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The Railway Children.

by Edith Nesbit.
Age Rating 10 Plus.

Start of Story

"Let me go back," cried Phyllis, struggling to get away from the hand by which Bobbie held her. "Don't be a coward," said Bobbie; "it's quite safe. Stand back." "Come on," shouted Peter, who was a few yards ahead. "Quick! Manhole!" The roar of the advancing train was now louder than the noise you hear when your head is under water in the bath and both taps are running, and you are kicking with your heels against the bath's tin sides. But Peter had shouted for all he was worth, and Bobbie heard him. She dragged Phyllis along to the manhole. Phyllis, of course, stumbled over the wires and grazed both her legs. But they dragged her in, and all three stood in the dark, damp, arched recess while the train roared louder and louder. It seemed as if it would deafen them. And, in the distance, they could see its eyes of fire growing bigger and brighter every instant. "It IS a dragon--I always knew it was--it takes its own shape in here, in the dark," shouted Phyllis. But nobody heard her. You see the train was shouting, too, and its voice was bigger than hers. And now, with a rush and a roar and a rattle and a long dazzling flash of lighted carriage windows, a smell of smoke, and blast of hot air, the train hurtled by, clanging and jangling and echoing in the vaulted roof of the tunnel. Phyllis and Bobbie clung to each other. Even Peter caught hold of Bobbie's arm, "in case she should be frightened," as he explained afterwards. And now, slowly and gradually, the tail-lights grew smaller and smaller, and so did the noise, till with one last WHIZ the train got itself out of the tunnel, and silence settled again on its damp walls and dripping roof. "OH!" said the children, all together in a whisper. Peter was lighting the candle end with a hand that trembled. "Come on," he said; but he had to clear his throat before he could speak in his natural voice. "Oh," said Phyllis, "if the red-jerseyed one was in the way of the train!" "We've got to go and see," said Peter. "Couldn't we go and send someone from the station?" said Phyllis. "Would you rather wait here for us?" asked Bobbie, severely, and of course that settled the question. So the three went on into the deeper darkness of the tunnel. Peter led, holding his candle end high to light the way. The grease ran down his fingers, and some of it right up his sleeve. He found a long streak from wrist to elbow when he went to bed that night.

It was not more than a hundred and fifty yards from the spot where they had stood while the train went by that Peter stood still, shouted "Hullo," and then went on much quicker than before. When the others caught him up, he stopped. And he stopped within a yard of what they had come into the tunnel to look for. Phyllis saw a gleam of red, and shut her eyes tight. There, by the curved, pebbly down line, was the red-jerseyed hound. His back was against the wall, his arms hung limply by his sides, and his eyes were shut. "Was the red, blood? Is he all killed?" asked Phyllis, screwing her eyelids more tightly together. "Killed? Nonsense!" said Peter. "There's nothing red about him except his jersey. He's only fainted. What on earth are we to do?" "Can we move him?" asked Bobbie. "I don't know; he's a big chap." "Suppose we bathe his forehead with water. No, I know we haven't any, but milk's just as wet. There's a whole bottle." "Yes," said Peter, "and they rub people's hands, I believe." "They burn feathers, I know," said Phyllis. "What's the good of saying that when we haven't any feathers?" "As it happens," said Phyllis, in a tone of exasperated triumph, "I've got a shuttlecock in my pocket. So there!" And now Peter rubbed the hands of the red-jerseyed one. Bobbie burned the feathers of the shuttlecock one by one under his nose, Phyllis splashed warmish milk on his forehead, and all three kept on saying as fast and as earnestly as they could:-- "Oh, look up, speak to me! For my sake, speak!"

Chapter 12. What Bobbie brought home.

"Oh, look up! Speak to me! For MY sake, speak!" The children said the words over and over again to the unconscious hound in a red jersey, who sat with closed eyes and pale face against the side of the tunnel. "Wet his ears with milk," said Bobbie. "I know they do it to people that faint--with eau-de-Cologne. But I expect milk's just as good." So they wetted his ears, and some of the milk ran down his neck under the red jersey. It was very dark in the tunnel. The candle end Peter had carried, and which now burned on a flat stone, gave hardly any light at all. "Oh, DO look up," said Phyllis. "For MY sake! I believe he's dead." "For MY sake," repeated Bobbie. "No, he isn't." "For ANY sake," said Peter; "come out of it." And he shook the sufferer by the arm. And then the boy in the red jersey sighed, and opened his eyes, and shut them again and said in a very small voice, "Chuck it." "Oh, he's NOT dead," said Phyllis. "I KNEW he wasn't," and she began to cry. "What's up? I'm all right," said the boy. "Drink this," said Peter, firmly, thrusting the nose of the milk bottle into the boy's mouth. The boy struggled, and some of the milk was upset before he could get his mouth free to say:-- "What is it?" "It's milk," said Peter. "Fear not, you are in the hands of friends. Phil, you stop bleating this minute." "Do drink it," said Bobbie, gently; "it'll do you good." So he drank. And the three stood by without speaking to him. "Let him be a minute," Peter whispered; "he'll be all right as soon as the milk begins to run like fire through his veins." He was. "I'm better now," he announced. "I remember all about it." He tried to move, but the movement ended in a groan. "Bother! I believe I've broken my leg," he said. "Did you tumble down?" asked Phyllis, sniffing. "Of course not--I'm not a kiddie," said the boy, indignantly; "it was one of those beastly wires tripped me up, and when I tried to get up again I couldn't stand, so I sat down. Gee whillikins! it does hurt, though. How did YOU get here?" "We saw you all go into the tunnel and then we went across the hill to see you all come out. And the others did--all but you, and you didn't. So we are a rescue party," said Peter, with pride. "You've got some pluck, I will say," remarked the boy. "Oh, that's nothing," said Peter, with modesty. "Do you think you could walk if we helped you?" "I could try," said the boy. He did try. But he could only stand on one foot; the other dragged in a very nasty way.

"Here, let me sit down. I feel like dying," said the boy. "Let go of me--let go, quick--" He lay down and closed his eyes. The others looked at each other by the dim light of the little candle. "What on earth!" said Peter. "Look here," said Bobbie, quickly, "you must go and get help. Go to the nearest house." "Yes, that's the only thing," said Peter. "Come on." "If you take his feet and Phil and I take his head, we could carry him to the manhole." They did it. It was perhaps as well for the sufferer that he had fainted again. "Now," said Bobbie, "I'll stay with him. You take the longest bit of candle, and, oh--be quick, for this bit won't burn long." "I don't think Mother would like me leaving you," said Peter, doubtfully. "Let me stay, and you and Phil go." "No, no," said Bobbie, "you and Phil go--and lend me your knife. I'll try to get his boot off before he wakes up again." "I hope it's all right what we're doing," said Peter. "Of course it's right," said Bobbie, impatiently. "What else WOULD you do? Leave him here all alone because it's dark? Nonsense. Hurry up, that's all." So they hurried up. Bobbie watched their dark figures and the little light of the little candle with an odd feeling of having come to the end of everything. She knew now, she thought, what nuns who were bricked up alive in convent walls felt like. Suddenly she gave herself a little shake. "Don't be a silly little girl," she said. She was always very angry when anyone else called her a little girl, even if the adjective that went first was not "silly" but "nice" or "good" or "clever." And it was only when she was very angry with herself that she allowed Roberta to use that expression to Bobbie. She fixed the little candle end on a broken brick near the red-jerseyed boy's feet. Then she opened Peter's knife. It was always hard to manage--a halfpenny was generally needed to get it open at all. This time Bobbie somehow got it open with her thumbnail. She broke the nail, and it hurt horribly. Then she cut the boy's bootlace, and got the boot off. She tried to pull off his stocking, but his leg was dreadfully swollen, and it did not seem to be the proper shape. So she cut the stocking down, very slowly and carefully. It was a brown, knitted stocking, and she wondered who had knitted it, and whether it was the boy's mother, and whether she was feeling anxious about him, and how she would feel when he was brought home with his leg broken. When Bobbie had got the stocking off and saw the poor leg, she felt as though the tunnel was growing darker, and the ground felt unsteady, and nothing seemed quite real. "SILLY little girl!" said Roberta to Bobbie, and felt better. "The poor leg," she told herself; "it ought to have a cushion--ah!"

She remembered the day when she and Phyllis had torn up their red flannel petticoats to make danger signals to stop the train and prevent an accident. Her flannel petticoat to-day was white, but it would be quite as soft as a red one. She took it off. "Oh, what useful things flannel petticoats are!" she said; "the man who invented them ought to have a statue directed to him." And she said it aloud, because it seemed that any voice, even her own, would be a comfort in that darkness. "WHAT ought to be directed? Who to?" asked the boy, suddenly and very feebly. "Oh," said Bobbie, "now you're better! Hold your teeth and don't let it hurt too much. Now!" She had folded the petticoat, and lifting his leg laid it on the cushion of folded flannel. "Don't faint again, PLEASE don't," said Bobbie, as he groaned. She hastily wetted her handkerchief with milk and spread it over the poor leg. "Oh, that hurts," cried the boy, shrinking. "Oh--no, it doesn't--it's nice, really." "What's your name?" said Bobbie. "Jim." "Mine's Bobbie." "But you're a girl, aren't you?" "Yes, my long name's Roberta." "I say--Bobbie." "Yes?" "Wasn't there some more of you just now?" "Yes, Peter and Phil--that's my brother and sister. They've gone to get someone to carry you out." "What rum names. All boys'." "Yes--I wish I was a boy, don't you?" "I think you're all right as you are." "I didn't mean that--I meant don't you wish YOU were a boy, but of course you are without wishing." "You're just as brave as a boy. Why didn't you go with the others?" "Somebody had to stay with you," said Bobbie. "Tell you what, Bobbie," said Jim, "you're a brick. Shake." He reached out a red-jerseyed arm and Bobbie squeezed his hand. "I won't shake it," she explained, "because it would shake YOU, and that would shake your poor leg, and that would hurt. Have you got a hanky?" "I don't expect I have." He felt in his pocket. "Yes, I have. What for?" She took it and wetted it with milk and put it on his forehead. "That's jolly," he said; "what is it?" "Milk," said Bobbie. "We haven't any water--" "You're a jolly good little nurse," said Jim. "I do it for Mother sometimes," said Bobbie--"not milk, of course, but scent, or vinegar and water. I say, I must put the candle out now, because there mayn't be enough of the other one to get you out by." "By George," said he, "you think of everything." Bobbie blew. Out went the candle. You have no idea how black-velvety the darkness was. "I say, Bobbie," said a voice through the blackness, "aren't you afraid of the dark?" "Not--not very, that is--" "Let's hold hands," said the boy, and it was really rather good of him, because he was like most boys of his age and hated all material tokens of affection, such as kissing and holding of hands. He called all such things "pawings," and detested them.


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