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The Railway Children.
by Edith Nesbit.
Start of Story
Age Rating 10 Plus.
"We can do without the beastly mutton," said Peter; "bread and butter
will support life. People have lived on less on desert islands many a
"Of course," said his sister. And Mrs. Viney was sent to the village to
get as much brandy and soda-water and beef tea as she could buy for a
"But even if we never have anything to eat at all," said Phyllis, "you
can't get all those other things with our dinner money."
"No," said Bobbie, frowning, "we must find out some other way. Now
THINK, everybody, just as hard as ever you can."
They did think. And presently they talked. And later, when Bobbie had
gone up to sit with Mother in case she wanted anything, the other two
were very busy with scissors and a white sheet, and a paint brush, and
the pot of Brunswick black that Mrs. Viney used for grates and fenders.
They did not manage to do what they wished, exactly, with the first
sheet, so they took another out of the linen cupboard. It did not occur
to them that they were spoiling good sheets which cost good money. They
only knew that they were making a good--but what they were making comes
Bobbie's bed had been moved into Mother's room, and several times in
the night she got up to mend the fire, and to give her mother milk and
soda-water. Mother talked to herself a good deal, but it did not seem
to mean anything. And once she woke up suddenly and called out: "Mamma,
mamma!" and Bobbie knew she was calling for Granny, and that she had
forgotten that it was no use calling, because Granny was dead.
In the early morning Bobbie heard her name and jumped out of bed and ran
to Mother's bedside.
"Oh--ah, yes--I think I was asleep," said Mother. "My poor little duck,
how tired you'll be--I do hate to give you all this trouble."
"Trouble!" said Bobbie.
"Ah, don't cry, sweet," Mother said; "I shall be all right in a day or
And Bobbie said, "Yes," and tried to smile.
When you are used to ten hours of solid sleep, to get up three or four
times in your sleep-time makes you feel as though you had been up all
night. Bobbie felt quite stupid and her eyes were sore and stiff, but
she tidied the room, and arranged everything neatly before the Doctor
This was at half-past eight.
"Everything going on all right, little Nurse?" he said at the front
door. "Did you get the brandy?"
"I've got the brandy," said Bobbie, "in a little flat bottle."
"I didn't see the grapes or the beef tea, though," said he.
"No," said Bobbie, firmly, "but you will to-morrow. And there's some
beef stewing in the oven for beef tea."
"Who told you to do that?" he asked.
"I noticed what Mother did when Phil had mumps."
"Right," said the Doctor. "Now you get your old woman to sit with your
mother, and then you eat a good breakfast, and go straight to bed and
sleep till dinner-time. We can't afford to have the head-nurse ill."
He was really quite a nice doctor.
When the 9.15 came out of the tunnel that morning the old gentleman in
the first-class carriage put down his newspaper, and got ready to wave
his hand to the three children on the fence. But this morning there were
not three. There was only one. And that was Peter.
Peter was not on the railings either, as usual. He was standing in front
of them in an attitude like that of a show-man showing off the animals
in a menagerie, or of the kind clergyman when he points with a wand at
the 'Scenes from Palestine,' when there is a magic-lantern and he is
Peter was pointing, too. And what he was pointing at was a large white
sheet nailed against the fence. On the sheet there were thick black
letters more than a foot long.
Some of them had run a little, because of Phyllis having put the
Brunswick black on too eagerly, but the words were quite easy to read.
And this what the old gentleman and several other people in the train
read in the large black letters on the white sheet:--
LOOK OUT AT THE STATION.
A good many people did look out at the station and were disappointed,
for they saw nothing unusual. The old gentleman looked out, too, and at
first he too saw nothing more unusual than the gravelled platform and
the sunshine and the wallflowers and forget-me-nots in the station
borders. It was only just as the train was beginning to puff and pull
itself together to start again that he saw Phyllis. She was quite out of
breath with running.
"Oh," she said, "I thought I'd missed you. My bootlaces would keep
coming down and I fell over them twice. Here, take it."
She thrust a warm, dampish letter into his hand as the train moved.
He leaned back in his corner and opened the letter. This is what he
"Dear Mr. We do not know your name.
Mother is ill and the doctor says to give her the things at the end of
the letter, but she says she can't aford it, and to get mutton for
us and she will have the broth. We do not know anybody here but you,
because Father is away and we do not know the address. Father will pay
you, or if he has lost all his money, or anything, Peter will pay you
when he is a man. We promise it on our honer. I.O.U. for all the things
"Will you give the parsel to the Station Master, because of us not
knowing what train you come down by? Say it is for Peter that was sorry
about the coals and he will know all right.
Then came the list of things the Doctor had ordered.
The old gentleman read it through once, and his eyebrows went up. He
read it twice and smiled a little. When he had read it thrice, he put it
in his pocket and went on reading The Times.
At about six that evening there was a knock at the back door. The three
children rushed to open it, and there stood the friendly Porter, who had
told them so many interesting things about railways. He dumped down a
big hamper on the kitchen flags.
"Old gent," he said; "he asked me to fetch it up straight away."
"Thank you very much," said Peter, and then, as the Porter lingered, he
"I'm most awfully sorry I haven't got twopence to give you like Father
"You drop it if you please," said the Porter, indignantly. "I wasn't
thinking about no tuppences. I only wanted to say I was sorry your Mamma
wasn't so well, and to ask how she finds herself this evening--and
I've fetched her along a bit of sweetbrier, very sweet to smell it is.
Twopence indeed," said he, and produced a bunch of sweetbrier from his
hat, "just like a conjurer," as Phyllis remarked afterwards.
"Thank you very much," said Peter, "and I beg your pardon about the
"No offence," said the Porter, untruly but politely, and went.
Then the children undid the hamper. First there was straw, and then
there were fine shavings, and then came all the things they had asked
for, and plenty of them, and then a good many things they had not asked
for; among others peaches and port wine and two chickens, a cardboard
box of big red roses with long stalks, and a tall thin green bottle
of lavender water, and three smaller fatter bottles of eau-de-Cologne.
There was a letter, too.
"Dear Roberta and Phyllis and Peter," it said; "here are the things you
want. Your mother will want to know where they came from. Tell her they
were sent by a friend who heard she was ill. When she is well again you
must tell her all about it, of course. And if she says you ought not to
have asked for the things, tell her that I say you were quite right,
and that I hope she will forgive me for taking the liberty of allowing
myself a very great pleasure."
The letter was signed G. P. something that the children couldn't read.
"I think we WERE right," said Phyllis.
"Right? Of course we were right," said Bobbie.
"All the same," said Peter, with his hands in his pockets, "I don't
exactly look forward to telling Mother the whole truth about it."
"We're not to do it till she's well," said Bobbie, "and when she's well
we shall be so happy we shan't mind a little fuss like that. Oh, just
look at the roses! I must take them up to her."
"And the sweetbrier," said Phyllis, sniffing it loudly; "don't forget
"As if I should!" said Roberta. "Mother told me the other day there was
a thick hedge of it at her mother's house when she was a little girl."
Chapter 4. The engine-burglar.
What was left of the second sheet and the Brunswick black came in very
nicely to make a banner bearing the legend
SHE IS NEARLY WELL THANK YOU
and this was displayed to the Green Dragon about a fortnight after the
arrival of the wonderful hamper. The old gentleman saw it, and waved
a cheerful response from the train. And when this had been done the
children saw that now was the time when they must tell Mother what they
had done when she was ill. And it did not seem nearly so easy as they
had thought it would be. But it had to be done. And it was done. Mother
was extremely angry. She was seldom angry, and now she was angrier than
they had ever known her. This was horrible. But it was much worse when
she suddenly began to cry. Crying is catching, I believe, like measles
and whooping-cough. At any rate, everyone at once found itself taking
part in a crying-party.
Mother stopped first. She dried her eyes and then she said:--
"I'm sorry I was so angry, darlings, because I know you didn't
"We didn't mean to be naughty, Mammy," sobbed Bobbie, and Peter and
"Now, listen," said Mother; "it's quite true that we're poor, but
we have enough to live on. You mustn't go telling everyone about our
affairs--it's not right. And you must never, never, never ask strangers
to give you things. Now always remember that--won't you?"
They all hugged her and rubbed their damp cheeks against hers and
promised that they would.
"And I'll write a letter to your old gentleman, and I shall tell him
that I didn't approve--oh, of course I shall thank him, too, for
his kindness. It's YOU I don't approve of, my darlings, not the old
gentleman. He was as kind as ever he could be. And you can give the
letter to the Station Master to give him--and we won't say any more
Afterwards, when the children were alone, Bobbie said:--
"Isn't Mother splendid? You catch any other grown-up saying they were
sorry they had been angry."
"Yes," said Peter, "she IS splendid; but it's rather awful when she's
"She's like Avenging and Bright in the song," said Phyllis. "I should
like to look at her if it wasn't so awful. She looks so beautiful when
she's really downright furious."
They took the letter down to the Station Master.
"I thought you said you hadn't got any friends except in London," said
"We've made him since," said Peter.
"But he doesn't live hereabouts?"
"No--we just know him on the railway."
Then the Station Master retired to that sacred inner temple behind the
little window where the tickets are sold, and the children went down
to the Porters' room and talked to the Porter. They learned several
interesting things from him--among others that his name was Perks,
that he was married and had three children, that the lamps in front of
engines are called head-lights and the ones at the back tail-lights.
"And that just shows," whispered Phyllis, "that trains really ARE
dragons in disguise, with proper heads and tails."
It was on this day that the children first noticed that all engines are
"Alike?" said the Porter, whose name was Perks, "lor, love you, no,
Miss. No more alike nor what you an' me are. That little 'un without
a tender as went by just now all on her own, that was a tank, that
was--she's off to do some shunting t'other side o' Maidbridge. That's as
it might be you, Miss. Then there's goods engines, great, strong things
with three wheels each side--joined with rods to strengthen 'em--as it
might be me. Then there's main-line engines as it might be this
'ere young gentleman when he grows up and wins all the races at 'is
school--so he will. The main-line engine she's built for speed as well
as power. That's one to the 9.15 up."
"The Green Dragon," said Phyllis.
"We calls her the Snail, Miss, among ourselves," said the Porter. "She's
oftener be'ind'and nor any train on the line."
"But the engine's green," said Phyllis.
"Yes, Miss," said Perks, "so's a snail some seasons o' the year."
The children agreed as they went home to dinner that the Porter was most
Next day was Roberta's birthday. In the afternoon she was politely but
firmly requested to get out of the way and keep there till tea-time.
"You aren't to see what we're going to do till it's done; it's a
glorious surprise," said Phyllis.
And Roberta went out into the garden all alone. She tried to be
grateful, but she felt she would much rather have helped in whatever it
was than have to spend her birthday afternoon by herself, no matter how
glorious the surprise might be.
Now that she was alone, she had time to think, and one of the things she
thought of most was what mother had said in one of those feverish nights
when her hands were so hot and her eyes so bright.
The words were: "Oh, what a doctor's bill there'll be for this!"
She walked round and round the garden among the rose-bushes that hadn't
any roses yet, only buds, and the lilac bushes and syringas and American
currants, and the more she thought of the doctor's bill, the less she
liked the thought of it.
And presently she made up her mind. She went out through the side door
of the garden and climbed up the steep field to where the road runs
along by the canal. She walked along until she came to the bridge that
crosses the canal and leads to the village, and here she waited. It was
very pleasant in the sunshine to lean one's elbows on the warm stone
of the bridge and look down at the blue water of the canal. Bobbie had
never seen any other canal, except the Regent's Canal, and the water of
that is not at all a pretty colour. And she had never seen any river at
all except the Thames, which also would be all the better if its face