased
the swallows will be!"
"I've often thought people don't do nearly enough for dumb animals,"
said Peter with an air of virtue. "I do think people might have thought
of making nests for poor little swallows before this."
"Oh," said Bobbie, vaguely, "if everybody thought of everything, there'd
be nothing left for anybody else to think about."
"Look at the nests--aren't they pretty?" said Phyllis, reaching across
Peter to grasp a nest.
"Look out, Phil, you goat," said her brother. But it was too late; her
strong little fingers had crushed the nest.
"There now," said Peter.
"Never mind," said Bobbie.
"It IS one of my own," said Phyllis, "so you needn't jaw, Peter. Yes,
we've put our initial names on the ones we've done, so that the swallows
will know who they've got to be so grateful to and fond of."
"Swallows can't read, silly," said Peter.
"Silly yourself," retorted Phyllis; "how do you know?"
"Who thought of making the nests, anyhow?" shouted Peter.
"I did," screamed Phyllis.
"Nya," rejoined Peter, "you only thought of making hay ones and sticking
them in the ivy for the sparrows, and they'd have been sopping LONG
before egg-laying time. It was me said clay and swallows."
"I don't care what you said."
"Look," said Bobbie, "I've made the nest all right again. Give me the
bit of stick to mark your initial name on it. But how can you? Your
letter and Peter's are the same. P. for Peter, P. for Phyllis."
"I put F. for Phyllis," said the child of that name. "That's how
it sounds. The swallows wouldn't spell Phyllis with a P., I'm
"They can't spell at all," Peter was still insisting.
"Then why do you see them always on Christmas cards and valentines
with letters round their necks? How would they know where to go if they
"That's only in pictures. You never saw one really with letters round
"Well, I have a pigeon, then; at least Daddy told me they did. Only it
was under their wings and not round their necks, but it comes to the
same thing, and--"
"I say," interrupted Bobbie, "there's to be a paperchase to-morrow."
"Who?" Peter asked.
"Grammar School. Perks thinks the hare will go along by the line at
first. We might go along the cutting. You can see a long way from
The paperchase was found to be a more amusing subject of conversation
than the reading powers of swallows. Bobbie had hoped it might be. And
next morning Mother let them take their lunch and go out for the day to
see the paperchase.
"If we go to the cutting," said Peter, "we shall see the workmen, even
if we miss the paperchase."
Of course it had taken some time to get the line clear from the rocks
and earth and trees that had fallen on it when the great landslip
happened. That was the occasion, you will remember, when the three
children saved the train from being wrecked by waving six little
red-flannel-petticoat flags. It is always interesting to watch people
working, especially when they work with such interesting things as
spades and picks and shovels and planks and barrows, when they have
cindery red fires in iron pots with round holes in them, and red lamps
hanging near the works at night. Of course the children were never
out at night; but once, at dusk, when Peter had got out of his bedroom
skylight on to the roof, he had seen the red lamp shining far away at
the edge of the cutting. The children had often been down to watch the
work, and this day the interest of picks and spades, and barrows being
wheeled along planks, completely put the paperchase out of their heads,
so that they quite jumped when a voice just behind them panted, "Let me
pass, please." It was the hare--a big-boned, loose-limbed boy, with dark
hair lying flat on a very damp forehead. The bag of torn paper under
his arm was fastened across one shoulder by a strap. The children stood
back. The hare ran along the line, and the workmen leaned on their picks
to watch him. He ran on steadily and disappeared into the mouth of the
"That's against the by-laws," said the foreman.
"Why worry?" said the oldest workman; "live and let live's what I always
say. Ain't you never been young yourself, Mr. Bates?"
"I ought to report him," said the foreman.
"Why spoil sport's what I always say."
"Passengers are forbidden to cross the line on any pretence," murmured
the foreman, doubtfully.
"He ain't no passenger," said one of the workmen.
"Nor 'e ain't crossed the line, not where we could see 'im do it," said
"Nor yet 'e ain't made no pretences," said a third.
"And," said the oldest workman, "'e's outer sight now. What the eye
don't see the 'art needn't take no notice of's what I always say."
And now, following the track of the hare by the little white blots of
scattered paper, came the hounds. There were thirty of them, and they
all came down the steep, ladder-like steps by ones and twos and threes
and sixes and sevens. Bobbie and Phyllis and Peter counted them as they
passed. The foremost ones hesitated a moment at the foot of the ladder,
then their eyes caught the gleam of scattered whiteness along the line
and they turned towards the tunnel, and, by ones and twos and threes and
sixes and sevens, disappeared in the dark mouth of it. The last one, in
a red jersey, seemed to be extinguished by the darkness like a candle
that is blown out.
"They don't know what they're in for," said the foreman; "it isn't so
easy running in the dark. The tunnel takes two or three turns."
"They'll take a long time to get through, you think?" Peter asked.
"An hour or more, I shouldn't wonder."
"Then let's cut across the top and see them come out at the other end,"
said Peter; "we shall get there long before they do."
The counsel seemed good, and they went.
They climbed the steep steps from which they had picked the wild cherry
blossom for the grave of the little wild rabbit, and reaching the top of
the cutting, set their faces towards the hill through which the tunnel
was cut. It was stiff work.
"It's like Alps," said Bobbie, breathlessly.
"Or Andes," said Peter.
"It's like Himmy what's its names?" gasped Phyllis. "Mount Everlasting.
Do let's stop."
"Stick to it," panted Peter; "you'll get your second wind in a minute."
Phyllis consented to stick to it--and on they went, running when the
turf was smooth and the slope easy, climbing over stones, helping
themselves up rocks by the branches of trees, creeping through narrow
openings between tree trunks and rocks, and so on and on, up and up,
till at last they stood on the very top of the hill where they had so
often wished to be.
"Halt!" cried Peter, and threw himself flat on the grass. For the very
top of the hill was a smooth, turfed table-land, dotted with mossy rocks
and little mountain-ash trees.
The girls also threw themselves down flat.
"Plenty of time," Peter panted; "the rest's all down hill."
When they were rested enough to sit up and look round them, Bobbie
"What at?" said Phyllis.
"The view," said Bobbie.
"I hate views," said Phyllis, "don't you, Peter?"
"Let's get on," said Peter.
"But this isn't like a view they take you to in carriages when you're
at the seaside, all sea and sand and bare hills. It's like the 'coloured
counties' in one of Mother's poetry books."
"It's not so dusty," said Peter; "look at the Aqueduct straddling slap
across the valley like a giant centipede, and then the towns sticking
their church spires up out of the trees like pens out of an inkstand.
_I_ think it's more like
"There could he see the banners
Of twelve fair cities shine."
"I love it," said Bobbie; "it's worth the climb."
"The paperchase is worth the climb," said Phyllis, "if we don't lose it.
Let's get on. It's all down hill now."
"_I_ said that ten minutes ago," said Peter.
"Well, I'VE said it now," said Phyllis; "come on."
"Loads of time," said Peter. And there was. For when they had got down
to a level with the top of the tunnel's mouth--they were a couple of
hundred yards out of their reckoning and had to creep along the face of
the hill--there was no sign of the hare or the hounds.
"They've gone long ago, of course," said Phyllis, as they leaned on the
brick parapet above the tunnel.
"I don't think so," said Bobbie, "but even if they had, it's ripping
here, and we shall see the trains come out of the tunnel like dragons
out of lairs. We've never seen that from the top side before."
"No more we have," said Phyllis, partially appeased.
It was really a most exciting place to be in. The top of the tunnel
seemed ever so much farther from the line than they had expected, and
it was like being on a bridge, but a bridge overgrown with bushes and
creepers and grass and wild-flowers.
"I KNOW the paperchase has gone long ago," said Phyllis every two
minutes, and she hardly knew whether she was pleased or disappointed
when Peter, leaning over the parapet, suddenly cried:--
"Look out. Here he comes!"
They all leaned over the sun-warmed brick wall in time to see the hare,
going very slowly, come out from the shadow of the tunnel.
"There, now," said Peter, "what did I tell you? Now for the hounds!"
Very soon came the hounds--by ones and twos and threes and sixes and
sevens--and they also were going slowly and seemed very tired. Two or
three who lagged far behind came out long after the others.
"There," said Bobbie, "that's all--now what shall we do?"
"Go along into the tulgy wood over there and have lunch," said Phyllis;
"we can see them for miles from up here."
"Not yet," said Peter. "That's not the last. There's the one in the red
jersey to come yet. Let's see the last of them come out."
But though they waited and waited and waited, the boy in the red jersey
did not appear.
"Oh, let's have lunch," said Phyllis; "I've got a pain in my front with
being so hungry. You must have missed seeing the red-jerseyed one when
he came out with the others--"
But Bobbie and Peter agreed that he had not come out with the others.
"Let's get down to the tunnel mouth," said Peter; "then perhaps we shall
see him coming along from the inside. I expect he felt spun-chuck, and
rested in one of the manholes. You stay up here and watch, Bob, and when
I signal from below, you come down. We might miss seeing him on the way
down, with all these trees."
So the others climbed down and Bobbie waited till they signalled to her
from the line below. And then she, too, scrambled down the roundabout
slippery path among roots and moss till she stepped out between two
dogwood trees and joined the others on the line. And still there was no
sign of the hound with the red jersey.
"Oh, do, DO let's have something to eat," wailed Phyllis. "I shall die
if you don't, and then you'll be sorry."
"Give her the sandwiches, for goodness' sake, and stop her silly mouth,"
said Peter, not quite unkindly. "Look here," he added, turning to
Bobbie, "perhaps we'd better have one each, too. We may need all our
strength. Not more than one, though. There's no time."
"What?" asked Bobbie, her mouth already full, for she was just as hungry
"Don't you see," replied Peter, impressively, "that red-jerseyed hound
has had an accident--that's what it is. Perhaps even as we speak he's
lying with his head on the metals, an unresisting prey to any passing
"Oh, don't try to talk like a book," cried Bobbie, bolting what was left
of her sandwich; "come on. Phil, keep close behind me, and if a train
comes, stand flat against the tunnel wall and hold your petticoats close
"Give me one more sandwich," pleaded Phyllis, "and I will."
"I'm going first," said Peter; "it was my idea," and he went.
Of course you know what going into a tunnel is like? The engine gives
a scream and then suddenly the noise of the running, rattling train
changes and grows different and much louder. Grown-up people pull up the
windows and hold them by the strap. The railway carriage suddenly grows
like night--with lamps, of course, unless you are in a slow local train,
in which case lamps are not always provided. Then by and by the darkness
outside the carriage window is touched by puffs of cloudy whiteness,
then you see a blue light on the walls of the tunnel, then the sound of
the moving train changes once more, and you are out in the good open air
again, and grown-ups let the straps go. The windows, all dim with the
yellow breath of the tunnel, rattle down into their places, and you see
once more the dip and catch of the telegraph wires beside the line, and
the straight-cut hawthorn hedges with the tiny baby trees growing up out
of them every thirty yards.
All this, of course, is what a tunnel means when you are in a train. But
everything is quite different when you walk into a tunnel on your own
feet, and tread on shifting, sliding stones and gravel on a path that
curves downwards from the shining metals to the wall. Then you see
slimy, oozy trickles of water running down the inside of the tunnel,
and you notice that the bricks are not red or brown, as they are at the
tunnel's mouth, but dull, sticky, sickly green. Your voice, when you
speak, is quite changed from what it was out in the sunshine, and it is
a long time before the tunnel is quite dark.
It was not yet quite dark in the tunnel when Phyllis caught at Bobbie's
skirt, ripping out half a yard of gathers, but no one noticed this at
"I want to go back," she said, "I don't like it. It'll be pitch dark
in a minute. I WON'T go on in the dark. I don't care what you say, I
"Don't be a silly cuckoo," said Peter; "I've got a candle end and
matches, and--what's that?"
"That" was a low, humming sound on the railway line, a trembling of the
wires beside it, a buzzing, humming sound that grew louder and louder as
"It's a train," said Bobbie.