Part 2 out of 5
"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
"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 not alike.
"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
"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 delightful company.
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-
"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 was washed.
Perhaps the children would have loved the canal as much as the
railway, but for two things. One was that they had found the
railway FIRST--on that first, wonderful morning when the house and
the country and the moors and rocks and great hills were all new to
them. They had not found the canal till some days later. The other
reason was that everyone on the railway had been kind to them--the
Station Master, the Porter, and the old gentleman who waved. And
the people on the canal were anything but kind.
The people on the canal were, of course, the bargees, who steered
the slow barges up and down, or walked beside the old horses that
trampled up the mud of the towing-path, and strained at the long
Peter had once asked one of the bargees the time, and had been told
to "get out of that," in a tone so fierce that he did not stop to
say anything about his having just as much right on the towing-path
as the man himself. Indeed, he did not even think of saying it till
some time later.
Then another day when the children thought they would like to fish
in the canal, a boy in a barge threw lumps of coal at them, and one
of these hit Phyllis on the back of the neck. She was just stooping
down to tie up her bootlace--and though the coal hardly hurt at all
it made her not care very much about going on fishing.
On the bridge, however, Roberta felt quite safe, because she could
look down on the canal, and if any boy showed signs of meaning to
throw coal, she could duck behind the parapet.
Presently there was a sound of wheels, which was just what she
The wheels were the wheels of the Doctor's dogcart, and in the cart,
of course, was the Doctor.
He pulled up, and called out:--
"Hullo, head nurse! Want a lift?"
"I wanted to see you," said Bobbie.
"Your mother's not worse, I hope?" said the Doctor.
"Well, skip in, then, and we'll go for a drive."
Roberta climbed in and the brown horse was made to turn round--which
it did not like at all, for it was looking forward to its tea--I
mean its oats.
"This IS jolly," said Bobbie, as the dogcart flew along the road by
"We could throw a stone down any one of your three chimneys," said
the Doctor, as they passed the house.
"Yes," said Bobbie, "but you'd have to be a jolly good shot."
"How do you know I'm not?" said the Doctor. "Now, then, what's the
Bobbie fidgeted with the hook of the driving apron.
"Come, out with it," said the Doctor.
"It's rather hard, you see," said Bobbie, "to out with it; because
of what Mother said."
"What DID Mother say?"
"She said I wasn't to go telling everyone that we're poor. But you
aren't everyone, are you?"
"Not at all," said the Doctor, cheerfully. "Well?"
"Well, I know doctors are very extravagant--I mean expensive, and
Mrs. Viney told me that her doctoring only cost her twopence a week
because she belonged to a Club."
"You see she told me what a good doctor you were, and I asked her
how she could afford you, because she's much poorer than we are.
I've been in her house and I know. And then she told me about the
Club, and I thought I'd ask you--and--oh, I don't want Mother to be
worried! Can't we be in the Club, too, the same as Mrs. Viney?"
The Doctor was silent. He was rather poor himself, and he had been
pleased at getting a new family to attend. So I think his feelings
at that minute were rather mixed.
"You aren't cross with me, are you?" said Bobbie, in a very small
The Doctor roused himself.
"Cross? How could I be? You're a very sensible little woman. Now
look here, don't you worry. I'll make it all right with your
Mother, even if I have to make a special brand-new Club all for her.
Look here, this is where the Aqueduct begins."
"What's an Aque--what's its name?" asked Bobbie.
"A water bridge," said the Doctor. "Look."
The road rose to a bridge over the canal. To the left was a steep
rocky cliff with trees and shrubs growing in the cracks of the rock.
And the canal here left off running along the top of the hill and
started to run on a bridge of its own--a great bridge with tall
arches that went right across the valley.
Bobbie drew a long breath.
"It IS grand, isn't it?" she said. "It's like pictures in the
History of Rome."
"Right!" said the Doctor, "that's just exactly what it IS like. The
Romans were dead nuts on aqueducts. It's a splendid piece of
"I thought engineering was making engines."
"Ah, there are different sorts of engineering--making road and
bridges and tunnels is one kind. And making fortifications is
another. Well, we must be turning back. And, remember, you aren't
to worry about doctor's bills or you'll be ill yourself, and then
I'll send you in a bill as long as the aqueduct."
When Bobbie had parted from the Doctor at the top of the field that
ran down from the road to Three Chimneys, she could not feel that
she had done wrong. She knew that Mother would perhaps think
differently. But Bobbie felt that for once she was the one who was
right, and she scrambled down the rocky slope with a really happy
Phyllis and Peter met her at the back door. They were unnaturally
clean and neat, and Phyllis had a red bow in her hair. There was
only just time for Bobbie to make herself tidy and tie up her hair
with a blue bow before a little bell rang.
"There!" said Phyllis, "that's to show the surprise is ready. Now
you wait till the bell rings again and then you may come into the
So Bobbie waited.
"Tinkle, tinkle," said the little bell, and Bobbie went into the
dining-room, feeling rather shy. Directly she opened the door she
found herself, as it seemed, in a new world of light and flowers and
singing. Mother and Peter and Phyllis were standing in a row at the
end of the table. The shutters were shut and there were twelve
candles on the table, one for each of Roberta's years. The table
was covered with a sort of pattern of flowers, and at Roberta's
place was a thick wreath of forget-me-nots and several most
interesting little packages. And Mother and Phyllis and Peter were
singing--to the first part of the tune of St. Patrick's Day.
Roberta knew that Mother had written the words on purpose for her
birthday. It was a little way of Mother's on birthdays. It had
begun on Bobbie's fourth birthday when Phyllis was a baby. Bobbie
remembered learning the verses to say to Father 'for a surprise.'
She wondered if Mother had remembered, too. The four-year-old verse
Daddy dear, I'm only four
And I'd rather not be more.
Four's the nicest age to be,
Two and two and one and three.
What I love is two and two,
Mother, Peter, Phil, and you.
What you love is one and three,
Mother, Peter, Phil, and me.
Give your little girl a kiss
Because she learned and told you this.
The song the others were singing now went like this:--
Our darling Roberta,
No sorrow shall hurt her
If we can prevent it
Her whole life long.
Her birthday's our fete day,
We'll make it our great day,
And give her our presents
And sing her our song.
May pleasures attend her
And may the Fates send her
The happiest journey
Along her life's way.
With skies bright above her
And dear ones to love her!
Dear Bob! Many happy
Returns of the day!
When they had finished singing they cried, "Three cheers for our
Bobbie!" and gave them very loudly. Bobbie felt exactly as though
she were going to cry--you know that odd feeling in the bridge of
your nose and the pricking in your eyelids? But before she had time
to begin they were all kissing and hugging her.
"Now," said Mother, "look at your presents."
They were very nice presents. There was a green and red needle-book
that Phyllis had made herself in secret moments. There was a
darling little silver brooch of Mother's shaped like a buttercup,
which Bobbie had known and loved for years, but which she had never,
never thought would come to be her very own. There was also a pair
of blue glass vases from Mrs. Viney. Roberta had seen and admired
them in the village shop. And there were three birthday cards with
pretty pictures and wishes.
Mother fitted the forget-me-not crown on Bobbie's brown head.
"And now look at the table," she said.
There was a cake on the table covered with white sugar, with 'Dear
Bobbie' on it in pink sweets, and there were buns and jam; but the
nicest thing was that the big table was almost covered with flowers-
-wallflowers were laid all round the tea-tray--there was a ring of
forget-me-nots round each plate. The cake had a wreath of white
lilac round it, and in the middle was something that looked like a
pattern all done with single blooms of lilac or wallflower or
"It's a map--a map of the railway!" cried Peter. "Look--those lilac
lines are the metals--and there's the station done in brown
wallflowers. The laburnum is the train, and there are the signal-
boxes, and the road up to here--and those fat red daisies are us
three waving to the old gentleman--that's him, the pansy in the
"And there's 'Three Chimneys' done in the purple primroses," said
Phyllis. "And that little tiny rose-bud is Mother looking out for
us when we're late for tea. Peter invented it all, and we got all
the flowers from the station. We thought you'd like it better."
"That's my present," said Peter, suddenly dumping down his adored
steam-engine on the table in front of her. Its tender had been
lined with fresh white paper, and was full of sweets.
"Oh, Peter!" cried Bobbie, quite overcome by this munificence, "not
your own dear little engine that you're so fond of?"
"Oh, no," said Peter, very promptly, "not the engine. Only the
Bobbie couldn't help her face changing a little--not so much because
she was disappointed at not getting the engine, as because she had
thought it so very noble of Peter, and now she felt she had been
silly to think it. Also she felt she must have seemed greedy to
expect the engine as well as the sweets. So her face changed.
Peter saw it. He hesitated a minute; then his face changed, too,
and he said: "I mean not ALL the engine. I'll let you go halves if
"You're a brick," cried Bobbie; "it's a splendid present." She said
no more aloud, but to herself she said:--
"That was awfully jolly decent of Peter because I know he didn't
mean to. Well, the broken half shall be my half of the engine, and
I'll get it mended and give it back to Peter for his birthday."--
"Yes, Mother dear, I should like to cut the cake," she added, and
It was a delightful birthday. After tea Mother played games with
them--any game they liked--and of course their first choice was
blindman's-buff, in the course of which Bobbie's forget-me-not
wreath twisted itself crookedly over one of her ears and stayed
there. Then, when it was near bed-time and time to calm down,
Mother had a lovely new story to read to them.
"You won't sit up late working, will you, Mother?" Bobbie asked as
they said good night.
And Mother said no, she wouldn't--she would only just write to
Father and then go to bed.
But when Bobbie crept down later to bring up her presents--for she
felt she really could not be separated from them all night--Mother
was not writing, but leaning her head on her arms and her arms on
the table. I think it was rather good of Bobbie to slip quietly
away, saying over and over, "She doesn't want me to know she's
unhappy, and I won't know; I won't know." But it made a sad end to
* * * * * *
The very next morning Bobbie began to watch her opportunity to get
Peter's engine mended secretly. And the opportunity came the very
Mother went by train to the nearest town to do shopping. When she
went there, she always went to the Post-office. Perhaps to post her
letters to Father, for she never gave them to the children or Mrs.
Viney to post, and she never went to the village herself. Peter and
Phyllis went with her. Bobbie wanted an excuse not to go, but try
as she would she couldn't think of a good one. And just when she
felt that all was lost, her frock caught on a big nail by the
kitchen door and there was a great criss-cross tear all along the
front of the skirt. I assure you this was really an accident. So
the others pitied her and went without her, for there was no time
for her to change, because they were rather late already and had to
hurry to the station to catch the train.
When they had gone, Bobbie put on her everyday frock, and went down
to the railway. She did not go into the station, but she went along
the line to the end of the platform where the engine is when the
down train is alongside the platform--the place where there are a
water tank and a long, limp, leather hose, like an elephant's trunk.
She hid behind a bush on the other side of the railway. She had the
toy engine done up in brown paper, and she waited patiently with it
under her arm.
Then when the next train came in and stopped, Bobbie went across the
metals of the up-line and stood beside the engine. She had never
been so close to an engine before. It looked much larger and harder
than she had expected, and it made her feel very small indeed, and,
somehow, very soft--as if she could very, very easily be hurt rather
"I know what silk-worms feel like now," said Bobbie to herself.
The engine-driver and fireman did not see her. They were leaning
out on the other side, telling the Porter a tale about a dog and a
leg of mutton.
"If you please," said Roberta--but the engine was blowing off steam
and no one heard her.
"If you please, Mr. Engineer," she spoke a little louder, but the
Engine happened to speak at the same moment, and of course Roberta's
soft little voice hadn't a chance.
It seemed to her that the only way would be to climb on to the
engine and pull at their coats. The step was high, but she got her
knee on it, and clambered into the cab; she stumbled and fell on
hands and knees on the base of the great heap of coals that led up
to the square opening in the tender. The engine was not above the
weaknesses of its fellows; it was making a great deal more noise
than there was the slightest need for. And just as Roberta fell on
the coals, the engine-driver, who had turned without seeing her,
started the engine, and when Bobbie had picked herself up, the train
was moving--not fast, but much too fast for her to get off.
All sorts of dreadful thoughts came to her all together in one
horrible flash. There were such things as express trains that went
on, she supposed, for hundreds of miles without stopping. Suppose
this should be one of them? How would she get home again? She had
no money to pay for the return journey.
"And I've no business here. I'm an engine-burglar--that's what I
am," she thought. "I shouldn't wonder if they could lock me up for
this." And the train was going faster and faster.
There was something in her throat that made it impossible for her to
speak. She tried twice. The men had their backs to her. They were
doing something to things that looked like taps.
Suddenly she put out her hand and caught hold of the nearest sleeve.
The man turned with a start, and he and Roberta stood for a minute
looking at each other in silence. Then the silence was broken by
The man said, "Here's a bloomin' go!" and Roberta burst into tears.
The other man said he was blooming well blest--or something like it-
-but though naturally surprised they were not exactly unkind.
"You're a naughty little gell, that's what you are," said the
fireman, and the engine-driver said:--
"Daring little piece, I call her," but they made her sit down on an
iron seat in the cab and told her to stop crying and tell them what
she meant by it.
She did stop, as soon as she could. One thing that helped her was
the thought that Peter would give almost his ears to be in her
place--on a real engine--really going. The children had often
wondered whether any engine-driver could be found noble enough to
take them for a ride on an engine--and now there she was. She dried
her eyes and sniffed earnestly.
"Now, then," said the fireman, "out with it. What do you mean by
"Oh, please," sniffed Bobbie.
"Try again," said the engine-driver, encouragingly.
Bobbie tried again.
"Please, Mr. Engineer," she said, "I did call out to you from the
line, but you didn't hear me--and I just climbed up to touch you on
the arm--quite gently I meant to do it--and then I fell into the
coals--and I am so sorry if I frightened you. Oh, don't be cross--
oh, please don't!" She sniffed again.
"We ain't so much CROSS," said the fireman, "as interested like. It
ain't every day a little gell tumbles into our coal bunker outer the
sky, is it, Bill? What did you DO it for--eh?"
"That's the point," agreed the engine-driver; "what did you do it
Bobbie found that she had not quite stopped crying. The engine-
driver patted her on the back and said: "Here, cheer up, Mate. It
ain't so bad as all that 'ere, I'll be bound."
"I wanted," said Bobbie, much cheered to find herself addressed as
'Mate'--"I only wanted to ask you if you'd be so kind as to mend
this." She picked up the brown-paper parcel from among the coals
and undid the string with hot, red fingers that trembled.
Her feet and legs felt the scorch of the engine fire, but her
shoulders felt the wild chill rush of the air. The engine lurched
and shook and rattled, and as they shot under a bridge the engine
seemed to shout in her ears.
The fireman shovelled on coals.
Bobbie unrolled the brown paper and disclosed the toy engine.
"I thought," she said wistfully, "that perhaps you'd mend this for
me--because you're an engineer, you know."
The engine-driver said he was blowed if he wasn't blest.
"I'm blest if I ain't blowed," remarked the fireman.
But the engine-driver took the little engine and looked at it--and
the fireman ceased for an instant to shovel coal, and looked, too.
"It's like your precious cheek," said the engine-driver--"whatever
made you think we'd be bothered tinkering penny toys?"
"I didn't mean it for precious cheek," said Bobbie; "only everybody
that has anything to do with railways is so kind and good, I didn't
think you'd mind. You don't really--do you?" she added, for she had
seen a not unkindly wink pass between the two.
"My trade's driving of an engine, not mending her, especially such a
hout-size in engines as this 'ere," said Bill. "An' 'ow are we a-
goin' to get you back to your sorrowing friends and relations, and
all be forgiven and forgotten?"
"If you'll put me down next time you stop," said Bobbie, firmly,
though her heart beat fiercely against her arm as she clasped her
hands, "and lend me the money for a third-class ticket, I'll pay you
back--honour bright. I'm not a confidence trick like in the
newspapers--really, I'm not."
"You're a little lady, every inch," said Bill, relenting suddenly
and completely. "We'll see you gets home safe. An' about this
engine--Jim--ain't you got ne'er a pal as can use a soldering iron?
Seems to me that's about all the little bounder wants doing to it."
"That's what Father said," Bobbie explained eagerly. "What's that
She pointed to a little brass wheel that he had turned as he spoke.
"That's the injector."
"Injector to fill up the boiler."
"Oh," said Bobbie, mentally registering the fact to tell the others;
"that IS interesting."
"This 'ere's the automatic brake," Bill went on, flattered by her
enthusiasm. "You just move this 'ere little handle--do it with one
finger, you can--and the train jolly soon stops. That's what they
call the Power of Science in the newspapers."
He showed her two little dials, like clock faces, and told her how
one showed how much steam was going, and the other showed if the
brake was working properly.
By the time she had seen him shut off steam with a big shining steel
handle, Bobbie knew more about the inside working of an engine than
she had ever thought there was to know, and Jim had promised that
his second cousin's wife's brother should solder the toy engine, or
Jim would know the reason why. Besides all the knowledge she had
gained Bobbie felt that she and Bill and Jim were now friends for
life, and that they had wholly and forever forgiven her for
stumbling uninvited among the sacred coals of their tender.
At Stacklepoole Junction she parted from them with warm expressions
of mutual regard. They handed her over to the guard of a returning
train--a friend of theirs--and she had the joy of knowing what
guards do in their secret fastnesses, and understood how, when you
pull the communication cord in railway carriages, a wheel goes round
under the guard's nose and a loud bell rings in his ears. She asked
the guard why his van smelt so fishy, and learned that he had to
carry a lot of fish every day, and that the wetness in the hollows
of the corrugated floor had all drained out of boxes full of plaice
and cod and mackerel and soles and smelts.
Bobbie got home in time for tea, and she felt as though her mind
would burst with all that had been put into it since she parted from
the others. How she blessed the nail that had torn her frock!
"Where have you been?" asked the others.
"To the station, of course," said Roberta. But she would not tell a
word of her adventures till the day appointed, when she mysteriously
led them to the station at the hour of the 3.19's transit, and
proudly introduced them to her friends, Bill and Jim. Jim's second
cousin's wife's brother had not been unworthy of the sacred trust
reposed in him. The toy engine was, literally, as good as new.
"Good-bye--oh, good-bye," said Bobbie, just before the engine
screamed ITS good-bye. "I shall always, always love you--and Jim's
second cousin's wife's brother as well!"
And as the three children went home up the hill, Peter hugging the
engine, now quite its own self again, Bobbie told, with joyous leaps
of the heart, the story of how she had been an Engine-burglar.
Chapter V. Prisoners and captives.
It was one day when Mother had gone to Maidbridge. She had gone
alone, but the children were to go to the station to meet her. And,
loving the station as they did, it was only natural that they should
be there a good hour before there was any chance of Mother's train
arriving, even if the train were punctual, which was most unlikely.
No doubt they would have been just as early, even if it had been a
fine day, and all the delights of woods and fields and rocks and
rivers had been open to them. But it happened to be a very wet day
and, for July, very cold. There was a wild wind that drove flocks
of dark purple clouds across the sky "like herds of dream-
elephants," as Phyllis said. And the rain stung sharply, so that
the way to the station was finished at a run. Then the rain fell
faster and harder, and beat slantwise against the windows of the
booking office and of the chill place that had General Waiting Room
on its door.
"It's like being in a besieged castle," Phyllis said; "look at the
arrows of the foe striking against the battlements!"
"It's much more like a great garden-squirt," said Peter.
They decided to wait on the up side, for the down platform looked
very wet indeed, and the rain was driving right into the little
bleak shelter where down-passengers have to wait for their trains.
The hour would be full of incident and of interest, for there would
be two up trains and one down to look at before the one that should
bring Mother back.
"Perhaps it'll have stopped raining by then," said Bobbie; "anyhow,
I'm glad I brought Mother's waterproof and umbrella."
They went into the desert spot labelled General Waiting Room, and
the time passed pleasantly enough in a game of advertisements. You
know the game, of course? It is something like dumb Crambo. The
players take it in turns to go out, and then come back and look as
like some advertisement as they can, and the others have to guess
what advertisement it is meant to be. Bobbie came in and sat down
under Mother's umbrella and made a sharp face, and everyone knew she
was the fox who sits under the umbrella in the advertisement.
Phyllis tried to make a Magic Carpet of Mother's waterproof, but it
would not stand out stiff and raft-like as a Magic Carpet should,
and nobody could guess it. Everyone thought Peter was carrying
things a little too far when he blacked his face all over with coal-
dust and struck a spidery attitude and said he was the blot that
advertises somebody's Blue Black Writing Fluid.
It was Phyllis's turn again, and she was trying to look like the
Sphinx that advertises What's-his-name's Personally Conducted Tours
up the Nile when the sharp ting of the signal announced the up
train. The children rushed out to see it pass. On its engine were
the particular driver and fireman who were now numbered among the
children's dearest friends. Courtesies passed between them. Jim
asked after the toy engine, and Bobbie pressed on his acceptance a
moist, greasy package of toffee that she had made herself.
Charmed by this attention, the engine-driver consented to consider
her request that some day he would take Peter for a ride on the
"Stand back, Mates," cried the engine-driver, suddenly, "and horf
And sure enough, off the train went. The children watched the tail-
lights of the train till it disappeared round the curve of the line,
and then turned to go back to the dusty freedom of the General
Waiting Room and the joys of the advertisement game.
They expected to see just one or two people, the end of the
procession of passengers who had given up their tickets and gone
away. Instead, the platform round the door of the station had a
dark blot round it, and the dark blot was a crowd of people.
"Oh!" cried Peter, with a thrill of joyous excitement, "something's
happened! Come on!"
They ran down the platform. When they got to the crowd, they could,
of course, see nothing but the damp backs and elbows of the people
on the crowd's outside. Everybody was talking at once. It was
evident that something had happened.
"It's my belief he's nothing worse than a natural," said a
farmerish-looking person. Peter saw his red, clean-shaven face as
"If you ask me, I should say it was a Police Court case," said a
young man with a black bag.
"Not it; the Infirmary more like--"
Then the voice of the Station Master was heard, firm and official:--
"Now, then--move along there. I'll attend to this, if YOU please."
But the crowd did not move. And then came a voice that thrilled the
children through and through. For it spoke in a foreign language.
And, what is more, it was a language that they had never heard.
They had heard French spoken and German. Aunt Emma knew German, and
used to sing a song about bedeuten and zeiten and bin and sin. Nor
was it Latin. Peter had been in Latin for four terms.
It was some comfort, anyhow, to find that none of the crowd
understood the foreign language any better than the children did.
"What's that he's saying?" asked the farmer, heavily.
"Sounds like French to me," said the Station Master, who had once
been to Boulogne for the day.
"It isn't French!" cried Peter.
"What is it, then?" asked more than one voice. The crowd fell back
a little to see who had spoken, and Peter pressed forward, so that
when the crowd closed up again he was in the front rank.
"I don't know what it is," said Peter, "but it isn't French. I know
that." Then he saw what it was that the crowd had for its centre.
It was a man--the man, Peter did not doubt, who had spoken in that
strange tongue. A man with long hair and wild eyes, with shabby
clothes of a cut Peter had not seen before--a man whose hands and
lips trembled, and who spoke again as his eyes fell on Peter.
"No, it's not French," said Peter.
"Try him with French if you know so much about it," said the farmer-
"Parlay voo Frongsay?" began Peter, boldly, and the next moment the
crowd recoiled again, for the man with the wild eyes had left
leaning against the wall, and had sprung forward and caught Peter's
hands, and begun to pour forth a flood of words which, though he
could not understand a word of them, Peter knew the sound of.
"There!" said he, and turned, his hands still clasped in the hands
of the strange shabby figure, to throw a glance of triumph at the
crowd; "there; THAT'S French."
"What does he say?"
"I don't know." Peter was obliged to own it.
"Here," said the Station Master again; "you move on if you please.
I'LL deal with this case."
A few of the more timid or less inquisitive travellers moved slowly
and reluctantly away. And Phyllis and Bobbie got near to Peter.
All three had been TAUGHT French at school. How deeply they now
wished that they had LEARNED it! Peter shook his head at the
stranger, but he also shook his hands as warmly and looked at him as
kindly as he could. A person in the crowd, after some hesitation,
said suddenly, "No comprenny!" and then, blushing deeply, backed out
of the press and went away.
"Take him into your room," whispered Bobbie to the Station Master.
"Mother can talk French. She'll be here by the next train from
The Station Master took the arm of the stranger, suddenly but not
unkindly. But the man wrenched his arm away, and cowered back
coughing and trembling and trying to push the Station Master away.
"Oh, don't!" said Bobbie; "don't you see how frightened he is? He
thinks you're going to shut him up. I know he does--look at his
"They're like a fox's eyes when the beast's in a trap," said the
"Oh, let me try!" Bobbie went on; "I do really know one or two
French words if I could only think of them."
Sometimes, in moments of great need, we can do wonderful things--
things that in ordinary life we could hardly even dream of doing.
Bobbie had never been anywhere near the top of her French class, but
she must have learned something without knowing it, for now, looking
at those wild, hunted eyes, she actually remembered and, what is
more, spoke, some French words. She said:--
"Vous attendre. Ma mere parlez Francais. Nous--what's the French
for 'being kind'?"
"Bong is 'good,'" said Phyllis.
"Nous etre bong pour vous."
I do not know whether the man understood her words, but he
understood the touch of the hand she thrust into his, and the
kindness of the other hand that stroked his shabby sleeve.
She pulled him gently towards the inmost sanctuary of the Station
Master. The other children followed, and the Station Master shut
the door in the face of the crowd, which stood a little while in the
booking office talking and looking at the fast closed yellow door,
and then by ones and twos went its way, grumbling.
Inside the Station Master's room Bobbie still held the stranger's
hand and stroked his sleeve.
"Here's a go," said the Station Master; "no ticket--doesn't even
know where he wants to go. I'm not sure now but what I ought to
send for the police."
"Oh, DON'T!" all the children pleaded at once. And suddenly Bobbie
got between the others and the stranger, for she had seen that he
By a most unusual piece of good fortune she had a handkerchief in
her pocket. By a still more uncommon accident the handkerchief was
moderately clean. Standing in front of the stranger, she got out
the handkerchief and passed it to him so that the others did not
"Wait till Mother comes," Phyllis was saying; "she does speak French
beautifully. You'd just love to hear her."
"I'm sure he hasn't done anything like you're sent to prison for,"
"Looks like without visible means to me," said the Station Master.
"Well, I don't mind giving him the benefit of the doubt till your
Mamma comes. I SHOULD like to know what nation's got the credit of
HIM, that I should."
Then Peter had an idea. He pulled an envelope out of his pocket,
and showed that it was half full of foreign stamps.
"Look here," he said, "let's show him these--"
Bobbie looked and saw that the stranger had dried his eyes with her
handkerchief. So she said: "All right."
They showed him an Italian stamp, and pointed from him to it and
back again, and made signs of question with their eyebrows. He
shook his head. Then they showed him a Norwegian stamp--the common
blue kind it was--and again he signed No. Then they showed him a
Spanish one, and at that he took the envelope from Peter's hand and
searched among the stamps with a hand that trembled. The hand that
he reached out at last, with a gesture as of one answering a
question, contained a RUSSIAN stamp.
"He's Russian," cried Peter, "or else he's like 'the man who was'--
in Kipling, you know."
The train from Maidbridge was signalled.
"I'll stay with him till you bring Mother in," said Bobbie.
"You're not afraid, Missie?"
"Oh, no," said Bobbie, looking at the stranger, as she might have
looked at a strange dog of doubtful temper. "You wouldn't hurt me,
She smiled at him, and he smiled back, a queer crooked smile. And
then he coughed again. And the heavy rattling swish of the incoming
train swept past, and the Station Master and Peter and Phyllis went
out to meet it. Bobbie was still holding the stranger's hand when
they came back with Mother.
The Russian rose and bowed very ceremoniously.
Then Mother spoke in French, and he replied, haltingly at first, but
presently in longer and longer sentences.
The children, watching his face and Mother's, knew that he was
telling her things that made her angry and pitying, and sorry and
indignant all at once.
"Well, Mum, what's it all about?" The Station Master could not
restrain his curiosity any longer.
"Oh," said Mother, "it's all right. He's a Russian, and he's lost
his ticket. And I'm afraid he's very ill. If you don't mind, I'll
take him home with me now. He's really quite worn out. I'll run
down and tell you all about him to-morrow."
"I hope you won't find you're taking home a frozen viper," said the
Station Master, doubtfully.
"Oh, no," Mother said brightly, and she smiled; "I'm quite sure I'm
not. Why, he's a great man in his own country, writes books--
beautiful books--I've read some of them; but I'll tell you all about
She spoke again in French to the Russian, and everyone could see the
surprise and pleasure and gratitude in his eyes. He got up and
politely bowed to the Station Master, and offered his arm most
ceremoniously to Mother. She took it, but anybody could have seen
that she was helping him along, and not he her.
"You girls run home and light a fire in the sitting-room," Mother
said, "and Peter had better go for the Doctor."
But it was Bobbie who went for the Doctor.
"I hate to tell you," she said breathlessly when she came upon him
in his shirt sleeves, weeding his pansy-bed, "but Mother's got a
very shabby Russian, and I'm sure he'll have to belong to your Club.
I'm certain he hasn't got any money. We found him at the station."
"Found him! Was he lost, then?" asked the Doctor, reaching for his
"Yes," said Bobbie, unexpectedly, "that's just what he was. He's
been telling Mother the sad, sweet story of his life in French; and
she said would you be kind enough to come directly if you were at
home. He has a dreadful cough, and he's been crying."
The Doctor smiled.
"Oh, don't," said Bobbie; "please don't. You wouldn't if you'd seen
him. I never saw a man cry before. You don't know what it's like."
Dr. Forrest wished then that he hadn't smiled.
When Bobbie and the Doctor got to Three Chimneys, the Russian was
sitting in the arm-chair that had been Father's, stretching his feet
to the blaze of a bright wood fire, and sipping the tea Mother had
"The man seems worn out, mind and body," was what the Doctor said;
"the cough's bad, but there's nothing that can't be cured. He ought
to go straight to bed, though--and let him have a fire at night."
"I'll make one in my room; it's the only one with a fireplace," said
Mother. She did, and presently the Doctor helped the stranger to
There was a big black trunk in Mother's room that none of the
children had ever seen unlocked. Now, when she had lighted the
fire, she unlocked it and took some clothes out--men's clothes--and
set them to air by the newly lighted fire. Bobbie, coming in with
more wood for the fire, saw the mark on the night-shirt, and looked
over to the open trunk. All the things she could see were men's
clothes. And the name marked on the shirt was Father's name. Then
Father hadn't taken his clothes with him. And that night-shirt was
one of Father's new ones. Bobbie remembered its being made, just
before Peter's birthday. Why hadn't Father taken his clothes?
Bobbie slipped from the room. As she went she heard the key turned
in the lock of the trunk. Her heart was beating horribly. WHY
hadn't Father taken his clothes? When Mother came out of the room,
Bobbie flung tightly clasping arms round her waist, and whispered:--
"Mother--Daddy isn't--isn't DEAD, is he?"
"My darling, no! What made you think of anything so horrible?"
"I--I don't know," said Bobbie, angry with herself, but still
clinging to that resolution of hers, not to see anything that Mother
didn't mean her to see.
Mother gave her a hurried hug. "Daddy was quite, QUITE well when I
heard from him last," she said, "and he'll come back to us some day.
Don't fancy such horrible things, darling!"
Later on, when the Russian stranger had been made comfortable for
the night, Mother came into the girls' room. She was to sleep there
in Phyllis's bed, and Phyllis was to have a mattress on the floor, a
most amusing adventure for Phyllis. Directly Mother came in, two
white figures started up, and two eager voices called:--
"Now, Mother, tell us all about the Russian gentleman."
A white shape hopped into the room. It was Peter, dragging his
quilt behind him like the tail of a white peacock.
"We have been patient," he said, "and I had to bite my tongue not to
go to sleep, and I just nearly went to sleep and I bit too hard, and
it hurts ever so. DO tell us. Make a nice long story of it."
"I can't make a long story of it to-night," said Mother; "I'm very
Bobbie knew by her voice that Mother had been crying, but the others
"Well, make it as long as you can," said Phil, and Bobbie got her
arms round Mother's waist and snuggled close to her.
"Well, it's a story long enough to make a whole book of. He's a
writer; he's written beautiful books. In Russia at the time of the
Czar one dared not say anything about the rich people doing wrong,
or about the things that ought to be done to make poor people better
and happier. If one did one was sent to prison."
"But they CAN'T," said Peter; "people only go to prison when they've
"Or when the Judges THINK they've done wrong," said Mother. "Yes,
that's so in England. But in Russia it was different. And he wrote
a beautiful book about poor people and how to help them. I've read
it. There's nothing in it but goodness and kindness. And they sent
him to prison for it. He was three years in a horrible dungeon,
with hardly any light, and all damp and dreadful. In prison all
alone for three years."
Mother's voice trembled a little and stopped suddenly.
"But, Mother," said Peter, "that can't be true NOW. It sounds like
something out of a history book--the Inquisition, or something."
"It WAS true," said Mother; "it's all horribly true. Well, then
they took him out and sent him to Siberia, a convict chained to
other convicts--wicked men who'd done all sorts of crimes--a long
chain of them, and they walked, and walked, and walked, for days and
weeks, till he thought they'd never stop walking. And overseers
went behind them with whips--yes, whips--to beat them if they got
tired. And some of them went lame, and some fell down, and when
they couldn't get up and go on, they beat them, and then left them
to die. Oh, it's all too terrible! And at last he got to the
mines, and he was condemned to stay there for life--for life, just
for writing a good, noble, splendid book."
"How did he get away?"
"When the war came, some of the Russian prisoners were allowed to
volunteer as soldiers. And he volunteered. But he deserted at the
first chance he got and--"
"But that's very cowardly, isn't it"--said Peter--"to desert?
Especially when it's war."
"Do you think he owed anything to a country that had done THAT to
him? If he did, he owed more to his wife and children. He didn't
know what had become of them."
"Oh," cried Bobbie, "he had THEM to think about and be miserable
about TOO, then, all the time he was in prison?"
"Yes, he had them to think about and be miserable about all the time
he was in prison. For anything he knew they might have been sent to
prison, too. They did those things in Russia. But while he was in
the mines some friends managed to get a message to him that his wife
and children had escaped and come to England. So when he deserted
he came here to look for them."
"Had he got their address?" said practical Peter.
"No; just England. He was going to London, and he thought he had to
change at our station, and then he found he'd lost his ticket and
"Oh, DO you think he'll find them?--I mean his wife and children,
not the ticket and things."
"I hope so. Oh, I hope and pray that he'll find his wife and
Even Phyllis now perceived that mother's voice was very unsteady.
"Why, Mother," she said, "how very sorry you seem to be for him!"
Mother didn't answer for a minute. Then she just said, "Yes," and
then she seemed to be thinking. The children were quiet.
Presently she said, "Dears, when you say your prayers, I think you
might ask God to show His pity upon all prisoners and captives."
"To show His pity," Bobbie repeated slowly, "upon all prisoners and
captives. Is that right, Mother?"
"Yes," said Mother, "upon all prisoners and captives. All prisoners
Chapter VI. Saviours of the train.
The Russian gentleman was better the next day, and the day after
that better still, and on the third day he was well enough to come
into the garden. A basket chair was put for him and he sat there,
dressed in clothes of Father's which were too big for him. But when
Mother had hemmed up the ends of the sleeves and the trousers, the
clothes did well enough. His was a kind face now that it was no
longer tired and frightened, and he smiled at the children whenever
he saw them. They wished very much that he could speak English.
Mother wrote several letters to people she thought might know
whereabouts in England a Russian gentleman's wife and family might
possibly be; not to the people she used to know before she came to
live at Three Chimneys--she never wrote to any of them--but strange
people--Members of Parliament and Editors of papers, and Secretaries
And she did not do much of her story-writing, only corrected proofs
as she sat in the sun near the Russian, and talked to him every now
The children wanted very much to show how kindly they felt to this
man who had been sent to prison and to Siberia just for writing a
beautiful book about poor people. They could smile at him, of
course; they could and they did. But if you smile too constantly,
the smile is apt to get fixed like the smile of the hyaena. And
then it no longer looks friendly, but simply silly. So they tried
other ways, and brought him flowers till the place where he sat was
surrounded by little fading bunches of clover and roses and
And then Phyllis had an idea. She beckoned mysteriously to the
others and drew them into the back yard, and there, in a concealed
spot, between the pump and the water-butt, she said:--
"You remember Perks promising me the very first strawberries out of
his own garden?" Perks, you will recollect, was the Porter. "Well,
I should think they're ripe now. Let's go down and see."
Mother had been down as she had promised to tell the Station Master
the story of the Russian Prisoner. But even the charms of the
railway had been unable to tear the children away from the
neighbourhood of the interesting stranger. So they had not been to
the station for three days.
They went now.
And, to their surprise and distress, were very coldly received by
"'Ighly honoured, I'm sure," he said when they peeped in at the door
of the Porters' room. And he went on reading his newspaper.
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"Oh, dear," said Bobbie, with a sigh, "I do believe you're CROSS."
"What, me? Not me!" said Perks loftily; "it ain't nothing to me."
"What AIN'T nothing to you?" said Peter, too anxious and alarmed to
change the form of words.
"Nothing ain't nothing. What 'appens either 'ere or elsewhere,"
said Perks; "if you likes to 'ave your secrets, 'ave 'em and
welcome. That's what I say."
The secret-chamber of each heart was rapidly examined during the
pause that followed. Three heads were shaken.
"We haven't got any secrets from YOU," said Bobbie at last.
"Maybe you 'ave, and maybe you 'aven't," said Perks; "it ain't
nothing to me. And I wish you all a very good afternoon." He held
up the paper between him and them and went on reading.
"Oh, DON'T!" said Phyllis, in despair; "this is truly dreadful!
Whatever it is, do tell us."
"We didn't mean to do it whatever it was."
No answer. The paper was refolded and Perks began on another
"Look here," said Peter, suddenly, "it's not fair. Even people who
do crimes aren't punished without being told what it's for--as once
they were in Russia."
"I don't know nothing about Russia."
"Oh, yes, you do, when Mother came down on purpose to tell you and
Mr. Gills all about OUR Russian."
"Can't you fancy it?" said Perks, indignantly; "don't you see 'im a-
asking of me to step into 'is room and take a chair and listen to
what 'er Ladyship 'as to say?"
"Do you mean to say you've not heard?"
"Not so much as a breath. I did go so far as to put a question.
And he shuts me up like a rat-trap. 'Affairs of State, Perks,' says
he. But I did think one o' you would 'a' nipped down to tell me--
you're here sharp enough when you want to get anything out of old
Perks"--Phyllis flushed purple as she thought of the strawberries--
"information about locomotives or signals or the likes," said Perks.
"We didn't know you didn't know."
"We thought Mother had told you."
The three spoke all at once.
Perks said it was all very well, and still held up the paper. Then
Phyllis suddenly snatched it away, and threw her arms round his
"Oh, let's kiss and be friends," she said; "we'll say we're sorry
first, if you like, but we didn't really know that you didn't know."
"We are so sorry," said the others.
And Perks at last consented to accept their apologies.
Then they got him to come out and sit in the sun on the green
Railway Bank, where the grass was quite hot to touch, and there,
sometimes speaking one at a time, and sometimes all together, they
told the Porter the story of the Russian Prisoner.
"Well, I must say," said Perks; but he did not say it--whatever it
"Yes, it is pretty awful, isn't it?" said Peter, "and I don't wonder
you were curious about who the Russian was."
"I wasn't curious, not so much as interested," said the Porter.
"Well, I do think Mr. Gills might have told you about it. It was
horrid of him."
"I don't keep no down on 'im for that, Missie," said the Porter;
"cos why? I see 'is reasons. 'E wouldn't want to give away 'is own
side with a tale like that 'ere. It ain't human nature. A man's
got to stand up for his own side whatever they does. That's what it
means by Party Politics. I should 'a' done the same myself if that
long-'aired chap 'ad 'a' been a Jap."
"But the Japs didn't do cruel, wicked things like that," said
"P'r'aps not," said Perks, cautiously; "still you can't be sure with
foreigners. My own belief is they're all tarred with the same
"Then why were you on the side of the Japs?" Peter asked.
"Well, you see, you must take one side or the other. Same as with
Liberals and Conservatives. The great thing is to take your side
and then stick to it, whatever happens."
A signal sounded.
"There's the 3.14 up," said Perks. "You lie low till she's through,
and then we'll go up along to my place, and see if there's any of
them strawberries ripe what I told you about."
"If there are any ripe, and you DO give them to me," said Phyllis,
"you won't mind if I give them to the poor Russian, will you?"
Perks narrowed his eyes and then raised his eyebrows.
"So it was them strawberries you come down for this afternoon, eh?"
This was an awkward moment for Phyllis. To say "yes" would seem
rude and greedy, and unkind to Perks. But she knew if she said
"no," she would not be pleased with herself afterwards. So--
"Yes," she said, "it was."
"Well done!" said the Porter; "speak the truth and shame the--"
"But we'd have come down the very next day if we'd known you hadn't
heard the story," Phyllis added hastily.
"I believe you, Missie," said Perks, and sprang across the line six
feet in front of the advancing train.
The girls hated to see him do this, but Peter liked it. It was so
The Russian gentleman was so delighted with the strawberries that
the three racked their brains to find some other surprise for him.
But all the racking did not bring out any idea more novel than wild
cherries. And this idea occurred to them next morning. They had
seen the blossom on the trees in the spring, and they knew where to
look for wild cherries now that cherry time was here. The trees
grew all up and along the rocky face of the cliff out of which the
mouth of the tunnel opened. There were all sorts of trees there,
birches and beeches and baby oaks and hazels, and among them the
cherry blossom had shone like snow and silver.
The mouth of the tunnel was some way from Three Chimneys, so Mother
let them take their lunch with them in a basket. And the basket
would do to bring the cherries back in if they found any. She also
lent them her silver watch so that they should not be late for tea.
Peter's Waterbury had taken it into its head not to go since the day
when Peter dropped it into the water-butt. And they started. When
they got to the top of the cutting, they leaned over the fence and
looked down to where the railway lines lay at the bottom of what, as
Phyllis said, was exactly like a mountain gorge.
"If it wasn't for the railway at the bottom, it would be as though
the foot of man had never been there, wouldn't it?"
The sides of the cutting were of grey stone, very roughly hewn.
Indeed, the top part of the cutting had been a little natural glen
that had been cut deeper to bring it down to the level of the
tunnel's mouth. Among the rocks, grass and flowers grew, and seeds
dropped by birds in the crannies of the stone had taken root and
grown into bushes and trees that overhung the cutting. Near the
tunnel was a flight of steps leading down to the line--just wooden
bars roughly fixed into the earth--a very steep and narrow way, more
like a ladder than a stair.
"We'd better get down," said Peter; "I'm sure the cherries would be
quite easy to get at from the side of the steps. You remember it
was there we picked the cherry blossoms that we put on the rabbit's
So they went along the fence towards the little swing gate that is
at the top of these steps. And they were almost at the gate when
"Hush. Stop! What's that?"
"That" was a very odd noise indeed--a soft noise, but quite plainly
to be heard through the sound of the wind in tree branches, and the
hum and whir of the telegraph wires. It was a sort of rustling,
whispering sound. As they listened it stopped, and then it began
And this time it did not stop, but it grew louder and more rustling
"Look"--cried Peter, suddenly--"the tree over there!"
The tree he pointed at was one of those that have rough grey leaves
and white flowers. The berries, when they come, are bright scarlet,
but if you pick them, they disappoint you by turning black before
you get them home. And, as Peter pointed, the tree was moving--not
just the way trees ought to move when the wind blows through them,
but all in one piece, as though it were a live creature and were
walking down the side of the cutting.
"It's moving!" cried Bobbie. "Oh, look! and so are the others.
It's like the woods in Macbeth."
"It's magic," said Phyllis, breathlessly. "I always knew this
railway was enchanted."
It really did seem a little like magic. For all the trees for about
twenty yards of the opposite bank seemed to be slowly walking down
towards the railway line, the tree with the grey leaves bringing up
the rear like some old shepherd driving a flock of green sheep.
"What is it? Oh, what is it?" said Phyllis; "it's much too magic
for me. I don't like it. Let's go home."
But Bobbie and Peter clung fast to the rail and watched
breathlessly. And Phyllis made no movement towards going home by
The trees moved on and on. Some stones and loose earth fell down
and rattled on the railway metals far below.
"It's ALL coming down," Peter tried to say, but he found there was
hardly any voice to say it with. And, indeed, just as he spoke, the
great rock, on the top of which the walking trees were, leaned
slowly forward. The trees, ceasing to walk, stood still and
shivered. Leaning with the rock, they seemed to hesitate a moment,
and then rock and trees and grass and bushes, with a rushing sound,
slipped right away from the face of the cutting and fell on the line
with a blundering crash that could have been heard half a mile off.
A cloud of dust rose up.
"Oh," said Peter, in awestruck tones, "isn't it exactly like when
coals come in?--if there wasn't any roof to the cellar and you could
"Look what a great mound it's made!" said Bobbie.
"Yes," said Peter, slowly. He was still leaning on the fence.
"Yes," he said again, still more slowly.
Then he stood upright.
"The 11.29 down hasn't gone by yet. We must let them know at the
station, or there'll be a most frightful accident."
"Let's run," said Bobbie, and began.
But Peter cried, "Come back!" and looked at Mother's watch. He was
very prompt and businesslike, and his face looked whiter than they
had ever seen it.
"No time," he said; "it's two miles away, and it's past eleven."
"Couldn't we," suggested Phyllis, breathlessly, "couldn't we climb
up a telegraph post and do something to the wires?"
"We don't know how," said Peter.
"They do it in war," said Phyllis; "I know I've heard of it."
"They only CUT them, silly," said Peter, "and that doesn't do any
good. And we couldn't cut them even if we got up, and we couldn't
get up. If we had anything red, we could get down on the line and
"But the train wouldn't see us till it got round the corner, and
then it could see the mound just as well as us," said Phyllis;
"better, because it's much bigger than us."
"If we only had something red," Peter repeated, "we could go round
the corner and wave to the train."
"We might wave, anyway."
"They'd only think it was just US, as usual. We've waved so often
before. Anyway, let's get down."
They got down the steep stairs. Bobbie was pale and shivering.
Peter's face looked thinner than usual. Phyllis was red-faced and
damp with anxiety.
"Oh, how hot I am!" she said; "and I thought it was going to be
cold; I wish we hadn't put on our--" she stopped short, and then
ended in quite a different tone--"our flannel petticoats."
Bobbie turned at the bottom of the stairs.
"Oh, yes," she cried; "THEY'RE red! Let's take them off."
They did, and with the petticoats rolled up under their arms, ran
along the railway, skirting the newly fallen mound of stones and
rock and earth, and bent, crushed, twisted trees. They ran at their
best pace. Peter led, but the girls were not far behind. They
reached the corner that hid the mound from the straight line of
railway that ran half a mile without curve or corner.
"Now," said Peter, taking hold of the largest flannel petticoat.
"You're not"--Phyllis faltered--"you're not going to TEAR them?"
"Shut up," said Peter, with brief sternness.
"Oh, yes," said Bobbie, "tear them into little bits if you like.
Don't you see, Phil, if we can't stop the train, there'll be a real
live accident, with people KILLED. Oh, horrible! Here, Peter,
you'll never tear it through the band!"
She took the red flannel petticoat from him and tore it off an inch
from the band. Then she tore the other in the same way.
"There!" said Peter, tearing in his turn. He divided each petticoat
into three pieces. "Now, we've got six flags." He looked at the
watch again. "And we've got seven minutes. We must have
The knives given to boys are, for some odd reason, seldom of the
kind of steel that keeps sharp. The young saplings had to be broken
off. Two came up by the roots. The leaves were stripped from them.
"We must cut holes in the flags, and run the sticks through the
holes," said Peter. And the holes were cut. The knife was sharp
enough to cut flannel with. Two of the flags were set up in heaps
of loose stones between the sleepers of the down line. Then Phyllis
and Roberta took each a flag, and stood ready to wave it as soon as
the train came in sight.
"I shall have the other two myself," said Peter, "because it was my
idea to wave something red."
"They're our petticoats, though," Phyllis was beginning, but Bobbie
"Oh, what does it matter who waves what, if we can only save the
Perhaps Peter had not rightly calculated the number of minutes it
would take the 11.29 to get from the station to the place where they
were, or perhaps the train was late. Anyway, it seemed a very long
time that they waited.
Phyllis grew impatient. "I expect the watch is wrong, and the
train's gone by," said she.
Peter relaxed the heroic attitude he had chosen to show off his two
flags. And Bobbie began to feel sick with suspense.
It seemed to her that they had been standing there for hours and
hours, holding those silly little red flannel flags that no one
would ever notice. The train wouldn't care. It would go rushing by
them and tear round the corner and go crashing into that awful
mound. And everyone would be killed. Her hands grew very cold and
trembled so that she could hardly hold the flag. And then came the
distant rumble and hum of the metals, and a puff of white steam
showed far away along the stretch of line.
"Stand firm," said Peter, "and wave like mad! When it gets to that
big furze bush step back, but go on waving! Don't stand ON the
The train came rattling along very, very fast.
"They don't see us! They won't see us! It's all no good!" cried
The two little flags on the line swayed as the nearing train shook
and loosened the heaps of loose stones that held them up. One of
them slowly leaned over and fell on the line. Bobbie jumped forward
and caught it up, and waved it; her hands did not tremble now.
It seemed that the train came on as fast as ever. It was very near
"Keep off the line, you silly cuckoo!" said Peter, fiercely.
"It's no good," Bobbie said again.
"Stand back!" cried Peter, suddenly, and he dragged Phyllis back by
But Bobbie cried, "Not yet, not yet!" and waved her two flags right
over the line. The front of the engine looked black and enormous.
It's voice was loud and harsh.
"Oh, stop, stop, stop!" cried Bobbie. No one heard her. At least
Peter and Phyllis didn't, for the oncoming rush of the train covered
the sound of her voice with a mountain of sound. But afterwards she
used to wonder whether the engine itself had not heard her. It
seemed almost as though it had--for it slackened swiftly, slackened
and stopped, not twenty yards from the place where Bobbie's two
flags waved over the line. She saw the great black engine stop
dead, but somehow she could not stop waving the flags. And when the
driver and the fireman had got off the engine and Peter and Phyllis
had gone to meet them and pour out their excited tale of the awful
mound just round the corner, Bobbie still waved the flags but more
and more feebly and jerkily.
When the others turned towards her she was lying across the line
with her hands flung forward and still gripping the sticks of the
little red flannel flags.
The engine-driver picked her up, carried her to the train, and laid
her on the cushions of a first-class carriage.
"Gone right off in a faint," he said, "poor little woman. And no
wonder. I'll just 'ave a look at this 'ere mound of yours, and then
we'll run you back to the station and get her seen to."
It was horrible to see Bobbie lying so white and quiet, with her
lips blue, and parted.
"I believe that's what people look like when they're dead,"
"DON'T!" said Peter, sharply.
They sat by Bobbie on the blue cushions, and the train ran back.
Before it reached their station Bobbie had sighed and opened her
eyes, and rolled herself over and begun to cry. This cheered the
others wonderfully. They had seen her cry before, but they had
never seen her faint, nor anyone else, for the matter of that. They
had not known what to do when she was fainting, but now she was only
crying they could thump her on the back and tell her not to, just as
they always did. And presently, when she stopped crying, they were
able to laugh at her for being such a coward as to faint.
When the station was reached, the three were the heroes of an
agitated meeting on the platform.
The praises they got for their "prompt action," their "common
sense," their "ingenuity," were enough to have turned anybody's
head. Phyllis enjoyed herself thoroughly. She had never been a
real heroine before, and the feeling was delicious. Peter's ears
got very red. Yet he, too, enjoyed himself. Only Bobbie wished
they all wouldn't. She wanted to get away.
"You'll hear from the Company about this, I expect," said the
Bobbie wished she might never hear of it again. She pulled at
"Oh, come away, come away! I want to go home," she said.
So they went. And as they went Station Master and Porter and guards
and driver and fireman and passengers sent up a cheer.
"Oh, listen," cried Phyllis; "that's for US!"
"Yes," said Peter. "I say, I am glad I thought about something red,
and waving it."
"How lucky we DID put on our red flannel petticoats!" said Phyllis.
Bobbie said nothing. She was thinking of the horrible mound, and
the trustful train rushing towards it.
"And it was US that saved them," said Peter.
"How dreadful if they had all been killed!" said Phyllis; "wouldn't
"We never got any cherries, after all," said Bobbie.
The others thought her rather heartless.
Chapter VII. For valour.
I hope you don't mind my telling you a good deal about Roberta. The
fact is I am growing very fond of her. The more I observe her the
more I love her. And I notice all sorts of things about her that I
For instance, she was quite oddly anxious to make other people
happy. And she could keep a secret, a tolerably rare
accomplishment. Also she had the power of silent sympathy. That
sounds rather dull, I know, but it's not so dull as it sounds. It
just means that a person is able to know that you are unhappy, and
to love you extra on that account, without bothering you by telling
you all the time how sorry she is for you. That was what Bobbie was
like. She knew that Mother was unhappy--and that Mother had not
told her the reason. So she just loved Mother more and never said a
single word that could let Mother know how earnestly her little girl
wondered what Mother was unhappy about. This needs practice. It is
not so easy as you might think.
Whatever happened--and all sorts of nice, pleasant ordinary things
happened--such as picnics, games, and buns for tea, Bobbie always
had these thoughts at the back of her mind. "Mother's unhappy.
Why? I don't know. She doesn't want me to know. I won't try to
find out. But she IS unhappy. Why? I don't know. She doesn't--"
and so on, repeating and repeating like a tune that you don't know
the stopping part of.
The Russian gentleman still took up a good deal of everybody's
thoughts. All the editors and secretaries of Societies and Members
of Parliament had answered Mother's letters as politely as they knew
how; but none of them could tell where the wife and children of Mr.
Szezcpansky would be likely to be. (Did I tell you that the
Russian's very Russian name was that?)
Bobbie had another quality which you will hear differently described
by different people. Some of them call it interfering in other
people's business--and some call it "helping lame dogs over stiles,"
and some call it "loving-kindness." It just means trying to help
She racked her brains to think of some way of helping the Russian
gentleman to find his wife and children. He had learned a few words
of English now. He could say "Good morning," and "Good night," and
"Please," and "Thank you," and "Pretty," when the children brought
him flowers, and "Ver' good," when they asked him how he had slept.
The way he smiled when he "said his English," was, Bobbie felt,
"just too sweet for anything." She used to think of his face
because she fancied it would help her to some way of helping him.
But it did not. Yet his being there cheered her because she saw
that it made Mother happier.
"She likes to have someone to be good to, even beside us," said
Bobbie. "And I know she hated to let him have Father's clothes.
But I suppose it 'hurt nice,' or she wouldn't have."
For many and many a night after the day when she and Peter and
Phyllis had saved the train from wreck by waving their little red
flannel flags, Bobbie used to wake screaming and shivering, seeing
again that horrible mound, and the poor, dear trustful engine
rushing on towards it--just thinking that it was doing its swift
duty, and that everything was clear and safe. And then a warm
thrill of pleasure used to run through her at the remembrance of how
she and Peter and Phyllis and the red flannel petticoats had really
One morning a letter came. It was addressed to Peter and Bobbie and
Phyllis. They opened it with enthusiastic curiosity, for they did
not often get letters.
The letter said:--
"Dear Sir, and Ladies,--It is proposed to make a small presentation
to you, in commemoration of your prompt and courageous action in
warning the train on the --- inst., and thus averting what must,
humanly speaking, have been a terrible accident. The presentation
will take place at the --- Station at three o'clock on the 30th
inst., if this time and place will be convenient to you.
"Secretary, Great Northern and Southern Railway Co."
There never had been a prouder moment in the lives of the three
children. They rushed to Mother with the letter, and she also felt
proud and said so, and this made the children happier than ever.
"But if the presentation is money, you must say, 'Thank you, but
we'd rather not take it,'" said Mother. "I'll wash your Indian
muslins at once," she added. "You must look tidy on an occasion
"Phil and I can wash them," said Bobbie, "if you'll iron them,
Washing is rather fun. I wonder whether you've ever done it? This
particular washing took place in the back kitchen, which had a stone
floor and a very big stone sink under its window.
"Let's put the bath on the sink," said Phyllis; "then we can pretend
we're out-of-doors washerwomen like Mother saw in France."
"But they were washing in the cold river," said Peter, his hands in
his pockets, "not in hot water."
"This is a HOT river, then," said Phyllis; "lend a hand with the
bath, there's a dear."
"I should like to see a deer lending a hand," said Peter, but he
"Now to rub and scrub and scrub and rub," said Phyllis, hopping
joyously about as Bobbie carefully carried the heavy kettle from the
"Oh, no!" said Bobbie, greatly shocked; "you don't rub muslin. You
put the boiled soap in the hot water and make it all frothy-lathery-
-and then you shake the muslin and squeeze it, ever so gently, and
all the dirt comes out. It's only clumsy things like tablecloths
and sheets that have to be rubbed."
The lilac and the Gloire de Dijon roses outside the window swayed in
the soft breeze.
"It's a nice drying day--that's one thing," said Bobbie, feeling
very grown up. "Oh, I do wonder what wonderful feelings we shall
have when we WEAR the Indian muslin dresses!"
"Yes, so do I," said Phyllis, shaking and squeezing the muslin in
quite a professional manner.
"NOW we squeeze out the soapy water. NO--we mustn't twist them--and
then rinse them. I'll hold them while you and Peter empty the bath
and get clean water."
"A presentation! That means presents," said Peter, as his sisters,
having duly washed the pegs and wiped the line, hung up the dresses
to dry. "Whatever will it be?"
"It might be anything," said Phyllis; "what I've always wanted is a
Baby elephant--but I suppose they wouldn't know that."
"Suppose it was gold models of steam-engines?" said Bobbie.
"Or a big model of the scene of the prevented accident," suggested
Peter, "with a little model train, and dolls dressed like us and the
engine-driver and fireman and passengers."
"Do you LIKE," said Bobbie, doubtfully, drying her hands on the
rough towel that hung on a roller at the back of the scullery door,
"do you LIKE us being rewarded for saving a train?"
"Yes, I do," said Peter, downrightly; "and don't you try to come it
over us that you don't like it, too. Because I know you do."
"Yes," said Bobbie, doubtfully, "I know I do. But oughtn't we to be
satisfied with just having done it, and not ask for anything more?"
"Who did ask for anything more, silly?" said her brother; "Victoria
Cross soldiers don't ASK for it; but they're glad enough to get it
all the same. Perhaps it'll be medals. Then, when I'm very old
indeed, I shall show them to my grandchildren and say, 'We only did
our duty,' and they'll be awfully proud of me."
"You have to be married," warned Phyllis, "or you don't have any
"I suppose I shall HAVE to be married some day," said Peter, "but it
will be an awful bother having her round all the time. I'd like to
marry a lady who had trances, and only woke up once or twice a
"Just to say you were the light of her life and then go to sleep
again. Yes. That wouldn't be bad," said Bobbie.
"When _I_ get married," said Phyllis, "I shall want him to want me
to be awake all the time, so that I can hear him say how nice I am."
"I think it would be nice," said Bobbie, "to marry someone very
poor, and then you'd do all the work and he'd love you most
frightfully, and see the blue wood smoke curling up among the trees
from the domestic hearth as he came home from work every night. I
say--we've got to answer that letter and say that the time and place
WILL be convenient to us. There's the soap, Peter. WE'RE both as
clean as clean. That pink box of writing paper you had on your
It took some time to arrange what should be said. Mother had gone
back to her writing, and several sheets of pink paper with scalloped
gilt edges and green four-leaved shamrocks in the corner were
spoiled before the three had decided what to say. Then each made a
copy and signed it with its own name.
The threefold letter ran:--
"Dear Mr. Jabez Inglewood,--Thank you very much. We did not want to
be rewarded but only to save the train, but we are glad you think so
and thank you very much. The time and place you say will be quite
convenient to us. Thank you very much.
"Your affecate little friend,"
Then came the name, and after it:--
"P.S. Thank you very much."
"Washing is much easier than ironing," said Bobbie, taking the clean
dry dresses off the line. "I do love to see things come clean. Oh-
-I don't know how we shall wait till it's time to know what
presentation they're going to present!"
When at last--it seemed a very long time after--it was THE day, the
three children went down to the station at the proper time. And
everything that happened was so odd that it seemed like a dream.
The Station Master came out to meet them--in his best clothes, as
Peter noticed at once--and led them into the waiting room where once
they had played the advertisement game. It looked quite different
now. A carpet had been put down--and there were pots of roses on
the mantelpiece and on the window ledges--green branches stuck up,
like holly and laurel are at Christmas, over the framed
advertisement of Cook's Tours and the Beauties of Devon and the
Paris Lyons Railway. There were quite a number of people there
besides the Porter--two or three ladies in smart dresses, and quite
a crowd of gentlemen in high hats and frock coats--besides everybody
who belonged to the station. They recognized several people who had
been in the train on the red-flannel-petticoat day. Best of all
their own old gentleman was there, and his coat and hat and collar
seemed more than ever different from anyone else's. He shook hands
with them and then everybody sat down on chairs, and a gentleman in
spectacles--they found out afterwards that he was the District
Superintendent--began quite a long speech--very clever indeed. I am
not going to write the speech down. First, because you would think
it dull; and secondly, because it made all the children blush so,
and get so hot about the ears that I am quite anxious to get away
from this part of the subject; and thirdly, because the gentleman
took so many words to say what he had to say that I really haven't
time to write them down. He said all sorts of nice things about the
children's bravery and presence of mind, and when he had done he sat
down, and everyone who was there clapped and said, "Hear, hear."
And then the old gentleman got up and said things, too. It was very
like a prize-giving. And then he called the children one by one, by
their names, and gave each of them a beautiful gold watch and chain.
And inside the watches were engraved after the name of the watch's
"From the Directors of the Northern and Southern Railway in grateful
recognition of the courageous and prompt action which averted an
accident on --- 1905."
The watches were the most beautiful you can possibly imagine, and
each one had a blue leather case to live in when it was at home.
"You must make a speech now and thank everyone for their kindness,"
whispered the Station Master in Peter's ear and pushed him forward.
"Begin 'Ladies and Gentlemen,'" he added.
Each of the children had already said "Thank you," quite properly.
"Oh, dear," said Peter, but he did not resist the push.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said in a rather husky voice. Then there
was a pause, and he heard his heart beating in his throat. "Ladies
and Gentlemen," he went on with a rush, "it's most awfully good of
you, and we shall treasure the watches all our lives--but really we
don't deserve it because what we did wasn't anything, really. At
least, I mean it was awfully exciting, and what I mean to say--thank
you all very, very much."
The people clapped Peter more than they had done the District
Superintendent, and then everybody shook hands with them, and as
soon as politeness would let them, they got away, and tore up the
hill to Three Chimneys with their watches in their hands.
It was a wonderful day--the kind of day that very seldom happens to
anybody and to most of us not at all.
"I did want to talk to the old gentleman about something else," said
Bobbie, "but it was so public--like being in church."
"What did you want to say?" asked Phyllis.
"I'll tell you when I've thought about it more," said Bobbie.
So when she had thought a little more she wrote a letter.
"My dearest old gentleman," it said; "I want most awfully to ask you
something. If you could get out of the train and go by the next, it
would do. I do not want you to give me anything. Mother says we
ought not to. And besides, we do not want any THINGS. Only to talk
to you about a Prisoner and Captive. Your loving little friend,
She got the Station Master to give the letter to the old gentleman,
and next day she asked Peter and Phyllis to come down to the station
with her at the time when the train that brought the old gentleman
from town would be passing through.
She explained her idea to them--and they approved thoroughly.
They had all washed their hands and faces, and brushed their hair,
and were looking as tidy as they knew how. But Phyllis, always
unlucky, had upset a jug of lemonade down the front of her dress.
There was no time to change--and the wind happening to blow from the
coal yard, her frock was soon powdered with grey, which stuck to the
sticky lemonade stains and made her look, as Peter said, "like any
little gutter child."
It was decided that she should keep behind the others as much as
"Perhaps the old gentleman won't notice," said Bobbie. "The aged
are often weak in the eyes."
There was no sign of weakness, however, in the eyes, or in any other
part of the old gentleman, as he stepped from the train and looked
up and down the platform.
The three children, now that it came to the point, suddenly felt
that rush of deep shyness which makes your ears red and hot, your
hands warm and wet, and the tip of your nose pink and shiny.
"Oh," said Phyllis, "my heart's thumping like a steam-engine--right
under my sash, too."
"Nonsense," said Peter, "people's hearts aren't under their sashes."
"I don't care--mine is," said Phyllis.
"If you're going to talk like a poetry-book," said Peter, "my
heart's in my mouth."
"My heart's in my boots--if you come to that," said Roberta; "but do
come on--he'll think we're idiots."
"He won't be far wrong," said Peter, gloomily. And they went
forward to meet the old gentleman.
"Hullo," he said, shaking hands with them all in turn. "This is a
very great pleasure."
"It WAS good of you to get out," Bobbie said, perspiring and polite.
He took her arm and drew her into the waiting room where she and the
others had played the advertisement game the day they found the
Russian. Phyllis and Peter followed. "Well?" said the old
gentleman, giving Bobbie's arm a kind little shake before he let it
go. "Well? What is it?"
"Oh, please!" said Bobbie.
"Yes?" said the old gentleman.
"What I mean to say--" said Bobbie.
"Well?" said the old gentleman.
"It's all very nice and kind," said she.
"But?" he said.
"I wish I might say something," she said.
"Say it," said he.
"Well, then," said Bobbie--and out came the story of the Russian who
had written the beautiful book about poor people, and had been sent
to prison and to Siberia for just that.
"And what we want more than anything in the world is to find his
wife and children for him," said Bobbie, "but we don't know how.
But you must be most horribly clever, or you wouldn't be a Direction
of the Railway. And if YOU knew how--and would? We'd rather have
that than anything else in the world. We'd go without the watches,
even, if you could sell them and find his wife with the money."
And the others said so, too, though not with so much enthusiasm.
"Hum," said the old gentleman, pulling down the white waistcoat that
had the big gilt buttons on it, "what did you say the name was--
"No, no," said Bobbie earnestly. "I'll write it down for you. It
doesn't really look at all like that except when you say it. Have
you a bit of pencil and the back of an envelope?" she asked.
The old gentleman got out a gold pencil-case and a beautiful, sweet-
smelling, green Russian leather note-book and opened it at a new
"Here," he said, "write here."
She wrote down "Szezcpansky," and said:--
"That's how you write it. You CALL it Shepansky."
The old gentleman took out a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles and
fitted them on his nose. When he had read the name, he looked quite
"THAT man? Bless my soul!" he said. "Why, I've read his book!