Two Little Pilgrims' Progress/13
EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD HAS SOMETHING TO GIVE.
YES, there were plenty of kind people in the world. And one of the best proofs of it was that in that busy, wonderful place, through which all the world seemed passing, and where on every side were a thousand things to attract attention and so fill eyes and mind that forgetfulness and carelessness of small things might not have been quite unnatural, these two small things, utterly insignificant and unknown to the crowds they threaded, met many a passing friend of the moment, and found themselves made happier by many a kindly helpful word or look. Officials were good-natured to them; guides were good-humoured. Motherly women and fatherly men protected them in awkward crowds. They always saw that those who noticed them glanced about for their chaperons, and again and again they were asked who was taking care of them; but Robin's straightforward, civil little answer, "We're taking care of ourselves,' never failed to waken as much friendly interest as surprise.
They kept up their fairy story of the Great Genie, and called things by fairy story names, and talked to each other of their fairy story fancies about them. It was so much more delightful to say, "Let us go to the Palace of the Genie of the Sea," than to say, "Let us go to the Fisheries Buildings." And once in the palace standing among great rocks and pools and fountains, with water plashing and trickling over strange sea plants, and strange sea monsters swimming beneath their eyes in green sea water, it was easy to believe in the Genie who had brought them all together.
"He was very huge," Meg said, making a picture of him. "He had monstrous eyes that looked like the sea when it is blue; he had great white coral teeth, and he had silver scaly fish skin wound round him, and his hair was long sea grass and green and brown weeds."
They stood in grottos, and looked down into clear pools at swift darting things of gold and silver and strange prismatic colours. Meg made up stories of tropical rivers with palms and jungle cane fringing them, and tigers and lions coming to lap at the brink. She invented rushing mountain streams and lakes with speckled trout leaping, and deep, deep seas, where whales lay rocking far below, and porpoises rolled, and devil fish spread hideous far-reaching tentacles for prey.
Oh! What a day it was! What wonders they saw and hung over and dwelt on with passions of young delight! The great sea gave up its deeps to them, great forests and trackless jungles their wonderful growths; kings' palaces and queens' coffers their rarest treasures; the ages of long ago their relics and strange legends in stone and wood and brass and gold.
They did not know how often people turned or stopped to look at their two close leaning figures and vivid, dark, ecstatic-eyed faces. They certainly never chanced to see that one figure was often behind them at a safe distance, and seemed rather to have fallen into the habit of going where they went and listening to what they said. It was their Man curiously enough, and it was true that he was rather a gloomy looking man when one observed him well. His keen, business-like, well-cut face had a cloud resting upon it; he looked listless and unsmiling even in the palaces that most stirred the children's souls, and in fact it seemed to be their odd enthusiasm which had attracted him a little, because he was in the mood to feel none himself. He had been within hearing distance when Meg had been telling her stories of the Genie of the Palace of the Sea, and a faint smile had played about his mouth for a moment. Then he had drawn a trifle nearer, still keeping out of sight, and when they had moved he had followed them. He had been a hard, ambitious, wealth-gaining man all his life. A few years before he had found a new happiness which softened him for a while and made his world seem a brighter thing. Then a black sorrow had come upon him, and everything had changed. He had come to the Enchanted City, not as the children had come, because it shone before them a radiant joy, but because he wondered if it would distract him at all. All other things had failed,—his old habits of work and scheme, his successes, his ever-growing fortune,—they were all as nothing. The world was empty to him, and he walked about it feeling like a ghost, The little, dark, vivid faces had attracted him, he did not know why, and when he heard the story of the Palace of the Sea, he was led on by a vague interest.
He was near them often during the day, but it was not until late in the afternoon that they saw him themselves when he did not see them. They came upon him in a quiet spot, where he was sitting alone. On a seat near him sat a young woman resting with a baby asleep in her arms. The young woman was absorbed in her child, and was apparently unconscious of him. His arms were folded and his head bent, but he was looking at her in an absent, miserable way. It was as if she made him think of something bitter and sad.
Meg and Robin passed him quietly.
"I see what you meant, Meg," Robin said. "He does look as if something was the matter with him. I wonder what it is."
When they passed out of the gates at dusk, it was with worn-out bodies, but enraptured souls. In the street car, which they indulged in the extravagance of taking, the tired people, sitting exhaustedly on the seats and hanging on to straps, looked with a sort of wonder at them; their faces shone so like stars. They did not know where they were going to sleep, and they were more than ready for lying down, but they were happy beyond words.
They went with the car until it reached the city's heart, and then they got out and walked. The streets were lighted and the thoroughfares were a riot of life and sound. People were going to theatres, restaurants, and hotels, which were a blaze of electric radiance. They found themselves limping a little, but they kept stoutly on, holding firmly to the satchel. "We needn't be afraid of going anywhere, however poor it looks," Robin said, with his grave little elderly air. He was curiously grave for his years sometimes. "Anybody can see we have nothing to steal. I think anyone would know that we only want to go to bed."
It was a queer place they finally hit upon. It was up a side street, which was poorly lighted and where the houses were all shabby and small. On the steps of one of them a tired-looking woman was sitting with a little, pale, old-faced boy beside her. Robin stopped before her.
"Have you a room where my sister could sleep, and I could have a mattress on the floor, or lie down on anything?" he said. "We can't afford to go anywhere where it will cost more than fifty cents."
The woman looked at them indifferently. She was evidently very much worn out with her day's work, and discouraged by things generally.
"I haven't anything worth more than fifty cents, goodness knows!" she answered. "You must be short of money to come here. I've never thought of having roomers."
"We're poor," said Robin. "And we know we can't have anything but a poor room. If we can lie down, we are so tired we shall go to sleep anywhere. We've been at the Fair all day."
The pale, little, old-faced boy leaned forward, resting his arm on his mother's knee. They saw that he was a very poor little fellow indeed, with a hunch back.
"Mother," he said, "let 'em stay. I'll sleep on the floor."
The woman gave a dreary half laugh, and got up
"have you a room where my sister could sleep?"
from the step. "He's crazy about the Fair," she said.
"We haint no money to spend on fairs, an' he's most wild about it. You can stay here to-night if you want to."
She made a sign to them to follow her. The hunchback boy rose too, and went into the dark passage after them. He seemed to regard them with a kind of hunger in his look.
They went up a narrow, steep staircase. It was only lighted by a dim gleam from a room below, whose door was open. The balustrades were rickety, and some of them were broken out. It was a forlorn enough place. The hunchback boy came up the steps awkwardly behind them. It was as if he wanted to see what would happen.
They went up two flights of the crooked, crazy stairs, and at the top of the second flight the woman opened a door.
"That's all the place there is," she said. "It isn't anything more than a place to lie down in, you see. I can put a mattress on the floor for you, and your sister can sleep on the cot."
"That's all we want," replied Robin.
But it was a poor place. A room both small and bare, and with broken windows. There was nothing in it but the cot and a chair.
"Ben sleeps here," the woman said. "If I couldn't make him a place on the floor near me I couldn't let it to you."
Meg turned and looked at Ben. He was gazing at her with a nervous interest.
"We're much obliged to you," she said.
"It's all right," he said, with eager shyness. "Do you want some water to wash yourselves with? I can bring you up a tin basin and a jug. You can set it on the chair."
"Thank you," they said both at once, and Robin added, "We want washing pretty badly."
Ben turned about and went downstairs for the water, as if he felt a sort of excitement in doing the service. These two children, who looked as poor as himself, set stirring strange thoughts in his small unnourished brain.
He brought back the tin basin and water, a piece of yellow soap, and even a coarse, rather dingy towel. He had been so eager that he was out of breath when he returned; but he put the basin on the chair and the tin jug beside it with a sort of exultant look in his poor face.
"Thank you," said Meg again. "Thank you, Ben."
She could not help watching him as his mother prepared the rather wretched mattress for Robin. Once he caught the look of her big grey eyes, as it rested upon him with questioning sympathy, and he flushed up, so that even by the light of the little smoky lamp she saw it. When the woman had finished, she and the boy went away and left them, and they stood a moment looking at each other. They were both thinking of the same thing, but somehow they did not put it into words.
"We'll wash off the dust first," said Robin. "And then we'll eat some of the things we have left from what the woman gave us. And then we'll go to bed—and we shall drop just like logs."
And this they did, and it was certainly a very short time before the smoky little lamp was out, and each had "dropped like a log," and lay stretched in the darkness with a sense of actual ecstasy, in limbs laid down to rest and muscles relaxed for sleeping.
"Robin," said Meg drowsily, through the dark that divided them, "everybody—in the world—has something to give to—somebody else."
"I'm thinking that too," Robin answered, just as sleepily. "Nobody is so poor—that—he—hasn't anything. That—boy"—
"He let us have his hard bed," Meg murmured; "and he—hastn't seen"—
But her voice died away—and Robin would not have heard her if she said more. And they were both fast—fast asleep.