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The Borrowers Aloft

Mary Norton

  The Borrowers Aloft

  With the short tale Poor Stainless

  Mary Norton

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  The Borrowers Aloft

  Text copyright © 1961 by Mary Norton

  Copyright renewed 1989 by Maty Norton

  Illustrations copyright © 1961 by Beth Krush and Joe Krush

  Copyright renewed 1989 by Beth Krush and Joe Krush

  Poor Stainless

  Text copyright © 1971 by Mary Norton

  Illustrations copyright © 1971 by Beth Krush and Joe Krush

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

  or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

  including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval

  system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be

  mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,

  6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

  First Harcourt Young Classics edition 1998

  First Odyssey Classics edition 1990

  The Borrowers Aloft first published 1961

  Poor Stainless first published 1966

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Norton, Mary.

  [Borrowers aloft]

  The borrowers aloft; with the short tale Poor Stainless/Mary Norton;

  illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush.

  p. cm.

  "An Odyssey/Harcourt Young Classic."

  Summary: Two stories about a family of tiny people called the Borrowers, in which the

  family is kidnapped, and the youngest boy is discovered missing.

  1. Children's stories, English. [1. Fantasy. 2. Short stories.]

  I. Krush, Beth, ill. II. Krush, Joe, ill. III. Norton, Mary. Poor Stainless. 1998.

  IV. Title. V. Title: Poor Stainless.

  PZ7.N8248Blb 1998 [Fic]—dc21 97-43173

  ISBN 0-15-210524-7 ISBN 0-15-204734-4 (pb)

  Printed in the United States of America

  T V X Y W U S

  E G H F D B (pb)

  * * *

  This story is dedicated with love to Tom Brunsdon and Frances Rush and to all the children in the world who have promised their parents never to play with gas and who keep their promises

  Chapter One

  Some people thought it strange that there should be two model villages, one so close to the other. (There was another, as a matter of fact, which nobody visited and which we need not bother about because it was not built to last.)

  One model village was at Fordham, called Little Fordham: it belonged to Mr. Pott. Another was at Went-le-Craye, called Ballyhoggin, and belonged to Mr. Platter. The third (which nobody knew about) was at Quilter's End and made with shoe boxes: it belonged to a little girl called Agnes Mercy Foster, and it did not have a name.

  It was Mr. Pott who started it all, quietly and happily for his own amusement; and it was the businesslike Mr. Platter, for quite another reason, who copied Mr. Pott.

  Mr. Pott was a railway man who had lost his leg on the railway: he lost it at dusk one evening on a lonely stretch of line—not through carelessness—but by saving the life of a badger. Mr. Pott had always been anxious about these creatures: the single track ran through a wood, and in the half-light, the badgers would trundle out, sniffing their way across the ties. Only at certain times of the year were they in any real danger, and that was when the early dusk (the time they liked to sally forth) coincided with the passing of the last train from Hatter's Cross. After the train passed, the night would be quiet again; and foxes, hares, and rabbits could cross the line with safety; and nightingales would sing in the wood.

  In those early days of the railway, Mr. Pott's small, lonely signal box was almost a home-from-home. He had there his kettle, his oil lamps, his plush-covered table, and his broken-springed railway armchair. To while away the long hours between trains, he had his fret saw, his stamp collection, and a well-thumbed copy of the Bible, which sometimes he would read aloud. Mr. Pott was a good man, very kind and gentle. He loved his fellow creatures almost as much as he loved his trains. With the fret saw he would make collecting boxes for the Railway Benevolent Fund; these were shaped like little houses, and he made them from old cigar boxes, and none of, his houses was alike. On the first Sunday of every month, Mr. Pott, on his bicycle, would make a tour of the village, armed with a screw driver and a small black bag. At each home or hostelry, he would unscrew the roof of a little house and count out the contents into his bag. Sometimes he was cheated (but not often) and would mutter sadly as he rode away—"Fox been at the eggs again."

  Occasionally, in his signal box, Mr. Pott would paint a picture, very small and detailed. He had painted two of the church, three of the vicarage, two of the post office, three of the forge, and one of his own signal box. These pictures he would give away as prizes to those who collected most for his fund.

  But, on the night of which we speak, the badger bit Mr. Pott—that was the trouble. It made him lose his balance, and in that moment's delay, the train wheels caught his foot. Mr. Pott never saw the marks of the badger's teeth because the leg it bit was the leg they cut off. The badger itself escaped unharmed.

  The Railway Benevolent were very generous. They gave Mr. Pott a small lump sum and found him a cottage just outside the village, where three tall poplar trees stood beside a stream. It was here, on a mound in his garden, that he started his model railway.

  First, he bought at second hand a set of model trains. He saw them advertised in a local paper with the electric battery on which to run them. Because there was no room large enough in his tiny cottage, he set up the lines in his garden. With the help of the blacksmith, he made the rails, but he needed no help with the ties; these he cut to scale and set them firmly, as of old he had set the big ones. Once these were set, he tarred them over, and when the sun was hot, they smelled just right. Mr. Pott would sit on the hard ground, his wooden leg stretched out before him, and close his eyes and sniff the railway smell. Lovely it was, and magic—but something was missing. Smoke, that's what it was! Yes, he badly needed some smoke—not only the tang of it, but the sight of it as well. Later, with the help of Miss Menzies of High Beech, he found a solution.

  The next stage occurred to him on his walks to and from the blacksmith when he would pass the shoe-box village of Agnes Mercy Foster. He would watch its gradual construction through a thin place in the hedge. He did not interrupt her—she seemed too intent and happy, kneeling in her pinafore among the weeds and grasses, with the soles of her black boots turned up toward him. Sometimes she was painting doors and windows, and sometimes she was thatching the roofs with moss. One day, she had made a pond. He was sad for her when the rain came. Steadily and mercilessly, it streamed down. The warm ground smoked, and the shoe-box houses became soggy and began to fall apart. He would see, through the gray mist, Agnes Mercy's face staring out from behind a casement window, framed in red geraniums. "Nay, poor maid," he would mutter, shaking his head, "cardboard's no good. I could have told 'ee that. Nor plywood neither."

  So when he made his signal box, he built it of solid brick. It was exactly like his old one, wooden stairs and all. He glazed the windows with real glass and made them to open and shut (it wasn't for nothing, he realized then, that he had kept the hinges of all the cigar boxes passed
on to him by his directors). The bricks he made from the red brick of his tumble-down pigsty; he pounded these down to a fine dust and mixed them loosely with cement. He set the mixture in a crisscross mold, which he stood on a large tin tea tray. The mold was made of old steel corset bones—a grill of tiny rectangles soldered by the blacksmith. With this contraption, Mr. Pott could make five hundred bricks at a time. Sometimes to vary the color, he stirred in powdered ocher or a drop of cochineal. He slated the roof of his signal box with thin flakes of actual slate, neatly trimmed to scale—these, too, from his ruined pigsty.

  Before he put the roof on, he took a lump of builder's putty. Rolling and rubbing it between his stiff old hands, he made four small sausages for arms and legs and a thicker, shorter one for the torso. Rolling and squeezing, he made an egg for the head and smoothed it squarely onto the shoulders. Then he pinched it here and there and carved bits out, scraping away with a horny thumbnail.

  But it wasn't very good, even as an effigy—let alone as a self-portrait. To make it more like himself, he took off the leg at the knee and stuck in a matchstick. Then when the putty was hardened, he painted the figure over with a decent suit of railway blue, pinked up the face, gummed on a thatch of graying hair made from that creeper called Old Man's Beard, and set it up in his signal box. There it looked much more human—and really rather frightening, standing so still and stiff and staring through the windows.

  The signal box seemed real enough though—with its outside stairway of seasoned wood, yellow lichen on the slates, weathered bricks with their softly blended colors, windows ajar, and—every now and again—the living clack of its signals.

  The children of the village became rather a nuisance. They would knock on his front door and ask to "see the railway." Mr. Pott, once esconced on the hard ground, his wooden leg stuck out before him, found it hard to rise quickly. But being very patient, he would heave himself up and stump along to let in his callers. He would greet them civilly and conduct them down the passage, through the scullery, and out into the garden. There, precious building time was lost in questions, answers, and general exclamation. Sometimes while they talked, his cement would dry or his soldering iron grow cold. After a time he made the rule that they could only come at weekends, and on Saturdays and Sundays he would leave his door ajar. On the scullery table he set a small collecting box, and the grownups (who now came, too) were asked to pay one penny: the proceeds he sent to his fund. The children still came free.

  After he made his station, more and more people were interested, and the proceeds began to mount up. The station was an exact copy of Fordham's own station, and he called it Little Fordham. The letters were picked out in white stone on a bank of growing moss. He furnished the inside before he put the roof on—in the waiting rooms, hard dark benches, and in the stationmaster's office, pigeon holes for tickets and a high wooden desk. The blacksmith (a young man called Henry who by now was deeply interested) welded him a fireplace of dark wrought iron. They burned dead moss and pine needles to test the draught, and they saw that the chimney drew.

  But once the roof was on, all these details were lost. There was no way to see inside, except by lying down and peering through the windows, and when the platform was completed, you couldn't do even this. The platform roof was edged by Mr. Pott with a wooden fringe of delicate fretwork. There were cattle pens, milk churns, and old-fashioned station lamps in which Mr. Pott could bum oil.

  With Mr. Pott's meticulous attention to detail and refusal to compromise with second best, the building of the station took two years and seven months. And then he started on his village.

  Chapter Two

  Mr. Pott had never heard of Mr. Platter, nor Mr. Platter of Mr. Pott.

  Mr. Platter was a builder and undertaker at Went-le-Craye, the other side of the river, of which Mr. Pott's stream was a tributary. They lived quite close, as the crow flies, but far apart by road. Mr. Platter had a fine, new red-brick house on the main road to Bedford, with a gravel drive and a garden that sloped to the water. He had built it himself and called it "Ballyhoggin." Mr. Platter had amassed a good deal of money. But people weren't dying as they used to, and when the brick factory closed down, there were fewer new inhabitants. This was because Mr. Platter, building gimcrack villas for the workers, had spoiled the look of the countryside.

  Some of Mr. Platter's villas were left on his hands, and he would advertise them in county papers as "suitable for elderly retired couples." He was annoyed if, in desperation, he had to let to a bride and bridegroom because Mr. Platter was very good at arranging expensive funerals and he liked to stock up on an older type of client. He had a tight kind of face and a pair of rimless glasses, which caught the light so you could not see his eyes. He had, however, a very polite and gentle manner, so you took the eyes on trust. Dear Mr. Platter, the mourners said, was always "so very kind," and they seldom questioned his bill.

  Mr. Platter was small and thin, but Mrs. Platter was large. Both had rather mauvish faces: Mr. Platter's had a violet tinge; Mrs. Platter's inclined more to pink. Mrs. Platter was an excellent wife, and both of them worked very hard.

  As villas fell vacant and funerals became scarcer, Mr. Platter had time on his hands. He had never liked spare time. In order to get rid of it, he took up gardening. Al! Mr. Platter's flowers were kept like captives—firmly tied to stakes; the slightest sway or wriggle was swiftly punished. A lop here or a cut there and the bullied plants gave in: uncomplaining as guardsmen, they would stand to attention in rows. His lawns, too, were a sight to behold as, weed-repelled and mown in stripes, they sloped down to the river. A glimpse of Mr. Platter with his weeding tools was enough to make the sliest dandelion seed smartly change course in mid-air, and it was said of a daisy plant that, realizing suddenly where it was, the pink-fringed petals turned white overnight.

  Mrs. Platter, for her part—and with an eye to the main road and its traffic—put up a notice that said, "TEAS," and she set up a stall on the grass verge for the sale of flowers and fruit. They did not do very well, however, until Mrs. Platter had an inspiration and changed the wording of the notice to "RIVERSIDE TEAS." Then people did stop. And once conducted to the tables behind the house, they would have the "set tea" because there was no other. This was expensive, although there was margarine instead of butter and falsely pink, oozy jam bought by Mrs. Platter straight from the factory in large tin containers; she also sold soft drinks in glass bottles with marble stoppers, toy balloons, and paper windmills. People kept coming, and the Platters began to do well; the cyclists were glad to sit down for a while, and the motorists to take off their dust coats and goggles and stretch their legs.

  The falling off was gradual. At first, they hardly noticed it. "Quiet Whitsun," Mr. Platter would say as they changed the position of the tables so as not to damage the lawn. He thought again about an ice-cream machine but decided to wait: Mr. Platter was a great believer in what he described as "laying out money" but only where he saw a safe return.

  Instead of this, he mended up his old flat-bottomed boat, and with the aid of a shrimping net, he cleared the stream of scum. "Boating" he wanted to add to the tea notice; but Mrs. Platter dissuaded him. There might be complaints, she thought, as with the best will in the world and a bit of pulling and pushing, you could get the boat around the nettle-infested island but that would be about all.

  August Bank Holiday was a fiasco: only ten "set teas" on what Mrs. Platter called "The Saturday," eleven on the Sunday, and seven on the Monday. "I can't make it out," Mrs. Platter kept saying, as she and Agnes Mercy threw the stale loaves into buckets for the chickens. "Last year, they were standing for tables ..."

  Agnes Mercy was fifteen now. She had grown into a large, slow, watchful girl, who seemed older than her age. This was her first job—called "helping Mrs. Platter with the teas."

  "Mrs. Read's doing teas too now," said Agnes Mercy one day when they were cutting bread and butter.

  "Mrs. Read of Fordham? Mrs. Read of the Crown an
d Anchor?" Mrs. Platter seldom went to Fordham—it was what she called "out of her way."

  "That's right," said Agnes Mercy.

  "Teas in the garden?"

  Agnes Mercy nodded. "And in the orchard. Next year they're converting the barn."

  "But what does she give them? I mean, she hasn't got a river. Does she give them strawberries?"

  Agnes Mercy shook her head. "No," she said, "it's because of the model railway..." and in her slow way, under a fire of questions, she told Mrs. Platter about Mr. Pott.

  "A model railway..." remarked Mrs. Platter thoughtfully, after a short reflective silence. "Well, two can play at that game!"

  Mr. Platter whipped up a model railway in no time at all. There was not a moment to lose, and he laid out money in a big way. Mr. Pott was a slow worker, but he was several years ahead. All Mr. Platter's builders were called in. A bridge was built to the island; the island was cleared of weeds; paths and turf were laid down, electric batteries installed. Mr. Platter went up to London and bought two sets of the most expensive trains on the market, freight and passenger. He bought two railway stations, both exactly alike, but far more modern than the railway station at Little Fordham. Experts came down from London to install his signal boxes and to adjust his lines and points. It was all done in less than three months.

  And it worked. By the very next summer, to "RIVERSIDE TEAS" they added the words "MODEL RAILWAY."

  And the people poured in.

  Mr. Platter had to clear a field and face it with rubble for parking the motorcars. In addition to the "set teas," it cost a shilling to cross the bridge and visit the railway. Halfway through the summer, the paths on the island became worn down, and he refaced them with asphalt and built a second bridge to keep people moving. And he put the price up to one and sixpence.

  There was soon an asphalted parking place and a special field for wagonnettes and a stone trough with running water for the horses. Parties would often picnic in this field, leaving it strewn with litter.