Select the desired text size
The Railway Children.
by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
Age Rating 10 Plus.
The girls folded up their clothes with more than usual neatness--which
was the only way of being good that they could think of.
"I say," said Phyllis, smoothing out her pinafore, "you used to say
it was so dull--nothing happening, like in books. Now something HAS
"I never wanted things to happen to make Mother unhappy," said Roberta.
"Everything's perfectly horrid."
Everything continued to be perfectly horrid for some weeks.
Mother was nearly always out. Meals were dull and dirty. The
between-maid was sent away, and Aunt Emma came on a visit. Aunt Emma was
much older than Mother. She was going abroad to be a governess. She
was very busy getting her clothes ready, and they were very ugly, dingy
clothes, and she had them always littering about, and the sewing-machine
seemed to whir--on and on all day and most of the night. Aunt Emma
believed in keeping children in their proper places. And they more than
returned the compliment. Their idea of Aunt Emma's proper place was
anywhere where they were not. So they saw very little of her. They
preferred the company of the servants, who were more amusing. Cook,
if in a good temper, could sing comic songs, and the housemaid, if she
happened not to be offended with you, could imitate a hen that has laid
an egg, a bottle of champagne being opened, and could mew like two cats
fighting. The servants never told the children what the bad news was
that the gentlemen had brought to Father. But they kept hinting
that they could tell a great deal if they chose--and this was not
One day when Peter had made a booby trap over the bath-room door, and
it had acted beautifully as Ruth passed through, that red-haired
parlour-maid caught him and boxed his ears.
"You'll come to a bad end," she said furiously, "you nasty little limb,
you! If you don't mend your ways, you'll go where your precious Father's
gone, so I tell you straight!"
Roberta repeated this to her Mother, and next day Ruth was sent away.
Then came the time when Mother came home and went to bed and stayed
there two days and the Doctor came, and the children crept wretchedly
about the house and wondered if the world was coming to an end.
Mother came down one morning to breakfast, very pale and with lines
on her face that used not to be there. And she smiled, as well as she
could, and said:--
"Now, my pets, everything is settled. We're going to leave this house,
and go and live in the country. Such a ducky dear little white house. I
know you'll love it."
A whirling week of packing followed--not just packing clothes, like when
you go to the seaside, but packing chairs and tables, covering their
tops with sacking and their legs with straw.
All sorts of things were packed that you don't pack when you go to
the seaside. Crockery, blankets, candlesticks, carpets, bedsteads,
saucepans, and even fenders and fire-irons.
The house was like a furniture warehouse. I think the children enjoyed
it very much. Mother was very busy, but not too busy now to talk to
them, and read to them, and even to make a bit of poetry for Phyllis to
cheer her up when she fell down with a screwdriver and ran it into her
"Aren't you going to pack this, Mother?" Roberta asked, pointing to the
beautiful cabinet inlaid with red turtleshell and brass.
"We can't take everything," said Mother.
"But we seem to be taking all the ugly things," said Roberta.
"We're taking the useful ones," said Mother; "we've got to play at being
Poor for a bit, my chickabiddy."
When all the ugly useful things had been packed up and taken away in a
van by men in green-baize aprons, the two girls and Mother and Aunt Emma
slept in the two spare rooms where the furniture was all pretty. All
their beds had gone. A bed was made up for Peter on the drawing-room
"I say, this is larks," he said, wriggling joyously, as Mother tucked
him up. "I do like moving! I wish we moved once a month."
"I don't!" she said. "Good night, Peterkin."
As she turned away Roberta saw her face. She never forgot it.
"Oh, Mother," she whispered all to herself as she got into bed, "how
brave you are! How I love you! Fancy being brave enough to laugh when
you're feeling like THAT!"
Next day boxes were filled, and boxes and more boxes; and then late in
the afternoon a cab came to take them to the station.
Aunt Emma saw them off. They felt that THEY were seeing HER off, and
they were glad of it.
"But, oh, those poor little foreign children that she's going to
governess!" whispered Phyllis. "I wouldn't be them for anything!"
At first they enjoyed looking out of the window, but when it grew dusk
they grew sleepier and sleepier, and no one knew how long they had been
in the train when they were roused by Mother's shaking them gently and
"Wake up, dears. We're there."
They woke up, cold and melancholy, and stood shivering on the draughty
platform while the baggage was taken out of the train. Then the engine,
puffing and blowing, set to work again, and dragged the train away. The
children watched the tail-lights of the guard's van disappear into the
This was the first train the children saw on that railway which was in
time to become so very dear to them. They did not guess then how they
would grow to love the railway, and how soon it would become the centre
of their new life, nor what wonders and changes it would bring to them.
They only shivered and sneezed and hoped the walk to the new house would
not be long. Peter's nose was colder than he ever remembered it to have
been before. Roberta's hat was crooked, and the elastic seemed tighter
than usual. Phyllis's shoe-laces had come undone.
"Come," said Mother, "we've got to walk. There aren't any cabs here."
The walk was dark and muddy. The children stumbled a little on the rough
road, and once Phyllis absently fell into a puddle, and was picked up
damp and unhappy. There were no gas-lamps on the road, and the road was
uphill. The cart went at a foot's pace, and they followed the gritty
crunch of its wheels. As their eyes got used to the darkness, they could
see the mound of boxes swaying dimly in front of them.
A long gate had to be opened for the cart to pass through, and after
that the road seemed to go across fields--and now it went down hill.
Presently a great dark lumpish thing showed over to the right.
"There's the house," said Mother. "I wonder why she's shut the
"Who's SHE?" asked Roberta.
"The woman I engaged to clean the place, and put the furniture straight
and get supper."
There was a low wall, and trees inside.
"That's the garden," said Mother.
"It looks more like a dripping-pan full of black cabbages," said Peter.
The cart went on along by the garden wall, and round to the back of the
house, and here it clattered into a cobble-stoned yard and stopped at
the back door.
There was no light in any of the windows.
Everyone hammered at the door, but no one came.
The man who drove the cart said he expected Mrs. Viney had gone home.
"You see your train was that late," said he.
"But she's got the key," said Mother. "What are we to do?"
"Oh, she'll have left that under the doorstep," said the cart man;
"folks do hereabouts." He took the lantern off his cart and stooped.
"Ay, here it is, right enough," he said.
He unlocked the door and went in and set his lantern on the table.
"Got e'er a candle?" said he.
"I don't know where anything is." Mother spoke rather less cheerfully
He struck a match. There was a candle on the table, and he lighted it.
By its thin little glimmer the children saw a large bare kitchen with
a stone floor. There were no curtains, no hearth-rug. The kitchen
table from home stood in the middle of the room. The chairs were in one
corner, and the pots, pans, brooms, and crockery in another. There was
no fire, and the black grate showed cold, dead ashes.
As the cart man turned to go out after he had brought in the boxes,
there was a rustling, scampering sound that seemed to come from inside
the walls of the house.
"Oh, what's that?" cried the girls.
"It's only the rats," said the cart man. And he went away and shut the
door, and the sudden draught of it blew out the candle.
"Oh, dear," said Phyllis, "I wish we hadn't come!" and she knocked a
"ONLY the rats!" said Peter, in the dark.
Chapter 2. Peters coal mine.
"What fun!" said Mother, in the dark, feeling for the matches on the
table. "How frightened the poor mice were--I don't believe they were
rats at all."
She struck a match and relighted the candle and everyone looked at each
other by its winky, blinky light.
"Well," she said, "you've often wanted something to happen and now it
has. This is quite an adventure, isn't it? I told Mrs. Viney to get us
some bread and butter, and meat and things, and to have supper ready. I
suppose she's laid it in the dining-room. So let's go and see."
The dining-room opened out of the kitchen. It looked much darker than
the kitchen when they went in with the one candle. Because the kitchen
was whitewashed, but the dining-room was dark wood from floor to
ceiling, and across the ceiling there were heavy black beams. There was
a muddled maze of dusty furniture--the breakfast-room furniture from
the old home where they had lived all their lives. It seemed a very long
time ago, and a very long way off.
There was the table certainly, and there were chairs, but there was no
"Let's look in the other rooms," said Mother; and they looked. And in
each room was the same kind of blundering half-arrangement of furniture,
and fire-irons and crockery, and all sorts of odd things on the floor,
but there was nothing to eat; even in the pantry there were only a rusty
cake-tin and a broken plate with whitening mixed in it.
"What a horrid old woman!" said Mother; "she's just walked off with the
money and not got us anything to eat at all."
"Then shan't we have any supper at all?" asked Phyllis, dismayed,
stepping back on to a soap-dish that cracked responsively.
"Oh, yes," said Mother, "only it'll mean unpacking one of those big
cases that we put in the cellar. Phil, do mind where you're walking to,
there's a dear. Peter, hold the light."
The cellar door opened out of the kitchen. There were five wooden steps
leading down. It wasn't a proper cellar at all, the children thought,
because its ceiling went up as high as the kitchen's. A bacon-rack hung
under its ceiling. There was wood in it, and coal. Also the big cases.
Peter held the candle, all on one side, while Mother tried to open the
great packing-case. It was very securely nailed down.
"Where's the hammer?" asked Peter.
"That's just it," said Mother. "I'm afraid it's inside the box. But
there's a coal-shovel--and there's the kitchen poker."
And with these she tried to get the case open.
"Let me do it," said Peter, thinking he could do it better himself.
Everyone thinks this when he sees another person stirring a fire, or
opening a box, or untying a knot in a bit of string.
"You'll hurt your hands, Mammy," said Roberta; "let me."
"I wish Father was here," said Phyllis; "he'd get it open in two shakes.
What are you kicking me for, Bobbie?"
"I wasn't," said Roberta.
Just then the first of the long nails in the packing-case began to come
out with a scrunch. Then a lath was raised and then another, till all
four stood up with the long nails in them shining fiercely like iron
teeth in the candle-light.
"Hooray!" said Mother; "here are some candles--the very first thing! You
girls go and light them. You'll find some saucers and things. Just drop
a little candle-grease in the saucer and stick the candle upright in
"How many shall we light?"
"As many as ever you like," said Mother, gaily. "The great thing is
to be cheerful. Nobody can be cheerful in the dark except owls and
So the girls lighted candles. The head of the first match flew off and
stuck to Phyllis's finger; but, as Roberta said, it was only a little
burn, and she might have had to be a Roman martyr and be burned whole if
she had happened to live in the days when those things were fashionable.
Then, when the dining-room was lighted by fourteen candles, Roberta
fetched coal and wood and lighted a fire.
"It's very cold for May," she said, feeling what a grown-up thing it was
The fire-light and the candle-light made the dining-room look very
different, for now you could see that the dark walls were of wood,
carved here and there into little wreaths and loops.
The girls hastily 'tidied' the room, which meant putting the chairs
against the wall, and piling all the odds and ends into a corner and
partly hiding them with the big leather arm-chair that Father used to
sit in after dinner.
"Bravo!" cried Mother, coming in with a tray full of things. "This is
something like! I'll just get a tablecloth and then--"
The tablecloth was in a box with a proper lock that was opened with a
key and not with a shovel, and when the cloth was spread on the table, a
real feast was laid out on it.
Everyone was very, very tired, but everyone cheered up at the sight of
the funny and delightful supper. There were biscuits, the Marie and the
plain kind, sardines, preserved ginger, cooking raisins, and candied
peel and marmalade.
"What a good thing Aunt Emma packed up all the odds and ends out of the
Store cupboard," said Mother. "Now, Phil, DON'T put the marmalade spoon
in among the sardines."
"No, I won't, Mother," said Phyllis, and put it down among the Marie
"Let's drink Aunt Emma's health," said Roberta, suddenly; "what should
we have done if she hadn't packed up these things? Here's to Aunt Emma!"
And the toast was drunk in ginger wine and water, out of
willow-patterned tea-cups, because the glasses couldn't be found.
They all felt that they had been a little hard on Aunt Emma. She wasn't
a nice cuddly person like Mother, but after all it was she who had
thought of packing up the odds and ends of things to eat.