“That’s against the by-laws,” said the foreman.
“Why worry?” said the oldest workman; “live and let live’s what I always say. Ain’t you never been young yourself, Mr. Bates?”
“I ought to report him,” said the foreman.
“Why spoil sport’s what I always say.”
“Passengers are forbidden to cross the line on any pretence,” murmured the foreman, doubtfully.
“He ain’t no passenger,” said one of the workmen.
“Nor ‘e ain’t crossed the line, not where we could see ‘im do it,” said another.
“Nor yet ‘e ain’t made no pretences,” said a third.
“And,” said the oldest workman, “‘e’s outer sight now. What the eye don’t see the ‘art needn’t take no notice of’s what I always say.”
And now, following the track of the hare by the little white blots of scattered paper, came the hounds. There were thirty of them, and they all came down the steep, ladder-like steps by ones and twos and threes and sixes and sevens. Bobbie and Phyllis and Peter counted them as they passed. The foremost ones hesitated a moment at the foot of the ladder, then their eyes caught the gleam of scattered whiteness along the line and they turned towards the tunnel, and, by ones and twos and threes and sixes and sevens, disappeared in the dark mouth of it. The last one, in a red jersey, seemed to be extinguished by the darkness like a candle that is blown out.
“They don’t know what they’re in for,” said the foreman; “it isn’t so easy running in the dark. The tunnel takes two or three turns.”
“They’ll take a long time to get through, you think?” Peter asked.
“An hour or more, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“Then let’s cut across the top and see them come out at the other end,” said Peter; “we shall get there long before they do.”
The counsel seemed good, and they went.
They climbed the steep steps from which they had picked the wild cherry blossom for the grave of the little wild rabbit, and reaching the top of the cutting, set their faces towards the hill through which the tunnel was cut. It was stiff work.
“It’s like Alps,” said Bobbie, breathlessly.
“Or Andes,” said Peter.
“It’s like Himmy what’s its names?” gasped Phyllis. “Mount Everlasting. Do let’s stop.”
“Stick to it,” panted Peter; “you’ll get your second wind in a minute.”
Phyllis consented to stick to it–and on they went, running when the turf was smooth and the slope easy, climbing over stones, helping themselves up rocks by the branches of trees, creeping through narrow openings between tree trunks and rocks, and so on and on, up and up, till at last they stood on the very top of the hill where they had so often wished to be.
“Halt!” cried Peter, and threw himself flat on the grass. For the very top of the hill was a smooth, turfed table-land, dotted with mossy rocks and little mountain-ash trees.
The girls also threw themselves down flat.
“Plenty of time,” Peter panted; “the rest’s all down hill.”
When they were rested enough to sit up and look round them, Bobbie cried:–
“What at?” said Phyllis.
“The view,” said Bobbie.
“I hate views,” said Phyllis, “don’t you, Peter?”
“Let’s get on,” said Peter.
“But this isn’t like a view they take you to in carriages when you’re at the seaside, all sea and sand and bare hills. It’s like the ‘coloured counties’ in one of Mother’s poetry books.”
“It’s not so dusty,” said Peter; “look at the Aqueduct straddling slap across the valley like a giant centipede, and then the towns sticking their church spires up out of the trees like pens out of an inkstand. I think it’s more like
“There could he see the banners Of twelve fair cities shine.”
“I love it,” said Bobbie; “it’s worth the climb.”
“The paperchase is worth the climb,” said Phyllis, “if we don’t lose it. Let’s get on. It’s all down hill now.”
“I said that ten minutes ago,” said Peter.
“Well, I’ve said it now,” said Phyllis; “come on.”
“Loads of time,” said Peter. And there was. For when they had got down to a level with the top of the tunnel’s mouth–they were a couple of hundred yards out of their reckoning and had to creep along the face of the hill–there was no sign of the hare or the hounds.
“They’ve gone long ago, of course,” said Phyllis, as they leaned on the brick parapet above the tunnel.
“I don’t think so,” said Bobbie, “but even if they had, it’s ripping here, and we shall see the trains come out of the tunnel like dragons out of lairs. We’ve never seen that from the top side before.”
“No more we have,” said Phyllis, partially appeased.
It was really a most exciting place to be in. The top of the tunnel seemed ever so much farther from the line than they had expected, and it was like being on a bridge, but a bridge overgrown with bushes and creepers and grass and wild-flowers.
“I know the paperchase has gone long ago,” said Phyllis every two minutes, and she hardly knew whether she was pleased or disappointed when Peter, leaning over the parapet, suddenly cried:–
“Look out. Here he comes!”
They all leaned over the sun-warmed brick wall in time to see the hare, going very slowly, come out from the shadow of the tunnel.
“There, now,” said Peter, “what did I tell you? Now for the hounds!”
Very soon came the hounds–by ones and twos and threes and sixes and sevens–and they also were going slowly and seemed very tired. Two or three who lagged far behind came out long after the others.
“There,” said Bobbie, “that’s all–now what shall we do?”
“Go along into the tulgy wood over there and have lunch,” said Phyllis; “we can see them for miles from up here.”
“Not yet,” said Peter. “That’s not the last. There’s the one in the red jersey to come yet. Let’s see the last of them come out.”
But though they waited and waited and waited, the boy in the red jersey did not appear.
“Oh, let’s have lunch,” said Phyllis; “I’ve got a pain in my front with being so hungry. You must have missed seeing the red-jerseyed one when he came out with the others–”
But Bobbie and Peter agreed that he had not come out with the others.
“Let’s get down to the tunnel mouth,” said Peter; “then perhaps we shall see him coming along from the inside. I expect he felt spun- chuck, and rested in one of the manholes. You stay up here and watch, Bob, and when I signal from below, you come down. We might miss seeing him on the way down, with all these trees.”
So the others climbed down and Bobbie waited till they signalled to her from the line below. And then she, too, scrambled down the roundabout slippery path among roots and moss till she stepped out between two dogwood trees and joined the others on the line. And still there was no sign of the hound with the red jersey.
“Oh, do, do let’s have something to eat,” wailed Phyllis. “I shall die if you don’t, and then you’ll be sorry.”
“Give her the sandwiches, for goodness’ sake, and stop her silly mouth,” said Peter, not quite unkindly. “Look here,” he added, turning to Bobbie, “perhaps we’d better have one each, too. We may need all our strength. Not more than one, though. There’s no time.”
“What?” asked Bobbie, her mouth already full, for she was just as hungry as Phyllis.
“Don’t you see,” replied Peter, impressively, “that red-jerseyed hound has had an accident–that’s what it is. Perhaps even as we speak he’s lying with his head on the metals, an unresisting prey to any passing express–”
“Oh, don’t try to talk like a book,” cried Bobbie, bolting what was left of her sandwich; “come on. Phil, keep close behind me, and if a train comes, stand flat against the tunnel wall and hold your petticoats close to you.”
“Give me one more sandwich,” pleaded Phyllis, “and I will.”
“I’m going first,” said Peter; “it was my idea,” and he went.
Of course you know what going into a tunnel is like? The engine gives a scream and then suddenly the noise of the running, rattling train changes and grows different and much louder. Grown-up people pull up the windows and hold them by the strap. The railway carriage suddenly grows like night–with lamps, of course, unless you are in a slow local train, in which case lamps are not always provided. Then by and by the darkness outside the carriage window is touched by puffs of cloudy whiteness, then you see a blue light on the walls of the tunnel, then the sound of the moving train changes once more, and you are out in the good open air again, and grown-ups let the straps go. The windows, all dim with the yellow breath of the tunnel, rattle down into their places, and you see once more the dip and catch of the telegraph wires beside the line, and the straight-cut hawthorn hedges with the tiny baby trees growing up out of them every thirty yards.
All this, of course, is what a tunnel means when you are in a train. But everything is quite different when you walk into a tunnel on your own feet, and tread on shifting, sliding stones and gravel on a path that curves downwards from the shining metals to the wall. Then you see slimy, oozy trickles of water running down the inside of the tunnel, and you notice that the bricks are not red or brown, as they are at the tunnel’s mouth, but dull, sticky, sickly green. Your voice, when you speak, is quite changed from what it was out in the sunshine, and it is a long time before the tunnel is quite dark.
It was not yet quite dark in the tunnel when Phyllis caught at Bobbie’s skirt, ripping out half a yard of gathers, but no one noticed this at the time.
“I want to go back,” she said, “I don’t like it. It’ll be pitch dark in a minute. I won’t go on in the dark. I don’t care what you say, I won’t.”
“Don’t be a silly cuckoo,” said Peter; “I’ve got a candle end and matches, and–what’s that?”
“That” was a low, humming sound on the railway line, a trembling of the wires beside it, a buzzing, humming sound that grew louder and louder as they listened.
“It’s a train,” said Bobbie.
“Let me go back,” cried Phyllis, struggling to get away from the hand by which Bobbie held her.
“Don’t be a coward,” said Bobbie; “it’s quite safe. Stand back.”
“Come on,” shouted Peter, who was a few yards ahead. “Quick! Manhole!”
The roar of the advancing train was now louder than the noise you hear when your head is under water in the bath and both taps are running, and you are kicking with your heels against the bath’s tin sides. But Peter had shouted for all he was worth, and Bobbie heard him. She dragged Phyllis along to the manhole. Phyllis, of course, stumbled over the wires and grazed both her legs. But they dragged her in, and all three stood in the dark, damp, arched recess while the train roared louder and louder. It seemed as if it would deafen them. And, in the distance, they could see its eyes of fire growing bigger and brighter every instant.
“It is a dragon–I always knew it was–it takes its own shape in here, in the dark,” shouted Phyllis. But nobody heard her. You see the train was shouting, too, and its voice was bigger than hers.
And now, with a rush and a roar and a rattle and a long dazzling flash of lighted carriage windows, a smell of smoke, and blast of hot air, the train hurtled by, clanging and jangling and echoing in the vaulted roof of the tunnel. Phyllis and Bobbie clung to each other. Even Peter caught hold of Bobbie’s arm, “in case she should be frightened,” as he explained afterwards.
And now, slowly and gradually, the tail-lights grew smaller and smaller, and so did the noise, till with one last whiz the train got itself out of the tunnel, and silence settled again on its damp walls and dripping roof.
“Oh!” said the children, all together in a whisper.
Peter was lighting the candle end with a hand that trembled.
“Come on,” he said; but he had to clear his throat before he could speak in his natural voice.
“Oh,” said Phyllis, “if the red-jerseyed one was in the way of the train!”
“We’ve got to go and see,” said Peter.
“Couldn’t we go and send someone from the station?” said Phyllis.
“Would you rather wait here for us?” asked Bobbie, severely, and of course that settled the question.
So the three went on into the deeper darkness of the tunnel. Peter led, holding his candle end high to light the way. The grease ran down his fingers, and some of it right up his sleeve. He found a long streak from wrist to elbow when he went to bed that night.
It was not more than a hundred and fifty yards from the spot where they had stood while the train went by that Peter stood still, shouted “Hullo,” and then went on much quicker than before. When the others caught him up, he stopped. And he stopped within a yard of what they had come into the tunnel to look for. Phyllis saw a gleam of red, and shut her eyes tight. There, by the curved, pebbly down line, was the red-jerseyed hound. His back was against the wall, his arms hung limply by his sides, and his eyes were shut.
“Was the red, blood? Is he all killed?” asked Phyllis, screwing her eyelids more tightly together.
“Killed? Nonsense!” said Peter. “There’s nothing red about him except his jersey. He’s only fainted. What on earth are we to do?”
“Can we move him?” asked Bobbie.
“I don’t know; he’s a big chap.”
“Suppose we bathe his forehead with water. No, I know we haven’t any, but milk’s just as wet. There’s a whole bottle.”
“Yes,” said Peter, “and they rub people’s hands, I believe.”
“They burn feathers, I know,” said Phyllis.
“What’s the good of saying that when we haven’t any feathers?”
“As it happens,” said Phyllis, in a tone of exasperated triumph, “I’ve got a shuttlecock in my pocket. So there!”
And now Peter rubbed the hands of the red-jerseyed one. Bobbie burned the feathers of the shuttlecock one by one under his nose, Phyllis splashed warmish milk on his forehead, and all three kept on saying as fast and as earnestly as they could:–
“Oh, look up, speak to me! For my sake, speak!”