Life at the Three Chimneys was never quite the same again after the old gentleman came to see his grandson. Although they now knew his name, the children never spoke of him by it–at any rate, when they were by themselves. To them he was always the old gentleman, and I think he had better be the old gentleman to us, too. It wouldn’t make him seem any more real to you, would it, if I were to tell you that his name was Snooks or Jenkins (which it wasn’t)?–and, after all, I must be allowed to keep one secret. It’s the only one; I have told you everything else, except what I am going to tell you in this chapter, which is the last. At least, of course, I haven’t told you everything. If I were to do that, the book would never come to an end, and that would be a pity, wouldn’t it?
Well, as I was saying, life at Three Chimneys was never quite the same again. The cook and the housemaid were very nice (I don’t mind telling you their names–they were Clara and Ethelwyn), but they told Mother they did not seem to want Mrs. Viney, and that she was an old muddler. So Mrs. Viney came only two days a week to do washing and ironing. Then Clara and Ethelwyn said they could do the work all right if they weren’t interfered with, and that meant that the children no longer got the tea and cleared it away and washed up the tea-things and dusted the rooms.
This would have left quite a blank in their lives, although they had often pretended to themselves and to each other that they hated housework. But now that Mother had no writing and no housework to do, she had time for lessons. And lessons the children had to do. However nice the person who is teaching you may be, lessons are lessons all the world over, and at their best are worse fun than peeling potatoes or lighting a fire.
On the other hand, if Mother now had time for lessons, she also had time for play, and to make up little rhymes for the children as she used to do. She had not had much time for rhymes since she came to Three Chimneys.
There was one very odd thing about these lessons. Whatever the children were doing, they always wanted to be doing something else. When Peter was doing his Latin, he thought it would be nice to be learning History like Bobbie. Bobbie would have preferred Arithmetic, which was what Phyllis happened to be doing, and Phyllis of course thought Latin much the most interesting kind of lesson. And so on.
So, one day, when they sat down to lessons, each of them found a little rhyme at its place. I put the rhymes in to show you that their Mother really did understand a little how children feel about things, and also the kind of words they use, which is the case with very few grown-up people. I suppose most grown-ups have very bad memories, and have forgotten how they felt when they were little. Of course, the verses are supposed to be spoken by the children.
I once thought Caesar easy pap–
How very soft I must have been!
When they start Caesar with a chap
He little know what that will mean.
Oh, verbs are silly stupid things.
I’d rather learn the dates of kings!
The worst of all my lesson things
Is learning who succeeded who
In all the rows of queens and kings,
With dates to everything they do:
With dates enough to make you sick;–
I wish it was Arithmetic!
Such pounds and pounds of apples fill
My slate–what is the price you’d spend?
You scratch the figures out until
You cry upon the dividend.
I’d break the slate and scream for joy
If I did Latin like a boy!
This kind of thing, of course, made lessons much jollier. It is something to know that the person who is teaching you sees that it is not all plain sailing for you, and does not think that it is just your stupidness that makes you not know your lessons till you’ve learned them!
Then as Jim’s leg got better it was very pleasant to go up and sit with him and hear tales about his school life and the other boys. There was one boy, named Parr, of whom Jim seemed to have formed the lowest possible opinion, and another boy named Wigsby Minor, for whose views Jim had a great respect. Also there were three brothers named Paley, and the youngest was called Paley Terts, and was much given to fighting.
Peter drank in all this with deep joy, and Mother seemed to have listened with some interest, for one day she gave Jim a sheet of paper on which she had written a rhyme about Parr, bringing in Paley and Wigsby by name in a most wonderful way, as well as all the reasons Jim had for not liking Parr, and Wigsby’s wise opinion on the matter. Jim was immensely pleased. He had never had a rhyme written expressly for him before. He read it till he knew it by heart and then he sent it to Wigsby, who liked it almost as much as Jim did. Perhaps you may like it, too.
THE NEW BOY
His name is Parr: he says that he
Is given bread and milk for tea.
He says his father killed a bear.
He says his mother cuts his hair.
He wears goloshes when it’s wet.
I’ve heard his people call him “Pet”!
He has no proper sense of shame;
He told the chaps his Christian name.
He cannot wicket-keep at all,
He’s frightened of a cricket ball.
He reads indoors for hours and hours.
He knows the names of beastly flowers.
He says his French just like Mossoo–
A beastly stuck-up thing to do–
He won’t keep _cave_, shirks his turn
And says he came to school to learn!
He won’t play football, says it hurts;
He wouldn’t fight with Paley Terts;
He couldn’t whistle if he tried,
And when we laughed at him he cried!
Now Wigsby Minor says that Parr
Is only like all new boys are.
I know when I first came to school
I wasn’t such a jolly fool!
Jim could never understand how Mother could have been clever enough to do it. To the others it seemed nice, but natural. You see they had always been used to having a mother who could write verses just like the way people talk, even to the shocking expression at the end of the rhyme, which was Jim’s very own.
Jim taught Peter to play chess and draughts and dominoes, and altogether it was a nice quiet time.
Only Jim’s leg got better and better, and a general feeling began to spring up among Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis that something ought to be done to amuse him; not just games, but something really handsome. But it was extraordinarily difficult to think of anything.
“It’s no good,” said Peter, when all of them had thought and thought till their heads felt quite heavy and swollen; “if we can’t think of anything to amuse him, we just can’t, and there’s an end of it. Perhaps something will just happen of its own accord that he’ll like.”
“Things do happen by themselves sometimes, without your making them,” said Phyllis, rather as though, usually, everything that happened in the world was her doing.
“I wish something would happen,” said Bobbie, dreamily, “something wonderful.”
And something wonderful did happen exactly four days after she had said this. I wish I could say it was three days after, because in fairy tales it is always three days after that things happen. But this is not a fairy story, and besides, it really was four and not three, and I am nothing if not strictly truthful.
They seemed to be hardly Railway children at all in those days, and as the days went on each had an uneasy feeling about this which Phyllis expressed one day.
“I wonder if the Railway misses us,” she said, plaintively. “We never go to see it now.”
“It seems ungrateful,” said Bobbie; “we loved it so when we hadn’t anyone else to play with.”
“Perks is always coming up to ask after Jim,” said Peter, “and the signalman’s little boy is better. He told me so.”
“I didn’t mean the people,” explained Phyllis; “I meant the dear Railway itself.”
“The thing I don’t like,” said Bobbie, on this fourth day, which was a Tuesday, “is our having stopped waving to the 9.15 and sending our love to Father by it.”
“Let’s begin again,” said Phyllis. And they did.
Somehow the change of everything that was made by having servants in the house and Mother not doing any writing, made the time seem extremely long since that strange morning at the beginning of things, when they had got up so early and burnt the bottom out of the kettle and had apple pie for breakfast and first seen the Railway.
It was September now, and the turf on the slope to the Railway was dry and crisp. Little long grass spikes stood up like bits of gold wire, frail blue harebells trembled on their tough, slender stalks, Gipsy roses opened wide and flat their lilac-coloured discs, and the golden stars of St. John’s Wort shone at the edges of the pool that lay halfway to the Railway. Bobbie gathered a generous handful of the flowers and thought how pretty they would look lying on the green-and-pink blanket of silk-waste that now covered Jim’s poor broken leg.
“Hurry up,” said Peter, “or we shall miss the 9.15!”
“I can’t hurry more than I am doing,” said Phyllis. “Oh, bother it! My bootlace has come undone again!”
“When you’re married,” said Peter, “your bootlace will come undone going up the church aisle, and your man that you’re going to get married to will tumble over it and smash his nose in on the ornamented pavement; and then you’ll say you won’t marry him, and you’ll have to be an old maid.”
“I shan’t,” said Phyllis. “I’d much rather marry a man with his nose smashed in than not marry anybody.”
“It would be horrid to marry a man with a smashed nose, all the same,” went on Bobbie. “He wouldn’t be able to smell the flowers at the wedding. Wouldn’t that be awful!”
“Bother the flowers at the wedding!” cried Peter. “Look! the signal’s down. We must run!”
They ran. And once more they waved their handkerchiefs, without at all minding whether the handkerchiefs were clean or not, to the 9.15.
“Take our love to Father!” cried Bobbie. And the others, too, shouted:–
“Take our love to Father!”
The old gentleman waved from his first-class carriage window. Quite violently he waved. And there was nothing odd in that, for he always had waved. But what was really remarkable was that from every window handkerchiefs fluttered, newspapers signalled, hands waved wildly. The train swept by with a rustle and roar, the little pebbles jumped and danced under it as it passed, and the children were left looking at each other.
“Well!” said Peter.
“Well!” said Bobbie.
“Well!” said Phyllis.
“Whatever on earth does that mean?” asked Peter, but he did not expect any answer.
“I don’t know,” said Bobbie. “Perhaps the old gentleman told the people at his station to look out for us and wave. He knew we should like it!”