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Two Little Pilgrims' Progress/"And we are people too"

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

"AND WE ARE PEOPLE TOO"

 

 IT was four miles to the depôt, but they were good walkers. Robin hung the satchel on a stick over his shoulder, and they kept in the middle of the road and walked smartly. There were not many trees, but there were a few occasionally, and it was pleasanter to walk where the way before them was quite clear. And somehow they found themselves still talking in whispers, though there was certainly no one to overhear them.

"Let us talk about Christian," said Meg. "It will not seem so lonely if we are talking. I wish we could meet Evangelist."

"If we knew he was Evangelist when we met him," said Robin. "If we didn't know him, we should think he was someone who would stop us. And, after all, you see he only showed Christian the shining light, and told him to go to it. And we are farther on than that. We have passed the Wicket Gate."

"The thing we want," said Meg, "is the Roll to read as we go on, and find out what we are to do."

And then they talked of what was before them. They wondered who would be at the little depôt, and if they would be noticed, and of what the ticket-agent would think when Robin bought the tickets.

"Perhaps he won't notice me at all," said Rob; "and he does not know me. Somebody might be sending us alone, you know. We are not little children."

"That's true," responded Meg courageously. "If we were six years old it would be different; but we are twelve."

It did make it seem less lonely to be talking, and so they did not stop. And there was so much to say.

"Robin," broke forth Meg once, giving his hand a sudden clutch, "we are on the way —we are going. Soon we shall be on the train, and it will be carrying us nearer and nearer! Suppose it was a dream, and we should wake up!"

"It isn't a dream," said Rob stoutly; "it's real. It's—as real as Aunt Matilda."

He was always more practical-minded than Meg.

"We needn't philander any more," Meg said. "It isn't philandering to talk about a real thing. Oh, Rob, just think of it! waiting for us under the stars this very moment—the City Beautiful!"

And then walking close to each other in the dimness, they told each other how they saw it in imagination, and what its wonders would be to them, and which they would see first, and how they would remember it all their lives afterwards, and have things to talk of and think of. Very few people would see it as they would, but they did not know that. It was not a gigantic enterprise to them, a great scheme, fought for and struggled over for the divers reasons poor humanity makes for itself. That it would either make or lose money was not a side of the question that reached them. They only dwelt on the beauty and wonder of it, which made it seem like an enchanted thing.

"I keep thinking of the white palaces, and that it is like a fairy story," Meg said; "and that it will melt away like those cities travellers sometimes see in the desert; and I wish it wouldn't. But it will have been real for a while, and everybody will remember it. I am so glad it is beautiful—and white. I'm so glad it is white, Robin!"

"And I keep thinking," said Robin, "of all the people who have made the things to go in it, and how they have worked and invented. There have been some people, perhaps, who have worked months and months making one single thing—just as we have worked to go to see it. And, perhaps, at first they were afraid they couldn't do it; and they set their minds to it as we did, and tried and tried, and then did it at last. I like to think of those men and women, Meg—because, when the city has melted away, the things won't melt. They will last after the people—and we are people too. I'm a man and you are a woman, you know, though we are only twelve; and it gives me a strong feeling to think of those others."

"It makes you think that perhaps men and women can do anything, if they set their minds to it," said Meg quite solemnly. "Oh, I do like that!"

"I like it better than anything else in the world," said Rob. "Stop a minute, Meg! Come here in the shade!"

He said the last words quickly, and pulled her to the roadside, where a big tree grew which threw a deep shadow. He stood listening.

"It's wheels," he whispered. "There is a buggy coming. We mustn't let anyone see us."

It was a buggy. They could tell that by the lightness of the wheels, and it was coming rapidly. They could hear voices—men's voices, and they drew back and stood very close to each other.

"Do you think they have found out, and sent someone after us?" whispered Meg breathlessly.

"No," answered Robin, though his heart beat like a trip-hammer. "No—no—no!"

The wheels drew nearer, and they heard one of the men speaking.

"Chicago by sunrise," he was saying. "And what I don't see of it won't be worth seeing."

The next minute the fast-trotting horse spun swiftly down the road, and carried the voices out of hearing. Meg and Robin drew twin sighs of relief. Robin spoke first

"It is someone who is going to the Fair," he said.

"Perhaps we shall see him on the train," said Meg.

"I daresay we shall," said Robin. "It was nobody who knows us. I didn't know his voice. Meg, let's take hands again, and walk quickly. We might lose the train."

They did not talk much more, but walked briskly. They had done a good day's work before they set out, and were rather tired, but they did not lag on that account. Sometimes Meg took a turn at carrying the satchel, so that Robin might rest his arm. It was not heavy, and she was as strong for a girl as he was for a boy.

At last they reached the depot. There were a number of people waiting on the platform to catch the train to Chicago, and there were several vehicles outside. They passed one which was a buggy, and Meg gave Robin a nudge with her elbow.

"Perhaps that belongs to our man," she said.

There were people enough before the office to give the ticket-agent plenty to do. Robin's heart quickened a little as he passed by with the group of maturer people, but no one seemed to observe him particularly, and he returned to Meg with the precious bits of pasteboard held very tight in his hand. Meg had waited alone in an unlighted corner, and when she saw him coming she came forward to meet him.

"Have you got them?" she said. "Did anyone look at you, or say anything?"

"Yes, I got them," Robin answered. "And I'll tell you what, Meg; these people are nearly all going just where we are going, and they are so busy thinking about it, and attending to themselves, that they haven't any time to watch anyone else. That's one good thing."

'And the nearer we get to Chicago," Meg said, "the more people there will be, and the more they will have to think of. And at that beautiful place, where there is so much to see, who will look at two children? I don't believe we shall have any trouble at all."

It really did not seem likely that they would, but it happened by a curious coincidence that within a very few minutes they saw somebody looking at them.

The train was not due for ten minutes, and there were a few people who, being too restless to sit in the waiting-rooms, walked up and down on the platform. Most of these were men, and there were two men who walked farther than the others did, and so neared the place where Robin and Meg stood in the shadow. One was a young man, and seemed to be listening to instructions his companion, who was older, was giving him in a rapid, abrupt sort of voice. This companion, who might have been his employer, was a man of middle age. He was robust of figure, and had a clean-cut face, with a certain effect of strong good looks. It was perhaps rather a hard face, but it was a face one would look at more than once; and he too, oddly enough, had a square jaw and straight black brows. But it was his voice which first attracted Robin and Meg as he neared them, talking.

"It's the man in the buggy," whispered Robin. "Don't you know his voice again?" And they watched him with deep interest.

He passed them once without seeming to see them at all. He was explaining something to his companion. The second time he drew near he chanced to look up, and his eye fell on them. It did not rest on them more than a second, and he went on speaking. The next time he neared their part of the platform, he turned his glance towards them as they stood close together. It was as if involuntarily he glanced to see if they were still where they had been before.

"A pair of children," they heard him say, as if the fleeting impression of their presence arrested his train of thought for a second. "Looks as if no one was with them."

He merely made the comment in passing, and returned to his subject the next second; but Meg and Robin heard him, and drew farther back into the shadow.

But it was not necessary to stand there much longer. They heard a familiar sound in the distance, the shrill cry of the incoming train, the beloved giant who was to carry them to fairyland. The people began to flock out of the waiting-rooms with packages and valises and umbrellas in hand; the porters suddenly became alert, and hurried about attending to their duties; the delightful roar drew nearer and louder, and began to shake the earth—it grew louder still; a bell began to make a cheerful tolling—people were rushing to and fro, Meg and Robin rushed with them—and the train was panting in the depôt.

It was even more thrilling than the children had thought it would be. They had travelled so very little, and did not know exactly where to go. It might not be the right train even. They did not know how long it would wait. It might rush away again before they could get on. People seemed in such a hurry and so excited. As they hurried along they found themselves being pushed and jostled. Before the steps of one of the cars, a conductor stood whom people kept showing tickets to. There were several persons round him when Robin and Meg reached the place where he stood. People kept asking him things, and sometimes he passed them on and sometimes let them go into his car.

"Is this the train to Chicago?" said Robin breathlessly.

But he was so much less than the other people, and the man was so busy, he did not hear him.

Robin tried to get nearer.

"Is this the Chicago train, sir?" he said a little louder.

He had had to press by a man whom he had been too excited to see, and the man looked down and spoke to him.

"Chicago train?" he said in a voice which was abrupt without being ill-natured. "Yes, you're all right. Got your sleeping-car tickets?"

Robin looked up at him quickly. He knew the voice, and was vaguely glad to hear it. He and Meg had never been in a sleeping-car in their lives, and he did not quite understand. He held out his tickets.

"We're going to sleep on the train," he said, "but we have nothing but these."

"Next car but two then," he said. "And you'd better hurry."

And when both voices thanked him at once, and the two caught each other's hands and ran towards their car, he looked after them and laughed.

"I'm blessed if they're not by themselves," he said, watching them as they scrambled up the steps. "And they're going to the Fair, I'll bet a dollar. That's Young America, and no mistake."