Read The Borrowers Aloft Online
Authors: Mary Norton
The Borrowers Aloft
With the short tale
ILLUSTRATED BY BETH AND JOE KRUSH
AN ODDYSSEY/HARCOURT YOUNG CLASSIC
ORLANDO AUSTIN NEW YORK SAN DIEGO TORONTO LONDON
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
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,
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First Harcourt Young Classics edition 1998
First Odyssey Classics edition 1990
The Borrowers Aloft
first published 1961
first published 1966
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The borrowers aloft; with the short tale Poor Stainless/Mary Norton;
illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush.
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
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
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.