The Railway Children
Part 1 out of 5
This etext was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.
THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
To my dear son Paul Bland,
behind whose knowledge of railways
my ignorance confidently shelters.
I. The beginning of things.
II. Peter's coal-mine.
III. The old gentleman.
IV. The engine-burglar.
V. Prisoners and captives.
VI. Saviours of the train.
VII. For valour.
VIII. The amateur fireman.
IX. The pride of Perks.
X. The terrible secret.
XI. The hound in the red jersey.
XII. What Bobbie brought home.
XIII. The hound's grandfather.
XIV. The End.
Chapter I. The beginning of things.
They were not railway children to begin with. I don't suppose they
had ever thought about railways except as a means of getting to
Maskelyne and Cook's, the Pantomime, Zoological Gardens, and Madame
Tussaud's. They were just ordinary suburban children, and they
lived with their Father and Mother in an ordinary red-brick-fronted
villa, with coloured glass in the front door, a tiled passage that
was called a hall, a bath-room with hot and cold water, electric
bells, French windows, and a good deal of white paint, and 'every
modern convenience', as the house-agents say.
There were three of them. Roberta was the eldest. Of course,
Mothers never have favourites, but if their Mother HAD had a
favourite, it might have been Roberta. Next came Peter, who wished
to be an Engineer when he grew up; and the youngest was Phyllis, who
meant extremely well.
Mother did not spend all her time in paying dull calls to dull
ladies, and sitting dully at home waiting for dull ladies to pay
calls to her. She was almost always there, ready to play with the
children, and read to them, and help them to do their home-lessons.
Besides this she used to write stories for them while they were at
school, and read them aloud after tea, and she always made up funny
pieces of poetry for their birthdays and for other great occasions,
such as the christening of the new kittens, or the refurnishing of
the doll's house, or the time when they were getting over the mumps.
These three lucky children always had everything they needed:
pretty clothes, good fires, a lovely nursery with heaps of toys, and
a Mother Goose wall-paper. They had a kind and merry nursemaid, and
a dog who was called James, and who was their very own. They also
had a Father who was just perfect--never cross, never unjust, and
always ready for a game--at least, if at any time he was NOT ready,
he always had an excellent reason for it, and explained the reason
to the children so interestingly and funnily that they felt sure he
couldn't help himself.
You will think that they ought to have been very happy. And so they
were, but they did not know HOW happy till the pretty life in the
Red Villa was over and done with, and they had to live a very
different life indeed.
The dreadful change came quite suddenly.
Peter had a birthday--his tenth. Among his other presents was a
model engine more perfect than you could ever have dreamed of. The
other presents were full of charm, but the Engine was fuller of
charm than any of the others were.
Its charm lasted in its full perfection for exactly three days.
Then, owing either to Peter's inexperience or Phyllis's good
intentions, which had been rather pressing, or to some other cause,
the Engine suddenly went off with a bang. James was so frightened
that he went out and did not come back all day. All the Noah's Ark
people who were in the tender were broken to bits, but nothing else
was hurt except the poor little engine and the feelings of Peter.
The others said he cried over it--but of course boys of ten do not
cry, however terrible the tragedies may be which darken their lot.
He said that his eyes were red because he had a cold. This turned
out to be true, though Peter did not know it was when he said it,
the next day he had to go to bed and stay there. Mother began to be
afraid that he might be sickening for measles, when suddenly he sat
up in bed and said:
"I hate gruel--I hate barley water--I hate bread and milk. I want to
get up and have something REAL to eat."
"What would you like?" Mother asked.
"A pigeon-pie," said Peter, eagerly, "a large pigeon-pie. A very
So Mother asked the Cook to make a large pigeon-pie. The pie was
made. And when the pie was made, it was cooked. And when it was
cooked, Peter ate some of it. After that his cold was better.
Mother made a piece of poetry to amuse him while the pie was being
made. It began by saying what an unfortunate but worthy boy Peter
was, then it went on:
He had an engine that he loved
With all his heart and soul,
And if he had a wish on earth
It was to keep it whole.
One day--my friends, prepare your minds;
I'm coming to the worst--
Quite suddenly a screw went mad,
And then the boiler burst!
With gloomy face he picked it up
And took it to his Mother,
Though even he could not suppose
That she could make another;
For those who perished on the line
He did not seem to care,
His engine being more to him
Than all the people there.
And now you see the reason why
Our Peter has been ill:
He soothes his soul with pigeon-pie
His gnawing grief to kill.
He wraps himself in blankets warm
And sleeps in bed till late,
Determined thus to overcome
His miserable fate.
And if his eyes are rather red,
His cold must just excuse it:
Offer him pie; you may be sure
He never will refuse it.
Father had been away in the country for three or four days. All
Peter's hopes for the curing of his afflicted Engine were now fixed
on his Father, for Father was most wonderfully clever with his
fingers. He could mend all sorts of things. He had often acted as
veterinary surgeon to the wooden rocking-horse; once he had saved
its life when all human aid was despaired of, and the poor creature
was given up for lost, and even the carpenter said he didn't see his
way to do anything. And it was Father who mended the doll's cradle
when no one else could; and with a little glue and some bits of wood
and a pen-knife made all the Noah's Ark beasts as strong on their
pins as ever they were, if not stronger.
Peter, with heroic unselfishness, did not say anything about his
Engine till after Father had had his dinner and his after-dinner
cigar. The unselfishness was Mother's idea--but it was Peter who
carried it out. And needed a good deal of patience, too.
At last Mother said to Father, "Now, dear, if you're quite rested,
and quite comfy, we want to tell you about the great railway
accident, and ask your advice."
"All right," said Father, "fire away!"
So then Peter told the sad tale, and fetched what was left of the
"Hum," said Father, when he had looked the Engine over very
The children held their breaths.
"Is there NO hope?" said Peter, in a low, unsteady voice.
"Hope? Rather! Tons of it," said Father, cheerfully; "but it'll
want something besides hope--a bit of brazing say, or some solder,
and a new valve. I think we'd better keep it for a rainy day. In
other words, I'll give up Saturday afternoon to it, and you shall
all help me."
"CAN girls help to mend engines?" Peter asked doubtfully.
"Of course they can. Girls are just as clever as boys, and don't
you forget it! How would you like to be an engine-driver, Phil?"
"My face would be always dirty, wouldn't it?" said Phyllis, in
unenthusiastic tones, "and I expect I should break something."
"I should just love it," said Roberta--"do you think I could when
I'm grown up, Daddy? Or even a stoker?"
"You mean a fireman," said Daddy, pulling and twisting at the
engine. "Well, if you still wish it, when you're grown up, we'll
see about making you a fire-woman. I remember when I was a boy--"
Just then there was a knock at the front door.
"Who on earth!" said Father. "An Englishman's house is his castle,
of course, but I do wish they built semi-detached villas with moats
Ruth--she was the parlour-maid and had red hair--came in and said
that two gentlemen wanted to see the master.
"I've shown them into the Library, Sir," said she.
"I expect it's the subscription to the Vicar's testimonial," said
Mother, "or else it's the choir holiday fund. Get rid of them
quickly, dear. It does break up an evening so, and it's nearly the
But Father did not seem to be able to get rid of the gentlemen at
"I wish we HAD got a moat and drawbridge," said Roberta; "then, when
we didn't want people, we could just pull up the drawbridge and no
one else could get in. I expect Father will have forgotten about
when he was a boy if they stay much longer."
Mother tried to make the time pass by telling them a new fairy story
about a Princess with green eyes, but it was difficult because they
could hear the voices of Father and the gentlemen in the Library,
and Father's voice sounded louder and different to the voice he
generally used to people who came about testimonials and holiday
Then the Library bell rang, and everyone heaved a breath of relief.
"They're going now," said Phyllis; "he's rung to have them shown
But instead of showing anybody out, Ruth showed herself in, and she
looked queer, the children thought.
"Please'm," she said, "the Master wants you to just step into the
study. He looks like the dead, mum; I think he's had bad news.
You'd best prepare yourself for the worst, 'm--p'raps it's a death
in the family or a bank busted or--"
"That'll do, Ruth," said Mother gently; "you can go."
Then Mother went into the Library. There was more talking. Then
the bell rang again, and Ruth fetched a cab. The children heard
boots go out and down the steps. The cab drove away, and the front
door shut. Then Mother came in. Her dear face was as white as her
lace collar, and her eyes looked very big and shining. Her mouth
looked like just a line of pale red--her lips were thin and not
their proper shape at all.
"It's bedtime," she said. "Ruth will put you to bed."
"But you promised we should sit up late tonight because Father's
come home," said Phyllis.
"Father's been called away--on business," said Mother. "Come,
darlings, go at once."
They kissed her and went. Roberta lingered to give Mother an extra
hug and to whisper:
"It wasn't bad news, Mammy, was it? Is anyone dead--or--"
"Nobody's dead--no," said Mother, and she almost seemed to push
Roberta away. "I can't tell you anything tonight, my pet. Go,
dear, go NOW."
So Roberta went.
Ruth brushed the girls' hair and helped them to undress. (Mother
almost always did this herself.) When she had turned down the gas
and left them she found Peter, still dressed, waiting on the stairs.
"I say, Ruth, what's up?" he asked.
"Don't ask me no questions and I won't tell you no lies," the red-
headed Ruth replied. "You'll know soon enough."
Late that night Mother came up and kissed all three children as they
lay asleep. But Roberta was the only one whom the kiss woke, and
she lay mousey-still, and said nothing.
"If Mother doesn't want us to know she's been crying," she said to
herself as she heard through the dark the catching of her Mother's
breath, "we WON'T know it. That's all."
When they came down to breakfast the next morning, Mother had
already gone out.
"To London," Ruth said, and left them to their breakfast.
"There's something awful the matter," said Peter, breaking his egg.
"Ruth told me last night we should know soon enough."
"Did you ASK her?" said Roberta, with scorn.
"Yes, I did!" said Peter, angrily. "If you could go to bed without
caring whether Mother was worried or not, I couldn't. So there."
"I don't think we ought to ask the servants things Mother doesn't
tell us," said Roberta.
"That's right, Miss Goody-goody," said Peter, "preach away."
"I'M not goody," said Phyllis, "but I think Bobbie's right this
"Of course. She always is. In her own opinion," said Peter.
"Oh, DON'T!" cried Roberta, putting down her egg-spoon; "don't let's
be horrid to each other. I'm sure some dire calamity is happening.
Don't let's make it worse!"
"Who began, I should like to know?" said Peter.
Roberta made an effort, and answered:--
"I did, I suppose, but--"
"Well, then," said Peter, triumphantly. But before he went to
school he thumped his sister between the shoulders and told her to
The children came home to one o'clock dinner, but Mother was not
there. And she was not there at tea-time.
It was nearly seven before she came in, looking so ill and tired
that the children felt they could not ask her any questions. She
sank into an arm-chair. Phyllis took the long pins out of her hat,
while Roberta took off her gloves, and Peter unfastened her walking-
shoes and fetched her soft velvety slippers for her.
When she had had a cup of tea, and Roberta had put eau-de-Cologne on
her poor head that ached, Mother said:--
"Now, my darlings, I want to tell you something. Those men last
night did bring very bad news, and Father will be away for some
time. I am very worried about it, and I want you all to help me,
and not to make things harder for me."
"As if we would!" said Roberta, holding Mother's hand against her
"You can help me very much," said Mother, "by being good and happy
and not quarrelling when I'm away"--Roberta and Peter exchanged
guilty glances--"for I shall have to be away a good deal."
"We won't quarrel. Indeed we won't," said everybody. And meant it,
"Then," Mother went on, "I want you not to ask me any questions
about this trouble; and not to ask anybody else any questions."
Peter cringed and shuffled his boots on the carpet.
"You'll promise this, too, won't you?" said Mother.
"I did ask Ruth," said Peter, suddenly. "I'm very sorry, but I
"And what did she say?"
"She said I should know soon enough."
"It isn't necessary for you to know anything about it," said Mother;
"it's about business, and you never do understand business, do you?"
"No," said Roberta; "is it something to do with Government?" For
Father was in a Government Office.
"Yes," said Mother. "Now it's bed-time, my darlings. And don't YOU
worry. It'll all come right in the end."
"Then don't YOU worry either, Mother," said Phyllis, "and we'll all
be as good as gold."
Mother sighed and kissed them.
"We'll begin being good the first thing tomorrow morning," said
Peter, as they went upstairs.
"Why not NOW?" said Roberta.
"There's nothing to be good ABOUT now, silly," said Peter.
"We might begin to try to FEEL good," said Phyllis, "and not call
"Who's calling names?" said Peter. "Bobbie knows right enough that
when I say 'silly', it's just the same as if I said Bobbie."
"WELL," said Roberta.
"No, I don't mean what you mean. I mean it's just a--what is it
Father calls it?--a germ of endearment! Good night."
The girls folded up their clothes with more than usual neatness--
which was the only way of being good that they could think of.
"I say," said Phyllis, smoothing out her pinafore, "you used to say
it was so dull--nothing happening, like in books. Now something HAS
"I never wanted things to happen to make Mother unhappy," said
Roberta. "Everything's perfectly horrid."
Everything continued to be perfectly horrid for some weeks.
Mother was nearly always out. Meals were dull and dirty. The
between-maid was sent away, and Aunt Emma came on a visit. Aunt
Emma was much older than Mother. She was going abroad to be a
governess. She was very busy getting her clothes ready, and they
were very ugly, dingy clothes, and she had them always littering
about, and the sewing-machine seemed to whir--on and on all day and
most of the night. Aunt Emma believed in keeping children in their
proper places. And they more than returned the compliment. Their
idea of Aunt Emma's proper place was anywhere where they were not.
So they saw very little of her. They preferred the company of the
servants, who were more amusing. Cook, if in a good temper, could
sing comic songs, and the housemaid, if she happened not to be
offended with you, could imitate a hen that has laid an egg, a
bottle of champagne being opened, and could mew like two cats
fighting. The servants never told the children what the bad news
was that the gentlemen had brought to Father. But they kept hinting
that they could tell a great deal if they chose--and this was not
One day when Peter had made a booby trap over the bath-room door,
and it had acted beautifully as Ruth passed through, that red-haired
parlour-maid caught him and boxed his ears.
"You'll come to a bad end," she said furiously, "you nasty little
limb, you! If you don't mend your ways, you'll go where your
precious Father's gone, so I tell you straight!"
Roberta repeated this to her Mother, and next day Ruth was sent
Then came the time when Mother came home and went to bed and stayed
there two days and the Doctor came, and the children crept
wretchedly about the house and wondered if the world was coming to
Mother came down one morning to breakfast, very pale and with lines
on her face that used not to be there. And she smiled, as well as
she could, and said:--
"Now, my pets, everything is settled. We're going to leave this
house, and go and live in the country. Such a ducky dear little
white house. I know you'll love it."
A whirling week of packing followed--not just packing clothes, like
when you go to the seaside, but packing chairs and tables, covering
their tops with sacking and their legs with straw.
All sorts of things were packed that you don't pack when you go to
the seaside. Crockery, blankets, candlesticks, carpets, bedsteads,
saucepans, and even fenders and fire-irons.
The house was like a furniture warehouse. I think the children
enjoyed it very much. Mother was very busy, but not too busy now to
talk to them, and read to them, and even to make a bit of poetry for
Phyllis to cheer her up when she fell down with a screwdriver and
ran it into her hand.
"Aren't you going to pack this, Mother?" Roberta asked, pointing to
the beautiful cabinet inlaid with red turtleshell and brass.
"We can't take everything," said Mother.
"But we seem to be taking all the ugly things," said Roberta.
"We're taking the useful ones," said Mother; "we've got to play at
being Poor for a bit, my chickabiddy."
When all the ugly useful things had been packed up and taken away in
a van by men in green-baize aprons, the two girls and Mother and
Aunt Emma slept in the two spare rooms where the furniture was all
pretty. All their beds had gone. A bed was made up for Peter on
the drawing-room sofa.
"I say, this is larks," he said, wriggling joyously, as Mother
tucked him up. "I do like moving! I wish we moved once a month."
"I don't!" she said. "Good night, Peterkin."
As she turned away Roberta saw her face. She never forgot it.
"Oh, Mother," she whispered all to herself as she got into bed, "how
brave you are! How I love you! Fancy being brave enough to laugh
when you're feeling like THAT!"
Next day boxes were filled, and boxes and more boxes; and then late
in the afternoon a cab came to take them to the station.
Aunt Emma saw them off. They felt that THEY were seeing HER off,
and they were glad of it.
"But, oh, those poor little foreign children that she's going to
governess!" whispered Phyllis. "I wouldn't be them for anything!"
At first they enjoyed looking out of the window, but when it grew
dusk they grew sleepier and sleepier, and no one knew how long they
had been in the train when they were roused by Mother's shaking them
gently and saying:--
"Wake up, dears. We're there."
They woke up, cold and melancholy, and stood shivering on the
draughty platform while the baggage was taken out of the train.
Then the engine, puffing and blowing, set to work again, and dragged
the train away. The children watched the tail-lights of the guard's
van disappear into the darkness.
This was the first train the children saw on that railway which was
in time to become so very dear to them. They did not guess then how
they would grow to love the railway, and how soon it would become
the centre of their new life, nor what wonders and changes it would
bring to them. They only shivered and sneezed and hoped the walk to
the new house would not be long. Peter's nose was colder than he
ever remembered it to have been before. Roberta's hat was crooked,
and the elastic seemed tighter than usual. Phyllis's shoe-laces had
"Come," said Mother, "we've got to walk. There aren't any cabs
The walk was dark and muddy. The children stumbled a little on the
rough road, and once Phyllis absently fell into a puddle, and was
picked up damp and unhappy. There were no gas-lamps on the road,
and the road was uphill. The cart went at a foot's pace, and they
followed the gritty crunch of its wheels. As their eyes got used to
the darkness, they could see the mound of boxes swaying dimly in
front of them.
A long gate had to be opened for the cart to pass through, and after
that the road seemed to go across fields--and now it went down hill.
Presently a great dark lumpish thing showed over to the right.
"There's the house," said Mother. "I wonder why she's shut the
"Who's SHE?" asked Roberta.
"The woman I engaged to clean the place, and put the furniture
straight and get supper."
There was a low wall, and trees inside.
"That's the garden," said Mother.
"It looks more like a dripping-pan full of black cabbages," said
The cart went on along by the garden wall, and round to the back of
the house, and here it clattered into a cobble-stoned yard and
stopped at the back door.
There was no light in any of the windows.
Everyone hammered at the door, but no one came.
The man who drove the cart said he expected Mrs. Viney had gone
"You see your train was that late," said he.
"But she's got the key," said Mother. "What are we to do?"
"Oh, she'll have left that under the doorstep," said the cart man;
"folks do hereabouts." He took the lantern off his cart and
"Ay, here it is, right enough," he said.
He unlocked the door and went in and set his lantern on the table.
"Got e'er a candle?" said he.
"I don't know where anything is." Mother spoke rather less
cheerfully than usual.
He struck a match. There was a candle on the table, and he lighted
it. By its thin little glimmer the children saw a large bare
kitchen with a stone floor. There were no curtains, no hearth-rug.
The kitchen table from home stood in the middle of the room. The
chairs were in one corner, and the pots, pans, brooms, and crockery
in another. There was no fire, and the black grate showed cold,
As the cart man turned to go out after he had brought in the boxes,
there was a rustling, scampering sound that seemed to come from
inside the walls of the house.
"Oh, what's that?" cried the girls.
"It's only the rats," said the cart man. And he went away and shut
the door, and the sudden draught of it blew out the candle.
"Oh, dear," said Phyllis, "I wish we hadn't come!" and she knocked a
"ONLY the rats!" said Peter, in the dark.
Chapter II. Peter's coal-mine.
"What fun!" said Mother, in the dark, feeling for the matches on the
table. "How frightened the poor mice were--I don't believe they
were rats at all."
She struck a match and relighted the candle and everyone looked at
each other by its winky, blinky light.
"Well," she said, "you've often wanted something to happen and now
it has. This is quite an adventure, isn't it? I told Mrs. Viney to
get us some bread and butter, and meat and things, and to have
supper ready. I suppose she's laid it in the dining-room. So let's
go and see."
The dining-room opened out of the kitchen. It looked much darker
than the kitchen when they went in with the one candle. Because the
kitchen was whitewashed, but the dining-room was dark wood from
floor to ceiling, and across the ceiling there were heavy black
beams. There was a muddled maze of dusty furniture--the breakfast-
room furniture from the old home where they had lived all their
lives. It seemed a very long time ago, and a very long way off.
There was the table certainly, and there were chairs, but there was
"Let's look in the other rooms," said Mother; and they looked. And
in each room was the same kind of blundering half-arrangement of
furniture, and fire-irons and crockery, and all sorts of odd things
on the floor, but there was nothing to eat; even in the pantry there
were only a rusty cake-tin and a broken plate with whitening mixed
"What a horrid old woman!" said Mother; "she's just walked off with
the money and not got us anything to eat at all."
"Then shan't we have any supper at all?" asked Phyllis, dismayed,
stepping back on to a soap-dish that cracked responsively.
"Oh, yes," said Mother, "only it'll mean unpacking one of those big
cases that we put in the cellar. Phil, do mind where you're walking
to, there's a dear. Peter, hold the light."
The cellar door opened out of the kitchen. There were five wooden
steps leading down. It wasn't a proper cellar at all, the children
thought, because its ceiling went up as high as the kitchen's. A
bacon-rack hung under its ceiling. There was wood in it, and coal.
Also the big cases.
Peter held the candle, all on one side, while Mother tried to open
the great packing-case. It was very securely nailed down.
"Where's the hammer?" asked Peter.
"That's just it," said Mother. "I'm afraid it's inside the box.
But there's a coal-shovel--and there's the kitchen poker."
And with these she tried to get the case open.
"Let me do it," said Peter, thinking he could do it better himself.
Everyone thinks this when he sees another person stirring a fire, or
opening a box, or untying a knot in a bit of string.
"You'll hurt your hands, Mammy," said Roberta; "let me."
"I wish Father was here," said Phyllis; "he'd get it open in two
shakes. What are you kicking me for, Bobbie?"
"I wasn't," said Roberta.
Just then the first of the long nails in the packing-case began to
come out with a scrunch. Then a lath was raised and then another,
till all four stood up with the long nails in them shining fiercely
like iron teeth in the candle-light.
"Hooray!" said Mother; "here are some candles--the very first thing!
You girls go and light them. You'll find some saucers and things.
Just drop a little candle-grease in the saucer and stick the candle
upright in it."
"How many shall we light?"
"As many as ever you like," said Mother, gaily. "The great thing is
to be cheerful. Nobody can be cheerful in the dark except owls and
So the girls lighted candles. The head of the first match flew off
and stuck to Phyllis's finger; but, as Roberta said, it was only a
little burn, and she might have had to be a Roman martyr and be
burned whole if she had happened to live in the days when those
things were fashionable.
Then, when the dining-room was lighted by fourteen candles, Roberta
fetched coal and wood and lighted a fire.
"It's very cold for May," she said, feeling what a grown-up thing it
was to say.
The fire-light and the candle-light made the dining-room look very
different, for now you could see that the dark walls were of wood,
carved here and there into little wreaths and loops.
The girls hastily 'tidied' the room, which meant putting the chairs
against the wall, and piling all the odds and ends into a corner and
partly hiding them with the big leather arm-chair that Father used
to sit in after dinner.
"Bravo!" cried Mother, coming in with a tray full of things. "This
is something like! I'll just get a tablecloth and then--"
The tablecloth was in a box with a proper lock that was opened with
a key and not with a shovel, and when the cloth was spread on the
table, a real feast was laid out on it.
Everyone was very, very tired, but everyone cheered up at the sight
of the funny and delightful supper. There were biscuits, the Marie
and the plain kind, sardines, preserved ginger, cooking raisins, and
candied peel and marmalade.
"What a good thing Aunt Emma packed up all the odds and ends out of
the Store cupboard," said Mother. "Now, Phil, DON'T put the
marmalade spoon in among the sardines."
"No, I won't, Mother," said Phyllis, and put it down among the Marie
"Let's drink Aunt Emma's health," said Roberta, suddenly; "what
should we have done if she hadn't packed up these things? Here's to
And the toast was drunk in ginger wine and water, out of willow-
patterned tea-cups, because the glasses couldn't be found.
They all felt that they had been a little hard on Aunt Emma. She
wasn't a nice cuddly person like Mother, but after all it was she
who had thought of packing up the odds and ends of things to eat.
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
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 are."
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 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
"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
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
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
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
"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 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
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 went by.
"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 shouldn't.)
"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
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
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 paper.
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,
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
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
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
"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
They all went down to tea flushed and joyous as any mountain
But when Phyllis was going to add jam to her bread and butter,
"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
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."
"You'll know some day," said Peter, keeping his own temper by what
looked exactly like a miracle; "if you hadn't been so keen on a row,
I might have told you about it being only noble-heartedness that
made me not tell you my idea. But now I shan't tell you anything at
all about it--so there!"
And it was, indeed, some time before he could be induced to say
anything, and when he did it wasn't much. He said:--
"The only reason why I won't tell you my idea that I'm going to do
is because it MAY be wrong, and I don't want to drag you into it."
"Don't you do it if it's wrong, Peter," said Bobbie; "let me do it."
But Phyllis said:--
"_I_ should like to do wrong if YOU'RE going to!"
"No," said Peter, rather touched by this devotion; "it's a forlorn
hope, and I'm going to lead it. All I ask is that if Mother asks
where I am, you won't blab."
"We haven't got anything TO blab," said Bobbie, indignantly.
"Oh, yes, you have!" said Peter, dropping horse-beans through his
fingers. "I've trusted you to the death. You know I'm going to do
a lone adventure--and some people might think it wrong--I don't.
And if Mother asks where I am, say I'm playing at mines."
"What sort of mines?"
"You just say mines."
"You might tell US, Pete."
"Well, then, COAL-mines. But don't you let the word pass your lips
on pain of torture."
"You needn't threaten," said Bobbie, "and I do think you might let
"If I find a coal-mine, you shall help cart the coal," Peter
condescended to promise.
"Keep your secret if you like," said Phyllis.
"Keep it if you CAN," said Bobbie.
"I'll keep it, right enough," said Peter.
Between tea and supper there is an interval even in the most
greedily regulated families. At this time Mother was usually
writing, and Mrs. Viney had gone home.
Two nights after the dawning of Peter's idea he beckoned the girls
mysteriously at the twilight hour.
"Come hither with me," he said, "and bring the Roman Chariot."
The Roman Chariot was a very old perambulator that had spent years
of retirement in the loft over the coach-house. The children had
oiled its works till it glided noiseless as a pneumatic bicycle, and
answered to the helm as it had probably done in its best days.
"Follow your dauntless leader," said Peter, and led the way down the
hill towards the station.
Just above the station many rocks have pushed their heads out
through the turf as though they, like the children, were interested
in the railway.
In a little hollow between three rocks lay a heap of dried brambles
Peter halted, turned over the brushwood with a well-scarred boot,
"Here's the first coal from the St. Peter's Mine. We'll take it
home in the chariot. Punctuality and despatch. All orders
carefully attended to. Any shaped lump cut to suit regular
The chariot was packed full of coal. And when it was packed it had
to be unpacked again because it was so heavy that it couldn't be got
up the hill by the three children, not even when Peter harnessed
himself to the handle with his braces, and firmly grasping his
waistband in one hand pulled while the girls pushed behind.
Three journeys had to be made before the coal from Peter's mine was
added to the heap of Mother's coal in the cellar.
Afterwards Peter went out alone, and came back very black and
"I've been to my coal-mine," he said; "to-morrow evening we'll bring
home the black diamonds in the chariot."
It was a week later that Mrs. Viney remarked to Mother how well this
last lot of coal was holding out.
The children hugged themselves and each other in complicated
wriggles of silent laughter as they listened on the stairs. They
had all forgotten by now that there had ever been any doubt in
Peter's mind as to whether coal-mining was wrong.
But there came a dreadful night when the Station Master put on a
pair of old sand shoes that he had worn at the seaside in his summer
holiday, and crept out very quietly to the yard where the Sodom and
Gomorrah heap of coal was, with the whitewashed line round it. He
crept out there, and he waited like a cat by a mousehole. On the
top of the heap something small and dark was scrabbling and rattling
furtively among the coal.
The Station Master concealed himself in the shadow of a brake-van
that had a little tin chimney and was labelled:--
G. N. and S. R.
Return at once to
White Heather Sidings
and in this concealment he lurked till the small thing on the top of
the heap ceased to scrabble and rattle, came to the edge of the
heap, cautiously let itself down, and lifted something after it.
Then the arm of the Station Master was raised, the hand of the
Station Master fell on a collar, and there was Peter firmly held by
the jacket, with an old carpenter's bag full of coal in his
"So I've caught you at last, have I, you young thief?" said the
"I'm not a thief," said Peter, as firmly as he could. "I'm a coal-
"Tell that to the Marines," said the Station Master.
"It would be just as true whoever I told it to," said Peter.
"You're right there," said the man, who held him. "Stow your jaw,
you young rip, and come along to the station."
"Oh, no," cried in the darkness an agonised voice that was not
"Not the POLICE station!" said another voice from the darkness.
"Not yet," said the Station Master. "The Railway Station first.
Why, it's a regular gang. Any more of you?"
"Only us," said Bobbie and Phyllis, coming out of the shadow of
another truck labelled Staveley Colliery, and bearing on it the
legend in white chalk: 'Wanted in No. 1 Road.'
"What do you mean by spying on a fellow like this?" said Peter,
"Time someone did spy on you, _I_ think," said the Station Master.
"Come along to the station."
"Oh, DON'T!" said Bobbie. "Can't you decide NOW what you'll do to
us? It's our fault just as much as Peter's. We helped to carry the
coal away--and we knew where he got it."
"No, you didn't," said Peter.
"Yes, we did," said Bobbie. "We knew all the time. We only
pretended we didn't just to humour you."
Peter's cup was full. He had mined for coal, he had struck coal, he
had been caught, and now he learned that his sisters had 'humoured'
"Don't hold me!" he said. "I won't run away."
The Station Master loosed Peter's collar, struck a match and looked
at them by its flickering light.
"Why," said he, "you're the children from the Three Chimneys up
yonder. So nicely dressed, too. Tell me now, what made you do such
a thing? Haven't you ever been to church or learned your catechism
or anything, not to know it's wicked to steal?" He spoke much more
gently now, and Peter said:--
"I didn't think it was stealing. I was almost sure it wasn't. I
thought if I took it from the outside part of the heap, perhaps it
would be. But in the middle I thought I could fairly count it only
mining. It'll take thousands of years for you to burn up all that
coal and get to the middle parts."
"Not quite. But did you do it for a lark or what?"
"Not much lark carting that beastly heavy stuff up the hill," said
"Then why did you?" The Station Master's voice was so much kinder
now that Peter replied:--
"You know that wet day? Well, Mother said we were too poor to have
a fire. We always had fires when it was cold at our other house,
"DON'T!" interrupted Bobbie, in a whisper.
"Well," said the Station Master, rubbing his chin thoughtfully,
"I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll look over it this once. But you
remember, young gentleman, stealing is stealing, and what's mine
isn't yours, whether you call it mining or whether you don't. Run
"Do you mean you aren't going to do anything to us? Well, you are a
brick," said Peter, with enthusiasm.
"You're a dear," said Bobbie.
"You're a darling," said Phyllis.
"That's all right," said the Station Master.
And on this they parted.
"Don't speak to me," said Peter, as the three went up the hill.
"You're spies and traitors--that's what you are."
But the girls were too glad to have Peter between them, safe and
free, and on the way to Three Chimneys and not to the Police
Station, to mind much what he said.
"We DID say it was us as much as you," said Bobbie, gently.
"Well--and it wasn't."
"It would have come to the same thing in Courts with judges," said
Phyllis. "Don't be snarky, Peter. It isn't our fault your secrets
are so jolly easy to find out." She took his arm, and he let her.
"There's an awful lot of coal in the cellar, anyhow," he went on.
"Oh, don't!" said Bobbie. "I don't think we ought to be glad about
"I don't know," said Peter, plucking up a spirit. "I'm not at all
sure, even now, that mining is a crime."
But the girls were quite sure. And they were also quite sure that
he was quite sure, however little he cared to own it.
Chapter III. The old gentleman.
After the adventure of Peter's Coal-mine, it seemed well to the
children to keep away from the station--but they did not, they could
not, keep away from the railway. They had lived all their lives in
a street where cabs and omnibuses rumbled by at all hours, and the
carts of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers (I never saw a
candlestick-maker's cart; did you?) might occur at any moment. Here
in the deep silence of the sleeping country the only things that
went by were the trains. They seemed to be all that was left to
link the children to the old life that had once been theirs.
Straight down the hill in front of Three Chimneys the daily passage
of their six feet began to mark a path across the crisp, short turf.
They began to know the hours when certain trains passed, and they
gave names to them. The 9.15 up was called the Green Dragon. The
10.7 down was the Worm of Wantley. The midnight town express, whose
shrieking rush they sometimes woke from their dreams to hear, was
the Fearsome Fly-by-night. Peter got up once, in chill starshine,
and, peeping at it through his curtains, named it on the spot.
It was by the Green Dragon that the old gentleman travelled. He was
a very nice-looking old gentleman, and he looked as if he were nice,
too, which is not at all the same thing. He had a fresh-coloured,
clean-shaven face and white hair, and he wore rather odd-shaped
collars and a top-hat that wasn't exactly the same kind as other
people's. Of course the children didn't see all this at first. In
fact the first thing they noticed about the old gentleman was his
It was one morning as they sat on the fence waiting for the Green
Dragon, which was three and a quarter minutes late by Peter's
Waterbury watch that he had had given him on his last birthday.
"The Green Dragon's going where Father is," said Phyllis; "if it
were a really real dragon, we could stop it and ask it to take our
love to Father."
"Dragons don't carry people's love," said Peter; "they'd be above
"Yes, they do, if you tame them thoroughly first. They fetch and
carry like pet spaniels," said Phyllis, "and feed out of your hand.
I wonder why Father never writes to us."
"Mother says he's been too busy," said Bobbie; "but he'll write
soon, she says."
"I say," Phyllis suggested, "let's all wave to the Green Dragon as
it goes by. If it's a magic dragon, it'll understand and take our
loves to Father. And if it isn't, three waves aren't much. We
shall never miss them."
So when the Green Dragon tore shrieking out of the mouth of its dark
lair, which was the tunnel, all three children stood on the railing
and waved their pocket-handkerchiefs without stopping to think
whether they were clean handkerchiefs or the reverse. They were, as
a matter of fact, very much the reverse.
And out of a first-class carriage a hand waved back. A quite clean
hand. It held a newspaper. It was the old gentleman's hand.
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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:--
and felt that this was the beginning of what would be a most
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
"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,
"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
"No one," she said at last, "ever loved anyone more than my mother
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
"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
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
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
"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 time."
"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 shilling.
"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 later.
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
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 came.
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-
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 explaining it.
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
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 Mother wants.
"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,
"I'm most awfully sorry I haven't got twopence to give you like
Father does, but--"
"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
"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
"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 the sweetbrier."
"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
Chapter IV. 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-
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 about it."
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 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,"
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