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The Railway Children.

by Edith Nesbit.
Age Rating 10 Plus.

Start of Story

After this it became the custom for waves to be exchanged between the children and the 9.15. And the children, especially the girls, liked to think that perhaps the old gentleman knew Father, and would meet him 'in business,' wherever that shady retreat might be, and tell him how his three children stood on a rail far away in the green country and waved their love to him every morning, wet or fine. For they were now able to go out in all sorts of weather such as they would never have been allowed to go out in when they lived in their villa house. This was Aunt Emma's doing, and the children felt more and more that they had not been quite fair to this unattractive aunt, when they found how useful were the long gaiters and waterproof coats that they had laughed at her for buying for them. Mother, all this time, was very busy with her writing. She used to send off a good many long blue envelopes with stories in them--and large envelopes of different sizes and colours used to come to her. Sometimes she would sigh when she opened them and say:-- "Another story come home to roost. Oh, dear, Oh, dear!" and then the children would be very sorry. But sometimes she would wave the envelope in the air and say:--"Hooray, hooray. Here's a sensible Editor. He's taken my story and this is the proof of it." At first the children thought 'the Proof' meant the letter the sensible Editor had written, but they presently got to know that the proof was long slips of paper with the story printed on them. Whenever an Editor was sensible there were buns for tea. One day Peter was going down to the village to get buns to celebrate the sensibleness of the Editor of the Children's Globe, when he met the Station Master. Peter felt very uncomfortable, for he had now had time to think over the affair of the coal-mine. He did not like to say "Good morning" to the Station Master, as you usually do to anyone you meet on a lonely road, because he had a hot feeling, which spread even to his ears, that the Station Master might not care to speak to a person who had stolen coals. 'Stolen' is a nasty word, but Peter felt it was the right one. So he looked down, and said Nothing. It was the Station Master who said "Good morning" as he passed by. And Peter answered, "Good morning." Then he thought:-- "Perhaps he doesn't know who I am by daylight, or he wouldn't be so polite." And he did not like the feeling which thinking this gave him. And then before he knew what he was going to do he ran after the Station Master, who stopped when he heard Peter's hasty boots crunching the road, and coming up with him very breathless and with his ears now quite magenta-coloured, he said:--



"I don't want you to be polite to me if you don't know me when you see me." "Eh?" said the Station Master. "I thought perhaps you didn't know it was me that took the coals," Peter went on, "when you said 'Good morning.' But it was, and I'm sorry. There." "Why," said the Station Master, "I wasn't thinking anything at all about the precious coals. Let bygones be bygones. And where were you off to in such a hurry?" "I'm going to buy buns for tea," said Peter. "I thought you were all so poor," said the Station Master. "So we are," said Peter, confidentially, "but we always have three pennyworth of halfpennies for tea whenever Mother sells a story or a poem or anything." "Oh," said the Station Master, "so your Mother writes stories, does she?" "The beautifulest you ever read," said Peter. "You ought to be very proud to have such a clever Mother." "Yes," said Peter, "but she used to play with us more before she had to be so clever." "Well," said the Station Master, "I must be getting along. You give us a look in at the Station whenever you feel so inclined. And as to coals, it's a word that--well--oh, no, we never mention it, eh?" "Thank you," said Peter. "I'm very glad it's all straightened out between us." And he went on across the canal bridge to the village to get the buns, feeling more comfortable in his mind than he had felt since the hand of the Station Master had fastened on his collar that night among the coals. Next day when they had sent the threefold wave of greeting to Father by the Green Dragon, and the old gentleman had waved back as usual, Peter proudly led the way to the station. "But ought we?" said Bobbie. "After the coals, she means," Phyllis explained. "I met the Station Master yesterday," said Peter, in an offhand way, and he pretended not to hear what Phyllis had said; "he expresspecially invited us to go down any time we liked." "After the coals?" repeated Phyllis. "Stop a minute--my bootlace is undone again." "It always IS undone again," said Peter, "and the Station Master was more of a gentleman than you'll ever be, Phil--throwing coal at a chap's head like that." Phyllis did up her bootlace and went on in silence, but her shoulders shook, and presently a fat tear fell off her nose and splashed on the metal of the railway line. Bobbie saw it. "Why, what's the matter, darling?" she said, stopping short and putting her arm round the heaving shoulders. "He called me un-un-ungentlemanly," sobbed Phyllis. "I didn't never call him unladylike, not even when he tied my Clorinda to the firewood bundle and burned her at the stake for a martyr." Peter had indeed perpetrated this outrage a year or two before. "Well, you began, you know," said Bobbie, honestly, "about coals and all that. Don't you think you'd better both unsay everything since the wave, and let honour be satisfied?"



"I will if Peter will," said Phyllis, sniffling. "All right," said Peter; "honour is satisfied. Here, use my hankie, Phil, for goodness' sake, if you've lost yours as usual. I wonder what you do with them." "You had my last one," said Phyllis, indignantly, "to tie up the rabbit-hutch door with. But you're very ungrateful. It's quite right what it says in the poetry book about sharper than a serpent it is to have a toothless child--but it means ungrateful when it says toothless. Miss Lowe told me so." "All right," said Peter, impatiently, "I'm sorry. THERE! Now will you come on?" They reached the station and spent a joyous two hours with the Porter. He was a worthy man and seemed never tired of answering the questions that begin with "Why--" which many people in higher ranks of life often seem weary of. He told them many things that they had not known before--as, for instance, that the things that hook carriages together are called couplings, and that the pipes like great serpents that hang over the couplings are meant to stop the train with. "If you could get a holt of one o' them when the train is going and pull 'em apart," said he, "she'd stop dead off with a jerk." "Who's she?" said Phyllis. "The train, of course," said the Porter. After that the train was never again 'It' to the children. "And you know the thing in the carriages where it says on it, 'Five pounds' fine for improper use.' If you was to improperly use that, the train 'ud stop." "And if you used it properly?" said Roberta. "It 'ud stop just the same, I suppose," said he, "but it isn't proper use unless you're being murdered. There was an old lady once--someone kidded her on it was a refreshment-room bell, and she used it improper, not being in danger of her life, though hungry, and when the train stopped and the guard came along expecting to find someone weltering in their last moments, she says, 'Oh, please, Mister, I'll take a glass of stout and a bath bun,' she says. And the train was seven minutes behind her time as it was." "What did the guard say to the old lady?" "_I_ dunno," replied the Porter, "but I lay she didn't forget it in a hurry, whatever it was." In such delightful conversation the time went by all too quickly. The Station Master came out once or twice from that sacred inner temple behind the place where the hole is that they sell you tickets through, and was most jolly with them all. "Just as if coal had never been discovered," Phyllis whispered to her sister. He gave them each an orange, and promised to take them up into the signal-box one of these days, when he wasn't so busy. Several trains went through the station, and Peter noticed for the first time that engines have numbers on them, like cabs.



"Yes," said the Porter, "I knowed a young gent as used to take down the numbers of every single one he seed; in a green note-book with silver corners it was, owing to his father being very well-to-do in the wholesale stationery." Peter felt that he could take down numbers, too, even if he was not the son of a wholesale stationer. As he did not happen to have a green leather note-book with silver corners, the Porter gave him a yellow envelope and on it he noted:-- 379 663 and felt that this was the beginning of what would be a most interesting collection. That night at tea he asked Mother if she had a green leather note-book with silver corners. She had not; but when she heard what he wanted it for she gave him a little black one. "It has a few pages torn out," said she; "but it will hold quite a lot of numbers, and when it's full I'll give you another. I'm so glad you like the railway. Only, please, you mustn't walk on the line." "Not if we face the way the train's coming?" asked Peter, after a gloomy pause, in which glances of despair were exchanged. "No--really not," said Mother. Then Phyllis said, "Mother, didn't YOU ever walk on the railway lines when you were little?" Mother was an honest and honourable Mother, so she had to say, "Yes." "Well, then," said Phyllis. "But, darlings, you don't know how fond I am of you. What should I do if you got hurt?" "Are you fonder of us than Granny was of you when you were little?" Phyllis asked. Bobbie made signs to her to stop, but Phyllis never did see signs, no matter how plain they might be. Mother did not answer for a minute. She got up to put more water in the teapot. "No one," she said at last, "ever loved anyone more than my mother loved me." Then she was quiet again, and Bobbie kicked Phyllis hard under the table, because Bobbie understood a little bit the thoughts that were making Mother so quiet--the thoughts of the time when Mother was a little girl and was all the world to HER mother. It seems so easy and natural to run to Mother when one is in trouble. Bobbie understood a little how people do not leave off running to their mothers when they are in trouble even when they are grown up, and she thought she knew a little what it must be to be sad, and have no mother to run to any more. So she kicked Phyllis, who said:-- "What are you kicking me like that for, Bob?" And then Mother laughed a little and sighed and said:-- "Very well, then. Only let me be sure you do know which way the trains come--and don't walk on the line near the tunnel or near corners." "Trains keep to the left like carriages," said Peter, "so if we keep to the right, we're bound to see them coming."



"Very well," said Mother, and I dare say you think that she ought not to have said it. But she remembered about when she was a little girl herself, and she did say it--and neither her own children nor you nor any other children in the world could ever understand exactly what it cost her to do it. Only some few of you, like Bobbie, may understand a very little bit. It was the very next day that Mother had to stay in bed because her head ached so. Her hands were burning hot, and she would not eat anything, and her throat was very sore. "If I was you, Mum," said Mrs. Viney, "I should take and send for the doctor. There's a lot of catchy complaints a-going about just now. My sister's eldest--she took a chill and it went to her inside, two years ago come Christmas, and she's never been the same gell since." Mother wouldn't at first, but in the evening she felt so much worse that Peter was sent to the house in the village that had three laburnum trees by the gate, and on the gate a brass plate with W. W. Forrest, M.D., on it. W. W. Forrest, M.D., came at once. He talked to Peter on the way back. He seemed a most charming and sensible man, interested in railways, and rabbits, and really important things. When he had seen Mother, he said it was influenza. "Now, Lady Grave-airs," he said in the hall to Bobbie, "I suppose you'll want to be head-nurse." "Of course," said she. "Well, then, I'll send down some medicine. Keep up a good fire. Have some strong beef tea made ready to give her as soon as the fever goes down. She can have grapes now, and beef essence--and soda-water and milk, and you'd better get in a bottle of brandy. The best brandy. Cheap brandy is worse than poison." She asked him to write it all down, and he did. When Bobbie showed Mother the list he had written, Mother laughed. It WAS a laugh, Bobbie decided, though it was rather odd and feeble. "Nonsense," said Mother, laying in bed with eyes as bright as beads. "I can't afford all that rubbish. Tell Mrs. Viney to boil two pounds of scrag-end of the neck for your dinners to-morrow, and I can have some of the broth. Yes, I should like some more water now, love. And will you get a basin and sponge my hands?" Roberta obeyed. When she had done everything she could to make Mother less uncomfortable, she went down to the others. Her cheeks were very red, her lips set tight, and her eyes almost as bright as Mother's. She told them what the Doctor had said, and what Mother had said. "And now," said she, when she had told all, "there's no one but us to do anything, and we've got to do it. I've got the shilling for the mutton."

       



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