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not railway children to begin with. I don't suppose they had ever
thought about railways except as a means of getting to the pantomime,
Zoological Gardens and Madame Tussauds. 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 bathroom with not and cold water,
electric bells, French windows, a good deal of white paint, and every
modern convenience, as the estate 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 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 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, a lovely
nursery with heaps of toys and a Mother Goose wallpaper. 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 had to do it.
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 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
Its charm lasted in its full perfection for exactly
three days. Then, owing either to Peter's inexperience or Phyllis's
good intention, or to some other cause, the engine suddenly went off
with a bang. James was so fightened 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.