Read this extract from the
novel in a group.
Before you read:
a) Skim the text to see if
there are words you do not
understand and discuss
them. Look up their
meanings in a dictionary.
b) Take turns to read the
various roles: the narrator
and anyone else who speaks.
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
“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
“What is it? Oh, what is it?” said Phyllis; “it’s much too magic for me. I don’t like it. Let’s go
But Bobbie and Peter clung fast to the rail and watched breathlessly. And Phyllis made
no movement towards going home by herself.
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 see down.”
“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
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
business-like, 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 wave it.”
“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
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
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 flag staffs.”
You can read the rest of this novel online. Select the novel that is called The Railway
Children on the site
After you read: Talk about the questions and then write the answers individually in your class workbook.
1. Identify the main idea of this extract and two reasons why this is happening.
2. Quote the sentence in the extract that shows that the train is coming soon.
3. What plan did the children make?
4. What alternative suggestion did Phyllis make?
5. Describe how the children made the flags.
6. Where would they have found flag staffs?
7. What do you think happened after this?
8. Compare this to an event in your own life, for example something dangerous
that happened to you or someone you know and what followed.
9. Retell the story in this extract in not more than five sentences.
10. Now that you have been exposed to two extracts in this novel, do you think you
would enjoy reading it? Give a reason for your answer.