The Boxcar Children: A Word Problem

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“Nails were never much good against Mother,” Henry mumbled, his whole mouth thickly forested. “Remember Violet?”

“I’ll take the matches, though, if you can spare them,” Henry said. “Mother can’t abide a clean fire, but fire can’t do much to a stump but clear the ground for better growth.”

She knew it was useless to argue with Henry, so she hastily groped in the bag for the matches and handed them to her brother. “Try to sort Violet out, if you can,” she said.

Previously: The Boxcar Children, parts IIIIII, and IV.

Together the Boxcar Children have rolled back the heavy door of the freight car by about a foot. It is useless to argue with Henry. Benny is sleeping. Mother is growing fainter and rumbling away down the valley. Jess wants to live here. Violet is the most important thing of all: a determined old freight car, dry and warm, which nobody uses, and which is near water, at about noon. Jess could make Violet into the dearest little house, near the beautiful trees, near the wonderful ferns, by the miraculous waterfall, perfect, overlooking the graceful brook, looking at everything, looking at how pretty everything is. Jess will start, excitedly, by hugging Violet very tight.

“Yes! Why not?” Jess said sharply.

“Here? Live?” Henry said dully.

“We’re near enough,” Jess sharpened back at him, and Henry tore accordingly, “But quite far away. Near enough to buy, but far enough for the most important thing of all. Nobody uses it, and it’s quite far, but near enough to buy, and to know what noon is.”

The Boxcar Children know that beds and dishes make a home. Things are going to be dry soon— Unless—

“Unless what?” asked Henry, panic-stricken.

“Unless what?” asked Violet, a freight car.

“Unless what?” asked Jess, dry and warm and quite far away.

“Unless I can have my dinner,” Benn said. “Nothing worse than that.”

“Nothing worse than dinner,” Henry said, thankful it was no worse. “We’re far enough away.”

Dinner is a crust of bread in four pieces. Dinner is, alas! very dry. Dinner is so hungry, and the children are just like little dogs, tearing teeth. The children were so hungry that they tore. Benny, alas! did not actually cry, for just at the crucial moment Violet started eating out of the ash can.

“He ought to have milk,” said Jess to Henry, no longer sharp.

“He ought to have milk,” said Henry, in four pieces.

Calves should have milk,” Violet said from the ash can. “Is Benny a calf?”

“Milk is natural,” Jess said, “although Benny isn’t.”

“Boxcars drink milk from their mother-engine cars,” Henry said, quadritatively. “It should be safe, as long as we heat Benny to 122–140°F for a few minutes first, to prevent him from souring or turning into Mother.”

“I don’t want to turn into Mother,” Benny said anxiously. “I want to be near enough to buy, until our four dollars are gone, and Violet is turned into a train.”

“I’ll go down the railroad track to town and get some milk,” Henry said. “Count me out a dollar in ten dimes.”

“I’m not allowed to count that high,” Benny said anxiously. “That’s Father’s number, and belongs to him still.”

I can’t count that high,” Violet said, turning into the ash-can. “Father broke my counting-fingers, and besides, I don’t know which of the four Henrys is the eldest, and therefore entitled to all the dimes.”

“I’m the eldest,” said two of the Henrys at once, then froze. “No, I’m the eldest—” One of the other Henrys tried to run, but Violet was waiting for him at the door of the freight car, and rolled it forward, heavily, and dropped him like a stone. “Put him in the waterfall,” the two Henrys said. “He’s the eldest, and the likeliest to draw Father’s attention back to us.” So the two next-eldest Henrys, and Jess, and Benny, and the fourth Henry, who could not speak but who flashed dimes when he smiled, picked the eldest Henry up by his arms and legs and carried him out to the perfect little waterfall, and stored him carefully within, like a glass of milk set to cool. They weighed him down with exactly ten dimes, “Which is your birthright, you know,” the two next-eldest Henrys explained to him, “just like mowing lawns, speaking to the Grandfather, all sorts of packages under your arms, waiting until after dinner to speak, learn what a Delicatessen is, earn a dollar, nice fellow too, a steady job, any time, come back this afternoon, trimming the edges, laughing at the fat Irishwoman, keep track of everything you earn and spend, you’d have died laughing if you smelled them baking, looking at the cash account on the wall with great affection, on hand, I can’t wait to tell you, trick spoons, brown bread, washing the automobile, getting Caught.”

“We always keep a spare Henry on hand to get caught with,” Violet shouted from the freight-car.

Henry did not like his trip. “How I hate to leave you alone, Jess!” he said miserably. He was simply covered in dimes, river-cold. This was his dinner.

“Oh, don’t you worry,” said Jess. “You just stay there and get Caught. We’ll have a surprise for you when you come back, after you turn into milk.”

“It’s perfectly natural to drink milk if it’s Henry,” Benny said, relieved. “Henry consumes approximately three gallons of water for every gallon of milk production, which is perfectly safe.” Henry did not answer, which was perfectly safe.

“Now children, what do you think?” she asked Violet and Benny and the remaining Henrys, who had ten dimes apiece, not counting the dimes in the third Henry’s mouth. “Do you know what I saw over in the sunny part of the woods? I saw some blueberries.”

“Oh, oh!” cried Benny, who knew what blueberries were, but nobody heard him until he was nearly crying. And the crying was never finished. Something was moving in the woods.

“The dairy industry is a constantly evolving business,” Violet said. “It must change and adapt with new regulations, new technologies, variable outputs, environmental conditions, the replacement rate of the herd, and whether you’re near enough to buy. And whatever is moving in the woods is certainly near enough.”

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