Two Little Pilgrims' Progress/The thing that thinks

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CHAPTER XI

 

THE THING THAT THINKS

 

 THEY passed beneath the snow-white stateliness of the great arch, still hand in hand and silent. They walked softly, almost as if they felt themselves treading upon holy ground. To their youth and unworn souls it was like holy ground. They had so dreamed of it, they had so longed for it, it had been so mingled in their minds with the story of a city not of this world.

And they stood within the court beyond the archway, the fair and noble colonnade, its sweep of columns statue-crowned behind them, the wonder of the City Beautiful spread before. The water of blue lagoons lapped the bases of white palaces as if with a caress of homage to their beauty. On every side these marvels stood, everywhere there was the green of sward and broad-leaved plants, the sapphire of water, the flood of colour and human life passing by, and above it all and enclosing it, the warm, deep, splendid blueness of the summer sky.

It was so white—it was so full of the marvel of colour—it was so strange—it was so radiant and unearthly in its beauty!

The two children only stood still and gazed and gazed with widening eyes and parted lips. They could not have moved about at first; they only stood and lost themselves as in a dream.

Meg was still for so long that Robin, turning slowly to look at her at last, was rather awed.

"Meg!" he said, "Meg!"

"Yes," she answered in a voice only half awake.

"Meg! Meg! We are there!"

"I know," said Meg; "only it is so like—that other city—that it seems as if"— She gave a queer little laugh, and turned to look at him. "Rob," she said, "perhaps we are dead, and have just wakened up."

That brought them back to earth. They laughed together. No, they were not dead. They were breathless and uplifted by an ecstasy, but they had never been so fully alive before. It seemed as if they were in the centre of the world, and the world was such a bright and radiant beautiful place, as they had never dreamed of.

"Where shall we go first?" said Meg. "What shall we do?"


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"meg! meg! we are there!"

But it was so difficult to decide that. It did not seem possible to make a plan and follow it. It was not possible for them, at least. They were too happy and too young. Surely visitors to fairyland could not make plans. They gave themselves up to the spell, and went where fancy led them. And it led them far, and through strange beauties, which seemed like dreams come true. They wandered down broad pathways, past green sward, waving palms, glowing masses of flowers, white balustrades bordering lagoons lightly ruffled by a moment's wind. Wonderful statues stood on silent guard, sometimes in groups, sometimes majestic colossal figures,

"They look as if they were all watching the thousands and thousands go by," said Robin.

"It seems as if they must be thinking something about it all," Meg answered. "It could not be that they could stand there, and look like that, and not know."

It was she who soon after built up for them the only scheme they made during those enchanted days. It could scarcely be called a plan of action, it was so much an outcome of imagination and part of a vision, but it was a great joy to them through every hour of their pilgrimage.

Standing upon a fairy bridge, looking over shining canals crossed by these fairy bridges again and again, the gold sun lighting snow-white columns, archways, towers and minarets, statues and rushing fountains, flowers and palms, her child eyes filled with a deep, strange glow of joy and dreaming.

She leaned upon the balustrade in her favourite fashion, her chin upon her hands.

"We need not pretend it is a fairy story, Robin," she said. "It is a fairy story—but it is real. Who ever thought a fairy story could come true. I've made up how it came to be like this."

"Tell us how?" said Robin, looking over the jewelled water almost as she did.

"It was like this," she said: "There was a great Genie who was the ruler of all the other Genii in all the world. They were all powerful and rich and wonderful magicians, but he could make them all obey him, and give him what they stored away. And he said, 'I will build a splendid city that all the world shall flock to, and wonder at, and remember for ever. And in it some of all the things in the world shall be seen, so that the people who see it shall learn what the world is like—how huge it is, and what wisdom it has in it, and what wonders. And it will make them know what they are like themselves, because the wonders will be made by hands and feet and brains just like their own. And so they will understand how strong they are, if they only knew it, and it will give them courage and fill them with thoughts.'"

She stopped a moment, and Rob pushed her gently with his elbow.

"Go on," he said. "I like it; it sounds quite true. What else?"

"And he called all the Genii together, and called them by their names. There was a Genie who was the king of all the pictures and statues, and the people who worked at making them. They did not know they had a Genie, but they had, and he put visions into their heads and made them feel restless until they had worked them out into statues and paintings. And the Great Genie said to him, 'You must build a palace for your people, and make them pour their finest work into it, and all the people who are made to be your workers, whether they know it or not, will look at your palace and see what other ones have done, and wonder if they cannot do it themselves.' And there was a huge, huge Genie who was made of steel and iron and gold and silver and wheels, and the Great One said to him, 'Build a great palace and make your workers fill it, with all the machines and marvels they have made, and all who see will know what wonders can be done, and feel that there is no wonder that isn't done that is too great for human beings to plan.' And there was a Genie of the strange countries, and one who knew all the plants and flowers and trees that grew, and one who lived at the bottom of the sea and knew the fishes by name, and strode about among them. And each one was commanded to build a palace or to make his people work; and they grew so interested that in the end each one wanted his palace and his people to be the most wonderful of all. And so the city was built, and we are in it, Robin, though we are only twelve years old and nobody cares about us."

"Yes," said Robin, "and the city is as much ours as if we were the Great Genie himself. Meg, who was the Great Genie. What was he?"

"I don't know," said Meg; "nobody knows. He is that—that"—she gave a sudden, queer little touch to her forehead and one to her side. "That, you know, Rob! The thing that thinks—and makes us want to do things and be things. Don't you suppose so, Rob?"

"The thing that made us want so to come here that we could not bear not to come," said Robin. "The thing that makes you make up stories about everything, and always have queer thoughts?"

"Yes—that!" said Meg; "and everyone has some of it—and there are such millions of people, and so there is enough to make the Great Genie. Robin, come along, let us go to the palace the picture Genie built, and see what his people put in it. Let us be part of the fairy story when we go anywhere. It will make it beautiful."

They took their fairy story with them and went their way. They made it as much the way of a fairy story as possible. They found a gondola with a rich-hued, gay-scarfed gondolier, and took their places.

"Now we are in Venice," Meg said as they shot smoothly out upon the lagoon. "We can be in any country we like. Now we are in Venice/

Their gondola stopped and lay rocking on the lagoon before the palace's broad white steps. They mounted them and entered into a rich glowing world all unknown.

They knew little of pictures, they knew nothing of statuary, but they went from room to room throbbing with enjoyment. They stopped before beautiful faces and happy scenes, and vaguely smiled, though they did not know they were smiling; they lingered before faces and figures that were sad, and their own dark little faces grew soft and grave. They could not afford to buy a catalogue, so they could only look and pity and delight or wonder.

"We must make up the stories and thoughts of them ourselves," Robin said. "Let's take it in turns, Meg. Yours will be the best ones, of course."

And this was what they did. As they passed from picture to picture each took turns at building up explanations. Some of them might have been at once surprising and instructive to the artist concerned, but some were very vivid, and all were full of young directness and clear sight and the fresh imagining and colouring of the unworn mind. They were so interested that it became like a sort of exciting game. They forgot all about the people around them; they did not know that their two small unchaperoned figures attracted more glances than one. They were so accustomed to being alone that they never exactly counted themselves in with other people. And now it was as if they were at a banquet feasting upon strange viands, and the new flavours were like wine to them. They went from side to side of the rooms, drawn sometimes by a glow of colour, sometimes by a hinted story.

"We don't know anything about pictures, I suppose," said Meg, "but we can see everything is in them. There are the poor people working in the fields and the mills, being glad or sorry—and there are the rich ones dancing at balls and standing in splendid places."

"And there are the good ones and the bad ones. You can see it in their faces," Rob went on for her.

"Yes," said Meg. "Richness and poorness, and goodness and badness, and happiness and gladness. The Genie who made this palace was a very proud one, and he said he would put all the world in it, even if his workers could only make pictures and statues."

"Was he the strongest of all?" asked Robin, taking up the story again with interest.

"I don't know," Meg answered. "Sometimes I think he was. He was strong—he was very strong."

They had been too deeply plunged into their mood to notice a man who stood near them looking at a large picture. In fact the man himself had not at first noticed them; but when Meg began to speak, her voice attracted him. He turned his head and looked at her odd little reflecting face, and after having looked at it he stood listening to her. An expression of recognition came into his strong face.

"You two again!" he said, when she had finished. "And you have got here?" It was their man again.

"Yes," answered Meg, her black eyes revealing, as she lifted them to his face, that she came back to earth with some difficulty.

"How do you like it as far as you've gone?" he asked.

"We are making believe that it is a fairy story," Meg answered, "and it's very easy."

And then a group of people came between and separated them.