The Emigrant Train
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter 2 passage: Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson is known for his novels such as “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped.” Because of his ill health, Stevenson traveled around the world in search of a location that would improve his health. He wrote about his travels, including his 1879 train trip across the United States, in his book “Across the Plains.” Students will read the passage and answer questions on the language and the theme.

Topic(s): Essay / Editorial, History. Skill(s): Context Clues, Figurative Language, Main / Central Idea. Genre(s): Informational, Biography / Autobiography, Journal / Diary

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Robert Louis Stevenson was a famous author of adventure novels. In one of his nonfiction travel books, he writes about his trip to the United states. In this passage, he tells of his meeting with a railroad newsboy. At that time, a newsboy was a boy who traveled on a train selling newspapers, snacks, and other items to passengers.


I must tell here an experience of mine with another newsboy. I tell it because it gives so good an example of that uncivil kindness of the American, which is perhaps their most bewildering character to one newly landed. It was immediately after I had left the emigrant train; and I am told I looked like a man at death’s door, so much had this long journey shaken me. I sat at the end of a car, and the catch being broken, and myself feverish and sick,  had to hold the door open with my foot for the sake of air. In this attitude my leg debarred the newsboy from his box of merchandise. I made haste to let him pass when I observed that he was coming; but I was busy with a book, and so once or twice he came upon me unawares. On these occasions he most rudely struck my foot aside; and though I myself apologised, as if to show him the way, he answered me never a word. I chafed furiously, and I fear the next time it would have come to words. But suddenly I felt a touch upon my shoulder, and a large juicy pear was put into my hand. It was the newsboy, who had observed that I was looking ill, and so made me this present out of a tender heart. For the rest of the journey I was petted like a sick child; he lent me newspapers, thus depriving himself of his legitimate profit on their sale, and came repeatedly to sit by me and cheer me up.

Comprehension Questions

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