A Little Pilgrim

   ONE November it became clear to childish minds in certain parts of

Whilomville that the Sunday-school of the Presbyterian church would not have for the children the usual tree on Christmas eve. The funds free for that

ancient festival would be used for the relief of suffering among the victims

of the Charleston earthquake.

   The plan had been born in the generous head of the superintendent of the

Sunday-school, and during one session he had made a strong plea that the

children should forego the vain pleasures of a tree, and, in a glorious

application of the Golden Rule, refuse a local use of the fund, and will

that it be sent where dire distress might be alleviated. At the end of a

tearfully eloquent speech the question was put fairly to a vote, and the

children in a burst of virtuous abandon carried the question for Charleston.

Many of the teachers had been careful to preserve a finely neutral attitude,

but even if they had cautioned the children against being too impetuous they

could not have checked the wild impulses.

   But this was a long time before Christmas.

   Very early, boys held important speech together. "Huh! you ain't goin' to

have no Christmas tree at the Presperterian Sunday-school."

   Sullenly the victims answered, "No, we ain't."

   "Huh!" scoffed the other denominations, "we are goin' to have the

all-fired-est biggest tree that ever you saw in the world."

   The little Presbyterians were greatly downcast.

   It happened that Jimmie Trescott had regularly attended the Presbyterian

Sunday-school. The Trescotts were consistently undenominational, but they

had sent their lad on Sundays to one of the places where they thought he

would receive benefits. However, on one day in December Jimmie appeared

before his father and made a strong spiritual appeal to be forthwith

attached to the Sunday-school of the Big Progressive church. Doctor Trescott

mused this question considerably. "Well, Jim," he said, "why do you conclude

that the Big Progressive Sunday-school is better for you than the

Presbyterian Sunday-school?"

   "Now -- it's nicer," answered Jimmie, looking at his father with an

anxious eye.

   "How do you mean?"

   "Why -- now -- some of the boys what go to the Presperterian place, they

ain't very nice," explained the flagrant Jimmie.

   Trescott mused the question considerably once more. In the end he said:

"Well, you may change if you wish, this one time, but you must not be

changing to and fro. You decide now, and then you must abide by your


   "Yessir," said Jimmie, brightly. "Big Progressive."

   "All right," said the father. "But remember what I've told you."

   On the following Sunday morning Jimmie presented himself at the door of

the basement of the Big Progressive

church. He was conspicuously washed, notably raimented, prominently

polished. And, incidentally, he was very uncomfortable because of all these


   A number of acquaintances greeted him contemptuously. "Hello, Jimmie!

What you doin' here? Thought you was a Presperterian?"

   Jimmie cast down his eyes and made no reply. He was too cowed by the

change. However, Homer Phelps, who was a regular patron of the Big

Progressive Sunday-school, suddenly appeared and said, "Hello, Jim!" Jimmie

seized upon him. Homer Phelps was amenable to Trescott laws, tribal if you

like, but iron-bound, almost compulsory.

   "Hello, Homer!" said Jimmie, and his manner was so good that Homer felt a

great thrill in being able to show his superior a new condition of life.

   "You 'ain't never come here afore, have you?" he demanded, with a new


   "No, I 'ain't," said Jimmie. Then they stared at each other and


   "You don't know my teacher," said Homer.

   "No, I don't know her," admitted Jimmie, but in a way which contended,

modestly, that he knew countless other Sunday-school teachers.

   "Better join our class," said Homer, sagely. "She wears spectacles; don't

see very well. Sometimes we do almost what we like."

   "All right," said Jimmie, glad to place himself in the hands of his

friend. In due time they entered the Sunday-school room, where a man with

benevolent whiskers stood on a platform and said, "We will now sing No. 33

-- 'Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore.'" And as the obedient

throng burst into melody, the man on the platform indicated the time with a

white and graceful hand. He was an ideal Sunday-school superintendent -- one

who had never felt hunger or thirst or the wound of the challenge of


   Jimmie, walking carefully on his toes, followed Homer Phelps. He felt

that the kingly superintendent might cry out and blast him to ashes before

he could reach a chair. It was a desperate journey. But at last he heard

Homer muttering to a young lady, who looked at him through glasses which

greatly magnified her eyes. "A new boy," she said, in a deeply religious


   "Yes'm," said Jimmie, trembling.

   The five other boys of the class scanned him keenly and derided his


   "We will proceed to the lesson," said the young lady. Then she cried

sternly, like a sergeant, "The seventh chapter of Jeremiah!"

   There was a swift fluttering of leaflets. Then the name of Jeremiah, a

wise man, towered over the feelings of these boys. Homer Phelps was doomed

to read the fourth verse. He took a deep breath, he puffed out his lips, he

gathered his strength for a great effort. His beginning was childishly

explosive. He hurriedly said,

   Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple

of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these."

   "Now," said the teacher, "Johnnie Scanlan, tell us what these words

mean." The Scanlan boy shamefacedly muttered that he did not know. The

teacher's countenance saddened. Her heart was in her work; she wanted to

make a success of this Sunday-school class. "Perhaps Homer Phelps can tell

us," she remarked.

   Homer gulped; he looked at Jimmie. Through the great room hummed a steady

hum. A little circle, very near, was being told about Daniel in the lion's

den. They were deeply moved at the story. At the moment they liked


   "Why -- now -- it means," said Homer, with a grand pomposity born of a

sense of hopeless ignorance -- "it means -- why, it means that they were in

the wrong place."

   "No," said the teacher, profoundly; "it means that we should be good,

very good indeed. That is what it means. It means that we should love the

Lord and be good. Love the Lord and be good. That is what it means."

   The little boys suddenly had a sense of black wickedness as their teacher

looked austerely upon them. They gazed at her with the wide-open eyes of

simplicity. They were stirred again. This thing of being good -- this great

business of life

-- apparently it was always successful. They know from the fairy-tales. But

it was difficult, wasn't it? It was said to be the most heart-breaking task

to be generous, wasn't it? One had to pay the price of one's eyes in order

to be pacific, didn't one? As for patience, it was tortured martyrdom to be

patient, wasn't it? Sin was simple, wasn't it? But virtue was so difficult

that it could only be practised by heavenly beings, wasn't it?

   And the angels, the Sunday-school superintendent, and the teacher swam in

the high visions of the little boys as beings so good that if a boy

scratched his shin in the same room he was a profane and sentenced devil.

   "And," said the teacher, "'the temple of the Lord' -- what does that

mean? I'll ask the new boy. What does that mean?"

   "I dun'no'," said Jimmie, blankly.

   But here the professional bright boy of the class suddenly awoke to his

obligations. "Teacher," he cried, "it means church, same as this."

   "Exactly," said the teacher, deeply satisfied with this reply. "You know

your lesson well, Clarence. I am much pleased."

   The other boys, instead of being envious, looked with admiration upon

Clarence, while he adopted an air of being habituated to perform such feats

every day of his life. Still, he was not much of a boy. He had the virtue of

being able to walk on very high stilts, but when the season of stilts had

passed he possessed no rank save this Sunday-school rank, this

clever-little-Clarence business of knowing the Bible and the lesson better

than the other boys. The other boys, sometimes looking at him meditatively,

did not actually decide to thrash him as soon as he cleared the portals of

the church, but they certainly decided to molest him in such ways as would

re-establish their self-respect. Back of the superintendent's chair hung a

lithograph of the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

   Jimmie, feeling stiff and encased in his best clothes, waited for the

ordeal to end. A bell pealed: the superintendent had tapped a bell. Slowly

the rustling and murmuring dwindled to silence. The benevolent man faced the

school. "I have to announce," he began, waving his body from side to side in

the conventional bows of his kind, "that -- " Bang went the bell. "Give me

your attention, please, children. I have to announce that the Board has

decided that this year there will be no Christmas tree, but the -- "

   Instantly the room buzzed with the subdued clamor of the children. Jimmie

was speechless. He stood morosely during the singing of the closing hymn. He

passed out into the street with the others, pushing no more than was


   Speedily the whole idea left him. If he remembered Sunday-school at all,

it was to remember that he did not like it.