Two Little Pilgrims' Progress/Hand in hand they went out on the road together
HAND IN HAND THEY WENT OUT ON THE ROAD TOGETHER
AND the cold days of hard work kept going by, and the City Beautiful grew, and huddled close together in the straw the children planned and dreamed, and read and re-read the Pilgrim's Progress, following Christian step by step. And Aunt Matilda became busier every day it seemed, and did not remember that they were alive, except when she saw them. And nobody guessed, and nobody knew.
Days so quickly grew to weeks, and weeks slip by so easily until they are months, and at last there came a time when Meg, going out in the morning, felt a softer air, and stopped a moment by a bare tree to breathe it in and feel its lovely touch upon her cheek. She turned her face upward with a half-involuntary movement, and found herself looking at such a limitless vault of tender blueness, that her heart gave a quick throb, and seemed to spring up to it and carry her with it. For a moment it seemed as if she had left the earth far below, and was soaring in the soft depths of blueness themselves. And suddenly, even as she felt it, she heard, on the topmost branch of the bare tree, a brief little rapturous trill, and her heart gave a leap again, and she felt her cheeks grow warm.
"It is a bluebird," she said—"it is a bluebird, and it is the Spring, and that means that the time is quite near."
She had a queer little smile on her face all day as she worked. She did not know it was there herself, but Mrs. Macartney saw it.
"What's pleasing you so, Meggy, my girl?" she asked.
Meg wakened up with a sort of start.
"I don't know exactly," she said.
"You don't know," said the woman good-naturedly.
"You look as if you were thinking over a secret, and it was a pleasant one."
That evening it was not cold when they sat in the Straw Parlour, and Meg told Robin about the bluebird
"It gave me a strange feeling to hear it," she said. "It seemed as if it was speaking to me. It said, 'You must get ready; it is quite near.'"
They had made up their minds that they would go in June, before the weather became so hot that they might suffer from it.
"Because we have to consider everything," was Robin's idea. "We shall be walking about all the time, and we have no cool clothes, and we shall have no money to buy cool things, and if we should be ill, it would be worse for us than for children who have someone with them."
In the little account-book, they had calculated all they should own on the day their pilgrimage began. They had apportioned it all out—so much for the price of the railroad tickets, so much for entrance fees, and—not so much but so little—oh, so little, for their food and lodging!
"I have listened when Jones and the others were talking," said Robin, "and they say that everybody who has room to spare and wants to make money is going to let every corner they have. So you see there will be sure to be people who have quite poor places that they would be obliged to rent cheap to people who are poor like themselves. We will go through the small side streets and look."
The first bluebird came again day after day, and others came with it, until the swift dart of blue wings through the air and the delicious ripple of joyous sound were no longer rare things. The days grew warmer, and the men threw off their coats and began to draw their shirt sleeves across their foreheads when they were at work.
One evening when Robin came up into the Straw Parlour he brought something with him. It was a battered old tin coffee-pot.
"What is that for?" asked Meg; for he seemed to carry it as if it was of some value.
"It's old and rusty, but there are no holes in it," Robin answered. "I saw it lying in a fence corner where someone had thrown it—perhaps a tramp—and it put a new thought into my head. It will do to boil eggs in."
"Eggs?" said Meg.
"There's nothing much nicer than hard-boiled eggs," said Robin; "and you can carry them about with you. It just came into my mind that we could take some of our eggs, and go somewhere where no one would be likely to see us, and build a fire of sticks and boil some eggs and carry them with us to eat."
"Robin," cried Meg, with admiring ecstasy, "I wish I had thought of that."
"It doesn't matter which of us thought of it," said Rob; "it's all the same."
So it was decided that, when the time came, they should boil their supply of eggs very hard, and roll them up in pieces of paper, and tuck them away carefully in the one small bag which was to carry all their necessary belongings. These belongings would be very few—just enough to keep them decent and clean, and a brush and comb between them. They used to lie in bed at night with beating hearts, thinking it all over, sometimes awakening in a cold perspiration from a dreadful dream, in which Aunt Matilda, or Jones or some of the hands, had discovered their secret and confronted them with it in all its daring. They were so full of it night and day that Meg used to wonder that people about them did not see it in their faces.
"They are not thinking of us," said Robin. "They are thinking about crops. I daresay Aunt Matilda would like to see the agricultural building, but she couldn't waste the time to go through the others."
Ah, what a day it was! what a thrilling, almost unbearably joyful day, when Robin gathered sticks and dried bits of branches, and piled them in a corner of a field far enough from the house and out-buildings to be quite safe. He did it in the noon hour, and as he passed Meg on his way back to his work, he whispered—
"I have got the sticks for the fire all ready."
The elements of forethought and executive ability, which were so strong in them, and which had enabled them to plan this unusual and unchildish thing, prevented their committing any of the youthful indiscretions which might have betrayed them, through suggesting to outsiders that they were engaged in something more than their everyday amusements and pursuits. If they had exchanged significant glances, which someone might have intercepted, they would have been in danger, even though they had been usually so little observed; if they had been seen in unusual places, or doing unusual things, somebody might have asked questions in these days, because it was the natural result of their new employment that they were thrown more frequently among those working in various capacities on the farm. Men and women were intimate with them in these days who had scarcely noticed their existence or known their names before the days of Meg's work in the dairy and Robin's service under Jones. And it was noticeable that no one worked near them without liking and feeling friendly towards them. They showed such a steady intention of doing their best and most, and such readiness to help others to accomplish their best and most also; and, accordingly, the hands had begun to notice them, and occasionally joined one or other of them as they left the table, and talked with them a little.
So this eventful evening they lingered about until all the rest had gone, and even went their way with cautious glances about them when they crept out after supper to their trysting-place with matches, the battered old coffee-pot, and the eggs.
Meg looked rather like a little witch as she stood over the bubbling old pot.
As they made their preparations, they found themselves talking in whispers, though there was not the least chance of anyone hearing them. Meg looked rather like a little witch as she stood over the bubbling old pot, with her strange little dark face and shining eyes and black elf locks.
"It's like making a kind of sacrifice on an altar," she said.
"You always think queer things about everything, don't you?" said Robin. "But they're all right. I don't think them myself, but I like them."
When the eggs were boiled hard enough, they carried them to the barn, and hid them in the Straw Parlour near the Treasure. Then they sat and talked, in whispers still, almost trembling with joy.
"Somehow, do you know," Meg said, "it feels as if we were going to do something more than just go to the Fair. When people in stories go to seek their fortunes, I'm sure they feel like this. Does it give you a kind of creeping in your stomach whenever you think of it, Rob?"
"Yes, it does," Robin whispered back, "and when it comes into my mind suddenly, something gives a queer jump inside me."
"That's your heart," said Meg. "Robin, if anything should stop us, I believe I should drop dead!"
"No, you wouldn't," was Rob's answer; "but it's better not to let ourselves think about it. And I don't believe anything as bad as that could happen. We've worked so hard—and we have nobody but ourselves—and it can't do anyone any harm, and we don't want to do anyone any harm. There must be something that wouldn't let it be!"
"I believe that too," said Meg; and this time it was she who clutched at Robin's hand, but he seemed glad she did, and held as close as she.
And then, after the bluebirds had sung a few times more, there came a night when Meg crept out of her cot, after she was sure that the woman in the other bed was sleeping heavily enough. Everyone went to bed early, and everyone slept through the night in heavy, tired sleep. Too much work was done on the place to allow people to waste time in sleeplessness. Meg knew no one would waken as she crept downstairs to the lower part of the house, and softly opened the back-door.
Robin was standing outside with the little leather satchel in his hand. It was a soft, warm night, and the dark blue sky was full of the glitter of stars. Both he and Meg stood still a moment and looked up.
"I'm glad it's like this," Meg said; "it doesn't seen so lonely. Is your heart thumping, Robin?"
"Yes, rather," whispered Robin. "I left the letter in a place where Aunt Matilda will be likely to find it some time to-morrow."
"What did you say?" Meg whispered back.
"What I told you I was going to. There wasn't much to say—just told her we had saved our money and gone away for a few days; and we were all right and she needn't worry."
Everything was very still about them. There was no moon, and but for the stars it would have been very dark. As it was, the stillness of night and sleep, and the sombreness of the hour, might have made less daring little creatures feel timid and alone.
"Let us take hold of each other's hands as we walk along," said Meg. "It will make us feel nearer and and twinner"
And so, hand in hand, they went out on the road together.