Two Little Pilgrims' Progress/More pilgrims are come to town

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CHAPTER X

 

MORE PILGRIMS ARE COME TO TOWN

 

 THE crowd in the depôt surged into the streets and melted into and became an addition to the world of people there. The pavements were moving masses of human beings, the centre of the streets were pandemoniums of waggons and vans, street cars, hotel omnibuses, and carriages. The brilliant morning sunlight dazzled the children's eyes; the roar of wheels, the clamour of car bells, of clattering horses' feet, of cries and shouts and passing voices mingled in a volume of sound that deafened them. The great tidal wave of human life and work and pleasure almost took them off their feet.

They knew too little of cities to have had beforehand any idea of what the overwhelming rush and roar would be, and what slight straws they would feel themselves, upon the current. If they had been quite ordinary children, they might well have been frightened. But they were not ordinary children, little as they were aware of that important factor in their young lives. They were awed for this first moment, but somehow they were fascinated as much as they were awed while they stood for a brief breathing space looking on. They did not know—no child of their age can possibly know such things of him or herself—that Nature had made them of the metal out of which she welds strong things and great ones. As they had not comprehended the restless sense of wrong and misery the careless, unlearning, and ungrowing life in Aunt Matilda's world filled them with, so they did not understand that because they had been born creatures who belong to the great moving, working, venturing world, they were not afraid of it, and felt their first young face-to-face encounter with it a thing which thrilled them with an exultant emotion they could not have explained.

"This is not Aunt Matilda's world," said Rob. "It—I believe it is ours, Meg; don't you? "

Meg was staring with entranced eyes at the passing multitude.

"‘More pilgrims are come to town,’" she said, quoting the Pilgrim's Progress with a far off look on her intense little black-browed face. "You remember what it said, Rob, 'Here also all the noise of them that walked in the streets was, "More pilgrims have come to town."' Oh, isn't it like it!"

It was. And the exaltation and thrill of it got into their young blood and made them feel as if they walked on air, and that every passing human thing meant somehow life and strength to them.

Their appetites were sharpened by the morning air, and they consulted as to what their breakfast should be. They had no money to spend at restaurants, and every penny must be weighed and calculated.

"Let's walk on," said Meg, "until we see a bakery that looks as if it was kept by poor people. Then we can buy some bread and eat it with our eggs somewhere."

"All right," said Robin.

They marched boldly on. The crowd jostled them, and there was so much noise that they could hardly hear each other speak; but oh, how the sun shone, and how the pennons fluttered and streamed on every side, and how excited and full of living the people's faces looked! It seemed splendid only to be alive in such a world on such a morning. The sense of the practical which had suggested that they should go to a small place led them into the side streets. They passed all the big shops without a glance, but at last Meg stopped before a small one.

"There's a woman in there," she said. "I just saw her for a minute. She had a nice face. She looked as if she might be good-natured. Let's go in there, Robin. It's quite a small place."

They went in. It was a small place, but a clean one, and the woman had a good-natured face. She was a German, and was broad and placid and comfortable. They bought some fresh rolls from her, and as she served them and was making the change, Meg watched her anxiously. She was thinking that she did look very peaceable indeed. So, instead of turning away from the counter, she planted herself directly before her and asked her a question.

"If you please," she said, "we have some hard+boiled eggs to eat with our bread and we are not going home. If we are very careful, would you mind if we ate our breakfast in here instead of outside? We won't let any of the crumbs or shells drop on the floor."

"You not going home?" said the woman. "You from out town? "

"Yes," answered Meg.

"You look like you was goin' to der Fair," said the woman, with a good-tempered smile. "Who was with you?"

"No one," said Robin. "We are going alone. But we're all right."

"My crayshious!" said the woman. "But you wass young for that. But your 'Merican childrens is queer ones. You can sit down an' eat your breakfast. That make no matter to me if you is careful. You can sit down."

There were two chairs near a little table, where perhaps an occasional customer ate buns, and they sat down to their rolls and eggs and salt as to a feast.

"I was hungry," said Rob, cracking his fourth egg.

"So was I," said Meg, feeling that her fresh roll was very delicious.

It was a delightful breakfast. The German woman watched them with placid curiousness as they ate it. She had been a peasant in her own country, and had lived in a village among rosy, stout, and bucolic little Peters and Gretchens, who were not given to enterprise, and the American child was a revelation to her. And somehow, also, these two had an attraction all American children had not; they looked so well able to take care of themselves, and yet had such good manners and no air of self-importance at all. They ate their rolls and hard-boiled eggs with all the gusto of very young appetites, but they evidently meant to keep their part of the bargain and leave her no crumbs and shells to sweep up. The truth was that they were perfectly honourable little souls, and had a sense of justice. They were in the midst of their breakfast when they were rather startled by hearing her voice from the end of the counter, where she had been standing leaning against the wall, her arms folded.

"You like a cup coffee?" she asked.

They both looked round, uncertain what to say, not knowing whether or not she meant that she sold coffee. They exchanged rather disturbed glances, and then Robin answered.

"We can't afford it, thank you, ma'am," he said. "We've got so little money."

"Never mind," she astonished them by answering. "That cost me nothing. There some coffee left on the back of the stove from my man's breakfast. I give you each a cup." And she actually went into the little back room and presently brought back two good cups of hot coffee.

"There, you drink that," she said, setting them down on the little table. "If you children goin' to der Fair in that crowd by yourselves, you want something in your stomachs."

It was so good—it was so unexpected—it seemed such luck! They looked at each other with beaming eyes, and at her with quite disproportionate gratitude. It was much more than two cups of coffee to them.

Burnett - Two Little Pilgrims' Progress A Story of the City Beautiful.djvu 108.jpg

‘She... presently brought back two good cups of hot coffee.’

"Oh, thank you," they both exclaimed. "We're so much obliged to you, ma'am."

Their feast seemed to become quite a royal thing. They never had felt so splendidly fed in their lives. It seemed as if they had never tasted such coffee.

When the meal was finished, they rose refreshed enough to feel ready for anything. They went up to the counter and thanked the German woman again. It was Meg who spoke to her.

"We want to say thank you again," she said. "We are very much obliged to you for letting us eat our breakfast in here. It was so nice to sit down, and the coffee was so splendid. I suppose we do seem rather young to be by ourselves—but that makes us all the more thankful."

"That's all right," said the woman. "I hope you don't get lost by der Fair—and have a good time."

And then they went forth on their pilgrimage, into the glorious morning, into the rushing world that seemed so splendid and so gay—into the fairyland that only themselves and those like them could see.

"Isn't it nice when some one's kind to you, Rob?" Meg exclaimed joyfully when they got into the sunshine. "Doesn't it make you feel happy somehow,—not because they've done something, but just because they've been kind."

"Yes, it does," answered Rob, stepping out bravely.

"And I'll tell you what I believe. I believe there are a lot of kind people in the world."

"So do I," said Meg. "I believe they're in it, even when we don't see them."

And all the more with springing steps and brave young faces they walked on their way to fairyland.

They had talked it all over—how they would enter their City Beautiful. It would be no light thing to them—their entrance into it. They were innocently epicurean about it, and wanted to see it at the very first in all its loveliness. They knew that there were gates of entrance here and there through which thousands poured each day, but Meg had a fancy of her own, founded of course upon that other progress of the pilgrims.

"Oh, we must go in by the water, Robin," she said, "just like those other pilgrims who came to town. You know that part at the last where it says, ‘And so many went over the water and were let in at the golden gates to-day.’ Let us go over the water and be let in at the golden gates! But the water we shall go over won't be dark and bitter; it will be blue and splendid, and the sun will be shining everywhere. Oh, Rob! how can it be true that we are here?"

They knew all about the great arch of entrance and stately peristyle; they had read in the newspapers all about its height and the height of the statues adorning it; they knew how many columns formed the peristyle; but it was not height or breadth, or depth or width they remembered. The picture which remained with them and haunted them like a fair dream was that of a white and splendid archway, crowned with one of the great stories of the world in marble, the story of the triumph of the man, in whom the god was so strong that his dreams, the working of his mind, his strength, his courage, his suffering wrested from the silence of the Unknown a new and splendid world. It was this great white arch they always thought of, with this marble story crowning it, the blue, blue water spread before, the stately columns at its side, and the City Beautiful within the courts it guarded. And it was to this they were going when they found their way to the boat which would take them to it.

It was such a heavenly day of June. The water was so amethystine, the sky such a vault of rapture! What did it matter to them that they were jostled and crowded and counted for nothing among those about them! What did it matter that there were often near them common faces, speaking of nothing but common, stupid pleasure, or common sharpness and greed! What did it matter that scarcely anyone saw what they saw, or seeing it, realised its splendid, hopeful meaning! Little recked they of anything but the entrancement of blue sky and water, and the City Beautiful they were drawing near to.

When first out of the blueness there rose the fair shadow of the whiteness, they sprang from their seats, and, hand in hand, made their way to the side, and there stood watching as silent as if they did not dare to speak lest it should melt away. And from a fair, white spirit it grew to a real thing—more white—more fair—more stately and more an enchanted thing than even they had believed or hoped.

And the crowd surged about them, and women exclaimed and men talked, and there was a rushing to and fro, and the ringing of a bell, and movement and action and excitement were on every side. But somehow these two children stood hand in hand and only looked.

For their dream had come true, though it had been a child dream of an enchanted thing!