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The Railway Children.

by Edith Nesbit.
Age Rating 10 Plus.

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"Well, this one isn't in a book," said Mother, "so we mustn't expect him to roll much." "I say," said Peter, musingly, "wouldn't it be jolly if we all WERE in a book, and you were writing it? Then you could make all sorts of jolly things happen, and make Jim's legs get well at once and be all right to-morrow, and Father come home soon and--" "Do you miss your Father very much?" Mother asked, rather coldly, Peter thought. "Awfully," said Peter, briefly. Mother was enveloping and addressing the second letter. "You see," Peter went on slowly, "you see, it's not only him BEING Father, but now he's away there's no other man in the house but me--that's why I want Jim to stay so frightfully much. Wouldn't you like to be writing that book with us all in it, Mother, and make Daddy come home soon?" Peter's Mother put her arm round him suddenly, and hugged him in silence for a minute. Then she said:-- "Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing the book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us." "Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly. "Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I can't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe. You don't know how I try, Peter. Now take the letters to the post, and don't let's be sad any more. Courage, courage! That's the finest of all the virtues! I dare say Jim will be here for two or three weeks yet." For what was left of the evening Peter was so angelic that Bobbie feared he was going to be ill. She was quite relieved in the morning to find him plaiting Phyllis's hair on to the back of her chair in quite his old manner. It was soon after breakfast that a knock came at the door. The children were hard at work cleaning the brass candlesticks in honour of Jim's visit. "That'll be the Doctor," said Mother; "I'll go. Shut the kitchen door--you're not fit to be seen." But it wasn't the Doctor. They knew that by the voice and by the sound of the boots that went upstairs. They did not recognise the sound of the boots, but everyone was certain that they had heard the voice before. There was a longish interval. The boots and the voice did not come down again. "Who can it possibly be?" they kept on asking themselves and each other. "Perhaps," said Peter at last, "Dr. Forrest has been attacked by highwaymen and left for dead, and this is the man he's telegraphed for to take his place. Mrs. Viney said he had a local tenant to do his work when he went for a holiday, didn't you, Mrs. Viney?"

"I did so, my dear," said Mrs. Viney from the back kitchen. "He's fallen down in a fit, more likely," said Phyllis, "all human aid despaired of. And this is his man come to break the news to Mother." "Nonsense!" said Peter, briskly; "Mother wouldn't have taken the man up into Jim's bedroom. Why should she? Listen--the door's opening. Now they'll come down. I'll open the door a crack." He did. "It's not listening," he replied indignantly to Bobbie's scandalised remarks; "nobody in their senses would talk secrets on the stairs. And Mother can't have secrets to talk with Dr. Forrest's stable-man--and you said it was him." "Bobbie," called Mother's voice. They opened the kitchen door, and Mother leaned over the stair railing. "Jim's grandfather has come," she said; "wash your hands and faces and then you can see him. He wants to see you!" The bedroom door shut again. "There now!" said Peter; "fancy us not even thinking of that! Let's have some hot water, Mrs. Viney. I'm as black as your hat." The three were indeed dirty, for the stuff you clean brass candlesticks with is very far from cleaning to the cleaner. They were still busy with soap and flannel when they heard the boots and the voice come down the stairs and go into the dining-room. And when they were clean, though still damp--because it takes such a long time to dry your hands properly, and they were very impatient to see the grandfather--they filed into the dining-room. Mother was sitting in the window-seat, and in the leather-covered armchair that Father always used to sit in at the other house sat-- THEIR OWN OLD GENTLEMAN! "Well, I never did," said Peter, even before he said, "How do you do?" He was, as he explained afterwards, too surprised even to remember that there was such a thing as politeness--much less to practise it. "It's our own old gentleman!" said Phyllis. "Oh, it's you!" said Bobbie. And then they remembered themselves and their manners and said, "How do you do?" very nicely. "This is Jim's grandfather, Mr. ----" said Mother, naming the old gentleman's name. "How splendid!" said Peter; "that's just exactly like a book, isn't it, Mother?" "It is, rather," said Mother, smiling; "things do happen in real life that are rather like books, sometimes." "I am so awfully glad it IS you," said Phyllis; "when you think of the tons of old gentlemen there are in the world--it might have been almost anyone." "I say, though," said Peter, "you're not going to take Jim away, though, are you?" "Not at present," said the old gentleman. "Your Mother has most kindly consented to let him stay here. I thought of sending a nurse, but your Mother is good enough to say that she will nurse him herself." "But what about her writing?" said Peter, before anyone could stop him. "There won't be anything for him to eat if Mother doesn't write." "That's all right," said Mother, hastily.

The old gentleman looked very kindly at Mother. "I see," he said, "you trust your children, and confide in them." "Of course," said Mother. "Then I may tell them of our little arrangement," he said. "Your Mother, my dears, has consented to give up writing for a little while and to become a Matron of my Hospital." "Oh!" said Phyllis, blankly; "and shall we have to go away from Three Chimneys and the Railway and everything?" "No, no, darling," said Mother, hurriedly. "The Hospital is called Three Chimneys Hospital," said the old gentleman, "and my unlucky Jim's the only patient, and I hope he'll continue to be so. Your Mother will be Matron, and there'll be a hospital staff of a housemaid and a cook--till Jim's well." "And then will Mother go on writing again?" asked Peter. "We shall see," said the old gentleman, with a slight, swift glance at Bobbie; "perhaps something nice may happen and she won't have to." "I love my writing," said Mother, very quickly. "I know," said the old gentleman; "don't be afraid that I'm going to try to interfere. But one never knows. Very wonderful and beautiful things do happen, don't they? And we live most of our lives in the hope of them. I may come again to see the boy?" "Surely," said Mother, "and I don't know how to thank you for making it possible for me to nurse him. Dear boy!" "He kept calling Mother, Mother, in the night," said Phyllis. "I woke up twice and heard him." "He didn't mean me," said Mother, in a low voice to the old gentleman; "that's why I wanted so much to keep him." The old gentleman rose. "I'm so glad," said Peter, "that you're going to keep him, Mother." "Take care of your Mother, my dears," said the old gentleman. "She's a woman in a million." "Yes, isn't she?" whispered Bobbie. "God bless her," said the old gentleman, taking both Mother's hands, "God bless her! Ay, and she shall be blessed. Dear me, where's my hat? Will Bobbie come with me to the gate?" At the gate he stopped and said:-- "You're a good child, my dear--I got your letter. But it wasn't needed. When I read about your Father's case in the papers at the time, I had my doubts. And ever since I've known who you were, I've been trying to find out things. I haven't done very much yet. But I have hopes, my dear--I have hopes." "Oh!" said Bobbie, choking a little. "Yes--I may say great hopes. But keep your secret a little longer. Wouldn't do to upset your Mother with a false hope, would it?" "Oh, but it isn't false!" said Bobbie; "I KNOW you can do it. I knew you could when I wrote. It isn't a false hope, is it?" "No," he said, "I don't think it's a false hope, or I wouldn't have told you. And I think you deserve to be told that there IS a hope." "And you don't think Father did it, do you? Oh, say you don't think he did." "My dear," he said, "I'm perfectly CERTAIN he didn't." If it was a false hope, it was none the less a very radiant one that lay warm at Bobbie's heart, and through the days that followed lighted her little face as a Japanese lantern is lighted by the candle within.

Chapter 14. The End.

Life at the Three Chimneys was never quite the same again after the old gentleman came to see his grandson. Although they now knew his name, the children never spoke of him by it--at any rate, when they were by themselves. To them he was always the old gentleman, and I think he had better be the old gentleman to us, too. It wouldn't make him seem any more real to you, would it, if I were to tell you that his name was Snooks or Jenkins (which it wasn't)?--and, after all, I must be allowed to keep one secret. It's the only one; I have told you everything else, except what I am going to tell you in this chapter, which is the last. At least, of course, I haven't told you EVERYTHING. If I were to do that, the book would never come to an end, and that would be a pity, wouldn't it? Well, as I was saying, life at Three Chimneys was never quite the same again. The cook and the housemaid were very nice (I don't mind telling you their names--they were Clara and Ethelwyn), but they told Mother they did not seem to want Mrs. Viney, and that she was an old muddler. So Mrs. Viney came only two days a week to do washing and ironing. Then Clara and Ethelwyn said they could do the work all right if they weren't interfered with, and that meant that the children no longer got the tea and cleared it away and washed up the tea-things and dusted the rooms. This would have left quite a blank in their lives, although they had often pretended to themselves and to each other that they hated housework. But now that Mother had no writing and no housework to do, she had time for lessons. And lessons the children had to do. However nice the person who is teaching you may be, lessons are lessons all the world over, and at their best are worse fun than peeling potatoes or lighting a fire. On the other hand, if Mother now had time for lessons, she also had time for play, and to make up little rhymes for the children as she used to do. She had not had much time for rhymes since she came to Three Chimneys. There was one very odd thing about these lessons. Whatever the children were doing, they always wanted to be doing something else. When Peter was doing his Latin, he thought it would be nice to be learning History like Bobbie. Bobbie would have preferred Arithmetic, which was what Phyllis happened to be doing, and Phyllis of course thought Latin much the most interesting kind of lesson. And so on. So, one day, when they sat down to lessons, each of them found a little rhyme at its place. I put the rhymes in to show you that their Mother really did understand a little how children feel about things, and also the kind of words they use, which is the case with very few grown-up people. I suppose most grown-ups have very bad memories, and have forgotten how they felt when they were little. Of course, the verses are supposed to be spoken by the children.


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