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The Railway Children.
by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
Age Rating 10 Plus.
It was Aunt Emma, too, who had aired all the sheets ready; and the men
who had moved the furniture had put the bedsteads together, so the beds
were soon made.
"Good night, chickies," said Mother. "I'm sure there aren't any rats.
But I'll leave my door open, and then if a mouse comes, you need only
scream, and I'll come and tell it exactly what I think of it."
Then she went to her own room. Roberta woke to hear the little
travelling clock chime two. It sounded like a church clock ever so far
away, she always thought. And she heard, too, Mother still moving about
in her room.
Next morning Roberta woke Phyllis by pulling her hair gently, but quite
enough for her purpose.
"Wassermarrer?" asked Phyllis, still almost wholly asleep.
"Wake up! wake up!" said Roberta. "We're in the new house--don't you
remember? No servants or anything. Let's get up and begin to be useful.
We'll just creep down mouse-quietly, and have everything beautiful
before Mother gets up. I've woke Peter. He'll be dressed as soon as we
So they dressed quietly and quickly. Of course, there was no water in
their room, so when they got down they washed as much as they thought
was necessary under the spout of the pump in the yard. One pumped and
the other washed. It was splashy but interesting.
"It's much more fun than basin washing," said Roberta. "How sparkly
the weeds are between the stones, and the moss on the roof--oh, and the
The roof of the back kitchen sloped down quite low. It was made
of thatch and it had moss on it, and house-leeks and stonecrop and
wallflowers, and even a clump of purple flag-flowers, at the far corner.
"This is far, far, far and away prettier than Edgecombe Villa," said
Phyllis. "I wonder what the garden's like."
"We mustn't think of the garden yet," said Roberta, with earnest energy.
"Let's go in and begin to work."
They lighted the fire and put the kettle on, and they arranged the
crockery for breakfast; they could not find all the right things, but
a glass ash-tray made an excellent salt-cellar, and a newish baking-tin
seemed as if it would do to put bread on, if they had any.
When there seemed to be nothing more that they could do, they went out
again into the fresh bright morning.
"We'll go into the garden now," said Peter. But somehow they couldn't
find the garden. They went round the house and round the house. The yard
occupied the back, and across it were stables and outbuildings. On the
other three sides the house stood simply in a field, without a yard
of garden to divide it from the short smooth turf. And yet they had
certainly seen the garden wall the night before.
It was a hilly country. Down below they could see the line of the
railway, and the black yawning mouth of a tunnel. The station was out of
sight. There was a great bridge with tall arches running across one end
of the valley.
"Never mind the garden," said Peter; "let's go down and look at the
railway. There might be trains passing."
"We can see them from here," said Roberta, slowly; "let's sit down a
So they all sat down on a great flat grey stone that had pushed itself
up out of the grass; it was one of many that lay about on the hillside,
and when Mother came out to look for them at eight o'clock, she found
them deeply asleep in a contented, sun-warmed bunch.
They had made an excellent fire, and had set the kettle on it at about
half-past five. So that by eight the fire had been out for some time,
the water had all boiled away, and the bottom was burned out of the
kettle. Also they had not thought of washing the crockery before they
set the table.
"But it doesn't matter--the cups and saucers, I mean," said Mother.
"Because I've found another room--I'd quite forgotten there was one. And
it's magic! And I've boiled the water for tea in a saucepan."
The forgotten room opened out of the kitchen. In the agitation and half
darkness the night before its door had been mistaken for a cupboard's.
It was a little square room, and on its table, all nicely set out, was a
joint of cold roast beef, with bread, butter, cheese, and a pie.
"Pie for breakfast!" cried Peter; "how perfectly ripping!"
"It isn't pigeon-pie," said Mother; "it's only apple. Well, this is the
supper we ought to have had last night. And there was a note from Mrs.
Viney. Her son-in-law has broken his arm, and she had to get home early.
She's coming this morning at ten."
That was a wonderful breakfast. It is unusual to begin the day with
cold apple pie, but the children all said they would rather have it than
"You see it's more like dinner than breakfast to us," said Peter,
passing his plate for more, "because we were up so early."
The day passed in helping Mother to unpack and arrange things. Six small
legs quite ached with running about while their owners carried clothes
and crockery and all sorts of things to their proper places. It was not
till quite late in the afternoon that Mother said:--
"There! That'll do for to-day. I'll lie down for an hour, so as to be as
fresh as a lark by supper-time."
Then they all looked at each other. Each of the three expressive
countenances expressed the same thought. That thought was double,
and consisted, like the bits of information in the Child's Guide to
Knowledge, of a question and an answer.
Q. Where shall we go?
A. To the railway.
So to the railway they went, and as soon as they started for the railway
they saw where the garden had hidden itself. It was right behind the
stables, and it had a high wall all round.
"Oh, never mind about the garden now!" cried Peter. "Mother told me
this morning where it was. It'll keep till to-morrow. Let's get to the
The way to the railway was all down hill over smooth, short turf with
here and there furze bushes and grey and yellow rocks sticking out like
candied peel from the top of a cake.
The way ended in a steep run and a wooden fence--and there was the
railway with the shining metals and the telegraph wires and posts and
They all climbed on to the top of the fence, and then suddenly there was
a rumbling sound that made them look along the line to the right, where
the dark mouth of a tunnel opened itself in the face of a rocky cliff;
next moment a train had rushed out of the tunnel with a shriek and
a snort, and had slid noisily past them. They felt the rush of its
passing, and the pebbles on the line jumped and rattled under it as it
"Oh!" said Roberta, drawing a long breath; "it was like a great dragon
tearing by. Did you feel it fan us with its hot wings?"
"I suppose a dragon's lair might look very like that tunnel from the
outside," said Phyllis.
But Peter said:--
"I never thought we should ever get as near to a train as this. It's the
most ripping sport!"
"Better than toy-engines, isn't it?" said Roberta.
(I am tired of calling Roberta by her name. I don't see why I should.
No one else did. Everyone else called her Bobbie, and I don't see why I
"I don't know; it's different," said Peter. "It seems so odd to see ALL
of a train. It's awfully tall, isn't it?"
"We've always seen them cut in half by platforms," said Phyllis.
"I wonder if that train was going to London," Bobbie said. "London's
where Father is."
"Let's go down to the station and find out," said Peter.
So they went.
They walked along the edge of the line, and heard the telegraph wires
humming over their heads. When you are in the train, it seems such a
little way between post and post, and one after another the posts seem
to catch up the wires almost more quickly than you can count them. But
when you have to walk, the posts seem few and far between.
But the children got to the station at last.
Never before had any of them been at a station, except for the purpose
of catching trains--or perhaps waiting for them--and always with
grown-ups in attendance, grown-ups who were not themselves interested in
stations, except as places from which they wished to get away.
Never before had they passed close enough to a signal-box to be able to
notice the wires, and to hear the mysterious 'ping, ping,' followed by
the strong, firm clicking of machinery.
The very sleepers on which the rails lay were a delightful path to
travel by--just far enough apart to serve as the stepping-stones in a
game of foaming torrents hastily organised by Bobbie.
Then to arrive at the station, not through the booking office, but in
a freebooting sort of way by the sloping end of the platform. This in
itself was joy.
Joy, too, it was to peep into the porters' room, where the lamps are,
and the Railway almanac on the wall, and one porter half asleep behind a
There were a great many crossing lines at the station; some of them just
ran into a yard and stopped short, as though they were tired of business
and meant to retire for good. Trucks stood on the rails here, and on one
side was a great heap of coal--not a loose heap, such as you see in your
coal cellar, but a sort of solid building of coals with large square
blocks of coal outside used just as though they were bricks, and built
up till the heap looked like the picture of the Cities of the Plain in
'Bible Stories for Infants.' There was a line of whitewash near the top
of the coaly wall.
When presently the Porter lounged out of his room at the twice-repeated
tingling thrill of a gong over the station door, Peter said, "How do you
do?" in his best manner, and hastened to ask what the white mark was on
the coal for.
"To mark how much coal there be," said the Porter, "so as we'll know if
anyone nicks it. So don't you go off with none in your pockets, young
This seemed, at the time but a merry jest, and Peter felt at once that
the Porter was a friendly sort with no nonsense about him. But later the
words came back to Peter with a new meaning.
Have you ever gone into a farmhouse kitchen on a baking day, and seen
the great crock of dough set by the fire to rise? If you have, and if
you were at that time still young enough to be interested in everything
you saw, you will remember that you found yourself quite unable to
resist the temptation to poke your finger into the soft round of dough
that curved inside the pan like a giant mushroom. And you will remember
that your finger made a dent in the dough, and that slowly, but quite
surely, the dent disappeared, and the dough looked quite the same as it
did before you touched it. Unless, of course, your hand was extra dirty,
in which case, naturally, there would be a little black mark.
Well, it was just like that with the sorrow the children had felt at
Father's going away, and at Mother's being so unhappy. It made a deep
impression, but the impression did not last long.
They soon got used to being without Father, though they did not forget
him; and they got used to not going to school, and to seeing very little
of Mother, who was now almost all day shut up in her upstairs room
writing, writing, writing. She used to come down at tea-time and read
aloud the stories she had written. They were lovely stories.
The rocks and hills and valleys and trees, the canal, and above all, the
railway, were so new and so perfectly pleasing that the remembrance of
the old life in the villa grew to seem almost like a dream.
Mother had told them more than once that they were 'quite poor now,' but
this did not seem to be anything but a way of speaking. Grown-up people,
even Mothers, often make remarks that don't seem to mean anything in
particular, just for the sake of saying something, seemingly. There was
always enough to eat, and they wore the same kind of nice clothes they
had always worn.
But in June came three wet days; the rain came down, straight as lances,
and it was very, very cold. Nobody could go out, and everybody shivered.
They all went up to the door of Mother's room and knocked.
"Well, what is it?" asked Mother from inside.
"Mother," said Bobbie, "mayn't I light a fire? I do know how."
And Mother said: "No, my ducky-love. We mustn't have fires in June--coal
is so dear. If you're cold, go and have a good romp in the attic.
That'll warm you."
"But, Mother, it only takes such a very little coal to make a fire."
"It's more than we can afford, chickeny-love," said Mother, cheerfully.
"Now run away, there's darlings--I'm madly busy!"
"Mother's always busy now," said Phyllis, in a whisper to Peter. Peter
did not answer. He shrugged his shoulders. He was thinking.
Thought, however, could not long keep itself from the suitable
furnishing of a bandit's lair in the attic. Peter was the bandit, of
course. Bobbie was his lieutenant, his band of trusty robbers, and, in
due course, the parent of Phyllis, who was the captured maiden for whom
a magnificent ransom--in horse-beans--was unhesitatingly paid.
They all went down to tea flushed and joyous as any mountain brigands.
But when Phyllis was going to add jam to her bread and butter, Mother
"Jam OR butter, dear--not jam AND butter. We can't afford that sort of
reckless luxury nowadays."
Phyllis finished the slice of bread and butter in silence, and followed
it up by bread and jam. Peter mingled thought and weak tea.
After tea they went back to the attic and he said to his sisters:--
"I have an idea."
"What's that?" they asked politely.
"I shan't tell you," was Peter's unexpected rejoinder.
"Oh, very well," said Bobbie; and Phil said, "Don't, then."
"Girls," said Peter, "are always so hasty tempered."
"I should like to know what boys are?" said Bobbie, with fine disdain.
"I don't want to know about your silly ideas."