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Two Little Pilgrims' Progress/It won't vanish away

 

 

CHAPTER XX

 

IT WON'T VANISH AWAY

 

 IT would have seemed that this was the climax of wonders and delights. To know that they had escaped for ever from Aunt Matilda’s world; that they were not to be parted from John Holt: that they were to be like his children, living with him, sharing his great house, and learning all they could want to learn. All this, even when it was spoken of as possible, seemed more than could be believed; but it seemed almost more unbelievable day by day as the truth began to realise itself in detail. What a marvellous thing it was to find out that they were not lonely, uncared-for creatures any more, but that they belonged to a man who seemed to hold all power in his hands. When John Holt took them to the big stores and bought them all they needed—new clothes and new trunks, and new comforts and luxuries, such as they had never thought of as belonging to them—they felt almost aghast. He was so practical, and seemed to know so well how to do everything, that each hour convinced them more and more that everything was possible to him. And he seemed to like so much to be with them. Day after day he took them to their City Beautiful, and enjoyed with them every treasure in it. And they had so much time before them, they could see it all at rapturous leisure and ease. No more hungry hours, no more straining of tired bodies and spurring of weary feet, because there was so much to see and so little time to see it in, since there was so little money to be spent. There was time to loiter through palaces and linger before pictures and marvellous things. And John Holt could explain them alL No more limited and vague imaginings. There was time to hear everything, and Meg could tell fairy stories by the hour if she was in the mood. She told them in tropical bowers, she told them as they floated on the lagoons, she read them in strange savage or Oriental faces.

“I shall have enough to last all my life, John Holt,” she would say. “I see a new one every half-hour. If you like I will tell them all to you and Robin when you have nothing else to do.”

“It will be like the Arabian Nights,” said Robin. “Meg, do you remember that old book we had where all the leaves we wanted most were torn out, and we had to make the rest up ourselves?”

There was one story Meg found John Holt liked better than all the rest. It was the one about the City Beautiful into which she used to follow Christian in the days when she and Robin lay in the Straw Parlour. It had grown so real to her that she made it very real and near in the telling. John Holt liked the way she had of filling it with people and things she knew quite well. Meg was very simple about it all, but she told that story well; and often when they were resting in some beautiful place alone, John Holt would lead her back to it, and sit beside her listening with a singular expression in his eyes. Ah, those were wonderful days!

Ben and his mother shared them, though they were not always with John Holt and Robin and Meg. John Holt made comfortable plans for them, and let them wander about and look their fill.

“It’s a great thing for him, Mr. Holt,” said the poor woman once, with a side glance at Ben. “Seems like he’s been born over again. The way he talks when we go home at night is as if he’d never be tired again as long as he lives. And a month ago, I used to think he’d wear himself out fretting. Seemed like I could see him getting thinner and peakeder every day. My, it’s a wonderful thing!”

And John Holt’s kindness did not end there, though it was some time before Meg and Robin heard all he had done. One day when they had left the grounds earlier than usual because they were tired, he spent the evening in searching out Ben’s disreputable father, and giving him what he called “a straight talk.”

“Look here,” he said, “I’m going to keep my eye on that boy of yours and your wife. I intend to make the house decent, and see that the boy has a chance to learn something, and take care they’re not too hard run. But I’m going to keep my eye on you too—at least I shall see that someone else does, and if you make things uncomfortable, you’ll be made pretty uncomfortable yourself, that’s all. I’d advise you to try the new recreation of going to work. It’ll be good for your health. Sort of athletics”

And he kept his word.

It was a marvel of a holiday. It is not possible that among all the holiday-makers there were two others who were nearer the rapture of paradise than these two little pilgrim-.

When it was at an end they went home with John Holt. It was a wonderful home-going. The house was a wonderful house. It was one of the remarkable places that some self-made Western men have built and furnished with the aid of unlimited fortunes, and the unlimited shrewd good sense which has taught most of those of them whose lives have been spent in work and bold ventures, that it is more practical to buy taste and experience, than to spend money without it. John Holt had also had the aid and taste of a wonderful little woman, whose life had been easier and whose world had been broader than his own. Together they had built a beautiful and lovable home to live in. It contained things from many countries and its charm and luxury might well have been the result of a far older civilisation.

“Don’t you think, Robin,” said Meg in a low voice, the first evening, as they sat in a deep-cushioned window-seat in the library together—“don’t you think you know what she was like?”

They had spoken together of her often, and somehow it was always in a rather low voice, and they always called her “she.”

Robin looked up from the book he held on his knee. It was a beautiful volume she had been fond of.

“I know why you say that,” he said. ‘You mean that somehow the house is like her. Yes, I’m sure it is, just as Aunt Matilda’s house is like her. People’s houses are always like them.”

“This one is full of her,” said Meg. “I should think John Holt would feel as if she must be in it and she might speak to him any moment. I feel as if she might speak to me. And it isn’t only the pictures of her everywhere, with her eyes laughing at

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"don't you think you know what she was like?"

you from the wall and the tables and the mantels. It’s herself. Perhaps it is because she helped John Holt to choose things, and was so happy here”

“Perhaps it is,” said Robin; and he added softly, “This was her book.”

They went once more to Aunt Matilda’s world. They did it because John Holt wanted to see the Straw Parlour, and they wanted to show it to him and bid it good-bye.

Aunt Matilda treated them with curious consideration. It almost seemed as if she had begun to regard them with respect. It seemed to her that any business-like person would respect two penniless children, who had made themselves attractive to a man with the biggest farm in Illinois, and other resources still larger. They went out to the barn in their old way, when no one knew where they were going, and when no one was about to see them place their ladder against the stack and climb up to the top. The roof seemed more like a dark tent than ever, and they saw the old birds’ nests, which by this time were empty.

“Meg,” said Robin, “do you remember the day we lay in the straw and told each other we had got work? And do you remember the afternoon I climbed up with the old coffee-pot to boil the eggs in?”

“And when we counted the Treasure?” said Meg.

“And when we talked about miracles?” said Robin.

“And when it made me think human beings could do anything if they tried hard enough?” said Meg.

“And when you read the Pilgrim’s Progress?" said John Holt.

“And the first afternoon when we listened to Jones and Jerry, and you said there was a City Beautiful?” said Meg.

“And there was" said Robin, “and we’ve been there.”

“It was just this time in the afternoon,” said Meg, looking about her, “the red light was dying away, for I could not see to read any more.”

And for a little while they sat in the Straw Parlour while the red light waned, and afterwards when they spoke of it, they found they were all thinking of the same thing, and it was of the last day they had spent at the Enchanted City, when they had gone about together in a strange, tender, half-sad mood, loitering through the white palaces, lingering about the clear pools of green sea- water, where strange creatures swam lazily or darted to and fro; looking their last at pictures and stories in marble, and listening to the tinkle of water plashing under great tropical leaves and over strange mosses; strolling through temples and past savage huts, and gazing in final questioning at mysterious, barbarous faces; and at last passing through the stately archway, and being borne away on the waters of the great lake.

As they had been carried away farther and farther, and the white wonder had begun to lose itself and fade into a white spirit of a strange and lovely thing, Meg had felt the familiar throb at her heart and the familiar lump in her throat, and she had broken into a piteous little cry.

“Oh, John Holt,” she said, it is going—it is going, and we shall never see it again! For it will vanish away—it will vanish away! And the tears rushed down her cheeks, and she hid her face on his arm,

But though he had langhed his short laugh. John Holt had made her lift up her head.

“No,” he said, “it won’t vanish away, It’s not one of the things that vanish. Things don’t vanish away, that a million or so of people have seen as they’ve seen this. They stay—where they’re not forgotten and time doesn’t change them. They’re put where they can be passed on—and passed on again. And thoughts that grew out of them bring other ones. And what things may grow out of it that never would have been—and where the end is the Lord only knows, for no human being can tell. It won’t vanish away.”

Dear little children and big ones, this is a Fairy Story. And why not? There are not many people who believe it, but fairy stories are happening every day. There are beautiful things in the world; there are many people with kind and generous hearts; there are those who do their work well, giving what is theirs to give, and being glad in the giving; there are birds in the skies, and flowers and leaves in the woods—and Spring comes every year. These make the fairy stories. Every fairy story has a moral, and this one has two. They are these:—

The human creature is a strong thing—when it is a brave one.

Nature never made a human hand without putting into it something to give.

 

MORRISON AND GIBB, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.